ALBUM REVIEW: JORODU by JORODU

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JORODU is the artistic moniker of composer, producer and multi-instrumentalist Jose R. Duque who is based in Miami, Florida but a native of Venezuela. Jose has been involved with numerous successful artists and projects of his own including being the drummer/percussionist for the Randy Armstrong Trio and leader of Jose Duque’s RELOAD.

He has written the score for two films released in Spain (2012 & 2013), released eleven independent albums and recorded/produced albums for artists including Corazon and Superpower. His biggest influences are great jazz and prog rock drummers such as Bill Bruford, Philly Jo Jones and Jimmy Cobb.

This eponymously titled album consists of nine instrumental tracks and musically an eclectic fusion of rock, jazz, funk, world music and electronica. Opening track, Fortuna non Omnibus Aeque, gets the album to a vibrant start. It’s an epic funk track with jazzy overtones, Jose himself putting in a stellar performance behind the kit. Built around a memorable lead guitar riff, the track features some remarkable musicianship from all involved.

Javier Espinoza contributes a superb bassline that works in perfect tandem with Jose’s crisp, incredibly fluent drumming. Smoky sounding Rhodes fills out the sound and the group take turns in expressing their remarkable virtuosity on their respective instruments. Jose himself does some mindblowing fills around the halfway mark, augmented by stunning lead guitar and electric piano solos. A great start to the album.

Second track Nulla habeo nomen is a slower, darker sounding track based around a slinky groove and an ascending low-end melody on guitar. As with the first track it’s full of musical detail and sophisticated nuance, such as the use of syncopations and accent shifts which keeps the music never less than riveting. The guitar gets crunchy and heavy in places, showing the influence of heavy rock and metal.

Ubi Umbra Vivit shows the more jazzy side to JORODU’S music, based around a quirky piano melody in a complex time signature. There is an exotic vibe to the whole track, especially the sitar-like keyboards that show the world music influence. This is one of the mellower pieces, clocking in at an epic eight and a half minutes. Jon Durant contributes fretless and cloud guitars on this one.

Verbum Dismissum is one of the album’s most funky tracks built on a punchy groove and a rolling, mellifluous bassline. This lays the platform for some Stevie Wonder-style Rhodes and some versatile lead guitar from Phil Sargent. This track is a powerful showcase for Jose’s drumming skills as he performs some breathtaking whirlwind fills around the kit and maintains the restless energy and momentum until the very end.

Victa lacet Virtus is the album’s centrepiece and biggest epic at over ten minutes long. It’s a languid and melancholy progressive jazz track featuring the evocative female vocals of Beatriz Malnic. Rather than singing lyrics, she uses her voice as an instrument in itself, often singing in tandem with the other instruments. The whole track has real atmosphere and feel, and Jose not only contributes drums but also uke bass, piano and a keyboard solo. Superb.

Ego Vade A Gades shows the Latin American influence both in the rhythmic and melodic elements. It fuses dance rhythms with jazz in a very clever and inventive way, with contrasting sections keeping the listener on their toes. There are wonderful passages of jazzy piano by Mike Effenberger and Phil Sargent plays a very exotic solo on a nylon string guitar, which adds authenticity as well as a unique musical flavour. Another highlight.

Tion, Uqbar, Orbits, Tertius is perhaps the most progressive track here music, with some fiendishly complex switches in time signatures yet accomplished with consummate ease by the musicians involved. It’s a brooding fusion that melds jazz, funk and elements of rock so you never quite know what’s coming next. This is perhaps a great track to introduce JORODU to someone as it encapsulates their wide ranging versatility and extremely high skill levels.

Eighth rack Ludo Duo is a real change of pace, a mellow, dreamy piece of bluesy jazz that makes clever use of harmonics and samples. It also displays the effectiveness of subtlety and restraint with tasteful, understated performances that gradually build in urgency, resulting in a punchy climax.

The final track on the album, Amor MCMLXXX, is by far the simplest musically but its a richly evocative and stately instrumental, with a haunting melody. It is composed and performed entirely by Jose, showing yet another side to his musical oeuvre and specifically his gift as a melodic composer and keyboardist. It’s an apposite way to conclude the album and bookends it perfectly.

Overall, this album is a tour de force of eclectic genre fusion and exceptional musicianship. Jose Duque is a phenomenal drummer, but is equally adept at several other instruments and is joined by several musical cohorts of peerless proficiency. The music itself is never less than hugely enjoyable, with a mercurial quality that keeps the listener coming back for more. This album will go down a storm with progressive jazz and rock fans but should appeal to all discerning music lovers out there.

 

VERDICT = 9.1 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

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ALBUM REVIEW: Howard Herrick by Howard Herrick

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Howard Herrick is a songwriter and producer hailing from New Jersey. He has written music in many genres (just a few being pop, rock, jazz, blues and orchestral) both as a solo artist and as part of the group Minster Hill. He’s written and produced music for both film and theatre, including My One and Only, Vanishing on 7th Street, Very Good Girls, Nightlight and Peter Pan 360.

He’s also been Executive Music Producer on several film productions and written several label artists. Recently, he composed music for Shaquille O’ Neal’s video game Shaq-Fu: A Legend Reborn and is currently writing and producing music for the second series of American Beauty Star.

This eponymous solo album was entirely written and produced by Howard, who also performed (and engineered) most of the instruments, as well as mixing and mastering the music. He collaborates with various vocalists, both male and female. It consists of nine tracks and acts as an excellent showcase for his songwriting versatility and musical eclecticism.

The album starts with perhaps the most modern production, Hold My Hand. It’s a slinky pop/R&B track in a similar style to The Weeknd and mid-period Justin Timberlake.  The song is superbly crafted, highlighted by a memorable lead vocal performance, by a male singer gifted with a huge range and a powerful, distinctive falsetto.

He sings in the upper register of his voice throughout, over a simple but effective beat driven by a pulsing kick drum, along with piano and catchy synth riffs. Written in a minor key, it starts with the highly memorable chorus and lyrically deals with having faith in the strength of a relationship and facing the future without fear. Hold My Hand is an obvious choice as a single and sounds like it belongs at the top of the charts.

Show Me That One Again is a complete contrast, a poignant ballad consisting of just piano and a warm, intimate vocal. It’s a moving song about how the responsibilities of adulthood have dimmed the ebullience that the young have: “You say your owned now by some business-suited man…”.

The essence of the song is captured succinctly in the chorus: “Just remember for a little while, you once were young and had that smile, I haven’t seen it since I don’t know when, won’t you show me that one again?” Exquisitely crafted and sensitively performed, it harks back to the classic singer songwriters and confessional style of the 70’s.

Third track Go and Hear is another sharp contrast, opening in a blaze of heavy, low end electric chords and rich organ. It’s soon joined by a meaty backbeat and an edgier lead vocal that fits with the overall rock sound. It features a huge sounding chorus augmented by Queen-style stacked backing harmonies. It also features a fantastic guitar solo, bringing back the late 80’s commercial rock sound.

Behind Closed Doors recalls the 80’s again, but this time the synth pop sound which has recently come back into vogue through groups like Chvrches and The xx. This makes it one of the album’s most contemporary tracks and lyrically it is certainly the darkest, opening with the bleak lines: “I’ve fallen to the depths of despair, to the darkest of places, no one else is there….there are no familiar faces…”.

The emotional depth and honesty displayed here gives considerable power and weight to the music and shows real authenticity in terms of artistry. Starting with a guitar and bass figure, it gradually builds into an epic pop track that mirrors the gravity of the lyrics. The lead vocals are performed in different octaves, which gives it a distinctive, memorable sound. Around the three minute mark, the song breaks down to a poignant section where a ghostly sounding vocal portrays the dark emotional landscape that the song expresses.

The following New Heart is set at a similar tempo but much lighter in subject matter and musical vibe. It’s a soulful pop track with another compelling vocal performance, with use of falsetto once more on the title hook. A classy piece of pop songwriting and restores the generally upbeat mood of the rest of the album.

Sixth track Is Love Enough brought to mind the emotive style of early 70’s Todd Rundgren, but the musically colourful arrangement and unexpected chord changes made me think of one of pop’s most underrated songwriters, Jeff Lynne of E.L.O., as well as 80’s group Tears For Fears. Despite all these influences, Herrick stamps his own sonic identity aided by a particularly strong lead vocalist who delivers near the top of their  range. The numerous subtleties and details make for a piece of perfect pop that you’ll never grow tired of.

If I Fall Off The Next Step shows yet another side to Herrick’s songwriting, featuring a female lead vocalist. It’s a delicate, beautifully written acoustic ballad augmented by short bursts of Spanish guitar. Her crystalline singing voice along with with the finger-picked acoustic playing is reminiscent of Joni Mitchell, and the enchanting melody makes it one of the album’s finest tracks.

Nothing Lasts Forever returns to male lead vocals and also a return to the Todd Rundgren-esque sound and style of writing. This is a track where Herrick displays his breadth of harmonic and rhythmic range, with some unpredictable chord changes and subtle use of shifting rhythms and syncopations. There’s some wonderfully jazzy chords after the second chorus that takes the music to another level of sophistication.

The album finishes with another female sung track, Sad Plant. Despite its downbeat title it’s actually an upbeat pop track that recalls elements of Stevie Nicks, Like A Prayer-era Madonna and a more modern pop group like Haim. The song has a summery feelgood vibe and ends this extremely accomplished album on a satisfying high.

Overall, this album is a masterclass in songwriting across an eclectic range of styles and proves emphatically that Howard Herrick deserves to be known as one of the most proficient and versatile songwriters of this era. With the track Hold My Hand he has a dead cert hit with sufficient promotion and there’s several other tracks that would make fine singles. But what makes the album stand out is the musical and emotional range of the songs. Highly recommended.

VERDICT = 9.2 out of 10             

Alex Faulkner

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Visit Howard’s official website HERE

 

 

SINGLE REVIEW: Awakeness by Luckydabo$$

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https://luckydaboss.com/

Luckydabo$$ is a rap/ hip hop artist currently residing in Oklahoma City but originally from the Ivory Coast in West Africa. As a child he showed a strong interest in music and when he migrated to Brooklyn in New York he began making music tracks with friends. He has now developed into a bilingual artist, rapping in both English and French and he released his first project The Me$$age last year to great acclaim from both critics and fans.

This track, Awakeness, is taken from The Me$$age and it’s a perfect introduction to his unique style and sound. After a powerful vocal-heavy introduction, a slick, laid back hip-hop groove kicks in which provides the platform for Luckydabo$$ to lay down his free-flowing rhymes. His rapping style and delivery is highly distinctive, alternating between English and French which gives a universal feel to his music. His fluency and ease on the mic is faultless in either language.

Lyrically, Awakeness is an example of the fundamental spiritual message behind his music. Essentially, he promotes the idea of uniting people from all over the world to help improve the living conditions of those who face hardship, such as those living in his native home, Africa. One of the track’s most memorable hooks is the powerful rallying cry: “Gotta get some food on the table, gotta get you fed….”

Overall, this is a refreshingly different hip hop track by a unique artist with a clear and powerful artistic vision. Music is perhaps the most inspiring and effective way to bring together people from all walks of life and Luckydabo$$ is using his considerable talents to preach love and peace, rather than the aggression and violence that features in so much contemporary hip hop. With a large fan base garnered already, I hope his music and influence spreads far and wide. The excellent Awakeness should be another strong step forward towards that goal.

 

VERDICT = 8.7 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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SINGLE REVIEW: Follow Your Heart by Tony Newton

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Tony Newton is a composer and multi-instrumentalist with a fascinating history anda career in the music industry that spans over thirty years. After being somewhat of a child prodigy playing in orchestras, it was as a virtuoso bass player that he played on many classic Motown recordings and can lay claim to playing on hits by Michael Jackson, Diana Ross & The Supremes and Stevie Wonder.

He also acted as musical director to Smokey Robinson and in his youth was the prize student of his bass tutor, the legendary James Jamerson (himself a Motown recording staple). He can also lay claim to being one of the creators of the Jazz-Rock-Fusion genre with Miles Davis’ drummer in the Tony Williams Lifetime. Since then he has developed his talents as a composer and even formulated his own acclaimed harmonic language which he calls ‘novaphonic sound’, which is based on quartal and quintal harmonics.

Following his last two releases from his White Light Collection (Prophecy and Romance) which were both solo classical piano pieces, this track Follow Your Heart is taken from the same album but shows a whole different side to Tony’s musical style. It’s a funk rock/soul epic at fourteen minutes long (an eight minute version is also available, accompanied by a video) featuring Tony on bass and a stellar cast of musicians playing a wide range of instruments including keyboards, guitar, drums, a string section and French horn as well as female backing vocalists.

After a brief spoken word intro, we hear a Tubular Bells-style melody on piano with some female vocal extemporizing. The song breaks out into a taut funk-rock groove based around a simple but effective guitar riff, played in unison with strings on certain lines. Tony’s mindbending bass playing underpins the music and drives it forward relentlessly. This forms the foundation for Tony to give a great lead vocal performance, augmented by gospel-tinged backing harmonies along the way.

The song itself is hugely spiritual and uplifting, about letting your intuition and soul guide you through life, along with love. Around the five minute mark there’s a marked rhythmic shift which works well with the anthemic title hook. From then on the music grows organically, with a wonderful jazzy piano and lead guitar section, as well as a superb bass solo from Tony around the nine minute mark.

From there the music climbs even higher through modulations, culminating in a final section that features Tony rapping, entering an almost mystical section that brought to mind the end of Marvin Gaye’s classic What’s Going On album.

Overall, this is a track that shows the enormous scope of Tony Newton’s musical vision and highly accomplished musicianship. With a hugely talented group of musical cohorts, Tony has created a monumental fusion of funk, rock, program, soul and even rap that takes the listener on an epic journey. With its inspiring message and infectious positivity, true aficionados will appreciate the special gift that Tony Newton gives the world with his music.

 

VERDICT = 9.2 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

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SINGLE REVIEW: What Matters by Sienna

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http://www.sienna-web.com/

Sienna is an avant-garde EDM artist who is currently based in Norway but originally hails from Japan. Her music is an inventive meld of electronica, house, jazz and traditional-contemporary Japanese. She has performed extensively across Europe over a 10 year period as both a performer and DJ. She has collaborated with renowned artists like Nils Petter Molvaer, a psychedelic trumpeter from Norway, Mick Karn, an English bassist (now deceased) and famous group The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, whom she opened for in the UK on several occasions.

This song, What Matters, is a wonderful showcase for her unique musical sound. It’s a six minute alternative electronica track that floats serenely over a blissfully laid back beat. Starting with Sienna’s evocative and distinctive vocals, she is joined by sparse but effective percussion and pulsing kick as well as subtle, ethereal synths. We also hear an exotic, Japanese instrument somewhat reminiscent of a sitar.

As the song progresses, the arrangement builds gradually with flourishes of delay-drenched piano and around the four minute mark the drums progress to a full beat. This languid groove syncs perfectly with the vocal melody, which is augmented by tight backing harmonies.

At the five minute mark prominent strings played in quartal harmony take over, bringing the music to a haunting conclusion. Lyrically, it is rather poignant, about letting go of the pain from a romantic relationship with acceptance: “Some scars don’t fade or heal easily…..may you be a bird to fly high and free…”.

Overall, this is a highly original piece of alternative electronica which captures Sienna’s unique artistry as a singer, songwriter, musician and producer. She has developed her own style and signature sound, though natural reference points would be the cinematic and dreamy sound of Lana Del Rey, along with the avant garde eclecticism of Bjork. Hopefully, enough people will get to experience the magical Sienna sound as she deserves to be widely heard and appreciated for her intoxicating, innovative art. I look forward to hearing more of her work in the future.

 

VERDICT = 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

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ALBUM REVIEW: Antenna by Soldier Rye

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www.soldierrye.com

Soldier Rye is a singer and songwriter born and raised in Long Island, New York but now residing in Los Angeles. As a creative teenager, he found himself writing songs and making music with whatever he could get his hands on. Due to the development of affordable audio technology in later years, he was able to progress these recordings to a higher standard. When he was introduced to a music producer, he realized he could truly fulfill his musical ambitions and creativity. The result is this electro pop album based around his original demos.

The album, Antenna, consists of nine tracks and begins with the title track. It’s the perfect introduction to his signature sound; a modern synth-driven form of dance/electro pop with elements and influences stretching back to the 70’s, yet sounding undeniably cutting edge and of the times. Starting with sparse, enigmatic synth the arrangement gradually builds with a syncopated beat and Soldier Rye’s strong, distinctive vocal style.

Also incorporated are Giorgio Moroder-style swirling synth patterns and subtle female backing vocals that add to the texture. The song itself is slick and slinky with a fantastic chorus, bringing to mind artists like Pharrell Williams and Jason Derulo. A great start to the album.

Second track Cookie Cutter uses the same effective Prince-style kick and snare beat, this one featuring some funky Rhodes electric piano which gives it more of a Stevie Wonder vibe.  The track has an infectious energy, aided by insistent tambourine and a bouncy bassline. Lyrically, it’s about making the most of who you are and the life you’ve been given, captured succinctly on the excellent chorus: “Ain’t gonna be no cookie cutter, ain’t gonna watch you throw it all away….”.

Time Waits For No One is a nice change of pace, an epic R&B/modern pop ballad with a vaulting, haunting lead vocal melody. The music has an exotic, almost Indian flavour, with subtle use of sitars (or similar) which complement the strings along with  rich, layered backing harmonies. Commercial yet original, it sounds like an obvious choice as a single and a potentially huge hit.

The following Tomorrow is a similar tempo, but is different once again. It’s a sunny, upbeat R&B track that proves Soldier Rye can come up with consistently strong and memorable hooks. This is what separates the ‘men from the boys’ in songwriting terms. Again, with its irresistible catchiness and funky groove, it’s another potential single.

9th Sign maintains the funky vibe. It’s built around a sharp guitar riff, a superbly rhythmic bassline and interspersed with rich organ. The lyrics have a Prince-like level of sexual confidence, apparent from the opening lines: “You say I’m a good kisser, I know I am…”. It’s another perfectly executed funk pop track with a fine guitar solo.

We Found Us is one of the most inventive tracks and perhaps the most cutting edge, production wise. Based round a revolving piano sample and intricate syncopated rhythms, it builds into a fantastic arrangement with touches of xylophone and brass, adding to the rich instrumental texture. It’s also perhaps the most instant track, with an addictive title hook that you’ll be singing by the end.

Seventh track Comfortable continues the high quality, this one with a ‘Funky Drummer’ style groove and slick wah-wah guitar. The chorus is gloriously expansive and Soldier Rye gets to showcase the upper register of his voice.

The epic pop of Eyes Of Love is a return to the more synth-heavy sound that characterized the early part of the album and features some futuristic production effects. The moody style and epic vibe brought to mind the excellent late 80’s work of Depeche Mode. A real grower.

The album concludes with Afterworld, perhaps the spiritual and deeply emotional song here. Soldier Rye gives a superb vocal performance, especially on the hugely uplifting chorus. Its augmented by choral female backing harmonies that give it an almost celestial feel. Lyrically, it’s about losing a loved one and the hope that you will see them again on the other side: “In the afterworld you’re watching over me…”. A genuinely moving song and a lovely way to finish.

Overall, this is undoubtedly the best pop album I’ve heard this year. Soldier Rye has created a consistently strong set of songs that incorporate funk, soul, dance and jazz into the mix. Equally adept at writing upbeat and uptempo songs along with epic ballads, Soldier Rye deserves to be recognised as a singer and songwriter of the finest calibre.

 

VERDICT = 9.1 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

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SINGLE REVIEW: Amazing by Russell Lee

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Russell Lee is a Canadian born country rock singer/songwriter now residing in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He enjoyed a great deal of success in 2017 through the release of his album What Do I Do. The lead single from that album garnered an enormous 500,000 views on YouTube. He received six nominations at the Manitoba Music Awards and also had the privilege of playing the main stage at the world renowned Dauphin Countryfest. Since then, he has been working on a new album, Meant To Be.

This track, Amazing, is taken from that album and makes a great showcase for his first rate skills as both a singer and songwriter. It’s an uptempo country rock song with a strongly romantic theme, about feeling gratitude to have someone special in your life and letting them know you’ll be there for them.

Starting with strummed acoustic guitar, the first verse is fairly sparse with Russell’s strong and distinctive vocals allowed to take centre stage, backed by drums, organ and a little electric guitar. The sound is enriched by the perfectly executed layered backing harmonies which recur throughout the song.

It builds to a touching, memorable chorus as he appreciates how fortunate he is: “It’s amazing to me, you want to be by my side. After the second chorus we hear a well crafted lead guitar solo, something we don’t hear enough of in modern music. Special credit should go to the high standard of production, as good as anything you’ll hear on the radio and the performances of all the musicians involved are all of the highest calibre.

Overall, this is a well written country rock song, performed and produced to perfection by Russell Lee and his talented musical cohorts. With a likeable voice that’s easy on the ear and a fine way with melody, his commercial radio friendly sound bodes well for the song’s success. He already has a large fanbase, and with further material as strong as this he should continue to reach bigger and bigger numbers of people with his music.

 

VERDICT = 8.6 out of 10           

Alex Faulkner

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