Music Review Archives. Band Stuff. Work Stories in Progress.

Check out some of the ExMogul Music reviews from the archives, below.

I reviewed music on and off for about 15 years, while I took a break from singing and doing gigs.

Now I've flipped that around. And here's my band, SPEED LIMIT 70.

August 31, 2009

Bruce Unger

Bruce Unger is a singer/songwriter in an alt-folk vein who has just released a new CD called Blow i n. His email asking for a review arrived in my box with a very simple question: what am I doing wrong? Seems he’d just experienced a whole lot of nothing. No email replies, no reviews, just crickets.

And it got me thinking about all the music out there, all the musicians out there, all the artists out there that are making really good music and art. People that pour their souls into their music and want it to reach someone, somehow – but who get lost in the shuffle of swag. It’s discouraging and daunting to both the musician and to the reviewer. I am both, and empathize. I’m small potatoes, and the volume of stuff I get to review is high. I can only imagine the deluge of stuff that the big guns get. Sometimes it’s easier just to pretend it’s not there. Apologies to Bruce and to all the other very worthy musicians who have taken the time to shoot me an email. I’ll try to do better.


Bruce prefaces his music by saying: “If you like Britney Spears, or Madonna, then you are gonna HATE this album. On the other hand, if you have no time for them, you may really enjoy this. In fact I guarantee that you will. I will actually refund your purchase, but you will have to take payment in the form of damp firewood. It will burn well if you already have a raging inferno going. So your purchase is completely safe. “

Although I’ve always admired Madonna and can admit to wearing out her first CD back in the day, I do not hate Bruce’s music. Not at all, in fact. Enough is Enough brought to mind The Guess Who’s "No Time" and though that’s probably a very vague connection to most people, listen to the repetitive guitar lick and the 60s guitar tone. That, coupled with Unger’s strong vocals and some trippy psychedelic undertones, makes it a multi-layered winner.

Crooked Willow has a touch of Buffalo Springfield’s "Mr. Soul" and very effectively uses percussive elements, background choruses, and keyboard/strings. Broken Man is a more sparse musical treatment, featuring echoed vocals and a simple acoustic guitar. The vocals are heartfelt and suggest the intensity of Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder at times. Gonna Be Hated by Her is a lovely traditional folk-sounding tune at the outset, which masks the dark lyrics which are to come - with Unger describing what his lover is going to do when he tells her they are through – however, the music stays pure and lovely throughout with him singing that he’d rather be hated by her, and loved by you. Nice Guys Never brings to mind the wry songs of Lyle Lovett, with Unger’s rich voice lamenting the fact that nice guys never get the girls. He sings: “You can have a dog named Killer or Jaws, but you can’t have a cat named Fluffy, because nice guys never get the girls…”

There are many more songs available on Bruce’s myspace and through digital outlets. All are multidimensional musical nuggets, with clever and slightly dark lyrics, beautiful guitar work and instrumentation.

Fans of Lyle Lovett, Brett Dennen, Bob Dylan, and Madonna will find a lot to enjoy here. Visit Bruce Unger on his myspace:

April 15, 2009

So Shush

So Shush is a UK band that cites sixties pop and obscure indie as their influences. These influences shine through on the music they present on their sites.

Singer/songwriter Carole Smart has a faraway and dreamy vocal quality that is captivating and has an old world sound on certain tracks; she can also sound very straightforward and matter of fact on others. It is a nice duality. People Need Something has Smart repeating “people need somethin’ to go driftin’” and the track captures the floating ease of dreaming. Urban Sanctuary features some doubled harmony vocals that bring to mind the vocal interplay of the girls in the B-52s ala “Roam” and further highlights the dreamy quality of Smart’s voice. Clever 80s-sounding keyboard licks provided by songwriter/keyboardist/guitarist Ian Drumm ride over uncluttered instrumentation.
Hiway Flyaway starts off more grounded, with a prog rock organ, a 70s vibe and a catchy rhyming scheme that makes singing along inevitable. A flanged guitar solo with its requisite modulation mid-lead solidifies the old school prog rock sound. Antarctica returns to a dreamy soundscape, with the duo painting word pictures about the fate of our melting ice caps. A lovely melodic guitar lead and repeated arpeggios during the lead break are a perfect accompaniment to Smart’s voice. Lucid Dreamer rivals the best work of Emerson Lake and Palmer in its intro, jumping into the song full-throttle. It switches gears to a sound that brings to mind some Jefferson Airplane during the heyday of Haight-Ashbury. Brilliant use of vocal echo effects to highlight the lyrical content – when Smart singings about “flying above it all” she is bathed in echo, truly traveling above it all.
Listen to many more tracks on the band’s myspace here:

February 26, 2009

Nathan Brumley

Slick, well-produced, supremely crafted singer/songwriter pop that is up there with the likes of Coldplay, Brett Dennen, Matt Nathanson. In his words, Nathan Brumley is: “More than just your Coldplay or Keane piano-based pop band.” Well said, and who am I to argue? His Contemporary Christian pop combines the best of what the current crop of pop singer/songwriters have to offer, with the addition of positive and uplifting lyrics.

Something Real suggests U2's “Sunday Bloody Sunday” with a softer and less insistent drive. This song could easily fit on many radio formats, from Top 40 to Hot AC to Contemporary Christian. Mind Over Mercy hints of some INXS in its opening, owing in part to a vocal treatment that suggests Hutchence in “Need You Tonight”; however, the track veers away from Hutchence’s darkness and becomes a layered pop hit that showcases Brumley’s clear and uplifting voice. Love Outside the Lines is another quickly catchy song that is radio ready – although contemporary in its sound, it also suggests the sound of some older era singer/songwriters, like Todd Rundgren (“I Saw the Light” and “Hello It’s Me”). Only My Heart and Breath of My Soul round out Brumley’s musical selections, with the latter featuring lovely string and piano accompaniment.

Visit Brumley’s myspace at: and take a listen.

February 10, 2009


Overman is a Chicago-based indie rock band who directed me to a handy little site with all of their music, promotional material and photos in one easy to access place. Nice! The first song, Evolution Rocks had me flashing back to ABC's "Schoolhouse Rock!" - a series of educational musical vignettes from the 1970s that has now entered cult status. I didn't read the handy promotional material to see if this was intended, but I suspect it was. Fun stuff. Now I want to see the scratchy film cartoon video that accompanies it.

Princess is rootsy and upbeat, like the best of old school country. Very nice lead break and an unexpected cacophony of noise in the middle twist the song up, where it turns down a more serious path. Great guitar lead plays over the repetitive chorus leading out.

Sweet Escape starts out sounding like an old AM radio hit and then slowly builds into a lively upbeat track that gets under your skin quickly. I want to compare the tracks to the country-influenced songs that the Rolling Stones did like Wild Horses, All Down the Line or Dead Flowers but that doesn't quite nail it. A very well done and insanely catchy song.

The final track, Move On, was my favorite. The swampy vibe of the track, with its droning harp and bluesy rock groove brought to mind some Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, merged with some JJ Grey, with some Neil Young thrown in to give it an older vibe. Outstanding guitar work drive the track to a Freebird-like jam midsong, and then it slips back into its slow groove as it ends.

January 15, 2009

Heidi Jane

Back in the 1990s I took a trip to Doolin, Ireland and spent the evenings in a local pub restaurant, listening to the incredible music that sprung up from the jams. The exuberance and joy of those spontaneous Celtic jams is present in the music offered up on Heidi Jane’s myspace.

Heidi Jane is a singer/songwriter whose primary instrument is violin. She has been featured on National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition,” and is known in her local area of San Francisco for her unique musical style; her music combines elements of Celtic jams, African rhythms, and features her beautiful, pure voice. La Faranda – the lead track on her myspace and the single off of the new CD – brings to mind lots of different elements. I hear Toto’s “Africa,” the vocal playfulness of The Waitresses, some Paul Simon’s “Graceland,” the fluidity of the voice Joni Mitchell. The song is lush and beautiful without seeming to take itself so seriously; it is accessible to listeners of all different styles of music. Lovers of Celtic romps will appreciate the incredible musicianship exhibited on Whiskey Before Breakfast. The Hardest of Times has a bit of a harder and more insistent drive, with a a modern rock/girl pop vibe underscored by Celtic rhythm. Imagine early Liz Phair minus the swearing, merged with some Enya and you might be on the right track. The Songs We Used to Play could almost be considered Celtic Country, with its reminiscences of a earlier time in life. Lovely harmonies, some wah-sounding acoustic guitar rhythms and a solid drum beat all work together with Heidi Jane's beautiful violin fills and leads. Visit Heidi Jane on her site:
(photo by Hali McGrath)

January 12, 2009

Brian Molnar

Ah, Peaceful Easy Feeling. Combining some of the feelings and sonicscape of Roger McGuin, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, and early Eagles, singer/songwriter Brian Molnar delivers a laid back 1970s California folk-rock vibe. Brian successfully sets a tone on his compositions, which are well-written and use smart instrumentation – never cluttering up the story-telling aspect of the songs. Nice use of slide guitar throughout Santa Fe; some country-picking, and what sounds like either a lap steel or pedal steel guitar round out the instrumentation on this old school country folk song.

Changing Lanes is a bit stronger-voiced; the instrumentation also adds a little dirt to the whole vibe, with the slide sounding grittier and the drums driving harder. Coo Coo adds some Ray Manzarek organ sounds ala Riders on the Storm, nailing the 1970s trippy vibe found in that signature Doors song. Further reading into Molnar’s press material indicates that this is famed musician Bernie Worrell. Devil Singing Backwards suggests the mellow California rock vibe present in Santa Fe. Melodic guitar lead break adds a nice element to the song, as does the phrasing stops and starts. A catchy chorus makes this song memorable. The song selection ends with I Did What I Did – which features lovely female backing vocals which add so much to the song. A call and response style slide guitar is present in the background of the track, which also adds a nice touch. Listen to Molnar’s tracks on his website: (photo: Hands Up by Jenny Czyborra )

January 5, 2009

Newspaper Joe

Newspaper Joe is the pseudonym of DIY singer/songwriter Mike Clark, who has an intriguiging list of influences on his myspace. Besides the known musical entities like Johnny Cash, John Prine, Lou Reed and The Clash, NpJ also lists used instruments, junkyard percussion and shit-house poets as influences. And darn if those don't accurately figure into the sound he makes.

Several of his available tracks come from his 2006 release entitled Lazarus, Gin, Mercy and Gin (Paris, Dr. Lazarus); the tracks City Clinic, Neither Here Nor There, and Dead Canyon are featured on the new release Sad Bastard Routine (2008). City Clinic has a very low-fi aesthetic, and is very effective. Heavy echo makes the lyrics a bit hard to decipher, but NpJ paints a lonely soundscape with his melancholy vocal tones, accompanied by a few Casio-sounding keyboard effects. Neither Here Nor There takes a folky-storyteller approach, with nice vocal harmonies and stripped down instrumentation, good use of organ ala Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone." The track lives squarely in the alt-country realm and is a bit slicker than the low fi of Clinic. Dead Canyon is hard driving, and opens with a nice couple of cymbal crashes and guitar power chords. The sound level of this track is alternately mellow during the verses, to raucous during the chorus - which give it a nice balance. Vocally, this has a contemporary singer/songwriter vibe which contrasts nicely with the old timey vibe of Neither Here Nor There. Visit Newspaper Joe's site and listen to more:

January 3, 2009

The Great Unwashed

Hailing from three of the five NYC boroughs, The Great Unwashed capture the raw energy of nights at CBGB and The Continental back in the day. Not from NYC? Look up the history of those venues and you'll get the picture.

Winter Classic
starts with guitar feedback and a driving drum beat. No filler here - the vocals start right in: "you're the strangest person I ever met" - and get right to the point. The song is an upbeat punk-edged pop song highlighted by half-spoken vocals and bouncy bass lines not unlike Michael Stipe and Mike Mills' signature sounds in R.E.M. A "jam band meets 90s-era college rock" musical lead and outtro finish out the song nicely. No words clutter up this section of the song, yet the song never feels like it needs to be over before it actually ends. Red Delicious has a more typical vocal treatment, and brings jangly rhythm guitar to the mix. Some quirky time signature sections in the middle give this song a nice twist. The song never loses its drive, and adds some interesting vocal chorus elements. All Night Breathing has an element of The Police in the mix, probably owing to the tight rhythm section of bass and drums, especially in the break between verses. I keep hearing "Walking on the Moon" during this part. I Am a Speck of Dust turns up the noisy guitar distortion, giving the song an old punk vibe (ala MC5, Ramones, Patti Smith Group) , yet hangs onto The Police rhythm section. A nice 60s-era guitar lead, with its chorusey effects (think "Eight Miles High"), brings another really good ingredient to an already tasty song. Mirage a la Mode has a screamed vocal treatment which detracts from the song. This song has some swirly guitar, nice time signature changes, melodic bass lines and a great drive.

The Great Unwashed has some great tracks on its myspace. Check them out: