Monday, March 26, 2018

How We Can Listen to the Same Song and Hear It Differently

Recently, it has fascinated me how two people can listen to the same song and come away with wildly different perspectives. Zackary Kephart, who runs the blog The Musical Divide, was kind enough to indulge me in proving this.

I chose Dorothy’s latest album 28 Days in the Valley for this experiment. Both of us wrote about it on our respective blogs and both liked it. With a few exceptions, we did not exactly line up on which songs we thought were the strongest.

Zack is a 21 year old New Yorker (not NYC) whose main focus is on country music, go figure. I’m a Texan in my 40s who grew up listening to George Strait and Guns n’ Roses, Alabama and ZZ Top.

While Zack’s blog is primarily country and Americana, he has legitimate rock bonafides, thanks to his mother and the game Guitar Hero. While he mostly writes about country and Americana, he also covers rock sporadically.

Since you’re reading this, you probably know what I write about, so I won’t go into detail.

So, we each listened to 28 Days in the Valley and wrote down/typed up one, two, three sentences on each song. What follows below is our reactions to each song while listening through the album. I mixed up the order of the responses, but you can figure out some of them. Others, maybe not.

Know that we have both listened to the album several times before. This is not initial reaction, but yet just an experiment in how people can listen to the same song and hear it differently.

Reminds me of early 90s Sheryl Crow musically. That kind of lilting, laid back rock vibe. Lyrically, people thought she was flawless as she was broken, now that she’s in a better place, she’s gonna own that term.

I don't like these types of meaningless empowerment anthems that are made to sound like well … empowerment anthems. It comes across as cloying and cheesy. I don't like this.

Who Do You Love
This track is a bit too heavy and compressed to really click for me, especially when she's shouting meaningless one-liners during the verses. It's a lot of flair for nothing much.

This is an homage to late 60s/early 70s semi-psychedelia. Starts out as a hard driving rocker then the break down comes and serves up, what we used to refer to as the “pot smoking section”, though much shorter than those songs of that era. It just has that vibe before it ramps back up to the finish.

Pretty When You’re High
Just a laid back California rock song about some surfer dude who, probably, lives out of his VW van and looks pretty. When he’s high. No deep meaning, just a fun song.

Beyond the really odd hook (who says someone is pretty when they're high?), I do like the swampy, electric blues feel to this. I just wish that guitar that creeped up after the uttering of the title was louder in the mix.

This is the first glimpse we get into the spiritual themes of the album. Almost gospel-like at times.

In my own review, while I did like this, it wasn't something I loved. I still wouldn't say it's something I love actually, but for some reason it clicked a lot better on another re-listen through this album. The gospel tinge to this coupled with the group harmonies give this a nice, lighter feel. This one seems to be the most Southern-Rock influenced track to me.

From this point on it really clicked with me outside of one track. Everything just gets darker, heavier, and more groove heavy, and this is no exception. It's got a badass, punchy solo to it.

This is first time that the album shows that Southern Rock tinge. It’s more Allman Brothers than Lynyrd Skynyrd, but it has the Southern Rock vibe. Maybe throw in some Edgar Winter in the breakdown.

White Butterfly
I liked the group harmonies on “Mountain”, but I love them here. It's almost got a psychedelic feel to it, and I like how sinister the harmonies sound here. Another good element of this latter half is that the bass lines are more prominent and stronger, including here. I also enjoy how the track sort of slows down to catch its breath before coming back full throttle.

This one is hard to pigeon hole. The first part sounds a bit grungy. Then it goes into a Pink Floyd- like interlude. Not one of my favorites, but a good song nonetheless.

28 Days In The Valley
This short song just sounds like it belongs on the soundtrack of a Western. It sounds like tumbleweeds and dust.

There’s not much to say here given that this is more of a transitional track, but it's dark, dusty, and cool.

On My Knees
This song is about is about sex, pure and simple. It’s KISS meets 80s sleaze rock, from a woman’s perspective.

This one has a heavy Heart influence to me, and while I can rehash why I like this, again, everything is just darker, edgier and more alive from here on out. Yeah, it's nothing more than a sex song, but frontwoman, Dorothy Martin's delivery is incredibly fierce and well-executed.

Black Tar & Nicotine
I honestly don't know what to say about this. It's not bad, but it's not a favorite cut here.

The Stevie Nicks is strong in Dorothy. This is first time we really hear it. Not much in voice, but in style. The strongest song lyrically, in my opinion. It’s a dark song full of alcohol and drugs and addiction.

This is prime early MTV. Evokes Bowie, Blondie. But also has some Doors vibe. Or maybe Fleetwood Mac, especially on the chorus, channelling her inner Stevie Nicks again.

While the second half is known for being darker, edg … oh nevermind, this track takes things in a different direction by being spacey and more alluring. It's my favorite track here for sure. Dorothy's frailer vocal performance helps to add a creepy, ominous mood to this. Plus, that chorus is a dang earworm.

Ain’t Our Time To Die
This is the one track in the second half that I don't like, mostly because if you strip away the sound and leave only the words on paper, it reads out like a bad Country song, like say, The Band Perry's “Live Forever.” Again, there's nothing wrong with fantasy, but it's trying to be badass and ends up being about nothing.

The song has a strong Tom Petty vibe to it with Grace Slick on vocals. Wouldn’t that have been a good combination to have heard?

Honestly, this track is hard to dislike, and you really don't need to say much else other than it's fast, fun, punchy and overall a nice upbeat change of pace for the album. That recurring riff that crops up everytime they repeat the title is a treat for the ears.

I don’t have much to say about this one. It’s alright. A fun song. High energy. I won’t skip it when listening to the album.

We Need Love
If you’re a fan of early Heart and/or Jefferson Airplane, this song. Love. If you take nothing else away from this album, take this away: We need love. Love and healing is what this album is about. Well, there’s the sex and fun, but you know.

What I love about this album is that it's a love letter to classic Rock, but it's a love letter that pays homage to literally any kind of Rock you can think of. Here, we have a cool Surf-Rock inspired track that ends things off on a high note. This album also has a thing for implementing cool riffs after they sing the titles. I dig it.

"Flawless" is probably where we had the most differing opinion:

And finally a live version of one we both really liked, "Freedom". Also just to show that there are no studio tricks on the album. Dorothy is the real deal.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Album Spotlight: Dorothy - 28 Days In The Valley

For anyone wanting Dorothy's second album 28 Days In The Valley to be ROCKISDEAD part two, well, it's not. What it is though is a much more diverse and, in my opinion, better album. And that's saying a lot, because ROCKISDEAD was one of my top albums from 2016.

The title 28 Days In The Valley refers to how long it took to record the album, produced by, and some songs co-written by, Linda Perry. If that name sounds familiar, it should. Perry was the singer and primary songwriter for 4 Non Blondes.

Dorothy Martin, which is whom the band is named for, also got sober and removed herself from a toxic relationship and put together an entire new band for this album. As a result, some of the songs on 28 Days In The Valley seem cathartic while many others are almost spiritual in nature, reflecting her new outlook on life.

I usually don't get into background information this much or comment on lyrics (that is up for the listener's interpretation) but I thought it was important this time. It matters to how I interpret the music in this case, which, to me, is the most relevant thing; Is the music good?

After a couple of cursory spins of the album, I listened with a purpose. This is an album that is a veritable homage to classic rock. It has everything. I first fell in love with Dorothy on the debut album because of all of the swamp. 28 Days In The Valley still has that swamp, but so much more.

There is really no easy way to describe the music. From start to finish, the easiest thing to compare it to is Southern Rock. The album has so many elements of that music running through the course of the songs, but it's much more nuanced than that.

The title song is a vignette that could be on a western movie soundtrack that evokes thoughts of tumbleweeds and dust. "Mountain" is a Southern Rock, almost gospel song. "Freedom" is a Southern Rock song with hints of psychedelia. "Ain't Our Time to Die" has a strong, groovy Tom Petty vibe to it. "White Butterfly", which Dorothy said in an interview is essentially a prayer, has an Allman Brothers meets Pink Floyd to it. "Philadelphia" is reminiscent of Debbie Harry in Blondie.

This is not to say that any of the songs are cheap knock-offs or dated. It's just that those influences (if they are) come through in the songs and execution. I also get hints of Grace Slick, Heart and Sheryl Crow in different parts of the album.

I'm also I big fan of how this album was recorded/produced. It has that 70s feel where all the instruments are prominent and nothing gets buried in the mix.

28 Days In The Valley is an unapologetic rock album that should resonate with any fans of what rock was in the 70s, 80s and early 90s. And thankfully we still have artists like Dorothy making kickass rock music.

Here are some songs that represent the diversity of the album, but I would suggest listening to it all:

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Show Experience with Dorothy and Holly West

I went to see Dorothy on 3/9/2018 at the House of Blues in Dallas, TX in the Cambridge Room. Why is the name of the room important? Because there are two rooms at the Dallas House of Blues. The Cambridge Room is the smaller room with a capacity of 250. It was sold out.

This was part of Dorothy's Freedom Tour in which she headlined smaller venues and enlisted local artists from each city to open the show. That night's opener was local Dallas artist Holly West, more on her later.

The crowd was diverse, ranging from teenagers to people at least in their 50's. I fall much closer to the latter category. Being that it was at such a small venue, standing only general admission, there was not a bad place to be. The kids crowded the stage while the older folk hung back.

Holly West took the stage with her three piece band spitting fire with their version of blues rock. West was on bass and all the vocals with the accompaniment of drums and guitar. All three are excellent musicians. Holly's vocals were fantastic. The guitar player had some excellent slide guitar mixed in with his bluesy solos. The drummer. Let's talk about the drummer.

For some reason, he reminded me of Jack Black. He was putting on a show within a show. Throwing his stick in the air and catching it with every opportunity. Standing up between songs to incite the crowd to cheer. Using his foot for cymbal crashes. He was a joy to watch.

Seriously, Dorothy did a service to everyone by picking Holly West to open the show. Aside from the two deeper cut covers by Think Lizzy and Led Zeppelin that West did, I did not know a single song but was into it the entire time. Her EP Mokita is available on streaming services. Check her out if you like Dorothy.

I'm going to talk about Dorothy's music first before I talk about the show. I have been a fan since first hearing the debut album ROCKISDEAD, a swampy, bluesy, sultry hard rock album. I wrote about it here. Dorothy played a few songs from that album, but more than half were from her upcoming album, of which three songs have already been released. From what Dorothy played live, this new album is going to be more diverse and better than the debut. When I don't know the songs and they move me, there is something there.

Dorothy Martin commanded the stage with the grace of Stevie Nicks, the swagger of Robert Plant and the enthusiasm of Grace Potter. This was an old school rock show. No glitz and glam, just a band belting out one banger after another. And so much fun.

Martin looked like she was having fun, from her bouncing around to her between song banter. And she was in control, telling one person in the crowd to shut of the iPhone because the of the light and telling the bartenders to turn of the TVs at the bar because they were distracting her from the crowd. The crowd ate it up.

You always hear a record with great vocals and then when see them live, eh, what tricks did they play in the studio. Not so with Dorothy. Her vocals live are as good as on the record. I appreciate that.

Martin has also assembled a great band behind her. Two guitars, bass and drums. Theme of the night? Excellent musicians. I really enjoyed the guitar solos that you don't get as much anymore. There just aren't the shredders that used to be on every corner in the 80s. And the bass player was channeling his inner Juan Croucier (look it up kids), I'm sure he would have done spins if the stage were bigger.

Admittedly, I haven't been to as many rock shows lately as I have in the past, but this was one of the most fun and best one's I've ever been to. If you get a chance, go see Dorothy live, you won't be disappointed, unless, of course, you just don't like good music. Kidding. But if you like hard rock, they put on a great show.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Album Spotlight: Ruby Boots - Don't Talk About It

Australian rocker Ruby Boots (real name Bex Chillcot) has led an interesting life. She's been living independently since the age of 16, worked on a pearl farm and took a three year break from singing to repair vocal nodules. Those are just the highlights, but we're here to talk about her latest album Don't Talk About It. Yes, I realize the irony in that last sentence.

I'll admit it, maybe nostalgia has clouded my judgement, but save for one song, this reminds of the stuff I would hear on popular mainstream radio in the late 80s/early 90s. Can I compare Ruby Boots to anyone from that time? Not exactly, she has her own unique sound that is reminiscent of the time when radio was not filled with electronics and manufactured music.

There are elements of rockabilly, rock, country, punk and even some bubblegum on the album. It has been said that this is not a cohesive album, but that's kinda what I like about it. You want to hear the next song because you know it isn't going to be like the one you're currently listening to.

To bring it back to my nostalgia, this would have been one hell of a rock album in the 80s.  Not sure Ruby Boots or her fans would agree, but that is a compliment.

I try to be current, but music doesn't come with an expiration date. I will admit that it took me a  bit to process this album, which means I've listened to it several times. I'm still not tired of it. It's that good.

Here is the video for "Don't Talk About It"