E.P. REVIEW: Rusty Strings (+ bonus tracks) by Brown Kid

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https://brownkid.hearnow.com/

Brown Kid is the artistic moniker of a performer and singer/songwriter born in Lima, Peru but now residing in the United States. For many years he has been performing, recording and collaborating with artists. His music is essentially indie folk/acoustic in a similar style to songwriters like Jack Johnson, Elliott Smith and John Butler. I would also add aspects of Sixto Rodriguez and Damien Rice. However, there’s a dry humour in his songwriting that is distinctively his own.

This EP, Rusty Strings, consists of six tracks as well as live versions of two tracks, La Farra and Complacency, and a new song called Sunrise. It begins with the funky acoustic-led groove of Welcome To My Funeral which exemplifies his accessible songwriting style and captivating vocal delivery. Lyrically, it’s a darkly humorous song about imagining people’s reaction to his funeral: “You never liked me while I was alive, there’s no need to pretend….”.

La Farra is equally funky and entertaining with an infectious tale about a wild night out. The chorus is particularly catchy, augmented by backing harmonies. The song is full of nice touches and effective dynamics like the “bounce, bounce, bounce” line emphasized by the drums in the second verse. Great track. The following Jamicamecrazy maintains a similar chord progression but is lyrically completely different, an irresistibly catchy and humorous ode to Jamaica. The rap section is unexpected but works well.

Fourth track Hole In The Wall is rather more melancholy, written in a minor key with a lilting vocal melody that brought to mind the late, great Elliott Smith. Again, there are some nice, unexpected touches like the brief female backing vocals in the second verse.

The title track comes next, and it’s a return to his more rhythmic style with a percussive groove you can’t help but tap your toe to. With its Latin American vibe and soul searching lyrics (“I know I must travel on this road alone but I know these rusty strings will take me home….”), it made me think of Sixto Rodriguez and songs like Sugar Man.

Final track Complacency is more akin to Jack Johnson’s upbeat and easy going style, a languid contemplative song about appreciating the life you have and people who always want more: “Nothing wrong with wanting more from life, working hard and putting yourself in binds….”. It’s a ‘to thy own self be true’ kind of message and a fine way to end the EP.

Aside from this are two great acoustic and vocal renditions of La Farra and Complacency recorded at Sound Wall Studios and a new song Sunrise. It’s another charming and likeable track about rolling with life’s punches featuring a sunny vocal melody and a simple but effective refrain: “Waiting for the sunrise….”.

Overall, this is a very fine EP by a charismatic singer/songwriter who has found his own stylistic niche. His songs are shot through with warmth, humour and experience-borne wisdom which are all hallmarks of a great songwriter. He has no problem coming up with memorable melodies and his easy to get into songwriting style means he has the commercial appeal and potential of someone like Jack Johnson. Hopefully, this EP will help him reach a much wider audience.

 

VERDICT = 8.8 out of 10  

Alex Faulkner

 

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SINGLE REVIEW: Down The Line by Snir Yamin

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www.facebook.com/sniryaminmusic

Snir Yamin is a singer and songwriter hailing from Israel. His music is a hybrid of folk, pop and rock and he cites influences such as Damien Rice, Jeff Buckley, Neil Young and Elliott Smith amongst others. You can also hear sonic similarities to bands like Muse, The Killers and the lesser known British band Nothing But Thieves. In 2016, he was awarded Best Folk Song by The Akademia.

This song, Down The Line, is perfectly pitched between rock and pop. Beginning with an evocative synth-based intro, low-end guitar stabs grab your attention before Snir enters with an immediately distinctive and captivating voice. The poetic nature of the lyrics also quickly becomes apparent from the opening lines: “From slowing down to running free on wild roads and buried dreams….”.

The bridge creates a nice sense of tension before exploding into the anthemic chorus, which is melodically uplifting while at the same time lyrically troubled: “So-called friends keep watching me, they want me to lose my sanity down the line….”. After the second chorus it breaks into a half-time section with another catchy refrain, before it builds back up for one last blast through the title hook, aided by tight vocal harmonies.

Overall, this is one of the best examples of songwriting I’ve heard this year in the rock/pop genre. Snir Yamin writes affecting songs that many will relate to lyrically, and he has the ability to marry his melancholy words to soaring, cathartic melodies. This was a gift shared by his musical heroes, and Snir has a very bright future ahead of him if he can maintain the quality of Down The Line. It deserves to become an anthem in the alternative rock scene.

VERDICT: 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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ALBUM REVIEW: About Time by Matthew Falls

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Matthew Falls is a singer/songwriter and guitarist hailing from Hebden Bridge in England. His music is acoustic guitar-based pop, his style a cross between traditional singer songwriters like James Taylor, Cat Stevens and John Denver with more modern troubadours like Bon Iver and Damien Rice. Ultimately though, he has forged a unique, nuanced style of his own.

This album, About Time consists of ten tracks (with five bonus tracks on the deluxe edition) and, impressively, was recorded and produced solely by himself. With this style of music, it certainly puts the spotlight on your abilities and fortunately Matthew is a highly accomplished guitarist, with a strong, resonant voice.

The album begins with the title track, which consists of crystal clear fingerpicked acoustic guitar and Matthew’s emotive, intimate vocals augmented by subtle strings. It’s a philosophical, reflective song that many will relate to, about trying to find yourself on life’s journey and finding somewhere you feel you belong: “The lost and lonely gather once again, sad and smiling faces somehow look the same.…”. It’s also a song about finding redemption, with powerful lines like, “I’ve come too far to fall upon my sins, I’ll atone with each new day...”. An excellent start to the album.

The self-reflection continues on the following When I Was You. It’s a clever song concept about wanting to be able to talk to himself as a younger man going through dark times, to reassure him that life will eventually improve: “Don’t despair cos something’s coming, I’ll meet you there, a life worth loving….”. Musically, it continues his highly effective signature sound of vocals, acoustic guitar and strings as well as featuring some lovely vocal harmonies. Once again, it’s a very well crafted song with lyrical wisdom borne of experience.

The third track Everything’s Not Fine is the album’s epics at five and a half minutes and is one of the emotionally honest and affecting songs here. It’s about having regrets about the past ( “The wasted years, they sting like tears…”) and struggling with feelings of despair, encapsulated on the memorable chorus: “If you don’t mind, I’ll hide this thing that’s broken deep inside, save it for tomorrow if the sun still shines, everything’s not fine.…”. Ultimately, it’s about finding emotional resolution through acceptance rather than raking over past mistakes, summed up by the lines, “I won’t waste another second of my time looking for an answer that’s already mine…”.

The lilting, soothing vocal melody of the following song Falling belies the saturnine nature of the words, which are even more troubled than its predecessor: “Give me your hand, I’m falling and the darkness bares no sound, listen for me calling from this lonely place I’ve found….”. The ability to articulate and express our most difficult emotions is a gift that only the best songwriters possess, and Matthew eloquently conveys the vicissitudes of life’s journey with consummate poetic skill.

He also has a talent for writing consistently strong melodies, as evidenced by the excellent Scattered To The Wind. It features perhaps the most immediate and instantly memorable chorus on the album, as well as more lyrics of real depth and poignancy: “Time takes its toll on your heart and your soul, but it’s ok to take it in before the memories of all of this are scattered to the wind….”. A very moving song, and one that would make a good single.

Sixth song Day By Day is a much more upbeat song lyrically, about finding someone who rescues you from being in a bad place, captured succinctly by lines like, “You burned away the haze, saved me from my fate….”. There’s still an undercurrent of regret for lost time when he muses, “All that’s left behind I’d give away, if I could find a way to meet you when I still had time to spend…..”.

Where It Goes is another insightful song about looking back on life and wondering if the choices you made were right, whether the dreams you chased were worth it, framed in fine imagery like, “chasing dancing bright lights in the blackened sky”. Bob Dylan would have been proud to have written that line.

Eighth song Lay Me Down is a melancholy tale of world weariness and a close relationship that has fallen by the wayside: “If I were with you there and whispered in your ear, would you understand a word, would you know that I was near?” The searing honesty of Matthew’s lyrics mean that every song on the album has an emotional punch and this is no exception.

Lonely Now, as the title implies, is a similarly visceral look at dealing with solitude that those who have experienced it will relate only too well to these moving lines: “I hear whispers in the dark as I give in to sleep….the man that I’ve become, he makes me want to run….”. Despite the turmoil of the song’s theme, the music is cathartic and uplifting, with Matthew delivering another strong chorus.

The emotional journey of the album is brought full circle on closing song Going Home, which depicts the end of a close friendship. It’s a subject that most will relate to and Matthew captures the sense of finality and sadness that comes with it on the opening Iines: “I dedicate this one to you, a friend so hard to lose but don’t you know time will make us strangers as it goes…”.

Though the subject matter is once more downbeat, the ultimate effect, once again, is somehow life affirming through acknowledging that life has many chapters that begin and end. And that is the whole concept of the album, encapsulated by the title.

Overall, this is a wonderful piece of work from a mature and fully developed alternative folk artist who combines the lyrical and emotional range of classic songwriters like Dylan and Nick Drake with the accessible style of modern songwriters like Damien Rice and Mumford and Sons. It’s an album that deserves to be heard widely, and those that connect with it emotionally will become lifelong fans of Matthew Falls. Let’s hope this fine songwriter gets the recognition he deserves.

 

VERDICT = 9 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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ALBUM REVIEW: Tell My Darling by J.P. Kallio

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J.P. Kallio originally hails from Finland but is now based in Dublin and as a singer/songwriter, he is soaked in the spirit (or spirits, if you’ll excuse the pun) of the Irish troubadour. His songs are often gritty tales of real life that don’t shy away from tackling some of the darker themes of the human conditions and that gives the songs depth and an authentic voice. I can hear influences such as Van Morrison, The Pogues, Tom Waits and Damien Rice among others in these songs.

Sunny Summer’s Day begins the album and is a lovely but deceptively upbeat track in the context of the songs that follow. Kallio’s sound is essentially just his easy-on-the-ear voice and fingerpicked acoustic guitar, aided by mandolins and occasionally flute which adds colour. City Lights, the second track, is more indicative of the rest of the album, a sad tale of a man who has to travel to the city to find work, leaving behind his family: ‘There’s no reason to not drink anymore, now he’s lost his darling wife and his only child to the big City Lights….’.

Songs like the third track Judge (which features a beautiful Irish flute solo) and, later in the album, This Town deal with small town small-mindedness and modern social decline respectively, both poignant, powerful songs. The title track Tell My Darling is a harrowing tale of a man, told in the first person, who faces deep regret after turning to a life of crime.

Perhaps the most poignant track here is the fifth song Daddy’s Girl, a heartbreaking story of fatal disease from smoking, a social issue that needs highlighting. The lyrics paint a sad picture of the effect disease has on loved ones: ‘Daddy’s girl cries a thousand tears tonight, she wonders who’s gonna walk her down the aisle…’. You’d have to be rather hard of heart not to feel moved by it, and it is commendably raw and brave songwriting.

Other songs, such as the brutually honest Pain and the deeply sorrowful Close To The End bring to mind the melancholy of Nick Drake. Whether these songs are simply more tales sung in the first person is hard to tell, but they come across as more personal than some of the earlier tracks.

Overall, this album is a very accomplished set of songs that are about people and their everyday lives told in honest detail, both the good and the bad sides of life. With acts such as Mumford and Sons showing folk can now sell millions and top the mainstream charts, I can see J.P. Kallio building up a big fanbase as he takes this emotive music out on the road.

 

Alex Faulkner

Verdict 8.4 out of 10