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Music Review: Indie Round-Up – Gordone, Rush, Blatt, Segal, VonderHaar

Leah-Carla Gordone, Phoenix from the Ashes: Rise

Leah-Carla Gordone's folk-rock is an oasis of sincerity in a desert of irony and boastfulness. The best of her work grabs you by the gut, and this disc contains some of her best, most moving melodies to date. These melodies, together with her tension-wracked vocals, turn her best songs into whizzing worlds of twelve-string soulfulness – "Naked," "What It Feels Like," and "I Am Your Friend" are good examples.

Consistent sincerity, ironically (!), carries the danger of losing sight of the forest (art) for the trees (inspirational messages, thoughts, and feelings not focused through a creative lens). As with many confessional songwriters, Gordone cannot always control the tendency to populate lyrics with abstractions and cliches. It is frustrating to be drawn to the heartfulness of a tune and a voice, but then pushed away by a line that's so beaten down it's long since lost its cultural resonance. (A song such as "Tomorrow's Another Day" is an example.)

Fortunately, Leah-Carla Gordone has the skill and the forcefulness to elevate many of her songs into the realm of the truly, not facilely, inspirational. When this happens, it's clear that honesty really is the best policy.

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Joal Rush, Imagination

Joal Rush's new seven-song EP is 21 minutes of dark-edged power pop. The darkness comes from his muted vocal quality and the seriousness of the lyrics; the power and the pop are in the densely layered guitars, keyboards, and rock rhythms. The title track is immensely catchy and "Stone" isn't far behind. "Lovely Day" starts out a little too shoegaze-y for my tastes, but it has a nice throaty instrumental break and it ended up winning me over. "Living a Lie" has a gritty, grungy '90s feel, while "Bleed" looks back to '80s synth-rock, and "You Are" is a nicely crafted 12/8 ballad. Rush's distinctive creative flavor holds it all together. This is solid stuff. Hear extended samples and purchase CD or MP3s.

Lawrence Blatt, Fibonacci's Dream

Here at the Indie Round-Up we don't cover a lot of music that would be eligible for an award from the New Age Reporter, but that just goes to show it's better to come at new music without preconceived notions. This is a lovely set of acoustic guitar instrumentals, supplemented by a variety of keyboard, bass, and percussion tracks. "New Age" or not, it's just nice music.

Blatt builds his compositions around mathematical ideas centered on the Fibonacci number sequence, but I'm actually just taking his word for that; the rhythms and melodies are pretty straightforward, and for the most part Blatt uses common guitar tunings. I found the program notes more distracting than fascinating (and pocked by disturbing misspellings, like "Bob Dillon"). Best to just stick with the music. Soothing without being boring, this would be a nice addition to one's instrumental music collection.

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Garry Segal, Taking Notes

Garry Segal applies a bit of country-rock twang to soulful, bluesy Americana tunes reminiscent of John Hiatt. Heavyweights like Jeff Pevar and the Seldom Scene's Phil Rosenthal contribute instrumentally, but it's Segal's slightly gravelly vocals and woodsy acoustic guitar that drive these well-crafted songs. "Two Broken People" sounds like a slowed-down "Tennessee Plates," and the drawling "Wrong Dogs" is also Hiatt-esque. "I Keep Drinkin'" has a more languid, jazzy, Randy Newman catch to it, while "Cartwheels" has a country-blues ease that reminds me of Little Toby Walker. "Wind Will Blow" and "Without Rain" betray a slight lyrical awkwardness that keeps the disc from perfection, but the latter has a beautiful melody, and overall the grass-rootsy world Segal creates in these seven songs is a most appealing one.

Hear extended samples and purchase CD or MP3s.

Sarah VonderHaar, Are You Listening Now

Sarah VonderHaar, a 21-year-old sometime America's Next Top Model contestant, has come out with a solid bubblegum-pop album. It's full of mostly good-natured pop-rockers along with a few emotional but still light-toned ballads, all topped by VonderHaar's sunny chirp. She co-wrote most of the songs, and according to her press package she's "a girl with a goal. She'd be happy to grab a stint on a TV show or a film, especially if she was able to play her own songs as a musician character." Wow, some people live in a completely different world from the one in which most of us toil. But if Kate Voegele can do it, why not this equally talented and attractive kid? Peppy optimism, catchy tunes, and good looks never go out of style, and why should they? Available for pre-order, or listen at Myspace.

About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is an Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Culture, where he reviews NYC theater; he also covers interesting music releases. He writes the blog Park Odyssey, for which he is visiting and blogging every park in New York City—over a thousand of them. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. By night he's a working musician: lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado, a member of other bands as well, and a sideman.