Irish Singer-Songwriter Brí releases video for her beautiful song “Time”

It was almost exactly one year ago, on March 19, 2021, that I first introduced Dublin-based singer-songwriter Brí to my readers when I reviewed her hauntingly beautiful song “More Than”. Her pleasing style of indie pop features folk and electronic overtones which, combined with her heartfelt lyrics and lovely, resonant vocals, results in deeply compelling songs of incredible beauty and emotional depth. She followed “More Than” with two more singles, “If I Wasn’t Scared” and “In My Head”, then in October (2021), she released her debut full-length album Hide, an outstanding record that includes those three aforementioned singles, as well as the beautiful song “Time“, for which Brí has just released a new video.

About “Time”, Brí stated that it’s “the song I hold most dear from my album Hide. Written about a heart that’s taking too long to mend, ‘Time’ is what I thought that feeling would sound like.” For the recording of the song, which was mixed and mastered by Asta Kalapa, the understated but stunning piano was played by Jake Richardson, and the lovely cello by Kaitlin Cullen-Verhauz.

Brí’s beautiful but melancholy vocals powerfully convey her frustration and sadness as she laments to someone who cannot fully commit to a relationship: “Cause you told me you missed me, you want me back. And you smiled with your eyes as you held my hand. Now you’re saying you need time to think again. Oh, what am I to you, cause I’m not your friend. No, I’m not your friend. Do you need time, do you need time, you can have all mine.” 

The music video, filmed in black and white in a single take by Mark Doyle at Windmill Lane Studios, shows Brí singing the song in a dimly lit room. I like that the focus is on her, with soft backlighting against a blurry background, which makes for a more impactful visual.

Follow Brí:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Stream/purchase her music: Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music / Bandcamp

ALEXIS GERRED – Double Single Review: “Unbreakable” feat. MiG Ayesa & “Mary Go Round”

Alexis Gerred is an engaging and multi-faceted artist based in London, England. He began his career on stage, performing in productions of American IdiotOur House, Dreamboats and Petticoats, The West End Men, and Rooms, but his true passion is for music and singing. I last featured him on this blog in November 2018, when I reviewed his wonderful debut album Alexis (which you can read here). Now, I’m pleased to share his new double single “Unbreakable“, featuring vocals by MiG Ayesa, along with “Mary Go Round“, a cover of the song originally recorded by The Struts. 

“Unbreakable” was written by Gerred and produced by TylaJoe Connett, and is the lead single from his forthcoming EP, due for release later this year. The song features guest vocals by MiG Ayesa, the acclaimed Australian-Filipino singer and actor who’s performed on Broadway and London’s West End in such mega hits as Rock of Ages, Thriller Live, Annie, and We Will Rock You. It was Ayesa who’s responsible for inspiring Gerred to become an entertainer himself.

When Gerred saw his very first musical We Will Rock You, based on the career and music of Queen, in London’s West End and starring Ayesa, it was a revelation. He recalls: “I watched MiG Ayesa take to the stage and his delivery, passion and charisma flipped a switch inside me. Although I had never even attempted singing a note before, I knew I wanted to emulate him and follow a path that would one day see me up on that stage, too. I’ve followed his career and plucked inspiration from so many things he’s done. One that stands out in particular was his time on ‘Rockstar: INXS’ where I loved his rock ‘n roll style of showmanship.”

Having Ayesa record a song with him was a dream come true for Gerred, as not many artists get the opportunity to collaborate with the star who inspired them to make music to begin with. And let me state that the combination of these two talented and charismatic vocalists results in sonic fireworks. “Unbreakable” is the hardest rocking song Gerred’s ever done, and he really summons his inner beast to great effect, his raw vocals nicely contrasting and complementing Ayesa’s somewhat smoother vocal delivery. Musically, the song has an aggressive stomping groove and deliciously funky vibe reminiscent of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I love the thunderous, driving rhythms and blistering guitars that hit full throttle in the bridge, highlighted by a screaming guitar solo that’s matched by note for note by the guys’ explosive vocal alchemy. Wow!

Collaborating on “Unbreakable” with Ayesa is even more meaningful given the personal nature of the song, which is based on a negative experience with a former acting agent. The song is about staying driven and focused on one’s dreams, an important message for many of us in today’s challenging, uncertain world. Gerred elaborates “This song is about resilience and determination. If I can inspire someone to take charge of their own lives and bounce back from adversity, that’s my goal.”

On his beautiful cover of the Struts song “Mary Go Round”, Gerred does great justice to the original, while making it his own. His vocals are a powerful combination of vulnerable and raw, beautifully conveying the feelings of pain and heartache of a broken relationship expressed in the poignant lyrics. “How long before my little pill starts kicking in. How long before your broken heart starts giving in? Here we go up, here we go down. Mary go round and round and round.”

It’s great to see Alexis Gerred back and sounding better than ever. Both “Unbreakable” and “Mary Go Round” are superb, and if the rest of the tracks on his upcoming EP are even half this good, it’s going to be a winner.

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

RICK SABATINI – Album Review: “There Goes the Van Man”

I recently learned about Philadelphia-based singer-songwriter Rick Sabatini when he reached out to me on Facebook about his album There Goes the Van Man. Released on New Year’s Day, the album features nine wonderful tracks with lighthearted relatable lyrics addressing the emotional minefields of romantic entanglements and responsibilities of young adulthood. It’s his second album, marking an eight-year span since the his first release Album 1 Demos back in November 2013. A delightful collection of lo-fi acoustic songs, Album 1 Demos is available for free download on his Bandcamp account.

Rick, who’s also been a member of The Band Sheep for the past several years, told me he composed most of the the songs for There Goes the Van Man five or six years ago on his iPad, but didn’t have the money to properly record it in a studio at the time. So, he started his own business doing painting and carpentry to earn money to fund the record, as well as earn a living, since he’d gotten married and had a child along the way. He finally recorded the album in a studio with the help of session musicians, and the result is a really enjoyable and well-crafted work.

Rick’s pleasing, highly accessible music can generally be described as indie pop with elements of folk, rock and jazz, and characterized by catchy melodies, lots of great guitar work and his endearing laid back vocals. The album opens with “At Your Service“, a sweet song about finding romance while working at a shoe store: “Just another day at the shoe store, the meet and greet, the fit your feet and send you out the door. Some of them I know by first name, and last name too. / If there’s anything that I can do for you baby, I’m at your service like a god at your church while you’re preachin’.”

Next up is “Van Man“, a terrific auto-biographical song about Rick that also serves at the de-facto title track, given its refrain “There goes the van man.” He croons about his workday routine “I was the van man today, I took the van real far away. I did stuff and got paid. I brought something that I made. I blasted sports radio. That’s just the way that I go when I’m driving down the open road.” The song is fantastic, with a wonderful, breezy melody and lots of cool instruments like organ, banjo and exuberant sax, adding nice Americana and jazz elements, as well as incredible texture to the overall sound. If all that’s not enough, there’s also a great guitar solo in the bridge too.

The Office” is a fun Americana song with a lively piano-driven melody and more of that great banjo. The cheeky lyrics speak to the drudgery of working at a dead-end office job: “I don’t like to drive when it’s dangerous. Roads are pretty treacherous, but the boss man, he doesn’t give a shit. He says ‘I want you in’, well if I crash would you pay for it? I’m desperate, strapped for cash, and I can’t afford another accident. It’s a lot to risk, just to waste my day away in the office.

On the bouncy “Tax Return“, Rick sings of the joys of finally being able to treat his girl to a nice evening out, now that he’s gotten his tax refund: “Baby relax I got my tax return. Girl let’s go out, I got some cash to burn. We’re gonna find somewhere nice to eat. The government paid me real good this week.” The musical highlights of the track are the great bassline, guitars, organ and piano keys, and I love the vocal harmonies.

One of my favorite tracks is “Talk to Me“, with its smooth and sophisticated jazzy vibe. I love the intricate, funky guitars, cool keyboards and subtle snare drums, but for me the biggest highlight are Rick’s lovely soothing vocals, backed by gorgeous Beach Boys-esque harmonies. This song really showcases his strong songwriting, musicianship and vocal abilities. “Colleen” is another great song, opening with a gospel-like organ riff and Rick’s voiceover speaking as an airline pilot to a plane full of passengers. That wonderful organ riff continues throughout the song, serving as its driving force and overlain with guitar, strings, sax and crisp percussion. Rick sings to a woman named Colleen of his desires for her affection: “Colleen, I might not be your man right now, but someday I will.

Devils” is a fascinating track, and much darker than the other songs on the album. Musically, it has a languid trip hop beat, with spooky synths, somber piano keys and skittering drumbeats, and in the background can be heard a man’s voiceover, speaking about LSD. It all serves to create an unsettling vibe. Rick’s vocals, which remind me of Mark Foster of Foster the People on this track, have a sense of sad resignation as he laments about trying to overcome drug addiction, or possibly a relationship that’s falling apart because of a partner who’s either addicted to drugs or cheating on him: “I’m trying to quit the devil, but he’s got his grip so tight on me it’s hard not be deceived and made of fool of. Well I’m wrestling with the devil. It’s not something that I’m proud of, but do you have to be so loud in the restaurant? I’m just trying to get back to normal. Well I caught you with the devil. You smelled like his cologne. All those moments you were alone, his smoky breath, the telephone. I thought we were getting back to normal.

On the upbeat “Principal Problems“, Rick sings from the perspective a high school kid frustrated with his principal, who’s trying to make him quit his aggressive behavior that’s earned him a reputation as a tough guy on campus: “I’m gonna punch my principal in the face, if he tries to stop my fight with Tony Robinson./ You’ve got an occupation, I’ve got a reputation to hold up.” And on the delightful album closer “Tel Aviv Blues“, he sings of a woman he loves and how her ambivalence is making him crazy: “At night I’m wonderin’, about what you’re doing. You’re my baby, but only in my dreams. Only kissing me when I fall asleep. I told my best friend, a real good Christian, he said ‘You don’t need her love, you need the Lord’. But the Lord ain’t never kissed me good before. I’m back to drinkin’, I’m tryin’ hard to rid you from my mind.” The song has a lively Southern rock feel, with a colorful mix of twangy guitars and banjo, accompanied by swirling organ, sax and a great toe-tapping rhythm.

There Goes the Van Man is a marvelous album, and I’m so glad Rick reached out to me about it. He’s a talented guy who knows his way around a song, and here he delivers nine superb tracks. Each one is different from the next, a testament to his eclectic sound and the quality of his songwriting. This album needs to be heard by as many people as possible, and I hope some of my readers will enjoy it as much as I do.

Stream/purchase Rick’s music: BandcampSpotifyApple MusicYouTube

MARC SCHUSTER – EP Review: “There Is No Down”

One of my favorite humans on the planet is Marc Schuster, who’s not only insanely creative and multi-talented, but also incredibly generous, funny and kind. I first got to know him several years ago through blogging (he has a terrific WordPress blog called Abominations), and he’s been among the most consistently loyal supporters of me and my blog.

A true renaissance man, Marc is an educator, author, literary critic, songwriter, musician and even a pretty decent visual artist. In addition to teaching English at Montgomery County Community College in southeastern Pennsylvania, he’s written several books, scripts for two short films, and numerous book reviews. He’s also a prolific musician, writing songs and recording music both as a solo artist and as part of multiple music projects. In just the past six months, he’s not only released several of his own singles and EPs, but also recordings by The Ministry of Plausible Rumours, a joint project with his cousin Vincent Zabielski, who put out a terrific album Summer Again last October, an outstanding improvisational instrumental album Simmons and Schuster that he made with fellow musician/educator Tim Simmons (you can read my review of that album here), and the single “In the Pink” by his collaborative music project Plush Gordon this past December.

Though Marc likes to experiment with different sounds, styles and textures, most of the songs he records as a solo artist have a delightful, indie bedroom-pop sensibility. Not only are his songs infectiously catchy, he has a wonderful knack for putting a youthful, often tongue-in-cheek perspective on everyday situations and problems many of us have faced at one time or another. On his new EP There Is No Down, which dropped February 2nd, he delivers five optimistic tracks (actually four plus an acoustic demo of one of them) assuring us that, no matter how crappy things may seem at the moment, there’s always reason to celebrate. For the recording of the EP, he was assisted by Paul Sanwald and Tim Simmons, who I’m guessing played piano.

Case in point is the trippy opening track “Funky Underpants“, wherein ‘funky’ refers to colorful and fun, not, well, you know… Over a languid bass-driven groove, Marc layers some lovely shimmery guitar notes and thumping drumbeats to create a jazzy, psychedelic backdrop for his dual auto-tuned vocals, half of which sound like Mick Jagger. He sings of wanting to pull himself out of the doldrums by letting loose in a pair of funky underpants: “Wishing I could dream, dreaming I could fly. Waiting on a world where we never die. I could be a saint or I could live in sin. I could live forever if my life would just begin. I want to sing. I want to dance. I want to wear a pair of funky underpants. I’ll take a drink. I’ll take a chance. I’ll take the world on in my funky underpants.

Along a similar vein, “Feel Free” explores misbehaving, even if just for the night, in order to have a bit of fun: “Everyone says we should know better, but I never could tell wrong from right. Let’s hit the town like we won’t remember it. Let’s disappear into the night. I’m up to no good, and you’re just as bad. This could be the best time I ever had. I’m looking at you, you’re looking at me. Is this what it’s like to feel free?” Musically, the upbeat song has a bouncy pop-rock sound with a lively mix of jangly and fuzzy guitars.

All We Are” has more of a rock vibe, with Marc’s marvelous fuzz-coated reverby guitars taking center stage. On this song, his vocals sound a bit like the late, great Tom Petty as he sings about the impermanence and brevity of our lives on this earth, and that we might as well make the best of things while we’re here: “The clouds roll in. The seasons change. We disappear. The world remains. All we are is right now.”

I think my favorite song on the EP is “Elevators“, a bittersweet piano-driven affair. I love the melancholy but beautiful piano keys, and the electric guitar solo in the bridge is superb. The lyrics speak of reminiscing about what seemed like simpler, more innocent times, yet not wanting to wallow in the past, but instead remain hopeful about the future: “So keep the fire burning to get us through the night. The wolves are creeping closer, but I think we’ll be all right. We used to ride in elevators, look down on the world below. We used to ride in elevators though we had nowhere to go.”

The fifth track “All We Are (Demo)” is an acoustic version of the third song on the EP, with only Marc’s gentle vocals and guitar. The spare treatment of the song nicely fits the simple and direct message expressed in the lyrics: “All we are is right now.” It’s a fitting finish to a lovely little EP.

Connect with Marc:  WebsiteTwitter / Instagram

BRANWELL BLACK – Single Review: “Lay On Me”

Branwell Black is a charismatic young singer-songwriter, producer, dancer and model who creates alternative electro pop-rock influenced by some of his favorite artists like Kate Bush, Madonna, Charli XCX, Kerli, Evanescence and Tokio Hotel. Born in Oxford, England, raised primarily in France, and now based in London, Branwell has recorded music both in French and English as a solo artist, and as part of the band Brothers Black/Posie that he formed with his brother Morgan. Both he and Morgan developed a love of music at a young age, as their father was an accomplished rock drummer. 

In September 2019, Branwell released his debut single “J’attends L’amour”, then quickly followed up with “What You Want”, as well as an EP Posie with his band Brothers Black/Posie. In May 2020, he released his sultry single “Love Life” (which I reviewed), then followed that October with a marvelous electronic cover of the Verve classic “Bittersweet Symphony”. Now he’s back with “Lay On Me“, the first single from his forthcoming Lay On Me EP, due for release by the end of the month. That EP will also feature a rave remix of “Lay On Me”, as well as a live version of “What You Want”. 

About the new song, Branwell explains: “‘Lay On Me’ is the first song I’m releasing which features my live band [with] Harvey on guitar and my insane drummer Alexandra. It’s a sonic reintroduction of sorts, as it’s a little heavier than my original music, and also a tease into the direction I’ll be going. We’ve been touring the UK and have grown our sound into something even more exciting as a bridge between rock and pop. The song also takes influences from the Vogue scene with elements of ballroom vogue songs, and is a sexy number about taking control of situations and appreciating your beauty and knowing how to use it. The lyrics ‘But I’ll be me’ represent a realization that you’re always in control of your own enjoyment and knowing what you want.

When I first listened to “Lay On Me”, it seemed to be primarily a catchy dance-pop song. But with repeated listens, the brilliance of Branwell’s songwriting was revealed as I detected elements of house, trip hop, electro and psychedelic rock he’d artfully injected into the mix. Though the song’s driving dance groove is undeniably hypnotic, it’s the variety of stylistic elements and textures that make it such a compelling and sonically fascinating track. I love the thick synth bass groove, Harvey’s funky riffs, Alexandra’s galloping drumbeats, and the colorful blend of gnarly and spacey industrial synths. Branwell’s bewitching and breathy vocals have an understated seductive quality that perfectly complements the captivating instrumentals. It’s a terrific song.

Connect with Branwell:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Apple Music / Deezer / Soundcloud
Purchase:  AmazonBandcamp

HOLLY REES – Single Review: “English Bay”

As I continue working my way through new music being released by artists I’ve previously featured on this blog, I now bring you British indie folk artist Holly Rees. Based in Newcastle, the talented singer-songwriter and guitarist has been writing and recording exceptional music over the past five years or so. Her honest, relatable lyrics, often inspired by her own personal experiences, are wrapped in beautiful, understated melodies and fine guitar work, and delivered with her lovely, highly emotive vocals.

This past December, Holly released her sublime EP The Lost Songs, featuring five acoustic songs she recorded in isolation during lockdown. You can read my review of the EP here. Now she returns with a new single “English Bay“, which she wrote in 2019 while on tour in Canada. The song was recorded with her band members Ryan Peebles on bass and Rhys Melhuish on drums, and thus has a fuller, more hard-driving sound than the acoustic tracks on The Lost Songs.

The song starts off gently, with Holly’s slightly grungy strummed guitar and smooth vocals as she sings of a woman who catches her eye: “She walked past me with her headphones in singing her heart out. A Stanley Park evening. I guess I do the exact same thing.” Thirty seconds in, the rhythm section kicks in with Ryan’s driving bassline and Rhys’ snappy drums, turning the song into a vibrant, head-bopping rocker. Holly’s gnarly guitar hums with greater urgency as the song progresses, her plaintive vocals rising to the occasion and brimming with heartfelt emotion, but still upbeat enough to avoid becoming maudlin.

The lyrics speak to feelings many of us have experienced when embarking on a new romantic relationship, unsure as to whether we want to truly commit to another person, but also fearful we’ll screw things up and scare them off: “And I keep saying I’m trying, and I wonder if it’s true. Come on, bear with me ’til I get cold feet, and tell me to stop messing around./ I guess I never listen when they told me, everyone’s a little bit lonely.”

Connect with Holly:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream her music: Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase:  Bandcamp 

GRANFALLOON – Single & Video Review: “The Pigeon”

Last July (of 2021), I wrote about British artist Granfalloon, the music project of enormously creative, thoughtful and talented singer-songwriter, producer and guitarist Richard Lomax, when I reviewed his single “Working On Your Own”. Based in Manchester, his unique music style is a pleasing hybrid of lo-fi alternative folk, experimental and electronica. “Working On Your Own” was the second single from his third album Positive Songs, which was subsequently released on August 27,(which coincidentally also happens to be my birthday). The album is a collaborative work featuring 11 tracks produced for The Positive Song Project, launched by Lomax and his friend Lobelia Lawson during the first lockdown of 2020. He invited songwriters to create new music by challenging themselves to focus on positive aspects and feelings, rather than negative or depressing songs about feeling isolated and bored during lockdown. The response was overwhelming, resulting in the creation of over 300 tracks by artists from around the world.

Today, Granfalloon is releasing “The Pigeon” as the third single from Positive Songs, along with a sweet animated video. The press release for the single explains his inspiration for writing the song: “In early 2020, Lomax formed a short-lived but intense relationship with a dove on his bedroom window ledge. The two would meet up during their weekly ‘middle class clap for the NHS’, exchanging ribald tales and knowing coos until Lomax realised it was no dove that he’d befriended but a lowdown, dirty pigeon. Unperturbed, he penned this song about eschewing the imaginary in favour of finding worth in the everyday.”

Come and see the doves
On the window ledge
There is hope on the outside

In a world of wonder
Who needs fantasy
In a world of wonder
Believe in you and me
Who needs unicorns
When we've got rhinos?
Who needs doves
When we've got pigeons?
Who needs angels
When I've got you?

For the recording of the song, Lomax sang lead vocals and played acoustic guitar, organ, Omnichord and programmed beats and synths, Lobelia Lawson sang backing vocals and played piano, Steve Lawson played bass, Adrian Ingham of alternative rock band Hello Cosmos played electric guitar, and Andy Lyth played drums. Together, they’ve created a trippy and wonderful piece of ear candy.

The song opens with Steve Lawson’s thick, pulsating bassline setting an infectious rhythmic groove, over which Lomax layers smooth organ and Omnichord, accompanied by Lyth’s measured drum beats, and punctuated by Ingham’s gnarly guitar notes. The result is a cool, almost jazzy vibe, though more lighthearted thanks to smooth Omnichord and synths. I love Lawson’s bass, which turns funky at times, and Ingham’s marvelous psychedelic guitar solo in the bridge is a real treat. At the song progresses, Lomax adds lots of quirky synth sounds that nicely suggests the playfulness of the pigeons. His warm vocals are delightful too, backed by his and Lobelia Lawson’s wonderful lilting harmonies. It’s a terrific song.

The stylish and charming animated video, created by Granfalloon and Jordie Roomer of Roomer Animations, brings the song lyrics to life with scenes of a colorful building of apartments situated above a row of storefronts, all populated by groups of whimsical pigeons involved in an array of everyday pigeon activities.

Follow Granfalloon:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

The album Positive Songs is only available as a digital download on Bandcamp and in CD format, though the singles are also available for streaming on Spotify Apple Music & Soundcloud.

Photo of Granfalloon is by Paul Samuel.

AU GRES – Single Review: “do you think we’re old enough”

There’s a lot of music talent coming out of southern Michigan, and over the past year or so I’ve written about a number of artists and bands putting out some really exceptional music, including Michigander, Dawning, Jack Droppers & the Best Intentions, Jake LeMond, and Au Gres (aka Joshua Kemp). A talented singer-songwriter and all-around personable guy, Joshua named his music project after the small town of Au Gres, located in a rural area of northern Michigan where he vacationed as a youth with his family, and which holds a special meaning for him.

He released his sweet debut single “Nervous” in October 2020, which has been streamed 116,000 times on Spotify, then followed in February 2021 with “At Home in the Dark”, a beautiful and exuberant song of love and devotion. I liked both songs so much, they each spent many weeks on my Weekly Top 30, with “At Home in the Dark” ending up at #73 on my Top 100 Songs of 2021 list. (I also reviewed both songs, which you can read by clicking on the ‘Related’ links at the end of this post.) Now Au Gres returns with a lovely new single, “do you think we’re old enough“, an introspective song of hope for a better future.

The song finds Au Gres reminiscing about life on a rainy summer day, wistfully thinking about his youthful dreams and ambitions. Though he’s somewhat disappointed that some have gone unmet, and that life may not have turned out quite the way he’d envisioned, he remains optimistic that greater success will come with time and maturity. “I’m so sorry for dreaming about the future. Maybe I’ll be better when we’re old enough. Hey I’m sorry for dreaming about the future. Hey I’m sorry. Do you think we’re old enough?

Musically, the song has a serene, dreamy vibe, with beautiful delicately-strummed acoustic guitar notes layered over intricate glittery synths, punctuated here and there with subtle percussive sounds that add interesting texture to the enchanting soundscape. The gentle drum fills are just the right touch to drive the song forward without overpowering the other instruments. Joshua has a pleasing singing voice, and his smooth, comforting vocals are well-suited to his sound and music style. Here, he nicely conveys a slight sense of melancholy, while also expressing feelings of optimism and hope in the choruses.

With “do you think we’re old enough”, Au Gres has delivered another winning single, and I love that he used a photo of himself as a young toddler attempting to play the piano for the single’s cover art.

Connect with Au Gres:  FacebookTwitterInstagram

Stream his songs:  SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloudYouTube 

Purchase on:  BandcampAmazon

LYIA META – EP Review: “You Think About Me”

As I stated in my previous review, so many artists and bands I follow and have previously written about are releasing new music at a dizzying pace, and I’m doing my best to keep up with as much of it as I possibly can. One of my favorites who I always try to make time for is Malaysian singer-songwriter Lyia Meta, an immensely talented, gracious and lovely recording artist with a powerhouse singing voice. I generally prefer female voices in the deeper ranges, and Lyia’s rich, soulful and smoky vocal style fits the bill quite nicely.

Based in Kuala Lumpur, Lyia’s a multi-faceted artist in a literal sense. She can sing just about anything, and in fact, has recorded songs in a wide range of genres including blues, jazz, pop, country, rock and even metal, bringing her international recognition and acclaim. She’s been nominated for, and won, numerous awards, including Best Overall Female Act at the Voice Independent Music Awards (VIMA) in May 2016, the 2018 Josie World Music Artist Award and 2019 Artist of the Year (multi Genre), Best Music Video for her song “Daylight” at the ACCORD CINE FEST in August 2021, and most recently this past October, 2021 Texas Sound International Country Music Awards for Vocalist of the Year and Virtual Entertainer Of The Year. On top of all that, she’s also a highly accomplished visual artist with several exhibits to her credit. You can check out some of her phenomenal work on her WordPress blog. (She even did a wonderful pencil drawing of me in 2019 as a thank you for my support of her and other indie artists’ music, which was a both a tremendous surprise and an honor.)

A prolific artist, Lyia has released three EPs and more than a dozen singles over the past six years, beginning with her debut EP This is Lyia in 2016. I first learned about her in early 2018 when she reached out to me about her fantastic single “Without Walls”, which I instantly loved and wrote a review of. I’ve written about her numerous times since, most recently last April when I reviewed her soulful track “This One’s For You”. (You can also find some of my other reviews under “Related” at the end of this post.)

Photo by Khahin Meta

Her latest release and third EP, You Think About Me, which dropped January 31st, sees Lyia revealing a sassier, more playful side, with five delicious tracks exploring various aspects of romantic love. While she’s written many of her own songs, Lyia also collaborates with other songwriters and musicians from time to time, not only to broaden her own musical horizons, but also to support other songwriters. The songs for You Think About Me were co-written and co-produced by Lyia and Nashville-based musician and producer Bob McGilpin, who also produced and played several instruments on “This One’s For You”. Like a lot of long-distance collaborations these days, the two recorded the EP remotely, with Bob recording the music, as well as engineering, mixing and mastering the tracks, at his studio in Nashville, while Lyia recorded her vocals in Kuala Lumpur. 

You Think About Me has a retro R&B feel, with generous helpings of soul, funk and jazz to spice things up. Kicking things off is “Uptown Tonight“, a delightfully upbeat song with an infectious R&B groove, bolstered by a lively blend of exuberant trumpets and jazzy sax. Lyia sings her praises of going out for a night on the town with her man, dressed in their finest clothes and livin’ large, while also expressing gratitude for their good fortune: “I never thought I’d live a life like this. If it’s a dream, don’t wake me up, cause I don’t want to miss going uptown.

On the soulful “Black High Heels“, Lyia croons of her sexy moves and the spell she casts on her man when she presents in her black high heels: “You can tell by the way I walk, I’m a woman of class and style. I got a swing in my step and a sway in my hip that just drives you wild. You can try but you can’t conceal. Cause I know how to make you feel. Knock you out when I walk out in my black high heels.” I love the song’s sultry groove, with McGilpin’s smooth Wurlitzer, cool sax and funky bass accentuating the torrid vibes. Then there’s Lyia’s sensuous smoky vocals, nicely punctuated by a well-placed sassy little yelp in the final chorus.

You Think About Me the Way I Think About You” is a sweet, uptempo love song with a bit of an Americana/pop feel, thanks to it’s toe-tapping melody and McGilpin’s pleasing organ riffs. To my ears, it sounds like a song Cher could have sung back in the 70s. The endearing video, filmed in sepia tones, shows Lyia singing to her husband Zack, nicely capturing the lighthearted feel of the song.

Lyia’s powerful vocals really shine on the soulful “A Real Man Can“, where she fervently sings of the things that are most important in a romantic partner, which is a true and meaningful love she can depend upon: “I’ve been told ‘I love you’ more times than just a few. But it doesn’t mean a thing if their heart’s not in it too. I need more than just the words to keep it real. It’s got to come from a deeper place, a place only they can feel. I want the kind of man that puts his woman first. I want the kind of man who holds her when she hurts.” McGilpin’s warm piano and strings, gentle guitar notes and smooth sax create a captivating backdrop for Lyia’s beautiful, emotive vocals.

The EP closes on a high note with the rousing “You Always Come Home to Me“, featuring a catchy head-bopping groove and more of McGilpin’s wonderfully exuberant brass section of trumpet and jazzy sax. Lyia joyfully sings of how badly she misses her man when he’s away, but confident he’ll always be true to her because she keeps him happy in the love department: “But I don’t worry about where you are, or where you might be. Yeah, you always come home to me. Cause I’m not the jealous kind, but I keep my man satisfied.

You Think About Me is a great little EP that showcases Lyia’s amazing and versatile vocal gifts, as well as Bob McGilpin’s masterful musicianship, arrangement and production skills. Together, they’ve crafted a wonderful collection of songs that make for a fun and enjoyable listen.

Lyia was originally scheduled to attend the Texas Sound International Country Music Awards 2021 event in Jefferson, Texas last October, both to accept her awards and also to promote Malaysia as an ‘attractive destination’ for Americans at two seminars to be given by her and Zack during the music festival. Unfortunately, she was unable to obtain financial support from the Malaysian government to make the trip. The good people of Jefferson raised $5,000 in cash and in-kind contributions, but it wasn’t enough. So, Preston Taylor, Vice President of East Texas Performing Arts Inc, insisted Lyia do a pre-recorded show in Malaysia that would be aired at the event. Here’s a video of their performance:

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

brett.grant.5 – Single Review: “Insomnia”

I’ve been revisiting a lot of artists and bands lately that I’ve previously featured on this blog, as so many are putting out new music in recent weeks. One of them is Chicago-based singer-songwriter and composer brett.grant.5 (aka Brett Grant), who just dropped his latest single “Insomnia“. Music has been a long-time passion for Brett, who’s been active in the Chicago music scene for many years, both as a solo artist and as a member of several bands. (One of them is a million rich daughters, who’s haunting single “Left Behind” has been enjoying an extended run on my Weekly Top 30 for the past few months.) Since 2016, he’s released two EPs and a number of singles, several of which I’ve reviewed. You can read some of those reviews by clicking on the Related links at the end of this post. He found time to earn a B.A. Degree in Music from Columbia College Chicago in 2019, and also has his own private practice teaching music to budding artists.

Drawing from a broad and eclectic range of musical sources and genres, ranging from 1920’s jazz and classical to electronic and experimental progressive rock to industrial and hip hop, Brett’s sound is bold, unorthodox and always deeply compelling. On “Insomnia”, he seems to artfully blend most of those elements into one song, making for a fascinating and continually-evolving track. The song starts off with a repetitive melancholic piano riff played in a kind of trip hop cadence, then he adds skittering percussive sounds as he begins to sing in his distinctive and vulnerable vocal style. Soon, the music swells into a beautiful soundscape of soaring cinematic synths and dramatic piano keys, before returning to the urgent trip hop melody, where he adds darker industrial synths, heavier drum fills and his own backing vocal harmonies. This back and forth continues through the second chorus, then just past the 3-minute mark, the song transitions to a breathtaking symphonic-like movement, highlighted by sparkling piano keys and gorgeous orchestral synths, backed with a haunting chorale-like harmony.

His blunt, poetic lyrics are often deeply personal or downright scathing, exploring some of the darker sides of society, relationships and mental health. “Insomnia” addresses ongoing struggles with inner demons that negatively affect one’s life, relationships, and overall well-being, making it impossible to find peace of mind: “My heart’s racing, my head’s a mess. They try to tell me read the bible. It’s not about you, I must confess./ Memories lost in sleepless nights. I’d give anything for rest.” In the song’s final movement, Brett repeatedly laments “All the love in the world can’t save me from myself. All the love in the world can’t save us from ourselves.”

“Insomnia” is Brett’s most ambitious, melodically complex and sonically beautiful release yet, and a master class in songwriting, composition and execution. The fact that he handled all aspects of the song’s recording and production by himself is really impressive. It makes me happy to see him continue to grow both artistically and professionally, and I look forward to what he has in store.

As with all his releases, the trippy artwork for “Insomnia” was created by Brett’s beautiful wife Ashlee, who’s an amazing visual artist.

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