ALBUM REVIEW: 666 Way$$$ by Feed The Weird

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Feed The Weird are a hip hop duo who are strongly influenced by their interest in the strange and the occult. The duo, Yami Weird and HellAir, have been friends since middle school and have had a long held mutual love for hip hop and punk rock. Both grew apart after moving out of their shared neighborhood, until Yami reached out to Hell after publishing a rough version of his song 666 Ways back in 2018. After that they decided to form a group and publish their music independently, with hopes of escaping the boring life of Northeastern Tennessee. They release their material through Pump Fink Records.

This album, 666 Ways$$$, consists of 11 tracks and musically is a surprisingly unique hybrid of hip hop, trap and metal to create a fusion that brings to mind the industrial rock/metal of Nine Inch Nails, gothic aspects of Marilyn Manson and a myriad of distilled hip hop/rap influences. The album’s opening track, Pussycat Hotrod (produced by Discent), is one of the most sonically arresting and challenging,  not representative of the album as a whole.

Starting out with crunchy, raw low-end guitar chords, it breaks into a trap/hip hop groove overlaid with metal-style growled vocals. Mixed in are a plethora of vocal samples and swirling synths to create a sinister but scintillating soundscape that is unnerving but undeniably gripping. It’s also a style all of its own.

Next comes the title track (produced by Vaegud and sketchymyname) which is more accessible and essentially more traditional hip hop, but with a rock style lead vocal and edgy, explicit lyrics. This become a hallmark of their music across the duration of the album. It begins with a haunting acoustic figure and is set to a languid, simple but effective beat. The vocals are delivered in a very low register and have a strangely mesmeric quality, especially on the potent, hedonistic title hook: “Another touch is dangerous, I’ve got 666 ways to fuck.…”. It’s a clever subversion of Jay Z’s famous 99 Problems.

Bonnie Rotten is even more explicit and brings to mind the claustrophobic, darkly sexual vibe of NIN’s Closer album and Eminem at his edgiest. Produced by Skami, it marries a blistering dubstep/hip hop beat with ghostly echo-drenched glockenspiel, which gives it an almost sinister undertone. Once again, the simplest of hooks proves to be very effective (“She likes it rough….”) and despite its brief two minute duration it packs a considerable punch.

Fourth track Zombie, produced by Dannyebtracks, is a good showcase for the fine rapping skills of both members as well as an entertaining but macabre tale, the sort at which Eminem used to excel. Yami Weird and HellAir make for an effective duo, their styles complementing each other. The title hook quickly lodges in the memory and the lyrics are graphic but compelling throughout.

Snowing In Florida, produced by Hertha & Stork, is another blissed out trip hop track which celebrates the hedonistic side of life on its hypnotic hook: “I smoke dope, I do coke, I do anything I want….”. Opening with an eerie, haunting soundscape, the track balances sung vocal hooks with smoothly rapped verses to great effect. Although the music has a ‘wasted at 3am’ kind of vibe, there’s no hint of struggling with the dark side of drug use here: “Got some bad habits and I don’t wanna break them….”.

The slinky following track Red Eyes seems a continuation of the theme and vibe, seemingly about getting high and enjoy a nocturnal drive: “Red eyes at the red light…I ain’t stopping for the blue light….it’s a night ride….it’s a moonlight drive”. Like an artist like The Weeknd, Feed The Weird have a talent for bringing a sense of the poetic and romantic to their tales of excess.

Seventh track Nowhere Noir, produced by Cashmoney Ap & FORTY38 picks up the tempo a little with a beat of subtle intricacy and nuance, the backdrop for a rather troubled lyric about a femme fatale (“She’s the devil in the shape of a ghost….”). There’s an ominous vibe to the music that mirrors the words and imagery perfectly and there’s a powerful sense of turmoil in the repeated chorus hook: “Dug her nails in me….”.

By contrast, Got Me Thinkin’ is perhaps the most accessible track here, with an undeniable commercial appeal. Built around a simple but irresistible vocal hook, the production by ricci is first rate and this would make an obvious choice as a single.
G.A.T. begins with an immediately captivating synth melody, soon conjoined with an infectious rhythm. This lays down the bedrock for some super fluent rapping, reflecting on their youth as misfits and trying to find a sense of identity. It’s another excellent showcase for their considerable emcee skills, this one produced by SOLO, and one of the most instant tracks on the album.

Love Potion #69 is a return to the more X-rated style of the earlier tracks though whereas a lot of hip hop is about braggadocio, Feed The Weird come from a more troubled place, the final refrain running: “I’m wicked, I’m stricken, I am spellbound, I ain’t ever, ever coming down, I ain’t ever going up….I’m just a fuck up….”.  Produced by Sxpply, it’s another darkly powerful track.

The final track, Anarchy You Can Dance To, is the album’s most anthemic moment and could perhaps be described as their manifesto. Built on an insistent 2/4 beat and an array of futuristic synth sounds, the entire vocal melody is instantly memorable but particularly the singalong hook of “We want sex, sex, sex and violence….” which cleverly plays on the 666 motif that runs through the album. Produced by S4d TrVnk, it’s a brilliant to finish the album and a track I feel could open a lot of doors for them.

Overall, this is a consistently strong hip hop album with a distinctly original flavour. Feed The Weird are a duo unafraid of their dark side and it gives their music a decided edge. Incorporating influences from rock and metal, the combination of singing and rapping is deftly balanced throughout and delivered with charisma and conviction. With a style all of their own and several killer tracks, I expect Feed The Weird to make a strong impact on the hip hop scene with this album, and deservedly so.

 

 

VERDICT= 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

Listen here:

ALBUM REVIEW: The Blue Tape by Earl The Monarch

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Earl The Monarch is a hip hop artist who was born in Dallas, Texas but moved to Port Arthur at an early age. He began writing music while young, growing up listening to DMX, Jay Z, Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg. His experiences with depression as he got older were also a factor in his artistic development, and he cites music as the reason he got through it.

He released his first mixtape in 2012 under the moniker ‘O.E.’, Insomnia: The Life & Times. He released the sequel in 2013, Insomnia: Dreamin’ of Nightmares. This became a proper album release in 2015 and he switched his moniker from O.E. to Earl The Monarch, putting out his first album under this name in 2017, Pain On The Rocks. I gave a stellar review to his 2018 album This Will All Be A Memory, which you can read here.

This album, The Blue Tape, consists of fifteen tracks. Some of these are skits which bring an element of humour amongst the hard hitting tracks where Earl The Monarch deals with some serious issues. As with the album This Will All Be A Memory, Earl confronts the deepest and darkest themes of life without fear.

After a brief and amusing skit to start the album, Bet $5 goes straight to the deep end with Earl berating the fairweather friends who’ve betrayed him. He also lays down some hard earned street wisdom: “Some doors close in your face, it just wasn’t your time, just be prepared with your plans when it’s time for the grind….”.

On second track Redemption, Earl depicts how music has been a positive influence on turning his life around over a slinky beat and smoky Rhodes progression. The underlying inspirational message behind his music is captured in the lines, “Made them believe….redemption ain’t no disease…”.

Inhibitions starts out with a quote from the tragically killed rap legend Tupac Shakur, and what follows is Earl at his most lyrically eloquent and life affirming (“I was suicidal but I bounced back…”). Over a simple beat, Earl lays down some rapid fire rhymes full of rhythmic invention, displaying his emcee skills to the max.

This heavy vibe is nicely alleviated by The Bridge Skit, which satirises the “bling” gangster mentality, before leading into the superb Blue Cup. Starting with the instantly infectious chorus hook which featuries the vocals of Blake Brake, Earl raps smoothly over a funky hip hop beat and the rapped verse/sung chorus contrast is very effective. With its summery, radio friendly sound it would make an obvious choice as a single.

409party (90s) is another upbeat track, this one a bit of a good time party anthem, also featuring the rapping talents of two of Earl’s cohorts, Killa Trae & Al Bee. Their differing styles complement each other well and it’s another slam dunk.

HowYouFeel? is a return to the more troubled depictions of life as a black man and the problems the black community face. The dark, claustrophobic vibe created by the backing music adds to the intensity and if anyone dare question whether Earl The Monarch is ‘for real’, they should listen to this track.

TakeCare Interlude is a distinct change of pace, a laid back hip hop groove providing the bedrock for a chorus hook sung by Bianca B Lo. Her serene vocals create a nice yin/yang effect with Earl’s direct rapping style. Live Forever is a brutally honest track, ruminating on mortality and those who’ve lost their lives needlessly, ending with another quotation from Tupac Shakur that itself needs contemplation.

Tenth track Mandatory is about a different kind of trouble and pain, portraying a relationship that’s gone wrong. It features the vocals of Kim on the hook which emphasise that love should be unconditional, not “for the glory”. One of my favourites on the album, full of insight and great rapping from Earl.

Friends, featuring Solorook and Coco continues the theme of women troubles, though this one about being betrayed by a close female friend: “I loved you like a sister only you were even closer.…”. The theme of being let down by people he’s helped and supported is a melancholy thread running through the whole album.

Rather than play the victim card, Earl chooses the philosophical approach as well as a defiant stance, as set out on WatchMeSwang II featuring Stevie Lights. Over a jazzy guitar chord progression, Earl gives another masterclass in fluent rapping and lyrical dexterity.

$mokey Momma is one of the most different and distinctive tracks on the whole album, with a chorus of joint male and female vocals over a complex triplet hi hat rhythm. Texas Relays is a remarkable piece of hip hop, also featuring the skills of Manuel, Fammo and Deezy Da Duce. The backing track is an ever morphing melange of swirling synths and the result is highly entertaining.

The album closes with SeeYouTomorrow featuring Coco and makes for a suitably emotional finish, expressing grief for a friend who has died. The last minute is particularly moving, with the ghostly, almost celestial female vocals of Coco repeating the poignant refrain, “The hardest part is that I wish that I could talk to you….”.

Overall, this is another brutal and brilliant hip hop album from an eloquent, emotional artist who has mastered his craft. All the hard times and experiences he’s endured have been poured into the lyrics, delivered with complete conviction throughout. He surveys the tragedies that surround him and offers a message of hope and positivity for a better future, a message that many need to hear. Earl The Monarch deserves to be recognised as one of the best rappers of his generation and this album should win him a new legion of fans.

 

VERDICT: 9.1 out of 10 

Alex Faulkner

 

Listen here:

ALBUM REVIEW: Times When I Know You’ll Watch The Sky by Forest Robots

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Forest Robots is the musical brainchild of electronic artist and composer Fran Dominguez and this project has an interesting and unusual genesis. It began when he began pictorially documenting his travels to the Sierra Nevada mountain range. When his daughter was born, he started to attach narratives to his collections to teach his daughter about the wonders of nature.

This led to feeling inspired to compose music to go with these narratives and Forest Robots was born. In 2018, I gave a glowing reviews to the albums Supermoon Moonlight – Part One and the follow up, Timberline And Mountain Crest.

This latest album, Times When I Know You’ll Watch The Sky, is the third full length album in the last two years by Fran Dominguez. Just as Supermoon Moonlight and Timberline And Mountain Crest were essentially musical odes to the seasons of spring and summer respectively, this album is a representation of the Stanley Horowitz quote about autumn: “Winter is an etching, spring a watercolour, summer an oil painting and autumn a mosaic of them all….”.

It consists of eleven tracks and begins with the understated but wondrous Just Before Nightfall In The Forest. As with Fran Dominguez’s previous work, the music perfectly encapsulates the title, painting a sonic picture of certain magical moments in nature and conveying them to the listener. Swirling synth patterns are merged with a punchy electronic beat to create something modern yet unusually melodic and intricate for this era. This enchanting track acts as the perfect introduction to the album.

Everything Under The Light Of The Full Moon continues the hypnotic vibe with a similarly paced rhythm. Starting out relatively sparsely with a simple but effective bassline, overlayed with synth patterns, it gradually develops into a complex interweaving of melodies and evocative pads that fill out the sonic spectrum. Once again, the music conjures up the imagery of the title in an uncanny and accurate way.

The mysteriously named yet brief It Lies Sunk Deep Beneath The Old Lake consists of an intriguing synth figure reminiscent of an old sea shanty, conjoined with a double bass. This leads into the fourth track, In The Late Autumn Afternoon Rainstorm, one of the most melodically beautiful and haunting tracks on the album. Based initially on a mesmeric celesta melody it then expands into a gorgeous, reverb-drenched harp arpeggio backed by a rhythm of great intricacy.

Fifth track Deep In The Milky Way Spectrum lives up to the wide eyed wonder of its title, mixing a bewildering maze of melodies with potent synths and beats in certain sections. It conjures up the magnificent expanse of a clear night sky and results in a similarly transcendent feeling. The Last Of The Melting Snow is another of the short interlude tracks, but makes a strong impression in its ninety second duration with its arresting swirl of almost psychedelic, morphing synths.

This leads into the hypnotic groove of the title track, which weaves a magical spell owing to its mixture of languid pace and subtle yet alluring melodies. The way the synths swell and combine with understated celesta melodies perfectly encapsulates the wonder of looking up at the sky and feeling humbled by its magnificence. After its five minute duration, the effect is one of blissful elation.

Then comes the superb complexity of eighth track The Clouds That First Gather At The Mountain. With its masterly weaving of synth textures and melodic themes it brought to mind the ambient classic Little Fluffy Clouds by The Orb, perhaps an influence on Forest Robots. Either way, this is one of the album’s most powerful tracks which leaves a distinct impression on the listener.

Faint Sunlight In The Far Horizon is one of the longest tracks at five and a half minutes and, once again, paints a beautiful sonic landscape that conjures up the imagery of the title in an uncanny way. With a tranquil, blissed out tempo the music washes over you, transporting you to an ethereal mind state and having a gradually intoxicating effect.

This magical vibe continues into the enchanting Of Rivers And Rivers Of Light, which is based around some wonderful bell-like and harp melodies, the chord changes somewhat unexpected and taking us to some far out musical climes. Halfway through enters a potent synth theme which takes us back to the exotic wonder of the harp melody, gradually fading away with almost cinematic grandeur.

The album closes with another brief but beautiful piece, this one called Follow The Fog and The Rain. Once more, within its short duration it conjures a fully rounded painting in sound that captures the silent majesty of autumn and finishes the musical journey of this album in a most satisfying way.

Overall, this is another superb piece of work from composer Fran Dominguez. He’s managed to forge an entirely unique niche with his nature-inspired ambient instrumentals, which also incorporate other genres in a seamless way. Trying to frame the many moods and scenes of the natural world is no mean feat, but one in which Dominguez excels and here he raises his art to a high level.

As he has now covered three of the seasons, I look forward to his next work which I presume will capture the magic of winter in yet more enchanting and evocative music. Fans of this album should also check out the visual accompliment, “All Things Grow Faint With Great Adorn In Autumn”.

 

VERDICT: 9.1 out of 10 

Alex Faulkner

 

Listen here:

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

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

 

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