ANTIPOLE & PARIS ALEXANDER – Album Review: “Crystalline”

The music industry has long thrived on the collaboration of talented songwriters and musicians, and one of the most successful collaborations I know of is the one between Norwegian coldwave/post-punk project Antipole and British electronic music artist Paris Alexander. Antipole is the music moniker of guitarist and composer Karl Morten Dahl, who’s based in Trondheim, Norway, whereas singer-songwriter, composer and producer Paris Alexander is based in Brighton, England.

Antipole (aka Karl Morten Dahl) & Paris Alexander

While each has released music as solo artists, the majority of their output consists of albums they’ve recorded together or with other musicians and vocalists. I’ve followed them both for quite a while, and have written about some of their previous works – in 2017, I reviewed their collaborative album Northern Flux, and in 2021, I reviewed Alexander’s album Renaissance, featuring his partner Eirene. On May 12, they dropped their latest album Crystalline, featuring eight outstanding tracks.

The music was co-written by Antipole and Alexander, and lyrics written mostly by Alexander, with the exception of the songs “Marble” and “Infractions”, which were written by Eirene. Antipole’s guitar parts were recorded at AGV63 studio in Trondheim, while Alexander’s programmed synths and vocals were recorded at his Blue Door Studio in Brighton. Eirene sang additional vocals on “Marble”. Alexander also produced, mixed and mastered the album. The beautiful artwork for the album cover was created by Anne-Christel Gullikstad.

Listening to Crystalline, I hear strong influences by iconic darkwave and synthwave acts like Joy Division, New Order and The Cure, with a bit of Depeche Mode for good measure. Antipole’s jangly and shimmery guitar work is pretty spectacular throughout, and together with Alexander’s hypnotic beats and dreamy cinematic synths, create darkly beautiful and mesmerizing soundscapes. I also love Alexander’s rich baritone vocals, which have a haunting yet sensual quality, reminding me at times of David Bowie, most notably on “Midnight Shadows” and “Marble”.

Most of the songs have a somewhat similar sound and feel, certainly not a bad thing, as they’re all quite arresting and beautifully-arranged. At 30 minutes and 45 seconds in length, the album seems to pass by quickly, always a sign of a quality work in my book. I like every track a lot, but will touch on some of my favorites. Opening track “Perceptions“, features a strong pulsating groove, overlain with lush industrial synths and Antipole’s intricate jangly guitars. Alexander’s breathy vocals are wonderful, both mysterious and sensual. The video, filmed in black and white and at night, shows Antipole making magic on his guitar outdoors on a cold night in front of a church in Trondheim, while Alexander walks through the abandoned streets of Bath, England.

Perhaps the darkest song on the album is “Bleached“, a beautiful but brooding track for which the guys have also fortunately created a video showing them performing the song, superimposed over rather bleak footage of a large English industrial city filmed along a railroad line. The lyrics speak of a desperate existence in an urban wasteland, which Alexander sings in ominous whispered tones: “Take me. Houses full of lost dreams. Structures gripping the sky. Roads leads to hope, but walking is tiring. Reality is the end. Dead end streets and turnarounds. Windows gaze down upon me. Wandering these city streets, struggling for breath to nourish the blood. Stuck on an island, gotta get off. Get me off my phone, get me off my phone…

Marble” is an especially lovely and melodic track, with a rapid, pulsating beat, sharp percussive synths, and marvelous jangly guitar notes. Alexander’s comforting vocals are nicely backed by Eirene’s ethereal harmonies. “Infractions” has a wonderful psychedelic vibe, thanks to a greater use of spacey synths, while “Sentiments” is a gorgeous four-minute-long tour de force of hypnotic beats, dreamy atmospheric synths and jangly guitars, accompanied by Alexander’s brooding but hopeful breathy vocals.

With Crystalline, Antipole and Paris Alexander have gifted us another stellar collection of exquisite darkwave songs. I continue to be impressed by the consistently high quality of their output.

Crystalline is also available on vinyl and CD through Young & Cold Records

Connect with Antipole: FacebookTwitterInstagram

Find his music on BandcampSpotifyApple MusicYouTube

Connect with Paris:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Find his music on BandcampSpotify / Apple Music 


PHILLIP VONESH – Single Review: “Fly Over State”

Phillip Vonesh is a Canadian singer-songwriter and guitarist from Toronto who makes a pleasing style of alt-country/Americana. Drawing inspiration from a mix of genres ranging from 60s folk revival and 70s outlaw country to 80s pop, Phillip “strives to write songs that will be stuck in your head as well as your heart.” Over the past four years, he’s released music both as a solo artist, including an EP Lost Our Way in 2019, a two-track EP Cold Hands / Warm Heart, and a touching song “Noa-Grayce” for his newborn niece, both in 2020, and as a member of indie-Americana band The Spare Parts, who released their debut album Infatuation in 2021.

On May 5th (apparently a very popular day for releases, as this is the fifth review I’ve written of music released that day), Phillip dropped his latest single “Fly Over State“. The lead single from his forthcoming album If Only For The Night, it’s his first new music in nearly two years. It was well worth the wait, as I think it’s his best song yet.

The track was co-written by Phillip and Canadian songwriter Hannah Gazso, recorded, produced and engineered by Aaron Goldstein, who also played electric guitar, and mixed and mastered by Alex Gamble (who also mixed and mastered the EP Common Fantasies by fellow Toronto singer-songwriter Alex Southey that I reviewed in January). For the recording of the song, Phillip sang lead vocals and played acoustic guitar and percussion, Ryan Gavel played bass, Nick McKinley played drums, Scott Galloway played piano and organ, and Carleigh Aikins sang backing vocals.

“Fly Over State” is a lovely slice of folk-infused Americana, with vibrant instrumentation layered over a soothing melody. All the instruments are well-played, but the highlights for me are Scott’s beautiful piano and organ and the interplay between Phillip’s gentle acoustic guitar notes and Aaron’s edgier fuzz-coated electric guitar that adds a sense of tension to the proceedings.

Phillip’s plaintive vocals, backed by Carleigh’s lovely harmonies, are wonderful, beautifully conveying a strong heartfelt vulnerability and sense of sadness expressed in the bittersweet lyrics about feeling used by a romantic partner who’s emotionally unavailable, only coming around when she wants her needs met. He likens her to an air traveler who treats him like a ‘flyover state’:

I want to be the destination
Not a view from above
I wouldn’t feel this hesitation in your heart if this were love

But I’m wondering when you’ll be around,
sick of trying to chase you down,
I want to be more than a map dot town

But I’m a layover ‘tween betty and veronica
You only stay-over when it works for you
I’m a fly-over state and I got lost on ya
What do I have to do?

“Fly Over State” is superb, and I’ve had it on repeat the past few days. It’s a promising prelude of what we can expect on Phillip’s forthcoming album.

Connect with Phillip: FacebookInstagram

Find his music on BandcampSpotifyApple MusicYouTube

WE ARE AERIALS – Album Review: “Every Architect of Ruin”

We Are Aerials are a rather enigmatic indie rock collective from Donegal, Ireland who, like a few other artists and bands I’ve written about, choose to remain fairly anonymous. Fronted by a man identified simply as ‘Me’ on their Bandcamp page (though I know him as ‘C’ through his Twitter messages to me), who sings lead vocals and plays electric and acoustic guitars, keys, programming, and chime bars, We Are Aerials also includes Paul Casey on bass, electric and acoustic guitars, ukulele, keys, and programming, and Liam Bradley on drums and percussion. Lauren Doherty sings additional vocals and John McCullough plays piano and keys on selected tracks. C told me they do not perform live or post photos of themselves anywhere, as they “love making music and found a while back that the self-publicity side of things was killing that passion for it. There are a lot of artists posting pictures of their haircuts; it’s not for us.” Also, the only social media platforms they use are Twitter and YouTube. and they do not use music streaming services like Spotify or Apple Music because they’re a terrible deal for artists.

From what I saw on their Bandcamp page, they’ve been releasing music for nearly three years, beginning in October 2020 with their debut album Maps, which features a beautiful cover of Bruce Springsteen’s haunting masterpiece “Streets of Philadelphia”. They followed in March 2022 with their second album Silences and on May 5, dropped their latest album Every Architect of Ruin. Featuring ten outstanding tracks, the album was written by C, recorded by C and Paul Casey, and also mixed and mastered by Paul. The artwork featuring two hands that was used for the album cover was drawn by Rebecca Foster.

The album had somewhat serendipitous origins resulting from the discovery of an old battered guitar in the attic of a house C had recently purchased. After commenting to friends that he’d never been up to his attic, joking it was probably haunted, they goaded him for months to go up there and check it out. Finally relenting, he entered his attic one night and discovered a beat-up Mexican-made Fender Telecaster electric guitar in a worn-out acoustic guitar soft case. He recalls “I became obsessed with reviving the thing and brought it to a luthier. Got a new pick up and replaced the switch. Did his best with the neck but it still wasn’t right. Brought it to another luthier and he fixed it up good. It’s not the best guitar in the world; not well made, not well looked after, but once the luthiers were done with it, it sang. Some instruments just have a feel to them. Tim Henson of Polyphia calls it mojo. I don’t know if it’s a sentimental thing, or because I spent time and money on it, but this guitar has mojo. It started giving me songs almost the moment it was fixed. First ‘Echo’, then ‘Theft’, then ‘Empire’. Six months later, we have a new album. Attics are weird. And magic. And sometimes haunted.”

Though many of the songs on Every Architect of Ruin touch on darker themes like depression, duplicitous political leaders who prey on us, and the negative aspects of social media, the album is sonically arresting and beautiful. It opens with “Echo“, a gorgeous six and a half minute-long fantasia of reverb-drenched chiming guitars and thumping drumbeats. C’s soft, ethereal vocals, which register in the higher octaves, are enchanting as he croons “You know all I hear, oh… You know all I hear is echo, echo, echo.” At 2:45, the music expands with more dramatic guitars, then abruptly slows at the four-minute mark to a languid tempo, with fuzzy riffs accompanied by a spoken-word monologue by Yasmin that was recorded for an art project called “London is Lonely”.

Next up is “Theft“, a compelling rock song calling out people and forces who take from us until we’re bled dry: “Greed and brazen theft until there’s nothing left. Leave us all bereft, forever in your debt. Repelled, I cannot express myself.” Fueled by a galloping bassline, the song features shimmery psychedelic guitars, sweeping synths and crackling percussion. On the lovely piano-driven “Christopher“, C reaches out to a friend who’s going through a difficult time emotionally: “Hey Chris, reach out. Alleviate the doubt. The amber warning sounds for you, and I know something’s wrong here.”

Tuar na hAimsire” is a sweet and gentle song about just wanting to be with a loved one while a storm rages outside, with lyrics sung both in English and Gaelic: “A rumble of thunder, a flashing of light I watch from my bedroom. Tá an aimsir go yikes. Tá sé an-scamallach. Is dorcha an spéir. Ach níl eagla orm. I am not scared. Not a night to go outside. I’ll stay inside with you.” “Song With No Name” seems to speak of society’s struggle to make sense of the plethora of conflicting information and ‘facts’ found on TV and the internet: “The machine, a ruse to get you seen. Oh, balanced views, is nothing particularly true? Oh, what a time, devoid of reason and of rhyme.” The song has a bit of a late 60s/early 70s pop vibe, with gnarly psychedelic guitars and pleasing piano keys set to a sunny melody.

Everyone’s Unique Except You” is about not fitting in with the crowd and feeling insecure and inferior about yourself, when the truth is, you don’t really want to be like them anyway: “You’re not good enough to join that club. (You’re not enough) You’re not good enough to win their love love love love. (You’re not real enough) You’re not good enough to join their club.” Musically, the song is a pleasing blend of dream pop and folk, with a beautiful mix of acoustic and reverb-soaked jangly guitars.

One of my favorite tracks on the album is “Geese Teeth“, an enchanting piano ballad about an unpleasant encounter with a gaggle of aggressive geese. The lyrics are wonderful, so I’ll quote a fair amount of them: “Out to the wetlands to see the geese. Found a gaggle in the marshes. Edged closer for a better view./ A sudden honk I look up to see an angry bird. It stares. I give it a curious glance. And the thing puffs out its chest and spreads its wings, making itself big in attempt to warn me off. But as if I’d be intimidated by a stupid goose. I’m bigger than him. I glare back, puff out my chest and spread my arms out in imitation of his own gesture. And he charges me. I hadn’t banked on that. Next thing I know I’m being chased, by a whole load of waterbirds. Pecking and biting me with their geese teeth as I retreat, feet slipping everywhere on their filth. I reach the car, get in. I beep the horn. The geese scatter in a cloud of feathers.” The instrumentation on this song is really stunning, especially the piano, strings, guitar and what I’m guessing are chime bars played by C, and I love his spoken vocals where his Irish brogue really shines through.

Empire” continues on the theme introduced by the earlier track “Theft”, calling out duplicitous political and business leaders whose greed and avarice cause great harm to their citizens and countries. The lyrics include the album’s title: “Got a hand in every pocket and a knife for every throat. (You think we don’t see through you) Every architect of ruin with excuses and their scapegoats. I can see that our time has long expired. Failed in your fallen empire.” The song is a dream rock gem, as is the following track “Tides“, with its bouncy melody and more of those stunning reverby guitars. The lyrics seem to be addressing someone who’s toxic behavior and actions have left damage in their wake: “This is your glass house. These are the shards. This is your poisoned heart. These are your scars. Here are your ocean’s tumbling waves.”

Another favorite of mine is the final track “Ghostlight, a darkly beautiful song with breathtaking cinematic orchestration and gorgeous guitar work. I have no idea what the song’s about, but I love how it sounds. The fascinating video for the song was filmed and directed by Paul Casey, with footage of the mysterious woman applying her garish make-up by Pam Ede.

Folks, Every Architect of Ruin is an exquisite album filled with beautiful, meticulously-crafted songs that make for a pleasurable listening experience. I can safely state that We Are Aerials’ music most definitely speaks for itself.

Connect with We Are Aerials on Twitter

Find their music on Bandcampminm / SoundcloudYouTube

Top 30 Songs for May 14-20, 2023

Photo by Alysse Gafkjen

I’ve loved making song lists since my teens, but one thing I don’t like about doing them is having to drop songs down and then ultimately off. And just because I move songs down and then off my lists doesn’t mean I no longer like them or am even tired of them, but they must eventually make way for newer songs to have their own time in the sun, so to speak. That said, it makes me a little sad to knock “New Gold”, by Gorillaz, Tame Impala and Bootie Brown, from the top spot it’s held the last three weeks, but it must step aside because The Revivalists‘ “Kid” is my new current favorite song. For those unfamiliar with The Revivalists, they’re an 8-piece alternative roots rock band who formed in New Orleans in 2007. They finally burst onto the music scene in 2015 when, on the strength of their third album Men Amongst Mountains, Rolling Stone magazine named them one of “10 Bands You Need to Know”. One of the singles from that album, “Wish I Knew You”, was a sleeper hit, finally reaching #1 on the Billboard Adult Alternative Songs chart in September 2016, then topping the Alternative Airplay chart in May 2017.

The exuberant feel-good anthem “Kid” is the lead single from their forthcoming fifth studio album Pour It Out Into The Night, due for release on June 2nd, and is currently #1 on the Adult Alternative Songs chart. Band lead vocalist David Shaw said the song “is about capturing the essence of life. We all go through ups and downs. Sometimes, we don’t believe in ourselves. We’ve got skeletons in the closet trying to drag us down. But you’ve got to believe in yourself. You’ve just got to live for the spirit. Nothing good ever comes easy. If you don’t have hope, what do you have?” Besides making great songs, The Revivalists use their music as a force of positivity, and are actively involved in several philanthropic causes, including establishing an umbrella fund Rev Causes in 2019, for the purpose of supporting various organizations dedicated to reviving and investing in their communities, public health, and the environment.

The lone debut this week is “Empty Nest” by L.A.-based alt-rock band Silversun Pickups, who’ve been making music since 2000.

  1. KID – The Revivalists (3)
  2. NEW GOLD – Gorillaz, Tame Impala & Bootie Brown (1)
  3. EAT YOUR YOUNG – Hozier (5)
  4. GHOSTS AGAIN – Depeche Mode (2)
  5. FLOWERS – Miley Cyrus (4)
  6. BLUEBELL WOOD – Frank Joshua (6)
  7. THE WALK HOME – Young the Giant (9)
  8. PAID OFF – Oli Barton & the Movement (10)
  9. NOT STRONG ENOUGH – boygenius (11)
  10. TROPIC MORNING NEWS – The National (7)
  11. WOLF – Yeah Yeah Yeahs (12)
  12. THE PERFECT PAIR – beabadoobee (14)
  13. DUMMY – Portugal. The Man (18)
  14. GO DOWN RIVER – The Heavy Heavy (17)
  15. ESSENCE – Refeci featuring Shimmer Johnson (19)
  16. SOFTEN – Alex Southey (8)
  17. PEPPER – Death Cab for Cutie (15)
  18. LOVE FROM THE OTHER SIDE – Fall Out Boy (16)
  19. ANGELICA – Wet Leg (21)
  20. 1982 – Morgendust (22)
  21. RESCUE ME – Dirty Heads (23)
  22. LEAVING – Au Gres (24)
  23. TRANSMITTER – Sea Power (13)
  24. THE WAY – Manchester Orchestra (25)
  25. IN MY HEAD – Mike Shinoda & Kailee Morgue (26)
  26. THOSE EYES – New West (27)
  27. WHY – Future Theory (28)
  28. RESCUED – Foo Fighters (29)
  29. HELLO – GROUPLOVE (30)
  30. EMPTY NEST – Silversun Pickups (N)

Fresh New Tracks, Vol. 27 – Lyia Meta, Rachel Modest

Regular readers of my blog have probably noticed that I don’t write about female artists as often as I should, (partly because they’re much less aggressive than men about asking me to review their music). To remedy this sorry situation, for my latest Fresh New Tracks installment I’m featuring new songs by two very talented women, both of whom have amazing singing voices – Malaysian singer-songwriter Lyia Meta and British singer-songwriter Rachel Modest. Each of their songs approach the subject of love from opposite ends of the spectrum. I’ve written about Lyia numerous times over the past five years, whereas Rachel is new to me.

LYIA META – “Always You”

One of my favorite female vocalists and all-around artists is Malaysian singer-songwriter Lyia Meta, an immensely talented, gracious and lovely recording artist with a powerhouse singing voice. I generally prefer female voices in the deeper ranges, and her vibrant, soulful and smoky vocal style resonates strongly with me. Based in Kuala Lumpur, Lyia’s a multi-faceted artist in every sense of the word. She can sing just about anything, and in fact, has recorded songs in a wide range of genres including blues, jazz, pop, country, rock and even metal, bringing her international recognition and acclaim. A prolific artist, she’s been nominated for, and won, numerous awards around the globe over the years. As if all that weren’t enough, she’s also a highly-accomplished visual artist with several exhibits to her credit. As I mentioned above, I’ve featured her many times on this blog, most recently in February 2022, when I reviewed her EP You Think About Me, featuring five wonderful tracks with a retro R&B feel, fortified with elements of soul, funk and jazz. 

Lyia has just dropped her latest single “Always You“, the title track from her forthcoming album Always You, scheduled for release on June 16th. The song was written by Los Angeles-based songwriter Denise Dimin, and co-produced by Lyia and her frequent collaborator, Nashville-based musician and recording engineer Bob McGilpin, who played guitar, bass and drums and also mixed and mastered the track. The luxuriant piano and orchestration were handled by Gene Rabbai. The song was recorded at both McMusicSound in Nashville and Studio A in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, with Lyia’s vocals recorded at Big A Productions in Kuala Lumpur.

It’s a beautiful love song in a style of what would generally be considered “adult contemporary”, with a soothing orchestral arrangement of piano and strings, accompanied by gentle percussion and guitar. Lyia’s smooth, clear vocals sound better than ever here, every bit as comforting as the music as she assures a lover of her undying devotion: “We step as one as we climb the ladder. Yesterday and today, and forever after. We’re always me, and we’re always you. Eternally, that’s what we do. It’s always you.”

Connect with Lyia: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Find her music on Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music / Amazon

RACHEL MODEST – “Questions”

Rachel Modest is a singer-songwriter who’s been performing music for as long as she can remember. Born and raised in Sheffield, where she grew up singing in her church choir, then studied classical piano in her teens, she’s now based in London. She’s worked with an array of musicians and labels, including serving as lead vocalist for The Bluefoot Project, who released a highly-acclaimed album Brave in 2003. She currently serves as Choir Director for the Wakefield Community Gospel Choir, which she founded, and last year, was a finalist on The Voice UK. She released her first solo singles “I Try” and “Forbidden Love” in 2016, but four years would pass before her next release, “I (Who Have Nothing)”, a terrific cover of the classic song originally recorded by Ben E. King, then later by Shirley Bassey, Tom Jones and Status Quo. She followed in 2022 with “Never Did I Stop Loving You”, and on May 5th, she dropped her latest single “Questions“.

Released via the Numen Records label, “Questions” was co-written and produced by Hamlet Luton. About the song, Rachel explains “So this was all about the acknowledgement of the end of a relationship, but not really knowing how I would cope on my own. But also, whether my ex partner was at all affected by these questions…he wasn’t. So I wrote a song about it. At the end of the song, it’s kind of a resignation to the fact that we needed to separate.”

The song is masterfully arranged, with a wonderful retro vibe that calls to mind some of the great R&B ballads of the 60s and 70s. The orchestration is lush and cinematic, but never overpowers Rachel’s soulful emotive vocals that remind me of equal parts Roberta Flack and Lauryn Hill. With a strong sense of sadness and loss, she passionately laments “We used to quarrel over simple things. But the love I felt for you, no sadness could ever bring. Now it’s over, and we’ll say goodbye. I will never fall in love, it’ll make me cry. So many answers to so many questions. Will we ever know, or should we go?

And here’s the song on Bandcamp:

Connect with Rachel:  FacebookTwitterInstagram

Find her music on SpotifyApple MusicBandcamp

WISE JOHN – EP Review: “The Mr. Love Sunset Show!”

Wise John is a talented, amiable and relentlessly charming singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who’s originally from Southern California and now based in Brooklyn, New York. I learned about him last fall when I read a post on the Audio Mirage Studios blog about his wonderful song “Marry Another Man”, and became in instant fan. I love his pleasing, laid-back style of soulful folk-rock, characterized by memorable melodies, colorful instrumentation, and intelligent, relatable lyrics delivered with his beautiful warm vocals.

Though he’d long had a love of music in his veins, Wise John pursued a career as a computer/aerospace engineer. He still kept one foot in music, however, and in June 2021, released his terrific debut album A Wonderful World. The following January, finally realizing that the life he’d planned out for himself and worked so hard to achieve was making him miserable, he took a leap of faith and quit his engineering job to pursue music as a full-time career. Since then, he’s released more music, played gigs around the New York area, and has continued to build a base of loyal fans.

On May 5th, he released a delightful EP The Mr. Love Sunset Show! which he calls “a retro love song EP designed to heal your heart and sharpen your soul, rendering the feelings, failings, and fallings of romance from four very different angles.” Featuring four tracks, the EP was written, composed, and performed by Wise John with the help of producers Quinn Devlin and Alex Strahle, mixed by Sahil Ansari, and mastered by Joey Messina-Doerning. The various songs feature contributions from an array of guest musicians and vocalists, including Elise Trouw on vocals and drums, Daniel Chae on strings, Kumara Robideau on bass, Shaun Valentine on drums, Quinn Devlin on bass, drums, piano, electric guitar, alto saxophone and percussion, James Wyatt Woodall on pedal steel, Andy Shimm on bass, Dylan DeFeo on organ, Justin Garcia on guitar, and Keara Callahan, Berit Bassinger, Daniela Silva on backing vocals.

The first track “Afterglow” is a lovely but sad song, with bittersweet lyrics about falling for someone who’s not interested in becoming involved in a committed relationship “You made me say I wouldn’t get confused. It’s only play, I shouldn’t feel so used. A love vacation, a toy you didn’t choose to sleep with. Feeling sick in the afterglow.” The arrangement and instrumentation, highlighted by Daniel Chae’s achingly beautiful strings, create an enchanting backdrop for John’s incredibly vulnerable croons.

Atlanta“, with captivating dual vocals by Wise John and Elise Trouw, tells the true story of how John’s parents got married. Elise sings from the perspective of John’s mother who, frustrated by his father’s (who was then her boyfriend) inability to commit to her, leaves him “I got way too much to lose to let you walk on me that way. So now I’m ridin’ down the road to Atlanta, Georgia towards my peace of mind. Oh I’m ridin’ down the road to Atlanta, Georgia, to leave your halfway love behind.” John sings from his father’s perspective, who after two years has a change of heart: “I’ll speak honestly and tell you I can’t stand being left behind. So now I’m ridin’ down the road to Atlanta, Georgia towards my peace of mind. Oh I’m ridin’ down the road to Atlanta, Georgia to leave my halfway loves behind.” Musically, the song has a soothing guitar-driven melody, and the marvelous pedal steel by James Wyatt Woodall gives it a lovely country folk vibe.

My favorite song on the EP, “Marry Another Man” is a poignant and beautiful love letter to the one that’s getting away. Wise John implores his girlfriend to reconsider her plans to marry someone else: “We could get married in the springtime, or tonight for all I care. Long as I have you for a lifetime. I would speak the vows in city hall with no one there. All that matters is I’m the one to take you home. I’m the one to hold you when we’re finally alone. So please darlin’ don’t marry the other man.” The official video shows Wise John performing the song in Quinn’s living room along with Elise Trouw on drums, Andy Shinn on bass, Dylan DeFeo on organ and Justin Garcia on guitar.

The wonderful lyric video for the song, filmed by Berit Bassinger, shows John as Mr. Love, forlornly walking the streets of New York at night.

The final track “Mr. Love” is a delightfully upbeat ode to Wise John’s alter-ego that, in his own words, “offers a bird’s eye view of the landscape of love from the pits of loneliness to the sunny meadows of romance.” The song is pure pop goodness, with a breezy melody, sunny instrumentals, exuberant vocals and hopeful lyrics: “Who ate all your sad day sorrows? Only Mr. Love can do. Took an endless tune of blue tomorrows, wrote the hook to a dance for two.  When it’s cold outside, you’ll feel warm in the light.”

The lyric video, also filmed by Berit Bassinger, shows Wise John as Mr. Love, walking along the seacoast and spreading his positive love vibes.

I could keep gushing about this great little EP, but since I’ve already overused the words ‘wonderful’, ‘marvelous’, ‘beautiful’, ‘delightful’, etc., just give it a listen and hear it for yourselves. Better yet, fork over a few dollars and buy it on Bandcamp!

Connect with Wise John: FacebookInstagram

Find his music on BandcampSpotifyApple MusicSoundcloudYouTube

EGGS ON MARS – Album Review: “Warm Breakfast”

Hailing from Kansas City, Missouri is a delightful band with an equally delightful name, Eggs on Mars. I recently learned about them when their front man Brad Smith reached out to me after having seen my review of Kevin Robertson’s album Magic Spells Abound, asking if I’d be interested in reviewing their latest album Warm Breakfast. Well, I gave it a listen and like it so much, I’m happy to share it with my readers. Featuring 10 tracks, the album serves up 26 minutes of wonderfully pleasing jangle pop.

From what I can tell, Eggs on Mars began as a three-piece and has been around for at least 10 years. Like many a band, they’ve undergone a few changes in lineup, and now consist of the aforementioned Brad Smith on guitar, lead vocals & keyboards, Mason Potter on drums, percussion & backing vocals, Doug Bybee on bass, keyboards & backing vocals, and Joel Stratton on keyboards & backing vocals. They describe their sound as “informed by our love of 1960’s pop groups like the Lovin’ Spoonful and Buffalo Springfield, as well as guitar-based 1990’s groups like Built to Spill. We’re kind of like Guided by Voices, and the voices guiding us might be the Beach Boys.” After hearing their music, I’d say that’s an apt description, as I immediately recognized strong Lovin’ Spoonful and Beach Boys influences.

They’ve released a fair amount of music over the past nine years, including seven albums and an EP, their latest of which, Warm Breakfast, was released March 21st. Listening to some of their back catalog, I can hear how the quality of their songwriting and musicianship have steadily improved over time. Their early albums have a lo-fi garage rock feel, whereas their more recent works feature stronger arrangements and sound more polished and well-crafted. Eggs on Mars have this to say about Warm Breakfast: “On this new album we wanted a warm, textured sound and so you’ll find doubled guitars, electric piano, measured guitar lines, and vocal harmonies. These all accompany lyrical themes of finding joy in life’s simple pleasures as a means to deal with its inherent chaos and disappointments. It’s a happy record with sad songs, or maybe a sad record with happy songs. It’s genuine Midwestern somber pop.”

The album was recorded, engineered and mixed by Rodd Fenton at Solstice Audio, and mastered by Josh Johnson. For the album’s recording, additional guitars were played by Austin Smith, with additional backing vocals sung by Sam Smith and Rodd Fenton (I’m guessing Austin and Sam are related to Brad). The colorful painting used for the album’s cover was done by Shannon Brouk, with photography and album layout by band bassist Doug Bybee.

Warm Breakfast opens with “Especially Now“, a 52-second-long introductory piece that establishes the album’s overall theme, with simple lyrics advising us to be better to one another: “Be kind, especially now. There’s signs, you can tell.” Next up is “No Problem“, a short, catchy song that perfectly encapsulates my experience as a music blogger: “Giving, giving more. Much less than there was before. Falling, feeling drained. Little left and deeply strained. It’s no problem, I can handle this all fine. It’s no problem, I will make all of this right. It’s no problem, I’ll take it on.” The jangly guitars and lovely harmonies are wonderful, and the sweet accompanying video, created by Blane Worley, features both animation and claymation.

Gorgeous, reverb-drenched shimmery guitars are a highlight on “Wrong Way“, which seems to be about self doubt and inner conflict, feeling unsure of who we are or how we should act: “Just like a child I can’t decide what it is I should be.” It’s a beautiful track, and one of my favorites on the album.

Every Day I Cross the River” speaks to the daily drudgery of going to work every morning “Every day I cross the river, debating just what is earned. Weigh its worth against what’s lived for. Navigate through twists and turns.“, but thankful for having a loved one to come home to in the evening: “You don’t have to ask about my day because I’ve already lived it. You don’t have to ask about my day because you’re the best part of it.” The song starts off which just acoustic guitar, then the music gradually builds into a lovely soundscape of jangly guitars, sparkling synths and gentle percussion. Brad’s smooth vocals are sublime, rising to a falsetto in the choruses.

Keeping with a similar theme, “Never Change” is about how, despite the day-to-day worries and demands of life, your love and devotion remains steadfast: “Overworked, you help ease it, so I will not quit. I’ll never change, won’t change my mind.” The song has a mellow, catchy vibe, highlighted by a terrific organ riff. “All’s Well Elsewhere” features a languid, guitar-driven melody, exuberant percussion and beautiful Beach Boys-esque harmonies. I’m not sure, but the lyrics seem to speak to not dwelling too much on things over which we have little control: “All’s well it’s a fairytale. All’s well it’s not bad at all.” The video, created by Jesse Banion from vintage 70s footage of a beauty pageant, represents a kind of fairytale.

Eggs on Mars turns more serious on “Nameless Headline“, using the story of a man killed in a car crash to signify the randomness of life, and how those of us who didn’t know him might have a brief passing thought over his misfortune, whereas those who were close to him are much more deeply impacted: “That could have been me. Another nameless headline to most. That could have been more than it would seem. Certainly to those who were close.” The bouncy “My Words” seems to touch on the old adage “The road to hell is paved with good intentions”, also pondering whether some do good out of their own sense of altruism, or simply because they want praise: “My words, my words, can’t hold their weight. Demonstrations of compassion give me hope that there’s still something to believe in. My good intentions don’t redeem me. Are you fine with helping if there’s no acclaim?

Another favorite of mine is “Earthwormin‘”, both because of its marvelous jangly guitars, warm keyboards and lush Beach Boys-like harmonies, but also for its lyrics that once again speak to my own challenges as a music blogger: “Balancing is challenging to do now. Everyone expects something from you now. Day in, day out struggling get through, how?” Album closer “Whose Plans?” is a pleasing, mostly acoustic song, accompanied by what sounds like children playing in the background, and trailing off with ambient sounds of crickets at night. The spare lyrics ponder the concept of how our lives seldom go as planned: “All the things we rearranged, yet so few left unchanged. When we look at ourselves, has all this been done well?

Warm Breakfast is the perfect title for this album, as its pleasing songs are like comfort food for the ears, delicious with every listen.

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Top 30 Songs for May 7-13, 2023

“New Gold”, the wonderful collaboration between virtual band Gorillaz, Australian alternative psychedelic music project Tame Impala, and American rapper Bootie Brown, maintains it’s grip on the #1 spot for a third week, while “Ghosts Again” by Depeche Mode moves into the #2 spot. Jumping five spots each are “Kid” by The Revivalists, to #3, and “Eat Your Young” by Hozier, to #5. The raucous “Paid Off”, by British alt-rock band Oli Barton & the Movement, enters the top 10 at #10. They just released their biting new single “Left Alive in America?” on May 5th, and will be releasing their album Pipe Dreams on the 19th.

Making their debut this week are “Rescued” by the Foo Fighters, their first new release since the untimely death of drummer Taylor Hawkins, at #29, and “Hello”, by the always delightful L.A. band GROUPLOVE, at #30.

  1. NEW GOLD – Gorillaz, Tame Impala & Bootie Brown (1)
  2. GHOSTS AGAIN – Depeche Mode (3)
  3. KID – The Revivalists (8)
  4. FLOWERS – Miley Cyrus (4)
  5. EAT YOUR YOUNG – Hozier (10)
  6. BLUEBELL WOOD – Frank Joshua (6)
  7. TROPIC MORNING NEWS – The National (2)
  8. SOFTEN – Alex Southey (5)
  9. THE WALK HOME – Young the Giant (9)
  10. PAID OFF – Oli Barton & the Movement (13)
  11. NOT STRONG ENOUGH – boygenius (17)
  12. WOLF – Yeah Yeah Yeahs (14)
  13. TRANSMITTER – Sea Power (7)
  14. THE PERFECT PAIR – beabadoobee (16)
  15. PEPPER – Death Cab for Cutie (11)
  16. LOVE FROM THE OTHER SIDE – Fall Out Boy (12)
  17. GO DOWN RIVER – The Heavy Heavy (18)
  18. DUMMY – Portugal. The Man (19)
  19. ESSENCE – Refeci & Shimmer Johnson (20)
  20. I WANT YOU DEAD – Two Feet & Allie Cabal (15)
  21. ANGELICA – Wet Leg (22)
  22. 1982 – Morgendust (23)
  23. RESCUE ME – Dirty Heads (24)
  24. LEAVING – Au Gres (25)
  25. THE WAY – Manchester Orchestra (27)
  26. IN MY HEAD – Mike Shinoda & Kailee Morgue (28)
  27. THOSE EYES – New West (29)
  28. WHY – Future Theory (30)
  29. RESCUED – Foo Fighters (N)

PYLON POETS – Single Review: “In The End”

Pylon Poets are an alternative indie rock band from the southwestern England town of Torquay, Devon. Consisting of brothers Dan (lead vocals, guitars & synths) and Nathan Hughes (bass, backing vocals), and Sam McIver (drums), Pylon Poets have been putting out high-energy melodic rock for several years, with relatable lyrics touching on such issues as pop culture, love and politics. They’ve toured extensively and have played several music festivals throughout the UK, sharing the stage with such artists as Reef, Fun Lovin’ Criminals, Scouting For Girls, Republica and ASH.

Photo of Sam, Dan & Nathan by Amy Stanford

Beginning with their debut album Spirit, Love & Higher Meanings in 2016, they followed two years later with a five-track self-titled EP, and since then have dropped many more singles, including a second EP Lucid Hallucinations in late 2020. Today, they release their latest single “In The End“, about which they say “focuses on the battles of mental health, and the feelings and thoughts that accompany it whilst keeping an optimistic outlook on the future.” The track was engineered, recorded and produced by Sugar House at Catalyst Studios, and mastered by Fluid Mastering.

Pylon Poets get right down to business, opening “In The End” with a blast of reverb-drenched guitars and shimmery synths. The music then settles into a strong thumping groove, accompanied by some nice guitar noodling in the verses as Dan calmly sings “In the end, there is a new beginning. There is a time for living. In the end, there’s something beautiful. A godsend or something cynical. In the end, it’s all collateral. In the end.” As the song continues, the gentler verses alternate with exuberant choruses, in which Dan’s vocals turn more impassioned as he sings of struggling with his conflicting emotions: “Losing control, taking the reigns, fighting the tide inside my mind. Burning alive, breaking the chains, one by one nothing remains.” It all serves to create a contrasting sense of excitement and tension, making this a terrific rock song.

Pylon Poets have lots of tour dates planned, so click here for details.

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Julian Shah-Tayler and Friends – Album Review: “Forget That I’m 50”

Photo and artwork by The Cracked Intelligence

This is quite possibly one of the most challenging reviews I’ve ever attempted, as how do I even begin to write about an entire cover album – with contributions by ten different artists – of David Bowie’s iconic 1973 album Aladdin Sane? Each of the album’s 10 tracks could warrant its own detailed write-up, so reviewing the new 50-year anniversary cover album Forget That I’m 50, by singer-songwriter, producer and remixer Julian Shah-Tayler (aka The Singularity) along with a host of artists, within the context of the original album is no small task. This will essentially entail a simultaneous track-by-track review of two albums!

It’s safe to say that David Bowie was one of the most influential and groundbreaking music artists of the second half of the 20th Century. His work was universally acclaimed by both critics and musicians alike, and loved by millions of fans. Over a career spanning nearly 50 years until his death in January 2016, his musical output was astonishing, consisting of 26 studio albums, 21 live albums, 46 compilation albums, 10 extended plays, 128 singles, 3 soundtracks and 12 box sets. Throughout his lifetime, Bowie sold more than 140 million records worldwide.

Among his more fascinating works was Aladdin Sane, his sixth studio album released 50 years ago, in April 1973. The album followed his breakthrough work The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, and was written and recorded in London and New York in December 1972 and January 1973 during breaks in his Ziggy Stardust Tour. Co-produced by Bowie and Ken Scott, Aladdin Sane was his final album recorded with his backing band the Spiders from Mars, which consisted of Mick Ronson on guitar, Trevor Bolder on bass and Mick Woodmansey on drums, with additional contributions by pianist Mike Garson, two saxophonists and three backing vocalists.

Bowie wrote most of Aladdin Sane while on tour in the U.S., consequently, the songs are strongly influenced by his experiences and perceptions of the country. The lyrics reflect both the pros of his newfound stardom and the cons of touring and that stardom, with its attendant demands by record executives, agents and fans, and being surrounded by an assortment of sycophants, groupies, drug dealers and other unsavory characters, all clamoring for his attention. In his 1996 book Bowie: Loving the Alien, biographer Christopher Sandford wrote that the album revealed that Bowie “was simultaneously appalled and fixated by America“, evidenced by the fact that many of the songs’ lyrics make references to urban decay, drugs, sex, violence and death. In fact, Bowie described the album’s title character, a pun on “A lad insane”, as “Ziggy Stardust goes to America“. He further elaborated: “Aladdin Sane was my idea of rock and roll America. Here I was on this great tour circuit, not enjoying it very much. So inevitably my writing reflected that, this kind of schizophrenia that I was going through. Wanting to be up on stage performing my songs, but on the other hand not really wanting to be on those buses with all those strange people. Being basically a quiet person, it was hard to come to terms.” (The Complete David Bowie by Nicholas Pegg, 2016)

Additionally, some of the songs are influenced by the Rolling Stones, including a cover of their song “Let’s Spend the Night Together”. The striking album cover artwork, shot by Brian Duffy and featuring a lightning bolt across Bowie’s face, was the most expensive cover ever made at the time and is regarded as one of his most iconic images.

Julian Shah-Tayler is a singer-songwriter, producer and remixer who’s originally from Leeds, England, and now based in South Pasadena, a suburb of Los Angeles. Influenced by 80s and 90s New Wave, Britpop and Electronic Rock, the prolific artist creates music that some of his fans have described as “if David Bowie and Depeche Mode had a baby”. In fact, he’s in a Depeche Mode tribute band called Strangelove, and also a Bowie tribute act The Band That Fell To Earth. He’s had an illustrious and successful music career for over 20 years, both as a solo artist under the music moniker The Singularity, and as a collaborator with numerous musicians and producers. He won a “Golden Trailer” award for his work with Lana Del Ray on the trailer for the Disney film Maleficent, and had one of his songs performed by “Tellavision” during the “Unite for Humanity” charity event at the Oscars. Three of his songs were used for the music movie Plush directed by Catherine Hardwicke (who also directed Twilight). Shah-Tayler also cofounded a charity called “Art Angeles”, which provides music instruction for underprivileged kids in Watts.

Last year, Shah-Tayler released his critically-acclaimed album Elysium. I first learned about him in March, when I reviewed British band WINACHI’s EP FOR YOU I’D KILL, which featured a wonderful remix by him. He liked what I wrote, and sent me the music and press release for Forget That I’m 50, which was subsequently released on April 15th. Faced with the daunting prospect of reviewing it, I allowed my penchant for overthinking and analysis paralysis to cause me considerable stress and delay, but at long last, I’ve finally written my review. (Shah-Tayler has since put out yet another new release, his collaborative single and video for “Kiss Me (Goodbye)”, with L.A.-based alternative rock collective Beauty in Chaos, which just dropped May 3rd.)

Released via the new Harmony Records label, Forget That I’m 50 is a collaboration with his friend and mentor David Chatfield, in which they reimagine the ten songs of Aladdin Sane. Shah-Tayler produced or executive produced six of the album’s ten tracks, and performs on two: “Cracked Actor” and “Lady Grinning Soul”. So let’s get to the album, shall we?

Opening track “Watch That Man” was written after Bowie saw two concerts by New York Dolls, whose first two albums many critics believed represented the American response to the British glam rock movement. Impressed with their sound, Bowie wanted to emulate it on a song. According to Genius, the song describes the goings on at one of the New York Dolls’ after-parties, with Bowie taking note of all the guests, but paying special attention to “That Man”, the Doll’s lead singer David Johansen. The remake, by L.A.-based singer-songwriter, composer and producer Gene Micofsky, who also happens to be the guitarist in Shah-Tayler’s Bowie tribute act The Band That Fell To Earth, is a rousing, sped-up take on the original, honoring its adrenaline-fueled glam rock’n’roll feel with exuberant guitar work.

The title track “Aladdin Sane“, unquestionably my favorite on the Bowie original, was inspired by Evelyn Waugh’s 1930 novel Vile Bodies, which Bowie read during his trip on the RHMS Ellinis back to the UK. (Wikipedia) It’s more experimental than his then-typical glam rock sound, with a jazzy, almost progressive feel, highlighted by Mike Garson’s spectacular piano work. The lyrics describe how young men are enticed into enlisting into the armed forces, and “Aladdin Sane” is a homophone for “A lad insane”, reflecting Bowie’s belief that one would have to be insane to volunteer himself to go off to war. The new cover version, by the beautiful L.A.-based singer-songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist Beck Black, still retains some of the original’s progressive elements and sophisticated jazzy vibes, but instead of the dominant piano, we have terrific psychedelic guitars, along with some plucked sitar and heavier percussion. Black’s seductive vocals are wonderful, and do justice to Bowie’s original. I love how at the end of the song, both Bowie and Black sing the almost imperceptible line “The neon lights are oh so bright on Broadway“.

Drive-In Saturday” was written following an overnight train ride between Seattle and Phoenix in early November 1972. Seeing a row of silver domes in the distance at one point on the journey, Bowie assumed they were secret government facilities intended for use after a nuclear attack. The lyrics describe how radiation has affected people’s minds and bodies to the point that they need to watch old video films in order to learn to have sex again. Bowie further elaborated “some people are living on the streets and some people are living in domes, and they borrow from one another and try to learn how to pick up the pieces“, also noting that the song was set in the year 2033 (Genius) : “I’ll ring and see if your friends are home. Perhaps the strange ones in the dome can lend us a book, we can read up alone. And try to get it on like once before, when people stared in Jagger’s eyes and scored like the video films we saw.” Musically, the song has a relaxed doo wop vibe, highlighted by exuberant saxophone blasts, and I love how Bowie emphasizes the chorus line “His name was always Buddy!” The remake, sung by Northern California alternative electronic artist Darwin, retains the doo-wop feel, but is even mellower and more contemplative, with lovely instrumentals and gentle backing vocals by Ash Reyes that nicely complement Darwin’s pleasing low-key croons.

Next up is “Panic in Detroit“, which was inspired by Iggy Pop’s stories of the Detroit riots in 1967 and the rise of the White Panther Party, specifically their leader John Sinclair, whose ideas Bowie compared to the rebel martyr Che Guevara in the dark lyrics. The song has a punk rock groove, highlighted by the interesting use of congas and world percussion that were later added after the drummer Mick Woodmansey refused to do the Bo Diddley beat that guitarist Mick Ronson and Bowie desired. Linda Lewis of “Rock-A-Doodle-Do” fame sang the wailing free-form vocals in the background. (Genius) The reimagined version, vibrantly sung by Natalie Wilde (who also sang backing vocals on the previously mentioned WINACHI song “FOR YOU I’D KILL“), and accompanied by some terrific percussive instruments and guitar work, does justice to the rousing punk rock feel of the original.

Track five, “Cracked Actor“, was written following Bowie’s time spent on the famed Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood, where he witnessed prostitution, drug use and sex. The lyrics, which describe an aging movie star’s sexual encounter with a prostitute for whom he feels contempt, contain the album’s title – “I’m stiff on my legend. The films that I made. Forget that I’m fifty ’cause you just got paid.” The song’s a banger, with a hard-driving groove, punctuated by Mick Ronson’s bluesy guitars. The remake, by L.A.-based electro-pop duo Sumthing Strange (consisting of Alex Prusmack and Johnny Santoro), with additional vocals by Julian Shah-Tayler, honors the original quite nicely with it’s bombastic, high-energy treatment. Their grimy guitars and stomping rhythms are fantastic.

Time“, originally written as “We Should Be On By Now” for Bowie’s friend George Underwood, was completely rewritten after the sudden death of New York Dolls drummer Billy Murcia, in November 1972. The lyrics address concepts of mortality, with the original title used as a refrain in the chorus. The inclusion of the word “wanking” caused “Time” to be banned from radio by the BBC. (Wikipedia) The song’s distinctive “burlesque vamp” sound was created by the wonderful cabaret-style piano work by Mike Garson and accompanying guitar lines by Mick Ronson. The cover version is performed by two members of L.A.-based rock band Human Drama, Johnny Indovina on acoustic guitar and vocals, and Steve Fuxan on fretless bass, along with Shah-Tayler on keyboards. This stripped-down remake has a completely different feel, more melancholy and introspective, and I think more reflective of the bittersweet lyrics “But love has left you dreamless. The door to dreams was closed. Your park was real and dreamless. Perhaps you’re smiling now, smiling through this darkness. But all I have to give is guilt for dreaming.”

The Prettiest Star“, written by Bowie as a love song for his first wife Angela Barnett, was originally released in 1970 as the follow-up single to “Space Oddity”. That original featured a distinctive guitar riff played by Mark Bolan of glam rock band T. Rex. Bowie decided to include the song on Aladdin Sane, so it was re-recorded with Mick Ronson recreating Bolan’s original guitar parts almost note-for-note. The rather trippy cover version, by male artist Former Teen (who I was unable to find any information about), is also a sizeable departure from the original, with a fascinating mix of vintage electronic percussion, pulsating synth bass, and quirky synth sounds, accompanied by Former Teen’s offbeat drones.

The inclusion of a cover of the Rolling Stones classic song of lustful desire, “Let’s Spend the Night Together“, acknowledges their influence on the entire record. But whereas the original was psychedelic, Bowie’s rendition is faster, raunchier and more glam-influenced. Several critics have derided it as “camp and unsatisfying”, also calling it a gay appropriation of a heterosexual song, which I find both ridiculous and insulting. At any rate, the cover-of-a-cover, performed by L.A.-based singer-songwriter Jawnee Danger, is the most radical departure of all the tracks on Forget That I’m 50, and I love it!

First off, listening to his version was a bit of revelation for me, as the opening lyrics “Don’t you worry about what’s on your mind, oh my. I’m in no hurry, I can take my time, oh my. I’m going red and my tongue’s getting tied. I’m off my head and my mouth’s getting dry” were scarcely recognizable (I guess that despite hearing the Stones’ original more than 100 times in my life, I’ve never really contemplated the lyrics!) The tempo on Jawnee Danger’s version is slowed down considerably, with a darker, more sensuous vibe that calls to mind some of the songs by Nine Inch Nails. I love the mysterious synths and guitar notes, and his sultry ethereal vocals even sound a bit like Trent Reznor’s.

Probably my second-favorite track on Aladdin Sane is “The Jean Genie“, with its chugging R&B guitar riff reminiscent of the Yardbirds songs “I’m a Man” and “Smokestack Lightning”, the former being a sped-up cover of the Bo Diddley original. The song actually began as an impromptu jam titled “Bussin'” that Bowie and his band played on the charter bus while travelling from Cleveland to Memphis. Calling it “a smorgasbord of imagined Americana” and his “first New York song“, with a protagonist inspired by Iggy Pop – a “white-trash, kind of trailer-park kid thing, the closet intellectual who wouldn’t want the world to know that he reads“, and a title that was an allusion to author Jean Genet. (Wikipedia)

Bowie wrote the song to “entertain” Cyrinda Foxe, an associate of Andy Warhol with whom he had a brief affair, and who appeared in the song’s video (she was also later married to both David Johansen of the New York Dolls and Steven Tyler of Aerosmith). “The Jean Genie” was released as the lead single of Aladdin Sane, and peaked at #2 on the UK Singles Chart, making it Bowie’s biggest hit to date, however, in the U.S. it only got as high as #71 on the Billboard Hot 100. The superb reimagined version, by the Michael Aston-fronted version of alt-rock band Gene Loves Jezebel, stays true to Bowie’s original, with some marvelous psychedelic guitar work, as well as great harmonica played by Shah-Tayler. I like how the song ends with Aston ad libbing “Love, love me do. There’s nothing to be scared of.”

The beautiful romantic ballad “Lady Grinning Soul” was one of the final songs written for the album and also a last-minute addition, replacing a sax version of “John, I’m Only Dancing” as the originally intended closing track. (Wikipedia) The song was inspired by American soul singer Claudia Lennear, whom Bowie met during the U.S. tour and was also the inspiration for the Rolling Stones’ song “Brown Sugar” (she was an Ikette in the Ike & Tina Turner Revue, as well as a background vocalist for several acts, including Joe Cocker, Leon Russell, and Freddie King, and was featured in the wonderful 2013 Oscar-winning documentary 20 Feet from Stardom).

In a 2016 interview with The Daily Bulletin shortly after Bowie’s death, Lennear revealed that Bowie called her in 2014, telling her the song had been written about her. With a sound and style that some have likened to a James Bond movie theme, “Lady Grinning Soul” has a serene classical feel, thanks to Garson’s luxurious piano work (which he described as “about as romantic as it gets…French with a little Franz Liszt thrown in there“), accompanied by Ronson’s flamenco-style guitar and Bowie’s dreamy vocals. Shah-Tayler’s reimagined version replaces the piano with his signature lush synths, including a synth guitar that results in some enchanting harp-like sounds. His beautiful emotive singing voice, which sometimes rises to a gentle falsetto, is on full display here, perfectly capturing the romantic sensuality of the original, but even more so I think.

Writing this review required that I listen to Aladdin Sane multiple times, causing me to fall in love with it and fully realize what a truly brilliant album it is, with songs that sound as fresh and innovative today as they did fifty years ago. Also, each song sounds uniquely different, making for a tremendously fascinating listen. Attempting to cover such iconic songs would seem to be an incredibly daunting endeavor, but Julian Shah-Tayler and company succeed and then some. Forget That I’m 50 not only does great justice to Bowie’s original, its overall excellence makes it a great album in its own right.

Here’s Forget That I’m 50:

And here’s David Bowie’s Aladdin Sane:

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