CD Review: John Fries - EP

CD Review by Adam Wujtewicz

If you know John Fries "the Lo-Fi Radio Star" you know that he can wail on a cranked up electric guitar.  If you know John Fries "the Original Sinner" then you know that he is also familiar with an acoustic guitar.  Well the latter John Fries is releasing a self titled CD.... it's seven tracks of live solo performances... just a man and his guitar. 

There are guys who've become famous doing the sensitive man with an acoustic guitar shtick and there are a great many bluesmen that most people have never heard of that are incredibly soulful and out of this world guitar players.  John walks this huge difference in styles like a tightrope made of dental floss.  He sings like a sensitive guy; he's always on key and does have a tendency to show off a little with his vocal runs.  He plays guitar like a bluesman; finger picked, slapped and plucked until most people would cry out for mercy.  It is this dichotomy that allows John Fries to tell a story two ways in the course of one song.

Songs like "Out of Place" and "Another Love" were originally played under the Lo-Fi Radio Stars moniker.  This may seem like an old MTV Unplugged trick to get you to buy a song again in a different format but I promise you that these songs aren't just stripped down... they're transformed.  You can really hear the craft in the song writing when they're played and recorded like this. 
While the songs all sound similar because it's just John and his guitar... they were all live recordings from different places and times so they all have their own personality.  I don't think a format like this would work for most bands but for this recording it's exactly what John needed to do.

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CD Review: Gone For Good - The Bright Lights

CD Review by Adam Wujtewicz

The Bright Lights from Gone for Good is now out for public consumption. Their final recording with drummer Josh Lecce, (who passed away in a car accident in May 2009), was long delayed but it's out now and it's something that all involved should be proud of.  Fuzzed out pop songs with splashes of rockabilly and swing are not something you come across often but if this record got the national airplay it deserved you would hear a lot more of it.

The guitar sound is what drives this record and when you hear it you'll know why.  The guitar demands attention... it's got a heavy distortion on it but it's never offensive to the ears and it's got plenty of articulation so you can tell what notes are being played. It's just quality sound. That being said the rhythm section could have been a little higher in the mix.  Case in point is the drums in "Bad Child".  Josh is all over the kit and keeps everything tight.  While the drums are not inaudible, in this song they should have been a real highlight.  The bass is in a similar situation.  It provides the record with a very solid bottom and roundness but a little more punch and volume would have made it the counterpart the guitar deserves.

It's not all guitar, bass and drums though.  The real "x factor" for this album is the effects and added decorative touches. The rock n' roll piano banging and organ swells in "Bad Child" account for the almost mandatory keyboard element.  Then on "Dinner Date" you have the horn accents that add to the swing nature of the song and give you another flavor most pop music lacks now a days.  The reverbs and delays on the vocals are tasteful and add atmosphere to vocalist Nick Johns' voice.  The conversations and idle chatter running through the track "4 am" add to the laid back feel of the song rather than distracting you from the music.  It's the little things that make an album great and The Bright Lights is a perfect example of this.

CD Review: Above/Below - 2 Sides

CD Review by Adam Wujtewicz

Eighteen songs is a lot.  You may not think so in the grand scheme of things - my iPod has 14,605 songs on it. However for anyone who’s ever bought a CD or record and especially for anyone that's tried to record an album... 18 is an extreme amount of songs. In fact, this may be our longest review yet! Guess what folks... Above/Below just raised the bar on you.... 2 Sides hits on all cylinders from start to finish.

Is Above Below a hip-hop group?  Is Above Below a jazz ensemble?  Is Above Below a rock band?  I'll tell you one thing, 2 Sides will not answer that question.  They run the gamut and make no apologies for it.  With a 7-piece band and an MC at the helm would you expect them to keep a constant style?  There are 2 many personalities there.

The lyrics on this record are constant.  Vocalist Gabe Chandler, (AKA MC Stat), spits lyrics like sunflower seeds all over this record till they're piled up in a neck high heap.  Most hip-hop is usually this way but when you’re doing hip-hop with that old school "double time" delivery you have to write even more lyrics and this can make them a little hard to keep up with.  Primarily the subject matter deals with a sociopolitical issue but before you go running in the other direction because you "don’t like political bands" listen to the songs "Socialist" and "Profits".  These songs are clever, catchy and current... that's the 3 C's of a good pop song.  There are some lighter hearted subjects on the record.  "Fly in My Soup" is a story about Gabe punching out a smart mouthed waiter.

You've got 7 more people rocking consistently on this record and in some cases that can lead to some self indulgent soloing and songs that last for millennia.  Above/Below is not all about that.  They use the guitar and bass to move the songs along from part to part and the horns to accentuate the changes and punctuate the statements the band is making musically.  Drummer Jonas Sanchez drives this bus using jazz riffing, funk high hat and rock n' roll beats to keep everyone together.  This is a mature band.  They all know the part they have to play and they are proud to do it.  None of them show ego on the recording and it makes the listening much more enjoyable.

Mixing all these elements together can be difficult thing to do in the studio.  The rhythm guitar tends to sound far away and while the reverb sounds cool there are points when it should punch more.  The horns and vocals are right out front as they should be but that baritone sax should sound rounder and more full as it is it sounds almost like a synth.  One of my favorite parts of the sound of the album is the turntables.  It's not something I'm used to having seen Above/Below many times live.  They could've taken this guest star and pushed him up to the front to make the point that they're doing hip-hop music but instead they use it as a texture as an added bonus rather than selling point.  The sound of the record has the proper amount of polish on it; this is hip-hop/pop/jazz after all.  Everything is audible all the time and that's not an easy thing to do with all those sounds.

2 Sides, 18 tracks, millions upon millions of words and riffs.  This is a huge testament to Above/Below's song writing ability and the diversity of their talents as musicians.  Get this recording and listen to it over and over again because you will continue to find new things each time you do.

7" Review: Brava Spectre - Cuss Tongue

Review by Adam Wujtewicz
Brava Spectre just released their brand new 7" vinyl... (that’s a 45 for all you super old school folks).  The A-side track "Cuss Tongue" right off the bat shows that the Brava boys have learned from the things that took some of the excitement away from their last release The Hands, The Water, The Hands that Occupy The Water.

The bass punches super hard and the mix is all together far more violent.  This is an exciting recording.  They still have the ambient parts which add texture but never a feeling of calm.  The B-Side track of this 7" is "Bouquet Appendages" which is a bit less sparser to start off but still incredibly interesting.  What makes this song great are the ambient effects behind the building madness of the instruments and vocals.  This is powerful stuff..."Cuss Tongue" is an outing to be reckoned with.



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