Saturday, December 12, 2009

Blakgraz appears.

Blakgraz ( is an ominous name for a band to take. Immediately, the first thing that came to mind was Black Sabbath and all the iconic images and sounds that entails. Next, I considered the second half of their name, "graz." It could have been a capital "g," but wasn't. It could have been spelled with an "s" at the end, but wasn't. Then it occurred to me; "graz" seems to be the combination of "grass" and "jazz." Could this be right? Could this group be wise enough to broadcast their influences so immediately? Now I was curious. I had to discover more about this group. This, of course, is my favorite part of reviewing any art or artist. Is there depth? Meaning? Hidden nuances? How much thought, effort and creativity has been put into the creation of this expression of life? In the case of Blakgraz, it was beginning to look favorable. Away I went visiting every site I could find online to reveal the mystery of Blakgraz. Quickly, I found that the band is based in the Philadelphia, PA area; taking full advantage of the myriad of opportunities that wonderful city has to offer artists. The members of the project are all accomplished musicians with various other project associations. They all seem to have been drawn together by the lead vocalist and guitarist Rev. Tom Sweeney. Rev. Sweeney is a minister for the Universal Life Church Missions, based in New Jersey; a man committed to community, the service of others, art and passion. A man after my own heart. I've discovered that he also performs with two other area projects called "Randori" ( and "Recess" ( Blakgraz has become his personal outlet while still participating in these other projects; his friends. Actions speak ever so loudly. Now I needed to understand a bit about these other projects to have a more distinct view of Tom's motivations. Randori is an original pop rock group based in the Philadelphia area too. Their sound is very ethereal, clever, intense and almost spiritual. I can see why Tom would enjoy performing with them. Philadelphia based, Recess is more pop and punk rock with interesting twists and turns of melody, dialog and story line. Recess' bassist/vocalist is John Paul Cappiello and happens to be a long time friend to Rev. Sweeney. It seems to me that they take turns aiding each others creative impulses and Blakgraz is the continuation of a long successful friendship. This also appears consistent with everything I'd discovered thus far. A real community of musicians who love what they do and support each other. Inspiring. Zach Lopresti is the second guitarist for Blakgraz, but don't let that fool anyone. What I uncovered made it clear to me that Zach is an incredibly talented young multi-instrumentalist with a wide breadth of skill and potential. As a former guitar student of Tom's, participating in Blakgraz would come naturally. Zach has his own outlet called Sexoffice (, a project King Crimson and Frank Zappa would be extremely proud of. The Sexoffice moniker is striking, but no more so than the ultra quirky yet danceable sound they produce. Their music is intensely fusion with hints of progressive rock; frog rock, I say. The world needs more creativity like this and I for one will be following them closely. Kevin Hayes has proven more difficult to unearth, a bit of an enigma. That won't stop me, since I'll be following the development of Blakgraz much more in the near future. Now I'd come to understand all the parts that are Blakgraz and was ready to dig into their cumulative effect; their sound. Unfortunately, there was only one track available to review and the promise of more in January 2010. At first, I thought about waiting to write a review. How could I possibly accurately describe a project with only one track? All the information I'd gathered to this point had intrigued me, but could one track sustain my interest or even support more discovery? There were doubts. The track sent to me was entitled, "Ride with the Top Down." The title set my mind spinning. Wait. This is a rock band, not a hip hop artist. Have I been mistaken all along? Then, the track played. Thunderstruck, I sat and listened as the entire experience unfolded; the laugh at the very beginning, the dissonance that follows, the chugging introduction, the flying pre-chorus, the chant-along hook of the chorus, the southern rock bridge (very Blackcrows), the solo section that seems to include the entire band, to the grand finale of choruses all reminiscent of Mony Mony by Tommy James and the Shondell's. It all happened so fast. I needed to hear it again to be sure of what I'd felt. The second listen exposed under lying musical motives with hints of roots rock, blues and southern rock. Nice. Tom's vocals sounded very solid and unabashed. The immediate impression was that this band was having a blast performing this song. The bass playing came across as minimalistic, but with everything else happening in the guitars, any more might have been distracting. The drumming was very solid and intense, exactly what the song needed. It was an interesting choice to continue a ride pattern through the second verse and worked out nicely as a different approach. Initially, Ride with the Top Down struck me as a blues sing-along with a catchy chorus. Then, I began to realize the unique and creative ideas Blakgraz had employed to make the song stand out and provide depth. The guitar tones used are not typical. The movement of the song is familiar, yet the motives included create a very distinct atmosphere. The vocal presentation is a live raw, unrestrained feel more so than most studio perfect performances. The story presented by the vocals is well known, but never quiche. Simple changes in phrasing and word choice have allowed Bladgraz to revisit the tried and true "boy meets girl" theme without ever succumbing to the temptations of the dark side; gimmicks. Even with two talented guitarists, the band chose to fore go the usual guitar solo and included the entire rhythm section and vocalist in the solo. A good example of a vocally comped guitar solo would be "On Broadway." Yet, Blakgraz had redefined the idea. All these examples continued to be consistent with a name that intrigued me from the outset. Thankfully, the song lived up to the projects name. Now, the question I present to Blakgraz is this; what's next? And, when can I hear it? In conclusion, the overall production of the "Ride with the Top Down" was sparkling and meaty simultaneously. JL Studio in Wyoming, PA has provided a high quality product and I'll be looking in to other artists coming from there. Blakgraz has made a very positive beginning with it's decisions and writing. "Ride with the Top Down" is a joyous romp through the valley of rock roots with distinctive forward creative momentum. I have enjoyed the journey of discovering Blakgraz, from the initial recommendation to the detailed dissection of their music. January will find me searching my emails anxiously awaiting new tracks for this talented group.

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