Grant Ferguson – Power and Beauty

Grant Ferguson has once again graced us with with a fantastic CD of instrumental music. in “Power and Beauty,” his fourth release.  Known for his guitar playing prowess and songwriting talents, they are on full display here – albeit avoiding the trap of being too overly zealous that many instrumentalists can fall into. On the contrary: what you have here is various levels of subtlety blended masterfully into the overall mosaic. The lead track “Blowback” is a perfect example – powerful with a backdrop of intricate yet comforting prog hooks. “Present Tense” unleashes a bit more of talent on all fronts but a deft touch with the song crafting thoroughly ensnares the listener. “The Beauty of Her” produces a jazzier tilt in a lush but crisp fashion. The juxtaposing of the emotive piano graced ballad “Petite Mort” and the driving rocker “Playing With Fire” are quite stunning. If you have not yet checked out this Scottish-born Arizona resident, this CD is an excellent introduction to his vast array of talent, musical emotions, and songwriting quirks. – MW
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Nathaniel Land – Black Blue Sky

Nathaniel Land – Black Blue Sky
NYC singer/songwriter continues to push his songwriting envelope with this, his fifth music release. There seems to be subtle increases in both intensity and edginess from he previous efforts, displaying some of his finest work to date. The hooky indie-rock potency of the lead track “On The Inside” would stand up against any tune on the radio these days, with emotive vocal punch, fueled by gripping instrumental work. “Turn Your Light On” has the feel of an alt-acoustic power ballad with intriguing tweaks in songwriting eccentricities. The title track is ambient folk that feels both lush yet snappy, while the stripped down “Love Sings” is perhaps the most heartfelt display of passion Nathaniel infuses into his vocals. His voice proves again to be quite intoxicating, with an alt-rock fringe mellowed by a sweet bluesy croon. His words range from touching to introspective to inspiring, and the music he wraps around them really make you experience his feelings. It is obvious that Nathaniel is not satisfied with merely rehashing his previous works. On the contrary, his songwriting talent pool obviously runs very deep and he is still drawing from various areas of it to create fresh but comfortingly familiar music that is captivating and enjoyable.  – MW
http://www.nathanielland.com     http://www.facebook.com/nathaniellandmusic

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Capsule Reviews by Mark E. Waterbury

Antry – Devil Don’t Care
Tres Lobas Enterprises – TLE-CD-8849
Even Christian/Praise music is not immune to having too many artists/songs sound the same. Tulsa’s Antry uses both his faith and musical talents to create something a bit more intriguing musically while still carrying his heartfelt messages. Melding various stylings of blues, country and pop, the music ranges from lush and charismatic to potent and gripping. In any case, this is a very powerful way to spread The Word and the uniqueness and musical talent involved with its creation only enhances the chance of it making a difference in people’s lives.
Antry
Ben Bostick – Hellfire
Simply Fantastic Music
Country artist Ben Bostick loves his roots and he scorches them like a prairie wildfire. From old school honky tonk to Memphis blues-fueled rockers, Ben tears up any preconceived notions about roots country since he is unafraid to kick in some unconventional stylings that lend a subtle punk feeling while keeping strong hooks intact. The vocal work is a robust cross between Jerry Lee Lewis and Waylon Jennings prone to some interesting phrasing calisthenics, further augmenting the often darkly humorous lyrics. The CD is loaded with excellent musicianship fueled by brash power. Ben doesn’t just turn Nashville on its ear with his music, but he boots it down the road with a steel toe and screams “make room for me!” And they had better because this is seriously fresh music.
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Tim Woods – Human Race
To set yourself apart playing blues these days, no need to be strong in your roots but have a bit of something extra. Macon (by way of western Pennsylvania guitarist/vocalist) Tim Woods has that something extra, and it is this undeniable raw feel that ratchets up the intensity of his music. Even the ballads feel potent and some of the rockers are over the top with blistering guitar work and bone-breaking rhythms. Balancing this is his surprisingly melodic voice which still has just the right touch of grit. You can almost smell the tubes in the amps overheating on this one and feel the studio walls shake.
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Jo-EL Sonnier – The Legacy

Jo-EL Sonnier – The Legacy
Takau Records
To say that music is universal is not cliche. If you have any doubts about that statement, give a listen to “The Legacy” by Jo-EL Sonnier. All the lyrics on this Grammy winning CD are in French, but you do not need to be fluent or parlay any Francois to understand where the legendary “King of Cajun music” is coming from. Sonnier’s talents are immense, as anyone who knows Cajun music can attest to, as will the numerous country and pop performers whose songs have included his mastery of the accordion. You can feel the emotions he puts into each song, whether you speak the language or not.  “Les Blues D’Ennui” translated to “Boredom Blues” will alleviate that affliction if you are experiencing it with its snappy rhythm. “Si J’ai Pas Toi”, (“If I Don’t Have You”) has a subtle pop rock groove with pained vocal works that harken the lamenting of a lost love. “Mama’s Two Step” – the only English titled,  song feels fun and fresh. Sometimes Cajun music can get repetitive and sound to similar to other artists, but Sonnier has a knack for tossing in varied and tasty songwriting morsels in just the right spots and striving to do things just a bit differently while keeping the ethnic vibe intact. So, yes, his music is universal – his language is roots, talent, and passion. If you can’t speak that particular language yourself, you can certainly enjoy this particular interpretation. – MW
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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.
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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. 
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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. 
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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!
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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
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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
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Moossa – Right Way Round

MoossaCoverArt
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
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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