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The Zilis: Sketches II

Music Reviews by Stephen L. Robbins
Sketches II
Review by: Stephen L. Robbins

Every so often I come across music that poses a problem when writing a review. The problem arises from the fact that the music is so damn good, there just aren't enough quality adjectives and superlatives in my vocabulary to adequately describe what I'm hearing without repeating myself. Nor can my words do justice to the music. Sketches II is this kind of album. That said, I'm going to jump right in and do the best I can to convey my thoughts on what I believe to be one of the best multi-genre discs of the year.

A delightful eight-song album, Sketches II is filled to the brim with truly great rock 'n' roll, blues and folk music. It's overflowing with equally outstanding lyrics. Everything is in the right place – the music, the lyrics, the mix. The resulting sound and its overall impact on my psyche and body is incredible.

Sketches II is a can't-sit-still type of album. One of the songs, Don't Ever Change, had all of us bouncing around like pinballs. Short of being strapped to a gurney, there is no way to sit still with that one playing.

Sketches II is the product of The Zilis, a very talented band from Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. They are:

Sean Royle - Vocals, Electric Guitar, Organ, Harmonica
Zander Lamothe - Drums, Percussion, Vocals
Justin Bozzo - Vocals, Bass Guitar, Electric Guitar, Piano, Percussion

Additional musicians on Sketches II:
Katie Bulley - Vocals
Parag Chakravarti - Alto Saxophone

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Trust In Me, Lorraine - Here's some advice for every man who thinks it's cool to love 'em and leave 'em. The time may come when you actually have genuine feelings for a lady. You might want to have a relationship with her, but your negative reputation with women has her giving you the cold shoulder. If you find yourself in that predicament, you'll have some explaining to do, such as, "I know the neighborhood says I’m puttin’ you on, that I’ve got a reputation to split. But I want to get to know you, I don’t mean no harm. In my arms, girl, you’ll always remain. Trust in me, Lorraine." It can be difficult to gain someone's trust, especially when your reputation precedes you. "I might be with other girls at the party, but there’s something that I’m hiding from the crowd. It’s a tough go when you’re feeling lonely, I’d do anything to keep you around." Hmmm, I guess we reap what we sow. Trust In Me, Lorraine reinforces the folly of foolish behavior. The music and vocals have a way of undressing us and our bad reputations.

Diamondback - An energetic song, Diamondback is a definite toe-tapper. "You’ll be safe and warm. In my arms I’ll hold you tight and I won’t be alone anymore. You’re a diamondback waiting for your heart attack." Not all diamondbacks are dangerous. "Now the hounds are loose and they’re after you tonight." Looks like it might be the dogs and humans who are the dangerous critters. Although everyone is at their best, the bass playing needs to be mentioned. Justin Bozzo is busy, very busy. He doesn't just sit back and pedal his bass. Not that there's anything wrong with pedaling, but it wouldn't have the impact that Bozzo gives to Diamondback. Actually, the bass playing is stellar throughout Sketches II and something bass players will really appreciate. The saxophone is also a nice treatment. Par excellence!

Don't Ever Change - Excuse me while I pick my jaw up off of the floor. I just listened to one of the best rock 'n' roll songs I've ever heard! And when I say, "one of the best rock 'n' roll songs I've ever heard," I mean, "ONE OF THE BEST ROCK 'N' ROLL SONGS I'VE EVER HEARD!" If they haven't done so already, The Zilis should seriously consider releasing Don't Ever Change as a single. Talk about smash-hit potential, this one has the makings. Beginning with enough feedback to make Jimi Hendrix smile, Don't Ever Change quickly segues into a defining song for modern rock 'n' roll. The vocals, the musicianship, the arrangement, the timing and the delivery are perfect in every way. If you want to get people moving their bodies at your next party, give this one a spin. Be sure to call the coroner for anyone who is sitting still. They're dead.

Not Around - Lush tom-toms open this dreamy, but sad, song. "Little girl, never mind the things I do. Can’t you see that I’m so in love with you?" Sometimes, what might seem like little things to us can be big things to others. "You’re planning to leave me. Are your bags under the bed?" Unfortunately, it looks like things have reached the point of no return. "I know I tried to rearrange you when I was your guy. But things will be different darling, just give it a try." Big mistake. Never try to change someone. It's a sure-fire path to the destruction of a relationship. "I can’t sleep ... I can’t breathe, now that Renee’s not around." Ouch! Painful way to learn a lesson. One of the things I really like about Not Around is that, although it's a sad song, it doesn't make me feel sad. Quite the contrary due to its 1960s rock 'n' roll feel. For me, it becomes a dichotomy. How can I feel this good listening to a song about someone losing their love? That's one of the many things that makes Not Around so cool.

Ballad Of A Broken Heart - Prepare yourselves. Ballad Of A Broken Heart is a bluesy tearjerker. It's also a magnificent song. Beautifully played, the highlight is the fabulous voice of Katie Bulley. I can't get enough of her vocals. One thing has become perfectly clear, The Zilis are a very diverse band. They play various genres with equal amounts of panache, quality and dexterity. Ballad Of A Broken Heart is another one that I would like to see released as a single. What a terrific piece of music!

(All I Do Is) Treat You Right - The Zilis pour it on with this cool rock 'n' blues song about a woman who won't treat her man right. All she does is spend his money and complain. Then it happens, "Up at 3 AM, I heard the back door slam. I thought you loved me baby, but now I understand." Oh, oh, the you-know-what is hitting the fan. She treated him badly and now it's biting her right square in her behind, "I've got to be on, on my way. And now you're begging me to stay." It looks like he finally wised up and she's getting exactly what she deserves. The guitars sizzle with passion and the bass drum's "thump, thump" punctuates the man's frustration. The vocals leave no question that this guy means business.

On the West Side Of Town - A folksy song, On the West Side Of Town is a trip down Phil Ochs Lane. There is an underlying drama to this track, reminiscent of the man Neil Young called one of the best poets that ever lived. The Zilis traveled one more mile down Phil Ochs Lane here – I'm not sure how many genres were crossed off the list with this song, but I heard a bit of just about everything I love. The lyrics tell the tale of Joni and Steven. It's a powerful tale, exceptionally well told, of a night between two young lovers from opposite sides of the tracks. You can't help but love those opening guitars and lyrics, as well as the depth of the singing. Yet, it's the story that elevates this track beyond the stars. Pure poetry.

The Way Love Goes - The dulcet sounds of a guitar open The Way Love Goes. Beautifully played, the guitar comforts and aids during the initial moments of realization and acceptance that love has ended, "There’s a sign, a sign in my window saying goodbye to you. I know that you’re feelin’ the way that I feel, for things haven’t been quite the same." Unfortunately, distance can sometimes be a heartbreaker, "Don’t bind me with reasons. Like the season we changed. Our time apart has rusted our hearts and readied our skin for the cold." The mellifluous guitar and passionate vocals speak volumes in this sad, but beautiful, song.

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I had no idea what was in store for me when I was given this album for review. It's been a huge pleasure listening to The Zilis and writing about Sketches II. I don't know if there's a thesaurus large enough to hold the adjectives for which I'm groping. So, I'll try to sum up my feelings about the band and their music in the only way I am able – absolutely great!

The Zilis: Sketches II
01)  Trust In Me, Lorraine The Zilis 3:36
02)  Diamondback The Zilis 4:12
03)  Don't Ever Change The Zilis 2:27
04)  Not Around The Zilis 3:18
05)  Ballad Of A Broken Heart The Zilis 1:46
06)  (All I Do Is) Treat You Right The Zilis 2:40
07)  On the West Side Of Town The Zilis 4:10
08)  The Way Love Goes The Zilis 3:58

Released 04 February 2014

Carm Milioto - Engineer
Noah Mintz - Mastering at Lacquer Channel
Addison Vacca - Album Artwork

The Zilis

© The Zilis 2014
All Rights Reserved

Review by: Stephen L. Robbins

© Stephen L. Robbins 2014
All Rights Reserved

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