Published on January 9th, 2013 | by Jessica Mickey and Ballard Lesemann0
CD Reviews: New Releases from Julie Slonecki and Steel Petals
It could be argued that Charleston-based songwriter Julie Slonecki’s latest album, Truth/Ideals, is more thematically cohesive than her 2011 debut Act Tough. The new work consistently sighs of Dusty Springfield-esque torch songs, with tasteful lyrics that longingly ponder what could’ve been. Musically, it’s impressive. Compared to her previous effort, it’s more pop-friendly without being overtly poppy, boldly experimental, and each song is skillfully arranged. However, the work as a whole seems to suffer from musical multiple personality disorder.
As Truth/Ideals kicks off with the crisp but smooth “Erase,” there’s no denying Slonecki’s talent. At 24, she shows off her musical flexibility and the rare knack to know when to be subtle. Her soothing and skillful vocals never seemed forced, providing a natural, sometimes breathy, delivery. Her harmonies are right on the money. In contrast, the heavy-handed vocal effects on the electro-pop “Begging” are so thick and muddled, they distort one of Slonecki’s biggest strengths. The bass-driven “Demon” exhibits her aptitude when it comes to sophisticated arrangement. The whole album is lo-fi without sounding lo-fi because Slonecki clearly knows how to make cool sounds from a limited array of things, as demonstrated in the hand-clappy happy “Garden Gnome.”
Songs like “The Oldest I’ve Ever Been” and “How I Could Help” reveal Slonecki’s Joni Mitchell-like ability to make simple delicate finger picking sound pro and pretty. She brings to mind Beth Orton or an indie Brit-pop version of Aimee Man. As the path continues to the folk-stomp, defiant “Lay me in the River,” the road takes a detour into unpredictable territory.
“Temporary,” showcasing Slonecki’s venture into more electronic terrain, contains a few unexpected rap breaks with an artist identified only as “Sharp” on her album jacket. A bold move, indeed, but it doesn’t really fit in with the precedence that has been set so far. The same goes for “Pink Skeleton,” a largely instrumental electronic track. Ambient and beautifully arranged, it stands on it’s own, but not so much as a piece to the larger puzzle.
“Stranger’s World” gets back on track with haunting organ and conceding lyrics, and the album finishes off with the angelic-sounding “No Promises,” featuring Slonecki’s choir-like multiple-part harmonies.
Truth/Ideals is a charmer. It pulls you right in, but somewhere along the way, it yanks the listener toward sounds and feelings that don’t quite connect with the rest of the album. Pick the eight strongest folk-pop-leaning songs on this 13-song collection, and you’ve got yourself one killer record. But all that aside, it’s Slonecki’s evocative voice, musical talent, expressive songwriting, and uncanny versatility that shines and drives Truth/Ideals. —Jessica Mickey
Julie Slonecki plays at the the Kickin’ Chicken (downtown) on Fri. Feb. 1 and at the Tin Roof on Wed. Feb. 27. Visit julieslonecki.com for more.
With a grittier guitar-based sound and a teetering stack of electric blues riffs, local peer trio Steel Petal’s new studio collection rocks hard and well. It’s the second full-length from lead singer, guitarist, and pedal steel player Blake Ohlson and company (pictured above). Their self-titled debut, released two years ago, grooved and bounced with heavy doses of soul-rock organ thanks to then-member Whit Algar, and it came off with a fairly slick production quality. Ligero, however, sticks with the traditional guitar/bass/drums machinery and stomps well into the head-banging, full throttle boogie of vintage AC/DC, early ZZ Top, and classic Zep.
Ohlson tracked the album last year at his Straight Chile Studio on Daniel Island. He and Mitch Webb mixed everything at Mantis Records in North Charleston.
While Ohlson is best known professionally in town as a full-time orthopedic surgeon, his hot guitar chops, handsomely distorted tone, and tasteful blues-rock phrasing and solos are on full display from song to song. He sounds great backed by a beefy new rhythm section comprised of Jeff Narkiewicz and drummer Shank Wilson, who signed on last year (both play together in bar band Simple Possession).
Ligero kicks off with the stomp-beat rocker “Bonhomme Richard,” a buzzy anthem based on stories from the 18th century sailing vessel replete with extra fuzz bass, acoustic guitar accents, and a full choir of backup singers in the chorus of “Bonhomme Richard, bring me your captain!” Riff-based tunes like the mid-tempo “Black Diamond” or the slide guitar-propelled, minor-keyed “The Calling” recall some of the swampy elements of the previous collection. If Ohlson had belted his lyrics out an octave higher, “Hotel Misery” and “You’re the One,” they could have fit nicely on AC/DC’s High Voltage or Powerage albums.
There are few musical surprises in the set, but there are a few unusual diversions here and there. The dramatically syncopated and elaborately arranged “Sun in Her Eyes” sounds a long-lost Skynyrd theme song. “Tonic’s Place of Praise,” another side-heavy anthem, sludges into a cool solo section featuring a wah-wah effect rivaling Peter Frampton’s old voice box. The acoustic guitar-based ballad “Own You Heart,” Ligero‘s closer, is unexpectedly sweet and warm and melodic.
With solid support from Wilson and Narkiewicz, frontman Ohlson seems settled, confident, and inspired throughout the album. It’ll be exciting to hear what else they come with by way of their trad tools and new ideas. —Ballard Lesemann
Visit steelpetals.net for more. Top photo by Ballard Lesemann.
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