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

EML’s Favorite Songs – BARRY WHITE: “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love, Babe”

Barry-White-Cant-Get-Enough-Of-Your-Love-Babe

I was a big fan of soul singer Barry White (born Barry Eugene Carter in September 1944), and love many of his hit songs. But my favorite of them all is “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love, Babe“. Throughout his long career, which lasted much of his adult life from the 1960s until the late 1990s, White was a singer, songwriter, composer, musician and producer. Known for his distinctive bass-baritone voice and sensual singing style, his biggest success came during the 1970s as both a solo artist and as producer/conductor of The Love Unlimited Orchestra, when he scored a number of top 10 soul, funk and disco hits.

White was born in Galveston, Texas, but grew up in South Central Los Angeles. His parents never married, so his mother gave him her last name at birth, but he later assumed his father’s surname. He was the older of two boys. White grew up listening to his mother’s classical music collection and taught himself to play the piano at a young age. His voice deepened suddenly when he was 14. He later recalled to music writer Larry Katz that his mother cried at the time “because she knew her baby boy had become a man.” Sadly, both he and his brother got involved with street gangs in their early teens, and his brother Darryl was tragically murdered in a fight with a rival gang, whereas White spent four months in jail for theft charges. After he was released, he cleaned up his act and began singing with groups and working for various small independent music labels in the L.A. area.

He got his big break in 1972 when he began producing music for girl group Love Unlimited, with whom he had a fairly sizable hit “Walkin’ in the Rain with the One I Love”. The following year, he created The Love Unlimited Orchestra, a 40-piece orchestral group that would perform the background music for Love Unlimited as well as his own songs. With Love Unlimited Orchestra, he released the gorgeous instrumental piece “Love’s Theme” in late 1973, which went to #1 in January 1974 on the Billboard Hot 100. White’s first chart hit as a solo artist was “I’m Gonna Love You Just a Little More Baby” in 1973, followed later that year by “Never, Never Gonna Give Ya Up”, both of which reached the top 10. In late June, 1974, he released “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love, Babe” as the lead single from his album Can’t Get Enough. The song ultimately reached #1 on both the Hot 100 and R&B charts.

It’s a beautiful R&B song with soulful guitar and percussion, backed by sweeping orchestration, the highlights of which are the exuberant brass and lush strings. All serve to create a swirling romantic soundscape for White’s deep, velvety vocals as he fervently professes the depths of his love and devotion to his beloved:

My darling, I, can’t get enough of your love babe
Girl, I don’t know, I don’t know why
I can’t get enough of your love babe
Oh no, babe

Girl, if only I could make you see
And make you understand
Girl, your love for me is all I need
And more than I can stand
Oh well, babe

How can I explain all the things I feel?
You’ve given me so much
Girl, you’re so unreal
Still I keep loving you
More and more each time
Girl, what am I gonna do
Because you blow my mind

“Can’t Get Enough of Your Love, Babe” was later covered in 1993 by the wonderful singer Taylor Dayne as “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love”. Oozing equal amounts of soul and sex appeal, she does great justice to the classic song.

EML’s Favorite Songs – TINA TURNER: “What’s Love Got to Do With It”

Tina Turner

It’s been a while since I’ve posted one of my Favorite Songs, so thought I’d get back into the groove with my favorite Tina Turner song “What’s Love Got to Do With It“. Not only is it one of my favorite songs of all time, but Tina is also one of my all-time favorite female singers. And quite honestly, who doesn’t love Tina! One of the best live concerts I’ve ever seen was Tina Turner on her What’s Love? Tour in September 1993 (with Chris Isaak opening for her at the Cal Expo Amphitheatre in Sacramento, California).

Born Anna Mae Bullock in Tennessee in 1939 (hard to believe she’s now 80!), Tina Turner lived part of her rather troubled childhood (thanks to dysfunctional parents) in the town of Nutbush (which she immortalized in her 1973 hit “Nutbush City Limits”), but moved to St. Louis when she was 16 to live with her mother. It was there that she eventually met musician Ike Turner, and began singing with his band Kings of Rhythm by the time she was 18. In 1960, Ike Turner wrote the song “A Fool in Love” for singer Art Lassiter, with Bullock to sing along with Lassiter’s backing vocalists the Artettes. But when Lassiter failed to show up for the recording session, Bullock suggested that she sing lead instead. Ike recorded her on a demo with the intention of erasing her vocals and adding Lassiter’s at a later date. When local St. Louis DJ Dave Dixon heard the demo, he convinced Turner to send the tape to Juggy Murray of R&B label Sue Records, who was so impressed he bought the rights to the track and convinced Turner to make Bullock the star of his show. Well, the song became a chart hit, and Turner subsequently renamed Anna Mae Bullock ‘Tina Turner’, and his act the ‘Ike & Tina Turner Revue’, also adding a girl group called the Ikettes to sing backup to Tina.

Ike and Tina Turner went on to have a successful career, but a very tempestuous relationship, due mostly to Ike’s chronic drug use and the physical and emotional abuse he inflicted on Tina. By 1976, she’d had enough and left Ike on July 1 with only 36 cents and a Mobil gas credit card in her pocket, filing for divorce three weeks later. Tina spent the next six years performing and touring where she could get shows, becoming essentially a nostalgia act. Then in 1983 she signed with Capitol Records, and that November her marvelous cover of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” was released. It became an international hit and peaked at #26 on the Billboard Hot 100. I remember how much I loved it, and was excited to hear Tina singing again. The song was the first single from her phenomenal comeback album Private Dancer, which she recorded in only two weeks. In May 1984 Capitol released the album, along with its second single “What’s Love Got to Do with It”.

The song went on to become Tina’s biggest hit, reaching #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, where it spent three weeks, and also reaching #1 in Canada and Australia. It’s a gorgeous R&B/pop song about the intense power of physical and sexual attraction, and how it doesn’t necessarily represent or entail feelings of love or romance. Sounds rather cynical, but I know from experience that it’s completely true. Of course, an underlying theme could be that the singer is intentionally protecting themselves from getting hurt by framing their strong sexual attraction as being merely physical.

Musically, the song has a sultry vibe, with shimmery guitars, soulful rhythms and an enchanting flute that really does it for me. Tina’s powerful smoky vocals are spectacular, with a raw vulnerability that’s strongly evident. She has the ability to seduce with a sensuous purr one moment, then chill us with impassioned wails the next.

You must understand though the touch of your hand
Makes my pulse react
That it’s only the thrill of boy meeting girl
Opposites attract
It’s physical
Only logical
You must try to ignore that it means more than that

What’s love got to do, got to do with it
What’s love but a second hand emotion
What’s love got to do, got to do with it
Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken

It may seem to you that I’m acting confused
When you’re close to me
If I tend to look dazed I’ve read it someplace
I’ve got cause to be
There’s a name for it
There’s a phrase that fits
But whatever the reason you do it for me

What’s love got to do, got to do with it
What’s love but a second hand emotion
What’s love got to do, got to do with it
Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken

I’ve been taking on a new direction
But I have to say
I’ve been thinking about my own protection
It scares me to feel this way oh oh oh

What’s love got to do, got to do with it
What’s love but a second hand emotion
What’s love got to do, got to do with it
Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken

What’s love got to do, got to do with it
What’s love but a sweet old fashioned notion
What’s love got to do, got to do with it
Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken
ooh got to do with it

The song has an interesting back story. It was written by Terry Britten and Graham Lyle, and originally pitched to British singer Cliff Richard, who rejected it. It was then given to American singer Phyllis Hyman, who wanted to do the song but Clive Davis, the head of her label Arista Records, would not allow her to record it. It was then offered to Donna Summer, who allegedly sat on it for a couple of years but never recorded it, then offered to British pop group Bucks Fizz. Bucks Fizz band singer Jay Aston wanted to sing lead on the track after hearing the demo, but was told by their producer that it was unsuitable for a female lead vocal. Then Tina got her hands on it and the rest is history.

Bucks Fizz did ultimately record the song in February 1984, but it was sung by male band member Bobby G. It was intended for possible inclusion on their next album I Hear Talk, but was shelved when Tina Turner released her version first. The Bucks Fizz version went unreleased until it was included on a re-issue of their Are You Ready album in 2000. (Wikipedia)

For comparison, here’s the Bucks Fizz version, which ain’t too bad actually:

EML’s Favorite Songs – THE BROTHERS JOHNSON: “Strawberry Letter 23”

Strawberry Letter 23

One of my favorite songs from the 1970s, or of all time for that matter, is “Strawberry Letter 23” from R&B/funk band The Brothers Johnson. It was one of the defining songs of my summer of 1977, when I spent two glorious months in Portland, Oregon before starting college. The track was written by the brilliant singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Shuggie Otis in 1971, whose own original version was featured on his album Freedom Flight.

It’s a romantic song with a dreamy, almost mystical vibe, thanks to the whimsical lyrics and his use of chiming guitars, xylophone, calliope and other sparkling synth instrumental sounds. For their recording of the song, which was masterfully produced by the legendary Quincy Jones, The Brothers Johnson embellished on all those lovely instruments and added their own funky guitar, bass, beats and smooth vocal harmonies, along with a dreamy backing vocal chorus. The result was a gorgeous and captivating track that took the song to the next level.

The song was included on their 1977 album Right On Time, and reached #1 on the Billboard R&B Chart and #5 on the Hot 100. It’s been featured in several films and TV shows, including Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, Six Feet Under and Nip/Tuck. Otis’ version was featured in the film Munich.

I’d originally wondered why the song was titled “Strawberry Letter 23” when the lyrics speak of “Strawberry Letter 22” instead. The reason is that Otis intended for the song to be about a couple exchanging love letters in the form of songs. The singer is creating “Strawberry Letter 23” as a reply to the “Strawberry Letter 22” song he received from his lover and refers to in the song.

Hello my love, I heard a kiss from you
Red magic satin playing near, too
All through the morning rain I gaze, the sun doesn’t shine
Rainbows and waterfalls run through my mind
In the garden, I see
West purple shower bells and tea
Orange birds and river cousins dressed in green

Pretty music, I hear
So happy and loud
Blue flowers echo from a cherry cloud
Feel sunshine sparkle pink and blue
Playgrounds will laugh
If you try to ask “Is it cool? Is it cool?”
If you arrive and don’t see me
I’m going to be with my baby
I am free, flying in her arms
Over the sea

Stained window, yellow candy screen
See speakers of kite
With velvet roses diggin’ freedom flight
A present from you
Strawberry letter 22
The music plays I sit in for a few

Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh
Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh
Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh
Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh

For comparison, here’s the original version by Shuggie Otis:

Artist Spotlight on the massively talented TREVOR JAMES

I get followed by – and follow – so many artists and bands on social media that I often don’t have time to properly listen to all their music and, sadly, many slip beneath my radar. One such artist I’ve somehow missed out on listening to until yesterday is the massively talented and versatile singer/songwriter and guitarist/bassist Trevor James. The Los Angeles-based artist has been making music since the age of 14, and has been especially prolific over the past five years or so, releasing several outstanding albums and singles, the latest of which is the lovely and soulful “Always Be There”, which dropped earlier this month. Since hearing that song, I’ve been making up for lost time by binge-listening to his incredibly diverse music. I was going to review the single, but his music catalog is so varied, extensive and impressive that I’ve decided to do an Artist Spotlight on James instead.

James refers to his music style as “a combination of John Mayer and Lenny Kravitz with a touch of Jimi Hendrix“, and I’d say that pretty accurately describes one aspect of his sound, although it’s so much broader than that. In 2014, he released his first EP Show Time, a fine collection of songs melding pop, hip hop, R&B and funk. One of the standouts is “Mystery Girl”:

Completely changing direction, in 2016 he released two gorgeous albums – The Dreamer and World – that delved deeply into jazz fusion. The Dreamer is an instrumental-only production that really highlights James’ talents for writing beautiful and intricate melodies, and bringing them to life with his skillful musicianship and awesome guitar-playing. All 11 tracks are superb, but I’ll share the title track, which provides a good example of the album’s flavor:

World is more experimental and, like its title suggests, features greater use of world music influences, as well as sparse vocals on some tracks. James inserts elements of rock, funk, blues and soul into the jazzy mix, making for a fascinating and often captivating listening experience. The tracks are all named after natural or weather phenomena. One of the highlights out of many for me is “Earthquake”, where James’ funky guitar work shines. Take a listen to this gem:

Changing direction yet again, it’s on his monumental 2017 album My Train where James really taps into his John Mayer/Lenny Kravitz/Jimi Hendrix aura. Holy shit, this man can play the guitar! The Herculean album kicks ass with a mind-boggling twenty tracks (five of which are over seven minutes long), and every single one of them is fucking phenomenal! James lays down scorching, bluesy riffs in track after track, and I’m sorry I missed out on hearing this album when it came out in 2017, because I’d have named it among the best of that year. I strongly recommend my readers take the time to give this incredible album a listen, but I’ll share a few of my personal favorites.

First up is “Howling Wind”, a blistering, bluesy stunner that pays beautiful homage to Jimi Hendrix with some jaw-dropping guitar work:

Another spectacular track is the 9:22-minute-long epic “Drunken Blues”. James’ bluesy guitar runs are so gorgeous they bring tears to my eyes. Wow!

In 2018, James dropped his fourth full-length album Maxine, yet another exceptional work in which he continued to explore his rock side, only this time channeling his inner Lenny Kravitz by delving further into guitar-driven, melodic alternative rock grooves. Staying true to his eclectic influences, he still manages to incorporate ample amounts of funk, blues and jazz into the dynamic mix. The title track “Maxine” is one of the standouts, with dirty, bluesy riffs, soulful keys, crunchy drums and a funky-as-hell bassline. James’ raw vocals beautifully express his exasperation over Maxine’s intransigent and cruel behavior toward him: “Maxine, you’s the one I want. Maxine, what do you want from me? Maxine, how could you be so mean?

Since the release of Maxine, James has dropped a number of great singles in 2019, one of which is the fiery rocker “Turn Me On”, with a sexy video that’s as hot as the track. It really showcases his strong charisma and good looks, and Jennifer’s pretty easy on the eyes too!

“Pick Up Your Phone” is another fantastic R&B single, and here’s a wonderful video of a live performance of the song by James and his backup band. It was recorded this past Spring at Joshua Tree National Park (located an hour from my home) as part of Dynaudio Unheard’s Desert Sessions:

Finally, I get to his latest release “Always Be There”, which instigated this entire post! It’s a sweet and charming love song, and one of the more pop-oriented of his tracks, with mostly acoustic guitar, subtle synths and crisp percussion. James tenderly sings of his undying love and devotion:

You’re my everything
I can’t explain, you’re my sunny day
You’re sweeter than some sugarcane
I’ll always be there for you
Take my hand, baby I’m your man
Don’t you know, I’m your biggest fan
You’re my queen, baby I’m your king
I’ll always be there for you girl

The music and James’ vocals gradually build as the track progresses, and he thrills us with a scorching-hot distorted guitar solo in the final chorus.

As I’ve tried to make clear in this post, Trevor James is a remarkable talent, and one of the most versatile artists I’ve come across in a long while. He’s a great songwriter, composer, vocalist and, most of all, a truly gifted guitarist and bassist, and I cannot gush enough about him and his music! Plus, he’s a gracious and kind man. I hope my readers will take the time to listen to some of his songs, and grow to like him as much as I have.

Connect with Trevor:  Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music / YouTube
Purchase:  Google Play / cdbaby

EML’s Favorite Songs – JUNIOR WALKER & the ALL STARS: “What Does it Take (To Win Your Love)”

Jr Walker What Does It Take

Few popular artists of the 1960s – or any other decade for that matter – could play the saxophone like Autry DeWalt Mixon Jr., better known as Junior Walker. Along with with his band the All Stars, Junior Walker had a string of hits from the early 1960s through the early 1980s, including the fantastic “Shotgun” and “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You).” (Walker also went on to play sax on the great Foreigner song “Urgent” in 1981.) But my absolute favorite was “What Does It Take (To Win Your Love)”, which was a big hit for them in 1969. It has one of the best intros of any song ever. That opening bass riff, followed by Walker’s wailing sax, are fucking incredible, sending chills up and down my spine that remain there through the song’s entire two and a half minute run time.

The song was written by Johnny Bristol, Harvey Fuqua and Vernon Bullock and, shockingly, was initially rejected for single release by a Motown quality control group. Thankfully, several radio station DJs chose to play the song, making it gain popularity, and prompted Motown executives to reverse their decision and ultimately release it as a single. It became a huge hit, reaching #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #1 on the R&B chart. It’s one of my favorite songs of 1969.

What does it take to win your love for me?
How can I make this dream come true for me?
Oh, I just got to know
Ooh baby, cause I love you so
Gonna blow for you

I’ve tried, I’ve tried, I’ve tried, I’ve tried in every way I could
To make you see how much I love you
Ooh I thought you understood
So you gotta make me see
What does it take to win your love for me?
Gonna blow again for you

GRACE-ATTALIE – Single Review: “Polluted: The Medley”

Though the music I’ve written about on this blog has more often than not involved various forms of rock, folk, electronic or pop, as EclecticMusicLover I do like to feature other genres as well, especially from countries outside the U.S., Canada and the U.K. Today I have the pleasure of featuring singer/songwriter Grace-Attalie, a young woman with one of the most amazing and distinctive vocal styles I’ve heard in a long while. Originally from Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and now based in Johannesburg, South Africa, Grace uses her soulful voice like a musical instrument, producing exquisite vocal sounds and textures with such incredible depth and emotional range that they leave me speechless.

In December 2018, she released her marvelous debut EP Polluted, featuring three excellent songs drawing from soul, jazz, Latin and African music influences. Now, she’s released a new medley of the three tracks, entitled simply “Polluted: The Medley“, along with a video of her performing the song with musicians Ngwato Mapalakanye on guitar and Joe Simoz on drums. The video was beautifully filmed in subdued light with cool blue tones by photographer and cinematographer Ryan Jarrett.

Though each of the three songs – “Eggshell”, “Standards” and “Sombre Storm” – are distinctly different, they’re artfully melded together seamlessly in the medley to flow as one flawlessly smooth and gorgeous composition. Simoz taps out the sultry tempo that hovers somewhere between a Latin and African-flavored jazz beat. Backed by airy synths and a sensual bass line, Mapalakanye’s strummed electric guitar notes are sublime, and a perfect complement to Grace’s lush vocals that go from breathy purr to deep smoke. It’s an absolutely captivating track.

To more fully appreciate Grace-Attalie’s astonishing vocal talents, spend a few extra minutes and listen to the three wonderful original songs here:

Connect with Grace-Attalie on Twitter
Stream “Polluted” on Spotify / Soundcloud
Purchase on iTunes / Amazon

iLLPHONiCS – Double-Single Review: “Dv8, Pt. 1”

illphonics dv8

As I’ve noted in other recent posts, I’ve been revisiting quite a lot of artists and bands this year that I’ve previously reviewed on this blog, as many of them are releasing new music in 2019. The very first full album I ever reviewed, way back in March 2016, was the superb Gone With the Trends by St. Louis, Missouri-based hip hop-fusion band iLLPHONiCS. Hard to believe it’s been three years! (You can read that review here.) They followed up a year later with Purple Piano Society, named one of St. Louis’ best albums of 2017 by The Riverfront Times, and released a digital 45 double single “X-Rated” in May 2018, which I premiered on this blog. They now return with a new double single “dv8, pt. 1“, which represents somewhat of a new direction in sound for the collective. 

iLLPHONiCS formed in 2006, and to this day all five founding members are still with the band, a rarity among acts with that long a track record. During that time, they’ve built quite a large and loyal following throughout the St. Louis region, if not the entire Midwest. Their infectious and eclectic sound incorporates elements of hip hop, rap, R&B, soul, pop, jazz and funk, which they deliver through high-energy, charismatic performances. The 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).

For their latest project, which they’ve dubbed “dv8” (for deviate), they’ve teamed up with famed producer Tony Visconti (who over the past 50 years has produced scores of albums for numerous artists, including many for David Bowie and T. Rex). The first phase of this project, entitled “dv8, pt. 1” includes two tracks – “Work” and “Make Your Move“. About the project, the band states “You have a choice. Do what’s already been done or dv8. Take the road less traveled with us.” Their new songs retain their soulful grooves and funky hip hop beats, but employ more pronounced synths, lending a more expansive vibe.

The first of the two tracks “Work” is darker and edgier than many of their previous tracks. Opening with spooky synths that set an ominous mood, a hard-driving trap beat soon kicks in, and this song is off and running. The variety and richness of the synth sounds, combined with the awesome beat, deep bass and sharp percussion, make for a dramatic and exciting listen. Morris’s rapid-fire melodic flow is flawless as he raps the verses, practically spitting out the pessimistic lyrics that speak to the struggle and drudgery of trying to earn a decent living: “Yeah, I’m on that clock. I put in that work. I’ll sleep when I’m dead, when I’m covered in dirt. Tryin’ to get to a meal.”

The guys change things up dramatically with “Make Your Move”, a languorous and sexy tune with an old-school R&B vibe, but delivered with a fresh, updated approach. Guest vocalist Lena Charlie, who’s previously collaborated with iLLPHONiCS on several of their songs, provides her silky vocals on this track, harmonizing beautifully with Morris’s smooth rap vocals as they sing about making plans to get together for some serious love action: “Girl it’s your move. Tell me what you gon’ do. / Hey boy it’s your move. Tell me what you gon’ do.” I love the slow beat and sultry synths, and the funky bass and tasty electric guitar are so fine, as are the guys’ backing harmonies.

I’m loving these two songs, and can’t wait to hear more from their forthcoming album. Have a listen:

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

SAMUEL ASHTON – EP Review: “Spreading Light”

Samuel Ashton EP

Samuel Ashton is a singer/songwriter based in Canterbury, England, who makes what he beautifully refers to as “acoustic soul.” Drawing inspiration from such artists as Michael Kiwanuka, Paolo Nutini, Leon Bridges and Nathaniel Rateliff, Samuel blends smooth blues, soul and country to create uplifting and powerful songs. He’s also spent years travelling around the world, and the various different cultures he experienced and came to embrace also strongly influence his music.

In January, he released his debut EP Spreading Light through independent label 2728 Records, and received a warm response at his EP launch show in Canterbury on the 19th. He’s also been playing at venues throughout Kent and southeast England, including Brighton and London, and is currently booking future shows throughout England for this Spring.

Samuel Ashton

First up is the title track “Spreading Light“, a moving and hopeful song about staying positive in the face of adversity and troubled times, and spreading truth and goodness through our actions. The song’s melody is rather simple, driven by a strummed acoustic guitar and light percussion, but a closer listen reveals lots of added subtle textures such as somber piano keys, bluesy electric guitar and delicate, moody synths. In his deep and resonant vocals, Samuel urgently sings “Said we got to keep on spreading light. Even in the dark and lonesome night, we gotta keep on spreading light. Oh how I moan, when my heart feels woe when there’s such injustice and pain.”

Send Me Angels” has a bit of a gospel feel, with a prominent organ providing the basis of the melody, and Samuel’s emotional vocals pleading “Send me angels, come on save my soul.” I like the way he uses both acoustic and jangly electric guitars to achieve a fuller, multi-textured sound. On the slow and bluesy “Freedom Never Lies“, his intricate layered guitar work is outstanding, creating a sultry mood for his soulful, fervent vocals. He sings about surrendering oneself freely to passion: “There’s a light that’s shining in your eyes. There’s a fire that burns inside you that you just can’t disguise. Let it burn. Freedom never lies. / I’m so close to the edge, I’m still wanting more.”

Love is in the Sun” is an uplifting folk song about the presence of love everywhere we look and in everything we do. “Love is in the earth, love is in the sea. Love is in the power, power that heals.” The track has a pleasing gospel-like melody, with acoustic guitar and gentle hand claps. The Americana song “Medicine Music” speaks to the healing powers of music, something I think everyone who loves and appreciates music can attest to. “Healing my soul, my heart is full of love./ Medicine music, purify me. Medicine music, show me freedom. Medicine music heals.” The backing choruses have a Native American sound, as if being sung by a Shaman. And once again, Samuel’s guitar prowess is on full display, as his riff that closes out the track is marvelous.

Spreading Light is a wonderful EP and a fine debut effort from this thoughtful and talented musician who’s intent on spreading his positive message of love and healing in our troubled times. Samuel’s compelling lyrics, outstanding guitar work and soulful vocals make for pleasing songs you want to hear again and again.

To learn more about Samuel, check out his Website
Connect with him on  Facebook / Instagram / Twitter
Stream his music on  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase on  iTunes

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