Paul Renna is a singer, songwriter and guitarist based in Dallas, Texas who’s been writing, recording and performing music, first with bands and later as a solo artist, for more than 25 years. His signature music style draws from folk, Southern rock and Americana, with his songs resting comfortably among all three genres. He released his first solo album Portrait in 2003, then after a quiet period lasting seven years, Paul returned in 2010 with his second album Freedom. In the years since, the prolific artist dropped two more full-length albums and three EPs, and in 2019, he released two singles, “Bound to Love” and “All My Life”, both of which I featured on this blog (you can read those reviews by clicking on the links under ‘Related’ at the end of this post). Now he returns with his latest single “Fire“, a blues-soaked gem that sees Paul delving deeper into Southern roots rock.
Paul actually wrote “Fire” a number of years ago, and originally featured an acoustic version of the song on his 2013 album Unplugged. For the single release, he teamed up with producer Paul Soroski in the creation of an edgier, more hard-rocking vibe befitting the song’s title. The two Pauls get right down to business, as the song opens strong with jarring guitar chords and wailing organ. Things quickly settle into an almost funky groove, as Paul lays down some bluesy guitars, accompanied by that terrific meandering organ and just the right amount of drums. As the song progresses, he layers more aggressive guitars, giving the song a heavier rock feel.
Paul has a commanding and emotive singing voice, with a slightly raspy quality that works especially well on this song, leaving us little doubt as to his lusty intentions: “I don’t need to be adored, up against the wall, down on the floor. We can set this place on fire.” It’s a wonderful bluesy rocker.
With the lifting of Covid restrictions in Texas, Paul is back performing live at venues throughout the Dallas-Ft. Worth region. Check out his Facebook and Twitter pages for dates and locations of upcoming shows.
Regular readers of this blog know I’m a huge fan of the artist Two Feet, the massively-talented singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer who’s currently riding a tsunami of musical creativity and output. Over the past few months, he’s collaborated on several songs with other artists, including electronic producer Gryffin on “I Want Love”, electro-pop band SHAED on “Part Time Psycho”, and electro/goth pop artist Sub Urban on the trippy “PATCHWERK“. Now he’s releasing his most ambitious album yet, Max Maco is Dead Right?, which officially drops April 16th.
For those still living under a rock, Two Feet is the musical alter-ego of New York City-born and now L.A.-based Zachary William “Bill” Dess, who is just about my favorite artist making music today. His incredible guitar work – characterized by intense, bluesy riffs and enhanced with hip-hop and jazz elements and floor-rattling synth bass grooves – combined with his soulful, smoldering vocals, make for music that’s strongly appealing, deeply impactful, and undeniably sexy. I love all his music, and have written about him many times on this blog. He records and performs his music with the assistance of his longtime keyboardist Geoffrey Hufford (aka Huff), and recently teamed up with producers John Feldmann (Blink182, Panic! At The Disco) and Andrew Luce to help with the new album.
Beginning with the release of his breakout single “Go Fuck Yourself” in 2016, Two Feet has been on a creative roll ever since, releasing numerous singles, including his #1 alternative hit “I Feel Like I’m Drowning” in 2018, followed later that year by his extended EP A 20 Something Fuck, and in March 2019 by his debut album Pink (read my review here). In October 2020, he dropped “Think I’m Crazy”, followed in quick succession by three more singles “Time Fades Away”, “Fire” and “Never Enough” – all of which are featured on Max Maco is Dead Right?
For the new album, Two Feet created yet another alter ego character named Max Maco, as a way of wrestling with some of the emotional traumas he’s experienced in the past, as well as the pressures that have come with success and fame. He’s been pretty open and honest with his fans and followers about his own personal struggles with depression and anxiety, and after an emotional breakdown in the summer of 2018, he spent time at a few mental hospitals in New York. He told me that he based the character of Max Maco on some of the people he met during his hospital stays.
In a newly published article in American Songwriter, he further explained: “I had met various, very interesting people who you’d never normally have the chance to talk to at some of these mental hospitals. Some of them had some of the most fascinating, beautiful stories about their lives I’ve ever heard. Over the course of years, I tried to formulate how I could basically tell an amalgamation of some of the stories from various people I’ve met at these hospitals.” My guess is that the album title represents his overcoming at least some of his traumas and demons, personified in Max Maco. Hence the cover art showing the character lying on an embalming table, wrapped in a sheet and staring blankly into space.
He introduces us to Max Maco on the opening track “Hi I’m Max Maco“. The song starts off with a strummed guitar as Two Feet breathily croons “Everybody I’m Max Maco, I always have things to say. There are things that I don’t remember. People treat me like I’m famous, and they’re giving me free money.” Then we’re hit with that signature deep bass groove, accompanied by an unsettling and shrill reverb-heavy synth and plucked guitar chord. As the next track “Nightmare” unfolds, I’m blissfully swept away by the sultry, pulsating grooves, dark, swirling synths and gorgeous guitar notes. Two Feet laments of the downside of success in the lyric “Although grass was gold and green, the money controlling me, so I must go.”
“Think I’m Crazy” sees Max Maco describing his feelings of being overwhelmed by hedonistic desires and losing a grip on reality: “I thought that I was calling up my friends now. But Kurt told me that they were in my head, so. / I think I’m crazy, lately. Everything is hazy. Everything and anything I ever want to do. I think I’m crazy lately, feeling like I’m faded everywhere I go.” Musically, the song features a killer thumping bass groove overlain with eerie synths, emphatic percussion and pulsating guitar notes that create a dark vibe that’s both menacing and sexy. I love his vocals, which go from a sultry, earnest croon to a soaring falsetto in the choruses. The lyrics are brought to life in the entertaining and darkly sexy video.
Next up is the smoldering “Fire” (no pun intended), a sultry and cinematic little masterpiece that slowly builds to a scorching crescendo befitting the song’s title. Two Feet sings with a breathy, impassioned falsetto as he croons to a lover of his intense, all-consuming desire: “Darling, You call my name / I like the games you play / Charming, My love for you / Burning, I feel it too.” “Fire” has become one of my favorite of his songs, and just spent a month atop my Weekly Top 30.
One of the notable differences between his previous music and Max Maco is Dead Right? is the inclusion of dance/EDM elements on some of the tracks. The first is the wonderful “Never Enough“, which continues with the theme of succumbing to intoxicating carnal desires first introduced on “Fire”. I love the hypnotic, hip-swaying beat, otherworldly synths and shimmery guitars. The dangerously sexy “Flatline” pays homage to Two Feet’s appreciation for Latin culture with a mesmerizing melody, intense, bluesy guitar notes and vocals so fucking sensuous they raise the hairs on the back of my neck.
The song is instantly one of my favorites on the album, but then I hear “Lies” and I’m blown away. It’s a fairly simple and straightforward tune actually, but I’m a sucker for songs with strong, driving beats, and “Lies” fills the bill quite nicely with its pulse-pounding dance groove and raunchy guitars. And it goes without saying that Two Feet’s sultry vocals are fantastic. Interestingly, those three songs are broken up by the minute-long interlude “Are You Hanging Off The Balcony“, a humorous spoken-word piece in which he tells his engineer Anthony that he loves him, accompanied by acoustic guitar.
I’m beginning to sound like a broken record as I try to come up with descriptors and superlatives for these songs, so bear with me as I continue to profess my unabashed love. “Blame Me” sees Two Feet return to his roots, delivering the intense bluesy riffs we’ve come to love and expect in his songs. On the atmospheric “I Can’t See At All“, his gorgeous guitar work is sublime, accompanied by glittery synths and his echoed breathy vocals singing of his being blinded by his intense desire for another: “Every time I try to run. Thought of you make me numb. / I can’t see at all. Am I here alone? Is it day or night? Got no control.”
On the darkly introspective “Time Fades Away“, Two Feet laments of emotional pain and loss amid the passage of time: “I feel a certain way. Too much to numb the pain. And I just don’t know now, the way the world will change. Oh, time fades away. Pull it back but it’s too late.” The song has a languid, melancholic vibe with a repetitive strummed guitar note serving as the driving force, overlain with delicate atmospheric synths and gentle percussion. The distorted guitar solo toward the end is terrific.
“Lover” is an interesting track, starting off with a gauzy piano riff and Two Feet’s electronically-altered vocals, giving it an otherworldly lo-fi vibe that makes it sound more like a demo. Just past the minute-mark, harsh industrial synths, sharp percussion, booming bass and distorted guitar come crashing into the mix, completely changing the song’s feel as he continues to drone “Lover, where you staying? Feeling, like I’m playing.”
Album closer “And I Fucked Up (Live)” is another change of pace from his usual sound. With his strummed acoustic guitar and vocals the only sounds we hear, the song has more of a folk/singer-songwriter feel, and I like it. The song seems to tie things up for Max Maco, with lyrics speaking of his remorse over losing someone through his misdeeds: “I feel lost and dangerous. Think I’ve gotta change this. Feeling weak in my knees. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday I say, I will try a new way. But I’m lying, the world is empty now. And the feeling of having you around, was the one thing that kept my soul on the ground. And I fucked up./ If you wanna come back, got a cardboard make shack at 39th and Broadway. People give me money, oh I’m famous honey. No one gets in my way.” I like how Two Feet kept the little misstep at the beginning, similar to Green Day at the beginning of their song “Good Riddance”.
In that above-referenced American Songwriter article, Two Feet commented on his feeling about Max Maco is Dead Right?: “My other albums, even my first two EPs, are of the moment songs I thought of that I then compiled together. So this one, to me, was really thought out. I tried to make everything congruent. From an artistic standpoint, it’s definitely my favorite album I’ve written so far.” I would have to agree with him, and as much as I love Pink, I love this magnificent album even more. Every track is superb, and a testament to his continued growth as an artist and songwriter. Max Maco is Dead Right? is without question one of the best albums of 2021, if not the best.
At the end of a week that saw one of the darkest days in recent American history, Two Feet goes and drops a fantastic new single “Fire“, bringing some badly-needed light and joy into the lives of his many fans. I think it’s one of his best songs yet – which is saying a lot – and I’ve chosen it as my New Song of the Week.
Beginning with the release of his breakout single “Go Fuck Yourself” in 2016, the Brooklyn, New York-based singer-songwriter and guitarist has been on a creative roll, releasing several singles, including his #1 hit “I Feel Like I’m Drowning” in 2018, and two outstanding albums, the most of recent of which was last year’s Pink (you can read my review here). He’s become my favorite artist, and I love every single piece of music he’s released. Since that album’s release, Two Feet has dropped three singles – “Think I’m Crazy”, which is currently enjoying a long run on my Weekly Top 30, “Time Fades Away”, and now “Fire”, which dropped today, January 8th.
I’ve stated previously that many of his songs are slow burns, and that’s certainly the case with “Fire”. The song has a sensuous and smoldering deep bass groove that sounds like a slowed-down version of “Every Breath You Take” by The Police – one of my all-time favorite songs. Two Feet and his trusted keyboardist/programmer Geoffrey Hufford (aka Huff) layer bluesy guitars and gorgeous sultry synths to create an almost cinematic soundscape that soars to a scorching crescendo befitting the song’s title. Two Feet sings in a much higher octave here than usual, with an almost breathy, yet impassioned falsetto as he croons to a lover of his intense ardor: “Darling, You call my name / I like the games you play / Charming, My love for you / Burning, I feel it too.” I love it!