SINGLE REVIEW: An Angel For You by Gina Michaells

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Gina Michaells is country singer and songwriter born in La Union in the Philippines and now based in Denmark. She was performing at fairs and festivals as a singer from the age of six, singing in bands through high school and college. At twenty, she decided to take her talent worldwide and has performed in Japan, Indonesia, Greenland and Malaysia, amongst other places. Her music initially started out as pure country but she has since diversified into other genres.

This song, An Angel For You, is an epic country-tinged pop ballad written with Nashville producer/songwriter Lonnie Ratliff and mixed by Arthur Pingray (Sia, Flo Rida), released October 2. Starting with a short but evocative intro of delicate piano and guitar, Gina’s emotive and powerful vocals enter, commanding the listener’s attention. After a brief, well-crafted verse the instantly memorable chorus is where the song, and Gina’s voice, really shines.

The song is about trying to live up to someone’s expectations of you and stand by them even though it’s hard: “If you’re looking for an angel then the least that I can do is try to be an angel for you…”. The arrangement builds gradually, giving the song increasing emotional power, with a key change after the second chorus lifting the music still further (Gina at the top of her considerable vocal range). Another modulation takes the song into the stratosphere and brings the music to a satisfying climax.

Overall, this is a powerfully performed, highly emotional country-pop ballad that showcases Gina Michaells’ dual gifts as a vocalist and songwriter. Well arranged and recorded by Nashville session musicians, it has everything it takes to have a huge hit including very high quality, radio friendly production. Most importantly, it has an emotive force that people will connect with, and subject matter they will relate to. Gina Michaells has immense commercial potential, and this song deserves to make big waves in the music scene.

 

VERDICT: 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

 

Learn more about Gina Michaells HERE

 

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SINGLE REVIEW: Roller Coaster Night by Shane Scheib

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This song, Roller Coaster Night, is a collaboration with producer Ryan Mohr. It’s a very modern sounding EDM-tinged pop track, just about perfect for radio. It grabs your attention from the start, with a short intro based on rolling toms, then Shane delivering a very catchy vocal melody with energy and flair. His voice is strong and ¬†distinctive yet wouldn’t sound out of place amongst pop contemporaries like Justin Timberlake or Ed Sheeran.

He has a definite sonic style here, with some fantastic synth swirls on the bridge giving it an almost futuristic vibe. It really bursts into life on the chorus, a pumping beat and Uptown Funk-esque high end guitars combining with a very memorable title hook. After the second chorus, it enters a breakdown section based around a long, anthemic melody that’s the perfect contrast to the rhythmic nature of the chorus. It will also sound great to sing along to at 2am in a club!

Overall, this is a very well written, performed and produced pop/dance track from an artist with a very authentic musical background, showing he can compete with the current luminaries of the pop world . It’s a great song for the season, and will work both on radio and the dancefloor, the best of both worlds. And who knows, there’s still time for it to go viral this summer.

Shane Scheib is a recording artist born in Eastern Washington State, growing up in Coulee City and Ellenburg. He studied jazz guitar at Jeff Berlin’s Player’s School Of Music, and guitar theory under Yuzuru Tanakura. For a while, Shane got involved in missionary work, and upon his return to the States was encouraged to move to Nashville, which he eventually did. Since then, he has released some highly successful EPs including Genrelicious and Fast Friends, which garnered rotation on over 100 radio stations.

 

VERDICT: 8.6 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

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

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http://www.claudianorris.ca/

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

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