Capsule Reviews by Mark E. Waterbury

Backhouse Lily – No Apologies
An instrumental rock trio from Las Vegas, Backhouse Lily make no apologies alright…for being talented and unafraid to explore various musical paths. Though the overall  vibe is rock, here is a myriad of stylistic undercurrents ranging from blues, grunge and new wave to electronica, prog and World. Sometimes these vibes collide in the same song, creating fresh and often intoxicating music. Talent and innovation works wonderfully here.  

Mary Jo Curry – Mary Jo Curry
Guitar Angels Records
Cutting her musical teeth in theatrical productions, Mary Jo Curry unleashes her musical talents with this potent debut. This CD is brimming with bawdy blues tunes that have comforting hooks, wicked solos and just the right touch of orchestrated backdrops. Mixing originals and covers, Mary Jo shows serious vocal chops and a knack of making songs both heartfelt and uplifting. A pleasant, ear-opening first effort.


Mason Summit – Gunpowder Tracks

Mason Summit – Gunpowder Tracks
This young singer-songwriter from L.A. continues to show growth in both his songwriting and recording talent. Mason’s infectious voice seems a blend of Paul McCartney and the mellower side of Dave Grohl, as he adeptly handles the emotional twists and turns of the intriguing stories he weaves. The song styles range from intoxicating alt folk to Americana; from psuedo Brit-pop to jazz subtleties, staying on the mellow side, but still bringing an ambient intensity that is often intoxicating. The musical arrangements often showcase alternating dynamics from bare-bones acoustic to burgeoning, orchestrated flourishes. There is some serious music talent backing Mason. He has already worked with some highly-regarded players and this CD is no exception as it features drummer Shawn Nourse from I See Hawks In L.A., and electric/upright bass master Jeff Turmes from Mavis Staples’ band. It is easy to see how Mason can attract such talented musicians because his music is both likable and captivating. At just nineteen years old, this is already his third CD, and you just get the feeling listening to his progression, he is on the verge of breaking through. -MW
Mason 2016 CD PACKAGE_final_062016.indd


Hard Swimmin’ Fish – True Believer

Hard Swimmin’ Fish – True Believer 
Virginia’s Hard Swimmin’ Fish have become one of the most dependably entertaining and intriguing modern blues acts around. The music is gritty, sweaty, with a live feeling harkening of tube amps, weather-worn guitars and wooden floors that bounce with each beat. Perhaps one of the most ear-opening facet to their music is their uncanny prowess and blending strong roots with modern songwriting quirks, avoiding the all-to-common modern blues trap of coattail riding. From nasty jump to driving funk, brash rocking to mournful ballads, this band pours every ounce of their soul into these songs. The musicianship is both tight talent-wise, also exuding a looseness that makes you feel like you have a bunch of great players hanging out in a smoke-filled club for a jam session. While the lyrics lean a bit towards typical blues subjects, they do catch your attention both with their honesty and the range of vocal emotions conveying them. To boil it down, the CD/lead track title pretty much says a lot about this band’s philosophy. If you are not a true believer after listening to this CD, you had better see if you still have a pulse. – MW


Capsule Reviews by Mark E. Waterbury

Lauren Adams – Somewhere Else
Lauren Adams is one of those hard-working west coast troubadours who may not have massive recognition, but sure creates music with the passion and talent of anyone who does. She is a wonderful storyteller with a knack of conveying various emotions with her vocal inflections. From the heartrending to the humorous, to just down home good tales, Lauren’s weaving of folk, Americana, and other roots stylings is intoxicating. If you have not listened to her yet, you really need to check her out.

Jeff Crosby – Walking Dogs
Veteran Idaho singer-songwriter Jeff Crosby is a talent that should have more attention paid to him. His music is familiar in a comfortable way; Americana, country and rock blended in the vein of Jackson Brown, John Hiatt, and maybe a bit of Tom Petty. He just does it so well and his bluesy voice makes me think of a bit of Chris Stapleton as well. His stories are enthralling and his emotive vocal control and the crisp, hooky but noticeable musical talent surrounding him augments his words. Highly enjoyable music that can really grab you. 

King Llama – Return To Ox
This L.A. instrumental trio produces an amazingly full song and I am not even sure I would call this avant-garde as they push the envelope even on that. The music has the feel of an unbridled jam session, effortlessly flowing and ebbing from rock to jazz, from progressive to power funk. You have to be talented to pull this kind of improvisation off and not sound sloppy or like you are hanging on coattails, and these guys obviously have that. Expect the unexpected here, and prepare yourself to enjoy every little twist and turn. 

JJ Thames – Raw Sugar
Dechamp Records – DCH 30003
Many musicians and songwriters work hard to make sure true R&B never dies and Detroit born JJ Thames takes that particular work effort into the stratosphere. Fueled by the strong roots of her hometown, but not ignoring Chicago, Clarksdale or East Texas either, her sophomore effort is a blistering reminder that no matter who old the genre is, there can still be a freshness to the music if in the right hands. Her mesmerizing soulful croon couples wonderfully with lyrics written from the heart and adept talent at handling anything from mournful blues to rollicking feel good tunes. R&B is alive and kicking butt here!


Boo Ray – Sea Of Lights

Boo Ray – Sea Of Lights
Feralette Media – BR1601
Blazing out of the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina, Boo Ray tears up a mid-ground between roots country and Southern rock tornado-fueled pick-up truck. Both genres have been waiting for some folks willing to push the envelope, and those ranks have been swelling as of late. This is Boo Ray’s third effort and no one can deny he knows how to cut loose with the best of them. “Redneck Rock & Roll” launches the CD with the muscular grit of a backwoods honky-tonk on a Saturday night. “Chickens” has a punkish edge reminiscent of Jason & the Scorchers. Boo also can show a softer side on songs like “Sea Of Lights” and “A Melody, Some Guitars & a Rhyme,” but even they have an undeniable potency to them. The bluesy ballad “One More Round” tears at your soul with its heartfelt emotion. The musicianship is excellent throughout the CD with his studio band consisting of top musicians including Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers’ drummer Steve Ferron and Taylor Swift’s pedal steel player Smith Curry. The real star here is the amazing versatility of Boo’s fervent voice and the incredible life-experience stories he tells with it. Most of his lyrics are tried-and-true tales of life in the country, but his honesty, inventiveness and quirky sense of humor really take them over the top. This CD should really wake up more people to an obviously talented musician and songwriter who deserves a wider spread popularity. – MW


Iron Bridge Band – Against The Grain

Iron Bridge Band – Against The Grain
To say that New Jersey is fertile ground in the cultivation of rock and roll is an understatement. Iron Bridge Band is making there own statement that the Garden State’s crop of great bands is nowhere near petering out…a loud and clear statement. The type of ride you are going to be taken on is apparent when the fivesome hits the accelerator with the hooky but raucous opening track “A Little Too High.” While there is plenty of just straight ahead jeans-and-t-shirt rock and roll here, there is further stylistic depth to the music. “America Boss” and “Every” have strong Americana roots, while “Backwoods Charm” feels more Macon than Trenton. “Day Get Me Down” is a passionate ballad that pays homage to the soul influences of the region. The bare bones, folksy “Light In August” show you don’t have to be loud to be potent. I’m not going to be hyperbolic and say they are next Springsteen/Bon Jovi/Skid Row or whoever. What I am saying is they do New Jersey proud, they do rock and roll proud, they do music proud. This is music that grabs you in many ways, and they are not riding the coattails of the bands I just mentioned, other then the fact that they are from the same geographical location, and they have the talent and the passion to produce some killer tunes.  – MW

Moossa – Right Way Round

It is very hard these days to pigeon-hole any band into the genre of “jam band.” The term has become more ambiguous over the years, straying in multiple tendrils from the original trunk that sprung from the roots of the Grateful Dead. Veteran Richmond, Virginia rockers Moossa have been classified as “jam” before and some of that description does fit as they have that uncanny knack combining a sort of loose abandon with undoubtable musical prowess, blended with various root influences. After a hiatus of several years Moossa returns with “Right Way Round,” and it can be very simply defined as flat-out, great, enjoyable music. There is a delectable flow throughout the ten tracks with music that can simultaneously sooth you and entice you to get up and boogie. A soul/R&B influence is prominent here, obvious at the onset when you experience the opening strains of the title track. The subtle influences branche out from there with the bawdy bluesiness of “Petrified,” reggae-kissed “Nothing But a Name,” and funkified “The Coming Of Dawn.” Ryan Davis, Moossa’s groovin’ bassist, experienced an extremely creative songwriting phase, penning all but one of the tunes on the CD. Singer Nancy Waldman adds serious spice to many of the songs with her own soulful vocal chops. Guitarist Trey Batts pays compliment to John Moossa’s vocals, Telecaster, and acoustic guitar with his extraordinary work on the Strat, and adds a further vocal dimension on a couple songs. Drummer Dennis Vignola melds in perfectly with Ryan’s bass work to drive the rhythmic boogie. This may be the best line-up Moossa has had since their inception, showing why if you do wish to call their music “jam” it is in no way a slight to the band as that is often a nod to bands who have stellar musical capabilities. To me, it feels much more like the “retro soul” genre the band has deemed its music. Moossa easily fits into the category of having incredible musical talent, a quirky approach to songwriting, and the way to translate the obvious joy they experience in creating their music so the listener can also experience joy as well. – MW


Shane Alexander – Bliss

Shane Alexander – Bliss
Buddhaland Music – BLM022416
Prolific singer/songwriter Shane Alexander always finds ways to do things subtly differently on each new CD. Here with his sixth release, Shane, for the first time, is also the producer and it is obvious from the first luscious strains of the bare-bones acoustic lead track “Evergreen” that producing is another facet he is quite talented at. As usual, here you have songs ranging from snappier pop-alt rock like “Something Real Never Dies,” to haunting folk ditties such as “Nobody Home” and emotively powerful ballads like “Hold Me Helpless.” Shane is someone who pursues perfection in all aspects of his musical creations. From his stunningly clear vocals to his thoughtful words to the musical landscapes he weaves around them, his music flows, caresses and snares you, not merely with the aforementioned prowess, but with the incredible life he breathes into his songs. And the production? Nothing less than amazing. This CD is very aptly titled because if you enjoy great music in its purest form, this collection will leave you in a blissful state.  – MW
SA_Bliss Cover Art

Jim Crean – Insatiable

Jim Crean – Insatiable
Rocker Records – RKR-1143
There is no denying that Jim Crean knows how to rock. A lot of his friends know this about him. That is why they are joining him on his latest potent release “Insatiable.” We are talking about friends like Mike Tramp, Frank DiMino, Tony Franklin, Phil Lewis, the late-great Jimmy Bain, the Appice brothers Carmine and Vinny, and many other well-known rockers. When you can rock like Jim and possess his songwriting talents, you can draw those kind of folks into your recording sessions. What Jim creates here is powerful magic – music that blends the perfect amount of seething intensities and melodic sensibilities. Take a song such as “Touch” for example: the grittiness of the powerful guitar snarl is nicely balanced by harmonic vocals and the right waft of hookiness. “Follow Your Heart” rips your head off with a relentless attack, but still snares your soul with fervent vocal passages. The quasi-ballad “Miss Me” has a kiss of prog rock leanings that has a comforting and epic feel to it. Jim also creates some excellent cover versions from bands his cohorts on the recording were members of including exciting takes on the L.A. Guns nugget “Over The Edge” and Dio’s “Caught In The Middle” featuring one of the last studio appearances of bassist Jimmy Bain. Jim’s talents are firing on all cylinders from his sonic but melodic vocal pyrotechnics to his prolific songwriting capabilities. This is pure hard rock at its finest, proving once again that Jim Crean is more than up to the task of rocking at the same high level of some of the best in the business. – MW

Steve Grimm – Bad Boys Bad Girls

Steve Grimm – Bad Boys Bad Girls
One of Milwaukee’s most famous bad boys is still cranking out the tunes decades since he first co-founded the “band Milwaukee made famous.” When Steve Grimm kicks off his latest effort with “You And Me Against The World,” it is plainly obvious he has not lost any of his passion to rock, with a delectable mix of edginess and harmonic hooks. “Saints And Sinners” has a snarling intensity while “American Legs” cuts loose a nasty boogie quality with both songs harkening back to the early days of Bad Boy. Steve is quite adept at showing an occasional mellower facet to his songwriting, particularly noticeable in the rootsy “Broken” and the subtly potent power ballad “End Of The Story.” The tunes prove Steve’s songwriting strength has not diminished in the slightest, and his lyrics feature thought-provoking and absorbing stories coming from his heart and experiences. His talents are also nicely augmented by several well-respected Milwaukee area musicians including part-time fellow Bad Boy bassist Craig Evans and “bad girl” Char Fiore. People tend to wonder whenever Steve releases a new album, “is Bad Boy going to do anything new?” I will not make assumptions, but instead will say that if you want to hear some great tunes from one of the architects of those Beer City legends that still have a lot of life, punch, and grit to to them, check out “Bad Boys Bad Girls.” Steve and his cohorts will more than satisfy your cravings. – MW