GG FEARN – EP Review: “Black Mirror”

gg-fearn-black-mirror-cover-ep

Some of the more interesting and provocative songwriting these days is coming from young female artists such as Billie Eilish, Courtney Barnett and Jade Bird, as well as indie artists like Erin Incoherent (who I featured last December) and GG Fearn, a remarkable 18-year-old singer-songwriter from Carmarthen, Wales. With a singular talent and maturity beyond her years, GG (short for Georgia) first started writing songs at the age of nine, and has become quite the wordsmith, penning thoughtful and frank lyrics about life and the darker aspects inherent in many of us. She’s already become a seasoned performer, having played at many different venues, most notably the famous Cavern in Liverpool, and her songs have received airplay on BBC Wales, and other radio stations throughout the UK. She’s just released a terrific four-song EP Black Mirror, which dropped on May 28.

In the creation of her music, GG melds elements of folk, pop, alternative rock, jazz and hip hop into a unique sound stew that could best be described as ‘dark folk-pop.’ She also has a clear and lovely singing voice brimming with character and confidence, while still retaining a touch of vulnerability. When combined with her compelling lyrics, it gives her songs a worldliness and sophistication that’s very relatable.

She gets right down to business on the EP opener “Deal With the Devil“, an upbeat-sounding song that belies its dark theme. The lyrics address the subject’s awareness of her wicked nature, and her feeling perfectly okay about it: “Another day. Chaos parade. Domestic life comes hand in hand with a knife, to use on you, your partner too. I looked in the mirror one night. Suddenly my soul takes flight. I made a deal with the devil. I don’t know why he picked me. I guess that something clicked. But living without your soul, it ain’t so bad. I never really had one anyway.” Musically, the song features crisp, bouncy synths that have an almost industrial feel, punctuated by glittery keys and subtle bass kicks. GG’s layered vocals are backed by a gruff, barely audible male vocal in the chorus, sounding as if the devil himself is singing in unison with her.

The superb title track “Black Mirror” opens with a simple, almost dubstep beat, then settles into a catchy bass-driven tempo that has us bopping our heads and swaying our hips. I love the intricate funky guitars, and GG’s layered vocals are really quite marvelous as she croons about not being happy with the current state of things. The black mirror seems to reflect all the stuff that’s troubling her, and she’s not liking what she sees: “I think I’m going crazy. Vision’s going hazy.  I know. I hear the shotgun ring, but you don’t hear a thing. Harm can be a comfort when poison is your king. A necklace made of pearls, and artificial girls. I’m stuck in a black mirror.”

I love all the tracks on the EP, but my favorite is “Teen Queen“, an in-your-face declaration of “Attention: someone new is now in charge!” Or, as fellow blogger Lakisha Skinner so beautifully put it in her wonderful Klef Notes review, it’s the “I’m the girl who will wear black to the prom and nobody betta say one thing to me about it song!”

Starting off with a magical little xylophone riff, the song quickly bursts open with lush, glittery synths and thunderous percussion, as if symbolizing a fairy princess making her grand entrance. As GG defiantly proclaims, “Now the deed is done, done, done, done…” a strutting dance beat kicks in and I’m hooked! She continues making her newfound dominance clear: “I’ve traveled through hell and all of its towns. God only knows where I’ve been. I’m the only girl that can wear the crown. Yes, I’m your new teen queen. You can call me narcissistic, but please don’t forget sadistic. I, I am your new teen queen. Nothing that they’ve ever seen. Your time on stage is through. Make way for someone new, new, new, new…” 

The rather cynical “Famous Last Words” speaks to our impermanence, regardless of how important we think we are while we’re alive: “Legacies they can be cruel whether you wear rags or jewels. I want mine to beat them all, so that when I fall, I want to be remembered. I want to go down in history. I want to be the greatest. I want to be the best.” The cold reality, however, is that most of us will be forgotten: People won’t remember when you’re dead. All the brilliant things that you have said. You can be known all around, but that don’t mean you’ll keep your crown even if you stitch it to your head. /And her famous last words were…(what were they?)”  The song has a catchy hip hop/trap beat, with sharp synths and deep bass. It’s a good song, and sounds like one Taylor Swift could have done, only better.

Black Mirror is a great little EP, and GG Fearn is an immensely talented songwriter, composer and vocalist with a lot to say. Hopefully, she’ll continue expressing herself with more wonderful songs very soon!

Connect with GG: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Purchase “Black Mirror” on Amazon / Google Play

ELLIE FORD – Album Review: “Light. Repeated.”

Ellie Ford album art

British singer/songwriter Ellie Ford is quite possibly the only harpist in the music world to head up a band. In addition to being an accomplished harpist, the multi-talented Brighton, England- based artist also plays guitar and sings like an angel, using her voice almost like another instrument. Assisting Ellie in the creation of her uniquely innovative Alternative Folk music are Fred Hills (drums & percussion), Andrew Stuart-Buttle (violin, mandolin, bass and backing vocals), Harry Haynes (guitar and backing vocals) and Freya Bowes (clarinet and backing vocals).

Ellie Ford band

Ellie first graced the airwaves in 2013 with her debut EP Show Night In, then followed up with a full album The Other Sun in 2016. Now she’s back with a lovely new album Light. Repeated., which dropped on 17 May. Featuring eight exquisite songs, the album sees Ellie further exploring themes of life, love and relationships through her poetic lyrics, unconventional melodies, richly layered instrumentals and the marvelous interplay between her glorious harp and enchanting vocals. Listening to the album is an immersive experience, and it’s easy to become enveloped by the enthralling soundscapes she and her band so skillfully weave.

The album opens with “Gold“, a captivating song in which Ellie’s shimmery harp strings take center stage, but with ample help by Freya’s clarinet, Harry’s strummed guitar, Fred’s gentle percussion, and Andrew’s violin, which gives the track a bit of a Celtic vibe. Ellie croons in her lilting vocals, “Kicking and calling and bracing for falling as I leave. But for a little gold, I could tide it over.”

Next up is “Light. Repeated.“, a bewitching tune that’s probably my favorite track on the album. The highlights for me are Fred’s hypnotic, seductive drumbeats and Freya’s jazzy clarinet, but Andrew’s bass, Harry’s guitar and that infectious rattle are all pretty terrific too. And it goes without saying that Ellie’s harp adds a magical component. Freya’s soulful clarinet takes a starring role on “Tired Eyes” with Ellie’s harp strings providing a strong counterpoint. The interplay between her fluttering vocals and Freya’s gorgeous clarinet notes is breathtaking, and the guitars, deep bass and drums are perfection.

My Bird Won’t Sing” is a re-imagining of a song that was originally included on The Other Sun. The previous acoustic version featured only Ellie’s vocals and her strummed guitar, but for this new version she lengthens the track by one and a half minutes, and gives it the full instrumental treatment by her band, yet keeping the vibe decidedly understated. The result is an intriguing song that holds our interest with unexpected melodic shifts that almost border on progressive jazz. Ellie’s ethereal vocals are sublime as she sings the lyrics that seem to speak of the thin line between reality and escape:  “My bird won’t sing. Have no idea what it means. And that’s OK, I don’t mind./ My diamond ring shines like the real thing. And that’s OK, I don’t mind. Comin’ off a little blind. What are we doing? Don’t you know that’s the ruin of our kind? I’m beginning to think that I might have lost my mind.

Ellie Ford by Chloe Imbach

The beautiful songs keep on coming. Another favorite is the bittersweet “All That is Left“, which features some of the most enthralling instrumentals of any song on the album. The mix of harp, piano, guitar, violin, clarinet, drums, and what sounds possibly like dulcimer, are absolutely stunning, and so are the vocal harmonies between Ellie and the guys. The lyrics speak to a relationship that’s over: “There will come a day when you’ll return. Dirt in your hair and your clothes all torn. And I’ll be gone. And all that is left, will be left to the dogs.” As its title suggests, “A Strange Brood” is a languid, brooding song lasting nearly six and a half minutes. Its  mysterious, spacey synths, tinkling piano keys, bluesy guitars, plucky harp, deep bassline and lots of crashing cymbals make for an enthralling listen.

Woods” starts off with an Eastern European Folk vibe, thanks to the Gypsy tones of Andrew’s violin and Freya’s clarinet, accompanied by Ellie’s plucked harp strings. But with the addition of heavy electric guitars and pounding drums in the bridge, the song transitions to a more intense rock feel. Album closer “The North Wind” really showcases the incredible synergy between Ellie’s harp playing and unique vocal style, and how she so beautifully complements one with the other. Other instrumentation on the track includes guitar and Fred’s kick drum and percussion, as well as the introduction of Andrew’s violin at the end.

I’ll admit that Light. Repeated. took a couple of plays to really grow on me. Though the songs sounded lovely and interesting when first hearing them, their complexity and unusual melodic structures required more than just a casual listen for me to fully appreciate. There’s an incredible amount of nuance and depth to the music and lyrics that are revealed with each successive listen, and even after hearing some of the songs five or six times, I discovered new sounds and textures. The production and song arrangements are flawless, and I’m impressed with the skilled instrumentation by the supporting musicians who help Ellie bring her magical songs to life.

Connect with Ellie: Facebook / Instagram
Stream her music on Spotify / Soundcloud
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes

ANDY K LELAND – Single Review: “A Chair is a Chair”

Andy K Leland Chair Art

Like most singer-songwriters, Italian indie folk artist Andy K Leland is a poet of sorts, penning lyrics loaded with meaning and expressed mostly through his pleasing acoustic guitar and quirky, off-beat vocal style. Andy – who was born Andrea Marcellini – refers to himself as Andrea’s “shadow-self, and the two selves fear each other.” That dichotomy is clearly evident in his songs, where his sometimes dark, depressing lyrics sharply contrast with his simple, catchy melodies and mellow lo-fi vibe. Despite his cynical, often bleak lyrics about life and relationships, his songs seem to tell us to not take life too seriously, or at the very least resign ourselves to life’s inevitable travails without losing our minds in the process.

Like a lot of artists I’ve reviewed lately, I’ve previously featured Andy several times on this blog, and you can read some of my reviews of his music by clicking on the links under ‘Related’ at the end of this post. He’s now released a wonderful new single “A Chair is a Chair“, and it’s one of his best songs yet. It still has the charming signature lo-fi acoustic vibe of all his music, but features added instrumentals in the form of mellotron and ambient drone guitar, played by guest musician Simone Laurino, giving the track a lovely, poignant and fuller sound. Andy recorded the song on his old Tascam 4-track cassette recorder, but the sound quality is quite good.

Regarding the song’s meaning, Andy told me “I wrote the first two lines of the verse right after an old weird memory about a chair came back. Don’t really know why that memory showed up… but that’s how it started. I can say that the song is totally about a dream I haven’t had yet. That’s pretty much it!”

Concentrate
Get your head
Hold it tight
Hold it tight
Release your head
Grab a chair
Use your brain man
Use your brain

Wave goodbye now your time is coming ‘round
Swaying forth and backwards
As you’re bouncing up and down
Guess you don’t want to get lazy oh it’s hard
Your crystal ball’s unfair you’d better hurry up
Time is crazy how come we are so let down?
Down

Up to you
Up to me
What could we do friend?
What would we do?
If you prefer now
Go out tonight
Stay put and beg your God to
Drift us apart, us apart

Wave goodbye now your time is coming ‘round
Swaying forth and backwards
As you’re bouncing up and down
Guess you don’t want to get lazy oh it’s hard
Your crystal ball’s unfair you’d better hurry up
Time is crazy how come we are so let down?
Down

Welcome all that’s my garden
Very nice place to be
The air is cool
So
Come lie down…

The trippy video, which was also directed and produced by guest musician Simone Laurino, shows a variety of psychedelic, sci-fi and kaleidoscopic images that represent the kinds of surreal things the mind would imagine in a dream.

Follow Andy:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Soundcloud
Purchase on:  Bandcamp / iTunes

SCOTT RAMSAY – Single Review: “I Need Love”

Scott Ramsay

Scott Ramsay is a photographer and videographer from Austin, Texas who also happens to be an accomplished musician, songwriter and vocalist. He’s opened for Sheryl Crow and shared the stage with Blues Traveler. I learned about him when his good friend and fellow musician Paul Renna (whose single “Bound to Love” I reviewed in February) reached out to me about Scott and his wonderful new single “I Need Love.”

Released on May 5th, “I Need Love” was produced by Omar Vallejo at 512 Studios in Austin, and features additional guitar work by musician David Self. The beautiful track is a moving tribute to love and its power to nurture, sustain and heal us as we struggle with the difficulties and challenges that life throws our way. Musically, the song includes both Scott’s pleasing strummed acoustic and David’s more dramatic electric guitar, accompanied by gentle percussion and stirring background synths. Scott’s warm, smooth vocals are heartfelt as he sings the poignant, hopeful lyrics:

And I need love
I need some tenderness
I need a hand to hold while I’m growing old
Help me through this mess
I need some faith
I need to rise above this place
Break the chains that bind and ease my mind into a better space

I may not know what I’m talking about
But I know what I need
My world’s on fire
It’s burning me down
And it brings me to my knees

I need love
And I need some hope
Something to carry me through
And when things get bad
I can change all that with just the thought of you

And I need some time
Give me that precious time
I would roll back the years and dry the tears that I left behind
And I may not know what I’m talking about
All I know what I need
My world’s on fire
It’s burning me down
And it brings me to my knees
And I need love, love, love, love
I need love, love, love, love

It doesn’t matter who you are
Makes no difference where you’re from
Everyone, everyone needs love
Love, love, love

And I need strength
I need something to believe
Cause when it hits the fan
I’m gonna be the man that I wanna be

It doesn’t matter who you are
Makes no difference where you’re from
Everyone, everyone needs love
I would walk a thousand miles
Sail out on the sea
Just to find the love, love to set me free
And all the silly bullshit and negativity
It all comes down to love my friend
It’s what everybody needs
Love, love, love

I need love
I need some tenderness
I need a hand to hold while I’m growing old
And help me through this mess

Purchase “I Need Love” on iTunes

RIVERSYSTEM – Single Review: “Hello Stranger”

RiverSystem Hello Stranger

RiverSystem is the artistic name for the music project of singer/songwriter Richard Willis, who hails from the beautiful South Wales valley of Cynon. He’s been writing and playing songs in the Folk-Americana style for around 15 years. His songs address themes of loves lost and found, coping with depression, or anything else he feel like writing about. Richard explains that the name RiverSystem came about 10 years ago when he was having a jam session with some college friends he’d formed a band with, and after struggling to find a name for themselves, they finally settled on RiverSystem. The band has long since gone their separate ways, but he decided to keep the name.

RiverSystem has been working on a song of great importance to him and his wife called “Hello Stranger“, which he’s officially releasing as a single today, along with a video he created for the song. He explains that the song “was a labour of love that was co-written with my wife. It is about how depression or mental health issues can just creep up on you and potentially damage your perception of life.” He and his wife hope to raise mental health awareness through the song.

The song has a slow, mournful melody that sets a somber mood, perfectly befitting the subject matter. Starting off with an electric guitar riff and gentle percussion, the music gradually builds with added layers of guitar and melancholy synths. Though the song is sad, it has a haunting beauty thanks to RiverSystem’s fine guitar work. His earnest vocals are heartfelt as he addresses the ‘stranger’ of depression that’s returned to haunt him, bringing sadness and desolation, yet he refuses to allow it to conquer him.

Hello Stranger
Haven’t seen you awhile
So long in fact
I didn’t recognise you

Anxiety and depression
Is what you bring
I’m in this melancholy state
I can’t take this any more

Oh stranger
On my shoulder
Don’t stay there too long
Oh stranger
I can’t take this anymore

Hello stranger
If I knew you were coming
I would’ve closed all my doors
And held fast against the oncoming storm

Oh stranger
On my shoulder
Don’t stay there too long
Oh stranger
I can’t take this anymore

Now you’ve left me in pieces
With a trail of destruction in your wake
Now I feel dark and lonely
Drag myself out of what you’ve thrown me in

Oh stranger
On my shoulder
Don’t stay there too long
Oh stranger
I can’t take this anymore

Maybe next time you swing around
You could avoid me
I’ve had enough of you for now

The deeply moving video shows him playing the song in the lovely countryside interspersed with scenes of him being shadowed by the stranger, overcome with sadness and despair.

Connect with RiverSystem:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream on Spotify / Reverbnation
Purchase on iTunes / Amazon

PAUL RENNA – Single Review: “Bound to Love”

Paul Renna

Paul Renna is a prolific and humble singer/songwriter and guitarist from Dallas, Texas who’s been writing music and performing, first with bands and later as a solo artist, for over 25 years. His signature music style is a pleasing mix of folk, soft rock and Americana. He released his first solo album Portrait in 2003, and in the years since has dropped two more full-length albums and three EPs, the most recent of which was 2018’s Valley of the Moon, a wonderful collection of folk songs. He now returns with a new single “Bound to Love“, a deeply moving song of love that he’s appropriately releasing on Valentine’s Day.

With an innate gift for writing songs that draw us in right from the start, Paul weaves compelling stories through his memorable melodies with authentic, relatable lyrics. He’s also a skilled guitarist and vocalist, bringing his songs to life with layers of beautiful acoustic and jangly electric guitars. The bass, piano, drums and backing vocals were performed by Omar Vallejo, who also produced the track at 512 Studios in Austin, TX

Paul’s slightly raspy vocal style sounds honest and heartfelt, giving even greater impact to the poignant lyrics promising his undying love and devotion for another, and that with love, they can weather through whatever life throws their way: “We can find a way. Our love will never stray. Hold me now. Together we are bound to love. / Love will find a way, you wait and see. We are bound to love. My heart is yours to hold on.

Here’s a recent live performance by Paul of the song:

Connect with Paul on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music on Spotify / Soundcloud / YouTube / Reverbnation
Purchase on iTunes

SAMUEL ASHTON – EP Review: “Spreading Light”

Samuel Ashton EP

Samuel Ashton is a singer/songwriter based in Canterbury, England, who makes what he beautifully refers to as “acoustic soul.” Drawing inspiration from such artists as Michael Kiwanuka, Paolo Nutini, Leon Bridges and Nathaniel Rateliff, Samuel blends smooth blues, soul and country to create uplifting and powerful songs. He’s also spent years travelling around the world, and the various different cultures he experienced and came to embrace also strongly influence his music.

In January, he released his debut EP Spreading Light through independent label 2728 Records, and received a warm response at his EP launch show in Canterbury on the 19th. He’s also been playing at venues throughout Kent and southeast England, including Brighton and London, and is currently booking future shows throughout England for this Spring.

Samuel Ashton

First up is the title track “Spreading Light“, a moving and hopeful song about staying positive in the face of adversity and troubled times, and spreading truth and goodness through our actions. The song’s melody is rather simple, driven by a strummed acoustic guitar and light percussion, but a closer listen reveals lots of added subtle textures such as somber piano keys, bluesy electric guitar and delicate, moody synths. In his deep and resonant vocals, Samuel urgently sings “Said we got to keep on spreading light. Even in the dark and lonesome night, we gotta keep on spreading light. Oh how I moan, when my heart feels woe when there’s such injustice and pain.”

Send Me Angels” has a bit of a gospel feel, with a prominent organ providing the basis of the melody, and Samuel’s emotional vocals pleading “Send me angels, come on save my soul.” I like the way he uses both acoustic and jangly electric guitars to achieve a fuller, multi-textured sound. On the slow and bluesy “Freedom Never Lies“, his intricate layered guitar work is outstanding, creating a sultry mood for his soulful, fervent vocals. He sings about surrendering oneself freely to passion: “There’s a light that’s shining in your eyes. There’s a fire that burns inside you that you just can’t disguise. Let it burn. Freedom never lies. / I’m so close to the edge, I’m still wanting more.”

Love is in the Sun” is an uplifting folk song about the presence of love everywhere we look and in everything we do. “Love is in the earth, love is in the sea. Love is in the power, power that heals.” The track has a pleasing gospel-like melody, with acoustic guitar and gentle hand claps. The Americana song “Medicine Music” speaks to the healing powers of music, something I think everyone who loves and appreciates music can attest to. “Healing my soul, my heart is full of love./ Medicine music, purify me. Medicine music, show me freedom. Medicine music heals.” The backing choruses have a Native American sound, as if being sung by a Shaman. And once again, Samuel’s guitar prowess is on full display, as his riff that closes out the track is marvelous.

Spreading Light is a wonderful EP and a fine debut effort from this thoughtful and talented musician who’s intent on spreading his positive message of love and healing in our troubled times. Samuel’s compelling lyrics, outstanding guitar work and soulful vocals make for pleasing songs you want to hear again and again.

To learn more about Samuel, check out his Website
Connect with him on  Facebook / Instagram / Twitter
Stream his music on  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase on  iTunes

Artist Spotlight/Review: DUNKIE

dunkie singles

Dunkie is the music project of Welsh singer/songwriter Anthony Price. Hailing from the town of Mountain Ash in the South Wales Valleys, Anthony has written and recorded songs for several years, and more recently, has been working on his forthcoming debut album Working to Design. It’s a concept album of sorts, with all the songs partially inspired by the books and works of Richard Matheson.  It’s also an ambitious labor of love, as Anthony has toiled countless long hours getting each track perfect, as well as making imaginative videos for some of the songs.  He’s released four tracks thus far, beginning with “Can a Song Save Your Life?” in May 2018, and subsequently dropping another single every two to three months. The songs were all written by Anthony and produced, engineered, mixed and mastered by Wayne Bassett at Robot Recordings in Aberdare, Wales. Besides Anthony and Wayne, an assortment of other musicians and vocalists performed on each track, as will be noted below. Also, an interesting aspect of the creation of this album is the use of dramatic artwork by Welsh artist Michael Gustavius Payne for each single.

Can A Song Save Your Life?” is a lovely, optimistic song with a rich and eclectic mix of instruments that make for an interesting and enjoyable listen. For this track, dunkie consists of Anthony Price on vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass and keys, Wayne Bassett on keyboards, synth, EBow, electric guitar and percussion, Charlotte Jayne on violins and trumpets, and Lucy Athey and Mark Purnell on backing vocals. Anthony’s tenor vocals are heartfelt and pleasing.

Anthony describes the song’s meaning: “The concept behind this song is trying to find a little hope; when all really seems a little lost. When the deepest, darkest moment seems to smother over you, when it suffocates you. ‘You don’t know how IT began…’, but then the littlest gesture lifts, the smallest moment lifts, a piece of music, a film or song you love just lifts you. You step back that one little moment and look around. I hope this makes a little sense and someone understands. I hope you’ll find it in yourself as I thankfully have.”

About the fascinating and charming video, he explains: “Over some two years ago I had written a few video concepts for my songs. I knew I wanted people to be wearing masks. I loved the metaphor of hiding behind many a mask. Oscar Wilde once said ‘Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth’. The ‘dunkie’ name and music is my mask. So I wanted to represent the mask in these videos. In particular I wanted to represent them by the use of Wintercroft Masks. Each mask is a downloadable PDF template, each mask has to be created individually, and each mask can take about 2-4 hours each to create (longer if you’re me!!). Added here was the decorative design I wanted to include by adding my own song lyrics, in multiple languages (and the entire pages of Crime and Punishment) upon each mask face.”

Sugar” is a sweet (no pun intended) love song of thanks to a partner who has stood by you through good times and bad, with unconditional love. Anthony’s gentle vocals and guitar work are sublime, and he’s assisted on this track by Wayne Bassett on keyboards, synth, percussion and programming, Dave Healey with additional electric guitar, and Lucy Athey, who provides lovely and ethereal backing vocals.

Thank you for whispering ‘I love you’ 
Thank you smiling when you are down 
Thank you for sharing your life with me 
I’m thankful dreams like these have come 
Thank you for today 
I’m thankful that you stayed 
I’m thankful sugar melts away

Rabbit Hole” is a poignant song that seems to be about coming to terms with loss. Anthony wistfully sings: “Tumble and fall, this rabbit-hole is funnel-webbed and soaring. I fear I’ll never reach this endless horror I fold upon myself…  Another pill dissolves; I’m crawling faster to the edge. To the edge for you.” The track has a serene, rather bittersweet melody with gentle guitar, synths and percussion, and the vocal harmonies are really nice. For this track, Anthony sang vocals and played acoustic guitar, Rob Lear sang backing vocals and played Moog, electric guitar and percussion, Dorian Richard Holmes played bass, and Jennifer Drew played drums.

The video shows an extended family coming together for a picnic to remember a loved one, a child perhaps? Anthony leaves the interpretation up to the listener: “I’d love to hear your thoughts on the concept/theme and what it evokes in you. Both lyrically and visually, ‘Rabbit Hole’ covers the same subject, so we’re not too far from the same page. I’ll leave it at that.”

(W.A.L.L.S.) Within a Little Love Song” is a beautiful love song with more of a rock feel than the other three tracks, thanks to a greater prominence of electric guitars. But it still has the pleasing qualities that all of dunkie’s songs possess, with rich instrumentation and gorgeous vocal harmonies. The lyrics are a reminder to a loved one that even though you may not say it as often as you used to, your love for them is as strong as ever:

(You know) yesterday I loved you 
(Don’t forget) I have and always will 
(But through) the years I spoke it lessened 
(Know this) my love’s never subdued 

So I’ve found these words to sing 
And they’re all for you, they’re all for you 
My need to show within a love song – within a love song

For this track, Anthony sang vocals, played acoustic and electric guitar, bass, harmonica and percussion, Wayne played electric guitar and synths, Paul Maskell played additional electric guitar, Karl James played drums, and Matt Williams sang backing choral vocals.

All four tracks are wonderful, and if the rest of them are even half as good, then Working to Design is going to be an incredible album. I love dunkie’s calm, lovely sound and could listen to their songs over and over.

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

STUART BLANCE – Album Review: “Utopia”

stuart blance (2)

Stuart Blance is a talented and thoughtful singer-songwriter from Perth, Scotland. (He also happens to be a terrific landscape and events photographer.)  He’s been writing and recording songs since 1999, and in 2001 he released his debut CD Utopia, an ambitious work featuring 13 tracks covering genres ranging from folk and Americana to pop and rock. In the years since, he has performed in venues throughout Scotland and also in London, and recorded several singles, three of which are included on his 2018 EP On Your Side.  Given the renewed interest in his music, Stuart felt the time was right for Utopia to be heard again, and so the album was re-released in digital form in December 2018, and I have the pleasure of reviewing it today. The songs all sound as fresh and relevant now as they did when they were recorded nearly two decades ago.

Stuart’s engaging music style is characterized primarily by gently-strummed acoustic guitar, often accompanied by percussive synths and occasional subtle bass notes. His contemplative lyrics touch on oft-covered subjects of life, humanity, heartache and pain, with the goal of sharing uplifting messages of hope and optimism. This is clear on the opening track “Lifeline“, where he urges us to stay true to ourselves in finding our way forward in life: “You’ve got it all, don’t throw your life away. And you’ll see where your path lies. Just follow your lifeline. The future lies ahead, it’s yours to keep.” So too on the title track “Utopia” a pleasant folk song where he extols the virtues of positive thinking and striving to be a good person: “You may be a dreamer, seeing good when it’s not there. Or maybe a believer in being kind and fair. Even if you’re feeling low, always try and smile.” And on Burnout“, he gently advises us to not push ourselves to the breaking point: “Slow down, take a short break. Just take your time. Enjoy the ride. You’re heading for a burnout.”

Several of the tracks on Utopia are really lovely and deeply moving. One of my favorites is “Memories“, a beautiful song with strummed guitar and delicate atmospheric synths that create a haunting, yet enthralling soundscape for Stuart’s calm, soothing vocals. He wistfully sings about revisiting past experiences that shaped his life: “Memories keep flooding back. Creeping into places that I haven’t been to in quite a while. Diaries kept for years on end. Words unheard for decades. Untold secrets brought to life. Oh I feel so at ease about these old memories. Won’t you please reminisce with me about these old memories?

Another favorite is “Slower Than the Flow“, a languid, hymn-like song in which he asks compelling questions for which simple answers continue to elude us: “Why do people go through life with their eyes closed? Why so many people without homes? Why can’t we take some time to look around us? Spare a thought and show someone you care. / Why must we fight like little children? Why must it always end in tears? Why is the root of violence in religion? When will the stigma disappear?

On the amusing “Fact or Folklore“, Stuart playfully ponders a number of fairy tale myths with droll satire: “Did Jack climb his beanstock, was Goldilocks so pure? She slept with the three bears, then went back for more. / Did Humpty Dumpty fall? I heard at first they shot him, then kicked him off the wall. / Climb over the rainbow, we’ll meet the Wicked Witch. She thinks that she’s scary, but she’s a stupid bitch.” And yet another personal favorite is “Anytime“, one of the most interesting tracks on the album from a music standpoint, and also the longest, clocking in at six minutes. The song opens with fluttering spacey synths which gradually fade into the background as Stuart’s pleasing layered acoustic guitar notes and smooth vocals enter the mix. The synths return to the forefront as the guitars fade, and continue through to the end as the song closes on a mysterious and atmospheric air.

Stuart switches gears in a big way on the final two tracks, replacing his laid-back folk persona with a punk-rock alter-ego. “Groovy People” is a simple but fun tune about partying with cool people in a hot club, delivered with chugging riffs of fuzzy guitars and a rousing drumbeat. Stuart’s vocals sound completely different here, with a bit of an early David Bowie twang. Even better is “Comin’ On Up“, where he really lets loose with hard-driving riffs of gnarly guitar and buzzing bass, set to a heavy thumping drumbeat. I really love this track, and want to hear more of this side of him! Some might feel these last two tracks don’t belong on what is otherwise an acoustic folk album, but I think it’s perfectly fine, and makes for a great, upbeat ending to an excellent work.

Connect with Stuart on Facebook / Twitter
Stream his music on Spotify / Soundcloud
Purchase through his website https://stuartblance.com/store and some songs are also available on Bandcamp

ERIN INCOHERENT – Album Review: “Medusa”

Erin Incoherent LP

Erin Incoherent is a unique artist with a great name and a colossal talent to match. The self-described ‘singer, musician, poet, writer, mental health advocate, model, artist, makeup junkie, loudmouth and strong woman’ is a force to be reckoned with. Ever since her publicist Radio Ready PR contacted me about a possible review of her latest album Medusa, my initial intrigue about Erin and her music has grown into full-blown admiration as I’ve learned more about her. Through her honest, provocative lyrics, her writings for the webzine The Punk Lounge, and her involvement with the Trigger Warning program in Philadelphia, I’ve found her to be an unflinching and outspoken champion for mental health and issues like domestic violence and sexual abuse. She’s also a great vocalist and pretty damned skilled on the guitar and ukelele.

Born Erin Cookman, the young singer-songwriter got her start in Fort Collins, Colorado, writing folk songs and making a name for herself on the local music scene. In 2013, she released her debut album Ha Ha Ha, a collection of eight terrific folk-rock songs featuring only her acoustic guitar and strong vocals. She followed up in 2015 with a second album Miss Shitskey, which included four of the tracks from Ha Ha Ha, and later that year, released a 3-song collaborative EP she recorded with artist CinderBlock, simply titled CinderBlock and Erin Cookman. In December 2017, Erin moved to Philadelphia and in April 2018 dropped her third album Medusa, an 11-song manifesto on anxiety, trauma and pain.

Erin Incoherent

Erin’s music style tends mostly toward folk/indie rock, with punk sensibilities. She played guitar, ukelele, xylophone and sang most vocals on Medusa (with the exception of three songs she co-wrote with CinderBlock, who also sang with her on those tracks).  Tenaya Heredia played bass and Chris Beeble, who also recorded and mixed the album, played drums. The album opens with the title track “Medusa“, a catchy but rather harsh song about drug addiction, with Medusa symbolizing the monster of addiction. Erin’s aggressively strummed guitar and fervent vocals convey the powerful and conflicting emotions expressed in the lyrics:

I’ll take a, laid back, panic attack 
some Xanax mixed with, a tonic and Jack 
two and one makes three, keep your eyes on me 
20mg of Sertraline 

I’ll take one for the anger and one for fatigue, 
one for the restlessness, and one just to sleep, 
and if after half the bottle, your symptoms increase, 
don’t you worry too much, just call me. 

Medusa! Destroy me, my love forevermore 
the most beautiful thing I will see, 
Medusa turn me to stone
oh Medusa, leave me alone!

Ulcer” speaks to the pain and desolation from a failed relationship where love has died. Once again, Erin uses a metaphor, this time a broken home to symbolize her emotional state, and her lyrics paint a stark picture: “and the carpet was torn up to serve as a shortcut for people who’d rather have an easy way out / and the faucets are all rusted, don’t try them, just trust me / the last living occupants died from the drought.” The track opens and closes with a beautiful folk-sounding strummed acoustic guitar, but for the main part of the song, Erin’s more aggressive guitar riffs have a bit of a Spanish vibe.

Erin reunites with the singer/songwriter CinderBlock on three tracks, the first of which “How to Cope” speaks to struggling to keep it together and not let life’s problems from the past bring you back down: “I just need to stay off of that street at least until I’m strong enough to not sink to my knees. But every heartbreak song, like the falling leaves, are drifting through the branches of the very same trees of this rotten town, this rotten old temple.” “Lose Myself” is about weighing the consequences of surrendering yourself to romantic and emotional desires for another, and “Stronger Man” addresses the inability to get over an old flame: “I wrote ‘I miss you’ in your notebook, cause most days I do. And I don’t wanna see you, but it’s all I’m looking forward to. I remember drinking whiskey, making love, and making plans. I guess I’ll never be the stronger man.” Erin and CinderBlock’s vocals complement each other beautifully, melding together into sublime harmonies on all three tracks.

On “Destroy“, Erin sings of the damage she’s caused to a relationship, and wanting forgiveness yet knowing it may already be too late for that:  “I wish you’d forgive me. Cause I fucking hate this. The end of the rope, yeah, we’ve tied both the nooses unless you’ll have mercy AND JUST FUCKING SHOOT US! Give me a sign that’s conducive to Spring. Unless it’s too late and I’ve destroyed everything.” Her guitar work on this track is exceptionally good. “Fallen” seems to be about not allowing others’ expectations and possible disappointments in you keep you mired in guilt, and preventing you from moving forward on your own path: “Now I’m left with these scars that will not heal. The pain it devastates, but tell me, is it real? Sworn to a creed, their tired old motif. But this is not my cross to bear.”

One of my favorite tracks is “Echoes“, a dark song about a relationship that’s broken beyond repair. Erin’s skill at writing biting and meaningful lyrics is impressive, and I offer as evidence this line that so poetically expresses how two people who once loved each other could become enemies: “A smoke screen was raised, we could not smudge one another with no time to waste, how easy are foes found in lovers.” Her ukelele on this track is hauntingly beautiful, as are her emotionally raw vocals. And I love the excellent video that shows her singing the song in a graffiti-covered abandoned building that’s as bleak as the lyrics.

Splinter” speaks to the loss of self-esteem inflicted in large part by someone you once held up on a pedestal: “Oh girl, he’s just a splinter, his eyes whisper just a glimmer of the story you once told of gold in him” and the desire to feel good about yourself again: “Please, tell me I can be enough for anybody else. Please, cause I was so much happier when I could love myself.” Self-esteem takes a nosedive on the grim “Cheerleaders Smoke Crack“, another song about the struggles of addictive behaviors, with some brutally frank lyrics:

I watched myself burn out on the wrong side of the tracks,
I hitched a ride back, then watched myself fall off the wagon
It’s no use, I’ve tried, to hide in plain sight
This weight in my heart makes me try
a suicide attempt 26 stitches wide

Punk rockers, they never survive
They either burn out young or they change their mind
Not a safe place to be, for you or me
And junkies, they never grow old,
They either clean up their act or they overdose
And I guess, as long as they’re happy, I don’t mind

Alcoholics, truth be told, 
They only see their future in a bottle of Skol 
And I don’t wanna know those fools no more, 
I don’t wanna be that fool no more

And you scared me nearly half to death, 
You don’t look the same since you’ve been smoking meth, 
But we all have different ways that we lose sleep. 
We all have different ways that we lose…

The final track “Disturbia Suburbia” is also pretty unsettling. Erin plays ukelele, guitar and xylophone on this track, accompanied by a bouncy melody that sharply contrasts with the troubling lyrics about how suburbia is not all sunshine and green lawns: “An old friend killed himself before the start of Spring, I wonder if he left the weight of the world or if the weight of the world just left him hanging. / Leave it to me to get strung out, and freak everybody out then say, ‘I won’t do that again’. These days there’s nobody here, it feels surreal, so many years spent with kids I don’t even think I know, do they know me?  Disturbia Suburbia, and I hope we all get out, and I hope we all feel free.

Erin Incoherent covers a lot of heavy subject matter on Medusa, but it’s all deeply relatable and compelling, and sounds fantastic too. She’s an incredible songwriter and lyricist, and her guitar and ukelele playing are first-rate. I also like her strong, clear vocal style, which makes listening to her songs a real pleasure. All in all, I give a big enthusiastic thumbs up on this album.

Follow Erin on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream her music on Spotify / Apple Music
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes