ARTIST SPOTLIGHT – SECRET POSTAL SOCIETY

One of the most prolific and generous artists I’ve encountered in my nearly six years of blogging is Secret Postal Society, the music project of Welsh singer-songwriter, composer and multi-instrumentalist Craig Mapstone. Since the beginning of the year, he’s faithfully released a new single every week, and as I write this, he just dropped his 27th single “Here Comes Trouble”. At the end of each month, he bundles the four singles from that month into an EP, which translates to six EPs thus far in 2021. Here’s the cover art for his latest EP, simply titled June EP.

Based in South Wales, Craig has been writing songs and playing in various local bands over the years, primarily as a drummer. He was content to remain mostly hidden behind the scenes playing drums, but hadn’t been in a band for quite a while. As with virtually all musicians around the globe, the covid lockdowns prevented him from performing live and leaving him with lots of time for introspection, but also impacting his overall sense of well-being. He told me “After the crazy year that was 2020, I found myself refocusing what was important to me, and music was always a big part of my life. It was also my lifeline as it helped me with my anxiety. During last year I found myself playing guitar more and coming up with lots of ideas with no real focus as to what to do with them. Then literally a few days before the end of the year I just decided that I was going to create a band and then try and write/record a new song every week. I set up my YouTube channel and Instagram account and went from there.”

And thus, Secret Postal Society was born. Each week, Craig writes (or co-writes) and records a brand new song, playing all of the instruments and singing all of the vocal parts himself (with the notable exception of some solo guitar and backing vocals from Rev Rabbit (of Welsh indie rock band Revolution Rabbit Deluxe, whose three albums I’ve previously reviewed) on the song “Now Is The Time”. In addition to Secret Postal Society, Craig is also co-founder (with Raj Chand) of Weird Triangle, a business that offers design services for digital video projects, logos and promotional materials, and their own line of T-shirts and hoodies. Through his involvement with Weird Triangle, Craig designs most of the artwork for the Secret Postal Society single and E.P. covers, along with limited edition T-shirts for each song. He also creates most of his videos using free and publicly available footage he finds on the internet, then edits it to fit the particular song.

Secret Postal Society was not only a way to help Craig through a difficult time, but he also uses it to help others. Accordingly, he donates 100% of the profits from the sale of each T-shirt (with the E.P. designs) to a different charity each month. Thus far, he’s supported the following charities: MS-UK (January), Cystic Fibrosis Trust (February), Velindre Hospital (March), Mermaids UK (April), The Prince’s Trust (May) and Umbrella Cymru (June).

The very first song he released, on New Years Day, was “It’s Not Over“, an old song he originally wrote and recorded back in 2006. He said the song got him through some difficult times over the years, and felt it was the right track to launch Secret Postal Society. It’s a good example of his laid-back singer-songwriter music style, which is primarily pop-rock infused with touches of indie folk. But as I’ll show in this post, his music is actually quite eclectic, exploring elements of progressive, experimental, grunge, post-punk and alternative rock. Most of his songs are really good, but I’ve chosen a few of my favorites, as well as ones I think give a good representation of his extensive stylistic range.

On his next single “Happy Sad“, he delivers a somewhat heavier rock vibe, with some fine jangly guitar work. He almost reveals his entire face on the video of him performing the song.

One of my favorite songs by him is “Choices“, a dramatic and moody track released in February. On this song, Craig seems to delve more deeply into progressive and experimental rock, using distorted psychedelic guitars, somber keyboards and horns to great effect in creating a darkly beautiful soundscape for his ominous droning vocals. The video was produced by Rubén Velasco and edited by Craig.

His follow-up single “I Like You” has more of a grunge/psych rock vibe, with some terrific reverb-soaked gnarly guitars. His electronically-altered vocals sound almost robotic as he drones “Your love it isn’t science. My love isn’t art. We must redraw the line, cause you’re tearing me apart. Cause I like you. Yeah, I like you.” The cool animated video was produced by Cottonbro.

Continuing on a grunge theme, but with more alternative and electronic elements, is the pleasing track “Numb“. Released in April, it’s another one of my favorite Secret Postal Society songs. Craig’s synths are wonderful, and I also love his guitar work in this track, which reminds me a bit of “Lazy Eye” by Silversun Pickups. The beautiful video was once again produced by Cottonbro.

Half Way There“, released in late June as his 26th single, marks the halfway point of his opus 2021 endeavor. It’s a beautiful guitar-driven track featuring some lovely keyboard synths and Craig’s soothing vocals. The optimistic lyrics speak not only to his half-year milestone, but also metaphorically of a struggling relationship halfway toward its fulfillment. And we finally get a good look at Craig on the video, which shows his creative process and him performing the song.

I’ll end with his latest single “Here Comes Trouble“, which dropped July 2nd. The song has a late-90s alt-pop/rock vibe, reminiscent of songs by artists like Duncan Sheik, Eagle Eye Cherry and Deep Blue Something. Once again, it showcases the breadth and variety of Secret Postal Society’s musical style. There’s literally something for just about everyone in his discography, and I’m dumbfounded by his impressive output. The ability to write, record and release a new song week in and week out is amazing in itself, but to have such high quality in nearly every track is quite an accomplishment. I hope Craig will be able to maintain the creativity and stamina to continue releasing a new song per week for the remainder of 2021, and look forward to hearing what he comes up with next!

Follow Secret Postal Society:  FacebookInstagram 

Stream his music:  SpotifyApple MusicYouTube

SHIMMER JOHNSON – Single Review: “It’s Fate’s Turn”

I first learned about silky-voiced singer/songwriter Shimmer Johnson in early 2018, when she followed me on Twitter. She has a beautiful and resonant singing voice that puts her in the company of other contemporary female vocalists like P!nk, Kelly Clarkson and Sara Bareilles. Originally from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, she started out writing and recording Country songs, but wanting to broaden her musical horizons, a few years ago she relocated to Los Angeles. In addition to her amazing vocal talents, she’s also a fine guitarist and pianist, and has been working with several songwriters and producers. In the process, she’s recorded and released an impressive repertoire of stellar songs.

Shimmer creates and sings lovely and compelling songs about life and love that we can all relate to. Her clear, pitch-perfect vocals are strong, but with a raw vulnerability that she skillfully employs to beautifully convey the subtle yet powerful emotions expressed in her heartfelt lyrics, enabling us to connect with her songs on a deeply personal level. Her 2017 single “Pride” has been streamed more than 239,000 times on Spotify, while her gorgeous 2020 single “Never Be the Same” has garnered 100,000 streams. I first featured her on this blog in February 2018 when I reviewed her uplifting single “Getaway”, and this past January, I featured her single “Love is Possible“ on one of my Fresh New Tracks posts. She followed that single in February with her exquisite debut album Inner Me, and now returns with her latest single “It’s Fate’s Turn“. The song was co-written with Thornton Douglas Cline and her husband Corey, and released via Catalyst Records.

On this track, Shimmer’s vocals sound more emotional and fragile than on many of her previous songs. She sings with a trembling vibrato that quite effectively conveys a sense of both apprehension and firm resolve as she dips her toe into uncertain waters, hoping that this time things will work out. Musically, the song has a languid, hauntingly beautiful melody that’s driven forward by the wonderful interplay between emotive piano keys and shimmery guitars, complementing each other quite nicely in the creation of an enchanting soundscape for Shimmer’s bewitching vocals.

The lyrics speak of never giving up on finding happiness and fulfillment in life, no matter how many roadblocks you’ve encountered and missteps you’ve experienced along the way: “I felt defeated, over and over again. I felt cheated, how would I ever win? Life is hard, when easy becomes the game. Take a spin to bet on a chance of change. You can be wrong a thousand times. Then suddenly, everything’s right. It’s fate’s turn. Don’t turn off the lights. Lessons learned. My lining is in sight. Cause this time it’s real. No one tells me how I feel.”

“It’s Fate’s Turn” is another in an unbroken string of superb singles by this incredibly talented vocalist. I’m confident we’ll continue to hear more great music from Shimmer well into the future.

To learn more about Shimmer and her music, check out her Website

Connect with Shimmer:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream her music on Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase on Bandcamp or iTunes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow Clint:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Stream his music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music

Purchase:  Bandcamp / Amazon

Follow Iona:  FacebookTwitterInstagram

Stream her music:  SpotifyApple Music 

New Song of the Week – DAWNING: “Ennui”

One of the finest artists I’ve had the pleasure of learning about in 2021 is Dawning, the musical alter-ego of insanely talented and charismatic singer-songwriter and musician Aaron Senor. On the strength of his captivating and dreamy style of shoegaze/electronic rock, emotive vocals that go from ethereal breathy croons to impassioned soaring choruses, and electrifying live performances, the Grand Rapids-based artist has quickly earned a name for himself on the crowded Michigan music scene. Aaron is also drummer for Michigander, an outstanding band that’s also seeing its star on the rise.

Photo by Jesse Speelman

Dawning released his wonderful debut single “Coronation” in early 2019, and followed this past February with the brilliant EP Petals (you can read my review here). “Rose Hips”, one of the stunning tracks from Petals, has spent the past three months on my Weekly Top 30, and is still climbing its way up the top 10. Now he’s back with an exciting new single “Ennui“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week. With “Ennui”, Aaron makes a bold departure from the rather dark and moody vibes of his previous songs. He further elaborates: “‘Ennui’ is a declaration of sorts; a declaration of happiness, of change, and of hope, [and] a clear change in tone and mood from previous, darker releases. A perfect summer single for rolling down your windows and screaming the chorus at the top of your lungs.” 

The song opens tentatively with quivering shimmery synths, accompanied by Dawning’s plaintive breathy vocals, then an aggressive pounding drumbeat suddenly enters the mix, exponentially dialing up the energy. His vocals quickly turn more impassioned as the music erupts into a bombastic and glorious soundscape of exuberant swirling synths, thunderous percussion and pummeling drumbeats, launching the song into the sonic stratosphere. As if to express an overwhelming sense of euphoria, he gleefully shouts the lyrics about coming out of darkness and despair into a life filled with light, hope and love: “And right when I thought life was not worth living, I saw you there. And I cannot deny I’ve got to give in, no matter where.” 

“Ennui” is an exhilarating and grandiose anthem, and I love the ferocity of both the instrumental arrangement and vocals that Dawning employs to drive home his positive and joyously celebratory message.

Follow Dawning: FacebookTwitter / Instagram

Stream his music: Spotify / Apple Music YouTube

LUKE MOCK – Single Review: “Feel the Love”

Last September, I first wrote about indie pop singer-songwriter Luke Mock when I reviewed his lovely, bittersweet single “Better”, the follow up release to his debut single “Universe”. Based in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York, the talented young musician is quickly making a name for himself through his intelligent songwriting, emotive vocals and charismatic live performances. He’s opened for such acts as AJR, Kesha, Ryan Quinn (The Voice), Neyla Pekarek (The Lumineers) and Joe Whiting (Savory Brown), and was a headliner at the Perform 4 Purpose WinterFest 2019. (Perform 4 Purpose is a non-profit organization that provides young musicians with opportunities to raise money for charities, benefits, and more while learning and developing their musicianship.)

Now Luke returns with his third single “Feel the Love“, a song exploring the internal conflicts between passion and pain we often experience when involved in complicated relationships. You realize the relationship may be toxic for you, yet you’re unable to break free from it, as the passion is just too powerful to resist. The song is infectious and catchy, with a pleasing vibe that reminds me of some of the songs by Charlie Puth, one of Luke’s strong influences. I like the breezy, upbeat melody and his layered vocals sound better than ever. His synth programming is top-notch, and so is his guitar work, which is highlighted by a blistering little solo in the bridge.

I think “Feel the Love” is Luke’s finest single yet, and shows a continued growth and maturity in his songwriting and vocals. I expect we’ll be hearing more great music from him soon.

Late last night it was cold outside she walked right out my door
But I’m not surprised we’ve rolled the dice too many times before
So I went downtown but I saw her friends as soon as I walked in
And when we locked eyes we realized with us you just can’t win

This love is too hard to contain
I feel it in my veins
Body’s numb I hear the voice inside me yelling run
But when you touch my skin
You know what you’re doing
Just to pull me in

Cause you want to

Feel the love
This love inside me
Feel the love
So you can break me
Feel the love
Our hearts colliding
What is left to
Feel the love
No I can’t take it
Feel the love
But you still make me
Feel the love
Oh is it worth the hurt so we can

Feel the high she’s on my mind at 3 a.m. again
This love is cursed when in reverse I find her in my bed
And I can’t take this back and forward baby can’t you see
That darling what is left of us is all that’s meant to be

To learn more about Luke, check out his Website

Follow him on  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Stream/purchase his music:  Spotify / YouTube / Apple Music / Amazon

G. SAMEDI – Single Review: “Icarus”

There’s so much great musical talent out there that it sometimes makes my head spin. I’ve recently written about quite a few exceptional artists and bands, and today I’m pleased to introduce another – silky-voiced Australian singer-songwriter Sam Dawes, who goes by the artistic moniker G. Samedi. Sam’s actually no stranger to this blog, as he’s also the lead vocalist and songwriter for Sydney band Thunder Fox, who I adore and have featured numerous times. While still actively involved with Thunder Fox, who will be releasing their second album later this year, Sam decided at the beginning of 2020 to record and produce some of his songs as a solo artist. In little more than a year, he’s already released seven singles (the first was actually a double single), all of which are fantastic. His latest is “Icarus“, which dropped April 30th.

Curious about the name G. Samedi, I asked Sam how he came up with that moniker. He told me it’s “just a silly amalgamation of my real name, Samuel George Dawes. People would call me Sammy D at school, I liked the character ‘Baron Samedi’ from James Bond, and it just came together nicely.” Well, I think G. Samedi is an ideal name, as it suggests an air of sophistication and sexual mystery, both of which are characteristics of his wonderfully unique sound.

Drawing from R&B, soul, trip hop, electronic and alternative rock elements, Sam creates moody and sensuous soundscapes for the expression of his bold lyrics addressing the darker and more introspective aspects of love and relationships. Then he delivers them with his distinctive soulful vocals that go from smooth, sultry croons to plaintive falsetto. He writes all his own music and lyrics, records and programs all instruments, sings all vocals, and produces and mixes all tracks. The only think he outsources is the mastering.

“Icarus” is a stunning and fascinating track, featuring a complex, almost progressive arrangement and a colorful array of instruments and synths. The song opens with stirring synths and an almost gospel-like organ, accompanied with tinkling piano keys. I love Sam’s expressive vocals, which sound especially vulnerable as he laments about falling out of love for his partner and the resulting pain he caused her and the damage he did to their relationship, while admitting he still has strong feelings for her: “I still needed her after all / I fell away, wings like Icarus melting on my bleeding lust. I knew I’d fly too close for us.” As the organ recedes, the melody settles into a languid R&B groove, highlighted by a mix of shimmery and gritty guitars and a thumping drumbeat. His layered vocal harmonies are really beautiful too, turning more plaintive and heartfelt as he implores her to reconsider: “I just love you, isn’t that enough?” The song ends with sounds of a droning synth and pounding drum.

“Icarus” is wonderful, and another in an unbroken string of really stellar singles by this talented artist. If you like it, do take a little time to listen to some of his other songs as well on one of the music platforms below.

Follow G. Samedi: FacebookTwitterInstagram

Stream his music: SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloudYouTube

Purchase: BandcampAmazon

ROD FRITZ – Single Review: “Take the World with Me”

I just reviewed musician Michael Lane, a singer-songwriter who was born in Germany, raised in America and now living in Germany. Now I’m writing about another musician based in Germany named Rod Fritz, who’s actually an Australian born and raised in Hobart, Tasmania, but now living in Germany as well. Rod has been involved with music for nearly 30 years, both in bands and as a solo artist. He started out in the early 90s playing saxophone with Australian band Death & Disease. After they disbanded, he began writing songs and recorded his first solo album Send Help in 1996. He later re-recorded many of those songs, plus some new tracks, for his 2011 album Clouded, which garnered critical and commercial acclaim, as well as airplay in Australia and beyond. In 2014, he embarked on a world tour that took him through the U.S., UK and Germany. His mother is originally from Germany, and while there he visited her and a number of family members. While playing a show, he met a woman with whom he eventually entered into a relationship, and he’s been in Germany ever since.

Hi pleasing music style draws from country, folk, pop and rock, with memorable and often catchy melodies, heartfelt lyrics and bold instrumentation. He followed Clouded with two more albums, Fritz in 2014 and Hold On in 2018. Since then, he’s released a number of singles, the latest of which is “Take the World with Me“. It’s an upbeat, feel-good song with a bouncy melody and joyful vibe similar to the Jawaiian (a Hawaiian style of reggae) sound of the Jason Mraz hit “I’m Yours”. Rod employs a lively mix of jauntily strummed guitars, sparkling synths, finger snaps, xylophone and other charming little instruments to create a carefree, sunny soundscape. His smooth, light-hearted vocals are comforting as he assures a loved one to have faith in him, and that he’ll be there to take care of and protect her: “Come and take the world with me, and I’ll be right there by your side. Come and take the world with me. Don’t cry, everything will be alright.

It’s a sweet and happy song, and can’t we use more of those right now?

Follow Rod:  FacebookTwitterInstagram

Stream his music:  SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloud / Reverbnation  

Purchase:  Bandcamp

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