ALBUM REVIEW: Antenna by Soldier Rye

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www.soldierrye.com

Soldier Rye is a singer and songwriter born and raised in Long Island, New York but now residing in Los Angeles. As a creative teenager, he found himself writing songs and making music with whatever he could get his hands on. Due to the development of affordable audio technology in later years, he was able to progress these recordings to a higher standard. When he was introduced to a music producer, he realized he could truly fulfill his musical ambitions and creativity. The result is this electro pop album based around his original demos.

The album, Antenna, consists of nine tracks and begins with the title track. It’s the perfect introduction to his signature sound; a modern synth-driven form of dance/electro pop with elements and influences stretching back to the 70’s, yet sounding undeniably cutting edge and of the times. Starting with sparse, enigmatic synth the arrangement gradually builds with a syncopated beat and Soldier Rye’s strong, distinctive vocal style.

Also incorporated are Giorgio Moroder-style swirling synth patterns and subtle female backing vocals that add to the texture. The song itself is slick and slinky with a fantastic chorus, bringing to mind artists like Pharrell Williams and Jason Derulo. A great start to the album.

Second track Cookie Cutter uses the same effective Prince-style kick and snare beat, this one featuring some funky Rhodes electric piano which gives it more of a Stevie Wonder vibe.  The track has an infectious energy, aided by insistent tambourine and a bouncy bassline. Lyrically, it’s about making the most of who you are and the life you’ve been given, captured succinctly on the excellent chorus: “Ain’t gonna be no cookie cutter, ain’t gonna watch you throw it all away….”.

Time Waits For No One is a nice change of pace, an epic R&B/modern pop ballad with a vaulting, haunting lead vocal melody. The music has an exotic, almost Indian flavour, with subtle use of sitars (or similar) which complement the strings along with  rich, layered backing harmonies. Commercial yet original, it sounds like an obvious choice as a single and a potentially huge hit.

The following Tomorrow is a similar tempo, but is different once again. It’s a sunny, upbeat R&B track that proves Soldier Rye can come up with consistently strong and memorable hooks. This is what separates the ‘men from the boys’ in songwriting terms. Again, with its irresistible catchiness and funky groove, it’s another potential single.

9th Sign maintains the funky vibe. It’s built around a sharp guitar riff, a superbly rhythmic bassline and interspersed with rich organ. The lyrics have a Prince-like level of sexual confidence, apparent from the opening lines: “You say I’m a good kisser, I know I am…”. It’s another perfectly executed funk pop track with a fine guitar solo.

We Found Us is one of the most inventive tracks and perhaps the most cutting edge, production wise. Based round a revolving piano sample and intricate syncopated rhythms, it builds into a fantastic arrangement with touches of xylophone and brass, adding to the rich instrumental texture. It’s also perhaps the most instant track, with an addictive title hook that you’ll be singing by the end.

Seventh track Comfortable continues the high quality, this one with a ‘Funky Drummer’ style groove and slick wah-wah guitar. The chorus is gloriously expansive and Soldier Rye gets to showcase the upper register of his voice.

The epic pop of Eyes Of Love is a return to the more synth-heavy sound that characterized the early part of the album and features some futuristic production effects. The moody style and epic vibe brought to mind the excellent late 80’s work of Depeche Mode. A real grower.

The album concludes with Afterworld, perhaps the spiritual and deeply emotional song here. Soldier Rye gives a superb vocal performance, especially on the hugely uplifting chorus. Its augmented by choral female backing harmonies that give it an almost celestial feel. Lyrically, it’s about losing a loved one and the hope that you will see them again on the other side: “In the afterworld you’re watching over me…”. A genuinely moving song and a lovely way to finish.

Overall, this is undoubtedly the best pop album I’ve heard this year. Soldier Rye has created a consistently strong set of songs that incorporate funk, soul, dance and jazz into the mix. Equally adept at writing upbeat and uptempo songs along with epic ballads, Soldier Rye deserves to be recognised as a singer and songwriter of the finest calibre.

 

VERDICT = 9.1 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

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SINGLE REVIEW: Amazing by Russell Lee

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Russell Lee is a Canadian born country rock singer/songwriter now residing in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He enjoyed a great deal of success in 2017 through the release of his album What Do I Do. The lead single from that album garnered an enormous 500,000 views on YouTube. He received six nominations at the Manitoba Music Awards and also had the privilege of playing the main stage at the world renowned Dauphin Countryfest. Since then, he has been working on a new album, Meant To Be.

This track, Amazing, is taken from that album and makes a great showcase for his first rate skills as both a singer and songwriter. It’s an uptempo country rock song with a strongly romantic theme, about feeling gratitude to have someone special in your life and letting them know you’ll be there for them.

Starting with strummed acoustic guitar, the first verse is fairly sparse with Russell’s strong and distinctive vocals allowed to take centre stage, backed by drums, organ and a little electric guitar. The sound is enriched by the perfectly executed layered backing harmonies which recur throughout the song.

It builds to a touching, memorable chorus as he appreciates how fortunate he is: “It’s amazing to me, you want to be by my side. After the second chorus we hear a well crafted lead guitar solo, something we don’t hear enough of in modern music. Special credit should go to the high standard of production, as good as anything you’ll hear on the radio and the performances of all the musicians involved are all of the highest calibre.

Overall, this is a well written country rock song, performed and produced to perfection by Russell Lee and his talented musical cohorts. With a likeable voice that’s easy on the ear and a fine way with melody, his commercial radio friendly sound bodes well for the song’s success. He already has a large fanbase, and with further material as strong as this he should continue to reach bigger and bigger numbers of people with his music.

 

VERDICT = 8.6 out of 10           

Alex Faulkner

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ALBUM REVIEW: Pack Up The Moon by D.C. Bloom

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D.C. Bloom is a folk/country singer and songwriter based in Austin. Having released several solo albums, his recent years have been blighted by serious health problems including multiple strokes and open heart surgeries. Only days after his album Just Another Song And Dance Man had charted in the Top 30 on FolkDJ, he unfortunately suffered a triple stroke which tragically left him unable to walk, confining him to a wheelchair.

Remarkably, he’s been able to continue making music and has recorded his sixth album Pack Up The Moon with two of Austin’s finest musicians, Chip Dolan (keyboard, accordion) and Dave Scher (lead guitar). The album consists of thirteen songs essentially in the folk and country genres, and naturally many of the songs deal with the insights and wisdom gained through overcoming such health difficulties. There is a strong spiritual aspect throughout the album, and the importance of faith is a recurring theme.

From the gentle and moving opening track, Saint of All Lost Causes, it quickly becomes apparent that Bloom is a highly accomplished songwriter both musically and lyrically. He writes the kind of deep, poetic lyrics borne from a lifetime of experience that you simply don’t hear in mainstream music much these days.

There’s a playfulness and humour to the opening line, “My pencil’s got a flat tire, erasing where I’ve been” which is contrasted by the Dylanesque gravity of lines like, “I’ve been scarred and marred by you, stigmatised with grief, my stolen life’s been wasted by a lover and a thief….”.

Musically, it consists of gentle, fingerpicked acoustic guitar and Bloom’s plaintive lead vocals that fit the material perfectly. With a succinct and moving chorus, it gets the album off to a powerful and poignant start.

Braced For The Big One is a nice contrast, musically an upbeat country rock number but with far deeper lyrics than you’ll usually find in this genre. It’s about how people are powerless in the hands of fate and accepting it: “Go shiver in the darkness, hunker down and pray, with our wagons in a circle got to take it day to day…”. Dave Scher contributes a fine lead guitar solo.

Soft Landings is the albums gentle epic, a five minute acoustic ballad consisting of just delicate picked acoustic guitar, Bloom’s emotive and intimate vocals and suitably soft use of brushes. It’s another song that goes to the heart of the human condition, the need for safety and security amidst life’s slings and arrows: “With the sorrow and the suffering of each cross we’re asked to bear, we keep longing for soft landings and the loving hands that care”.

Fourth track Harbor is another song about dealing with hardship in its many forms, this one a soothing ballad with a memorable melody. This one features some superb piano and organ accompliment courtesy of Chip Dolan, which really enriches the sound. Again, the spiritual theme of redemption runs through the song like a thread: “There’s a byway for every prodigal who feels it’s time to make things right….”.

Gone With The Texas Wind is a well crafted traditional country song, instantly catchy and infectious. Cleverly, it depicts the sound of blowing wind through the use of a musical saw (played by another Austin musician, Guy Forsyth). It’s these subtle touches that show the craftsmanship of a true artist.

Blessing in Disguise is a fine ballad with a lyrical lesson about “a femme fatale who corralled me with her Charleston charms”. It’s about finding wisdom even in bad experiences and it’s a real showcase for Bloom’s gift for eloquent and inventive wordplay.

Gospel Plow is a more overt expression of Bloom’s strong Christian faith, featuring some bluesy piano. It’s another well written song whose sentiments will resonate with everyone, regardless of faith or belief. The following Outskirts Of Paris is a rather different song, given a real Gallic charm through the use of accordion throughout. The instrumental colour and variety across the album is one of its many strengths and this song contains some of his most poetic imagery: “Ivy vines wither in the desolate heat”.

Ninth track Falling Down is an interesting song, with a beautiful descending vocal melody that brought to mind early Simon and Garfunkel as well as The Beatle’s Eleanor Rigby. It’s another of Bloom’s profoundly contemplative and philosophical songs at which he excels, with powerful lines like, “Every wall is bound to crumble, every brick will find its pile, all that’s left behind are hints that it once stood….”.

Still Life Composition is another song with an exotic European sound, this one featuring some gorgeous Spanish acoustic guitar playing in harmony, reminiscent of ABBA’s classic track Chiquitita. A very charming, sweet love song with clever use of metaphors.

Upside Of Down returns is to more traditional country fare, replete with slide guitar and banjo. It’s one of his uplifting songs about trying to see the glass half full. Next comes the title track and it’s an unexpected diversion into jazz, with a swinging rhythm that gets the toe tapping instantly. It has a jaunty, Blue Suede Shoes feel but the lyrics are dry and downbeat, an effective contrast: “Haul off the stars, they won’t be shooting no more, they’ve lost the tug of war, no need to gas the car….”

The album ends with the poignant piano-led ballad Going, Coming Home, which blends spoken and sung sections, again adding a little variety. It’s a genuinely heartwarming piece of songwriting about life’s long journey that brought to mind the lines from T.S Eliot’s Four Quartets: “The end of our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” A perfect way to complete the album, an emotional journey in itself.

Overall, this is a superb collection of songs that are unified by their lyrical depth and profundity as well as the consistently high quality of the music. D.C. Bloom draws on a lifetime of experience and hard earned wisdom, and to carry on after several strokes is testament to his artistic spirit and tenacity. Hopefully, many will get to hear this fine songwriter’s work and will be both uplifted and comforted by it.

 

VERDICT = 9.1 out of 10           

Alex Faulkner

 

SINGLE REVIEW: BAG SZN by Kid Fre$h

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Kid Fre$h is a hip-hop artist, rapper and songwriter hailing from Texas. He decided to consider a full time career as a rap artist after his first two singles, Loyalty (ft. T10) and Rollie, were released to great acclaim. In 2017, he followed up with Smoke Somethin’ and signed a record deal in 2018 with NuSouf Music. In the same year he released the Limitless E.P. and in 2019 he has already released the tracks Pe$os and No Pressure. He has amassed literally millions of listens on Soundcloud and a large following on social media.

This latest track, BAG SZN, is a slick hip hop track where Kid Fre$h really gets to showcase his versatile and highly proficient skills as an emcee and lyricist. As a rapper, he has a distinct, recognizable style and is remarkably fluent on the mic. His talent for verbal dexterity and lyrical flow is a force to be reckoned with, as good as any of the current crop of hip-hop artists.

It begins with a brief but entertaining spoken word intro, before an insistent, intricate beat joins forces with a deep, dub bassline to provide the foundation for Kid Fre$h to lay down some rapid fire rhymes. The track’s main hook appears early and grabs the listener immediately: “It’s the season to get rich, it’s the season to get sick….”

His lyrical delivery is aggressive and exhilarating, effortlessly stamping his presence strongly on the music. What stands out is his superb command of rhythm which is as important as the ability to produce fluent lyrics, and he achieves some effortless verbal gymnastics as the track progresses. This profusion of dense lyrics is counter pointed by the effective simplicity of the title hook.

Overall, this is a first rate, extremely catchy hip-hop track from a rapper with an infectious, arresting style and delivery. Aside from his obvious abilities as an emcee, the track’s arrangement and production can stand alongside the most successful hip-hop out there. This will maximize Kid Fre$h’s potential to cut a swathe through his numerous competitors and contemporaries and eventually reach the pinnacle of the hip hop scene, where he undoubtedly belongs.

 

VERDICT = 8.8 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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SINGLE REVIEW: Thirteen Days (ft. Toby Wilson) by David Arn

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https://davidarn.com/

David Arn is a singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist hailing from Ohio originally, but now 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 so far released two full length albums, Postmodern Days and Walking To Dreamland (which I reviewed very favourably in 2015).

This song, Thirteen Days (ft. Toby Wilson) is a delicate, heartfelt acoustic ballad with a distinctly melancholy and moving emotional undertone. Musically, the song is built on a bedrock of exquisitely recorded, crystal-clear picked acoustic guitar and double bass, which gives the music a slightly jazzy feel alongside the Americana/folk style of the overall song.

Throughout, it also features the contribution of guitarist Toby Wilson, whose mellifluous lead acoustic guitar playing adds an extra level of finesse and class.
These sophisticated touches still allow plenty of space for David ‘s warm, resonant lead vocals. Here, he gives an affecting, deeply intimate performance depicting a heartbroken lover dissecting the end of a deeply romantic relationship.

The poetic quality of the lyrics shows the influence of masters of the songwriting craft like Leonard Cohen, who would have been proud of a line such as, “The loom of comfort is hard to weave, my hands wear out from fatigue….”. This rich imagery is contrasted by the simplicity of the title hook, which perfectly evokes how time can suddenly drag when someone special has left your life.

Overall, this is a superbly crafted and performed acoustic ballad detailing the emotional fallout of an intense love affair. David Arn’s songwriting is honest and from the heart, with a power and poeticism that you associate with only the very finest in their field. I hope Thirteen Days helps David Arn achieve the wide ranging recognition and success his talent deserves. The excellent music video that accompanies the song should help that happen.

 

VERDICT = 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

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SINGLE REVIEW: Mr. Blue by Love Ghost

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http://loveghost.com/

Love Ghost are an alternative rock band hailing from Los Angeles. Despite their relative youth they have already achieved a great deal, having opened live for Buckcherry, Berlin and Smash Mouth.

Their music is heavily influenced by grunge and heavy rock bands from the 90’s including Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins and Alice In Chains. You can also hear the influence of a band like Yellowcard who augment their rock sound with violin.In this case, Love Ghost features Mya Greene on viola who performs a similar role.

Last year, they released their full length debut album, Lobotomy (which is highly recommended, read my review here). This latest single, Mr. Blue, sees them taking their anthemic alternative rock to the next level.

Starting with a call and response melody between low-end guitar and viola, the track bursts into life with a meaty drum sound and sharp high-end guitar octaves. Finn Bell’s distinctive lead vocals then grab the focus, his voice lying halfway between R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe and Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong.

The song itself is well structured and sonically powerful, moving from a relatively sparse verse then building up to an explosive chorus that quickly sticks in the memory. Lyrically, it depicts a troubled relationship and personal worldview: “You left your heart on the table, I wasn’t even stable……I say the world is tainted, I am Mr. Blue…”. The Nirvana-style vocal harmonies on the chorus are very effective.

Throughout the track there is a subtle sheen of electronica which becomes more prominent after the second chorus, giving the production a modern sound as well as contrasting effectively with the viola. Special mention should go to the production quality overall, as it’s as good as anything you will hear on the radio and the band’s musical vision sounds fully realized.

Overall, this is another excellent release from Love Ghost which sees them refining their signature sound and creating an alternative rock anthem that could open a lot of doors for them. The radio friendly sound and production style bodes well for its success, but it maintains a raw edge which will please those more into the alternative side of rock and helps it pack a real punch.

VERDICT = 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

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SINGLE REVIEW: Soul City by GentleBeatz

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https://www.facebook.com/gentlebeatz

GentleBeatz is the artistic moniker of a hip hop/electronica composer and producer currently based in Mozambique. He describes his musical style as lo-fi hip hop/chill-hop. In fact, he incorporates and fuses many eclectic genres into his sound including jazz, reggae, soul, blues, EDM, R&B, folk, indie and world music. His work is mostly instrumental in form and he explains that creating music is partly therapeutic, as a way of dealing with life’s anxieties and difficulties.

This track, Soul City, is taken from the eight track album of the same name. It’s a mellow, mid-paced hip-hop instrumental that makes a strong impact despite its short duration, less than two and a half minutes. It starts with the sound of crackling vinyl, and a languid, dreamy guitar line that quickly latches in the listener’s mind. It has the authentic feel of funk music from the 70’s with its subtle but seductive bassline, yet also has the modern addition of a slinky hip-hop beat.

On top of this are brief bursts of electronica which further add to the modernity of the sound and these gradually become more recurrent as the track progresses. Around halfway through a female vocal refrain emerges that complements the guitar motif perfectly and towards the end the guitar switches to a low octave, giving the feeling of gradually coming down to earth after a flight. It’s this wealth of nuanced detail that marks out GentleBeatz’ music as superior.

Overall, this is a highly impressive fusion of hip-hop, R&B, funk and electronica that is, most importantly, very enjoyable to listen to. GentleBeatz takes the soulful sound of 70’s funk/R&B and brings it up to date with slick hip-hop beats and a modern, cutting edge production style. It is similar to what Mark Ronson was doing in the earlier part of his career, and I hope GentleBeatz gets a break in the industry as his music would bring pleasure to many.

VERDICT = 8.7 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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