ALBUM REVIEW: American Dream by The Chicago Vin Coalition

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https://thechicagovincoalition.bandcamp.com

The Chicago Vin Coalition is a garage/blues rock band hailing from Boston, Massachusetts. It is centred around singer/songwriter Chicago Vin Earnshaw, backed up by a fine array of musicians including Don Larsen on lead guitar and Leo Dumas on drums. Their music is a potent meld of garage rock bands like The Stooges and MC5, the raw early sound of The Kinks and alternative blues artists like Tom Waits and Captain Beefheart. Amongst modern bands, they most closely resemble The Black Keys, who are also a stated influence.

This album, American Dream, consists of nine tracks and gets off to an incendiary start with the title song. It sounds like a cross between The Kinks and The Stooges, with Chicago Vin Earnshaw’s authentic rock voice halfway between Iggy Pop and Captain Beefheart. The music has a fantastic energy, captured brilliantly by producer Annie Larsen. The song is about how the old dream of making it big in a band is dying: “Hey wake up! Get ready to move….American dream going down the tube…”.

Hey Little Girl is built around a simple but highly effective three chord structure, and is perhaps the closest track to The Black Keys in terms of sound and style. As with the first track, the vocal hooks are instantly memorable, aided by biting, electrifying lead guitar from Dan Larsen. Chicago himself contributes guitar and bass, as well as rich Vox organ on a few tracks including these first two.

Walk Away has a slighter mellower feel and a more gentle sound, with some fine keyboard work by Bill Lacaille. This is one song I would define as classic rock in the vein of the late Tom Petty, and it’s another track with a memorable chorus. No Use Fighting is a change of pace; gritty blues that brought to mind the more mainstream moments of Captain Beefheart (Don Van Vliet). A great showcase for Earnshaw’s unique, powerful voice with Don Larsen playing some gorgeous, mellifluous guitar runs over traditional twelve bar blues changes.

Fifth track Silence Is Golden is another change of pace, a mid tempo country rock song based around strummed acoustic guitar which varies the sound nicely. The raucous, driving barroom boogie of the following Blonde Infatuation is another shift in gears, with some fabulous barrelhouse piano from Mark Taber plus wonderfully raucous tenor sax, courtesy of Klem Klimmer. A very enjoyable track with excellent dynamics and vibe.

Ride Past Midnight is the epic of the album at nearly eight minutes long. It’s a raw blues song with a loping beat that recalls the Stones classic Midnight Rambler. The momentum of the musical energy and Chicago’s rootsy blues vocals carry the song so well that you almost don’t even notice the length, especially with the stellar lead guitar work of Don Larsen once again, and some fine blues harmonica from Chris Stovall Brown.

Yesterday’s Gone is one of the more melancholic songs on the album, which runs the gamut of emotion over its course. It’s a good example of the craftsmanship at the heart of Earnshaw’s songwriting, this one having a lilting feel that brought to mind 1970’s era Neil Young & Crazy Horse. The way the instruments blend together, especially piano and guitar, shows what a tight musical unit this coalition are.

The final track Life Line ends the album on a real high musically, though lyrically its heartfelt and shot through with desperation, as the title hook captures perfectly: “Somebody throw me a life line….”. It’s a superb rock song that the Stones would have been proud to put on Exile On Main Street, with its Jagger-esque vocal melody and razor sharp Keith Richards-style lead guitar.

Overall, this is a much needed reminder that great rock ‘n roll is still being made by authentic artists. Chicago Vin Earnshaw is a very fine songwriter, blessed with a great voice for blues and rock that can stand up against the best in the field. The album’s consistency and variety shows his musical range, and his collective of gifted friends more than ably assist him, they bring his artistic vision to life. If you love The Black Keys, I implore you to give a listen to The Chicago Vin Coalition.

 

VERDICT: 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

Listen here:

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SINGLE REVIEW: LIFE by Race Against Fate

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http://www.raceagainstfate.com/

Race Against Fate is the musical brainchild of singer/songwriter Vik Kapur, who hails from Toronto, Canada. In 2013, he decided to start this solo project with the concept of combining Western pop/rock with Eastern sounds, such as Indian instruments like sitar and tabla. This idea has not actually been really explored before although has been touched upon by such diverse artists as George Harrison and Anouska Shankar. Aside from Indian influences, Vik cites U2 and The Smiths as pop/rock influences.

This song, LIFE, is a sensitive, plaintive pop ballad in a similar style to artists like Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith but augmented by the rich, vibrant and exotic sound of the sitar. It consists of just crystal clear strummed acoustic guitar, interspersed with tasteful injections of this magical sounding instrument. Vik has a very fine singing voice, pitching in the highest part of his vocal range without a problem. The passion in his performance also lends emotive weight to the song.

Lyrically, it’s a classic tale of not being able to get over loving someone and move on with your life, captured in the memorable chorus: “Now you’ll never, ever see what it is that you mean to me, it’s surrounding me like a disease, our life’s got a hold of me….”. There’s some excellent singing and extemporizing towards the end as he varies the vocal melody.

Overall, this is a very well written and performed acoustic ballad that’s given an exotic and original flavour via its Indian influence. While the song holds up in its own right, this unique musical concept will help Vik Kapur stand out from the crowd in a saturated pop market. With a commercial voice and strong songwriting style, he has major potential to go far in the future. Maybe LIFE is the song that will help take him there.

VERDICT: 8.8 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

Listen here:

SINGLE REVIEW: Because She’s Sleeping by Djo Life

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www.djolife.com

Djo Life is a singer/songwriter hailing from the “drenched environs” of Tucson, Arizona, as he puts it. He also rather amusingly describes himself as a ‘one piece band’. His music is essentially alternative acoustic pop, with tinges of electronica that give the music a modern sound. There’s a charming quirkiness to his style that brought to mind The Flaming Lips and even a touch of 90’s alt-pop legends They Might Be Giants.

That group excelled in writing songs about unusual subjects, and this song, Because She’s Sleeping, is also worthy of that category. It’s a rather sweet ode to his eighteen year old Persian cat called Boux Boux and her penchant for sleeping. If that sounds twee on paper, fear not. Djo takes a potentially saccharine subject and makes it simply endearingly affectionate and heartwarming.

Musically, it’s led by a lilting, extremely memorable vocal melody and strummed acoustic guitar. His voice is strong and radio friendly, though I’m not sure how much stock he places in commercial ambitions. The vocals are augmented by a nice synth string melody that acts as a counterpoint and enriches the sound. After the addictively catchy verse, the second section has some great lines: “I want to dream at the top of my voice…”. It’s that kind of dreamy surrealism that made John Lennon such an interesting songwriter.

Overall, this is an extremely enjoyable pop track in a similar style to The Beatles classic Martha My Dear, which will appeal right across the board. Djo Life has a likeable musical persona and a winning way with a melody, along with a strong, distinctive voice. I can see him developing a large following, being placed perfectly between alternative and mainstream pop. Because She’s Sleeping will be another important step towards this and a particular favourite among feline fans, me included.

VERDICT: 8.6 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

Listen here:


 

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SINGLE REVIEW: Catch That Train by David T. Dunn

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https://star1ent.com/david-t-dunn/audio

David T. Dunn is a singer/songwriter in the Americana/blues genre who was born in Nashville but grew up in Atlanta. Although he only began playing guitar at twenty, over the years he has accumulated a songbook of over one hundred compositions. He regards his main influences as fellow troubadours like Neil Young and Kris Kristofferson, groups like The Beatles and The Velvet Underground, as well as blues artist Slim Harpo.

This song, Catch That Train, is the title track from his recently released six track EP. It’s a finely crafted piece of songwriting, pitched perfectly between country and blues, the essence of Americana. Dunn is blessed with a fine voice eminently suited to this musical style, and the rootsy sound of guitar, bass, drums and rich drawbar organ has the distinct ring of authenticity, reminiscent of The Band and Bob Dylan.

Lyrically, the song is about facing up to life’s vicissitudes and seizing opportunities whenever you can: “There’s a hard wind blowin’, calling out my name, the only thing for certain in this life is change….I don’t know where I’m going, but I know I better catch that train….”. The title hook is memorable and very catchy, with a brief but well structured guitar solo adding a little more instrumental colour towards the end.

Overall, this is a very enjoyable and finely written track by an experienced songwriter who is clearly the ‘real deal’. He obviously writes from the heart, and combines it with a fine musical craftsmanship and an emotive, affecting vocal performance. For anyone looking to hear modern Americana of the highest quality, look no further than David T. Dunn.

 

VERDICT: 8.7 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

To listen, click HERE

ALBUM REVIEW: Boy. Inside by D.Ni.L.

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https://www.d-ni-l.com/

D.Ni.L. is a 34 year old hip hop artist, musician, producer and Emcee hailing from Yorkshire. Having played with bands growing up in York, he developed the ability to compose in his head and play by ear. He has battled alcohol and drug addiction since the age of twelve, and spent four years living in hostels and sleeping rough.

These tough life experiences give his music an edge and intensity, and his record label Musication specifically uses music as a tool for recovery for people who face issues like homelessness and addiction. This has led to collaborations with Buttercream 87 and Wasabi Fire Alarm, as part of the band. As a solo artist he released two albums in 2017, This In’t A Party and the more guitar-influenced Suicide In Sips.

He regards Deftones and early Manic Street Preachers as his inspirations, and these rock influences are apparent on the compelling opening track Glue which blends heavy rock riffage and rock drums with hip hop beats. D.Ni.L has a fiercely arresting vocal delivery and this gets the album off to an incendiary start.

Summer Fool is where his music starts to get seriously clever, employing a Deftones-style 14/8 compound time signature which, put simply, means it’s hard to dance to. This music isn’t for the dancefloor, however, but for the moshpit. A pulverising, intense low-end guitar riff and crisp, punchy drums drive the momentum of this track. Lyrically, it’s a masterclass in barely restrained fury, about a beef with someone he has issues with: “You’ve got another thing coming if you think I’m taking this lying down, you might be a step ahead, but I’m not in the ring…”.

Gutted is another good example of how he fuses different styles of rock together, combining punchy, aggressive riffage with sections containing memorably melodic and anthemic vocal lines. There’s more rhythmic inventiveness and you can hear the influence of American metal/hard rock along with British rock groups like Muse and the Manics.

Indeed, the excellent Safe To Say, is driven along by a superb Muse-esque distorted guitar riff. This one is slightly mellower than the previous tense trifecta, but still packs plenty of punch with D.Ni.L. delivering a memorable vocal refrain that will be sung back at him by the thousands one day, if there’s any justice: “Safe to say, I won’t be back here anymore…”. It’s inspiring how he takes negative emotions and turns them into something cathartic and somehow uplifting, this song about a relationship gone sour being the perfect example.

As the album progresses, it becomes increasingly apparent that D.Ni.L. has an almost uncanny mastery of dynamics and contrast. He cleverly juxtaposes the angular and dissonant with the melodic and gentle, and has an understanding of rhythm and complex time signatures that’s on the level of a progressive/math rock band like Tool. It takes quite a talent and musical vision to successfully converge such disparate elements in a seamless and uncontrived fashion.

The following Without You is an unexpected change of pace. Starting with just a melancholic jazzy chord progression on guitar and a gentle, languid vocal melody, it then bursts into his signature sound of barbed wire guitars and blistering rapping. The dynamic contrast is startling and highly effective. It’s a genuinely remarkable gift to be able to switch from a sweet R&B style croon to a ferocious rap style, and Plan B managed that in the past, but D.Ni.L. takes these contrasts to the next level.

Onions racks up the tension once again, with a brooding, twitchy verse composed of off-kilter rhythms and very smart use of syncopation. Over this sophisticated, ever evolving musical backdrop, D.Ni.L. expresses brutal honesty, asking a question that all those who have suffered from inequality ask: “How come you got apples and I got onions….”. A very relevant song for the times.

Eager Eyes is one of the more sombre tracks here, with an almost hazy, drugged out vibe. His vocals on this are almost angelic, then you realize he’s singing, “I wouldn’t mind if you laced my tea with cyanide...”. You don’t really hear lines like that in the Top 40 too often….a haunting, beautiful but very troubled song.

Next comes the title track, entering with a series of brooding, edgy guitar riffs and it’s another brutally honest expression of deep pain caused by someone in the past: “All the things that you told me were hurt and to scold me…. master manipulator, ego masturbator, I’m sayin’ see ya later with you…”. It’s the crux of the album emotionally, reflecting the struggle of his life and the problems he’s had to overcome. Gripping stuff.

The momentum continues into August, which shows once more his Manic Street Preachers influence with a very James Dean Bradfield-style falsetto vocal melody. Musically, it is harder to define with some fiendishly complex sections featuring rapidly changing time signatures. In Jars continues the rhythmic sophistication, with some addictive instrumental passages based around a sinewy, swirling guitar riff and intricate drum patterns. While sometimes the vocal melodies are reminiscent of the Manic’s Gold Against The Soul era, this track is more similar to the wiry, apocalyptic intensity of their classic album The Holy Bible.

The final track Gone Away is the album’s epic and a suitably ambitious way to finish at over seven minutes long. It somehow manages to balance raw metal guitar with soaring vocal refrains sung at the top of his impressive range. It’s one of the most memorable and straightforward choruses on the album, one to sing along to while getting crushed in the moshpit. The last three minutes of the track then develop into a blazing instrumental section which acts as a fittingly cinematic coda for the album as it fades out to silence.

Overall, D.Ni.L can lay claim to have made one of the best British rock fusion albums in recent years. The combination of raw, edgy emotional lyrical expression with precise control and understanding of his chosen forms of music make for a potent meld. And when you add his talent as an Emcee into the mix you realize this is a versatile and highly gifted artist bringing rock/metal and hip hop into the 21st century. He has the potential to appeal to rock and hip hop fans across the board, and this album is recommended to anyone looking for new music that’s both real and original.

VERDICT = 9.3 out of 10  

Alex Faulkner

Listen to 3 tracks here:

Listen to the whole album HERE


 

E.P. REVIEW: there is no cure/they will be the death of me EP by Diveyede

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Diveyede is an alternative hip hop artist based in Seattle but from California. He regards himself as a “Style of No Style” MC as his lyrics are more poetic, contemplative and abstract than what is found in most hip hop. After touring with Rhymesayers in 2015, he began releasing an EP series called The Fallout. He is also now a member of the NW supergroup Oldominion and a founder of the CA trifecta The DynoNauts, and has shared the stage with many artists including Zion I., ill Methods, Mac Lethal and many more.

This EP, there is no cure/they will be the death of me, consists of six tracks. Although he regards his style as “no style”, to his credit he has forged his own signature sound, which combines dark but compelling Massive Attack-esque soundscapes overlaid with Diveyede’s thoughtful, philosophical and troubled lyrics.

First track, midnight thoughts on alki, is a fine example of this from the opening lines: “Staring into the iris of a fog, a beautiful virus….” and the chorus hook, “Bitter cold…I needed this walk, I needed this talk amongst my thoughts….” Second track, i lost my mind in seattle, is more dark and intense with a powerful, gripping performance from Diveyede. The hook is addictively catchy and Nirvana fans will appreciate the lyrical quote in the pre-chorus: “I love you, I’m not gonna crack….”.

The third track, confessional, is brutal in its unflinching honesty and self-laceration (“I’ve cheated on every girl I’ve ever f*****….”) yet still holds out for possible spiritual redemption: “Luck’s always been a lady till karma turned up, and I bleed my guts to the deity up above“. A gripping piece of music, dealing with the deepest themes of the human condition.

Fourth track, phoenix down, maintains the dichotomy of dark and light over a languid, yet unsettling musical backdrop. The chorus imagery hits home pretty hard: “Now she lays down to sleep and if I die she will resurrect my life….”. I could be mistaken, but this track could be about one of his major influences Eyedea, who tragically died in his sleep and was discovered by his mother.

The Fifth track, catacombs, is more aggressive and hard hitting, with a punchy lyrical delivery that brought to mind the track Ill Manors by Plan B. The wordplay and verbal gymnastics involved showcase Diveyede’s obvious gift as an original MC. It’s also where we get the EP’s title.

Final track, black winter, completes the musical journey as a ‘descensus ad inferos’ (descent into hell), with a haunting piano melody underpinning a bleak but captivating depiction of a troubled soul wrestling with his demons: “This is my black winter, the cold whispered to my soul and I let her...”.

Overall, this is a very fine EP that packs a considerable punch in terms of lyrical depth and musical force. His uniquely poetic yet urbane style sets him apart from the great majority of his hip hop contemporaries and deserves to be regarded as a serious artist with a lot to say about life and being human. In short, he shows that hip hop can make for great art.

 

VERDICT =  9.2 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

Listen here:

SINGLE REVIEW: Be Careful What You Listen To by The New Occupants (ft. Mr. MooQ)

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http://newoccupants.com/

The New Occupants are a dance rock band based in Minneapolis. Although its accurate to classify them as dance rock, that doesn’t really do justice to the uniqueness of their musical style. They belong in the world of quirky pop, reminiscent in some respects of 80’s groups like Sparks and The B52’s, and the 90’s group They Might Be Giants. They have been releasing music for a few years, with past singles including Electric Angel, Blue Light and Its Time To Become Robots.

They have developed a worldwide fanbase, with Billboard magazine describing them as ‘a kiloton of dance fun’. This track, Be Careful What You Listen To, is part of a five track EP called Halloween Is Melting. The song starts with the catchy title hook backed by a blistering kick drum, before breaking down into a spoken word section about the forming of the band.

Lyrically, the track is about the influential power of music itself, as captured in the anthemic chorus: “Be careful what you listen to, it will change your mind and point of view….the world you know may slip away…”. The unusual juxtaposition of the humorous spoken parts with the sung sections is very effective, and the raw synth sounds combined with the acid house beat adds up to a truly arresting sonic assault.

Overall, this is a wonderfully original and inventive piece of alternative dance music, full of addictive hooks and unexpected left turns. It manages to work as simply a barnstorming dance track, yet has a lyrical message that says something true about music, with some very entertaining spoken word passages. This is the kind of refreshingly different music that deserves to become much better known and, who knows, maybe this is their breakthrough song.

 

VERDICT =  8.6 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

Listen here: