E.P. REVIEW: Coming Back Stronger by Patrick Carpenter

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Patrick Carpenter is a singer/songwriter and guitarist from Jackson, Mississippi. He started out in music by wanting to emulate his guitar playing heroes such as Richie Sambora, Eddie Van Halen and Brad Paisley, picking up the guitar himself at just eleven. He has since developed into a singer/songwriter and launched himself as a solo artist in 2018. His music is essentially a combination of traditional country, mainstream pop, blues and 80’s-style arena-rock as personified by bands like Bon Jovi.

This EP, Coming Back Stronger, consists of six tracks and has already reached #13 in the ITunes chart, which is truly impressive for a debut release. It begins with the title track, an instantly memorable and enjoyable country rock track with an 80’s-esque stadium-rock drum sound.

Patrick is gifted with a strong and recognizable voice that’s easy on the ear and perfectly suited to the material. Featuring an anthemic chorus augmented by fine backing harmonies, it’s an uplifting song about fighting back against adversity. Towards the end, we get to hear his superb lead guitar skills which finishes off an excellent track nicely.

Second track Chance on Me is a more sensitive side to his songwriting, an epic six-minute country rock ballad in 6/8. It works as a showcase for his first rate lead vocals and musically, it’s enriched by warm organ and tasteful, controlled bursts of lead guitar, although he does allow himself to let rip a little towards the end. I Wish She Knew is another fine ballad based on a musical bedrock of piano and strummed acoustic guitar. This one is a more melancholy song about being unable to tell someone how they feel, a subject many will relate to.

Back Again is quite a contrast, a demo version of a song that combines country rock with a more electronic influence in the drums which gives it a modern sound. It’s another strong piece of songwriting and I’d be interested to hear the song in its complete production form.

The following Drink of You is my personal favourite on the EP, an infectious and up tempo country pop/rock track and perhaps the one with the most commercial potential of the songs here. Lyrically, it’s a twist on the current fad for country songs celebrating drinking, this time being a metaphor for being intoxicated by the effect of a desired woman. If this hasn’t been released as a single yet, it should be!

The final track Controlled Madness shows the influence of late 80’s stadium-rock with its use of a talk box, first made famous by Peter Frampton and employed on the Bon Jovi classic Livin’ On A Prayer. It gives the song a quirky edge that is unexpected, set to a great rock backing that brought to mind Neil Young’s Rockin’ In The Free World. A great way to finish.

Overall, this is a very strong set of songs that show the versatility of Patrick Carpenter as a songwriter, singer and lead guitarist. Taking country-rock and combining it with the classic stadium-rock sound isn’t an easy trick to pull of, but Patrick makes it seem natural and the result is a musical style that is both vintage and modern. With further material as good as this, the sky’s the limit for Patrick Carpenter.

 

VERDICT = 8.7 out of 10             

Alex Faulkner

 

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SINGLE REVIEW: Core by Kori Reardon

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Kori Reardon is a singer-songwriter hailing from Christchurch, New Zealand. Aside from his solo work, he is the front man in an alt-rock band called Rezin though the musical style of his solo material is more acoustic rock. He has been releasing songs under his own name for about four years and this year has seen a plethora of releases including Here We Go Again, Awaken Me, Free You, Raw shot and DSA amongst others.

This latest track, Core, is a heartfelt acoustic rock ballad that showcases his fine skills as a singer and songwriter. Starting off with Led Zeppelin-style acoustic lead guitar over strummed chords, what quickly becomes apparent is the passion and intensity with which he performs his vocals. He has a powerful voice, not unlike Jon Bon Jovi but with his own distinctive nuances and performing style. The song is very well crafted and the title hook grabs you instantly on the first listen: “You shook me to the core…”.

Lyrically, it’s about the difficulties of loving relationships, a subject most will relate to well and there’s a wisdom borne of experience to lines like: “It’s nothing but a waste of time to hurt, blame, scream and fight….”. The song’s arrangement builds gradually and effectively, with the drums not entering until the second verse. After the second chorus is an excellent refrain section that adds to the emotive power of the song (“It’s not yet time to say it, it’s not time to say goodnight.…”).

Overall, this a highly impressive release from a Kiwi songwriter blessed with a strong voice and who gives everything in his vocal performance. His excellent skills as a guitarist go hand in hand with his gift for songwriting and with Core, he may well have the song that really propels him to a much wider audience. With flawless production and a natural commercial appeal that encompasses both rock and pop, the future’s looking good for Kori Reardon.

 

VERDICT = 8.7 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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ALBUM REVIEW: A Voice In The Wilderness by David Vaters

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David Vaters is a country singer/songwriter and musician originally from St. John’s Newfoundland, Canada. During his career he has worked with well known musicians and producers such as Henri Spinetti (Eric Clapton, Tina Turner), Dave Markee (Eric Clapton) and Dan Cutrona (Joe Cocker, Bee Gees) amongst many others. He regards his influences as legendary singer/songwriters such as Neil Young, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen.

This album, A Voice In The Wilderness, comprises two volumes and it is his debut release. It features well known Nashville musicians such as Tom Hemby (Vince Gill, Kenny Loggins) on guitars and mandolin, John Hammond (Amy Grant, Vince Gill) on drums and percussion, along with Jeff Cox on bass and David Vest on keyboards. The latter co-produced with David Vaters, who performs all acoustic guitars and lead vocals.

Volume 1 of the album consists of ten tracks and begins with the melancholy country ballad Let It Rain. It showcases David’s fine voice, which is somewhere between Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty and Bob Dylan. It’s a song that works as a story about a farmer needing rain for his crops, but also as a metaphor for going through hard times and the need for hope. These deeper themes feature throughout the album, with a philosophical style similar to Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen.

Running To You is more upbeat, a mid-paced country rock track with Like A Rolling Stone-style drawbar organ. It features a particularly strong chorus which is augmented by some excellent backing harmonies. A standout moment on  this first volume. 8 Ways from Sunday is a tender lighters-in-the-air love ballad devoted to his wife and it’s also the first song on the album that mentions his strong Christian faith: “Only with God’s grace I begin to smile….”.

Brighter Than The Stars is another ballad and is explicitly about his faith and strong relationship with God: “Faith comes by hearing then accepting you…”. It’s a powerful, deeply spiritual song that brings to mind Bob Dylan after his conversion to Christianity. This theme continues on the next track This Cross (“Salvations coming, my work is done”) which gradually builds in intensity across its four minute duration to reach a cathartic climax.

Mansion In The Sky is a poignant song about how having faith and a belief in an afterlife helps you cope with thoughts of death. Credit to David should be given for having the courage to write about life’s most difficult subjects. This one is musically very colourful, with the rich sound of accordion and plucked mandolin.

Sixth track God Help Me Out is another song of humble gratitude about how his faith has sustained him through difficult times. Musically, it’s another organ-driven country rock song, with bursts of bluesy harmonica and slide guitar. See You In Heaven is a very touching track written from the perspective of someone who has died and reassuring his loved one that he’s still around and they will be reunited in the afterlife. This song will comfort anyone suffering with bereavement and deep grief.

It’s Time is an album highlight, an uplifting epic piano-led ballad with a powerful ‘carpe diem’ message and a magnificent vocal performance from Vaters, whose passion and sincerity is axiomatic. Musically, it’s based around a classic descending chord sequence, counter pointed by ascending string lines. The final track on Volume 1 is an instrumental version of Brighter Than The Stars, which shows the musical intricacy of this fine composition in a new light, bringing this volume to a gentle close.

Volume 2 opens with another of David’s philosophical songs that contain a lifetime’s experience and wisdom. Castles In The Sand is about the transitory and ephemeral nature of man’s achievements and how everything we do is only temporary in life. Second track Forgive is one of his deeply moral songs, about the importance of forgiving those who have wronged you. It was an obvious choice as a single.

Godly Man is one of his more uptempo rock tracks that reiterates his faith, interspersed with moments of mellifluous electric lead guitar and some rather cool vocal effects towards the end. Brothers In Need is a poignant song with a minimal but effective musical backdrop, a tale told from the perspective of a homeless man who is helped by others and by finding faith in God. It’s sort of a modern parable, an update of The Good Samaritan.

Prepare is a nice contrast, built around a Sixties-esque picked guitar riff and rich vocal harmonies that brought to mind The Byrd’s circa Younger Than Yesterday. Talking To God is another song about finding the strength to overcome adversity through prayer and faith, a message which will resonate most with fellow Christians.

Like I’ve Been Born Again starts out similarly as a piano ballad before breaking into a muscular beat and as the title implies, is about finding redemption through his faith. I enjoyed the lead guitar section that injects drama into the music halfway through. Service of The King is another single taken from the album, and its easy to see why, with a very radio-friendly sound also featuring gospel-tinged female vocals.

Resurrection Day is musically a bit of a departure, this one an exciting stomp that made me think of Springsteen’s Born To Run album. Lyrically, it’s about the Christian belief that the dead will one day resurrected from the grave at some point, provided they had accepted the Christian doctrines before they died. The second volume closes with another instrumental, with this one being Talking To God. This version allows the musical beauty of the arrangement to shine and ends the album on a high note.

Overall, this is a highly accomplished and ambitious two-volume album. In an era where the art form of the album is dying out and people’s attention spans grow ever shorter, it’s to his great credit to release a double album as his debut. But his decision has already been vindicated, as it has been streamed in the millions already. For those of faith and those without, David Vaters writes songs that capture the timeless human condition.

VERDICT: 8.6 out of 10

 

Alex Faulkner

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ALBUM REVIEW: Whisky Priest by Ben Noble

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Ben Noble is a singer/songwriter currently based in Minneapolis. His music is a unique blend of folk and classical and he’s essentially a troubadour in the tradition of classic songwriters like Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. He cites Bon Iver, Damien Rice, Sufjan Stevens and Radiohead as influences. He also brings to mind Nick Drake, Conor Oberst and Elliott Smith in both musical style and the melancholic nature of his lyrics.

This album, Whisky Priest, is his debut and contains twelve tracks. Opening song Birthmark is the perfect introduction to his work; finger picked guitar, Ben’s almost  angelic vocals and hauntingly beautiful melodies and chord progressions. Subtle use of strings adds to the dreamy sonic texture.

Like all good artists, Ben Noble is prepared to confront the dark side of life and even his own nature. Birthmark contains lyrics of Dylan-esque poetic profundity: “Sea of glass on which I’m walking bends to break beneath the shame, why do we slave to build an able ship with doomed remains?”

Second track Healer Might is extraordinary; ‘a capella’ vocals featuring rich, layered harmonies that brought to mind Fleet Foxes, while Little One is a touching, fragile song aided by Saint-Saens style piano. It’s a perfect example of how Ben’s music seems to stand outside time and floats across the listener’s consciousness.

Cutting Teeth captures this disembodied, magical quality and gives us the source of the album title: “Sleep, while you cut your teeth, whisky priest“. He’s a genuine poet as well as a master craftsman of melody, the line “weaving the darkness with the light” from the lovely The Sea And The Moon encapsulating his artistic oeuvre perfectly. The closing three songs are a strong bookend to the album, with final song Ikon providing a gentle epic at five and a half minutes.

Overall, this is an absolute gem of an album containing songwriting of the highest calibre. With certain artists, they are so gifted that it seems somehow an injustice if they are not already hugely successful. In this case, it’s early days as this is his debut release and I expect nothing but critical acclaim and a rapidly expanding fanbase for Ben Noble. Enjoy his music now, while he’s still an unknown treasure waiting to be unearthed.

VERDICT: 9.2 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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