New mixtape out from Danjah 317, an Indianapolis based rap trio. Normally when I hear “mixtape,” I’m not usually expecting much of anything interesting, but this is actually pretty rad. The intro is some spoken word over a backing of someone turning the radio dial (or at least emulating that effect.) It works well and got me interested. The track “Guess Again” is fast paced and engaging throughout, with clear and on point vocal delivery. Their popular song, “Stress Free Zone” is aptly titled. It’s a mellow jam with a loungy backbeat. Quality vocals without any unnecessary effects and that complement the background music help make this mixtape superior to similar efforts by other artists.
A rapper who goes by the name Mirlo – The Writer’s Writer AKA Donne Darko has a new EP coming out called “Good Day to Die.” The main single is titled “Worth it All.” The video for this song utilizes a fish eye lens reminiscent of many 90′s videos. It features an array of colorful graffiti backdrops which help to establish the tone. The song itself has a mellow vibe and a chill tempo. Stylistically, track contains elements of reggae influences as well. With these kinds of rap releases, the video is crucial to success, and the quality of Mirlo’s video for Worth it All is good enough that I can see it gaining some traction if it reaches the right people.
Compass has a new song out titled “Dead Presidents.” I prefer the verses to the chorus portions of the track. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the chorus, but the verses are crisp and clear. I just happen to really like the vocal effects used, the backing and the overall mix in those parts of the song and found myself looking forward to them on repeat listens of the song. Compass doesn’t come off as an amateur at all on this release. He seems rather confident and polished. I won’t get into the politics of the lyrics other than to say that Compass clearly doesn’t feel that any of the candidates represent his interests! Despite the title, his style doesn’t come across as overbearing or aggressive, and there is still plenty of focus on craft. Probably my favorite part of this song is how he manages to creatively incorporate the term cyclops from Greek Mythology into the rap.
Texas based rapper Mel has released video out for his new jam, “Late Nights.” It’s a laid back, kick back sort of song, with a pleasantly mellow and entrancing beat. The video production isn’t overly flashy and doesn’t contain any unnecessary effects. Mel keeps it minimal but with some decent color usage (whether intentional or not.) His rhymes have a capable flow and the chorus “I can’t forget them late nights” it catchy enough for the song to stick in your head. Pretty straightforward and smooth jam.
Well traveled Swiss artist and self described “citizen of the world” Lars Rüetschi has released a new solo piano track titled “Merry Go Round.” For a minimalist piano song to work, the piano playing must be able to stand on its own. Fortunately, “Merry Go Round” does just that. The melody is emotive and complex enough to entangle the listener’s attention and win them over. Piano recording technique is a kind of art in and of itself, and Lars manages to capture a clear and warm natural tone without any of the abrasive clanky sounds typically associated with “indie” piano music.
Even without lyrics, one can sense that “Merry Go Round” is an appropriate title for this release. The song creates an atmosphere of calm and innocence not unlike the sort of actual Merry-Go-Round sequence that would be depicted in an art film. There’s certainly nothing epic about this song, but it is a measured and capable addition to Lars’ growing collection of conveyed musical experiences.
This 11 track debut album by Charles Luck is a team effort and contains a lot of variety as far as sound, as a features a number of musical contributors that vary in style and tone. Luck wrote the songs, and his fellow comrades performed them.
Some background info on Black Astronaut:
Black Astronaut Is A Hip Hop Collective Comprised of Lead Songwriter Charles Luck, Rapper/Singer Tino Red, Rappers Gyro, InZane, Sticky Bud, Vedo, and B Daz. Ex Members Include Pastor C and FlipLeaf. The group has 4 singers: Muze, Jonathan BT, Zack David, and Addie
Conceptually, the whole release seems meticulously put together as an ambitious and visionary project. One thing this album doesn’t do is disappoint. It is very high quality throughout and Luck and crew leave something for everyone. The songs range from hip hop to adult contemporary rock to spoken word poetry, and yet none of it really seems out of place.
Track 2, “Life on Mars,” featuring the terrific singing of Jonathan BT, is the most impressive song in my opinion, and its placement near the beginning is a wise choice, as it sets the tone for this being a polished and professional endeavor. The main single, “Is the Galaxy Just Pimping Me” is catchy and contains a bright and colorful musicality not normally found in most modern hip hop songs. The sparkly and curiosity driven delivery by rapper Tino Red fits perfectly with the question posed as the title of the song. Tino features on several tracks on the album. He maintains a thoughtful, unassuming style consistently, without ever coming across as preachy or lowbrow.
All of the performers are solid, and nobody weighs down the ship. Another memorable song is “Stardust,” a minimalist piano number with Ft. Muze providing a stellar vocal performance.
Black Astronaut hip hop collective claims they want to “reintroduce lyric focused rap music to the new generation.” This album certainly succeeds there, but what it also manages to do is reintroduce artistic minded songwriting to hip hop, something that the genre (which is mostly bogged down in mindless materialism) sorely needs.
Admittedly, there is a lot of competition in the universe of alternative or “indie” hip hop, but if these tracks were as aggressively marketed as they were produced, I could see the potential for some real hits here.
Gilbert Engle continues to demonstrate his musical versatility with this Jazz Reggae release, which has a mellow and sometimes loungy vibe. The light guitar work blends nicely with a Farfisa-like organ tone to give the tracks their reggae flavor. The more organ heavy songs almost have a 70′s psychedelic quality to them. The bass component definitely adds to this. With his detail attentive performance on the saxophone front and center, co-writer Peter Fraise helps deliver on the jazz end. Melody wise, the 9th track is probably my favorite. It’s just the most colorful tune. I’m also very fond of the first song, which at a 1:51 run time left me wanted more. Once I heard the organ, I was hooked.
The production quality is flawless, basically what I’ve come to expect from Engle, given the level of professionalism in his other recordings. What’s impressive about this release though, is that in the process of creating great jazz reggae jams, he manages to obtain some authentic vintage tones, without having to artificially sacrifice any of the recording quality to get them.
An Australian artist living in London, Jode Gannon has an album out called “3 Hours.” His style is mostly an indie acoustic, with the lyrics coming across as personal and heartfelt. The songs are mostly love songs but never venture into cheesy territory. Gannon maintains a slow and methodical pacing, and his voice seems to be tailor made for this genre of music. Even without drums, he manages to strum the guitar in a way that gives it a percussive quality that contrasts nicely with the softness of the songs. The best song on the album is probably “I Wanna Kiss You,” which is catchy and energetic.
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Based in Phoenix, experienced and well traveled Pop-rock singer Jonathan Cavier has just released a cover of the Cheap Trick classic, “The Flame.” The style of it is a bit lighter than the original and has more of a pop feel. Jonathan is a solid vocalist and manages gives the cover his own flair while still capturing the emotion of the original. I especially liked the backing instrumentals in this version. There are some great synth hooks, and the mix works well. “The Flame” is apparently the second entry in Jonathan’s “Cavier Covers” series. We’ll be anxious to find out what’s coming next from this guy.
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We reviewed Gilbert Engle’s Odd Time Jazz Fusion songs recently, giving them a favorable write up. As polished as those songs were, I have to say that on a personal level I find his Supernatural Absence just as impressive, if not better. One thing I noticed immediately is how much more rocking the songs are than I expected. Jazz fusion? This is rock n’roll!
There’s also a good deal of stylistic and creative variance between the songs, which is really saying something given that there are 16 of them. Each one is distinct and unique. For example: The opening track is terrific late night city driving music and has a hypnotic, almost vaporwave quality to it. The second track though kicks into high gear immediately with some guitar distortion, then injecting in some energetic keyboard work that achieves an authentic 60′s combo organ sound. It all blends together nicely with the sax and other instruments.
A lot of these songs have a psychedelic vibe to them. They are fast paced and several of them incorporate retro synth sounds into the music, which I hadn’t been anticipating. Track 9 is representative of this and has one of the best intros. I could actually picture many of these songs being utilized on a video game soundtrack for an older console. Many of the tracks would work well for racing or driving type games, such as classics like Fzero. There’s a sense of action in this music, but still keeping enough mellow jazz flavor to keep from going off the rails. It’s not rugged action.
The guitar and keyboard combination manages to steal the show on many of the songs. Engle plays both, but Marc Capponi is also credited on keyboards as well. The saxophone (played by Peter Freize) accentuates and stabilizes the mood successfully, after the catchy intros grab your attention and draw you in. Engle doesn’t cut any corners either. Every single one of these songs is just as polished and professional as could be. Normally on an album, there will be some padding, a few filler songs thrown somewhere in the middle. Not here. There wasn’t a single track that I listened to and thought was shoddy or “B-side.” Having said that, my favorite song is probably the first one. I think it has a lot of crossover appeal across a wide spectrum of genres. My second choice would be the seventh song, which has a disco-like guitar intro that opens up to a surreal musical experience. Robert Fink on harmonica particularly shines on this song.
Gilbert Engle is an incredibly prolific musician, having released over 50 albums. This album is a fine example of his versatility and imagination as a songwriter and performer.
For more info:
Gilber Engle on Wikipedia: