Dominic Castillo and the Rock Savants: Vol. II
God, I wish it were illegal to release EPs! I get this great record, but at a measly five tracks, it's over as soon as it begins. The first song, "Miss Everdine," begins with a beat that you can't help but nod your head to. But it's not even halfway into the song that Castillo breaks into interesting, unpredictable, yet accessible, chord changes and a memorable melody. This proves to be a theme throughout the EP. Castillo offers wonderfully written songs for the masses in a rock/folk/indie setting. And it's not the same old thing. The arrangements and textures are both creative and tasteful, indicating that Castillo is willing to take chances while keeping the listener in mind. The melodies are catchy and understated. The lyrics are provocative and always appropriate for the song.
None of this is a surprise considering Castillo studied at Berklee College of Music in Boston, which is considered the star-maker school for musicians. Not to mention his band, the Rock Savants, truly lives up to the name. There is some great playing on this record, particularly on the track "Why Am I Still Here?" If I were to criticize, I would have to say that there are times when I feel the heavy hand of a pop producer who might be stifling some good ideas. Other than that, I would recommend Dominic Castillo and the Rock Savants and I'm looking forward to their next release. Hopefully an LP this time?
Endwell: Homeland Insecurity
In the age of hardcore, it's hard to say that it doesn't all sound the same. Endwell's latest release, Homeland Insecurity starts off with "The End." It has typically heavy distortion, redundant screaming and heavy metal breakdowns. But as I listened to the next song, "Taste of Everest," I was taken off guard by the melodic vocal provided by drummer Mike Kaabe. Similarities to aspects of other bands, such as Hawthorne Heights' guitar tones, and Silverstein's screaming singing, kept me listening for the next flavor in this massive punk metal pie. Surprisingly enough I picked up a hint of +44 (Mark Hoppus and Travis Barker of Blink 182) in the title track "Homeland Insecurity" as the "pop" taste of Endwell came through. In the middle of this 12-track LP, Endwell serves up a powerful ambient sob story, "Goodbyes Are Always Coldest in December," breaking away from the shredding riffs and double bass for a couple of minutes only to blow it out for the rest of the album.
Endwell is definitely on my top list for the hardcore scene, but if aren't at all into hardcore, I wouldn't bother checking it out. Leaving the live show to the imagination, I can only say that it would likely be a high-energy crowd pleaser. As for me, I'll see you in the mosh pit.
Ben Burdick Trio: Fretless Jazz Standards
Ben Burdick's new album, Fretless Jazz Standards, is exactly what it says it is. Burdick plays the tried-and-true jazz standards on fretless guitar. This homegrown musician is someone us Idahoans can be proud of, with his obvious technical proficiency and attention to detail in the art of jazz. In addition, the fretless guitar brings a different element to the sound with its pitch-bending antics along with the earthy tone of a hollow body.
The album starts with two of my favorite standards, "All The Things You Are" and "Stella By Starlight." "All The Things" is solid, straightforward, swinging jazz; and with Burdick sharing the spotlight, bassist Jeff Rew takes a pretty killin' solo. Rew has been, and still is a staple on the Idaho jazz scene.
Burdick really can play. It only takes listening to him for a few seconds to tell he's a real jazzer. Another plus, he's fluent in five. Yes, he does the Paul Desmond's classic, "Take Five" but, he also plays "Summertime," the great Gershwin standard—in five.
I've also had the recent pleasure of seeing him perform live, and in full swing at his record release at Reef, in Boise. He sounds like a jazzer on disc and proves that he is on stage. Burdick is skilled in the art of understatement, in that he doesn't need an amplifier with a volume knob that goes to 11 to show he knows how to shred.
If you're looking for a traditional jazz album with influences from Charlie Christianson to Pat Metheny, this is one for you.
OK Jones: Elephantoms
There's a bit of melancholy in OK Jones' third album, Elephantoms. A little distress comes through in singer/multi-instrumentalist Richard Gintowt's voice. Still, if it weren't so warm, honest and heartbroken, it wouldn't do these 11 ridiculously well-arranged songs justice. The songs on Elephantoms get stripped down and built up again right on time. Pop magic.
Their departure from an earlier Americana/alt-country sound has been noted. The band admits it on their myspace profile: "The new trio has been confusing the fuck out of fans who still think they're paying for an alt-country show." Still, when Gintowt sings about Highway K-10, a state road in their home of Kansas, I can't imagine a more American subject. The heartland vibe is tempered though. On "What Are You Hungry For," lines like "I could eat you with a root-beer float / I could eat you at the Dairy Queen" mix a familiar folksy feel with a bit of whimsy. Dr. Seuss meets Wilco? Not really, but there's certainly a sense of humor amid all the thoughtful storytelling and relationship commentary.
Gintowt, who wrote and performed almost all the album, is in good company with bandmates Nate Holt (keys, synth bass) and Brian Adams (guitar). None overplay their instruments, and they pay kind attention to the song itself. Since most of these tunes are based on acoustic guitar and piano, when you hear xylophone, organ, tremoloed guitar, tambourine or the mellotron-esque synths on "You Might," the adornment is welcome. Elephantoms is even occasionally bold with the use of more adventurous production techniques like the half-backwards vocal toward the end of "The Collector," the driving album closer.
When Gintowt breezily croons, "Make yourself a thick drink and call it a night" on "Big Money On Holy Pockets," you want to oblige. But consider giving OK Jones' latest effort another spin before heading off to bed. This is comfort food for your ears.