Sunday, February 24, 2013

Album Review: Jeanne Jolly, Angels

In an age where stardom can be instantaneous, it's always nice when you are made aware of an artist that has been quietly developing their craft in to something really special.  North Carolina native Jeanne Jolly has taken a long and varied road prior to the release of her debut full-length album, "Angels", having resided in Boston, Los Angeles and of course, North Carolina.  The result is a solid, warm and varied album that will satisfy virtually all who are fortunate enough to listen.

There is a little bit of jazz, a little bit of roots rock, and a whole lot of straight ahead country music.  The opening track, "Angels of Hayward Street", seemingly sets an early, dark tone for the album, but Jolly then takes us over to a beautiful love song with the second track "Sweet Love."  A class of lost souls has their story told on "Happy Days Cafe."  One of the best aspects of this album is that it's tough to categorize, which makes it a perfect Americana record.  

Trained in opera, Jolly really demonstrates her incredible diversity on several of the tracks on this album, but none more so than on "Tear Soup", a story song about trying to get past total and complete heartbreak ... to varying degrees of non-success.  It takes a special talent to be able to weave in a classic country sound with opera, and Jolly pulls it off in spades.  In fact, I would suspect this task has never been attempted before now.  

Another strong track (among the many), is "Long Way Home."  Pedal steel aficionados will love the intro, and fans of story songs will love the lyrics of what I suspect is an autobiographical song.  This is a great story song about coming home to, in this case, a life North Carolina after an extended period of time away.   

One of the final tracks on the album, "The Kiss", takes on an almost ethereal sound with a soft   and subtle drum beat in the background and backing vocals that invoke images of a church choir.  It's a beautiful performance that once again shows the versatility of this very talented  young lady.  

Jeanne Jolly is currently on tour supporting "Angel", an album that was released back in October 2012.  Fresh off a successful show last night at the Mauch Chunk Opera House in Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania (read the review here), Jolly will be performing tonight at Perks and Corks Wine and Song, in Westerly, Rhode Island; at the Abilene Bar and Lounge in Rochester, New York on Tuesday February 26, and at Library III in Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey.  Jolly will play at the Rockwood Music Hall in New York City on Saturday March 1.  If you're in those areas, do go and check out this gifted singer-songwriter and performer.  And while you're there, purchase this record, it's one worthy of your time and money.

Click here for more on Jeanne Jolly and to purchase the album

Monday, February 18, 2013

Remembering Mindy McCready; Thinking of the Bigger Picture

I would guess by now the world has learned of the sudden, but perhaps sadly unsurprising passing of country music singer Mindy McCready.  McCready came to sudden prominence in the mid-1990's with a wonderful album called Ten Thousand Angels, which spawned two of her biggest hits in the title track and her only #1 song, "Guys Do It All The Time."  At that time, it appeared that country music had a new, very talented and beautiful young lady who had the potential to become it's next female superstar.  After all, she was opening up shows for the likes of Tim McGraw and Alan Jackson, two of the biggest country music superstars of the day.  It seemed McCready was a can't-miss prospect. The fame, spotlight and fortune for Mindy McCready however, was fleeting.  I write about this today because back in the 1990's I was, and still am, a fan of Mindy McCready. 

In recent years, McCready became arguably more famous for her demons in life.  And I feel a certain sadness as I write those words.  It's not specifically about Mindy McCready, but it is about the millions and millions of people around the world that suffer from mental illness that contributes to their addictions that take over and, in some cases, destroys their lives.  As evidenced yesterday, that illness and addiction can ultimately end ones' life. 

CNN's Dr. Drew Pinsky had an interesting take on McCready's passing, which I believe can apply in the non-celebrity world.  McCready appeared on one of the season's of "Celebrity Rehab, with Dr. Drew", and seemed to have turned a corner in her life upon leaving Drew's program.  However, the sudden passing of her boyfriend less than a month ago had been a horrible setback for the young lady.  McCready had spent a week in a psychiatric hospital to assist with her healing.  Last week, McCready checked herself out of the hospital, a move that can now only be questioned with her suicide.  Dr. Drew, visibly upset and angered at this turn of events, had reached out to Mindy McCready, offering to help her through this difficult life moment.  Dr. Drew had mentioned that a main concern of McCready's, was that she did not want to have the stigma of mental illness attached to her, ostensibly because it would have a terrible impact on an already damaged career.  Dr. Drew, in my view rightly, pointed out that the media and social media had played a part in attaching that stigma to McCready.  Can anyone recall a time when a headline about Mindy McCready didn't start with "Troubled Country Star ... "?  I'm sure we can all guess what "trouble" is being referred too.  In the case of Mindy McCready, it seems the albums and radio hits came to a screeching halt when her personal problems started taking over.  If one thinks back over the years with other troubled celebrities, it seems apparent that their career ended when mental illness and addictions won the day.  Reality also tells us, that it's not just celebrities that suffer that fate.

I've been pleasantly surprised with the comments that have been posted in online stories regarding McCready's passing.  They have been quite respectful, for the most part.  Comments on the internet are seldom completely clean.  I have been impressed at the many thoughts, prayers and condolences that have been offered to McCready's two young children who have lost their father/step-father and mother in the span of a month to incredibly terrible circumstances.  A situation like this that these two children find themselves in is unimaginable.  I too, lend my thoughts, prayers and condolences to the McCready family, and especially her children.

My great hope is that Mindy McCready's passing will help others who are suffering from the same afflictions to find and accept the help they are looking for.  We can all play a part in changing the way mental illness is portrayed.  If the stigma can be dropped, that is one less thing for an afflicted person to worry about.  It may seem small and simple, but it can make a world of difference, not to mention save a life. 

Friday, February 8, 2013

Concert Review: Blackberry Smoke, Virgin Mobile Mod Club, Toronto, Ontario -- February 5, 2013

A little piece of Dixie came to the Great White North this past Tuesday, as southern rockers Blackberry Smoke made a rare Canadian appearance at the Virgin Mobile Mod Club in downtown Toronto, Ontario.

Currently on a tour that is part of the Live Nation: One to Watch series, 2013 is poised to be a breakout year for this veteran road band.  Having opened select shows over the past year for superstars The Zac Brown Band (including a recent sold out show at the "Big Room", Madison Square Garden) and legendary southern rock pioneers Lynyrd Skynyrd, the exposure is starting to pay dividends.  Evidence of this fact is the large turnout on a cold Tuesday night, at a club that is beautiful but can be tough to get to in Toronto, and the fact that virtually all ages were represented.  The night was indeed a great Canadian love-in for the hardest working band the state of Georgia has to offer.

Performing a generous 2-plus hour set, the band opened up with "Leave a Scar", a track from the recently released and wonderful The Whippoorwill, and rolled seamlessly in to "Six Ways to Sunday."  Lead vocalist/guitarist introduced the bands first single from The Whippoorwhill by correctly stating "country radio in the US is a little f'd up right now" before the band tore in to "Pretty Little Lie", a tune that should be a big hit for the guys as long as there are enough radio stations with programmers who have the guts to play it.  The video has already garnered widespread play through fan voting at CMT in the USA.

A quick guitar change with a showing of the words "Smoke One" on the underside of the said guitar signalled to the crowd that we were about to go "Up In Smoke", a performance from their 2009 release, the equally as good "Little Piece of Dixie."  One of the biggest reponses of the night came with the next tune and captured the entire mood of the evening with the raucous "Good One Coming On."  "Good One" is a tune that ought to be on every DJ's playlist at 5:00 Friday afternoon.  It's the perfect intro to the weekend and the perfect singalong, as evidenced by the crowd belting out every note.

Blackberry Smoke clearly is the modern day southern rock band, but do not attend one of their shows expecting to hear a southern rock tribute band.  The only moment where the cover of any southern rock songs occurred was during "Sleeping Dogs", as the Starr and guitartist Paul Jackson took a moment to work in a short instrumental of "Blue Sky", followed up by a snippet of "Midnight Rider", two cuts from The Allman Brothers Band.  This band is proud of their originality and proud to have a distinct sound that is different from their forefathers.  And this band can more than back it up with their level of talent.

Other highlights of the evening was a performance of "Left of Me", a tune that was recently featured in an episode of the FX program Sons of Anarchy, and one of the closing numbers "Shake Your Magnolia", which featured that good old fashioned rock n' roll staple, two ladies dancing on the side of the stage.

Opening the show for Blackberry Smoke was a young man from Alabama, Drake White.  Drake performed his opening set with just himself and an acoustic guitar, and performed admirably.  This young man is set to carry on the great southern rock and country tradition and is an excellent choice to be the opening act on this tour.  A song inspired by his grandfather, "Fifty Years to Late", shows that Drake is a deep and thoughtful singer songwriter who is ready to take his artistic career to the next level.

The tour continues this weekend, beginning tonight (Feb. 8) in Silver Spring, Maryland at the Filmore Silver Spring, tomorrow (Feb. 9) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania at the Theatre of the Living Arts, and Monday (Feb. 11) at Headliner's Music Hall in Louisville, Kentucky.  Blackberry Smoke will also open up for the Zac Brown Band for a few dates in February.  Drake White opens for all dates on the Live Nation Ones to Watch Tour.