CORMAC O CAOIMH – Single Review: “I’m in Need”

A few weeks ago, I featured Cork, Ireland-based collaborative music project SomeRiseSomeFall when I reviewed their beautiful song “The Rain Came Down on Everything”. After reading that review, fellow Corkonian (I love that word) musician and singer-songwriter Cormac O Caoimh reached out to me about his new single “I’m in Need“, and I’m glad he did because I really like his music! He’s a skillful wordsmith and guitarist, writing sublime indie folk/pop songs overflowing with thoughtful, intelligent lyrics about the universal subjects of life, love, hope and loss, and delivered with subtle hooks, fine instrumentals and his pleasing vocals that sounds a bit like Paul Simon at times. His catchy melodies seem to effortlessly draw us in, then stay with us long after the songs end. I found myself humming “I’m in Need” long after hearing it. As Mojo Magazine so eloquently put it: “each song superglues to the memory“.

Cormac O Caoimh

Cormac has released a substantial amount of music over the past 15 years or so, including four studio albums, the most recent of which was his marvelous 2017 release Shiny Silvery Things. (I strongly encourage my readers to check out his music, which you can find on most music platforms, some of which I’ve listed at the end of this post.) Now he’s putting the finishing touches on his forthcoming fifth album Swim Crawl Walk Run, due for release on May 15. “I’m in Need” is the album’s lead single, which Cormac released on February 21st. The single and album were produced by his friend and fellow musician Martin Leahy, a talented multi-instrumentalist who’s collaborated with Cormac on previous records, and also played drums, bass, keyboards and more on the new album. The lovely backing vocals on “I’m in Need” and other tracks on the album are by Aoife Regan.

Cormac gave me the opportunity to have an advance listen to Swim Crawl Walk Run, and it’s a stunning work. It’s obvious he poured his heart and soul into it, as he explained in his message to me: “It is the first album I actually enjoyed making. I have been playing live with Martin Leahy for over 8 years but this is my first time making an album with him. It was a joy. I loved the whole process. It was relaxed, exciting, calm, manic. Everything. And the end product is something I could not be prouder of. The songs morphed and moved and grew during the process and the end result is an album I’m not sure I can top. It is full of singles. I want to release them all and I can’t wait for the first one to get out there.”

About the song, Cormac states: “During the writing of ‘I’m in need’ I did have the simplicity and directness of The Beatles ‘Help!’ as an influence. ‘Help me’ as a lyric is so fragile and honest and sad…but the song isn’t. The song is catchy and poppy. It works on two levels. I wanted the same for ‘I’m in need’. I wanted it to have meaning but more so a groove and be catchy. The feeling of the song also evolves. What starts as vulnerable ends up as a celebration of our humanity. We are all in need at times. Our feelings can be shaped by our thoughts. Musically the chorus gets more emphatic and joyful as the song progresses musically demonstrating the power of positivity.”

“I’m in Need” has a mellow and catchy acoustic-guitar driven melody, but a deeper listen also reveals a slight jazzy quality to Cormac’s guitar work that’s quite marvelous. His guitar notes beautifully meld together with the gentle percussion and keyboards, resulting in a harmonious and captivating soundscape. His calm, smooth vocals are exquisite, and like the music, blend in perfect harmony with Aoife Regan’s backing vocals. I like the spacey little sound effects inserted into the middle of the song that perk up our ears.  It’s a lovely and wonderful song.

Catch Cormac at one of these upcoming shows, all in Ireland:

Apr 27 – Mick Murphy’s, Ballymore Eustace
May 02 – The Glens Centre, Manorhamilton
May 15 – Album launch @ The Kino, Cork
May 29 – The Dc Music Club, Dublin
Jun 12 – The Weir Folk Club, Midleton

To learn more about Cormac, check out his Website
Connect with him on  FacebookTwitter
Stream his music on SpotifySoundcloudApple Music
Purchase/pre-order on BandcampWebsiteGoogle Play

DUNKIE – Album Review: “Working to Design”

Dunkie Working To Design (front cover)

As a music blogger who’s been at this more than four years, I still marvel at the fact that artists and bands would want me to write about their music. I receive a continuous flood of music submissions every week to sift through, sometimes overwhelming me to the point of despair, but every now and then some of it stands out in the crowd. One such artist is Dunkie, the music project of Welsh singer/songwriter Anthony Price. Hailing from the town of Mountain Ash in the South Wales Valleys, Price has written and recorded songs for many years, and at the end of December (2019), he released his debut album Working to Design. It’s an exquisite and monumental work, featuring 17 tracks exploring the universal subjects of life, love, the passage of time, death and loss, but also healing, hope and rebirth.

It’s a concept album, with songs partially inspired by the books and works of author Richard Matheson, but also an ambitious and deeply personal labor of love. Price has spent the past two years of his life, toiling countless long hours writing and recording the songs and meticulously working to get each track just right, as well as making imaginative videos for a few of the songs. In advance of the album, he released four of the tracks that are featured on Working to Design, beginning with “Can a Song Save Your Life?” in May 2018, and subsequently dropping another single every few months.

The songs were all written by Price and flawlessly produced, engineered, mixed and mastered by Wayne Bassett at Robot Recordings in Aberdare, Wales. Besides Price and Bassett, who played numerous instruments on many of the tracks, more than 30 other musicians and vocalists performed on various tracks, making it a truly collaborative effort on a near-epic scale. Another interesting aspect of the creation of this album is the use of dramatic artwork by Welsh artist Michael Gustavius Payne. The album is dedicated to the memories and lives of many of Price and his family’s loved ones, including some of their beloved pets, one of whom (Flea) is named in a song title.

Just over a year ago, I wrote a piece on Dunkie which included a review of the first four tracks he released, which you can read here. But now that the album is out, it’s a revelation to hear it in its entirety, as it flows seamlessly from one track into the next like a journey through song. The album opens with “∼Introduction∼So Little Time∼“, setting the stage for the musical and lyrical beauty about to unfold over the next one hour and 14 minutes. It’s immediately apparent that Price put an incredible amount of thought and care into creating the stunning instrumental soundscapes for his thoughtful, and sometimes brutally honest lyrics. When he sings “So much to do, so little time. It’s nice to know you’ll wait a while“, we willingly follow him along on this journey.

With 17 tracks, there’s a lot to unpack on Working to Design, and I’ll try to keep my review as succinct as possible – never an easy thing for a detail-oriented writer like me. “The White Hole” has an alt-rock vibe, with layered electric guitars, psychedelic synths and a gentle drumbeat driving the song forward. To my ears, Price’s soft vocals remind me at times of John Lennon in tone and style, only a bit higher in octave. In fact, it sounds like a song The Beatles could have recorded in their later, more experimental phase. The song immediately segues into the lovely “Can A Song Save Your Life?“, an optimistic song about the healing power of music. Price explains his inspiration behind the lyrics: “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. But then the littlest gesture lifts, the smallest moment lifts, a piece of music, a film or song you love just lifts you.” 

Rabbit Hole” is a poignant song about coming to terms with the agonizing pain of the loss of a loved one. Price 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.

The beautiful and endearing video shows a large group of family and friends coming together for a picnic to remember a loved one. About the people in the video wearing rabbit masks, Price explains: “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.”

One of the more musically interesting and lyrically enigmatic tracks is “I Don’t Wanna Die in Minnesota (Part II)“. Though I’m not sure, the lyrics seem to be about not wanting to waste one’s life: “I don’t wanna die in Minnesota. All liberties lost and the walls move in closer. ‘When I need you to jump I’ll give you the order!’ Dead diaries day to day – for how long do I stay? I’m afraid to waste my life down in Minnesota.” “I Think I’ve Been Asleep (All My Life)” is a folk-rock song with a gospel vibe, thanks to the sublime organ work. The lyrics speak to sleepwalking through one’s life, barely connecting with those around you: “Never knew your life, never knew you long. Regretting all the silence now that you’re gone. What a fool to be. Blind faith and empathy.” I really like the soulful guest vocals of Lucy Athey and Cat Southall on this track.

∼Intermission∼an Ode to a Flea∼” is a lovely little song in honor of one of Price’s beloved departed pets. “(W.A.L.L.S.) Within a Little Love Song” is a stunning and heartfelt ode to a loved one, affirming 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.” The chiming guitars and soaring vocal harmonies are gorgeous.

I think my favorite track on the album is “Ten“, an enchanting, mostly instrumental song. It opens with sounds of a bird chirping, followed by an acoustic guitar and lovely a cappella vocal harmonies. Gradually, an achingly beautiful flute (played by Tony Kauczok) and cello (by Isobel Smith) enter, accompanied by Wayne Bassett’s delicate piano keys and Price’s lovely falsetto vocals, transporting us to a dreamy state of mind. The only lyric is “I’m just working to design. Perfectly flawed…“, which Price repeats throughout the song. I’m guessing it’s his philosophy for his life, and the overriding theme of the album. The song is so beautiful and moving it brings tears to my eyes.

1896” is an introspective look back at life, family and career, and of choices and decision made, for better or worse: “I’ve been a Father, and I’ve been a Brother. I know now that decisions may have been wrong. I have imploded and I’ve fought with self-control. I’ve seen my children grow. I’ve taken all I can from the love of this band.” The majestic orchestral instrumentals, highlighted by a trumpet played by Charlotte Jayne Goodwin and Mellotron by John Barnes, make this a spectacular song.  “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.

Another favorite track of mine is the haunting “71-41-11“, a deeply moving tribute to Price’s father, who passed away from cancer in February 2015. The song, along with the following track “The Memory Tree“, were an effort by Price to come to terms with his pain and loss, and help him to move forward.  The song’s title consists of the age of his father when he died [71], Price’s age when his father died [41], and the age of his eldest son when his grandfather died [11] – each 30 years apart. The mournful, but beautiful song has an ethereal feel reminiscent of Sufjan Stevens.

A particularly poignant aspect of this song is how Price, through the help of another musician (Scottish musician BigRoundBaby aka Stephen McKinnon, who’d experienced his own grief over the death of his mother), managed to include his father’s voice on the track. Price recalls “During the 60’s I remember my Father and Mother made a spoken vinyl 7” ‘Record’ together when they were first dating.  They went into a portable recording booth and just playfully and awkwardly sang, and coaxed each other to say words into the microphone.  I remember as a teenager listening to the recording, it was very crackle but thankfully my friend was able convert the vinyl recording into a MP3 file. I wanted the song to have my Father’s voice, to keep him close by always, and I wanted it to be accompanied with my own children, his beloved grandson’s, to just create a time capsule moment.” Their voices can be heard at the end of the track. Also, McKinnon played electric guitar, bass and percussion on the track, and along with his daughters, sings backing vocals.

The gorgeous track “The Memory Tree” is a song of celebration about the power of memories, inspired by the book of the same name by Britta Teckentrup – Illustrator. An example of Price’s phenomenal songwriting are these touching lyrics: “From a child… you towered above me. You never once made me feel at all small. You’d fall to your knees, just so I’d feel the same size. And one by one these stories will climb through…A tree made of memories and full of love (for you).”

37 The Memory Tree - Art
‘The Memory Tree’ by Michael Gustavius Payne

The final track “∼Closure∼1972∼” revisits the lyrics of “1896”, only this time told from a woman’s perspective: “I’ve been a mother, and I’ve been a lover. I know now that decisions may have been wrong.” It’s a gorgeous song, with lovely vocals by Jennifer O’Neill Howard, lush piano and mellotron played by John Barnes, acoustic guitar played by Price, an enchanting Glockenspiel played by Wayne Bassett and a stunning choral vocal arrangement by Matt Williams.

I cannot gush enough about this magnificent album. I realize the word sometimes gets overused, but I feel safe in saying that Working to Design is a true masterpiece in every respect. It’s quite honestly one of the most perfectly-crafted albums I’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing. Anthony Price, Wayne Bassett, and all the musicians and vocalists who assisted in the creation and production of this gorgeous work have much to be proud of.

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

New Song of the Week – NATH JACKSON: “Oncoming Storm”

Nath Jackson

Nath Jackson is a talented singer-songwriter from Leeds, England, who I learned about this past July when I reviewed an EP he collaborated on with electronic music project The Ocean Beneath. He wrote and sang the lyrics on two of the tracks on that EP, and I was really impressed with his captivating vocals. Nath is now writing and recording songs for his own debut EP Dreamers and Deceivers, due out in Spring 2020. He’s just released “Oncoming Storm“, which I’ve chosen as my new song of the week. It’s the first single from his forthcoming EP, along with an accompanying live recording of a second track “Best Laid Plans”.  The Ocean Beneath produced the tracks, with backing vocals sung by Nath’s brother Aaron and drums performed by Karl Rigby.

Nath Jackson2

“Oncoming Storm” is a beautiful and haunting track, starting off with sounds of approaching winds and Nath’s strummed acoustic guitar, accompanied by gentle cymbals that evoke waves crashing on the shore in advance of an oncoming storm. As the song progresses, his guitar strums become more urgent, while lovely but melancholy piano keys and measured percussion enter the mix to create a stirring backdrop for his warm, resonant vocals.

The lyrics seem to me to be about someone afraid of committing themselves to love or even to life, for that matter, fearing they’ll get hurt.

I know you wait
You waited for so long
You’ve been trying to run from the oncoming storm
So come along, won’t you come with me
I’ll get behind those eyes
I’ve got something that you better see

But it’s all too little too late
If life’s a game then you better play
From the upside to the down
The lost and the found
You better move soon before you hit the ground
And they’ve all got something to say
Waiting for those better days
From the love that you choose
The spreading out the news
Where do you go when you got nothing to lose?
Nothing to lose

On “Best Laid Plans”, it’s just Nath’s heavily-strummed acoustic guitar and strong, clear vocals, which are all that’s needed to make a highly satisfying and impactful folk-rock tune. The song speaks to not letting one’s life become trapped by too many rigid plans that can result in disappointment:  “And I find it hard to believe that the best laid plans fall apart at the seams. With just a roll of the dice, you can be free. Can’t wait til the moment’s gone. Dreamer keep dreamin’ on.

Though both quite different in sound and style, they’re both great tracks that showcase Nath’s skilled guitar work and beautiful vocals. I look forward to hearing all of Dreamers and Deceivers when it’s completed.

Connect with Nath:  FacebookTwitterInstagram
Stream on  SpotifySoundcloudApple Music
Purchase on  BandcampGoogle Play

LIEMBA – EP Review: “Ever Evolving”

Liemba EP art

Today I’m pleased to introduce Brighton, England-based music act Liemba. I learned about them when one of the band members Simon Gledhill reached out to me about their new EP Ever Evolving, on the recommendation of another artist Fred Hills, who I’ve previously featured on this blog.  Primarily a three-piece acoustic act, Liemba was formed in early 2015 by Gledhill and Nelson Day, who share a love for folk-rock acts such as Crosby, Stills and Nash, early Fleetwood Mac, Kings of Convenience and The Staves.

Capitalizing on their skillful guitar work and sublime vocal harmonies, they released their beautiful debut EP All Costs in March, 2016, then toured throughout the UK and Europe promoting the EP. Vocalist Damien Best joined the lineup later that year, his own distinct vocals providing an added texture for what would become their wonderful signature three-part harmonies. They also began experimenting with drums and bass to create a fuller sound, and in February 2017 released their second EP Burning Wicks, another terrific work. I highly recommend that my readers check out these songs, which are available on all major music streaming sites, some of which are listed at the end of this review.

Liemba2

They followed up with a live acoustic EP Liemba Brighton Electric Sessions at the end of 2017. Moving ahead to 2018, wanting a bigger full-band sound, they recruited Brighton musicians Alfie Weedon on double bass and the aforementioned Fred Hills on drums to record some new material. The result was four stellar tracks recorded and released in 2019 that were ultimately included on a fourth EP Penlands. Subsequent to that project, the band retained drummer Hills and brought on bassist Joe Woodham to record their fifth EP. Gledhill told me this EP represents a new milestone in Liemba’s development, hence its title “Ever Evolving”.

Ever Evolving was recorded this past July at Ford Lane Studios (Royal Blood, Just Jack, Fickle Friends) in Arundel, West Sussex. The band recorded the tracks live to capture the dynamic essence of their sound, then Gledhill and Day spent the next month adding subtle texture and mixing the tracks, which were mastered by Simon James at Homesick Studios. Alice Humphreys filmed the recording process, creating live videos of each of the three tracks that give us a close-up view of the band working their magic.

The first track “PIP” really showcases their superb guitar work and vocal harmonies, both of which are so good they take my breath away. It’s not often that we see a band with three vocalists who can harmonize this beautifully, and Liemba are quite honestly one of the best at this that I’ve heard since Crosby, Stills & Nash. The layered chiming guitars are gorgeous, backed by crystalline synths, Woodham’s subtle bass and Hills’ flawless drumming. The lyrics speak of the heartache and sorrow brought by an evil woman you want to forget: “She’s cruel. The pip in my fruit. Swallowed she grows into the lump in my throat.”

Mirror Man” delivers gorgeous jangly and chiming guitars, along with more of those sublime harmonic vocals. The song is about conquering self-loathing, and learning to accept and love oneself in order to be able to love others: “Mirroman, I hate to bring the mood down. You’re the one person I should learn to love.”

The title track “Ever Evolving” speaks to how as we change (evolve), so too can our relationships, sometimes to the point where our divergence is too great for the relationship to survive. “Coz we are ever evolving. People only help or hinder. Revelations occur, make you realise you’re changing. Me oh my I’m bored of this life on a carousel. I felt like I’d moved but the scenery had too. And to my behest so had you.” Despite the rather bittersweet lyrics, the song has a bouncy, upbeat melody, with cheerful riffs and peppy drumbeats.

Ever Evolving is a marvelous little EP, and my only criticism is that I wish it contained more tracks! I’m so glad to have discovered Liemba, as I love their music. They’re incredibly talented songwriters and musicians, and I especially like Gledhill’s intelligent, thoughtful lyrics that speak to feelings we can all identify with.

Connect with Liemba:  WebsiteFacebookTwitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  SpotifySoundcloudApple Music
Purchase:  BandcampiTunesGoogle Play

ISAAC GRINSDALE – EP Review: “Entertainment”

Isaac Grinsdale EP Art

I recently learned about British singer-songwriter Isaac Grinsdale when he reached out to me about his new EP Entertainment. I’m so glad he did, because it’s a terrific work. Inspired by such artists as Jimmy Eat World, Radiohead, Placebo, Frank Turner and American Football, the Leeds-based musician writes songs with thoughtful, compelling lyrics and unconventional, yet enthralling melodies. Isaac learned to play the guitar in his early teens, and got heavily into hard rock music, which led him to play in several rock and hardcore bands. Now a bit older and wiser, he’s transitioned into making more introspective, singer-songwriter acoustic-driven music, which has culminated in the release of his debut EP Entertainment.

About his new music direction, Isaac explains “I was really inspired by the ethos of the band Refused: That as musicians we should be playing at the edge of our ability, and pushing the boundaries of our music at all times. Otherwise, we’re not playing the kind of music we should be. It’s always stuck with me and frames how I write.”  Entertainment provides ample evidence that he was right to follow his instincts, as all four tracks are beautifully-crafted and deeply honest. A skilled multi-instrumentalist, Isaac played all the instruments himself, and even produced and mixed the recordings.

Isaac Grinsdale performing

The first track “The Blind Leading the Blind” was also one of the first songs Isaac wrote and recorded. It’s a lovely tune, with a peppy guitar-driven melody that belies the withering lyrics that speak to the divisive rhetoric and false promises of our political leaders. In an interview with the webzine imPRESSED, Isaac stated that the song “is basically about growing up and realising the world we live in is fucked up – completely removed from what I was taught as a child.” His intricate strummed and chiming guitar work is exquisite, and all the supporting instruments are perfectly balanced, providing a strong, albeit understated soundscape that allows the guitars and Isaac’s clear, earnest vocals to shine.

They’re words that I have heard since a child
I hear them now: ‘I promise change!’
I once had no reason to doubt
Oh how strange it all seems looking back

Because now…

The suits fail to hide the Facade
And their words fail in their intended charm
And it all sounds so bizarre
Like a lexicon based on Orwell’s Newspeak

They are words that I have heard since a child
I hear them now again
But here where the blind lead the blind
It will all fall on deaf ears, that’s all they’ll find

In the great deception, our language will strip us, and the world, of any sense of the plural. Now we’re left to speak in terms of ‘us’ and ‘them’

Inspired by a book by author Guy Debord: The Society of the Spectacle, the title track “Entertainment” is about how music, or any other art form for that matter, can provide a small counterbalance or escape to the depressing political bullshit touched on in the first track. Isaac based the cover art for his EP on the book’s cover art of the book, which he explained “captures perfectly the idea that we tend to look at the world through a distorted lens/framework.” The song has a rather interesting and unconventional, but pleasing melody that to my ears has a late-90s vibe reminiscent of artists of that period like Duncan Sheik and the Goo Goo Dolls.

Nullius in Verba” is my favorite of the four tracks, not only because of it’s hauntingly beautiful melody and sublime instrumentation, but also the message of the song, which I strongly identify and agree with. The title is Latin for “not in any words” – essentially “take nobody’s word for it”, and is also the motto of the Royal Society, the British national academy of sciences. Isaac touched on the song’s meaning in his imPRESSED interview: “[It’s] about the importance of science, and rational thinking, slowly creating a more progressive and liberal culture from our draconian past. I had a very religious upbringing, but as a late teenager, I started to discover a lot more about how science, over time, has largely overturned our ideas from our past. One example that springs to mind is that human beings have evolved, rather than being created by a supreme being. For me, these are some of our greatest achievements.” Isaac urges us to view things through open eyes and an open mind: “Take a close look at all the terms we lay down. To look at this as objectively as we can. Just not in words, just not in opinion. No don’t you tell God what to do with his days.”

The first thing that came to my mind when hearing the fourth track “Speed of Film” was Joni Mitchell, arguably one of the greatest singer-songwriters of all time. Isaac’s unusual chord progressions and guitar notes call to mind many of Mitchell’s songs, and with his distinctive guitar-tapping technique, the song has a marvelous, fascinating sound. He explained that the song “is about how our memories make us into the people we are today. Lyrically, it’s packed with anecdotes of my friends and family: The great (and not so great) experiences we’ve had together.”

Entertainment is a wonderful debut effort by this skilled musician, who I admire not only for his impressive musical talents, but also for his unflinching stances on social and political issues. An interesting little side thing I noticed about the EP is that the four tracks are arranged such that each one is progressively longer than the one before. The first is 2:30 minutes long, while the last is 4:00 minutes. Isaac just finished recording his second record, an eight-track album titled Paper Crowns that he hopes to release in Spring of 2020, and I really look forward to hearing it. He’s supported acoustic greats such as Jon Gomm, Nick Harper and Beth Orton, and is now gearing up for a major UK Tour in support of his EP.

Follow Isaac:  Website / Facebook / Twitter 
Stream his music:  Spotify / Apple Music / YouTube
Purchase:  Bandcamp / Google Play / iTunes

JAMIE ALIMORAD – Album Review: “This is Tomorrow Calling”

Jamie Alimorad

Singer-songwriter Jamie Alimorad has had music in his blood practically all his life. As a teen, he played in a garage band, for which he wrote all the songs, and in high school, he was literally the face of the music department. By the time he was attending college at Northeastern University in Boston, he released his first EP Cornerstone (in 2010), then followed up two years later with his critically-acclaimed full-length album Words Left Unsaid, winning several music and songwriting awards. His very first video, for the song “Beautiful” from that album, has been viewed over 2 million times! Writing and recording songs had always seemed to come easy to him. Then, suddenly, it wasn’t so easy anymore.

Starting in early 2015, and continuing over the next few years, he wrote and recorded dozens of songs for a new album, but none of them satisfied him. He grew frustrated and filled with crippling self-doubt, wondering if he’d ever be successful again. So, he took a couple of classes with famed singer-songwriter, musician and producer Gino Vannelli, who offers small Art of  Song & Voice Master Class sessions at his music studio in Troutdale, Oregon. Jamie took one of his songs “A Moment Is All I Ask” to the second class, and after working on the song together, he and Vannelli realized they’d make a great team collaborating on an original project. That project ultimately became Jamie’s second album This is Tomorrow Calling, which was released on September 27th.

Working with Vannelli was an artistic rollercoaster ride for Jamie, filled with unique challenges and opportunities. He recalls “No one had ever told me in music, ‘It’s not good enough.’ No one had ever said, ‘You could be better.’ Gino put me on an island. No map, no shelter, no supplies. Make the island paradise, find a way out, or die. Those were the options, and it was up to me to create my tomorrow. Eventually Gino and I recorded eight songs together. Upon moving to Los Angeles, I did two more cuts with [Gino’s brother] Ross Vannelli. These two legends took me under their wings and opened my eyes to who I am. I’m eternally grateful for everything they’ve done for me.”

For the album, Jamie sang lead and backing vocals, and played keyboards, acoustic guitar and programming. Gino Vannelli played additional keyboard, organ, acoustic guitar, synth bass, drums, percussion and programming. Ross Vannelli sang backing vocals and also played keyboard, electric guitar, synth bass, drums, percussion and programming. Additional keyboards and programming were provided by George Whitty and Greg Goebel, electric guitar by Dalton Cyr, and backing vocals by Julie LaMeng and Moorea Masa. The album was produced by Gino Vannelli, though two of the tracks were produced by Ross.

Jamie’s pleasing sound could probably best be classified as adult contemporary pop-rock, although his music includes elements of folk, Americana, country and jazz. His thoughtful, relatable lyrics are set to catchy melodies and brought to life through superb instrumentation and rich sound textures. Listening to This is Tomorrow Calling, I’m struck by how good it sounds – the beautiful arrangements, lush soundscapes and, most notably, Jamie’s marvelous vocals. Every track is superb, showcasing his skillful songwriting, musicianship and impressive vocal range, but I’ll highlight my personal favorites.

The album opener “Brighter Days” is a terrific, upbeat song about not letting your problems overwhelm you, and staying positive in the hope that things will get better. A phrase in one of the lyrics is the album’s title, and really encapsulates its overall theme of love and resilience. “When living’s hard and you think you’re better off dead. This is tomorrow calling, there are brighter days ahead.” The genre-bending song has an infectious dance beat, with a bit of a country-rock vibe thanks to twangy guitars and some great vocal harmonies, and hits us in all the right feels. In conjunction with its release this past August, Jamie partnered with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention to raise funds for their cause. Proceeds from sales of a “Brighter Days” t-shirt at https://www.teepublic.com/user/jamiealimorad will be donated to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

On “Not Just Another Pretty Face“, Jamie sings of the many virtues of the object of his affection in addition to her good looks. “You’re more than a heavenly sight. Not just a Renoir on the wall, or a statue in a marble hall. You’re not just another pretty face. That’s what I love most of all.” The jazzy piano, organ runs and lively percussion, along with his smooth vocals and occasional scatting, make for an incredibly delectable song in the style of Michael Bublé.

Down on Golden Shores” is a lovely but bittersweet song about loss, with some especially poignant lyrics like these:  “Poor Louie was one of the best-looking dudes you ever did see. Kandahar sure did a number on his perfect body. /My Alex was so full of life. I thought someday to make her my wife. But the world is full of best-laid plans, made by sea and golden sands.” The piano, gentle guitar, harmonica and strings are all sublime, as are Jamie’s heartfelt vocals.

The radio-friendly “Not Ready to Say Goodbye” was the lead single from the album, and with its haunting melody, beautiful guitar work and infectious Latin rhythms, is definitely one of the standout tracks. Jamie passionately implores to the woman he’s fallen for to not end their budding relationship: “I fell head over heels, I jumped when you said jump. Too fast, too deep, just call me a chump. Not ready to say goodbye. Not ready to take the fall. Not ready to say goodbye. I’m in it for the long haul.”

A track that jumped right out at me on my first listen of the album was “Lucky Me“, a delightful kiss-off song that Jamie wrote as needed therapy after a bad breakup. The amusing lyrics describe how he quickly fell for her, only to discover that she was toxic: “They popped right out of my head when I laid my eyes on her, not knowing what kind of claptrap lay in my future. Lucky me! She came and went in a New York minute. Lucky me! It’s a beautiful world and I’m right back in it. The two best days of my life: One was finding her. Ooh the second one was losing her. Lucky me.” With its jazzy organ, guitar and percussive grooves, the song has a cool, late 70s Steely Dan vibe, and is one of my favorites on the album. And need I mention yet again how good Jamie’s vocals are?

How Could I Love Again” is a poignant song about having such a deep, intense love for someone that you don’t believe you are capable of ever loving another. The beautiful, piano-driven melody provides a moving backdrop for Jamie’s heartfelt vocals as he laments “Once I loved one woman such, that I thought to die without her touch. Because I loved her far too much, how could I love again?

On the album closer “Nights In the Back Bay“, Jamie seems to recall his experiences while attending college in Boston, and wanting to recapture the passion and creativity he had for making music back then. “I remember when the road had no end. My faith has been shaken, my heart keeps aching to return to those nights in the Back Bay. I’ve gotta get born all over again.” Musically, the song has a hauntingly beautiful melody that sounds brooding at times, yet uplifting and hopeful at others. The laid-back twangy guitars give the track an Americana feel, and the tinkling piano keys, synths, bass and crisp percussion are all wonderful.

This is Tomorrow Calling is a gorgeous work, with some of the finest production values of any album I’ve heard in a long while. Jamie and the Vannelli brothers should be very proud of their creation, as it’s impressive on every level. While its laid-back, easy-listening style probably won’t appeal to everyone, anyone who enjoys quality music, great lyrics and beautiful male vocals will enjoy this album.

Jamie will be opening for Gino Vannelli on Saturday, October 12 at the Saban Theater in Beverly Hills, CA.

To learn more about Jamie, visit his Website
Connect with him on:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase:  Bandcamp / Amazon /  Google Play

ELLIE FORD – Album Review: “Light. Repeated.”

Ellie Ford album art

British singer/songwriter Ellie Ford is quite possibly the only harpist in the music world to head up a band. In addition to being an accomplished harpist, the multi-talented Brighton, England- based artist also plays guitar and sings like an angel, using her voice almost like another instrument. Assisting Ellie in the creation of her uniquely innovative Alternative Folk music are Fred Hills (drums & percussion), Andrew Stuart-Buttle (violin, mandolin, bass and backing vocals), Harry Haynes (guitar and backing vocals) and Freya Bowes (clarinet and backing vocals).

Ellie Ford band

Ellie first graced the airwaves in 2013 with her debut EP Show Night In, then followed up with a full album The Other Sun in 2016. Now she’s back with a lovely new album Light. Repeated., which dropped on 17 May. Featuring eight exquisite songs, the album sees Ellie further exploring themes of life, love and relationships through her poetic lyrics, unconventional melodies, richly layered instrumentals and the marvelous interplay between her glorious harp and enchanting vocals. Listening to the album is an immersive experience, and it’s easy to become enveloped by the enthralling soundscapes she and her band so skillfully weave.

The album opens with “Gold“, a captivating song in which Ellie’s shimmery harp strings take center stage, but with ample help by Freya’s clarinet, Harry’s strummed guitar, Fred’s gentle percussion, and Andrew’s violin, which gives the track a bit of a Celtic vibe. Ellie croons in her lilting vocals, “Kicking and calling and bracing for falling as I leave. But for a little gold, I could tide it over.”

Next up is “Light. Repeated.“, a bewitching tune that’s probably my favorite track on the album. The highlights for me are Fred’s hypnotic, seductive drumbeats and Freya’s jazzy clarinet, but Andrew’s bass, Harry’s guitar and that infectious rattle are all pretty terrific too. And it goes without saying that Ellie’s harp adds a magical component. Freya’s soulful clarinet takes a starring role on “Tired Eyes” with Ellie’s harp strings providing a strong counterpoint. The interplay between her fluttering vocals and Freya’s gorgeous clarinet notes is breathtaking, and the guitars, deep bass and drums are perfection.

My Bird Won’t Sing” is a re-imagining of a song that was originally included on The Other Sun. The previous acoustic version featured only Ellie’s vocals and her strummed guitar, but for this new version she lengthens the track by one and a half minutes, and gives it the full instrumental treatment by her band, yet keeping the vibe decidedly understated. The result is an intriguing song that holds our interest with unexpected melodic shifts that almost border on progressive jazz. Ellie’s ethereal vocals are sublime as she sings the lyrics that seem to speak of the thin line between reality and escape:  “My bird won’t sing. Have no idea what it means. And that’s OK, I don’t mind./ My diamond ring shines like the real thing. And that’s OK, I don’t mind. Comin’ off a little blind. What are we doing? Don’t you know that’s the ruin of our kind? I’m beginning to think that I might have lost my mind.

Ellie Ford by Chloe Imbach

The beautiful songs keep on coming. Another favorite is the bittersweet “All That is Left“, which features some of the most enthralling instrumentals of any song on the album. The mix of harp, piano, guitar, violin, clarinet, drums, and what sounds possibly like dulcimer, are absolutely stunning, and so are the vocal harmonies between Ellie and the guys. The lyrics speak to a relationship that’s over: “There will come a day when you’ll return. Dirt in your hair and your clothes all torn. And I’ll be gone. And all that is left, will be left to the dogs.” As its title suggests, “A Strange Brood” is a languid, brooding song lasting nearly six and a half minutes. Its  mysterious, spacey synths, tinkling piano keys, bluesy guitars, plucky harp, deep bassline and lots of crashing cymbals make for an enthralling listen.

Woods” starts off with an Eastern European Folk vibe, thanks to the Gypsy tones of Andrew’s violin and Freya’s clarinet, accompanied by Ellie’s plucked harp strings. But with the addition of heavy electric guitars and pounding drums in the bridge, the song transitions to a more intense rock feel. Album closer “The North Wind” really showcases the incredible synergy between Ellie’s harp playing and unique vocal style, and how she so beautifully complements one with the other. Other instrumentation on the track includes guitar and Fred’s kick drum and percussion, as well as the introduction of Andrew’s violin at the end.

I’ll admit that Light. Repeated. took a couple of plays to really grow on me. Though the songs sounded lovely and interesting when first hearing them, their complexity and unusual melodic structures required more than just a casual listen for me to fully appreciate. There’s an incredible amount of nuance and depth to the music and lyrics that are revealed with each successive listen, and even after hearing some of the songs five or six times, I discovered new sounds and textures. The production and song arrangements are flawless, and I’m impressed with the skilled instrumentation by the supporting musicians who help Ellie bring her magical songs to life.

Connect with Ellie: Facebook / Instagram
Stream her music on Spotify / Soundcloud
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes

ANDY K LELAND – Single Review: “A Chair is a Chair”

Andy K Leland Chair Art

Like most singer-songwriters, Italian indie folk artist Andy K Leland is a poet of sorts, penning lyrics loaded with meaning and expressed mostly through his pleasing acoustic guitar and quirky, off-beat vocal style. Andy – who was born Andrea Marcellini – refers to himself as Andrea’s “shadow-self, and the two selves fear each other.” That dichotomy is clearly evident in his songs, where his sometimes dark, depressing lyrics sharply contrast with his simple, catchy melodies and mellow lo-fi vibe. Despite his cynical, often bleak lyrics about life and relationships, his songs seem to tell us to not take life too seriously, or at the very least resign ourselves to life’s inevitable travails without losing our minds in the process.

Like a lot of artists I’ve reviewed lately, I’ve previously featured Andy several times on this blog, and you can read some of my reviews of his music by clicking on the links under ‘Related’ at the end of this post. He’s now released a wonderful new single “A Chair is a Chair“, and it’s one of his best songs yet. It still has the charming signature lo-fi acoustic vibe of all his music, but features added instrumentals in the form of mellotron and ambient drone guitar, played by guest musician Simone Laurino, giving the track a lovely, poignant and fuller sound. Andy recorded the song on his old Tascam 4-track cassette recorder, but the sound quality is quite good.

Regarding the song’s meaning, Andy told me “I wrote the first two lines of the verse right after an old weird memory about a chair came back. Don’t really know why that memory showed up… but that’s how it started. I can say that the song is totally about a dream I haven’t had yet. That’s pretty much it!”

Concentrate
Get your head
Hold it tight
Hold it tight
Release your head
Grab a chair
Use your brain man
Use your brain

Wave goodbye now your time is coming ‘round
Swaying forth and backwards
As you’re bouncing up and down
Guess you don’t want to get lazy oh it’s hard
Your crystal ball’s unfair you’d better hurry up
Time is crazy how come we are so let down?
Down

Up to you
Up to me
What could we do friend?
What would we do?
If you prefer now
Go out tonight
Stay put and beg your God to
Drift us apart, us apart

Wave goodbye now your time is coming ‘round
Swaying forth and backwards
As you’re bouncing up and down
Guess you don’t want to get lazy oh it’s hard
Your crystal ball’s unfair you’d better hurry up
Time is crazy how come we are so let down?
Down

Welcome all that’s my garden
Very nice place to be
The air is cool
So
Come lie down…

The trippy video, which was also directed and produced by guest musician Simone Laurino, shows a variety of psychedelic, sci-fi and kaleidoscopic images that represent the kinds of surreal things the mind would imagine in a dream.

Follow Andy:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Soundcloud
Purchase on:  Bandcamp / iTunes

GUY PAUL THIBAULT – Album Review: “The Road Between”

Guy Paul Thibault Album

When I last featured Canadian singer/songwriter Guy Paul Thibault on this blog back in September 2017, he had a few months earlier released his wonderful album It’s About Time, an appropriate title given the span of 17 years since his previous solo album. (You can read my review here.) Now the Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia-based musician returns with a superb follow-up effort The Road Between. Listening to his pleasing style of rock-infused Americana/Alt-Country music, it would be easy to assume he’s from somewhere like Nashville, Tennessee, rather than the maritime provinces of eastern Canada.

Over the past two years, Guy Paul has received numerous accolades, including being named 2018 Artist of the Year on New Vision Radio (New Jersey), one of the Top 40 Indie Artists of 2017 on several Ontario, Canada radio stations, having several of his singles appear on numerous Indie Music charts in Canada, the U.S., UK and Australia, and having It’s About Time named one of the top albums of 2017 by The Halifax Musicphile.

Guy Paul played most of the instruments on The Road Between, although Shawn Cherry played drums, and Ian Lewer played bass on the opening track “Anymore”. Guy Paul sang all lead vocals, and Carolyn Cherry sang most of the backing vocals, except for those on “Talk to Me” and “No One Understands”, which were sung by Lisa Comeau-McDow. Guy Paul’s daughter did all the hand claps and played tambourine.

The album features nine tracks that address love and relationships, and all the attendant joy and heartache they bring. Case in point is album opener “Anymore“, a poignant Alt-Country tune about feelings of betrayal and sadness over a love affair that went south. Against an urgent backdrop of really fine electric and slide guitar work, Guy Paul laments “You don’t know where I sleep at night anymore. You don’t know what it’s like in my life anymore. Why don’t you love me anymore?”

The Country-rock tinged “Dangerous Strangers” speaks to an illicit affair about to go down between two people – one with a faithful wife back home, and another seeking revenge on the man who cheated on her: “For a minute think you saw, what was really on my mind. A touch of evil, it could be a simple little crime. You can only think of him, how he broke your heart. Are you gonna do to him what he did to you.”

One of my favorite tracks is “Talk to Me“, a powerfully moving song about a couple struggling to communicate through the wall that’s built up between them: “Talk to me about anything you want. Just look at me like you sometimes care. Tell me what it is that you want. Show me that you’re somewhere in there.” The dramatic instrumentals, especially the intricate guitar work, are fantastic, creating a palpable tension that’s a perfect accompaniment for Guy Paul and Lisa’s beautiful, impassioned vocals.  The piano-driven ballad “Take Me” touches on the passage of time and how lovers can drift in and out of your life: “Funny how time flies. In her world and in mine. Children, death and love crimes. Chances that seemed to rush by. /  Only love can save my soul, from years of pain untold. Love me if you can. She said ‘Try to be my man’.

Another highlight for me in an album filled with them is the haunting “Who Are You“. The track opens with a mournful organ riff and drumbeat, followed by an achingly beautiful twangy guitar riff. Soon, Guy Paul’s resonant vocals enter the scene, backed by Carolyn’s soft croons as the instrumentals build, creating a lush, moody soundscape. The lyrics speak of a couple who’ve become strangers to each other after years of disappointment and hurt: “Cause here is the moonlight. And these are our scars. Though you lie here beside me, I can’t tell who you are.” This track really showcases Guy Paul’s skills for songwriting and crafting gorgeous melodies.

He lightens the mood with the celebratory “Day Drinking“, a fun rock’n’roll tune about just forgetting one’s problems and spending the day with a loved one like you’re on holiday.  Things turn serious again with the darkly beautiful “No One Understands“, an ode to someone who’s stood by you through good times and bad: “And no one understands but you. Why I do the things I do. And no one comprehends the secret wars that I have led. No one understands but you.” Once again, Guy Paul is joined by Lisa Comeau-McDow, and their vocal harmonies are sublime. The guitar solo in the bridge is pretty wonderful too.

Don’t You See Me Cry” is one of the more rock-oriented tracks on the album, with lots of great intricate guitar work, accompanied by some terrific piano keys. Instrumentally, this is one of the standouts on the album, and the distorted guitar riffs are particularly good. The dark lyrics seem to speak of someone who was already feeling bad, and put his hopes on a woman who ended up only hurting him more:  “I was such a strong man with no love left in his eyes. Well you changed all that and now I could just die. Don’t you see me cry.” The album closes on a bittersweet note with “Catch My Fall“, a song about a young runaway who he allowed into his heart and life, but was too young and unsettled to stay with him: “Much too young and always on the run. The rhythm in her feet always pulled her towards the sun. She couldn’t stop, just couldn’t settle down.”

Guy Paul’s songs have a way of boring themselves into your mind and soul, staying with you long after hearing them. I found myself liking this album more with each listen, discovering new sounds in the music, and deeper meanings in the compelling lyrics. I appreciate that he included them on his Bandcamp page, which also made my job of discussing each track easier. If you’re a fan of Americana and Country-rock, you will enjoy The Road Between.

Connect with Guy Paul:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Google Play / Soundcloud
Purchase:  iTunes / Bandcamp / cdbaby

CARY BALSANO – Single Review: “Versailles”

Cary Balsano Versailles

Cary Balsano is a handsome and talented young singer/songwriter of Italian origin who’s now based in Liverpool, England. I last featured him in September 2017 when I reviewed his beautiful single “Horizon” which you can read here. He’s just dropped another lovely single called “Versailles“, a tender and moving song that speaks to coming to terms with addiction.

The instrumentals are simple, consisting of Cary’s beautiful strummed acoustic guitar, accompanied by subtle bass and a spare kick drum keeping the beat. Cary’s gentle vocals are earnest and heartfelt as he sings about his and his love interest’s addictions – to drugs and to each other, as a way of dulling their pain and insecurities. To me, Cary’s naming the song ‘Versailles’ would seem to be a metaphor for a desire to make a peace accord with their demons and each other.

You are the fire
You are desire
The city lights have gone too far
You are craving a gram

This is a way we live our pain
A crying shame
Breathing our lies
Victims of life
So come to Versailles
And I never want to let this go

You are my lust
You are covered in dust
And I still feel the same old pain
It’s you and me and our fame

We’re all in the same boat
Living in fear of living

Connect with Cary:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music on Spotify and purchase on iTunes