ALBUM REVIEW: American Soul by Zama Rripa

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https://iamzamarripa.com

Zama Rripa is a singer/songwriter and multi instrumentalist in the Americana/Roots genre. He performs as a street busker and alternates between Miami and Los Angeles. Zama plays guitar, harmonica, drums/percussion and keyboards as well as working with musicians from around the world. He regards himself as a protest singer and his songs often have an important underlying spiritual or political message.

This album, American Soul, consists of thirteen tracks that vary in style but can essentially be classed as Americana. Zama is a songwriter who belongs to a rich lineage of Americana artists like Bob Dylan, The Band, Bruce Springsteen, Kris Kristofferson and Sixto Rodriguez. Artists in this genre tend to be completely authentic and write from the heart; Zama Rripa is no exception.

He’s blessed with a warm, distinctive voice that equally lends itself to bluesy rock ‘n roll or country/folk ballads. Opening track Live and Let Live belongs to the former style and is somewhat of a manifesto. From the opening lines, Rripa shows a gift for Dylan-esque poetic lyrics: “I got a million ideas blastin’ my mind, like a trillion pounds of dynamite, gonna blow sky-high like the continental divide…”.

Like many a good artist, he uses his art to express political dissent and his own spiritual worldview, which is essentially live and let live, his ‘Golden Rule’. He essentially preaches the path of the individual over being governed by corrupt politicians: “Keep your hands to you, keep my hands to me, it’s peaceful individuality….”. This is set to a classic rock style, with some mellifluous lead guitar interspersing the vocals.

Live Your Thing is musically quite a contrast, an acoustic folk-tinged ballad. Lyrically, it’s about finding out that Donald Trump has become your President and the hysteria that ensued. Again, though, his message is positive; follow your heart and don’t give in to negativity. It’s good advice that many should heed.

Left Behind is a story song based on John Mellancamp’s Pink Houses. It’s a very well written song that attacks government oppression and racial issues, the anthemic chorus running: “Ain’t this the USA? Land of the free, home of the brave? It ain’t you and me that’s changed, it’s the nature of the state. A very apposite message that deserves to be widely heard, and a real album highlight.

C503 swaps the political for the personal, this one a deeply affecting ballad about how old people are often neglected by their families and how they face their final years in solitude: “When you’re nobody’s memory, life is a long, cold December day….”. A heartbreaking but beautiful song.

Stone of Freedom is another highlight with an interesting premise: how would Jesus be treated in America today? This intriguing question is set to raw and raucous blues rock, featuring a classic guitar riff on the singalong chorus. Underlying this premise is his essential anti-totalitarian message: “Man can’t serve two masters, and you can’t serve love when the State is your pastor….”.

The title track comes next, an epic at six and a half minutes. To my great pleasure, it’s a song that conveys Zama’s message of freedom whilst cutting down to size the political pontificating of the tax-dodging Bono from U2. Musically, it’s mid paced country rock that allows some fantastically satirical lines to shine: “Now Brother’s back but where’d he go? Eight years sharing earphones with Mr. Jones, he got tax evasion vertigo!“.

Blowback is another pointed political song about how people’s tax dollars go towards funding wars, summed up succinctly by lines like: “We pay for it twice, that’s how the story goes….once with our taxes, two times with our souls…”. I don’t see too many songwriters out there who write with this kind of profound depth and moral seriousness.

He puts the politics to bed on the following Forever Sung, a lovely country/folk ballad based around crystal-clear picked acoustic guitar augmented by gorgeous vocal harmonies throughout. It’s essentially about the power of music itself to bring joy and happiness to people. This positive mood flows into the optimism of There’s Better Things Ahead Than Any You Leave Behind, the kind of You’ve Got A Friend-type comforting song that every good songwriter should have in his/her canon.

The healing power of love is depicted in tenth track Tenderly, another fine ballad which features some typically deep and soul searching lyrics: “There’s fear and desire inside of me, both an angel of fire and a demon seed.” Missing Milestones is another affecting song, about being too busy working to enjoy the important moments in life.

Stuck Between The Middle Blues (Where Rain Always Comes Before Rust) returns to the raw and ragged blues rock that he does so well, this one a reflective but also entertaining song about trying to find your direction in life whilst cherishing your freedom. Great track and another epic at six minutes.

The closing All Along is aptly another very insightful political song, based on the chord changes to Bob Dylan’s All Along The Watchtower. Lyrically, it’s about Ed Snowden, the Wikileaks whistleblower who released documents about global surveillance programs.

Musically, it’s by far the most radical departure on the album with a quirky, insistent drum pattern and distorted vocals. It clever interweaves classic protest songs by Dylan and Nina Simone into the lyrics. The full impact of this song is best appreciated by the accompanying video and it makes for a powerful closing statement.

Overall, American Soul feels like a labour of love and an album that was waiting to be made. In a just world it would go down as an important artistic document of Trump-era America, and maybe it will. With the feistiness and penetrating insight of Dylan’s early years as a protest singer combined with the hard won wisdom borne of experience, Zama Rripa is a songwriting force to be reckoned with. The album runs the gamut of emotions people go through but, for all the superb satire and takedown of political forces, ultimately American Soul is simply about the timeless human condition and our difficult path through life.

 

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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SINGLE REVIEW: River Road by The Gary Douglas Band

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http://garydouglasband.com

Gary Douglas is a singer/songwriter who grew up on the streets of Brooklyn steeped in the music of Americana, blues and rock n’ roll. This kind of raw, passionate music resonated much more strongly with him than the commercial pop he was exposed to. After playing in college bands, the need to make a living meant he became a lawyer, though a rather heroic one, defending the ‘little guy’ against the corruption of large organizations.

Eventually, his deep love of music came to the fore and he formed The Gary Douglas Band with a crew of gifted musicians and backing vocalists. They have been busy recording their debut album Deep In The Water and this song, River Road, is the first to be released from it. Musically, it embodies the spirit of rock n’ roll, with the anthemic qualities of The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, and the more recent music of The Killers.

Douglas has the most important aspect for this style of music, an authentic and strong rock voice. He gives a gritty, impassioned performance on this track which has the same charging rhythmic energy as Springsteen’s classic outsider anthem Born To Run. Like Bruce, Gary Douglas has a deep empathy for the working man and writes from this perspective: “Can’t afford the rent no more, they took away our car, the job I got is just minimum wage and on that you can’t go far…”. I particularly loved how the female backing singers gave this song a soul/gospel vibe, especially at the end.

Overall, this is a high quality piece of songwriting and old school storytelling that keeps the flame of rock n’ roll alive. Gary Douglas and his cohorts kick up a musical storm that recalls the finest moments of Springsteen and acolytes of that artist will adore this band. Having already amassed a huge fanbase on social media, their forthcoming album (produced by Niko Bolas of Neil Young fame) should ensure their music reaches and entertains many more discerning ears.

 

VERDICT: 8.4 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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ALBUM REVIEW: The Way by Bud Summers

a2412253726_10  Bud Summers is a guitarist and singer/songwriter hailing from St Louis. He was raised in a musical family with a father who played jazz bass and a mother who taught music at a public school. Although he was exposed to many genres including jazz, classical, opera and show tunes, he showed a preference for blues and rock. After trying piano and violin, he settled on guitar and went on to get a B.A in Music Performance, focussing on classical guitar as well as playing in the college jazz band.

He recorded two records with The Shot Down Band then played guitar for several groups (Tizzy, Carlson, Night Train and The Stingers) before going solo in 2006. He has released five CDs of original music as well as performing around 140 shows a year on average, a regular performer in  Chicago, Michigan and Nashville. This album, The Way, consists of seven tracks and the music is an eclectic blend of blues, rock, jazz and folk, combining to create a unique style of his own which he calls ‘Groundhog music’.

This fusion of genres is evident straight away on the opening track That’s Why. A mid paced, smoky blues/jazz song, it has the intimacy and bar room vibe of an artist like Tom Waits, as well as his gritty authenticity. Bud has the perfect voice for the material, his singing style halfway between a jazzy croon and the rougher edges of blues and rock. His guitar playing is also varied, alternating tight, clean rhythm playing with raw bluesy lead guitar that works as an effective contrast.

The song is nicely structured too; a funky, jazzy progression on the verse leads to a smooth second section that lyrically depicts his infatuation: “My world is spinning, floor is gone… I float but then I fly away…. I am beginning to catch on, it was meant to be this way…”. Jason McAfee on bass and Jake McAfee on drums provide excellent supporting roles and it makes for a great start to the album.

The second track, My Baby’s Big & Bad, is a twelve bar blues acoustic song, again about a woman, but this one shows a more light-hearted, humorous side to Bud’s songwriting as you can tell from the opening lines: “More chins than a Chinese phone book, more pounds than a pot of gold, more thighs than Colonel Sanders, and meaner than a Texas Bull….”. He then recites an entertaining tale of a large lady who’s a force to be reckoned with. It features some gorgeously smooth slide guitar playing as well as some excellent raw and throaty harmonica,  also having a sly dig at politics and religion in the verses: ” Well I was down at the tavern talkin’ politics, trying to explain it to them country hicks…”.

Third track She Sings Karaoke is a return to the full band sound, with a song about a talented amateur singer who might not be suited to the big time: “Won’t they be surprised when the real world comes along, when they hold the Grammies and turns out she doesn’t belong….”. The smoky blues rock vibe brought to mind Dire Straits’ classic Sultans of Swing and Bud really gets to display his lead guitar skills, laying down a mellifluous solo played with a killer tone.

Fourth track Ain’t Got Time For Whiskey returns to acoustic twelve bar blues, with some more fine harmonica work and excellent vocals harmonies that fill out the sound. It features another superb solo, with a biting twang and not a note wasted. Lyrically, as the title implies, it’s about putting his whisky drinking days behind him and the first line of the verse is a nice twist on the time honoured blues tradition: “Well, I woke up one morning…with a splitting head… “.

The Way I Do is another blues/jazz fusion with an angular, semitone based chord progression on the verse with more standard changes for the title hook. This song is about trying to make someone appreciate that they are loved, as summed up in the mellow second section: “You’ve been saying all along I’m the best thing…. you won’t be as happy if I’m gone so just don’t be a fool and let this go…”.

Bedtime Story is a lovely acoustic ballad featuring just Bud and his guitar. This along shows the folk influence in his music and his songwriting craft. The haunting vocal melody suits the romantic words: “Be my bedtime story, help me sow and reap, be my bedtime story till I fall asleep…”. My personal favourite on the album.

The final track Common Ground switches from the personal to the social, with a raw Springsteen-style lyric (and vocal delivery) about escaping from a town that has seen better days: “There’s bars on the windows running down the street, they go on and on as far as I can see….”. It is the most powerful song on the album and shows the serious side to his writing after the levity of earlier tracks.

Overall, this is a very high quality album from a first rate guitarist and singer/songwriter. He has become a master of his craft, after many years experience, and found his own musical niche between blues and jazz. Above all else, the music is enjoyable to listen to, containing classy musicianship throughout from Bud and his musical cohorts. The appeal of his music goes beyond the blues and jazz crowd as he writes accessible songs that any music lover can enjoy. A recommended listen.

 

Alex Faulkner

Verdict: 8.4 out of 10