Apr 162012

It’s rather surprising that Dan Craig even has time these days to put out a new record. Besides being one of Denver’s premiere singer/songwriters, he’s also a med student, a husband, and recently a new father.

Actually, though, this gem of an EP, In Dust Bowls, already had the groundwork laid for it. According to Craig, this project (a collaboration with producer/engineer Jamie Mefford) was started and shelved several times over the past several years, and the current project has been basically complete for about a year. It just seemed that now was the right time to finish it up and release it.

In Dust Bowls is quite a digression from Dan Craig’s last project Alchemy (reviewed here)–a much more reflective, downtempo effort, with an atmospheric, almost dreamy quality to it (if acoustic folk can be thought of as “dreamy”, then this is what it sounds like). The six songs in progression tell a story of love lost, and found again, and for that reason the songs are best heard together in sequence, rather than individually.

I’ve given this record several spins now, and I like it more and more each time. Dan’s melodies are contagious, his lyricism creative and thought-provoking. In Dust Bowls has been a long time coming, but I for one am glad it is here.

Dan has permitted me to share the first track “Down My Legs” below. If you like it and want to hear more, the record is currently available as a download from Dan’s Bandcamp site, or from iTunes.

Dan Craig: “Down My Legs”


Oct 312011

Photo: Steve Stanton

Back in April of this year, I got the chance to do a profile piece on Denver artist Rachel James for Examiner.com. During that interview, James talked about the difficult year she’d had, and how it was deepening her as a songwriter.

Then, a few weeks ago, she sent me a copy of her new EP Not Giving Up, slated for digital release this week. Listening to this stuff compared to her earlier work, I was honestly blown away. This is nothing short of a quantum leap forward. It’s a short-but-sweet, three-song EP with compelling lyrics and some of the most solid hooks I’ve heard come out of Denver in quite awhile. I seriously can’t listen to the song below (the title cut of the EP) without waking up with it stuck in my head the following morning. This stuff isn’t just good; it’s chart-worthy.

If you happen to be in the Denver area this Friday, Nov. 4, you should come to the Hard Rock Cafe on the Sixteenth Street Mall downtown around 9PM, where Rachel James and her band will be officially releasing the EP at a show benefiting the Susan G. Komen Foundation in the fight against breast cancer–a worthy cause, and one that the EP’s theme suits quite well.

Says James, “This EP is very much about the fight–the fight against the evils in our lives, with ourselves, with God. It is about not giving up. Life is good, and it’s worth the fight to find truth, love and beauty.”

Gauging from the new music, it appears Rachel James’s own fight has paid off.

Rachel James “Not Giving Up”

Oct 092011

So before I tell you about singer/songwriter Stephanie Mabey, a bit of a disclaimer…

Just so you know, I’m a huge believer in crowdfunding projects and sites like Kickstarter, and I’m even down for throwing some money at them myself. But I’ve had some misgivings about promoting artists who are doing Kickstarter campaigns, simply because I am friends with some of these people, and I don’t want to create a conflict of interest or be accused of playing favorites with promising artists who are raising money for their projects–as in, “You promoted so-and-so’s project–why didn’t you support mine?”  I just don’t want to go there.

And yet, this morning, I’m all like, “Well, if I am willing to promote someone’s record on this blog after it was made, how is it any different to promote it before it gets made?” So that made me think of it a little differently.

And then there’s the question: if we don’t do what we can for an artist whose music really ought to be released, perhaps it won’t be–and then where would we be?

The thing is, after hearing a couple of tracks from her upcoming record Waking Up Dreaming, I’m convinced that Stephanie Mabey’s music needs to get out there. She’s very current both in songwriting and in style, and her songs are engaging. The song below, “Zombie Song” (which Stephanie is currently giving away for free), currently has my vote for most entertaining song of the year. It’s inventive, funny, and extremely catchy–not to mention it’s a perfect song for October. :)

So don’t expect me to make a habit of this, but since I suppose it’s my prerogative to support a record “before the fact” or “after the fact”–I’m inviting my readers to participate in this particular campaign. At this moment, Stephanie needs to raise about $1400 in the next week to complete her record, or she basically has to start over with fundraising. So if you dig the track below, hop on over to her Kickstarter page and at least pre-order the record. If you want to do a little more, she’s offering plenty of cool incentives, as well. If we all do our part, “mabey” we can get it done.

Oh, come on. You knew that pun was coming, didn’t you?


ADDENDUM NOVEMBER 1: Not only has Stephanie surpassed her Kickstarter goal, but she’s released a YouTube vid of The Zombie Song which is getting lots of views. Thought I’d stick it here as well:

Sep 062011

When Denver area artist Roniit (say “Ro-NEET”) sent me a link to her self-titled debut CD a few months ago, I was backlogged and told her it would be awhile before I got to it. However, when I did get a listen, I was pleasantly surprised. I put it on my ipod, and have always enjoyed when one of her songs comes up on shuffle.

And now, finally, I have a little time to tell you about it.

Roniit classifies her music as “dark pop,” and the term really fits, in my opinion. It’s electronic music laden with haunting arrangements, minor chords, lots of low tones, and Roniit’s pure-toned voice over the top of it all. Very strong production value for an indie artist, if you ask me–and the overall sound gives me the impression that I’m listening to the music in black-and-white. Not depressing, just a bit melancholy and haunting.

I’ve put in one of my favorite tracks for you to stream below. If you like what you hear, Roniit is currently offering her entire record as a name-your-own-price download from her Bandcamp site.

Roniit: “Now Or Never”

May 152011

Many people might be more familiar with the name Boulder Acoustic Society than they are with the name Aaron Keim. That’s because Boulder Acoustic Society has been making a name for itself as a progressive band in the bluegrass/roots/neo-folk world over the past several years.

But Keim (who happens to be the founder of B.A.S.) goes by yet another moniker when he’s flying solo: The Quiet American. And as The Quiet American, he has just released his second solo project, aptly titled The Quiet American, Vol. II. And if you listen to the record, and know a little of his story, you’ll discover that Aaron Keim is an old soul putting a modern twist on folk.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect to Keim’s work is that he literally brings history to life in the way he tackles his music. First of all–he makes most of his own instruments.  Secondly, the first installment of The Quiet American was initially recorded on a wax cylinder from the 1890’s (the new release uses more modern methods, but has a historic feel, nonetheless). And third–Keim isn’t afraid to weave traditional bluegrass tunes in with his original stuff.  Vol. II has a healthy blend of both.

And yet, somehow in bringing the past to life, by weaving subtle modern indie-rock elements into his stuff, Keim breathes new life into the music–and what is old is new again.  Pretty amazing, when you think about it.

But don’t take my word for it.  Have a listen to the opening track below.

The Quiet American: “I Will Be the One”

Buy The Quiet American, Vol. II on iTunes:
The Quiet American, Vol. II - The Quiet American

Mar 232011

Singer/songwriter Tyler James is a bit of an anomaly.  His bio says he grew up in the Pacific Northwest and in Iowa, and currently hails from Nashville.  But spin his debut record It Took the Fire, and you’d swear he was from Memphis.  And maybe from the 1970s.

Don’t misunderstand–James’ blue-eyed soul has a retro vibe, but it is not dated.  It’s timeless.  Tyler James has managed to draw from the old influences to breathe fresh life into some just plain good music.  Not only are his songs well-crafted, but he delivers his vocals with that kind of smoky rasp that many kindred spirits can only dream about.  And although his music will probably remind you of something you heard years ago, there’s something about it that is fresh and very much “today.”  It’s a new spin on old soul. Don’t ask me how.  Just enjoy it.

Here’s the video for “All I Got,” the opening track of the record.  See what you think.

Buy It Took the Fire at iTunes:

It Took The Fire - Tyler James

Jan 152011

With all the music I listen to in my role as a blogger, one thing I truly enjoy is observing the growth of an artist–to see how a musician progresses from one record to the next.  I love it when the new record is better than the last.

Take Denver-based singer/songwriter Katey Laurel, for instance.  I haven’t reviewed her music before now on this blog, but this new record From Here isn’t the first time I’ve heard her. We first connected about a year ago, when she sent me a copy of her record Upstairs Downstairs, which at that time was already a couple of years old. The songs and the record’s production value were presentable enough, but when she mentioned she was working on some new stuff, I decided to wait to hear what she did next, and review her more current material.

The amount of artistic growth reflected in this new record, compared to the previous one, is nothing short of remarkable. If these two records were pencil marks on the wall, Katey Laurel just grew a foot. The songwriting has taken a quantum leap forward, with well-crafted lyrics and solid melody lines. The arrangements are current. The production value is excellent.  But all that is not even the best part.

Katey Laurel has one of those unmistakable voices that is instantly recognized–a huge plus for any artist, but it can be a double-edged sword, because like a diamond, it really has to be placed in the right setting in order for it to shine.  For me, the most satisfying element of this record is that each of the eight songs on it is an excellent setting for her voice.  Katey’s producer did a fantastic job of making sure her greatest qualities as an artist–both as a vocalist and as a songwriter–have been placed front and center. The result is a set of songs that could easily be pitched for radio airplay.

The songs on From Here are pretty solidly in the AAA market–mainly love songs with a hint of country and even an occasional splash of jazz–so don’t go looking for anything wildly experimental, because that’s not the record’s intent, anyhow. But in my humble opinion, this record marks a personal artistic breakthrough for the artist.  Katey Laurel has taken it to the next level.

Katey Laurel: “Begin Again”

Buy From Here on iTunes:

From Here - Katey Laurel

Nov 162010

Here’s yet another Denver indie artist who is making waves (see my blog tagline above).  Rachel James and her band Brighton Boulevard have been spreading their brand of pop-rock around Denver for awhile now. But those who are familiar with Rachel James’ past musical efforts will find a different tone on the new EP Landing, which officially drops this weekend.

With this set of songs, James takes a more reflective turn than on her previous releases–less driving rock, and more relaxed. After seeing her perform several times with her band around town, my personal take on it is that these new songs really sit better with the band’s current overall vibe right now–kind of like things are fitting into place.  I look forward to hearing these songs played live.

If you’re in the Denver area this weekend and you like what you hear below, you’ll have the chance to catch Rachel James and Brighton Boulevard for the official CD release party. They’re playing at the Soiled Dove Underground this Saturday, November 20, the official day that Landing, um, lands.  Show starts at 9:00 PM.

Rachel James: “We All”

Nov 092010

One cool thing about indie music is the diversity and creativity you find in it.  Two indie acts can easily sound like they are worlds apart.  The flip side, though, is that sometimes indie music can be so far on the creative margins that not many people can relate to it.  It takes a certain amount of skill to be both creative and accessible as an indie artist.

Listening to Dead Letters, the latest release from indie-pop/rock artist Joshua Novak, I’m finding that combination. This is a nine-song collection of original tunes, creatively arranged and well-executed, carrying just a hint of a retro vibe, all overlaid with Novak’s signature falsetto vocals. The cool thing about the songs is that musically, they don’t leave you scratching your head going, “What was that?” They are accessible and singable, and they play well both in the background or in the foreground.

The first sample I put below underscores probably the best part about this record.  It’s a simple arrangement–only vocal and guitar, with just a bit of percussion.  My point?  It’s a good song; it plays well without a lot of bells and whistles.  And that’s the nature of the songwriting on this record. There are a lot of creative arrangements, but the record doesn’t rely on those.  Good songs are the backbone of a good record.  And this one has a solid backbone.

Joshua Novak: “Tidal Wave”

Joshua Novak: “New Start”

Dead Letters - Joshua Novak

Oct 052010
Laura Brehm

Singer/songwriter Laura Brehm. (Photo: Parker Rice)

For a young singer/songwriter barely 20 years old, Denver local artist Laura Brehm is already somewhat of a veteran in the indie music field.  With two full-length recordings already to her credit, Brehm has been playing the Denver local music scene for nearly four years now.  Growing up in a musical family, she says she knew by age six that she wanted to be a musician, but didn’t really “go public” until age 16 when some friends encouraged her to record some songs she’d written. Her latest CD, Dreams, came out this summer.

Besides playing at this summer’s Underground Music Showcase, a personal high point for Brehm came when she landed the opening slot for the Heart concert at Denver’s Paramount Theater in August. “I’m not exactly sure how that happened, but I’m glad it did,”  says Brehm, smiling.

Her booking agent tells her that he was approached with a request from Heart for an acoustic opening set by a local songwriter, and that Heart personally selected Brehm out of a number of artists whose demos the booking agent sent them.  Although Brehm’s acoustic pop style is dramatically different from Heart, she grabbed the attention of the crowd with the first song and quickly won them over.

With Brehm’s permission, I’ve included a couple of the songs from her latest release below.  Both her albums are available on iTunes. See what you think.

Laura Brehm: “Fall In Love”

Laura Brehm: “The Sunrise”