E.P. REVIEW: Nashville Songwriting Sessions by Claudia Norris




Claudia Norris is a singer/songwriter currently residing in Edmonton, Alberta in Canada. She has been songwriting since 14 and sharing her music on YouTube since 2007. She has run her musical career in parallel with her career as a certified make-up artist, and regularly travels to Nashville and L.A. to write, perform and record.

Her Shine EP received airplay on over 100 radio stations and she was a finalist in the Great American Song Contest in 2015. She’s amassed a huge fanbase (30k+) online, her army of fans known as Claudiators! She regards her influences as Taylor Swift, Adele and Meghan Trainor, and these influences are in evidence on this 5 track EP, Nashville Recording Sessions.

Opening track Say Yes is a finely crafted piece of country-tinged pop that Taylor Swift would be proud to have written, and a showcase for Claudia’s crystal clear and powerful voice. Like Taylor and Adele, her music mostly deals with timeless emotional issues, though there is also the light-hearted exuberance of Meghan Trainor in the musical mix.

Second song Stronger is the standout on this EP, for me. It’s an emotive ballad about a trust and communication breakdown in a relationship, with Claudia delivering a vocal performance of both passion and restraint. Lyrically, it shows the empowering message behind her music with lines like, “Don’t blame me, I’m not changing, couldn’t be your Barbie doll“. With its radio friendly sound and memorable chorus, this sounds like it could become a huge worldwide hit.

Third track Heartbeat is a more upbeat and fun Meghan Trainor-style song which is based on classic 1950’s era chord changes and has the sweet innocence of that musical period. The chorus is ultra catchy, the whole track driven by propulsive, rhythmic piano and it also brought to mind the British pop group Scouting For Girls.

Stay is another Stronger-type ballad which is well written and performed, though perhaps a little too similar to Sam Smith’s massive hit Stay With Me, at least lyrically. Final track Love On Replay is the most modern sounding song here, with a Rihanna/RnB influence that adds another interesting facet to her music. It broadens her appeal and is, again, extremely catchy and packed with hooks.

Overall, this EP is first class evidence that Claudia Norris is a superb singer and songwriter. As an artist, she stands poised halfway between the two pop giants of this era, Taylor Swift and Adele. Her positive, empowering message is perfect for the times, and with Stronger, she has a song that could catapult her to the centre of the world stage and deservedly so.


VERDICT: 8.7 out of 10

 Alex Faulkner


SINGLE REVIEW: Shine by Through Infinity


Through Infinity are a Croatian new age instrumental progressive rock band, with a multinational personnel. The band was founded in 2017 by Josip Pesut (guitars & electronics), with Tomo Bacurin (keyboards and producer) and Tomislav Lackovic (bass) forming the core of the group. As recording progressed they added other members; drummer Damir Somen, guitarist Antony Reynaert, and traditional instruments/woodwinds courtesy of Safiudin Alimoski and daughter Dulijana.

This track Shine is taken their debut album The Life, which was a long time in coming to final fruition and contains eleven tracks. Shine is a perfect showcase for the band’s unique sound and musical abilities. You can detect the influence of great guitarists like Steve Vai and Joe Satriani, as well as the instrumental music of artists like Yanni and the Japanese instrumental band The Black Mages.

Starting with swirling synths, combined with powerful bursts of guitar and drums, its first main section centres around a rolling bassline and syncopated drums. A sparse guitar line weaves over the top, then becomes much more expansive in the second section, which rhythmically alternates between halftime and full time. There is some mellifluous high-end lead guitar, which is tightly structured and melodic rather than a gratuitous display of virtuosity.

This progresses to sections where synth and bass play in tandem then combine with the guitars in glorious harmony. The drumming throughout is superb, full of nuance and tasteful fills. integrating perfectly with the rest of the music. Through Infinity understand that there is more musical power in synergy rather than individual virtuosity, though the whole group are extremely accomplished musicians.

Overall, Through Infinity are master practitioners of their craft and have set the bar very high with this instrumental single. As their significant popularity on YouTube suggests (circa 300,000 views for this track), there is a massive fanbase for high quality new age progressive rock and Through Infinity have carved a stylistic niche of their own. I expect their success and fanbase to increase exponentially with every further release.

VERDICT: 8.9 out of 10 

Alex Faulkner

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SINGLE REVIEW:All Night Long by Matthew Schultz ft. Gyptian & Rico Tayla


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).

This latest release follows on from the Promise For Keeps single in January, as well as the remix which featured the Jamaican reggae singer Gyptian. He had crossover success in 2010 when his song Hold Yuh reached 91 in the Billboard Hot 100, followed by an album of the same name which reached number 2 in the Billboard Reggae charts. Hold Yuh went on to become a chart hit worldwide.

All Night Long also features another member from the Yard Style Entertainment stable, the performer and producer Rico Tayla. Rico grew up in several communities including Kingston, Portmore and New York, raised in a musical household. He regards his influences as Bounty Killer, Kanye West and Bob Marley, amongst others, and has produced and mixed records for Gyptian, I Octane, British R&B songstress Keisha White and grime legend Wiley.

This track continues on from the last release stylistically; it fuses reggae, dancehall and Afro Beat with EDM to create a truly cutting edge sound. Produced to a very high standard by JJ Sizzle, Johnny Thomas Jr. and Matthew Schultz it features some mind bending vocal effects that give it an almost futuristic vibe.

It starts with pulsing, filtered synths and the lead vocal sets the mood instantly: “When you start feeling that buzz all through your body…..you know you can’t hide it“. The verse has a lilting, reggae-tinged rhythm, then hits a solid four-to-the-floor EDM groove on the epic chorus. Built around a simple, naggingly catchy vocal refrain, the effects-laden vocals are interspersed with short spoken lines that form another hook throughout the rest of the track.

The second verse offers a different, more rhythmic and infectious vocal melody to the smooth melody of the first verse, followed by the chant of “DJ, please turn it up” on the bridge amongst some wild pitch-shifting production effects. After the second chorus, Rico Tayla delivers an entertaining cameo rap, (“When we party, we party hard, Kingston, Jamaica, the party yard…..”) before all the hooks of the track combine for the final choruses.

Overall, this is another slam dunk of an EDM/dancehall track by Matthew Schultz and his talented cohorts. Tailor made for the dancefloor, and produced with its finger on the pulse, Schultz and Gyptian provide great vocals and Rico Tayla makes a fine contribution. This is going to make waves in the clubs and could go on to become the feel good song of the summer, as well as an instant hit in the meantime.



VERDICT: 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner




Susan G is a singer and songwriter hailing from Seattle. She possesses an authentic, rich soul voice and you can hear the influence of classic soul singers like Etta James and Mavis Staples, along with modern pop singer/songwriters like Sia and Sara Bareilles. Musically, she fuses the retro-soul sound of Amy Winehouse with 90’s pop/RnB to create a unique synthesis.

In 2009, she released her first album The Way To Here and then the single No Room For You in 2014. This was followed by the Some Freedom EP in 2016, featuring the classic song A Better You, which became regularly featured on IHeartRadio. The same year she experimented with a more urban sound, releasing the single Need You Here featuring the rapper Redhead.

In terms of live performance she has shared the stage with Colbie Caillat, Sony artist Ryan Cummings, The Voice’s Austin Jenckes, Zarni de Wet, amongst many others as well as selling out venues all across Seattle. She is due to release another album later this year, and her YouTube Channel is helping her reach a wider audience, featuring a mix of original material and covers of well known songs.

Usually she performs with just vocals and keyboards, and I particularly enjoyed her interpretations of The Weeknd’s I Feel It Coming, her cover of I Fall Apart by Post Malone and a haunting rendition of the Amy Winehouse modern classic Back to Black. She also does excellent versions of well known hits like the ubiquitous Shape of You by Ed Sheeran and Look What You Made Me Do by the current Queen of Pop, Taylor Swift.

But it is her own original material that showcases what a great talent she is. The epic six minute ballad Push and Pull had me enthralled from start to finish and the lilting Unafraid, featuring the guitar talents of Skylar Mehal, is another fine piece of songwriting that could appeal to country audiences. Indeed, she has the potential to appeal right across the musical spectrum.

Overall, Susan G has everything it takes for major success in terms of singing ability and image. If her upcoming album is as strong as her previous work, there’s no reason why her fanbase won’t increase exponentially. Her soulful yet modern sound is perfect for the times. This could be a name you’ll be hearing plenty of in the future.

VERDICT: One To Watch!

Alex Faulkner


SINGLE REVIEW: Mean Machine by Fatty Boomba

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Fatty Boomba hail from Melbourne, Australia and are the musical brainchild of Peter Josef Hofbauer (PJ). Having reached the top 10 of the International Songwriting Contest, they released their debut single It’s The Life to great acclaim, launching it to thousands on The Kyle and Jackie O Show. In 2016, they picked up airplay on hundreds of commercial and alternative networks nationally and will be releasing a new E.P. in 2018 called Girls Girls Girls!

This track, Mean Machine, starts with a four note pulsing synth and handclaps, the vocals entering confidently. They are soon aided by a pounding four-to-the-floor beat with strident lyrics to match: “I’m so dynamite, two thousand Fahrenheit….”. It breaks down for the bridge section using which works as a pre-chorus, building to the full chorus section with effective momentum and musical tension.

The chorus hook is simple and instantly memorable: “I’m a steam train rollin’ around, I’m a mean machine running it down…”, with a nice harmony on the repeat. The second verse digs a little deeper lyrically, giving the song a bit more edge: “Been beaten down, been kicked around, pushed out of line….”. It then adds a variation on the main melody after the second chorus, before returning to the main hook to wrap it up nicely.

Overall, this is a highly effective pop/EDM track that combines a pop song structure with the elements of EDM that are needed to get people’s feet moving on the dancefloor. The song is packed with catchy hooks, especially the killer chorus, giving it an appeal that will go far beyond dance fans and should go down a storm with the Maroon 5 crowd. With such a strong musical persona, Fatty Boomba have every chance of making a big name for themselves, especially with more music as good as this.



VERDICT: 8.5 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

SINGLE REVIEW: Back In Love Again by Richard Lynch and Rhonda Vincent



Richard Lynch is a very established and successful country singer/songwriter hailing from Ohio. His music is authentic, traditional country influenced by the greats that preceded him like Keith Whitley, Conway Twitty and George Strait. He released his first album, The Last Of A Dying Breed, in 2013 and his second album A Better Place, released in 2014, was named the Pure Country Album of the Year by the Academy of Western Artists amongst other awards and nominations. His last three singles have reached the top spot on multiple radio airplay charts, including “We’re American Proud”, in support of American military troops.

In 2017, he released his third album, Mending Fences, which contains this single. It’s an upbeat country rock duet with Rhonda Vincent, who is a very successful artist as well, having topped the bluegrass charts several times and won many awards. Starting with bursts of tasteful slide and lead guitar, Richard and Rhonda take turns trading lines, then combining to great effect on the verse. Their vocals complement each other perfectly, with Richard’s deep timbre counterpointed by Rhonda’s sweet tone.

The song is about two lovers both finding someone who restores their faith in love after simply showing friendship to begin with: “Somewhere that friendship ended and love began…”. The title provides a memorable hook which is employed well throughout the song, without becoming overly repetitive. The arrangement is nicely crafted, building to an enjoyable climax and the superb musicianship gives the whole sound a classy feel, aided by first rate production.

Overall, this is a fantastic country song performed by two excellent singers and performers, delivered with finesse and feeling. It is a perfect choice as a single, with its radio friendly sound and instantly catchy title hook. It will undoubtedly gain both Richard Lynch and Rhonda Vincent new admirers to add to their already considerable fanbase, and consolidate their position as authentic country icons of their era.

VERDICT: 8.6 out of 10 

Alex Faulkner


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ALBUM REVIEW: The Whisper and The Hurricane by Matt Hartless



Matt Hartless is an Irish songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer, currently based in Manchester, England. He has, so far, put out three full length studio albums (Our Last Days In The Sun, Victory and this one, The Whisper and The Hurricane, released in August 2017). Aside from these he has also released singles, E.P.s and compilations.  His music defies simple genre categorization, encompassing an eclectic range of styles including folk, ska, classical, ambient, flamenco and alternative rock. Sometimes these styles vary and combine within the same song!

This ten track album begins with Rorschach, and as soon as Matt’s rich, harmony layered a capella vocals emerge from the speakers you realize this is not going to be the usual fare. His voice is distinctive and powerful, reaching an almost operatic grandeur at certain moments. It is reminiscent of Muse’s Matt Bellamy and Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, though less affected, and he is gifted with an astounding vocal range (as anyone will discover if they listen to the entire album).

Lyrically, like musically, he is very eclectic and varied, mixing the oblique with the concrete and the romantic with the quotidian (this is captured even in the album’s title). These juxtapositions of the internal and external worlds lend the lyrics both a cinematic and imagistic quality that brings to mind T.S. Eliot circa The Waste Land. Lines such as “Analyze my every motive with a questionnaire and a Rorsharch test” seem particularly apposite in this current climate of behavioural scrutiny, both personal and societal.

Rorsharch is itself like an ink blot test, open to interpretation. Musically, it creates an evocative soundscape, with Hartless playing the majority of the instruments, aided by haunting violin lines (courtesy of Mark Humphries). The song is led by the lilting, folk-influenced vocal melody and the memorable enigmatic refrain, “No, I don’t remember at all...” In the second verse he muses, “There was no point to anything we did, till we ran out of time.…” and these themes of existential ennui and an impending sense of apocalypse recur throughout the album.

Second song The Vaulted Lead Ceiling is one of the album’s epics at six minutes long and begins with sparse acoustic guitar set against a sound collage of modern life; street noises, weather and bits of broken conversation. It is more openly personal. as evidenced by the dryly humorous opening line: “I don’t want to live the life of the chronically bored…”.

This elegiac, melancholy and world-weary tone pervades the album in a way that is reminiscent of troubled troubadours from the past like Nick Drake and Elliott Smith. The song brings to mind Exit Music (from Radiohead’s magnum opus Ok Computer) in the way it builds from, well, a whisper to a hurricane. To attempt a six minute track like this shows the scope of his musical ambition, and he pulls it off with aplomb.

The following Life In The Tannery is an effective contrast, with it’s samba-esque rhythms and restless, addictive guitar lines. It’s one of two tracks on the album that bring to mind the quirky alternative pop of Badly Drawn Boy and acts as a nice counterbalance to the ‘sturm und drung’ style of the emotionally heavyweight songs that surround it. Lyrically, it deals with the harsh truth that our relationships in life are partly based on projections and illusions: “To pull you from the blizzard, cartwheeling out of sync with the feelings that you perceive: you’re in love with a daydream…“.

Fourth song Waterlilies is arguably the album’s finest moment, drawing from the same well of doomed romanticism as The Smiths and Joy Division, but inhabiting its own sonic landscape entirely. Starting with a jazzy, beautifully simple two-chord piano progression, it develops into a soaring, euphoric ode to the timeless struggles of the human condition. It’s a good example of how he mixes the personal with powerful imagery, so we get: “I stumble through the haze that separates me from the end of days…” mixed in with striking images like ‘bodies in the street trampled by the protesters’ feet’. At the risk of sounding pretentious, you could call this style impressionistic in a similar way to Monet’s painting of the same name.

Fifth track Peace To Camera shows another facet to his oeuvre; an ambient instrumental that shows influences ranging from Sigur Rós and the French classical composer Erik Satie. Ethereal, haunting piano melodies drift and swirl without finding resolution, a mixture of the melodic and the dissonant. Again, you could describe it as an impressionistic painting in sound.

The classical influence continues strongly on the next two songs, Alice Loses Grip and The Science Of Attachment. The former begins with a swirling piano motif before developing into an epic piece of catharsis, lyrically capturing the theme of the album and giving us the source of the title: “The steps towards my hopes and dreams were worth my splitting at the seams, or better not to entertain the whisper and the hurricane…“.

The music is leant weight and stately grandeur by tasteful bursts of brass, adding to the symphonic texture. Matt delivers another stirring vocal performance of soaring intensity, which continues into the following six-minute The Science Of Attachment. This one brings to mind Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata along with the Gallic charm and beauty of the soundtrack to the classic film Amélie. It is in 6/8 time giving it a waltz feel, and violin from Dan Reiss lends it a gypsy vibe.

Emotionally, this song turns up the heat still further, the opening lines desperate and despairing: “I need a miracle or something magical, to prove there is more to life than this….“. Vocally, he channels a blend of Thom Yorke-esque power with the measured restraint of Elbow’s Guy Garvey. It builds to an anguished crescendo before ending on the evocative piano figure with which it began. Superb.

Making Small Fries Illegal is a distinct change of pace, an upbeat piece of indie-pop that brings to mind Mancunian music like, again, Elbow and Badly Drawn Boy. Lyrically, it sardonically deals with our disposability in modern society: “I left the office today, they’re making small fries redundant and I don’t know what to say, they think that I am one of them…..”. The melody really sticks in your mind and makes it a good choice as a single.

The final two songs, Snapdragon and London Will Fall, provide a showcase for both his eclecticism and extraordinary falsetto, especially the latter. Snapdragon shows his Irish roots, a piece of lilting but fiery folk in 3/4 waltz time (for the most part) that brought to mind The Levellers. The instantly memorable fiddle melody sets the tone and Thom Yorke would be proud to have written a line like, “Sleeping pills and aspirin, all to no effect, I’m shocked there’s anyone left….”

London Will Fall is a suitably epic way to end the album, the third to clock in at over six minutes. This one is perhaps best described as progressive ska, starting out in 4/4 then switching to triple time halfway through. As you can tell from the foreboding, yet maybe prescient, title it once again hints at apocalypse though the lyrics are barbed towards someone in particular: “London will fall and I won’t be there and it will all be down to you. Call, but I won’t be coming…we were saving our own skins…“.  It builds to a cathartic climax, with his falsetto voice reaching high notes that have to be heard to be believed! A stunning way to finish.

With The Whisper And The Hurricane, Matt Hartless has set the bar very high artistically and provided a powerful, poignant musical document of what it means to be a human being in the early 21st century, with artistic influences drawing back to the 19th century.

While the mainstream has become very much a case of the bland leading the bland, this album offers hidden treasure to anyone who still regards the album as an important art form and dares to delve down the rabbit hole. With any justice, this will still be listened to in fifty years time and hopefully beyond. British music has a new unsung hero.


VERDICT: 9.3 out of 10 

Alex Faulkner



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