- The Enterprise
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Three young and very talented acts make up this edition’s New Releases column. All are easily in their 20s and all show impressive skill.
Crystal Brandt and the River ‘Light it Up’
Crystal Brandt and the River’s new CD, “Light It Up,” is a refreshing romp through the ravages of love.
From the very opening song, “Anthem,” Brandt’s voice stands out like a candle in the night. Recorded in Park Hall, I have to say I was very impressed with Brandt’s songwriting (she penned each of the 10 songs). The arrangements, compiled by her band “The River,” really embellish the songs well. The drums accent her lyrics right on time. The guitar work and bass are very smooth and succinct. It is evident we are dealing with extremely competent players here. That clearly comes to the front on “Send it Out,” the second song on the project.
“Only for Show” starts out as a slow, easygoing melody that quickly ramps up into a sassy butt-kicker.
One of the nicer compositions on the project is the title cut, “Light It Up.” This song seems to bring out the best in Brandt’s voice. A sort of slow country-like melody, this song showcases her vocal talent to its husky fullness. The lyrics are exceptional. This song would be right at home on the radio.
So many projects that come into my office, unfortunately, you can say that many of the songs sound the same. That’s one thing I can’t say about this album. Each song has its own distinct melody and they are all very different. This is also one of those CDs I had to listen to a couple of times before it grabbed me. But when it did, I was hooked. I really like these songs a lot.
“Like A Haze” is one of those that stays in your head long after you hear it. The arrangement is quite nice. This tune is just about my favorite song on the project. I like the way Brandt adds her own harmony background vocals. They really make the song more complete. Great job.
“Calling All Contacts” is fun, but “Two Door Coupe” is even more so. The more I listened to this album, the more impressed I was with the arrangements. They’re clean, concise and engineered extremely well.
I tried and tried to figure out who Crystal Brandt reminds me of as a singer. Maybe the best news I have for her and you, the listener, is that she really doesn’t sound like anyone I’ve ever heard in my many years as a music connoisseur. I can tell you she has a great set of pipes and knows how to use them. And her players, Scott Taylor on guitar, hubby Casey Brandt on bass and drummer Jason Fletcher really help her to bring out her best.
I would recommend this CD for anybody’s compact disc player. Check her out on cbandtheriver.com.
Borderline - ‘Training for Life’
Where Crystal Brandt and the River mellowed me out just right, Borderline’s newest release, “Training for Life,” pretty much slammed me up against the wall.
What starts out like a stuttering lead rift blasts off “Fists Will Fly” with adolescent fury. These guys don’t mess around. Borderline rocks out from the very beginning. Maybe they are familiar with Phil Spector’s “wall of sound” because it’s an earful. The good news is, it’s a great earful.
“Get Up” is the second offering on the CD. Again, it’s a full-fledged raucous rollick, but the guitar work by Connor Doran, Cliff Strass and Drew Mercer, along with superb percussion by Rob Willis and bass by Mike Dillon are all right on time.
The softest song on the project by far is “Stay With Me.” The acoustic guitars bring a subtle mellowness to this particular selection. Janice Laforteza lends her vocals to the second verse and chorus with aplomb. It’s a really nice effort. The drums and piano softly dance around in the background. They’re not overbearing, which helps the melody maintain a different air than other songs on the project.
If you’re afraid they’ve lost their touch, have no fear. The next song, “F.T.K.B.H.” (For the Kids Back Home) is right back in your face with more rock and roll and it’s a good ’un. I like the way the harmony vocals in the background blend effectively with the myriad of sounds the lead vocal of Doran, the excellent guitar licks and serious percussion.
“This Scary Movie Sucks” is more of the same. It’s not about a horror movie, more like the dissolution of a releationship. Given the name, it was surprisingly worth listening to. “Go Getta” jams out from the very beginning with clever and aggressive guitar riffs overlaid throughout. Ronan is the songwriter, although the liner notes indicate other bandmembers contributed as well.
“Who I Am” is one of the more mellow offerings and my favorite song on the album. It’s a self-searching anthem about the experiences which shape our lives. The words are wonderful, but the melody is what makes this song great. The chorus is sweet. Overall it’s one of the CD’s best offerings.
The title cut, “Training for Life,” is the perfect song to close out the project. They’re back on the heavy guitar licks, subtle percussion and pretty fine songwriting.
Borderline is young but they’re not afraid to rock out and even more importantly, they’re not even the slightest bit reluctant to be true to themselves. Check them out on facebook/borderlinemd.
‘The James Underwood Project’
Here’s a young newcomer worth listening to. Shades of Thomas Dolby.
From the very beginning, Underwood reminds me of a cross between hip hop and the master of “She Blinded Me With Science.” Maybe it’s just the way James sings. He carefully enunciates and punctuates every word in a voice reminiscent of Ric Ocasek of the Cars set to wild, rollicking melodies.
The 22-year-old Waldorf resident told me that “this was the only thing I ever wanted to do.” He does it pretty well.
The album is a mix of synthesizer with a built-in drum mix. It’s easier that way for the man behind the microphone. “Rainbows in the Night” is a sassy concoction of techno beats and overdubbed vocals. “Who Are You” is another such effort, declaring newly discovered love.
Mastered by Matt McKinley at Nightsky Studios in Waldorf, The James Underwood Project is only seven songs, but they’re innovative and stimulating.
“A Love Song” is not some sappy, mawkish schmaltz. An intense, steady drumbeat kicks it off and doesn’t let up until three quiet notes close out this asseveration.
“Dance Inside the Fire” is one of two of the album’s songs featured on You Tube. It’s one of the project’s better compositions.
“End the World” begins with a siren accented by synthesizer. Underwood often has his own voice shouting out accruements to the main vocal throughout his songs. It’s an effective technique and that is especially true on this song. It builds to a crescendo then wanks out into a soft transition to “Midnight Masquerade,” closing out the album with a strong exclamation point.
Go to www.youtube.com/thejuproject or www.facebook.com/thejamesunderwoodproject.