RIVERSYSTEM – Single Review: “Hello Stranger”

RiverSystem Hello Stranger

RiverSystem is the artistic name for the music project of singer/songwriter Richard Willis, who hails from the beautiful South Wales valley of Cynon. He’s been writing and playing songs in the Folk-Americana style for around 15 years. His songs address themes of loves lost and found, coping with depression, or anything else he feel like writing about. Richard explains that the name RiverSystem came about 10 years ago when he was having a jam session with some college friends he’d formed a band with, and after struggling to find a name for themselves, they finally settled on RiverSystem. The band has long since gone their separate ways, but he decided to keep the name.

RiverSystem has been working on a song of great importance to him and his wife called “Hello Stranger“, which he’s officially releasing as a single today, along with a video he created for the song. He explains that the song “was a labour of love that was co-written with my wife. It is about how depression or mental health issues can just creep up on you and potentially damage your perception of life.” He and his wife hope to raise mental health awareness through the song.

The song has a slow, mournful melody that sets a somber mood, perfectly befitting the subject matter. Starting off with an electric guitar riff and gentle percussion, the music gradually builds with added layers of guitar and melancholy synths. Though the song is sad, it has a haunting beauty thanks to RiverSystem’s fine guitar work. His earnest vocals are heartfelt as he addresses the ‘stranger’ of depression that’s returned to haunt him, bringing sadness and desolation, yet he refuses to allow it to conquer him.

Hello Stranger
Haven’t seen you awhile
So long in fact
I didn’t recognise you

Anxiety and depression
Is what you bring
I’m in this melancholy state
I can’t take this any more

Oh stranger
On my shoulder
Don’t stay there too long
Oh stranger
I can’t take this anymore

Hello stranger
If I knew you were coming
I would’ve closed all my doors
And held fast against the oncoming storm

Oh stranger
On my shoulder
Don’t stay there too long
Oh stranger
I can’t take this anymore

Now you’ve left me in pieces
With a trail of destruction in your wake
Now I feel dark and lonely
Drag myself out of what you’ve thrown me in

Oh stranger
On my shoulder
Don’t stay there too long
Oh stranger
I can’t take this anymore

Maybe next time you swing around
You could avoid me
I’ve had enough of you for now

The deeply moving video shows him playing the song in the lovely countryside interspersed with scenes of him being shadowed by the stranger, overcome with sadness and despair.

Connect with RiverSystem:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream on Spotify / Reverbnation
Purchase on iTunes / Amazon

ITHACA BOTTOM BOYS – Album Review: “Ithaca Bottom Boys”

Ithaca Bottom Boys album

Being EclecticMusicLover, I love discovering interesting new music, so it was my lucky day when I was contacted by Leo Maniscalco, a member of the band Ithaca Bottom Boys, about reviewing their album. Hailing from the bucolic college town of Ithaca, New York, the five-piece formed seven years ago while still in high school, and ever since have been honing their craft by playing together and writing songs. On September 1st, they dropped their eponymous debut album Ithaca Bottom Boys, and what a delight it is! Their infectious eclectic sound is refreshing, surprising and lots of fun as they weave stories about the travails of life, love, substance abuse and relationship hell.

Comprising the Ithaca Bottom Boys are Tenor Caso (drums, vocals, aux percussion, acoustic guitar), Tristan Ross (guitar, vocals, aux percussion, piano ), Leo Maniscalco (guitar), Joe Hayward (banjo, vocals) and Abel Bradshaw (bass). In introducing his band, Leo had this to say about their music:  “Its difficult for me to describe our sound in a concise way, and no one song fully gives a representation of it, but here’s a go: we have four singers and songwriters, do a lot of vocal harmonies, and the songs are very dynamic with many changing parts and moods. They are also highly textural, featuring five musicians (two guitars, banjo, bass, and drums) each with unique yet congruous playing styles. It’s kind of folk and country meets rock and punk meets funk and soul, with splashes of other things thrown in, like hip-hop, jazz, psych, and prog.”

After listening to the album, I’d say his description pretty well nails it, and I love their eclectic music. I always try to include a few lyrics in my reviews, but the Ithaca Bottom Boys’ lyrics are so colorful and hilarious that I’ll be quoting them a lot.

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The album kicks off with “Blues in a Bottle,” a bluesy Rockabilly romp that sets a light-hearted tone and plants a big smile on my face, even though the lyrics address the guy’s messed-up woman who’s into some bad shit: “Blues in a bottle, blues in a bottle. Where do you think you’re at pretty mama. You went and kicked my dog, and now you drown my cat.Goin’ to silly-putty, goin’ to silly-putty. Sorry I can’t take you pretty mama. I don’t abide no woman, who goes round sniffin’ glue.” The song immediately segues into “Gasoline n’ Kerosene,” a very catchy tune with very morbid lyrics about how he killed the woman who double-crossed him, burned down her house, and was hung for his crime: “When I went to that house you said that you’d be, you took one look into my eyes, and you began to flee. And I said gasoline n’ kerosene you owe me money for. You bad ol’ broad you shot me down, and now you’ll be no more. / Well… Just before that lever did let my gallows swing, I saw my aged mother a weepin’ after me. And I said gasoline n’ kerosene I can’t believe my sin, My soul shall burn as you have done and never…Will I see your sweet face again.”

Winter Biking” sees the singer riding his bike into town on icy roads, taking a spill, and wishing he’d listened to his momma about taking the bus instead – all metaphors for the risks we take in life. “Thirty bellow but I’m still sweatin’. The devil only knows what I am gettin’ into. Well up a hill down a hill the struggles that I’ve been through. The thing about life is the road always continues.” The guys’ vocal harmonies on this track are especially wonderful. The guys change gears (pun intended) to an R&B vibe with the delightfully soulful love song “Baby.” The opening bass riff that continues throughout the track reminds me a bit of The Temptations’ classic “My Girl.”

One of my favorite tracks is “Hail to Dale,” which humorously takes on the perils of heavy drinking with a rowdy mix of music styles ranging from blues to bluegrass to funk. The lyrics are both funny and poignant: “Well… if I don’t dale a beer tonight, I might as well start a rowdy bar fight. Cause I hate myself and I hate my life. Pain and pleasure’s the same to me, and that all started when I was three, ’cause my daddy switched the bottle.

Continuing with the theme of substance abuse, the guys veer off into psychedelic madness on the marvelously trippy “Salvia Apple.” The zany track sounds like what we’d expect from the bastard children of Frank Zappa and Dr. Demento, with all sorts of melodic change-ups, quirky instrumentals and crazed vocals. The lyrics are hilarious yet deeply poetic, as if from a fractured Shakespearean comedy: “Salvia apple and a bottle of jack. All I’ve had to eat or drink and that is a fact. Don’t care if I go hungry I’m just lookin’ to get smacked. Pass out in the jungle by the railroad tracks./ I’m a derelict, no one cares if I’m recked or sober. Grown colder, shouldered at the might of a globe wide society. So deprived of life yet so maniacally living. My state be so squalor I take whatever I’m given.”

Flip That Record Jhonny” is a rousing Bluegrass/Rockabilly mostly instrumental tune that makes you want to kick up your heels. The guitar work and vocal harmonies are really terrific. And speaking of Dr. Demento, the guys get downright scandalous on “Demented Family.” The highly provocative lyrics seem to poke fun of a certain demographic, calling out incest and religious fanaticism: “Well my family tree’s got lotsa knots, and I get a lot o’tention from the cops, Cause incest on the ranch is plain to see. Pappy loved his sister and that made my daddy. And my daddy loved his sister too and that made little ol’ me. Well I never had no sister so I just loved my niece. I lessend my genealogy by stickin’ my D in her crease.” Oh my! They turn mellow as they sing the virtues of toking up on “Reefer Makes Everything Better,” a funny ditty with an early Lovin’ Spoonful vibe.

Perhaps the wildest track is “Summer Beavers,” the title being a play on the leading lyrics “Some are beavers, some are people…and most don’t really understand.” This long track is a real tour de force, with a mix of genres that go from blues to punk to country to funk to rap – sometimes all in the same stanza, kinda like The Red Hot Chili Peppers have done on some of their songs. The guys go crazy with bizarre lyrics that sound like being on an acid trip: “Rippin’ and a skippin’ like a minnow in the river. Susquehanna wit’ yo mama, catchin’ tuna on a canoe. Hock at me I’ll lock you in a rock up in Chautauqua. Yo hablo con Jorgito, necesito mucha agua. Pappy’s down the road in a jalopy popin’ poppy seeds, cruisin’ past the stoppers, coppers crackin’ down on acid droppers. Baller all are things, some are beavers. Tall like cedars, small like skeevers. We be eaters, feeders, bleeders, breeders, breathers, and beasts like golden retrievers, whaddap? ha-ha-ha.”

The guys seem to channel The Red Hot Chili Peppers again on the languid “No Regrets,” with jangly guitars, funky bass and vocals that sound a bit like Anthony Kiedis. They then abruptly change things up again on “Surfer NY,” an exuberant tune with awesome surf-rock guitars and a frantic punk beat. The explicit lyrics speak for themselves: “Surfin’ New York, yes I’m surfin’ New York. Havin’ sex on the rocky beaches. I’ve got lotsa rocks in my breeches. No I don’t know how they got in the laundry. No I’m not doin’ the nasty momma. No mama no mama no mama no. No those aren’t crack rocks don’t be silly. That’s just some crusty jizz from my willy. No mama no I’m not abusin’ myself. No mama no don’t kick me outa the house.” It’s an insanely wild trip from start to finish!

I must say that Ithaca Bottom Boys is unquestionably one of the most unusual and enjoyable albums I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing, and I love this crazy band! If you like unique, eclectic and unorthodox music, then this album should be in your collection!

Connect with the Ithaca Bottom Boys:  Facebook / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes

HANNAH CLIVE – Single Review: “Remember to Breathe”

Hannah Clive2

Hannah Clive is a lovely and charming singer/songwriter based in London, UK, and I’ve been meaning to feature her on this blog for a while. Influenced by such legendary ladies of song as Adele, Carole King, Kate Bush and Janis Ian, Hannah writes heartfelt songs that cross many genres, including indie rock, folk, pop, alt-country, blues and even a bit of jazz. She released a gorgeous single “Remember to Breathe” in November 2017, and I’m finally getting around to reviewing this wonderful song.

The track opens with an ominous synth chord that draws us in, then Hannah’s exquisite piano riff enters and we’re instantly hooked. Wow, this is stunning! A delicious assortment of sparkling synths are added along with subtle guitar and gentle percussion, courtesy of producer Brian Tench, creating a dreamy soundscape that’s the perfect backdrop for Hannah’s captivating vocals. I’m blown away by her ability to seduce us one moment, then nearly move us to tears the next. It’s all incredibly breathtaking, so her admonition for us to ‘remember to breathe’ is entirely apropos! The song is so utterly mesmerizing that I keep hitting replay.

The lyrics speak to the concept of having faith and believing in yourself, casting aside obstacles that try to stand in your way, and finding your own truth and path in life:

And when the power of love is greater than the love of power
So it’s said, then my friends we might find some peace
And though it sounds naive –
It’s a direction in which I could set my feet…but just
Remember to breathe

Connect with Hannah:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream her music on Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud
Purchase on  Bandcamp / iTunes

ANNA MITCHELL – Album Review: “Anna Mitchell”

Anna Mitchell album-cover

Anna Mitchell is a singer/songwriter based in Cork, Ireland, and she’s released an astonishingly beautiful album. Her self-titled Anna Mitchell dropped in January, and it’s as close to perfection as any recent album I’ve heard. This is Anna’s second studio album, which follows her 2015 debut effort Down to the Bone. With a lot of albums, it can take a couple of listens for the music to grow on me, but with Anna Mitchell I was blown away the moment I heard it. Each new track was a revelation, leading me to quickly recognize that here was an exceptional work of musical art.

Anna Mitchell

Drawing inspiration from some of the best singers and songwriters in music – including  Joni Mitchell, Emmylou Harris, Bonnie Raitt, Linda Ronstadt, Ray LaMontagne, Stevie Nicks, Tim O’ Brien, Bob Dylan, Shawn Colvin and Gillian Welch – Anna melds folk, country, Americana, rock’n’roll, pop and blues influences to create exquisite songs that speak to oft-covered subjects of love and relationships, and the joy and pain they bring. Her strong, clear vocals could easily go toe to toe with many of the aforementioned singers. The album was recorded independently, with musical assistance from well known Irish musicians Davie Ryan on drums, Brian Hassett on bass and Alan Comerford on guitar. It was engineered and co-produced by Brendan Fennessy.

Anna Mitchell opens with the gorgeous ballad “All These Things.” Anna immediately casts us under her spell with captivating vocals that seem to float and soar above layers of stunning, richly-textured guitars and a humming bass line. Davie Ryan provides just the right amount of percussion, and the lush horns add a jazzy flourish later in the track. The song’s unusual video is extraordinary:

Anna dials up the tempo on “It Pours,” a great pop-rock song with the kind of strong driving beat that I love. The bluesy guitars are terrific, and Anna’s sultry vocals turn passionate as she admonishes one to stop whining and start living: “Hold your tongue, hold your tongue, I’m not listening. You’re not the only one with sadness or sin. I feel the weight of the world creepin’ in. And if you don’t start kicking you won’t stop sinking. It pours outta you, outta you.” The trippy video shows blacklit images of faces painted with phosphorescent colors in the dark.

Radio Waves” is a lovely but bittersweet Country-rock song with slide guitar, piano and organ as the primary instruments. Anna earnestly sings of escaping from life’s troubles through music: “Radio waves, audio slave, turn me up ’cause I’m down.” On “Never Learn,” Anna’s smooth vocals are accompanied by a bewitching piano melody as she tells someone their broken relationship is beyond repair: “You can waste your time, but keep your hands off mine. Past the point of no return.” Staying with that theme, on the Country-rock track “Get Out” Anna tells a man in no uncertain terms that she’s through with him: “It would be nice to stop and chat, but I don’t like you. Well they say that you’re a really good catch, but I don’t want you / Do you just feel like a man when you shout? Oh, get out! Just get out!”

One of my favorite songs is the rousing foot-stomper “Dog Track.” Thanks to heavy, distorted electric guitar, buzzing bass and pounding drum beat, the track’s harder and edgier than the others. And like the music, Anna’s echoed vocals are more aggressive as she snarls the lyrics about a guy she finds attractive who’s also bad news: “Is that a wolf howlin’ or is it just the wind? Well I met him down at the dog track. He was walking around like he was on the attack.”

Here’s an electrifying live performance of “Dog Track” with the Cork Opera House Concert Orchestra.

Anna’s impressive songwriting talents are showcased on the melodically complex “Better Life.” The mysterious and powerful song features a strong bass line overlain with tremolo-heavy guitars and an array of instruments, including piano, slide guitar, organ, violin, and drums. “Slice of the Pie” is a call for respect for the working class in  their struggle to make a living: “You don’t judge a man, just by the way he found to feed his children. Everybody wants a slice of the pie. They’re just like you and I, trying to get by.” The album closes with Anna acknowledging she was wrong, asking her man to “Come Home.” She teases: “I like your bedside manner / Come home, when you coming back to me?

Anna Mitchell is a phenomenal album that needs to be heard by as many ears as possible. I’m so glad Anna reached out to me, and I’m thrilled to do what I can help promote her and her incredible music.

Those of you in Ireland can see Anna and her band at one of these upcoming shows:

Saturday, February 10      Levi’s Corner House, Ballydehob  8 PM
Friday, February 16       Whelan’s, Dublin  8 PM
Sunday, February 18      John Cleer’s Bar & Theatre, Kilkenny  8 PM

Connect with Anna:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream her music on Spotify / SoundcloudApple Music
Purchase on Bandcamp or iTunes

RICH EVANS BAND – Album Review: “B Sides and Outtakes”

I’ve always liked songs that tell a story, and what genre does it better than Americana/Country? One such artist who’s extremely skilled at weaving compelling stories is Rich Evans, a singer/songwriter based in London, UK. He’s a prolific songwriter, and has recorded music in several genres, including rock, blues, and punk, but his greatest love is Americana. He’s been involved in a number of music projects and bands for more than 20 years, including The Mariachis (who toured with Joe Cocker, Bill Wyman and Jimmy Cliff) and the Americana band Roosevelt Bandwagon, as well as recording music for labels in Chicago and Nashville. He formed the Rich Evans Band to record and perform his solo material, an astonishing output of songs! As Rich Evans Band, he’s released several albums and songs over the past decade or so, which he’s been re-issuing over the past year through his label Baby Dylan Records (named after his son Dylan).

Rich Evans

One of those albums is B Sides and Outtakes, a collection of seven wonderful tracks that address common themes of life, love, relationships and the struggles of being a musician through honest, deeply-moving lyrics. A talented multi-instrumentalist, Evans plays many of the instruments on his songs with help from his backup band. But guitar, mandolin and harmonica seem to be his specialties, and are beautifully featured on the opening track Roll on Mississippi. Evans’ vocals sound raspy yet soothing on this sweet Country ballad, and backed by a lovely chorus of female vocals.

As good as Evans is on his guitar and harmonica, it’s his skill at writing tender, heartfelt lyrics where he really shines. On the poignant Old Midnight Special he sings about an aging musician unable to accept his growing irrelevance in the music business:

Guess the talent that he’s got has worn a little thin
Time was when he played they’d line up outside the door
Still plays the same bars, but they don’t come round no more
They’ve all grown up, got old and settled down
Guess he still fools himself he’s the new kid in town

These days the kids call out for songs that he don’t know
They don’t care unless they’re ones they play on the radio
He can’t reconcile himself that his better days are gone
Guess he’s still in the same place while the world keeps movin’ on
He still got the ticket stubs, pictures in frames
Of him up on the billboard when people knew his name

One of my favorite tracks is Bad Turns, where an upbeat, bass-driven tempo belies the bittersweet story line about a son inheriting his father’s penchant for making poor life choices:

Must have been about five or six
When Momma set me down and she told me this
Don’t go doin’ like your daddy done
I don’t believe it’s gotta be like father like son
Left us before you turned one
Yeah, the son of a bitch been a long time gone
He’s been making bad turns for so long
I can’t put my finger on what went wrong

Thought history wouldn’t happen again
They wouldn’t do to me what they done to him
But the devil come a knockin’ in the middle of the night
I was good and drunk there was a barroom fight
Swear I never touched that guy
Told me later that he’d up and died
Judge sentenced me to death just to help clear up the mess
I been making bad turns for so long
I can’t put my finger on what went wrong

Evans sings about a life compromised by a lifetime of alcoholism on the melancholy Blues Are Gonna Get You. And on the song about a hardscrabble life in Bakersfield, he touches on other California locales such as the Kern River, Bakersfield’s oil-producing neighbor Oildale, Los Angeles, Santa Cruz and Highway 99, as well as Illinois – all places I know well. I’m impressed that a musician from Britain would have such a good working knowledge of California geography.

He turns romantic on the sensual Irresistible, pleading with a woman he still loves to leave her new boyfriend and come back to him. “Have to steal your love away from him. Have to steal your love right back again.” The bluesy guitars and bass line on the track are particularly good. The album ends on a high note with the bouncy rock’n’roll track Midnight Creeper. Evans tells the object of his desire that nothing’s gonna stop him from winning her love: “I don’t care if your Momma won’t let you. Honey I’m gonna come and get you. I’m the midnight creeper, gonna slide right through your door. It’s a good metaphor to describe how, through his music, Evans slides right into our hearts and minds with his catchy melodies and relatable lyrics. Good stuff!

Connect with Rich Evans Band on  Twitter and Facebook
To hear more of his music, go to Spotify or Apple Music and purchase it on iTunes

Featured Song and Video: Don DiLego – “Idiot Heart”

Listening to the music of singer/songwriter Don DiLego, one would never guess he is based in New York City. He plays an arresting style of Alt-Country music that combines his favorite aspects of the country music of old with 80’s indie-pop influences, giving him a sound that seems more rooted in Nashville or Oklahoma. Though he was born and raised in rural Western Massachusetts and spent his early adulthood in Boston, DiLego ended up settling in the Big Apple, where he established his Velvet Elk Studio in the East Village.

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He released his first album The Lonestar Hitchhiker in 2001 and subsequently recorded three more albums at his Velvet Elk Studio, plus the soundtrack for the film Ranchero in 2012. His albums are self-produced, and recorded with musicians that have formed the core of his band The Touristas over the last couple records. He dropped his appropriately-named album Magnificent Ram A in July 2016, a collection of 10 excellent tracks that really showcase his songwriting and musical talents. In December, he released the beguiling single “Idiot Heart.”

don-dilego

The song is a gentle but melancholy ballad about falling for someone and wanting to do right by them, but knowing it won’t be easy given past transgressions. DiLego’s beautiful vocals convey a heartfelt sincerity, making the lyrics all the more compelling. Musically, the song features a somber piano riff and delicate percussion, backed by smooth synths and ambient guitars that give the song a somewhat haunting, ethereal vibe.

I’ve been waiting for some time
For the sidewalks to come alive
I’ve had good days and sleepless nights
Cause you and me got lost in time

I was praying for a sign
For the tides to begin to unwind
I was splayed out among the pines
When you and me got lost in time

I’ve been trying to change my life
I’ve been trying to do what’s right
But my idiot heart won’t oblige
But I’ll try, I’ll try, I’ll try

Oh wake me up
Lay me down

The gorgeous video for the song shows a young woman in a contemplative mood before joining her boyfriend for the day, having lunch together, then walking through the forest alone wearing his raincoat, and ending up lying face up in a snowy meadow.

Here’s a great video worth watching of DiLego and his musicians performing songs for Magnificent Ram A at Velvet Elk Studio.

Learn more about Don by checking out his website.  Follow him on Twitter and Facebook, and subscribe to his YouTube channel.  Stream his music and follow him on Spotify, and purchase his music on iTunesBandcamp and other sites offering music for purchase.