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Taylor Phelan at Martyr’s 7/8/2017

A couple weeks ago I shared a new single from former The Canes frontman and season 7 The Voice contestant Taylor Phelan. On Saturday I had the opportunity to see him play live, and he didn’t disappoint. The set was, however, slightly marred by some technical difficulties that delayed the band’s set and forced them to cut one or two songs.

It didn’t stop them from bringing some joy into the room. Everyone was dancing and having fun, listening intently and appreciating every song. He played mostly dance-friendly pop tunes, but also covered Springsteen’s “Dancing In The Dark” and sang a ballad for his wife who was in attendance.

He wasn’t the headliner, but he proved that he can handle a room and get his ideas across in a way everyone can understand. He’s very active on stage-always moving and making big gestures with his hands when singing, like the energy inside him just can’t wait to burst out of his body. It’s an endearing quality and I think the audience was moving more than they maybe normally would due to his frenzy of motion.

Taylor Phelan-“Settle Down”


If you’re from Chicago, you may recognize the name Taylor Phelan from his time as frontman for the indie/alternative band The Canes. They split a few years ago and Taylor found himself as a contestant on NBC’s The Voice. Now he’s preparing to release his first solo EP this summer, and playing some shows to introduce his new music to audiences. He hits Chicago this Saturday, July 8th, at Martyr’s.

The lead single is a slickly-produced alt-pop tune with just enough splashes of guitar to get some crossover play on rock stations. It features a lot of whistling, which I like. And there’s a string section of the song backed by some echoing distortion that sounds really cool.

I’ve been impressed with the two Voice alums I’ve seen play live so far, Todd Kessler and Alexis Marceaux (Alexis & The Samurai). I imagine I’ll feel the same after seeing Taylor now that I’ve heard some of his music.

Briar Rabbit-From Your Bones

January 15, 2014 Leave a comment

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The breakup record is one of the most popular genres of music in the world. Whether you were lying on your bed crying into your pillow or cruising around your exes neighborhood blasting “your song,” music plays a huge part in our relationships and an even bigger part in the healing process. For those of us who are non-musicians, we can merely listen and empathize. Songwriters get to lay it all out there for us, and Briar Rabbit has done just that on his new record, From Your Bones.

It’s been about a year since we started to hear little tidbits of info about BR working on something new to follow his 2011 EP The Great Routine. In July we got to hear the first single, “So Long” and the anticipation level instantly went to DefCon 4. A month or so later he played some shows made up of mostly new material. I was lucky enough to be at Schubas the night he was in Chicago, and it sounded great. Now I’ve heard From Your Bones in its entirety, and it is even better than my high expectations had me hoping it would be.

The best song on the album, in my opinion, comes late in the running. “Bad Blood” gets my vote because it’s the best overall composition. It opens with BR on acoustic and vocals before opening up with a crashing drum and organ that floats in and out of the foreground. It features some great lines (“So when I got it stuck in my brain, that I love your forever was more than a phrase I couldn’t have been more wrong. All I got was a year and a handful of songs.”) and a Nels Cline-esque guitar solo by Jeff Parker that separates this tune from all the others on From Your Bones.

This is BR’s most collaborative record to date, and I think it’s opened up a lot of possibilities for him as a songwriter. It’s allowed him to write without worrying about how to play the songs all himself. If this had been another completely solo effort, I don’t think we would have heard “Sleepwalking,” which would have been a damn shame. It has Ben Folds Five-ish harmonies in the refrain and one of those melodies that feels familiar and brand new at the same time.

When I heard the album performed live, my favorite song was “Crooked Teeth.” I think it was more the passion and energy it was delivered with that set it apart from the others. It was one of the last songs, but BR’s voice came through powerful and confident. The song isn’t unlike something you may hear on Josh Ritter’s Hello Starling album, which is a great place to be for any singer/songwriter.

With From Your Bones Briar Rabbit announces himself as a major contender for your “Best Of What’s Next” consideration. His songwriting craft is mature far beyond his years, and his ability to deliver his words with emotional resonance is a skill most singers envy. It isn’t that From Your Bones is a great record that impresses me. It is a great record, but what I really love about it is the potential that Briar Rabbit lays out in front of us. He’s an artist that will always leave us wanting more, and he seems keen to keep delivering.

You can pre-order a copy of From Your Bones, which comes out next week, on Briar Rabbit’s website. While there you can also download “So Long” for free and check out his upcoming tour dates. He’ll be playing a release show here in Chicago on Saturday January 25th at Martyrs with Dirty Pigeons, Julia Klee, and Todd Kessler from NBC’s hit show “The Voice.”

Next Tuesday night, the 22nd of January, I’ll be hosting a live conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #FromYourBonesLive

Falldown Record Release 11/23

November 26, 2012 Leave a comment

Falldown isn’t entirely a new thing. These musicians have been playing together off and on for a while, retaining their permanent positions with other full-time bands. The chemistry they’ve created is undeniable after about thirty seconds of listening. They mix different styles together-sometimes jamming bluesy rock and other times leaning more toward folk and country. The singing duties are split three ways, which keeps things interesting for those listening and those behind the mics.

Of the three, I found Pat Lyons the most engaging. Maybe because he sang lead the smallest amount. He has a certain quality to his voice that makes it stand out. It’s like an old soul is living in his body and it just leaps out of his mouth. He’s also a talented guitarist, with an especially high proficiency on the pedal steel. I had forgotten this before seeing Falldown, but he’s featured on Dastardly’s first EP May You Never.

Jared Rabin is the de facto leader of the band, taking center stage and singing the majority of the leads. He also plays a mean fiddle on many of the tunes. He seems pretty comfortable in the middle of things, an important quality in a front man. You can tell he relishes the opportunity to sing in front of a crowd since he doesn’t get the chance with his other band, instrumental rockers The Hue.

Liza Day got her time in the spotlight and made good use of it. She supplies acoustic guitar and tambourine, but also acts as the heart of the band. When she sings there’s a great sense of vulnerability and weariness. She falls somewhere in the spectrum between Emmylou Harris and Joanna Newsom, if you can imagine such a thing. Her stark delivery offers a nice contrast from the other songs played.

The rest of the band is rounded out by keyboardist Brad Mac (formerly of a great blues rock band The Redwalls), bassist Kyle Meyers, drummer Jordan Kozer, and guitarist Micah Walk who was either not present at the show or blended in so well that I didn’t even notice he was there. Together these gentlemen lay down the foundation that allows the other members to shine. Kozer especially impresses with his ability to switch between genres with ease.

I think the best quality Falldown displayed at this record release show was their teamwork. It never felt like one individual performer was more important than anyone else, and with most bands that isn’t the case. These guys share songwriting duties and seem to treat each other as equals. With the potential they have together, it’s hard to imagine that this will be a “side project” much longer.

The EP Falldown celebrated is the just-released six-song self-titled debut from the sextet. It’s available here in their online store. You can check them out on Facebook or hit their main site where you can check out some songs and videos.

Categories: Show Review Tags: , , , , , , ,

Michele McGuire-Mid-Western Record Release Show Preview

October 4, 2012 1 comment

The best thing about being a music fan in Chicago is the feeling of community between the local bands. There’s no sense of rivalry or bitterness, just a large group of people trying to make and hear the best music possible. The Shams Band is the best example of this, and it’s no surprise that they’ve sent me yet another strong album to hear. Ben White, banjo player and vocalist for The Shams, provides his talents on Mid-Western for a number of tracks.

Michele McGuire is a talented lyricist and singer, and she’s put together a very good first LP (she released an EP called Stories From The Blue last summer). Initially I thought Mid-Western was going to be a straight forward folk-country album, but it turns into much more than that. There’s a lot more going on as you listen a couple times. I love that there’s some jazz influence and rockabilly mixed in with the pop-heavy style. This is best displayed on one of the middle tracks, “Way Too Long.”

I think my favorite track is called “For Love.” I don’t know a lot about current country music, but I know that this song sounds like a more honky tonk version of something Carrie Underwood put out a while back. I prefer McGuire’s swagger to Underwood’s vapid corporate doll, but I think they have similar vocal style.

You can purchase Mid-Western online now, but the record release show is this Friday at Martyrs. I can’t go because I have relatives in town, and I feel like I’m going to be missing a really good show. Tickets are only ten dollars, and Michele’s set is sandwiched between the always-great Adam Ezra Group and Roscoe Bandana. The show starts at 9, so be sure to get there before 9:30 so you don’t miss any of her set.

Miss Shevaughn & Yuma Wray-We’re From Here

August 29, 2012 1 comment

A couple weeks ago one of my favorite tweets of the year got posted by Chris Stelloh, who makes up the Yuma Wray half of this duo. He said, and I’m paraphrasing here, “Please stop referring to us as a country band. We are a rock band.” I found it funny and accurate, as well as something that needed to be said. By referring to the group as a country act, music writers and twitter enthusiasts are immediately alienating more than half of the audience that may have otherwise given them a chance. It also needed to be said because, at first glance, Miss Shevaughn & Yuma Wray does kind of sound like a country band.

It’s not like they sound similar to Rascall Flatts or Brooks and Dunn, but they don’t go out of their way to hide that there are country influences. I’d say they’re more like The Refreshments, who were most definitely a rock band but played cowboy songs with a south of the border twist. On the first song off of We’re From Here, “Go Hang,” there’s a potent twang in the vocals of Erin Frisby (the Miss Shevaughn half). It doesn’t mean the music is bad, quite the contrary. It fits the song perfectly and more importantly it is completely sincere-no affectation.

Not too long into the record we get a taste of some of that rock music that was promised to us. There’s a great dynamic at play where most of the rocking comes on tunes that are sung by Yuma Wray while the slower, folk-leaning tunes are sung by Miss Shevaughn.

The most electric song, or at least the one that I dig the most, is the seventh track, “Lost My Way.” It’s introduced with a slow guitar riff and Miss Shevaughn’s wailing voice. Yuma Wray takes over from there and what we get is a six minute masters course in changing tempos, guitar efficacy, and the use of wordless vocals as effective instrumentation. Oddly, this song reminds me of something Foo Fighters would have put out (and it doesn’t get much more rocking than Foo Fighters).

For the first time, maybe ever, I actually agree with the song they chose to make their first single for the record, “The River Made Me Do It.” This one has a little bit of everything that Miss Shevaughn & Yuma Wray like to do, and it’s a great piece to put on and say “If you like this then you’ll like everything else we do.” It’s also the strongest song on the album lyrically. I’m not sure how their songwriting process works, but Miss Shevaughn sings it with the conviction of its author.

“When I looked into his eyes I fell right in, and I’m a thousand miles gone. A thousand miles gone, a thousand miles gone from where I began. Down in the basin I went and saw the old woman with the idle eye. She gave me a gold coin to keep me from the law and two silver coins to carry me home.”

The thing I like best about Miss Shevaughn & Yuma Wray is their authenticity. They don’t make any attempts to be something they’re not. When they say they play American music, they’re not just playing to our crazy nationalism. They mean they play music that couldn’t come from anywhere else. After spending a long time traversing the nation in their Honda Element, I think they have a better idea of what America is than most of us. Their blend of country, folk, rock, and blues is a thing of beauty, and I think they should be applauded for making the music they love.

The absolute jewel of We’re From Here comes in the form of a ballad called “Morning Is Breaking.” It’s got Connie Francis written all over it, and that makes it all the better. “Did you ever feel so lonesome you wanna pull the shades? And you pray for the sweet dark night time to carry you away carry you away?” Miss Shevaughn’s voice shows a great range here. Often within the same line she hits something very low and very high. There’s also a great little guitar solo reminiscent of Gary Moore’s more somber tunes.

Miss Shevaughn & Yuma Wray will be here in Chicago on Labor Day, September 3rd at Martyr’s. The album technically comes out a week later at their official release show in Washington, DC at Black Cat, but I hear they may have some advance copies available. I’ll be seeing them for sure, as I’ve missed the last three opportunities to catch them live. They also have shows currently set up for Johnson City, TN and a few shows throughout the Carolinas. Try to make it out and hear what real musicians sound like.

Shawn Fogel @ Martyrs 2/28/12

February 28, 2012 Leave a comment

ImageShawn Fogel came to Chicago last night to open for Ben Lee at Martyrs. He came straight after playing a west coast tour with his two bands, Golden Bloom and Neutral Uke Hotel. On this night Shawn played alone, with only his acoustic guitar as accompaniment, and he delivered a forty minute slice of pop heaven. It took some in the audience a few songs to get into the set, but I think by the end there had been a bunch of new fans created.

The setlist was a good mix of the old and new, with maybe a little bit more coming from Golden Bloom’s debut full-length Fan The Flames. He kicked things off with a beautiful version of “Theme For An Adventure At Sea,” and I was hooked from the first note. Of course, I’m a bit biased. Golden Bloom was one third of my favorite show from 2011 when they played at Schubas with The Michael J Epstein Memorial Library and finished it up as Neutral Uke Hotel. Shawn had his whole band with him then, so this was still a new experience for me. One I’m so happy to have shared with a pretty decent audience.

The crowd really seemed to latch on to Shawn toward the end of the show. He played a song called “Minute of Fame,” which he wrote in Chicago and is about former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich. That song got a lot of laughs and was much appreciated by all. The other big moment was when the crowd added some “Sha Na Na’s” at Shawn’s request. Crowd participation is a tough thing to get on a Monday night, and it sounded like almost everyone joined in.

The highlight for me, and probably anyone else in the crowd who is a fan, was when he finally played “Doomsday Devices” at the very end of his set. It’s such a great song. I ended up buying the vinyl 7″ before I left.

 

I talked to Shawn a bit before the show, and he said they’re trying to work something out so the full band can return this summer. I really hope that happens. As good as Shawn is solo, I like the full band show. He has an amazing guitar player that really shreds, and the songs feel more complete. You would be a fool to miss that show. I will be updating everyone whenever I hear a solid date.

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