ALBUM REVIEW: Apparitions by Joe Hodgson

6 page digipack

Joe Hodgson is a guitarist and composer from Northern Ireland. He grew up in County Tyrone at the height of The Troubles and discovered a deep love for the guitar, having been inspired by Irish blues-rock legends like Gary Moore and Rory Gallagher. This started an obsession with the instrument which culminated in moving to London where he spent many years writing, recording, performing and touring with various bands and projects. He then returned to Ireland to work on his solo album.

This album, Apparitions, was preceded by two singles, The One That Got Away and the double A-side Serena Sonata/Bareback Blues and these three songs all appear. The title was inspired by the W.B. Yeats poem Apparitions, which was the favourite poem of his late mother. Her passing is the artistic inspiration behind the album, which consists of sixteen instrumentals. They are all his own compositions with the exception of the opening track, a stunning guitar interpretation of Bach’s Cantata 147.

From the opening bars, it becomes immediately apparent that Joe is an exceptional lead guitarist and this short piece then bursts into the upbeat, funky blues-rock of Fly That Flag, which brought to mind the sound of The Stone Roses second album, Second Coming. It’s a fine showcase for Joe’s mellifluous lead guitar work, though what is striking is how carefully composed and structured everything he plays is.

As he has the virtuosity to become potentially self indulgent with lengthy guitar solos, Joe sidesteps this common weakness with gifted guitarists, more interested in compositional craft, whilst strongly expressing his emotions through his instrument. This track also introduces us to some of the talented musicians he works with including the strident, punchy drumming of Max Saidi (Will Young, Shane Whelan), Vinzenz Benjamin’s superb bass playing and the inventive keyboard work of Nick Gilmore (Odyssey).

Serena Sonata lives up to its title, with a notable classical influence fused with rock and Latin American rhythms. Starting out with a legato, soaring tone it’s when the drums kick in that Joe ratchets up the gears with a virtuoso display of carefully controlled lead guitar, an explosion of exotic scales and runs across the high end of the fretboard. In perfect contrast, the languid blues rock groove of Bareback Blues suits Hodgson’s passionate playing style down to the ground and you can tell this genre is closest to his heart. While the lead guitar playing is Gary Moore-esque, the backing music has a pleasing Beatlesy retro feel, melodically rich and melancholy.

The One That Got Away has an even more accented moody sadness, with a haunting lead guitar melody that Joe extemporizes around beautifully. The way the music builds to a towering emotional climax that tugs hard on the heart strings is testament to his skill as both guitarist and composer. Understandable as a choice for the first single.

The brief but brilliant track The Player contains some of the most incendiary lead guitar playing on the album, with some lightning speed, jaw-dropping runs on the low end of the neck. If flips from this exuberance to the desolation and tragic sadness of Till The Last Breath. Here, Hodgson’s delicate and sensitive slide guitar work shows a different side to his art, one ultimately concerned with deep expression of heartfelt and complex emotion. It feels like the track that has the most personal meaning for him, as every note seems to be exude real feeling.

Long Hard Look is totally different, this time a jazzy upbeat track that shows his musical sophistication and even a quirky side, the angular melodies and unexpected chord changes bringing to mind the wild, eccentric flair of Frank Zappa. Disruptor opens with a brief burst of Beethoven’s Ode To Joy, which feels tongue in cheek as it breaks out into one of the harder rocking numbers here, with some fabulous Eddie Van Halen (R.I.P. Eddie) style playing, Joe whizzing around the guitar with consummate ease. The band behind match his furious and infectious energy whilst remaining absolutely water right throughout. Another excellent track.

This momentum carries on into the remarkable 10 Feet From Chaos, a glorious riot of zig zagging riffage, pounding tom tom rhythms and frenetic percussion. It’s another diverse twist in this rollercoaster ride of an album. Portrait of Portia Jayne takes us back into more exotic realms, a lush and finely crafted track based around modal scales which gives it its Eastern flavour. It goes without saying it features some more first rate fretwork, though perfectly measured to fit with the rest of the music.

Resurrection Dance is a taut and concise funk rock track where every musician excels and the synergy particularly stands out on this one, the precision metronomic whilst still retaining exuberance and expressiveness. Your Fragile Heart is a nice change of pace, a dreamy instrumental that seems the perfect soundtrack to a slow dance, though one with a bittersweet and poignant vibe.

Running Away From Me is a mid tempo track full of musical twists and turns that keep you compelled while Redneck and the Snowflake is more light hearted, a fusion of classic and progressive rock that works well, adding yet another layer of variety to this eclectic album.

It finishes, perhaps suitably, with the late night jazz bar vibes of the gorgeous Losing You Again. It’s another composition where Hodgson’s playing has real feeling and the bluesy runs work perfectly with the classy, jazzy backing. The strings entering turn up the poignancy to eleven, augmenting the beautiful lead guitar melody. A perfect ending, closing out the emotional journey.

Overall, this is a stellar collection of instrumentals from a virtuoso guitarist and composer. Joe Hodgson’s guitar skills alone make it worth a listen, but it’s the sheer musical variety and emotional range that make Apparitions such a strong album. It deserves to be heard and appreciated by many.

VERDICT = 9.2 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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E.P. REVIEW: We Love Poograss by The Paraquat Boys

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The Paraquat Boys are a bluegrass/folk comedy trio consisting of two uncles and a nephew. Having just started out there’s not much biographical information about them but the three members consist of Uncle Lee on guitar, Uncle Jinx on mandolin and Baby Nephew on banjo. They have recently released their three song demo.

This E.P., We Love Poograss, captures their unique and highly amusing brand of stoner humour, as evidenced by the opening song Butt Mudd. Set to a simple 2/4 rhythm replete with bizarre percussive noises, the trio sing in unison delivering a hilarious story of dating ineptitude: “Made you a butt mudd cake, I hope it tastes really great …”. After the lucky recipient decides she doesn’t like it, the trio opine, “What else can my body make?“. I’ll let the listener hear where the song goes, but the melody is actually very catchy and soon sticks in the mind.

The following song The 3 Dubba Yous is similarly infectious and they know it, as evidenced by the opening lines: “Whisky and women and weed till I’m dead, won’t be long before this song’s in your head…”. The song is a very anthemic ode to the hedonistic pleasures of life and the verses are entertaining in themselves. You could imagine this being the big audience singalong song when The Paraquat Boys get to play live.

The final song, 1800Paraquat, is essentially their signature song featuring a bluesy and raw lead vocal expressing the downside of a marijuana habit: “Well I like pot, yeah I like it a lot, smoke all day with a cough, cough, cough…”.The second verse explains how the song got its title (Paraquat is a kind of weed killer) : “Doctor told he a horrible story , spraying pesticides from a laboratory over pot fields growin’ in their glory, now I got myself an upper respiratory…”. So now we know why they’re called The Paraquat Boys!

Overall, this is a hugely entertaining and enjoyable E.P. by a unique family trio who combine bluegrass and folk with their inimitable style of humour. All three songs are hugely infectious and some of the lines will make you laugh out loud. The Paraquat Boys deserve a wide audience.

VERDICT = 8.6 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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SINGLE REVIEW: Thin Disguise by Davy Williamson

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Davy Williamson is a singer/ songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who was born in Plant City, Florida and raised in his hometown of Wilmington, North Carolina. He was the co-founder of the band Third Class Passenger and also the punk rock band Ma Shot Pa. This year, 2020, has seen him launch his solo career having successfully overcome some personal issues. Overcoming adversity is a theme explored in his music along with betrayal, love lost and broken homes.

This track, Thin Disguise, is his debut single and one on which Dave impressively plays all the instruments and performs the vocals. The song is a powerful and highly emotional hard rock epic, bursting into action with pounding drums and widescreen heavy electric guitars. Dave’s authentic and passionate vocals enter, bringing to mind the late, great Chester Bennington from Linkin Park and another lost legend, Chris Cornell from Soundgarden.

The brooding verse that seems to reflect his personal struggles (“Forgiving everyone but me, forgetting everything I’ve seen, fight these insecurities…”) builds up to an explosive chorus based around the barbed refrain, “I hate your lies, can’t stand these ties, your alibis, your thin disguise…”.

After the second chorus it breaks out into a fantastic, lengthy but perfectly structured guitar solo that shows an influence of classic rock. The lead guitar playing here is truly superb and refreshing to hear, a solo not a commonplace thing anymore, even on a rock track. It really elevates the music to an even higher peak, providing a surge of energy and momentum for the final choruses.

Overall, this is an exceptional debut release from a hugely gifted singer, songwriter and musician. He’s managed to convey and channel the turmoil and struggle of past experiences into a cathartic classic that strikes the perfect balance between melodic and rhythmic power. In this troubled era, the redemptive songwriting of Davy Williamson is the tonic we need to weather us through the storm.

VERDICT = 9.2 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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SINGLE REVIEW: Terror in Disguise by Savannah Nider

Savannah Nider is a singer and songwriter born and raised in Pawnee City, Nebraska. She was already getting music industry attention for her singing at just fifteen, which led to working with people who were involved in the careers of Grammy winning artists including Collin Raye and others.

After moving to Nashville in 2019, she met a well known songwriter, Joie Scott, which led to her first co-written song. She was then introduced to producer Bryan Cole, who produced her latest EP. Her song We Are Us reached no.1 on the ITunes country singles chart in South Africa.

This song, Terror in Disguise, is an upbeat and highly emotive pop/rock track produced to perfection by Bryan Cole. It represents something of a departure for Savannah, who had previously been solidly in the country genre. But to her credit, she’s pushed herself out of her comfort zone in order to do something a little more musically daring.

Beginning with a haunting piano melody over an insistent guitar figure, Savannah’s expressive and instantly distinctive lead vocals then take centre stage in a compelling way. The verse conveys that a relationship has gone awry, as a partner turns out to be not the person they thought they knew (“maybe that’s why it’s a dangerous disaster…”).

The rhythmic descending melodies on the verse are contrasted by the cathartic chorus, which finds Savannah in her upper register augmented by beefy electric guitars. Musically, it brought to mind Shania Twain, the Stevie Nicks songs of Fleetwood Mac, with more modern artists like Taylor Swift, Miley Cyrus and Sia. More remotely, it reminded me of great 80’s female pop like Belinda Carlisle and Alannah Myles.

The chorus succinctly captures the strong emotion behind the song: “As it all falls down we just watch it from the ground...”. The second verse is just as emotionally visceral: “You’re a tragic masquerade….”. The genuine melancholy of the depicted situation is perfectly counterpointed by the relatively upbeat energy of the music, with every musician playing with passion and conviction. The final choruses allow Savannah to express the considerable power and range of her voice, leaving the listener on a high.

Overall, this is a superb follow up song to the hugely successful We Are Us. This song constitutes a brave leap into uncharted artistic territory for Savannah, but she pulls it off owing to her versatile voice and deeply emotive performance. If she can maintain this high standard, the sky’s the limit for Savannah Nider.

 

VERDICT = 9.1 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

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SINGLE REVIEW: Runaway by Hollis Jordan (ft. Zaire Danae)

Hollis Jordan is an artist with a fascinating family background. He was born in Detroit and is the second cousin of female rapper “Bo$$” of Def Jam Records and sixth cousin to the great singer, composer and trumpeter Louis Armstrong.

In 2007, he attended the Malcolm X Academy and he was chosen for lead singer of an all male choir after auditioning, leading to several awards. Since 2011 he’s been a solo artist and music producer, releasing his first national single Live For The Moment. This was produced by his older brother MoStaxx which was released on their label. Since then, he’s released a plethora of material that has proven popular.

This track, Runaway, also featuring RnB singer Zaire Danae. Opening with slick delay-drenched hi hats, an infectious RnB rhythm kicks in providing the bedrock for Hollis to deliver his smooth as honey vocals, bringing to mind Pharell Williams and Craig David. After the verse refrain it breaks into an instantly memorable chorus: “Oh let’s runaway, start listening to Marvin Gaye…”.

After the sultry second verse and chorus, Zaire Danae’s versatile voice enters, her feminine tone providing the perfect contrast to Hollis and adding to the sensual vibe of the music. It then enters an effective spoken word section reminiscent of the Pussycat Dolls, before one final burst of the killer chorus.

Overall, this is a slam dunk of a single release from the gifted Hollis Jordan. Music is deep in his genes and, here, his vocal talents collide with a really strong song which has been produced to perfection. Zaire Danae’s guest vocals give an extra sophistication and variety to the sound, resulting in what sound like a dead cert hit. Something tells me you’ll be hearing the name Hollis Jordan a lot more in the future.

 

VERDICT = 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

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SINGLE REVIEW: Wow by Larry Jay

Larry Jay is a country/pop singer and songwriter native to New York who now resides in California. His Americana-tinged music has already found acclaim, becoming a first runner up in several songwriting contests including the highly regarded John Lennon Songwriting Contest. He has performed at the historic Troubadour in Los Angeles and shared the stage with a Neil Young sidekick and Crazy Horse member, Sonny Mone. Neil Young is actually one artist Larry has been compared to, along with Keith Urban.

This song, Wow, is a country pop ballad based around crystalline, picked acoustic guitar. It features the vocals of The Voice contestant and Team Blake member  Caeland Gardner, depicting an amorous, romantic situation in an intimate low register: “The way that my girl looks at me when all the lights are low tells me that we’re going to the land of rock n’ roll….”.

It’s when the chorus hits that this song truly shines; Caeland switches to a higher octave, singing a glorious melody augmented by tight lower harmonies. The deep romanticism is expressed through the wide ranging and poignant melody, surmised by the cute title hook.

After the second chorus, the drums really kick in, the sound and intricate rhythm giving the music a modern edge, along with the subtle but effective electric guitars. After a breakdown chorus the song ends on a high with one more refrain, finishing on the guitar figure that started the song surrounded by the glow of warm, rich organ.

Overall, this is a finely crafted country/pop ballad that shows Larry Jay’s gifts as a songwriter and Caeland Gardner as a singer. Larry shows with this song that he can write the kind of track that radio and the country loving public adore. I see no reason why Larry Jay won’t become a household name as a songwriter and perhaps Wow is the song that helps propels him there.

VERDICT = 8.8 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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E.P. REVIEW: Rough Draft by Psychopath Etiquette

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Psychopath Etiquette are a folk rock duo consisting of two brothers, David and Paul Sprague. Based in Southern Maine, U.S.A, they have been playing together for over a decade. They formed this band in 2019 and their music is the culmination of many years of work. They cite influences such as Bright Eyes, Damien Rice and Modest Mouse amongst others.

This EP, Rough Draft, contains six songs and is a precursor to their first full length release. It starts with the alt. folk of trash (treasure), bringing to mind the authentic, heartfelt and slightly tortured style of Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes, captured succinctly by the title hook: “She was my treasure, I was her trash…”.

Second track line #9 really shows the innate melodicism of their music, combining the simple synergy of The White Stripes with the deceptively catchy off-kilter style of The Pixies and a punk pop band like The Buzzcocks. Third track all the time again shows their knack for instantly infectious vocal melodies, the acoustic guitar chords having a jazzy tilt.

Fourth track heart vs head is another joyous burst of garage rock, full of the ramshackle charm that you associate with a band like The Libertines. This is followed by show and tell, one of their folk rock ballads that strike the right kind of world weary melancholy note.

The EP closes with when anxieties attack. It’s a potent distillation of their unique style, an angst ridden epic contained within three minutes that begins with just guitar and vocal. The lyrics are deeply moving, offering the hand of friendship to someone at their lowest: “I’ll be there when you fall, if you call…when the shadows have stolen your spark…” The final lines are the sucker punch, as you realise the hand of friendship being offered is to the listener: “I’ll be there in your headphones so you never have to face it alone…”.

Overall, this is an excellent EP by a talented band of brothers. They encapsulate the charm of alternative folk/rock where words have meaning, vocals are heartfelt and instruments passionately played. With a consistently high quality across the entire EP, Psychopath Etiquette’s first full length album should be a major one.

VERDICT = 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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SINGLE REVIEW: Things To Come by Jeremy Parsons

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Jeremy Parsons is a singer/songwriter born in San Antonio, Texas. As a child he experienced the music in the dancehalls of Lone Star State and became a big fan. But it wasn’t till his later high school years that he taught himself guitar, then eventually began writing and performing music.

In the past decade he has performed all over America and Europe, taking inspiration from Texas performance artists and wowing crowds wherever he performs. His Things I Need To Say album saw the release of several singles including the Top 40 Roots Report Track, Burn This House Down, and Why Is The Bluebird Blue which reached no. 2 on the Hits You Love pop charts.

This track, Things To Come, is taken from that album and acts as a fine introduction to this artist. It’s a mid paced country ballad in 6/8 time that stands out for its emotive vocal performance. Blessed with a strong voice and a smooth, easy on the ear tone, he delivers a charismatic and touching lead vocal backed by solid, steady drums and augmented by crystal clear acoustic guitars. Mellifluous bass and gently overdriven electric guitar fills out the sound perfectly, along with sweet as honey backing harmonies.

The song is about the importance of looking towards the future as tempting as it is to look back to the past: “Ain’t nostalgia a wonderful thing…”. The song’s theme is captured succinctly in the fine chorus: “I’d go back if I could, that ain’t how it works, I’ve lived and I’ve loved and all that I’ve learnt… time is a healer and life must go on, so here’s to all the things to come.…”.

Overall, this a finely written and superbly performed country rock ballad with a reflective yet uplifting message. Jeremy Parsons has certainly honed his songwriting craft and combined with pristine performances and production, the result is a very classy song perfect for country and pop radio. Jeremy Parsons has huge commercial potential and is most definitely a name to watch out for.

VERDICT = 8.8 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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SINGLE REVIEW: The Ballad Of Johnny Blowtorch by The Little Wretches

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The Little Wretches are a Pittsburgh rock band founded by frontman and chief songwriter Robert Wagner. In the 1980’s/90s the band were at the forefront of the Pittsburgh underground music scene. They went through various line up changes across their lengthy career, starting out as a folk/punk duo then over time developing into the rock band that became hugely popular in the Pittsburgh scene. A third incarnation of the group recorded two albums together and they eventually disbanded in the late 1990’s.

This song, The Ballad Of Johnny Blowtorch, is taken from the 2001 album Undesirables & Anarchists, which Robert Wagner has only recently released after it having been locked away in the archives for twenty years. The track is a blazing piece of rock ‘n roll, fuelled by a raging wall of electric guitars and pounding drums.

Wagner has the authentic, distinctive voice necessary for rock, giving a vocal performance full of verve and attitude. Equally spirited is the music behind him, channeling the fierce energy of the punk era bands like The Ramones with the gritty guitar sound of the great garage bands like The Velvet Underground and The Stooges, the former a noted influence on theirs.

Based around a simple but very effective low end guitar riff, it develops into a sonic juggernaut with strummed acoustic guitar and, towards the end, piano filling out the sound perfectly. The dynamics, backing harmonies and the call & response vocals on the final verse all add to the addictive nature of the song that remains compelling from the first second to the last.

Overall, this is an incendiary rock track full of passion that has been released from the band’s archives, much to our gain. Robert Wagner is a gem of a songwriter, fusing punk spirit with rock ‘n roll sass and cool. The result is a hugely enjoyable Little Wretches classic that should be treasured forever now that it’s been unearthed.

VERDICT = 9.1 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

ALBUM REVIEW: A Better World by Phil Mitchell Band

A Better World CD Front Page Cover Art

Phil Mitchell is a composer, author and musician hailing from Chicago and the members that comprise the Phil Mitchell Band are musicians native to that area. He started writing songs while still a child and has written music in an eclectic range of genres including jazz, classical, RnB, rock, blues and country. He has released several albums including Morning Star, America and 2014’s Crossroads. The band formed back in 2004 and they have performed at a variety of venues whilst recording music in the studio.

This album, A Better World, consists of eleven tracks and begins with the hard rocking optimism of Brand New Day. The music immediately bursts out of the blocks with fierce energy, featuring biting lead guitar with a creamy tone over strident drums and punchy bass. Phil Mitchell’s made-for-rock voice then takes centre stage, augmented by spirited piano will fills out the soundscape perfectly. There’s aspects of Bon Jovi to the sound but with a distinctive style of their own. Brand New Day is a great opening salvo, with some superb lead guitar towards the end.

Second track Never Let It Die, is even better. It’s a ‘lighters in the air’, euphoric rock anthem with an instantly memorable title hook. Starting out in half time, it flips to straight 4/4 for the final minute, ending with glorious Evanescence-style classical piano. Featuring a magnificent vocal performance and more killer lead guitar, it’s the kind of great rock/pop that has been sorely lacking from mainstream music. A natural choice as a single.

My Love Is True is an unexpected surprise, a female sung pop track in the unusual but highly effective time signature of 6/4. It brought to mind the Stevie Nicks songs of Fleetwood Mac, but also a soul/RnB influence which keeps it sounding modern. Musically, it’s a fantastic blend of tight, funky guitars and nicely overdriven Rhodes electric piano. Again, the catchy chorus is of the highest calibre and would make a great, radio friendly choice as a single.

Irish Rose is also rather unexpected, a beautiful Irish folk track in 6/8 that is instrumental for the most part, with a haunting fiddle melody. It turns out to be an extended intro and it blossoms into a lovely song full of charm that obviously shows a deep love and connection to this genre of music.

Then comes another gorgeous piece of songwriting, the title track. It’s a James Taylor/Simon and Garfunkel style acoustic ballad with an intimate and heartfelt lead male vocal, wonderfully counterpointed by female backing vocals. The arrangement gradually builds to a mid paced groove with some exotic instrumentation that gives real richness and variety to the sonic texture. The theme of the song is rather moving in an understated way, the title hook capturing this succinctly: “Just searching for a better world for you and I….”.

Glory Train is a fine country rock song set at a languid tempo to begin with, the vocal melody doubled by piano. It then shifts to a galloping 2/4 rhythm that cleverly depicts a train in full motion. Having a verse and chorus in different time signatures is a difficult trick to pull off but it’s done with consummate ease, a classy acoustic guitar solo the icing on the cake.

God Bless This Child and Blessed is The Light seem very complementary to each other, both female sung and very spiritual/faith-based. The former has some fabulous stacked gospel backing harmonies and a first rate string arrangement along with Bridge Over Troubled Water-esque florid piano and swirling drum fills. Blessed is the Light is more specifically about religious faith, with a haunting minor key vocal melody and Spanish-inflected acoustic guitar. It’s a hugely uplifting song, with its inspiring refrain, “Rise above the darkness”.

Ninth track The World Is A Beautiful Place is a change of pace once more; a toe tapping funk pop track with Nile Rodgers-type slick guitar and some superb drumming. The second section has some adventurous chord changes that shows the deep harmonic knowledge behind the songwriting, yet it still works simply as just a very catchy pop track.

Heavenly Waters returns to male lead vocals but maintains the powerful faith theme, a sincere expression of gratitude for the solace that a strong faith can bring: “When you need love and healing, when you know there is no one…and you find the love within you, you let the water flow…the holy waters of God, blessed from above”. These words are harmonised beautifully and the yin/yang of male and female voices works perfectly.

The final track on the album, Love Is True Symphony, is a classical instrumental version of an earlier song on the album, My Love Is True. It’s a brilliant example of how a great song can be arranged in different ways, and this version really shows the depth of Phil Mitchell’s musicality.

You can tell he’s been strongly influenced by the great composers, with shades of Tchaikovsky and Mozart in the sheer beauty of the melodies and the Sugar Plum Fairy staccato rhythms in places. The music gradually builds and swells till the strings are soaring, bringing this album to an ecstatic close.

Overall, this is a hugely eclectic and wide ranging set of songs unified by the powerful artistic vision of Phil Mitchell. The album runs the gamut of human emotions, all expressed through a constantly evolving mixture of genres and styles. The mixture of male and female vocals only adds to the variety but, most importantly, there’s several songs here that are potentially huge hits and the album as a whole deserves to be a huge success.

VERDICT = 9.1 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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