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.

Follow Andrew:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Reverbnation
Purchase:  Bandcamp 

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

Follow Delaurentis:  FacebookTwitterInstagram

Stream her music:  SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloudYouTube

New Song of the Week – DAWNING: “Ennui”

One of the finest artists I’ve had the pleasure of learning about in 2021 is Dawning, the musical alter-ego of insanely talented and charismatic singer-songwriter and musician Aaron Senor. On the strength of his captivating and dreamy style of shoegaze/electronic rock, emotive vocals that go from ethereal breathy croons to impassioned soaring choruses, and electrifying live performances, the Grand Rapids-based artist has quickly earned a name for himself on the crowded Michigan music scene. Aaron is also drummer for Michigander, an outstanding band that’s also seeing its star on the rise.

Photo by Jesse Speelman

Dawning released his wonderful debut single “Coronation” in early 2019, and followed this past February with the brilliant EP Petals (you can read my review here). “Rose Hips”, one of the stunning tracks from Petals, has spent the past three months on my Weekly Top 30, and is still climbing its way up the top 10. Now he’s back with an exciting new single “Ennui“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week. With “Ennui”, Aaron makes a bold departure from the rather dark and moody vibes of his previous songs. He further elaborates: “‘Ennui’ is a declaration of sorts; a declaration of happiness, of change, and of hope, [and] a clear change in tone and mood from previous, darker releases. A perfect summer single for rolling down your windows and screaming the chorus at the top of your lungs.” 

The song opens tentatively with quivering shimmery synths, accompanied by Dawning’s plaintive breathy vocals, then an aggressive pounding drumbeat suddenly enters the mix, exponentially dialing up the energy. His vocals quickly turn more impassioned as the music erupts into a bombastic and glorious soundscape of exuberant swirling synths, thunderous percussion and pummeling drumbeats, launching the song into the sonic stratosphere. As if to express an overwhelming sense of euphoria, he gleefully shouts the lyrics about coming out of darkness and despair into a life filled with light, hope and love: “And right when I thought life was not worth living, I saw you there. And I cannot deny I’ve got to give in, no matter where.” 

“Ennui” is an exhilarating and grandiose anthem, and I love the ferocity of both the instrumental arrangement and vocals that Dawning employs to drive home his positive and joyously celebratory message.

Follow Dawning: FacebookTwitter / Instagram

Stream his music: Spotify / Apple Music YouTube

LUKE MOCK – Single Review: “Feel the Love”

Last September, I first wrote about indie pop singer-songwriter Luke Mock when I reviewed his lovely, bittersweet single “Better”, the follow up release to his debut single “Universe”. Based in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York, the talented young musician is quickly making a name for himself through his intelligent songwriting, emotive vocals and charismatic live performances. He’s opened for such acts as AJR, Kesha, Ryan Quinn (The Voice), Neyla Pekarek (The Lumineers) and Joe Whiting (Savory Brown), and was a headliner at the Perform 4 Purpose WinterFest 2019. (Perform 4 Purpose is a non-profit organization that provides young musicians with opportunities to raise money for charities, benefits, and more while learning and developing their musicianship.)

Now Luke returns with his third single “Feel the Love“, a song exploring the internal conflicts between passion and pain we often experience when involved in complicated relationships. You realize the relationship may be toxic for you, yet you’re unable to break free from it, as the passion is just too powerful to resist. The song is infectious and catchy, with a pleasing vibe that reminds me of some of the songs by Charlie Puth, one of Luke’s strong influences. I like the breezy, upbeat melody and his layered vocals sound better than ever. His synth programming is top-notch, and so is his guitar work, which is highlighted by a blistering little solo in the bridge.

I think “Feel the Love” is Luke’s finest single yet, and shows a continued growth and maturity in his songwriting and vocals. I expect we’ll be hearing more great music from him soon.

Late last night it was cold outside she walked right out my door
But I’m not surprised we’ve rolled the dice too many times before
So I went downtown but I saw her friends as soon as I walked in
And when we locked eyes we realized with us you just can’t win

This love is too hard to contain
I feel it in my veins
Body’s numb I hear the voice inside me yelling run
But when you touch my skin
You know what you’re doing
Just to pull me in

Cause you want to

Feel the love
This love inside me
Feel the love
So you can break me
Feel the love
Our hearts colliding
What is left to
Feel the love
No I can’t take it
Feel the love
But you still make me
Feel the love
Oh is it worth the hurt so we can

Feel the high she’s on my mind at 3 a.m. again
This love is cursed when in reverse I find her in my bed
And I can’t take this back and forward baby can’t you see
That darling what is left of us is all that’s meant to be

To learn more about Luke, check out his Website

Follow him on  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Stream/purchase his music:  Spotify / YouTube / Apple Music / Amazon

9fm – EP Review: “First One, Ninth Fifteen”

9fm (short for Ninth Floor Mannequin) is the solo music project of New Jersey-based singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Jarrod Pedone. Drawing influences from some of his favorite artists like Paul Simon, Fleet Foxes and James Blake, Pedone melds elements of folk, alternative rock and synth pop to create fascinating songs with a pleasing, often otherworldly vibe. He’s also a huge fan of the classic TV show The Twilight Zone, as well as the more recent Twilight Zone-influenced British sci-fi anthology series Black Mirror, and many of his song lyrics are based on particular episodes of those shows.

I first featured 9fm on this blog back in September 2018 when I reviewed his marvelous EP Little House. Now I’m pleased to share his new EP First One, Ninth Fifteen, which drops today. The unusual title is a combination of words from the titles of each of the four tracks. He wrote the music and lyrics, sang vocals and performed or programmed all music, as well as the recording, mixing and mastering of the tracks himself in his home studio. He’s a thoughtful lyricist, and each song tells a story based on a real-life incident or a TV episode.

The first track “Fifteen Minutes” addresses the traumatic brain injury Jarrod suffered in September 2012, when he was struck by a drunk driver in a hit and run accident while out jogging. He was put into a coma, then endured a grueling period of outpatient physical and mental therapy, as described in the lyrics “With no name or number, John Doe fought for his life. For one day he was someone, but then he went and survived.” Ultimately, it was his return to creating music that proved to be the most successful form of therapy, though he uses self-deprecating lyrics to describe his progress: “But still he plays and keeps on writing, with no good reason why. He sure wasn’t great in the first place, but now he’s barely alright.”

Using a cacophonous mix of instruments and eerie, lo-fi industrial synths set to an almost frantic driving beat, he creates an unsettling, chaotic soundscape that conjures up images of the pandemonium that must have ensued after he was struck and left fighting for his life. I especially like his guitar notes and jazzy saxophone played by Matthew Silberman that add to the overall moody vibe. The song ends with sounds of monitors and medical staff one would hear in a busy emergency room.

“Below the Ninth Floor” was inspired by one of my favorite Twilight Zone episodes “The After Hours” from Season 1, in which a woman named Marsha, played by Anne Francis, is taken by elevator to the ninth floor of a department store to buy a gold thimble, even though the indicator above the elevator shows only eight floors. The entire floor is empty, without any merchandise save a single gold thimble, which is exactly what she’s looking for. The employee who waits on her is a mysterious woman who asks a lot of probing questions. As Marsha rides the elevator down, she discovers the thimble is scratched and dented, and is directed by the elevator operator to the Complaints Department on the third floor. When she tries to convince the sales supervisor and store manager that she bought the item on the ninth floor, they tell her the store doesn’t have a ninth floor. To make matters worse, she has no evidence of the transaction as she paid cash, and has no receipt. Marsha spots the salesclerk who sold her the thimble, and is shocked to discover that the woman is not a salesclerk at all, but one of the department store’s mannequins. Things continue to go downhill from there. Jarrod also named his music project ‘Ninth Floor Mannequin’ after the episode.

For this song, 9fm’s lyrics speak of people putting up a false front and creating an image they think will impress others, as if they’re like a perfect mannequin: “Just before the stage lights up to a new crowd. Don’t fuck it up, don’t be yourself, or try too hard. Getting lost in the part, and go all in, give the people what they want.” Musically, the song seems to have an almost lighthearted vibe, with breezy synths and a relaxed, toe-tapping beat, but a closer listen reveals a slightly melancholy undercurrent, befitting the darker lyrics.

The third track “First Blush” is based on Season 3, Episode 4 of Black Mirror, entitled “San Junipero”. San Junipero is a simulated beach resort town where the deceased can live and the elderly can visit, all inhabiting their younger selves’ bodies in a time of their choosing. The plot involves two women, Yorkie and Kelly, who meet at a nightclub, and eventually become romantically involved. They meet up at different times over the years in both San Junipero and in the real world, where they face real-life complications. In the end, both are euthanized so that they can be together in San Junipero.

Starting with skittering percussion and assertive drumbeats, 9fm layers gauzy synths, humming keyboards, and what sounds like a bass guitar, though it could also be guitar that’s been fed though a pedal or some other device to give it a deeper tone. The result is a dramatic, fast-paced song that captures the sense of urgency and emotional intensity described in the lyrics about an unusual and logistically challenging love affair. His smooth vocals have an ethereal quality that’s quite pleasing as he sings “At first blush I came on way too strong. I’d never known someone like you. So I knew first, the path that I would choose. I’d trade that life for one with you. Please see it through, you’re all I have to lose.”

The final track “One for the Benders” is based on the Bender Family, also known as The Bloody Benders, a family of serial killers who lived in and operated a general store and small inn in Labette County, Kansas, from May 1871 to December 1872. While the exact number is unknown, it is believed they killed at least a dozen travelers and buried their remains on their property before their crimes were discovered. 9fm’s lyrics are sung from the point of view of the Benders to their visitors, lulling them to complacency as they move in for the kill: “Never could tell you that you say one lovely grace. Sorry to stop you, it’s just how we pray (prey). It’s been fun, I mean it really was. Now get some rest. Lie down, relax, put your feet up.

The fascinating song has a bouncy, almost upbeat cadence, however 9fm uses a dark array of mysterious synths, spooky sounds and haunting echoed vocals to create a decidedly menacing vibe befitting the macabre subject matter. It’s another great example of how adept he is at producing soundscapes that strike the perfect tone for each story. First One, Ninth Fifteen is a fine and extremely compelling little EP, and the more I listened to the songs, the deeper they bored themselves into my brain.

Follow 9fm:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  SpotifySoundcloud / iTunes
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes

G. SAMEDI – Single Review: “Icarus”

There’s so much great musical talent out there that it sometimes makes my head spin. I’ve recently written about quite a few exceptional artists and bands, and today I’m pleased to introduce another – silky-voiced Australian singer-songwriter Sam Dawes, who goes by the artistic moniker G. Samedi. Sam’s actually no stranger to this blog, as he’s also the lead vocalist and songwriter for Sydney band Thunder Fox, who I adore and have featured numerous times. While still actively involved with Thunder Fox, who will be releasing their second album later this year, Sam decided at the beginning of 2020 to record and produce some of his songs as a solo artist. In little more than a year, he’s already released seven singles (the first was actually a double single), all of which are fantastic. His latest is “Icarus“, which dropped April 30th.

Curious about the name G. Samedi, I asked Sam how he came up with that moniker. He told me it’s “just a silly amalgamation of my real name, Samuel George Dawes. People would call me Sammy D at school, I liked the character ‘Baron Samedi’ from James Bond, and it just came together nicely.” Well, I think G. Samedi is an ideal name, as it suggests an air of sophistication and sexual mystery, both of which are characteristics of his wonderfully unique sound.

Drawing from R&B, soul, trip hop, electronic and alternative rock elements, Sam creates moody and sensuous soundscapes for the expression of his bold lyrics addressing the darker and more introspective aspects of love and relationships. Then he delivers them with his distinctive soulful vocals that go from smooth, sultry croons to plaintive falsetto. He writes all his own music and lyrics, records and programs all instruments, sings all vocals, and produces and mixes all tracks. The only think he outsources is the mastering.

“Icarus” is a stunning and fascinating track, featuring a complex, almost progressive arrangement and a colorful array of instruments and synths. The song opens with stirring synths and an almost gospel-like organ, accompanied with tinkling piano keys. I love Sam’s expressive vocals, which sound especially vulnerable as he laments about falling out of love for his partner and the resulting pain he caused her and the damage he did to their relationship, while admitting he still has strong feelings for her: “I still needed her after all / I fell away, wings like Icarus melting on my bleeding lust. I knew I’d fly too close for us.” As the organ recedes, the melody settles into a languid R&B groove, highlighted by a mix of shimmery and gritty guitars and a thumping drumbeat. His layered vocal harmonies are really beautiful too, turning more plaintive and heartfelt as he implores her to reconsider: “I just love you, isn’t that enough?” The song ends with sounds of a droning synth and pounding drum.

“Icarus” is wonderful, and another in an unbroken string of really stellar singles by this talented artist. If you like it, do take a little time to listen to some of his other songs as well on one of the music platforms below.

Follow G. Samedi: FacebookTwitterInstagram

Stream his music: SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloudYouTube

Purchase: BandcampAmazon

ROD FRITZ – Single Review: “Take the World with Me”

I just reviewed musician Michael Lane, a singer-songwriter who was born in Germany, raised in America and now living in Germany. Now I’m writing about another musician based in Germany named Rod Fritz, who’s actually an Australian born and raised in Hobart, Tasmania, but now living in Germany as well. Rod has been involved with music for nearly 30 years, both in bands and as a solo artist. He started out in the early 90s playing saxophone with Australian band Death & Disease. After they disbanded, he began writing songs and recorded his first solo album Send Help in 1996. He later re-recorded many of those songs, plus some new tracks, for his 2011 album Clouded, which garnered critical and commercial acclaim, as well as airplay in Australia and beyond. In 2014, he embarked on a world tour that took him through the U.S., UK and Germany. His mother is originally from Germany, and while there he visited her and a number of family members. While playing a show, he met a woman with whom he eventually entered into a relationship, and he’s been in Germany ever since.

Hi pleasing music style draws from country, folk, pop and rock, with memorable and often catchy melodies, heartfelt lyrics and bold instrumentation. He followed Clouded with two more albums, Fritz in 2014 and Hold On in 2018. Since then, he’s released a number of singles, the latest of which is “Take the World with Me“. It’s an upbeat, feel-good song with a bouncy melody and joyful vibe similar to the Jawaiian (a Hawaiian style of reggae) sound of the Jason Mraz hit “I’m Yours”. Rod employs a lively mix of jauntily strummed guitars, sparkling synths, finger snaps, xylophone and other charming little instruments to create a carefree, sunny soundscape. His smooth, light-hearted vocals are comforting as he assures a loved one to have faith in him, and that he’ll be there to take care of and protect her: “Come and take the world with me, and I’ll be right there by your side. Come and take the world with me. Don’t cry, everything will be alright.

It’s a sweet and happy song, and can’t we use more of those right now?

Follow Rod:  FacebookTwitterInstagram

Stream his music:  SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloud / Reverbnation  

Purchase:  Bandcamp

New Song of the Week – MICHAEL LANE: “Good Times”

Last September (of 2020), I first featured German-American indie-folk singer-songwriter and producer Michael Lane on this blog when I reviewed his beautiful heartwarming single “Coming Home”. I also wrote a bit about his upbringing in both Germany and the United States, how his life experiences have shaped his songwriting, and of his growing success as a musician. A prolific artist, over the past seven years he’s released four albums, as well as numerous singles, helping him build a large and growing following in Germany and beyond. On Spotify alone, he has over 30,000 monthly listeners from countries like Great Britain, Canada, Australia and the U.S. Shortly after I published my review, Michael released another exquisite single “Moment” and now returns with his latest single “Good Times“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week.

As I customarily do when writing a review, I listen to some of the artist or band’s back music catalog, and once again I’m really impressed by the beauty and quality of Michael’s songwriting and vocals. His honest, relatable lyrics are consistently delivered with pleasing melodies, exceptional guitar work and soothing vocals. Released via the label Greywood Records, “Good Times” offers a message of hope and assurance that times of crisis will lead people back to the important things in life. Michael explains further: “Although ‘Good Times’ is a very upbeat and happy song, it still has a more serious and deeper meaning. Without getting too much into it, in the song I’m basically saying that, just because you surround yourself with a new house or nice car, doesn’t mean it will give you more happiness in the long run.“

The song has a breezy, toe-tapping melody, with an enchanting mix of gently-strummed and chiming guitars, accompanied by just the right amount of percussion and subtle bass to drive the rhythm forward, while still allowing Michael’s beautiful guitar work to shine. As always, his warm and clear vocals are heartfelt as he sings the poignant lyrics, backed by his own lovely harmonies. It’s another stellar addition to his unbroken string of outstanding singles.

You like drama but you never did like the truth
You sing songs to free the pain inside of you
Big house, new life helps to forget 
All the memories that you regret

Act so tough, but you're really just scared
Yeah you're really just scared to live
All these walls, and you took what I had
Yeah, you took all I had to give
Yeah, you took all I had to give

Good times never die, don't you agree
What's life if you can't live life for free
You have a heart , so just hear what it has to say
Everybody hurts, don't give up and run away

Act so tough, but you're really just scared
Yeah you're really just scared to live
All these walls, yeah you took all I had
Yeah, you took all I had to give

Follow Michael:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Stream/purchase his music:  Spotify / Apple Music

JOHNNY RITCHIE – Single Review: “Social Robots”

Johnny Ritchie is an engaging and thoughtful young singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist I recently learned of when he reached out to me about his song “Social Robots“. Born and raised in Wabash, Indiana and now based in Great Falls, Montana, Johnny has had a lifelong interest in, and love for, music. He started learning to play piano and drums as a young child, and went on to study Contemporary, Urban, and Popular Music at Columbia College Chicago, and last year earned a B.A. degree in Music at Western Michigan University. He now has his own business teaching others to play piano, keyboards and drums, as well as providing lessons in music theory, songwriting and improvisation.

Released on March 19th, “Social Robots” is Johnny’s debut single. He states it was “inspired by human behavior regarding social media consumption following the tragedy of the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL in 2018.” In a recent interview with Noah | MUA, Johnny explained that he originally wrote the song three years ago as a way for him to process the tragic event, and never planned on releasing the song as a single. But the events and traumas of the past year led him to decide to release it after all, as the lyrics seemed especially relevant to the times.

For the song, Johnny played piano and drums, and sang vocals, with guitar played by Charlie Petralia, and bass by Dale Guernsey. The track was produced by fellow Columbia College Chicago alumnus Brett Grant, who’s own single “Reanimate” I wrote about just last week (it was after seeing that review that Johnny reached out to me). The beautiful artwork for the single was created by Attie Schuler, who Johnny attended high school with in Wabash.

The song opens with sounds of a phone ringing, accompanied by a man’s voice slowed down to the point where it sounds creepy and disturbing as he speaks the first stanza addressing the pernicious effects of social media:

It is not the habit which addicts me,
But rather the enveloping feeling of escape.
It digs its fangs into my brain,
Slowly spreading its roots,
Hooking me eternally.

The song then abruptly transitions in both tone and feel, as Johnny sings his pointed lyrics about how we become social media robots to sounds of his lovely but melancholic piano keys. Soon Charlie’s chiming guitar, Dale’s subtle bass, and Johnny’s measured drumbeats enter the mix, creating a resounding backdrop for his plaintive vocals that grow more impassioned as the song progresses, only to calm back down at the end as he sings the final line “We’re all sad motherfuckers” with a sense of bitter resignation.

“Social Robots” is a fascinating and brilliant song, both musically and lyrically. While not immediately catchy or melodic, it has an unusual meandering flow that’s quite compelling, keeping a firm grasp on our interest as the song proceeds and the narrative unfolds. It’s an impressive debut from this promising young artist, and I can’t wait to hear more of Mr. Ritchie’s music.

Shackles on all our lives
Not on our wrists but on our minds
Tiny little screens with big fat lies of light
Oh don’t you think
Yeah don’t you mind
Just keep on scrolling you’ll be alright

Distractions, I see them in every way
They tell us the right thoughts to think and the words to say
But nobody ever goes outside to play
No don’t you think
Yeah don’t you pray
Just pretend like it’s still a beautiful day

Tell me no, we’ll see about that
Kick me down, I’m wiser if I don’t fight back
Oh I’ll learn from you and be better off
You may laugh or scoff but just go jerk off
You robot, you sad motherfucker

The crutches we lean on everywhere
They help us breathe in all this polluted air
They help us choose our favorite style of hair
Oh don’t you think
Yeah don’t you care
Just be a copy and no one stares

The voices we seek out for advice
We’re taking all their bullshit as something that’s wise
But nobody is ever thinking twice
So don’t you blink
Just take your vice
Just play your part, you’ll be alright

Robots looking for something that’s real
They’re all trying to think out what to feel
And kisses help, and so do hugs
And not to mention all the drugs
But we’re all robots
We’re all tied up in the same cords from our own plugs
We’re all robots
We’re all sad motherfuckers

Follow Johnny:  FacebookInstagram

Stream/purchase “Social Robots”:  SpotifyApple MusicBandcamp

Philip Morgan Lewis – Single & Video Premier: “Come Find Me Back”

As I’ve noted numerous times on this blog, there’s a tremendous amount of music talent in the UK, and one of the more creative and imaginative artists among them all is singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer Philip Morgan Lewis. The London East Ender boldly experiments with a wide array of genres and influences, ranging from alternative rock, blues, garage rock and folk to R&B and EDM, in the creation of his exciting and eclectic style of blues-soaked rock that nicely suits his distinctive raspy vocals. And he isn’t afraid to address the darker side of humanity and the emotional wreckage of failed relationships, love gone bad and our sometimes self-destructive ways, while also offering glimmers of hope and redemption. His unique sound is instantly identifiable, as he sounds like no one else I know of.

He’s released a fair amount of music over the past decade, including his debut EP Karma Comedown in 2016, followed a year later by his brilliant album Grief Harbour, which I reviewed. In the years since, he’s dropped a number of singles, two of which – “Blowtorched Dreams” and “Rock That City” – I also featured on this blog (you can read those reviews by clicking on the links under ‘Related’ at the end of this post). Now Philip returns with another great new single “Come Find Me Back“, along with a terrific video which I’m happy to premier. Released via label Tx2 Records, the single was written, produced, performed and mixed by Philip, and mastered by legendary mastering engineer Pete Maher. The backing vocals were sung by Annick.

“Come Find Me Back” is a heartfelt song that speaks to someone’s fall from grace and the break up of a family. Philip elaborates “The song is about the breaking up of families and single parenting in an era where it’s simply easier to separate than to fight for your love and try to do everything you can to mend relationships. And someone trying to find his grace back in the spiritual sense, in a way to become stronger, accept past errors, and try and reunite and fix things.”

Philip brings his poignant lyrics to life with mournful piano keys, intricate guitar work and gently soaring horns, all working together brilliantly to create a beautiful and haunting soundscape. A close listen reveals how he skillfully layers multiple guitar textures to create both nuance and depth of sound, with subtle bass and percussion nicely transitioning to bolder rhythms in the anthemic choruses. His plaintive, blues-soaked vocals are powerfully emotive, conveying his despair and pleas for forgiveness and acceptance back into the fold with a heart-wrenching rawness. 

Love it's just just a couple of lines
To let you know I miss you babe
And it's just just a couple of bars
To let you know I messed things up

All that is left inside of me
Is the thought of our crazy little family
And it feels so warm 
But time keeps on passing us by
And I wanna hold you both so tight
Until that one fine day
Until I find my way

Hope is all I have
Grace come find me back
Until that one fine day
Until I find my way

I can't make you feel like I do
Though I wish you could see me now
Now I know that you couldn't love me
Like the man that I used to be

All that is left inside of me
Is the wrong that I did and a mystery
How to learn to forgive myself
What a mess
Time keeps on passing us by
And I wanna hold you both so tight
Until that one fine day
Until I find my way

Hope is all I have
Grace come find me back
Until that one fine day
Until I find my way
Hope is all I have
Love don't count me out
Until that one fine day
Until I find my way back to you


The beautiful video, which Philip directed and edited, was filmed in London’s East End, and shows scenes of mostly empty streets, parks and playgrounds, as well him in what appears to be an empty house. All serve to represent his feelings of isolation and loneliness, both at home and within the larger context of a big city that should be teeming with life. The child’s drawing of a family of three, shown blowing around on the sidewalk, is a particularly touching element.

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