Laura Aidanblaise, Get Thee To The World
From Toronto comes a new singer-songwriter with an intensity of delivery rivalling that of PJ Harvey. There's so much emotion in Laura Aidanblaise's voice you worry she's about to implode. The insistent intensity and melodic repetition may put off some listeners, but I find it haunting and vivid. Her seven-song disc is just about as sparely recorded as can be – just her voice and guitar on most songs – and it works fine; there's isn't much that swelling synths or dramatic drum fills could do to elevate or further focus the music. The last two songs do feature more instruments, but they're used efficiently and tastefully.
"Boredom is the enemy and all that it attracts…" The words and melodies call to mind the skewed lyricism of Tori Amos's early work, and the lyrical power suggests Ani DiFranco without the guitar pyrotechnics. There's also a theatrical quality to the tunes that brings to mind certain Broadway music, like Sondheim. But the main point is that Laura Aidanblaise is an original new voice – probably not for everybody, but with a lot to say. Draw the curtains, brew some strong tea, and check her out.
Tommy Strazza, Welcome To The Rest Of Your Life
When you've had enough quiet intensity and you're ready to rock, try Tommy Strazza; he writes hooky power-pop songs and puts them across with a voice and a classic, old-fashioned rock style that calls to mind Perry Farrell or Mott the Hoople – hoarse, passionate, triumphant. He's not just a screamer, though. "Don't mind walkin' with some holes in my socks / If I can do my own thing hangin' outside the box," he liltingly sings in the folky "Goin' Solo," and his love song "My Love" is spacey and gentle. Still, his abilities shine brightest in his uptempo rockers like "Detour," "Liberated," and "Good To See You," and the power ballad "Love, Don't Bring Me Down." Listen to some tracks at his Myspace page.
Hate Camels, Death Comedy Jams
This disc stands at the crossroads of progressive rock and jazz fusion, with a flash of heavy iron doing a wheelie in the intersection. Six of its seven long instrumental tracks pay tribute to a series of great comedians who have passed on – Mitch Hedberg, Richard Pryor, Sam Kinison, Lenny Bruce, Bill Hicks, and Andy Kaufman. Kinison gets the metal treatment, natch. Lenny Bruce draws out a jazzy improv number that evokes the Beat era. Bill Hicks gets a piece with a twelve-tone feel, and so on. But direct references to the particular comics' personalities or styles aren't always easy to pick out – in some cases they might not exist. No matter; the compositions have enough inherent interest to please the kind of music fans who perk up at the genres I named at the start. Hear some of the tracks at Myspace.
Lorrie Ruiz, Chewy
And speaking of fusion, Lorrie Ruiz's good-natured jazz fusion disc might be just the thing to convince your grouchy friends that fusion isn't always as cold, virtuosic, and inaccessible as its reputation would have it. Taking some Stevie Wonder funk, adding some Steely Dan archness and George Benson smoothness, crafting some pretty good pop hooks to hang it all on, singer Ruiz and keyboardist Joe Doria have come up with a batch of fun, toe-tapping, and friendly songs. The weakness is Ruiz's hummy, uninflected vocals, which just make you think what someone like Stevie Wonder, or even Mariah Carey – or any number of great young neo-soul singers I can think of – would have been able to do with material like this. Fortunately the other elements are more important here. The playing – by Doria, guitarist Chris Spencer, bassist Dayna Smith, and drummer Larry Bichler – gives this disc its soul, and good songwriting gives it heart. Nicely done.
Red Plastic Buddha, Sunflower Sessions
I love to get back to psychedelia sometimes. But the same old late-sixties, early-seventies music gets tired after awhile. Fortunately there are bands like Red Plastic Buddha keeping the swoony, shimmery tradition alive. Like a Peter Max painting come to life, Red Plastic Buddha comes in colors – all over the floor. With semi-spastic guitar solos that bring to mind early Jefferson Airplane, keyboard parts that very vaguely suggest Ray Manzarek and the Doors, and vocals that range from an intense scream to a distant call, they've really got the flavors down. Many of the six songs deserve their psychedelic-music bloat ("Forget Me Not," "Clouds"), while a couple are a little too underwritten to merit it ("Rollercoaster," "Over And Over"), but overall it's a pretty sweet 33 minutes of dark, retrograde flower power. If they sharpened up their songwriting a bit, they'd get a leg up on the other bands (and there are some) that are also keeping the groovy flame burning. Hear three tracks at their Myspace page.
Brett Dennen, So Much More
Brett Dennen is a young folk artist with a deft touch on the guitar. His singing is plaintive yet assured, and he writes in a mature, socially involved, and sharp-eyed style. I don't love his reedy voice, although it's starting to grow on me a little. But I am very impressed with this disc – the scope of his songwriting and the delicate emotion of his delivery make Dennen a potentially major talent. (He's touring this summer with John Mayer.) Listen to a few tracks and see if you don't agree.