Thursday, March 12, 2015

Karen E. Reynolds - Paper Castles

The release for "Paper Castles" says this from CDBaby:

"Another collection of of original songs by Award winning Singer Songwriter, Karen E. Reynolds, all delivered in her tender yet powerful voice and containing her signature style of 'Americana Heart & Southern Soul'."

Karen does many things outside of writing, recording and singing great music.  She has a radio show called Writer's Block Online.  She runs a consulting business, helping artists and writers find their songwriting voice.  She runs large groups of writer forums in local venues throughout Knoxville, Tennessee and she gets involved in music and songwriting festivals all over the South along with sorts of events and client in Nashville.  I read all that happens via her Facebook page and am just floored that she has time for it all and still be able produce a stellar CD like this one.  She is a true powerhouse in music business.

What I like about Karen's writing style is her unique ability to stand out in this cookie-cutter Country industry.  Karen is a true artist, who tells stories with powerful messages from her heart and soul. There aren't too many Country singers that have unique voices out there.  Most end up sounding like someone else.  You might say she "well she  sounds like Cheryl Wheeler or Linda Ronstadt or Mary Chapin-Carpenter", but the truth is, she sounds like Karen.  There is such true happiness in her voice when she sings and a rip-roarin-gospel-soulfulness when she digs in.

So let's take this excellent album track by track.  I interpret tracks sometimes differently than the artist, but here I'm hoping that I'm getting the messages from her lyrics.

Highway 81 - Killer start to the track.  Rolling-down-the-highway style song.  The guitar takes you there instantaneously.  Song talks about heading home down highway 81 to the love of her life.  One line says it all "my destination's you..."  Love this tune.  Strong first track.  In fact folks, I could not only hear this on mainstream radio, but would listen to this song anytime.  It's in my Epic Playlist in my iPod.

Little Itty Bitty East TN Town - Nice mellow start with some great mandolin. This song is about growing up in a little itty bitty East Tennessee Town.  One of life's greatest lessons: "You have more love than you need cash." Catchy hook in the chorus and very memorable.  I find myself wanting to visit this little itty bitty Tennessee town just to see the picture that Karen paints here.

Alabama Moon - Nice upbeat love song with some awesome banjo pickin'. A song about remembering a certain time on the beach looking at a million dollar view of the Alabama Moon shining in your lover's eyes. Ah, sweet memories. Again a great catchy and memorable chorus.

She's Not Lonely - Love the opening slide guitar on the acoustic.  This is old time Country Western music.  Good story here as well.  Another great chorus and I love this little lead guitar parts with the slide between the verses.  "There's no promise of tomorrow." yet another powerful lesson here.  I love that Karen teaches the lessons of life with her music.

Cold River Poem - A short poem.  Awesome organ behind the spoken word.  Love this poem, because it supports the next track.

Down By The River - A song about cleansing your soul in the river. We all go through suffering and heartaches, but we can always cleanse ourselves in some way. Karen's cleansing hers in the river. Killer organ is continued throughout this track.  She's preaching it old school gospel style in this song.  Another strong life message.  I love the break in the end, with the background gospel singer whaling in response to Karen's soulful chorus.  I do believe that by the end of this track, her soul is getting soothed, down by the river.

Pretty From a Distance - A nice beautiful and mellow beginning to this track.  Love the lyric to this song.  "Some thing's are only pretty from a distance, but sorrow's always hiding in plain sight."  A message about how things like child abuse might be hiding in plain site, while the family looks to be normal from a distance.  At least that's the message I'm getting from this lyric.

A Love Like This - This song starts off with a catchy melody.  A great love song here.  Nothing more, nothing less.  Except that it should be on the radio.  And I don't mean some other artist performing it either.  Karen should be on the radio.  Seriously.  This song is THAT good.

God Thing - Man, I love the fiddle at the beginning of this track.  Here is one of the other top tracks of the album.  You know, I can't really say that, they're all top tracks.  This is about seeing God in everyone you meet and see.  So many things prove the existence of God.  You don't have to go to the good book to prove it, just look around you and see God in everything.

Paper Castles - Here is my favorite track on the album.  The title track. What a great guitar lead in the opening.  This is a great song about writing songs and sharing messages from the deepest depths of our souls as songwriters.  It shares how fragile we are to open ourselves up in when we write music.  We also see that when we write something that it keeps us moving forward on our path to help heal others with our music.  That's my interpretation of this powerful song.  So go build your dream with paper castles.  "It's the song that's everlasting." (a favorite lyric)

The Best Part of My Day - a nice mellow love song.  Love the djembe for the drum. This is a great song to dance slow too.  Just getting lost in each other's eyes.  Beautifully written and love the chorus here.  "The best part of my day is tonight, dancin real slow by candle light" yet another great lyric.

NOLA - How else would you start off a song about New Orleans, other than with an accordion.  It's a must!  Zydeco baby!  A love song to the city of New Orleans.  Perfectly written and beautifully sung. Yet another great chorus that is memorable.  The hooks on this album are so well written and have me thinking about them long after I've heard the song.

Little Man - You never know what God's plan is for you or someone that is born into your life.  That child might be taken due to heart conditions, ill health or cancer.  Sometimes that child passes from Sudden Infant Death.  In tough times like these we lean on our faith to help us through the loss and know that the child is back home and at peace and wrapped in God's love.  Yeah folks, this song made me cry the first time I heard it and again while I review it.  It's a true gift of a song writer, when they can tug on your heartstrings so well, that you can relate to the story that they are sharing and the tears begin to flow.  If you're not tearing up on this song, then I'm not sure what might touch your heart.

And last, but definitely not least in my book.

E S & D (Ghost Track) - Here is one of my favorite bonus tracks of all time!  The message is perfect.  I'll go no further with the meaning here because I feel that you can pick that out yourself.  I play this song when I'm feeling "the need".  It makes me laugh and smile and I know that Karen has a great sense of humor and won't take crap from anyone. This should be a Country Anthem!!  I love the sing-along at the end with the crowd.  Perfect ending to a perfect album.

In conclusion: Buy this.  I have had a lot of albums come across my desk this year that have been too good not to buy.  I'm going to be saying this a lot over the coming months, because I have so many great albums and singles to review.  Buy this, because you won't be disappointed.  Great Country/Americana.  Great messages.  Phenomenal artist and songwriter.

Buy Direct from Karen 
(also Merchandise!!!):





Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Lori Diamond and Fred Abatelli - "Lifted"

Every once in a while, you come upon that album that hits all the right descriptive words that you are looking for in an excellent release. Stunning, stellar, beautiful, graceful, peaceful, exciting...  you get the picture.  Lori's voice and piano are so smooth and natural as is Fred's guitar playing.  But what is amazing about this musical couple, is how well their voices play off of each other.  Truly a gift.  Music is always an interpretation of the artist and the listener. Sometimes the listener hears different things than the artist.  I like to dig into the music and the lyrics here and what I offer is my interpretation of the song's message as I hear it.

First a little background on this musical couple, coming from their website at "Lori & Fred met on MySpace in 2007.  Their songs explore the many facets of the human condition with hope and an esoteric sensibility.  Fans of Norah Jones, Sarah MacLachlan and Joni Mitchell, quickly become fans of Lori and Fred as they explore Jazz, Acoustic, Folk, Pop, Gospel and Blues influences and gently infuse them into their own fresh and original style."

This third release for Lori & Fred, "Lifted", is an album that can not only be heard through the ear, but through the heart and soul.  It really is a special album. Since it came into my hands last week, I have listened to this album 15 times.  I just could not get this out of my CD player.  I recently made a playlist for my phone, so I could listen on the driver to work and at my desk.  I have a lot of music come across my desk in the last few months and "Lifted" stands out above crowd as one of the best releases I have heard in the last year.

I feel that the genre that these two artists would be lumped into would probably be Adult Contemporary.  I'd like to  reclassify this release as Jazz or even New Age.  I have only come upon an uplifting musical album once, in the last 10 years outside of the Religious Music genre.  The artist was Jana Stanfield, who writes inspirational songs that make you feel good and look inside to see the beauty in you.  With Lori & Fred I feel that I have come upon another gift of this very thing that I love; inspirational music about love, life and the goodness in everything.

This album is loaded with powerful stories, messages and an uplifting spirit.  A true gem in the jungle of the music industry.  Really, this is an album which I feel needs to be heard and played over and over till the messages sink in and are enjoyed by everyone who hears it.  So without further ado, I will walk you through the album track by track.

"Lifted" by Lori Diamond & Fred Abatelli

Always There - Opening tracks for me, are key to the pace of the album  This track sets the tone for the whole release.  Exquisite harmonies and a beautiful melody throughout.  A love song for two people finding their way in life. I could see this song being used as a wedding, anniversary or memorial song.  When you listen to the lyrics, you'll see who this song reminds you of and then I guarantee, you'll have a tear in your eye.

Way Back Home - We have a great uplifting song here about finding your way through any of life's challenges and ending up back home.  The metaphors here are positive and beautifully laid out in the lyrics.  It's almost like a meditation mantra for positive affirmation and self talk. A wonderful way of saying "you can do this!" Love the melody of this track and the chorus is so catchy and memorable.  I have had this chorus running through my mind the last several days and it takes a lot for a song to get that space in my brain to do so.  Trust me; it does.

Dreaming - I find myself on the beach in this song.  It has a very tropical Bahamian feel to it. Almost like a Bossa Nova.  I get lost in Lori's voice and piano playing.  Something about this is very reminiscent of Sade and I hear some Astrud Gilberto and Stan Getz falling gracefully into the feel of "The Girl From Ipanema".

Lifted - We start here with Fred singing with Lori coming in on the harmonies.  Again, a wonderful and uplifting song.  A powerful message about being together and lifting each other up in love.  It's about being a rock for each other and allowing each other to soar like an eagle in the relationship. "I know I'll go higher with you." is how it ends.  A truly happy ending.

The Outside - Lori sings a story from her youth to a lady that she has met along the road.  The lesson of "it's never worth the price you pay when the beauty is on the outside."  Strong message. Beautifully told in another hook-laden chorus, with a killer acoustic lead from Fred in the middle of the tune.  Love this tune.  Powerful lesson.

Good Harbor - Fred's guitar in the beginning builds with Lori singing lead and Fred coming in on another beautiful harmony.  A song about renewing and rejuvenating a relationship and living a renewed life.  The water will carry this couple's troubles far away.  A peaceful lyric.

Castle - Starts with a beautiful piano and then the smooth beautiful voice of Lori.  I'm focused on listening to the lyrics of this song while I'm writing this and I just had to pause and get lost in this song again.  Seriously, it's hauntingly beautiful.  Powerful message again about looking for the good things in life.  I still think there can never be enough daydreaming in our daily lives, but sometimes we have to come down to Earth.  Why would you want to come down from that castle in the air anyway?  I'd probably stay there if I could too.  You'll get what I mean when you hear this song.

Wayfaring Stranger - Back to the Bahamas again. This song paints a picture of going back to home. At least that's what I'm pulling in from the lyrics.  I'm lost in Fred's lead guitar and Lori's piano playing.  Stellar!  The organ that comes in after the lead guitar part is a nice addition and takes the song into a Gospel feel with a full harmony of backup singers.  This song just keeps building and taking me away from my daily grind.  I find myself swaying back and forth in my chair as I get lost in Fred's second lead guitar part.  This is SO good.  Santana, Joe Walsh; eat your hearts out, this is excellent guitar work!

OM - Lori singing a wonderful mantra. "Peace is in my heart." If we all sang this on a daily basis, I think the world would be a better place.  In fact, this may now become a beautiful daily meditation for me.  It's a nice reminder to be fully engaged in the moment of life.  What a better way, than to sing this out loud every chance you get.  When they break into "Joy is in my soul" I get shivers.  Big shivers.  And finally, the last message I'll let you ponder.  It's the teaching of many Eastern traditions, "God is Who I Am".  Again, powerful messages throughout.

So there you have it.  Track by track and I really can't paint the picture enough.  The album is worth of listening too over and over again.  Absorb the messages and feel the positive energy that this album exudes.

A portion of proceeds from Lori & Fred's CD sales goes directly to  NEADS is a great organization that supplies dogs for deaf and disabled Americans.  What a great organization to give too, and what a better way to give to this organization by buying this album.  Support Independent Artists like Lori & Fred.  Keep this positive music alive!

In conclusion. I'm not sure what else to say to get you all to go order a copy of this gem.  I will say that if I had read a review like this and heard song samples of each track, I would buy this in a heartbeat.  This is the kind of music and songwriting that I live for.

You can sample the above tracks through Lori & Fred's ReverbNation page or listening through the ReverbNation Widget below.

Visit Lori & Fred at these locations