Welcome to Boss Ladies, the review column written by members for members! Today, Lindsay White shares her thoughts on Donna Larsen's latest release “Open the Door."
Humans are a pretty silly lot, don’t you think? We’re always looking to a new year, or a new year’s resolution, or a new set of political leaders to be the easy way out of bad habits, negative experiences, and persisting social struggles. Don’t get me wrong, clean slates are refreshing, goals are great, and staying politically engaged is important, but sometimes in our search for peace and purpose, we forget to look in the simplest place: within. In her new single “Open the Door,” San Diego singer songwriter and guitarist Donna Larsen addresses this conundrum with some spiritually illuminating advice.
Ethereal vocals and meditative tones set the scene as Larsen poses an opening question: “When will we awaken?” A triumphant first chorus follows with the words “Open the door!” repeated eight entrancing times. The listener has now entered a spellbinding audio landscape, which Larsen lushly paints with the help of Josquin Des Pres (production, bass), Scott Gorham (keys), Monette Moreno (Percussion), Randy Hodge and Victoria Belmonte (backup vocals), and Ian Sutton (mixing, mastering).
In each verse, Larsen speaks to an anticipatory sense of inner and outer turbulence (“laws are changing, shifts felt and seen”) while also acknowledging the various factors blocking pathways to peace, like “outdated traditions” and “fear of change.” But ultimately, she encourages her audience to break those barriers by welcoming and trusting themselves and their source, singing “let the light into your being” and “[ask] to be open to receive.” In offering this warm and knowing invitation, Larsen promises listeners all the warm and fuzzy rewards like “love and kindness,” “discovery and realization,” and “soul communication.”
Who doesn’t want to go to this place beyond the metaphorical door? *Hand-raise emoji* Count me in!
The exultant “Open the Door” refrain circles back several times more, reminding us that sometimes, all it takes to arrive on the other side of life's internal and external obstacles is a willingness to approach them with openness, curiosity, and trust. Though Larsen’s words are sage and gentle, there is also a sense of urgency helping to command the listener beyond fear and toward enlightenment. As long as there are musicians like Larsen, you never have to open that door alone.
The accompanying video to “Open the Door” is creatively curated by Dave Preston. It features imagery such as keys, locks, meditating figures, chakras, hypnotic colors, space, stars, and of course, doors. Together, these images speak to spirituality, energy, the cosmos, and a reciprocal flow from self to source. It is empowering, uplifting, and kinda trippy. (I’m not saying you should watch it while mellowing out with some CBD, THC, candles, incense, etc. But I’m not not saying that either.)
When asked what was memorable about creating this project, Larsen said “This music is different from anything I have ever done. It feels expansive and true to my soul. I am so grateful to be able to have worked in concert with such wonderfully talented people who were so willing to help me with my vision for this song!”
She hopes listeners step into that vision, too. “It would be so amazing to know that people who listen to this were able to begin, or be even more inspired on their spiritual path, and/or gain a new way of looking at life or healing.”
For those just “Opening the Door” to Larsen’s music, stay tuned for a full album and don’t forget to check out past projects such as her children’s picture sing-along songbook/CD set called In My Own Backyard. You can also follow along on her website and Facebook!
Image description: White background with black vertical text on left side that reads: "boss ladies." At center is the artwork for Donna Larsen's single (description above). Layered on top of graphic is a yellow circle with black text that reads: "artist Donna Larsen. song/video Open the Door. reviewed by Lindsay White."
1/14/2021 0 Comments
Welcome to Boss Ladies, the review column written by members for members! Below, read Lizzie Wann's take on the latest three singles from Lindsay White.
Image description: Single artwork for "Nothing Worse" features a collage with light gray text that reads "Nothing Worse" overlaid on a grayish blue mountain landscape. In the center, a photo of Lindsay White in a green shirt, propping her chin up with her hand. Bunches of colorful flowers are placed over her face and near her shoulder. Artwork by ShyTheArtist, original photo by Sydney Prather.
We haven’t had any new produced music from Lindsay White since she released “The Funeral” in December 2019. Since then, well, you know, there’s been a pandemic, extreme ongoing social injustice, and an insurrection(!). For most of 2020 and continuing indefinitely, everyone is asked to stay home as much as possible, which makes creating and recording music extremely difficult, but not impossible. As we all made adjustments to how we manage our lives, White ran through the gamut of emotions, often daily, from anxiety and depression to gratitude and yes, happiness. She also made things happen (and if you know White, this is not surprising). She reached out for help from fellow musicians and her Patreon supporters to figure out how to record her own music at home. And through the immense benefit of technology, she was able to remotely collaborate with various musicians, producers, and engineers to fill in some of the blanks. Which leads us to December 2020, a full year since her last official single, when she debuted “Everything But Loving You,” the first in a string of three new singles. Of her production efforts, White says, “It's not perfect or polished, but what feels more important to me than being perfect is: making an effort within my capacity, being proud of any small progress in that effort, being compassionate about any setback in that effort, and letting go of any attachment to other people's perceptions of that effort. It's a good way to fight anxiety. It's also a good way to approach art. And life.” Shortly after this single, White also released “Crickets” (also with a video) and earlier this week, “Nothing Worse.”
“Everything But Loving You" (released 12/8/20)
Her first self-produced release (with mixing from Amelia Sarkisian and additional instrumentation from bandmates Jules Stewart, James Staton, and Steve Nichols), “Everything But Loving You" is a melancholy celebration of the depth of love. It also is a triumphant acknowledgement of feeling defeated. If those things sound incongruous, you haven’t been paying attention. In this tumultuous time of being alive, it’s a delicate balance of feeling like your life has purpose and meaning and feeling like you have any control over those ideas. White admits that this song was written “from a pretty scary place” as anxiety gripped her in the face of, personally and professionally, losing her musical livelihood and, as a human, the community issues of health and a society locked in a battle about which citizens actually matter. But what she was ultimately able to focus on and cling to is the deep and healing relationship she has with her wife, Audrie. In the first verse, White admits she doesn’t want to do any chores, but even beyond that, “i don't wanna be ambitious anymore / you're the only good news / walking in and out the door / so i'm thinking that i could use / a new plan moving forward.” Her new plan is to “quit everything but loving you” because she’s “so good at it.” But then White broadens even that. She sings, “cause i don’t have a fucking clue / how to save the world / but i can love my girl.” But what we know, and I expect White also knows, is that loving her girl is, in fact, how to save the world. This song reminds me of the quiet, beautiful tones of Corrine Bailey Ray, and it’s a well-done debut production effort for White.
“Crickets" (released 12/15/20)
Lindsay White is not afraid to write about subjects that many writers tend to avoid. In the case of “Crickets,” White brings the realities of infertility to the fore. She uses the metaphor of a cricket, which has been seen as a symbol of good luck, but also the silence of asking for something and getting no response. White and her wife have been trying to grow their family, and “Crickets” details their heartbreaking journey of not yet being successful. The video that she released at the same time is a dramatization of the cycles they endured: the medication, the hormone shots, the love, the waiting, the pregnancy tests, the rituals, the tearful realization when White reaches for a tampon; another failed effort. The song is mournful and spare with just her voice and electric guitar in the verses, then more instrumentation and harmonies arriving in the choruses, but it’s subtle and adds just the right amount of extra depth. In the first verse she recalls her mother’s death, and the second verse transitions to her and her wife’s personal journey as they repeatedly endure the negative outcomes of each attempt to conceive a baby. White sings, “mother nature's coming at me / speeding down a westbound track / hanging out a boxcar swinging / a slow motion baseball bat.” But what may be the most heart wrenching lines come in the third verse when White admits, “of course i should have seen this coming / i should have never picked your name.” The song (mixed by Amelia Sarkisian, mastered by Trevor Hamer) captures the intense feeling of loss for something that was never there, just the possibility of it and the inevitable thoughts of what could come after. The song, the performance, and the video are emotional without being melodramatic, and this balance is something at which White excels.
“Nothing Worse" (released 1/7/21)
For this tune penned in 2017, Lindsay White recorded vocals at home and called upon band Jules Stewart for drum tracking and longtime producer Alexander Dausch for additional instrumentation, production and post engineering. As White summarizes, the song is “about that dreaded sense of hope we still somehow manage to feel during incredibly hopeless and lonely times.” Well, if that’s not a song for these times, I’m not sure what is. White is at her lyrical best in this song with clever wordplay like “there's a pillow i keep punching /i always take you lying down,” “i'm fighting the finale, like a novice novelist / i'm pacing like Penelope, hope for my homecoming kiss,” and “i'm testing several theories hoping to prove the same thesis.” But what I like most about this song are White’s phrasings of the lines that are unexpected but extremely pleasant on the ear and the unusual structure of the song. There’s no real chorus per se, but the crux of the song is the line repeated at the ends of the 2nd and 4th verses and at the end of what could be considered the bridge (White is not a huge fan of bridges). The line, which also provides the song’s title, is “there's nothing worse than hoping at a lonesome time like this.” The tasty fills by Dausch after the first chorus lines are also especially lovely and imbue the song with the hope that White hopes still exists. (Spoiler alert: it does.)
These three releases from White are each unique in their subject matter and presentation. White has an impressive style that comes through each song with ease, from her expressive voice to her well-crafted lyrics and her burgeoning production ear, plus with help from talented colleagues, we can look forward to more great music from White in the coming months and years. Purchase and download all three songs, plus her full-length album and other music, writing, and merch directly from her website.
Image description: White background with black vertical text on left side that reads: "boss ladies." At center is the artwork for Lindsay White's single Nothing Worse (see above for description). Layered on top of photograph is a yellow circle with black text that reads: "artist Lindsay White. singles Everything But Loving You, Crickets, Nothing Worse. reviewed by Lizzie Wann."
Welp, that was certainly not the year we planned for. But despite everything, Lady Brain Collective members stayed creative and stuck together, and Lady Brain Presents did our best to showcase their awesome work to the community. Here's a quick video recap of just some of the work we did and fun we had. Thanks to all of our members and Patreon contributors for supporting us - and if you're not yet aboard the Lady Brain train, find out how to join and/or contribute - 2021 will be even better with you in our fam!
Video Description: This video slideshow features various social media graphics, photographs of Lady Brain Members, gig flyers, screenshots of virtual/zoom events, and member artwork - all occurring at Lady Brain Presents, either in physical locations or online over the year 2020. The video covers the following topics:
-Community Gatherings (Lady Brain members at open mics, house concerts, venues)
-Virtual Showcases (Lady Brain members participating in online events)
-Workshops and Meetups (images of hikes, vision boarding, guest speakers, virtual presentations)
-Lady Brain Media (photos of podcast guests, Lady Brain writers, online reviews, gig flyers, social media graphics, blog features)
-Lady Brain for Hire (gig sharing and business spotlight social media graphics)
-Lady Brain for Change (Lady Brain raised $600+ for RAINN)
-How to Join - www.ladybrainpresents.com/join -How to Support - www.ladybrainpresents.com/contribute or www.ladybrainpresents.com/shop
-See You Next Year & Photo credits to local photogs/friends who captured this year’s events: Sydney Prather, Alyssa Douglas, Darci Fontenot, Cathryn Beeks, Mary Hamer.
Welcome to Boss Ladies, the review column written by members for members! Today, Jules Stewart will share all her feels about Keys, the latest album release from Cristina Cooper.
Cristina Cooper's newest album, Keys, is an incredibly honest and intimate look into her emotional journey from the past 25 years. This collection of songs, some of which were written over 20 years ago, is an open journal, chronicling moments from tender insecurity and heartache to bold declarations of love and dignity. Keys was released independently on November 28th, 2020.
Though it’s hard to use the term “silver lining” about any part of 2020, the slower pace of life for many artists who are accustomed to busy gigging schedules has allowed unique introspection and time for projects that have been pushed aside. Cooper used the time to revisit songs from her catalogue that she had never shared with the world. This collection of songs, along with five beautiful musical interludes, became Keys. It seems clear that these songs had been kept private not for lack of quality, but because of the vulnerability it takes to share such deeply personal and introspective work.
Cooper's choice of stripped down instrumentation and subtle production perfectly compliment the intimate nature of these songs. Perhaps the most elegant example of this is seen in “Come Back to Me” where the vocals are given space to breathe and soar over a steady piano rhythm and gentle synth swells. The vocals are consistently stirring and excellent throughout the album but are showcased perhaps most of all on “The Bar” with its impressive, expressive runs and complementary harmonies.
Cooper played every instrument and part on the album with the exception of the violin on “Long Road”, played masterfully by Evan Price. If that isn’t impressive enough, she also engineered, produced, and mixed the album herself in her own home studio. Her musical mastery is apparent but not ostentatious; every note seems to have purpose and serves the message of her songs ideally from the gentle guitar in “Wake Up” to the anchoring bass in “I Miss You When I Sleep”.
All in all, Keys is a phenomenally beautiful, emotionally vulnerable endeavor. Cooper's full range of artistic and technical talents are on display from songwriting to multi-instrument performance to engineering and production. The emotional candor and heartfelt lyrics of the songs shine brightly from start to finish and provide ample space for catharsis and connection for listeners. While we’re not done savoring Keys, we’re already looking forward to Cooper's next project, an instrumental mood music album. Stay tuned!
Listen to Keys:
Spotify - Apple Music - Tidal - Amazon Music - YouTube - Pandora - YouTube Music
Image description: White background with black vertical text on left side that reads: "boss ladies." At center is the artwork for Cristina Cooper's album (see above for description). Layered on top of photograph is a yellow circle with black text that reads: "artist Cristina Cooper. album Keys. reviewed by Jules Stewart."
Welcome to Boss Ladies, the review column written by members for members! Today we'll hear Tori Roze's take on Jessie Lark's latest EP, entitled After Hours.
Image description: Photograph of Jessie Lark, barefoot and dressed in a blue nightgown and robe, sitting on a piano bench in front of a piano. Jessie's right hand is on the keys, and her left elbow is on the piano, with her left hand cradling her head. At bottom of photo in white text reads: "After (H)ours. Jessie Lark"
Mark my words: musical artist Jessie Lark, a.k.a. Jessica Lerner, is going to be a household name. A San Diego-based musician, Lark penetrates the music scene with her honest approach to creating sound at home. As an original songstress who knows the capacity of her heart AND her own personal playing/singing/writing ability, the fact that she practically does everything herself is testament to the beautifully realized and highly-marketable vision that is her debut EP, After Hours.
The EP boasts five “hearty” songs (pun intended), guiding the listener through varying emotions while maintaining an unshakable constant: Lark's dazzling voice. Her placement, nuance, and tonality are untouchable; her lyrics are paramount to the driving force of each song – she’s got a story (or five) to tell. It is a soothing pleasure to listen to Lark envelop your sonic sensors as she easily floats over the entirety of her voice.
Not only does Lark sing like a bird, but she caresses her piano like a lover whose touch will never tire. The musicianship on After Hours comes across as the much-needed complement to Lark’s pristine vocal expression - emotive and thoughtful. The album swirls with piano + synth + lead + backup vocals all provided by Lark, while intermittent “visitors” drop by on meticulously placed guitar (Lark's husband Kevin Viner and Austin Moorhead), saxophone (Dante Lewis), and synthesizer (Viner). The mix (Viner) is delicious, warm, and meaningful. The production (Viner) is diamond clear – this is some of the most cinematic and licensable music, and it’s all on one album: it’s undeniably good.
The first song off the EP, titled “Come On,” begins with gorgeously low piano notes resounding in the abyss. There is a grandness to the production: as if the room in which it was recorded had epically tall ceilings lending to a cathedral of open acoustics. Despite the openness of the sound, this song feels intimate and seductive. The vocals are yearningly confident. Lark paints us a picture of her dream lover, whom she wishes to possess. She enticingly repeats the chorus, “come on, come on, come on, don’t leave me this way...I know that you think about me...I promise I won’t behave.” The urgency of her message grows as the song continues - violins tug at imaginary heart strings as Lark’s volume and strength explode; she, acting as puppet master to the listener’s feelings. This song could easily be inserted into any film whose subject is forbidden love or secretive relations (like the unimaginably successful Twilight series). Lark leaves you hanging on until the very last note, as she hits a final breathy “t,” proclaiming “this is your green light.” Her delivery is so direct that you wish you were the fantasy she needed. This is definitely the most passionate song on the album; a smart choice by Lark as the first track one experiences.
Lark completely switches gears on the second tune, “Love Don’t Change.” Specifically, we’ve moved on to a modern country-pop jam and entered what seems like the world of a romantic-comedy: where lessons in love are a-plenty.
The scene is set with a slow-dancing guitar and piano softly embracing one another. Lark’s voice joins in solid two-part harmony, perfectly-pairing the music and the vocals like great wine and cheese. If Notting Hill hadn’t already existed, this song would belong on its soundtrack. The lyrics express loving reverence for an ex-partner who left a positive and permanent mark on Lark. It’s a story most of us can relate to; it’s also the stuff of great songwriting.
“Go Slow” immediately picks up the rhythmic pace. Playful bouncy guitar (Moorhead) and piano set the tempo – the vibe is road trip music. Flawless vocals and lyrics touch on the beginning phases of liking someone and not knowing where it’s headed. This is an easy-listening song, literally embodying the aural desire to “go slow.” The piano and guitar play in harmonious country-like unison, strengthening the rhythmic core that propels the song forward. The backup vocals add a touch of femininity as they gently appear in support of the chorus. You know a piece of music is well-balanced when all of the instruments as well as the vocals are highlighted; a prime example of masterful production.
“Fly Away” starts out like a proper singer-songwriter tune – piano and vocals. Self-reflective in nature, Lark speaks about letting someone go “over the rainbow,” describing her feelings of that loss as she feels “colder now.” There is an impenetrable dissonance underlying the tone of the song; it is almost as if Lark is acknowledging where there is light, there is also darkness – the good with the bad, new beginnings with bitter-sweet endings, and life with death. The saxophone (Lewis) tastefully sails over the melody, as if it symbolizes the person whom Lark was singing to. Lark ends the song like a prayer, quiet and gracefully calling out to God for the prompt reunion with her friend. This is an affectionately thoughtful love-note to the recently departed.
The final song, “Under These Sheets,” tells you everything you need to know from the title. Much like “Your Body is a Wonderland” by John Mayer, this song has a future being played on repeat at weddings. The lyrics are exactly what you would assume they would be – an exploration of the entirety of someone you love while being held in the safety of their personal warmth. A cozy feeling of security overtakes you as its catchy chorus reverberates in your head, “I’m never climbing out from under these sheets.” Romance oozes from the very fabric of this song. Like a lullaby hypnotizing you into a waltz, this song begs to be put on repeat.
Five songs aren’t nearly enough to satisfy the amount of Lark’s music one gets hungry for after hearing it for the first time. The production is excellent and the result of a thoroughly stunning dream-team (props to Viner for mixing/production and Geoff Pesche for mastering), but the true winner here is the songwriting. Great albums come from great music, period. The versatility and self-sufficiency with which Lark composes original music shows that she has a long and lucrative career awaiting her in the music business, whether it be performing the music herself or writing it for someone else. She’s so good, she can do it all. Lark is testament that those mind-blowing records can all be written and recorded at home.
Have a listen to the brilliant EP After Hours on Spotify as soon as you can. You can also catch Lark performing live on Instagram @jessielarkmusic - every Sunday at 3pm PST.
For more info: www.jessielark.com
Image description: White background with black vertical text on left side that reads: "boss ladies." At center is the artwork for Jessie Lark's EP (see above for description). Layered on top of photograph is a yellow circle with black text that reads: "artist Jessie Lark. ep After Hours. reviewed by Tori Roze."
Welcome to Boss Ladies, the review column written by members for members! In this edition, Lizabeth Yandel reviews Melanie Medina's new single, “Millennial Love Dance," available today on streaming platforms.
If you’re feeling like you could use a little comic relief in this possibly-apocalyptic, so-dramatic-it-would-be-funny-except-that-it’s-real time of coronavirus and quarantine, Melanie Medina’s new single “Millennial Love Dance” may be just the witty kind of medicine you need. It’s a track that so many of us can relate to in our current virtually-charged dating world. The playfulness of the music, combined with the hilarity of cringingly relevant lyrics like “baby, I’m consenting affirmatively,” give millennials of all stripes the chance to laugh at our ridiculous selves while also singing along (and not crying, you’re crying).
The lyrics stand on their own. Medina had been “pretty fed up with overly sentimental love songs full of imagery cliches.” The response that came from her frustration is a string of super specific, well-drawn images that vividly paint an everyday coffee-shop scene that might just be love. “I stop for coffee on my latest walk of shame, and there I find you standing so astute, in vegan leather boots,” she sings, with such a sweetness in her voice that one could easily miss the cynicism and comedy of the actual words. But Medina assures us that she wasn’t trying to paint the current dating world in an “entirely cynical” light.
“I wanted to write something really topical and flippant as a middle finger to, well, romanticizing romance,” she said.
The track was first written in a basement practice room at San Diego State University, where Medina completed her degree in music. Since that first rendition, the song has gone through a few revamps.
“I had to update the references a few times,” she explained. “It originally contained lines about vegan lattes and a beard that was ‘on fleek’. Yikes”.
Medina cut the final track, with references so current it’s almost embarrassing for all of us, with her producer Shandon Campbell in Campbell’s home studio. The track features Sean Hicke on bass, Abran Gurrola on drums, and Melanie Medina’s own killer guitar chops and wonderfully mellow vocals.
Medina’s hope for “Millennial Love Dance” is that, “we can all just have a good laugh about being basically living in a Black Mirror episode.”
Although the theme of the tune might speak to a general disappointment we all feel in the dating world right now, this fresh, clever song with its sprinkles of jazz harmonies and “liberal propaganda” (as Medina puts it) will absolutely not disappoint!
“I've been writing a LOT during the quarantine,” Medina says, adding that she has more singles scheduled to drop in the coming months. Be sure to stream or download “Millennial Love Dance” and keep your eyes wide for more singles from this rad emerging artist soon!
In this edition of Boss Ladies (a review column written by members for members), Unison Colthurst shares her Trouble: A Calamity Adventure, the latest project from the Calamity gang.
I have fallen in love with Calamity! Do yourself a favor and listen to their newest release Trouble: A Calamity Adventure radio play. I just sat in my driveway for 10 extra minutes instead of going into my house, not because I was avoiding the two sticky toddlers that were waiting behind the front door, but because I had to hear how these ladies were getting in and out of their own sticky situations. Calamity has taken a unique approach with this release, weaving five news songs into a half-hour modern radio program. With the surge in popularity of podcasts, radio programs are enjoying a renaissance, and these ladies are riding that radio wave with Trouble.
Trouble: A Calamity Adventure will be available on all streaming platforms in the coming weeks. In the meantime, you hear it here first!
In Trouble, you really get a sense of each band member's personality, humor, and of course, their musical talent all through a girls road trip through the desert. Written by the witty and entertaining percussionist Catherine Barnes, the story's language and imagination (look out for the zombie trash panda!) makes me want to join them on this road trip--well, until it goes horribly wrong. Take a listen to find out what I mean. No spoilers here!
The songs are a testament to why Calamity has been nominated for this year's San Diego Music Awards in the Best County or Americana Album category. Right out of the gate, their cover of Gillian Welch and David Rawling's song “Caleb Meyer" hits you with low velvety solo voices paired with tight three and four-part harmonies, and the soaring fiddle phrases of Patric Petrie, all backed by the band's trademark acoustic instrumentation. The third song, “Crazy Eyes,” co-written by Cathryn Beeks (ukulele/vocals) and Nisha Catron (guitar/vocals), flirts between tango and rock and roll while maintaining tight harmonies and moving the storyline along . The title track, “Trouble,” which features Roni Lee on slide guitar, is a musical version of watching our fab five stroll off into sunrise with the desert surrounding them, probably in slow motion, while drinking tequila.
In Trouble, Calamity sure lives up to their name, and I can’t wait to hear the next part of the adventure. It's clear that bandmates Beeks, Catron, Barnes, Petrie, Marcia Claire (bass), and narrator Claudia Russell had a blast making this at Foxtail Studios in Escondido, and the fun is infectious. Look for upcoming performances (now featuring Lady Brain member Jules Stewart on drums!) on their calendar, and be sure to follow them on Facebook and Instagram. I know that I’ll be checking out Calamity at one of the fun shows they have lined up soon.
Welcome to Boss Ladies, the review column written by members for members! In this edition, Jules Stewart reviews “Recently," the debut single from Melanie Medina.
Let me set the scene for you: you’re out catching some live music at your favorite spot, and someone is ripping out artful solos, perfect rhythms, and riffs that float like fog around the rest of the band. You’re feeling the music and so is everyone around you. You look up to find out who’s on guitar and it’s Melanie Medina. It’s always Melanie Medina. Melanie has a degree in Jazz Guitar and gigs extensively around San Diego, but not everyone has had the chance to hear her original music or her sweet, smooth vocals. In her debut single, “Recently," she comes out swinging with a feel-good bop that manages to provide plenty of fun for casual listeners and studied musicians alike. With its syncopated vocal rhythms and funky hits, this song made me smile right off the bat. Conceptually, “Recently" playfully explores the sometimes overwhelming highs that come from adoring someone: lost sleep, studying every attribute, and the deep desire to truly know them.
It’s a terribly difficult thing to orchestrate musical complexity into a finished product that smacks a listener with simple joy. Writing a happy love song that stays away from the trite or cliche is also no small feat. “Recently" manages both. Melanie’s full, layered bed of guitar rhythms and her ultra-melodic solo are woven seamlessly with keys (from Shandon Campbell, who also produced the track) and snazzy trombone and saxophone lines (by Kevin Urzua and Juan Gonzales, respectively). As a drummer myself, I usually have a hard time hearing anything other than drums and bass on my first few times listening to a track, but the parts of this one fit so well together that what struck me first was the feel of “Recently." The relaxed, bouncy groove laid down by Abran Gurrola on drums and Sean Hicke is perfection; it feels just as central to the theme of the song as the lyrics.
You know how animated movies notoriously contain “easter eggs,” or hidden gems that are placed there just for the careful watcher to find? Melanie managed to nestle in a handful of little jokes and puns for jazz-lovers in the same way. They’re worked in so smoothly that I was almost mad at myself when I recognized them, just like I was when someone pointed out the fact Lightning McQueen races with Lightyear tires in Cars. Oh, you thought I was going to point those jazz jokes out? No dice, find them yourself.
All in all, “Recently" is an impossibly great debut single from a musician who is just starting to explore what it’s like to take a lead role in her own musical project. I’m looking forward to the next two singles which are set to be released later this year.
Stream/Download “Recently" Online
Welcome to Boss Ladies, the review column written by members for members! To usher in our first review of 2020, Lizzie Wann gives us her take on 20 Years Here, the latest release from Cathryn Beeks.
Full disclosure: I love Cathryn Beeks. I’ve been friends with Beeks almost as long as she was in San Diego. We’ve both since moved (me in May, she in September) to be with family, but San Diego will always have a piece of our hearts and will always be considered a home away from home.
The latest musical offering from Beeks is not only a testament to her undeniable force in the San Diego music scene but is also replete with wonderful songs, podcasts, special shows, compilations, stories, photos, recipes, and much more. Because the project itself is separated into two parts, I’ll follow suit.
20 Years Here
This collection of 7 songs is Beeks's self-proclaimed “goodbye note” to San Diego. And it’s lovely. These songs represent Beeks completely, firmly planting her amongst the great songwriters and musicians in town. Included with each song is the story behind the song as well as their lyrics. She really pours herself into her songs, using them to express all she’s feeling.
To kick off the album, she revisits an old tune, “Begin Again,” that she wrote in 2001 with then-bandmate, Clint Welch. It was originally written about leaving Cleveland to move to San Diego, so it’s a perfect way to bookend this time with a fresh recording. The song ponders the power we have within ourselves to start over.
Next up is “Burning Star” with exceptionally lush production and vocal layering. The first verse examines her newfound depression with the resilient answer of, “You’ll never break me.” The second verse pays tribute to the relationship of her friends Carina Wheatley and Jeffrey Joe Morin, and the third verse anthropomorphizes “life” as a woman who is full of joy and who also destroys. Again, the hopeful and perseverant refrain of “You’ll never break me” closes the song.
“Daylight,” track 3, is a heavy rocker that pays tribute to music itself, as well as performing and songwriting. Beeks's voice sounds as awesome with rock guitar as it does with ukulele or acoustic guitar. Her style and range suits many genres.
Track 4, “Framed,” uses the metaphor of a stick thrown into a river as dreams and wishes that may or may not manifest or surface. I just love it. Backed by the amazing Back to the Garden on this tune, it’s a standout.
“Hey Desert” is the song she wrote when she and her husband, Jon Edwards, decided to move back to the high desert to be with her parents. Each verse lovingly speaks to the important people in her life – her mother, father, and husband, and finally speaks to the desert itself. This song is especially poignant now, as she lost her father in December. You can tell she means every word she sings, which is sometimes difficult to capture, but in the masterful hands of Jeff Berkley, it’s a guarantee.
Track 6, “Small Town,” is a clever social commentary about how friends and family sometimes end up on different sides and how sometimes the clash proves too much to overcome. It’s a plaintive and effective song that begs people to please evolve because “we’ve got problems to solve.”
The final song, “20 Years Here,” is a delightful autobiographical song that recaps her time in San Diego from meeting her husband, to the parties they hosted at their house(s). But in the 2nd verse she turns the song, as she does with nearly every project she’s ever created, produced, or otherwise been a part of, to the musicians she’s met, promoted, and loved. She sings:
this city is beautiful
but it's all about you, you know
All of your music, I ain’t gonna lose it
taking you all along, I’m gonna share your songs
20 years here I know most of the words to your songs
20 years here and I love to sing along
(I loved the callback to her song, “You Know,” from her album Desert Music!) The song finishes with letting it go and acknowledging the love that fills her up. It’s a beautiful ending to a wonderful collection of personal, meaningful, and well-penned songs from the one and only Cathyrn Beeks.
Beeks chose to release 20 Years Here on a USB drive. She says, “Since there was plenty of room I included every song I’ve ever recorded plus a bunch of other stuff, too. It’s a “time capsule” of my life in San Diego. So many memories are stuffed on this stick, a few decades of a life I am proud of and grateful for.”
This ‘bonus stuff,’ dear readers, is gold!
Like with the songs on 20 Years Here, Beeks took the time to write forwards for each file that details each step of her musical journey. You get all three The Ordeal albums: Desert Music, Mood Swing, and Life, Love, the End. You also get albums from other projects (8ball RACK, The Ghandi Method, and Garbo). There’s an album she made with Josquin Des Pres for potential TV and film placements. Plus there’s a file of “Random Songs” with covers, one-off recordings, and more. But that’s not all.
There’s a Listen Local Memories file, and even if this file was the only other thing on this USB, it would be worth your hard-earned cash. Hell, even just the forward to this file is worthy of San Diego’s musical archives as she gives an overview of the 16 years she put in to Listen Local San Diego. But the items in the file are equally spectacular: Celebrating Our Sisters calendar and compilation, Find Your Voice compilation, Listen Local podcasts (from 2005 – a woman ahead of her time!), Gillian Welch tribute show, Listen Local Cooks cookbooks and compilations (2006 & 2011), 4 episodes of Listen Local Lounge at Berkley Sound, and 4 episodes of Production Interruption.
Finally, there are 5 written stories by Beeks and a file of band photos. She also provides a list of links to videos, more podcasts, other special audio shows, and Facebook groups.
Of the entire collection, Beeks says, “Once I started compiling it all I realized all of the cool stuff I'd accomplished over the last two decades and how much amazing music had been and was being made in San Diego. I am so proud to have had a hand in helping to share that music.”
The legacy Cathryn Beeks created in San Diego is one we should honor and cherish. And the best way to do that is to own it. Be sure to get your hands on this amazing time capsule as well as her new songs. You won’t regret it.
Welcome to Boss Ladies, the review column written by members for members! In this special holiday edition, Carissa Schroeder reviews “Just a Sad Xmas," new from Tori Roze and The Hot Mess.
You’re at a bar – the kind that is still “cash only” – the kind where the bartender’s a certified asshole unless you’re a regular. Green glitter naugahyde covers the booths along the wall; it’s December and gobs of tinsel wind around the ceiling, competing for attention with the disco ball, eternally spinning over the black and white checkered dance floor. You swill your Wild Turkey old-fashioned and mash the bright red maraschino cherry and orange wedge together in the bottom of your rocks glass.
Now, imagine a Christmas song coming on the jukebox. But not the jolly, saccharine, Hallmark kind. This kind of Christmas song – a sad and soulful one – warms you like the whiskey, from the inside out. It’s noisy, it’s busy, and it’s got some stank on it. The fat bass lines (played by Harley Magsino) and the criss-crossing vocal riffs (cue guest artist Nina Leilani Deering) create the perfect holiday storm.
That’s exactly where Tori Roze and The Hot Mess take me with their version of 1969’s lost ode to the holidays, “Just a Sad Xmas.” If you’re already a fan of Roze, you won’t be disappointed. (If you’re not already a fan, it’s time
to catch up). She shows up on the track with nothing less than her signature style of vocals – soulful, free-flowing, expectation-bending, and seemingly effortless. Deering executes the backing vocals just as they should be – with the intentionality of a lead vocal but the timbre and intensity of a supporting part. Her tone choices are the perfect complement to Tori’s.
The cover is an underground cut, originally written by Ida Sands of The Soul Duo, about getting dumped right in the middle of the holidays (ouch). Brought back to life with a respect for the genre, thanks to Rashaad Graham’s clean and simple drumming and Alan Sanderson’s production style, the track remains closely related to the original while fitting into the Hot Mess setlist seamlessly. Props to the band, overall, for having the discipline (and musical maturity) to not overplay. Johnny Alexander achieved the ideal guitar tone for the song, making really
tasteful choices in his playing. How the hell Deering was able to pull off an accordion track in a song that could easily be on the soundtrack for a holiday themed installment of the Shaft franchise, I’ll never know. But it works.
The traditional, quoted Christmas lyrics (such as “Jingle Bells”) sprinkled through the song set the scene for us. The protagonist of the song is lamenting, “why can’t loneliness let me be” while being physically surrounded by the joy of the season. About halfway through the song, the tone changes from wallowing in the misfortune of the circumstances, to looking forward to a “New Year’s resolution” to reunite the love affair.
The listener never gets to know if the couple in question does, in fact, reunite – but you can absolutely put yourself in the shoes of someone, turning the facts over and over in their mind, trying to make sense of the juxtaposition of “green, red and blue (…) lights and décor” and a mood that is “grim, gray, and black.”
Overall, this is a solid pull from the Hot Mess crew. If you, yourself, were experiencing a less than joyful holiday season (perhaps drinking alone at a dive bar), this would be the kind of song that would get you swaying on your stool – or maybe even up on the dance floor. With this kind of late sixties soul laying the foundation for the sonic landscape, you might even snag yourself a new lover. This thing’s got some ass on it.
Support by downloading “Just a Sad Xmas” on iTunes on or after December 7.
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