April Smith and the Great Picture Show: Songs for a Sinking Ship

RIYL: KT Tunstall, Squirrel Nut Zippers, Liza Minnelli

Sometimes great singers try a bit too hard to prove that they’re great. April Smith is not one of those singers. The arrangements on her latest and most impressive album Songs for a Sinking Ship fit her sultry voice like a glove and her songwriting is both playful and intellectual. April Smith is clearly capable of controlling the whole circus when it comes to vocal acrobatics but possesses the restraint to allow each song to shine as bright as her ability.

After numerous listens, I’ve yet to find a track that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy. A standout track on Songs for a Sinking Ship is “Wow and Flutter” which combines semi-dark theatrics with a refrain that could have found a home on a Ratt record. Odd, I know, but it totally works. Additionally, the closer “Stop Wondering” is easily the most delightful “fuck you” to a former lover ever recorded.


Aside from her glowing talent behind the mic and the pen, she’s clearly figured out the business side of things as well. She used kickstarter.com and her ever-growing fan base (acquired from near constant touring over the past few years) to fund this release. We always hear stories of bands collecting cash online to fund their latest projects but many of those bands were once privileged enough to receive that initial “major label” push. April did it her way from the start and we can only hope that in the years to come she will be recognized as the fearless trailblazer that she is.

There are no gimmicks on Songs for a Sinking Ship. Only great writing and performing which is a very welcome change of pace from your typical release. You’re going to want to sing along with April Smith but you had better stretch out before attempting it or you will most certainly hurt yourself. (Little Roscoe 2010)

April Smith and The Great Picture Show | Official Website
Click to buy Songs for a Sinking Ship from Amazon


The Heavy: The House That Dirt Built

RIYL: The White Stripes, James Brown, The Rolling Stones

When the Heavy broke with their debut, it truly was Great Vengeance and Furious Fire from every speaker. Listening to that album was like getting kidney punched by the raunchy, drug dusted love child of Curtis Mayfield and the Gallagher brothers. “That Kind of Man” and “Girl” were sheer aural addiction, funky and fun and groovy as hell. It was a smashing debut, chock full of powerful singles…and seemingly no one noticed it at all. The US release in 2008 made no discernible impact, and that is a crying shame.


Now the Heavy are back with The House That Dirt Built, turning up the volume and the heat by taking their ‘60s and ’70s influence and punching it up with everything from jacked up Bo Diddley beats to Roland Gift-like vocals wrapped in roughly layered, minimalist production. “How You Like Me Now” is full tilt James Brown-esque bravado that shifts into a Mick Jagger-like pleading bridge before ending with a seriously hard-hitting, percussion-driven finale. They also continue to use digital samples to set mood and theme in a way reminiscent of Big Audio Dynamite’s first records. “Short Change Hero” is their Sergio Leone ode while at the same time begs for a Grace Slick vocal.

The most amazing part of this record is the fact that every song makes you sit up and take notice, every track distinct, but the album has an overarching consistency that pulls it all together with consistently dark and driving bass lines, fearless guitars and select horn lines. Throughout, Kelvin Swaby’s vocals chant, scream, croon, plead, growl and demand, always playful and soulfully sexy by turns. The Heavy know how to construct a song to be a hit, short and to the point, catchy without being predictable. This shows up in their hard rocking “What You Want Me To Do?” Two minutes and 38 seconds of grinding desperation and desire. Few bands can take such clear and well known influences and make it sound fresh and new, but The Heavy excel at it. Check this album out. Play it loud, and as David Letterman demanded, play it again! (Counter Records 2009)

The Heavy MySpace page


Brett Terry: Instant History

Brett Terry probably means well, but there’s so much going against him on this album that he almost needn’t have bothered. The production is dangerously thin and Terry’s voice isn’t one that’s going to incite excitement in anyone’s mind in the long run. The man’s no Bob Dylan, unfortunately for him. But away he goes nevertheless crooning away on such ditties as “Unharmed” and limping through embarrassments like “Rock Star” that strive to be something (lyrically, anyway) along the lines of the Who’s “Success Story,” but fails in a terrible fashion. You just can’t believe Terry when he sings this stuff because he’s absolutely unconvincing as both a singer and a songwriter. Unfortunately, he even feels the need to attempt the Beatles classic “If I Needed Someone” by multi-tracking his vocals against his bare acoustic guitar. He completely kills it, like other people have done when covering the Fab Four. One of these days there will be a law against committing such a musical crime. Not that Terry hasn’t done enough damage here with his own tunes. Pass. (Leverkuhn Records)

Brett Terry MySpace page


True Nature: Feels Like Centuries

True Nature, fronted by Lou Barlow (not to be confused with the man of the same name in Dinosaur Jr., Sebadoh, et al) and featuring other talented musicians such as Aaron Comess, Gerry Leonard, and Tony Levin have come together to release this, the group’s second CD. At five tracks, this EP packs more punch than many full-length albums released these days with “The Color of Day Light” easily being the disc’s standout track. Barlow weaves strong melodies with smart lyricism, allowing a song like “My Freedom Lies Behind the Sun” to resonate passionately in today’s era of political change and societal shifting without falling over on its own message. “Woman” and “Truth I Have To Steel (Simple Heart)” also mark Barlow as a gifted lyricist and musician. With tunes this solid, it’s not hard to imagine True Nature being able to conquer an entire album’s worth of songs and sounds. Here’s looking forward to that moment. (Fire Sign Records)

True Nature MySpace page


La Forza: Dance Music for Your Mind Vol. 1

Back in the first half of the ‘90s, “dance music for your mind” was basically anything bouncing around the ambient and trance genres. To some extent, those charlatans known as Enigma would have also fit in there somewhere. In the case of La Forza (a.k.a. Divina Klein and Doug Mackar), though, the title translates into something more succinct as “cheesy desktop PC-created electronica.” Face it: if there’s one genre that is a completely hit-or-miss affair, it’s electronica. It might be because it’s so damned easy to create these days, or it may just simply be because there are no real “rules” to follow when making it. Whatever the case, this album is simply a snooze from start to finish. With titles like “Vision Quest,” “Approaching Levitation,” “The Sound of Clouds” and “To Connect to Eternity,” you can pretty much figure out what this is going to sound like before you even press play. Lots of listless, tranquil droning sound montages that never go anywhere “intended to support contemplation, incite imagination, and increase neuro-plasticity.” Sure, whatever you say. It’s probably safe to say that your imagination will be better sparked simply by opening your nearest window. And if you’re really concerned about your “neuro-plasticity,” you might want to crawl right out that window and get outside some more. Let’s hope there’s not a second volume in the works. (self-released)

La Forza MySpace page