ALBUM REVIEW: Spin Me by Project Rod Williams

Spin Me - Final Cover(1)

Project Rod Williams is an electro-dance pop studio ensemble which is the musical brainchild of songwriter/musician Rod Williams. Musically, it is a fusion of classic 70’s disco music like Giorgio Moroder and Donna Summer, 80’s synth pop such as Depeche Mode and Erasure and more modern pop artists like Justin Timberlake and Pharrell Williams. In 2019, he released his album Fire which I reviewed very favourably (you can read that review here).

This album, Spin Me, consists of ten tracks with every song written and produced by Rod Williams. Shake It On The Dancefloor gets the album off to an exhilarating start, an infectious high energy disco track that brought to mind Off The Wall-era Michael Jackson.

From its opening bars, it’s a riotous explosion of driving bass, bursts of colourful brass and catchy funk guitar licks. As with the Fire album, Project Rod Williams is a collective featuring several lead and backing vocalists who swap roles from song to song.

This one is energetically performed by Ben Dial, with some finely arranged backing vocals from Aleisha Leo. I enjoyed how the track allowed for an extended instrumental section, featuring the excellent saxophone playing of Fabian Hernandez. Loaded with hooks, it’s perfect dance pop.

Don’t Stop Me Baby is great in a different way, this one a smoky and slinky Rnb/electronica track featuring a sassy and charismatic lead vocal from Aleisha Leo. Built around an insistent beat, it starts out with a Daft Punk style synth riff before the revolving vocal melody of the verse grips the ear.

The title hook is just one of several that sticks in the mind quickly, with the “DJ, don’t you stop, DJ, turn it up” also proving addictive. The swirling, highly melodic bassline deserves a special mention here, infusing the music with great energy. Both of these opening tracks would make excellent singles, with obvious potential to be huge in the clubs.

Go To Town (Get Busy), another sung by Ben Dial, is slower in tempo but just as catchy, based around a simple but effective 2/4 groove. As usual, the arrangement is full of neat touches, such as the interplay between the sharp guitar lines and the synths. The anthemic chorus hook is the focal point, sung in octaves towards the end to great effect.

Lyrically, it is more overtly sexual, about the point in the night where you’re ready to leave the club and take things further. It brought to mind Prince at his most explicit though the words are never distasteful, just risqué: “Let’s lose control, yes bare it all, bite and kiss with our hungry lips….”.

The title track comes next and it grabs you instantly with a toe tapping, Latin American-influenced rhythm and ultra funky wah wah guitar. Ben Dial gives another fine lead vocal performance, with some excellent falsetto backing harmonies providing contrast. Once again, amorous concerns are the lyrical subject matter and it sustains the sensual mood created by the previous track.

Fifth track Dangerous Lover maintains the memorable melodic style and catchiness of the opening songs but this one has a more serious lyrical theme, about not being seduced by appearances and having a relationship with someone who isn’t with you for the right reasons: “They’ll always please their man as long as his money is in their hand, they’ll lay in bed every night, just make sure your pocket never gets light…”. Musically, the lead vocal is augmented throughout with backing harmonies from Rod Williams and the dual vocal sound is what makes this song stand out.

Crimes For Passion contains another salutary moral lesson, this one containing a lead vocal by Matt Williamson who does a great job. Whereas the protagonist of Dangerous Lover finds out a woman just wants him for his money, this song is about a woman already in a relationship and is cheating with a lover that she discards when he’s not needed: “Oh, you live your lie, pretending all is fine, while I wait like a fool here alone in my room….”.

How Can You Say You Love Is True is another emotive song, this one written from the viewpoint of discovering out his partner is cheating on him. The musical backing reflects the emotional nature of the song, with melancholy piano lines and heart rending strings providing the melodic counterpoint to the well crafted vocal melody.

Because, the eighth track, almost feels like the sequel to the previous song, continuing the musical bedrock of piano and strings and lyrically exploring the emotional turmoil that results of lies: “You moulded me this way, my heart was unsculpted clay…”. The poignant vocal melody is delivered with sensitivity by Ben Dial and these songs show the more tender side of Rod Williams’ songwriting.

Tears is an interesting song, combining this emotive lyrical style with a modern pop/EDM backing. Backed by a mid-paced disco beat and swirling synths, this track stands out for the strength of its lilting vocal melody and a further example of Williams’ songwriting craft. This one is another potential single in my opinion.

The closing song Now also has some surprises up its sleeve. Sung once again by Matt Williamson, it’s the first time we hear acoustic guitar on the album, which forms the instrumental backbone of the track. It sets the mood for another tale of heartache, giving some perspicacious insights on the possessive nature of romantic relationships: “Now I’m in deep, I can’t breathe when you’re away from me, now I wanna keep you trapped like a bird in a cage”. It’s a deep and affecting finale to an album that starts out so much lighter in tone.

Overall, this is another fantastic modern pop album from Project Rod Williams. Featuring a plethora of talented collaborators, Rod Williams proves once again he is equally adept at writing upbeat dancefloor tracks as well as the more deeply emotional, reflective songs that show the more painful side of love and romance. With top notch production and first rate performances from all concerned, Spin Me deserves to be a major success.

 

VERDICT = 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

Listen HERE

SINGLE REVIEW: The World Again by Martin Del Carpio

072 The World Again

Martin Del Carpio is an experimental electronica artist hailing from New York. His music is a unique hybrid of electronica, avant garde, spoken word and musique concrete, as well as occasional songs which he performs lead vocals on himself.

Previous releases include 2011’s X album, followed by Goddard in 2013. A retrospective compilation called Lost Illusions was released in 2014, while 2015 saw the release of an experimental music project called Notes From The Underground. 2018 saw the release of Involution to which I gave a highly favourable review (you can read that here)

This latest track, The World Again, is a reworked and re-recorded song originally released in 2011. Martin describes this as an “orbital Chimera version”. It’s a slow burning, haunting epic that has an expansive, almost cinematic, soundscape. It opens with subtle mood-setting synth and softly strummed acoustic guitar.

Martin’s emotive and sensitive vocals enter, bringing to mind the plaintive, almost mystical tone of Neil Young’s After The Goldrush. This song has a similarly magical effect, transporting the listener into otherworldly realms. The opening lines match the transcendent grandeur of the music, Del Carpio at his most poetic: “A complicated dance, unspoken words, your soul vibrates, you should let them know your heart’s failure, your heart’s desire….”.

In this time of enforced isolation caused by the current pandemic, this song about self reflection and looking to the future could not be more apposite. Despite the song’s stately tempo, it maintains a traditional structure, gradually building to a chorus of understated power and melodic beauty. It recalls the moving music of Wish You Were Here-era Pink Floyd.

Almost imperceptibly, the arrangement grows with a subtle but highly effective pulsing beat whilst in the background we hear a kaleidoscopic swirl of ambient synths. Harmonies are added along with some truly ethereal production effects on the vocals.

Overall, this a wonderfully captivating piece of songwriting and production that might be the finest thing Martin Del Carpio has yet released. Managing to balance the personal with the universal, the music takes us on an inner journey and makes us look at the world in a new perspective, like all great art. And, in the midst of a world pandemic, we need great art and new perspectives to guide us more than ever.

 

VERDICT = 9.3 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

Listen here:

ALBUM REVIEW: The Language Of Clouds by Scott Howard

artwork final tlc – Version 3

https://www.scotthowardmusic.com/

Scott Howard is a singer and songwriter from Fort Lauderdale, FL. Music played a big role in his childhood. Born to an entrepreneurial opera star in New York State, Scott Howard’s mother began the Long Island Lyric Opera which propelled him into the world of inspiring, finely tuned, and captivating music. His musical journey is closely bound with his spiritual journey as he is resolute to use his song writing as a force for good after the tragic loss of his son, Maxx.

His inspirational songs have already reached many, with his debut album, Ascended Man, accumulating 6.4 million streams. He uses a special kind of instrument tuning, 432 Hz, which is regarded by some as the frequency of the universe and therefore has a spiritually uplifting effect on the listener.

This album, The Language of Clouds, is the follow up to Ascended Man and consists of four songs. The album begins strongly with Written in the Clouds. It starts with a beautiful intro consisting of strummed acoustic guitar and celestial sounding synths. From the opening lines you can tell Scott takes a deeper approach to lyrics than most: “What language do you speak when you say hello to a cloud, out loud?”.

Scott is blessed with a strong and distinctive voice which some have compared to Cat Stevens, and he has a similar inclination towards the mystical. After a succinct verse it builds to a powerful and memorable chorus with poetic words: “Thunder and lightning be along to say, “Wake up and find your way”. Lyrically, it’s about becoming spiritually awakened, the underlying message essentially behind all of Scott’s music. Interestingly, the arrangement ends on another verse rather than the traditional repeat choruses.

The following Queen of Hearts has an equally crystalline sound, the theme of this one more romantic, about finding your soulmate. Beginning with exquisitely recorded acoustic guitar, the first verse sets the scene of trying to find true love: “When I was a younger man, a little voice called to me, “You’ll meet the woman of your dreams, a real life fantasy”.

The second verse depicts a more realistic and down to earth perspective on building a lasting love relationship: “To rebuild our hearts takes every moment, bricks and blood and tears to make a love that lasts forever, at least a million years…”. Once again, it explodes into an uplifting, epic chorus, Scott displaying his excellent vocal range.

Third track Dreamer is more up tempo, driven by infectiously rhythmic acoustic guitars. It’s another philosophical and reflective song full of spiritual wisdom: “Everything that’s evergreen is turning brown…. life is always changing, life is rearranging”. Once again, it features an anthemic and singalong chorus, one of his real strengths as a songwriter.

The album closes with a live performance of the profound and inspirational Harvest Blessings, which is about the dawning of a new spiritual era: “As the trumpets herald the new earth, the time to weep is over….”. The lyrics have a deep poetic and mystical quality that brought to mind Dylan and Leonard Cohen at their most spiritual.

He closes the song with a powerful message that it is how we think that creates our future: “The truth is yours to find…so manifest your best….your mind creates nightmares and miracles…”.

Overall, this is a wonderful short album from a unique singer/songwriter with a powerful spiritual message to convey. Combining the mystical introspection of Cat Stevens with the anthemic energy of Bruce Springsteen, Scott Howard has already inspired many. The Language of Clouds could see him reach many millions more with its universal appeal and many words of wisdom enshrined in memorable melodies.

 

VERDICT= 9.1 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

ALBUM REVIEW: The Noise Militia #38/76 by The Gangsta Rabbi

Screenshot_2020-04-18 THE NOISE MILITIA #38 76

The Gangsta Rabbi, a.k.a. as The King of Jewish Punk, is the moniker of the multi-instrumentalist, singer/songwriter, composer and producer Steve Lieberman. He was born in Brooklyn, New York to a working class Jewish family and now resides in Freeport. Perhaps more than most artists, his work needs to be understood in the full context of his life.

He has been considered an ‘outsider artist’, partly attributed to his lifelong struggle with bipolar disorder which began for him at the age of just eleven. He has been releasing studio albums since 2002 and has now released over thirty, along with live albums and countless cassettes. He has shared the stage with Weezer, Andrew WK, Glassjaw, Ryan Dunn and The Misfits, but had to retire from performing in 2011 owing to having to battle an advanced form of leukaemia, returning briefly to the stage in 2016.

In 2018, he was admitted into a hospice and remarkably has carried on creating, producing his most challenging works including completely covering Jethro Tull’s Thick As A Brick (a major influence) and thrash metal versions of the British Opera, The H.M.S. Pinafore and Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture.

In 2019 he released the album, La Symphonie-Thrash Du Professeur Juif Rebelle, which clocked in at thirty one tracks with a duration of over three hours and also set a record for most instruments played in a symphony (eighteen!).

This album, The Noise Militia, is his most epic yet, clocking in at enormous seven and a half hours across fourteen tracks! The concept behind this album is the highly original idea of fusing military music with noise punk and involves a bewildering array of instruments all played by Steve, including all the guitars, baritone and bass guitar, trombones, four kinds of recorders and five types of clarinet as well as soprano saxophone, melodica, euphonium, flute and talabard. Oh, and the drum machines.

First track The Puppy Dogs Save Old Dog Trey bursts into life with a conventional beat and a recorder melody before it explodes into a dizzying kaleidoscope of sound. It’s music that borders on the chaotic but, as with Captain Beefheart’s more avant garde music there is method in the madness and melodies amongst the dissonance. There are always several interweaving melodic strands competing for your attention with the raging wall of distorted guitars and the resulting sonic melange is like nothing you’ve heard before.

Although the Rabbi is testing the boundaries through extreme durations, this album is actually less dissonant overall than some of his previous work and is actually a good place to start for the newcomer. This first track, at half an hour long, is lengthier some entire albums but is actually one of the shortest tracks here! The sheer relentless force of energy means it maintains its momentum to the end.

For the first half, it sounds like a continuation of the first opus but halfway through emerges with lead vocals from the Rabbi, delivered with the punk rock attitude as you’d expect. This is where his fusion of noise punk and military music really works, taking the simple punk template and combining it with huge instrumental colour and variety. The Ramones covering Captain Beefheart is the closest comparison I can come up with.

Third opus The Shvestahud/Gothica on A Mission, the latter kicking in around the thirteen minute mark. The title of Gothica on a Mission proves apposite as it does capture the Rabbi at his most extreme towards the end of the opus. Shoot, Shoot Down The Satellite At The Eastern Beach-Head is its own opus rather than a medley and is the musical equivalent of a thermonuclear weapon. To sustain the intensity across half an hour is quite a feat, but one he achieves repeatedly.

Opus #5 is definitely a medley, comprising of 5 Years Terminal, a reference to his battle with leukaemia, as is Still Here and Blesses Be G-d followed by The Park’s Supervisor and The Dormouse. The energy levels seem particularly intense on this one, as if possessed by the exuberance of still being alive.

Opus #6 begins with The Nazarite Takes A Stand, which takes no prisoners from the very start. It’s a veritable cyclone of noise propelled by fierce double kick drumming and a thick sonic texture containing too many instruments to mention. Amidst all this is actually quite a conventional vocal melody from the Rabbi that brought to mind Sonic Youth, who also like to blend melody and dissonance. Puppy in Ab’ib – Dark is built around a colossal riff played in tandem initially, then expands into a noise punk inferno.

Sir Ian’s 72nd Militia starts out with just a soothing flute/recorder but that’s just the calm before the storm. The kick drums sound like cannons being fired. There’s actually a strong melodic core underpinning this one, the various riffs keeping the ear interested. Towards the end the Rabbi starts singing the vocal melody to Help! by The Beatles, and the anguished, chaotic music underneath actually mirrors the troubled words perfectly.

The Refuse Collector and The Poet’s Daughter Vs. Pytr’s 200 Year Militia is an enjoyable riot of noise as well as a brilliant song title. Halfway through we hear some very cool sounding electric guitar before accelerating off into another fifteen minutes of controlled lunacy.

Hyping Up The Charts With The Same Disease is another killer title and it’s another marathon with a twist at the end. This one quotes the vocal melody to Bankrobber by The Clash, which somehow works well set against the mad hatter’s tea party going on underneath, incorporating the song’s main riff at certain points. It can surely lay claim to being the most unusual Clash cover in existence!

The inspired titles continue with Distortion, Pure Hot Metal Council Militia in Russian Rain which lasts nearly forty minutes. It features an echo-drenched vocal from the Rabbi which he sustains throughout, along with what sounds like a bagpipe solo but brought to mind Captain Beefheart’s notoriously unique sax playing on tracks like Hair Pie: Bake 1.

Once again, an unexpected cover emerges towards the end, this time a hardcore version of the 80’s synth pop classic, Just Can’t Get Enough by Depeche Mode. This morphs into Anarchy In The UK, more the kind of music I’d imagine the Rabbi to be a fan of.

10 Years Leukemia Still Here, Blessed Be G-d, Skyrockets, The Desert and Thickened contains one of the catchiest vocal melodies though the words remain mostly a mystery, sung against the familiar sonic barrage. Again, at nearly forty minutes, you can only marvel at the amount of stamina and energy this must have taken. The excellent Skinny Lad Bred For Humanity and Watergames is one of the album highlights, starting with a memorable swooping bass riff, and featuring some very fine riffage. It manages to maintain its madcap energy and inspiration until the final bars, once again.

Spare Us The Plastic Toys and Shaky Hands is a radical interpretation of The Cutter by Echo and The Bunnymen  which is actually highly effective through the prism of the Rabbi’s musical lens. He truly manages to make the song his own, stretching it out to around fifteen minutes. Then it morphs into an equally radical version of Neil Young’s After The Goldrush which is about as far as you can get from the original, but I have a feeling that Neil would approve the Rabbi’s version.

Mourning Dove Alone On The River With Flawed Timing is another genius Beefheart-esque title and its a rather electrifying romp that made me think of the wildness of The Stooges’ Funhouse or Nick Cave’s first band The Birthday Party. This time, the song getting an overhaul is the Stones classic Ruby Tuesday. Towards the end it evolves into a hard-hitting version of Joy Division’s epochal Love Will Tear Us Apart.

The final opus is What Were You Thinking Of/My Love Reserved and it’s another Echo and The Bunnymen song re-imagined by the Rabbi, this one The Back of Love. Later on it becomes a mutated cover of She’s A Rainbow, one of the Stones’ lesser known songs (at least to the average Joe).  It’s possibly because this was intended as the last opus but this one has a particularly fiery energy and urgent momentum, sending this remarkable album out in a blaze of chaotic glory.

Overall, this is another boundary stretching album from a truly unique artist. Clocking in at an enormous seven and a half hours, the amount of blood, sweat and tears that must have gone into this is staggering to think about. Its a testament to his tenacity and sheer human spirit, particularly amazing knowing that he’s been fighting a terminal disease for many years. This could be regarded as his magnum opus and may in time become highly regarded by lovers of the avant garde and outsider art.

 

VERDICT =  9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

Listen here:

ALBUM REVIEW: Miss July by Paul Cafcae

71zobatmlql-ss500_origPaul Cafcae is a singer and songwriter currently based in Toronto, Canada but originally from the Soviet Union. His musical journey began at an early age, when his parents enrolled him in a music school. Here, he was taught much about the rudimentals of music and music theory. At age fifteen, he picked up the guitar which became his primary instrument and he ended up in several bands.

In 2009, he moved to Canada where he’s continued his musical career, giving many live performances. His style of music is essentially rock/pop with a strong influence of 50’s and 60’s styles such as blues and rockabilly, as well as country/folk influenced torch ballads. He has released one full length album, Sophisticated, before this one.

This album, Miss July, consists of nine songs, most of which are entirely his own compositions. The album begins with the uptempo rockabilly of Heartbreak Train and you can immediately hear the strong influence of 50’s and 60’s artists like Roy Orbison and Carl Perkins, with the twangy low-end guitar lines of The Shadows, Dick Dale and Link Wray.

Augmented by a crisp beat, subtly strummed acoustic guitar and standup bass, the haunting intro melody sets a mood that suitably reflects the melancholy theme behind the song. When Paul’s distinctive vocals enter, the sonic picture is complete; his voice has a rich grandeur that you associate with singers like Roy Orbison and Elvis Presley, and fits the material perfectly.

Lyrically, it’s a classic tale of doomed romance and the words were co-written with “the queen of Toronto’s rockabilly scene”, Bonnie Memphis. They have a charming evocative quality, especially lines like, “My blue sky turned to grey when she rode that train away” and “that train just rolls along like a lonesome country song“.

Combined with an instantly whistleable vocal melody, it packs a punch like an opening track should. After the second chorus, we are treated to Paul’s fine guitar skills, firstly a Django Reinhardt-esque acoustic guitar solo, then an equally well crafted solo on electric guitar. Vocal harmonies on the final choruses enrich the music further.

The title track, Miss July, comes next. It’s another very melodic and well crafted piece of songwriting that shows one of his main influences, The Beatles.  It begins with a moody strummed acoustic intro, then builds into a romantic mid-paced pop ballad that also brought to mind The Mavericks.

The chorus catches in the memory along with some unexpectedly quirky lyrics (“I was high on your supply“) that give a modern edge to the retro feel. The minor chord change at the end of the chorus made me think of John Lennon’s songs circa Rubber Soul, though Cafcae’s songwriting also has a McCartney-esque exuberance. As with Heartbreak Train, the theme is love gone wrong.

Arizona Tango is an interesting song with more of a ‘femme fatale’ theme. The music is heavily influenced by Latin American music, built around a slinky tom tom-based groove performed by Zebulun Barnow. It starts with a distinctive low-end guitar riff and develops into a classy, smoky sounding track with a suitably exotic chord progression and vocal melody.

From the opening lines, the lyrics conjure the same sense of mystery and allure, painting a picture of a man entirely under a woman’s spell: “She’s from another world, built inside my dreams, a sizzling desert place where nothing is what it seems….”.

There are numerous instrumental touches that enrich the music further, such as the brooding Hammond organ (given a brief but effective solo) and the mariachi trumpet performed by Alexei Ozerov, which really lights up the final section of the song. It’s an excellent track, executed with a lot of skill and is my personal favourite on the album.

You’re Beautiful is a distinct contrast, a poignant ballad consisting of just an intimate lead vocal and some beautiful acoustic guitar work. It’s written in the style of classic 70’s folk/country songwriters like James Taylor and John Denver, with a little Bob Dylan influence as well. The chord progression is exquisitely crafted and vocally it’s performed with such deep feeling that what could have been saccharine sounds heartfelt and moving. It features some beautiful cello work from Amber Walton-Amar.

Keep Thinking Of You is rather lighter in tone and returns us to the 50’s style moody guitar sound of previous tracks. This one has a twelve bar blues progression with a devilish guitar riff and a snarling vocal drenched in slapback delay that Elvis would have been proud of.

Lyrically, it’s one of the edgiest in the album with lines that brought to mind someone like Nick Cave: “I tried all the king’s women and all of his drugs but none of the vices could steady my blood”. With a super catchy vocal melody and nuanced production, this transcends pastiche and becomes something both retro and modern. Great song.

Memory Lane is another fine example of consummate songwriting craftsmanship. An acoustic ballad in 6/8, it’s based on the style of the harmony groups of the late 50’s and 60’s, with a lovely lilting vocal melody slightly akin to the Elvis classic Always On My Mind. It was inspired by the name of a road where a music venue resides that Paul performs in, but the theme here is nostalgic and wistful, recalling a lost love.

It portrays the feeling of emptiness that follows after the end of a happy relationship, captured by the opening lines: “When the shades are descending and the air gets cool and crisp, that’s the time I go walking on the empty lonely streets…”. It features a suitably sensitive vocal from Paul, and some wonderfully arranged backing harmonies. Another well sculpted and performed guitar solo rounds off a very good piece of work.

Once Had A Girl is lighter in tone, an uptempo Blue Suede Shoes-style rockabilly song with some dryly humorous lyrics that give it a modern twist. With authentic details like Elvis-style slapback delay on the vocals and rolling double bass, it nails the 50’s rockabilly style along with the stops and starts.

The theme of the song is funny from the first lines: “Once had a girl, she was 6ft 3…”. Essentially, the message of the lyrics is that physical incompatibilities are not important if you love each other and that’s a nice idea to put out into the world.

Running Through The Streets is the only song on the album not written by Paul, it’s a cover version of a track by a Northern Ontario artist called Chanelle Albert. It’s a moving ballad and the epic of the album at over five minutes. Paul creates a really smoky, emotive soundscape with beautiful guitar work, including what sounds like a 12-string (or played in octaves).

Subtle brush work on the drums pushes the music along at a dreamy tempo and the melancholy lyrics echo the romantic nostalgia of Memory Lane: “Past the place we used to know when we were young, could you hold me like you did before….”. A lovely song, performed and produced to perfection.

The album closes with the gorgeous, jazzy track, This Isn’t The End, decorated throughout with delicate piano played by Emma Hewson. In a 6/8 time signature, one of Paul’s favourites, it’s a heartwarming song about looking forward to better times when you’re at a low point: “It’s a vexing puzzle that you can’t comprehend but remember, remember: this isn’t the end“. Augmented by some lovely contrapuntal guitar lines, it’s the sort of thing you hope to hear in a jazz bar at 1am and makes for an apposite conclusion.

Overall, this is a superb album by an artist in love with the classic 50’s and 60’s musical style. He gives it a modern twist whilst also capturing the authentic vibe of the rockabilly and do-wop genres, amongst others. As well as a gifted vocalist and a first rate guitarist, his songwriting reflects the ups and down of being human in a charismatic and entertaining fashion. I hope this album gets to be heard by a large audience, as it is music of a very high quality with universal appeal.

 

VERDICT =  9.2 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

Listen here:

 

Visit his official website HERE

ALBUM REVIEW: Hip Hop Til I Die by J-Carter

JCARTER RESIZE PIC 4

J-Carter is a rapper and hip hop artist hailing from New Jersey. He was writing his own lyrics by thirteen and over the years became influenced by a multitude of hip hop artists. He’s forged his own stance and style, and notably doesn’t do drugs or swear on his records. Before this, he released three full length albums and his last album, Take Hip Hop Back, weighed in at a heavyweight 38 tracks.

This album clocks in at a fairly mighty twenty eight tracks. A Lyrical Addict gets the album off to a blistering start; a soul-inflected hip hop track that showcases J-Carter’s smooth, rapid fire delivery and lyrical eloquence. The rhymes come thick and fast over a relatively languid but catchy beat, the lyrics running the gamut from cheeky braggadocio to deep ruminations on mortality. A great opener.

Ain’t Going Nowhere makes ingenious use of a soul song sample set to a ripping hip hop beat, forming the musical bedrock for a masterclass in lyrical flow and a relentlessly on point delivery from J-Carter. Can’t Save Yr Soul is an unexpected twist, with a very fine female rapper taking centre stage for the first third of the track before J-Carter takes over.

It’s those kind of inventive ideas that permeate the album, so that the listener isn’t quite sure what’s coming next. This track has one of the catchiest and most profound hooks of the twenty eight here: “You can save your dough but you can’t save your soul….”

Coming In Second feels about three tracks in one, starting with sung vocal and banjo, before J-Carter enters with rhymes about being underappreciated in a relationship. Halfway through, it breaks into a four-to-the-floor EDM beat augmented by a bouncy bassline. Unexpected but refreshing.

Everything opens with smooth as honey female vocals before J-Carter lays down a breathless rap that contrasts perfectly with the silky vocal hook. Once again, there’s an EDM element, but this time the style is the mellow dancehall made popular by artists like Major Lazer.

Fire This Year is one of the album’s most instant and anthemic tracks. With its infectious hook and another great yin/yang contrast between J-Carter’s charismatic rapping and the expressive lead female vocals, this stood out to me as an obvious hit in waiting. Hopefully will be released as a single.

You Got Me Where U Want is another fine track, it’s relatively mellow musical backing making a suitable platform for more of J-Carter’s verbal gymnastics. This track captures him on top form and it’s actually another potential single with its addictive title hook.

High And Low is one of the album’s unexpected left turns and an interesting one. Built around a quirky, off kilter beat, the sparse backing allows the free flowing rapping to take centre stage and J-Carter gives a compelling virtuoso performance on the mic. The following High I Stay is more traditional hip-hop and it’s a mellow classic. Set to a languid beat augmented by pizzicato strings, it has the chilled out feel of De La Soul or Cypress Hill. A real album highlight.

This feel is retained in the super catchy Hip Hop Til I Die, an anthem for J-Carter’s devotion to his craft. The 70’s funky soul vibe to the backing works in perfect conjunction with the beat, a fine backdrop for more mellifluous verbal fireworks. Ill Verses No Curses is one of the album’s more low key moments in terms of instant impact but repeated listens make it increasingly addictive, with its deft contrasts between the simple title hook and the tongue-tripping verses.

It’s Hellivision is a brilliantly acerbic track about the perils of trash television (“it’s a prison for your mind”) which brought to mind the Public Enemy classic She Watch Channel Zero and is one of the most powerful lyrical messages on the album, as well as one of the most instantly memorable.

Keep Running is a salutary tale about living life too fast and avoiding responsibilities, with some pithy lines: “You keep running, guess you need the exercise….”. Leave Me Alone is at a similar tempo. It’s about a friendship turned sour, with some first class rhyming and rapping from J-Carter, who comes across as someone you would never want to betray!

Lost Ones is one of the lighter moments musically, a chilled out beat overlaid with beautiful plucked acoustic guitar and a sweet vocal melody. The following Modest Not Hottest is another radio friendly track with a slick sound, and its message is actually very refreshing. Whereas a lot of hip-hop involves portraying women as purely sex objects, here the emphasis is on having a good soul and personality rather than materialistic attributes.

Never Enough is another highlight, set to a slinky, swinging beat and a killer chorus hook that lodges in your memory on the first listen. Lyrically, it’s about having to deal with a partner whose expectations can’t be realised and who doesn’t appreciate him for the person he is. It’s the way J-Carter digs deeper emotionally and thematically that separates him from the pack, along with his obvious prolific rate.

His authentic honesty shines through in the melancholy and reflective No More Drinking, a title that speaks for itself. With visceral self awareness, he depicts his struggle with alcohol addiction and the result is a hard hitting track that he can be proud of. The summery party vibe of the following Not A Judge lightens the mood, a super catchy and highly entertaining track that features countless hooks and great use of call and response vocals. This would make a killer single.

At the risk of repeating myself, this also applies to Now You Want Me, a slickly performed RnB track with some superb male vocals. With its professional and commercial sound, memorable melody and flawless production, it sounds like a hit to me. Far more edgier is Still A Killa, a dark, intense and claustrophobic hip hop track propelled by overdriven organ. As hard as a punch to the gut, great track.

Stomp stands out for one of the most anthemic tracks, if a little repetitive, while Stand Up is another knockout blow with  restless, skittering hi hats, glorious backing strings and an abundance of vocal hooks. Yet another potential single.

Unborn Dead is undoubtedly the hardest hitting and possibly most controversial track on the album. Written from the perspective of a baby being aborted, it makes a thought provoking and compelling case for the moral dilemmas that abortion involves, perhaps the most contentious issue in modern society.

Watch What U Do is a slick piece of RnB infused hip-hop while What Happened To Music is a pointed critique of the poor standard of much modern music and one with which I heartily concur. World We Live In is one of the album’s most musically uplifting moments, driven along by a bouncy, toe-tapper of a beat and an infectious singalong chorus. The lyrics on the verses really keep it real, depicting a world full of difficult to solve problems and where survival is the best some can hope for.

This leads nicely to the life affirming positivity of the album’s final track, Yes Celebrate. It’s about appreciating the good things in your life and making the most of them. While J-Carter is not afraid to confront the darker sides of life, his overall message is very positive and this is a fine example. Counterpointed by soulful female lead vocals, J-Carter lays down the rhymes thick and fast, an incendiary performance and a fine way to finish.

Overall, this is an epic hip-hop album from a highly prolific rapper and artist. Featuring a plethora of potential singles J-Carter maintains a high quality throughout and, in an era where opportunists are making one minute tracks to go viral on TikTok, J-Carter’s decision to release such a big album is a brave and impressive artistic statement. His rapping style has been honed to perfection and he tackles the major issues of life head on, running the gamut of human emotions across the duration. Let’s hope true hip-hop fans will take the time to enjoy the many sonic jewels this twenty eight track album contains.

 

VERDICT = 9.2 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

ALBUM REVIEW: Radio Cowboy by Rob Georg

radio_cowboy_album_final

Rob Georg is a country singer and songwriter originally hailing from Tuebingen in Germany. He became interested in music as a child, taking up the piano and then switching to guitar. He bought his first guitar at just 14 and this led to writing his own material. In 2018, he released his first official song Push That Horn and in December of that year came his first full band release, This Ain’t My First Rodeo.

That song made it into the US National Radio Hits AC Charts Top Ten. Since then he’s released several singles and this debut album, Radio Cowboy, contains songs that are nominated for the Fair Play Country Award in Europe, as well as for the New Music Award in the United States.

The album consists of fifteen songs in the country and country rock genres, beginning with the title track. It’s an autobiographical up-tempo song about how Rob swapped his life as a rancher for being a singer and songwriter, captured succinctly in the title hook on the uplifting chorus: “Cause ever since I kissed that saddle goodbye, I’ve been a radio cowboy….”.

His sincere love of music and sense of vocation is apparent in the opening lines of the second verse: “Once I picked up that six string nothing was the same, I know every highway out there, I know every DJ’s name….”. With his authentic, radio friendly voice backed up by a gifted band of top notch Nashville musicians, Radio Cowboy sets the bar high for the rest of the album.

Second song Carry The Wind is a different type of track that Rob does exceptionally well, the epic country ballad. This one is genuinely moving, about a beloved horse who has passed on and left him bereaved. The opening lines paint a poignant picture: “The last time I saw him alive was in the first rays of the morning light breathin’ in the February air….”.

Built around picked acoustic guitar, it builds to a powerful, anthemic chorus enriched by female backing harmonies. It resonates with the deep, genuine love for his horse and the longing to see him on the other side: “When I die will you wash my sins so I can ride him once again...”.

This Ain’t My First Rodeo is a return to the light-hearted country rock that opened the album, this one an entertaining yarn about an experienced rodeo rider passing on some well meaning advice to a newcomer: “Hey kid, I was once like you, full of spit with a lot to prove, but listen up lets talk it through, I can tell you’re new to this….”. With some fantastic guitar work throughout, this is one song that really cooks and you can understand its popularity.

Ghost is another fine example of Rob’s ability to write emotive, sensitive ballads.It’s  about feeling bereft after a loving relationship has ended and not being able to get over it: “I carved a headstone, here lies another sleepless night, I tried to bury the bones of all the memories you left behind….”. With its haunting melody, Ghost was understandably released as a single and you can read my full song review here.

This theme continues into This Old House, finding Rob reflecting on leaving the house that holds so many happy memories from the past: “There’s an empty house standing behind me, I’m trying not to look so I don’t cry, cause if I do, I know I’ll be reminded of all the memories we left inside….”.

The chorus is full of poignant imagery, the music perfectly reflecting the protagonist’s sense of sorrow: “Holes from where we hung the pictures of our wedding day, when we made vows we thought we’d never break, creaky wooden stairs leading down to Christmas mornings, a dirty fireplace that kept us warm when it was storming….”.

Harvest Moon Heart is the closest to a traditional country ballad on the album, a beautifully crafted song in waltz time with a lilting vocal melody augmented by steel guitar. After the emotional turmoil of the previous two songs, this touching track lightens the mood nicely and will be a popular one with country fans, both old and new.

My Family’s Got Fur is one of the more fun songs on the album, about the love he has for his dogs who help him on the ranch. It’s a sweet, mid-paced ballad that fellow canine lovers will especially appreciate. The second verse portrays the depth of his love and their importance in his life: “My dogs are braver than I’ll ever be, they run straight into danger and they’ll sacrifice their life for those in need. They’re the hardest workers on the ranch and I’m eternally grateful for the love they give to me….”.

Next comes one of my personal favourites on the album, the hard rockin’ Dust. It’s about the living daily reality of being a cowboy on a ranch, not the romanticized version we see on the silver screen: “The cowboys in the movies don’t tell you the whole story, I’m living proof we’re not it in for the glory….”. With its rich electric guitars and gritty vocal performance from Rob, it brought to mind the Jon Bon Jovi classic Blaze of Glory.

Sunsets At The Ranch is another fine ballad which portrays Rob’s love of nature, in particular the sun, inspiring some of his most poetic lyrics: “I’ve watched it sink behind the Tennessee mountains and soak into the ocean as I walked along the beach….”. With its universal qualities, again it made a suitable choice as a single, which I reviewed very favourably (read here).

Tenth track Push That Horn is one the most simple musically, with just vocals and acoustic guitar. It’s also one of the most emotionally affecting, with Rob paying tribute to a mentor who has now passed on: “I went to the States to be a cowboy, met a man who taught me how to cut. He said “Boy, you’re gonna win it all some day so I’m gonna work you night and day….”. A beautiful tribute song with some lovely Emmy Lou Harris-style female harmonies.

Time For Some Ink provides a complete contrast in mood, a playful rocker about the joys of getting a tattoo! Rob’s vocals on this are fantastic, showing he can rock out as well as perform the delicate ballads with equal ease. His cast of musicians sound great too, with crunchy electric guitar and meaty drums providing the bedrock for this entertaining anthem. You can read my full review for this one here.

This Gift Called Life is another fine ballad that deals with that most universal of themes, becoming a parent. The deeply emotional moment of becoming a father to a newborn is captured touchingly in the song’s opening lines: “She looks like you, the doctor said in the delivery room as I cradled your head. Your eyes were blue, just like the sky, reflecting over an ocean, so wide…..”.

It also shows the flip side, the pain of seeing your child suffering: “Left eye bruised from a fight at school, standing up for someone smaller than you…and as I held the pack of ice, couldn’t take away the pain but I knew I had to try….”.

Higher Ground is another song that shows his caring side, this one more upbeat with an insistent, toe tapping rhythm. It gradually builds into a real epic in strident 2/4, bringing to mind something like Born To Run by Bruce Springsteen. Halfway between a ballad and a rocker, it’s an easily overlooked gem on the album.

When I Make It Home For Christmas is one of the most beautiful songs musically, crystal-clear acoustic guitars mingling with subtle piano and drums. A close listen to the lyrics shows that its actually about a soldier fighting in a war and returning home for Christmas: “Every night on foreign ground as I lay my gun and helmet down, I can almost hear the sound of peace breaking through…”. This lends extra depth to a subject that might have been saccharine in lesser artistic hands.

The album finishes in the same uplifting fashion with which it began, this time via an ode to trucks: Beasts Made of Steel (read my full review here). As with Time For Some Ink, it’s another hugely catchy country-rock anthem that will appeal especially to automobile aficionados. It’s a fantastic, entertaining way to close out the album.

Overall, this a stellar set of songs from a country singer/songwriter as authentic as they come. Equally as skilful at writing and performing both up-tempo rockers and tender ballads, Rob Georg sings about the things that matter to us most. He’s also honest in showing the good and bad sides to the human condition. With this very strong album under his belt, there’s no limit to his potential and I hope it reaches many.

 

VERDICT= 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

Listen here: