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

KEWEN – Single Review: “Chapters”

Kewen is the solo music project of British singer-songwriter Callum Kewen, who plays a pleasing style of folk rock inspired by such acts as Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, the Beatles and Bruce Springsteen. Based in Northeast England, the busy young musician is also frontman and lead vocalist of soft rock band Kewen & The Crosswalks, and does oral music reviews of local artists on his Facebook page.

He’s been releasing music as a solo artist for six years, beginning with his debut singles “This Feelin’” and “This April Day” in April 2017, followed that September by his first EP Chimes. He followed that EP with more singles, culminating in the release of his second EP A Little Bit of Magic in 2019. He dropped a lockdown single “Freedom” in 2020, then a single “The Line” in 2021. Since then, he’s been working on his debut album Chapters, due for release in September. He just dropped the album’s title single “Chapters“, an upbeat song of optimism and hope for a better future.

Kewen elaborates on his inspiration for writing the song and album: “This album has been 2.5 years in the making and I’ve put my heart and soul into it. I wrote ‘Chapters’ not long after I went through a breakup in my personal life. I took myself off to the Lake District in the UK for a night of wild camping on the mountain side, and wanted to get into a different frame of mind which is something I had never done before. This was one of two songs I wrote up there that day, and I think they may be some of the best stuff I’ve ever written. I very much felt at that time in my life that I was moving onto the next chapter in my life and I knew I wanted to title my next project in relation to that. The song started writing itself once I got pen to paper and it was probably done within the hour.

For the recording of the song, Kewen played acoustic rhythm guitar and sang lead and backing vocals, with additional contributions by several of his fellow musicians: Oliver Cobb, who produced the track, played electric rhythm and lead guitars, Kewen & the Crosswalks bassist Hannah Ward played bass and sang backing vocals, Jack Herron played drums, and WayneOnSax played the wonderful saxophone. Primary backing vocals were sung by Teah McCafferty, along with Hope Laverty, James Brown and Eddie Hogg.

I really like the song’s bouncy melody and infectious toe-tapping groove, highlighted by lots of cheerful guitar noodling, exuberant percussion and that marvelous wailing sax. Though he strains a bit on the higher notes, Kewen’s plaintive vocals are pleasing as he fervently sings “I can feel the chapters closing in, I can feel the chapters of life. I can feel the chapters, and everything’s alright. I can feel the pages of this worn-out book, I can feel the new pages rise.” The delightful backing vocals, especially those of Teah McCafferty, nicely complement his. “Chapters” is a fine single, and a promising glimpse of what we can expect on the forthcoming album.

Connect with Kewen: FacebookTwitterInstagram

Find his music on SpotifyApple Music deezer / YouTube

THOMAS CHARLIE PEDERSEN – Album Review: “Employees Must Wash Hands”

Hailing from Copenhagen, Denmark is Thomas Charlie Pedersen, a thoughtful and earnest singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who calls his pleasing style of music “chamber folk”. It’s a fitting description, as his sound is characterized by intricate melodies, understated yet lush arrangements, beautiful instrumentation and comforting vocals.

Thomas has been making music for nearly 20 years (he must have started out when he was 13, as he still looks quite young!), both as a solo artist and as part of alt-rock band Vinyl Floor, which he formed in 2004 along with his brother Daniel and a third member who recently departed. Vinyl Floor has released five albums since 2009, whereas Thomas has released three under his own name, beginning with his debut album Second Hand War in 2016, followed four years later by Daylight Saving Hours. Now he returns with Employees Must Wash Hands, a lovely work featuring 15 tracks. The album is being released by Vinyl Floor’s own label Karmanian Records.

Thomas actually recorded two albums in 2021, this solo record as well as Funhouse Mirror with Vinyl Floor, which was released in September 2022. He explains how Employees Must Wash Hands came to be: “The Covid lockdown situation was a highly creative period for my brother Daniel & I. Alongside the Vinyl Floor tracks, I found I had written 15 more songs but I didn’t exactly know what to do with them. Daniel and I had been working on and off on band demos for quite some time, and when I suddenly was isolating at home I found myself writing even more stuff on my acoustic guitar & piano. I lived with these songs alone for a while, and late at night I could work on the lyrics for hours on end. At one point, our studio time with the band in Sweden got postponed – leaving us with 5 months of practically nothing to do but wait.

To keep ourselves on our toes, we decided to record almost the entire ‘Employees Must Wash Hands’ album and we wrapped up the additional recordings once we got back from band sessions in Sweden. What you have here is the other side of the ‘Funhouse Mirror’ sessions – a quieter and somewhat more introverted and reflective album, but also showcasing a more arranged and ‘band-like’ feel than my previous solo efforts. Some of these songs deal with man’s relationship with God and God ́s relationship with man. Who has abandoned who? And is there any faith or spirituality left? They also deal with isolation, self doubt, and all the other stuff on my mind during the strange time that was Covid lockdown.”

The album, whose title is a cheeky nod to that strange pandemic time, serves up 36 minutes of introspective indie folk-pop goodness. Most of its 15 tracks are less than three minutes long, making for a quick and very enjoyable listen. Thomas’s brother Daniel had a major hand in the album, helping out with everything from arranging the songs to recording, producing & mixing them. He also sang backing vocals and played instruments on most tracks.

It opens with “Yesterdays And Silly Ways“, a pleasant track with a buoyant melody but somewhat darker lyrics about hiding behind an upbeat façade that hides less happy truths: “You tried your best, it was not your fault. Don´t try to delay me, your concrete walls proceed to retain a lonesome feeling. Yesterdays and silly ways.” Keeping with a similar theme, “Oh Whatever” seems to be spoken from God’s perspective to people and their tendency to fall prey to greed and ignorance: “Oh, my children, the sky is painted blue, but all you do is lying and denying every clue. Oh, my lost children, where money and mistrust is king. It´s sad to be the relayer, since I brought you everything.”

On the melodic “Slow Passage” Thomas sings of finding a bit of rejuvenation for his soul: “I might opt for a peaceful retreat or a lone walk in the woods, ‘cause a break from the wilderness will surely do me good“, with a catchy toe-tapping beat and some great guitar noodling.

One of my favorite tracks is “Rains On Saturn“, a beautiful piano-driven song that seems to speak of people who search for something better, while not appreciating what they already have: “You may prevail in your zeal for new horizons, but the sky you had was clear and when it rained, it rained diamonds. Drought for forty days, for golden times you yearn, just like when it rains on Saturn.” I really like the song’s lovely piano melody, accompanied early on by subtle sounds of rockets shooting through the heavens, then later by stirring strings. Thomas’s pleasing vocals are backed by his and Daniel’s enchanting harmonies.

Coarse Rasp of Yours” is a wonderful folk-pop song of remembrance and affection, with poetic lyrics containing the album title: “Employees must wash hands. It’s weird to feel oppressed by reality. A few emotional feeds, painted infinity. There are only a few things left which I truly still adore, a real blonde and that coarse rasp of yore.”

Several tracks have a strong classical sensibility: “Mass in D Minor” is a somber dirge-like song about being stuck in a state of depression and ennui: “I’ve become a regiment of drugs, booze and cigarettes. My smile’s just a cry in disguise. Life is just a sentiment, a motion of silhouettes. The sun is now a cloud in my eyes.” “Fiddler & the Travesty” is a hauntingly beautiful song with melancholy piano and hopeful strings, and Thomas and Daniel’s lovely harmonies as they lament “Fiddler and the travesty, can’t escape his destiny. Singing his heart out to no one. He must not sing forever.” And as it’s title suggests, “Organ Prayer (in E Flat)” is a church-like hymn with great lyrics calling out sanctimonious posers and phonies: “I´ve had enough of your dense accolades. Choose side or fall flat with the crowd. A prayer must lose some effect when it comes off too proud. Tell your lame friends to go screw themselves.”

One of the sweetest tracks is the poignant “You Can’t Have it Both Ways” a Beatles-esque song with lovely strummed acoustic guitar and a wonderful organ riff, accompanied by the guys’ sublime harmonies. “Sooner Than You Think” has more of a rock feel, with a driving beat and grungy guitars. The lyrics speak of trying to regain trust in a troubled relationship: “Recycled trust, we should aim for something new, but you long for the past and, honestly, I do too. I will gaze at your beauty without a nod or a blink.We may face the truth sooner than you think.”

I like how Thomas builds his songs around a particular instrument. Case in point is the lovely piano melody of “Tremble and Reel“, with what sounds like a recorder adding some nice touches, or “Beach in Vietnam“, a sweet 47-second-long love song consisting of a simple but impactful piano riff, accompanied by his heartfelt vocal. Strummed guitars form the basis of the beguiling love song “Night of Stars“, and the uplifting folk song “Worry Beads“, both of which also feature the guys’ delightful harmonies.

The album closes on a beautiful note with the stirring piano instrumental “Stagnant Pools of Sorrow“. The combination of gorgeous piano and orchestral strings gives the track a classical feel as well. It’s a fine finish to a truly wonderful collection of carefully-crafted songs. So just sit back in a comfortable chair, close your eyes, and let them wash over you.

Here’s the album on YouTube:

And on Spotify:

Connect with Thomas:  FacebookTwitter 

Find his music on SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloudYouTube

Artist Spotlight – Chris Mardula

I seem to be in a pattern of writing about British artists lately (this is my seventh in a row!), but truth be told, they reach out to me about their music far more often than artists from any other countries, including the U.S. Today, I’m shining a spotlight on Chris Mardula, a singer-songwriter from Durham County in Northeast England. His music style is strongly informed with elements of folk, indie rock and blues.

A seasoned musician, he’s played in several bands over the years, but often felt frustrated by uneven levels of commitment by other members. He told me that with everyone having other responsibilities, it was often difficult getting everyone on the same page. Sick and tired of having to rely on other people, he eventually decided to move forward on his own as a solo artist. “I’ve had all of these songs just sitting there doing nothing for years. I thought to myself, it’s time I do something with them and get them out there to be heard. If there’s only me, there’s no excuses. So I built myself a little studio in the house and got busy making a few demos and writing some new tracks.

Last November, Chris began releasing songs at the rate of one per month, starting with a lovely demo titled “Don’t let me down“. Consisting of just his strummed acoustic guitar and heartfelt vocals, the song is a poignant folk ballad about a fragile relationship. He assures his partner that he’ll be there for her, imploring her to not let him down: “Please stop complaining over things that I do. If you’re not so happy, you know what to do. Said I’d be there, I guess I always will. Just don’t let me down, C’mon now, don’t let me down. Cause this time is gonna be the last.” Listening to his pleasing vocals, I could easily be convinced that Chris was from Nashville or Austin instead of Northeast England.

He followed in December with his first official single “Take It Or Leave It“, which is my favorite song he’s released thus far. Written several years ago, Chris says the song is about living in a small town, making the most of it and finding your way forward while getting through the drag of everyday life, and how things usually turn out alright in the end. For this song, he layers beautiful programmed strings and vibrant percussion over strummed guitar notes, creating a stirring cinematic backdrop for his warm vocals as he fervently sings “Taking chances on the outside. I’m on the outside looking in. See my friends and see their faces. And all the places that we’ve been. So take it or leave it. Seen it all before. Take it or leave it. Cause you know you wanted more.”

In January, he dropped “Fade Away“, a beautiful rock song with a more powerful feel than his previous two. Chris’s guitar work is quite impressive as he unleashes an onslaught of scorching riffs over a background of strummed guitars, sweeping strings and riotous percussion. The lyrics seem to speak to the enduring pain over the death of a friend or loved one that refuses to fade away. “Days since he left me, was the day that he died. Still I can’t forget you, still here in my mind. Why can’t it all just fade away?” The song’s compelling video features footage shot by Chris, Craig Addison and Ella Brown.

February saw the release of “Catch a Fire“, an impactful rock song about not continuing to waste our precious time, and to keep pushing forward through the obstacles and pain life throws our way, in order to achieve our dreams and become a better person. The song has a bit of a Southern rock vibe, thanks to Chris’s splendid mix of bluesy and twangy guitars.

His most recent release “Calm In The Storm” is a terrific bluesy instrumental, where his skills on the guitar, piano and drums are allowed to really shine.

While it could be argued that the music world has more than enough ‘guys with guitars’ to go around, I think the quality of his songs places Chris near the top of a crowded field. Based on the five tracks he’s released so far, I’d say that he’s a pretty talented songwriter, musician and vocalist with a promising future. I also like that each of those five songs sounds completely different, a testament to his ability to reach across genres. He’s now putting the finishing touches on his debut album Monumental Horizons, which he plans on releasing later this year.

Here are his songs on Spotify:

Connect with Chris: FacebookTwitterInstagram

Find his music on SpotifyApple MusicAmazon MusicSoundcloudYouTube

BLACKWELL – Single Review: “Six Figure Suitor”

Photo of Ryan and Brandon by Denis Cheng

Blackwell is a new Chicago-based folk rock act comprised of singer-songwriter and guitarist Ryan Loree and drummer Brandon Buffington. Ryan has previously released music under his solo act Draft Evader, which I’ve written about on this blog. The duo just released their debut single “Six Figure Suitor“, a hard-driving rocker that Ryan said has a heavier, poppier sound than many of the other songs they’ve been working on. The song was recorded, mixed and mastered by Joe Scaletta, who also played bass.

The song bursts open with a roiling barrage of Ryan’s grungy guitar, which is soon joined by Brandon’s aggressive drumbeats, along with a throbbing bassline that doesn’t let up. I’ve always liked Ryan’s songwriting and lyricism, and his guitar work and Brandon’s drumming are both outstanding here. Further, Ryan’s plaintive vocals have an honest vulnerability that’s really endearing, and keep sounding better and better as he matures as a musician and singer.

To my ears, the song has a bit of a Gin Blossoms feel, only heavier. I’m also impressed by the tight arrangement and economical production; the song immediately gets right to the point, knocking our socks off in the process, without a single superfluous note or wasted second. It’s rock’n’roll at its finest.

As to the meaning of “Six Figure Suitor”, Ryan told me it’s about two people jumping into a new relationship while still being completely consumed by their pasts. The relationship becomes abusive and toxic, with one partner imposing unfair expectations on the other.

I'm not a six figure suitor baby
And I don't think that I'll ever be
A sniper in the U.S. Army
He's content to dance on my grave
But he's got a six shooter waiting
He's been hiding in your driveway

And it won't be long, til we find God
Well he's been lost, but so has paradise

So I guess we've outgrown the honeymoon phase
But disappointment on your face
Tells a lyric I can't think of 
I'm not a six-figure suitor baby
And I don't think that I'll ever be
A sniper in the U.S. Army
And it won't be long, til we find God
Well she's been lost, but so has paradise

And it won't be long, til we find God
Well they've been lost, but so has paradise

“Six Figure Suitor” is a very fine debut effort by these two talented musicians. Ryan told me they have lots of songs ready to go, including an EP of acoustic songs, and I can’t wait to hear them.

30 Day Song Challenge, Day 1 – “Orange Blood” by Mt. Joy

Since deciding a month ago to take a break from writing reviews, the number of posts I’ve written has dropped dramatically, with only six published in June, the fewest for any month in the nearly seven years I’ve been blogging. Though my overall dislike for writing hasn’t changed, the break has helped me get over some of my burnout. With that in mind, I’ve decided to embark on a 30-day song challenge for the month of July. I found a lot of 30-day song challenges in my search, but many had one or more topics that I thought were silly or that I didn’t want to write about. I finally managed to land upon one that seemed reasonably intelligent, which is the one shown above, so here goes.

The Day 1 topic is “a song with a color in the title”, and my pick is “Orange Blood” by alternative/indie folk rock band Mt. Joy. With roots in Philadelphia and now based in Los Angeles, Mt. Joy is a five-piece consisting of Matt Quinn (vocals, guitar), Sam Cooper (guitar), Michael Byrnes (bass), Jackie Miclau (keyboards), and Sotiris Eliopoulos (drums). The band is named after Mount Joy, which is located in Valley Forge National Historic Park, Pennsylvania, not far from where Quinn and Cooper grew up.

They released their debut single “Astrovan” in 2016, then followed in 2017 with three more singles “Sheep”, “Cardinal”, and “Silver Lining”, with “Silver Lining” eventually going all the way to #1 on the Billboard Triple A (Adult Alternative Airplay) chart. That song was my introduction to the band, and I’ve been a fan ever since. All those singles were included on their debut eponymous album Mt. Joy, released in March 2018. Over the next two years, they toured in support of the album, and after their 2020 tour with The Lumineers was cut short due to Covid, Mt. Joy followed with their second studio album Rearrange Us in June 2020. That album featured their wonderful single “Strangers”, which peaked at #5 on the Triple A chart.

In March of this year, they released “Lemon Tree”, the first single from their third album Orange Blood, which dropped two weeks ago on June 17th. That brilliant song features a slightly more experimental sound for Mt. Joy, with interesting time and signature changes and a fantastic blend of swirling and psychedelic guitars. They followed in April with the title track “Orange Blood”, a gorgeous song with a mellower vibe, but still featuring their signature captivating melodies and beautiful guitar work. The track starts off gently, with strummed acoustic guitar and delicate synths accompanying Quinn’s lovely vocals oozing with vulnerability. The music gradually builds with the addition of shimmery and twangy guitars, exuberant percussion, dreamy keyboards and a fine bass groove, accompanied by soaring vocal harmonies that bring goosebumps. I think this just might be my new favorite song by Mt. Joy.

About “Orange Blood”, Quinn stated that it’s “about a trip in the desert with my girlfriend. Everyone at some point should at least once find a way to tap into your subconscious and just sit still on this beautiful planet and be present.” The brilliantly-colored video, produced and directed by Hannah Edelman, is every bit as marvelous as the song. I love the trippy psychedelic imagery and warm-hued animation, interspersed with digitally-enhanced scenes of the band performing the song.

Connect with Mt. Joy:  FacebookTwitterInstagram

YOU’RE AMONG FRIENDS – Album Review: “Good Enough Sometimes”

Aptly-named Cleveland, Ohio-based indie band You’re Among Friends want us to feel welcome when hearing their music or watching them perform. With their laid-back style of funky, blues-infused folk rock reminiscent of the music of Steely Dan and The Grateful Dead, with touches of Randy Newman and Elvis Costello, listening to their music is like spending time with a good friend. That comforting, low-key vibe, combined with relatable lyrics touching on everyday aspects of life in this crazy, mixed-up world of ours, has a way of making us feel that everything’s gonna be alright at the end of the day.

The band was formed in 2007 by founding members and long-time friends Anthony Doran (lead vocals and guitars) and Kevin Trask (bass, keyboards and backing vocals). And like too many bands, they’ve struggled to find and keep drummers, but their current (and seventh) drummer Mike Janowitz, who came on board in late 2019, has turned out to be a perfect fit.

You’re Among Friends released their debut self-titled album in 2007, followed by an EP and double single, but the demands of life, work and starting families took so much of their time, they went on a hiatus in 2011 lasting four years. They reconnected in 2015, and the following year, released their second album As We Watch the Years Go…, with songs inspired by their life experiences, as well as the passage of time and how it affects friendships and relationships. They followed in late 2017 with an EP One Day You’ll Look Back, then dropped their third album Start Making Sense in May 2020. (I’ve reviewed their last three releases, which you can read by clicking on the links under “Related” at the bottom of this page.) Now the guys are back with their fourth album, Good Enough Sometimes, which dropped January 10th.

One of the many things I like about their songs is that the titles let us know exactly what they’re about, as well as the conversational flow of their down-to-earth lyrics that make us feel like we’re speaking with a friend. Kicking things off is “Don’t Borrow Trouble“, a mellow, upbeat song advising us to not overthink or worry over things we can’t change or that haven’t even happened yet: “Don’t borrow trouble, why worry about something before it’s here. By the time the dust settles, and the moving parts stop, don’t you know it may not be as bad as you fear.” These simple but wise words could be directed at me, as I’m frequently guilty of obsessing over a lot of shit.

Several tracks address the theme set forth in the album’s title, starting with “Here in the Middle of the Pack“. The lyrics advise us that it’s okay to be average, so long as we do our best and feel contentment with ourselves: “Don’t have to be the best. Just strive to be consistent./ It all works out eventually.” I like Anthony’s guitar noodling and endearing vocals that remind me of Randy Newman. On a similar vein, “Okay is Good Enough Sometimes” urges us not to expect everything in life to be perfect or the way we want them to be: “Got to let some things go, to preserve your mind and soul. Not everything is worth your peace, try not to lose too much sleep, because okay is good enough sometimes.” Anthony’s bluesy guitars and Kevin’s funky bassline are terrific.

The guys take a somewhat different tack on “You Know What You Want“, with lyrics about not giving up on your dreams and aspirations, “When you set your mind on something, you don’t stop til you’re done. It’s one of those things that I love about you. Someday your chance will come. Cause you know what you want.” I like the quirky and cool instrumental flourish in the bridge. And on the sweet “Accompanied“, Anthony sings his praises to a loved one who’s always there for him: “Sometimes life brings me down. That’s when I’m glad you’re around to pull me through. It’s tried and true.

But sometimes, even friends need a bit of tough love. On the catchy “Toxic Positivity“, with its bluesy Grateful Dead vibe, Anthony calls out those who spout meaningless positive adages like “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger”: “Spare me your toxic positivity. When the world’s pissing in my face, I don’t have to pretend it’s refreshing rain.” On “Learn to Leave Well Enough Alone“, he admonishes someone to get off his back and mind their own business: “You’ll be the first to know when I want to hear opinions from folks who don’t understand a thing about my business.” The song has an interesting sound, with a repetitive bluesy groove, and delightful jazzy organ and percussion at the end.

Though You’re Among Friends don’t get political very often, there are times you just need to call out corporations, politicians and the media for their duplicitous actions too. The dark “Bad Karma and a Special Place in Hell” decries those who promote fear to keep the masses fired up and their profits soaring, while “This is Unsustainable” speaks to corporate greed and income inequality: “Don’t expect them to understand, how they’re living off our backs.”

With a breezy, upbeat groove that hovers in a sweet spot between Steely Dan and the Grateful Dead, album closer “Plan Cancellation Chicken” is one of my favorite tracks from a musical standpoint. Anthony’s guitar riffs are really wonderful, nicely layered over Kevin and Mike’s jazzy, thumping rhythm. The song circles back to the album’s overall theme of just calming down and going with the flow, with lighthearted lyrics that describe a romance in a cheeky, backhanded way: “It’s all a big game of plan cancellation chicken. I’m so glad you caved and canceled before I did. It’s looks like I won this round. Let’s keep each other around, so we’ll have someone to cancel plans with.

With Good Enough Sometimes, You’re Among Friends serves up 30 minutes of pleasing songs – with a few edgier ones thrown in for variety – we’ve come to expect and enjoy from them. Like I’ve mentioned previously, it’s like the return of an old friend with whom we’re able to pick right back up from where we left off.

Connect with You’re Among Friends:  Blog / Facebook / Twitter
Stream their music:  SpotifyApple Music / Napster / TidalYouTube
Purchase:  Bandcamp / iTunes / Amazon

EML’s Favorite Songs – “Mine Forever” by Lord Huron

One of the best acts making music today is indie folk-rock band Lord Huron. Regular followers of my blog know I’m a huge fan of theirs, and their gorgeous single “Mine Forever” is currently enjoying a long stay atop my Weekly Top 30. The song recently peaked at #2 on the Billboard Adult Alternative Airplay (AAA) chart. For those still unaware of Lord Huron’s music, “Mine Forever” is a perfect introduction, as the song is both breathtaking and catchy. Those twangy, borderline surf guitars are gorgeous, and together with the soaring strings, captivating vocal harmonies and infectious toe-tapping groove, it all comes together to create a truly phenomenal track. 

Their uniquely beautiful music is a glorious mash-up of folk, western, rock and roll, pop, surf rock and new age, and has been described by a few music writers as evoking the ‘high-lonesome’ sound of such legendary acts as The Band and Neil Young, as well as newer acts like Fleet Foxes and My Morning Jacket. The most striking features of their sound are the lush twangy and shimmery guitars, backed by stirring orchestral strings, and lead singer Ben Schneider’s achingly beautiful vocals, which have an arresting and heartfelt vulnerability. For me, listening to their music is an almost religious experience, transporting me to a dreamy, faraway place somewhere out in the open West. The cinematic quality of their music makes many of their songs perfect candidates for the soundtrack of a sweeping Western epic.

Lord Huron was formed by singer-songwriter and guitarist Ben Schneider as a solo act in 2010, after he relocated from Michigan to Los Angeles. The name was inspired by Lake Huron, one of the Great Lakes that border Michigan. The band eventually grew into a four-piece, and now includes Miguel Briseño on bass, keyboards & theremin, Tom Renaud on guitar, and Mark Barry on drums & percussion. They released their debut album Lonesome Dreams in 2012, but I didn’t learn about them until 2017, when I heard their beautiful ballad “The Night We Met”, from their second album Strange Trails. Their biggest hit thus far, the song has been streamed more than 857 million times on Spotify, and is one of my favorites of 2017.  

“Mine Forever” is from their critically acclaimed fourth album Long Lost, an ambitious and stunning work released this past May, and featuring 13 songs plus three brief interludes. Every one of the 13 tracks is outstanding, and I think it’s hands down one of the best albums of 2021. Another one of the album’s singles, “Not Dead Yet”, topped both my Weekly Top 30 and the Billboard AAA chart this past June. I strongly urge everyone to set aside some time to listen to the album, because you’ll be glad you did. Even a few friends of mine who aren’t that much into music have remarked on how good it is.

The song’s lyrics seem to describe an obsessive and dysfunctional love-hate relationship, in which the singer feels he can’t live with nor without his lover. Lord Huron tends to make quirky entertaining story videos featuring a mix of newly-filmed and vintage B-movie footage, and the one for “Mine Forever” is no exception. The song ends with blurry images of a couple embracing as a woman speaks words in French. I love it!

Here’s the Spotify link of Long Lost for those who wish to check out the full album:

EWAN PATRICK – Album Review: “Forever Love”

Ewan Patrick is a talented and thoughtful singer-songwriter from Edinburgh, Scotland who’s had music in his blood for much of his life. He studied contemporary classical composition at Napier University in Edinburgh, then earned a graduate degree in Music Production at Leeds College of Music. He’s also played in many bands over the years, performing extensively across the UK, including at a number of major music festivals. More recently, Ewan has recorded some of the songs he’s written over the years that he says “never quite found their place in any of the bands I’ve played in.

In October 2020, he released his first double A-side single “Retrospect/Hurricane”, then followed this past February with a second double A-side single “Feels Good To Be Alive/Two Hearts“, which I reviewed. Now he returns with his debut full-length album Forever Love, featuring 10 wonderful tracks touching on the universal subjects of life, love, loss, family and current affairs. The four previously-released singles are included on the album, along with six new songs, all of which beautifully showcase Ewan’s outstanding songwriting, performance and production skills, as he records, mixes and masters all his music by himself. 

His songs are a pleasing mix of acoustic, folk rock, piano ballads and anthemic rock, nicely sequenced in a way that gives the album a balanced, fresh-sounding flow. Ewan has a strong, clear and beautiful singing voice too, which sounds great on every style of song he sings. The album opens with “Feels Good To Be Alive“, an uplifting rock song about recognizing the things that really matter and that, despite one’s problems, life is still worth living: “Nothing’s working but I’m feeling carefree. I’m still hurting, yet it doesn’t bother me. Why? Because I’m still alive. It feels good to be alive.” The song starts off low-key, with his acoustic guitar accompanied by gentle percussion, then explodes into a torrent of electric guitar and crashing cymbals for a dramatic finish.

Next up is “Hurricane“, a rousing guitar-driven rock song about standing up against oppression: “No longer hiding in the shadows. No longer afraid of speaking up. The winds of change are gradually building, and we’re looking just like a hurricane.” Another politically topical song, and one of my favorites on the album, is “Not Invincible“, which Ewan says was written during the first lockdown, after the murder of George Floyd last year in Minneapolis. It’s a hauntingly beautiful track, with sweeping cinematic synths, highlighted by mournful piano keys and stunning guitars. 

Like the opening track “Feels Good To Be Alive”, several songs explore various aspects of making the most of our time on this planet, and successfully navigating through both good times and bad. “Law of Life“, which sounds like a song that could have been recorded by Tears For Fears, addresses the inevitability of change. Ewan gives us something to think about: “It’s a law of life. Can’t fight the changing tide. What will you sacrifice? Will you be left behind? Are you looking forward to a better past?” On the beautiful piano ballad “Be Strong“, he encourages us to remain steadfast and resilient in the face of those changes: “You wait a lifetime, and then one moment can change your life. So many questions, keep searching for answers that aren’t easy to find./ Be strong, you’re stronger than you’ll ever know.” And on the bittersweet folk-rock track “Retrospect“, he speaks to the heartache and pain of moving on from a relationship that’s ended. “To say goodbye is the hardest part, but like the continents we drifted apart. The broken promise brings a tear to our eyes as we kiss for the very last time.”

Then there are the songs that are the most deeply personal for Ewan. The title track “Forever Love” is a lovely piano ballad written for his young daughter, and expressing the joy she brings him: “And every day you give me is a little miracle. Cause you’re my forever love.” Along a similar theme, the poignant “You Don’t Get A Second Chance At Life” is a conversation between a parent and child, in which the parent offers advice for living their best life: “So fall in love. Try to be kind. But speak the words that are on your mind./ Spread your love and share your time. Leave all your dark thoughts far behind. You don’t get a second chance at life.” The hard-driving rocker “The Call of Home” is a heartwarming ode to his beloved home town of Edinburgh: “Around every corner, another vista to break your heart. We’ve been apart far too long. I feel the call of home.” His guitar work is particularly good, a colorful mix of shimmery notes and thunderous riffs.

Perhaps the most personal song of all is album closer “Two Hearts“, which Ewan composed while writing his own wedding speech. He recalls “I was not for a minute trying to contrive a love song for my future wife but it just kind of happened.” The song is appropriately beautiful and heartfelt, with him singing of his love and devotion, and how his bride has made him a better man. “You took my hand. Made me a man. You’ve made me better than I’ve ever been. Come walk with me through hopes and dreams, and together we’ll take the world head on. Two hearts will beat as one.” It’s a fitting song with which to end this wonderful, uplifting album.

Forever Love is a first-rate, meticulously-crafted work, and a very impressive debut by this talented musician. I hope we’ll be hearing more great music from Mr. Patrick soon.

Connect with Ewan:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Stream his music: Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple MusicYouTube

Purchase:  Bandcamp / Amazon

New Song of the Week – THE FRONTIER: “Shattered”

As I’ve stated in previous posts, one of my favorite indie artists is The Frontier, the music project of singer-songwriter, guitarist and producer Jake Mimikos. Based in Fairfax County, Virginia, Jake is an enormously talented guy with a kindness and sense of humor to match, and I’m quite fond of him both as an artist and human. Since 2015, he’s released an impressive amount of music both as a solo artist and as a band under The Frontier moniker, and we’ve been following each other on social media for nearly that long. As with many bands, the members and lineup of The Frontier have varied over the years, but the act is at this time mostly his solo project. Drawing upon elements of pop, folk, rock and electronica, his music is always incredibly pleasing and flawlessly crafted.

I’ve featured The Frontier several times on this blog, most recently last December when I reviewed his gorgeous single “Sleep”. (You can read that and previous reviews by clicking on the links under ‘Related’ at the end of this post.) Since then, he’s been on a mission to release new music as often as possible, and followed a month later with an acoustic version of Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me”, then a live EP, followed by “Can We Go Back” in March. “Sleep” went to #2 on my Weekly Top 30 and “Can We Go Back” is currently in the top 10, and between the two songs, he’s continuously appeared on my Top 30 since mid-January! In May, he dropped his single “Ghost” and now he returns with another brand new single “Shattered“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week.

About “Shattered” Jake confides “It’s about trying to understand how someone can say they love you and then leave you, and trying to find clarity after a difficult break up. It’s really just about these strong emotions I was feeling at the time and trying to process through writing about it. I imagine a lot of people will be able to relate or have experienced this type of heartbreak before. These last few songs have been the most personal and vulnerable I’ve written to date.”

I’ve enjoyed seeing The Frontier’s musical style progress over time, and it’s clear his musicianship and songwriting continue to grow stronger and stronger. His skill for crafting uniquely distinctive melodies ensures that each new song sounds totally different from the rest. He’s also gotten quite adept at programming synths to create captivating soundscapes that quickly draw us in, then hold us in rapt attention all the way to the finish. The chiming synths combined with what sounds like a strummed ukelele at the opening of “Shattered” instantly let us know we’re in for something special, and as the song unfolds we’re not disappointed. The song is exquisite and haunting, and I love the mix of ukelele and guitar that add such rich texture, as well producing a sunny vibe that contrasts with the darker lyrics about feeling abandoned by a loved one. As always, Jake’s vocals are heartfelt and genuine, conveying the hurt and despair expressed in the lyrics. It’s another winning tune.

She said it doesn't matter
All the feelings that I had for you
Now my heart is shattered 
And I'm drowning in a sea of blue
Why you got to run away?
What are you really running from?
All you had to do is say we could be lying in the sun

Some people tell me, love is just a four-letter word 
Nobody seems to understand
All these lines get so blurred
What is love without lust?
What is lust without us?
You just lit up a fire, girl
Just so I could get burned

She said it doesn't matter
All the feelings that I have for you
Now my heart is shattered 
And I'm drowning in a sea of blue
Why you got to run away?
What are you really running from?
All you had to do is say we could be lying in the sun

Here is my confession
I was ready to die for you
You were my obsession
It's not healthy but it was so true
There is some pleasure in pain
There is a measure to save
I know we both had our issues
But who doesn't these days

Connect with The Frontier: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream: Spotify / Soundcloud / Reverbnation / Apple Music
Purchase: Bandcamp / iTunes / Amazon