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soul • Relate Magazine

Brad Brooks: Harmony of Passing Light

Brad Brooks:  Harmony of Passing Light

Written by Ellen Marie Hawkins

Brad Brooks:  Harmony of Passing LightFor the first few listens, Harmony of Passing Light is difficult to decipher.  Brad’s voice, ranging from Paul McCartney to Mick Jagger to Freddie Mercury, is quite an instrument in itself, so much so that it’s hard to focus on what he’s saying.  The faster tempo tracks like the opening “Calling Everyone” and “Spinner & the Spun” begs the question, who really cares what he’s singing about, sounding like that?  The piano, littered throughout like leaves disturbed by the wind, is even more of a distraction.  There’s a lot of soul in this, a little rock, and a lot of musical variety, which really makes for a lot to love.

But when it comes down to it, I always care what an artist is leaving up to my interpretation.   What I discovered was that there’s a lot of sadness here.  “Will It Be Enough?” leaves little to the imagination; it is indeed a song about drug abuse (“If all that you propose/Gets lost upside your nose”… “So fall against the grain till someone hits that vein”).  “Bumbelina,” too, follows that same misery of watching someone self destruct (“All the things you didn’t wanna stop, tumbling down a mountaintop).

The one moment of clarity and a peak of happiness appear on track nine, the song “Hope is That I Got You.” When he mentions the word faith in this song, it’s the one time that I get the impression that it’s something he wants to have rather than something he’s afraid is nothing more than emptiness.  “Grand Manner” is similar, but while he mentions faith, he is just as concerned that it is a disillusion (“But I can’t tell if it’s just rain/Or some kind of truth that I can tell”).

And it was indeed that amount of uncertainty that detracted, for me, at least, from the brilliance of the music.  While for several listens, I wondered if it was just me who was unable to untangle Brad’s lyrics, I came to the conclusion that it was his own sadness and loss that threw me off balance.   Some comfort may be found for the listener who has experienced similar life struggles for the simple fact that it’s sometimes enough to know we are not alone, the album in its entirety reflects a heartbreak that leads to mistrust, in not just people, but life’s beauty as well.  As a musician, he excels at expressing himself, but as a listener who would rather cling to hope, I must ask for so much more from the music I lose myself in.

Visit www.bradbrooksmusic.com for more information.

James Morrison: Awakening

James Morrison:  Awakening

Written by Ellen Marie Hawkins

James Morrison:  AwakeningAwakening has soul seeping from every note on this album.  I never considered myself a huge fan of Stevie Wonder or old school, seventies style rhythm and blues, but because soul never gets old and James does such a beautiful job of putting his heart out there for us to hear, I loved this record immediately.  There was no warming up to it.  Absolute instant gratification.  But even better yet, once I read the history and listened more intently to the lyrics, I was blown away by the depth and the character of these songs.  This isn’t an album you listen to in passing.  You’ll want to hear them again and again, and you’ll make them your own, whether your story is similar to his or not.

Many of these songs were written about Morrison’s father who recently passed away after suffering from alcoholism and depression.  “In My Dreams” was specifically written about James’s desire to see his dad again in his dreams, but while this is an emotionally charged song, there’s enough whimsy to the string arrangement and enough reflection on what James would do with his dad in happier times that the song never sinks into complete despair.  And so this first song on the album sets the tone of the following tracks:  James loved his dad, and even if the relationship was difficult, these are the songs of a singer who is surviving the heartache with enough integrity to become a better man because of it.

“Up” was the most surprising track for me.  Jessie J. appears, lending vocals I didn’t even know she had because her acid tongue has established a reputation that casts her talents in the shadows.  Fortunately, James wrote an explicit free song, and I was impressed that she matched his emotion note for note throughout this song that journeys from abandonment and anger “Why do I even try/When you take me for granted” to hope.  “When it all falls down/The only way is up.”

The dance inspiring “Slave to the Music” was also highly enjoyable as the vocals rival anything Michael Jackson could have ever done.  “Beautiful Life” and “Forever” reveal a happier James, putting his optimism front and center as he realizes that he has blessings to live for.  And “Awakening,” written for his three year old daughter, is not only lyrically driven but musically driven; as a listener, I felt myself yearning, stretching, and reaching to be/feel/dream more right along with him.

But, really, I have two favorites.  “Person I Should’ve Been” is one of them.  While it may have began as a poem James wrote following a conversation with his dad, his refusal to accept shortcomings as status quo is inspiring.  He yearns for more and resolves to become it. “Right By Your Side” was my other favorite.  While his loyalty is touched upon in several songs (“I Won’t Let You Go,” “Forever”) James points out that every time he is asked why he left or he had meant what he said, James insists that he was always there.  The attitude of this song, the urgency and the delivery, the emotion and the pain, reveal a soul that was pushed away, but still, he stayed.

The talent, the substance, and the heart of this collection place it above a vast majority of the albums I’ve listened to recently.  There is no gloss, nothing manufactured.  This is soul, pure and simple.  A fascinatingly resilient musician and inspiring album, not to be missed.

For more information, please visit www.jamesmorrisonmusic.com for more information, and be sure to download legally from a digital retailer of your choice.

Ida Jo: Singer in a Band

Ida Jo: Singer in a Band

Written by Ellen Marie Hawkins

Ida Jo: Singer in a Band

Ida Jo: Singer in a Band

(picture courtesy of www.idajoandtheshow.com)

It’s easy to look at the cover of this album, see the title Singer in a Band, and think you
have this artist figured out without even listening. But if you do that, then you’re doing
yourself a disservice. This isn’t some melancholy girl who labels herself as a singer/
songwriter.

She’s very far from that. Very, very far.

In fact, just the title “Singer in a Band” is a gigantic understatement. Her voice has
the vibrancy of Adele with the soul of Joss Stone. It has the color of history. All the
emotion of the sixties, the passion of injustice, and the conviction of someone who
has the intelligence, talent, and strength to change it all comes from her mouth. I
am empowered by the sound of her voice alone; and all that comes from not even
considering what she is saying.

She is so much more than a singer. Even if she didn’t play an instrument, her voice
would be enough.

Thankfully, however, she does play an instrument. Her violin adds a depth to songs,
so much that without it, they would be barren. In fact, after listening a couple times
through and then listening to other singers similar to Ida, I wanted nothing more than
those strings pulsing themselves through what I previously thought was good and now
consider rather average. Her music goes to a different level. And if you take a listen and
ask yourself, “What is that? I’ve never heard that before,” like I did, than you would be
correct. She is one of a dozen or so violinists who utilize a method called “chopping.”
The effect is absolutely riveting.

Singer in a Band is more musically driven than lyrically driven; I found as a listener
that I felt my way through this album more than I thought my way through it. But
that doesn’t mean that she doesn’t have something to say or that she isn’t insightful;
quite the contrary. “No (We Won’t Take It)” is political activism at its finest. “The
Rising,” although addressed as a “he” could be expanded to include government as well,
a government that underestimates the strength of a people who are so tired of being
suppressed, they gather courage they themselves didn’t know they had. “Mama Always
Said” is also about independence from a drunken man, but I found the most empowering
thing about mama wasn’t what she said but the example she set to her daughter by
leaving after a beating.

Strength, I believe, doesn’t come from someone who doesn’t understand insecurity.
There are songs that explore Ida’s shortcomings, or what she sees as such anyway.
In “Judgement,” she realizes that she has not only been the victim of it but one who uses
it as well. She explores why we go to such a low place. In “So Can I,” listeners get a
glimpse of a girl who wants to be more than she is and questions how she can, “Afterall,
I’m pretty small.” My favorite song, “Diamonds and Gold,” contains the lyrics “didn’t
know how to turn my burden into diamonds and gold.” After something has been stolen,
she questions how to turn it into something good, but it has that feel of a door closing
and a window opening. What seems as crushed dreams in the moment can feel as though
something that wasn’t meant to be as time goes on and other dreams are realized and
revealed. What we thought sparkled before is taken away and we have to find something
not something so superficial deep within the soul; hope and perseverance.

Singer in a Band is an album that stares into the pool of reflection and finds hope staring
back. It’s through loss that we find what is important to us and what is worth fighting
for. This album is the fruit of a musician’s labor, and an artist’s expression of what
matters to her. It is beautifully displayed and shared.

Please visit www.idajoandtheshow.com for more information. Her music can be
purchased on iTunes or through her website.

Ted Hovis: Let It Shine

Ted Hovis: Let It Shine

Written by Ellen Marie Hawkins

Ted Hovis

Ted Hovis

(picture courtesy of www.myspace.com/tedhovis)

Ted’s voice is a beautiful instrument; an engaging one. And fortunately for him, it also
sets him apart. It was difficult for me to place a comparison; he’s that unique without
being weird. The focal point for me is often the lyrics on an album, but there were times
I had to force myself to pay attention to what he was singing about rather than how he
was singing it.

Also fortunately for him, Ted guitar skills are as good as his vocals; only making my
predicament with focusing even more difficult. He alternates so well between soul and
blues and rock, there isn’t a genre for him to fit in, and that’s a good thing because talent
like this shouldn’t be contained to one space. For him, it just spills over.

So now, the lyrics. Who is this guy and what is he about? There’s a lot of loss here.
In “The Well Has Run Dry,” Ted makes my heart hurt as he sings, “Have I lost my
place in this world/If I haven’t the strength to try anymore.” He also seems to hold onto
something he often feels he’s about to lose. In “Until It Fades,” he sings, “But it all feels
so right/To be here by your side/Until it fades away.” This sentiment seems to be an
underlying current to many of the tracks on the album.

But there’s also hope. In “The Place You Called Home,” the chorus declares, “You’ll
find me waiting for you/In the place you called home” as a loved one struggles to return
to happier times. In “Twisting in Denial,” one of the stand outs on the album, Ted
promises that he’d rather feel the pain than living with false hope. In “Thinking Out
Loud,” he realizes that “Time is a healer, time is a means to an end/Time lets me see
again.” And even in “Until it Fades,” while the written lyric has such a heaviness to it,
Ted delivers it in a way that reveals he’s just appreciating the moment and not focusing
on the heartache at the end of the road.

Ultimately, hope floats. Even if it seems lost in the quagmire of heartbreak. And I
appreciate the sentiment that Let it Shine gave to me; without the valleys, we can’t
appreciate the pinnacles for the beauty that resides there. Ted’s got a beautiful way of
taking you on that journey, from one end of the spectrum to the other.

Please visit him at www.tedhovis.com and be sure to purchase on iTunes.

Treasa Levasseur: Low Fidelity

Treasa Levasseur: Low Fidelity

Written by Ellen Marie Hawkins

Treasa Levasseur

Treasa Levasseur

(picture courtesy of www.treasalevasseur.com photocredit:Mark Peter Drolet)

Treasa Levasseur’s Low Fidelity is really good. I know that sounds so simple, but that’s the thing; that simple realization that an album is well done usually comes with time for me. Not so with this cd. Her vocals are so good. The musicians are amazing.

Call it blues, soul, jazz, rhythm and blues; call it what you want but there is no denying that this is good. I wish I could convey what that simple word means or how shocked I was that I came to the realization so quickly, but there it is. This is good stuff.

Although she’s from Toronto, Canada, Treasa sounds like she has spent her entire life studying the blues from the greats from the deep south of the States. She acknowledges some of that in “Stuck in Soulsville,” a song about Memphis. The horns in this song deserve major props; I can only hope you’re not too busy dancing to notice.

The other great songs on this album are definitely the open song, “Help Me Over,” but it’s not until Treasa sings the album title, halfway through the cd, that you realize this isn’t a disc that gets all sloppy and lazy on the second half. In fact, I think I prefer the latter tracks. Not that the opening ones aren’t good, like I said, they are, but it’s like she’s truly reaching her stride. Or maybe it’s just it takes me a couple of songs to start to get over my admiration enough so that I can fully appreciate what good music this is.

That said, “Low Fidelity,” a sassy song about not putting up with a no good man is fantastic, and the funny but true, “Big Fat Mouth,” is just so darn fun and true that it’s sure to have high rotation on your ipod. I couldn’t decide if I liked the lyrics, the horns, or the “uh, huh, uh huh, yeah, yeah” of the background vocals the most.

And just when you think you may have an idea what Treasa Levasseur is about and understand exactly what type of music she writes and sings, she closes the album with “Amen,” worthy of a southern choir, full of spirituality and searching that knocks on heaven’s door and leaves you breathless.

Be sure to check Treasa out at www.treasalevasseur.com or on Itunes. Low Fidelity is a 2010 JUNO nominee for best Blues Album. Don’t be the last to figure out why she deserves that nomination and many more to follow.