MUSIC

ALO

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“We’ve never fit into any quickly digestible category,” says ALO’s keyboardist/singer Zach Gill.  “It’s just a different kind of experience.”

With its delightfully vibrant blend of inventive musicality and genre-blurring reach, Sounds Like This sees ALO operating with fresh verve and vitality, their always-kaleidoscopic funk pop ‘n roll aglow with exceptionally ebullient songcraft and deliriously danceable grooves.  The California-based band’s fourth Brushfire Records release showcases their unfettered passion, wit, and imagination while simultaneously exploring hitherto uncharted musical terrain.  Invigorated by an unstructured approach to the studio process, ALO have accessed new avenues of resourcefulness, resulting in a truly distinctive collection of songs that adroitly captures all the glorious ingenuity and adventure of the band’s legendary live sets.

“There has always been a division between the fans that get to know us through our live shows vs. the fans that get to know us through our albums,” guitarist Lebo says.  “This album is going to bridge that gap.”

Long acclaimed for their deft musicianship, potent songwriting, and astonishing on-stage interaction, the members of ALO have played together for more than two decades, with the current permutation now in its 10th year and counting.  The band followed the release of 2010’s Jack Johnson-produced Man Of The World by doing what they do best:  playing live, with highlights including the Halloween-themed “Haunted Carnival of Traveling Freaks & Frights” tour and their annual Tour d’Amour benefitting public music school programs.

In April 2011, ALO convened at San Francisco’s Mission Bells studio with no plans other than to make some music together.  With studio owner/longtime collaborator David Simon-Baker assisting behind the board, the band opted to take the same improvisational tack towards recording as they do on stage.  Any distinctions between pre-production and real recording would be shed, allowing for ALO’s instinctive spontaneity to make it to track.

“We thought, what if we started recording from the get-go,” Gill says, “instead of rehearsing, making songs, and then going into the studio.  We decided to start the whole process all at once, with the intention of wanting things to feel really live.”

“Without a clear roadmap, we hit a lot of dead ends,” says drummer Dave Brogan says, “which forced us to create our way out of the morass.  I think that helped us look to within ourselves – rather than outside influences – to bring the music to life.”

The band – all based in the Bay Area, bar Gill, who resides in sunny Santa Barbara – were also able to utilize a lifetime’s bag of tricks in a way the previous album’s sonic scope only suggested.

“The previous record was done in Hawaii, so we simply couldn’t fly with much,” bassist Steve Adams says.  “Doing this one in San Francisco definitely made it easier to bring anything we wanted from home – Dave set up a more elaborate drum zone, Lebo had more guitars and amps, Zach brought up more keyboards.  I had all my basses and a keyboard rig as well.  Having a broader palette of sounds definitely had an influence on how the record turned out.”

In the past, ALO felt compelled to adjust their expansive songs to better suit the recorded format, trimming tracks to a more easily consumed length.  While this certainly honed the band’s songwriting skills, ALO were now eager to let it all hang out, marking tracks like the bombastic “Dead Still Dance” with collage-like structures, deep dance grooves, and inventive, intricate solos.  The inclusion of longer songs on Sounds Like This epitomizes “ALO being more comfortable with who ALO is,” according to Lebo.

“The truth is, longer songs come more naturally to us,” he continues.  “In the past we've spent more time whittling the songs down because we felt that we needed to do so in order to ‘fit in.’  This time around, we let the songs be what they wanted to be, and sometimes that meant a long song.”

“There was a part of us that went, ‘Are we being a tad too indulgent?,’” says Gill, “but in the end we decided that we wouldn’t say we were being indulgent – we were being generous.”

ALO let their imagination run free, both musically and lyrically, resulting in such larger-than-life highlights as the Old West flight of fancy, “Cowboys and Chorus Girls” or the self-explanatory glitterball workout, “Room For Bloomin.”  Where prior albums featured songs penned individually and then arranged by the band, this time out, ALO were determined that their collective spirit inform every groove.

“With collaborative writing, everyone’s personal stamp is in the DNA of the song,” Lebo says. “That makes these songs definitively ALO.”

At the heart of the album is ALO’s raucous reverie for days past, “Blew Out The Walls,“ as well as its more subdued sibling, “Sounds Like That” (included exclusively as an iTunes bonus track).  The track reverberates with the excitement and passion of a rock ‘n’ roll band in its nascent stage, that magical moment where four friends first get together in someone’s basement for the sheer joy of making music together.

“I think we all were feeling the dream again,” Adams says, “remembering back to where it all started.”

All four members of ALO agree that a similar sense of excitement is currently spurring the band forward.  Sounds Like This has imbued ALO with an audacious energy that is certain to infiltrate the band’s already spirited live shows, not to mention their next studio outing.

“Like all ALO albums, the next one will be a culmination of all the past albums and everything that happens in between,” Brogan says, “I don't know if we'll be so bold in our lack of planning next time, but I'm sure we'll find some other way to challenge ourselves.”

“I love making records,” Gill says.  “With this one done, now there’s the excitement of, what about the next one?  Those juices are already brewing.  I feel like we just cracked the ice so it’ll be exciting to see what happens next.”

Taylor Scott Band

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Taylor Scott is an international touring guitarist and singer/songwriter based in Denver, Colorado. He has consistently toured all over the US, Canada, and Europe with both the Taylor Scott Band and trance-blues legend Otis Taylor.  In 2015, he played alongside the likes of Warren Haynes (Allman Brothers, Gov't Mule) on Otis' critically acclaimed release, "Hey Joe Opus: Red Meat."  The Taylor Scott Band, based in Denver, is an original rock & roll band heavily influenced by funk and soul music.  2018 will bring the release of a new album from the band featuring Steve Berlin (Los Lobos) as producer and guest appearances by Henry Garza (Los Lonely Boys) and others.  Here is a word on the music:

"Heavily influenced by soul, funk, blues, and rock & roll, Taylor Scott's music is gaining a reputation for transcending the limitations of a single genre.  His diversely influenced rock & roll group, The Taylor Scott Band, is a high-powered extension of this mélange of sounds."

Peter Bradley Adams

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No matter the form, when it comes to art, there are a number of different tacks to take. Some artists continually push their work across new horizons. Neil Young, Leonardo Da Vinci, and Joni Mitchell come to mind, in that regard. Others —Claude Monet, Jason Isbell, and Bonnie Raitt, among them —stand a bit more still in order to continually refine the capturing of their vision. Singer/songwriter Peter Bradley Adams falls into the latter category of perfectionists chasing their own perfection. With A Face Like Mine, he may well have caught it.

There's a confidence, a completeness in the song cycle that listeners have gleaned throughout Adams' illustrious career, but A Face Like Mine, his sixth solo effort, brings it all into sharp focus. As Adams sees it, “On the long plod of finding my voice as a singer and a writer, the singing has slowly developed from the sound of a scared guy to someone who believes what he's saying and the writing, I hope, has become less rigid —both in the lyrics and the phrasing.”

Less rigid, indeed. Adams' brand of Americana nestles his often delicate, always heartfelt voice in the warm embrace of gentle guitar, tasteful dobro, subtle banjo, supportive bass, and unhurried percussion. The result is a sonic scape that, in turn, wraps itself around the listener like a soft blanket on a cold day. With A Face Like Mine, Adams further refines the simple musical sophistication that has become his trademark.

Throughout the self-produced set, Adams tells tales of love and loss, homes and hearts. The territory he mines is a deliberate mix of fact and fantasy. “I feel like I'm, firstly, a storyteller, but it's inevitable that my own stuff gets in there deep. And it's funny how, sometimes, I don't realize it until the song is done,” he offers. “At the same time, there are times where I take very directly from an experience or a relationship, but I try to be very careful when that happens. I don't want to ever sound like a journal entry.”

Regardless of the details, there's always a philosophical bent that is often more under than on the surface, firmly grounding Adams' songs even as they stretch outward. By his own admission, Adams is a seeker who spends considerable time wrestling with matters of faith, though he's the first to admit he doesn't have any real answers. “I honestly don't know what the hell I'm doing... nor do I have the language for any of this stuff,” he says with a laugh. “But there is a constant tug on me in that direction and, the older I get, the more present it becomes. Music can often be the most direct way to step into that river.”

That seeker's heart is the tie that so often binds these songs together. Whether the search for place and purpose is of a spiritual or geographical nature, few writers capture the journey as thoughtfully as Adams. An Alabama native, Adams says he feels most comfortable in motion and doesn't have a strong sense of being Southern, even though his music is rooted in that world in so many ways. The first verse of the album's mesmerizing lead track, “Good Man,” exemplifies his plight: “This old house is falling down. Every step I take makes a hollow sound. Should I walk away? Should I push on through? What in the world can a good man do?”

Even as Adams goes on to sing of “laughing eyes with a touch of grey” and walking “a mile across the kitchen floor” in order to set various scenes, he leaves room for the listener to crawl inside his stories and make them their own. Striking that balance is the songwriter's eternal struggle, but one Adams seems to have mastered after years of toiling on his own and collaborating with co-writers like Kim Richey, Caitlin Canty, and Todd Lombardo.

“I don't think I'm very good at co-writing because my process seems so weird and long and tedious to me,” Adams confides. “It's hard to allow someone into that space, but there a few folks where our sensibilities are aligned and we're not just trying to bang out a song in a day. I want to feel as close to the songs I co-write as the ones I write alone. Writers like Kim Richey have such an economy and depth to the ideas that come out of their mouths and hands —there's wisdom there. I want to be more like that.”

In addition to this release, Adams is currently putting his classical composition studies to work on a piece for violin and piano —an aspect of his craft and education that got set aside somewhere along the way to now. “I've wondered a lot why I spent all that time studying music in school and how my composer that fits in with or hinders my songwriting,” he says. “Some of it was definitely useless to me, then and now. But some of it has left its mark on how I listen, and how I think of arranging songs, and how I communicate with players who are playing on them. Also, writing in such an extremely simple and constrained musical language makes all your choices much more delicate, so I spend a lot of time crafting even the simplest melody.”

A Face Like Mine's songs were composed all over the world, from Alabama to India, and they dig into topics are disparate as the desperation of addiction (“Lorraine”), the grappling of self-image (“Who Else Could I Be”), the vitriol of politics (“We Are”), and the genetics of suffering (“A Face Like Mine”). “We Are” and “Who Else Could I Be” were originally written for a dance piece that Gina Patterson choreographed for the San Angelo Civic Ballet. Even so, Adams made sure the songs could stand alone in their own world no matter what else was swirling around them —confidence and completeness in action.

As a work of musical art, A Face Like Mine fulfills the promise of Peter Bradley Adams. And rarely has an artist's standing still sounded so divine.

WILL DAILEY

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"Then what of the national throat?  Will it not weaken?"

These emphatic words of protest appeared in a 1906 essay written by John Philip Sousa. The patriotic American composer found himself standing before a dramatic threshold in music. Faced with the advent of the recording of music and an onslaught of innovation, all of which he deemed, “the menace of mechanical music,” the composer feared the sacred creative entity he had dedicated his entire life to serve would be forever ruined. Sousa passionately lamented that singing would be replaced by a "mathematical system of megaphones, wheels, cogs, disks … all matter of revolving things."  More than anything, he feared that the introduction of new contraptions of innovation would serve to water down his cherished artform, all in the name of commercialism. More than a century later, treading upon a similarly fragile fault-line in music, singer-songwriter Will Dailey asks these very questions in his upcoming release. His record is aptly entitled:  National Throat. 

Will Dailey has chosen to deviate from that predestined path of cogs and commercialism.  He willfully parted ways from one of the world’s largest record labels to produce his latest full-length album.

Now independent, Dailey feels liberated. National Throat tells the story of that journey. 

People have been complaining about change in the music industry for centuries but artists make art because they have to,” Dailey says. “I write songs because they happen to me; it fuels my life and I see it fuel other people’s lives… Nothing can disrupt that. This album of songs is about doing this because you have to.

Featuring 11 new tracks, National Throat is a thriving embodiment of an authentic American Dream. It is a registry of a national reverie, one brought to fruition through a musician’s pursuit of art in its rawest form. It is music felt, not contrived. It is fresh soul untarnished by the grease of cogs or disks, left pure in the midst of a virulent commercial world.

Though fortune and fame have never been of main concern, Dailey’s music has been amplified by acclaim: He is a three-time winner of the Boston Music Award for Best Singer/Songwriter and his songs have been featured on more than 50 shows and films. Critics agree that he holds his ground performing next to artists like Neil Young, Willie Nelson, Dave Matthews, and John Mellencamp. He was unfazed by the call from Oscar and Grammy-winning producer T Bone Burnetts to join Elvis Costello, Sheryl Crowe, and Rosanne Cash in the studio. All this from a man who has never, ever been anything but a musician.

But with National Throat, Dailey risked the potential to obtain an even broader reach by parting with a major label after realizing his goals and theirs were out of whack. This time he counted on a solid fan base to save him from a failing partnership, the inspiration for one of the album’s most talked-about songs. “I’m jumping overboard /And I’m swimming back to shore,” Dailey sings over a Burnett-inspired tune in “Sunken Ship.”  Somewhat stranded but never alone, he took charge and involved his fans in a communal creative process through Pledge Music. “It will be a unique experience,” he wrote to his fans, “a one of a kind process. When the day is done, you will have elevated my music to a whole new level. A true artistic community will be built here.”

And build it they did. Dailey’s fans’ admiration feeds National Throat from the inside out – like gas to an engine. The album’s closing song, “We Will Always Be A Band,” reflects the timelessness of the special kind of relationships sewn together with sonic filaments. Its lyrics draw Dailey’s audience in close, wrapping us in a warm familiarity that lingers beyond silence:

Am I in your headphones
Am I on your mind
Is there a tune that’s stuck in your head
That comes from a song of mine?


Indeed, listeners will hear his dynamic voice echo around the naturally catchy melodies that replay themselves effortlessly in our minds.

Though unified by Dailey’s characteristic plaid, rootsy charm, each song on National Throat vibrates with unique personality and showcases his dramatic vocal range. Each is a knockout delivered through a triple threat talent for singing, writing, and playing guitar. Listeners are already addicted to “Why Do I,” a rollicking shout-out to a promise-filled night of debauchery in his hometown, Boston. The epic, beautifully melancholic “Castle of Pretending” contrasts sharply with the sexy and demanding “Don’t Take Your Eyes Off Of Me.” Dailey is not afraid to spike his songs with attitude, nor to expose a naked softness, typified by the folksy “Higher Education” and the romantic spoken French quote (“Nous devrions tous avoir la chance de connaître l’amour…”) that closes the McCartney-esque “Once In A Century Storm.”

John Philip Sousa was wrong to preemptively mourn the loss of “songs that stir the blood and fire the zeal,” of “songs of home, of mother, and of love, that touch the heart and brighten the eye.” These songs flourish and surge with vigor in National Throat. The 2014 album makes clear that Will Dailey’s zeal for art, for music—for life and love—is unhampered by time and liberated from the contemporary materialism Sousa so wisely presaged. When Dailey sings, “My last dollar will be spent keeping these lights on/Doing the only thing that I can” we better believe him. He’s unstoppable.

Today, despite the persistence and further development of all matter of revolving things, the National Throat is alive and well in Will Dailey. 

ZAYDE WØLF

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Dark, percussive, and drivingly cinematic, Zayde Wolf is the indie rock solo project of Dustin Burnett, a chart-topping songwriter and Grammy-nominated producer. Written and recorded after a decade-long break from the stage, Golden Age — Zayde Wolf's debut, whose 13 songs were written, produced, mixed, mastered, and largely performed by Burnett himself — is the latest in a string of projects that have included studio collaborations and co-writing sessions with The Girl and the Dreamcatcher, Augustana, Tyrone Wells, Rhett Walker Band, and others.

Burnett was raised in southern Illinois, where he spent most of his 20s as the frontman of The October. Inspired by the Cure and Echo & the Bunnymen, the band logged the better part of a decade on the road, playing Sundance Film Festival and CMJ Music Fest along the way. Burnt out by the end of his 20s, Burnett put his performance career on hold and moved to Nashville, where he focused on production and songwriting. He also launched That Sound, a boutique drum sample company, to share the unique percussion sounds he'd been creating in the studio.

Coincidentally, it was Burnett's work as a producer that eventually brought him back to an artist's career.  At the end of 2015, he began working with the L.A.- based licensing company, Lyric House. The company sent him a custom opportunity to create a song for a movie trailer, and Burnett — unable to find someone else to sing on the track — decided to record his own vocals. The company loved the result. What had begun as a movie trailer project had expanded into something unique: a new musical project called Zayde Wolf, which combined Burnett's history as a producer with his talents as a singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist. The response was tremendous, with more than 50 movie trailers, video games, TV networks, and other outlets licensing Zayde Wolf's music. Even the Rio Olympics, the NFL, and ABC's hit show Dancing With The Stars — whose one-time contestant, Vanilla Ice, found himself dancing to Wolf's dark cover of "Save Tonight" during the show — got a piece of the action.

Golden Age is the sound of a lifelong artist embracing his role as a frontman once again. Fueled by aggressive guitars, gang vocals, sweeping soundscapes, stomping percussion, and pop hooks, the album is a natural extension of Burnett's career thus far, even finding room for some of the drum samples from his own bank of studio percussion sounds. From the anthemic "Live Life" to the swaggering, hand-clapped "King," the album mixes melody with muscle, groove with guitar, old habits with new beginnings.

JESSI MCNEAL

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Raised in rural Washington state in the log house built by her parents, Jessi McNeal has been singing and writing songs in some shape or form for most of her life. Simple hymns and old country tunes formed the soundtrack of her childhood, and her ear for melody and love of storytelling developed at an early age.

Americana, bluegrass and folk traditions are present and alive in her lyrics and music, as the imagery and landscapes of country life weave their way into her songs. Her sound is comforting and inviting, though she doesn’t shy away from the difficulties and struggles of life’s journey, instead using songwriting as a soothing balm for many wounds, creating songs rimmed in redemption.

Jessi’s previous album, 2015’s Promised Land, was produced by Ryan McAllister (Brian Doerksen, Tim Neufeld) at Five Acres Studio in B.C., Canada, and served as a reminder that the movement from one season to the next isn't always a clear cut path. In the four years since Promised Land, Jessi’s life has been marked by transition—some joy-filled and some heart-wrenching. Processing it all with guitar in hand, Jessi crafted the songs on her forthcoming album, The Driveway. When it was time to record, Jessi approached McAllister, who helped create a darker tonal palette with simple, un-fussy production. The songs swirl with pedal and lap steel, vibe-y electric guitar, and banjo and mandolin, providing well-placed levity in some of the album’s darker corners.

The Driveway is about the middle ground – the in-between, the waiting, the hope-not-yet seen. "I sometimes hear people refer to it as the ‘messy middle,’” she says. “But lately, I’ve been thinking of it as the ‘sacred middle.’” The album’s title track is her take on the story of the prodigal son; “I’ve come to see myself at times like the father and at times like the son,” she explains. “I want to be the one who comes running, and I also want to be the one who falls into forgiving arms. And here’s the real truth – sometimes those arms of forgiveness and grace need to be my very own.”

“The driveway on our property isn’t long, but it still feels like a sacred space between the world and home,” she continues. “I think we all need a bit of easement in our lives where we give ourselves permission to just be, without all of the pressure and demands that life can place on us – a place where we can have let ourselves have all those gut-level feelings about waiting and loss and transition. If we speed through those emotions, we’re going to miss a lot of things, mostly ourselves,” she adds. “Lately I’m savoring those slow walks to fetch the mail, and I’m feeling a whole lot of grace to just be right where I am in my own unfolding story.”