Category Archives: Music Reviews

Niall Connolly – Sound

Like my review of Casey Black’s latest effort, this was also posted on iTunes.  You can buy this wonderful piece of music here.  Why?  Because you are all awesome, good-hearted people who deserve to listen to good music, that’s why.

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An International Folk Hero Takes it Up a Notch…or Ten

For those in the know, Niall Connolly is literally a hero.  Almost singlehandedly resurrecting the dormant New York folk scene with Big City Folk, Niall is one of those artists you see at Café Vivaldi in the West Village and wonder why he’s not touring with Glen Hansard or Damien Rice.  With his latest record Sound, Niall proves he can not only hang with the luminaries of modern Irish folk, he can show them a thing or two in the realm of passionate song writing.

On Sound, Connolly brings it full force.  Fans of Niall knows his songs have a slight snarl but Sound is a full out lion’s roar of political punch and personal struggle.  The album is by far his most aggressive effort with barnburners like Year Of The Dragon and Brooklyn Sky bringing out a howl usually reserved for 1:00 AM sets at Rockwood Music Hall.  But there’s also balance.  Lily of the Mohawks crunches along like an approaching army while Places I Promised I Go tells the mournful story of a life spent playing small pubs and bars.  And don’t even start me on My Next Move.  William S. Boroughs would be proud of this sultry smoke filled slow burn about a dangerous drifter looking for his next score.

When the final chord is strummed on his brutal yet painfully honest Work With Pigs, one thing is certain.  Sound is by far Mr. Connolly’s most ambitious and interesting album to date.  If you’ve spend an evening or ten at New York’s Path Café, and swooned to his beautiful ballads, prepare yourself.  Niall’s latest effort is accomplished, powerful and begs for repeat listens.  Fans of quality folk rock will find a new favorite in Niall Connolly.

Score:  5/5


Mayhem Fest 2013 – A Concert Review From Someone Who Knows Nothing About Metal – Part 2

My review of Mayhem Fest 2013 continues!  Check out Part 1 here!

Machine Head

Finally, a band I had heard of and, more importantly, the metal inclined members of our group wanted to see.  From the first song, it was obvious these guys had been doing this gig for two decades.  Tight chord progressions, quality song construction and some good, old fashioned aggression made for my second favorite performance of the night.  Plus, the lead singer commented we had the heart of lion as he pounded his chest in classic rocker style.  The kind of music I imagine bikers would dig, Machine Head was worth hanging around for.

Score:  4 crusty leather jackets out of 5

Children of Bodom

The crowd was psyched for Children of Bodom but we had to use the potty, so we politely hit the loo and made our way to our seats under the great concrete roof of the Arts Center.  Yes, friends.  Seats.  The young and bedazzled may like to stand around all day, but us over thirty types like a place to plant our keisters.  Look it up.  I’m sure there’s a Buzzfeed on this phenomenon out there somewhere.  As a result, I’m giving Children of Bodom an incomplete as we got through one song before leaving to empty our bladders.

Score:  Incomplete

Amon Amarth

Nestled cozily in the comfort of our plastic chairs, we were psyched for what Amon Amarth had to offer.  Large Viking ship prop where the drummer was set up?  Awesome.  Lead singer with a burly beard and long hair?  Classic.  Hailing from the only country where death metal truly matters?  Yup, they’re Swedish.  Sadly, the result was uninspiring, causing my brother, my girlfriend and I to leave our seats and grab some food.  We then sat in the setting summer sun at a picnic table chomping on bad chicken fingers and worse hamburgers.  With the faint sounds of guitar fuzz coursing through the outdoor arena, it was almost serene.  Somehow, a discussion on Tori Amos erupted.

Score:  2 heavy metal versions of Cornflake Girl out of 5

Mastadon

We returned to our seats just in time for Mastadon, a metal name of real promise.   The reality was worse than Amon Amart.  Be it the effects of a long day in the sun or the constant “so same it’s scary” drone of the genre, I found myself cutting Z’s twenty minutes into the set.  While I’m pretty sure I didn’t fully fall asleep, my sister’s boyfriend, an actual fan of this musical style, was caught snoozing.  Despite an exceptional drummer, the rest of the band was flat, monotonous and fully unimpressive.  My ears were ready for Parkway North and the long commute home.

Score:  2 cartoon sheep jumping cartoon fences out of 5

Five Finger Death Punch

FFDP’s set was fraught with issues.  They opened with a knuckle busting song showing promise.  Problem was, nobody could hear it.  The only sound coming from the stage was screeching feedback from the speaker rack followed by silence.  Only the sound of the monitors could be heard.  The crowd grew restless.  So what did lead singer Ivan Moody do?  Kick over the monitors so the audience could hear something.  Bad ass.  When the audio recovered, Death Punch delivered the finest performance of the festival.  Wicked leads, ferocious percussion and some memorable hooks cemented them as the only band from the show I’d pay money to hear again.  It also didn’t hurt the set had some true variety to it, rare amongst the white noise of the other musicians.  Hell, the man did an acapella number.  Ben Folds would be proud.  Finally, after searching all day, I found a band that made me believe metal could be more than raw aggression and makeup.  Kudos.

Score:  5 kung fu death blows of hard rocking business out of 5

Rob Zombie

Before the final act of the night came out, I was surprised Zombie was only given 75 minutes to headline.  My brother’s response?  “He doesn’t have much more than that.”  Sadly, he was correct.  Rob Zombie has been riding the success of 1995’s Astro-Creep 2000 and 1998’s Hellbilly Deluxe for almost two decades.  Pick up his greatest hits record, and that’s all you need to know of his entire catalog.  Luckily for fans, Zombie’s live performances have been more about spectacle than the music, and let’s be honest, if you can’t rock out to Superbeast, you’re dead inside.  Unfortunately, the old spook show is starting to show some age.  The fireballs and confetti can no longer mask the fact Rob Zombie is pushing 50.  It was almost a touch sad to see the old rock and roll ringleader breathlessly pant through Dragula and More Human Than Human.  Can’t blame the guy.  But as time moves on, bands need to move with it and the theatrics of the stage show can no longer mask the rust on the singer.  Along with some head scratching filler that made the lack of content even apparent, Zombie’s set was an entertaining but slightly disappointing end to Mayhem Fest 2013.

Score:  3.5 “Hell Yeah’s”, smoke machines and fireball launchers out of 5


Mayhem Fest 2013 – A Concert Review From Someone Who Knows Nothing About Metal – Part 1

Back at the beginning of the year, my sister and girlfriend were chatting about music.  My sister’s tastes ranged from Metallica to Avenged Sevenfold and Jamie recounted growing up with the members of Slipknot back in metal head Iowa.  After much conversation, Jamie agreed to go to Mayhem Fest, a hard metal concert tour headlined by Rob Zombie.  The lineup featured ghoulish band names and sinister tent promotions from the likes of Jagermiester and Rockstar energy drink.  Corporate greed and ear splitting music combined to create an aura of epic excess.

The moment they agreed to go, my sister pointed to me and said, “And YOU.  You’re going too.”

Four months and $55 later, I found myself standing in the parking lot of the PNC Bank Arts Center surrounded by costumed maniacs and hellish guitar riffs.  Merchant booths selling everything from zombie contact lenses to pot paraphernalia to goth chick tutus lined the festival.  Creatures from a thousand tombs coursed through the promenades like their mother’s worst nightmare.  People watching at its finest.

In the mess of it all, there was gut crunching rock music.  Back in high school, my tastes swung between happy-go-lucky ska and mopey alternative.  Aside from some Fear Factory and a little Metallica, metal was not in my wheelhouse.  In the interest of being open minded, I gave the music a fair crack at turning me over to the dark side.  Here are my impressions of each band I saw in the order I saw them:

Butcher Babies

Most of their set was heard from the merch concourse, but it sounded decent enough.  We caught their last song in person and it’s always entertaining to hear metal chicks screaming nonsense into microphones.  There’s something very entertaining about all that.  The music itself was uninspiring thrash, but I’ve always been a sucker for riot grrl (yes, I’m pretty sure that’s how it’s spelt.  Google could not confirm it).

Score:  3  gallons of face paint and hair dye out of 5

Born of Osiris

Loud, abrasive and heavy on the double bass, Born of Osiris did their best to sonically punch my ear drums.  Highlights included an exceptional bass player and the occasional smattering of keyboard every five minutes or so.  Not much to say other than they made it nice and difficult to order a $13 24 oz can of Heineken.  Well done, good sirs.

Score:  3.7 trips to the $4 surcharge ATM out of 5.

Job For A Cowboy

Twenty minutes into their set, my brother turned to me and shouted, “What’s the name of this band?  I can’t read the font on their banner.”  By their last song, I had cracked the code.  After two hours of standing on the punishing hot asphalt, the non-stop music barrage was beginning to mush together, so I can’t really say if they were good or not.  The one highlight was when they yelled, “Who here likes to masturbate?” and then played stereotypical cranking sounds as the crowd cheered their approval.  I’m still confused why they wanted the details of everyone’s most personal, intimate moments.  Maybe they’re writing a book.

Score:  2 uncomfortable moments of quandary out of 5

Emmure

In fairness to the fine folks of Emmure, I only heard one and a half songs in their set.  The minute the lead singer grabbed the mic and yelled, “Yo!  Yo!  Lemme see ya JUMP!”, I retreated to the water tank to refill my $10 PNC Bank Arts Center water bladder.  Afterwards, we all ran to the relative comfort of the Rockstar Energy Drink tent where we drank from our canteens and gave our brains a rest.  Sorry, Emmure.  I grew up in a world where Limp Bizkit was the biggest band on the planet.  Last thing I need at the age of 32 is a white guy begging me to get my hands in the air.

Score:  1 flashback to the days of pimples and puberty out of 5

So far, so blah.  Does the show get better or do I run screaming from the parking lot in a fit of metal fueled rage.  Find out in Part 2 later this week!


Casey Black – Lay You in the Loam

First published as an iTunes album review, hence the brevity.  Why?  I just had to.  Pick up the album here on said music delivery service.

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It’s always wonderful to hear an artist lay himself bare on an album.  Too often, singers hide behind production to convey a feeling or get their message across.  Casey Black?  He writes, sings and performs from the depths of his everything.

From the opening guitar throb of Fire, Fire, Fire to the lovely final strum of Flowers, Casey Black’s latest album is a triumph of pure emotion and expert songwriting.  Framed with simple arrangements and flourished with evocative lyrics, Lay You in the Loam isn’t just the finest album the Big City Folk alumnus has produced in his extensive career.  It’s a wonderful window into the soul of a true artist.

Luckily, Black doesn’t stay mired in the emotional depths for the entire record.  Tracks like the sultry fun of Dig Together and the personally bracing The Idiot shows growth and range from the gravelly voiced Nashville born singer.  Other standout tracks include the play on words of I’ve Spent My Whole Life, the traditional guitar picker Museum Made of Glass and the deceptively mournful Happiness.

If you give a hoot about good music, folk or otherwise, give Casey Black’s latest effort a good honest spin.  Guaranteed to be one of your surprise favorites of 2013.

Score – 5 Stars