SINGLE REVIEW: Perfect Alibi by The Proper Authorities

The Proper Authorities is the solo project of Keith Adams, a singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist best known for his work with Sound Mind, Giant Wow And 1000 Watt Revival. These bands got to share the stage with the likes of Alien Ant Farm and Meat Beat Manifesto, amongst many others. In 2006, The Proper Authorities released the acclaimed debut album Public Service Announcement and in 2012, the track Today featured in the film Radius. More recently, 2019 saw the release of Regain Control, a hard hitting rock song.

This track, Perfect Alibi is an upbeat, strident pop/rock track that really showcases Keith Adams’ considerable abilities as singer, songwriter and producer. It becomes immediately apparent that there’s a quality of performance and songwriting craft that you just don’t hear in the mainstream anymore, or rarely. Indeed, the assured craftsmanship as the verse moves to the vaulting chorus brought to mind the great pop of the 80’s such as Tears For Fears, INXS and Peter Gabriel.

This is combined with slick modern production and a very high calibre of musicianship, and you can see how this song will be hugely popular with fans of Maroon 5, Bruno Mars and Jason Derulo, along with anything by Mark Ronson. Built around a muscular, powerful beat and low-end synth bass, the versatility and distinctive range of Adams’ voice is what first grabs you.

The chorus, in particular, is where his voice truly shines as he depicts a relationship in deep decline due to a duplicitous partner: “Despite your smile, the sky fell down when you said we were on solid ground, there’s something off behind your eyes and your perfect alibi…”. The high note he hits on this last line is outstanding and gives the chorus its climactic moment.

The second verse is full of instrumental nuances (all played by himself), which requires repeated listens to absorb the intricacy of. The final choruses bring the track to a euphoric close, the vibrant energy of the music remaining compelling to the last second.

Overall, this is a superb pop/rock song from the hugely talented Keith Adams. It takes great skill to write a first rate pop song and then huge talent to make the creative vision a reality. Adams achieves all this with consummate ease and the result is the best single I’ve yet heard this year and I’ll be surprised if there’s a better one. The Proper Authorities deserve to be huge.

VERDICT = 9.1 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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ALBUM REVIEW: Dirty Clean Sexy Mean by Echo Strike

Echo Strike are an alternative rock/dance group with international members. They were formed by frontman Randy Van Gelder, guitarist Beau Newlin and producer Jonathan Broussard. This line up has expanded since their initial formation but it was this core trio that wrote and produced their debut album Honest Lies, which was released in 2019 to great acclaim.

After this strongly positive response from both critics and the public, the group expanded both their creative vision and band members, recruiting Homer, Zeta, John and Angel to round up the lineup. This led to 2020’s Not Inside Your Mind which was also a great success.

This album, Dirty Clean Sexy Mean, consists of fifteen tracks and begins with the upbeat electro-funk rock of Bad Intentions. From the opening bars the music grabs your attention, starting with the infectious refrain, “Got to get through to you”. The verse is built upon a bedrock of a taut drum groove, driving melodic basslines and Chic-style high-end funk guitar.

The vocals are immediately arresting, delivered sometimes in unison octaves and sometimes in harmony which makes for a sophisticated sound. The classic sounding synths add to the 70’s disco vibe but with a modern pop/rock sound and production. While musically it is upbeat, lyrically, it’s intriguingly dark and enigmatic: “You can’t trust me, I’m not going to lie, you’ll need to risk it if you’re going to survive…”.

1978 continues this earthy disco style combined with funk and rock, and you can hear shades of the Bee Gees, Chic and Tower of Power. Randy Van Gelder gives a fantastic vocal performance and the many instrumental touches such as Stevie Wonder-style clavinet add richness. It’s an excellent track that’s particularly suited to the dance floor but is exhilarating in any context.

Next comes a radical reworking of the Guns N Roses song Sweet Child O’ Mine. This takes the song originally performed solidly in the classic rock style and turns it into a disco/rock crossover. It retains some of the original guitar lines but it is impressive how they’ve managed to transform it into their own unique style.

Making The Jive is another upbeat disco/ rock track that fuses the 70’s Bee Gees sound with the modern dance pop of Daft Punk, especially circa Random Access Memories. The vocoder really gives the production a futuristic contemporary sound which will make it popular on radio. Again, it’s full of fine touches such as the rolling bass and staccato synth lines which interweave with the rhythm guitar.

Everything Hums is a little different, a mid-paced sophisticated pop track built around a beefy drum beat that wouldn’t sound out of place on a hip-hop record though overall it brought to mind the anthemic 80’s style pop of a band like A-Ha.

This style continues with the emotive melancholy of Work To Do which depicts a stormy relationship with a flawed romantic partner: “You’re a storm that decimates, I put up a plea but you only try to flee….”. These two songs show the more sensitive side to Echo Strike, reminiscent of the ballad style that ABBA were well known for.

Her Smile immediately captures the attention with its complex and infectious drum pattern, giving the music an ebullient energy. This is contrasted by mellow guitar lines that weave in and out, subtle synths filling out the sound. It is also romantic in tone: “That smile for me makes everything….”.

Leaving starts out as a gentle acoustic ballad that brought to mind the lilting rhythm of And I Love Her by The Beatles. The arrangement then builds up with a gentle but punchy beat, and the crystal clear acoustic guitars really add a touch of class.

Up For It is one of the album’s most inventive and unusual tracks with swirling, kaleidoscopic synths over a simple but effective beat and an instantly memorable vocal melody. The sophistication and degree of subtle nuances in the arrangement and overall production sound is where Echo Strike truly excel, and this is another fine example.

Dangerous Woman is much faster paced, bolstered by a pumping kick drum and elastic bass line. Lyrically, it is a depiction of the classic femme fatale theme and the vocal arrangement is particularly superb on this one, with clever use of layers and unison octaves.

The Stranger is an electro pop with some unexpected twists and turns, a track which really shows how Echo Strike manage to seamlessly combine eclectic genres into a synergistic whole. This song is a real grower, and has become one of my personal favourites upon repeated listens. The lyrics are also knowingly modern: “You better go before it’s out of control fast as you can, don’t post on Instagram”.

Demons is perhaps the album’s darkest song, depicting a soul in emotional turmoil and despair: “Don’t know the demons that haunt my mind, I am not alone but I feel left behind”. The unusual chord progressions in certain sections really give this particular song a unique sound and really shows how versatile the group is, both musically and lyrically.

Alone retains a troubled lyrical tone but musically is a return to the breezy, uplifting pop of the earlier part of the album. The harmonies on this are very effective, and the vocoder section once again brings to mind the electro-disco sound of Daft Punk.

Listen Hard is a strident pop track with a swinging rhythm with more of a rock influence than most of the album, showing yet another facet to their musical versatility. The bluesy, rhythmic piano made me think of Elton John and indeed the song is reminiscent of his Goodbye Yellow Brick Road era. It is full of great touches, such as the infectious handclaps and percussion.

This 70’s troubadour style continues into the similarly piano-led finale of the album, Wait And See. It recalls the mid period of solo Paul McCartney, Billy Joel and early 70’s Todd Rundgren, yet also still sounds contemporary. It features perhaps the album’s most anthemic and singalong chorus, augmented by dome fine harmonies that lift the track. It’s a very well crafted song that ends the album on a suitably fitting  high note.

Overall, this third album from Echo Strike finds them at the height of their powers with a versatile range of songs that veer from modern disco to timeless ballads. Their signature sound is a fusion of several genres and styles that gives them both a broad range of appeal and the kind of sophistication that means they get better with every listen. With charismatic vocals and fine musicianship from the whole group, plus many potential singles, Echo Strike have everything it takes to conquer the world.

 

VERDICT = 9.1 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

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NEW BAND REVIEW: Never, Soulless, Even by Sunset Closeup

Sunset Closeup are an alternative rock duo consisting of producer/guitarist Andrew Amsden (Hello Clarice and GTFO) and Melbourne singer Mark Pearl (Texture Like Sun). The group were formed during the 2020 Covid pandemic after Andrew had left Los Angeles after a decade and settled in Portland, Oregon.

The group were named after the film noir classic Sunset Boulevard and they are now releasing the first fruits of their labour. These first releases consist of three sonically eclectic songs that are all highly different yet united by a signature sound.

Never is a brooding alternative rock track that opens with low-end acoustics, soon joined by muscular drums and rich, deep bass. This is augmented by slick wah-wah guitar that provides some subtle rhythmic sophistication and is highly effective even though its low in the mix.

This lays the bedrock for Mark Pearl’s earthy authentic vocals, bringing to mind Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder and U2’s Bono, though with an altogether distinctive style of his own. The first verse establishes a firm groove with Mark delivering his distinctive vocals in a low register, backing vocals harmonising on certain lines.

He gets to display his considerable range with the euphoric chorus hook featuring the memorable refrain, “I’ll reach out for more”. After the second  chorus it enters an interlude section where the music breaks down and we hear the haunting lines, “Never gonna leave this alive, taking a long time to fly….”. The music gears back up for the third verse followed by one final blast through the anthemic chorus.

It’s amazing to note how concise it is at only two minutes and thirty seconds, yet feels a perfectly complete and rounded arrangement. As with all with the tracks here, Sunset Closeup strike a fine balance between alternative and commercial, rock and (credible) pop.

Soulless is longer at just under three minutes and shows a more electronic influence under the bonnet of their sound, starting out sounding like U2 with delay-drenched guitar over a pumping kick and restless hi-hat rhythms.

The pulsating synths then provide a fresh energy and texture to the sound, bringing to mind early 90’s Depeche Mode with a similarly poignant and mournful vocal performance from Mark Pearl, comparable to Dave Gahan. A more modern comparison would be the with Brandon Flowers of The Killers, another band who know how to successfully bridge the gap between alternative rock and pop.

Soulless has an alluring, mesmeric quality that draws the listener in. This is partly due to Mark Pearl’s enigmatic, haunting vocal melody along with the intoxicating, sophisticated music that envelops his voice. You can hear their wealth of influences distilled into a sonic alchemy and this track in particular would make a strong single choice with its radio friendly sound.

Even, the third track released so far, shows another side to their musical oeuvre. It’s built around a crystal-clear picked acoustic guitar motif and subtly insistent drums that gather complexity and intricacy as the arrangement gradually expands. The tribal tom-tom patterns give the sound a driving, potent momentum, contrasted by the gentle rhythmic rustle of tambourine.

From its opening bars, the music has a memorable quality. The haunting, seductive vocal melody on the intro immediately casts a spell on the listener once again. Andrew Amsden’s guitar work particularly shines on this track, a symbiotic blend of subtle acoustic and electric guitars that merge seamlessly.

Once again, the U2 of The Joshua Tree era comes to mind, and the understated musical backing really allows Mark Pearl to give a truly expressive performance, full of extemporisations. His vocal gymnastics always serve the song and as the song swells to its climax, the most emotive anthems of Coldplay are another apposite comparison, along with shades of George Ezra.

Overall, these three songs from Sunset Closeup show a new group emerging with a fully formed creative vision and signature sound. The combination of producer and guitarist Andrew Amsden’s various talents with Mark Pearl’s powerful and cathartic vocals results in a consistent musical synergy.

All three songs are first rate, managing to balance artistic integrity with commercial viability and any of them would make good single release for radio. I, for one, cannot wait to hear a full length album from Sunset Closeup and this initial material should help them deservedly build up an adoring and devoted fanbase.

VERDICT = 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

ALBUM REVIEW: Apparitions by Joe Hodgson

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Joe Hodgson is a guitarist and composer from Northern Ireland. He grew up in County Tyrone at the height of The Troubles and discovered a deep love for the guitar, having been inspired by Irish blues-rock legends like Gary Moore and Rory Gallagher. This started an obsession with the instrument which culminated in moving to London where he spent many years writing, recording, performing and touring with various bands and projects. He then returned to Ireland to work on his solo album.

This album, Apparitions, was preceded by two singles, The One That Got Away and the double A-side Serena Sonata/Bareback Blues and these three songs all appear. The title was inspired by the W.B. Yeats poem Apparitions, which was the favourite poem of his late mother. Her passing is the artistic inspiration behind the album, which consists of sixteen instrumentals. They are all his own compositions with the exception of the opening track, a stunning guitar interpretation of Bach’s Cantata 147.

From the opening bars, it becomes immediately apparent that Joe is an exceptional lead guitarist and this short piece then bursts into the upbeat, funky blues-rock of Fly That Flag, which brought to mind the sound of The Stone Roses second album, Second Coming. It’s a fine showcase for Joe’s mellifluous lead guitar work, though what is striking is how carefully composed and structured everything he plays is.

As he has the virtuosity to become potentially self indulgent with lengthy guitar solos, Joe sidesteps this common weakness with gifted guitarists, more interested in compositional craft, whilst strongly expressing his emotions through his instrument. This track also introduces us to some of the talented musicians he works with including the strident, punchy drumming of Max Saidi (Will Young, Shane Whelan), Vinzenz Benjamin’s superb bass playing and the inventive keyboard work of Nick Gilmore (Odyssey).

Serena Sonata lives up to its title, with a notable classical influence fused with rock and Latin American rhythms. Starting out with a legato, soaring tone it’s when the drums kick in that Joe ratchets up the gears with a virtuoso display of carefully controlled lead guitar, an explosion of exotic scales and runs across the high end of the fretboard. In perfect contrast, the languid blues rock groove of Bareback Blues suits Hodgson’s passionate playing style down to the ground and you can tell this genre is closest to his heart. While the lead guitar playing is Gary Moore-esque, the backing music has a pleasing Beatlesy retro feel, melodically rich and melancholy.

The One That Got Away has an even more accented moody sadness, with a haunting lead guitar melody that Joe extemporizes around beautifully. The way the music builds to a towering emotional climax that tugs hard on the heart strings is testament to his skill as both guitarist and composer. Understandable as a choice for the first single.

The brief but brilliant track The Player contains some of the most incendiary lead guitar playing on the album, with some lightning speed, jaw-dropping runs on the low end of the neck. If flips from this exuberance to the desolation and tragic sadness of Till The Last Breath. Here, Hodgson’s delicate and sensitive slide guitar work shows a different side to his art, one ultimately concerned with deep expression of heartfelt and complex emotion. It feels like the track that has the most personal meaning for him, as every note seems to be exude real feeling.

Long Hard Look is totally different, this time a jazzy upbeat track that shows his musical sophistication and even a quirky side, the angular melodies and unexpected chord changes bringing to mind the wild, eccentric flair of Frank Zappa. Disruptor opens with a brief burst of Beethoven’s Ode To Joy, which feels tongue in cheek as it breaks out into one of the harder rocking numbers here, with some fabulous Eddie Van Halen (R.I.P. Eddie) style playing, Joe whizzing around the guitar with consummate ease. The band behind match his furious and infectious energy whilst remaining absolutely water right throughout. Another excellent track.

This momentum carries on into the remarkable 10 Feet From Chaos, a glorious riot of zig zagging riffage, pounding tom tom rhythms and frenetic percussion. It’s another diverse twist in this rollercoaster ride of an album. Portrait of Portia Jayne takes us back into more exotic realms, a lush and finely crafted track based around modal scales which gives it its Eastern flavour. It goes without saying it features some more first rate fretwork, though perfectly measured to fit with the rest of the music.

Resurrection Dance is a taut and concise funk rock track where every musician excels and the synergy particularly stands out on this one, the precision metronomic whilst still retaining exuberance and expressiveness. Your Fragile Heart is a nice change of pace, a dreamy instrumental that seems the perfect soundtrack to a slow dance, though one with a bittersweet and poignant vibe.

Running Away From Me is a mid tempo track full of musical twists and turns that keep you compelled while Redneck and the Snowflake is more light hearted, a fusion of classic and progressive rock that works well, adding yet another layer of variety to this eclectic album.

It finishes, perhaps suitably, with the late night jazz bar vibes of the gorgeous Losing You Again. It’s another composition where Hodgson’s playing has real feeling and the bluesy runs work perfectly with the classy, jazzy backing. The strings entering turn up the poignancy to eleven, augmenting the beautiful lead guitar melody. A perfect ending, closing out the emotional journey.

Overall, this is a stellar collection of instrumentals from a virtuoso guitarist and composer. Joe Hodgson’s guitar skills alone make it worth a listen, but it’s the sheer musical variety and emotional range that make Apparitions such a strong album. It deserves to be heard and appreciated by many.

VERDICT = 9.2 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

Learn more about Joe Hodgson:

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SINGLE REVIEW: Thin Disguise by Davy Williamson

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Davy Williamson is a singer/ songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who was born in Plant City, Florida and raised in his hometown of Wilmington, North Carolina. He was the co-founder of the band Third Class Passenger and also the punk rock band Ma Shot Pa. This year, 2020, has seen him launch his solo career having successfully overcome some personal issues. Overcoming adversity is a theme explored in his music along with betrayal, love lost and broken homes.

This track, Thin Disguise, is his debut single and one on which Dave impressively plays all the instruments and performs the vocals. The song is a powerful and highly emotional hard rock epic, bursting into action with pounding drums and widescreen heavy electric guitars. Dave’s authentic and passionate vocals enter, bringing to mind the late, great Chester Bennington from Linkin Park and another lost legend, Chris Cornell from Soundgarden.

The brooding verse that seems to reflect his personal struggles (“Forgiving everyone but me, forgetting everything I’ve seen, fight these insecurities…”) builds up to an explosive chorus based around the barbed refrain, “I hate your lies, can’t stand these ties, your alibis, your thin disguise…”.

After the second chorus it breaks out into a fantastic, lengthy but perfectly structured guitar solo that shows an influence of classic rock. The lead guitar playing here is truly superb and refreshing to hear, a solo not a commonplace thing anymore, even on a rock track. It really elevates the music to an even higher peak, providing a surge of energy and momentum for the final choruses.

Overall, this is an exceptional debut release from a hugely gifted singer, songwriter and musician. He’s managed to convey and channel the turmoil and struggle of past experiences into a cathartic classic that strikes the perfect balance between melodic and rhythmic power. In this troubled era, the redemptive songwriting of Davy Williamson is the tonic we need to weather us through the storm.

VERDICT = 9.2 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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SINGLE REVIEW: Terror in Disguise by Savannah Nider

Savannah Nider is a singer and songwriter born and raised in Pawnee City, Nebraska. She was already getting music industry attention for her singing at just fifteen, which led to working with people who were involved in the careers of Grammy winning artists including Collin Raye and others.

After moving to Nashville in 2019, she met a well known songwriter, Joie Scott, which led to her first co-written song. She was then introduced to producer Bryan Cole, who produced her latest EP. Her song We Are Us reached no.1 on the ITunes country singles chart in South Africa.

This song, Terror in Disguise, is an upbeat and highly emotive pop/rock track produced to perfection by Bryan Cole. It represents something of a departure for Savannah, who had previously been solidly in the country genre. But to her credit, she’s pushed herself out of her comfort zone in order to do something a little more musically daring.

Beginning with a haunting piano melody over an insistent guitar figure, Savannah’s expressive and instantly distinctive lead vocals then take centre stage in a compelling way. The verse conveys that a relationship has gone awry, as a partner turns out to be not the person they thought they knew (“maybe that’s why it’s a dangerous disaster…”).

The rhythmic descending melodies on the verse are contrasted by the cathartic chorus, which finds Savannah in her upper register augmented by beefy electric guitars. Musically, it brought to mind Shania Twain, the Stevie Nicks songs of Fleetwood Mac, with more modern artists like Taylor Swift, Miley Cyrus and Sia. More remotely, it reminded me of great 80’s female pop like Belinda Carlisle and Alannah Myles.

The chorus succinctly captures the strong emotion behind the song: “As it all falls down we just watch it from the ground...”. The second verse is just as emotionally visceral: “You’re a tragic masquerade….”. The genuine melancholy of the depicted situation is perfectly counterpointed by the relatively upbeat energy of the music, with every musician playing with passion and conviction. The final choruses allow Savannah to express the considerable power and range of her voice, leaving the listener on a high.

Overall, this is a superb follow up song to the hugely successful We Are Us. This song constitutes a brave leap into uncharted artistic territory for Savannah, but she pulls it off owing to her versatile voice and deeply emotive performance. If she can maintain this high standard, the sky’s the limit for Savannah Nider.

 

VERDICT = 9.1 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

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SINGLE REVIEW: Undone by Riserfall

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Riserfall are a three-piece hard rock trio hailing from Dublin in Ireland. Their music fuses influences from a wide range of metal and hard rock, past and present. They consider their main influences to be 90’s grunge/alternative rock bands like Nirvana and Soundgarden, along with more traditional hard rock/metal like Metallica and Foo Fighters. They also consider prog rock/metal bands like Tool as an influence. Riserfall have been working on their debut EP due for release later this year, recorded at Lakeland Studios in Athlone, Ireland.

Opening with a brooding lead guitar riff that ratchets up instant musical tension, the track explodes into a powerful wall of sound with tumbling tom fills, courtesy of drummer Neel Thakur, taking us into the verse. The band display a fine understanding of dynamics, veering from the restrained, chugging guitars, rock solid bass (from Ciaran O’ Cathain) and understated vocals on the verses to the volcanic chorus, where the soaring, anthemic vocals stand out.

It could be said that having a great lead vocalist is what separates the wheat from the chaff when it comes to rock bands and fortunately for Riserfall, lead singer and guitarist Daniel O’ hEidhin is first rate. The sucker punch chorus is where his voice really shines and, lyrically, the song is refreshingly affirming rather than angst ridden: “Feel like nothing’s going wrong, see the woman to whom I belong…”.

It’s actually after the chorus, however, where the band truly impress and show their musical potential. The song is in 6/8 time overall, but here they show their prog rock/metal influence by switching to a 10/8 time signature before flipping back to 6/8 for the verse. This complex rhythmic switch is attained seamlessly and feels a natural part of the song. After the second chorus it enters an excellent section featuring a visceral, ascending guitar solo that takes the track to a climactic ending, where it leaves the listener hanging.

Overall, this is a highly impressive release from Riserfall’s debut EP. They have emerged fully formed, with their varying influences distilled into a unique and powerful sound of their own. With further material of this quality, Riserfall should become an extremely successful band worldwide and I look forward to hearing more from them.

 

VERDICT = 9.1 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

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ALBUM REVIEW: Radio Cowboy by Rob Georg

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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. Since then he’s released several singles and this debut album, Radio Cowboy, contains songs that are nominated for the Fair Play Country Award in Europe, as well as for the New Music Award in the United States.

The album consists of fifteen songs in the country and country rock genres, beginning with the title track. It’s an autobiographical up-tempo song about how Rob swapped his life as a rancher for being a singer and songwriter, captured succinctly in the title hook on the uplifting chorus: “Cause ever since I kissed that saddle goodbye, I’ve been a radio cowboy….”.

His sincere love of music and sense of vocation is apparent in the opening lines of the second verse: “Once I picked up that six string nothing was the same, I know every highway out there, I know every DJ’s name….”. With his authentic, radio friendly voice backed up by a gifted band of top notch Nashville musicians, Radio Cowboy sets the bar high for the rest of the album.

Second song Carry The Wind is a different type of track that Rob does exceptionally well, the epic country ballad. This one is genuinely moving, about a beloved horse who has passed on and left him bereaved. The opening lines paint a poignant picture: “The last time I saw him alive was in the first rays of the morning light breathin’ in the February air….”.

Built around picked acoustic guitar, it builds to a powerful, anthemic chorus enriched by female backing harmonies. It resonates with the deep, genuine love for his horse and the longing to see him on the other side: “When I die will you wash my sins so I can ride him once again...”.

This Ain’t My First Rodeo is a return to the light-hearted country rock that opened the album, this one an entertaining yarn about an experienced rodeo rider passing on some well meaning advice to a newcomer: “Hey kid, I was once like you, full of spit with a lot to prove, but listen up lets talk it through, I can tell you’re new to this….”. With some fantastic guitar work throughout, this is one song that really cooks and you can understand its popularity.

Ghost is another fine example of Rob’s ability to write emotive, sensitive ballads.It’s  about feeling bereft after a loving relationship has ended and not being able to get over it: “I carved a headstone, here lies another sleepless night, I tried to bury the bones of all the memories you left behind….”. With its haunting melody, Ghost was understandably released as a single and you can read my full song review here.

This theme continues into This Old House, finding Rob reflecting on leaving the house that holds so many happy memories from the past: “There’s an empty house standing behind me, I’m trying not to look so I don’t cry, cause if I do, I know I’ll be reminded of all the memories we left inside….”.

The chorus is full of poignant imagery, the music perfectly reflecting the protagonist’s sense of sorrow: “Holes from where we hung the pictures of our wedding day, when we made vows we thought we’d never break, creaky wooden stairs leading down to Christmas mornings, a dirty fireplace that kept us warm when it was storming….”.

Harvest Moon Heart is the closest to a traditional country ballad on the album, a beautifully crafted song in waltz time with a lilting vocal melody augmented by steel guitar. After the emotional turmoil of the previous two songs, this touching track lightens the mood nicely and will be a popular one with country fans, both old and new.

My Family’s Got Fur is one of the more fun songs on the album, about the love he has for his dogs who help him on the ranch. It’s a sweet, mid-paced ballad that fellow canine lovers will especially appreciate. The second verse portrays the depth of his love and their importance in his life: “My dogs are braver than I’ll ever be, they run straight into danger and they’ll sacrifice their life for those in need. They’re the hardest workers on the ranch and I’m eternally grateful for the love they give to me….”.

Next comes one of my personal favourites on the album, the hard rockin’ Dust. It’s about the living daily reality of being a cowboy on a ranch, not the romanticized version we see on the silver screen: “The cowboys in the movies don’t tell you the whole story, I’m living proof we’re not it in for the glory….”. With its rich electric guitars and gritty vocal performance from Rob, it brought to mind the Jon Bon Jovi classic Blaze of Glory.

Sunsets At The Ranch is another fine ballad which portrays Rob’s love of nature, in particular the sun, inspiring some of his most poetic lyrics: “I’ve watched it sink behind the Tennessee mountains and soak into the ocean as I walked along the beach….”. With its universal qualities, again it made a suitable choice as a single, which I reviewed very favourably (read here).

Tenth track Push That Horn is one the most simple musically, with just vocals and acoustic guitar. It’s also one of the most emotionally affecting, with Rob paying tribute to a mentor who has now passed on: “I went to the States to be a cowboy, met a man who taught me how to cut. He said “Boy, you’re gonna win it all some day so I’m gonna work you night and day….”. A beautiful tribute song with some lovely Emmy Lou Harris-style female harmonies.

Time For Some Ink provides a complete contrast in mood, a playful rocker about the joys of getting a tattoo! Rob’s vocals on this are fantastic, showing he can rock out as well as perform the delicate ballads with equal ease. His cast of musicians sound great too, with crunchy electric guitar and meaty drums providing the bedrock for this entertaining anthem. You can read my full review for this one here.

This Gift Called Life is another fine ballad that deals with that most universal of themes, becoming a parent. The deeply emotional moment of becoming a father to a newborn is captured touchingly in the song’s opening lines: “She looks like you, the doctor said in the delivery room as I cradled your head. Your eyes were blue, just like the sky, reflecting over an ocean, so wide…..”.

It also shows the flip side, the pain of seeing your child suffering: “Left eye bruised from a fight at school, standing up for someone smaller than you…and as I held the pack of ice, couldn’t take away the pain but I knew I had to try….”.

Higher Ground is another song that shows his caring side, this one more upbeat with an insistent, toe tapping rhythm. It gradually builds into a real epic in strident 2/4, bringing to mind something like Born To Run by Bruce Springsteen. Halfway between a ballad and a rocker, it’s an easily overlooked gem on the album.

When I Make It Home For Christmas is one of the most beautiful songs musically, crystal-clear acoustic guitars mingling with subtle piano and drums. A close listen to the lyrics shows that its actually about a soldier fighting in a war and returning home for Christmas: “Every night on foreign ground as I lay my gun and helmet down, I can almost hear the sound of peace breaking through…”. This lends extra depth to a subject that might have been saccharine in lesser artistic hands.

The album finishes in the same uplifting fashion with which it began, this time via an ode to trucks: Beasts Made of Steel (read my full review here). As with Time For Some Ink, it’s another hugely catchy country-rock anthem that will appeal especially to automobile aficionados. It’s a fantastic, entertaining way to close out the album.

Overall, this a stellar set of songs from a country singer/songwriter as authentic as they come. Equally as skilful at writing and performing both up-tempo rockers and tender ballads, Rob Georg sings about the things that matter to us most. He’s also honest in showing the good and bad sides to the human condition. With this very strong album under his belt, there’s no limit to his potential and I hope it reaches many.

 

VERDICT= 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

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ALBUM REVIEW: Without Maps – 30 Years of Moments by Moments Of Pleasure Records

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This is a sampler of material from the Moments Of Pleasure label, founded in Brighton, England in 1989. It essentially features the work of six artists: Senses Reeling, Rogue Beauty, Almost Charlotte, Bluff, A Long Valley and B-Vox.  The common thread pretty much throughout is the involvement of Nick Fuller and Matthew Griffin – two of the five founders (along with Anthony Squires, Ian Philipson and Bill Russell) who comprised Almost Charlotte – the band behind its original single release.  The style of music throughout is essentially alternative pop/indie, though it branches out into more diverse genres over the years.

The compilation consists of nineteen tracks and begins with the upbeat funk-tinged indie pop of Rogue Beauty’s I Choose. Based around an infectious groove, the soulful female vocals are aligned with a memorable melody and an equally melodic baseline which acts as a fine counterpoint. Wah-drenched guitars add to the “dance-rock” vibe and synths complete the soundscape to great effect.

Next comes Eastern Eye by B-Vox which brings to mind some of the great indie pop of the 80’s such as Julian Cope and The Clash classic Rock The Casbah. Over crunchy guitars, the distinctive male lead vocals carry the song aided by eloquent lyrics and a highly catchy chorus hook. The subtle brass which punctuates certain parts adds an extra splash of musical colour.

Bluff’s Go Home Now comes next, written by Matthew Griffin it’s driven along by a Pump It Up-style bassline and Trevor Warman’s aggressively upfront guitar.  It notably features a contrast between the light, poppy verse and the heavier chorus which brings to mind The Pixies though musically it is more akin to the indie bands of the era (1992) such as Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, also harking back to arty punk bands like Wire. A superb and succinct piece of punk-influenced guitar pop.

This is followed by the sophisticated synth pop of Rogue Beauty’s Burn Down (Icon Park). It’s a viciously satirical song that aims its ire at celebrity culture: “Roll up folks for the PR man’s game, let’s wallow in the glory of a name, thank you Hello and Gossip and Morning TV, forget about real life and lose the real me.” Though it was written in 2001 by Nick Fuller and Matthew Griffin, the message resonates even more today, where celebrities are treated as deities in some cases.

Foreign or Poor by Senses Reeling brings us right up to date.  Infused with a similar righteous anger, this one deals with the terrible tragedy of the Grenfell fire, which occurred when a tower block in London burned down due to flammable cladding after health/safety concerns had been raised by residents and ignored.  There’s a strong sense of social injustice and moral outrage at how people were neglected as if they didn’t matter: “We can talk forever, but it has got to change, it has simply got to change.”

Their Way by A Long Valley is a more conciliatory song about not being overcome by hatred and bitterness, again a message that is more than apposite in Brexit-era Britain: “An open loving heart forgives, refusing bitterness for good, believing freedom always lives, as hatred never could.” Musically, it’s a solemn five-minute epic augmented by haunting synth strings.

Almost Charlotte’s Hope is a more traditional indie pop song, combining the light guitar style of The Sundays with the quirky vocal style of Julian Cope and Morrissey. It’s an effortlessly infectious track with a gloriously simple structure – featuring a prominently stabbing and melodic bassline by Anthony Squires – that proves sometimes less is more.

Ferocious Love by Senses Reeling is yet another song with a timely message. Recorded in 2016, it’s about those who deny the destruction of the environment or ignore it, in particular governments. Since then we have seen the rise of the eco-warrior movement which has become particularly well known this year through activists like Extinction Rebellion and Greta Thunberg. They would certainly nod in agreement at such lines as, “Faith in our invincibility ignores a power so plain to see, no figure will make it right, no bribe will quell the fight, this place defines us and cannot disappear, we’ve got to talk“.

The following Attitude by Bluff is one of the compilation’s high-paced, punkier moments. It’s a thrilling ride, based around a simple but highly effective three-chord progression girded by an equally effective bassline.  This provides the bedrock for a lyric about someone with hypothetical views when it comes to helping those less fortunate: “There’s nothing to concern your cosy little world, on the outside there is no one suffering….”. It’s a potent, passionate song delivered with consummate conviction and one of the stand-out highlights for me.

There are shades of Depeche Mode in Paul Midcalf’s pristine production and the  pulsing synths of Easy by Senses Reeling, a rumination on the increasingly Orwellian use of data collection through our increased technology (“Surveillance or benign? Do we see the creepy line?“). Recorded in 2019, again this is a song that will only develop increased relevance as our lives become dominated by gadgets and subliminal advertising.

Anyone by Rogue Beauty is a low-key but lyrically powerful acoustic track about how losing yourself in a crowd can be a form of emotional protection: “And no one hears you scream beneath the neon sun, out here in the crowd you could be anyone.” The use of exotic percussion gives this a unique musical feel and acts as a nice contrast to the songs that surround it.

Missing Something by Senses Reeling is perhaps the most unexpected musical departure on the compilation. Based around a Latin American groove and piano style along with double bass and appropriate percussion, it’s a tour de force with a captivating lead female vocal by Rayne Gomes. Lyrically, it’s typically incisive, about how we don’t appreciate the moment if we are always chasing after the latest material acquisition (“A bigger house, a newer car…”). Full of sophisticated musical touches including some deft classical guitar work, it shows the impressive range at their artistic disposal.

Rainfall by Almost Charlotte returns us to more familiar sonic terrain, another finely crafted alternative pop song written by Matthew Griffin and recorded back in 1989. It’s a touching track about not being afraid to reach out to friends when going through some troubled times.

Someone Else by Senses Reeling is another song written from a standpoint of compassion, about how the elderly are neglected and should be appreciated while they’re still here. This is captured in such moving lines as, ” It’s only when we hold a hand so fragile and fading, that we realise the true cost….”.

Almost Charlotte’s Among The People is an interesting song, a character study about an extrovert young woman who refuses to be tied down to a relationship: “If you talk to her of love she’ll often turn and hide her eyes, if you ask her for a dance she will dance until you say goodbye…”. Recorded in 1990, it’s a poignant twist on the theme of unrequited love and says something larger about the shallow nature of modern relationships.

Some Small Control by Senses Reeling is another emotive song by Nick Fuller, with a sassy female lead vocal that brought to mind someone like Sia. It’s about trying to cling to the things you can control when all is turning to chaos around you. The arrangement here is excellent, with subtle piano and xylophone added to the musical palette.

Rogue Beauty’s Friends and Enemies is back to an edgier, fiery style, another well aimed attack at the banality of celebrity culture and how this has infected the music industry. (“What does the X stand for? Where will it end? Victorian Freak Show returns…” is clearly a dig at Simon Cowell and The X-Factor. (I heartily applaud!).

Bluff’s Switch Off is about wanting refuge from sensory overload.  Built around Joy Division-style interlocking drums and bass (the driving bassline by Colin Clifford being a particular feature) it’s built on rich, slightly heavier electric guitars than their signature sound. In “Sometimes I wish I had the guts just to switch it off, when the walls close in…..” it features one of the album’s most anthemic choruses: Fantastic song.

The compilation closes, aptly, with another social justice song, Your Place by Senses Reeling. This one is about the housing crisis in Britain where a combination of stalled social house building and the unaffordably high prices of private housing means that many people are left stranded – some at the mercy of exploitative landlords.  Musically, it’s one of the most unique here, a dance/rock hybrid that brought to mind Bernard Sumner and Johnny Marr’s Electronic. The contrast between the lively, upbeat music and the serious, saturnine lyrics make for a potent dynamic: “Easy to say that we all deserve our own space but it looks like they’re keeping you in your place….”.

Overall, this is a wonderful compilation of 30 years of material produced by this little-known hidden gem of a record label, Moments Of Pleasure. At nineteen tracks, it’s quite the epic listen that charts changing styles and times through a standard that is consistently high throughout, without a dud song here. The songwriters involved show a considerable amount of musical and lyrical skill, boldly dealing with the deeper issues of modern life and the human condition. It will be particularly loved by indie aficionados but any discerning music lover will find much to treasure here and much to discover beyond by checking out the induvial releases by the 6 acts.

 

VERDICT = 9.2 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

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SINGLE REVIEW: Soulsville by Happy Curmudgeons

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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

 

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