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.

THE COMMON VIEW – Artist Spotlight & Review

The Common View (2)

I continue to be amazed at the sheer volume of musical talent that exists today, with so many really fine musicians and bands making outstanding music. A recent find is a young four-piece from Leeds, England who call themselves The Common View. I liked their music at first listen, and as I learned about their social and political views and willingness to be outspoken advocates for social justice, being an unapologetic progressive liberal myself, I’ve also come to admire them and am proud to feature them on my blog today.

The band was formed in 2018 by three University of Leeds students with a shared love of music: Dom Robertson (guitar, vocals), Jose Ignacio Barrera (guitar) and Jacob Lindsay (drums, vocals). Bassist Joe Sykes joined a bit later, filling out the band’s sound and completing their lineup.  Their indelible and dynamic style of alternative rock is influenced by indie pop-rock, post-punk revival and Rockabilly.

They released their self-titled debut EP The Common View, Vol. 1 in December 2018, featuring three outstanding tracks. The guys recorded, mixed and mastered the EP themselves, and I must say that the production values are first-rate, sounding very professional for a debut effort. They also have a terrific little blog on the website musicglue, where they share news about themselves, their music and coming events, so do check it out here. Dom has quite the sense of humour (I thought I’d be cheeky and use the British spelling), and provides entertaining insight into the creation and meaning of the songs, some of which I’ll quote below.

The first track, “I Can’t Get Your Face Out of My Mind” is a delightfully sultry affair, with pulsating riffs of swirling guitars, throbbing bass and snappy drums delivering moody vibes and a captivating melody. Dom describes the song’s genesis: “My memory is somewhat comparable to a goldfish, but if I recall correctly, the song started off with a vaguely similar chord progression and a completely different strumming pattern. It was admittedly a bit of a mess, but I distinctly remember the moment it all came together; For some unknown reason I started to try a bit of a Ska rhythm, akin to something The Specials would use in their hits, and it started to sound really good! After that, the rest of the song started to fall into place and we worked on the progression and the voicings (which usually consists of Jacob’s best whale impression to the sound of the song), with the solo and actual wording being sorted much later on.”

I confidently state that it all came together quite nicely. The tight instrumentation is a clear indication of this band’s impressive musicianship, and I really like Jacob’s sultry, yet heartfelt vocals that convey a sense of sad resignation as he laments to someone who broke his heart: “Oh, if you’re feeling low, don’t come running. I’m moving on now, you can’t keep me down. Got my head spinning round. Your words are poison. You’re killing all the boys, and I’m intoxicated, Hear me out. And you led me on, said I was the only one for you. But you were lying through your teeth. How could you do that to me.

The socially relevant “Ignorance” greets our eardrums with a rousing mix of jangly and fuzzy guitars, accompanied by a frantic punk-rock beat that makes for a exhilarating listen. About the track, Dom explains: “At the risk of sounding like a dickhead, I am actually quite proud to say I wrote the lyrics to ‘Ignorance’, even if it was at 3 am in a disgustingly dirty kitchen in student halls (This will become a trend). They draw from the general idea that there are so many things in the world that seem so obviously wrong (whether it be Global Warming, genocides, racism or terrorism to name a few) that to anyone who ignores, pretends or simply doesn’t understand the fundamental basics is so glaringly ignorant, I’ll never understand them. Ignorance may well be bliss, but we really should be better than this!

On “The Hollow“, Jose and Dom deliver a languid, soulful groove, with shimmery riffs of chiming guitar that are drop-dead fucking gorgeous! And if all that beauty wasn’t enough, Jacob and Dom’s vocal harmonies are positively sublime. Dom discusses their creative genius behind the song’s captivating melody: “‘The Hollow’, despite being the slower track of the EP, will always hold a special place in my heart. It came about as we were recording our music in Jose’s apartment in Manchester and were looking for another song to go on the EP. Jose and I picked up our guitars and were messing about with a few ideas and eventually one of us (I think it was me) started to use the 7th chords which sounded a little jazzy, and Jose immediately picked up on it. We worked together to form the verse, then he started to add a little bit of lead to it and Jacob worked his magic, moaning like a buffalo in the plains of the wild west in tune to the music, to find some voicings that worked, and then altering some of Jose’s proposed lyrics to fit the tune. Then all of a sudden we had it – a completed song, from start to finish, composed by all of us together, in the space of about 20 minutes. Then, in about half an hour we had it all recorded and had to rush to the coach station to head back home to Leeds. It truly was ‘made in the studio’!”

Shortly after the release of their EP, they dropped a provocative new single “Fuck Them“, where they call out the failure of British society and the government to adequately address the chronic issues of health care, poverty and homelessness: “We are sick of the way the NHS is so poorly funded and mismanaged. We are sick of the rising levels of homelessness and the complete neglect to do anything about it. We are sick of the glorification of food banks as a solution rather than proof of failing policy. We can’t change the government, but we can let them know that we don’t want them!” 

Musically, the track has an exuberant tempo that belies the scathing lyrics, with roiling riffs of jangly and gnarly guitars, sparkling synths, bouncy drumbeats and an abundance of crashing cymbals. Jacob coldly sings: “Everyone is in despair. Hard to find someone who cares. People dying in their beds, cause there’s no money for their meds. We’ve got to work and do it right. But all you ever do is fight. / We don’t, we don’t want you. We don’t, we don’t need you. We don’t, we don’t believe you. We don’t, we don’t need you here.”

This brilliant song was expertly mixed and mastered by Alexander Elegger, a young audio engineer and producer from Tula, Russia who began working in sound engineering at the tender age of 14! And the photo used for the video is by Matt Collamer for Unsplash, and was published on February 12, 2018.

Lastly, here’s a video of the band playing an acoustic version of their latest track, a love song called “A Perfect Bridge“. These guys are supremely talented songwriters and musicians and I’m helplessly hooked on their music. Even at their young ages, they’re already masters of their craft, and I expect we’ll be hearing even more incredible music from them in the future. There’s nothing common about The Common View, and I’m excited about following them on their musical journey.

Connect with The Common View on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Soundcloud / ReverbnationApple Music
Purchase on iTunes

Artist Spotlight/Review: DUNKIE

dunkie singles

Dunkie is the music project of Welsh singer/songwriter Anthony Price. Hailing from the town of Mountain Ash in the South Wales Valleys, Anthony has written and recorded songs for several years, and more recently, has been working on his forthcoming debut album Working to Design. It’s a concept album of sorts, with all the songs partially inspired by the books and works of Richard Matheson.  It’s also an ambitious labor of love, as Anthony has toiled countless long hours getting each track perfect, as well as making imaginative videos for some of the songs.  He’s released four tracks thus far, beginning with “Can a Song Save Your Life?” in May 2018, and subsequently dropping another single every two to three months. The songs were all written by Anthony and produced, engineered, mixed and mastered by Wayne Bassett at Robot Recordings in Aberdare, Wales. Besides Anthony and Wayne, an assortment of other musicians and vocalists performed on each track, as will be noted below. Also, an interesting aspect of the creation of this album is the use of dramatic artwork by Welsh artist Michael Gustavius Payne for each single.

Can A Song Save Your Life?” is a lovely, optimistic song with a rich and eclectic mix of instruments that make for an interesting and enjoyable listen. For this track, dunkie consists of Anthony Price on vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass and keys, Wayne Bassett on keyboards, synth, EBow, electric guitar and percussion, Charlotte Jayne on violins and trumpets, and Lucy Athey and Mark Purnell on backing vocals. Anthony’s tenor vocals are heartfelt and pleasing.

Anthony describes the song’s meaning: “The concept behind this song is trying to find a little hope; when all really seems a little lost. When the deepest, darkest moment seems to smother over you, when it suffocates you. ‘You don’t know how IT began…’, but then the littlest gesture lifts, the smallest moment lifts, a piece of music, a film or song you love just lifts you. You step back that one little moment and look around. I hope this makes a little sense and someone understands. I hope you’ll find it in yourself as I thankfully have.”

About the fascinating and charming video, he explains: “Over some two years ago I had written a few video concepts for my songs. I knew I wanted people to be wearing masks. I loved the metaphor of hiding behind many a mask. Oscar Wilde once said ‘Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth’. The ‘dunkie’ name and music is my mask. So I wanted to represent the mask in these videos. In particular I wanted to represent them by the use of Wintercroft Masks. Each mask is a downloadable PDF template, each mask has to be created individually, and each mask can take about 2-4 hours each to create (longer if you’re me!!). Added here was the decorative design I wanted to include by adding my own song lyrics, in multiple languages (and the entire pages of Crime and Punishment) upon each mask face.”

Sugar” is a sweet (no pun intended) love song of thanks to a partner who has stood by you through good times and bad, with unconditional love. Anthony’s gentle vocals and guitar work are sublime, and he’s assisted on this track by Wayne Bassett on keyboards, synth, percussion and programming, Dave Healey with additional electric guitar, and Lucy Athey, who provides lovely and ethereal backing vocals.

Thank you for whispering ‘I love you’ 
Thank you smiling when you are down 
Thank you for sharing your life with me 
I’m thankful dreams like these have come 
Thank you for today 
I’m thankful that you stayed 
I’m thankful sugar melts away

Rabbit Hole” is a poignant song that seems to be about coming to terms with loss. Anthony wistfully sings: “Tumble and fall, this rabbit-hole is funnel-webbed and soaring. I fear I’ll never reach this endless horror I fold upon myself…  Another pill dissolves; I’m crawling faster to the edge. To the edge for you.” The track has a serene, rather bittersweet melody with gentle guitar, synths and percussion, and the vocal harmonies are really nice. For this track, Anthony sang vocals and played acoustic guitar, Rob Lear sang backing vocals and played Moog, electric guitar and percussion, Dorian Richard Holmes played bass, and Jennifer Drew played drums.

The video shows an extended family coming together for a picnic to remember a loved one, a child perhaps? Anthony leaves the interpretation up to the listener: “I’d love to hear your thoughts on the concept/theme and what it evokes in you. Both lyrically and visually, ‘Rabbit Hole’ covers the same subject, so we’re not too far from the same page. I’ll leave it at that.”

(W.A.L.L.S.) Within a Little Love Song” is a beautiful love song with more of a rock feel than the other three tracks, thanks to a greater prominence of electric guitars. But it still has the pleasing qualities that all of dunkie’s songs possess, with rich instrumentation and gorgeous vocal harmonies. The lyrics are a reminder to a loved one that even though you may not say it as often as you used to, your love for them is as strong as ever:

(You know) yesterday I loved you 
(Don’t forget) I have and always will 
(But through) the years I spoke it lessened 
(Know this) my love’s never subdued 

So I’ve found these words to sing 
And they’re all for you, they’re all for you 
My need to show within a love song – within a love song

For this track, Anthony sang vocals, played acoustic and electric guitar, bass, harmonica and percussion, Wayne played electric guitar and synths, Paul Maskell played additional electric guitar, Karl James played drums, and Matt Williams sang backing choral vocals.

All four tracks are wonderful, and if the rest of them are even half as good, then Working to Design is going to be an incredible album. I love dunkie’s calm, lovely sound and could listen to their songs over and over.

Connect with dunkie on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream/purchase his music on Bandcamp / iTunes / Google PlaySpotify / Soundcloud

Artist Spotlight: THE MAYAN FACTOR

mayan factor collage names

As I’ve mentioned numerous times on this blog, one of the redeeming qualities of Twitter is the astounding number of musicians and bands I continue to discover, a great deal of whom are really talented. One such band I recently had the good fortune of learning about is The Mayan Factor, a five-piece alternative rock outfit based in Baltimore, Maryland. They’ve been around since 2002, and after listening to their music I was perplexed as to why I’d not previously heard of them, because they’re phenomenal.

Their first release, the 2003 EP In Lake’ Ch, is a veritable masterpiece, featuring the powerful and stunning tracks “Warflower” and “Beauty and the Beast”. They followed up two years later with an equally stellar album 44. Then tragedy struck a hammer blow in 2011 when the band’s lead singer Ray Schuler died suddenly, leaving a void that sent the band and their fans reeling. They’d been recording songs for a third album Yesterday’s Son, which they went ahead and released in 2012. I strongly urge my readers to check them all out, because they’re fucking fantastic, and you’ll literally be the poorer if you don’t!

Not quite sure what to do after Ray’s death, the band considered going their separate ways, but the love and dedication of their fans persuaded them to soldier on. They eventually found another musician to be the band’s lead vocalist in Lenny Cerzosie Jr. Besides Lenny, who also plays rhythm guitar, the band lineup consists of Brian Scott (guitar), Kevin Baker (bass), Dan Angermaier (drums), and Jason Sage (percussion, backing vocals). Dan told me that Lenny has worked out very well as the band’s lead singer, bringing his own style to the mix. “Ray was unique. Lenny doesn’t try to be him. I think that’s why he works so well. He makes Ray’s words work for him.

the mayan factor stage shot (2)

With their re-invigorated lineup, the band began writing new songs and in 2016, they released an epic single “Ascension“. Wow, this 7:13 minute-long song is a religious experience! Layer upon layer of gorgeous intricate guitars are combined with a strong bassline, exotic percussive synths and pounding drums to form an intense and lush soundscape, evoking the drama and color of an ancient Mayan ritual. Then there’s Lenny’s raw, passionate vocals, soaring to the heavens and adding to the chills already covering my body.

In January 2018, they released “Whispers“, a deeply moving song that was inspired by Lenny’s mother’s struggles of living with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or “Lou Gehrig’s disease”, which my mother-in-law also died from). Once again, the guitar work is stunning, and the bass, drums and synths are perfection, making for a formidable powerhouse track. Lenny’s fervent vocals at first remind me of Michael Stipe’s, but as the track progresses they grow more impassioned as he wails of the pain of watching a loved one gradually slip away: “I thought we had another day. Another day just passed away. Azaleas grow along the way. I thought we’d have another day. I’ll meet you in the other place. Heaven couldn’t stay away, Angels wouldn’t sing that day.”

Their most recent single “hOpe” was also inspired by Lenny’s mother’s battle with ALS. About the song’s title, the band explains “The definition of the word HOPE is ‘to cherish a desire with anticipation’, but the word truly takes on different meanings to each of us as individuals. However different the meaning of the word is to us, it all connects us together with the promise of change and the promise of light after darkness. Even though friends and family may not be with us, they remain as long as they are in our hearts. They speak to us but without words. We created this song as an anthem to those traveling through darkness of illness, grief and any type of difficult time.”

It’s a lovely, bittersweet song with beautiful jangly guitars, anchored by a sturdy humming bassline and pounding drums. Lenny’s passionate vocals have a raw vulnerability as he sings the poignant lyrics:

I remember the sound. 
Not the words but the sound of her voice 
trembling, trembling 
I remember the things she said to me 
All this life is lost into the night, too soon 

Tonight… 
I remember her eyes, so sweet so sweet 
Lovingly, so lovely 
Don’t let me fall, don’t let her fade

The beautiful animated video shows scenes of a young boy moving through a colorful dream-like landscape with what appears to be his grandmother and, in one scene, his grandfather.

They released a beautifully moving alternative video for “hOpe” that was shot in Mexico as a symbolic tribute to Lenny’s mother. It shows us the faces of #hOpe, of survivors who didn’t give up hope to keep living.

And so, dear readers, my hope is that you’ll give these songs a listen, and end up loving The Mayan Factor as much as I do. Not only do they make incredible music, but their resiliency and strong sense of humanity are admirable. They’re true survivors, and I hope they’ll continue making more great music for years to come.

Connect with The Mayan Factor on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Apple Music
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes / cdbaby