THE AMERICAN MAN – Single Review: “The Last Valentine”

The American Man

“You live / You Love / You Learn / And You Lose.” A pretty cynical observation about the nature of life, this, but these words were in fact an impetus for the man who wrote them to change his life going forward. So states the Chicago-based singer-songwriter and musician who goes by the moniker “The American Man”. Like a lot of musicians who choose to identify themselves with an artistic moniker rather than their given names, he desired to disappear behind the name and have his songs speak for themselves.

He’s a massive Bob Dylan fan, and as such his music and sound is heavily influenced by Dylan, both musically and lyrically. His music consists only of his acoustic guitar and harmonica, and his lyrics are poetic, honest and heartfelt. And what’s more, his vocals sound alarmingly similar to Dylan’s, right down to their raspy texture and pitch.

In November 2019, he released his marvelous debut album Life & Times of Thomas Francis Bernasol, featuring eight tracks that touch on aspects of life, love and loss identified in the opening words of this post. On February 14 he appropriately dropped his latest single “The Last Valentine“, an understated, yet magnificent song which I’m pleased to feature today. He explained the song’s background:

The song was written four years ago this very week. Trump wasn’t yet in office, mass shootings were taking place, tension was in the air, and I was waking up in the middle of Chicago on Valentines day on the street. It was 15 degrees or so, and I walked across the city in the cold. My wallet was stolen and my phone was stolen and I was bleeding down my head. Halfway home I laid down in an alley and cried. But I wasn’t jumped; I was in the deep end of my alcohol and drug problems that stretched on relentlessly for five years. And then I got sober, let go of song writing, put this song on the back burner and had to do the hard work work of building my life. I spent three years off the internet, and a few weeks ago it dawned on me that I had this song tucked away. So I dug through several hundred pages of old lyrics over a few hours to find it, set up my iphone and hit record. Then I thought I gotta share it with the world, so I bought a lap top and made this video. I thought that the song was interesting because [even though] it’s four years old, it still holds up.”

“The Last Valentine” is inspired both melodically and lyrically by Bob Dylan’s 1962 song “Let Me Die in My Footsteps”, which Dylan wrote after he watched construction workers building a bomb shelter one day. He was struck by the insanity of peoples’ upside-down reasoning during the Cold War – that instead of us learning how to live, we were learning how to die. In that same vein, The American Man explores the similar irrational, hateful and destructive thinking occurring in America today:

I met a young boy who was free in his soul
They beat him so bad and left him dead on the road
But he stood up and walked led by his mind
He stumbles on home as the last Valentine
As he wars through the ruse
You live, you love, you learn and you lose

I watched all the red-blooded American folk
Swallow their leader and violently choke
And neath their red eyes was a heart filled with hate
If you do not act soon it might be too late
There a war without truce
You live, you love, you learn and you lose

Outside the Trump rally
Within the great wall
A homeless man fell to all that he saw
And with his stained shirt he wipes his watery eyes
Some are learning to live, some are learning to die
Oh young boy here’s old news
You live, you love, you learn and you lose

All incredibly powerful and brilliantly-written words that deeply resonate with me! For the compelling and provocative video, he used footage of actual events and scenes and images from popular films and music videos (some of which may result in removal due to copyright infringement, though I certainly hope not). Take a look and have a listen:

Connect with The American Man: Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music: SpotifySoundcloudApple Music
Purchase:  Google PlayAmazon

SomeRiseSomeFall feat. Anna Mitchell – Single Review: “The Rain Came Down on Everything”

SomeRiseSomeFall

SomeRiseSomeFall (SRSF) is a collaborative music project based in Cork, Ireland. The brainchild of Michael Fitzgerald, who refers to his project as “a musical eclective producing music for the human condition”, SRSF brings together a range of folk, rock and traditional Irish musicians with the aim of focusing on the transformational power of music. In addition to being all about the music, SRSF is passionate about many social issues, including raising awareness for and improving the treatment of asylum seekers in Ireland, and promoting greater awareness and understanding of mental health issues. Proceeds from SRSF’s music go towards charitable groups who are helping with both of these issues. Their music is available for download/purchase from http://www.somerisesomefall.com and all online music sites.

SRSF released their debut album Some Climb in 2017 via FITZZ Records, featuring musicians Martin Leahy, Hank Wedel, Edel Sullivan, Annette Buckley and Ger Wolfe (which you can listen to on Spotify). Now they return with a gorgeous new single “The Rain Came Down on Everything“, the first single from their forthcoming album No Simple Highway, due for release in October 2020. Fitzgerald explains the guiding philosophy of the album: “No Simple Highway is a musical attempt to connect and uplift those dealing with the challenges of love, loss and grief, and I and the musicians involved are convinced of the positive effect of connecting people to their own emotions and through this, discovering empathy and kindness.”

“The Rain Came Down On Everything” features captivating vocals and piano by Anna Mitchell (whose wonderful self-titled album I reviewed almost exactly two years ago), Brian Hassey on bass, Hugh Dillon on guitar, David Murphy on steel guitar and Davy Ryan on drums. The song was produced and mixed by Brian Casey at Wavefield Studios and mastered by Richard Dowling at Wav Mastering.  The song is a re-imagining of the original written by British musician and singer-songwriter (and founding but short-lived member of ELO) Roy Wood, and dedicated “to all who know that loss so often accompanies love“.

The instrumentals are really beautiful, highlighted by Mitchell’s sublime piano keys and Murphy’s mournful steel guitar. Mitchell has a lovely singing voice, and her heartfelt, vibrato-tinged vocals nicely convey a sense of vulnerability and sad resignation as she sings:

But the rain came down on everything
This time I really need your smile
But the rain came down on everything
I only had you for a while

The song’s languid tempo abruptly shifts in the bridge to a dramatic, almost celebratory feel, with heavier piano, guitar, bass and drums, only to calm back down to the somber opening tone that continues through to the end.

In advance of the single release, scheduled for the 28th of February, SRSF has chosen Valentine’s Day for the release of a stunning accompanying video for the song. It was directed, filmed and edited by Allie Glynn and stars Kelly Justin, who performs a powerfully moving interpretive dance that artfully expresses the raw emotion contained in the lyrics.

To learn more about SomeRiseSomeFall, check out their Website and follow them on:  FacebookTwitterInstagram

DUNKIE – Album Review: “Working to Design”

Dunkie Working To Design (front cover)

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

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

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

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

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

Rabbit Hole” is a poignant song about coming to terms with the agonizing pain of the loss of a loved one. Price wistfully sings: “Tumble and fall, this rabbit-hole is funnel-webbed and soaring. I fear I’ll never reach this endless horror I fold upon myself…  Another pill dissolves; I’m crawling faster to the edge. To the edge for you.” The track has a serene, rather bittersweet melody with gentle guitar, synths and percussion, and the vocal harmonies are really nice.

The beautiful and endearing video shows a large group of family and friends coming together for a picnic to remember a loved one. About the people in the video wearing rabbit masks, Price explains: “I wanted people to be wearing masks. I loved the metaphor of hiding behind many a mask. Oscar Wilde once said ‘Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth’. The ‘dunkie’ name and music is my mask. So I wanted to represent the mask in these videos. In particular I wanted to represent them by the use of Wintercroft Masks. Each mask is a downloadable PDF template, each mask has to be created individually, and each mask can take about 2-4 hours each to create (longer if you’re me!!). Added here was the decorative design I wanted to include by adding my own song lyrics, in multiple languages (and the entire pages of Crime and Punishment) upon each mask face.”

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

∼Intermission∼an Ode to a Flea∼” is a lovely little song in honor of one of Price’s beloved departed pets. “(W.A.L.L.S.) Within a Little Love Song” is a stunning and heartfelt ode to a loved one, affirming that even though you may not say it as often as you used to, your love for them is as strong as ever: “(You know) yesterday I loved you. (Don’t forget) I have and always will. (But through) the years I spoke it lessened. (Know this) my love’s never subdued. So I’ve found these words to sing and they’re all for you, they’re all for you.” The chiming guitars and soaring vocal harmonies are gorgeous.

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

1896” is an introspective look back at life, family and career, and of choices and decision made, for better or worse: “I’ve been a Father, and I’ve been a Brother. I know now that decisions may have been wrong. I have imploded and I’ve fought with self-control. I’ve seen my children grow. I’ve taken all I can from the love of this band.” The majestic orchestral instrumentals, highlighted by a trumpet played by Charlotte Jayne Goodwin and Mellotron by John Barnes, make this a spectacular song.  “Sugar” is a sweet (no pun intended) love song of thanks to a partner who has stood by you through good times and bad, with unconditional love.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ANDREW NEIL – Album Review: “Freak”

Andrew Neil Freak art

Of the hundreds of artists and bands I’ve featured on this blog over the past four years, perhaps the most uniquely compelling life story would have to be that of Andrew Neil. The Virginia-based singer-songwriter is considered an “outsider” music artist along the lines of Daniel Johnston, and in fact, he now ranks as the #1 Best Outside Artist on Ranker, just above the late Johnston. The 31-year old has faced a number of daunting life challenges that would have crushed many of us, but his strength and resilience, as well as the incredible love and support of his family and friends, have enabled Andrew to flourish as an artist.

After growing up as a fairly typical kid and a high school athlete, Andrew suffered a life-altering event in Spring 2009 when he sustained a serious head injury in a car accident. The injury resulted in two significant changes for Andrew: 1) he began having a series of psychotic episodes, and 2) he started writing songs, despite the fact he’d never had any prior music training of any kind. During a psychotic episode in 2013, he stabbed his younger brother in the arm, which landed him in jail for seven months until his family and attorney convinced the prosecutor that Andrew needed help, rather than being incarcerated. 

His sentence was changed to not guilty by reason of insanity, whereupon he was released from jail and sent to a state mental hospital, where he received excellent treatment and learned to manage his illness. During the three years there, he wrote and recorded around 70 songs, on top of the 250+ songs he’d already written prior to his hospitalization. Andrew writes songs entirely by ear, creating the melodies on his rhythm guitar. He would record songs on a battery powered Tascam recorder, which his father Ray would then upload to the home computer. To date, he’s written over 400 songs!

Andrew Neil

Andrew was conditionally released from the hospital in May 2017, and moved into a group home in Charlottesville, where he still resides. Upon his release, he decided to produce an album of some of his songs, many of which were melancholy yet optimistic. Andrew hoped that perhaps his songs might help others struggling with similar mental health issues. The result was his debut album Code Purple – Andrew Neil, featuring 11 of the 70 songs he’d written while in the hospital. The songs were mastered by Vlado Meller, otherwise they were left pretty much in the raw, lo-fi condition as Andrew had recorded them. The art work for the album cover was done by his brother Kyle (the one he stabbed in the arm).

In 2018, he entered a studio to record his second album Merry Go Round, this time working with a number of accomplished musicians to help give his songs a more polished, fuller sound, as well as a more alt-rock vibe than his folk-oriented first album. Some of those musicians included Andy Waldeck, who also produced the album, on bass & guitar, Nathan Brown on drums, Gina Sobel on flute, and  and Jack Sheehan on sax for one track.

While it would seem that Andrew had already faced more than his fair share of challenges in his young life, in June 2019, while wrapping up the recording of his third album Freak, he was hit with yet another health crisis when he was diagnosed with lymphoma. He underwent a grueling round of chemotherapy while the album was being mixed and mastered, and he and his family started a Kickstarter campaign to help raise funds for album production and marketing, garnering even greater support than expected.

Freak was released digitally for streaming on October 15th. It’s also now available on CD, and will soon be available for download, as well as a limited number of vinyl pressings. For the recording of Freak, Andrew was joined once again by Andy Waldeck on bass and Nathan Brown on drums, with additional musicians Matty Metcalfe on lead guitar, baritone electric guitar and marxophone, Nick Berkin on piano, and Andrew’s dad Ray on acoustic guitar and backing vocals on two tracks. His brother Kyle also did the arresting painting for the album cover, which was designed by Daniel Benayun.

The album is an ambitious work, with 14 unique tracks that address topics of love, faith, mental illness and self-identity. It opens with the marvelous title track “Freak“, and the first thing that struck me is its strong Red Hot Chili Peppers vibe. In fact, Andrew’s unusual, quirky vocals at times sound a lot like Anthony Kiedis. The intricate guitar work is terrific, and I love the track’s funky psychedelic grooves. Andrew’s simple lyrics speak of being a ‘freak’ as a badge of honor, something that sets him apart as a unique individual, rather than simply strange: “In every way, every day of the week, I’m a freak, freak, freak. I got a feeling, like a ceiling leak. And if I could, I probably would grow a beak, beak, beak./ What can I say? I’m so unique, I’m a freak, freak, freak.”

Next up is “Kentucky Whiskey“, a languid and lovely song about throwing caution to the wind and giving into temptation and vices. With a wistful tone in his voice, Andrew croons “Goodbye teacher, goodbye teacher, gonna learn rock’n’roll. Goodbye preacher, goodbye preacher, I’ve already sold my soul. Killing myself, killing myself, with a cigarette. Girl I know, yes I know that we just met. But I’m gonna, yeah I’m gonna make you miss me. Killing myself, killing myself, Kentucky whiskey.” He’s written a captivating melody here, and Matty Metcalfe’s marxophone lends an enchanting addition to the gorgeous guitar work. “Hope” is a pleasing ballad about a girl named Hope who lifts him up with her love and support. The interplay between the guitars and Nick Berkin’s tinkling piano keys is delightful.

By the time we get to the fourth track “Overdose“, it’s clear that Andrew has a real knack for creating compelling and memorable melodies. Each of the songs sound completely different, with an eclectic mix of styles that keeps his music fresh and surprising. This song has a wickedly seductive melody with fuzz-soaked driving riffs, and Nathan Brown’s sexy drumbeats that nicely complement Andrew’s lyrics about submitting to love’s ardor:  “Cause I’m about to overdose. Let my spirit soar. Become a ghost. Walk through your heaven’s door. Overdose.” It’s a great song, one of my favorite tracks on the album.

Help” sees Andrew crying out for support and understanding: “If you only knew all of the bullshit I’ve been through. Then you could give me no blame when I give the blunt a flame.” The jangly guitars and piano keys are sublime. “All Over” is a pleasant love song that starts off with Andrew rapping to a hip hop beat, then 20 seconds in it transitions to an upbeat pop-rock duet, with guest vocalist Savannah Weaver singing with Andrew. Their vocal harmonies are delightful. Here’s a snippet of lyric that provides a great example of his honest, straightforward songwriting that’s so relatable: “Because of you my heart beats. Because of you I got to wash my sheets.”

Awesome bluesy guitars are a highlight of the poignant “Put Me Back Together“, a plea for love and support to heal his broken soul. Andrew references nursery rhymes to make his case: “Mary had a little lamb. So will you love me as I am? / I’m a bloody humpty dumpty. And babe I need your company. Or else.” Another favorite track of mine, mainly due to the lyrics, is “American Dream“, a candid critique of the rat race. Andrew laments “I’m living the American dream, but things aren’t what they seem. I’m living the American dream, and it makes me want to scream. Wake up and go to work. Thank god my boss isn’t a jerk. People really aren’t so bad. But every now and then I get sad. So my doctor gives me pills They make me happy so I pay my bills. What would I do without my wine?

The optimistic “Drum Song” has an Americana vibe, with rousing folk-rock guitars, lively piano keys, and Appalachian dulcimer played by guest musician Roxanne McDaniel. Andrew sings of how the world would be a better place if people were more kind and loving to each other: “Love is in your heart, so find it and play your part./ This life would never be such a bummer, if we collectively loved one another.” Those wonderful bluesy guitars make a welcome return on “Beautiful Dancer“, a song about a woman who could be his savior or his undoing (romance can often be like that): “The birds are flying, or maybe they’re spying, or maybe they’re trying to let me know. That you are my answer, or maybe a cancer. Beautiful dancer. I’m at your show.” I really like the song’s rather sensuous melody, and Andrew’s vocals sound particularly good here.

Andrew takes a bit of an experimental turn on the trippy “Thirty-Two“, with more of those great bluesy grooves, accompanied by Andy Waldeck’s throbbing bass and some fine drumming by Nathan Brown. I love the lyrics “Take a shower, I feel dirty. In an hour, I’ll turn thirty. Life’s so fast and rough. I think I’ve had enough. Then I saw her walk back, and I knew I could make it to thirty-two.” The final track “Disappear” is a bluesy foot-stomper with an infectious country-rock vibe. I’m not sure, but the lyrics seem to speak of the mind-controlling aspects of blind faith: “Fork in the road. Choice is clear, do what you’re told, have no fear./We are free, when we do what it is that gods do. Disappear.

Freak is a wonderful album, made all the more special given Andrew’s remarkable talents, despite the many adversities he’s had to face throughout his adult life. His intriguing melodies, simple, honest lyrics, beautiful instrumentals and endearing vocal style have a way of burrowing into our brain and capturing our soul. I’m genuinely impressed by his imaginative songwriting and sincere musicality, and he’s a true inspiration for all who have experienced challenges, both large and small.

Follow Andrew:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Reverbnation
Purchase:  Bandcamp / cdbaby / Google Play

HERO WARSHIP – Double-Single Review: “Therewithal / Halcyon Then Gone”

Hero Warship is the solo music project of Joey Doyle, who’s also front man for the Irish band Fiction Peaks, a terrific alternative folk-rock group I’ve featured on this blog a number of times in 2016 and 2017. He released two singles “Chrysanthemum” and “Lesser of Evils” in May (2019), and now returns with another wonderful double single “Therewithal” and “Halcyon Then Gone“, which drop today, October 24. The talented Dubliner is a great songwriter and guitarist, with a beautiful singing voice too. (He’s also a pretty good visual artist.)

Doyle takes a stripped down approach on these two songs, using only guitars and piano to create a captivating soundscape for his gentle vocals. The first track “Therewithal” features layers of cheerfully strummed acoustic and rhythm guitars, accompanied by more somber piano keys that give the song a contemplative air. He earnestly sings the poignant lyrics that seem to me to speak of the ephemeral nature of happiness and contentment. “By the way, I think I thought I had a handle on life suspended on a sunbeam infinitely calls, to an individual sense of therewithal.”

“Halcyon Then Gone” is a simple but lovely song with a haunting piano-driven melody providing the only music for Doyle’s heartfelt, falsetto vocals. He told me the song is a kind of tongue and cheek look at making millions by cheating the casino (casino as a metaphor for a kind of consumer driven, shallow life style). but then giving all the money away and doing it all over again: “When I make my millions I’ll call you, to meet me at the end before we start. This time I’m sure, I’m on to my surefire winning streak, loading the dice, cleaning the house out of countless funds, then give it all away again.

Connect with Hero Warship: Twitter / Instagram
Stream:  Spotify / YouTube
Purchase:  Bandcamp / Google Play / cdbaby

LAGPASS – EP Review: “Ostrich Approach”

Lagpass EP art

Lagpass is the new music project of a singer-songwriter and guitarist from Chicago who’s previously recorded under the name Draft Evader. I’ve featured Draft Evader’s music a number of times on this blog over the past two years, and have always been impressed by his deeply personal lyrics addressing his struggles with depression and self-doubt, then set to aggressive guitar-driven melodies, and backed with bass and drums. I’ve also enjoyed watching him grow and mature as a songwriter, musician and vocalist. Now, wanting his songs to feel even more honest and raw, he’s opting for an essentially guitar-only sound, recording under the new moniker Lagpass. When I asked how he came up with that name, he explained “Lagpass is a term my brother and I used to say when we would play National Hockey League video games. It’s basically just a missed pass after you hold down the pass button too long. It’s bound to happen at least once or twice a game and I catch myself saying “lagpass” all the time.”

He’s just released his first recording as Lagpass, a new EP titled Ostrich Approach, featuring four relatively short tracks that get right to the point with only his guitar and vocals providing the sounds we hear. First up is the title track, which seems to speak to solving your problems by eliminating the shit that’s complicating your life. His resonant, jangly guitar notes provide all the music needed to create a dramatic backdrop for his earnest, almost raspy vocals as he sings:

you can take your numbers
divide them by your clutter
then you should burn that old ski mask
you can take that platform
& add it to your ant farm
then you should dump it in the grass

so sick of hamsters, ghosts, zombies and vampires
I think it’s time that I light a match
but I’m allergic to sulfur
no need to sulk & suffer
here’s a lighter, it’s time to detach

On “Reassurance“, he ponders conflicted feelings of wondering if he’s going crazy, or just going through some difficult times, that everything’s basically okay, and you just got to deal with it. Musically, the track has a folk-rock sound, with fuzz-covered strummed electric guitars.

this constant stress and voices in my head
always talking questioning my sanity
something’s wrong with me
nothing’s wrong with me

replaced eating with dry heaving
two little devils resting on my shoulder blades
reacquainted with high maintenance
you gave your two cents
but you’ve still got hell to pay

i’m exhausted, still nauseous
just looking for a way to enjoy the day
reassurance is just a burden
can’t change nothin’ cept the way you handle fate

Old Ashes” speaks to the difficulties of maintaining a relationship, of the compromises we must often make to keep it alive, worrying about whether it can survive, and struggling with constant doubts. His clear, heavily-strummed electric guitar work here is wonderful.

I take up smoking again
just so I can be with you
I’m overthinking this mess
seems to be all I can do

do you love me?
she said prove that you love me

she got a new address
moved into her granny’s house
on an air mattress
with John Prine and Houdmouth
she said: “prove that you love me
do you love me?”

She Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” addresses the sad reality that she’s moved out, leaving you to contemplate what went wrong, and realizing that perhaps it was doomed from the start, given each of your troubled pasts. Man, these lyrics are heavy, and so packed with meaning!

she doesn’t live here anymore
opened my mouth and held the door
scattered across the kitchen floor
she doesn’t live here anymore

don’t wanna live here anymore
too paranoid for close quarters
there’s silence down the corridor
she doesn’t live here anymore

two children both from broken homes
borrowing tape to mend their own

Once again, I’m really impressed by his intelligent and thoughtful songwriting and great guitar work, and look forward to following him on his latest musical journey as Lagpass.

COLD WEATHER COMPANY – Single Review: “Way Up”

Cold Weather Company

I recently learned about Cold Weather Company when they followed me on Twitter and shared their latest single “Way Up“, and I was instantly enchanted with their music. Since then, I’ve been binge listening to their substantial back catalog (they’ve released three albums over the past four years). Based in New Brunswick, New Jersey, the alternative folk band formed in 2013, and consists of Brian Curry, Steve Shimchick and Jeff Petescia. All share songwriting and singing duties, with Curry and Petescia playing guitar and Shimchick on piano.

Influenced by the music of such bands as Mumford and Sons, Fleet Foxes, Dave Matthews, Chad Stokes, Tallest Man on Earth, Coldplay, Keane and The Decemberists, their richly melodic sound is both guitar and piano-driven, with all three of them singing in perfect harmony. They released their lovely debut album Somewhere New in 2015, which had a pure, acoustic sensibility that allowed the guitars and piano to really shine. A year later, they dropped A Folded Letter, another album containing 13 tracks that delivered more of their sublime acoustic guitar/piano compositions. All of the songs are beautiful, but two of the highlights are “Wide-Eyed” and “Gettysburg”. They followed up in 2017 with an all-instrumental version of A Folded Letter, then early this year they released their gorgeous third album Find Light, an ambitious work featuring 16 tracks in which they expanded upon their sound with the addition of more orchestral instrumentation. That album received widespread and very well-deserved acclaim.

In August, they released their latest single “Way Up”, and it’s a real stunner of a tune. The song opens with the tinkling of piano keys, then expands into a breathtaking soundscape of strummed guitars, gentle bass and some of the most enthralling piano I’ve heard recently. I’m not sure which band member is singing the lead vocals, but they’re positively captivating. And as always, the guys’ vocal harmonies are exquisite. I love this song.

The band states that “Way Up” “is about finding a new perspective, and seeking hope when things are looking bleak. We could all use a little bit of that sometime.” We sure can!

Soon I’ll find my peace with time and break this (Break this hold, break this hold, from sea)
Cause I’m not foolish, I was made to shake this
No more breathless fights adrift in missteps
Oh, I’ll rise
All I ever needed is the current to survive

I found my way up, I saw the ocean meeting the sky
I found my way up, I saw the ocean meeting the sky

No more restless nights of drifting listless in my mind
Cause all I ever needed is the current to survive
I found my way up

Follow Cold Weather Company:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  Spotify / Soundcloud
Purchase:  Bandcamp / iTunes / Google Play

HOLLY REES – Single Review: “Getting By”

Holly Rees single art

The music industry is as alive and well as it’s ever been, with so many artists and bands continuing to put out great music, and it seems many of them are releasing new music today, Friday the 6th of September! One such artist dropping a new single today is Holly Rees, a delightful indie folk singer-songwriter based in Newcastle Upon Tyne, England. Her thoughtful, relatable lyrics, infectious melodies, skillful guitar-playing and lovely, heartfelt vocals have earned her critical acclaim and a loyal following, with flattering comparisons to the likes of Laura Marling and Courtney Barnett.

Holly launched her career with her debut EP Ilex in 2017, receiving airplay on BBC 6 Music and a feature on Tom Robinson’s BBC Introducing Mixtape. In 2018, she performed at the Hit The North and Evolution Emerging music festivals, and followed up with her excellent second EP Slow Down. She released “Text Me When You Get There”: The Live EP in May 2019, and is now back with a wonderful new single “Getting By“.

The song was written and performed by Holly, who played guitar on the track, with assistance from Rhys Melhuish on drums, Ryan Peebles on bass, and Olivia Ord on keyboards. It was recorded at Loft Music Studios, and mixed and mastered by Matt Dunbar. About “Getting By”, Holly explains  “This is a song about struggling with mental health – how things can be really good and really bad at once, and ultimately how sometimes just getting through it is all you can do, and that’s okay. Sometimes it’s okay to just survive. The tide will always come back in.”

The song has a bouncy, upbeat tempo that contrasts with, yet complements, the more serious lyrics. Holly’s pleasing strummed guitar takes center stage, and her supporting musicians do a fine job keeping the rhythm and adding texture and depth to the track. I really like her vibrant vocals that beautifully convey both resolute strength and a vulnerable world-weariness as she sings her honest, poetic lyrics:

Oh we’re just like everyone we know
Far too young to be this old

I’m doing great, I’m doing fine, I’m doing terribly
I’m confident, intelligent, I’m scared of what you think of me
Crossing oceans of emotion for the notion of some dopamine
There’s no lesson in depression, it’s just a question of getting by

Holly’s been touring Canada since mid-April, and has another six weeks left of her tour, so those of you in Eastern Canada still have an opportunity to catch one of her shows:

Holly Rees tour dates

The sweet cover art for the single was created by Dale Glenister, who has her own music blog Peanut Mixtape (which is currently on hiatus).

Connect with Holly:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream her music: Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase:  Bandcamp / Google Play

New Song of the Week: PAUL LYNCH – “Little Man/Cold Will Always Win”

Paul Lynch2

Today I have a treat, as my ‘New Song of the Week’ is actually two songs – a double-single by British indie folk artist Paul Lynch. The London-based singer-songwriter is releasing five singles in 2019, and “Little Man/Cold Will Always Win” are numbers 3 & 4 (the first two were the beautiful tracks “A Different Way” and “Oh So Quiet”).

A civil engineer by training, Paul’s been making and recording music for several years, and released his first EP Searching for the Answer in 2018. He subsequently decided to go part-time in his job to focus more on his music. With his love for traditional world folk music, Paul took time off from his job to travel in Mexico and France, where the regional folk music he heard inspired him to write new songs. The five singles he’s releasing reflect those influences, especially his latest songs “Little Man” and “Cold Will Always Win”, both featuring sunny Latin-infused grooves.

“Little Man” is a cheerful, optimistic song about not allowing fears to keep you from realizing your full potential. Paul pairs a rich array of instruments, including layered guitars, maracas, bongos, trumpet and piano with a lively Latin beat to create a wonderful tune that just makes you feel happy. He has a silky high-tenor vocal style that’s incredibly pleasing as he sings “Hey little man don’t worry. This is your time, no worry. Hold your breath, and jump right in oh. But little man don’t waiver, this is your time to savour.”

“Cold Will Always Win” is a mellower, more introspective song, with a sophisticated throwback vibe that calls to mind some of the classic Latin and Brazilian songs of the 50s and 60s. Paul’s intricate guitar work is really marvelous, and his layered vocal harmonies are gorgeous as he croons about the inevitability of winter, which I think is a metaphor for the life challenges that come our way, and must be faced with strength and courage: “The misty wind is circling, stripping leaves from the trees. Catch them as they are falling, or the cold will always win. As the dim of winter, circles and there’s no escape. Time is forever shrinking. Chance must not be left to fate.”

Have a listen to these two great tracks:

Connect with Paul: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music on Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase on Google Play

JIM HUDSON – EP Review: “Fallen”

Jim Hudson is a singer-songwriter from Wolverhampton, England, who this past May released his debut EP Fallen. It’s a lovely but dark work, featuring three guitar-driven tracks with deep, poetic lyrics that speak to man’s internal conflict between his good and evil sides, and struggles to make it in this life. Jim wrote and recorded the songs, and played or programmed all the instruments. The EP was mixed by Matt Pinfield and mastered by West West Side Music (yes, West is repeated in the studio’s name).

The first track “Shadow” is a poignant song with a somewhat melancholy air. Jim’s layered acoustic and twangy electric guitar work is really nice, lending the track a bit of a folk vibe, while the assertive percussion keeps it in rock territory. His vocals have a pleasing, understated quality, and work well on this track. The lyrics seem to speak of someone who’s become a mere shadow of their former self after years of excess, realizing they’ve wasted their life and now have nothing or nobody: “No one remembers when you left, who you are, what you came here for. Lost three more days in a state. Through the haze; gone too far.

The dark and mesmerizing title track “Fallen” opens with a thumping drumbeat and an acoustic guitar chord progression that calls to mind the classic James Bond theme, only in a slowed-down manner. With a sense of sad resignation, Jim croons the fatalistic lyrics spoken by a man to his son, telling him that he will be inheriting a darker, less hospitable world because of the destruction caused by mankind: “Grab your things and run, through the barbed wire fence. From the hands that feed us, we don’t stand a chance./ Re-wrote the rules, transcended evolution. All this son, will one day be yours. Turned our backs, as we fled the garden. All of this, all of this is ours. Got inside my head, can’t get up any more. Cut my world wide open, threw my heart to the floor. You don’t know, you don’t see. Cut me, I’m in bits. There’s a hole, in my head. Leaves me cold in plastic.” His combination of acoustic and electric guitars, accompanied by humming bass, sparkling synths and measured percussion make for an exceptional track.

“Papercuts” has a softer, more upbeat folk vibe. The acoustic riff that continues throughout the song is quite charming, punctuated with tasty electric guitar runs in the choruses. The lyrics, however, are bittersweet. Jim states that they’re basically about an artist (music, visual arts, or whatever) struggling to make his way and get noticed. Perhaps he’s wasting his time, his efforts are all in vain, and maybe he shouldn’t bother trying to continue on. “It’s hard enough to get you where you’re seen. Should never be there. You’re in a dream. Listen in. Massage my self esteem. Are paper cuts enough to get you seen? It’s never easy being fine.”

Despite it’s rather dark tone, Fallen is an enjoyable little EP, and a very respectable debut for Jim Hudson. His thoughtful and extensive lyrics are pure poetry, and he’s a fine guitarist and vocalist too.

On Saturday 6th July, Jim will be performing at The Chindit in Wolverhampton, one of the venues in the Junction Festival of Contemporary Arts.

Connect with Jim:  Facebook / Twitter
Stream his music on Spotify
Purchase on Bandcamp