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ARTIST OF THE MONTH: AVI JACOB IS THE PERFECT MODEST MAN
September 1, 2016 12:05 am

Summer’s over people. Get those lively synth tunes about not letting the night escape us out of my face. The season of hibernation is upon us, and to help us soundtrack the cyclical death of all leaves is Avi Jacob. Be appreciative.

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Jacob’s latest single, “Pickup Truck, is an Americana wet dream from beginning to end. You’ve got a sweet acoustic guitar being masterfully plucked throughout, pickup trucks, lyrics alluding to a father being disappointed in his son. These are the pillars of our great country, and Jacob builds a beautiful house of music with them as his supporting base. This is the environment Jacob is most comfortable with.

Just watch the video of him performing “Modest Man below. It’s just him wailing on his guitar in the woods as he sings his heart out. There probably isn’t another person around for miles. What’s truly great about the video is how authentically homemade it is. No hi-def camera showing close up shots of him from all different angles, no detailed cinematography of the surrounding elements either. It’s simply a camera on a tripod set up on the back porch filming Avi Jacob perform. That’s it.

The idea of a truly genuine artist feels somewhat out of place in 2016. Every persona, as well as every song, tends to get workshopped ad nauseum. The true persona is there at the core, but everything built around him or her are half-truths and hyperbole. It obviously makes for great entertainment, but it’s always bittersweet realizing that the person making such human and relatable art isn’t actually relatable (or even that human) in real life whatsoever. However, every line that Jacob powers out of his soul affirms that what’s being said is 100% him.

Because of this, Avi Jacob doesn’t have the wildest of web presences. He has a total of 79 tweets. His Facebook is only used to promote his performances. And from what it looks like, his website doesn’t even work. It’s doubtful that any of this bothers him though. Because it genuinely seems as though he is an actual rogue folk music folk tale who jumps from town to town by trading a song for a bed and some hot supper.

Maybe it’s all just a ruse and he’s secretly been a millionaire method actor researching for his next role this whole time. Inside Llewyn Davis desperately needs a sequel, so it would make sense. Other than that scenario, Avi Jacob is most likely the real deal that Folk music needs right now. His voice is passionate and his songs are beautifully heartbreaking. What you see is wholeheartedly what you get.

LIANNE LA HAVAS: SOOTHING THE SOUL
June 24, 2016 3:13 pm

Lianne La Havas is a bright soul based out of London, England. Born to a Greek father and Jamaican mother, La Havas is the embodiment of the new England. Multi-cultural, worldly, and absolutely lovely, La Havas is methodically carving out her own space in the aural atmosphere.

Her album’s Is Your Love Big Enough from 2012 and follow-up Blood in 2015 both sit in that tender spot involving love, passion, and soul. La Havas operates where great artists like Lauryn Hill and Erykah Badu first strode, crooning and layering smooth neo-soul with jazz and funk.

With two full length albums in three years, moving from background vocals with Paloma Faith to touring with artists like Bon Iver and Coldplay, La Havas is killing it at 26. She had a song on Alt-J’s latest and greatest hit 2014 album This Is All Yours, where her silken voice meshes perfectly with his in between soft acoustic guitar. Is Your Love Big Enough won iTunes Best of 2012 Album of the Year, boosting La Havas’ musical profile and allowing her to take bigger risks on Blood.

Recorded in Jamaica during a coming-home trip the singer went on with her mother, Blood’s title alludes to the cultural influences her heritage contributes. The album, which would end up being mixed at the legendary Electric Lady Studios in New York City, showcases La Havas’s strength in growing into her true self. Moving temporarily from the intimate acoustics she curated on her first album, La Havas experiments with bigger sounds and words. From brash brass, funky bass, and homeland reggae, the album swings hard behind La Havas’s direction.

The first four tracks off Blood give a good impression of the art La Havas creates. “Unstoppable,” her hit solo, is a smooth, swinging tune full of energy. The second, “Green and Gold,” references her Jamaican heritage and reflects the comfort La Havas has relishing in her own journey. The third, “What You Don’t Do,” was quickly made clear by La Havas in an interview to not have been written by her. It’s definitely loud and fun, not exactly the vibe La Havas usually cherishes, but still a great summertime song you can blast full tilt. Last, “Tokyo” brings on the funk, returning to rainy-day, soul-aching, heart-wrenching croonings. Her sweet and broken voice is almost cruel to listen to, reverberating between the ears of the listener with no help in sight.

In February 2016, La Havas released the EP Blood Solo, a bare-bones acoustic version of her album Blood. It seems as if La Havas can’t resist lighting some candles, grabbing her guitar, some dear friends, and melting hearts. Sounding heart-broken, La Havas enchants the listener deeply and purely over time, drawing those in with siren-like seduction.

From initially being discovered in 2008 on MySpace, to touring around the world and making her sound known, Lianne La Havas is a unique and inspiring individual. Currently touring in 2016 with Coldplay, keep your eyes peeled and your hearts open.

VICTORIA REED CHARMS BROOKLYN
November 18, 2015 8:00 am

11879282_915512138498784_387818074703786107_oThe weather in New York hasn’t quite made up it’s mind about whether it’s fall or winter yet (Is it even supposed to be this warm?) Luckily for us, Victoria Reed made Baby’s All Right an enchanting evening full of surprises. Detroit-bred Victoria Reed made her NYC debut performance in the heart of Williamsburg, charming the crowd with her calm and soothing voice, very similar to that of Norah Jones. She expresses her heartbroken love stories to the crowd and puts them in a song in the most beautifully sweet and mellow way. She’s basically Brooklyn’s underground Taylor Swift. She emanates the perfect after-work, chill vibe and the crowd seemed more than pleased to encounter this chic musician in fashionable white cowboy boots perform in one of Brooklyn’s most loved venues.
The city is full of surprises when it comes to underground musicians waiting to be discovered. It’s no doubt that Victoria Reed will capture your hearts and reminisce about those past (or current) relationships that you’ve had. Her debut album Chariot being released on February 26th next year will make you want to sit by the fireplace under a blanket with a hot cocoa in hand, which I’m sure will satisfy all of our cravings during that time of year anyway. Go do your ears a favor and give her a listen.

ARTIST OF THE MONTH:  JULIEN BAKER
November 10, 2015 4:25 am

The first time I heard Julien Baker, it felt like someone ripped my heart out of my chest.

“I rejoice and complain.  Lift my voice.”

Her words are like a tiny knife across your heart and before you know it, Sprainked Ankle is telling too many stories that resonate with you and your broken soul.

Julien hails from Murfreesboro, Tennessee where she played in the Memphis based band, Forrister.

Baker finds herself in good company when she declares, “Wish I could write songs about anything other than death.”  Death, love, heart break, despair, awakenings, God, these are all things that Julien Baker touches on in her songs and in a way it makes you feel a little less alone.

This record possesses all of the things that I love musically rolled into one.  Elements of Folk, Country, Soul, Gospel all combined  with her haunting lyrics create songs that are filled with pain and beauty. Her voice at times fades and then soars with a chilling raspiness on moments that you would least expect it.  Each song becomes an unexpected emotional journey.

“I can’t think of anyone, anyone else,” she howls on “Something,” and I believe every word of it.

“I just left the park, you like swallowed me up
Choking you times, and kicking up dust
Asking aloud why you’re leaving
But the pavement won’t answer me
I just let the silence swallow me up
The ring in my ears tastes like blood
Asking aloud why you’re leaving
But the pavement won’t answer me”.

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I can’t wait to see what is next for this powerful lady. Regardless of where her music goes from here, this record is a testimony to Julien Baker’s artistry and talent.

Sprained Ankle is out now on 6131 Records.

HONESTY IN THE WILDERNESS WITH JOEY KNEISER
November 5, 2015 2:22 pm

The first time I heard a Joey Kneiser song was when I found a video of Lucero‘s Ben Nichols singing his rendition of the song ‘Bruised Ribs’ off of Joey’s first record, The All Night Bedroom Revival back in 2010. I fell in love instantly with the honesty and self revelation of the song, so I checked out the whole album and was just as pleasantly surprised. Joey, who is known for his band Glossary, knows how to bring out the feels in even the hardest of hearts.

Fast forward to yesterday when I got to finally view the long awaited release of The Wildness and I was floored again. You see, Joey has a knack for writing all the lyrics you and I wish we could think up and pairing them with quirky lead guitar parts and steady beats with a tinge of country influence. I mean he is from Tennessee so it’s not a huge surprise. While I’m sure we can all agree that good country took a turn for the worst a long time ago, Joey’s music takes all the best parts from that old style country we all enjoyed so much growing up. In my own opinion it is a very hard part to infuse with a mostly indie and soft singer song writer style.jk pic

I think if I had to describe the style of Joey’s music to someone who may not have heard it I would have to say it’s a bittersweet fusion of Lucero and the like Chuck Ragan but with the classic style of artists like Tom Petty, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen- but Joey puts a beautiful spin on the vocals.  I am not sure I’ve heard a more velvet yet powerful voice aside from maybe Noah Gundersen.  If the sheer honesty of Joey Kneiser’s work doesn’t draw you in at first listen take a minute and listen to the intricate guitar parts and  the dynamic hooks in each and every song. There is not a bad song on any album he’s made and that is rare as hell. He does not make hit or miss records.

The video for “The Wildness” is a very interesting idea which I would assume is some one traveling alone on their own path of restlessness, he explains that in order to start something new you usually have to give something up. In finding old parts of himself he had to bury another part of himself.  Until reading his bio I wasn’t even sure what to call the wandering feeling inside of likely every musician and artist but this video definitely captures those feelings.

In his Facebook bio Joey explains that, in an Elliott Smith like realization, without a band he would have to record this new record alone hit him. He orchestrated all parts of it himself except for Kelly’s vocals. He stated he “does not like hearing his voice without hers beside it.” That is a very heavy and endearing fact considering they were once married, but they have always sung together and the respect that takes as musicians is jaw dropping.

If this video is any indication of How rest of the album will sound I will be sitting here holding my breath waiting for an amazing new record, by a man who the beasts feel truly can ‘con a flood into thinking that it needed rain’. Listen to his video premier on American Songwriter Magazine now!

The Dove & The Wolf – Taking The US By Storm
September 24, 2015 9:46 am

Paris-based duo Paloma and Lou have been musical partners for years. The Dove & The Wolf is their most recent project, and their music is spreading across the US like wildfire.

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Their self-distributed EP was released back in 2012, only six months after the duo’s formation, and was immediately picked up and highlighted by the New York Times. Now fresh out of college, Paloma and Lou seem to have spent just as much time in the US as their home countries, France and Martinique.

And what’s not to like about The Dove & The Wolf? Their dual guitars blend just as effortlessly as their vocal harmonies. The songs are catchy, yet they possess an ambient and melancholic quality. As they say on their website, their music is “where Crosby, Stills & Nash and Air meet a feminine tenor.” Despite the ambient tints of their music, Air doesn’t really come to mind when listening to them. Take away the electronics from Air and you have nothing, however the stripped-down, acoustic live versions of The Dove & The Wolf are arguably just as good as the multi-layered versions we hear on their EP.

Unsurprisingly, a debut album is now in the works. Judging by their most recent release, a short EP called Words You Said, we could conclude that Paloma and Lou are heading into slightly more ambient territory. Perhaps the influences of Air will be more apparent in their next album. That would be interesting to hear, though I hope they don’t lose their melancholic quality in the process. In any case, I can be nothing but excited.

Streets of Laredo: The Kiwis of Bushwick
July 8, 2015 11:32 am

There’s something about indie folk music that makes it the perfect summer tune while you’re laying on the grass enjoying the nice weather. Streets of Laredo is a Brooklyn based band that makes you want to do exactly that while forgetting all about your problems for a few sweet moments. Their Governor’s Ball Music Festival debut officially marked their 3rd year anniversary in Brooklyn after moving from New Zealand as a three piece. “Me, my brother, his wife were a three piece for a little while and we kind of gathered members as we went on. They picked up a few more players over a couple of years to make the band “more legitimate.”

You might be thinking, why would anybody think of leaving such a beautiful country and move to Brooklyn? “I think we’ve all been in bands and we’ve all been doing music back in New Zealand. We wanted change and wanted to challenge ourselves. Throw ourselves into a big pond.” Dan continues talking about how much of a tight community it is, and that it’s a great place for musicians. “I think it kind of helps musicians to be in that culture and create relationships/friendships. LA is really different. Its cool and all but it’s not so closely knit. The music scene here in Brooklyn – there’s so many bands, so many venues, so many bands kind of doing stuff here and there. And we kind of wanted to put ourselves in the middle of it.”

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Moving somewhere halfway around the world, I expected they must have experienced some sort of culture shock or been through some struggle adjusting to the American environment. “It was really hard to order a bagel because nobody understood my accent! I would go to the deli in Bushwick and the guy just didn’t understand me. I literally just had to say bagel so many times and change the way I pronounced it. Sometimes I’ll get something a little different, but I just go along with it. You probably still can’t understand me. [laughs]”

Their performance at Governors Ball was sensational and perfect to start off my festival groove. Though they haven’t had many previous experiences of playing on such a big stage, they seemed calm, collected, and very experienced. “Man, I’ve just always wanted to play it so it was a highlight. It was a highlight for the whole band and we were so honored and humbled to be a part of the bill!”

With such talent and great musicianship, I feel as though they don’t get as much attention as they should. I go on and ask Dan about how they started getting into music. “My mom was the musician of the family who was in a women’s choir group, so she’d play guitar and sing. She would teach me how to harmonize, which was really annoying. She would pick me up after school and play choir tapes in the car and she’d make me sing along. Sometimes I’d have a friend in the car and my mom would be singing. That was embarrassing. I joined choir for a little bit but it wasn’t for me. It was a big melting pot of music. There was a lot of music around me growing up.”

Their latest EP was released in two parts last fall which outlines a narrative story of their musical journey, and their struggles of moving to a new environment. “The songs are about all of us in the process of moving here and living here for a couple of months. Then we recorded the records over in New Zealand. There’s this sort of really strong narrative adventure, missing home, and the tough emotion we used to be in especially forming a band.” Their EP cover with two dear heads fighting each other also illustrates their blood, sweat and tears. “We met a really great artist in New Zealand, Alexandra. I think she called it struggle or something, and we really liked the visual of two dears struggling. It’s that kind of narrative of struggle, triumph and heartache, and things like that really kind of buried the songs individually.”

They recently released a new song “Diamonds” so be sure to check it out!

Lia Ices – Finding the Gem
June 10, 2015 3:21 pm

I don’t remember exactly how or when I came across Lia Ices’ song Daphne, but I haven’t forgotten it since.

The second song off her 2011 album Grown Unknown features a surprising and enjoyable blend of instruments and styles. It starts with a string arrangement that somehow reminds me of Tan Dun’s soundtrack to the 2002 martial arts film Hero, and follows this up with a singular acoustic guitar accompanying a light angelic voice, sending shivers down my spine with its nimble switches between chest voice and falsetto.

Around the 2 minute mark, the song descends into something more ambient. Lyrics disappear, vocals are looped and layered, and out of the mix we hear a new, more familiar voice. With intense delight I realize the backing vocals are performed by Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon; not a bad pick for a duet partner. The song takes yet another unexpected turn with the inclusion of a slow drum beat and some flashes of an electric guitar. When the ambient voices are once again replaced with lyrics, the song hardly resembles how it sounded at the start. In short, the song is layered and surprising; immediately compelling me to run off to hear the rest of the album. The other songs on the album, however, left a different impression.

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Though Lia Ices’ collaboration with Justin Vernon back in 2011 did attract attention, what really put her on the radar was her song Love Is Won after it was used in the second season of HBO’s hit series Girls. Love Is Won is more characteristic of the album Grown Unknown. It is generally more minimal in tone, less volatile, and the lingering atmosphere hinges mostly on how Lia’s voice is left to reverberate in a minimalist and empty landscape. Though her singing voice is undeniably beautiful, the song doesn’t display the same range and control as Daphne. Love Is Won and most of the other songs on Grown Unknown feel less adventurous, and ultimately, they failed to grab me emotionally. That being said, the album definitely isn’t without merit. There is a unique and slightly eerie quality to it, and the arrangement of different instruments still create some versatility in tone throughout. The album is a pleasant listen, but it didn’t quite lived up to my expectations.

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September 2014 saw the release of Lia’s 3rd studio album, Ices. This was an exciting prospect. What kind of development would it demonstrate? Could it live up to the potential I had heard back in 2011? The overall sound in Ices certainly is different. The tracks are more electronic, and often make use of abnormal sound effects and alterations of Lia’s voice. What has remained is the signature minimal and empty feel to the songs. Even with her new electronic touches, I felt Lia’s songs left a lot of space for her voice to echo around in. Sadly, I couldn’t help but feel emotionally removed from the songs once again. If anything, Lia Ices had moved further away from the sound I was hoping she would deliver.

However, after listening more closely another time after, something changed. When the second song Thousand Eyes came on, I found myself bobbing my head along to it. The songs started to resonate with me as it gained familiarity, and I started relishing in the subtle melodies and arrangements of the songs that hadn’t been audible to me at first. Lia has cited various inspirations for the album, from Pakistani pop to dub, and it is clear that the atmosphere she created was not an accident. Credit must be given to Lia for keeping her songs subtle and her melodies unusual, such as the high melody in the chorus of Higher, or in the strange warping of her voice in Electric Arc.

Lia Ices’ development from Grown Unknown to Ices makes it clear that her musical ambitions are different from what I was hoping for. Perhaps I am just too much of a Bon Iver fan, and should stop demanding a similar sound from everyone who comes close to it. Nevertheless, Daphne’s blend between Justin Vernon’s style with that of Lia Ices is still fantastic to hear, and I wouldn’t mind witnessing another collaboration some time in the future. (Hint!)

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Nalani & Sarina at Bar Matchless
May 14, 2015 9:05 pm

Nalani & Sarina take the stage as comfortably as if they walked into their living room. The identical twin sister/vocal powerhouse duo would not feel out of place opening for a pop blockbuster like Taylor Swift, on stage at the Newport Folk Fest, or uptown New York at the Apollo Theater. The girls recently played as part of the “NYC Rock n’ Roll Girls Club” at Greenpoint’s Bar Matchless and brought with them their uniquely modernized blast from the past.

The girls performed a multi-instrumental acoustic set and managed to bring all the energy and fullness of a live band.  This was particularly impressive considering the sisters are so tiny, they make their ukuleles look like full sized Fenders.

They opened the show with my personal favorite “Raw Sugar”. The track is infectious and makes their vocal prowess and musicianship abundantly clear. Some other notable moments from the set were “There I Go” featuring the warmth you can only get from strong vocal harmonies and compelling lyrical narrative, the catchy “Please Don’t Stop The Rain,” and an imaginative ukulele cover of “I Wanna Be Sedated” by The Ramones. The girls were having the time of their lives on stage and their energy was so contagious that the crowd responded in kind. Nothing about Nalani & Sarina is artificial or seemingly choreographed.

The girls, clearly, are in touch with their musical roots. “We went to folk festivals as kids and are very inspired by 60s soul music. When you watch people like Otis Redding and Stevie Wonder perform, they are having an out of body experience” the girls explained. “Nothing too technical, and purely from emotion. The best way to describe it is a fusion of catchy lyrics and feel good music” and this really is the best way to describe Nalani & Sarina. When asked about their writing process, Nalani immediately says “it’s not OCD- we are just very involved.” The identical twin sisters collaborate on everything, and remind us that they are not the type of twins that hate being with each other. “There are some songs where we will finish each others lines and other songs where we find that every single thing that we write has a part of both of us.”

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Although they are heavily influenced by these bygone days of music, Nalani & Sarina’s creations are fresh, relevant, and comparable to current chart-topping hits. The girls talk a lot about achieving “a human feeling” in their music. “Great music that is well written and well played never goes out of style. That’s what we strive for in every song that we write­- to be well played and well produced. That is what we believe in and there’s a niche out there for people who still believe in that too.” Their full-length album “Lessons Learned” really encapsulates these goals with their live studio recording and ensemble of amazing musicians.

Nalani & Sarina will be in town again June 18th at the Bitter End for their album release- and they are a must-see. Their live show will instantly put you in a good mood and it makes the perfect night out this spring.

http://nalanisarina.com/