Jamie N Commons – Rumble and Sway – Review

Blues is the one music genre that Americans can truly claim as their own. We can say that we started rock ‘n roll, or that we pioneered rap, or that American tech has driven the development of electronic music, but blues is the corner of Americana in music that has seen the least influence from the outside world. At least until Bristol native Jamie N Commons came along.

Jamie Commons has soul. He’s probably never had grits (no, polenta doesn’t count), but boy does he have grit. Rumble and Sway has a wild west feel to it, from the jangling piano (pronounced ‘pie-an-uh’ in this context) on the title track to the dark scene painted by the lyrics of “The Preacher”. It isn’t tongue-in-cheek or a caricature of country music, however. He doesn’t have a deep-south drawl, but the sincerity and raw bluesiness of his vocals makes most modern male country singers sound about as tough as Taylor Swift. You have to give credit to a guy who wears a cowboy hat in the land of the queen without an ounce of irony.

There are funny influences throughout, including a grandiose Elton John-style piano-horns-chorus production on “Wash Me in the Water”, and he covers “Have a Little Faith in Me”. Of course no modern blusey artist could escape a comparison to Ray LaMontagne, and Commons is no exception, especially in the crooning vocal on “Caroline”.

There are modern touches too, though. The production value is very high. The phonograph crackling noise added in places does feel a bit gimmicky, but is a minor annoyance, and over driven bass lines are a symptom of current production trends. “Rumble and Sway”, in particular, has some electronic tricks in the form of stuttery noises that just beg for remixes. The EDM scene does not disappoint, “Rumble and Sway” Radioactivated by Imagine Dragons is a particularly good example.

Rumble and Sway is a really solid EP from someone with the potential to shake up the concept of blues in America and abroad. My biggest complaint is that Commons has been releasing other tracks, including “Lead Me Home” on The Walking Dead Soundtrack and “Devil In Me“, before releasing his EP. I just hope that means he is working hard in the studio, and that his first full-length album will be coming sooner rather than later. I give Rumble and Sway four out of five… songs that should have just been saved and used to make a full LP.

You can download “The Preacher” on jamiencommons.com, just make sure you provide a throwaway email address. Jamie N Commons is on Interscope, so you want to avoid getting spammed by Jimmy Iovine.

Vacationer – Gone – Review

The Starting Line is not getting back together. Despite the fact that they play shows every once in a while (almost exclusively in or around Philly), there is no indication that they have plans to head into the studio anytime in the near or distant future. There is some good news, though.

Kenny Vasoli seems incapable of sitting still. He is constantly playing with other bands and starting side projects, like Vacationer. The weird thing, though is that it is very difficult to actually find out any information about Vacationer. There is a website, a Tumblr blog, a Facebook fan page, and a Soundcloud, but the only official source that actually has a bio or ‘about me’ is their iTunes profile. Two sentences: ‘…Philly … Kenny Vasoli …. Vacationer released Gone in 2012…’. Paradoxically, you can stream Gone in its entirety on Soundcloud (or at the end of this review). It is actually easier to just listen to Vacationer than it is to read what they are about, which shouldn’t be weird in 2013, but it still feels odd.

Gone is self-tagged as “nu-hula” on Soundcloud, which is apparently just modern music to chill to, as it conjures exactly zero images of the tropics. It is mostly just Vasoli’s familiar vocals, without the The Starting Line’s punk-pop urgency, backed by strings or synths and piano, punctuated with light drums, and always riding over a solid bass line.

There are songs that sound like the logical, if somewhat trippy, extension of the Starting Line. If Directions‘s “Island” is a summer morning, bright and full of energy, then Gone‘s “Good as New” is the evening, sitting by a campfire with good company. Nobody is dancing, but everybody is bobbing their head. Nobody is singing along, but by the second verse of “Trip”, everybody is “OOOooOOOh OOeeooOOh”ing along with the melody.

There are some odd sound effects in places, like the jungle noises on “Trip”, but they are mostly unobtrusive, and actually contribute to the ambiance. There is also some vintage filtering in the production, which adds to the live feeling of the record, keeping it mellow but still upbeat. Vacationer is The Starting Line without punk-pop, island music without the tropics, trip-hop without the hip-hop or drugs. Nu-hula, I guess.

Overall, I give Vacationer’s Gone a four out of five… chance of being my go-to album of the summer. You can stream the whole thing here. If you like what you hear, get it on iTunes.

This guy has briliiantly chiptuned Random Access Memories

Yes, ‘chiptune’ is a verb now. Youtuber Joe Jerimiah has squished every song on Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories down into a single, 8-bit medley. The best part is that the disco has been all but completely excised from the original compositions, so there is nothing but 1988 NES goodness left over.

Since it has also been shortened down to a track that could have actually fit on an NES cartridge, I think he missed a huge opportunity to call it “Read Only Memories”.

p.s. I promise this is the last time I will harp on RAM… at least until Yeezus samples it.