E.P. REVIEW: Bittersweet by Mason Roberts

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Mason Roberts is a singer and songwriter currently based in Kalamazoo, MI. His music is essentially emotive pop in the style of James Blunt but with an electronica/EDM aspect to his sound, akin to James Blake. As a vocalist, he has been compared to Josh Groban and Michael Bublé, amongst others. He has released several EPs before this one including Big City, Naturally and Come Home Tonight along with the recent singles 2 Close, Open Wide and Emotionless.

This EP, Bittersweet, consists of four tracks and begins strongly with the title track. Starting with a haunting acoustic guitar melody, Mason’s highly distinctive vocal style emerges along with a simple but effective beat which then develops into a more intricate EDM rhythm. Mason gives an affecting, memorable vocal performance often near the top of his considerable range. The contrast between the delicate melodies and more strident beat makes for a very effective dichotomy.

It’s on the second track though where Mason truly gets to shine vocally. Shattered begins in a similarly understated way to Bittersweet, similar in style to an artist like Sam Smith, then starts to build to an epic chorus where Mason’s rich vibrato comes to the fore. The power of the vocals is matched by the strength of the vocal melody and the combined effect is breathtaking, especially the extended high note on the line “Make me whole again…”.

Burn maintains his signature sound of EDM-infused pop, this one even featuring a snare roll and riser before the chorus. Once again, the vocals excel and the “Let me go” hook sticks fast in the memory. The balance between well crafted songwriting and a slick modern arrangement/production style is very skilfully managed, making it cutting edge whilst having strong traditional elements.

The final track is an acoustic version of Bittersweet and the intimacy of this version allows the beauty of the vocal melody and lyrics to make more impact. It will be up to listeners to decide which version they prefer, but both have their merits.

Overall, this is a very strong EP from a singer songwriter blessed with an exceptional voice. The standard of the songwriting matches the quality of the vocals and the infusion of EDM elements gives it a decidedly modern appeal. It’s surely only a matter of time before the world catches on to the brilliant talent of Mason Roberts and perhaps this is the EP that kicks down the door.

 

VERDICT= 9.1 out of 10 

Alex Faulkner

 

 

 

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ALBUM REVIEW: Journey Home by Monica Ortiz

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https://www.facebook.com/monicaortizmusic/

Monica Ortiz is a country/pop/adult contemporary singer and songwriter. Ever since she was a child she’s had a very strong relationship with music and felt the desire to express herself creatively from an early age. This debut album Journey Home, which consists of nine songs, is the end result of her musical journey so far and features a number of collaborators and guest performances. She has co-written several songs with Charlie Lowell from Jars of Clay and there’s vocal contributions from Matthew Koziol and the McCrary sisters.

The album starts with the poignant piano ballad The Woman I Became. It acts as a fine showcase for Monica’s crystalline vocals and emotive, inspiring songwriting approach. It’s a style that was known in the 1970’s as “confessional”, where full and open expression of feelings was paramount. The opening lines paint a touching picture of parental love: “When I was little you said it would be hard, you sat me down and warned me of future scars….”.

Monica’s delicate and sensitive vocal performance in a high register perfectly expresses the lyrics that depict the difficult process of growing up, of a girl growing into a woman and standing on her own two feet. Aside from a fine piano arrangement, the song features strings which add to the emotional effect, especially on the moving and memorable chorus. A very strong opening song and one co-written with Charlie Lowell.

The second track Burn Out is a mid-paced country-tinged pop song written by Matt Odmark from Jars of Clay and Heather Bond. Monica very much makes it her own, delivering another fine performance that brought to mind Shania Twain’s country ballads. The musicianship and production is absolutely flawless with slick backing harmonies augmenting Monica’s lead vocal.

The following Pigtails, which is similar style musically and lyrically, is a plea to a partner to allow her to fully be herself and not try to control her, (“Just let me dance to my music, let me drum to my song”) a subject that many will be able to relate to. It features some lovely instrumental touches from the strummed acoustic guitar to some tasteful, creamy sounding slide guitar interspersed throughout. Once again, the backing harmonies enrich the vocals at various points to great effect.

On My Side is altogether different, an upbeat pop track with a reggae-tinged rhythm and a vocal from Monica in the highest part of her considerable range, bringing to mind Cyndi Lauper or Kate Bush circa Wuthering Heights. The melody is instantly infectious with the funky guitar adding to the catchiness. The beat is mostly in half time but cleverly switches to straight 4/4 and the whole arrangement is full of rhythmic invention. That’s something the discerning listener will enjoy, but this song’s huge commercial appeal is in its addictive lead melody. A definite contender as a single release.

Bring Me Home is a return to the emotive piano ballad style of the opening song. It’s on this kind of song that Monica gets to excel as a singer, and here she gives an enchanting performance. Lyrically, it’s about needing someone to show emotional support.

This Time is a little different, this one a country pop song that opens with a fine fiddle part. It’s a duet performed with Matthew Koziol and Matthew takes the lead on the opening verse. Monica joins in on the excellent chorus, their contrasting voices blending and complementing each other perfectly. She then takes the second verse giving a nice ‘yin yang’ vibe to the song, and lyrically it’s a positive affirmation about giving a relationship another go.

The Mirror is both a melancholy country ballad and an empowering, uplifting anthem. It’s about a woman who has reached the end of her tether while in an unhappy relationship and decides to leave, as captured succinctly in the superb singalong chorus: “She can’t take it anymore, her suitcase sitting by the door….she won’t back down”. Another potential single.

Let Me Be There is more emotionally straightforward and musically a toe-tapping country rock song that has an authentic, roots vibe. This song is actually a cover version of an Olivia Newton John which was originally released on an album in 1973. It’s traditional country at its finest, featuring a sweet lyric about wanting to be in someone’s life. The subtle low male vocals on the chorus are a nice touch as is the rich Hammond organ which adds to the instrumental texture.

The album closes aptly with one final piano ballad where Monica once again gets to shine, vocally. Backed by plaintive piano and evocative strings, she is eventually joined by the gospel-tinged vocals of the McCrary Sisters whose contribution lends the song an uplifting, highly spiritual quality. Lyrically, it’s particularly moving, about losing a loved one: “A forced goodbye when heaven can’t wait….”. It’s a fitting end to an album that, as the title implies, takes the listener on an emotional journey.

Overall, this is a very fine collection of country pop songs that allow Monica Ortiz to showcase her skills as both singer and songwriter. Her different collaborators bring variety yet there’s also a sense of cohesion and musical unity. With a flawlessly produced sound and several potential singles, Monica Ortiz has everything it takes to break through to the big time.

 

VERDICT= 8.8 out of 10 

Alex Faulkner

 

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ALBUM REVIEW: Confessions of The Machine by Dav!d&CLARA

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https://www.davidandclara.com/

Dav!d&CLARA is an electronica outfit based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Whilst it sounds like a duo, the Clara in question is in fact a machine, David’s computer. David was initially inspired by seeing Gwen Stefani in 2004 and has since developed his own unique style in his home studio. He has already released several albums including Emotion Machine, Human, Adventures in Love, Lust and Life, Body Work and Art of Audio. Along with Stefani, he regards NIN/Trent Reznor as a seminal influence.

This album, Confessions of The Machine, consists of fifteen tracks and opening song Repair is a good introduction to his idiosyncratic style, blending echo-drenched spoken word over a swirling sea of synths and rhythms. It’s an intoxicating sound full of empowering lines that draws you in and not like anything else you’ll have heard.

Out By The Shore is a breezy piece of electro-pop delivered in a distinctive drawl, Ain’t My Fault is a sensual soulful track that will go down well on the dancefloor while the excellent Solidarity is about following your own path, not the herd. High On Life is also superb, an unashamedly honest ode to hedonism: “Get stoned, get drunk, gulp it down, breathe it in, get high on life….”.

Jump is another empowering message about being prepared to take a leap into the unknown, while the hymnal Agape is perhaps the most spiritual song featuring both low and falsetto vocals in tandem. Dreaming of L.A. is one of the album’s finest moments, a simple but infectious 2/4 groove and a catchy flute sample providing the platform for a fine vocal melody and a great hook. Pop My Clutch is a fun way to finish, a sultry song full of none too veiled sexual metaphors and innuendo.

Overall, this is an original and unpredictable alternative/electro pop album by an artist who has forged his own inimitable style. When his electronic sound is combined with both his unique lyrical approach and great vocal hooks the result is very effective and there’s several tracks that hit the mark in this way. Not many artists can lay claim to their own style of music but Dav!d&CLARA can.

 

VERDICT= 8.5 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

 

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SINGLE REVIEW: Don’t You Dare! by Red Tan

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https://www.facebook.com/redtanofficial/

Red Tan is a female electro pop artist originally from the Philippines. She has studied and performed music from aged 16 and performed worldwide as a jazz singer. After meeting her husband, music was put on the back burner for motherhood, but he encouraged her to get back into music and she got a spot at the World Championships of Performing Arts. Tragically, she then lost her husband to the dengue virus but she bravely carried on to win two medals. She’s since reach the grand finals of Open Mic Uk, performing at the O2 Arena.

This track, Don’t You Dare!, is part of an EP dedicated to her late husband. It’s a feisty and upbeat electro pop song that encapsulates her strength and resilience of character. The track starts with a message to anyone who has tried to hold her back: “Thanks to all of you who put me down….”.

Her voice is as strong as her character and as the music progresses her versatile vocal range and distinctive tone come to the fore. The contrast between the relatively sparse verses and the huge choruses is effective, as is the breakdown bridge which begins: “Without you I wouldn’t be where I am…..you made me realize how strong I am”.
It builds to a powerful and anthemic chorus, Red Tan defiantly singing, “I am tough, you won’t wreck me….”. She is bolstered by a punchy beat that shows an influence of dubstep along with modern sounding synths, produced to perfection.

Overall, this is an inspiring and empowering electro pop track from a highly gifted artist who’s had to overcome considerable adversity. With a very strong voice well suited to radio, the catchy and instantly memorable Don’t You Dare! seems like the perfect song to project her on to the world stage for what will undoubtedly be a long and successful career.

 

VERDICT= 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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SINGLE REVIEW: Strong by Mark Winters

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http://www.markwintersmusic.com/

Mark’s positive perspective and influences from the people in his life, and a love for guitar drew him to music. He started his career playing cover songs with the support of a close friend and along the journey felt the urge to share his own original voice. Mark’s poetic style comes from his Grandmother who taught him how to write poetry and express himself.

This song, Strong, perfectly captures his signature sound, what Mark defines as “rock with a positive vibe”. Starting with a high end guitar motif, Mark’s distinctive vocals enter and weave a memorable melody, soon augmented by an equally melodic and inventive bassline. The arrangement is finely crafted with swirling tom-tom patterns on the drums building the music up to the chorus.

For the first time, the music breaks into full 4/4 time and the uplifting message behind the song is captured in the anthemic refrain: “Hold up your head now, baby….keep your eyes on the prize”.

The second verse depicts him wondering how to advise someone struggling with life like he once did and relates how what he’s been through in the past can act as guidance and inspiration for them. After the second chorus is a catchy refrain section based on the title, before one last bridge and repeated choruses leave the song on a euphoric high.

Overall, this is an inspiring and ebullient rock/pop track from the Mark Winters. Mark proves himself to be both an accomplished singer and songwriter, aided by excellent supporting performances from his band. With its memorable hook and radio friendly sound, Strong should win Mark Winters and his group a much bigger fan base in preparation for his debut album release.

 

VERDICT = 8.7 out of 10           

Alex Faulkner

 

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ALBUM REVIEW: Weekendson by Weekendson

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https://www.facebook.com/weekendson1/

Weekendson is the artistic moniker of Jon Thor, a rock/pop singer and songwriter hailing from Iceland. He works as a sound technician for an Icelandic national broadcasting service, but in his spare time he has devoted himself to his love of writing and recording music. The result is this eponymous debut album which consists of ten tracks, all written and vocally performed by himself.

The album starts out strongly with the five minute long mid-paced pop/rock song Dark, which brought to mind the beautiful melancholy of Wish You Were Here-era Pink Floyd. Starting out with echo-drenched Dave Gilmour-esque lead guitar, the drums break into a solid, meaty beat augmented by strummed acoustic guitars. As it builds to a stately, memorable chorus set to soaring synth strings you realize you are in the hands of a fine songwriter.

Weekendson has a unique and distinctive voice in part to due to his Icelandic accent, but he has a rich tone that serves his material. Halfway through the track it becomes noticeably heavier, with crunching electric guitar chords setting the scene for a mellifluous guitar solo, which brings the track to a dramatic climax.

Second track Liar is much more up tempo with an infectious beat,  harmonized lead guitars and funky, choppy rhythm guitars that drive the music forward. After a concise, succinct verse it bursts into an anthemic chorus with the vocals leaping up into a higher register, an effective contrast.

The lyrics are fiercely honest, with a frank admission to start with: “I got real big trouble but I’ve got myself to blame, this is not the first time I’m afraid…but now I’ve gone too far, saying I’m better than I am….”. Its this kind of self reflection and perspicacity that gives Weekendson’s songs a relatable humanity and warmth. A great track.

Syncless brings back the Pink Floyd guitar style for this reflective epic ballad that really shows the melodic side to his songwriting. It features some gorgeous harmonies on the understated but highly effective chorus and, as with the previous song, he’s keenly aware of his flaws as a person (“I know I’m not perfect….”). Towards the end, the music becomes truly epic with some unexpected chord progressions keeping you captivated.

Easily Alone is another superbly written rock song that grabs you from the outset with a gritty guitar melody and a surging beat. As has now become familiar, he wears his heart on his sleeve with some moving and vulnerable confessions: “I don’t like where I am from, I don’t like what I’ve become, I don’t wanna stay alive but I don’t really wanna die…..”. Three are sentiments that most of us can relate to at some point in our lives and he goes on to deliver one of the album’s strongest choruses, followed by an excellent section features stacked guitars and a well-crafted vocal arrangement.

The fifth and six songs, Hero and My Friend, consolidate what is essentially Weekendson’s signature sound; uplifting, vibrant power-pop based around captivating chord structures and decorated with rich vocal harmonies. In the latter case, the music is further augmented with skyscraping strings on the already soaring chorus. Both contain superb musical arrangements full of detail that means the ear always picks up something new with repeated listens.

Seventh track True Love is a little bit different, a highly romantic ballad performed as a duet with a fine female vocalist. Over a lovely acoustic guitar-based chord progression Weekendson bares his heart to his lover with customary directness. After a heartwarming chorus full of lush harmonies from both vocalists, his female guest star takes the lead for the second verse. Her voice is a nice counterpoint to his more masculine tones and their combined vocal blend works perfectly.

Broken is perhaps the darkest song on the album, emotionally. It finds Weekendson at a distinctly low ebb, expressed with a poignant minor chord progression and some saturnine lyrics: “I scream to comfort myself….it’s probably raining out there“. The female sung refrain, “Raining, raining…” during the post-chorus is very effecting, painting a bleak picture of his emotional state. There’s no letting up in the second verse either: “No light in here, my soul is black…no second chance, I would take it all back…”. A powerful, moving song and an artistically brave one to write.

The high emotion continues with the string-laden acoustic ballad The Father. It’s about going through a difficult period with one of his children: “The phone is silent and it’s breaking my heart...”. The anguished chorus ramps up the poignancy even more: “I was the one who taught you how to live, I was the one you used to call in need….”. With it’s beautifully written string arrangement, this deeply affecting song will move even the hardest heart.

The album ends on a high note, however, with another song dedicated to a child, Daughter Dearest. This one returns to his uplifting high-energy pop/rock sound and the words reflect this sunnier sound: “Now, I am a better person, all because of you….”. It’s a genuinely touching expression of parental love and sums up the album’s emotional journey of love and positivity conquering over life’s many dark moments. A great way to finish.

Overall, this is a very strong collection of pop/rock songs that proves Weekendson deserves to be recognized worldwide as a very fine songwriter who has honed his craft over many years. His songs are emotive and relatable, running the gamut of life’s vicissitudes with honesty and truth and composed with a natural flair for melody. Who knows, with enough exposure he could build a big enough fan base to make music his full time living, and that scenario would be richly deserved.

 

VERDICT = 9 out of 10           

Alex Faulkner

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SINGLE REVIEW: Come and Stay with Me by Phil Mitchell Band

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Phil Mitchell is a composer, author and musician hailing from Chicago and the members that comprise the Phil Mitchell Band are musicians native to that area. He started writing songs while still a child and has written music in an eclectic range of genres including jazz, classical, RnB, rock, blues and country. He has released several albums including Morning Star, Crossroads and America. The band formed back in 2004 and they have performed at a variety of venues whilst recording music in the studio.

This track, Come and Stay With Me, is an upbeat pop/rock song taken from their album Crossroads, with elements of 70’s rock such as musical virtuosity and an ambitious, epic arrangement. The sound is very musical with flamboyant, Rick Wakeman-style piano and equally florid guitars, providing the bedrock for Phil Mitchell’s assured vocal performance. The lilting verse melody latches quickly in the memory but its the surging passages of energetic musicianship that really set this apart from the pack.

The structure is unusual but highly effective and the longer the track goes on the more euphoric the instrumental sections become. Strident, octave-spanning piano duels with creamy electric lead guitar and synth strings driven by solid but inventive drumming, held in perfect balance by the vocal sections and the infectious title hook. This approach brought to mind the epic rock of the 70’s such as Queen and the operatic rock of Jim Steinman (Meat Loaf).

Overall, this is an immensely enjoyable rock/pop track that cleverly balances traditional verse and chorus songwriting with instrumental sections that allow the other members of the Phil Mitchell Band to shine. What is truly impressive is how the studio recording has effectively captured the energy of the musical performances and you can tell this is a band who have been playing a long time. It’s this kind of musical authenticity that is lacking from so much modern mainstream music, but fortunately Phil Mitchell and his gifted cohorts are here to help redress the balance.

 

VERDICT = 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

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