SINGLE PREMIERE: Loveolution by Toby TomTom

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Toby TomTom is a singer/songwriter and producer with a very interesting backstory. Earlier in his career he worked with Alicia Keys and Shelby J (of Prince fame) , apprenticed with Kenni Hairston (Cameo, Cyndi Lauper) and even sat in on sessions with the legendary producer and composer Quincy Jones. He has a diverse range of influences, ranging from classical composers like Debussy, to funk and soul artists like Tower of Power and Marvin Gaye as well as the late, great Tupac Shakur.

This track, Loveolution, is the follow up to the excellent Born To Be Free, which I reviewed very favourably upon its release (read here). Loveolution is a high energy, extremely infectious blend of RnB, hip hop, soul, funk and pop that showcases Toby’s versatile gifts. He describes the inspiration behind the track: “My goal with Loveolution is to touch the pulse of the world. Make us think about the tools we can use to fight and make it better!

It’s an inspiring and uplifting anthem which begins with female spoken word samples set to a swinging RnB beat. You can hear the distinct influences of Marvin Gaye and Prince, combining Marvin’s soulfulness and Prince’s restless musical inventiveness, which Toby has in spades. Indeed, his expressive vocals on the verse in particular brought to mind Marvin’s classic What’s Going On album, while the hugely anthemic chorus has a real party vibe that made me think of Prince’s 1999.

After a relatively sparse verse where the ultra punchy beat dominates, the chorus explodes into technicolour with bursts of guitar and sax. Again, similar to Prince, Toby is a gifted multi-instrumentalist and not only he has performed all of the musical instruments, but also produced it by himself.

Lyrically, the song could not be more apposite and appropriate for the times we’re living in. Whilst many are stirring up a societal revolution based on negative events, Toby transcends all of that and delivers an instantly memorable chorus hook with a truly inspirational message: “Gotta be, gotta be, gotta be a Loveolution…”.

To come out with a song like this in times of such political turmoil and upheaval is testament to his artistry and character. Special credit should go to the arrangement and production which is so full of nuance and detail that you hear a new facet or texture every time. The way it builds to a climactic finish with the sound of chanting crowds leaves the listener on a high.

Overall, this life affirming anthem is a timely release from a hugely gifted artist with a spiritual soul. It’s a sonic concoction that takes what’s great from the past and brings it up to date with cutting-edge production and a modern stylistic vibe. In our troubled and turbulent times, Toby TomTom has produced the soulful and joyous song that we all needed to hear.

VERDICT= 9.2 out of 10 

Alex Faulkner

Listen here:

SINGLE REVIEW: Writer’s Resolve by Badminton Revival

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The genesis of Nashville-based Badminton Revival has a poignant backstory. The singer/songwriter’s uncle had a double heart attack during a badminton tournament, which also unfortunately affected his memory. Something that aided his recuperation was listening to music, which brought memories flooding back.

The importance of music was something that was brought home to him and he insisted his songwriter nephew should make the most of his gift. He suggested writing a song about being a struggling songwriter.

Writer’s Resolve is the result of that suggestion and is the debut release from Badminton Revival. It’s in fact written about a female singer/songwriter trying to make it in the Nashville music industry.

The song is in the alternative folk genre, a style that brought to mind early Simon and Garfunkel, Nick Drake and John Martyn along with more modern folk artists like Bright Eyes (Conor Oberst), Iron and Wine and Johnny Flynn.

Beginning with crystal-clear picked acoustic guitars, it’s the strong and stately male vocals that then capture the attention. The music has a melancholy, autumnal vibe encapsulated by the lilting vocal melody which works perfectly in tandem with the poetic lyrics.

The song is partly a fascinating depiction of the songwriting process itself, the first lines capturing the white heat of artistic inspiration: “Thoughts fly faster than fingers can fret, she’s never met a melody that she couldn’t catch yet…”.

The words then depict a difficulty that afflicts so many artists, having to deal with the commercially driven music industry as well finding themselves having to compete with more confident and commercially viable performers: “Her foes are brave and strong and tall and they don’t ever seem scared at all….”.

The lyrics to the last verse bring to mind the tormented but often beautiful metaphors of Conor Oberst: “Her friends they tell her time heals all, she fears the doses are too small, seconds tick like an IV drip…still she crawls….”. From there, the music blossoms with a virtuosic, superbly crafted acoustic guitar solo which bodes well for his future musical potential.

Overall, this a moving and exquisitely written song from an artist highly gifted both musically and lyrically. Blessed with a fine voice and a truly exceptional guitarist, his gifts as a lyricist are also of the highest calibre; this means he has everything it takes to rise to the top in his field and if there’s any justice he will get there. I very much look forward to hearing future material from Badminton Revival.

 

VERDICT =  9.2 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

E.P. REVIEW: Someone Waiting At Their Door by Lorenzo Gabanizza

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COVER ART BY TOBE A. ROBERTS IV – All rights reserved

Lorenzo Gabanizza is a musician, composer, singer and songwriter from Italy. Having been in various groups, he formed a Queen covers group called Mantras which toured Europe and in 2004 joined the Vic Elmes group, Christie Again. His song Meet Me At The River was successful and featured on the album Christie Again, All The Hits and More. He then released his first solo album and an album of mostly Queen covers, Freddie Still Lives.

In 2016, he released a concept album called Celtic Bridge which was a success in both Europe and the States, reaching the U.S. Downloads Top 100. His version of Danny Boy gained him a place on the list of the best Celtic performers in Italy and he was compared to U2 and Angelo Branduardi in Germany. He appeared to 12,000 people at the Celtica festival. Since then, he has released a plethora of successful singles and in this he released a very successful EP, All The Love We Never Said.

The opening song, Someone Waiting At Their Door, is a very moving country folk ballad in waltz time, with a strong Celtic influence. Over an instrumental bedrock of mandolins/banjos, serene slide guitar and gentle drums, Lorenzo gives an affecting and heartwarming vocal performance relaying a tale of tragedy striking families: “Then they saw the eerie shadow, a sliding shadow up above, then the fire started growing, smoked poured slowly through the doors“. It builds to the poignant chorus, augmented with lovely vocal harmonies and accordion.

The message is still positive and life affirming despite the sadness of the overall song: “All the tears can’t replace all the waste of those lives, but the pain breaking our hearts cannot move love away….. The second verse is even more affecting with its particularly poignant imagery and seems to be about those who lost their lives in war: “All the children crying, “Father”, they will bear the heavy price, their beloveds are now heroes, straight to Heaven from freedom’s soil”. A beautifully written song, both musically and lyrically.

It’s Been is quite a contrast; an upbeat country track in 2/4 featuring some superb musicianship. Lyrically, it’s about the loneliness of winter and longing for a romantic relationship, which works dynamically with the effusive nature of the music. The opening lines capture the bleakness of the winter season: “It’s been a lonely winter and I remember that it’s been a great big sadness, the snow was falling down….”. It’s another well written song, but what makes this one stand out is the virtuosic display of some of the lead musicians, with fantastic mandolin and steel guitar solos punctuating the sung sections.

The last song on the EP, To Sing For You, is another contrast and one which highlights Lorenzo’s skills as a singer and guitarist. Consisting of just his vocals and picked acoustic guitar, it’s a very fine cover of a Donovan folk ballad. Here, Lorenzo’s vocal style is slightly reminiscent of Donovan himself but also brought to mind Bob Dylan and the little known but wonderful songwriter Sixto Rodriguez. The intimacy of his performance captures the caring, compassionate nature of the lyrics and the gentle burst of harmonica towards the end gives it an added authenticity.

Overall, this is an excellent EP from Lorenzo Gabanizza, whose skills as a singer and songwriter have been finely honed across his long career. With the two songs of original material he proves himself to be a writer of the highest calibre, both in terms of words and music composition. His distinctive voice is the perfect vehicle for communicating the emotive nature of his songs, and the cover of Donovan’s To Sing For You must count as one of the best cover versions of any of his material. Lorenzo Gabanizza is a songwriter that deserves much greater recognition and I hope this EP helps him to receive it.

VERDICT = 9.2 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

ARTIST INTERVIEW: Jesse Neo

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Jesse Neo is a British-Australian singer, songwriter, DJ and producer. Now twenty, he began his musical journey at seven years old, starting out with piano, violin and vocal lessons. Within only months, he was composing original music and by eighteen he had written over 100 songs. His music is essentially a unique fusion of pop, EDM, hip hop and new wave and he also runs a site containing fully produced backing tracks – http://www.gemtracks.com

I got to ask him a few questions about his music and his views.

1. Your music is an original blend of several genres, who do you regard as your major musical inspirations and do you have an all time favourite artist or group?

I grew up playing classical music, so at the heart of all my inspirations are composers like Mozart, Beethoven, Bach and Chopin. As I got into high school, I slowly got drawn more into the pop and electronic world, and became very inspired by artists like Lady Gaga, Michael Jackson and Britney Spears. I remember attending festivals and raves and falling in love with David Guetta, Martin Garrix and Steve Aoki. I think they have all played a role in shaping my sound.

2. Some are your lyrics, such as the song Sex Magic, are very exotic, intriguing and unusual for mainstream pop. What do you consider your influences for lyric writing?

I try to make my lyrics as different, experimentative, symbolic and deep as possible, while making them catchy, easy to remember and almost reductive. This gives listeners that are only in it for the hype to enjoy themselves, and those that are more aware of reading in between the lines to truly open their third eyes as they decipher my lyrics.

3. The internet has undoubtedly changed the traditional music industry, and now streaming is the main medium that people use to listen to music. While this means artists don’t make much money from sales anymore, streaming allows worldwide exposure. What are your views on this development, and is it good or bad for you as an artist?

I think online streaming music is actually a good thing. Based on research that I have garnered from several entertainment lawyers, I learned that 20 years ago, most music fans were under 30 years old. As they got older, their spending on music began to diminish. However due to online streaming, even grandfathers and grandmothers today are spending money on music. This means the amount of money spent on music is actually increasing! This gives more chances for new artists to expose themselves, and fans to access more genres.

4. This year, you launched your excellent website Gemtracks (gemtracks.com) Can you explain what led up to the founding of the site and what it offers?

Yes, Gemtracks is actually a marketplace that I created where singers and rappers can buy beats for their songs. It may come as no surprise that the majority of my income that I have been making in the past few years were not from my music alone but writing music for other people. So one day I decided to start an online store where I could sell the copyrights of my songs for other artists to use. This eventually proved to be very successful, so I eventually decided to turn Gemtracks into a marketplace where anyone can sell beats. Not only has this helped the industry, it has also given artists a new way to earn income.

5. What’s next in the pipeline for you as an artist, are there future releases in store for your fans? And where can newcomers learn more about you and your music?

I actually have some songs ready to for release, but I was hoping to film a music video to draw up some hype before releasing them. The filming was meant to take place this year, but due to the pandemic, this now must be postponed until near year, which is fine as it gives me more time to prepare the storyline.
Newcomers can learn more about my music on my Spotify: Jesse Neo

SINGLE REVIEW: Sacred Land by The Nied’s Hotel Band

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The Nied’s Hotel Band are a rock’ n roll/Americana group hailing from Pittsburgh, PA in the United States. They were formed back in 2003 when frontman and lead vocalist John Vento began a studio project he titled Nied’s Hotel, the name inspired by a Pittsburgh tavern. He brought in some stellar musicians to bring his songs to life including drummer Ron Beitle, original drummer for Wild Cherry.

The band developed over the years with numerous line up changes and eventually released their first album as a settled line up in 2014, One Night Stand. This was followed by Live & More in 2016, a mixture of studio tracks and recorded live performances. This was also the year they were named Best Bar Band by the Pittsburgh Magazine Reader’s Poll.

This song, Sacred Land, is an uplifting Americana anthem that captures the natural charm of the band. Starting out with an ascending guitar riff that immediately grabs you, it’s John Vento’s earthy and authentic vocals that then command your attention.

With shades of Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty, John has the perfect voice for this celebration of working class, “blue collar” life in America. The first verse depicts a nostalgia for days past when life was very hard work but there was a sense of family unity and a love for your country that seems to have been lost by many.

This is perfectly encapsulated by the powerful chorus: “Grandpa took us kids aside, this is what he said…”This is our home…our sacred land…never forget”. This kind of old school patriotism is refreshing to hear in an era where some are seemingly trying to outlaw pride for being American.

The rest of the band are just as impressive as their vocalist, with soulful piano work augmenting the crunchy rhythm guitars, solid drumming and rolling bassline. The gospel-tinged backing vocals are the cherry on the cake, as is the soaring lead guitar towards the end.

Overall, this is a very enjoyable and timely affirmation of blue collar pride and true patriotism. John Vento is a gifted and natural lead singer, backed by a cohort of first rate musicians that create an effortless synergy. It’s a song that will particularly touch the heart of patriotic working class Americans, but has an essential message that is universal.

 

VERDICT = 9.1 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

Listen here:

ALBUM REVIEW: Zentronique by Michael Regina

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Michael Regina is a composer, producer and multi-instrumentalist born in the Bronx, New York City. He was inspired as a child by the classic performance of The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show and he’s been performing musically since his early teens.

Starting out on violin and French horn, he got into guitar in his teens and in the 1980’s began writing and playing with bands. This led to becoming the main songwriter and lead vocalist of glam metal band WHITEFOXX.

They garnered attention in rock magazines around the world including the American publication Hit Parader and Britain’s best known rock magazine Kerrang. They were regularly played on radio and were offered several record deals.

These were eventually all declined and they disbanded in 1989. Now based in New Jersey, Michael has turned his compositional talents to New Age music, which allows him to apply the skills and knowledge he learnt both in the classical music field and in rock music.

He has previously released five full length albums: Ascension, Winter Chill, New Day,  A Far Better World and Stargazer. The first three were all released in 2017, A Far Better World in 2018 (which I reviewed very favourably, listen here) and Stargazer in 2019.

This album, Zentronique, consists of eleven tracks and was produced by himself in his own home studio. The album begins with the epic ambient soundscape of Frontiers. Driven by pulsating, tribal tom-tom patterns that brought to mind the Joy Division classic Atmosphere, it also shows the influence of Vangelis. Like that composer, Michael has a distinct gift for writing stirring and inspiring melodies.

Here, the soaring string theme that emerges halfway through is slightly reminiscent of one of the great film soundtracks, Chariots Of Fire. The theme is alternated and augmented with chordal swells, creating an awe inspiring widescreen sonic landscape. The word widescreen is apt as the music and production is as good as any you’ll find gracing any major movie in the cinema. Indeed, this excellent opener almost sounds like it should be some blockbuster’s main theme.

Second track The Gates shows his more rhythmic side, with a stately and slightly melancholy synth theme set to a languid but punchy, powerful beat. Though the essential rhythm is simple, it’s augmented with intricate and complex percussion that gives the piece an inviting and infectious energy. The arrangement gradually builds with a subtle layering of synth strings to create another mesmerising wall of sound.

All Good Things starts with a haunting synth progression which creates a wistful tone. This sets the scene for a beautiful, minor key piano motif which recurs throughout the track. This hypnotic style made me thinking of the swirling melodic patterns of Philip Glass. The motif is subtly developed and varied, whilst maintaining its memorable theme, strings providing an exquisite counter-melody at points. You can imagine this as the perfect soundtrack to a heartbreak scene in a romantic film.

Connections also begins with enchanting strings, but his other musical influences come into play after this; pulsing bass and kick breaks out into a 4/4 beat with a thunderous, echo drenched snare. The track is underpinned by very subtle but effective rhythmic synths, which give the music a momentum and acts as the perfect contrast to another fine high end string theme. At nearly six minutes, it’s the epic of the album and manages to captivate to its final bars.

Human Condition feels like a stark contrast initially, minimalist ambient synths weaving an evocative spell before tribal percussion and magnificent, choral sounding synths intervene to intoxicating effect. This piece in particular has an almost overwhelming grandeur that increases with the skyscraping melody that emerges halfway through. A definite album highlight for me.

Next comes the title track, which takes us into some new sonic territory. Futuristic Giorgio Moroder-style synths get things going before the music expands into a slick, tight groove that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Daft Punk album. With its chugging Iow-end synths giving it a restless energy, this is perhaps the most instant track of the eleven here and also one with the broadest musical appeal. The way the music breaks down and then gradually rebuilds from the midway point is cleverly done.

Maxim M Chill is another surprise, this one based around a swinging hip hop-style beat which provides the bedrock for an enigmatic and alluring musical accompaniment. The skilled use of spacious reverb gives a huge depth to the sound and by the end of its relatively short duration you feel utterly transfixed and mesmerised.

Eighth track In The Ether is another of his heavily dance influenced pieces, this one the funkiest of the lot. After an introduction of a simple percussive rhythm, a pulsating 2/4 beat joins forces with a brooding, inventive bassline that made me think of 90’s era Massive Attack and New Order circa Technique. Overlaid on top of this are a tapestry of interweaving melodic strands and synths that combine, as well as drift in and out, in an organic way. Again, this may find a very popular audience on the dance floor as well as his ambient audience. Excellent track.

Hybrid is another fascinating, well, hybrid of ambient and electronica. Surging and swelling choral strings are matched with a colossal beat, again augmented by highly intricate percussive patterns that give it an addictive quality. The almost industrial sounding rhythm made me think of Nine Inch Nails (interestingly, Trent Reznor is another rock musician now involved in film soundtrack composition). The simple repetition of the structure supplies a hypnotic effect with a gradual addition of layers providing the variation.

Tenth track Communion is another piece that you can perfectly imagine as the soundtrack to a powerful movie scene, this one conjuring images of war and heroism with its rolling snare drum patterns and resonant, uplifting strings. Opening with rich organ that sets the hymnal, transcendent mood it unfolds into something that is nothing short of majestic. It’s my personal favourite on the album and could be a potential game changer for Michael.

The album closes out with Hello Together, a return to the hybrid style of previous tracks. It melds another poignant synth string melody with a loping, highly propulsive bassline and crisp drums. Indeed, the bass playing here deserves a particular mention, its swirling and wide ranging melodies making it the perfect counterpoint to the strings. The hi hat groove gives it a laid back disco feel and the way the arrangement slowly blossoms towards a higher register is skilfully composed. A very fine way to finish.

Overall, this is a fantastic sixth album by an ambient and electronica maestro. Combining his varying influences into a unique fusion that he can claim his own, his music is never less than captivating. The quality of the music and production remains extremely high throughout and deserves a wide audience. It seems only a matter of time before Michael Regina becomes a household name.

 

VERDICT = 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

 

Listen on Spotify HERE

SINGLE REVIEW: Undone by Riserfall

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Riserfall are a three-piece hard rock trio hailing from Dublin in Ireland. Their music fuses influences from a wide range of metal and hard rock, past and present. They consider their main influences to be 90’s grunge/alternative rock bands like Nirvana and Soundgarden, along with more traditional hard rock/metal like Metallica and Foo Fighters. They also consider prog rock/metal bands like Tool as an influence. Riserfall have been working on their debut EP due for release later this year, recorded at Lakeland Studios in Athlone, Ireland.

Opening with a brooding lead guitar riff that ratchets up instant musical tension, the track explodes into a powerful wall of sound with tumbling tom fills, courtesy of drummer Neel Thakur, taking us into the verse. The band display a fine understanding of dynamics, veering from the restrained, chugging guitars, rock solid bass (from Ciaran O’ Cathain) and understated vocals on the verses to the volcanic chorus, where the soaring, anthemic vocals stand out.

It could be said that having a great lead vocalist is what separates the wheat from the chaff when it comes to rock bands and fortunately for Riserfall, lead singer and guitarist Daniel O’ hEidhin is first rate. The sucker punch chorus is where his voice really shines and, lyrically, the song is refreshingly affirming rather than angst ridden: “Feel like nothing’s going wrong, see the woman to whom I belong…”.

It’s actually after the chorus, however, where the band truly impress and show their musical potential. The song is in 6/8 time overall, but here they show their prog rock/metal influence by switching to a 10/8 time signature before flipping back to 6/8 for the verse. This complex rhythmic switch is attained seamlessly and feels a natural part of the song. After the second chorus it enters an excellent section featuring a visceral, ascending guitar solo that takes the track to a climactic ending, where it leaves the listener hanging.

Overall, this is a highly impressive release from Riserfall’s debut EP. They have emerged fully formed, with their varying influences distilled into a unique and powerful sound of their own. With further material of this quality, Riserfall should become an extremely successful band worldwide and I look forward to hearing more from them.

 

VERDICT = 9.1 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

Listen here:

ALBUM REVIEW: Traveler Tales by David Arn

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https://davidarn.com/

David Arn is a singer/songwriter based in Virginia. His music is mostly acoustic and strongly lyric driven, allowing his words to be clearly delivered with an authentic, gravelly voice that sounds full of life experience.

You can hear the influences of Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan as well as the sophisticated lyrical style of Van Dyke Parks and Randy Newman, though his style is very much his own. He has previously released two full length albums, Postmodern Days and Walking To Dreamland (which I reviewed very favourably in 2015, read here), along with numerous singles.

This album, Traveler Tales, consists of fourteen songs and is a concept album very loosely based on Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, featuring fourteen first-person narratives from fourteen travelers on a common journey.

The album opens with the mid-tempo moody blues rock of We’re Not Broken – The Lover’s Tale. Set to a sturdy beat and R.E.M style clean picked electric guitar, it captures David at his most poetic and philosophical: “They say we’ll be judged for behaviour, till then payback’s in a corner chair, posing questions to a saviour who seems no longer there….”.

It builds to the understated but highly affecting chorus hook: “We’re not broken, only shattered.…”. David’s vocal delivery is full of character and nuance, pitched somewhere between Bob Dylan and Mark Knopfler from Dire Straits. The classy, crisp backing vocals from Kerri Hardwick and Tyra Juliette serve as a nice contrast to David’s more earthy tone. A strong opening track and another fine addition to the Arn canon.

Fallen Bird – The Beggar’s Tale is set at a similar tempo and makes even more use of the contrast between David and his backing vocalists, creating a lovely blend on the chorus. Lyrically, it poetically captures the torment of unrequited love, or at least an unresolved romantic relationship, all the more poignant from his mature perspective.

With unflinchingly honesty and vulnerability he sings tenderly: “Look at me, past my prime, spinning rhyme about you, your fingerprints on my heart, but for love I must dust for clues….”. Special mention must go to the first class dobro guitar performed by Toby Wilson, which helps give the music its rootsy vibe and sonic colour.

His guitar skills come to the fore again on Thirteen Days – The Exile’s Day, this one a country folk ballad consisting of David’s anguished vocals, Wilson’s guitar and stand up bass. It’s a heart rending tale about the end of a relationship and the desolation that follows.

Wilson’s guitars weave a crystalline texture around Arn’s voice and lyrically, he turns the poignancy up to eleven: “Sleepless in our highway room, shadows cross the moon, memory has me bound with souvenirs from higher ground…”. It’s a song that captures Arn’s particular gift for love songs, this one imbued with an emotional depth that brought to mind Dylan’s Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands.

Fourth track, Not Amused – The Wanderer’s Tale. is a complete contrast; a light hearted and highly entertaining country rock song with chugging pianos and more tasty steel guitar from Toby Wilson.

It shows a more playful side to Arn’s songwriting, displaying some dry wit whilst throwing in a few acerbic lines that ring true about those in power: “It seems every time I fall for the noble man, in the face of the poor he kicks more sand, he points the passer to the road where the trail goes cold….”. The chorus hook wryly captures how we smile through the pain: “I might have been grinning but I’m not amused.…”.

It’s Not Going To Kill Us – The Father’s Tale is a fine country ballad written from the perspective of a father worried about his daughter from afar. With dreamy echo-drenched steel guitar floating in the background, David expresses parental concern with customary sensitivity: “I may be miles away but I can read the signs…gonna fix your mind right even if I must talk you through the night….”. A lovely song.

This is mirrored by Mother’s Day – The Mother’s Tale. It features a guest artist taking the lead vocal duties, Ava Hart. David notes that this song has special relevance for Ava, a mother of a child on the autistic spectrum. She gives an enchanting performance here, augmented by mellifluous violin by Joni Fuller.

Over delicate acoustic guitar, Ava’s haunting voice compels from the powerful opening lines: “I’m always fighting an invisible war my prayers haven’t seen before…”. It portrays the purity of maternal love with succinct eloquence: “Little one, let me rock your soul…four in the morning, the ladder to your sleep is much too steep…”. Bringing to mind the Joni Mitchell classic Little Green, it works perfectly in the context of the album.

You Never Really Know – The Fool’s Tale is another ballad of consummate craftsmanship. Featuring an interesting Elvis-esque slapback delay on his lead vocal, David expresses how it’s love that gives life meaning and purpose: “You never really know technically which way you go… until you fall in love….” Some gorgeous female-sung harmonies and gentle violin enrich this touching country-folk ballad.

Black Dog – The Photographers Tale is another of the lyrical portraits he does so well. This one is about an aging photographer estranged from his family, finding solace in the memories of a lost love. The “black dog” of the title is a reference to Winston Churchill’s analogy for depression. You can read my previous full review of this song here.

Next, we come to the title track, Traveler – The Minstrel’s Tale. It starts out as an acoustic ballad then takes a turn into soul and jazz territory. It features warm, smoky electric piano, rich gospel-style backing vocals and, towards the end, some wonderful wailing sax courtesy of Ian Smith. He’s played for legends like Gladys Knight, Sister Sledge and The Temptations.

Similar unexpected sonic features await us on Keeping My Distance – The Veteran’s Tale. It appears to be a first person narrative of a veteran who finds himself homeless: “My home is in the East, I have no bed in the state I’m in, I’m walking twelfth street at midnight, feeling stuck within my skin.…”. The use of a subtle vocoder effect halfway through is a nice production trick that gives the track a modern edge. Another well crafted song with understated power and gravity.

Silently Drifting To Paradise – The Sinner’s Tale is the second appearance of Ava Hart, rather different in tone to her first. It’s a truly gorgeous song with a lilting vocal melody and magical, almost harp-like acoustic guitars. With a distinctly sensuous undertone (“Heaven used to wait at the top of your stairs”), it brought to mind the heady, intoxicating mood of The Sensual World by Kate Bush. The harmony on the superb chorus is positively spine-tingling and the dreamy, drifting strings are simply otherworldly.

Twelfth track St. Paul’s Chimes – The Bystander’s Tale might sound like a dead cert folk track with such a title but, in fact, is the album’s slow burning Americana rock epic. Starting out as an acoustic strummer, it finds David with a vocal effect akin to John Lennon on The Beatles’ Tomorrow Never Knows. The gritty, biting lead guitar has a Clapton-esque grandeur.

Love Is Free – The Writer’s Tale is one of the more Sixties influenced tracks here with not just the influence of Dylan but also a strong influence of Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground and Rubber Soul-era Beatles. The lyrics have a distinctly psychedelic glean in their eye with lines like: “We were a prism through which love flowed...”. The stop/start dynamics surrounding the title hook work well and it’s another very enjoyable song.

The album’s journey comes to a gentle and beautiful end with the achingly poignant When It’s Over – The Ex-Writer’s Tale. It’s folk-tinged Americana at its finest, an autumnal reflection on a relationship: “I love my freedom, time is moving slower but I hate that it’s not over when it’s over….”. Augmented by simple but elegant acoustic guitar and swirling strings, it completes this epic album in the most apposite way.

Overall, this is a wonderful collection of songs by David Arn that cover the many vicissitudes of the human condition. Having forged a refined poetic lyrical style and honed his musical craft over years, he’s developed into a songwriter of the highest class. He need not worry; not only is he not past his prime, Traveler Tales finds him at the peak of his powers.

 

VERDICT = 9.2 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

Album released: Sept 8th

 

Visit his official website HERE

ALBUM REVIEW: Songs About You by Blue Soul Ten

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Blue Soul Ten is the artistic moniker and musical brainchild of a musician, composer and producer who has been part of the music industry for 20 years. He started out as a radio DJ, as well as studying composition and production at the prestigious Berklee College of Music.

His music incorporates jazz, funk, soul, electronica, reggae and hip hop with his tracks often featuring guest artists. He’s released five albums previously, The Unspoken Warrior, The Fearless Warrior, The Beautiful Warrior, Blue Notes and Ten Percent (to which I gave a stellar review, read here).

This album, Songs About You, consists of ten tracks and continues the unique fusion of soul, RnB, jazz and hip hop as forged on Ten Percent and previous albums. As with its predecessor, the album starts with the title track, an instrumental.

The music immediately creates a soulful, smoky vibe with warm Rhodes and brooding bass set to a crisp and taut hip hop beat, the languid tempo setting the tone.

Kind of Blue-Esque trumpet then floats across the sonic stage with mellow descending lines before being contrasted by airy, mellifluous flute that brought to mind Right On from Marvin Gaye’s classic What’s Going On album. Succinct at two and a half minutes, it gets the album off to a fine start.

It leads into Everything, the first of several tracks to feature the vocals of Syauqi Destanika, whose earthy, sensual voice fits the Blue Soul Ten sound like a velvet glove. This is a track where he really shows his musical smarts, combining a simple beat with roaming, syncopated bass that crosses the barlines and acts as a counter melody to the main vocal.

This is augmented with subtle jazzy guitar, Bitches Brew-style keyboards and an array of cool sound effects. The title hook is effortlessly seductive and the result is a slinky, sexy song full of intricate detail.

Third track Dear You features another guest artist, the rapper Surron The Seventh, who also appeared on Ten Percent. Here, he delivers another strong performance over a slinky backing track based around a toe-tapping beat and another superb, highly melodic bass line.

It’s a surprisingly moving narrative about a relationship that ran deep but has now ended: “I’m staring at your old texts like we could have been something…I mean, we could have been special…I should never have let you go...”. A great track where the music mirrors the emotive vibe of the lyrics.

Fourth track This Moment is a funky RnB track, again featuring the vocal talents of Syauqi Destanika. With a swinging beat, Syauqi delivers a sultry performance expressing amorous desires in no uncertain terms. The layered harmonies work well with the interweaving Rhodes melodies and the harmonised trumpets towards the end are the icing on the cake, along with the piano vamps on the outro.

Cupid’s Bow is another track featuring Syauqi, and rather more romantic in mood. This one stands out for it’s subtly infectious chorus and the virtuoso, swooping basslines that brought to mind the great Motown legend James Jamerson (as far as I know, he is responsible for the majority of the musicianship). Both This Moment and Cupid’s Bow would make excellent singles, with a commercial radio friendly sound aligned with their musically sophisticated style.

Sixth track Healthy is a fusion of all his various styles at once, featuring Syauqi and another guest rapper, Rae Dot. Set to a chilled out groove, Syauqi lays down a languorous, seductive vocal before Rae spits some assured rhythms halfway through.

The contrast works like a dream, with a myriad of instrumental melodies underpinning it. Lyrically, it depicts a dysfunctional relationship on the rocks but with strong feelings still present: “Is this healthy to be in love with someone this way?

Another Day feels like a continuation of that theme, a dreamily slow RnB track with pulsing Rhodes put through a tremelo effect. The unusual vocal harmonies on the chorus give an exotic feel to the song, and the echo-drenched guitar lines add to the spacey ambience. An understated gem.

First One maintains the mellow mood and this one features the vocals of Tyla Rae. It’s perhaps the most mesmeric song on the album, deeply romantic in tone and based around the affecting refrain: “You were the first one to ever break my heart….”. The harmonies towards the end are spectacular

The following On Me introduces us to another vocalist, Dennis Lorenzo. It’s one of the most minimal, with succinct but effective infusions of bass and electric piano. Lorenzo has a smooth voice, and as the track builds he gets to express his considerable range. The music is cleverly arranged, rich organ and increasingly intricate percussion added to the mix, culminating in an intoxicating finale.

The album closes with the epic This Time and a return to the vocals of Syauqi Destanika. Starting out with a tight hi-hat groove, the music again gradually unfolds into an uplifting wall of sound featuring synth strings, gorgeous wailing sax and a superb, mode-based guitar solo that gives the album its suitably climactic moment. With its instantly memorable and anthemic chorus hook, it’s a blazing way to close things out.

Overall, this is an excellent follow up to 2019’s Ten Percent by a composer and multi-instrumentalist of the highest rank. His songs are brought to life by an array of talented guest vocalists and rappers which gives the music a freshness and natural variety. With such diverse genres integrated into a seamless whole and songs that run the gamut of human emotions, the album will appeal to a broad fanbase. It deserves to be widely heard and for Blue Soul Ten to be recognized as one of the finest acts currently around.

 

VERDICT = 9.1 out of 10           

Alex Faulkner

 

Album released September 4th

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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

 

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