Short Review Series: The Avett Brothers – Magpie and the Dandelion

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The Avett BrothersMagpie and the Dandelion
American Recordings

RIYL: Trampled by Turtles, Old Crow Medicine Show, Langhorne Slim
Must-Hear Songs: Open-Ended Life, Another is Waiting, Vanity

Grade: A

Formed in 2000, brothers Seth and Scott Avett formed their alt-country/bluegrass band and have wasted no time releasing 12 full length records and EPs over the last 13 years. In fact, the release between 2012’s Carpenter is separated by a mere 13 months from their newest album Magpie and the Dandelion. The quick turnaround does not lose any quality, with the brothers putting out quite possibly their best record to date. Magpie and the Dandelion does a great job of showcasing the Avett Brothers’ ability to go from upbeat banjo-filled songs like “Another is Waiting” to piano ballads like “Good To You” and everything in between. If you were a fan of banjos before it was cool, you’ll love this record. If you just recently discovered how awesome bluegrass music can be, this highly accessible record can certainly provide a foothold into a magical genre of music.

Buy it on Amazon or iTunes.

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Short Review Series: The Head and the Heart – Let’s Be Still

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The Head and the HeartLet’s Be Still
Subpop Records

RIYL: The Lumineers, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Dawes
Must-Hear Songs: Homecoming Heroes, Shake

Grade: C

The acoustic guitar/piano/three part harmonies sound is one the staple of today’s indie folk scene, and The Head and the Heart did it with great success in their eponymous debut released in 2011. However, the band felt that the new release required some growth sonically. With Let’s Be Still, it seems they tried a little too much on some of the songs, especially songs like “Summertime” and “Fire/Fear.” These two attempt to really change your perspective on their sound, but leave you scratching your head wondering what went wrong. Overall, the record is worth a listen, but it gets a little stale after the lead single “Shake.” As terrific as the debut record was, it looks like they built up the anticipation a bit too much for another stellar release.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H2hkZbVsrPY]

Buy it on Amazon or iTunes.

Short Review Series: Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of The City

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Vampire WeekendModern Vampires of the City
XL Recordings

RIYL: Arcade Fire, Haim, Passion Pit
Must-Hear Songs: Unbelievers, Diane Young, Hannah Hunt

Grade: A

It’s hard to deny how catchy Vampire Weekend’s hits were from previous records. Songs like A-Punk, M79, and Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa are beyond catchy, but it’s understandable that you want a record full of songs this catchy. Luckily, their latest release provides you with that wish. Song after song is better than the next, truly elevating their sound to become more than just the darlings of indie music. With the release of this record, Vampire Weekend has solidified their place in the top ranks of the best indie rock bands of this decade. Ranging from dance songs like Diane Young to somber introspective songs like Hannah Hunt and everything in between, this album is chocked full of fantastic songs that show off their remarkable growth in songwriting. This one is sure to make a lot of end of year lists.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2_qKmTLbEPc]

Buy it on Amazon or iTunes.

Album Review: St. Lucia – When The Night

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St. LuciaWhen The Night
Columbia Records
Release Date – October 8th, 2013

Recommended if you like: Peter Gabriel, Ghost Beach, Charli XCX

Some songs have a way of sticking with you in an indescribable way. The first time you listen to the opening of St. Lucia’s single “Elevate,” odds are you had that feeling, too. Was it the opening synth riff? Was it the incredible bass line peaking its head out during the verses? Was it the huge gang vocals singing the chorus at the end of the song? Whatever it was for you, the catchiness of this lead single was unbelievable. After hearing this song and a handful of others on previous EPs, excitement exuded about the full release coming out.

What tends to happen when an EP precedes a full release is that the previously released tracks are the best ones on the album. While this is certainly not a new thing to do to artists releasing their major label debut, it’s an unfortunate one for previous fans.

This review should not be read as a disappointment towards St. Lucia, but comes as somewhat of a warning to returning fans expecting an album full of brand new songs. While the old songs like “Closer Than This” and “We Got It Wrong” continue to sound terrific, unfortunately the new songs have a harder time sticking their landing.

It would not be surprising to hear some of these songs take off on Top 40 radio, especially with the backing of a major label as strong as Columbia. With someone as talented as Jean-Philip Grobler, he certainly deserves all the attention he can garner. While this debut release has its hits and misses, the hits are most certainly grand slams.

You can order the album on Amazon. You can also like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.

Album Review: Campfire OK – When You Have Arrived

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Campfire OK When You Have Arrived
Fugitive Records
Release Date: September 17th, 2013

Recommended if you like: Deep Sea Diver, Rogue Valley, Bombadil

When a relatively unknown band goes on tour with a very recognizable act, there are essentially two routes the band can take. The first way is to feel overwhelmed by the headliner and just do your best to put on a good show. The second is to put all your cards on the table, play the best show of your life every night, and let people walk away wondering which band was the opener and which was the closer. When Campfire OK toured with Anberlin this summer, crowds raved about their live show and were ecstatic to hear the new songs recorded. For first time listeners of Campfire OK, you’ll find it difficult to put your finger on what exactly to call their music. Whether you call it indie folk, bluegrass, or indie pop, there is no doubt that this is some of the most creative and well crafted music to come out this year.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SBTsV0lKYTQ]

Over a year ago, the band released a music video for their song “Wishing You The Best” and put it on YouTube. It’s modest view count does give the incredibly well crafted video the justice it deserves. The song showcases Andrew Eckes’ rolling banjo that is prevalent on most of the record as well as lead singer Mychal Cohen’s unique baritone voice. The hypnotic bass drum complements the lyrics in a way to bring them to the front row of the song as Cohen sings out “And I’m sorry if I was overbearing, but I didn’t mean it. But you’re so pretty, I couldn’t hold back, I couldn’t help it.

Song after song provides a slightly different sound on the indie rock spectrum, offering up plenty for new fans to love. The song “New Tradition” takes a step back from the banjo and brings in some Wilco-esque electric guitar as Cohen and background vocalist Zarni DeWet sing the majority of the song together in stunning harmony.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KVc4vOXE3s8]

The lyrics on each song are just as magnificent as the instrumentation. The title track is near the end of the record, but certainly does not lack in content. The title “When You Have Arrived” is in reference to meeting the expectations of other people, especially from their personal standpoint of being an independent musician. In the chorus, he asks, “Do you know who I am? Do you know what I want? Tell me what it’s like to rise. Tell me how it feels to be admired, and tell me how you know when you’ve arrived.” He puts things into perspective with the second verse as he honestly says, “Oh, gentle sir, don’t you know how our lives are mirrors where we see clearer. I am the man selling roses on your street corner for two small dollars, and I am the man pouring coffee at 6 A.M. for your high school daughters.” The earnest lyrics leave you thinking twice about the work and dedication independent artists like Campfire OK put into their art in order to make a living doing what they love.

You can order the album on Amazon and iTunes. You can also like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter.

Song of the Week: John Mayer’s “Wildfire”

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“Wildfire”
John MayerParadise Valley
Columbia Records

If you ask John Mayer, he’s a completely changed man. After a throat injury that nearly ended his career, he has a new found respect and love the for the art of singing and songwriting. “I don’t drink really anymore. I warm up before I sing. I warm down,” he says in an interview with the Associated Press. “I do whatever I can. I don’t want to lose that part of my life again.”

Mayer strikes gold with the release of his new album Paradise Valley and starts it off with “Wildfire.” The upbeat song welcomes you to the new sound he brings to the table. Part country, part blues, this song showcases Mayer’s carefully cared for vocals and his always impressive guitar playing. This song is sure to leave you tapping your foot and the rest of the record will remind you of why John Mayer is one of our generation’s greatest songwriters.

You can download the song for FREE below.

You can also download John Mayer’s newest album on iTunes or Amazon, as well as like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.

FREE DOWNLOAD

(To download song, right click link and select “Save Link As…”)

Album Review: Matt Wertz – Heatwave

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Matt WertzHeatwave
Handwritten Records
August 27th 2013

Recommended if you like: Ben Rector, Augustana, Kenny Loggins

The love for music always originates from the artists we first hear performing it. Whether it was hearing Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and Boston playing on the classic rock station, or perhaps Boyz II Men and *NSYNC on the Top 40 station, these influential musicians permeate the sound of music still being written and produced today. For Matt Wertz, he took those influences to the next level with his latest release Heatwave.

Wertz, who is known for his acoustic guitar driven love songs, takes a different direction that has the potential to throw off first time listeners. For casual fans who may be more familiar with songs like “5:19” or “Everything’s Right,” this album may sound like it’s out of left field. However, those fans who follow Wertz closely see this album as both an outlet and a growing opportunity for his already stellar sound.

This release from Wertz is somewhat of a themed album, taking on the sound of the instantly recognizable 80s soft rock music made popular by artists like Kenny Loggins, Don Henley, and Bryan Adams. The lead single “Get To You” is a perfect mix of  Wertz’s songwriting and vocals with that great 80s electric guitar. The music video is a terrific parody of the former pop culture and features cameos from fellow Nashville singer-songwriters Ben Rector and Steve Moakler.

Song after song hits home with that sound he was looking to get from this record, including outstanding songs like “Last Good Girl” and the pop ballad “Whenever You Love Somebody.” The jangling guitars on “Shine” show heavy influence of Don Henley and his time with The Eagles.

While Heatwave is certainly geared towards being a themed record, Wertz shows off his spectacular songwriting skills with the closing song “Thing About Freedom” that takes a step back from the synths and drums. In the chorus of the song he sings, “I’m downright evil, deeper down I’m good. There are things I’ve done I swore I never would. The thing about freedom that’s so misunderstood, just because you can doesn’t mean you should.”

Heatwave is certainly a fun record, but Wertz certainly doesn’t spend all this time working hard on it so that it may be taken lightly. This is a well written record from top to bottom and will undoubtedly be one that stays in your late summer rotation.

You can order the album on Amazon and iTunes. You can also like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.