Reviews

Bookmark, by Sam Levine is actually a Landmark.

Sam Levin, at the wizened age of seventeen, is already releasing his third album. Having released his first single at the age of ten, he has previously recorded insightful albums such as I Am and Frame of Mind. On both of these Sam has shown a penchant for showcasing all of his ingredients. Some musicians excel at guitar, some with their voice, but Levin deftly mixes acoustic guitars with synth textures, piano, and plaintive melodies. Earlier songs of his like “Because” (Frame of Mind) display his clean guitar lines meshing with interweaving vocals and even his own voice as percussion. Other compositions such as “Carbon” (I Am) continue in this path as he pairs a straight forward acoustic finger-style pattern with bubbly synth undertones.

This brings us to Levin’s newest release A General Air of Regret, with its lead-off single “Bookmark”. Upon first impression, the guitar work is stunning. Bright and complex without sounding busy, it propels the song insistently. Most impressively the lyrics fitted on top are similarly paced, yet somehow feels relaxed. How is that? It’s almost an atmosphere that has to just pop out of thin air, as it seems it would be fantasy to consciously affix such complex pieces together to achieve simplicity. Part of the effect is his use of breaking the fourth wall to acknowledge the listener with a simple “…you get it”. In his own words, Sam explains “To me, ‘Bookmark’ embodies the feeling of being somewhere new, but where you’re not alone-so it’s not a scary new, it’s just new”. 

I feel this may just be a landmark recording for the already critically-praised songwriter. I for one will be listening to his new album, the next step being somehow getting him to show me how he plays that wonderful guitar part showcased on “Bookmark”!

https://samlevin.bandcamp.com/

Peter Harris, February 5, 2019

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The Muddy Crows revive roots rock with Straight Crazy.

The Muddy Crows are a modern roots-rock band that know how to craft an original tune that while tapping into familiar genres, brands them as all their own. This D.C. band has previously released singles and in 2018 crafted their latest E.P. of original material Straight Crazy. If you like Americana, and the story telling aspects of artists like Tom Waits, this is a group worth checking out. Plus, unlike some bands of this ilk The Muddy Crows have a knack for writing a hook. Easier said than done!

The first song, Straight Crazy, gets off to a jaunty start. Singer Dan Wolff croons about the subjects eyes showing her to be “straight crazy” and further espousing “the windows to your soul, tell me all I need to know”. The song reels you in with a poppy, catchy ode to a seemingly unstable lover, until Wolff turns a clever corner by revealing that the subject is “straight crazy,…for me”. It is an effective turn, starting an upbeat sounding song (with a perfect little guitar solo) with slightly dark lyrics and by the end wrapping it all up in a happy package.

Quarter past Four saunters in next with a guitar line that Brian Setzer would be proud to have written. This song is is all about cool attitude, from the descending bass line to the lyrics (“it’s about time to settle the score”). The important thing here is this band pulls it off naturally. It doesn’t come across as “Hey look, now a cool 50’s number! “. With The Muddy Crows, it’s natural.

Jezebel dials up the distortion just a tad, both in the guitar and the vocals. A darker, mid-tempo rock song, it still effortlessly blends in piano and acoustic guitar interludes. Songs like this help demonstrate why the band has twice been voted “Washington D.C.’s Best Originals Band”.

After listening to the closing song “Anywhere but here” a few times I began to envision its perfect scenario. A beleaguered (yet attractive) bartender wanders over to the jukebox. Her dive bar in a blue-collar town is closing down. She puts on this song and saddles up to the bar. As the second chorus comes around, the remaining patrons join her in a weary but rowdy sing-along. I can’t describe it any better than that, folks.

Peter Harris, January 26, 2019

Check out more from The Muddy Crows: http://www.themuddycrows.com/

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Rob Lamothe and Dollarstore Hacksaw sculpt a modern Americana soundscape with their album …and The River reveals Herself.

By Peter Harris

October 23, 2018

Throughout a decades-long career, the Rob Lamothe we know as the voice of the Riverdogs and his own solo albums has delivered quality, heartfelt music. Now, with the more than capable contributions of his talented progeny, Lamothe blesses us with a new album entitled and The River Reveals Herself.

I knew to expect soulful, emotive vocals from Rob (although he surprised me in a few places!), but this family collaboration pays dividends. Rose (vocals, keyboards), Zander (vocals, drums, percussion), and Josh (vocals, bass, guitar, and piano), lend tasteful professional accompaniment throughout. Rose’s lilting voice provides a perfect foil for her father’s bluesy vibrato. Zander’s percussion work reminds me of a seasoned session player. He plays just what is right for each song and adds tasteful fills where they are needed. Josh has the ability to hold the root down so effectively on bass that you only become aware of how great his tone is when he weaves out from under the guitars.

The album (due October 27th, 2018) begins with an atmospheric piece “End of Silence”, where sparse guitars ring out over a droning synth and Rose’s delicate voice. This sets the mood for the tonal tapestry that weaves it’s way across the album. While each song stands on it’s own, they are undeniably intertwined. This is not an album with two or three strong tracks, but rather a coherent musical piece meant to be experienced as a whole. The entire record comes across as introspective modern Folk Music, and it takes an active ear to dissect just how much synthesizer and keyboard there is in the foundation. Songs like “Rock Paper Scissors” with its catchy hook, contrast nicely with lingering atmospheric numbers like “Onward (Sometimes I Wonder)”. “Maple Syrup Festival Queen” is propped up with far more electronica than you would assume by the title. It works because it is deftly mixed with crystal clear steel string guitar and intricately layered vocals. While managing to come across as earthy and roots oriented music, Lamothe stacks tons of tracks that are pieced together like a puzzle. Somehow, the end result is organic waves of voicings that wash in and out.

As always Rob Lamothe has a penchant for thought provoking lyrics. The final track for example, makes a sudden about face at the five minute mark, where Rob begins to describe aloud : “red tailed hawk is on the ground, hiding something”. These are lyrics written by someone with a keen eye, capable of recording the little moments in life and tying them into a bigger picture.

I hesitate to call this a rock record, a roots record, or even singer/songwriter fare. It is all of that, but a little bit more. It takes a traditional sound and bolsters it with modern touches and exemplary artistry. and The River Reveals Herself is poetry that is not confined to the spoken word.

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Max Ater-Small Town

At the age of 25, singer/songwriter Max Ater seems to have conquered his home state of Maine. Back in 2012 he dominated “Maine’s got Talent!” with an original song, and after some touring released his first EP Up ’till Now. More rave reviews and awards followed.

Now it seems Max is ready to cast his net further, as he prepares to release his new EP, Small Town (Prudential Records). Ater’s songwriting is solid and concise, and the arrangements are pop perfection. This may be due in part to the exemplary production of Karl Anderson. Max deftly combines modern, slick pop sensibility with the story telling approach of country. The out-of-the-gate favorite here is “Easy”. Max has a way of melding expected pop lyrics “Turn the radio up, let your hair down…” with those that express a consciousness of a bigger picture “…this ain’t love, this is right now”.

The sound is crisp and the playing is superb in a minimalist/pop fashion. Ater and Anderson were wise to enlist the talents of aces like drummer Jason Hartless and bassist Greg Smith. Songs on this release such as “Stay a Little Longer”, and “Light Up This Town” have me envisioning this young man at the top of the charts soon. Very soon.

I will leave you with a brief summary which both describes this EP, and gives it my praise:

Fans of new country will never think they are listening to a synth pop record, and for fans of glossy pop, it won’t occur to them they are enjoying country music. Both groups will just sing along and love it. That’s what music is supposed to do.

Written by Peter Harris

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