Artist Spotlight – Ivor Game

Ivor Game is a British singer-songwriter from Middlesex who’s been making music for most of his life. He began playing guitar and singing at the age of ten, and in his teens, played with a number of bands. When he entered his 20s, he began performing as a solo artist in small clubs and venues around London, and later toured throughout the UK and Ireland, parts of Europe and all the way to America, where he performed in Los Angeles and Nashville.

His music is a pleasing, laid back style of indie pop with strong folk undercurrents and intelligent, straightforward lyrics touching on life, love and relationships. His songs are also quite economical, both instrumentally and length-wise. Generally, the only sounds we hear are his acoustic guitar and gentle, understated vocals, though some tracks may also feature subtle piano, strings and/or percussion. Most of Ivor’s songs are under three minutes in length, with a fair number clocking in at under two minutes, but whatever their length, each song sounds complete and as long or short as it needs to be to get his message across. As the old adage goes, sometimes less is more.

Beginning with his debut album Hit the Big Time in 1996, the prolific musician has released a total of 12 albums at the rate of one every two years, his most recent work being Be Good to Yourself in 2018, as well as numerous singles along the way. Several of his songs have garnered airplay on radio stations across the UK and around the world. A highlight for Ivor was having his song “Highbury” played at half time during the Arsenal vs. Tottenham North London Derby at The Emirates Stadium on November 18, 2017.

One could spend many hours listening to Ivor’s extensive discography. I’ve listened to quite a bit of it to prepare for this article, and there are so many wonderful songs to choose from. But I’ve selected a few I especially like that I feel give a good representation of his sound. One of his most recent singles, from May 2020, is “I’m Not Sure”, a poignant folk song about not yet having come to terms with a restless romantic partner you fear may leave you for good: “It’s easy to hang on to the past, and try to make the whole thing last. But things are always moving on. One day I might wake up with you really gone. I’m remembering the time that you walked out my door. But you’re still in my sights, how long for I’m not sure.”

The song received airplay on Readifolk, Deal Radio, Hayes FM and Marlow FM in England, Acoustic Routes in Wales and the RTE in Ireland, as well as in Australia, Germany, The Netherlands, New Zealand and New York, USA.

“It Ain’t You and Me” is a track that originally appeared on his 2010 album Then. The song was recently played on Tom Robinson’s show on BBC6 Music, and the response was so positive that Robinson asked Ivor if the song could be made more easily accessible for people to listen to or download. Accordingly, Ivor made it available as a stand alone track on both Bandcamp and YouTube.

A particularly lovely song is his 2017 single “Water and Wine”, which is both longer (3.47 minutes) and features ethereal keyboard synths and gentle percussive textures, creating an enchanting backdrop for his soothing vocals.

His most recent single, released in May, is “You Lovely You”, a comforting song about those special friendships in our lives that endure despite distances apart or the passage of time: “I only see you once in a blue moon. But it feels like yesterday that I was here with you. Oh, oh, oh, you lovely you. We seem to pick up where we left off. But we’ll always be the ones that time forgot. Everyone gets old, but we do not.” The song has a breezy, vintage feel like it could have been written in the 1920s.

While I’m a huge fan of alternative rock, dream pop, R&B and dance music, it’s also nice to indulge in a little easy-listening folk pop once in a while to relax and gather my thoughts. Ivor Games’ soothing tunes fit the bill nicely, and I hope my readers will enjoy them as much as I do.

Connect with Ivor: FacebookTwitter

Stream his music: SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloudYouTube

Purchase on Bandcamp

Jake LeMond – Single Review: “Miles”

Jake LeMond is an earnest, hard-working and talented young singer-songwriter and musician based in Detroit, Michigan. With his skillful songwriting and impressive guitar work, combined with his professionalism, kind and generous personality and good looks, the gentle-voiced fellow has been making a name for himself on the crowded Michigan music scene, both as a solo artist and as guitarist for pop-rock bands Michigander (with whom he recently performed at Lollapalooza in Chicago) and Hickey Eyes, as well as a frequent collaborator with a host of other acts.

Jake’s music is a pleasing style of indie folk, with heartfelt lyrics brought to life primarily with his nimble guitar work and sweet vocals. He released his excellent debut single “5 Months (Up in Smoke)” in January 2017, and in the years since he’s dropped several more outstanding singles. His latest is “Miles“, a stunning love song released on July 28th, and for which he today premiered a wonderful accompanying video. About “Miles”, Jake explains “I wrote this song in about an hour the day after I got back from a month long tour, and it’s about being far away from someone you really care about.”

The song is gorgeous, with lush layers of strummed acoustic guitars, backed by gentle synths and punctuated by heavier guitar notes perfectly paired with bursts of percussion that provide drama as the track unfolds. The arrangement and recording production by Ben Fisher are flawless, as are the mixing by Jake Rye and mastering by The Foxboro. Jake’s soothing vocals are beautiful too, turning more impassioned as he longingly croons “I’m miles, and miles, and miles away from you.”

The delightful video shows Jake searching for something through a vintage collectibles shop, then he suddenly spots a child’s rocking horse. After a bit of back and forth with the guy working in the shop (also played by Jake), he leaves and is shown doing a number of unpleasant odd jobs to earn the money to buy the horse. He returns to the shop, buys the horse and places it in the back of his old white pickup. The video ends with him riding the horse, as if he’s on his way to see his loved one.

Connect with Jake:  FacebookTwitterInstagram

Stream his music:  SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloud

Purchase:  AmazonBandcamp

New Song of the Week – PHILIP MORGAN LEWIS: “I.O.U.”

British singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer Philip Morgan Lewis is one of the most creative and prolific artists I’ve come across in my six years as a music blogger. He’s become a favorite of this blog, and this is the fifth time I’ve featured him since November 2017. Drawing upon a wide range of genres and influences, including alternative rock, blues, R&B, garage rock, folk and EDM, the London East Ender crafts his own unique style of blues-soaked rock that’s perfect for his distinctive raspy vocals. His singing voice sounds like no one else, making him one of those artists you immediately recognize upon hearing his songs.

Over the past decade, Philip has released an impressive amount of music, including his superb 2017 album Grief Harbour (which I reviewed), two EPs and scores of singles. Among those I’ve written about was “Come Find Me Back”, which I premiered this past April along with its wonderful accompanying video. The hauntingly beautiful song spent 10 weeks on my Weekly Top 30. He quickly followed with two more singles and an EP Lost Soul Sessions, and now returns with yet another new single “I.O.U.“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week.

Released via Tx2 Records, “I.O.U.” is his second collaboration with Belgium producer Orfeo Brigande, who co-wrote and co-produced the track. Philip played guitar and sang all vocals on the track, Orfeo programmed the beat and synths, and Karl Velsch played additional guitar. The track will be included on his upcoming EP NOW + THEN, to be released September 1st. 

One of the many things I like about Philip’s music is its unpredictability, and that no two songs ever sound alike. With every release, we’re treated to an entirely different sound and vibe than the song before, and “I.O.U.” is no exception. The song has a slow, sensuous vibe, with Orfeo’s moody synths and keyboards creating a sultry, almost cinematic groove, over which Philip and Karl layer a marvelous blend of funky and distorted guitar notes. As always, Philip’s raspy emotive vocals are soulful and evocative, conveying his ardor in a way that’s soothing, but also smoldering with a white-hot desire.

The lyrics speak to someone who brings so much joy and love into your life that you feel an intense love for them in return, along with a grateful feeling of indebtedness – expressed by the initials “I.O.U.” In them, you’ve found someone so perfect, you need look no further for anyone who could possibly be better.

Ain’t gonna dig down deeper
There ain’t nobody like you
Ain’t gonna look no further
I want somebody like you
For the love you’ve given me
Is hard and dirty babe
And I.O.U.
Ain’t gonna dig it down
Don’t want nobody but you

Connect with Philip: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music: Spotify / YouTube / Apple Music
Purchase:  Amazon / Deezer / Bandcamp 

CAITLIN LAVAGNA – Single Review: “How Not To Start a Fight”

Caitlin Lavagna is a singer-songwriter and musician from South Wales, and she’s just released her terrific debut single “How Not To Start a Fight“, which dropped July 30th. It’s a catchy, upbeat pop song about a break-up, specifically, how to end a relationship with as little drama as possible.

Growing up in the Rhondda Valley, Caitlin’s long had music and the arts in her blood, with a special love for singing, dancing and drumming. While in college, she was one half of indie folk duo Only The Reign, who released two self-recorded albums and spent two years busking and gigging, earning a strong local following. She later studied at the prestigious Rose Bruford College, in their Actor Musicianship BA honors degree program, and while there, formed a band called Big Wednesday, for which she plays drums. They busked and played gigs around London as time permitted, also recording a self-titled three-track EP. All three recordings are still available on all major music streaming platforms.

Her passion for strong rhythms is clearly evident on the track, the marvelous throbbing bass and galloping drumbeats driving the melody forward with unbridled energy. I don’t know the identities of her fellow musicians who played some of the instruments on the track, but they all do a masterful job. There are so many great touches, like the strummed acoustic and electric guitars, deliciously funky bass notes and lovely piano keys. But the highlight for me are Caitlin’s beautiful, emotive vocals that go from a soothing croon in the verses to commanding defiance in the choruses as she announces that she’s done with the relationship, while accepting partial responsibility for its failure, and now moving on.

Cross my fingers, hope to die
Before you find out, before I hit the ground
Party's over, it's goodnight
Word is going around
I am working out how not to start a fight
How to say goodbye
How to tell you why, how to make it right
Cause slowly over time, my bark turned into bite
It's no one's fault but mine

“How Not To Start a Fight” is a wonderful song, and a stellar debut effort from this talented young artist. I look forward to hearing what Caitlin comes up with next.

Connect with Caitlin:  FacebookTwitterInstagram

Stream her song:  SpotifyApple Music

GRANFALLOON – Single Review: “Working On Your Own”

Granfalloon is the music project of Manchester, England-based singer-songwriter, producer and guitarist Richard Lomax. Using acoustic guitars, synthesizers and unusual instruments such as vintage Omnichords and drum loops, he creates his own unique and pleasing style of music that’s a hybrid of lo-fi alternative folk, experimental and electronica. His warm, soothing vocals are wonderful, reminding me at times of U2 front man Bono. We’ve followed each other on Twitter for several years, but I’ve been remiss by never having featured him on this blog. I’m now remedying that sorry situation on the occasion of the release of his new single “Working On Your Own“.

According to bio info provided on his website, Lomax became a musician later than most, and when he did, in 2003, it felt, in his words “like opening a door from a world of black and white to a universe bathed in a spectrum of mesmerising colour.” He took an avant-garde music course, and after honing his skills fronting surf rock bands and the psychedelic folk-pop collective Johnny5thWheel&thecowards, he relocated to Manchester in 2013. Granfalloon was born in 2017 after an operation temporarily left him with limited mobility. While in recovery, he recorded his debut album Down There For Dancing. He performed most of the music using his acoustic guitar, Omnichord and lo-fi drum machines, although he was assisted by a few musicians on added guitar, bass and percussion on some tracks. It’s a lovely work, and I strongly encourage my readers to check it out on one of the music platforms listed at the end of this post.

He released his beautiful second album RGB in 2019, this time with assistance from a greater number of musicians to help him produce larger, more fully-realized soundscapes. He also began touring the UK and Europe as a full band, as well as performing at Bluedot Festival. RGB‘s singles garnered airplay on BBC Introducing and BBC 6 Music.

He’s now set to release this third album Positive Songs in August, featuring 11 tracks produced for The Positive Song Project, which was launched by Lomax and his friend Lobelia Lawson during the first lockdown of 2020. He invited songwriters to create new music, challenging themselves to focus on positive aspects and feelings. Lomax elaborates: “The idea formed from a conversation I was having with Lobelia Lawson, the co-founder of PSP, about how a lot of inspiration for our songs comes from a place of introspection or melancholia, anger or pain. We thought we would challenge ourselves & other musicians to focus on positive songwriting. Maybe it began as a way of managing anxiety or as a refusal to let the cancellation of gigs completely take music away but it soon become this weird positive energy… this propulsive force which grew into something very special.” Thus far, the project has resulted in the creation of over 300 tracks by artists from around the world.

“Working On Your Own” is the second single from Positive Songs, following the first single “Who You Are”, which was released in June. Lomax states the song “had such a strange journey, starting off as an intensely personal one about the loneliness of shift work, and then when Lockdown started it became perversely relatable.” For the recording of the track, Lomax played guitar and sang vocals, Daz Woodcock played bass, synths and sang backing vocals, Thirds played guitar, piano and sang backing vocals, Richard Jupp played drums, Andy Lyth played percussion and Maya McCourt played cello.

The song has a mellow, easy listening vibe, with touches of folk and jazz that make for a calm, yet compelling groove. Each of the instruments are allowed to shine, from the gentle acoustic guitar notes, subtle bassline and jazzy drums to the charming baby piano keys, cool percussion and lovely cello. Lomax’s smooth vocals are sublime, with a sophisticated air that’s still accessible and comforting as he earnestly sings about our human need for connection, and the loneliness of working the late shift where there’s no one to talk to or engage with. Woodcock’s and Thirds’ backing harmonies are really nice too.

Shift workers of the world unite
And bathe yourself in Picadilly's multicolored lights
When the human touch that means so much
Is a phantom limb on social crutches
Keep a little kind in your heart

When you're working on your own
On the edge, on the edges of civilization
Saturday night is the loneliest night of the week

If you download the song on Bandcamp, you’ll also receive an exclusive free bonus download of Granfalloon’s cover of the Zombies’ song “Care Of Cell 44”. 

Catch Granfalloon at one of these upcoming shows:

Aug 27 – The Yard Manchester, Manchester, UK

Aug 29 – EBGBS. Liverpool, UK

Aug 30 – Bolton Food & Drink Festival, Bolton, UK

Follow Granfalloon:  FacebookTwitterInstagram

Stream his music:  SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloud

Purchase:  Bandcamp 

VICIOUS ROOSTER – Single Review: “About A Revolution”

Vicious Rooster is the music project of Argentine-born and now Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter, musician and producer Juan Abella. Drawing inspiration from some of his favorite bands like Led Zeppelin, The Black Crowes, Guns’n’Roses and Alice in Chains, his music is a rousing blend of classic and Southern rock, folk, blues and grunge. Both his guitar playing and vocals sound like he’s from Nashville or Austin, rather than Argentina.

Juan’s had a love of music since his childhood growing up in Argentina, where he began learning to play guitar at the age of ten. In 2016, he left his business career behind and relocated to Los Angeles to pursue his dream of becoming a musician and study music business at the renowned Musicians Institute in Hollywood. Using songs he’d previously written about his experiences of feeling lost during the transition from his past life to his move to L.A., as well as some new compositions, he released his debut album The Darkest Light in 2017, an ambitious and impressive work featuring 12 tracks and running over an hour in length. After a three-year hiatus, he returned in August 2020 with a darkly beautiful Southern rock single “The Moon is Dancing”, then followed three months later with the powerful bluesy rocker “Something Goin’ On”. (You can read my reviews of both singles by clicking on the ‘Related’ links at the end of this post.)

Now Vicious Rooster returns with a new single “About A Revolution“, which he describes as “a cosmic introspective ride that encourages listeners to reinvent themselves and gather the strength to achieve their dreams.” He further elaborates: “Just like for many people, the pandemic allowed me to reconnect with songs and emotions that had remained dormant. There were no excuses for not paying attention to them and the time has come to give them the shine they deserve. ‘About A Revolution’ was part of a group of songs that I recorded in 2015 that had never seen the light until now.”

The song is a rousing Southern Rock banger, and once again, Vicious Rooster lives up to his moniker, delivering an electrifying barrage of scorching bluesy riffs guaranteed to raise the hairs on the back of your neck. He’s an amazing guitarist, coaxing an intricate array of lush and powerful sounds from his six-string that are truly mind-blowing. Also worth noting are the wonderful organ at the beginning of the song, as well as the outstanding percussion throughout. Juan’s colorful, emotive vocals are great too, rising and falling in perfect sync with the intensity of the instrumentals.

The lyrics essentially describe his own personal life-changing decision to leave his past life in Argentina behind and pursue his music dreams in L.A.:

Break your chains and start again
You know how hard it can be
When you feel nothing is real
Find a way to keep you strong
Your constant effort will pay off
It'll take some time to see
But in the end you'll get where you want to be

You've moved on, you're leaving your past behind
Don't look back, there's nothing there worth to find
Just focus on the way you want to go
And stay away from things that hurt your soul
Keep reaching for the dream you're fighting for

“About A Revolution” is a great song, and another superb single that further establishes Vicious Rooster as a rock star on the rise.

Follow Vicious Rooster on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Stream his music:  Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud

Purchase:  Bandcamp / Amazon 

BUEL – Single Review: “Small Talk”

When I first featured the beautiful and talented Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter BUEL exactly four months ago, I fawned over her brilliant reimagining of Nirvana’s classic “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (read my review here). With her distinctive and beguiling vocals that range from smoky purrs to sultry vulnerability, combined with a sophisticated pop-rock style, she’s captured the attention of music critics and fans alike, garnering airplay on radio stations across the U.S. and in the UK. Her video for “Lemon Smile” won an award at the 2021 London Music Video Festival. 

Now BUEL is back with a another marvelous single “Small Talk“, along with a stylish and entertaining video. The song addresses the superficiality of small talk people often make to fill the time and airspace when there’s no meaningful connection between them. She elaborates “Small Talk is about the ingenuine daily conversations between people. Even though it’s pretty common and seen as an innocent aspect of our daily lives, I observed that oftentimes it tends to make people feel uncomfortable because talking to someone without giving any depth and sharing words to pass the moment can only be kind but not real.”

I love how the song opens with BUEL’s breathy gasp, accompanied by airy, otherworldly synths, setting a sultry tone for what’s to come. Soon, she croons “Some are scared of silence, when I need it so bad. And I’m calculated nihilist for the questions you ask to evaluate my life. Innocently creeping in, just to say ‘Hi, I’m alive, are you too?’ The way you look has left me blind. Are you too? I like you. Small talk, can find you anywhere.” Musically, the song features a slow, seductive dance beat, with a wonderful pulsating bassline creating a sultry smoldering groove that aims straight for the hips. The instrumentals are punctuated with exquisite keyboards, percussive synths and guitar notes, resulting in a beautiful and compelling soundscape for her enchanting vocals.

“Small Talk” is another winning single by BUEL, and if she continues turning out music this good, her star can only continue to soar.

Follow BUEL:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Stream/purchase her music:  Spotify / Apple Music / Amazon

ARTIST SPOTLIGHT – SECRET POSTAL SOCIETY

One of the most prolific and generous artists I’ve encountered in my nearly six years of blogging is Secret Postal Society, the music project of Welsh singer-songwriter, composer and multi-instrumentalist Craig Mapstone. Since the beginning of the year, he’s faithfully released a new single every week, and as I write this, he just dropped his 27th single “Here Comes Trouble”. At the end of each month, he bundles the four singles from that month into an EP, which translates to six EPs thus far in 2021. Here’s the cover art for his latest EP, simply titled June EP.

Based in South Wales, Craig has been writing songs and playing in various local bands over the years, primarily as a drummer. He was content to remain mostly hidden behind the scenes playing drums, but hadn’t been in a band for quite a while. As with virtually all musicians around the globe, the covid lockdowns prevented him from performing live and leaving him with lots of time for introspection, but also impacting his overall sense of well-being. He told me “After the crazy year that was 2020, I found myself refocusing what was important to me, and music was always a big part of my life. It was also my lifeline as it helped me with my anxiety. During last year I found myself playing guitar more and coming up with lots of ideas with no real focus as to what to do with them. Then literally a few days before the end of the year I just decided that I was going to create a band and then try and write/record a new song every week. I set up my YouTube channel and Instagram account and went from there.”

And thus, Secret Postal Society was born. Each week, Craig writes (or co-writes) and records a brand new song, playing all of the instruments and singing all of the vocal parts himself (with the notable exception of some solo guitar and backing vocals from Rev Rabbit (of Welsh indie rock band Revolution Rabbit Deluxe, whose three albums I’ve previously reviewed) on the song “Now Is The Time”. In addition to Secret Postal Society, Craig is also co-founder (with Raj Chand) of Weird Triangle, a business that offers design services for digital video projects, logos and promotional materials, and their own line of T-shirts and hoodies. Through his involvement with Weird Triangle, Craig designs most of the artwork for the Secret Postal Society single and E.P. covers, along with limited edition T-shirts for each song. He also creates most of his videos using free and publicly available footage he finds on the internet, then edits it to fit the particular song.

Secret Postal Society was not only a way to help Craig through a difficult time, but he also uses it to help others. Accordingly, he donates 100% of the profits from the sale of each T-shirt (with the E.P. designs) to a different charity each month. Thus far, he’s supported the following charities: MS-UK (January), Cystic Fibrosis Trust (February), Velindre Hospital (March), Mermaids UK (April), The Prince’s Trust (May) and Umbrella Cymru (June).

The very first song he released, on New Years Day, was “It’s Not Over“, an old song he originally wrote and recorded back in 2006. He said the song got him through some difficult times over the years, and felt it was the right track to launch Secret Postal Society. It’s a good example of his laid-back singer-songwriter music style, which is primarily pop-rock infused with touches of indie folk. But as I’ll show in this post, his music is actually quite eclectic, exploring elements of progressive, experimental, grunge, post-punk and alternative rock. Most of his songs are really good, but I’ve chosen a few of my favorites, as well as ones I think give a good representation of his extensive stylistic range.

On his next single “Happy Sad“, he delivers a somewhat heavier rock vibe, with some fine jangly guitar work. He almost reveals his entire face on the video of him performing the song.

One of my favorite songs by him is “Choices“, a dramatic and moody track released in February. On this song, Craig seems to delve more deeply into progressive and experimental rock, using distorted psychedelic guitars, somber keyboards and horns to great effect in creating a darkly beautiful soundscape for his ominous droning vocals. The video was produced by Rubén Velasco and edited by Craig.

His follow-up single “I Like You” has more of a grunge/psych rock vibe, with some terrific reverb-soaked gnarly guitars. His electronically-altered vocals sound almost robotic as he drones “Your love it isn’t science. My love isn’t art. We must redraw the line, cause you’re tearing me apart. Cause I like you. Yeah, I like you.” The cool animated video was produced by Cottonbro.

Continuing on a grunge theme, but with more alternative and electronic elements, is the pleasing track “Numb“. Released in April, it’s another one of my favorite Secret Postal Society songs. Craig’s synths are wonderful, and I also love his guitar work in this track, which reminds me a bit of “Lazy Eye” by Silversun Pickups. The beautiful video was once again produced by Cottonbro.

Half Way There“, released in late June as his 26th single, marks the halfway point of his opus 2021 endeavor. It’s a beautiful guitar-driven track featuring some lovely keyboard synths and Craig’s soothing vocals. The optimistic lyrics speak not only to his half-year milestone, but also metaphorically of a struggling relationship halfway toward its fulfillment. And we finally get a good look at Craig on the video, which shows his creative process and him performing the song.

I’ll end with his latest single “Here Comes Trouble“, which dropped July 2nd. The song has a late-90s alt-pop/rock vibe, reminiscent of songs by artists like Duncan Sheik, Eagle Eye Cherry and Deep Blue Something. Once again, it showcases the breadth and variety of Secret Postal Society’s musical style. There’s literally something for just about everyone in his discography, and I’m dumbfounded by his impressive output. The ability to write, record and release a new song week in and week out is amazing in itself, but to have such high quality in nearly every track is quite an accomplishment. I hope Craig will be able to maintain the creativity and stamina to continue releasing a new song per week for the remainder of 2021, and look forward to hearing what he comes up with next!

Follow Secret Postal Society:  FacebookInstagram 

Stream his music:  SpotifyApple MusicYouTube

ANDREW NEIL – Album Review: “Sunny Side”

Virginia-based singer-songwriter Andrew Neil (full name Andrew Neil Maternick) is one of the more unique artists I’ve had the pleasure of featuring on this blog. I first wrote about him in November 2019, when I reviewed his third album Freak (which you can read here). Andrew is considered an “outsider” music artist similar to the late Daniel Johnston, and in fact, ranks as the #1 Best Outsider Artist on Ranker, just above Johnston (click this link to see the full list). The now 33-year old has faced a number of daunting life challenges that would have crushed many of us, but his strength and resilience, as well as the incredible love and support of his family and friends, have enabled Andrew to flourish as an artist.

I wrote extensively about his experiences in my previous review, but will summarize here to provide a bit of context. After growing up as a fairly typical kid and high school athlete, Andrew suffered a life-altering event in Spring 2009 when he sustained a serious head injury in a car accident. The injury resulted in two significant changes for Andrew: 1) he began having a series of psychotic episodes, and 2) he started writing songs, despite the fact he’d never had any prior music training of any kind. During a psychotic episode in 2013, he stabbed his younger brother in the arm, which landed him in jail for seven months until his family and attorney convinced the prosecutor that Andrew needed help, rather than being incarcerated. 

He was subsequently released and sent to a state mental hospital, where he received excellent treatment and learned to manage his illness. During the three years there, he wrote and recorded around 70 songs, on top of the 250+ songs he’d written since his 2009 accident. Andrew writes his honest, deeply personal songs entirely by ear, first creating the melodies on his rhythm guitar, then recorded songs on a battery powered Tascam recorder, which his father Ray would later upload to a computer. Andrew was conditionally released from the hospital in May 2017, and moved into a group home in Charlottesville. (He now lives independently.) Upon his release, he produced his first album Code Purple – Andrew Neil, featuring 11 melancholy yet optimistic songs he hoped might help others struggling with similar mental health issues. The songs were mastered by Vlado Meller, otherwise they were left pretty much in the raw, lo-fi condition as Andrew had recorded them.

In 2018, Andrew recorded his second album Merry Go Round, this time working with a number of accomplished musicians to help give his songs a more polished, fuller sound, as well as a more alt-rock vibe than his folk-oriented first album. He entered the studio again in 2019 to record what would become his third album Freak, and as he was wrapping up the recording he was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. He underwent a grueling round of chemotherapy while the album was being mixed and mastered, and he and his family started a Kickstarter campaign to help raise funds for album production and marketing, garnering even greater support than expected. The album, an ambitious work featuring 14 tracks addressing topics of love, faith, mental illness and self-identity, was released that October to widespread acclaim.

His cancer thankfully now in remission, Andrew began recording songs during the Covid lockdown, this time with only his own quirky, endearing vocals and vintage nylon string Ovation acoustic guitar, accompanied on some tracks by subtle keyboard overdubs. The songs came together as his fourth album Sunny Side, which is being released digitally on June 15th via Tree Heart Records. The album will become available on CD on June 30th, along with a limited press vinyl version scheduled for release in October. The songs have a mellower and more lo-fi folk sound than the ones on Freak. About Sunny Side, Andrew states “I believe the album will appeal to people who really dig the lo-fi, outsider vibe. I hope my music will be recognized as something genuine; something that people can relate to and let them know they are not alone in this jello world.” The imaginative artwork for the album cover was created by Boston artist Daniel Benayun.

The album kicks off with “Gamblin’ Man“, a pleasing folk tune with an allegorical story about a reckless soul who always lives life on the edge. Andrew’s knack for writing seemingly simple yet profound lyrics with a powerful message is exemplified in these verses: “Out in the desert sun I made friends with a scorpion. We talked about how we feel, then I said shuffle up and deal. We played till the sun went down, full moon was wearin’ a crown. I cheated, gave myself some kings. Then I felt how a scorpion stings.”

On the optimistic title track “Sunny Side“, he advises us to not wallow in our problems, but instead try and find something good in every situation: “I buy flowers. She asked what for. Just in case the undertaker comes knockin’ on my door, cause tomorrow’s no guarantee. Let’s take our sorrow, and drown it in the sea. So keep on the sunny side, always on the sunny side. Keep on the sunny side of life./ This life is a gift. It makes me high, high, high like a cliff.” He continues along a similar vein with the grunge-tinged “Lemonade“, urging us to make lemonade out of those lemons life sometimes throws our way: “Make lemonade. Realize that we got it made. Make lemonade. Don’t be afraid. Even in hell, be thankful for shade./ Live with love, the world is ours.”

Andrew’s strong sense of spirituality, love and faith in humanity is expressed on several tracks. On “One Big Family“, he sings of how, despite our differences, we’re all human beings deserving of love and respect: “We are one big family. And you have a brother, a brother in me. Tough times do not last. Tough people do. And I feel so much tougher when I’m loved by you. And no one’s perfect yet; we all have flaws. But we still deserve gifts from Santa Claus.” He uses “Heaven” as a metaphor for love and empathy, rather than a biblical place: “Heaven, where hate is not allowed. Heaven, another word for love. Heaven, it’s not below, it’s not above, it’s in your heart.

On the lovely, nearly six-minute long ballad “Awoke“, he sings of overcoming his past mistakes and feelings of hopelessness by accepting God’s love: “So many nights I wanted to cry. Wanted to fly away. This dream trope has come to an end. Stars explode, but you’re still my friend. And I’m still your friend. Cause I awoke to God’s mercy. We’re all thirsty for love.” And on the folksy final track “Thank The Lord“, he gives thanks for all the things that are important to him, and the positive role music plays in his emotional well-being: “Thank the lord for my friends. Thank the lord for family. Thank the lord for the music that lives inside, inside of me.”

Conversely, perhaps the most poignant track on the album is “Anymore“, where Andrew questions his faith, self-worth and direction in life: “You can lie, and say it’s all part of God’s plan. Cause I don’t want to grow up, I don’t want to grow old. I don’t want to shut up, I don’t want to be told what to do, anymore. I don’t want to give up, I don’t want to go on. Just so tired of being so strong. Don’t know what to do anymore./ You can blame, you can blame me for not being a good man.” Musically, his strummed acoustic guitar is accompanied by some somber but lovely keyboards that create a haunting soundscape for his introspective and melancholy vocals.

Dog Without A Bone” is about having pretty much everything one could want in life, with the exception of a romantic partner to spend time with. Andrew uses clever and pretty direct metaphors to describe the feeling that something crucial to his well-being is missing: “Got a million reasons to live. I’m giving everything I have to give. Yet I’m so tired of being alone. Just a dog with no bone. A drunk without a drink. A cloud without a sky./ I have a lot, but I want more. Is there someone out there that could make me sore.” And once you’re in a relationship, conflicts and disagreements will undoubtedly arise, which he cheekily addresses on the charming “Kinda Turns Me On“: “When you get so mad, it kinda turns me on. Tell me what I did wrong. Cause baby it turns me on. Honestly, I want to grow old with you. Live the American dream, red, white and blue. Have a bunch of kids, and grandchildren too.”

Sunny Side is a wonderful album, filled with honest, heartfelt songs about faith, love and hope, and I’m confident all of us can relate to at least some of them. Andrew Neil is a thoughtful songwriter with a special gift for getting right to the heart of things in a way that few other artists can – or are even able – to do. I’ve grown quite fond of him, and hope he’ll continue writing interesting and compelling songs for us to enjoy.

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DELAURENTIS – Single Review: “Be A Woman”

With her exquisite compositions, innovative music styling and beguiling vocals, electronic artist DeLaurentis is a rising star on the French music scene and beyond. The talented singer-songwriter, composer and producer has had music in her blood her whole life. Growing up in a home with a musician father, she early on discovered her love for music, and learned to compose music using keyboards, analog and contemporary synthesizers and computers. Drawing inspiration from some of her favorite artists like Ryuichi Sakamoto, Max Richter, Brian Eno, Oneothrix Point Never and the great Laurie Anderson, she creates electronic music characterized by bewitching piano melodies and cinematic walls of sound. She also uses synthesizers to manipulate her voice so that it becomes another instrument in itself.

She chose the moniker DeLaurentis for her music project and relocated to Paris in 2015. That June, she released her debut self-titled EP DeLaurentis, an impressive work featuring five beautiful tracks. Since then, she’s dropped several more EPs, including Brand New Soul, Big Part of a Big Sun, and Classical Variations, Pt. 1., as well as a number of remixes. She’s been featured in major French publications such as Trax, Rock & Folk and Les Inrockuptibles, and some of her songs have been used in French commercials. Her single “A Big Part of A Big Sunwas featured in the TV series How to Get Away With Murder.

Photo by Bruno Tognin

On June 11th, DeLaurentis released a beautiful new track “Be A Woman“, the third single from her forthcoming debut full-length album UNICA, due for release in September. The single follows two previous singles, “Life” and “Pegasus”, which will also be included on UNICA, a concept album inspired by the strong connection she developed with her machines. Beginning in the summer of 2018, DeLaurentis spent two years in a studio on the Saint-Martin Canal in Paris, working with her synthesizers and computers. In the process, she developed an almost mystical connection between the human and digital worlds, which led to her creation of UNICA, a digital-tale told in ten tracks exploring the emotions between a woman and her machine. She collaborated with Dan Black, Yaron Herman, Daymark and Fabien Waltmann in the album’s production, and experimented in a recording collaboration with the artificial intelligence developed by the Spotify CTRL research lab supervised by SKYGGE on the album track “Somewhere in Between”.

Regarding her inspiration for “Be A Woman”, DeLaurentis explains: I got the idea for this song after a hypnosis session, where I relived the same scene three times. First in a subjective way, then in a meta position (by being outside the scene, in observation) then a third time by imagining a double, a new version of myself that would take me by the hand, getting me out of this situation and took me to Sunset Boulevard where we would rollerblade towards the beach and the sunset! This double is UNICA, the one I call my digital sister. It was in this state of hypnosis that I first met her. In this initiatory journey, she guided me and whispered to me these words: ‘You’ll be more than kings, more than gods…you’ll be a woman’ in reference to the poem ‘If’ by Rudyard Kipling ‘you’ll be a Man, my son!’ but in a feminine version.

The song opens with an enchanting piano arpeggio, immediately drawing us in as we want to hear more. DeLaurentis’ soothing, breathy vocals enter as she sings of her dream: “And I was there again with him. That cheap cafe. Evenin’. His words were arrows. I was the bird. The walls were green. The lights blurred. I felt that ice rush in my ears. And suddenly someone jus’ like me appeared and she took my hand. And we ran.” The music gradually expands into a gorgeous soundscape of swirling atmospheric synths, strings, hypnotic percussion and deep synth bass, while the piano arpeggios continue moving the song forward. Her vocals are lovely and captivating, and I adore her soaring harmonies in the choruses. It’s a brilliant track.

Header photo by Celine Van Heel

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