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TuneTown: Entering Utopia (album review by Christa V.)

This is TuneTown’s second album, completed amidst various other projects that the ensemble members were working on. The group is a trio of saxophone, bass, and drums, which makes for a really interesting sound. There’s no instruments playing the chords, so in its weak moments it can feel sparse but at its best the listener can hear what every musician is doing and thinking. It’s very different from most other jazz groups I’ve heard. A great example is on “Layla Tov,” here the saxophone and bass come through clearly with the melody and the drums serve as excellent accompaniment. It is great to actually hear the bass! The album itself is mostly original compositions, with two standards thrown in. But even the standards are highly improvisational with creative transitions and extrapolations off the melody. A fascinating and fun album, it’s a great complement to any jazz listening.  Favorite tracks: 3, 4, 10

Trombone Shorty: Lifted (album review by Christa V.)

This is Trombone Shorty’s first album in five years, and it’s definitely a welcome change and a return to his funk roots that led him to take off back in the early 2010s. The songs here mesh together jazz, pop, junk, rock, and soul together with the players easily transitioning between them and creating their own party and their own sound. The album could easily be read as a love letter to New Orleans as well, the birthplace of jazz. The opening track, “Come Back,” directly contributes to this. The lyrics could be read as a love song or as a song about the resilient and soulful New Orleans. “What it Takes” is one of the strongest songs on the album with a catchy chorus and fun horn parts. It also features an excellent collaboration with the vocalist Lauren Daigle. The title track brings in more of a rock gospel feel while never giving up the funk. It’s a stellar example of the genre blending that Shorty has been known for.  Favorite tracks: 1, 4, 6

Sorrows - Love Too Late… The Real Album (Big Stir Records, 2021) (album review by Nicklas S.)

Love Too Late is a long time coming. The band wasn’t able to record this album as they intended in the ‘80s, leaving their label to shelve the album and the band with nothing to do other than save these songs for a later time. Fortunately, these songs have now seen the light of day. The songs on Love Too Late harken back to the summery sounds of late 70s to early 80s power pop acts like The Romantics and The Cars, full of poppy hooks and pitch-perfect harmonies. On “Christabelle,” the album’s opener, these characteristics are on full display. The album takes a moodier turn on “Crying Time,” where the band incorporates reggae influences into their sound, offering some variation in the album’s sound. While the entire album mostly sticks to the prototypical power pop formula, that’s not necessarily a bad thing as tracks like “Rita” and “Tired of Waiting for You” show this band to be true masters of the sound. “Play This Song (On The Radio)” indeed!

 

Favorite Tracks: 1, 3, 4, 8

Caroline Loveglow: Strawberry (album review by Christa V.)

This album is a sweet musical dream, the ethereal singing mixed with the simmering backing track makes this the perfect album to vibe to and get carried away. Loveglow’s lyrics feel vivid yet airy and her voice really ties all of the music together with her ability to float above the instruments while staying connected to them. The opening track, “Patience Etc,” draws you in immediately with the mesmerizing synths and gorgeous vocals. The title track continues this feel while adding a funky beat to the background. This is one fresh and sweet album that you won’t want to skip!  Favorite tracks: 1, 3, 6

Bob Mintzer and the WDR Big Band: Soundscapes (album review by Christa V.)

Mintzer is a veteran saxophonist and composer who has also been leading the WDR Big Band for about five years when this album came out. It immediately stands out as one of his finest works. The blend of Mintzer’s prowess as an arranger and a soloist mixed with the technical skill of the band he’s been leading for years creates an impressively tight and expressive album. “A Reprieve” starts the album off with a bang, showcasing the solidarity of the group. “Herky Jerky” is another stand out song, with a great beat that’s impossible to not bop along to. It’s difficult to highlight any individual soloists as they are all amazing across the board, but I would particularly highlight those on “The Conversation.” This album is firing on all fronts: the ensemble, the soloists, the composer, all of them work excellently together! Favorite tracks: 1, 2, 3, 7

Watchhouse @ The Ark (concert review by Laura T.)

This Sunday, I entered the legendary Ark to watch Watchhouse (fka Mandolin Orange) perform, supported by folk-singer songwriter Erin Rae. The intimate seating provided for a warm, intimate performance from Erin, as she chatted back and forth with the audience on the pronunciation of limoncello and played cosmic country and acoustic indie with refreshing lyrics. Sounding uncannily similar to Adrienne Lenker, I was definitely convinced to take a listen to her new release, Lighten Up.

 

The house lights went up after her set, and soon after, Watchhouse–composed of Andrew Marlin and Emily Frantz–walked on stage joined by three touring musicians. What followed was a beautiful and charming set that exceeded all my expectations, as this was my first folk or americana concert. Barely communicating with each other, each member circled a single mic (save for the upright bass, which had its own mic), advancing and walking away to do their own mixing. They even would go on their toes when soloing to put their instruments in center stage. Andrew played his mandolin the entire time, while Emily would switch between a violin and her guitar, and two of the touring musicians would trade between guitars, a cello, and even an acoustic bass. This all happened seamlessly, making the performance transform from a musical performance to a dance.

 

Their music was filled with thoughtful lyrics balanced by their emotional instrumentation. Watchhouse’s songs are ones that I can imagine playing along a story book, with their whimsical structures and endings that left you wanting more. Songs’ subjects ranged from love, to children, to cyberbullies. It was an incredible treat to hear their thought processes behind each song, and learning their goals of what they intended to communicate added such a valuable layer to hearing their music, especially the ones I had not listened to before.

Dan Pitt Quintet: Wrongs (album review by Christa V.)

This is Dan Pitt’s third album as an ensemble leader, and it expands to include winds as well as a rhythm section. The group consists of Dan Pitt on guitar, Alex Fournier on bass, Nick Fraser on drums, Naomi McCarroll-Butler on alto saxophone, and Patrick Smith on tenor/soprano saxophone. The pieces, all written by Pitt, showcase a wide variety of styles and feels. “BroOke” is fast-paced yet musical with a melody that bops along. “Hunter’s Dream” then completely contrasts this with free flowing almost ambient noise to ease the listener along. The title track then consists of 5 minutes of aggressive playing swelling and ebbs but never stopping. It’s a masterfully crafted album that hits all of the different notes a listener could be looking for! Favorite tracks: 2, 4, 6

Emma McDermott: She Likes To Fly (album review by Michael G. Nastos)

From Ann Arbor through Chicago, Chelsea, Michigan and now Nashville, singer/songwriter Emma McDermott is showing promise on her debut recording. Produced by the renowned Brian Brill, Emma sings in a most lovely voice and presence. She's composed all original songs straight from the heart. Mostly synth-pop, an occasional string accompaniment or background vocals enhance these songs of love, hope, doubt and at times forboding episodes. This is but a first step. 

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