ALBUM REVIEW: Strange Dreams by Charles Robinson

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Charles Robinson is a recording artist, composer, pianist and alto saxophone player based in Texas. He was exposed to a wide array of musical styles and genres in his youth and this eclectic range of influences is reflected in his music. Just some of his artistic inspirations include John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock, Prince, Chick Corea, Pink Floyd and Jimi Hendrix, amongst many others.

After attending Alcorn State University where he studied piano/saxophone and marched with the world renowned Sounds of Dynamite marching band, he went on to serve in the military as well as serve as musical director for several religious organizations. He released his debut album , The Golden Ratio, in 2018.

This album, Strange Dreams, consists of thirteen instrumental tracks. It starts out with the intense Bel, which is driven by a brooding, circular bassline that draws you in and underpins the whole track. The drums start out as very jazzy before breaking out into an insistent full beat, over which Charles runs riot with his virtuosic, smoky Rhodes playing. Aside from this is a subtle use of synths, which adds to the atmosphere and subtle mystical vibe. The style is certainly heavily jazz-influenced but Charles explores various kinds of jazz fusion across the course of the album, and this is a great opener.

The second track Supermoon is more traditionally jazz with another recurring bass figure, this one on double bass. The atmospheric synths linger in the background and  there are no drums, allowing Charles to weave an intoxicating spell with some superb piano playing that covers the length of the keyboard. His mellifluous flair is not to be underestimated, with not only his skill but the way he always structures his playing in a melodious fashion, never just virtuosity for its own sake.

The following In Your Face! is a return to the electric piano-led sound of the first track and again features a moody, repeating bass motif, though only in certain sections as it gets more expansive in others. The most surprising aspect of the track is the crisp, funky breakbeat that Charles might find hip hop artists want to sample. Aside from some more wonderful echo-drenched Rhodes, there are brief passages of flute (or at least a convincing flute-sounding synth!) which adds to the instrumental texture. One of the album highlights for me.

Soul Dance takes us somewhere else, this one built upon a bed of infectious, exotic world music percussion which cooks up a tasty groove, full of nuance and intricacies. Again, Charles mesmerizes you with some blissed out electric piano work. The surprises keep on coming with Elysian Fields, which is essentially a drum and bass track set at a rapid tempo. The busy drums and bass, along with pulsing EDM style synths, is contrasted with the mellow jazz piano playing and the dichotomy creates an effective tension. The bassline is particularly good on this one.

Turbulence is one the album’s epics at nearly six minutes long, this one based around a simple but effective beat and driven by low-end Stevie Wonder-style synth that is allowed time to grow and breathe, musically. Heaven’s Gate is even more laid back, built on a hypnotic, tranquil groove. As you can tell from the titles and alluded to earlier, there’s a strong mystical, spiritual vibe to his music which is something he shares with one of his musical heroes, John Coltrane. The music throughout has a transcendent quality that takes the listener to some far out places, and this aptly named track is no exception.

Soul Moon Trap is one of the album’s finest moments with a gorgeous piano melody that Herbie Hancock would have been proud of. A pulsing, ostinato bassline holds it together over a slinky bossa nova beat. Robinson’s piano playing here is exceptional. Mercury Retrograde stands out for its complex, angular electronic rhythm full of triplets and syncopations and some more fine piano work.

Parachute is wild, a frenetic rollercoaster ride of a track featuring a hugely infectious beat and bassline which provides the bedrock for some extraordinary piano and synth combinations. This is a remarkable fusion of jazz, soul and hip hop like nothing else you’ll have heard.

The Journey is one of the most unusual tracks and finds Robinson at his most mystical sounding. It’s one of the epics at a shade under six minutes and as the title suggests, takes the listener on an expansive sonic journey. Some sections sound relatively conventional but there’s some strikingly unexpected chord changes that make you feel you’re floating in the ether.

Next comes the title track and again the title is apposite. Robinson conjures up a mesmerising soundscape with a cavernous, powerful beat allied to a loping, understated bassline. A swirl of synths weave in and out, along with some more stellar passages on the piano.

The closing Morning Light (For Hendrix) is a lovely way to finish. As the title obviously suggests, it’s dedicated to the genius of Jimi Hendrix. Set to a lilting, low key groove Robinson takes a back seat and provides supporting Rhodes, allowing his guest guitarist to let rip with some versatile and inventive electric jazz guitar. Listen out for the passage where the guitar and bass play a complicated line in tandem, simply stunning musicianship and it ends things on a high note, literally.

Overall, this is a fascinating jazz fusion odyssey by a versatile, highly imaginative musician and composer. Taking jazz and fusing it successfully with soul, hip hop and rock is no mean feat and Charles Robinson performs this balancing act with some style. Completely at ease on his primary instruments, he also balances his considerable virtuosity with melodic craft so that it never descends into jazz noodling. There’s not a dud track on the whole album and Strange Dreams deserves to be recognised as jazz fusion of the highest quality.

 

VERDICT = 9.1 out of 10           

Alex Faulkner

 

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ALBUM REVIEW: Ten Percent by Blue Soul Ten

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Blue Soul Ten is the artistic moniker and musical brainchild of musician, composer and producer Clay Greene. He’s been part of the music industry for 20 years, starting out as a radio DJ as well as studying composition and production at the prestigious Berklee College of Music. His music incorporates jazz, funk, soul, electronica, reggae and hip hop with his tracks often featuring guest artists. He’s released four albums previously, The Unspoken Warrior, The Fearless Warrior, The Beautiful Warrior and 2018’s Blue Notes.

This album, Ten Percent, consists of eleven tracks and starts out with the title track. It’s a jazz/soul instrumental that acts as a good introduction to the exquisitely performed and produced Blue Soul Ten signature sound. Opening with warm sax over subtle piano chords, an intricate percussive pattern breaks into a toe-tapping beat with a pulsing guitar lick driving the musical momentum forward. As it progresses with layers of synths and hints of female vocals, it sets the mellow yet sophisticated vibe for the whole album.

The second track Give In To Me flows seamlessly from the first. It’s a soul/RnB track with a slinky groove and some fine funk-style guitar work. The smooth male vocals fit the track perfectly, a succinct verse leading to an understated but subtly infectious chorus. The simple but effective bassline adds to the sensual vibe, along with the sax break towards the end. A good choice as a single release.

Make It Hot maintains a similar tempo but this one is a hip hop track featuring a performance from rap artist Surron The Seventh. Based around smoky Rhodes and a catchy vibraphone melody, Surron lays down his rhymes over a punchy hip hop beat. He has a natural flow on the mic with some great lines: “Listen, we learned the hard way…always running fast money like a Maserati car chase…”. This is interspersed by a female sung refrain which acts as the perfect contrast. Great track.

Life is another fine song, a laid back jazzy soul track with a summery vibe and featuring some exquisite vocal harmonies on the title hook. The guitar work once again is stellar and the catchiness of the chorus along with its radio friendly sound makes this another potential choice as a single.

Next up is my personal favourite on the album, the reggae/dancehall track Satisfied, featuring the vocals of Zahira. Set to a chugging reggae groove and syncopated, funky guitar Satisfied is a superbly crafted song building to an instantly memorable chorus. The vocal performance is first rate and the bursts of brass add to the colour before a searing electric guitar solo takes the music into the stratosphere. It’s a potent blend of genres fused seamlessly and sounds like one hell of a party.

Another fine instrumental, 10% Interlude, breaks things up nicely between the sung tracks and leads perfectly into Real Love which is based on a Police-style tight guitar lick. It features the same male vocalist as Give In To Me and it’s another sensuous song about the allure of a woman: “Every time you look at me, lost in the synergy…you are a firework in my headspace.” The hook works with the guitar line to great effect and it’s another track suited to radio. Listen out for the backwards wah-drenched guitar at the end.

Purpose (featuring IV) returns to the soulful hip hop sound with another strong rapping performance. The chord progression underneath shows the jazz influence with a meaty bassline going to melodic places you wouldn’t expect, but it works. There’s a more spiritual vibe to the rhymes than you find in most hip hop (“I don’t do this for the profit, I do this cos I’m God-sent…”) and the whole track has a deep message about finding your purpose in life.

These Words starts out like a soul/RnB ballad on the verse before developing into a fine EDM track with a swinging beat on the chorus. Again, it’s a fusion of styles that sounds completely natural and the lush female harmonies complete the sonic picture. Listen out for some unexpected chord changes on the middle eight that shows the jazz roots of the music. The memorable vocal hook makes it another apposite choice as a single.

The jazz influence comes to the fore on the slow-paced Grateful with some gorgeous arpeggio piano and Rhodes forming the bedrock for an intimate and sensual vocal performance that brought to mind Corinne Bailey Rae. Halfway through we hear some lovely Spanish-style classical acoustic guitar which adds to the sophisticated flavour and classy feel.

The album closes out with a final instrumental, Blue Theme V, starting with a didgeridoo (yes, you read that right!) then developing into the Blue Soul Ten signature sound once again, full of rich saxophone and super tight guitars. There’s a wealth of instrumental detail in the mix, from swirling synths to soaring strings and brief bursts of biting brass. It’s a nice way to come down from an album of consistent highs and wraps things up perfectly.

Overall, this fifth album from Blue Soul Ten is of the highest quality from start to finish. The standard of musicianship and composition is first rate and the way eclectic genres, from jazz to hip hop. are brought together is highly impressive. With a plethora of potential singles and stellar performances from featured artists, Ten Percent covers every base in terms of commercial appeal and artistic endeavour. Clay Greene has surely made his masterpiece.

 

 

VERDICT = 9.3 out of 10           

Alex Faulkner

For updates on the album’s release visit the Blue Soul Ten Instagram page HERE

 

 

 

 

 

ARTIST REVIEW: SharaLee

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SharaLee is a singer and songwriter hailing from Canada. She was born into a very musical family where every member played an instrument or sang, and SharaLee made her debut singing on stage at just five. She developed into recording demos then her own songs, with Postcards her first album of original material.

This led to writing with Mark Zubek, with their co-written song Together Again winning an Akademia award and considered for an Etta James biopic. She is strongly influenced by the great soul and Motown artists of the past but also loves pop, rock, gospel and country western music.

These eclectic influences become apparent through listening to the various songs she has made available online on her artist page. The first track Fall Down is a powerful introduction to her work, an epic ballad that brought to mind artists like Adele and Amy Winehouse. Like them, SharaLee has a soulful, strong voice full of character as well as considerable range.

She sings near the top of her register on this one, depicting a heartbroken lover over terse, rhythmic strings and brooding bass. The song is about those who have built their lives with a “wall of lies” and how it eventually catches up with them. The opening lines capture the sense of personal pain: “My heart was broke when you walked away like a hit and run.…”. SharaLee‘s vocal performance is highly emotive and it remains captivating until the final bars which are performed ‘a capella’.

Her love of Motown and soul comes to the fore in the excellent Deja Vu. It’s a ballad in 6/8 time and, as with Amy Winehouse’s Back To Black album, it effectively recreates the magical Motown sound. The feel of the music is very authentic with the unmistakable sound of musicians playing their instruments, an unfortunate rarity in this era. SharaLee’s vocals are more gentle and tender here, crooning a beautiful melody augmented by backing harmonies, along with strings and brass.

She shows another side to her musical persona with the funky pop of Now. Built around a slick groove that brought to mind George Michael’s classic Freedom, it’s propelled by a pulsing bassline and interspersed with moody organ. The catchy chorus hook latches in the memory upon the first listen and the detail in the music means this great track stands up to repeated listens.

Don’t Need A Hero is another superb piece of songwriting with a ballsy, brass-led soul sound and an epic chorus. The rich sound of the organ and picked guitar lines reminded me of The Animals’ perennial classic House Of The Rising Sun, especially with the blazing organ solo after the second chorus. This one is my personal favourite.

You Can’t Stop Me showcases the more modern pop side to her songwriting though retaining the emotional punch that is a consistent feature throughout her music. It alternates between a sparse verse and defiant, uplifting chorus which again soon sticks in the memory. Her ability to write memorable and convincing choruses is testament to her skills as a writer. You can imagine an artist like Taylor Swift having a huge hit with this song.

The aforementioned Together Again is the last song on her artist page and it’s another well crafted soul ballad that made me think of Carole King’s great songs of the late 60’s and 70’s. With an excellent arrangement, SharaLee excels vocally here especially on the skyscraping chorus. It’s a truly wonderful song and deserved the awards and plaudits it has received.

Overall, SharaLee has written and performed some first rate soul songs in the course of her career that deserve recognition and a wide audience. She writes accessible and easily relatable songs that stand out from the crowd due to their musically authentic sound, emotional depth and SharaLee’s distinctive singing. Motown and soul fans will particularly appreciate her work but her appeal is truly universal.

VERDICT= 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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SINGLE REVIEW: No More Games by Dejhare

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Dejhare is a singer and songwriter based in San Jose, California. She first released an eponymous six-track E.P. in the autumn of 2018, which was popular. Dejhare is currently busy working on the release of singles and her full album which is scheduled to be out late summer. She has completed the album with help from her collaborator/co-producer Robert Berry.

Her music is an eclectic mix of pop, jazz, Motown, soul, dance, soft rock and acoustic. Already this year she has released the singles Trust My Love and What Is Love?, which have both generated acclaim and high listening figures on streaming platforms.

This latest single, No More Games, is an upbeat pop track from her upcoming debut album Unbreakable. Built around an infectious groove and instantly catchy synth melodies, Dejhare’s distinctive, exotic lead vocals are what helps this song truly stand out from the crowd. Her voice has a unique tone that brought to mind pop legend Gloria Estefan and she delivers an emotive and compelling performance here.

Lyrically, it depicts a struggling relationship where is she is being badly treated by her lover, captured succinctly by the addictive chorus hook: “No more games….no more drama”. The catchiness is enhanced by the use of syncopated rhythms and musically enhanced by string lines that either double the vocal melody or provide an effective counterpoint.

The production is also augmented by brass in certain sections and after the fine middle eight, we hear an unexpected but very slick keyboard solo (presumably performed by Robert Berry, a progressive rock musician as well as producer). The song finishes with reiterations of the title hook.

Overall, this is a well written, performed and produced pop track that recalls the great production style of 80’s pop yet still sounds decidedly modern. Dejhare has a strong voice and artistic persona which will continue to win her new fans, especially if she continues to release quality material like this.

 

VERDICT = 8.6 out of 10           

Alex Faulkner

 

 

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ALBUM REVIEW: Wav-Legion II by Bonnie Legion & wav-Dr.

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www.wav-legion.com

This artistic project has a fascinating and very modern genesis. Bonnie Legion has been a multi-genre recording artist for over a decade and in late 2018 she connected with the Canadian producer, songwriter and musician wav-Dr.

Their first collaborative track was Heavy Weight and this led to a full length album, Wav-Legion, which fused electronica with real instrumentation and was released at the start of 2019. This highly eclectic duo encompass several genres including pop, rock, hip hop, electronica and soul.

Hot on the heels of their debut album comes this epic sixteen track album just a few months later. It gets off to a fine start with the super catchy and acerbic Escape The Mundane (ft. Miss Efemby).

Blending a pumping four-to-the-floor dance beat with strummed acoustic guitar, the lyrics depict quotidian life and trying to transcend it: “Clock ticks slowly, a quarter to insane, I go around in circles on the road of the mundane.” The music’s momentum is so strong you hardly notice its lengthy duration, breaking down and building up around the halfway mark with some nifty lead guitar work.

Fear of Flying is equally good, a mid-paced mash up of electronica, dubstep, hip-hop and pop with another great hook and lead vocal performance from Bonnie Legion. The loose, funky beat is pure hip-hop, melded with smoky Rhodes electric piano along with both acoustic and electric guitar. This provides the bedrock for a fantastic vocal arrangement, layered with backing harmonies. A potential single.

Money Time Life is more minimal, a languid RnB beat and eerie synths setting the scene for a haunting lead vocal from Bonnie, interspersed with spoken male vocals (presumably wav-Dr.) intoning the unsettling title hook: “They want your money, your time, your life….”. Fourth track The Wave It Rides is a similar tempo but with a more intricate, tribal sounding beat. This is fused with disco bass, funk guitar and some quirky vocal effects. Very inventive and pleasingly impossible to categorise.

Flip Side maintains the mellow vibe, this one with an understated but deceptively catchy hook (“See you on the flip side…”) that blends the two members’ vocal styles perfectly. The lyrics are deliciously dark and subtly apocalyptic: “Let’s watch the world as it’s burning down, fingertips gonna touch the sky when its coming down….”.

Directions is rather more upbeat, a sassy and fiesty vocal performance from Bonnie that brought to mind the equally eclectic St. Vincent (Annie Clark). As usual, the lyrics are full of wit and pithy observations on life: “Everybody’s got the truth, I say it’s yet to be found….”. Fantastic track and another potential single.

Layered Intentions brings back the hip hop vibe with a slinky, shuffling beat, interspersed with funky Rhodes piano. It’s another standout performance from Bonnie Legion, who shows a rhythmic dexterity of delivery that would rival the finest rappers out there. The whole album is cutting edge but this track feels like it really has its finger on the pulse, stylistically.

The superbly grimy Money Crime seems to emerge from the slipstream of the previous track, taking it to another level with a more soulful pop vibe and a killer hook. Yet another good choice as a single.

Ninth track You Up is quirky rock-infused electronica with wav-Dr. taking over the majority of the vocal duties, which adds further contrast and variety to the sound. The message is defiant and empowering: “Don’t let them keep you down, don’t let them fuck you up, you’re only on the ground, I’m here to pick you up….”.

Hello City is another great track with an important message to impart about the homeless along with its genius title hook: “Some of them are sick and wounded, some are always high, but if you were out in that cold alone you would long to fly…”.

Soldier is another masterful fusion of pop, RnB, dubstep, EDM and rock that starts out sparse and unfolds into a very clever arrangement that builds up until the very end. Lyrically, it’s affecting; it depicts a troubled, complex relationship with someone who has issues but who’s also the source of encouragement and support (“Girl, you’re a soldier…onward, soldier“).

How Bad is one of the album’s most pop moments with a huge title hook that soon latches in the memory. Of course, there’s all sorts of smart genre fusion going on underneath the poppy hook, making it the most modern, cutting edge pop music out there.

Missing It is more proof of this, a relatable song about the realities, contradictions and complexities of human relationships. Musically, it throws together subtle country-style guitar with chugging funk/reggae guitar along speaker-rumbling synth bass and a restless, insistent beat. Once again their combined vocals hit the yin/yang bullseye, captured by the haunting title refrain.

Hynoptise is one of the album’s most earthy and sensual songs with a seductive rhythm and an alluring ‘come hither’ vocal from Bonnie.  The result in an intoxicating, exotic sounding piece of pop that is perhaps the most commercial and accessible track here, with lyrics that get right to the point: “Hypnotise my mind baby straight to heaven …..let the smoke rise“.

The album’s final two tracks maintain the remarkably consistent quality, with Kinetic being another pop gem featuring a fantastic second section based around the tribal mantra “Let it bring down fire and lightning“. It’s another fine example of how they breathe new life into what many perceive as a stale format.

Last track Stop Thinking (featuring Robert P. Kreitz II as feature producer) is both one of the most experimental and quirky yet infectious and addictive songs on the album. As if the Black Eyed Peas had dropped acid and gained an imagination, the track is driven by disorientating and wild synth sounds, constantly morphing underneath the dynamite vocal melody. A hugely entertaining note to end on.

Overall, this is an outstanding modern pop album that fuses a bewildering range of genres together seamlessly and reinvents what pop music actually is in the process. The sustained inventiveness and creativity across sixteen tracks, along with consistently strong lyrics and melodies, make Bonnie Legion and wav-Dr. a musical force to be reckoned with. Balancing originality and eclecticism with peerless pop nous, their commercial potential is enormous as is their creative potential for the future. Ones to watch, for sure.

 

VERDICT = 9.2 out of 10       

Alex Faulkner

 

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SINGLE REVIEW: Follow Your Heart by Tony Newton

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Tony Newton is a composer and multi-instrumentalist with a fascinating history anda career in the music industry that spans over thirty years. After being somewhat of a child prodigy playing in orchestras, it was as a virtuoso bass player that he played on many classic Motown recordings and can lay claim to playing on hits by Michael Jackson, Diana Ross & The Supremes and Stevie Wonder.

He also acted as musical director to Smokey Robinson and in his youth was the prize student of his bass tutor, the legendary James Jamerson (himself a Motown recording staple). He can also lay claim to being one of the creators of the Jazz-Rock-Fusion genre with Miles Davis’ drummer in the Tony Williams Lifetime. Since then he has developed his talents as a composer and even formulated his own acclaimed harmonic language which he calls ‘novaphonic sound’, which is based on quartal and quintal harmonics.

Following his last two releases from his White Light Collection (Prophecy and Romance) which were both solo classical piano pieces, this track Follow Your Heart is taken from the same album but shows a whole different side to Tony’s musical style. It’s a funk rock/soul epic at fourteen minutes long (an eight minute version is also available, accompanied by a video) featuring Tony on bass and a stellar cast of musicians playing a wide range of instruments including keyboards, guitar, drums, a string section and French horn as well as female backing vocalists.

After a brief spoken word intro, we hear a Tubular Bells-style melody on piano with some female vocal extemporizing. The song breaks out into a taut funk-rock groove based around a simple but effective guitar riff, played in unison with strings on certain lines. Tony’s mindbending bass playing underpins the music and drives it forward relentlessly. This forms the foundation for Tony to give a great lead vocal performance, augmented by gospel-tinged backing harmonies along the way.

The song itself is hugely spiritual and uplifting, about letting your intuition and soul guide you through life, along with love. Around the five minute mark there’s a marked rhythmic shift which works well with the anthemic title hook. From then on the music grows organically, with a wonderful jazzy piano and lead guitar section, as well as a superb bass solo from Tony around the nine minute mark.

From there the music climbs even higher through modulations, culminating in a final section that features Tony rapping, entering an almost mystical section that brought to mind the end of Marvin Gaye’s classic What’s Going On album.

Overall, this is a track that shows the enormous scope of Tony Newton’s musical vision and highly accomplished musicianship. With a hugely talented group of musical cohorts, Tony has created a monumental fusion of funk, rock, program, soul and even rap that takes the listener on an epic journey. With its inspiring message and infectious positivity, true aficionados will appreciate the special gift that Tony Newton gives the world with his music.

 

VERDICT = 9.2 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

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SINGLE REVIEW: Little Lovin’ by Peter Senior

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https://www.petersenior.com.au

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

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

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

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

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

 

VERDICT = 9.1 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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