Fairfax songwriting partners Velvy Appleton and Anita Sandwina have spent more than a decade making harmonic folk under the moniker of Spark & Whisper. Their rhythmic tunes stand out from the crowd thanks to transformative melodies and undeniable chemistry. This month, Spark & Whisper released their third, already acclaimed album, Monument.
Available now on bandcamp, the record of 11 original compositions continues to advance the pair’s mature, eclectic songwriting and assured aural aesthetic. With Sandwina’s expressive vocals and Appleton’s sizzling guitar solos, this is a modern, rock-tinged take on traditional folk, presented in a fresh and engaging arena.
Though the band doesn’t have any live dates until the new year, you can stream Monument now and mark your calendars for February, when Spark & Whisper return to the stage.
Recorded last Valentine’s Day and released last month, the five-song “Killer” EP from Santa Rosa singer-songwriter Katie Phillips is strong. From the easy, muted strumming to Phillips’ fearless voice, this largely acoustic Americana rock offering is potent with stirring melodies and memorable hooks.
One third of local band the Bootleg Honeys (who perform this weekend at the American Roots Music Festival), Phillips says she takes influence from Karen Carpenter and Led Zeppelin, though on this new collection there’s plenty of other artists that come to mind, like John Mellencamp and Fiona Apple. Joining Phillips on the record is drummer and producer Mark Tarlton, who also provided the studio space in his Sonoma location.
For me, the best track is “Baby Blue,” which builds with a driving rhythm and features a powerful conclusion. “Hobo” is also an interesting turn, finding Phillips singing nearly a capella while Tarlton’s drums underscore her vocals like a roots rock chant, or a chain gang hymn. In fact, each track on the EP is a solid, confident outing that encourages repeat listens. Sample the EP below and see Phillips and Tarlton play as the Katie Phillips Duo on Friday, Sept 18, at Pub Republic, 3120 Lakeville Hwy, Petaluma.
The new self-titled album by Sonoma County duo HUGElarge is a blistering blend of classic songs done up with garage rock revivalism from two veteran Bay Area musicians. Guitarist and vocalist Robert Malta (Paw Paw Blowtorch / Bermuda Triangle Service) and drummer Matt Norelli (American Music Club) sound as fresh and eager as a couple of teenagers, pounding fuzzed-out riffs and grinding beats that fans of the Black Keys will swoon over.
Since forming in 2005, this stripped-down duo has kept it simple, utilizing vintage equipment and playing in Norelli’s garage for the pure joy of rock and roll. That joy is on display throughout the new record, and HUGElarge sound as big as advertised. It’s a raucous collection of classic proto-punk and glam rock gems, with tracks like T. Rex’s “Motivator” and ? & the Mysterians’ “96 Tears” inventively revisited and invigorating as ever.
Recorded by mix master Karl Derfler (Tom Waits, Roky Erickson) the album sounds amazing for two guys, a guitar and a cocktail drum. Coming soon as a special high-quality collector’s edition, this self-titled album is available next month though Hwy 61 Records and at local record stores. To give you a taste of the album, check out the video for the album’s only original track, the instrumental “D.O.G.”
Slide guitarist and songwriter Roy Rogers has played with some of the biggest names in country and rock and roll in a career that spans forty years, from John Lee Hooker to Bonnie Raitt. Still, the accomplished musician has largely eschewed the big label approach to making his own music by self-releasing his albums on his independent label, Chops Not Chaps Records. With his long-time trio the Delta Rhythm Kings, Rogers again offers up a foot-stompin’ assortment of blues-tinged jams with his latest album, Into the Wild Blue.
Made up of eleven tracks, the album kicks off with the dance hall rocker “Last Go-Round,” showing off a sizzling electric riff over a two-step beat. Rogers follows that up with the upbeat jam session of “Don’t You Let Them Win.” Rogers’ effortless slide guitar is in full effect on the record, and the Delta Rhythm kings keep a steady southern influence over the beat, like a hoedown happening in the bayou heat.
Recorded with long time bassist Steve Ehrmann, drummer Kevin Hayes, keyboardist Jim Pugh, and violinist Carlos Reyes; Rogers feels right at home throughout the record, laid back and carefree in his songwriting. Into the Wild Blue is available now, Roy Rogers and the Delta Rhythm Kings will be in the North Bay on Wednesday, August 5, performing at the Sonoma County Fair in Santa Rosa.
Check out the funky track “She’s a Real Jaguar” below:
Last December, in an article rounding up last year’s pop-music’s trend towards minimalist production, I mentioned that Terius Nash, a.k.a. The Dream, a producer behind many of last year’s hits, was releasing an album that could not help but make more of a splash than his overlooked debut. I bought the album a couple days ago, and I’m not alone—Love vs. Money debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard R&B / Hip Hop charts and No. 2 on the Billboard 200, selling 151,000 copies in the first week. That’s not just a splash, it’s a cannonball.
Nash is the songwriter and producer with a hand in Rihanna’s “Umbrella,” Mariah Carey’s “Touch My Body” and Beyonce’s “Single Ladies”—all huge hits that used razor-thin, super-sparse production to great effect. Though few guessed his album would be such a huge commercial hit, everyone agreed it could serve as a harbinger of pop-music production to come. Instead, it disappointingly looks backward and bigger instead of forward and flimsier, and it’s irrevocably marred by an overabundance of Atlanta party-style “Aaaayyy!” and “Oooohhh!” exhortations; it would be forgivable if this was a record made by a producer in 2006. As such, it is 2009, and “Aaaayyy!”s are dated as shit.
Love vs. Money has its moments, though, and they’re amazing. “Kelly’s 12 Play” tips the hat to an obvious influence, while “Sweat it Out” has the man ruminating on his girl’s appearance, advising her to book an appointment with her beautician in order to fix what’s about to get fucked up between the sheets. “Take U Home 2 My Mama” is a proper segue (all the songs overlap and blend hooks) into the album’s finest moment, “Love vs. Money,” layered with thick intermittent bursts of orchestration which sound like spools of magnetic tape pulled through Ampex heads at varying speeds. The sonic texture is as deep as his agony; it’s the antithesis of the razor-pop thinness that The Dream is known for, and it’s undeniable even if you don’t care about the ex-wife, Nivea, and the multi-millionaire rapper, Lil’ Wayne, who inspired it.