By Lee Zimmerman
The Avey Grous Band is a powerhouse combo, as demonstrated so decidedly on their sophomore album, Tell Tale Heart. It’s little surprise considering the principals involved; Jeni Grouws is a remarkably demonstrative vocalist, fully capable of delivering sturdy rockers, blustery blues, or in the case of “Heart’s Playing Tricks,” a tender heartfelt ballad. For his part, Chris Avey comes across as a prototypical guitar ace, one whose searing fretwork is both dazzling and decisive. Together with bassist Randy Leasman, drummer Bryan West and keyboard player Nick Vasquez, they make for a formidable ensemble, one that leans heavily on blues, R&B and heavy rock pyrotechnics. The fact that Avey and Grouws write all original material provides an extra plus, creating what appears to be a well-seasoned sound. Many of these songs could easily be mistaken for standards given the band’s adept arrangements, clear confidence and a decidedly agile approach as far as the shift in styles. Capped by the powerhouse punch of “Eye To Eye,” it makes for an explosive offering indeed.
It’s little wonder that Lisa Bouchelle has attracted so much attention from her peers, as evidenced by the fact that she’s shared stages with the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Jon Bon Jovi, Train, Blues Traveler, and Jason Mraz, among the many. Yet, with her debut album, Jump In, Bouchelle, and her band The Bleu, prove that they have no need to lean on others to define their own worth. Upbeat, empowering, dynamic, and distinctive, it’s a set of songs that rings with anthemic intensity and a full measure of absolute resolve. On songs such as “Love Is for the Making,” “I Believe,” “Heaven on Credit,” “Along for the Ride,” and “Let It Go,” Bouchelle and company emphasize an upbeat attitude that avoids any preaching or pontificating in favor of a series of riveting refrains and a generally positive perspective. Bouchelle herself is capable of crafting compelling melodies, but so too, when she covers a venerable classic like “Fever,” she still manages to make it her own. Jump In is a giant leap forward and proof positive that Bouchelle’s stardom is all but assured.
Although he’s yet to attract the wider attention of the mainstream market, multi-instrumentalist Ryan Shupe and his happily dubbed Rubber Band have developed a burgeoning fanbase courtesy of their rootsy regimen and populist appeal. That said, Shupe defies typecasting — while he leans towards Americana courtesy of the fact his plays fiddle and mandolin, he also boasts an over-arched anthemic style that’s not dissimilar to the blue-collar heroics of Springsteen, Fogerty or Mellencamp. At the same time, he purveys a hint of understated humor, an Everyman attitude that disavows any notion that’s he’s eager to take himself too seriously. The band’s new album, Live Vol. II, sums that style up succinctly, courtesy of 18 entries that run a gamut from stirring stadium-sized rockers to easily accessible singalongs. Even an otherwise common shout-out like “Happy Happy Birthday” gives reason to rejoice, thanks to an unpretentious attitude in the midst of the heartland heroics. With a little more exposure, Shupe and company could find themselves elevated to the next plateau without any changes to their rousing regimen at all.
Andy Peake has an obvious reverence for musical tradition. His new album, aptly titled Mood Swings, spans a wide array of sounds and styles, from blues, country and swing, to contemporary pop precepts. Although the songs take him into different tangents, Peake’s easy, engaging style maintains an affable approach throughout and on sturdy songs such as “Untangle the Line,” “My Baby’s Got a Light On” and “Make Peace With the Blues” find Peake finds an effortless connection. He’s aided by an ace group of support musicians, including John Cowan who contributes his distinctive vocals to an emotive take on the Band/Bob Dylan classic “I Shall Be Released.” So too, a spunky take on “Johnny B Good” shows added verve and variety. Peake’s taste and talent go hand in glove, and as the album’s primary producer, he clearly demonstrates the ideal mindset needed to convey his energy and enthusiasm. Peake’s prowls is undeniable, and there’s not a single song here that doesn’t ring with some degree of reliability and resilience.
With her fourth album, Ten Thousand Roses, Dori Freeman makes it clear that she’s not only a strong and determined woman, but an assertive artist as well. “I’ve been barking up your tree, you’re knocking at my door,” she sings on opening track “Get You Off My Mind,” a song about shedding a relationship that proved too toxic to continue. Produced by her husband, Nicholas Falk, the album is infused with more grit and gravitas than ever before, boasting a rugged resolve that practically leaps from the speakers and takes hold immediately. Graced by her emotive vocals and and a series of sturdy arrangements that find Freeman at the helm on electric guitar and with a skilled group of players is support on banjo, mandolin and the usual rock regalia, the album rings with every rousing refrain. The result is an expressive, durable and dynamic set of songs that deserve to elevate Freeman to a new strata in her career, one where her worthiness ought to be taken seriously.
Grace Gravity — a band helmed by Teri Hitt on vocals and acoustic guitar and featuring June Keto on bass, James Whelan on keys, Brian David Hardin on drums, and various backing singers — makes an engaging impression with their new album, Dream Analog, a seductive set of songs with a decided allure and intrigue. Hitt herself is a haunting vocalist, her high pitch delivery often bringing Joni Mitchell to mind. Occasional brass flourishes provide added intrigue, demonstrating the fact that Grace Gravity have both the spark and imagination needed to attract extra attention. The songs center on a common theme — that is, the perception of what constitutes reality in these uncertain times and how one’s perception of self can help find a center in shifting situations. Keynote song “Whatcha Gonna Do?” provides a propulsive pulse while tracks like “Keep It Together,” “It’s Coming On,” “The Long Road,” Something New Can Grow,” and “Who U R” further affirm that positive perspective and the need to keep that dream — analog or otherwise — alive and thriving.