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.
In our latest Boss Ladies review, Heather Marie shares her take on “Wondrous Woman," the latest single from Julia Sage and The Bad Hombres.
Press play and discover that “Wondrous Woman” by Julia Sage and the Bad Hombres is a deliciously dirty blues track. Employing a style reminiscent of gritty, soul-pounding, hip-swaying Chicago Blues, the band transports me to the Windy City of yore, where smoke still filled the rooms of dark and dingy dive bars, the drinks were cheap and stiff, and where the best blues players of all time were laying infinite claim to the blues sound stage. Instantly, I want to light up a smoke and sip whiskey on the rocks (which I do).
Chad Pittman (bass) and Tom Peart (drums) establish an infectiously sensual groove that holds deep in the pocket all the way through. Matthew Strachota’s intensely satisfying electric guitar tone is the bedrock for his profoundly emotive riffs, which bring to mind Muddy Water-like blues licks infused with roadhouse rebel undertones. I’m instantaneously spellbound when Sage’s voice enters the mix. It’s deep, sultry, and intimate on a level that’s almost disarming. I feel the real. I’m struck by the way Strachota’s guitar consorts with her vocals; it’s as if I’m listening to a duet at times. He plays with feeling and intent, from which is born a sound that so perfectly emulates authentic human emotion, it becomes another voice itself.
When I turn my attention to the lyrics, I am even more enamored. “Wondrous Woman” is an anthem of female strength and independence. Each carefully constructed line bellows liberation and unapologetic feminine resilience. It’s hard to pick a favorite verse, because I love them all, so here’s merely one fantastic example:
I’m not a woman
who speaks empty words
I’m not a woman
who follows the herds
I’m the kind of woman
who’s free as a bird
The well-calculated chorus, both from a musical and lyrical perspective, is a sonorous soliloquy that teems with a gloriously gut-punching tenacity; it hails as the antithesis to feminine uncertainty. Sage’s voice unfurls into a low-hanging howl of a crescendo as she affirms “I’m Strong” and “True” in a way that packs pure, guttural, goose-bump worthy punches. I believe every word she sings because I can tell she believes it, too.
as the wind that lifts your wings
as the voices of the angels who sing
as the honey you only taste in your dreams
a woman who lives in eternal spring
I could ramble on for days how great this song is line by line, note by note, and beat by beat. This is truly authentic stuff here and it’s beyond refreshing to hear. Bravo to Julia Sage and The Bad Hombres (which also include the incredibly talented GrandpaDrew and Natasha Cruz) for keeping genuinely good and undeniably cool original music circulating in the San Diego music scene. I’m sold. You’re turn, now. Go check it out.
This edition of Boss Ladies is brought to you by member Carissa Schroeder, who reviews “Amulet," the latest single from Lizabeth Yandel.
If Lizabeth Yandel ever decides to throw in the proverbial music towel, it’s safe to say she has a solid future letting her subconscious mind design interiors for the trendy, San Diego restaurant group, Consortium Holdings (Born & Raised, False Idol, Craft & Commerce). Her latest single, “Amulet,” was born from a dream in which she sat, having a drink alone, “in a narrow little tavern lit by small star-shaped lights. It was decorated with vining plants and pieces of stained glass strung from the ceiling, which was almost completely comprised of windows.” The moon was out. She sat in her booth and sang the first verse of “Amulet” – a song that was fully completed and already in existence in dreamland – when an oddly specific 2000’s version of Erykah Badu appeared with her squad and started singing along in lush harmony.
You’ve gotta love dreams.
What I wouldn’t give to step inside this woman’s head for a day! It seems so magical. Truthfully, she did an incredible job of capturing that sense of whimsy and magic in the song. Her ability to bring her inner world out through music is uncanny. I could place my own two feet in that tavern if music could physically transport my body.
By experiencing the audio playground that is “Amulet,” it’s clear that Yandel embodies the reason that people need to start paying better attention to the local music that is happening right beneath their noses. This song has everything it needs to become a favorite in your rotation – it’s (literally) dreamy, well-written and recorded, and it has a lyrical, soul-forward, message that we so desperately need right now.
Yandel, who has admittedly battled with depression, feelings of hopelessness, and even mild suicidal thoughts, calls this song, “a heart-aching celebration of music for all the ways and times it has saved my life.” Her lyric, “Be alive,” swirls around repeatedly at the end of the song, like a mantra, reminding us that it’s a “constant choice to stay alive” and fight life’s battles.
I believe that this is truly what we need to hear, right now, as a collective. When so many of us these days report suffering from anxiety, depression and isolation, it’s no wonder we are maligned with what seems like endless news of suicide, mass shootings, and unspeakable violence.
If American society is teetering on a narrow ledge – dangerously see-sawing between a destructive past built on problems swept under the rug, and an unforeseen future where we publicly acknowledge our wounds and heal them – Yandel fits neatly into the pocket of the phrase, “Think globally, act locally.”
How many lives could be changed, or even saved, with music like this? How many people need to hear the words, “it’s your one true light, let it guide you through, you don’t have to hide…” or, “at the center of all our darkest secrets is one same song, beating right in time…”?
Yandel has a new fan in me, and the next time I’m feeling disconnected from others, or untethered to my purpose, I will revisit this dream. I will let this multi-dimensional, creatrix of a womxn remind me that “we are lyrics written from the stars,” and that “we can be free inside our minds.” I will find solace here in her divination, and a peaceful knowing that I am not alone in this fight to stay alive.
Stay connected: http://lizabethyandel.com
Drums & Intrument Tracking - Jules Stewart
Bass - Melanie Medina
Backing Vocals - Siena Beacham, Jillian Wilding, and Shala Harmony (from SD Resistance Revival Chorus)
Mix/mastered by Victor Franca, Track Town Records in Eugene, OR
Single art - Johnny Hoolko
This edition of Boss Ladies is brought to you by member Tori Roze, who reviews Gaby Aparicio's new album, La Bella Vita.
A love letter to her mother, La Bella Vita rounds out seventeen plus years-worth of Gaby Aparicio creating alluring audio - seamlessly blending Latin-based music, pop, and that of the traditional singer-songwriter. A musical rarity of deep substance and beauty, Aparicio delivers her unique musical Uruguayan, Italian, North American flavor in three languages with the perfect amount of passion, precision, and intention. As the writer of every song on an album that generously rotates through a considerable amount of San Diego all-star talent; Aparicio definitively conveys her wishes to grow, to love, to help others, to dream, to experience life, to succeed, to fail, to show you her heart, and to embrace all of herself throughout the process.
The album opens with the enigmatically seductive song “Captivate Me.” Spanish guitar (played by Aparicio and Israel Maldonado) gently invites you into the cozy arms of Aparicio’s unbelievably clear voice. Her vocal quality bears a whispery closeness - the cinematic picture in one’s mind of an all-consuming love affair becomes imaginatively vivid once she begins singing. A range of majestic animals hits you between the eyes as her lyrics paint gorgeous metaphors over a tapestry of meticulously layered music. While this song is written in English, it hints at what is promised to you as a listener entering the world of La Bella Vita – a fastidious melting pot of sound with a clear message: to authentically “be you.”
The second track, “Se Va,” kicks-off with a rootsy nylon-stringed guitar, bringing forth Aparicio’s singer-songwriter musical foundation. With the music and vocals in tandem, there is a driving undertone of yearning to its sonic affect. The first song of many where we get to experience lyrics in another language; one gains an even better sense of the primo vocal clarity Aparicio touts regardless of the language she is singing in. The rhythm section (Gaby Aparicio, Gregg Montante, Saul Timba, James East, and Jake Najor) is tight. Aparicio tastefully conquers Spanish-style nylon-stringed guitar techniques while singing all of the female vocal parts. Many will venture, but few will succeed – and Aparicio elicits vibes reminiscent of Lila Down’s notable genre-bending multi-lingual music.
“Tango Triste” sounds and feels like a song directly out of a Cirque du Soleil show. There is an inescapable sensibility of heavy emotion affecting you from the first note. Leading with a thematic picky surf-rock electric guitar echoed by a writhing violin (played by Jamie Shadowlight), the emotional tug-and-pull of dissonant music unavoidably grabs you. The layered percussion, played by Julien Cantelm, is so well-executed that you can hear each and every tonal and textural detail. The bass (played by the producer of this particular song, Jacob “Cubby” Miranda) picks up at the chorus and pushes the action of the song forward. Speaking from a filmic perspective – “Tango Triste” might find itself strategically placed in a suspense movie just as easily as it could fit into a scene between fiery lovers. Violin enhances the intense sultry vibrancy that the song effortlessly embodies. There is an immovable strength to the Spanish-sung lead and backing vocals as they reinforce the melodious back-and-forth sewn into the fabric of the music. This song makes you involuntarily feel the lustful torture of longing for a once familiar love with its impassioned chorus: “Una tristesa, bien colorante//Me penetra desde el cielo//Como me llena//El tango llorante//Devo cantarlo asi.”
“Corazon” cools the heat of the previous song and gives off a vibration of peaceful existence with a bouncy nylon guitar as your guide. There is a sense of calm that washes over you as the dynamic percussion - with the combined efforts of Julien Cantelm (drums), Marcus Alcantarilla (Cavaquinho), and Halysson Silva (percussion) – gently caresses your ears. Altogether, it feels like a pleasant vacation you never want to return home from.
Aparicio’s voice on “Best Version of Me” evokes Sara Bareilles’ tonally bright musical style, but with an easy-going twist of Uruguayan/Italian zest. The brush work provided by Julien Cantelm sustains a rhythmic pace while a tenor saxophone, played by Stefanie Schmitz, dances over a delightfully balanced rhythm section. Aparicio speaks to the simplicity of loving yourself to be the “best version” of you. She adds that through the vehicle of receiving and accepting love from another, one stands to become a consummate version of oneself.
Aptly named “Tangled Heart,” bongos and shakers (played by Enrique Platas) juxtaposed against a pyramid of flowy guitars (played by Aparicio and Maldonado) temper a self-reflective sentiment ever-present in both the music and lyrics. There is an intentional conversation between the instruments and lyrics; each replying to the other like a dialogue in smoothly-laid-out time. As Aparicio illustrates with candid vulnerability, our internal selves can be a dazzling yet chaotic place to navigate. Aparicio comments on her own internal complexities as she acknowledges that her heart will always be an exquisite work in progress: the journey is the destination and acceptance of one’s humanness is vital for growth in one’s personal evolution.
The backing vocals on “Bella Vita” enter the scene like a breeze blowing through a seaside town. An audible warmth overtakes you as three distinct languages envelop your ears. Love, as described here, is comparable to the natural relationship between land and water at a coastal meeting point – they are always touching and whirling into each other, ebbing and flowing. That type of relationship is the quintessential depiction of a complimentary part: one lends to the other harmoniously counterbalancing where the other falls short. This song is so unmistakably enjoyable that one could imagine themselves singing the choral “la, la, la’s” whilst driving along the Mediterranean Sea in a convertible car with the top down.
“Matter” closes out the album with a final message straight from Aparicio’s heart – to remember to be present and act out of love towards the people around you. Recorded and engineered by San Diego favorite Jeff Berkley, the intimacy and balance of sound is pure. Believing this to be by design, it is the only song on the album solely comprised of vocals and nylon-stringed guitar. The tender conveyance of the backing vocals is similar to a lullaby that softly cradles you. Aparicio’s wish to leave her audience with a sense of hope, self-kindness, and patience towards pursuing their own personal transformation is the culmination of her intention to create. She urges you to find out who you are and where you fit into the world, but in your own time.
La Bella Vita is a more than just a love letter. With rich musicianship and catchy musical earworms abound, these eight tracks will leave you humming along while inspiring you to reflect on your own life’s path. Aparicio’s multi-faceted and vulnerable elegance are a gift she lovingly bequeaths to her listeners. And although it was primarily recorded by Alan Sanderson at Pacific Beat Recording, this album is clearly a collaborative labor of love by all involved. They say “it takes a village” and what a handsome waterfront village Gaby Aparicio has built. Life truly is beautiful, and this album is proof.
Link to buy album - https://www.gabyaparicio.com/music
This edition of Boss Ladies is brought to you by member Jules Stewart, who reviews “Ahuevonao," the latest single from Julia Sage and The Bad Hombres.
This year has already been wildly successful for Julia Sage and The Bad Hombres. They were nominated for a San Diego Music Award in the category of Best New Artist, secured a residency at the consistently hip Bar Pink, and have garnered radio airtime with their song “Ni de Aquí Ni de Allá.” The momentum continues to build for the San Diego-based band with their recent release of a new single called “Ahuevonao” from their upcoming album Desnuda.
The opening guitar from Julia Sage and bouzouki riffs from Drew Douglas are catchy and percussive and beckon like the outstretched hand of a willing dance partner. The blend of unique instrumentation and more conventional rhythms provides an immediate dose of the band’s characteristic SouthAmericana style. Shortly, the rhythm section, anchored by Chad Pittman on bass, drops into a solid, feel-good groove that ushers in the main refrain of the song:
No seai ahuevonao loco
deja de rascarte el coco
porque no sabís lo que querís
If you speak Spanish and find yourself scratching your own head at a few words, it’s because the song is written in Chilean Castellano, a slang dialect. A direct translation of the refrain for those of us who need to work on our Castellano reveals a playful jab at indecisive would-be lovers:
Don’t be a dolt, you crazy guy
stop scratching your head
because you don’t know what you want
Between refrains, the song briefly settles into mellower moments to allow the listener to hear of nights spent together with drinks and dancing, talking until the early hours, and longing for a kiss. The oblivious partner can’t be trusted to take action, though, and the longing continues.
Throughout the song, the performance is vibrant and dynamic, in part due to the fact the song was recorded live with Christopher Hoffee at Chaos Recorders. In a time when live recording has become less common, conquering the logistical challenges pays off in a big way for Julia Sage and the Bad Hombres, a band known for their energetic, intensely entertaining live performances. The lively movement of the keys (from Matthew Strachota) and full rhythmic landscape painted by hand percussion (Natasha Cruz) and drum set (Tom Peart) keep the danceability high from start to finish.
Julia Sage and The Bad Hombres hope to be sharing their upcoming full album with you by the end of 2019. Prepare for impressive variety; this band certainly can’t be limited to a single genre and the band’s members boast mastery of a staggering and eclectic variety of instruments (including a saw, should you need more convincing). If “Ahuevonao” is any indication of what’s to come, there’s much more success in store for this band.
This edition of Boss Ladies is brought to you by member Lizabeth Yandel, who reviews Dixie Maxwell's new single, “Uncharted Territory.”
In just the first descending notes of Dixie Maxwell’s newest single, “Uncharted Territory,” as they dance down over a dreamy organ sustain, her thirst for life is made palpable. A San Diego native, Maxwell has been playing and writing music since the early age of 15, when she first taught herself to play guitar. Since then she has utilized her seasoned songwriting skills to co-write a number of tunes, one of which, a rock banger called “Monster,” became the title track for the Lionsgate film Killer Holiday. Focusing more recently on her own heartfelt songs, Maxwell’s undeniable talent and unmistakable voice have been streaming on all platforms, one single at a time, since 2014.
A power ballad in its own right, “Uncharted Territory” speaks to one of the most compelling and familiar aspects of the human experience: the unquenchable thirst for freedom. Maxwell’s words paint a clear picture of a young woman preparing for a grand adventure, but they also speak to a truth in all of us.
She eases us in to start—a lone guitar, then the opening lyrics:
I can’t predict what it’s gonna feel like
If I get lost it’s okay
The only thing I’m really looking for is me
This all sets the stage for a slow, powerful build into the chorus, starting with the part-confession-part-declaration: “I crave to live a life that has no bounds.” Melancholy guitar licks from Veronica May, the atmospheric drums of Paige Miller and tastefully simple bass line of Rick Nash, all fold in around Maxwell’s sweet-yet-sultry vocals and carry us through the rest of this personal, yet so relatable song.
Produced and recorded by San Diego’s own Jeff Berkley, the production is flawless—balanced and clean without detracting at all from the track’s raw energy. Even the overall production tone speaks to the song’s spirit and helps to paint the picture of standing on a precipice, unsure of but ready for life.
Maxwell, currently on tour in Australia, remarks on how natural the process was of creating the track. “There were no huge challenges. It all came together so effortlessly.” The idea for the song came to her, as Maxwell explains, “after quitting [her] job of 10 years and deciding to embark on some travels in an old camper van.” It speaks to the uncertainty of life and the excitement and beauty one can find in that uncertainty. “It really embodies me the most out of anything else I’ve released so far,” says Maxwell.
“Uncharted Territory,” released on May 27, 2019 is available for you on all platforms and is one in a series of singles Maxwell has put out over the past few years. Keep your ears open for more singles from Dixie Maxwell in the near future, not to mention a music video for “Uncharted Territory” once she returns from her Australia tour.
5/8/2019 2 Comments
This edition of Boss Ladies is brought to you by member Heather Miller Janiga, who reviews poet Lizzie Wann's new book The Hospice Bubble & Other Devastating Affirmations.
Good poetry doesn’t require that the reader understand the mechanics involved behind the careful creation of each stanza. Good poetry will trap you within the confines of a moment you never lived, but that comes alive inside you so much so that you can see, feel, smell and even taste it. It will teleport you to another time and place, where the painful anguish, joy, frustration, and ecstasy lifts off the page and becomes your momentary reality, each thoughtfully chosen word a vital breath, a palpable heartbeat. Lizzie Wann’s new collection of
poetry entitled The Hospice Bubble & Other Devastating Affirmations is a perfect example of this. The only difference is that Wann is not merely a “good” poet, she is an exceptional one.
Wann’s book is divided into five segments: The Hospice Bubble, Death, Depression, Writing and Love.
In The Hospice Bubble collection of poems, the reader is guided through a painful journey of the looming loss of a beloved father and the heartache and numbness hurricane that violently/gently swirls you toward the impending doom that awaits. We are flashbacked to the delicate memories of a little girl riding passenger side in her father’s 18-wheeler while Willie Nelson croons through the radio, “chocolate chip waffles for breakfast a noon on Sundays,” and the belly dipping excitement of being tossed in the air by strong endearing arms before the burden of sickness settled in to weaken the body. In tandem with the sadness, these joyful memories make the impending loss even more unbearable. Wann careens us through hospital bedsides, mortuaries, hospice care, the “lift team” and the unavoidable decline with blunt grace.
Tender moments of acceptance arise, such as in “Bequeathments,” where a father, perceptive to a tapered timeline, gathers his daughters to bequeath them his most treasured possessions. This moment, so precisely relatable to anyone who has lost a beloved in a similar long sick way, is mournfully sweet:
one afternoon, as winter sunlight waned
Dad asked me to bring a box from his room
small tv tray in front of him
he slowly began relieving the box of its contents
rings, dog tags, a smaller box with papers
a couple bibles, ID cards
In the Depression segment, the pro-longed discontentment that settles like concrete spreading heavy gloom throughout the body manifests through pensive prose that ruminates like an empty echo through the soul. One example of this is the poem “Bone Song,” which quakes with deep, resonating pain:
there is an ache
bottom of my throat
base of the neck
that is a sad song
there is a tremble
in my chest
that is the difference
In Love, the reader is taken on roller coaster dips of longing, finding/loving, and the sting of unrequited affections. “Sins and Miracles” spirals into the chaotically intoxicating grip of Las Vegas, while at the same time touching upon the lack of something expected that never came to be, the coming together of hearts and bodies:
I am wearing Las Vegas home
white cotton steeped in beer,
sweat, residue of bed sheets,
memories of cigarettes whose
ghostly smoke still found ways
into these fibers
that now surround
my own sins and miracles
it was in Las Vegas
where we finally did not touch,
exchanged no compliments,
did not accept our anger
Above is merely a small sampling of Lizzie Wann’s recent poetic masterpiece. Once you pull back the cover and delve gently into the first poem, you will find it difficult to lay to rest. It entangles you in a web of melancholy beauty warbled through elegiac rhythms and beats, dips and highs, loss and reckoning. It will consume you for a spell, and while captive within these poetic trammels, relish every moment of the high-voltage life it pumps through your veins. Although, as the title suggests, devastating pangs lay in wait throughout her prose, the true,
unrefined beauty of Lizzie Wann’s poetry is anodyne to the human soul.
Find The Hospice Bubble & Other Devastating Affirmations:
This edition of Boss Ladies is brought to you by member Unison Colthurst, who reviews Ren Daversa's debut album Saltwater.
In her debut solo album, Ren Daversa has unleashed a decade of songwriting craft and music studies into a refreshing musical getaway. With catchy melodies and playful guitar riffs, there is an undeniable buoyancy to Saltwater that will lift your mood with every track.
Currently Ren lives in San Diego, but she grew up on a small island on the East Coast. The ocean has always been a big part of her life, and with the first track, “Oceans of You,” Ren combines her love of the ocean with her love for singing and songwriting. This track greets the listener with waves of pop vocal harmonies that gently wash over the melody, achieving automatic earworm status.
Ren is no stranger to the recording studio, and even though she admits finding herself in complete control for the first time was both totally exciting and overwhelming, the finished product is well worth it. This project started out as a four song EP recorded at Grey Brick Recording Studio in Lemon Grove with engineer extraordinaire, Peter Duff, but it kept growing until a full album was born. Take the third track, “Cut and Dried.” Ren wrote this piece for a songwriting challenge. It was originally a simple acoustic song, but every time she played it, she heard it with a full band and strings. Once in the studio, she experimented with sounds and gave the song the breathing room it needed to change and morph. This song is now one that Ren is most proud of, and her best songwriting effort to date.
With the sixth track “Firelight,” Ren is able to transport us to the magical beach bonfire with her picturesque lyrics. She urges the listener to feel that magic through her descending counter melodies and layers of vocal harmonies, then artfully pulls back to just her voice with a beautiful stripped down finale.
Rounding out the album, Ren finishes with a humorous self-portrait entitled “Type A,” featuring her signature peppermint vocals and catchy lyrics that you’ll be singing all day. (Once you get “Oceans of You” out of your head, that is).
Ren shows no signs of slowing down. She is in the throws of promoting this album, playing with her band Wicked Cool, and currently working on a four-song EP set for release after the summer. “I am going for a more stripped down acoustic and vocal sound," she says. “But the one thing I have learned about recording is to stay open-minded and not get too attached to the parts. It is always important to have a game plan when you go into the studio to record, but I really try to just follow where the music leads me.”
Boss Ladies is back! Each article in this series is written by a member about a member. This week, Jules Stewart reviews Baggage Claim, the latest release from Tori Roze and the Hot Mess.
San Diego band Tori Roze and the Hot Mess have been playing and recording music together for over a decade, and it shows. Their latest album, Baggage Claim (July 2018), oozes with the fluidity and cohesiveness only veteran bands can nail down. The attention to detail throughout the album is mind-boggling; instrumentation and sounds change significantly from start to finish and song structure perfectly suits each track as genres bend and melt together. Not once did it feel like an instrument or lyric was out of place. That is a stunning accomplishment for any ensemble to pull off, but for this talented six-piece act, it speaks to their unified, selfless pursuit of serving the music.
With a heavy groove from the jump, “Trust Love” sets the tone for the album. I love that even with a wide array of available sounds, the band chooses restraint and starts with the “good bones” house flippers on those home renovation shows always look for: special guest Tim “Figgster” Newton on drums and Harley Magsino on bass lay down a solid spine that gradually gets built upon as the song progresses. The backing vocals (tracked by both Tori and her mom, Lee Clark) bring layers on layers of depth, effectively setting my expectations sky-high for the rest of the album.
The sultry bossa nova feel of “Show Me” matches the open seduction of the lyrics, but there’s so much more to it. Rather than sticking to a mellow bossa groove, somehow the band gets to lay down fire without distracting from the heart of the song, a feat that is spectacularly hard to do well. Oh there’s a tasteful, jazzy flute solo? You win, officially. As a drummer, I’m taking notes on uncompromising feel from special guest Julien Cantelm.
“Ride The Wave” settles into the most relaxed moment of the album while somehow gaining emotional momentum. The arrangement doesn’t overcomplicate the point; stripped instrumentation lets the listener focus on the message, which I hear as a much-needed call to loosen the heck up and let life move as it will. I was impressed with Tori's voice in the previous two tracks, but this is where I started to fall in love. Gorgeous guitar (from John Alexander) compliments the vocals and provides a lazy river for the listener to float down. Oh tremolo, take me home.
Raise your hand if you’ve ever experienced a moment of indecision that feels like the weight of the world rests on it. “Oh Lord, Please” is a plea for a little wisdom in that moment, and as the band comes in, I get all the guidance I need. The arrangement is particularly intentional and powerful here and the breakdown section makes me want to lean farther into my headphones.
“Slow Down” is a super-smooth flex of the diversity, instrumentation, and raw groove of this band. The bridge is smoother than Marvin Gaye, each dynamic swell toying with my emotions.
“Irish Coffee” hits hard with a definite and surprising nod to reggae but with a heavy dose of jazz’s more complex melodic structure. Rhythmic stops give breathing room to the vocals, which are impressive and powerful in moments but relaxed and fluid in others. Killer brass from Jordan Morita (trombone) provides an unpredictable and delightful blending of genres.
Watch out, jazz cats. In “My Life,” the repeating theme of sabotaging a boldy self-built life hits home among odd time signatures accented by drummer Charles Weller and non-standard chord progressions. I’m usually not blown away musically and emotionally connected to a song at the same time. How did you do that? Really, how? Listen, I didn’t think I was signing up for a therapy session right now, but “can’t live in my past if this gonna last” gives me a little dose of conviction in “Hiccup.” Hit me with a trombone solo and I’m pretty much crying. I’ve been on a healing journey through this song, and as a note to my exes, “I’ll forgive you when you forgive me.”
When “Just Say No” starts, I can just hear the sound of DJs everywhere hustling to snag the opening groove. This song might have the most infectiously catchy horn line since “Superstition.” When that screaming flute run pulls the song into another key/dimension/universe, I just about lose my mind. In the end, I like a good best friend song...or a good “I’m in love with you but don’t realize it” song, whichever.
Finally, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” made me stop what I was doing. As a native Seattleite who (shhhhh, don’t tell anyone) isn’t crazy about Nirvana, I might be now. This cover does justice to the original while giving a completely new life to the song. I like the original more now because this cover made me appreciate the value of the song by framing it in a groovy, full, refreshing context. Guest drummer Rashaad Graham really drives the bus home. All my friends that hated me because I didn’t like Nirvana are saying thank you.
My head didn’t stop bobbing once while listening to this album. It’s a masterpiece of groove, heart, and stank, start to finish. Featuring a host of guest musicians in addition to the ultra-talented band, these tracks are a collaborative labor of love. To nobody’s surprise, Baggage Claim was nominated for Best Pop Album at the 2019 San Diego Music Awards. You’re going to want to check this out.
Find Baggage Claim:
iTunes - Amazon - Spotify
Welcome to Boss Ladies, a blog series dedicated entirely toward featuring and promoting our talented Lady Brian Members and their creative work. Keeping with our mission of collaboration and service, each article in this series is written by a member about a member. We encourage you to discover and support not only the subject of each review, but also the writer! This week, Carissa Schroeder reviews “Want 2 Be,” a new single from HippiHollywood and Naiomi.
The opening piano chords of “Want 2 Be” are wide and moody, producer HippiHollywood (Sterling Luna) utilizing the low end of the instrument to draw the ear, as he lays the foundation of the track. The beat gains definition as singer Naiomi’s voice layers in. She has a solid pop sensibility in her delivery – clean riffs, just enough vocal fry on the attack, and a hint of that vowel breaking thing that young artists do these days (Google search “Indie Pop Voice” if you’re not sure what I mean). While creating diphthongs where there are none is a hot topic in the vocal community, Naiomi’s approach is consistent with the genre and is a successful stylistic choice.
Lyrically, she makes great use of text painting during the classic EDM, build-up-until-the-beat-drops tableau, stating, “now I’ve got a moment to prepare for the ride.” With the full arrangement of the track underway, Naomi’s words are those of someone manifesting: “I’ll cause second glances” and “Find me, I’ll be dancing, right on time,” – words not of doubt, but of certainty, as though she can see into her future. There is definitely an upbeat and motivational quality about the song, that achieves Naiomi’s goal of inspiring people who are also “fighting for their truth.”
My only wish is that the track was lengthier, so I could enjoy Naiomi’s confident lyricism atop HippiHollywood’s EDM beat. I am a barre instructor and I openly admit this genre is a guilty pleasure of mine. I love the way a few musical minutes can leave me feeling as though I’ve summited a mountain, danced a little victory dance at the top, then piloted a hang glider back down. I'm already looking forward to enjoying the sonic scenery with future collaborations from this duo.
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