SINGLE REVIEW: Runaway by The Fireflys


The Fireflys are an alternative rock/Americana hailing from Runcorn, in the North West of England. They are based around songwriter and lead vocalist Lee Wylding, and have become one of the North West’s most popular bands. They’ve already garnered plenty of media attention, with Mike Peters of the legendary punk group The Alarm describing them as “a good mix of REM and The Gin Blossoms”. Other strong influences include Neil Young and Tom Petty, but The Fireflys have developed their own style.

This song, Runaway, is the second single released since they signed to Strawberry Moon records and is taken from their forthcoming fifth album Only Us, Northern Lights. From the melodic introduction featuring some fluid electric lead guitar, it’s apparent that this band are treading their own path. Lee Wylding has a strong, distinctive voice that bodes well for their long term appeal and musically it lies somewhere between the well crafted songwriting of Tom Petty, but with the raw, edgy guitars of Neil Young circa Rockin’ In The Free World.

The musicianship of the entire band is first rate, but most importantly Runaway shows their ability to produce the kind of memorable choruses that pack out stadium arenas. Lyrically, it is romantic without being sentimental: “Runaway with me, let the people stop and stare, cos we don’t really care...”. There are echoes of Springsteen and The Smiths in these words which rock aficionados will appreciate. They will also enjoy the spirited, mellifluous guitar solo towards the end, not something you hear much on the radio these days.

Overall, this is a superb song that brings back classic songwriting and authentic musicianship in an era of over-produced, synthetic pop. The Fireflys may well capitalize on the recent resurgence in popularity for alternative music, and they have everything it takes to break through into the worldwide market. Runaway could well be the song that helps them kick down the door to the big time.


VERDICT: 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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ALBUM REVIEW: Involution by Martin Del Carpio


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.

This album, Involution, is a ten-track concept album that was strongly influenced by the passing of his mother and the spiritual/existential questions it raised. Fundamental to understanding the album is Carpio’s belief that we are essentially spirits, forms of energy that survive the death of our physical body, which is reflected in the music. After the short, poignant intro the hard-hitting industrial electronica of Dolphox seizes the attention.

Phosphorus is an instrumental that has a mystical, otherworldly aspect, achieved partly through skilled use of reverb. Gradually a beat emerges, with a haunting piano melody repeated till the end, which creates cumulative power. Alma is perhaps the centrepiece of the album, featuring a spoken word monologue that asks the deepest existential questions of the human condition: “What is behind the stars? What dark invincible sphere lies there?“. It’s an extremely powerful and thought provoking piece of art.

Camera Obscura continues the spiritual theme, recanting a Christian prayer in a whisper over an evocative, mysterious soundscape. Say A Prayer then surprises the listener with sung vocals for the first time. The moving lyrics are about feeling a spiritual connection regardless of belief: “Say a prayer in your heart, even if it doesn’t make sense…”.

Witchery is an unsettling but inventive piece of electronica, reminiscent of the claustrophobic intensity of Massive Attack. This is contrasted perfectly by the hymn-like purity of November (Black Rose). It’s a heartbreaking elegy for his mother, sung beautifully. The lyrics manage to be both dark and uplifting at the same time: “Oh black rose will you sing? For the heart beats no more…”.

The following I Only Want You To Love Me (Letter to the Father) is another spoken word instrumental that is brave and unflinching in exploring the difficult emotions that follow the passing of a loved one. The final song Ashes is, again, a very affecting and beautiful piece of music. It consists of just an a capella vocal, lyrically a sort of spiritual mantra that celebrates his mother’s passing as part of nature’s cycle of life: “I give these ashes back to the earth, to nourish lands and skies above.…”.

Overall, this a unique artistic expression of dealing with grief and the soul searching questions that experience raises. It’s a difficult and emotive subject handled with great sensitivity and emotional honesty, much to his credit. He has developed a musical oeuvre that is very individual, and the eclectic nature of the music is held together cohesively by the central theme of the album. It’s essentially a work of art that will move anyone who hears it and challenges the listener as all good art should do.

VERDICT: 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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ALBUM REVIEW: A Far Better World by Michael Regina


Michael Regina is a composer, producer and multi-instrumentalist born in the Bronx, New York City. He was inspired as a child by the classic performance of The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show and he’s been performing musically since his early teens. Starting out on violin and French horn, he got into guitar in his teens and in the 1980’s began writing and playing with bands. This led to becoming the main songwriter and lead vocalist of glam metal band WHITEFOXX.

They garnered attention in rock magazines around the world including the American publication Hit Parader and Britain’s best known rock magazine Kerrang. They were regularly played on radio and were offered several record deals. These were eventually all declined and they disbanded in 1989. Now based in New Jersey, Michael has turned his compositional talents to New Age music, which allows him to apply the skills and knowledge he learnt both in the classical music field and in rock music.

This album, A Far Better World, is his fourth, following on from the albums Ascension, Winter Chill and New Day which were released in 2017, except for the latter which was released this year. It consists of eleven tracks and was produced by himself in his own home studio.

Opening track Genesis 1 is an evocative way to start the album. The title obviously brings to mind the Biblical book describing the beginning of the world and this track perhaps depicts the start of a far better one. There’s a subtle grandeur to the music that reminded me of Vangelis, another New Age composer who had a background in rock music (he was a member of Aphrodite’s Child). There’s a strong influence of classical on this one.

The following Tomorrow’s Realm is more a combination of his rock and classical influences. Whereas much New Age music can often be instrumental with no use of percussion, here Regina employs a simple 4/4 rock beat as the bedrock of the music. On top, a haunting synth melody is overlaid, supported by a brooding chord progression. The structure also shows his songwriting influence, with repetition of the various sections similar to what you’d find in a rock song.

Continue M is one of the more cutting edge sounding tracks, and will appeal to a broad range of electronica fans. The core of the track is a restless, syncopated bassline that drives the music forward while otherworldly synths are interweaved into the sonic tapestry. It certainly achieves its aim of transporting the listener and one of my personal favourites on the album.

Peace and Time is another fine piece of composition with a languid, dreamy feel. It is based around a simple, spacious beat which forms the platform for another Vangelis-style epic melody, which Regina clearly has a gift for. The following Lullaby In The Stars is a gem; the melody is immediately memorable and its built up gradually with synths either doubling the melody or harmonizing it. It gives a real sense of transcendence, as if floating through space.

Next comes the title track and it’s a stately, expansive piece with another haunting, enigmatic melody that is varied across the course of the track with various synth sounds. I enjoyed how the music broke down almost to a whisper before blossoming back into full Technicolor. Seventh track Lunar Lounge is very aptly named, being one of the more harmonically adventurous pieces on the album. The modulations help to take the music out into the ether and it’s a very pleasant place to be. Another understated but finely crafted melody, underpinned by subtle but effective pulsating synths.

Cool Space is a nice contrast. Starting with just a simple chordal progression, it builds into a brilliant piece of electronica, with use of rhythmic synths reminiscent of Giorgio Moroder. It’s relatively brief at two and a half minutes but is certainly one of the album’s highlights. Light Years Away is an epic, twice as long as its predecessor and lives up to its title. It’s the musical equivalent of an astral travel and is another showcase for Regina’s talent to create a mystical soundscape.

This ‘space exploration’ vibe continues into the final two tracks, With Honor, and the album’s real epic, Dream Within A Dream, which clocks in at six and a half minutes. The former is striking for its use of exotic percussion towards the end, giving it a magical feel. This segues into the final track nicely, which is a suitable end to what has been a vast musical odyssey. It’s one of the best melodies, which is beautifully harmonized. The last three minutes are truly ethereal, giving a feeling of space and time being displaced.

Overall, this is a highly accomplished and thoroughly enjoyable voyage through sound by a composer who combines his classical and rock knowledge to great effect. Every track has its own qualities, yet it works as an organic and cohesive whole. Any fan of New Age/ambient music, or just electronica fans in general, will find much to admire here and I hope Michael Regina gets the wide audience his music deserves.



VERDICT: 8.8 out of 10

Alex Faulkner


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ALBUM REVIEW: Afternoons In A Warm Embrace by ToffoBean

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ToffoBean are a production team based in Glasgow, Scotland. Their music is a blend of jazz, soul, hip hop and funk which they describe as Chillhop, Lo-Fi Hiphop, Jazzy Lounge and downtempo. Previous releases include Cherry Wine, God is Pooh Bear and the Cafe Au Lait EP. They use various vocalists and sometimes rappers on their tracks, though are often instrumental.

This album, Afternoons In A Warm Embrace, consists of twelve tracks. Throughout the album, guest guitarist Jim Burns contributes stellar jazz guitar. This can be heard straight away on the slinky opener Dust to Deity. Over a laid back hip-hop beat, a languid chord progression floats across the speakers, with some mellifluous clean lead guitar weaving in and out to great effect.

Abide in The Heart is a dreamy instrumental with a lovely recurring piano figure whilst You Always Want What You Can’t Have is a very well written track with a sultry lead female vocal and a pulsating, funky bassline. Nico’s Beat is a mellow track with a subtle vocal refrain while Let’s Get Lost is the musical equivalent of a jacuzzi. Featuring a seductive, almost ethereal vocal from a French (or French sounding!) female, jazz guitar, sax and flutes float over a deliciously simple but effective groove.

Need You is quality jazz-tinged soul with a catchy refrain, while Peace Like That carries on the vibe at a slower pace. The bassline should get credit here, and indeed the bass throughout the album is first rate. Blue Noir is moodier with a male spoken word vocal, possibly a film sample.

Kirchwasser takes us back into sensual climes with some Je T’aime style breath noises. Moon Tan is jazzy hip-hop with a fine performance from an emcee with a spiritual vibe, with Hold Onto This Feeling a return to the ‘lazy Sunday’ feeling. Closing track The Orange Grove is a great way to finish, a hypnotic beat with a quirky, repeating bassline interspersed with some gorgeous soulful vocals and harmonies.

Overall, this is an excellent album that has been designed as a continual musical experience. The cumulative effect is indeed deeply relaxing and transports the listener to some interesting places. The musicianship and production is first rate, whilst the musical variety within the tracks means there’s a surprise around every corner. If you want the highest quality chill-out music, look no further than ToffoBean.


VERDICT: 8.7 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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ALBUM REVIEW: Two Fingers In A V by Wasabi Fire Alarm


Wasabi Fire Alarm are a band hailing from York, England with quite a unique history and formation. They formed in 2017 when vocalist Sue Egypt (a moniker inspired by the Captain Beefheart track) decided it would be fun to form a band at a Musication course, which inspires ‘recovery through music’ for people with major life issues including homelessness, addiction and mental health difficulties.

This resulted in their first incarnation as Resistance. One early band member, Sin Bad, had made the news in his own right, from living in a tent next to a main road, captured in the song A Dying Man Lies Homeless. When Sin Bad left to pursue his own career, the remaining members formed Wasabi Fire Alarm in March 2018.

The title track begins the album, which I gave a glowing review to a few months back. It’s the perfect introduction to the Wasabi Fire Alarm sound and style. Fundamentally, they belong in a lineage of alternative/post-punk groups like cited influences Pere Ubu, Siouxsie Sioux and Portishead, along with rock/metal bands like Deftones, Nirvana and Rage Against The Machine.

You can also hear elements from diverse artists such as Captain Beefheart, Public Image Ltd., Elastica, Wire, and Slint to name but a few. On paper, it might sound difficult to imagine how a group could combine these disparate influences into a cohesive sound but Wasabi Fire Alarm pull it off with aplomb, forging their own unique oeuvre in the process.

Two Fingers In A V captures their signature strengths; Sue Egypt’s emotionally honest, often troubled lyrics and naturally melodic voice combine with the band’s taut, muscular musicianship. Wiry, precise guitar lines interweave over a tight, solid rhythm section and aggressive male backing vocals provide further contrast and variety. Lyrically, this song is a classic outsider’s anthem that many will relate to.

New Start is another honest lyric about trying to face the future positively, but struggling with memories of past experiences. Built on a foundation of chugging, crunchy guitar, moody bassline and a focused, circular drum pattern, Sue Egypt delivers a nuanced and emotive vocal performance, singing words that many will relate to: “The art of the easy smile is mine, in the bag, got it covered…even if life, again and again, turns out the same as it was before…”.

Third track 5&4 opens with haunting, saturnine piano that forms a bedrock for the song, which incidentally is in 5/4 time. This gives it a subtle feeling of displacement, as if the ground is constantly shifting under your feet. The beat is pure drum ‘n bass which is both unexpected, yet consistent with this group’s musical versatility. The lyrics have a disjointed, abstract quality which fits with the dislocated rhythm, bringing to mind William Burrough’s technique of cutting up words to create original phrases.

The following Numb is much more lyrically and musically direct: “System shut down, shutters in place and I am not facing this anytime soon…”. Starting off with a brooding, restrained verse, it explodes into an angular, dissonant but thrilling chorus with anguished male vocals (by D.Ni.L who I also reviewed) taking precedence. It’s a rollercoaster ride through emotional neurasthenia.

Endured is another brutally heartfelt song, this one a contemplation about being a survivor when others have fallen by the wayside: “The years are a barrier to the abyss, but there’s nothing there, no signpost of rulebook, just a belief we will endure…”. Musically, it’s another contrast with a lilting 6/8 rhythm and blends melody with restrained aggression in a powerful way.

Self Doubt is the epic of the album at five minutes and is perhaps their essence distilled. Based around a dark, skeletal riff that Slipknot would be happy to have written, it develops into an intriguing fusion of dissonant post-punk and modern metal with Sue Egypt bringing the whole track into cohesion with another insightful lyric about battling one’s inner demons: “My dark hour of the soul – the same time as it always is….”.

Not The Whole Truth (Twisted Dream) explores the dysfunctional relationship between a woman and an addict lover. Whether autobiographical or not, it’s a gripping narrative with a perspicacious perspective on this affair and relationships generally: “I loved the image of you in my head, you loved a version of me projected just for you…”. Special credit should go to the driving bassline on this, though this applies throughout, along with some superb drumming.

Eighth track Control is a masterclass in building musical tension. Built on a fraught, repeating guitar figure, Sue Egypt lays out a defiant stance about not allowing herself to be pushed around: “I will not ever be controlled, and will slip and slide even when the game is up….”. Shake That Bunny Tail is a nice contrast with a lighter tone, and one of the more traditional song structures on the album. It’s a positive song about being yourself despite personal hang-ups, with a superb vocal arrangement featuring lush harmonies.

The closing song Wrong is the closest thing Wasabi Fire Alarm come to a piano ballad, with a musical backdrop of nuance and subtlety. But rather than the insipid sentimentality of much chart music, it’s a poignant reflection on the difficulty of human relations, dealing with criticism and wanting to be the best person you can be for someone: “My biggest fear is letting you down…”. Aptly, after an album of such unflinching self-examination, the last lines show resolution through self acceptance: “What a lucky thing it is that I am happy with what and who I am….”.

Overall, this is another classic album to emerge from the Musication camp. Instrumentally, they are a very tight unit and Wasabi Fire Alarm are able to traverse disparate genres with consummate ease whilst remaining cohesive. In Sue Egypt, they have a unique vocalist and lyricist; astute, unflinchingly brave and emotionally open. With their forces combined, they make music that is vital and hugely relevant to our turbulent times. Two Fingers In A V is the sound of authenticity and I only hope it gets the widespread acclaim it deserves.


VERDICT: 9.1 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

Listen to the album HERE

ALBUM REVIEW: Sun King Eternal Peace by The Sun King



The Sun King is the artistic brainchild of Maxwell Page Fairchild (a.k.a. Malachi Navi Wahy). He is a singer/songwriter, rapper, performer and producer who grew up in Los Angeles, but now lives in New Jersey. He started singing and rapping from an early age, which developed into writing poetry. Having endured mental health and depression issues in High School, he found solace in making music. He describes The Sun King’s music as Psychedelic R&B, Experimental Chorale Music and alt. acoustic/a capella, all of which apply and more.

This album, Sun King Eternal Peace, is a musical odyssey that spans twenty seven tracks and shows the depth and range of his artistry. Opening track Post Falsehood is a good introduction to the inimitable style of the music, which defies simple genre classification. It’s fundamentally based around Fairchild’s remarkably adept vocals, which are richly layered in ‘call and response’ style a capella gospel-tinged harmonies, with world percussion and elements of R&B thrown into the mix.

The real roots of the music seem based in gospel spirituals, which traditionally conveyed a Christian message. Fairchild has developed his own unique spiritual philosophy, however, and The Sun King is but one of several musical personas he explores. His positive, spiritual side is what the music of The Sun King is about, named after the song on the Beatle’s classic album Abbey Road.

Although twenty seven tracks must sound daunting to a generation where the album as an art form is dwindling, many of the tracks are brief and succinct. They usually contain refrains that capture some life lesson learned, which can range from the poetic and profound (“Storms will pass and disintegrate, troubled winds aren’t meant to stay” from Post Falsehood) to the more quotidian and humorous (“Girls with tattoos are dangerous, they might rip your heart straight from your chest“).

This mixture of the sacred and profane, the serious and playful, is not easy to do convincingly, yet Fairchild gets the balance just right. Those looking for depth will find it; the whole project is full of alchemical symbolism and Jungian concepts, and he shares an obsession with the number three like many artists before him, going back to Dante. Indeed, the symbolism of the sun and the king is central to alchemy, which Jung saw as an allegory for spiritual transformation.

He also mixes the personal with the political; Divide and Conquer lays it out straight on our current political climate: “We are being manipulated every single day, my friends…”, contrasted with the following, “Just be the person that you are” from You Are-Be. His utopian message is made manifest in False Dichotomy: “You’re my sister, you’re my brother, there is no such thing as color...”.

His humour comes to the fore once more with What’s Pot? While some might perceive the mantra “You must experience the cannabis now…” as encouraging hedonism, to me it seems he is encouraging use of psychotropics as a means of experiencing the transcendent and it’s an apposite message now that cannabis is finally becoming legalized and accepted.

Lone Lee, NJ is a funny, poignant track that’s lyrically based on The Beach Boys’ classic California Girls, while the lovely Gentle Tiger, Beautiful Lioness is the closest thing to a traditional love song on the album. The imagery of Jesus Christ and the devil are used to powerful effect in the following Knowing of The Son and 6 O’ Clock & Never Late. The latter is a metaphor, the devil representing fear and being a slave to it.

Overcoming fear with love is central to The Sun King’s artistic vision, Isolated (ft. Jimmy Carter) being a good example. Jimmy Carter is another of Fairchild’s alter egos, this one the yang to the yin of The Sun King. This is the persona he uses when he wants to express something other than the positive messages of The Sun King, and he delivers a succinct, impressive rap in a flowing, eloquent style on this track.

Pussy Galore is a brutally honest confession about his former hedonism, and how he’s found his way through that to a purer path. Elevate From Fall is a touching track about vulnerability and having to put your heart on the line: “My dreams tell me to tell you how I feel, but I’m so resenting of the bridge, it burns in the case you don’t reciprocate…”.

The symbolism of ice and fire emerge on Freeze To Death II: The Ice Cracks and Feel The Burn, the former about emotional coldness with the latter about the consequences of letting fear overcome you: “My biggest fear had made its mark, I blew the light out and thus birthed the dark…”. The cleverly titled Run to No One, Run to Know 1 has the Sun King finding his other half: “And there I saw her in the corner of my eye, my Queen so high.…”.

Get It Darling is one of the simplest tracks lyrically, but its effervescent, irresistible positivity continues into Walking/baby Reprise: “Music is my medicine and Mother Nature’s got me so well….”. This inspiring, holistic ‘back to nature’ message is perfect for an era that is drowning in the excesses of materialism. Place This Hand shows how this music is partly rooted in the Gregorian chants of early church music, but updated for the modern age.

The final tracks Sun Prince and Sun King Opus x-xviii complete the spiritual journey, the first reminding us, “Be glad that you are free, free to change your mind….”, and the latter bringing us back to the hieros gamos, the sacred marriage at the heart of alchemy: “So I ask you, my Queen, do you have a voice to sing?“. It’s the perfect line to finish on, forging the masculine with the feminine through the redemptive power of music.

Overall, this is an absolute tour de force of an album that takes the listener on an emotional journey that runs the gamut of the human condition. It’s a work of artistic authenticity and integrity, honesty and vulnerability. The pay off is a piece of work that succeeds on several levels, whilst transforming traditional musical forms/styles and reinventing them in his own artistic vision. Essentially, this is art that’s a much needed spiritual salve for our troubled times, deserving not just critical recognition but a large, appreciative audience.



VERDICT: 9.2 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

Listen to the album HERE

ALBUM REVIEW: American Dream by The Chicago Vin Coalition


The Chicago Vin Coalition is a garage/blues rock band hailing from Boston, Massachusetts. It is centred around singer/songwriter Chicago Vin Earnshaw, backed up by a fine array of musicians including Don Larsen on lead guitar and Leo Dumas on drums. Their music is a potent meld of garage rock bands like The Stooges and MC5, the raw early sound of The Kinks and alternative blues artists like Tom Waits and Captain Beefheart. Amongst modern bands, they most closely resemble The Black Keys, who are also a stated influence.

This album, American Dream, consists of nine tracks and gets off to an incendiary start with the title song. It sounds like a cross between The Kinks and The Stooges, with Chicago Vin Earnshaw’s authentic rock voice halfway between Iggy Pop and Captain Beefheart. The music has a fantastic energy, captured brilliantly by producer Annie Larsen. The song is about how the old dream of making it big in a band is dying: “Hey wake up! Get ready to move….American dream going down the tube…”.

Hey Little Girl is built around a simple but highly effective three chord structure, and is perhaps the closest track to The Black Keys in terms of sound and style. As with the first track, the vocal hooks are instantly memorable, aided by biting, electrifying lead guitar from Dan Larsen. Chicago himself contributes guitar and bass, as well as rich Vox organ on a few tracks including these first two.

Walk Away has a slighter mellower feel and a more gentle sound, with some fine keyboard work by Bill Lacaille. This is one song I would define as classic rock in the vein of the late Tom Petty, and it’s another track with a memorable chorus. No Use Fighting is a change of pace; gritty blues that brought to mind the more mainstream moments of Captain Beefheart (Don Van Vliet). A great showcase for Earnshaw’s unique, powerful voice with Don Larsen playing some gorgeous, mellifluous guitar runs over traditional twelve bar blues changes.

Fifth track Silence Is Golden is another change of pace, a mid tempo country rock song based around strummed acoustic guitar which varies the sound nicely. The raucous, driving barroom boogie of the following Blonde Infatuation is another shift in gears, with some fabulous barrelhouse piano from Mark Taber plus wonderfully raucous tenor sax, courtesy of Klem Klimmer. A very enjoyable track with excellent dynamics and vibe.

Ride Past Midnight is the epic of the album at nearly eight minutes long. It’s a raw blues song with a loping beat that recalls the Stones classic Midnight Rambler. The momentum of the musical energy and Chicago’s rootsy blues vocals carry the song so well that you almost don’t even notice the length, especially with the stellar lead guitar work of Don Larsen once again, and some fine blues harmonica from Chris Stovall Brown.

Yesterday’s Gone is one of the more melancholic songs on the album, which runs the gamut of emotion over its course. It’s a good example of the craftsmanship at the heart of Earnshaw’s songwriting, this one having a lilting feel that brought to mind 1970’s era Neil Young & Crazy Horse. The way the instruments blend together, especially piano and guitar, shows what a tight musical unit this coalition are.

The final track Life Line ends the album on a real high musically, though lyrically its heartfelt and shot through with desperation, as the title hook captures perfectly: “Somebody throw me a life line….”. It’s a superb rock song that the Stones would have been proud to put on Exile On Main Street, with its Jagger-esque vocal melody and razor sharp Keith Richards-style lead guitar.

Overall, this is a much needed reminder that great rock ‘n roll is still being made by authentic artists. Chicago Vin Earnshaw is a very fine songwriter, blessed with a great voice for blues and rock that can stand up against the best in the field. The album’s consistency and variety shows his musical range, and his collective of gifted friends more than ably assist him, they bring his artistic vision to life. If you love The Black Keys, I implore you to give a listen to The Chicago Vin Coalition.


VERDICT: 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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