ARTIST REVIEW: SharaLee

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SharaLee is a singer and songwriter hailing from Canada. She was born into a very musical family where every member played an instrument or sang, and SharaLee made her debut singing on stage at just five. She developed into recording demos then her own songs, with Postcards her first album of original material.

This led to writing with Mark Zubek, with their co-written song Together Again winning an Akademia award and considered for an Etta James biopic. She is strongly influenced by the great soul and Motown artists of the past but also loves pop, rock, gospel and country western music.

These eclectic influences become apparent through listening to the various songs she has made available online on her artist page. The first track Fall Down is a powerful introduction to her work, an epic ballad that brought to mind artists like Adele and Amy Winehouse. Like them, SharaLee has a soulful, strong voice full of character as well as considerable range.

She sings near the top of her register on this one, depicting a heartbroken lover over terse, rhythmic strings and brooding bass. The song is about those who have built their lives with a “wall of lies” and how it eventually catches up with them. The opening lines capture the sense of personal pain: “My heart was broke when you walked away like a hit and run.…”. SharaLee‘s vocal performance is highly emotive and it remains captivating until the final bars which are performed ‘a capella’.

Her love of Motown and soul comes to the fore in the excellent Deja Vu. It’s a ballad in 6/8 time and, as with Amy Winehouse’s Back To Black album, it effectively recreates the magical Motown sound. The feel of the music is very authentic with the unmistakable sound of musicians playing their instruments, an unfortunate rarity in this era. SharaLee’s vocals are more gentle and tender here, crooning a beautiful melody augmented by backing harmonies, along with strings and brass.

She shows another side to her musical persona with the funky pop of Now. Built around a slick groove that brought to mind George Michael’s classic Freedom, it’s propelled by a pulsing bassline and interspersed with moody organ. The catchy chorus hook latches in the memory upon the first listen and the detail in the music means this great track stands up to repeated listens.

Don’t Need A Hero is another superb piece of songwriting with a ballsy, brass-led soul sound and an epic chorus. The rich sound of the organ and picked guitar lines reminded me of The Animals’ perennial classic House Of The Rising Sun, especially with the blazing organ solo after the second chorus. This one is my personal favourite.

You Can’t Stop Me showcases the more modern pop side to her songwriting though retaining the emotional punch that is a consistent feature throughout her music. It alternates between a sparse verse and defiant, uplifting chorus which again soon sticks in the memory. Her ability to write memorable and convincing choruses is testament to her skills as a writer. You can imagine an artist like Taylor Swift having a huge hit with this song.

The aforementioned Together Again is the last song on her artist page and it’s another well crafted soul ballad that made me think of Carole King’s great songs of the late 60’s and 70’s. With an excellent arrangement, SharaLee excels vocally here especially on the skyscraping chorus. It’s a truly wonderful song and deserved the awards and plaudits it has received.

Overall, SharaLee has written and performed some first rate soul songs in the course of her career that deserve recognition and a wide audience. She writes accessible and easily relatable songs that stand out from the crowd due to their musically authentic sound, emotional depth and SharaLee’s distinctive singing. Motown and soul fans will particularly appreciate her work but her appeal is truly universal.

VERDICT= 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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SINGLE REVIEW: Why Can’t You? by Celiane The Voice

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https://celianethevoice.bandcamp.com/

Celiane The Voice could be roughly described as an R&B/pop singer and songwriter, but her music encompasses a broad range of influences including soul, Latin pop, Broadway music, dubstep and hip-hopera. She surmises her own style as electronica hip-hopera. Hailing from the Bay Area, California, she cites equally diverse influences on her music such as the late, great Amy Winehouse, Origa, Tina Quo, Adele and Pharrell Williams, to name but a few.

This song, Why Can’t You?, was written and performed by Celiane herself and produced by Bill Williams. Musically, it’s an infectious fusion of dubstep, classical, R&B, hip hop and pop which showcases Celiane’s eclectic musical versatility. Starting with moody synth strings along with beautiful harp and woodwinds, it then bursts into a hard hitting Skrillex-style dubstep beat and a gut-punching saw-wave synth.

For the verse, Celiane enters with an immediating captivating vocal performance, the music switching to a more R&B/soul vibe. Her voice is charismatic and commanding, which acts as a cohesive glue on the music’s disparate elements, giving the track its sonic identity. It also features some breathtaking harmonies on the memorable chorus, augmented by a melodic piano motif.

Lyrically, it addresses a relationship where one partner is unable to appreciate the other’s emotional commitment, devotion and love: “I love you, do you know what that means? It means I will do anything, it means I will lay down my life….”. After the second chorus it breaks down to another excellent section built around a vocal refrain before the chorus returns, but with a totally different beat! The continual musical metamorphosing across the track’s five minute duration is breathtaking.

Overall, this is a remarkable single by an artist who seamlessly combines disparate musical genres into one organic whole, underpinned by a strong understanding of traditional songwriting values. The result is something both commercial yet quirky and highly original, with a sonic surprise around every corner. Celiane The Voice has emerged fully formed as an artist with a unique style, and Why Can’t You? deserves to be recognized as both a great song and a hugely inventive piece of composition and cutting edge production.

 

VERDICT = 9.2 out of 10  

Alex Faulkner

 

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SINGLE REVIEW: Stainless by Dynamos

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http://dynamosmusic.com

Dynamos are a five piece rock band based in Los Angeles, fronted by female vocalist Nadia E. who grew up in northeastern New Jersey and took opera lessons from a young age. As she grew older, she developed an interest in other genres and was inspired by artists as diverse as Otis Redding, Amy Winehouse and Nirvana. She joined forces with Nick Schaddt (music director, bass), Jacob Mayeda (guitars), Ian Nakazawa (drums) and Carlos Barrera (guitars) to form Dynamos.

Their debut EP, Cold Comfort, made a strong impact and they have continued releasing a string of singles including Shake, Rattle & Roll, Knowledge and this song, Stainless. Its a top-tapping rocker that sounds like a cross between Parallel Lines-era Blondie and The Strokes. It begins with infectious tribal tom-tom patterns, before a slinky low-end guitar riff enters.

Nadia E. lays down a killer lead vocal with some hip, sassy lyrics: “I got sweet kids, hot licks, on the way to Dixieland, scuffle in the street, it’s cheap, and I’m doing the best that I can“. The two lead guitarists share some great interplay while the bass player keeps things solid with a melodic walking bassline, and the guitar solo is fantastic, recalling the style of The Strokes’ Albert Hammond Jr, if a little less loose.

Overall, this is a hugely enjoyable piece of modern rock that has a stellar cast of musicians and a superb front woman in Nadia E. Her cool-as-ice delivery and way with words set her out as a potential Debbie Harry for her era, and the band sound like they’ve been playing together for twenty years. I look forward to seeing Dynamos continue their rise to inevitable worldwide success.

 

VERDICT: 8.6 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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ARTIST REVIEW: Susan G

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Susan G is a singer and songwriter hailing from Seattle. She possesses an authentic, rich soul voice and you can hear the influence of classic soul singers like Etta James and Mavis Staples, along with modern pop singer/songwriters like Sia and Sara Bareilles. Musically, she fuses the retro-soul sound of Amy Winehouse with 90’s pop/RnB to create a unique synthesis.

In 2009, she released her first album The Way To Here and then the single No Room For You in 2014. This was followed by the Some Freedom EP in 2016, featuring the classic song A Better You, which became regularly featured on IHeartRadio. The same year she experimented with a more urban sound, releasing the single Need You Here featuring the rapper Redhead.

In terms of live performance she has shared the stage with Colbie Caillat, Sony artist Ryan Cummings, The Voice’s Austin Jenckes, Zarni de Wet, amongst many others as well as selling out venues all across Seattle. She is due to release another album later this year, and her YouTube Channel is helping her reach a wider audience, featuring a mix of original material and covers of well known songs.

Usually she performs with just vocals and keyboards, and I particularly enjoyed her interpretations of The Weeknd’s I Feel It Coming, her cover of I Fall Apart by Post Malone and a haunting rendition of the Amy Winehouse modern classic Back to Black. She also does excellent versions of well known hits like the ubiquitous Shape of You by Ed Sheeran and Look What You Made Me Do by the current Queen of Pop, Taylor Swift.

But it is her own original material that showcases what a great talent she is. The epic six minute ballad Push and Pull had me enthralled from start to finish and the lilting Unafraid, featuring the guitar talents of Skylar Mehal, is another fine piece of songwriting that could appeal to country audiences. Indeed, she has the potential to appeal right across the musical spectrum.

Overall, Susan G has everything it takes for major success in terms of singing ability and image. If her upcoming album is as strong as her previous work, there’s no reason why her fanbase won’t increase exponentially. Her soulful yet modern sound is perfect for the times. This could be a name you’ll be hearing plenty of in the future.

VERDICT: One To Watch!

Alex Faulkner

www.instagram.com/susangmusic 

SINGLE REVIEW: Wish I Could Get Through To You by Lisa Cody

LISA CODY

Lisa Cody is a 27 year old singer from Dayton, Ohio and is currently signed to TriLevel Records. She regularly sings with her brother’s bar band and as a vocalist she has a warm, husky tone comparable to singers like Amy Winehouse and Paloma Faith, though she has her own distinctive style with an understated approach.

This track, Wish I Could Get Through To You, is a good showcase of her abilities. It’s a slow paced piece of soul pop, somewhere between Back To Black by Amy Winehouse and the cinematic pop of Lana Del Rey. The production is excellent and certainly good enough for radio. Lyrically, it’s about issues in a relationship that anyone can relate to.

Starting with kick drum and rimshots, it builds with rhythmic piano, tubular bells and subtle guitar over which Lisa lays down a smoky vocal. The song is very well written, with the hook in the verse and a second section (aided by some nice backing vocals), rather than an obvious big chorus. The low end guitar line towards the end is a nice touch and adds to the Pulp Fiction soundtrack vibe of the whole song.

Overall, this is an excellent piece of soul/pop with a classy arrangement and production style that should help Lisa Cody establish herself as a musical force to be reckoned with. A highly recommended listen.

 

Alex Faulkner

Verdict 8.6 out of 10

ALBUM REVIEW: IQ Test by IQ

iq_test  http://www.iqslab.com/

IQ is a rap/hip hop artist hailing from Los Angeles. He started out at the age of only six, when he began writing poems that resembled rap songs. After a colourful adolescence, where he ended up serving jail sentences in three different counties, he formed the record label Intelligence Records with his cousin, Significant7. He then helped form the group Linguistics who ended up supporting acts such as Wu-Tang, Dilated Peoples and KRS-ONE. He cites influences such as Tech N9ne, Beastie Boys and Eminem, which are audible in his music.

This album, IQ Test (released September 1st, 2015), consists of sixteen tracks, opening with Addiction ft. Gina Lorenzo. It starts with the instantly memorable chorus hook sung by Gina, who has a powerful, soulful voice. The track deals with drug addiction, but also the human capacity for addiction in general. IQ enters for the verse, and immediately impresses with a casual, almost conversational rapping style that rivals Eminem for wordplay and inventive rhymes.

There’s also a worldly wisdom borne of experience in lines like ‘Drugs may empower you, but after a while you can’t get to the same altitude…’. The musical backing is sparse but effective, pulsing insistent piano and subtle bass over a laid back hip hop beat, with a synth riff on the chorus. It’s essentially an anti-drugs song that isn’t corny or preachy because it’s real and humorous as well as serious.

Second track Changin’ The World also has a positive message behind it but doesn’t shirk from pointing out the many screwed up aspects of the world: “See, I have this vision for man, soon we’ll stop fighting over religion and land… I see the consequences of their decision and look, you guys are lost fighting over primitive books….”. Again, IQ combines rapped verses with serious content, along with a simple and catchy vocal hook which makes for an effective combination.

Next comes Strong ft. Amy Winehouse, J Money/Lovie Ray and it’s a mindblower. Sampling the late, great Amy Winehouse (Stronger Than Me from her first album Frank) to great effect, it becomes a smoky, jazzy hip hop track replete with mellow clean guitar and smooth trumpet. Each of the three rappers lay down a verse each, and their differing styles complement each other. A real album highlight.

No Playin’ Games ft. Buppy Brown is a very catchy track (with some Shabba Ranks style vocals from Buppy) over a descending piano riff and mid tempo beat with busy hi hats. It contains some very funny, if very politically incorrect lyrics from IQ, who has an Eminem-style capacity to shock and a similar sense of dark humour. Might As Well is a nice contrast, acoustic guitar and trumpet giving the musical backing a Latin feel. Lyrically, it’s about taking a ‘devil may care’ attitude towards life and again has a catchy chorus with some amusingly offensive but unprintable lines!

Who I Am ft. Phil Dog and Gina Lorenzo is a fine piece of RnB-flavoured rap about identity and being understood. Gina sings a powerful hook (“There’s a burning inside me that you’ll never understand…” ) and gravel-voiced Phil Dog gives a nice cameo on the second verse. Gina’s classy vocals feature again on Achieve, another track with an uplifting, defiantly positive message.

10’s Only is a dubstep-influenced hip hop track, with a Skrillex type low synth sound on the chorus that beefs up another addictive hook from IQ. On the verses, he explains his preference for only the most attractive women, and it’s safe to say he is not concerned about aiming for the feminist demographic with this one. Crazy Life is another entertaining track, IQ really showing his verbal dexterity and seamless flow as he recalls his troubled youth in and out of prison. His brutal honesty is one of his strengths and by the end you’ll find yourself agreeing with him when he says “I’ve had a crazy life….”.

In A Perfect World is the final track to feature Gina Lorenzo. Ironically enough, it is her, rather than IQ, that gets to deliver the most acerbic lines as she describes why a perfect world would be hell: “No need for motivation when everybody wins, no death means overpopulation of chumps with stupid grins…”. Lanita is more light hearted, essentially IQ imagining an erotic encounter with his masseuse!

Threesome, as the title suggests, carries on the sexual theme with a tale about a threesome that didn’t quite happen due to too much alcohol being involved: “Next thing I know I was passing out on the couch, next morning she’s telling me to get out of her house…”. Track fourteen Let’s Go has a chugging, insistent Lose Yourself style rhythm and shows that IQ can do fighting talk as well as any rapper you care to name.

There is no drop off in quality on the last two tracks. Work has one of the catchiest choruses here, performed over a swirling synth melody that brought to mind Mike Oldfield’s classic Tubular Bells and is a late highlight. No Mo’ Savin’ These Ho’s makes for a suitable and enjoyable finale featuring the most intricate hip hop beat on the album with skittish, super-fast hi hats and an 80’s style synth melody that becomes part of the track’s main hook.

Overall, this is a consistently excellent album that showcases IQ as a charismatic and controversial artist. He depicts his hedonistic lifestyle with refreshing candour, yet at the same time manages to convey a strongly positive social message on some tracks without coming across as trite. Now that Eminem is past his best, maybe IQ is his natural heir as a smart, socially aware rapper that isn’t afraid to shock or offend the political correctness brigade.

 

Alex Faulkner

Verdict: 8.6 out of 10