E.P. REVIEW: Coming Back Stronger by Patrick Carpenter


Official website HERE

Patrick Carpenter is a singer/songwriter and guitarist from Jackson, Mississippi. He started out in music by wanting to emulate his guitar playing heroes such as Richie Sambora, Eddie Van Halen and Brad Paisley, picking up the guitar himself at just eleven. He has since developed into a singer/songwriter and launched himself as a solo artist in 2018. His music is essentially a combination of traditional country, mainstream pop, blues and 80’s-style arena-rock as personified by bands like Bon Jovi.

This EP, Coming Back Stronger, consists of six tracks and has already reached #13 in the ITunes chart, which is truly impressive for a debut release. It begins with the title track, an instantly memorable and enjoyable country rock track with an 80’s-esque stadium-rock drum sound.

Patrick is gifted with a strong and recognizable voice that’s easy on the ear and perfectly suited to the material. Featuring an anthemic chorus augmented by fine backing harmonies, it’s an uplifting song about fighting back against adversity. Towards the end, we get to hear his superb lead guitar skills which finishes off an excellent track nicely.

Second track Chance on Me is a more sensitive side to his songwriting, an epic six-minute country rock ballad in 6/8. It works as a showcase for his first rate lead vocals and musically, it’s enriched by warm organ and tasteful, controlled bursts of lead guitar, although he does allow himself to let rip a little towards the end. I Wish She Knew is another fine ballad based on a musical bedrock of piano and strummed acoustic guitar. This one is a more melancholy song about being unable to tell someone how they feel, a subject many will relate to.

Back Again is quite a contrast, a demo version of a song that combines country rock with a more electronic influence in the drums which gives it a modern sound. It’s another strong piece of songwriting and I’d be interested to hear the song in its complete production form.

The following Drink of You is my personal favourite on the EP, an infectious and up tempo country pop/rock track and perhaps the one with the most commercial potential of the songs here. Lyrically, it’s a twist on the current fad for country songs celebrating drinking, this time being a metaphor for being intoxicated by the effect of a desired woman. If this hasn’t been released as a single yet, it should be!

The final track Controlled Madness shows the influence of late 80’s stadium-rock with its use of a talk box, first made famous by Peter Frampton and employed on the Bon Jovi classic Livin’ On A Prayer. It gives the song a quirky edge that is unexpected, set to a great rock backing that brought to mind Neil Young’s Rockin’ In The Free World. A great way to finish.

Overall, this is a very strong set of songs that show the versatility of Patrick Carpenter as a songwriter, singer and lead guitarist. Taking country-rock and combining it with the classic stadium-rock sound isn’t an easy trick to pull of, but Patrick makes it seem natural and the result is a musical style that is both vintage and modern. With further material as good as this, the sky’s the limit for Patrick Carpenter.


VERDICT = 8.7 out of 10             

Alex Faulkner


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ALBUM REVIEW: On My Way by Martin Lucassen


Martin Lucassen is a singer and songwriter in the adult contemporary pop/rock genre, hailing originally from the Netherlands. After developing his skills as both a singer and songwriter over time, he found a method of sending his demos to production companies to produce the professional backing tracks to his vocals. This worked well for him, and in this way he completed his debut album The Night Turns to Morning Light, released in 2015.

He has a strong Beatles influence in his melodic songwriting, though in fact I would say his signature sound is acoustic pop/rock in the same vein of John Lennon and George Harrison’s solo music. His singing voice is strong with a tone that is easy on the ear, somewhere between Lennon, George Harrison and Neil Finn from Crowded House. This album, On My Way, consists of eleven tracks and sees him branching out into other styles.

The opening song Nobody Knows Me starts out like a country track with an intro featuring plucked mandolins and picked acoustic guitar. This folky style is maintained on the verse but brought more into the rock sphere with rich electric guitar chords on the excellent chorus. Lyrically, it’s a rather poignant song about how little it’s possible to really understand and truly know each other as people, captured in lines like, “So you think that I’m predictable, can you read my thoughts so well?“. Superbly performed and produced, it gets the album off to a flying start.

Next track Human Revolution is somewhat of a musical departure; a brooding power pop/rock song with a pulsating, dance-influenced beat and an array of guitar styles. There is a definite 80’s vibe to certain aspects such as the epic sound of the production and the stellar lead guitar solos that appears after the choruses (bringing to mind Ritchie Sambora from Bon Jovi). Lyrically, it has an interesting theme, telling the story and progress of the human race itself in three minutes. An extremely accomplished and enjoyable song.

Why Today shows the more emotive and vulnerable side to his songwriting; a tender, string-augmented piano ballad that wears its heart on its sleeve. It captures the low emotional mood that results from the end of a loving romantic relationship and portrays it with simple but affecting honesty: “Everyone makes mistakes and I know I’ve made a lot…”. A fine example of his songwriting craft.

Fourth song Live for Tomorrow quickly lifts the mood back to positive and life affirming. It’s a pop rock with an angular, syncopated beat that keeps the music from feeling predictable. It’s a sunny anthem with an important message about keeping hopeful and contains one of the most instant choruses on the album. The following Keep Running Away is a return to his balladry. It starts out sounding like White Album-era Beatles with its crystal clear arpeggiated acoustic guitar, then builds into the epic pop style that he makes his own.

Yearn For The Past is another highly emotive song about a relationship going badly, and a feeling of nostalgia for how things used to be between them: “I yearn for the past, for our first kiss that beautiful night….”. As with most of his songs though, Lucassen manages to balance the dark with the light, ending the song with the optimistic refrain, “You’re still the one I’m longing for…”.

Brotherhood is a nice change of pace, a country-tinged upbeat track in 2/4 time and featuring one of the most life affirming lyrics on the album about sharing life’s ups and downs together: “Life is all about what is real, happy smiles and shedding a tear, getting and giving, emotions keep them living…”.

Passion & Attraction is a very well written song about the things that keep a romantic relationship, captured in the anthemic chorus: “Passion: open our hearts and release desire, Attraction: we’re old but still pretty, light the fire“. The haunting echo-drenched lead guitar lines and subtle strings add much to the emotive power of this fine example of songwriting craftsmanship. By contrast, ninth track Happy Dancing is perhaps the album’s most light-hearted moment. It’s a rollicking rocker that celebrates the simple joy of dancing, and the infectious vocal melody captures the subject matter perfectly.

Next comes the title track, and it’s a fine song with an interesting arrangement and unexpected chord changes. It features a crunchy, Money For Nothing-style guitar sound and lyrically it’s a continuation of an earlier theme – wanting to return a relationship to a previously happy state.

The album ends with a deeply moving song, Painted Nails. It’s a tragic and heartrending true story about a six year old boy called Tijn Kolsteren, close to death from brain cancer. He decided to raise money by painting people’s nails and raised millions of dollars which went towards research. This poignant subject is treated with great sensitivity by Lucassen, who sets the story to a beautiful piano ballad.

Overall, this album is a consistently strong set of songs that shows how Martin Lucassen has developed as a songwriter. Whilst his debut album was good evidence of his songwriting talent, this one shows his creative progression. Aided by very talented musicians and excellent production values,  he manages to convey the vicissitudes of the human condition with heartfelt passion and time-honed musical skill. The result is a piece of work that will appeal to music fans right across the board, ticking the boxes of both commercial appeal and artistic endeavour.


VERDICT = 8.8 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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ALBUM REVIEW: A Voice In The Wilderness by David Vaters



David Vaters is a country singer/songwriter and musician originally from St. John’s Newfoundland, Canada. During his career he has worked with well known musicians and producers such as Henri Spinetti (Eric Clapton, Tina Turner), Dave Markee (Eric Clapton) and Dan Cutrona (Joe Cocker, Bee Gees) amongst many others. He regards his influences as legendary singer/songwriters such as Neil Young, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen.

This album, A Voice In The Wilderness, comprises two volumes and it is his debut release. It features well known Nashville musicians such as Tom Hemby (Vince Gill, Kenny Loggins) on guitars and mandolin, John Hammond (Amy Grant, Vince Gill) on drums and percussion, along with Jeff Cox on bass and David Vest on keyboards. The latter co-produced with David Vaters, who performs all acoustic guitars and lead vocals.

Volume 1 of the album consists of ten tracks and begins with the melancholy country ballad Let It Rain. It showcases David’s fine voice, which is somewhere between Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty and Bob Dylan. It’s a song that works as a story about a farmer needing rain for his crops, but also as a metaphor for going through hard times and the need for hope. These deeper themes feature throughout the album, with a philosophical style similar to Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen.

Running To You is more upbeat, a mid-paced country rock track with Like A Rolling Stone-style drawbar organ. It features a particularly strong chorus which is augmented by some excellent backing harmonies. A standout moment on  this first volume. 8 Ways from Sunday is a tender lighters-in-the-air love ballad devoted to his wife and it’s also the first song on the album that mentions his strong Christian faith: “Only with God’s grace I begin to smile….”.

Brighter Than The Stars is another ballad and is explicitly about his faith and strong relationship with God: “Faith comes by hearing then accepting you…”. It’s a powerful, deeply spiritual song that brings to mind Bob Dylan after his conversion to Christianity. This theme continues on the next track This Cross (“Salvations coming, my work is done”) which gradually builds in intensity across its four minute duration to reach a cathartic climax.

Mansion In The Sky is a poignant song about how having faith and a belief in an afterlife helps you cope with thoughts of death. Credit to David should be given for having the courage to write about life’s most difficult subjects. This one is musically very colourful, with the rich sound of accordion and plucked mandolin.

Sixth track God Help Me Out is another song of humble gratitude about how his faith has sustained him through difficult times. Musically, it’s another organ-driven country rock song, with bursts of bluesy harmonica and slide guitar. See You In Heaven is a very touching track written from the perspective of someone who has died and reassuring his loved one that he’s still around and they will be reunited in the afterlife. This song will comfort anyone suffering with bereavement and deep grief.

It’s Time is an album highlight, an uplifting epic piano-led ballad with a powerful ‘carpe diem’ message and a magnificent vocal performance from Vaters, whose passion and sincerity is axiomatic. Musically, it’s based around a classic descending chord sequence, counter pointed by ascending string lines. The final track on Volume 1 is an instrumental version of Brighter Than The Stars, which shows the musical intricacy of this fine composition in a new light, bringing this volume to a gentle close.

Volume 2 opens with another of David’s philosophical songs that contain a lifetime’s experience and wisdom. Castles In The Sand is about the transitory and ephemeral nature of man’s achievements and how everything we do is only temporary in life. Second track Forgive is one of his deeply moral songs, about the importance of forgiving those who have wronged you. It was an obvious choice as a single.

Godly Man is one of his more uptempo rock tracks that reiterates his faith, interspersed with moments of mellifluous electric lead guitar and some rather cool vocal effects towards the end. Brothers In Need is a poignant song with a minimal but effective musical backdrop, a tale told from the perspective of a homeless man who is helped by others and by finding faith in God. It’s sort of a modern parable, an update of The Good Samaritan.

Prepare is a nice contrast, built around a Sixties-esque picked guitar riff and rich vocal harmonies that brought to mind The Byrd’s circa Younger Than Yesterday. Talking To God is another song about finding the strength to overcome adversity through prayer and faith, a message which will resonate most with fellow Christians.

Like I’ve Been Born Again starts out similarly as a piano ballad before breaking into a muscular beat and as the title implies, is about finding redemption through his faith. I enjoyed the lead guitar section that injects drama into the music halfway through. Service of The King is another single taken from the album, and its easy to see why, with a very radio-friendly sound also featuring gospel-tinged female vocals.

Resurrection Day is musically a bit of a departure, this one an exciting stomp that made me think of Springsteen’s Born To Run album. Lyrically, it’s about the Christian belief that the dead will one day resurrected from the grave at some point, provided they had accepted the Christian doctrines before they died. The second volume closes with another instrumental, with this one being Talking To God. This version allows the musical beauty of the arrangement to shine and ends the album on a high note.

Overall, this is a highly accomplished and ambitious two-volume album. In an era where the art form of the album is dying out and people’s attention spans grow ever shorter, it’s to his great credit to release a double album as his debut. But his decision has already been vindicated, as it has been streamed in the millions already. For those of faith and those without, David Vaters writes songs that capture the timeless human condition.

VERDICT: 8.6 out of 10


Alex Faulkner

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ALBUM REVIEW: Two Sides To This Town by Bobbo Byrnes


Bobbo Byrnes is an alternative country/Americana singer and songwriter who was raised in Massachusetts and now resides in California. Initially, he was the lead singer in a band he formed with his wife Tracy, which expanded to become the hard-touring and popular group The Fallen Stars. As a solo artist, this is his second full length album following 2017’s Motel Americana. You can hear the influences of artists like Ryan Adams, Wilco and Gram Parsons in his music, with a little Springsteen and Dylan too.

Two Sides To This Town consists of ten tracks and is something of a concept album. The title, which comes from the opening song Angelia, refers to the political division that has taken place in the U.S. and the songs explore the idea of seeking answers to that division. Angelia is a strong start to the album, starting out like an acoustic ballad before breaking into country rock replete with Like A Rolling Stone-style Hammond organ and tastefully overdriven electric guitar.

Bobbo has a naturally authentic voice that suits the music perfectly, his lead vocals nicely counterpointed by the backing harmonies of his wife Tracy Byrnes (who also contributes bass). The chorus is instantly anthemic and guest guitarist Travis King delivers a concise and effective guitar solo. An obvious lead single for the album.

Second track Heart Like Mine is a mid-paced country rock song that is melodically upbeat yet the words are troubled and shot through with melancholy: “Five thirty isn’t early when you’ve been up all night...”. It’s another well crafted track that is lighter in tone due to being mostly acoustic guitar-based.

Glad is a track originally written by a former friend Fallen Stars Tracy Huffman and it’s another fine piece of songwriting. Beginning with a gorgeous guitar intro that brought to mind Jimi Hendrix’s Little Wing (played by Danny Ott), it explodes into an uplifting anthem about feeling grateful for the fortunate things in your life. It has a little dry humour in the opening lines: “Sure am glad to be alive, you should see the way I drive…”. The contrasting vocal combination of Bobbo and Tracy Byrnes works particularly well on this one.

Jealous Kind is a cover version of a song by Chris Knight and starts out as a traditional country ballad with subtle slide guitar, then once more developing into a more rocking style with a biting lead guitar tone. It’s a fine track about what we can be driven to by love, and Bobbo does it justice with a great vocal.

Massachusetts is a song written by Bobbo and Tracy, and again is about the power of love and self sacrifice. Although it’s an emotionally and uplifting track, there’s still an element of sly humour in lines like, “You sold all of your LP’s, a down payment for an SUV, its all over now, baby blue….”. It also features one of the most memorable, singalong choruses on the album.

Sixth song Dam is the epic of the album at over five minutes, and begins with the gorgeous harp-like sound of strummed 12-string guitar. This traditional style is melded with occasional electronic swirls of noise which modernizes it to a certain extent, without compromising its musical integrity. Written by Matthew Ryan, it’s a deep song about the dangers of emotional repression and holding back one’s innermost feelings: “One day soon that dam is gonna break and it’ll wash you away…”.

Welfare Cadillac is a distinct contrast and one of the more political songs on the album. Written solely by Bobbo, the lyrics seem to portray someone who has lived off the welfare state, and now finds themselves unable to cope: “That’s me hitching a ride, that’s me by the overpass, I knew this day would come, now I’m out on the road with my guitar and my thumb.…”. Musically, it has a swung feel, the sound bolstered  by brass (courtesy of Jessica Lavery-Pozerski and Dennis Hart) which effectively enriches the sonic texture. A fine track that shows another Dylan-esque aspect to Bobbo’s songwriting.

Last Hurrah is another self-penned song, this one a melancholy country blues track augmented with mournful violin (played by Caitlin Cary). The lyrics are affecting, about feeling like your chance to make your dreams come true has nearly passed: “I had dreams, dreams you never knew, I had hopes that one day I’d play in The Show….”.

Summer Wine is perhaps the closest thing to quintessential on the album, featuring the Bobbo Byrnes signature sound. Nicely overdriven Hammond B3 floats over melodic but raw electric guitar, supported by a rock solid rhythm section. Over this bedrock of sound, Bobbo and Tracy Byrnes combine in octaves to deliver a killer vocal melody that’s so catchy the whole song seems like a chorus, with its earworm refrains. The band’s energy here is inspired, and this was a real album highlight for me.

There’s a subtle theme of desperation in the five-minute final song Vegas, though despite this it has an upbeat, celebratory vibe. Co-written with Chris Tarmey and Morgan Keating, it’s a ballsy piece of country rock about escaping your situation to live out the adventures of your wildest dreams: “I’m going to Las Vegas, I’m gonna break the bank, gonna stash my money in my Studebaker tank…”. It’s a fine way to finish, featuring some superb, ragged lead guitar that brought to mind the epic rock of Neil Young.

Overall, this is a hugely enjoyable collection of well crafted country-rock songs performed with heart and soul by Bobbo Byrnes and his musical cohorts. Taking traditional elements of country and folk then giving them a harder rock edge, he has forged his own style of authentic Americana. If you’re wondering if anyone is still making great country-rock music the old school way these days, look no further than Bobbo Byrnes.


VERDICT: 8.7 out of 10

Alex Faulkner


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SINGLE REVIEW: A Heartbreak In The Making by Randall Lee Richards



Randall Lee Richards is a country singer and songwriter hailing from Birmingham, Alabama. He was musically precocious as a child, learning guitar and drums from age ten. Remarkably, at twelve he recorded his first song and headed for Nashville, where he signed a deal and recorded his first single within a month. Since then, he has played on some of the world’s biggest stages like The Roxy and The Troubadour, and been mentored by legends like Neil Diamond and Elton John.

As a songwriter, he has been hugely successful, having had over a hundred songs recorded, with millions of copies sold worldwide. In 2017, he released A Paradise Life which climbed high on the Billboard Indicator chart and was played on over 2,000 stations worldwide.

This song, A Heartbreak In The Making, is one end result of a highly prolific year for Richards’ songwriting, which has seen him influenced by writers like Keith Urban and Thomas Rhett. It’s a country rock song not unlike the more country-influenced power ballads of Bon Jovi. Randall is blessed with a strong, authentic voice that carries conviction and emotion, with the song being a twist on the “boy meets girl” theme.

You can hear the experience and highly developed craftsmanship in the songwriting and the well structured arrangement. Although the style is fairly traditional, it has been produced in a very modern way, with the drums sounds particularly cutting edge. The vocals are cleverly layered with subtle harmonies on certain lines, especially apparent on the huge chorus which soon latches in the memory.

Lyrically, it’s about a powerful attraction to a femme fatale who will break your heart: “Baby, I can see through your disguise, no, you can’t fool me with those eyes, girl you know I’ve seen it all before….”. After the second chorus, there’s a concisely constructed lead guitar solo, leading to the middle eight and one last blast of the chorus with some nice vocal extemporizations.

Overall, this is a great single from a professional singer and songwriter at the height of his artistic powers. Showing his wealth of experience as a writer combined with the kind of distinctive lead vocals and slick modern production that radio loves, this song will be popular with his already existing fans and it should make him a whole lot more.


VERDICT: 8.7 out of 10

Alex Faulkner


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SINGLE REVIEW: An Angel For You by Gina Michaells


Gina Michaells is country singer and songwriter born in La Union in the Philippines and now based in Denmark. She was performing at fairs and festivals as a singer from the age of six, singing in bands through high school and college. At twenty, she decided to take her talent worldwide and has performed in Japan, Indonesia, Greenland and Malaysia, amongst other places. Her music initially started out as pure country but she has since diversified into other genres.

This song, An Angel For You, is an epic country-tinged pop ballad written with Nashville producer/songwriter Lonnie Ratliff and mixed by Arthur Pingray (Sia, Flo Rida), released October 2. Starting with a short but evocative intro of delicate piano and guitar, Gina’s emotive and powerful vocals enter, commanding the listener’s attention. After a brief, well-crafted verse the instantly memorable chorus is where the song, and Gina’s voice, really shines.

The song is about trying to live up to someone’s expectations of you and stand by them even though it’s hard: “If you’re looking for an angel then the least that I can do is try to be an angel for you…”. The arrangement builds gradually, giving the song increasing emotional power, with a key change after the second chorus lifting the music still further (Gina at the top of her considerable vocal range). Another modulation takes the song into the stratosphere and brings the music to a satisfying climax.

Overall, this is a powerfully performed, highly emotional country-pop ballad that showcases Gina Michaells’ dual gifts as a vocalist and songwriter. Well arranged and recorded by Nashville session musicians, it has everything it takes to have a huge hit including very high quality, radio friendly production. Most importantly, it has an emotive force that people will connect with, and subject matter they will relate to. Gina Michaells has immense commercial potential, and this song deserves to make big waves in the music scene.


VERDICT: 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner



Learn more about Gina Michaells HERE


E.P. REVIEW: Sinners and Saints by Calvin Rainwater


Calvin Rainwater is a country singer/songwriter who was born and raised in Arizona. A musical child, he began playing guitar at just eight, learning to play by hanging out with local musicians and picking up riffs. For seven years he performed in a band with friends called Common Ground Country, which became very successful on the live circuit for several years but sadly the drummer was rendered disabled from a spinal deterioration disease.

Since then, Calvin has developed as a solo artist, performing at open mic/jam nights to great acclaim. He regards his main influences as country legends like Don Williams, Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings and Keith Whitley, regarding himself halfway between Jennings and Gordon Lightfoot. This six track EP is his debut release.

It starts with the lyrically powerful title track, Sinners and Saints. It’s a very apposite song about religion, more specifically the moral hypocrisy of the Church. Starting with picked acoustic guitar and fiddle, Calvin’s rich, deep voice enters and it’s perfect for the material. The lyrics pull no punches in criticizing the Church: “They say I should love my brother while they backstab each other and they do it all for personal gain……the devil’s not the one to blame…”. A fantastic, bravely honest song about a subject that has never been more relevant.

Second song God Has Sent Me An Angel is a more traditional kind of country song, a deeply romantic ballad as the title implies. Calvin gives a sensitive and passionate vocal performance, convincingly portraying the feeling that you’re to blame for causing your loved one to suffer, perfectly encapsulated on the chorus: “God sent me an angel and I put her through hell….”. A very fine piece of well-crafted songwriting.

The lighter-hearted If We Could Go Fishing One More Time is poignant in a different way. It’s a nostalgic and reflective song about looking back to his childhood, when he went fishing with his father. It’s a subject many will be able to relate to, especially missing a loved one who has passed over. Even more movingly, the second verse imagines him on the other side, fishing with both his father and grandfather. Lovely song and a potential single.

Chloey Marie is another touching song, though this one is more upbeat and rockier, for the first time featuring distorted electric guitar. It’s about spending time with his daughter but in a difficult relationship situation with her mother, who has left them. Again, these kind of family problems are a subject many will connect with, and it’s one treated with honesty and sensitivity by Rainwater.

Fifth song Tonight I Told My Dream Girl Goodbye is a heartbreak ballad in the classic tradition. It captures the melancholy and anguish of a close relationship ending, with a particularly emotional performance from Calvin, especially on moving lines like, “If I die before I wake and I leave this world behind, I pray the Lord my soul to take ‘cos tonight I told my dream girl goodbye….”.

That’s the last track officially on the EP and its a fine way to close it, though there I’d also a bonus track called The Boulevard, co-written with Henry Mittnacht, Billy Playle and Matt Morgan-Shaw. It’s another one about a broken heart, but this one has a darker edge as the protagonist has turned to drink: “Maybe tomorrow things will change and the shakes will go away….”.

Overall, this is a first rate collection of country songs from an artist who bares his soul and sings honestly about both the good and bad things in life, like genuine artists always do. His songwriting style is mature and highly developed, plus he’s blessed with a voice that is strong and as authentic as his songs. This EP will win over many country music fans, especially those who appreciate songwriting that comes from the heart.


VERDICT: 8.9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner


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