SINGLE REVIEW: Big Skies by Ray William Roldan

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Ray William Roldan is a country singer/songwriter who was born in Jersey, and raised on the West Coast. Brought up on a musical diet of Elvis, Johnny Cash, Rick Nelson, Merl Haggard and many others, he picked up the guitar and harmonica which eventually led to becoming a songwriter. He has performed with many musicians who’ve worked with big names in the industry including Bruce Watson (Rod Stewart) and Brad Cobb (Tori Amos).

He’s built up a huge fanbase and received a great deal of airplay during his career, having so far released three albums. Two were recorded back to back, In California Country and Where We Come From and the latest album Mending Fences was released to large acclaim. This song, Big Skies, is an acoustic ballad performed and written by Ray.

Like the best songwriters, Ray’s lyrics convey a lot of meaning. This song is about having a sense of spirituality in the midst of modern, urban life. The first verse sets the tone of a country boy lost in the city and the memorable chorus encapsulates what the song is about: “Ain’t no big skies to show us where God lives, got his pictures on billboards and bus benches too though….”. The other verses continue the theme with touching humanity and time-worn wisdom.

Overall, Big Skies shows Ray William Roldan is the real deal as a country songwriter. As with the best songs by the greats like Dylan and Johnny Cash, he blends the quotidian with the spiritual and makes you think about life in a deeper way. His legacy will continue to spread and I think he’ll eventually become recognized as one of the finest songwriters in his field.

VERDICT: 8.8 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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ALBUM REVIEW: Motel Blue by The Steven Blane Band featuring Rachel Horter

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https://www.stevenblane.com

Steven Blane is a singer/songwriter and multi instrumentalist (guitar, piano, ukelele) hailing from New York City, as well as being a Universalist Rabbi and Cantor. His music can be essentially described as Americana, with shades of other genres such as folk, rock and blues thrown into the musical meld. Having already released several albums, he has accumulated a sizeable fanbase and critical acclaim along the way.

This album, Motel Blue, is his fifth, following on from 2016’s I Confess and The Shed Sessions. It was written and produced by Blane in the legendary country mecca of Nashville with his band of highly accomplished musicians; Frankie “Sticks” Levatino on drums, Kevin Hailey on bass and the formidable Ross Holmes on fiddle. Steven is accompanied on vocal duties throughout the album by Rachel Horter, a successful singer/songwriter in her own right.

The opening song Old Heart, Young dreams is the perfect introduction to the album, showcasing Blane’s rich Roy Orbison-esque voice, counterpointed beautifully by Rachel Horter’s angelic and authentically country tones (she is based in Nashville). It starts with a brisk 2/4 beat and a short burst of fiddle, Steven and Rachel taking turns delivering verses, before entwining effectively on the hook. It’s an apposite theme about a man and a woman of differing ages chasing their musical dreams. A great piece of country rock.

Next comes the title track of the album, performed solely by Rachel Horter. It’s a much slower and more bluesy country song about a place where those who’ve been unlucky in love stay to recuperate from their heartbreak. Rachel delivers a hauntingly lovelorn performance that Patsy Cline would have been proud of. One subtle aspect of Blane’s nuanced songwriting is that he takes traditional country forms and sets them to knowingly modern lyrics which stop it being mere pastiche: “There’s a TV and WiFi too, all that I need at Motel Blue….”. Ross Holmes contributes a wonderfully structured fiddle solo which musically enriches the song, as he does throughout the album.

Third song Curb Your Dog is a return to the upbeat country rock style, in 2/4 time. This one has a highly relevant theme of the importance of exercising a degree of self-control in the midst of hectic modern life, whilst acknowledging the difficulty of so many rules and regulations: “You’ve got to do what I say, day and night, right way…you’ve got to know what I mean and everything in between”. A fun, catchy song with great interplay between Blane and Horter.

Lover’s Lane is a nice change of pace; a smoky, sultry song with a lead vocal performed by Blane, aided by some 50’s-style “bop-shoo-bop” backing vocals from Horter. If features some nice lead guitar licks throughout, culminating in a short but sweet solo. The middle eight is strong, Horter’s voice blending with Blane’s in gorgeous harmony.

Preacher To The Prisoner is again a contrast, this song showing the influence of Steven’s faith. It’s a light hearted yet profound piece of songwriting, which, as the title implies, is about a preacher encouraging a prisoner to repent and find redemption. Musically, it shows Blane’s more jazzy side, set to a slinky, swinging rhythm with some nice brush work from Frankie Levatino and aided by rolling double bass from Kevin Hailey.

The next track Saved could be mistaken at first to be another faith-themed song, but is in fact about wanting to be saved by love rather than it being painful, restrictive and limiting. It is another fine example of how Blane and Horter bounce off each other, taking a verse on their own before combining for an instantly memorable chorus. In fact, it is so quickly recognizable that this would make an excellent choice for a single.

While Steven Blane has no problem writing the uptempo toe-tappers, for me, it is the slower material where he really shows his strength and craftsmanship as a songwriter. This is very evident on the poignant As Far As I’m Concerned, a song about trying to find the cause as to why a relationship is failing, captured in the excellent chorus: “Well, its the jetlag baby, or a head cold maybe, or the dollars always needing to be earned, it’s the season turning, it’s the spirit yearning, it’s the bridge that’s burning as far as I’m concerned…”. Another potential single.

Anytime is another wonderful slow song, this one in 3/4 waltz time and performed once more solely by Rachel Horter. It’s a touching country ballad sung in a gentle croon, and displays a tender side to Blane’s songwriting. The poignancy comes from the story told in the lyrics, about a woman showing her partner devotion and unconditional love after his infidelity.

The fine run of ballads continues with Dance With The One Who Brung Ya, this one another duet, the theme being about appreciating what you have and the person you’re with. This one is notable for the emotional expressiveness and Orbiton-esque intensity that Blane channels towards the end of the track.

Tiny Little Moment is a nice contrast and adds a little light relief amongst the more emotional songs, a two minute gem with a busy bassline and a catchy vocal melody. This one has a real 50’s feel to it and would go down a storm at a barndance. Ross Holmes delivers another phenomenal fiddle solo, as well as driving the music along throughout with his infectious sawing.

The closing song, Moth To A Flame, is a haunting Leonard Cohen/Paul Simon type ballad that again showcases his gift for this kind of style. With the sparse backing of a plucked ukelele and subtle strings, including a movingly melancholy fiddle passage, Blane and Horter give a spine tingling vocal performance as they depict two people irresistibly drawn to each other. A perfect finale.

Overall, this is a superb collection of well written and exquisitely produced Americana songs, performed with consummate skill and style by both Blane and Horter, who make a great vocal combination. Fans of country, folk, blues and the lighter end of rock will find plenty to enjoy here. The consistently high quality of the album will most likely mean the music of Steven Blane reaches a much bigger audience and deservedly so.

 

VERDICT: 9.1 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

ALBUM REVIEW: Into The Woods by Philip Masorti

into-the-woods-1024x928 http://philipmasorti.com/

 

Philip Masorti is a singer songwriter who is a trial lawyer by trade and came to songwriting fairly late in life. He turned to music for solace after family loss, and after playing songs to accomplished musicians he ended up recording his first album Fathers Eyes in 2009. His music is essentially country/folk and you can hear the influences of Mark Knopfler, Johnny Cash, Leonard Cohen and Neil Young in his music.

This album, Into The Woods, consists off eight tracks and starts with the mid paced¬† acoustic One World that lyrically discusses life in differing parts of the world, including the Third World: “One man, the virus took his eye…is it he or the rest of us that’s blind?“. Along with his deep, rich voice it is his thoughtful, poetic lyrics that mark out his songwriting. The chorus acts as an effectively simple contrast to the verses, aided by lovely female backing vocals.

Bridges on 80 is a mellow country song with mandolin and slide guitar creating a dreamy soundscape, a cinematic tale of a car journey, while Lean On Me and Motorcycle Rider are both excellent, the latter the mostly lively song here. Every track is strong, but among other highlights the brutally honesty of Truth Be Told adds some edge, though it’s the closing war story Iron Curtain that achieves great artistic heights, finishing with a powerful spoken monologue over poignant music that remembers those lost in war.

Overall, this is a very accomplished and enjoyable album full of well written and performed songs. He has a fine voice and facility for melody, with an assured feel for songwriting craft. The lyrical writing is more sophisticated, literate and nuanced than the great majority of music out there, which this gives it a depth that discerning listeners will appreciate. Highly recommended for fans of serious songwriting and country fans in general.

 

Alex Faulkner

VERDICT: 8.7 out of 10

E.P. REVIEW: Pompadour by Kenny Flame

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http://kennyfame.bandcamp.com/album/pompadour

Kenny Flame is an American alternative R&B musician from Harlem, New York. He is known for his eclectic sound mixing soul, spoken and folk. His career began in 2010 when he won the 10th Annual National Black Writers Conference Writing Contest for poetry. Since then, he has won various awards for his music and had five number ones on internet radio, including the smash hit Julie.

This five track EP was inspired by the 1950’s era and this is reflected in the music and such artists as Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Chet Baker and Jackie Wilson, amongst others. There is a soul/jazz element to all the songs here which he wrote himself, except for a cover of Adele’s Hometown Glory.

Opening track Oh What A Night is built around a skeletal guitar lick that brought to mind Michael Jackson’s Black or White, though the musical similarities end there.
Kenny has a fine voice for this kind of material and this mellow song has a distinct charm and emotional warmth missing from much of modern music.

City Lights is more upbeat, a 50’s style rock n roll song with a swinging beat and a real feel good vibe. There is also a country element to the guitar lines that weave in and out throughout, and played in the way you’d hear on early Elvis records. The vocal melody is very catchy and makes for a very enjoyable listen.

Friends is absolutely lovely; just vocals, dreamy reverb drenched guitar and vibraphone, though my only slight criticism would be his voice is a little low in the mix on this one. He maintains a similar style for a nice reinterpretation of Adele’s Hometown Glory but the closing Stay (For Jazz) is a real highlight and perhaps the best song here. The lyrics are emotional and fiercely honest (“My awkwardness leaves me insecure…”) which adds to the touching poignancy, sung over a beautiful jazzy chord progression.

Overall, a very accomplished EP that showcases Kenny Fame’s versatile talents as a singer and songwriter and should enhance his reputation and fanbase further.

 

Alex Faulkner

 

VERDICT: 8.3 out of 10