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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stream/purchase Rick’s music: BandcampSpotifyApple MusicYouTube

THUNDER FOX – Album Review: “Sanctuary”

One of the most uniquely wonderful bands on the planet is Thunder Fox, a wickedly funny, intensely creative, and outrageously talented five-piece based in Sydney, Australia. Drawing on elements of funk, soul, jazz, blues rock, hip hop, reggae and pop, they skillfully channel the sexy funk of Prince, the soulful croons of 70s-era R&B artists like Al Green, Ronald Isley and Teddy Pendergrass, and the brassy exuberance of Earth, Wind & Fire into their delectable music stew. And while their sometimes bawdy lyrics and playful antics would seem to indicate a juvenile zaniness – not to mention the fact they could all still pass for teenagers – their music has a stylish, jazzy sophistication, thanks to their exceptional songwriting and musicianship, as well as having both a saxophone and trumpet player in their lineup. Finally, though they’re all straight men, they’re not afraid to be playful and affectionate with one another, as well as tear down gender barriers by sometimes showing a more feminine side. As a gay man, it makes me admire, love and respect them all the more.

Thunder Fox has been making and releasing music since 2015, but I first learned about them in 2019 when they reached out to me about their hilarious single “Been Busy”, one of the tracks on their wonderful debut full-length album Love at First Sniff. It was most definitely love at first sniff for me, and I loved the album so much I wrote a review about it. Over the past two years, they’ve experienced a few lineup changes, and now consist of the dangerously charismatic Sam Dawes (Lead Vocals/Guitar), Travers Keirle (Sax/Vocals/Rhymes), Jesse Tachibana (Trumpet/Vocals/Synths), Max Vallentine (Drums), and Casey Allan (Bass). They followed with several more singles, a few of which I also reviewed (that you can read by clicking on the ‘Related’ links at the end of this post). Now they’re back with a second album Sanctuary, which dropped November 18th, and it’s every bit as delightful as Love at First Sniff.

Sam has written a marvelous background piece about their inspiration and creative process behind the album, and rather than try to paraphrase, I thought I’d simply share his eloquent words verbatim:

“‘Sanctuary’ is our second full length album, which marks the dawning of a new era for Thunder Fox in many ways. After having a couple of members leave the band and experiencing a few other obvious set backs during 2020/21, we needed a second wind. As an artist it’s really easy to lose motivation and focus when faced with challenges that draw you away from your art such as band member turnaround and, say, a global pandemic. As such, I think we all really felt the need to pick up where we’d left off somehow and find some momentum by creating again. With the addition of Casey the Bass Ace to the crew, it was a great chance to dig into some new and improved sounds and try to reshape our art in a way we had yet to explore.

We had the idea to stay in a far-off Air BnB during one of lockdown’s rare lulls, and managed to snag a spot at a beachside bungalow in Nambucca Heads in order to get away from the bullshit and just create. It was a week of literal bliss, at least for me, where we could all engage in art fully and be immersed in the creation of a project again. In all honesty, we didn’t have much of a plan for the album’s concept or soundscapes; we’ve always got so many ideas spinning from all the unique inspirations of the different members that half the battle is just taming the flaming bird’s nest of ideas into a nice, silky coif. What we did have, though, was a bunch of time on our hands, a cathedral-esque living room with high, echoing ceilings and a glistening sun to spill across the verandah as we sat and flicked through old recordings of rehearsal jams.

Now and then, we’d land on a groove that tasted sweet enough to revive and try to mould into a full blown banger. Once the songs started shaping up and I began to feverishly type lyrics into my notes app, the mood of the record began to take shape. Turns out I was feeling all kinds of put out by the doomsday that was the year past and my lyrics would tumble out of my brain like multi-coloured, cynical snowballs, building in size and scope as they rolled. If I were to describe the sentiment of the record in one word it would be “cynical”. More broadly, though, I think I’ve always weaponised cynicism as a way of attempting to understand the world around me. I felt cynical about the political climate, about love, about my day job and how I felt I’d never leave. It felt good to write it out.”

The album opens with sounds of a plane flying overhead, then the guys break into a gospel choir on the joyously upbeat “Head in the Clouds” as they sing “Something pulling me up out of my seat. Rather be anywhere than where I’ve just been. Smile but stay silent. Don’t want no one to see. Head in the clouds. It’s a glorious thing.” And a glorious thing it is, chock full of funky grooves, sunny instrumentation and uplifting harmonies, highlighted by Sam’s gorgeous silky vocals which often rise to an angelic falsetto.

He’s provided wonderful background notes for each song that are more colorful and interesting than anything I could possibly write, so I’m just gonna share them all. It’ll likely make this review too damn long, but fuck it, it’s my blog and I’m going to include them! Here’s what he has to say about this track: “If Thunder Fox are known for anything, it’s being able to avoid taking things too seriously. ‘Head in the Clouds’ came to me in a blue dream on one of those hot nights where your brain feels sticky. We wanted to open the album with some fun and familiarity before shit got real.

The album includes four brief interludes that serve as intros or connectors, the first of which, “A Party“, leads us into the funky gem “Good Time“. Sam sets the stage: “Early twenties, share house, undesirable shindigs with desirable chemicals. This night I wasn’t so much pissed off as I was hammered and concussed after having hit my head on the pavement following a few libations too many at the bar. I returned home to my lovable city dirt shed to find hundreds of people swarming. As I stumbled through the crowd, blood still tacky on my forehead, I thought to myself, ‘this is a great idea for a song.’ Luckily when we got to nutting it out at our makeshift writing space up the coast, Max had the perfect drum groove he’d been wanting to try for ages. It came together in a flash.

Each of the guys shine on this track. Sam starts things off with a funky little guitar riff as Sam and Casey lay down a soulful rhythm on drums and bass. Amid flourishes of Jesse’s jazzy trumpet notes and Traver’s cool sax, Sam cheekily complains “Why is no one acting like I’m the man of the house? No one at this party seems to know my name, and that ain’t right. Yeah, I’m pissed off coz I got here, and nobody offered me a good time.” Good times indeed!

The guys dial up the energy on “Not For Sale“, a bouncy, funk-infused take on the old adage that money can’t buy you love: “I know you got more money than me, but money is just temporary. Cash ain’t what it’s cracked up to be, when money can’t buy my heart, heart, heart.” The song has an irresistible Earth, Wind & Fire vibe, highlighted by the band’s signature horn section and Casey’s funky bass groove. Sam explains: “Casey, being a relatively new addition to the band at the time, brought with him a synth bass and a set of fingers carved by the gods. Man, he had such a groove on that pile of plastic, the rest of us were floored. We wanted to write something dark, but funky (duh) and bad boy Casey had just the stuff. I know I’m not the only one who had it etched into my brain early on by social media among other sources that success and happiness is defined by finance, followers and fame. Damn we were wrong. Sometimes we lose ourselves so immensely to the pursuit of materialistic ends, we forget how ridiculous it all is. I know I did.

The second interlude “A Circus“, featuring carnival music, unnatural-sounding neighing horses, and Travers’ quirky vocals, leads us into “Fruitcake“, a delightfully silly song with nonsensical lyrics like: “Moose ate my tooth paste. Said his tooth aches. Ate a few too many half baked fruit cakes, more than he could take. Now he’s a on a diet, trying to shift the weight lifting rakes by the lake.” Sam elaborates: “I don’t even know if Travers knows what this song is about – more millennial existentialism, I’d say – but it’s gotta be one of the most fun, hilarious and groovy tracks on the record. Full Travers, as we say. We came up with the groove and guitar vamp at a soundcheck in Townsville. We were just fucking around at the time but it resurfaced months later at the Sanctuary shack. We jam packed it full to the brim with Thunder Fox-isms and fuckery ‘til it made us laugh our asses off and we knew it was a banger.  Fruitcake was one of the many opportunities we all got to try and flex our production chops and collaborate using DAWs and samples, you know, like modern shit.

The guys tap into their R&B side on “Love You 2“, a sultry, heartfelt song about apologizing to a loved one for having fallen short, and reaffirming that you still love and cherish them. Sam explains: “Drawing from the same existential angst of the previous tracks, there came a time in the months following the writing of ‘Sanctuary’ that I noticed I’d let my material pursuits get in the way of the most important thing imaginable – delicious, unadulterated, full throttle, hyper-vulnerable romance, baby. ‘Love You 2’ is an apology, in a way. Apologising for allowing myself to become so distracted by desire, work and anxiety that I almost forgot to tell someone how much I fucking love their sweet ass. Heed my advice, friends, tell whoever it is you love them. Every. Chance. You. Get.” Accompanied by a languid, soulful and jazzy groove, Sam softly croons “Trying to sort out my life. I know we’ve been here like one million times. I love you too by the way. I’m sorry it took so long to say.

The 55 second-long instrumental track “A Dream” has more of an alt-rock feel than most of their songs, and serves as a fascinating lead-in to the reggae/ska/goth rock beauty “Blue Light Blindness“. Deliciously dark and melodically complex, the song calls out our mobile phone addiction. Sam elaborates: “‘Blue Light Blindness’ has a serious ring to it if you ask me. You know, us millennials and our god damn phones, right?! Seriously though, I couldn’t name a more potent drug than a smartphone packed with social media apps. We know it’s bad, it distracts us from the importance of self-worth among other things but, we can’t stop. I was listening to Kanye’s ‘Black Skinhead’ and Marilyn (fuck you) Manson’s ‘The Beautiful People’ and I wanted that hardcore triplet groove so bad, I wanted the darkness. Luckily everyone was on the same page with that one. This one started as another off-the-cuff jam we happened to have recorded on one of our iphones (good for something after all) and it was pieced together intensely on the first day of writing. When we added in the horns we realised we had some James Bond shit on our hands.”

There’s so much going on musically, from a bouncy reggae beat one minute, to a psychedelic gospel-like interlude the next, only to be broken by an explosion of goth rock distortion and mayhem before circling back to the reggae/ska groove. God damn, I love this song!

I love “The Weekend” too, on which Thunder Fox give us their delightful take on the drudgery of soul-sucking dead-end jobs that leave us in a continual state of living for the weekends. Sam opines on the subject: “More angst, more day job, more bullshit. Until it stops being the norm, I won’t stop writing about it. I mean, can any of us really imagine a bearable life that entails 5 days of working our asses off to afford 2 days of drinking away the stress? Not me. But, it be like that sometimes. We thought it was pretty funny to put the little kids voices (not real kids, just us, we’re not made of money) in there because it became apparent that this way of being was built into our psyches from the youngest possible age. Work, party, work, party, die. No thanks! The irony is, we made this song a party anyway, the screaming, the South American street festival dirty sax interlude is one of the best moments on the album hands down.”

The song is another melodically complex track, starting off with swirling guitar notes and quirky otherworldly childlike sounds, followed by a few seconds of children’s – that is, the band’s – sing-song voices. The song quickly transitions to a lovely melody with Sam’s beautiful smooth vocals, which are abruptly broken when he wails “I don’t wanna wait for the weekend! No!” The song returns to it’s melodic groove, as Sam laments “I feel like crying when I clock in. Feel my soul dying for a few cents. A hundred hours to cover rent. All this shit just makes me sick. The clock it ticks from nine til six. I don’t wanna wait for the weekend! No!” Man, can I relate! At around 2:20, we’re treated to a jazzy trumpet and sax-fueled burst of energy as the melody briefly turns into an exhilarating Latin-esque dance beat. These guys just keep blowing me away with their inventiveness and musicality.

A Lapse” is a minute and a half long instrumental featuring super-gnarly, funky grooves that would make Grandmaster Flash proud. This lead us to “All the Stars“, a sexy and soulful song that sort of continues with the theme introduced on “The Weekend”, namely, what is the point of all this disorder and uncertainty in life? Sam elaborates: “Ah, sweet entropy, the cause of, and solution to all of life’s entropy. I wrote this as a poem in another one of my moments of existential disaster, still reeling from a day of working a call-centre job of all things. Believe me when I tell you there’s no stronger vacuum to suck the soul right out of the holes in your face than a fucking call-centre job. Anyway, ‘All the Stars’ is the epiphany that this happens to all of us at some point in our lives, maybe even forever. We’re all stars really, but we sure as hell don’t act like it. We run in circles trying to make sense of this chaos. All of us. One of my favourite elements of this one is the longing, weeping horns after the chorus. When Jesse and Travers get together to dream up a perfect horn line, they never miss.”

The first part of the song is gorgeous, with shimmery guitars, glittery synths, and those weeping horns layered over Casey’s sensuous bassline and Max’s restrained percussion, creating a dreamy, enchanting soundscape for Sam’s resonant falsetto. Two-thirds of the way in, the song abruptly shifts into high gear to become a rousing punk-rock banger, with blaring horns and frantic rhythms. It’s simply perfect!

The album closes with “The Stew“, a wild and funky ride with more grooves than a box full of vinyl records. I love the soulful James Brown-like vibe, driven by a funky bassline and stuttering drumbeats, and highlighted by fluttering horns and Sam’s rapid-fire vocals. Sam sez “This track is a band favourite from way back. We wrote it in 2017 and played it at a few shows but it never really saw the light of day and faded away eventually. When it came to putting together a track listing for ‘Sanctuary’, we listened to an old live recording of “The Stew” and all agreed we’d be crazy not to show this off. To me, ‘The Stew’ is Thunder Fox’s anthem. It perfectly sums up our chaotic mixture of anything and everything that brings us joy. It’s more than the sum of its parts, to say the least. When I wrote the lyrics, I was riding high on a wave of rockstar ego that feels so real when it hits but, when you wake up to jackhammers in your brain, you remember you’re so full of shit and you’re going to work hung over. I really wanted to just take the piss out of myself in a song, try bring myself back down to the ground. Here, I get in touch with my sarcastic, self-depreciating British roots. When all is said and done, I’m fully aware that I’m not God’s gift… Thunder Fox is.”

I wholeheartedly second that, as I adore this band, and adore this brilliant album. With Sanctuary, Thunder Fox has one of the best albums of the year on their hands, and it should also be in yours.

Follow Thunder Fox:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music: Spotify / Soundcloud / YouTube / Deezer
Purchase:  Bandcamp / Amazon / iTunes

SAM RAPPAPORT – Single Review: “Journeyman’s Ballet”

Sam Rappaport is an engaging, tousle-haired singer-songwriter based in Brooklyn, New York, and he’s just released a wonderful new single “Journeyman’s Ballet“. It’s his second single as a solo artist, following the release this past February of his debut single “Till the Morning Comes”. Sam is also a founding member of Brooklyn indie R&B/blues rock band Gooseberry, who’ve released a number of terrific singles over the past couple of years.

Growing up in the San Fernando Valley of Southern California, Sam began playing piano at the tender age of five, however, he never considered himself good enough to be a “musician”. Throughout his youth and well into his years at Vassar College, basketball was his first love. But as he told NYS MUSIC earlier this year for their article about his debut single: “I held onto the NBA dreams as long as I could, but once I hit college it was pretty clear that those dreams were out of reach. Still, I spent the first three years of college thinking that I’d end up overseas playing in some Euro league. I remember finishing a practice my senior year, running to the bathroom, heaving all the liquid in my body into a trash can, and thinking–I don’t want to do this anymore. So I quit.

After college, Sam worked at a variety of jobs, including as a case manager at a welfare office, a reporter for local newspapers and a bartender at a Sichuan restaurant. But through it all, he never lost his passion for music. He settled for a few years in Chicago, where he played keyboards for R&B singer Brandon James, then relocated to Brooklyn, where he honed his music skills by playing at open mics, house parties and comedy shows. Through those performances, as well as his live shows with Gooseberry – not to mention both his and Gooseberry’s fine music releases – he’s garnered a growing base of loyal fans and followers. I was amazed by the outpouring of love and support for Sam and his single on Instagram today.

“Journeyman’s Ballet” was written and sung by Sam, who also played piano. The remaining instruments were played by Daniel Alvarez and Jordan Dunn-Pilz of the band Toledo, who also produced the track. Mastering was done by Mike Kalajian of Rogue Planet Mastering. The song has a pleasing jazzy soft-rock vibe reminiscent of late 70s/early 80s Steely Dan. Sam’s sparkling piano keys are nicely complemented by Daniel and Jordan’s lilting guitar notes and gentle percussion that enhance, rather than overpower, allowing his lovely piano to really shine. Sam’s smooth, understated vocals are soothing and lovely, and perfectly suited to the song’s languid melody.

About the song’s title, Sam explained it’s “about the dance of someone who is avoidant, always on the move, always looking to escape, to outrun the monsters within. This dance does welcome isolation.” The lyrics speak to those operating under the delusion that they can escape their problems or outrun their personal demons, hoping for a desired outcome simply by changing jobs, romantic partners or where they live, without directly addressing their inherent issues first. (I hate to admit that I’ve been guilty of this myself more than once.) In the song’s chorus, he ponders “Who are we for the mile we walk alone? Who are we when the lies become our home? Who are we when the night turns day, and the monsters still remain.

For the song’s video, Sam enlisted the help of Cassandra Angelini-Vazquez, who dressed him in a tutu and filmed him at Coney Island. Unfortunately, the video won’t be ready for several more days, so for now we’ll have to settle for this audio and a still of Sam standing in New York Bay.

Sam’s music may be found on: SpotifyApple MusicYouTubeAmazonBandcamp

GRANFALLOON – Single Review: “Working On Your Own”

Granfalloon is the music project of Manchester, England-based singer-songwriter, producer and guitarist Richard Lomax. Using acoustic guitars, synthesizers and unusual instruments such as vintage Omnichords and drum loops, he creates his own unique and pleasing style of music that’s a hybrid of lo-fi alternative folk, experimental and electronica. His warm, soothing vocals are wonderful, reminding me at times of U2 front man Bono. We’ve followed each other on Twitter for several years, but I’ve been remiss by never having featured him on this blog. I’m now remedying that sorry situation on the occasion of the release of his new single “Working On Your Own“.

According to bio info provided on his website, Lomax became a musician later than most, and when he did, in 2003, it felt, in his words “like opening a door from a world of black and white to a universe bathed in a spectrum of mesmerising colour.” He took an avant-garde music course, and after honing his skills fronting surf rock bands and the psychedelic folk-pop collective Johnny5thWheel&thecowards, he relocated to Manchester in 2013. Granfalloon was born in 2017 after an operation temporarily left him with limited mobility. While in recovery, he recorded his debut album Down There For Dancing. He performed most of the music using his acoustic guitar, Omnichord and lo-fi drum machines, although he was assisted by a few musicians on added guitar, bass and percussion on some tracks. It’s a lovely work, and I strongly encourage my readers to check it out on one of the music platforms listed at the end of this post.

He released his beautiful second album RGB in 2019, this time with assistance from a greater number of musicians to help him produce larger, more fully-realized soundscapes. He also began touring the UK and Europe as a full band, as well as performing at Bluedot Festival. RGB‘s singles garnered airplay on BBC Introducing and BBC 6 Music.

He’s now set to release this third album Positive Songs in August, featuring 11 tracks produced for The Positive Song Project, which was launched by Lomax and his friend Lobelia Lawson during the first lockdown of 2020. He invited songwriters to create new music, challenging themselves to focus on positive aspects and feelings. Lomax elaborates: “The idea formed from a conversation I was having with Lobelia Lawson, the co-founder of PSP, about how a lot of inspiration for our songs comes from a place of introspection or melancholia, anger or pain. We thought we would challenge ourselves & other musicians to focus on positive songwriting. Maybe it began as a way of managing anxiety or as a refusal to let the cancellation of gigs completely take music away but it soon become this weird positive energy… this propulsive force which grew into something very special.” Thus far, the project has resulted in the creation of over 300 tracks by artists from around the world.

“Working On Your Own” is the second single from Positive Songs, following the first single “Who You Are”, which was released in June. Lomax states the song “had such a strange journey, starting off as an intensely personal one about the loneliness of shift work, and then when Lockdown started it became perversely relatable.” For the recording of the track, Lomax played guitar and sang vocals, Daz Woodcock played bass, synths and sang backing vocals, Thirds played guitar, piano and sang backing vocals, Richard Jupp played drums, Andy Lyth played percussion and Maya McCourt played cello.

The song has a mellow, easy listening vibe, with touches of folk and jazz that make for a calm, yet compelling groove. Each of the instruments are allowed to shine, from the gentle acoustic guitar notes, subtle bassline and jazzy drums to the charming baby piano keys, cool percussion and lovely cello. Lomax’s smooth vocals are sublime, with a sophisticated air that’s still accessible and comforting as he earnestly sings about our human need for connection, and the loneliness of working the late shift where there’s no one to talk to or engage with. Woodcock’s and Thirds’ backing harmonies are really nice too.

Shift workers of the world unite
And bathe yourself in Picadilly's multicolored lights
When the human touch that means so much
Is a phantom limb on social crutches
Keep a little kind in your heart

When you're working on your own
On the edge, on the edges of civilization
Saturday night is the loneliest night of the week

If you download the song on Bandcamp, you’ll also receive an exclusive free bonus download of Granfalloon’s cover of the Zombies’ song “Care Of Cell 44”. 

Catch Granfalloon at one of these upcoming shows:

Aug 27 – The Yard Manchester, Manchester, UK

Aug 29 – EBGBS. Liverpool, UK

Aug 30 – Bolton Food & Drink Festival, Bolton, UK

Follow Granfalloon:  FacebookTwitterInstagram

Stream his music:  SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloud

Purchase:  Bandcamp 

LYIA META – Single Review: “This One’s For You”

One of my favorite female vocalists is Malaysian singer-songwriter Lyia Meta, who I’ve featured numerous times on this blog over the past three years. (You can read some of my previous reviews listed under “Related” at the end of this post.) Based in Kuala Lumpur, Lyia is an exceptionally talented, gracious and strikingly beautiful woman, with a dazzling powerhouse voice to match. I honestly believe she could sing just about anything! She’s also a highly accomplished visual artist, and you can check out some of her phenomenal work on her WordPress blog

With her deep, soulful and smoky vocal style, combined with a masterful ability to cover multiple genres ranging from blues, rock and metal to pop and country with ease, she’s become an international music star, winning numerous awards over the past several years, including the 2018 Josie World Music Artist Award, and 2019 Artist of the Year (multi Genre), both of which were presented to her in Nashville, Tennessee. More recently, she’s been nominated for a Texas Sounds International Country Music Award 2021, and her hard rock song “We Are Lords” has been nominated for a Munich Music Video Award, is a finalist for Best Original Song in the UK International Music Video Awards, and made the first ballot for consideration of a Grammy for Metal Performance by The Recording Academy. And on April 18th, Lyia participated in the Ladies Who Rock For A Cause Virtual Music Festival, whose goal was to raise awareness and funds for ataxia, an incurable and rare neurological disease.

Photo by Khahin Meta

A prolific artist, Lyia released six singles in 2020, and has already dropped two this year, the latest of which is “This One’s For You“. While she often writes her own songs, she also collaborates with other songwriters and musicians from time to time, not only to broaden her own musical horizons, but also to support other songwriters. “This One’s For You” was written by Los Angeles-based songwriter Denise Dimin, and produced by Nashville-based Bob McGilpin, who also played guitar, bass, piano and drums.

The song is sublime, with a retro adult contemporary feel similar to some of the great torch songs of the 50s and early 60s by such artists as Ella Fitzgerald, Julie London, Nat “King” Cole and Frank Sinatra. Bob McGilpin’s musical arrangement is brilliant, and I love his tinkling piano keys and guitar notes that give the track a cool jazzy vibe. Lyia’s smoky vocals are smooth and lovely, perfectly complementing the track’s mellow arrangement. But they’re emotive and heartfelt too, conveying a sad resignation as she sings the bittersweet lyrics addressed to the woman who’s now with the man she once claimed.

This one's for you
You're the one who has taken my place
You won, guess I should bow out with grace
Be happy with my pride

My hat is off to you
You did what I just never could
Though you know I always thought that I would
God knows I've tried

If you think you'll make him happy
Go on, you got the best
Give him good times
Give him love
And for me, there's nothing left

I raise my glass to you
You succeeded where I always failed
Guess things are good, but oh what the hell
I guess you're satisfied

Thanks to you, I'm free
I do what I please
Right now, I'm just not sure what that means
Sometimes it hurts so much inside

I didn't think this could happen
It's all a big mistake
You've got him now
You've got his love
And who is to blame

Cause if you think you'll make him happy
Go on, you've got the best
Give him good times
Give him love
And for me, there is nothing left

The official video shows Lyia in her element at a recording session at Big A Productions in Kuala Lumpur.

Connect with Lyia: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream her music on Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music / Reverbnation
Purchase on iTunes / Amazon

THUNDER FOX – Single Review: “Sunday”

Thunder Fox is a wickedly funny and intensely creative band of guys hailing from Sydney, Australia who artfully blend generous helpings of funk, soul, blues rock, hip hop, jazz and pop into their delectable music stew. While their often bawdy lyrics and playful antics would seem to indicate a juvenile zaniness – not to mention the fact they all still look like teenagers – their music has a stylish and jazzy sophistication, thanks to their great songwriting and musicianship, including having both a saxophone and trumpet player in their lineup.

They’ve been making and releasing music since 2015, but I first learned about them in 2019 when they reached out to me about their hilarious single “Been Busy”, one of the tracks on their devilishly entertaining debut album Love at First Sniff. I became an instant fan and loved the album so much I wrote a review. Since the release of that album, the band experienced a few lineup changes, and now consists of the very talented Sam Dawes (Lead Vocals/Guitar), Travers Keirle (Smooth Sax/Vocals/Rhymes), Jesse Tachibana (Trumpet/Vocals/Synths), Max Vallentine (Drums), and Casey Allan (Bass).

Thunder Fox has been working on a new album, and have dropped three singles thus far – “Communicate” and “Smokin’ on Loosies” (which I also reviewed) in 2020 – and their latest “Sunday” on March 4th. It’s a sweet song of love and devotion to someone who makes you happy to be alive. Lead vocalist and songwriter Sam Dawes explained: “I was inspired to write the song on one of those sunny Sunday mornings when you wake up next to someone you love and the birds seem to sing even sweeter than ever before. It’s about having the whole day to spend with the one you love, doing whatever you want.” The song features many of the band’s signature music touches we’ve come to love – a deliciously sultry vibe, funky laid-back grooves, and bold flourishes of jazzy brass, all coming together to create a warm, sexy backdrop for Sam’s silky and seductive vocals that hover between a come-hither croon and saucy falsetto. I love the song and I love this band!

The sweet video, which was produced by band member Jesse Tachibana, who also directed it along with Lewis Clark, stars Sam as a man walking the streets and alleys of Sydney, gradually removing articles of clothing as he sings. A young woman, played by Natalia Hutchen, starts to follow him, eventually picking up and putting on his discarded white shirt, at which point she walks alongside him as he offers her one of his earbuds.

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New Song of the Week – THUNDER FOX: “Smokin’ on Loosies”

Thunder Fox is a wickedly funny and intensely creative group of guys hailing from Sydney, Australia who skillfully blend generous helpings of funk, blues rock, soul, hip hop, jazz and pop into their delectable music stew. In their own words, they serve “gooey hot horntastic shreddage, the best sauce for your ears ‘n eyes, causing sonic copulation worldwide“, which pretty much describes their devilishly entertaining sound. While their sometimes bawdy lyrics and playful antics would seem to indicate a juvenile zaniness, their music has a stylish and jazzy sophistication that reveals what skilled songwriters and musicians these guys really are.

They’ve been making music since around 2015, but I first learned about Thunder Fox when they reached out to me exactly one year ago today with their hilarious single “Been Busy”. They released their album Love at First Sniff a week later on Halloween and I loved it so much I wrote a review. The title was certainly apropos, as it was ‘love at first sniff’ for me! Since the release of that album, the band has undergone some changes in lineup, and now consists of Sam Dawes (Lead Vocals/Guitar), Travers Keirle (Smooth Sax/Vocals/Rhymes), Jesse Tachibana (Trumpet/Vocals/Synths), Max Vallentine (Drums), and newest member Casey Allan (Bass).

They followed up this past August with their single “Communicate”, and now return with yet another brilliant single “Smokin’ on Loosies“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week. The track was self-produced by Thunder Fox, mixed by long time mixing partner Daniel Willington, (Battlesnake, Good Lekker, Florian) and mastered by Steve Smart (Ocean Alley, Midnight Oil, Alex the Astronaut) at Studios 301 in Sydney. With their signature soulful and bluesy funk-infused grooves, the band delivers a powerful condemnation of greed and misinformation.  

Lead vocalist Sam Dawes elaborates on the song’s meaning and intent: “‘Smokin’ on Loosies’ represents a shared disgust at western society’s unaddressed flaws that are leading to widening class division, planetary destruction and a failure to address the ongoing systemic persecution of marginalised groups within our communities. Mostly, the song is about being able to see clear as day what is causing these issues – be it the greedy elite, susceptible conspiracists or casual, misinformed hatred – and feeling powerless against it because it just keeps happening, all the time. It’s not exactly a happy song – it’s not supposed to be – but it’s full of honest grit and angry words that help me deal with some of the more fucked up problems that our world faces on a day-to-day basis.”

Over Casey’s deliciously funky bass line, the band layers a colorful mix of grimy guitars, tinkling piano keys, and crisp percussion, highlighted by Jesse’s soulful trumpet blasts that really make this a great song. I love Sam’s silky vocals that go from sultry croon one moment to cheeky falsetto the next as he sings “Money, power, keeping us blind / Everybody steppin’ in line / I think about it all the time / The cash cow that you worship got a shriveled-up teat / Pass the wealth through generations, but forgot to pass the heart.” The song seems to end at around 2:50, then starts back up with a terrific 30-second-long bluesy guitar solo that fades out with distorted reverb. I love it!

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Stream their music: Spotify / Soundcloud / YouTube / Deezer
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New Song of the Week – ATTALIE: “Homeless”

Singer/songwriter Attalie has one of the most amazing and distinctive vocal styles of any artist I’ve come across. Using her colorfully expressive and soulful voice almost like a musical instrument, she produces exquisite vocal sounds and textures with incredible depth and emotional range. In December 2018, she released her marvelous debut EP Polluted, featuring three excellent songs drawing from soul, jazz, Latin and African music influences, then followed up in April 2019 with a wonderful medley of the three tracks, “Polluted: The Medley“, which I reviewed.

Now Attalie returns with a mesmerizing new single “Homeless“, the lead single from her forthcoming second EP Sigh, due out November 5. The track was co-produced by Attalie and Tshepang Ramoba, and mixed by Kudzie Mutizira. Together, they’ve created a bewitching musical arrangement with soulful piano, guitar and percussion, and highlighted by well-placed flourishes of jazzy trumpet. It’s an utterly captivating backdrop for Attalie’s rich and deeply emotive vocals. 

About the song’s meaning, Attalie explains: “‘Homeless’ represents the loss of direction one faces when confronted with an unexpected turn of events. This can disrupt the comfortability associated with one’s space, further accentuating lack of direction.” Her smoky vocals beautifully capture this agonizing sense of loss and aimlessness, practically ripping at our heartstrings as she painfully laments:

It doesn’t feel like home anymore
It just doesn’t feel like home anymore

A stranger at home, have I become?
A stranger at home, am I?
Homeless, have I become, hey?
Homeless? Am I?
Disconnected, I feel so, disconnected

Have I become? Homeless

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Stream “Homeless” on Spotify / SoundcloudGoogle Play
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A BLUE FLAME – Album Review: “The Secret Breeze”

British singer/songwriter and musician Richard Stone – who goes by the artistic name A Blue Flame – tells compelling stories about life, love, heartache and loss through poetic, thoughtful lyrics and sublime melodies. His music reflects an eclectic range of influences from doo-wop and old-school pop to easy listening ballads, folk, jazz and rock, delivered with sophisticated and utterly pleasing instrumentals and his smooth, clear vocals. The passage of time and the challenge of keeping the faith – both in God and oneself – are recurring themes in his songs, and while a lot of his lyrics are sad or bittersweet, they’re also lovely to listen to and rarely depressing, offering glimmers of optimism and hope. Stone also has a wry sense of humor that shines through on some of his songs.

A Blue Flame2

I first featured Leicester-based A Blue Flame on this blog back in October 2016, when I reviewed his beautiful debut album What We’ve Become is All That Now Remains. In January 2018, I reviewed his equally superb follow-up album When Your Whole World Turns to Dust, which he released in September 2017. (You can read those reviews by clicking on the “Related” links at the bottom of this page.) Now he’s about to drop his third album The Secret Breeze, set for release on August 17th, and which I’m previewing today.

Stone writes all his songs, sings vocals and plays guitar, and arranges them with assistance from Adam Ellis, who co-produces and also plays guitar. Other session musicians adding their skills to the album included Damon Claridge on drums, Tony Robinson on horns, Glenn Hughes on piano and Hammond organ, Tom Bull on upright bass and Jo Preston on flute. Though some of the songs were written prior to the outbreak of the pandemic, others reflect these trying times, as he explains: “One of the album themes (as ever) is loss, as I suppose that’s what I feel so keenly. I think the brightness of the 1960’s casts a long shadow to mix metaphors somehow. All that hope and positive change seems like it almost never happened.”

The Secret Breeze features 12 tracks, all of them very good to excellent, but I’ll touch on the ones that resonate with me. The opening track and first single released in advance of the album is “With Love from a Friend“, a bewitching song that beautifully showcases A Blue Flame’s superb songwriting and arrangement skills. The delicately strummed acoustic and chiming electric guitars, sparkling piano keys and jazzy upright bass notes are exquisite, and when combined with the languid tempo and lovely vocals, the song has a dreamy, atmospheric quality. The lyrics seem to be about an inability or fear to fully act on one’s true feelings: “I’m writing a letter that I’ll never send. From the edge of my memory, time without end. And I’ll write at the bottom, ‘with love from a friend’.” It’s a gorgeous song, and instantly one of my favorites on the album.

It’s Raining All Over the World” speaks to the sorry state of current events the world over, what with a global pandemic, rising authoritarianism and social unrest causing anxiety just about everywhere. A Blue Flame fervently laments “What have we done my friends? Looks like the end. Now it’s raining all over the world.” Despite the rather depressing lyrics, the music is great, especially the infectious doo wop melody, terrific guitar work and vibrant piano keys.

Another favorite of mine is “Too Fast“, both for its wonderful instrumentals and relatable lyrics. The song starts off with a gentle acoustic guitar, then a marching drumbeat ensues along with Spanish-style guitar notes as A Blue Flame sings of the rapid passage of time (something that freaks me out on an almost daily basis anymore): “We were too young to know what we were doing. Its just how it is. It’s how we all live…way too fast.” Eventually, the music expands to a carnival-like vibe, with exuberant flutes, horns, and more of those lively marching drumbeats that contrast with the pessimistic and timely lyrics: “The world’s a great big mess. It’s mad. And we can’t catch the truth as it rushes by. So, so, so, so sad.”

The bittersweet “The Moon Obscured the Sun” sounds like a song Harry Chapin and Burt Bacharach could have written together. The lyrics speak to a love that might have been, except that the two never had the courage to act on their feelings: “I remember you from a lifetime long ago. We were frightened into silence, by the things we didn’t know. We couldn’t find the words to say a love we should have spoken yesterday.”

Tiny Little Thing” is a poignant anthem about not allowing others to bring you down with their negative thoughts and hurtful words, causing you to curl up into a ‘tiny little thing’ a kinder and gentler metaphor for the fetal position: “These could be the good old days, if you decide to make them so. Don’t turn yourself into a tiny little thing. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done, who hurt you, or who you hurt. Don’t turn yourself into a tiny little thing.” I like the jangly guitars and crisp percussion, but the highlights for me are Hughes’ wonderful piano and organ work. And it goes without saying that I love A Blue Flame’s highly emotive vocals.

The standout track for me is the dark and sultry “Your Mother Said Everything Was Beautiful“. It’s a brilliant song, with an edgier vibe than many A Blue Flame’s songs, and I love it. The lush instrumentals are absolutely fantastic, especially the gnarly surf guitars, Hughes’ mournful organ and Robinson’s blaring wah wah trumpet that brings chills. The lyrics seem to speak to the conundrum of how people with the most wealth and power are often the most unhappy in life: “Your mother said everything was beautiful. Everyone had everything. They saw themselves as queens and kings. They had the keys to the secret breeze. They owned the wind in the trees. So please now tell me why, did all the people cry?

Album closer “If Tomorrow Ever Comes” is an interesting and dramatic song about contemplating the end of the world. It has a complex melody and powerful, varied instrumentation that make for a fascinating listen. It starts off like a folk tune, with sounds of waves crashing onto a beach, accompanied by a gently strummed acoustic guitar and reverb-heavy electric guitar chords. An organ soon enters as Stone croons “If tomorrow ever comes, I’ll be waiting there for you. You can take my hand and say ‘we did all that we could do’.” The music continues to build with jangly and distorted guitars, bass, heavier percussion, tambourine and glittery synths, while his vocals become more impassioned: “And if our sorrow ever leaves. We’ll dance into the sky. Looking down upon the earth, we’ll hold each other tight./ But we’re stuck inside a clock, wishing it would stop./ And you can’t tell what is real, when you’re turning on a wheel./ For if the world should end. We’ll not be there my friend./ If tomorrow never comes.” The music rises to a powerful crescendo, then fades as the song ends with the same crashing waves we heard at the beginning. It’s a fine finish to an outstanding and thoroughly satisfying album.

Connect with A Blue Flame:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase:  Google Play 

HAN BLOOM – Album Review: “Higher State of Mind”

Han Bloom Higher State of Mind

Han Bloom is a classically trained pianist, composer and singer-songwriter based in London, England. Strongly influenced by modern jazz, progressive rock and experimental music, she uses her classical training to musically explore themes of interest to her such as society, politics, culture, ideology, conformism and big brother, among others. In her bio, she states that she “always strives to be as original and free thinking as possible. Creativity is the answer.” Sounds like a winning combination to me.

With that in mind, Han recently released her ambitious debut album Higher State of Mind, which dropped on May 1st. She wrote all music and lyrics, played piano and all other keyboards, programmed all instruments (other than the drums that were played on some tracks by Eddie Van Dorgen), sang all vocals, and produced, mixed and mastered the entire album herself (with the exception of one track “Free Me Now”, which was produced by Harry Powell). With 13 tracks and running an hour in length, there’s a lot to listen to, but I’ll touch on the songs that really clicked with me.

The album opens with “Bach Got Funked Up“, a fascinating instrumental track that fuses contemporary classical, modern jazz and experimental elements. Employing an array of ominous wobbly and spacey synths and jazzy piano chords, Han creates a trippy and mysterious soundscape that whets our appetite for what’s to come. Next up is “Burn“, a bewitching track that starts off quietly, with distant sounds of storms accompanied by the most delicate of keyboard synths. As her low-key, quirky vocals enter, the tempo changes to a toe-tapping beat, with jazzy piano, organ, cool synths and gentle percussion. I like the whispy little ‘whoosh’ snare sounds she uses to convey a feeling of water being softly poured onto a smouldering fire.

Blasphemy” resonates strongly with me, as I like Han’s biting lyrics touching on the hypocrisy that so often exists in religion and democracy: “Don’t tell me with your shit decree, excuse my Christianity. Don’t tell me about blasphemy, when you don’t know how to live in peace. Don’t tell me with your shit decree, about democracy, cause you don’t know nothing about me. But it don’t matter, so I won’t shatter, But they don’t listen, so I keep on living in sin, gladly.” I really like the song’s cool, jazzy grooves, and the deep synth bass,  moody piano keys and tapping percussive beats that make it a great listen.

One of my favorite tracks is “Finer Things“, both for it’s great tongue-in-cheek lyrics and mellow, jazzy vibe. Han’s conversational-style vocals and nimble piano work give the song a fun, casual quality that makes it sound like a live recording of a performance you’d hear in an intimate little nightclub. In fact, I think her music style is well-suited for that format, and it would be fun to see her perform live. About the song, she says “‘The Finer Things’ is a disposable comedic tribute to Frank Zappa that utilises the ridiculousness and profound impact of ‘influencers’ and ‘influence culture’, and the subsequent snowflake generation that it resonates with.”

I love the lines decrying influence culture and the fact she’s doesn’t quite measure up to their shallow definition of success: “Hello, my name is Hannah Bloom, and this song is about the death of influence culture…hopefully. I wanna shop at Liberty, but they welcome me bitterly, ’cause I ain’t got no money. I’m sorry, ’cause in my disposable song, don’t get me wrong. I like the finer things and I sure do love the joy that it brings. I love Pucci, Emilio Pucci…so much better than Gucci. So tutti frutti, but instead I’m wearing Tom Sweeney, which is for men.” Exasperated, she later asks “Can somebody please explain to me what an influencer is? “Cause in my mind it just makes sense that they’re professional beggars. And a lot of people would say the same thing about musicians. And they do say the same things. But we actually do stuff, and we’re just undervalued, whereas influencers are like super valued in society. And it’s like please stop making our generation stupid and meaningless.” I couldn’t agree more!

On “Free Me Now“, Han uses a greater electronic approach and somewhat darker tone to address the subject of addiction. In her notes about the track, she states that she developed the song’s framework off a Korg Tribe drum pattern machine she’d been experimenting with. She then layered delicate piano and organ keyboards to create an enchanting soundscape for her airy vocals. About the song’s meaning, she explains: “Lyrically it depicts a prior relationship with addiction that I needed to express in a raw and free form; hence the experimental instrumentation found in this track.” Her blunt lyrics get straight to the point: “I have an obsession. Addiction, yeah. My mind is imprisoned. Loneliness is not your friend. Free me now. You gotta let me out. Free me now. I don’t wanna be a burnout.

On the moody “These Games” – which Han says was inspired by the George Orwell classic 1984 – she rejects the expectations and ethical wrongs of social conditioning practiced by Western societies, pressuring us to conform to a specific set of social norms, and leaving us often feeling like our lives are unfulfilled. Han croons “So she goes to work for the man. Hiding his sweet lies, pulling the wool over their eyes. She says ‘I don’t know why I do it. And I don’t know how I do it. But I need to survive’. / So he says he stayed at work late today. Hiding his bitter lies. Wasting his own time, and he knows he’s not right to do it. But he just can’t say no ’cause money’s his goal. / And I see it happening every single day. And I don’t know why they play these games with themselves.” The song has a languid, piano-driven melody, with delicate synths, subtle organ notes, and Eddie Van Dongen’s gentle percussion.

My absolute favorite track is album closer “Light and Love (Coda)“, a stunning eight-minute-long instrumental that really showcases Han’s impressive compositional and piano-paying talents. She weaves a rich tapestry of ambient and glittery atmospheric synths, then adds vibrant piano keys to create a breathtaking contemporary classical piece that can easily hold its own among the works by many of today’s classical composers. I would love to see her put out an entire album of this kind of instrumental music.

I’ll be honest that it took a couple of plays for this album to grow on me, as the melodies are more experimental and free-form than typical pop, folk or rock music, requiring a more careful listen to fully appreciate its many nuances. I love when artists fuse multiple elements and genres into their music, and I applaud her courage to experiment with her sound and create a style uniquely her own. If you like music that strays from the conventional, with more contemporary, experimental and progressive jazz, pop and rock vibes, delivered by some really superb piano work, then you will enjoy Higher State of Mind.

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