SINGLE REVIEW: Because She’s Sleeping by Djo Life

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www.djolife.com

Djo Life is a singer/songwriter hailing from the “drenched environs” of Tucson, Arizona, as he puts it. He also rather amusingly describes himself as a ‘one piece band’. His music is essentially alternative acoustic pop, with tinges of electronica that give the music a modern sound. There’s a charming quirkiness to his style that brought to mind The Flaming Lips and even a touch of 90’s alt-pop legends They Might Be Giants.

That group excelled in writing songs about unusual subjects, and this song, Because She’s Sleeping, is also worthy of that category. It’s a rather sweet ode to his eighteen year old Persian cat called Boux Boux and her penchant for sleeping. If that sounds twee on paper, fear not. Djo takes a potentially saccharine subject and makes it simply endearingly affectionate and heartwarming.

Musically, it’s led by a lilting, extremely memorable vocal melody and strummed acoustic guitar. His voice is strong and radio friendly, though I’m not sure how much stock he places in commercial ambitions. The vocals are augmented by a nice synth string melody that acts as a counterpoint and enriches the sound. After the addictively catchy verse, the second section has some great lines: “I want to dream at the top of my voice…”. It’s that kind of dreamy surrealism that made John Lennon such an interesting songwriter.

Overall, this is an extremely enjoyable pop track in a similar style to The Beatles classic Martha My Dear, which will appeal right across the board. Djo Life has a likeable musical persona and a winning way with a melody, along with a strong, distinctive voice. I can see him developing a large following, being placed perfectly between alternative and mainstream pop. Because She’s Sleeping will be another important step towards this and a particular favourite among feline fans, me included.

VERDICT: 8.6 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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SINGLE REVIEW: Catch That Train by David T. Dunn

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https://star1ent.com/david-t-dunn/audio

David T. Dunn is a singer/songwriter in the Americana/blues genre who was born in Nashville but grew up in Atlanta. Although he only began playing guitar at twenty, over the years he has accumulated a songbook of over one hundred compositions. He regards his main influences as fellow troubadours like Neil Young and Kris Kristofferson, groups like The Beatles and The Velvet Underground, as well as blues artist Slim Harpo.

This song, Catch That Train, is the title track from his recently released six track EP. It’s a finely crafted piece of songwriting, pitched perfectly between country and blues, the essence of Americana. Dunn is blessed with a fine voice eminently suited to this musical style, and the rootsy sound of guitar, bass, drums and rich drawbar organ has the distinct ring of authenticity, reminiscent of The Band and Bob Dylan.

Lyrically, the song is about facing up to life’s vicissitudes and seizing opportunities whenever you can: “There’s a hard wind blowin’, calling out my name, the only thing for certain in this life is change….I don’t know where I’m going, but I know I better catch that train….”. The title hook is memorable and very catchy, with a brief but well structured guitar solo adding a little more instrumental colour towards the end.

Overall, this is a very enjoyable and finely written track by an experienced songwriter who is clearly the ‘real deal’. He obviously writes from the heart, and combines it with a fine musical craftsmanship and an emotive, affecting vocal performance. For anyone looking to hear modern Americana of the highest quality, look no further than David T. Dunn.

 

VERDICT: 8.7 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

To listen, click HERE

SINGLE REVIEW: Horror Story by Lockjaw Smile

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https://lockjawsmile.bandcamp.com/

Lockjaw Smile are a three-piece alternative rock band hailing from Metheun, Massachusetts, consisting of Tony Thanos (guitar/vocals), Bill Douty (bass/vocals) and Scott Flaherty (drums/percussion). They released their first EP back in 2013, Darkest Before The Dawn, following up with another, Three Headed Monster, in 2017. They have an electric range of influences ranging from The Beatles and The Beach Boys, to Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan and more modern bands like Weezer and The Black Keys, amongst others.

This song, Horror Story, is the first single from their full-length debut album. As their favourite bands suggest, they combine the hard-hitting aspects of rock/metal with the melodic side of their lighter influences. Starting with an explosion of low-end guitar chords, a snaking guitar riff enters before Tony Thanos’s powerful lead vocals bring the song into lighter territory. After a well crafted verse and bridge, it builds to a half time chorus section with Thanos singing at the top of the range.

The band’s superb musicianship becomes manifest as the track progresses, particularly after the second chorus. It develops into an instrumental section of rolling, tribal tom tom patterns that build in intensity, with a brooding Greg Norton-esque (Husker Du) bassline from Douty and wah-drenched lead guitars taking the music into the stratosphere, before returning to the song’s signature riff.

Overall, this is an excellent first single from a trio who together create a potent musical synergy. They effectively combine the most powerful elements of heavy rock and contrast them with the more accessible aspects of melodic rock, with a fine lead vocalist in Tony Thanos.  The production captures their musical energy perfectly, all three members giving first rate performances. With more songs of this high quality, I expect their debut album to make a strong impact on the rock scene and I will be eagerly awaiting it myself.

 

VERDICT: 8.7 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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ALBUM REVIEW: Guiding Star by Rvzoo and the Sugar Spun Elephant Band

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https://www.facebook.com/RvzooandTheSugarSpunElephantBand/

 

Rvzoo a.k.a. Dave Arvizu is a singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist hailing from Colorado. From the early 1990’s to 2005 he was the front man for the very popular band Big Back Yard, who opened for acts like Dick Dale, The Young Dubliners, The Saw Doctors and many others. They also received both local and national airplay for their music.

As a solo artist he has enjoyed international airplay for his album Sugar Spun Elephant, with the song Wish I Had featuring in an independent film and Even If, a hit in Taiwan. In his band, he is backed by a team of talented musicians, while he himself contributes lead vocals, guitar, keyboard and ukulele. This album, Guiding Star, consists of ten tracks of original material in the rock/pop genre.

Opening song When I Was Young is a fantastic start to the album. It’s a nostalgic look back to the fun and freedom of youth, starting with just lead vocals and ukulele. Dave is an aficionado of sixties and seventies songwriters, and this one brought to mind the jazzy sophistication of Randy Newman. His style is hugely melodic and you can tell he’s studied the greats like the Beatles and the Beach Boys in the way he crafts his music.

Mellotron lends a smoky Sixties vibe on the second section which features some nice call and response vocals and Dave singing about “hanging out with my friends up in my room, listening to records by The Who…”. It then breaks into a superb alto sax solo (courtesy of Bob Braidwood). A classic to start the album.

Vocally, he has a perfect voice for the material, halfway between The Beatles and Bob Dylan, with a touch of Mick Jagger for good measure. His tone also reminded me of Mike and the Mechanics’ Paul Carrack. With a versatile voice he is also able to sing more gentle songs, like second track Give Me More.

This one is a simple but very effective country rock ballad also featuring ukulele, as well as light percussion and an excellent vocal arrangement. It brought to mind the classic pop sound of New Zealand’s Crowded House, and Arvizu’s songwriting style has similarities with Neil Finn’s, though he has a broader musical range than Finn.

The country vibe continues with Which Way To Run, a duet with a fine female singer which also features some gorgeous steel guitar. This one is short but sweet at just over two minutes and acts as a nice musical bridge between the preceding and following tracks.

If I Was A Bird shows his Bob Dylan and John Lennon influences. It’s a very Sixties sound, with I Am The Walrus strings and a funky beat aiding a folky melody and chord progression than wouldn’t have sounded out of place on the White Album. The way the strings conjure up the imagery of bird’s flying freely is one of many fine musical touches across the album. Arvizu adopts a slightly Dylan-esque vocal tone, which suits to the music to a tee.

A Song For Joyce is a nice contrast, this one a sophisticated piano-led ballad with jazzy overtones in its chordal richness and complexity. Indeed, the voicings and melancholy mood made me think of Brian Wilson’s (of The Beach Boys) work, post-Pet Sounds, something like the song Surf’s Up from the initial Smile project. This song is a sweetly romantic tale about his father writing a song for his mother back in 1966, with a fine lead vocal performance.

Lonely Desert Wind opens with evocative and spacey Wurlitzer organ, and marks the start of a more expansive side to Dave’s oeuvre. In most of these second half songs, you can hear the more psychedelic influences of 70’s prog rock like Pink Floyd and the epic rock of The Who. This is the first of the album’s epics at five minutes, and special credit should go to Dan Nelson for a fine bassline on this one.

Next comes the title track, Guiding Star, and it maintains the same dreamy pace. It also maintains the folk/country vibe, with tasteful bursts of fiddle. It feels like the emotional centrepiece of the album and it’ss a very human, emotive song about hope and needing someone special to guide you through: “My heart leads me back to you…”. It’s the most powerful song on the album and more in keeping with the first half.

Thru This Space and Time, as the title suggests, takes us back into epic waters. It features some fabulous sounds; rich, warm rock organ and superb lead guitar played with a tone and feel that rivals Clapton on The Beatles While My Guitar Gently Weeps. All manner of production tricks and classy musical touches add to the magical soundscape, including backwards guitar and lead lines played in harmony. My personal favourite on the album.

The last epic on the album, Transmission Ends, brings us full circle on our musical and emotional journey. It’s the most avant garde and ambitious track here, with Arvizu’s vocal melody weaving through an unpredictable bassline, a melange of effects and slow building percussion.

It brought to mind Peter Gabriel at his most experimental and  makes for an intriguing finish, feeling like you have drifted off into space. That’s not quite the end though, a short reprise of A Song For Joyce brings the listener back down to earth with some gorgeous noodling on sax and vamping on piano.

Overall, this is the kind of artistically ambitious album that we simply don’t hear in the mainstream anymore. Taking the finest aspects of 60’s and 70’s songwriting, Rvzoo and his Sugar Spun Elephant Band have created a pop rock masterpiece that rewards repeated listening, with a wealth of instrumental and lyrical detail. Highly recommended to all rock music connoisseurs and any fans of classic songwriting.

 

VERDICT: 9.2 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

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ALBUM REVIEW: Shine by Nelson King

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http://www.nelsonking.net

Nelson King is a singer/songwriter in the acoustic rock genre, hailing from Brighton, England. As a songwriter, he has been highly prolific in the last decade, releasing a huge amount of solo material recorded in his home studio, from his 2010 album Real to last year’s album Larger Than Life. His style is traditional in some ways, yet he’s forged is own inimitable sound and style.

This album, Shine, consists of nine tracks and begins with the fine opener Falling. From the first lines, it’s obvious that there’s a truth and honesty in his songwriting lacking in most modern music: “You’re in the village of the damned, where every door is jammed…”. Nelson has a perfect voice for this kind of material; it’s emotive, weathered and authentic, helping bring the sincerity of the lyrics to life.

He has a fine gift for memorable melodies, evidenced by the passionately performed ballad Colour Me. With just vocal and guitar, he keeps you gripped for the duration. Third track Shine On has understandably been chosen as a single, with its instantly memorable title hook. It has shades of Lennon, Springsteen and Dylan whilst still coming across as distinctly himself, and its perhaps the most life affirming song on the album.

We Will Overcome is another fine ballad with Lennon-esque overtones (circa his solo period) an inspiring message: “We will overcome all the wrongs that have been done.…”. A poignant and powerful song. The Brightest Light That Shines is a distinct change of pace, a brooding rocker with a modern vibe that brought to mind Noel Gallagher’s early solo material.

This Song is the true classic of the album, for me. With a simplicity that the best songs seem to have, it lies halfway between The Kinks and The Beatles and that’s a glorious place to be. Based around a descending chord sequence, he delivers a moving ode to devotion and creativity inspired by love. Surely a potential single.

Another Day offers a different flavour, a folk/country song with another uplifting message: “After all the hammer blows, you get up again…”. Shining Hearts is Nelson at his most Dylan-esque and reflective, a testament to the tenacity of the human spirit captured in lines like: “Come a long way together, shining hearts that we see…”.

The final song Anyway, carries on the same wistful mood, this one with a more ragged feel and short bursts of harmonica. It’s a fitting way to finish, with the music reaching a pinnacle of sonic colour featuring bluesy piano, acoustic and electric guitar, pulsating bass and wailing mouth organ. Real music.

Overall, this is a highly recommended album from a very gifted and experienced songwriter who deserves much respect for his unremitting devotion to his craft. With a worldly wisdom borne from experience and a fine command of his art, Nelson King can add his name to the pantheon of first rate British songwriters.

 

VERDICT: 8.6 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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E.P. REVIEW: You Find Out On Your Own by Michael Reddington

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Michael Reddington is a singer songwriter hailing from Nottingham who initially had his sights set on being a sound engineer, which for a while he achieved when working at the venue Stealth, where he worked with Bastille and Shy FX. However, an escalator accident ripped off his big toe, leaving him bed ridden for three months. He turned to music to get through, and began his songwriting journey which has led to this EP.

His music is essentially well crafted pop/rock in the great British tradition and you can hear myriad influences in these three songs, from The Beatles to The Smiths, though he also cites American songwriters like Neil Young, Ryan Adams and Tom Petty. His lyrics are very much rooted in the struggles of everyday life.

Opening song You Find Out On Your Own is an excellent start, a mid paced piece of guitar pop that has a nice Beatles-esque lead guitar line, warm pulsing bass, subtle piano and rich organ filling out the sound. It alternates between a lilting 4/4 rhythm on the intro and verse then switches to 2/4 on the bridge/chorus which injects momentum into the music.

Lyrically, it’s strong, a rumination on figuring things out through your own life experiences rather than accepting what others say: “I’ve been keep on making my own rules, avoiding fools…they don’t teach you any of this in school, I guess you find out on your own…”. His vocals are very good, comfortable singing in a high range and the whole song is catchy and memorable while avoiding anything predictable.

Monotony Lobotomy is slightly faster paced and in 4/4 throughout, lyrically a melancholy tale of frustration through being stuck in a humdrum situation and longing for a chance to escape, though still with a ray of hope for the future (“Just one chance and they’ll be no stopping me….”). The vocal melody and main hook are haunting, expressing the weariness of the lyrics perfectly.

Final track Uniform is a slow paced acoustic track, and lyrically takes an acerbic look at those to conform rather than show any individuality: “You’re a nancy of a man, got to do for them all you can…in uniform“. It’s another very melodic and memorable song, augmented by some lovely strings as the track progresses.

Overall, this is an excellent EP that shows Michael Reddington as a quality songwriter both musically and lyrically, with a fine gift for melody and a voice that is both distinctive and easy on the ear. While it’s hard these days for a songwriter to break through, he has everything it takes and I look forward to hearing a whole album from him.

 

Alex Faulkner (The Faulkner Review)

 

VERDICT: 8.9 out of 10

ALBUM REVIEW: Innocent Sin by Billy Dechand

BILLY http://www.cdbaby.com/dechand7

Billy Dechand is a singer/songwriter hailing from Missouri in the United States. His genre is essentially alternative pop/rock and he has been releasing material since 1998. This album, Innocent Sin, consists of sixteen tracks and is his seventh release on CD.

Starting with the title track, its a fine opener; a smoky, funky track with lashings of wah wah guitar, vibes and brass that give it a 70’s vibe, in a good way. Billy has a strong voice, a smooth croon that is almost Bowie-esque at times and that influence in manifest throughout the album. He also cites The Beatles, Beck and The Flaming Lips as influences.

Hungry For More is brief but very catchy, while When The Satellite Drops is an excellent song about our possibly over reliant relationship with technology. It’s set to a Beatles/Bowie style chord progression and builds to a memorable chorus. His sense of humour shows on Reproduce, a reggae tinged track that takes a sardonic look at male/female relations. The organ and bouncy bassline work well.

Keepin’ It Real is another funny song set to a lilting Kinks style melody, with bitingly satirical lyrics: “Every day when I wake yup I’ve been keeping it real…I’m so f—–g authentic, I’ve got my own cat food commercial…”. Kick Ass has one of the catchiest hooks on the album while You Do It is slower and more poignant: “He can teach you all the rules and never learn the game…”. The excellent chorus is pure Bowie musically but infused with Billy’s quirky style, so he makes it his own. A real highlight.

Spilled The Water and Little Miss Muffler are both deliciously offbeat and quirky acoustic pop songs, the latter replete with scatological sound effects, the more base end of Billy’s humour! Take Me Now is a fun song about getting amorous, while the infectious Booya rejects a negative outlook on life: “You can dress in black, cool like Cash… but me, I wanna live in colour…”.

Sell Out Is a justifiably cynical satire on those who will do anything to get ahead “Pretty beauty goin’ straight to your head…give it all away to the folks at the mall, cashing out your max for replaceable trash….”. She Has Work is one of the more moving and serious songs here; a poignant piece of characters study, showing his deeper side as a songwriter. The cute closing Chihuahua returns to his more familiar quirky style.

Overall, this is a very good album that showcases Billy’s musical and emotional range as a songwriter. All sides of life are here, from the poignant to the humorous, from the personal to societal concerns. He has a strong sense of craftsmanship and a gift for consistently memorable melodies and hooks. He has melded his influences into a style very much his own. Highly recommend for fans of left field pop/rock.

 

Alex Faulkner

VERDICT: 8.6 out of 10