Ace Elijah "The Lonely Nights are all that's Left"
Ace Elijah is a singer songwriter from Annapolis, Maryland. He has a voice that balances power and sensitivity about as well as anyone I have heard recently. The music is a lounge, mainstream sound that focuses on voice with light touches of jazz and folk. I would like to say it is timeless, but that is not quite true. It takes me back to the early sixties where pop music could draw from both folk and jazz with a focus on quality songs and strong vocals. But don't settle back too much, as he throws a change of pace in the songs once in a while. It still is mostly guitar and keyboards handling the background melody and structure, so it does fit the classic singer-songwriter style. At times, it is too relaxing for me, but this is ultimately a fine record that is unique enough for 2010 and will hopefully find an audience. They are out there, let's hope they meet.
Songs to try:
Lay by the Riverside - a swampy blues-rock tune that has a steady pace that is quite involving.
The Darkest Hours - dreamy atmosphere with sharp lyrics.
The Killer Balloons "The Killer Balloons"
This local band was excellent live when I saw them so I was looking forward to their first release. It is a rocking affair with a nice mix of garage, classic rock, metal, and maybe a touch of glam rock. The guitars rock hard throughout with a solid rhythm section and a soaring lead voice on top of it all. I guess that means the production is good as it captures all the component parts in balance. There are even some keyboards in the mix, but they don't overwhelm. A smart, crisp sound throughout I would say. Vocals are strong, sounding a bit like an unholy alliance of Feargal Sharkey of the Undertones and David Coverdale (Whitesnake/Deep Purple), but not as annoying as the latter. The songs are all likable with plenty of catchy moves and solid hooks. If you like to rock out and have a good time, you owe it to yourself to see this band some time. And if you end up liking them anywhere near as much as I did and do, be sure to grab this on your way out as it lives up to their live show.
Songs to try:
We Are - The nice blend of garage rock and classic rock with soaring vocals makes for a great opener.
Wildebeest - Interesting heavy rocker with a cool snake charmer solo among the nice twists.
Icarus - A nice heavy song with a classic progressive mix. Some creative ideas here that keeps the album humming along nicely.
Stripmall Ballads "Ballads, Stripmall"
This five-song ep is a nice representation of what Stripmall Ballads can do. The songs are vocals and acoustic guitar mostly with some subtle bass playing. Live, there is more of a rhythm section involved but it is more stark here. The production notes point out the intent of recording live real time sounds outside the studio of kids playing and traffic and the like. This probably is the only thing I don't like about this sampler. Yes, it shows that the real world is out there just as John Cage and others have reminded us, but I really think we are smart enough to know that. I think this ultimately takes away from the music, more than proves a point. But, listening to the songs, I find the usual high quality I expect from the band with strong emotional singing accented with the sting of the steel guitar strings. They are a very creative outfit, playing great simple music on stage or sound-tracking a theatrical presentation with shadow puppets and 15 foot behemoths. I recommend this band to anyone who likes Americana and folk music and although this will certainly give you a good taste of what they can do, I hope the next full length effort will have their ample creativity going in directions other than street sounds.
And since there are only five songs, try them all.