LYIA META – Single Review: “Without Walls”

Without Walls cover art

I receive lots of submissions from artists and bands asking me to listen to their music or, hopefully, write a review of it. Most of the time the music is decent or better, and I rarely turn anyone down (which is why I’m always running behind schedule). But every so often, I’m immediately blown away the moment I hear their music. Such is the case with Malaysian singer/songwriter Lyia Meta, a lovely woman with a voice to match. Her rich, soulful vocal style is impressive, with a powerful arresting quality reminiscent of the legendary Shirley Bassey.

Lyia released her debut EP This is Lyia in 2016 to wide acclaim, garnering airplay on radio stations in Europe, as well as indie internet music radio stations in the UK, U.S., Germany and Australia, including Radio Wigwam (UK), Home of Rock Germany, LA Rocks Radio, Banks Radio Australia and many more. In August of 2017, she won the award for Best Female Artist from Radio Wigwam. In January of this year, she dropped a new single “Without Walls,” and it’s fantastic.

The track opens with soft, mysterious synths and Lyia pensively singing “I’m thinking of yesterday. She’ll find a way. And everything I remember, would stay. ‘Cause life without walls, feels like it’s love.” The music builds into a powerful soundscape of shimmering synths and a sensual, bass-driven dance beat, while Lyia’s smoldering vocals raise goosebumps as they soar to the heavens. Those moments of exuberance alternate with interludes of relative calm, where lovely synths with piano and strings dominate. She sings: “Forever in my mind, forever in my heart. Promises that came undone. We played it from the start. This life without walls. It feels like it’s love. We’re bending rules and skipping stones. Know your worth.” It’s a gorgeous song that I guarantee will have you on your feet dancing and hitting the replay button.

Lyia is also an accomplished visual artist. Check out her work on her art website.

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

BRAVE YOU – Album Review: “Places”

Brave You

I’m back in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (having just written about progressive metal band UNDER AEGIS) to shine my spotlight on Brave You, one of my favorite indie bands that I’ve also previously featured on this blog. In 2016 I reviewed their outstanding debut Six Songs EP, and now have the pleasure of reviewing their new full-length album Places, which dropped in late February. Released through Halloween Records, Places is a concept album. The band’s guitarist & lead vocalist Alex Meylink explains: “Places is entirely about addiction, but we tried to avoid ever mentioning drugs or alcohol. We focused primarily on how addiction interacts with one’s emotional state and relationships, so I think it’s applicable to anyone suffering a mental health issue. These are songs written across a few years: in the early stages of recovery, in relapse, at ‘the bottom’, and finally coming to a place of good mental health and sobriety.”

Brave You plays alternative rock that’s highly melodic, but with an honest, post-grunge sensibility that gives them a distinctive style all their own. In addition to Meylink, the other band members are Noah Snyder on bass & backing vocals, and Erik Burtraw on drums & backing vocals. Outstanding, complex guitar riffs, aggressive drums, and really fine harmonizing vocals are the defining elements of their sound. Add their solid songwriting to the mix, and the result are songs of exceptional quality and depth. And if all that isn’t enough of a winning combination, they’re also pretty nice guys.

Places is aptly named, as each track title is about a specific location, whether it be a geographical one or simply a bedroom. The album kicks off with a distorted riff and voice over of a guy inviting his friends to go to the amusement park on “Lake Michigan.” Swirling guitars, Snyder’s humming bass and Burtraw’s crashing drums ensue, as Meylink earnestly sings of being in a precarious mental state: “So I’m safe for now. Even if it’s just one moment I could crack a smile, goddamn it.” Determined to make it, he defiantly sings “So I’m safe for now. So let’s burn that fucker down and build it up from better ground.”

I may be off base, but my take on “The Hospital” is that it’s about being depressed over the impending onset of winter, which symbolizes the possibility of having a relapse that would necessitate going back into rehab. The lighthearted video puts a happy face on a rather serious subject, namely trying to stave off winter, or preventing a downward spiral and keeping an upbeat attitude by having fun playing sports with friends. By video’s end, the band members are all wearing giant teddy bear heads, indicating they’re getting ready to hibernate, another metaphor symbolizing the inevitability of returning to the hospital for rehab.

One of my favorite tracks is “Mound St.” It starts off with Meylink’s echoed vocals and a gentle riff and drumbeat, then explodes with a barrage of wailing guitars and thunderous drums. Still in a fragile mental state and feeling pessimistic, Meylink sings: “I’d spent a few years treading water in stagnant pools. You asked me where my head had wandered off to. I’ve been lost. / If these are the best days of our lives then we are fucked. I am fucked. / On Mound Street, I let my losses pile up. Refused to claim stake in the rubble and the sum of the stories I told you and to myself: that I’m alright and getting by. So I coasted on hope or the concept of having it. Got myself dry as a bone til mine were cracking, but I couldn’t help but sink into quicksand and pits. A morass of “faultless” debt I could never hope to pay back.

Wind Lake” and “King Cross” are a couplet, with the latter being a precise continuation of “Wind Lake.” It’s interesting the band would create a separate track in “Kings Cross,” as it begins with the exact same riff that “Wind Lake” ends with. Both tracks feature Meylink’s gritty, screaming guitars and Snyder’s deep, droning bass line, sounding fantastic.

The guys’ wonderful harmonizing is well represented on “Washington.” The nimble guitars and bouncy drumbeat lend an optimistic tone for lyrics that speak to a resignation that though things aren’t going so great, we’ll just continue acting like they are: “So let’s just make it through this winter. Toss off the sharp and jagged splinters. No matter, all of this is fine.”

Hometown” speaks to the depression that began while growing up, and wanting to escape that environment in the hope things will get better:  “Always remember how you felt at this moment, in this placeAlone and inconsolable in the house that you grew up inYou wanted to burn that fucker down. Erase twenty years on solid ground.” The track has a great melody, and is filled with loads of jangly guitars and gritty bass. “South Milwaukee” is a short and beautiful track with chiming guitars and warm bass, but sad lyrics about feeling hopeless and alone. Meylink sadly sings “Overworked and underfed, in need of rest, I drove the twenty minutes to South Milwaukee instead, to you and your shitty friend. Towards a beacon of light in an otherwise meaningless night. / Selfish, I expected too much of your company. That just one night could fix me. It didn’t help me at all.

Bedroom” finds him trying to escape his demons by isolating in a safe place:  “Me and these ghosts, still talking until I’m finally sleeping. I just want to stay home, stay in my bedroom alone. Me and these ghosts, still talking until I’m finally sleeping. I just want to be whole.” As always, the frenetic instrumentals and vocal harmonies are first-rate.

The hard-driving, bittersweet “Your Bedroom” speaks to the pain and feelings of loss after the sudden death of a friend. “You’re no ghost, you’re a warmth. A ringing in the ears. A reminder. Stay in motion now. Make the movement matter. And this will freeze and crack, thawed only by the embers. You’re twenty seven forever. By the back door, your old pair of blue Tiger shoes we didn’t throw out, as if after a day or two like Lazarus you’d come from your room. We’d get a sandwich at Lulu’s. God, I’d do whatever you want to. I’d get clean. I’d sing loud. Just come on out.”

Places closes on an optimistic tone with the anthemic “Everywhere.” He’s now confident things will be OK: “I wanna take back this city from dead memories, take back my body. Call off the funeral procession for all these loves that built me. Those years searching for something greater than these homes. Well, I found it. Found it in my bones.” It’s a gorgeous track with layered guitars that start off as tender strums, gradually building to celebratory jangly riffs. Likewise, Meylink’s heartfelt vocals build along with the music, eventually soaring to a crescendo of spine-tingling harmonies. It’s a satisfying conclusion to a brilliant effort from a really fine band. I love Brave You and hope they continue making music for years to come.

Connect with Brave You: Facebook / TwitterInstagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Soundcloud / Reverbnation
Purchase Places on Bandcamp or iTunes

CARBONWORKS – Video Premier: “End of the World Suite Part 3: The End”

CarbonWorks is not your typical band. It’s more a collective of talented session musicians, headed by its creator and guitarist Neal Barnard – who also happens to be a world-renowned medical doctor. Based in Washington, D.C., the band’s music is a unique fusion of rock, contemporary classical, jazz, blues and avant-garde, giving their sound an uncommon breadth and depth. With delicate melodies over driving rhythms, blues overlying classical strings, and frequent use of non-English lyrics, their songs defy categorization. As Neal Barnard explains, their unconventional time meters “tilt the song ever so slightly and give you that little jolt between the ears.

CarbonWorks2

The band released their extraordinary debut self-titled album CarbonWorks in December 2016 to rave reviews, and have been periodically releasing a new video for one of the album tracks.  In May 2017, I premiered the video for their gorgeous track “Monaco,” and am now delighted to premier their new videos for “End of the World Suite Part 3: The End” as well as “End of the World Suite Part 4: Winged Victory.” As indicated by their titles, the beautiful tracks are the completion of an ambitious four-part suite.

“Part 1: The Beginning of the End” is a mix of contemporary classical and rock, while “Part 2: Love and Illusion” combines classical, folk and jazz elements. For “Part 3: The End,” progressive jazz is the predominant element. The generous use of strings, including violin, cello and bass, combined with the gorgeous jazzy saxophone, guitar and drums, result in a truly stunning track. Barnard describes the track thusly: “Part 3 (“The End”) launches with cool bebop bass played by Jeff Reed. Russell jumps in on sax, with Mike on drums and me on guitar. Then the strings come in bringing a baroque element that somehow works with the driving jazz.” Although it’s six minutes long, it’s so wonderful that it seems over far too soon.

The suite ends with “Part 4: Winged Victory,” a brief but lovely track with a complex mix of classical and rock overtones, and features the dan tranh, a traditional Vietnamese instrument that’s similar to a Japanese koto. It also features sublime vocals sung in Latin by Italian singer Naif Herin, who ends with the words ” Beati pauperes spiritu, Beati pacifici,” which translated means “Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are the peacemakers.”

Both videos show the band performing the songs, which I always enjoy seeing.

Connect with CarbonWorks:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on  Soundcloud / Pandora / Apple Music
Purchase on  iTunes / Amazon

DAN FARRELL – Album Review: “Colliding Planets”

Dan Farrell Album

Dan Farrell is a singer/songwriter based in London, UK. A multi-instrumentalist who plays guitar, bass and keyboards, as well as produces all of his tracks in his own home studio, he refers to himself as a “one man band.” That said, in his bio he explains “My main instrument is guitar which I play left handed – but with the strings strung for a right handed person. Consequently all the chords I play are upside down. Strange, but true.” It sounds complicated to me, but Dan manages to coax some pretty phenomenal sounds from his six-string.

He welcomed 2018 by releasing his third album Colliding Planets, an ambitious work featuring 15 tracks that dropped on January 12. Collectively, the songs on the album draw from a myriad of influences and genres, including rock, jazz, blues, country and pop, and a few tracks seem to include them all! Dan cites the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Tom Petty, Queen, the Bee Gees and Amy Winehouse as some of his favorites, whose influences can clearly be heard on several tracks.

Dan Farrell

He kicks things off with “Salt of the Earth,” a rousing, foot-stomping country rock track. I like the aggressive drum beat, and Dan’s spirited guitar work make for an incredibly upbeat song. “She’s Still Drivin‘” keeps the energy flowing with a lively rock’n’roll tempo and Dan’s jangly guitars. After hearing just these two tracks, it’s clear he’s a skilled axe man. The sounds of a racing engine are a nice touch.

Tom Petty’s influence is evident on “Dreams of a Dreamer.” It’s a great song, with heavily strummed guitar set to a slow drumbeat. I love the added keyboards and guitar riffs. Dan sings about a woman he desires, but circumstances prevent anything from ever happening:

You’re thinking about me, it brings on a sigh
I’m wishin’ for something that we can never try
The dreams of a dreamer are making you sweat
Are making your heart beat a little faster

One of my favorite tracks is “Revealed in a Kiss,” a languid, jazzy affair with gentle guitars and sensuous horns that conjure up images of a romantic slow dance extending late into the evening. Dan’s smooth vocals are wonderful. “Don’t Blame Me” is a bouncy pop-rock track with jangly guitars and lush keyboards. Piano and keyboards take prominence on the lovely ballad “Get Inside Their Soul, and the bittersweet “The Blue Bar” has a country rock feel, and reminds me a bit of Bob Dylan’s “Knocking On Heaven’s Door.” Dan sings of the passage of time and how some achieve their dreams, while others watch theirs turn to dust: “I used to share the same dreams that made us all survive. I used to have the same hopes that kept us all alive. / Then the revolution took it all away.”

“Another great track is “One Like You,” a fun rock’n’roll song about wanting to stay home with the object of his affection rather than go to work: “Well you know I got to go and earn a buck or two. But I’d rather spend my time with one like you.” Like all of Dan’s songs, it has terrific guitar work, and the lively trumpet and keyboards make for a really upbeat number. Dan turns introspective on the country rock track “Let It Go,” a song about letting go of the dream of being with someone he can never have and just moving on.

Just Because” is a mellow, upbeat song about not feeling guilty about indulging in the simple pleasures in life: “There doesn’t have to be an explanation for everything we do, every sensation. Sometimes it’s nice to do a lot a nothing. It’s good to go and treat yourself sometimes.” On the beautiful, uplifting ballad “I Tried,” Dan sings about believing in someone and encouraging them to take the right path in life. “I’ll always wish you well ’cause I believe in you. The road we choose is up to us, and sometimes life can make a fuss.”

One in a Million” has a sophisticated vibe with jangly guitars, soulful keyboards and jazzy horns. Dan wistfully sings about how things in life don’t always turn out the way you’d hoped: “The higher you climb the further you fall. You think you’re doing well standing tall. But then your best-laid plans they come crashing down. That youthful innocence you had is on the ground. One in a million has that perfect sound. Went and lifted my feet right off the ground.”

The catchy “The Man I Want to Be” serves up bouncy riffs, and in his gravelly vocals, Dan sings about how’s he matured into a better man. “Leave My Mark” is a rousing guitar-driven rock song, with a riff that channels the Rolling Stones’ hard-rocking “Start Me Up.”  Keeping with a Stones theme, album closer “You Only Know When You See” has a bit of a “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” vibe.

Colliding Planets is a fine, well-crafted album that showcases Dan’s exceptional guitar work and skill for writing catchy melodies and intelligent lyrics about life that we can all relate to.

To learn more about Dan, check out his Website and connect with him on Twitter
Stream his music on Spotify / Reverbnation / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase on cdbaby / Bandcamp / iTunes / Amazon

UNQUIET NIGHTS – Single Review: “Promise of You”

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I receive a lot of requests from artists and bands wanting reviews of their latest music or to be featured on this blog, and it’s fun to discover some great new music I would not have otherwise heard. So it was my good fortune when Luke Mathers, frontman of the indie rock band Unquiet Nights, reached out to me with their new single “Promise of You,” which officially drops tomorrow, February 16th.

Based in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Unquiet Nights began in 2006 as a solo project for Mathers, who writes all his songs, plays guitar and sings. He began recording tracks for what would become the first Unquiet Nights album 21st Century Redemption Songs, then relocated to Italy in 2010, where the album was finished. Mathers eventually brought Italian musicians Matteo Bussotti and Francesco Piciucchi on board, and Unquiet Nights officially became a band. In 2015 they released a second album Postcards in Real Time, an outstanding work that I strongly recommend my readers make an effort to check out by using one of the links at the end of this review. Mathers moved back to Northern Ireland in 2016, though he still plays with Bussotti and Piciucchi, and has been working on new material for a third album.

Unquiet Nights Luke

“Promise of You” is the first single, and it’s a hard-rockin’ beauty! It starts off with a drawn-out electric guitar note, then an explosion of gritty guitars and fuzzy bass rain down, propelled by a crushing drumbeat that really gets the blood pumping. The track grows more intense as dramatic synths and layers of jangly and shredded guitars are added, building to a pulse-pounding crescendo. The instrumentals are phenomenal, and Mathers fervent vocals perfectly convey the unbridled passion he feels for another, and the exciting promise of a romantic entanglement.

It’s a fantastic track, and a promising (no pun intended) sign that Unquiet Nights will be delivering another stellar album for our listening enjoyment.

Connect with Unquiet Nights:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on  Spotify / Apple MusicSoundcloud / Reverbnation
Purchase on Bandcamp or iTunes

THUNDERIAN SUMMER – EP Review: “By The Gun”

Thunderian Summer EP

Thunderian Summer is a five-piece guitar-driven rock band from the British Midlands who released their debut EP By The Gun at the end of 2017. They also have a clever sense of humor. Their bio is so droll that, rather than make a pathetic attempt to paraphrase, I’ll simply quote their amusing words verbatim:

We “evolved from a covers band around the end of 2016. Made up of Dave, ex RAF, Come Dine With Me winning truck driver; Alex, Looked After Children’s residential worker; Tim the gas-man; Matt, who once made glow in the dark condoms; and Pabs, the smart one, introduced to drums by Felix Morales and a founding member of the Asturian grassroots punk band Polémika. We’ve lived the life we write about and write about the life we live. Our songs are our observations, our moods and desires.

After wandering the Derbyshire wilderness with only a guitar for company, Al found himself hitching a ride with a trucker who spoke only in song.  Growling melodies born of both pain and desire, the pair quickly resolved that together Rock’n’roll was their future.  They found an ageing bass player lost in a long forgotten depot of the Royal Mail. A stop at a pub on the A511 brought them to a Juke box, which, when loaded with a fifty pence piece grew tiny hands and played any song requested. Finally, out of the darkness and not wavering from the full beam, was a Spanish matador with drum sticks held aloft… And Thunderian Summer took it’s form.”

Thunderian Summer2

After a hilarious self-description like that, you’ve got no choice but to check out their music! Now to properly introduce the band members, they are Dave Thomas (vocals), Alex “Big Al” Lee (lead guitar), Tim “The Juke” Stone (rhythm guitar), Matt “Pops” Morley (bass) and Pablo “Pabs” Fernandez (drums).  They cite as influences some of their favorite bands like the Foo Fighters, Gaslight Anthem, Oasis, Arctic Monkeys, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Fleetwood Mac, Led Zeppelin and Kings of Leon (all of whom are among my favorites too).

Despite their wicked sense of humor, the band has a serious side, no more so than on “Just a Solder.” Gritty riffs accompanied by a droning bass line and set to a military-style drumbeat provide a fitting backdrop to the mournful lyrics. Thomas’s raw, emotionally-charged vocals convey despair as he wails about a soldier’s conflicted feelings of being both a loving husband and father vs. the responsibility and attendant guilt of being a soldier trained to kill:

I’m just a solder on the run
I’ve got nothing but this loaded gun
I got love for my country
But I’ve got no love for what I’ve done
I come home to my adoring wife
It’s in her hands I put my life

And I will live by this gun and I will die by this gun
At all costs, do what’s right
And I will live by this gun, and I will die by this gun
At all costs, I’m here to fight

Still in a serious mode, the guys dial up the energy on the melodic “The Man I Want to Be.” Layers of jangly riffs and fuzzy guitars nicely play off the smooth bass and Pabs’ confident drums. And once again, Thomas’s gritty vocals exhibit a raw vulnerability as he sings about his desperate wish to remain sober and be a better man. “Think It’s Time” kicks off with a beautiful, catchy little riff, then shredded guitars and lots of crashing cymbals enter, propelled by a buzzing bass line and fast-paced thumping drumbeat. Thomas’s impassioned vocals remind me a bit of Rob Thomas on this track.

Interestingly, the band includes a rousing live performance of “Lion Bear Tiger Mama” as one of the EP’s tracks, giving those of us who’ve never had the pleasure of seeing them live an inkling of how electrifying they must be on stage. Led Zeppelin’s influence can clearly be heard on this track that channels their classic head banger “Rock and Roll.” They surprise us again with the delightful acoustic track “Pretty Pants (Unplugged),” generously sampling the Counting Crows classic “Mr. Jones” – both musically and lyrically, with the great lines “And we will stare at beautiful women. Are they looking at you? No no, they must be looking at me.”

All in all, By The Gun is a great little EP. My only criticism is that at only 19 minutes long, its over too quickly, and I wish it had more songs. I guess I’ll just have to wait for Thunderian Summer to release some new music. In the meantime, those of you in the UK can catch them live at one of these upcoming shows:

February 17     Pi Bar, Leicester
March 17        The Gamecock Inn, Tamworth
April 20        The Victoria, Birmingham

Connect with Thunderian Summer:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud
Purchase on iTunes / cdbaby

SWILLY – Album Review: “Play It Loud”

Album_Play_It_Loud

I’ve stated in previous reviews that one of the things I like about Twitter is how it enables me to learn about so many great artists and bands from far and wide. And though a lot of them are based in large urban centers like Los Angeles, Miami, Toronto and London, many are located in smaller, out-of-the-way locales. One such artist is Swilly, a Canadian singer/songwriter from the northwestern British Columbia town of Kitimat.

Heavily influenced by some of his favorite bands, especially ZZ Top, The Cult, Nickelback and Theory of a Deadman, Swilly is a rocker with a huge sense of humor. He writes the kind of down and dirty, kick-ass songs you wanna hear on a Saturday night, throwing down a few beers with friends at the local Roadhouse – something he in fact sings about on the track “Canadian Beer.” Just good old rock’n’roll, baby!

Swilly

He’s been a busy guy, writing and releasing lots of songs over the past few years, and in December 2017 he dropped his first full-length album Play It Loud. It’s a long album, featuring 13 great tracks and clocking in at just over an hour. Swilly played rhythm guitar, bass, keys and drum tracks, and sang vocals for all the tracks. He had assistance from Kevin Campbell, who played lead guitar on all but one track (“Breaking some Glass”) where he only played some rhythm guitar, and guitarist Klaus Passegger played lead guitar.

The album gets off to a strong start with “Let the Fire In,” a superb rock track propelled by snarling riffs and a hard-driving beat, the kind that breaks your will to keep still. The influence of ZZ Top – a band I also happen to love – is strongly evident, and this song would do them proud. And not only do the beats and guitars have a ZZ Top vibe, but Swilly’s vocals at times sound a lot like Billy Gibbons. He also channels ZZ Top on the appropriately-named title track “Play it Loud” and the high-energy “Start Talking.”

Swilly slows it down on “Baby I’m Back,” a smoldering rock tune with some terrific bluesy riffs that’ll have you swaying your hips with your honey. Those dirty, bluesy guitars come roaring back even stronger on the deliciously satisfying in-your-face track “You’re a Dick.” Swilly snarls the lyrics informing an A-hole of just what he thinks of him – something I’m certain we’ve all wanted to tell someone:

It’s plain as day to the rest of the world, oh yeah
You’re a dick and everyone knows it, oh such a dick
You’re a dick. The kind of guy who knows it all
You’re a dick. The kind of guy who beats on little girls

Wasted” delivers some awesome screaming guitars, while the rousing “Who Says” is a little slice of rock’n’roll heaven. Accompanied by tasty riffs of shredded guitars, Swilly defiantly proclaims: “Who says we have to behave? Who says that you gotta be in by 10? I ain’t livin’ someone else’s life, I have to live my own.” Employing generous helpings of funky bass, he dials the thermostat to a slow burn on the sexy tracks “Feels Like” and “Sun Girls.”

Guest guitarist Klaus Passegger lays down some great guitar noodling on the melodic “Breaking Some Glass.” The song’s about letting loose and having a good time: “It ain’t a party if we don’t see you shaking your ass.” Indeed! “Batman” is a real head-banger, with superb gritty and distorted guitar work. Swilly informs his girl of who’s she’s dealing with: “I’m your batman. I’m not always you’re good guy.

One of my favorite tracks on the album is the lovely ballad “Friends.” It’s a departure from Swilly’s typical hard-rocking style, and the guitar work and vocals are positively sublime. The touching lyrics are about friends who’ve grown from children to adults with children of their own, affirming that their friendship will endure:

We’re all older now, and have kids of our own
And we watch with wonder as they find the unknown
And the sweet sound of laughter echoes through our yards
Recall all the things we thought so hard
We’ll all be friends to the end of our days. Our days
Cause you and I will always be friends
And I will be there when you need me

Play It Loud is a terrific album, chock-full of great tunes that will satisfy your thirst for rock’n’roll the way it was meant to be played. Swilly’s a prolific songwriter, and I’m confident we’ll be hearing lots of new music from him in 2018.

Connect with Swilly:  Website Facebook / Twitter
Stream his music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / ReverbnationApple Music
Purchase:  iTunes / Bandcamp / cdbaby

BRAD SCHECTER – Album Review: “Live Your Dreams”

Brad Schecter is a creative and talented singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist based in Los Angeles. With a life-long passion for music and performance, he began studying classical piano at age 6, started writing songs at 15, and went on to earn a B.A. in Theatre.  In addition to being a rock tenor, he’s played piano and drums for over 25 years, both as a solo artist and with a number of bands, including Scarred and Blue Embrace, and more recently, a new project Face of Stone with guitarist Marc Palmer.

Brad Schecter

In October 2015, Brad released his debut album Live Your Dreams, a collection of songs that chronicle his life beginning with the death of his father when he was 16, his ongoing struggle with anxiety and depression and, most of all, never giving up. Drawing inspiration from some of his favorite artists and bands like Sixx:A.M., Pink Floyd, Muse, Iron Maiden and RUSH, he fuses powerful, heartfelt lyrics with hard rock and metal to create a sound that can best be described as progressive hard rock with a significant piano presence. Based on influences from those legendary bands known for their magnificent musical output, Brad’s music is as impressive and compelling as I’d imagined it would be.

For the album, Brad wrote all the music and lyrics, including the guitar solos, and played piano, drums, keyboards/synths, and auxiliary percussion, and sang all vocals. Other musicians providing backup instrumentals included Greg Karas on guitars, Drew Allsbrook on bass, and Daniel Balistocky on additional rhythm guitar and bass.

The album opens with the hauntingly beautiful piano instrumental “Bbc,” which really showcases Brad’s skills as a pianist. The track abruptly segues into the high-energy rocker “Blind Eye,” a powerful song about refusing to let someone continue to hurt you. Rapid-fire riffs and hammering drums propel the song forward, while Brad emotionally sings “Why can’t you see what you’ve done to me? I don’t want to live this way again.” An assertive piano later enters the scene as Brad defiantly sings “No more blind eye. I can see now.

A standout track is “Another Day,” a hard rock anthem with terrific instrumentals, including some stellar guitar work and piano. The hopeful lyrics speak to not letting life’s problems defeat you:

Maybe it’s not too late, in my hands is my own fate
So much left to do, not too late to start anew
I know I still have time, but it could never be enough
Explain to me the reason why, explain to me the reason why
The moon still rises, the sun still sets
Will my spirit carry on yet?
What if time stood still so we could live on
And I would not have to wait
So please let me see another day

Spring” opens with sounds of children playing outdoors, then suddenly interrupted by a thundershower. A lovely piano movement takes over, and Brad sings bittersweet lyrics that hearken back to his childhood and his father’s death. The music ramps up with added electric guitars, heavier bass and more aggressive piano as he fervently pleads “Father don’t speak, this is easier. Father don’t cry, I will be fine.” The music slows back down, only to ramp back up at the outro. It’s an epic song.

Brad delivers another amazing track with “So Long Sonata,” an emotion-charged song about telling someone that your relationship is irreparably broken. The track features beautiful, dramatic piano, great guitars and percussion. The sublime piano instrumental composition “Reminiscence” follows, providing a nice interlude and transition to the monumental track “Just in Case.” The grandiose orchestration, featuring an arresting interplay between piano and guitar, result in a gorgeous rock song of immense power, befitting of the subject of mental illness.

Next up is “True Selfie” an exuberant rock anthem about staying true to yourself, not being who you think you should be. Closing out the album is the title track “Live Your Dreams.” As always, the song is chock-full of Brad’s beautiful piano playing, accompanied by awesome guitar work and commanding percussion. The inspiring lyrics speak for themselves:

I know it’s easier to fantasize than to really do the task
Spend too much time pondering what if
Not enough time seeing what could be
No point in trying to relive the past
You must move forward never back
Now there’s an obstacle before you
Only one who stands in your way is you

Live Your Dreams is a solid testament to Brad’s expansive songwriting and musicianship, and I’m glad he reached out to me with his wonderful album. I realize the music industry is a tough, highly-competitive business, and that success can seem elusive for many musicians. I sincerely hope he continues writing and recording music, whether it be as a solo artist or in collaboration with other artists as he is now doing with Marc Palmer.

Connect with Brad:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  Reverbnation / Soundcloud
Purchase:  Bandcamp / iTunes/Apple Music / Amazon

JOHN PAGANO BAND – Album Review: “One More Round”

One More Round Cover

Though I sometimes feel overwhelmed by all the requests I get from artists and bands wanting me to review or feature their music on this blog, it’s always a treat discovering loads of great new music. Such was the case when I was contacted by Tony Hossri, bassist for The John Pagano Band, about their new album One More Round. The album dropped August 1, and I love it! Every single track is fantastic, and I’ve had it on replay the last several days.

Based in Atlanta, Georgia, The John Pagano Band consists of front man John Pagano on guitar and lead vocals, Tony Hossri on bass and backing vocals, and Shiloh Bloodworth on drums. All are accomplished musicians who excel at playing an exciting blues-infused style of rock that’s soulful, seductive and addictive.

First a bit of background on the band. Pagano, originally from New York, formed a band JPBlues in 2008 while still in his teens, along with bassist John Young and drummer Pat Adkins. They recorded two albums Die Happy and I Will Not Go Quietly. In 2011, John left New York for Georgia, where he met Bloodworth, and in 2013 they were hired to back Australian artist Anni Piper on her first US tour. They reformed JPBlues, and set out to record their first album Make Room at the Table, but had problems finding a compatible bassist until Hossri came to the rescue. He proved to be a perfect fit for the band, and their lineup was now complete. They finished the album, and set out on a tour of the East Coast. In 2015, they released Live at Darwin’s.

More recently, wanting to expand their sound, they changed their name from JPBlues to The John Pagano Band. In an interview with Making a Scene!, which you can read here, Pagano said the new band name “better reflects our music and direction, and does not restrict us to a single genre fan base.” One More Round represents that new direction, which retains their signature blues roots while incorporating more rock’n’roll, pop and even a bit of funk into the mix.

John Pagano Band performing
Photo by Michael Valentine

OK, let’s dive into One More Round and see what’s so great about it. The guys get right down to business with the rousing “Bottoms Up,” an infectious country-rock song about just saying ‘fuck it all’ to your problems and going out, getting drunk and having fun with friends who have your back.

Been a long day. Keep my mind awake
But I’m going out now, gonna lose this frown
I’m gonna get drunk somehow
Gonna visit my friends, call them Jack and Jim
Well they listen real good when I’m in a bad mood
And make me forget what I knew
And bottoms up, I ain’t hit the floor
Fill ‘er up, I want more, more, more

The official video they made for “Bottoms Up” is great, and a lot of fun to watch. I always like seeing a band play their songs, and this video of a terrific Balcony TV live performance of the same song in Atlanta really captures the guys’ energy and charisma. Pagano deftly works his slide guitar, while Hossri – curly hair flying – is a wildman on bass, and Bloodworth drives the powerful beat home with a muscular attack of his drums. How can you not love these guys after seeing this performance?

They turn up the blues on the next several tracks, where their incredible musicianship is on full display. The soulful “Lost In You” features some terrific riffs, and “Trouble in Heels” is pure bliss. This sexy rock’n’roll track aims straight for the hips, leaving you no choice but to get up and dance. Pagano seduces with his lusty vocals, and his guitar solo in the bridge is so damn good. The sultry “Ain’t Mine” is wonderful too. Pagano pleads for relief from a woman he can’t have who’s cast a spell over him: “Baby please, baby please got a hold on me. I said oh no, oh no here comes trouble. Let’s go. You ain’t mine, no no.”

Rise Up” has a bit of a gospel quality, with gritty, bluesy guitars and humming bass. Speaking of which, Hossri injects some funk into his bass on the superb “Ain’t Gonna Lose You,” the first single and one of my favorites from One More Round. With his soulful vocals, Pagano sings about having to leave town, but promising to return to his woman and take her away. “Gonna take you one day away from here. I ain’t gonna lose you yet.” Great guitar work, great vocals, great song.

The guys keep delivering the blues with “99 Problems,” a reworking of an older song from the JPBlues repertoire that was featured on Live at Darwin’s. It’s one of their most popular songs, and it’s clear why because it’s freaking awesome. Nearly six minutes of bluesy rock heaven set to a captivating beat. Pagano’s jaw-dropping guitar work, Hossri’s buzzing bass, and Bloodworth’s nimble percussion are all perfection.

They show their tender side on “On My Mind,” a lovely but bittersweet song about missing someone after a break-up and hoping they’re thinking about you too. The track starts off like a gentle ballad, then gradually builds in emotional intensity, and really showcases Pagano’s incredible vocal abilities.

But don’t get too relaxed, ’cause the guys dial it all the way up with the sexy “Make You Shout.” It’s an exuberant, bluesy foot-stomping gem, with a powerful driving beat that not only makes you shout, it also forces you to get moving. It’s another one of my favorites, and I’d love to see them play this on stage. They keep the high energy flowing with the hard-hitting rock’n’roll tracks “Bad Habit” and “Catch That Train.” The guitar riffs are killer, and the bass and percussion on-point. And, as always, Pagano’s powerful vocals are phenomenal.

The John Pagano Band have created an outstanding, perfectly-crafted album that’s one of the best I’ve heard this year. As I stated at the beginning, every track is superb, with no filler or throw-away songs, making for a really pleasurable listening experience.

Connect with the John Pagano Band: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Stream their music: Spotify / SoundcloudReverbnation

Purchase:  iTunes / Amazon

FOLLOW NO ONE – EP Review: “5”

5 album

The rock band Follow No One is the brainchild of two highly accomplished musicians – singer/songwriter and pianist Rich Hall from Nashville, Tennessee & guitar virtuoso Pedro Murino Almeida, originally from Lisbon, Portugal but with roots in Brazil. Rich began performing at a young age in theater, but found his true calling performing and writing music. Pedro was classically trained in music composition, with a successful career involving his own musical acts, and his work has been featured in film and video. Together their music is influenced by such rock giants as Dream Theater, Alter Bridge, Foo Fighters, Avenged Sevenfold, Imagine Dragons and Three Days Grace.

The duo released their debut EP – simply titled 5 – on September 1, delivering five hard-hitting tracks about relationships and the joy, pain and regret they bring. Each song is meticulously crafted, with passionate lyrics, intricate melodies and stellar guitar work – immediately evident in the opening track “Reflection.” Our ears are blessed with four minutes of blazing guitar riffs and thunderous drums galloping across a heavy bass-driven beat. It’s the perfect hard rock song.

Hall’s knack for writing catchy, yet compelling melodies shines on “Guardian Angel.” The track starts off with a jazzy little riff, then layers of heavier guitars are added as the song builds to a crescendo of shredded, wailing and distorted riffs so good they bring goose bumps.

The Greatest Sin” is probably my favorite track, with a gorgeous haunting melody and powerful lyrics about trying to salvage a relationship that’s crumbling due to neglect, and regain the love and passion that existed in the beginning:

Not so very long ago, I was caught up in the web
When lust and love draw the line
Pictures of the days gone by keep running through my head
But babe I guess that I was blind, so blind
It starts out so easy, your will is so strong
Then one day you wake up and your dream is gone
The greatest sin is when we’re not together
The greatest sin is when we’re apart

Musically, the song features jaw-dropping guitar work that runs the gamut from gentle chiming riffs to bombastic wails, and everything in between. And, as with all their songs, the supporting bass, percussion and synths are all in fine form. Hall made a video that does a terrific job of bringing the song’s lyrics to life. Take a look:

Follow No One tugs at the heartstrings on “No Regrets,” a lovely but sorrowful track about being filled with remorse for past mistakes, and wondering if you even have the strength or will to keep on living. Hall’s tender, heartfelt vocals rise with emotion as the song progresses from a gentle ballad to stirring rock anthem. Almeida makes his guitar practically weep in the bridge.

Every night I pray for the same thing
That tomorrow never comes unless there’s changes
I been holding on to a dream that I don’t want to
And I pray to god I don’t have that much time left
Hands won’t stop trembling, cause my eyes can’t see the ending
But it seems so far away, so for now I’ll stay

Last but certainly not least is the title track “5,” a hard-driving beast with more incredible guitar work. I love the opening riff and – oh hell, I love all their riffs! Hall and Almeida are phenomenal musicians, and their debut EP is a work they should both be proud of. I expect – and hope – we’ll be hearing more great music from them.

Connect with Follow No One:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Stream their music:  SoundcloudSpotify / Tidal / Google Play /YouTube

Purchase:  iTunesAmazon