ANDREW NEIL – Album Review: “Sunny Side”

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.

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

CLINT SLATE & IONA JAMES – EP Review: “The Silent Sea”

Sometimes the best things are born of chance encounters, and that’s exactly the case with the new EP The Silent Sea, a collaboration between French artist Clint Slate and Scottish singer-songwriter Iona James. Coming from different worlds, the two met serendipitously in early 2021 after entering a songwriting competition hosted by a radio station. The two hit it off professionally, and decided to write songs and record them together. The four-track EP The Silent Sea is their first in a series of planned releases.

For a bit of background, Clint Slate is the musical alter-ego of French singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Gregg Michel. Based in Paris, the versatile fellow has been involved in numerous projects as a singer, musician and actor over the years, and created Clint Slate (a variation of ‘clean slate’) in 2015 to further explore a more experimental side. He’s released three albums, beginning with this debut work Before the Dark, an exploration of his feelings of grief and loss after the death of his father. He followed in 2017 with his exquisite second album Woodn Bones, which was recorded in a single take and premiered in a live performance on the internet with a full band plus choir in a theatre. This past January, he dropped his third album Dragons, an innovative and imaginative genre-blended work inspired by his love of David Bowie’s album Earthling, which was itself based on the idea of a ‘cadavre exquis musical’ (or ‘exquisite musical corpse’). The brilliant album was created virtually and remotely, with the help of two other musicians, bassist Francesco Arzani and drummer Louison Collet. You can read my review of Dragons here.

Iona James is a nurse from Scotland with a life-long love of music. As a young child, she’d sing along with her mum to songs by the Bee Gees, Jackson 5 and Cyndi Lauper, then learned to appreciate classical music while playing in her school band. She later grew to love such diverse acts as Nirvana, Enya and The Cranberries, and began writing her own songs while learning to play guitar. She eventually joined the army and became a nurse, but continued to feed her passion for music by writing songs in secret. Iona made an attempt to satisfy her craving to be involved in music by joining the Scottish military wives’ choir, but it was her father-in-law urging her to do something she loved that finally compelled her to take a songwriting course. Meanwhile, working as a nurse during the pandemic brought anxiety, stress and dread, causing insomnia for her. She found solace in writing songs, and made a new year’s resolution to record one of them, which led to the release of her first single “To the Moon” this past January.

The first track “No Way Out” was released in advance of The Silent Sea on May 24th. The song opens with shimmery strummed guitar chords backed by spooky ethereal synths and handclaps, then Iona’s lovely vocals enter, accompanied by a warm bassline. Her vocals are soon joined by Clint’s as the music expands into a luxurious, moody soundscape, punctuated by jangly guitar and enchanting keyboards. The interplay between Iona and Clint’s vocals is really wonderful as they complement and play off each other in perfect harmony. The powerful lyrics seem to touch on dealing with personal demons and regrets over past mistakes: “Stranded alone, alone in the crowd. Prisoner in my own head. Can’t seem to find my way out. This haunted memory, merry go round. Grasping the last piece of straw. Can’t take this no more.” It’s beautiful and haunting, and I think it’s my favorite song on the EP.

On the captivating “Believe“, the two admonish us to not live in the past or fall prey to all the noise we’re bombarded with on a daily basis, but to instead remain cognizant of that which is good and meaningful in our lives: “Be free of what you see In the fake news you read. When your heart controls your mind. Embrace what you have, not what you had.” The song is really lovely, with a gentle melody built around watery chiming guitars and delicate percussive sounds. Clint’s vocals sound a lot like Bono’s here (he in fact performs as Bono in a U2 tribute band), and once again, he harmonizes beautifully with Iona’s clear, resonant vocals.

Tell Me Now” is a pleasing folk-pop song, with an opening guitar riff that sounds a bit like that in the 1978 hit “Reminiscing” by the Little River Band. The sunny, upbeat melody contrasts with the simple, bittersweet lyrics spoken between a couple coming to terms with the fact their relationship appears broken beyond repair: “Loving you was easy, but loving you could be so damn hard. I didn’t know trying to hold on would tear us apart.” “The Ticking Tide” is the longest and most musically complex of the four tracks, starting off with quirky synths that are replaced by a piano driven melody, which gradually evolves into more of a rock feel with urgent guitars and heavier percussion. Lyrically, the song touches on the relentless passage of time, and our powerlessness in its wake. Everything that’s happened in our past continues to shape who we are going forward, but we cannot let those things imprison us: “The ticking tide, waits for no one. Tomorrow is today. The ticking tide it tempts me, I’m drifting away. The ticking tide one day will set me free. Time is an ocean. We’re helpless, but time is in motion, forging us.

The Silent Sea is a lovely little EP, and a fine debut effort by this talented duo. Iona and Clint are both great songwriters and vocalists in their own right, and their combined efforts have paid off nicely in the creation of these wonderful songs.

The special edition includes the EP, four alternate versions called ‘The Naked Sea’, a Radio Edit for ‘The Ticking Tide’ and the digital booklet.

Follow Clint:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Stream his music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music

Purchase:  Bandcamp / Amazon

Follow Iona:  FacebookTwitterInstagram

Stream her music:  SpotifyApple Music 

New Song of the Week – MICHAEL LANE: “Good Times”

Last September (of 2020), I first featured German-American indie-folk singer-songwriter and producer Michael Lane on this blog when I reviewed his beautiful heartwarming single “Coming Home”. I also wrote a bit about his upbringing in both Germany and the United States, how his life experiences have shaped his songwriting, and of his growing success as a musician. A prolific artist, over the past seven years he’s released four albums, as well as numerous singles, helping him build a large and growing following in Germany and beyond. On Spotify alone, he has over 30,000 monthly listeners from countries like Great Britain, Canada, Australia and the U.S. Shortly after I published my review, Michael released another exquisite single “Moment” and now returns with his latest single “Good Times“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week.

As I customarily do when writing a review, I listen to some of the artist or band’s back music catalog, and once again I’m really impressed by the beauty and quality of Michael’s songwriting and vocals. His honest, relatable lyrics are consistently delivered with pleasing melodies, exceptional guitar work and soothing vocals. Released via the label Greywood Records, “Good Times” offers a message of hope and assurance that times of crisis will lead people back to the important things in life. Michael explains further: “Although ‘Good Times’ is a very upbeat and happy song, it still has a more serious and deeper meaning. Without getting too much into it, in the song I’m basically saying that, just because you surround yourself with a new house or nice car, doesn’t mean it will give you more happiness in the long run.“

The song has a breezy, toe-tapping melody, with an enchanting mix of gently-strummed and chiming guitars, accompanied by just the right amount of percussion and subtle bass to drive the rhythm forward, while still allowing Michael’s beautiful guitar work to shine. As always, his warm and clear vocals are heartfelt as he sings the poignant lyrics, backed by his own lovely harmonies. It’s another stellar addition to his unbroken string of outstanding singles.

You like drama but you never did like the truth
You sing songs to free the pain inside of you
Big house, new life helps to forget 
All the memories that you regret

Act so tough, but you're really just scared
Yeah you're really just scared to live
All these walls, and you took what I had
Yeah, you took all I had to give
Yeah, you took all I had to give

Good times never die, don't you agree
What's life if you can't live life for free
You have a heart , so just hear what it has to say
Everybody hurts, don't give up and run away

Act so tough, but you're really just scared
Yeah you're really just scared to live
All these walls, yeah you took all I had
Yeah, you took all I had to give

Follow Michael:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Stream/purchase his music:  Spotify / Apple Music

Fresh New Tracks Vol. III

For my latest installment of recent releases, I’m featuring four scintillating new singles by international artists (in alphabetical order) Favourite Daughter, Lazer Squad featuring Melotika, NAYAD and Alex Southey. Three of them – Favourite Daughter, Melotika and Alex Southey – are Canadian, Lazer Squad is German and NAYAD are Swedish.

“Long Distance” by Favourite Daughter

Favourite Daughter is the music project of Toronto-born and now Montreal-based singer-songwriter Julia Kennific, who’s just released her terrific debut single “Long Distance“. Drawing inspiration from such artists as Courtney Barnett, Hayley Williams and Julien Baker, she creates her own unique brand of infectious indie pop/rock through catchy melodies, honest, vulnerable lyrics and emphatic vocals. Julia wrote and sang vocals on the song, with assistance by Sam Eastman on guitars, Sam Donald on bass, Kate Markle on synths, Edward Scrimger on drums and Gabrièle Côté-LeBreux on percussion. The track was produced, recorded and mixed by Steven Gibb at Lites Down Studio, and mastered by Richard Addison at Studio Trillium Sound.

Julia elaborates on her impetus for writing the song: “I wrote ‘Long Distance‘ on an unplugged, rented electric guitar during a blackout on a night off from an opera gig I was doing in Halifax in the summer of 2019, in tears after a frustrating phone call with my then-girlfriend. We were spending a four month stretch away from each other while I travelled for work. Neither of us were communicating well, and our daily check ins became monotonous. Both of us kept up the charade that we were good, while allowing fear and resentment to build up, which ended up costing us the relationship entirely. It’s about trying to keep up appearances that everything’s fine, while running from the inevitable.

The rousing song features lively rhythms and chugging guitars, creating a cheerfully upbeat but anxious vibe that builds as the song progresses. It all works beautifully to convey feelings of running away from one’s problems, yet knowing you’ll have to face up to them sooner or later: “So it’ll feel like I’m dying till it doesn’t anymore / I’ll rebuild again, Lord knows that I’ve done it before.

Follow Favourite Daughter:  FacebookInstagram

“Eternal Eclipse” by Lazer Squad featuring Melotika

Lazer Squad is a versatile and talented electronic artist and producer from Germany who creates EDM, Synthwave and Nu-Disco music. He began his music career over 15 years ago as a drummer for a punk and metal band, as well as playing and touring with numerous bands as a backup musician, eventually transitioning to electronic music. In 2020, he wowed critics and fans alike with his excellent debut album Undead Nightmare, which he then followed with a series of singles. His latest effort is “Eternal Eclipse“, a mesmerizing EDM track featuring sultry vocals by Montreal-based singer-songwriter Melotika, a hard-working and charming electro pop artist for whom I have a special fondness. She’s released quite a lot of music over the past three years, and I’ve had the pleasure of featuring some of it on this blog. She will soon be dropping her debut album Dancing Without You.

“Eternal Eclipse” serves up an infectious EDM groove that aims straight for the hips, giving us three and a half minutes worth of joyous escapism. The timely lyrics describe what it feels like to be stranded in the middle of a global crisis with a loved one: “Everybody’s trippin’ out / Taken back, shaken up / Nobody even knows my name / Thinking about tearing down, and I’m singing a song. Singing alone. What can I do without you?” Have a listen and prepare to move those hips!

Follow Lazer Squad:  FacebookTwitterInstagram

Follow Melotika:  FacebookTwitterInstagram

“Holy Lakes (Dusk)” by NAYAD

Stockholm-based duo NAYAD create dreamy psych lofi pop, which they humorously describe as “Tame Impala, Lana Del Rey and ABBA had an orgy and the result is us” – a pretty spot-on characterization of their gorgeous sound. Last summer, they burst onto the Swedish music scene with their breakout Swedish-language single “Ingen vet”, then followed up with the English-language “Don’t be mad if I don’t come along”, gaining airplay on Swedish National Radio and other radio stations. In November, they dropped their third single “Holy Lakes (Dusk)” a stunning track celebrating their love of nature. Although the single is now more than two months old, I’m featuring it now because they just released a beautiful video for the song.

The song is utterly captivating, with achingly beautiful piano keys, accompanied by stirring atmospheric synths creating an enchanting soundscape for their sublime vocal harmonies. About the fascinating video, they provide a bit of enlightenment: “NAYAD loves mother earth. We immediately had a clear picture that the video for ‘Holy Lakes (Dusk)’ would be a journey through lakes and mountains, because that is the theme of the song. We used an introductory film to national parks around North America and cut it together with other goodies we have collected over the years.” Much of the imagery they used includes old footage of Yosemite and Yellowstone National Parks.

Follow NAYAD:  FacebookTwitterInstagram

“Rosie” by Alex Southey

Alex Southey is an indie folk singer-songwriter and musician currently based in Toronto. He’s released quite a lot of music over the past few years, including two albums: Christmastown in 2019 and last year’s You’re Not Just a Body to Me. Since that release, he’s dropped three singles in advance of his forthcoming third album …And the Country Stirred, due for release on February 5th. The latest of these three singles is “Rosie“, a hauntingly beautiful and deeply personal love song to his erstwhile hometown of Vancouver. Alex sang and played guitar, piano and the soaring string arrangements, Kenny Feinstein played fiddle, and Tommy Drinkard played pedal steel and mandolin. The track was produced and mixed by JUNO Award winner John Critchley and mastered by Aaron Hutchison.

About the song’s title, Alex elaborates: “Who is ‘Rosie’? I had been wanting to write about a place, but knew that I’d have to personify it. I was trying, failing, at growing rosemary naturally on my balcony and I began to find the word alluring. I fused it with this personification concept and it became the name of the person when in reality, the song is a love letter to Vancouver where I was born. I feel a sort of mysterious attraction to Vancouver. The city sells itself well, but has its pitfalls: rain all the time, darkness, basements, high price of living – it can all seep into you. For a long time, I was giving something to it and it didn’t give me anything back.” In his sublime and plaintive vocal style, he croons of his mixed emotions: “Rosemary, I can stay away / You say it well, then you take it away / Got no problem, follow up / You’re the one I say I’m from.

Follow Alex Southey:  FacebookTwitterInstagram

A CHOIR OF GHOSTS – Single Review: “Skin & Bones”

This past April, I featured Swedish alternative folk artist A Choir of Ghosts when I reviewed his exquisite debut album An Ounce of Gold. It’s an impressive and stunning work that turned me into a fan of this talented young man. The musical alter-ego of British-born but now Sweden-based singer-songwriter James Auger, A Choir of Ghosts creates beautiful songs drawing from folk, Americana, and pop-rock influences. He’s now returned with a lovely new single “Skin & Bones“, released on November 20th through his label Greywood Records.

Auger provided a bit of background for his inspiration in writing “Skin & Bones”: “The song is about the realization that you can’t always ‘fix it’ for the people you love. Sometimes they have to solve it themselves, and you can’t do anything but watch and hope for the best. In order for things to grow to its full potential, you sometimes have to let go. It’s a hard realization but I think a lot of people can identify with the feeling of sudden emptiness, when you come to something in your way that you cannot share, but rather have to go about alone. Your only hope lays in that once the obstacle has been passed, you can rendezvous on the other side.”

“Skin & Bones” has a simple but enchanting melody, highlighted by his beautifully-strummed acoustic guitar work and warm, comforting vocals that make for a pleasing listening experience. His vocals grow more emotional in the chorus as he assures a loved one that she has his support while she works through her issues:

It’s cold when you’re not home
Holding on to our skin and bones
You said it’ll be alright
But I can’t be there, to take the fight
Hold on darling,
You won’t get nowhere if you run
I’ll pray for you
Till the morning comes
The silence when we speak
Our dreams are far too weak
I can see it on my own
The wuthering heights, and the crushing lows
Hold on darling,
You won’t get nowhere if you run
I’ll pray for you
Till the morning comes

The video was filmed and directed by Dorian Vergensson this past summer in the beautiful Swedish countryside.

Connect with A Choir of Ghosts:  Website / Facebook / Instagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Apple Music
Purchase:  Amazon / Greywood Records

Cristóvam – Single Review: “Setting Sun”

Portuguese singer/songwriter Cristóvam grew up in the Azores islands, surrounded by music and the natural beauty of his home. His grandfather started the second oldest radio station in the Atlantic region, and left behind a massive record collection that captivated him as a child and teen, and influenced him to become a musician. Drawing inspiration from such artists as Bob Dylan, Ray Lamontagne, Bon Iver, Angus & Julia Stone, as well as the beauty of his surroundings, Cristóvam creates incredibly pleasing folk songs steeped in lovely melodies and poetic lyrics, and delivered with beautiful instrumentals and his warm, comforting vocals that sound like he could be from Nashville, Austin, or even Dublin. In fact, he reminds at times of Matt Nathanson.

Cristóvam released his debut album Hopes & Dreams in 2018, which I really enjoyed listening to as I familiarized myself with his music in preparation to write this review. It’s an outstanding collection of songs, and I highly recommend that my readers check it out on your favorite streaming platform. He then followed up earlier this year with the poignant and timely “Andra Tutto Bene”, which spoke to the struggles so many have faced as a result of the pandemic.

On October 9th, he dropped his latest single “Setting Sun”, a beautiful, uplifting song about two people so deeply in love that together, they can weather any storm that comes their way, or at least forget the troubles of the outside world for a little while: “Our love is like an island floating in the desert blue.” Cristóvam confides, “I started writing it in 2018, when I was on a holiday with my girlfriend in Sardinia, and sort of left it there. But this year, with all that’s happening and the world being such a strange place, somehow those lyrics resonated back with me, and the fact that I felt so lucky to find comfort in my own little corner, far out in the middle of the Atlantic.” 

The stunning video was filmed in and around the Capelinhos volcano in the Azores, and beautifully captures the romance and sweeping majesty of the track.

Connect with Cristóvam:  FacebookTwitterInstagram

Stream/purchase his music:  SpotifyApple MusicAmazonBandcamp

ART BLOCK – Single Review: “Borderline”

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.

Follow Art Block:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase:  Bandcamp / Google Play

MICHAEL LANE – Single Review: “Coming Home”

Michael Lane is a German-American indie-folk singer-songwriter and producer based in Germany, near the city of Nuremburg. He was born in Germany to a German mother and an American GI father, but spent much of his childhood and teenage years living in America, before moving back to Germany as an adult, where he now lives with his wife and son. Michael himself served in the U.S. military, and was deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan. A talented and prolific songwriter, Mike writes thoughtful lyrics inspired by his own life experiences, sets them to sublime melodies, and delivers them with fine guitar work and pleasing vocals.

Beginning with the release in 2014 of his debut album Sweet Notes, Michael has made a name for himself in Germany and beyond, even having his single “Liberty” chosen as the official song of the 2015/2016 Four Hills Tournament, Europe’s biggest international ski jump event. He followed up over the next five years with three more albums, his most recent being the outstanding Traveling Son, released in October 2019. He now returns with a lovely and moving new single “Coming Home“, released via Greywood Records on September 11th. Inspired in part by the COVID-19 quarantine that confined many of us to our homes for several months, Michael thought about how being at home has different meanings for each of us, in both positive and negative ways. And as different as people are, so are the emotions at the thought of coming home just as unique.

“Coming Home” is a message of hope and assurance that, in times of crisis, people will return to the important things in life. Michael explains: “The song ‘Coming Home’ isn’t just about coming home, but more about the feeling you get or have when you’re at a place that you would consider your home. Growing up I moved around a lot, and never really had a steady place that I could call home until I started my own family, and now I do have my own place to call home. It really is a sanctuary for my soul, where I can relax and enjoy the finer things in life.”

It’s a beautiful song, opening with Michael’s gently-strummed guitar and soothing vocals. He gradually layers additional sparkling guitar notes, along with subtle percussion, delicate synths and his own backing vocal harmonies, creating a dreamy soundscape evoking the warmth and comfort of home. He softly croons of his tender feelings for his loved one and their home: “Your smile warms me up like a fire inside / Our home is like a sanctuary for the soul / It will never get old when we’re here in our home.”

The beautiful video shows Michael walking along a path in the countryside at dusk, the fading light of the setting sun softly illuminating his face as he sings the song.

Follow Michael:  FacebookTwitter / Instagram

Stream/purchase his music:  SpotifyApple Music / Google Play

BLOOM DE WILDE – Album Review: “The Heart Shall Be Rewarded by the Universe”

Bloom de Wilde album art

Bloom de Wilde is a London-based singer-songwriter, producer and visual artist with a fascinating and eccentric avant garde sound. Born in the Netherlands to a Dutch artist mother and an Indonesian father who lead his own traditional Indonesian music ensemble known as Gamelan, Bloom’s experiences growing up in a multi-ethnic environment led her to develop an innovative and imaginative approach to her music. Drawing from an eclectic mix of influences by some of her favorite artists such as Radiohead, Jeff Buckley, Tom Waits, Björk, Billie Holiday, Chet Baker, Nina Simone and Toxic Chicken, Bloom fuses elements of dream, ethno and experimental art pop, folk and jazz with unconventional melodies and a rich mix of instruments to create exuberant, colorful soundscapes that transport us to exotic, faraway places. Moreover, her unusual and distinctive vocal style has earned her comparisons to Joanna Newsom, Kate Bush and Björk.

Bloom De Wilde2

Bloom has been writing and recording songs for several years, and some of her older tracks can be found on her Soundcloud account. In July 2019, she began releasing a series of singles, starting with “Soul Siren”, which won both the International Songwriting Award for best female singer songwriter, and the UK Songwriting Competition for Best Video. That October, she followed up with “Rock, Plant & Animal”, a hopeful ode to nature and earth. That song won the Alternative Friday Award for best Folk & Art-pop track. She later released two more singles “Atlas Cassandra” and “Do & Be”, and on June 12, dropped her debut album The Heart Shall Be Rewarded by the Universe.

Released via Dream Society Records, the album features those four tracks plus two others. I asked her why she’s calling it an album when it contains only six tracks. She responded that “format-wise it’s an EP, but content-wise it’s definitely an album.” The songs were written and arranged by Bloom, who sang all vocals and played several instruments including piano, Fender Rhodes electric piano, guitar, harmonium, glockenspiel, organ and synth programming. The tracks were co-produced by her and Nick Trepka and Sam Ritchie, who also played some of the instruments. In addition, ten other musicians played various instruments on the album, including flugelhorn, kora, viola, violin, trumpet, trombone, saxophone, tuba and double bass, all contributing to the songs’ lush, dreamy sounds.

About the album, Bloom explains: “These songs have all been inspired by the human beings and cats that are closest to my heart; and as we are all the Universe perceiving itself through infinite subjective perspectives, I feel it is via the Heart that the Universe speaks. In these strange and challenging liminal times, I feel it is possible for us to create a new reality – a life-sustaining harmonious world where people are kind and generous to all earthlings, human or animal, and look after the planet and it’s plant life with love and care. This album is an invitation to celebrate life in all its wondrous, colourful exuberance. Let’s sing, dance, dream, paint, play and meow a new world into existence.

Bloom opens her album with “Soul Siren“, a delightful song of love. Employing an exotic and lush array of instruments, highlighted by soulful trumpet and shimmery notes from a West African kora, she fashions an enchanting backdrop for her quirky vocals. She uses her voice like another instrument, reaching almost childlike high notes as her voice sweetly coos, then soars with an emotion-filled confidence in the choruses.  She sings of her strong emotional and physical connection with her beloved – she’s the siren to her soulmate: “I will show you all the secret hearts I’ve hidden in my chest. We could now do all the things that we always wanted to, but never dared. I’m all yours, your Soul Siren.”

On the pleasing and catchy “Do & Be“, Bloom urges us to just live our lives as simply and honestly as possible, keeping in touch with the real world and the natural beauty around us, and not overthink everything: “Sleepers should be dreamers, oh i know It’s so obvious it drives me crazy.” The colorful and whimsical video she made for the song showcases her creativity and playfulness.

Atlas Cassandra” has a rather dark spiritual vibe, with Bloom sounding like a high priestess as she croons against a dramatic and mysterious backdrop of tinkling xylophone, somber drumbeats and soaring strings. The captivating “Rock, Plant & Animal” is a beautiful, uplifting tribute to earth and nature. She explained her inspiration for the song: “I wrote this song for my children, about this living Earth I love so dearly, and all the precious life upon it. I believe everything in this world has a living essence, a soul, and all is connected. We are all One – Rock, Plant and Animal.” (You can read my detailed review here.)

The exuberant anthem “Animal Spirit” was written in 2018, and in a sense could be considered Bloom’s theme song. It expresses her philosophy – her inherent ‘animal spirit’ if you will – of her reverence for earth and all living things, and how she chooses to conduct her life on this planet, promoting respect for life in all its myriad forms: “I won’t stop, I’ll never give up. I’m inside this eternal movement. I will not be held back by darkness or heaviness. Never, never cease to be driven by the heart, by the art, the magic and the marvellous.”

Pale Moon, Golden Light” is a tender and languid ballad, with a more stripped-down sound consisting of only piano and light percussion. Bloom softly croons to a boy with assurances that her love can calm the savage beast in him: ” What’s the matter with you boy? Madness strikes under your window with a sword. Climbing up & down the ladder. Who is there? I’m there. / Could it be that you’re the one for me?

The Heart Shall Be Rewarded by the Universe is an utterly enchanting and eccentric little album that’s unlike anything I’ve ever heard by any other artist. Bloom de Wilde is a brilliant, creative and innovative artist, though I can imagine that her style and sound might not appeal to everyone. But if you like music that’s colorful, avant garde and thoroughly unique, you will enjoy this album.

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

NATH JACKSON – EP Review: “Dreamers & Deceivers”

Nath Jackson

June 5th was a popular day for new music releases, and I’ve been writing about a fair amount of it over the past few days. My latest entry is the new EP Dreamers & Deceivers by British singer-songwriter and guitarist Nath Jackson. I first learned about the talented Leeds-based artist last summer when I reviewed an EP by electronic music project The Ocean Beneath that he collaborated on. He co-wrote and sang the lyrics on two of the tracks on that EP, and I was really impressed with his beautiful vocals.

Nath has now released a collection of songs with his own debut EP. Once again, he collaborated with The Ocean Beneath, who produced the EP. Backing vocals were sung by his brother Aaron Jackson, with drums performed by Karl Rigby. The EP contains four tracks, the first of which, “Oncoming Storm“, was released as a single last December (you can read my review here). It’s a hauntingly beautiful number, highlighted by Nath’s gorgeous strummed acoustic guitar, melancholy but lovely piano keys, and gentle cymbals evoking waves crashing on the shore in advance of an oncoming storm. His smooth, clear vocals are urgent yet comforting as he sings to someone afraid of committing themselves to love or even to life, for fear of being hurt: “But it’s all too little too late. If life’s a game then you better play. From the upside to the down. The lost and the found. You better move soon before you hit the ground. And they’ve all got something to say. Waiting for those better days. From the love that you choose. There spreading out the news. Where do you go when you got nothing to lose? Nothing to lose.”

Setting Sun” was one of the songs he co-wrote and sang for The Ocean Beneath’s EP. Their version had a lush and mesmerizing synthwave approach in the style of Giorgio Moroder, whereas Nath’s version is more stripped-down, with stunning layered acoustic and electric guitars, drums and gentle orchestral synths. Both are wonderful and I love them equally. I love the sound of his vocals as sings of someone trying their damnedest to avoid committing to love: “Well you may be the last one standing. The devil’s on your tail but you keep on graspin’. Sail your dreams out to the sea. Pulling on the line and bring them home to me. The love light and watch it shine. And I won’t stop until you are mine. You don’t know what you’ve become. And you can’t hide behind the setting sun.”

The Beatles-esque “Blink of an Eye” starts off with just Nath’s piano keys and plaintive vocals, then the music gradually builds with added percussion, strings and guitar to become a beautiful, uplifting anthem. With his brother Aaron’s soaring chorus in the background, Nath entreats a loved one about what I’m guessing is an attempt to try and get their relationship back on the right track: “Maybe there ain’t time to look back. Trying to keep peace of mind. Staying on the right track. Well I guess no one’s to blame. Or in other words, stop sliding away, before it hurts. You keep on coming in and out of my head. Wanna say the things the things that are better left unsaid. We can dance under the moon. I’ll be your fool. Make up our own rules. Staring deep into space. And we’ll watch the world go by. Within the blink of an eye.

The title track “Dreamers & Deceivers” has an edgier folk-rock vibe, with a lively guitar-driven melody. I like the mix of acoustic and swirling electric guitars, and the organ adds a nice textural sound to the proceedings. The lyrics speak of both parties coming to the realization that their relationship is broken beyond repair, and it’s time to end things and move on: “Fingertips away but oceans apart. An exit to an overplayed part. As you stand, you dream and deceive your way to the end of the line. Hit the road always the first to say, it’s time now baby, bye, bye, bye. The air that you breathe, the money you need, it feels like you’re gonna explode. Hold on to one last look. It’s high time I gotta go, go, go, go go.”

Dreamers & Deceivers is a terrific little EP, and my only criticism is that I wish it had more than just four tracks. Nath is a fine songwriter, guitarist and vocalist, and I could listen to his pleasing music for hours. For now, I’ll just have to play his EP on repeat until he releases more music.

Follow Nath: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music on Spotify / Soundcloud/ Apple Music
Purchase on Bandcamp / Google Play