Album of the Week : Mark Kraus "The Story of Everything"

I find it hard to consider Mark Kraus a folk artist. Its things like the minimalist guitar loop that encircles vocals of the album’s opener that defy the genre and his emotive and compelling delivery that makes him not your parents version of a singer songwriter. He doesn’t approach folk in the same way more conventional pop/ folk artists like Mumford and Sons and Iron and Wine or the even the icons of the genre like Bob Dylan, Paul Simon or James Taylor. Kraus owes more to bands like Arcade Fire, Snow Patrol and Modest Mouse. The organ in "You and the Boys " is the first element that really gives it the kind of organic feel you expect from this sort of thing. The drums play a more important role and drive the song in a manner that takes you back to bands like Soul Asylum or the Gin Blossoms, you know the time period when alternative broke into the mainstream and was fun in the post- Nirvana world.

While I didn’t pay that much attention to the lyrics on my first listen, on my second listen to the album the line from “You and the Boys” “you’re wide open / like jack knife truck” was the first to grab my ear. One thing that stands out about him is he is not afraid to sing. Many singer-songwriters find themselves in a safe box musically and tend to put all the emphasis on lyrics and phrasing, but really don’t have much of a range or attempt to stray from reaching more than a whole step for a note. While he doesn’t engage in Jeff Buckley vocal gymnastics he reaches for notes at times with gusto at others with more delicacy.

The acoustic guitar slowly begins to take more of the spot light, yet is balanced out with sounds mixed into the corners of the songs with his voice up front. "The Weekends" is as delicate as anything Dashboard Confessional might have done, with surreal backwards tracks layered with delay in the background. He continues on this introspective path with "Eveline". Things begin to solidify with juxtaposition between spacey ambiance and the solid strum of guitar. There are some blues like moment to some of the layers of electric guitar. There is a more Bright Eyes take on organic folk on " Put An Old Record On". He emotes in a more reflective and thoughtful manner like Win Butler from Arcade Fire rather than the raw crying out pour. A harmonica shows up and the Americana more typical of folk singers these days crops up on " Little Brother" but eight song into the album its in moderation. Competing with “You and the Boys” for the title My favorite song on the album is "Broke Busted”, is more in the Bright Eyes vein, very emotive but also smooth in its moodiness. The guitar is downplayed, though an electric guitar is in the background playing jazz chords. The album closes with a similar introspection; female backing vocals lightly haunt the periphery of the song. His vocal performance on this song might be the album's most impassioned. Overall these are songs with a lot of honest feeling infused into them and Kraus is worth checking out when it comes out August 18th.

Tonight : Goatwhore

Founding guitarist Sammy Duet was part of the legendary Acid Bath, who were way ahead of their time. After the band broke up over twenty years ago, he formed this black metal outfit called Goatwhore. This was before every one and their mother were trying to be blackened something. Over the years their sound has evolved and matured and now includes thrash sections, punk sections and grooves that might sound at home on a Pantera album.They have never compromised and continue to buck trends and do their own thing, so the mainstream metal community came to them rather than trying to change anything for anyone but themselves, which has built a dedicated fan base over the years of kids too young to even know who Acid Bath is. So Sammy has come out from behind the shadow of his previous band.

 The last time they were in town I met Sammy after their set and asked him about the Acid Bath days, and he told me "Its funny, when people talk about Acid Bath now, because when we were together nobody gave a shit." Later that night after he had a few drinks in him and he bumped into my fiance and I , who shares my love of Acid Bath, he told us to never forget. However what you can forget is the hope that they will play any Acid Bath, their own material stand on it's own two legs and is bound to make you bang your head.

Ringworm is metallic hardcore that is worth checking out if you get there early enough. They are followed up by Black Tongue and Theories is the first band on the bill. The doors at the Earl are opening up tonight at 6:30, meaning the first band will go on some time after 7:30. It's 15 bucks at the door.

Downtown Mystic's "Downtown Mystic on E-Street"

Downtown Mystic’s new album asks a simple question, “What happened to rock n roll being fun?”. When I stared to think about this the first thing that popped into my mind was Guns n Roses. Downtown Mystics sounds nothing like Guns N Roses, but GnR represents the last band of an era, before music found itself at a turning point. The rise of alt rock in the 90s gave us so much teenage angst that we forgot the point. Downtown Mystic is less of a band and more or less Robert Allen’s alter ego. On this album Allen proves he is a man who has not forgotten that. It would be easy to dismiss it as retro, but I don't get the impression that this is some one consciously trying to recapture the sound of a certain era. I think that people, who stuck to their guns and didn’t give up, while the industry went from flannel to emo to jam bands, are making this music. Some of these players are seasoned pros like Max Weinberg and Garry Tallent from the E Street Band, who have been unapologetic when it comes to rocking along side Bruce Springsteen for decades.

At times the E Street band’s blues based sound comes out from the songs cracks at other times it is steeped in the Stones style of boogie bound rock n roll, but there are more layers of influence, This makes them far from a many bands who are stuck slaves to their influences that they become glorified tribute bands. While it might not be grounded in fact I can hear a little Kiss influence mixed in. To my ears the vocal delivery has some of the Paul Stanley flare to it and the guitar solo goes over the top like 80s arena rock. I grew up listening to Kiss as a kid, so if you have a Kiss influence my ears will find it like a drug-sniffing dog at a Phish concert.

The groove slows on "And You Know Why" there is some smart songwriting going on here. The vocal layers have some of that Desmond child feel; I also here thin Lizzy honesty in the impassioned vocal approach. Its relaxed like the Eagles or Fleetwood Mac, that west coast cocaine fueled rock from the 70s. It's hooky guitar line that haunts the song that has the Stevie Nicks flavored melancholy to it.

"Way to Know" is not hard rocking; instead it opts to roll more than rock. The vocal harmonies lead into the chorus is one of the band's trademarks. It's more of the Peter Criss solo album side of Kiss mixed with Tom Petty where. The demo of "Sometimes Wrong" sounds better than many full blown studio efforts. The vocals on this song are  left way up front. The guitar wanders under the song more like Cheap Tricks more relaxed moment. it has plenty of drive and is way more upbeat than a power-ballad.Overall this album is a lot of fun. If you want something to do some deep thinking to go listen to Bon Iver, but if you want something to take you back to a more carefree time when rock rocked and auto-tune did not exist then here is one for you.

Scott Krokoff's"Realizations &Declarations Vol.2"

If you are growing tired with the same old same old from singer songwriters these days Scott Krokoff is worth putting on your radar. A singer songwriter with an edge of Replacements styled alt rock to his strum. His new album is the second volume to the album Realizations and Declarations” he released in 2012. Scott voice carries his lyrics with clear honesty and it's more about where he puts the notes he does sing rather than flexing his vocals chords. At times his smart vocal phrasing might remind you of Elvis Costello. In the 90s a similar folk brand of rock emerged with bands like the Jayhawks and to some extent even Counting Crow, who defied the typical rock posturing to create thoughtful reflections. Krokoff is about the age that this time period might color his work today. The country elements creep into "Because of You". This country feel takes a bigger step into the spotlight when it comes to his guitar playing on "Scared Little Boy".

'Walter Mitty" reminds me of something the Decemberists might do during their more country "the King is dead" phase. It has a similar pop harmony to the verses , though his approach backs off more chorus than a singer like Collin Meloy would. Americana quickly becomes a more fitting adjective for his sounds when the Harmonica sets some folk into the country. The ballad sway of "I've Got Nothing" has about as much country twang to it as you are going to pull out of New York Cit

He goes back to smart folk inflected pop on "Pissed Off In Paris". Melodies roll off his tongue in the classic manner in which Paul Simon executes a similar lyrical frolic. The hooks seem natural and not forced. The album closes with the breezy folk of "Sparrows" that evoke more of a James Taylor feel. So Scott has pretty solid pop and folk root if I am mentioning both legends like Paul Simon and James Taylor in the same paragraph, which the last artist that deserved such comparisons might be Dave Matthews. The difference being there is no jamming, as the songs are concise. Krokoff tells his story with out the aide of virtuoso embellishments. Not to say any one who plays on this album is a slouch, the focus is always serving the song and not crowding his lyrics. You can check out “Sparrows” out for yourself below.

Tonight: Torres

Torres rolls into the Earl tonight. She is a BRooklyn based singer songwriter , who is originally a Georgia native so this is a homecoming of sorts for her.  She is touring to support the follow up  to her debut called "Sprinter", an album that finds her  some indie rock icons such as Portishead’s Adrian Utley  whose studio she also recorded the album at as well as PJ Harvey’s Robert Ellis and Ian Olliver on rhythm—the two fortuitously reuniting 23 years after the release of Dry. These partnerships granted a more rock feel to what was once a more delicate folk feel and add some surreal layers to her work darkening it a bit. You can check out the title track below. She thinks of this album as space cowboy music, which might suggest combining county with psyche rock, not a bad comparison, but she does have a more hook filled feel like classic Pj Harvey, just less drug crusted girt to her voice.

It twelves bucks at the door the Preakness and Athens based singer song writer Madeline open like most of the shows at the Earl doors open around nine.

Album Review : Charlie Sayles

It is no secret that rock music owes its existence to the blues. Charlie Sayles is a mean blues harpist who proves he is the real deal from the first few notes he blows into his harmonic. Its dirty dive bar blues, the likes of which that inspired Tom Waits'  booze splattered odes.  The album is raw and authentic. Production wise it very well be a mic on stage.  the funk to "Green Peace" gives it the gumption to look at the bigger  picture than just lamenting at a bar. The guitar is a little low in the mix with  the drums  carrying the groove. He gets into more of a road house blues shuffle on "These Chains" which also has slight gospel undertones, as the song reflects on the pit falls of addiction. His harmonica solo sit where guitar solos typically would in this kind of music and are a welcome diversion, after all how many times can you take some one wanting to be Stevie Ray Vaughn.

Though "Laughin and Grinnin" is more what you would it expect it, still carries more swing than stereotypical blues and really gives Sayles the space to cut loose . They break out some classic twelve bar blues walk downs on "Arella". The vocals go down into a steamy whisper. This album continues to take you on a tour of the varied moods of blues taking on a more easy going lounge feel on " I Don't Want to Die" which finds the harmonica trading off with the guitar. The song "A New Day Coming" reminds me of a more breezy and easy going take on something Hendrix might have done in one of his less drugged funk moments. There is more of a Texas blue phrasing to the soulful ballad "Vietnam". Sayles doesn't just blow into his Harmonica with a rhythmic intensity and hope for the best like many do, he has a very lyrical quality to his playing that can caress a melody.

The album closes with " Those Things of Old". The song's honky honk twang still holds a groove to it is not unlike those used by Howling Wolf or Albert King that would later be bastardized by Led Zeppelin. However many bands from the British Invasion pulled liberally from this period of blues. Its evident that Sayles is plugged in directly to the roots of the music. If you are hungry for some real blues and want it light on the guitar solos , but heavy on having it's roots firmly planted in the real shit then this album will not do your wrong. It's being released on Fetal Records, check out a taste below.

Album Review : Magnificent Birds Of Prey's "Kaleidoscope"

This band out of Philly is a bit of an odd bird. Many genres collide here, but the foundation is cerebral grunge with progressive ambitions. The range can as tender as Genesis era Peter Gabriel, but often break out into throaty roars though not of the metal variety.  These roars even occur over angular jangle to "Icon" .They walk a weird line between Police like new wave on "Can't Wash My Soul"punk inflected rock.  "Writing Every Thing Away" finds the  guitar jerking the more tender side of their vocalist with  drums rolling  adventurously around the proceedings . The first song where the lyrics grab you in s the geek friendly "Storm Trooper Blues" . This song comes from of  one of Darth Vader's minions who finds himself having second thoughts after his vacation request gets denied. The guitars are  slathered in digital delays bubbling with surrealism in a dreamy juxtaposition to the vocals  huskier blues based tone.  The use of backing vocals is the most punk element to most of the songs, since punk rock never indulges in the sort of effects that makes up sound of these birds of prey.

The band's strength  is their ability to step out of the rock confines and slip into smooth jazz flavored undertones displayed on  "Statue".  The lead singer finds room to wander as the band uses their chops to create the  black light backdrop. "Seven" is a modern take on Jimi Hendrix. The vocals croon prompts the band to go off on a funky prog punk vision quest . On the album's harder moments the drummer is allowed to flex his talents. They glide on cruise controlled groove with "Collide O Scope", before the vocals yet again tense up adding grit. The reflective jazz tone drifts into psychedelic dimensions on "Drive" but with a dose of Spanish castle magic funk in the mix. Their idea of a lullaby sounds more  like something Sublime might have concocted in a stoned moment of inspiration. The bonus track "Sharpie" is available to those who pre-order the album, which comes out August 18th.