Music : Labeling Vineyarders
It was a productive year for the musicians of Martha's Vineyard, who seem to have spent a good portion of it in the recording studio.
First up is Nina Violet's "Loose Strife," the first release from Grandma's Basement, the new music label of Island-born singer/songwriter Willy Mason.
"Loose Strife" is an ambitious and earnest album, evidenced by its opening track, "Bruise." It is a love song of sorts in which Ms. Violet's plaintive vocals rise above her ambient guitar work, creating a contrast that manages to convey longing.
The album contains vast instrumentation - strings, synthesizers, organs, harpsichord, sitar, melatron, and electric guitars. Despite this collection of instruments, its tone is both personal and tasteful - no small feat. It is also a testament to Ms. Violet's skill as a self-produced artist.
The album's very present sound owes much to the thoughtful ear of sound engineer Matthew Cullen, who has worked with artists such as My Morning Jacket, Antony and The Johnsons, and Evan Dando, among others. This recording also features the genius of Garth Hudson, a former member of "The Band."
All in all, this is a standout work that uses talent and feeling like a razor to cut through the void of false sentimentality and overproduction that plagues much of today's folk and rock music.
Next up is the long awaited "Really Real Forever" by The Billionaires, a prodigal Island band based in Los Angeles. Members include Martha's Vineyard rock music alumni: Tim Laursen, Farley Glavin, Laura Jordon, and brothers Joe and Sebastian Keefe.
The band had great success in the last year or so, having signed a deal with the independent label, Too Soon records. They have also recently received a management deal with Atlantic, can be heard nationally on the radio, and have a two-page spread in the upcoming spring edition of Magnet magazine.
This is music that has found receptive listeners across the country. A creation of Martha's Vineyard's "shack-and-tent generation," it gently touches on that group's frustration with the rising expense of living here that steadily pushes many from the Island.
The record teamed the band with Todd Phillips, whose co-production help has polished songs like "Trophy Home," "Eighties Movies," and "End of Summer Song" into some extremely good pop music. This is a collection of highly danceable songs that come across like catchy inside jokes. You can't get them out of your head.
The Billionaires will be returning in July for a formal CD release party at Outerland. Also, check out the music video for "Eighties Movies," which can be viewed online at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And then there's "Samba Chocolate," a six-song release from Brazilian-born Bella and Island poet Dan Waters. The EP is hand-packaged and a little rough, but it has some cool tracks, particularly "Samba Noir," and "Quentinho e que a bon." Its occasionally under-mixed sound can be forgiven because of its solid musicianship. "Samba Chocolate" features lounge-style vocals with sexy rhythmic delivery and a backbone of nylon string guitar grooves that compel you to attend a live performance. Bella and Daniel Waters perform weekly at Che's Lounge in Vineyard Haven.
Colin Ruel is a singer/ songwriter who performs on the Island.