ALBUM REVIEW: Howard Herrick by Howard Herrick

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Howard Herrick is a songwriter and producer hailing from New Jersey. He has written music in many genres (just a few being pop, rock, jazz, blues and orchestral) both as a solo artist and as part of the group Minster Hill. He’s written and produced music for both film and theatre, including My One and Only, Vanishing on 7th Street, Very Good Girls, Nightlight and Peter Pan 360.

He’s also been Executive Music Producer on several film productions and written several label artists. Recently, he composed music for Shaquille O’ Neal’s video game Shaq-Fu: A Legend Reborn and is currently writing and producing music for the second series of American Beauty Star.

This eponymous solo album was entirely written and produced by Howard, who also performed (and engineered) most of the instruments, as well as mixing and mastering the music. He collaborates with various vocalists, both male and female. It consists of nine tracks and acts as an excellent showcase for his songwriting versatility and musical eclecticism.

The album starts with perhaps the most modern production, Hold My Hand. It’s a slinky pop/R&B track in a similar style to The Weeknd and mid-period Justin Timberlake.  The song is superbly crafted, highlighted by a memorable lead vocal performance, by a male singer gifted with a huge range and a powerful, distinctive falsetto.

He sings in the upper register of his voice throughout, over a simple but effective beat driven by a pulsing kick drum, along with piano and catchy synth riffs. Written in a minor key, it starts with the highly memorable chorus and lyrically deals with having faith in the strength of a relationship and facing the future without fear. Hold My Hand is an obvious choice as a single and sounds like it belongs at the top of the charts.

Show Me That One Again is a complete contrast, a poignant ballad consisting of just piano and a warm, intimate vocal. It’s a moving song about how the responsibilities of adulthood have dimmed the ebullience that the young have: “You say your owned now by some business-suited man…”.

The essence of the song is captured succinctly in the chorus: “Just remember for a little while, you once were young and had that smile, I haven’t seen it since I don’t know when, won’t you show me that one again?” Exquisitely crafted and sensitively performed, it harks back to the classic singer songwriters and confessional style of the 70’s.

Third track Go and Hear is another sharp contrast, opening in a blaze of heavy, low end electric chords and rich organ. It’s soon joined by a meaty backbeat and an edgier lead vocal that fits with the overall rock sound. It features a huge sounding chorus augmented by Queen-style stacked backing harmonies. It also features a fantastic guitar solo, bringing back the late 80’s commercial rock sound.

Behind Closed Doors recalls the 80’s again, but this time the synth pop sound which has recently come back into vogue through groups like Chvrches and The xx. This makes it one of the album’s most contemporary tracks and lyrically it is certainly the darkest, opening with the bleak lines: “I’ve fallen to the depths of despair, to the darkest of places, no one else is there….there are no familiar faces…”.

The emotional depth and honesty displayed here gives considerable power and weight to the music and shows real authenticity in terms of artistry. Starting with a guitar and bass figure, it gradually builds into an epic pop track that mirrors the gravity of the lyrics. The lead vocals are performed in different octaves, which gives it a distinctive, memorable sound. Around the three minute mark, the song breaks down to a poignant section where a ghostly sounding vocal portrays the dark emotional landscape that the song expresses.

The following New Heart is set at a similar tempo but much lighter in subject matter and musical vibe. It’s a soulful pop track with another compelling vocal performance, with use of falsetto once more on the title hook. A classy piece of pop songwriting and restores the generally upbeat mood of the rest of the album.

Sixth track Is Love Enough brought to mind the emotive style of early 70’s Todd Rundgren, but the musically colourful arrangement and unexpected chord changes made me think of one of pop’s most underrated songwriters, Jeff Lynne of E.L.O., as well as 80’s group Tears For Fears. Despite all these influences, Herrick stamps his own sonic identity aided by a particularly strong lead vocalist who delivers near the top of their  range. The numerous subtleties and details make for a piece of perfect pop that you’ll never grow tired of.

If I Fall Off The Next Step shows yet another side to Herrick’s songwriting, featuring a female lead vocalist. It’s a delicate, beautifully written acoustic ballad augmented by short bursts of Spanish guitar. Her crystalline singing voice along with with the finger-picked acoustic playing is reminiscent of Joni Mitchell, and the enchanting melody makes it one of the album’s finest tracks.

Nothing Lasts Forever returns to male lead vocals and also a return to the Todd Rundgren-esque sound and style of writing. This is a track where Herrick displays his breadth of harmonic and rhythmic range, with some unpredictable chord changes and subtle use of shifting rhythms and syncopations. There’s some wonderfully jazzy chords after the second chorus that takes the music to another level of sophistication.

The album finishes with another female sung track, Sad Plant. Despite its downbeat title it’s actually an upbeat pop track that recalls elements of Stevie Nicks, Like A Prayer-era Madonna and a more modern pop group like Haim. The song has a summery feelgood vibe and ends this extremely accomplished album on a satisfying high.

Overall, this album is a masterclass in songwriting across an eclectic range of styles and proves emphatically that Howard Herrick deserves to be known as one of the most proficient and versatile songwriters of this era. With the track Hold My Hand he has a dead cert hit with sufficient promotion and there’s several other tracks that would make fine singles. But what makes the album stand out is the musical and emotional range of the songs. Highly recommended.

VERDICT = 9.2 out of 10             

Alex Faulkner

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Visit Howard’s official website HERE

 

 

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SINGLE REVIEW: Truth Syrum (ft. Wo-Billz) by Nikia

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www.soundsofnikia.com

Nikia is a R&B/pop singer who was born in New York and raised in California. She hails from a large musical family and was musically highly precocious, starting her career as a professional singer at just thirteen and signing a deal with L.A.’s Swooper Records at fifteen. She released her first single Wanna Get With You the next year and then released a Spanish crossover album which was a big hit overseas. She has since released several albums, EPs and singles including the 2016 EP She Is Me. She has also more recently released the song Do U from her upcoming album No Fairytale.

This track, Truth Syrum (ft. Wo-Billz), is a slow R&B/pop ballad that makes a wonderful showcase for Nikia’s considerable talents as a vocalist. Set to a musical backdrop of subtle synths and a languid, seductive R&B beat, as soon as Nikia enters on the verse her silky smooth vocals captures the attention. With a voice comparable to megastars like Beyonce and Rihanna, she gets to express her vocal range at the end of the memorable chorus.

Lyrically, it’s an emotionally heartfelt plea towards a lover who has been straying: “Out in the clubs, playing with these freaks….you’re out in these streets while I’m lonely in our sheets….”. After the first chorus we then here a rap section from guest vocalist Wo-Billz, whose naturally contrasting style is highly effective juxtaposed against the sung sections. Wo-Billz gives the track a cutting edge vibe and keeps it real with killer lines like, “Go scuba diving for your ring…..”. After the second chorus Nikia delivers the poignant refrain, “What goes around comes around….”, aided by some slick production effects on her voice which adds to the modernity of the sound.

Overall, this is an emotionally powerful R&B/pop track about infidelity by a truly gifted female singer. The song captures the pain and heartbreak of being cheated on, while the acerbic contribution of female rapper and guest star Wo-Billz adds some bite and dry humour to proceedings. The production is flawless and very commercial, making it perfect for radio. It feels only a matter of time before Nikia breaks through to the world stage and Truth Syrum could be the song that gets her there.

 

VERDICT = 8.8 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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SINGLE REVIEW: This Love by Kendra Black

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http://www.kendrablackmusic.com/

Kendra Black is a singer, songwriter and producer hailing from New York City. Originally with a background in professional ballet, she eventually shifted her focus towards music, performing in the U.S., France, Monte-Carlo, Italy, Egypt and the Caribbean. She trained with teachers from the Music Conservatory of Cannes and The Giuseppe Verdi Conservatory, then perfected her vocal training with Justin Stoney (director of New York Vocal Coaching), A&R Meghan Cress at Voice Academy NYC and Ilana Martin from Vocal Workouts singing school. Her 2017 album The Edge featured rapper Snoop Dogg on the single Rude.

This track, This Love, is taken from her 2019 album The Fire. The song is in the pop/EDM genre and begins with a brief intro before Kendra’s distinctive vocals enter in a high register. Her voice has a crystalline quality and has been extremely well recorded and produced, giving it a slick commercial sheen. On the verse, the musical backing is sparse with percussion entering on the first refrain of the very catchy chorus. From here, a standard EDM riser and drum roll builds us up to a full ‘four to the floor’ beat.

Along with this pounding kick, we hear an equally memorable synth melody which continues into the second verse. The way the track builds and breaks down is cleverly done so that there is a sense of crescendo at key moments. Lyrically, it’s about a relationship that has a special, unique quality that is simultaneously romantic and physical: “There’s something about this love that feels so magical…..when I get around I feel like an animal.….”. The track’s momentum and energy continues to the very end.

Overall, this is a classy piece of pop/EDM as good as anything you’ll hear in the uppermost reaches of the charts. Kendra Black has a perfect voice for pop, and is ideally suited to the material in this instance. The song is well crafted and equally well suited to commercial radio and the dancefloor, which is a difficult trick to pull off. This means it doubles its potential of finding success and that’s exactly what I expect to happen to Kendra Black in 2019.

 

VERDICT = 8.5 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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SINGLE REVIEW: Race Against Time by Bianca Modesti

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https://www.bianca-modesti.com

Bianca Modesti is a singer and songwriter born and raised in Melbourne, Australia. She has been under the mentorship of her singing teacher Steven Zammit and as spent the last year working on original solo material. She has already performed at numerous venues and the result of her labours in the studio has been a 5 track EP, Race Against Time. She regards her influences as artists like Christina Aguilera, Alicia Keys and Pharell Williams as well as great singers from the past like Etta James.

This song is the title track from her EP and makes a strong showcase for her singing and songwriting skills. The track is an interesting blend of R&B, pop and rock. It begins with just her charismatic vocals singing the chorus hook, set to rhythmic acoustic guitar. We then hear a funky guitar lick, with some clever dynamics such as the drums briefly dropping out. The verse breaks down to just piano and tom-tom heavy drums before the bridge creates an effective tension for the explosive chorus.

This is where Bianca gets to display her powerhouse voice, with an Aguilera-esque range and a tone akin to Alicia Keys. However, the chunky low-end electric guitars give her music a unique sound that helps it stand apart from the crowd. The chorus has an excellent vocal melody and lyrics that capture the world’s obsession with chasing fame: “Reality is getting the better of me cos I can’t escape into my MTV….”. The words also subtly pay tribute to the late, great Prince with the line, “Wish I could party like it was ’99….”. Later in the song, she shows her fine ability to vocally extemporize with control.

Overall, this is a debut release of the highest calibre from a hugely gifted female singer/songwriter. Her singing voice is exceptional but augmented by refined songwriting skills, a vital string to her bow in an era where great vocals are not enough. She has emerged with a musical style that is a little different to what’s currently out there, whilst retaining a commercial and accessible sound. Bianca Modesti has the potential to become as successful as her artistic idols and she should have a very bright future ahead of her.

 

VERDICT = 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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SINGLE REVIEW: Little Lovin’ by Peter Senior

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https://www.petersenior.com.au

Peter Senior is a singer, songwriter and pianist from Sydney, Australia. His music is essentially pop but with strong elements of soul and jazz. He has been inspired by current Australian artists like Matt Corby and Gotye, which has culminated this year in the release of his debut solo album, On The Edge, from which this song is taken.

Having given a rave review to his previous release, Cool Ride, I thought that might be a difficult single to follow up. Fortunately, Little Lovin’ is even better; a hugely catchy Motown and jazz influenced stomper that grabs you on the very first listen.

It begins with boogie woogie piano, infectious brass lines, Sixties style/gospel-tinged doo-wop female backing vocals and a thumping Motown beat that gets the toe tapping immediately. This provides the platform for a captivating and ballsy lead vocal performance from Peter Senior, who really makes the song his own.

The song is irresistibly upbeat lyrically, enough to quell anyone’s blues with lines like: “Good times are comin’, I saw it in a dream….”. As with Cool Ride, there’s a knowing wink and smile towards the sensual side of life: “When you’re a lovin’ lady, I’m a happy fella….”. This line leads into a fantastic sax solo, something we don’t hear enough of (if at all) in modern pop music. The song maintains its relentless energy to the very end.

Overall, this is a wonderful modern take on the classic Motown sound that is virtually impossible to dislike. It’s superbly written and arranged but, most importantly, Peter Senior’s authentic, earthy voice really brings the track to life. The sound is gloriously musical, real musicians playing together to create a synergistic energy – something you can’t associate with the mostly electronic and synthetic music that dominates the charts. Let’s hope that Little Lovin’ gets the commercial success it truly deserves.

 

VERDICT = 9.1 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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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

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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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