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Music Review - `Amanda Cevallos` by Amanda Cevallos (dmac)

Amanda Cevallos - Amanda Cevallos  (click on image to watch video)

 18 April 2020

 

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 Amanda Cevallos’ biography introduces the singer/songwriter as a “Latina country music songstress,” but her new eleven-song album presents the listener to one fine traditional country singer – an admirable characteristic completely unrelated to her ethnicity. Yes, she closes the album with “Ready For The Times To Get Better,” which is partly in Spanish, but the rest of these fine songs are sung in English and put to a sonic that will make any old school country heart smile. 

The album opens with the swinging, and lyrically witty, “All My Boyfriends.” The song’s female character comes off especially starved for a good man because she claims it takes all her boyfriends -- added together -- just to make one good man. Cevallos flaunts her maturity again with “Freddy Ain’t Ready,” where she points out how one (and maybe one of her multiple boyfriends) is not quite ready for the prime time of her love. 

It’s refreshing to hear Cevallos sing an acoustic-based country ballad like “Love Me Together.” With a mix including little more than a strummed acoustic guitar, piano, twangy electric guitar and – best of all – steel guitar, Cevallos proves she doesn’t need big rock production – like the many times bombastic variety too often heard on Carrie Underwood recordings – to relay her message. Indeed, many times simpler is simply better. Cevallos has a lovely, natural singing voice, which perfectly fits the song’s sparse arrangement. Both “All My Boyfriends” and “Goodbye Truth” exemplify how Cevallos is also extremely comfortable sounding in more up-tempo settings. 

It’s easy, from a marketing standpoint, to see why Amanda Cevallos highlights her Latin ethnicity. After all, there aren’t too many mainstream female country artists of color. This is especially sad because there is a long and rich history of wonderful Tex-Mex music, which wonderfully combines Mexican and American musical styles into one irresistible combination. It’s nearly criminal the way mainstream country puts on a stereotypical face of white Southern-ness and almost completely ignores its rich Latin heritage. With that said, though, the highly traditional music Cevallos creates, will likely mostly appeal to Americana folk that already have a more varied palate when it comes to embracing sounds even a little bit outside the dull, mostly white country mainstream. 

Whether Cevallos breaks through to the mainstream, or continues to develop a more modest following, her music is true treat to the ears

 

 

 

 

Music Reviewer - Dan MacIntosh

 

Dan MacIntosh - Dan MacIntosh has been a professional music journalist for 30 years and his work has regularly appeared in many local and national publications, including Inland Empire Weekly, CCM, CMJ, Paste, Mean Street, Chord, HM, Christian Retailing, Amplifier, Inspirational Giftware, Stereo Subversion, Indie-Music, Soul–Audio, Roughstock.com, Country Standard Time and Spin.com. 

To Read All of Dan's Reviews, Click Here

 

 

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Music Review - `Western` by James Hyland (dmac)

James Hyland - Western  (click on image to watch video)

 25 February 2020

 

Black

James Hyland’s Western is a concept album, of sorts, as it details how the transcontinental railroad impacted the American West. It’s a healthy 19 songs long, and clocks in at a full hour and twenty minutes. This sonic girth is comparable to many movie lengths. Therefore, it would not at all be inaccurate to call this an epically cinematic recording. However, the term western can also describe this album’s musical style, as Hyland is pictured on its cover viewed from behind wearing a western-style hat with a short, sharp haircut. Furthermore, Hyland sings these songs with a dry vocal tone, accompanied by distinctly western instrumental elements, including pedal steel, dobro, fiddle, and mandolin. In other words, this project westerns to eleven.

The album fully kicks into gear with “First West Bound Train,” which is nicely colored by pedal steel. It rumbles along nicely, much like the pace of a locomotive.  Hyland narrates this maiden voyage like he’s reading the pages from an engineer’s journal when he sings, “I check my pocket watch/It’s all aboard!” As Hyland describes it, this album’s songs look at history through various individuals’ eyes. In addition to the aforementioned engineer, we view America’s past from a Texas cattleman’s viewpoint and through the lens of a war veteran who became a brothel piano player after his military days. Hyland also explores America’s political/social evolution by describing Utah women, who were the first American women to vote in an election. One would imagine Utah to be one of the last places where women gained the right to vote. This just shows you how surprising American history can sometimes be. 

Although this album’s instrumentation is relatively traditional, “Top Floor” is highlighted by stinging, bluesy electric guitar. Therefore, it’s not an album of songs about the Old West, comprised entirely of Old West-inspired sounds -- even though nothing on this album sounds too much like contemporary music.

The album is a full meal, which means it requires dedication and full attention to fully appreciate it. You can’t play these songs in the background and expect to adequately appreciate it. In the same way, you can’t follow a good movie, while all the while checking Facebook on your phone, this is decidedly attentive-listening music. However, if you listen well, James Hyland will take you back in time with his fascinating musical train ride. 

 

Music Reviewer - Dan MacIntosh

 

Dan MacIntosh - Dan MacIntosh has been a professional music journalist for 30 years and his work has regularly appeared in many local and national publications, including Inland Empire Weekly, CCM, CMJ, Paste, Mean Street, Chord, HM, Christian Retailing, Amplifier, Inspirational Giftware, Stereo Subversion, Indie-Music, Soul–Audio, Roughstock.com, Country Standard Time and Spin.com. 

To Read All of Dan's Reviews, Click Here

 

 

 


 

 

 

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Music Review - `American Dirt` by Jon Fox (dmac)

Jon Fox - American Dirt  (click on image to watch video)

 9 February 2020

 

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Jon Fox’s musical approach isn’t a new one. He sings a rocking style of country and writes smart and sometimes funny lyrics. “It Ain’t Rain,” for instance, stomps along stubbornly, while electric guitars twang and steel guitar chimes in and out throughout. It may be a familiar sonic template, but it’s also the sort of rock-influenced country that sucked many of us into the country music sphere in the first place.

Fox is at his best on “Baby Don’t You Leave Me,” which treats an impending breakup like a kind of final straw. This character has had one of those days where seemingly everything went wrong. Losing his girl would be one hurt too many. Could she at least wait until he was having a better day? Fox sings this humorous song over a Tex-Mex-ish groove that includes plenty of acoustic piano and slide guitar. While Fox sings it, you feel for the guy. How much pain can the poor guy take? 

Fox also includes what’s nearly an obligatory outlaw song, concisely titled “Outlaw.” This one is a moody, meditative study of the outlaw life. “Never steal from a poor man,” he advises, “with his back up against the wall.” Just as there is honor among thieves, there is also an honor code – or so we’re told – among outlaws. Of course, It wouldn’t be a working-class country album without a little commentary on modern-day America, and Fox gets his two cents in about the state of his homeland with “My Country.” 

When Jon Fox sings about American Dirt, he’s not just spilling the dirt on his country, though. He has too much of a heart gold to do that.  It’s why he coattails on the Beatles with “Love Is All We Need,” which – when all’s said and done – is all we really need. The “dirt” he’s singing about, is more than likely the soil of his surroundings. It’s what we’re made of, and also what makes us. Jon Fox is merely coming clean about the sometimes dusty, many times muddy stuff of real life.

Music Reviewer - Dan MacIntosh

 

Dan MacIntosh - Dan MacIntosh has been a professional music journalist for 30 years and his work has regularly appeared in many local and national publications, including Inland Empire Weekly, CCM, CMJ, Paste, Mean Street, Chord, HM, Christian Retailing, Amplifier, Inspirational Giftware, Stereo Subversion, Indie-Music, Soul–Audio, Roughstock.com, Country Standard Time and Spin.com. 

To Read All of Dan's Reviews, Click Here

 

 

 


 

 

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Music Review - `Blood Red Moon` by Barbara Bergin (dmac)

Barbara Bergin - Blood Red Moon  (click on image to watch video)

 25 February 2020

 

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Barbara Bergin sings with a straightforward, matter-of-fact the vocal style, and many of her songs are set in the South, much of the time sung from a male perspective. Bergin is a storyteller, and few of these songs tell us much about Bergin, the person. Instead, she’s more about getting into the head of another, whether that be a country life-loving modern, as with “My Life’s Good (Cuz I Don’t Live in the City,” or a 19th-century boat captain (exemplified by “Captain of the Robert E. Lee”).

Many of these tracks are built upon rhythmic acoustic guitar grooves. The best of these – and the album’s best track overall – is “Whistlin’ Train,” which is a wonderful expression of wanderlust. This person’s need to keep moving, specifically by train, is sometimes even stronger than romantic love. “I feel her cold hand on my thigh/Her loving words are in my brain/But the only thing I hear is a whistlin’ train,” this restless character tells us. It could be about a literal train, but these words might also apply to almost anything that’s a lifelong obsession. It’s well-written and well-performed. There’s also a first-rate gospel song, “Let’s Get On Up!,” which is performed joyfully with a call-and-response chorus. Bergin reveals a sense of humor with “Daughter’s Lament,” which features this decidedly farmer-like fatherly advice: “Just put your trust in a thick legged horse/And keep ten dollars in your shoe.” In other words, you can trust a strong horse more than “them shiny penny boys.”

 

Instrumentally, Bergin keeps these arrangements relatively simple, and always acoustic. “Like Father Like Son,” for instance, is bluegrass-inspired, particularly due to Darcie Deaville’s mandolin fills. The album’s instrumentation may share a kinship with bluegrass, but Bergin is – at heart – a folksinger, and Blood Red Moon is a collection of relatively timeless folk songs. She’s not a folksinger in the tradition of the politically active kind popular back in the Sixties, but more of the sort that sings story songs in the folk music tradition. A passer down of stories, if you will. Had you told me this album had been written in 1966 or even 1976, I wouldn’t have been surprised. There’s nothing on it that ties it to the contemporary world at all, which is admirable. So, in that respect, it offers a cool manner of musical escapism. 

 

Music Reviewer - Dan MacIntosh

 

Dan MacIntosh - Dan MacIntosh has been a professional music journalist for 30 years and his work has regularly appeared in many local and national publications, including Inland Empire Weekly, CCM, CMJ, Paste, Mean Street, Chord, HM, Christian Retailing, Amplifier, Inspirational Giftware, Stereo Subversion, Indie-Music, Soul–Audio, Roughstock.com, Country Standard Time and Spin.com. 

To Read All of Dan's Reviews, Click Here

 

 

 


 

 

 

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Music Review - `I’m Into Now` by Shoebox Letters (dmac)

Shoebox Letters - I'm into Now  (click on image to watch video)

 6 February 2020

 

Black

Shoebox Letters may still be a new name to some, but this quartet’s members have notable resumes. Vocalist and songwriter, Dennis Winslow, is a former Nashville songsmith who has placed some of his songs in Hollywood movies. Bassist David Stricker co-founded Kung-Fu Bakery Recording Studio, where acts like The Decemberists and Pink Martini have recorded. Guitarist Greg Paul has lent his skills to the bands of both Amy Farris and Deborah Iyall. Lastly, vocalist, Susan Lowery adds a feminine element to the act. Based in Vancouver, Shoebox Letters nicely muddles the line between folk and country music with I’m Into Now.

During its best moments, Shoebox Letters draws comparisons to Lady Antebellum, another act that smartly mixes male and female vocals. During the brooding “Last Night’s Lie,” Lowery plays Hillary Scott role, to Winslow’s Charles Kelley. The album’s best song is “I Drink For Two,” which finds its character having a lonely drink of rum while mourning the death of a romance. No amount of alcohol, though, will ever help this woebegone lover understand why a seemingly good relationship died too soon. The album’s title track, however, is far more positive. “I’m Into Now” is a song that bravely forges ahead, while leaving all painful baggage behind, in order to make a new romance work. 

I’m Into Now is a simple album, in the best possible use of that term. It’s filled with good singing and sparse instrumentation. The musical focus is squarely on servicing the song, instead of any instrumentation being the means to an end. It’s an album filled with smart, soulful and honest songs. Lyrically, Shoebox Letters isn’t telling us anything we don’t already know about the trials and tribulations of love. It is, though, putting these familiar truths into gentle, melodic settings. Let’s hope quality music like I’m Into Now never goes out of style, or worse yet, goes away for good. It’s the kind of ‘now’ we want to remain now for a long, long time.

 

 

Music Reviewer - Dan MacIntosh

 

Dan MacIntosh - Dan MacIntosh has been a professional music journalist for 30 years and his work has regularly appeared in many local and national publications, including Inland Empire Weekly, CCM, CMJ, Paste, Mean Street, Chord, HM, Christian Retailing, Amplifier, Inspirational Giftware, Stereo Subversion, Indie-Music, Soul–Audio, Roughstock.com, Country Standard Time and Spin.com. 

To Read All of Dan's Reviews, Click Here

 

 

 


 

 

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