SINGLE REVIEW: Father’s Second Son by Lachlan Grant Splendor

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Lachlan Grant Splendor is an acoustic singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist hailing from New Zealand. His songwriting has been compared with that of Neil Young, whilst his distinctive vocals have drawn comparisons with England’s Billy Bragg. He cites influences such as Dave Matthews, Ben Howard, Lumineers, Hollow Coves and the aforementioned Young.

To that, I would add the slight influence, or at least similarity to, fellow Kiwi Neil Finn (Crowded House) and aspects of Elliott Smith. There is also a spiritual aspect to his music and he describes his concept album The Choice Is Yours as being inspired by higher conscious awakening.

This song, Father’s Second Son, is a beautifully crafted and performed acoustic ballad in the complex time signature of 12/8. It begins with haunting Elliott Smith-style picked acoustic guitar which sets the stage for Lachlan’s unique, quirky voice which does indeed bring to mind Billy Bragg, but only a little. The lyrics grab you from the start, depicting the complicated relationship with his older brother and their father: “When I was sixteen my brother was twenty… when I was sixteen, life felt so empty…….I looked up to him, he was my role model…..”.

The subtly anthemic and memorable chorus encapsulates the song’s emotional honesty and self-reflection: “What if I become my father’s second son?“. The second verse is equally poignant with lines like, “Used to always think that I would turn out the same… drink the same beer, burn with the same hot flame, score with the gorgeous girls….but none of that ever came true.….”. The understated and restrained delivery adds to the affecting nature of the song. Special credit should go to the intricate drumming, full of nuance and deft touches.

Overall, this is a great example of how the honest, confessional songwriting style can be one of the most powerful in music. Lachlan wears his heart on his sleeve but with the slightest hint of self-pity, delivering a genuinely moving song that can stand alongside that of his musical heroes. His musicianship (guitar and bass) along with his vocals are first rate and although you would place it in the alternative category, the universality of his songwriting means there’s no limits to the potential of his popularity.

 

VERDICT = 8.8 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

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E.P. REVIEW: Coming Back Stronger by Patrick Carpenter

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Official website HERE

Patrick Carpenter is a singer/songwriter and guitarist from Jackson, Mississippi. He started out in music by wanting to emulate his guitar playing heroes such as Richie Sambora, Eddie Van Halen and Brad Paisley, picking up the guitar himself at just eleven. He has since developed into a singer/songwriter and launched himself as a solo artist in 2018. His music is essentially a combination of traditional country, mainstream pop, blues and 80’s-style arena-rock as personified by bands like Bon Jovi.

This EP, Coming Back Stronger, consists of six tracks and has already reached #13 in the ITunes chart, which is truly impressive for a debut release. It begins with the title track, an instantly memorable and enjoyable country rock track with an 80’s-esque stadium-rock drum sound.

Patrick is gifted with a strong and recognizable voice that’s easy on the ear and perfectly suited to the material. Featuring an anthemic chorus augmented by fine backing harmonies, it’s an uplifting song about fighting back against adversity. Towards the end, we get to hear his superb lead guitar skills which finishes off an excellent track nicely.

Second track Chance on Me is a more sensitive side to his songwriting, an epic six-minute country rock ballad in 6/8. It works as a showcase for his first rate lead vocals and musically, it’s enriched by warm organ and tasteful, controlled bursts of lead guitar, although he does allow himself to let rip a little towards the end. I Wish She Knew is another fine ballad based on a musical bedrock of piano and strummed acoustic guitar. This one is a more melancholy song about being unable to tell someone how they feel, a subject many will relate to.

Back Again is quite a contrast, a demo version of a song that combines country rock with a more electronic influence in the drums which gives it a modern sound. It’s another strong piece of songwriting and I’d be interested to hear the song in its complete production form.

The following Drink of You is my personal favourite on the EP, an infectious and up tempo country pop/rock track and perhaps the one with the most commercial potential of the songs here. Lyrically, it’s a twist on the current fad for country songs celebrating drinking, this time being a metaphor for being intoxicated by the effect of a desired woman. If this hasn’t been released as a single yet, it should be!

The final track Controlled Madness shows the influence of late 80’s stadium-rock with its use of a talk box, first made famous by Peter Frampton and employed on the Bon Jovi classic Livin’ On A Prayer. It gives the song a quirky edge that is unexpected, set to a great rock backing that brought to mind Neil Young’s Rockin’ In The Free World. A great way to finish.

Overall, this is a very strong set of songs that show the versatility of Patrick Carpenter as a songwriter, singer and lead guitarist. Taking country-rock and combining it with the classic stadium-rock sound isn’t an easy trick to pull of, but Patrick makes it seem natural and the result is a musical style that is both vintage and modern. With further material as good as this, the sky’s the limit for Patrick Carpenter.

 

VERDICT = 8.7 out of 10             

Alex Faulkner

 

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ALBUM REVIEW: A Voice In The Wilderness by David Vaters

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https://www.facebook.com/davidvatersalbum

David Vaters is a country singer/songwriter and musician originally from St. John’s Newfoundland, Canada. During his career he has worked with well known musicians and producers such as Henri Spinetti (Eric Clapton, Tina Turner), Dave Markee (Eric Clapton) and Dan Cutrona (Joe Cocker, Bee Gees) amongst many others. He regards his influences as legendary singer/songwriters such as Neil Young, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen.

This album, A Voice In The Wilderness, comprises two volumes and it is his debut release. It features well known Nashville musicians such as Tom Hemby (Vince Gill, Kenny Loggins) on guitars and mandolin, John Hammond (Amy Grant, Vince Gill) on drums and percussion, along with Jeff Cox on bass and David Vest on keyboards. The latter co-produced with David Vaters, who performs all acoustic guitars and lead vocals.

Volume 1 of the album consists of ten tracks and begins with the melancholy country ballad Let It Rain. It showcases David’s fine voice, which is somewhere between Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty and Bob Dylan. It’s a song that works as a story about a farmer needing rain for his crops, but also as a metaphor for going through hard times and the need for hope. These deeper themes feature throughout the album, with a philosophical style similar to Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen.

Running To You is more upbeat, a mid-paced country rock track with Like A Rolling Stone-style drawbar organ. It features a particularly strong chorus which is augmented by some excellent backing harmonies. A standout moment on  this first volume. 8 Ways from Sunday is a tender lighters-in-the-air love ballad devoted to his wife and it’s also the first song on the album that mentions his strong Christian faith: “Only with God’s grace I begin to smile….”.

Brighter Than The Stars is another ballad and is explicitly about his faith and strong relationship with God: “Faith comes by hearing then accepting you…”. It’s a powerful, deeply spiritual song that brings to mind Bob Dylan after his conversion to Christianity. This theme continues on the next track This Cross (“Salvations coming, my work is done”) which gradually builds in intensity across its four minute duration to reach a cathartic climax.

Mansion In The Sky is a poignant song about how having faith and a belief in an afterlife helps you cope with thoughts of death. Credit to David should be given for having the courage to write about life’s most difficult subjects. This one is musically very colourful, with the rich sound of accordion and plucked mandolin.

Sixth track God Help Me Out is another song of humble gratitude about how his faith has sustained him through difficult times. Musically, it’s another organ-driven country rock song, with bursts of bluesy harmonica and slide guitar. See You In Heaven is a very touching track written from the perspective of someone who has died and reassuring his loved one that he’s still around and they will be reunited in the afterlife. This song will comfort anyone suffering with bereavement and deep grief.

It’s Time is an album highlight, an uplifting epic piano-led ballad with a powerful ‘carpe diem’ message and a magnificent vocal performance from Vaters, whose passion and sincerity is axiomatic. Musically, it’s based around a classic descending chord sequence, counter pointed by ascending string lines. The final track on Volume 1 is an instrumental version of Brighter Than The Stars, which shows the musical intricacy of this fine composition in a new light, bringing this volume to a gentle close.

Volume 2 opens with another of David’s philosophical songs that contain a lifetime’s experience and wisdom. Castles In The Sand is about the transitory and ephemeral nature of man’s achievements and how everything we do is only temporary in life. Second track Forgive is one of his deeply moral songs, about the importance of forgiving those who have wronged you. It was an obvious choice as a single.

Godly Man is one of his more uptempo rock tracks that reiterates his faith, interspersed with moments of mellifluous electric lead guitar and some rather cool vocal effects towards the end. Brothers In Need is a poignant song with a minimal but effective musical backdrop, a tale told from the perspective of a homeless man who is helped by others and by finding faith in God. It’s sort of a modern parable, an update of The Good Samaritan.

Prepare is a nice contrast, built around a Sixties-esque picked guitar riff and rich vocal harmonies that brought to mind The Byrd’s circa Younger Than Yesterday. Talking To God is another song about finding the strength to overcome adversity through prayer and faith, a message which will resonate most with fellow Christians.

Like I’ve Been Born Again starts out similarly as a piano ballad before breaking into a muscular beat and as the title implies, is about finding redemption through his faith. I enjoyed the lead guitar section that injects drama into the music halfway through. Service of The King is another single taken from the album, and its easy to see why, with a very radio-friendly sound also featuring gospel-tinged female vocals.

Resurrection Day is musically a bit of a departure, this one an exciting stomp that made me think of Springsteen’s Born To Run album. Lyrically, it’s about the Christian belief that the dead will one day resurrected from the grave at some point, provided they had accepted the Christian doctrines before they died. The second volume closes with another instrumental, with this one being Talking To God. This version allows the musical beauty of the arrangement to shine and ends the album on a high note.

Overall, this is a highly accomplished and ambitious two-volume album. In an era where the art form of the album is dying out and people’s attention spans grow ever shorter, it’s to his great credit to release a double album as his debut. But his decision has already been vindicated, as it has been streamed in the millions already. For those of faith and those without, David Vaters writes songs that capture the timeless human condition.

VERDICT: 8.6 out of 10

 

Alex Faulkner

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SINGLE REVIEW: Down The Line by Snir Yamin

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www.facebook.com/sniryaminmusic

Snir Yamin is a singer and songwriter hailing from Israel. His music is a hybrid of folk, pop and rock and he cites influences such as Damien Rice, Jeff Buckley, Neil Young and Elliott Smith amongst others. You can also hear sonic similarities to bands like Muse, The Killers and the lesser known British band Nothing But Thieves. In 2016, he was awarded Best Folk Song by The Akademia.

This song, Down The Line, is perfectly pitched between rock and pop. Beginning with an evocative synth-based intro, low-end guitar stabs grab your attention before Snir enters with an immediately distinctive and captivating voice. The poetic nature of the lyrics also quickly becomes apparent from the opening lines: “From slowing down to running free on wild roads and buried dreams….”.

The bridge creates a nice sense of tension before exploding into the anthemic chorus, which is melodically uplifting while at the same time lyrically troubled: “So-called friends keep watching me, they want me to lose my sanity down the line….”. After the second chorus it breaks into a half-time section with another catchy refrain, before it builds back up for one last blast through the title hook, aided by tight vocal harmonies.

Overall, this is one of the best examples of songwriting I’ve heard this year in the rock/pop genre. Snir Yamin writes affecting songs that many will relate to lyrically, and he has the ability to marry his melancholy words to soaring, cathartic melodies. This was a gift shared by his musical heroes, and Snir has a very bright future ahead of him if he can maintain the quality of Down The Line. It deserves to become an anthem in the alternative rock scene.

VERDICT: 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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SINGLE REVIEW: Runaway by The Fireflys

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The Fireflys are an alternative rock/Americana hailing from Runcorn, in the North West of England. They are based around songwriter and lead vocalist Lee Wylding, and have become one of the North West’s most popular bands. They’ve already garnered plenty of media attention, with Mike Peters of the legendary punk group The Alarm describing them as “a good mix of REM and The Gin Blossoms”. Other strong influences include Neil Young and Tom Petty, but The Fireflys have developed their own style.

This song, Runaway, is the second single released since they signed to Strawberry Moon records and is taken from their forthcoming fifth album Only Us, Northern Lights. From the melodic introduction featuring some fluid electric lead guitar, it’s apparent that this band are treading their own path. Lee Wylding has a strong, distinctive voice that bodes well for their long term appeal and musically it lies somewhere between the well crafted songwriting of Tom Petty, but with the raw, edgy guitars of Neil Young circa Rockin’ In The Free World.

The musicianship of the entire band is first rate, but most importantly Runaway shows their ability to produce the kind of memorable choruses that pack out stadium arenas. Lyrically, it is romantic without being sentimental: “Runaway with me, let the people stop and stare, cos we don’t really care...”. There are echoes of Springsteen and The Smiths in these words which rock aficionados will appreciate. They will also enjoy the spirited, mellifluous guitar solo towards the end, not something you hear much on the radio these days.

Overall, this is a superb song that brings back classic songwriting and authentic musicianship in an era of over-produced, synthetic pop. The Fireflys may well capitalize on the recent resurgence in popularity for alternative music, and they have everything it takes to break through into the worldwide market. Runaway could well be the song that helps them kick down the door to the big time.

 

VERDICT: 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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SINGLE REVIEW: Catch That Train by David T. Dunn

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https://star1ent.com/david-t-dunn/audio

David T. Dunn is a singer/songwriter in the Americana/blues genre who was born in Nashville but grew up in Atlanta. Although he only began playing guitar at twenty, over the years he has accumulated a songbook of over one hundred compositions. He regards his main influences as fellow troubadours like Neil Young and Kris Kristofferson, groups like The Beatles and The Velvet Underground, as well as blues artist Slim Harpo.

This song, Catch That Train, is the title track from his recently released six track EP. It’s a finely crafted piece of songwriting, pitched perfectly between country and blues, the essence of Americana. Dunn is blessed with a fine voice eminently suited to this musical style, and the rootsy sound of guitar, bass, drums and rich drawbar organ has the distinct ring of authenticity, reminiscent of The Band and Bob Dylan.

Lyrically, the song is about facing up to life’s vicissitudes and seizing opportunities whenever you can: “There’s a hard wind blowin’, calling out my name, the only thing for certain in this life is change….I don’t know where I’m going, but I know I better catch that train….”. The title hook is memorable and very catchy, with a brief but well structured guitar solo adding a little more instrumental colour towards the end.

Overall, this is a very enjoyable and finely written track by an experienced songwriter who is clearly the ‘real deal’. He obviously writes from the heart, and combines it with a fine musical craftsmanship and an emotive, affecting vocal performance. For anyone looking to hear modern Americana of the highest quality, look no further than David T. Dunn.

 

VERDICT: 8.7 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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SINGLE REVIEW: River Road by The Gary Douglas Band

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http://garydouglasband.com

Gary Douglas is a singer/songwriter who grew up on the streets of Brooklyn steeped in the music of Americana, blues and rock n’ roll. This kind of raw, passionate music resonated much more strongly with him than the commercial pop he was exposed to. After playing in college bands, the need to make a living meant he became a lawyer, though a rather heroic one, defending the ‘little guy’ against the corruption of large organizations.

Eventually, his deep love of music came to the fore and he formed The Gary Douglas Band with a crew of gifted musicians and backing vocalists. They have been busy recording their debut album Deep In The Water and this song, River Road, is the first to be released from it. Musically, it embodies the spirit of rock n’ roll, with the anthemic qualities of The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, and the more recent music of The Killers.

Douglas has the most important aspect for this style of music, an authentic and strong rock voice. He gives a gritty, impassioned performance on this track which has the same charging rhythmic energy as Springsteen’s classic outsider anthem Born To Run. Like Bruce, Gary Douglas has a deep empathy for the working man and writes from this perspective: “Can’t afford the rent no more, they took away our car, the job I got is just minimum wage and on that you can’t go far…”. I particularly loved how the female backing singers gave this song a soul/gospel vibe, especially at the end.

Overall, this is a high quality piece of songwriting and old school storytelling that keeps the flame of rock n’ roll alive. Gary Douglas and his cohorts kick up a musical storm that recalls the finest moments of Springsteen and acolytes of that artist will adore this band. Having already amassed a huge fanbase on social media, their forthcoming album (produced by Niko Bolas of Neil Young fame) should ensure their music reaches and entertains many more discerning ears.

 

VERDICT: 8.4 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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