ALBUM REVIEW: Howard Herrick by Howard Herrick

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Howard Herrick is a songwriter and producer hailing from New Jersey. He has written music in many genres (just a few being pop, rock, jazz, blues and orchestral) both as a solo artist and as part of the group Minster Hill. He’s written and produced music for both film and theatre, including My One and Only, Vanishing on 7th Street, Very Good Girls, Nightlight and Peter Pan 360.

He’s also been Executive Music Producer on several film productions and written several label artists. Recently, he composed music for Shaquille O’ Neal’s video game Shaq-Fu: A Legend Reborn and is currently writing and producing music for the second series of American Beauty Star.

This eponymous solo album was entirely written and produced by Howard, who also performed (and engineered) most of the instruments, as well as mixing and mastering the music. He collaborates with various vocalists, both male and female. It consists of nine tracks and acts as an excellent showcase for his songwriting versatility and musical eclecticism.

The album starts with perhaps the most modern production, Hold My Hand. It’s a slinky pop/R&B track in a similar style to The Weeknd and mid-period Justin Timberlake.  The song is superbly crafted, highlighted by a memorable lead vocal performance, by a male singer gifted with a huge range and a powerful, distinctive falsetto.

He sings in the upper register of his voice throughout, over a simple but effective beat driven by a pulsing kick drum, along with piano and catchy synth riffs. Written in a minor key, it starts with the highly memorable chorus and lyrically deals with having faith in the strength of a relationship and facing the future without fear. Hold My Hand is an obvious choice as a single and sounds like it belongs at the top of the charts.

Show Me That One Again is a complete contrast, a poignant ballad consisting of just piano and a warm, intimate vocal. It’s a moving song about how the responsibilities of adulthood have dimmed the ebullience that the young have: “You say your owned now by some business-suited man…”.

The essence of the song is captured succinctly in the chorus: “Just remember for a little while, you once were young and had that smile, I haven’t seen it since I don’t know when, won’t you show me that one again?” Exquisitely crafted and sensitively performed, it harks back to the classic singer songwriters and confessional style of the 70’s.

Third track Go and Hear is another sharp contrast, opening in a blaze of heavy, low end electric chords and rich organ. It’s soon joined by a meaty backbeat and an edgier lead vocal that fits with the overall rock sound. It features a huge sounding chorus augmented by Queen-style stacked backing harmonies. It also features a fantastic guitar solo, bringing back the late 80’s commercial rock sound.

Behind Closed Doors recalls the 80’s again, but this time the synth pop sound which has recently come back into vogue through groups like Chvrches and The xx. This makes it one of the album’s most contemporary tracks and lyrically it is certainly the darkest, opening with the bleak lines: “I’ve fallen to the depths of despair, to the darkest of places, no one else is there….there are no familiar faces…”.

The emotional depth and honesty displayed here gives considerable power and weight to the music and shows real authenticity in terms of artistry. Starting with a guitar and bass figure, it gradually builds into an epic pop track that mirrors the gravity of the lyrics. The lead vocals are performed in different octaves, which gives it a distinctive, memorable sound. Around the three minute mark, the song breaks down to a poignant section where a ghostly sounding vocal portrays the dark emotional landscape that the song expresses.

The following New Heart is set at a similar tempo but much lighter in subject matter and musical vibe. It’s a soulful pop track with another compelling vocal performance, with use of falsetto once more on the title hook. A classy piece of pop songwriting and restores the generally upbeat mood of the rest of the album.

Sixth track Is Love Enough brought to mind the emotive style of early 70’s Todd Rundgren, but the musically colourful arrangement and unexpected chord changes made me think of one of pop’s most underrated songwriters, Jeff Lynne of E.L.O., as well as 80’s group Tears For Fears. Despite all these influences, Herrick stamps his own sonic identity aided by a particularly strong lead vocalist who delivers near the top of their  range. The numerous subtleties and details make for a piece of perfect pop that you’ll never grow tired of.

If I Fall Off The Next Step shows yet another side to Herrick’s songwriting, featuring a female lead vocalist. It’s a delicate, beautifully written acoustic ballad augmented by short bursts of Spanish guitar. Her crystalline singing voice along with with the finger-picked acoustic playing is reminiscent of Joni Mitchell, and the enchanting melody makes it one of the album’s finest tracks.

Nothing Lasts Forever returns to male lead vocals and also a return to the Todd Rundgren-esque sound and style of writing. This is a track where Herrick displays his breadth of harmonic and rhythmic range, with some unpredictable chord changes and subtle use of shifting rhythms and syncopations. There’s some wonderfully jazzy chords after the second chorus that takes the music to another level of sophistication.

The album finishes with another female sung track, Sad Plant. Despite its downbeat title it’s actually an upbeat pop track that recalls elements of Stevie Nicks, Like A Prayer-era Madonna and a more modern pop group like Haim. The song has a summery feelgood vibe and ends this extremely accomplished album on a satisfying high.

Overall, this album is a masterclass in songwriting across an eclectic range of styles and proves emphatically that Howard Herrick deserves to be known as one of the most proficient and versatile songwriters of this era. With the track Hold My Hand he has a dead cert hit with sufficient promotion and there’s several other tracks that would make fine singles. But what makes the album stand out is the musical and emotional range of the songs. Highly recommended.

VERDICT = 9.2 out of 10             

Alex Faulkner

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Visit Howard’s official website HERE

 

 

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SINGLE REVIEW: Two Hands by DreamState

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https://www.facebook.com/itsdreamstate1/

DreamState are a music group based in Maryland, consisting of Josh Hilson, Tyler Gagnon and Kyle Santos. The three members have diverse musical backgrounds ranging from country to hip hop and R&B, and they have fused these elements to create their unique sound that lies between R&B, pop and electronica. The genesis of this musical project led to the formation of their own music studio, DreamLabs and the group have now released their debut EP, Take Care.

This track, Two Hands, is taken from the Take Care EP and is essentially anthemic R&B/pop with cutting edge production. Starting with a brief intro, the track launches into a simple but effective 2/4 groove before we hear strong male lead vocals in a low register over sparse but evocative layers of synth. After a well crafted verse it launches into an instantly memorable chorus with touching lyrics: “Let me put two hands on you, baby and I will be careful with you….no, you’ve got nothing left to prove so I’ll show you what to do….”.

As the track progresses, you start to hear elements from other genres incorporated into the music such as the subtle lead electric guitar lines that are interspersed through the song. This lends another colour to the sonic palette and enriches the overall sound. Lyrically, its a sincere expression of wanting to love and care for someone, with a depth and subtlety expressed that transcends cliché and sentimentality.

Overall, this is an excellent release that showcases the DreamState signature style which should find huge popularity with fans of artists like Drake and The Weeknd. They show a real skill for well crafted songwriting and memorable hooks, made manifest with first rate lead vocals and slick, commercial production that manages to sound different from the rest of the R&B/pop scene. With this, DreamState have already proven that they have huge commercial potential and Two Hands could well be their breakthrough track.

 

VERDICT = 8.8 out of 10

 

Alex Faulkner

 

E.P. REVIEW: Chutney Chasers by aVIE

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aVIE is an RnB/electronica artist hailing from Houston. He had an itinerant childhood, which is partly the reason for the eclectic range of styles and genres that have influenced his music. He describes his music as Psychedelic/Punk RnB, which is accurate but he also incorporates dubstep, DnB and trap into his musical vision. He regards his influences as The Weeknd, Frank Ocean and Radiohead, amongst others.

This EP, Chutney Chasers, is his debut release and he describes the EP as a “story of a young colored man’s struggle with exotification, identity, addiction, anxiety and role”. It starts with the title track, a languid yet intense concoction of falsetto lead vocals with aVIE’s smooth-as-honey rapping style. Not many artists can claim such versatility as both singer and emcee, and aVIE’s gifts are the equal of similar artists like Frank Ocean. A fine start to the EP.

Tapwater shows another side to his oeuvre, starting out as fairly conventional RnB before developing into a fantastic hybrid of dubstep and DnB, with aVIE delivering his skills as a rapper once more for good measure. This is cutting edge 21st century pop, a futuristic meld of modern styles which aVIE pulls off effortlessly. The Self is another contrast, a hymnal, reflective track with some almost angelic lead vocals counter pointed with distorted spoken word sections.

New Feathers is another excellent track which again shows the influence of Frank Ocean. It’s exquisitely produced RnB with avant garde touches that lift it out of conventionality. Lyrically, it’s an inspiring song about personal transformation: “I’m cleaning the system, creating religion….”. A potential single.

Midnight Oil further consolidates his essential signature sound, an intoxicating melee of skittish rhythms and inventive production touches that somehow remains cohesive. The final Take Care is a beautifully melancholy acoustic ballad, beginning with strummed acoustic guitar and aVIE’s tender lead vocals, containing some troubled lyrics: “I’m drowning in alcohol…”. It builds gradually into a dark epic, reaching a cathartic climax at the end. A beautifully crafted and performed finale to the EP.

Overall, this is an absolute slam dunk of an EP by an artist who is fresh on the scene but whose artistic identity and style is fully formed. With soul searching, intelligent lyrics set to music of eclectic style, emotional depth and restless invention, aVIE has a lot to offer the music world and I expect Chutney Chasers to make a strong impact. I also predict that aVIE is going to be the next big thing in RnB, he’s simply destined for the world stage.

 

VERDICT: 9.2 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

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ALBUM REVIEW: Origin of Times by Danjul

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Danjul is a singer songwriter and performer based in Los Angeles. He has been developing his music since 2008, when he started searching for producers to collaborate with. In 2010 he started working with Matthew A. Nelson, who intuitively understood him as an artist. He cites his influences as Michael Jackson, Brandy and Justin Timberlake, and I can also detect the influence of Prince in his work. However, Danjul has created his own unique style/sound during the three years he’s taken writing and producing his debut album Origin of Times. It’s a musically ambitious piece of work that consists of eight diverse tracks.

It begins with an atmospheric, minute-long spoken word instrumental that sets the tone for the whole album. Over echo-drenched piano and choral synths, Danjul lays his heart bare immediately, stating, “My life began surrounded by darkness, yet I’m still determined to find my light…..therefore, I share with you my greatest sacrifices……”. It’s a gripping and powerful way to begin an album.

City of Chaos, the second track, is a remarkable piece of songwriting and production. A fusion of electronica, rock, dance and RnB, it’s the musical equivalent of a rollercoaster ride. It’s the first taste of Danjul’s versatile vocals, leaping from a verse delivered in a low range to the heights of his falsetto. Yet it all seems effortless. The track is packed with hooks, the catchiest being the “Hell yeah!” refrain, augmented by gritty low electric guitars. It’s the most futuristic sounding song I’ve heard for a while.

Third song Chapter of Love has already been released as a single/lead track and understandably so. It’s an emotive RnB ballad that showcases Danjul’s extraordinary vocal talents. The music has a stately grandeur and classiness that brought to mind both Prince and Michael Jackson in their pomp, especially the rich falsetto harmonies. With its instantly memorable chorus, it was an obvious choice for a single and could be the song that breaks him into the big league.

Fourth track The Path is unique as a sonic experience as well, another fusion of dance and RnB with an almost cinematic vibe from the superb production. It’s a heady cocktail of synth strings, dreamy lead guitar and inventive percussion. There’s a slight Latin feel to the intoxicating and exotic rhythms that brought to mind the infectious tribal pop of Shakira. The central hook is simple but hugely effective, a spiritual call-to-arms: “Come on, follow me….walk the path…“.

Story of She is another slice of perfectly executed pop, from the inventive and nuanced arrangement to the vocal performance which is restrained yet emotive. It is one of the more mainstream moments on the album, which provides some stable ground for the more experimental and daring songs that surround it. Both The Path and Story of She are potential singles and perfect for radio.

Magic Carpet is another fantastic track with an exotic sounding intro. It launches into a hypnotic 2/4 beat and sounds like The Weeknd in a really blissed out mood. The title hook has a mesmeric quality that increases with every listen.

Tower is perhaps the deepest song on the album, seemingly about the struggles and difficulties of completing this artistic project. Starting with a minute of strings and swirling synths, Danjul confesses, “It took me years to build this, my blood and tears carved it…”. It builds gradually to a cathartic and hugely uplifting sonic tour de force.

Final track Madhatter’s View is a fine way to finish; another Prince-influenced piece of RnB that sounds like its been sent back to 2018 from twenty years into the future! The electronic grittiness brought to mind the cutting-edge production style of Taylor Swift’s recent Reputation album. Aptly, it finishes in a flourish of strings and harps to complete the journey.

Overall, this is a dazzling debut album from a unique artist. His vocal talents alone would guarantee a certain level of success as a singer, but his original and versatile music should help to catapult him into similar realms of success that his musical heroes achieved. Credit should also go to his visionary producer and collaborator Matthew A. Nelson, who’s produced this with his finger on the pulse. It’s a strange quirk of nature that some people simply seem born to be stars, and, on this evidence, Danjul could well be the next big thing in the world of pop.

 

VERDICT: 9.1 out of 10 

Alex Faulkner

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