SINGLE REVIEW: Soul City by GentleBeatz

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https://www.facebook.com/gentlebeatz

GentleBeatz is the artistic moniker of a hip hop/electronica composer and producer currently based in Mozambique. He describes his musical style as lo-fi hip hop/chill-hop. In fact, he incorporates and fuses many eclectic genres into his sound including jazz, reggae, soul, blues, EDM, R&B, folk, indie and world music. His work is mostly instrumental in form and he explains that creating music is partly therapeutic, as a way of dealing with life’s anxieties and difficulties.

This track, Soul City, is taken from the eight track album of the same name. It’s a mellow, mid-paced hip-hop instrumental that makes a strong impact despite its short duration, less than two and a half minutes. It starts with the sound of crackling vinyl, and a languid, dreamy guitar line that quickly latches in the listener’s mind. It has the authentic feel of funk music from the 70’s with its subtle but seductive bassline, yet also has the modern addition of a slinky hip-hop beat.

On top of this are brief bursts of electronica which further add to the modernity of the sound and these gradually become more recurrent as the track progresses. Around halfway through a female vocal refrain emerges that complements the guitar motif perfectly and towards the end the guitar switches to a low octave, giving the feeling of gradually coming down to earth after a flight. It’s this wealth of nuanced detail that marks out GentleBeatz’ music as superior.

Overall, this is a highly impressive fusion of hip-hop, R&B, funk and electronica that is, most importantly, very enjoyable to listen to. GentleBeatz takes the soulful sound of 70’s funk/R&B and brings it up to date with slick hip-hop beats and a modern, cutting edge production style. It is similar to what Mark Ronson was doing in the earlier part of his career, and I hope GentleBeatz gets a break in the industry as his music would bring pleasure to many.

VERDICT = 8.7 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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ALBUM REVIEW: Timberline And Mountain Crest 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 May this year I gave a glowing review to the album Supermoon Moonlight – Part One. This follow up album, Timberline And Mountain Crest, has been completed just eight months later and consists of ten tracks. It is somewhat of a musical progression from the previous album; whilst Supermoon Moonlight had been based around nature-inspired ambient electronically with orchestral elements, here he retains the same natural inspirations whilst branching out into a more rhythmic style, incorporating synthwave, soul and funk. It has been described as Ambient R&B, and that is a good description.

Opening track Sudden Bioluminescence is a fine representation of this more expansive style. It starts with a swathe of atmospheric synths combining with pulsating, rhythmic synths which build the tension nicely. Then we hear an intricate yet languid dance groove enter, filled with subtle syncopations and rhythmic intricacies.

This becomes the foundation for a series of lead synth melodies which complement each other perfectly and maintain an excellent sense of melodic continuity. After breaking down midway, it builds back up then cleverly combines the various themes to great effect. It’s a very complex track, yet easy to listen to and built out of only three chords.

The evocatively named Where The Wild Summer Storms Run lives up to the promise of its title. Locking quickly into a tight 2/4 groove, the ear becomes hooked to the catchy synth melodies. A second section featuring some 80’s style chiming synths is a nice touch and towards the end we hear a theremin-style synth that adds more flavour to the sonic texture. One of the strong aspects of this album is how the titles perfectly fit the music, or rather how the music paints and portrays the title in sound.

Third track Through The Trees And Into Wide Open Landscapes is a good example of this quality. Beginning with the meditative ambient style which characterized Supermoon Moonlight, it gradually evolves into epic electronica with interweaving rhythms and melodies working in perfect synchrony.

This one works as a showcase for his compositional and programming skills, and the overall effect is hypnotic. Towards the four minute mark the music seems to evaporate and morphs into an otherworldly, disconnected section that evokes the ‘wide open landscapes’ of the title.

Between The Orange and Purple Horizon starts with a beautiful harp-esque synth melody, joined by a swingbeat that wouldn’t sound out of place on a hip hop record. As the piece develops, it gradually becomes more serene and dreamlike with some truly magical electronic sounds. You can easily picture the horizon in your mind’s eye, conjuring images of being stood on a mountain top staring at the sky. A transcendent track and one of the album’s finest.

After two epic five minute pieces, the eighty second Treading Where Others Have Perished acts as a nice contrast, a sparse but potent track that maintains the elevated vibe from the previous one.

Sixth track As The Sun Rises Between Timberline And Mountain Crest is essentially the title track of the album and feels like its centrepiece. It consists of a delicate, haunting piano figure that perfectly captures the sense of quiet awe and wonder a person can feel in nature. Aside from the repeating piano melody, we hear equally subtle bass which just lets one note per bar ring, giving a ‘floating in mid air’ effect which is augmented by sparse but powerful string synths.

On A Desolate Shore Under A Full Moon stands out from the pack with its angular, highly intricate funk beat and pizzicato strings that work as the main melody. The second section contains a multiplicity of melodies and percussive elements which acts as a counterpoint to the relative sparseness of the main section. I loved the use of a glockenspiel-type sound which gave it a magical feel, again apposite considering the title.

Track eight, Farewell Sudden Summer Storm Clouds has a tranquil quality, sort of what you might describe as the calm after the storm. There’s a slightly exotic, Eastern aspect to some of the themes and once again shows his talent for handling complex melodies and textures. When the soft beat breaks down at the end it allows the music’s subtleties to breathe and it finishes on a mystical high.

When Forest Leaves Begin To Change is about summer turning into autumn, an ambitious concept to try and capture in sound. But, indeed, the plaintive melodies do have a distinct autumnal vibe and you can feel yourself drifting away in its intoxicating and mesmeric sound world. Again, the music gradually builds in a clever, organic fashion and really blossoms at the end.

It leads to the album’s final track It’s Quietest At The Edge Of The Crestline which brings us full circle in terms of the title and overall concept. It’s an unearthly, hymnal piece of ambient music that casts a potent spell with the translucent, natural beauty of its sound and mood. Again, it captures that sense of deep wonder that the greatest of nature’s vistas can evoke and makes a fitting conclusion to this musical journey.

Overall, this is a sonic odyssey that takes its artistic inspiration from a deep love of nature, like much art of the past, musical, visual and literary. However, by incorporating the genres of ambient, soul, funk and synthwave in a seamlessly integrated way, it resurrects this form of inspiration and brings it decidedly into the modern era. It will appeal not only to ambient fans, but electronica fans in general  and, in fact, music lovers right across the board. With a wealth of melodic and rhythmic detail that reveals itself on repeated listens, Timberline and Mountain Crest is a journey you will want to take again and again.

VERDICT: 9 out of 10 

Alex Faulkner

 

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SINGLE REVIEW: Miracle by Evolution of The Groove

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https://www.facebook.com/ETGband/

Evolution of The Groove are a nine-piece fusion band founded in 2010 by Steven Cunningham and Chris Sclafani. The concept was to combine musicians from various musical backgrounds to create a unique sound. Their music is truly an original hybrid of funk, rock, R&B, hip hop, soul, gospel and jazz and their influences are eclectic as you would expect, from Jill Scott to The Beatles, from Erykah Badu to Hendrix and Miles Davis.

This song, Miracle, is the perfect apotheosis of their inimitable sound. Starting with a funky beat that sets the groove and a dirty, low end guitar riff that any hard rock/metal band would be proud to call their own, Jaylin Brown’s soulful vocals act as an effective contrast. The music explodes with full brass in the second section, full of punchy syncopations, and Jaylin gets to show her excellent vocal range.

The main hook of the track is on the verse: “Waiting every day for a miracle to come and sweep me away..”. Just when you think the sound can’t get any more varied, Chris Sclafani takes over on lead vocals, his understated tone acting as a nice counterpoint to Jaylin’s more expressive style. The song is about struggling with life’s troubles yet manages to be incredibly uplifting.

After the third verse the music really goes to another level, with the brass becoming more dominant, and in the space of a minute the music flips between jazz, funk and progressive rock, with fantastic guitar and keyboard solos from Andrew Rohlk and Nelson Valentine. It ends with one last blow out chorus and verse that leaves the listener on a high.

Overall, this band have achieved what many attempt but few achieve; they’ve fused all their eclectic styles into one giant melting pot and the result is a potent and original sound. Not only are the musicians and singers first rate, but Miracle shows their gift for writing inspirational and catchy music with depth to the lyrics. Everyone should get to experience Evolution of The Groove.

 

VERDICT =  9.4 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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ALBUM REVIEW: Dreamland by Jennifer Maidman

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Official website: www.jennifermaidman.com

Jennifer Maidman is a singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer originally from Upminster, England. Jennifer has had a remarkable and extensive musical career casting back to 1976, with her first release being L-L-Lazy Days as a writer member of the group Red Hot. While working at Decibel Studios in London  she recorded and mixed Marc Bolan’s I Love To Boogie.

She then went to become a founder member of Penguin Cafe Orchestra (1984-2007), several members of which contributing on this album. As a musician, producer or writer has worked with an array of famous artists including Joan Armatrading, Ian Dury, Boy George, Shakespeare’s Sister and Linda McCartney, to name but a few. Amongst numerous commercial successes, the album Hormonally Yours by Shakespeare’s Sister stands out. It went double platinum, spawning the hit single Stay which reached number one in several countries.

This album, Dreamland consists of seventeen tracks and it’s an epic musical odyssey that encompasses an eclectic range of genres including rock, funk, jazz, pop, psychedelia, spoken word and musique concrete, Irish folk and world music…. sometimes within the same song!

It was recorded largely in 2016 at Dreamland studios in Woodstock, in Upstate New York’s Catskill Mountains. Jennifer has recruited a team of musicians of the highest quality (Jerry Marotta on drums , David Torn plays guitars  & Annie Whitehead plays trombone, Paul Brady, Robert Wyatt, Sam Brown, Mitt Gamon) that have helped her realize her creative vision, and the flawless production matches the musical ambition of the project. Jennifer produced the album herself, another string to her bow.

Opening track Conspiracy of Dreamers is an odyssey in itself, a smoky, seven minute rock/funk track with soul and gospel thrown into the mix. Lyrically, it’s very apposite for the era, and could be perceived about wanting to escape and transcend the endless political and social turmoil. It also relates to the whole album’s theme of achieving your dreams and achieving freedom to be truly yourself as an individual.

While the album does deal with universal themes and issues, it is essentially about the emotional and spiritual journey Jennifer has gone through as a transgender person. The documentary that accompanies the album gives insight into its genesis and subject matter, with second track Hinterland containing a spoken word excerpt that depicts the sense of emotional isolation she felt growing up. This documentary was made by Dakota Lane and has been selected by the NYC Indie film festival to be screened in May.

This sense of isolation and turmoil is explored in Outside, which is a complete contrast to the musical fireworks of the first track. Just piano and Jennifer’s vocal comprise the soundscape, the sparseness suiting to the vulnerability and emotional rawness of the lyrics. It brought to mind the fragile beauty of Antony and The Johnsons, with Antony also a transgender artist.

The following Red Heart reverts back to the style of the opening song, a driving piece of rock/funk about expressing a passionate and sensual temperament. The music captures perfectly the primal energy that the song is depicting and hits upon a killer groove. The musical modulations cleverly reflect the subject matter and creates a fierce musical tension.

This Man Is Dangerous is one of the most emotive songs on the album, about how Jennifer felt almost like a malevolent presence in the world as a man: “Caught in the shadow of a man you’ll never be, running from a face without a name….”. The Letting Go is another epic eight minute song, and this one brought to mind the more reflective songs on David Bowie’s last two albums. There is a similar worldly wisdom to the lyrics, borne from authentic lived experience.

O Caroline is a nice change of pace, an acoustic ballad that brought to mind the songwriting of Ray Davies of The Kinks and is one of the most conventional love songs on the album, musically, with a very catchy hook. No Man’s Land is another well arranged and detailed song with an orchestral feel.

In parts, it sounds like E.L.O. and early Pink Floyd, when Syd Barrett was the main creative force, and at times has the jazz-tinged symphonic grandeur of Brian Wilson’s legendary Smile album. Lyrically, it depicts the healing ability of both music and love as well as a feeling of finding home after a long period of estrangement.

Bird Dreams is an evocative spoken word instrumental that somehow seems to have delved into the collective unconscious and captured the wisdom that comes in dreams: “To be a bird, one must first learn the art of perfect waiting….a sea of agitation drowns the precious moment…the demon of logic consumes your precious bird dreams….”.

Open The Door is a welcome return to the funky and uplifting soul-infused rock of the earlier songs. About halfway through, it modulates and drifts off to some wonderfully unexpected places. The jazz influence is more manifest in the haunting Land of Dreams, with rich, Bacharach-esque chordal voicings. Lyrically, it brings us back to the album’s title and underlying theme, and achieves a remarkably dislocated, dreamlike sense of floating outside time and space.

Here, another short audio excerpt from the documentary (featuring the voice of its maker, Dakota Lane) depicts the imagery of a crow, and the parallel between the freedom of bird flight and Jennifer’s journey of self is obvious. The brief but lovely Home takes us back to the delicate piano balladry of Outside (this one with a beautiful string arrangement) and lyrically seems pivotal to the album’s theme: “Born such a long way from our home….”.

The Magic Voice is one of the finest songs on the album, an ode to the redemptive and spiritual power of music itself (“A mystical phone, a shaman in my head…”) and the kind of quirky and inventive pop at which the British have always excelled. It brings to mind the restless inventiveness of Todd Rundgren’s similarly mystical and epic album A Wizard, A True Star along with The Beatles at their most avant garde.

The way the music drifts off into another sonic universe from around the three minute mark is very cleverly executed, flowing seamlessly into the transcendental last two tracks, both instrumentals. Higher Than Life? has a tribal feel that made me think of the wild freeform jazz of Miles Davis’s classic Bitches Brew.

The closing Crow’s Dance brings us back to earth, as if the crow has finally reached its destination. It’s a joyous mélange of Irish folk and world music featuring accordion, brass, strings, mandolin and more. It’s superbly arranged with a subtle intricacy and somehow seems the perfect way to complete this epic emotional and musical story.

Overall, in an era where art and culture is increasingly adapted to the short attention span of the modern generation, to make such a sprawling and musically ambitious album cannot be commended highly enough. It shows artistic integrity and bravery, and the result is a unique musical document of her own emotional journey, saying plenty of truthful wisdom about life and the world along the way. A wonderful album by a very individual artist which richly deserves all the plaudits it receives.

VERDICT: 9.4 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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Watch a short documentary on the making of the album:

Buy the album from CD Baby HERE

SINGLE REVIEW: No More Reprise by Norine Braun

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Norine Braun is a singer/songwriter hailing from Vancouver who is already very established and has won several awards in a long and successful career. Her music is an eclectic blend of blues, rock, soul and jazz which she has performed worldwide at festivals and elsewhere to both critical and public acclaim. With a lengthy back catalogue behind her she is now releasing her eleventh album Kind of Blues, with No More Reprise as the lead-off track.

The song grabs the listener’s attention from the very start with a warm, rootsy sound based around a funky drum groove, catchy bassline, slick wah-wah drenched guitar and wailing, bluesy harmonica. Norine soon enters the fray with a distinctive and authentic vocal style, mildly reminiscent of Arethra Franklin albeit with a lighter tone.

The lyrics depict a relationship that has hit the rocks owing to her partner being a good-for-nothing, the protagonist having reached her wit’s end with them: “No more sleeping in this bed, no more tears about you shed…”. The acerbic lyrical style fits perfectly with the strident mood of the music, which follows the traditional pattern of twelve bar blues. There is no obvious chorus as you’d find in standard pop, but the song is so catchy throughout that you soon find yourself singing along. After the second verse, there is a concise, effective guitar solo performed with a Hendrix-esque tone and some nice harmonica licks in the last verse to keep the listener gripped to the end.

Overall, this is a fresh, funky and highly enjoyable piece of modern blues written and performed by a versatile and mercurial talent. For those who appreciate music with heart and soul and who are looking for undiscovered gems outside the banal mainstream, look no further than the music of Norine Braun.

VERDICT: 8.9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

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SINGLE REVIEW: Some Mo’ by Valenti review

Valenti  (Dennis Webb Jr.)http://www.valentifunk.com/

Valenti “Funk” Thomas is a multi-instrumentalist and producer who was born in Dallas, Texas and raised in Irving. After becoming proficient at several instruments, he joined funk/reggae group the Effinays in 2010, where he shared the stage with Snoop Dogg (Lion), Grammy-award winning Latin funk orchestra Grupo Fantasma and country music artist Jack Ingram. While in this group, Valenti composed the music for the eleven songs of his forthcoming self-titled album, from which this track, Some Mo’, is taken.

Starting with a short intro consisting of alternating bars of 3/4 and 5/4, it then launches into an up tempo funk track with an instantly memorable synth riff and a taut, funky bassline. We then hear the soulful female vocals of LaLa Johnson over choppy high-end guitar and rhythmic piano for the succinct verse, which leads straight to the chorus. The hook is extremely simple and catchy (“I like it, I love it, and I want some mo’…”), the music lifted by some unpredictable chord changes that showcase Valenti’s musicality and inventiveness.

Lyrically, it’s an ode to good times and people’s sexual tastes: “Some like ’em black, some like ’em white, some like to take their time and try them all for the night…’. Funk has long been the domain of amorous subject matter, and this song upholds that tradition nicely! After the second chorus there is a middle section with some gorgeous stacked vocal harmonies, before a synth solo and another blast through the chorus takes us to the end.

Overall, with superb musicianship and songwriting craft, plus a stellar vocal performance from LaLa Johnson, it all adds up a blistering piece of funk that Stevie Wonder would approve of. Like Stevie, Valenti is a versatile musician/songwriter and I’m looking forward to hearing his debut album, which should help to establish him as a major talent.

 

Alex Faulkner

Verdict: 8.6 out of 10