Sunday, August 22, 2010

Jared Grabb & Wesley Wolfe

Jared Grabb & Wesley Wolfe Split 7"/digital

Chicago's Jared Grabb and Carrboro, North Carolina's Wesley Wolfe will release this split 7-incher September 7th, 2010 on clear vinyl and digital download from Thinker Thought Records. Both songs, "La Salle" by Grabb and "Climb Up" by Wolfe are captivating in their own right, but act as yin and yang when played back to back. On their own both would be strong singles, but their volume is equal even as they are different in terms of delivery.

Paired together they elicit a shorthand of storytelling in the listener's mind. Musically, they play aesthetically as a fictional past and present, "La Salle" as an energetic and vibrant moment in time and "Climb Up" many years later as reflection and illumination. "La Salle" is an upbeat number, built around acoustic guitar playing that ascends and descends with a subtle Latin feel. Grabb sings with twisting vocals, "We're young and poor and different," a lyric that sticks around even as the song ends. His singing is warm and inviting, layered with a crooner's sensibility.

"Climb Up" is, to a degree, dreamlike, due to smooth and crystallized vocals matched with the song's strolling nature. The song's initial gentle acoustic picking is met with heavy-handed electric guitar strikes that are fuzzed and reverberating. The effect is powerful, echoing in the background like emotional alarm. Its plodding tempo works like a trance - lulling and hypnotic, delivering comfort more than as an effort to dislodge. Its a complex song, but comes off as quite simplistic - a handful of musical ideas placed together with elegant effect.

While Grabb's song is memorable for its catchiness and hook, Wolfe's is for emotional resonance. The split single from these singer-songwriters should serve as an invitation to dig deeper into their respective catalogs.

-Brian Tucker



While Secret Colours may be carving out their own space in the Chicago music scene they have a solid asset in their superb self-titled debut album, a polite mix of psychedelic, fuzzed out guitar accompanied by a whispered vocalist, Tommy Evans. For all their confessions of fondness for The Black Angels they do well in holding back, by not being coarse and bombastic. Secret Colours finds gold in playing it restrained for the most part. The music here is mostly laid back way, think T.Rex crossed with certain aspects of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club's gentler material, namely from Howl. Secret Colours as an album maintains a spacey quality, at times bridging blistering guitar licks with cooing vocals and subtle acoustic guitar. Unabashedly, it plays like really good make out music from a lost decade, rich with an older music texture and it could be mistaken for being recorded across the pond. It could also be misread as a copy of a copy of a copy. That may be true, but in this case it matters little, as Secret Colours, make affectionate and fine rock music. Secret Colours may be a by-product of times gone by and bands alike (Oasis, Brian Jonestown Massacre) but bless 'em for doing so. They've recorded a solid of album songs that burns at a slow pace and curls up alongside like a promising date.

-Brian Tucker

Sunday, August 8, 2010

WISER TIME - Beggars & Thieves

Beggars & Thieves is the album Carmen Sclafani has been working towards making the last several years. Wiser Time has, for two albums, There and Back Again (2006), All For One, 2008, been churning away at rootsy soulful rock music in the shadow of bands like Free or The Black Crowes. With Beggars & Thieves Wiser Time moves away from that history, hitting a stride and comfort zone, recording songs that are seasoned and catchy without overdoing it, without trying to sound catchy. Simply put, they sound like their own band, not like a band trying to fit in somewhere. They sound so at home here, writing songs that are from the gut and the heart. Its as if they just rolled tape and the band poured out music that didn't result from over thinking or writing music that was purposely genre specific.

Sclafani's voice has always been superb, but here he gets in good head space, singing in a way that exceeds prior work. With it Wiser Time places displaces bravado for wearing sincerity on the band's sleeve. This is a good choice, there's far less bombast here compared to the last two albums. On "Take Me Back Home" Sclafani is utterly believable, easy to feel his distance from home, the distance from the lover in the song. He paints solid imagery, like scene directions, with lyrics like "I could see you were acting a little/Sweet smile, then a tilt of a bottle."

The piano heavy "Its Hard Letting You Go" is a ballad that centers the album, slowing things down but with absolute purpose. "Keep it On" is a slightly slower number too, albeit one with guitar breaks that crunch and jerk. It's a subtle affair but begs the question what it would sound like if it were awash in a raw electric wall of sound. They keep it spare here, and it works solidly. "Seagull" closes the album, an interesting choice to cover given Bad Company's original spare acoustic construction. It's a beautiful song and Sclafani is right at home with it, affording it a subtle Middle Eastern feel. There have been few singers since the early seventies that can share space with soulful rock singers like Paul Rodgers. Here, Sclafani isn't overstepping his bounds at all. Wiser Time isn't coy about influences, from The Grateful Dead to Bad Company. The difference is that on Beggars & Thieves the band and Sclafani have moved beyond sounding like a particular style of rock music to being a band carving out its own trail. Here's hoping Sclafani digs even deeper, perhaps taking a detour like John Mellencamp has recently, recording fast and loose with older and cruder equipment. Its highly probable that Sclafani will continue to get even better with age, outshining each previous effort.

-Brian Tucker