It seems like Morgan Frazier must have a secret, not just because she does so many different things so well, but because she makes it all look so easy, as if it's just a matter of being who she is. Whatever her secret is, it probably isn't one of those secrets that you're not supposed to tell, because she speaks so readily about what she's doing and why. "I'm a songwriter," she says, "and I feel like my music is a kind of open book to who I am." Still, it could be one of those secrets that you can't just tell people because you have to show them, something that most people just don't want to believe until they see it for themselves.
If you haven't heard of her yet, Morgan Frazier is one of those talented veterans of Country Music that most people don't know about, even though she's been performing for more than fifteen years. She made her first album eleven years ago, and she has a catalog of carefully crafted original songs that are still largely unknown. None of that is really much of a secret, though, and there's a good reason why so many people don't know about her. She's still only twenty years old, and although she's been performing since she was five and recording since she was nine, her first national release, a beautiful self-titled EP on Curb Records, just came out this year.
There are five songs on the EP, four that she wrote and one, "Love Letters", that she liked so much she just had to record it ("I listened to song after song, and that song just really jumped out at me, it tugs at my heartstrings ..."), and although it might seem like a five song EP could only be a promise of more to come, this is much more than that. Somehow as you listen to those songs again and again, you start to hear who Morgan Frazier is already, and although it's quite a discovery, it's also a bit of a mystery. Even though you know right away that you're listening to some great new music, after a while you get the feeling that you're hearing even more than that.
You're hearing a talented singer, that's for sure; if they put vocal performances on the front of magazines, she'd have verses and choruses on the cover of Vogue. You're hearing a gifted young writer, great players, and great production, but none of that's much of a secret either. It does make you wonder though, the way that all of it gets even richer the more you listen, because you keep getting the feeling that there's something more to who Morgan Frazier really is.
There's a lot of different kinds of music in this big wide world, so many different kinds of music that nobody could even name them all. Everybody could name a few though, and two kinds of music that almost everybody can name are Rock and Country. Each of them is its own wide world, and although they do share some history, they don't share a lot of artists, or a lot of audiences.
There's plenty of music in America, and a lot of it's out on the road, rolling down interstates, sea to shining sea. The tour buses carrying Rock acts look a lot like the ones carrying Country acts, but even if they do pass each other on the interstate, they'll always be in two very different worlds. It's true that Rock and Country have a few things in common, and the more acoustic, lyrical kinds of Rock aren't all that different from some Country music. Still, the louder and heavier Rock gets, the less it sounds anything like the handcrafted story songs from a Nashville session, where most of the guitars are played undistorted, and the pedal steel might answer every careful line of a clear, melodic vocal.
That makes Aaron Lewis a very unusual story, because after sixteen years in a band called Staind (who've sold fifteen million very heavy rock albums), he recorded five country songs and put them together on an independent country EP. It had a picture on the cover of a sign by the side of the road that said "Entering Nashville", and he called it Town Line. If that doesn't sound all that astonishing, it's because that's not the really unusual part. When Town Line was released in March, 2011 it became the No. 1 Country album, and that's not only way past unusual, it may be unprecedented.
Last November, Aaron Lewis followed up Town Line with his first full length Country album, The Road. He has a studio full of vintage gear in a barn on his property (Staind recorded their last two albums there), but to make The Road he worked with one of Nashville's most respected producers, James Stroud. He made the album one afternoon session at a time, flying into Nashville from wherever the Staind tour left him with a day off, and flying back out the same night to pick up the tour again.
Nobody who starts a band could be blamed for thinking they might have to fight their way through something at some point. There are so many problems between where almost any band is and where they'd like to be that even if they don't call themselves I Fight Dragons, nobody could blame them, even if they talked a lot about fighting for what they believe in and for what they're trying to do. The thing is, Brian Mazzaferri actually is in a band called I Fight Dragons, and he never talks about fighting anything or anybody; mostly he talks about building things.
The band came out of nowhere just a few years ago, signed with Atlantic Records, and after two EPs own their own, released their first album, KABOOM!, at the end of 2011. A year later they had left the label, and you could easily think they'd be talking about what they have to fight for, now that they're back on their own again. Not even a little; on the way from headlining a show in Florida to headlining one in New Orleans, Mazzaferri talks about music, the internet, the band, the way they made the album, and a lot of other things, but he never mentions anything about fighting anybody. Mostly he talks about how a great band builds what it wants to be.
Sammy Tenuta came out of a very different scene than the one he's in now; he was the singer and leader in loud, driving rock bands that headlined most of the big venues in the Chicago club scene up through the late nineties. He's moved on, in reality, he's moved back to where most of that music started anyway; his new EP "Stay a Little Longer" is purely acoustic -- one guitar played live, one vocal, all about the songs, just the way that really good solo acoustic and solo vocal records should be. Well, all about the songs and how you play them.
Even after you've listened to Andy Moor's new album Zero Point One a bunch of times, it's still hard to get used to how strong these tracks are. There are eighteen of them, and even if you keep going back to listen to the whole album, track after track through the musical light show of its many different voyages, it still won't matter. Although you may think that on just one more listen they can't all seem so rich or so well put together, it doesn't matter; they still do.
Andy Moor is one of the really respected producer DJs in Electronic Dance Music, and on the Trance Nation side of EDM he's been known for years for the quality of his productions. Still, this is something new. As successful as his hit tracks and remixes have been, Zero Point One is an album, a rich, musical album full of different songs, different textures, and different moods.
There's a major new world taking shape in Trance music, as the producers who built the many faceted sound of Trance out of monstrously melodic tracks, layered through and through with the lush atmospheres that make trance music its own art, have started to make really careful, complete albums. The artist album isn't new in EDM, but because trance has always been such an independent world, huge and global but always its own unique country, it's been a gradual, step-by-step process. It's been a complicated challenge, because trance artists don't fit easily into the world's expectation of what a recording artist is; for the most part they're touring DJs, software-based composers and producers who almost all came up putting out one track at a time, usually with its main purpose being to tear up a dancefloor when somebody played it in a set with a lot of other tracks.
Here's one of the best summer tracks anywhere ever, a chilled Surf Guitar dreamer perfect for anything Summer.
Powerplay FYI's new album "A Normal Life" is out now, it's a full length trip through the musical imaginations of some really accomplished performers and writers. "A Normal Life" is a richly textured concept album; it's a new collection of ten tracks that showcase what great writing sounds like with the energy of a percussion-rich Latin big band, with the flawlessly soulful vocals of two great singers, and with the driving funk of a full horn section and first-call rhythm players.
Andy Moor is one of the most complete voices on the Electronic Dance Music scene; he can put beats, textures and vocals together in ways that are just a step beyond a lot of other music, even good music.
It wasn't hard at all deciding to do a story about Tritonal --- their single "Everafter" featuring Cristina Soto is at the top of the Beatport trance chart (just like several of their releases last year), they're one of the most active and successful new DJ/producer teams on the scene, and they're playing at Enclave in Chicago this Saturday, June 2. What made it hard was that I've been meaning to get their album "Piercing the Quiet" for a while, so I went to eMusic and bought it as I started to write the article. The trouble with that idea was that the album turns out to be just outstanding, and now I don't have the vaguest idea how to focus this story. Not only that, they've just released an album with extended mixes of the tracks, and it's probably even better, but I'm still loving this one so I'll get to that in a few days.
Back on the Indie Rock side, this shockingly good band has quite a history as it turns out, which they can tell you about better than me if you check out the "About" tab at thehuntingaccident.com.