Mountain Ears

Spring Music Reviews – Album reviews by Ken Bays

“Mountain Ears” looks at some of the latest album releases by musicians living in, originally from, or otherwise associated with West Virginia. To have your CD considered for the next edition, please send a digital copy to kbays1970@gmail.com or mail a physical copy to Ken Bays, PO Box 262, Bradley, WV 25818.

Qiet cdcoverQiet, “Kiss of the Universe: Composition #9”
“As big as this pond is/It may never hold these fish,” sings Charleston’s Christopher Vincent on “Wild & Wonderful,” and although Qiet’s theatricality suggests Vincent’s songwriting is anything but confessional, you still can’t help but feel that there’s a kernel of autobiography in this highlight from the band’s new disc. If it turns out that West Virginia can’t contain this self-described “gypsy jazz rock band,” it’d be our loss, as Qiet is as national-level ready as any act ever to come out of the Mountain State. “Kiss of the Universe” is their most fully realized album yet, with horns, violins and Vincent’s larger-than-life vocals punctuating songs filled with dark humor, surreal wordplay and the existential poetry of a life lived on the edge. It’s the kind of stuff that could become pretentious in the wrong hands, but Qiet keeps everything grounded with danceable rhythms, inventive arrangements, and tons of hooks, from the layered “hallelujahs” of “So What Anyway” to the New Orleans percussion of “Real Men” to the jump and jive of “Dionysian Dream.” The musical ambition is dizzying, and when you’ve reached the end of these eleven songs plus two brief instrumental interludes, you feel like you’ve physically taken a journey. Vincent waits until the album-closing title track to deliver the line “I want to take you down to the valley where my mind was bent,” but by that time, he’s already done it.
www.qietmusic.com

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Hybrid Soul cdcoverHybrid Soul, “Live at the Empty Glass”
Is there a better young singer in West Virginia than Shayla Leftridge? She can do it all — soar like Alicia Keys, purr like Ashanti, and funk it up like Chaka Khan, three of whose songs (including the classic ballad “Sweet Thing” and the evergreen ’80s tune “Ain’t Nobody”) made their way to this all-covers set recorded live at Charleston’s Empty Glass. It’s the rest of Hybrid Soul, though, that seals the deal. Forget synthetic R&B: This is a band that’s more interested in the in-the-moment thrill of live performance than the gloss of drum machines or other artificial elements. The chemistry is incredible, the rhythmic drive immense thanks to Jaysen Lapsley and Tajae Mosley, and the song selection plays like a jukebox spin through the various ages of soul music, from mid-’60s Aretha (“Chain of Fools”) through Soul II Soul’s 1989 hit “Back to Life” and leading up to the millennial neo-soul of Jill Scott, Erykah Badu and others. The six-piece group captures the tricky rhythms of Snarky Puppy’s “Deep” without missing a beat as Sara Reneé takes over the vocal duties. And the guys in the band are no slouches when it’s their turn at the mic, either, as on Maxwell’s slow, sexy “Bad Habits” or Musiq’s “Just Friends,” where they seem to be channeling Prince in his early, synth-dominated days.
www.hybridsoulproject.com
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W142The Spanglers, “Restless”
If it’s American roots music you’re looking for, this Lewisburg-based family band fits the bill nicely. Their folkier material (“Last Chance,” “I’ll See You Again”) is built on sturdy songwriting and thoughtful arrangements, while bluesy songs like “Who Loves You, Baby” and “Brother Cain” have surprisingly deep grooves. “Visions of You” is the clear highlight, a country waltz combining a hymnlike melody with an arrangement that carries emotional heft by alternating between sections of driving rock and old-timey, back-porch a cappella harmonizing. Thematically, the Spanglers might benefit from more self-awareness; their Facebook pledge that their music will “make you use your head for something other than a hat rack” doesn’t jibe with the magical thinking in songs like “Circles” or the otherwise catchy “No Such Thing,” whose rhythm captures the whimsical bounce of Beatles hits like “Penny Lane” or “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.” But when this father, two sons, a daughter and friends skillfully turn a blues cliché on its head in the Otis Redding-style “Washington Street” — the protagonist’s idea of romantic braggadocio is “Gonna talk a little/Gonna listen a lot/You’ll enjoy my company” — the cleverness can’t be denied.
www.thespanglersmusic.com

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PrintJordan Andrew Jefferson, “The Only Way Out Is In”
Barboursville native Jordan Andrew Jefferson could have ended up singing the protest songs of his dad’s hero, Bob Dylan. Instead, he gravitated to a different ’60s archetype: the nostalgic, earnest, Southern California pop of acts like The Beach Boys. Jefferson’s music evokes not only the sun-drenched atmosphere of that group, but its form, too, all sweetly dreamy piano lines, wistful strumming and intricate vocal harmonies that glide into a Brian Wilson falsetto at just the right moments. “Ghost By The Water” and “Borderline” are well-crafted, radio-friendly pop/rock with choruses that beg to sung along to, while the claves that echo beneath the understated melody of “Beyond Words” and the bossa nova backing vocals (performed by Jefferson’s wife) decorating “It Is What It Is” flaunt the influence of Burt Bacharach without a hint of irony. Radio-friendly without being overtly commercial, “The Only Way Out Is In” is as warm as a summer day, and just as mood-enhancing.
www.whoisjordan.com
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BiscuitsBAUPROMO-Edit-EditBoulevard Avenue, “Biscuits as Usual”
Ideally, this column would stick with brand new releases from around our state. But nothing’s perfect — West Virginia is only “almost” heaven, after all — so we’re giving ourselves permission to mention a record we missed upon its release a year ago. A Kickstarter-funded, tongue-in-cheek concept album based on the menu items at West Virginia’s favorite restaurant chain, Tudor’s Biscuit World, “Biscuits as Usual” serves up an always-changing sampler platter of musical styles. The best thing about this Huntington outfit is the way they nail the songwriting on nearly every genre they so wittily attempt: traditional country and western on “Slipped Me a Mickey”; feel-good classic rock on “Montani Semper Liberi (The Mountaineer)”; punk on “Mr. T”; honky tonk on “Thunderin’ Herd”; soft-rock balladry on “The Politician”; and even Italian folk music on “Peppi.” The stylistic dexterity owes in part to the array of expert guest musicians brought in to assist Boulevard Avenue’s core duo of Parry Casto and Alex McCoy — Fayette County multi-instrumentalist Randy Gilkey underpins the raucous “Dottie-Tootie” with soulful organ, and Sasha Colette (of eastern Kentucky’s Sasha Colette & The Magnolias) lends her honey-sweet Appalachian voice to the unexpectedly somber “The Miner.” Most of the songs use their Tudor’s-inspired titles merely as jumping off points to unrelated topics, though a few, like the crazed hoedown “Big Tater,” actually invoke the ingredients of the biscuit in question. Congrats to Boulevard Avenue for rising to the occasion.
http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/boulevardavenue2

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