Sunday, February 22, 2009

Independent Spotlight – John D. Visconti

What can I say about a man who plays guitar somewhere between Tommy Emmanuel and Chet Atkins and who is a dead ringer for John Lennon on vocals? Probably a lot of things, but we’ll focus on the music for this article. I was doing reviews on Broadjam back in September of 2007, when I heard the most beautiful and emotional guitar instrumental I had probably ever heard in my life. Believe me, that’s saying a lot, since I own thousands of CDs and albums and have listened to a broad range of music all my life. I sent this person my review of all 5’s out of 5 and told them that I had to know who they were. John Visconti emailed me back shortly after that and our friendship began on that day.

Since I’ve listened to and have known John over the last two years, I’ve been honored to know someone who is a true musician. John takes pride in his music, from working diligently on a melody line for two to ten hours and then two or three days of recording the song flawlessly. And if that’s not enough, he goes in and tweaks instruments and the mix until it is perfected even more.
There are several styles of music at play in John’s genre. I would almost categorize him as unique, because the music can cross genre into many styles. John and I have done several songs together after the 2007 6-Pack competition on Broadjam as The Abbey Normals. He has also worked with several other Broadjam members that I will cover in future articles; Phoebe Blume, Larry Carr, and Margaret McClure. Currently, John is working with male Country singer Jeff Twardzik to release his set of Country driven music to the marketplace. As you see, there is quite the coverage of music styles and I’ll cover a few of them below.
Before I review, I have to say, that there is a deep emotional connection between what John writes and sings about in his music. That alone is so refreshing to hear in this cookie-cutter-looped world of music that we live in nowadays. Some people think they can go to a seminar and chunk out a hit after a couple of hours. While others work at their craft to find the tie to themselves and what will inevitably become a hit, just from sharing the music that resides in their heart and soul. Nothing against people who can go to a seminar and cough up a hit in two hours, but what’s invested in it and what story does that tell? I always thought the late comedian Bill Hicks said it best, “I like my music written by people who have experienced life.” And so do I. You can hear it in their playing and you can hear it in their expression of their lyrics. That’s what ties us to the artist and that’s what makes us invest our time in getting to know them through their music. John has this, hands down, a true songsmith.

The Music
The first track that I heard was “Wanderings”. This is a beautiful guitar instrumental that could be used for soundtracks on TV or Film. This song is sensitive and brooding, but loving and honest at the same time. It could also be categorized as New Age, Jazz and softer side of Country. Like I said above, it is the most beautiful guitar song that I have ever heard.
The second track is “Heaven and Earth”. Again, another beautiful guitar instrumental that could be used for TV and Film. This song, as with “Wanderings” takes me away and paints a picture of mountains, open fields, puffy clouds in the sky, the sun on your face…but it will paint a different picture for everyone else out there.
The third song is "It Won't Be Christmas Without You". This song has vocals done by Jeff Twardzik. Right out of the gate on this song, I hear hit potential. A new Christmas song for the Country marketplace and maybe the Blues marketplace. Jeff’s killer voice coupled with John’s stellar guitar and instrumentation is a good chemistry fit. Somewhere in here, I see a small town Christmas scene set in the 60s.
The last song I’ll cover is “A Dog’s Life”. Now believe me, I could cover John’s entire catalog, but I want you all to go to his page and listen to his music on your own without me commenting on everything. Just know that I could. Here’s a great song with John doing the vocals. I know that he doesn’t like to hear his voice too much, but you know what, this is a great vocal song. He sings its so well. I still, to this day, will have this song pop into my head at the funniest of times when I’m out shopping or at work dealing with the day to day madness. That says something about a song that is so catchy that you can sing it in the car without it playing. The lyrics say it all, you can try all you want, but sometimes you just can’t win and a dog’s life is better than this.
The Videos
Here are a couple of videos for John’s music. “Wanderings” I pieced together footage I had of John, with some animation and photos, like you are wandering through a journey in many places.




“A Dog’s Life” is one that John put together a slide show and then I took it to another level with some animation done with CrazyTalk 5.






“Scarecrow’s Daydream” is another favorite instrumental. John did all the video work on this one, and it tells the story with the music so well.





Last, but not least, “Trying to Find the Way Back to Your Heart” by The Abbey Normals. I put this video together with a bunch of public domain movie footage just for fun to tell the story of the song. We’ll be working on more pieces in the future, so stay tuned.







I want to end this article by saying its been a blessing to have John as a friend in my life. He’s been an inspiration to me at times and I’ve been a sounding board to him as well. He’s more than a friend could ever be expected to be. Thanks John. :)

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Song Writing Duos - If It Ain't Broke Don't Change It

As I kick back and rest today, I’ve listened to a few songs by favorite bands. These are songs that take me away and get me out of my head and into my heart and soul. I’ve always sat in admiration of songwriting from the heart. How someone can take words and melodies and tie them together to strike an emotion, change a state of mind from sadness to happiness or just plain get you to hum along in your head all day long, that memorable hook from a song. There are some teams of song writers that are just brilliant. There are individuals that also have the gift, when they write for their band and there are some who are talented as a solo project. The ones that amaze me the most are the duet writers. Probably the best example of these writers is Lennon and McCartney. John and Paul will go down in history as the greatest song writing team of all time.

Mind you, when they were together they were absolutely brilliant. When the Beatles broke up, they were good in their solo careers, but I don’t think that they were ever the same as they were when they were in the zone as writer for the Beatles. I’ll probably have half my Beatle friends tell me that they were better apart, but I’ve always wondered, if they didn’t have all the drama and BS of normal life going on, that they wouldn’t have succeeded way into their 60s, writing more music with each other, if the tragedy that occurred to John Lennon hadn’t have happened.
There are other great acts that have the song writing teams embedded in them. When these teams take a “break” to go write with others, do solo projects or break away from the band permanently, you can see things happen, that just don’t feel the same.

Major case in point with the band Yes.

The few years that Jon Anderson left in the early 80s, to me, were some of Yes’ worst moments. Not to say that the Trevor Horn album was bad, it was just different and it wasn’t a Yes album. Turn around in 83/84 with the loss of Steve Howe and the band took an entirely different direction when Jon Anderson returned, turning them into a more Pop 80s band with “Owner of a Lonely Heart” from 90210. While still having that Jon Anderson “new age” feel to it, it just wasn’t Yes material, but, I still love the album nonetheless. I think if they hadn’t have had Trevor Rabin for the new guitarist, they wouldn’t have survived those years. Now, trade in and out Chris Squire, Bruford, Wakeman, White and Howe again…back and forth, till all of a sudden, you get to Union. This album had almost everyone on it from both time periods. You could hear them wanting to go back there again, into their progressive rock roots and find Yes again. Enter, “The Ladder”. To this day, my all time favorite Yes album. It did not do very well on the charts, but, it was Yes picking up at “Fragile” and heading into the future as Yes again. It was great to have them back and touring.
Jon Anderson has had some respiratory issues this last year and had to take time off. Squire has decided to go the route of Journey and Judas Priest and substitute a karaoke singer for the lead. While I have a lot of respect for Benoit David and his band Mystery and his other project CTTE (Close To The Edge Tribute to Yes), he is not Jon Anderson, he just sounds like him. Just like Arnel Pineda and Steve Augeri did for Journey and like several other bands have done… Boston, Judas Priest, Styx… It just doesn’t add up when you are trying to find an imitator to replace the original. I hope that Jon gets better soon so that Yes will continue with him on tour.

The other band that haunts me with this formula from the past is Kansas. They were going gangbusters. Great album after great album, then “Audio Visions” hits and Steve Walsh decides to leave and do his own project called Streets, with one of my favorite guitarists Mike Slamer (I will be writing about Mike someday soon). This project rocks, and the two albums are good, but no following occurs. Walsh was Kansas’ main singer and a good chunk of the keyboard writing was done by him. Kerry Livgren was the other part of the writing team for Kansas. Kansas hired John Elefante, a great songwriter himself, with a descent voice. They put out “Vinyl Confessions” that next year and you know, if I had wanted to buy a Steely Dan album, I would’ve bought Steely Dan, not Kansas. “Diamond and Pearls” come on guys, that song was putrid. To me, this is what happens when you break up a great song writing team. This was a true team, from Phil Ehart to Steve Walsh to Robby Steinhardt to Rich Williams, Dave Hope and then Kerry Livgren. Mind you, Livgren took a lot of the credit for a lot of the hits, as to writing the main melodies, but they were all writers of the music and it showed when Walsh left.

Now that Walsh came back to Kansas in the 90s, it was a shame to see Livgren go on to do his projects. Livgren has a following outside of Kansas and his project called Proto-Kaw is doing well for him in the Christian Progressive Rock market place, but nothing would be finer than to see him come back and play with them again. I would love to see one last Kansas album done with the original line up (since “Somewhere to Elsewhere” didn’t do so well) and would love to see the original lineup tour once more before they finally call it quits and retire from music altogether.

For my last rant in this opinion tirade, and the argument for what works, works, so don’t destroy it. There are two bands. One making its way back and one is just leaving the marketplace. The first is Triumph. Welcome back the original three person line up with Rik Emmett. They finally have buried the hatchet as well and are going to go back into the studio again. Just like the Police are heading that way and Extreme has just released their new CD. It’s good to see another solid songwriting duo back together.

The last band is a lesser known one. Some of you might remember them struggling to make it onto the charts from Canada back in the early 90s before the hair metal extravaganza of the 80s bit the dust to Alternative Grunge bands of the 90s. The name of the act: Harem Scarem. They survived overseas and in their native Canada for almost 20 years. Their albums have been songwriting masterpieces. This duo of Harry Hess and Pete Lesperance, are to me, the best song writing duo since the 80s. A lot of people overseas equate their song writing prowess to Lennon and McCartney (which I will have to agree with in many areas of their song writing abilities). To me, these guys couldn’t write a bad song if they tried. In fact, there was a time in Germany back in 2002 when one of their albums (Weight of the World) had 8 hits on the radio. Not one was played over here in the US. We, in America, are too caught up in commercial radio driven markets that are owned by powerful record companies that don’t give a crap what we like to listen too. The Europeans get it. That’s why there’s been a market for rock, metal, hard rock, folk, dance, trance and disco overseas since its left here. The Europeans and Asians eat this stuff up folks and love it.

Thank God for the internet and being able to find this kind of music that I love through sites like Melodic Rock because that is where I reconnected with Harem Scarem back in the late 90s. From “Weight of the World” to the last album this year titled “Hope”, this band has rocked my house on a regular basis. Sadly, after writing, releasing and touring for the last 20 years as a career just to make a living, gigging has taken a toll on this act and they are calling it all quits for now. I hope that we don’t lose this song writing duo totally, because I feel that if the rest of the public were to hear the music that they produce, maybe they would have the crowds that Bon Jovi draws for singing that cheap pop country that he does now. I love Jon Bon Jovi, but when you start to change your style too much, you start to lose my interest. Again, stick with what you are great at. Bon Jovi is not a folk or country act; they are a heavy metal – hard rock band!
Song writing teams that have never been the same since they have split:

Queensryche – Since Chris DeGarmo left after “Empire”, has never been the same
Journey – Since Steve Perry left, has never been the same
Styx – Since Dennis DeYoung left has never been the same
Survivor – Since Jim Petrik left, has never been the same
Angel – Since Greg Guiffria left has never been the same

Bands that have always realized their talent is strong with their songwriting teams and have stuck together and kept on going or reformed.
Rolling Stones
Moody Blues
REO Speedwagon
.38 Special
Firehouse
The Eagles

Let’s hope that some more of these bands from the past, wake up and reunite. It’s almost like this was what they were put here on Earth to do and they got lost along the way, they just need to find themselves again. :)



Sunday, February 15, 2009

CDs of the Week – 2/9/2009 to 2/15/2009

Each week I am going to review a few CDs that I am currently listening too. Some music that I think should be shared with everyone. You may or may not like some of these genres, but I listen to just about everything. Give some of what you might not like a try, and you'll see why I wrote about it. Mostly what I seek when I am listening to music is talent, feeling, emotion and the story and drive behind the song. The message that the artist is trying to share with us and what it is that the message is trying to share or teach us. Its what I love about music and why it drives my life so much. Here are the first two CDs in this mix.

Gotthard – Lipservice
Two CDs are swapping between my car CD player and my MP3 player at work. I just can’t seem to get enough of them for some reason, and they are both different genre’s in the rock and roll world.

First, is a little known Swiss band that doesn’t play here very often, by the name of Gotthard. I bought a CD/DVD pack a few weeks ago of a show they did in Switzerland back in 2005 in support of their album Lipservice. I had purchased Lipservice about four years ago when it came out and listened to it a few times. I was going through so many music purchases and moods back then that the album never sank in. When I saw concert for Made In Switzerland, I dug my popped Lipservice back into my playlist on my MP3 player and started to listen to it. I have not gotten that album off of my playlist all week long. I forgot what a great band these guys are and how excellent their songwriting is for straight forward hard rock pop music. Every, and I do mean EVERY, song on this CD could be a hit in this country, easily.

I’ve always loved the positive nature of these fellows as well. They sing about love, human kindness, hope and lifting people up from their sorrow. A fine example of this is “Lift U Up”. That song alone could carry this album in this country. The hard hitting beat and riffing at the beginning of the song are so cool, but the way Steve Lee sings the song from the beginning, in a syncopation that isn’t straightforward, sells me on the energy of the rest of the song.
“Anytime, Anywhere” is another supportive song about being there for someone in need, or in some cases, if the relationship doesn’t work out, I’ll be there for you. Kind of a typical rock track in that way, but again, the energy of this song just makes you do the head bob thing.

“All We Are” is a right out of the gate rocker. Straight on sing along song. It’s all about not losing sight of who you are and just how powerful of a person you are. Like I said, these guys write some pretty powerful positive lyrics in their songs with a strong message. Here is the chorus for this song:


“All we are, is more than in the mirror
All we are, is more than what you see
All we are, is what we got together
Is all we need, cause life belongs to me n’ you
And things we do right now
Right now”

I can go on and on about these guys. I’ve listened to this album over and over this week and its just a great CD. Next week I’ll get re-hooked again on their follow up called “Domino Effect” which is just as good. For right now, go search YouTube for some video from the Made In Switzerland concert and watch Leo Leoni and Steve Lee rock the house. Songs like their classic hits from the 90s named “Sister Moon” and “Mountain Mama” are just classic hits. I don’t know how else to describe these guys other than they are AC/DC meets Aerosmith. Steve Lee has the David Coverdale (from Whitesnake) and Steven Tyler from Aerosmith feel to his voice, with a little bit of Bon Scott from time to time and throw in some Robert Plant to top it off. “The Other Side of Me” from this CD also has that Led Zeppelin feel to it. The band has its own niche, right up there with Aerosmith, but I can’t class them in with AC/DC on the instrumentals because the guitar work is way more intricate and stylish than AC/DC seems to get. Not knocking Angus, but he is very simplistic for his lead guitar work. Leo can get crankin and so can Freddy Scherer, who plays a full bodied hollow body electric on stage that adds a whole other sound.

I think these guys took off for me, right after they released Human Zoo, which was a pretty descent album. One of my all time favorite songs from Gottard is “Someday” which is on their D-Frosted CD, a live acoustic/unplugged concert. Just a great song about human potential.

Check out the video links below for a taste of Gotthard from the Lipservice CD. Most of these are from the Made in Switzerland DVD. It’s a great concert from beginning to end, lots of energy. The covers of “Hush” by Deep Purple, “The Immigrant Song” by Led Zeppelin and “The Might Quinn” by Manfred Mann are excellent as well.


Vanden Plas – Christ0

Okay, the second CD that has been stuck in my car all week is Vanden Plas – Christ0. A concept album that I am still trying to figure out. I’ve been loving the music because it reminds me so much of the original Dream Theater line up on the first album and some of the second album. But my favorite track on this CD is the bonus track and cover of the song “Gethsemane” from Jesus Christ Superstar. It’s the second cover of a song from that play/movie that I’ve heard in the last week. The other being from Queensryche with “Heaven on Their Minds”. Vanden Plas’ execution and interpretation of the song “Gethsemane” is just amazingly good. With some heavy metal progressive traits towards the end of the song, but the piano and singing at the beginning just drew me in. I’ve always loved JCS as a play and movie, and have loved the soundtrack for years, but its is so cool to hear another band want to perform the material. Especially a song so intricate as “Gethsemane”.

My other favorite tracks on this CD are “Silently” and “Wish You Were Here”. Both very early Dream Theater influenced and a touch of Yes in there for good measure.

I know both Vanden Plas and Gotthard on Rhapsody/Real Player and I’m pretty sure that Gotthard is on iTunes. Rhapsody has Gotthard for sale, all of their CDs, but Vanden Plas is only out there to listen to on their subscription service. So whatever you subscribe to, look them up. Give a few of the songs a listen, if you like Hard Rock and Progressive Metal music. These aren’t your typical bands. Gotthard will grow on you, because their songs are so catchy. J



Websites:





Videos:



Gotthard


Lift U Up



Dream On






Anytime Anywhere







All We Are





The Other Side of Me







Vanden Plas



Gethsemane






Silently





Independent Spotlight – Bruce Niemchick


Bruce Niemchick
Genre – Christian Contemporary



I couldn’t think of a better place to start my journey of writing about independent artists, then to start with someone who’s music is so uplifting and whose voice is very solid and beautiful. Bruce is a Christian Singer/Songwriter whose passion for his songwriting is strongly rooted in his faith. Bruce and I met through the Broadjam 6-Pack competition back in 2007. Immediately I fell in love with his style and writing.

Christian music is such an under-heard genre. There’s more about this category than meets the eye. Greatly it is a genre that does have a lot of praise and worship music to it, but there is also a great deal of life lessons being learned in the lyrics of a lot of Christian artists. The artist always is grateful for God’s support, love and understanding and the music lifts you up, no matter what state you are in. Sometimes the songs are so beautiful that they bring you to tears. Bruce has a couple of these songs. You know someone has deep emotional roots to their faith when they write music like this. Life experiences tend to make us stronger and heal faster through the things that touch us emotionally. You can relate to an artist who’s been through rougher times in their life and also relate to someone who has been through blessed times. Bruce gives us both in his writing style.

First song I’d like to point out is “A Soldier’s Request (Please Pray For Me)

Simple in its playing style, but very strong in its voice and lyric. I love the mandolin on this song and then the incorporation of the guitar in the second verse. But I love these lyrics. Bruce is a strong supporter of our troops, as am I. And we both believe in praying for their safe return and the strength that they need to carry our country forward. The hook in the chorus is so perfect for this song, “I’ll fight for you. Please pray for me” A simple request, but a strong image it portrays.
Bruce had contacted people on his list a while back, asking that if we bought some songs, he’d donate the earnings to an organization that helped the troops. I bought this song and several others, because I really do love his music and thought “what a great way to give back.”

One of the last verses of the song says “God help me carry this heavy load as I am walking this rocky road I know I’ll make it if keep pressing on.” This is a great prayer to give strength, even in the hardest of times and makes this song so much more deeply powerful in its statement.

Second song I’d like to point to on his page is “These Streets of Gold

When I first heard this song, it was via the 6-Pack contest at Broadjam this last year. I knew it was Bruce by his voice, but I had to listen to the song about four times before I could let it go off of my page, because it was just so beautifully sung and played. What a great song this is. A picture of Heaven is drawn early in the lyric, but the song is about meeting your loved ones in Heaven after you pass. I just love the imagery that Bruce paints in this song, but more over, I love the music and the hook he has written here. This song stays with you when you first hear it; it is simple again in instrumentation, but powerful in voice. This is one of the many things I love about Bruce’s music. His voice is so powerful and beautiful, that it can carry his message that he is trying share with us.

Not very often does an artist have a powerful enough voice to walk away from their instruments and do a cappella style vocals, especially handling their own harmonies. I will leave you with the last song on my list of tunes to check out on Bruce’s page.

Be Still My Soul

Lyrics by: Katharina A. von Schlegel (public domain)
Music by: Jean Sibelius (Public Domain)
It’s a short and sweet song that has only been done by a few modern artists. The first time I heard it was from Paul Schwartz who is behind the State of Grace CDs. He incorporated this in the very first State of Grace CD. A beautiful Christian singer by the name of Lisbeth Scott, who has now gone on to write choral arrangements for productions like “The Passion of the Christ”, was the person who sings on his projects. Lisbeth sings it solemnly, like Sarah McLaughlin would, but Bruce sings it from the bottom of his soul, which sent shivers down my spine when I heard it. I just love this poem and this song and I think that Bruce just took ownership of it with his powerful voice.

You’ve now heard my take on three songs by Bruce Niemchick. There are many more good songs on his page, so please visit his site, listen to his music and if you like what you hear, purchase from his page. Whether or not you like Christian music, you have to give it the respect it deserves with the positive message that it sends. There is always hope in this world and the music portrays that in many ways.

Today is also Bruce’s birthday and I would like to wish him a very happy one and to let him know that his music has always touched my heart in many ways. Sometimes artists don’t know how people react, or like their music after they have listened to it. I think it’s great to have this forum on the net to give back and share with the world, just what we think of artists we like to listen to. So, Happy Birthday Bruce! May this be a wonderfully blessed year for you!

-David

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Music Is My Life! Welcome!

Hello Everyone out in the Blogosphere!

My name is David Davis. I am a musician, photographer, writer, artist, designer, video production editor and programmer (for the day job). My first love is music and every genre of it. I don't really think there is anything that I don't like. I've listened to just about everything from Country to Rock to Rap to Death Metal to Trip Hop and Funk and everything in between. I own lots of CDs and albums that I've listened to over the years, from High School, till now in my mid forties. One thing I have always been passionate about is sharing information on bands and artists that I love from different genres of music. Some known, some not so well known and others who are independent artists.

What I wanted to write a blog about is music. To point out varying artists that I have found or stumbled upon over the years. To give background information from things I have read about the artist, and also pointing you to sources where you can listen to and buy the artist's music to support their craft. Sometimes I may get deep into the background of a specific artist, where they came from, what motivates them and where they started or what groups they have come from, left or disbanded from.

These, to me, are interesting tidbits that help tie you to the music and the artist themselves, to give you a little bit of what makes them tick and drives their music.

I'll use sources of where I have found Independent artists, like Broadjam.com. Broadjam happens to be a site where I house my music. Like Taxi, they offer ways to get your music heard by the industry for licensing, while offering a site where musicians can sell their music, enter contests and house their catalog of music. They also offer hosting for musicians so they may have their own website. This is what I use Broadjam for. www.davidbrucedavis.com is my site. Take a listen to the music and see if you like it. Buy a song for download if you'd like, or just play the song freely. Its one of the few sites on the Internet that allows you to listen to full songs and not just a snippets.

Broadjam CEO Roy Elkins and his team, based out of Madison, Wisconsin, have one of the coolest sites available for us independent musicians and they are always offering more ways for us to shop our music with the industry of film and TV. Plus different and fun contests to enter into with our peers, like the yearly extravaganza called the 6-Pack. You can also network with other musicians through Broadjam. Many of us also network through other sites like Facebook and MySpace. (I have yet to jump into the MySpace world, but I will someday). Roy and the gang at Broadjam do a great job of supporting us and we thoroughly enjoy being on the site.

The wonderful thing, is just how accessible the people are at Broadjam. Not just the musicians who help you out with reviewing your music, but the staff as well. I've enjoyed several email exchanges with Roy on several occasions, and when I have had issues with my account or problems with some new upgrades to the site, customer service and Roy have been there every time to help me through the issues.

There are several other tools that I use to storehouse my music and get it out into the mainstream.

CDBaby
ReverbNation
TuneCore
Indie911

All of these sites are topics for another day.

Lastly, I'm going to focus on some friends that I have made along the way. These are artists I think you should get to know. Their music is exceptional, their talent is amazing and I love to listen to their music regularly. Some are independents on Broadjam, some are just selling their wares on CDBaby and others I have known for a long time, going back in time and we've lost touch over the years, but they are well worth mentioning.

So if you're interested, subscribe, tune in and I'll turn you on to some interesting music that I really like to listen too and share with others. I'll probably be sharing some YouTube links as well as some books that are very interesting reads on the industry and musician skills and techniques.

Thanks for reading!
David