There’s something so soothing about this music. Vienna Teng seems to have a way with both her piano and her voice that just lulls you into a world you never dreamed you could know, let alone live in. You become one with her tuneful artwork, and it will consume you.
I tell you this because I discovered Vienna’s music a little over a month ago, and I had to keep listening. Now I own her beautifully stunning debut album, and it has quickly taken the top spot in my vast record collection. Yes, she is an independent artist, but that’s not what she sounds like. If anyone should have one of those big juicy record contracts it’s this woman. One listen to her album and you’ll understand.
Vienna Teng’s sound is like a combination between the piano prowess of early Tori Amos with the catchy tunes of Sarah McLaughlan. The piano is a central element in the whole album, thirteen tracks that seem to capture life in a bottle. Early on, you’re hooked by songs like “Gravity”, a stunning track with just piano and vocals. Occaisionally drums and bass come in, as well as other instruments as needed. This gives Vienna’s sound some good contrast, and it allows moderate pop rockers like “The Tower” and “Between” to succeed nicely. But the central core is always Vienna’s piano.
First the music. It’s been a long time since I heard music so stunning that it gave me chills every time I listen. This is music that takes over your mind, you can’t get it out of your head, and rightly so! There isn’t a thing wrong that I can hear in these recordings, nothing that makes me want to stop listening. I can rarely say I hear music of that calliber, even from big name artists.
And her voice is just pure power. She says on her website that she sings out of intuition, not out of training. Intuition has led Vienna to create some of the most amazing vocal melodies, the kind that most vocalists would be desperate to attain. Yet these vocals would be nothing without the deeply introspective and masterfully written lyrics. Vienna has mastered the art of lyricism, creating musical poetry that is going to establish her as a master in the field.
Now note that I don’t give these scores lightly. Five stars. As far as I am concerned, that has to mean perfection (or damn near!) It is this reviewer’s opinion that Vienna Teng’s “Waking Hour” is the best thing you could buy in the independent market. Snap this album up and you’ll soon be like me, eagerly awaiting more music from Vienna, a songsmith to reckon with. This album is truly a masterpiece.
“Recovering Angels” [IMG]http://content.rollingstone.com/images/global/yellowstar_lg.gif’>[IMG]http://content.rollingstone.com/images/global/yellowstar_lg.gif’>[IMG][IMG]http://content.rollingstone.com/images/global/yellowstar_lg.gif’>[IMG]
“Recovering Angels” is a surprisingly solid six track demo by Drew Nelson, who is, in my opinion, a songwriter to keep an eye on. While fans from the midwest already know Drew well, he is poised for some serious college radio airplay. Soon it will be hard to find people who haven’t heard his form of acoustic rock.
Much like artists like Shawn Mullins and Counting Crows, Drew Nelson has mastered the art of telling a story within the confines of an acoustic track. My favorite track on the entire album is “Anchorage”, which is an ode to those who try to leave their lives behind for adventure, only to always be pulled back again. It also sounds so much like the style of Counting Crows’ album August and Everything After that when I first heard it I couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard it before. My attention picqued, I continued to listen, and was rewarded by a series of songs that dare you not to become addicted.
“Same” is a light acoustic ballad that serves us a variation of the theme the more things change, the more they stay the same. It works because you can feel his emotion as he sings, emotion that soaks through you making you understand what is being said. I’m still here / And I’m still scared / Every good intention / Has vanished in the air / I’ m still young / And a bit confused / Every road I travel / Leads me back to you . . . this song will stay in your head long after you press the stop button on your CD player, I assure you.
Likely the most polished track, however, is the closer, “Recovering Angels”. Another ballad, this one ends up taking more from the Shawn Mullins vein, bare acoustic with vocals that are gritty and honest. Simple as it is, this is the perfect way for Nelson to end his album. It’s an ending that leaves you wanting more, and I constantly find myself hitting repeat, wanting no more than to hear the whole thing again.
Though the recordings aren’t perfect, Nelson shows with these six tracks that he has the talent and the creativity to be something in this crazy music world. There’s room to grow, room for him to spread his wings and make his voice heard. Check out this album, you won’t regret having taken a chance on the music of Drew Nelson.
What can I say about this album? I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not the most seasoned electronic listener. But I gave Shirtlifter’s nine track CD “Fuel” more than a fair chance. I’ve had this CD playing off and on in my ears for well near two months, and still it feels like nothing more than a mediocre effort. The songs all sound the same, the music lacks a strong hook to keep a listener interested, and the effect of hearing this album leaves me soured on electronic and house in general.
I don’t mean to sound hateful or bitter. Shirtlifter’s music could have its dance floor charms, and I’m sure he has plenty of fans to praise his musical prowess. But as a reviewer, and as a listener, I heard nothing in these eight tracks to make me want to listen more. Nothing made me want to lay down money for it, that’s for sure.
The final verdict would be this. If you’re a fan of house and trance, and if you feel like dancing endlessly, this could be the album for you. But if you’re, like me, just dipping your toes into the electronic river, this is music you can easily just pass by.
“Rough Cutz” [IMG]http://content.rollingstone.com/images/global/yellowstar_lg.gif’>[IMG]http://content.rollingstone.com/images/global/yellowstar_lg.gif’>[IMG]http://content.rollingstone.com/images/global/yellowstar_lg.gif’>
Ted Lehman is an artist who has been recording music for over twenty years, and his varying styles have meant he’s recorded some music I’d describe as great, and just as many songs I would describe as . . . well, a little less than desired. But as a person who has listened to most of Ted’s catalog, I’ve found what marks, in my opinion, his best effort as an album. “Rough Cutz” sometimes stumbles. But it doesn’t seem like an album that is just hacked together from miscellaneous tracks, like some of Ted’s albums do. In fact, this is the first album by Ted that I can play straight through, not skipping around to favorites. Why is this, you might ask? Because most of these tracks are my favorites.
Take for example “The Band”. A bluesy upbeat ode to musicians, Ted uses this song to tell the story of how he can’t seem to write music unless he is part of a band. The tune is well crafted and catchy, leaves you wanting more. It’s a hook filled chorus that lifts this track beyond the rest. Then there’s “I Want My MP3”, which succeeds as a fairly bluesy anthem, even with production that sounds less than stellar. It was “I Want My MP3” that gave Ted a look at the spotlight on mp3.com, and it was the first of his songs I ever heard. I still enjoy listening to it, and that says something of his staying power. “Always Love” is another groove filled track. The stomping beat, uptempo bass and guitar and catchy vocals make this a song that is more than just worth a listen. “Hard To Get Away” is maybe the most commercial track on this album. I can picture this playing on a classic rock station, it’s the kind of seventies style ballad that keeps my attention, much like songs off Billy Joel’s early album Cold Spring Harbor.
The only track out of these nine that really doesn’t seem to fit, is the final track, a cheaply recorded first demo of “The Band”. It detracts from the overall sound of the album, showing a side of the music that really doesn’t do Ted’s creative work any justice. As a whole though, “Rough Cutz” stands as a serious example of what Ted Lehman can do with music when he puts his mind to it. It is because of this album that I’ve kept listening to his music for well near three years. If you like catchy tunes and interesting lyrics, Ted’s your man, and you’ll enjoy this album as much as I do.
I had the accidental honor of hearing Kris perform these songs live as the opening act for Dar Williams. I ended up finding an artist who seems to get her musical energy from a shifting style pool that blends good ole blues with the kind of bluegrass sound that is re-establishing itself in the music industry these days. And she does it all with a panache that makes her an artist to behold.
“Cluck Old Hen” slams you into her style of sound, a grooving bluesy number that hints of so much more that you can expect by continuing to listen. Her music is well performed, the tunes perfectly crafted, and the lyrics intriguing. Delmhorst seems to be challenging her listeners to come inside, to hear her spin these industrious little yarns. I, for one, was already hooked, and needed no challenge to keep listening.
The album continues with its varying sounds. “Damn Love Song” is a slow acoustic ballad about someone looking at herself after a long relationship, she has the weight of the world on her shoulders and a love song in her heart. “Broken White Line” is a low key acoustic country track, and “Little Wings”, an original little tale of a little bird who loves to fly on her little wings. She is taunted by a 747 that tries to bring her down to earth, but confesses that all she wants is to be part of all the beauty of life, not to be the biggest or best. The symbolism may be lined on a bit thick, but it works, and that’s all that matters.
“Yellow Brick Road” is likely the most commercially fitting track, one that I would expect to hear on crossover stations and select college stations. I’m not on no yellow brick road / got a mind and a heart and guts of my own / not looking for one to set me free / I’m not on no yellow brick road / I’ll find my own way home / I’m just looking for someone to walk with me. Delmhorst seems to have a firm grip on lyricism that keeps her songs ahead of the rest, and that’s what keeps me listening. My favorite track comes near the end of the album. “Honeyed Out” is the most hybrid of all the tracks on “Five Stories”. The single chord being played throughout the song makes a good base for the vocals. It sounds like a cross between blues and altarnative, but it’s really hard to place. The only song I’ve heard that is even similar is the opening theme from the film “Gone In 60 Seconds”, “Bring Sally Up” by Moby. Yet even that isn’t quite the same thing.
Needless to say, after listening to this album constantly since the concert, I’ve discovered what many have heard in Kris Delmhorst in Boston. She’s been honored with numerous awards for this album which is being hailed as true creativity. I wouldn’t miss out on this experience if I were you, check out “Five Stories” and hear what everyone’s going to be talking about.