Kira Velella – “Even Then” / “You Light Me Up”

It’s been a long time since I’ve done a proper review on this site, so it’s only fitting that my first post back is covering two new songs by Kira Velella – someone whose last release I covered nine long years ago. Velella is back with two new singles released independently of each other, though the songs feel intertwined conceptually.

“Even Then,” the newer of the two songs, follows a familiar but comforting folk-country format. Velella starts the song by complementing a soft guitar rhythm with stronger vocals – the song’s central focus. They’re joined later by drums and steel pedal (courtesy of Kenny Shaw and Ryan Hommel, respectively), but it’s clear that your attention should settle solely on Velella here. Her vocal rhythms feel warmly optimistic, as do her lyrics, which weave a tale of imperfections in a healthy relationship. The song’s verses are a one-sided conversation to a lover, founded on the repetition of the phrase “Even when” – i.e. “Even when I start the fight / Even when I know you’re right / Even when I’m sorry comes too slow / Even then I know you won’t go.” Think of it as a total flip of Big Thief’s miserable (but wonderful) song “Not.” The song plays like a written letter left as a secret to be found later, a secret we’re privy to as listeners.

“You Light Me Up” – released back in October despite taking place on the Fourth of July – follows a related musical path as “Even Then.” “Light” is a tender folk song, missing the slight country influence of “Even” but similar otherwise. Everything feels a little more balanced on “Light,” with Velella’s vocals falling more into the mix and a soothing drum rhythm taking more prominence. Guitar remains a focus, but there’s a faint piano line hidden behind everything else that adds some nice ambiance. The song is also an ode to an imperfect but cherished relationship, with a warm nostalgia, but more hints of vulnerability. The relationship in this song still sounds lovely, but something about it feels a little less concrete than in “Even Then.” Everything detailed in the song is in the past, looking back on good times, as opposed to a continuous presence. In both of these songs, Velella nails the complicated human mistakes and roughness of relationships that are often too sanitized or dumbed down by other artists.

The two songs work as both parts of a whole and as opposites of each other. Velella takes center stage on “Even,” a song that takes place in a universe of only two people – her and the person she’s singing to. On “Light,” there’s an almost immediate reference to other people in the neighborhood, and Velella herself sounds further in the mix, in the crowd of instruments. “Even Then” feels like a evening drive on a nice summer night in the open, where “You Light Me Up” feels more like the Independence Day it describes – a little crowded and warm, but still lovely and fun. Both songs have some cracked nostalgia, but are ultimately warm and rewarding folk odes to those we love nearly unconditionally. As we approach the doldrums of the relentless summer heat in yet another collectively terrible year, we can use some solace in songs like these.

Both tracks can be found on Velella’s bandcamp page.

The Boston Boys – “Idea of Love”

Grade: B+

Key Tracks: “Between You and Me” “Become Like One”

The Boston Boys, a folk-heavy roots band now decidedly living in Brooklyn, have always relied on their diverse sound as their strongest quality. I wrote about “Keep You Satisfied,” their last EP, that the guys were able blend folk, rock, country and americana elements into a sound that’s both predictably shiny and refreshingly original. “Idea of Love,” their third EP, keeps this blend just as strong.

The opening song, the aptly titled “The Beginning,” sets the mood for the EP. The band doesn’t start with a bang, instead opening with a slow and string-heavy track that’s more psychedelic than it is folk. It’s the EP’s most interesting song and, although it ultimately doesn’t really resemble the five songs that follow it, it does set the tone the band is looking for – there’s going to be a lot of little surprises. From there they jump into “Between You and Me,” a much more traditional country-folk song. It’s rhythmic, has a medium tempo and some pleasant vocal harmonies. It’s more what you’d expect from a band like the Boston Boys; it sounds conventional, but it doesn’t fit under the monikers of ‘folk’ or ‘country,’ instead landing in their own little niche in between.

“Times Like These” is more stripped-down, largely just vocals and guitar, a decidedly folksy move. And as soon as the mood calms for it, the more fun and drum-heavy “Become Like One” starts. The transition between these two songs works well, as they show the band at their calmest and highest points, respectively. “Become Like One” really is a fun track, breaking out of folk to incorporate some standard rock elements (that stay true through the next song, as well). Final track “You Don’t Need Me” is a slow, folk-rock type ballad, a solemn way to end the EP.

As with “Keep You Satisfied,” the band’s diversity in the music makes for a fun listen. The lyrics might sometimes get drowned out because of it, but their constant mixing of genres can make for a unique listen, and helps each song on the EP separate itself from the others. The band has a distinctly American sound, like their music should be played on a front porch in a small town on a warm summer day. They take the best parts of American genres – folk, country, bluegrass and americana – add a little rock from time to time, and produce a sound that’s both wholly original and lovingly American. It’s surely no surprise that the Boston Boys are named after an American city, because their music serves to optimistically celebrate a whole range of American heritages.

The EP is officially released on Tuesday, May 20th.

-By Andrew McNally

The Boston Boys – “Keep You Satisfied”

(Photo Credit: TheBostonBoys.Bandcamp.com)

Grade: B+

The Boston Boys, operating out of New York but formed at Boston’s Berklee School of Music (not my alma mater, unfortunately), put a surprising amount of influence into an EP that’s roughly twenty minutes long. Though billed as a folk and americana band, The Boys show hints of bluegrass and soul, and even some country. The EP is diverse, showing broad appeal alongside a youthful energy and musical proficiency.

Opening track “Satisfied” packs a lot of energy into it’s folk and gospel roots, with some resounding vocals to boot. The band is consisted of Eric Robertson, Duncan Wickel, Josh Hari and Nicholas Falk, and all four are credited as singers. Second track “Amelia” mixes pop-like vocals with traditional folk guitar and violin, starting off melodic and slow before kicking up the tempo with some keyboard. “Endless Creation” has an incredibly catchy melody based around a couple different instruments, and some striking vocals. These help to save the song from some tired and overused lyrics. “Honeycomb” takes on much more of a country sound than heard previously, while still sneaking in a little blues. The band messes around a little with volume, keeping the song very quiet for segments before having stringed instruments kick back in for a quick rhythm. The final song, “Take Me Under,” is a ballad, and a prettier song than the first four. Although it too suffers from some overdone lyrics, it succeeds as an effective ballad and a soft finale.

The Boston Boys seem to be aiming for big audiences with their mistake-free blending of genres, and their proficiency might just lead them there. Despite having a limited number of songs (and this EP doesn’t come out until October), The Boston Boys were asked to perform as one of seven official bands on Obama’s re-election campaign. The Boys have a knack for bluegrass and folk, and they prove that on this EP. Its only faults are some tepid lyrics, and they are faults that are more than easy to overlook.

-By Andrew McNally

Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes – “Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes”

(Photo Credit: Consequence of Sound)

Grade: B-

Key Tracks: “Let’s Get High,” “Remember to Remember”

The first minute and a half of the song “If I Were Free” features two singers. The first singer has two brief moments of vocal impression – Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. The second singer, Ringo Starr ala “Yellow Submarine.” These vocal inflections are not meant to be intentional. The band is not trying to repeat the music done by those that inspire them. The vocal similarities to Dylan, Springsteen and Starr more seem to slip out, and that is what most of this album is. “Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes” feels like odes to those that came before, with it’s attempts at originality feeling somewhat mixed. Self-titled albums are meant to be declarations of the band’s distinct sound, but this album is ironically the least original of their three.

“Up From Below,” the debut from Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes, had a distinct country-folk sound that was trimmed perfectly for crossover radio. “Home” is a country song, completely, but found love on alternative radio (and in my head for a whole summer). Their follow-up, “Here” was an underrated gospel-based gem. This new, self-titled album doesn’t have as much of the mixing as it seems to think it has. It more resembles a Dylan album, when he was at his mid-60′s peak. Five studio musicians join the band’s eleven members on the album, but it feels like a one-person operation at times. Lengthy openers “Better Days” and “Let’s Get High” sound like a number of musicians gathered around one songwriter, following his or her lead, instead of a collective. “Let’s Get High” is a phenomenally energetic and great song, but one that doesn’t quite capture the feel of the band. Luckily, the album doesn’t continue this feel, as the songs get shorter and more voices are introduced. Lead singer Alex Ebert is given many lead moments (especially on “This Life”), but so is back-up singer Jade Castrinos, who gets to shine bright 0n “Remember to Remember.” Other singers are thrown into the mix, too, and frequently. Once the album gets past it’s inspired but dragging opening two tracks, it begins to feel like the huge collaborative effort it should.

“Two,” which is humorously the third song, is a beautiful duet between Ebert and Castrinos. “Life is Hard” and “If I Were Free” make the album’s middle a fun if agenda-less listen, bolstered by skilled songwriting. The pace drags towards the end. There are a number of slow songs that seemed to flow together, and lost my interest. The halted pace overstays it’s welcome, but at least it doesn’t finish out the album. The aforementioned “This Life” and “Remember to Remember” are not fast songs, but serve as powerful ending notes to the album. It is mixed, overall, and lacks the based-yet-blended originality that its predecessors had, but “Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes” is, at its core, an enjoyable folk collective, aiming high and hitting it more often than not.

If you like this, try: Phosphorescent’s criminally underrated folk-everything album “Muchacho” (2013)

-By Andrew McNally

John Fogerty – “Wrote a Song For Everyone”

(Photo credit: Consequence of Sound)

(Photo credit: Consequence of Sound)

Grade: A-

Key tracks: “Lodi,” “Who’ll Stop the Rain”

When a respected classic rock musician starts to get up there in years, they’re allowed to start having some fun in the studio. That’s exactly what Fogerty – famous most for Creedence Clearwater Revival, and some for his solo work – does on his ninth solo album. “Wrote” isn’t a duet album, it isn’t an original album, and it isn’t an album of covers, which many older singers resort to. Instead, it’s a healthy mix. A majority of the songs are reworkings of older songs of his, with guest stars. Fans of classic rock will instantly recognize CCR favorites like “Proud Mary,” “Who’ll Stop the Rain?” and “Fortunate Son” getting reworked, along many others. And to mix it up, Fogerty throws in a few original songs, just to prove that he hasn’t lost anything.

The guest stars on the album read like a planned tribute album, only the man being tributed showed up. Bob Seger and Alan Jackson, contemporaries of Fogerty, make two of the best appearances. Country singers like Keith Urban, Miranda Lambert and Brad Paisley contribute, as do current rock bands My Morning Jacket and Foo Fighters. The album’s most entertaining song, “Lodi,” features Shane and Tyler Fogerty, presumably his sons. The title track, though not one of the more memorable ones, features a unique pairing of Lambert’s vocals, and guitar work provided by Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine. Jennifer Hudson, known for her powerful voice, dominates “Proud Mary” at the album’s finale. “Proud Mary,” one of classic rock’s most famous songs, has been covered by Tina Turner in the past, and this likely serves as an homage to her equally powerful version.

This album gets a high rating simply because there is nothing wrong with it. Fogerty, now 68 (happy birthday!), recorded this just to have some fun. There is no purpose to this album other than to show that Fogerty still loves his material and loves to perform. Fogerty successfully brings the fun to the audience, making for a completely enjoyable listen that erases that wonder of why the album exists in the first place. I even looked past some guest stars I do not like (namely, Kid Rock and Bob Seger) and recognized the great reworkings of the songs. Fogerty’s voice, too, is still kicking. Tom Petty and David Bowie might be the last holdouts of classic rock still recording successful new material, but Fogerty sounds as good as he ever has, kicking back and having fun.