The Foxgloves – “Mama Was A Bandit”

Album Review by Joslyn Danielson

Released: 9/23/22

Written: 9/19/22

The Foxgloves, a folk band composed of 6 women, take the stage with toe-tapping tunes in their new album releasing this week, titled “Mama Was A Bandit”. Catchy yet complex, these women know how to write a folk song with impressive dynamics. Stealing elements of classical, they move all around the key, breaking the 4-chord norm of pop country or blues.

 These talented artists are not your average bluegrass band. While still present, the banjo takes a back seat to an instrument that is quite unexpected in the bluegrass genre; the harp. The exquisite harp playing seduces you into an ethereal realm of melancholic hopefulness. The instrumental, “Underwing”, features the harp and exhibits the most classical influence. It could be a score to a movie. It invokes images of a meadow in the spring, sparrows and butterflies flitting about, and dandelion seeds softly floating along with the wind.

Tight four-part harmonies run rampant in the album, stealing the spotlight with the haunting narratives. Blues, southern gothic, country western, folk, and classical, these combinations create an album that is a slightly elevated version of americana. They switch between instruments with each song, ranging from an autoharp to a washboard.

The lyrics tend toward traditional country/folk themes, nature, love, heartbreak, cars, and booze. The lyricism is elevated above the simple repetitive pop country songs of late. They dive into narratives and tell stories from the perspectives of others, especially different women throughout American history.

The songs make you feel connected to those who set foot on this land before us. For example, “Across The Rio Grande”, an emotional, memoir-esque narrative of a man trying to get his daughter to safety following the Salvadoran Civil War.

If you close your eyes, you awake around a pioneer campfire, with your mother and sisters’ harmonies lulling you into a relaxation after a hard day’s work in the field. Your mother sings you the songs that her mother sang to her, back in the old country. keeping the oral tradition alive the only way she knows how, with her voice and her fiddle. This connection to history sprouts forth in many of their songs, using lyrical themes to send the listener back in time with the melancholic fiddle and the folksy, one-two bass lines.

“Better Run” Sends chills down the whole body, building and moving in intensity, thanks to the harp and the enviously tight 4-part harmonies. The 5+ minute long song, “Speed Queen” is especially haunting, as it describes a young woman’s struggle with addiction. “Hometown” and “Mama Was A Bandit” are the most bluesy and most modern tracks on the album, with upbeat percussion and electric guitar.

The dichotomy between the two main influences, classical and folk, create an album for anytime and anywhere. Trance-inducing at times, and foot-stompin at others, it is a combination not often seen. Campfire songs, classical medleys, dirty blues riffs, and narrative folk stories all have their moment in the album.

“Mama Was A Bandit” will be released on September 23rd, with a release party at The Hook And Ladder in Minneapolis. Also joining the Foxgloves at that show is the award-winning group, Maygen And The Birdwatcher.

“Whiskey Kisses” Album Review

Album by The Good Time Gals. Released 8/14/22. 

Review by Joslyn Danielson. Written 8/11/22. 

Sultry is the word that comes to mind over and over while listening to the fresh debut album by The Good Time Gals. This weekend (Aug 14), Miss Myra (guitar/vocals) and Debbie Briggs (vocals) are joined by Beth Varela (cello/percussion), Alissa Jacobsen (fiddle), and Liz Draper (upright bass) to put out a full-length album that is radiating with vintage flair and jazzy nostalgia. 

Rooted in blues and hot club swing, these talented artists have come together to create something that is innately retro but always adding little moments of modern songwriting and instrumental tone. The group clearly made their start in the speakeasy scene, conjuring images of a foggy jazz club and a chunky, retro, vocal microphone. 

The first quality of their music to stick out to me is their vocal talent. A full and powerful alto is nearly always complimented by her higher counterpart in the harmonies. Taking influence from doo-op and barbershop quartets, the focus is mainly on the vocal harmonies and lyrics, but with quick breaks for hip-shaking fiddle and intricate guitar solos. There are rare moments with only one voice, only to be quickly joined by the other. Scatting and jazzy chords are present in many of their songs, demonstrating mastery of vocal skill and musical theory. They also have strong vocal dynamics, some songs range from powerful belts to a near whisper in the next measure. 

The instrumentation is playful, swingy, and complex. Time signature changes, key changes, and jazzy slides are often heard. The cohesive, fast-paced fiddle and guitar give a solid vibe of hot club swing/jazz manouche, which is a style of playing originating with the Romani guitarist, Django Reinhardt, and French violinist, Stephane Grapelli preceding WW2. Some songs, specifically “Fall Fast”, have strong elements of Spanish flamenco, and Latin-American salsa. 

However, The Gals include many North-American influences as well, such as blues, country swing, rock and roll, and even some poppy, spoken word lyrics. Both the fiddle and guitar get ample time to show off their chops, throwing the solo back and forth like a musical game of catch. The variety of styles in the guitar playing is especially impressive. She not only seamlessly executes an acoustic flamenco solo, but also rockin’ electric guitar that is simply dripping in the blues. 

The themes of the lyrics tend toward melancholy, yet sassy songs about breakups or struggles in love. The title track, “Whiskey Kisses” is a saucy little number, with clever lyrics such as, “I’m fixin’ to be some kind of vixen, whiskey kisses on my mind”, followed by, “I love him like a bad girl should” in the evocative ballad, “Oh No, I Love Him”. 

The album is wrapped up with the final two tracks, an upbeat jazz cover of Elle King’s “Ex’s And Oh’s”, and “Can’t Keep This Woman Down”, a blues-rock song about female empowerment, leaving the listener cheering for this all-female powerhouse group. 

Fans will get the opportunity to cheer them on in person at the release party for the album, happening 6pm Sunday, August 14th at KJ’s Hideaway in St. Paul. The show is suspected to sell out, presale tickets are available.

Red Eye Ruby – Ruby EP

Released 7/29/22

Album review by Joslyn Danielson

Written 7/24/22

Red Eye Ruby re-emerges post Covid with an all new backing band and a voice demanding to be heard. Ruby Blu possesses a haunting, breathy soprano that adds an organic and folksy feel to any song or genre. The other members of the group are exceptional and multi-faceted, with Jason Murray on bass, Ishmael Menseh on the drums, and Mike Drager on lead guitar.

In their brand new EP that releases on July 29th, Red Eye Ruby reimagines some older tracks (“Howl”), as well as introduces some new. The opening track is their recently-released single, “Sunshine And Good Lookin”. The song has a full band sound, a little country and a little bluesy. It is best described as roots-rock with drawn out organ keys, and horn interludes.

It then takes a sharp turn as banjo, shakers, and stand-up bass enter the scene. “Bright” is a plucky yet melancholic folk song. It includes elements of hot club swing, Balkan folk, flamenco, and a tinge of delta blues. The haunting chorus repeats the lyrics, “without your love I’m a ghost in the night”.

Spanning across rhythm and blues, rock, folk, swing, and jazz, the EP offers a vast variety of musical influences. The sultry, Winehouse-esque ballad about abusive relationships (“Sin Again”) is followed by a soothing and folksy lullaby (“Mockingbird”).

 The last song on the album features an intro of a recorded phone conversation between a hesitant woman and a pushy man who is trying desperately to manipulate her into coming over. The demand to be heard and respected by men is present in many of the songs, and is most obviously reiterated in the album’s conclusion, “My Name Is Ruby”.

Ruby’s lyrics in this song speak of the struggles of a modern woman, but put to the music of the past. This creates a juxtaposition of nostalgia and tradition against the need for progression and innovation. When sung over upbeat, Romani-inspired jazz, one imagines women from many points in history singing about being silenced by the men around them.

Red Eye Ruby will be performing live at the Hook And Ladder Theater on July 29th for their EP release party. They will be playing alongside the Dylan Salfer Band, who will be opening the show starting at 10pm. Ruby can also be seen hosting the Crosstown Open Jam (alongside Space Monkey Mafia’s Dante Leyva) at KJ’s Hideaway in downtown St. Paul on August 21st.

Space Monkey Mafia- “Banned From California”

Album Review by Joslyn Danielson

Released: 5/6/2022

Written: 6/23/2022

An explosion of ska enters the local music scene with the newly released album, “Banned From California” by Minneapolis’ own Space Monkey Mafia. This horn-centric, powerhouse rock group founded in 2016, and has been crushing it ever since. This is the band’s second full length album, the first being “Sorry For Your Time” from 2018. An EP titled “Captain Crook EP” followed shortly after in 2019. Just as they were gaining footing, the pandemic gave them a sucker punch.

Fueled by frustration at the current establishment, they took advantage of the pandemic and wrote/recorded the new album. They’re back and more passionate than ever, selling out their first show back since Covid in 2021. A national tour followed the release in May. The band played venues from Minnesota to Portland, and everywhere in between.

Cheeky lyrics and politically charged rants run rampant in their music. They playfully bash Chicago in a classic (passive-aggressive) midwest rivalry style (“Chicago”), and sing about the struggles of the millennial generation, reciting all the tropes and stereotypes flung at them by older generations (“Millennial Scum”).

 Their sound is self-described as “anti-establishment anthems and self-care bangers”. Touching on topics such as the housing crisis, mental health, anti-capitalism, and mutual aid. Their lyrics offer a relatable perspective that is quickly gaining them a loyal following from all across the country.

However their music is anything but somber. They take their message and infuse it with a high-energy, danceable sound. Hard-hitting drums, plucky guitar strumming, and a wailing horn section give this band a nostalgic ska/punk vibe. They take these sounds of the 90’s/00’s and give it a contemporary twist, adding elements of math rock, soul, psych-rock, and more.

Joe and Blake are a dynamic duo on bass and guitar. Each a well-known figure in the scene, they deliver kick-ass bass lines and face-melting electric guitar solos, making these two the foundation of the tight instrumentation.

Eric on drums is the newest addition to the band but is already shining as the force behind the complex time signature changes. Coming from a jazz background he has the light touch for swing, as well as the chops for a powerful punk-rock sound.

 The horn section is made up of Sam (trombone), Tim (saxophone), and Dante (saxophone). Their skill is evident in the tasty licks and swingy, big-band feels. Such is the pillar of ska music, the horns take on the lead instrumental melodies much of the time, or pop in for quick jazzy intervals during the verses.

While Dante is the lead singer on the majority of tracks, both Tim and Joe are regularly singing backup while simultaneously playing their perspective instruments. They both have songs they sing lead for as well. Their slightly different vocal tones add a nice variety throughout the album and shows the vastness of talent that runs through this group of people.

Dante’s exceptional vocal control and range separates him from the stereotypical expectations of punk vocalists being rugged or chaotic, giving the band an extra edge of sophistication. His lung capacity must be astronomical, as he constantly switches between belting lyrics and ripping out impressive saxophone solos – all the while jumping up and down or running full tilt through the audience. Theatrical and comedic at times, he possesses an exceptional stage presence and can get any crowd skanking and moshing like it’s 1999.

Each member of the band are experts in their craft, coming from all corners of the USA. Whether their expertise comes from a decade of playing in various bands, or from a degree in jazz, these professionals came together to make the music they love. Minneapolis is the perfect scene for a band like them. The comradery of our town and its love for music is evident, and is demonstrated in the chorus of “This Is We”.

“This is you, this is me

This is us, this is we

This is all of us together

Makes times a little better”

Cassandra Cole – Steps

Released 5/6/22

Review by Joslyn Danielson

Written 4/30/22

Cassandra Cole, the powerful pop vocalist with a punk edge, will be hitting the KJ’s Hideaway stage on May 7th to release her newest album, “Steps”.

The extremely relatable lyrics focus on mental health struggles – applicable to our post pandemic society. Spanning across pop, punk, and blues, the genres ingrained in this album conglomerate into what could be called emo pop…at first.

The album starts off quite hard, with pop-punk vibes from the Paramore era. The genres morph as you listen through, each track gradually softer (or at least more positive), perhaps an analogy of healing one’s mental health through years of work. The focus shifts to recovery and to the importance of having someone to support you through mental health issues.

Joe Beier (guitar) exhibits an impressive range of skill. The intricate plucking of an acoustic in “Steps” vastly contrasts the abrasive power chords of the earlier songs. Troy Griffin (drums) shows the same amount of experience in many genres. Crashing, punk-rock throwdowns are equally contrasted by intricate jazz beats, and acoustic percussion. His stripped-down percusion in “Steps” introduces an unexpected but somehow needed rap section, emotional and moving. There’s perhaps a bit of musical theatre influences from Cole, mostly in the descriptive narratives, as well as the focus on the vocal performance.

Jason Hafer’s production deserves credit as well, subtle yet packing a punch. The electronic elements added to the mostly live instrument band gives the album a modern edge, separating it from earlier pop and psychedelic influences of the 90’s and earlier.

“So Silent Final” was a pleasant surprise after so many dark themes. Upbeat and poppy, with fun guitar riffs, cute vocal slides, and a little doo-op vocal harmony. The chorus repeats, “It’s gonna be alright, this will pass, just get outta bed”. This track shows the fun side of Cole, organically goofing around in the studio by vocally imitating the high pitched guitar riffs to laughs from the band. The beachy, reggae vibes indicate themes of emotional healing and a more positive outlook.

This album to its core makes it clear to the listener that they are not alone in these hidden struggles. Cole’s vulnerable lyrics and emotional vocals cause the listener to open up and explore themselves a little deeper, feeling comfortable in knowing they’re not the only person out there feeling like they just need to take it one step at a time. Encouraging but melancholy, “Steps” is an album aptly named.

Burning Sunbeams – Single by Red Eye Ruby

Released 4/8/2022

Song review by Joslyn Danielson

Written 3/27/2022

The Minneapolis band, Red Eye Ruby, has undergone a full transformation since 2018. Their earlier music leaned more towards folk with hints of swing and blues. However, in their newest single, “Burning Sunbeams”, they bring in a lot more electric instruments, a full drum set, and a classic rock and roll beat. They now self-identify as ‘retro roots-rock’, while always grounded in the blues.

Red Eye Ruby is the stage name for lead singer and songwriter, Liz Collin. It seems she has brought in all new band members to back her since the pandemic, drastically changing the musical style.

Her soft, breathy, soprano vocals have an indie/folk vibe, and it’s an intriguing combination with the new instrumentation which now has harder elements of rockabilly, americana, gospel, and of course classic rock and roll. Long, wailing organ chords give it the aforementioned retro gospel/roots-rock feel, filling out the sound nicely.

The song is also much more positive and upbeat than Red Eye Ruby’s earlier work. While there are moments of melancholy, the lyrics are mostly a cheeky yet hopeful view of love. The melodies are very catchy, and the focus is always on the vocals – save the one electric guitar solo toward the end. The solo itself is very surf-rock, with a little blues and twang.

The new track is great for driving on a summer day, and singing along to the peppy tune and cheery choruses. The final lyric, “your love is like a sunbeam, baby” fades out and sticks in your head even after the song is over.

Amateur- Every Little Thing

Released 3/11/22

Album Review by Joslyn Danielson

Written 3/16/22

A new group from Rochester just released their first full album this month. Ironically calling their band “Amateur”, their music is anything but. Until now, they’ve put out four singles, the first being in 2020. Like many covid bands, Amateur is finally gaining some footing and performing live all around the state, including KJ’s Hideaway in April of ‘22.

With a beachy, indie-rock sound, Amateur has always shown technical skill, but their new album “Every Little Thing” takes it to a new level. It’s clear that with each rehearsal they grow tighter and more dynamic as a group. They show musical similarities to other popular Southern Minnesota indie bands such as The Immaculate Beings, People’s Brothers Band, Karate Chop Silence, or Sleeping Jesus. The vibe is upbeat, positive, and dancey, yet introspective and ethereal; with choruses that will get stuck in your head nearly every time.

The dynamic energy in each song really impressed me upon first listen. With every new movement the music takes, it catches you by surprise. They are fond of lingering pauses right before kicking into a hard-hitting chorus or breakdown. The control of energy is impressive, and each song is a journey from start to finish. It’s easy for Indie/rock to become a little one-note or repetitive. Not Amateur. As soon as the instruments cut out for a slower moment, they bring this anticipation and build that puts you on the edge of your seat, waiting for the rush of energy when the breakdown drops.

I cannot write this article without mentioning the powerhouse that is Chris Tauzell’s vocals. The man has impressive range, both musically and stylistically. He fools you into thinking he’s a one-trick-pony with his smooth and vibey falsetto, only to bring the belt like a boss in the chorus of the same song. A belt not only fit for blues, but punk as well, as he makes clear in the track, “It Is What It Is”.

The band is comprised of five others. Justin and Jonathan Tauzell (on the drums and keys) are presumably brothers of Chris’, as well as Brody Heinzel on guitar, Alex Ortberg on the bass, and Amanda on harmonies. I really dug what Alex was putting down on that bass, with catchy lines and intricate fingerwork, he adds an element of groove and goes far above the ‘root chord trap’ that’s easy to fall into for the amateur bassist (pun intended). The group works very well together, each member adding a new layer to the sound, and each having their moment to shine.

None of this would hit the same without the great production. The mixing and mastering stood out to me, and it doesn’t always. It’s rare to be able to hear the texture of each instrument clearly, even when they’re all playing at once. You get the highs of the keys, and rich bass lines at the same time. A few songs have the addition of trumpet, saxophone, and female backup vocals, each adding a new and surprising element to the tracks.

I decided not to go into too much detail about each song for this review, because really, you should just go listen to it for yourself. Or even better, see them live in downtown St. Paul at KJ’s Hideaway this April. They have the chops and energy to put on a killer performance. 

Album review- “Moonshine” by Maygen and the Birdwatcher

Released 10/21/21

Review by Joslyn Danielson

Listening to “Moonshine” by Maygen and the Birdwatcher is like listening to a love story around a lakeside campfire in Minnesota. Originally a duo, Maygen and Noah released an album in 2018, and have since recruited some seasoned band members who take their sound to the next level – Ethan and Jesse from the Sawtooth Brothers, and Nik Pellinen from Sawed Off String Band.

 “Moonshine” was released October of this year, and was commemorated with a sold-out show at the intimate and upscale “Icehouse” venue in Minneapolis. The album opens with a stripped-down a capella song. Haunting vocal harmonies and simple timbre hits carry this delta blues-esque intro. Maygen and Noah draw upon vastly different influences to create a sound that is staunchly folk, combining influences of country, delta blues, and poetic americana.

The addition of the new band members have added a bluegrass flair, with banjo and fiddle taking center stage in much of the musicality. This (combined with songwriting by CMA-nominated Maygen) creates vibrant and nostalgic storytelling with songs like “Gunflint Lake”, which embodies nature-loving midwesternism at its core.

Maygen’s alto lead vocals are crisp, romantic, and raw, with poetic yet catchy lyricism. She tends toward a soft and soothing tone, with backing vocals and subtle harmonies from Ethan and Jesse. The second song on the album “Domine” is where we get a first hint and the blues power belt from Noah, soon to take center stage on the last track of the album, “Anytime”.

It was the last two songs on the album that sold me on the talent of this group. They showed variety in their musical skills, venturing outside the country songwriter vibe into the upbeat bluegrass and raw and dirty blues – a welcome change from the wholesomeness of the rest of the album. Noah’s bluesy vocals are killer, with exceptional tone and range. Being the last song on the album it only left me wondering what else this group is capable of. 

The group also holds out on us in a way with the raw electric guitar solos from Nik. The final song gives a hint of the skill level that each of these folks possess; a skill that transcends bounds of genre and leaves you wanting more. The combination of all these influences gives the album a progressive ‘newgrass’ sound.

We are bound to hear more from this group in the coming years, but in the meantime see Maygen and the Birdwatcher perform live this winter at various venues in the Twin Cities metro area.

Released 8/14/21

Written By Joslyn Danielson 1/6/22

Timeless jazz classics find a new life in the album by Leslie Vincent, a Minneapolis actor and singer who released her first album in August of 2021. With a background in musical theatre, she really brings the swing in her jazz cover album, “These Foolish Things”. 

The album opens with an upbeat cover of Duke Ellington. The vintage swing beat with Leslie’s broadway belt sends the listener back to a slightly simpler time and sets the tone for the remainder of the record. Classy with a bit of sass, the vibe is that of a 30’s jazz lounge. Each instrument takes their turn in the spotlight, throwing the solo in a circle like a light hearted game of keep-away.

The album continues with the 1929 swing hit, “Ain’t Misbehavin’”, from the 1929 comedy musical, Connie’s Hot Chocolates. The upright bass gets its first time to shine in this track, showing off complex finger work and rich tones. 

The title track “These Foolish Things” brings down the tempo for a melancholy,  broadway-esque ballad. The lyrics speak of hidden reminders of a lost love found in things in items in your everyday life. Muted trumpet solos and sultry piano evoke images of looking out the window on a rainy day. 

In a nice follow up to the previous song and stark change in vibe, “My Baby Just Cares For Me ” takes it up tempo with a plucky piano-led tune that one might hear in a saloon…but make it jazz. 

Next is the clever and emotive “Ev’rything I’ve Got Belongs To You” from Rogers and Hart’s 1949 musical, “By Jupiter”. You can imagine a dance ensemble gliding around her throughout the song – jazz hands galore. A Caribbean jazz beat on the drums, complex piano chords, catchy hook melody. Following is a very impressive guitar solo with jazzy plucking, and the soprano saxophone comes in strong with insanely fast runs.

“The Nearness Of You” is another romantic ballad, very sweet, with minimal instruments. The focus is on Leslie’s smooth and sultry vocals. Soft at times, and bursting with emotion at others.

Gershwin’s “(Our) Love Is Here To Stay” comes next with almost a seamless transition from the previous song, guiding the mood into something more relaxing and hopeful. The whole album definitely flows together as a stage musical would, with dynamic ups and downs in mood. Emily Dussault joins for a vocal feature, harmonizing and blending with Leslie’s voice seamlessly. 

Next on the album is the very cute and clever “Rhode Island Is Famous For You”. With comedic lyricism, the song points out all the things each state in the USA is famous for. It then ends with the endearing line “And Rhode Island is famous for you”. Guitar and saxophone solos ensue, leading into a lighthearted refrain in which Leslie really gets to show off her Broadway belt. 

In contrast, the ever-sensual “Teach Me Tonight” comes next, with complex jazz guitar solos and off-beat bass hits. It’s the type of song you imagine watching through thick smoke at a late night jazz lounge. 

With an acoustic and intimate feel, Leslie closes out the record with her folky version of “Moon River”, singing us to sleep with this classic lullaby, using simply her voice and her ukelele. Considering this is the method she uses to write her parts in all her music, it is integral to her writing process and fun to hear where the magic begins.

Released 8/20/21.

Written by Joslyn Danielson 10/21/21.

Bloodline, a Brazilian-American pop/R&B group from the St. Paul area is the Gen Z reincarnation of the family band. The group’s name is a reference to the fact that the group started with 3 siblings, the Wheatens. Eliza (songwriting/background vocals), Lukaz (production/keys), and Julia (vocals). They have also recently added Jake, who has been brought on since meeting Lucaz in class at St. Thomas. He recorded a few tracks on “Daze” this year and has since been added as the group’s guitar player. Bloodline is more collaborative and fluid than their previous projects, with each member taking part in the musical writing process in their own way, using their individual strengths. 

The songwriting, by the oldest sister, Eliza, is both romantic and melancholy. The album takes a journey through recovering from a breakup, the first half is very melancholy and has the feeling of a lost love. With down-tempo r&b beats and minor keys, as well as catchy vocal melodies. The second half, however, takes on a more upbeat and positive note starting at Young and in Love. Eliza also adds ethereal harmony throughout the album, matching and complimenting her sister’s voice very well. 

Eliza draws influence from artists like Amy Winehouse and Adele, with poetic storytelling and lots of emotion. The lyrics follow a person’s inner journey of finding themself and finding what they truly want in life and in a partner. It ends on a note of confidence and positivity in one’s self with the hook repeating the phrase, “ I don’t need your love baby I’ve got it all” which is backed by a catchy house beat. 

The musicality is very modern, but with a small amount of retro synth wave in the production style. Lukaz grew up listening to his parents’ 80’s music and it comes through in his production stylings. He combines modern trap and R&B beats with muted retro keys, and a nostalgic 80’s vibe using drawn out synth and drum and bass production. He creates a style a little reminiscent of 2000’s house like Cascada once the drop comes along. 

Julia’s vocal stylings are very with the trend in pop music today, a breathy, sultry soprano, along the lines of Ariana Grande or, Rhianna, Billie Eilish, or Sia. Julia Wheaten started her singing career in Brazil and has since brought those influences into her music. She embodies the new generation of South and Central American influence on pop vocals in the USA, which has long been contributing to our popular music without much recognition. Both her skill and tone are polished, giving her the sound of someone much older than her current age of 17; the mark of a promising future. 


Bloodline will be performing in St Paul at KJ’s Hideaway on November 5th, and at 7th St Entry a few days following.