A BLUE FLAME – Album Review: “The Secret Breeze”

British singer/songwriter and musician Richard Stone – who goes by the artistic name A Blue Flame – tells compelling stories about life, love, heartache and loss through poetic, thoughtful lyrics and sublime melodies. His music reflects an eclectic range of influences from doo-wop and old-school pop to easy listening ballads, folk, jazz and rock, delivered with sophisticated and utterly pleasing instrumentals and his smooth, clear vocals. The passage of time and the challenge of keeping the faith – both in God and oneself – are recurring themes in his songs, and while a lot of his lyrics are sad or bittersweet, they’re also lovely to listen to and rarely depressing, offering glimmers of optimism and hope. Stone also has a wry sense of humor that shines through on some of his songs.

A Blue Flame2

I first featured Leicester-based A Blue Flame on this blog back in October 2016, when I reviewed his beautiful debut album What We’ve Become is All That Now Remains. In January 2018, I reviewed his equally superb follow-up album When Your Whole World Turns to Dust, which he released in September 2017. (You can read those reviews by clicking on the “Related” links at the bottom of this page.) Now he’s about to drop his third album The Secret Breeze, set for release on August 17th, and which I’m previewing today.

Stone writes all his songs, sings vocals and plays guitar, and arranges them with assistance from Adam Ellis, who co-produces and also plays guitar. Other session musicians adding their skills to the album included Damon Claridge on drums, Tony Robinson on horns, Glenn Hughes on piano and Hammond organ, Tom Bull on upright bass and Jo Preston on flute. Though some of the songs were written prior to the outbreak of the pandemic, others reflect these trying times, as he explains: “One of the album themes (as ever) is loss, as I suppose that’s what I feel so keenly. I think the brightness of the 1960’s casts a long shadow to mix metaphors somehow. All that hope and positive change seems like it almost never happened.”

The Secret Breeze features 12 tracks, all of them very good to excellent, but I’ll touch on the ones that resonate with me. The opening track and first single released in advance of the album is “With Love from a Friend“, a bewitching song that beautifully showcases A Blue Flame’s superb songwriting and arrangement skills. The delicately strummed acoustic and chiming electric guitars, sparkling piano keys and jazzy upright bass notes are exquisite, and when combined with the languid tempo and lovely vocals, the song has a dreamy, atmospheric quality. The lyrics seem to be about an inability or fear to fully act on one’s true feelings: “I’m writing a letter that I’ll never send. From the edge of my memory, time without end. And I’ll write at the bottom, ‘with love from a friend’.” It’s a gorgeous song, and instantly one of my favorites on the album.

It’s Raining All Over the World” speaks to the sorry state of current events the world over, what with a global pandemic, rising authoritarianism and social unrest causing anxiety just about everywhere. A Blue Flame fervently laments “What have we done my friends? Looks like the end. Now it’s raining all over the world.” Despite the rather depressing lyrics, the music is great, especially the infectious doo wop melody, terrific guitar work and vibrant piano keys.

Another favorite of mine is “Too Fast“, both for its wonderful instrumentals and relatable lyrics. The song starts off with a gentle acoustic guitar, then a marching drumbeat ensues along with Spanish-style guitar notes as A Blue Flame sings of the rapid passage of time (something that freaks me out on an almost daily basis anymore): “We were too young to know what we were doing. Its just how it is. It’s how we all live…way too fast.” Eventually, the music expands to a carnival-like vibe, with exuberant flutes, horns, and more of those lively marching drumbeats that contrast with the pessimistic and timely lyrics: “The world’s a great big mess. It’s mad. And we can’t catch the truth as it rushes by. So, so, so, so sad.”

The bittersweet “The Moon Obscured the Sun” sounds like a song Harry Chapin and Burt Bacharach could have written together. The lyrics speak to a love that might have been, except that the two never had the courage to act on their feelings: “I remember you from a lifetime long ago. We were frightened into silence, by the things we didn’t know. We couldn’t find the words to say a love we should have spoken yesterday.”

Tiny Little Thing” is a poignant anthem about not allowing others to bring you down with their negative thoughts and hurtful words, causing you to curl up into a ‘tiny little thing’ a kinder and gentler metaphor for the fetal position: “These could be the good old days, if you decide to make them so. Don’t turn yourself into a tiny little thing. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done, who hurt you, or who you hurt. Don’t turn yourself into a tiny little thing.” I like the jangly guitars and crisp percussion, but the highlights for me are Hughes’ wonderful piano and organ work. And it goes without saying that I love A Blue Flame’s highly emotive vocals.

The standout track for me is the dark and sultry “Your Mother Said Everything Was Beautiful“. It’s a brilliant song, with an edgier vibe than many A Blue Flame’s songs, and I love it. The lush instrumentals are absolutely fantastic, especially the gnarly surf guitars, Hughes’ mournful organ and Robinson’s blaring wah wah trumpet that brings chills. The lyrics seem to speak to the conundrum of how people with the most wealth and power are often the most unhappy in life: “Your mother said everything was beautiful. Everyone had everything. They saw themselves as queens and kings. They had the keys to the secret breeze. They owned the wind in the trees. So please now tell me why, did all the people cry?

Album closer “If Tomorrow Ever Comes” is an interesting and dramatic song about contemplating the end of the world. It has a complex melody and powerful, varied instrumentation that make for a fascinating listen. It starts off like a folk tune, with sounds of waves crashing onto a beach, accompanied by a gently strummed acoustic guitar and reverb-heavy electric guitar chords. An organ soon enters as Stone croons “If tomorrow ever comes, I’ll be waiting there for you. You can take my hand and say ‘we did all that we could do’.” The music continues to build with jangly and distorted guitars, bass, heavier percussion, tambourine and glittery synths, while his vocals become more impassioned: “And if our sorrow ever leaves. We’ll dance into the sky. Looking down upon the earth, we’ll hold each other tight./ But we’re stuck inside a clock, wishing it would stop./ And you can’t tell what is real, when you’re turning on a wheel./ For if the world should end. We’ll not be there my friend./ If tomorrow never comes.” The music rises to a powerful crescendo, then fades as the song ends with the same crashing waves we heard at the beginning. It’s a fine finish to an outstanding and thoroughly satisfying album.

Connect with A Blue Flame:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase:  Google Play 

A BLUE FLAME – 3-Track Single Review: “Blueprints For Time Machines”

A Blue Flame EP art

I’m not quite sure what’s behind the current flood of creative energy, but it seems that nearly everyone is putting out new music in 2019. At least that’s the case for a large percentage of the artists and bands I’ve featured on this blog over the past three and a half years. Another one of them is A Blue Flame, the music project of British singer/songwriter Richard Stone, who’s just released a new three-track single “Blueprints for Time Machines“, the first of four releases that will comprise his upcoming album due out this summer.

A Blue Flame’s songs tell compelling stories about life, love, faith, loss and heartbreak through poetic, heartfelt lyrics and sublime melodies. The passage of time and the challenge of keeping the faith – both in God and yourself – are recurring themes in his songs. Musically, his songs feature an eclectic range of styles from doo-wop and old-school pop to easy listening ballads, folk and rock, delivered with his smooth, pleasing vocal style. I first featured him on this blog in October 2016, when I reviewed his beautiful album What We’ve Become is All That Now Remains. In January 2018, I reviewed his equally stellar follow-up album When Your Whole World Turns to Dust, which dropped in September 2017. (You can read those reviews by clicking on the “Related” links at the bottom of this page.)

A Blue Flame

Stone writes all his songs and plays guitar on all the tracks. He arranges them with assistance from Adam Ellis, who co-produces and also plays guitar.  Other session musicians add their skills to the mix as needed, including Damon Claridge on drums, Andy Robertson on bass and keyboards, and Tony Robinson on keyboards and horns. About these new singles, Stone explains: “Blueprints has the interesting concept that if you went back in time to improve what you’d done, you’d make the past better than the present you have already created through mistakes made in the past!

The exhilarating first track “Blueprints for Time Machines” is short, lasting barely over two minutes, but makes quite an impact with a thunderous mix of roiling riffs and hammering percussion, punctuated by staccato bursts of stabbing guitars and punchy drumbeats. Stone’s passionate vocals are commanding as he loudly proclaims “Blueprints for time machines. I need designs and plans and schemes. So I can make yesterday better than I made today.”

A Blue Flame keeps the energy flowing with “You Blink and it’s Gone”, an exuberant song with a wonderfully complex melody incorporating elements of rock’n’roll, Latin and pop music. The intricate layered guitars are fantastic, and I love the lively trumpet work and backing vocal harmonies. The lyrics speak to a relationship that’s lost the initial spark that drew them together in the beginning, and now looking back with sad resignation: “I wish that I’d known then what I know now. I would have held you high above the crowd. / Feels like forever, then you blink and it’s gone. You need to let go, but you’re still holding on. And you can’t even tell if you’ve lost or you’ve won. You blink and it’s gone.”

Things turn melancholy with the languid “Pull for the Shore”, a track that almost sounds like two songs melded together. It starts off slowly, with acoustic guitars and gentle snare drum, then a smooth organ riff enters as Stone sings in a rather sad tone: “You’re lost again. You feel like you’re running on the spot again. Reached inside and given all you’ve got again. You think you may be headed for the drop again. You’re down my friend.” Eventually, the pace of the music quickens and music builds as he urges self-preservation: “Hey ho, don’t take anymore. Pull for the Shore.” Two-thirds of the way through, the tempo abruptly transitions to a faster rock vibe, with heavier guitars, organ and drums. Stone repeats the affirming line “Hey ho, don’t take anymore”, ending the song on a positive note.

A Blue Flame continues to deliver music that’s meaningful, interesting and always a joy to hear. All three tracks are marvelous, and a great start to what will surely be another superb album.

Connect with A Blue Flame:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase:  cdbaby / iTunes

A BLUE FLAME – Album Review: “When Your Whole World Turns to Dust”

When You're Whole World Turns to Dust

British singer/songwriter Richard Stone – who goes by the artistic name A Blue Flame –tells compelling stories about life, love, faith, loss and heartbreak through poetic, heartfelt lyrics and sublime melodies. And though he’s not as concerned about the music or sound of his songs as he is the lyrics, I think they sound just right. His songs reflect an eclectic range of styles from doo-wop and old-school pop to easy listening ballads, folk and rock. Plus, his smooth, clear vocals are pleasing to the ear and perfectly suit his thoughtful lyrics.

Following up on his phenomenal 2016 album What We’ve Become is All That Now Remains, which I reviewed, A Blue Flame dropped When Your Whole World Turns to Dust at the end of September 2017. (he does seem to like long album titles!) He takes a somewhat darker tone on this album; many of the song lyrics are sad or bittersweet, speaking to failed relationships, regret, or disillusionment with the state of things. And yet they’re lovely to listen to and never depressing, offering glimmers of optimism and hope.

He writes all his songs and plays guitar on all the tracks. He arranges them with assistance from Adam Ellis, who co-produces and also plays guitar.  Other session musicians add their skills to the mix as needed, including Damon Claridge on drums, Andy Robertson on bass and keyboards, and Tony Robinson on keyboards and horns.

A Blue Flame 2

Back to the Stars” kicks things off with a languid tempo that feels rather like a sad slow dance, as a somber trumpet takes center stage. Soft tinkling of piano keys, a lightly strummed acoustic guitar and gentle snare drums complete the music. With an air of melancholy in his voice, A Blue Flame croons a message of hope and redemption: “When your whole world turns to dust. And all that you’ve known lies shattered and torn in undiluted sorrow. Look at the sky up above and know that you’re loved. Look up and know that you’re loved. And we’ll go back to the stars.”

The sad theme continues with “We Feel Like We Feel,” a beautiful but wistful song with layers of twangy strummed guitars, organ and a soft snare drum. The poignant lyrics speak to a relationship in which the feelings that once drew them together have drained away, leaving them feeling emotionally empty:  “Fleeting bittersweet memory. We found things that you can’t see. Every day we wake up wondering how the day starts. All we can feel is the cold of the steel in our hearts.” “Don’t Wait” is an uptempo pop tune with jangly guitar, piano and smooth trumpet.  A Blue Flame urges us to not waste any more time clinging to fear, self-doubt and regret, and to just “Strip off, dive in and swim.”

One of my favorites is “21st Century Blues,” a catchy song with a hook that would make Burt Bacharach proud. Tony Robinson’s bold trumpet has a starring role, with keyboards, piano and guitar adding to the great instrumental mix. The lively rock guitar riff in the bridge gives the track an extra jolt of energy.

The Future’s a Mystery” is a lovely little song about not worrying about what the future may bring, and just enjoying what we have now: “The future’s a mystery, let’s get on with living today.” A slow doo-wop beat and a beguiling trumpet are defining elements of the hopeful “A Better Way.” A Blue Flame advocates a solution for getting out of our funk: “All we need are easy days to chase the blues away. Let’s find a better way.”

One of the prettiest but also saddest tracks is “The Words Wouldn’t Form” a bittersweet song about feeling heartbroken over someone who’s left you for another. A Blue Flame’s doleful vocals convey a deep sadness as he sings: “I don’t know why I could not say goodbye. Darling I don’t know why the words wouldn’t form.” Musically the song features a gentle strummed guitar, lovely flute and xylophone, and the backing chorus is beautiful. A celtic-sounding flute and acoustic guitar are a sweet backdrop on “All We Need to Know.” The lyrics speak to the honest realization that a relationship was not going to survive. With a hint of cynicism, he admonishes us not to take life so seriously on the peppy “Everything’ s a Lie.” “There’s no need to cry when everything’s a lie. Nothing makes sense anymore. Show me the door.”

A Blue Flame rocks out on the next two tracks. “Empty Head” is a great, hard-hitting song in which he concludes that ignorance is bliss: “Nothing springs to mind. Empty head is here again.” The edgy “See What Tomorrow Brings” is terrific, incorporating touches of psychedelia and punk, and is a song David Bowie could have done. It features heavy guitars, bass and drums, and the distorted guitar riff at the end is awesome. It’s another of my favorites on the album.

The album closes on an optimistic note with “Love Will Set Us Free,” a beguiling song with a similar smooth, slow tempo as the opening track. The piano work is especially sublime, as are A Blue Flame’s vocals and the backing chorus. It’s a fitting end to a unique and wonderful album. His lyrics, music and vocals meld together perfectly, and the album’s production values and music arrangements are outstanding on every level. It all makes for a really beautiful and highly satisfying listen.

Connect with A Blue Flame:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase:  cdbaby / iTunes

Album Review: A BLUE FLAME – “What We’ve Become is All That Now Remains”

British singer/songwriter Richard Stone – who goes by the artistic name A Blue Flame – doesn’t consider himself a musician, but rather a compulsive writer of songs who also happens to play the guitar. For him, the song lyric is supreme, not the music or sound. On his album, What We’ve Become is All That Now Remains, he tells compelling stories using straightforward lyrics about life, love, faith, loss and heartbreak. And though he’s not as concerned about the music or sound of his songs, I think they’re superb, representing an amazingly eclectic range of styles from doo-wop and old-school pop to easy listening ballads and hard-driving rock.  Plus, his smooth, clear vocals perfectly suit his thoughtful lyrics.

When I asked Stone about his artistic name, he explained that ‘A Blue Flame’ just came to him, but he also liked “the balance in the name between the heat of a flame and the sadness of feeling blue. Blue flames are the hottest of all flames and they are also linked with strange, other worldly experiences like will o’ the wisps. It’s a name of contradictions between the scientific and paranormal, just like my music is a mass of contradictory influences.”  He said his songwriting has been influenced by some of the great songwriters such as Bob Dylan and the Beatles, but essentially any great song from one of any number of artists.

Stone writes all his songs and plays guitar. He arranges them with help from Adam Ellis, who co-produces and also plays guitar.  Other session musicians add their skills to the mix as needed, including Damon Claridge on drums, Andy Robertson on bass and keyboards, and Tony Robinson (who’s also played with the Manic Street Preachers and The Beautiful South, among other bands) on keyboards and horns.

a-blue-flame

The passage of time and the challenge of keeping the faith – both in God and yourself – are recurring subjects in A Blue Flame’s songs. The album opens with the sublime track “When Time Slowed Down.”  The song features beautiful piano, gentle guitar and snare drum, along with a captivating trumpet solo. With a hint of sadness in his voice, Stone wistfully sings of the fleeting nature of time, and the need to stop and savor the precious moments: “When all is said and done, and we’re just words upon a page inside a book that never opens / How will we be found?  We lucked out, the year we found the days when time slowed down.

Time’s passage is again alluded to on the tracks “Our Memories Fade” and the anthemic “Everyday Yesterday,” where an upbeat melody belies a deeper meaning: “Everyday, yesterday gets further away. I was born for the ninth time, a fool amongst the fools. Running in the nighttime and breaking all the rules. Till I saw I was the dullest stone in a box of golden jewels. It was clear that I knew nothing and my promises were cruel.

Stone plaintively urges self-belief and acceptance in the bittersweet ballad “Be Kind to Yourself” – “You know that your hate is a weakness, you know that you need to be brave. You’re scared of that something inside you that cries in the night to be safe” – and in the edgy, hard-rocking “I Don’t Know,” where Stone’s raw vocals seem to channel an exasperated Billy Joel. In “Feeling the Same,” he expresses empathy for someone feeling lost and alone with their pain and self-doubt.

Faith in God is questioned in the rousing “From God on Down.” Stone defiantly proclaims “I have been here a billion years, and I am so tired. I may, I may not exist. You might believe, you may well laugh. We’re all in the dark, from God on down.”  So too with the catchy pop-rock track “Out There Somewhere.”  Love and loss are the theme of the wonderful but rather mournful doo-wop tune “The Sun Refused to Shine.” The guitar solo in the last third of the song is great.

One of my favorite tracks is “Marlborough Park Avenue,” a poignant tune that calls to mind the incredible storied lyrics and singing style of Harry Chapin. To a gorgeous arrangement with gentle percussion, violin and multi-textured guitars that swirl, twang and chime, Stone fervently sings of a lost loved one “Though you’re not here, you still hold me together. The blossom is swimming around me / I think I’m in heaven.  I wish you were walking beside me, but you’ve gone on ahead.

Another standout is the hard-hitting kiss-off “The Girl Inside of You.” As with some of the other songs on the album, the upbeat, high-energy music – complete with “sha la la la, ooh sha la la las” – contrasts sharply with the fiery lyrics. Stone practically spits the lines “Rain falls down from a cloudless sky / I look up and I wonder why / It seems strange to me / It’s a motherfucking mystery / Farewell from the boy in me, who so fell for the girl inside of you.

What We’ve Become is All That Now Remains is an album that keeps getting better with each listen, as the poetic beauty of the lyrics continues to sink in. Learn more about A Blue Flame by checking out his website. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and stream his music on Spotify and Soundcloud. His music is available for purchase on CD Baby.