SINGLE REVIEW: Lullaby by Edward St. Martin

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Edward St. Martin is a songwriter, composer and lead artist producer based in San Diego. His background is actually in classical music and film composition, and he applies this knowledge to his foray into writing songs in the pop genre. This combination of styles is something I would describe as ‘epic pop’ or ‘orchestral pop’. Recent releases have included In The Ocean Of My Love, Fast Car and Don’t Leave Me.

This track, Lullaby, is a fine example of his classical-influenced epic pop. It features a female vocalist with a fantastic voice similar to Sia and there is a dramatic grandeur to the music that brought to mind Evanescence. Whereas Evanescence leans more towards rock music, there is a definite influence of EDM in the production style. It begins with a powerful orchestral introduction featuring a classical-style chord progression, before crystalline female vocals enter with troubled lyrics: “Four o’ clock and I’ve barely even slept yet…..”.

She is backed effectively by flowing piano melodies and epic orchestral percussion. The bridge builds like a dance track, leading to a colossal chorus where a four-to-the-floor beat emerges. The dynamics of the music are cleverly arranged so that there’s constant variety in the sparse and epic parts of the song. The strings that feature throughout add a great deal to the feeling of drama and gives it a musicality that is lacking from most EDM music.

Overall, this is an extremely accomplished fusion of pop, classical and EDM by a gifted composer in collaboration with a fine female singer. Edward St. Martin has impressively developed his own sonic niche by drawing on his experience in film and classical composition. He has developed an orchestral form of pop/EDM that has enormous creative and commercial potential, the best of both worlds. Lullaby should help bring a much greater awareness of his music to the listening public and deservedly so.

 

VERDICT= 8.8 out of 10 

Alex Faulkner

Listen here:

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ALBUM REVIEW: Bound By Gravity by Paragon Theorem

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https://www.facebook.com/paragontheorem

Paragon Theorem are a five-piece hard rock band hailing from Hartford, Connecticut. Their music is a fusion of various kinds of hard rock, grunge and metal. Their many influences range from classic hard rock like Guns N’Roses, Aerosmith and Led Zeppelin to grunge bands like Alice in Chains and Soundgarden as well as modern rock/metal such as Deftones and Breaking Benjamin.  They’ve been releasing music for several years, and before this album they released Bare Your Soul in 2013 and Inkwell in 2015, building up a strong fanbase in the process.

This third album, Bound By Gravity, consists of eleven tracks. It gets off to an incendiary start with the powerful low-end chords and muscular drum sound of Singularity. It also has some very modern elements, with guitars put through some futuristic sounding effects. On top of this colossal wall of sound, the compelling, raw and distinctive vocals of Brian Moore soar over the music and his style/tone brought to mind Layne Staley from Alice In Chains plus elements of the late, great Chris Cornell (Soundgarden/Audioslave).

An effective vocalist is perhaps the important ingredient in the genre of hard rock/metal as it has to be a voice that can cut through a heavy barrage of guitars, bass and drums. Fortunately, Moore is exceptional and blessed with a fantastic vocal range. Featuring an anthemic chorus, lyrically Singularity is a very apposite and timely song about the consequences of science interfering with nature: “There’s a price to pay if you want to live forever, swap veins for copper wires, just trade in your heart for a shiny new battery…”.

Second song The Bottom swaps the societal for the deeply personal, an upbeat rock/metal track with angst ridden and brutally honest lyrics about struggling with deep depression: “Gotta find the bottom before it defines me, gotta find the bottom before it becomes six feet..…”. It features another excellent lead vocal performance along with some very effective Alice In Chains-style vocal harmonies. The guitar solo by lead guitarist Steve Delesdernier is superb, really letting rip near the end. Another instantly memorable hard rock anthem.

Next comes the title track, based around a blistering, meaty guitar riff. It’s another philosophical, existential song that reflects on the human race as the result of the blind process of evolution and the laws of physics: “No more than chemicals in a radiation bath, we’re all here together but we perceive alone….still just animals, no apparent path….”.

Invoking mythological characters like Sisyphus and Prometheus add further intellectual weight to the words, showing Paragon Theorem are a fair bit smarter then most of their contemporaries. The music melds the complex with the simple and effective, combining intricate riffage with a huge, chanted chorus.

Butanna shows the first example of variety in their sound, starting with crystalline acoustic guitars. It soon develops into another rocking track that depicts the bitter end of a long romantic relationship, as evidenced by the opening lines: “It’s not enough to say six years were wasted, they’re nothing but worthless memories…”. It contains one of the most instant vocal hooks on the album (“So long! So long! I do not wish you well!”) as well as some stellar, phenomenally fast lead guitar work.

Fifth track Combustion maintains the consistent high quality of the songwriting, this one standing out by virtue of the Avenged Sevenfold-esque dual lead guitar harmonies which really lift another strong chorus. Lyrically, it has a positive and defiant message to convey through lines like, “Nobody here can escape, nobody can get away, doesn’t mean that we should lay down and throw the towel in…”. The drumming of Josh Ingraham on this track deserves special credit, with some furious double-kick work in certain sections.

The Heist gives us a bigger glimpse of their more gentle and sensitive side. It’s a finely crafted ballad based around delicately picked acoustic guitar and lyrically tells the tale of Bonnie and Clyde from the first person perspective: “No, I can’t tell you why we make the choices we make, oh, I can’t tell you a lie, I think it might be the bags of money!”. The following APB is another song that displays their musical intelligence, with some fantastic triplet-based guitar lines overlaid over straight 4/4 to give the track a progressive metal feel.

Eighth song Charade is an entertaining track that opens with a spoken word monologue before launching into a hard hitting rocker that made me think of Faith No More’s Angel Dust, with its constantly shifting rhythms and complex arrangement. Lyrically, it’s a visceral takedown of someone who has turned out to be a fake: “The man with two faces masquerading as a God, with a homemade crown, he is…the Charade“. Again, some brilliant stacked guitar harmonies lift the music to another level.

Ninth song There is another fine example of their acoustic balladry, this one bringing to mind the more folky elements of Led Zeppelin through some very melodic and intricate guitar figures. It’s a refreshing change of pace after the juggernaut momentum of the previous tracks. This sound continues with the intro to Marvel, which then develops into their more signature style and another of their five minute epics. The nuanced contrasts in the arrangement mean this song rewards repeated listening.

The final song Wanted closes the album on a highly emotional and moving note, a heartfelt acoustic ballad featuring a captivating lead vocal from Brian Moore. It is reminiscent of the finest Aerosmith ballads, though with a greater emotional depth in the lyrics: “Bare your soul, show me everything you are…don’t be afraid, show me you every single scar…”. The Spanish sounding classical acoustic guitar lends a nice sophistication to this wonderfully sculpted song, ending the album quite literally on a high note.

Overall, Bound By Gravity deserves to be recognized as one of the best hard rock/metal albums of recent years. With an array of versatile musicians and blessed with a first rate rock vocalist, Paragon Theorem also excel at consistently writing memorable choruses with lyrics that stand up to analysis. The result is a hugely enjoyable musical journey that runs the gamut in terms of emotional range and subject matter.

VERDICT =  9.2 out of 10            

Alex Faulkner

 

Pre-order the album HERE

ALBUM REVIEW: La Symphonie-Thrash Du Professeur Juif Rebelle by The Gangsta Rabbi

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http://www.gangstarabbi.com/

The Gangsta Rabbi, a.k.a. as The King of Jewish Punk, is the moniker of the multi-instrumentalist, singer/songwriter, composer and producer Steve Lieberman. He was born in Brooklyn, New York to a working class Jewish family and now resides in Freeport. Perhaps more than most artists, his work needs to be understood in the full context of his life.

He has been considered an ‘outsider artist’, partly attributed to his lifelong struggle with bipolar disorder which began for him at the age of just eleven. He has been releasing studio albums since 2002 and has now released over thirty, along with live albums and countless cassettes. He has shared the stage with Weezer, Andrew WK, Glassjaw, Ryan Dunn and The Misfits, but had to retire from performing in 2011 owing to having to battle an advanced form of leukaemia, returning briefly to the stage in 2016.

Last year, he was admitted into a hospice and remarkably has carried on creating, producing his most challenging works including completely covering Jethro Tull’s Thick As A Brick (a major influence) and thrash metal versions of the British Opera, The H.M.S. Pinafore and Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture.

This album, La Symphonie-Thrash Du Professeur Juif Rebelle, is his magnum opus, clocking in at thirty one tracks with a duration of over three hours. Apart from its remarkable length, it also sets a record for most instruments played in a symphony (eighteen!). The instruments involved cover a wide range including thrash guitar and basses, alto, tenor and bass trombones, flutes, trumpet, clarinet, euphonium and melodica as well as drums and percussion.

The first piece, L’espirit de Rebellion, sets out the album’s essential signature sound; a tsunami of sonic textures and frenetic drumming that borders on the chaotic and makes compelling listening from the outset. Although it teeters on the edge of musical chaos, it walks this tightrope effectively by retaining a melodic core throughout.
This basically fuses the essence of punk/metal spirit with the instrumental medium of classical music, and it results in abrasive yet consistently exhilarating soundscapes.

As with alternative rock bands like Sonic Youth and The Jesus & Mary Chain, who buried their melodies under layers of howling feedback, The Gangsta Rabbi’s music rewards repeated listening and this is the case with second track Mange Merde et Meurent (which translates as Eat Shit and Die!). It melds raw Stooges-style electric guitar with relentless thrash drumming and a dense wall of organic instrumentation with clarinet and trombones dominating the texture.

Third track, the amusingly titled Je Desire Une Basse Avec Un Whammy Bar, continues the riot with some rapid fire double kicks and some inventive Frank Zappa-style melodies and variations. Indeed, Zappa saw himself as a modern classical composer working in the idiom of rock music, and there are definite parallels here with Steve Lieberman. Like Zappa, Lieberman enjoys pushing the envelope, exploring the avant garde and juxtaposing unusual musical elements together.

La Carte de Recrue d’Aaron Judge and Hall’el Soixant-Trois both clock in at around eight minutes and continue the signature style with subtleties and details in the music that reward careful listening. As with his last album I reviewed, Lieberman’s work can be compared to the more challenging works of music by Don Van Vliet (Captain Beefheart) and the more outré offerings of Lou Reed. Beefheart’s album Trout Mask Replica sounds like a chaotic sprawl at first, then the order gradually reveals itself.

This tension between order and chaos, dissonance and melody and also the textural difference between raucous and soft is the fundamental dichotomy that lies at the heart of his music. These tracks notably feature his distorted lead vocals, and it’s no surprise that he approaches singing in a unique, idiosyncratic way, bringing to mind another avant garde rock artist, the late Mark E. Smith from the British group The Fall.

Le Jardin des Chiens is a ten minute epic that reaches a tumultuous climax, with some woodwinds seriously wailing against a piledriving musical backdrop. Woodwinds also dominate the following Holocauste, especially flute and clarinet and vocals emerge once again around the three minute mark. This piece flows seamlessly into Trois Petits Chiots, which almost feels like a sequel or companion piece with a similar theme.

Owing to the constraints of length, I can’t focus on every track but other highlights that stood out for me were Le Quartier Cancer #3 which is a sustained sonic hurricane that lasts nine minutes and which I perceived as an emotional expression of anger and rage at the struggle of being faced with leukaemia. This is followed by Le Professeur Juif est mort (The Gangsta Rabbi Is Dead), a title which certainly shows he has not lost his sense of humour, a testament to his fortitude and spirit.

The raging energy continues through to the end, with La Petite Jeunne Fille-Juife having one of the most distinctive melodies along with M.C.T.M.T. and the relentlessly frenetic but thrilling Mille-Neuf Cents Quatre-Vignts Et Neuf (which translates as 1989 but presumably has no link to the Taylor Swift album of the same name!) The superbly named Bonkey Sur D’an lives up to its title with a delightfully eccentric melodic theme that brings the woodwinds to the fore once again.

The final track La Chanson De Merde Vit (translating as The Shit Life Song) is a rampaging ten minute musical climax where it seems like all eighteen instruments are playing at once (probably the case). It feels like a defiant middle finger to the mortality we all share and it’s a glorious one.

Overall, this is a remarkable, challenging artistic work that blends thrash metal with avant garde classical to create music like nothing you’ve ever heard. It’s the sonic equivalent of standing in a wind tunnel for three hours. To have created such an epic musical tour de force in his dire health circumstances is an example of the power of the human spirit at its finest. Hopefully, The Gangsta Rabbi, a.k.a. Steve Lieberman, will get to be fully appreciated within his lifetime.

 

VERDICT =  8.4 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

Listen here:

Watch a video about the 18 instruments on the album:

 

 

E.P. REVIEW: Rusty Strings (+ bonus tracks) by Brown Kid

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https://brownkid.hearnow.com/

Brown Kid is the artistic moniker of a performer and singer/songwriter born in Lima, Peru but now residing in the United States. For many years he has been performing, recording and collaborating with artists. His music is essentially indie folk/acoustic in a similar style to songwriters like Jack Johnson, Elliott Smith and John Butler. I would also add aspects of Sixto Rodriguez and Damien Rice. However, there’s a dry humour in his songwriting that is distinctively his own.

This EP, Rusty Strings, consists of six tracks as well as live versions of two tracks, La Farra and Complacency, and a new song called Sunrise. It begins with the funky acoustic-led groove of Welcome To My Funeral which exemplifies his accessible songwriting style and captivating vocal delivery. Lyrically, it’s a darkly humorous song about imagining people’s reaction to his funeral: “You never liked me while I was alive, there’s no need to pretend….”.

La Farra is equally funky and entertaining with an infectious tale about a wild night out. The chorus is particularly catchy, augmented by backing harmonies. The song is full of nice touches and effective dynamics like the “bounce, bounce, bounce” line emphasized by the drums in the second verse. Great track. The following Jamicamecrazy maintains a similar chord progression but is lyrically completely different, an irresistibly catchy and humorous ode to Jamaica. The rap section is unexpected but works well.

Fourth track Hole In The Wall is rather more melancholy, written in a minor key with a lilting vocal melody that brought to mind the late, great Elliott Smith. Again, there are some nice, unexpected touches like the brief female backing vocals in the second verse.

The title track comes next, and it’s a return to his more rhythmic style with a percussive groove you can’t help but tap your toe to. With its Latin American vibe and soul searching lyrics (“I know I must travel on this road alone but I know these rusty strings will take me home….”), it made me think of Sixto Rodriguez and songs like Sugar Man.

Final track Complacency is more akin to Jack Johnson’s upbeat and easy going style, a languid contemplative song about appreciating the life you have and people who always want more: “Nothing wrong with wanting more from life, working hard and putting yourself in binds….”. It’s a ‘to thy own self be true’ kind of message and a fine way to end the EP.

Aside from this are two great acoustic and vocal renditions of La Farra and Complacency recorded at Sound Wall Studios and a new song Sunrise. It’s another charming and likeable track about rolling with life’s punches featuring a sunny vocal melody and a simple but effective refrain: “Waiting for the sunrise….”.

Overall, this is a very fine EP by a charismatic singer/songwriter who has found his own stylistic niche. His songs are shot through with warmth, humour and experience-borne wisdom which are all hallmarks of a great songwriter. He has no problem coming up with memorable melodies and his easy to get into songwriting style means he has the commercial appeal and potential of someone like Jack Johnson. Hopefully, this EP will help him reach a much wider audience.

 

VERDICT = 8.8 out of 10  

Alex Faulkner

 

Listen here:

 

SINGLE REVIEW: Please Mr. Postman by The KC Sisters

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The KC Sisters are a five-piece vocal harmony group who range from twenty one to fifteen year old twins, hailing from Connecticut. The five sisters, who are all also multi-instrumentalists, grew up in a very musical household. Their father is Professor of Jazz Studies at The Hartt School Of Music and acts as the musical director for the group. They originally formed as the Casey Girl Sisters in 2004 and released their first album in 2007. They have been performing as the KC Sisters since 2014.

This track, Please Mr. Postman, is a musically faithful cover of The Marvelettes hit from the 1960’s. The song is a perfect showcase for the Sisters’ vocal talents, both individually and collectively. Starting with the chorus in rich four and five-part harmony, the girls then switch to singing a line each on the verse, and each one has their own distinctive tone and timbre.

Their voices combined is a spectacularly rich sound, and the group harmonies are delivered with melodic and rhythmic precision. The musical backing is of a similarly high standard, with a Phil Spector-style arrangement that gradually builds across the track with soaring strings (performed by the Sisters!) towards the end of the song.

Overall, this is a fantastic modern cover of a timeless classic by a family group that hark back to the great vocal harmony groups of the 50’s and 60’s. The sisters are all highly accomplished vocalists in their own right, but together they produce a synergy that’s as strong a sound as perhaps the greatest harmony group, The Beach Boys. I look forward to hearing their original material as all members of the group are songwriters, which bodes well for their long term future. For now, this cover is the perfect introduction to the magical sound of The KC Sisters.

 

VERDICT: 8.8 out of 10 

Alex Faulkner

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E.P. REVIEW: Coming Back Stronger by Patrick Carpenter

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Official website HERE

Patrick Carpenter is a singer/songwriter and guitarist from Jackson, Mississippi. He started out in music by wanting to emulate his guitar playing heroes such as Richie Sambora, Eddie Van Halen and Brad Paisley, picking up the guitar himself at just eleven. He has since developed into a singer/songwriter and launched himself as a solo artist in 2018. His music is essentially a combination of traditional country, mainstream pop, blues and 80’s-style arena-rock as personified by bands like Bon Jovi.

This EP, Coming Back Stronger, consists of six tracks and has already reached #13 in the ITunes chart, which is truly impressive for a debut release. It begins with the title track, an instantly memorable and enjoyable country rock track with an 80’s-esque stadium-rock drum sound.

Patrick is gifted with a strong and recognizable voice that’s easy on the ear and perfectly suited to the material. Featuring an anthemic chorus augmented by fine backing harmonies, it’s an uplifting song about fighting back against adversity. Towards the end, we get to hear his superb lead guitar skills which finishes off an excellent track nicely.

Second track Chance on Me is a more sensitive side to his songwriting, an epic six-minute country rock ballad in 6/8. It works as a showcase for his first rate lead vocals and musically, it’s enriched by warm organ and tasteful, controlled bursts of lead guitar, although he does allow himself to let rip a little towards the end. I Wish She Knew is another fine ballad based on a musical bedrock of piano and strummed acoustic guitar. This one is a more melancholy song about being unable to tell someone how they feel, a subject many will relate to.

Back Again is quite a contrast, a demo version of a song that combines country rock with a more electronic influence in the drums which gives it a modern sound. It’s another strong piece of songwriting and I’d be interested to hear the song in its complete production form.

The following Drink of You is my personal favourite on the EP, an infectious and up tempo country pop/rock track and perhaps the one with the most commercial potential of the songs here. Lyrically, it’s a twist on the current fad for country songs celebrating drinking, this time being a metaphor for being intoxicated by the effect of a desired woman. If this hasn’t been released as a single yet, it should be!

The final track Controlled Madness shows the influence of late 80’s stadium-rock with its use of a talk box, first made famous by Peter Frampton and employed on the Bon Jovi classic Livin’ On A Prayer. It gives the song a quirky edge that is unexpected, set to a great rock backing that brought to mind Neil Young’s Rockin’ In The Free World. A great way to finish.

Overall, this is a very strong set of songs that show the versatility of Patrick Carpenter as a songwriter, singer and lead guitarist. Taking country-rock and combining it with the classic stadium-rock sound isn’t an easy trick to pull of, but Patrick makes it seem natural and the result is a musical style that is both vintage and modern. With further material as good as this, the sky’s the limit for Patrick Carpenter.

 

VERDICT = 8.7 out of 10             

Alex Faulkner

 

Listen here:

 

 

SINGLE REVIEW: Romance (from the White Light Collection) by Tony Newton

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http://tonynewtonmusic.com/

Tony Newton is a composer and multi-instrumentalist with a fascinating history anda career in the music industry that spans over thirty years. After being somewhat of a child prodigy playing in orchestras, it was as a virtuosic bass player that he played on many classic Motown recordings as part of the legendary team of session musicians the  Funk Brothers. Tony can lay claim to playing on hits by Michael Jackson, Diana Ross & The Supremes and Stevie Wonder, amongst many others.

He also acted as musical director to Smokey Robinson and in his youth was the prize student of his bass tutor, the legendary James Jamerson (himself a Motown recording staple). He can also lay claim to being one of the creators of the Jazz-Rock-Fusion genre with Miles Davis’ drummer in the Tony Williams Lifetime. Since then he has developed his talents as a composer and even formulated his own acclaimed harmonic language which he calls ‘novaphonic sound’, which is based on quartal and quintal harmonics.

This piece for solo piano, Romance, follows on from his previous release Prophecy (which I reviewed very favourably back in August) and is also taken from his album White Light Collection. After the tumultuous drama of Prophecy this piece is more mellow and meditative as well as being infused with a deeply romantic vibe, as the title implies.

Once again, it has been composed in Tony’s unique ‘novaphonic’ style, beginning with a magical introduction based on quintal harmonies at the upper end of the piano. It then branches out into an instantly memorable and haunting melody, which is simple but highly effective and embellished by mellifluous ornamental runs in the right hand. The left is based mostly on low-end arpeggios that drive the music and add to the mood. Conjuring an intoxicating sound world, the music gradually casts a mesmeric spell on the listener across the five and a half minute duration of the piece.

Overall, this is another classic solo piano piece by Tony Newton. Musically, it feels as if Tony has landed on the perfect midway point between jazz and classical with the rich and exotic harmonies of the former combining with the accessible melodicism of the latter. His unique use of harmonic language also means his music stands apart, although I can’t think of another living composer working on his level. Tony Newton’s music is truly in a league of its own.

 

VERDICT = 9.3 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

Preview the White Light Collection HERE