ALBUM REVIEW: Antenna by Soldier Rye

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www.soldierrye.com

Soldier Rye is a singer and songwriter born and raised in Long Island, New York but now residing in Los Angeles. As a creative teenager, he found himself writing songs and making music with whatever he could get his hands on. Due to the development of affordable audio technology in later years, he was able to progress these recordings to a higher standard. When he was introduced to a music producer, he realized he could truly fulfill his musical ambitions and creativity. The result is this electro pop album based around his original demos.

The album, Antenna, consists of nine tracks and begins with the title track. It’s the perfect introduction to his signature sound; a modern synth-driven form of dance/electro pop with elements and influences stretching back to the 70’s, yet sounding undeniably cutting edge and of the times. Starting with sparse, enigmatic synth the arrangement gradually builds with a syncopated beat and Soldier Rye’s strong, distinctive vocal style.

Also incorporated are Giorgio Moroder-style swirling synth patterns and subtle female backing vocals that add to the texture. The song itself is slick and slinky with a fantastic chorus, bringing to mind artists like Pharrell Williams and Jason Derulo. A great start to the album.

Second track Cookie Cutter uses the same effective Prince-style kick and snare beat, this one featuring some funky Rhodes electric piano which gives it more of a Stevie Wonder vibe.  The track has an infectious energy, aided by insistent tambourine and a bouncy bassline. Lyrically, it’s about making the most of who you are and the life you’ve been given, captured succinctly on the excellent chorus: “Ain’t gonna be no cookie cutter, ain’t gonna watch you throw it all away….”.

Time Waits For No One is a nice change of pace, an epic R&B/modern pop ballad with a vaulting, haunting lead vocal melody. The music has an exotic, almost Indian flavour, with subtle use of sitars (or similar) which complement the strings along with  rich, layered backing harmonies. Commercial yet original, it sounds like an obvious choice as a single and a potentially huge hit.

The following Tomorrow is a similar tempo, but is different once again. It’s a sunny, upbeat R&B track that proves Soldier Rye can come up with consistently strong and memorable hooks. This is what separates the ‘men from the boys’ in songwriting terms. Again, with its irresistible catchiness and funky groove, it’s another potential single.

9th Sign maintains the funky vibe. It’s built around a sharp guitar riff, a superbly rhythmic bassline and interspersed with rich organ. The lyrics have a Prince-like level of sexual confidence, apparent from the opening lines: “You say I’m a good kisser, I know I am…”. It’s another perfectly executed funk pop track with a fine guitar solo.

We Found Us is one of the most inventive tracks and perhaps the most cutting edge, production wise. Based round a revolving piano sample and intricate syncopated rhythms, it builds into a fantastic arrangement with touches of xylophone and brass, adding to the rich instrumental texture. It’s also perhaps the most instant track, with an addictive title hook that you’ll be singing by the end.

Seventh track Comfortable continues the high quality, this one with a ‘Funky Drummer’ style groove and slick wah-wah guitar. The chorus is gloriously expansive and Soldier Rye gets to showcase the upper register of his voice.

The epic pop of Eyes Of Love is a return to the more synth-heavy sound that characterized the early part of the album and features some futuristic production effects. The moody style and epic vibe brought to mind the excellent late 80’s work of Depeche Mode. A real grower.

The album concludes with Afterworld, perhaps the spiritual and deeply emotional song here. Soldier Rye gives a superb vocal performance, especially on the hugely uplifting chorus. Its augmented by choral female backing harmonies that give it an almost celestial feel. Lyrically, it’s about losing a loved one and the hope that you will see them again on the other side: “In the afterworld you’re watching over me…”. A genuinely moving song and a lovely way to finish.

Overall, this is undoubtedly the best pop album I’ve heard this year. Soldier Rye has created a consistently strong set of songs that incorporate funk, soul, dance and jazz into the mix. Equally adept at writing upbeat and uptempo songs along with epic ballads, Soldier Rye deserves to be recognised as a singer and songwriter of the finest calibre.

 

VERDICT = 9.1 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

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SINGLE REVIEW: Romance (from the White Light Collection) by Tony Newton

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http://tonynewtonmusic.com/

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 virtuosic bass player that he played on many classic Motown recordings as part of the legendary team of session musicians the  Funk Brothers. Tony can lay claim to playing on hits by Michael Jackson, Diana Ross & The Supremes and Stevie Wonder, amongst many others.

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.

This piece for solo piano, Romance, follows on from his previous release Prophecy (which I reviewed very favourably back in August) and is also taken from his album White Light Collection. After the tumultuous drama of Prophecy this piece is more mellow and meditative as well as being infused with a deeply romantic vibe, as the title implies.

Once again, it has been composed in Tony’s unique ‘novaphonic’ style, beginning with a magical introduction based on quintal harmonies at the upper end of the piano. It then branches out into an instantly memorable and haunting melody, which is simple but highly effective and embellished by mellifluous ornamental runs in the right hand. The left is based mostly on low-end arpeggios that drive the music and add to the mood. Conjuring an intoxicating sound world, the music gradually casts a mesmeric spell on the listener across the five and a half minute duration of the piece.

Overall, this is another classic solo piano piece by Tony Newton. Musically, it feels as if Tony has landed on the perfect midway point between jazz and classical with the rich and exotic harmonies of the former combining with the accessible melodicism of the latter. His unique use of harmonic language also means his music stands apart, although I can’t think of another living composer working on his level. Tony Newton’s music is truly in a league of its own.

 

VERDICT = 9.3 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

Preview the White Light Collection HERE

 

 

SINGLE REVIEW: Fool’s Gold by Stephen Dusenberry

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Stephen Dusenberry is a composer/songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist. He was somewhat of a child prodigy, starting the drums at three years old and being offered his first gig at four. At six, he started playing keyboards and writing his own songs then taught himself guitar, clarinet and trumpet. He then spent his adolescence in a diverse range of bands, with his progressive rock band Twilight Machine signed to AFM records while he was only sixteen.

After attending Berklee College of Music he ended up spending two weeks at no.1 on the Billboard charts with a remix of Audio Playground’s Hands Up In The Air. Unfortunately, he was then struck down with skin cancer, with the tumor eventually removed. Upon his recovery, he began work on his most ambitious solo project to date, Steal City. This involved him writing, performing and producing everything purely by himself which led to comparisons with the great Quincy Jones.

This complete artistic and musical autonomy applies to his latest track, Fool’s Gold. In case anyone mistakes it for a cover of the classic track of the same name by The Stone Roses, this is very much an original composition in every sense of the word. It’s an irresistibly funky instrumental that allows Dusenberry to showcase his considerable musical versatility and virtuosity. Starting with a brisk rap of the snare drum, it launches into an instantly infectious groove consisting of brass, organ, piano and synths over a bedrock of water-tight bass and drums.

Aside from the impressive degree of musical skill in performing the track, the intricacy and detail of the arrangement is where Dusenberry truly excels. Like an artist using sparing amounts of colour, many of the instruments make brief cameos then allow another sound to take center stage. The instrumental colour and variety made me think of another autonomous composer/musician Frank Zappa and his classic Hot Rats instrumental Peaches En Regalia. The overall style and sound is comparable to another musical genius, Stevie Wonder.

The main hook of the track is the catchy horn lines that enter straight away, augmented by contrapuntal melodies or supporting chords on either organ, piano or synth. Special mention should go to the crisp, precise drumming and the rhythmic and melodic invention of the bassline. Halfway through, it enters a more sparse section that allows him to build things back up for the second half, which features a brief but brilliant organ solo.

Overall, this is a fantastic instrumental that lies between soul, funk and jazz. Stephen Dusenberry is simply one of those immensely gifted musicians and composers that occur only rarely, and Fool’s Gold captures him at the height of his powers. With a complete mastery of everything he plays and a deep understanding of how to compose and arrange, the result is a hugely enjoyable piece of music that deserves to be appreciated by both connoisseurs and casual music fans alike.

 

VERDICT = 9.2 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

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SINGLE REVIEW: Prophecy (from the White Light Collection) by Tony Newton

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http://tonynewtonmusic.com/album/wlc-preview-2/

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 virtuosic 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.

If that isn’t impressive enough, 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.

This piece for solo piano, Prophecy, is taken from his album White Light Collection. The piece announces itself with some stentorian chords, then a swirling, saturnine melodic pattern emerges in a low octave, reminiscent of the last movement of Beethoven’s Appassionata sonata. Over this repeating figure, Newton then brings Bill Evans-style jazz into the mix with some exotic quartal harmonies in the right hand. The low octave melody is then doubled creating a fierce sense of momentum before it modulates to a different key.

The piece then develops with some incredible runs and ornaments in the upper octaves, which truly show the virtuosic level of Newton’s musicianship. Around halfway through the tempest dies down and a suspenseful section emerges, featuring some lush chordal voicings and arpeggios. This is what you would term a developmental section, which reaches a climax before recapitulating to the main theme to complete a compelling six minutes.

Overall, this solo piano piece is a tour de force by an artist who made his name as a Motown musician and has developed into a composer of real genius. He has found the perfect midway point between classical and jazz, combining the focused structure of the former with the adventurous harmonies of the latter. Prophecy is not just a compositional feat but also one of considerable virtuosity as a performance. Highly recommended.

 

VERDICT = 9.2 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

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ALBUM REVIEW: Butterfly by Sofia Evangelina

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Official website: http://www.sofiaevangelina.com

Sofia Evangelina is a singer/songwriter from Canada. Despite only being the tender age of fifteen, she has already accomplished a great deal in her musical career. She has won numerous talent competitions including Canada National Overall Talent at Talent INC 2014, Canada Teenfest and TheMics amongst many others, as well as performing live at various festivals.

She has worked on her first album, Butterfly, with Beverly Delich and Bryant Oleander, known for their work with Michael Bublé. She cites her major influences as Christina Aguilera, Beyoncé and all time great female singers of the past like Etta James, Arethra Franklin and Nina Simone. In particular, you can hear the influence of Christina Aguilera. This debut album consists of ten tastefully chosen cover versions that range across numerous genres including soul, RnB, pop and gospel.

The album starts with a superb version of the evergreen Etta James classic At Last. Set to a beautifully performed and produced musical backdrop featuring synth strings, bluesy piano and picked acoustic guitar, it provides a perfect backdrop for Sofia’s voice. With a naturally strong tone, she gives a compelling vocal performance that captures the emotive resonance of the original. It also showcases her considerable vocal range and sets the tone for the rest of the album.

The soulful vibe continues with the second track, an upbeat cover of Sam Cooke’s timeless Wonderful World that retains the charm of the original but gives it a more modern pop sound. Sofia shows that her voice is just as suited to this kind of material, and her performance is nicely counter-pointed by male backing vocals which makes for an effective combination.

Third track All I Could Do Was Cry was originally released by Etta James but was brought back to mainstream prominence by Beyoncé in 2008 when she played Etta James in the film Cadillac Records. Sofia once again gives a fine performance, and a slow ballad like this allows her to extemporize the melody with vocal inflections in the style of Christina Aguilera, her idol. She hits the high notes with ease, and captures the emotion of the song well.

Next comes a powerhouse performance of the well known song Feeling Good, originally by the late, great Nina Simone. Starting with some gorgeous jazzy piano, it builds into a musical tour de force featuring a biting brass section, with a well crafted arrangement. Sofia steals the show with some versatile vocal acrobatics, and really let’s rip at the song’s climax. A fantastic interpretation of a perennial classic.

Then comes a real change of pace with a rendition of The Jackson 5’s I Want You Back. This song allows Sofia to express the more ebullient and joyous side to her character, which is delivered in abundance on this infectious performance. Musically, it captures the groovy rolling piano melody and strings of the original along with the skyscraping lead vocal melody which Sofia handles well. The call and response vocals with the backing singers is also highly effective.

Sixth track Hello is, for me, the centrepiece of the album. It’s not a cover of the huge hit by Adele, but in fact the romantic 80’s classic by Lionel Ritchie. Sofia gives a wonderfully sensitive and controlled performance that captures the tender poignancy of the lyrics. The arrangement, which builds from sparse and minimal to huge across the duration of the track, helps bring out the haunting and melancholy nature of the music and these two aspects converge to produce this standout track.

The final four songs on the album are all loving, positive and uplifting in nature. First is a fine cover of Bill Withers’ well known ode to friendship Lean On Me. It’s built around a simple arrangement consisting of strident, concise piano and the softer tones of Rhodes electric piano and organ. Sofia delivers another strong vocal near the top of her range, then the music modulates up a key towards the end for a climactic finish. She performs some very impressive vocal runs and riffs at the very end, which is truly worth listening out for.

Next is one of the more ambitious covers, Don’t You Worry Bout A Thing, originally written and sung by Stevie Wonder on his epochal 1973 album Innervisions. It’s an excellent choice of a song to cover, with the Latin-tinged feel of the music providing some nice stylistic variation. Sofia sounds like she’s having fun singing this one.

Perhaps more familiar to modern listeners will be the following cover of Coldplay’s melancholy but moving ballad, Fix You. Sofia gives an almost angelic performance of touching warmth and intimacy, capturing the empathy that lies at the heart of the song. The sparse arrangement allows her voice to take centre stage and the harmonies are gorgeous.

The last track is another song originally by The Jackson 5, I’ll Be There. This one is actually performed as a duet with a male vocalist, whose voice complements hers well. Sofia gives this one 110% vocally, often at the top of her range. They take turns singing alternate verses before joining together for the final section, bringing the whole album to a satisfying and emotional denouement.

Overall, this is a highly impressive debut from a gifted young singer who can convey deep emotions and make a song truly her own, an impressive feat for a singer of any age. Cover versions are a way for new artists to reach the public but Sofia is not resting on her laurels, currently working with prominent Canadian songwriters on original material.

That is what will decide whether she can emulate the huge success of her favourite singers, but this album is an excellent introduction to her versatile vocal talents and will make her many new fans. Butterfly is out now and available on Spotify, iTunes, Apple Music, Amazon Music and all major streaming services.

 

VERDICT =  8.6 out of 10

 

Alex Faulkner

IG: @sofiaevangelinaxoxo

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sofiaevangelinaxoxo/

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ALBUM REVIEW: Awesome by Josiah Ruff

coverart(2)http://josiahruff.com/

Josiah Ruff is a singer, songwriter and producer, originally hailing from Central California. He started out in music at an early age, taking up piano and singing at only nine years old. At seventeen, he developed the strong Christian faith which is an important part of his music. He sees songs as ‘the sermons God gives me to inspire everyone’.

So far, Josiah has written and self produced six albums as well as numerous credits as a producer on several independent Gospel projects. While he sees his music as inspirational Gospel, he also has stylistic similarities with artists like Boys2Men and Brian McKnight. I would also compare him to great vocalists like Luther Vandross and Marvin Gaye, who also had a strong faith.

This album, Awesome, consists of twelve tracks. Some of them are surprisingly long, but always highly structured and never meandering. First track God Is Great is in fact the longest song at nearly six minutes, and provides an uplifting start to the album. It opens with a blaze of lead electric guitar and pumping brass. Josiah introduces the listener with a few warm words, before unleashing a great vocal performance that brought to mind Stevie Wonder. The song is built around the catchy title hook, backed up by a rich Gospel choir that becomes part of a nice call-and-response section with Josiah.

Because Of You is contrasting, a mid-tempo funk track with rich organ and fuzzy synth. Josiah gives another fine vocal performance, again aided by some fantastic gospel harmonies. The snappy drumming works in tandem with some superb bass playing that drives the whole track along. The chord progression is extremely well written, using complex jazzy chords that show Josiah’s musicality. This really comes to the fore during the middle section, where the chords take some unexpected turns before modulating to a different key. Truly excellent songwriting and arrangement.

The title track comes next and it’s a very strong affirmation of his Christian faith set to a mid tempo soul backing, with a laid back groove and some funky offbeat brass stabs. It’s another very well crafted song that features the staples of his sound, managing to live up to its title with ease. Fourth track Hallelujah is rather different, a slow ballad that begins with picked acoustic guitar and allows Josiah to sing in a more delicate manner at the upper part of his range. Another fine song and a nice change of pace.

Acoustic guitar features again in fifth track Praise The Way I Do, though it is used in a more rhythmic fashion as this song returns to the soul funk style heard earlier. The gospel vocal arrangement is particularly good on this one, reaching the top of their range towards the end. The bass playing is also often in the high register and helps to lift the music, the bassline high class as ever.

The sixth track Always is a slow paced piano ballad that you would normally expect to be a love song, but lyrically is about the strength of his faith. Josiah has an excellent voice for this kind of track and this is one of his finest vocal performances on the album. The lengthy high note he hits around the four minute mark is simply stunning singing.

Let Us Praise is straight back to the funk style and may be the funkiest track on the album. It features a raucous but very catchy brass arrangement that drives the whole track along and there’s a great guitar lick that underpins the music. As ever, Josiah takes the chords to some unexpected places and it modulates up two keys around the three minute mark which makes it even more uplifting. A real album highlight.

Dirty is another piano ballad though more jazzy than Always. Lyrically, it’s about wanting to be pure and facing up to our human weaknesses. It features a lot of spoken word dialogue along side the singing, in a similar way to Marvin Gaye on his classic What’s Going On album. Apart from the faith-based lyrics it could almost be a track by Boys2men.

In The Need Of Prayer is another slow track about turning to prayer when no other solution for your problems can be found. It’s a nice song at a meditative pace, with a loving and compassionate message. Tenth track Nothing To Fear opens with a lovely flourish of Spanish acoustic guitar then develops into another strong soul/funk song, with an inspiring lyric about conquering fears and doubts through faith. Some nice wah-wah guitar on this one, also.

The Savior Reigns is one of the most sophisticated songs with a real Latin jazz feel. The walking bass line and another breathtaking vocal arrangement are just two of the stand out elements, capped by a passionate, heartfelt lead vocal. The modulating harmonies at the end have to be heard to be believed! Twelfth and final track Worship closes the album, starting with piano and synth strings. Josiah lays down a tender and expressive vocal over this relatively sparse arrangement which allows his voice to truly shine. It’s a gentle and poignant way to finish a superb set of songs.

Overall, this is an extremely well written and arranged album that display Josiah’s abilities as a songwriter and producer, as well as a very fine vocalist. While his music is specifically aimed at inspiring those who share his faith, music is universal and anyone who simply likes listening to well crafted and performed soul, gospel and funk
music will find much to enjoy here.

 

Alex Faulkner

Verdict: 8.9 out of 10

SINGLE REVIEW: Some Mo’ by Valenti review

Valenti  (Dennis Webb Jr.)http://www.valentifunk.com/

Valenti “Funk” Thomas is a multi-instrumentalist and producer who was born in Dallas, Texas and raised in Irving. After becoming proficient at several instruments, he joined funk/reggae group the Effinays in 2010, where he shared the stage with Snoop Dogg (Lion), Grammy-award winning Latin funk orchestra Grupo Fantasma and country music artist Jack Ingram. While in this group, Valenti composed the music for the eleven songs of his forthcoming self-titled album, from which this track, Some Mo’, is taken.

Starting with a short intro consisting of alternating bars of 3/4 and 5/4, it then launches into an up tempo funk track with an instantly memorable synth riff and a taut, funky bassline. We then hear the soulful female vocals of LaLa Johnson over choppy high-end guitar and rhythmic piano for the succinct verse, which leads straight to the chorus. The hook is extremely simple and catchy (“I like it, I love it, and I want some mo’…”), the music lifted by some unpredictable chord changes that showcase Valenti’s musicality and inventiveness.

Lyrically, it’s an ode to good times and people’s sexual tastes: “Some like ’em black, some like ’em white, some like to take their time and try them all for the night…’. Funk has long been the domain of amorous subject matter, and this song upholds that tradition nicely! After the second chorus there is a middle section with some gorgeous stacked vocal harmonies, before a synth solo and another blast through the chorus takes us to the end.

Overall, with superb musicianship and songwriting craft, plus a stellar vocal performance from LaLa Johnson, it all adds up a blistering piece of funk that Stevie Wonder would approve of. Like Stevie, Valenti is a versatile musician/songwriter and I’m looking forward to hearing his debut album, which should help to establish him as a major talent.

 

Alex Faulkner

Verdict: 8.6 out of 10