ALBUM REVIEW: JORODU by JORODU

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JORODU is the artistic moniker of composer, producer and multi-instrumentalist Jose R. Duque who is based in Miami, Florida but a native of Venezuela. Jose has been involved with numerous successful artists and projects of his own including being the drummer/percussionist for the Randy Armstrong Trio and leader of Jose Duque’s RELOAD.

He has written the score for two films released in Spain (2012 & 2013), released eleven independent albums and recorded/produced albums for artists including Corazon and Superpower. His biggest influences are great jazz and prog rock drummers such as Bill Bruford, Philly Jo Jones and Jimmy Cobb.

This eponymously titled album consists of nine instrumental tracks and musically an eclectic fusion of rock, jazz, funk, world music and electronica. Opening track, Fortuna non Omnibus Aeque, gets the album to a vibrant start. It’s an epic funk track with jazzy overtones, Jose himself putting in a stellar performance behind the kit. Built around a memorable lead guitar riff, the track features some remarkable musicianship from all involved.

Javier Espinoza contributes a superb bassline that works in perfect tandem with Jose’s crisp, incredibly fluent drumming. Smoky sounding Rhodes fills out the sound and the group take turns in expressing their remarkable virtuosity on their respective instruments. Jose himself does some mindblowing fills around the halfway mark, augmented by stunning lead guitar and electric piano solos. A great start to the album.

Second track Nulla habeo nomen is a slower, darker sounding track based around a slinky groove and an ascending low-end melody on guitar. As with the first track it’s full of musical detail and sophisticated nuance, such as the use of syncopations and accent shifts which keeps the music never less than riveting. The guitar gets crunchy and heavy in places, showing the influence of heavy rock and metal.

Ubi Umbra Vivit shows the more jazzy side to JORODU’S music, based around a quirky piano melody in a complex time signature. There is an exotic vibe to the whole track, especially the sitar-like keyboards that show the world music influence. This is one of the mellower pieces, clocking in at an epic eight and a half minutes. Jon Durant contributes fretless and cloud guitars on this one.

Verbum Dismissum is one of the album’s most funky tracks built on a punchy groove and a rolling, mellifluous bassline. This lays the platform for some Stevie Wonder-style Rhodes and some versatile lead guitar from Phil Sargent. This track is a powerful showcase for Jose’s drumming skills as he performs some breathtaking whirlwind fills around the kit and maintains the restless energy and momentum until the very end.

Victa lacet Virtus is the album’s centrepiece and biggest epic at over ten minutes long. It’s a languid and melancholy progressive jazz track featuring the evocative female vocals of Beatriz Malnic. Rather than singing lyrics, she uses her voice as an instrument in itself, often singing in tandem with the other instruments. The whole track has real atmosphere and feel, and Jose not only contributes drums but also uke bass, piano and a keyboard solo. Superb.

Ego Vade A Gades shows the Latin American influence both in the rhythmic and melodic elements. It fuses dance rhythms with jazz in a very clever and inventive way, with contrasting sections keeping the listener on their toes. There are wonderful passages of jazzy piano by Mike Effenberger and Phil Sargent plays a very exotic solo on a nylon string guitar, which adds authenticity as well as a unique musical flavour. Another highlight.

Tion, Uqbar, Orbits, Tertius is perhaps the most progressive track here music, with some fiendishly complex switches in time signatures yet accomplished with consummate ease by the musicians involved. It’s a brooding fusion that melds jazz, funk and elements of rock so you never quite know what’s coming next. This is perhaps a great track to introduce JORODU to someone as it encapsulates their wide ranging versatility and extremely high skill levels.

Eighth rack Ludo Duo is a real change of pace, a mellow, dreamy piece of bluesy jazz that makes clever use of harmonics and samples. It also displays the effectiveness of subtlety and restraint with tasteful, understated performances that gradually build in urgency, resulting in a punchy climax.

The final track on the album, Amor MCMLXXX, is by far the simplest musically but its a richly evocative and stately instrumental, with a haunting melody. It is composed and performed entirely by Jose, showing yet another side to his musical oeuvre and specifically his gift as a melodic composer and keyboardist. It’s an apposite way to conclude the album and bookends it perfectly.

Overall, this album is a tour de force of eclectic genre fusion and exceptional musicianship. Jose Duque is a phenomenal drummer, but is equally adept at several other instruments and is joined by several musical cohorts of peerless proficiency. The music itself is never less than hugely enjoyable, with a mercurial quality that keeps the listener coming back for more. This album will go down a storm with progressive jazz and rock fans but should appeal to all discerning music lovers out there.

 

VERDICT = 9.1 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

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ALBUM REVIEW: Howard Herrick by Howard Herrick

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Howard Herrick is a songwriter and producer hailing from New Jersey. He has written music in many genres (just a few being pop, rock, jazz, blues and orchestral) both as a solo artist and as part of the group Minster Hill. He’s written and produced music for both film and theatre, including My One and Only, Vanishing on 7th Street, Very Good Girls, Nightlight and Peter Pan 360.

He’s also been Executive Music Producer on several film productions and written several label artists. Recently, he composed music for Shaquille O’ Neal’s video game Shaq-Fu: A Legend Reborn and is currently writing and producing music for the second series of American Beauty Star.

This eponymous solo album was entirely written and produced by Howard, who also performed (and engineered) most of the instruments, as well as mixing and mastering the music. He collaborates with various vocalists, both male and female. It consists of nine tracks and acts as an excellent showcase for his songwriting versatility and musical eclecticism.

The album starts with perhaps the most modern production, Hold My Hand. It’s a slinky pop/R&B track in a similar style to The Weeknd and mid-period Justin Timberlake.  The song is superbly crafted, highlighted by a memorable lead vocal performance, by a male singer gifted with a huge range and a powerful, distinctive falsetto.

He sings in the upper register of his voice throughout, over a simple but effective beat driven by a pulsing kick drum, along with piano and catchy synth riffs. Written in a minor key, it starts with the highly memorable chorus and lyrically deals with having faith in the strength of a relationship and facing the future without fear. Hold My Hand is an obvious choice as a single and sounds like it belongs at the top of the charts.

Show Me That One Again is a complete contrast, a poignant ballad consisting of just piano and a warm, intimate vocal. It’s a moving song about how the responsibilities of adulthood have dimmed the ebullience that the young have: “You say your owned now by some business-suited man…”.

The essence of the song is captured succinctly in the chorus: “Just remember for a little while, you once were young and had that smile, I haven’t seen it since I don’t know when, won’t you show me that one again?” Exquisitely crafted and sensitively performed, it harks back to the classic singer songwriters and confessional style of the 70’s.

Third track Go and Hear is another sharp contrast, opening in a blaze of heavy, low end electric chords and rich organ. It’s soon joined by a meaty backbeat and an edgier lead vocal that fits with the overall rock sound. It features a huge sounding chorus augmented by Queen-style stacked backing harmonies. It also features a fantastic guitar solo, bringing back the late 80’s commercial rock sound.

Behind Closed Doors recalls the 80’s again, but this time the synth pop sound which has recently come back into vogue through groups like Chvrches and The xx. This makes it one of the album’s most contemporary tracks and lyrically it is certainly the darkest, opening with the bleak lines: “I’ve fallen to the depths of despair, to the darkest of places, no one else is there….there are no familiar faces…”.

The emotional depth and honesty displayed here gives considerable power and weight to the music and shows real authenticity in terms of artistry. Starting with a guitar and bass figure, it gradually builds into an epic pop track that mirrors the gravity of the lyrics. The lead vocals are performed in different octaves, which gives it a distinctive, memorable sound. Around the three minute mark, the song breaks down to a poignant section where a ghostly sounding vocal portrays the dark emotional landscape that the song expresses.

The following New Heart is set at a similar tempo but much lighter in subject matter and musical vibe. It’s a soulful pop track with another compelling vocal performance, with use of falsetto once more on the title hook. A classy piece of pop songwriting and restores the generally upbeat mood of the rest of the album.

Sixth track Is Love Enough brought to mind the emotive style of early 70’s Todd Rundgren, but the musically colourful arrangement and unexpected chord changes made me think of one of pop’s most underrated songwriters, Jeff Lynne of E.L.O., as well as 80’s group Tears For Fears. Despite all these influences, Herrick stamps his own sonic identity aided by a particularly strong lead vocalist who delivers near the top of their  range. The numerous subtleties and details make for a piece of perfect pop that you’ll never grow tired of.

If I Fall Off The Next Step shows yet another side to Herrick’s songwriting, featuring a female lead vocalist. It’s a delicate, beautifully written acoustic ballad augmented by short bursts of Spanish guitar. Her crystalline singing voice along with with the finger-picked acoustic playing is reminiscent of Joni Mitchell, and the enchanting melody makes it one of the album’s finest tracks.

Nothing Lasts Forever returns to male lead vocals and also a return to the Todd Rundgren-esque sound and style of writing. This is a track where Herrick displays his breadth of harmonic and rhythmic range, with some unpredictable chord changes and subtle use of shifting rhythms and syncopations. There’s some wonderfully jazzy chords after the second chorus that takes the music to another level of sophistication.

The album finishes with another female sung track, Sad Plant. Despite its downbeat title it’s actually an upbeat pop track that recalls elements of Stevie Nicks, Like A Prayer-era Madonna and a more modern pop group like Haim. The song has a summery feelgood vibe and ends this extremely accomplished album on a satisfying high.

Overall, this album is a masterclass in songwriting across an eclectic range of styles and proves emphatically that Howard Herrick deserves to be known as one of the most proficient and versatile songwriters of this era. With the track Hold My Hand he has a dead cert hit with sufficient promotion and there’s several other tracks that would make fine singles. But what makes the album stand out is the musical and emotional range of the songs. Highly recommended.

VERDICT = 9.2 out of 10             

Alex Faulkner

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Visit Howard’s official website HERE

 

 

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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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

 

ALBUM REVIEW: Transition by Eddie Arjun

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http://www.eddiearjun.com/

Eddie Arjun (formerly Arjun) is the collective name of New York-based instrumental trio, consisting of lead guitarist (and producer of this album) Eddie Arjun Peters, backed up by Andre Lyles on bass and Mike Vetter on drums.

Essentially they combine the raw expression and energy of rock and blues with the sophistication and intricacy of jazz and progressive rock, resulting in a musical fusion that is unique and original. All three members are musicians of the highest calibre and manage to balance free expression on their respective individual instruments whilst managing to interlock musically in an airtight, completely synergistic way.

Founded back in 2003, the band developed their craft over time and they eventually began releasing a trilogy of studio albums which started with Space (2013), followed by Core (2014, reviewed very favourably by yours truly) and culminating in 2016’s Gravity. These albums also featured contributions by highly regarded musicians such as E.J. Rodriguez (The Jazz Passengers, Sean Lennon), John Medeski (Medeski, Martin & Wood), Cory Henry (Snarky Puppy) and Jeff Coffin (Dave Mathews Band, Bela Fleck and The Flecktones).

This album, Transition, consists of eight tracks and is due for release February 1st, 2019. Opening track There It Is gets the album off to a strong start. It begins with a Jimmy Page-style rock/blues riff which for many rock bands would become enough to base a whole track around, but it forms just one of a number of melodic themes and motifs which are deployed throughout the track. It leads straight into a high-end blues/funk riff, with the simple rhythm soon displaced with syncopations. This is alternated with the low-end riff, played in tandem on the bass with a short chromatic section adding further variety.

Drummer Mike Vetter and bassist Andre Lyles soon manifest as a formidable rhythm section, both rock solid and incredibly fluid. They lay the platform for Eddie Arjun Peters’ versatile, almost otherworldly guitar skills. Halfway through the track it breaks down to an extended section where Eddie gets to show the more psychedelic Hendrix/Gilmour side to his playing, with some incredibly mellifluous runs across the neck. This is underpinned by some stunning playing from Vetter and Lyles, culminating in a jaw dropping section of virtuosity before returning to the original groove.

Second track Core opens in a blaze of Keith Moon-esque drum fills and raw guitar chords before launching into a mellow blues in 6/8 time. From this simple template, the band progress through an intricate arrangement full of nuanced dynamics where almost every bar has some clever accent placement or rhythmic motif that adds musical interest.

It then builds up to a gorgeous ascending section that Hendrix would have been proud of, the music exuding sensuality. Eddie gets to break out his wah-wah which he uses tastefully and effectively, bringing to mind the Jimi of his latter day Voodoo Chile-period.

Next comes the title track and it’s a very different beast. Opening with a taut guitar riff that keeps you hanging in suspense it then locks into a pulsing, intense groove with a continually unpredictable rhythm that shifts under your feet. This is the track where the whole band really showcase their mastery of rhythmic dynamics and their remarkable unity that almost seems telepathic but is no doubt the result of tireless rehearsing.

Here the music is more modal than pentatonic giving it a more exotic feel, though still with a strong bluesy vibe. It feels like every single note has been worked out to precision, with some astonishing moments where all three players reach a frenzy yet remain in complete control, such as the superb solo section and the frenetic climax.

The following Longass has an irresistible groove and a real strut, with the guitar and bass once again playing a funky blues riff in tandem. And again, what starts out as a seemingly simple rock/blues jam becomes a cleverly arranged epic. After the initial sections have been repeated a further section midway through takes the music into the stratosphere, with Eddie Arjun Peters breaking out the delay pedal for another skyscraping solo. Another album highlight.

Iana is more like an interlude track consisting of just a moody solo bass, acting as a lull in the storm. The next two tracks both made me think of Hendrix, but in different parts of his short career. Sixth track Ascent is a mellow jazzy blues number that recalls the Axis: Bold as Love era, specifically songs like Little Wing and Castles Made of Sand. The arrangement is very clever in how it reflects the title perfectly, gradually building up to the thrilling development section where Andre Lyles shines with some remarkably fluid bass playing, locked in perfectly with Mike Vetter’s whirlwind fills around the kit.

The following, aptly-titled Lavalust is more akin to the wild epic psychedelic rock of Electric Ladyland and is my personal favourite on the album. Kicking off with a killer slap bassline put through a phaser, this is joined by a torrent of flamboyant fills reminiscent of Mitch Mitchell. It then launches into a rock/blues masterpiece that takes all their combined compositional and arrangement skills to another level.

The breakdown section in the middle is where this track really aims for the stars though; delay-drenched lead guitar playing some mind bending runs over gradually intensifying bass and drums, as trippy as something like 1983… (A Merman I Should Turn To Be) from Hendrix’s last magnum opus. It then returns back to Earth for another fantastic section where the guitar does indeed drip like liquid lava, and the whole band is captured at their euphoric, boundary-pushing best.

Closing track Gone is a real slow burner. It starts with a languid groove that really allows the music to breathe, Vetter and Lyles play with exquisite restraint while Eddie Arjun Peters slowly weaves a spell with some deliciously dreamy guitar work. The main theme is plaintive and haunting, the arrangement gradually growing in grandeur towards one final blaze of wah-soaked guitar pyrotechnics. It continues through several sections on this subtly complex seven-minute sonic odyssey. It’s a majestic way to end the journey overall, finishing on an unexpected major chord which gives an air of completion.

Overall, this is the best album so far from this terrifically talented trio. The three members of Eddie Arjun have honed their respective skills to a very fine pitch, have developed a musical unity and synergy that few musicians ever achieve and most importantly write and perform consistently stunning music. The nuanced details and craft in the arrangement of every track means it will richly reward repeated listening and should appeal to an enormous range of rock, blues and jazz aficionados.

VERDICT = 9.3 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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SINGLE REVIEW: Two Hands by DreamState

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https://www.facebook.com/itsdreamstate1/

DreamState are a music group based in Maryland, consisting of Josh Hilson, Tyler Gagnon and Kyle Santos. The three members have diverse musical backgrounds ranging from country to hip hop and R&B, and they have fused these elements to create their unique sound that lies between R&B, pop and electronica. The genesis of this musical project led to the formation of their own music studio, DreamLabs and the group have now released their debut EP, Take Care.

This track, Two Hands, is taken from the Take Care EP and is essentially anthemic R&B/pop with cutting edge production. Starting with a brief intro, the track launches into a simple but effective 2/4 groove before we hear strong male lead vocals in a low register over sparse but evocative layers of synth. After a well crafted verse it launches into an instantly memorable chorus with touching lyrics: “Let me put two hands on you, baby and I will be careful with you….no, you’ve got nothing left to prove so I’ll show you what to do….”.

As the track progresses, you start to hear elements from other genres incorporated into the music such as the subtle lead electric guitar lines that are interspersed through the song. This lends another colour to the sonic palette and enriches the overall sound. Lyrically, its a sincere expression of wanting to love and care for someone, with a depth and subtlety expressed that transcends cliché and sentimentality.

Overall, this is an excellent release that showcases the DreamState signature style which should find huge popularity with fans of artists like Drake and The Weeknd. They show a real skill for well crafted songwriting and memorable hooks, made manifest with first rate lead vocals and slick, commercial production that manages to sound different from the rest of the R&B/pop scene. With this, DreamState have already proven that they have huge commercial potential and Two Hands could well be their breakthrough track.

 

VERDICT = 8.8 out of 10

 

Alex Faulkner

 

ALBUM REVIEW: Bound By Gravity by Paragon Theorem

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https://www.facebook.com/paragontheorem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VERDICT =  9.2 out of 10            

Alex Faulkner

 

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