SINGLE REVIEW: Soulsville by Happy Curmudgeons

HC-Hi-Rez.png

Happy Curmudgeons are a rock/pop band with shades of folk, blues and country hailing from Bloomfield Hills in Michigan. Their debut album and musical journey to get there has had a lengthy gestation period.

In the 1980’s singer/songwriter and guitarist Dave Hamilton was in a band called the Angel-Headed Hipsters and met none other than Velvet Underground legend Lou Reed who told him he was a great songwriter and to stick at it. Many years later the band were formed with Jeff Warner on guitar and Amy Dixon-Lavery on additional vocals. Recently, I gave a stellar review to their album, Meant To Be, which you can read here.

This track, Soulsville, is taken from that album and makes an apposite choice as a single release. It’s an upbeat rock track based around an instantly infectious bluesy guitar riff, which starts out the song. Backed by the excellent rhythm section of Rick Beamon on drums and Takashi Iio on bass, the band hit a strong groove before Dave Hamilton’s assured and authentic vocals complete the sonic picture, his vocal delivery lying halfway between Neil Young and Lou Reed.

The song was originally inspired by seeing the Grateful Dead perform in Chicago and it’s essentially a love letter to that city’s vibrant music scene, the Soulsville in question, as captured by the opening lines: “There’s a place that I know, somewhere to go…I like to hang around….downtown is the place.”. The spirited energy of the music perfectly mirrors the lyrical subject matter with Beamon and Iio interlocking with Hamilton’s crunchy chords and driving riffage.

The second verse depicts the Chicago strip where all the music happens: “See it move with style, the strip’s for miles….lights the night on fire….”. After this the music really explodes with a colourful burst of saxophone played by guest musician Jeff Tabaloff. His mellifluous sax playing adds to the soulful musical vibrancy and he’s allowed free rein with an extended solo that showcases his skills. This leads into a succinct guitar solo before the final verse rounds off the track nicely.

Overall, this is an excellent single release from Happy Curmudgeons that highlights the strength of Dave Hamilton’s songwriting and the synergistic musicianship of his gifted band members. It’s old school rock ‘n roll but with a refreshing energy and vibe that is missing from so much of today’s synthetic chart music. For anyone searching for new music that’s authentic, catchy and colourful look no further than Soulsville.

 

VERDICT = 9.1 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

Listen here:

 

Advertisements

SINGLE REVIEW: Strong by Mark Winters

markwinters_strong.jpg

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

 

Listen HERE

ALBUM REVIEW: Weekendson by Weekendson

weekendson.jpg

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

Listen here:

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

Crossroads Picture.jpg

 

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

 

Visit the official website here

SINGLE REVIEW: Cruisin’ by Josh Best

Screenshot_2019-06-26 (1) Josh Best.png

Josh Best is an up and coming country singer and songwriter hailing from Forest City in North Carolina. He is currently in the Air Force stationed in Alaska and is now hoping to push forward with his music career. He has been playing the guitar and performing, having received tuition from his father and uncle, the latter a well known musician in the Gastonia, North Carolina area. He has recently released several songs including Rebecca’s Song, Half (Must See) and Country Grown And Country Strong.

This track, Cruisin’, is an upbeat mid-tempo country rock track and a good introduction to Josh Best’s music. Starting with a brief country-tinged guitar melody it breaks out into strummed acoustic guitar and a steady drumbeat. Josh’s vocals come across immediately as strong and authentic, easy on the ear and suited to the material.

Lyrically, it’s a light hearted and enjoyable ‘good time’ ode to the joys of a truck journey with someone you love and the radio blasting. The vocal melody is deceptively catchy on the verse melody which is magnified on the instantly memorable title hook: “Cruisin’ on down the road, I’m cruisin’ listening to the radio…cruisin’ and I’m crossing the lines, cruisin’ with you by my side.” The guitar solo after the second chorus adds a little flavour and musical authenticity.

Overall, this is an infectious country rock song by a talented songwriter who has a natural gift for writing accessible music that most will find easy to relate to. He has a voice suited to his chosen genre and while there is scope for polishing the production, his current recordings have a raw lo-fi appeal that gives his sound a little edge and an old school feel. Josh Best has the potential to find a large audience and I hope this fun song will help him get there.

 

VERDICT = 8.6 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

Listen here: 

 

SINGLE REVIEW: Which Way To Go by Troy Remedy

Attachment_1560183054.jpeg

troyremedy.net

Troy Remedy is a hip hop artist and producer from Dallas, Texas. The latter part of his moniker was inspired by the healing effect of music itself and there is a strong spiritual vibe as well as the influence of soul in his hip hop. So far, he has performed in cities like Dallas/Fort Worth, San Antonio, Austin and Houston. He has previously released the singles Underdog, City Lights and Steal My Soul (which I reviewed very favourably, read here) from his upcoming debut album My Own Worst Enemy.

This track, Which Way To Go, starts out with an evocative intro consisting of spaced out guitar and synths then Troy interjects with an assured and direct rapping style. Bolstered by a laid back but punchy hip hop beat, his honest and soul searching lyrics take centre stage with this track depicting his struggle to find his path in life: “Gotta ask myself, what it is I’m pursuing….”.

The first verses are a marvel of rapid fire delivery and eloquent lyrical flow that describe the various problems he’s faced with, summed up succinctly by the title hook: “Even though I’m still not knowing…not knowing which way to go.”

After the first chorus we hear an unexpected but very refreshing bluesy guitar solo, and these guitar licks recur through the second verse.  The lyrics here are even more visceral: “Seen a massacre in broad day, watching as the crowd scatters through life’s maze…..most would say they have nothing to live for, no inner peace, nothing to strive for”. This sense of desperation is reiterated by the final refrains of the title hook.

Overall, this is another compelling and unrelentingly honest hip hop track from Troy. He has found his own artistic niche blending hard hitting lyrics with underlying spiritual themes of redemption and hope, which gives his music a real emotional depth and power.  Musically, this track effectively blends hip hop with a melancholy blues-rock guitar sound to great effect. For people looking for hip hop that is 100% “real” and from the heart, look no further than Troy Remedy.

 

VERDICT = 8.8 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

Listen here:

Listen here

SINGLE REVIEW: Time For Some Ink by Rob Georg

timeforsomeink_cover_final.png

Rob Georg is a country singer and songwriter originally hailing from Tuebingen in Germany. He became interested in music as a child, taking up the piano and then switching to guitar. He bought his first guitar at just 14 and this led to writing his own material. In 2018, he released his first official song Push That Horn and in December of that year came his first full band release, This Ain’t My First Rodeo. That song made it into the US National Radio Hits AC Charts Top Ten and since then he has released Ghost, which I reviewed highly favourably (read here).

This track, Time For Some Ink, is a distinct contrast to the emotionally troubled epic balladry of Ghost and shows a whole other side to his musical persona. It’s a very upbeat, tongue in cheek ode to the joys of getting a tattoo, a subject which so many will relate to but not one I’ve encountered in a rock song before.

The song starts out as laid back as you can get, with low-end guitar melding with a slow roll on the snare drum. From the opening lines you know that this is going to be a fun, light hearted song: “I need to catch a buzz from a tattoo pen, got to get some pictures on my skin”. The bridge is short but effective (“Tell me I’m addicted, I don’t care what you think”) before exploding into the anthemic title hook that you can imagine the crowd singing along to with ‘devil horns’ aloft.

The second verse gives a little more lyrical depth as it describes how tattoos tell the story of his life on his body. After the second chorus the rock ‘n roll factor is turned up to eleven with a Slash-style, wah-drenched guitar solo. Indeed, the whole song wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Guns ‘n Roses classic album Appetite For Destruction.

Overall, this is a highly enjoyable, hugely entertaining track which shows the rockier side to Rob Georg. He shows his voice is just as adept at rock as at country ballads and, again, his gift for writing epic, singalong choruses. This song is guaranteed to be popular with his current fan base and should win over plenty more, especially the fellow tattoo lovers out there!

 

VERDICT= 8.7 out of 10 

Alex Faulkner

 

Listen here: