NowStreaming: Kehlani / Nine Mile Drive / Skytown Riot

Kehlani / SweetSexySavage
If you’re a fan of America’s Got Talent, you might remember Kehlani as the lead vocalist for the band Poplyfe, which was a finalist during season six of the NBC talent show. She’s grown up a bit since then, and her ripened swagger shines through on an album that doesn’t hold back. The artist has a pretty dark backstory – we won’t get into it here – and it definitely informs the tone of her debut solo album. Kehlani introduces more than a few of her songs by speaking about the story behind it, but these are not any boring by-the-numbers synopses. Her spoken-word soliloquies are laden with language not suitable for minors – the f-bomb is recurring – but her words and lyrics resonate. She’s got so much to say, and the rhythm and the groove behind the songs is solid, too. Blunt but vulnerable, Kehlani exposes her flaws and a seemingly newly-discovered strength with telling self-awareness, especially on tracks like “CRZY,” “Advice” and “Not Used To It.”

When listening, you might recall Rihanna, Aaliyah or even shades of TLC, and these influences are no fluke. The album’s title, sans spaces between its words, is a direct homage to TLC’s CrazySexyCool. SweetSexySavage is the kind of album the genre needs to remind us that R&B is not just about selling sex. She’s sweet, and she’s also savage. On this album, Kehlani proves it beyond a doubt.

For more information, visit kehlanimusic.com.


Nine Mile Drive –
Rise up
I write this album review with heaviness in my heart, as the band recently lost its frontman, Christopher “JC” Edwards, to a sudden and aggressive form of cancer in January. JC, who I had discovered performing a solo acoustic set in Key West on a live-cam I watch frequently, had a talent that absolutely floored me. In fact, I made it a point to schedule his gigs in my calendar so I could listen to him play while I was in the office. Additionally, he was a kind and generous person, well-loved by everyone he met and even described as a “beacon” to the music scene in southern Florida.

His band equally impressed me. Nine Mile Drive is heavy and unforgiving but accessible in its powerful conquering of your senses. Influenced by bands like Killswitch Engage and Five Finger Death Punch, there is a definitive and dynamic melody highlighted by a combination of clean vocal and grit. The rhythm and riffs convey a sense of urgency, as if we will all crash and burn into the side of a building if the guys don’t get the message out in time to save us. JC’s vocals are passionate and drive through your very being, allowing you to get caught up in the energy. It is a chaos so organized that you feel as though you have been on an exhilarating ride by the time the EP ends, and you want to go on it again.

“From the Ashes,” with its anthem-like flow urging you to take on the world despite all adversity, is a very fitting song right now. “Cover Fire” showcases everything of which this band is capable. “Prisoners of War” is my clear favorite, though, with its catchy melody, contagious energy and spectacular vocal range.

It pains me that the band only had time to achieve a measure of success before this tragedy. In the meantime, we were blessed to have this recording, and if you love rock and metal, I highly recommend you take a listen.

For more, visit facebook.com/NineMileDrive.

Skytown Riot / Alive in the Fire
Hailing from Nashville, Skytown Riot is not what you would expect. Their newest effort, Alive in the Fire, is a shining example of how just how these guys do their own thing. They walk a fine line between Hot Topic hip and garage rock edge, but most importantly, they play.

There’s no denying that Skytown Riot has put together a solid album with Alive in the Fire. With 13 songs, the band manages to keep your ear for the duration, and that has a lot to do with its ability to balance catchy hooks inside of big, bombastic choruses. The appropriately titled opener, “Breaking Silence,” lands with a splash, and from there on out, Skytown Riot doesn’t let up. “In The Grey,” with its charging chorus, showcases singer/guitarist/pianist Van Gallik’s knack for finding the right hooks in his vocal delivery and phrases in his guitar playing. Gallik’s lyrics occasionally tip-toe onto familiar ground. Luckily “One Day,” a ballad, avoids becoming too sappy or cliché. Anytime it looks as though it’s about to stumble, such moments are quickly extinguished by the group’s willingness to jump out front with its instruments in a surprising way. “Sensational” takes a left turn when you expect the mundane right, offering a midtro you’ll want to listen to again.

Alive in the Fire is a listen worth your time if you are into rock and tired of what the radio is playing. Some of these songs might end up finding their way to the airwaves, but why wait for that?

For more, visit facebook.com/SkytownRiot.