BEN WRIGHT – EP Review: “Lifeline”

Ben Wright is a singer/songwriter/guitarist from Manchester, UK – a city with a vibrant music scene, from which have come several artists and bands I’ve previously featured on this blog. I’ve also been a little amazed by the number of singer/songwriters in the UK that play folk or Americana music, some of whom I’ve also featured on this blog. But then I remember that American folk and country music has its roots in the music that British, Scottish, and later Irish settlers brought to America. In Ben’s case, his pleasing style of acoustic folk/pop is influenced by blues, rock, and even a little reggae. He released a wonderful debut single “Starry Nights” in October 2016, which I reviewed. Now he’s returned with a seven-track EP Lifeline, released in early June through Sound-Hub Records.

Ben Wright

For the recording of the album, Ben played guitars and sang all vocals, the esteemed musician/producer Barrington Mole (White Moor, The Further, Ejector Seat) played bass, and Dan Williams played drums. The EP kicks off with the title track “Lifeline,” a lovely song about not letting fear of failure keep you from pursuing your dreams. Ben sings of his struggle to make it as a musician, though the lyrics could apply to any type of performance art. His smooth, calm vocals are incredibly pleasing as he sings: “Cause I’ve been waiting so many years to see this blurry silhouette coming through these tears. Cause I don’t want to be waiting for another lifetime. So I’ll throw these dreams a lifeline.”

The song’s arrangement and production are on-point, and Ben’s slide guitar work is positively sublime. I really like the video that shows him and his fellow musicians performing the song. For the video, the supporting musicians are Chris Bull on acoustic guitar, Dave Fox on bass, and Alex Bayley on drums.

Ben states that he was inspired to write the beautiful second track “Starry Nights” “whilst travelling and sleeping in the middle of nowhere in New Zealand.” The poetic lyrics describe the simple beauty of a starry night in the rural countryside, unblemished by the artificiality or pretense of urban life. “Looking down from high above, they’re flickering til the day is born. No artificial beams can reach the sky. No piercing sounds will break the night. Starry nights reveal innocence. There’s no delusions and no hollow men.” The song has a lovely melody and acoustic rhythm guitar riff overlying gentle percussion and bass. Ben’s soothing vocals convey a sense of tranquility – that everything’s alright with the world. The charming video, which shows Ben walking and/or performing the song by a lake, nicely complements the track.

Visions of You” is an upbeat folk song about celebrating the love he feels for his girl, while the cheerful “My Hometown” has a peppy reggae vibe. One of the things I like about this track are all the different guitar textures, including the wobbly little riff that can be heard throughout.

A favorite track is “She’s Leaving Town,” a bittersweet song about the end of a relationship that leaves him blindsided: “She’s leaving town tonight. The boy has no idea what it’s all about./ That smile is just an illusion.” The track has a bluesy feel, and the funky guitars and bass are really terrific. “Home Beyond the Pines” is another great track – oh hell, they’re all great! It starts off with a a bewitching little guitar note that expands into a pleasing acoustic riff, set to a happy toe-tapping beat.

As I listen to each track, I’m struck by the serene beauty of Ben’s voice, and no more so than on the gentle folk song “Fight Against the Tide.” His vocals are tender and heartfelt as he sings the inspirational lyrics about not letting self-doubt and the setbacks that life sometimes throws our way keep you from moving forward and living your own truth: “Wash away your pride. Don’t neglect your mind’s eye. Trust the strength you have inside, and fight against the tide.” It’s another favorite of mine.

Lifeline is a marvelous, well-crafted EP filled with songs that make you feel good, even when the subject matter is not particularly happy. Ben’s songwriting, musicianship and vocals are all first-rate, and he should be very proud of this work. An accomplished musician, he also teaches guitar lessons on his YouTube channel, which you can check out here.

Connect with Ben:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  Apple Music / Spotify / Deezer
Purchase:  iTunes / Amazon UK / Google Play

DARREN CAMPBELL – Single Review: “Wherever You Are”

Darren Campbell is a talented and hard-working 24-year-old singer/songwriter from Scotland who’s now based in London, UK. He’s been making music since his teens, releasing his first single “Find My Way” in January 2012. He followed with the EP Days to Come later that year, and has released a great number of fine singles in the years since. His latest is a beautiful song “Wherever You Are,” which dropped in May.

Darren Campbell single art

The track opens with a delicate jangly guitar riff and ambient synths, immediately enchanting our eardrums. Fifteen seconds in, the guitars and synths expand into an exuberant and gorgeous wall of sound, accompanied by a joyous toe-tapping beat. Darren’s strong, earnest vocals convey the optimism, hope and love expressed in his lyrics:

Wherever you are, wherever you go
Always watch the stars unfold
The love you wanted you could know
The lives we live are wonderful
When you think about me when you think about us
I don’t want you to fear babe
I want you to trust

In an interview with music blog Music Musings & Such, Darren explained his inspiration  for writing the song: “‘Wherever You Are’ is inspired by the need to travel and see what’s out there in the world. I have older brothers in the States, great friends living in different countries and my parents back home in Scotland. With this song, I captured the feelings I had regarding the need to get out of your comfort zone and experiencing life whilst still feeling close and connected with the ones you love, even if they may be half the world away!”

The gorgeous music video for “Wherever You Are” was filmed and edited by Patrick Zangl, and follows Patrick and friend Christina Canek, accompanied by their beautiful husky, in their exploration of South Tyrol in northeastern Italy.

Connect with Darren:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud
Purchase:  iTunes / Bandcamp

PANDARAMA – EP Review: “Mixed Messages”

PandaRama

PandaRama is a creative young alternative pop/rock band from Miami, epicenter for the thriving South Florida music scene. (I’ve featured quite a number of South Florida artists & bands on this blog, including Above the Skyline, Sunghosts, Dyslexic Postcards, Xotic Yeyo, Raker and John Defeo.) I also happen to have an adorable cat named Panda, so it’s only natural I’d like a band called PandaRama.

The band was formed 2014 by Christian “Panda” Benabe (vocals) and Steven Quintanilla (guitar) while they were students at Miami-Dade College, and they were joined two years later by drummer William Snyder. In September 2016 they released their first EP 37.5%, a solid effort with five very good tracks, and in May of this year, they dropped a new EP Mixed Messages. They’re currently working on recording a full-length album, but wanted to showcase their softer side. So, they recorded acoustic versions of a few songs, which resulted in the more ambient and experimental approach used on Mixed Messages, and I think they turned out quite nicely. The songs all address troubled relationships with honest, biting lyrics set to sublime melodies.

For the first track “Toxic,” PandaRama skillfully melds elements of acoustic folk/rock with synthpop to create a great-sounding and powerfully moving song. Despite the dark subject matter, the instrumentals are beautiful, with Steven’s intricate, rapidly strummed guitar work, accompanied by swirling synths and a gentle drumbeat.  Panda’s commanding vocals are filled with emotion as he sings the bitter lyrics about a relationship damaged beyond repair:  “This could be toxic. The grievances we hold. This is toxic. The story left untold. Those beautiful lies we left behind. We slowly killed ourselves inside.”

Someone Save Me” is a poignant ballad about someone in a precarious emotional state pleading with a loved one to help him keep it together: “Give me a reason to stay. Why shouldn’t I throw it all away? Instead of you standing there, show me that you really care. Prove yourself to me. / Recovery is a couple of words away. Giving up is an action I won’t take. All I need is to hear you go ‘Someone save me’.”

My favorite track is “Sweet Daughter of Blood,” a lovely song about a not so lovely woman. The gorgeous music, consisting mostly of delicate keyboard synths and Steven’s exquisite acoustic guitar work, sharply contrasts with the scathing lyrics, sung by Panda with an icy bitterness:

Disguising your lies with those pretty eyes
Oh boy what a joy just to have you around
Dear pretty girl you reeked of disaster
Make your plans, have them run a little faster
As you separate all in the family

Fooled just a little
Harbored a meany devil
Sick twisted individual
Monster, monster, monster
We had a monster, monster, monster
She was a monster, monster, monster
There goes the monster, monster, a monster
Good riddance to the monster

Hey sweet daughter of blood
I’m kicking you from my life to throw you in the mud
Guilty, with treason in the family
You don’t really care, watch us suffer everywhere
But no, not today. In hell you will stay
So burn away

As the song draws to a close, the hauntingly beautiful guitar riff is gradually replaced with sounds of crackling flames. I love it!

Follow PandaRama:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / YouTube
Stream their music:   Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud
Purchase on  iTunes

JON MAGNUSSON – EP Review: “Always a Rebel”

Jon_Magnusson

Jon Magnusson is a songwriter and musician from Stockholm, and the first Swedish artist I’ve featured on this blog. He’s been writing and producing his own songs for over twelve years, but more recently has been putting a greater emphasis into playing, singing, recording and producing music. His sound could best be described as folk with touches of rock, pop and occasional punk influences and, as he muses, “an occasional jazzy beat thrown in to keep listeners on their toes.” His primary instrument is the guitar, both acoustic and electric, but he’s also adept at programming drums, strings and keyboards.

Another big interest of Jon’s is languages and literature. Speaking and reading Swedish, English and even Spanish, he’s found inspiration in different cultures and has recorded songs in all three languages. In addition, as a professional social worker he also appreciates how interpersonal relations can affect humans in a positive direction and he brings that to his music as well. And finally, though he’s not quite as passionate about politics as when he was younger, his sensibilities still lie left of center, and he’s always striving for a more equal society, which is reflected in some of his lyrics, and something that definitely has appeal for me.

In March, he released his latest effort, a five-track EP titled Always a Rebel. The first track “Rely on Me” is an upbeat message of unconditional support to a friend or loved one. The fine layered guitars, sparkling synths and peppy drums make for a really warm and pleasing song.

I’m Not the Only One” is a pretty, bittersweet song that’s rather sad but hopeful. About the lyrics, Jon explains “I wrote this song the summer 2011. I had just finished my social worker degree. I was feeling a bit tired living in Stockholm and wasn’t really sure what to do with my life. On top of that I had a period with quite a lot of anxiety so life was actually kind of rough. Luckily I had some great people around me, family and friends and most of all my to-become wife and the line “I can not sleep tonight, but I’m not the only one” was more or less literally written a night when I couldn’t sleep but at least I had someone with me to keep me company.

Musically, the track features glittery synths that create a cheerful, sunny soundscape, conveying a strong sense of optimism. The guitars and percussion are just right, and Jon’s vocals (which can be a little flat at times) sound really good on this track. It’s a beautifully arranged song, and my favorite on the EP.

The third track “Set Me On Fire” is an interesting song that touches on three subjects – mental illness, existentialism and the need to keep on creating. Jon explains “The song is totally built around the first line ‘Put something in my bloodstream to take away the pain, attenuate my anxiety, make me go astray.’ I actually came up with this one day thinking back a few years when I was dealing with a lot of anxiety… I got a lot of help thanks to a fantastic doctor and to some anti-anxiety medication, and so that line is somewhat of a tribute to those pills that made such a difference for me. I also remember how much I got helped thanks to other people being open, breaking the stigma around mental health issues.”

The second verse goes into a bit of a mined ground, challenging the concept of a god and an inherent meaning to life. ‘Don’t preach about eternity, while life is fairly well. Don’t lie to us I know that there’s no heaven there’s no hell. If Jesus is your savior, cross me off your list. In the end I might get burned, but I gladly take that risk.‘ Personally I define my self as somewhat of an existentialist. I don’t think there is any basic meaning to life that you are able to find through soul searching or religion. Life itself is rather pointless; you’re born and then you live, and then you die. What’s important is to create meaning to your life yourself, and most of all together with others.” Being non-religious myself, I totally identify with Jon here.

The third verse – “And keep that fire burning, don’t tuck me in to sleep. Whisper softly in my ear, that I’m the one you’ll keep. I might get overheated, I might put on a show.
But what’s the point in holding back, I never liked it slow.” – speaks to Jon’s feelings that he can’t be still, and always needs to find outlets for his creativity, no matter how exhausting it can sometimes be.

Musically, the track has a languid, pleasing melody that slowly builds to a crescendo. Jon and his sound engineer Ruben utilized chiming guitars, synths and crisp drums to create the beautiful sound, as well as a distorted glockenspiel that adds to the song’s charming quality.

The title track “Always a Rebel” is a lovely folk song that’s featured in two different versions. Both sound fairly similar to my ears, with a pleasing mix of acoustic and rhythm guitars and gentle synths, along with a sublime organ riff. The first version has a slightly more polished feel, whereas the second has a more relaxed folksy vibe, but both sound great in any case.

The lyrics speak to someone who enjoys the freedom and independence that comes from being an unconventional, rebellious sort, but at the same time missing out on some of the meaningful things in life: “You see yourself as disengaged, so casual and smart. And pity for the working man stuck in his car. No bills to pay, no gallows swaying over you now. But deep inside you’re longing for a life where you will never be a part. But a rebel, always a rebel you are.”

Always a Rebel is a very nice little EP that actually grew on me the more I listened to it and delved deeply into the compelling lyrics, many of which strongly resonated with me.

Connect with Jon:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music on  Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud
Purchase on iTunes

JD & THE STRAIGHT SHOT – Album Review: “Good Luck and Good Night”

Good Night and Good Luck

JD & The Straight Shot is a folk rock/Americana band based in New York City, and in September 2017 they released their sixth studio album Good Luck And Good Night.  Drawing inspiration from such legendary acts as The Beach Boys, Pink Floyd and The Beatles, along with traditional Irish folk music, Country and classic rock’n’roll, JD & the Straight Shot deliver pleasing and sometimes topical songs that range from introspective folk ballads to catchy bluegrass foot-stompers.

The band is comprised of musicians with impressive credentials. Front man Jim Dolan, (lead vocals/guitar) is also CEO of the Madison Square Garden Company, which owns the New York Knicks and New York Rangers; guitarist Marc Copely has worked with B.B. King and Rosanne Cash; bassist Byron House with Robert Plant, Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton; violinist/fiddler Erin Slaver with Martina McBride and Rod Stewart; drummer/percussionist Shawn Pelton with Sheryl Crow, Levon Helm, and the Saturday Night Live band; and backing vocalist/guitarist Carolyn Dawn Johnson with Miranda Lambert and Kenny Chesney. The all-acoustic Good Night and Good Luck was produced and mixed by Copely and engineered by Chuck Ainley at Soundstage Studios in Nashville. 

The album kicks off with “Redemption Song,” a rousing bluegrass number about searching for salvation and forgiveness. Slaver’s exuberant fiddle is one of the highlights on the track, and plays a major role in the band’s overall sound. Keeping with the gospel theme of finding redemption, “Ballad of Jacob Marley” is a an updated interpretation of Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol. The lyrics speak of making amends with one’s greedy ways before it’s too late. “Every day another link, you’ve taken yourself to the brink. / Time is short to right what you’ve done wrong.” Banjo and fiddle are the standout instruments on this great track, and Dolan and Johnson’s vocals harmonize well together, as they also do on “Moonlight” and the lovely “I Know You Know I Know.

One of my favorites on the album is “Run For Me,” a stirring song with a delightful Irish folk melody. The track opens with a sound imitating a galloping horse, followed by a catchy guitar riff and charming fiddle that continue throughout the song. The lyrics are a plea of hope that a bet on a horse race will pay off, easing worries about how to pay the bills: “Gotta pay my bills, running out of time, I’ll never get ahead. It’s all riding on the line. God help me win this time, just once to feel alive. Come on take the lead, come on baby bring it home to me.”

Referencing the phrase that the legendary early TV newsman Edward R. Murrow uttered at the end of every newscast, the compelling title track “Good Luck and Good Night” addresses the political divisiveness that permeates today’s news. “Hear a rumor make up a quote. Put it out there to see if it floats. Found your secret, told everyone. Doesn’t really matter as long as we won. Black and white. Must be right.” The languid country/folk song features a child chorus similar to that used to dramatic effect on Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall.”

The deeply moving ballad “Tonight” takes on the horror of domestic abuse: “From up above comes a terrible scream. Woke me up, I thought it was a dream. Sounds of breaking dishes and slamming doors. One big thud as something hit the floor. / She says she’s going to heaven, that’s right. I hope she’s not going tonight.” The band pays homage to their departed friend Glenn Frey with a lovely cover of the Eagles’ song “It’s Your World Now,” and incorporates lines from Maya Angelou’s poem Alone on their contemplative, gospel-like “Never Alone.”

The only miss on the album for me is their cover of the Three Dog Night hit “Shambala.” The song just feels lifeless and flat compared to the original, and lacks the energy or emotional depth of their other songs. Oddly, JD & the Straight Shot chose to perform “Shambala” when they appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon on March 8. They would have been better served performing one of the many better tracks on Good Luck and Good Night, an otherwise terrific album.

The band kicks off a month-long tour in Chicago beginning this evening, March 14, where they’ll be opening for The Eagles. They’ll also open for Chicago and The Doobie Brothers for some shows. I will be seeing them in Rancho Mirage on April 6th.

3/14 Chicago, IL @United Center w/ the Eagles
3/15 Grand Rapids, MI @Van Andel Arena w/ the Eagles
3/17 Thackerville, OK @Winstar Casino w/ Chicago
3/18 St. Louis, MO @Scottrade Center w/ the Eagles
3/23 Nashville, TN @Bridgestone Arena w/ the Eagles
3/24 Nashville, TN @Bridgestone Arena w/ the Eagles
3/30 San Antonio, TX @Majestic Theatre w/ Chicago
3/31 Sugar Land, TX @Smart Financial Centre w/ Chicago
4/6 Rancho Mirage, CA @Agua Caliente Casino w/ The Doobie Brothers
4/7 Las Vegas, NV @ Chelsea at Cosmopolitan w/ The Doobie Brothers
4/8 Columbus, OH @Nationwide Arena w/ the Eagles
4/10 Lexington, KY @Rupp Arena w/ the Eagles
4/11 Charlotte, NC @Spectrum Center w/ the Eagles

Connect with the band:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on  Spotify / Apple Music
Purchase on  iTunes / Amazon

YOU’RE AMONG FRIENDS – EP Review: “One Day You’ll Look Back”

YAF EP Art

You’re Among Friends is a Cleveland, Ohio-based band who play a laid back style of funky, blues-infused folk rock that just makes you feel good. Following up on their wonderful album As We Watch the Years Go… (which they released in July 2016 and I reviewed last year), they dropped a new EP One Day You’ll Look Back at the end of November 2017. It’s a short EP, containing four tracks totaling only ten minutes in length, but it delivers the kind of honest, relatable songs about life and relationships the band does so very well. Making the music are Anthony Doran (lead vocals and guitars), Kevin Trask (bass, keyboards and backing vocals) and drummer Frank Mirabelli, a recent addition to, and sixth drummer for, the band.

The first track “I’m Happier Now” is a pleasant, upbeat tune about the happiness and joy a loved one brings to his life: “I can barely remember what life was like before you arrived. So I know I’m happier now. All I know is that I’m happier now. It’s true.” Anthony’s jangly guitar nicely complements Kevin’s humming bass line, while Frank bangs out the mellow beat on the drums.

The guys get philosophical on the funky “Back to Work Tomorrow,” speaking to the soul-crushing routine of a dead-end job, and advising against letting it define your life. I love the rather cynical lyrics to this song, as I think a lot of us can relate to them:

Work your fingers down to the bone
But in the end what do you have to show for it?
Except a few dollars that you’ve already spent
Because the money rolls out faster than it comes in
Well it’s an uphill battle towards a long decline
If you let your work define your life
If you worry about it you will lose your mind
It’s not like you get paid to think
Time flies, even when you’re not having fun
One day you’ll look back and half your life will be gone
Well that’s all time that you’ll never get back
I hope it was worth it working so hard for the man

You Lost Interest First” has a country vibe with an infectious bouncy guitar riff and toe-tapping beat. The song’s about a couple who’ve both lost the feelings for each other that initially drew them together. A catchy, uptempo beat belies the somewhat negative sentiments of “Not My Thing.” With a hint of resignation in his voice, Anthony sings:

It’s hard to make me smile
You can try your best but it probably won’t work
It’s not that I’m depressed
I don’t try to be dark, I’m not a jerk
It’s just that smiling is not my thing
Don’t like the sunshine I like the rain

All in all, One Day You’ll Look Back is a nice little EP featuring songs with simple melodies and compelling lyrics that make for a highly pleasurable listen.

Connect with You’re Among Friends:  Blog / Facebook / Twitter
Stream their music:  Spotify / Napster / Google Play / YouTube
Purchase:  Bandcamp / iTunes / Amazon

MOROSITY – Album Review: “Low Tide”

Low Tide Album Art

Unusual. Exotic. Captivating. Haunting. Stunning. Those are all words that come to mind when I listen to the album Low Tide by Morosity, a genre-bending band from Minneapolis, Minnesota. Formed in 2001 by childhood friends Jesse Albrecht (Lead Vocalist/Guitarist) and Dave Rowan (Guitarist) as a two-man acoustic group, they spent their early years developing a sound uniquely their own, and playing local gigs and opening for national bands. Wanting to expand their sound and musical reach, they added bassist Sean Bachinski in 2007, and two years later, Jason Wolfe (Violin, Guitar, Mandolin) and Nick Johnson (Drums) joined the band to complete their lineup.

Morosity released an ambitious debut album Misanthrope in 2011 to wide acclaim, and nearly six years later, in February 2017, they released their second album Low Tide, which I’m finally getting around to reviewing. While retaining many elements of their signature sound – complex song structures and melodies, richly layered guitars, crisp percussion, and generous use of the violin – with Low Tide the band takes a more eclectic and decidedly darker approach. Melding rock with tribal, psychedelia, folk and Middle Eastern influenced music through use of the mandolin and hammered dulcimer, they’ve created a powerful work of extraordinary beauty and depth. The album was produced by Albrecht, who records, mixes, and masters in his home studio Evensong Studios.

Morosity

The album starts off with “Mind Over Matter,” a brief but mesmerizing track dominated by a gorgeous dulcimer riff. The song elicits several images and feelings for me, but I mostly think of a beautiful belly dancer moving to the captivating Middle Eastern music. The song immediately transitions to the mysterious “The Answer.” One of my favorite tracks on the album, the song features haunting guitar work that’s so incredible it gives me goosebumps. Furthermore, Albrecht’s vocals are amazing; he seductively croons the lyrics about questioning one’s belief system: “My eyes tell me that the truth’s not being told. What if all I see is just a lie?” He finally concludes that it’s all a sham as he wails “You’re all wrong” to a hard-driving guitar riff at the song’s end.

Without skipping a beat, we segue to “Ouroboros,” another mesmerizing (there’s that word again, but it’s just so fitting) track with a Middle Eastern vibe. The instrumentals on this track are rich and varied, and Albrecht’s smoky vocals have a chant-like quality. “Moon” has more of a traditional folk-rock sound, with some tasty layered guitars floating over Bachinski’s solid bass line.

The album plays like a rock symphony, with each track a string of movements, one flowing into the next. “Moon” transitions directly into “Smoke & Mirrors,” a powerful five-and-a-half minute long tour-de-force of a track about self deception. The guitar work is outstanding, and Albrecht’s raw vocals, which remind me a bit of the late Chris Cornell on this track, perfectly convey the biting lyrics:

Is all your smiling make-believe?
Who is it that you are trying to deceive?
What is it that you plan to gain?
A life of misery, false heightened sense of fame. It all goes away…

The most powerful, and dark, track on the album is “Death Grip,” which speaks to the epidemic of gun violence that’s become so pervasive in America today. The folk-rock song is chilling, yet has an interlude containing whistling that comes off as almost carefree, in sharp contrast to the subject matter. A similar treatment was used by Foster the People on their hit “Pumped Up Kicks.” The disturbing lyrics are from the twisted perspective of a mass shooter:

Lately I just wanna kill someone
You can hide away the ammo Lock up all the guns
But if I really wanna have some fun
There ain’t nothing gonna stop me til’ the job is done
I wanna kill someone
In a crowded theater
In the church of nuns
In a school for children
In front of everyone
You think that you can stop me
You say you’re good with guns
If you try to kill me I’m gonna blow up everyone

The video shows serene images of the countryside and a cemetery, interspersed with a shadowy figure walking, driving, and at a shooting range. At the end, people are shown having fun riding bikes, bowling, and at a demolition derby, presumably oblivious to any potential danger.

Limbo” features Wolfe’s sublime mandolin work, accompanied by lovely violin and subtle guitars. Albrecht’s urgent vocals are marvelous, as are the backing chorus. The violin and acoustic guitar take center stage on the melancholy title track “Low Tide.” The gloomy lyrics speak to feelings of being worn down, and that life is slipping away, but you’re not yet ready to give up:

From stone to sand, I feel it all sifting through my hands.
Worn to bone, nothing left just a skeleton.
Bottoms up and cut me down to size.
Drag me out and wash me in the tide.
Give me life now no I don’t wanna die.
Low tide

But by song’s end, the feelings of hopelessness, regret and despair have become too great to bear, thus death would be a welcome relief:

Can not maintain the pain the rain is welling in your eyes.
Pleasure came back down the drain swallowing the light.
Playing blame insane it’s you that’s done this to your life.
Missing sane tired and drained thoughts of the other side.
Pick me up and bathe me in the light.
Drive it down and bleed me dry.
Take my life I’m ready to die.
Washed away in the low tide.

The band keeps with an oceanic theme on the funereal album closer “Adrift.” The languid track is moody, yet peaceful, with the sound of waves drifting in and out as a somber guitar plays. Like the music, Albrecht’s low, echoed vocals are dirge-like, yet somehow comforting. The music and vocals end at 3:30, and we’re left with sounds of the surf for another 20 seconds, followed by birds singing in a gentle breeze, as if to signify the gradual and peaceful passing away of a life. Morbid, but beautiful at the same time, which fairly well sums up the album.

Morosity is currently working on a third album, and I eagerly look forward to hearing more songs from these exceptionally talented and creative musicians.

Connect with Morosity:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  Spotify / Soundcloud
Purchase:  BandcampMorosity Store

GUY PAUL THIBAULT – Album Review: “It’s About Time”

It's About Time Album

Listening to the music of Guy Paul Thibault, it would be easy to assume he’s from somewhere like Nashville, Tennessee. In reality the singer/songwriter/guitarist – who plays tremendously satisfying folk music with strong country and rock influences – hails from beautiful Nova Scotia, Canada. An accomplished musician, Guy Paul has written, recorded and produced six albums on his own. He’s also played acoustic, electric, bass and slide guitar, and sang vocals for original acts and cover bands. In June he released a new album It’s About Time, an appropriate title given the span of 17 years since his last solo album.

I’ve always loved songs that tell a story, and It’s About Time is loaded with them. Let me state right here that Guy Paul is an incredible wordsmith. Through poetic, heartfelt, and sometimes humorous lyrics, his songs address the oft-covered subjects of life, love and heartbreak, but in ways that reveal the contradictory facets of good and evil inherent in each of us. Furthermore, these colorful stories are delivered with his sublime vocals and accompanied by some pretty nifty acoustic and electric guitar. I usually like to highlight a few song lyrics in my reviews, but in this case I’ll be featuring quite a lot of them.

Guy Paul Thibault

Here She Comes” kicks off the album with a pleasing country-rock rhythm. Guy Paul instantly hooks us in with his laid back vocal delivery and nimble acoustic guitar. Gentle percussion sets the beat and the sweet violin in the bridge is a nice touch.

One of the best ‘story’ tracks is “Misdemeanor,” a catchy, guitar-driven and wry tune about an older woman who’s still got it, and always out looking for a good time:

Takes the complications with a delicate smile
Avoids one night affairs, well she has for a while
That’s what she says
Well, hello boys is her natural style
Moves on her prey like a cat in the wild

With a closer look, well she’s showing her age
But she’s still got her wit and she’s still got those legs
Ahh those legs

Guy Paul turns serious with “Hills,” a compelling song about people living a hardscrabble existence in rural America who’ve endured more than their fair share of military service and the consequential casualties, PTSD and societal breakdown:

You can hide a body forever in these hills
A thousand square miles and a hundred little stills
They took us from our homes and taught us how to fight
Now justice comes in the middle of the night
Now terror comes in the middle of the night

He strums his guitar with a forcefulness to match the searing lyrics, backed by an assertive military drumbeat and mournful harmonica. The generous use of electric guitar and bass also lend greater impact to the track.

The poignant “Tallest Man on Earth” addresses the realization that the father you once idolized, thinking you wanted to be like him, wasn’t so high in stature after all:

When I was just a young man, trying not to fall
The only thing that seemed to matter was growing up and being tall
Growing tall brings great things, like seeing past the trees
You can’t hear the whispers, your head up in the breeze
He seemed the tallest man on earth

His heart died alone they say, running against the wall
He never could comprehend life wasn’t about being tall
He seemed the tallest man on earth
The smallest man on earth

Another powerful and standout track is “We Just Don’t Care,” a hard-hitting country-rock anthem that speaks to the apathy and sense of futility caused by feelings of betrayal by society and our government. Those sentiments are expressed by an attitude of entitlement – ‘I want what’s owed to me, and to hell with everyone else’:

Sacrifice is such a lonely word
There’s not much left in this world
We’re all trying the best we can
Can’t see the beach for the grains of sand
Belief is just a long-lost dream
Slowly fades from what I’ve seen
Lack faith in our fellow man
Lost in time a simple slight of hand
This is how we are now
And we just don’t care

Guy Paul shows us his rocker side on “Saving Grace,” a rousing song with a driving beat and lots of terrific electric and rhythm guitar riffs. One of my favorite tracks is “Saturday Night,” a catchy and breezy country song about hooking up with strangers to avoid being lonely. The lyrics are rather bittersweet until he lightens things up at the end:

It’s alright, I still got my friends
That’s what I’m talkin’ about
Hey wait a minute, is that another bottle over there?
Same time next week?

Stay (For Riley)” is a lovely but wistful ballad about saying goodbye to a loved one – or a pet perhaps? “You were my best friend, chased all of my fears. Now you live in every tear. Stay.”  Guy Paul serves up jangly guitar riffs on “If I Had,” a really nice folk tune about dreaming of enjoying life by hitting the road in his car with a girl and guitar. Wrapping up the album is the sorrowful “How Far Could I Fall.” The country song speaks of hitting bottom after his girl left him and he sought comfort with booze and drugs.

It’s About Time is well worth the wait of 17 years, as it’s superb on every level. In addition to Guy Paul’s impressive songwriting and musicianship, he was assisted on the album by the musical talents of David Bradshaw and Shawn Cherry.

Connect with Guy:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Stream his music:  Spotify / Google Play

Purchase:  iTunes / Bandcamp / cdbaby

NOREiKA – EP Review: “BoXaRoX”

NOREiKA is Peter Noreika, a singer/songwriter from rural western New York state, near Buffalo. He started out his music career as a guitarist for a few heavy metal bands, but eventually quit the business to become gainfully employed, get married and start a family. As is often the case, however, Noreika never lost the music bug, and after his young son one day asked him why he couldn’t stay home and play with him, he decided to make a change and get back to doing what he loved, which was writing songs and playing music. And though he still had a fondness for metal rock, his sensibilities now leaned more toward acoustic and folk rock.

Peter Noreika

Noreika released his debut EP METACOUSTiFOLK in 2015, and followed up a year later with Throw the Switch to Begin, which I reviewed almost exactly one year ago – and you can read here.  Now he returns with his third EP BoXaRoXwhich dropped today, August 25. Departing from the fuller sound of his previous EPs, he strips down the music to the bare essentials of just guitar and vocals. When I asked about the unusual EP title BoXaRoX, Noreika explained that it was a possible band name he’d once considered years ago. When trying to come up with a name for the new EP, he remembered BoXaRoX and decided it was the perfect name for his mascot – a “beer-drinking, guitar-playing pterodactyl” – that he was using for his EP cover art. I think the cover art and title are both perfect!

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The first thing that strikes you about Noreika’s music is the fullness of the sound, given that it consists of only an acoustic guitar and his urgent vocals. This is immediately apparent with the opening track “Who’s Right.” He strums his guitar with an assertiveness that matches his powerful vocal delivery of lyrics about finding truth through honest communication:

I’m right, you’re right, Everybody come along 
Talk it on over and we’ll find out who is wrong 
I’m wrong, you’re wrong, Everybody sing this song 
Talk it on over and we’ll find out who is right.

What Makes You Smile” is a positive, uplifting track about recognizing the little things that can bring joy and make life worth living – like a box of puppies and kittens.

Find your reason to give. You will see its the way to live 
There is a brighter side. Keep it up and you’ll hit your stride 
Think of things that warm your soul 
Puts a smile on your face and makes you whole 
Like a box, a box of puppies and kittens. 

Noreika makes an emotional plea for love and acceptance on the hard-hitting “Notice Me.” His fervent vocals are pretty intense on this track, as is his guitar playing.

Why don’t you notice me. Am I so hard to see 
Why don’t you notice me. I fade to black and disappear 
I’ve got so much to say to you. Believe me when I tell you that its all true 
Look in my eyes read between my lines. All of my love is for you.

The catchy “Shwoop Dibby Dibby” is a lighthearted ode to a loved one, in which he employs crazy words to describe the depths of his feelings for her:

Love comes round that’s more than real.
When I can’t define, or think of the line, I speak from the heart.
The silly words that I say, mean the world to me in every way 

Shwoop dibby dibby whoop baloo, Shmluega Magluega means I love you.

The nimble guitar riff on this track is terrific. In fact, Noreika’s guitar work on every track is outstanding, making his music a real pleasure to hear. So give this EP a listen and see for yourself!

Connect with Peter:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Stream his music:  Spotify / Reverbnation / Soundcloud

Purchase:  Bandcamp / iTunes / Amazon

TONI SIDGWICK – EP Review: “Lions”

Toni Sidgwick is an indie singer-songwriter based in County Durham in northeast England. She was born and raised in the remote Shetland Islands northeast of the Scottish mainland, and began her musical journey by busking on the streets of Edinburgh. Her unique style of folk/pop draws from influences by artists such as Ben Howard, London Grammar and Bruce Springsteen. And like those artists, her lyrics are often deeply personal and introspective, speaking to the complexities of life, relationships and her place in this world.

Toni released her debut EP Lions in June, having worked with the brilliant young producer, Lauren Deakin-Davies, and I have the pleasure of reviewing it. Delicate strums of her acoustic guitar introduce the first track “Carry My Heart,” a gentle, lovely ballad in which Toni acknowledges her independence, but also desire for a romantic connection: “I can carry my life, I’ve been doing it for some time. I can carry my life, will you carry my heart. Her vocals are understated and soft, yet reveal a quiet intensity that makes the lyrics feel all the more powerful.

Toni ramps things up a notch on “Only One Way,” a lively track about being honest and true to your feelings toward another. Toni’s vocals are clear and confident as she emphatically sings: “And I gotta stay true to me. And I gotta stay true to you. There’s only one way, only one way, only one way…that I can be.” I love the fast-paced jangly guitars and toe-tapping percussion. Just like the lyric “it makes me happy,” this song makes me happy and is my favorite on the EP.

Dance” is a beautiful, tender ballad with acoustic guitar, gentle percussion and a beguiling harmonica riff. With heartfelt emotion, Toni sings “Oh dance with me. Don’t you dare stop moving our two left feet. Slow dance, dance. We’ll go higher and higher than we dare to chance.” The title track “Lions” is a peppy little number with plucky guitars, crisp snare drum and just a hint of bass. Toni sings of drawing on one’s inner strength to make it through this crazy world: “We are lions, we gotta roar.

The folk-rock song “Be Anything” speaks to holding on to another’s love and support that enable you to be a better person: “You pull me closer. And in your heart, I can be anything.” A combination of strummed acoustic guitar, a sturdy bass line, and light percussion make for an intensely satisfying track. In fact, all five songs on Lions are intensely satisfying, and it’s clear that Toni poured her heart and soul into its creation. It’s a debut effort she can be proud of.

Connect with Toni:  WebsiteFacebook / Twitter / Instagram

Stream her music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / YouTube

Purchase:  iTunes