SINGLE REVIEW: Back In Love Again by Richard Lynch and Rhonda Vincent


Richard Lynch is a very established and successful country singer/songwriter hailing from Ohio. His music is authentic, traditional country influenced by the greats that preceded him like Keith Whitley, Conway Twitty and George Strait. He released his first album, The Last Of A Dying Breed, in 2013 and his second album A Better Place, released in 2014, was named the Pure Country Album of the Year by the Academy of Western Artists amongst other awards and nominations. His last three singles have reached the top spot on multiple radio airplay charts, including “We’re American Proud”, in support of American military troops.

In 2017, he released his third album, Mending Fences, which contains this single. It’s an upbeat country rock duet with Rhonda Vincent, who is a very successful artist as well, having topped the bluegrass charts several times and won many awards. Starting with bursts of tasteful slide and lead guitar, Richard and Rhonda take turns trading lines, then combining to great effect on the verse. Their vocals complement each other perfectly, with Richard’s deep timbre counterpointed by Rhonda’s sweet tone.

The song is about two lovers both finding someone who restores their faith in love after simply showing friendship to begin with: “Somewhere that friendship ended and love began…”. The title provides a memorable hook which is employed well throughout the song, without becoming overly repetitive. The arrangement is nicely crafted, building to an enjoyable climax and the superb musicianship gives the whole sound a classy feel, aided by first rate production.

Overall, this is a fantastic country song performed by two excellent singers and performers, delivered with finesse and feeling. It is a perfect choice as a single, with its radio friendly sound and instantly catchy title hook. It will undoubtedly gain both Richard Lynch and Rhonda Vincent new admirers to add to their already considerable fanbase, and consolidate their position as authentic country icons of their era.

VERDICT: 8.6 out of 10 

Alex Faulkner


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ALBUM REVIEW: The Whisper and The Hurricane by Matt Hartless


Matt Hartless is an Irish songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer, currently based in Manchester, England. He has, so far, put out three full length studio albums (Our Last Days In The Sun, Victory and this one, The Whisper and The Hurricane, released in August 2017). Aside from these he has also released singles, E.P.s and compilations.  His music defies simple genre categorization, encompassing an eclectic range of styles including folk, ska, classical, ambient, flamenco and alternative rock. Sometimes these styles vary and combine within the same song!

This ten track album begins with Rorschach, and as soon as Matt’s rich, harmony layered a capella vocals emerge from the speakers you realize this is not going to be the usual fare. His voice is distinctive and powerful, reaching an almost operatic grandeur at certain moments. It is reminiscent of Muse’s Matt Bellamy and Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, though less affected, and he is gifted with an astounding vocal range (as anyone will discover if they listen to the entire album).

Lyrically, like musically, he is very eclectic and varied, mixing the oblique with the concrete and the romantic with the quotidian (this is captured even in the album’s title). These juxtapositions of the internal and external worlds lend the lyrics both a cinematic and imagistic quality that brings to mind T.S. Eliot circa The Waste Land. Lines such as “Analyze my every motive with a questionnaire and a Rorsharch test” seem particularly apposite in this current climate of behavioural scrutiny, both personal and societal.

Rorsharch is itself like an ink blot test, open to interpretation. Musically, it creates an evocative soundscape, with Hartless playing the majority of the instruments, aided by haunting violin lines (courtesy of Mark Humphries). The song is led by the lilting, folk-influenced vocal melody and the memorable enigmatic refrain, “No, I don’t remember at all...” In the second verse he muses, “There was no point to anything we did, till we ran out of time.…” and these themes of existential ennui and an impending sense of apocalypse recur throughout the album.

Second song The Vaulted Lead Ceiling is one of the album’s epics at six minutes long and begins with sparse acoustic guitar set against a sound collage of modern life; street noises, weather and bits of broken conversation. It is more openly personal. as evidenced by the dryly humorous opening line: “I don’t want to live the life of the chronically bored…”.

This elegiac, melancholy and world-weary tone pervades the album in a way that is reminiscent of troubled troubadours from the past like Nick Drake and Elliott Smith. The song brings to mind Exit Music (from Radiohead’s magnum opus Ok Computer) in the way it builds from, well, a whisper to a hurricane. To attempt a six minute track like this shows the scope of his musical ambition, and he pulls it off with aplomb.

The following Life In The Tannery is an effective contrast, with it’s samba-esque rhythms and restless, addictive guitar lines. It’s one of two tracks on the album that bring to mind the quirky alternative pop of Badly Drawn Boy and acts as a nice counterbalance to the ‘sturm und drung’ style of the emotionally heavyweight songs that surround it. Lyrically, it deals with the harsh truth that our relationships in life are partly based on projections and illusions: “To pull you from the blizzard, cartwheeling out of sync with the feelings that you perceive: you’re in love with a daydream…“.

Fourth song Waterlilies is arguably the album’s finest moment, drawing from the same well of doomed romanticism as The Smiths and Joy Division, but inhabiting its own sonic landscape entirely. Starting with a jazzy, beautifully simple two-chord piano progression, it develops into a soaring, euphoric ode to the timeless struggles of the human condition. It’s a good example of how he mixes the personal with powerful imagery, so we get: “I stumble through the haze that separates me from the end of days…” mixed in with striking images like ‘bodies in the street trampled by the protesters’ feet’. At the risk of sounding pretentious, you could call this style impressionistic in a similar way to Monet’s painting of the same name.

Fifth track Peace To Camera shows another facet to his oeuvre; an ambient instrumental that shows influences ranging from Sigur Rós and the French classical composer Erik Satie. Ethereal, haunting piano melodies drift and swirl without finding resolution, a mixture of the melodic and the dissonant. Again, you could describe it as an impressionistic painting in sound.

The classical influence continues strongly on the next two songs, Alice Loses Grip and The Science Of Attachment. The former begins with a swirling piano motif before developing into an epic piece of catharsis, lyrically capturing the theme of the album and giving us the source of the title: “The steps towards my hopes and dreams were worth my splitting at the seams, or better not to entertain the whisper and the hurricane…“.

The music is leant weight and stately grandeur by tasteful bursts of brass, adding to the symphonic texture. Matt delivers another stirring vocal performance of soaring intensity, which continues into the following six-minute The Science Of Attachment. This one brings to mind Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata along with the Gallic charm and beauty of the soundtrack to the classic film Amélie. It is in 6/8 time giving it a waltz feel, and violin from Dan Reiss lends it a gypsy vibe.

Emotionally, this song turns up the heat still further, the opening lines desperate and despairing: “I need a miracle or something magical, to prove there is more to life than this….“. Vocally, he channels a blend of Thom Yorke-esque power with the measured restraint of Elbow’s Guy Garvey. It builds to an anguished crescendo before ending on the evocative piano figure with which it began. Superb.

Making Small Fries Illegal is a distinct change of pace, an upbeat piece of indie-pop that brings to mind Mancunian music like, again, Elbow and Badly Drawn Boy. Lyrically, it sardonically deals with our disposability in modern society: “I left the office today, they’re making small fries redundant and I don’t know what to say, they think that I am one of them…..”. The melody really sticks in your mind and makes it a good choice as a single.

The final two songs, Snapdragon and London Will Fall, provide a showcase for both his eclecticism and extraordinary falsetto, especially the latter. Snapdragon shows his Irish roots, a piece of lilting but fiery folk in 3/4 waltz time (for the most part) that brought to mind The Levellers. The instantly memorable fiddle melody sets the tone and Thom Yorke would be proud to have written a line like, “Sleeping pills and aspirin, all to no effect, I’m shocked there’s anyone left….”

London Will Fall is a suitably epic way to end the album, the third to clock in at over six minutes. This one is perhaps best described as progressive ska, starting out in 4/4 then switching to triple time halfway through. As you can tell from the foreboding, yet maybe prescient, title it once again hints at apocalypse though the lyrics are barbed towards someone in particular: “London will fall and I won’t be there and it will all be down to you. Call, but I won’t be coming…we were saving our own skins…“.  It builds to a cathartic climax, with his falsetto voice reaching high notes that have to be heard to be believed! A stunning way to finish.

With The Whisper And The Hurricane, Matt Hartless has set the bar very high artistically and provided a powerful, poignant musical document of what it means to be a human being in the early 21st century, with artistic influences drawing back to the 19th century.

While the mainstream has become very much a case of the bland leading the bland, this album offers hidden treasure to anyone who still regards the album as an important art form and dares to delve down the rabbit hole. With any justice, this will still be listened to in fifty years time and hopefully beyond. British music has a new unsung hero.


VERDICT: 9.3 out of 10 

Alex Faulkner



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ALBUM REVIEW: BARE by Celeste Buckingham


Celeste Buckingham is a Slovak singer-songwriter of Swiss-American descent. Her songwriting began at a young age, with one of her first demos having been written when only twelve. She also wrote a successful children’s story with her sister, which they self-published in 2007 and eventually resulted in a paperback release. She rose to prominence with her musical talents in 2011 via becoming a finalist in the Czech and Slovak TV series Superstar.

From this success she was able to establish herself as an artist which resulted in the release of her debut album Don’t Look Back in 2012. Released to critical acclaim, it spawned a number two hit single in the national charts, Run, Run, Run. She followed this with the 2013 album Where I Belong, which featured the single I’m Not Sorry. Another album followed in 2015, So Far So Good. She has also featured as a judge on the Czech-Slovak X Factor.

This album, BARE, features ten tracks and musically is fairly eclectic in its influences, but it is essentially soul/RnB fused with Middle Eastern and Latin elements that is reminiscent of artists like Shakira. Vocally, she is distinctive and powerful, with a voice to stand up against any of pop’s big hitters like Beyonce, Rihanna and Adele. You can also detect the influence of Joss Stone, and Celeste shares her penchant for barefoot performances!

The album gets off to a blistering start with the perfect R&B pop of Paradise, with cutting edge production that rivals the best Bloodshy & Avant productions (Britney Spears, Katy Perry). Starting with a pulsing kick drum that ensures it will rip on the dancefloor, Celeste lays down a killer vocal about resisting but still being tempted by a lothario: “You say you love the dark side, and I got a wild side but I ain’t gonna let you in, no, no…”.

As with the best pop songs, every section of the track is filled with catchy hooks and ear candy, the breakdown bridge (“Even though I know you’re no good for me…”) building to an instantly memorable chorus that captures the harsh reality of life and both the shallow nature and allure of human relationships: “This ain’t paradise, it’s as cold as ice, but there’s magic in your bones I don’t understand…”. If there’s a better pop song in 2018, I’ll be surprised.

While Paradise is my personal favourite on the album, second track Addict is perhaps the one with the most commercial potential and is quite simply, well, addictive! Built around an exotic Eastern groove and a seductive vocal melody, it brings to mind the world conquering classic Hips Don’t Lie by Shakira. Again, it’s about the potency and lure of physical and mental attraction and starts with the chorus hook: “Losing my mind and I kind of like that….”.

Unexpectedly, Celeste shows her versatility on the verses, rapping with a smooth and rapid delivery as fluent and rhythmic as Eminem at his best. This gives the track added sass and really drives it forward, contrasting effectively with the sung sections. A song that could storm the charts, globally.

Third song Rose is a total change of pace; a tender ballad about feeling love and compassion for a man going through a rough time emotionally: “His petals are worn and frayed at the edge, his clothes are torn and his face is a mess…”. Celeste gets to show another side to her talent here, delivering a sensitive, moving and powerful vocal, with a theme that avoids the clichés of the traditional love ballad. With its radio friendly sound and strong chorus, this is another potential single.

Next up is Go Away, which has been released as the first single from the album. It is a return to the Latin-tinged R&B vibes of the first two tracks and matches them for sheer catchiness. Lyrically, as the title implies, it’s about reaching the end of a relationship with someone who’s turned out to be no good. The whole song is packed with hooks, and with its solid four-to-the-floor beat you can tell it will work well in the clubs.

The following Selfish is another fine track, with some nice production effects on the vocals. Although it’s as good as most of what you hear in the charts, it doesn’t have the inspired vitality of the preceding songs and perhaps sounds a little too similar to the majority of what’s out there.

Things pick up again straight away with the superb Trip, a slinky piece of jazz-inflected R&B that Beyonce would be very happy to have in her catalogue. The track makes great use of space, with a sparse but highly effective arrangement based around a xylophone-esque synth melody. It exudes a tasteful sensuality, especially as Celeste purrs “Can we take it nice and slow?” on the bridge. The use of triplet rhythms vocally and instrumentally throughout is the secret to its immense catchiness. A monster track that must surely become a single!

Seventh song Immature has a similar production style to Selfish, with a beefier hip hop style beat. I enjoyed the way the arrangement built across the duration of the track, and the chorus hook soon gets stuck in your head. Lyrically, it’s self explanatory, about a man who hasn’t got round to growing up yet. There is a dry humour in the lyrics that I appreciated, another facet to her musical personality.

Time Is Ours is the second ballad on the album, based around a haunting Coldplay-esque piano arpeggio. Celeste delivers another excellent vocal full of intimate vulnerability, and though it’s not as memorable as the lovely Rose, it’s certainly another well crafted piece of songwriting. All This is another fine example of what is essentially her staple sound, exotic rhythms and percussion and hook-laden vocal melodies, this one driven along by an elastic bassline.

The final track Intoxicated is perhaps the most lyrically edgy song on the album, and makes for a blazing finale. Starting with a harmonized vocoder effect, it’s an ode to the need to temporarily escape through hedonism: “I must stay intoxicated, baby, drink till it’s over, don’t try to change me“. A stomping beat and the verses delivered as a laconic rap gives this a hip urban feel, and this, again, has the potential to be a huge hit in the clubs. A great way to finish.

Having already amassed a huge fanbase, Celeste Buckingham stands poised to enter the big league with this album. She has the voice, image and charisma to become a globe conquering star, but most importantly, she has several songs that sound like they are destined to soar to the upper reaches of the charts. In particular, Paradise, Addict and Trip are potential number ones, but what makes this album stand out from the pack is its consistently high quality. When Shakira released Laundry Service, it broke her beyond just success in her native country and the same should happen here. I rate this as the most important female pop album since Lorde’s debut Pure Heroine. A star is born.



VERDICT: 8.9 out of 10 

Alex Faulkner


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SINGLE REVIEW: Promise For Keeps by Matthew Schultz


Matthew Schultz is an artist with an interesting background in the entertainment industry, having been involved in it since his teen years. He’s a multi-instrumentalist, producer, singer and performer who started out playing guitar in Chris Daughtry’s first band. He’s also diversified into acting, cast for a role in The Dark Knight Rises as well as roles in the award-winning short film Redemptio and comedy 10 Rules For Sleeping Around, amongst others.

He has already made a strong impact on the music industry with his previous releases. His first single, Money or Me, was produced by Armando Guarnera and earned him a nomination at the 2013 EOTM Awards, as well as one for best new male artist. He followed this up with Crazy Heart (ft. Alessia Guarnera) in 2014, then in 2015 he released We Own The Night (feat. Jim Jones). Last year saw a house remix of this track by Follow The Moon gain considerable popularity. These releases were all widely acclaimed and he has accumulated a huge following on Facebook and Twitter in the process.

His latest single, Promise For Keeps, sees him return to the fray in some style. Musically, it is has its finger on the pulse, blending elements of EDM and Major Lazer-esque dancehall to create a fresh sounding, cutting edge pop track. The theme is highly romantic, with the protagonist pondering the idea of long-term commitment to the new love in his life: “I love that I’m close to you, so much love to show to you, I hope I’m not thinking too far ahead….”.

It starts with just vocals and synths, gradually building with light percussion up to the first chorus, which is instantly memorable the first time you hear it. In the second verse a four-to-the-floor beat kicks in and the track starts to really groove. This incrementally structured arrangement means there is frequency something new entering the mix and so doesn’t get old after repeated listens, there is always something drawing the listener in. After the track has built up to a full beat, there’s a drop down section which works well dynamically, making the last choruses more effective.

There are several hooks that deployed throughout the song that make it super catchy, such as the romantic “I’ll take you far from here…”, “Let’s plant a seed for love to grow” and the philosophical “You reap what you sow and you sow what you reap“. The laid back tempo is reminiscent of Drake’s monster hit One Dance, and you can imagine this track going down equally well in a nightclub.

Overall, Matthew Schultz has come up with a first rate piece of modern pop that effortlessly blends several genres and styles, which will work equally well on the radio and the dancefloor. It’s a song that will fit in perfectly in the current musical landscape of Taylor Swift, Drake and Justin Bieber, with mainstream pop the place where the innovations are being made. In short, it has massive hit written all over it. With an army of fans awaiting new material, he will undoubtedly make many new ones with this single, and 2018 could find him taking his success to a new level.


VERDICT: 9.1 out of 10

Alex Faulkner


E.P. REVIEW: Crow Eats Man by Crow Eats Man


Crow Eats Man are a five-piece heavy rock band based in Mountain View, California, who formed in 2016 and are heavily influenced by rock/grunge bands like Stone Temple Pilots and Alice in Chains, who both  rose to prominence in the nineties. They combine these influences with aspects of more recent rock bands like Queens of the Stone Age and Avenged Sevenfold. The fusion of grunge and modern rock/metal gives them a unique sound, aided by all members being highly proficient musicians and performers.

This five-track eponymous  E.P. is their first release and packs a powerful sonic punch. Crow Eats Man make music on an epic scale, with several tracks clocking in at close to, or over, five minutes, including the E.P. lead track Jaded. Based around a descending chord sequence and some meaty guitar riffs, it is Sebastian’s lead vocals that really grab your attention. His full-throated delivery brings to mind the vocals of rock legends Scott Weiland and Layne Staley, both sadly now passed on. After a brooding verse, it bursts into a cathartic, engaging chorus lifted further by a killer high riff; “I’m faded, I’m jaded, you brought me to my knees….” runs the memorable refrain.

The production is first rate, with every instrument recorded with crystalline clarity and mixed to perfection. After the standard verse/chorus structure, the band really allow the music to breathe. Following the second chorus, a passage of Avenged Sevenfold-esque harmonized guitar leads to some cyclonic drumming, then a break down section which culminates in a blazing guitar solo. One last chorus drives the song home and you can see why this is the lead track. Excellent stuff.

Lost Son, the second track, starts with a dark, sleazy low-end riff that any self respecting metal band would be proud of, before launching into a hard-rocking song guaranteed to get the moshpit headbanging. It alternates between sections of heavy Alice in Chains-style grind and slightly lighter but still hard hitting Audioslave-type riffs, with vocals that brought to mind Josh Homme. They show their musical chops towards the end with alternating sections of 5/4 and 6/4, which shows the influence of progressive rock, another facet to this band.

This rhythmic complexity continues on third song Before Sunday, which is in triple time throughout. It creates a brooding sonic soundscape with rumbling, swirling riffs and ascending lines played in octaves, with Sebastian giving an excellent vocal performance. It brought to mind the cathartic rage of Soundgarden, with Sebastian reminiscent of the late, great Chris Cornell. The exotic lead guitar work towards the end made me think of Faith No More’s Jim Martin circa their classic Angel Dust album.

Deependit is another bulldozer of a song built on a colossal low-end riff. It builds to an anthemic chorus strengthened by solid backing vocals, with a highly melodic bassline that helps drive the music forward. It culminates in a potent, wah-drenched guitar solo that doesn’t outstay its welcome and completes one of the strongest tracks on the E.P.

Closing song, the excellently titled Fresno Cigarette Run, is a relatively short but no less powerful way to finish. It features some biting machine-gun riffage and combines 4/4 and 6/8 time to great effect, with a catchy chant section and creative use of space. It provides a little light relief after the emotional intensity of the earlier tracks and bookends over twenty minutes of sustained high quality rock perfectly.

Overall, this is a highly impressive debut E.P. from a rock band who have hit the ground running and found their own style. Combining elements of old-school grunge with more modern influences and production techniques gives them an appeal for both young and old rock fans. Their first-class musicianship should mean that they thrive on the live circuit and, in Jaded, they have a track that should do well on American radio and elsewhere. This is a band with huge potential for the future. Ones to keep an eye on in 2018.

VERDICT: 8.9 out of 10 

Alex Faulkner

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JDR are an EDM duo who are based in Sydney, Australia, consisting of two pop/dance producers and performers called Derrick Attwood and Joshua Paltoo. Both attendants of the JMC Academy, they have perfected their skills over time and Only U is the first fruit of their labours, at least that has been released so far.

Despite being only recently released it has accrued a sizeable amount of attention, with a large amount of views/streams on YouTube and Spotify , as well as enjoying radio play on multiple top level Australian radio stations. Their music is perfectly in keeping with the current musical climate in dance music, a combination of Calvin Harris-esque pop EDM, with the laid back dancehall grooves of Major Lazer.

This track, Only U, starts with filtered synths, the catchy beat soon entering with a brief flourish of Spanish guitar. The smooth-as-velvet vocals of Joshua Paltoo take the verse, contrasted nicely by Derrick Attwood’s distinctive tone. Taking turns on the verse and bridge is effective and they sound great in combination on the instantly memorable chorus. Lyrically, it is standard fare for dance music, about being transfixed by the charms of a girl and having one aim in mind: “The night is young and there’s so much love to explore…”. A few lines in Spanish give the track an exotic flavour and should help the popularity in Spanish speaking countries.

Overall, this track has a lot going for it; a superbly produced Latino-flavoured piece of EDM that is equally radio and dancefloor friendly. It will appeal to the currently huge mainstream dance crowd and beyond due to its fine pop sensibilities. If you’re a fan of Calvin Harris, The Chainsmokers, Juetin Bieber and Major Lazer, JDR will find a strong place in your hearts and this song has summer smash written all over it.


VERDICT: 8.7 out of 10

Alex Faulkner


SINGLE REVIEW: Black Mass by Collegians

Collegians 2_preview.jpeg

Collegians are a four-piece, alternative electro-rock band based in Melbourne, Australia. Formed in 2014, they have been busy recording their debut album and have already forged a distinctive sound; they combine the dark synth textures of Depeche Mode with the harder hitting rock aspects of bands like Muse and Linkin Park as well as the anthemic elements of Imagine Dragons. They have already made a considerable impact with their first single Vaccine, which featured highly in several charts and was received to considerable acclaim from the critics.

This second single, Black Mass, has followed suit, gaining even higher chart placing since its release in November, 2017. It’s the perfect showcase for their modern synth-rock style, with a standout performance from vocalist and frontman Glenn Patrick. Lyrically, it is highly apposite for this era; it’s about the pervasive, brainwashing influence of the mass media on people. The band describe the song succinctly as “a requiem to free thought”.

It starts with chugging low synth and lyrically, goes straight for the jugular: “You lay your dead sheep sermon on me, its round my neck, it’s poisoned my head…”. The track builds gradually builds with a simple beat entering in the second verse. It leads to the instantly memorable, anthemic chorus describing the far reaching effect of the media: “It’s a black mass going live to every lounge room, every bedroom….”. After the second chorus it breaks down into an extended middle eight section with rolling toms and fizzing synths, building up to a final chorus that you find yourself singing after one listen.

Overall, this is a real barnstormer of a single, a powerful one-two punch after the killer debut single Vaccine. It cleverly balances an accessible, radio friendly sound whilst having a sharp lyrical edge that is distinctly lacking in much modern pop. It boasts the kind of anthemic chorus you can imagine thousands chanting along to, and, based on the evidence so far, Collegians are my tip for the top in 2018 and beyond.


VERDICT: 9.2 out of 10 

Alex Faulkner