• Reviews:

    "Listen up..."


    ARTIST: Sean Riddle

    ALBUM: When You Hear It (2020)



    Sean Riddle...

    is a Los Angeles based bassist/composer. A recent graduate of California Institute of the Arts and a frequent collaborator of yours truly, Sean released an EP of improvisations back in July 2020. Let's dig in...





    The album starts with the track Acorn (For Octavia Butler) and sets the tone and mood for the duration. Sean lets his mind wander and explore. Explore the sonic depth of his instrument, explore the spaces and silences between thoughts, explores the infinite and finite. Everything is here and now and all at once...


    The sound is dark and alien. Clicks and buzzes circling around the ear drums like some prehistoric mosquitos you can't escape. Clicks and buzzes that would surely drive most recording engineers to near goddamn madness trying to REMOVE. Instead, Sean uses the "whatever happens, happens" approach to his improvised compositions to great effect.


    There is, without a doubt, an underlying sadness and longing residing in the shadows. Once the "score" calls for Arco, microtones hit, splash and bead across your face like sharp drops of rain. There is weeping and dread and spiraling despair. All is nothing yet again and forever.


    Like a face you once knew, and whether by fate or circumstance, you no longer know the face staring back at you. Is this a reason to cry? To curse the heavens? Is this a dead end where your every next move is to simply mark time until the last grain of sand goes south? Or is this a new beginning in which there is no room for sadness? A new place where there is no past, only a frontier. In which case, a smile might be the move.


    The penultimate track Disolution offers us our first taste of droning rhythms and torso movement invitations. A swirling whirlpool of sounds, like quicksand in a dark jungle or a black hole in the depths of outer space, imploring us to submit, submit, submit.


    We've made it to the end, you and I. Now we stand hand in hand staring into the void, the storm, the blackness, the enveloping sprawl. The light is here now. Heavy breath circling. You can feel it on the back of your neck like a whisper. Saint of nothing, a laughing jackal, worship and tribute, moon thirsty beasts, well fellow goblins, the all seeing eye!


    Everything and nothing at all.






    Sean's approach for this release came from his prowess for improvisation, so I wanted to approach writing about it in the same way. I tried to write on the spot as I was listening. Aside from basic typo edits, the above section was written entirely on the spot while listening to the album VERY LOUD.




    Overall, a beautiful collection of sounds and feelings alike. An album of deep complexity within its simplicity. From deep sadness to glee. From terror to boastful pride. One human with one musical instrument. Finite is fiction.


    Now In Sean's own words...


    "The title is a reference to an Eric Dolphy quote: “When you hear music, after it’s over, it’s gone in the air. You can never capture it again.” Dolphy has been on my mind a lot lately and this quote truly incapsulates the beauty of improvisation.

    These pieces were improvised during the uprisings that occurred after the lynching of George Floyd, so I would like to dedicate this music to the victims of racism in the US, and abroad, and to the Black Lives Matter movement as they guide us towards a better world. Creative music, particularly the Black American musical tradition, is deeply connected to politics, serving both as reflections on current/past events and a call to action. Politics is inseparable from this music.

    Alongside this, I have always felt that solo performance is actually a duet with silence and have begun to explore my relationship with silence through, so called, “solo” improvisations, with this recording serving as my first document of what I’ve learned so far. My goal was to record short pieces that focused on developing an idea while honoring silence, letting the music grow and die as it needs. Hopefully I achieved that."




    Do yourself a favor and buy the album from the link below:







    "When You Hear It" is a collection of improvised compositions documented during a time of uprising in the streets amid protests and mournings for the life of George Floyd and the countless others murdered by police departments all over the U.S. At the time of this writing, there have been more. Many more.


    As a non-black male, I've experienced more privilege than I can probably even imagine. It is with this privilege that I must work harder. We can all work harder. Shut up, listen and raise up the voices of our black brothers and sisters. Be an ally. Say it over and over again, Black Lives Matter. BLM is a call to action. Get involved. Dig into the links below...













    Sober up.

    Listen up.

    Stand up.


    We have a lot of work to do.



    - Justin Bardales


    "I am not led, I lead..."


    ARTIST: Lucas Longaresi

    ALBUM: Urbano (2020)




    Lucas Longaresi...

    is a guitarist/composer from São Paulo, Brazil. Having spent the last few years living in Los Angeles, he gifted us an album of all original compositions in February of 2020 before taking his talents back to the "Land of Drizzle". Let's dig in...





    "Urbano" wastes no time in introducing us to the musical flavors and stylings of that special place where Lucas calls home. That special place being Brazil. Drawing from an incredibly dense, rich musical history, Lucas gets the party started with Nação, my favorite track on the album. Nação features the unique Afro-Brazilian rhythm called Maracatu, highlighted by its traditional drum, the Alfaia. Using a blues form, the tune is both powerful and dynamic. The Maracatu deployed beautifully by the drums and percussion talents of Marcelo Bucater, Clarice Cast & Emília Desiré setting up the rhythmic bed for solos to explore and tell their individual stories. Everything held together tight from the likes of Will Kjeer on Piano and Jonathan Richards on Bass. The soaring horn melodies played by Sara Sithi-Amnuai (Trumpet) & Nick Stahl (Tenor Saxophone) done with both excitement and care, set the tone for the rest of the album.


    Lucas gives us a peak into his inspirations and musical heroes with the albums 2nd track, Enlightened Soul, a dedication to the legendary John Coltrane. Clearly inspired by Coltrane's "classic quartet", the group explores their terrain with open forms, vamps and deep improvisations, reminding us that music is a spiritual journey and no stone be unturned in our collective pursuit for enlightenment and truth.


    The albums ballad, Hope, features an unusual 11-bar cycle, which is a great musical/conceptual juxtaposition from the track title to the untraditional cycle. Like an oblong wheel with no sure sense of cadence and footing, it suggests, that maybe hope is something we don't just achieve and be done with. Maybe hope, or having hope, is a constant and lifelong pursuit and one we all need to try and keep alive.


    The 6th track on the album, titled Aruanã, is another uniquely Brazilian tune deep in its bones as a clear inspiration from great Brazilian Choro tunes of the past, while maintaining a fresh outlook and keeping the possibilities (and hope??) alive. Lovely and lyrical solos from Sara Sithi-Amnuai (this time on Flugelhorn) and Nick Stahl, respectively, lend to the mysterious and charming nature of the tune. The title being derived from the Brazilian myth in the origin of the native Karajás tribe, tells us that Lucas is truly tapped into the history and culture of his home.


    Overall, the album features an incredible supporting cast of musicians and is a great and promising musical offering from a guitarist/composer/friend with a bright future. In Lucas' own words...


    "This album represents a small portion of compositions written for friends and family. These compositions are a reflection of who I am, my mood, the cultures I have been exposed to, the places I have been, the music I listen to, and so forth. It is definitely inspired by my hometown, São Paulo (Brazil), and Los Angeles, where I lived from 2017 to 2020, which are two huge urban centers, where you can be exposed to cultures from all over the world in one place."


    Do yourself a favor and buy the album from the link below:







    "Urbano" is an album in the realm of positivity. Positivity to spread both near and far. From Brazil to Los Angeles and then back again. Lucas, whom I've had the pleasure of knowing for several years now, embodies that positivity. Anyone who's met him would agree with that. "Urbano" also makes a very simple request from its listener. All it asks is that you enjoy. Enjoy yourself, enjoy your friends and loved ones, enjoy the life you're able to live. It's a celebration. A celebration of life and the gratitude that must come with it. Life is a gift and one that need be experienced and nurtured. Being grateful for whatever it is you have in life and the privileges you're able to partake in. If you can walk into a room and flip a switch and the lights come on, be grateful. Someone, somewhere else is in the dark.


    Perhaps that could come in the form of reminiscing and being nostalgic for either mere moments or years of your life, both now victim to the passing of time. Maybe it's remembering a place that meant so much to you. Breathing in the cold, dry air. Smelling the dirt and the earth beneath you. Celebrate the time you have afforded to you. This is your life - lean into it.


    Thank you for that reminder, Lucas.






    For as long as history can remember, the superhero/sidekick duo of music and booze has been to say, well, a popular one. Complementing each other in ways both traditional and cultural. Some religious and some recreational. An Ewe funeral celebration in Ghana might not feel the same without a bottle of akpeteshie being passed around. Would a Rumba in Matanzas, Cuba be the same without rum? Sitting in the smoke filled Copa Room in the Sands Casino watching the Rat Pack in the 60's while deprived of a tall scotch or vodka gimlet would have been absolutely criminal.


    A lovely and inspiring album like "Urbano" deserves its own unique boozy pairing.




    The caipirinha - Brazil's national cocktail, whose possible combination of ingredients seem to be boundless and limited only to one's imagination, but the basic package is crushed lime & sugar mixed liberally with cachaça, a distilled spirit made from sugarcane juice. Pour over ice, dig your toes into the sand and R-E-L-A-X.


    Here's a simple recipe to follow:



    - 2 oz Cachaça

    - 2 Teaspoons sugar

    - Half a lime cut into 4 wedges


    Preparation: Place lime and sugar into rocks glass and muddle. Fill the glass with crushed ice and add the Cachaça. Stir & enjoy.


    Grab your glass and enjoy to the sounds of your recently purchased download of "Urbano". Saúde!



    - Justin Bardales






    "Heaven & earth have never moved so fast..."


    ARTIST: Thao & The Get Down Stay Down

    ALBUM: Temple (2020)

    FAVORITE TRACK: "I've Got Something"



    Thao & The Get Down Stay Down...

    are an American rock band originally from Virginia, now in residence in San Francisco, CA. Fronted by Thao Nguyen, the group released their 5th studio LP titled "Temple" back in March. Let's dig in...





    The album sets sail with the title track, "Temple" and we're quickly off and running. The first of many anthemic guitar riffs gives us the first bit of oxygen we'll be breathing, the first tab of acid we'll be placing beneath our tongues. Subject wise, (in totality but also under spotlight in the title track), the horrors of war and the perception of freedom are front and center. The album title gives us more to think on as well. A temple brings to mind a place where certain religious occasions or rituals will occur. A place where one goes to pray, goes to feel the weight of their beliefs and find warmth in it. I digress -- we'll dig deeper into the albums themes and messages in a few...


    Sound wise, the album takes us on a journey through myriad of "musical genres" such as funk, soul, dub, electronica, arena rock, even dipping into some serious Topanga vibes for a moment or two. I could go on and on but I really don't think I should have to. The reason for the quotes is because, as a musician myself, I have a hard time concretely categorizing music. The idea that songs or even artists as a whole are only allowed to exist in one universe just isn't right. Like some sort of prisoner being forced to live forever in their perceived or self exiled corner. Anyway, what's perfectly clear is that throughout the almost 40 minute run time, we're being taken down a very personal road by Thao, hand in hand in psychedelic genuineness and sincerity in its search for, well, itself.


    To round out the sound and complement Thao's silky voice & buzzy high end guitar tones, is Jason Slota on drums, Adam Thompson on electric bass, Charlie Glenn on guitars, Johanna Kunin providing wonderful backing vocals, while Adam and Thao double down on synthesizer duties to great effect.


    The tightness of the group is on full display. Slinking and slooping past melted clocks and white rabbits through the verses and choruses of the albums 7th track "Disclaim". Synthesizers cooing about like little doves while others pad the atmosphere for the duration, seamlessly jumping from feelings of despair to unmistakable hope, sometimes even in the same track. The albums 2nd track "Phenom", is one of the albums highlights and journeys into the void, the out-there, the ever deepening sprawl. Can't you just picture Raoul Duke & Dr. Gonzo (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas), deep in another ether binge walking around like newborn giraffes? Is that just me? Whatever, I'm okay with that.


    There are plenty of notable moments in this album and as far as choice cuts, it was hard to choose a favorite, but after plenty more spins through its entirety, one track stood out to me where the others did not. The penultimate track, "I've Got Something" takes us to a place where we feel good. Not only is it the most unique offering sound wise, with it's heavily processed guitars and lush vocal chants, it takes us to a place where we haven't been able to go prior -- a place of peace. A place to calm down and breathe. A place where we might be able to reach for and find clarity.


    I won't be overly critical, as there isn't much to be critical about here, but my real, only gripe is with the way the album concludes. The last track "Marrow", while being a fine musical offering, lacks the grand, cadence, bow tying send off that the rest of the album promised us. The song just sort of ends and definitely left me wanting (I guess that's a good thing!). I could be wrong, but that was my take away.


    Overall, an excellent album from a group that I'm embarrassed to say I did not know about until just this year. Thank you, Kelley.


    Also, if you're able to, listen to this album LOUD.


    Do yourself a favor and buy the album from the link below:






    Invited by the U.S. embassy in Hanoi in 2015, Thao and the rest of band went to Vietnam to perform as to help commemorate the 20 year anniversary of the normalization of relations between the U.S. and Vietnam. Thao, having never been, took her mother along on the trip, herself having not been back since fleeing the war in 1973. The trip was captured on film and became the CAAM funded 2017 documentary titled Nobody Dies, directed by Todd Krolczyk.


    The title track of "Temple" takes us back to the war, as though narrated directly to us by Thao's mother. Lyrics like "I lost my city in the light of day. Thick smoke, helicopter blades. Heaven and earth have never moved so fast. You'll never know the fear your mama has" give us an insight into the terrors of the war and how decisions needed to be made in order for life to continue.


    Now the years continuing to pile on and the distance more noticeable in history's rear view, but we still remember the Vietnam war which lasted in some capacity for roughly 20 years from 1955-1975. Though this "remembrance", at least for younger generations like mine, is something that is learned about and not something that was actually experienced. Films and television have created a narrative for us with not just the Vietnam war, but the psychedelic and groovy 1960's in general. A bygone era which is built up and somehow almost glorified, giving us some kind of rose colored glasses in order to view it and because we never experienced it firsthand, we buy in. Men in suits and fedoras, smoke filled rooms, brown liquor being poured in waves like the party will never end. All the while, some 8,000 miles away, lives are being lost, families torn apart, freedoms striped away.


    While the mid century war in Vietnam is now over, it's important that we take notice of what we can learn from those who experienced its horrors firsthand. History must be studied and learned from or we're doomed to repeat it.






    For as long as history can remember, the superhero/sidekick duo of music and booze has been to say, well, a popular one. Complementing each other in ways both traditional and cultural. Some religious and some recreational. An Ewe funeral celebration in Ghana might not feel the same without a bottle of akpeteshie being passed around. Would a Rumba in Matanzas, Cuba be the same without rum? Sitting in the smoke filled Copa Room in the Sands Casino watching the Rat Pack in the 60's while deprived of a tall scotch or vodka gimlet would have been absolutely criminal.


    An ambitious and unique album like "Temple" deserves its own unique boozy pairing.


    Rượu đế

    Coming up with some pretentious, snooty, mixology type cocktail in this case simply will not do. Phrases like "Insert culture here-inspired" or "such and such-themed" can also go right in the garbage. "Temple" is an offering in the realm of realness, and few things are as real and unpretentious than good ol' home brewed firewater...


    As homage to Thao's Vietnamese lineage, I think a bottle of Rượu đế will do just fine. Rượu đế is a distilled liquor made from rice. Like most things that make you feel good, it was previously made illegal. Though today can be found plentifully throughout the nation. To learn more, follow the link below...



    Now the catch-22...

    Rượu đế is hard, if damn near impossible to get here in the U.S. One cannot simply stroll into your local Bevmo (with your mask on!) or similar establishment and purchase a bottle with your weekly White Claw haul. Though I have not been able to try myself, the company in the link above has made an award winning product by creating a modern take on the more traditional home made hooch.


    So while we all wait for the "heaven's nectar" to become more readily available here in the states, pick up a 6 pack of Saigon Export Lager - a clean Vietnamese lager which can be found through merchants  à la BevMo, Total Wine, Drizly and the like.


    So grab your nearest church key, pop that first bottle and enjoy to the sounds of your recently purchased copy or download of "Temple".




    - Justin Bardales




    Welcome to the Saloon...

    There's a tradition that exists as sort of a christening for new ships and as to mark its maiden voyage. A tradition that stretches way back. Long, long ago. Through centuries passed and countless continent leaps, the tradition made its way to North America, and during the inauguration of the USS Maine in 1890, the first champagne bottle was broken on the ships bow and the tradition has been maintained ever since.


    *bottle smashes*


    Enter Saloon Songs — A MUSIC & LIFE blog where I will be reviewing fan/artist recommended music. Each and every review forthcoming, whether a live performance, a new single, a mix tape or a full on double LP, will be user submitted and recommended to me for review. People sharing with people sharing with people.


    Welcome to the Saloon. Hope you’ll stay awhile.


    First official review coming next week. Thank you for reading.

    Also, if you’d like to recommend something for me to review, please fill out the contact form and send it my way.




  • About

    Justin Bardales is a composer/multi-instrumentalist/educator who embraces a global perspective on both composition and instruction. He’s earned both his BFA & MFA degrees from California Institute of the Arts and has spent time studying, performing and teaching in India, Ghana and Mexico. He has served as faculty and instructor with the Community Arts Partnership, Santa Clarita Valley Youth Orchestra, California Institute of the Arts, California State Summer School of the Arts and gives private lessons on both composition and performance application.

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