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July 07

LARA EWEN AND THE UNSTRUNG ORCHESTRATHE JUNIOR VARSITYCHRISTOPHER BLUE

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Lara Ewen and the Unstrung Orchestra
Ghosts and Gasoline

BMI

New York City has produced a lot of fantastic music, but the Big Apple’s own Lara Ewen ventures out of the standard East Coast waters with her own brand of bluesy, alt-country ballads (Cowboy #1: “Where’d that music come from?” Cowboy #2: “New York City.” Cowboy #3: “New York City!?!”), and she can ride the range with the best of ‘em.

Ghosts and Gasoline is exemplary for what is essentially a first full-length album, merging classic country and blues with a new attitude as appealing as it is satisfying. Ewen’s simple lyrics and arrangements are matched up just fine by her oh-so satisfyingly smoky and melodic voice (She also picks her guitar pretty fine, too).

Backed up by Howard Rappaport on guitar and some nice lap steel, Jordan Lash on drums and Donald Facompre (which is French for “I play bass.”), Ewen shows a lot of sophistication, particularly on tracks like “Untethered” and the Springsteen-like “Blessed”. Her subjects are old dusty roads, lost remembrances and forgotten hopes seen through fresh eyes and played out against lush guitars and fast, light notes.

With 11 tracks, this reviewer was left a little wanting: How come the good stuff is under twelve or so songs, and all the emo has, like, forty or so tracks (Maybe, it just seems that way…)? Luckily for us, Lara and her gang is playing July 28 at Davey’s Uptown…so put on your boots and go listen to this gal; you won’t be disappointed. — Brandon Whitehead (posted 07/20/07)


The Junior Varsity
Cinematographic

Victory Records
www.victoryrecords.com

As music (and the industry it unfortunately produced) has evolved over the years, in formant, style and audience, it has from time to time produced some rather mutant creations that are often both loved and despised with equal un-interest. Take today’s standard pop music: it’s bland because bland is safe and predictable, like airbags and McDonalds. However, pop also has to fresh because it is so easily forgotten. So every year or so pop gets a makeover and the new brood of musicians emerges to deeply embrace a lifestyle-look that in hindsight will later seem pretty silly (each generation has their own version of spandex, mullets, female underarm hair, etc.).

Well, that next generation is upon us like those 17-year cicada’s we’ve been told will soon start emerging to buzz, swooping at us and ruining our credit rating, and this is what It will be like: It will have a good bed head, a fresh, privileged mind, and at least 10,000 friends on MySpace. All the girls will have the tattoos now and be bisexual virgins, and the boys will all have emotional problems and issues with things they know absolutely nothing about, like, oh, let’s say Iraq.

Just think about it: If forty is the new thirty, fifty the new forty and so on, doesn’t that mean that twenty is the new…ten? Not that the Imperial Empire — er, music industry cares: They’re grooming anything they can find into the next potential My Chemical Romance (who, according to the 3rd law of the musical conservation of energy will implode any day now…).

One of the bands being herded up into the big abattoir is The Junior Varsity, who are five boys who look like the next cast of an MTV reality show. This is already their third album, but somehow it seems unlikely the first two were much different: oh, the songs are fine, it’s your average tweener pop decaffeinated and sugar-free, perfect for the soundtrack of the next WB show about how hard it is to be young, rich and pretty.

Guitarist Andy Wildrick can lay down some decent licks, and Chris Birch smacks the skins with skill, and there’s even a nice little acoustic ditty, “The Importance of Being Important,” which is here presumably to make them sound a little more…important.

Hell, one of ‘em even has hair just like Sanjia

It’s not that these guys are bad: their not, they’re actually pretty good, but the music often frankly gets in the way of that skill. Not to mention that there are times when this lil’ music writer feels like gansta rap is pleasantly life-affirming compared to trying to swallow the next over-frosted bowl of angsty pop cereal. This is music to make musicians famous, to say to all the kids “Hey, you could do this too, and be know on TV by only your first name!” Come on, people, do we as a society really need more celebrities?

Anywho, with some luck these five will last a few years, until they hit that old Shawn Cassidy barrier like chickens shot out of a cannon, but at least they’ll have their memories.

Oh, and don’t forget: 38,409 MySpace friends! — Brandon Whitehead (posted 07/13/07)


Christopher Blue
Room Tones

www.sarathan.com
Sarathan Records

If one thing’s true about Christopher Blue, it’s that he’s a pretty cool cat, baby. The fact that he’s an actor and writer as well as a damn fine musician only makes his second album Room Tones all that much more interesting. With his rich, funky vocals that evoke a Tom Waits croon mixed with Jon Mayer’s bravado, Mr. Blue has put together 13 smoke, whisky and sorrow-filled songs that play like a carnival of soul-lost strangers slow-dancing to the soundtrack of a David Lynch movie.

Backed up by bassist DC Cooper, Olli (!) Klomp on drums and SE Sharma on guitar (who also engineered the album to perfection), the Scottish-born singer rolls you down dusty dirt roads, old roadhouses (the cool ones, pre-Patrick Swazy) and dark heartbreak with a slick beat and absolutely one of the best voices in the business, bar none.

Anybody with a sound like Tom Wait, Chris Issac, Mel Torme and Dave Matthews rolled into one could pretty much phone it in if they wanted to, but the real thrill here isn’t in just that skill but in the songs themselves. Tracks like “Such Love” and “Equanimity” are luscious, bluesy concoctions that favor the adult palate like a fine, rare wine. In fact, that’s the only complaint here: this is skillful music, crafted for adults, so don’t expect to hear it being “sung” on any talent-search reality show. There is no shouting, no pouting or hipster slogans here, just a kind of blue-collar street poetry backed by jazzy, trippy arrangements and Blue’s singularly unique vocals, which is absolutely fine.

Now, if somebody could write a television show good enough to deserve these blues, there might actually be a reason to turn the ol’ idiot box on. Please don’t hold your breath, though. — Brandon Whitehead (posted 07/06/07)


 
 
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