Ric Todd, Drawing Lines
Ric Todd’s new EP Drawing Lines crashes out of the gate with the heavy blues-rock of “Red Letter,” followed by the bouncier but still gritty “Something Real.” These smartly conceived songs combine crisp, stark modern production with traditional retro-rock attitude; in pure sound terms they’re superb.
Todd brings the slower “New Religion” to life with his wide vocal wingspan, a thick curtain of background vocals, and fuzzed-out guitar. “When It Comes Around” has a Police-like rhythmic lilt and a melody reminiscent of Elvis Costello. Todd injects into his vocals in “End of My Rope” a powerful soulfulness that smoothes out the tangled metaphors of the lyrics.
When I came to the end of this musical rope, I wanted there to be more.
Danielle Nicole, Wolf Den
Belter Danielle Nicole sings with a silky sort of blues phrasing reminiscent of Susan Tedeschi, or, going further back, Bonnie Raitt or even Buddy Guy. The songs on her new album Wolf Den, mostly written by Nicole and her guitarist Anders Osborne, range from blues-rock (“You Only Need Me When You’re Down”) to straight blues (the title track) to soul ballads (“Take It All,” “Just Give Me Tonight”), with a venture into New Orleans territory too (“In My Dreams”).
What the album lacks are lively arrangements. Through the disc overall, a sterile feel creates a sameness in spite of the variety of tempos and grooves. This overly measured approach works against the passion in the lyrics and the gutsy feeling Nicole at her best is able to summon in her vocals. It makes the songs sometimes sound like exercises in blues composition rather than shouts from the heart.
Those that fare best, because their very nature requires a certain amount of busting loose, are the rockier, hookier numbers, like “Didn’t Do You No Good” and especially the catchy “You Only Need Me When You’re Down.” The dark “I Feel Like Breakin’ Up Somebody’s Home” is effective too – she makes you believe she means it – and so is “It Ain’t You,” which put me in mind of Johnnie Taylor. Both are minor-key blues-rock numbers, probably not a coincidence.
All in all, the vocals and the compositions are here. They just needed more spirited arranging and grittier playing to really shine.