NELSON REZEK – EP Review: “Nelson Rezek”

Nelson Rezek is a 24 year old singer, songwriter, guitarist, and multi-instrumentalist based in Birmingham, Alabama. I’ve followed him since he was a member of the heavy metal band Broken Rail, which he left about a year ago to pursue his own career as a solo artist, and it’s been gratifying to watch him come into his own and grow artistically. Nelson began his musical journey at the age of 13, when he discovered his passion for playing the electric guitar. While still with Broken Rail, he started writing his own songs, the first of which was “Too Far Broken,” which he released as a single in March 2016. He’s now released his debut self-titled EP, and I’m pleased to review it.

Nelson Rezek

For inspiration in creating his music, Nelson draws on influences from some of his favorite bands like Korn, Three Days Grace, Breaking Benjamin, Slipknot and Stone Sour. He explains: “Writing music is like therapy for me. Great music tells a story, and the beauty of it is it speaks to each person in a unique and personal way. I want to let people know through my music that they are not alone.” His songs address relationships and the myriad emotions they entail, such as lust, betrayal and regret.

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Let me state upfront that Nelson is a phenomenal guitarist, and his complex, hard-driving guitar work is a dominant feature of his powerful sound. The first track “Part of Me” kicks things off with aggressive shredded guitars and hammering percussion. Nelson coaxes some fiery riffs from his six string while he snarls the biting lyrics that speak to someone who’s sucked the life out of the relationship, but he’ll never surrender his soul: “Go ahead and take this lie I own, I don’t fear you anymore. Go ahead and take all that I’ve known, but you’ll never take this part of me.”

Nelson delivers intricate, layered riffs, anchored by crushing bass and pounding drums that threaten to blow the speakers, on the mesmerizing “The Enemy.” With his smoldering vocals, he sings of letting everyone down, including himself:  “I am the enemy. I will let you down. Something inside of me, will always let me down.” He calms things down in the bridge, with a quiet voice over accompanied by a gentle guitar solo, before the music ramps back up to a crescendo in the outro.

He shows his softer side with the gorgeous ballad “Too Far Broken.” The song opens with a gentle riff, then layers of guitar, bass and percussion are added, creating an emotionally powerful track. Nelson fervently sings of his pain from a relationship that’s failed beyond repair: “Where’d you go? Why’d you have to leave it all behind? Too far broken. Can’t you see all this pain you’ve bottled inside of me.” The little guitar riff that’s introduced in the bridge is beautiful.

Prayers of the Guilty” is a high-energy, hard-rocking standout track (though, quite frankly, all are standouts as far as I’m concerned). Fast-paced jangly guitars erupt right from the start, with no let up as Nelson emotionally sings of the guilt he feels over his having let a loved one down. “If I could start a new beginning, would I even get to change the ending. Maybe I wouldn’t feel so empty, but all we got now is prayers of the guilty.”

The excellent video starts off with a woman in emotional distress who releases a letter into a lake. Then Nelson and his back-up musicians are shown performing the song in a natural setting, interspersed with with flashbacks of the woman ignoring her father’s calls because she was busy with her band, and scenes of her regretfully recalling happier times spent with him as a child. The video was directed by Kevin Wayne.

The hard-hitting “Drive Me Crazy” lives up to its title, as Nelson drives us crazy with an infectious melody and scorching hot riffs. Songs like this with a hard-driving beat and killer guitar work always get me going, and this is one of the best I’ve heard in a while. It’s a real head-banger that’s best enjoyed played full-blast!

Every time I listen to Nelson’s songs, I’m blown away by his strong musicianship and amazing guitar playing. Nelson Rezek is a strong, expertly-crafted debut effort that he should be proud of. I’m impressed by his hard work and determination to make the best music possible, and will continue following him on his musical journey. I encourage my readers to do the same by connecting with him on  Facebook /  Twitter /  YouTube

Stream his music: Spotify / ReverbnationSoundcloud

Purchase it:  BandcampiTunes

EP Review: ALL TAKEN – “Accept This”

All Taken is a two-piece alternative rock band based in Los Angeles. Comprised of long-time friends Daniel Daghlarian and Avo Karapetyan, the duo formed in late 2015 and released a strong debut single “Burning Red” in 2016. The guys have now followed up with Accept This, a five-track EP which dropped on March 18, 2017.

All Taken meld electronic and hard rock components, along with a bit of 90s grunge, to create their infectious alt-rock sound. Daniel plays guitar and sings lead vocals, and Avo pounds the drums and sings backup. Listening to Accept This, the thing that stands out the most for me is their exceptional musicianship. Daniel lays down some fine, nimble guitar work, and Avo’s drums are right on point. Also, the guys have written melodies that are both compelling and overflowing with irresistible hooks.

All Taken

House of Wolves” kicks off the EP with some really terrific riffs, set to a catchy, start-and-stop beat put down by Avo’s hammering drums and a generous dose of crashing cymbals. The song seems to be about having a nightmare: “The house of wolves, they call your name. They’re baring their fangs at you.”  The great second track “Hollow” opens with a nice strummed guitar, then aggressive shredded guitars and strong percussion take over. The song’s melodic beat at times reminds me of “No One Knows” by Queens of the Stone Age.  The song’s lyrics speak of someone who’s a shell of their former self: “Remember me for who I was. Not as I am – Hollow.

Rather Not” has a mellow, almost acoustic vibe (albeit done with gentle electric guitar) until, at the bridge, Daniel unleashes an awesome blistering guitar solo before the slow acoustic vibe returns to close out the song. The change-up creates tension that fits the lyrics: “Shadows in an empty room Why would you leave so soon? Do you feel uneasy? My vision is hazy.

Secret” is loaded with hooks and more awesome guitar work, and the guys harmonize especially well on this track. The song’s about not being able to escape the person you really are: “Running from your secrets, whisper words they are the sweetest. The words you confessed are now regrets. You can run, you can hide, but you can’t change what’s inside.” The final track “Restless Nights” has a bit of a psychedelic feel, courtesy of the slow, distorted guitar that’s overlain by shredded riffs, buzzing bass and muscular drums.

All Taken have produced a very good debut EP that showcases their solid songwriting and impressive music skills. Check it out here.

Connect with All Taken:   Facebook / Twitter /  Instagram

Purchase Accept This on iTunes and Bandcamp

EP Review: SHIELDS – “Shields”

Readers of this blog know that I love Rock in all its forms – classic, alternative, old-school rock’n’roll, folk, hard, heavy metal, death metal, etc. And when great rock music (or any genre for that matter) is delivered with a sizable dose of humor, it can make for an especially enjoyable listen. Such is the case with the young rock band Shields. They play high-energy hard rock with strong rock’n’roll overtones, sometimes accompanied by humorous lyrics guaranteed to have you laughing out loud.

All natives of New England but now based in Austin, Texas, the four-piece formed as a band in the Spring of 2016, and consists of the Shields brothers Christian (lead vocals, guitar) and N.V. (drums, vocals), “The Event” (bass, vocals) and Mitch Silva (guitar, vocals). They dropped their self-titled debut EP Shields in late 2016, and it features seven top-notch tracks that run the gamut from upbeat party rock to more serious guitar-heavy tunes and slower, poignant ballads. They’ve been touring and playing lots of gigs since then to promote the EP, and their fun, highly entertaining live performances are attracting a growing base of devoted fans. A fellow blogger, Hope Romine of LIVELIFETHRUMUSIC, saw them live and wrote about how much fun and energetic they are on stage (you can read her post here.)

Shields

The EP kicks off with the head-banger “Hard Up,” a hilarious song about being a loser stuck in a dead-end job paying shit wages, unable to score with the ladies. The music’s great on this track, with some awesome guitar work, but it’s the racy, in-your-face lyrics that really make it:

I’m hard up. I’m broke, no cash means no sex. Who’s gonna bounce on me for a bounced check? Hard up, my friends call me iron man. All tube socks, left hand right hand.

The clever, comical video the guys made for the song is one of the most entertaining I’ve seen in a long while. Their sense of humor and playfulness is a joy to watch, and it’s evident they had a lot of fun making it. They’d sure be fun to party with!

The band rocks out with the hard-driving tracks “Same Old Show” and “Classic and Clean,” giving ample proof of their strong musicianship. Christian and Mitch kill it on their guitars, while The Event’s heavy bass and N.V.’s aggressive drums add power and depth to the songs. The lyrics of “Classic and Clean” are a double entendre, giving the impression he’s singing about a girl until you realize it’s his Corvette.

The band shows their more serious, introspective side with the lovely power ballad “Behind a Smile.” The mix of beautifully complex rhythm and electric guitars, weighty bass and crashing cymbals all working in harmony create a deeply compelling tune. The poignant lyrics speak to hiding one’s pain and heartache behind a fake smile. Christian’s vocals are vulnerable and heartfelt as he sings:

Pain in smiles, little white lies, pretending everything’s all right. Close the door, lock the world away. Shutting out the day today. Behind a smile hides a frown./ Behind this smile I’m going insane.

Twisted humor and party vibes come roaring back on “Girlfriend” – “Me and your girlfriend have better sex than you do. He’s doesn’t know that his girlfriend’s a freak. Yes she is! He doesn’t know that she’s kissing me. Yes she is!” and “The Party Song” – “Better not fall asleep at this party, we’ve got Super Glue, we got Sharpies. Better not fall asleep at this party, the things we’ll do to you, we got Super Glue.” But don’t let the crazy lyrics fool you; these guys mean business as they produce some awesome sounds on their respective instruments.

Closing out the EP is the excellent track “Every Time.” The song’s darker than the others, both musically and lyrically. The track begins with a gentle, mysterious guitar riff, soft soaring chorus and an eerie sound like something evil opening up – a Pandora’s box perhaps? – before shredded guitars, heavy buzzing bass and pounding drums take over. With an ominous feel to his vocals, Christian fervently sings: “What’s real and what’s fantasy? Collide while I try to sleep. At night I lie awake, praying for my escape. These shadows dance through my mind, every time I close my eyes.”

This is a well-crafted EP and a very respectable debut from a hard-working and talented young band that I feel have a promising future. To learn more about Shields, check out their website, and follow them on Facebook,  Twitter  and  Instagram.  Their EP is available for purchase on iTunes or Google Play.

Album Review: ASHES IN THE SKY – “Relentless”

Metal and Hardcore Rock – and all their variations such as Post-Hardcore, Metalcore, Death Metal, Death Core, Nu Metal, Groove Metal, Doom, etc. – continue to remain popular, with a steady number of talented bands making those types of music coming onto the scene. As a result of discovering several really good hardcore and heavy metal bands, I’ve become a bigger fan of those genres myself. One such band I recently discovered when their bassist contacted me about reviewing their album is Ashes In The Sky, a five piece hard rock/metal band from Long Island, New York. They released their album Relentless in July 2016, and it’s quite appropriately titled, with 11 intense, ball-busting tracks that will have you shouting fuck yeah!

Formed in 2010, Ashes In The Sky now consists of twin brothers and original members Patrick and Anthony “Javs”  Javino, and their ‘three best friends’ Dave Lombardo, Anthony Villani and Andrew Kohn. Javs plays lead guitar, Patrick hits drums, Anthony plays bass, Andrew sings lead vocals and Dave plays rhythm guitar and provides the brutal screams. They’re all from Long Island and share a strong passion for music. Like many bands, their sound is influenced by some of their favorite artists, most notably Metallica, Avenged Sevenfold, Bullet For My Valentine, Disturbed, Pantera, Trivium, Drowning Pool, Queen, and even The Beatles.

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Relentless opens with the gorgeous one and a half minute intro track “Spread the Ashes (A New Fire).” A simple, haunting piano movement starts things off, then strings, guitars and percussion usher in a sweeping rock melody that builds until it explodes into the blistering second track “Here to Stay.” Metallica’s influence is really apparent in this song, with a barrage of rapid-fire machine-gun guitar riffs, pummeling bass and hammering drums. Andrew Kohn passionately sings, with Dave Lombardo screaming the refrains: “No more fighting now, we are all here to stay / Conflicted by your laws no, I will always remain.

The band launches a full-frontal assault on the title track “Relentless.” The song truly lives up to its name, with guitars so hard-hitting and dense that they feel and sound like heavy percussion. Patrick Javino’s speaker-blowing drums ramp up the song’s intensity to even greater heights, and the ear-splitting vocals are downright fearsome. This merciless track will blow the hair right off your head! The guys don’t skip a beat with “Euthanasia,” a bombastic hardcore anthem about fighting against mind-control. With their furious vocals, Kohn and Lombardo spit the lyrics  “Don’t be a pussy, what the fuck’s it gonna do? / Why can’t I just say goodbye? You made me control everything yet nothing at all. Before me there lies a path of destruction.” The song’s bridge contains a military-style chorus “I don’t know what I’ve been told. Your prophecies are getting old.”

The next several album cuts fuse melodic arrangements with the band’s signature heavy metal instrumentals. “Coward” is more straight-up hard rock, with stunning, complex guitar riffs, power drums, crashing cymbals and soaring vocals that implore “You’re nothing but a fucking coward, using love to get your way. So please don’t ask me if I think that you’re the one to blame.” This is one of my favorite tracks – if it’s even possible to have a ‘favorite’ as every track on this album is pretty phenomenal.

Empty Space” is a great melodic track, with more of the band’s killer guitar work and a combination of both heartfelt and fierce vocals. The compelling lyrics speak to feelings of loss from a failed relationship: “I’ll say anything to make you stay. But words won’t fill this empty space / What is my purpose? What am I fighting for?” “Rain” starts off with a beautiful, rather mournful melody accompanied by multi-textured guitars, strong percussion and Kohn’s impassioned vocals, backed by guest vocalist Lauren DeLorenzo. Halfway through, we’re hit with a sudden blast of staccato guitars and guttural screams, then an onslaught of incredible guitar solos guaranteed to raise goosebumps.

The band unleashes its sonic fury in “Torn Away,” one of the standout tracks on the album. This jaw-dropping song kicks major ass! The guitars and percussion are nothing short of monumental, and the vocals are classic hardcore. As if Kohn and Lombardo’s powerful vocals aren’t fearsome enough, Kohn’s brother Tim’s guest vocals on this track are positively brutal. They scream “WHY!? Did it have to end this way?  (Couldn’t I make it okay?) All that’s loved is lost as I am torn away.” By song’s end I’m left speechless. I love the powerful video showing the band performing the song in a barn.

The final three tracks – “What Makes a Man,” the bombastic “Ene(me)” and “Fractures” – serve up more helpings of the band’s rapid-fire shredded and distorted guitars and heavy bass, along with both emphatic and hardcore vocals. All three songs are great, each clocking in at more than five and half minutes. “Ene(me)” is particularly brutal.

Ashes in the Sky is one of the better hard rock/heavy metal bands I’ve come across, and Relentless is a superb album, without a single throwaway song. Support these guys by following them on  Facebook and Twitter and subscribe to their YouTube channel, which features several videos of Tony Javs performing guitar cover solos of heavy metal songs. Stream their music on Spotify or Google Play, and purchase on iTunes or Amazon.

EP Review: THE PUSS PUSS BAND

Today I shine my spotlight on a singer/songwriter duo that goes by the fun, quirky name The Puss Puss Band.  They are multi instrumentalists Asa Galeozzie and Lee Pugh, a mainly studio based band from South Wales. Both have worked with numerous artists and bands in the UK and the Welsh music industry over the last ten years as writers & session musicians. They perform every aspect of their music: songwriting, instrumentals, vocals, arranging, engineering, producing and mixing. Asa plays guitar, bass, percussion, piano and melodica, while Lee plays lead guitar, bass and piano. The guys also have a sense of humor; on their Soundcloud page, they state that Asa plays tap shoes and Lee the mouth trumpet.

They released their debut self-titled EP The Puss Puss Band in October, and it features four outstanding tunes in a style the guys refer to as ‘jazz rock pop chill sounds.’ Their easy-going instrumentals and smooth vocals make for an incredibly pleasing listening experience – sort of a Style Council meets England Dan & John Ford Coley with just a touch of Dan Fogelberg. All those artists made really terrific music, and I think The Puss Puss Band’s music is in the same league.

The first track is the rather sexy “Feline Fine.” Sublime guitars and snare drum create a mellow vibe, and Lee’s beguiling vocals almost purr: “You got me working double time, you got me clocking overtime, you got me feline fine. And I know I can’t show you the things that I see, but sometimes I wish I could. Because you got something that makes me feel glad at night. And you got everything because you know you’re right.”  This is my favorite track on the EP.

The lovely ballad “Thinking of You” continues the mellow groove, but with a bittersweet edge. Its heartfelt lyrics speak about missing someone very deeply, and hoping they’re feeling the same about you. “I just wish that you could see, all the love for you I feel. But I’m descending in all this gloom. My heart free-falling like a lead balloon. Without you.” The guitars are especially nice on this track.

Alone” is a catchy, upbeat track with great chiming guitar riffs and Lee and Asa’s smooth intertwining vocal harmonies. The guys really channel the Style Council on this song. The pace slows back down to a dreamy haze with the enchanting folk-infused ballad “Perfect World.” Guest musician Patrick McDermott lays down some lovely banjo riffs over the guys’ laid back guitars.

The guys also recorded a great cover of The Cure’s “Boys Don’t Cry” a while back. Take a listen:

I love their smooth sound and am anxious to hear more music from these guys. Support The Puss Puss Band by following on Twitter and subscribing to their YouTube channel. Stream their music on Soundcloud, or purchase on Bandcamp.

Album Review: BRYAN HOWELL & THE STANDALONES – “Take the Risk”

Some music just makes you feel happy when you hear it. Bryan Howell, along with his back-up band The Standalones, makes that kind of music. Every time I listen to their new album Take the Risk, I can’t help but smile (and I sure can do with a lot more of that right now). After more than a year of blood, sweat and tears, Bryan Howell & The Standalones dropped Take the Risk in early August of this year, and it’s packed with ten stellar tunes that draw from a variety of rich influences: rock and roll, rockabilly, garage rock, power-pop, country, surf and indie rock, as well as the timeless music produced by Motown, Sun and Stax records. If all that’s not enough to get you excited, I don’t know what will.

Howell was born and raised in upstate New York, where he recorded Take the Risk, but subsequently relocated to Nashville to immerse himself in the vibrant music scene there. In a great interview with Shameless Promotions & Media (which you can view here), he stated that “pretty much every bedrock genre of American music—jazz, blues, country, rock and roll—has deep origin roots in the South. From any standpoint as a musician—great recording studios, great musical instruments, great venues, great players, great industry connections—Nashville has it.

Along with Howell – who writes the songs, plays rhythm guitar and sings lead vocals – for the album tracking in New York, The Standalones included Brandon Brault on drums, Matthew Copperwheat on guitar, and Dan Phillips on bass. After moving to Nashville, Howell assembled a new line-up for The Standalones with Ethan Sims on lead and rhythm guitar, and backing vocals, Wes Burkhart on bass, and Darren Darling on drums.

I don’t normally quote an artist very much in my reviews, but Howell has so eloquently described the album and the meaning behind his songs that I feel compelled to paraphrase him throughout this post. In another excellent interview with Jordan Mohler for the website Kill The Music (which you can read here), Bryan explained that the album “is a bit of a loose concept album, because it’s about putting yourself out there and going for it, picking yourself up as you realize not everything in life is perfect and living the best you can anyway. I guess at this point I’m dealing with basic human themes, wrestling with ideas about being human in what I feel is both a hyper-connected and really impersonal and cold time, and through the prism of growing up in the Rust Belt and what I see in society and people around me. But that said, there are also songs that are just about classic rock and roll stuff about girls, nights on the town, and having fun.”

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Now that I’ve provided a bit of background on Howell and where he’s coming from, let’s get to the music. The album opens with the rousing track “Your Saturday Night,” a wonderful, high-energy rock and roll treat that sets the tone for the entire album. A strong guitar solo kicks things off, followed by an explosion of rhythm and bass, big drums and Howell’s exuberant vocals that conjure up the joys of letting loose on a Saturday night. The guitar riffs and Howell’s vocals are awesome, and I could listen to this song over and over again!  The entertaining video is great too. Howell wanted the video to show the band playing in a venue where a lot of  bands start out – a typical suburban garage – and end with him living the artist’s dream of entering a theater to play a concert.

The album’s energy keeps flowing with the second track “Apologies and Promises.” The song’s fun, upbeat rock and roll arrangement contrasts with more serious lyrics that speak to letting go of negative, non-supportive people in your life: “Too much time wasting away, like apologies and promises / useless things I never miss / Too much time with so much to say / waiting for an open space / looking for an honest face.

Seriousness is cast aside for the deliriously fun throwback tune “Hot Summer Strut.” Combining rockabilly, surf and malt-shop vibes, the great guitar riffs and percussion are enhanced by hot saxophone work by Sam Kinninger. “Not Like the Movies” slows things down and brings us back to earth, with more serious lyrics about how life is not all happy endings like in the movies. Howell said that ‘movies’ is a euphemism for other things such as TV, social media or video games that people get lost in. At times, his raw vocals remind me of Mick Jagger’s in some of the Stones’ slower ballads like “Wild Horses” or “Waiting on a Friend.”

The subject is still a bit serious but the tempo ramps back up in “Time Marches On,” a track about how we all change as we go through life, and some of the friendships that once meant so much to us eventually fade away as we move in different directions.  Moving on in life is the subject of the poignant “Tough to Say Goodbye,” a very personal song for Howell. In an interview with Sound In The Signals, he stated that it “took on much greater depth when I vividly realized during pre-production and studio time that there was no way I could stay in upstate NY to pursue my music career. [It was] a somewhat bittersweet but cathartic song to track.”  The tremolo guitars in the song are sublime.

The energy level is turned all the way up in the rock and roll anthem ‘Cause I’m a Lion.” The song’s a defiant “fuck off” to conformity and boxing people in with expectations that don’t feel right for them: “And I’ve been stuck in this cage too long  / I’m sick and tired of all the apathy / No guts no passion / No dreams left to dream.” The rapid-paced, blistering guitar solos would make Chuck Berry proud. “Candy Store Love” brings a return of the catchy, malt-shop rockabilly that makes the album such a joy.  And “This is the Future,” with it’s punchy, stop and start guitar riffs, speaks to letting go of past hurts and bitterness and not allowing them to ruin your life from this point forward.

The closing track is the beautiful “Angel from the Lonely Coast.” Howell described the song as “touching on the rough underbelly of the Rust Belt – unemployment, heroin, fading neighborhoods – and a shaded biography of a few people I knew in the middle of it. Reflecting on my hope that these people can better their life and break free of their cycle, while noting the quiet bravery and heroism of people living honestly and strongly through an atmosphere like this.”  He felt it was the most fitting song to end the album. Guest saxophonist Sam Kinninger returns to lay down some haunting solos over the gorgeous swirling guitars. It’s a standout track and one of my favorites on the album. Take a listen:

To sum up, Take The Risk is a superb album by a tremendously talented and earnest singer/songwriter. The amount of time, effort and dedication Howell put into making this album is impressive and it shows. To learn more about Bryan Howell, check out his website.  Support him by following on Twitter,  Facebook and Instagram.  Stream Take the Risk, as well as his 2013 EP Lightning Through My Soul, on Spotify, and purchase them on iTunes, Bandcamp, or other sites offering music for purchase.

Single Review: BEN WRIGHT – “Starry Nights”

Ben Wright is a singer/songwriter/guitarist from Manchester, UK (a city with a vibrant music scene, from which have come a few bands I’ve previously featured on this blog). In his bio, Ben states that he writes acoustic folk/pop music that’s influenced by blues, reggae and rock. He released a wonderful debut single “Starry Nights” in October, along with a beautifully-filmed video. He said he was inspired to write the song “whilst travelling and sleeping in the middle of nowhere in New Zealand.”

The poetic lyrics describe the simple beauty of a starry night in the rural countryside, unblemished by the artificiality or pretense of urban life. “Looking down from high above, they’re flickering til the day is born. No artificial beams can reach the sky. No piercing sounds will break the night. Starry nights relive your innocence. There’s no delusions and no hollow men.”

Musically, the song has a lovely melody, with a pleasing acoustic rhythm guitar riff overlying gentle percussion and bass.  Ben’s soothing vocals perfectly fit the music, conveying a tranquil sense that everything’s alright with the world – a feeling that’s sorely needed at the moment. The gorgeous video, which shows Ben walking and/or performing the song by a lake, nicely complements the track.

Support Ben by following him on Twitter and Facebook. Ben also teaches guitar lessons on his YouTube channel, which you can check out here.  Stream the song on Spotify, and purchase on iTunes or Amazon.

Artist Spotlight – Sherpa

Well, here I am, once again reviewing another band from Europe, a wellspring of so much great music. The latest is Sherpa, a unique indie hip-hop/rock band from Bergen, Norway.  As with many international bands, Sherpa’s sound is a fusion of music influences from multiple cultures and genres: hip hop, indie rock, 70’s Persian, funk and jazz. As the band states, their infectious, high-energy music style is “a conglomeration of music from the seven mountains, hovering in a place between Gorillaz and The Roots.”

I spoke by e-mail with band frontman Babak Ziai, who was born in Tehran, Iran after the 1979 revolution.  He stated that his parents were very liberal and didn’t want to live under the theocratic government, so they emigrated to Norway.  Being an aspiring musician and lover of hip hop, he joined forces with Norwegian guitarist Johannes Vaage to form Sherpa in 2012. They subsequently added two musicians from the Bergen indie rock and jazz music scene – bassist Nils Henrik Sagvåg and drummer Tore Ljøkelsøy – to complete the band lineup.

Ziai explained that they wanted to create music that wasn’t bound by one specific genre, but rather fusing different genres to create an original eclectic sound that is raw and beautiful, using live musical instruments, and anchored in hip hop, indie and jazz.  When I asked Ziai how they chose the name “Sherpa” he explained that “Bergen is surrounded by seven mountains [it’s known as the city of seven mountains] and sherpas go places where the average man does not go. Sherpa literally means ‘man from the East’ and has a mystical esoteric aspect to it.”

Though Sherpa has released only a handful of songs, they’re all awesome. One of their first hits was “Rabbit,” an incredibly catchy tune with funky bass and jazzy hip hop beats, plus a bit of reggae vibe thrown in. Would not have expected such a funky song to come from a Norwegian/Persian band but I love it! Wishing it was longer, I kept hitting replay. It’s the kind of song they could jam with for 15 minutes at a concert.

Their new single “The Mind,” released in May 2016, is a hyperkinetic gem of danceable hip hop that examines the chaos of the mind. “It’s an interaction, a fracture in alignment between cultures like the Pharoahs and the Mayans. A place in our thoughts like Zion. Pure like the crystals in your tears when your cryin’. Gravity is holding you down, but you’re flyin’ and definin’. Chains will bring you back like a lion.  Time is changing like the state of your mind.”

The song opens with a brief funky bass guitar riff, then explodes into crushing hip hop beats, heavy bass and jazzy brass. Ziai raps at a rapid-fire pace and, halfway through, Persian music influences are introduced, creating a rich, complex sound that is quite exhilarating.  The video, filmed in London’s busy Camden Market, has Ziai singing the song while walking through the crowded market, further emphasizing the song’s frenetic intensity.

Another fine new track “Mantra” features exuberant synth-pop interspersed with segments of rapid-fire rapping in the style of the virtual band Gorillaz.

Sherpa is working on new music and plans to release their debut studio album in Spring 2017, and I can’t wait! Support these guys by following on Facebook and Twitter, and listening to their music on Soundcloud.

the h0nest man – Honest Music!

When it comes to music, I generally tend to connect with songs first through their melody and arrangement, then sometimes later with their lyrics. But that was not the case when I first listened to songs from the musician who goes by the artistic name the hOnest man.  His lyrics immediately grabbed me in a way I hadn’t felt since listening to the searing lyrics of Kendrick Lamar.  I was struck by his honest, powerful words sung to simple melodies – played mostly by really fine acoustic guitar and a bit of percussion – and quickly felt certain that his artistic name was not some bullshit, but totally genuine. I could sit and have a beer with this guy!

Born Doug Rose, the hOnest man hails from rural North Carolina and, like most singer/songwriters, expresses himself through the poetry of his song lyrics – wearing his heart on his guitar, so to speak. His music is a melding of rock, folk and Country, with a style reminiscent of The Band. In his Twitter bio, he writes “Haven’t got a clue what’s really going on anymore. I write songs with the intent of provoking thoughts and feelings.” And does he ever! Some songs, like the relevant and timely “Bully Pulpit” and “Just Desserts,” address head-on the state of things in America today. His raspy vocals make the songs all the more powerful.

One of my favorites is “Bully Pulpit,” a poke in the eye to the charlatans and frauds who prey on the public’s fears and create division for their own gain. “Now we got blues to the left, and reds to the right, throw a rich monkey in the middle and you watch them fight. Oh no, we better run just as fast we can. We got bullies in the pulpit and they don’t understand. How can we still call this the American Way?  Seems like our old way of living has seen it’s dyin’ day.”
https://theh0nestman.bandcamp.com/track/bully-pulpit-2

“S.O.S.” is more philosophical, accompanied by beautiful guitar. “Trapped in the desert plagued by shifting sands. Never knowing just where we’ve been. We watch the flags in search of helping hands. We’re finding far more foes than friends. Behind the shadows there are monsters. Now one of them might just be you.”

He shows his funnier side on another of my favorites, the Country-tinged “Curb.” “Well I tried to take the last train out of Clarksville, but they tore up the tracks. Walkin’ 15 South with a guitar on my back. Baby, open up the front door, my key don’t seem to fit! Now I’ve been walking for ten hours, please don’t give me no shit. She said, ‘I’ll give you every single bit I believe that you deserve! You ain’t been home in three damn weeks, and all your shit’s out on the curb!'”

The hOnest man also has a tender, romantic side, poignantly expressed in the lovely “Stay With Me.”
https://theh0nestman.bandcamp.com/track/stay-with-me-2

Show some support for the hOnest man by following him on Twitter. His songs can be purchased on Bandcamp.

Artist Spotlight – The Infinite Eights

Sometimes you come across a band whose sound is so unique that you just have to sit up and take notice. The Infinite Eights is such a band. Hailing from Tampa, Florida, the amazingly talented three-member alternative/indie rock band consists of lead vocalist Parker Wilkson (who also plays lead guitar and keyboards), bass guitarist Davin Norman, and drummer Tyler Hanks. What makes their gorgeous, richly textured music even more remarkable is their young ages; as of April 2016, Parker and Tyler are still high school seniors, while Davin is in college at the University of Tampa. The guys have a maturity well beyond their years, and their kindness and humility are very refreshing.

The Infinite Eights has been playing together for a while and, despite their youth, have already racked up quite a few accomplishments. According to their bio on Soundcloud, they won Crowbar’s annual Battle of the Bands in 2014. Shortly after, the band was the opening act for Aaron Carter, for the Tampa concert of his tour. In May 2015, they opened for Brian Bell’s (of Weezer) band The Relationship, as well as Gringo Star. Other recent engagements in the Tampa Bay area have included performances at Raymond James Stadium, WMNF Radio, Fox 13 News, ABC Action News, Tropical Heatwave Festival, Gasparilla Music Festival, The Orpheum, Orbit 19 and Market on 7th.

In December 2015, the band released their first EP Unfound, a collection of six beautiful tracks that deal with the eternal subjects of love, loss and troubled relationships. The lyrics were all written by Parker, with the music a more collaborative effort. In describing their songs, Tyler stated “I want to spread love with our music. Our music is very emotional and has a good message that I want a lot of people to hear.” Parker added “When people write us online and tell us our song moved something in them, I can’t even describe how much that means to me and the group. It’s the best feeling in the world to know that your music is moving people.”

I can’t emphasize enough how incredibly awesome The Infinite Eights’ music is, even better than that of many seasoned bands with years of experience. At their young age, these guys are already gifted musicians. Their majestic, sweeping sound at times reminds me of Coldplay (one of my all-time favorite bands, I might add), with delicate but formidable piano and keyboards, mesmerizing guitar and strong, though not overwhelming, percussion. Parker’s ethereal, heartfelt vocals perfectly complement the beauty of their music. In addition to Coldplay, the band says their sound is influenced by some of their favorite artists such as U2, New Order, The Smiths, Tears For Fears, The Cure, Muse and One Republic, among others, which explains why their music is so magnificent.

Here are three songs from Unfound that showcase the band’s exceptional talents:

Another beautiful, previously recorded song is “Chasing Fading Lights,” with superb intricate guitar riffs that call to mind the band Interpol:

The Infinite Eights music is available on iTunes, Spotify, Amazon, Soundcloud and their website http://www.theinfiniteeights.com/