ALBUM REVIEW: Fire by Project Rod Williams

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www.aug1stmusic.com

Project Rod Williams is an electro-dance pop studio ensemble which is the musical brainchild of songwriter/musician Rod Williams. Musically, it is a fusion of classic 70’s disco music like Giorgio Moroder and Donna Summer, 80’s synth pop such as Depeche Mode and Erasure and more modern pop artists like Justin Timberlake and Pharrell Williams. Rod has collaborated with lead vocalist Ben Dial on this album with additional vocals by Matt Williamson, Hannah Montwill, Nataly Andrade and Alex Silva.

The album, Fire, consists of eleven tracks (also featuring club mixes of nine of the songs) and has a conceptual theme. Half of the songs on the album are about enjoying the passion and seduction of nightlife and the other half are about the longing and pain often brought on by romantic relationships. The album is due for release on January 7th, 2019.

Opening track Let’s Get Out is the perfect representation of the Project Rod Williams sound and style. It grabs you from its opening bars with infectious percussion locking in with an alluring 70’s disco-style bassline. This is soon augmented by syncopated 80’s-esque synths before breaking into a full, very danceable beat that gets the toe tapping. The smooth lead vocals of Ben Dial enter the picture and his voice brings to mind cutting edge modern pop like Maroon 5 and the more recent work of Justin Timberlake. Alternate lines are layered with backing harmonies so that the music is constantly evolving and developing.

Thematically, it exemplifies the concept of the songs that celebrate living the good life, with the lyrics highlighting the appeal of escaping the daily grind by looking forward to Friday night and the weekend: “We work all week from nine to five, making money to live our lives…..”. The extremely catchy refrain captures this joyous feeling succinctly: “Leave our problems at the door, laugh, jump and scream, let our hearts be free…..”.

This is followed by an equally memorable chorus and Rod Williams shows his ability to make every part of the song a hook, a hallmark of the best pop songwriters. After the second chorus it enters an excellent breakdown section with a sophisticated vocal arrangement that brought to mind the finest Michael Jackson songs arranged and produced by Quincy Jones.

Second song Come On continues the lyrical theme but is musically quite different; smoky Rhodes and a more complex and unusual rhythmic pattern. There is a more rocky feel to the seductive and raunchy lead vocal performance, fused with Vince Clarke (from Erasure and one time member of Depeche Mode) style pulsing, futuristic-sounding synths. The descending vocal melody is fiendishly catchy, with an overt sexuality to the sultry lyrics: “I see you staring across the room, your eyes are saying what you want me to do….”. Great track.

Third song Hot To Trot returns to the more traditional dance rhythms of the first track but stands out for the addictiveness of the title hook and for featuring some very funky Nile Rodgers-esque high end electric guitar. Indeed, the way the song celebrates the hedonistic side of life (“We can be flirtatious, lose our minds and act outrageous…”) made me think of Rodgers’ classic group from the 1970’s, Chic. This infectious style is combined with low-end synths and piano lines with occasional stabs of synthetic brass to create a potent sonic concoction.

Next comes Fire, the title track of the album. It maintains the funk guitar sound of the previous song, but has a more modern EDM four-to-the-floor beat, at least to begin with. Vocally, the breathy falsetto style made me think of Prince and one of the dance classics of recent years, Get Lucky by Daft Punk ft. Pharell Williams. Once again, the title hook latches in the mind upon first listen and the use of female foreign spoken word vocals lends an exotic flavour. The falsetto lead vocals are contrasted by a section of low-end male vocals that adds to the song’s very sensual theme.

The following Invasion feels in ways a continuation but has a more rock vibe, with some low end lead guitar lines which work well with the swirling synths. The lead vocals are this time contrasted by certain lines being whispered, which adds a lot of atmosphere and encapsulates the power of seduction which is this tracks subject matter: “I can’t fight the way you hypnotize….invade my body, invade my soul…you’re taking over me, you’re in control….”.

After this, the album switches to the second aspect of the album’s theme, the pain that comes from love. Sixth song Take Cover has a much more emotional tone after the light hearted and sexually orientated earlier tracks. It’s a mid-paced synth pop epic in 6/8 time, with lyrics that are rather deep and poetic, about the tempestuous nature of romantic love: “The sky will thunder tonight, from lightning sparks my rage ignites, when flames of passion burn high you better find a place to hide…”. This kind of emotive synth pop is more reminiscent of 80’s groups like Soft Cell and The Human League.

You Were My Lady is the first truly traditional love ballad on the album (the only one not written by Rod Williams) and it’s a very well crafted one with a lilting vocal melody. It allows lead singer Ben Dial to perform in a more gentle and sensitive way, which he achieves with distinction. It’s a rather moving song about reflecting on happy times after a relationship has ended, then contrasted with the stark reality: “Now that house is empty, the music’s gone from the radio that used to play that song….”.

Bad Boys Don’t Cry returns to the more uptempo synth pop style whilst maintaining the lyrical theme of this half of the album. Musically, it has a real Giorgio Moroder vibe with rhythmic synths driving the song along. It’s about how men are not supposed to appear vulnerable or sad when going through heartbreak and contains yet another strong title hook. Ninth song Broken is rather more angry in its tone with some rather visceral lines: “Fake love you gave to me, filled my blood and clogged my veins…”.

Though the following I Say contains similarly downbeat and tormented lyrics, musically it is one the lightest moments, recalling the euphoric anthems of Erasure. The vocal melody is irresistible, providing another fine example of Williams’ melodic consistency and also features a superb synth section comprising several combined sounds.

The album ends on a rather melancholy but poignant note, with the heartfelt ballad Nobody Wants To Know, which features lead vocals from Matt Williamson. Matt powerfully conveys the troubled nature of the lyrics about not feeling supported by friends during dark times: “Can’t they see the tears I try to keep concealed?“. The music builds as the song progresses, with a sky-scraping string arrangement that closes the album on a musical high, even if the words are sad.

Overall, this is a modern pop album of a very high calibre that fuses the synth pop of the 80’s with the euphoric sound of 70’s disco, then brings it into the 21st century with cutting edge production. Aside from one track, Rod Williams has written, arranged and produced the whole thing which shows his artistic versatility. The album feels like a real labour of love and runs the gamut of emotions, from joy to despair. As if that’s not enough, the album comes with club mixes of nine of the songs, tailor made for the dancefloor. Put simply, Fire is an album laden with killer pop tracks of wide ranging appeal and has enormous commercial potential worldwide.

VERDICT = 9.1 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

Release date: 7th January, 2019

Listen to the album here:

Listen to the club mix of Come On:

 

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SINGLE REVIEW: Lullaby by Edward St. Martin

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Edward St. Martin is a songwriter, composer and lead artist producer based in San Diego. His background is actually in classical music and film composition, and he applies this knowledge to his foray into writing songs in the pop genre. This combination of styles is something I would describe as ‘epic pop’ or ‘orchestral pop’. Recent releases have included In The Ocean Of My Love, Fast Car and Don’t Leave Me.

This track, Lullaby, is a fine example of his classical-influenced epic pop. It features a female vocalist with a fantastic voice similar to Sia and there is a dramatic grandeur to the music that brought to mind Evanescence. Whereas Evanescence leans more towards rock music, there is a definite influence of EDM in the production style. It begins with a powerful orchestral introduction featuring a classical-style chord progression, before crystalline female vocals enter with troubled lyrics: “Four o’ clock and I’ve barely even slept yet…..”.

She is backed effectively by flowing piano melodies and epic orchestral percussion. The bridge builds like a dance track, leading to a colossal chorus where a four-to-the-floor beat emerges. The dynamics of the music are cleverly arranged so that there’s constant variety in the sparse and epic parts of the song. The strings that feature throughout add a great deal to the feeling of drama and gives it a musicality that is lacking from most EDM music.

Overall, this is an extremely accomplished fusion of pop, classical and EDM by a gifted composer in collaboration with a fine female singer. Edward St. Martin has impressively developed his own sonic niche by drawing on his experience in film and classical composition. He has developed an orchestral form of pop/EDM that has enormous creative and commercial potential, the best of both worlds. Lullaby should help bring a much greater awareness of his music to the listening public and deservedly so.

 

VERDICT= 8.8 out of 10 

Alex Faulkner

Listen here:

SINGLE REVIEW: Move by Glorious

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www.gloriouslive.com

Glorious is a pop singer-songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist from Washington, D.C. but now based in New York. Remarkably, by the age of three she started playing drums and is now a livetronica drummer. She combines this talent and her jazz background with her abilities as a songwriter and vocalist. Her influences are numerous, from fellow pop singers like Beyonce and Pink, EDM artists like Tiesto, David Guetta and Diplo as well as jazz legends like Miles Davis.

This track, Move, is a hugely infectious pop track that shows her self-belief and artistic potential. She has a magnificent voice, comparable to Beyonce and Christina Aguilera with a similarly huge vocal range. The song itself is actually about her skills as a drummer, however, and the power that rhythm has to make people dance. Naturally, it has a brilliant beat that gets your top tapping immediately, but the track also features a funky, driving bassline and a lead vocal from Glorious that is by turns smoky and sultry then exultant and powerful on the incendiary chorus.

The title hook is brief but incredibly catchy: “I make the whole room move….”. After the second chorus the song takes an unexpected left turn into a dreamy, blissed out middle eight section where she sings sincerely, “I know you feel it, deep in your soul….”. It then gradually builds back up for a couple more killer choruses, with some fantastic vocal extemporizations towards the end. The production is slick, inventive and modern, as good as anything you’ll hear in the Billboard Top 100.

Overall, Glorious has written, performed and produced a pop classic. As vocally gifted as her idols, her skills behind the kit only add to her appeal, but most importantly this is simply a great song. Equally suited to both radio and the dancefloor, this track will surely make a strong impact on the music world and make her legions of new fans. For my money, Glorious could well go on to become the next Beyonce.

 

VERDICT= 9.2 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

Listen here:

 

SINGLE REVIEW: Core by Kori Reardon

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Kori Reardon is a singer-songwriter hailing from Christchurch, New Zealand. Aside from his solo work, he is the front man in an alt-rock band called Rezin though the musical style of his solo material is more acoustic rock. He has been releasing songs under his own name for about four years and this year has seen a plethora of releases including Here We Go Again, Awaken Me, Free You, Raw shot and DSA amongst others.

This latest track, Core, is a heartfelt acoustic rock ballad that showcases his fine skills as a singer and songwriter. Starting off with Led Zeppelin-style acoustic lead guitar over strummed chords, what quickly becomes apparent is the passion and intensity with which he performs his vocals. He has a powerful voice, not unlike Jon Bon Jovi but with his own distinctive nuances and performing style. The song is very well crafted and the title hook grabs you instantly on the first listen: “You shook me to the core…”.

Lyrically, it’s about the difficulties of loving relationships, a subject most will relate to well and there’s a wisdom borne of experience to lines like: “It’s nothing but a waste of time to hurt, blame, scream and fight….”. The song’s arrangement builds gradually and effectively, with the drums not entering until the second verse. After the second chorus is an excellent refrain section that adds to the emotive power of the song (“It’s not yet time to say it, it’s not time to say goodnight.…”).

Overall, this a highly impressive release from a Kiwi songwriter blessed with a strong voice and who gives everything in his vocal performance. His excellent skills as a guitarist go hand in hand with his gift for songwriting and with Core, he may well have the song that really propels him to a much wider audience. With flawless production and a natural commercial appeal that encompasses both rock and pop, the future’s looking good for Kori Reardon.

 

VERDICT = 8.7 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

Listen here:

 

SINGLE REVIEW: Born To Be Free ft. APZee by Toby TomTom

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http://www.tobytomtom.com/

Toby TomTom is a singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist with a very interesting backstory. Earlier in his career he worked with Alicia Keys and Shelby J (of Prince fame), apprenticed with Kenni Hairston (Cameo, Cyndi Lauper) and even sat in on sessions with the legendary producer and composer Quincy Jones. He has a diverse range of influences, ranging from classical composers like Debussy, to funk and soul artists like Tower of Power and Marvin Gaye as well as Tupac Shakur, the hip hop artist who was tragically killed.

This track, Born To Be Free, is decidedly in the funk and soul category. It’s a hugely upbeat, inspirational song, partly influenced by his strong faith. As soon as his strong, distinctive voice enters, you know you’re in the hands of an artist who has honed his singing and songwriting craft to a high level.

Musically, it’s like a party where everyone’s invited; bouncy, propulsive bass locks in with crisp, punchy drums, creating the bedrock for piano, funky guitars and all manner of production effects. Rather impressively, he played all the instruments himself.

The title hook is instantly memorable and lyrically it’s a hymn to life itself, as well as an ode to human freedom: “Free like the wind, as it blows ‘cross the sea, we are blue skies, caressing the trees ….”. Later in the track we hear a concise rap from female emcee APZee, which adds a nice bit of modern flavour.

Overall, this is a superb piece of soulful pop that showcases Toby TomTom as an artist to be reckoned with, bringing Marvin Gaye’s soul sound into the modern era. Although there’s nothing radically original about it (a very difficult genre to be original in), there’s something undeniably fresh about the sound and style of the song. With fantastic production values it’s perfect for pop radio and with the right promotion he could have a huge hit on his hands.

VERDICT= 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

Listen here:

 

 

ALBUM REVIEW: Montauk by Montauk

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www.takemetomontauk.com

Montauk are a British pop/rock band and the musical brainchild of songwriter and lead vocalist Drew Richardson. He has been writing music from an early age and Montauk is the culmination of a lifelong dream. The band is much a product of the internet era; on this album Drew worked face to face with producer/guitarist Tom Jobling, vocalist Rebecca Chambers and drummer  Sam West, however fellow members Jon Wright and Max Saudi (guitar and drums respectively) recorded their parts online, a method used by many artists and producers today.

This self-titled album, and the band name itself, was inspired by the classic film Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, about a couple who have their memories of each other erased to get over their relationship. This theme recurs on certain songs on the album. Musically, while they can be essentially described as commercial pop/rock, there’s an eclecticism within the songs and you can hear similarities to bands like The Killers, U2, Bon Jovi, The War On Drugs, Snow Patrol and Red Hot Chili Peppers, along with solo artists like George Ezra, Ed Sheeran and the more mature solo work of Gary Barlow.

Opening track Doom Dust is a superb start to this twelve track album. Beginning with echo-drenched guitars, it builds into an anthemic, uplifting song about trying to realize your full potential. You can tell quite quickly that Richardson is an experienced and accomplished craftsman. There’s a firm understanding of dynamics in how he keeps the verse and chorus cohesive, yet contrasting.

The chorus itself is huge, augmented by the fine backing vocals of Rebecca Chambers, whose voice complements Drew’s nicely. Lyrically, it expresses something many will relate to, feeling things block you from truly being yourself: “I want to shake this world to the core and let the people know that I’ve got so much more“. It’s the kind of music you can imagine thousands singing along to in sold out arenas, and the mellifluous guitar solo fits perfectly. A perfect balance between rock and pop.

Fall in Love is one of the album’s more romantic moments, and another very finely crafted song. It’s one which wears its heart on its sleeve, lyrically: “Could you be the missing link, the mixer for the bitter drink that is my life?“. It’s another lighters-in-the-air epic chorus and the subtle combination of male and female vocals made me think of one of Britain’s great unsung pop groups The Beautiful South (early era).

Hanging Baskets has the most beautiful intro on the album, crystal-clear picked acoustic guitar setting the tone for an intimate lead vocal from Richardson. It’s a song about wanting to just enjoy being in love without letting anything else intrude: “I don’t know if its wrong, don’t know if its right….I don’t know what has gone, I don’t care what’s to come…”. This is a very touching song that should win him many fans.

Welcome To You is an interesting song, with shades of later period Mumford and Sons in the folk-inflected melodies and rolling drum patterns. The vocal melody is very modern sounding to go with the production, and the instantly memorable vocal melody makes it very suitable for radio. After the second chorus, it breaks out into a gorgeous symphonic section; the album is full of these nuanced touches that add richness to the sound. A potential single.

Heart Attack takes things in another direction entirely – an upbeat funk/blues track driven by rhythmic piano and bursts of organ, featuring some slick harmonies. Drew gives an excellent vocal performance here and this different style shows the versatility of his songwriting. Lyrically, its a classic tale of falling for someone where the passion burns so much that it makes for a tempestuous relationship. Well written, high quality pop .

The intriguingly named Osidius (Just A Girl) returns to epic rockier style of the opening song though this one leans more heavily to the rock side. Alongside another massive, memorable chorus (an area where Richardson excels), it features some gorgeous, plaintive strings and a blistering stood-on-a-cliff-edge lead guitar solo. The following Love For Sale maintains the Bon Jovi vocal and guitar style, with the riffs and harmonies on this one really showing the more classic rock side of his oeuvre.

Eternal Sunshine is the first of two consecutive songs based on the film mentioned earlier. Here, Richardson effectively captures the emotional torment the lead characters go through in the film. Musically, it’s one of the more sparse tracks and it’s a proper duet with Rebecca Chambers, who depicts the character played by Kate Winslet. It works so well, that you could imagine it as part of a musical based on the film. Their voices combine and harmonize beautifully on the tender chorus, a real album highlight.

Take Him To Montauk is essentially the title track and it’s a good one. It starts with a vocal ‘dum-de-dum’ section that brought to mind George Ezra, whilst the gorgeous high end acoustic guitar and vocal delivery recall the lighter moments of Red Hot Chili Peppers. It’s clearly about the main character of Eternal Sunshine (played by Jim Carrey) and how he’s missing his lover despite having had all memories of her erased. The title hook (“Take him to Montauk, driver….”) is very effective and latches in the mind upon the first listen. Another potential single.

Tell The Fool is another moody epic ballad in the Bon Jovi mould and stands out for a particularly good lead vocal. It should be said that his singing voice is as good as anything you’ll come across in the upper reaches of the charts, and this song is one crowds will love to sway along to.

I Won’t Want To Wake Up With You is a return to the toe-tapping pop funk style of Heart Attack, propelled by an irresistible groove and Chic-style funky high-end electric guitar chords. Special mention should go to the restlessly inventive bassline (including a superb bass solo!) and the smoky Rhodes piano. Richardson’s falsetto vocals in parts of the track sounded like Justin Timberlake, and this ability to switch genres gives massive potential to his fanbase.

Closing track Dance With The Devil is essentially his signature pop/rock sound, though with an intriguing arrangement. It starts out sounding like The Police with reggae-infused quarter note guitars then unexpectedly switches into an almost punky full-on rock style. The rich organ gives the song a 70’s Deep Purple vibe, and it works. There’s a tremendous brooding energy that seems to explode in the orgasmic guitar solo, then leads into the penultimate choruses. Lyrically, it’s by far the most raw and edgy he gets on this album, with a few words at the end I can’t repeat here! A blazing way to finish.

Overall, this is one of the best albums I’ve heard this year, one that runs the gamut in terms of both genre and emotional range. Drew Richardson has honed his songwriting craft to a fine pitch and can go from sensitive balladry to headbanging rock n’ roll with consummate ease, throwing in funk, soul and even a little reggae influence along the way. Though this is far from an easy era to break through to the ‘big time’, if any band deserves to it’s undoubtedly Montauk.

 

VERDICT = 9.3 out of 10 

Alex Faulkner

You can purchase a CD or download the album from the official website HERE

2 bonus tracks are available only for those who download or purchase through the website!

Listen here:

 

 

 

ALBUM REVIEW: On My Way by Martin Lucassen

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Martin Lucassen is a singer and songwriter in the adult contemporary pop/rock genre, hailing originally from the Netherlands. After developing his skills as both a singer and songwriter over time, he found a method of sending his demos to production companies to produce the professional backing tracks to his vocals. This worked well for him, and in this way he completed his debut album The Night Turns to Morning Light, released in 2015.

He has a strong Beatles influence in his melodic songwriting, though in fact I would say his signature sound is acoustic pop/rock in the same vein of John Lennon and George Harrison’s solo music. His singing voice is strong with a tone that is easy on the ear, somewhere between Lennon, George Harrison and Neil Finn from Crowded House. This album, On My Way, consists of eleven tracks and sees him branching out into other styles.

The opening song Nobody Knows Me starts out like a country track with an intro featuring plucked mandolins and picked acoustic guitar. This folky style is maintained on the verse but brought more into the rock sphere with rich electric guitar chords on the excellent chorus. Lyrically, it’s a rather poignant song about how little it’s possible to really understand and truly know each other as people, captured in lines like, “So you think that I’m predictable, can you read my thoughts so well?“. Superbly performed and produced, it gets the album off to a flying start.

Next track Human Revolution is somewhat of a musical departure; a brooding power pop/rock song with a pulsating, dance-influenced beat and an array of guitar styles. There is a definite 80’s vibe to certain aspects such as the epic sound of the production and the stellar lead guitar solos that appears after the choruses (bringing to mind Ritchie Sambora from Bon Jovi). Lyrically, it has an interesting theme, telling the story and progress of the human race itself in three minutes. An extremely accomplished and enjoyable song.

Why Today shows the more emotive and vulnerable side to his songwriting; a tender, string-augmented piano ballad that wears its heart on its sleeve. It captures the low emotional mood that results from the end of a loving romantic relationship and portrays it with simple but affecting honesty: “Everyone makes mistakes and I know I’ve made a lot…”. A fine example of his songwriting craft.

Fourth song Live for Tomorrow quickly lifts the mood back to positive and life affirming. It’s a pop rock with an angular, syncopated beat that keeps the music from feeling predictable. It’s a sunny anthem with an important message about keeping hopeful and contains one of the most instant choruses on the album. The following Keep Running Away is a return to his balladry. It starts out sounding like White Album-era Beatles with its crystal clear arpeggiated acoustic guitar, then builds into the epic pop style that he makes his own.

Yearn For The Past is another highly emotive song about a relationship going badly, and a feeling of nostalgia for how things used to be between them: “I yearn for the past, for our first kiss that beautiful night….”. As with most of his songs though, Lucassen manages to balance the dark with the light, ending the song with the optimistic refrain, “You’re still the one I’m longing for…”.

Brotherhood is a nice change of pace, a country-tinged upbeat track in 2/4 time and featuring one of the most life affirming lyrics on the album about sharing life’s ups and downs together: “Life is all about what is real, happy smiles and shedding a tear, getting and giving, emotions keep them living…”.

Passion & Attraction is a very well written song about the things that keep a romantic relationship, captured in the anthemic chorus: “Passion: open our hearts and release desire, Attraction: we’re old but still pretty, light the fire“. The haunting echo-drenched lead guitar lines and subtle strings add much to the emotive power of this fine example of songwriting craftsmanship. By contrast, ninth track Happy Dancing is perhaps the album’s most light-hearted moment. It’s a rollicking rocker that celebrates the simple joy of dancing, and the infectious vocal melody captures the subject matter perfectly.

Next comes the title track, and it’s a fine song with an interesting arrangement and unexpected chord changes. It features a crunchy, Money For Nothing-style guitar sound and lyrically it’s a continuation of an earlier theme – wanting to return a relationship to a previously happy state.

The album ends with a deeply moving song, Painted Nails. It’s a tragic and heartrending true story about a six year old boy called Tijn Kolsteren, close to death from brain cancer. He decided to raise money by painting people’s nails and raised millions of dollars which went towards research. This poignant subject is treated with great sensitivity by Lucassen, who sets the story to a beautiful piano ballad.

Overall, this album is a consistently strong set of songs that shows how Martin Lucassen has developed as a songwriter. Whilst his debut album was good evidence of his songwriting talent, this one shows his creative progression. Aided by very talented musicians and excellent production values,  he manages to convey the vicissitudes of the human condition with heartfelt passion and time-honed musical skill. The result is a piece of work that will appeal to music fans right across the board, ticking the boxes of both commercial appeal and artistic endeavour.

 

VERDICT = 8.8 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

Listen here: