Following Inner Ally's strong first commercial outing, EP 1, is a tough act. The not-at-all ironically titled "EP 2" not only follows but improves and refines the band's sound, lyrics and production quality from it's predecessor. The lyrics are more poignant, the production quality more consistent, and the instrumental and vocal arrangements more musically complex. Overall, the band emerges even stronger than before, poised and prepared to take the Midwestern Classic/Contemporary Rock Scene by storm.
The lead-off track, "You've Got a Life" gets down to brass tacks immediately. The potent from-the-diaphragm vocals of Frank Patek, the polished keyboarding of Jane Barry-Fraundorf, the bellowing bass guitar of Rob Anderson, and the powerful percussion of Steve Nelsen all commence simultaneously within the first two seconds of the track. It's as if the band has kept the creative energy behind EP 2 bottled up for a year and is screaming to express it immediately. The lyrics are signature Inner Ally: They foray into the universal human experience and pepper it with relate-able spiritual concepts. The "oh-la-dee-dah-dah" background vocals, performed by Katherine Greiner, Kathy Patek and Lori Stelloh are reminiscent of 50's doo-wop, while still managing to sound contemporary (Pulling off these types of musical paradoxes is why many refer to Inner Ally as "eclectic" I'm sure). "You've got a life" is uptempo, fun and thought provoking. If you can't find something in this song to like, you are most likely an embittered misanthrope. But don't worry, Inner Ally will fix that for you in the next track.
In the second track, "Unforgiven," we are exposed to deeper emotional and spiritual concepts than on any previous Inner Ally selection. The only other track that comes close is EP 1's "The Key," but this song takes us into a darker place, where "I don't feel like I belong in the human race." For anyone who has ever felt outcast, depressed, or like an all around garden variety creep at times for something they have done, or thought about doing, this song's for you. I've always liked this type of song (being a formerly rabid fan of 80's British Rock band "The Smiths" during my misspent youth), because it gives the listener the feeling of "You are not alone. I understand how you feel" even if this type of track doesn't always end on a positive note, or manage to resolve the conflict presented in the lyrics. What's great about "Unforgiven" however, is that it not only displays this type of lyrical empathy but concludes with a message of hope accessible to all. Underscoring the powerful lyrics are the usual strong musical elements we see in other tracks: the consistent instrumental displays, the crescendo of vocals and polished production quality. Put this song on a loop, grab a pint of Hagen-Daz and crawl under a few blankets whenever you're feeling down, and you'll assuredly feel better and feel more hopeful in no time.
What can I say about the third track "Make it Right" without running out of superlatives? It's the perfect song for Inner Ally, lyrically and musically. The production effects and reverb are amazing. The tune is catchy and engaging. The vocals of Mr. Patek, as well as the background vocals of Greiner, Stelloh and Ms. Patek are flawless. The lyrics again visit universal spiritual concepts, like that of forgiveness and making amends without being preachy. The funky keyboard bridges and riffs by Barry-Fraundorf stand out in this song, and the bass-percussion duo of Nelsen and Anderson is so infectious that the listener can't help but tap along to the beat. This is a perfect song for the Ipod on a power walk.
Once again, Inner Ally displays their talent and likability in EP 2. My only criticism of their sophomore offering is the lack of prominence of lead vocalist Katherine Greiner, who we were introduced to in EP 1's "The Key." However, given that this isn't yet a full album (hint hint) and only includes three tracks, this omission can be overlooked. The production quality on EP 2 is spectacular for a local band, and we can see the strengths of each band member grow throughout this release. It is a difficult feat to be able to top the quality of EP 1, but Inner Ally does it nicely while showing the Midwest they intend to stick around for years to come. I wonder what the next EP will be called though.
An eclectic mix of rock, spiritual and power ballads. Well worth the modest price.
Inner Ally's first commercial offering opens with an energizing guitar riff reminiscent of 70's classic rock in "Stand By You." Here we are introduced to the rich vocals of front man and lead guitarist Frank Patek. The cheerful and uptempo selection is driven by the punchy percussion performed by drummer Steve Nelson. The layered vocal arrangements of Kathy Patek and Lori Stelloh round out the vocals harmoniously. The lyrics assume the point of view of a man comforting another person with a message of hope, a recurring theme found in many of Inner Ally's works. Overall, this song has the potential to be a chartable single with a positive message.
The next track "The Key" wades into deeper spiritual waters. The lyrics unabashedly proclaim the group's spiritual focus while remaining inclusive to all. The emotional heft of this poignant power ballad is carried by sparkling keyboardist Jane Berry-Fraundorf and booming bass guitarist Rob Anderson, and enhanced by the baritone crooning of lead vocalist Frank Patek. The song is rounded out by the powerful alto vocal expressions of Katherine Greiner. Normally I expect songs written in a minor key to be brooding and sad, but this track offers an inspiring message of hope.
The final selection "Kathy's Song" tells the actual story of how a chance encounter on a rainy day brought band founder Patek together with his now lifelong love Kathy, who incidentally, sings backup vocals on this track. Probably the most requested of all of Inner Ally's songs, this moderate tempo ballad stands out for it's sincerity as well as the polished instrumental performances of Nelson, Berry-Fraundorf, and Anderson. This is Inner Ally at it's best: Honest, moving and melodic.
Having seen this gem of a band live in Wisconsin, I look forward to hearing them record more of their catalog of pop, rock and spiritual selections. The remixing and remastering is top notch and professional, which make it great to listen to with earbuds or headphones. This is a very entertaining and promising home grown band!