JOHN DEFEO – Single Review: “Sigue Con El Amor”

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One of the most exciting new artists I had the pleasure of discovering in 2018 is John DeFeo, a young singer/songwriter based in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. His infectious and soulful blend of R&B, hip-hop and pop is fresh, honest and sensual, and I just love it! On top of all that, he’s also a thoughtful, kind and gracious guy. He released his first self-titled EP in 2014, a pleasing collection of jazz-infused pop songs, and followed up with Purple Heart in 2017, which saw him evolve to a more soulful R&B & trip hop sound. But the song that first captured my attention was “Unwind” (read my review here), a sexy and fun track from his 2018 EP Champagne Heart. I love that song so much it went all the way to #1 on my Weekly Top 30, and ended up at #16 for the year.

John was on a creative tear throughout 2018, releasing several new singles, his latest of which “Sigue Con El Amor” dropped in December. Man, this is one fantastic song, and I can’t gush about it enough! Once again, John delivers an enthralling and sensual track that pushes all the right sonic buttons for me. The spellbinding plucked guitar riff at the beginning immediately grabs hold and once that sultry Latin beat kicks in and John’s smooth, seductive vocals enter the mix, magic occurs. I love the deep bassline, and the crisp percussive synths and bits of funky guitar are great. I love this song, and have had it on replay for days.

John celebrates not only love, but also his Puerto Rican heritage by including both Spanish & English lyrics in the song, and its title “Sigue Con El Amor” translates to “follow with love.” With a Latin-infused hip-hop cadence to his captivating vocals,  John croons “Big smile on my face. You can’t kill it, no nobody can take this energy. / Love is important. It’s a strong thing. Yeah yeah. El amor. El amor.” The beautiful and sensuous video, directed and edited by Luke Fowler, was filmed in sepia tones, and shows three exotic women seemingly resurrecting John from the dead and standing him up to a microphone, whereupon he sings the song as they dance around him. Footage of vintage cartoons of skeletons dancing is a nice addition. Watch and listen:

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

JAMES BAKIAN – Single Review: “Terrified”

James Bakian Terrified

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. In the two years since, the prolific musician has continued recording and building a loyal fan base. He released his appropriately-named second EP Unstoppable – a really fine effort featuring six tracks – in late 2017 (which I reviewed), and so far in 2018 has released an astonishing 12 singles, the latest of which is “Terrified,” which drops today, November 23.

Now 15, James possesses a phenomenal vocal styling with a depth and maturity beyond his years. He writes all his own lyrics and music, records all the instruments, and is now even producing his songs. I’ve been following him for about two years, and it’s gratifying to watch him grow professionally and hear his vocals and music style get better and better as he matures. He was recently a Featured Artist on BBC Radio London’s BBC Introducing show, where his song “Ice Cold” was played.

“Terrified” is a lovely, soulful track, with sublime jazzy synths set to a gentle drum loop. James’ tinkling piano keys are exquisite, driving the delicate melody forward and creating a beautiful backdrop for his smooth, heartfelt vocals that speak to feeling lost, aimless and alone, without purpose or love in his life. James states that it’s “about someone going through a dark time but choosing to remember and hope for the good times, and reaching out for help.” Despite his youth, he manages to convey the sense of pain and despair expressed in the lyrics in a way that’s believable and convincing. It’s another stellar effort from James that only bolsters my belief that this talented young man has a very bright and promising future.

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

St. Louis Band iLLPHONiCS Release New Digital 45: “X-Rated”

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St. Louis music innovators iLLPHONiCS are more than a band, they’re an identity. They’re also a rarity, in that all five individuals in the band are founding members, and since 2006, they’ve consistently made some of the most groundbreaking music to come out of the St. Louis music scene, if not the entire Midwest. Their infectious, high energy sound incorporates elements of hip hop, rap, R&B, soul, pop, jazz and funk, with stylish compositions and harmonic vocals that grab and hold listeners and audiences rapt attention. The five band members include lead singer/emcee Larry “Fallout” Morris, Keith Moore (keyboards, backing vocals), Kevin Koehler (lead guitar, backing vocals), Simon Chervitz (bass) and Chaz Brew (drums, backing vocals).

I had the pleasure of reviewing their superb fifth album Gone With the Trends in 2016 (which you can read here), and in 2017 they followed with Purple Piano Society,  which was named one of St. Louis’ best albums of 2017 by The Riverfront Times.  Now the band is set to release their first Digital 45 entitled “X-Rated” on Friday, May 25. “X-Rated” will include two songs, an A-side “Breathe Like” and a B-side “Green Note$.” The band calls the Digital 45 “a comfy middle ground between the paltry single and the increasingly trendy EP.” “X-Rated” will be available to stream on Spotify and Soundcloud, among other platforms. The band requests all downloads be purchased from their Bandcamp account.

A week later, on Saturday, June 2, iLLPHONiCS will celebrate the release with their first St. Louis live performance of 2018 – “A Sensory Experience,” to be held at the Stage at KDHX, starting at 8 pm. Tickets are $10 and available in advance through Ticketfly. The band will be collaborating with Captured Planet on visuals for the event, which will also serve as a kind of ‘unofficial’ release party for ‘X-Rated.

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iLLPHONiCS went on tour in 2017 to promote Purple Piano Society, performing in Detroit, New York and Boston, among other cities. Then they spent this past winter writing new songs, the first of which are the two now being released. Regarding these new songs, band frontman and emcee Larry “Fallout” Morris explains: “Musically we have melded many types of genres but the one genre we haven’t explored the most is Hip-Hop. It only makes sense that we go deeper into what’s at the core of our sound.”

“Breathe Like truly is what it is. We all have physical desires and fantasies, and they are even better when you’re engaging with someone who shares the same passion for you, as you for them. Being able to act upon those things and being open with your partner (and vice versa) is a beautiful thing and something worth celebrating. I appreciate love songs and the beauty of intimacy, but sometimes you got to kick it up a notch. This keeps things interesting!

“Green Note$ is inspired by my own experience but also by stories I’d get from my cousin and bandmate Chaz, who at one point used to frequent gentlemen’s clubs often. I know many regular people who attend strip clubs, and I feel that it’s awkward that society often looks down on the profession, especially when we are embracing sexuality in ways they didn’t when my parents were growing up. I also play on the power dynamic, because even though some unfortunately may see the profession of stripping as “lowly,” I see the power in a person being able to seduce an individual to come off some cash.”

“Breathe Like” has a slow and sexy hip-hop beat, with background breathy sounds that continue throughout the track. Cool synths and a crisp snare drum are the dominant instruments, but there’s smooth bass and terrific harmonic vocals holding it all together. Morris croons “I love when you bend down and let me feel some.” And “Green Note$” features sparkling synths and smooth guitar set to a mesmerizing beat. The harmonizing vocals are especially nice on this track, but then that can be said of all iLLPHONiCS songs. They’re both exceptional tracks, and fresh proof that, after 12 years of making music, this band is still at the top of their game.

Connect with iLLPHONiCS:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Soundcloud
Purchase on Bandcamp

BARBUDO – Single Review: “Secret Admirer”

I recently stumbled upon yet another terrific British band (there are so many!) named Barbudo, and it took me only a few minutes of listening to their music to become a fan. Consisting of brothers Ben and Harry Stanworth and Elliot Salter, they fuse elements of old-school funk, soul, psych rock and smooth R&B to create an infectious and incredibly pleasing sound they call ‘Nu-eyed funk’. But whatever one calls it, I hear influences from The Isley Brothers, Rufus, Steely Dan, Average White Band and Style Council, and how could you possible go wrong with that lineup?

Barbudo Performing

Following up on their exceptional 2017 EP Pleasures, Barbudo has just dropped a sparkling new single “Secret Admirer,” and it was instant love for me. The band have managed to craft an uplifting, intoxicating track that’s at once both cool and hot – sort of like sipping an icy Margarita at a tropical beach bar. The coolness comes from a breezy mix of smooth vocal harmonies, chiming synths, chill bass lines, and shimmering grooves on the clavinet, while the summery Latin dance beat and funky guitar riffs provide ample steam.

In describing the song, Ben explains We were going for a Latin-infused funk vibe, like a blend of Michael Jackson and Santana.” Harry adds “It’s a playful confession of secretly liking something that is deemed ‘uncool’ by most people. You might not publicly admit to liking it, but beyond judging eyes you see it for what it is. Like listening to Coldplay when you are sad…” Hey now – I love Coldplay and am not ashamed to admit it!

But seriously, “Secret Admirer” has all the right ingredients for the perfect summer song, and I can’t stop hitting replay. Listen for yourselves and you’ll be helplessly moving your hips within seconds.

Connect with BARBUDO: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music: spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud
Purchase: iTunes / Bandcamp

DANCING ON PLUTO – EP Review: “Paradise Fahrenheit”

Dancing on Pluto

Dancing on Pluto is a talented and charismatic rock band I learned about at the beginning of this year, when I first heard their fantastic single “Feels Good” (which I reviewed). Formed in early 2017 and based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Dancing on Pluto is made up of four long time friends Chas (lead vocals), Josh (drums), Gilbert (guitar) and Ishmael (bass). Drawing influences from many of their favorite genres, including rock, hip hop, R&B, reggae, synth-pop, shoegaze and grunge, they create music that’s eclectic, interesting and unpredictable. They released their superb debut EP Abandon Ship in 2017, followed by “Feels Good” at the end of the year. In April, they dropped their second EP Paradise Fahrenheit, delivering five great new tunes for our listening pleasure.

Like they did on Abandon Ship, Dancing on Pluto really bends genres and mixes things up on Paradise Fahrenheit – one of the things I love about their music. The first track “Ozone” has a sunny reggae beat, but a hip hop element is added via Chas speed-rapping in the song’s middle. The acoustic and wobbly electric guitars are particularly good, with a tasty little riff in the bridge. The song seems to essentially be about not seeing the forest for the trees, and feeling pessimistic about life: “All I see, nestled in green, tripping over nothin’ by my own damn feet. I can’t see at all, no stars in the sky. No food and I’m starving.” But after spending time in the forest, he finds clarity and peace of mind, and his attitude becomes more optimistic: “Nestled in green. Visibly at ease. The stars are so beautiful.

Where the Wild Things Are” starts off as an uptempo rock song, with buoyant riffs and peppy drums. Halfway through, the track shifts to sort of a ska beat, with jangly guitars and strutting bass. Chas sings of teenage insecurities, self-doubt and the struggle for independence: “I know what people see. I’m scared that you’re too good for me. That’s why I’m always scared. / Is it because I get jealous when I see you in a crowd? Is it because I can’t take you where my thoughts get loud? Am I not beautiful enough for you to want to treat me good?

The joyously uplifting gem “Feels Good” is the song that first made me fall for Dancing on Pluto. Beginning with Chas yelling “It feels good, yeah!“, followed by a few seconds of a simple drumbeat and tapping drumsticks, the track bursts wide open with a barrage of shredded guitars, then settles back down. Chas’ incredible vocal dexterity really shines on this track – sounding as smooth and soulful as John Legend one minute, then raw and loud the next.  The tempo goes from a mellow, bass-driven groove while he croons “When you’re on your own, take time and deep breaths. And when you’re on your own you’ll find out…”, to an explosion of wailing guitars and thunderous drums with the refrain that perfectly describes the song’s affect on me:  “It feels good! It’s so good, right on!”

The guys change things up again with “Snowflakes on Mercury,” which sounds totally different than any of the other tracks on the EP.  The beautiful, languid song has more of a shoegaze vibe, with greater use of synths and keyboards, yet they insert some grungy riffs in the bridge, adding a bit of poignant drama. The lyrics seem to address self-awareness and appraisal: “Snowflakes, I want to see you even when you hurt my eyes. I want to feel you even when you hurt my skin. Falling and floating. You help all of my footprints be seen. So I can see how far I am from where I’ve been. Falling and floating.”

Monet,” is a seven-minute-long rock song with an incredibly pleasing and catchy melody, and marvelous strummed acoustic and electric guitar work. At roughly four minutes in, the tempo slows and riffs of jangly guitar dominate until drums and crashing cymbals return. The instrumentals all quiet down to just a simple acoustic guitar riff to close out the track. The lyrics seem to be about working through problems in a relationship: “I’d paint a picture of love that I can’t put into words for you. / This is your whole life, not just a cause worth fighting for. / I’m standing outside your door, ’cause I thought that I was more than the half-hearted fool you took me for. We’re fine ’cause our creator says so. We’ll be fine.

With Paradise Fahrenheit, Dancing on Pluto have another solid EP under their collective belts as they start to build an impressive discography. I love their music, and look forward to hearing more great and innovative songs from them.

Connect with Dancing on Pluto:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music: Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase on iTunes

JAMES BAKIAN – Single Review: “Ice Cold”

James Bakian

James Bakian is a majorly talented and charismatic young singer/songwriter from London, UK. He’s only 14 years old, but possesses a phenomenal vocal styling with a maturity beyond his years. He writes all his own songs and music, and records all the instruments. He’s also a hard-working and prolific musician. James released his second EP Unstoppable – a really fine effort featuring six tracks – in late 2017 (which I reviewed), and in the first three months of 2018 he’s already dropped five new singles, the latest of which is “Ice Cold,” which debuted on March 30.

The new song is a bit of a departure from his usual soulful pop sound. James states that he’s been exploring R&B and lo-fi hip-hop, and boy does he deliver! The track is mesmerizing, starting off with sounds of static and a hesitating synth chord, then unfolding into a gorgeous soundscape of shimmering keyboard synths floating above a languid hip hop beat. James’ smooth vocals are captivating, and sound better than ever. He can seduce us one moment, then raise goosebumps with impassioned pleas the next. It’s a fantastic song, and it’s wonderful seeing his music and vocals continue to mature so nicely.

“Ice Cold” speaks to not allowing self-doubt and past mistakes to turn you into a bitter person:

Build up strength to live a day yeah
All you want is to escape yeah
Don’t let words intoxicate you
We all get deserted sometimes

We get disappointed with what we’re assigned
Can’t go without a complaint in your mind
Losing your patience is turning you blind
You need space to rewind

Cause you’re ice cold
And it’s making you bad but you deserve a chance
And we all make our mistakes but they are just mistakes
We don’t catch the message so we all get sad

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

JOHN DEFEO – Single Review: “Unwind”

John DeFeo

John DeFeo is a soulful R&B/hip hop artist based in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, and he’s got one of the hottest new singles I’ve heard in long while. Taken from his EP Champagne Heart (which just dropped in February, is marvelous, and I urge everyone who reads this to give it a listen), “Unwind” is so steamy it’ll leave you needing a cold shower.  With a sensuous mellow dance groove that aims straight for the hips, the track is reminiscent of Justin Timberlake’s “Rock Your Body,” only better and sexier. Jangly, funk-infused guitars seem to flirt with the erotic bass-driven hip hop beat, and quite honestly, who can blame them!

DeFeo’s seductive vocals leave little doubt about his romantic intentions as he tries to convince a woman to give him a try: “Live a little, don’t be stuck up and beautiful. You got too many Instagram followers. I’ll give you the attention you need. We should leave soon.” I can’t get enough of this song, and the video’s awesome too!

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

KENDRICK LAMAR/SZA – Single Review: “All the Stars”

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I’m absolutely head over heels in love with the gorgeous new song “All the Stars” by Kendrick Lamar and SZA. The track is one of many fantastic songs featured on the soundtrack for the monster hit film Black Panther. A stylistic departure for Lamar, the song is highly melodic, with lush sweeping synths and orchestration, set to a captivating dance beat. His vocals are mesmerizing and powerful as he sings the biting lyrics about duplicity and betrayal:

Love, let’s talk about love
Is it anything and everything you hoped for?
Or do the feeling haunt you?
I know the feeling haunt you

Tell me what you gon’ do to me
Confrontation ain’t nothin’ new to me
You can bring a bullet, bring a sword
Bring a morgue, but you can’t bring the truth to me
Fuck you and all your expectations
I don’t even want your congratulations
I recognize your false confidence and calculated promises all in your conversation
I hate people that feel entitled
Look at me crazy ’cause I ain’t invite you
Oh, you important?
You the moral to the story, you endorsing?
Motherfucker, I don’t even like you
Corrupt a man’s heart with a gift
That’s how you find out who you dealin’ with
A small percentage, who I’m building with
I want the credit if I’m losing or winning
On my momma that’s the realest shit

And SZA blows our minds with her beautiful, soulful vocals that raise goosebumps. She passionately sings about her inability to resist another’s charms despite the fact he’s no good for her, always putting her faith in love and the stars, and when their voices are combined, it’s sheer bliss.

This may be the night that my dreams might let me know
All the stars are closer, all the stars are closer, all the stars are closer
This may be the night that my dreams might let me know
All the stars are closer, all the stars are closer, all the stars are closer

Skin covered in ego
Get to talkin’, I get involved, like a rebound
No control, no off switch in the way that you bringing me down
It’s a turn on, get it away from me
Know you mean wrong, keep away from me
And it’s all wrong, get it away from me, yeah
I just cry for no reason, I just pray for no reason
I just thank for the life, for the day, for the hours and another life breathin’
I did it all ’cause it feel good
You could live it all if you feel bad
Better live your life
We are running out of time

The video for the song is positively stunning. I started to describe it, but it’s so complex and filled with such extraordinary imagery that you just need to watch it for yourself and form your own opinions. Prepare to be amazed!

DANCING ON PLUTO – Single Review: “Feels Good”

Dancing on Pluto

It’s always a pleasure to discover a new band or artist whose music I instantly love. Dancing on Pluto is such a band. Formed just a year ago and based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, they’re an alternative rock band consisting of four long time friends Chas (lead vocals), Josh (drums), Gilbert (guitar) and Ishmael (bass). Their fun, energetic music is a blend of their favorite genres, including rock, hip hop, R&B, synth-pop, shoegaze and grunge – to name just a few of the influences I detect in their eclectic sound. They released their debut EP Abandon Ship in 2017, featuring five awesome tracks that I highly recommend my readers check out. They’ve now followed up with a terrific new single “Feels Good”  that immediately blew me away.

In an interview with the web magazine From the Depths Entertainment (which you can read here), the band explained the origin of their name, and what they want listeners to take away from their music:

“The concept, in short, is that Pluto is a planet of unexplored potential. It took until recent to even say it was a planet again. But Pluto is like our music. When you listen to our music, it is much like taking a trip to another planet. You are exploring the planet. But at the same time, you hear the song and they are jams. It makes you wanna dance, jam, tap your feet, or whatever. Thus, the name Dancing on Pluto. Our music is always changing and complicated because people, including us, are always changing and complicated.”

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Well, complicated is a good thing when music sounds as good as it does on “Feels Good,” which Chas announces with a shout out at the beginning of the track. After a few seconds of tapping drumsticks, a barrage of shredded guitars ensues, along with Chas’ wonderful vocals that sound as smooth as John Legend one minute, then raw and loud the next.  The tempo goes from a mellow, bass-driven groove while he croons “When you’re on your own, take time and deep breaths. And when you’re on your own…”, to a bombastic onslaught of more gritty shredded guitars with the refrain “…you’ll find out it feels good! It’s so good, right on! Get up! Go ahead, get down! Go ahead, right on!

The track seems to end at around 2:50 with the line “I’m having a revelation. Maybe we’re better off alone in the night.” But after a couple seconds, the calm is shattered when Chas lets out a yell, and a barrage of wailing guitars rains down upon us before settling back down at the end. We’re left drained but totally satisfied by this fantastic song that’s candy for the ears.

I love Dancing on Pluto and cannot wait to hear more songs from this incredibly talented young band.

Connect with Dancing on Pluto:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase:  iTunes

Song Review: Shelita Burke – “Belong”

Singer/songwriter Shelita Burke is one of those artists who come along every so often and, upon first hearing her music, you immediately wonder “wow, who is this woman with such a unique and beautiful voice?” Originally from Seattle, Burke spent a few years traveling in Europe, soaking up influences from a myriad of cultures and developing her singular music style in the process, until settling in Los Angeles.  Out of that journey was born her brilliant, highly-acclaimed debut EP Transfixed.  Released in late 2015, The EP features five gorgeous tracks, plus a remix of the title track. The jazz-infused songs offer up mesmerizing strumming guitar and Burke’s captivating, ethereal vocals that transport the listener to a dreamy otherworldliness.

In an excellent review of Transfixed, Lisa D’Arrigo of Indie Minded noted that Burke’s vocals “combine the pulsating delivery of Alanis Morissette with the sultry smoothness of Sade, the calmness of Nora Jones, and the high pitched runs of Joni Mitchell.”  I can’t come up with a better description than that to convey the feel of Burke’s amazing vocal styling. Take a listen to the title track “Transfixed” to get an idea of what Lisa and I are talking about:

Now Burke has completely changed things up with her hot new single “Belong.” Departing from the jazzy, ethereal sounds of Transfixed, Burke dives headfirst into EDM territory, creating a steamy dance track that proves beyond a doubt that, not only is she a vocalist with considerable range, she’s also one with a lot to tell us. In “Belong,” Burke submits herself willingly over to passion while seducing her lover to own her: “Let’s get it on, and on and on and on. Belong. What’s wrong with belong?  I can’t resist all you needed to say. You get me, you get me, you got me. You find me sweet and pretty. If you would own me, I’m easy to please. If you would use me, I would never leave. Crawling, for that something more.”  Whew!

Propelled by a hypnotic, driving beat, swirling synths and bold hand-claps set the tone for Burke’s smoldering, seductive vocals. This is one sexy number that will lure even the biggest wallflower onto the dance floor!  With nearly 700,000 plays on Spotify in less than three months, Burke has a certifiable hit on her hands.

Show Shelita some love by following her on Twitter and Facebook, and subscribing to her YouTube channel.  Stream her music on Spotify or Soundcloud, and purchase it on iTunes and other online music sites.