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brad scott

Album review: Mat Shoare - Mirror Music no. 1

As the title suggests, Mat Shoare’s latest release, Mirror Music no. 1, is about reflection. “The songs are all linked to my last full-length Right as Rain, and draw on the same themes: abandonment, bitterness, and repressed anger,” he states. While Shoare’s description may sound like a recipe for a suicidal symphony, most of the music on the four-song EP is surprisingly upbeat and even approaching optimistic. This may be because Shoare says he is closing the book on this period of songwriting, and has plenty of new, less miserable topics to begin sharing.
 
The EP opens with “I-Yi-Yi,” a mellow yet poppy tune with a solid groove. I-yi-yi is a clever play on aye-yi-yi, the outdated term used to express sadness, hopelessness, anger, or frustration (you may have heard your grandmother say this when you were a kid). The song deals with frustration over things not going as planned, yet the realization that the circumstances could be worse. It’s about waiting and yearning, yet understanding the need for patience. It’s a commentary on life as most of us know it. “It’s not going better, but it’s not going worse / It’s not going good, but it’s not going bad.” Through reflection, Shoare decides to make the best of things, ending the song singing “I-yi-yi-yi-yi-yi-yi-yi” in a cheery, so-be-it kind of way. We could all stand to look at life like this.
 
“One of My Songs,” the second track, is probably the most listener-friendly. It is about breaking up with a girl, and is both a jab at the woman (or women) as well as possibly a bit of self-deprecation from Shoare. “Now you’re just a girl in one of my songs / Please sing along if you’ve heard this one before.” As with “I-Yi-Yi,” this potentially blue topic is in no way a ballad. Instead it is almost a doo-wop song, complete with Beatles-esque background vocals and a clap track. Shoare shows off his musical talents by playing all of the instruments on the recording. “All About You” is similarly upbeat, yet with a totally different sound. It starts with a drumbeat that could be mistaken for Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition,” and is layered with jazz chords and a driving bass.
 
The only gloomy song is the fourth and final cut, “Real Woman.” Truly lo-fi, it is simply Shoare playing an acoustic guitar while crooning about a relationship lost. Sticking with the theme of the record, he reflects and realizes his mistakes—and what traits constitute a good (or bad) companion. “If I had known how much you would hurt me / I would have been with a real woman.” Despite being barely over a minute long, “Real Woman” is a perfect goodbye. It touches on remorse, but focuses on the resolve to move on to better things.
 
Like life, Mirror Music no. 1 isn’t perfect, but perhaps Shoare and his band (Evan Ashby on guitar, Ross Brown on bass, and Ryan Carr on drums) intended it that way. There is a constant yin-yang, showing how opposites can be complementary. It’s dark and light, sad and happy, and ultimately gives listeners something that is strangely inspiring, given the subject matter. It’s an ending to one place in Shoare’s life, and a peek at happier things to come.
 
--Brad Scott
Brad loves music, Boulevard beer, and his family. Not necessarily in that order.
 
 

Shoare will be touring in support of the album starting tonight in Columbia at Café Berlin. Facebook event page. You can also check out his website for other upcoming dates at matshoare.com.   

December 2015
Mikal Shapiro
"The Musical
"
mp3
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  

Album review: Mikal Shapiro - The Musical

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 “sings 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
Brad loves music, Boulevard beer, and his family. Not necessarily in that order.
 
Mikal Shapiro and her band will be playing The Musical tomorrow (Thursday) night at Harling’s Upstairs as well as releasing copies of the album on vinyl. Special guests Claire and the Crowded Stage and The Hardship Letters. Facebook event page

 

Album review: Thunderclaps - Cookin' Up A Good Time

Before listening to the new Thunderclaps’ Cookin’ Up a Good Time EP, I had never actually heard the band. I knew a little bit about them—mostly that they’re a two-piece comprised of cousins Bryce Jones (guitar and vocals) and Colin Blunt (drums). As a bass player, I must admit that I tend to lose interest when I find out a band is sans bass. This probably isn’t fair. The first of the record’s three tracks, “So Lonesome,” begins with isolated laughter. I wondered why, until I heard the rest of the EP. Now I get it…the joke’s on me. This is great stuff.
 
“So Lonesome” is a song your grandparents wish they could have heard at the sock hop. A true throwback to the ‘50s, when rock and roll was still being defined, it is full-throttle rockabilly that has a simply irresistible energy. Jones’ guitar and vocals share a gritty but warm distorted twang. Blunt’s tenacious yet tight drumming is on the mark and fills the sound. You’ll be tapping your toes—if not dancing—to this ditty.
 
The closing track, “Shake It,” shares the verve and vigor of “So Lonesome,” but the driving beat and even gooier guitar tone gives it an almost surf sound. This may be the most potent tune on the record, thanks to the drums and guitar quieting to a whisper while Jones chants, “Oh ah a whoppa bam boom mama,” leading into a crescendo consisting only of sticky, reverb-dripping vocals. Despite sounding like it came from an old album purchased at an estate sale, “Shake It” could easily create an impromptu mosh pit in a live setting. It’s fun. It’s fast. It’s cool, daddy-o.
 
Between these two offerings is the slow dance number, “You Got a Hold On Me.” It’s a love song and a breath of fresh air strategically placed inside of two powerhouses. Jones softly sings about love from afar with someone he can’t have—or who won’t have him. “You got a hold on me / But I never held you.” Much more than a filler, the music is nicely crafted with a gentle pulse and smooth guitar punctuated with full ringing chords. It is literally and figuratively the heart of the EP.
 
Cookin’ Up a Good Time will appeal to multiple generations. It will be a blast from the past to some, and something totally new to others. At the end of the day it’s just good music—and good music is timeless. Pablo Picasso said, “Good artists copy, great artists steal.” Maybe one could argue that the best artists inspire others. Thunderclaps have clearly been inspired by past artists, and have borrowed from them to create something very relevant today.
 
 
--Brad Scott
Brad loves music, Boulevard beer, and his family. Not necessarily in that order.
 
 

Shake it with Thunderclaps this Saturday at Jackpot Saloon in Lawrence. They’ll be there with The Quivers and Old Grey Dog. Facebook event page 

Album review: The Old No. 5s - Steam

The Old No. 5s’ second album, Steam, is first and foremost a blues record. But it shouldn't be pigeonholed. A self-proclaimed rock/roots trio, members Brock Alexander (guitar/lead vocals), Derek Tucker (bass/vocals), and Aaron Thomas (percussion/vocals) prove they can play the blues with the best of them, but also have the chops to bust out some serious soul, bring the funk, or simply construct a nice power pop song.
 
The majority of the 11 tracks are fairly straightforward blues rockers, beginning with the album's first song, “Going Nowhere.” A perfect appetizer, it gives listeners a taste of what can be heard throughout the album: solid vocals, nimble guitar, and one of the best rhythm sections you'll find on a local or national release this year. There is an undeniable Stevie Ray Vaughan influence on this and several of the other true blues tunes, including “Starting to Show,” “Easy,” and the harder rocking “Hill Country.” While few guitarists can match his licks, Alexander certainly dials in Vaughan's tone, and has plenty of salty riffs himself.
 
Alexander's vocal style varies. On “Easy” he is confident and powerful, channeling a cocky Jimi Hendrix. He shows off a deep soul sound during “Keep Lovin' Me Baby.” On “Little Man,” a jazzier number, he is a bit more transparent and vulnerable, much like a young John Mayer. While he is very capable at each, I couldn't help wondering which one is Alexander’s real voice.
 
The standout track on Steam has to be “Barn Party.” A tightly wound ball of energy, it combines ferocious slide guitar (sounding very similar in this case to a pedal steel), brilliant bass, and a shuffling beat to create foot-stomping fun. Reminiscent of Robert Randolph and the Family Band, it starts uptempo and only gets faster, ending at a blistering pace. Be sure to have your air instruments handy for this one.

The Old No. 5s display a more unique style on the album's final track, “Just the Way I Am.” While remaining true to the band's bluesy vibe, the song has a catchy pop sensibility—with an impressive jam in the middle—and should appeal to a wide audience. The trio seems to find their own identity here, something I hope to hear more of on future recordings. 
 
Steam is filled with truly fantastic music that taps into several genres. The songwriting and execution is top-notch. The expertise and use of each instrument, tempo changes, and drawn-out solos make it one of the most enjoyable local albums I've heard in some time. As the band continues to mature and distinguish itself, The Old No. 5s should become a force to be reckoned with—both locally and beyond.
 
 
--Brad Scott
Brad loves music, Boulevard beer, and his family. Not necessarily in that order.
 
 

The Old No. 5s put on a monthly concert series at Coda—5s + 1—and it’s coming up this Wednesday evening. Special guest Coyote Bill will be sitting in with the band. Facebook event page. Or if you happen to be near Wichita next Saturday, they will be celebrating the release of Steam at Barleycorn’s that night. Facebook event page. 

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