TAFARI ANTHONY – Single Review: “No Good”

I recently learned about Toronto-based singer-songwriter Tafari Anthony when his PR rep reached out to me with his new single “No Good“. After hearing it, as well as listening to his terrific catalog of songs, I’m excited to now introduce this talented Queer artist to my readers. Influenced by some of his favorite artists ranging from Prince and John Legend to Lennon Stella and Charlie Puth, Tafari blends R&B, pop and soul with sultry melodies and deeply heartfelt lyrics to create songs with incredible emotional resonance and depth. His powerful lyrics touch on subjects of love, relationships, life’s hardships and finding self identity and worth in a society where most people feel they need to blend in to be happy. The power of his music reflects the fact that his name ‘Tafari’ means “he who inspires awe”.

Tafari has released a substantial amount of music over the past five years, starting with his debut EP Die For You in 2016. He’s been nominated for a Toronto Independent Music Award and receives regular airplay on CBC Radio, with one of his singles being named one of CBC’s Most Influential Songs of 2016. He has also performed alongside Shangela (RuPaul’s Drag Race) and has performed at Toronto’s Dundas Square and Massey Hall. Within the past year, Tafari was awarded a star on Canada’s Walk of Fame in Toronto, and was recently selected as one of CBC Searchlight’s top 25 performers in Canada.

This past January, he released his single “Centerfold”, then followed in May with “Live in a Dream’. On October 21, he dropped his latest single “No Good”; all three singles will be included on his upcoming EP The Way You See Me, due for release on November 20. The track was co-produced by Tafari and Alexander “Sandy” Flockhart, engineered by TEFO, mixed by Brandon Unis and mastered by Brad Smith. The beautiful, poignant song is about how some relationships are just no good for us, yet we seem powerless to resist, ending up pursuing them against our better judgement. Tafari confides, “It takes a lot of self-reflection to be able to realize these patterns in ourselves and even more to get out of them once we are aware. Realizing that you crave the unhealthiness of the relationship. Personally, I often let people treat me like shit for way longer than I should – but once I’m done, I’m done.”

He further elaborated on his thoughts to the webzine American Songwriter: “I’m hoping listeners will really connect with this [song]. It is so much easier than you’d think to get trapped in this cycle of a bad relationship. I’ve heard too often from people that when a relationship is going well they feel like it’s missing something and that something is the drama. It gives us this false sense of excitement, when really the constant drama, [analysis,] and need to always be looking for confrontation is not a healthy relationship at all. Hopefully this song helps bring clarity to even one person who is in a situation like this.”

The song has a sensual groove, anchored by a pulsating synth bass beat and accompanied by warm keyboards, finger snaps and some nicely-strummed guitar. Tafari has an impressive vocal range, and here they’re especially lovely and heartfelt as they go from breathy to raw to falsetto, beautifully conveying a sense of sad resignation expressed in the lyrics:

 “We put the good shit down for a rest / ‘Cause goddamn, I love when you stress / See the vein pop right through your head / I guess some would call us a mess / So now we’re standing here, feeding obsession with crippling fear / But I love it dear / Do I need to explain anymore / That’s why I had to leave / ‘Cause you’re no good for me.

Connect with Tafari:  FacebookTwitterInstagram

Stream his music:  SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloudYouTube

Purchase: BandcampWebsiteAmazon

New Song of the Week – ATTALIE: “Homeless”

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

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

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

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

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

Have I become? Homeless

Connect with Attalie on TwitterInstagram
Stream “Homeless” on Spotify / SoundcloudGoogle Play
Purchase on Bandcamp / Amazon

100 Best Songs of the 2010s – #98: “Love on the Brain” by Rihanna

Rihanna (born Robyn Rihanna Fenty in Barbados) is an international music superstar, fashion designer, actress and businesswoman who emerged on the music scene in 2005 at the tender age of 17. Since then, she’s racked up an impressive string of monster hits and earned numerous awards and accolades. I love many of her songs, especially “Only Girl (In the World)”, “Stay”, We Found Love” and her duet “Love the Way You Lie” with Eminem, but my favorite of all is “Love on the Brain”.

The song is from her eighth studio album Anti, and features a sultry doo wop/R&B vibe in the style of many great R&B songs of the late 50s and early 60s that strongly appeals to my mature music sensibilities. It’s a stunning torch song that beautifully showcases her considerable vocal talents. Though it was a sizable hit, “Love on the Brain” peaked at only #5 on the Billboard Hot 100, a relative disappointment considering how many of her singles reached #1.

The song was originally written by Norwegian songwriter and producer Fred Ball and American songwriter Joseph Angel in late 2013. They wanted an old school soul feel with modern lyrics, and did not write it with Rihanna in mind. After hearing the song, however, Ball’s manager Jay Brown loved it and thought it would be a great song for Rihanna. He sent it to her and she loved it too, adding some additional lyrics to make the song her own. The explicit lyrics speak of a romantic obsession with another person who treats her poorly, but her feelings are so intense that she’s willing to endure whatever hurt and pain he doles out so long as he loves her. Some believed the song referred to Rihanna’s tempestuous relationship with Chris Brown, though she’s never confirmed it one way or another.

Oh, and, babe, I’m fist-fighting with fire
Just to get close to you
Can we burn something, babe?
And I run for miles just to get a taste
Must be love on the brain
That’s got me feeling this way (feeling this way)
It beats me black and blue but it fucks me so good
And I can’t get enough
Must be love on the brain, yeah
And it keeps cursing my name (cursing my name)
No matter what I do
I’m no good without you
And I can’t get enough
Must be love on the brain

Baby keep loving me
Just love me, yeah
Just love me
All you need to do is love me yeah
Got me like ah-ah-ah-ow
I’m tired of being played like a violin
What do I gotta do to get in your motherfuckin’ heart?

EML’s Favorite Albums – JANET JACKSON: “Rhythm Nation 1814”

One of the albums I’d want to take along with me to that proverbial desert island is Rhythm Nation 1814, the fourth studio album by Janet Jackson. At the time of the album’s release in September 1989, I wasn’t what you’d call a huge fan of hers, though I’d really liked her hit songs “What Have You Done For Me Lately”, “Nasty” and “When I Think of You” from her hugely-popular 1986 breakout third album Control. In fact, I actually resented her a bit for a short while due to the fact that “Miss You Much”, the lead single from Rhythm Nation 1814, kept my then-favorite band Tears For Fears’ single “Sowing the Seeds of Love” from reaching #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. (“Sowing the Seeds of Love” and “Miss You Much” were released a day apart in late August 1989, and both entered the Top 40 on September 9th.) But as Jackson continued to release a succession of superb singles from the album, I got over my juvenile grudge and grew to love it, eventually purchasing the CD.

Rhythm Nation 1814 is a concept album that Jackson’s label A&M Records was initially set against. Like many music labels (and movie studios) who tend to want to repeat what successfully worked before, A&M wanted her to record another album like Control, but she wasn’t having it. Troubled by stories about crime, gangs, drug abuse and other tragedies she saw on the news, she wanted to make an album that touched on socially conscious themes, with a positive message of unity.

Given her popularity and youth (she was 23 at the time), Jackson believed that, through her music, she could reach a younger audience who may have been unaware of what it meant to be socially conscious. She herself was inspired by musicians like Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Tracy Chapman, and U2, however, she felt their music appealed primarily to adults who were already invested in social change. In a 1989 interview with USA Today, she stated: “I’m not naïve; I know an album or a song can’t change the world. I just want my music and my dance to catch the audience’s attention and hopefully motivate them to make some sort of difference“.

For the recording of Rhythm Nation 1814, Jackson once again collaborated with songwriters and record producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, the geniuses behind the massive success of Control. Jackson does not possess a particularly strong singing voice, so the duo created a sound and style for her that played to her talents and rather limited mezzo-soprano vocal range. Over the course of her career, she’s received criticism for the limits of her vocal abilities, especially when compared with some of her contemporaries like Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey who had powerhouse voices. That said, her vocals seem most effective either on strong anthems where she can boldly belt out the lyrics, or on tender love ballads where her soft, sultry purrs work especially well. Also, because her voice did not translate particularly well to on-stage live performances, Jackson enhanced her act with elaborate dance routines. Normally, I’m not impressed by that kind of thing, but in Jackson’s case, I make an exception because of her strong charisma and likability.

The album title was a combination of a theoretical utopian nation inspired by the unifying power of music, represented by “Rhythm Nation”, with “1814” representing the year the national anthem “The Star-Spangled Banner” was written. The trio co-wrote six of the album’s songs, while Jackson solely wrote “Black Cat” and Jam and Lewis wrote the remaining five. The album was recorded in Minneapolis over a period of seven months, during which Jackson, Jam and Lewis chose to isolate themselves, without interference or involvement by anyone from A&M Records. The album was produced primarily with synthesizers and drum machines, specifically the use of sample loop and swing note and synthesized percussion techniques that had become popular by the late 1980s.

The album contains a total of 20 tracks, 12 of which are actual songs, with the other 8 consisting of interludes lasting anywhere from a few seconds to over a minute. These interludes serve as connectors or transitions between songs or groupings of songs. The tracks were sequenced beginning with those addressing societal injustice and transitioning to songs about love, relationships and sexuality. Musically, the album encompasses a variety of styles, such as new jack swing, pop, hard rock, dance and industrial music, which gave it wider appeal across multiple radio formats. And though some of the tracks sound fairly similar, with rather ubiquitous beats and melodies, they’re still incredibly upbeat and fun.

Although the album’s concept was initially met with mixed reactions, its production values and overall song quality earned it widespread critical acclaim. Rhythm Nation 1814 peaked at #1 on the Billboard 200 album chart, and has sold over 12 million copies worldwide. Rolling Stone ranked the album at #277 on its list of 500 Greatest Albums of All Time in 2012. Seven of its singles – “Miss You Much”, “Rhythm Nation”, “Escapade”, “Alright”, “Come Back to Me”, “Black Cat” and “Love Will Never Do (Without You)” – reached the top five on the Hot 100, making it the only album in history to achieve this. Four of them reached #1, and it’s also the only album in history to produce number one hits in three separate calendar years – 1989, 1990 and 1991.

The album opens with “Interlude: Pledge”, a 47-second spoken word piece where Jackson essentially explains the album’s intent, then launches into “Rhythm Nation”, an electrifying dance anthem with heavy industrial beats built around the punchy bass groove of Sly and the Family Stone’s “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)”. Jackson commandingly exhorts us to come together for justice: “People of the world unite / Strength in numbers we can get it right, one time / We are a part of the rhythm nation.” The song was the second single released from the album and peaked at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100.

One of the most poignant songs on the album is “Livin’ In A World (They Didn’t Make)”, inspired by the tragic 1989 shooting at a school in Stockton, California. The lyrics speak to the innocence of children, and that hate is something they’re taught by adults. “Escapade” is a joyously upbeat and celebratory anthem that always lifts my spirits, and is my all-time favorite Janet Jackson song. Set to an exuberant hip-swaying dance beat and colorful instrumentals, the hopeful lyrics speak to forgetting one’s problems, letting loose and having a good time: “Come on baby, let’s get away / Let’s save our troubles for another day / Come go with me, we got it made / Let me take you on an escapade.” It was the third single released from the album in January 1990, and the second to reach #1.

The hard-rocking “Black Cat” was a stylistic departure for Jackson, and was produced by Jellybean Johnson, who along with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, was a former member of The Time. With its aggressive driving beat and metal rock guitars, it sounds like a song Def Leppard or Mötley Crüe could have done. Jackson snarls the biting lyrics warning a rebellious friend about their self-destructive substance abuse habit. The song was the third single from the album to reach #1.

“Love Will Never Do (Without You)” is another standout, with its strong sensual beat and rousing choruses, not to mention the great trumpet flourishes played by Herb Alpert, who Jackson had previously worked with on his 1987 hit song “Diamonds”. It was the seventh single to be released from the album, more than a year after its initial release, and you’d have thought that by now, interest would be waning. But not at all, as the song would become the fourth from the album to hit #1, in January 1991.

The final three tracks on the album are sensual slow burns, featuring sultry melodies and lush orchestration, with her vocals sounding softer and silkier than ever. My favorite of the three is the gorgeous and bittersweet “Come Back to Me”. I’ve always been a sucker for lush orchestration and soaring strings, and this song has them in spades. Jackson’s gentle vocals are perfect for this type of song, in which she softly laments with a palpable sense of heartache and despair over a lost love affair that she hopes can be rekindled. The song’s arrangement is first-rate and the stirring cinematic strings are really stunning. “Come Back to Me” was the fifth single released from the album, and peaked at #2, held down by Mariah Carey’s monster debut hit “Vision of Love”. So now I found myself rooting for a Janet Jackson song to reach number one!

The album closes on a steamy note with “Someday is Tonight”, a song about submitting to carnal desires. The song is downright sexy, and is to Jackson’s discography what “Love to Love You Baby” was to Donna Summer’s, if you get my drift. She coos and purrs her way through the song, accompanied by sultry beats and strings, and highlighted by Herb Alpert’s smoldering trumpet solo. The song was a precursor to Jackson’s evolving music style that would see her more fully explore sexual themes on her following albums Janet and The Velvet Rope. Both of those albums would receive massive critical and commercial acclaim, with Janet becoming her best-selling album. For me, however, Rhythm Nation 1814 remains her finest work.

EML’s Favorite Albums – STEVIE WONDER: “Songs in the Key of Life”

Stevie Wonder

For as far back as I can remember beginning as a pre-teen, I’ve been a huge fan of Stevie Wonder; one of the earliest 45 singles I ever bought was “My Cherie Amour”. Of all the many albums he released over a career spanning more than 50 years, my favorite is his magnificent masterpiece Songs in the Key of Life.

Born Stevland Morris in 1950, he became blind shortly after his birth (he was born six weeks premature, and the oxygen-rich atmosphere in the hospital incubator aborted the growth of his eyes and caused his retinas to detach, resulting in blindness). Despite his handicap, he was a child musical prodigy, learning to play piano, harmonica and drums as a young boy. He signed with Motown’s Tamla label when he was only 11 years old, and first became known professionally as Little Stevie Wonder. In 1963, his single “Fingertips, Part 2” topped the Billboard Hot 100, making him the youngest artist to ever have a #1 song on that chart. He eventually dropped “Little” from his name, and in 1966 came roaring back as Stevie Wonder with his electrifying hit “Uptight”. From that point on he would practically rule the charts for the next 20 years.

Released in September 1976 when he was 26, Songs in the Key of Life was Wonder’s 18th album. It’s generally regarded as his magnum opus, and the culmination of his “classic period”, which began in 1972 with the releases of Music of My Mind and Talking Book, the latter of which included the song “Superstition”, which featured the distinctive sound of the Hohner Clavinet keyboard that came to define Wonder’s sound. His next three albums produced during this highly creative period – Innervisions, Fulfillingness’ First Finale and Songs in the Key of Life – all won Grammy Awards for Album of the Year, making him the only artist to have won the award for three consecutive album releases. In 1976, when Paul Simon won the Best Album Grammy for Still Crazy After All These Years, he quipped, “I’d like to thank Stevie Wonder, who didn’t make an album this year.”

Surprisingly, Songs in the Key of Life almost didn’t happen. Despite the fact that by 1975 Wonder was one of the most successful music artists in the world, with his three previous albums all critical and commercial successes, he seriously considered quitting the music industry. He’d become interested in humanitarian issues in Africa, and wanted to emigrate to Ghana to work with handicapped children. Fortunately for his music fans, he reconsidered and went on to sign a lucrative new contract with Motown to continue recording more albums.

The album was recorded primarily at Crystal Sound studio in Hollywood, with some sessions recorded at the Record Plant in Hollywood, the Record Plant in Sausalito, and The Hit Factory in New York. According to Wikipedia, during the recording process, Wonder would often stay in the studio 48 hours straight, not eating or sleeping, while everyone around him struggled to keep up. “If my flow is goin’, I keep on until I peak,” he said. A total of 130 people worked on the album, including notable jazz and R&B artists Herbie Hancock, who played Fender Rhodes on “As”, George Benson, who played electric guitar and sang backing vocals on “Another Star”, and Minnie Riperton and Deniece Williams, who sang backing vocals on “Ordinary Pain”.

Songs in the Key of Life album

That Wonder’s creative flow kept going til he peaked is an understatement, as he ultimately recorded an astonishing 21 songs, released as a double album and a bonus 7-inch 45 featuring four tracks, along with a booklet containing all the song lyrics and credits. Incorporating a wide range of genres and music styles, including soul, R&B, pop, funk, jazz, gospel, Afrobeat and even classical, Songs in the Key of Life is widely considered one of the greatest albums ever recorded and his signature album. It’s the best-selling album of his long career, and ranks #4 on Rolling Stone Magazine’s most-recent 2020 list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. In 2002, it was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, and in 2005 was inducted into the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress, which deemed it “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.

The album is Wonder’s celebration of love, a testament to his faith, and his belief in the idea that love can conquer hate. In the booklet that accompanied the album, he wrote: “’Songs in the Key of Life’ is only a conglomerate of thoughts in my subconscious that my Maker decided to give me the strength, the love+love-hate=love energy making it possible for me to bring to my conscious an idea.” Opening track “Love’s In Need of Love Today” sets the tone for the album with Wonder’s heartfelt plea for people to put hate aside and try and love one another, a message that certainly bears repeating today: “Hate’s goin’ round/Breaking many hearts/Stop it please before it’s gone too far.

Some of the album’s highlights are the big hits “I Wish”, a joyously upbeat song that sees Wonder reminiscing on the joys of his childhood, and “Sir Duke”, a jazzy tribute to the legendary Duke Ellington, both of which went to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. Though not released as a single, “Isn’t She Lovely”, a loving ode to his baby daughter Aisha, went on to become one of his most beloved songs. But the album’s full of many more outstanding tracks and deep cuts like the gorgeous love song “Knocks Me Off My Feet”, the enchanting and hopeful “If It’s Magic”, the bittersweet “Summer Soft” and the pleasing multi-cultural gem “Ngiculela-Es Una Historia-I Am Singing”.

Two of my personal favorites are the spectacular Side 4 epic tracks “As” and “Another Star”, both of which were released as singles but failed to crack the Top 30. The soulful “As” has a beautiful, almost gospel feel, and encapsulates the album’s overall theme of the enduring power of love. Wonder sings “Did you know that true love asks for nothing/Her acceptance is the way we pay/Did you know that life has given love a guarantee/To last through forever and another day.” Wonder goes on to list all the ways his love will endure, then the song immediately segues into “Another Star”. An electrifying eight and a half minute long masterpiece, this song is one of my favorites on the album, and ranks among my all-time favorites of Wonder’s many great songs. I love the exuberant Latin beat, sunny keyboards and soulful guitars, but the highlights for me are the exhilarating horns, head-bopping percussion and Wonder’s jubilant vocals that warm my heart and bring a tear to my eyes. Though the lyrics speak of an unrequited love, Wonder extolls the virtues of his love interest with such joy that you just cannot help being swept up in his bliss. Both songs really showcase his phenomenal songwriting, musicianship and vocal abilities.

Wonder also addressed issues of racism and social injustice on such tracks as “Pastime Paradise”, “Village Ghetto Land” and “Black Man”, the latter two of which he co-wrote with radio DJ, poet, songwriter, producer, rapper, and community activist Gary Byrd. On the brilliant and haunting “Pastime Paradise”, Wonder speaks first to those who remain stuck in the past, clinging to their racist and bigoted beliefs, then to the victims of that institutional racism, bigotry and other forms of oppression, “living in a future paradise/looking in their minds for the day that sorrow’s gone from time.” He admonishes us to start “living for the future paradise”, and “Shame to anyone’s lives living in a pastime paradise.”

On “Village Ghetto Land”, Wonder uses a sedate classical minuet as a lovely musical backdrop that sharply contrasts with the biting lyrics that speak to the harshness of ghetto life: “Broken glass is everywhere/It’s a bloody scene/Killing plagues the citizens unless they own police/Children play with rusted cars/Sores cover their hands/Politicians laugh and drink – drunk to all demands.” The urgent, jazz/funk infused eight and a half minute long “Black Man” speaks to the accomplishments of often-overlooked people of color: “Heart surgery was first done successfully by a black man/The railroads for trains came on tracking that was laid by the yellow man/Friendly man who died but helped the Pilgrims to survive was a red man/Farm workers’ rights were lifted to new heights by a brown man/And the leader with a pen signed his name to free all men was a white man.” The song ends with a dramatic spoken call and response by teachers and students of the Al Fann Theatrical Ensemble in Harlem, shouting out the names and accomplishments of notable people of color as well as whites.

I’ve already made note of the album’s incredible legacy, but want to elaborate a bit more by referencing some of the accolades other noted artists have heaped on Songs in the Key of Life. Elton John once wrote “Let me put it this way: wherever I go in the world, I always take a copy of ‘Songs in the Key of Life’. For me, it’s the best album ever made, and I’m always left in awe after I listen to it.” In an interview with Ebony magazine, Michael Jackson called Songs in the Key of Life his favorite Stevie Wonder album. George Michael cited the album as his favorite of all time, and along with Mary J. Blige, he covered “As” in 1999. Michael also performed “Love’s in Need of Love Today” on his Faith tour in 1988, and released it as a B-side to “Father Figure”. He also performed “Village Ghetto Land” at the Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute in 1988. He later covered “Pastime Paradise” and “Knocks Me Off My Feet” in his 1991 Cover to Cover tour.

Rapper Coolio sampled the haunting groove of “Pastime Paradise” on his 1995 single “Gangsta’s Paradise”. Prince called it the best album ever recorded, Mariah Carey has named it one of her all-time favorites, and Whitney Houston also remarked on the influence of the album on her singing. In an interview with webzine CLRVYNT, heavy metal singer Phil Anselmo described a live performance of many of the album’s songs with reverence: “Watching Stevie Wonder and just being in his presence is truly like watching a living, breathing miracle right before your eyes. It really is. It was stunning, and it still stuns me to this day.” (Wikipedia)

Stevie Wonder was unquestionably one of the most important and influential musicians of the 1970s, and Songs in the Key of Life was his greatest triumph in a career spanning five decades.

ANDY STERN – Single Review: “I Don’t Mean To” ft. Greg Blackman

I recently learned about British songwriter Andy Stern when he followed me on Twitter, and reached out to me about his new singles “I Don’t Mean To.” and “It’s Your Love That Keeps Me Going“. Originally from London, but now living in Herfordshire, Andy has long wanted to be a songwriter, and taught himself to play the guitar around five years ago so that he could write songs. In his bio, he explains “I have always loved listening to beautiful melodies written by the likes of Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder, Barry Gibb and countless others. Melodies that take you somewhere unexpected. I also love the stark, simple messages that Phillip Larkin expressed in his poems; he can make you think, ‘I didn’t realise I felt that till now’. These people have helped me write songs about my own life experiences and observations. As we go through life our perspectives on love and close relationships change. This is what I try to capture in my songs.”

Not being a singer himself, Andy looks for talented singers who are touched by his songs and lyrics enough to want to sing them. As such, he has worked with established British vocalists like Greg Blackman and Roisin Quinn to help bring his songs to life. Greg has a beautiful and soulful voice, and happily sang vocals on Andy’s latest singles. Nick Kozuch programmed additional instruments and produced both tracks, and played guitar on “I Don’t Mean To.”. Daniel Arbiter played guitar on “It’s Your Love That Keeps Me Going”.

“I Don’t Mean To.” is a heartfelt song of apology to a loved one, letting them know you didn’t mean to make things difficult, and hoping they’ll give you another chance:  “You and me know, we know that we don’t get on too easily. It’s nothing new, Me trying too hard to get through to you. Probably drove you away. I don’t mean to.” The song has a pleasing vibe, with strummed guitars, gentle percussion and delicate synths. Greg’s soft, smooth vocals nicely convey the vulnerability expressed in the lyrics.

The second track “It’s Your Love That Keeps Me Going” is a beautiful song of love to someone who’s love has sustained him. The track has an R&B feel that calls to mind some of the 60s and 70s songs by Soul groups like The Originals, The Dells and Heatwave, thanks to its languid doo wop-inspired melody. The instrumental work is really lovely, highlighted by intricate guitars, gentle drumbeats that sometimes border on military-style, and smooth organ. Greg’s beautiful vocals sound especially soulful here, occasionally rising to a sublime falsetto that reminds me of the late Donny Hathaway as he croons “And it’s you, makes me see what a wonderful world this can be. Like you open it up for me. Happiness is a gift that you give to me thankfully. Cos it’s your love that keeps me going.”

I’m impressed by the quality of Andy’s songwriting and lyricism, and really like both of these outstanding singles a lot. To hear more of his songs, check out his Website and one of the music sites listed below.

Follow Andy on Twitter
Stream his music:  SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloud
Purchase:  Amazon

JAMES BAKIAN – Single Review: “Kiss Tonight”

James Bakian Kiss Tonight

One of the youngest artists I’ve had the pleasure of featuring on this blog over the past couple of years is the remarkably talented British singer-songwriter James Bakian. (You can check out my previous reviews, which are listed under ‘Related’ at the bottom of this page.) Based in London, England, the hard working and charismatic teen began writing songs and playing piano as a child, and released his first EP in 2016 when he was only 13. He writes all his lyrics and music, records and/or programs all the instruments, and even produces and mixes his own songs. Since 2016, the prolific young artist has released a second EP and more than 20 singles!

Now he returns with his latest single “Kiss Tonight“, which drops today, June 5. It’s a romantic, feel-good love song about the strong feelings of desire you get when you’re around that one special person, but also a bit frustrated that they’re being slow to respond in kind. Like many of his songs, the melody is driven by his jazzy piano keys, accompanied by warm synth bass and mellow, toe-tapping percussive beats. James adds funky guitar notes and ethereal swirling keyboard synths to the mix, creating a lovely musical backdrop for his smooth vocals.

I’ve been following James for well over three years, and it’s been gratifying to see him mature and grow professionally. Not only has the quality of his songwriting continued to improve, but as he’s gotten older the sweetly innocent vocals of his early teens have nicely matured into a rich and deep baritone that sounds more soulful than ever. Despite the fact he’s still only 16, his beautiful resonant vocals convey a maturity and confidence that makes us believe him when he sings of his ardor:

I’ve been waiting for this
Endless searching for it
Everything I wanted
I need someone who I’ll miss tonight
I need someone I might kiss tonight
Oh yeah
Just give me your all
Give me everything
I won’t hesitate
I need someone I might miss tonight
I need someone I might kiss tonight

Now I’m waiting for you to say something
But you’re not giving me what I wanted
So I’ll sit back and wait for you
Wait for you to make your move
Cause it’s impossible to ignore you
I could try but I really don’t want to
Yeah you got me feeling the blues
I got nothing better to do

Tell me what you want
I mean come on there’s gotta be something
somebody who you can trust in
Oh
Tell me what you need
Maybe I could supply it for you
in my head I just wanna adore you

“Kiss Tonight” is another stellar single, and I see only a continued upward trajectory for this very talented young artist.

Connect with James:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music on  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music / YouTube
Purchase on  iTunes / Google Play

YELLOW SHOOTS – Single Review: “Wonderful Day”

Yellow Shoots wonderful day art

Man, time flies when you’re having fun! It’s hard to wrap my head around the fact that it’s already been more than four years since I last featured Brooklyn, New York-based artist Yellow Shoots on this blog. (You can read my article here.) I remember being blown away by his soulful and sultry vibes, and it’s heartening to see his star continue to rise. He fuses R&B, soul, funk, jazz, psychedelic and hip-hop grooves to create his own unique neo-soul sound that envelops you in raw sensuality and emotion.

Yellow Shoots is the music project of singer/songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist Greg Matthews. His artistic name comes from his experiences with synesthesia, a neurological phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway, such as sound, leads to an automatic, involuntary response in a second sensory or cognitive pathway, such as sight. He sometimes sees vivid yellow colors when hearing music (a common form of synesthesia is known as chromesthesia, for sound to color), hence his name “Yellow Shoots.”

He started releasing music after moving to Brooklyn from Philadelphia in 2014, beginning with his single “Pieces”. He’s put out a fair amount of music in the years since, including his marvelous Prince-influenced album everything in 2018. One of the singles “make it to the summer” has been streamed more than 446,000 times on Spotify. Now he’s back with a new single “Wonderful Day“, from his forthcoming EP Naked, due out in June. Released via LaReserve Records, the song was written, performed and produced by Yellow Shoots, mixed by Javon Gant-Graham, and mastered by Dan Millice. The track has already been featured on TIDAL’s official .WAV playlist.

Yellow Shoots
Photos by Elijah Craig

About “Wonderful Day”, he explains: “This song combines my 90s rap and R&B roots with late 60s/early 70s records I dug as a teenager. It’s sorta like Nelly meets Zeppelin. It’s a trippy love song I wrote last Summer about being comfortable with the past.” The song has a languid and funky trip hop beat that forms a chilled backdrop for his strummed acoustic guitars, soulful bass, gentle percussion and hazy psychedelic synths.

Yellow Shoots electronically alters his warm, sultry vocals at various spots in the track by doubling and/or speeding up the pitch in a manner similar to what Prince was doing in the 80s. The result is quirky and utterly charming as he croons the sweet lyrics to the object of his desire, hoping she has similar feelings for him: “I put my cards on your table, throwing out the clues / If an apple or a pear, I need your divine / And I think about you every day. I’m hoping I’m the paper underneath your pen.

Follow Yellow Shoots:  FacebookTwitterInstagram
Stream his music:  SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloudTidal
Purchase:  AmazonGoogle Play

Song of the Day Challenge – Day 3: “Hot Fun in the Summertime”

Song A Day Challenge

Today’s Song of the Day Challenge theme is “a song that reminds me of summer”. There are so many obvious and great songs celebrating summer that I love, so it was really tough to choose only one, but choose I must! My pick is the wonderful Sly & the Family Stone classic “Hot Fun in the Summertime“. The song came out in the summer of 1969, and I remember it being a hit during the start of the fall semester of school.

I loved the funky soul music of Sly & the Family Stone and this was probably my favorite song from them, though I also loved “Dance to the Music”, “Everyday People” and “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” a lot too. The insistent piano riff that serves as the driving force for the song’s melody is fantastic, as are their signature horns and Larry Graham’s funky bass. Sly Stone’s smooth, soulful vocals contrast nicely with the more passionate vocals of his sister Rose as they sing the joys of summer vacation, love affairs and picnics in the sun.

New Song of the Week – JAMES BAKIAN: “Find Me”

James Bakian is an exceptionally talented, hard working and charismatic young singer/songwriter from London, England. He wrote his first song at the age of six, began studying piano at seven, and released his first EP By Your Side in 2016 when he was only 13. He followed up in late 2017 with his appropriately-named second EP Unstoppable, a really fine effort featuring six tracks. Since then, the prolific artist has released an astonishing 18 singles, his latest of which, “Find Me,” drops today, March 13th. I’m pleased to choose the soulful track as my New Song of the Week.

James Bakian 2020

James writes all his lyrics and music, records all the instruments, and produces his own songs. I’ve been following him for over three years, and it’s been gratifying to watch him grow professionally. Now 16, his songwriting, music and vocals get better and better as he matures, and he’s grown from a cute kid into a teen heartthrob. (I’ve featured him three times previously on this blog, and you can check out those reviews, which are listed under ‘Related’ at the bottom of this page.)

“Find Me” is languid and sultry, highlighted by James’ sublime piano keys that have an almost jazzy feel. With his piano riff as a centerpiece, he adds warm, shimmery synths of strings and gentle percussion to create a romantic soundscape for his smooth and soulful layered vocals. As James has matured, his voice has likewise deepened quite nicely. The music, melody and vocals are all incredibly pleasing, resulting in an exceptional track.

The lyrics speak of longing for a girl to the point of obsession, even though she barely knows that you exist:

Just leave me be
I’m doing my own thing
Didn’t suspect that you would notice me
Tryna figure out if I still fit in my skin
And I ain’t tryna change
Take me back
Back to the time when I didn’t have a care in the world and I knew I had a purpose
I don’t wanna live in a world where I can’t share my life with somebody who is worth it

I think I’ve found a girl but she gotta find me
Cause I know that one day ima call her baby
and I’ll tell her what I want whispering it slowly
When I look at that smile I keep going crazy

I keep dreaming ‘bout you
Always longing for you
Ain’t no reason not to
And I’ve been meaning to let you know
I keep dreaming ‘bout you
Always longing for you
Ain’t no reason not to
Oh-oh-oh
I’ll let you know one day as long as you find me
I’ll let you know one day as long as you find me

Girl you got what I been needing
Everything about you turns me on
Do I gotta have an explanation
I’m obsessed with you is that wrong?
Tell me what I need to do
If I wanna spend whole my life with you
I’ve been all alone in my feelings
Ain’t nobody who make me feel like you do

Ain’t nobody, ain’t nobody, ain’t nobody
Ain’t nobody make me feel like you do
Ain’t nobody, ain’t nobody, ain’t nobody
Ain’t nobody make me feel like you do

Connect with James:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music on  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple MusicYouTube
Purchase on  iTunesGoogle Play