A while back musician Maks, from The Netherlands, sent me a message via the Alternative Airwaves Facebook page. He was letting me know of a new release, 3FT NO DIVING, a solo effort after years acting as drummer in another band.
I have been playing as a drummer in rock bands for a big part of my life.
After the splitting up of my most recent band in 2012, I went on a small tour through the USA as a stand-in drummer in a blues-rock band. During this trip I decided I was going to write my own material and see where this could lead to...
The learning curve was pretty steep, I must say. Besides learning how to play a bit of decent guitar and keyboards, I also had to cope with my vocals. Perhaps my greatest challenge was to find my singing voice.
He passed the album my way (which you can pick up over at http://www.maksagency.com), and I listened to it a few times. I'll start off with saying that I liked it! Maks' voice reminds me a lot of a less rough Peter Dreimanis (July Talk). I didn't find anything especially unique on my first pass through, but I found that I enjoyed the different elements Maks added to differentiate his sound.
He uses many different instruments on his tracks, and some of the tracks make use of sound effects to create mood and atmosphere. Technically speaking the album sounds very good, and I can tell that Maks is a very capable guitar & keyboard player. If I'm reading his messages correctly he recorded and mixed everything on his own, without a backing band, so that is quite impressive.
One especially prominent through-line I heard for the entire album was a lot of classic rock influences. I reached out to Maks to ask him about this, and he let me know that I wasn't wrong:
My biggest influences are a band called Magazine, Japan, Ultravox, David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Alice Cooper and of course a bunch of bands from the late 1970s punk era
I sort of combined all of them and gave it a swirl in my head and this CD was the result. Mind you, this swirling process took years...!
I'm listening back to 3FT No Diving as I type up this review, and now that I think of it, I can sort of hear a Bowie-like quality in his voice. And at the last minute I'm adding perhaps a little bit of Pearl Jam sneaking in there. Despite all the influences, it doesn't sound to me like he's merely copying styles, but has created his own sound.
For kicks, I decided to listen to a few songs from Maks' influences, starting with Magazine. Fun to hear where his blended sound came from!
Last night I was treated to a performance by The Ultimate Queen Celebration, a Queen tribute band fronted by Marc Martel. The show was at the Théâtre du Casino at Casino de Lac Leamy in Gatineau, Quebec.
Going into the show, I had zero expectations - I don't recall ever going out specifically to see a tribute band, so assumed that it was going to be a band dressing up like Queen and playing their music. That's not quite what TUQC delivers. I'll get to that, but first, some group background details.
The band is fronted by Marc Martel, who is apparently quite famous on his own. Based in Nashville but originally from Montreal, Martel gained fame via YouTube when he shared his rendition of Somebody to Love. From what I gather he was hand-picked by Queen drummer Roger Taylor as the winner of a contest put on by Queen bandmembers (I'm fuzzy on the details as to what the contest was for, but I think it was basically to pick a front man for this particular tribute band). All of the rave reviews of Martel essentially boil down to "Close your eyes, and he sounds like Freddie."
The rest of the band is made up of Tristan Avakian (lead guitar, some vocals); Brandon Ethridge (keyboard, vocals); Jason Gianni (drums, vocals); and Mike Cohen (bass, vocals). They all have various claims to fame of some sort but I was most impressed by Avakian, who did an amazing job last night playing lead guitar. I learned today that he was a former lead guitarist for the Trans-Siberian Orchestra - not a surprise given the talent he put on display. There are other rotating members of the band, who play depending on venue and availability.
Getting back to the show itself, it was definitely a high-energy affair. Everyone on stage were having a good time and putting every effort into the songs, and the crowd was definitely engaged. Actually, despite playing a number of the higher-energy hits (including Bohemian Rhapsody) in the first half of the show, the audience didn't break out into singing and dancing until "I Want to Break Free", sung after an impressive opera performance by Martel coming out of the intermission.
The band didn't dress up like Queen, which was pointed out by Martel. I didn't find this distracting at all, and actually preferred it. But they played it straight, and by that I mean they didn't take too many liberties with the source material. They played it as if they were the real band, playing through the set list, trading on and off the stage for effect. I did think that Martel tries a little bit to emulate Mercury in more than just singing style, but he made it his own thing. I think also the band was limited a little by the size of the stage, so didn't have too many crazy theatrics.
All in all, anyone could take Queen's music and make a playlist out of it. What The Ultimate Queen Celebration does is put an element of performance into it and deliver an engaging, fun show. It ends up being a little more than just playing the music. Great show, I recommend it if it's in a town near you!
Ottawa's annual Bluesfest has really become a popular international music festival in the last several years. The common joke locally centres around its lack of actual "Blues" in the headliners - but really, so much of today's music has its roots in blues, it doesn't really matter to me.
Born in Ottawa, Canada, JENNA Nation was introduced to music at an early age through her musical family. She began her career with extensive training and success with classical music/opera, jazz and then with R&B/soul while studying and graduating Summa Cum Laude with her Vocal Performance Degree from the famed Berklee College of Music. An outstanding vocalist with a charismatic stage presence, JENNA Nation progressed to hit some significant milestones early in her career. JENNA Nation boasts a soulful and even jazzy vibe to her music. Long-time influences include Michael Jackson, Ella Fitzgerald, Judy Garland and Stevie Wonder—a notable name with whom she aspires to collaborate. JENNA Nation has worked with a number of Grammy and JUNO-nominated producers and songwriters with whom she collaborated to create her third and fourth albums of all original music. JENNA Nation’s fourth album, 'You Don’t Know' (2017) has already received numerous accolades. The album was named Canada's Best R&B Album of 2017, one of the Top 10 Best Records of the Year and #9 Best Album of 2017.
Her music is all available on multiple platforms; I listened to 2017's "You Don't Know" on Spotify, and really enjoyed the R&B album. Nation is probably one of the few artists on the Bluesfest slate actually playing a form of blues. I especially liked "It's You" - it's got a great percussion beat and I enjoyed the lyrics.
JENNA Nation plays at 5PM on the Main (City) Stage, ahead of Amos the Transparent (another local) and The Strumbellas. Sounds like a great lineup to me. You can get tickets at www.ottawabluesfest.ca.
"Only One Is King", an EP by Jordan Max released 2 years ago, is an artist/album that has shot up my personal charts.
Some background on Max - he's a British artist and recently signed to Danger Mouse for publishing. He's got a new single out ("War" - check out the video here), but Only One Is King was released independently.
Actually, the story behind the album is kind of cool. From a press release for his single "War":
Jordan Max made his debut in 2016 with his EP Only One Is King, written and recorded in the bedroom of his childhood home. Lead single “Hell” showcased his unique sound and earned him a spot on Complex’s “10 British R&B/Soul Artists To Watch in 2017,” in addition to praise from Consequence of Sound, i-D, Pigeons & Planes, Fader and more.
His sound reminds me a lot of Alt-J, but a bit more on the bluesier side than rock. There's quite a bit of darkness in his music as well, which at times seem to follow what I see as a bit of a trend in the alt-rock scene. Still, blues & soul permeate through the tracks to make a unique sound.
Keep your ears open for more from Jordan Max, it's worth a listen. I give this EP 4/5.
I was recently given the opportunity for an advance listen & review of singer/songwriter/DJ Dallas Wayne's 2016 album, Songs the Jukebox Taught Me, ahead of the release of Songs the Jukebox Taught Me: Volume II. Volume II is set to release next Friday, June 22nd.
The songs on "Jukebox" are pure, classic country. They're all very well-produced, and are almost bare bones: you've got Wayne singing (and his own voice has that classic twang to it), steel guitar, and some light percussion behind most songs. Sprinkle in some violin, bass guitar, and acoustic, and that's pretty much the album right there.
There are also some appearances by country vets in there, including Willie Nelson on the first track ("Your Time's Comin'"). The lyrical content is a mixed bag - there are songs about heartache, love, and just plain having a good time. That to me is pretty much what I expect from most classic country songs. I'm listening to the album over again as I write this, and "A Dime At A Time" is playing - love it when the piano comes in to add a little personality to the song.
Then you also have songs like "Devil in the Bottle" which sounds like a pretty personal song. In fact I believe that Wayne put a lot of himself (whether it be through personal lyrics, or just his interpretations of 'traditional country themes') into this album. This seems like it sounds exactly the way that he wanted it to sound.
Here's some brief info about Dallas Wayne, in case you were curious (I was):
Singer, songwriter, radio DJ, voice-over artist, actor and music producer
Recipient of multiple honors, including CMA of Texas Choice award, DJ of the Year and the Disc Jockey Hall of Fame
Staff songwriter for Warner/Chappell Music for six years
On-air personality for SIRIUSXM Satellite Radio’s Willie’s Roadhouse (Channel 59) and Outlaw Country (Channel 60)
Released 11 of his own albums, as well as being featured on five collaborative recordings, including the honky-tonk supergroups Heybale! and the TwangBangers, and a Grammy-nominated bluegrass album with Special Consensus
Graced some of the most hallowed stages in country music, from the Grand Ole Opry and the Kennedy Center, to the Ernest Tubb Midnite Jamboree and Willie Nelson’s Fourth of July Picnic
Opened shows for many of the biggest names in country music, including Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Jeannie Seely, Charlie Pride, Bobby Bare, Jerry Lee Lewis and Mickey Gilley, to name a few
Featured artist on “Larry’s Country Diner”
Numerous acting credits including the original Broadway cast of “Pump Boys and Dinettes”
Commercial voice overs for radio and TV including United Airlines, Chevrolet, McDonald’s, MTV and Avis, among others
My in-laws like to listen to Willie's Roadhouse a lot, so I thought it was cool to find out he's one of the on-air personalities there.
Anyway - if you're looking for some country music that isn't a cross between pop or rock, and closer to the classics, you should check out Songs The Jukebox Taught Me. 3/5.
In the meantime - here is the press release for the upcoming Volume II:
Country music artist and SiriusXM Willie’s Roadhouse and Outlaw Country host,Dallas Wayne will release his latest album, Songs The Jukebox Taught Me: Volume 2, on June 22.
“My latest album represents a continuing journey back to the songs that made me fall in love with classic country music. Together with the previous Songs The Jukebox Taught Me project, this collection of 25 songs is a tribute to the songwriters who crafted them, and the artists who sang them — the heroes and teachers who taught me this music,” Wayne said.
Artists such as Willie Nelson have already given positive reviews of the album: “I’m really enjoying listening to this new CD, Songs The Jukebox Taught Me Vol. 2, by Dallas Wayne. Great job on an old song of mine called ‘Blame It On The Times.’ Thanks for bringing this one back! Also, I love the Vern Gosdin cover, ‘Is It Raining At Your House.’ Remember our motto: If It Ain’t Broke, Break It.”
Songs The Jukebox Taught Me: Volume 2 comes as a sequel to Songs The Jukebox Taught Me: Volume 1, which was released in 2016. In addition to releasing a new album, Dallas will be performing throughout the year, with multiple shows in his home state of Texas. Keep up with all of Dallas’ tour dates on www.dallaswayne.com.
About Dallas Wayne “My latest album represents a continuing journey back to the songs that made me fall in love with classic country music. Together with the previous Songs The Jukebox Taught Me project, this collection of 25 songs is a tribute to the songwriters who crafted them, and the artists who sang them — the heroes and teachers who taught me this music,” Wayne said. Artists such as Willie Nelson have already given positive reviews of the album: “I’m really enjoying listening to this new CD, Songs The Jukebox Taught Me Vol. 2, by Dallas Wayne. Great job on an old song of mine called ‘Blame It On The Times.’ Thanks for bringing this one back! Also, I love the Vern Gosdin cover, ‘Is It Raining At Your House.’ Remember our motto: If It Ain’t Broke, Break It.” Songs The Jukebox Taught Me: Volume 2 comes as a sequel to Songs The Jukebox Taught Me: Volume 1, which was released in 2016. In addition to releasing a new album, Dallas will be performing throughout the year, with multiple shows in his home state of Texas. Keep up with all of Dallas’ tour dates on www.dallaswayne.com.
Another one of those "off my radar" music submission reviews! This time, it's Kalie Shorr's Awake EP, which was released January 26th of this year. Here's a bit of the press release:
Country rockstress Kalie Shorr released Awake last night to an at-capacity crowd of fans, music industry and friends in Nashville. The highly-anticipated new project features seven songs that bring a rock-infused sound to country, showcasing Shorr’s authenticity, passion and energy which she injects into her music. Awake is available now on iTunes, Apple Music, Google Play, Amazon Music and Spotify.
So let's unpack this EP a little bit. The album is most definitely a country-rock album, reminding me a lot of Miranda Lambert (thinking her Kerosene days as I haven't heard much of her recent music). If I were to describe the EP as a radio station, it would be the local Country station that drops in songs that straddle the tip of the country-rock-pop triangle. I felt that the EP started off on the softer side, and built up to a rougher, rock-infused ending. I appreciated the build-up. I haven't checked the country charts to see how Kalie's doing, but I imagine that "Who What When Where Why" would be a song that will do well. I like that one, and "Cool Kids" quite a bit. "Two Hands" is also not too bad, being a bit of a love ballad. OK scratch that, I did do some research, I'm not THAT lazy. Turns out that "Two Hands" was released as a single and quickly added to rotation on Sirius XM, featured on The Highway, as well as added to Radio Disney Country (there were some promotional exclusives involved with Disney and a few other properties) and TuneIn. Unfortunately I don't see her name anywhere on the Billboard charts but it sounds like she's still getting airplay out there. Definitely recommend this one if you're into rock-infused country. 3.5/5.
This past Friday June 1, electronic pop artist FLAVIA released a new single called "Hateful". Prior to this track, I had never heard of Flavia, so I'll let the press release do some talking:
FLAVIA is an electronic pop artist based in Los Angeles, CA. She mixes dark pop and futuristic R&B, exploring the borderland of yesterday’s soul and tomorrow’s electronica. She started to write music at a young age in Ireland and Italy, where she spent her formative years. Having moved often growing up, she feels the closest thing to home-base in her music. “It’s a part of me,” she says. “I couldn’t escape it event if I wanted to.”
In listening to "Hateful", I definitely caught wind of all of these influences in her music. Oddly enough I also got a bit of a "Lorde" vibe in her music, which is not at all a bad thing.
Here's some info about the new track:
Sharing a powerful message for kindness, strength, and human condition, Hateful was inspired by FLAVIA’s own real-life experiences. Reflecting on such experiences opened the way for the larger issues of animosity, division, and bullying in our society today. With the release of her debut single, FLAVIA hopes to reach out to victims of hatred and bullying, and to remind people to treat others with love and respect.
I can get behind that sentiment. I think that a lot of people share her views toward bullying (online bullying especially) so hearing art related to that is welcome. It helps take the power away from the people who would direct their hatred toward us.
As for listening the track itself, you can find it on Spotify! Check out Flavia's website at http://www.flavia.la, and be sure to check out her YouTube channel as well! It opens up with the track "No Gravity" and it's super cool.
I received this email submission back in June 2017; so right off the bat, a slap on the hand to me for not getting to the review until now, nearly a year later.
Yesteryear by Anela & The Early HoursAnela & The Early Hours is an indie pop group out of London, Ontario. Yesteryear is their debut album; here are some of my thoughts about it.
Right off the top, I have to be honest and say that this album did not "wow" me. I feel that it is a solid, well-produced album, but it doesn't stand out as something special to me. That said, I would still recommend giving this album a listen.
Like I said, it sounds well-produced. It's "radio ready", in the sense that it sounds good over my speakers and headphones - the sound isn't too flat or anything like that. Guitar work in the 7 tracks is delicate but has a presence, and the drums have a certain "pop" to it. I like lead singer Anela Navarro's voice, though it doesn't fluctuate through very much range (however it sounds like she potentially has a wide vocal range in her if she chose to use it).
Singles from the album include "Space" and "All Alone", for which there are some YouTube videos you can watch: here and here. The stand-out track for me though was "Stuck With You" - I liked that one the best.
Overall, "Yesteryear" is a good album and I recommend it. 3/5. You can purchase it from iTunes, or stream it on Spotify/Soundcloud/Bandcamp (link above).
Read up on Part One before continuing on – otherwise this post makes no sense. Why are you reading it out of order?
Day Four – Things Are Working
You’ll remember at the end of Day Three I was getting frustrated with how things were working out, and that I might need to head to a different direction. In fact, in the intervening days between pausing the project, moving to a new house, and continuing today (Tuesday), I even came across ANOTHER option that might even take all the hard work away from me:
I think this project sounds awesome and is probably a better implementation of what I want to do, but at this point it’s merely a back-up option that I’m going to hold onto.
So I know for sure that using the “auto input” option (described in Day Three) definitely works – but to me that’s very clunky and goes against the entire point of what I’m trying to do with this project. I did some extra digging and found a barcode for Maroon 5’s Red Pill Blues album (Best Buy is very handy with listing EAN barcode numbers, it turns out).
I went back to AutoSpotify and figured out how to get it to search and return results properly. I fiddled around briefly with broadcasting intents, and they worked to some extent – but not the way I wanted.
In the end I realized there was a “play media” function with AutoSpotify that I wasn’t leveraging before. I was able to play the album directly from the URL (obtained from the AutoSpotify Search).
Just to drive the point home, I want to say again – it worked. I took the barcode from the album (Red Pill Blues), searched the EAN database for the name, plugged the name into a search of Spotify’s database, and then automatically played the album.
I haven’t tested it fully with the barcode scan – that’s next. But just a quick summary again of the apps I needed to make this work:
AutoTools (JSON Read)
AutoSpotify (Search & Play Media)
Also need an EAN Database API login (free version)
Full barcode test is next.
Day Five – Putting It All Together (Again)
Finally, it all came together! I grabbed some CDs from my collection. Only one of them worked – The Sheepdogs’ Learn & Burn. That’s okay – I fully expect some of these scans not to return any information (or the correct information).
The ultimate point is that I was able to scan a barcode, look up the album name in Spotify, and play it automatically. It took me a while to get there, but I’ve got it all set now.
I think the next step will be to add some checks – for example, if it can’t find product information, tell me so that I can decide to try to look it up via image search (the one I mentioned from Day Four). That type of thing. Make it a little smarter.
Anyway, if you want a copy of the task (assuming you have Android, and all of the required apps / plugins), let me know and I’ll make it available after I clean it up.
It’s been a long time since I’ve started a fun tech project. I’m not too hands-on when it comes to the hardware, but I like dabbling in the software side of things. Without further ado, here’s what I’m trying to accomplish, in a nutshell:
Using my phone (or a tablet, that works too), scan a CD barcode and play it in Spotify (or whatever music app I happen to be subscribed to at the time).
This post is being written as I walk through the project. There are quite a few pieces involved in getting it to work, and I’m piecing it together one at a time.
Day One – Gathering Materials & Initial Tests
This is where I figure out what it is that I need to make this thing work. As far as I can tell, this is what I’ll need:
The first test I came up with was to figure out how to trigger everything in the first place. I found this handy Reddit post that used a different method to scan barcodes as a starting off point. To save you a click though, I’m triggering the task by launching when the Barcode Scanner app is open AND the clipboard is set (that’s how the app works – it copies the barcode to the clipboard).
In the task itself, I want to look up the barcode information. Apparently you can do this using EAN, which stands for International Article Number (it was originally European, hence the “E”). Autoweb has a web service to look up product info from the EAN database, which is perfect! So in Tasker, I am sending the barcode (which is stored in the clipboard at this point) to the EAN database, which returns a bunch of different results from product name, description, category, etc. Well, as long as all that information is in the database, that is.
I tested it with the closest object I could find with a barcode – a Grand & Toy highlighter (pictured). Unfortunately that test didn’t give me any meaningful results, so I had to test something else. I tried a bag of chips (it was free – technically expired, from the vending machine) and still, nothing came up. I seem to be doing something wrong. I think the rest of Day One will be spent trying to figure this out.
So I figured it out with a different method. I couldn’t figure out how to use the Autoweb API action, so I decided to just eliminate that variable and use an Autotools JSON Read (you can view a tutorial here). In conjunction with the JSON Editor Online (link), I figured out how to get Tasker to display the information I needed. After some fiddling, success! “Roundedge Yellow Highlighter” (incidentally the EAN entry for Grand & Toy has the company name entered as “Grand & Tory”).
Now that I’ve got this basic, most important part of the process figured out, I can now start scanning CDs to see what information comes up in the JSON file and look up via Spotify.
I’m having mixed results – my personal CD collection is packed away right now, so I’m using my parents’ collection to test. I got a positive match for “Crazy for Gershwin”, but looking up the barcode for Gordon Lightfoot’s Gord’s Gold gave me the following product description:
Lorcos Cinnamon Orange Christmas Cat In A Boot Single Soap Bar 10.5 Oz. From France
So…this might not be the smoothest exercise, but it DOES work. Sort of. I count this as a success.
Day Two – Connecting with Spotify
Connecting to Spotify has been somewhat problematic. While I’ve been able to read barcodes and get the album name, searching the Spotify database hasn’t been so easy. I used the Tasker plugin AutoSpotify to run a search. I think I’m just not clear on how the plugin works because no information would return to me. None of my attempts to get the Spotify API in Autoweb to work either.
So that’s frustrating. To top it off, randomly my “HTTP GET” action (the function that is reading the EAN database) is failing.
All said, things are not going as smoothly as I would like.
Day Three – Changing things up
I was getting frustrated on day two trying to get the Spotify automation to work. So I decided to change things up and go back to methods I know have worked for me in the past. Enter AutoInput; it’s another plugin that simulates and automates user input.
I created a test task with a pre-set search string. It opens Spotify, clicks on the search icon, pastes the search string, and clicks on the top result. For the two tests that I ran, I used “our lady peace clumsy” and “oasis what’s the story morning glory”. In both cases the top result was the correct album. So this part of the puzzle works fine. The next step was to put the barcode read and the automated search function and put them together.
I’m not having very much luck. I think the problem is that I’m sorely lacking in CDs to test with; I did one test at Wal-Mart, but came up with nothing. I think if I had the CD in hand I might be able to see if it returned actual artist / album information as opposed to what I’ve been looking at (an amalgamation of the two on a greatest hits album – reportedly, greatest hits albums aren’t reliable for EAN scans).
Leaning more toward the much more manual intensive process of printing QR codes for each album. I’d rather not put that much work into it, however.
To Be Continued…
I’m going to put this project on hold for now. The bones are there, I just don’t have the time or the materials present to continue testing. There will definitely be a follow-up to this entry though!