SINGLE REVIEW: Thin Disguise by Davy Williamson

Davy Williamson Thin Disguise

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

SINGLE REVIEW: 1st Entr’acte (#38/76)-The Bombshelter Is Now A Mosh-Pit and I’m A Freakin’ Star by The Gangsta Rabbi

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The Gangsta Rabbi, a.k.a. 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 his 3 hour magnum opus, Symphonie-Thrash Du Professeur Juif Rebelle.

This latest release, the catchily titled 1st Entr’acte (#38/76)-The Bombshelter Is Now A Mosh-Pit and I’m A Freakin’ Star is a seven minute epic that continues Lieberman’s highly original hybrid of classical, punk and metal. Remarkably, this constitutes the overture to to the Noise Militia #38/76, meaning that at 33 hours it’s a potential world record, a fact currently pending with the Guinness Book Of Records!

As with his other work, from its first seconds the sound of the music blows you away, a hectic sprawl of layered instruments, a rollercoaster ride of punk spirit and attitude, a sonic riot. While it may strike the listener as chaotic dissonance, there’s always method in the madness, a melodic core under the surface. The textured sound is a potent fusion of electric guitar, bass and drums with a plethora of classical instruments being played mostly in tandem, all performed by the Rabbi himself.

This track features a relatively large amount of lyrics compared to previous work and the words display the same defiant spirit and inventiveness as the music: “Got sick but never fade, wrote a never ending Mosh Parade, I’m a freakin’ Star.”

He shows Dylan-esque eloquence and sardonic wit with lines like, “Punkifier Militia Fire, I’m Jewish Punk’s little Sire, Lower Brass Distorted Wire”. One of the verses towards the end has real poetic force: “Not a War Brigade but a Militia Of Peace warning them the oppression must desist must cease, rose from my deathbed, He gave me the Power, I did a song for thirty hours…”.

Overall, this another blazing musical assault from the Gangsta Rabbi. Not even a terminal disease can stop his indefatigable artistic spirit, and his music feels like a shot in the arm when this year appears to have decimated so much art and culture. May Steve Lieberman continue to long keep raging against the dying of the light.

VERDICT = 8.8 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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SINGLE REVIEW: La Vida by Joseph Fermán

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Joseph Fermán is a singer and songwriter originally from Salvador in Brazil but now based in California. There’s a strong Latin American influence on the music he makes, employing salsa and cumbia rhythms amongst others. He released his debut single in May of last year, Holy Mamá. This was written as a tribute to his mother’s memory and was translated into four languages. He then followed up with the cumbia Birthday song and both these releases were very successful on radio.

This latest song, La Vida, is sung in Spanish and is about the current Covid 19 crisis which has affected people worldwide. For this song, Joseph collaborated on the arrangement with Angel Castaños and accordionist Julian Rojas. Commenting on the meaning behind this song, Joseph states, “Life is only one and should not be tied to materialism because nothing is yours in this life, you come with nothing and you leave with nothing”.

The track is upbeat and instantly infectious, with mellifluous bursts of accordion first capturing your attention. Joseph’s spoken word introduction then provides the focus before he delivers the verse in an authentic and immediately memorable style. The catchy vocal melody is augmented throughout by punchy brass, which has been extremely well arranged. The lyrics are very life affirming and philosophical, especially the profound chorus: “If it happened, it happened for good, if it happens, it happens for good”.

The essential message of the song is an important one, reminiscent of the classic song Que Sera Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be). Musically, it is comparable to the highly colourful and energetic music of the Gypsy Kings and fans of that group will absolutely love this song. It employs cumbia vallenata rhythms, combining Salvadoran and Colombian styles. The quality of the musicianship and production is also of a very high standard throughout, full of nuance and flavour.

Overall, this is an emotionally powerful and hugely uplifting song in a Latin American style, with a charismatic vocal performance from Joseph Fermán. The music is very rich in melody, especially the lead vocal line and the contrapuntal accordion lines give an evocative texture and energy, along with the guitars and brass. Most importantly, it’s a message to us all that we must retain our faith in life during these troubled times and that we must make the most of what we have.

 

VERDICT= 9 out of 10 

Alex Faulkner

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SINGLE PREMIERE: Loveolution by Toby TomTom

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Toby TomTom is a singer/songwriter and producer with a very interesting backstory. Earlier in his career he worked with Alicia Keys and Shelby J (of Prince fame) , apprenticed with Kenni Hairston (Cameo, Cyndi Lauper) and even sat in on sessions with the legendary producer and composer Quincy Jones. He has a diverse range of influences, ranging from classical composers like Debussy, to funk and soul artists like Tower of Power and Marvin Gaye as well as the late, great Tupac Shakur.

This track, Loveolution, is the follow up to the excellent Born To Be Free, which I reviewed very favourably upon its release (read here). Loveolution is a high energy, extremely infectious blend of RnB, hip hop, soul, funk and pop that showcases Toby’s versatile gifts. He describes the inspiration behind the track: “My goal with Loveolution is to touch the pulse of the world. Make us think about the tools we can use to fight and make it better!

It’s an inspiring and uplifting anthem which begins with female spoken word samples set to a swinging RnB beat. You can hear the distinct influences of Marvin Gaye and Prince, combining Marvin’s soulfulness and Prince’s restless musical inventiveness, which Toby has in spades. Indeed, his expressive vocals on the verse in particular brought to mind Marvin’s classic What’s Going On album, while the hugely anthemic chorus has a real party vibe that made me think of Prince’s 1999.

After a relatively sparse verse where the ultra punchy beat dominates, the chorus explodes into technicolour with bursts of guitar and sax. Again, similar to Prince, Toby is a gifted multi-instrumentalist and not only he has performed all of the musical instruments, but also produced it by himself.

Lyrically, the song could not be more apposite and appropriate for the times we’re living in. Whilst many are stirring up a societal revolution based on negative events, Toby transcends all of that and delivers an instantly memorable chorus hook with a truly inspirational message: “Gotta be, gotta be, gotta be a Loveolution…”.

To come out with a song like this in times of such political turmoil and upheaval is testament to his artistry and character. Special credit should go to the arrangement and production which is so full of nuance and detail that you hear a new facet or texture every time. The way it builds to a climactic finish with the sound of chanting crowds leaves the listener on a high.

Overall, this life affirming anthem is a timely release from a hugely gifted artist with a spiritual soul. It’s a sonic concoction that takes what’s great from the past and brings it up to date with cutting-edge production and a modern stylistic vibe. In our troubled and turbulent times, Toby TomTom has produced the soulful and joyous song that we all needed to hear.

VERDICT= 9.2 out of 10 

Alex Faulkner

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