Susie Arioli: "All the Way"

June 2012

All the WayWarm and Welcome Collection of Standard Ballads

Jazzheads JH 1192
Format: CD

Musical Performance
****1/2

Sound Quality
***1/2

Overall Enjoyment
****

One introductory guitar chord and Susie Arioli gets right to "My Funny Valentine," everyone's favorite jazz tune, and nails every romantic note of it. It's an attention-getting intro to one of the best albums of pop and jazz standards that I've heard in nearly a decade. Sets like these used to be commonplace from the likes of Peggy Lee and Rosemary Clooney, but it’s been some time since I heard a CD like this. The album is totally enjoyable from beginning to end and put together without a single misstep. Arioli and her band come across like pros.

Arioli is not a fussy singer; she is an exacting one, who miraculously makes her precision seem effortless and spontaneous. There's little fiddling around with the melody -- no scat, no potentially embarrassing hijinks, and no hysteria. She just knows the songs inside out and sings them with her lovely, warm alto and diction that makes every word important and understandable. That last part is of particular interest to me, as I seldom hear it. Arioli caps off a word with a delicate but precisely placed final consonant that gives everyone a full measure of the vowel before it. It is absolutely not any distortion of the rhythm, which is rock solid; it’s something more subtle, mysterious, and rare.

Her choices of material, which include "Time on My Hands," "All the Way," "Here's That Rainy Day," "There’s a Lull in My Life," "Come Rain or Come Shine," "When Your Lover Has Gone," and "Time After Time" are unabashedly retro ballads that have been recorded dozens of times. Guitarist Jordan Officer did the arrangements, as he has for all of Arioli's albums, and he plays some memorable interludes. Other great sidemen hold forth too, such as François Stevenson on vibes, Carmeron Wallis on sax, and Jérôme Dupuis-Cloutier on trumpet. Montreal is Arioli's home base, and the city's Spectra Musique partially funded the album.

The recording is warm and spacious, but I could have used a little more transparency and a better-focused bass line. The bass sound is balanced properly, but you can't always hear that initial attack of the string that holds down the rhythm section. Other than that, this set is as near perfect as can be. Arioli has won awards in Canada and France, and it's about time others knew about her. She's well worth the attention.

Be sure to listen to: Track 3, "Here's to the Losers," uses an entire saxophone section (three tenors and a baritone) in addition to the guitar, drums, and bass, and it has a simply delicious retro feel to it. "When Your Lover Has Gone" utilizes the same forces, while other songs use smaller yet equally effective combinations.

. . . Rad Bennett
radb@soundstagenetwork.com

Georg Breinschmid: "Fire"

March 2012

FireBreathtaking Virtuoso Playing from Brein’s Café

Preiser Records PR 91203
Format: CD

 Musical Performance 
****1/2
 Sound Quality 
****
 Overall Enjoyment 
****1/2

The word that best describes Georg Breinschmid's music making is virtuosic. When you start casting around for other descriptives, there are so many musical styles in his work that no one word gives an accurate picture. Before playing the music he does now, Breinschmid played bass with classical orchestras, including the Vienna Philharmonic, and he has brought some of his classical training to his new ventures. Jazz is the umbrella, and tumbling out from beneath it are elements of polka, waltz, musette, Wienerlied, czárdás, and samba.

Only a real virtuoso could pull this off so successfully, and Breinschmid makes his acoustic bass produce sounds I never thought possible. He tosses off rapid passages with the aplomb of a diva nailing a coloratura aria. He is working with two groups on this disc: one is Brein’s Café, a trio with Frantisek Janoska on piano and brother Roman Janoska on violin; the other is a duo with singer and trumpet player Thomas Gansch. Breinschmid can be really funny as in "Jazz-Gstanzln," a song about a waiter wanting to play jazz: "I slice sausages up into decograms every day there and wistfully think about Chet Baker." If you speak German, you'll probably find these vocals even funnier. Translations are provided for the lyrics but not for all the spoken intros.

No translation is needed for the virtuoso instrumental pieces like "Schnörtzenbrekker" and "Nóta/Csárdás." The latter has Roman Janoska fiddling like a fiend bent on breaking every speed record in the book. And you know, I think he does. There are mellow moments, too, such as "Sweetie," written, the notes tell us, for Breinschmid's girlfriend.

The recordings are exceptionally clean and well balanced, especially when you consider that most of them were made on location and live. Give this virtuosic and zany disc a listen. Oh, it also comes with a four-track bonus disc, so in keeping with the artist's sense of humor, the spine lists it as 1 1/2 CDs. The thank-you notes credit Thomas Edison for "great lighting."

Be sure to listen to: Track 6, "jaBISTdudenndeppat," which tackles some pretty crazy time signatures like 25/16 and 15/8, contains a crazed reference to Beethoven's 9th Symphony like you've never heard it. Irreverent? Maybe. Effective? Most definitely!

. . . Rad Bennett
radb@soundstagenetwork.com

Hiroe Sekine: "After the Rainfall"

February 2012

After the RainfallUpbeat Jazz from Hiroe Sekine

Sekai Music
Format: CD

 Musical Performance 
****
 Sound Quality 
***1/2
 Overall Enjoyment 
****

It often seems to be feast or famine when I'm looking for a music title to review. Lately it's been feast -- January was a bumper month for female jazz vocalist CDs of high quality. Tania Maria, Lorraine Feather, Joanna Weinberg, Catherine Russell, and Sara Gazarek all released dynamite discs of distinction. I chose Hiroe Sekine's After the Rainfall for this week's release because it's also a four-star offering, but it arrived with far less fanfare than the others and I feared it would be overlooked.

Sekine was born in Japan and studied at music schools there and in Fullerton, California (Fullerton College). After the Rainfall is her second album, a colorful, gossamer collection that caresses the ear in a beguiling, laid-back manner. Some might dismiss Sekine's music as "soft jazz" or "easy listening," but that would be selling it short. As pianist, singer, composer, and arranger, Sekine may lean toward the easily listenable hook or variation, but that doesn't mean there's no talent or inventiveness in her work. Subtle music is often more difficult to perform than something flashy.

The CD opens with Sekine's own composition, "Song of the Owl," which begins with a rhythmic figure on the piano. You'll be immediately struck by the instrument's rich, natural sound, and from that point on you'll have no doubt that this will be an album with above-average sonics. As shimmering struck cymbals, solid yet not overly aggressive bass, and warm and rich guitar join in, setting the stage for Bob Sheppard's saxophone solo and Sekine's wordless vocal, the set quickly develops into an audiophile's delight. Continuing the dreamlike mood, Sekine encores with the title song and then, with no temerity or imitation, launches into the Lennon-McCartney classic "In My Life," in which she duos with Arnold McCuller. It's a romantic rethinking of a timeless song that resonates with sincerity and beauty.

After a playful, good-natured romp with Chick Corea's "Windows," Sekine turns to "Aqui Ó" and then Jobim’s "Inútil Paisagem." In the latter two, Sekine calls to mind early Astrud Gilberto with her childlike, pure, and simple delivery augmented by Sheppard's flute, which darts in and out of the melodies, adding radiant filigree.

After two more of her own songs, Sekine closes the disc with Thelonious Monk's "Evidence," giving evidence that she can conjure serious jazz virtuosity when needed. Overall, this CD is upbeat if often gentle, and the recorded sound, produced by Russell Ferrante -- a producer and keyboardist for award-winning albums by the Yellowjackets -- is exemplary. It would be a shame if you missed it.

Be sure to listen to: The title song opens with piano, with guitar entering in such a way that it seems like an extension of the keyboard. Subtle percussion soon arrives, along with wordless soprano from Sekine. It's dreamlike in the best sense, with a crisply recorded guitar solo finally dispelling the mist.

. . . Rad Bennett
radb@soundstagenetwork.com

Jamie Ousley: "A Sea of Voices"

January 2012

Jamie OusleySpiritual Jazz for an Environmental Mission

Tie Records TIE 1276
Format: CD

Musical Performance
****
Sound Quality
***1/2
Overall Enjoyment
****

Every once in a while, though not nearly often enough, I hear a disc that quietly asks me to stop the whirling gears in my brain and just sit still and listen. A Sea of Voices proved to be that kind of disc, one that went beyond mere music to become a spiritual experience. I wasn't surprised, then, to find out that Jamie Ousley has been playing many jazz concerts in churches, reviving a tradition of past years, and that his disc is produced not for profit but to raise funds for the Sunshine State Interfaith Power and Light organization, which has an environmental mission to "mobilize faith communities in Florida to care for creation."

Ousley has played double bass with such well known artists as George Shearing, Benny Golson, James Moody, Eddie Gomez, and Randy Brecker and is professor of jazz bass at Florida International University in Miami, touring nationally with his trio (Joe Davidian on piano and Austin McMahon on drums). For this special recording, he's added vocalist Nanami Morikawa, percussionist Carlomagno Araya, and pianist Gabriel Saientz to the mix. The group recorded A Sea of Voices mostly in Boston, with some sessions and mixing in Florida.

The most incredible spiritual track on this CD is "Shenandoah," one of my all-time favorite traditional songs. I must have heard dozens of versions, but I'll always go out of my way to hear another one. This take, which contains just Ousley's bass and Morikawa's voice, is simple yet profound in its intimate approach. The bass starts a gentle, undulating ostinato; then the voice enters with wordless comments. Morikawa gently sings the first two verses in a lovely pure soprano, and Ousley takes the melody for the third, playing in the high, often unused, register of the bass. They then combine in close harmony for the final verse.

The sound throughout the CD is very consistent, even though they recorded some of the pieces at different locations. There's also good balance among bass, piano, and drums. I felt that the sound needed just a touch more presence, but it certainly sounds agreeable and acceptable the way it is.

The overall theme of the album is water, which Ousley celebrates with several compelling numbers including "Hymn of the Tides," "Loving Beauty," and "Holy Water." Along the way you'll find pianist Davidian's arrangements of Irving Berlin's "How Deep Is the Ocean?" and Coldplay's "Swallowed in the Sea." Ousley probably has the right idea in playing churches, because while his subtle jazz would fit in a club, clinking glassware and background conversations would diminish its effect. It's not music for the car; it's music for a quiet listening room, and for the soul.

Be sure to listen to: You might have been led to believe, as I was, that "Rocky Top" is a bluegrass-country song (my favorite version thus far has been by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band), but on track 5 Ousley and his fellow musicians might thoroughly convince you that the song has jazz roots.

. . . Rad Bennett
radb@soundstagenetwork.com 

Bill Toms: "Memphis"

September 2011

Bill TomsEnergetic Big-Band Blues

Terraplane Records 1001
Format: CD

Musical Performance
****1/2
Sound Quality
***1/2
Overall Enjoyment
****

Television executives have discovered the value of airing new shows during the hot months, so we've seen a proliferation of first-rate shows with seasons starting in the summer instead of the fall. One such show is Memphis Beat. I record it with my DVR so I won't miss an episode, and though I watch it for the fine ensemble cast that includes Jason Lee, Sam Hennings, and Alfre Woodard, I tune in just as much for the music. Lee portrays a police officer who plays blues in Memphis bars and clubs at night, and every show closes with him doing a song (actually sung by Mark Arnell). There's also terrific source music along the way, with Keb' Mo' and A. Patrick Rose providing guidance and original music. Just a partial list of performers represented includes Elvis Presley (Memphis was home to Sun Records), Junior Wells, Waylon Jennings, Freddie King, The Allman Brothers Band, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Blind Boys of Alabama, Mississippi John Hurt, and Johnny Cash.

The point is that music from Memphis may range across many particular styles, but those styles all have two things in common: commitment and energy. Look at that list, and you'll easily see those common elements.

That brings me to Bill Toms and Memphis. I was stoked for this album, which arrived around the same time as the last Memphis Beat episode, and I wasn't at all disappointed. Though he's Pittsburgh based, Tom's gravelly voice sings of rebellion, love, hurt, and the down and out just like he's lived in Memphis all his life. The styles might vary a bit, just as they do on Memphis Beat, but he has commitment in spades and enough energy to power a small city. The singer-songwriter sweeps into your life like a tornado; if he's singing, you'd better pay attention. But, heck, you won't mind doing that at all.

The opening "I Won't Go to Memphis No More" makes that surrender sweet. This is a big, bold blues tune in which Toms fronts a large Memphis-style band, complete with wailing sax (Phil Brontz) and Jerry Lee Lewis-style piano (Steve Binsberger). The song grabs you and won't let go, not that you'd want it to. "Misery" is slower but no less pungent, and Toms's broken and frayed voice fully conveys the message in "On the Road of Freedom." There's some good harmonica, too, from Will Kimbrough, who's also the album's producer. Throughout the album, Toms sings with constant conviction; if you aren't a believer by the third cut of this CD, you just aren't listening.

The recorded sound is big and bold, perhaps slightly at the expense of clarity and presence. Between Memphis Beat and Memphis, my ears get the impression of a music scene that I'd really like to hear in person. When I first played Memphis, I had to play it again right away. I dare you to stop at one listen.

Be sure to listen to: There are delightful riffs shot through this entire album, but the organ, sax, and guitar spots on "Waiting on the Pain" really got my attention.

. . . Rad Bennett
radb@soundstagenetwork.com

The SSJ All-Stars: "From California With Love"

September 2011

From California with LoveJazz Artists Perform for Japanese Earthquake-Tsunami Relief

SSJ-USA 002
Format: CD

Musical Performance
****1/2
Sound Quality
****
Overall Enjoyment
****

Until this disc arrived two days ago, I was going to write about a Memphis blues album today, but From California With Love was so professionally accomplished and made such an impression that I need to tell you about it first. It's a compilation disc, which would normally brand it as uneven, both in performance and recorded sound, but that's not the case here. Each song is delivered with the utmost artistry, and each is recorded in intimate, detailed sound with a huge amount of warmth. There's a notable absence of heavy percussion and histrionics. Most of the songs are accompanied only by piano, with the addition of acoustic bass here and there. Some might call it "soft jazz," which certainly has its place when done so well.

Things get off to a splendid start as Sue Raney, with Alan Broadbent on piano, sings a medley of "Blue Skies" and "On a Clear Day." Raney has a voice that immediately conjures up feelings of warmth and sunlight. I really think this is the best version of "Blue Skies" I've ever heard. Raney sings "On a Clear Day" with equal expertise and feeling, but let’s face it -- the song belongs to Barbra. Pianist Broadbent encores with a sly and ingenious version of "Sweet and Lovely."

Getting back to vocals, Johnny Holiday offers an uptempo, radiant version of "Strike up the Band," which is followed by one of the most beautiful and moving tracks on the disc, Leslie Lewis's wistful version of "Skylark." Since that song is liable to make you glad to be alive, you'll find it appropriate that it precedes "Here's to Life," crooned to perfection by Kurt Reichenbach. Skipping a few that I'll let you discover for yourself, we come to Tierney Sutton and "Beautiful Love." Sutton has often seemed overly wrought and hard-sell to me, but here she applies just the right amount of drama to a lyrical and intense performance.

All the proceeds from this album go to Japanese earthquake and tsunami relief. The last two songs on the disc seem especially tailored to the cause -- Frankie Randall's "The Wave" precedes Rodgers and Hammerstein's "You’ll Never Walk Alone," sung with genuine emotion by Pinky Winters, with Jim Cox at the piano and Tom Warrington on bass.

The overall tone of this disc is romantic and lush, but the performers never cross the line into grandstanding. They just sing, as only they can, and that's more than enough. Treat yourself to this fireside, lamplight collection and help someone in need as well. That's a real win-win situation.

Be sure to listen to: Jim Cox, who so effectively accompanies Pinky Winters and Kurt Reichenbach, contributes a solo piano version of the Lennon-McCartney tune "We Can Work It Out." I'd never thought of this song without the vocals, but in Cox's jazzy arrangement it works just fine.

. . . Rad Bennett
radb@soundstagenetwork.com

Dale Ann Bradley: "Somewhere South of Crazy"

August 2011

Dale Ann BradleyDale Ann Bradley Sings From and To the Heart

Compass 2-4564 2
Format: CD

Musical Performance
****1/2
Sound Quality
****1/2
Overall Enjoyment
****1/2

I first heard Dale Ann Bradley at a music festival in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, when she performed with the New Coon Creek Girls. Bradley was a member of that skilled and vivacious all-female band for several years. On returning to West Virginia, I ordered all of the band's albums I could find as well as Bradley's solo efforts. What had impressed me so much showed up on all the CDs -- Bradley’s honest, no-gimmicks delivery of heartland lyrics. Couple that with one of the most beautiful, pure voices in bluegrass, or any genre for that matter, and you have one very special performer. I'm clearly not alone in this appraisal, as Bradley received the International Bluegrass Music Association award for Best Female Vocalist of the Year (2007-2009).

Bradley used to record for the Pinecastle label, and I'd lost track of her in the last decade. Recently, however, she popped up in an online mailing from Naxos, with a new album on the Compass label. I've now listened to it a half-dozen times and can gladly say that Bradley has mellowed in the best possible way, and time hasn't ravished her golden voice one bit. The only difference is that she now has more maturity and insight, the sort that just comes with living. Her manner is still direct and true, absent of any histrionics or distractions. She sings straight to and from the heart.

On Somewhere South of Crazy, set to be released August 30, 2011, Bradley sings 11 classics, including the title song, which she co-authored with country music legend Pam Tillis. There are a few surprises, like a version of the Seals and Crofts hit "Summer Breeze" that makes the song sound like it was always intended to be a bluegrass tune. More often, Bradley sticks with bluegrass songs like Sarah Pirkle's poignant "Come Home Good Boy" and the upbeat "In Despair," written by Joe Ahr and Juanita Pennington and made famous by Bill Monroe.

Alison Brown, co-founder of Compass Records and banjo player extraordinaire, produced Somewhere South of Crazy, and she kept the production simple to suit Bradley's style. Reading the fine print reveals that Brown spent three years with another Alison, Alison Krauss. Brown also contributes buoyant-yet-subtle banjo playing on most of the tracks. Other bluegrass artists that make appearances on Somewhere South of Crazy include Stuart Duncan, Steve Gulley, Andy Hall, and Sierra Hull. All of the instruments are recorded with detail and space, and all are in perfect balance with each other and with Bradley. The sound here is a successful case of less being more.

Be sure to listen to: At the beginning of the second track, "Round and Round," the interplay of Alison Brown's banjo, Sierra Hull's mandolin, and Steve Duncan's fiddle makes for a special, intimate sound.

. . . Rad Bennett
radb@soundstagenetwork.com

Duda Lucena Quartet: "Live"

July 2011

Duda Lucena QuartetGentle South American Rhythms and Intimate Vocals Prove Perfect for Summer

Self released
Format: CD

Musical Performance
****
Sound Quality
****
Overall Enjoyment
****

Hearing Duda Lucena and his well meshed quartet is like eating at that restaurant we all go to when we want something reliable. We might not be moved to ask for the recipe, but we'll be completely satisfied. Lucena sings in such an intimate manner that it's almost like he's singing to each individual listener. There were no fireworks on the album, but I came away from it happy and content as can be. Essential to the relaxed, low-key mood of the music are its gently swaying samba and maracatu influences, with a sprinkling of bossa nova. The gentle sounds depend on subtle, solid delivery; vocal histrionics would ruin them. Another key factor in the warmth and coziness is the Portuguese language, which is seldom harsh or biting.

Lucena, born in Pernambuco, Brazil, seems to have the language and music in his blood. He's upfront as singer and guitarist, and his backing musicians, Quentin Baxter on drums, Kevin Hamilton on acoustic bass, and Gerald Gregory on piano, all play impeccably to complete Lucena's lead. Each of these supporting partners is given a solo riff somewhere during the disc's seven cuts, and each aces his opportunity to shine. The album contains one original by Lucena ("Sol") and a half-dozen songs by genre giants such as Antonio Carlos Jobim ("Corcovado"), Gilberto Gil ("Drào"), and Caetano Veloso ("Odara" and "Trilhos Urbanos").

All the songs were recorded live, but the audience is either very polite or cut out by a discrete sound design, as you can hear them only during the applause at the end of each number. The balance among the four players is perfect, and I never felt that anyone should be brought forward or softened. They're just right as they are.

This live album is a perfect summertime recording to soothe flaring tempers set loose by extreme heat. Lucena now makes his home in the Charleston area, where lucky South Carolinians (and tourists) get to hear him every Wednesday from 7 to 11 p.m. at the Charleston Grill at Charleston Place. He also plays other locations in the Charleston area and a few in Rio. In the meantime, everyone can sample Lucena's art through this self-released disc, which is for sale at Amazon.com.

Be sure to listen to: In the opening of the last cut, "Odara," Lucena's four low notes are almost breathed rather than sung, with perfect pitch and intimacy.

. . . Rad Bennett
radb@soundstagenetwork.com

Stevie Nicks: "In Your Dreams"

May 2011

Stevie NicksStevie Nicks Offers a Varied, Successful New Album

Reprise 5272472
Format: CD

Musical Performance
****
Sound Quality
***1/2
Overall Enjoyment
***1/2

In Your Dreams, Stevie Nicks's first new solo album in a decade, is part memory, part mystical, and part contemporary, with the parts adding up to a very successful whole. The veteran queen of rock has been performing for over 40 years, yet her voice sounds just as it always has, with that immediately recognizable rasp adding character to every note. Nicks knows her voice, both its strengths and weaknesses, so she knows how to use it without making any missteps. Though she can often seem aloof and detached onstage, Nicks seems fully involved in every song on this CD.

The songs are varied, most featuring lyrics Nicks wrote, or as in the case of "Annabel Lee," lyrics she adapted. Nicks also wrote most of the music, with some tracks penned by the album's producer, Dave Stewart, who sings a duet with Nicks on the last cut, "Cheaper Than Free." I liked "New Orleans" best, in which Nicks sings of hope for a city all but destroyed by Hurricane Katrina while giving a nod to the types of outfits fans have come to expect of her: "I wanna dress up, I wanna wear beads, I wanna wear feathers and lace, I wanna brush by the vampires." Next for me would be the hollow and empty-sounding "Soldier's Angel," which makes a statement about war and alludes to Nicks's work in veteran's hospitals, where she has provided wounded military men with autographed MP3 players loaded with her favorite music. I also liked the conciliatory title song.

Scattered in and among these three are the supernatural and evocative "Annabel Lee," from Edgar Allen Poe, and "Moonlight (A Vampire's Dream)" inspired by the Twilight series of novels and films. In a world where music is mostly being downloaded a song at a time, the album has all but disappeared. This disc, however, has a carefully thought-out order and pacing that makes it a satisfying program as an album concept. The production is clean and clear for the most part, though once in a while, as in the title song, the sound becomes thick and overproduced. There's a long list of supporting musicians, which indicates recordings done over a period of time, but the smooth production makes it seem like they were all put together in the same afternoon.

Be sure to listen to: "Soldier's Angel," with its sparse scoring, is the best place to hear Nicks's voice. After a guitar intro, Nicks enters, and effective drumbeats carry you up to the chorus, when the backup singers join in for emphasis. It's what the folks over at Linn Records in Scotland like to call acid folk. A-plus acid folk, I'd add.

. . . Rad Bennett
radb@soundstagenetwork.com

Megan Slankard: "A Token of the Wreckage"

February 2011

Megan SlankardMegan Slankard's First New Album in Three Years Is a Winner

Daily Acts 39216
Format: CD

Musical Performance
****
Sound Quality
****
Overall Enjoyment
****

In the video for the title song, Megan Slankard walks past a group of bored slacker musicians sitting on the curb outside a bar. She goes in, finds a location, unpacks her instrument, and starts to play and sing. The musicians from outside find their way inside and provide her with instrumental backing. The footage up to this point is black and white, but it gradually changes to full color as she finishes and leaves the bar. I admit it sounds hokey when put into words, but the simplicity and sincerity of the whole event makes it tremendously effective and uplifting. Slankard’s music is like that, positive and honest to a fault. You won’t regret hearing it, and your life might even be a little better for the effort.

The young singer, still in her 20s, hails from San Francisco. She’s been compared to Rickie Lee Jones, Joni Mitchell, Ani DiFranco, and other female singer-songwriters, and her style embodies country, folk, acoustic, and folk rock, yet doesn’t seem derivative. Slankard’s music supports lyrics that are down-to-earth intelligent and often deliberately ambiguous, letting the listener participate in the creative process through interpretation.

A Token of the Wreckage has been three years in the writing and contains songs that are mostly about coming of age and entering adulthood. The title song speaks of the many pitfalls in growing older, but it suggests we can always find a bright spot along the way. "The Happy Birthday" and "The Pain of Growing Up" are most obviously about the passage into adulthood, but that theme also underlies most of the music. I was especially taken with a song called "Beautiful Makeshift," which indicates that even though two sides of a relationship might seem at odds, the overall picture can become an ideal and satisfying compromise.

David Bryson of Counting Crows mixed the album, and it's largely clean as a whistle without losing any warmth. He introduces meaningful distortion on a few of the bigger tunes. I don’t care for it much, even if it does have purpose, but only ten percent of the album wallows in that excess. The rest is as refreshing as a mountain brook during spring thaw.

I wondered what will happen to Megan Slankard as I thought of Lawrence Lebo, another great female talent I’ve written about recently. I thought about them both as I was watching many sub-standard performers during the dismal Grammy Awards. How is it that talent gets swallowed up in a maelstrom of mediocrity? I want to blame American Idol for setting low standards, but perhaps that isn’t the whole story. After all, the immensely talented and original Esmeralda Spaulding got recognition. You can’t buy A Token of the Wreckage until March 8, but you can watch the video now.

Be sure to listen to: The acoustic guitar, bass, and drums make a beguiling background for Slankard’s vocal. It’s a lovely, complete, wouldn’t-want-to-change-a-thing-about-it sound.

. . . Rad Bennett
radb@soundstagexperience.com