ALBUM REVIEW: 666 Way$$$ by Feed The Weird

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Feed The Weird are a hip hop duo who are strongly influenced by their interest in the strange and the occult. The duo, Yami Weird and HellAir, have been friends since middle school and have had a long held mutual love for hip hop and punk rock. Both grew apart after moving out of their shared neighborhood, until Yami reached out to Hell after publishing a rough version of his song 666 Ways back in 2018. After that they decided to form a group and publish their music independently, with hopes of escaping the boring life of Northeastern Tennessee. They release their material through Pump Fink Records.

This album, 666 Ways$$$, consists of 11 tracks and musically is a surprisingly unique hybrid of hip hop, trap and metal to create a fusion that brings to mind the industrial rock/metal of Nine Inch Nails, gothic aspects of Marilyn Manson and a myriad of distilled hip hop/rap influences. The album’s opening track, Pussycat Hotrod (produced by Discent), is one of the most sonically arresting and challenging,  not representative of the album as a whole.

Starting out with crunchy, raw low-end guitar chords, it breaks into a trap/hip hop groove overlaid with metal-style growled vocals. Mixed in are a plethora of vocal samples and swirling synths to create a sinister but scintillating soundscape that is unnerving but undeniably gripping. It’s also a style all of its own.

Next comes the title track (produced by Vaegud and sketchymyname) which is more accessible and essentially more traditional hip hop, but with a rock style lead vocal and edgy, explicit lyrics. This become a hallmark of their music across the duration of the album. It begins with a haunting acoustic figure and is set to a languid, simple but effective beat. The vocals are delivered in a very low register and have a strangely mesmeric quality, especially on the potent, hedonistic title hook: “Another touch is dangerous, I’ve got 666 ways to fuck.…”. It’s a clever subversion of Jay Z’s famous 99 Problems.

Bonnie Rotten is even more explicit and brings to mind the claustrophobic, darkly sexual vibe of NIN’s Closer album and Eminem at his edgiest. Produced by Skami, it marries a blistering dubstep/hip hop beat with ghostly echo-drenched glockenspiel, which gives it an almost sinister undertone. Once again, the simplest of hooks proves to be very effective (“She likes it rough….”) and despite its brief two minute duration it packs a considerable punch.

Fourth track Zombie, produced by Dannyebtracks, is a good showcase for the fine rapping skills of both members as well as an entertaining but macabre tale, the sort at which Eminem used to excel. Yami Weird and HellAir make for an effective duo, their styles complementing each other. The title hook quickly lodges in the memory and the lyrics are graphic but compelling throughout.

Snowing In Florida, produced by Hertha & Stork, is another blissed out trip hop track which celebrates the hedonistic side of life on its hypnotic hook: “I smoke dope, I do coke, I do anything I want….”. Opening with an eerie, haunting soundscape, the track balances sung vocal hooks with smoothly rapped verses to great effect. Although the music has a ‘wasted at 3am’ kind of vibe, there’s no hint of struggling with the dark side of drug use here: “Got some bad habits and I don’t wanna break them….”.

The slinky following track Red Eyes seems a continuation of the theme and vibe, seemingly about getting high and enjoy a nocturnal drive: “Red eyes at the red light…I ain’t stopping for the blue light….it’s a night ride….it’s a moonlight drive”. Like an artist like The Weeknd, Feed The Weird have a talent for bringing a sense of the poetic and romantic to their tales of excess.

Seventh track Nowhere Noir, produced by Cashmoney Ap & FORTY38 picks up the tempo a little with a beat of subtle intricacy and nuance, the backdrop for a rather troubled lyric about a femme fatale (“She’s the devil in the shape of a ghost….”). There’s an ominous vibe to the music that mirrors the words and imagery perfectly and there’s a powerful sense of turmoil in the repeated chorus hook: “Dug her nails in me….”.

By contrast, Got Me Thinkin’ is perhaps the most accessible track here, with an undeniable commercial appeal. Built around a simple but irresistible vocal hook, the production by ricci is first rate and this would make an obvious choice as a single.
G.A.T. begins with an immediately captivating synth melody, soon conjoined with an infectious rhythm. This lays down the bedrock for some super fluent rapping, reflecting on their youth as misfits and trying to find a sense of identity. It’s another excellent showcase for their considerable emcee skills, this one produced by SOLO, and one of the most instant tracks on the album.

Love Potion #69 is a return to the more X-rated style of the earlier tracks though whereas a lot of hip hop is about braggadocio, Feed The Weird come from a more troubled place, the final refrain running: “I’m wicked, I’m stricken, I am spellbound, I ain’t ever, ever coming down, I ain’t ever going up….I’m just a fuck up….”.  Produced by Sxpply, it’s another darkly powerful track.

The final track, Anarchy You Can Dance To, is the album’s most anthemic moment and could perhaps be described as their manifesto. Built on an insistent 2/4 beat and an array of futuristic synth sounds, the entire vocal melody is instantly memorable but particularly the singalong hook of “We want sex, sex, sex and violence….” which cleverly plays on the 666 motif that runs through the album. Produced by S4d TrVnk, it’s a brilliant to finish the album and a track I feel could open a lot of doors for them.

Overall, this is a consistently strong hip hop album with a distinctly original flavour. Feed The Weird are a duo unafraid of their dark side and it gives their music a decided edge. Incorporating influences from rock and metal, the combination of singing and rapping is deftly balanced throughout and delivered with charisma and conviction. With a style all of their own and several killer tracks, I expect Feed The Weird to make a strong impact on the hip hop scene with this album, and deservedly so.

 

 

VERDICT= 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

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ALBUM REVIEW: The Blue Tape by Earl The Monarch

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Earl The Monarch is a hip hop artist who was born in Dallas, Texas but moved to Port Arthur at an early age. He began writing music while young, growing up listening to DMX, Jay Z, Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg. His experiences with depression as he got older were also a factor in his artistic development, and he cites music as the reason he got through it.

He released his first mixtape in 2012 under the moniker ‘O.E.’, Insomnia: The Life & Times. He released the sequel in 2013, Insomnia: Dreamin’ of Nightmares. This became a proper album release in 2015 and he switched his moniker from O.E. to Earl The Monarch, putting out his first album under this name in 2017, Pain On The Rocks. I gave a stellar review to his 2018 album This Will All Be A Memory, which you can read here.

This album, The Blue Tape, consists of fifteen tracks. Some of these are skits which bring an element of humour amongst the hard hitting tracks where Earl The Monarch deals with some serious issues. As with the album This Will All Be A Memory, Earl confronts the deepest and darkest themes of life without fear.

After a brief and amusing skit to start the album, Bet $5 goes straight to the deep end with Earl berating the fairweather friends who’ve betrayed him. He also lays down some hard earned street wisdom: “Some doors close in your face, it just wasn’t your time, just be prepared with your plans when it’s time for the grind….”.

On second track Redemption, Earl depicts how music has been a positive influence on turning his life around over a slinky beat and smoky Rhodes progression. The underlying inspirational message behind his music is captured in the lines, “Made them believe….redemption ain’t no disease…”.

Inhibitions starts out with a quote from the tragically killed rap legend Tupac Shakur, and what follows is Earl at his most lyrically eloquent and life affirming (“I was suicidal but I bounced back…”). Over a simple beat, Earl lays down some rapid fire rhymes full of rhythmic invention, displaying his emcee skills to the max.

This heavy vibe is nicely alleviated by The Bridge Skit, which satirises the “bling” gangster mentality, before leading into the superb Blue Cup. Starting with the instantly infectious chorus hook which featuries the vocals of Blake Brake, Earl raps smoothly over a funky hip hop beat and the rapped verse/sung chorus contrast is very effective. With its summery, radio friendly sound it would make an obvious choice as a single.

409party (90s) is another upbeat track, this one a bit of a good time party anthem, also featuring the rapping talents of two of Earl’s cohorts, Killa Trae & Al Bee. Their differing styles complement each other well and it’s another slam dunk.

HowYouFeel? is a return to the more troubled depictions of life as a black man and the problems the black community face. The dark, claustrophobic vibe created by the backing music adds to the intensity and if anyone dare question whether Earl The Monarch is ‘for real’, they should listen to this track.

TakeCare Interlude is a distinct change of pace, a laid back hip hop groove providing the bedrock for a chorus hook sung by Bianca B Lo. Her serene vocals create a nice yin/yang effect with Earl’s direct rapping style. Live Forever is a brutally honest track, ruminating on mortality and those who’ve lost their lives needlessly, ending with another quotation from Tupac Shakur that itself needs contemplation.

Tenth track Mandatory is about a different kind of trouble and pain, portraying a relationship that’s gone wrong. It features the vocals of Kim on the hook which emphasise that love should be unconditional, not “for the glory”. One of my favourites on the album, full of insight and great rapping from Earl.

Friends, featuring Solorook and Coco continues the theme of women troubles, though this one about being betrayed by a close female friend: “I loved you like a sister only you were even closer.…”. The theme of being let down by people he’s helped and supported is a melancholy thread running through the whole album.

Rather than play the victim card, Earl chooses the philosophical approach as well as a defiant stance, as set out on WatchMeSwang II featuring Stevie Lights. Over a jazzy guitar chord progression, Earl gives another masterclass in fluent rapping and lyrical dexterity.

$mokey Momma is one of the most different and distinctive tracks on the whole album, with a chorus of joint male and female vocals over a complex triplet hi hat rhythm. Texas Relays is a remarkable piece of hip hop, also featuring the skills of Manuel, Fammo and Deezy Da Duce. The backing track is an ever morphing melange of swirling synths and the result is highly entertaining.

The album closes with SeeYouTomorrow featuring Coco and makes for a suitably emotional finish, expressing grief for a friend who has died. The last minute is particularly moving, with the ghostly, almost celestial female vocals of Coco repeating the poignant refrain, “The hardest part is that I wish that I could talk to you….”.

Overall, this is another brutal and brilliant hip hop album from an eloquent, emotional artist who has mastered his craft. All the hard times and experiences he’s endured have been poured into the lyrics, delivered with complete conviction throughout. He surveys the tragedies that surround him and offers a message of hope and positivity for a better future, a message that many need to hear. Earl The Monarch deserves to be recognised as one of the best rappers of his generation and this album should win him a new legion of fans.

 

VERDICT: 9.1 out of 10 

Alex Faulkner

 

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E.P. REVIEW: Achmelvich 2 by Fake Teak

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Fake Teak are a four-piece alternative rock band based in London. The group was originally the musical brainchild of lead vocalist and bass player Andrew Wyld, evolving eventually into a range of musicians with eclectic styles and tastes. They belong to a rich lineage of left field, alternative artists and you can hear the influence of groups like Roxy Music, The Teardrop Explodes, Talking Heads and Sparks, along with more modern influences like Hot Chip, Vampire Weekend and LCD Soundsystem. I gave a very positive review to their eponymous debut album which you can read here.

The genesis of this EP, Achmelvich 2, is based on a band ritual where every summer they spend a week in the Highlands of Scotland, which affords the seclusion and lack of distractions to concentrate on their music. This EP is the second fruit of their labours, you can read my review of Achmelvich 1 here.

As with Achmelvich 1, it consists of three tracks each written by either different members of the group or a group collaboration. The EP begins with the melancholy, brooding synth pop of Cromford which brings to mind the reflective moments of late-era Bowie and Depeche Mode circa Enjoy The Silence. The song mentions “village greens”, a reference to the classic 1968 album by The Kinks, The Village Green Preservation Society.

Over an intricate, off-kilter beat, pulsing bass and Jo Wyld’s haunting synths, Andrew Wyld gives a fine vocal performance while lyrically painting a picture of a world where industry and commerce has, over time, slowly destroyed the aspects of life which are not material but have real value to people.

This is captured succinctly and poetically in a line like, “Time descended on the Earth like Arkwright on the spinning wheel…”, a reference to the Industrial Revolution. Towards the end the track reaches a powerful crescendo, with the guitar and bass working in tandem like early Joy Division, one of their noted influences.

The following Wake Up (Another Place), written and sung by Alastair Nicholls, continues with the theme of the world changing around us but is more specifically about the political turmoil and division of Brexit-era Britain.

Based around a beautiful guitar figure that Johnny Marr would be proud to have written, the music blossoms into a soundscape that mirrors the resigned despair of the lyrics: “We wake up in uncertainty, this back and forth becomes the norm, there is one thing that’s clear to see, the fragile fabric has been torn…”. With its understated grandeur and balanced, incisive social commentary, this is Fake Teak at their best.

The final track, Pylons, is the result of a group collaboration and inspired by the Scottish highlands where it was written. Similar to the way Josh Homme invites artists out to a studio in the desert to record in a unique environment, known as the Desert Sessions, Fake Teak here show the strong influence of their surroundings.

Opening with a gentle flurry of flutes and bagpipe-sounding synths, it develops into a hymnal and languid ode to the place of its creative genesis. As with the other songs on the EP, it is filled with melodic intricacies that reveal themselves upon repeated listening and brings proceedings to a satisfying, transcendent close after the lyrical conflict of the first two tracks.

Overall, this is another sophisticated set of songs from this highly intelligent and creative group. This EP sees them continue with a contemplative and thoughtful lyrical style, while musically spreading their wings in a myriad of subtle but effective ways. With such a consistently strong musical output, it’s only a matter of time before Fake Teak are recognized as one of Britain’s finest alternative groups.

 

VERDICT: 9.1 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

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ALBUM REVIEW: Times When I Know You’ll Watch The Sky by Forest Robots

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Forest Robots is the musical brainchild of electronic artist and composer Fran Dominguez and this project has an interesting and unusual genesis. It began when he began pictorially documenting his travels to the Sierra Nevada mountain range. When his daughter was born, he started to attach narratives to his collections to teach his daughter about the wonders of nature.

This led to feeling inspired to compose music to go with these narratives and Forest Robots was born. In 2018, I gave a glowing reviews to the albums Supermoon Moonlight – Part One and the follow up, Timberline And Mountain Crest.

This latest album, Times When I Know You’ll Watch The Sky, is the third full length album in the last two years by Fran Dominguez. Just as Supermoon Moonlight and Timberline And Mountain Crest were essentially musical odes to the seasons of spring and summer respectively, this album is a representation of the Stanley Horowitz quote about autumn: “Winter is an etching, spring a watercolour, summer an oil painting and autumn a mosaic of them all….”.

It consists of eleven tracks and begins with the understated but wondrous Just Before Nightfall In The Forest. As with Fran Dominguez’s previous work, the music perfectly encapsulates the title, painting a sonic picture of certain magical moments in nature and conveying them to the listener. Swirling synth patterns are merged with a punchy electronic beat to create something modern yet unusually melodic and intricate for this era. This enchanting track acts as the perfect introduction to the album.

Everything Under The Light Of The Full Moon continues the hypnotic vibe with a similarly paced rhythm. Starting out relatively sparsely with a simple but effective bassline, overlayed with synth patterns, it gradually develops into a complex interweaving of melodies and evocative pads that fill out the sonic spectrum. Once again, the music conjures up the imagery of the title in an uncanny and accurate way.

The mysteriously named yet brief It Lies Sunk Deep Beneath The Old Lake consists of an intriguing synth figure reminiscent of an old sea shanty, conjoined with a double bass. This leads into the fourth track, In The Late Autumn Afternoon Rainstorm, one of the most melodically beautiful and haunting tracks on the album. Based initially on a mesmeric celesta melody it then expands into a gorgeous, reverb-drenched harp arpeggio backed by a rhythm of great intricacy.

Fifth track Deep In The Milky Way Spectrum lives up to the wide eyed wonder of its title, mixing a bewildering maze of melodies with potent synths and beats in certain sections. It conjures up the magnificent expanse of a clear night sky and results in a similarly transcendent feeling. The Last Of The Melting Snow is another of the short interlude tracks, but makes a strong impression in its ninety second duration with its arresting swirl of almost psychedelic, morphing synths.

This leads into the hypnotic groove of the title track, which weaves a magical spell owing to its mixture of languid pace and subtle yet alluring melodies. The way the synths swell and combine with understated celesta melodies perfectly encapsulates the wonder of looking up at the sky and feeling humbled by its magnificence. After its five minute duration, the effect is one of blissful elation.

Then comes the superb complexity of eighth track The Clouds That First Gather At The Mountain. With its masterly weaving of synth textures and melodic themes it brought to mind the ambient classic Little Fluffy Clouds by The Orb, perhaps an influence on Forest Robots. Either way, this is one of the album’s most powerful tracks which leaves a distinct impression on the listener.

Faint Sunlight In The Far Horizon is one of the longest tracks at five and a half minutes and, once again, paints a beautiful sonic landscape that conjures up the imagery of the title in an uncanny way. With a tranquil, blissed out tempo the music washes over you, transporting you to an ethereal mind state and having a gradually intoxicating effect.

This magical vibe continues into the enchanting Of Rivers And Rivers Of Light, which is based around some wonderful bell-like and harp melodies, the chord changes somewhat unexpected and taking us to some far out musical climes. Halfway through enters a potent synth theme which takes us back to the exotic wonder of the harp melody, gradually fading away with almost cinematic grandeur.

The album closes with another brief but beautiful piece, this one called Follow The Fog and The Rain. Once more, within its short duration it conjures a fully rounded painting in sound that captures the silent majesty of autumn and finishes the musical journey of this album in a most satisfying way.

Overall, this is another superb piece of work from composer Fran Dominguez. He’s managed to forge an entirely unique niche with his nature-inspired ambient instrumentals, which also incorporate other genres in a seamless way. Trying to frame the many moods and scenes of the natural world is no mean feat, but one in which Dominguez excels and here he raises his art to a high level.

As he has now covered three of the seasons, I look forward to his next work which I presume will capture the magic of winter in yet more enchanting and evocative music. Fans of this album should also check out the visual accompliment, “All Things Grow Faint With Great Adorn In Autumn”.

 

VERDICT: 9.1 out of 10 

Alex Faulkner

 

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SINGLE REVIEW: Turn Me Up ft. Gyptian by Matthew Schultz

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Matthew Schultz is a multi-instrumentalist, producer, singer and performer who started out playing guitar in Chris Daughtry’s first band.  He has already made a strong impact on the music industry with his previous releases. His first single, Money or Me, was produced by Armando Guarnera and earned him a nomination at the 2013 EOTM Awards, as well as one for best new male artist. He followed this up with Crazy Heart (ft. Alessia Guarnera) in 2014, then in 2015 he released We Own The Night (feat. Jim Jones).

Last year, 2018, saw a plethora of successful releases for Matthew Schultz. In January, he released the single Promise For Keeps, following up with a version featuring Jamaican reggae singer Gyptian and an Electric Bodega remix in the following months.

That remix has accumulated a million plays on Spotify and the track became part of a viral craze on Instagram (#promiseforkeeps), featuring some of the biggest stars from NBC hit show World of Dance. Also hugely popular was another single, All Night Long, featuring Gyptian and Rico Tayla and Somewhere Far, which has racked up an enormous 7 million streams since its release last August. His last single release, Go, also notched up streams in the millions.

This latest track, Turn Me Up, is a return to the very successful collaborative relationship with Gyptian after the purely solo releases of Somewhere Far and Go. It starts with a laid back, gently insistent triplet-based synth rhythm and the three chord structure around which the song is built emerges, augmented by punchy and intricate percussion.

On the first verse Gyptian takes the lead vocals, laying down an infectious reggae-influenced vocal melody. The overall sound is distinctly dancehall with a strong Major Lazer vibe and his vocal performance is charismatic, with an exotic flavour. Lyrically, it’s about feeling intoxicated by someone (“It’s an inferno being around you.…”) and this is perfectly reflected in the understated yet hypnotic music.

It builds to the catchy title hook before Matthew takes the lead on the second verse. His vocal melody is delivered an octave deeper, providing a nice contrast and also a variation to the first verse. The arrangement is cleverly structured so that this verse later repeats, becoming one of the song’s main hooks.

Overall, this is yet another excellent dancehall track by Matthew Schultz with a fine cameo by the gifted Gyptian and flawless, cutting edge production. With its languid, chilled out vibe and mesmeric rhythms it’s the perfect soundtrack for late summer and will no doubt become hugely popular once more both on the dancefloor and on streaming sites. After several hugely successful singles behind him, Turn Me Up sounds like another smash that will be particularly appealing to fans of Major Lazer and Tory Lanez.

 

 

VERDICT= 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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ARTIST REVIEW: Tamaskin

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Tamaskin is a pop/RnB artist, a singer, rapper and songwriter originally hailing from Charleston, South Carolina. For a while Tamaskin has been leading somewhat of a double life, attending the College of Charleston on the one hand then experiencing the celebrity lifestyle by attending numerous music award shows, fashion shows and A-list parties. This has giving him a rounded, worldly view of life which has influenced the music he makes.

He’s also influenced by the great recording artists in musical history and forged his own artistic style that he calls ‘moonlight music’. This is an apposite phrase for the often languid, seductive vibe of his music which combines RnB, pop and rap into a unique fusion. He first released an EP called Undefeated and in July, 2019 released his debut full length album, Murder Mountain.

This ten track album showcases Tamaskin’s many talents as vocalist, rapper and songwriter. It contains numerous highlights from the brooding, orchestral dubstep-influenced RnB title track, the anthemic laid back groove of Road and the harder hitting intensity of Crazy.

Other highlights for me were Let Go, which alternates rap sections with a female sung chorus, the powerful Dim My Light with its gospel-tinged backing vocals, the mellifluous and inventive rapping of Love Yourself and the classy closing RnB ballad Black and White.

Overall, Tamaskin is a versatile and multi-talented modern RnB artist that has everything it takes to hit the big time. With an excellent debut album in the bag, new fans should also check out the footage of his live performances on his website. I predict a very bright future for this artist.

 

Visit his official website HERE

Visit his Instagram 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

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