CATCH THE SPARROW – EP Review: “Winter Flowers”

Catch The Sparrow is the music project of Dutch-born and now England-based composer, singer-songwriter and arranger Suze Terwisscha van Scheltinga. I learned about her when her mother reached out to me after reading my review of the song “Mayfly” by British singer-songwriter Callum Pitt, whom Suze has performed with. Her mother alerted me to Catch The Sparrow’s new EP Winter Flowers that was released on December 2nd of last year, which I’m finally getting around to writing about.

According to her bio, as a child Suze loved writing stories and making music, and upon realizing it was possible to combine both passions, she began writing songs. By the time she was 16, she started performing her own original songs while accompanying herself on piano. She studied at the Utrecht Conservatoire, majoring in Jazz & Pop vocals, and during her time there, she started playing with a band as a way to fully explore new sounds and rhythms. After graduating in 2019, she made the bold decision to relocate to the UK, to study Folk and Traditional music at Newcastle University under the guidance of Emily Portman and Imogen Gunner. Influenced by the likes of Joni Mitchell, Lisa Knapp, Joanna Newsom and Fiona Apple, her compositions transcend boundaries of style and genre in a compelling blend of folk, jazz and pop.

She’s already making a name for herself in the British music scene. Under her artistic moniker Catch The Sparrow (which was inspired by a lyric in the Crosby, Stills & Nash classic “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes”), she released her debut single “Painting the Roses Red” in December 2020. She followed in February 2021 with the similarly-titled album Painting the Roses Red, a collection of eight beautiful jazz-infused tracks. Shortly after earning her Master’s degree at Newcastle University in 2021, she saw her song ‘Winnowing’ chosen as one of the highly recommended entries of 2021’s Tune Into Nature Music Prize, and in April 2022 she was selected as one of ten emerging female composers to write for Issie Barratt’s jazz ensemble INTERCHANGE.

As she immersed herself in the culture of Northeast England, Catch The Sparrow discovered the charms of Northumbrian small-pipes (bellows-blown bagpipes from North East England that have been an important factor in the local musical culture for more than 250 years). Inspired by them, along with the traditional folk music she’d studied at Newcastle University, she wrote five songs for Winter Flowers that, in her own words, “reflect the ever present gloom and uncertainty without losing its glimmer of hope.” The EP was produced by David de la Haye, and features contributions of local musicians Ceitidh Mac on cello, Andy May on Northumbrian small-pipes and harmonium, and Mera Royle on harp.

Catch The Sparrow has the voice of an angel, and she layers her enchanting vocals to great effect, especially on the opening track “Farewell/Here’s The Tender Coming“, where she addresses a rather dark subject with beauty and grace. Like several tracks on Winter Flowers, this is actually a combination of two tunes that are are deeply rooted in the Northumbrian folk tradition. She explains: “The first tune ‘Farewell’ was lifted from the The Northumbrian Pipers’ Third Tune Book. The lyrics I wrote for this plaintive little melody, simply described as ‘a slow highland air’, depict the moment of parting and its aftermath. ‘Here’s The Tender Coming’ is a traditional Northumbrian song that recalls the practices of the notorious pressgangs that used to frequent the port of Newcastle during the Napoleonic wars.” (Press gangs were groups of soldiers or sailors used by the British Royal Navy as a harsh means of recruiting able bodied men into naval service, often against their will and by violent coercion. The practice of impressment – also known as Shanghai-ing or crimping – was common in all the world’s ports until about 1820, and was widely used, as recruiting sailors voluntarily was difficult due to the poor conditions on board ships, not to mention the dangers of serving in the navy, especially in times of war.)

“Farewell”, a wistful tune featuring layered a capella vocals accompanied by ambient sounds of gently crashing waves, is sung from the perspective of a newly-impressed sailor bidding goodbye to his loved one “Fare thee well, my sweet lassie. Fare thee well, I must depart.” “Here’s The Tender Coming” is sung from the perspective of the woman being left behind, lamenting the taking of her man, and warning other men to hide from the impressors: “See the tender lying, off at Shield’s Bar. With her colours flying, anchor at the bow. They took my bonny laddie, best of all the crew. Hide, canny laddie, hide theeself away. Hide till the frigate makes for Druridge Bay. If they take ye hinny, who’s to win our bread? Me and little Jackie better off be dead.”

The video for the song shows Catch The Sparrow singing the song in St Andrew’s Church in Newcastle, accompanied by Ceitidh MacLeod on cello and Mera Royle on harp. Instead of sounds of crashing waves, we hear Catch the Sparrow playing the gently droning shruti box (an instrument similar to the harmonium that originated in India).

Game of Chance” is a melancholy but lovely song, with delicate harp, harmonium and shruti box accompanying Catch The Sparrow’s bewitching vocals. She explains her inspiration for writing this song: “While working on this project, I stumbled by chance on Tish Murtha’s photo series Youth Unemployment, in which she portrays Newcastle’s youth during the Thatcher years. I was struck by the desolation and raw beauty of the pictures. The photo of ‘Cuddles playing cards’ became the inspiration for this particular song. The traditional Northumbrian tune ‘Small Coals an’ Little Money’ serves as a base layer for the song.”

Using card game metaphors, the lyrics seem to speak to the contrasting notions of privilege and luck, and dealing with the hands we’re dealt in life: “I have a lump of coal. It’s the only treasure I own. Daddy says I cannot go, but someday I’ll join him below. Down below, down below. Go ask the devil, ‘cause the devil might know. Deal a hand, deal a hand. We all play a game of chance. I have a deck of cards. Queen of flowers, one-eyed jack. Lucky, he who deals the hands. Took the red ace, left the black.

Halfway into the EP, we’re treated to “Interlude“, a one-minute long tune consisting of Catch The Sparrow’s layered a capella blend of humming and scat vocals, accompanied by jaunty hand claps. This is followed by “Border Spirit/Before the Flood“, another traditional folk couplet. “Border Spirit” is an instrumental-only tune, comprised of Northumbrian small-pipes and what sounds like shruti box and lasting just under two minutes, which then segues into “Before the Flood”, a beautiful piano-driven song highlighted by melancholy Northumbrian small-pipes and Catch The Sparrow’s soothing layered vocals. I’m struck by how much she sounds British or possibly Scottish, rather than Dutch.

The final track is the third couplet on the EP, featuring the title song “Winter Flowers“, a delicate piano ballad extolling the resilience of flowers able to survive the harsh conditions of winter: “See these flowers grow undeterred by the frost and snow. Hardy little souls, the cold does not faze. Beautiful and bright how they bask in the bleak winter’s light, unafraid of life’s changes.” The second part of the track is “Liberty For The Sailors“, a traditional song celebrating the return of the sailors. Catch The Sparrow’s lilting a capella vocals are accompanied by crashing waves, bringing this charming little EP full circle.

Connect with Catch the Sparrow: FacebookInstagram

Stream her music: SpotifyApple MusicYouTube

Purchase on Bandcamp

DOM THOMAS – Single Review: “Everything I Own”

I recently learned about Welsh singer-songwriter and musician Dom Thomas when he followed me on Instagram. A talented and busy guy, he works as a librarian at Cardiff University, is founder and editor of VAINE Magazine (a Welsh literary and arts magazine for emerging artists and writers), and a poet who’s had one of his works published. He’s been writing and recording songs for his forthcoming EP, and released his wonderful debut single “Everything I Own” on November 11th. I liked it the instant I heard it, so much so that I want to both share it with my readers and give Dom a bit of press.

A deeply personal song, Dom explained in an Instagram post how he came to write “Everything I Own”: “I wrote the song in July 2020, in the middle of the pandemic. I was staying at home with my mum at the time, and I remember having all of my stuff packed up in the middle of the bedroom. And I was there playing this guitar which a friend lent me a few years ago. I remember thinking about how all of my stuff in the world was in that room, and how one of the main things I had (the guitar) wasn’t even mine. I just started thinking about that strange feeling you have sometimes in your 20s when you’re kind of sifting for your purpose in life, and trying to find out who you are. So, this song was the first one I wrote for the EP, and it gave me this idea to write some songs that were really personal.”

For the recording of the track, Dom sang vocals and played acoustic and electric guitars, bass and keyboards, Alec Rees played drums, and Mike Winters played viola. Jordan Roberts and Mark Lowe produced the track, with additional arrangements by Toni Madrid and Jacob Davies, and Eddie Al Shakarchi handled the mixing and mastering. Together, they’ve created a really lovely and melodic song. Dom’s layered guitar work is sublime, nicely accompanied by Alec’s relaxed drumbeats. As the song progresses, the music expands with the addition of Dom’s bold piano keys and Mike’s stirring viola, Dom’s comforting vocals turning more emphatic and emotional as well. Though the song has a rather melancholy undercurrent, Dom’s lighthearted “doo doo doos” in the choruses add glimmers of optimism, giving the song an overall pleasing vibe.

The poignant lyrics speak to feelings of impermanence, sadness, and dreams unfulfilled, whether they be material, artistic or romantic.

Everything I own
Feels like its borrowed
And I can’t give it back
My heart, my dreams, my love and my soul

Everything I feel
Feels a bit too real
And I can’t turn away
My heart, my dreams, my love and my soul

And these are the things that I’m searching for
But I, can’t get in the door

Everywhere I go,
it feels like I’m followed
And I can’t get away
My heart, my dreams, my love and my soul

And everything I touch,
Feels a bit too much
Like it’s turning to stone
My heart, my dreams, my love and my soul

And these are the things that I’m searching for
But I, can’t get in the door

Everything I know
Fills me with sorrow
And I can’t switch it off
My heart my dreams my love and my soul

And everything I do,
Makes me think of you
And I just can’t forget,
My heart, my dreams, my love and my soul

And these are the things that I’m searching for
But I, can’t get in the door

The endearing video, directed by Daniel Evans and filmed by Alex David, who also did the editing along with Dan Cuddihy, shows scenes of Dom playing his guitar and singing the song while walking through the streets of Cardiff and the surrounding countryside, alternating with scenes of him setting up and performing at a small auditorium.

Connect with Dom on Instagram

Stream “Everything I Own” on SpotifyApple Music

Purchase on Bandcamp 

CALLUM PITT – Single Review: “Mayfly”

Callum Pitt is a thoughtful and talented singer-songwriter based in Newcastle Upon Tyne in northeast England. Inspired by the music of such artists as Elliott Smith, Julien Baker, Adrianne Lenker, Sufjan Stevens, The War on Drugs and Fleet Foxes, he creates, in his own words, “indie-folk with a grand, orchestral, chamber pop sensibility plus an alt-rock edge”. His music is characterized by lush harmonies, captivating melodies, and honest, meaningful lyrics touching on subjects like depression and anxiety, and social and political unrest, delivered with his soft, pleasing vocals. In other words, his songs are beautiful.

He began writing and singing songs in this teens, performing in pubs and small venues in and around Newcastle. He released his wonderful debut single “You’d Better Sell It While You Can” in 2017, and in the years since, he’s dropped an impressive number of singles as well as a four-track EP Poisoned Reveries in 2019. His beautiful second single “Least He’s Happy” has been streamed more than two million times on Spotify, with several other singles garnering over 100,000 streams. He’s also earned accolades such as the Alan Hull Songwriting Award for songwriters in 2019, and participated in the Fender Player Plus competition in 2022.

Photos by Daniel Stark

I’ve previously reviewed two of Callum’s singles, both in 2020: “Fault Lines” (which spent 10 weeks on my Top 30 chart and ranks at #84 on my Top 100 Songs of 2020 list), and “Sea of Noise”. Now he’s back with his first new music in two years almost to the day, a lovely, deeply personal single “Mayfly“. The song was written and composed by Callum, who sang lead vocals and played acoustic and electric guitars and keyboards. Additional musicians performing on the track include Luke Elgie on bass, Gavin Christie on drums, John Martindale on percussion, Ada Francis and Jodie Nicholson on backing vocals, Alex Saxon, who wrote and played the saxophone line, and James Leonard Hewitson on trumpet. The track was co-produced by Callum and John Martindale, who also engineered and mixed it at Blank Studios. Mastering was done by Robin Schmidt.

The song is essentially about adulthood, and Callum’s feelings of apprehension over the responsibilities he’ll face as a potential parent, fearing he might not be up to the task: “I’m 28 now, eventually not feeling like a teenager anymore and probably will have my own children in a few years’ time. ‘Mayfly’ talks about that worry I have that living with anxiety and bouts of depression will mean I will never be able to provide that emotional stability that children will require. It’s quite a hopeful song though, as I still have a few years yet, and mainly talks about the ambition that I’ll be more emotionally stable and at peace as the years go by. I often look at people in their 30s and 40s and think they appear very at peace, but maybe there are always relative struggles and difficult things to overcome, and we always have to cherish the highs and know that the lows are inevitable.”

“Mayfly” has a lively, upbeat melody that contrasts with the poignant lyrics. One of the many things I like about the song is how each instrument is allowed to shine. With every new listen I hear little instrumental nuances, like the perfect melding of acoustic guitar notes and delicate piano chords in the verses, and how the drums become more intense in the choruses, accompanied by glorious exuberant riffs and swirling keyboards. Callum’s smooth vocals are both comforting and heartfelt, backed by Ada and Jodie’s lovely harmonies, and Alex’s bold saxophone in the final chorus is the icing on the musical cake. It’s another wonderful song by Callum.

The lovely video, filmed and directed by Sel MacLean, shows Callum singing the song in various indoor and outdoor settings in an around Newcastle.

Those of you in the UK can catch Callum at one of these upcoming shows:

Saturday, Nov 19 – The Common Room of the Great North, Newcastle Upon Tyne

Saturday, Nov 26 – Songs From Northern Britain @ The Georgian Theatre, Stockton-on-tees

Saturday, Dec 10 – Avoid Shit Xmas Parties, The Central, Gateshead

Connect with Callum:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud
Purchase:  Bandcamp / Amazon

New Song of the Week: “If I Could Fall Into the Skies” by Marianne Kesler

Marianne Kesler is a Dayton, Ohio-based singer-songwriter with a life-long love for music. A prolific artist, she’s been writing and recording music for over 25 years, and has released five albums and more than 10 singles as a solo artist. She’s also collaborated with numerous other artists, including neo-soul/pop/folk artist Leah Thompson, with whom she co-wrote over 30 songs, as well as her friend Kate Stanton, as part of a duo named Every Lovely Thing, who I featured in an Artist Spotlight nearly four years ago. On top of all that, she’s also written a three-volume trilogy of free verse poetry/prose and photography.

Her pleasing style of folk/pop has earned her comparisons to such artists as Judy Collins, Carole King, Aimee Mann and Sheryl Crow. In fact, she cheekily describes her sound this way: “Imagine if Joni Mitchell got together with Leonard Cohen for a writing session at the coffeehouse where Neil Young and the Counting Crows were playing, folk artist Jan Krist was singing, Tori & Fiona were pouting, Over The Rhine & Aimee Mann opened, and Santana stopped by to play some smokin’ guitar…Yeah, It sounds something like that!

Today, Marianne has dropped a hauntingly beautiful new single “If I Could Fall Into the Skies“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week. Her first release of 2022, it’s a melodically simple but impactful song, dominated by a somber but lovely piano movement, and accompanied by airy synths that create an enchanting backdrop for her gentle, ethereal vocals. My only criticism, and it’s a minor one, is that I wish Marianne’s vocals were a bit more pronounced, as the bold piano keys sometimes overpower her delicate vocals. Otherwise, it’s a wonderful track.

The bittersweet lyrics speak of wanting to know someone – perhaps a romantic interest, but it could apply to any special friendship – better, but being unable to break through to them:

If I could fall into the skies
If I could fall into your eyes
If I could somehow find a way 
I would stay … I would stay.

Staring at the water it appears as though the world is upside down
Summer skies reflected there are shimmering like clouds upon the ground         
I could jump right now … If I just knew how

Gazing in your eyes I glimpse a depth I’ve never noticed there before
Subtle undertow beneath the surface has me aching to explore           
I could jump right now … If I just knew how
 
If I could fall into the skies
If I could fall into your eyes
If I could somehow find a way 
I would stay … I would stay.

Standing on the edge with everything I’ve ever wanted down below
Painfully aware I’ve never told you how I feel or let you know             
But I could jump right now … If I just knew how
Catch a falling star … Landing where you are 

Starlit skies … In your eyes
Upside down … Spun around 
’Til the world seems out of focus as I fall …

If I could fall into the skies
If I could fall into your eyes
If I could somehow find a way 
I would stay … I would stay ...
I would stay … I would stay ...
I would stay … I would stay.

Marianne created a stunning video to accompany the song, about which she has this to say: “This song was inspired by seeing how the sky was reflected through a window onto my glass top desk ~ looking as though I could fall right into it! I tried to shoot video footage that captured this same ‘world upside down’ reflection (mostly on water) to add visuals to these lyrics of longing.”

Connect with Marianne:  FacebookTwitter 

Stream her music:  SpotifyApple MusicYouTube

GRANFALLOON – Album Review: “CALENDAR”

I continue to be astounded by all the creativity and talent coming out of the British music scene, and one of my favorites (who I’ve been following for several years) is Granfalloon, the music project of Manchester-based singer-songwriter, producer and guitarist Richard Lomax. Using acoustic guitars, synthesizers and drum loops, along with unusual instruments such as vintage Omnichords, the engaging, curly-haired artist creates his own unique style of music that’s a pleasing hybrid of lo-fi alternative folk, experimental and electronica. His songs are enchanting little stories touching on the many idiosyncrasies of everyday life, but with a dollop of quirky surrealism to keep them fun. And his warm, soothing vocals, delivered with a lighthearted cheekiness and charming accent, are so wonderful I would literally enjoy hearing him sing the telephone book. Simply put, his songs make me feel happy.

Since forming Granfalloon in late 2016, Lomax has released a fairly steady stream of singles and albums, beginning with his debut album Down There For Dancing in 2017. He followed two years later with his beautiful second album RGB, then dropped his marvelous third album Positive Songs in August 2021, a collaborative work featuring 11 tracks produced for The Positive Song Project, launched by Lomax and his friend Lobelia Lawson during the first lockdown of 2020. They invited songwriters to create new music by challenging themselves to focus on positive aspects and feelings, rather than negative or depressing songs about feeling isolated and bored during lockdown. The response was overwhelming, resulting in the creation of over 300 tracks by artists from around the world. (I reviewed two of the tracks from Positive Songs – “Working On Your Own” and “The Pigeon” – which you can read by clicking on the Related links at the end of this post.)

Now he’s back with his fourth album Calendar, featuring 12 delightful tracks. I’ll leave it to him to explain his inspiration behind the album’s creation: “The roots of this album can be traced back to 2014, when I was recording a debut album with my previous band. It was the 13th time I had recorded that album. Getting it right was proving difficult… A different approach was needed to keep things fresh. I would write new songs, one every week, without perfectionism weighing down the process. By the end of 2014 I had amassed 52 new songs, each one reflecting the week I’d experienced, all framed as fevered journal entries. After founding Granfalloon in 2016 and releasing two albums, I went into the studio in February of 2020 to begin the task of committing definitive versions of the songs from my ’52 Project’.

Obviously the pandemic put the project on hold and ironically, now everyone had a double album of songs squirrelled away. But I never wrote because I had too much time on my hands. Writing has always been a matter of necessity for me. I returned to the studio again in 2021 with a core band from the Positive Songs Project to whittle down the original 52 to 12 songs. These 12 songs comprise this new album ‘Calendar’.”

In addition to Lomax, who sang lead vocals and played guitars, Wurlizter, Omnichord and melodica, a host of other musicians contributed their talents on some or all of the songs, adding a colorful kaleidoscope of instrumental sounds and textures: Daz Woodcock (bass, vocals, organ, keys), Andy Lyth (drums, percussion, banjo), Cleg (guitars, mandolin, vocals), Garreth Knott (trumpet), Sarah-Jane Pearson (vocals), Caffs Burgis (vocals, synths), Dom Major (guitars), Ellie Boney (cello), George Burrage (violin), Robin Melinda Koob (violin), Molly Becker (violin), Tim Davies (drums), Jack Wakeman (bass), and Jason Alder (contrabass clarinet).

The songs encompass an array of styles, from the exotically folksy “Witch of Woodplumpton” and seductively bluesy “Eulerian Circles“, to the whimsically poppy “Bee on a String” and Americana-tinged “A Year After the Party Died“. But the one thing they all have in common is their outstanding arrangements, instrumentation and production values. The album kicks off with “Archive“, which opens with Jason Alder’s fascinating contrabass clarinet notes, nicely accompanied by twangy guitars, George Burrage’s violin, Ellie Boney’s cello, Tim Davies’ military-style drumbeats. and Sarah-Jane Pearson’s gentle vocals.

I like all the songs of Calendar, but I’ll call out some of the standouts for me, as well as some particularly lovely little moments heard on a few tracks. The aforementioned “Witch of Woodplumpton” is pleasing, but with a mysterious undercurrent, and lyrics that speak to the historic and ongoing oppression of women: “From Mary of Eden to Joan of Arc, we’ve been burning and burying you from the start. You have to dig your way out of your own grave.” Richard’s intricate guitar work is sublime, and I think I also hear Cleg’s sweet mandolin notes. And once again, we’re treated to Sarah-Jane Pearson’s smooth backing vocals, Ellie’s lovely cello, and George’s violin, with added violin by Robin Melinda Koob for good measure.

Paint It By Numbers” is a cheeky number sung from the perspective of a professor who can only express their love through mathematical figures: “Shall I compare thee to the fundamental theorem of algrebaic K-theory? Like Pythagorus said, something’s deeply irrational about the square root of 2 where the 2 are me and U. Let me show you the numbers. Tell you in numbers. Lay down the numbers. Paint it by numbers 4 U.

Far and away the highlight for me on the album is the thoroughly enchanting “Please Write Responsibly“, which tells the story of an innocently-written song that goes rogue: “This yarn had caused more harm than was ever my intention. I’d only scribbled words on paper, I hadn’t wanted this destruction. I mean, whoever got hurt by a story? What song brought a government to its knees? What poem dismantled a tank, or started World War 3? And As I tracked the trail of carnage caused by my fantasy, it leapt right out of my computer screen and began to attack me. My Story tore me limb from limb, all the while screaming with glee: ‘Words are more powerful than you ever could conceive So please write responsibly!’” The beguiling song features the musical handiwork of Richard and Dom Major on guitars, Molly Becker on violin, Daz Woodcock and bass, and Andy Lyth on the sweet banjo. I love this song, which is currently enjoying an extended run on my Weekly Top 30.

Another favorite is the bouncy “Bee on a String“, with its lively guitars and Garreth Knott’s warm trumpet. The lyrics describing a woman who keeps a bee on a string trapped in a tupperware box in her refrigerator are an allegory for keeping her man similarly under her control: “I know you’re fascinated by me but won’t you let me be free? Why won’t you let me bee free? O must you keep me in a deep freeze. It makes me sleep so you keep me, and she keeps bees in a deep freeze...”

O Joyce” tells the story of a Joyce over a 60-plus period of years, beginning with how her mother bought a pet Macaw who she named Bobby Corwen when Joyce was a young child. It’s a cute little ditty, with some nice trumpets by Garreth and guitar, Wurlizter and Omnichord by Richard. I also like how he whispers in a slightly seductive voice, “Joyce, make us a cuppa tea“, after each verse.

All My Old Lovers (live on the same street)” is a rather wistful, introspective song about past loves, loss, and the need to move on and away from judgmental neighbors and gossiping tongues: “All the meetings they’ll have about this and that, make you feel so exposed. In a small town like this all you do is exist. This is no place to heal. It’s time to move on – You can’t live here any more.” The song is lovely, with a bit of a melancholy undercurrent, highlighted by gentle chiming guitar notes, cello and violin. Richard’s smooth vocals convey a slightly sad sense of resignation.

In a similar vein, “The Day the Party Died” speaks to loss and the passage of time, with references to several mythical characters like Ahab, Peter Pan and Cupid to drive home the inevitable changes that happen with time. Not all of these changes are for the better, expressed in the lyrics “They’ve turned the club into a takeaway. They’ve turned the pub into a takeaway. They’ve turned our home into a takeaway.”

But then on the album closer “Rushmore“, Granfalloon admonishes us to look to the future with hope and optimism, and not dwell in the past: “Don’t waste your life on a memory. The wind will change, both kind and strange. It’s never as dark as you think.” The song is another favorite of mine, as I love the dramatic shimmery electric guitars and beautiful soaring vocal harmonies in the chorus. It’s a fine finish to a delightfully charming album. With Calendar, Richard and his fellow musicians have created a lovely and thoughtful work that makes for a thoroughly enjoyable listen, for which they should be very proud.

Follow Granfalloon:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

His albums are only available as a digital download on Bandcamp and in CD format, though several of his singles are also available for streaming on SpotifyApple Music & Soundcloud.

RICK SABATINI – Album Review: “There Goes the Van Man”

I recently learned about Philadelphia-based singer-songwriter Rick Sabatini when he reached out to me on Facebook about his album There Goes the Van Man. Released on New Year’s Day, the album features nine wonderful tracks with lighthearted relatable lyrics addressing the emotional minefields of romantic entanglements and responsibilities of young adulthood. It’s his second album, marking an eight-year span since the his first release Album 1 Demos back in November 2013. A delightful collection of lo-fi acoustic songs, Album 1 Demos is available for free download on his Bandcamp account.

Rick, who’s also been a member of The Band Sheep for the past several years, told me he composed most of the the songs for There Goes the Van Man five or six years ago on his iPad, but didn’t have the money to properly record it in a studio at the time. So, he started his own business doing painting and carpentry to earn money to fund the record, as well as earn a living, since he’d gotten married and had a child along the way. He finally recorded the album in a studio with the help of session musicians, and the result is a really enjoyable and well-crafted work.

Rick’s pleasing, highly accessible music can generally be described as indie pop with elements of folk, rock and jazz, and characterized by catchy melodies, lots of great guitar work and his endearing laid back vocals. The album opens with “At Your Service“, a sweet song about finding romance while working at a shoe store: “Just another day at the shoe store, the meet and greet, the fit your feet and send you out the door. Some of them I know by first name, and last name too. / If there’s anything that I can do for you baby, I’m at your service like a god at your church while you’re preachin’.”

Next up is “Van Man“, a terrific auto-biographical song about Rick that also serves at the de-facto title track, given its refrain “There goes the van man.” He croons about his workday routine “I was the van man today, I took the van real far away. I did stuff and got paid. I brought something that I made. I blasted sports radio. That’s just the way that I go when I’m driving down the open road.” The song is fantastic, with a wonderful, breezy melody and lots of cool instruments like organ, banjo and exuberant sax, adding nice Americana and jazz elements, as well as incredible texture to the overall sound. If all that’s not enough, there’s also a great guitar solo in the bridge too.

The Office” is a fun Americana song with a lively piano-driven melody and more of that great banjo. The cheeky lyrics speak to the drudgery of working at a dead-end office job: “I don’t like to drive when it’s dangerous. Roads are pretty treacherous, but the boss man, he doesn’t give a shit. He says ‘I want you in’, well if I crash would you pay for it? I’m desperate, strapped for cash, and I can’t afford another accident. It’s a lot to risk, just to waste my day away in the office.

On the bouncy “Tax Return“, Rick sings of the joys of finally being able to treat his girl to a nice evening out, now that he’s gotten his tax refund: “Baby relax I got my tax return. Girl let’s go out, I got some cash to burn. We’re gonna find somewhere nice to eat. The government paid me real good this week.” The musical highlights of the track are the great bassline, guitars, organ and piano keys, and I love the vocal harmonies.

One of my favorite tracks is “Talk to Me“, with its smooth and sophisticated jazzy vibe. I love the intricate, funky guitars, cool keyboards and subtle snare drums, but for me the biggest highlight are Rick’s lovely soothing vocals, backed by gorgeous Beach Boys-esque harmonies. This song really showcases his strong songwriting, musicianship and vocal abilities. “Colleen” is another great song, opening with a gospel-like organ riff and Rick’s voiceover speaking as an airline pilot to a plane full of passengers. That wonderful organ riff continues throughout the song, serving as its driving force and overlain with guitar, strings, sax and crisp percussion. Rick sings to a woman named Colleen of his desires for her affection: “Colleen, I might not be your man right now, but someday I will.

Devils” is a fascinating track, and much darker than the other songs on the album. Musically, it has a languid trip hop beat, with spooky synths, somber piano keys and skittering drumbeats, and in the background can be heard a man’s voiceover, speaking about LSD. It all serves to create an unsettling vibe. Rick’s vocals, which remind me of Mark Foster of Foster the People on this track, have a sense of sad resignation as he laments about trying to overcome drug addiction, or possibly a relationship that’s falling apart because of a partner who’s either addicted to drugs or cheating on him: “I’m trying to quit the devil, but he’s got his grip so tight on me it’s hard not be deceived and made of fool of. Well I’m wrestling with the devil. It’s not something that I’m proud of, but do you have to be so loud in the restaurant? I’m just trying to get back to normal. Well I caught you with the devil. You smelled like his cologne. All those moments you were alone, his smoky breath, the telephone. I thought we were getting back to normal.

On the upbeat “Principal Problems“, Rick sings from the perspective a high school kid frustrated with his principal, who’s trying to make him quit his aggressive behavior that’s earned him a reputation as a tough guy on campus: “I’m gonna punch my principal in the face, if he tries to stop my fight with Tony Robinson./ You’ve got an occupation, I’ve got a reputation to hold up.” And on the delightful album closer “Tel Aviv Blues“, he sings of a woman he loves and how her ambivalence is making him crazy: “At night I’m wonderin’, about what you’re doing. You’re my baby, but only in my dreams. Only kissing me when I fall asleep. I told my best friend, a real good Christian, he said ‘You don’t need her love, you need the Lord’. But the Lord ain’t never kissed me good before. I’m back to drinkin’, I’m tryin’ hard to rid you from my mind.” The song has a lively Southern rock feel, with a colorful mix of twangy guitars and banjo, accompanied by swirling organ, sax and a great toe-tapping rhythm.

There Goes the Van Man is a marvelous album, and I’m so glad Rick reached out to me about it. He’s a talented guy who knows his way around a song, and here he delivers nine superb tracks. Each one is different from the next, a testament to his eclectic sound and the quality of his songwriting. This album needs to be heard by as many people as possible, and I hope some of my readers will enjoy it as much as I do.

Stream/purchase Rick’s music: BandcampSpotifyApple MusicYouTube

LIAM SULLIVAN – Single Review: “Rodion’s Poem”

Leeds, England-based singer-songwriter Liam Sullivan has become a favorite artist of mine ever since I first learned about him in Spring of 2020. He’s a thoughtful and talented songwriter and guitarist who pens lyrics addressing the oft-covered topics of life, love and loss, but in a way that really speaks to our souls. He then delivers them with a vibrant and warm singing voice that’s both beautiful and comforting, accompanied by his exceptional guitar work and superb arrangements. Liam’s been writing and performing music for well over a decade, both as a member of various bands and, more recently, as a solo artist with a back-up band of musicians he assembled to help bring his poetic lyrics to life.

Last year, Liam set himself with an ambitious goal to release a new single roughly every 6-8 weeks. While he hasn’t quite met that frantic schedule, he has released eight singles over the past year and a half, the latest of which is “Rodion’s Poem“. (I’ve reviewed four of his previous singles, most recently his beautiful song “Jerusalem” this past July. You can read some of those reviews by clicking on the links under ‘Related’ at the end of this post.)

As its title suggests, “Rodion’s Poem” was originally a poem written by Liam about Rodion Raskolnikov, a fictional character and protagonist of the 1866 novel Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Liam decided to turn the poem into a song that he planned on releasing some time next year, but worried he wasn’t moving forward quite fast enough, he ended up recording the track for a late 2021 release. The words of the poem, which are now lyrics to the song, are Liam’s take on Rodion’s life, reflecting on the love that is bestowed on the character despite his wayward actions. He felt the melancholy vibe of the song made it an ideal track for wintertime.

There’s another poignant aspect to the song as well. The nylon string guitar Liam used in the recording of the song was once owned by the father of a close family friend. After the father passed away, Liam was helping his friend clean out his father’s house and came across the guitar. He instantly fell in love with it, and his friend kindly gave it to him.

Like many of Liam’s songs, “Rodion’s Poem” is a gentle and stunning track. But unlike most of his songs that are built around guitar, this one is built around the piano. And what beautiful piano notes they are, accompanied by gorgeous cello played by Christine Avis and Liam’s delicately strummed guitar. Then there’s his warm vocals, backed by lovely harmonies, all of which make for a truly exquisite track, and one of the most beautiful I’ve heard in a while. It’s the perfect song for sitting by the fire with a loved one on a cold winter’s night.

Connect with Liam:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music / YouTube

New Song of the Week – “Georgia” by Novus Cantus

Novus Cantus is an innovative music act comprised of brothers Alexander (vocals and guitar) and Christian Herasimtschuk (drums and percussion). Based in the Hudson River Valley roughly halfway between Albany and New York City, the duo draw from a broad and eclectic mix of influences ranging from traditional ethnic music like flamenco and Hungarian folk, to classical Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque, to alternative rock, to create their uniquely enchanting and exotic sound. They’ve been performing and recording together since 2010, and have released a fair amount of music. I’ve written about them three times over the past three and a half years, and you can find those reviews under “Related” at the bottom of this post.

On November 16th, they released their latest single “Georgia“, along with a darkly beautiful video that nicely captures the song’s brooding essence. The song was recorded and produced by Novus Cantus, with assistance from Scott Apicelli of Blue Sky Music Studios, who mixed and mastered the track. The video, which starts off with historical images and realistic sounds of battle, features footage made available by pexels.com, as well as Civil War images from the Library of Congress Image Archives. Live footage of Novus Cantus performing the song were taken by Alex and Christian, as well as A. Delgado.

Though the music consists primarily of Alex’s gorgeous strummed guitars and Christian’s layered percussion, accompanied here and there by spare synths, the haunting song has a lush fullness of sound. Alex’s guitar work is truly stunning, with a vibrant blend of acoustic and electric guitars. The strummed acoustic guitars lend a soothing Americana/folk vibe to the song, but when he plays those chiming electric guitar notes, the song takes on a richer, more cinematic feel, especially when combined with Christian’s dramatic percussion. Alex’s heartfelt vocals beautifully convey the feelings of loss and despair expressed in the lyrics, and when his backing harmonies are added to the mix, the song becomes even more impactful. It’s another stellar release by these amazing brothers, and I’m happy to choose it as my new song of the week.

About the song, Christian told Albany-based The Capital Underground podcast that “Georgia” deals with a character in the post Civil War era struggling to return to the only place he knew. Only it’s no longer really home, but rather a place of suffering and loss. In his heart, he’s conflicted, because it’s the only home he’s ever known.

Oh I'm going home to Georgia
Oh I'm going home to see 
That house of bondage in Georgia
That was the only home for me

Oh how I long for rest
This cross must rest upon my breast
But now I'm going back to Georgia
A war-torn refugee
Time's calling out in Georgia
The voices of my family

Winter has fallen and spring now has come
Let's go and see what Sherman has done

Oh how I long for rest
This dream is deep within my breast
That sweet wistful dream of Georgia
Is nothing but a dream for me
Where am I to go but Georgia
It was the only home for me   

Follow Novus Cantus:  Facebook / TwitterInstagram
Stream their music:  Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud
Purchase:  Website / Reverbnation / iTunes

New Compilation Album “V4Velindre” to Raise Funds for Welsh Cancer Center

Welsh music journalist Kevin McGrath has embarked on an ambitious effort to raise funds for Velindre Cancer Center in Cardiff, Wales, where he’s received treatment for his own cancer. A regular contributor to Wales Arts Review and New Sound Wales, McGrath came up with the idea to create a massive 40-track digital album release as a way to not only raise money for a worthy cause, but also pay back in kind for the life-saving care he’s received.

Accordingly, he reached out to some of his favorite musicians in Wales, as well as in places such as Italy, Finland and America, to donate a song, old or new, released or unreleased, toward the creation of a 40-track mixtape album. Well, the response was beyond what he expected, and the album, entitled V4Velindre, now has a whopping 50 tracks by some of the best bands in Wales, including Bandicoot, Climbing Trees, Campfire Social, and Head Noise, as well as established singer/songwriters such as Jodie Marie, Evans McRae and Dan Bettridge.

McGrath explains his mission for creating the album: “V4Velindre exists because from the minute that we are born our lives intersect with the National Health Service. We all have stories (happy and sad) of the crucial role the NHS plays in our very existence. Nothing, though, could have prepared us for the sacrifice that NHS staff all over the country made to keep us safe during the COVID pandemic. Just between March 2020 and December 2020 883 NHS staff members died from COVID doing their duty and so much more. As the NHS, and the nation, seeks to rebuild in the wake of the pandemic we need to come together and make our contribution. As Nye Bevan famously said, ‘the NHS will last only as long as there’s folk with faith left to fight for it’. That fight comes in many measures – some will work for the NHS, some will vote for the NHS, some will protest for the NHS, and some will help finance its upkeep through jumble sales and sponsored walks. Please consider purchasing V4Velindre. Every single penny of the proceedings that comes to me from the sale of this album (minus the Bandcamp commission) will be passed straight to the Velindre Cancer Centre, where I have been cared for as an outpatient for the past eight years.

Among its 44 tracks, the album features songs by the last three winners of the Welsh Music Prize, including “O Silly Me” by young singer-songwriter Boy Azooga, “Brassneck” by indie legends The Wedding Present (an exclusive re-working of one of their all-time classics), “Who You Are” by BOB and “Enemy of Promise” by the Nightingales. In addition, the album includes songs donated by outstanding new Indie bands from Italy (Smile) Finland (That Forgotten Band) and the U.S. (Walter Etc, Eggs on Mars and Parker Woodland). Two of the songs are by Welsh artists I’ve previously featured on this blog: “Deal With the Devil” by the hyper-talented singer-songwriter GG Fearn, and “Stage Fright!” by electro-punk band Head Noise. There are also some newly-recorded tracks from Armstrong, Silent Forum, Burning Ferns and Y Dail that cannot be heard anywhere else but on this album.

Here’s a sampling of the wonderful songs included on V4Velindre:

V4Velindre will be available exclusively through Bandcamp as a digital-only release on October 1st, and may be pre-ordered here. If you pre-order, you will get five tracks now (streaming via the free Bandcamp app and also available as a high-quality download in MP3, FLAC and more).

Jake LeMond – Single Review: “Miles”

Jake LeMond is an earnest, hard-working and talented young singer-songwriter and musician based in Detroit, Michigan. With his skillful songwriting and impressive guitar work, combined with his professionalism, kind and generous personality and good looks, the gentle-voiced fellow has been making a name for himself on the crowded Michigan music scene, both as a solo artist and as guitarist for pop-rock bands Michigander (with whom he recently performed at Lollapalooza in Chicago) and Hickey Eyes, as well as a frequent collaborator with a host of other acts.

Jake’s music is a pleasing style of indie folk, with heartfelt lyrics brought to life primarily with his nimble guitar work and sweet vocals. He released his excellent debut single “5 Months (Up in Smoke)” in January 2017, and in the years since he’s dropped several more outstanding singles. His latest is “Miles“, a stunning love song released on July 28th, and for which he today premiered a wonderful accompanying video. About “Miles”, Jake explains “I wrote this song in about an hour the day after I got back from a month long tour, and it’s about being far away from someone you really care about.”

The song is gorgeous, with lush layers of strummed acoustic guitars, backed by gentle synths and punctuated by heavier guitar notes perfectly paired with bursts of percussion that provide drama as the track unfolds. The arrangement and recording production by Ben Fisher are flawless, as are the mixing by Jake Rye and mastering by The Foxboro. Jake’s soothing vocals are beautiful too, turning more impassioned as he longingly croons “I’m miles, and miles, and miles away from you.”

The delightful video shows Jake searching for something through a vintage collectibles shop, then he suddenly spots a child’s rocking horse. After a bit of back and forth with the guy working in the shop (also played by Jake), he leaves and is shown doing a number of unpleasant odd jobs to earn the money to buy the horse. He returns to the shop, buys the horse and places it in the back of his old white pickup. The video ends with him riding the horse, as if he’s on his way to see his loved one.

Connect with Jake:  FacebookTwitterInstagram

Stream his music:  SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloud

Purchase:  AmazonBandcamp