STONED PIRATES – Album Review: “Flag, Skull and Rock n Roll”

Stoned Pirates album art

Stoned Pirates is the music project of Algerian-born Khaled Sahour, a creative and highly imaginative musician, visual artist and filmmaker. Growing up in a home where he was exposed to lots of music and art, he early on developed a love of rock, pop and disco, and taught himself to play music on a broken two string guitar. He started a band and sung his heart out to young Algerian audiences that seemed to connect very well, but eventually relocated to Los Angeles to further his career in music and film. On August 9th, he released his debut album Flag, Skull and Rock n Roll, which I’m pleased to be reviewing today.

Stoned Pirates’ unusual and eclectic music style comes from a wide array of influences ranging from classic rock acts such as the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and Guns N’ Roses, to the funk of Sly & the Family Stone, the dance grooves of Chic and Nile Rodgers, and the soulful pop of Michael Jackson – all spiced with an Algerian flavor. Not only does Khaled write, perform, record and produce all his music, he also creates his own visuals for his Stoned Pirates project. The album was mixed and mastered by Thomas Juth, and opens with “Turmoil (Intro)“, a brief track that sets the tone for the album. With a backdrop of otherworldly industrial synths and a hypnotic beat, Stoned Pirates chants “I’ve been waiting for the wind to blow. I guess it’s time to rock’n’roll.

Next up is “Nothing“, a dark, trippy song about feeling overwhelmed by loneliness and hopelessness, like one is powerless to change the sorry state of things. Stoned Pirates weaves a mesmerizing soundscape out of a fascinating kaleidoscope of synth instruments and exotic sounds. I love the xylophone, spooky keyboards, deep bass and guitar, accompanied by a cool, carnival-like synth riff. Khaled has a quirky vocal style in which he sometimes sings in a baby-like falsetto that I suppose could be off-putting to some, but once I got into his music I found it sort of charming. Using that falsetto, he sings: “Throw me a bone. Hit me with a stone, I just wanna feel something real.” But then, he sings in a deeper, almost menacing tone: “Nothing, absolutely nothing has changed today. Same old, same old sins and heartbreaks coming in new ways.

The surreal video he made for the song shows an astronaut floating aimlessly through dark space along with various objects like an old TV playing static, boxing gloves and pieces of furniture.

One of my favorite tracks is “The Devil in You“, a great kiss-off song to someone who’s deceived and caused hurt. The song has a sensual beat, with jazzy synths, funky bass, swirling guitar and some really terrific sax. Stoned Pirates bitterly sings “I didn’t see fully the devil in you. What are you truly, if not a foe? Don’t come back crying, knocking on my door.” Keeping with a similar theme, “Mr. Nice Guy” addresses someone who keeps taking advantage of a guy whenever she screws up: “If you cry for help, he will come to you. Convenient nice guy is always at your rescue.” Once again, Stoned Pirates employs a rich assortment of sparkling synths, along with a hypnotic dance beat to create a captivating backdrop for his colorful vocals.

On the bittersweet “In Time“, he laments of his regret about having broken up with a lover: “If I could I would go back in time, I would change the way we drew the lines. If I could I would go back in time. I would try harder to change your mind. Love will come to you in time. Just be patient, don’t cry.” The soulful track has a Michael Jackson vibe, featuring deep, sensual synths, highlighted by funky guitar and brass, all set to a strong, hip-swaying beat. The soulful, funky “Rebound” has him calling out someone who’s using him to get over another guy:  “Oh girl, who you think you’re trying to fool? Oh girl, who you think you’re playing here? Cause all the signs are clear. I’m talking about the rebound.”

Stoned Pirates uses a vampire metaphor on “Midnight Lover“, a sexy song about a seductress who preys on men to get what she wants. I love this lyric: “I saw her on the dance floor still trying to get more. Staring at me in the eyes while biting another guy.” Funky grooves abound on “Where I Belong“, another sultry tune with marvelous swirling synths and a beat so damn infectious it had me doing a lap dance in my chair! The aptly-titled album closer “The End” features a sultry Latin beat and jangly guitars drenched in reverb, accompanied by some tasty exuberant horns. Khaled employs his deeper vocals here, as he sings in an almost menacing whisper: “Sit back, relax, nobody is going anywhere. You think the end, but it’s only just the beginning.”

I’ve got to say that Flag, Skull and Rock n Roll is a marvelous album and a very impressive debut from Stoned Pirates. His innovative music is totally original, sounding like no one else I’m aware of. I love how he’s taken an eclectic mix of influences to create his own unique, fascinating sound. His beautiful, seductive melodies, compelling lyrics and use of a wide array of lush instruments and synths make for some really captivating songs that are pure joy to hear.

Connect with Stoned Pirates:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase:  Bandcamp / Google Play

Artist Spotlight on the massively talented TREVOR JAMES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ARTHUR KAY – EP Review: “Arthur Kay”

Arthur Kay

Arthur Kay is a renaissance man of sorts. The hard-working and versatile Norwegian musician has been a prominent figure in the Oslo music scene for the past decade. In addition to being frontman for galactic jazz-pop band Dr Kay and his Interstellar Tone Scientists, Kay has worked or collaborated with indie rock band The Switch, Norwegian rapper Ivan Ave, and neo-psychedelic pop-rock band Orions Belte, among others. Becoming a veritable whiz kid on synths and keyboards while still a young child, Kay had mastered Ray Manzarek’s iconic “Light My Fire” organ solo by the age of eight.

Now Kay has recorded his first solo effort, a self-titled EP Arthur Kay that’s scheduled for release on October 11 via Jansen Records. In advance of the EP release, he’s unveiled the first single “Holiday Pay“. The upbeat song is a celebration of the Norwegian institutional policy of employers being required by law to pay a certain percentage of last year’s wages as holiday pay during the Summer months. Like the title would suggest, the song has a bouncy dance beat that evokes a blissful summer day at the beach. Kay artfully employs a mix of sunny keyboard synths, an irresistible dance groove, and touches of jazz and funk to create a breezy track that just makes you feel good. Kay’s smooth vocals are pleasing as he sings about the joys of having nothing pressing on his schedule: “The rush of sweat pants, and lazy mornings every Sunday. Of waking up too early Monday, knowing where I’ll be the entire day. Holiday day, holiday pay, that’s the life that I chose, OK.”

Kay has produced two versions of the song, a 6:13 minute-long ‘single version’ featuring some terrific instrumental runs that would have made it a great disco song back in the late 70s or early 80s, and a shorter 3:42 minute-long radio edit.

The EP will feature four other tracks, the first of which is “Say It Out Loud“, an exuberant jazz-infused tune with an infectious strutting beat. If this song doesn’t get you moving, nothing will! Kay’s jazzy synths and intricate keyboard work are sublime, and quite impressive. It’s no wonder he’s in such demand by other artists wanting him to play music for their songs. The lyrics speak to his adoration for his love and how, even though he’s hurt her in the past, she’s the one that sustains him: “You are my power. You are my one. You are all the things I love under the sun.”

Next up is “Higher Ground“, a languid, ethereal track with hazy atmospherics and glittery synths that make for an enchanting listen. The bittersweet lyrics lyrics speak to coming to terms with the fact that the only way to survive is to completely avoid the one you want but cannot have: “A higher ground is all there is, and all that’s left for me to do. This blankly stare at empty space, and concentrate on simply just not calling you. Take a stand, as a peaceful man, and make my way from A to B./I’ll keep on falling. I’ll keep on getting through. And all I have to do is stay away from you. That’s everything that’s left of what was me and you.

On “My Love is an Only Child“, Kay seems to channel James Blake, with stunning piano work, delicate synths and soft, layered vocals. With a sense of sad resignation, Kay croons the poignant lyrics that seem to touch on the fragile nature of his love: “My love is an only child. No he can’t come play outside. Won’t go running around with scissors. That’s the point that you’ve been missing.” It’s a really captivating track.

Standing on Shoulders” starts off with a beautiful piano-driven melody as Kay sings about growing up with childhood fantasies and dreams of being a hero, going on adventures and saving the world: “I was mad with desire, stoking a fire, singing my songs of a savior far away. The savior was older and wiser than me. He held all the answers and sway. His feelings could be what he’d like them to be, but never did he run away. ” Suddenly, the music transitions to a lively Latin-infused beat, with exuberant synths and percussion added to the mix. Kay acknowledges that his childhood dreams were made possible by being able to stand on the shoulders of others who were there to support and nurture him: “Well, that savior was me, but now age 33, I have the hopes of my youth now following me. / I’m beginning to see that my savior was also just standing on shoulders and reaching for dreams that were living inside an adventure that’s made just for people like me.

Arthur Kay is a lovely and immensely enjoyable little EP by this talented singer-songwriter and musician. He’s a great lyricist and composer, skilled at crafting songs with thoughtful, introspective lyrics, memorable melodies and beautiful instrumentals.

Connect with Arthur on Facebook
Pre-order Arthur Kay on Bandcamp

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

Jr Walker What Does It Take

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

illphonics dv8

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

iLLPHONiCS formed in 2006, and to this day all five founding members are still with the band, a rarity among acts with that long a track record. During that time, they’ve built quite a large and loyal following throughout the St. Louis region, if not the entire Midwest. Their infectious and eclectic sound incorporates elements of hip hop, rap, R&B, soul, pop, jazz and funk, which they deliver through high-energy, charismatic performances. The band members include lead singer/emcee Larry “Fallout” Morris, Keith Moore (keyboards, backing vocals), Kevin Koehler (lead guitar, backing vocals), Simon Chervitz (bass) and Chaz Brew (drums, backing vocals).

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

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

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

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

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

SECRET AMERICAN – Album Review: “Warmth & Shelter”

Secret American album art

Sometimes you just want to hear music that makes you feel good, am I right? Well, that’s exactly what you get with the aptly titled Warmth & Shelter, an absolutely delightful album from the band Secret American. The album came out in May 2018, but I only recently learned about it from fellow music blogger Tina Romano, who wrote a wonderful review for the blog Niche-Appeal.com, and recommended that I give this band a listen. Well, I have to say that it’s one of the most enjoyable albums I’ve heard in a long time. I’m sorry I never heard this album in 2018, because I’d easily rank it among the best of that year.

Secret American’s refreshing sound is at once retro yet contemporary, unique yet familiar. While listening to the songs I kept wondering ‘who do they remind me of?’ Then it finally dawned on me that the carefree California pop-rock vibe of The Lovin’ Spoonful was the retro part, while the contemporary side evokes the laid-back grooves of Cage the Elephant. While their song lyrics often address serious subjects that require a bit of thinking, they’re presented with sunny melodies, breezy instrumentation and pleasing vocals that make for happy listening experience. The songs are infectiously catchy without hitting you over the head, slowly boring themselves into your brain, but in a very good way. When I first listened to Warmth & Shelter, I thought ‘these songs are nice’. On the second listen, I thought ‘this is a really good album’. By the third spin, it was ‘I fucking love this!’ and have been hooked ever since.

Born from the collaboration of singer/songwriter and guitarist Derek Krzywicki, who lives in the small town of Carpenteria on the California coast east of Santa Barbara, and his long-time friend Todd Mecaughey, a producer/engineer who lives in Philadelphia, Secret American is a bi-coastal band of sorts. Derek had written several songs after leaving the band Cheers Elephant, and reached out to Todd about helping bring them to life. Despite their distance, they began working together on music fairly regularly for over a year in Philadelphia, as well as collaborating through the internet from their home studios, and eventually formed Secret American. Todd has stated that the name comes from them being simultaneously proud and ashamed to be American (a sentiment I currently share). Using Derek’s songs, the two created their debut album Warmth & Shelter. For the recording of the tracks, Derek played guitar, bass and sang vocals, Todd played drums, Kevin Killen played pedal steel, and Katie Frank played keyboards. Todd also engineered and produced the album. Along with those four, three additional musicians – Tony Unander, Alex Baranowski and Rory Geoghegan – were enlisted to complete the lineup for live performances.

Secret American2

The album kicks off with the title track “Warmth & Shelter“, a sweet tune about making a life in the country with your beloved, knowing there will be rough spots, but that everything will be alright: “Oh my dear, I wish to lead a Countried life. Hard work low wages. But these days, they lie ahead of us just out of reach. We’re making changes. I’ll hold the book you’ll turn the pages. Take what we want, take what we need, this little home, this dog we feed. This land of ours it’s all we need. Give me warmth and shelter, heart as well to count, count, count, on me.” The twangy guitars, cheerful synths and bouncy drumbeats are sublime, and Derek’s falsetto vocals, backed by his and Katie’s smooth harmonies, are sheer delight.

I don’t usually include so many videos in my reviews, but the band has produced highly entertaining ones for several of the album’s songs that are worth sharing. Feel free to watch them (or not). This one for “Warmth & Shelter” beautifully showcases Derek’s strong charisma and playful spirit.

Speaking of charisma and playfulness, Derek has it in spades on the charming and droll video for “Bang Bang“. He states in the video notes that it was made “to explain some of the choreography for their first band practice. It is now our default music video.” Honestly, how can you not love this guy? The song has a soulful Americana vibe, and is catchy as hell, with a delightful mix of jangly electric and twangy slide guitars, accompanied by a gently galloping beat. Derek’s vocals are quirky as he croons the humorous lyrics that speak to sexual desire:  “I’m a standing tall and ready, not a man in disguise. I want you to blow my head out, right between the eyes. Sooner or later, like it or not. Tie yourself together and I’ll undue your knot. Send me your love on that ball and chain.”

Why Believe?” speaks to the current state of political, economic and environmental upheaval. The song’s bubbly instrumentals and vocals sharply contrast with the darker lyrics about trying to avoid becoming totally cynical or hopeless in the face of challenges on multiple fronts: “The hotter the hotter the deeper the water. I think it’s time for a swim. Shame to the shameful, blame to the blameful for frying their lies in a pan. Why Believe? I can’t believe myself. Too poor to retire, too young die.”

The great tracks keep coming as the album continues, each flowing beautifully into the next. “Good Men Change” addresses the impermanence of life and not always taking things at face value: “Bad men dream, good men lie. / Clocks go round, things unwind.” One of my favorite tracks is “Amen, California” an enthralling ode to Derek’s (and my) home state. The song is beautiful, with a languid tempo and smooth instrumentals that evoke the blissful feels of a sunny day at the beach. Derek’s vocals are soothing and warm as he croons of the California state of mind: “Be free, like the fish in the sea. Let the waves crash on you, and be reborn in California.” The track sounds like a live recording, with street noise and children’s voices heard in the background.

Another favorite is the joyful love song “I Wanna Know“. If this song doesn’t make you feel good, then I don’t know what will! The simple lyrics ask the object of his desire if they share the feelings he has for them: “I wanna know who’s side you’re on. I wanna know you completely and turn on your TV and put your records on.” Much to the band’s surprise and delight, the song was featured in the premier episode of the YouTube original TV show Weird City, produced by Jordan Peele and Charlie Sanders (which you can watch by clicking on this link). The video for the track, which was filmed on location in Philadelphia and edited by band member Tony Unander, is also a pleasure to watch.

Chelsea the Cat” is a wonderful slice of Americana confection, with some tasty guitar work, while the funky “Wish A Well” really channels Cage the Elephant. In fact, Derek’s vocals sound a lot like Matt Shultz on this track. Yet another favorite of mine is “Human“, one of the most interesting tracks on the album from a musical standpoint. The melody is mesmerizing and beautiful, with sort of a sped-up and modified ska beat, and the intricate, layered guitars and lush, exotic synths are gorgeous. Derek’s slightly echoed vocals are captivating as he sings of what it means to be a human, rather than a certain race, nationality or type: “I’m a human, I’m not labeled on the shelf. / So long being a stranger. Wearing the name that they gave ya.” The lyrics eventually recite the first few verses of the National Anthem, delivered in a completely different way that seems to lend the words new meaning.

Closing out the album is “Magnolia“, a pleasant lo-fi instrumental that opens with a sweet acoustic guitar riff and gentle synth beat that’s eventually joined by a simple organ riff that lends a bit of a carnival vibe. Halfway through, a lovely chiming guitar enters along with a string synth chord, and the result is pure bliss. The instrumentals fade as the song comes to an end, leaving us with just a few discordant notes of acoustic guitar.

I cannot gush enough about this marvelous album and band! Secret American is a group of incredibly creative and talented musicians, and they deserve to be big. I really love their sound and style, and hope they’ll soon make more of their incredible music for us to enjoy. Those of you fortunate to live in the Philadelphia area can catch them at their upcoming show on March 29th at Underground Arts in Philadelphia.

Connect with Secret American on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes

JOHN DEFEO – Single Review: “Sigue Con El Amor”

john defeo3

One of the most exciting new artists I had the pleasure of discovering in 2018 is John DeFeo, a young singer/songwriter based in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. His infectious and soulful blend of R&B, hip-hop and pop is fresh, honest and sensual, and I just love it! On top of all that, he’s also a thoughtful, kind and gracious guy. He released his first self-titled EP in 2014, a pleasing collection of jazz-infused pop songs, and followed up with Purple Heart in 2017, which saw him evolve to a more soulful R&B & trip hop sound. But the song that first captured my attention was “Unwind” (read my review here), a sexy and fun track from his 2018 EP Champagne Heart. I love that song so much it went all the way to #1 on my Weekly Top 30, and ended up at #16 for the year.

John was on a creative tear throughout 2018, releasing several new singles, his latest of which “Sigue Con El Amor” dropped in December. Man, this is one fantastic song, and I can’t gush about it enough! Once again, John delivers an enthralling and sensual track that pushes all the right sonic buttons for me. The spellbinding plucked guitar riff at the beginning immediately grabs hold and once that sultry Latin beat kicks in and John’s smooth, seductive vocals enter the mix, magic occurs. I love the deep bassline, and the crisp percussive synths and bits of funky guitar are great. I love this song, and have had it on replay for days.

John celebrates not only love, but also his Puerto Rican heritage by including both Spanish & English lyrics in the song, and its title “Sigue Con El Amor” translates to “follow with love.” With a Latin-infused hip-hop cadence to his captivating vocals,  John croons “Big smile on my face. You can’t kill it, no nobody can take this energy. / Love is important. It’s a strong thing. Yeah yeah. El amor. El amor.” The beautiful and sensuous video, directed and edited by Luke Fowler, was filmed in sepia tones, and shows three exotic women seemingly resurrecting John from the dead and standing him up to a microphone, whereupon he sings the song as they dance around him. Footage of vintage cartoons of skeletons dancing is a nice addition. Watch and listen:

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

JAMES BAKIAN – Single Review: “Terrified”

James Bakian Terrified

James Bakian is an exceptionally talented, hard working and charismatic young singer/songwriter from London, England. He wrote his first song at the age of six, began studying piano at seven, and released his first EP By Your Side in 2016 when he was only 13. In the two years since, the prolific musician has continued recording and building a loyal fan base. He released his appropriately-named second EP Unstoppable – a really fine effort featuring six tracks – in late 2017 (which I reviewed), and so far in 2018 has released an astonishing 12 singles, the latest of which is “Terrified,” which drops today, November 23.

Now 15, James possesses a phenomenal vocal styling with a depth and maturity beyond his years. He writes all his own lyrics and music, records all the instruments, and is now even producing his songs. I’ve been following him for about two years, and it’s gratifying to watch him grow professionally and hear his vocals and music style get better and better as he matures. He was recently a Featured Artist on BBC Radio London’s BBC Introducing show, where his song “Ice Cold” was played.

“Terrified” is a lovely, soulful track, with sublime jazzy synths set to a gentle drum loop. James’ tinkling piano keys are exquisite, driving the delicate melody forward and creating a beautiful backdrop for his smooth, heartfelt vocals that speak to feeling lost, aimless and alone, without purpose or love in his life. James states that it’s “about someone going through a dark time but choosing to remember and hope for the good times, and reaching out for help.” Despite his youth, he manages to convey the sense of pain and despair expressed in the lyrics in a way that’s believable and convincing. It’s another stellar effort from James that only bolsters my belief that this talented young man has a very bright and promising future.

Connect with James:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music on  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase on  iTunes

ITHACA BOTTOM BOYS – Album Review: “Ithaca Bottom Boys”

Ithaca Bottom Boys album

Being EclecticMusicLover, I love discovering interesting new music, so it was my lucky day when I was contacted by Leo Maniscalco, a member of the band Ithaca Bottom Boys, about reviewing their album. Hailing from the bucolic college town of Ithaca, New York, the five-piece formed seven years ago while still in high school, and ever since have been honing their craft by playing together and writing songs. On September 1st, they dropped their eponymous debut album Ithaca Bottom Boys, and what a delight it is! Their infectious eclectic sound is refreshing, surprising and lots of fun as they weave stories about the travails of life, love, substance abuse and relationship hell.

Comprising the Ithaca Bottom Boys are Tenor Caso (drums, vocals, aux percussion, acoustic guitar), Tristan Ross (guitar, vocals, aux percussion, piano ), Leo Maniscalco (guitar), Joe Hayward (banjo, vocals) and Abel Bradshaw (bass). In introducing his band, Leo had this to say about their music:  “Its difficult for me to describe our sound in a concise way, and no one song fully gives a representation of it, but here’s a go: we have four singers and songwriters, do a lot of vocal harmonies, and the songs are very dynamic with many changing parts and moods. They are also highly textural, featuring five musicians (two guitars, banjo, bass, and drums) each with unique yet congruous playing styles. It’s kind of folk and country meets rock and punk meets funk and soul, with splashes of other things thrown in, like hip-hop, jazz, psych, and prog.”

After listening to the album, I’d say his description pretty well nails it, and I love their eclectic music. I always try to include a few lyrics in my reviews, but the Ithaca Bottom Boys’ lyrics are so colorful and hilarious that I’ll be quoting them a lot.

Ithaca Bottom Boys 2

The album kicks off with “Blues in a Bottle,” a bluesy Rockabilly romp that sets a light-hearted tone and plants a big smile on my face, even though the lyrics address the guy’s messed-up woman who’s into some bad shit: “Blues in a bottle, blues in a bottle. Where do you think you’re at pretty mama. You went and kicked my dog, and now you drown my cat.Goin’ to silly-putty, goin’ to silly-putty. Sorry I can’t take you pretty mama. I don’t abide no woman, who goes round sniffin’ glue.” The song immediately segues into “Gasoline n’ Kerosene,” a very catchy tune with very morbid lyrics about how he killed the woman who double-crossed him, burned down her house, and was hung for his crime: “When I went to that house you said that you’d be, you took one look into my eyes, and you began to flee. And I said gasoline n’ kerosene you owe me money for. You bad ol’ broad you shot me down, and now you’ll be no more. / Well… Just before that lever did let my gallows swing, I saw my aged mother a weepin’ after me. And I said gasoline n’ kerosene I can’t believe my sin, My soul shall burn as you have done and never…Will I see your sweet face again.”

Winter Biking” sees the singer riding his bike into town on icy roads, taking a spill, and wishing he’d listened to his momma about taking the bus instead – all metaphors for the risks we take in life. “Thirty bellow but I’m still sweatin’. The devil only knows what I am gettin’ into. Well up a hill down a hill the struggles that I’ve been through. The thing about life is the road always continues.” The guys’ vocal harmonies on this track are especially wonderful. The guys change gears (pun intended) to an R&B vibe with the delightfully soulful love song “Baby.” The opening bass riff that continues throughout the track reminds me a bit of The Temptations’ classic “My Girl.”

One of my favorite tracks is “Hail to Dale,” which humorously takes on the perils of heavy drinking with a rowdy mix of music styles ranging from blues to bluegrass to funk. The lyrics are both funny and poignant: “Well… if I don’t dale a beer tonight, I might as well start a rowdy bar fight. Cause I hate myself and I hate my life. Pain and pleasure’s the same to me, and that all started when I was three, ’cause my daddy switched the bottle.

Continuing with the theme of substance abuse, the guys veer off into psychedelic madness on the marvelously trippy “Salvia Apple.” The zany track sounds like what we’d expect from the bastard children of Frank Zappa and Dr. Demento, with all sorts of melodic change-ups, quirky instrumentals and crazed vocals. The lyrics are hilarious yet deeply poetic, as if from a fractured Shakespearean comedy: “Salvia apple and a bottle of jack. All I’ve had to eat or drink and that is a fact. Don’t care if I go hungry I’m just lookin’ to get smacked. Pass out in the jungle by the railroad tracks./ I’m a derelict, no one cares if I’m recked or sober. Grown colder, shouldered at the might of a globe wide society. So deprived of life yet so maniacally living. My state be so squalor I take whatever I’m given.”

Flip That Record Jhonny” is a rousing Bluegrass/Rockabilly mostly instrumental tune that makes you want to kick up your heels. The guitar work and vocal harmonies are really terrific. And speaking of Dr. Demento, the guys get downright scandalous on “Demented Family.” The highly provocative lyrics seem to poke fun of a certain demographic, calling out incest and religious fanaticism: “Well my family tree’s got lotsa knots, and I get a lot o’tention from the cops, Cause incest on the ranch is plain to see. Pappy loved his sister and that made my daddy. And my daddy loved his sister too and that made little ol’ me. Well I never had no sister so I just loved my niece. I lessend my genealogy by stickin’ my D in her crease.” Oh my! They turn mellow as they sing the virtues of toking up on “Reefer Makes Everything Better,” a funny ditty with an early Lovin’ Spoonful vibe.

Perhaps the wildest track is “Summer Beavers,” the title being a play on the leading lyrics “Some are beavers, some are people…and most don’t really understand.” This long track is a real tour de force, with a mix of genres that go from blues to punk to country to funk to rap – sometimes all in the same stanza, kinda like The Red Hot Chili Peppers have done on some of their songs. The guys go crazy with bizarre lyrics that sound like being on an acid trip: “Rippin’ and a skippin’ like a minnow in the river. Susquehanna wit’ yo mama, catchin’ tuna on a canoe. Hock at me I’ll lock you in a rock up in Chautauqua. Yo hablo con Jorgito, necesito mucha agua. Pappy’s down the road in a jalopy popin’ poppy seeds, cruisin’ past the stoppers, coppers crackin’ down on acid droppers. Baller all are things, some are beavers. Tall like cedars, small like skeevers. We be eaters, feeders, bleeders, breeders, breathers, and beasts like golden retrievers, whaddap? ha-ha-ha.”

The guys seem to channel The Red Hot Chili Peppers again on the languid “No Regrets,” with jangly guitars, funky bass and vocals that sound a bit like Anthony Kiedis. They then abruptly change things up again on “Surfer NY,” an exuberant tune with awesome surf-rock guitars and a frantic punk beat. The explicit lyrics speak for themselves: “Surfin’ New York, yes I’m surfin’ New York. Havin’ sex on the rocky beaches. I’ve got lotsa rocks in my breeches. No I don’t know how they got in the laundry. No I’m not doin’ the nasty momma. No mama no mama no mama no. No those aren’t crack rocks don’t be silly. That’s just some crusty jizz from my willy. No mama no I’m not abusin’ myself. No mama no don’t kick me outa the house.” It’s an insanely wild trip from start to finish!

I must say that Ithaca Bottom Boys is unquestionably one of the most unusual and enjoyable albums I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing, and I love this crazy band! If you like unique, eclectic and unorthodox music, then this album should be in your collection!

Connect with the Ithaca Bottom Boys:  Facebook / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes