JOHN PAGANO BAND – Album Review: “One More Round”

One More Round Cover

Though I sometimes feel overwhelmed by all the requests I get from artists and bands wanting me to review or feature their music on this blog, it’s always a treat discovering loads of great new music. Such was the case when I was contacted by Tony Hossri, bassist for The John Pagano Band, about their new album One More Round. The album dropped August 1, and I love it! Every single track is fantastic, and I’ve had it on replay the last several days.

Based in Atlanta, Georgia, The John Pagano Band consists of front man John Pagano on guitar and lead vocals, Tony Hossri on bass and backing vocals, and Shiloh Bloodworth on drums. All are accomplished musicians who excel at playing an exciting blues-infused style of rock that’s soulful, seductive and addictive.

First a bit of background on the band. Pagano, originally from New York, formed a band JPBlues in 2008 while still in his teens, along with bassist John Young and drummer Pat Adkins. They recorded two albums Die Happy and I Will Not Go Quietly. In 2011, John left New York for Georgia, where he met Bloodworth, and in 2013 they were hired to back Australian artist Anni Piper on her first US tour. They reformed JPBlues, and set out to record their first album Make Room at the Table, but had problems finding a compatible bassist until Hossri came to the rescue. He proved to be a perfect fit for the band, and their lineup was now complete. They finished the album, and set out on a tour of the East Coast. In 2015, they released Live at Darwin’s.

More recently, wanting to expand their sound, they changed their name from JPBlues to The John Pagano Band. In an interview with Making a Scene!, which you can read here, Pagano said the new band name “better reflects our music and direction, and does not restrict us to a single genre fan base.” One More Round represents that new direction, which retains their signature blues roots while incorporating more rock’n’roll, pop and even a bit of funk into the mix.

John Pagano Band performing
Photo by Michael Valentine

OK, let’s dive into One More Round and see what’s so great about it. The guys get right down to business with the rousing “Bottoms Up,” an infectious country-rock song about just saying ‘fuck it all’ to your problems and going out, getting drunk and having fun with friends who have your back.

Been a long day. Keep my mind awake
But I’m going out now, gonna lose this frown
I’m gonna get drunk somehow
Gonna visit my friends, call them Jack and Jim
Well they listen real good when I’m in a bad mood
And make me forget what I knew
And bottoms up, I ain’t hit the floor
Fill ‘er up, I want more, more, more

The official video they made for “Bottoms Up” is great, and a lot of fun to watch. I always like seeing a band play their songs, and this video of a terrific Balcony TV live performance of the same song in Atlanta really captures the guys’ energy and charisma. Pagano deftly works his slide guitar, while Hossri – curly hair flying – is a wildman on bass, and Bloodworth drives the powerful beat home with a muscular attack of his drums. How can you not love these guys after seeing this performance?

They turn up the blues on the next several tracks, where their incredible musicianship is on full display. The soulful “Lost In You” features some terrific riffs, and “Trouble in Heels” is pure bliss. This sexy rock’n’roll track aims straight for the hips, leaving you no choice but to get up and dance. Pagano seduces with his lusty vocals, and his guitar solo in the bridge is so damn good. The sultry “Ain’t Mine” is wonderful too. Pagano pleads for relief from a woman he can’t have who’s cast a spell over him: “Baby please, baby please got a hold on me. I said oh no, oh no here comes trouble. Let’s go. You ain’t mine, no no.”

Rise Up” has a bit of a gospel quality, with gritty, bluesy guitars and humming bass. Speaking of which, Hossri injects some funk into his bass on the superb “Ain’t Gonna Lose You,” the first single and one of my favorites from One More Round. With his soulful vocals, Pagano sings about having to leave town, but promising to return to his woman and take her away. “Gonna take you one day away from here. I ain’t gonna lose you yet.” Great guitar work, great vocals, great song.

The guys keep delivering the blues with “99 Problems,” a reworking of an older song from the JPBlues repertoire that was featured on Live at Darwin’s. It’s one of their most popular songs, and it’s clear why because it’s freaking awesome. Nearly six minutes of bluesy rock heaven set to a captivating beat. Pagano’s jaw-dropping guitar work, Hossri’s buzzing bass, and Bloodworth’s nimble percussion are all perfection.

They show their tender side on “On My Mind,” a lovely but bittersweet song about missing someone after a break-up and hoping they’re thinking about you too. The track starts off like a gentle ballad, then gradually builds in emotional intensity, and really showcases Pagano’s incredible vocal abilities.

But don’t get too relaxed, ’cause the guys dial it all the way up with the sexy “Make You Shout.” It’s an exuberant, bluesy foot-stomping gem, with a powerful driving beat that not only makes you shout, it also forces you to get moving. It’s another one of my favorites, and I’d love to see them play this on stage. They keep the high energy flowing with the hard-hitting rock’n’roll tracks “Bad Habit” and “Catch That Train.” The guitar riffs are killer, and the bass and percussion on-point. And, as always, Pagano’s powerful vocals are phenomenal.

The John Pagano Band have created an outstanding, perfectly-crafted album that’s one of the best I’ve heard this year. As I stated at the beginning, every track is superb, with no filler or throw-away songs, making for a really pleasurable listening experience.

Connect with the John Pagano Band: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Stream their music: Spotify / SoundcloudReverbnation

Purchase:  iTunes / Amazon

WATERGOD – Album Review: “Watergod”

As I’ve stated before, one of the things I love about Twitter is finding out about new indie artists and bands; in two years I’ve discovered over 5,000! I’ve also made friends with more music lovers and bloggers than I can count, who’ve turned me on to even more musicians and bands. So it was my lucky day when Robert Horvat, who has an excellent blog called Rearview Mirror, contacted me about the indie band Watergod.

Based in Austin, Texas – a city with a thriving music scene that’s produced scores of country, blues and rock artists and bands – Watergod rose from the ashes of their previous psychedelic space rock band Psychonaut. They developed a fresh sound, but retained a bit of their psychedelic sensibility. Comprised of Ethan Schrupp (guitar, vocals), Justin Wilson (bass) and Nicholas Key (drums), Watergod takes an organic, highly collaborative approach to their songwriting and the development of the sound for each track. They’re essentially DIY, but enlisted the help of friend Sean Lochridge in the recording and mixing of their self-titled debut album Watergod, which dropped on the 1st of August.

Watergod 2

In an interview with Robert Horvat of Rearview Mirror, which you can read here, Ethan explained the inspiration and/or meaning behind the band’s name, album title, and each of the tracks:

“To me [Watergod] represents renewal and rebirth. We had taken some time off after our last band [Psychonaut] dissolved, so when we came back together we wanted a fresh start. The inspiration [for the album] was what was going on in my life at the time. Amygdala is about a breakup,  Whaler and Causality were about a girl I was hooking up with after that,  Helios is about being burned by someone you’re trying to help, Motion is about being ostracized for being yourself, Vectors is about succumbing to temptation, and Spirals is about dealing with anger.”

Interestingly, all the song titles consist of a single word. Their music is unconventional, delivering unexpected melodic shifts, guitar change ups and quirky vocals. All this works beautifully to capture and hold our attention, not only within a song but throughout the whole album. We’re compelled to really listen to each nuanced sound and vocal twist and turn, keeping us in a continual state of surprise and wonder. Not one thing about their songs are predictable, and Ethan’s vocals seem to sound different on every track.

Watergod performing

Ethan’s falsetto crooning introduces us to the opening track “Amygdala” then some really lovely guitar work enters, accompanied by snare drums and a light touch of cymbals. All instrumentals ramp up as the track progresses. The guys inject just a touch of jazz on “Causality,” featuring some really fine nimble guitar work, a smooth subtle bass line and lots of gently crashing cymbals. There’s something about Ethan’s vocals that are so beguiling as they go from smooth and comforting to soaring falsetto and back again. The little guitar solo in the last 30 seconds is pure delight. “Vectors” borders on psychedelic with an underlying funky groove, making for an unusual and fascinating track. Ethan’s fuzzy vocals occasionally become echoed with vibrato, adding an otherworldly aura.

Helios” is a perfect example of how Watergod delivers the unexpected. Starting off with a gorgeous, delicate and somewhat melancholy riff, the track has a bit of the psychedelic feel of The Doors’ “The Crystal Ship.” Ethan sings of seeing a deceitful person’s true self in the light of day: “With you nearer, I see you clearer. I see you for what you really are. In the sun.” Halfway through, the guitars become heavier and grittier, as Ethan shrieks his vocals, some of which are distorted. It’s an epic track.

So too with “Whaler,” which flows back and forth from a languid beat with a dreamy atmospheric vibe to a faster tempo with bluesy guitar and heavier percussion. “Motion” is the most psychedelic-sounding track on the album, with heavier bass overlain with shredded, distorted and reverb-heavy guitars. And just as we’ve gotten used to the slow tempo that predominates, the guys dial it up at the close.

Album closer “Spirals” is more melodic, starting off with jangly guitars over a pleasing steady beat. The lyrics speak of letting go of anger: “It will hurt you so much more before you finally learn to let it go. / It’s hard to see the change when it’s so slow.” Ethan’s vocals rise in emotional impact as the guitars become grittier and the percussion more aggressive, until he literally shouts the lyrics later in the song.

If you like music that’s experimental and unconventional, Watergod delivers it in heaping quantities on this stellar album. It has some of the most unusual and intellectually stimulating music I’ve heard in a while, yet it’s still accessible and incredibly satisfying.

Connect with Watergod on Facebook and purchase their music on Bandcamp

DRUIDS – EP Review: “Pink Aliens”

Pink Aliens

Druids are an indie psychedelic punk rock band from New Orleans, and I’m completely smitten with their music! I can’t remember the last time I’ve had as much fun listening to a band as I do with their terrific debut EP Pink Aliens. Released back in February, it’s an adrenaline rush from start to finish, and I was hooked the moment I heard it.

All longtime friends with roots in the Crescent City, Druids consists of Brandon on guitar and lead vocals, Eric on bass, and Jeff on drums. Their hyper-kinetic lo-fi sound is built on elements of punk, psychedelic, surf, garage and doom rock, and influenced by some of their favorite bands like King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, Thee Oh Sees, Wand, Black Sabbath, Ty Segall, The Doors and Black Flag. These guys are beyond high-energy, and with their charisma and sense of humor – just look at those silver pants! – I’m sure they’re a blast on stage.

Druids

Cult of the Pink Aliens” kicks things off with buzzing guitars, crashing cymbals and hazy echoed vocals. At the two-minute mark it abruptly erupts into a driving punk beat with surf-rock guitar riffs that occasionally venture into distortion, aided and abetted by pounding drums and an onslaught of crashing cymbals. But hold on ’cause things really ramp up a notch on “Black Magic,” a frantic head-bopping punk-soaked romp that’ll have you thrashing about the room with abandon. Brandon’s skillful guitar and Jeff’s pulse-pounding drums keep the energy flowing at full throttle, making this my favorite track on the EP.

Not skipping a beat, “Endless Maze” offers up over five minutes of punk rock goodness, with an infectious stop-start beat and killer guitar work. Brandon’s extended guitar riff will leave you breathless. A throwback to late 60’s psychedelia, but with a late 70’s punk vibe, “Lightning Bolt” will have you yearning for pink sunglasses and striped bell bottoms. Once again, the guys amaze with their awesome guitar work.

Ty Dye Rain” is a psychedelic beach party on steroids, with exhilarating stop-start guitar riffs and lively percussion. Two-thirds of the way through, the tempo slows a bit and we’re treated to more extended riffs of shredded and distorted guitars. Opening with a cacophony of distorted guitars and sharp cymbals, “The Hex” continues the slower bass-heavy tempo, but the guys seem to like surprising their listeners by changing things up to a frenetic punk beat halfway through, and it sure makes for an exciting listen.

The song’s about an evil temptress who casts her evil spell on men:

So I see you’ve learned some tricks
Dabbled dark arts, became the witch
I can see you’re planning something causing trouble whats comes next
I can see you contemplating planning evil, pass the hex

There are numerous bands out there playing psychedelic and retro punk rock, but Druids take it to another level, and deserve greater recognition. I hope they’ll keep making more music, because I can’t wait to hear it. Those in the Kansas City, Missouri area can catch them in concert on October 13 at the Riot Room, where they’ll be performing with The Crystal Method and other bands.

Connect with the Druids on Facebook and stream or purchase Pink Aliens on Bandcamp

GUY PAUL THIBAULT – Album Review: “It’s About Time”

It's About Time Album

Listening to the music of Guy Paul Thibault, it would be easy to assume he’s from somewhere like Nashville, Tennessee. In reality the singer/songwriter/guitarist – who plays tremendously satisfying folk music with strong country and rock influences – hails from beautiful Nova Scotia, Canada. An accomplished musician, Guy Paul has written, recorded and produced six albums on his own. He’s also played acoustic, electric, bass and slide guitar, and sang vocals for original acts and cover bands. In June he released a new album It’s About Time, an appropriate title given the span of 17 years since his last solo album.

I’ve always loved songs that tell a story, and It’s About Time is loaded with them. Let me state right here that Guy Paul is an incredible wordsmith. Through poetic, heartfelt, and sometimes humorous lyrics, his songs address the oft-covered subjects of life, love and heartbreak, but in ways that reveal the contradictory facets of good and evil inherent in each of us. Furthermore, these colorful stories are delivered with his sublime vocals and accompanied by some pretty nifty acoustic and electric guitar. I usually like to highlight a few song lyrics in my reviews, but in this case I’ll be featuring quite a lot of them.

Guy Paul Thibault

Here She Comes” kicks off the album with a pleasing country-rock rhythm. Guy Paul instantly hooks us in with his laid back vocal delivery and nimble acoustic guitar. Gentle percussion sets the beat and the sweet violin in the bridge is a nice touch.

One of the best ‘story’ tracks is “Misdemeanor,” a catchy, guitar-driven and wry tune about an older woman who’s still got it, and always out looking for a good time:

Takes the complications with a delicate smile
Avoids one night affairs, well she has for a while
That’s what she says
Well, hello boys is her natural style
Moves on her prey like a cat in the wild

With a closer look, well she’s showing her age
But she’s still got her wit and she’s still got those legs
Ahh those legs

Guy Paul turns serious with “Hills,” a compelling song about people living a hardscrabble existence in rural America who’ve endured more than their fair share of military service and the consequential casualties, PTSD and societal breakdown:

You can hide a body forever in these hills
A thousand square miles and a hundred little stills
They took us from our homes and taught us how to fight
Now justice comes in the middle of the night
Now terror comes in the middle of the night

He strums his guitar with a forcefulness to match the searing lyrics, backed by an assertive military drumbeat and mournful harmonica. The generous use of electric guitar and bass also lend greater impact to the track.

The poignant “Tallest Man on Earth” addresses the realization that the father you once idolized, thinking you wanted to be like him, wasn’t so high in stature after all:

When I was just a young man, trying not to fall
The only thing that seemed to matter was growing up and being tall
Growing tall brings great things, like seeing past the trees
You can’t hear the whispers, your head up in the breeze
He seemed the tallest man on earth

His heart died alone they say, running against the wall
He never could comprehend life wasn’t about being tall
He seemed the tallest man on earth
The smallest man on earth

Another powerful and standout track is “We Just Don’t Care,” a hard-hitting country-rock anthem that speaks to the apathy and sense of futility caused by feelings of betrayal by society and our government. Those sentiments are expressed by an attitude of entitlement – ‘I want what’s owed to me, and to hell with everyone else’:

Sacrifice is such a lonely word
There’s not much left in this world
We’re all trying the best we can
Can’t see the beach for the grains of sand
Belief is just a long-lost dream
Slowly fades from what I’ve seen
Lack faith in our fellow man
Lost in time a simple slight of hand
This is how we are now
And we just don’t care

Guy Paul shows us his rocker side on “Saving Grace,” a rousing song with a driving beat and lots of terrific electric and rhythm guitar riffs. One of my favorite tracks is “Saturday Night,” a catchy and breezy country song about hooking up with strangers to avoid being lonely. The lyrics are rather bittersweet until he lightens things up at the end:

It’s alright, I still got my friends
That’s what I’m talkin’ about
Hey wait a minute, is that another bottle over there?
Same time next week?

Stay (For Riley)” is a lovely but wistful ballad about saying goodbye to a loved one – or a pet perhaps? “You were my best friend, chased all of my fears. Now you live in every tear. Stay.”  Guy Paul serves up jangly guitar riffs on “If I Had,” a really nice folk tune about dreaming of enjoying life by hitting the road in his car with a girl and guitar. Wrapping up the album is the sorrowful “How Far Could I Fall.” The country song speaks of hitting bottom after his girl left him and he sought comfort with booze and drugs.

It’s About Time is well worth the wait of 17 years, as it’s superb on every level. In addition to Guy Paul’s impressive songwriting and musicianship, he was assisted on the album by the musical talents of David Bradshaw and Shawn Cherry.

Connect with Guy:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Stream his music:  Spotify / Google Play

Purchase:  iTunes / Bandcamp / cdbaby

CARY BALSANO – Single Review: “Horizon”

 

Cary Balsano

Cary Balsano is a talented young singer/songwriter originally from Italy who’s now based in Liverpool, England. He’s written and recorded scores of songs both as a solo artist and in collaboration with others, and recently released a beautiful new single “Horizon,” accompanied by a stunning video.

The song and video convey a sense of powerful connection with the world and, to my mind, the title “Horizon” symbolizes the brief but meaningful time we spend on this earth. Cary’s deeply personal and moving lyrics speak of life, love and loss, most notably of his father:

Living by the day, dealing with your grace
All I want is a kid to name
Hoping for some fun, looked in a grave where I saw my father’s face
We got a love and I made my mistakes
And I’ve got nothing to prove to you
We’ve got a lot to learn ’round this fire place
It’s called life and I have lost

Musically, the track has a quiet intensity, with soothing acoustic guitar and gentle percussion that keeps the track grounded but never overpowers. Cary’s beguiling vocals are filled with emotion, yet comforting at the same time. Take a listen:

Connect with Cary:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Stream his music on  Spotify

NOREiKA – EP Review: “BoXaRoX”

NOREiKA is Peter Noreika, a singer/songwriter from rural western New York state, near Buffalo. He started out his music career as a guitarist for a few heavy metal bands, but eventually quit the business to become gainfully employed, get married and start a family. As is often the case, however, Noreika never lost the music bug, and after his young son one day asked him why he couldn’t stay home and play with him, he decided to make a change and get back to doing what he loved, which was writing songs and playing music. And though he still had a fondness for metal rock, his sensibilities now leaned more toward acoustic and folk rock.

Peter Noreika

Noreika released his debut EP METACOUSTiFOLK in 2015, and followed up a year later with Throw the Switch to Begin, which I reviewed almost exactly one year ago – and you can read here.  Now he returns with his third EP BoXaRoXwhich dropped today, August 25. Departing from the fuller sound of his previous EPs, he strips down the music to the bare essentials of just guitar and vocals. When I asked about the unusual EP title BoXaRoX, Noreika explained that it was a possible band name he’d once considered years ago. When trying to come up with a name for the new EP, he remembered BoXaRoX and decided it was the perfect name for his mascot – a “beer-drinking, guitar-playing pterodactyl” – that he was using for his EP cover art. I think the cover art and title are both perfect!

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The first thing that strikes you about Noreika’s music is the fullness of the sound, given that it consists of only an acoustic guitar and his urgent vocals. This is immediately apparent with the opening track “Who’s Right.” He strums his guitar with an assertiveness that matches his powerful vocal delivery of lyrics about finding truth through honest communication:

I’m right, you’re right, Everybody come along 
Talk it on over and we’ll find out who is wrong 
I’m wrong, you’re wrong, Everybody sing this song 
Talk it on over and we’ll find out who is right.

What Makes You Smile” is a positive, uplifting track about recognizing the little things that can bring joy and make life worth living – like a box of puppies and kittens.

Find your reason to give. You will see its the way to live 
There is a brighter side. Keep it up and you’ll hit your stride 
Think of things that warm your soul 
Puts a smile on your face and makes you whole 
Like a box, a box of puppies and kittens. 

Noreika makes an emotional plea for love and acceptance on the hard-hitting “Notice Me.” His fervent vocals are pretty intense on this track, as is his guitar playing.

Why don’t you notice me. Am I so hard to see 
Why don’t you notice me. I fade to black and disappear 
I’ve got so much to say to you. Believe me when I tell you that its all true 
Look in my eyes read between my lines. All of my love is for you.

The catchy “Shwoop Dibby Dibby” is a lighthearted ode to a loved one, in which he employs crazy words to describe the depths of his feelings for her:

Love comes round that’s more than real.
When I can’t define, or think of the line, I speak from the heart.
The silly words that I say, mean the world to me in every way 

Shwoop dibby dibby whoop baloo, Shmluega Magluega means I love you.

The nimble guitar riff on this track is terrific. In fact, Noreika’s guitar work on every track is outstanding, making his music a real pleasure to hear. So give this EP a listen and see for yourself!

Connect with Peter:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Stream his music:  Spotify / Reverbnation / Soundcloud

Purchase:  Bandcamp / iTunes / Amazon

NELSON REZEK – EP Review: “Nelson Rezek”

Nelson Rezek is a 24 year old singer, songwriter, guitarist, and multi-instrumentalist based in Birmingham, Alabama. I’ve followed him since he was a member of the heavy metal band Broken Rail, which he left about a year ago to pursue his own career as a solo artist, and it’s been gratifying to watch him come into his own and grow artistically. Nelson began his musical journey at the age of 13, when he discovered his passion for playing the electric guitar. While still with Broken Rail, he started writing his own songs, the first of which was “Too Far Broken,” which he released as a single in March 2016. He’s now released his debut self-titled EP, and I’m pleased to review it.

Nelson Rezek

For inspiration in creating his music, Nelson draws on influences from some of his favorite bands like Korn, Three Days Grace, Breaking Benjamin, Slipknot and Stone Sour. He explains: “Writing music is like therapy for me. Great music tells a story, and the beauty of it is it speaks to each person in a unique and personal way. I want to let people know through my music that they are not alone.” His songs address relationships and the myriad emotions they entail, such as lust, betrayal and regret.

Nelson Rezek2

Let me state upfront that Nelson is a phenomenal guitarist, and his complex, hard-driving guitar work is a dominant feature of his powerful sound. The first track “Part of Me” kicks things off with aggressive shredded guitars and hammering percussion. Nelson coaxes some fiery riffs from his six string while he snarls the biting lyrics that speak to someone who’s sucked the life out of the relationship, but he’ll never surrender his soul: “Go ahead and take this lie I own, I don’t fear you anymore. Go ahead and take all that I’ve known, but you’ll never take this part of me.”

Nelson delivers intricate, layered riffs, anchored by crushing bass and pounding drums that threaten to blow the speakers, on the mesmerizing “The Enemy.” With his smoldering vocals, he sings of letting everyone down, including himself:  “I am the enemy. I will let you down. Something inside of me, will always let me down.” He calms things down in the bridge, with a quiet voice over accompanied by a gentle guitar solo, before the music ramps back up to a crescendo in the outro.

He shows his softer side with the gorgeous ballad “Too Far Broken.” The song opens with a gentle riff, then layers of guitar, bass and percussion are added, creating an emotionally powerful track. Nelson fervently sings of his pain from a relationship that’s failed beyond repair: “Where’d you go? Why’d you have to leave it all behind? Too far broken. Can’t you see all this pain you’ve bottled inside of me.” The little guitar riff that’s introduced in the bridge is beautiful.

Prayers of the Guilty” is a high-energy, hard-rocking standout track (though, quite frankly, all are standouts as far as I’m concerned). Fast-paced jangly guitars erupt right from the start, with no let up as Nelson emotionally sings of the guilt he feels over his having let a loved one down. “If I could start a new beginning, would I even get to change the ending. Maybe I wouldn’t feel so empty, but all we got now is prayers of the guilty.”

The excellent video starts off with a woman in emotional distress who releases a letter into a lake. Then Nelson and his back-up musicians are shown performing the song in a natural setting, interspersed with with flashbacks of the woman ignoring her father’s calls because she was busy with her band, and scenes of her regretfully recalling happier times spent with him as a child. The video was directed by Kevin Wayne.

The hard-hitting “Drive Me Crazy” lives up to its title, as Nelson drives us crazy with an infectious melody and scorching hot riffs. Songs like this with a hard-driving beat and killer guitar work always get me going, and this is one of the best I’ve heard in a while. It’s a real head-banger that’s best enjoyed played full-blast!

Every time I listen to Nelson’s songs, I’m blown away by his strong musicianship and amazing guitar playing. Nelson Rezek is a strong, expertly-crafted debut effort that he should be proud of. I’m impressed by his hard work and determination to make the best music possible, and will continue following him on his musical journey. I encourage my readers to do the same by connecting with him on  Facebook /  Twitter /  YouTube

Stream his music: Spotify / ReverbnationSoundcloud

Purchase it:  BandcampiTunes

EP Review: ALL TAKEN – “Accept This”

All Taken is a two-piece alternative rock band based in Los Angeles. Comprised of long-time friends Daniel Daghlarian and Avo Karapetyan, the duo formed in late 2015 and released a strong debut single “Burning Red” in 2016. The guys have now followed up with Accept This, a five-track EP which dropped on March 18, 2017.

All Taken meld electronic and hard rock components, along with a bit of 90s grunge, to create their infectious alt-rock sound. Daniel plays guitar and sings lead vocals, and Avo pounds the drums and sings backup. Listening to Accept This, the thing that stands out the most for me is their exceptional musicianship. Daniel lays down some fine, nimble guitar work, and Avo’s drums are right on point. Also, the guys have written melodies that are both compelling and overflowing with irresistible hooks.

All Taken

House of Wolves” kicks off the EP with some really terrific riffs, set to a catchy, start-and-stop beat put down by Avo’s hammering drums and a generous dose of crashing cymbals. The song seems to be about having a nightmare: “The house of wolves, they call your name. They’re baring their fangs at you.”  The great second track “Hollow” opens with a nice strummed guitar, then aggressive shredded guitars and strong percussion take over. The song’s melodic beat at times reminds me of “No One Knows” by Queens of the Stone Age.  The song’s lyrics speak of someone who’s a shell of their former self: “Remember me for who I was. Not as I am – Hollow.

Rather Not” has a mellow, almost acoustic vibe (albeit done with gentle electric guitar) until, at the bridge, Daniel unleashes an awesome blistering guitar solo before the slow acoustic vibe returns to close out the song. The change-up creates tension that fits the lyrics: “Shadows in an empty room Why would you leave so soon? Do you feel uneasy? My vision is hazy.

Secret” is loaded with hooks and more awesome guitar work, and the guys harmonize especially well on this track. The song’s about not being able to escape the person you really are: “Running from your secrets, whisper words they are the sweetest. The words you confessed are now regrets. You can run, you can hide, but you can’t change what’s inside.” The final track “Restless Nights” has a bit of a psychedelic feel, courtesy of the slow, distorted guitar that’s overlain by shredded riffs, buzzing bass and muscular drums.

All Taken have produced a very good debut EP that showcases their solid songwriting and impressive music skills. Check it out here.

Connect with All Taken:   Facebook / Twitter /  Instagram

Purchase Accept This on iTunes and Bandcamp

EP Review: SHIELDS – “Shields”

Readers of this blog know that I love Rock in all its forms – classic, alternative, old-school rock’n’roll, folk, hard, heavy metal, death metal, etc. And when great rock music (or any genre for that matter) is delivered with a sizable dose of humor, it can make for an especially enjoyable listen. Such is the case with the young rock band Shields. They play high-energy hard rock with strong rock’n’roll overtones, sometimes accompanied by humorous lyrics guaranteed to have you laughing out loud.

All natives of New England but now based in Austin, Texas, the four-piece formed as a band in the Spring of 2016, and consists of the Shields brothers Christian (lead vocals, guitar) and N.V. (drums, vocals), “The Event” (bass, vocals) and Mitch Silva (guitar, vocals). They dropped their self-titled debut EP Shields in late 2016, and it features seven top-notch tracks that run the gamut from upbeat party rock to more serious guitar-heavy tunes and slower, poignant ballads. They’ve been touring and playing lots of gigs since then to promote the EP, and their fun, highly entertaining live performances are attracting a growing base of devoted fans. A fellow blogger, Hope Romine of LIVELIFETHRUMUSIC, saw them live and wrote about how much fun and energetic they are on stage (you can read her post here.)

Shields

The EP kicks off with the head-banger “Hard Up,” a hilarious song about being a loser stuck in a dead-end job paying shit wages, unable to score with the ladies. The music’s great on this track, with some awesome guitar work, but it’s the racy, in-your-face lyrics that really make it:

I’m hard up. I’m broke, no cash means no sex. Who’s gonna bounce on me for a bounced check? Hard up, my friends call me iron man. All tube socks, left hand right hand.

The clever, comical video the guys made for the song is one of the most entertaining I’ve seen in a long while. Their sense of humor and playfulness is a joy to watch, and it’s evident they had a lot of fun making it. They’d sure be fun to party with!

The band rocks out with the hard-driving tracks “Same Old Show” and “Classic and Clean,” giving ample proof of their strong musicianship. Christian and Mitch kill it on their guitars, while The Event’s heavy bass and N.V.’s aggressive drums add power and depth to the songs. The lyrics of “Classic and Clean” are a double entendre, giving the impression he’s singing about a girl until you realize it’s his Corvette.

The band shows their more serious, introspective side with the lovely power ballad “Behind a Smile.” The mix of beautifully complex rhythm and electric guitars, weighty bass and crashing cymbals all working in harmony create a deeply compelling tune. The poignant lyrics speak to hiding one’s pain and heartache behind a fake smile. Christian’s vocals are vulnerable and heartfelt as he sings:

Pain in smiles, little white lies, pretending everything’s all right. Close the door, lock the world away. Shutting out the day today. Behind a smile hides a frown./ Behind this smile I’m going insane.

Twisted humor and party vibes come roaring back on “Girlfriend” – “Me and your girlfriend have better sex than you do. He’s doesn’t know that his girlfriend’s a freak. Yes she is! He doesn’t know that she’s kissing me. Yes she is!” and “The Party Song” – “Better not fall asleep at this party, we’ve got Super Glue, we got Sharpies. Better not fall asleep at this party, the things we’ll do to you, we got Super Glue.” But don’t let the crazy lyrics fool you; these guys mean business as they produce some awesome sounds on their respective instruments.

Closing out the EP is the excellent track “Every Time.” The song’s darker than the others, both musically and lyrically. The track begins with a gentle, mysterious guitar riff, soft soaring chorus and an eerie sound like something evil opening up – a Pandora’s box perhaps? – before shredded guitars, heavy buzzing bass and pounding drums take over. With an ominous feel to his vocals, Christian fervently sings: “What’s real and what’s fantasy? Collide while I try to sleep. At night I lie awake, praying for my escape. These shadows dance through my mind, every time I close my eyes.”

This is a well-crafted EP and a very respectable debut from a hard-working and talented young band that I feel have a promising future. To learn more about Shields, check out their website, and follow them on Facebook,  Twitter  and  Instagram.  Their EP is available for purchase on iTunes or Google Play.

Album Review: ASHES IN THE SKY – “Relentless”

Metal and Hardcore Rock – and all their variations such as Post-Hardcore, Metalcore, Death Metal, Death Core, Nu Metal, Groove Metal, Doom, etc. – continue to remain popular, with a steady number of talented bands making those types of music coming onto the scene. As a result of discovering several really good hardcore and heavy metal bands, I’ve become a bigger fan of those genres myself. One such band I recently discovered when their bassist contacted me about reviewing their album is Ashes In The Sky, a five piece hard rock/metal band from Long Island, New York. They released their album Relentless in July 2016, and it’s quite appropriately titled, with 11 intense, ball-busting tracks that will have you shouting fuck yeah!

Formed in 2010, Ashes In The Sky now consists of twin brothers and original members Patrick and Anthony “Javs”  Javino, and their ‘three best friends’ Dave Lombardo, Anthony Villani and Andrew Kohn. Javs plays lead guitar, Patrick hits drums, Anthony plays bass, Andrew sings lead vocals and Dave plays rhythm guitar and provides the brutal screams. They’re all from Long Island and share a strong passion for music. Like many bands, their sound is influenced by some of their favorite artists, most notably Metallica, Avenged Sevenfold, Bullet For My Valentine, Disturbed, Pantera, Trivium, Drowning Pool, Queen, and even The Beatles.

ashes-in-the-sky

Relentless opens with the gorgeous one and a half minute intro track “Spread the Ashes (A New Fire).” A simple, haunting piano movement starts things off, then strings, guitars and percussion usher in a sweeping rock melody that builds until it explodes into the blistering second track “Here to Stay.” Metallica’s influence is really apparent in this song, with a barrage of rapid-fire machine-gun guitar riffs, pummeling bass and hammering drums. Andrew Kohn passionately sings, with Dave Lombardo screaming the refrains: “No more fighting now, we are all here to stay / Conflicted by your laws no, I will always remain.

The band launches a full-frontal assault on the title track “Relentless.” The song truly lives up to its name, with guitars so hard-hitting and dense that they feel and sound like heavy percussion. Patrick Javino’s speaker-blowing drums ramp up the song’s intensity to even greater heights, and the ear-splitting vocals are downright fearsome. This merciless track will blow the hair right off your head! The guys don’t skip a beat with “Euthanasia,” a bombastic hardcore anthem about fighting against mind-control. With their furious vocals, Kohn and Lombardo spit the lyrics  “Don’t be a pussy, what the fuck’s it gonna do? / Why can’t I just say goodbye? You made me control everything yet nothing at all. Before me there lies a path of destruction.” The song’s bridge contains a military-style chorus “I don’t know what I’ve been told. Your prophecies are getting old.”

The next several album cuts fuse melodic arrangements with the band’s signature heavy metal instrumentals. “Coward” is more straight-up hard rock, with stunning, complex guitar riffs, power drums, crashing cymbals and soaring vocals that implore “You’re nothing but a fucking coward, using love to get your way. So please don’t ask me if I think that you’re the one to blame.” This is one of my favorite tracks – if it’s even possible to have a ‘favorite’ as every track on this album is pretty phenomenal.

Empty Space” is a great melodic track, with more of the band’s killer guitar work and a combination of both heartfelt and fierce vocals. The compelling lyrics speak to feelings of loss from a failed relationship: “I’ll say anything to make you stay. But words won’t fill this empty space / What is my purpose? What am I fighting for?” “Rain” starts off with a beautiful, rather mournful melody accompanied by multi-textured guitars, strong percussion and Kohn’s impassioned vocals, backed by guest vocalist Lauren DeLorenzo. Halfway through, we’re hit with a sudden blast of staccato guitars and guttural screams, then an onslaught of incredible guitar solos guaranteed to raise goosebumps.

The band unleashes its sonic fury in “Torn Away,” one of the standout tracks on the album. This jaw-dropping song kicks major ass! The guitars and percussion are nothing short of monumental, and the vocals are classic hardcore. As if Kohn and Lombardo’s powerful vocals aren’t fearsome enough, Kohn’s brother Tim’s guest vocals on this track are positively brutal. They scream “WHY!? Did it have to end this way?  (Couldn’t I make it okay?) All that’s loved is lost as I am torn away.” By song’s end I’m left speechless. I love the powerful video showing the band performing the song in a barn.

The final three tracks – “What Makes a Man,” the bombastic “Ene(me)” and “Fractures” – serve up more helpings of the band’s rapid-fire shredded and distorted guitars and heavy bass, along with both emphatic and hardcore vocals. All three songs are great, each clocking in at more than five and half minutes. “Ene(me)” is particularly brutal.

Ashes in the Sky is one of the better hard rock/heavy metal bands I’ve come across, and Relentless is a superb album, without a single throwaway song. Support these guys by following them on  Facebook and Twitter and subscribe to their YouTube channel, which features several videos of Tony Javs performing guitar cover solos of heavy metal songs. Stream their music on Spotify or Google Play, and purchase on iTunes or Amazon.