Mike Droho & The Compass Rose – And The World Makes Sense Again (Review)

If you’re looking for some live music this Memorial Day Weekend, a good way to kick things off would be to catch Madison group Mike Droho & The Compass Rose. Winner of the Project M “Reality” Songwriter Competition hosted by 105.5 FM “Triple M” last year (playbsides favorite Anna Laube is competing this year and is still in the running!), Mike’s blend of acoustic pop rock draws easy and frequent comparisons to other guitar-toting singer-songwriters like Brett Dennen and Jason Mraz. Armed with his band The Compass Rose (Ida Pajunen on violin and Anthony Lamar on “vocal percussion” aka “beatboxing”), Mike’s songs on his latest release And The World Makes Sense Again are built on perfect vocal harmonies, surrounded by a delicate layer of strings and propelled with the unique “urban” rhythm.

I find Droho has a very strong sense of the pop hook and the songs stick in my head for a good while after listening to them. The album has a breezy upbeat spirit about it (even if the topic of the song isn’t)– not particularly confrontational– although not particularly edgy either. The songs are well-balanced and structured with great melodies. I think the standout track on the album has to be “It Was Not Me” with its opening horns and foottapping rhythm and strumming. In fact, it was upon hearing this track on Droho’s website that I wanted to hear the rest of the record. This song is available to stream from the Music page on his site. I recommend checking it out. Other songs that stand out for me are “Shame on You” and “Jesus Louise.” There is something about “Shame on You” that reminds me of the pining pop songs of the 80’s (in fact, the chorus reminds me of Star Search-winning band from Minneapolis Limited Warranty). “Jesus Louise” sounds like it might have escaped from a Barenaked Ladies album.

One criticism I have with The Compass Rose as a backing band might be that– at least on the album– the beatboxing isn’t featured enough to be a key part of any of the songs and the beats could just as easily been accomplished with a drum machine. In my opinion if you’re going to use  “vocal percussion” you should showcase it. Where are the Fat Boys-style breaks? On “What Holds You Down” the beatboxing really limits what could have been a song that builds to a driving rhythm. The intro has a stripped down guitar and vocals and you get a sense of building energy up to :58 and damn if I didn’t want a fill and a driving backbeat for the rest of the song, but it doesn’t deliver that promise.

I think that And The World Makes Sense Again shows the potential of what Droho can achieve as a musician and songwriter. This album has some strong songs on it that I bet really sound great in a live setting. The album falls short in some respects, but that doesn’t diminish the fact that I think he’s a strong songwriter and one I’ll be keeping an eye on.

Mike Droho and the Compass Rose will be recording a session with Iowa Public Radio’s Java Blend radio show with host Ben Kieffer today. This show is slated to air on the weekend of 6/18. After that show, they will be playing at Gabe’s Oasis tonight. The show starts at 9:30PM and tickets are $7.

Click Here for the Facebook Invite for Mike Droho at Gabe’s Oasis Friday Night

Click Here to visit Mike Droho’s MySpace Page
Click Here to visit Mike Droho and the Compass Rose Facebook Fan Page
Click Here to visit Mike Droho’s Website

Upcoming Show: Ben Schmidt Record Release Show at CSPS 2/6/10

Iowa City musician Ben Schmidt has been on the Eastern Iowa scene for a while, releasing two critically-acclaimed self-released albums– Write It Down in 2002 and While You Were Sleeping in 2005. His press releases draw accurate comparisons to  John Gorka, Jesse Winchester, Kelly Joe Phelps and Leonard Cohen.

Ben is releasing a new album titled Silt which draws its inspiration from post-flood experience– the songs are from the perspective of people who have experienced personal “storms” — physical, emotional and spiritual and what remains when those waters subside. The album is pretty much a one-man affair with Ben recording vocals, guitars, bass, drums and electric piano. Assisting one the album is Nate “The Count” Basinger from the Diplomats of Solid Sound on organ, piano and accordion, Steve “The Chief” Hayes on drums, Lori Lane on harmony vocals and Larry Mossman on mandolin.

I’ve had the opportunity to listen to Silt, and I found myself focusing on his lyrics. Ben is a masterful storyteller and his deep, smooth voice provides the perfect narrative match. His style recalls some of the great classic singer-songwriters and anyone who is a fan of Lightfoot, Croche and Taylor should find Schmidt a complimentary listen.

To gear up for the promotion of Silt, Ben along with Larry Mossman are taping a Java Blend show with Ben Kieffer today (2/5) at the Washington St. Java House in Iowa City which will be aired on Friday 2/26 and Saturday 2/27 on Iowa Public Radio.

Ben will also be performing a show at CSPS in Cedar Rapids on Saturday 2/6 as a CD release show. Ben will be joined by Dustin Busch on guitar, Steve Hayes on drums, Lori Lane and Larry Mossman on mandolin. Dustin Busch will be opening the show with his hill country blues-influenced music. Doors will be at 8PM and tickets are $11 in advance and $15 at the door and available through IowaTix.

Click Here for the details of the CSPS show.

Click Here for Ben Schmidt’s MySpace Page.

Upcoming Shows: Pezzettino Swings Through Iowa On Her Way East

Pezzettino at CSPS in Cedar Rapids, IA

The constant storm of activity that is Pezzettino is kicking off a tour this week that will take her through Minnesota and Iowa on her way west wrapping up at the end of February on the East Coast. This tour hits a lot of the same stops she made in October of last year, which is a smart move to build her fanbase in some of these cities. When she stopped in Cedar Rapids in October, she played a house show at my home. This was a new experience for me, and it was a lot of fun and she quickly made fans of everyone who attended. She also threatened to kidnap my dachshund, but I’m not going to hold that against her! She also performed a very cool show at CSPS opening for another singer-songwriter named Melissa Greener.

This time she’s playing some key stops in Iowa including an interview and performance at the main Java House location in Iowa City on Washington for Ben Kieffer’s Java Blend radio show on Iowa Public Radio which will air on Friday 2/19 and Saturday 2/20. She’s also performing at the very cool Vaudeville Mews venue in Des Moines and two coffee house shows– Roaster’s Coffee House in Hiawatha, IA (near Cedar Rapids) and Monk’s Kaffee Pub in Dubuque. Roaster’s, incidentally, is where I buy all of my coffee. They roast on site some of the best coffee I’ve ever had and includes Free Trade and Organic coffees.

She announced today via twitter, that all proceeds of teeshirt sales will be donated to benefit Haiti!

While you have your wallet out, I suggest you get the ultra-cool colored 7″ vinyl for “You Never Know” with hand-painted sleeves!!!

Click Here to visit her website, which is pretty much the launching point for all of her online shenanigans.

Tour Dates: (from MySpace)

Jan 27 2010  10:00P  Bedlam Theater  Minneapolis, Minnesota
Jan 28 2010  8:00P  Ed’s  Winona, Minnesota
Jan 29 2010  2:00P  Java Blend Iowa Public Radio  Iowa City, Iowa (Facebook Event)
Jan 29 2010  8:00P  Ames Progressive  Ames, Iowa
Jan 30 2010  8:00P  Vaudeville Mews  Des Moines, Iowa
Jan 31 2010  1:00P  Roaster’s Coffee House  Hiawatha, Iowa (Facebook Event)
Feb 1 2010  8:00P  Monks  Dubuque, Iowa
Feb 2 2010  8:00P  Elbo Room Lounge  Chicago, Illinois
Feb 3 2010  8:00P  Earth House  Indianapolis, Indiana
Feb 4 2010  8:00P  House Show  Bloomington, Indiana
Feb 5 2010  8:00P  House Show  South Bend, Indiana
Feb 6 2010  8:00P  Cole’s  Chicago, Illinois
Feb 11 2010  8:00P  High Noon Saloon opening for Gene  Ween Madison, Wisconsin
Feb 13 2010  8:00P  Arts Council  Racine, Wisconsin
Feb 19 2010  10:00P  Hank’s Saloon  Brooklyn, New York
Feb 22 2010  5:00P  Sonicbids Office  Boston, Massachusetts
Feb 24 2010  8:00P  Parkside Lounge  New York, New York
Feb 27 2010  10:00P  VoxPop Cafe  Brooklyn, New York