Wayne Alpern – “Skeleton” – Self Released
Despite being a Detroit native, and having grown up with the Motown sound, New Yorker Wayne Alpern has completely immersed himself in traditional jazz. His compositions have shades of classical while also lending towards a contemporary jazz style. Many of his compositions have been recorded by other jazz artists. He has studied extensively, including Harvard, Yale and Julliard. In thinking about the “Skeletons” release, Halpern decided he wanted to stylistically return to some of his early works. What results are fourteen tracks of some original works and also covers of a pretty diverse cross section of artists. There is a very good rendition of Dave Brubeck’s classic “Take Five.” Also included is a cover of “IGY” by Donald Fagen. Mostly, the included tracks are pretty upbeat, something Alpern wanted to do on purpose. He wanted a “more danceable sound” and most of the tracks portray that. At the end of it, however, this is an expertly composed, tightly arranged, upbeat, traditional jazz recording.
Overall: 8; Sonics: 8
Alan Rosenthal – “Elbow Grease” – Street of Stars Records
New York native, University of Chicago educated Alan Rosenthal got his musical start in classical. Despite first playing jazz in high school, his degree from the University of Chicago is in classical composition. Upon returning to New York, he has become a full-fledged jazz performer and has played at many of the most popular New York area jazz clubs and venues in his career. His latest release, “Elbow Grease,” is an amalgam of differing styles and tempos. Rosenthal’s training is on the piano so quite naturally that is the featured instrument. The nine tracks, eight originals and one cover, range from very soft and melodic to a more fanciful, upbeat sound. Always, however, are the tracks well-crafted and the piano weaves very freely with a variety of horns, strings and percussion. This is traditional jazz, make no mistake. But it seems like Rosenthal is seeking to give a wide brushstroke of the jazz canvas in this work. Something I would say he accomplishes quite well.
Overall: 8; Sonics: 8
The Drunken Hearts – “Wheels of the City” – LoHi Records
Boulder, Colorado based band The Drunken Hearts have become quite popular in the greater Colorado area. Their style is something I love to hear but do not seem to do so often enough – good ole rock and roll. Yet, however, despite being called “Americana Rock,” I heard overtones of country scattered throughout the ten tracks. Lead singer Andrew McConathy has a magnificent voice and call me crazy, I distinctly thought at times he sounded like an early version of Bruce Springsteen. At the very least, his voice has that same feeling of angst as does Bruce’s in the early days. And despite being a rock and roll album, and that is for sure, instruments such as the pedal steel guitar, lap steel guitar and the dobro all show up on occasion, owing to the country overtones. Hearing a bit of rock and roll was a welcomed diversion while doing all of these reviews. So, if you like a good rock album, and haven’t heard anything new in a while, this is one that should not be missed.
Overall: 8.5; Sonics: 8
Libby Koch – “Redemption 10 – Live At Blue Rock” – Beakalin Records
When the original “Redemption” album was recorded, Koch was an attorney at a Houston, TX law firm. She thought it would be her only recording. Ten years later, six releases later, “Redemption 10” is her homage to that first recording, the one that started her musical career. While I do like country, I am definitely given to the more modern country with rock overtones than I am to the very traditional Conway Twitty, Faron Young type of sound. “Redemption 10” is somewhat of a mix of both, sometimes leaning towards the more traditional side, other times leaning towards the more modern side. Regardless, however, this is a work of County and Western. Koch has stellar voice and her music conveys a great story. As much as anything, I like a good story in a song. Stylistically, and within the country confines, most of the tracks are on the softer side. One thing of note, this is also, technically I suppose, a live album. Not recorded live at a concert venue, it was recorded with a live studio audience. Novel approach for sure, and one that works. Good music. Good storytelling. Good vibes. Yeah, I liked this one.
Overall: 8; Sonics: 8.5
Miki Purnell – “Midnight Bloom” – Self Released
It is not uncommon for an artist to create a work with a theme. In her new release, “Midnight Bloom,” Purnell has a goal of wanting to “capture the elements in the garden when I spend evening outside.” Purnell balances her time between being a medical doctor and music. “Midnight” is her second release. All fourteen tracks are essentially jazz genre covers of what most accurately could be called “Americana” music. “Embraceable You,” “Round Midnight,” and “Teach Me Tonight” are all typical of what the listener will hear on this work. Her voice is exemplary, and she is joined by piano, guitar, bass, drums, sax, clarinet and flute across all the included tracks. Her overall style is nice, soft, melodic – something you might expect to hear wandering around in a garden at midnight. This is a great work to listen to with a special someone, sitting by a fire with a nice glass of a favorite beverage.
Overall: 8; Sonics: 8
Helene Cronin – “Old Ghosts & Lost Causes” – Self Released
When I first started to listen to the latest release by Helene Cronin, I wrote the following in my review notes: rock & roll, pop, blues, country, technically country. It would seem that “Ghosts” is a diverse cross section of a variety of styles and genres. As I listened, I discovered some other interesting facts. One, Cronin has a stellar voice. She is also a superb storyteller. All eleven tracks are original compositions and each delves into something perhaps personal, something emotional, something truthful. Anytime I lose sight of the fact that I am doing a music review and become captivated with the songs themselves, it makes an impression. Each of the eleven tracks on “Ghost” certainly accomplished that. In fact, after my initial notes, I stopped taking them all together, preferring instead to simply sit and listen to a masterful example of how to tell a story. I stand by this is “technically” a country work, but it is diverse enough that most anyone should find something they like. I know I sure did.
Overall; 9.5; Sonics: 8