PETER KLEINHANS – Album Review: “I Was Alive Enough”

Peter Kleinhans is a New York-based singer-songwriter who, after spending 30 years as a professional harness horse racer, trainer and announcer, decided to turn his love of music into writing and recording songs. His music is a pleasing mix of pop, folk and rock, but it’s his skill for telling engrossing stories through thoughtful, intelligent lyrics that makes his songs so compelling in a Harry Chapin kind of way. He doesn’t have a particularly strong singing voice – his vocal style is more of a talk-singing – but it’s warm and comforting, and perfect for storytelling.

In February 2018 he released his debut album Something’s Not Right to critical acclaim. LA Music Critic hailed it “one of the best debut albums we have reviewed“, while Neufutur Magazine called it “an album that blends together Dave Matthews with the protest tradition of performers like Neil Young and Phil Ochs.” He later released, in November 2019, an excellent video for album’s title track “Something’s Not Right”, a song about the sense of uncertainty and unease that many Americans seemed to be feeling about their country and their own future, while still trying to remain optimistic and grateful for what’s good. You can read my feature about the song and video here.

In December (2020), Peter returned with his second album I Was Alive Enough, featuring 12 tracks he states are “very specific to this very strange moment we are all living in, with songs about our fear of missing out (“FOMO”) and greed (“Race to the Bottom”), as well as mistrust of the media (“Fake News”). But it’s also hopeful and spirited, about appreciation for NYC graffiti (“91st Street”), a love of horse-racing (“W1775”) and the power and joy of solitude (“Table for One”). What binds many of the tracks together for me is the significance of each song’s characters despite their powerlessness. The befuddled news-watcher in “Fake News” is as real as the story of the horse W1775, the farmer in “Malagasy Uprising”, the homeless man in “Homeless” as much as the hapless narrator walking past, or even the corporate stooges in “Race To The Bottom”, who have more actual power and influence but who are ultimately prisoners of the soulless world they inhabit. One of the main things I was driving at in this album was the significance of every life.

The 12 songs run the stylistic gamut from gentle folk ballads and bouncy pop to pleasing Southern rock and world music. Peter’s lyrics are so good that I’ll be quoting a lot of them, so bear with me as you read on. The album kicks off with “FOMO“, a breezy pop tune highlighted by some nice jazzy piano keys, along with gnarly guitars and jaunty organ that contrast with the matter-of-fact lyrics addressing his, and everyone else’s, shortcomings and how there must be a pill to deal with all our myriad anxieties: “I’m looking for a doctor just to tell me I’m crazy. My girl says I’m older, vain, stupid and lazy. But no one says what everyone knows to be true, that I’m totally crazy and so are you. / Yes, keep me medicated, keep those bottles full. Cause I’ve got FOMO, can’t handle missing out. You know I’m all about regret and doubt.

Race to the Bottom” has a heavier pop-rock treatment, with rousing, multi-layered guitars, thumping drums and tasty psychedelia-tinged organ, all set to a strong foot-stomping beat. Peter sings the cynical lyrics spoken from the perspective of corporations hoping to cash in on a brain-dead public: “We got a fractured nation, a distracted population. Got to take advantage just the best that we can. But we better hurry ‘fore they get their pitchforks in motion, cause they’re getting pretty tired of being taken by the man. So, come with me on a race to the bottom, where the pickins are easy and there’s plenty of prey.

Continuing on a similar theme, he addresses how we all seek out the kind of news that feeds our own world views on “Fake News“: “So go ahead and play me some fake news, and I’ll just change the channel if want to change my views“, and how some want nothing to do with those holding opinions different from theirs: “Woke up to find someone’s unfriended me today. Doesn’t like the way I see the world. It could be we never were such good friends anyway, but I’m still stinging from the epithets he hurled.” The song starts off as a gentle piano ballad, then expands into a lively melody with guitars, bold percussion and what sounds like clarinet, which adds a nice but slightly unsettling vibe. The song has a bit of a Harry Chapin feel, and is one of my favorites on the album.

91st St.” is a wonderful ode to the graffiti-covered and abandoned 91st Street subway station in New York City. The station was deemed superfluous by the subway authority and closed in 1954, and later came to be known by New Yorkers as the “Ghost Station”. Peter wrote a marvelous article about the station and the song in October 2018, which I featured on this blog and can be read here. The song has a progressive/jazzy vibe, with a cool drumbeat, funky bass line and fuzzy guitar riff. Toward the end of the track, Peter injects a quirky little psychedelic synth that makes for a great finish.

Peter addresses the oft-covered and eternally relatable subjects of love and relationships on a few tracks, with lyrics that are painfully honest and real. On the bittersweet Americana-tinged “Our Journeys“, he sings of how he let his partner down, but is thankful for the good things they enjoyed together: “Now this song isn’t one of mistake or regret. I chose what I chose, and I’ll take what I’ll get, but when push comes to shove, it still hurts to hurt someone you love. And you were willing to spend your whole journey on me, and the value of that, maybe I just wouldn’t see. So please let me take the time to thank you now.” On the lovely “Table For One“, he sings his praises of being alone: “All I watched as a child, replayed the same scene. Go find a fair princess, make her a fair queen. But repeating the playbook has cost me a lot. Maybe you find who you are when you find who you’re not.” And on “Palpitations“, he sings of traveling the country with his new bride, not caring where they end up so long as he’s with her: “These palpitations inspired by you are invented by me. Palpitations are my body’s way of telling me I’m finally free.”

Homeless” is a poignant song about how those of us living in big cities co-exist with homeless people as we go about our days, intersecting with each other, yet living in completely separate worlds and fearful of becoming too involved: “There a man I see almost every day. He’s got a black dog with a collar. It used to be ‘could you spare a dime’ now it’s ‘could you spare a dollar?’ Sometimes I give, sometimes I don’t, depends what’s in my pocket. But he’s a man locked inside an invisible cage, and my dollar won’t unlock it. There’s no future, there’s no joy. He once was an adorable boy. Once he started to fall, he found no safe place to land. Walk right by that ghost of a man. It’s the crime I commit almost everyday. It’s the violence of looking away.” 

On “Malagasy Uprising“, Peter sings from the perspective of a farmer recalling the horrors of the nationalist rebellion against French colonial rule in Madagascar that lasted from March 1947 to February 1949, and now trying to eke out a living in peace. He uses African elements and instruments, along with a lilting chorus by female singers, to give the song an exotic flavor that works quite well. He channels a bit of Tom Petty on  “Beneath Two Moons“, a song that speaks to the love of personal freedom over romantic entanglements. And he sings of being with the one he loves in of the Land of Enchantment on the appropriately enchanting “New Mexico“, “where the people think we’re pretty, and there’s turquoise everywhere.”

One of his best ‘story’ songs is “W1775“, a poignant saga about a horse who started his career as an award-winning race horse, then spent time pulling a carriage in New York, and eventually living out his final years in a pasture. Peter elaborates on the song’s inspiration: “I trained racehorses for many years and I earned a deep respect for the animals. One of the things about horse racing that you just don’t find when following other animals, is the story within every horse’s career, all of which is documented and is occasionally remembered but more often forgotten.”

I Was Alive Enough is a delightful album, not only because it’s a pleasing listen, but also due to its great storytelling. As I alluded to at the beginning of this review, Peter is a masterful lyricist and storyteller, not to mention a fine musician. Each song is a gem, with no two sounding alike, keeping the album sounding fresh and surprising from start to finish. 

Connect with Peter on Facebook /  Twitter  / Instagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase:  iTunes / Amazon

EWAN PATRICK – Double Single Review: “Feels Good To Be Alive/Two Hearts”

Ewan Patrick is a singer-songwriter from Edinburgh, Scotland who’s long been dedicated to the study and making of music. He studied contemporary classical composition at Napier University in Edinburgh, then earned a graduate degree in Music Production at Leeds College of Music. He’s also played in many bands over the years, with whom he performed extensively across the UK, including at a number of major music festivals. Some of his songs have garnered airplay on national BBC Radio 1, as well as various BBC regional stations and on commercial radio. More recently, Ewan has begun recording some of the songs he’s written over the years that, in his own words, “never quite found their place in any of the bands I’ve played in.

Last October (2020), he released his first double A-side single “Retrospect/Hurricane”. Both are very good anthemic pop-rock songs that beautifully showcase his songwriting, performance and production talents, as he records, mixes and masters all his music himself. Now he returns with a new double A-side single “Feels Good To Be Alive/Two Hearts“, which dropped February 1st. All four tracks will be included on his forthcoming debut album, due out later this year.

“Feels Good To Be Alive” speaks to how we can become complacent about life, and sometimes bitter that things didn’t turn out quite like we’d hoped or imagined. The song starts off low-key, with Ewan’s acoustic guitar accompanied by gentle percussion as he plaintively sings “How did this happen and when did I grow cold? I’m feeling insignificant as I’m reaching the end of the road. I won’t let my life disappear and slowly fade. It’s time for me to reframe and make the change.” The song then explodes with a torrent of electric guitar and crashing cymbals as he passionately sings with a strong sense of optimism and hope, and a belief that life is still worth living: “The rain keeps falling but it washes over me. Nothing’s working but I’m feeling carefree. I’m still hurting, yet it doesn’t bother me. Why? Because I’m still alive. It feels good to be alive.” It’s a beautifully-crafted and uplifting song.

“Two Hearts” is a deeply personal song that came to Ewan while writing his own wedding speech. He states that he was “not for a minute trying to contrive a love song for my future wife but it just kind of happened.” The song is appropriately beautiful and moving, starting off with Ewan’s acoustic guitar and heartfelt vocals as he sings of his love and devotion, and how his bride has made him a better man: “You took my hand. Made me a man. You’ve made me better than I’ve ever been. Come walk with me through hopes and dreams, and together we’ll take the world head on. Two hearts will beat as one.” The song gradually expands into a sublime ballad as he layers gorgeous chiming electric guitar notes, piano and heavier percussion, along with some beautiful cello performed by his good friend Rebecca Rowe.

Both songs are outstanding, and I must say I’m very impressed by Ewan’s strong songwriting, singing and musicianship skills. Not only are his songs finely-crafted from a technical standpoint, they also have a lot of those less tangible qualities of heart and soul that allow them to speak to us on a more personal and meaningful level. I see a bright future for this young artist, and look forward to hearing more music from him.

Follow Ewan:  FacebookTwitterInstagram

Stream his music: SpotifySoundcloudApple Music

Purchase:  BandcampAmazon

Fresh New Tracks Vol. II

It’s been a while since I last posted the first of what was supposed to be a weekly, or at least occasional, digest of newly-released singles, but as they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Now that the holiday season is behind us and we’re well into a new year, lots of new music is being released, far more than I can keep up with! This week I’m featuring three new releases by (in alphabetical order) Neil and Adam, Shimmer Johnson and Zero Azimuth.

“Bright Light” by Neil and Adam

Neil and Adam are singer/songwriters Neil McCloskey and Adam Hilligardt, who hail from suburban St. Louis, Missouri (where I lived from 1995-2011). Friends since high school, the duo have been making pleasing and melodic folk/pop/rock music on and off for several years. They were one of the earliest acts I featured on this blog, back in August 2016 when I reviewed their beautiful uplifting single “Everything is Alright”. They followed up with a couple more singles after that, and have just released “Bright Light“. It’s their first new single in three and a half years, and it’s great to have them back.

In their own words, “Bright Light” is a “powerful and heartfelt love song that touches on the struggles of intense feelings and emotions.” Over an infectious toe-tapping beat, the guys layer a mix of strummed acoustic and chiming electric guitar notes over Adam’s warm keyboards and sparkling synths, creating a lovely backdrop for Neil’s wonderful plaintive vocals. He implores to a loved one of the depths of his feelings, feeling frustrated by her unwillingness or inability to open herself up to love: “Scared of the bright light that’s burning in your heart / Waiting for the fist fight that rages in your heart.”

Follow Neil and Adam:  FacebookTwitterInstagram

“Love is Possible” by Shimmer Johnson

Singer/songwriter Shimmer Johnson has such a uniquely beautiful singing voice that it’s puzzling to me she has not yet become a major star – though her 2017 single “Pride” has been streamed more than 239,000 times on Spotify. Originally from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, she started out writing and recording Country songs, but wanting to broaden her musical horizons and take advantage of her amazing vocal talents, she relocated to Los Angeles a few years ago, and has been working with songwriters such as Michael Jay, John West, Richard Bergman and Relik Gregos. A fine guitarist and pianist, Shimmer writes and sings compelling and lovely songs about life and love that we can all relate to. Her clear, pitch-perfect vocals skillfully convey the subtle yet powerful emotions expressed in her heartfelt lyrics, allowing us to connect with her songs on a deeply personal level.

I first featured her on this blog three years ago in February 2018 when I reviewed her single “Getaway”, and am now pleased to feature her latest single “Love is Possible“, which dropped January 5th. It’s a beautiful and hopeful pop ballad about the healing power of love. Shimmer’s silky vocals are comforting as she earnestly croons to a loved one that their love will endure through good times and bad: “I’d rather be safe and one with you than by myself. Two hearts as one they beat, I’m not by myself. Just a leap of faith in the stormy days, love is possible.” It’s a wonderful track.

Follow Shimmer Johnson:  FacebookTwitterInstagram

“Go With the Flow” by Zero Azimuth

Zero Azimuth is a young artist I’ve been following for a while who’s just released a great new single “Go With the Flow“. I don’t know a whole lot about him, other than that he’s an affable singer-songwriter named Adam from Columbus, Ohio who makes pretty good music that incorporates elements of alternative, indie rock and grunge. He released quite a bit of music in 2017, including two EPs Ex Post Facto and Quaint, as well as several singles, then went quiet for a couple years before returning in May 2020 with his terrific single “Same Evil”.

On January 4th, he dropped his latest single “Go With the Flow”, a song about trying to not let others’ indifference get the best of him. He starts off feeling a bit sorry for himself with the humorous lyrics “Oh hey there pretty baby, would you like to come over? I’m taking a bath, how ’bout you throw in a toaster.” But he eventually comes to a sober sense of resignation that he’s every bit as worthy a person as they are: “No one wants me. I’ll work on myself and give you all a goodbye kiss / And I’ll go, go with the flow, cause I think I know something they don’t.” With its mellow, alt-pop vibe and lively guitar-driven melody, the song reminds me of some of the music by Duncan Sheik and Blink-182.

Follow Zero Azimuth:  TwitterInstagram

THE FRONTIER – Single Review: “Sleep”

One of my absolute favorite indie artists is The Frontier, the music project and brainchild of singer-songwriter, guitarist and producer Jake Mimikos. Based in Fairfax County, Virginia, Jake is a talented, gracious and funny guy who I’ve grown quite fond of, both as an artist and a human. Since 2015, he’s released a substantial amount of music both as a solo artist and as a band under The Frontier moniker, and we’ve been following each other on social media for nearly that long. As with many bands, the members and lineup of The Frontier have varied over the years, but for the time being, the act is now mostly a solo project.

Drawing upon elements of pop, folk, rock and electronica, his music is always pleasing and flawlessly crafted. I’ve featured him several times on this blog, most recently this past June when I reviewed his wonderful single “It’s You”. I love it so much, it spent five months on my Weekly Top 30, and turned out to be my most-streamed song of the year on Spotify. (You can read that and previous reviews by clicking on the links under ‘Related’ at the end of this post.) Now he’s back with a beautiful new single “Sleep“, and I already love it too! The track was recorded and produced by Austin Bello for Fearless Records.

Jake is an excellent guitarist, and here his layered strummed and chiming guitars are so stunning, they take my breath away. He’s also gotten quite adept at programming synths and keyboards to create lush, sparkling soundscapes, as well as layering his lovely, heartfelt vocals into a rich tapestry of harmonies. He plaintively sings of the pain and unease he feels over not knowing where he stands with another, and yearning for a little sleep to momentarily forget his troubles: “I lay awake, but I’m dreaming / I just can’t get my mind off of you / All of these stories keep repeating / I don’t know which voice to listen to / I’ve never been one to get what I want / I’m always trying too hard / It’s something that I’ve been working on / It’s always so close yet so far / But for now, til the answers are found / Got to quiet the sun to sleep.

“Sleep” is a gorgeous and deeply stirring track that’s sure to be another hit.

Connect with The Frontier: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream: Spotify / Soundcloud / Reverbnation / Apple Music
Purchase: Bandcamp / iTunesAmazon

New Song of the Week – LUKE MOCK: “Better”

Luke Mock is a 19-year old singer-songwriter from Auburn, a small city in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York. He writes heartfelt indie pop songs and brings them to life with his fine guitar playing and pleasing vocals. His debut single “Universe”, released this past June, has already garnered over 55,000 streams on Spotify. Luke has opened for such acts as Ryan Quinn, John Gorka, Paul Elia, Mark Doyle, Joe Whiting and Neyla Pekarek, and was a headliner at the Perform 4 Purpose WinterFest 2019.

He’s just released his second single “Better“, a bittersweet folk-pop song about the pain and heartache that remains after a break-up. With his acoustic guitar as the primary musical instrument, Luke skillfully layers subtle synths and additional guitar notes to fashion a lovely soundscape for his fervent vocals. I like how his vocals become more impassioned as the music builds, accompanied by his own backing harmonies that add depth to the song and effectively convey the pain expressed in the poignant lyrics.

The song is directed to a former girlfriend, recalling some good times and asking her if she misses him or still hurting like he is, or has she moved on and feeling ‘better’: “Guess I should have known by the way you looked at me, that you lost feelings, and we’re not meant to be. Do you miss my voice like I miss your heartbeat? Do you feel the pain in my soul through your phone screen? And are you falling apart, torn by the seams like me? Or are you better, whatever that means?” It’s a wonderful song, and I’m pleased to choose it as my New Song of the Week.

To learn more about Luke, check out his Website

Follow him on  FacebookTwitterInstagram

Stream/purchase his music:  SpotifyApple MusicAmazonGoogle Play

AISHIA – Single Review: “Oceans Roar”

Aishia

Aishia is a lovely and talented young singer-songwriter who’s also gracious and kind, a rare commodity in an industry filled with oversize egos. Born in raised in Mumbai, India and now based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, she began studying Indian classical music when she was just five years old, but later developed an interest in western music and started taking lessons from a renowned vocal teacher in Malaysia. Building on her natural vocal gifts, her lessons have paid off well, as she has developed a rich and captivating vocal style.

When she was 11, she became obsessed with the music of Taylor Swift, and started writing her own songs. She recalls “I realised that she wrote and performed [her own songs], and therefore I ventured to do the same. I wrote about everything from my daily life to fantastically fictional tales about love and heartbreak. Most of these old songs will never be published, but they did help me become the songwriter that I am today.” Now 19, she is currently studying music production and sound engineering from Point Blank Music School, London.

In January 2019, Aishia released her enchanting debut single “Aura of Gold (The First Meeting)” (you can read my review here), then followed that March with her similarly-titled album Aura of Gold. Co-written and produced by Malaysian composer and music producer Zameer, the album is a stunning experimental concept work. The two wanted to create a cinematic environment through which its music could successfully tell the story of two people who fall in love, but eventually have to part ways due to events beyond their control. In April of this year, Aishia released her single “Turning Waters”, then followed with “Girl in Violet Clothes” in June. Now she returns with her latest single “Oceans Roar“, a sultry track that explores the feeling of being head-over-heels in love. Once again, the song was produced by her frequent collaborator Zameer.

Together, the two have created a steamy love song that’s a perfect tune for summer. Over a languid, pulsating dance beat evoking the fever of strong sexual attraction, Zameer layers a mix of techno and deep House synths that add to the song’s sensuous vibe. He even includes whoosh sounds to help us imagine waves crashing on a beach. Aishia has a beautiful, emotive singing voice, and here she summons her seductive vocal powers to express the intense romantic ardor described in her lyrical love letter. It’s a wonderful song.

I could find a hundred ways
To tell you how I feel today
Makeup’s on that vintage face
Cycles, hot summer days
I like it when it doesn’t rain
Will you tell me all you want to say?

Glittering wings of light
Starting to take flight
But you know that I’ll be by your side

Cause oceans roar, with your tones
You’re the one I adore
Oceans roar, oceans roar

Found out what I wanted to say
I’ll write it, on a piece of slate
Chalk marks, painted on your chest
Ice creams, frozen popsicles
Come with me to eternal grace
I’ll show you, how beautiful you taste

Connect with Aishia:  Facebook / Instagram / Twitter
Stream her music: Spotify / Soundcloud / iTunes 
Purchase:  Google PlayAmazon

WAITING FOR SMITH – Single Review: “Lines of Love”

Waiting for Smith Lines of Love

Waiting For Smith is the music project of London-based singer/songwriter Harry Lloyd. His music career was born from adversity; while working as a ski instructor in the French Alps, Harry broke his back in two places during avalanche training. Fighting for his life as he was airlifted to the hospital in a helicopter, he had an epiphany that he should dedicate his life to music. He spent a year in bed recuperating and learning to play guitar, eventually naming his music act Waiting For Smith after a drummer named Smith who always failed to show up for recording sessions.

He quickly got to work writing and recording songs, and since late 2017 he’s released 12 outstanding singles that collectively have been streamed over 345,000 times on Spotify. Given his own life experiences, Lloyd is fascinated by change, which has inspired him to write songs that reflect our innate ability to evolve for the better. He says “I’m also a hopeless romantic, so a lot of my songs focus on the different angles on love. My music is like a free form of therapy and hopes that he can bring a similar liberating feeling of comfort and emotion, to make listeners smile and sometimes cry.” His sincere, accessible lyrics are delivered with upbeat, pleasing melodies, beautiful guitar work and his warm, soothing vocals.

Waiting for Smith

Following up on his previous single “Long Life”, a bouncy and heartwarming Americana-infused song he wrote during his recovery, Waiting for Smith released his latest single “Lines of Love” on June 26th. Produced by Andy Wright and Gavin Goldberg (Eurythmics, Annie Lennox, Massive Attack, Natalie Imbruglia, Jeff Beck), the song was inspired by a long-distance phone call from a friend Lloyd had one night while walking around King Cross. The song is a plea for someone to keep the faith and persevere through a difficult time in their life, an assurance that a loved one or friend will always be there for them no matter what, and that everything, even the most trying times, will pass eventually. Lloyd states “I want people to feel hopeful when listening to ‘Lines of Love’, to dance carefree and even raise their hands in an almost tribal sense of unity. We can overcome the speed bumps in the road, our lives and our relationships and that is surely where the good stuff comes from – out of the struggle.

“Lines of Love” has a pleasing folk vibe, opening with Waiting for Smith’s soothing vocals accompanied by his gently strummed acoustic guitar. A kick drum enters as he croons “It’s often difficult to over speculate. One minute you’re up and then you’re down, and that’s your day.  It’ll be alright, it’ll be just fine, it’ll be OK. But I guess we’ll never know. So please hold on to my lines of love, they are strong. And I promise that it won’t be too long now, before we have our house down by the sea in the sun.” As the song progresses, soft percussion is added along with his own backing vocal harmonies, giving the track a fullness of sound and a comforting sense of warmth reflected in the hopeful lyrics. It’s a wonderful song, and another winning single from this very talented young artist.

Follow Waiting for Smith:  FacebookTwitterInstagram
Stream/purchase his music:  SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloud/ Google Play 

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.

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SORICAH – EP Review: “Let the Fire Burn Free”

Soricah

Soricah is a singer, songwriter, guitarist and producer whose music is influenced by her rich international and multi-cultural heritage. Being of Irish/Mauritian ancestry and having spent various times of her childhood and adulthood living in Ireland, Africa, Mauritius and London, her exposure to a wide range of music and people give her music a unique sound that’s a blending of genres and styles. Formerly a member of the band Rebekah Met Sarah, Soricah has also performed as a solo artist in London and Ireland. She has supported musical acts such as The Palma Violets and renowned cellist Jo Quail, and has been a frequent collaborator with members of The Artist Community of Studio 180, and the East London artistic warehouse scene. She’s also been featured on a number of projects with different artists, and her collaborations have been aired on Freakfm, BBC Radio One and a variety of Irish and International radio stations.

She currently splits her time between Kent, England and Dublin, Ireland, and recently dropped her debut EP Let the Fire Burn Free, featuring four tracks written and sung by her. She also played acoustic guitars on the tracks, and co-produced the EP with Daniel Doherty, who played electric guitar, bass and drums. Gary Molloy played cello and piano, and the songs were mastered by renowned British mastering engineer Pete Maher. The artwork was designed by Valerie Pezeron.

The first track “Waiting” is a beautiful song, with a sultry melody that conjures up images of a beach bathed by warm tropical breezes. Both musically and vocally, the song has a definite Lana Del Ray vibe. A distinctive element is Gary Molloy’s gorgeous fluttering cello, which gives the track a haunting, dreamlike sound. Soricah’s strummed acoustic guitar and smooth, sensuous vocals are complemented by Daniel Doherty’s sultry bass line and crisp percussion. The lyrics speak of intense passion and longing for someone, which Soricah seductively croons “Come a little closer. Feel my body move. My heart is beating faster, waiting for you/ You take me away into the stars is where I’ll stay. Waiting for you, waiting for you.”

Back to Him” is an interesting song, and a perfect example of how Soricah skillfully blends a mix of cultural elements into her music. The song has a delightful, exotic-sounding Latin or gypsy folk melody. The colorful and spirited acoustic and electric guitars are fantastic, and I love Daniel’s distinctive bass line and assertive drumbeats. The lyrics are also interesting, spoken to a lover – either a man or woman – who appears to be confused and conflicted about their sexuality: “You change your faces every day. One minute you’re in love, then you’re running away. Back to him.”

On the title track “Let the Fire Burn Free“, Gary’s vibrant cello takes a starring role, giving the song a lush classical feel, though the lively guitars, bass and drums keep it in folk-rock territory. The song seems to be about freeing oneself from the judgments of others that diminish your own sense of self-worth: “How could you blame yourself, when it was good it was the best. And how could you be such a mess, when you tried to be honest? And how could you cause so much stress, with the family there’s no contest.”

Juliette” is a lovely song of affirmation and self-worth, with lyrics assuring a woman that she doesn’t need a man to make her whole: “And Juliette, you don’t need no Romeo. You’d be better off alone.” The beautiful tinkling piano keys and soaring cello are the musical highlights here, and Soricah’s warm vocals are sublime as always.

Let the Fire Burn Free is a wonderful little EP with four excellent tracks, each having a distinctively different sound. Through a rich mix of stylistic elements and lush instrumentation, Soricah and her fellow musicians have crafted a highly satisfying work.

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New Song of the Week – SAMI CHOHFI: “Dirty Your Soul”

Sami Chohfi

Sami Chohfi is a charismatic and talented singer-songwriter with an international pedigree. Half Brazilian by ancestry, he was born in Sacramento, California, and raised in both Florida and Brazil, before relocating to Seattle in 2001. Since 2008, he’s been front man, lead vocalist and guitarist for alternative rock band Blue Helix, and more recently, has been recording and releasing singles as a solo artist, beginning with “It’s Just Me” in April 2019. His latest single is “Dirty Your Soul“, which along with his two previous singles, will be featured on his forthcoming debut album Extraordinary World, due out later this year. “Dirty Your Soul” is a lovely and uplifting song of hope, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week.

Sami wrote the song while vacationing in Lisbon, Portugal in early 2019. He explains his inspiration for the song” Walking the streets of Lisbon, I heard a street musician playing a beautiful song. In a crowd of people I was the only one who seemed to be listening. This reminded me of how being an artist can be a lonely journey. When we reveal our souls all we want is to connect with others and be accepted. If I could give my younger self advice, I would tell him this: ‘While life might bruise your body and dirty your soul along the way, you should remember to always find hope in yourself and fight for a better tomorrow’.

The song has a pleasing folk vibe, with strummed acoustic guitar and the faintest of backing synths and percussion. Although not part of the lyrics, at the beginning of the video these words are shown, providing the contextual basis for the song: “Children are born with a pure and innocent spirit. As we go through our journey and face our obstacles, life may dirty your soul.” Sami has a beautiful singing voice with quite a range, as I’ve heard his raw, impassioned rock vocals on some of the Blue Helix songs. But here, his vocals are mostly gentle and comforting as he sings “And if I knew that life would split me in two, maybe I would not have given so much.  Cause it’ll dirty your soul, It’ll dirty your soul.”

The delightful and colorful video was filmed in various locations in India over a period of 10 days during Holi Festival, an annual festival marking the arrival of spring, and a time of forgiveness, renewed friendship and the triumph of good over evil. The video was directed by Alexandre Suplicy, and shows Sami performing the song with his guitar in various locations, including the majestic New Rangji Mandir temple in Vrindavan, the colorful Patrika Gate in Jaipur, and the Old Delhi Spice Market, where he’s in a cart being pulled by a man on a bicycle. Some particularly sweet scenes are of Sami sitting and playing his guitar surrounded by Indian children, who throw bowlfuls of colored powder on him. Throwing of colored powder is a tradition of Holi celebration, which is often referred to as the ‘holiday of color’. Besides English, the video is also available in Portuguese and Hindi.

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