SINGLE REVIEW: Reconciliation by Rickard Nygren

Rickard Nygren is a composer, producer and multi-instrumentalist based in the deep, Darlecarlian woods of Sweden. He studied jazz music at the Music Conservatory in Falun for three years and the same subject for two years at fridhemsfolkhogskola. He plays saxophone, guitar, piano and the Ewi (Electronic Wind Instrument) and performs all the instruments on his compositions, which he also self-produces. He regards Miles Davis as a seminal influence, especially the albums Kind of Blue and We Want Miles.

Reconciliation is a mid-tempo instrumental and his first music release. The intro immediately creates an atmospheric, evocative soundscape with a cascading, echo-drenched guitar line. A punchy, strident 2/4 beat kicks in along with pulsating, obstinato bass. This circular guitar melody has a mesmeric effect and sets the mood for the entry of the Ewi (electronic wind instrument) which gives Nygren’s music its unique signature sound.

After an initial swirl of lead melody, the music then breaks down to a sophisticated, jazzy section which evokes a meditative mood. It’s given musical colour through  delicate piano and shows the influence of Miles Davis, especially Kind of Blue.

The beat then returns and the Ewi melody really develops, spanning a large melodic range and showcasing the versatility of this instrument, as well as Nygren’s natural skills as a composer. The recurring five-note motif underpins the end section and even within its three minute duration, the music has an enchanting effect on the listener.

Overall, this is an impressive debut release from Richard Nygren, a very talented musician, composer and producer. Fusing his jazz influences with electronica, this combination finds its perfect expression in Nygren’s use of the Ewi, which forms a strong part of his unique and original style. This is perhaps the hardest thing for an artist to develop, but Richard Nygren has emerged fully formed as a composer and producer.

VERDICT = 8.8 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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SINGLE REVIEW: Dirty Laundry by Bludgers

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Bludgers are essentially an American rock band but hail from various parts of the world. They consist of singer Joe Pheloung, guitarist Paul Colussi, bass player Craig Walls and drummer Paul Fogarty. Formed in the 90’s, the band have released three albums and toured with groups like Uncle Tupelo, The Bottle Rockets, Blue Mountain and The Wonsers. As they live in different places, they get together every few years to record new material. 2021 sees the release of the E.P. BLUDGERS FIVE.

This single, Dirty Laundry, is the lead single from that E.P. It encapsulates their naturally authentic sound, a mid-paced alternative rock/Americana song that shows numerous influences such as Neil Young, Tom Petty and shades of Bruce Springsteen. Joe Pheloung’s roots, heartfelt vocals are married with crunchy electric guitars and simple but effective drums and bass, augmented by gorgeous backing harmonies.

Lyrically, the song seems to be a dry, ironic commentary on how corruption seems to eventually be exposed: “They found that big pile of dirty money, they found that long trail of dirty cash, now you can see us all looking worried in the camera flash…”. It’s a pithy piece of social satire that seems particularly apposite in this era. After the fine middle eight it breaks out into a succinct guitar solo which is always welcome and a rarity these days.

Overall, this is a superb song by Bludgers, both musically and lyrically. They sound so natural that you would never guess they only get together once in a while, an effortless synergy that is rare among bands. Bludgers keep flying the flag for classic songwriting in the Americana style and Dirty Laundry is exactly what we need right now – honest, genuine music about the times we’re living in.

VERDICT = 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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SINGLE REVIEW: The Only Truth I Know by David Arn

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David Arn is a singer/songwriter based in Virginia. His music is mostly acoustic and strongly lyric driven, allowing his words to be clearly delivered with an authentic, gravelly voice that sounds full of life experience.

You can hear the influences of Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan as well as the sophisticated lyrical style of Van Dyke Parks and Randy Newman, though his style is very much his own. He has previously released three full length albums, Postmodern Days, Walking To Dreamland (which I reviewed very favourably in 2015, read here) and Traveler Tales in 2020 (read my laudatory review here), along with numerous singles.

This latest release, The Only Truth I Know, is a blues-folk acoustic ballad about the Covid 19 pandemic that has changed all our lives worldwide. More specifically, it’s  about walking the streets at night in New York City. The track features a familiar musical collaborator, Tobias Wilson, who adds an acoustic guitar accompaniment.

This accompaniment opens the song in tandem with haunting picked acoustic guitar arpeggios (also from Wilson) and mood-setting electric piano from Arn. Perhaps befitting the subject matter, the music is full of harmonic tension, the minor and diminished chords capturing the eerie emptiness and desolation of the NYC streets during these socially distanced times.

The first verse captures the fear that seems to currently hang in the air: “Loneliness broods all over town as if scarier days are comin’ ‘round.…”. David delivers these solemn words in an understated yet deeply powerful performance, his voice full of frailty and concern for the bleak situation that has befallen the human race. Searching for answers, he can only conclude, “So many truths, that’s the only truth I know”.

In the second verse he depicts something many of us can relate to, deliberately avoiding the relentless bad news that streams from all forms of media (“Call it my ignorance phase…”).

The song takes an interesting turn into romantic longing and wondering: “What would she do if I rang her door? Our final goodbye was not that strong, could we listen to her favourite music like we did before strange weather came along?”. It throws up strong questions about how this predicament will affect human relationships and intimacy if it lasts into the long term. It could be said to ultimately be about trying to find anything familiar and human at all at what is being called the “new normal”.

Overall, this latest song from David Arn really captures the current zeitgeist in a most sensitive and sophisticated manner. Arn is the natural heir to the troubled troubadour tradition of Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen et al and he truly rises to the occasion here with this poignant postcard from the edge.

VERDICT = 9.1 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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SINGLE REVIEW: Thin Disguise by Davy Williamson

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Davy Williamson is a singer/ songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who was born in Plant City, Florida and raised in his hometown of Wilmington, North Carolina. He was the co-founder of the band Third Class Passenger and also the punk rock band Ma Shot Pa. This year, 2020, has seen him launch his solo career having successfully overcome some personal issues. Overcoming adversity is a theme explored in his music along with betrayal, love lost and broken homes.

This track, Thin Disguise, is his debut single and one on which Dave impressively plays all the instruments and performs the vocals. The song is a powerful and highly emotional hard rock epic, bursting into action with pounding drums and widescreen heavy electric guitars. Dave’s authentic and passionate vocals enter, bringing to mind the late, great Chester Bennington from Linkin Park and another lost legend, Chris Cornell from Soundgarden.

The brooding verse that seems to reflect his personal struggles (“Forgiving everyone but me, forgetting everything I’ve seen, fight these insecurities…”) builds up to an explosive chorus based around the barbed refrain, “I hate your lies, can’t stand these ties, your alibis, your thin disguise…”.

After the second chorus it breaks out into a fantastic, lengthy but perfectly structured guitar solo that shows an influence of classic rock. The lead guitar playing here is truly superb and refreshing to hear, a solo not a commonplace thing anymore, even on a rock track. It really elevates the music to an even higher peak, providing a surge of energy and momentum for the final choruses.

Overall, this is an exceptional debut release from a hugely gifted singer, songwriter and musician. He’s managed to convey and channel the turmoil and struggle of past experiences into a cathartic classic that strikes the perfect balance between melodic and rhythmic power. In this troubled era, the redemptive songwriting of Davy Williamson is the tonic we need to weather us through the storm.

VERDICT = 9.2 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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SINGLE REVIEW: Terror in Disguise by Savannah Nider

Savannah Nider is a singer and songwriter born and raised in Pawnee City, Nebraska. She was already getting music industry attention for her singing at just fifteen, which led to working with people who were involved in the careers of Grammy winning artists including Collin Raye and others.

After moving to Nashville in 2019, she met a well known songwriter, Joie Scott, which led to her first co-written song. She was then introduced to producer Bryan Cole, who produced her latest EP. Her song We Are Us reached no.1 on the ITunes country singles chart in South Africa.

This song, Terror in Disguise, is an upbeat and highly emotive pop/rock track produced to perfection by Bryan Cole. It represents something of a departure for Savannah, who had previously been solidly in the country genre. But to her credit, she’s pushed herself out of her comfort zone in order to do something a little more musically daring.

Beginning with a haunting piano melody over an insistent guitar figure, Savannah’s expressive and instantly distinctive lead vocals then take centre stage in a compelling way. The verse conveys that a relationship has gone awry, as a partner turns out to be not the person they thought they knew (“maybe that’s why it’s a dangerous disaster…”).

The rhythmic descending melodies on the verse are contrasted by the cathartic chorus, which finds Savannah in her upper register augmented by beefy electric guitars. Musically, it brought to mind Shania Twain, the Stevie Nicks songs of Fleetwood Mac, with more modern artists like Taylor Swift, Miley Cyrus and Sia. More remotely, it reminded me of great 80’s female pop like Belinda Carlisle and Alannah Myles.

The chorus succinctly captures the strong emotion behind the song: “As it all falls down we just watch it from the ground...”. The second verse is just as emotionally visceral: “You’re a tragic masquerade….”. The genuine melancholy of the depicted situation is perfectly counterpointed by the relatively upbeat energy of the music, with every musician playing with passion and conviction. The final choruses allow Savannah to express the considerable power and range of her voice, leaving the listener on a high.

Overall, this is a superb follow up song to the hugely successful We Are Us. This song constitutes a brave leap into uncharted artistic territory for Savannah, but she pulls it off owing to her versatile voice and deeply emotive performance. If she can maintain this high standard, the sky’s the limit for Savannah Nider.

 

VERDICT = 9.1 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

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SINGLE REVIEW: Runaway by Hollis Jordan (ft. Zaire Danae)

Hollis Jordan is an artist with a fascinating family background. He was born in Detroit and is the second cousin of female rapper “Bo$$” of Def Jam Records and sixth cousin to the great singer, composer and trumpeter Louis Armstrong.

In 2007, he attended the Malcolm X Academy and he was chosen for lead singer of an all male choir after auditioning, leading to several awards. Since 2011 he’s been a solo artist and music producer, releasing his first national single Live For The Moment. This was produced by his older brother MoStaxx which was released on their label. Since then, he’s released a plethora of material that has proven popular.

This track, Runaway, also featuring RnB singer Zaire Danae. Opening with slick delay-drenched hi hats, an infectious RnB rhythm kicks in providing the bedrock for Hollis to deliver his smooth as honey vocals, bringing to mind Pharell Williams and Craig David. After the verse refrain it breaks into an instantly memorable chorus: “Oh let’s runaway, start listening to Marvin Gaye…”.

After the sultry second verse and chorus, Zaire Danae’s versatile voice enters, her feminine tone providing the perfect contrast to Hollis and adding to the sensual vibe of the music. It then enters an effective spoken word section reminiscent of the Pussycat Dolls, before one final burst of the killer chorus.

Overall, this is a slam dunk of a single release from the gifted Hollis Jordan. Music is deep in his genes and, here, his vocal talents collide with a really strong song which has been produced to perfection. Zaire Danae’s guest vocals give an extra sophistication and variety to the sound, resulting in what sound like a dead cert hit. Something tells me you’ll be hearing the name Hollis Jordan a lot more in the future.

 

VERDICT = 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

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SINGLE REVIEW: Wow by Larry Jay

Larry Jay is a country/pop singer and songwriter native to New York who now resides in California. His Americana-tinged music has already found acclaim, becoming a first runner up in several songwriting contests including the highly regarded John Lennon Songwriting Contest. He has performed at the historic Troubadour in Los Angeles and shared the stage with a Neil Young sidekick and Crazy Horse member, Sonny Mone. Neil Young is actually one artist Larry has been compared to, along with Keith Urban.

This song, Wow, is a country pop ballad based around crystalline, picked acoustic guitar. It features the vocals of The Voice contestant and Team Blake member  Caeland Gardner, depicting an amorous, romantic situation in an intimate low register: “The way that my girl looks at me when all the lights are low tells me that we’re going to the land of rock n’ roll….”.

It’s when the chorus hits that this song truly shines; Caeland switches to a higher octave, singing a glorious melody augmented by tight lower harmonies. The deep romanticism is expressed through the wide ranging and poignant melody, surmised by the cute title hook.

After the second chorus, the drums really kick in, the sound and intricate rhythm giving the music a modern edge, along with the subtle but effective electric guitars. After a breakdown chorus the song ends on a high with one more refrain, finishing on the guitar figure that started the song surrounded by the glow of warm, rich organ.

Overall, this is a finely crafted country/pop ballad that shows Larry Jay’s gifts as a songwriter and Caeland Gardner as a singer. Larry shows with this song that he can write the kind of track that radio and the country loving public adore. I see no reason why Larry Jay won’t become a household name as a songwriter and perhaps Wow is the song that helps propels him there.

VERDICT = 8.8 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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SINGLE REVIEW: Do What You Gotta Do by Dejhare

Dejhare (pronounced Dei-Jhar) is a singer and songwriter based in San Jose, California. She first released an eponymous six-track E.P. in the autumn of 2018, which was popular. Dejhare then released her debut full length album, Unbreakable, in 2019. This brought her more acclaim and expanded her fanbase. 2020 has seen the release of D7, a seven track experimental album that featured reinterpretations and dance versions of seven songs from Unbreakable.

This latest track, Do What You Gotta Do, is specifically about the COVID-19 pandemic which has affected all our lives so much worldwide. It’s immediately become one of her most popular tracks, and it’s easy to see why. Musically, it’s a very catchy pop/dance track whilst lyrically it’s a song that almost everyone will be able to relate to, as we learn to grapple with the “new normal”.

Starting with pulsing, upbeat synths, when Dejhare’s instantly distinctive vocal sound enters it melds with the EDM production style perfectly. Her sound brings to mind the anthemic, euphoric Europop of Lady Gaga, combining her exotic vibe with a style all of her own. The verses depict how everything we experienced as regular life has been turned upside down (“No more dining out…“).

It’s the chorus where this song really shines, lyrically combining personal responsibility with not losing your essential humanity and empathy: “Wear your mask but never close your heart!” This is a vital and inspiring message in a time where crucial efforts to save lives also mean social isolation and an unnatural distance between us all. Musically, the hook is instantly infectious and the middle “bridge” section provides another memorable refrain: “The new normal, we have to adopt, the new normal, we have to evolve..do what you gotta do.”

Overall, Do What You Gotta Do feels like Dejhare’s most important release so far and, musically, captures her at the height of her powers. Mainstream pop needs to reflect the highly serious nature of the times we’re living in, whilst retaining the qualities of timeless great songwriting. Dejhare has managed to achieve this difficult balancing act and it deserves to be her breakthrough track to a huge worldwide audience.

VERDICT = 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/c/Dejhare
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/dejharemusic/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Dejhare
Twitter: https://twitter.com/dejhare

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SINGLE REVIEW: Things To Come by Jeremy Parsons

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Jeremy Parsons is a singer/songwriter born in San Antonio, Texas. As a child he experienced the music in the dancehalls of Lone Star State and became a big fan. But it wasn’t till his later high school years that he taught himself guitar, then eventually began writing and performing music.

In the past decade he has performed all over America and Europe, taking inspiration from Texas performance artists and wowing crowds wherever he performs. His Things I Need To Say album saw the release of several singles including the Top 40 Roots Report Track, Burn This House Down, and Why Is The Bluebird Blue which reached no. 2 on the Hits You Love pop charts.

This track, Things To Come, is taken from that album and acts as a fine introduction to this artist. It’s a mid paced country ballad in 6/8 time that stands out for its emotive vocal performance. Blessed with a strong voice and a smooth, easy on the ear tone, he delivers a charismatic and touching lead vocal backed by solid, steady drums and augmented by crystal clear acoustic guitars. Mellifluous bass and gently overdriven electric guitar fills out the sound perfectly, along with sweet as honey backing harmonies.

The song is about the importance of looking towards the future as tempting as it is to look back to the past: “Ain’t nostalgia a wonderful thing…”. The song’s theme is captured succinctly in the fine chorus: “I’d go back if I could, that ain’t how it works, I’ve lived and I’ve loved and all that I’ve learnt… time is a healer and life must go on, so here’s to all the things to come.…”.

Overall, this a finely written and superbly performed country rock ballad with a reflective yet uplifting message. Jeremy Parsons has certainly honed his songwriting craft and combined with pristine performances and production, the result is a very classy song perfect for country and pop radio. Jeremy Parsons has huge commercial potential and is most definitely a name to watch out for.

VERDICT = 8.8 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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SINGLE REVIEW: The Ballad Of Johnny Blowtorch by The Little Wretches

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The Little Wretches are a Pittsburgh rock band founded by frontman and chief songwriter Robert Wagner. In the 1980’s/90s the band were at the forefront of the Pittsburgh underground music scene. They went through various line up changes across their lengthy career, starting out as a folk/punk duo then over time developing into the rock band that became hugely popular in the Pittsburgh scene. A third incarnation of the group recorded two albums together and they eventually disbanded in the late 1990’s.

This song, The Ballad Of Johnny Blowtorch, is taken from the 2001 album Undesirables & Anarchists, which Robert Wagner has only recently released after it having been locked away in the archives for twenty years. The track is a blazing piece of rock ‘n roll, fuelled by a raging wall of electric guitars and pounding drums.

Wagner has the authentic, distinctive voice necessary for rock, giving a vocal performance full of verve and attitude. Equally spirited is the music behind him, channeling the fierce energy of the punk era bands like The Ramones with the gritty guitar sound of the great garage bands like The Velvet Underground and The Stooges, the former a noted influence on theirs.

Based around a simple but very effective low end guitar riff, it develops into a sonic juggernaut with strummed acoustic guitar and, towards the end, piano filling out the sound perfectly. The dynamics, backing harmonies and the call & response vocals on the final verse all add to the addictive nature of the song that remains compelling from the first second to the last.

Overall, this is an incendiary rock track full of passion that has been released from the band’s archives, much to our gain. Robert Wagner is a gem of a songwriter, fusing punk spirit with rock ‘n roll sass and cool. The result is a hugely enjoyable Little Wretches classic that should be treasured forever now that it’s been unearthed.

VERDICT = 9.1 out of 10

Alex Faulkner