Erin Tobey: Middlemaze

Very rarely can an album clinch a listener with the opening chord. However, Erin Tobey’s Middlemaze is a pleasant exception as the leisurely crawling bassline of ‘I’m Young’ transcends the listener into a starry folk soundscape beyond the gravity of conventional genre classification. Written over years of “moving slowly outward from deep within an interior world,” Middlemaze is a rich and reflective album about “life after being young.”


Tobey professes the strength of her love on ‘I’m Young’ with a tender, yet, calm and assertive voice “strong enough to move a mountain.” The minute-long intro sets a groovy tone and allows the ethereal vocals to pull the listener on a soothing journey. Tobey shows a distinct indie rock familiarity with the guitar heavy arrangements of ‘Medicine Garden’ and ‘Baby Monitor’ while the synth-charged ‘Work It Out’ and bouncy ‘Leaf Pile’ add enjoyable pop to the album. The smooth and slow ‘Lonely Daughter’ and ‘Flotsam in the Wake’ establish a strong folk foundation with the latter strolling at a pace similar to Iron & Wine hit ‘Cinder and Smoke’.

The entirety of Middlemaze shimmers with a soothing atmospheric coating, yet, each track possesses a unique autonomous identity. It’s been over a decade since Tobey’s self-titled debut and she returns on Middlemaze a matured and sophisticated vocalist who has crafted a beautiful style of her own.

Middlemaze release date June 3

Written by: Doug Leach (

Photo credit: Chaz Mottinger


Shannon Labrie: War & Peace

Nashville singer-songwriter Shannon LaBrie bares her broken bones with her sophomore album, War & Peace. The album’s 12 moody tracks bleed from the pages of LaBrie’s tear-soaked diary to paint the vivid spectrum of emotions that have colored the singer’s reflective canvas. LaBrie has forged War & Peace through her personal experiences and has now given the world a simple yet gripping soundtrack to her story.

The Americana chanteuse unloads poetic lyrics through a lush, smoky voice to articulate feelings we have all felt but may have lacked the courage to express. The weight of her words bury into the listener’s conscience and stir lingering emotions bubbling below the surface. LaBrie strives to make her audience feel something…anything at all and she achieves that and so much more with War & Peace.


LaBrie sets the tone early and opens War & Peace with howling electric strings on “It’s Political.” The album’s single was released in February and serves as LaBrie’s melodic disdain of current American politics. She slows the tempo and allows her voice to take center stage on “For You” and flexes her vocal range on “Crumble.” However, it’s the belting chorus of “Took My Whole Life” that really gets the listener grooving.
LaBrie unleashes a thunderstorm of emotions on “Heaven Crashed Down,” the album’s most poignant and moving track. The spine-tingling lyrics spike through the listener sending an aftershock of goosebumps as she poetically recalls losing her father. “I’ve never been able to write about him. So that song was groundbreaking for me,” admits LaBrie.

Her fan favorite, “Alcohol,” is another chilling recollection of an unfortunate scenario many of us are all too familiar with. “So many fans have approached me and personally thanked me for writing that song,” claims the singer. LaBrie’s ‘intoxicating’ voice smoothly dances across the dark surface of this beautifully sad chamber ode to provide a surreal narrative.

The mood of War & Peace lightens and at the end we find a lightly-jazzed, rainy day melody of finding tranquility and happiness with “Then There’s You.” With her conclusion, LaBrie reminds us that the universe grants just as much pleasure as pain.

War & Piece is a refreshing dose of openness and sincerity in songwriting. The lyrics are heavy and direct, however, relatable and familiar. LaBrie is a bold songwriter that sings her story with a courageous voice. The melodies remain pleasantly simple mixing electric and acoustic between tracks and layering piano keys over the backdrop of the album. The project never threatens to become too oversaturated with instruments and remains authentic to its singer-songwriter roots. LaBrie capably blends Country and Americana with slight elements of pop and jazz to give the album an authentic sound outside of a standard classification.

The intimate album strikes the listener on an emotional rather than cerebral level. That is not to say the album is not thought-provoking, as certain tracks will undoubtedly pry relatable memories from the listener’s subconscious. However, LaBrie prefers to express how she feels rather than what she thinks and the album should appeal to a much larger audience for this. War & Peace is an enjoyably sincere album that digs into the listener’s gut and delivers one of the most honest listening experiences of 2016.


Written by: Douglas Leach (

Walker Lukens: Never Understood EP

In a city bursting with creative energy, Walker Lukens has begun to shine with supernova luminosity. The Austin-based, alt-pop songwriter set the summer off with the video debut of hit single ‘Lifted’ from his upcoming EP, Never Understood, out Oct 14th via Modern Outsider. The 4-track EP was produced by Spoons drummer, Jim Eno, at his Public Hi Fi studio in Austin and recorded with Lukens’ backing band, The Side Arms.

Lukens, determined to make America ‘lifted’ again, gets straight to the point with EP opener, ‘Jacket On Ya Shoulders’, a densely textured, bluesy rock number filled with rattling percussion, jangling tambourines and a well-placed, sporadic splash of swollen strings. ‘Lifted, the EP’s heavy-hitting single is enticingly eerie with looping background howls and a thick bassline all pulled together by Luken’s distinctive vocal distortion and a catchy hook. The haunting creaks and muffled intro of ‘The Touch’ lead to some dark assumptions before the most vibrant and funky jam of the EP kicks in with synthesized keys and wonderfully chaotic electronics. Lukens closes the EP with the soulful title track that features a pleasant dose of Eno on the keys.

There’s nothing subtle about Never Understood. The EP is bold, adventurous and sensory ‘lifting.’

Catch Walker Lukens and The Side Arms at 3TEN Austin City Limits Live on Oct 14th for the Never Understood release party.

Photo Credit: Chris Corona

Written by: Douglas Leach (