michelle mangione

Acoustic music fans take note: this album should be in your CD collection.

I have this theory that drummers who become acoustic singer/songwriters have more rhythmically interesting songs than many of their contemporaries. Michelle Mangione is another in my short but growing list of drummer-turned-guitarists that exemplify my theory.

Along with drums and guitar (steel string and nylon), Mangione plays the piano and organ, and she plays them well. Listening to Life Beneath the Sun, one would never know that it is an independent recording with only a handful of studio performers besides Mangione. The classical guitar instrumental "Interlude" shows off her chops on that instrument, just in case you hadn't figured it out by then.

Musically, she reminds me of Melissa Etheridge, but without the corporate rock sheen that has coated Etheridge's career. publicity photo of Michelle MangioneLyrically, she has a lot to say in her songs. The album contains excellent instrumentation, as mentioned before, however the production is done in such a way to emphasize the vocals — a hallmark of singer/songwriter albums. Very little obscures the message and poetry Mangione is trying to convey with the songs on Life Beneath the Sun.

"America the Blue" examines some of the hypocrisy practiced by Americans who revere and support our warriors until they come home. The topic is approached from the side and not a direct confrontation. "I met a hero at my doorstep / He only did what he had to do / He surely had found the American dream come true / He reached out for a nickel with his right hand / Another long, cold lonely night and / He never felt so red white and blue…" Even the poppy, head-bopping music doesn't convey any sort of preachiness. The song is particularly poignant given the reports of conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

The chorus of "Prisoner of War" is one that regularly plays on repeat in my mental jukebox. "Are you ready to release me / I am ready to be freed / You know I can't escape this feeling anymore / And if time is all it takes me / I will loosen up these chains / Just enough to make my getaway / And I won't be your prisoner of war…" I can't say I have ever been in a relationship where I have felt that sentiment, but I do like the imagery of the lyrics and the musical hook. Plus, the song incorporates one of my favorite unusual acoustic pop instruments: the accordion.

One of my complaints about singer/songwriters is that so many write songs that have a lot of "I" and "you" in them. Mangione is no different, but as a friend pointed out to me recently, that is not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes writers need to have a period of introspection, or it could be that is where their talent lies. In this case, Mangione is able to convey all of her I's and you's in an interesting and mostly universal way, which is more than I can say for some writers.

Other stand-out songs on the album include "Anything Better," "I've Become," and "Man With a Gun." The album on a whole is a solid mix of toe-tappers and songs that make you go "hmmm…," and a few do both. Overall, I am pleased with Life Beneath the Sun. The production is well done, the songwriting is solid, and the musicians are on their game — good indicators of an album with some staying power.

Life Beneath the Sun is available from CDBaby and iTunes.

Also published on Blogcritics.org.

lovers and stars

This EP is long enough to show off Ivey’s range, but short enough to keep the listener wanting more.

cover of Lovers and StarsThe first thing you notice about Melissa Ivey is that this girl has a fine set of pipes. Inevitably, there will be the comparisons to Melissa Etheridge and Janis Joplin, but Ivey can hold her own with a unique voice. She and her band have put together an EP of tight rock tunes called Lovers and Stars, which was released last fall, and should be getting more attention than it has already.

One of the benefits of a five song EP is that the artist can show off their range without having to include any weaker material in order to fill out an LP. Ivey pulled out all the stops for the tracks on Lovers and Stars, leaving the listener wanting more after the all-too-short 22 minutes have passed.

The title track begins the EP with an energetic acoustic rhythm guitar riff that is soon joined by the rest of the band and Ivey's vocals. It's a toe-tapper of a love song that is reminiscent of late-90s pop-rock bands like Sixpence or the Rembrandts.

Ivey follows it up with the darker sounding "Eyes on the Door" with its lyrical and musical theme of unrequited longing for someone who is not there. Something about the chord progression reminds me of Amy Ray's "Tether." I think it's that steady driving rhythm that carries an underlying intensity.

"Everywhere and Nowhere" is a head-bopping syncopated introspective pop-rock tune that provides a nice mid-EP lift.

"Far Far Away" kicks off with the energetic punk-influence grind of electric guitars that supports the lyrical theme of separation and longing to be back home with a loved one. This leads into the quietly introspective final track, "No Ties To Break," that begins with the line "she's been a lot of places / seen so many faces / walked across the borders of time," and continues on with the theme of the traveler and his/her relationships with others. It's an old story, but like a good storyteller, Ivey is able to present it in a fresh way.

Lovers and Stars reminds me of my eighth grade English teacher's description of an essay: It's like a miniskirt — long enough to cover the subject, but short enough to be interesting.

Lovers and Stars is available at CDBaby.com.

lesbian icons

Lesbian icons – should they be replaced?

After my girlfriend saw the “you are a librarian!” page, she decided we needed to make something like that for lesbians, which we are currently working on. In doing a bit of online research for some stereotypical lesbian stuff that would make for rather humorous combinations, I ran across this essay on lesbian icons. The author asserts that it is time for the big four to be replaced and gives a few suggestions for their replacements. I thought the whole essay was hilarious – particularly the nail clipping reference.

“Sure, sometimes the lesbian stereotypes are true. I, for one, am a lesbian poster child, what with the short hair, the tattoos, and a penchant for sensible shoes. I am not, however, a huge Melissa Etheridge fan.”