Album Review – Patrick Sweany’s ‘Daytime Turned To Nighttime’

DAYTIME cover

From Massillon, Ohio comes musician Patrick Sweany. The reason I only say musician and indicate no genre is because Sweany’s sound spans over multiple genres. His music is a combination of country, Americana, blues, folk, classic 50s rock and bluegrass. He takes all of these different sounds and combines them to make truly authentic music. Sweany got his start by playing clubs and coffee shops around Kent, Ohio. Fast-forward to present day where up to this point he’s released six critically acclaimed records. Two of them were produced by Black Keys lead guitarist and vocalist Dan Auerbach. It’s not a big surprise considering The Black Keys are out of nearby Akron. Sweany has opened for The Black Keys, The Tedeschi Trucks Band and several others. Today he has released his brand new album Daytime Turned To Nighttime.

“First of the Week” opens up Daytime Turned To Nighttime. The song is about a man who works all the time and is constantly on the road. He does however get Sundays off and it’s something he looks forward to. The well-placed guitar lyrics throughout the song give it a nice sound. The more upbeat “Tiger Pride” is next. It features lots of string instrumentation throughout it and gives the song a rustic feeling. The easy-going “Here To Stay” follows. It’s a song about a man realizing his time isn’t long. The steel guitar and piano drive the sound of this song and fit the attitude of the song perfectly.

Sweany slows it down with “Sweethearts Together.” It’s a love song that allows Sweany’s distinctive voice to shine and really tell a story. The instrumentation is kept quiet, which gives the song a more romantic and dreamy feeling, which is needed in a song like this one. “Back Home” is a rocking hillbilly country rock song and one of my favorites on the album. It has infectious guitar licks that really make song catchy and fun. Sweany’s voice absolutely soars on this song and is completely unleashed. While this song sounds great on the album, I imagine it will sound even better live. The dark and gritty “Afraid of You” sees Sweany singing about being in tumultuous relationship and questioning everything about it. He really does a great job capturing the psychology of being in a troublesome relationship and articulating it through the music. The instrumentation, particularly in the bridge, really elevates the lyrics to another level. This is definitely one of the gems of Daytime Turned To Nighttime.

Like the opening song on the album “First of the Week,” Sweany sings of being on the road and being away from his woman. This is another song where you can really hear how great Sweany’s voice is. “Nothing Happened At All” is a solid bluesy heartbreak tune. And “Mansfield Street” sees Sweany getting in touch with his soulful side. Daytime Turned To Nighttime ends with “Long Way Down.” It’s a warm feeling song that is essentially about life. Really it’s a song that captures the essence of this entire album and Sweany’s sound.

Patrick Sweany delivers a solid album full of a variety of songs with Daytime Turned To Nighttime. The careful thought behind each lyric and instrument is palpable, making any listener appreciative of the talent of Sweany. While I wanted maybe just a little more in the songwriting department, the album is pretty good in all phases. He’s truly an artist in every sense of the word. Sweany takes the inspiration of his favorite artists, mixes it with his own style and creates music that is unique. Daytime Turned To Nighttime is another good step in the successful career of Patrick Sweany.

Grade: 8/10

Album Review – Kail Baxley’s ‘A Light That Never Dies’

KB_A Light That Never Dies album art

“Sometimes you have to tear your f@#$*ng guts out… sometimes it’s just there. Music is a fluid thing that never flows the same way twice.” That’s how Kail Baxley describes his new album A Light That Never Dies. It just came out over a week ago, released under Forty Below Records. Baxley describes his music as “soul swagger,” as it has an older sound that also makes you want to move your feet. He really doesn’t have a sound that would fit under one genre, as he draws from folk, blues, country and roots rock in his music. Baxley writes all of his music, showing the deep connection he has with his songs. It was certainly evident when I listened to his new album A Light That Never Dies.

The album opens with the album’s title track, “A Light That Never Dies.” It has lots of rich instrumentation from a horns section to harmonica interludes. The lyrics are just okay and I thought they could have been clearer. The next track, “Mr. Downtown,” I feel the exact same way. The instrumentation is certainly good, but the lyrics are nothing special. Baxley harkens back to a more old school feel on “Tell The Falling Sun.” It has a 50s vibe to it, with it’s slowed down tempo and sultry instrumentation. This fits well for a love song like this one and sets the mood of it just right.

One of my favorite tracks on the album is “The Ballad of Johnny Steel,” which is about a man named Johnny Steel of course. The instrumentation on this song has a very cool sound that is unique and ear grabbing. The heavy guitar lyrics, the drums and the horns section really drive the song. “Morning Light” is one of the slower songs on the album, with light acoustic guitar play peppered throughout it. “Better Feel Better” is one of my lesser favorites on the album, as the production is a little too noisy and can be hard to understand what Baxley is saying. The right idea is there in terms of the beat and rhythm, but it’s just too busy for my liking.

Baxley is best when his voice is allowed to shine. That’s exemplified in “Owe.” He sings about owing debts with a constantly strumming guitar driving the song in the background. The violin interludes really give it a punch too. This is a bluesy country song I can enjoy. “Still Wonder” is an interlude of a piano and background vocalists that leads into “Troubled Souls.” It’s a nice touch, as it sets the tone for a haunting song like “Troubled Souls.” The spacey guitar riffs in the background of it only add to the suspenseful mood that’s being created. The lyrics are very open to interpretation and I think each listener will come to a different conclusion on what they’re saying.

The penultimate song on A Light That Never Dies is “Chasing James Dean.” It has a very outlaw-ish, rebel theme, with a poster boy of this attitude James Dean being part of the song. Again I would love to hear more depth in the lyrics, as it would paint a better picture in the listeners’ heads. The album closes out with “Mirrors of Paradise,” the only song Baxley has ever written with someone else in the room. It draws on a visit from an old friend when he was doing a show in San Francisco. It’s a soaring song with a relaxing, soothing tone that can hook the listener with its fantastic instrumentation. It’s a beautiful song to end the album.

As I said in the beginning of the review, this is an album that is unfair to pigeonhole under one genre. There’s a melting pot of influences throughout it and certainly made for some interesting music. The instrumentation is the definitive high point of A Light That Never Dies. It’s very rich, high in quality and draws the listener in. While the lyrics are certainly from the heart, I was wanting a little more in this department. Then again I’m a stickler for lyrics, as it’s the whole basis for storytelling in a song. There are some high points in this album and a few low points, but overall it’s worth a listen in my mind. It’s not exactly country music, but good music nonetheless. If you like Hozier type music or something in the vein of like a Mumford & Sons, this album is worth checking out.

Grade: 7.5/10

Review – Fox Street’s “Our Garden”

Fox-Street-Press

The Colorado music scene has certainly been busy this year, well at least for this site. I feel like I’ve reviewed a lot of different artists from the scene and today I take a look at another: Denver-based bad Fox Street. They were voted Denver’s “Best Traditional Rock Band” at the 2013 Westword Music Showcase and have played at several venues across Colorado. Now while they received an award for best traditional rock band, I think it’s unfair to put them under this one genre and I think Fox Street would agree. They not only play rock music, but country, soul and blues. It’s a blending of genres in the band’s sound. This is certainly the case with their latest single “Our Garden,” which is off their upcoming album Authentic Western Style (due out July 28).

The song begins with the sound of an acoustic guitar and drums. It’s then accompanied by the faint sound of an organ, which lurks throughout the whole song. I know I mention the harmonica and fiddle being underutilized in country music, but I would also add the organ to the list. Gospel is a big part of country music and more artists need to embrace it for songs, especially slower ballads. So good on Fox Street for incorporating this underused instrument. The steel guitar shows up in the chorus and then later in the bridge a horns section shows up. This song has everything instrumentation-wise and I love it. The song itself is well-written as it’s sung from the perspective of a man who has lost the love of his life and is pleading for her to take him back. He admits he has faults and it isn’t easy being with him sometimes, but he wants her to stay with him right in their garden. The garden represents their life together and he doesn’t want to lose it. The songwriting is solid and cohesive.

This is the first time I’ve listened to Fox Street and I have to say I’m impressed with the artistry on display in “Our Garden.” The instrumentation is varied and brilliantly arranged. It’s perfectly placed throughout the album, so kudos to the producer of this song. The vocals are sultry and soulful, expressing the grief and pain of heartache quite well. The lyrics for the most part are spot on, doing a great job of telling the story of and setting the scene of heartbreak. Fox Street has a nice reputation in the Colorado scene for a reason and “Our Garden” is proof of it.

Grade: 8.5/10

Album Review – Pat McGee’s Self-Titled Album is a Melting Pot of Genres

PM Album Cover

When Pat McGee set out to record his new self-titled album, he wanted the albums he grew up listening to in the 1970s to have a palpable influence on it.

“I was inspired to write a record that was not based on a ‘single’ but on the wholeness of the complete album,” Pat explains. “I was at a friend’s house, listening to what I thought was someone’s playlist on an iPod. When I realized they were spinning full albums on vinyl, I was blown away. The very next day, I decided to buy a record player and picked up the ten records that lit the fire in me to start playing music, including seminal records by James Taylor, Jackson Browne, and Crosby, Stills, and Nash.”

You can certainly hear these influences throughout his new album. You really can’t pigeonhole this album into one particular genre. There’s country, rock, blues, soul, Motown, Americana and funk littered throughout this album (and probably a few more to boot). I guess the best label would be singer-songwriter if you had to choose one. Not only are there a lot of different genre influences, but many great musicians came onto this project to lend their talents. McGee reached out to many prominent names, as he wanted to “swing for the fences” on this particular album. And they all said yes to his pleasure. This dream team in McGee’s eyes includes musical legends The Section, Little Feat’s Paul Barrere, Blues Traveler’s John Popper, the Punchbrothers’ Gabe Witcher and Train’s Pat Monahan. This is in addition to McGee’s talented band. Quite the lineup! So does this album live up to McGee’s expectations? I can say with certainty yes.

The album kicks off with “Bad Idea,” a song that features some slick guitar play. It’s an interesting choice to start the album with a five-minute song, as I’ve found most albums start off with a song in the three to three and a half minutes range. It can be hard to grab listeners’ attentions with a longer song to start off an album. Nevertheless the rich instrumentation is a great precursor to the rest of the album. McGee is joined by Train front man Pat Monahan on “Overboard,” a song about dealing with the overwhelming feeling of falling in love with someone. At first listen this song may seem a little cheesy, but with more listens I find it to be heartfelt and sincere. Monahan and McGee harmonize well together too. The rich instrumentation is on full display again in “Four Door Dynamo.” The song has an easy-going, carefree attitude about it that helps you overlook the lyrics, which aren’t the best in my mind, but not the worst. I just felt they could’ve been a little better. But as I said I really enjoy the instrumentation on this song.

The upbeat, bluesy rock song “Take The Long Way” is a song that can put a smile on your face. The theme of the song is appreciating what you have in life and savoring your moments with them. It’s a really simple theme, but that works just fine with such great instrumentation behind it. It lets the song breathe and really grow onto the listener. The sound of drums kicks off “Caroline.” It’s really piercing and grabs the listeners’ attention, leaving you wonder what’s going to happen next. This song may turn some off because it’s around eight minutes long, but that would be a mistake. It really tells a love story well and once you give the song a chance you can really feel it and connect with it. It’s one of my favorite songs on the album. “When Did Everything Go Wrong” is about a man wondering how a relationship suddenly turned sour. He’s left with all of these questions, but he can’t find any answers to them. It paints the picture of exasperation and I thought McGee’s vocals did a good job expressing this emotion.

“We Need Each Other” is a man reflecting back on his life and finding more than friendship in someone. I think the songwriting is good in this song, but the line, “we need each other like a stellar atmosphere,” felt generic and out-of-place. It kind of throws the flow of the song off for me. Other than that though I thought the songwriting and instrumentation blended together nicely. Another one of my favorite tracks on this album is “When It Hurts,” a brilliant little love song. The main crux of the song is that the man and woman in love have seemed to drift apart, but they hurt so much from it that they realize that this isn’t going to change. This is the kind of songwriting I enjoy, as it makes you think as you listen.

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Motown meets funk meets blues best describes “Kite String.” It has an infectious beat that’s easily to move your head along with as it plays. The sound gets even more interesting when an organ makes an appearance towards the end of the song along with a harmonica. I’m not sure what genre you would put this song under, as there is a melting pot of influences, but I know I like it. The classic rock tinged “Rhode Island” features the best guitar-play on the entire album. In an album with plenty of great instrumentation, this says a lot. The fiddles play in “Trial By Fire,” a song about a man reflecting on his younger years and how his “trial by fire” moments are what made him the man he is today. He grew up and learned from his “kid” moments. I’m sure older listeners can really connect with this song, as it is more targeted towards them.

“Stronger Than I Appear” is about overcoming odds and people underestimating you. It’s a motivational theme without the cheesiness of motivational songs. Too many times these types of songs get too much like those posters you see on the wall in the waiting room at a corporate headquarters. This song avoids that and instead has a very genuine, positive attitude that the listener can get behind. The final song on McGee’s self-titled album is “Jack’s Song,” which has a strong country influence. The song seems to be sung from the point of view of a father to his son, giving him advice on how to live life. I find the song to be well written and I really enjoy the fiddles in the bridge of the song. “Jack’s Song” is a sentimental song with a nice message that really ends the album on a strong note.

Pat McGee is very proud of this album and for good reason too. Once you get into the album it’s a very fun listen, especially for music fans in general. You can feel the craftsmanship and artistry that’s on display throughout it. What impressed me the most was the excellent instrumentation in each song. I really have no complains at all when it comes to this, as every song impressed me in this area. Despite a few bumps, I thought the songwriting was pretty good too and meshed with the instrumentation well. McGee’s vocals were impressive throughout the album too and reminded me a lot of Neil Young. While this isn’t strictly a country album, the country influence is noticeable. As I said before it would be unfair to put it under one genre, so I would advise to approach this as a music album. For fans of 70s music, you’ll really enjoy it. Really though I think anyone who can enjoy well-composed music should enjoy this album. Pat McGee swung for the fences and hit a home run with this album.

Grade: 8/10

Album Review – Karen Jonas’ Oklahoma Lottery Leaves Me Near Speechless

karenjonasmusic.com

Country Perspective didn’t come into existence until late May 2014. This means there was a lot of great country music released before then we had to catch up with, along with keeping up with all of the other country music being released at the moment. It’s impossible of course to cover everything released. So as we reach the end of another year, I went back and looked at all of the albums that were released that have not yet been covered here on Country Perspective. This is probably going to be the last review I do this year because I’ll be focusing on the year-end awards here. I went back and forth on which album I should review, but the one I kept coming back to was Karen Jonas’ Oklahoma Lottery. Several of the fellow critics I respect have given this album high praise and I was eager to give it a listen to see if it meets these high expectations. Does it meet these expectations? No. It exceeds them!

If you have not listened to this album yet, do yourself a favor. Go buy it and listen to it. This is one of the best albums in country music this year. The album starts off with “Suicide Sal,” a song about a girl named Suicide Sal who’s on the lam for committing a crime she didn’t commit. It’s a catchy song with an interesting story you need to really hear for yourself. Jonas’ vocals are great and draws the listener into the album quite easily. This is followed by “Get Out of My Head.” It’s a song about a woman trying to get her ex out of her head. She’s doing everything she can to get rid of his memory, but she can’t shake him. Jonas’ raw vocals create that conflicted emotion of a woman who can’t shake love, but yet doesn’t want to. This is true artistry.

The album’s title track is the best song on the album and one of the best country songs of 2014. I can’t do the song justice with words. It’s so damn fantastic in every single element. Just listen for yourself:

 

One of the more fast paced songs on the album, “Money” is about how money isn’t everything and that it can’t get what you really want in life. It has a similar vibe to Sturgill Simpson’s “Life Ain’t Fair and the World is Mean.” The messages of both are the same: the world sucks and you may have to sacrifice a lot of money to be happy. “Thinkin’ of You Again” is a slow and sultry feeling love song about a woman who can’t stop thinking about a man who was in her life. She’s done a lot since moving on from him and been with a lot of other men, trying to shake her memory of him. Yet she can’t stop thinking of him. Again Jonas does a great job conveying the conflicted emotion in the song.

“I Never Learn” is about a woman who continues to be fooled by men who only use her and then leave her, but she continues to not learn from this situation that continues to happen to her over and over again. There is some damn solid instrumentation in this song. Jonas takes a more bluesy approach with “Lucky.” This is a song about luck in life. The woman in the song recounts moments through her life where she lucky and unlucky as she’s playing poker. Jonas’ vocals are perfect in this song.

As I listened to the final three songs on this album, (“Steppin’ on Your Toes,” “The River Song” and “White Trash Romance”) I became speechless. I felt it was unnecessary to continue to repeat over and over again how great the songs are. So I’ll just say this once about the final three songs: they’re great vocal wise, instrumentation wise and each bring something different to the table. And you know me. I’m rarely at a loss of words.

If there was something bad about this album or any album, I would point it out with hesitation. When it comes to Oklahoma Lottery though, I just can’t find anything wrong. I mean if you’re really nitpicking you could say it’s too raw at times, but I think the rawness adds another layer to the album. Really it enhances it and makes the more emotional songs stand out. I find it very hard for anyone who likes traditional country music to not like this album. Karen Jonas is truly breaking out with this album and I am very eager to hear her next album. You can’t do much better for a debut album. Expect to see Jonas’ name a lot in Country Perspective’s year-end awards list of nominees. Oklahoma Lottery comes with my highest recommendation.

Grade: 10/10