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

THESE WICKED RIVERS – Album Review: “II”

Followers of my blog know I’m a big fan of hard-driving, guitar-heavy rock, so it will come as no surprise that I love the music of UK band These Wicked Rivers. This four-piece plays down and dirty blues-infused rock’n’roll that sounds like they’re from Alabama or Mississippi, rather than Derby, England (no disparagement intended against Derby, of course).  Their melodic, riff-heavy music is incredibly exhilarating and dynamic, kicking you squarely in the ass! Making all this awesome noise are John Hartwell (lead vocals, guitar), Arran Day (guitar), Jon Hallam (bass) and Dan Southall (drums).

These Wicked Rivers band

In 2015 they released an excellent debut EP The Enemy, and follow up with their fantastic album II, which dropped at the end of April (and I’m finally getting around to reviewing at long last). With seven tracks, it’s longer than a typical EP and shorter than the usual album. But whatever category it’s placed in, this much is clear: the six major tracks are all heavyweights in terms of both quality (amazing) and quantity (all run four to six minutes in length), so I’d say it qualifies as an album.

These Wicked Rivers establish right off the bat what they’re all about with the aptly-titled intro track “Wicked River Blues,” then launch into “Stones Painted Gold.” Guitars blazing, they add a bit of funky bass to the bluesy mix as John snarls the searing lyrics that speak to a woman who’s done him wrong: “You turn it around, you know it’s never your fault. God, your such a martyr. Now you burn to the ground anyone in your way.” Arran’s distorted guitar solo in the bridge is fearsome! Without skipping a beat, “That Girl” arrives with a barrage of shredded, squealing guitars, throbbing bass, and muscular drums hammering out a hard-driving beat that had me banging my head and gyrating in my chair. These guys know how to rock!

They slow things down with the magnificent rock ballad “When the War is Won.” All the elements of this six minute long track come together to create an epic song that’s absolute perfection, and it’s my favorite on the EP. The complex, layered guitar work is positively mind-blowing, with gorgeous riffs and wailing solos that raise goosebumps with every listen. John passionately sings of finding his way back from a dark place in his mind: “I look around and know I’m free. I hear my voice, I say I wouldn’t do it any other way. I can save my life. Say the truth in their lies. I can walk with my head held high, now the war, now the war is won.”

The terrific, bluesy “Testify” has a Pearl Jam vibe, and John’s vocals even sound a bit like Eddie Vedder. Once again, the guys show off their exceptional musicianship, with killer riffs, Jon’s speaker-blowing bass and Dan’s aggressive percussion. I love the lyric “She tastes like sugar, and goes down like honey.” “Put Me on Trial (For Who I Am)” delivers more face-melting rock’n’roll goodness, courtesy of scorching hot riffs, crushing heavy bass and thunderous drums.

Last but certainly not least is the anthemic “Don’t Pray For Me,” another monumental track with jaw-dropping instrumentals. The song opens with a gospel-like organ solo, then the band’s signature intricate guitars, heavy bass and power drums take over. The lyrics address the complexities and contradictions inherent in many of us – we have both good and bad elements in our character: “I’ve been a loser, I’ve been a cruiser, I’ve been lost and I’ve been found. I’ve been a user, I’ve been a bruiser. I’ve been up and I’ve been down. And I’ve been a taker, I’ve been a faker. I’ve been a liar and a cheat./ I’ve been every man in between./ Don’t you pray now.  Don’t you pray for me. Don’t judge a man by only what you see.

II is a brilliant album that firmly establishes These Wicked Rivers as one of the finest rock’n’roll bands in the UK. These guys are phenomenal musicians, and need more exposure so that more people will discover them and their awesome music. I urge my readers to support the band by following them on their social media and downloading/purchasing their music:

WebsiteFacebookTwitter / Instagram

Stream their music:  Spotify / Soundcloud

Purchase:  iTunes

Artist Spotlight – GARRETT

GARRETT are seasoned rockers who, separately and collectively, have been making music for a long while. The North Carolina-based band was formed in 2005, and is comprised of husband/wife singer/songwriters William and Nannette Garrett, along with veteran drummer Jason Patterson. William plays guitar and sings lead, and Nannette plays bass and also sings lead.  They play rock’n’roll steeped in blues and a retro 70’s vibe, the kind you love hearing full-blast at the local roadhouse on a Saturday night. But they also know a thing or two about the power of a slowed-down ballad to move us to tears.

Garrett

William and Nannette first met when they played in a rock group together way back in 1986. After that group disbanded, they went their separate ways, only to find each other again 18 years later. Nannette had been in the band Snakes-n-Angels with her late husband JC Stephenson; they released two albums in 2000 and 2002 that you can find on Spotify. William released a solo self-titled album William Garrett in 2004, featuring ten bluesy rock’n’roll tracks, which you can also find on Spotify. I highly recommend that my readers check out these previous works, as they’re all excellent. After reuniting, William and Nannette continued on as Snakes-n-Angels for a year until deciding to change their band name to GARRETT after they married.

William’s music style is influenced by 70’s rock icons Robin Trower (with whom he shares a birthday), Gary Moore, Pat Travers, KISS, Journey, RUSH, Styx, and UFO. Nannette’s music influences overlap some of William’s love for 70’s rock, Journey and KISS, but also women rockers Ann and Nancy Wilson, Stevie Nicks, Pat Benatar and Melissa Etheridge. Drummer Jason Patterson was formerly with the bands Cry Of Love and Nantucket.

Since forming GARRETT, William and Nannette have written and recorded new songs, as well as recording new versions of some of the songs they’d previously made separately. And, like many bands, they also do pretty awesome covers of others’ songs. Here’s a live performance from around 2010 of them covering Heart’s “Magic Man.” It clearly shows off William’s exceptional guitar-playing and Nannette’s dynamic bluesy vocals:

In 2016, they recorded “Hero,” a beautiful, moving tribute to the United States Military and U.S. veterans, and a song they’re extremely proud of. The poignant lyrics speak to the sacrifices made both by those who’ve served and their families: “A little boy only eight years old, saying his bedside prayers. God bless mommy, god bless daddy, little sister upstairs. Hero, hero, he’s just daddy to me. A young woman barely 20 years old. Married less than a year ago. Sleep well sweet angel tonight, he ain’t coming home.” If that doesn’t put a lump in your throat, I don’t know what will.

For the equally moving video, they put the word out on their social media asking followers to submit photos of relatives and loved ones who’d served in the military. The result is tremendously powerful yet comforting. Both song and video were released just prior to Memorial Day 2016.

GARRETT has been in the studio working on their forthcoming album Believe. The first single from that future album is “The Island,” a hard-driving beast that’s best played as loud as your speakers can handle. William rips and shreds his six-string, laying down some tasty riffs while Nannette adds heft with her powerful bass. Jason aggressively pounds out the beat, making the track a real head-banger. They’ve also recorded a new version of “Save Your Love,” a song originally from William’s solo album, and will be featured on Believe.

I can’t wait to hear more new music from these talented musicians. Support GARRETT by following them on:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Stream their music:  Reverbnation / Soundcloud, and purchase “Hero” on iTunes and cdbaby

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.

Song Review: BLACK ROSE CADILLAC – “The Devil’s Road”

Black Rose Cadillac

I just discovered an awesome band from the English Midlands called Black Rose Cadillac and I’m completely smitten with their music. The five-piece band plays ridiculously good hard-driving rock’n’roll guaranteed to shake you out of your complacency and have you shouting ‘hell yeah.’ I LOVE this band! I’ve listened to every one of their songs I could find, and to say they’re all fantastic is a gross understatement. They skillfully meld guitar-heavy hard rock with classic rock’n’roll in the tradition of great rockers like the Rolling Stones, AC/DC and Black Sabbath. Making all this fine noise are Ryan Hulme (lead vocals), Simon Hawkes (guitar), Myles Cooper (more guitar), Richard Clark (bass) and Ben Kirk (drums).

The guys just released a hot new single “The Devil’s Road” and it’s six and a half minutes of hard rock’n’roll heaven. The intricate guitar riffs are blistering and melodically complex, layered over heavy, buzzing bass and accompanied by powerful drums. Hulme’s aggressive, gritty vocals add to the track’s intensity. The song seems to end at five minutes, then starts back up with a terrific guitar flourish. The end result is an incredibly satisfying track that makes you feel like you’ve just listened to a mini rock concert all rolled up into one song!

The lyrics are as powerful as the music, and speak to struggling with one’s inner turmoil: “There were demons beneath my skin. Rising up from within. As the light fades the darkness invades. And I can’t tell real life from a dream. I’m gonna make a deal, reform my ways, yeah I’m walking down the Devil’s road.  I’m gonna make a scene just for you to see, cause I know the devil is in me.

Support Black Rose Cadillac by following them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and subscribe to their YouTube channel.  Do yourself a huge favor and check out more of their incredible music on Spotify,  Soundcloud  or Reverbnation.  Their music may be purchased on Bandcamp or iTunes.

Update: In May 2017, three of the band members – Ryan, Myles and Richard – left Black Rose Cadillac and started up a new band RYDERS CREED, and were joined by Lee Spencer and Lee Gilbert. Simon and Ben had planned to continue on as Black Rose Cadillac, but ultimately disbanded.

EP Review: NEON HURRICANE – “Liquor Sweet”

I have a particular fondness for hard-working do-it-yourself indie artists and bands who write their own songs and play all their own organic music. Neon Hurricane is such a band. The relatively new, four-man collective from Glasgow, Scotland make music that stays true to the roots of classic rock and roll, employing three-part guitar harmonies to give their sound a definable retro vibe. The band members are Jason Minto on vocals, Graeme Craig on guitars, Connor Browning on bass, and James Maxwell on drums.

neon-hurricane2

The guys just recorded their debut three-track EP Liquor Sweet, and I’m delighted to review it. The first track “Sweet Lady” is a mellow rock tune, with lively buzzing guitars that remind me somewhat of early Boston. The song is anchored by just the right amounts of Connor’s bass and James’ sharp percussion, and Graeme’s guitar riffs are first-rate. Jason’s earnest, soulful vocals are perfectly suited for the song.

Everything ramps up a notch in “Raining Mondays,” with a faster, heavier beat and more aggressive guitars and drums. Jason’s vocals are also louder and more emotionally raw. The song lyrics speak of a guy who feels down on his luck until he meets a woman who shows him some interest. He fervently sings “And then I saw your face, then I heard you say, you take a chance on, you take a chance on, you take a chance on me, I take a ride with you.

The guys save the best for last, with the amazing tour de force “Follow the Rock n Roll.” They fully unleash their sonic weaponry, compressing so much creative energy and incredible musicianship into one song, that the result is nothing short of phenomenal. The track begins with the sound of wind, then a harmonica wails as Connor’s heavy, throbbing bass line takes over, augmented by James’ pounding drums. In short order, Graeme’s distorted and snarling guitar enters the scene, intensifying the song’s impact. Jason’s powerful vocals are more raw and bluesy than ever, and when backed by the guys’ harmonizing vocals and combined with the aforementioned music, we’re left with one of the most exciting rock and roll songs I’ve heard in a while. At 4:40 the guys blow the lid off with a vitriolic flourish of frantic bass, guitar and drums, and Graeme provides some high-pitched wails to match his screaming guitar solo. This track alone is more than enough proof that these guys are highly skilled musicians.

I love this band, and can’t wait to hear what they come up with next. Show them support by following on Facebook and Twitter, and subscribing to their YouTube channel. Liquor Sweet will soon be available for purchase on iTunes & Amazon.

EP Review: QUICK MACHINE – “Live Fast”

quick-machine-cover

There’s something special about guitar-heavy rock and roll that can’t be beat, especially when it’s fast, loud and in your face. Four-piece Boston band Quick Machine fill all those qualifications and then some! As their name suggests, they play ‘high-energy rock and roll fueled by dueling Gibsons, stacks of 100-watt amps and domestic adult beverages‘ (in their own words). Making the noise are  Eric Jackson (Lead Vocals/Guitar), Richie Kidd (Bass/Backing Vocals),  Shane Quinn (Lead Guitar/Backing Vocals) and Gia Love (Drums/Backing Vocals). (It’s very cool when a rock band has a female drummer.)

Quick Machine formed in early 2015 and, like several bands I’ve recently featured on this blog, spent much of their first year on the road playing gigs and building a dedicated and enthusiastic fan base before heading into the studio to begin recording their own songs. In November 2016 they dropped their debut EP Live Fast, a collection of four rousing rock and roll tracks guaranteed to have you on your feet and moving within seconds.

quick-machine

The EP opens strong with the exhilarating title track “Live Fast.” True to its title, the song blasts through the speakers with aggressive, shredded guitars and Richie’s heavy bass, signaling that we’re in for a wild ride. Gia pounds the hell out of her drum kit, while Eric and Shane’s guitars swirl and snarl with abandon as they lay down some formidable riffs. The song lyrics get to the point: “Live fast, die last, you keep on going ’til you can’t stop, you can’t stop, oh no.”

The awesome video for “Live Fast” shows the band performing the song in a dark industrial building, a perfect setting for the hard-driving track.

Not skipping a beat, “Devil in Me” keeps the high energy going at full speed, and the dizzying pace never lets up through “Steal My Soul” and “Skeletons.” Our ears are treated to more scorching-hot guitar riffs, buzzing bass and pounding drums. Eric’s powerful vocals add a raw, bluesy vibe to these rock and roll gems. In “Skeletons” he wails “Where is the fun in being revealed in the public eye? Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, no, I have become my Mr. Hyde. I drink, smoke, lie and cheat. I’m everything you want me to be.”

This is a great EP, with no throwaway songs. My only criticism is that with only four tracks, it’s over too soon, leaving me wanting more. For now I’ll just have to play it on repeat, and wait for Quick Machine to quickly drop some more tunes.

Here’s a great live performance of “Devil in Me.” This is clearly a band whose music is tailor-made to hear live, and if they ever make it to L.A. I’ll be first in line to buy a ticket.

To learn more about Quick Machine, check out their website. Show them support by following on Twitter,  Facebook and Instagram, and subscribe to their YouTube channel. Stream their music on Spotify or Reverbnation.  Live Fast may be purchased on Bandcamp, iTunes or  Amazon.

Album Review: BRYAN HOWELL & THE STANDALONES – “Take the Risk”

Some music just makes you feel happy when you hear it. Bryan Howell, along with his back-up band The Standalones, makes that kind of music. Every time I listen to their new album Take the Risk, I can’t help but smile (and I sure can do with a lot more of that right now). After more than a year of blood, sweat and tears, Bryan Howell & The Standalones dropped Take the Risk in early August of this year, and it’s packed with ten stellar tunes that draw from a variety of rich influences: rock and roll, rockabilly, garage rock, power-pop, country, surf and indie rock, as well as the timeless music produced by Motown, Sun and Stax records. If all that’s not enough to get you excited, I don’t know what will.

Howell was born and raised in upstate New York, where he recorded Take the Risk, but subsequently relocated to Nashville to immerse himself in the vibrant music scene there. In a great interview with Shameless Promotions & Media (which you can view here), he stated that “pretty much every bedrock genre of American music—jazz, blues, country, rock and roll—has deep origin roots in the South. From any standpoint as a musician—great recording studios, great musical instruments, great venues, great players, great industry connections—Nashville has it.

Along with Howell – who writes the songs, plays rhythm guitar and sings lead vocals – for the album tracking in New York, The Standalones included Brandon Brault on drums, Matthew Copperwheat on guitar, and Dan Phillips on bass. After moving to Nashville, Howell assembled a new line-up for The Standalones with Ethan Sims on lead and rhythm guitar, and backing vocals, Wes Burkhart on bass, and Darren Darling on drums.

I don’t normally quote an artist very much in my reviews, but Howell has so eloquently described the album and the meaning behind his songs that I feel compelled to paraphrase him throughout this post. In another excellent interview with Jordan Mohler for the website Kill The Music (which you can read here), Bryan explained that the album “is a bit of a loose concept album, because it’s about putting yourself out there and going for it, picking yourself up as you realize not everything in life is perfect and living the best you can anyway. I guess at this point I’m dealing with basic human themes, wrestling with ideas about being human in what I feel is both a hyper-connected and really impersonal and cold time, and through the prism of growing up in the Rust Belt and what I see in society and people around me. But that said, there are also songs that are just about classic rock and roll stuff about girls, nights on the town, and having fun.”

bryan-howell-standalones

Now that I’ve provided a bit of background on Howell and where he’s coming from, let’s get to the music. The album opens with the rousing track “Your Saturday Night,” a wonderful, high-energy rock and roll treat that sets the tone for the entire album. A strong guitar solo kicks things off, followed by an explosion of rhythm and bass, big drums and Howell’s exuberant vocals that conjure up the joys of letting loose on a Saturday night. The guitar riffs and Howell’s vocals are awesome, and I could listen to this song over and over again!  The entertaining video is great too. Howell wanted the video to show the band playing in a venue where a lot of  bands start out – a typical suburban garage – and end with him living the artist’s dream of entering a theater to play a concert.

The album’s energy keeps flowing with the second track “Apologies and Promises.” The song’s fun, upbeat rock and roll arrangement contrasts with more serious lyrics that speak to letting go of negative, non-supportive people in your life: “Too much time wasting away, like apologies and promises / useless things I never miss / Too much time with so much to say / waiting for an open space / looking for an honest face.

Seriousness is cast aside for the deliriously fun throwback tune “Hot Summer Strut.” Combining rockabilly, surf and malt-shop vibes, the great guitar riffs and percussion are enhanced by hot saxophone work by Sam Kinninger. “Not Like the Movies” slows things down and brings us back to earth, with more serious lyrics about how life is not all happy endings like in the movies. Howell said that ‘movies’ is a euphemism for other things such as TV, social media or video games that people get lost in. At times, his raw vocals remind me of Mick Jagger’s in some of the Stones’ slower ballads like “Wild Horses” or “Waiting on a Friend.”

The subject is still a bit serious but the tempo ramps back up in “Time Marches On,” a track about how we all change as we go through life, and some of the friendships that once meant so much to us eventually fade away as we move in different directions.  Moving on in life is the subject of the poignant “Tough to Say Goodbye,” a very personal song for Howell. In an interview with Sound In The Signals, he stated that it “took on much greater depth when I vividly realized during pre-production and studio time that there was no way I could stay in upstate NY to pursue my music career. [It was] a somewhat bittersweet but cathartic song to track.”  The tremolo guitars in the song are sublime.

The energy level is turned all the way up in the rock and roll anthem ‘Cause I’m a Lion.” The song’s a defiant “fuck off” to conformity and boxing people in with expectations that don’t feel right for them: “And I’ve been stuck in this cage too long  / I’m sick and tired of all the apathy / No guts no passion / No dreams left to dream.” The rapid-paced, blistering guitar solos would make Chuck Berry proud. “Candy Store Love” brings a return of the catchy, malt-shop rockabilly that makes the album such a joy.  And “This is the Future,” with it’s punchy, stop and start guitar riffs, speaks to letting go of past hurts and bitterness and not allowing them to ruin your life from this point forward.

The closing track is the beautiful “Angel from the Lonely Coast.” Howell described the song as “touching on the rough underbelly of the Rust Belt – unemployment, heroin, fading neighborhoods – and a shaded biography of a few people I knew in the middle of it. Reflecting on my hope that these people can better their life and break free of their cycle, while noting the quiet bravery and heroism of people living honestly and strongly through an atmosphere like this.”  He felt it was the most fitting song to end the album. Guest saxophonist Sam Kinninger returns to lay down some haunting solos over the gorgeous swirling guitars. It’s a standout track and one of my favorites on the album. Take a listen:

To sum up, Take The Risk is a superb album by a tremendously talented and earnest singer/songwriter. The amount of time, effort and dedication Howell put into making this album is impressive and it shows. To learn more about Bryan Howell, check out his website.  Support him by following on Twitter,  Facebook and Instagram.  Stream Take the Risk, as well as his 2013 EP Lightning Through My Soul, on Spotify, and purchase them on iTunes, Bandcamp, or other sites offering music for purchase.