ALBUM REVIEW: Fire by Project Rod Williams

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www.aug1stmusic.com

Project Rod Williams is an electro-dance pop studio ensemble which is the musical brainchild of songwriter/musician Rod Williams. Musically, it is a fusion of classic 70’s disco music like Giorgio Moroder and Donna Summer, 80’s synth pop such as Depeche Mode and Erasure and more modern pop artists like Justin Timberlake and Pharrell Williams. Rod has collaborated with lead vocalist Ben Dial on this album with additional vocals by Matt Williamson, Hannah Montwill, Nataly Andrade and Alex Silva.

The album, Fire, consists of eleven tracks (also featuring club mixes of nine of the songs) and has a conceptual theme. Half of the songs on the album are about enjoying the passion and seduction of nightlife and the other half are about the longing and pain often brought on by romantic relationships. The album is due for release on January 7th, 2019.

Opening track Let’s Get Out is the perfect representation of the Project Rod Williams sound and style. It grabs you from its opening bars with infectious percussion locking in with an alluring 70’s disco-style bassline. This is soon augmented by syncopated 80’s-esque synths before breaking into a full, very danceable beat that gets the toe tapping. The smooth lead vocals of Ben Dial enter the picture and his voice brings to mind cutting edge modern pop like Maroon 5 and the more recent work of Justin Timberlake. Alternate lines are layered with backing harmonies so that the music is constantly evolving and developing.

Thematically, it exemplifies the concept of the songs that celebrate living the good life, with the lyrics highlighting the appeal of escaping the daily grind by looking forward to Friday night and the weekend: “We work all week from nine to five, making money to live our lives…..”. The extremely catchy refrain captures this joyous feeling succinctly: “Leave our problems at the door, laugh, jump and scream, let our hearts be free…..”.

This is followed by an equally memorable chorus and Rod Williams shows his ability to make every part of the song a hook, a hallmark of the best pop songwriters. After the second chorus it enters an excellent breakdown section with a sophisticated vocal arrangement that brought to mind the finest Michael Jackson songs arranged and produced by Quincy Jones.

Second song Come On continues the lyrical theme but is musically quite different; smoky Rhodes and a more complex and unusual rhythmic pattern. There is a more rocky feel to the seductive and raunchy lead vocal performance, fused with Vince Clarke (from Erasure and one time member of Depeche Mode) style pulsing, futuristic-sounding synths. The descending vocal melody is fiendishly catchy, with an overt sexuality to the sultry lyrics: “I see you staring across the room, your eyes are saying what you want me to do….”. Great track.

Third song Hot To Trot returns to the more traditional dance rhythms of the first track but stands out for the addictiveness of the title hook and for featuring some very funky Nile Rodgers-esque high end electric guitar. Indeed, the way the song celebrates the hedonistic side of life (“We can be flirtatious, lose our minds and act outrageous…”) made me think of Rodgers’ classic group from the 1970’s, Chic. This infectious style is combined with low-end synths and piano lines with occasional stabs of synthetic brass to create a potent sonic concoction.

Next comes Fire, the title track of the album. It maintains the funk guitar sound of the previous song, but has a more modern EDM four-to-the-floor beat, at least to begin with. Vocally, the breathy falsetto style made me think of Prince and one of the dance classics of recent years, Get Lucky by Daft Punk ft. Pharell Williams. Once again, the title hook latches in the mind upon first listen and the use of female foreign spoken word vocals lends an exotic flavour. The falsetto lead vocals are contrasted by a section of low-end male vocals that adds to the song’s very sensual theme.

The following Invasion feels in ways a continuation but has a more rock vibe, with some low end lead guitar lines which work well with the swirling synths. The lead vocals are this time contrasted by certain lines being whispered, which adds a lot of atmosphere and encapsulates the power of seduction which is this tracks subject matter: “I can’t fight the way you hypnotize….invade my body, invade my soul…you’re taking over me, you’re in control….”.

After this, the album switches to the second aspect of the album’s theme, the pain that comes from love. Sixth song Take Cover has a much more emotional tone after the light hearted and sexually orientated earlier tracks. It’s a mid-paced synth pop epic in 6/8 time, with lyrics that are rather deep and poetic, about the tempestuous nature of romantic love: “The sky will thunder tonight, from lightning sparks my rage ignites, when flames of passion burn high you better find a place to hide…”. This kind of emotive synth pop is more reminiscent of 80’s groups like Soft Cell and The Human League.

You Were My Lady is the first truly traditional love ballad on the album (the only one not written by Rod Williams) and it’s a very well crafted one with a lilting vocal melody. It allows lead singer Ben Dial to perform in a more gentle and sensitive way, which he achieves with distinction. It’s a rather moving song about reflecting on happy times after a relationship has ended, then contrasted with the stark reality: “Now that house is empty, the music’s gone from the radio that used to play that song….”.

Bad Boys Don’t Cry returns to the more uptempo synth pop style whilst maintaining the lyrical theme of this half of the album. Musically, it has a real Giorgio Moroder vibe with rhythmic synths driving the song along. It’s about how men are not supposed to appear vulnerable or sad when going through heartbreak and contains yet another strong title hook. Ninth song Broken is rather more angry in its tone with some rather visceral lines: “Fake love you gave to me, filled my blood and clogged my veins…”.

Though the following I Say contains similarly downbeat and tormented lyrics, musically it is one the lightest moments, recalling the euphoric anthems of Erasure. The vocal melody is irresistible, providing another fine example of Williams’ melodic consistency and also features a superb synth section comprising several combined sounds.

The album ends on a rather melancholy but poignant note, with the heartfelt ballad Nobody Wants To Know, which features lead vocals from Matt Williamson. Matt powerfully conveys the troubled nature of the lyrics about not feeling supported by friends during dark times: “Can’t they see the tears I try to keep concealed?“. The music builds as the song progresses, with a sky-scraping string arrangement that closes the album on a musical high, even if the words are sad.

Overall, this is a modern pop album of a very high calibre that fuses the synth pop of the 80’s with the euphoric sound of 70’s disco, then brings it into the 21st century with cutting edge production. Aside from one track, Rod Williams has written, arranged and produced the whole thing which shows his artistic versatility. The album feels like a real labour of love and runs the gamut of emotions, from joy to despair. As if that’s not enough, the album comes with club mixes of nine of the songs, tailor made for the dancefloor. Put simply, Fire is an album laden with killer pop tracks of wide ranging appeal and has enormous commercial potential worldwide.

VERDICT = 9.1 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

Release date: 7th January, 2019

Listen to the album here:

Listen to the club mix of Come On:

 

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SINGLE REVIEW: Steal My Soul by Troy Remedy ft. Mary Bragg

Troy Remedy is a hip hop artist and producer from Dallas, Texas. The latter part of his moniker was inspired by the healing effect of music itself and there is a strong spiritual vibe as well as the influence of soul in his hip hop. So far, he has performed in cities like Dallas/Fort Worth, San Antonio, Austin and Houston. He has previously released the singles Underdog and City Lights from his upcoming debut album My Own Worst Enemy.

This track, Steal My Soul (ft. Mary Bragg) is a good showcase for his musical fusion of hip hop and soul. Starting with an intro of picked acoustic guitars and synths, the gorgeous vocals of Mary Bragg enter before the track breaks into a languid but muscular hip hop beat with deep dub bass. The track starts with the arresting title hook: “I just want you to know you can never steal my soul….”.

Troy then takes the spotlight with a captivating lyrical delivery, rapping about having to overcome adversity and encountering negative people in his life: “Those dark souls who try to steal your inner glow”. His abilities as an emcee can stand alongside the best in his field, with a fluent, assured style and verbal dexterity. The contrast between his rapped verses and the female vocals on the chorus work very effectively in tandem but it’s the moral depth to his words that really makes him stand out from the crowd with lines like, “Too many times I’ve seen the destruction of innocent lives….”.

Overall, this is an exceptional fusion of old school hip hop with elements of soul, similar in style to The Fugees but more akin to Chuck D of Public Enemy in terms of its hard hitting but spiritual lyrical content. Aided by first rate production values and the excellent vocals of Mary Bragg, Steal My Soul sounds like a major artist stamping his authority on the hip hop scene.

VERDICT = 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

Listen here:

https://youtu.be/SWaKlXfz-oc

SINGLE REVIEW: Lullaby by Edward St. Martin

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Edward St. Martin is a songwriter, composer and lead artist producer based in San Diego. His background is actually in classical music and film composition, and he applies this knowledge to his foray into writing songs in the pop genre. This combination of styles is something I would describe as ‘epic pop’ or ‘orchestral pop’. Recent releases have included In The Ocean Of My Love, Fast Car and Don’t Leave Me.

This track, Lullaby, is a fine example of his classical-influenced epic pop. It features a female vocalist with a fantastic voice similar to Sia and there is a dramatic grandeur to the music that brought to mind Evanescence. Whereas Evanescence leans more towards rock music, there is a definite influence of EDM in the production style. It begins with a powerful orchestral introduction featuring a classical-style chord progression, before crystalline female vocals enter with troubled lyrics: “Four o’ clock and I’ve barely even slept yet…..”.

She is backed effectively by flowing piano melodies and epic orchestral percussion. The bridge builds like a dance track, leading to a colossal chorus where a four-to-the-floor beat emerges. The dynamics of the music are cleverly arranged so that there’s constant variety in the sparse and epic parts of the song. The strings that feature throughout add a great deal to the feeling of drama and gives it a musicality that is lacking from most EDM music.

Overall, this is an extremely accomplished fusion of pop, classical and EDM by a gifted composer in collaboration with a fine female singer. Edward St. Martin has impressively developed his own sonic niche by drawing on his experience in film and classical composition. He has developed an orchestral form of pop/EDM that has enormous creative and commercial potential, the best of both worlds. Lullaby should help bring a much greater awareness of his music to the listening public and deservedly so.

 

VERDICT= 8.8 out of 10 

Alex Faulkner

Listen here:

SINGLE REVIEW: Move by Glorious

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www.gloriouslive.com

Glorious is a pop singer-songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist from Washington, D.C. but now based in New York. Remarkably, by the age of three she started playing drums and is now a livetronica drummer. She combines this talent and her jazz background with her abilities as a songwriter and vocalist. Her influences are numerous, from fellow pop singers like Beyonce and Pink, EDM artists like Tiesto, David Guetta and Diplo as well as jazz legends like Miles Davis.

This track, Move, is a hugely infectious pop track that shows her self-belief and artistic potential. She has a magnificent voice, comparable to Beyonce and Christina Aguilera with a similarly huge vocal range. The song itself is actually about her skills as a drummer, however, and the power that rhythm has to make people dance. Naturally, it has a brilliant beat that gets your top tapping immediately, but the track also features a funky, driving bassline and a lead vocal from Glorious that is by turns smoky and sultry then exultant and powerful on the incendiary chorus.

The title hook is brief but incredibly catchy: “I make the whole room move….”. After the second chorus the song takes an unexpected left turn into a dreamy, blissed out middle eight section where she sings sincerely, “I know you feel it, deep in your soul….”. It then gradually builds back up for a couple more killer choruses, with some fantastic vocal extemporizations towards the end. The production is slick, inventive and modern, as good as anything you’ll hear in the Billboard Top 100.

Overall, Glorious has written, performed and produced a pop classic. As vocally gifted as her idols, her skills behind the kit only add to her appeal, but most importantly this is simply a great song. Equally suited to both radio and the dancefloor, this track will surely make a strong impact on the music world and make her legions of new fans. For my money, Glorious could well go on to become the next Beyonce.

 

VERDICT= 9.2 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

Listen here:

 

SINGLE REVIEW: Breaking News by K.A.I.D.

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K.A.I.D. is an American alternative hip-hop, Afro Punk artist. He co-founded the group Illektid Profits who he has released several developmental projects with and performed throughout the East coast. He is influenced by 90’s hip hop, graffiti culture, poetry and the performing arts with a penchant for wearing masks during performance. He is also known for his eccentric wordplay and could be compared with Kendrick Lamar and Chuck D from Public Enemy.

This track, Breaking News, is taken from his 2018 album Dissonant Serenity. It’s a lyrically hard hitting track about police violence against black people. It starts with a spoken word sample of a new report detailing a shooting of several black men, which quickly sets the serious tone of the track. K.A.I.D. makes a strong impression from the opening lines with an assured lyrical delivery, and how he portrays some black folks having to turn to crime to deal with their young families: “Ain’t no room for negotiations when that child support due….”.

The second verse depicts a mother having to turn to prostitution to feed her child and pay the bills, interspersed with statistics about shootings against unarmed black people. This dire situation is captured in brilliant, harrowing lines like, “If I’m feeling suicidal, I just ask for directions….” and “If I die today, I just wish I could have read more….”. As bleak as a picture this paints, K.A.I.D. does offer a glimmer of potential hope: “No delayin’, I’ve been prayin’, convert prisons into schools and by five damn minutes you might see us on the news…”.

Overall, this is a compelling and visceral hip hop track that deals head on with the subject of police brutality against black people. It highlights his skills as a rapper and lyricist, and like any good art makes you think seriously about the subject matter. K.A.I.D. deserves to be acknowledged as one of the finest rappers currently in hip hop and maybe Breaking News will be the track that gets him there.

 

VERDICT= 9.1 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

Listen here:

SINGLE REVIEW: Born To Be Free ft. APZee by Toby TomTom

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http://www.tobytomtom.com/

Toby TomTom is a singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist with a very interesting backstory. Earlier in his career he worked with Alicia Keys and Shelby J (of Prince fame), apprenticed with Kenni Hairston (Cameo, Cyndi Lauper) and even sat in on sessions with the legendary producer and composer Quincy Jones. He has a diverse range of influences, ranging from classical composers like Debussy, to funk and soul artists like Tower of Power and Marvin Gaye as well as Tupac Shakur, the hip hop artist who was tragically killed.

This track, Born To Be Free, is decidedly in the funk and soul category. It’s a hugely upbeat, inspirational song, partly influenced by his strong faith. As soon as his strong, distinctive voice enters, you know you’re in the hands of an artist who has honed his singing and songwriting craft to a high level.

Musically, it’s like a party where everyone’s invited; bouncy, propulsive bass locks in with crisp, punchy drums, creating the bedrock for piano, funky guitars and all manner of production effects. Rather impressively, he played all the instruments himself.

The title hook is instantly memorable and lyrically it’s a hymn to life itself, as well as an ode to human freedom: “Free like the wind, as it blows ‘cross the sea, we are blue skies, caressing the trees ….”. Later in the track we hear a concise rap from female emcee APZee, which adds a nice bit of modern flavour.

Overall, this is a superb piece of soulful pop that showcases Toby TomTom as an artist to be reckoned with, bringing Marvin Gaye’s soul sound into the modern era. Although there’s nothing radically original about it (a very difficult genre to be original in), there’s something undeniably fresh about the sound and style of the song. With fantastic production values it’s perfect for pop radio and with the right promotion he could have a huge hit on his hands.

VERDICT= 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

Listen here:

 

 

SINGLE REVIEW: Fool’s Gold by Stephen Dusenberry

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Stephen Dusenberry is a composer/songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist. He was somewhat of a child prodigy, starting the drums at three years old and being offered his first gig at four. At six, he started playing keyboards and writing his own songs then taught himself guitar, clarinet and trumpet. He then spent his adolescence in a diverse range of bands, with his progressive rock band Twilight Machine signed to AFM records while he was only sixteen.

After attending Berklee College of Music he ended up spending two weeks at no.1 on the Billboard charts with a remix of Audio Playground’s Hands Up In The Air. Unfortunately, he was then struck down with skin cancer, with the tumor eventually removed. Upon his recovery, he began work on his most ambitious solo project to date, Steal City. This involved him writing, performing and producing everything purely by himself which led to comparisons with the great Quincy Jones.

This complete artistic and musical autonomy applies to his latest track, Fool’s Gold. In case anyone mistakes it for a cover of the classic track of the same name by The Stone Roses, this is very much an original composition in every sense of the word. It’s an irresistibly funky instrumental that allows Dusenberry to showcase his considerable musical versatility and virtuosity. Starting with a brisk rap of the snare drum, it launches into an instantly infectious groove consisting of brass, organ, piano and synths over a bedrock of water-tight bass and drums.

Aside from the impressive degree of musical skill in performing the track, the intricacy and detail of the arrangement is where Dusenberry truly excels. Like an artist using sparing amounts of colour, many of the instruments make brief cameos then allow another sound to take center stage. The instrumental colour and variety made me think of another autonomous composer/musician Frank Zappa and his classic Hot Rats instrumental Peaches En Regalia. The overall style and sound is comparable to another musical genius, Stevie Wonder.

The main hook of the track is the catchy horn lines that enter straight away, augmented by contrapuntal melodies or supporting chords on either organ, piano or synth. Special mention should go to the crisp, precise drumming and the rhythmic and melodic invention of the bassline. Halfway through, it enters a more sparse section that allows him to build things back up for the second half, which features a brief but brilliant organ solo.

Overall, this is a fantastic instrumental that lies between soul, funk and jazz. Stephen Dusenberry is simply one of those immensely gifted musicians and composers that occur only rarely, and Fool’s Gold captures him at the height of his powers. With a complete mastery of everything he plays and a deep understanding of how to compose and arrange, the result is a hugely enjoyable piece of music that deserves to be appreciated by both connoisseurs and casual music fans alike.

 

VERDICT = 9.2 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

Listen here: