SINGLE REVIEW: Wow by Larry Jay

Larry Jay is a country/pop singer and songwriter native to New York who now resides in California. His Americana-tinged music has already found acclaim, becoming a first runner up in several songwriting contests including the highly regarded John Lennon Songwriting Contest. He has performed at the historic Troubadour in Los Angeles and shared the stage with a Neil Young sidekick and Crazy Horse member, Sonny Mone. Neil Young is actually one artist Larry has been compared to, along with Keith Urban.

This song, Wow, is a country pop ballad based around crystalline, picked acoustic guitar. It features the vocals of The Voice contestant and Team Blake member  Caeland Gardner, depicting an amorous, romantic situation in an intimate low register: “The way that my girl looks at me when all the lights are low tells me that we’re going to the land of rock n’ roll….”.

It’s when the chorus hits that this song truly shines; Caeland switches to a higher octave, singing a glorious melody augmented by tight lower harmonies. The deep romanticism is expressed through the wide ranging and poignant melody, surmised by the cute title hook.

After the second chorus, the drums really kick in, the sound and intricate rhythm giving the music a modern edge, along with the subtle but effective electric guitars. After a breakdown chorus the song ends on a high with one more refrain, finishing on the guitar figure that started the song surrounded by the glow of warm, rich organ.

Overall, this is a finely crafted country/pop ballad that shows Larry Jay’s gifts as a songwriter and Caeland Gardner as a singer. Larry shows with this song that he can write the kind of track that radio and the country loving public adore. I see no reason why Larry Jay won’t become a household name as a songwriter and perhaps Wow is the song that helps propels him there.

VERDICT = 8.8 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

Listen here:

ALBUM REVIEW: Traveler Tales by David Arn

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https://davidarn.com/

David Arn is a singer/songwriter based in Virginia. His music is mostly acoustic and strongly lyric driven, allowing his words to be clearly delivered with an authentic, gravelly voice that sounds full of life experience.

You can hear the influences of Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan as well as the sophisticated lyrical style of Van Dyke Parks and Randy Newman, though his style is very much his own. He has previously released two full length albums, Postmodern Days and Walking To Dreamland (which I reviewed very favourably in 2015, read here), along with numerous singles.

This album, Traveler Tales, consists of fourteen songs and is a concept album very loosely based on Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, featuring fourteen first-person narratives from fourteen travelers on a common journey.

The album opens with the mid-tempo moody blues rock of We’re Not Broken – The Lover’s Tale. Set to a sturdy beat and R.E.M style clean picked electric guitar, it captures David at his most poetic and philosophical: “They say we’ll be judged for behaviour, till then payback’s in a corner chair, posing questions to a saviour who seems no longer there….”.

It builds to the understated but highly affecting chorus hook: “We’re not broken, only shattered.…”. David’s vocal delivery is full of character and nuance, pitched somewhere between Bob Dylan and Mark Knopfler from Dire Straits. The classy, crisp backing vocals from Kerri Hardwick and Tyra Juliette serve as a nice contrast to David’s more earthy tone. A strong opening track and another fine addition to the Arn canon.

Fallen Bird – The Beggar’s Tale is set at a similar tempo and makes even more use of the contrast between David and his backing vocalists, creating a lovely blend on the chorus. Lyrically, it poetically captures the torment of unrequited love, or at least an unresolved romantic relationship, all the more poignant from his mature perspective.

With unflinchingly honesty and vulnerability he sings tenderly: “Look at me, past my prime, spinning rhyme about you, your fingerprints on my heart, but for love I must dust for clues….”. Special mention must go to the first class dobro guitar performed by Toby Wilson, which helps give the music its rootsy vibe and sonic colour.

His guitar skills come to the fore again on Thirteen Days – The Exile’s Day, this one a country folk ballad consisting of David’s anguished vocals, Wilson’s guitar and stand up bass. It’s a heart rending tale about the end of a relationship and the desolation that follows.

Wilson’s guitars weave a crystalline texture around Arn’s voice and lyrically, he turns the poignancy up to eleven: “Sleepless in our highway room, shadows cross the moon, memory has me bound with souvenirs from higher ground…”. It’s a song that captures Arn’s particular gift for love songs, this one imbued with an emotional depth that brought to mind Dylan’s Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands.

Fourth track, Not Amused – The Wanderer’s Tale. is a complete contrast; a light hearted and highly entertaining country rock song with chugging pianos and more tasty steel guitar from Toby Wilson.

It shows a more playful side to Arn’s songwriting, displaying some dry wit whilst throwing in a few acerbic lines that ring true about those in power: “It seems every time I fall for the noble man, in the face of the poor he kicks more sand, he points the passer to the road where the trail goes cold….”. The chorus hook wryly captures how we smile through the pain: “I might have been grinning but I’m not amused.…”.

It’s Not Going To Kill Us – The Father’s Tale is a fine country ballad written from the perspective of a father worried about his daughter from afar. With dreamy echo-drenched steel guitar floating in the background, David expresses parental concern with customary sensitivity: “I may be miles away but I can read the signs…gonna fix your mind right even if I must talk you through the night….”. A lovely song.

This is mirrored by Mother’s Day – The Mother’s Tale. It features a guest artist taking the lead vocal duties, Ava Hart. David notes that this song has special relevance for Ava, a mother of a child on the autistic spectrum. She gives an enchanting performance here, augmented by mellifluous violin by Joni Fuller.

Over delicate acoustic guitar, Ava’s haunting voice compels from the powerful opening lines: “I’m always fighting an invisible war my prayers haven’t seen before…”. It portrays the purity of maternal love with succinct eloquence: “Little one, let me rock your soul…four in the morning, the ladder to your sleep is much too steep…”. Bringing to mind the Joni Mitchell classic Little Green, it works perfectly in the context of the album.

You Never Really Know – The Fool’s Tale is another ballad of consummate craftsmanship. Featuring an interesting Elvis-esque slapback delay on his lead vocal, David expresses how it’s love that gives life meaning and purpose: “You never really know technically which way you go… until you fall in love….” Some gorgeous female-sung harmonies and gentle violin enrich this touching country-folk ballad.

Black Dog – The Photographers Tale is another of the lyrical portraits he does so well. This one is about an aging photographer estranged from his family, finding solace in the memories of a lost love. The “black dog” of the title is a reference to Winston Churchill’s analogy for depression. You can read my previous full review of this song here.

Next, we come to the title track, Traveler – The Minstrel’s Tale. It starts out as an acoustic ballad then takes a turn into soul and jazz territory. It features warm, smoky electric piano, rich gospel-style backing vocals and, towards the end, some wonderful wailing sax courtesy of Ian Smith. He’s played for legends like Gladys Knight, Sister Sledge and The Temptations.

Similar unexpected sonic features await us on Keeping My Distance – The Veteran’s Tale. It appears to be a first person narrative of a veteran who finds himself homeless: “My home is in the East, I have no bed in the state I’m in, I’m walking twelfth street at midnight, feeling stuck within my skin.…”. The use of a subtle vocoder effect halfway through is a nice production trick that gives the track a modern edge. Another well crafted song with understated power and gravity.

Silently Drifting To Paradise – The Sinner’s Tale is the second appearance of Ava Hart, rather different in tone to her first. It’s a truly gorgeous song with a lilting vocal melody and magical, almost harp-like acoustic guitars. With a distinctly sensuous undertone (“Heaven used to wait at the top of your stairs”), it brought to mind the heady, intoxicating mood of The Sensual World by Kate Bush. The harmony on the superb chorus is positively spine-tingling and the dreamy, drifting strings are simply otherworldly.

Twelfth track St. Paul’s Chimes – The Bystander’s Tale might sound like a dead cert folk track with such a title but, in fact, is the album’s slow burning Americana rock epic. Starting out as an acoustic strummer, it finds David with a vocal effect akin to John Lennon on The Beatles’ Tomorrow Never Knows. The gritty, biting lead guitar has a Clapton-esque grandeur.

Love Is Free – The Writer’s Tale is one of the more Sixties influenced tracks here with not just the influence of Dylan but also a strong influence of Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground and Rubber Soul-era Beatles. The lyrics have a distinctly psychedelic glean in their eye with lines like: “We were a prism through which love flowed...”. The stop/start dynamics surrounding the title hook work well and it’s another very enjoyable song.

The album’s journey comes to a gentle and beautiful end with the achingly poignant When It’s Over – The Ex-Writer’s Tale. It’s folk-tinged Americana at its finest, an autumnal reflection on a relationship: “I love my freedom, time is moving slower but I hate that it’s not over when it’s over….”. Augmented by simple but elegant acoustic guitar and swirling strings, it completes this epic album in the most apposite way.

Overall, this is a wonderful collection of songs by David Arn that cover the many vicissitudes of the human condition. Having forged a refined poetic lyrical style and honed his musical craft over years, he’s developed into a songwriter of the highest class. He need not worry; not only is he not past his prime, Traveler Tales finds him at the peak of his powers.

 

VERDICT = 9.2 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

Album released: Sept 8th

 

Visit his official website HERE

SINGLE REVIEW: Jack Russell by Happy Curmudgeons

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Happy Curmudgeons are a rock/pop band with shades of folk, blues and country hailing from Metro, Detroit. Their musical journey has had a lengthy gestation period. In the 1980’s singer/songwriter and guitarist Dave Hamilton was in a band called the Angel-Headed Hipsters and met none other than Velvet Underground legend Lou Reed who told him he was a great songwriter and to stick at it.

Many years later the band were formed with Jeff Warner on guitar and Amy Dixon-Lavery on additional vocals. In 2019, I gave a stellar review to their album, Meant To Be, as well as the single released from it Soulsville, which you can read here and here. In October last year, I reviewed the title track from their upcoming second album (read here).

This latest track, Jack Russell, is a mid-paced country rock song with a bluesy feel. With its barrelhouse piano and bursts of harmonica, the sound brings to mind Bob Dylan circa Like A Rolling Stone and Blonde on Blonde. As with their previous work, Happy Curmudgeons display their musical synergy, every instrument contributing to the overall authentic and soulful vibe of the music. It was produced by Mark Byerly of the Bob Seger Band and is taken from their forthcoming second album, 2nd Chances.

It starts with a gorgeous acoustic guitar figure before breaking into a rock steady shuffle beat courtesy of Rick Beamon, augmented by Takashi Iio on standup bass. The strummed acoustic guitars which form the bedrock of the song are played by Dave Hamilton, whilst the colourful and infectious barrelhouse piano is performed by Jim “Moose” Brown.

This particular song contain lead vocals from the band’s main songwriter, Dave Hamilton. Here, he gives an understated but highly effective vocal performance, with a dry, laconic delivery style favoured by singers like Dylan and Lou Reed, the latter an artist that rated Hamilton’s songwriting.

The vocal melody is memorable and doesn’t suffer for the lack of a regular chorus, following a standard blues chord progression for the most part. Lyrically, it’s a storytelling song about a nefarious bounty hunter called Jack Russell who gets his just desserts by the end of the song. It’s refreshing to hear this old fashioned approach where the lyrics tell a story, which is relatively rare.

Overall, this is another very enjoyable release from Happy Curmudgeons, a band who are keeping the flame of authentic music alive. With a style rooted in the great country and blues artists, they have also developed their own unique sound which every individual member contributes to. Featuring a rich array of fine musicianship and a quirky, entertaining lyrical narrative, Jack Russell proves to be another winner.

 

VERDICT = 9.2 out of 10 

Alex Faulkner

 

Listen here:

ALBUM REVIEW: Radio Cowboy by Rob Georg

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Rob Georg is a country singer and songwriter originally hailing from Tuebingen in Germany. He became interested in music as a child, taking up the piano and then switching to guitar. He bought his first guitar at just 14 and this led to writing his own material. In 2018, he released his first official song Push That Horn and in December of that year came his first full band release, This Ain’t My First Rodeo.

That song made it into the US National Radio Hits AC Charts Top Ten. Since then he’s released several singles and this debut album, Radio Cowboy, contains songs that are nominated for the Fair Play Country Award in Europe, as well as for the New Music Award in the United States.

The album consists of fifteen songs in the country and country rock genres, beginning with the title track. It’s an autobiographical up-tempo song about how Rob swapped his life as a rancher for being a singer and songwriter, captured succinctly in the title hook on the uplifting chorus: “Cause ever since I kissed that saddle goodbye, I’ve been a radio cowboy….”.

His sincere love of music and sense of vocation is apparent in the opening lines of the second verse: “Once I picked up that six string nothing was the same, I know every highway out there, I know every DJ’s name….”. With his authentic, radio friendly voice backed up by a gifted band of top notch Nashville musicians, Radio Cowboy sets the bar high for the rest of the album.

Second song Carry The Wind is a different type of track that Rob does exceptionally well, the epic country ballad. This one is genuinely moving, about a beloved horse who has passed on and left him bereaved. The opening lines paint a poignant picture: “The last time I saw him alive was in the first rays of the morning light breathin’ in the February air….”.

Built around picked acoustic guitar, it builds to a powerful, anthemic chorus enriched by female backing harmonies. It resonates with the deep, genuine love for his horse and the longing to see him on the other side: “When I die will you wash my sins so I can ride him once again...”.

This Ain’t My First Rodeo is a return to the light-hearted country rock that opened the album, this one an entertaining yarn about an experienced rodeo rider passing on some well meaning advice to a newcomer: “Hey kid, I was once like you, full of spit with a lot to prove, but listen up lets talk it through, I can tell you’re new to this….”. With some fantastic guitar work throughout, this is one song that really cooks and you can understand its popularity.

Ghost is another fine example of Rob’s ability to write emotive, sensitive ballads.It’s  about feeling bereft after a loving relationship has ended and not being able to get over it: “I carved a headstone, here lies another sleepless night, I tried to bury the bones of all the memories you left behind….”. With its haunting melody, Ghost was understandably released as a single and you can read my full song review here.

This theme continues into This Old House, finding Rob reflecting on leaving the house that holds so many happy memories from the past: “There’s an empty house standing behind me, I’m trying not to look so I don’t cry, cause if I do, I know I’ll be reminded of all the memories we left inside….”.

The chorus is full of poignant imagery, the music perfectly reflecting the protagonist’s sense of sorrow: “Holes from where we hung the pictures of our wedding day, when we made vows we thought we’d never break, creaky wooden stairs leading down to Christmas mornings, a dirty fireplace that kept us warm when it was storming….”.

Harvest Moon Heart is the closest to a traditional country ballad on the album, a beautifully crafted song in waltz time with a lilting vocal melody augmented by steel guitar. After the emotional turmoil of the previous two songs, this touching track lightens the mood nicely and will be a popular one with country fans, both old and new.

My Family’s Got Fur is one of the more fun songs on the album, about the love he has for his dogs who help him on the ranch. It’s a sweet, mid-paced ballad that fellow canine lovers will especially appreciate. The second verse portrays the depth of his love and their importance in his life: “My dogs are braver than I’ll ever be, they run straight into danger and they’ll sacrifice their life for those in need. They’re the hardest workers on the ranch and I’m eternally grateful for the love they give to me….”.

Next comes one of my personal favourites on the album, the hard rockin’ Dust. It’s about the living daily reality of being a cowboy on a ranch, not the romanticized version we see on the silver screen: “The cowboys in the movies don’t tell you the whole story, I’m living proof we’re not it in for the glory….”. With its rich electric guitars and gritty vocal performance from Rob, it brought to mind the Jon Bon Jovi classic Blaze of Glory.

Sunsets At The Ranch is another fine ballad which portrays Rob’s love of nature, in particular the sun, inspiring some of his most poetic lyrics: “I’ve watched it sink behind the Tennessee mountains and soak into the ocean as I walked along the beach….”. With its universal qualities, again it made a suitable choice as a single, which I reviewed very favourably (read here).

Tenth track Push That Horn is one the most simple musically, with just vocals and acoustic guitar. It’s also one of the most emotionally affecting, with Rob paying tribute to a mentor who has now passed on: “I went to the States to be a cowboy, met a man who taught me how to cut. He said “Boy, you’re gonna win it all some day so I’m gonna work you night and day….”. A beautiful tribute song with some lovely Emmy Lou Harris-style female harmonies.

Time For Some Ink provides a complete contrast in mood, a playful rocker about the joys of getting a tattoo! Rob’s vocals on this are fantastic, showing he can rock out as well as perform the delicate ballads with equal ease. His cast of musicians sound great too, with crunchy electric guitar and meaty drums providing the bedrock for this entertaining anthem. You can read my full review for this one here.

This Gift Called Life is another fine ballad that deals with that most universal of themes, becoming a parent. The deeply emotional moment of becoming a father to a newborn is captured touchingly in the song’s opening lines: “She looks like you, the doctor said in the delivery room as I cradled your head. Your eyes were blue, just like the sky, reflecting over an ocean, so wide…..”.

It also shows the flip side, the pain of seeing your child suffering: “Left eye bruised from a fight at school, standing up for someone smaller than you…and as I held the pack of ice, couldn’t take away the pain but I knew I had to try….”.

Higher Ground is another song that shows his caring side, this one more upbeat with an insistent, toe tapping rhythm. It gradually builds into a real epic in strident 2/4, bringing to mind something like Born To Run by Bruce Springsteen. Halfway between a ballad and a rocker, it’s an easily overlooked gem on the album.

When I Make It Home For Christmas is one of the most beautiful songs musically, crystal-clear acoustic guitars mingling with subtle piano and drums. A close listen to the lyrics shows that its actually about a soldier fighting in a war and returning home for Christmas: “Every night on foreign ground as I lay my gun and helmet down, I can almost hear the sound of peace breaking through…”. This lends extra depth to a subject that might have been saccharine in lesser artistic hands.

The album finishes in the same uplifting fashion with which it began, this time via an ode to trucks: Beasts Made of Steel (read my full review here). As with Time For Some Ink, it’s another hugely catchy country-rock anthem that will appeal especially to automobile aficionados. It’s a fantastic, entertaining way to close out the album.

Overall, this a stellar set of songs from a country singer/songwriter as authentic as they come. Equally as skilful at writing and performing both up-tempo rockers and tender ballads, Rob Georg sings about the things that matter to us most. He’s also honest in showing the good and bad sides to the human condition. With this very strong album under his belt, there’s no limit to his potential and I hope it reaches many.

 

VERDICT= 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

Listen here:

SINGLE REVIEW: Black Dog (The Photographer’s Tale) by David Arn

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David Arn is a singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist based in Virginia. His music is mostly acoustic and strongly lyric driven, allowing his words to be clearly delivered with an authentic, gravelly voice that sounds full of life experience.

You can hear the influences of Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan as well as the sophisticated lyrical style of Van Dyke Parks and Randy Newman, though his style is very much his own. He has so far released two full length albums, Postmodern Days and Walking To Dreamland (which I reviewed very favourably in 2015).

This song, Black Dog (A Photographer’s Tale) is taken from his forthcoming album Traveler Tales, which is a concept album featuring fourteen first-person narratives from fourteen travelers on a common journey.

This is an idea based on Chaucer’s classic Canterbury Tales, and this particular narrative is about an older photographer reflecting on his favourite model through their past photo shoots together. This becomes the main theme of the excellent accompanying video, featuring the model and actress Kimberly Bowie and the photography work of Angela Holmyard and David Swift.

The song is a haunting country ballad with a poignant, intimate lead vocal from David Arn. As with his previous work, his lyrics have a strongly poetic quality akin to great songwriters like Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan.

The “black dog” referred to in the title is a reference to the phrase Winston Churchill used to describe his battles with depression. It begins in a gentle manner, with the delicate, finely crafted lead guitar work of Toby Wilson helping to set a melancholy tone.

The first verse finds the song’s character feeling neglected from his family (“My children fear I’m getting old, from my advice they seem estranged…”) and longing for happier times (“I want to wake in different sunlight, change the shadow of my past…”).

After the relatively sparse verse, it breaks into a powerful chorus featuring the female backing vocals of Tyra Juliette and Kerri Hardwick. The chorus lyrics succintly capture the essence of the song, trying to overcome depression: “Oh black dog, your head sleeping on my knee, the window is wide open, surely by now you’d fly free…”.

The second verse sees the song’s protagonist reflecting on his past relationship with his favourite model, captured in emotive and moving lines like, “I can still feel the warmth of her soft hands, the glances I wasn’t sure were mine.…”.

The third verse is subtly augmented with a pulsing synth which adds a little momentum to the music as well as a slightly modern edge to the sound. The final lines of this last verse capture the song’s contemplative essence: “All these years and I still can’t believe things I cannot touch or see….”.

Overall, this is another extremely well crafted country ballad from David Arn that packs an emotional punch owing to its themes of aging, depression and unrequited love. Arn writes about the timeless aspects of the human condition in a distinct way while also seeming to belong to a lineage of the classic troubadours. His authentic and intimate vocal style is perfect for the sensitive subject matter and the music is fully realized with the help of his talented cohorts. A gem for all discerning music lovers.

 

 

VERDICT = 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

Listen here:

 

 

 

ARTIST INTERVIEW: Vanlalchhanhima Ralte

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Vanlalchhanhima Ralte is an independent singer, musician and songwriter. Along with this, Vanlalchhanhima Ralte is a Director of Vanlalchhanhima Ralte (OPC) Private Limited, which is an Independent Record Company, an Independent Record Label & an Independent Publisher. He has released both cover versions and original material, accruing a very large fanbase in the process. His latest release is a cover version of the well known song Achy Breaky Heart, watch the video below:

 

 

I got to ask him a few questions about his music:

Your latest single release is a cover of the well known country pop classic Achy Breaky Heart, originally recorded by Billy Ray Cyrus. What made you want to cover this particular song?

“Yes, that’s right. It’s a well known song, even to my childhood, I know and listen to that song. It make me want to cover because for the sake of the love of a classical music in it time. And I do interested to build it into this modern influences…”

You’re an independent singer, musician and songwriter as well as owning your own record company, do you find it difficult to balance your role as an artist along with dealing with the business side of the music industry?

“Yes, of course. A very good question in here. Too much, let me just say the role is too much to think from an artist level to an executive level. All so much for one person. One in a performance, and one in a none performance streamline of doing it all independently. Sometime, I think I need a balanced diet.”

Who are a few of your favourite artists or groups and do you have one all time musical hero?

“Yes, although I haven’t met in real life. One to mentioned the one whose era has been changing from country music to a kinda pop appeal, the one and only Taylor Swift. Whom I’ve been trending her through an internet, mostly Facebook, YouTube and on an Instagram. In that sense, she kinda well known for more than a decade.”

How do you feel about the modern music industry, do you think streaming music helps an artist reach people or is it unfair for the artist to allow people to listen and enjoy their music without paying for a single or album as it used to be?

“Into this modern digital world of consideration, an internet plays and transform the way the music industry used to be as comparing from the classical 70’s 80’s 90’s. I don’t see any unfairness for the people on the music to stream and listen them freely, if they want to make benefit for an artist, they will, if not, they wouldn’t.

What are your future plans for your music? Let people know about upcoming releases after this one and how they can keep informed about any new music you decide to release.

Well, good question. I’m currently working under one Christmas project. That I haven’t had any set for it releases date, but it will be in the month of December 2019. This will be for the love of the Lord & Saviour Jesus Christ, the sweet born baby, sent on earth by thy Heavenly Father God. The writes of the lyrics has already been completed, which I completed last month October 2019. It will be in an English & Mizo. As this is not yet a release or published, I will not mentioned the title of the EP or the songs name yet. So, stay tune for my upcoming Christmas song release. It will be available on my website, Official Artist Channel (YouTube), etc. Website: https://www.vanlalchhanhimaralte.com OAC: https://www.youtube.com/VanlalchhanhimaRalte

Thank you, Vanlalchhanhima, for the great interview!

 

 

Visit Vanlalchhanhima Ralte’s official website HERE

 

 

 

 

SINGLE REVIEW: 2nd Chances by Happy Curmudgeons

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Happy Curmudgeons are a rock/pop band with shades of folk, blues and country hailing from Bloomfield Hills in Michigan. Their  musical journey  has had a lengthy gestation period.

In the 1980’s singer/songwriter and guitarist Dave Hamilton was in a band called the Angel-Headed Hipsters and met none other than Velvet Underground legend Lou Reed who told him he was a great songwriter and to stick at it.

Many years later the band were formed with Jeff Warner on guitar and Amy Dixon-Lavery on additional vocals. Recently, I gave a stellar review to their album, Meant To Be, as well as the single released from it Soulsville, which you can read here and here.

This latest single, 2nd Chances, is taken from their second album and was written by Amy Dixon-Lavery (lyrics) and Dave Hamilton. It’s a languid and emotive country rock ballad featuring lead vocals from Amy Dixon-Lavery, acoustic guitars courtesy of Dave Hamilton, Takashi Iio on standup bass, Jeff Warner on lead electric guitar and Rick Beamon on drums.

It also features a stellar supporting cast of musicians including Jim “Moose” Brown and Mark Byerly of the Bob Seger Band on Hammond B3 organ and keyboards respectively (Byerly also contributes the string arrangement to this track). Other contributors include David Patton on cello, Chaz Owsley on cello plus Barbara Peyton, Laura Creamer and Cathleen Wiley on backing vocals.

This song starts with plaintive and shows the band expressing a more emotive and reflective side to their music, leaning more towards folk and country, genre wise. Starting with a melodic acoustic guitar line it breaks out into a strummed three-chord pattern soon joined by a solemn cello melody over a stately beat.

It features a superb lead vocal performance from Amy Lavery-Dixon whose voice conveys a great deal of poignancy and feeling, bringing to mind some of the great female country singers of the past.

The lauguid pace and melancholy feel to the music allows the listener to absorb the words and subject matter of the song. Lyrically, it is about wanting to leave the past behind, wipe the slate clean and focus on the future.

The first verse captures the feeling of wanting to put unhappy experiences to rest and not dwell on them any longer: “Well, I don’t know where I’m going but I know where I’ve been…and I can promise you one thing, I ain’t ever going back again….”. It leads to the understated but memorable title hook and chorus: “I believe in second chances, I’ve got in faith in me and you, looking forward to tomorrow, time can heal all wounds…”.

The second verse gradually builds up the arrangement in a very effective way, with a more intricate beat, rich Hammond organ and a warm cluster of female backing vocals filling out the sonic spectrum. After the second chorus is an excellent, carefully crafted lead guitar solo from Jeff Warner before one final chorus and a partial repeat of the first verse brings the song to a satisfying close.

Overall, this is a very well written and performed country rock ballad by a versatile and deeply musical group. 2nd Chances allows Amy Lavery-Dixon to take centre stage on lead vocals but every band member brings something to the table musically along with some fine contributions from guest musicians. If you’re a discerning music lover searching for authentic yet modern Americana, look no further than 2nd Chances by Happy Curmudgeons.

 

VERDICT: 9.2 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

Listen here:

 

 

ALBUM REVIEW: Journey Home by Monica Ortiz

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https://www.facebook.com/monicaortizmusic/

Monica Ortiz is a country/pop/adult contemporary singer and songwriter. Ever since she was a child she’s had a very strong relationship with music and felt the desire to express herself creatively from an early age. This debut album Journey Home, which consists of nine songs, is the end result of her musical journey so far and features a number of collaborators and guest performances. She has co-written several songs with Charlie Lowell from Jars of Clay and there’s vocal contributions from Matthew Koziol and the McCrary sisters.

The album starts with the poignant piano ballad The Woman I Became. It acts as a fine showcase for Monica’s crystalline vocals and emotive, inspiring songwriting approach. It’s a style that was known in the 1970’s as “confessional”, where full and open expression of feelings was paramount. The opening lines paint a touching picture of parental love: “When I was little you said it would be hard, you sat me down and warned me of future scars….”.

Monica’s delicate and sensitive vocal performance in a high register perfectly expresses the lyrics that depict the difficult process of growing up, of a girl growing into a woman and standing on her own two feet. Aside from a fine piano arrangement, the song features strings which add to the emotional effect, especially on the moving and memorable chorus. A very strong opening song and one co-written with Charlie Lowell.

The second track Burn Out is a mid-paced country-tinged pop song written by Matt Odmark from Jars of Clay and Heather Bond. Monica very much makes it her own, delivering another fine performance that brought to mind Shania Twain’s country ballads. The musicianship and production is absolutely flawless with slick backing harmonies augmenting Monica’s lead vocal.

The following Pigtails, which is similar style musically and lyrically, is a plea to a partner to allow her to fully be herself and not try to control her, (“Just let me dance to my music, let me drum to my song”) a subject that many will be able to relate to. It features some lovely instrumental touches from the strummed acoustic guitar to some tasteful, creamy sounding slide guitar interspersed throughout. Once again, the backing harmonies enrich the vocals at various points to great effect.

On My Side is altogether different, an upbeat pop track with a reggae-tinged rhythm and a vocal from Monica in the highest part of her considerable range, bringing to mind Cyndi Lauper or Kate Bush circa Wuthering Heights. The melody is instantly infectious with the funky guitar adding to the catchiness. The beat is mostly in half time but cleverly switches to straight 4/4 and the whole arrangement is full of rhythmic invention. That’s something the discerning listener will enjoy, but this song’s huge commercial appeal is in its addictive lead melody. A definite contender as a single release.

Bring Me Home is a return to the emotive piano ballad style of the opening song. It’s on this kind of song that Monica gets to excel as a singer, and here she gives an enchanting performance. Lyrically, it’s about needing someone to show emotional support.

This Time is a little different, this one a country pop song that opens with a fine fiddle part. It’s a duet performed with Matthew Koziol and Matthew takes the lead on the opening verse. Monica joins in on the excellent chorus, their contrasting voices blending and complementing each other perfectly. She then takes the second verse giving a nice ‘yin yang’ vibe to the song, and lyrically it’s a positive affirmation about giving a relationship another go.

The Mirror is both a melancholy country ballad and an empowering, uplifting anthem. It’s about a woman who has reached the end of her tether while in an unhappy relationship and decides to leave, as captured succinctly in the superb singalong chorus: “She can’t take it anymore, her suitcase sitting by the door….she won’t back down”. Another potential single.

Let Me Be There is more emotionally straightforward and musically a toe-tapping country rock song that has an authentic, roots vibe. This song is actually a cover version of an Olivia Newton John which was originally released on an album in 1973. It’s traditional country at its finest, featuring a sweet lyric about wanting to be in someone’s life. The subtle low male vocals on the chorus are a nice touch as is the rich Hammond organ which adds to the instrumental texture.

The album closes aptly with one final piano ballad where Monica once again gets to shine, vocally. Backed by plaintive piano and evocative strings, she is eventually joined by the gospel-tinged vocals of the McCrary Sisters whose contribution lends the song an uplifting, highly spiritual quality. Lyrically, it’s particularly moving, about losing a loved one: “A forced goodbye when heaven can’t wait….”. It’s a fitting end to an album that, as the title implies, takes the listener on an emotional journey.

Overall, this is a very fine collection of country pop songs that allow Monica Ortiz to showcase her skills as both singer and songwriter. Her different collaborators bring variety yet there’s also a sense of cohesion and musical unity. With a flawlessly produced sound and several potential singles, Monica Ortiz has everything it takes to break through to the big time.

 

VERDICT= 8.8 out of 10 

Alex Faulkner

 

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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: Cruisin’ by Josh Best

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Josh Best is an up and coming country singer and songwriter hailing from Forest City in North Carolina. He is currently in the Air Force stationed in Alaska and is now hoping to push forward with his music career. He has been playing the guitar and performing, having received tuition from his father and uncle, the latter a well known musician in the Gastonia, North Carolina area. He has recently released several songs including Rebecca’s Song, Half (Must See) and Country Grown And Country Strong.

This track, Cruisin’, is an upbeat mid-tempo country rock track and a good introduction to Josh Best’s music. Starting with a brief country-tinged guitar melody it breaks out into strummed acoustic guitar and a steady drumbeat. Josh’s vocals come across immediately as strong and authentic, easy on the ear and suited to the material.

Lyrically, it’s a light hearted and enjoyable ‘good time’ ode to the joys of a truck journey with someone you love and the radio blasting. The vocal melody is deceptively catchy on the verse melody which is magnified on the instantly memorable title hook: “Cruisin’ on down the road, I’m cruisin’ listening to the radio…cruisin’ and I’m crossing the lines, cruisin’ with you by my side.” The guitar solo after the second chorus adds a little flavour and musical authenticity.

Overall, this is an infectious country rock song by a talented songwriter who has a natural gift for writing accessible music that most will find easy to relate to. He has a voice suited to his chosen genre and while there is scope for polishing the production, his current recordings have a raw lo-fi appeal that gives his sound a little edge and an old school feel. Josh Best has the potential to find a large audience and I hope this fun song will help him get there.

 

VERDICT = 8.6 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

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