SINGLE REVIEW: Catch That Train by David T. Dunn

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https://star1ent.com/david-t-dunn/audio

David T. Dunn is a singer/songwriter in the Americana/blues genre who was born in Nashville but grew up in Atlanta. Although he only began playing guitar at twenty, over the years he has accumulated a songbook of over one hundred compositions. He regards his main influences as fellow troubadours like Neil Young and Kris Kristofferson, groups like The Beatles and The Velvet Underground, as well as blues artist Slim Harpo.

This song, Catch That Train, is the title track from his recently released six track EP. It’s a finely crafted piece of songwriting, pitched perfectly between country and blues, the essence of Americana. Dunn is blessed with a fine voice eminently suited to this musical style, and the rootsy sound of guitar, bass, drums and rich drawbar organ has the distinct ring of authenticity, reminiscent of The Band and Bob Dylan.

Lyrically, the song is about facing up to life’s vicissitudes and seizing opportunities whenever you can: “There’s a hard wind blowin’, calling out my name, the only thing for certain in this life is change….I don’t know where I’m going, but I know I better catch that train….”. The title hook is memorable and very catchy, with a brief but well structured guitar solo adding a little more instrumental colour towards the end.

Overall, this is a very enjoyable and finely written track by an experienced songwriter who is clearly the ‘real deal’. He obviously writes from the heart, and combines it with a fine musical craftsmanship and an emotive, affecting vocal performance. For anyone looking to hear modern Americana of the highest quality, look no further than David T. Dunn.

 

VERDICT: 8.7 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

To listen, click HERE

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ALBUM REVIEW: Good News by Will Adams

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Will Adams is an alternative folk singer songwriter hailing from New York. I don’t have many background details to convey on this enigmatic artist, but I can tell you that artistically he lies halfway between the folk legends Nick Drake and Cat Stevens. His music is stripped down to just his vocals and acoustic guitar, giving it an immediate intimacy and warmth.

As a songwriter, he has been prolific. In 2007, he released his marathon 23 track debut album Time Lost and Found, following up with Little Brother, Big Sister in 2008 and The Ballad of Reginald Fessenden the following year. Since then he has released a steady stream of singles and this album, Good News, marks his first full length release for a while.

From the first seconds of opening track Magic Garden, with its crystal clear, finger picked acoustic guitar and gentle, emotive vocals, the listener realizes they’re in the hands of a very fine talent. Certainly, the obvious comparison to make is with the aforementioned Nick Drake and there are undoubtedly some similarities; Adams has that same purely poetic quality that manifests in Drake’s finest work and a penchant for alternate guitar tunings.

But whereas poor Nick viewed the world through a deeply melancholy lens as opposed to rose-tinted glasses, Will Adams has an innate optimism and understated joy in his music. Magic Garden encourages appreciating what we have and seizing the day in a poignant way: “Before it’s too late to play these silly games, before we’re old and grey and cannot say our names….”.

Second song Where The Wind Will Blow has another gorgeous, lilting finger-picked  progression and is full of finely drawn and vivid lyrical imagery: “All along the river, the blue ray birds are flying by, across the cornfields and down the lane the farmer walks home in the rain…”. It’s another touching song about not knowing where life will take us.

The following She’s Partial To Fruity Drinks, as the title implies, is rather lighter in tone, painting a portrait of a woman that made me think of the mysterious female characters in Dylan songs like She Belongs To Me and Sad Eyed Lady of The Lowlands. The dry humour in the lyrics acts as a nice counterpoint to the more serious songs on the album: “She likes to go diving in out of town dumpsters, she lives in a house that looks like the Munsters….”.

This character continues straight into the next song, We’ve Been Conned, deepening the detail of this endearingly eccentric character: “She’s good at clearing up messes wearing fancy dresses…”. Fifth track Bread Pudding is built around a lovely descending chord progression and it’s another strangely affecting song about something simple, the eating of a pudding. It’s the measure of an artist to take the mundane and make it seem beautiful.

The next two songs, Prayer For A Homeless Man and Prayer For Frey, are both heartwarming tales, with the former a particularly moving depiction of living homeless and the importance of basic human compassion: “I turned and looked into my pocket and put ten dollars in his hand.…”.

Eighth song Longer Way Home is one of the more melancholy moments, conjuring up the sombre mood of a late night. But the Cat Stevens-esque world wonder is suitably restored on the final track, A Glorious Gift: “Let the guardian angels pick up the pieces….”. This is the ultimate message of the whole album, the dwelling on the light in the midst of darkness and making the most of our lives.

Overall, this is a wonderful collection of songs that work both separately and as a cohesive whole. As a songwriter, Will Adams has found his own niche combining the delicate poeticism of Nick Drake and Joni Mitchell, with the evergreen joie de vivre of Cat Stevens yet also the timeworn wisdom of Paul Simon and Dylan. In these times of internecine strife, this music seems like a glorious gift indeed.

 

VERDICT =  8.9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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ALBUM REVIEW: Guiding Star by Rvzoo and the Sugar Spun Elephant Band

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https://www.facebook.com/RvzooandTheSugarSpunElephantBand/

 

Rvzoo a.k.a. Dave Arvizu is a singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist hailing from Colorado. From the early 1990’s to 2005 he was the front man for the very popular band Big Back Yard, who opened for acts like Dick Dale, The Young Dubliners, The Saw Doctors and many others. They also received both local and national airplay for their music.

As a solo artist he has enjoyed international airplay for his album Sugar Spun Elephant, with the song Wish I Had featuring in an independent film and Even If, a hit in Taiwan. In his band, he is backed by a team of talented musicians, while he himself contributes lead vocals, guitar, keyboard and ukulele. This album, Guiding Star, consists of ten tracks of original material in the rock/pop genre.

Opening song When I Was Young is a fantastic start to the album. It’s a nostalgic look back to the fun and freedom of youth, starting with just lead vocals and ukulele. Dave is an aficionado of sixties and seventies songwriters, and this one brought to mind the jazzy sophistication of Randy Newman. His style is hugely melodic and you can tell he’s studied the greats like the Beatles and the Beach Boys in the way he crafts his music.

Mellotron lends a smoky Sixties vibe on the second section which features some nice call and response vocals and Dave singing about “hanging out with my friends up in my room, listening to records by The Who…”. It then breaks into a superb alto sax solo (courtesy of Bob Braidwood). A classic to start the album.

Vocally, he has a perfect voice for the material, halfway between The Beatles and Bob Dylan, with a touch of Mick Jagger for good measure. His tone also reminded me of Mike and the Mechanics’ Paul Carrack. With a versatile voice he is also able to sing more gentle songs, like second track Give Me More.

This one is a simple but very effective country rock ballad also featuring ukulele, as well as light percussion and an excellent vocal arrangement. It brought to mind the classic pop sound of New Zealand’s Crowded House, and Arvizu’s songwriting style has similarities with Neil Finn’s, though he has a broader musical range than Finn.

The country vibe continues with Which Way To Run, a duet with a fine female singer which also features some gorgeous steel guitar. This one is short but sweet at just over two minutes and acts as a nice musical bridge between the preceding and following tracks.

If I Was A Bird shows his Bob Dylan and John Lennon influences. It’s a very Sixties sound, with I Am The Walrus strings and a funky beat aiding a folky melody and chord progression than wouldn’t have sounded out of place on the White Album. The way the strings conjure up the imagery of bird’s flying freely is one of many fine musical touches across the album. Arvizu adopts a slightly Dylan-esque vocal tone, which suits to the music to a tee.

A Song For Joyce is a nice contrast, this one a sophisticated piano-led ballad with jazzy overtones in its chordal richness and complexity. Indeed, the voicings and melancholy mood made me think of Brian Wilson’s (of The Beach Boys) work, post-Pet Sounds, something like the song Surf’s Up from the initial Smile project. This song is a sweetly romantic tale about his father writing a song for his mother back in 1966, with a fine lead vocal performance.

Lonely Desert Wind opens with evocative and spacey Wurlitzer organ, and marks the start of a more expansive side to Dave’s oeuvre. In most of these second half songs, you can hear the more psychedelic influences of 70’s prog rock like Pink Floyd and the epic rock of The Who. This is the first of the album’s epics at five minutes, and special credit should go to Dan Nelson for a fine bassline on this one.

Next comes the title track, Guiding Star, and it maintains the same dreamy pace. It also maintains the folk/country vibe, with tasteful bursts of fiddle. It feels like the emotional centrepiece of the album and it’ss a very human, emotive song about hope and needing someone special to guide you through: “My heart leads me back to you…”. It’s the most powerful song on the album and more in keeping with the first half.

Thru This Space and Time, as the title suggests, takes us back into epic waters. It features some fabulous sounds; rich, warm rock organ and superb lead guitar played with a tone and feel that rivals Clapton on The Beatles While My Guitar Gently Weeps. All manner of production tricks and classy musical touches add to the magical soundscape, including backwards guitar and lead lines played in harmony. My personal favourite on the album.

The last epic on the album, Transmission Ends, brings us full circle on our musical and emotional journey. It’s the most avant garde and ambitious track here, with Arvizu’s vocal melody weaving through an unpredictable bassline, a melange of effects and slow building percussion.

It brought to mind Peter Gabriel at his most experimental and  makes for an intriguing finish, feeling like you have drifted off into space. That’s not quite the end though, a short reprise of A Song For Joyce brings the listener back down to earth with some gorgeous noodling on sax and vamping on piano.

Overall, this is the kind of artistically ambitious album that we simply don’t hear in the mainstream anymore. Taking the finest aspects of 60’s and 70’s songwriting, Rvzoo and his Sugar Spun Elephant Band have created a pop rock masterpiece that rewards repeated listening, with a wealth of instrumental and lyrical detail. Highly recommended to all rock music connoisseurs and any fans of classic songwriting.

 

VERDICT: 9.2 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

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ALBUM REVIEW: Shine by Nelson King

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http://www.nelsonking.net

Nelson King is a singer/songwriter in the acoustic rock genre, hailing from Brighton, England. As a songwriter, he has been highly prolific in the last decade, releasing a huge amount of solo material recorded in his home studio, from his 2010 album Real to last year’s album Larger Than Life. His style is traditional in some ways, yet he’s forged is own inimitable sound and style.

This album, Shine, consists of nine tracks and begins with the fine opener Falling. From the first lines, it’s obvious that there’s a truth and honesty in his songwriting lacking in most modern music: “You’re in the village of the damned, where every door is jammed…”. Nelson has a perfect voice for this kind of material; it’s emotive, weathered and authentic, helping bring the sincerity of the lyrics to life.

He has a fine gift for memorable melodies, evidenced by the passionately performed ballad Colour Me. With just vocal and guitar, he keeps you gripped for the duration. Third track Shine On has understandably been chosen as a single, with its instantly memorable title hook. It has shades of Lennon, Springsteen and Dylan whilst still coming across as distinctly himself, and its perhaps the most life affirming song on the album.

We Will Overcome is another fine ballad with Lennon-esque overtones (circa his solo period) an inspiring message: “We will overcome all the wrongs that have been done.…”. A poignant and powerful song. The Brightest Light That Shines is a distinct change of pace, a brooding rocker with a modern vibe that brought to mind Noel Gallagher’s early solo material.

This Song is the true classic of the album, for me. With a simplicity that the best songs seem to have, it lies halfway between The Kinks and The Beatles and that’s a glorious place to be. Based around a descending chord sequence, he delivers a moving ode to devotion and creativity inspired by love. Surely a potential single.

Another Day offers a different flavour, a folk/country song with another uplifting message: “After all the hammer blows, you get up again…”. Shining Hearts is Nelson at his most Dylan-esque and reflective, a testament to the tenacity of the human spirit captured in lines like: “Come a long way together, shining hearts that we see…”.

The final song Anyway, carries on the same wistful mood, this one with a more ragged feel and short bursts of harmonica. It’s a fitting way to finish, with the music reaching a pinnacle of sonic colour featuring bluesy piano, acoustic and electric guitar, pulsating bass and wailing mouth organ. Real music.

Overall, this is a highly recommended album from a very gifted and experienced songwriter who deserves much respect for his unremitting devotion to his craft. With a worldly wisdom borne from experience and a fine command of his art, Nelson King can add his name to the pantheon of first rate British songwriters.

 

VERDICT: 8.6 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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ALBUM REVIEW: We Humans by Craig Johnstone

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https://www.craig-johnstone-music.com/

Craig Johnstone is a Canadian alternative country-rock artist currently living in Vancouver, BC. He was formerly a member of the band This-z-This and the wonderfully named Sledge Nicely and the Panty Bandits! From that moniker the perspicacious reader may discern that Craig has a strong sense of humour, and this shows strongly in his songwriting.

His music contains elements of classic folk/country songwriters like Hank Williams and Woody Guthrie, and elements of more alternative artists like Tom Waits. He cites these artists as major influences. In the way he combines storytelling and humour in his songs, he brought to mind the great country songwriter John Prine, though there is more rock n’ roll in Johnstone’s music.

This album, We Humans, is a collection of fourteen tracks which Craig has self-produced in his home studio over several years.  He has performed the majority of the instruments himself, along with vocals and you can tell that it’s been a labour of love.

Opening song Key of D is a nice introduction to his unique sound. Over a fairly traditional folk chord sequence in 2/4 time (presumably in D!) Craig fuses this with sounds seemingly from outer space, his own voice put though all manner of effects from filtering and distortion to 50’s style slapback echo. There’s a dry, sardonic humour to lines like “Over there, there’s always greener grass, every time I try to fly I wind up on my ass....“.

Next comes the superb Put Down The Gun, Jake, a song full of worldly wisdom about someone about to take revenge on a man who’s stolen his wife from him. The music is rollicking rock ‘n roll that recalls the ramshackle energy of Bob Dylan and The Band’s classic Basement Tapes. It opens with the fantastic line, “If my soul is something I spend when I drink, I must be damn nearly broke I think.…”. The funniest line is unfortunately not printable!

Savin’ Up Pher A Foan Call takes the traditional blues subject matter of a man who’s been abandoned by his woman, and turns it on his head. Johnstone excavates hilarious gallows humour from the clichéd self-pity you find in the stereotypical blues song: “Now the crumbs of our love are all over the room, where she left ’em and she even took the broom….”.

Poor Random Dan’s Great Strategy is another entertaining song, this one about a hapless character who doesn’t seem to know or care how awful his life is. An excellent full-throated vocal performance from Johnstone makes this one stand out.

The title track We Humans comes next, and it’s a distinct change of pace. A plaintive ballad with melancholic and philosophical lyrics, this shows a real depth and poignancy to Craig’s songwriting. As the name implies, it’s about the slightly tragic nature of the human condition: “We can’t even believe our own behaviour, but we humans won’t admit we need a saviour….”. A very profound song, leant extra gravity by the relative levity of the surrounding material.

Next track The Bullshit Song rather proves my point for me. The opening lines tell you all you need to know: “Heaven and Hell, harps and accordions, what’s that smell can you tell where I’ve been?“. The breakneck pace is a nice contrast after the gentle tempo of We Humans.

Arrow, Girl is one of the more enigmatic songs on the album, showing again a deeper, more sensitive side to his songwriting. Like all good lyricists, Craig Johnstone has a fine eye for detail and conjuring imagery: “She wanders around kissing flowers in the pouring rain“. A fine piece of work, with some lovely lead guitar lines.

I Wanna Be A Reg’ler Guy is a return to the satirical humour of the earlier tracks, the target this time at the cliché of the ‘regular Joe’ stereotype. It’s about the man who works 9 to 5 and lives a life of monotonous routine, a life which ultimately kills him: “Early to bed, early to work and early to die…”. Grimly funny and poignant at the same time, the essence of Johnstone’s art.

Diddle-iddle is an interesting song, a gritty lo-fi blues/folk song with a vocal performance inspired by the Tom Waits of his classic Rain Dogs and Swordfishtrombones albums. In fact, Tom and the former album even gets a namecheck in the following Quarter to Three, courtesy of a clever pun. It’s a very human song about late night drinking and lust, subjects most of us can relate to. It captures the melancholy mood perfectly and the guitar solo is superb on this one.

We Go Together is a sombre ballad that expresses some profound and timeless truths about human beings that brought to mind Bob Dylan’s classic Gates of Eden. The way Johnstone captures the bittersweet and tragicomic in life is a testament to his talent. Beautitudes is another unexpected twist, a chord progression that recalls Bad Moon Rising, with lyrics taken from lines in the Bible. This song expresses the moral seriousness of his music underneath the fantastic humour, as well as expressing his faith.

The next song is a charmingly scruffy cover version of Bob Dylan’s Wallflower, an enjoyable two minutes with a deliciously off-key guitar solo. It leads to the closing six-minute epic (These Are) The Good Ole Days. This is the equivalent of another Dylan song, Desolation Row, in the way that it is simply vocals and guitar with some soul searching lyrics. I took it to be about appreciating what you have and living in the moment: “Sing about today, cos these are the good ‘ol days…”. It’s an important message and an apposite way to close the album.

Overall, this is a very impressive artistic document from a seasoned songwriter who has truly developed a unique style, both musically and lyrically. Mixing the craftsmanship of the classic country songwriters with the humour of John Prine and the quirkiness of Tom Waits, ultimately Craig Johnstone transcends his influences and produces his own home-grown musical alchemy.

 

VERDICT: 9 out of 10 

Alex Faulkner

To listen click HERE

SINGLE REVIEW: Big Skies by Ray William Roldan

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Ray William Roldan is a country singer/songwriter who was born in Jersey, and raised on the West Coast. Brought up on a musical diet of Elvis, Johnny Cash, Rick Nelson, Merl Haggard and many others, he picked up the guitar and harmonica which eventually led to becoming a songwriter. He has performed with many musicians who’ve worked with big names in the industry including Bruce Watson (Rod Stewart) and Brad Cobb (Tori Amos).

He’s built up a huge fanbase and received a great deal of airplay during his career, having so far released three albums. Two were recorded back to back, In California Country and Where We Come From and the latest album Mending Fences was released to large acclaim. This song, Big Skies, is an acoustic ballad performed and written by Ray.

Like the best songwriters, Ray’s lyrics convey a lot of meaning. This song is about having a sense of spirituality in the midst of modern, urban life. The first verse sets the tone of a country boy lost in the city and the memorable chorus encapsulates what the song is about: “Ain’t no big skies to show us where God lives, got his pictures on billboards and bus benches too though….”. The other verses continue the theme with touching humanity and time-worn wisdom.

Overall, Big Skies shows Ray William Roldan is the real deal as a country songwriter. As with the best songs by the greats like Dylan and Johnny Cash, he blends the quotidian with the spiritual and makes you think about life in a deeper way. His legacy will continue to spread and I think he’ll eventually become recognized as one of the finest songwriters in his field.

VERDICT: 8.8 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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ALBUM REVIEW: Whisky Priest by Ben Noble

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Ben Noble is a singer/songwriter currently based in Minneapolis. His music is a unique blend of folk and classical and he’s essentially a troubadour in the tradition of classic songwriters like Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. He cites Bon Iver, Damien Rice, Sufjan Stevens and Radiohead as influences. He also brings to mind Nick Drake, Conor Oberst and Elliott Smith in both musical style and the melancholic nature of his lyrics.

This album, Whisky Priest, is his debut and contains twelve tracks. Opening song Birthmark is the perfect introduction to his work; finger picked guitar, Ben’s almost  angelic vocals and hauntingly beautiful melodies and chord progressions. Subtle use of strings adds to the dreamy sonic texture.

Like all good artists, Ben Noble is prepared to confront the dark side of life and even his own nature. Birthmark contains lyrics of Dylan-esque poetic profundity: “Sea of glass on which I’m walking bends to break beneath the shame, why do we slave to build an able ship with doomed remains?”

Second track Healer Might is extraordinary; ‘a capella’ vocals featuring rich, layered harmonies that brought to mind Fleet Foxes, while Little One is a touching, fragile song aided by Saint-Saens style piano. It’s a perfect example of how Ben’s music seems to stand outside time and floats across the listener’s consciousness.

Cutting Teeth captures this disembodied, magical quality and gives us the source of the album title: “Sleep, while you cut your teeth, whisky priest“. He’s a genuine poet as well as a master craftsman of melody, the line “weaving the darkness with the light” from the lovely The Sea And The Moon encapsulating his artistic oeuvre perfectly. The closing three songs are a strong bookend to the album, with final song Ikon providing a gentle epic at five and a half minutes.

Overall, this is an absolute gem of an album containing songwriting of the highest calibre. With certain artists, they are so gifted that it seems somehow an injustice if they are not already hugely successful. In this case, it’s early days as this is his debut release and I expect nothing but critical acclaim and a rapidly expanding fanbase for Ben Noble. Enjoy his music now, while he’s still an unknown treasure waiting to be unearthed.

VERDICT: 9.2 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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