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Artist of the Month
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December 2015
Mikal Shapiro
"The Musical
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Singer-songwriter Mikal Shapiro’s perfectly titled latest release, The Musical, is a collection of not merely songs, but 10 short stories set to wonderful music. The album is a work—or multiple works—of art that are just as mysterious and intriguing as any paintings you will find in a gallery. Shapiro’s palette is splattered with the complete spectrum of colors. There are dreary gray tones and bright whimsical flashes, melding together to create a soundtrack to life—one that touches many musical genres, including rock, folk, jazz, old-school country, and even gospel.
 
The Musical's opening act, “Nope,” is an airy, ethereal fantasy. Odd, evasive lyrics over a folk sound made jazzier by a muted trumpet give the listener a sense of drifting in and out of a dream on a rainy Sunday morning. Drums and crashing cymbals briefly end the slumber, until you are lulled back to sleep as the song comes to a close. Several tracks share this jazz feel, including “Out on the Town,” “Two String Blues,” and the wonderfully whimsical "Hot Cool." Shapiro's vocals are poised and effortless on each of these. 
 
“Here and Now” explores rediscovering love and a desire to forget (or never remember) the past. A dull snare beat blanketed by beautiful steel guitar rivals the purest of cry-in-your-beer country songs. Similarly, “This Way to Heaven” is country with an emphasis on gospel. It begins a cappella and, as the band joins in, becomes the loveliest song on the album. It is simultaneously serene and haunting.
 
Matching the mystery and irony found throughout the album, “Daniel,” the catchiest and most up-tempo tune, is also possibly the saddest. Daniel himself is an enigma. The storyteller, who acknowledges being a “friend” of Daniel’s, clearly knows little more about him than that he can “sleep like a Christian” and “drink like a demon.” The song turns dark when the protagonist is found dead, presumably by suicide. “But on that Saturday, Daniel was down / They couldn’t say where he was found, or how he was found.” Brilliantly, the listener is left to decide how Daniel may have met his demise, and why.  
 
Shapiro is fortunate to be backed by Chad Brothers (guitar and vocals), Johnny Hamil (electric and double bass), and Matt Richey (drums), along with a small army of additional local musicians. This adept team provides a canvas that Shapiro expertly fills. My interpretations of The Musical may differ from other listeners. As with any painting, the artist is not only revealing her emotions, but is also attempting to provoke a response—and Shapiro certainly does. My response may be lost in translation, as the peculiar, personal songs will pierce each listener differently.

--Brad Scott  

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Album review: Appropriate Grammar - Lies and Stories

Album review: Appropriate Grammar - Lies and Stories

There’s some music that’s intricately intertwined with the feeling you get from a weekend whiskey binge. From the initial burn of the first drink to the last sip of the bottle, the emotions and thoughts that drive that binge are have long been subjects for great storytelling and songwriting. Appropriate Grammar’s release Lies and Stories is the musical equivalent to a weekend whiskey bender, if there was a universe where you could drink whiskey all weekend and still speak with eloquent clarity.

This 10-song set rambles on like the smartest heartbroken drunk you’ve ever met. Lyrically speaking, this is one of the better releases I’ve heard in awhile, so much so that I stopped during some songs to go back and catch a line again. With varied stories of fighting all night with a significant other ("Lover’s Quarrel") to dealing with an existential crisis ("Chosen Children"), the lyrical palette of this album reflects a wandering spirit coming to terms with the human experience. And it rocks.

Fast-paced shuffles by drummer Steve Gardels and jangling, well-placed guitar hooks by Alex Dunsford provide an inspiring platform for Nick McKenna’s cool and seemingly calculated vocal delivery. Bassist and vocalist Claire Adams adds color to many of these songs, particularly "High and Lonely," which gives the album some breathing room with a beautiful duet. In a weekend binge scenario, this is the song you’re listening to when the bottle runs dry, it’s time to go to bed, but you have no idea where you are or how to get home.

Not many bands can pull off rollicking, melodic songs that are emotional, smart and fun without coming off as being pretentious or downright aggravating, but Appropriate Grammar seems to have a formula down that works well for what they are doing, like an Old-Fashioned served with just the right amount of bitters.

-Mike Tipton

Mike is a KC native that enjoys new music and playing with his band, Molly Picture Club. He also enjoys people watching and documentaries by Ken Burns.

 

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