Laura Monzo, Maniac
The year 2009 wasn’t a very good one for Laura Monzo. Ask her and she’ll tell you all about it. From failing love and lost friends to the lack of inspiration to write music, she went through a stressful time. But somewhere through it all she’s managed to come back up into the light with an EP full of edgy pop music that documents the past, the present, and the ever-challenging future.
Her new EP is titled Manic and reveals a tight sound that comes from a smart combination of top notch songwriting and stellar performers such as Christopher Dargis and producer extraordinaire Mick Seeley. Mick has worked with everyone from Dan Hartman and Southside Johnny, to John Bongiovi And The Wild Ones, Jack Ponti in the Rest, and Ronnie Spector. The disc packs punch and multi-dimensional substance, allowing Monzo to stretch out emotionally in the style of Avril Lavigne and Natalie Merchant.
The first track that caught my ear was the deep pocket snap of “Oh-So-Wonderful.” Simple, chugged guitars, bass and thick drums lead the listener into The Cars-styled synth work of Seeley on the choruses before receding back under Monzo’s smooth vocals. The bridge explores ‘80s Psychedelic Furs territory before yielding to the memorable chorus.
The disc leads right into “A Little Bit Off” which moves nicely, combining Go Go’s, Breeders’ and 10,000 Maniacs’ style in that chugging guitar up-stroked rock and roll smoke. Double time tambourines and lush backgrounds bring me right back to the Fastlane and 1986. Cool punky, poppy girl rock rings out loud and clear here and I kind of dig it. Seeley’s piano lines in the outro hammer Jerry Lee Lewis hard.
The laid back feel of “This To That” has college radio potential written all over it and this, too, shows intricacies that I look for in a great song. From soft strummed acoustics to the lone slide pulls way in the back, the tune builds the chorus superbly, making this the disc favorite for me. Lonely western builds give way to distorted guitar washes, drum rolls and keys all tucked back under Monzo plaintive vocal wail. Think Concrete Blonde’s “Joey” and you’d be in the right ballpark. The dark and stormy slide work in the outro takes this song out with a beautiful bang.
“Go Ahead’ reminds me of Cliff Richards’ “It’s So Funny How We Don’t Talk Any More” and bounces in that vein quite agreeably. I don’t like the delay of the hand claps in the chorus, but if you listen to the song as a whole, it’s a small gripe in a tune that once again warrants much attention at the college station level.
I was impressed with Laura’s style, writing abilities and the team of great pros she put together to get this done. At least four out of six songs hit the mark dead-on and I can only hope she continues to use Dargis and Seeley in the future because it really works well.
Hats off to the great contributions of Wayne Monzo, Alex D’Angese, Craig Smith and Bonnie Large who also helped make this EP one to watch. In a sea of female singer/songwriters doing Americana or ‘40s-styled Brooklyn hipster music, this is rock and roll born from the style of the 1980s and raised through the eyes of a writer who lived through a few bumpy patches to get to the good tunes.
Keith Kenny, Evil Fuzz Magic
Even as one of the most good-natured guys in the music biz, Keith Kenny’s amicable image doesn’t hide the fact that he’s a musical monster not to be taken lightly. His unique approach of using an acoustic guitar in a situation where most would be brandishing a Les Paul or some seven-stringed demon stalker puts Kenny in his own unique group, throwing new light on tradition and squeezing all he can get from his banged up Martin six-string. It brings back the days of The Alarm, who made that presentation quite popular in rock and roll before all the rock gods ran out of good ideas and grabbed anything with a Floyd Rose to fill my decade with dive bombs and whale mating calls.
One of the great things about playing the way Kenny does is that you have to actually be really good. There’s no hiding or “string slurring” under a tube screamer when it’s just you and that piece of weathered wood in front of a crowd. But on Evil Fuzz Magic Kenny steps out of the acoustic ring a bit and back into the styles and vibes of Santana, Page and Iommi. Combining his unabashed rock and roll idolatry with a complex and sometimes progressive style of singing and playing puts him at home in the folkie clan as well, bringing you glimpses of protest and experimentation from greats like John Prine or Bobby Dylan.
The CD kicks off with the down and dirty rock/blues of “How Many Lives” and showcases Keith Kenny’s upper midrange voice quite well. In many instances you’ll see a singer/player that has one great talent and another okay talent, but this guy has perfected his signature sound since the early days of jamming with his father and wearing out discs from guys like Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.
The 37-second “Herbie And Sam” is an imaginative and organic ditty; you can hear the CSN&Y influence here with ultra warm acoustic guitar and clever and funny lyrics. It’s a cool separator as he moves into “Bad Medicine” a vamping, stark stomper complete with cool guitar riff oddities that float around the tune with days of sustain and compression and just enough vocal distortion to get the point across. There has been so much abuse with this effect that I cringe when I hear it on a track. Its sort of the “auto tune” for rockers, but Keith makes it work well here.
“Triage Recruit” mixes Neal Young protest with the acid rocking vibes of Cream as he wah-wah’s his way into the cosmos; drums and bass are pounding, mysterious and effective. There aren’t a lot of musical changes here and the melody is a bit repetitive, but I get what he’s going for and it’s totally that 1960s Woodstock imagery with the war message and screaming stadium guitar solos.
Closing track “All The Right Things” is a good representation of what Keith Kenny is all about. Although not completely acoustic, he keeps this troubadour number deep in American tradition of the singer/songwriter. Sparkling electrics stay far in the back with background vocal swells as harmonica lines bond the verses and percussion builds the dynamic advance in the song.
Keith Kenny has always been the quiet one around the scene, remaining in the background and concentrating more on talent advancement than swaggering around town like some ridiculous legend in their own mind. Make no mistake about it: He’s one of the best guitarists around. Keith Kenny is into some interesting things and this latest CD gives you a good idea of where he’s heading.