Sights and Sounds of Note – August 2016

It’s been a long hot summer but that hasn’t stopped the flow of hot new releases from making their way to the offices of SoundPress.net. Here are the ones that have shined the brightest in recent days.

Critically acclaimed and Grammy Award winner Jeff Beck (www.jeffbeck.com) is back. It has been six years since the legendary guitarist has released a record. Loud Hailer is a rallying call – packed with potent riffs, rhythms and words. To assist with the assault Beck joined forces with two winsome young women from London (Rosie Bones & Carman Vandenburg) along with drummer Davide Sollazzi and bassist Giovanni Pallotti. The 11 tracks on Loud Hailer are diverse often dramatic punctuated by searing to sensitive guitar solos. It all starts with the riveting “The Revolution Will Be Televised” flowing into the daunting “Live In The Dark”. “Thugs Club” with its militant moments calls out the rich when it comes to war and is countered by the softer yet just as serious “Scared For The Children”. “Pull It” and “Edna” are two impressive instrumentals. “O.I.L.” slides into the realm of funk before the CD closes with the searching “Shrine”. Loud Hailer speaks loudly with a female fronted band paired with ferocious fret work from the still unconventional and other-worldly Jeff Beck.

From one guitar god to a Godly musician we have Phil Keaggy (www.philkeaggy.com) who in the early 1970’s was in the power trio Glass Harp steadily growing their secular success before Jesus stepped in. Keaggy became a born again Christian and committed much of his music to his new calling. Today Phil is one of the most admired acoustic players in both the religious and mainstream worlds. All At Once is Phil’s latest release and it’s filled with faith, fine fret work, insightful lyrics, hooks and more. The CD opens with two up-tempo encouraging tunes (“Mercy” & “Undertow”) flowing into the soulful “Call The Doctor”. There are a number of love songs on this collection including a fun sing along called “La La La I Love You” countered by the sassy “My Guitar’s In Love” and then the bluesy yet swinging “Stay Home Baby” featuring the legendary Al Kooper on keys. “Fearless Love” has almost a risky “Roadhouse Blues” element even though it’s a song of faith. “I Must Tell Jesus” closes the CD with a church choir and organ melded into the mix. All At Once testifies that Keaggy is still steadfast in his beliefs and his craft.

It’s hard to believe it’s been a decade since the debut album from NEEDTOBREATHE (www.needtobreathe.com) landed in our mailbox. It was easily our favorite record of 2006 and we told everyone we could about this incredible new band. Clearly ten years later the world has caught on as their sixth studio release Hard Love recently topped the Billboard charts at the #1 position. The quartet from South Carolina comprised of the brothers Rinehart Bo & Bear on guitars and vox, Seth Bolt (bass, vocals) and Josh Lovelace (keys, vocals). For this outing the Christian rockers add a bit more pop and polish with dance beats and synths fueling the lead single “Happiness”. Fans will find a lot to be happy about especially the steady and sturdy signature vocal stylings from Bear that remain the rock that anchors this fabulous foursome. However, there’s more here as “Money & Fame” does attest with a foray into funk with a brash blast of brass. The sensitive and introspective “Be Here Long” reveals a band still deeply aware of their own mortality and spiritual place in the universe. For the past ten years NEEDTOBREATHE has been fashioning a fine hybrid of alternative rock and southern soul pop that is now nourishing the masses. Give one spin to their latest and you’ll understand why they are not a hard band to love.

When it comes to quality and quantity The Neal Morse Band (www.nealmorse.com) consistently delivers. Alive Again the new live 2 CD/DVD set was recorded in the Netherlands on March 6, 2015 where the group played a diverse dynamic set of progressive praise music. Over the years Neal Morse has effectively melded his passion for Jesus and prog in colorful, complex compositions. Alive Again is a pageantry of expansive instrumentation paired with inspiring lyrics. There are a lots of highpoints on this two disk collection. We totally dug the big deep tones of “Leviathan” flowing into a grandiose “The Grand Experiment.” Yet in contrast the stark acoustic “There Is Nothing That God Can’t Change” was moving as Morse shared his own testimony. Disk 2 was just as potent with an agile Alive Again clocking in 30 plus minutes of magic flowing into an exuberant encore reflecting Neal’s faith. Once again Neal Morse with Mike Portnoy, Randy George, Eric Gillette, and Bill Hubauer rise to the occasion in the live setting for all to experience on Alive Again.

Circa (www.circahq.com) is a progressive rock back with roots in the Yes family tree. Mastermind of the project Billy Sherwood currently holds down the bottom end in that band. On Circa’s third album Valley of the Windmill he picks up the six string and joins forces with former Yesman Tony Kaye on four energetic and lengthy numbers with additional power provided by Ricky Tierney on bass and Scott Connor on drums. The tracks on this record clock in at over 52 making it truly a progressive platter in terms of length. In fact, Sherwood has called the songs “super proggy” with influences ranging from classic Yes and Gentle Giant, to Porcupine Tree and Marillion. In many ways this record is a tribute to the fallen Chris Squire the man Sherwood was hand-picked to replace in Yes. Billy’s vocals bear a strong resemblance to his mentor’s and the bass lines flow with complex mastery. Kaye provides the mesmerizing classic Yes-style keys – and, the title track was written and composed about the last trip Sherwood made to visit his friend Chris at his Arizona home where windmills populate the desert. Circa means around and about and Sherwood has certainly been around and about the Yes world for many years. With his latest ascension back into that band along with the impressive work on this substantial record it seems his silent resolve has paid off and we’ll be seeing and hearing him around for a good long time to come.

Janey Street (www.janeystreet.com) enjoyed success in the 1980’s with the funky Top 20 single “Under the Clock” along with “Say Hello to Ronnie”. The following years were tougher. It has been a long time since Janey cut a record but good circumstances led to the release of My Side Of Paradise. With help from a talented team of players and songwriting friends Street’s record became a reality. The 13-track album packs a punch with honest lyrics about the highs and lows of life. Street’s vocals run the range from graceful to gritty which adds more realism to her words. The CD opens with the strong storytelling of “Among The Missing” followed by “Good Side” a catchy love song. Other highlights include the insightful “Grand Delusion” flowing into the swaggering title track. “Scat Like Ella” pays tribute to Ella and others all backed by a danceable retro disco beat.” My Side Of Paradise is a solid record coming from the heart and soul of a true artist

It has been years since visionary guitarist Prasanna (www.guitarprasanna.com) has put out an album but the varied and vibrant All Terrain Guitar was worth the wait. Prasanna is an authority in the ancient and demanding art of Carnatic music played on the electric guitar. His nine track album of originals is a blend of jazz, vocalizations with world music as performed by Prasaana with Vijay Iyer (piano), Rudresh Mahanthappa (saxophone), Dave Douglas (trumpet), and others. The CD opens with the bright jazz infused “Springtime in New York” and “Song for The Wind” flowing into the more worldly or one might say unworldly tones of “Lava” and “Nap of the Earth”. “Pinch Pennies in Monaco” features vocals with a heavier funky vibe whereas “31” is stark yet stirring. The closer “The Keyword is Love” hints of reggae influences. All Terrain Guitar is an eclectic mostly instrumental collection by Prasanna who was named among the Top 50 Creative Indians by Open Magazine in 2010. He is the quintessential Indian Renaissance man; a guitarist and composer whose prolific body of work is diverse and integrated as reflected on his latest release.

EVEN MORE NOTABLE RELEASES! Judy Green (judygreen.bandcamp.com) is a youthful outfit based out of Virginia. Their 4-song EP “yaytched” demonstrates a musical maturity well-beyond the band’s years. Their instrumentals are cool and complex yet catchy reflecting funk and jazz influences. Track 3 “Tide” clocks in at over six minutes. It ebbs and flows on a smooth sax that gives way to gentle guitar and keys all with a solid subtle undercurrent that pours into the funky colorful closer “Blue Marlin”…

Yeah, the future of music seems to be in good hands as 16-year old Napa based singer and songwriter Olivia O’Brien (soundcloud.com/oliviagobrien) makes her Island Records debut with “Trust Issues” the eagerly anticipated follow-up to her worldwide smash collaboration with gnash on the RIAA gold hit, “i hate u, i love u”. Olivia has been singing and writing songs since she was seven years old and taught herself to play both the guitar and piano. She’s gone from SoundCloud curiosity to a Billboard charting babe in short order. You go girl…

The youth movement continues with V-Squared (www.vsquared.rocks) consisting of twin 13-year-old virtuosos – guitarist/vocalist Vittorio and drummer/vocalist Vincenzo. The brothers have found inspiration from other family bands like AC/DC and Van Halen to create what’s being called the next generation on classic rock. Energetic exuberance exudes from the anthemic Ron Nevison-produced “We Are V-Squared” that borrows just a bit of melody from Bob Seger’s “Hollywood Nights”…

See ya next month!

About Sights and Sounds of Note: SSON column editors Richard J. Lynch and Laura Turner Lynch are the founders of SoundPress.net, an Internet-based music industry magazine and review site, online since 1999. Laura is a published author of the inspirational Positive Power Secrets From A to Z (www.positivepowersecrets.net). Rich regularly interviews famous rock stars for the site’s radio show and he has recently launched his own recording career at (www.richlynchband.com).

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