Category Archives: Reviews

Indie pick of the week: AfterMidnight

Stephanie Sokol for The Pit

An emotional and reflective sound is what Oklahoma band AfterMidnight delivers to listeners’ ears. Lyrics filled with hopeful depth about life and love layer over strong instrumentals to produce music reminiscent of John Mayer, Neon Trees, The Lumineers and One Republic.

Vocalist and guitarist Ashkan Karimi, electric guitarist Austin Donoho, bassist Patrick O’Meilia and Ben Blount on drums and keyboard are the men behind Oklahoma alternative rock band AfterMidnight. COURTESY PHOTO

Vocalist and guitarist Ashkan Karimi, electric guitarist Austin Donoho,
bassist Patrick O’Meilia and
Ben Blount on drums and keyboard are the men behind Oklahoma alternative rock band AfterMidnight. COURTESY PHOTO

“Our music has a lot of passion, energy, and meaning,” Karimi said. “We all work at putting a lot of thought into the writing process, and we all tend to keep an open mind and play to each others’ strengths, while working at becoming better.”

Formed in 2011, the folksy alternative pop-rock group draws influence from a wide variety of artists, including Led Zeppelin, Switchfoot, Radiohead and U2, some of their favorites.

Guitarist and vocalist Ashkan Karimi, of Tulsa, Oklahoma could be seen as the band’s founder. While working on a solo project, he initially brought on guitarist Austin Donoho, and AfterMidnight formed as bassist Patrick O’Meilia and drummer-keyboardist Ben Blount later joined in on the music. They performed their first show on New Year’s Day of 2012, and have been recording music and playing gigs since.

“Musical influences aside, a lot of influence of the song writing comes from life experiences,” Karimi said. “Whether they’re good or bad experiences, we always tend to find the positive in it – the Hope & Love in it all.”

With songs written by Karimi, AfterMidnight’s self-titled EP “AfterMidnight” is upbeat, light and very vocal.

The group released their second, four-song EP “Luminous” in November 2013. The album is deeper, described by Karimi as love songs with more themes mixed in.

“We talk about the things some people don’t want to talk about when it

Photo/AfterMidnight

Photo/AfterMidnight

comes to life and love – the harder times – but we do so in order to begin to tell the story that this EP is leading into – if life is always sad or always happy then it’s just boring…the best parts of life are usually the ups that come after the downs,” Karimi said. “You can’t appreciate the good times without the bad, and it makes you realize how worth living life really is.”

Unlike their first EP, the creativity behind “Luminous” was a collaborative effort by the band. Karimi said writing together helped the band grow closer, working together to come up with the finished product.

Album title-track “Luminous” was written as a metaphor, comparing a glowing sunset to falling in love, focusing on the idea that the sun and moon do not get to remain in the sky simultaneously.

“Whenever the sun sets, the moon comes out, and vice versa…they never get to share the sky with each other for too long,” Karimi said. “It’s kind of like when you love someone and they love you but it never quite works out, but there’s that one moment where things line up and love just works. Ultimately, the song is a hopeful song and it’s about a lover finally making his way to someone he has loved for a very, very long time.”

AfterMidnight has performed at venues in Tulsa, in addition to the Kansas City, Missouri area. They will be expanding their tour to larger neighboring cities in the near future.

“We want our music to be something that (people) can put on for many years to come and be something they can enjoy, and maybe even something that can help them at the different seasons in their lives,” Karimi said.


“Veneer” from the band’s self-titled EP.

Acoustic performances of songs from album “Luminous.”

For more AfterMidnight, visit their website, follow then on Twitter @AftermidnightAM, or like the group on Facebook.

Indie pick of the week: Robb Murphy

Stephanie Sokol for The Pit

Robb Murphy is a singer-songwriter from Belfast, Ireland. His sound has been compared to Damien Rice, Tom Baxter and Belle & Sebastian. Photo/Robb Murphy

Robb Murphy is a singer-songwriter from Belfast, Ireland. His sound has been compared to Damien Rice, Tom Baxter and Belle & Sebastian. Photo/Robb Murphy

Singer-songwriter Robb Murphy’s music is deep and inspiring, reflecting on life through stories of falling in love, and finding yourself.

With acoustic riffs and synthesizer pop instrumentals, Robb’s songs take listeners on a journey to another place. His sound is reminiscent of Death Cab for Cutie and Guster, with the lyrical depth of City and Colour.

Growing up in a musically-inclined family in Comber, Ireland, Robb was exposed to a variety of genres, including country, ’60s  and indie sounds. These genres were part of the inspiration for his sound.

“Many things influence my music – I listen to many different genres: dance, country, folk, indie, pop, soul, ambient,” Robb said. “I can usually find something in a genre that I can appreciate.”

Robb started making music was when he received a keyboard for Christmas. He went on to also teach himself guitar and harmonica, learning on trumpet and trombone at school.

Later, Robb moved to Belfast to study music technology at Queens

Photo/Robb Murphy

Photo/Robb Murphy

University. Though songwriting and music are his passions, he works also as a music engineer.

Robb’s songs are relatable, covering universal themes. He said his process for writing is different each time – sometimes tracks are planned based on his thoughts, while other times he just hits record and performs whatever comes to mind.

“Lyrical inspiration comes from life itself, the things that I see, places that I have been or hope to be, experiences I have had,” Robb said. “I try to put an element of positivity in a song somewhere.  I have been describing my music as acoustic electronic pop, and comparisons have been made with Damien Rice, Tom Baxter and Belle & Sebastian.”

According to Robb, his song “What do I say” is ambient acoustic and electric pop. The video shows two sides of a person – comparing the fast and stressful side of life to times of relaxation and escape from the everyday.

“I have varied songs because life can be so varied, and I was also experimenting in the studio quite a lot,” Robb said.

A music video for “When Silence Comes” will be released soon, as the last single from Robb’s new album “Take a Stand,” in addition to extra songs. He is also in the process of recording his second album and touring.

“The music I write helps me get though things, it’s my release,” Robb said. “When I listen to artists I like, they can let me escape, or be a comfort.”

Soothing Sips: Spiced Apple Cider Rooibos is the perfect autumn tea

Stephanie Sokol for The Pit

Today I finally purchased a tea I have been lusting over since its release a few weeks ago. Teavana’s Spiced Apple Cideris fall in a cup—the blend of rooibos, apple, cinnamon and clothes warms you up on a crisp, fall day.

Teavana’s Apple Cider Rooibos is a delicious combination of apple, cinnamon, plum, hibiscus and hickory. PHOTO/Stephanie Sokol

Teavana’s Apple Cider Rooibos is a delicious combination of apple, cinnamon, plum, hibiscus and hickory. PHOTO/Stephanie Sokol

After adding about 2 tablespoons of the blend to my infuser, and half a tablespoon of rock sugar, I poured slightly cooled boiling water over the tea. The aroma is lovely—smells like fall, maybe even Christmas, with cinnamon standing out and apple following behind to add sweetness to the spicy scent.

After steeping about 6 minutes in hot water (some people like to bring water to a certain temperature, but I just use slightly cooler than boiling), I removed the tea and took the first sip. Cinnamon is the first flavor that stands out; this tea is spicy. Apples are tasted next, along with cloves and sweet rooibos. Hibiscus and plum are bottom notes in the beverage, leaving interest to the blend.

Spiced Apple Cider is one of my favorites for fall. I have always enjoyed Bigelow’sApple Cider Spiced Herbal tea, which is heavier on the apple. Teavana’s cider is much spicier, though both are good in their own way.

This festive flavored brew is one of my favorites from Teavana so far. If you enjoy cider, this is a great alternative. Apple cider is one of my favorite fall traditions, though it sometimes bothers my stomach. This tea blend gives me the taste without as much sugar and acid. It will probably become an autumn staple to my tea collection, as the perfect way to warm up when the weather grows cooler. But for now, it’s filling that void in my life from missing the cookie tea.

Wondering about a tea flavor? Questions about steeping? Contact Soothing Sips’ Stephanie Sokol at stephso2010@aol.com or follow her on Twitter @StephanieSokol

Concert Review: Shinedown lets Carnival of Madness crowd be the boss

Stephanie Sokol for The Oakland Press

Brent Smith of Shinedown at DTE Energy Music Theatre on Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013. Photo/The Oakland Press

Brent Smith of Shinedown at DTE Energy Music Theatre on Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013. Photo/The Oakland Press

Shinedown lead vocalist Brent Smith was a commanding presence Tuesday night, Aug. 27, at the DTE Energy Music Theatre, uniting the crowd through both song and story during the fourth annual Carnival of Madness tour.

The group headlined this year’s lineup, which also included Papa Roach, Skillet, We As Human and In This Moment.

We As Human, from Nashville, started the show with a five-song set that included a new song, “Zombie,” which was co-written by Skillet’s John Cooper, and “I Stand,” which frontman Justin Cordle dedicated to U.S. armed forces personnel.

View slideshow of pictures from the concert by Ken Settle

In This Moment followed, with flamboyantly dressed and emotive lead singer Maria Brink leading the group through a six-song set that featured tracks “Rise With Me” and “Adrenaline,” closing with “Blood.”

Its members clad in black, Skillet turned in an energetic 70-minute, 11-song set, encouraging fans to throw their hands in the air during “Sick of It” and finishing with “Rebirthing.”

Papa Roach frontman Jacoby Shaddix, meanwhile, asked the rhetorical question, “Do we have any old-school Papa Roach fans in this (expletive)?!” as the group charged through its own 12-song, 55-minute performance. Shaddix got up close and personal with those fans, too, running into the audience during “Give Me Back My Life.”

The best was saved for last, however, as Shinedown opened its pyrotechnic-accented 14-song, 90-minute set with “I’m Not Alright,” bringing a bit of carnival-style madness with dancing carnies and the band members’ carnival-style stagewear.

Tapping into Shinedown’s faith-based roots, Smith asked fans to introduce themselves to each other and paid tribute to the group’s following, telling them they were the bosses — and then seeking to please with performances of “Diamond Eyes (Boom-Lay Boom-Lay Boom),” “If You Only Knew” and other numbers that turned into singalongs.

Shinedown slowed it down with an emotional performance “Simple Man” dedicated to bassist Eric Bass, who lost his dog of 11 years earlier that day, and ended the show with an inspiring performance of “Bully,” telling the audience to be themselves and not let others get them down.

On Tuesday, Shinedown certainly lived up to its end of that bargain.

YOUTHBERRY WILD ORANGE BLOSSOM TEA BLEND

Stephanie Sokol for The Pit

After sampling it a few dozen times as I walked by the store, I finally broke down and invested in Teavana’s most popular tea combination, Youthberry White Tea and Wild Orange Blossom Herbal Tea. And I have to say, I am happy with my purchase. I was pleasantly surprised to find out the store’s exchange policy, and returned the bit too sour Berry Kiwi Colada, for this sweet treat.

Youthberry White Tea and Wild Orange Blossom is a signature blend Teavana offers in stores. I purchased the two and tried it for myself. Photo/STEPHANIE SOKOL

Youthberry White Tea and Wild Orange Blossom is a signature blend Teavana offers in stores. I purchased the two and tried it for myself. Photo/STEPHANIE SOKOL

While the two teas are sold together as a blend, I purchased two ounces of each kind. Herbal teas usually taste best when mixed with a black, green, white or rooibos. Youthberry white tea is a great pick, and mixes well with the crisp orange flavors for a tropical treat. The tea blend is good both hot and cold, but when chilled takes on a sweeter flavor.

Orange is the main note flavor, and has the highest aroma in the tea.  The drink is very citrusy, which meshes well with the hint of berry in the white tea. Floral follows in taste. It’s not overpowering, but offers just the right amount of earthy flavor to create a great tasting beverage, that is also healthy and enjoyable.

To make Youthberry and Wild Orange Blossom Tea blend at home, add one tablespoon of each tea to your basket, and about a half to one tablespoon of sugar  to desired taste. (I usually use Teavana’s German Rock sugar, which has a hint of honey, but any kind works)

Bring the water to 175 degrees, and steep for only two minutes. With flavorful teas, steeping too long can lead to a bitterness, so keep the process short. After following these steps, let the drink cool somewhat, and poor over ice into a tall glass, to enjoy the last few weeks of summer tastefully with this refreshing and energizing beverage.

Concert Review: The Backstreet Boys still have a place “In a World Like This”

Stephanie Sokol for The Oakland Press

INDEPENDENCE TWP. — Though the world is changing, there’s still a place for The Backstreet Boys.

The quintet proved that on Thursday night, Aug. 8, at DTE Energy Music Theatre, with performances of their most popular songs as well as new tracks from the just-released “In a World Like This” album.

Jesse McCartney opened  for the Backstreet Boys at DTE, performing new songs as well as his older pop hits. Stephanie Sokol/The Oakland Press

Jesse McCartney opened for the Backstreet Boys at DTE, performing new songs as well as his older pop hits. Photo/STEPHANIE SOKOL

Before the Boys performed, Jesse McCartney took the stage to open with “Leavin’,” from his 2008 album “Departure.” During his 12 song, 45-minute set, McCartney and his band were classily clad in suits and ties and danced with Michael Jacksonesque choroegraphy. McCartney’s upbeat performances of “How Do You Sleep” and “Body Language” prompted endless, high-volume cheers from the audience, while new tracks such as “Checkmate” and “So Cool” showcased his smooth voice through a more R&B sound.

McCartney’s concentration was tested when the sound system malfunctioned during “It’s Over,” but he continued singing and dancing despite the interruption. He also showed off his instrumental skills, and ended with his 2004 claim-to-fame hit “Beautiful Soul.”

Backstreet Boys started their 22-song, two-hour set in dramatic fashion,

Nick Carter plays guitar during at DTE Energy Music Theater. STEPHANIE SOKOL/The Oakland Press

Nick Carter plays guitar during at DTE Energy Music Theater. Photo/STEPHANIE SOKOL

emerging from beneath the stage amidst a cloud of billowing smoke to kick off the night with “The Call.” “Looks like you guys are here to party with the Backstreet Boys—I personally want to welcome all of you beautiful people,” Nick Carter said after the high-energy opening, and the group members’ humble personalities and sense of humor added to the light mood of the evening. Backstreet Boys constantly reminded the crowd that they wouldn’t be where they are today without their fans, promising to “party like its 1999” — when the group was at its career zenith. They executed signature boy-band dance moves throughout the show, with three outfit changes from white suits to grungy vests and casual looks.

And though celebrating their 20th anniversary, Backstreet Boys were certainly anxious to showcase “In a World Like This.” Brian Littrell said it’s the first album where they had “complete creative control,” and that it was created “for the fans.” AJ McLean and Kevin Richardson talked about their children, saying that becoming fathers inspired the new song “Show Em What You’re Made Of.” The album and tour mark Richardson’s return to the group after a six-year hiatus, and the joy of the reunion was evident on stage. “Permanent Stain” was soulful, while “Breathe” brought an ’80s vibe. The group’s sound has clearly evolved over the years, growing more mature and somewhat alternative while still embodying the boy-band pop charm that made them famous.

The concert featured '90s pop hits by the band, in addition to songs from their new album, "In a World Like This." Photo/STEPHANIE SOKOL

The concert featured ’90s pop hits by the band, in addition to songs from their new album, “In a World Like This.” Photo/STEPHANIE SOKOL

An acoustic three-song set toward the end of the main set showcased Backstreet Boys’ pure vocal harmonies, while they joked about learning to play instruments since they wouldn’t always be able to dance. Bringing about three dozen fans on stage, the group explained that the new “Madeline” was about ending bullying and teen suicides, and for “Quit Playing Games with My Heart” Howie Dorough directed each side of the DTE crowd to sing parts of the chorus on their own, adding to the fun.

Ending the night with “Larger than Life,” the Backstreet Boys proved they still have it, providing a music party that truly felt like something out of the turn of the century.