Friday, December 28, 2018

Various Artists, Telegraph Hill Records, Vol. 1, 2018

Compilation Review

I Care and I Don’t Care

By Brian Erickson

Every opportunity gained begins with an opportunity lost. That loss came at Langosta Lounge as Matt Fernicola and Joe Pomarico's old band Airacuda called it a career. Since then, fur-coated frontman Matthew Stephen retreated from the spotlight, opting for life as a writer and producer under the name MaYay0 (more on him in a moment). Meanwhile, the aforementioned sidemen chose to form Telegraph Hill Records and take over Asbury Park like a hurricane wave breaking over the boards.

Recruiting up-and-comers like Avery Mandeville and Conor Bracken & The Mother Leeds Band, and mainstays like Lowlight, and Levy & The Oaks, "Fern" and "Pom, as they are affectionately known, have established a formidable operation. Taking a page from the Little Dickman playbook, Telegraph Hill has helped push the music scene forward, returning some of the power from stodgy promoters back to the bands, and most importantly, establishing a sense of community beyond its ranks. Today they make their first big move.

Tying themselves to the second annual What a Wonderful Year show happening tonight and tomorrow at the Wonder Bar in Asbury Park, Telegraph Hill has released its first of several compilations. And, in the tradition of the old Speak Into My Good Eye compilations, I decided to review each and every track for as long as the song lasted before I had to cap it and move on.

Lowlight offered up a generous five minutes. While Leah Voysey's two minute and twenty second "Poison" commanded more economy. So here we go…

Lowlight, "Burkhalter"
A campfire crackles, a synthesizer bubbles to the surface as Renee Maskin accounts a "day in the life" of this Big Lebowski character whom we know by name only. I saw them play it live, and the song absolutely kills! In a recorded setting, with a greater attention to detail, lyrics are put front-and-center as Maskin delivers her signature insight: "Finding all the little things / Between what we say / And what we mean." Smile when you know everyone's watching. Sigh when you're alone. Repeat. There's a sadness in the resignation of Lowlight's characters. But, by the end, like most everything Lowlight put their name on, "Burkhalter" proves yet another triumph.

Des & the Swagmatics, "Back to Blue"
Des Spinks is one of the best singers in the game. She brings that full-voiced sway to this slow jam plea for trust and communication. But this isn't just the Des show. Singer and band work in perfect symmetry together as "Back to Blue" recalls the easy groove of early 90s R&B like "Hopeless" by Dionne Farris.

Keith Egan, "Belong"
Keith Egan serves up a slice of MaYay0-produced R&B-laced pop. Swaths of harmony and electronic rhythms adorn Egan's infectious chorus as the production has radio straight in the crosshairs!

MaYay0 & Taylor Tote, "Don't Need You Anymore"
MaYay0 is joined by Asbury Park pop goddess Taylor Tote for another modern confection. This time, acoustic guitars, keyboards, and Tote's considerable vocal turn make this song jump straight off the page. And that chorus, tho!

Leah Voysey, "Poison"
By the singer's own admission, "Poison" had been kicking around in a couple of different demo forms before she placed it in Telegraph Hill's capable hands. Here, the song whirrs to life on the back of a stuttering rhythm, a minor-key chorus and Voysey's dark lyrical themes. And at just 2:20, it gets in, says what it needs to, and clears right out. But that's what the repeat button is for.

Levy & the Oaks, "On the Run"
Levy Okun, the soft-spoken singer of Levy & the Oaks recently posted about his early days as a musician. He chronicled what it was like to tour the world, make records, and perform for hundreds of people every night; the types of things any aspiring musician might one day hope to accomplish. But behind that good time was addiction, divorce, and a struggle for Okun to regain his footing. But don't let the backstory fool you; this is a celebration; the announcement of Act II. And the band coats Okun's contemplative lyrics in barrelhouse piano, horns, and a joyous singalong chorus. So give it another run, Levy & the Oaks. Clearly, your best work is still ahead of you.

Bobby Mahoney & the Seventh Son, "Should Have Called You Up (Last Night)"
My favorite Garden State wunderkind's rafter-reaching voice rockets this Scott Weiland-fronts-the-E-Street-Band straight across the finish line. Whoever said rock and roll is dead clearly isn’t listening to Bobby Mahoney: author of the best choruses in the biz!

Connor Bracken & the Mother Leeds Band, "Read On You"
Connor Bracken found himself thumbing through some disparate items at a thrift store one afternoon. He opened up a box that had Thin Lizzy's swinging double backbeat in it. He paid the clerk, went home, and the Mother Leeds Band was born. Like Bobby Mahoney, Bracken & Co are working hard to keep rock and roll alive. And with fist-pumpers like "Read on You" coming off so effortlessly, I'd say Mother Leeds: 1, Haters: 0.

Natalie Farrell, "Mister Officer"
Coming off this summer's Natality EP, Farrell is on a roll! "Mister Officer" adds an unexpected twist to otherwise-timely lyrical commentary. Pair that with Matt Fernicola's blistering guitar leads, and you've got not just a compilation highlight but one of the best songs of Farrell's young career.

Airacuda, "Scorpio Clarice"
MaYay0 climbs into the chrysalis and reemerges with the tight pants and fur coat for the first new Airacuda material in nearly three years! A rock and roll strut, scintillating vocal-and-keyboard lines that recall Morrison and Manzarek, and more fine Fernicola guitar work prove Airacuda could step back in anytime they'd like and be right at home.

The Foes of Fern, "Lydia"
My favorite Foes song finally gets a proper release! At this point, with contributions to several tracks (and more to come), Fern wins this compilation's Sixth Man of the Year award. As a front man, Fern's charmingly gruff voice and earnest sense of songwriting propel this power pop gem!

The Burns, "I'll Be Back"
The nice boys that play the good rockin' tunes are back. Hot off the release of their You EP, The Burns recall "Lay Down Sally" with this bluesy Claptonian shuffle. Fern and bassist Chris Dubrow supply honey-voiced singer Joey Henderson with just the right amount of vinegar to make those backing vocals play just right. And, as always, drummer Bill McCabe keeps it all from rolling off the road. Bravo, Burns!

Avery Mandeville, "Encore (live)"
Avery Mandeville wields her quavering voice like a blunt force weapon, insisting she shouldn't have to explain herself. But self-doubt and self-reflection cohabitate like Caden and Hazel from Synecdoche, New York. It doesn’t matter if the house is on fire so long as it’s the house you built. With an EP, an album, and this great, sad, compelling, fucked up new single, Mandeville continues to build something stunning. I can’t wait to see how it all continues to burn!

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