Brian Whelan’s sophomore album Sugarland is pure sweetness

With instrumental abilities that made him a key member of Dwight Yoakam’s band, a voice reminiscent of Jackson Browne and a Top 10 lyrical streak that makes him seem like he’s been writing hook-laden hits for years – Brian Whelan is poised to attract a much wider audience with the release of his second solo album Sugarland.

A music major at the University of Southern California, Whelan can play almost anything that has keys or strings, including steel guitar, accordion and piano, and puts these skills to the test while playing many of them on his new release.

From the opening strains of “Americana,” where he adds the impressive fiddle of Gabe Wichter, to the final notes of “The Bottom,” where Wichter again shows his fiddling prowess, all ten tracks of Sugarland are sweet and give his listeners a taste of his musical greatness.  This is country rock at its best.

Other amazing musicians who add to the sound include Herb Pederson, Rami Jaffe, Keith Gattis, Greg Camp, and Ross Flournoy, as well as vocal help from Nicole Eva Emery, Phoebe Bridgers, Jonathan Clark, and Sarah Taylor.

Sugarland was co-produced by fellow Yoakamite and Whelan’s current drummer Mitch Marine, who are joined by Lee Pardini on bass, keys and vocals.  The resulting music places Whelan in the same crowd with John Fullbright, Sturgill Simpson, fellow Yoakamite Mike Stinson, and Jason Isbell.

Besides the incredible musicianship, which you would expect from Whelan, what sets Sugarland apart is the lyrics, revealing Whelan’s growth as a songwriter, arranger, and vocalist, as revealed in such highlights as “Americana,” “Sucker Punch,” “Go Dancing,” and “Number 1 Fan.”

The album is a natural extension of Whelan’s debut, Decider, and is much more radio friendly.  With the release of Sugarland, he should be well on his way to letting the rest of the world know that he and his music are the real deal.

We are proud to highly recommend Whelan’s Sugarland, which should be in the hands of every true music lover.  For more info about him, check out his website and Facebook pages, follow him on Twitter, and search for his music on YouTube.

Junk Parlor releases first single, “Mick Jagger’s Heart”, from forthcoming album

Junk Parlor has been considered a galvanizing force on the Bay Area indie rock scene ever since it was launched serendipitously in 2013.  The sound was born from the wild musical wanderings of Jason Vanderford, who is renowned for his five years of recording and touring with gypsy jazz sensation, The Hot Club of San Francisco.  Junk Parlor’s energizing musical collage includes 50’s rock and roll rumbling atop gypsy rhythms, a bit of Gipsy Rhumba, tango, Eastern Euro/Hungarian music, belly dance, and punk.

Based on their two earlier releases (their 2013 debut Wild Tones and its 2015 follow-up Melusina), Junk Parlor has been compared to such diverse acts as Nick Cave, Leonard Cohen, Gogol Bordello, the Dead Kennedys and Tom Waits.  Vanderford was raised on “rock and roll and punk and everything under the sun,” so other sounds are certain to appear as the gypsy junk rockers continue their jam.

Vanderford also plays acoustic banjo and rhythm guitar, and is joined by the group’s co-founder, RT Goodrich, on drums and cajon, Laela Peterson-Stolen on violin and viola and Tim Bush on fretless bass.

The new single, “Mick Jagger’s Heart” was inspired by the Rolling Stone’s “Dear Doctor.”   Vanderford described it as “when the heartache of Leonard Cohen decides to lament under the sun amidst the California surf.”  The video for the track, both of which are being released on May 26, is skillfully directed by Jeannie Jo, using scenes of San Francisco cityscapes as a metaphor for heartbreak.

As Vanderford tells it, Junk Parlor began almost by accident.   Vanderford had emerged as one of the Bay area’s “go-to” musicians in the years following his time with The Hot Club of San Francisco.  Bush, his uncle, asked him to play an acoustic gig but Vanderford would only agree if Bush played bass for him  Shortly thereafter, they were joined by Goodfellow, who wanted to create a group with Vanderford and Bush.   Vanderford explained, “I was hesitant but asked him to sit in with me for a few months.  Then he shows up one day saying he booked the band.  I told him we didn’t have a name and he said we better get one.  So then I took it seriously.”

The clever band name came from his younger days, when his bedroom stored his collection of vintage furniture and pictures he’d bought at antique stores.  He vowed then that if he ever had a band of his own, he would call it what he called that space: Junk Parlor.

Junk Parlor’s members have played the gamut of festivals and prestigious venues including Outside Lands, Kate Wolfe Fest, Djangofest, Gaia Fest and SXSW. Vanderford has played, recorded and toured with the Americano Social Club, The Hot Club of San Francisco, Clint Baker’s New Orleans Jazz Band, Little Charlie’s Caravan, Avatar Ensemble and Seth Ford Young Quartet, while Goodrich has laid down rhythms and toured with Staggerwing, Beso Negro and Standing Room Only.  Meanwhile, Bush has played extensively with Danny Montana, Sweetie Pie and the Doughboys, Chuck Day, Sam Andrew, Jim Martin, and Freddie Roulette.

Looking ahead, Vanderford says that the new album, which will include “Mick Jagger’s Heart,” will build upon what Junk Parlor has been doing since day one. “Our first two records are simply two sides of the same coin,” he says.  “I am looking forward to our next project as we already have all the songs and have been playing them out and getting a wonderful response.  This one will include a few instrumentals, but have more of an emphasis on vocals.

“What I’m learning through all of these recording and performing experiences is that it doesn’t matter if you’re a jazz musician, singer or dancer, the goal is always telling a great story.  I love getting out there and hearing people’s stories and then transforming those into songs that can be interpreted in unique ways by the band, dancers and everyone in the audience that it touches.”

For more info, check out their website and Facebook pages and subscribe to their YouTube Channel.

Lovers & Poets II is a gem among indie music offerings for 2016

When this reviewer began covering music in the Los Angeles area, one of the first performers he met was a young keyboard player named Shannon Hurley.  At the time, she was performing with another incredible indie artist named Marina V, as well as starting her own showcases for females under the “Don’t Call us Tori” umbrella.

This reviewer was so impressed with her abilities that he got involved as a booker/promoter for those showcases, and also became friends with Hurley and her future husband, Ben Eisen.

As Hurley’s star began to rise, she and Eisen decided to branch out and created the duo Lovers & Poets, releasing their first CD in 2010 to rave reviews.  Over the past six years, the duo has worked on their live performance and released a couple of singles on CD Baby before finally releasing their sophomore album Lovers & Poets II, on May 6, 2016.

“You & Me in the Summer” kicks off the CD, and it only gains momentum through ten amazing songs that provide the perfect musical backdrop for relaxing, allowing the listener to forget their troubles like a great massage takes away muscle aches and pains.

Hurley’s voice is heavenly, and her keyboards provide the perfect accompaniment, coupled with the firm foundation that is the bass playing of Eisen.  Even without her voice, the instrumental tracks “Get Crucial” and “Dream Girl” soar.  In addition, their cover of  Duncan Sheik’s “Barely Breathing” is amazing and breathes new life into this classic song.

We are proud to recommend Lovers & Poets II.  We believe a daily dose of this CD will go a long way in alleviating your stress.

For more info on this dynamic duo, check out their website and Facebook pages, follow Hurley on Twitter, and subscribe to the duo’s YouTube channel.



Rod Melancon’s new release will help the continued growth of Americana music

It has been said that one of the marks of a great artist is the ability to build on past works, rather that rebuild.  That is exactly what Rod Melancon has done with his latest EP, LA 14, recently released on indie label Blue Élan Records.

If you didn’t know that this EP had just been released, most listeners would think it was a contemporary of country greats like Merle Haggard or Johnny Cash.  Melancon’s songs have that timeless appeal of those greats and others.

Through the five songs on LA 14, Melancon reveals his Southern Louisiana roots through his lyrics and choice of music, a sound that is part blues, part country with just a touch of rock and roll – the perfect recipe for Americana music.

Thankfully, this EP is a preview of his forthcoming full length album which will be released later this year and produced by Brian Whelan, the former lead guitarist for Dwight Yoakum.

Of the five tracks, “The Lights of Carencro” is the most unique, with elements of rock usually found in the music of such artists as Led Zeppelin and Lynyrd Skynyrd.  The track stands out from the rest, which are more country than rock.

All of the songs tell amazing stories, and definitely leave the listener wanting to hear more from this gifted artist.  We highly recommend you check out Melancon and get on board before the world learns of his amazing talent.

For more information, check out his website and Facebook pages, follow him on Twitter, and subscribe to his YouTube channel.

Thank you to Melissa Dragich-Cordero of Mad Ink PR for providing the background materials and referring this wonderful EP to me for a review.


Sarah Ault delivers a winner in Hold Fast Open Palm

With the release of her latest album, Hold Fast Open Palm, Sarah Ault is on her way to becoming a household name in Los Angeles, with the world waiting at her doorstep.  Her vocals are reminiscent of Annie Lennox and her songs have powerful lyrics and instrumentation that are worthy of mass exposure.

She has recently released a music video for the first track, “Flesh and Blood and Bone” that is simply amazing.  Kudos to director Lindsey Haun for an amazing film.  Check it out!

Ault’s voice is sultry and powerful and is perfectly combined with the airiness of her keyboards.  The other instrumentation, especially the strings and guitar. take her music to a level not normally heard in indie music today.

All 10 tracks are worthy of repeated listens.  Top songs include “Flesh and Blood and Bone,” “Adam,” “The Hunted” and “Long Way Down.”

We are pleased to highly recommend Hold Fast Open Palm.  For more info, check out her website and Facebook pages, follow her on Twitter and Instagram, and subscribe to her Vimeo channel.

Atoms and Void bring new life to prog rock

Atoms and Void cannot accurately be considered a “band,” although the music they produce is amazing and unequalled in today’s marketplace.  Rather, they are a unique collaboration of musicians with a joint mission to breathe new life into the indie music scene.

At the heart of Atoms and Void is a friendship and songwriting collaboration between guitarist and lyricist Arlie Carstens, formerly of the band Juno, and audio engineer Eric Fisher.

According to their official release, “the two began recording songs onto 4-tracks, answering machines, micro-cassette recorders, laptops and iPhones.  They recorded in cramped apartments, empty houses and tiny rehearsal spaces in Los Angeles. They recorded in real and make believe studios in Seattle, Shoreline, Sunland, Santa Monica, Studio City, Echo Park, Angelino Heights, Highland Park and downtown Los Angeles, (as well as) Portland, San Francisco, Boston, Austin, Mexico City and New York.”  In total they recorded 33 songs, of which they chose 12 for their debut album, And Nothing Else, which is being released on vinyl on May 20, 2016 on Artic Rodeo Records.

The list of musicians and audio engineers who have joined them on this album is impressive, and includes Nate Mendel (Sunny Day Real Estate, Foo Fighters, Juno, Lieutenant), Gabe Carter (Juno), Jay Clarke (Pretty Girls Make Graves, Jaguar Love), Cory Murchy (Minus the Bear), Morgan Henderson (Blood Brothers, Fleet Foxes, Cave Singers), Rosie Thomas (Sufjan Stevens), Eric Akre (Treepeople, Built To Spill, Juno), Joel Cuplin (Constant Lovers, Triumph of Lethargy), Josh Myers (The Fire Theft, Jeremy Enigk, Rosie Thomas), Drew O’Doherty (Ted Leo & the Pharmacists), Griffin Rodriguez (Icy Demons, Need New Body), Toshi Kasai (Melvins, Big Business, Lieutenant), Kory Kruckenberg (J. Tillman, The Revenant), Jenna Conrad (Avians Alight, Damien Jurado), and Lena Simon (Pollens, La Luz, Kairos).

The album has already spawned three videos, and “Feathers from a Bird” is worthy of inclusion at major film festivals as a true work of art.

If you are a true audiophile and love real music, we highly recommend you check out Atoms and Void.  For more info on them, check out their website and Facebook pages and most definitely subscribe to their YouTube channel.

Gabe Dixon is turning gold

Over the past few years this reviewer has been fortunate to know Laura Goldfarb of Red Boot PR, one of the premier publicists for indie musicians.  During that time, we have learned about many up and coming musicians who are and were her clients, and have covered quite a few of them.  The latest offering is Gabe Dixon, who recently released a new CD, Turns to Gold.

Dixon’s star is definitely on the rise, with the release of his first single, “Holding her Freedom,” which has received numerous favorable critical reviews, and his upcoming appearance on Last Call with Carson Daly, set to air on May 11, 2016.

Produced, engineered and mixed by Paul Moak at the Smoakstack and mastered by Brad Blackwood at Euphonic Masters, Turns to Gold is a true work of art.   Its 12 tracks are flawless, with lyrics that connect and musicianship and instrumentation that turn those lyrics into some of the best songs this reviewer has heard this year.

The piano accompaniment especially evokes comparisons with two superstars, namely Bruce Hornsby and Phil Vassar, while the upbeat message of each song belongs right next to Andy Grammar on the radio.

Favorite tracks of this reviewer are Track 1 “Holding Her Freedom,” Track 2 “Crave,” Track 5 “Flow Like Wine,” and Track 10 “These Wheels,” but all of the tracks are amazing.

Don’t miss you chance to catch Dixon tonight on Carson Daly.  For more info, check out his website and Facebook pages, follow him on Twitter and Instagram, and subscribe to his YouTube channel.



Jason Adamo’s new CD will make friends of us all

Several years ago, this reviewer took his then-girlfriend (and now wife) Chelle to see Alan Jackson at the Pacific Amphitheatre.  The opening act that night was a new band called the Zac Brown Band.  The excitement he felt that night is akin to what he’s feeling after his first listen to the new CD …And Friends by the Jason Adamo Band.

Adamo has crafted a masterpiece that should launch him and his band into the stratosphere of mainstream music.  He wrote or co-wrote all but one of the seven tracks and has put together a team of musicians that are highly skilled in their craft, including Mark McKee, who mixed, mastered, produced and engineered this masterpiece.

From start to finish, this is a CD you can put on repeat and listen to over and over.  Although every song is amazing, this reviewer’s favorite track is “Let Go,” with its incredible musicianship and a Keith Urban influenced sound.  This song could launch the band and belongs on country radio now.

“Game of Love” has a Lumineers feel to it, and is probably the second best song on the CD, followed closely by the first track, “Beautiful Believer.”  “Believer” was a co-write with Brett Young, and Adamo’s performance brings out all the beauty of the tune.

Another worthy cut is “Oliver,” which Adamo wrote about his sister’s adopted son.  The truth is that there are no bad cuts on this CD, and it should appeal to all true music lovers.

We are proud to highly recommend this CD and encourage all music lovers to call their local stations and demand they play the Jason Adamo Band.

For more info, check out their website and Facebook pages, follow them on Twitter and subscribe to their YouTube channel.



Kris Angelis goes to a new level with Heartbreak is Contagious

If you have followed my past reviews, you should know that this reviewer has been a huge fan of the music of Kris Angelis for many years.  Her latest release, Heartbreak is Contagious, a 3-song EP, is her best to date, and delivers what could well be her break-out into mainstream music.

With an overall sound reminiscent of Taylor Swift, all three songs are knock-outs and better than most of the songs on radio today.  The title track adds the musicality of the Lumineers with a vocal delivery similar to Miranda Lambert, and definitely has an alt-country feel.  Track 2, “Built this House,” is thoughtful and uplifting, with incredible lyrics, while Track 3, “Kevin Bacon,” is simply fun and worthy of immediate radio release.  You cannot help but get up and dance as Angelis “breaks Footloose, with those Kevin Bacon moves.”

With all songs written by Angelis, Morgan Taylor Reid and Alexander Cardinale, the EP is wonderfully produced by Reid, who also plays all the instruments.

If you love pop music and artists like Taylor Swift and Rachel Platten, you will love Heartbreak is Contagious.  Call your local radio station and ask them to play it – it’s a win-win situation.

For more info on Angelis, check out her website and Facebook pages, follow her on Twitter and Instagram, and definitely subscribe to her YouTube channel.