SINGLE REVIEW: Come and Stay with Me by Phil Mitchell Band

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Phil Mitchell is a composer, author and musician hailing from Chicago and the members that comprise the Phil Mitchell Band are musicians native to that area. He started writing songs while still a child and has written music in an eclectic range of genres including jazz, classical, RnB, rock, blues and country. He has released several albums including Morning Star, Crossroads and America. The band formed back in 2004 and they have performed at a variety of venues whilst recording music in the studio.

This track, Come and Stay With Me, is an upbeat pop/rock song taken from their album Crossroads, with elements of 70’s rock such as musical virtuosity and an ambitious, epic arrangement. The sound is very musical with flamboyant, Rick Wakeman-style piano and equally florid guitars, providing the bedrock for Phil Mitchell’s assured vocal performance. The lilting verse melody latches quickly in the memory but its the surging passages of energetic musicianship that really set this apart from the pack.

The structure is unusual but highly effective and the longer the track goes on the more euphoric the instrumental sections become. Strident, octave-spanning piano duels with creamy electric lead guitar and synth strings driven by solid but inventive drumming, held in perfect balance by the vocal sections and the infectious title hook. This approach brought to mind the epic rock of the 70’s such as Queen and the operatic rock of Jim Steinman (Meat Loaf).

Overall, this is an immensely enjoyable rock/pop track that cleverly balances traditional verse and chorus songwriting with instrumental sections that allow the other members of the Phil Mitchell Band to shine. What is truly impressive is how the studio recording has effectively captured the energy of the musical performances and you can tell this is a band who have been playing a long time. It’s this kind of musical authenticity that is lacking from so much modern mainstream music, but fortunately Phil Mitchell and his gifted cohorts are here to help redress the balance.

 

VERDICT = 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

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SINGLE REVIEW: Which Way To Go by Troy Remedy

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troyremedy.net

Troy Remedy is a hip hop artist and producer from Dallas, Texas. The latter part of his moniker was inspired by the healing effect of music itself and there is a strong spiritual vibe as well as the influence of soul in his hip hop. So far, he has performed in cities like Dallas/Fort Worth, San Antonio, Austin and Houston. He has previously released the singles Underdog, City Lights and Steal My Soul (which I reviewed very favourably, read here) from his upcoming debut album My Own Worst Enemy.

This track, Which Way To Go, starts out with an evocative intro consisting of spaced out guitar and synths then Troy interjects with an assured and direct rapping style. Bolstered by a laid back but punchy hip hop beat, his honest and soul searching lyrics take centre stage with this track depicting his struggle to find his path in life: “Gotta ask myself, what it is I’m pursuing….”.

The first verses are a marvel of rapid fire delivery and eloquent lyrical flow that describe the various problems he’s faced with, summed up succinctly by the title hook: “Even though I’m still not knowing…not knowing which way to go.”

After the first chorus we hear an unexpected but very refreshing bluesy guitar solo, and these guitar licks recur through the second verse.  The lyrics here are even more visceral: “Seen a massacre in broad day, watching as the crowd scatters through life’s maze…..most would say they have nothing to live for, no inner peace, nothing to strive for”. This sense of desperation is reiterated by the final refrains of the title hook.

Overall, this is another compelling and unrelentingly honest hip hop track from Troy. He has found his own artistic niche blending hard hitting lyrics with underlying spiritual themes of redemption and hope, which gives his music a real emotional depth and power.  Musically, this track effectively blends hip hop with a melancholy blues-rock guitar sound to great effect. For people looking for hip hop that is 100% “real” and from the heart, look no further than Troy Remedy.

 

VERDICT = 8.8 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

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ALBUM REVIEW: Transition by Eddie Arjun

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http://www.eddiearjun.com/

Eddie Arjun (formerly Arjun) is the collective name of New York-based instrumental trio, consisting of lead guitarist (and producer of this album) Eddie Arjun Peters, backed up by Andre Lyles on bass and Mike Vetter on drums.

Essentially they combine the raw expression and energy of rock and blues with the sophistication and intricacy of jazz and progressive rock, resulting in a musical fusion that is unique and original. All three members are musicians of the highest calibre and manage to balance free expression on their respective individual instruments whilst managing to interlock musically in an airtight, completely synergistic way.

Founded back in 2003, the band developed their craft over time and they eventually began releasing a trilogy of studio albums which started with Space (2013), followed by Core (2014, reviewed very favourably by yours truly) and culminating in 2016’s Gravity. These albums also featured contributions by highly regarded musicians such as E.J. Rodriguez (The Jazz Passengers, Sean Lennon), John Medeski (Medeski, Martin & Wood), Cory Henry (Snarky Puppy) and Jeff Coffin (Dave Mathews Band, Bela Fleck and The Flecktones).

This album, Transition, consists of eight tracks and is due for release February 1st, 2019. Opening track There It Is gets the album off to a strong start. It begins with a Jimmy Page-style rock/blues riff which for many rock bands would become enough to base a whole track around, but it forms just one of a number of melodic themes and motifs which are deployed throughout the track. It leads straight into a high-end blues/funk riff, with the simple rhythm soon displaced with syncopations. This is alternated with the low-end riff, played in tandem on the bass with a short chromatic section adding further variety.

Drummer Mike Vetter and bassist Andre Lyles soon manifest as a formidable rhythm section, both rock solid and incredibly fluid. They lay the platform for Eddie Arjun Peters’ versatile, almost otherworldly guitar skills. Halfway through the track it breaks down to an extended section where Eddie gets to show the more psychedelic Hendrix/Gilmour side to his playing, with some incredibly mellifluous runs across the neck. This is underpinned by some stunning playing from Vetter and Lyles, culminating in a jaw dropping section of virtuosity before returning to the original groove.

Second track Core opens in a blaze of Keith Moon-esque drum fills and raw guitar chords before launching into a mellow blues in 6/8 time. From this simple template, the band progress through an intricate arrangement full of nuanced dynamics where almost every bar has some clever accent placement or rhythmic motif that adds musical interest.

It then builds up to a gorgeous ascending section that Hendrix would have been proud of, the music exuding sensuality. Eddie gets to break out his wah-wah which he uses tastefully and effectively, bringing to mind the Jimi of his latter day Voodoo Chile-period.

Next comes the title track and it’s a very different beast. Opening with a taut guitar riff that keeps you hanging in suspense it then locks into a pulsing, intense groove with a continually unpredictable rhythm that shifts under your feet. This is the track where the whole band really showcase their mastery of rhythmic dynamics and their remarkable unity that almost seems telepathic but is no doubt the result of tireless rehearsing.

Here the music is more modal than pentatonic giving it a more exotic feel, though still with a strong bluesy vibe. It feels like every single note has been worked out to precision, with some astonishing moments where all three players reach a frenzy yet remain in complete control, such as the superb solo section and the frenetic climax.

The following Longass has an irresistible groove and a real strut, with the guitar and bass once again playing a funky blues riff in tandem. And again, what starts out as a seemingly simple rock/blues jam becomes a cleverly arranged epic. After the initial sections have been repeated a further section midway through takes the music into the stratosphere, with Eddie Arjun Peters breaking out the delay pedal for another skyscraping solo. Another album highlight.

Iana is more like an interlude track consisting of just a moody solo bass, acting as a lull in the storm. The next two tracks both made me think of Hendrix, but in different parts of his short career. Sixth track Ascent is a mellow jazzy blues number that recalls the Axis: Bold as Love era, specifically songs like Little Wing and Castles Made of Sand. The arrangement is very clever in how it reflects the title perfectly, gradually building up to the thrilling development section where Andre Lyles shines with some remarkably fluid bass playing, locked in perfectly with Mike Vetter’s whirlwind fills around the kit.

The following, aptly-titled Lavalust is more akin to the wild epic psychedelic rock of Electric Ladyland and is my personal favourite on the album. Kicking off with a killer slap bassline put through a phaser, this is joined by a torrent of flamboyant fills reminiscent of Mitch Mitchell. It then launches into a rock/blues masterpiece that takes all their combined compositional and arrangement skills to another level.

The breakdown section in the middle is where this track really aims for the stars though; delay-drenched lead guitar playing some mind bending runs over gradually intensifying bass and drums, as trippy as something like 1983… (A Merman I Should Turn To Be) from Hendrix’s last magnum opus. It then returns back to Earth for another fantastic section where the guitar does indeed drip like liquid lava, and the whole band is captured at their euphoric, boundary-pushing best.

Closing track Gone is a real slow burner. It starts with a languid groove that really allows the music to breathe, Vetter and Lyles play with exquisite restraint while Eddie Arjun Peters slowly weaves a spell with some deliciously dreamy guitar work. The main theme is plaintive and haunting, the arrangement gradually growing in grandeur towards one final blaze of wah-soaked guitar pyrotechnics. It continues through several sections on this subtly complex seven-minute sonic odyssey. It’s a majestic way to end the journey overall, finishing on an unexpected major chord which gives an air of completion.

Overall, this is the best album so far from this terrifically talented trio. The three members of Eddie Arjun have honed their respective skills to a very fine pitch, have developed a musical unity and synergy that few musicians ever achieve and most importantly write and perform consistently stunning music. The nuanced details and craft in the arrangement of every track means it will richly reward repeated listening and should appeal to an enormous range of rock, blues and jazz aficionados.

VERDICT = 9.3 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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ALBUM REVIEW: American Dream by The Chicago Vin Coalition

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https://thechicagovincoalition.bandcamp.com

The Chicago Vin Coalition is a garage/blues rock band hailing from Boston, Massachusetts. It is centred around singer/songwriter Chicago Vin Earnshaw, backed up by a fine array of musicians including Don Larsen on lead guitar and Leo Dumas on drums. Their music is a potent meld of garage rock bands like The Stooges and MC5, the raw early sound of The Kinks and alternative blues artists like Tom Waits and Captain Beefheart. Amongst modern bands, they most closely resemble The Black Keys, who are also a stated influence.

This album, American Dream, consists of nine tracks and gets off to an incendiary start with the title song. It sounds like a cross between The Kinks and The Stooges, with Chicago Vin Earnshaw’s authentic rock voice halfway between Iggy Pop and Captain Beefheart. The music has a fantastic energy, captured brilliantly by producer Annie Larsen. The song is about how the old dream of making it big in a band is dying: “Hey wake up! Get ready to move….American dream going down the tube…”.

Hey Little Girl is built around a simple but highly effective three chord structure, and is perhaps the closest track to The Black Keys in terms of sound and style. As with the first track, the vocal hooks are instantly memorable, aided by biting, electrifying lead guitar from Dan Larsen. Chicago himself contributes guitar and bass, as well as rich Vox organ on a few tracks including these first two.

Walk Away has a slighter mellower feel and a more gentle sound, with some fine keyboard work by Bill Lacaille. This is one song I would define as classic rock in the vein of the late Tom Petty, and it’s another track with a memorable chorus. No Use Fighting is a change of pace; gritty blues that brought to mind the more mainstream moments of Captain Beefheart (Don Van Vliet). A great showcase for Earnshaw’s unique, powerful voice with Don Larsen playing some gorgeous, mellifluous guitar runs over traditional twelve bar blues changes.

Fifth track Silence Is Golden is another change of pace, a mid tempo country rock song based around strummed acoustic guitar which varies the sound nicely. The raucous, driving barroom boogie of the following Blonde Infatuation is another shift in gears, with some fabulous barrelhouse piano from Mark Taber plus wonderfully raucous tenor sax, courtesy of Klem Klimmer. A very enjoyable track with excellent dynamics and vibe.

Ride Past Midnight is the epic of the album at nearly eight minutes long. It’s a raw blues song with a loping beat that recalls the Stones classic Midnight Rambler. The momentum of the musical energy and Chicago’s rootsy blues vocals carry the song so well that you almost don’t even notice the length, especially with the stellar lead guitar work of Don Larsen once again, and some fine blues harmonica from Chris Stovall Brown.

Yesterday’s Gone is one of the more melancholic songs on the album, which runs the gamut of emotion over its course. It’s a good example of the craftsmanship at the heart of Earnshaw’s songwriting, this one having a lilting feel that brought to mind 1970’s era Neil Young & Crazy Horse. The way the instruments blend together, especially piano and guitar, shows what a tight musical unit this coalition are.

The final track Life Line ends the album on a real high musically, though lyrically its heartfelt and shot through with desperation, as the title hook captures perfectly: “Somebody throw me a life line….”. It’s a superb rock song that the Stones would have been proud to put on Exile On Main Street, with its Jagger-esque vocal melody and razor sharp Keith Richards-style lead guitar.

Overall, this is a much needed reminder that great rock ‘n roll is still being made by authentic artists. Chicago Vin Earnshaw is a very fine songwriter, blessed with a great voice for blues and rock that can stand up against the best in the field. The album’s consistency and variety shows his musical range, and his collective of gifted friends more than ably assist him, they bring his artistic vision to life. If you love The Black Keys, I implore you to give a listen to The Chicago Vin Coalition.

 

VERDICT: 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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SINGLE REVIEW: The Key of Black (They Want us Dead) by The Black Tones

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The Black Tones are a three-piece blues/punk band hailing from Seattle, Washington. They consist of siblings Eva (vocals/guitars) and Cedric Walker (drums), and Robbie Little on bass. They describe themselves as ‘a mixture of Kurt Cobain and cornbread’, and there is certainly something of Cobain’s punk rock spirit in the music of The Black Tones. Previous releases include Arrows and Stones, Woman In Black and Too Many Times.

This single, The Key of Black (They Want us Dead), is their first release for a while, but for their fans it will have been worth the wait. It’s an epic six-minute piece of blues/punk that marches to its own drum. Whereas many artists contrive their music to reach the chorus in thirty seconds, The Black Tones simply let their music breathe. Starting with drums and a killer low end guitar riff, it develops into a focused jam-style groove for the first few minutes.

Eva Walker plays some nice wah-drenched lead guitar with Robert Little keeping it tight on bass, in sync with Cedric Walker’s solid-as-a-rock drumming. It builds to a call and response section with Eva’s message of racial prejudice echoed with a chant: “We want love, they want us dead…..we want peace, they want us dead…“. For a relatively short vocal section, it certainly packs a lyrical punch.

Overall, this is an interesting and unique combination of musical style and lyrical content. While they cite Kurt Cobain as an influence, I see them more as a modern equivalent of Gil Scott Heron or a blues/punk version of Kendrick Lamar, who both blend a positive message with strong awareness of racial issues in the world. The Black Tones’ music and message seems more relevant than ever, so long may they reign.

 

VERDICT: 8.3 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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SINGLE REVIEW: No More Reprise by Norine Braun

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Norine Braun is a singer/songwriter hailing from Vancouver who is already very established and has won several awards in a long and successful career. Her music is an eclectic blend of blues, rock, soul and jazz which she has performed worldwide at festivals and elsewhere to both critical and public acclaim. With a lengthy back catalogue behind her she is now releasing her eleventh album Kind of Blues, with No More Reprise as the lead-off track.

The song grabs the listener’s attention from the very start with a warm, rootsy sound based around a funky drum groove, catchy bassline, slick wah-wah drenched guitar and wailing, bluesy harmonica. Norine soon enters the fray with a distinctive and authentic vocal style, mildly reminiscent of Arethra Franklin albeit with a lighter tone.

The lyrics depict a relationship that has hit the rocks owing to her partner being a good-for-nothing, the protagonist having reached her wit’s end with them: “No more sleeping in this bed, no more tears about you shed…”. The acerbic lyrical style fits perfectly with the strident mood of the music, which follows the traditional pattern of twelve bar blues. There is no obvious chorus as you’d find in standard pop, but the song is so catchy throughout that you soon find yourself singing along. After the second verse, there is a concise, effective guitar solo performed with a Hendrix-esque tone and some nice harmonica licks in the last verse to keep the listener gripped to the end.

Overall, this is a fresh, funky and highly enjoyable piece of modern blues written and performed by a versatile and mercurial talent. For those who appreciate music with heart and soul and who are looking for undiscovered gems outside the banal mainstream, look no further than the music of Norine Braun.

VERDICT: 8.9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

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SINGLE REVIEW: Core by Arjun

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Arjun are an instrumental three-piece hailing from New York. Their music is a hybrid of rock and improvisational jazz, the trio consisting of Eddie Arjun Peters on guitar (who also produced this single at Level 11 studios in NYC), Lamar Myers on drums and Andre Lyles on bass. It also features the renowned organist John Medeski (best known for Medeski Martin and Wood) and was mixed by the legendary Scotty Hard (Bjork, Crash Test Dummies).

This single, Core, is the title track from their third album and is six minutes of classily constructed and exquisitely performed blues. Eddie Arjun Peters has the lead melodic role as the guitarist and has a creamy, mellifluous tone to his playing that you associate with the greats. Every phrase is carefully nuanced so that the melodic arc ebbs and flows over the course of the track and every member is playing for the music rather indulging their proficiency or prowess.

The overall vibe has the smoky, late-night feel of the instrumental sections of Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland. After two minutes of slowly building guitar phrases, the guitar melody begins to soar upwards leading to a section where Medeski’s organ playing is given centre stage. The tone is warm and rich, to my ear sounding like a Hammond B3 going through a Leslie speaker, a classic organ sound perfectly captured here. Lamar Myers’ drumming and Andre Lyles’ bass playing both give restrained, considered performances and serve the music well, all combining symbiotically to produce a truly epic sound.

Overall, this is a very accomplished piece of modern blues rock, faultlessly played, recorded, mixed and produced. It is refreshing and edifying to hear that this kind of music is still being made in an era of dwindling sales and closing music studios, but there will always be a demand for quality among true music aficionados and I look forward to hearing the rest of the album.

 

 

Alex Faulkner

Verdict: 8.7 out of 10

 

 

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