CD REVIEW: Austin Belle - Austin Belle (EP)
by: Cyrus Rhodes
Artist: Austin Belle
Album: Just Drive (EP)
Label:Cordova Bay Entertainment Group
Genre: Modern Country, Americana-Pop
Technical Grade: 8/10
(VANCOUVER, CAN) With a blend of Country and Pop/Rock backgrounds, Austin Belle is equipped with the perfect combination of well-written songs and talented artists. Lead guitarist and songwriter, Jesse Wainwright, hails from the hit-making, award-winning rock band State of Shock, lending his musical skills and incredible stage presence to the group. Wainwright is balanced by lead singer and songwriter, Stacey McKitrick, a JUNO award-winning artist already known to the Country world. Together, they create a new sound that can only be described as magical. Along with a talented backing band, their catchy songs and energetic stage show leave audiences wanting more. Combined, they have had the opportunity to perform with notable acts Lady Antebellum, Dierks Bentley, Aerosmith, Bon Jovi, Great Big Sea, and more. They have won numerous awards, including a JUNO for ‘Single of the Year’; Canadian Radio Music Awards for ‘Rock Song of the Year’ and ‘Adult Contemporary Song of the Year’; an Indie Award for ‘Independent Single of the Year’; and a Western Canadian Music Award for ‘Rock Recording of the Year’. They are opening doors at every opportunity they are given, so keep your eyes on them – they are a talented force to be reckoned with, determined to rise to the top! This latest 5 track EP was released in 2014.
The EP kicks things off with “Just Drive” an impressive intro piece that serves up impressive country western dance groove against amazing vocals, well placed harmonies, and impressive musicianship to boot painted against a grand slam chorus. This first track is quite impressive as it peaks and valleys its way through musical fruition. Just when you think you go this due figured out “Track 2 ”Point of No return” delivers a rocked out follow-up with infectious vocal feel and top flight harmonies, thought provoking lyrical content and superb marketability. Track 3 “Back Where We Belong” is a methodical Americana-Rock ballad with impressive musical build, well placed harmonies and impressive writing style that lets it all hang out. As this EP slowly unfolds I can hear many different musical influences reminiscent of classic Pistol Annies, Carrie Underwood, The Band Party, Kacey Musgraves, Sara Evans and Sugarland. The music itself is a delightful blend of Modern Country and Americana-Pop to Rockabilly Blues that goes down extremely smooth song for song, note for note. The most impressive thing about this EP is the songwriting and the vocals from McKitrick. The vocal timber of McKitrick is impressive and right on the money. Wainwright sings a bit on '3 sided Story." She’ along with Wainwright have got a good, lean, young and marketable visual. McKitrick takes some rather impressive vocal risks throughout the production indicating to me a very strong and confident vocal ability. She’s got a good vibrato and impressive Mezzo Soprano. Belle showcases an impressive falsetto and has much to offer insofar as power, control and finesse. As a songwriter: the songwriting consistent and rock solid across the board. The harmonies and melodies are well placed and well crafted. All the Engineering aspects are in check (Recording, Mixing, and Mastering) as the CD possesses solid low end punch and crystal clear high end clarity. The EP offers a rich melodic vocal foundation, coupled with lush layers of instrumentation. From rock steady “3 Sided Story” to the amazing closer “Forget About You” this EP has something for just about everyone.
All songs under 3 minutes feel like incomplete statement to me. I also typically deduct 1 start for EP releases. The full length release is the most complete vantage point to review an artists by at any given point in time. There’s no liner notes indicating who the behind the scenes musicians were. CD cover art is a huge marketing misstep and fails to make the emotional “first glance” impact – critical for this style of music. Typically you want to put a facial visual on these types of releases. More instrumentation is needed within the layers to give this more of a vintage Americana musical signature. Things like Fiddles, Pedal and Lap Steel, Organ, Rhodes Electric Piano, Harmonica, Mandolin, Banjo, etc. I didn't know the EP was called "Just Drive" until I did some research on the internet - very confusing presentation. Wainwright needs to come out of his shell more as a vocalist.
From start to finish the "Just Drive" EP from Austin Belle is an impressive short but sweet release no doubt. From start to finish it’s very passionate, uplifting, marketable and extremely melodic in nature. To say the least it's packed to the hilt with world class writing and production touches and strokes. The writing, playing, and singing abilities of McKitrick/Wainwright and company is impressive and will be sure to lift your spirits without even trying. As the EP progressed I became more and more impressed with it. The musicianship is first rate, the songs are short and sweet musical experiences. Each one possessing a unique personality, flair, and signature groove. I look forward to hearing the full length later hopefully early next year.
Cyrus Rhodes Rhodes