SKINNY WIZARD – Single Review: “Phantom Pain”

Skinny Wizard builds houses by day, but come nightfall his musician alter-ego takes over. Based in Phoenix, Arizona, Skinny Wizard – whose given name is Bill Cherry – is a singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who began playing guitar at the age of six.  As he tells in his bio “I took it seriously during my high school years, but then I moved away from home and life took over. I didn’t really understand how the music industry worked and it was easier to make money building houses to make someone else rich.” It’s a sentiment I’m sure a lot of musicians can attest to.

Now that he and his wife are empty-nesters, Skinny has taken up his six-string again, and gotten back to expressing himself through his music. He plays mostly folk and blues-rock, genres he seems most comfortable with as a solo artist. He’s just released a new single “Phantom Pain,” a moving song he felt he had to write to honor the death of a friend from suicide.

The track starts out with sounds like being in a thunderstorm or possibly a subway train, then he begins strumming his acoustic guitar and singing the honest, heartfelt lyrics expressing bittersweet feelings of pain over the loss of a good friend:

I woke last night and I thought I heard you talking
But that’s absurd ’cause you’ve been gone over a year
And I remember all the good things we done together
A new definition for a thing called Phantom Pain
And that’s the way it goes sometimes you don’t know what life brings
You just keep pressing on in spite of all the odds
I hope to see you again someday

He has a casual, pleasing style of guitar playing, and though not overly strong, his vocals are well-suited for a gentle folk ballad like “Phantom Pain.” Check it out:

Connect with Skinny Wizard:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Purchase “Phantom Pain” on cdbaby

ANDY K LELAND – EP Review: “Happy Daze”

Happy Daze

Andy K Leland is an Italian folk singer/songwriter who sounds British, and has a wicked sense of humor. In his bio, Andy – who was born Andrea Marcellini – calls himself Andrea’s “shadow-self, and the two selves fear each other.” That dichotomy is evident in his songs, in which rather negative, biting lyrics contrast sharply with his simple, catchy melodies and pleasing acoustic guitar. In September, Andy dropped his debut EP Happy Daze, a collection of six tracks including two that I previously reviewed – “The Kingdom” and “Home Grown Muck”.

Perhaps the most unique aspect of Andy’s sound is his quirky, off-kilter vocal style, in which he clips his words, sometimes dropping a letter or two. It all sounds charming in an off-beat sort of way, and perfectly suited to his lo-fi sound. Despite his cynical, often dark lyrics about life and relationships, as the EP’s title suggests he may be telling us to not take them so seriously after all, or at least resign oneself to their inevitability. Because his music is fairly straightforward, I’ll emphasize Andy’s lyrics instead.

Andy Leland2

The Kingdom” seems to be speaking from the perspective of someone who is dying or already dead, and now describing their observations of the afterlife with a blithe sense of irony:

Got up one day in the kingdom surrounded by some strange folks
They held in hand their relics and really dug my antics
So we danced together took some rest however
They were all plugged and wet so they got electrocuted

Well outside it’s dawning la-la-la-la
I won’t see the morning la-la-la-la
I’ll be dead or dazzled by our own black nature

To a gentle, pleasing acoustic guitar riff, “Home Grown Muck” addresses the feelings of isolation and disillusionment increasingly prevalent in society today:

Once I was clever now I’m more than numb
But I’m just trying to oh… I’m trying nothing at all
There’s a lack of sharing however we just pretend we’re gold
But the point is that we’re the scum of the world
Oh, lord please bring me something warm just like opium
But don’t dare to keep the change

A failing relationship seems to be the subject of “Bistro Nights,” a short track only 1:51 minutes long. Andy sings the melancholy lyrics about giving up:

I’m wasting my time spending the night
Counting the days that I’m leaving that I’m trading
For you to be thinking I’ll be ok
And I’m tired sick of it all, all
Please don’t tell me to get on the track
Or wave my goodbyes I can’t cross the line

On “Half Dead Dog” he sings of his broken spirit to a rather somber acoustic guitar:

I mend a a few bits of my poor brain
You’re wrong when you think that I’m strong
I’ve been worn out for so long

Mr. Panic” has an upbeat vibe, with a nicely strummed guitar, but the lyrics confuse me a bit. Though I may be way off, Mr. Panic seems to represent death, who’s come for the singer:

So you’re great, you’re grand, you’re smart you’re “Hey!”
But ask your body and ask your brain as you often don’t recall my name
Well it’s P.A.N.I.C.
What? Oh… I’m fine thanks 
‘cause I’m wildish and stylish a bit childish don’t you know?

Now pack your bags and just follow me I swear you won’t regret… oh no

Farewell” is the most melancholy track of the bunch. Andy sings from the perspective of someone who has come to terms with the fact no one likes him, including his girlfriend who left him, because of his own failings. Consequently, he’s decided to end his life. Pretty depressing stuff here:

My friends pretend they have a job
They all pretend they’re having fun
Miss my dog, will miss my time with tomorrow’s morning light
My life is dreary and my girl
My girl adores me but she left ‘cause I’m weird but I am glad
Glad to know she’s doing well
There’s a truth I can’t avoid
Nobody likes me I’m a boy who hates you all, that’s so mean
No one to blame but me

Those of you in Italy can catch Andy performing at these upcoming shows:

November 11: WAVE – Misano Adriatico (Rn), w/Egle Sommacal
November 12: Circolo Arci Artigiana Fano – Fano (Pu), w/Haley Heynderickx
November 18: Circolo LaSerra Arci Recanati – Recanati (Mc), w/Massimo Scoposki

Follow Andy:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Stream his music:  Spotify / Soundcloud

Purchase:  Bandcamp

PHILIP MORGAN LEWIS – Album Review: “Grief Harbour”

Grief Harbour

I’ve written about quite a few excellent albums in recent weeks, and I’m pleased to feature yet another outstanding one, this time from UK singer/songwriter and producer Philip Morgan Lewis. The London East Ender just released Grief Harbour, an ambitious undertaking with 13 stellar tracks. Melding alternative rock, blues, garage rock and folk influences, Lewis has created an exciting, bluesy rock sound that complements his unique, raspy vocal style.

Lewis released his debut EP Karma Comedown in 2013 to rave reviews, and received extensive radio support in the UK and US. With Grief Harbour he firmly establishes himself as an extraordinary musician with a lot to say. A talented multi-instrumentalist, he writes and produces his songs and plays most of the instruments, including guitars, banjitar, bass, piano, and percussion. For the album, which was released through Moonalizer Records, he received assistance from Vick E and Little A (his daughter), who supplied backing vocals, as well as Jon Harris on drums, Nick Miles (Neek) as drum session engineer, Rob Updegraff, Charles Slevin and Gavin Bowers (Elêphant) on additional guitar work, Clive Smart on slide guitar, and Ben Jones on bass.

Philip Morgan Lewis

The hard-hitting title track “Grief Harbour” kicks off the album in a big way, with an aggressive pounding drumbeat blasting through the airwaves, letting us know right away that we’re in for a wild sonic ride. A barrage of gritty guitars ensue, along with some down and dirty bass and Lewis’ emotionally-charged, gravelly vocals that grab hold and shake us out of our complacency. Mysterious backing vocals combine with a distorted riff, adding a hint of danger to the track.

Grief harbour population one is a spit on the map at the end of the line
Welcome to desolation lane take a walk down the pier to the Laidback hotel 
Grief Harbour Six Feet avenue get a pint at the Fox and just settle your dues

I wanna burn like a thousand suns and set this town on fire if only for one night
I wanna rise like a dying star and set this world alight if only for one night

It’s a fantastic song, and the mesmerizing black and white video shows a shadowy image of Lewis dancing rather seductively in front of the album cover art (which was painted by his father). Not only is he an amazing musician and songwriter, he’s also a pretty good dancer!

And speaking of dance, you can’t help but move when listening to the sultry “Seven Deadly,” or “Six Foot Tambourine,” with its irresistibly catchy driving beat that aims straight for the hips. Layers of gritty guitars and a heavy buzzing bass line are driven by a thumping drumbeat as Lewis implores the lyrics that speak of a recurring nightmare:

A Six foot tambourine came down crashing on me
As I lay down in the tube somebody’s loading me
My feet are cold I can’t breathe but now I see
Though the nurse is kinky I’d rather she would let me be
Stay out of my head. I’d rather be dead
Stay out of my head, ain’t already dead

It’s one of my favorite tracks on the album. Lewis has produced interesting and provocative videos for a number of songs on Grief Harbour, and posted them on YouTube just prior to the album’s release. Here’s the one for “Six Foot Tambourine”:

Swing By Your House” is an emotional plea to a friend who’s thinking of killing themself, followed by the gorgeous and haunting “Foxes On Red Leaves,” a standout track and my absolute favorite on the album. The powerful, bluesy track soars with layers of jaw-dropping guitar work that goes from shredded to chiming to jangly to wailing, bringing chills from start to finish. Lewis captivates us with beautiful piano work and impassioned vocals about trying to hold it together and not lose your mind, seeking relief by self medicating with drugs:

Am I losing it babe. Just got a lot on my mind
Foxes on red leaves sink their jaws in my veins
As they go for the kill and I can feel no pain
Foxes on red leaves keep on calling for more
As I roll up my sleeve I shall fear them no more

A break from the heavy subject matter arrives with “Laidback Hotel, ” a delightful, bouncy track with honky tonk piano, lively guitars and snappy drums. Next up is the rousing ear worm “Karma Comedown 2.0,” a reworking of a track from the Karma Comedown EP.  The blues-infused rock song has an infectious foot-stomping dance beat guaranteed to have you on your feet and swaying your hips.

Phantom Pain” is a bluesy folk anthem with hard rock overtones. Buzzing bass and assertive percussion, replete with an abundance of crashing cymbals, provide a sturdy backdrop for layers of acoustic and electric guitar and some fine piano keys. Another favorite is “GYB (Got You Babe),” a sexy head-banger of a tune with a pulse-pounding beat and incredible bluesy guitar work that’s so good it brings goosebumps. I love songs like this with a powerful driving beat. The fantastic video features Lewis playing guitar and stomping his feet all over London, with his little daughter making a few appearances.

Whistleblower” delivers more foot-stomping goodness and bluesy guitars, with powerful lyrics urging us to rise up and speak out against tyranny:

Would you talk would you tell it all
Would you face the nation and be the whistleblower
When dirt hits the fan there’s a place and a time for you to rise
There’s no rest for the wicked and the whistleblower

The bluesy gospel-sounding “Sinner” serves up some tasty distorted guitar work, while “Don’t Care if You Don’t Mind” is a pleasing, romantic folk ballad. Closing out the album is “Bring Down Heaven,” a powerful five-minute-long anthem. Lewis employs all kinds of instrumentation – piano, shredded and screaming guitars, heavy bass, synths, and aggressive percussion, not to mention the sound of a thundershower – creating a melodically complex hard rock song with a gospel vibe. That takes some skill, something he has in abundance.

Grief Harbour is a brilliant, meticulously-crafted album, and one that Lewis should be very proud of. His heavy, blues-infused style of rock is among the finest I’ve heard, and a testament to his incredible musicianship.

Connect with Philip: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Stream his music: Spotify / YouTube / Google Play

Purchase:  iTunes / Amazon / Deezer

SOMEHOW – Single Review: “Someday”

For the first time on this blog, I shine my spotlight on Paris, France, to Erwan Pépiot, a singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who goes by the artistic name Somehow.  He released a self-produced debut album The Desert of Wasted Time in 2016, receiving positive reviews in numerous French indie webzines. In June, he dropped a new album Hidden Memories on Toolong Records, also to wide acclaim both in Europe and the U.S., and has just released a beautiful new single from the album, titled “Someday.”

Somehow’s sound can be described as somewhere between Joy Division and Belle & Sebastian, with a vocal styling reminiscent of Morrissey or Ian Curtis. He wrote, recorded and mixed Hidden Memories in his own home studio, and was assisted by Aurélie Tremblay, who provided backing vocals and some fine cello work.

Somehow

“Someday” is a sublime pop song with a folk sensibility. The dominant feature is the layered nimble acoustic guitar work that goes from gentle strumming to jangly and swirling riffs. A beautifully-played melodica adds a soothing yet rich sound, backed by subtle bass and percussion. It all makes for an upbeat, incredibly pleasing listen, though the lyrics turn a bit darker toward the end of the track. With his warm, smooth vocals, Somehow earnestly sings of moving on in the hope of finding peace of mind and a better life one day, only to realize there’s no running away from your problems:

Oh it’s time to pull up stakes and become a drifter again
Someday, someday, we’ll have a different state of mind
A different way of living
And some way, someday we’ll find a different style, other ideas to stand for

Our surrounding sky is falling
The surrounding sky is falling apart, there’s nowhere else to go

Connect with Somehow:  Facebook / Twitter

Stream/purchase his music: Bandcamp / Soundcloud / Spotify

CAMERON MILLS – Single Review: “Burning On Full Steam”

Cameron Mills is a talented young singer/songwriter based in Devon, UK. Despite the fact he’s only 18 years old, Cameron has a phenomenal singing voice that sounds far beyond his years. He began taking singing lessons at an early age, and has performed at many gigs and concerts since before he was ten. He enjoys performing swing and jazz songs, as well as old classics and modern folk-pop that suit his mature vocal style. I think he sounds like a more soulful version of Rick Astley.

Cameron Mills

He released his first single “Autumn Leaves” in 2015, and followed up with a couple more before dropping his latest single “Burning On Full Steam” in April of this year. It’s a catchy, folk-infused pop tune with an almost gospel quality. The track begins with a slightly mysterious hummed chorus, then lovely strummed guitar and gentle percussion take over, accompanied by Cameron’s rich, warm vocals. He sings about dreaming big and not letting anyone or anything prevent you from trying to reach your goals: “You’ve got to aim for the stars. Nothing less. No matter what people say. Don’t let them get in the way. Never let anything get in the way. Aim for your dreams, Keep burning on full steam.

As an added bonus, here’s a video of Cameron singing a pretty decent cover of Stevie Wonder’s classic song “Superstition.” It really showcases his vocal ability.

To learn more about Cameron, check out his Website and follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

Stream his music:  Spotify / Soundcloud

Purchase:  iTunes

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

Single Review: SORICAH – “Waiting”

I had the pleasure of connecting with the talented young singer/songwriter Soricah when she reached out to me about her music. Now living in Dublin, Ireland, Soricah is of Irish/Mauritian ancestry and spent various times of her childhood and early adulthood living in Ireland, Africa, Mauritius and London. Those rich experiences give her music a unique sound that’s not tied to any one genre, in her words “taking the melodies of Ireland and the Soul of Africa to produce some truly original and captivating music.” She provided the following bio info that gives a good snapshot of her music background:

“Soricah has gigged on the London circuit as a solo artist, and is a former member of the band Rebekah Met Sarah. She has supported musical acts such as The Palma Violet and renowned celloist Jo Quail, and has been a frequent collaborator with members of The Artist Community of Studio 180 and the rich artistic warehouse scene of East London. She has also been featured on a wide variety of different artistic projects and her collaborations have been aired on Freakfm, BBC Radio One and a variety of Irish and international radio stations.”

Soricah

She recently completed recording of her debut EP Let Me Know, planned for release later this year. Her first single from the EP, “Waiting,” was just released on May 11. It’s a beautiful song, with a soothing, languid melody that conjures up images of a beach bathed by tropical breezes, at least to my mind. A distinctive element of the track is the gorgeous cello, played by Gary Molloy, which gives the track a haunting, dreamlike sound. Soricah’s strummed acoustic guitar and smooth, sensuous vocals are complemented by gentle percussion and bass, courtesy of Daniel Doherty.

Both musically and vocally, the song reminds me of Lana Del Ray. The song lyrics speak of intense passion and longing for someone. In her captivating voice, Soricah seductively croons “Come a little closer. Feel my body move. My heart is beating faster, waiting for you. / You take me away into the stars. This is where I’ll stay waiting for you, waiting for you.”

Follow Soricah on Facebook.  Stream “Waiting” on  Spotify or Soundcloud, and purchase on  Bandcamp,  iTunes  or  Amazon.

Featured Song – MORGAN CAMERON ROSS – “I Won’t Live Until I Die”

Morgan Cameron Ross

Morgan Cameron Ross is a folk singer/songwriter and actor from Canada, and I’m happy to feature him on my blog. Originally from Vancouver, Morgan now resides in Toronto, and has written songs featured in Canadian and American television and movies, as well as for numerous platinum selling albums. He had previously been involved in the bands Bird of Wales and Bellwoods, but is now striking out on his own again with a beautiful new song “I Won’t Live Until I Die.”

Regarding his decision to go it alone, Morgan explained: “I’ve been in need of a drastic change. Music slipped away from me this past while. I’ve written with and for countless people: Grammy winners, platinum selling artists, successes, failures, talented and non. I scored my own Top 10 Billboard song with my pop band Bellwoods a couple years ago even. So why put out my own dark and melancholy music? I started out as a young kid running my University radio station. I listened only to old folk music and political punk tunes. I can still recite every single damn Weakerthans or Shins lyric. Two years ago I got off a stage in some arena with my band and the headliners were about to go on. They do well and have some hits but they’re also close to 40 years old and every single damn one of them were wearing bedazzled shoes. It was that moment right there that I knew I had to start putting out music like this song again.”

“I Won’t Live Until I Die” is a lovely but bittersweet folk song. The poignant lyrics speak to the lifestyle choice of focusing on making money in order to find happiness at some future point, yet not living in the here and now as a real human on this beautiful earth. “I won’t live until I die. And I worked hard my whole life. Lord I know how hard I tried. I won’t live, I won’t live ’til I die. It’s always then and it’s never now. So I live my life somehow. And I got money, but I ain’t got no soul. It’s always then, it’s always then, it’s never now.

The song features smooth acoustic rhythm guitar, accompanied by just the right amount of gentle percussion, and punctuated by a fine electric guitar solo. Morgan’s heartfelt vocals are sublime, as are the guest vocals of fellow Toronto singer/songwriter Justin Nozuka that harmonize beautifully with Morgan’s. This is an incredibly beguiling song that had me hitting ‘replay’ over and over.

Morgan has also recorded a lovely acoustic version of the song, which sounds even a touch more melancholy. The beautiful video was filmed at Joshua Tree National Park (about an hour from my home and a popular place for filming music videos). I’m guessing the rugged natural beauty of the place is meant to represent a simpler life with a lack of pretension or materialism.

Connect with Morgan on Twitter and Facebook, and check out more of his music on Soundcloud and YouTube. His music may be purchased on iTunes and other music sites.

Song Review: ANDY K LELAND – “The Kingdom”

Andy K Leland

Although he sounds like he’s from the northern reaches of the UK, indie singer/songwriter Andy K Leland is Italian. Born Andrea Marcellini, Andy plays a quirky but charming style of acoustic folk music. Formerly a founding member and bassist of alternative rock band My Cruel Goro, who split up a year ago, Andy is now a solo artist, and in February he released his first single “The Kingdom.” He plans to release his debut EP Happy Daze later this year.

“The Kingdom” is a delightfully pleasing tune, with gentle strumming acoustic guitar, accompanied by sounds from a toy keyboard organ. Andy’s off-kilter vocals that seem to skip letters or even whole words are infectiously beguiling, and perfectly suited to the catchy folk vibe. I must admit that when I first listened to the song, my initial reaction to his vocal style was ‘what the hell?’ but after a couple more listens I was hooked. Andy’s music is certainly unique and he sounds like no one else, which can be a very good thing in the massively overcrowded music scene.

I don’t often include the entire lyrics from a song, but these are so compelling and slightly humorous that I cannot resist. I may be off-base, but they seem to be from the perspective of someone who is dying or already dead, and now describing their observations of the afterlife:

Well the world has capsized
Turned my guts inside out
(They) got unplugged but FB
Keeps alive their ID’s
Save the day for sleeping
And the night for choking
In a bed of concrete
Next to walls that haunt me

Well outside it’s dawning la-la-la-la
I won’t see the morning la-la-la-la
I’ll be dead or dazzled by our own black nature

Got up one day in the kingdom
Surrounded by some strange folks
They held in hand their relics
And really dug my antics
So we danced together
Took some rest however
They were all plugged and wet so
They got electrocuted

Well outside it’s dawning la-la-la-la
I won’t see the morning la-la-la-la
I’ll be dead or dazzled by our own black nature

Yeah we are all guilty la-la-la-la
That makes me feel so filthy la-la-la-la
I won’t see the morning la-la-la-la
I’ll be dead or dazzled

Connect with Andy on Twitter and Facebook, and stream his music on Soundcloud