Vanessa Lynch has been circling the spotlight for a few years now, surrounded by and performing with some of Wilmington’s brightest talents, while remaining somewhat under the radar. Until now. Lynch’s debut album Walking Blind is thoughtful, deliberate, and musically rich. Credit is due to her band, all accomplished musicians in their own right, who weave a rich tapestry around Lynch’s voice without overpowering her. Also noteworthy is the overall positive message, a theme of rising above adversity using the fuel of inner strength. Musically, most of the songs harken back to an earlier time, putting a modern spin on funk-spun soul.
The album opens with title track “Walking Blind.” The instrumentation is gorgeous, right from Luke Wilson’s first drum beat into Nicole Mancini’s violin intro. The song itself is catchy and Lynch’s voice is emotional but controlled, a task she makes seem easier than it is. The pop soul melody sets a nice tone for the rest of the album.
“Butterfly” starts with a slow jazz guitar riff from Michael Buckley and builds into chromatics that actually simulate the idea of flying. Lynch’s voice soars and benefits from backing vocals that invoke vintage girl groups like The Supremes. The butterfly imagery is effective in describing a relationship that continues to pull her back in, even as she pleads, “Give me the nerve to fly.”
Danny “Louis.” Thomas with Vanessa Lynch at the cd release show at Bourgie Nights
It’s probably appropriate that an album emphasizing self-worth and being true to yourself would follow an easy breezy song with the immediate sound of a rap verse. “Courage” works because the lyrical rhymes of Danny “Louis.” Thomas bring out the hip hop leanings in Lynch’s voice. The lyrics are a simple but effective homage to self-sabotage: “Courage won’t enter me and I know why, ’cause I won’t let it.”
“Glow” is the song that should appear in whatever happens to be the next girl power movie of the year, meaning that this is what young girls (or women, or really ANYONE) should be singing along to. “Girl, get your shine on…let your inner beauty show, and glow.” It doesn’t hurt that the song itself showcases some beautiful vocals, including some fantastic backing harmonies.
Lynch gives a nod to her adopted home in “Carolina.” The song is the most folky-sounding song on the album, an appropriate vehicle for ruminating on how moving to the south has changed her. As a fellow Yankee transplant, I can definitely relate to her lyrics expressing heartfelt love for her new home. “North Carolina has given so much to me,” indeed.
“My Flower” is adventurous musically in a way that seems to really bring out the rich emotion in Lynch’s voice, even as she navigates back and forth across a (very effective) time change. She flexes creatively on this song and her band follows suit. The motown sound throughout segues into a guitar solo at the end that downright blazes.
The ballad “Two Men” is so rife with sadness that the feeling of loss is palpable right from the beginning, thanks to a stirring piano intro by Dylan Linehan aided by some emotional violin playing from Mancini. When Lynch’s voice finally does float above the instruments, she allows herself to be vulnerable singing, “I’ve been told I’m a pillar of strength/ Well they don’t see me when I’m all alone.”
Crystal Fussell, Michael Buckley, Keith Butler Jr, Vanessa Lynch, and Taylor Lee performing at the cd release show
Nothing pulls a listener out of a sad funk like…funk. And the next two songs are downright funky. “Strange & New” has a beat and a bass line that, combined with Lynch’s outstanding vocals and harmonies, perfectly capture the lustful fun of a new love affair. The chorus really makes me want to dance, and there is a killer bass solo from Taylor Lee. “How Dare You” continues the dance trend while also revisiting the theme of empowerment. Lynch’s voice is powerful and full of feeling as she repeats the line “How dare you,” folding herself into what sounds like an old-school soul jam. Buckley swoops in at the end and delivers an exceptional guitar solo.
Lynch smartly ends on an upbeat note, but one that also showcases her creativity. “Shouldn’t Let Me Go” starts out on an upbeat note and then takes a turn into a dark and spooky bridge in the middle. Just when I think I’m going to get sucked into the piano-and-violin-heavy scary dark place, the sunny guitar and vocals rescue me and place me gently back into pop bliss. The song is catchy lyrically and melodically, and is a great finish to what is a strong debut album.
Vanessa Lynch has delivered some great music that is very much its own sound, a rarity in today’s over-homogenized market. After being up-and-coming for the past few years, Lynch has shown that she’s ready to arrive. Vanessa Lynch doesn’t just shine, she glows.
When some of our staff members were putting up flyers for an event in October, there were posters for a band called Stray Local in every store or restaurant window. We’d never heard of them but they already had gigs all over town. A few months later we met another group we’d never heard of called Chasing Opal, and then they too were suddenly everywhere. The two bands shared a bill at Orton’s this past weekend and we thought that it would be the perfect opportunity to review two of the newest – and hardest working – bands in town.
Stray Local began when UNC Greensboro alums Jamie Rowen (vocals/guitar/harmonica/banjo/fiddle) and Hannah Lomas (vocals/mandolin/shaker) reunited in Wilmington to pursue their mutual love of music. They became a trio with the addition of local percussionist Nick Simon. In just 6 months they have played some of the most popular venues in town including an opening slot at Ziggy’s by the Sea and a coveted slot on WHQR’s Soup to Nuts Live, in addition to recently winning Hourglass Studios’ free EP contest. The EP they recorded with Jeff Reid (of Beat Magazine fame) has just been released and can be purchased at shows or select Wilmington stores.
Stray Local at Orton's - January 4th, 2014
We’ve seen them play before and they didn’t disappoint at Orton’s. Lomas and Rowen’s harmonies were tight and sweet sounding, and the trio was obviously well-practiced. In addition to vocals, all three members handled their instruments expertly; Rowen exhibited skilled fingerpicking on his 1946 vintage Gibson and also played some nice harmonica solos, Lomas performed expertly on mandolin and shaker, and Simon was the jack of all rhythm instruments as he jumped back and forth between cajon, handheld snare, and an upright acoustic bass made from a washtub which the band has christened “George Washintub.”
The band plays mostly original songs with a few covers thrown in, and their performance runs the gamut from folk to blues to country. Our favorites were the haunting “Wilderness Hymn” and the sassy blues number “Lucky Card.” These hardworking and skilled musicians put on a great show and it’s obvious that they love what they do. Catch them in the smaller venues while you can, because it’s only a matter of time before Stray Local takes the rest of the nation by storm just as they have done in Wilmington.
Chasing Opal recently arrived in Wilmington by way of Utah and, although they’ve only been in town since April 2013, they have already caught the attention of the Star News and venues all over the Cape Fear region. It’s not hard to see why. Whitney Blayne has a breathy but sweet voice and strums her Takamine acoustic guitar with passion. Steve Seguin manages the cajon with what can only be described as grace, vacillating between percussive solos and gentle rhythm, often throwing up a foot onto the drum to further sculpt the sound.
Chasing Opal at Orton's - January 4th, 2014
While Blayne and Seguin are both skilled musicians, their onstage chemistry and banter is what really makes them fun to watch. Their set was roughly half cover songs and half original songs. While we at KFR prefer original songs, we can’t help but tip our hats to a band that makes Sublime’s “Santeria” sound like a light and airy love song. Besides, Chasing Opal can hold their own when it comes to original songs just as well. “Bad Seed” is a catchy folky number that could easily find its way onto a TV show or commercial and “Six Feet Under” is a delightfully morbid song inspired by Blayne’s love of CSI and the resultant nightmares. The beachy and summer-sounding “Fun” was true to its namesake; the duo threw in some audience participation during the choruses which sounded especially sweet due to the number of musicians who happened to be in the audience. Chasing Opal hands out demos at their shows and you’d be a fool not to take one. Also be sure to check out their forthcoming EP.
In addition to the obvious talent, it’s worth noting that both bands are just plain likable. They work hard but they also support other musicians and their community. They make it a point to attend other bands’ shows even though they’re busy with their own schedules. Hardworking, talented, charismatic, and gracious to boot: these bands are definitely on their way, and we’re glad they’ve come through Wilmington.
Friday night’s show at The Soapbox was a rarity on the Wilmington scene – a show that actually stuck to the promised early start, and, across 30 minute sets from 5 bands, featured only one cover song (a cheeky yet well-executed Taylor Swift cover that we’ll discuss later). This was a major marathon show of original music!
We were pretty excited about this show – we’ve been fans of headliner Rio Bravo for a while, and after listening to the supporting bands online we were sure we were in for an awesome show.
We arrived around 9pm just as Greenville based opening band Myself & I had begun their first song. We were easily and immediately impressed by Myself & I’s live show. Clearly they were tight, focused, and connected with each other and the audience. The singer looked out over the crowd while the keyboardist asked the audience how things sounded. They played a trick on us though. They said that this was their third show ever. We shook our heads thinking there’s no way that was possible. We weren’t surprised to later discover that they had been in a prior band called The Fear of Falling, a band that had achieved national exposure no less. Read our notes if you don’t believe we weren’t fooled.
Myself & I’s sound is reminiscent of The Fray mixed with Yellowcard or Dashboard Confessional. Our intern Katy said she was thinking Cartel and maybe The Ready Set. This is always a matter of opinion and used just to get the general idea. They’re five guys (singer/guitarist, guitarist/backing vocalist, bassist, drummer, and pianist/keyboardist) who play emotional, melodic rock songs with prominent piano; songs about the angst of life and love. Listen to their music online, watch the video, and go see a live show for the real deal.
Lyrics: The song “Losing My Balance” explores life in a small home town with “I’m just looking for an easy way out of things. What’s the point of staying here for the answers when there’s no where to go.” Perhaps the most striking of their songs “Moving On” includes the highly memorable lyrics “I’ll be there when you wake up. And I’ll be there when you grow old… You said you should let me go. Let me go.”
Other notables: We noticed the keyboardist playing backing vocals on the keys. Interesting. Perhaps even more interesting, it appeared that the guitarist was playing a Straight Six Stratocaster. This is unconfirmed, but a single pickup, single knob guitar is a rather interesting choice.
Burden The Hand at Soapbox
Burden The Hand came out with guitars blazing. Their first handful of songs was an all-out onslaught of hard rock/metal/screamo. They sang and screamed their hearts out.
Burden The Hand is five guys from somewhere in NC, maybe Benson, maybe Smithfield, consisting of two guitarists, bassist, drummer, and lead vocalist/guitarist. They have a lead vocalist, but everyone sings in this band. The bassist shared the most lead, followed by one of the guitarists (who sung lead on one song in addition to regular backing vocals). Speaking of the guitarist, he played some nice tapping work on the song “Burden.”
There was an interlude toward the end of their set by the bassist, who talked about how they consider themselves to be normal guys who love Jesus, and Jesus loves everybody. “We just happen to be Christians in a band… I love Tarantino movies and I love Jesus.” This was followed by a slow, ballad-like, explicitly religious song with the often repeated lyrics “I’m just a man and I feel used,” including an a capella portion. We thought the announcement may have been because they’d gotten flack for being Christian in the past. There was no reaction from the crowd either way, positive or negative. They, like us, were probably just there to hear some awesome rock music, which Burden The Hand did deliver.
After the show, all three of us went on and on about the drummer. Throughout the show this guy was flailing about, spinning sticks, and showing off his obvious talent with ease – all done on a kick ass wood-grain Crush drum kit. Clearly this guy stole the show for us.
Noteables: Every member of this band was wearing earplugs. Hallelujah! Also, the lead vocalist had good control over his voice, hitting the high notes without straining too much. This is important particularly with this type of music so you don’t lose your voice.
The Capital at Soapbox
From the floor The Capital‘s lead singer reminded us of Rivers Cuomo with his short hair and fitted shirt. He was charismatic, cracking jokes, making fun of himself, giving shout outs to Wilmington as well as to the other bands, especially Myself & I. We also noticed that he was playing a nice brown and tan striped Tom DeLonge signature Epiphone guitar. This makes sense since The Capital’s music is clearly reminiscent of Blink-182.
The Capital plays rock songs, full of power chord fury, with positive messages. One song explored how “beauty is on the inside.” They said they hadn’t played a show in two months, but we couldn’t tell.
Sumerlin at Soapbox
Sumerlin brought a big arena-level show to Soapbox. They were sweaty and confident with great stage presence, professional gear, stage lighting, in-ear monitors, and by far the best, most balanced sound we’ve ever heard at Soapbox. The lead vocalist, Dan DiGiovanni, was charismatic, getting the crowd to come closer and dance and sing along.
Wilmington’s own Sumerlin is pop/rock at its finest. (How Soapbox wasn’t packed to the rafters for this band is a total mystery). They’ve got huge power choruses and a strong singer to get the audience to sing along to them. He crouches down and gets intimate with the front row and then jumps up and forward toward the crowd to get them into it. The bassist was equally as energetic, despite being behind a bass guitar and microphone. Speaking of being behind an instrument, the singer is also a good guitar player although he didn’t play at all during this show. This came as a surprise to Kim who had seen DiGiovanni playing guitar around town, including performing and recording with Little Miss Sabotage and the Cornflowers a while back.
Sumerlin are true entertainers. They put on a huge display the likes of which we haven’t seen at Soapbox since Grace Potter and the Nocturnals graced that very same stage.
Lyrics: Clearly the catchiest song was “Illuminate” with the F.U.N.-like lyrics “Here we are tonight singing. Here we are tonight singing. Woah. We are young-un-ung.” Actually there’s some debate about those lyrics. Live it sounded like they were singing “we are young” but on the CD we picked up we think it’s “we are yours.” Either way, you get the idea behind their lyrical power choruses.
Noteables: Katy appreciated that they introduced each song. Also, although they are an explicitly Christian band, they are clearly enjoyable and incredibly fun to watch regardless of affiliation.
Rio Bravo at Soapbox
We’ve seen Rio Bravo two or three times before and they are without a doubt one of our favorite local bands, and this was definitely their best show to date. They’ve got a great, unique sound, mainly due to the lead vocalist and the sweet, catchy melodies he produces on his Telecaster.
Rio Bravo opened their set by saying “this is our new sound” and then launching into a cover of Taylor Swift’s “I Knew You Were Trouble.” This was hilarious to both the crowd and the band. The singer was laughing quite a bit, and it was really very funny. They pulled it off very well and if there was anyone there who hadn’t heard Rio Bravo before, they were immediately smitten.
They followed up by the songs we know and love from their album Fences and their latest release Unbelievable Lie. These are epic songs, slow at the start, with an emotional and instrumental build-up, resulting in the listener feeling transported by the music.
Clearly Rio Bravo enjoyed themselves on stage. Their camaraderie with each other is obvious and infectious They smile a lot and genuinely take pleasure in playing their music. That’s why we were shocked to learn that, after one more show, they’re calling it quits. This is one of our favorite bands and that’s it, no more. It’s a tragedy that the world should be deprived of their music. Maybe that’s overly dramatic, but it’s the truth. To the band it’s no big deal. We stopped the guitarist and he said that it’s not a bad thing, they’re just moving on to other things. Even our intern Katy (who had never heard of Rio Bravo before) was truly heartbroken.
Editor’s Note: After we posted the review, we received a response from Rio Bravo clarifying their decision to split up. “…[C]alling it quits is a big deal to us. We had dreams of world tours and doing this for the rest of our lives but due to multiple things we weren’t able to make it happen. We’ve all gotten to the point where we had to keep jobs to support ourselves and now our jobs have taken #1 priority. We are all best friends and will always play music together though. -Christian Black, Drummer, Rio Bravo