E.P. REVIEW: Misery by Terry Blade

Misery EP Cover (Release) - Spotify(1)

Terry Blade is an award-winning singer/songwriter currently based in Chicago. His music is essentially a fusion of soul, RnB, jazz and blues, along with indie and folk influences. He has already drawn comparisons with such artists as Tracy Chapman, Keb’ Mo’ Meshell Ndegeocello and Amos Lee. His songs deal with many highly contemporary issues such as blackness, queerness, mental health and intersectionality. His single The Last MacBeth won the June 2020 Award for Best Original Song from both the New York Movie Awards and the Oniros Film Awards.

This EP, Misery, consists of six tracks and was released in May. It has already become highly successful, receiving over a million combined downloads and reaching “gold” status on DistributeKings. One track, The Widow, received the June 2020 Award for Best Original Song At The Florence Film Awards.

The EP begins with the poignant ballad, The Unloveable. Consisting of just acoustic guitar and vocals, it’s a fine introduction to Terry’s smooth baritone voice and his emotive, vulnerable delivery.

From the opening lines it becomes apparent that Terry wears his heart on his sleeve: “Doesn’t work and I can’t figure it out, about to go berserk from my own self-doubt…”. It’s a moving song about dealing with personal insecurity, the intricate guitar work making the perfect counterpoint to Terry’s affecting vocal performance.

Second track The Mentally Ill continues the emotional turmoil and soul-searching of the first song, this one set to a 6/8 rhythm that brought to mind the doo-wop style of the 50s/Motown era. On the verse Terry croons, “This smile is phony, and inside I’m lonely…”, and the whole song becomes a confession of extraordinary honesty and self-examination. The music is full of subtleties, with counterpointed vocals and layered harmonies backing up another stellar lead vocal. It’s 21st century doo-wop, a reflection of a troubled mind in a troubled era.

Equally hard hitting is another Motown-influenced song, The Widow. As the title implies, it’s about someone who has lost her husband and is written from her perspective. Beginning with just light piano and finger clicks, the track develops into a deeply moving depiction of grief, captured by the chorus lines: “I’m not a weeping willow, just a grieving widow who has lost her superhero…”. Filled with sweet, layered falsetto harmonies and major to minor chord changes, it’s a beautiful, painfully poignant song and no surprise to learn it’s already won awards.

The Broken is a return to picked acoustic guitar and another showcase for Terry’s distinctive style. Lyrically, it’s an interesting take on relationships and how our flaws can be attractors: “If I weren’t so needy would you know that I exist? And if I weren’t so greedy would I even make your list?” Here, Terry delivers another lovely vocal melody that resonates with the listener and he expresses the emotion behind the song with suitable delicacy.

The Other Side is one of the more understated songs on the EP, with a gorgeous guitar figure being the bedrock for a vocal delivered by Terry in his lower register, at the least on the verse. Though the music is gentle, the lyrics are barbed; they depict a relationship gone bad and the song’s protagonist is not mincing his words: “Stay away, keep me at bay, increase the distance but don’t delay….”. The sorrowful chorus captures heartbreak with simple but affecting lines: “You and I were just a lie…”.

The final track on the EP, Tick Tock (The Lonely) is the most experimental, musically. Set to a sparse 80’s-tinged backdrop of icy, haunting synths and disjointed, distant drums, it finds Terry at his most poetic and philosophical; “Time is finite like a hourglass, every grain of sand encapsulates our past…”.

It’s about how you suddenly become aware of the slow passage of time when you’re alone: “Tick tock, running down the clock, the door is gonna lock no matter how much you knock….your company is only for the lonely…”. It’s a suitably powerful way to end, a perfect marriage of words and music.

Overall, this is a striking debut EP by an artist who has emerged fully formed with a vocal and lyrical style all of his own. Possessing a voice as good as anything you’ll hear on the radio, it’s the way he fearlessly deals with life’s dark side that gives his work real emotional resonance and power. It’s a truly suitable soundtrack to the dark times the world faces, both on a global and personal level. Find some solace in the beautiful music of Terry Blade.

 

VERDICT= 9.2 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

Listen here:

SINGLES REVIEW: Suzanne Gladstone

Everything Will Be Fine - CD Cover - edited

Suzanne Gladstone is a country/soul singer and songwriter from San Diego. She was born in Oceanside, California and was one of ten children. Her childhood was rather difficult, being raised by her aunt and grandparents after the age of five. She turned to music and poetry for solace and this led to her love of singing and songwriting.

She is self taught and somewhat of a natural, with her paternal grandmother being a jazz singer. Along the way she has found inspiration from such artists as Mariah Carey, Celine Dion, Reba McEntire, Faith Hill and Garth Brooks amongst many others. Her voice has been compared to singers such as Shania Twain and Adele.

Here’s my verdict on her most recently released singles:

Dreamer

This track is a moody, organ-driven epic rock ballad with a passionate lead vocal from Suzanne. Opening with the chorus hook doubled on electric guitar, the opening lines set the tone for this heartfelt, soul-searching song: “The sands of time are running out, I haven’t figured what life is all about…”. This emotion is captured perfectly by Suzanne, and the memorable, anthemic title hook is something most will be able to relate to. Towards the end, she gets to showcase her outstanding vocal range and power.

 

Dust Settles

This song shows a whole other side to Suzanne’s songwriting. While maintaining the pop/rock instrumental sound, there’s a definite RnB influence in the fast flowing verses that display the vocal dexterity you find in rap and hip hop. Lyrically, it once again expresses honesty and vulnerability: “I can’t stand this cold bed, or these nasty thoughts filled with dread..”. The simple, poignant title hook captures this sense of desolation: “As the dust settles, you’re gone”. A great pop track with a sassy modern edge.

 

I Am! I Am! (My Own Kind Of Pretty)

After the emotional turmoil of Dreamer and Dust Settles, this song is a nice contrast; it’s an upbeat, ultra catchy and uplifting track, this time displaying a jazzy side to her musical oeuvre. Over a crisp, punchy beat Suzanne alternates with catchy sax lines, delivering a ferociously feisty vocal that takes no prisoners. Lyrically, it’s about overcoming negativity and showing self-determination, the chorus defiantly running: “Ain’t nobody gonna hold me down, ain’t nobody gonna take my crown again”.

 

Warrior

This ebullient spirit is continued into Warrior, one of the rockier tracks in her current canon. Over a potent 2/4 beat, synths interweave with gritty electric guitars to great effect. The stomping chorus hook is instantly infectious and provides another inspiring anthem in the Christina Aguilera mould. The opening lines once again perfectly set the tone: “You and I, we fight the night like we can touch the sky, we rock it hard like we are meant to fly, no one can stop us and they don’t know why….”.

 

Paralyzed

This is a classy pop track that brought to mind the epic ballads of the 80’s, but with a more modern production approach. Suzanne gives another emotive performance, portraying a wronged lover in an affecting way. The emotional impotence you feel when heartbroken is captured by the excellent chorus, augmented by high register harmonies. Can easily see why this was chosen as a single.

 

Gazing In Your Eyes

This is an interesting track, a seemingly languid and low-key song but the lilting vocal melody quickly sticks in the memory and, upon repeated listening, it proves to be an understated gem. Based around an atmospheric guitar motif, Suzanne here depicts someone in the depths of being in love: “Heart beating with your love, without it would be broken, no more reason living on if your love were unspoken” runs the fine chorus.

 

Everything Will Be Fine

Even more catchy is the summery sounding perfect pop of Everything Will Be Fine, which brought to mind Taylor Swift circa 1989 (the album, not the year!) The title hook is effortlessly addictive, the lyrics equally full of positive energy: “Don’t downplay your passion as some childhood fantasy…”. If this wasn’t a hit upon its first release, it deserves a future re-release as it’s got all the makings of a major worldwide smash.

 

Effortlessly

This is another fine piece of songwriting with a gorgeous piano introduction and a jazzy influence in the chord progression, along with a funky overall feel. Lyrically, it depicts finding someone special after a dark period: “After a few months of living like my heart couldn’t beat….”.

 

Is It Love?

This song is a return to the epic rock ballad style of earlier tracks, alternating between sections of delicate piano and storming drums, the musical bedrock for a blistering vocal performance once again from Suzanne. Lyrically, it’s also a return to portraying  the inner turmoil that romance can bring: “I want to cry but the tears have dried in my eyes, instead I’m looking for the meaning in my life…”. Excellent track.

 

You Walked Away

This track opens with a Tori Amos-style piano flourish before a beefy beat kicks in, building to an anthemic and cathartic chorus featuring effective call and response backing vocals. With its radio friendly sound and affecting vocals as ever, it’s another fine choice as a single. Suzanne really gets to display her considerable range towards the end and it brought to mind the highly emotional Stevie Nicks-sung classics of Fleetwood Mac.

Overall, this is an outstanding collection of singles that showcases Suzanne Gladstone as a singer and songwriter of considerable talents. Her commercial and creative potential is huge and it’s surely only a matter of time before she becomes a big name.

 

VERDICT = 9.2 out of 10  

Alex Faulkner

ALBUM REVIEW: Artificial Intelligence by Mystic of Melody

Artificial Intelligence (Album Cover)(1)

Mystic of Melody is the artistic moniker of Mark Christian, a composer and songwriter hailing from Durant, Oklahoma. He’s a completely independent artist making music autonomously in his home studio. He primarily makes electronic music using a unique technique of electronic voiceovers which combines with his instrumental music. This can vary widely in genre and he’s diversified into many rock and pop styles from the 1970’s-1990’s. Other albums include Falling Leaves, Compare and Contrast and Night Messenger.

This album, Artificial Intelligence, consists of sixteen tracks. From the opening track The Final Hour, it quickly emerges that this artist has forged his own completely original style.

For those familiar with the Stephen Hawking-style computer voice from Radiohead’s Fitter Happier, this style of electronic voiceover is employed here. Set to a fast tempo backing of synths and an intricate programmed beat, the opening lines hit a suitably apocalyptic note for these times of worldwide turmoil: “One day we will all be faced with a difficult decision, many of the purest saints will sacrifice their mission, we have all been given our warning, the sun will blacken as laughter turns to mourning….”.

This kind of biblical gravity might have seemed out of place in another era, but it feels perfectly in keeping with everything that’s happening presently, from the pandemic to the doomsday predictions of the climate change movement.

The urgent rhythms of the synths augment the intensity of the spoken words. It would have been nice to hear the backing music more present in the mix, a minor criticism which I found with certain tracks, but not a major one. The recurring lyrical motif, “It’s black or white, do or die” again seems highly apposite.

Second track Master Plan is set to a similarly insistent tempo with the opening line setting the mood, “For so long I have walked this dark, desolate highway….”. The lyrics describe the negativity perpetuated by the media and the importance of treading your own individual path, a personal “master plan”.

Eyes of Madness begins with a poignant synth string melody and this track has a noticeably much better balance between the vocals and the backing music. This allows the many fine melodic strands to come to the fore, while still allowing the words to be clearly heard. This track is a depiction of meeting someone with a bad vibe about them despite a “polished appearance”: “Deception reflected in his eyes as he deluded me with lies”. A haunting and powerful piece of music, one of the most effective on the album.

The title track of the album comes next, a return to the rapid tempo of previous songs, and again contains a highly relevant message for the times, despite being first released back in 2017: “We are a mass of confusion living in the delusion”. I was particularly struck by the line, “Our minds are imprisoned and they hold the key…”. Having been written several years ago, there is a certain prescience here which should be given full credit.

Connect The Dots stands out due to its particular style of voiceover which incorporates a ghostly sounding low-pitch voice over a mid-tempo backing. One Step Too Many has a voice similar to the earlier tracks, with memorable synth melodies holding the attention. The crunchy low-end guitar chords add real grit to the sound.

Tunnel of Light is an intricate piece with a fine chord progression and several melodic themes that work together. The vocals combine both male and female voices which are very effective and lyrically it shows a much more mystical, spiritual side. The lyrics depict an out of body experience, an ambitious subject for a song but it is successful and one of my personal favourites on the album.

On The Lookout is one of the rockier tracks with another profound lyric possibly about himself and the wisdom that can be earned as an outsider, due to the different perspective it entails. The words are full of prophetic doom, which seems fitting: “The sky will turn blood red and the earth shall crack”.

Mannequins continues the ‘fire and brimstone’ lyrical style while the more genteel Fading Panorama is much lighter in tone. The words depict the beauty of a sunset and express a deep love of nature. The way he contrasts the dark state of the world with more spiritual themes is cleverly done. Here, the music mirrors the words perfectly, with a serene flute-like melody.

Night Child continues this poetic, romantic style, once again employing male and female voices. The Vow is an interesting track with an enigmatic lyric about a mysterious femme fatale (“If only you knew what she had planned for you”).

Dead End Town is a nice track with a memorable classical-style piano melody, the upbeat music contrasting with the despair depicted by a tale about living in a town with no hope. Me and My Bird is rather interesting, the computer voice taking on a Scottish twang. I enjoyed the line, “it all goes down well with fine wine”.

The final two tracks seem to complete the emotional journey of the album, Ascension containing the powerful line, “One must never ignore the voice of fate”. The album concludes with the poignant track The Funeral: “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, who can we trust?”. It opens with an emotive string theme and the words express how we should respect those who’ve died before us: “Let us lament and commemorate the deceased, they are forever among us”. A moving and fittingly poetic message to close with.

Overall, this is a distinctly original album by an artist who can lay claim to a truly unique and distinctive style. While there are production aspects that could be improved for greater sonic balance, the marriage of the electronic voiceovers with synth driven backing music is nonetheless very effective. For anyone searching for music that is nothing like what you would find in the mainstream, I can definitely recommend giving a listen to Mystic of Melody.

 

VERDICT = 8.5 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

Listen here:

 

 

SINGLE REVIEW: Ain’t It Strange by Xanthia Skye

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Xanthia Skye is an English singer and songwriter. She was highly musical from a young age, becoming involved with musical theatre at six and triying different instruments, settling on the piano. In achieving her classical Grade 8 in professional vocals she encountered numerous musical styles and developed a love of such diverse artists as Ella Fitzgerald, Fleetwood Mac and The Cranberries. This eclecticism is reflected in her music, which is a blend of pop with jazz and soul influences intertwined.

This song, Ain’t It Strange, is her second release after her debut single, Hold Me. The song is a slow paced pop ballad with a sophisticated jazzy undertone. It’s the ideal showcase for Xanthia’s outstanding voice, bringing to mind the vocal power of Adele and the range of from Florence and the Machine, another noted influence. Set to a melancholy and emotive backing of warm electric piano, Xanthia’s vocals captivate from the moment they enter.

Lyrically, Ain’t It Strange is about reflecting on painful relationships memories from the past, captured in the opening lines: “Words in my head stained like tattoos on my skin, when I vowed to forget you, how could I begin?”. It builds to an understated chorus with some poignant lyrics: “Twenty three turns on this earth, I know people are not the same, show me love can change, ain’t it strange?”.

The way the arrangement builds gradually across the verses and choruses is very skillfully done, along with the pristine, faultless production. A beat emerges only during the final choruses, augmented by subtle but very effective backing vocals and some lovely vocal extemporizing from Xanthia.

Overall, this is a very well crafted and exquisitely performed pop ballad from a young singer and songwriter blessed with a fabulous voice. The music has a radio friendly sound, slightly jazzier than mainstream pop, and she’s already managed to carve herself a commercial niche. For fans of artists like Adele and Taylor Swift, they will most likely find Xanthia Skye’s music much to their taste and so the sky really is the limit for her in the future.

 

VERDICT = 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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SINGLE REVIEW: Alone by The McKenzie FIX

PACKSHOT - 'Alone' by The McKenzie FIX

The McKenzie FIX is the artistic moniker of Scottish musician, singer and songwriter Ewan McKenzie. He was formerly the frontman of Edinburgh-based group Emporium and their album Silver Brainwaves received support from the Scottish Arts Council. His songs have also been supported by Radio One, DJ Steve Wright on BBC World Service and received Album Of The Month on popular German show, Popscene. He’s also garnered a 5-star review in UK’s Guitarist magazine as well as NME coverage.

This song, Alone, is taking from the forthcoming debut album, to be released later this year. The song is an alternative pop piano ballad that acts as a fine showcase for McKenzie’s craftsmanship as a songwriter. Opening with a poignant piano motif, Ewan enters with a plaintive and distinctive vocal style over inventive and unexpected chord changes.

After a haunting verse accompanied by piano and organ, it develops into a more rhythmic section. There’s a distinctive classical and even operatic influence in the complex structure of the song as well as the sophisticated use of synth strings.

Lyrically, it’s a rather poignant tale of a young lady who feels very much an outsider in social situations as captured by the opening lines: “Alone in a room full of strangers, by herself in a roomful of friends, it seems that they whisper in corners and she wonders will this never end?

The song was co-written with lyricist Kay Russell, whose sensitive portrayal of loneliness and social awkwardness is perfectly married to the music, resulting in a very fine artistic collaboration.

Overall, this is an extremely well written and performed alternative pop song with classical overtones. Ewan McKenzie’s music is clearly more about art than simply creating a commercial product and he clearly has a gift for composing beautiful melodies. Kay Russell’s lyrics about isolation seem particularly apposite during this era of social distancing and hopefully many will be moved by this touching song.

 

VERDICT = 9.1 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

Listen here:

The McKenzie FIX · The McKenzie FIX – Alone

ALBUM REVIEW: After Geography by Forest Robots

FINAL AG ALBUM COVER

Forest Robots is the musical brainchild of electronic artist and composer Fran Dominguez and this project has an interesting and unusual genesis. It began when he began pictorially documenting his travels to the Sierra Nevada mountain range. When his daughter was born, he started to attach narratives to his collections to teach his daughter about the wonders of nature.

This led to feeling inspired to compose music to go with these narratives and Forest Robots was born. In 2018, I gave glowing reviews to the albums Supermoon Moonlight – Part One and the follow up, Timberline And Mountain Crest. In 2019, he released his third full length album, Times When I Know You’ll Watch The Sky (which you can read here).

This year sees the release of After Geography, his fourth. The album’s title has an interesting back story and genesis. After Geography was a suggested title for The Beatles’ 1966 masterpiece Revolver, a witty idea from Ringo Starr as a reaction to The Rolling Stones album of that year, Aftermath. Something clicked when Fran read that story, as he realised this would make an apposite title.

In his own words: “Before any excursion, every experienced mountaineer will put in the time to research traveling routes, gear to bring, food to pack, weather patterns to watch out for and best times to travel. However, there comes a point during a climb when all of this preparation is inconsequential if your focus isn’t there.

The album consists of ten tracks which ebb and flow into each other seamlessly and is a return to the more minimalist style of his earlier work. As with his other full length albums, it is best listened to as a continuous musical journey, combining classical, ambient, drone and musique concrete into a symbiotic whole.

A Detailed Cartography opens the album and immediately sets a tranquil, transcendent mood with its spacious soundscape, seemingly outside of space and time. Atmospheric synths drift in and out whilst a sparse harp-like melody of understated beauty drifts across your consciousness. It’s gentle majesty is best enjoyed via the evocative accompanying video.

This morphs seamlessly into the second track, Of Birds Migrating In The Distance. Built around another simply but haunting melody, this is augmented by a delicate high end piano motif that brought to mind the composer Erik Satie, one of his noted influences. Gradually, a third motif emerges and its recurrent pattern made me think of another, more modern, composer – namely, Philip Glass. The interplay of the three melodic strains is skilfully done and is another fine example of painting in sound that perfectly evokes the piece’s title.

Karst Wildlife Surveying takes subtlety to even greater heights, with tremulous murmurs of melody layered together to create an otherworldly tapestry of sound. Here he is painting in the most delicate watercolours and you get a visual image from the music that again resonates with the title (karst is a topography formed from the dissolution of soluble rocks).

It shifts almost imperceptibly into the fourth track, Awash in Granite Geometry which again suggests surveying rocky landscapes. This has another Erik Satie-esque piano melody, which floats serenely over a bedrock of ambience.

Over The Drainage Divide has a similar feel of epic expanse, conjuring numerous images of nature in the mind’s eye and capturing the sense of grandeur one feels when confronted with scenes of great natural beauty. Subtly Widening Bergschrunds is also expansive in scope and has an almost glacial quality, which again captures the essence of the piece (a bergschrund is a crevasse at the junction of a glacier or snowfield). To be able to paint in sound in this way is quite an art.

The wonderfully titled Glacial Architecture Of The Mountain Corridor has a similarly opaque quality, but with an intricate, tumbling melody that brought to mind another French composer, Saint Saens. It’s probably the least minimal piece on the album, providing contrast whilst maintaining the perfect musical continuity.

Imagining August 1976, Here is another captivating piece, evoking a late summer haze and with a distinct air of melancholic nostalgia imbued in its gossamer-like drifting melodies. It imparts the same feeling one can get from looking at an old faded photograph and reminiscing on a happier time, a bittersweet emotion.

Night Sky Over The Face Of A Nearby Tarn is similar in mood but with that glacial quality found in earlier tracks. A tarn is a mountain lake, pond or pool, formed in a cirque excavated by a glacier and so it’s another masterly evocation of nature’s majesty, and captures the magic of the night sky in tone.

The musical journey concludes with All Across The High Plain After The Storm, which starts out in a minimalist way then gradually develops into the epic expansiveness that characterizes some of the album’s most sublime and transcendent moments. Almost imperceptibly, like a musical mirage, you can picture a camera swooping over vast vistas of land then pulling away to infinity, closing the circle.

Overall, this is another scintillating collection of nature-inspired instrumentals that capture composer Fran Dominguez’ art at its most nuanced and subtle. With a unique talent for portraying panoramic landscapes in tonal form, he takes the listener on another sonic adventure that captures the thrill of travelling and surveying the many natural wonders of the world. Fans of Harold Budd, Brian Eno and Philip Glass will find much to enjoy here and hopefully this album will provide some artistic solace to many during this tumultuous time in history, as it was intended.

 

VERDICT: 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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SINGLE REVIEW: Police Brutality by Darrell Kelley

PoliceBrutality

Darrell Kelley is a singer, songwriter and performer who was born in Boston, Massachusetts. He began his career as a gospel artist before eventually merging into the RnB/hip hop genres. In his music he has dealt with social issues close to his heart such as racial injustice.

His song Believe In Something (Kneel) addressed critics of Colin Kaepernick for his silent protests against systemic racism, which took place before NFA games. Another song Because Of You dealt with the epidemic of gun related crime taking place in the United States.

This track, Police Brutality, deals with the recent tragic death of George Floyd, a black man killed by the police in a heinous manner. Set to a slow, brooding RnB groove, the sadness and anger felt is conveyed through the introduction via the repeated refrain, “We want justice”, while Darrell delivers a spoken word dedication to George.

As the beat kicks in, Darrell delivers the verse with a powerful, passionate vocal performance that depicts Floyd’s saddening death at the hands of a corrupt cop. He is unflinching in his description of what happened and this gives the song a real emotional gravitas: “Another black man is dead because of police brutality…”.

The second verse emotively reflects the emotional impact the event has had on Darrell and the black community: “My heart breaks then tears run down my eyes and the only thing I can say is why this black man had to die….”. The song builds to a hugely affecting climax featuring the same refrain that started the track.

Overall, this is a hard hitting, highly emotional song about a tragedy of racial injustice that will resonate with many around the world, not just America. Darrell Kelley has used his considerable gifts as a singer and songwriter to express the heartache and anger that millions are feeling at this present moment. Hopefully, this song will reach them and provide catharsis and emotional healing.

VERDICT = 9.1 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

Listen here:

Darrell Kelley · Police Brutality

E.P. REVIEW: Work Together by Working Flakes

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Working Flakes are a three-piece indie/alternative rock band based in New York. The band consists of Chris Agar (vocals, guitars and upright bass), Collin Stanley (guitar) and Zach Simao (drums, tambourine). They had all been involved in various music projects but originally came together as members of the group DDWhite. Eventually, Working Flakes were formed from this nucleus. This EP, Work Together, is their first release and was collaboratively composed and engineered by the band as part of their DIY ethic and approach.

The EP consists of five tracks and starts out with the powerful call to arms of Ease Your Mind. Set to a taut 2/4 groove, it brings to mind Pink Floyd’s Another Brick In The Wall but with the more ragged, garage rock vibe of The White Stripes. Chris Agar’s distinctive, idiosyncratic vocals are augmented in various places with Arctic Monkeys-style falsetto vocals an octave higher, to good effect.

The lyrics are essentially a clarion call for people to wake up, and where we find the EP’s title: “We must work together, we have all the power, do not fear the haves, it’s the have-nots hour…”. Though this was released in the fall of 2019, the message seems more apposite than ever, especially in light of the American riots against injustice taking place at the time of writing.

Second track Cheap Love is sonically more in keeping with the gritty, glam rock style of The Black Keys, propelled by a memorable bassline and infectious vocal melody. The music fits the subject matter like a glove which comes across as a slightly sardonic depiction of the shallow nature of modern dating: “Tuesday night, swiping right and we match….”. As with every track, the arrangement is well structured with succinct guitar melodies alternating with crunchy chords. There’s also some great tumbling tom tom fills from Zack Simao.

The final anthemic refrain, “You’re a cheap love, not a deep love…” is a pithy summation of Tinder culture which has become the societal norm. A fun, super catchy and dryly humorous piece of ‘rough round the edges’ rock ‘n roll.

Are We Connected?, the third track, is a more serious and contemplative dissection of relationships in this era of technology that has made us more connected in one way yet has isolated us from each other in another sense. The song questions whether this has been beneficial or created an artificial existence lacking in genuine interaction: “Staring at your screen, what does it mean?”.The song’s main refrain hits the nail on the head, “Views are injected, no one respected, are we connected or are we infected?

Musically, it’s set to a loping, funky groove with a slick guitar riff. Agar sings in a lower register than previously, with all kinds of instrumental nuances and details that help to keep the music compelling throughout. The band have an excellent understanding of dynamics and can veer from subtle guitar effects to huge vocal refrains with consummate ease.

Fourth track Thank You is the highlight of the EP for me, personally. It’s a perfect marriage between Gang Of Four-style driving basslines and razor sharp guitars with the laid back, languid cool of The Strokes. The groove has a Stones-esque confident strut though lyrically it’s a little more opaque and difficult to decipher than the previous songs. Lines like these suggest the supposed gratitude of the title hook is meant sarcastically: “Disengaged with fits of rage you explode, drowning together feels like I’m drowning alone…”.

Final song Roll With The Punches consists of just vocals and acoustic guitar (with a little bowed upright bass)and displays more openly the dry sense of humour which has been present under the surface throughout.

From the lyrics to the first verse it soon becomes apparent that this was written with tongue firmly in cheek: “Stabbed in the heart tossed in the gutter, got better treatment from my former mugger who left me stranded picked up by a trucker, she couldn’t have known I was born to suffer.” It’s a light hearted and rather catchy song that rounds off the EP in a highly entertaining fashion, especially the dialogue at the end of the track.

Overall, this is an excellent debut release from a band who’ve emerged with a perfectly honed musical approach, combining a punk rock rawness and spirit with inventiveness and nuance. Similarly, the lyrics balance the serious with the humourous and the result is a very enjoyable set of songs that stand up to repeated listening. I look forward to hearing their debut album.

 

VERDICT = 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

Listen here:

 

E.P. REVIEW: The Troubled Boy At The Bonfire Disco

Troubled Boy at the Bonfire Disco - Cover

Freddie Bourne is an American singer songwriter hailing from Jackson, New Jersey. He has been very highly placed in various talent competitions including winning Liberty Idol in 2010. He is known for fronting the bands Exit 22 and Sahara from Jackson and Manalapan, New Jersey, respectively.

His solo career began in 2012, and he has opened for acts such as Tyler Hilton from the television show One Tree Hill, Jersey Acoustic Music Award Winner Chelsea Carlson, and played for Gavin and Joey DeGraw’s bar The National Underground. He released his debut album, Only Human, in 2013.

This EP, The Troubled Boy At The Bonfire Disco, consists of four tracks and constitutes his fifth project. The style is essentially contemporary pop, a blend of Lewis Capaldi-style acoustic/piano singer-songwriting with some EDM aspects incorporated to give the sound a modern edge. This is perfectly encapsulated by the excellent opening track, I Hope You Don’t Forgive Me. Based around picked acoustic guitar, Bourne delivers a haunting vocal melody in his distinctive, emotive singing style.

You can hear the influences of songwriters like James Blake, Daniel Powter and Richard Marx in the melancholy, intimate nature of the music, at least at first. After the chorus hook, it breaks into an unexpected EDM section, before returning to the second verse augmented by warm strings. With its radio friendly sound and subtle but effective title hook, this has huge hit potential and also as soundtrack music.

Second track Jeni is another well crafted song, this one more straightforward stylistically, essentially anthemic pop/rock that brought to mind Paolo Nutini and Coldplay, circa A Rush Of Blood To The Head. Bourne gives another compelling vocal performance in his plaintive upper register, with subtle touches of electronica emerging in the second verse. The concise guitar solo working in tandem with synths was a nice touch and once again, the vocal melody sticks quickly in the memory. This would also make a fine single release.

The EDM production style returns to the fore on the intro to Pale Blue Sky, before breaking down to a sparse verse. This allows the vocals to dominate, backed by a minimal beat and haunting piano arpeggios. The simple hook of “I’ll fly with you…” proves addictive and the way the arrangement builds to an EDM finale is cleverly done. Again, the commercial potential is big, owing to the wide ranging appeal of the pop/dance crossover sound.

Final track Spacedust has an equally languid tempo, Bourne delivering a Chris Martin-esque falsetto vocal that sounds natural and uncontrived. Once again, it is something of a slow burning epic, gradually building in texture and rhythm towards an understated but highly intricate blend of picked acoustic guitar patterns and interweaving synths. This track will again have a large across the aboard appeal, particularly those who love Coldplay’s more recent output.

Overall, this is a consistently strong collection of songs by an upcoming artist gifted with both a unique style of his own and a contemporary, commercial sound. In an era where male singer-songwriters are dominating the charts worldwide, Freddie Bourne has everything it takes to make it to the top and this EP could potentially be a major step towards that goal.

 

VERDICT = 9.1 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

Listen here:

ARTIST AWARD: Tony Newton

TNewton_Awards

TNT Xtreme’s music visionary, legendary composer-bassist-keyboardist-vocalist-producer, Tony Newton, is a musician’s hall of fame member who has performed on over 100 gold and platinum hit recordings. He can lay claim to playing on hits by Michael Jackson, Diana Ross & The Supremes and Stevie Wonder, amongst many others. Two of Tony’s Gold records were for his first renowned group, The Eighth Day, for She’s Not Just Another Woman and Crawl Before You Walk.

Tony played on several Number One hits: Where Did Our Love Go, Baby Love and Stop in the Name of Love by The Supremes, as well as Nowhere To Run by Martha and the Vandellas. He studied piano with teachers of Debussy and Donanyi and had the same composition & theory teacher of Frank Zappa, Dr. Matt Doran.

Acclaimed for his dynamic work with the famed jazzrock- fusion group, the Tony Williams Lifetime, Newton, one of the original architects of jazzrock-fusion penned the classic compositions, Snake Oil, Red Alert, and others. Tony also performed and composed with legendary guitarist and friend Robby Krieger from The Doors on Robby’s solo CD, Cinematrix.

Newton has a long musical history, participating on many hit recordings and tours, throughout his long and prolific musical career. Robby Krieger has famously referred to Tony Newton’s writing skills as “the Holy Grail of Rock & Roll or Jazz or any medium you can think of.”

This year, 2020, Tony Newton has received the Artist Of The Year Vision Award For Excellence, Innovation, Originality and Musicianship from the Academy Of Music Arts. He was given the award at a ceremony on April 24th. After an introduction from the hosts, Tony appears via video link and gives an inspiring, emotional speech about what a great era it is to be an independent artist.

He describes how he’s been able to follow his heart and pursue his spiritual vision of writing, performing and producing innovative music. His inspirational motto is, “Anything is possible”. He talks about how winning the award has inspired him to explore and expand, to an even greater depth, his musical creativity and to reach new fans around the world as he continues to achieve his musical goals.

He then performs a live rendition of his epic track Follow Your Heart, taken from his album White Light Collection (you can read my original review here). This is actually the shorter version of the song at eight minutes long and he’s backed by a highly talented group of musicians and backing vocalists.

It’s the perfect showcase for Tony’s unique Rock-Funk Fusion as well as a truly uplifting message. Tony gets to display his considerable virtuosity as a bass player, playing a 6-string bass. The music takes us through so many sections from the taut and funky verse to the gospel-infused final section. He really shines as a vocalist in this climactic part of the song and it was the ideal choice of material for this occasion.

Overall, this is a richly deserved award for a genuine music legend whose career spans all the way back to playing on classic Motown records and who now has developed a musical style all of his own. He’s a special artist who understands the spiritual power of music and uses it to uplift and inspire, so it’s gratifying to see him get such plaudits and well earned recognition from his peers.

 

VERDICT = Legend!

Alex Faulkner

Watch the award presentation ceremony here: