SINGLE REVIEW: Wildfire by Chris Corey

Chris Corey is a Canadian singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who was raised in Northern Ontario. After taking a break from music for several years he decided to return to the fold and has been busy working on his full length debut album which is due to be released in 2020. His music is essentially an eclectic blend of pop, rock, folk and 80’s New Wave, amongst other influences. His two previous releases prior to this were Feel My Love and Worried About You.

This latest single, Wildfire, is an epic modern pop track that shows his 80’s New Wave influence. Starting with just bass and a pulsing four to the floor kick, synths are added to the blend to create the bedrock for Chris’s passionate and emotive vocal style. The first verse depicts a relationship that’s gone through stormy weather: “Got lost in a tail wind that left us both for dead…”.

The song builds to a stately and instantly memorable chorus where Chris gets to shine vocally. The vaulting vocal melody and overall sound brought to mind synth-pop legends Duran Duran and the more recent 80’s-influenced work of The Killers (as well as Brandon Flowers’s solo albums). The well crafted middle eight gives the song an extra emotional weight, culminating in a powerful section of synth arpeggios before one last blast through the soaring chorus. Special credit should also go to the production which sounds like a fully fledged realisation of Corey’s artistic vision.

Overall, this is a first rate modern pop track with a subtle 80’s influence and a killer title hook. Chris Corey is blessed with a voice that is both distinctive and radio friendly as well as having a gift for writing memorable melodies set to strong, relatable lyrics. Wildfire could be the song that really sees his career take off in a major way.

VERDICT = 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

Listen to Wildfire HERE

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E.P. REVIEW: In Youth We Trust by ALKY

http://www.alkymusic.com/

ALKY is a singer, songwriter, rapper, producer and multi-instrumentalist hailing from the Hot City (Phoenix, Arizona). In 2007, he became a classical pianist and has gone on to learn guitar, bass, drums and violin. In 2017, he began producing his own music which led to his first release, Dream. His music is versatile and eclectic in terms of genre, though mainly in the hip hop/RnB category. He regards Kendrick Lamar, Dae Zhen, blackbear, Croosh And Twenty One Pilots as some of his main artistic inspirations.

This EP, In Youth We Trust, consists of six tracks. It begins with the instantly catchy Something 2 Do which starts with a haunting guitar line and a brooding bassline overlaid with a vocoder vocal intro. A slick RnB beat enters along with ALKY, who lays down a concise rapped verse before switching to singing for the memorable chorus hook. Lyrically, it’s darkly existential in tone with ALKY reflecting on feelings of nihilism (“Killing time, it’s just something to do….another reason that the ending keeps on turning us blue….”) and trying to find a purpose in life: “I’ve been searching my whole life like I’ve got something to prove“. It’s a powerful opening track that showcases ALKY’s many talents and unique style.

The Call (ft. Marcel Xane) is at a similar tempo and again features a memorable hook with visceral, fiercely honest lyrics. It starts out with the chorus, depicting someone who’s taken the wrong path in life: “So down here I fall, looking upwards in my grave, only staring at the faces that gave me all….”. As bleak as that sounds, the verses offer glimmers of hope and spiritual redemption: “I’ve been looking for the kindness, other things that money can afford“. It’s another strong track with a fine contribution from South African vocalist and producer Marcel Xane.

Pull Up involves another guest contributor, this one featuring Trip Carter. Built around a beautiful, poignant classical piano melody, it’s lyrically much lighter in tone than the first two, with the more traditional braggadocio aspect you get in much hip hop: “Ain’t no limits when you make it to the top, when I pull up I make everything stop…”. Once again, the hooks are incredibly catchy and this more summery sounding track acts as a nice contrast.

Fourth track For The Clout is back to ALKY on his own, beginning with another solemn and mood setting guitar figure. With a languid tempo and a melancholy feel it’s a hip hop ballad of sorts. It finds ALKY wondering about the materialistic incentives behind a relationship: “Ever since I got this money, acting out, now you only coming at me for the clout….”. As with every track here, the title hook is strong and naggingly catchy.

Fifth track TRAGIC! is a real contrast, featuring a powerhouse performance from ALKY who gets to fully showcase his skills as a rapper. For fluency, rapid fire delivery and lyrical dexterity this track rivals Eminem at his best. He also shares his ability to concoct a vicious and witty takedown: “The last time I checked you was living like a bitch, no, not living in the dog’s house, more like living in your mom’s house…”. The busy verses are nicely contrasted with the effective simplicity of the chorus and this one stands out as an obvious choice for a single release.

The EP closes with the brief but memorable Too Fast, based around a jazzy guitar chord progression. ALKY delivers a world weary vocal performance full of feeling as he contemplates whether his hedonistic lifestyle is getting out of hand, the lilting chorus running: “I’ve been living life too fast to slow down, every night I seem to go out....”. The track ends abruptly after ninety seconds, making its impact somehow more potent.

Overall, this is a very fine hip hop EP from a very modern artist with a plethora of talents. Bringing his skills of rapping, singing, multi-instrument playing and production into play, he proves he’s highly adept in all these departments. The collaborations with other artists work well and every track here stands up on its own merits. I think the world is going to be hearing a lot more about ALKY in the future.

VERDICT = 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

Listen on Spotify HERE

ALBUM REVIEW: A Broken Beast by William Ben Brooks

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http://www.WilliamBenBrooks.com

William Ben Brooks is a singer and songwriter originally from southern Oklahoma and now based in Brooklyn, New York. His music is a blend of folk, rock, blues and country, essentially Americana, though also tinged with touches of soul and gospel.

His music has appeared on prime time shows like How I Met Your Mother and The Late Show with David Letterman, along with several film credits, numerous accolades and awards for his songwriting.

This album, A Broken Beast, consists of 14 songs and features a stellar cast of Grammy and Emmy award winning musicians including Catherine Russell (David Bowie, Steely Dan), Janie Barnett (Linda Rondstadt, Rickie Lee Jones), Ms. Nicki Richards (Madonna), multi-Emmy winner Robbie Kondor (Eric Clapton, Aretha Franklin, Billy Joel) and Jon Gordon (Suzanne Vega, Madonna) on guitars and bass, amongst others.

The album gets off to a strong start with the five minute upbeat rock of And I Heard. Starting with earthy, country tinged lead guitar it breaks out into a strident rock groove with a biting guitar riff. Breaking down to strummed acoustic guitar for the verse, William’s warm and charismatic vocals take centre stage. His vocal style is both edgy and easy on the ear, delivered with passion and conviction, lying halfway between Bob Dylan and Neil Young.

Musically, it is furthered enriched by warm organ and a cluster of gospel-tinged female backing harmonies on the hook, “I won’t know…”. Lyrically, it’s about the possibility of a relationship with a potential femme fatale as captured by the evocative, Cohen-esque opening lines: “And I heard that you were wild like an unleashed feral child, with all your lovers stacked and piled…”.

Blindside shows the more Cat Stevens folk-influenced side to his songwriting. Over delicately picked acoustic guitar, Brooks delivers an enigmatic lyric that offers glimpses into a dark emotional situation: “How could you bring us to this place? And not even show your face…”.

As the song progresses it builds into a powerfully epic rock track augmented by cellos playing in a taut, rhythmic fashion as well as more soulful female backing vocals. The contrasting dynamics between the different sections is highly effective and it’s another excellent piece of work.

Remedy displays his more bluesy side, built around a simple, strutting groove, smoky clavinet and subtle guitars. It’s one of the album’s most instant and catchy songs with its infectious title hook and easy to relate to lyrics, devoted to a special someone who makes it all worthwhile: “I can hit the wall, I can take the fall, I can bear it all cause I love you…”. A fun and funky track that could really open some doors, commercially speaking.

You and Me is slightly different once again, this one rooted in a country sound and style. It brings back the organ and sharp lead guitar lines of the first track and features and great call and response vocal section with his ever present female backing singers, who are an integral part of his signature sound. The title hook is memorable once more and it’s well crafted as always.

The Beauty Of It All is another fine showcase for his compositional skills, this one a tender and poignant piano ballad featuring an emotive and affecting vocal performance from Brooks. It’s about choosing to find beauty in all the lows as well as the highs in a romantic relationship: “I recall every trip and fall, every bliss, large and small, every twist and turn, every soothe and burn but I choose to see the beauty of it all….”.

Sweet, Safe and Sound continues in a similar vein, this one recalling Bruce Springsteen in its vocal delivery and powerful poetic imagery: “Either it’s love or its hate, maybe it’s God or it’s fate, it’s all just a gift or a curse, it’s the front or the back of the hearse”.

Seventh track It Is What It Is stands out as a real highlight, an upbeat Addicted To Love-style rocker where his band cook up an incredible energy. William’s vocals combine with his backing singers on the chorus to great effect and the guitar solo is exquisitely crafted. It’s about truly enjoying the moment you’re experiencing and the joyous vibe of the music mirrors this sentiment perfectly.

Worst Case Scenario Number 139 is one of the lighter hearted songs on the album, bringing to mind the playful tone of Randy Newman. It features some great barrelhouse piano and bluesy bursts of harmonica. Too Many Fields takes us back into the realms of folk, with a Stairway to Heaven-style intro. It’s perhaps the heaviest song lyrically, portraying the horror of both slavery and war: “Beaten down by the sun and whip…..buried deep in the trench and the smoke”. A very affecting and poignant track that shows his considerable artistic range.

Saved Me for Last is another that plucks at the heartstrings, a delicate piano ballad with an intimate vocal performance. It finds him in a dark place after a relationship has ended badly: “Just confusion with no conclusion to this hell you threw me in….”

Too Soon is my personal favourite on the album, a fast paced rocker driven by a fearsome guitar riff, courtesy of Jon Gordon (who also contributes bass). It’s a duet of sorts, featuring some fantastic call and response sections with Catherine Russell, whose soulful high register tone provides the perfect counterpoint to Brook’s earthy delivery. A storming track.

We Ain’t Going Anywhere is very much in keeping with his signature style, a mid-paced folk-tinged rock song, though lyrically it is something of an outsider anthem for anyone who is regarded as a little different: “Well, we know you pray that we just go away cause you don’t like what we do or say….”. The vocal arrangement is particularly strong on this one, with a memorable title hook.

In This Room is a haunting acoustic folk ballad based on a descending chord sequence. It was co-written with the best selling author Julia Cameron, who wrote The Artist’s Way. It’s a beautifully crafted song that captures the essence of deep and transformative moments in life: “Dreams change hands here forever, lips are sealed here forever, hearts are broken open here forever….”.

The album closes with another moving ballad, Lisa’s Lullaby, that feels like an outpouring of emotion and love for the person in question. The backing harmonies are positively angelic. The final verse conveys the depth of his emotion and need to provide comfort: “And if you should find yourself frightened from the monsters that all of us fear, I will fill your ears with love songs till we both know the coast is clear…”. The way he sings the final words (“Please…just listen to me”) is a powerful and poignant way to complete the album’s emotional journey.

Overall, A Broken Beast is an album that captures William Ben Brooks at the height of his artistic powers. Equally adept at writing and performing both gritty rock tracks and the gentlest of acoustic ballads, his songs run the gamut of life’s vicissitudes and one comes away with a new perspective on what it means to be human. And that, ultimately, is the measure of art and an artist. Highly recommended.

 

VERDICT = 9.2 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

 

Listen on Spotify HERE

 

 

 

Purchase the album on:

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ALBUM REVIEW: Journey Home by Monica Ortiz

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https://www.facebook.com/monicaortizmusic/

Monica Ortiz is a country/pop/adult contemporary singer and songwriter. Ever since she was a child she’s had a very strong relationship with music and felt the desire to express herself creatively from an early age. This debut album Journey Home, which consists of nine songs, is the end result of her musical journey so far and features a number of collaborators and guest performances. She has co-written several songs with Charlie Lowell from Jars of Clay and there’s vocal contributions from Matthew Koziol and the McCrary sisters.

The album starts with the poignant piano ballad The Woman I Became. It acts as a fine showcase for Monica’s crystalline vocals and emotive, inspiring songwriting approach. It’s a style that was known in the 1970’s as “confessional”, where full and open expression of feelings was paramount. The opening lines paint a touching picture of parental love: “When I was little you said it would be hard, you sat me down and warned me of future scars….”.

Monica’s delicate and sensitive vocal performance in a high register perfectly expresses the lyrics that depict the difficult process of growing up, of a girl growing into a woman and standing on her own two feet. Aside from a fine piano arrangement, the song features strings which add to the emotional effect, especially on the moving and memorable chorus. A very strong opening song and one co-written with Charlie Lowell.

The second track Burn Out is a mid-paced country-tinged pop song written by Matt Odmark from Jars of Clay and Heather Bond. Monica very much makes it her own, delivering another fine performance that brought to mind Shania Twain’s country ballads. The musicianship and production is absolutely flawless with slick backing harmonies augmenting Monica’s lead vocal.

The following Pigtails, which is similar style musically and lyrically, is a plea to a partner to allow her to fully be herself and not try to control her, (“Just let me dance to my music, let me drum to my song”) a subject that many will be able to relate to. It features some lovely instrumental touches from the strummed acoustic guitar to some tasteful, creamy sounding slide guitar interspersed throughout. Once again, the backing harmonies enrich the vocals at various points to great effect.

On My Side is altogether different, an upbeat pop track with a reggae-tinged rhythm and a vocal from Monica in the highest part of her considerable range, bringing to mind Cyndi Lauper or Kate Bush circa Wuthering Heights. The melody is instantly infectious with the funky guitar adding to the catchiness. The beat is mostly in half time but cleverly switches to straight 4/4 and the whole arrangement is full of rhythmic invention. That’s something the discerning listener will enjoy, but this song’s huge commercial appeal is in its addictive lead melody. A definite contender as a single release.

Bring Me Home is a return to the emotive piano ballad style of the opening song. It’s on this kind of song that Monica gets to excel as a singer, and here she gives an enchanting performance. Lyrically, it’s about needing someone to show emotional support.

This Time is a little different, this one a country pop song that opens with a fine fiddle part. It’s a duet performed with Matthew Koziol and Matthew takes the lead on the opening verse. Monica joins in on the excellent chorus, their contrasting voices blending and complementing each other perfectly. She then takes the second verse giving a nice ‘yin yang’ vibe to the song, and lyrically it’s a positive affirmation about giving a relationship another go.

The Mirror is both a melancholy country ballad and an empowering, uplifting anthem. It’s about a woman who has reached the end of her tether while in an unhappy relationship and decides to leave, as captured succinctly in the superb singalong chorus: “She can’t take it anymore, her suitcase sitting by the door….she won’t back down”. Another potential single.

Let Me Be There is more emotionally straightforward and musically a toe-tapping country rock song that has an authentic, roots vibe. This song is actually a cover version of an Olivia Newton John which was originally released on an album in 1973. It’s traditional country at its finest, featuring a sweet lyric about wanting to be in someone’s life. The subtle low male vocals on the chorus are a nice touch as is the rich Hammond organ which adds to the instrumental texture.

The album closes aptly with one final piano ballad where Monica once again gets to shine, vocally. Backed by plaintive piano and evocative strings, she is eventually joined by the gospel-tinged vocals of the McCrary Sisters whose contribution lends the song an uplifting, highly spiritual quality. Lyrically, it’s particularly moving, about losing a loved one: “A forced goodbye when heaven can’t wait….”. It’s a fitting end to an album that, as the title implies, takes the listener on an emotional journey.

Overall, this is a very fine collection of country pop songs that allow Monica Ortiz to showcase her skills as both singer and songwriter. Her different collaborators bring variety yet there’s also a sense of cohesion and musical unity. With a flawlessly produced sound and several potential singles, Monica Ortiz has everything it takes to break through to the big time.

 

VERDICT= 8.8 out of 10 

Alex Faulkner

 

Listen here:

ALBUM REVIEW: Strange Dreams by Charles Robinson

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Charles Robinson is a recording artist, composer, pianist and alto saxophone player based in Texas. He was exposed to a wide array of musical styles and genres in his youth and this eclectic range of influences is reflected in his music. Just some of his artistic inspirations include John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock, Prince, Chick Corea, Pink Floyd and Jimi Hendrix, amongst many others.

After attending Alcorn State University where he studied piano/saxophone and marched with the world renowned Sounds of Dynamite marching band, he went on to serve in the military as well as serve as musical director for several religious organizations. He released his debut album , The Golden Ratio, in 2018.

This album, Strange Dreams, consists of thirteen instrumental tracks. It starts out with the intense Bel, which is driven by a brooding, circular bassline that draws you in and underpins the whole track. The drums start out as very jazzy before breaking out into an insistent full beat, over which Charles runs riot with his virtuosic, smoky Rhodes playing. Aside from this is a subtle use of synths, which adds to the atmosphere and subtle mystical vibe. The style is certainly heavily jazz-influenced but Charles explores various kinds of jazz fusion across the course of the album, and this is a great opener.

The second track Supermoon is more traditionally jazz with another recurring bass figure, this one on double bass. The atmospheric synths linger in the background and  there are no drums, allowing Charles to weave an intoxicating spell with some superb piano playing that covers the length of the keyboard. His mellifluous flair is not to be underestimated, with not only his skill but the way he always structures his playing in a melodious fashion, never just virtuosity for its own sake.

The following In Your Face! is a return to the electric piano-led sound of the first track and again features a moody, repeating bass motif, though only in certain sections as it gets more expansive in others. The most surprising aspect of the track is the crisp, funky breakbeat that Charles might find hip hop artists want to sample. Aside from some more wonderful echo-drenched Rhodes, there are brief passages of flute (or at least a convincing flute-sounding synth!) which adds to the instrumental texture. One of the album highlights for me.

Soul Dance takes us somewhere else, this one built upon a bed of infectious, exotic world music percussion which cooks up a tasty groove, full of nuance and intricacies. Again, Charles mesmerizes you with some blissed out electric piano work. The surprises keep on coming with Elysian Fields, which is essentially a drum and bass track set at a rapid tempo. The busy drums and bass, along with pulsing EDM style synths, is contrasted with the mellow jazz piano playing and the dichotomy creates an effective tension. The bassline is particularly good on this one.

Turbulence is one the album’s epics at nearly six minutes long, this one based around a simple but effective beat and driven by low-end Stevie Wonder-style synth that is allowed time to grow and breathe, musically. Heaven’s Gate is even more laid back, built on a hypnotic, tranquil groove. As you can tell from the titles and alluded to earlier, there’s a strong mystical, spiritual vibe to his music which is something he shares with one of his musical heroes, John Coltrane. The music throughout has a transcendent quality that takes the listener to some far out places, and this aptly named track is no exception.

Soul Moon Trap is one of the album’s finest moments with a gorgeous piano melody that Herbie Hancock would have been proud of. A pulsing, ostinato bassline holds it together over a slinky bossa nova beat. Robinson’s piano playing here is exceptional. Mercury Retrograde stands out for its complex, angular electronic rhythm full of triplets and syncopations and some more fine piano work.

Parachute is wild, a frenetic rollercoaster ride of a track featuring a hugely infectious beat and bassline which provides the bedrock for some extraordinary piano and synth combinations. This is a remarkable fusion of jazz, soul and hip hop like nothing else you’ll have heard.

The Journey is one of the most unusual tracks and finds Robinson at his most mystical sounding. It’s one of the epics at a shade under six minutes and as the title suggests, takes the listener on an expansive sonic journey. Some sections sound relatively conventional but there’s some strikingly unexpected chord changes that make you feel you’re floating in the ether.

Next comes the title track and again the title is apposite. Robinson conjures up a mesmerising soundscape with a cavernous, powerful beat allied to a loping, understated bassline. A swirl of synths weave in and out, along with some more stellar passages on the piano.

The closing Morning Light (For Hendrix) is a lovely way to finish. As the title obviously suggests, it’s dedicated to the genius of Jimi Hendrix. Set to a lilting, low key groove Robinson takes a back seat and provides supporting Rhodes, allowing his guest guitarist to let rip with some versatile and inventive electric jazz guitar. Listen out for the passage where the guitar and bass play a complicated line in tandem, simply stunning musicianship and it ends things on a high note, literally.

Overall, this is a fascinating jazz fusion odyssey by a versatile, highly imaginative musician and composer. Taking jazz and fusing it successfully with soul, hip hop and rock is no mean feat and Charles Robinson performs this balancing act with some style. Completely at ease on his primary instruments, he also balances his considerable virtuosity with melodic craft so that it never descends into jazz noodling. There’s not a dud track on the whole album and Strange Dreams deserves to be recognised as jazz fusion of the highest quality.

 

VERDICT = 9.1 out of 10           

Alex Faulkner

 

Listen here:

 

ALBUM REVIEW: Confessions of The Machine by Dav!d&CLARA

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https://www.davidandclara.com/

Dav!d&CLARA is an electronica outfit based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Whilst it sounds like a duo, the Clara in question is in fact a machine, David’s computer. David was initially inspired by seeing Gwen Stefani in 2004 and has since developed his own unique style in his home studio. He has already released several albums including Emotion Machine, Human, Adventures in Love, Lust and Life, Body Work and Art of Audio. Along with Stefani, he regards NIN/Trent Reznor as a seminal influence.

This album, Confessions of The Machine, consists of fifteen tracks and opening song Repair is a good introduction to his idiosyncratic style, blending echo-drenched spoken word over a swirling sea of synths and rhythms. It’s an intoxicating sound full of empowering lines that draws you in and not like anything else you’ll have heard.

Out By The Shore is a breezy piece of electro-pop delivered in a distinctive drawl, Ain’t My Fault is a sensual soulful track that will go down well on the dancefloor while the excellent Solidarity is about following your own path, not the herd. High On Life is also superb, an unashamedly honest ode to hedonism: “Get stoned, get drunk, gulp it down, breathe it in, get high on life….”.

Jump is another empowering message about being prepared to take a leap into the unknown, while the hymnal Agape is perhaps the most spiritual song featuring both low and falsetto vocals in tandem. Dreaming of L.A. is one of the album’s finest moments, a simple but infectious 2/4 groove and a catchy flute sample providing the platform for a fine vocal melody and a great hook. Pop My Clutch is a fun way to finish, a sultry song full of none too veiled sexual metaphors and innuendo.

Overall, this is an original and unpredictable alternative/electro pop album by an artist who has forged his own inimitable style. When his electronic sound is combined with both his unique lyrical approach and great vocal hooks the result is very effective and there’s several tracks that hit the mark in this way. Not many artists can lay claim to their own style of music but Dav!d&CLARA can.

 

VERDICT= 8.5 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

 

Listen here:

ALBUM REVIEW: I by Nelson King

Nelson King is a singer/songwriter and producer hailing from Brighton, England. His music is essentially guitar based rock/pop and he has been highly proficient, releasing material since 2006 including the albums Is There Sonething, Lo Fi, Larger Than Life and last year’s Shine. He’s also had his songs covered by sixteen artists and his work has been critically acclaimed by Tuned Loud Magazine and Dancing About Architecture, amongst many others.

This album, I, consists of nine tracks and begins with the mid-paced, mellow yet melancholy Rising Sun, with Nelson’s distinctive voice full of character borne of experience. His lyrics on this one are world weary but hopeful: “Sitting here stone cold sober, waiting for the Rising Sun.”

When The First Bullets Hit is even more languid with some Lennon-style left of field lyrics: “You can only go up when you’re on the slide…” while Always You is so laid back it’s almost horizontal as well as being a finely crafted and touching ballad with a sensitive vocal performance from Nelson.

Can’t Let Go sets a jazzy chord progression to a simple but effective beat and an equally effective title hook that seeps into your memory quickly. The haunting Feel is an album highlight comes from a deep place emotionally: “Wrap me round your burning flame…”. Your Light is an acoustic ballad infused with a similar Rodriguez-esque poeticism: “Gonna build myself an island in the middle of the sea, gonna roll myself an ocean till you shine your light on me…”.

Hurricane is another lyrically powerful ballad given an added poignancy and melodic richness through the use of synth strings, and a heartfelt, emotive hook: “I’ll sing it loud in the burning rain, my love is like a hurricane…”. Summer Dreaming picks up the tempo and is one of the album’s carefree, upbeat moments with a nice blend of acoustic and electric guitars. The closing Behind The Dawn is a beautiful instrumental consisting of just acoustic guitar and synth strings, bringing the album to a poignant end.

Overall, this is a very fine collection of acoustic rock songs by a highly accomplished and experienced singer/songwriter. For those not enamoured with the shallowness of mainstream pop and yearn for the authentic, Nelson King’s melodic music may well be the answer to your prayers.

VERDICT: 8.6 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

Listen to the album HERE