AMPED™ FEATURED ALBUM OF THE WEEK: WESLEY SCHULTZ/VIGNETTES

Formed in Ramsey, New Jersey in 2002, The Lumineers have become one of most popular Folk and Americana bands in the U.S. over the course of their 20-year career. Now based in Denver, Colorado, founding members Wesley Schultz (vocals/guitar) and Jeremiah Fraites (percussion/piano) have forged a career that has inspired a legion of young musicians to investigate American Folk music, Country, and other genres that were not yet considered ‘cool’ in the world of indie rock. However, The Lumineers were one of the bands that dusted off these old classic genres and gave them a new coat of paint. While the band has been instrumental in the uprising of Americana and the new Folk movement, it wasn’t always that way…

When Schultz and Fraites first started playing together, they threw every style of music into the mix – from hard rock to electronica – to see what felt most comfortable to them. From mediocre rock covers to tender acoustic singer/songwriterballads, they tried it all. Gradually, they gravitated towards a musical comfort zone that included doing covers while slyly adding originals to the mix. They even toyed with a few different names for the band including Free Beer. Thankfully, a mistake by an emcee at a Jersey City club led to the name The Lumineers and the rest was history. They relocated to Denver, Colorado and in 2010, began to build the band that would eventually record their 2012 self-titled debut album. Their sophomore album, CLEOPATRA, was released in 2016, followed three years later by their third album, III.  Beloved by a loyal fan base, the critically acclaimed band has gone from strength to strength in their nearly two-decade existence.

And here we are in early 2021, a year deep into the pandemic and we are still caught between the fear of the present and the hope for the future. Thankfully, Wesley Schultz has emerged from the shadows and presents his solo album VIGNETTES, a collection of cover versions of songs that have inspired his musical journey over the years. While the world outside might feel like a raging river, VIGNETTES is that calming pond that lies just beyond the meadow in your mind. While the album isn’t a joyous affair, it’s stark simplicity and emotional performances combine melancholia and sadness with a celebration of the warmth and power of music. Tackling songs by Warren Zevon, Tom Waits, Sheryl Crow, Bruce Springsteen and Jim Croce, VIGNETTES may feel like a modern Folk album, but it is really an honest homage to the Church of Music. The songs feature Schultz’s voice accompanied by either a piano or acoustic guitar, but the atmosphere of each recording provides a new dimension that is felt more than heard. And his version of Croce’s “Operator (That’s Not The Way It Feels)” is heartbreaking. This is an album that will inspire you to hold hands with your loved one as you shelter from the storm and await the dawning of a new day.

WESLEY SCHULTZ

VIGNETTES

Available NOW!

AMPED™ FEATURED ALBUM OF THE WEEK: WILD PINK/A BILLION LITTLE LIGHTS

Creating a unique musical sound isn’t always planned. Sure, you can think that combining genre #1 with genre #5 and then adding a dibble-dabble of genre #8 sounds like a good idea, more than likely one of those genres will dominate and listeners may not notice anything else. Band bios – usually written by the band members or their girlfriends – promise something spectacular and unique yet end up sounding mediocre and predictably unspectacular. However, there are times when an artist or band creates their own distinct sound accidentally. Influenced by several different genres, the music that they create ends up sounding distinctly original. One of those bands is Wild Pink

Founded in the boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens in New York City in 2015, Wild Pink occupies a musical universe of their own making. Led by singer/songwriter John Ross and featuring bassist T.C. Brownell and drummer Dan Keegan, the trio released three EPs over the next year: 2 SONGS (2015), GOOD LIFE (2015), and 4 SONGS (2016). They followed those releases with their self-titled debut album in 2017. A year later, they issued their sophomore album, YOLK IN THE FUR. Another EP, 5 SONGS, followed in 2019. Throughout these EPs, the band evolved and matured. Ever since the release of that first EP, they planted their roots into the musical soil and, over time, they began to blossom. With nutrients provided by the bands that inspired them, Wild Pink finally bloom in 2021 with the release of A BILLION LITTLE LIGHTS.

Produced by Grammy-winning producer David Greenbaum (U2, Beck, Jenny Lewis), A BILLION LITTLE LIGHTS is a wonderful blend of pastoral pop, rootsy Americana, modern indie rock, and atmospheric post-punk. Existing somewhere between the ethereal musical universe of Cocteau Twins and the laid-back rustic pop of Death Cab for Cutie, Wild Pink create music that seems to levitate in mid-air. Gentle, introspective and melodic, the songs on A BILLION LITTLE LIGHTS reflect the heart and soul of John Ross and his bandmates. Some use loud, angry, and aggressive music to beat the listener into submission, but Wild Pink realize that music is not supposed to frighten anyone. Instead, they use it to communicate, soul-to-soul. With songs like “The Wind Was Like A Train”, “You Can Have It Back”, “Bigger Than Christmas”, “Oversharers Anonymous”, and “Family Friends”, Ross and Co. have given us the gift of thoughtful reflection all wrapped up in sweet melodies. You couldn’t ask for anything more.

WILD PARK

A BILLION LITTLE LIGHTS

Available NOW!

AMPED™ FEATURED ALBUM OF THE WEEK: KAREN MATHESON/STILL TIME

Formed on Oban, Scotland in 1984, Capercaillie is a band that blends both traditional Gaelic and modern Folk music, creating a sound that has delighted audiences around the world for over 35 years. For their first few albums, the group focused on creating music that was modern yet rooted in traditional Folk. Beginning in the early 1990s, they made a slight shift in their sound, adding more modern elements to their recordings, creating a contemporary sound that appealed to a wider audience without alienating their devoted fanbase. Their albums throughout the ‘90s and into the ‘00s were successful, earning the band a larger audience. Their most recent recordings have seen the band return to their folksier roots,  and nearly four decades later, Capercaillie’s catalog remains beloved and respected.

The heart and soul of the band is vocalist Karen Matheson, who has been one of the two only constant members of the band since their inception (the other being keyboardist Donald Shaw). While Matheson remained the voice of Capercaillie, she also embarked on a side career as a solo artist. A dozen years into the group’s career, she released her first solo album, THE DREAMING SEA (1996). Her second album, 2002’s TIME TO FALL, featured musical assistance from Scottish Pop/Soul band Love & Money. Three years later, she issued her third solo album, DOWNRIVER (2005). Dividing her time between her solo albums and Capercaillie, it took another decade before she issued her fourth solo album, the deeply personal URRAM (2015), her first all-Gaelic release. The album featured musical assistance from her Capercaillie bandmates, most notably Donald Shaw. The album received rave reviews across the board and Matheson proved beyond doubt that she was still one of Scotland’s preeminent purveyors of Folk music.

Matheson returns in 2021 with the hauntingly beautiful STILL TIME, an album that was born from the pandemic lockdown. A sonic blend of Americana and Gaelic Folk music, the album – produced by Shaw – features Matheson’s beautiful vocals floating through a collection of songs that reflect the times that they were recorded in: stark and emotional but not without hope. In fact, the musical atmosphere on STILL TIME is not shrouded in grey clouds and sadness. This is an album that gathers together a mix of emotions while standing in the warmth of the sunshine after a particularly harsh rainstorm. The songs, which date back a few years, were not written about the pandemic but the recordings reflect the moods of modern times. Highlights include “Cassiopeia Coming Through”, “The Diamond Ring”, “Orphan Girl”, “The Aragon Mill”, and the title track. An album of beauty and hope is always welcome in a world still reeling from an invisible enemy. STILL TIME is good for the heart and soul.

KAREN MATHESON

STILL TIME

2.12.21

AMPED™ FEATURED ALBUM OF THE WEEK: JOHN CARPENTER/LOST THEMES III: ALIVE AFTER DEATH

Although filmmaker John Carpenter had already directed two feature films – DARK STAR (1974) and ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (1976) – he came to prominence with his 1978 film HALLOWEEN. The movie redefined horror and independent filmmaking and ushered in a legion of copycats. Carpenter then went on to direct films that thrilled a generation of movie-goers: THE FOG (1980), CHRISTINE (1984), STARMAN (1984), BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA (1986), THEY LIVE (1988), and more. Regardless of what the critics or box office said at the time, his films have become part of pop culture. Even today, over 30 years after the 1980s ended, images and dialog from his films are still referenced on social media and in memes. And one should always be reminded that Carpenter was partially responsible for the reinvention of actor Kurt Russell, who went from being the kid that kicked Elvis Presley’s shin in IT HAPPENED AT THE WORLD’S FAIR (1963) to portraying Presley in the Carpenter-directed TV movie ELVIS (1979). And as we all know, Russel went on to kick everyone’s butt in the four decades since then.

One of the most impressive aspects of Carpenter’s career is that he was – and has always been – more than just a director. He’s been a writer, producer, executive producer, and editor throughout his career. On many of his films, he’s worn several hats, ushering in a series of fantastical films that he had control over, from top to bottom. However, one of the most important aspects of Carpenter’s films has been the soundtracks. The atmospheric music that added another dimension to his movies was composed by – you guessed it – John Carpenter himself. Yes, that HALLOWEEN film music that haunts you in your dreams and is often used in Halloween mazes and attractions every October. From his first independent short film in 1969 up through the 2018 reboot of HALLOWEEN, Carpenter composed the electronic music score to 20 of the 30 films he has been involved with over the years. His discography is filled with soundtrack recordings stretching back to the late 1970s, but his first official non-soundtrack studio album, LOST THEMES, wasn’t released until 2015. Recorded with his son Cody Carpenter and his godson Daniel Davies, the album proved that Carpenter was still on top of his musical game. The album was followed by LOST THEMES II, released in 2016. And then he returned to the HALLOWEEN franchise and composed the soundtrack to the reboot…

In 2021, LOST THEMES III: ALIVE AFTER DEATH, his third non-soundtrack recording, finally arrives, filled with new music composed and played by Carpenter, Carpenter, and Davies. The music on LOST THEMES III isn’t far removed from Carpenter’s soundtrack work, yet it adds so many layers that it operates on its own as a collection of atmospheric electronic Pop. Each track has a central music hook that appears early on, but as the song progresses, you start recognizing new hooks and new moods that float in and out of each track. Not unlike Tangerine Dream, Carpenter & Co. build mental images through their music. Sticking to the genre he is best known for, the titles of the tracks on this album embrace a horror theme: “Weeping Ghost”, “The Dead Walk”, “Dripping Blood”, “Skeleton”, and “Turning the Bones”. From floating keyboard hooks, to bone-shaking electronic beats, LOST THEMES III: ALIVE AFTER DEATH serves as an excellent soundtrack to the horror of the night and the redemption of the day…

JOHN CARPENTER

LOST THEMES III: ALIVE AFTER DEATH

Available NOW!

AMPED™ FEATURED ALBUM OF THE WEEK: ARLO PARKS/COLLAPSED IN SUNBEAMS

Born Anaïs Oluwatoyin Estelle Marinho in Hammersmith, West London, the singer, songwriter and poet is better known by her stage name Arlo Parks. She began her musical career by uploading her demos to BBC Music Introducing, which led to her meeting her first manager. Her first solo release was a track called “Cola”, which brought her critical and commercial attention. Her first EP, SUPER SAD GENERATION, was released in April 2019, followed by the SOPHIE EP in December of that year. Both EP releases were critically acclaimed and set the groundwork for her first full length album. Apart from critics, she also received public praise from artists such as Billie Eilish, Wyclef Jean, Clairo, Florence Welsh and Phoebe Bridgers.

In February and March 2020, Parks began her first headline tour of Europe. However, the tour ground to a halt when the COVID pandemic hit. While in lockdown, she released several singles including “Eugene” and “Black Dog” as a build up to the release of COLLAPSED IN SUNBEAMS, her debut album. Her fan base continued to grow as she became a press darling, appearing on the covers of Music Week and NME and winning the AIM Independent Music Award for One to Watch in 2020. Anticipation of her debut album continued to grow and now that COLLAPSED IN SUNBEAMS has finally been released, Parks has lived up to the hype… and then some!

While the pandemic and politics darkens the news cycle, Parks’ COLLAPSED IN SUNBEAMS offers a quiet, personal heartfelt diversion from real life. However, the lyrics and performances are still rooted in reality, allowing the listener to connect with the emotions that flow from the album. Opening with the title track, a short intro that find Parks reciting her poetry, the album slips into gear “Hurt”, a track that lays the foundation for the rest of the album. Combining Pop, Soul, and Trip Hop influences, Parks offers her own unique take on modern Pop. Tracks like the aforementioned “Eugene” and “Black Dog” rub shoulders with the equally wonderful “Caroline” and “Green Eyes”, creating a full-length album that grows more intimate with each listen. COLLAPSED IN SUNBEAMS is an album that offers comfort by remaining honest, revealing the pleasure and pain that exists within the heart.

ARLO PARKS

COLLAPSED IN SUNBEAMS

1.29.21

AMPED™ FEATURED ALBUM OF THE WEEK: THE BRIGHT SIDERS/A MIND OF YOUR OWN

Children’s music is much more complicated than you’d expect. The genre extends far beyond the old days of grown-ups dressing like cowboys or clowns and singing silly songs to entertain the special tykes in our lives. Children’s music is no longer created just to make the kids giggle – it now touches deeper and teaches them lessons. Mostly subtle, the messages are sprinkled in songs that sound simplistic yet are extremely sophisticated in their arrangements and dynamics. It takes a lot to inspire the mind, the heart, and the spirit in any person, young or old, so we must really give a lot of respect to those who have made a difference through the years. From Fred Rogers to Joe Raposo (Sesame Street), Raffi to Sharon, Lois & Bram, music has played an important role in every child’s life. And, in many ways, music has played a key role in how many children behave as they grow up. They often leave those treasured musical artists behind, but there is always a new generation being born each day that will embrace them when the time is right…

Modern children’s music has moved away from silly kiddy ditties to engaging family songs. Over the years, parents have been annoyed by the music their toddlers wanted to listen to over and over and they’d eventually become exhausted in their attempts to ignore the tantalizing audio tidbits. In response, the artists have raised the stakes and are now creating music that is still engaging for children but also easily digestible for older kids and parents as well. In opening that door, the music moves and motivates the entire family. Like having a picnic in the park or a day at the beach, children’s music today is fun for everyone. And to top that off, the music doesn’t get old and isn’t always left behind as a child gets a little older. And the messages become more ingrained in a child’s mind when they begin to understand the ways of the world.

The Bright Siders’ debut album A MIND OF YOUR OWN is the perfect example of a ‘children’s music’ album that will stay with a youngster long after they’ve left their diapers behind. Every song is engaging and fun yet far from annoying. The duo – Kristen Andreassen (Uncle Earl) and Kari Groff, MD – bring emotions to life in wonderfully whimsical ways. But they don’t come to the party alone – A MIND OF YOUR OWN features guest appearances from Ed Helms, The War and Treaty, Gaby Moreno, The Punch Brothers, The Hoke, and others. Mixing Pop, Folk, World Music, Latin Music, and other styles, this is an album that speaks to the head and the heart. Tracks like “The Moon & The Stars & Me”, “The Song About Songs”, and “Vamos a Jugar, Let’s Go Play” will appeal to kids from 1 to 92. With the world draped in a pandemic, the innocent hearts of children need positivity and light and The Bright Siders bring that home on A MIND OF YOUR OWN.

THE BRIGHT SIDERS

A MIND OF YOUR OWN

Available 1.21.21

AMPED™ FEATURED ALBUM OF THE WEEK: PEARL CHARLES/MAGIC MIRROR

In most cases, when a new artist comes along, you have absolutely no preconceptions of what the music is going to sound like. Sure, you maybe read about the artist on some blog or you saw their release (s) in the local record store bin, but in most situations, that doesn’t really help in describing the artist’s sound. So, when you lay the needle down or press play on your CD player, your expectations are completely blank until the music starts. In many cases, you’ll listen, shrug, and file it away for another day. However, if you’re lucky, you’ll be instantly transported to Planet Awesome as the album unfolds. In the case of Pearl Charles’ 2021 release, MAGIC MIRROR, you’re going to feel lucky. Very, very lucky.

Before her solo career, Pearl was a member of Country Music duo The Driftwood Singers and then the drummer in indie band The Blank Tapes. She made her solo debut with the self-titled release in 2015. Mixing ‘60s Pop with a touch of modern Americana, the album was both thrilling and haunting in equal measures. Regardless of genre, the songs were pure and honest, revealing an artist with a knack for writing songs well beyond her years. In 2018, she issued the album SLEEPLESS DREAMER, another stellar collection of great Pop songs masquerading as ‘60s influenced Americana. However, some of the chord changes and melodies revealed an understanding of what made all those great early ‘70s AM Pop and Soul radio hits work so well. For this singer/songwriter, it was pretty obvious that she was going to take flight on her next release…

And now, MAGIC MIRROR has arrived, and, as expected, it soars while also changing course and sailing into a different musical universe. This time, Charles leaves the ‘60s behind and starts exploring the ‘70s. The great thing about AM radio in the ‘70s was that it embraced everything from Pop and Country to Soul, which is exactly what MAGIC MIRROR does. Armed with a cache of great songs, this album pays homage to everything from ABBA (“Only For Tonight”) to gentle, pedal-steel guitar laced Country Pop (“Sweet Sunshine Wine”, “All The Way”) to touching ballads (“Don’t Feel Like Myself”, “Magic Mirror”). On one hand, MAGIC MIRROR can be seen as a departure from SLEEPLESS DREAMER, but it is, in fact, a continuation of the album’s deep and emotional connection between then and now. Charles is moving forward as an artist yet she is fully aware of Pop music’s history and how it inspired her, directly or indirectly. We all need more artists that show us their roots while taking the listener on a journey to the next destination, wherever that may be. Pearl Charles inspires us to trust her musical instincts. And we do…

PEARL CHARLES

MAGIC MIRROR

Available NOW!

AMPED™ FEATURED ALBUM OF THE WEEK: AARON FRAZER/INTRODUCING…

Soul music, when done correctly, will touch you right down to your… ahem… soul. Anyone can repurpose the Soul and R&B formulas and create something that vaguely resembles the sound of Soul, but it isn’t Soul if it doesn’t have the heart or the passion to affect the emotions of the listener. For the music to really mean something, everything has to be ‘right’: the singer, the song, the arrangement, the production, the band dynamics, etc. However, one must not confuse ‘right’ with ‘perfect’ – they are two different things. Soul music has to have ‘feel’, which doesn’t always come from perfection. For a song to have the right ‘feel’, it has to contain a certain amount of magic… and that magic comes from the human soul.

Bloomington, Indiana’s Durand Jones & The Indications is a band that understands Soul music from the inside out. The group also knows that Soul is not one dimensional – it can be funky like James Brown’s “Sex Machine”, as sweetly sad as Smokey Robinson & The Miracles’ “Ooo Baby Baby”, and as passionately joyful as The Four Tops’ “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)”. While Durand is the focal point of that band, drummer Aaron Frazer is more than just the man that provides The Indications’ backbeat. Frazer is a singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist loaded with talent… and a whole lot of Soul. Since not all of Frazer’s musical ideas could fit on albums by his main band, the only way for him to get them out was to record them on his own… and the world is now a better place because of it.

2021’s INTRODUCING ANDY FRAZER is a soul-stirring collection of songs that are driven by Frazer’s falsetto vocals, which adds an extra emotional layer to the music featured on the album. Produced by Dan Auerbach (The Black Keys), the album blends a modern Neo-Soul sound with lovingly constructed songs that delve the depths of emotion while also having a whole lot of fun. While the album initially hits you in the heart and soul, your entire body will fall prey to the music in no time at all. Tracks like “Over You”, “Bad News”, “You Don’t Wanna Be My Baby”, “Can’t Leave It Alone”, “Have Mercy”, and “Love Is” travel down different soulful avenues and are loaded with a passion for real Soul music and emotional connection. This is an album that will stay with you long after the final note fades into the ether. And it will inspire you to hit the ‘play’ button over and over again…

AARON FRAZER

INTRODUCING…

Available NOW!

AMPED™ FEATURED ALBUM OF THE WEEK: SINEAD O’CONNOR/TROUBLE OF THE WORLD (7″)

For many, Sinead O’Connor appeared out of nowhere in 1990 with the heart-melting ballad “Nothing Compares 2 U”. The song and video were everywhere during the first half of that year. You couldn’t escape Sinead and that song. And to be honest, why would you want to? It was a beautiful song – originally written by Prince – and an outstanding performance by an artist that is often misunderstood. However, O’Connor’s career goes back to the 1980s. She made her first high-profile recording debut on the song “Heroine” (with The Edge) from the 1986 soundtrack to CAPTIVE. While the release may have gone under the radar, she received critical acclaim for her powerful voice. But that was only the beginning…

In 1987, her commercial profile was raised quite a bit with the release of the singles “Troy”, “Mandinka”, and “I Want Your Hands On Me” plus her debut album THE LION AND THE COBRA. Early press focused on her beauty and her shaved head, but all of the went out the window when she opened her mouth and sang. At that moment, her talents were on full display. That voice and her songs brought her a decent amount of attention, but nobody expected the massive popularity of her second album, I DO NOT WANT WHAT I HAVEN’T GOT, and “Nothing Compares 2 U’. While she was never ever able to match the commercial success of the album and single, she did what a true artist does – she followed her own muse. With each subsequent album, she explored different musical avenues but never strayed too far from that unique Sinead O’Connor sound. Often surrounded by controversy, O’Connor continued to travel her own musical path. While she hasn’t quite scaled the commercial heights of 1990, she’s remained one of our generation’s most unique talents.

In 2020, Sinead O’Connor returns with the 7” single “Trouble of the World”. Still sounding as powerful and emotional as usual, she tackles this traditional song originally made famous by Gospel vocalist Mahalia Jackson. She manages to take the spirit of the original and create something modern and powerful. It remains relevant and inspirational, but she’s added a new emotional layer to the song. And to top it all off, she is allocating all of her profits to Black Lives Matter charities. It is a song for the times, then and now. It speaks to all of us on so many levels. At the same time, it is just a great single that adds to her recorded legacy. Hopefully, O’Connor has more releases just around the corner. Until that happens, this one will hold us over. Embrace it now with all your heart!

SINEAD O’CONNOR

TROUBLE OF THE WORLD (7″)

Available NOW!

AMPED™ FEATURED ALBUM OF THE WEEK: M. WARD/THINK OF SPRING

In many cases, singers, songwriters, and musicians walk in the door and immediately make their presence known. They’ll dazzle you with their songs, they’ll hit your over the head with their charm, and they’ll demand you to pay attention to them. And in the process, they’ll tread the line between arrogance and confidence. Ultimately, many of them never live up to their own hype and they end up wheeling their amp and guitar out through the same door from whence they came. However, there are remarkably talented artists out there that slip in through the backdoor, lurk in the shadows, and don’t draw attention to themselves. Instead, they prove their talents through hard work – they are more interested in creating art than prancing in the spotlight. Eventually, over time, their talents become a part of our musical landscape even if we don’t know their name… at first.  M. Ward is one of those artists.

Since the release of his 1999 debut album, DUET FOR GUITARS #2, M. Ward has shown himself to be quite the talent as a musician, songwriter, and collaborator. He built an underground audience, album by album, until he could not be ignored by the industry that he had now become part of. By the time he released his fifth album, TRANSISTOR RADIO, in 2005, his commercial profile had risen considerably. His next album, POST-WAR, landed at #146 on the Billboard 200 Albums chart and exposed his unique and refreshing talents to a larger audience. In 2008, he joined forces with vocalist/actress Zooey Deschanel as She & Him and released their debut album, VOLUME ONE. The duo would eventually release a total of five albums to date. In 2009, he was involved with the Americana/Alternative supergroup Monsters of Folk alongside Jim James (My Morning Jacket) and Conor Oberst and Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes). The following year, he was a member of another supergroup, Tired Pony, a band led by Snow Patrol member Gary Lightbody and featuring members of R.E.M., Belle And Sebastian, and other beloved musicians. In the meantime, he continued to work on his solo material…

His 2020 album, THINK OF SPRING, is a refreshing change of pace for the now iconic M. Ward. Inspired many years ago by hearing Billie Holiday’s LADY IN SATIN album, this new release finds him reinterpreting 11 of the album’s 12 tracks recorded, each of them sounding warm and intimate. M. Ward says, “The conceit of THINK OF SPRING is to filter the songs and strings from LADY IN SATIN through a single acoustic guitar using various alternate tunings and a minimal amount of textures and studio manipulation. most of the songs were recorded on an analog Tascam four track.” With musical inspiration from Holiday, John Fahey, Robert Johnson, Ray Ellis, and J.J. Johnson, experiencing the album is like spending time with a longtime trusted friend.

M. WARD

THINK OF SPRING

Available NOW