SINGLE REVIEW: Horror Story by Lockjaw Smile

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https://lockjawsmile.bandcamp.com/

Lockjaw Smile are a three-piece alternative rock band hailing from Metheun, Massachusetts, consisting of Tony Thanos (guitar/vocals), Bill Douty (bass/vocals) and Scott Flaherty (drums/percussion). They released their first EP back in 2013, Darkest Before The Dawn, following up with another, Three Headed Monster, in 2017. They have an electric range of influences ranging from The Beatles and The Beach Boys, to Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan and more modern bands like Weezer and The Black Keys, amongst others.

This song, Horror Story, is the first single from their full-length debut album. As their favourite bands suggest, they combine the hard-hitting aspects of rock/metal with the melodic side of their lighter influences. Starting with an explosion of low-end guitar chords, a snaking guitar riff enters before Tony Thanos’s powerful lead vocals bring the song into lighter territory. After a well crafted verse and bridge, it builds to a half time chorus section with Thanos singing at the top of the range.

The band’s superb musicianship becomes manifest as the track progresses, particularly after the second chorus. It develops into an instrumental section of rolling, tribal tom tom patterns that build in intensity, with a brooding Greg Norton-esque (Husker Du) bassline from Douty and wah-drenched lead guitars taking the music into the stratosphere, before returning to the song’s signature riff.

Overall, this is an excellent first single from a trio who together create a potent musical synergy. They effectively combine the most powerful elements of heavy rock and contrast them with the more accessible aspects of melodic rock, with a fine lead vocalist in Tony Thanos.  The production captures their musical energy perfectly, all three members giving first rate performances. With more songs of this high quality, I expect their debut album to make a strong impact on the rock scene and I will be eagerly awaiting it myself.

 

VERDICT: 8.7 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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ALBUM REVIEW: Guiding Star by Rvzoo and the Sugar Spun Elephant Band

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https://www.facebook.com/RvzooandTheSugarSpunElephantBand/

 

Rvzoo a.k.a. Dave Arvizu is a singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist hailing from Colorado. From the early 1990’s to 2005 he was the front man for the very popular band Big Back Yard, who opened for acts like Dick Dale, The Young Dubliners, The Saw Doctors and many others. They also received both local and national airplay for their music.

As a solo artist he has enjoyed international airplay for his album Sugar Spun Elephant, with the song Wish I Had featuring in an independent film and Even If, a hit in Taiwan. In his band, he is backed by a team of talented musicians, while he himself contributes lead vocals, guitar, keyboard and ukulele. This album, Guiding Star, consists of ten tracks of original material in the rock/pop genre.

Opening song When I Was Young is a fantastic start to the album. It’s a nostalgic look back to the fun and freedom of youth, starting with just lead vocals and ukulele. Dave is an aficionado of sixties and seventies songwriters, and this one brought to mind the jazzy sophistication of Randy Newman. His style is hugely melodic and you can tell he’s studied the greats like the Beatles and the Beach Boys in the way he crafts his music.

Mellotron lends a smoky Sixties vibe on the second section which features some nice call and response vocals and Dave singing about “hanging out with my friends up in my room, listening to records by The Who…”. It then breaks into a superb alto sax solo (courtesy of Bob Braidwood). A classic to start the album.

Vocally, he has a perfect voice for the material, halfway between The Beatles and Bob Dylan, with a touch of Mick Jagger for good measure. His tone also reminded me of Mike and the Mechanics’ Paul Carrack. With a versatile voice he is also able to sing more gentle songs, like second track Give Me More.

This one is a simple but very effective country rock ballad also featuring ukulele, as well as light percussion and an excellent vocal arrangement. It brought to mind the classic pop sound of New Zealand’s Crowded House, and Arvizu’s songwriting style has similarities with Neil Finn’s, though he has a broader musical range than Finn.

The country vibe continues with Which Way To Run, a duet with a fine female singer which also features some gorgeous steel guitar. This one is short but sweet at just over two minutes and acts as a nice musical bridge between the preceding and following tracks.

If I Was A Bird shows his Bob Dylan and John Lennon influences. It’s a very Sixties sound, with I Am The Walrus strings and a funky beat aiding a folky melody and chord progression than wouldn’t have sounded out of place on the White Album. The way the strings conjure up the imagery of bird’s flying freely is one of many fine musical touches across the album. Arvizu adopts a slightly Dylan-esque vocal tone, which suits to the music to a tee.

A Song For Joyce is a nice contrast, this one a sophisticated piano-led ballad with jazzy overtones in its chordal richness and complexity. Indeed, the voicings and melancholy mood made me think of Brian Wilson’s (of The Beach Boys) work, post-Pet Sounds, something like the song Surf’s Up from the initial Smile project. This song is a sweetly romantic tale about his father writing a song for his mother back in 1966, with a fine lead vocal performance.

Lonely Desert Wind opens with evocative and spacey Wurlitzer organ, and marks the start of a more expansive side to Dave’s oeuvre. In most of these second half songs, you can hear the more psychedelic influences of 70’s prog rock like Pink Floyd and the epic rock of The Who. This is the first of the album’s epics at five minutes, and special credit should go to Dan Nelson for a fine bassline on this one.

Next comes the title track, Guiding Star, and it maintains the same dreamy pace. It also maintains the folk/country vibe, with tasteful bursts of fiddle. It feels like the emotional centrepiece of the album and it’ss a very human, emotive song about hope and needing someone special to guide you through: “My heart leads me back to you…”. It’s the most powerful song on the album and more in keeping with the first half.

Thru This Space and Time, as the title suggests, takes us back into epic waters. It features some fabulous sounds; rich, warm rock organ and superb lead guitar played with a tone and feel that rivals Clapton on The Beatles While My Guitar Gently Weeps. All manner of production tricks and classy musical touches add to the magical soundscape, including backwards guitar and lead lines played in harmony. My personal favourite on the album.

The last epic on the album, Transmission Ends, brings us full circle on our musical and emotional journey. It’s the most avant garde and ambitious track here, with Arvizu’s vocal melody weaving through an unpredictable bassline, a melange of effects and slow building percussion.

It brought to mind Peter Gabriel at his most experimental and  makes for an intriguing finish, feeling like you have drifted off into space. That’s not quite the end though, a short reprise of A Song For Joyce brings the listener back down to earth with some gorgeous noodling on sax and vamping on piano.

Overall, this is the kind of artistically ambitious album that we simply don’t hear in the mainstream anymore. Taking the finest aspects of 60’s and 70’s songwriting, Rvzoo and his Sugar Spun Elephant Band have created a pop rock masterpiece that rewards repeated listening, with a wealth of instrumental and lyrical detail. Highly recommended to all rock music connoisseurs and any fans of classic songwriting.

 

VERDICT: 9.2 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

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SINGLE REVIEW: Blue Angel by RGF

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https://www.rgfamerica.com/

RGF are an alternative rock band hailing from Omaha, Nebraska. They have been writing and playing music together for over twenty years, performing across the Midwest. Their eponymous release is currently in rotation on over eighty college radio stations worldwide and their music has featured on thirteen shows including NASCAR, The Healer and Keeping Up With The Kardashians.

This song, Blue Angel, was released through Moulton Records. It immediately grabs you with its punchy drum sound and a catchy, jagged guitar riff which works well with the bouncy bassline. Vocalist Jzun has a great voice for this kind of material, delivering a captivating performance full of energy and intensity, reminiscent of Iggy Pop’s wild vocal style in The Stooges or Jim Morrison at his most manic and frenzied.

After the succinct verse it bursts into a simple but classic rock ‘n roll chorus that brought to mind the punk spirit of The Sex Pistols’ debut album. The ferocious energy the band generate as the song progresses is something authentic they’ve clearly developed through years of playing together and praise should go to the producer for capturing their live sound on record.

Overall, this band are the real deal when it comes to pure, ol’ fashioned and unpretentious rock ‘n roll. Like the best rock bands, they manage to sound tightly controlled yet wildly expressive and raw at the same time, which is a neat trick. In singer Jzun, they have a flamboyant, charismatic frontman and with great songs like Blue Angel, this band’s reputation and fanbase will only increase exponentially with time.

VERDICT = 8.8 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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SINGLE REVIEW: Fully Armoured by Ansonix

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https://www.facebook.com/ansonixmusic/

Ansonix is an electronica/chiptune artist hailing from Dublin in Ireland. For those not familiar with the chiptune/8 bit genre, it is a style of electronic music that uses the 8-bit sound chips used in vintage computers and arcade machines. This gives the music a certain kind of raw sound, which many people love. Ansonix has other electronic influences, however, citing Muse, Moby, Robert Miles and Deadmau5 along with Yuzo Koshiro, the computer game composer.

This track, Fully Armoured, is a four-minute instrumental and from the first few seconds the high quality of the sound and production becomes manifest, belying any notion that chiptune is in any way ‘lo fi’. Aside from his electronic influences, Ansonix also cites gospel, rock and blues as part of his musical taste and the strongly melodic nature of this track is testament to that.

Starting in a 2/4 rhythm with an instantly memorable swirling synth melody, it leads to a solid four-to-the-floor-kick which builds gradually alongside a chugging Georgio Moroder style chugging low-end synth. This theme is then varied imaginatively and eventually progresses into a much more complex melody that, if it were played on the piano, would sound like something from Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier. Indeed, the whole track has a classical influence including the minor key chord progression that underpins it.

Overall, this is a superbly programmed and produced piece of electronica with a strong melodic momentum. It’s the perfect introduction for anyone who has not encountered chiptune before and has an addictive quality that encourages repeated listening. It wouldn’t surprise me if this became soundtrack music to something, whether it be for a computer game or otherwise. Aside from that, I think this will be very popular amongst electronica fans and I expect Ansonix to go from strength to strength in the future.

 

VERDICT = 9.1 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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ALBUM REVIEW: Stravaganza Violin Concerto no. 3 (Vivaldi) by Jaime Mansilla

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http://jaimemansilla.yolasite.com

Jaime Mansilla is an internationally renowned violinist and recording artist. He has performed in over thirty different countries and shared the stage with such legends as Pavarotti, Placido Domingo, Tony Bennett and Donna Summer, among many others. He has held numerous positions as concertmaster, was the founder of the chamber orchestra of Municipal Theater of Santiago and the Johann Strauss Chamber Orchestra in Chile.

As a recording artist, he has recorded sonata cycles by all the great composers including Beethoven, Bach, Brahms and Schubert, amongst many others. His releases in 2018 include several operas by Puccini and Bizet, and this, the Stravaganza Violin Concerto no. 3 by Antonio Vivaldi for violin and chamber orchestra. It was recorded with the NY Philharmonic orchestra, with Jaime playing a 1701 Stradivarius violin crafted in Cremona, Italy.

The concerto consists of three movements in ritornello form, and while the music is wonderfully melodic to modern ears, the use of harmony that Vivaldi explores in the concerto was daring and unconventional for the time.

The first movement is the Allegro which starts with an orchestral introduction before Jaime enters as a solo violinist. His superb technique, bowing articulation and emotional expressiveness are obvious from the very first notes. As the movement develops, he plays some searing fast runs, played with consummate skill and ease. As with much of Vivaldi, the music is exuberant and uplifting and Jaime captures this spirit perfectly.

The second movement is a slow movement, known as the Largo. This movement is in 3/4 time and in a minor key, compared to the G major of the first movement. Here the orchestra introduces a poignant and moving theme, which Jaime then takes over and develops. The playing here is wonderfully sensitive and emotive, with difficult passages performed with mellifluous precision.

The final movement returns to a major key, and is where Vivaldi really lets the music run wild. Again at an ‘allegro pace’, Vivaldi composes a rapid fire, flowing melodic theme delivered at a heady pace by the chamber orchestra. From the first notes, Jaime performs some fiendishly difficult runs that explore the tonal range of the violin. The music takes some unexpected twists and turns which must have been radical at the time, and Jaime’s playing maintains its extremely high standard to the end.

Overall, this is a superb recording of a classic violin concerto by one of the great composers. Jaime Mancilla is simply a world class violinist, and this captures him at the peak of his powers playing a fairly rare and special violin. For those who already love classical music, you will want to add this to your collection. For those who are new to classical, this would serve as a perfect introduction from a first-rate musician and orchestra.

VERDICT: 9.4 out of 10 

Alex Faulkner

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Hear a preview on ITunes, click HERE

ALBUM REVIEW: Tom Rawling’s Old Ladies Peep Show by Brad Geiger

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http://www.bradgeigermusic.com

Brad Geiger is a composer and musician from Los Angeles. Growing up, he lived in seven different towns and this itinerant life continue into adulthood. He spent years travelling across Europe and Australia, living three years overseas. He sees himself as a product of the L.A. indie/DIY scene and is also an author. In fact, this concept album is based on the fictional ancestors of characters featured in his fourth book, An Encyclopedia Of Time Traveling Criminals.

While this may sound like an unusual genesis for an album, the music contained in these eleven tracks is also rather unusual. It’s an extremely unique hybrid of rock, jazz, classical , hip hop and electronica, which has several similarities with progressive rock. But whereas prog-rock is well known for its musically epic proportions and lengthy instrumental solos, Geiger’s music is constructed and performed with the tight discipline and structure of classical music.

This is immediately manifest in the album’s opening track, Tom Rawling’s Old Ladies Peep Show Intro. Based around a jazzy, unpredictable chord progression, the track is built around swirling patterns of a clean sounding, almost jazz guitar-like synth, performed with metronomic accuracy.

It brings to mind the rock/jazz fusion of Frank Zappa who also incorporated classical elements into his music, but Geiger’s style is more symphonic and there is not a note wasted or out of place. It serves as a good introduction to both his inimitable idiosyncrasies as a composer, and to this album.

From then on, the track titles refer to the ancestors of character’s in his book, with the second track entitled Eleanor O’ Grady Rawling. This one shows the more electronic influence in his music, and how his gift for melody is juxtaposed against unexpected left turns in the music. This track develops a brooding intensity as it progresses, as swirling synths compete for attention, interacting in intricate ways.

Third track Alicia Poole O’Reilly takes the electronica style even further with a heavily dubstep-influenced sound of pounding kicks and snares, skittish, complex hi hat rhythms and edgy synths. It’s perhaps the most cutting edge, modern sounding composition here and the drum programming towards the end is superb. It’s brief at around ninety seconds but packs quite a punch.

The fourth track Alicia Poole O’ Reilly is rather more sparse and sombre in tone. A simple but plaintive piano and string melody is contrasted by a very intricate, hip hop influenced rhythm full of syncopations and triplets which gives the music a sophistication that will stand up to repeated listens. A lot of electronica fans will find much to enjoy here with this track, in particular.

Monica Duff Gallagher is another contrast, with a much more upbeat tone and ascending melody with a relatively simpler beat. The insistent way the melody is repeated brought to mind minimalist classical composers like Steve Reich and Philip Glass (something akin to Koyaanisqatsi), incorporated into the electronic realm, of course.

Sixth track Rebecca Holt Smith feels like the closest to what you might call mainstream EDM, with a pounding beat that would work on the dancefloor. The synth melodies have an anthemic quality that the leading DJ/producers would be proud to call their own, though the music builds in a more intelligent way than you would find on a standard EDM record.

Angela Meaney O’ Brien is my personal favourite on the album, an intense rollercoaster ride of electronica, thrust along by dizzying synth melodies and an insistent, addictive beat. The way the music progressed reminded me of artists like Jean-Michel Jarre and the wondrous keyboard playing of Rick Wakeman.

Prog-rock fans will particularly love this. Eighth track Kelsey Cohen Powell is a distinct contrast, with a slinky laid back beat and a languid, reflective main melody. The drumming on this is excellent, with a nice groove. You could imagine future hip hop artists wanting to sample it.

Peggy Gallagher is the epic on the album at over five minutes. It starts out in a dubstep style, with a blistering beat featuring rapid-fire kick drum patterns. As it progresses, it wanders into somewhat more ambient, expansive and exploratory territory. The synth sounds start to become more distant and dreamy sounding, and there’s something about the main melody that made me think of Kraftwerk. A fascinating fusion of styles.

Molly Powell O’ Brien sounds almost like a continuation of the previous track, which is fairly common for a concept album, adding to the cohesiveness of the whole. The synth sounds on this one are rather more ‘choral’ in parts, for want of a better word. Another fine track that maintains the compositional high standard of the rest of the album.

Final track Margaret Ann O’Brien Gallagher has a certain emotional poignancy in its main melody, aided by a serene tempo. It has a kind of cinematic effect, akin to a final scene fade out, and I’d imagine probably correlates to an emotional aspect or scene in the book. There’s a nice handling of the music here, with multiple melodies interweaving, and it ends the album with a sense of understated drama.

Overall, this is an enjoyably innovative, quirky and imaginative album, all the more praiseworthy for being released in an era where the album format is a dying art. Fortunately, real artists always find a way and are prepared to go against the grain. It certainly requires a high degree of compositional skill to create an instrumental album that sustains the listeners interest throughout, as Geiger achieves here. While it’s a fine album in its own right, it intrigues the listener to know more about this multimedia project, and I look forward to further work in whatever form.

 

VERDICT: 8.4 out of 10 

Alex Faulkner

 

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ALBUM REVIEW: Shine by Nelson King

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http://www.nelsonking.net

Nelson King is a singer/songwriter in the acoustic rock genre, hailing from Brighton, England. As a songwriter, he has been highly prolific in the last decade, releasing a huge amount of solo material recorded in his home studio, from his 2010 album Real to last year’s album Larger Than Life. His style is traditional in some ways, yet he’s forged is own inimitable sound and style.

This album, Shine, consists of nine tracks and begins with the fine opener Falling. From the first lines, it’s obvious that there’s a truth and honesty in his songwriting lacking in most modern music: “You’re in the village of the damned, where every door is jammed…”. Nelson has a perfect voice for this kind of material; it’s emotive, weathered and authentic, helping bring the sincerity of the lyrics to life.

He has a fine gift for memorable melodies, evidenced by the passionately performed ballad Colour Me. With just vocal and guitar, he keeps you gripped for the duration. Third track Shine On has understandably been chosen as a single, with its instantly memorable title hook. It has shades of Lennon, Springsteen and Dylan whilst still coming across as distinctly himself, and its perhaps the most life affirming song on the album.

We Will Overcome is another fine ballad with Lennon-esque overtones (circa his solo period) an inspiring message: “We will overcome all the wrongs that have been done.…”. A poignant and powerful song. The Brightest Light That Shines is a distinct change of pace, a brooding rocker with a modern vibe that brought to mind Noel Gallagher’s early solo material.

This Song is the true classic of the album, for me. With a simplicity that the best songs seem to have, it lies halfway between The Kinks and The Beatles and that’s a glorious place to be. Based around a descending chord sequence, he delivers a moving ode to devotion and creativity inspired by love. Surely a potential single.

Another Day offers a different flavour, a folk/country song with another uplifting message: “After all the hammer blows, you get up again…”. Shining Hearts is Nelson at his most Dylan-esque and reflective, a testament to the tenacity of the human spirit captured in lines like: “Come a long way together, shining hearts that we see…”.

The final song Anyway, carries on the same wistful mood, this one with a more ragged feel and short bursts of harmonica. It’s a fitting way to finish, with the music reaching a pinnacle of sonic colour featuring bluesy piano, acoustic and electric guitar, pulsating bass and wailing mouth organ. Real music.

Overall, this is a highly recommended album from a very gifted and experienced songwriter who deserves much respect for his unremitting devotion to his craft. With a worldly wisdom borne from experience and a fine command of his art, Nelson King can add his name to the pantheon of first rate British songwriters.

 

VERDICT: 8.6 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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