The Avett Brothers, True Sadness © Republic

The Avett Brothers ‘True Sadness’ (Review)

This week didn’t exactly possess a hotbed of intriguing new releases – No shade, but just calling it like I see it! One new worthwhile album tickled my fancy this week: The Avett Brothers‘ True Sadness.  Here’s the deal – prior to True Sadness, I’d never partaken of the goods that The Avett Brothers had to offer. Is there a chance that the bros might’ve been slighted by yours truly this week had it not been a slower week? Yes, 100%.  Luckily for them – as if my opinion carries that much weight – they have this freelance music critic in their corner.

Is True Sadness worth the time and potentially the money? Yes.  The best moment is the opener, single “Ain’t No Man.” Even so, there’s plenty of other gems.  Don’t allow yourself to write this band/album off because you think you know what they sound like –  they’ll surprise you like they did me.  They are more than just a folk band.  That’s what makes True Sadness a winner.  Want to know my specific thoughts? They reside in the link below to the review published Monday on The Musical Hype.  Read it.  Share it. Seriously.

The Avett Brothers aren’t nearly as melancholy as title ‘True Sadness’ suggests, delivering a fine effort with their latest LP. The post Listeners Won’t Be Saddened by The Avett Brothers ‘True Sadness’ appeared first on The Musical Hype.

via Listeners Won’t Be Saddened by The Avett Brothers ‘True Sadness’ — The Musical Hype

R. City, What Dreams Are Made Of © RCA

R. City, What Dreams Are Made Of (Short Take Review)

R. City, What Dreams Are Made Of © RCA

There’s Plenty Of Things To Enjoy About ‘What Dreams Are Made of’

R. City • What Dreams Are Made Of • Kemosabe • Release Date: October 9, 2015

Being truly subjective, normally, a musical duo/group like R. City wouldn’t necessarily “tickle my fancy.” Why? So many times, when reggae is blended with pop, hip-hop or R&B, the results come off as so-so. While R. City have some similarities to other acts with a similar formula, there’s actually lots to like about R. City and their debut album, What Dreams Are Made Of. First things first, R. City are most known for their hit-making as songwriters. Though artists first, songwriting is how the duo broke through. Now, it’s “their time to shine.”

How about some quick highlights from What Dreams Are Made Of? Opener “Like This” kicks things off soundly, but follow up “Locked Away” featuring Adam Levine packs a mightier punch. “Locked Away” is a beautiful record, and Levine’s signature cutting upper tenor pipes are a bit more reserved, which is a good look for this record. “Checking For You” doesn’t live up to the grandeur of “Locked Away,” but by no means is it a miss, maintaining consistency.

After “Locked Away” the next truly great song is the soulful “Over,” which brilliantly samples Lenny Kravitz. Later “Live By The Gun” (featuring Akon) and “Slave To The Dollar” both showcase R. City’s harder, edgier persona. The fun doesn’t end there, as “Save My Soul” is easily one of the album’s most unique songs, blending reggae, soul, folk, and gospel. Concluding What Dreams Are Made Of, “Our Story” is too long for a casual listen, but the 10-minute autobiographical record is a stand out. Listening to R. City’s story will definitely help the listener build a connection with the duo.

So all in all, how does What Dreams Are Made Of stack up? It’s an enjoyable, above average album that isn’t revolutionary. In other words, it’s rock solid and not without an imperfection or two. R. City have definitely broke through with “Locked Away” for good reason. Can What Dreams Are Made Of do the same? Only time will tell.

Favorites: “Locked Away,” “Over,” “Save My Soul” and “Our Story”


Thomas Rhett, Tangled Up © Valory

Thomas Rhett, Tangled Up – Review

Thomas Rhett, Tangled Up © Valory

Thomas Rhett Totally ‘Kills It’ on Tangled Up#Winning

Thomas Rhett • Tangled Up • Valory • Release Date: September 25, 2015

“And this is the verse where you don’t know the words / and you don’t give a damn cause it feels good.” Right on Thomas Rhett – right on! On album number two ‘country’ artist Thomas Rhett at times seems like he’s anything but a pure country artist, experimenting with a little bit of this and a little bit of that. The results are an album where you’re so shocked that ‘this is a country album’ that you indeed “don’t give a damn cause it feels so good.” Sure, Tangled Up may be too “tangled up” in its back of modern tricks for the “old guard” but for the current generation who like a cocktail of styles, this is an epic album.

“Anthem” kicks off Tangled Up with a lot of… swagger. Yes, swagger is indeed the right characterization. Country music has changed considerably over the years and the new brand of country blends dashes of pop, electronic, and urban music among other influences. “Anthem” hence is superb way to kick off Tangled Up with the youthful Rhett aware of the contemporary music scene and backed up by awesome, high-flying production.

On title track “Crash and Burn,” Rhett shines, showing off his lower register before ascending to that twang-driven upper register. Again, “Crash and Burn” doesn’t fit the mold of your father’s country music – it’s eclectic with the current generation in mind.   “Crash and Burn” has nothing on the hip-hop country amalgam of “South Side” which opens with the hilarious line “please commence shaking your south side.” The hilarity doesn’t stop there as the hook is golden: “Now people on the left, shake your south side / people on the right, shake your south side / every single girl, shake your south side / all around the word, shake your south side.” That beat and that saxophone though!

“Die A Happy Man” smartly gives Tangled Up more of a traditional country sound. Even so, when first hearing “Die A Happy Man” it recalls Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud,” a soulful pop record recalling classic soul itself. “Die A Happy Man” is country – the pedal steel itself is enough to signify this – but it’s also soulful and still has that crossover appeal. Rhett’s traditional side doesn’t last too long – “Vacation” finds the rapper pop rapping – what! While it’s on the corny side, it’s infectiously corny. Is this really country music – that is the question? Somewhat (the liquor for sure) – but “Vacation” sounds more like a big pop record and there’s nothing wrong with that!

The oscillation between traditional country and ‘new’ country continues to be the storyline of Tangled Up, evidenced by the pendulum swinging back to the traditional side on “Like It’s The Last Time.” It’s a solid record, but after bolder experiments, “Like It’s The Last Time” is good, not transcendent or a truly assertive statement. No fears, “T-Shirt” should please pop and country fans alike, dancing on the fine line of both extremes. It doesn’t supersede bigger statements like the ridiculous “South Side” or the hella fun “Vacation,” but it is a contributing factor to why Tangled Up is such a fun album.

“Single Girl” is DING* DING* DING* – you guessed it – a big country ballad. It’s followed by another pure country number – “The Day You Stopped Lookin’ Back” – which breaks the ‘push and pull’ characterizing the middle of Tangled Up. Title track “Tangled” marks a return to eclecticism and experimentation that’s welcome. Who knew that Thomas Rhett could pull of a track probably best suited for Bruno Mars or Pharrell Williams? For a comparison point, think Mars’ “Treasure” from his 2011 Unorthodox Jukebox.

So if the pop ran strong on “Tangled,” how does Rhett’s unlikely duet with Jordin Sparks turn out on “Playing With Fire?” Actually it is more country-oriented, but has that gargantuan pop chorus working on all cylinders. Penultimate record “I Feel Good” is a return to form – well ‘new country’ form, assisted by LunchMoney Lewis. One of the most memorable lines – “My team won in overtime / I’m three sheets on Bud Light Lime.” SMH! “I Learned it From the Radio” closes more traditionally, but can you blame him? – He can’t completely go to “the dark side!”

How does Tangled Up stack up – very, VERY good to be honest. This is the “new guard” of country music in full force. Traditionalists may not be a fan and may even consider Rhett a sellout with his pop, dance, and soulful experiments, but personally – being part of the more youthful generation – Rhett’s rebelliousness deserves complete respect. Much like Sam Hunt’s Montevallo, this is a brand of country for people who wouldn’t ordinary like it or have preconceived notions. Highly recommended!

Favorites: “Anthem,” “Crash and Burn,” “South Side,” “Die A Happy Man,” “Vacation” and “Tangled”  


Stacy Barthe, BEcoming © Motown

Stacy Barthe, BEcoming (Review)

Stacy Barthe, BEcoming © Motown

Stacy Barthe delivers a meaningful debut album with ‘BEcoming 

Stacy Barthe • BEcoming • Motown • Release Date: July 10, 2015

A gargantuan problem with R&B today is PROMO, rather the LACK OF PROMO. Sure, there are other issues (oversexed-ness and lack of clear identity in some instances), but the lack of rock solid promotional campaigns definitely prevents artists from being lucrative in the big picture. That’s the reason why a gifted musician the likes singer/songwriter Stacy Barthe can release an impressive debut album (BEcoming) and few R&B enthusiasts are aware. If it weren’t for the sure curiosity of being the über music nerd of this millennium, perhaps the exceptionalness that is Barthe and BEcoming wouldn’t have entered my personal life.

BEcoming isn’t your typical contemporary R&B album. This is an effort that is more sagacious and introspective compared to the multitude. Honestly, it’s heavy at times, and running 17 tracks deep, that heaviness is even more pronounced. Throughout its course, Barthe definitely builds a connection with the audience and material, as she infuses her personal struggles and the overcoming of those issues into the music. This personal touch builds indisputable authenticity and eliminates superficiality. In layman’s terms, BEcoming eschews fakeness and bull.

THE PROS: Throughout BEcoming, Barthe tends to deliver the music with a sense of poise and the upmost control. This doesn’t mean she under-sings (she doesn’t) but she also doesn’t require elaborative gospel histrionics to showcase emotion or drive her songs home. Her balance is a page that so many other singers young and old should take out of her book. The production work also tends to be tidy and never crosses the line of crowdedness or being overwrought though the grooves are quite rhythmic.

While the album may wear on towards the tail-end, the majority of the affair is strong, meaningful, and plays a vital role in the narrative – one of personal struggles and rebounding from such struggles. Opener “My Suicide Note” is chilling, as Barthe digs deep making a tone poem of her own failed suicidal attempt back in 2010, intact with sounds of the pills being emptied from the bottle, the water being poured into the glass, and the glass breaking as it falls out of Barthe’s hand. From that bothersome start, “In My Head” accelerates the tempo finding Barthe come to terms with her issues. Still, darkness still lingers representing Barthe (and everybody else) is a “work in progress,” hence the minor key (D minor to be exact).

“Sleep To Dream” can be best described by one popular word and state of mind: escapism, while “Eyes Wide Shut” tackles the hardships of life, with Barthe admitting she’s got her “eyes wide shut / cause the world is just too scary to face sometimes.” Arguably the set’s most valedictory moment comes by way of “Me Versus Me,” which deals with the notion were are our own worst enemy and can defeat our selves. Poised with quiet energy, there is magic behind “Me” that’s haunting.

The list of notable performances can go on and on, whether it’s the perfectness of the unstable production of “Find It (Transition)” matching the transitional sentiment of the lyrics, or Barthe’s splendid eclectic musical tastes shining on the reggae-tinged “Hey You There.” THE PROS of BEcoming easily outweigh the CONS. What cons?

THE CONS: Are we perfect as people? No – of course not – and the same can be said of even the near-perfect album. BEcoming is grand, so most of the cons are both arguable, nitpicky, and don’t kill the vibe. Firstly, the album is a bit on the long side. 17 tracks is ambitious these days, particularly when the material is heavy. Secondly, there are no outright commercial hits. No, Barthe doesn’t have to aim to be the next Mary J. Blige with radio hits, but given BEcoming’s makeup, it’s hard to see that record that gets spins on urban radio, let alone the mainstream. Finally, this album appeals to a more mature R&B audience – it’s not likely to win a younger crowd. The problem with that, who’s more informed about new music? Yep you guessed it – the young uns.

All this considered, where’s the deal breaker? Nonexistent of course! Ultimately, BEcoming is one of the best R&B albums of 2015. In a year that has had few triumphs, Barthe gives true, dedicated R&B fans something to get excited about. The worst part alludes back the first paragraph – where was the promotion for such an awesome album as BEcoming? You’ve got to promote a sista!

Favorites: “In My Head,” “Me Versus Me,” “Find It (Transitions),” “Flawed Beautiful Creatures,” and “Hey You There”


Yelawolf, Love Story © Interscope

Review: Yelawolf Delivers An Eclectic Effort With ‘Love Story’

Yelawolf, Love Story © Interscope

Yelawolf • Love Story • Interscope • US Release Date: April 21, 2015

It’s no shock that Alabaman rapper Yelawolf’s first major label tanked. If it wasn’t known, Yelawolf makes listeners aware: “One, my last record flopped / two, it wasn’t my time.” Whether 2015 is Yelawolf’s time, only time and sales will tell. Regardless, if Yelawolf was aiming for a commercial album, Love Story isn’t it. Instead, Love Story is an eclectic effort with some truly enticing moments. Arguably none of them seem prime candidates to ‘breakthrough,’ but with commercial aspirations set aside, Yelawolf has made an album that’s easily worthy of partaking.

Throughout its course, Yelawolf poses himself as something of a southern hip-hop cowboy, hence including elements of rock, singer/songwriter fare, and country. This characterization separates Yelawolf from the multitude, not to mention executive producer Eminem. “Outer Space” kicks things off with a bang, capturing the listener’s attention with its ample profanity and unique production. “Change” is equally alluring; as the majority of the record is sung before Yelawolf explodes with fiery rhymes. From the get-go, Yela is on another planet, and to quote Jack Nicholson via Mars Attacks, “Ain’t that ain’t bad!”

“American You” is a lovely record and like everything else, quite unexpected. Even though there’s little that’s hip-hop about this joint for the majority, within Love Story early on, it’s the most accessible, infectious song – it’s no surprise it’s a single.   If “American You” is too pop-centric, the rock-fueled production of “Whiskey In A Bottle” – not to mention aggressive, unapologetic rhymes by Yelawolf – will definitely tickle your fancy.

Following the soulful balladry of interlude “Ball And Chain,” “Till It’s Gone” benefits from driving, southern production and Yelawolf’s pointed, agile rhymes. As great as he spits the verses, he also sounds terrific singing the memorable hook, “Ain’t much I can do but I do what I can / But I’m not a fool, there’s no need to pretend / just because you got yourself in some s**t / it doesn’t mean I have to come deal with it.” “Devil in My Veins” comes off as an old school country/folk ballad, rivaling say “The House of The Rising Sun” for a comparison point. Should it work? Maybe not, but given Yelawolf’s strong ties with the south and a compelling singing voice, it does.

If “Devil” was too far left of center, the triumphant “Best Friend” atones for all improprieties. Yelawolf’s unique tone of voice is perfect for this introspective, spiritual song and adding a razor sharp Eminem only makes things better. Certainly a hard act to follow, “Empty Bottles” doesn’t do too shabby. However, “Heartbreak” one-ups, with its gospel-infused, soulful production and Yelawolf’s frank raps. “Heartbreak” has a similar vibe to “Whiskey In A Bottle” and “Best Friend” – it ranks among the best.

On “Tennessee Love,” Yelawolf shows his romantic side, hence contrasting the edgier, heart wrenching “Heartbreak.” “I’d never let someone straight up disrespect you / I’d never let someone call you out your name…” – in other words, Yelawolf is going to hold her – Fefe Dobson down. Need more proof – “Can I put this ring on your finger? Let you know that I’m serious, marry me now.” After falling in “Tennessee Love,” Yelawolf raps about his Chevy on “Box Chevy V” – it wouldn’t be the first time. Sure, it’s tried and true, but he makes it appealing.

“If God is my angel, the f**king devil’s the pistol / better put your face behind safety glass when I load up.” Wow! Yelawolf ‘goes hard’ on the title track, which is certainly unexpected given the song title. “Johnny Cash” is about his career as a rapper, ultimately aspiring to be as big as the celebrity that graces the song title. What’s more fitting than another song referencing the south/country? “Have A Flight” is another non-traditional, un-hip-hop number, but perhaps that’s what makes it stand out.

On “Sky’s The Limit,” Yelawolf criticizes ‘The American Dream,’ considering it ultimately to be flawed: “They say the sky is the limit / well I guess it depends on you / in your views / in this American dream.” His verses are incredibly realistic, painting the darker side of life. He follows up with the emotional penultimate track “Disappear,” which ranks among the heaviest of the album. Smartly, Yelawolf closes energetically on the country-rap amalgam, “Fiddle Me This.”

Ultimately, Love Story is a fine sophomore album from Yelawolf that is very different from his debut Radioactive. Regardless how one views his stylistic fluctuations, the material that Yelawolf presents and statements he makes are strong. The biggest rub is the length, which clocks in at a rare 75 minutes. Even so there are ample moments that make Love Story notable.

Favorites: “American You,” “Whiskey In A Bottle,” “Till It’s Gone,” “Best Friend” featuring Eminem, “Heartbreak” 


Chrisette Michele, The Lyricists' Opus © Chrisette Michele LLC

Chrisette Michele Goes Hipster for the Better on ‘The Lyricists’ Opus’ EP

Chrisette Michele, The Lyricists' Opus © Chrisette Michele LLC

Chrisette Michele • The Lyricists’ Opus • © Chrisette Michele LLC • US Release Date: November 24, 2014

Some of the most gifted musicians don’t get their just do, particularly in the R&B market. Many of the commercially (or semi-commercially) successful R&B artists of the day have to incorporate pop into their music to make it appeal to a more commercial audience given a cooler reception to R&B. The once prolific neo-soul movement has long been dead, and uttering neo-soul in 2014 is nothing short of a death sentence.

Free of major label dictation, Chrisette Michele issues her first independent effort, EP The Lyricists’ Opus. Look no further than some of the song titles and the listener can see that Ms. Michele tapped into her inner hipster-ness to deliver the kind of album she wanted to with no strings attached. While nothing about The Lyricists’ Opus suggests it being an album dominating the R&B market commercially, arguably, Michele is better off because it plays to her artistic sensibilities. 

“My Favorite Thing That Ever Happened,” featuring Justin Lyons, initiates The Lyricists’ Opus. On the intro, Michele’s eclectic, hipster persona shines through, foreshadowing the ‘five pieces of her opus.’ “Art” proves to be a grand fusion of jazz and soul, anchored by a simple, but highly effective groove. Strings add to the lushness and overall beauty, complementing Michele’s cool, but nuanced vocals. Vocally, Michele’s tone is clear as a bell.

“Super Chris” follows in exceptional fashion, highlighting Michele’s distinct, inescapable pipes. Here, she reflects upon her feelings and self, ultimately questioning, “Am I a superstar / is that who I are?” She goes on to answer, “Not really, not at all / I’m fierce / a super Chris.” “Together” slackens the tempo, giving The Lyricists’ Opus a truly electrifying slow jam. Here, Michele’s smoky low register is the star, painting a lush background magnificently. When she ascends higher, she sends chills – those “goosies” Jennifer Lopez often references on American Idol. 

“Hennessy Shot” quickens the pace, incorporating more pronounced rhythm than “Together.” Michele’s cool, calm, and collected approach dominate, as Michele never sounds as if she has to ‘push’ to convey her feelings. It’s less captivating than the tracks that precede it, but still enjoyable and fits the vibe. Sixth track “Make Us One” concludes The Lyricists’ Opus with an assist from The Rich Hipster Chorus.   Fittingly, there’s a gospel edge about it, leaving the listener with some inspiration.

New Music! #blackOwnedFriday #TheLyricistsOpus on #iTunes #Amazon #GooglePlay from #RichHipster & #GSlay

A photo posted by chrisettemichele (@chrisettemichele) on

Ultimately, The Lyricists’ Opus feels like Chrisette Michele was free to deliver the kind of effort she wanted to, without the constrain of a major label breathing down her neck. There’s nothing here that suggests a commercial hit – this is just sound, creative R&B music incorporating Michele’s eclectic artistic nature. Always the underrated musician, The Lyricists’ Opus shows why Michele shouldn’t be the least bit underrated. 

Favorites: “Art,” “Super Chris,” “Together”


Photo Credits: © Chrisette Michele LLC, instagram/chrisettemichele

Review: M&O, ‘Almost Us’


M&O isn’t a household name, but perhaps the duo should be

M&O • Almost Us US Release Date: April 3, 2014

In an age where many of us music listeners are searching for the next ‘big-thing’ – aka the next breakout artist/band – too often WE think ‘too big’ and end up missing out on a treat that wasn’t so far-fetched to discover. There are a number of independent artists who offers just as much, if not more than our ‘idea’ of what and who the next big-time major label artist should be. Among those artists – the “lesser-known” artists as they could be categorized – is a duo that shouldn’t be slept on by the name of M&O. Formerly known as Milo & Otis, Jamila “Milo” Woods handles vocals/vocal arrangements while Owen “Otis” Hill handles instrumental/production duties. After releasing an EP in 2013 entitled The Joy (it’s available digitally), the Chicago duo return (new name intact) with a second EP entitled Almost Us. Generally credited as an R&B offering, Almost Us is eclectic and definitely transcends R&B and labels in general. Available digitally and physically via music bandcamp as of April 3, 2014, Almost Us won’t leave the listener disappointed.

House” opens Almost Us, exemplifying the popular, newfound alt-R&B sound that is breathing new life into the R&B genre. Like major-label contemporaries including Jhene Aiko or Miguel, the alt-soul cues are definitely in play from both Milo (vocals) and Otis (production). “House” has a chill vibe, alluringly lazy vocals, and exceptional production. Referencing those ‘lazy’ vocals, M&O’s sound reminisces back to Erykah Badu in her prime (Baduizm). On “Run”, Milo definitely has strong opinions lyrically: “I would rather run, far away from you / I would rather run.” Besides another well-penned song and hypnotizing vocals, “Run” features a hard anchoring beat that propels the track forward. The overall production thrives from its creativity and minimalism. A variety of tasteful synths and sound effects once more provide a compelling backdrop for Milo to paint with her voice. The use of cool, soulful background vocals doesn’t hurt the cause either.

Jimi Savannah” has more of a pop/rock-oriented sound about it, definitely contrasting “House” and “Run”. Milo’s voice is incredibly versatile, so the shift from more overt R&B to pop/rock is by no means drastic. As always, Otis is there to lockdown the production exceptionally. Perhaps even more than “House” or “Run”, minimalism plays a driving force, specifically courtesy of guitar and bass lines. “It Was The Song”, featuring Donnie Trumpet, gives Almost Us some tempo to work with aka it’s quicker than “Jimi Savannah”. Additionally, after a brief stint with pop/rock, “It Was The Song” returns M&O to R&B/soul fare. “Hollow” features some of Otis’ most adventurous production as of yet, completely abandoning a specific style or niche. Because of the initial unpredictability, “Hollow” has the listener sitting at the edge of their seat just to see what’s going to happen next. The vocal production on “Hollow” definitely shines, playing into the minimalist sense of the overall production. A slow, grinding cut, “Hollow” ends up being one of the most alluring.

Blue” builds off of the tremendous vocal arrangement of “Hollow”, opening stunningly with layered vocals.   The best way to describe the opening is lush and fluffy – think of a baby kitten (Aw!). After making an opening statement with its vocal salvo, “Blue” develops into yet another compelling, alt-R&B number. “Blue”, like the majority of Almost Us, lacks in vocal histrionics that much of R&B possesses, which reduces some of its heart-wrenching, spirit-filled edginess. That said the vibe and the intensity built from the production sort of makes up for the gospel-tinged runs.

Penultimate track “Neighbor” opens mysteriously as anything else, perhaps even a bit off-putting (if you have preconceived expectations). Vocals once more serve as a gargantuan, unavoidable piece within the production. The difference here is that initially, the vocals aren’t layered like “Blue”. With pacing once more serving as a pivotal characteristic, “Neighbor” eventually rounds out into form as the pieces meld together. If the duo of “Blue” and “Neighbor” seemed bit ‘too far out’, “When Pigs Fly” is more accessible. Even so, “When Pigs Fly” definitely doesn’t supersede the album’s two best cuts, “Home” or “Run!”

Ultimately, Almost Us offers the listener a wonderful exemplification of the new school of R&B, with all its ambitious eclecticism. All eight songs have redeeming value, which is a testament to the musicianship of the duo. That said, sometimes it could be argued that M&O play it the slightest bit too ‘cool’ throughout the effort – sometimes it is a bit too ‘chill’. It is nitpicking – nitpicking that could be easily fixed if there were bit of a ‘push’ or extra bite. Still, if you enjoy your music with some unpredictability and incorporating a couple of styles, Almost Us is certainly the right listening opportunity. Hey, it definitely receives my praise and blessings.


“House”; “Run!”; “Hollow”

Verdict: ★★★★

Review: Cosimo Erario, ‘C’É’

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C’É shows listeners the reward of broadening musical horizons

Cosimo Erario⎪ C’É ⎪EGP ⎪⎪ US Release Date: February 25, 2013

Listening to pop/rock music in the U.S., do you ever wonder how the same style of music might differ in another country? I certainly do, though until a recent experience, I wouldn’t have called the question a burning one.  That said,  I was given the unique opportunity to partake of an album of Italian pop/rock music performed and written by singer/songwriter Cosimo Erario.  I had never heard Erario, and while I’ve always wanted to speak Italian, particularly given its significance in music terminology, I’m restricted to just that, fluency in Italian music terms.  Listening to the overall impressive album C’É, it certainly further expanded my already eclectic and liberal tastes.

So how does Italian rock/pop sound? Well not incredibly far-fetched (at least on C’É) from ‘guitar-driven’ pop/rock in the states.  Opener “Senza bussare” would sound very much at home on any of my rock playlists, with the lyrics being the only exception of course.  From the onset, “Senza bussare” grabs one’s attention with its rocking guitars, which continue to drive throughout.  As a first impression, “Senza bussare” proves to be an exceptional one.  The follow-up “Ricominicio da te” is no slouch itself, continuing to impress.  Among several notable moments? The gargantuan nature of the bridge and a catchy chorus, regardless if you comprehend the language.  The unification created by the riffs doesn’t hurt either.

Una trilione di pianeti” (translates to “A Trillion Planets”) caps off a brilliant opening trio, characterized by its beautiful melody, particularly on the refrain.  The soloing guitar lines are athletic in sound and ‘right on point’ as you might say.  Perhaps “Dall’universo” (“From The Universe”) brings things down a notch, but the ballad offers both a strong contrast and is ultimately quite thoughtful. One of the best moments? When the vocals harmonize beautifully when the anchoring bass drops out.  “Noi di vento” picks the tempo back up, though doesn’t certainly doesn’t go ‘lightening speed’.  The sound is once more rock-driven, nothing that doesn’t feel comfortable in American pop  circles.  Those drum ‘runs’ are certainly standard fare to my ears, accentuating the rhythmic identity.

Vilcambamba” is among the elites if for no other reason than how distinctly different it is from everything else.  Named after a small village within the valley of Vilcambamba (via Erario’s soundcloud description of the track), the “Valley of Longevity” as it is known certainly fully invests into its Ecuadorian influences.  In addition to its variety of sounds and great vocal production, can you ever go wrong with the ukelele, like ever? “Ci sei ancora” has a tough act to follow, but the more traditional pop cut still has plenty of worthwhile moments.  “Magneticamente” proves to be as ‘magnetic’ as it’s title translates, characterized by its gritty, distorted guitars and a sort of neo-new wave danceable-rock vibe going on.  It’s not quite as ‘poppy’ as new-wave though, given the beefiness of the guitars.  The guitar soloing? Magnificent!

Erario describes standout “Svuota la tua stanza” as ‘Italian pop-soul’.  A correct label? Certainly.  “Svuota la tua stanza” continues to show Erario’s musical versatility and his eclecticism.  “Paura degli aquiloni” confirms that eclecticism, infusing some ‘funk’ into the picture.  “La nostra estate”, a song about a “summer relationship”, contrasts once more opting for pop balladry.  One of its best assets is its pacing, growing gradually in both scope and emotion.  Penultimate cut “Passato prossimo” throws in some reggae, like “Vilcambamba” and “Svuota la tua stanza”, showcasing Erario’s ambitiousness as a musician at its loftiest.  The whistle tune “D’autunno” packs much more of a punch than expected, closing the album with the upmost positivity.

Overall, C’É is a fine album with plenty of superb moments.  Cosimo Erario transcends rock and pop, using the two styles and springboards for deeper creativity and experimentation.  Having experienced the pleasure and musicianship that defines this effort, it only further makes me as a critic, listener, and musicians broaden my own horizons even more.  To Erario, props brother, props.

Favorites: “Senza bussare”; “Ricomincio da te”; “Una trilione di pianeti”; “Vilcambamba”; “Svuota la tua stanza”; “Passato prossimo”

Verdict: ✰✰✰✰

Review: Janelle Monáe, ‘The Electric Lady’


Janelle Monáe Scores A Home Run on The Electric Lady

Janelle Monáe⎪The Electric Lady⎪ Bad Boy / Wandaland ⎪⎪ US Release Date: September 10, 2013

Janelle Monae-PRN-104757Merely calling Janelle Monáe one of a kind would be a total understatement, like really.  Janelle Monáe is one of a handful of R&B artists who brings something truly different, fresh, and eclectic to the table.  Incredibly nonconformist, Monáe beats to her own drummer, from the tuxedo she swears by to the bombastic, illustrious tunes she captivates us with.  Her second full-length album (third if you include her debut EP in that conversation) The Electric Lady shows no fall-off for Monáe – girlfriend’s got it y’all.  Perhaps most shocking about the album is that she was able to get Prince to collaborate with her – your mouths should be agape ‘cuz don’t no one get ‘The Purple One’ on their album!

An orchestral overture opens, entitled “Suite IV Electric Overture”.  Establishing the refined, artistic liberation of this album and the incredibly individualistic Monáe, the overture seems appropriate.  “Givin’ ‘Em What They Love” brings the first punch, intact with Prince lending his distinct pipes.  The vocal chemistry between the two is like a match made in musical heaven – it’s that good.  The vocal harmonies rock as well, though perhaps the biggest highlight is when Monáe really digs in to her inner rock-chick showing some unstoppable grittiness.  Follow that juggernaut up with another, the fantastic single “Q.U.E.E.N.” which features a legend in it’s own right in Erykah Badu.  Catchy, ‘real talk’, soulful, contemporary, and laden with swagger, “Q.U.E.E.N.” is one of the best songs of 2013, regardless of genre. “Am I a freak for dancing around?” Of course not! Monáe even throws some rhymes in there, further showing the artist’s versatility and restlessness.  No complaints thus far.

Title track “Electric Lady”, featuring Solange, continues the musical impressiveness, even if it can’t outdo the one-two punch of “Givin’ ‘Em What They Love” or “Q.U.E.E.N.”. As always, Monáe compels vocally, as does the more eclectic, hipster Knowles sister.  Following one of many interludes (“Good Morning Midnight”), “Primetime” is an alternative R&B match made in heaven. Janelle Monáe and Miguel? YES! No wonder “…it’s a prime time for our love / and heaven is betting on us”, as the standout refrain goes on this valedictory showing.  To make it even more romantic and sexy, those vocal harmonies are simply stunning as are the lead vocals.  After being “Primetime”, Monáe declares “we were unbreakable / we were like rock and roll / we were like a king and queen / I want you to know…” on the fine “We Were Rock and Roll”.  Like “Primetime”, love remains the theme, compared with rock and roll.  Works right? Yep.

Janelle Monae-AES-089584Following “The Chrome Shoppe” (another interlude), Janelle goes cray cray on “Dance Apocalyptic”.  The hip-hop leaning intro is enough to signify this: “Bands they make her dance apocalyptic now…” Initially, I felt a bit less enthused about Monáe’s second single, but hearing it contextually, it is still good stuff.  I mean, she “…need to know, if the world say’s it’s time to go / tell me, will you freak out?” Sensible enough, right?  Well in Janelle’s world that is.  Monáe goes chill on “Look Into My Eyes”, sounding much like ‘60s or ‘70s pop.  A lovely showing, “Look Into My Eyes” doesn’t supersede any juggernauts, but it still manages to please at a high level. It closes Suite IV capably.

Another orchestral overture opens Suite V (“Suit V Electric Overture”), borrowing it’s basis from none other than “Look Into My Eyes”… at least initially.  The interlude eventually opts for major key, uptempo fare, only to return to a slower tempo.  “It’s Code” proceeds with soul in mind, anchored by a rich, animated bass line.  As always, Monáe delivers the vocal goods with her nuanced vocals.  The cut segues into the uptempo, groovy “Ghetto Woman” which sounds like a soulful, funky throwback as well, but without being anachronistic.  The words are as much a draw as the production, particularly the chorus: “And when you cry don’t you know that I am crying with You? / When people put you down, yeah way down and you feel / like you’re alone…” Empowering, “Ghetto Woman” seems like a fine companion cut to the previous “Q.U.E.E.N.” – rap intact as well.  And shout out to Kellindo Parker’s awesome guitar solo as well.

Janelle Monae-PRN-104766Following the android-themed  interlude (“Our Favorite Fugitive”),  Monáe wants the “Victory”.  “And if tomorrow shall come to me,” she sings at the end of verse one, “I’ll count your every kiss as a victory.” She confirms the toughness of victoriousness: “Cause to be victorious, you must find glory in the little things…” True, and I suppose a kiss could certainly signify a blooming romance.  Lyric analysis aside, what about those soaring upper range notes from Monáe? This totally sounds like a Lauryn Hill type of song!  Continuing on the much travelled pathway of love, “Can’t Live Without Your Love” is self-explanatory.  That definitely doesn’t make it a deal breaker or second-rate either.

Sally Ride” is definitely clever, particularly if “Can’t Live Without Your Love” seemed the slightest bit too ‘normal’ for Monáe.  While there are several messages going on here, there  seem to be allusions to the late Sally Ride (“I’m packing my space suit / and I’m taking my shit and moving to the moon”) that transcend Monáe’s ‘android’ stuff.  Also lines like “Just wake up, Mary / Have you heard the news? / oh, just wake up, Mary / you got the right to choose…” seem like a reference to freedom of choice in numerous social regards (sexuality, career, etc.).  This wouldn’t be far-fetched given Monáe’s love of individualism, nonconformity, and empowerment of women.

Janelle Monae-ZNV-001038Monáe receives the assist from another eclectic, classy standout in Esperanza Spalding on penultimate cut “Dorothy Dandridge Eyes”, another love-oriented. “It’s too late, you’re hypnotized / she’s got Dorothy Dandridge eyes / and you love her, you love her, you love her, you lave that girl…”  The poetic nature of the cuts makes it shine.  The closer “What an Experience” says it all.  Sure it’s referencing love, but in the context of this 19 track effort, isn’t it quite the experience in itself?

How good is The Electric Lady? It’s awesome, simply put.  Consistent, fresh, retro, and captivating, Monáe continues to pave her own way.  Forget all notions about a post-R&B world where the soul is dead, Monáe has got it going on.  Go on and twerk it Janelle! #QUEEN

Favorites: “Givin’ ‘Em What They Love”; “Q.U.E.E.N.”; “Primetime”; “We Were Rock and Roll”; “Ghetto Woman”; “Dorothy Dandridge Eyes”

Verdict: ✰✰✰✰½

Bruno Mars, Unorthodox Jukebox © Atlantic

Impressions: Bruno Mars Goes Bold In His Second Rodeo Unorthodox Jukebox

Bruno Mars, Unorthodox Jukebox © Atlantic


After a two-year hiatus, Bruno Mars releases his anticipated sophomore album Unorthodox Jukebox via Atlantic Records.  A slim thirty-five minutes in duration, Unorthodox Jukebox is nothing short of a ‘trip.’ Mars oscillates between numerous established musical styles (Pop, R&B, Rock, Reggae, etc.) while pushing the envelope both lyrically and stylistically. Many of the experiments bode well in Mars’s favors making other musicians think to themselves, “why didn’t I think of that.” Other experiments are fine attempts that fall short of glory, though it’s discernible what Mars and his production/songwriting team The Smeezingtons were getting at.

Another positive that can be taken from Mars’s sophomore album are his vocals. If anything, the singer has grown grittier and more soulful.  His vocal risks help to atone for the miscues and misnomers of Unorthodox Jukebox, which is the mark of true musician and artist. Flawed, yet bold, Unorthodox Jukebox may not be perfect (it’s not), but there are more than enough bright spots to tickle one’s fancy. Ultimately, the clumsy ones don’t derail things.

“Young Girls” initiates Unorthodox Jukebox. Sporting organ-laden production with a nobly bright sound, Mars sings about the trouble than many a man has – women. Dramatic, the chorus is characterized by powerful vocals by Mars and pummeling drums. “All you young, wild girls,” he sings “…you’ll be the death of me…I’ll always come back to you.”  Though “Young Girls” is a bit repetitive towards the end, it is a solid start to the effort. Mars’s vocals truly convey emotion and drama.

“Locked Out Of Heaven” serves as a brilliant second cut, propelled off both the height of a stronger opener and being the effort’s promo single.  Incited with the cliché count off (“1-2, 1-2-3-4”), a killer groove is established from the top of this cut. The production is appropriated well here, not under- or over-produced by any means.  The songwriting is catchy, particularly well-penned pre-chorus (“…cause your sex takes me to paradise…”) and chorus (“cause you make me feel like, I’ve been locked out of heaven…”) To prevent monotony, the half-time switch up towards the end is a smart musical change (during the chorus).

“Gorilla” is the biggest shock of Unorthodox Jukebox.  If one was wondering why the album sported the infamous parental advisory explicit lyrics label, “Gorilla” is the main offender.  An oddity from the onset, “Gorilla” possesses a mysterious vibe about the sound, foreshadowing the ‘animalistic’ experience about to proceed.  To summarize, Mars tries to analogize intense, passionate sex to, well having sex like gorillas do – like the animals they are.  Is it ludicrous? The answer is both yay and nay.

“Gorilla” is one of those attempts that DOESN’T quite achieve the glory that Mars was going for.  The topic itself is a bit of a stretch (gorillas/animals and sex), but R. Kelly has certainly compared sex and the unconventional so fair game. The biggest problem is the lyrics.  Lines like “Like a gorilla, strong, wild and free, hairy…” or “but in this jungle you can’t run cause what I got for you/I promise is a killer/you’ll be banging on my chest/bang bang gorilla…” come off really corny and lame.

The clumsiest is the most overt and distasteful for a more bold Mars: “…and you’re screaming give it to me baby, give it to me motherf*cker…” WHOA! Give Mars credit for stretching his machismo and shocking even the most un-shockable.  It nearly works, but falls ever so short by my estimations.

After “Gorilla,” everything seems more ‘accessible.’ “Treasure” atones for the bold “Gorilla” by opting for a neo-soul cut that would’ve easily been at home on Musiq Soulchild’s next album. He does shock at the onset as he flexes his newfound bad-boy muscles on the odd intro (“baby squirrel you’s a sexy motherf*cker,”) but settles down once the song settles in.  Mars sounds incredibly soulful here, aided by the backdrop.

On the chorus, he brings it all together: “Treasure, that means what you are/honey you’re my golden star/I know you can make my wish come true/if you let me treasure you…” Yeah, it’s schmaltzy, but we all know Bruno does chivalrous the best. For those who thought R. Kelly had stepped into the room on “Gorilla,” golden boy returned on “Treasure.”

“Moonshine” is Mars’s pop/rock crossover, which also possesses a certain 80s sensibility; the overall production is quite nice. There are some quirks here that for the most part, bode in Mars’s favor.  The vocal production here particularly allows for Mars’s vocals to shine.  As always, Mars bring things together on the big chorus (“Moonshine, your love it makes me come alive,” etc.). The song itself is solid, though not the most distinct or best of Unorthodox Jukebox.

On “When I Was Your Man,” Mars goes acoustic. This stripped nature is a welcome contrast to the busier production of “Moonshine,” though I admit I felt slightly let down that Mars pulls back at the end as opposed to adding bass and drums to the mix.  Personal preference though. Vocally, he is soulful and quite commanding on this cut about his ex “dancing with another man.” Not the elite of the elite, “When I Was Your Man” is strong.

“Natalie” is the next ‘shocker,’ though not to the degree of “Gorilla.” Where Mr. Mars ‘pounded his chest,’ this time he “digging a ditch for this gold-diggin’ b*tch.” WHOA Bruno, you mad bro?   But contextually, Mars did want to “catch a grenade for ya…” So the premise of “Natalie?  Well, This girl is driving Bruno plum cray cray.  It’s dramatic and incredibly feisty. I mean, he even goes so far as to say “I spend your lifetime in jail/I’ll be smiling in my cell.”

On the bridge, he states what we the audience would say is the obvious given the context: “I should’ve know better cause when we were together she never said forever/I’m a fool that played in her game…” Yep, Bruno, you ‘played the fool.’ Thankfully as Aaron Neville once sung, “everybody plays the fool.”  If I had to opt for “Natalie” or “Gorilla,” I think “Natalie” is better executed as a whole.

Both “Gorilla” and “Natalie” are more interesting and notable than “Show Me,” the obligatory reggae/tropical cut.  Yes Bruno is from Honolulu and I’m sure he is well verse in tropical musical genres, but “Show Me” is just too indulgent.  It does mark a stark contrast from “Natalie” in a more positive, less manic direction, but the cut seems overly ‘affected’ in the tropical style. Over-produced and over-styled, “Show Me” is one of my least favorites.

But as always, Mars atones for missteps.  “Money Make Her Smile” sports some of the efforts best production work, even breaking into a more overt hip-hip instrumental section. Vocally, Mars remains strong and resolute in his performance: “It’s not that complicated, so this won’t take a while/you see money make her dance and money, money, money maker her smile.” There you go.

If “Money Maker Her Smile” wasn’t soulful enough, the retro-soul of “If I Knew,” should be. As forward thinking as parts of Unorthodox Jukebox are, Mars rewinds on this cut, accompanied by the end only by electric guitar.  Vocally, Mars is definitely on autopilot.

So what’s the verdict? How does this effort compare to Doo-Wops & Hooligans? In my eyes, Unorthodox Jukebox has plenty of promising moments. It is bold and unapologetic, two respectable facets of a pop/R&B album these days. It is also very different than Mars’s debut.  That said, there are also plenty of flaws.

At only thirty-five minutes, the album should feel more cohesive than it does, particularly with cuts susceptible to scrutinization like “Gorilla,” “Natalie,” or “Show Me” for respective reasons.  Also a more cutting edge Mars may off-put some given the release of tamer, crowd-pleasing singles like “Locked Out Of Heaven” (no. 2 on Billboard Hot 100) or “Young Girls.” These are all speculations, but are legitimate considerations. I remember a certain Rated R album by Rihanna that had everyone buzzing as it revealed ‘adult’ Rihanna.

As I pen this, I’m still on the fence. I like the risks Mars takes and many of the results, but also have some reservations. Part of me thinks the portions of this album I take issue with will grow on me or the improprieties are nit-picky. Then other parts of me think that Mars went too big and tried to do too much in one brief album. SIGH.  Ultimately, I think this album possesses more positives than negatives. It’s not definitively great, but Mars’s restlessness and vocal growth is enough to warrant an overall positive result.

Photo Credits: © Atlantic