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.

Album Review: Ivan & Alyosha – All The Times We Had

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Ivan & AlyoshaAll The Times We Had
Dualtone Music Group
Release Date: February 26, 2013
Recommended if you like: Dawes, River City Extension, Rogue Valley

6 years is a long time for a band to wait to release their debut album. Ivan & Alyosha has released three EPs to date, and is finally releasing their first full length album, All The Times We Had, on February 26 through the Dualtone Music Group. The band name originated from the classic Russian novel The Brothers Karamazov, by the famed author and psychologist Fyodor Dostoyevsky. In 2010, Ivan & Alyosha made an appearance at South by Southwest where they garnered much attention playing at NPR’s All Songs Considered SXSW Preview. The band has been touted with having religious tinges with a very folksy feel to the music. In an interview with NPR in 2011, lead singer Tim Wilson said “This is our best attempt at the Johnny Cash bruiser gospel song. There’s a scripture that says, ‘Everything you do, do it to the glory of God.’ … In a sense, we’re coming from that kind of background, but we wanted to write something a little bit more interesting and a little bit more out of the ordinary to your typical gospel song.”

The opening track “Be Your Man” hits you hard and fast, with the vocals standing out from the beginning. Wilson sings loud and free, proclaiming “I wanna be the man who gets you all the presents underneath your Christmas tree. Well, they’re all from me. And I wanna be the boy who runs and tells his baby every time he skins his knee, or breaks his toe. I wanna be your boy.” The hard hitting drums and slide guitar riff quickly follow up the first verse, engraining the tune deeper into your head with every snare drum hit.

The song that helped bring the band to NPR fame and certainly a fan favorite is “Easy to Love.” Its catchy lyrics usher in a warm feeling into the song that is partnered with the reverb-drenched guitar strumming away in the background. Like a fine wine, this song has become increasingly better as time has passed. The song has moved from a cute acoustic song about love to a well produced song filled with great instrumentation that still focuses on the strong vocals. The evolution of this song has certainly showed the growth and maturity of the band.

The lead single for the release is “Running For Cover.” From the beginning, the feel brings you to a place sonically similar to Dawe’s 2009 release North Hills. The gorgeous harmonies in the chorus, the arpeggiated chords on the guitar and the folky march of the snare are the perfect combination for a head bopping song such as this.

Easily one of the most spiritual songs on the album, “God or Man” is a song talking about their struggle to stay strong in their faith and beliefs through everything that they do. Written almost as an apology to God, Wilson spends the bridge pleading, “Sorry, oh I’m sorry for the things that I have done. I never meant to hurt you and I never meant to run. Everybody’s telling me which way I should go. Believe me when I tell you man, that I already know.”

Track after track stands out on this incredibly well written album, making it well worth the wait for those who have been Ivan & Alyosha fans since the beginning. Despite being in a genre of music that is notoriously known for melancholy lyrics, the uplifting spirit in many of these songs brings a ray of hope to listeners and fellow songwriters.

Rating: 8.8/10

You can stream the album from NPR as well as pre-order the album on iTunes or Amazon. You can also follow Ivan & Alyosha on Twitter or like them on Facebook.

Album Review: The Lone Bellow – The Lone Bellow

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The Lone BellowThe Lone Bellow
Descendant Records
Release Date – January 22, 2012

Recommended if you like: The Civil Wars, The Lumineers, Dawes

Some of you may have heard from prior sources like Billboard and NPR, but The Lone Bellow has the potential to be the next breakout artist in 2013. What you may not heard about is the catastrophic road that lead to lead singer Zach Williams’ singing career. Several years ago, Williams’ wife was in a near-fatal horse riding accident which left her a quadriplegic. In a desperate attempt to cope with the situation, Williams began writing entries in his journal. After sharing his entries with some friends, they encouraged him to put music to these poignant entries and sing them at a local open mic. Shortly thereafter, his wife miraculously recovered and they decided to move New York City so he could try his hand at music. Now joined by mandolin player Kanene Pipkin and guitarist Brian Elmquist, The Lone Bellow are on their way to becoming the new indie darlings of the music world. With the help of legendary producer Charlie Peacock (The Civil Wars, Jon Foreman), this is definitely an album that will be on countless “Top Albums of 2013” lists.

From the opening notes of “Green Eyes And A Heart Of Gold,” the three part harmonies hit you in a way most modern music cannot. When the first verse arrives, Williams’ voice breaks into the forefront and belts out the lyrics behind a bed of lap steel guitar, rolling bass notes, and the drum kit pounding like a roaring train. “Two Sides Of Lonely” is a heart wrenching song about betrayal and tragedy. The ebb and flow of the song makes the song so much more powerful, with the soft intro, the heavy middle, and the soft outro.

The first single from the album, “You Never Need Nobody,” is a great selection and arguably the most accessible song on the debut. A song about love and rejection, the chorus sings out “You never need nobody, you never been alone. And I try to get your affection, and all I ever do is wrong.” The song certainly reminds you of the country your grandparents listened to, with a modern spin put on it. The final chorus with the banjo, piano, and guitar ringing out chords while the trio cries out in perfect harmony with a sound that is sure to give you chills. The rest of the album is filled with one tremendous song after another, ranging from the next great country hit “You Don’t Love Me Like You Used To,” to the incredibly catchy “Bleeding Out,” to the rock and roll tune “The One You Should’ve Let Go.”

The story of The Lone Bellow is one that every aspiring independent artists is dying to have written about them, and it’s wonderful to see another great band seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. We can only hope that many other great artists like The Lone Bellow will have their day in 2013.

Rating: 9.0/10

You can listen to the entire album streaming on NPR’s website and you can pre-order the album on Amazon and iTunes. You can also like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter.