RIP Olivia Newton-John

I’m really sad about the passing of Olivia Newton-John, from cancer at the age of 73. I was a teenager when I first learned about the British-Australian singer back in 1971 when she released her lovely cover of Bob Dylan’s “If Not For You”. The song became her first charting single in the U.S., peaking at #25 on the Billboard Hot 100. I really liked her delicate vocal style and thought she was beautiful, even developing a bit of a teenage crush. A couple of years would pass before she had another hit, with “Let Me Be There”, and as she continued to release more singles, including her stirring, ethereal ballad “I Honestly Love You”, I became a big fan of hers. On the strength of that song, which became her first #1 hit, I bought her 1974 album If You Love Me, Let Me Know (which I just learned was a compilation album released only in the U.S. and Canada).

Looking back on her extensive and impressive discography spanning a time frame of over 40 years – including 26 studio albums, six live albums, 14 compilations, six soundtracks, and 70 singles – some of it I really loved, while some of it I thought was just okay. But there’s no denying the impact she made on popular music from the mid-1970s to mid-1980s. Fifteen of her singles made the top 10, with five – “I Honestly Love You”, “Have You Never Been Mellow”, “You’re the One That I Want”, “Magic” and “Physical” – reaching #1. Though “Physical” was her biggest hit of them all, spending 10 weeks at #1 and ranking as Billboard‘s Top Hot 100 Single of the 1980s, it’s not among my favorite Olivia Newton-John songs.

Here are my top five favorite songs of hers:

  1. Magic (1980) – A brilliant, mesmerizing song from the mediocre film Xanadu

2. I Honestly Love You (1974) – The beautiful piano, strings and strummed guitar, accompanied by Newton-John’s breathy vocals, are marvelous.

3. You’re The One That I Want” (1978) – Exuberant & fun duet with John Travolta for the film musical Grease

4. Hopelessly Devoted to You (1978) – An emotionally-wrought love song with a bit of a Country flavor, written for Newton-John for the film version of Grease

5. Sam (1977) – I love the gorgeous sweeping orchestration and her vibrant vocals, and this song should have been a bigger hit (only peaked at #20)

She was a beautiful woman with a beautiful soul, and a long-time advocate for environmental and animal rights causes. She was also instrumental in raising funds to help build the Olivia Newton-John Cancer and Wellness Centre in Melbourne, Australia. May the light and joy she gave throughout her life live on in her memory.

I was a guest moderator for Fresh On The Net

I had the honor of being a guest moderator for this past week’s Fresh On The Net, an independent music blog founded in 2009 by renowned BBC Radio 6 Music presenter Tom Robinson (you can check out the blog here). The mission of the blog is to help independent musicians find new listeners, and independent listeners find new music. Since its creation, Fresh On The Net has amassed a team of volunteers made up of music enthusiasts of all ages, and representing a broad range of tastes. I was invited to participate by one of the moderators tobisonics, a British-born and now Luxembourg-based electronic music producer and composer in his own right, who’s music I’ve previously featured on my blog a number of times.

Each week, Fresh On the Net creates a new inbox, or “Batch” along with a successive number, for artists and bands to submit a song for consideration. The inbox opens Monday morning, and remains open until 200 songs are submitted or by Wednesday evening, whichever comes first. The entire inbox is posted on the site as a Soundcloud playlist, so that artists and music fans can listen to the submissions. The team of moderators listen to every single track, and each one chooses their five favorite songs, as well as any additional tracks they especially like. After the total scores are compiled, the top 25 tracks are published as a Listening Post on Friday morning. Anyone can vote for their five favorites from that list of 25 tracks. Those votes are compiled Sunday night into a Fresh Faves list of 10 tracks, which are then reviewed by one of the site’s moderators the following week.

For this week that I participated – Batch 438 – there were a total of 170 songs submitted, the majority of them by British artists and bands, as to be expected. It was a daunting task to listen to all 170 songs, and I have to say I was blown away by the high quality of the submissions. I went into this expecting to hear a few gems amongst a sea of mediocrity, but found exactly the opposite, as there were literally only four tracks I did not care for out of 170 (one of which was ultimately among the 25 finalists, so what do I know?). As EclecticMusicLover, my music tastes are both pretty broad, and fairly open-minded, meaning I generally like a lot of the music I hear.

I was pleasantly surprised to see a number of artists and bands I follow included in Batch 438, of which there were nine when I began listening to the submissions. As I listened to each track, I clicked on the artist or band’s Soundcloud page, then checked their Twitter, Facebook or Instagram accounts to learn more about them. To show them support, I “liked” their submitted song on their Soundcloud page, as well as their tweets about the song on Twitter, even commenting in cases where I really loved their songs. Well, that resulted in me gaining ten new Twitter followers!

To honor all the artists and bands that follow me who submitted songs for Batch 438, I decided to write this post and share their music. Because there are 19 artists & bands represented, and both my time and readers’ attention spans are limited, I won’t write a review of each song. I will simply name each artist in alphabetical order, along with a line or two about them and the Soundcloud link of their song. A few of these songs were my personal picks, but I won’t identify them, as I don’t want anyone to feel left out.

Alex Lipinski – “Long Way To Go” – Alex has been making music for several years, and counts Liam Gallagher as a fan, even singing Elvis Presley songs with him in his kitchen! “Long Way to Go” is from Alex’s forthcoming third album For Everything Under The Sun, and I loved it at first listen. Alex is a new follower of mine, and I’m a new fan of his!

Art Block – “Pilgrim” – Art Block is an alternative folk singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist from East London. A prolific musician, he’s been making beautiful music for several years, and has released multiple singles and EPs since 2015. We’ve followed each other on Twitter for over three years, and I’ve previously featured him twice on this blog. “Pilgrim” is a heartfelt tribute to his parents, who passed away many years ago, and features a lovely string arrangement by Jay Chakravorty, who also produced the track.

Barbara – “A Perishing Of Cherished Things” – Barbara is the music project of charismatic brothers Henry and John Tydeman, who are based in Brighton and Hove. Their sunny, uplifting sound is an anachronistic blend of – in their own words – “a bit of 70s US AM radio, a dash of English music hall, the effortless catchiness of a Broadway musical, a sprinkling of sequined power pop, luscious Disney strings and glorious golden harmonies. This past November, I reviewed their delightful song “Rainy Days in June”, and their latest single is every bit as charming.

Branwell Black – “Lay On Me” – Branwell is a beautiful young singer-songwriter, producer, dancer and model who creates mesmerizing alternative electro dance-pop/rock. Born in Oxford, England, raised primarily in France, and now based in London, Branwell’s strong creativity and imagination are evident in his exciting music. I reviewed “Lay On Me” just last month.

Chief Springs – “La Cienega” – Leicester six-piece Chief Springs was one of my new finds as a result of my moderator gig, and I couldn’t be happier! From what I can tell, they began as a two-piece, but expanded to six members a few years ago, and have been releasing music since 2020. I really like their melodic post-rock sound, and loved their latest single “La Cienega” at first listen.

Dictator – “Candlemaker Row” – Drawing inspiration from such acts as Gorillaz, Primal Scream, Alt-J, London Grammar and The XX, Scottish band Dictator create fantastic atmospheric alternative rock. Their submission is the Post Coal Prom Queen Remix of their hauntingly beautiful song “Candlemaker Row”, and it’s positively stunning.

flakebelly – “Trouble Don’t Heavy My Load” – flakebelly is a Scottish singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, whose pleasing, eclectic sound is influenced by such varied acts as Syd Barrett, Miles Davis, The Smiths, Radiohead, The Beatles, The Cure, Led Zeppelin, Bert Jansch, Elliott Smith, Robert Johnson, Joy Division, Daniel Johnston and The Clash. “Trouble Don’t Heavy My Load” is a delightful and upbeat folk song of encouragement.

Gomrund – “Remove Disease” – Self-described genre-fluid knob-twiddler, maker of bleep-bloops and remixer ordinaire, Gomrund creates an incredibly eclectic range of music that truly transcends genres and styles. Though we’ve followed each other on Twitter for a while, I’m ashamed to admit that I haven’t explored his music very much. Hearing his song submission as part of this exercise has made me realize the error of my ways, which I’m now working to remedy. “Remove Disease” is five minutes of wonderfully trippy hip-hop for our earholes!

Holy Coves – “The Hurt Within” – Hailing from Anglesey Island in North Wales, psychedelic rock band Holy Coves was formed in 2005 by Welsh singer-songwriter Scott Marsden. The first single from their forthcoming third album Druids and Bards, “The Hurt Within” is brilliant, with a gorgeous soundscape of moody psychedelic guitars and driving rhythms, and I love Marsden’s powerful vocals.

HULLAH – “Chasing Trains” – HULLAH is a strikingly handsome London-based writer-producer, sound designer and half of the electro-pop duo Futuretape. According to his bio, he creates music “inspired by a passion for nightlife culture and stories from the queer community, and wrapped in the sonic flavours of trip-hop, 90’s house and synth-pop.” His submitted track “Chasing Trains” is breathtaking, with airy industrial synths, sparkling keyboards and captivating vocals, and I loved it the moment I heard it.

The JoJo Man Band – “Love” – London-based The JoJo Man Band is the brainchild of singer-songwriter Nick Woodgate, with assistance by Tim Maple on guitar and Accy Yeats on guitar. Together, they make a quirky and upbeat style of what they call “semi-psych alternative pop”. Their submitted track “Love” has a fun, bouncy cadence that calls to mind the 80s hit “Our House” by Madness, only more psychedelic. I like it a lot!

Lee Switzer-Woolf – “Bat Roost” – Lee Switzer-Woolf is a singer-songwriter from Reading, and “Bat Roost” is from his debut album Scientific Automatic Palmistry, which he released February 7th on All Will Be Well Records. It’s a pleasing folk-infused alt-rock song about mental well-being, at the end of which Lee ponders “When I lose my mind. We will be happy.

Morganway – “Come Over” – Female-fronted six-piece Morganway are based in Norwich, and play an arresting brand of Americana rock. Since the release of their debut self-titled album in 2019, they’ve garnered widespread critical acclaim and a growing fanbase. Their latest single “Come Over” is a powerful and bluesy stunner, with fantastic guitar work and gorgeous six-part harmonies.

Native Tongue – “CROW’S NEST” – Native Tongue is an alternative rock duo based in Bournemouth and Brighton, and from what I’ve been able to determine, consists of Nathan Evans on lead vocals and guitar, and Arron Bennett on drums. “Crow’s Nest” is from their debut EP Hiding In White Light, which they released last month, and is darkly beautiful and haunting. Nathaniel’s enchanting vocals remind me a bit of Robert Smith’s, and in fact, the song sounds like a song The Cure could have recorded.

NAVE – “Let Me Be You” – NAVE, aka Nathan Evans, is a prolific songwriter, music producer and multi-instrumentalist who creates gorgeous music incorporating elements from an array of styles and genres including alternative electronica, rock, ambient, trip-hop, orchestral and dark wave. He’s also a member of Native Tongue, profiled above. NAVE recently composed the music score for the British indie film English Dogs, and is currently working toward syncing his music on more upcoming TV/Film projects. “Let Me Be You” is from his EP This Is Hell, which was released in December, and is a dark and mesmerizing track.

Noodle Beard featuring Hannah Reem – “Deception” – Okay, I’ll be honest and reveal up-front that this gorgeous song is my favorite out of this entire batch of 170 tracks. I was immediately struck by it’s mysterious cinematic vibe, and in particular Hannah Reem’s vibrant soulful vocals that remind me of Shirley Bassey. Based in Portsmouth, producer and composer Noodle Beard makes trip-hop and ambient chilled music, and Hannah Reem is a popular personality in the Portsmouth music scene. “Deception” is Hannah’s second collaboration with Noodle Beard, and is about infidelity and the emotional complexities of making painful choices. The song is fantastic, and would make a great James Bond theme, no doubt about it!

Shyer – “Lame” – Hailing from Cambridge, Shyer are songwriting duo Amanda George and Zak Tysoe (although from what I can tell, they began around five years ago as a four-piece). Their infectious style of indie pop rock has won them airplay on BBC 6 Music’s Fresh on the Net and BBC Introducing Mixtape, as well as on Amazing Radio, and in July 2018, they won ‘Best Indie Act’ at East Anglia’s NMG Award. “Lame” is from their new EP Still Life, released on February 25, and is chock-full of fuzz-coated jangly and twangy guitars and driving rhythms, highlighted by Amanda’s resonant vocals.

Steve Peck – “FXpective” – Steve Peck (aka St3v3L33) is a prolific composer, producer and saxophone player from West Sussex who makes fascinating and eclectic instrumental music incorporating a dizzying array of elements ranging from house, trance and techno to blues, jazz and dance. “FXpective” is a trippy, brooding affair, with spacey industrial synths and crunchy percussion, over which Steve overlays bleating sax notes. It’s a brilliant track.

Young Decades – “Man On Mars” – Last, but certainly not least, is Young Decades, a favorite of mine who I’ve previously featured three times on this blog. Comprised of James Tidd (vocals), Scott Harvey (guitar, keyboards), Liam Downey (bass) and Lee Cameron (drums), the various band members are scattered about the Midlands and North West England. Their music is melodic and beautiful, characterized by exuberant cinematic synths, driving rhythms, stellar guitar work, and James’ soaring impassioned vocals. I’ve loved every one of their songs, and “Man On Mars” is yet another in an unbroken string of superb singles.

Artist Spotlight – Ivor Game

Ivor Game is a British singer-songwriter from Middlesex who’s been making music for most of his life. He began playing guitar and singing at the age of ten, and in his teens, played with a number of bands. When he entered his 20s, he began performing as a solo artist in small clubs and venues around London, and later toured throughout the UK and Ireland, parts of Europe and all the way to America, where he performed in Los Angeles and Nashville.

His music is a pleasing, laid back style of indie pop with strong folk undercurrents and intelligent, straightforward lyrics touching on life, love and relationships. His songs are also quite economical, both instrumentally and length-wise. Generally, the only sounds we hear are his acoustic guitar and gentle, understated vocals, though some tracks may also feature subtle piano, strings and/or percussion. Most of Ivor’s songs are under three minutes in length, with a fair number clocking in at under two minutes, but whatever their length, each song sounds complete and as long or short as it needs to be to get his message across. As the old adage goes, sometimes less is more.

Beginning with his debut album Hit the Big Time in 1996, the prolific musician has released a total of 12 albums at the rate of one every two years, his most recent work being Be Good to Yourself in 2018, as well as numerous singles along the way. Several of his songs have garnered airplay on radio stations across the UK and around the world. A highlight for Ivor was having his song “Highbury” played at half time during the Arsenal vs. Tottenham North London Derby at The Emirates Stadium on November 18, 2017.

One could spend many hours listening to Ivor’s extensive discography. I’ve listened to quite a bit of it to prepare for this article, and there are so many wonderful songs to choose from. But I’ve selected a few I especially like that I feel give a good representation of his sound. One of his most recent singles, from May 2020, is “I’m Not Sure”, a poignant folk song about not yet having come to terms with a restless romantic partner you fear may leave you for good: “It’s easy to hang on to the past, and try to make the whole thing last. But things are always moving on. One day I might wake up with you really gone. I’m remembering the time that you walked out my door. But you’re still in my sights, how long for I’m not sure.”

The song received airplay on Readifolk, Deal Radio, Hayes FM and Marlow FM in England, Acoustic Routes in Wales and the RTE in Ireland, as well as in Australia, Germany, The Netherlands, New Zealand and New York, USA.

“It Ain’t You and Me” is a track that originally appeared on his 2010 album Then. The song was recently played on Tom Robinson’s show on BBC6 Music, and the response was so positive that Robinson asked Ivor if the song could be made more easily accessible for people to listen to or download. Accordingly, Ivor made it available as a stand alone track on both Bandcamp and YouTube.

A particularly lovely song is his 2017 single “Water and Wine”, which is both longer (3.47 minutes) and features ethereal keyboard synths and gentle percussive textures, creating an enchanting backdrop for his soothing vocals.

His most recent single, released in May, is “You Lovely You”, a comforting song about those special friendships in our lives that endure despite distances apart or the passage of time: “I only see you once in a blue moon. But it feels like yesterday that I was here with you. Oh, oh, oh, you lovely you. We seem to pick up where we left off. But we’ll always be the ones that time forgot. Everyone gets old, but we do not.” The song has a breezy, vintage feel like it could have been written in the 1920s.

While I’m a huge fan of alternative rock, dream pop, R&B and dance music, it’s also nice to indulge in a little easy-listening folk pop once in a while to relax and gather my thoughts. Ivor Games’ soothing tunes fit the bill nicely, and I hope my readers will enjoy them as much as I do.

Connect with Ivor: FacebookTwitter

Stream his music: SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloudYouTube

Purchase on Bandcamp

ARTIST SPOTLIGHT – SECRET POSTAL SOCIETY

One of the most prolific and generous artists I’ve encountered in my nearly six years of blogging is Secret Postal Society, the music project of Welsh singer-songwriter, composer and multi-instrumentalist Craig Mapstone. Since the beginning of the year, he’s faithfully released a new single every week, and as I write this, he just dropped his 27th single “Here Comes Trouble”. At the end of each month, he bundles the four singles from that month into an EP, which translates to six EPs thus far in 2021. Here’s the cover art for his latest EP, simply titled June EP.

Based in South Wales, Craig has been writing songs and playing in various local bands over the years, primarily as a drummer. He was content to remain mostly hidden behind the scenes playing drums, but hadn’t been in a band for quite a while. As with virtually all musicians around the globe, the covid lockdowns prevented him from performing live and leaving him with lots of time for introspection, but also impacting his overall sense of well-being. He told me “After the crazy year that was 2020, I found myself refocusing what was important to me, and music was always a big part of my life. It was also my lifeline as it helped me with my anxiety. During last year I found myself playing guitar more and coming up with lots of ideas with no real focus as to what to do with them. Then literally a few days before the end of the year I just decided that I was going to create a band and then try and write/record a new song every week. I set up my YouTube channel and Instagram account and went from there.”

And thus, Secret Postal Society was born. Each week, Craig writes (or co-writes) and records a brand new song, playing all of the instruments and singing all of the vocal parts himself (with the notable exception of some solo guitar and backing vocals from Rev Rabbit (of Welsh indie rock band Revolution Rabbit Deluxe, whose three albums I’ve previously reviewed) on the song “Now Is The Time”. In addition to Secret Postal Society, Craig is also co-founder (with Raj Chand) of Weird Triangle, a business that offers design services for digital video projects, logos and promotional materials, and their own line of T-shirts and hoodies. Through his involvement with Weird Triangle, Craig designs most of the artwork for the Secret Postal Society single and E.P. covers, along with limited edition T-shirts for each song. He also creates most of his videos using free and publicly available footage he finds on the internet, then edits it to fit the particular song.

Secret Postal Society was not only a way to help Craig through a difficult time, but he also uses it to help others. Accordingly, he donates 100% of the profits from the sale of each T-shirt (with the E.P. designs) to a different charity each month. Thus far, he’s supported the following charities: MS-UK (January), Cystic Fibrosis Trust (February), Velindre Hospital (March), Mermaids UK (April), The Prince’s Trust (May) and Umbrella Cymru (June).

The very first song he released, on New Years Day, was “It’s Not Over“, an old song he originally wrote and recorded back in 2006. He said the song got him through some difficult times over the years, and felt it was the right track to launch Secret Postal Society. It’s a good example of his laid-back singer-songwriter music style, which is primarily pop-rock infused with touches of indie folk. But as I’ll show in this post, his music is actually quite eclectic, exploring elements of progressive, experimental, grunge, post-punk and alternative rock. Most of his songs are really good, but I’ve chosen a few of my favorites, as well as ones I think give a good representation of his extensive stylistic range.

On his next single “Happy Sad“, he delivers a somewhat heavier rock vibe, with some fine jangly guitar work. He almost reveals his entire face on the video of him performing the song.

One of my favorite songs by him is “Choices“, a dramatic and moody track released in February. On this song, Craig seems to delve more deeply into progressive and experimental rock, using distorted psychedelic guitars, somber keyboards and horns to great effect in creating a darkly beautiful soundscape for his ominous droning vocals. The video was produced by Rubén Velasco and edited by Craig.

His follow-up single “I Like You” has more of a grunge/psych rock vibe, with some terrific reverb-soaked gnarly guitars. His electronically-altered vocals sound almost robotic as he drones “Your love it isn’t science. My love isn’t art. We must redraw the line, cause you’re tearing me apart. Cause I like you. Yeah, I like you.” The cool animated video was produced by Cottonbro.

Continuing on a grunge theme, but with more alternative and electronic elements, is the pleasing track “Numb“. Released in April, it’s another one of my favorite Secret Postal Society songs. Craig’s synths are wonderful, and I also love his guitar work in this track, which reminds me a bit of “Lazy Eye” by Silversun Pickups. The beautiful video was once again produced by Cottonbro.

Half Way There“, released in late June as his 26th single, marks the halfway point of his opus 2021 endeavor. It’s a beautiful guitar-driven track featuring some lovely keyboard synths and Craig’s soothing vocals. The optimistic lyrics speak not only to his half-year milestone, but also metaphorically of a struggling relationship halfway toward its fulfillment. And we finally get a good look at Craig on the video, which shows his creative process and him performing the song.

I’ll end with his latest single “Here Comes Trouble“, which dropped July 2nd. The song has a late-90s alt-pop/rock vibe, reminiscent of songs by artists like Duncan Sheik, Eagle Eye Cherry and Deep Blue Something. Once again, it showcases the breadth and variety of Secret Postal Society’s musical style. There’s literally something for just about everyone in his discography, and I’m dumbfounded by his impressive output. The ability to write, record and release a new song week in and week out is amazing in itself, but to have such high quality in nearly every track is quite an accomplishment. I hope Craig will be able to maintain the creativity and stamina to continue releasing a new song per week for the remainder of 2021, and look forward to hearing what he comes up with next!

Follow Secret Postal Society:  FacebookInstagram 

Stream his music:  SpotifyApple MusicYouTube

JONNY POLONSKY – Artist Spotlight and Album Review: “Kingdom of Sleep”

Jonny Polonsky

Singer-songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist Jonny Polonsky has been actively involved in the music industry for over a quarter century, both as a solo artist and as a session musician and member of several bands, however he’s never become a household name. He grew up in the north Chicago suburb of Wilmette, Illinois, where he started playing music before he was ten, and performed in his high school orchestra and jazz band. As a precocious teen, he began writing songs and recording them on homemade cassettes, handing them out to friends and using them as an excuse to go backstage and meet some of the musicians he admired.

One of them was Reeves Gabrels, who was a guitarist for David Bowie and now with The Cure. Gabrels in turn introduced Jonny to Frank Black/Black Francis of the band Pixies, who ended up producing his first demo. That demo resulted in famed record producer Rick Rubin signing Polonsky to his record label American Recordings. Here’s the demo for “In My Mind”, which was later used in 2012 for episode five of the first season of the HBO series Girls.

The demos were eventually released, however, Polonsky re-recorded the songs himself using digital home recording equipment, and self-produced what would become his debut album Hi My Name is Jonny. The album, released by American Recordings in January 1996, showcased his strong songwriting, singing and musicianship, and received critical acclaim from numerous international news outlets including The New York Times and MTV.

Following the record’s release, Polonsky and his live band supported Frank Black on his North American tour, and also played the Second Stage of the 1996 Lollapalooza summer tour. He spent the next several years touring with other acts like Pete Yorn, and working as a session musician for such acts as Donovan. In 2001 he released an EP There is Something Wrong With You, and a year later moved to Los Angeles, where his connection with Rick Rubin led to work as a session musician on albums by Minnie Driver, Neil Diamond, Dixie Chicks and Johnny Cash, among others. In 2004 he released his second album The Power of Sound, and in the spring of 2005 he and his band opened for Audioslave on their North American club tour.

Serendipity and the power of networking paid off once again for Polonsky, as this time his touring experience with Audioslave led to him becoming part of the short-lived band Big Nose with Audioslave/Rage Against the Machine drummer Brad Wilk and bassist Tim Commerford. Big Nose collaborated on two songs with Tool and A Perfect Circle frontman Maynard James Keenan. who used those songs for his music/art project Puscifer. That resulted in Polonsky having a collaborative relationship with Puscifer lasting from 2007 to 2010, during which time he also toured with the band as their guitarist.

Eight years would pass before Polonsky would release another solo album, and in 2012 he dropped his third LP Intergalactic Messenger of Divine Light and Love, a fine work that saw him experiment with more psychedelic and alt rock elements. On his 2015 album The Other Side of Midnight, his music continued to evolve into a darker, more atmospheric sound with greater used of synthesizers and programmed drums, all self-recorded on his laptop. Also, his singing style incorporated more falsetto and whispered vocals.

In 2018, he released his fifth album Fresh Flesh, a fascinating and eclectic work that fused alt rock with post-grunge, psychedelic and shoegaze elements. The album was recorded with his live band in two days at Rick Rubin’s Shangri La Studios in Malibu California, and features guest performances by vocalist Mark Lanegan (formerly of Screaming Trees and Queens of the Stone Age), and drummer Kevin Haskins of the band Bauhaus, (and formerly with Love and Rockets and Tones on Tail). The title track “Fresh Flesh” is particularly good, with trippy synths set to a haunting melody, and highlighted by a blistering guitar solo.

On March 6, Polonsky returned with his latest album Kingdom of Sleep, an eclectic collection of eight captivating songs. He delves deeper into dream pop and vapor wave territory here, while retaining some of his signature alt rock and psychedelic elements. It also sees him going full-circle, in a sense, as like Hi My Name is Jonny, Kingdom of Sleep was entirely self-recorded and produced at home. Polonsky moved to Brooklyn, New York in 2018, and no longer has his old band of musicians nearby to record an album with him.

In an interview with The Big Takeover webzine, he explained “I live in an apartment in Brooklyn, so I can’t make a lot of noise, and I’m not in a position where I can spend thousands of dollars in recording studios or in hiring musicians. So that also plays a large role in why I’ve been recording everything on my laptop and most of the drums are electronic. Plus it’s fun. I like these sounds. For this record, I felt like making really pretty, dreamy, beautiful and melodic music that painted a picture. I was listening to a lot of Cocteau Twins and Prince. And David Lynch is always an inspiration. I love his films, but his records are really great, too. They are strange, little worlds you can enter and feel like you are somewhere new, just like with his movies.

Johnny Polonsky Kingdom of Sleep

The album opens with “Ghost Like Soul“, a moody track with languid, psychedelic synths creating an appropriately spooky and mesmerizing atmospheric vibe. Polonsky’s breathy vocals alternate between an eerie, electronically altered monotone to an almost menacing whisper, while guest vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala (of the bands At the Drive-In and The Mars Volta) provides echoed spoken word vocals. The lyrics are cryptic and packed with meaning, and though I’m not sure, the lyrics seem to speak to changing societal and cultural mores, and how those in power use communication and propaganda to influence our thinking: “Seasons change and people get strange / In the courtroom of your mouth, you put all tongues on trial.”

Polonsky changes things up on “Sign in the Window“, a lovely song with a bouncy, driving beat and soaring melody that reminds me a bit of Future Islands’ “Seasons (Waiting On You)”. The smooth synths and gently strummed guitar provide an enchanting backdrop for his breathy vocals as he sings of his love and desire “All I want is for you to be real / And let me heal inside your light.”

On the wonderful Beatle-esque “The Weeping Souls“, he uses lush sweeping strings, keyboards and flute, combined with an exuberant mix of chiming and jangly guitars, and layers them over deep, rolling percussion to create an exhilarating and colorful soundscape. Polonsky fervently sings the rather explicit lyrics: “We live inside of a dream / If you let me in I’ll protect your heart / Turn lead to gold / I live inside of your thighs / Just to make you cum / And avert your gaze from the weeping souls.” It’s one of the standout tracks on the album.

Another favorite is “No Tears“, an achingly beautiful dream pop song with drop-dead gorgeous chiming guitars and magical synths. Polonsky’s breathy croons are positively sublime as he laments of a love that is no more: “Oh what more can you say? / After you cry yourself to sleep / And there are no tears left to weep.” “Take Me Home” has a rich cinematic feel, with dark, pulsating synths, twangy guitar and harmonica giving the song a sweeping Sergio Leone Western vibe. On the sultry “You Turn Me On“, he leaves no room for doubt as to his carnal intentions as he seductively croons “You turn me on / Close the window, shut the blinds, leave your panties and your past behind.

Aenerone” is an enchanting, mostly instrumental track with sparkling ethereal synths accompanying a mesmerizing synth bass beat. The only lyrics are “You / Me / Us / We / All Of Us Are On our own.” “A Willing Eye” seems to speak to the incredible power of love, and opening oneself up in order to be able to love others, and accept love in return: “To realize you’re alive when you’re most vulnerable / Ooh you’re the only want I want /You lift me up above the fear/ To see with a willing eye is all it takes.” Polonsky’s soaring cinematic soundscape is a lush backdrop for his plaintive, breathy falsetto vocals. The song ends on a positive note with him reassuring us that “Love is the force that does surround you“.

It’s an uplifting and beautiful close to a really marvelous album. With Kingdom of Sleep, Jonny Polonsky continues his winning streak of delivering solid, well-crafted albums that reflect his ongoing desire to keep pushing himself into new musical realms. While reaching back to the past for classic stylistic elements, he simultaneously manages to create music that’s fresh, cutting-edge, and always a pleasure to hear.

Connect with Jonny: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music: SpotifySoundcloudApple Music
Purchase:  BandcampGoogle PlayAmazon

MAYOBA – Artist Spotlight & Review

I get so tired of hearing that ‘rock is dead’, because as far as I can tell by the huge number of bands throughout the world making great kickass rock these days, the genre seems to be very much alive. One such band doing their part to keep rock going strong is Italian crossover metal band Mayoba. Influenced by some of their favorite bands like Gojira, Opeth, Meshuggah, Lamb of God, Pantera, Killswitch Engage, Megadeath, Helmet, Biohazard and Alter Bridge, they serve up a face-melting, yet highly melodic, stew of hardcore and groove metal.

Based in the southern Italian city of Trani on the Adriatic coast, they’re a fairly new band, forming just last year (2018). Guitarist Francesco Di Bitonto and drummer Mimmo instantly clicked upon meeting each other at a casual jam session, and started playing music together and working on some ideas for songs. They were soon joined by vocalist Luca Bove, and Mayoba was officially born. Their lineup was completed in early 2019 when Enrico Povia joined the band as bassist.

Mayoba2

They released their first single “Through the Fire” in September, and the title’s certainly fitting, as Mayoba sets the airwaves afire like a rampaging flamethrower-wielding beast. The track starts off with dark, ominous synths that conjure up images of a gathering storm, then all hell breaks looks once the guys unleash a furious barrage of pummeling riffs, buzzsaw bass and speaker-blowing drums. Luca’s hardcore vocals are downright fearsome as he screams and growls the lyrics “Where should I go? I’m walking through the fire, where I belong!“, sending chills up and down our spines. They produced a video that shows them performing the song at a nighttime outdoor concert, juxtaposed with dramatic footage of explosions and civil unrest. Be sure to turn the volume all the way to maximum on this!

On “Falling“, Mayoba delivers an unrelenting onslaught of explosive, chugging riffs, scorching basslines and thunderous drumbeats that really showcase their impressive musicianship. I love the song’s powerful, driving melody and, once again, Luca makes his vocal chords bleed with his spine-tingling feral screams.

Savior” is another banger, with a frantic, pulse-pounding tempo that really gets the blood pumping! Man, these guys blow the fucking roof off with some of the most intense grooves I’ve heard in a long while. Francesco shreds his guitar to the breaking point as he lays down heavy doses of scorching machine-gun riffs. Enrico and Mimmo keep the pace with their relentless assault of pummeling rhythms, while Luca continues to melt our faces with his savage vocals. A little past the 3-minute point, the song transitions to a haunting guitar solo by Francesco that’s quite beautiful and melodic. It’s a striking finish for a phenomenal track.

Mayoba plans to continue performing live and touring as much as possible in 2020, joining many big festivals throughout Italy. Then they plan to return to the studio again at the end of next summer to record an EP or possibly even an album. Their music is not available for purchase yet, but is available for streaming on Soundcloud and Reverbnation. They hope to eventually find a label to support their music and help them grow. In the meantime, I’m happy to do my small part to help promote them to a wider audience. I’m not the biggest fan of hardcore/metal music, but Mayoba’s songs are so melodic and well-executed that they’re beautiful to my ears.

Connect with Mayoba:  FacebookTwitterInstagram

GENRE-DEFYING AFICIONADOS, GET READY FOR SIFTING!

Check out this great article and interview of L.A.-based progressive metal/rock band Sifting by Michelle of The Symphony of Rock music blog.

THE SYMPHONY OF ROCK

SIFTING

BY: MICHELLE PEREZ-VEGA

Sifting is cocked and loaded to release its next opus, The Infinite Loop, and it is a guaranteed metal and rock barrage of all the eclectic and best musical elements the band has put forth.

Now based in the Los Angeles area, Sifting was originally
formed in Caracas, Venezuela in 2010 by vocalist/guitarist Eduardo Osuna Gil. According
to the band’s biography, Osuna Gil began writing original material as a coping
mechanism when his mother and grandmother were tragically killed in a plane
crash. Osuna Gil eventually gathered local friends to form a band and began
performing live. Gaining popularity, Sifting opened for Bullet For My Valentine
for the band’s Latin American Tour in 2011 and released its debut album, All the Hated in late 2013.

After moving to the United States in 2014, Sifting released a three-song EP, Blurry Paintings. Another album, Not From…

View original post 1,374 more words

Artist Spotlight on the massively talented TREVOR JAMES

I get followed by – and follow – so many artists and bands on social media that I often don’t have time to properly listen to all their music and, sadly, many slip beneath my radar. One such artist I’ve somehow missed out on listening to until yesterday is the massively talented and versatile singer/songwriter and guitarist/bassist Trevor James. The Los Angeles-based artist has been making music since the age of 14, and has been especially prolific over the past five years or so, releasing several outstanding albums and singles, the latest of which is the lovely and soulful “Always Be There”, which dropped earlier this month. Since hearing that song, I’ve been making up for lost time by binge-listening to his incredibly diverse music. I was going to review the single, but his music catalog is so varied, extensive and impressive that I’ve decided to do an Artist Spotlight on James instead.

James refers to his music style as “a combination of John Mayer and Lenny Kravitz with a touch of Jimi Hendrix“, and I’d say that pretty accurately describes one aspect of his sound, although it’s so much broader than that. In 2014, he released his first EP Show Time, a fine collection of songs melding pop, hip hop, R&B and funk. One of the standouts is “Mystery Girl”:

Completely changing direction, in 2016 he released two gorgeous albums – The Dreamer and World – that delved deeply into jazz fusion. The Dreamer is an instrumental-only production that really highlights James’ talents for writing beautiful and intricate melodies, and bringing them to life with his skillful musicianship and awesome guitar-playing. All 11 tracks are superb, but I’ll share the title track, which provides a good example of the album’s flavor:

World is more experimental and, like its title suggests, features greater use of world music influences, as well as sparse vocals on some tracks. James inserts elements of rock, funk, blues and soul into the jazzy mix, making for a fascinating and often captivating listening experience. The tracks are all named after natural or weather phenomena. One of the highlights out of many for me is “Earthquake”, where James’ funky guitar work shines. Take a listen to this gem:

Changing direction yet again, it’s on his monumental 2017 album My Train where James really taps into his John Mayer/Lenny Kravitz/Jimi Hendrix aura. Holy shit, this man can play the guitar! The Herculean album kicks ass with a mind-boggling twenty tracks (five of which are over seven minutes long), and every single one of them is fucking phenomenal! James lays down scorching, bluesy riffs in track after track, and I’m sorry I missed out on hearing this album when it came out in 2017, because I’d have named it among the best of that year. I strongly recommend my readers take the time to give this incredible album a listen, but I’ll share a few of my personal favorites.

First up is “Howling Wind”, a blistering, bluesy stunner that pays beautiful homage to Jimi Hendrix with some jaw-dropping guitar work:

Another spectacular track is the 9:22-minute-long epic “Drunken Blues”. James’ bluesy guitar runs are so gorgeous they bring tears to my eyes. Wow!

In 2018, James dropped his fourth full-length album Maxine, yet another exceptional work in which he continued to explore his rock side, only this time channeling his inner Lenny Kravitz by delving further into guitar-driven, melodic alternative rock grooves. Staying true to his eclectic influences, he still manages to incorporate ample amounts of funk, blues and jazz into the dynamic mix. The title track “Maxine” is one of the standouts, with dirty, bluesy riffs, soulful keys, crunchy drums and a funky-as-hell bassline. James’ raw vocals beautifully express his exasperation over Maxine’s intransigent and cruel behavior toward him: “Maxine, you’s the one I want. Maxine, what do you want from me? Maxine, how could you be so mean?

Since the release of Maxine, James has dropped a number of great singles in 2019, one of which is the fiery rocker “Turn Me On”, with a sexy video that’s as hot as the track. It really showcases his strong charisma and good looks, and Jennifer’s pretty easy on the eyes too!

“Pick Up Your Phone” is another fantastic R&B single, and here’s a wonderful video of a live performance of the song by James and his backup band. It was recorded this past Spring at Joshua Tree National Park (located an hour from my home) as part of Dynaudio Unheard’s Desert Sessions:

Finally, I get to his latest release “Always Be There”, which instigated this entire post! It’s a sweet and charming love song, and one of the more pop-oriented of his tracks, with mostly acoustic guitar, subtle synths and crisp percussion. James tenderly sings of his undying love and devotion:

You’re my everything
I can’t explain, you’re my sunny day
You’re sweeter than some sugarcane
I’ll always be there for you
Take my hand, baby I’m your man
Don’t you know, I’m your biggest fan
You’re my queen, baby I’m your king
I’ll always be there for you girl

The music and James’ vocals gradually build as the track progresses, and he thrills us with a scorching-hot distorted guitar solo in the final chorus.

As I’ve tried to make clear in this post, Trevor James is a remarkable talent, and one of the most versatile artists I’ve come across in a long while. He’s a great songwriter, composer, vocalist and, most of all, a truly gifted guitarist and bassist, and I cannot gush enough about him and his music! Plus, he’s a gracious and kind man. I hope my readers will take the time to listen to some of his songs, and grow to like him as much as I have.

Connect with Trevor:  Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music / YouTube
Purchase:  Google Play / cdbaby

JADED JANE – Artist Spotlight & Interview

I’ve commented previously on this blog about my continual amazement at the sheer magnitude of enormously talented musicians around today who are creating incredible music. In such a seemingly overcrowded industry, it’s inevitable that so many of these musicians and bands struggle to get their music heard, despite the ready availability of a staggering amount of it that’s free for the taking (which as we all know is another entire set of issues). That’s where music bloggers like myself come in, writing about indie artists we like and helping to spread the word about their music and hopefully gain them a few more followers and fans. With that in mind, today I have the pleasure of introducing to my readers the remarkably talented and undeniably charismatic Olsson brothers Axel and Adam who call themselves Jaded Jane.

Jaded Jane 2

Originally from Gothenburg, Sweden, but now split between Gothenburg and Glasgow, Jaded Jane seeks to celebrate humanity and diversity through their music, writing compelling songs with positive, life-affirming lyrics. Drawing upon a wide range of influences such as pop, rock, soul, R&B and hip-hop, they create beautiful, piano-driven melodies and lush soundscapes. Since 2015 they’ve produced four excellent albums, and are now recording their fifth, due for release later this year. I reached out to Jaded Jane to talk about themselves and their music, and was happy Axel agreed to share some of their story.

EML:  Hello Axel. Thank you for agreeing to talk with me. First off, by way of introductions, tell me a little about Jaded Jane – when did you guys form the band, and how did you and your brother Adam decide on the name “Jaded Jane”?

Axel:  Thanks Jeff. I am super glad to be part of your music blog. Jaded Jane and the musical adventure of brothers Axel and Adam Jane Olsson began in our early youth, being the sons of musician Christer Olsson (Plums, Noll 31, Scandinavian 5) and a mother with a passion for music. Growing up to the sounds of Motown, The Beatles and Michael Jackson, to name a few, it was only natural for us to develop a keen sense of melody, harmony and originality. We grew up in the Gothenburg, Sweden suburb of Hammerhill, and our path eventually lead us to New York & Los Angeles, where we spent ten years back and forth immersing ourselves with some of the most inspiring musicians on Earth. The name Jaded Jane came to me in a dream in 2013, when I was living in New York. The name deals with the jaded aspect of the modern human being. Jaded Jane is also a song from our debut album Diversity, and is about life, death and meaning. The name ‘Jane’ has an androgynous quality that is inclusive and gender neutral.

EML:  What prompted you to make those moves from Sweden to Los Angeles and New York, and why did you choose to leave New York for Glasgow, rather than return to Sweden? Does Glasgow have a more thriving music scene?

Axel:  It’s been a long road moving back and forth to New York, Los Angeles and now Glasgow. We came home to Sweden for a few years after New York, and then we ended up collaborating with a few Scottish artists which led us to Glasgow. It is a vibrant music city, with areas that remind me of Brooklyn, NY.  When you are moving to a new city you are putting yourself in a whole new world, which sculpts you into another story and adventure, I have always been excited about learning and growing on all fields as a human being. So I am now in Glasgow, while Adam is still based in Gothenburg.

EML:  Your music is beautiful and uplifting, and your songs offer positive, life-affirming messages. What is the inspiration behind your music and sound?

Axel:  That means a lot to hear that the songs & music spread those messages. We feel that the music we create is greater than us and has the power to heal by touching people on a deeper level. By being brutally honest with ourselves, we allow others to feel that side of us. The things that are the most personal are ultimately the most universal. My inspiration comes from experiencing all of life’s challenges, both the highs and lows.  From a young age, me and Adam starting asking questions about our society, and felt an urge to share our musical stories with other people in hope that it will touch and lift someone who is low.

EML:  Do you both write the songs and lyrics together? And do you both play all the instruments and synths yourselves, or do you work with other session musicians to help create your music?

Axel:  I have written all the songs on the albums released thus far, and we do play all of the instruments. However, on the new album “117” we’re currently working on, Adam is featuring two of his new songs. Adam plays fretless bass, guitar and sings, and I play the piano, synthesizers and also recording and producing the tracks. We previously collaborated with guitarist Mike Stern on our first album Diversity, and L.A.-based soul singer Frank McComb on The Puzzle, an album we made prior to becoming Jaded Jane. But our journey really took off in a new direction while meeting our third member Åke Linton, a sound artist from Sweden who is now part of creating the soundscapes and sounds of Jaded Jane.

EML:  The track “Crystal Stair” on your latest album Salvation is an intriguing song. How did you discover that speech from Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and why did you choose to build a song around it?

Axel:  The whole Salvation album was recorded live in a studio in Gothenburg, on Queen’s old console and the song “Crystal Stair” was just a small improvised part that came from one of the sessions. Both me and Adam have always been inspired by Martin Luther King, and we thought it’d be cool to have his voice on top of the melodies and sounds of the improvised piece.

EML:  I was touched by your recent Instagram post about your struggles and frustrations with trying to make it in this very tough music business. Your music is so wonderful, and you guys need to be heard by a larger audience, which is why I’m happy to feature you on my little music blog. That said, one of the issues I think is that today, most people seem to prefer hip-hop, Country or rock music, rather than beautiful, piano-based easy listening compositions like yours. Yes, there is still a niche for your genre of music, and there are successful artists making music similar to yours such as James Blake and Sufjan Stevens, but they often collaborate with hip hop or other artists to appeal to a wider audience. You’ve stated that you would like to collaborate with other artists, and in fact have a couple of times, like you did with rapper Scope (Jake Lewis) on the track “Life” from your album “One Way”, but that it’s been a struggle getting more artists to collaborate. Any thoughts?

Axel:  You are very right, It is a big challenge to get people to listen to a full song nowadays, even though you spent your whole life building and working on your craft, The masses seem to react to the loudest playing songs. I am looking forward to writing and recording more with similar minded artists, The struggle in paying rent and earning money for food has and I am guessing will always be there when it comes to true artistry, I am a full time busker / street performer in Glasgow at the moment, and that has definitely made me humble in how hard it can be to earn money; it gives you a whole new respect for how to use them.

The music business is a tough field to be in, I have always felt and I know Adam felt it too. We are outside of the business, however, we the songwriters and artists are what makes it possible to make a business out of it, so I am determined to find out what’s going on.

EML:  Your press release states that you’re managed by Scirca Music Group. Some artists & bands choose to hire a management company or PR firm to help them, while others wish to do everything themselves. Have you found it helpful to work with a manager?

A year ago I reached out through social media in search for a music publisher and manager, which got me in contact with the newly started Scirca Music Group. It has been a learning experience for both me and Adam and for the management company, as they are just starting out. I would like to encourage other artists to learn about how it all works, and how it is built up, that is the key to understanding and hopefully knowing where you want to go from there.

EML:  What are you guys working on now? Any plans for another album?

Axel:  As I mentioned earlier, we’ve been recording a new album “117” to be released later this year. It’s being recorded and mixed by our Sound Artist Åke Linton. I’m singing & playing on an old upright piano, and Adam is playing a Spanish nylon guitar & also singing some vocals. The last pieces of the songs on ”117” are being recorded with string arranger & producer Mattias Bylund adding a cello to the songs by cellist David Bukovinszky. Last but not least, I am laying down the bass lines on a 1976 Moog Synthesizer and warm analog pads on a 1980s Korg Polysix. We just shot the first music video for our upcoming single ”Trapped”. It was exciting and it turned out great.

EML: Is there anything else you’d like people to know about Jaded Jane that I’ve neglected to ask?

Axel:  Yes, we want to share our message of “Ignorance Separates, Music Unites”. We want to take a stand even more, making it clearer that we are for all human beings,  especially the ones without a voice. Equality, Humanism, and Reverence for the Beauty and Majesty of Nature are all subjects we care about.

We are from the “hood” of our hometown and we wish to display a different side [to that part of the Gothenburg area] than what is mainly portrayed in media with their car fires, etc. The growth of racist/nationalistic political parties such as SD* is something that we want to be an antidote for. We’ve always stayed clear of politics in our music but when it comes to these ethical & moral values we want to be very clear that we stand for diversity, equality and lifting positive stories about the “hood” which almost always have been a place of brotherhood and acceptance for us. Yes there are problems, but there need to be a more nuanced and balanced portrayal in media. We want to do our part as a counterweight to the negative.

* SD stands for Sweden Democrats, ironically, a socially conservative and far right-wing populist political party.

So lets dig a bit into Jaded Jane’s wonderful catalog and get a feel for their music. They released their debut album Diversity in 2015, a genre-bending work featuring eight tracks drawing upon pop, rock, soul, R&B and hip hop elements. As the title suggests, the songs address uplifting themes of embracing diversity and working together to make the world a better place. Every track on the album is superb, but my favorites are the lovely ballad “Jaded Jane”, the anthemic “After”, “Meaningful Destiny”, with its beautiful piano and shimmering guitar, the funky “The Cure”, with guest vocals from rapper KJ Denhert, and the soulful and fun “Walk the Walk”. Their musicianship and knack for writing infectious melodies that hook us in right from the start are impressive, and I love Axel’s casual vocal style that frequently breaks into a crooning falsetto.

In February 2017, they released their fantastic second album One Waywhich saw them branch out and further experiment with their sound by incorporating more complex and multi-textured synthesizers, deep bass lines and trap beats into their soulful mix. The highlights here are “Tell Me What”, with spacey synths and a funky bass line that’ll rock your world, “Breathing”, with colorful psychedelic synths and guitar chords that are fucking magical, and “Life”, a brilliant track featuring killer rap verses by British rapper Scope (Jake Lewis) that beautifully complement Axel’s falsetto vocals. The uplifting lyrics speak of not letting your past troubles define you or keep you from realizing your dreams: “Living life just watch me risk it, made mistakes but don’t regret ’em / I put on a happy face to hide where I come from / Put your knife down, listen to my rhyme / Everything’s gonna be alright.

Only eight months later, Jaded Jane dropped yet another album Always & Forever, once again going off in another direction with their sound. This time, Axel’s beautiful piano playing takes center stage, with the songs all featuring sublime piano-driven melodies that take their music toward an ambient, easy-listening vibe. In describing his inspiration for the album, Axel wrote as if speaking to his father: “When I sat down by the piano I could feel your presence. I let the songs happen the way they were meant to. Through music we can communicate with another world, here it is, and it is for you, in the here and now and in the hereafter.” The beautiful title track “Always & Forever” is a moving tribute to their father. “Hard to believe that you are gone this time. Oh give me strength to carry on. Easy to smile when you are by my side. You’ll live forever in my heart.”

The opening song “Serendipity” is a serene, 13-minute long piece of atmospheric heaven, with extended runs of delicate piano, guitar and whispery synths that are mesmerizing. The song begins as an instrumental-only track that seems to end at around 3:45 minutes, then starts back up at 4:00, this time with Axel’s tender vocals singing the praises of their father: “It was your light. It was your love, that shone through all of us.” This portion of the song ends with a gradual fade-out of reverb at around 8:45, only to start back up at 9:30 with sparse piano keys, accompanied by strummed guitar and whispery synths that throb until the end of the song.

Jaded Jane Salvation

Their fourth and most-recent album is the gorgeous Salvation. Released in November 2018, the album continues with what Jaded Jane refers to as their “exploration of soulful soundscapes of consciousness” that we loved on Always & Forever.  The entire album flows like an atmospheric river of mesmerizing piano-driven sound, enveloping and transporting us to a comforting place of love, peace and serenity. The beautiful title track “Salvation” has simple, spiritual lyrics that speak to finding peace of mind and salvation in the hereafter: “I’ll stay right here, through my last tears. Ain’t got nothing left to fear. Salvation. It’s the longest street, I will follow thee to another space and time. I will walk this road, never looking down, to the place that we’ll call home.”

Another standout track is “Ethereal”, which lives up to its name with breathtaking atmospheric music. Axel’s piano work is absolutely stunning, backed by sweeping glittery synths, gently thumping drumbeats and Adam’s subtle guitar notes.

“Orion” is a beautiful instrumental track, consisting of only delicate piano, gentle drumbeats and whispy ambient background synths. Though over five minutes long, it seems much shorter. The track segues uninterrupted into album closer “Crystal Stair”, with a continuation of the gentle drumbeats and whispy synths. At one minute, words from a famous 1960 speech by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. at Spelman College enter: “Your life’s blueprint must be a commitment to the eternal principles of beauty, love and justice. Don’t allow anybody to pull you so low as to make you hate them. Don’t allow anybody to cause you to lose your self-respect to the point that you do not struggle for justice. However young you are, you have a responsibility to seek to make your nation a better nation in which to live.

The track encapsulates the message of love, tolerance and social justice that Jaded Jane seeks to spread by Salvation, and with all their songs. I greatly admire these guys, both in terms of the wonderful music they make, and the positive vibes they spread through their kindness, love and joy. I cannot wait to hear their new album.

Connect with Jaded Jane:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Soundcloud
Purchase on iTunes

NAT “KING” COLE – “Nature Boy”

Nature Boy record

One of the most enchanting songs of all-time has to be “Nature Boy”, especially the original version recorded by the legendary Nat “King” Cole. I distinctly remember the first time I heard it as a young teenager, and being absolutely enthralled by its haunting beauty. I recognized the singer as Nat “King” Cole – arguably one of the greatest vocalists of the 20th Century – but was not familiar with the song. I asked my father “What is that song?!“, and he told me it was called “Nature Boy”. My father was himself still a teen when the song came out in March 1948. It was a massive hit, spending eight weeks at #1 on the Billboard number-one singles chart from May to July 1948.

The song has a rather interesting back story. It was written in 1947 by a man named eden ahbez. Originally born George Alexander Aberle in Brooklyn, NY in 1908, one of 13 children in a poor family, he spent his early childhood in an orphanage. He was eventually adopted at the age of nine by a family in Kansas and raised under the name George McGrew. During the 1930s, McGrew lived in Kansas City, Missouri, where he was a pianist and dance band leader. He moved to Los Angeles in 1941 and began playing piano at a small health food store/raw food restaurant on Laurel Canyon Boulevard owned by John and Vera Richter, who followed the German Naturmensch and Lebensreform philosophies of veganism and living with nature. Their followers, who came to be known as “nature boys”, wore long hair and beards and ate only raw fruits and vegetables, and were precursors to what would later be called hippies. McGrew changed his name to “eden ahbez”, spelling his name with lower-case letters because he believed only the words “God” and “Infinity” were worthy of capitalization.

Some years later, while living in a cave near Palm Springs, ahbez wrote “Nature Boy”. The song was semi-autobiographical, but also partly a tribute to his mentor Bill Pestor, another Naturmensch advocate who was known locally as “the Hermit of Palm Springs”. ahbez wanted Nat “King” Cole to record the song, and went to see him one night while Cole was performing at the Lincoln Theater in Los Angeles. Cole’s manager refused to talk with him, however, ahbez managed to leave his sheet music for “Nature Boy” with Cole’s valet, but neglected to include his contact information. Cole loved the song, and began performing it at shows, but couldn’t record it as a single without ahbez’s permission. ahbez was finally tracked down living in a shack under the Hollywood sign, and soon found himself at the center of a media frenzy after “Nature Boy” became a #1 hit. His curious story was covered simultaneously in Life, Time and Newsweek magazines during the summer of 1948, and he finally got the chance to meet Cole during the television show We The People. (Bryan Thomas, Night Flight)

eden ahbez nat king cole
ahbez and Cole in 1948 (source unknown)

The song was recorded by Cole in August 1947, backed by an orchestra conducted by Frank De Vol, the in-house arranger of Capitol Records. Also a legend in his own right, De Vol went on to write and conduct soundtracks for numerous films (Pillow Talk, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, Hush…Hush…Sweet Charlotte, Cat Ballou, The Dirty Dozen) and TV shows (Family Affair, Gidget, The Brady Bunch, My Three Sons). For “Nature Boy”, De Vol used lush strings and flute to create the beautiful enchanting soundscape that makes the song so indelible. The gorgeous fluttering notes of the flute evoke sounds of birds singing in a Shangri-La setting. The track’s arrangement is absolute perfection, and the piano keys are stunning as well. And of course, Cole’s famed velvety-smooth vocals are captivating as he croons the poetic lyrics that are simple but profound:

There was a boy
A very strange, enchanted boy
They say he wandered very far
Very far, over land and sea
A little shy and sad of eye
But very wise was he

And then one day
A magic day he passed my way
And while we spoke of many things
Fools and kings
This he said to me
The greatest thing you’ll ever learn
Is just to love and be loved in return

Cole eventually considered “Nature Boy” one of his favorite recordings, and the song helped give him crossover appeal to white audiences. In his book, The Jazz Standards: A Guide to the Repertoire, author Ted Gioia noted that all the musicians “who had created the golden age of American popular song had their quirks and idiosyncrasies, but eden ahbez demands pride and place as the most eccentric of them all“. He added that, in addition to promoting the hippie culture, with “Nature Boy”, ahbez enabled Cole to be instrumental in introducing a new era of black artists in an industry dominated by white popular music. (Wikipedia)

The song was awarded the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999, a special Grammy Award honoring recordings that are at least 25 years old and have “qualitative or historical significance”. I think it’s a masterpiece, and one of the greatest songs ever written.