The View UpStairs
The View UpStairs
Blood Warrior's brand of Folk is weighty with thump-stomping percussion, great choral harmonies, and the vocal awesomeness of Greg Jamie. The music can soothe like a lullaby but don’t get too comfortable because these gentle warriors can bring up the volume. Their voices swell; electric guitar leads and acoustic strumming intertwine with shakers and emphasized bass drum, giving traditional Folk an edgy twist.
Max Vernon @ Kenny's Castaways, Master of Design
Making a fashion statement at CMJ is an anomaly, but Max Vernon intends to please both visually and sonically. He walked onto the stage wearing an asymmetrical googly eye ensemble of his design.
He started the set by saying, "please excuse my unnecessary banter, I have to fill this forty-minute set," and fill he did. Max Vernon's verbal acuity does wonders for in-between songs, but that gift translates well to songwriting.
Standing confidently at 6’4 behind his keyboard and almost strutting, he played complex pop/jazz arrangements. His vocals dared go from low to falsetto, adding unexpected touches to his recorded material. What I found the most fascinating was his ability to seamlessly create the backup vocals. In between, he played three songs on the guitar.
A highlight was "Around Your Finger," with friend Emily singing the chorus / I hate to tell you / that I had more fun / When you were hooked on drugs /. "Psycho Bitch" a new one, is a song in the same vein. His second new offering had a haunting juxtaposition between an irregular chord repetition and a beautiful vocal. He ended with a Liz Phair cover, "Canary."
Download a slew of songs here
Max Vernon is colorful, flamboyant, and fashionably overstated, much like his outstanding music and songwriting. In one of his YouTube video entries, he was asked about a harsh email from his mother where she wrote, listening to your music is like eating nine courses of foie gras, and no one wants that many courses of foie gras. It was an interesting comparison, with apologies to follow. A loving and caring mother was concerned about Max’s appeal to a broader audience. Max Vernon, I believe, can create timeless and great pop songs, and maybe he will someday. But for the last year, he has been recording smart, politically topical, catchy, gender-bending, not neutral material. Max Vernon is true to himself.
Charmingly relevant and bright, he works it from the visual and cerebral to the sonic. That was clear at his set during the Anti Folk Fest at the Sidewalk Cafe. The talent is apparent but what comes through is a genuine performing style that is relaxed and personal. His set was quite beautiful. I'm glad he came with his keyboard placing himself front and center even though I saw a piano on the side of the stage. He didn't go for the easy listen, in fact, he chose to play his most challenging material. I knew I was in for a treat when he opened with “Diamond Dust,” a song with many twists and turns vocally and on keys. He introduced "All I Need" by saying something to the effect, "this song describes my love life." Then he invited us to sing along to the chorus; / you’re not all I need / you’re not all I need / you’re not even close /, but I like you, I like you. Although I like to sing, I wouldn't miss one minute of hearing Max Vernon’s spectacular interpretation. He added some yodeling extras splicing his highest pitch and intertwining it with his awe-inspiring low register.
"Love At Last," dedicated to Michael Jackson, is a brand new song that he had never played live, and it was awesome!!! The new material added an edge of enthusiasm. Playing keys combining Rhythm and Blues circa (mid 60's), back alley honky tonk, and classical. The chorus has a celebratory atmosphere mixed with the somber fate of a fallen Icon; Hallelujah / best friend though we hardly knew you / don’t it feel good to finally be loved at last / till the bullet rips through you.
He ended the set with a Morrissey cover featured on TMS (The Music Slut) compilation dedicated to Morrissey's fiftieth birthday, "Head Master Ritual."
Max Vernon can capture attention through his incredible music gift, but I realized tonight how well he can translate his talent live.
Max Vernon Flickr Set
Clinical Trials Flickr Set
Max Vernon has a vocal instrument that is deep and resonating, its clear tonality has reach and depth of maturity. With a signature voice, he delivers piano-driven melodies with a broad lyrical palette of intelligence. At twenty years old, he composes music that can move in many ways, like the Woody Guthrie of Pop to make a bold comparison.
Max Vernon’s lyrics leave an indelible impression. Using dynamic melodies in a pop format, he subliminally infiltrates the listener with smart content. His bait and hook got to me immediately. He employs words that move, words that drive the discussion, and words that can be subtly subversive and delivered with a tongue-in-cheek attitude. Topically he is current, but his intellectual curiosity captures the subtleties and irony in the topics/controversies of the day. But wait! All this is delivered in the most beautiful manner.
He plays the piano with such ease and fluidity, melding Jazz, blues, Do Wop, and cabaret, and adds touches of frivolity with classical escapades that are diced into song construction.
Getting recognition from his delightful cover parody of Katy Perry's " I Kissed A Girl" is a strange way to find Max Vernon’s music. But it has been the vehicle for attention even though it was sort of a goof that he decided to record and make a video. Attention has come his way. As I am writing this, a release party for The Guilt by Association Volume 2 featuring danceable cover songs is at the Music Hall of Williamsburg. His cover is in good company.
Since he doesn’t have an official release, he has chosen to share recordings and demos on The One Sixty One. On YouTube, he shares stripped-down footage of piano and vocals in various homey settings and the practice studios at NYU.
His most ambitious recording is "A Good God Is Hard To Find." He infuses white-collar crime, in god we trust, and proposition eight all into the same conversation tying these thoughts into a round of ecstasy-embedded harmonies. How is that possible? But he does it.
Along similar lines is “Dear Democracy.” The heavy piano bass chords set the tone while he spews an operatic diatribe of political criticism ending each unnerving injustice with light sardonic classical notes, singing / I already know that I’m going to hell / so I’m having a party / a party.
"When Your Body Breaks" is an orchestrated production with female vocal backup Caitlin Pasko AKA (Lacrymosa), cello, violin, church organ, and flute. Giving a boost of encouragement for the depressed whose memories are tainted with grey. / Oh you deserve better than that / and you’re gonna have it / your body’s breaking / you’re left with just your mind / you’re gonna be fine / but it’ll take time….It will take time…
The Song "Pastels" is like a poetic cinematic score. Singing about two people trying to find meaning in these troubled times / don’t criticize us /. It pulls the heartstrings in the chorus / but I’ll be with you / you know / and when you fall down / just hit the ground running / and I’ll be running with you / running with you. He concludes by interchanging, running with you with take me with you. Ahhh...... I'm such a romantic sap.
He closed his letter to me with, "If you get a chance, please give my songs a listen. Hopefully, you'll dig it." Dig, I did!
He continues his studies at NYU Gallatin School of Individualized Study graduating in May. The future looks bright, and I look forward to it all.