VOX EAGLE – Single Premier: “Can’t Stop”

Regular readers of this blog know I write about a lot of indie artists and bands, as one of the things that drives me is wanting to support them in what little way I can. One of my absolute favorites – both from a musical and personal standpoint – is VoxEagle. Essentially the music project of Australian-born and now Colorado-based singer-songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist Andy Crosby, VoxEagle first burst onto the music scene in the beginning of 2017 with the release of the electro-pop single “No Sleep”. The terrific song has been streamed over 279,000 times on Spotify. He then followed up with a second single “Come Over”, both of which were featured on his debut EP Flamingo Paradiso Pt. 1., released in July 2017. I loved both songs so much they ended up on my Top 100 Songs of 2017 list.

Also in 2017, Andy and his wife relocated from bustling Manhattan to the bucolic solitude of Evergreen, Colorado, high in the Colorado Rockies west of Denver. There, he built his own recording studio, which he dubbed “The Eagles Nest”, and set to work on his first full album, the brilliant genre-bending TriumAvium, which was released in October 2018. You can read my album review and interview with Andy here. One of the tracks on the album titled “Wander” went all the way to #1 on my Weekly Top 30 this past February.

Now he returns with a wonderful new single “Can’t Stop“, which I’m thrilled to premier today. The song officially drops on December 16 on all major digital music sites, some of which are included at the end of this post. “Can’t Stop” has a soulful dance pop vibe, and captures the infectious energy we first encountered on “No Sleep.”

VoxEagle Studio 2

That energy is the essence of VoxEagle’s unique, yet eclectic, sound. In our interview, he told me “VoxEagle is a musical energy; I hate to call it a band or whatnot. It’s vibe I suppose is with me at the helm, [though] the whole idea of VoxEagle in the beginning was to collaborate with various artists.” He added that his main overriding objective in making music is that “It’s just gotta have big melodies and be real energetic.

The track opens with spacey, almost seductive synths that quickly expand like a giant flower unfolding its petals into a beautiful explosion of sound and color. Starting with a deep, thumping bassline as a foundation, VoxEagle layers a rich palette of sparkling, dreamy synths, guitar, and percussion, including what sound like bongo drums, to create an exuberant groove that just makes you feel good. He has a fine, casual singing voice, and I like when he freestyles some of the lyrics. It all builds to an exhilarating crescendo before fading out with those spacey synths and pulsating bass. I love it!

Although “Can’t Stop” was written prior to the occurrence of a personal tragedy Andy recently experienced with the death of his best friend of 30 years, it really hits home for him, serving as a sort of anthem for his philosophy about life and his music career. He became so despondent over his friend’s death that he actually considered throwing in the towel on making music. Thankfully, he came around to realizing it would be impossible for him to stop, as making music is the one thing that keeps him sane at the end of the day – a sentiment I and many others I know can strongly identify with.

Those feelings are perfectly expressed in the lines “Every time I get the hook wrong, I stay back all night just to fix it cuz we can’t stop until we catch the feeling. All I know is that we’ve come too far. Too far to turn back now. Can’t stop these feet when they start moving, no.” I hope VoxEagle never stops making songs for us to enjoy.

Connect with Vox Eagle:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream: Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase: iTunesGoogle Play

PETER KLEINHANS Releases New Video for “Something’s Not Right”

Something's Not Right cover

Peter Kleinhans is a New York-based singer-songwriter who, after spending 30 years as a professional harness horse racer 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, with thoughtful lyrics and catchy melodies. He doesn’t have a particularly strong singing voice, but his distinctive vocals are warm and comforting. 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.”

Last October, Peter wrote a fascinating guest article for this blog about his song “91st Street”, which you can read here. Now I’m happy to feature him again for the release of his brilliant and compelling new video for the title track from his album “Something’s Not Right“. The song speaks to the general sense of uncertainty and unease that many Americans seem to be feeling about their country and their own future, while still trying to remain optimistic and grateful for what’s good. His video, produced by Peter and directed by filmmaker Harrison Kraft, brings his powerful lyrics to life with an entertaining, yet at times troubling, narrative. Peter explains his inspiration behind the song, as well as the making of the video.

“Something’s Not Right” was one of my first songs, and ended up being the title of my first album. I wrote it in 2013, and it reflected the sense of unease I was getting from many of the previously-comfortable friends I had made during my years of announcing horse races in Indiana, Michigan, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania. I’d taken the couple of years beforehand trying to understand the forces underlying the economy, and became convinced that although the economy was officially ‘in recovery,’ things were not improving for average Americans. This was confirmed for me by the universal sense I was receiving from everyone I knew that there was a deep unease and lack of security brewing from a thinning sense of stability and sustainability.

This song was written three years before the election — it’s not a political song. What interested me was that feeling of unease, the sense of something-not-being-right, and how it emanated not just from economic forces but also from the impersonal face of what the nation was presenting its citizens. The song begins by invoking Applebee’s and Lowe’s as the workplaces of the protagonist, and ends with a desperate appeal to Walmart as the only viable destination for the drive he takes (ostensibly to escape the mundanity of his experience) in the middle of the night.

I am very happy and lucky to have connected with Harrison Kraft and his brilliant and young set of filmmakers, who completely got the idea and brought it to life in this music video. They used the conceit of a July 4 celebration — a party that has lost its true feeling of celebration, and even the reason for celebrating — to convey this overall all-consuming sense of disillusion. It was Kraft’s vision to use mannequins to convey characters playing their roles in life but without really ‘being there’. The protagonist’s girlfriend oscillates from real to a simulation and so do many of the background characters. Reality starts to take on a disturbing turn in a number of ways: the hand flipping the burger suddenly turns to plastic, the son’s firecracker goes the opposite way- it’s supposed to be fake, but it becomes a real explosive. These ideas were all in the hands of the video production team; I’d discussed what I thought the central themes of the song were, and then I gave them free rein to take it wherever they wanted to go. They took the ball and ran with it, and I’m thrilled with the result. Sometimes you have to know when to give up control, but you’ve really got to have trust in your team when you’re doing that. I hope you enjoy the result, and be on the lookout for more music videos forthcoming from Harrison Kraft and his team!”

Peter Kleinhans – Something’s Not Right from Harrison Kraft on Vimeo.

Peter is currently finishing up his second album, due for release in early 2020. To learn more about him, check out his website and follow him on Facebook /  Twitter  / Instagram
Stream his music on Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase on iTunesGoogle Play

ISAAC GRINSDALE – EP Review: “Entertainment”

Isaac Grinsdale EP Art

I recently learned about British singer-songwriter Isaac Grinsdale when he reached out to me about his new EP Entertainment. I’m so glad he did, because it’s a terrific work. Inspired by such artists as Jimmy Eat World, Radiohead, Placebo, Frank Turner and American Football, the Leeds-based musician writes songs with thoughtful, compelling lyrics and unconventional, yet enthralling melodies. Isaac learned to play the guitar in his early teens, and got heavily into hard rock music, which led him to play in several rock and hardcore bands. Now a bit older and wiser, he’s transitioned into making more introspective, singer-songwriter acoustic-driven music, which has culminated in the release of his debut EP Entertainment.

About his new music direction, Isaac explains “I was really inspired by the ethos of the band Refused: That as musicians we should be playing at the edge of our ability, and pushing the boundaries of our music at all times. Otherwise, we’re not playing the kind of music we should be. It’s always stuck with me and frames how I write.”  Entertainment provides ample evidence that he was right to follow his instincts, as all four tracks are beautifully-crafted and deeply honest. A skilled multi-instrumentalist, Isaac played all the instruments himself, and even produced and mixed the recordings.

Isaac Grinsdale performing

The first track “The Blind Leading the Blind” was also one of the first songs Isaac wrote and recorded. It’s a lovely tune, with a peppy guitar-driven melody that belies the withering lyrics that speak to the divisive rhetoric and false promises of our political leaders. In an interview with the webzine imPRESSED, Isaac stated that the song “is basically about growing up and realising the world we live in is fucked up – completely removed from what I was taught as a child.” His intricate strummed and chiming guitar work is exquisite, and all the supporting instruments are perfectly balanced, providing a strong, albeit understated soundscape that allows the guitars and Isaac’s clear, earnest vocals to shine.

They’re words that I have heard since a child
I hear them now: ‘I promise change!’
I once had no reason to doubt
Oh how strange it all seems looking back

Because now…

The suits fail to hide the Facade
And their words fail in their intended charm
And it all sounds so bizarre
Like a lexicon based on Orwell’s Newspeak

They are words that I have heard since a child
I hear them now again
But here where the blind lead the blind
It will all fall on deaf ears, that’s all they’ll find

In the great deception, our language will strip us, and the world, of any sense of the plural. Now we’re left to speak in terms of ‘us’ and ‘them’

Inspired by a book by author Guy Debord: The Society of the Spectacle, the title track “Entertainment” is about how music, or any other art form for that matter, can provide a small counterbalance or escape to the depressing political bullshit touched on in the first track. Isaac based the cover art for his EP on the book’s cover art of the book, which he explained “captures perfectly the idea that we tend to look at the world through a distorted lens/framework.” The song has a rather interesting and unconventional, but pleasing melody that to my ears has a late-90s vibe reminiscent of artists of that period like Duncan Sheik and the Goo Goo Dolls.

Nullius in Verba” is my favorite of the four tracks, not only because of it’s hauntingly beautiful melody and sublime instrumentation, but also the message of the song, which I strongly identify and agree with. The title is Latin for “not in any words” – essentially “take nobody’s word for it”, and is also the motto of the Royal Society, the British national academy of sciences. Isaac touched on the song’s meaning in his imPRESSED interview: “[It’s] about the importance of science, and rational thinking, slowly creating a more progressive and liberal culture from our draconian past. I had a very religious upbringing, but as a late teenager, I started to discover a lot more about how science, over time, has largely overturned our ideas from our past. One example that springs to mind is that human beings have evolved, rather than being created by a supreme being. For me, these are some of our greatest achievements.” Isaac urges us to view things through open eyes and an open mind: “Take a close look at all the terms we lay down. To look at this as objectively as we can. Just not in words, just not in opinion. No don’t you tell God what to do with his days.”

The first thing that came to my mind when hearing the fourth track “Speed of Film” was Joni Mitchell, arguably one of the greatest singer-songwriters of all time. Isaac’s unusual chord progressions and guitar notes call to mind many of Mitchell’s songs, and with his distinctive guitar-tapping technique, the song has a marvelous, fascinating sound. He explained that the song “is about how our memories make us into the people we are today. Lyrically, it’s packed with anecdotes of my friends and family: The great (and not so great) experiences we’ve had together.”

Entertainment is a wonderful debut effort by this skilled musician, who I admire not only for his impressive musical talents, but also for his unflinching stances on social and political issues. An interesting little side thing I noticed about the EP is that the four tracks are arranged such that each one is progressively longer than the one before. The first is 2:30 minutes long, while the last is 4:00 minutes. Isaac just finished recording his second record, an eight-track album titled Paper Crowns that he hopes to release in Spring of 2020, and I really look forward to hearing it. He’s supported acoustic greats such as Jon Gomm, Nick Harper and Beth Orton, and is now gearing up for a major UK Tour in support of his EP.

Follow Isaac:  Website / Facebook / Twitter 
Stream his music:  Spotify / Apple Music / YouTube
Purchase:  Bandcamp / Google Play / iTunes

MMIV – Single Review: “Room for Requirement”

MMIV 2

MMIV is a fairly new band from Leeds, England, comprised of Max Rawdon (vocals, guitar), Charlie Adshead (bass) and Jasper Exley (drums). They formed in mid 2018 when Charlie noticed some lo-fi tracks that Max had posted on the University of Leeds Band Society online pages, and reached out to him. The two immediately hit it off, and started working together on acoustic demos and performing as a duo at open mics around Leeds. They tried out a few drummers, eventually settling on Jasper, who had previously been in the local band Turn Stones with Charlie, and is also currently keyboardist for funk band Everyday People. For their debut single, they recorded one of Max’s original songs “Room for Requirement“, which was released on October 17.

In an interview with the webzine Lippy, Max said that “Room for Requirement” is “indebted” to his life at the university. Written during his first semester of first year, the song speaks to his period of transition coming from a small rural area to the overwhelming big city. The song celebrates the life of a student, even those times when it can all seem bewildering. You feel torn between missing the comforting familiarity of home, and the excitement of experiencing new things and meeting new people in a completely different environment. It’s against this backdrop that the roller coaster highs and lows of a budding romance can feel so intense.

The song has a pleasing lo-fi quality, with a catchy melody that slowly builds to a jubilant tempo in the chorus. Max lays down some very fine guitar work, letting loose with a terrific solo in the bridge. Charlie’s prominent bass line is particularly good, giving the track a solid depth, which is accentuated by Jasper’s lively drumbeats. Max’s low-key vocals are really nice, and being a sucker for British accents, I like how his shines through on this track. It’s a great debut from MMIV, and I look forward to hearing more from this promising band.

I just hope there’s nothing left required
And I’ve admired you from afar
I might lean my head above the island
And try to find it by a star
Do you feel like a bursting into life
Alright

Cause I don’t need nothing now, maybe a home
I think I’m better off dancing alone
Up down, turned around
Up down, turned around

All of the lights are shining very brightly
My head feels like it’s tingling slightly
The touch of your hand is enough to make me think it might be love again

Connect with MMIV:  Facebook / Instagram
Stream their music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase:  Google Play

THUNDER FOX – Album Review: “Love at First Sniff”

Thunder Fox album art

Thunder Fox is a wickedly funny and talented group of guys from Sydney, Australia who’ve just put out a devilishly entertaining new album Love at First Sniff. It’s the most fun I’ve had listening to a record in a very long while, and the title is apropos, as it was definitely ‘love at first sniff’ for me! As EclecticMusicLover, I always enjoy when artists and bands mix things up genre-wise, and this band does it better than almost anyone, tossing in generous helpings of funk, blues rock, soul, hip hop, jazz and pop into their delectable music stew. In their own words, they serve “gooey hot horntastic shreddage, the best sauce for your ears ‘n eyes, causing sonic copulation worldwide.” Indeed they do! Their music is fun and bawdy, yet with a sexy sophistication that makes it incredibly appealing. It’s like Sly & the Family Stone, James Brown, Earth, Wind & Fire, Prince, Nick Jonas and Anderson .Paak all joined forces in one gigantic, over-the-top jam session!

Thunder Fox

Making all this saucy music mayhem are Sam “Sewad” Dawes (Lead Vocals/Guitar), Sam “Gnars” Frank (Lead Guitar/Vocals), Connor “Ronnoc” McCool (Bass), Max “Mecks” Vallentine (Drums), Travers “Full Travers” Keirle (Smooth Sax/Vocals/Rhymes) and Jesse “Jizze” Tachibana (Trumpet/Vocals/Synths). They’ve been prolific in their music output, releasing quite a lot of it over the past five years. From what I can tell, the first music they released was their very respectable six-track EP Cosmic Pudding in early 2015. They followed up with a few singles and dropped their second EP Mother Machine in December 2016, a great collection of songs including the brilliant “Vanilla Chinchilla”. More singles followed in 2018 and 2019, culminating in the release of their first full-length album Love at First Sniff on Halloween, which I have the distinct pleasure of reviewing today.

About the album, the band states: “The record muses on subject matter with a discernible sense of growth and progression while stretching across a canyon of mixed emotion surrounding love, existentialism and everything in between.” Lead singer Sam Dawes adds: “In our fast-paced, modernity-obsessed society, it has become apparent that some cornerstones of humanity, such as love, can alter on their surface yet remain unshaken at their core. ‘Love At First Sniff’ (and ‘Been Busy’ from it) is an elegy to and an observation of human connection and love in a world shaped by excess.”

Thunder Fox 2

Excess is the byword here, and more is most definitely better! The album opens with the title track “Love at First Sniff“, a rather sultry-sounding intro piece with ominously spoken lyrics and sparse, almost spooky instrumentals. The track ends with sounds of someone sniffing, our first clue that this isn’t going to be just any old conventional record. Thunder Fox then launches headlong into “WTF is This“, and we’re off on a phantasmagorical sonic adventure. Tachibana’s exuberant blaring trumpet is the highlight here, driving the track forward while a stop-start guitar riff provides the melodic substructure. Dawes’ colorful, silky vocals are an absolute delight to my ears as he croons “Be careful what you put in your mouth though. But that’s not just style, now is it sweetie pie? Oh yeah, I said it, and you didn’t think I would. But you did it, and you lied, and I didn’t think you could. /What the fuck is this? You got some nerve! But when you block my ears with those legs, it’s the warmest sound, yes I’ve ever heard.

As the song progresses, Dawes breaks into some brief high-speed rapping, then halfway through, the tempo changes to a languid, sultry groove. Horns and sax still blaring, our ears are now bathed by intricate funky guitars, wobbly bass and psychedelic synths as Dawes’ vocals turn seductive. It’s like the song has two completely different parts, with so much going on musically that I find it difficult to fully articulate all that I’m hearing. It’s really a phenomenal song, and I’m already blown away by this band’s astonishing musicianship.

Next up is “Been Busy” the second single from the album, and my first introduction to Thunder Fox. The song is a catchy as fuck earworm, with an upbeat, head-bopping tempo and more of those wonderful exuberant horns. Once again, the guys employ several melodic change-ups throughout the song, keeping us in a continual state of surprise. An interesting aspect of the song is that it starts off with the chorus “Ooh, I’ve been busy, not helping my health, but helping myself.” Dawes croons about having as much sex as possible to get over his pain: “When your heart is broken, only one thing left to do. Open up your kitchen, start taking those orders baby.”

As great as the song is, the hilarious video’s even better! Thunder Fox are definitely not afraid to put themselves out there. Wearing very suggestive wrestling singlets and white crew socks, the guys dance around against a number of spacey backdrops. Eventually, they spar with, and are ultimately vanquished by, the opposing team dressed in red singlets. How can you not love these guys?

On “Hot Tub“, the guys really channel their inner James Brown and Prince, with more soulful, funked-up grooves than should be allowed in one song. Have I mentioned how much I love this band? Their guitar work is fantastic, and the bass, synths, horns, sax and percussion are all perfection, creating a dynamic, funk-drenched backdrop for Dawes’ gorgeous vocals. Their lyricism is wonderful, and here’s an example why I think that: “My brain is a trickle-down economy, temptation’s so damn bitch. Yeah, so many issues but tissues won’t fix it. There’s a cream for every itch./ My baby’s boiling, she should sit down. There’s a line she don’t need to cross. It’s me here sitting in a hot tub…

Squeedup Vol. 2” is a twisted one-minute-long answer to their 2018 single “Squeedup”, and the first of three transitional interludes featured on the album. It quickly segues into the sexy and soulful love song “Look at U“, for which the guys have produced one of the funniest videos I’ve ever seen. It stars the two Sams (Dawes & Frank) as characters hooking up on a dinner-date, with other band members making cameo appearances, These guys are crazy! Dawes’ sultry vocals remind me of Nick Jonas, and no more so than on this track.

The guys keep delivering the funky grooves with the jazz-infused “Every Single Day“, and I’m starting to run out of superlatives to describe them and their music. Once again, I’m loving Tachibana’s trumpet and Keirle’s sax, and Vallentine’s drumming is particularly awesome here. And it goes without saying that Dawes’ always impressive vocal gymnastics really shine on this track. “#fuck” is a dark instrumental interlude consisting of a reverb-heavy guitar riff, industrial synths and a pummeling drumbeat. It’s an interesting segue into the dark and sultry “I’m Your Man“. This song also has a jazzy vibe, with vibrant horns and sax, and a slowly building tempo. Dawes’ vocals sound increasingly diabolical as he warns “I’m your mutherfuckin’ man, so don’t you make no other plans.”

Baby, I’m Famous” opens with one of the guys saying “We’re running out of tape“, then another yells “Shut the fuck up and play! Bitch“, at which point McCool’s very funky bass enters the picture, and soon joined by the rest of the band jamming their respective instruments. The song has a strong Prince vibe, with some terrific guitar licks and psychedelic-tinged synths. I love Keirle’s tasty sax riff in the bridge that pays homage to the Average White Band’s classic “Pick Up the Pieces”. “360p” is the third interlude track, starting off with what sounds like someone searching for a radio station, finally settling on one where Thunder Fox is jamming hard.

The album closes with the eight and a half minute-long gem “Feels So Good“, a slow and sexy love song. It’s a beautiful track, reminiscent of some of the great soul songs of the 70s by acts like Earth, Wind and Fire and The Originals. The guys play as an incredibly tight unit, delivering soulful grooves that transport us to a state where we ‘feel so good’. The song has a dramatic extended run that reminds me of the Isaac Hayes masterpieces “Walk on By” and “By the Time I Get to Phoenix”, and of course, Dawes’ silky smooth vocals are perfection.

It’s a fitting end to a terrific album, which I cannot gush about nearly enough. I’m now a massive fan of Thunder Fox, and in a funk that I’m half a world away in Southern California, because I would love to see them perform live. Those of you fortunate enough to be living in eastern Australia can catch them at one of their upcoming shows:

Thunder Fox 2019 Tour Dates

Fri 22 Nov – The Basement, Canberra
Sat 23 Nov – Yah Yah’s, Melbourne
Sat 7 Dec – Cambridge Warehouse, Newcastle
Sun 8 Dec – North Gong Hotel, Wollongong (free entry)
Thu 12 Dec – Beach Hotel, Byron Bay (free entry)
Fri 13 Dec – Black Bear Lodge, Brisbane
Sat 14 Dec – Imperial Hotel, Sunshine Coast
Sat 21 Dec – Oxford Art Factory, Sydney

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

New Song of the Week – MARVIN DEE BAND: “Sweetlake City”

Until recently, I wasn’t aware that The Netherlands had such a thriving music scene. Last month, I featured Dutch indie rock band Morgendust on this blog, and am now pleased to introduce the Marvin Dee Band. With their pleasing folk rock sound, influenced by such acts as Dave Matthews Band, Peter Gabriel, Gavin DeGraw, Sting and John Mayer, they honestly sound like they could be from Nashville or Austin, rather than Rotterdam. Although it was released a few weeks ago, I’ve chosen their latest single “Sweetlake City” as my New Song of the Week.

The Marvin Dee Band has been through many changes since forming earlier in the decade. These changes were the inspiration for their new album, simply and appropriately titled Changes. This wrenching period of unrest continued for more than two years, during which the band parted ways with three band members while in the middle of recording the new album. The lineup now consists of front man and songwriter Marvin Dee (guitar & lead vocals), Quintijn Kuypers (bass, backing vocals), Cas Ronckers (keyboards, backing vocals), Karsten Klemm (electric guitar, backing vocals) and Jonas Nieuwenbroek (drums).

Marvin Dee Band 2

The album was written and produced by Marvin Dee, and released on October 6th only in physical form on CD and Vinyl. It will be released on all streaming services soon. In addition to their new lineup, the band went all out for the recording of the album.  Wanting a fuller, more sophisticated sound, they recruited Ben Rodenburg for horn arrangements, Myrthe van de Weetering for strings arrangements, and Age Kat for additional electric guitar. I’ve listened to Changes, and it’s a beauty. Each of the 11 outstanding tracks reveal a little bit of the band’s story, reflecting the turbulent times the band went through these past two years, and emerging stronger then ever before.

The fourth single from Changes, “Sweetlake City” speaks to chasing dreams while also being thankful for what you already have. The band explains the inspiration behind the track: “A few years ago, Marvin traveled to America for a short solo tour. There, he met with Susan Rogers, former engineer/producer for Prince and the Barenaked Ladies. Susan told him about the ‘slingshot’: that part of your life that feels like it’s holding you back, but what eventually will prove to be the driving force and motivation to make music, launching you forward to where you want to be. For Marvin, that slingshot is his ‘Sweetlake City’ of Zoetermeer – the place where he works five days a week to provide himself with a steady income, in the hopes of one day making a living from music.”

The song has a rousing Americana vibe, thanks to a stellar blend of rhythm, electric and Country-style guitars, accompanied by a vibrant mix of lively piano keys, exuberant horns and smashing drums. The instrumentals are all fantastic, each one of them standing out, yet perfectly balanced to create an exhilarating backdrop for Marvin’s commanding, heartfelt vocals. It’s a wonderful song.

You spend all day doing work that doesn’t pay enough
And you don’t even like enough
You want to get away from this Sweetlake City
We’re all drunk in the morning on dreams that you don’t even dare to tell
But in the light every evening it seems like they’re right there
We’re all hooked up on plans made by someone we hardly know at all
But it’s hard to get up in the morning when life drags you down

Show me how, well tell me now
Sing out loud, want to live a little more
You want to live a little more

Connect with Marvin Dee Band:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music / Deezer
Purchase:  iTunes / Google Play

SHIPS HAVE SAILED – Single Review: “Skin”

Ships Have Sailed 2

I’ve been revisiting a lot of artists and bands I’ve featured earlier this year, as so many are dropping great new music. Another such band is Los Angeles-based duo Ships Have Sailed, whose beautiful and moving single “Escape” I reviewed this past February. I loved that song so much it went all the way to #1 on my Weekly Top 30! They’ve just dropped a lovely new single “Skin“, which I’m thrilled to introduce to my readers today.

Formed in 2012 by songwriter, vocalist and guitarist Will Carpenter, Ships Have Sailed has included a number of musicians over the years, but now consists of Will and drummer Art Andranikyan. They play a pleasing style of alternative pop-rock characterized by beautiful melodies, thoughtful, uplifting lyrics, and sublime arrangements and instrumentation. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Will twice now, including just last Friday, and his kindness and warmth shines through in his engaging vocals.

“Skin” is about pulling down our barriers and allowing ourselves to become vulnerable in order to more fully connect with others in deeper, more meaningful ways. Being vulnerable to uncomfortable emotions and pain in turn enables us to feel empathy and sympathy toward others. About the song, Will explains: “Has anyone ever told you that you need to grow a thicker skin? I can’t even count how many times people have told me that. But they’re essentially telling you to numb your feelings, and I think that our feelings and emotions are the essence of our humanity. The music I create wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t lean into my emotions when I’m writing, and so ‘Skin’ is my way of expressing that I’m content with feeling as much as I do…even if it hurts sometimes.”

Musically, “Skin” is more stripped down from their typical sound, with an incredibly pleasing folk/Americana vibe. The instrumentals consist primarily of lovely strummed guitars, including acoustic guitar by guest musician Steve Stout, accompanied by delicate, crystalline synths and Art’s gentle percussion. Will’s smooth, heartfelt vocals exude a tender vulnerability expressed by the poignant lyrics:

It may be thin, but I love it,
feel the pain, rise above it

We don’t have to wound each other,
you’re my sister, I’m your brother

Open heart, open eyes
let them in…this skin so thin

The beautiful, heartwarming video shows scenes of Will and Art walking various streets in Los Angeles, as well as Will getting a ship tattooed on his back at Golden Daggers tattoo studio, and several people in a range of emotional states posing for pictures at The Spot photo studio on Sunset Boulevard. It was directed and produced by Michael Easterling and Jaala Ruffman of Talkboy TV and filmed by David Parks.

Connect with Ships Have Sailed on  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase on iTunes  / Google Play / Amazon

New Song of the Week – PAUL IWAN: “Reward”

Paul Iwan Reward

Paul Iwan is a singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist from Liverpool, England who’s been involved in music since his early teens, playing and touring with numerous bands and, over the past few years, writing and recording his own songs. He released his debut album Reveal in September 2016, which I reviewed, and followed up in early 2019 with his second album RESISTER, an autobiographical work addressing his newfound sobriety. In October 2018, I reviewed the first single “Parasite” from that album. Now Paul returns with a wonderful new single “Reward“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week.

“Reward” is actually a cover of a song originally recorded by Liverpool new wave band The Teardrop Explodes. Written by band members Julian Cope and Alan Gill, the song was a big hit in the UK in 1981. About the song, Paul explains: “Reward is one of the greatest songs to ever come out of Merseyside. Musically incessant and lyrically off kilter, I’ve adored this song all my life – I wanted to pull the lyrics out and expose their darkness. I always felt it was about loss of control, shame and regret which really resonates with my experiences with addiction. Music wise, I focussed on that bass line which drastically changes the atmosphere from parpy stomper to rumbling impending doom.”

What makes the song even more special is that Paul bought Julian Cope’s iconic (but broken) 1965 Lime Green Framus guitar, which he lovingly restored and used to record this track at Studio 45 in Liverpool. Paul elaborates: “It’s a really weird story: Bill Drummond was a big believer in what he called interstellar ley lines. He said Liverpool had this direct line into the energy of the universe and you could feel it if you stood on a certain manhole cover in Matthew Street (under the bust of Carl Jung). He’d send the Teardrops and Bunnymen off on tour and stand on this manhole cover soaking up this cosmic energy as they performed. Now, I’m not one to believe that sort of stuff but when I got the message about Julian’s Lime Green Framus guitar, I was stood on Matthew Street….under Carl Jung’s bust…. on that manhole cover! To say I was a bit freaked out is an understatement.”

Paul Iwan guitar

Well, Paul does great justice to both Cope’s guitar and song, blowing our minds with his gorgeous, resonant guitar notes. Based on his previous songs, I’ve always considered Paul a skilled guitarist, but on “Reward” his guitar-playing rises to a whole new level. And about that rumbling bass line; It’s so deep, intense and melodic, cutting straight to our cores! Add in the dark, almost psychedelic synths and thunderous percussion, and the song has been transformed into a dramatic, almost grandiose production that soars straight to the heavens. It’s a magnificent song, and Paul’s finest work yet.

I also love his clear, powerful vocal style that registers in the higher octaves. He belts out the lyrics with a fervent passion that elicits chills.

Prisoner, stand accused, I stand accused
Live in solitude like Howard Hughes
All wrapped up the same
All wrapped up the same
Silence has it, arrogance has it
I can’t have it until I learn to accept my reward

For context, here’s the original recording of “Reward” by The Teardrop Explodes, which is a faster-paced new wave/punk style song:

Connect with Paul Iwan: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music on Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music / Reverbnation
Purchase on  AmazonMusic Glue

JAMIE ALIMORAD – Album Review: “This is Tomorrow Calling”

Jamie Alimorad

Singer-songwriter Jamie Alimorad has had music in his blood practically all his life. As a teen, he played in a garage band, for which he wrote all the songs, and in high school, he was literally the face of the music department. By the time he was attending college at Northeastern University in Boston, he released his first EP Cornerstone (in 2010), then followed up two years later with his critically-acclaimed full-length album Words Left Unsaid, winning several music and songwriting awards. His very first video, for the song “Beautiful” from that album, has been viewed over 2 million times! Writing and recording songs had always seemed to come easy to him. Then, suddenly, it wasn’t so easy anymore.

Starting in early 2015, and continuing over the next few years, he wrote and recorded dozens of songs for a new album, but none of them satisfied him. He grew frustrated and filled with crippling self-doubt, wondering if he’d ever be successful again. So, he took a couple of classes with famed singer-songwriter, musician and producer Gino Vannelli, who offers small Art of  Song & Voice Master Class sessions at his music studio in Troutdale, Oregon. Jamie took one of his songs “A Moment Is All I Ask” to the second class, and after working on the song together, he and Vannelli realized they’d make a great team collaborating on an original project. That project ultimately became Jamie’s second album This is Tomorrow Calling, which was released on September 27th.

Working with Vannelli was an artistic rollercoaster ride for Jamie, filled with unique challenges and opportunities. He recalls “No one had ever told me in music, ‘It’s not good enough.’ No one had ever said, ‘You could be better.’ Gino put me on an island. No map, no shelter, no supplies. Make the island paradise, find a way out, or die. Those were the options, and it was up to me to create my tomorrow. Eventually Gino and I recorded eight songs together. Upon moving to Los Angeles, I did two more cuts with [Gino’s brother] Ross Vannelli. These two legends took me under their wings and opened my eyes to who I am. I’m eternally grateful for everything they’ve done for me.”

For the album, Jamie sang lead and backing vocals, and played keyboards, acoustic guitar and programming. Gino Vannelli played additional keyboard, organ, acoustic guitar, synth bass, drums, percussion and programming. Ross Vannelli sang backing vocals and also played keyboard, electric guitar, synth bass, drums, percussion and programming. Additional keyboards and programming were provided by George Whitty and Greg Goebel, electric guitar by Dalton Cyr, and backing vocals by Julie LaMeng and Moorea Masa. The album was produced by Gino Vannelli, though two of the tracks were produced by Ross.

Jamie’s pleasing sound could probably best be classified as adult contemporary pop-rock, although his music includes elements of folk, Americana, country and jazz. His thoughtful, relatable lyrics are set to catchy melodies and brought to life through superb instrumentation and rich sound textures. Listening to This is Tomorrow Calling, I’m struck by how good it sounds – the beautiful arrangements, lush soundscapes and, most notably, Jamie’s marvelous vocals. Every track is superb, showcasing his skillful songwriting, musicianship and impressive vocal range, but I’ll highlight my personal favorites.

The album opener “Brighter Days” is a terrific, upbeat song about not letting your problems overwhelm you, and staying positive in the hope that things will get better. A phrase in one of the lyrics is the album’s title, and really encapsulates its overall theme of love and resilience. “When living’s hard and you think you’re better off dead. This is tomorrow calling, there are brighter days ahead.” The genre-bending song has an infectious dance beat, with a bit of a country-rock vibe thanks to twangy guitars and some great vocal harmonies, and hits us in all the right feels. In conjunction with its release this past August, Jamie partnered with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention to raise funds for their cause. Proceeds from sales of a “Brighter Days” t-shirt at https://www.teepublic.com/user/jamiealimorad will be donated to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

On “Not Just Another Pretty Face“, Jamie sings of the many virtues of the object of his affection in addition to her good looks. “You’re more than a heavenly sight. Not just a Renoir on the wall, or a statue in a marble hall. You’re not just another pretty face. That’s what I love most of all.” The jazzy piano, organ runs and lively percussion, along with his smooth vocals and occasional scatting, make for an incredibly delectable song in the style of Michael Bublé.

Down on Golden Shores” is a lovely but bittersweet song about loss, with some especially poignant lyrics like these:  “Poor Louie was one of the best-looking dudes you ever did see. Kandahar sure did a number on his perfect body. /My Alex was so full of life. I thought someday to make her my wife. But the world is full of best-laid plans, made by sea and golden sands.” The piano, gentle guitar, harmonica and strings are all sublime, as are Jamie’s heartfelt vocals.

The radio-friendly “Not Ready to Say Goodbye” was the lead single from the album, and with its haunting melody, beautiful guitar work and infectious Latin rhythms, is definitely one of the standout tracks. Jamie passionately implores to the woman he’s fallen for to not end their budding relationship: “I fell head over heels, I jumped when you said jump. Too fast, too deep, just call me a chump. Not ready to say goodbye. Not ready to take the fall. Not ready to say goodbye. I’m in it for the long haul.”

A track that jumped right out at me on my first listen of the album was “Lucky Me“, a delightful kiss-off song that Jamie wrote as needed therapy after a bad breakup. The amusing lyrics describe how he quickly fell for her, only to discover that she was toxic: “They popped right out of my head when I laid my eyes on her, not knowing what kind of claptrap lay in my future. Lucky me! She came and went in a New York minute. Lucky me! It’s a beautiful world and I’m right back in it. The two best days of my life: One was finding her. Ooh the second one was losing her. Lucky me.” With its jazzy organ, guitar and percussive grooves, the song has a cool, late 70s Steely Dan vibe, and is one of my favorites on the album. And need I mention yet again how good Jamie’s vocals are?

How Could I Love Again” is a poignant song about having such a deep, intense love for someone that you don’t believe you are capable of ever loving another. The beautiful, piano-driven melody provides a moving backdrop for Jamie’s heartfelt vocals as he laments “Once I loved one woman such, that I thought to die without her touch. Because I loved her far too much, how could I love again?

On the album closer “Nights In the Back Bay“, Jamie seems to recall his experiences while attending college in Boston, and wanting to recapture the passion and creativity he had for making music back then. “I remember when the road had no end. My faith has been shaken, my heart keeps aching to return to those nights in the Back Bay. I’ve gotta get born all over again.” Musically, the song has a hauntingly beautiful melody that sounds brooding at times, yet uplifting and hopeful at others. The laid-back twangy guitars give the track an Americana feel, and the tinkling piano keys, synths, bass and crisp percussion are all wonderful.

This is Tomorrow Calling is a gorgeous work, with some of the finest production values of any album I’ve heard in a long while. Jamie and the Vannelli brothers should be very proud of their creation, as it’s impressive on every level. While its laid-back, easy-listening style probably won’t appeal to everyone, anyone who enjoys quality music, great lyrics and beautiful male vocals will enjoy this album.

Jamie will be opening for Gino Vannelli on Saturday, October 12 at the Saban Theater in Beverly Hills, CA.

To learn more about Jamie, visit his Website
Connect with him on:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase:  Bandcamp / Amazon /  Google Play

New Song of the Week: SECRET AMERICAN – “Lonely”

This past March, I had the pleasure of featuring the delightful band Secret American when I reviewed their marvelous 2018 album Warmth & Shelter. Now they’re back with a wonderful new single “Lonely“, which I’ve selected as my New Song of the Week. The song is the first single off their forthcoming second album, and explores the age-old conundrum between being in a committed relationship and holding on to one’s freedom.

Secret American is a bi-coastal band, born from the collaboration of singer/songwriter and guitarist Derek Krzywicki, who lives in the small town of Carpinteria on the California coast east of Santa Barbara, and his long-time friend Todd Mecaughey, a producer/engineer who lives in Philadelphia. (Todd has stated that their name comes from them being simultaneously proud and ashamed to be American – a sentiment I currently share). Completing the band’s seven-member lineup are the very talented musicians Kevin Killen, Katie Frank, Tony Unander, Alex Baranowski and Rory Geoghegan.

Secret American3

Their refreshing, eclectic sound is at once retro yet contemporary, unique yet familiar. As I noted in my review, the retro aspect of their music evokes the carefree California pop-rock vibe of The Lovin’ Spoonful, while their contemporary side channels the laid-back grooves of Cage the Elephant. And though their song lyrics often address more serious, thought-provoking topics, they’re presented with sunny melodies, breezy instrumentation and pleasing vocals that make for happy listening experience.

“Lonely” features a rich mix of shimmery synths, layers of twangy and jangly guitars, soulful bass and crisp percussion, all wrapped in a captivating melody that envelops us like a warm blanket. Derek’s smooth, sultry vocals are so damn seductive and bewitching as he croons about how, despite the occasional loneliness, being single and free is preferable to being imprisoned in a relationship – or is it?

Cause if you wanna be like me, you better be lonely
You’d better think only of the woman you had
Cause if you wanna be like me, you better be lonely
You’d better think only of the man you had

Oh I’m not giving it up I said
Oh I’m not giving it up I said
Oh I’m not giving it up for you

I wanna be who I want to
I wanna see who I want to, baby yeah
I wanna feel them feels too
But I can’t have that with you

Can’t have my number
Can’t have my time
Though that I want you, you can’t be mine
You can lead me to water, but I wouldn’t drink
You can make me love you, but I’ll always think

Secret American make fascinating videos for many of their songs, and for “Lonely” they’ve produced not one, but TWO delightful videos, both created and edited by Todd’s wife Natalie Mecaughey. The first contains vintage footage from what appears to be a fifties film about a couple on a scenic bus trip across the U.S., who experience snags in their relationship. The second is a mashup of footage of couples enjoying romantic moments on a pier, juxtaposed with poignant images of Jerry Seinfeld and Jason Alexander looking uncharacteristically reflective.

Catch Secret American at one of these upcoming shows:

Sep 25 – Milkboy Philly, Philadelphia, PA
Sep 26 – Cat’s Cradle, Carrboro, NC
Sep 27 – The Royal AmericanCharleston, SC
Sep 28 – Primal Brewery, Huntersville, NC
Sep 29 – The Radio Room, Greenville, SC

Connect with Secret American on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes