Kansas is Trenton singer Sheli Aarden’s second effort and the first to feature her in front of an electric band. Her disk was recorded by the ever-capable Sean Glonek (The Commons) at his SRG Studios in Hamilton, NJ and it features some of the local music scene’s most notable players. Aarden takes the listener on a nine-song journey through stylistic dimensions that range from the Loretta Lynn twang on “Me, Myself and Jack” to the Jane Wiedlin (Go Go’s) vibe of “What’s Done Is Done” and much more. Right away I noticed her vocal style. Soft, melodic and sing-song, Aarden pops along at a nice little pace.
Highlights include the title track, “Kansas,” which features traditional minor chord rock attack tucked neatly underneath Aarden’s dreamy, baby-girl vocal. I swear she reminds me of Jennifer Tilly on this disk. The tune is fairly calm until guest guitarist Tony Tedesco steps in to ignite fire to the middle eight like nobodies business. Building his emotive runs in sections, Tedesco peaks in Jimmy Page style, throwing Spanish fly into the final four of this melodic, double note runner.
“Terrified Side” shoots in out of alternative left field in the vein of The Sundays or The Bangles. Upbeat, happy chords drop over traditional bass and drum arrangement and rhythmic four hits. Jangly guitar and four on the floor backbeat brings “Terrified Side” right to the edge of the ‘80s. The chord bridges between verses are a bit long here, especially with the given format and melody, but it isn’t a bad little number.
One of my favorite cuts on the CD is “Drive Away Slow.” Featuring the sad, cry in your beer pedal steel of Jerry Steele. Aarden waxes dream poetic, laid back and comfortable on this smoky mountain juke joint number. This is the perfect fit for Aardens vocal, while guest vocalist Kerry Divine backs her up with Stevie Nicks toned pipes.
“What’s Done Is Done” is an ebullient, upbeat rocker featuring the guitar stylings of Colie Brice, who adds some Chris Hayes (Huey Lewis) grease to the overall mechanics of this tune. Psuedo country bounce gallops along courtesy of Tom Kale (drums) and Tom McDonald (bass) as Aarden and guest vocalists Emily Grove and Jerzy Jung keep this firecracker in the Glee club. This is a carefree and sunny tune that’s going to rack up radio attention in the near future.
“The Likes Of You” is an acoustic-based number that rests in the poppy vein of Deena Shoskes of the Cucumbers and rolls along at a lazy, mid summers pace. Mike Askin (Mable) guests on acoustic lead guitar and doesn’t disappoint with his Don Felder, California sound.
I liked the truck stop panache of “Me, Myself and Jack,” a song that once again features Jerry Steele laying down the best Texas-tinged pedal lines this side of the Alamo. Hard drinkin’ is the message here and it’s making me thirsty. Aarden seems to have a great handle on the honky-tonk vibe and it’s her strongest emotive style on the disc. Speaking of Jack Daniels, aficionado Kerry McNulty once again joins Aarden, sprinkling the harmonic kernel that makes this chorus cry.
“Border Town” is co-written by Keith Monacchio (the SemiBeings, The Commons) and features his guitar and vocal throughout the track. Monacchio busts loose here, having fun and jumping out of the way as Tedesco returns, slashing away like Warren Hodges (Jason and the Scorchers), while the band stomps to beat the devil himself.
All in all, I felt that Kansas was a great effort and it should do well for Sheli. Her attention to detail and the enlistment of top-notch guest players makes this a celebratory release for all involved. The one thing I have to take to task is that while Aarden is a brilliant singer, she doesn’t color outside the lines when utilizing melody and taking chance with dynamic emotion here. What she does works pretty well with certain songs, but I would love to see where she could take herself and her music if she really just let go vocally.
Sheli Aarden appears at Rockin Joe in Point Pleasant, NJ on April 30. For further info on the new CD Kansas, head over to reverbnation.com/sheliaarden.
June Divided: Philadelphians Cross The River To Great Acclaim
I love it when we get a visit from an out-of-town band that just stands so far apart from the crowd that there’s just absolutely nothing to grouse about. June Divided fits into that category quite well. Their recent show at The Saint with Readymade Break Up was both surprising and entertaining. While the group is a collective from Philadelphia, the band actually hails from all over the place with vocalist Melissa Menago coming from Delaware, guitarist Chris Kissel from Pittsburgh and Keith Gill from Dublin, Ireland. But more importantly than their geographic origins, June Divided proves that big, explosive sounds can come from just a few smart individuals when you know what you’re doing.
This melodic trio slides deep into the pop heavy gene pool of bands such as Jimmy Eat World, Explosions In The Sky, Thrice and Manchester Orchestra, just to name a few. Featuring intelligent lyrics, vicious guitar chops and powerhouse rhythm section, June Divided thunder through a delicious sextuple of heavy, pop tunes on their latest disc, The Other Side Of You.
First single, “Bullet” has been gaining significant attention from some of Philadelphia’s top radio stations; WXPN-FM, WRFF-FM (Radio 104.5, Clear Channel, WMMR-FM (Greater Media). In addition to gaining rotation on these stations, the band has earned the attention and assistance from Big Picture Media and Big Hassle Publicity. To keep the momentum of a hot single, June Divided has just filmed a music video for “Bullet”, which was featured as an exclusive premiere on AbsolutePunk.net. The video received nearly 1,000 views in three days, and shows no signs of losing steam.
These definitive Philadelphians are smart cookies when it comes to their panoramic style. Great hooks, ripping guitars and emotive melodies mix well with the raw but controlled production tones of Alec Henninger (Soundmine Studios), who helps this band give up just enough mystery while at the same time keeping them away from the technical and musical tedium that tires out most listeners on bands from this genre. Actually I would have liked about four more songs but The Other Side Of You makes up for its shortness with wisely chosen songs that fit this band like the proverbial glove.
Stand out songs like “Perfect Storm” hit you right in the ear with a guitar hook that stays for days, clearing the road for Melissa’s soprano ranged, bell clear voice to fly high over the blitzkrieg of Chris Kissels six-string cacophony and Keith Gills thick drum hits. “Bullet” may be the chosen one, but to me, “Perfect Storm” is the song I hear as making a lot of noise from an EP that has at least three great choices for radio gold. I also really had a good time with the chuga-lug guitar vamp on the title tune, “The Other Side Of you.”
June Divided is definitely one Philly band that I’d welcome back anytime and hope to see in Shoreworld more often. For more on this top-notch trio head over to junedivided.com