SINGLE REVIEW: Amazing by Russell Lee

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Russell Lee is a Canadian born country rock singer/songwriter now residing in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He enjoyed a great deal of success in 2017 through the release of his album What Do I Do. The lead single from that album garnered an enormous 500,000 views on YouTube. He received six nominations at the Manitoba Music Awards and also had the privilege of playing the main stage at the world renowned Dauphin Countryfest. Since then, he has been working on a new album, Meant To Be.

This track, Amazing, is taken from that album and makes a great showcase for his first rate skills as both a singer and songwriter. It’s an uptempo country rock song with a strongly romantic theme, about feeling gratitude to have someone special in your life and letting them know you’ll be there for them.

Starting with strummed acoustic guitar, the first verse is fairly sparse with Russell’s strong and distinctive vocals allowed to take centre stage, backed by drums, organ and a little electric guitar. The sound is enriched by the perfectly executed layered backing harmonies which recur throughout the song.

It builds to a touching, memorable chorus as he appreciates how fortunate he is: “It’s amazing to me, you want to be by my side. After the second chorus we hear a well crafted lead guitar solo, something we don’t hear enough of in modern music. Special credit should go to the high standard of production, as good as anything you’ll hear on the radio and the performances of all the musicians involved are all of the highest calibre.

Overall, this is a well written country rock song, performed and produced to perfection by Russell Lee and his talented musical cohorts. With a likeable voice that’s easy on the ear and a fine way with melody, his commercial radio friendly sound bodes well for the song’s success. He already has a large fanbase, and with further material as strong as this he should continue to reach bigger and bigger numbers of people with his music.

 

VERDICT = 8.6 out of 10           

Alex Faulkner

Listen here:


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ALBUM REVIEW: Transition by Eddie Arjun

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http://www.eddiearjun.com/

Eddie Arjun (formerly Arjun) is the collective name of New York-based instrumental trio, consisting of lead guitarist (and producer of this album) Eddie Arjun Peters, backed up by Andre Lyles on bass and Mike Vetter on drums.

Essentially they combine the raw expression and energy of rock and blues with the sophistication and intricacy of jazz and progressive rock, resulting in a musical fusion that is unique and original. All three members are musicians of the highest calibre and manage to balance free expression on their respective individual instruments whilst managing to interlock musically in an airtight, completely synergistic way.

Founded back in 2003, the band developed their craft over time and they eventually began releasing a trilogy of studio albums which started with Space (2013), followed by Core (2014, reviewed very favourably by yours truly) and culminating in 2016’s Gravity. These albums also featured contributions by highly regarded musicians such as E.J. Rodriguez (The Jazz Passengers, Sean Lennon), John Medeski (Medeski, Martin & Wood), Cory Henry (Snarky Puppy) and Jeff Coffin (Dave Mathews Band, Bela Fleck and The Flecktones).

This album, Transition, consists of eight tracks and is due for release February 1st, 2019. Opening track There It Is gets the album off to a strong start. It begins with a Jimmy Page-style rock/blues riff which for many rock bands would become enough to base a whole track around, but it forms just one of a number of melodic themes and motifs which are deployed throughout the track. It leads straight into a high-end blues/funk riff, with the simple rhythm soon displaced with syncopations. This is alternated with the low-end riff, played in tandem on the bass with a short chromatic section adding further variety.

Drummer Mike Vetter and bassist Andre Lyles soon manifest as a formidable rhythm section, both rock solid and incredibly fluid. They lay the platform for Eddie Arjun Peters’ versatile, almost otherworldly guitar skills. Halfway through the track it breaks down to an extended section where Eddie gets to show the more psychedelic Hendrix/Gilmour side to his playing, with some incredibly mellifluous runs across the neck. This is underpinned by some stunning playing from Vetter and Lyles, culminating in a jaw dropping section of virtuosity before returning to the original groove.

Second track Core opens in a blaze of Keith Moon-esque drum fills and raw guitar chords before launching into a mellow blues in 6/8 time. From this simple template, the band progress through an intricate arrangement full of nuanced dynamics where almost every bar has some clever accent placement or rhythmic motif that adds musical interest.

It then builds up to a gorgeous ascending section that Hendrix would have been proud of, the music exuding sensuality. Eddie gets to break out his wah-wah which he uses tastefully and effectively, bringing to mind the Jimi of his latter day Voodoo Chile-period.

Next comes the title track and it’s a very different beast. Opening with a taut guitar riff that keeps you hanging in suspense it then locks into a pulsing, intense groove with a continually unpredictable rhythm that shifts under your feet. This is the track where the whole band really showcase their mastery of rhythmic dynamics and their remarkable unity that almost seems telepathic but is no doubt the result of tireless rehearsing.

Here the music is more modal than pentatonic giving it a more exotic feel, though still with a strong bluesy vibe. It feels like every single note has been worked out to precision, with some astonishing moments where all three players reach a frenzy yet remain in complete control, such as the superb solo section and the frenetic climax.

The following Longass has an irresistible groove and a real strut, with the guitar and bass once again playing a funky blues riff in tandem. And again, what starts out as a seemingly simple rock/blues jam becomes a cleverly arranged epic. After the initial sections have been repeated a further section midway through takes the music into the stratosphere, with Eddie Arjun Peters breaking out the delay pedal for another skyscraping solo. Another album highlight.

Iana is more like an interlude track consisting of just a moody solo bass, acting as a lull in the storm. The next two tracks both made me think of Hendrix, but in different parts of his short career. Sixth track Ascent is a mellow jazzy blues number that recalls the Axis: Bold as Love era, specifically songs like Little Wing and Castles Made of Sand. The arrangement is very clever in how it reflects the title perfectly, gradually building up to the thrilling development section where Andre Lyles shines with some remarkably fluid bass playing, locked in perfectly with Mike Vetter’s whirlwind fills around the kit.

The following, aptly-titled Lavalust is more akin to the wild epic psychedelic rock of Electric Ladyland and is my personal favourite on the album. Kicking off with a killer slap bassline put through a phaser, this is joined by a torrent of flamboyant fills reminiscent of Mitch Mitchell. It then launches into a rock/blues masterpiece that takes all their combined compositional and arrangement skills to another level.

The breakdown section in the middle is where this track really aims for the stars though; delay-drenched lead guitar playing some mind bending runs over gradually intensifying bass and drums, as trippy as something like 1983… (A Merman I Should Turn To Be) from Hendrix’s last magnum opus. It then returns back to Earth for another fantastic section where the guitar does indeed drip like liquid lava, and the whole band is captured at their euphoric, boundary-pushing best.

Closing track Gone is a real slow burner. It starts with a languid groove that really allows the music to breathe, Vetter and Lyles play with exquisite restraint while Eddie Arjun Peters slowly weaves a spell with some deliciously dreamy guitar work. The main theme is plaintive and haunting, the arrangement gradually growing in grandeur towards one final blaze of wah-soaked guitar pyrotechnics. It continues through several sections on this subtly complex seven-minute sonic odyssey. It’s a majestic way to end the journey overall, finishing on an unexpected major chord which gives an air of completion.

Overall, this is the best album so far from this terrifically talented trio. The three members of Eddie Arjun have honed their respective skills to a very fine pitch, have developed a musical unity and synergy that few musicians ever achieve and most importantly write and perform consistently stunning music. The nuanced details and craft in the arrangement of every track means it will richly reward repeated listening and should appeal to an enormous range of rock, blues and jazz aficionados.

VERDICT = 9.3 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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ALBUM REVIEW: Do You Know Who I Am? by D.Ni.L.

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https://www.d-ni-l.com/

D.Ni.L. is a 33 year old hip hop artist, musician, producer and emcee hailing from Yorkshire. Having played with bands growing up in York, he developed the ability to compose in his head and play by ear. He has battled alcohol and drug addiction since the age of twelve, and spent four years living in hostels and sleeping rough.

These tough life experiences give his music an edge and intensity, and his record label Musication specifically uses music as a tool for recovery for people who face issues like homelessness and addiction. This has led to collaborations with Buttercream 87 and Wasabi Fire Alarm, as part of the band). As a solo artist he released two albums in 2017, This In’t A Party and the more guitar-influenced Suicide In Sips.

Earlier in 2018, he released the album Boy Inside, which received a stellar review from me. Hot on its heels is this new album, Do You Know Who I Am?  Both thematically and musically, it feels like a continuation of Boy Inside although there is noticeably less rapping on this one and an emphasis on musically expansive song structures.

D.Ni.L. has formed an entirely new sound unique to him, which fuses aspects of progressive rock/metal (Deftones, Muse) with the emotive and well-crafted songwriting style of the Manic Street Preachers, also fused with the brutal lyrical honesty and aggression of hip hop. The complex sonic structures that D.Ni.L. constructs require multiple listens to be truly appreciated, but the emotional directness of his music resonates the first time you hear it.

Opening track Analogue Bath is a good example of this. Musically, it is built around brooding, swirling low-end guitar riffs and basslines, with meaty yet intricate drums. This provides the soundscape for D.Ni.L. to lay down a brutally honest lyric that sounds at first like he’s addressing a person he’s in a relationship with.

As the song progresses, it transpires that he is addressing his struggle and continual battle with drug addiction: “I didn’t know better when you flowed into my life at eleven and saturated me, you infatuated me when in fact you hated me, groomed and then dated me…”. The rapped verses are counter-pointed by vocal sections that provide an effective contrast, especially the haunting falsetto section towards the end.

This lead vocal style is more prominent on the following Buried, and you can hear the influence of James Dean Bradfield as well as several American hard rock/metal band vocalists. This track epitomizes D.Ni.L’s ability to fuse disparate elements together seamlessly, so it starts out as angular and aggressive with a syncopated rhythm before breaking down halfway into a beautiful extended passage. This features some fine vocal harmonies and usage of guitars in a much more delicate, nuanced and melodic way.

The overall transcendent effect brought to mind the blissed-out modern prog rock of Radiohead’s Pyramid Song. Again, lyrically it’s about battling the demons of his addiction: “So many problems traceable back to you, infected from the start…fed by your roots I’m maladjusted, malnourished right to the heart“.

Third track Feelings is musically more upbeat, driven by a catchy guitar riff and bouncy bassline, offset by a clever, off-kilter syncopated beat. This is alternated by sections of straight 4/4 that again works as a contrast. The second verse shows his mastery of rhythm as he continually displaces the accent, so that the listener feels the music shift underneath their feet. Lyrically, it’s another confession of his inner self as he explores how addiction and hedonism stunted him as a person: “I thought that sex was love, that love was belonging, belonging to me and no-one else, that was jealousy and do-wronging….”.

Forever is one of the more slow-paced epics, with a long and languid vocal melody. Musically, its a chance to express his more melodic side with some gorgeous strings towards the end. There’s a poignancy and double meaning to lines like, “Someday I’ll find another thorn to put in your side….”. Here, he is singing in the first person personifying addiction itself, and its hold on him.

Fifth track Let The Side Down is one of the album’s most instant tracks, with its anthemic title hook and compelling, addictive rhythms. Musically, it gradually builds in intensity until it climaxes with an electrifying rap section: “You were cheap but I was cheaper, as I fell deeper your price tag got steeper….”. Most importantly, it depicts how he is winning the war against his addiction with lines like, “No longer stuck to me, bringing bad luck to me, I’ve written you out of this story….”.

Melt is one of the album’s darkest tracks with a strong metal influence on certain sections which are cleverly alternated with complex, cathartic verses and another passage of great melodic beauty in the middle. It’s one of the most tormented tracks lyrically, as he portrays the seductive and all encompassing nature of addiction with harrowing imagery: “I chased you from brown to black, then you fizzled into nothing… now you’re long gone, even from the tips of my hair…..”.

Nod begins with a solemn string introduction before bursting into one of the visceral riffs that form part of his signature sound. It develops into another fully realized fusion of rock, metal and progressive genres, juxtaposing memorably anthemic sections with sparse and unrelentingly intense verses, brimming with restless rhythmic invention. Lyrically, it feels like it touches on the album’s main theme of gaining self-knowledge: “I didn’t even know myself, spent my life living in my head, no perspective, one dimension, I shut myself out….”.

Running starts by showcasing the flipside of his main sound, with a dreamy and delicately performed lengthy introduction that shows his musical craftsmanship as well as his more sensitive side. This is alternated with a more typically heavy section, yet the sensitivity is maintained with a soaring falsetto performance. Lyrically, its perhaps the most opaque thing here but conveys huge emotive power through lines such as, “I knew that we had an opportunity, now running, running away home and running out of oil soon….”.

Ninth song Sweet Man and the following Top and Bottom Of It feel like a potent diffusion of all the elements of his sound and style that he displays complete command of across the duration of the album. The former features some killer opening lines (“Could be the swig that takes you out of the game, could be the dig that adds deceased to your name…”) while the latter is one of the effective arrangements, building enormous cathartic tension through gradually developing themes and dynamics.

Under My Wing is one of the lighter, more immediately accessible songs here, with a seductive title hook and vocal melody, sung over equally infectious, pulsing low-end guitar. This more laid back style continues into the album’s final track, which takes the template of the slow burning epic to its ultimate conclusion.

Clocking in at nearly nine minutes, Way Back Down spends its first five minutes building up a brick wall of unbearable tension before it explodes into a brief section full of deep-seated rage. It then returns to the haunting, disturbing refrain of, “Under your breath, you swear that you’ll take me down….”, leaving the listener wondering if the addiction battle is ever truly won.

Overall, this album is a compelling musical journey that depicts the struggles of drug addiction with unflinching honesty and raw emotional expression. D.Ni.L is artistically fearless, taking the listener to some dark places but also unafraid to express sensitivity and vulnerability. The result is a work of enormous cathartic power that offers the hope of recovery and redemption throughout, making it the perfect follow up and companion piece to his previous masterpiece Boy Inside.

 

VERDICT = 9.1 out of 10  

Alex Faulkner

 

Listen to the whole album HERE

 

ALBUM REVIEW: Montauk by Montauk

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www.takemetomontauk.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

VERDICT = 9.3 out of 10 

Alex Faulkner

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

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

Listen here:

 

 

 

ALBUM REVIEW: On My Way by Martin Lucassen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

VERDICT = 8.8 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

Listen here:

 

ALBUM REVIEW: Spirits in Smoke by REVELEVER

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https://www.facebook.com/REVELEVER

REVELEVER is the artistic moniker of composer/songwriter and multi instrumentalist Randy Lever. Having started out as a drummer playing pop, rock and metal he became increasingly interested in synths and the creative freedom of technology. His music is highly influenced by the synth-driven artists of the 1980’s such as Gary Numan, Duran Duran, Talk Talk and Japan.

This short album, Spirits in Smoke, consists of four instrumental tracks that all clock in between the four-to-six minute mark. They are ambitious in their scope and structure, with an intricacy in the composition that shows a clear artistic vision from the composer. The title of the album is very apposite, as REVELEVER’s music has a mystical vibe that takes the listener on a journey.

Musically, the soundscape consists of a very 1980’s synth rock sound, when technology and musicality truly combined. So alongside synths, we hear drums, bass, piano and guitar (the latter performed by his father Ferry Lever . The album starts with the title track, and it’s a stately, evocative epic that gradual grows in complexity. The main melody has a haunting quality, underpinned by jazz-inflected piano chords. The different sections of the track contrast well, and the lightness of the synths also works with the more low-end, darker sounding instruments.

Second track The Driving Force of Nature starts with a beautiful piano melody and sparse percussion. Subtle synths weave their way into the sonic texture before it bursts into an uplifting section led by crystal-clear clean lead guitar and strings. This piece really showcases his gifts as a melodist and there’s so much musical detail that you barely notice that six minutes have passed. It ends the same saturnine way it began.

Third track The Beauty of Innocence is more rhythm-based, with a tense classical-style piano motif heard over an intricate world-music influenced beat and another prominent role for strings. The music is driven along by a chugging, picked guitar and the complexity of the arrangement brings to mind the sophisticated pop of Peter Gabriel and Talk Talk. The track takes a more Eastern direction in its second half, with the introduction of the magical sound of the sitar. It gives the music a very exotic flavour and this was my personal favourite.

Closing track Sunshine is much lighter in tone compared to the sultry intensity of the previous track. Set to a gentle, laid back bossa-nova beat it once again showcases his talent for melody and interesting harmonic structures. Ascending piano lines interweave with soothing string melodies to create a sound picture that made me think of a sunny holiday on a foreignb each. The restrained lead electric guitar was a nice touch, and the EP very much ends on a high note.

Overall, this a highly enjoyable album of synth-rock instrumentals, written and performed by a composer of consummate skill. Inspired by the more interesting and ambitious aspects of 1980’s pop, he has brought that sound into the 21st century and added his own musical idiosyncracies. The result is a compelling sonic journey.

 

VERDICT = 8.8 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

Listen here: