ANDREW ST. JAMES The Shakes San Francisco, CA (Island Jar/Fortune)
BEN RABB Until It’s Gone New York, NY (Self-released)
BEWARE FASHIONABLE WOMEN Bird Park Pittsburgh, PA (Self-released)
San Francisco native Andrew St. James is back with his second full-length album, The Shakes, which is well worth indulging in. He holds on to his singer/ songwriter roots on this endeavor, allowing his vocals to shine against a backdrop of varied instrumentation including saxophones, tambourines and snare drums. He uses them with ingenuity, creating dramatic layers of sound and an atmosphere of gently swelling love ballads and softly dissipating declarations of redemption. He throws in some synthesized beats and keyboard notes for good measure but all in all maintains a simple, more pared-down composition. This intentional design is not bland or predictable but rather captivating in the journey it takes listeners on. St. James’ thought-provoking lyrics and minimalist compositions create something not only pleasant but also infectious. His mastery of the genre and the personal style he brings to it is evidence of an artist on the cusp of a prolific career. Follow on Twitter @_AndrewStJames_ Vanessa Bennett
Ben Rabb is a man of hope, resilience and (most importantly) truth. Drawing from influences such as James Taylor and Otis Redding, the NYC singer/ songwriter puts together extraordinary indie melodies with hints of folk and Americana. But what makes Rabb’s music so great is the honesty and humility in his lyrics. The songs on his debut EP personify sorrow and loss, but with the most positive attitude possible. Singing of the struggles one faces when trying to make dreams come true in New York, Rabb admits he’s “like an empty train of hope running on steam,” but also notes that “the broken glass beneath our feet heals away with time.”Rabb is a gifted storyteller with the unique ability to pull you in to relate to what he’s feeling. It’s the manner in which he does so with his lyrics, vocals and instrumentation that separates him from the rest. Follow on Twitter @benrabb Matt Ingersoll
Witty, spontaneous, haunting indie power pop, an orchestra for the palate…Delightfully refreshing and stirring, Bird Park is an electric collection of 10 songs churning with indie pop goodness. Barak Shpiez is a jack-of-all-trades, composing, performing and recording each instrument and vocal part on this spontaneous, free-spirited work. Each song is brooding with unique textures and colors, as the talented Shpiez brings his Pittsburgh roots into the project with the help of Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo...Profound and intriguing, Shpiez is a genius composer, writing music with boldness and flair, at times eclectic and exotic, fully engaging and never losing the immediacy to connect with the listener. A most crafty experience. Follow online @bewarefashionablewomen.com Shawn M. Haney
Here you’ll find the best new music our writers have been digging this past month. For full reviews and to stream tracks and videos from the artists featured on these pages, please head to performermag.com. Enjoy! BONNIE “PRINCE” BILLY Singer’s Grave a Sea of Tongues Louisville, KY (Drag City Records)
CHEERLEADER On Your Side Philadelphia, PA (Bright Antenna Records)
DAN BLAKESLEE Owed to the Tanglin’ Wind Somerville, MA (Self-released)
The iconic Louisville native always had a bewildering songwriting approach. His eleventh release deepens singer Will Oldham’s meta quality—a rollicking reinterpretation of previously subdued minimalist folk released largely from 2011’s Wolfroy Goes to Town. Here Oldham takes another approach, glazing the minimalist folk with a ramble-shamble country rock shell, in the vein of his 2009 Beware release. An assortment of bristling string instruments shuffle, pluck and strum: banjos, acoustic guitars, thin scrubby percussion and electrified country steel guitars slide out rustic melodies that temper a folk singer’s approximation of bluegrass. Oldham describes his connection to songwriting in the form of relationships, and like a jazz musician he fearless reinterprets himself and his substantial catalog, daringly exploring new avenues and woozy potentials. Follow on Twitter @MoreRevery Christopher Petro
Cheerleader‘s latest EP is full of boppy, well-structured songs reminiscent of some of the “one hit wonders” of the Eighties. This band, however, is far from being labeled that. Filled with one blazing pop song after another, listeners will find this four-track EP unapologetic in its attempt to fill your head with an infectious, laidback attitude. A sure-fire crowd pleaser is the title track; the song immediately bursts into action, sending the listener into a sing-along-dance-like-no-one’s-watching musical journey. It has “single” written all over it. Hell, it has the CW Network written all over it. Though On Your Side invokes Fountains of Wayne and Superdrag, Cheerleader establishes its own identity and undoubtedly stands out as such. Their ability to cross genres, and the masterful way in which they write hooks will lead this band straight to the top.
Stirring and amiable, Dan Blakeslee is quite a prolific songsmith and artist, striking a chord with the New England region with his crafty, noble tunes, over five albums’ worth of work. With stirring numbers like “Poet on the Porch” and “Tattooed Man and the Saint,” his new record bleeds with sound and words, putting to music his life in the New England area through strong and fervent storytelling. This is soulful folk both magical and immediate; the vocals are gripping, haunting, decorated by a gifted band of musicians, complete with dynamic guitars, banjos, organs and percussion. Peaceful, meditative and relaxing, these ten songs spell gritty, bold folk styles of the New England area. Owed to the Tanglin’ Wind is a wonderful, much needed gift of respite, perfect for the journeyman.
6 NOVEMBER 2014 PERFORMER MAGAZINE
Follow on Twitter @chrleader
Follow on Twitter @Dan_Blakeslee Shawn M. Haney