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 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.
Virginia-based singer-songwriter Andrew Neil (full name Andrew Neil Maternick) is one of the more unique artists I’ve had the pleasure of featuring on this blog. I first wrote about him in November 2019, when I reviewed his third album Freak (which you can read here). Andrew is considered an “outsider” music artist similar to the late Daniel Johnston, and in fact, ranks as the #1 Best Outsider Artist on Ranker, just above Johnston (click this link to see the full list). The now 33-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.
I wrote extensively about his experiences in my previous review, but will summarize here to provide a bit of context. After growing up as a fairly typical kid and 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.
He was subsequently released 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 written since his 2009 accident. Andrew writes his honest, deeply personal songs entirely by ear, first creating the melodies on his rhythm guitar, then recorded songs on a battery powered Tascam recorder, which his father Ray would later upload to a computer. Andrew was conditionally released from the hospital in May 2017, and moved into a group home in Charlottesville. (He now lives independently.) Upon his release, he produced his first album Code Purple – Andrew Neil, featuring 11 melancholy yet optimistic songs he hoped might help others struggling with similar mental health issues. The songs were mastered by Vlado Meller, otherwise they were left pretty much in the raw, lo-fi condition as Andrew had recorded them.
In 2018, Andrew recorded 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. He entered the studio again in 2019 to record what would become his third album Freak, and as he was wrapping up the recording he was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s 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. The album, an ambitious work featuring 14 tracks addressing topics of love, faith, mental illness and self-identity, was released that October to widespread acclaim.
His cancer thankfully now in remission, Andrew began recording songs during the Covid lockdown, this time with only his own quirky, endearing vocals and vintage nylon string Ovation acoustic guitar, accompanied on some tracks by subtle keyboard overdubs. The songs came together as his fourth album Sunny Side, which is being released digitally on June 15th via Tree Heart Records. The album will become available on CD on June 30th, along with a limited press vinyl version scheduled for release in October. The songs have a mellower and more lo-fi folk sound than the ones on Freak. About Sunny Side, Andrew states “I believe the album will appeal to people who really dig the lo-fi, outsider vibe. I hope my music will be recognized as something genuine; something that people can relate to and let them know they are not alone in this jello world.” The imaginative artwork for the album cover was created by Boston artist Daniel Benayun.
The album kicks off with “Gamblin’ Man“, a pleasing folk tune with an allegorical story about a reckless soul who always lives life on the edge. Andrew’s knack for writing seemingly simple yet profound lyrics with a powerful message is exemplified in these verses: “Out in the desert sun I made friends with a scorpion. We talked about how we feel, then I said shuffle up and deal. We played till the sun went down, full moon was wearin’ a crown. I cheated, gave myself some kings. Then I felt how a scorpion stings.”
On the optimistic title track “Sunny Side“, he advises us to not wallow in our problems, but instead try and find something good in every situation: “I buy flowers. She asked what for. Just in case the undertaker comes knockin’ on my door, cause tomorrow’s no guarantee. Let’s take our sorrow, and drown it in the sea. So keep on the sunny side, always on the sunny side. Keep on the sunny side of life./ This life is a gift. It makes me high, high, high like a cliff.” He continues along a similar vein with the grunge-tinged “Lemonade“, urging us to make lemonade out of those lemons life sometimes throws our way: “Make lemonade. Realize that we got it made. Make lemonade. Don’t be afraid. Even in hell, be thankful for shade./ Live with love, the world is ours.”
Andrew’s strong sense of spirituality, love and faith in humanity is expressed on several tracks. On “One Big Family“, he sings of how, despite our differences, we’re all human beings deserving of love and respect: “We are one big family. And you have a brother, a brother in me. Tough times do not last. Tough people do. And I feel so much tougher when I’m loved by you. And no one’s perfect yet; we all have flaws. But we still deserve gifts from Santa Claus.” He uses “Heaven” as a metaphor for love and empathy, rather than a biblical place: “Heaven, where hate is not allowed. Heaven, another word for love. Heaven, it’s not below, it’s not above, it’s in your heart.”
On the lovely, nearly six-minute long ballad “Awoke“, he sings of overcoming his past mistakes and feelings of hopelessness by accepting God’s love: “So many nights I wanted to cry. Wanted to fly away. This dream trope has come to an end. Stars explode, but you’re still my friend. And I’m still your friend. Cause I awoke to God’s mercy. We’re all thirsty for love.” And on the folksy final track “Thank The Lord“, he gives thanks for all the things that are important to him, and the positive role music plays in his emotional well-being: “Thank the lord for my friends. Thank the lord for family. Thank the lord for the music that lives inside, inside of me.”
Conversely, perhaps the most poignant track on the album is “Anymore“, where Andrew questions his faith, self-worth and direction in life: “You can lie, and say it’s all part of God’s plan. Cause I don’t want to grow up, I don’t want to grow old. I don’t want to shut up, I don’t want to be told what to do, anymore. I don’t want to give up, I don’t want to go on. Just so tired of being so strong. Don’t know what to do anymore./ You can blame, you can blame me for not being a good man.” Musically, his strummed acoustic guitar is accompanied by some somber but lovely keyboards that create a haunting soundscape for his introspective and melancholy vocals.
“Dog Without A Bone” is about having pretty much everything one could want in life, with the exception of a romantic partner to spend time with. Andrew uses clever and pretty direct metaphors to describe the feeling that something crucial to his well-being is missing: “Got a million reasons to live. I’m giving everything I have to give. Yet I’m so tired of being alone. Just a dog with no bone. A drunk without a drink. A cloud without a sky./ I have a lot, but I want more. Is there someone out there that could make me sore.” And once you’re in a relationship, conflicts and disagreements will undoubtedly arise, which he cheekily addresses on the charming “Kinda Turns Me On“: “When you get so mad, it kinda turns me on. Tell me what I did wrong. Cause baby it turns me on. Honestly, I want to grow old with you. Live the American dream, red, white and blue. Have a bunch of kids, and grandchildren too.”
Sunny Side is a wonderful album, filled with honest, heartfelt songs about faith, love and hope, and I’m confident all of us can relate to at least some of them. Andrew Neil is a thoughtful songwriter with a special gift for getting right to the heart of things in a way that few other artists can – or are even able – to do. I’ve grown quite fond of him, and hope he’ll continue writing interesting and compelling songs for us to enjoy.
There’s a lot of musical talent out there, and I’m particularly impressed by the sheer number of exceptional musicians and bands that continue to emerge from the UK – something that’s long been apparent to even the casual music observer. One of the standout artists I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know in the past year is singer-songwriter Liam Sullivan. The Leeds-based musician is a fine songwriter and guitarist, with a vibrant and warm singing voice that’s both comforting and beautiful. His music style can generally be described as alternative rock with folk and singer-songwriter elements that make for an incredibly pleasing listening experience, and I love every one of his songs that I’ve heard.
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. Like a lot of musicians who were prevented from touring or performing to live audiences, he made the best of the Covid lockdown situation to write and record new music. He’s released four singles since last May, the latest of which is “Stadiums and Churches“, which dropped April 9th (which seems to be a big day for the release of new music). I’ve reviewed his previous two singles “When This is Over” and “Be Kind”, which you can read by clicking on the links under ‘Related’ at the end of this post. Those two singles have become his most successful yet, and with plans to release a new song roughly every six weeks for the rest of the year, the hard-working artist’s music career is destined to grow exponentially.
He was inspired to write “Stadiums and Churches” during the first lockdown after watching the British sports documentary series Sunderland ‘Til I Die. An episode addressed how sports stadiums have sat empty during the lockdown, which got Liam to thinking about all the stadiums, theaters and churches, where masses of people normally congregate to celebrate events important to them, that were now just empty and lifeless places.
To drive home his message, he starts with a lovely piano movement that forms the basis of the song’s haunting but beautiful melody, accompanied by his strummed acoustic guitar, subtle bass and gentle percussion. He first laments about all the empty places where we once assembled: “The churches and stadiums are hollow empty places now. Nowhere to gather, nowhere to believe, nowhere to go at all” but then seems to address his own personal feelings of abandonment: “Where did you go, where did you go, why’d you leave me here alone?” His guitars and soothing vocals turn more urgent in the choruses, bolstered by sweeping strings and more dramatic percussion that convey a sense of hopefulness about the future as he sings about returning outside: “Head out the window. Can you feel the daybreak?” I love his vocals throughout the song, as well as his exuberant guitar solo in the bridge and the soaring crescendo at the end. It’s a fantastic song, and I think it’s one of Liam’s best yet.
Peter Kleinhans is a New York-based singer-songwriter who, after spending 30 years as a professional harness horse racer, trainer and announcer, decided to turn his love of music into writing and recording songs. His music is a pleasing mix of pop, folk and rock, but it’s his skill for telling engrossing stories through thoughtful, intelligent lyrics that makes his songs so compelling in a Harry Chapin kind of way. He doesn’t have a particularly strong singing voice – his vocal style is more of a talk-singing – but it’s warm and comforting, and perfect for storytelling.
In February 2018 he released his debut album Something’s Not Right to critical acclaim. LA Music Critic hailed it “one of the best debut albums we have reviewed“, while Neufutur Magazine called it “an album that blends together Dave Matthews with the protest tradition of performers like Neil Young and Phil Ochs.” He later released, in November 2019, an excellent video for album’s title track “Something’s Not Right”, a song about the sense of uncertainty and unease that many Americans seemed to be feeling about their country and their own future, while still trying to remain optimistic and grateful for what’s good. You can read my feature about the song and video here.
In December (2020), Peter returned with his second album I Was Alive Enough, featuring 12 tracks he states are “very specific to this very strange moment we are all living in, with songs about our fear of missing out (“FOMO”) and greed (“Race to the Bottom”), as well as mistrust of the media (“Fake News”). But it’s also hopeful and spirited, about appreciation for NYC graffiti (“91st Street”), a love of horse-racing (“W1775”) and the power and joy of solitude (“Table for One”). What binds many of the tracks together for me is the significance of each song’s characters despite their powerlessness. The befuddled news-watcher in “Fake News” is as real as the story of the horse W1775, the farmer in “Malagasy Uprising”, the homeless man in “Homeless” as much as the hapless narrator walking past, or even the corporate stooges in “Race To The Bottom”, who have more actual power and influence but who are ultimately prisoners of the soulless world they inhabit. One of the main things I was driving at in this album was the significance of every life.“
The 12 songs run the stylistic gamut from gentle folk ballads and bouncy pop to pleasing Southern rock and world music. Peter’s lyrics are so good that I’ll be quoting a lot of them, so bear with me as you read on. The album kicks off with “FOMO“, a breezy pop tune highlighted by some nice jazzy piano keys, along with gnarly guitars and jaunty organ that contrast with the matter-of-fact lyrics addressing his, and everyone else’s, shortcomings and how there must be a pill to deal with all our myriad anxieties: “I’m looking for a doctor just to tell me I’m crazy. My girl says I’m older, vain, stupid and lazy. But no one says what everyone knows to be true, that I’m totally crazy and so are you. / Yes, keep me medicated, keep those bottles full. Cause I’ve got FOMO, can’t handle missing out. You know I’m all about regret and doubt.”
“Race to the Bottom” has a heavier pop-rock treatment, with rousing, multi-layered guitars, thumping drums and tasty psychedelia-tinged organ, all set to a strong foot-stomping beat. Peter sings the cynical lyrics spoken from the perspective of corporations hoping to cash in on a brain-dead public: “We got a fractured nation, a distracted population. Got to take advantage just the best that we can. But we better hurry ‘fore they get their pitchforks in motion, cause they’re getting pretty tired of being taken by the man. So, come with me on a race to the bottom, where the pickins are easy and there’s plenty of prey.”
Continuing on a similar theme, he addresses how we all seek out the kind of news that feeds our own world views on “Fake News“: “So go ahead and play me some fake news, and I’ll just change the channel if want to change my views“, and how some want nothing to do with those holding opinions different from theirs: “Woke up to find someone’s unfriended me today. Doesn’t like the way I see the world. It could be we never were such good friends anyway, but I’m still stinging from the epithets he hurled.” The song starts off as a gentle piano ballad, then expands into a lively melody with guitars, bold percussion and what sounds like clarinet, which adds a nice but slightly unsettling vibe. The song has a bit of a Harry Chapin feel, and is one of my favorites on the album.
“91st St.” is a wonderful ode to the graffiti-covered and abandoned 91st Street subway station in New York City. The station was deemed superfluous by the subway authority and closed in 1954, and later came to be known by New Yorkers as the “Ghost Station”. Peter wrote a marvelous article about the station and the song in October 2018, which I featured on this blog and can be read here. The song has a progressive/jazzy vibe, with a cool drumbeat, funky bass line and fuzzy guitar riff. Toward the end of the track, Peter injects a quirky little psychedelic synth that makes for a great finish.
Peter addresses the oft-covered and eternally relatable subjects of love and relationships on a few tracks, with lyrics that are painfully honest and real. On the bittersweet Americana-tinged “Our Journeys“, he sings of how he let his partner down, but is thankful for the good things they enjoyed together: “Now this song isn’t one of mistake or regret. I chose what I chose, and I’ll take what I’ll get, but when push comes to shove, it still hurts to hurt someone you love. And you were willing to spend your whole journey on me, and the value of that, maybe I just wouldn’t see. So please let me take the time to thank you now.” On the lovely “Table For One“, he sings his praises of being alone: “All I watched as a child, replayed the same scene. Go find a fair princess, make her a fair queen. But repeating the playbook has cost me a lot. Maybe you find who you are when you find who you’re not.” And on “Palpitations“, he sings of traveling the country with his new bride, not caring where they end up so long as he’s with her: “These palpitations inspired by you are invented by me. Palpitations are my body’s way of telling me I’m finally free.”
“Homeless” is a poignant song about how those of us living in big cities co-exist with homeless people as we go about our days, intersecting with each other, yet living in completely separate worlds and fearful of becoming too involved: “There a man I see almost every day. He’s got a black dog with a collar. It used to be ‘could you spare a dime’ now it’s ‘could you spare a dollar?’ Sometimes I give, sometimes I don’t, depends what’s in my pocket. But he’s a man locked inside an invisible cage, and my dollar won’t unlock it. There’s no future, there’s no joy. He once was an adorable boy. Once he started to fall, he found no safe place to land. Walk right by that ghost of a man. It’s the crime I commit almost everyday. It’s the violence of looking away.”
On “Malagasy Uprising“, Peter sings from the perspective of a farmer recalling the horrors of the nationalist rebellion against French colonial rule in Madagascar that lasted from March 1947 to February 1949, and now trying to eke out a living in peace. He uses African elements and instruments, along with a lilting chorus by female singers, to give the song an exotic flavor that works quite well. He channels a bit of Tom Petty on “Beneath Two Moons“, a song that speaks to the love of personal freedom over romantic entanglements. And he sings of being with the one he loves in of the Land of Enchantment on the appropriately enchanting “New Mexico“, “where the people think we’re pretty, and there’s turquoise everywhere.”
One of his best ‘story’ songs is “W1775“, a poignant saga about a horse who started his career as an award-winning race horse, then spent time pulling a carriage in New York, and eventually living out his final years in a pasture. Peter elaborates on the song’s inspiration: “I trained racehorses for many years and I earned a deep respect for the animals. One of the things about horse racing that you just don’t find when following other animals, is the story within every horse’s career, all of which is documented and is occasionally remembered but more often forgotten.”
I Was Alive Enough is a delightful album, not only because it’s a pleasing listen, but also due to its great storytelling. As I alluded to at the beginning of this review, Peter is a masterful lyricist and storyteller, not to mention a fine musician. Each song is a gem, with no two sounding alike, keeping the album sounding fresh and surprising from start to finish.
Justin Beynon is a musician and singer/songwriter based in Aberdare, Wales who I recently learned about when he reached out to me about his just-released debut album In Motion. Music has been a major part of Justin’s life since his childhood, and he’s played an active role in the Welsh music scene for the last 30 years. As a member of numerous bands over the years, he’s been featured on several albums, as well as collaborated on many projects as a session musician. He’s also taught guitar and piano for the last 24 years. Several years ago, he built his own home studio and began learning how to use new technology so that he could record the backlog of songs he’d been writing over the years. Last year he decided to produce his first solo album, and got busy recording songs in his home studio, singing and playing all the instruments himself, other than on four songs that he recorded in a studio with the help of a friend and former bandmate Meirion Townsend on drums. The tracks were then mixed and mastered by Matthew Evans.
Justin elaborates on the things that inspired him to record and release the album: “Long before this pandemic was even on the horizon, I had experienced some of the most difficult and emotionally challenging years to date. As a result, I began to feel my passion and drive for playing and creating music slowly ebb away. Things got really difficult. I wondered if I was done. But, as has been the case so may times in the past, music came to my rescue. This collection of songs started life as two separate EP’s but with a common thread, that life is constantly ‘in motion’, regardless of what gets thrown at us.
Putting this album together has been my way of navigating a very difficult time. It was a big step forward for me as a writer, to have the freedom to work to my own timescale and have the tools to record myself, without the restrictions of studio costs etc. It was also my first step in releasing my own music under my own name rather than a band name. I called the album ‘In Motion’ as it seemed an appropriate title to a life and body of work gathering momentum over time, from the past and into the future. It’s been my way of making sure that these songs don’t live and die in my head. I hope that whoever hears them will find something positive in them.”
Well, I must say that after listening to In Motion, I’ve found plenty to like. First off are Justin’s engaging and catchy melodies. As someone with no musical aptitude whatsoever, I’m always impressed at how musicians are able to write great melodies and bring them to life with thoughtful arrangements and masterful instrumentation, which brings me to the second aspect of his music. Justin is an excellent guitarist, seemingly at ease playing a wide variety of styles ranging from folk, country and Americana to blues rock. He’s also a fine pianist, as evidenced on the opening track “All Inside” and the beautiful “All the Way Through”. Then there are his intelligent, heartfelt lyrics that speak to us in deeply meaningful ways which are expressed through his wonderful, no-frills vocals that remind me at times of the great Tom Petty.
He hits the ground running with the aforementioned “All Inside“, a rousing folk rock song that seems to speak to a relationship that’s failed due to a break down in communication and trust. Justin starts things off with his strummed acoustic guitar, then layers assertive piano keys and a driving bass line to add emotional depth to the song as he plaintively sings, “You’ll land, just like you did last time. You’ll stand, by keeping it all inside /Tell me, the reason for your disguise. Help me by keeping it all inside.” His blistering electric guitar that enters in the bridge and continues through the end of the track ends things on a high note.
Justin taps into his more soulful side on “The Walkover Rule“, laying down bluesy riffs over a mellow and funky groove that make this one of my favorite tracks on the album. He really channels Tom Petty on the next three tracks. The first, “Who Delivers?“, is a lovely, contemplative song where he seems to question the existence of faith: “Everyone’s talking like they know something. Like they found God. It’s probably nothing. Everybody knows somebody who delivers.” On the Beatle-esque “Another Universe“, he sings of hope and healing: “Until the sun comes out and warms the air like it was nothing. The day’s begun, start it all again. The fire and the rain will wash it all away into another universe.” And “The Sticks and the Stones” sounds like the best song Tom Petty never recorded, with a mix of jangly and twangy slide guitars that give the song a wonderful country rock vibe.
The melancholy “All the Way Through” is another of my favorites, as I’m a sucker for beautiful piano melodies. With only his haunting piano keys and stirring strings as a backdrop, Justin sadly laments to his partner of her unwillingness to make their relationship survive: “There’s nothing I can do to get you back inside the simple life. It’s perfectly entwined, and the love we’re trying to find is true. I really wanna see this all the way through. I’ll take it to a place where there ain’t any rules. I’m all out of luck.”
The mood picks up considerably with “Cheap Coat and Broken Wings“, a lively folk rock tune with some great Southern rock guitars, and on “One Long Kiss Goodbye“, with it’s exuberant toe-tapping melody and wonderful mix of jangly, chiming and gnarly guitars, accompanied by sparkling piano keys and snappy drumbeats. “Paper” is a particularly beautiful track, thanks to Justin’s shimmery guitar work and earnest vocals, enhanced by what I’m guessing are his own backing harmonies. The song seems to be a continuation of the sentiments first introduced on the opening track “All Inside”: “I don’t want to leave it all to chance. Do you want to wait for something greater? You’ve always lived with flashing lights. All of your dreams wrote out on paper.” He closes things out with “The Things That You Do“, a pleasing Country rock song with more of his terrific guitar work, and lyrics whose meaning I can’t quite figure out, but seem to speak to a loved one who takes him for granted: “The reason I fight ain’t over you. It’s not about the things that you do. I try, and I try ’cause of you, and you alone.”
To sum up, In Motion is a very fine, well-crafted album, and a wonderful debut effort from this remarkably talented musician. I’m truly impressed by Justin’s songwriting, musicianship and vocals, as well as his outstanding production abilities, and he should be very proud of what he’s created here. If you like an eclectic mix of folk and country infused with elements of blues, rock and pop, then you will enjoy this album.
This past summer I had the pleasure of learning about the immensely talented young British singer-songwriter Callum Pitt when he reached out to me about his single “Fault Lines” (you can read my review here). A beautiful song with biting lyrics decrying governmental and media efforts to divide and polarize society, “Fault Lines” has enjoyed a 10-week run on my Weekly Top 30. The prolific artist has been releasing singles every two months in 2020, beginning in May with “Out of the Trees”, followed by “Fault Lines”, “Ghost” and now his latest, “Sea of Noise“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week.
Based in Newcastle Upon Tyne in northeast England, Callum writes folk-inspired alternative and dream rock songs influenced by such great acts as The War on Drugs, Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes. With his soft, pleasing vocals, rich harmonies, captivating melodies and meaningful lyrics, he’s captured industry attention and built a growing fan base since the release in 2017 of his gorgeous first single “You’d Better Sell It While You Can.” His equally beautiful second single “Least He’s Happy” has been streamed nearly two million times on Spotify, an astonishing feat for an indie artist.
About his latest single, released on October 6th by label Humble Angel Records, Callum explains “‘Sea of Noise’ alludes to feelings of helplessness and hopelessness while feeling surrounded by quite a lot of negative things. Despite this, it mainly discusses the importance of having a person (or activity) which takes your mind away from that mindset, keeps it away and gives a feeling of having a form of control in life.”
With “Sea of Noise” Callum delivers yet another outstanding track for our listening enjoyment. The song is beautiful, with a sweeping back and forth melody driven by a powerful stomping percussive beat, and accompanied by a lush mix of shimmery synths and moody strings. But the highlights for me are his gorgeous intricately-strummed chiming and jangly guitars and enchanting falsetto vocals. His voice nicely transitions with ease from a gentle tenderness to soaring passion as he sings of finding solace from the surrounding din through another’s support: “The colours were running from all this distortion in my head / The speakers were humming, circling feedback in our ears / Swept by the currents further until the choruses blurred and your shout was a murmur / Felt your tug away from the crowds ‘cause, everything always seems so loud / While we’re drifting in this sea of noise flooding in our ears and our eyes.”
After more than five years of blogging about music – which enables me to learn about a least a few new artists or bands literally every day – I’m still surprised when I discover an artist who’s been putting out superb music for several years that I knew nothing about. Just goes to show how many talented artists and bands exist out there, making some really great music. One such artist is British singer-songwriter and guitarist Jono McCleery, who’s latest single “Call Me” – which dropped October 23rd – has captured my attention. He also released a beautiful accompanying video for the track on October 29th.
Based in London, McCleery was deaf until the age of four, unable to perceive any acoustic stimuli. But when he turned 11, he picked up a guitar for the first time and took to it immediately. He eventually became part of the lively London “underground” and a member of One Taste Collective (OTC), a project founded in 2004 to support musicians and poets of all styles. Some of the artists who emerged through the collective include Little Dragon, Jamie Woon, Kate Tempest and the Portico Quartet, all of whom McCleery has worked with.
As I do with all artists and bands I write about for the first time, I checked out McCleery’s back catalog of music – which is pretty extensive – to get a feel for his sound and style. After listening to quite a few of his songs, I can unequivocally state that I love his music. He plays an incredibly pleasing style of what I’d loosely call contemporary folk, though many songs feature elements of electronica, world music, shoegaze, dreampop, soul and jazz. His music is characterized by captivating melodies, lush but understated instrumentation and his warm, soothing vocals in a style that to my ears is reminiscent of such artists as Sufjan Stevens and James Blake.
His first release, in 2008, was his self-produced debut album Darkest Light, a collection of eight lovely acoustic folk tracks. He followed in 2011 with There Is, a stunning, more experimental work with a greater emphasis on world, electronic and jazzy elements, and featuring collaborations with renowned artists Fink and Vashti Bunyon. One of the album’s tracks, a mesmerizing cover of Black’s 1986 hit “Wonderful Life”, has been streamed more than 3.6 million times on Spotify.
2015 saw the release of his third album Pagodes, another beautiful work that received widespread acclaim. Deutschland Funk called it “a stroke of genius”, while Rolling Stone described it as a “flawless album”. And in 2018, he released Seeds of a Dandelion, a marvelous album of covers in which McCleery re-interpreted songs like Roy Davis Jr.’s dance classic “Gabriel”, the Cocteau Twins’ “Know Who You Are at Every Age”, Atoms For Peace’s “Ingenue” and Beyonce’s “Halo”, an enchanting track which has been streamed over 8.8 million times on Spotify. Webzine Line of Best Fit called the album “a strong collection of songs, made with the upmost respect for its inspirations.”
Now he returns with “Call Me”, the second single from his forthcoming fifth album Here I Am and There You Are, set for release on November 20th via the Ninety Days Records label. The album, which McCleery recorded in just four days with the help of a few musician friends, is an homage to the Afro-American jazz musician Terry Callier, who died in 2012. I’ve had an advance listen of the album, and it’s every bit as stunning as his previous works. “Call Me” was written and sung by McCleery, who also played guitar. Supporting musicians include Steve Pringle on keyboards, Milo Fitzpatrick on bass and Dan See on drums. Production and mixing was done by Brett Cox, and mastering by Emil Van Steenswijk.
The song touches on the struggles of separation and finding inner strength. McCleery explained his inspiration for the song: “When I revisited the song before recording the album, I decided to dedicate a verse to Terry Callier’s song ‘Dancing Girl’, and these are his lyrics: ‘I saw a dream last night, bright like a falling star, and the sources of light seemed so near, yet so far. I thought I was in flight out where the planets are, moving between day and night. Here I am, and there you are.’ And then more recently whilst listening to the album recordings as quietly as possible, that line ‘here I am and there you are’ stood out. And I decided to use it for the album title.“
The song has an enchanting, almost jazzy vibe that’s at once melancholy and beautiful. McCleery’s gently strummed guitar, accompanied by subtle bass and the softest of toe-tapping beats, immediately draws us in, and once he begins singing the poetic lyrics in his soothing vocals, we’re more than eager to follow along. The instrumentals become more lively and his vocals more earnest in the choruses, and I love the haunting little piano chords that enter halfway into the track.
The gorgeous video was produced by France-based screenwriter and videographer Giovanni Di Legami, and features clips from his movie Idem, starring actors Roxane Colson and Jean Yann Verton.
Art Block is an alternative folk singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist from East London, England. A prolific musician, he’s been making beautiful music for several years, and has released multiple singles and EPs since 2015, including his Pete Maher-produced Acoustic Sessions album in 2019, and The Basement EP this past March. Last November (2019), I reviewed the haunting title single “The Basement”, which you can read here.
Over the past few months, he’s been releasing remastered versions of some of his earlier songs. One of them is “Borderline“, a beautiful but melancholy song about the lingering pain from a love that’s faded away. The music and lyrics were written by Art Block, who played the electro-acoustic guitar. The Electric and steel guitars were played by Ben Walker, who also produced and mixed the track. Aurora Dolby did the remastering.
The guitar work is sublime, particularly Walker’s mournful steel guitar that gives the song a bit of a Country feel, as well as creating a stunning backdrop for Art Block’s tender, heartfelt vocals. He has a lovely and incredibly emotive singing voice, with an ability to convey a deep sense of sorrow and despair as he sadly laments: “What must I do? To win the fair alliance with you? Why don’t you shred my soul? ‘Cos our love is so weak and old. Who are the lost ones walking with me? Who are the wounded all I can see? Oh, Borderline in the sea. Oh, cross the line here with me. Oh, Borderline.”
It’s a wonderful song, with a quiet intensity and poignancy that rips at our heartstrings.
As a music blogger, I’m sent a continuous flood of music by artists, bands, labels and PR reps for my consideration for possible reviews. While a lot of it is decent or even quite good, I cannot possibly write about all that comes my way. But every now and then, a submission stands out among the rest, grabbing my attention or resonating with me in such a way that makes me want to share it with my readers. Such was the case when young British singer-songwriter Callum Pitt reached out to me with his powerful new single “Fault Lines“. I was not familiar with Callum, but after listening to it and his previous songs, I became an instant fan, as I love his music.
Based in Newcastle Upon Tyne in northeast England, Callum writes folk-inspired alternative and dream rock songs influenced by such acts as The War on Drugs, Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes. With his soft, pleasing vocals, rich harmonies, beautiful melodies and meaningful lyrics, he’s captured industry attention and built a growing fan base since the release in 2017 of his gorgeous first single “You’d Better Sell It While You Can.” His equally beautiful second single “Least He’s Happy” has been streamed nearly two million times on Spotify, an astonishing feat for an indie artist. He’s followed those two singles with several more over the past three years, as well as a four-song EP Poisoned Reveries in 2019. Also in 2019, Callum won the Alan Hull Award for songwriting. The award, named for the Newcastle-born songwriter and founding member of Lindisfarne Alan Hull, recognizes song-writers living and working in the North East.
Callum dropped his latest single “Fault Lines” on July 24th, which was released via Humble Angel Records. Although he’s addressed social and political issues on previous songs, with “Fault Lines” he takes a more direct and outspoken approach. He explains: “‘Fault Lines’ is about polarization. It is directed at the British government and right-wing press who have incited hatred and division in the public through their rhetoric over the past few years in particular, splitting us down the middle as ‘leavers’ or ‘remainers’, demonising immigrants and refugees, and allowing the stain of white supremacy to spread. It encourages ignorance and prejudice to be met with education and conversation.”
Though the lyrics are rather scathing, Callum delivers them with beautiful instrumentation and sublime vocals. His strummed guitar work is really wonderful, and complemented by lovely keyboards and crisp percussion that create a resounding backdrop for his fervent vocals lamenting the current socio-political divide afflicting Britain. The lyrics also describe the situation in the U.S. pretty well, which is why the song resonates so deeply with me. The large ceramic pitcher Callum holds in the photo that’s been broken and glued back together symbolizes our fractured society that can still be repaired if we have the will to come together in open and honest conversation.
Seems like all you do is fight and see the world in black and white Spinning truths like you can move our minds as wind upon a kite And we feel so small, like we can’t stem the tide at all As papers sow the seeds of anger, setting off like a snowball
Well we got lies making divides from these soothsayers Setting fires between two sides and I feel jaded I push my head above the water Pull away from the disorder, as the tides polarise
We got fault lines running through our bones The division grows and leaves these empty holes
We rise and fall under the weight of words that fan the flames of hatred When we demonise, we form a mind that will not be persuaded Well I am so small and I can’t change too much at all I’ve got no answers to these fractures, other than breaking these walls
Well we got lies making divides from these soothsayers Setting fires between two sides and I feel jaded I push my head above the water Pull away from the disorder, as the tides polarise
We got fault lines running through our bones The division grows and leaves these empty holes