NINE Sample EP’s – Folk, Swedish Americana, Rockabilly, Dark Cabaret & Sludge-Pop
Contained herein – is the third installment of several EP collections to some wonderful artists who have interesting music but less than an album’s worth of songs. EP’s have always been good ways to get familiar with an artist’s material before committing to a full album or paid download. In some cases, it is music by a recognizable artist that’s too hot to wait for inclusion on an album.
Kiyomi Hawley – Meet You There – Kiyomi Music
Five tracks produced by Kevin Bents in New York City provides a small package that includes lyrics to all the songs. Bents plays guitar, keyboards, bass and background vocals on this effort with lead singer Kiyomi who adds some keyboards, bass and has written all the tracks. It’s a collection of songs where Kiyomi has created what may be more for those people who appreciate the music of the singer-songwriter, pianist Vanessa Carlton (“White Houses”) and reaching as far back as the likes of Dory Previn (“Lemon-Haired Ladies”), Laura Nyro and early Joni Mitchell.
Many songs are breathy but atmospheric in this nearly 18-minute preview. The well-arranged music supports Ms. Hawley’s style quite impressively. “Miss You Love You,” is poignant, and pleading but her voice is optimistic and will be a good self-affirming song for young teen girls. The angst level is there but low, and the positive attitude is pushed with a juvenile sophistication. Surprisingly, “Wedding Song,” is upbeat and arranged with subtle instrumentation, heavenly backing vocals, and jaunty lead performances. Kiyomi mines that confessional vein but instead of depression, self-loathing and feeling sorry for oneself – she reassures, and the little bell goes off like everything will be fine. About as intense as the gothic church bell in John Lennon’s “Mother,” and the more optimistic answering bell in his later song “Just Like Starting Over.”
“Meet You There,” treads the sad beauty once explored by the late Judee Sill (“The Kiss,” “Jesus Was a Cross Maker”). Ms. Hawley voice is not powerful, but it is poignant, silky, and sincere in equal amounts. What is commendable is that the songs are strong, well thought out and performed. Sometimes it runs its fingers along the edge of Enya-type new age melodies but doesn’t go in all the way – just suggests it. “Shine,” has a nice banging piano and percussion energies and Ms. Hawley dips her big toe into the waters of singer Martika – the song hasn’t got fire, but it does have fumes. Kiyomi stays within her vocal limitations wisely and still succeeds in providing a degree of vocal excitement. This is her rockiest and it works.
Back in the realm of Vanessa Carlton is the song “Little Angel.” Not the kind of song that would appeal to most males, but it would to young mothers – this is a gripping emotional tune – almost a lullaby. It’s a profoundly sad, serious song that needs to be heard, understood and appreciated. A tearjerker for sure, but a strong performance. Probably, the most potent of all the tracks, sung with lots of feeling and an authentic voice. Photo and design by Joseph Hawley.
Jeremy Dion – More Lately – Inner View Records
Produced by John McVey in Boulder, CO – Jeremy’s performance on these six (6) tracks at 24 minutes — are rich in the true folk tradition of many previous folkies. He doesn’t necessarily sound like them he just belongs comfortably in their fraternity. That frat that includes Eric Andersen, David Blue, Hamilton Camp, Tom Paxton, Tom Rush, and David Ackles, just to name a few. At times Jeremy (Guitar) pronounces some words with a rough bite and this is appealing since the rest of the time his voice is a very, upbeat sweet narrator type singer. More Lately, has this and while he isn’t yet in the songwriting class of a Tim Hardin or Townes Van Zandt – he is on their doorstep.
Although I don’t agree with Mr. Dion’s politics I respect that he keeps his opinion cleverly musical – not as bitter as 60’s protest folkies but carrying on in an age-old folk-tradition of protest, politics, and society. Folk music always had a habit of legitimately complain about an issue — but few singers afforded any solutions. It’s largely the reason Joan Baez and Phil Ochs got pissed off at Bob Dylan. Dylan abandoned the protest singer stance, plugged in, went electric and explored a harder folk-rock. Peace? Not possible while you have other cultures, politicians, mind-sets, radicals, countries, sects and groups who don’t give a damn about your peace initiatives. They just want you – gone.
“Evangeline,” is an acoustic story tune colored brightly with accordion, mandolin, and sincere vocals. It’s one of his best. Though the Band is no more, this song with a similar title to one of The Band’s songs would find a place in The Band repertoire as “Evangeline II.” With “Don’t Bother,” the tune is somewhat like the style of The Lovin’ Spoonful’s John Sebastian. This song has some rich spiritual background vocals that elevate the performance. A good lead guitar that’s brief but engaging. The production is reminiscent of the old band Delaney and Bonnie that featured Eric Clapton and Leon Russell.
Tim Hardin styled is the likable song “Small Town Love,” comes off sounding like it could’ve been a good song for the late Tim Buckley or the very alive Art Garfunkel to cover. The collection has a lot to like. The EP concludes with “Friday Night,” one of the few songs pushing drums forward and featuring mandolin. More traditional with an added fiddle prominently Jeremy fires up with the entire band and coasts along into John Denver country-boy land. This certifies Mr. Dion as a good hoedown singer who should find himself sharing the stage someday with not only folk singers but the likes of Ricky Skaggs and Alison Krauss. CD art by Ayal Hausfeld. All songs were written by Jeremy Dion. Song samples are available on Jeremy’s website.
Lora Kelley – Self-Titled Five Track EP – Independent
Produced by Steve Greenwell this 18-minute EP recorded in Charlottesville, VA with one track recorded in New York City (“Both Hands”) – Lora Kelley unveils songs quite contemporary for today. Opening with the appropriate and timely “Good Men Don’t Hurt You,” Lora has a distinctive voice and this song features instruments impeccably recorded. Lora has a country voice but it’s not a commanding one. If you like Lucinda Williams – this is not for you.
However, if you like the sweeter rockier country like Kellie Pickler’s “Red High Heels,” then Lora Kelley is ear-candy. There’s nothing compelling here, just well-recorded, energetic, songs with hooks, a definitive country-rock feel that stays within the confines of country and Lora is consistent. Lora’s voice has many colors and is appealing. Over an entire LP – maybe not. She’s not Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, or even Reba. But – let’s give her time. She does have a country voice. Maybe she still must find her “voice.” She’s at least just a few miles away from Taylor Swift though Lora’s songs are firmly entrenched in that more pop-country tradition that is the basis of Swift. Ms. Kelley’s would fit more comfortably in the country-pop charts of the 60’s. “Creeping In,” is stylistic (think Diane Renay – “Navy Blue,” Merilee Rush – “Angel of the Morning,” Sandy Posey – “Single Girl,” “I Take It Back,”) and you’ll get the idea.
With “Both Hands,” there’s a little echo on Lora’s voice – and it’s a nice story song and the first single. This is a voice Lora should cultivate. But don’t get too addicted to the effects. “I Wish You’d Come Back Now,” has Lora’s voice reaching a higher register. In the same web as Jackie De Shannon’s classic “Lifetime of Loneliness,” “Splendor in the Grass,” “Where Does the Sun Go,” & “Don’t Turn Your Back on Me”. I’m not big on breathy voices but Lora uses hers to good effect. This is one of Lora’s finest moments. The last track “Steel Magnolia,” is a typical country tune. Standard pick-up truck but good vocals. Girls playing hard to get – yeah, right — in today’s environment that could spell disaster because most men today are going to begin asking once, and once only then…“They’ll Just Move On,” could be a song title for a follow-up. I like Lora’s humor and all country albums should have a little humor.
Brett Perkins & The Pawnshop Preachers – Double/Single – Independent
Two (2) tracks produced by Brett Perkins and Troels Alsted is Americana out of Copenhagen, Denmark — and it’s done proficiently. These two songs are energetic rockabilly, country-rock, Cab Calloway jive, and it proliferates. “Everything’s Turnin’ Around,” is a short, jet-fueled brass driven tune that will get the dead on the dance floor. Problem? Yeah, the song isn’t long enough.
So, bashing piano follows in the intro like Sailor’s “Glass of Champagne,” in an old-fashioned New Orleans rock style. “Yes, Yes, Yes (Honey Take Off That Dress”) is quite cool. Everything’s in play, retro guitar, wailing saxophone, thrashing drums, Bette Bright’s Deaf School style maniacal singing – all done excellently. A sax soars in the background and the biggest problem is once again – the song is too short. Too short!
More music samples are at ReverbNation. The album logo design is by Jabbah and the cover design by Henrik Hahn. Photography by Anja Kristin Krone.
Lazy Afternoon – Everytime / Water – Single – Independent
A single (2-song) effort out of Sweden opens with accordion and a female vocalist Cristina Safsten that is so folk-enriched you’d think she’s from the family of some backwoods Appalachian singing family. She has a Joan Baez tone but also has the beauty of Joan’s younger sister the late Mimi Farina and a pinch of Susan Osborne (Paul Winter Consort – “Lay Down Your Burden”). This is a beautifully performed track and Cristina’s voice is the kind you never tire of listening to. Attractive. Strong. The backup is full choir on “Everytime,” and it’s vibrant. Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span, Joy of Cooking, Fotheringay, — all in the past but they all come to mind. Engaging stuff and the musicians are all exceptional.
Bo Ahlbertz sings “Water,” and then Cristina joins him. While Bo’s vocal is more middle-of-the-road pop (think: Billy Vera), the contrast between Bo and Cristina is well executed. Pontus Nordborg takes a clean lead guitar solo followed by a fiery Jorgen Ahlqvist on accordion. But it’s Cristina who continues to shine among these fine musicians. I am suspect – I think this band can produce some interesting, diversified, creative and original songs so an EP at only eight short minutes is more like a tease. It does leave you wanting more. And that’s a good thing.
Samples of music at Spotify and on their website.
Kevin Harrison & True North – Howl – 5 Song EP – Independent
This five-song EP has an average vocalist who understands how to project, emote and ignite the senses the way Peter Wolf in the J. Geils Band used to do. “Practice What You Preach,” is a nice Kevin Harrison scorcher. Carousel-sounding guitars wind around his voice and the drummer is solid for party music. A little more of a pleasant acoustic guitar-piano driven ballad Harrison stays safely out of the Bon Jovi circle and serves up a basic tune in “Lost in the Snow,” much the same as UK singer-songwriter Martin Stephenson & The Daintees have for decades. Well-arranged Kevin sings in a good balladeer voice. He’s not Art Garfunkel, Leonard Cohen, or even a Tom Jones but what he lacks is power: Jim Morrison / Elvis Presley / Nick Cave he makes up with lots of heart. He has moments where he knows how to make a lyric interesting and not be just singing words. He’s entertaining. Does he still have to develop? Yes. But, he’s on the right path and his band is sufficiently tight with many equitable additions.
“Start a Fire,” is a little pedestrian with cliché lyrics and the guitars are just a wall of chords. Kevin’s voice, however, is still good. It’s the song that is not compelling — not the performer. It’s a tune that’s so basic a rock theme it’s up there with the four-trillion versions of songs called “Hold On.” I understand it’s difficult to be creative, original and compelling. At least with a title like “Start a Fire.” What he should have done was thought about those words — he could have gone off into an area of watching something lose control – like a flame. Now that would have been compelling.
“Brother,” returns to the Martin Stephenson style, which for Kevin is actually good. It works consistently for Martin in the UK for decades why not Kevin? Not many people are familiar with Martin and obviously, in the UK his style is popular and he’s been prolific. While this tune is elementary, Kevin’s voice maintains its quality, and the band is solid. There’s just nothing new here being explored. It’s just fun, engaging and well-played. Good guitar sound. They must try and tighten some of those bolts on their creativity.
“If Today I Should Die,” is an acoustic track somewhat Townes Van Zandt oriented though the lyrics aren’t quite there. Kevin could become a good folk-rock addition, but he needs to absorb a little more Gordon Lightfoot, Leonard Cohen, Van Zandt, Eric Andersen, Phil Ochs and of course, Martin Stephenson. They choose their words carefully, weaved them compelling. Kevin has the musicians and melodies. This song isn’t bad, it’s just been done before many times. The 19-minute EP had production details.
Dwayne Shivers – Blest – Independent
This five track EP lead off is “Particular Times,” and it’s a handclapping upbeat danceable tune that falls short of being funky but approaches it respectfully. A little too much echo on the voice but the melody, old-fashioned saxes are affecting and whooping leads with a 70’s singer-songwriter sound make this an interesting listen. A blast of brass comes as a pleasant surprise, well-arranged and is quite the melody confection. “Young Man,” is a nice acoustic track but the continuation of vocal effects weighs it down a bit. The song does have a strong Gerry Rafferty influence in its melody structure and vocal approach. The song would have worked better with the vocal effects on the first verses but by the time Shivers get to the other verses and the song gained momentum – the effects should have bailed or faded and a more traditional vocal take it to the end. Good little song nonetheless.
“Southern Breeze,” is a good modern rooted country effort. Dwayne has a potentially fine country voice, easy on the ears, and not corny or too popish or contemporary. “Misty, Morning Dew,” suffers from more Rafferty voice influences drenched in effect. Why? To enhance? Embellish? Colorize? Hide imperfections? Not confident with a pure voice? The song itself is nice but enough with the vocal tweaking. It’s cold sounding in an otherwise warm song and Dwayne has a good natural voice. It doesn’t need any bells and whistles. A reprise of “Southern Breeze,” as an acoustic take with guitar and piano but too many cooks in the kitchen — spoiled by an embellished Aaron Neville type-vocal. Mis-step on an otherwise good song. Stick with the original earlier version.
Kady Z – Defenseless – Frankenwitch Records
This 5-track EP starts off with a spooky banjo and creepy violin that surround the surreal vocal of Kady Z on “San Antonio.” Starting a little slow but when the drums kick in the angst that has been rum and coke goes full-bodied Scotch on the rocks. Kady Z doesn’t have a huge distinctive voice, but it is pleasant, expressive and at least it’s not modern day whiney. Give me a hallelujah.
There are moments in this sweep of songs that everything just comes together. The brief mandolin sound, lap steel – all haunting. “Revenge,” continues Kady Z’s mysterious portentous manner. This approach reminds me of other tunes that follow the prison-stomp percussion. It’s Kady Z’s voice that contrasts the darkness and the brightness of light — the good, the bad and ugly moods. This is the music the corpses/zombies/ghouls in the film Carnival of Souls could dance to. But it’s important to understand, however, that Kady Z is not an artist who is in the same genre as Rob Zombie, The Cramps or campy acts like that.
Kady Z serves something far more artistic. “Hangin’ Around,” continues with the living deadbeats, the ominous cabaret dark melodies, and at times the music created by the group in the movie From Dusk to Dawn would play (The Blasters’ “Dark Night,” Tito and Tarantula “After Dark”). It’s all entertaining if you live comfortably in depression. However, depression can be a creative world. A slight recall of The Tiger Lilies’ “Hell,” is effective and Kady Z’s addition of violin is especially sinister and good…that’s the recipe. Not too ghoulish, but compelling — not in black — but in grey hues.
The title track “Defenseless,” is still embedded and shrouded in shadows, cobwebs, graveyard fog with the rustling dead dried leaves. Kady Z is borderline Lisa Marie Presley here, but this song is heavier – not like cream cheesecake more like Kelsey’s burgers at midnight. I think Kady Z ventured too far down the curious path. She should listen more to an Italian gothic rocker who has mastered this genre – Francesca Chiara and her Sony solo album “Il Parco dei Sogni,” (The Park of Dreams) that features “Edera” an incredible performance and then move on to Ms. Chiara’s more gothic pieces with her band The Love Crave (The Angel & The Rain). America still has to catch up to her and Kady Z should take a page from her book because Kady Z is on a brilliant highway with this showcase — the signposts are all filled with cobwebs and bullet holes.
“dIM” is a smartly performed acoustic piece on target. Good vocals, excellent music and where Kady Z belongs. This is sophisticated creepy because there is – beauty to it. The way she sings and presents it. Full of pain, angst salted with lots of emotion — not overwrought. But, I return to Francesca – this is the necessary polish for pulling this kind of music off dramatically with a destination and without bombastic noodling. Kady Z has the voice – she needs to polish up on intonation and phrasing just a bit. Francesca is the master of the whisper and the scream. The drama and the buildup. Her lyrics, though in Italian, are intensely dark but creative. Her octaves are what may be difficult to reproduce. Francesca, who was educated in SF — sings in English with the band Love Crave (“Little Suicide”) and often releases albums with Amazon’s 5-stars.
Does Kady Z need this? She doesn’t have to listen to me.
But if she needs a little inspiration from an unlikely source – this would be it. Kady Z is already an exciting singer and songwriter, but she could be exhilarating. The majority of her pictures do not represent accurately the type of music that you will hear on these albums/eps. Ms. Kady Z is far more country-dark than Patsy Cline-Brenda Lee-Shania Twain etc. Additional song samples are on her website.
Hey, Chels – 6-Song EP – Independent
The final EP is a late addition and probably the most recent release. San Diego, CA band Hey, Chels is considered sludge-pop. I didn’t think it belonged here but two listens convinced me they should at least be considered for this EP effort.
Track one is slightly heavy, but their female vocalist Jacque Mendez is engaging on “Sludge Town, USA” but the problem here is production. It’s murky. I could imagine what a great EP this would have been if it was recorded by artist Lora Kelley’s Charlottesville, West Virginia studio since that CD was impeccably recorded.
Jacque’s vocals sound good despite the production flaw. She’s powerful, but the wall of guitars just buries her…in sludge. Yet, that wall of guitars is laying down some hot chords. If this is remastered – the EP could be a little more attractive to uninitiated ears. If they want this effect for punk – that’s fine. I’m past those years and those years was when punk was at its most creative and intimidating. I barely understand a word she is singing though it does sound like she has something to say and it’s frustrating. Lots of good sounds going on from a talented unit. Even the fine work done by the drummer is…buried. If I were a major record label it would all be remixed and remastered.
“Take Me Anywhere,” takes us nowhere though admittedly the song has melody, heavy drums that glue it all together. Jacque’s vocal volume balance has improved but her voice should be more up front. The lead guitar provides enduring retro fuzz lead guitar popular in the late 60’s and the male backup vocals – nice touch. The song is short, to the point but still marred a bit in production murkiness. Too bad, it’s another good song. “Dear Me, 2003” leans into garage music – a little Pretenders in tradition, Honeycombs (“Have I The Right”) and Robin Lane and the Chartbusters (“When Things Go Wrong”). What it lacks is the level of creativity and originality they all possessed. I could always understand what Chrissie Hyde, Robin Lane was singing and how Honey Lantree was kicking ass with her 1964 drums on “Have I The Right,” (she was one of the first female rock drummers if not the first who inspired all who followed). The production on the vocals did improve – but not much, not sufficiently. There is nothing new explored here. Lots of Hey, Chels has been done before decades ago. It doesn’t mean they don’t deserve a shot – they just need to put their own signature on their music. This isn’t evident…yet.
“I Know You Are but What Am I?” has an early Blondie – Debbie Harry aroma but without the personality. However, the effort is still good, credible, no doubt. I do hear the effort being made. The songs are written solidly. They just need to be produced better. The band has mastered, somewhat, the art of the short, sweet indie melodic song. Aggressive or not. While not possessing the vocal prowess of a Karen Lawrence (the group 1994 produced by Jack Douglas) this is where they should be. 1994 (“Once Again,” & “Bring It Home”) both on YouTube — is where Hey, Chels eventually should be but 1994 had their roots in the blues. Many 70’s classic punk-indie bands failed because they lacked that simple ingredient. Right now, they’re hot pasta with butter. Pasta has to have meat sauce and Parmesan cheese. Hey, Chels have the goods but they need a new cook. It’s nothing to be too upset about either — Elton John’s first album “Empty Sky,” was decent — but it was nothing compared to what followed when he got a great producer and learned to make the sauce.
“Cross My Arms,” at least suggests possibilities from Hey, Chels are under their surface. “Bring Me Back A Souvenir,” continues guitar-wise, drums and vocal somewhat in that 1994 vein. The song lacks the blues-edge still that would have given it balls. It’s well-arranged, well-intentioned, and is the best track on the EP. Saved for last – catchy and resounding. Jacque shows so much promise. I like the way she holds her notes, stretches keywords in the lyric and adds the beautiful, necessary rock aggression. Exceptional pipes on this. A Karen Lawrence in the making. The guitar interplay is also a live wire play. This, finally, is a keeper. A band to watch.
No production information was available at the time of writing. Photo of Hey, Chels seated courtesy of their FaceBook.
If interested, availability of all EP’s can be obtained at the respective artists’ websites, eBay, Amazon, Band Camp, YouTube and other music purchasing websites.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this review/commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of No Depression. All photography is owned by the respective photographers and is their copyrighted image; credited where photographer’s name was known & being used here solely as a reference and will be removed on request. YouTube images are standard YouTube license.
John Apice / No Depression / October 2018