EML’s Favorite Songs – CARPENTERS: “Superstar”

Superstar-Carpenters

From the moment I first heard “(They Long to Be) Close to You” in the early summer of 1970 until the mid-1970s, the Carpenters were one of my favorite acts. Their music was beautiful, with the kind of lush orchestration I’ve always loved, and Karen Carpenter had the voice of an angel. I loved them so much I actually wrote a paper about them for my 11th grade English class – perhaps an early presage to my much later calling as a music blogger? They had a successful run of huge hits from 1970-1975, and one of my favorites is the bittersweet “Superstar“.

The song was written by Bonnie Bramlett and Leon Russell, and originally titled “Groupie Song”. But when it was recorded by Delaney & Bonnie and released as a B-side on their single “Comin’ Home” in December 1969, it was re-titled “Groupie (Superstar)”. The song tells the story of a female groupie’s one-night stand with a rock star, whom she hopes will return to her. It was covered by a number of artists, including Joe Cocker (on his Mad Dogs & Englishmen Live Tour album, with vocals sung by Rita Coolidge), Bette Midler (on her debut album The Divine Miss M), Cher, and Australian rock group McPhee, among others. But it was the Carpenters version that stands head and shoulders above the rest, and became one of their biggest hits, peaking at #2 (Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May” had a 5-week run at #1 in the fall of 1971, preventing “Superstar” from reaching the top).

The story goes that Richard Carpenter first became aware of “Superstar” after hearing it sung by a relatively unknown Bette Midler on The Tonight Show in 1971. He loved the song and thought it would be perfect for Karen, and wrote a new arrangement to fit their style. Shockingly, when he played it for her, she wasn’t thrilled with the song. She later recalled “For some reason that tune didn’t hit me in the beginning. It’s the only one. Richard looked at me like I had three heads. He said: ‘Are you out of your mind!‘” But after they recorded the song, she grew to love it too.

“Superstar” was produced by Richard Carpenter with Jack Daugherty, and recorded with members of The Wrecking Crew, the famed collective of Los Angeles area session musicians. As the song’s storyline was originally more risqué than what was typical for the Carpenters, Richard changed a lyric in the second verse “And I can hardly wait to sleep with you again” to the somewhat less suggestive “And I can hardly wait to be with you again.”

The song is breathtakingly beautiful, with rich orchestral instrumentation highlighted by a soaring horn section, gorgeous oboe played by Earle Dumler, a somber, understated bassline by Joe Osborn, drums by the legendary Hal Blaine (even though Karen was herself an accomplished drummer), and a lovely keyboards by Richard Carpenter. Karen’s distinctive contralto vocals never sounded better or more resonant, beautifully conveying the fervent longing for someone you love to return and ease your loneliness. “Superstar” is one of my favorite songs of the 1970s, and for all time.

Long ago and oh so far away
I fell in love with you before the second show
Your guitar it sounds so sweet and clear
But you’re not really here
It’s just the radio

Don’t you remember you told me you loved me baby
You said you’d be coming back this way again baby
Baby, baby, baby, baby oh baby
I love you, I really do

Loneliness is such a sad affair
And I can hardly wait to be with you again
What to say to make you come again…ooh baby
Come back to me again…baby
And play your sad guitar

Don’t you remember you told me you loved me baby
You said you’d be coming back this way again baby
Baby, baby, baby, baby oh baby
I love you, I really do

I still remember the exact moment in February 1983 when I heard that Karen Carpenter had died from heart failure at the age of only 32, as a result from years of suffering with the eating disorder anorexia nervosa. I was in my car on the way to a meeting, and nearly burst into tears. Like so many other great artists and musicians who passed away far too soon, Karen’s death was a tremendous loss to the music world.

FIONA GREY – Song & Video Review: “Saviour”

Fiona Grey is a colorful and charismatic singer-songwriter with a lot to say about the current state of affairs. With her sassy, sultry vocals and glamorous, yet playful style, she defines her dynamic sound as “dirty pop.” To my ears, her sound is a mash-up of Charli XCX, Gwen Stefani and early Madonna. Alternative newspaper LA Weekly recently named Grey the best pop singer in Los Angeles.

Chicago-born and now based in Los Angeles, Grey draws inspiration for her songs from the world of Hollywood, namely, it’s unrealistic expectations and the vices that people use to escape their anxiety and pain. She hopes her music will help listeners aim to be the most pure and honest versions of themselves. “There is a lot about living in a pop culture centered world that we deem as normal behavior“, she explains. “I hope that the music can remind the listener that this follower-centric, alternate persona universe we live in is all temporary happiness.”

Fiona Grey

She released her wonderful debut EP Belladonna in 2014, then followed with a series of singles, culminating in the release of her second EP Cult Classic in September 2018. That EP addresses the cultural issues Grey feels strongly about, expressing her vulnerability and anger towards the world we’re living in, and her desire to make it a better place. She states, “Each song has its own identity and story it wants to tell.” She’s just released a brilliant video for “Saviour“, one of the tracks off the EP.

It’s a gorgeous, compelling anthem about female empowerment, that women don’t need a man to ‘save’ them. Musically, the song features sweeping cinematic instrumentation, including lush orchestral strings, piano and glittery synths, backed with soaring vocal choruses. Grey’s beautiful vocals are amazing, exhibiting a broad range that goes from soulful croon to impassioned cries. The track also includes lovely guest vocals from singer Emma Cole.

And you can’t be my saviour
I don’t care what they say
All the rules you’ll have to break
You watch me fall apart
And you can’t come and save us
All the times you failed to try
I won’t be a trophy wife
And you can’t be god

The stunning video is an ode to Fellini, Marie Antoinette and the dark and dreamy black and white films of the 1960s. Says Grey, “This video is a stylized version of relationships I felt weak in, and this song was the inspiration to regain strength.” The story was written by Grey, Josh Allen and Sean Berger, filmed by Colin “Stinky” Trenbeath, choreographed by Kevin Stea, styled by Alexandra Mandelkorn, and directed by Sean Berger. Besides Grey, the other women dancers include Kelly Powers, Leslie Duner, Alexa Russo, Megan Campbell and Charlotte Smith. The Lover Boy was played by Conner Floyd.

The video depicts people at what appears to be a reception after the wedding of a couple portrayed by Grey and Floyd. Grey sings of her love, but also her refusal to bow down or be a trophy wife to him, as she and the other women dance and cavort about. There are some tense moments, but with a fresh understanding, they come together in peace and love at the end.

Connect with Fiona:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Purchase on Fiona Grey Music Shop / Apple Music

SARAH MAY – Single Review: “The Journey”

Sarah May2

Sarah May has one of the most striking voices of any female artist around today. Based in London, England, she’s a seasoned singer/songwriter and music producer who’s been writing and recording songs since she was a teen. With a smooth, captivating vocal style, Sarah in her own words “musically vents the woes of being a female in the modern world.” Her poetic lyrics are honest and pure, and never overly symbolic or impenetrable, which makes her songs highly relatable. And when she delivers those lyrics with lovely music and sublime vocals, listening to her songs is an incredibly pleasurable experience.

Since the release of her gorgeous single “Nothing to You” in December 2018, Sarah’s been on a roll, dropping a new single every month or so. I featured that song as well as her bold follow-up single “Because I Turned You Down” on this blog (you can check out those reviews by clicking on the “Related” links at the bottom of this page). She subsequently released the singles “Oops” and “Fly”, and now returns with her fifth single “The Journey“, a bittersweet song about meeting someone and feeling an instant attraction and connection with them, but life circumstances will likely prevent the formation of a romantic relationship. I know from personal experience the dual emotions of euphoria and heartache that occur under these situations.

The song, which was written and produced by Sarah and mixed and mastered by James Preston, is beautiful, with glittery atmospheric synths, subtle bass and soft percussion. The tinkling keys, xylophone, and mesmerizing organ synths are exquisite, creating a dreamy soundscape for Sarah’s enchanting ethereal vocals. It’s her fifth consecutive winning single, keeping her perfect score in delivering stellar tunes fully intact. Well done, Sarah!

Hey you come over here with those sad eyes
Let me get to know you
Tell me what’s on your mind
And I’ll tell you too

And maybe we’re perfect for each other

Time stops when you’re in the room
And its just me and you
I’ve never felt my soul so understood
You get me and I get you

And maybe we’re perfect for each other

Meeting you was so magical
I don’t understand how something so beautiful
Could be so painful
Can we find our way home
I don’t know

In you I found what I didn’t know
I was looking for
But the journey carries on I’ve got to go
And you’re still unsure

But maybe we were perfect for each other

Meeting you was so magical
I don’t understand
How something so beautiful
Could be so painful
Can we find our way home
I don’t know

Connect with Sarah May: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream her music on Spotify / Soundcloud 
Purchase on iTunes / Google Play

New Song of the Week – GHOSTLY BEARD: “Tell Me”

Ghostly Beard Tell Me

In an effort to try and showcase more artists and bands on this blog, today I’m launching another new feature “New Song of the Week”, where each week I’ll post a newly-released single. For my first selection, I’ve chosen the poignant new song “Tell Me” by Canadian artist Ghostly Beard, which dropped yesterday, May 6th. Ghostly Beard is the artistic moniker of French born, but now Montréal, Canada-based, singer/songwriter Patrick Talbot, who I first wrote about in March 2018 when I reviewed his beautiful album Inward.

Somewhat of an enigma, Ghostly Beard prefers the focus to be entirely on his music rather than him, therefore, has chosen to remain physically anonymous, and never shows his image on any of his albums or social media, nor does he perform live. That said, he’s a thoughtful and talented songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist with a lot to tell us, which he beautifully expresses through his compelling lyrics, sublime vocals and dreamy, mellow soundscapes that draw from soft rock, jazz, pop, progressive rock and fusion, among other influences. When listening to his music, one can hear his inspiration from such legendary artists and bands as Steely Dan, Pink Floyd, Michael Franks, James Taylor, Cat Stevens, the Beatles, Genesis, XTC, and Weather Report. All his music is entirely self-produced at his own Studio GB in Montréal.

“Tell Me” starts off with a somber piano riff and strummed electric guitar, then as Ghostly Beard’s smooth, comforting vocals enter, gentle percussion and bass are added to the mix, creating a rather melancholy yet lovely soundscape. The bluesy guitar solo in the bridge is especially nice, and I love the glittery keyboard synths in the final minute that end the song on a high note.

My interpretation of the lyrics are that they speak of a troubled relationship that’s breaking apart, and that only through their shared love can they try and salvage what remains. Ghostly Beard told me that on a broader level, they’re generally about how things in the world seem to be upside down these days.

The beast is crawling
A darker looking future
You can’t live without a tear
The door is closed, alone it ends, tonight
Hiding the light, oh no!

Now tell me what’s knocking me down
And why were you screaming so loud
Tell me what’s knocking me down
While the world is spinning around

There’s only one thing left
To stop this pain
With all our loving
We could try

Connect with Ghostly Beard:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Purchase his music on iTunes / Bandcamp / Amazon

JADED JANE – Artist Spotlight & Interview

I’ve commented previously on this blog about my continual amazement at the sheer magnitude of enormously talented musicians around today who are creating incredible music. In such a seemingly overcrowded industry, it’s inevitable that so many of these musicians and bands struggle to get their music heard, despite the ready availability of a staggering amount of it that’s free for the taking (which as we all know is another entire set of issues). That’s where music bloggers like myself come in, writing about indie artists we like and helping to spread the word about their music and hopefully gain them a few more followers and fans. With that in mind, today I have the pleasure of introducing to my readers the remarkably talented and undeniably charismatic Olsson brothers Axel and Adam who call themselves Jaded Jane.

Jaded Jane 2

Originally from Gothenburg, Sweden, but now split between Gothenburg and Glasgow, Jaded Jane seeks to celebrate humanity and diversity through their music, writing compelling songs with positive, life-affirming lyrics. Drawing upon a wide range of influences such as pop, rock, soul, R&B and hip-hop, they create beautiful, piano-driven melodies and lush soundscapes. Since 2015 they’ve produced four excellent albums, and are now recording their fifth, due for release later this year. I reached out to Jaded Jane to talk about themselves and their music, and was happy Axel agreed to share some of their story.

EML:  Hello Axel. Thank you for agreeing to talk with me. First off, by way of introductions, tell me a little about Jaded Jane – when did you guys form the band, and how did you and your brother Adam decide on the name “Jaded Jane”?

Axel:  Thanks Jeff. I am super glad to be part of your music blog. Jaded Jane and the musical adventure of brothers Axel and Adam Jane Olsson began in our early youth, being the sons of musician Christer Olsson (Plums, Noll 31, Scandinavian 5) and a mother with a passion for music. Growing up to the sounds of Motown, The Beatles and Michael Jackson, to name a few, it was only natural for us to develop a keen sense of melody, harmony and originality. We grew up in the Gothenburg, Sweden suburb of Hammerhill, and our path eventually lead us to New York & Los Angeles, where we spent ten years back and forth immersing ourselves with some of the most inspiring musicians on Earth. The name Jaded Jane came to me in a dream in 2013, when I was living in New York. The name deals with the jaded aspect of the modern human being. Jaded Jane is also a song from our debut album Diversity, and is about life, death and meaning. The name ‘Jane’ has an androgynous quality that is inclusive and gender neutral.

EML:  What prompted you to make those moves from Sweden to Los Angeles and New York, and why did you choose to leave New York for Glasgow, rather than return to Sweden? Does Glasgow have a more thriving music scene?

Axel:  It’s been a long road moving back and forth to New York, Los Angeles and now Glasgow. We came home to Sweden for a few years after New York, and then we ended up collaborating with a few Scottish artists which led us to Glasgow. It is a vibrant music city, with areas that remind me of Brooklyn, NY.  When you are moving to a new city you are putting yourself in a whole new world, which sculpts you into another story and adventure, I have always been excited about learning and growing on all fields as a human being. So I am now in Glasgow, while Adam is still based in Gothenburg.

EML:  Your music is beautiful and uplifting, and your songs offer positive, life-affirming messages. What is the inspiration behind your music and sound?

Axel:  That means a lot to hear that the songs & music spread those messages. We feel that the music we create is greater than us and has the power to heal by touching people on a deeper level. By being brutally honest with ourselves, we allow others to feel that side of us. The things that are the most personal are ultimately the most universal. My inspiration comes from experiencing all of life’s challenges, both the highs and lows.  From a young age, me and Adam starting asking questions about our society, and felt an urge to share our musical stories with other people in hope that it will touch and lift someone who is low.

EML:  Do you both write the songs and lyrics together? And do you both play all the instruments and synths yourselves, or do you work with other session musicians to help create your music?

Axel:  I have written all the songs on the albums released thus far, and we do play all of the instruments. However, on the new album “117” we’re currently working on, Adam is featuring two of his new songs. Adam plays fretless bass, guitar and sings, and I play the piano, synthesizers and also recording and producing the tracks. We previously collaborated with guitarist Mike Stern on our first album Diversity, and L.A.-based soul singer Frank McComb on The Puzzle, an album we made prior to becoming Jaded Jane. But our journey really took off in a new direction while meeting our third member Åke Linton, a sound artist from Sweden who is now part of creating the soundscapes and sounds of Jaded Jane.

EML:  The track “Crystal Stair” on your latest album Salvation is an intriguing song. How did you discover that speech from Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and why did you choose to build a song around it?

Axel:  The whole Salvation album was recorded live in a studio in Gothenburg, on Queen’s old console and the song “Crystal Stair” was just a small improvised part that came from one of the sessions. Both me and Adam have always been inspired by Martin Luther King, and we thought it’d be cool to have his voice on top of the melodies and sounds of the improvised piece.

EML:  I was touched by your recent Instagram post about your struggles and frustrations with trying to make it in this very tough music business. Your music is so wonderful, and you guys need to be heard by a larger audience, which is why I’m happy to feature you on my little music blog. That said, one of the issues I think is that today, most people seem to prefer hip-hop, Country or rock music, rather than beautiful, piano-based easy listening compositions like yours. Yes, there is still a niche for your genre of music, and there are successful artists making music similar to yours such as James Blake and Sufjan Stevens, but they often collaborate with hip hop or other artists to appeal to a wider audience. You’ve stated that you would like to collaborate with other artists, and in fact have a couple of times, like you did with rapper Scope (Jake Lewis) on the track “Life” from your album “One Way”, but that it’s been a struggle getting more artists to collaborate. Any thoughts?

Axel:  You are very right, It is a big challenge to get people to listen to a full song nowadays, even though you spent your whole life building and working on your craft, The masses seem to react to the loudest playing songs. I am looking forward to writing and recording more with similar minded artists, The struggle in paying rent and earning money for food has and I am guessing will always be there when it comes to true artistry, I am a full time busker / street performer in Glasgow at the moment, and that has definitely made me humble in how hard it can be to earn money; it gives you a whole new respect for how to use them.

The music business is a tough field to be in, I have always felt and I know Adam felt it too. We are outside of the business, however, we the songwriters and artists are what makes it possible to make a business out of it, so I am determined to find out what’s going on.

EML:  Your press release states that you’re managed by Scirca Music Group. Some artists & bands choose to hire a management company or PR firm to help them, while others wish to do everything themselves. Have you found it helpful to work with a manager?

A year ago I reached out through social media in search for a music publisher and manager, which got me in contact with the newly started Scirca Music Group. It has been a learning experience for both me and Adam and for the management company, as they are just starting out. I would like to encourage other artists to learn about how it all works, and how it is built up, that is the key to understanding and hopefully knowing where you want to go from there.

EML:  What are you guys working on now? Any plans for another album?

Axel:  As I mentioned earlier, we’ve been recording a new album “117” to be released later this year. It’s being recorded and mixed by our Sound Artist Åke Linton. I’m singing & playing on an old upright piano, and Adam is playing a Spanish nylon guitar & also singing some vocals. The last pieces of the songs on ”117” are being recorded with string arranger & producer Mattias Bylund adding a cello to the songs by cellist David Bukovinszky. Last but not least, I am laying down the bass lines on a 1976 Moog Synthesizer and warm analog pads on a 1980s Korg Polysix. We just shot the first music video for our upcoming single ”Trapped”. It was exciting and it turned out great.

EML: Is there anything else you’d like people to know about Jaded Jane that I’ve neglected to ask?

Axel:  Yes, we want to share our message of “Ignorance Separates, Music Unites”. We want to take a stand even more, making it clearer that we are for all human beings,  especially the ones without a voice. Equality, Humanism, and Reverence for the Beauty and Majesty of Nature are all subjects we care about.

We are from the “hood” of our hometown and we wish to display a different side [to that part of the Gothenburg area] than what is mainly portrayed in media with their car fires, etc. The growth of racist/nationalistic political parties such as SD* is something that we want to be an antidote for. We’ve always stayed clear of politics in our music but when it comes to these ethical & moral values we want to be very clear that we stand for diversity, equality and lifting positive stories about the “hood” which almost always have been a place of brotherhood and acceptance for us. Yes there are problems, but there need to be a more nuanced and balanced portrayal in media. We want to do our part as a counterweight to the negative.

* SD stands for Sweden Democrats, ironically, a socially conservative and far right-wing populist political party.

So lets dig a bit into Jaded Jane’s wonderful catalog and get a feel for their music. They released their debut album Diversity in 2015, a genre-bending work featuring eight tracks drawing upon pop, rock, soul, R&B and hip hop elements. As the title suggests, the songs address uplifting themes of embracing diversity and working together to make the world a better place. Every track on the album is superb, but my favorites are the lovely ballad “Jaded Jane”, the anthemic “After”, “Meaningful Destiny”, with its beautiful piano and shimmering guitar, the funky “The Cure”, with guest vocals from rapper KJ Denhert, and the soulful and fun “Walk the Walk”. Their musicianship and knack for writing infectious melodies that hook us in right from the start are impressive, and I love Axel’s casual vocal style that frequently breaks into a crooning falsetto.

In February 2017, they released their fantastic second album One Waywhich saw them branch out and further experiment with their sound by incorporating more complex and multi-textured synthesizers, deep bass lines and trap beats into their soulful mix. The highlights here are “Tell Me What”, with spacey synths and a funky bass line that’ll rock your world, “Breathing”, with colorful psychedelic synths and guitar chords that are fucking magical, and “Life”, a brilliant track featuring killer rap verses by British rapper Scope (Jake Lewis) that beautifully complement Axel’s falsetto vocals. The uplifting lyrics speak of not letting your past troubles define you or keep you from realizing your dreams: “Living life just watch me risk it, made mistakes but don’t regret ’em / I put on a happy face to hide where I come from / Put your knife down, listen to my rhyme / Everything’s gonna be alright.

Only eight months later, Jaded Jane dropped yet another album Always & Forever, once again going off in another direction with their sound. This time, Axel’s beautiful piano playing takes center stage, with the songs all featuring sublime piano-driven melodies that take their music toward an ambient, easy-listening vibe. In describing his inspiration for the album, Axel wrote as if speaking to his father: “When I sat down by the piano I could feel your presence. I let the songs happen the way they were meant to. Through music we can communicate with another world, here it is, and it is for you, in the here and now and in the hereafter.” The beautiful title track “Always & Forever” is a moving tribute to their father. “Hard to believe that you are gone this time. Oh give me strength to carry on. Easy to smile when you are by my side. You’ll live forever in my heart.” The video was filmed on a snowy night in Gothenburg.

The opening song “Serendipity” is a serene, 13-minute long piece of atmospheric heaven, with extended runs of delicate piano, guitar and whispery synths that are mesmerizing. The song begins as an instrumental-only track that seems to end at around 3:45 minutes, then starts back up at 4:00, this time with Axel’s tender vocals singing the praises of their father: “It was your light. It was your love, that shone through all of us.” This portion of the song ends with a gradual fade-out of reverb at around 8:45, only to start back up at 9:30 with sparse piano keys, accompanied by strummed guitar and whispery synths that throb until the end of the song.

Jaded Jane Salvation

Their fourth and most-recent album is the gorgeous Salvation. Released in November 2018, the album continues with what Jaded Jane refers to as their “exploration of soulful soundscapes of consciousness” that we loved on Always & Forever.  The entire album flows like an atmospheric river of mesmerizing piano-driven sound, enveloping and transporting us to a comforting place of love, peace and serenity. The beautiful title track “Salvation” has simple, spiritual lyrics that speak to finding peace of mind and salvation in the hereafter: “I’ll stay right here, through my last tears. Ain’t got nothing left to fear. Salvation. It’s the longest street, I will follow thee to another space and time. I will walk this road, never looking down, to the place that we’ll call home.”

Another standout track is “Ethereal”, which lives up to its name with breathtaking atmospheric music. Axel’s piano work is absolutely stunning, backed by sweeping glittery synths, gently thumping drumbeats and Adam’s subtle guitar notes.

“Orion” is a beautiful instrumental track, consisting of only delicate piano, gentle drumbeats and whispy ambient background synths. Though over five minutes long, it seems much shorter. The track segues uninterrupted into album closer “Crystal Stair”, with a continuation of the gentle drumbeats and whispy synths. At one minute, words from a famous 1960 speech by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. at Spelman College enter: “Your life’s blueprint must be a commitment to the eternal principles of beauty, love and justice. Don’t allow anybody to pull you so low as to make you hate them. Don’t allow anybody to cause you to lose your self-respect to the point that you do not struggle for justice. However young you are, you have a responsibility to seek to make your nation a better nation in which to live.

The track encapsulates the message of love, tolerance and social justice that Jaded Jane seeks to spread by Salvation, and with all their songs. I greatly admire these guys, both in terms of the wonderful music they make, and the positive vibes they spread through their kindness, love and joy. I cannot wait to hear their new album.

Connect with Jaded Jane:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Soundcloud
Purchase on iTunes

AISHIA – Single Review: “Aura of Gold (The First Meeting)”

aishia

As EclecticMusicLover, I’m always thrilled when given the opportunity to write about artists from around the world. Today I’m featuring a second artist from Malaysia – the lovely and talented young singer-songwriter Aishia, who just released her beautiful debut single “Aura of Gold (The First Meeting)“. Born and raised in Mumbai, India, she now lives in Kuala Lumpur (like the Malaysian artist Lyia Meta who I featured earlier this month). Only 17 years old, Aishia has a golden voice, with maturity and vocal ability that seems far beyond her tender age.

She began writing songs at the age of 12 and started proper vocal training at 15, though she had performed in small events and gatherings in Kuala Lumpur, which helped her gain experience performing. Like most artists, Aishia loves music, and had this to say: “Music is a part of me; no matter where I go, I need to be able to create music. It’s who I am and something I love doing. I’m also always listening to as many different kinds of music I can get my hands on. It keeps me inspired and motivated to create new things.”  Some of her musical inspirations include such varied artists as Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Ed Sheeran, Lana Del Rey, Taylor Swift, Estrella Morente, Stromae, Sofia Ellar, Henry Mancini and Michel Legrand.

“Aura of Gold” is the first single from her forthcoming debut album of the same name, scheduled for release in March. The album is an experimental concept album, co-written and produced by Malaysian composer and music producer Zameer. Her main aim in putting the concept album Aura of Gold together was to create an almost 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.  Zameer told me they used mostly orchestral instruments to create the organic sounds, with no modern synths or FX.

The enchanting song has a lush, sweeping soundscape of Indian and Middle Eastern influences, delivered by a rich array of instruments, including sitar, tabla, flute, violin and other Indian and Middle Eastern string and percussion instruments. The music evokes the mystery and romance of the legendary stories of Scheherazade and the Arabian Nights. Aishia’s clear, strong vocals are beautiful and captivating as she sings to a new lover: “You came with the fire of life in your eyes. Walking towards me like some heavenly sight. I recalled your face from those ancient times. Aura of gold, silvery lights.”

“Aura of Gold (The First Meeting)” is a gorgeous song, and a promising debut from this very talented young woman. She and Zameer have created something quite wonderful, and I cannot wait to hear the whole album.

Connect with Aishia:  Facebook / Instagram / Twitter
Stream/purchase “Aura of Gold” on  Spotify / SoundcloudiTunes 

STUART BLANCE – Album Review: “Utopia”

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Stuart Blance is a talented and thoughtful singer-songwriter from Perth, Scotland. (He also happens to be a terrific landscape and events photographer.)  He’s been writing and recording songs since 1999, and in 2001 he released his debut CD Utopia, an ambitious work featuring 13 tracks covering genres ranging from folk and Americana to pop and rock. In the years since, he has performed in venues throughout Scotland and also in London, and recorded several singles, three of which are included on his 2018 EP On Your Side.  Given the renewed interest in his music, Stuart felt the time was right for Utopia to be heard again, and so the album was re-released in digital form in December 2018, and I have the pleasure of reviewing it today. The songs all sound as fresh and relevant now as they did when they were recorded nearly two decades ago.

Stuart’s engaging music style is characterized primarily by gently-strummed acoustic guitar, often accompanied by percussive synths and occasional subtle bass notes. His contemplative lyrics touch on oft-covered subjects of life, humanity, heartache and pain, with the goal of sharing uplifting messages of hope and optimism. This is clear on the opening track “Lifeline“, where he urges us to stay true to ourselves in finding our way forward in life: “You’ve got it all, don’t throw your life away. And you’ll see where your path lies. Just follow your lifeline. The future lies ahead, it’s yours to keep.” So too on the title track “Utopia” a pleasant folk song where he extols the virtues of positive thinking and striving to be a good person: “You may be a dreamer, seeing good when it’s not there. Or maybe a believer in being kind and fair. Even if you’re feeling low, always try and smile.” And on Burnout“, he gently advises us to not push ourselves to the breaking point: “Slow down, take a short break. Just take your time. Enjoy the ride. You’re heading for a burnout.”

Several of the tracks on Utopia are really lovely and deeply moving. One of my favorites is “Memories“, a beautiful song with strummed guitar and delicate atmospheric synths that create a haunting, yet enthralling soundscape for Stuart’s calm, soothing vocals. He wistfully sings about revisiting past experiences that shaped his life: “Memories keep flooding back. Creeping into places that I haven’t been to in quite a while. Diaries kept for years on end. Words unheard for decades. Untold secrets brought to life. Oh I feel so at ease about these old memories. Won’t you please reminisce with me about these old memories?

Another favorite is “Slower Than the Flow“, a languid, hymn-like song in which he asks compelling questions for which simple answers continue to elude us: “Why do people go through life with their eyes closed? Why so many people without homes? Why can’t we take some time to look around us? Spare a thought and show someone you care. / Why must we fight like little children? Why must it always end in tears? Why is the root of violence in religion? When will the stigma disappear?

On the amusing “Fact or Folklore“, Stuart playfully ponders a number of fairy tale myths with droll satire: “Did Jack climb his beanstock, was Goldilocks so pure? She slept with the three bears, then went back for more. / Did Humpty Dumpty fall? I heard at first they shot him, then kicked him off the wall. / Climb over the rainbow, we’ll meet the Wicked Witch. She thinks that she’s scary, but she’s a stupid bitch.” And yet another personal favorite is “Anytime“, one of the most interesting tracks on the album from a music standpoint, and also the longest, clocking in at six minutes. The song opens with fluttering spacey synths which gradually fade into the background as Stuart’s pleasing layered acoustic guitar notes and smooth vocals enter the mix. The synths return to the forefront as the guitars fade, and continue through to the end as the song closes on a mysterious and atmospheric air.

Stuart switches gears in a big way on the final two tracks, replacing his laid-back folk persona with a punk-rock alter-ego. “Groovy People” is a simple but fun tune about partying with cool people in a hot club, delivered with chugging riffs of fuzzy guitars and a rousing drumbeat. Stuart’s vocals sound completely different here, with a bit of an early David Bowie twang. Even better is “Comin’ On Up“, where he really lets loose with hard-driving riffs of gnarly guitar and buzzing bass, set to a heavy thumping drumbeat. I really love this track, and want to hear more of this side of him! Some might feel these last two tracks don’t belong on what is otherwise an acoustic folk album, but I think it’s perfectly fine, and makes for a great, upbeat ending to an excellent work.

Connect with Stuart on Facebook / Twitter
Stream his music on Spotify / Soundcloud
Purchase through his website https://stuartblance.com/store and some songs are also available on Bandcamp

SARAH MAY – Single Review: “Because I Turned You Down”

Sarah May is a seasoned singer/songwriter and music producer based in London, England who’s been writing and recording songs since she was a teen. Only a month ago, in early December 2018, she impressed us with her release of a beautiful and haunting single “Nothing to You”. The song addressed the pain of unrequited love and being obsessed with someone who has no feelings for you, and showcased Sarah’s captivating, yet understated vocal style. (You can read my review here.)  She now returns with a new single “Because I Turned You Down“, a bold track with brutally frank lyrics that speak to female empowerment, specifically with regard to the expectations some men have about dating and sex. It’s an incredibly satisfying song from both a musical and message standpoint.

Sarah wrote the music and lyrics and produced the track, with mixing and mastering done by James Preston. The music consists primarily of subtle keyboard and percussive synths set to a thumping dance beat. As the track progresses, bits of spacey and wobbly synths provide added texture to the music, but still allow Sarah’s smooth, clear vocals to shine as she defiantly sings the no-holds-barred lyrics:

Can you try to understand
I don’t hate you just cause you’re a man
I just hate the way you think
And the way you treat women
Yeah, you’re simply a dick
To you it comes as a surprise
That a girl can go out drinking with the guys
And end the night in her own bed
Without giving you head in the taxi ride

Do you think that’s how you pull a girl
Buy her a drink and throw your cliche lines at her
Just cause I’m drunk, doesn’t mean that its okay
So take your hands off me, please pull yourself away

And because I turned you down, you say that I’m a bitch
I must be a lesbian or some kind of hardcore feminist
I should feel lucky that you showed interest in me
Cause I’m ugly, I’m not worthy of your time
I’m some kind of hippie freak

Connect with Sarah May: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream/purchase her music on Spotify / Soundcloud / iTunes

LYIA META – Single Review: “All of My Love”

lyia meta2

I’ve featured a number of international artists on this blog, and one of my favorites is Malaysian singer/songwriter Lyia Meta. Based in the beautiful capital city of Kuala Lumpur, Lyia is a stunning woman with a voice to match. With her deep, resonant vocal style, she’s become an international star, having won numerous music awards over the past three years, including the VIMA (Voice Independent Music Award, representing multiple countries in Southeast Asia) for Best Overall Female Act in 2016, the GLOBAL Music Award and Radio Wigwam (UK) Award for Best Female Artist in 2017, and the 2018 Josie World Music Artist Award, which was presented to her last September at the world’s largest independent awards show, in Tennessee. She also happens to be an amazingly talented visual artist!

In early 2018, Lyia released her enchanting single “Without Walls”, which I reviewed and liked so much it earned a spot on my Top 100 Songs of 2018. In December, she dropped her latest single “All of My Love“, a powerful pop/rock anthem written by award winning British singer/songwriter and producer Paul Michael Curtis. She usually writes her own songs, but said “All of My Love” really resonated with her when Paul pitched it to her. The song is the perfect vehicle for Lyia, as her commanding vocals hold their own against the soaring instrumentals.

The song has a throwback 80s feel, reminiscent of some of the pop-rock anthems of that period, but with an updated sound. The beautiful, sweeping instrumentals are marvelous, especially the piano and lush strings, and the hard rock guitar riffs add a nice bit of drama to the track. Lyia passionately sings of her longing for someone she still loves and can’t get over, despite the fact they’re no longer together. “But I’m still waiting, and I can’t let go. My heart is breaking and I want you to know. You’ve got all of my love, and all of my heart. I believed you when you said we’d never be apart.” It’s a great song, and so is the video, which features a dynamic mix of lovely and bittersweet visuals.

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

SARAH MAY – Single Review: “Nothing to You”

London-based singer-songwriter Sarah May has had music in her blood nearly all her life. She began writing songs at the age of nine, and taught herself to play guitar and keyboard. She recorded her first song when she was 14, and released her first CD of original songs at 17. Since then, she’s continued to write, play and release music, also managing to earn a Bachelor’s degree in Criminology and Criminal Justice along the way. To date, she’s written over 100 songs that touch on many of life’s perplexing issues such as love and heartache, depression, addiction, politics, sexism, partying and financial hardship.

Sarah has just dropped a gorgeous and haunting new single “Nothing to You.” It’s a rather long track, clocking in at 5:22 minutes, but is so lovely and compelling I don’t want it to end. Opening with a somewhat mournful keyboard synth, the song gradually expands into a captivating soundscape of moody synths and gentle percussion as Sarah’s smooth vocals wash over our ears. Her voice is stunning and understated as she earnestly sings the lyrics addressing the pain of unrequited love, of being obsessed with someone who has no feelings for you:

Sittin’ here missing you knowing I’ve not crossed your mind
Things still remind me of you regardless of the passing time
Trying to find out what you’re doing without having to get in touch
Feeling like a stalker, Never knew I liked you this much

I wanna go wherever you are right now
Though I know it’s not a good idea
Or I could drink alone at home
Find someone else on Tinder

I want you to see me and fall in love with me
I want you to be near and sense that I am here
But dream is all I do, because I mean nothing to you

The backing choruses, which I’m guessing are Sarah’s own vocals layered over her main vocals, are sublime, giving the track a dreamy ethereal quality that beautifully emphasizes the sense of loneliness expressed in the lyrics. It’s a marvelous song.

Connect with Sarah May: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream/purchase “Nothing to You” on Spotify / Soundcloud / iTunes