ALBUM REVIEW: Grandiose Delusions by The Dave Harris Project

MI0003840372http://daveharrisproject.com/

The Dave Harris Project is a collaborative music project based around songwriter, multi-instrumental musician and producer Dave Harris, who wrote (or co-wrote) and co-produced all the tracks on the album. He has written with artists such as Julian Lennon, Rob Thomas (Matchbox Twenty) and Grammy winner Rick Springfield (who co-wrote the first track). In fact, there’s a huge roll-call of famous writers and musicians involved in this project, as shall emerge…

The lead vocals on the album are performed by Michael J. Willett, who is also an actor, currently starring in MTV’s Faking It. Possessed with a strong, distinctive voice and remarkable vocal range, these songs showcase his abilities to the max. The music is quite varied from track to track, but there’s a definite leaning to the sound and style of 80’s and 90’s rock/pop. The songs are all extremely well-crafted and arranged, with pristine production.

Things get off to a blistering start with the incendiary opening track Git Ready (co-written with Rick Springfield) which opens with a catchy ‘woo-hoo’ vocal chant. It progresses to a sparse verse of lead vocals with a crunchy, driving guitar riff, before adding harmonies on the bridge. This leads to an explosive chorus, with an insistent title hook that immediately lodges in the memory, it’s impact aided by tumbling tom-toms and synths.

After a second verse and chorus, there’s a great middle eight before driving the chorus home to the close. The whole production is unashamedly 80’s with the synths and guitar sounds, and sheer hugeness of the chorus. It’s the perfect instant pop song to start the album and suitable as a single.

Second track In Love Alone is similar in sound, though more like the 90’s pop of someone like Kelly Clarkson or the boyband-with-guitars sound of American-influenced UK groups Busted/McFly. It’s high quality rock/pop that you can imagine being on a film soundtrack, with an understated but memorable chorus.

You’re Easy To Love (Sara’s song) is much simpler, only a piano and lead vocal, aided by one harmony on the chorus. It’s the perfect showcase for Willett’s exceptional voice, with a gorgeous vocal melody and chord progression. He displays his remarkable falsetto for the first time on the chorus, and though over four minutes is long for a sparse ballad, it is so melodic and well-crafted that it doesn’t drag at all.

Fourth track Go! is one of my favourites on the album, an immensely enjoyable fusion of E.L.O. and the Bee Gees that contains an irresistible chorus. Willett brings out the falsetto once again, with a chorus melody so high it makes Barry Gibb sound like Paul Robeson, but it works perfectly, as do the thick wall of vocal harmonies. The 70’s vibe is nailed by a guitar solo that is so Queen-esque that you suspect it had to be played by Brian May – it was! It’s a great cameo from the nimble-fingered legend.

Live A Little strips it back again, consisting of just lead vocals and harmonies with a ukelele being lightly strummed in the background. The vocal arrangement is superb and it’s a sweet song that provides a nice contrast after the sonic hand grenade of the previous track. Next comes Surrender (co- featuring Jon Secada on vocals) , which is an emotionally powerful 80’s style piano ballad that brought to mind Richard Marx. The strings at the end are highly effective, another track seemingly destined for a film soundtrack.

The next two songs take us back to the mid-80s synth-pop style and production with Prima Donna being another very catchy and commercial track, though the lyrics made me cringe a little at times (“you’re so pretty, but you’re shitty inside….”). Burning Desire is one of the album highlights for me, a slow-building sultry verse leading to a chorus with the falsetto back again, but this time channelling Prince circa Kiss. A definite potential single.

All Mine comes next, a well-crafted and arranged piece of retro-pop that brought to mind McFly with it’s 50’s/60’s style backing harmonies and some more old-school electric guitar courtesy of Brian May. Cathy is another classy piano ballad (co-written with none other than the late, great Robin Gibb, whose influence is all over the album) that suits Willett’s voice particularly well and the sort of emotive song his female fanbase will adore.

The Ride is more high quality pop, though the hook didn’t latch in my mind as quickly as many of the others. All Night Long, Pt.4 takes us back to the sensual theme of Burning Desire, but this time in the vein of 70’s disco, with a Bee Gees-esque arrangement including Stayin’ Alive-style melodic string lines. These kind of more earthy songs act as a nice contrast to the lighters-in-the-air ballads.

Better Part Of Me, track thirteen, is another fun 80’s pastiche replete with quirky synth noises and effects, leading to the big finale of Not Over You, a duet with Katie Stevens (co-written with Rob Thomas). She is the perfect female counterpart to Willett’s voice, the vocal blend works like a dream. It’s another epic ballad that tugs at the heartstrings, and the way the key changes as it goes into the guitar solo is a nice touch. It’s the most emotionally powerful and memorable ballad on the album, a great way to finish.

Overall, this is a hugely enjoyable album where the songwriting, performances and production are all of a very high quality. The consistency of the material is something most albums cannot compete with, and any number of songs could be suitable as singles. I think the success of this album will be huge provided it gets enough exposure, as it contains the kind of classic pop that people love but don’t hear enough of in the charts these days.

 

Alex Faulkner (The Faulkner Review)

Verdict: 8.9 out of 10

ALBUM REVIEW: Reverb by Audiobender

audiobender_cd_cover Audiobender are a three-piece rock band hailing from San Jose, California. They were formed in 2012 by singer/songwriter and guitarist Jared Richard who recruited former Soulorgy bandmates Paul Cingolani (bass) and Jeff Lemas (drums). Their music style is essentially alternative rock, with a healthy dose of blues thrown in, somewhere between Jet and The White Stripes, with Jared Richard’s expressive lead vocals sometimes bringing to mind Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant.

After getting their songs together they have been busy gigging and have garnered a large fanbase very quickly. They have a strong presence on social media and are currently heading for the top of the charts on Reverb Nation. This album, Reverb, is their debut containing ten songs and the first thing that struck me about their sound is that it manages to capture the raw energy and excitement of a live performance, something that often gets lost in the production process.

Opening track Alright With Me is a blistering start, establishing the band’s style that
combines a nicely driven but open guitar sound, clean enough to let the melodic basslines of Paul Cingolani to be heard, which is an advantage of being a three-piece. It also allows the strident and fluid drumming of Jeff Lemas to be fully appreciated, who drives this song forward with some propulsive, whirlwind fills around the kit. Jared Richard creates a nice dynamic by singing in a low croon before launching into a full-throated vocal assault on the chorus, showing impressive range and control. Every good rock band needs a great singer and he fulfils this criterion perfectly.

Second track On and On is another strong song, this one more of a showcase for Jared Richard’s guitar skills, with some gorgeous ascending lead guitar harmonies on the chorus, the bassline adding a further harmony beneath it. After the second chorus there is a well-structured and controlled guitar solo that doesn’t outstay it’s welcome, then the harmonies start descending which gives some melodic variation. Sometimes lead guitar work can become about showmanship and lead to self-indulgence, but here the playing always serves the song.

Third song Sweet acts as a nice contrast, showing a more melodic, gentle facet to the band. I enjoyed the lilting major-minor chord progressions and this is another good showcase for Richard’s versatile vocals, equally at home singing the hard rockers and the lighter songs, a gift that Lennon and McCartney both had.

Next track MFH (Here Come The Girl) is most definitely in the former category and perhaps the heaviest track here. It’s a raucous, highly infectious five minutes of blues rock, in the vein of Hendrix’s classic Foxy Lady and 70’s bands like Led Zeppelin, melding it with more modem aspects of rock production, the distorted lead vocals bringing to mind The Black Keys and The Strokes’ Julian Casablancas. The start-stop structure works well dynamically and I loved the long middle section, letting the music grow and breathe.Too many rock bands arrange their songs like pop tracks in a bid to be commercial these days, so it’s refreshing to hear rock that is played without rules.

One In The Hand, fifth track, is back to the lighter style with a clean, mellow but funky guitar sound that is reminiscent of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ John Frusciante. Lyrically, it is one of the most serious and contemplative: “I spend my whole life on the edge of a sharpened knife…”. It acts as a nice change in mood and pace before a return to some hard rockin’ with sixth track The Rules. This is gritty and enjoyable rock ‘n roll that once again makes effective use of distorted vocals that give a raw edge and vitality to the sound. The whole song is something The Strokes would be happy to have in their canon, while Keith Moon would have been proud of the ‘whirling dervish’ drumming.

I Wont Write This Song is another track with a melancholy, wistful feel lyrically, expressing regret over behaviour in a relationship, but managing to avoid it sounding clich├ęd and obvious through the clever conceit of the song title. Most of the lyrics are, in time-honoured tradition for blues and rock, about women and the happiness/pain relationships bring. The chord progression suits the words perfectly, and the solo is understated and exquisitely crafted.

Know What I Mean is one of the more upbeat, poppy tracks on the album with a sing-songy melody on the verse that is extremely catchy, while the chorus is surprisingly jazzy in its chord voicings. Paul Cingolani’s highly melodic, elastic bassline stands out on this song, and the overall different style gives some good variation to proceedings, with a simple but insistent title hook sticking in the mind.

Say Goodnight is the album’s slow-burning epic, starting quietly and gradually building to an epic climax, with a particularly intense and expressive vocal performance from Jared Richard and a lengthy guitar solo that you would imagine being played on the edge of a cliff in the video. It pages the way nicely for the final song Let It Bleed, which is not a cover of the Stones classic, but another of the head-banging rockers that Audiobender do so well, with all three members playing their hearts out. You can imagine them ending their set with this, and strangely, the listener does feel like they’ve just been listening to a live performance, which is testament to the production and the energy of the band.

Overall, this is a consistently well written and performed modern rock album that feels just the right length and makes for a strong debut. Whilst they haven’t yet forged a unique sonic identity, they combine their influences to great effect and make a great noise together, all being very accomplished musicians. This is the kind of band that builds up a huge devoted following through touring and you can see that already starting to happen. I look forward to hearing future albums from them.

 

Alex Faulkner (The Faulkner Review)

Verdict: 8.3 out of 10

 

http://www.reverbnation.com/audiobenderband