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”

Dec 242011
 

Playing catch-up? Read part 1, part 2 and part 3.

Okay, okay. I know I said the Top Picks would be announced yesterday…sorry about that. It’s the holidays, and I do have ¬†a family. ‘Nuff said. :)

As I mentioned before, I’m listing some of my favorite Denver acts and songs for 2011. Up until now, pretty much all the songs on the list have been in random order, but to finish off the series, I’ve saved my three Top Picks for last–the songs that stood out even beyond the standouts.

I initially was going to do this series as a Top 10 from least to greatest, but decided to do it this way because I just had too many favorites to rank them in order. (On a Top 10 list, these three songs would have all tied for first place, leaving only a bottom seven…and that wouldn’t have worked.) :D

So without further delay…here are my Top Picks among the Denver Locals for 2011.

Stephanie Mabey: “Zombie Song”

A love song about zombies? On the Top Picks? You betchee. You’d think this song would just be a fun fluke, but it just happens to be the wittiest, hookiest, funniest, most clever, most funnest zombie song I have ever heard. Never mind the mixed metaphors about vampires in love–this song is just too cool. I actually had the opportunity to hear this song played for a panel of industry pros at the Durango Songwriter’s Expo, and watching the reaction of the group was almost as fun as the song itself. Stephanie Mabey’s full-length record isn’t due out until early January, but the single was released just in time for Halloween–happily making it eligible for the list.

Churchill: “Change”

Yes, for those who are paying attention, Churchill already has a song on this list. Churchill has had a really good year–releasing a solid debut CD, opening for DeVotchKa at The Ogden, and recently winning the KTCL Hometown for the Holidays competition with their new single “Change,” released just this month. Current, catchy, and just plain cool, this song is a whole other direction for Churchill, and a huge leap forward, in my opinion. After hearing this tune, I simply had to make room for it on the Top Picks.

Rachel James: ¬†“Not Giving Up”

From the moment I heard this song by pop/rock artist Rachel James, I knew it had to be at or near the top of my list. What can I say–I’m a sucker for a great hook, and this song has the strongest hook I’ve heard from Denver musicians all year. Anytime I hear it, I seriously find myself replaying it in my head for about 24 hours afterward–not in an irritating “Moves Like Jagger” kind of way, but in a really good way. It always makes me smile when I see musical artists move forward–and with this song, Rachel James has made me smile a lot.

Rachel James “Not Giving Up”

So there it is–my list of the Best of Denver Locals 2011. Kudos to the artists of the Denver music scene for all the great music, and for giving me so much to write about this year.

Happy Holidays to all.

Dec 212011
 

Take to the Oars. (Photo: Lucia de Giovanni)

Continuing our recap of some of the best music to come out of Denver this year…here are a couple more of my personal picks for this year’s standouts.

Take to the Oars: “Bar Talk”

After rocking Denver for several years under the moniker “Vonnegut,” indie-rockers Take to the Oars took a risk and lunged into uncharted waters in 2011 with a name change and a new album (reviewed here). I’ve seen these guys play a few times this year, and I’ve been particularly impressed with the passion behind their music, as well as their solid work ethic. After having their tunes in my shuffle for the better part of this year, this song is the one that stands out as the most memorable.

Take to the Oars: “Bar Talk”

Churchill: “Happy Sad”

I’ve made it no secret that I’ve had a serious blogger crush on Churchill since I first heard them play two years ago, and I’ve heard them do nothing but improve and grow since then. Their first full-length record Happy/Sad was released in February (read my review here), I’ve been enjoying tunes from it all year. I was all set to list their main single from the album, “Miles,” but at the last minute I went with the title track at the end of the record, because of the raw emotion in it. They definitely saved the best for last.

Churchill: “Happy Sad”

Still more great bands to come! Stay tuned…

Dec 202011
 

Denver act I'm With Her. (Photo: Lucia de Giovanni)

It’s no secret that while I spotlight music from all over the world on this blog, I’m a particular fan of the Denver music scene. I’ve covered the music scene here for Examiner.com for a couple of years, and I’ve become friends with a lot of the local talent–and we do have some great talent here, IMHO.

So…’tis the season for end-of-the-year lists, and I thought I’d jump onto the wagon this year by sharing a few of the Denver bands/songs I thought were standouts for 2011. I initially thought I’d just do a Top 10 list or something, but I found it a bit difficult to place certain songs above others–too many “ties”–so I thought the best way not to slight anyone was just to list them in no particular order (except for a couple of honorable mentions at the end of this series), and share them in a series of four parts. So if you’re part of a Denver band and you’re on this list, know that this means you’ve earned my respect, regardless of where you appear on the list. And if you’re not on the list–chances are you still have my respect. I just had room for 10. :)

That said, here are some basic criteria I set up to be eligible for this list. If a local band met these criteria, I considered them for the list:

1. It had to be a band/artist from the Front Range area (i.e., Denver, Boulder, Ft. Collins, Co. Springs).

2. I had to be familiar with the band/artist. (Duh.)

3. The song had to be released (either as a single or part of a project) in 2011.

4. I had to be able to access the song for sharing/streaming.

Fair enough, right? So…here are the first three of my picks for the Best of Denver Locals 2011:

The Heyday: “Somebody to Someone”

Pop/rock outfit The Heyday has been a staple in Denver for several years, regularly placing at or near the top in local band competitions. This single was released a few weeks ago as an entry in KTCL’s annual Hometown for the Holidays competition, and in my opinion it is their best work to date–so it comes in as a last-minute favorite for the year.

Wire Faces: “Cloak and Dagger”

I haven’t had a chance to see Wire Faces live yet, but I was impressed with their record (which I reviewed here earlier this year)–and this song in particular has stayed in my head, and on my ipod, pretty much since.

I’m With Her: “Let Me In”

When Denver country-folk artist Angie Stevens teamed up with Haley E. Rydell (formerly of South Dakota, recently moved to Denver) to form I’m With Her earlier this year, I immediately liked the chemistry and the vibe. This tune has been my personal fave on their EP (reviewed here), and stayed on my playlist all year long.

More to come over the next few days! Stay tuned…

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”

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

Feb 252011
 

When I was contacted by someone from Lindsay Aline‘s team to review her 2009 self-titled record, I have to admit I was a little skeptical. Taking a look at the website and reading the self-written bio, I couldn’t help but think, Oh, great–another young girl who thinks she’s got it.

Yeah, I know it sounds jaded. You want me to be honest, right? (Chalk it up to a combination of first impressions and the fact that I really do wade through a lot of sub-par material to find the good stuff.)

So then I listened to the sample track, and I had another impression….what’s the word?…

Stunned.

Yes, that’s it. ¬†Stunned. ¬†Surprised. ¬†(Pleasantly surprised.) And put right in my place. ¬†This girl has got it.

So I wrote the guy back and said, “Yes, yes YES, please let me review the album.” (Actually, I was a bit more professional and collected. But still.)

Listening to Lindsay Aline’s record, I’m reminded of so many things, but with whole different spin. There are elements that remind me of Enya, Evanescence, a female Josh Groban, and just about any female singer on any recent Disney animated film–it’s a piano-driven blend of classical, pop, Broadway and just a bit of jazz, but done in a contemporary style that will definitely appeal to a wide audience. ¬†I kept feeling like I’d heard this girl before–but I knew I hadn’t actually heard this before. It’s a great combination of the familiar and the new. Well-produced, smartly arranged, and captivating.

That said, there’s only one glaring flaw I can find with the record. ¬†The track “Belong”? Doesn’t. Amid all these intriguing classi-pop sounds is this blase song in the middle that just kind of sits there and doesn’t fit the overall vibe of the rest of the album. At all. ¬†They’d do just as well to delete that song on any reprints of the CD, and they’d have a much more consistent and cohesive package.

Having said that, Lindsay Aline has demonstrated a solid vocal presence on this record, and tons of potential. It takes a lot of skill to successfully tackle this kind of genre-blending, especially with the classical elements involved. Because of the sheer magnitude of what she’s undertaking here, I can’t say Lindsay Aline has arrived–but she’s close. With a bit more maturity (both in sound and image), this girl has the makings of a world-class artist.

I’ve included the first track of the record, “Reach,” which I feel has the best of all the elements in the record. It’s also the track that won me over and got me to review the record in the first place. This album is definitely worth getting and listening to.

Lindsay Aline: “Reach”

Buy Lindsay Aline on iTunes:
Illusion - Lindsay Aline

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