Interview with UK Musician David Oakes

David Oakes

David Oakes is a fine (he hates when I say ‘talented’) musician and composer of electronic alternative rock music based in Wales, UK. In the early 2000’s, he was a guitarist with the British rock band Kotow, and since 2012 he’s produced a tremendous output of instrumental music as a solo artist, ranging from gentle synth-driven compositions to aggressive guitar-driven hard rock, and everything in between. In early May, he released his latest album TheMENACE, which I reviewed and you can read here. It’s a brilliant work that’s actually a double album, with the first containing 11 tracks, most with vocals, and the second being an instrumental-only version, plus two bonus tracks not found on the first.

I recently had a chat with David about his music background, influences and creative process.

1. Hello David. Thank you for wanting to talk with me about your music. You and I have spoken a bit in the past about your background, but for the sake of our readers, let’s touch on that again. You now live in Wales, but were born in England, then spent part of your childhood and early teen years in the Middle East. Living in Dubai must have been interesting, or at least an unusual experience I would think. What positive or negative things did you come away with?

Yes! I moved there when I was two so obviously I don’t remember relocating there. I remember a couple of the houses we lived in – mostly the 3rd one which is very strong in my memory. I can recall it in detail. We lived very near the sea and would go camping in the desert at the weekend. I had a little 50cc PW50 motorcycle that I drove everywhere :). It took me a very very long time to get over moving to the UK.

2.  Why is that?

Hot 365 and living by the beach, etc. to … Wales… Camping in the desert at the weekend, dune bashing to … oh, nothing.

3. At what age did you start playing guitar, or other instruments? I remember you saying you attended a music institute in England after you moved back there with your family. What did you study there?

We had an electric piano in the house from around 1988 and I taught myself stuff on that. Eventually I got my own keyboard and I was off. I played it every day and wrote my own albums onto cassettes. I don’t have any of them anymore. They wouldn’t have sounded very professional. I even bought card from the newsagent and printed out artwork onto them and chopped them into cassette sleeve size. You can see the lineage all the way back . The only difference to what I do now is I don’t print out my own artwork. Everything else is the same – the tech has just improved. I went to ACM (Academy of Contemporary Music) in Guildford in 2009 for 3 years to study guitar and music theory. I passed all my exams but I never attempted my dissertation so I never got the qualification.

4. You formed a rock band called Kotow with your brother and another friend, and released a pretty decent album “Demise of the Monsters.” How or why did you guys choose that band name, and how long was Kotow an active band? 

Rich wanted a Japanese name and so looked in a Japanese dictionary and found “Kotow” meaning to bow or acquiesce… We all liked the name. We formed around February 2002, whilst I was going back and forth to the city (Cardiff) to study music production on a “New Deal” course under the Labour Gov which lasted from 1997 until around 2004. Anyway – since Dad had re-married – they moved out of the house and the whole band lived in our big farmhouse so we could write and rehearse all day every day. After moving to the London area in 2004 or so, we realised that nobody really cared and got fed up with it and we split in 2006. 

5. I believe you played drums for Kotow. Tell me about your experiences playing in a band – both good and bad if you care to go there. Why did the band eventually split up?

You know me, I have no ego but I did believe we were the best band in south Wales. When we moved to London, nobody gave us the time of day and we all got tired of it. Plus I wasn’t happy with the direction our music was taking. My main thing was to write catchy riffs in odd time signatures and do my best to come up with complimentary drum parts. I’d get annoyed if I couldn’t play for the song and could only think of something ordinary. We liked being unconventional. We lost two guitarists for one reason or another and we got a new guy who was great, but he and Rich wanted us to sound more like the tech bands at the time and I really wanted to stick to our original ethos of being unlike anyone else. Oh well.

6. You obviously wanted to continue making music after Kotow ended. I know some of your favourite bands are Dream Theater, Mastodon, Green Day and Metallica, so am guessing your sound is greatly influenced by their music? 

I expect so. Not directly or deliberately. I just write music and what comes out, comes out. Exactly the same process as Kotow. I like making albums of different genres and styles since I listen to a lot of different genres and styles. I couldn’t imagine being in one of those metal bands who sound exactly like everyone else and only listen to that music. Boring.

7. When did you record your first solo album?

“The Juggernaut” in 2012. It was originally supposed to be the follow up to “Demise Of The Monsters” and Rich would play bass and sing and I’d produce since he’d done almost all the work on DOTM. I merely played guitar on that album. Since I’d never attempted a “proper” professional sounding album before and had only limited experience with Logic – I worked on it every day for about 6 – 8 months. I still enjoy it to this day but I think I’ve done better and I learn something new with each album I do.

8. You’ve been fairly prolific, recording and releasing quite a few albums and compilations over the past few years, several of which I’ve purchased. What inspires you to create a new album with a specific theme and sound?

I don’t like to create the same album twice in a row…So if I do a hard rock album I definitely won’t do one again as it kinda wears me out when working on an album. “Transmissions” was songs I wrote when I was learning guitar and some of those songs had been fully formed in my head for many many years until I could finally record them properly. “Transmission Part 1 & 2” was completely written and I had it all worked out in my head and even recorded a version of it way back in 1997 or so on my Dad’s 2-track reel-to-reel machine.

Every time I start an album I have to come up with something great first. That’s the springboard. If I like an idea – that’ll be the blueprint for the album. I could never just write 8 -10 random songs and that’ll do. None of my albums are fully fledged concept albums but I try to imagine they are. . . As I’ve said in the past – I like albums to sound/feel like *albums* and not just Here’s 10 tracks I wrote in any order…

Even if the idea doesn’t end up lasting the whole album – the initial idea is usually enough impetus. With “Strum Und Drang” I’d been listening to the 21st Anniversary of Leftfield’s “Leftism” pretty much on repeat and wanted to do something inspired by that. I pretty much listened to nothing but Leftfield’s three albums for the summer of 2017 and wrote at the same time. “The Menace” seemed to be the next logical step.

9. Your latest effort “The Menace” is one of your finest. Some of your previous works contained a few dark tracks, but most of the songs were more melodic, almost orchestral rock like that of Dream Theater. Also, for the first time you added lyrics and vocals. You told me it’s a loose concept album, and that you kept the lyrics intentionally vague, but what was your inspiration behind “The Menace” and it’s dark theme? Also, what made you decide to add a vocal component?

Thank You. I had so much fun making “Sturm Und Drang” that I wanted to do another in that style but – as I said at the time – I wanted it “tougher and harder sounding.“ One of the few times that the album has pretty much turned out exactly how I envisioned from the beginning. Once I had “ The Slammer “ – I knew I was onto something. Loose concept album in that…I didn’t intentionally write lyrics to mean anything – I just had my microphone there – played the track and improvised some stuff until I found something I liked.

After a while I realised all the improvs could be about a few things. Notably the “MeToo” movement, #45… all of these things that were going on in the news at the time. Completely subconsciously. Only the final two tracks “Finale Part I and II” I wrote to tie up this theme. All other lyrics are improvised. And yeah I kept it intentionally vague as I’ve never wanted to align myself with any party or politics or anything and I was not a fan of Kotow’s Anti-President Bush EP. I never wanted to be a political band – one of the other factors that led to our break up. As for vocals – people kept pestering me to include them and I thought if I do it, I’m gonna distort the crap out of them… Which I did on “The Slammer”. But as the album went on, I got more confident and I turned the distortion further and further down. I think I’ll do vocals again should I do another album at some point… Probably same style too.

10.  Besides my glowing review, what has been the response to The Menace?

Thank you! Well – same as ever. A few RTs from music accounts and a few more people saying they like it but nothing amazing really. About the same as it was for “Sturm Und Drang” or “The Dawn And The Dusk.” *shrug*

11. That leads me to the next question. You and I have shared our own frustrations over the lack of support from a majority of our so-called ‘followers’ on social media, who rarely if ever engage with our tweets, postings, etc. But in today’s music industry, an artist or band (or just about any other creative person) is all but forced to use social media to get people to learn about their music, unless they’re willing or able to hire an expensive publicist. Any thoughts about this?

Interesting subject since my degree course dissertation was basically gonna be all about this. “Do we need big recording studios now that people are making pro albums in their bedrooms“ etc etc… I THINK that the Internet has ruined a lot of music. Shops are closing because people are buying everything online, and it’s so hard to stand out when everyone and their dog has a band and a Bandcamp and a Soundcloud. It’s like whispering in a hurricane… And I’m not smart enough to think of some cool promo gimmick. And whenever I think I have something, it never works so…

12. Do you have any plans for a future album, or will you take a long break?

Ya know it speaks for itself – when I was putting out albums every month that I’d recorded in a week – the quality was dipping. You know how I feel about “Imaginary film soundtrack .“ I was so disappointed with it, I actually paid to have it taken down. I know I rushed it and it shows. I still cannot listen to it. Starting with “Juggernaut III” and then continuing with “Sturm Und Drang” and now “The Menace,” I’ve taken my time to craft an album over many months. Take a break..come back…listen to it….fix/adjust anything…etc. And as a result, those three albums I mentioned have a little extra going for them. I’m actually a huge fan of “The Dawn & The Dusk”. Its one of my favourite things I’ve done. And I seem to remember taking my time with that one too so… “The Menace” is still very fresh to me. It was released on May 4 – eight months after “Sturm Und Drang.” I’m not even thinking about another album and probably won’t until winter. I mentioned to someone once that i’d like to take a year to release an album at some point. Maybe I will for the next one. It won’t be a double though. I’d like to get down to doing only one album a year.

13. Anything else you’d like to share that I’ve neglected to ask?

I think that the “Sturm Und Drang” and “The Menace” “style” will be my default setting from now on. They were both really fun to create and I actually plan on buying a midi keyboard to make composing a lot easier.

I know James Lauters (a very supportive mutual friend of David’s and mine) likes the what I call the X&Y series. And I may do another one eventually but it would have to be really chilled out. Like “Dawn And The Dusk” but even more chilled. Lots more acoustic. Basically the exact opposite of “The Menace.”

Cheers !

Enjoy this guitar play-through by David of “The Monster,” one of many great tracks from The Menace.

Stream his music on Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud
Purchase on  iTunes

GEORGIA FEARN – Album Review: “Perfect on Paper”

Georgia Fearn pic

Having no musical talents whatsoever, I’m always impressed by people who do, and especially when they’re also quite young. Needless to say, I was blown away when I listened to the debut album Perfect on Paper by Welsh artist Georgia Fearn. Only 17 years old, the singer/songwriter from Carmarthen has a remarkable artistry and maturity far beyond her years. She writes all her own songs and plays guitar and piano, with session musicians playing the other instruments.

Released in March through Grapefruit Records, Perfect on Paper sounds like the work of a seasoned artist, which is actually the case in a sense. Georgia began writing songs at the age of nine, and at 17 she’s an accomplished wordsmith, penning thoughtful and frank lyrics about the joy, pain and complications that arise when we enter into relationships. She’s already performed in many different venues, most notably the famous Cavern in Liverpool, and her songs have received airplay on BBC Wales, and other radio stations in the UK.

Georgia incorporates a myriad of music styles, including pop, rock, jazz, hip hop and even Celtic folk, to create songs that are surprising, unique and always compelling. The superb opening track “L’Amour” beautifully illustrates what I’m talking about. The song features all sorts of interesting sounds and instruments like accordion, banjo, horns and strings, and the result is delightfully saucy track with a sophisticated French vibe. As if all that weren’t enough, she injects a bit of a Celtic feel in the chorus interlude. Didn’t I say that she likes to surprise us?

The lyrics describe a relationship doomed from the start: “You told me you were leaving ’cause I smoked too many cigarettes. I broke the bad habit, and I drove straight to your address. I saw you pressing your lips to someone new. It’s time to break my other bad habit. You.” Bloody brilliant.

Perfect on Paper is an ambitious work with 12 tracks, all of them suberb. “Catch Me If You Can” is an infectiously catchy number that had me humming the melody long after hearing the song. “Misty Mae” was inspired by a character in the TV series American Horror Story. A beautiful mandolin riff and flute lend a bit of a gypsy flair to the rousing track, while distorted electric guitar adds an edgy feel. “Does It Make You Wonder” is a sweeping ballad featuring a haunting piano riff, mournful violins and a military drumbeat. Georgia’s heartfelt vocals are extraordinary as she croons: “I’m living in a glass house, where the person I used to be, she’s buried six feet under. She’s trying to scream. She’s blocked out by the thunder. Does it ever make you wonder, what could have been?

“Sharp Objects” is a dark rock song about the proverbial town without pity. The track opens with what sounds like helicopter blades and men shouting in the distance. Georgia snarls the biting lyrics about hypocrisy and evil that lie beneath a rosy exterior: “Home is where the lies are. Pretty quiet village, that’s where all the scars are. Tiny little village, that’s where all the hate is. / Ooh I’m gonna drown. Something about this nuclear town. Toxic.

And speaking of dark, one of my favorites is the dramatic, searing title track “Perfect on Paper,” about a woman serving prison time for killing the man that done her wrong: “I know he never loved me. He just loved the thought. He thought there was a girl out there who’d do what he wants. She’d smile in a loving manner to her man perfect on paper. Not knowing soon she’d see every awful heartbreaking, sickening, ugly thing he could be.” Wow, those are some of the best lyrics I’ve seen in a while!

Another great track is the bluesy “Master of Jazz.” The sensuous song speaks of the cool allure of a jazz musician who can sweep a girl off her feet: “Heart on his sleeve and mic in his hand. I heard he was a part of some out of town band. He liked to think he was the king of swing. And the king of swing would have you hanging by a string He’s a master of jazz, when he sings you come alive.” The melancholy “Emptiness” is a piano-driven track with mournful violin. The lyrics address the feelings of pain and loss when love has gone: “We judge people for judging, ’cause judging is wrong. The only way to stay OK is writing a song. Food has lost it’s taste. Get me out of this place. If you cut me open, I would bleed his name. It hurts so much.

Georgia injects a hip hop beat and lots of distorted guitar into “No Need to Hide,” while “Always Be Yours” is a lovely, uplifting ballad about how she was saved by another’s love and devotion. The Latin-infused album closer “You Wouldn’t Do This if You Did” is a kiss-off to a lover with a chronic drinking problem: “How am I supposed to love you, when you only see me through bottled eyes. And every time I smell the liquor, a little part inside of me dies. You’re not who you were when I first met you. / I know you don’t love me. Cause you wouldn’t do this if you did.”

Perfect on Paper is a brilliant album, and an outstanding debut from this gifted and promising young artist. I expect – and hope – we’ll be hearing more great music from Georgia Fearn before long.

Connect with Georgia:  Facebook / Twitter
Stream her music:  Spotify / Apple Music
Purchase on iTunesAmazon / Klicktrack

ALEXIS GERRED – Single Review: “Sweet Angel”

Alexis Gerred

Alexis Gerred is a hard-working, multi-faceted artist based in London, UK. A seasoned performer, he has appeared in numerous stage productions in The West End, on national television, and on various tours around the UK and Asia for over 10 years. Some of those productions include American Idiot, Our House, Dreamboats and Petticoats, The West End Men, Rooms, and many more. He loves being creative in any area of performance, but his true passion lies with singing. He explains “Having grown up listening to some of the greatest musicians of all time, I’ve always dreamed of someone enjoying my own music in the same way. Over the past ten years I’ve been lucky enough to receive some incredible support through TV and theatre, but I’m excited to show everyone who I am as an individual, rather than the part or role I’m playing.

Alexis album

Alexis has penned numerous pop/rock songs over the past several years for what will be his debut album Alexis. Ranging from hard-hitting ballads to catchy up-tempo tunes, his songs are influenced by some of his favorite artists like Train, Goo Goo Dolls, 3 Doors Down, Gavin DeGraw and Walk the Moon, as well as the legendary Queen, Rod Stewart, Bad Company and Michael Jackson. He’s recorded the first two songs, “Sweet Angel” and “Hold You Close,” and is now appealing to fans and supporters to help him cover some of the costs of producing the album through a crowdfunding campaign which, at the time of this review, has raised 60% of the goal thus far.

To coincide with the launch of the crowdfunding campaign, Alexis has released his first single “Sweet Angel,” a beautiful, uplifting song about unconditional love and support. Originally written as a thank you to his parents for their support and guidance, Alexis says it now also reflects how he wishes to bring up his own children. “My parents have been a constant support, always showing me the way forward in whatever situation I found myself in, and I like to think I am now offering that same love and guidance for my own children. Having said that, I hope anyone who has received support from others during tough times will relate to the lyrics of ‘Sweet Angel’.”

Layers of gorgeous chiming and fuzzy guitars, delicate piano and just the right balance of percussion provide the perfect backdrop for Alexis’ heartfelt vocals on the track. And what beautiful vocals they are – raw and intensely passionate one moment, then a gentle falsetto the next – as he sings the stirring lyrics “I know you’re falling. I see you falling deeper down. I’ll show you how to fly with broken wings. Sweet Angel.

The heartwarming video shows scenes of Alexis performing the song against a black background, interspersed with film footage of him and his family when he was a baby and later at various stages in his childhood. By the end, he’s shown in the present with his own two young children.

Connect with Alexis:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Pre-order his debut album Alexis at http://www.alexisgerred.co.uk/
Crowdfunding link: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/alexis-the-debut-album-rock#/

JAMES BAKIAN – Single Review: “Ice Cold”

James Bakian

James Bakian is a majorly talented and charismatic young singer/songwriter from London, UK. He’s only 14 years old, but possesses a phenomenal vocal styling with a maturity beyond his years. He writes all his own songs and music, and records all the instruments. He’s also a hard-working and prolific musician. James released his second EP Unstoppable – a really fine effort featuring six tracks – in late 2017 (which I reviewed), and in the first three months of 2018 he’s already dropped five new singles, the latest of which is “Ice Cold,” which debuted on March 30.

The new song is a bit of a departure from his usual soulful pop sound. James states that he’s been exploring R&B and lo-fi hip-hop, and boy does he deliver! The track is mesmerizing, starting off with sounds of static and a hesitating synth chord, then unfolding into a gorgeous soundscape of shimmering keyboard synths floating above a languid hip hop beat. James’ smooth vocals are captivating, and sound better than ever. He can seduce us one moment, then raise goosebumps with impassioned pleas the next. It’s a fantastic song, and it’s wonderful seeing his music and vocals continue to mature so nicely.

“Ice Cold” speaks to not allowing self-doubt and past mistakes to turn you into a bitter person:

Build up strength to live a day yeah
All you want is to escape yeah
Don’t let words intoxicate you
We all get deserted sometimes

We get disappointed with what we’re assigned
Can’t go without a complaint in your mind
Losing your patience is turning you blind
You need space to rewind

Cause you’re ice cold
And it’s making you bad but you deserve a chance
And we all make our mistakes but they are just mistakes
We don’t catch the message so we all get sad

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

DAN FARRELL – Album Review: “Colliding Planets”

Dan Farrell Album

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

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

Dan Farrell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JAMES BAKIAN – EP Review: “Unstoppable”

James Bakian EP

There are so many talented musicians making really good music these days, but every so often we come upon one who stands above the crowd. James Bakian, a charismatic young singer/songwriter from London, UK, is such an artist. He’s only 14 years old, but possesses a phenomenal vocal styling with a maturity beyond his years. His love of music has been in his blood since he was a young child, and he wrote his first song “Oh Baby” at the age of six! He began studying piano at seven, and from that point on, he knew he wanted a career in music.

Drawing inspiration from some of his favorite artists like Maroon 5, Charlie Puth, Sam Smith, Ed Sheeran, Sia, Selena Gomez, Shawn Mendes, Justin Bieber and Drake, James has developed a singing style that fits his beautiful voice. In his bio, he explains his creative process:  “When the inspiration to write a song comes, I sit at the piano, a melody forms and then the lyrics flow! I write a lot about love and heartbreak but I’ve never been in love…yet! My dream is to keep writing and singing and for people to get to know and enjoy my music! One day I’d love to do a world tour.

James Bakian

James released a very respectable debut EP By Your Side in 2016, and at the end of 2017 he dropped his second EP Unstoppable. The new EP shows how much his vocals and songwriting have matured in less than two years. On the sultry title track “Unstoppable,” he effortlessly goes from a seductive croon to a yearning falsetto as he pledges his undying love, pleading for her not to hurt him. The warm synths and crisp percussion are beautiful and soothing, a perfect accompaniment to his superb vocals.

Most of his songs are piano-driven compositions, backed with lovely violin-heavy synths, gentle percussion and subtle guitar. On the melancholy “Ain’t Sure,” James emotionally declares “I ain’t sure if I want you more / I’m letting go / You’ve broken me, you tore me up I’m on the floor / I can’t believe how I ever thought you cared about me.”  “Colour” has him extolling the depth of his adoration, pleading for her to let him go if she can’t love him the way he loves her. The uptempo “Know You” features a softly pulsating dance beat, and the funky guitar in the outro is a nice touch. And as always, James’ vocals are flawlessly sublime.

Poison” is a terrific kiss-off song set to a thumping bass-driven dance beat. James rebukes a former lover who’s now toxic for him: “You’re poison, it hurts me. Don’t think I can take this. You destroyed me with your kiss. You gotta leave. I’ll make it, please right now.”  “Red Dress” has him mourning the loss of a girl he loved who’s now left him: “Oh there she goes off to where who knows? But all I know is that she’s gone. Never coming back. Disappeared from view.”

Unstoppable is a wonderful EP, and a fitting description for this supremely talented young man with a big, beautiful voice. James is an ambitious, hard-working guy, and just a few weeks after the release of Unstoppable, he dropped two new singles! I’m certain that his star will only grow brighter as his songwriting and vocal style continue to mature.

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

RICH EVANS BAND – Album Review: “B Sides and Outtakes”

I’ve always liked songs that tell a story, and what genre does it better than Americana/Country? One such artist who’s extremely skilled at weaving compelling stories is Rich Evans, a singer/songwriter based in London, UK. He’s a prolific songwriter, and has recorded music in several genres, including rock, blues, and punk, but his greatest love is Americana. He’s been involved in a number of music projects and bands for more than 20 years, including The Mariachis (who toured with Joe Cocker, Bill Wyman and Jimmy Cliff) and the Americana band Roosevelt Bandwagon, as well as recording music for labels in Chicago and Nashville. He formed the Rich Evans Band to record and perform his solo material, an astonishing output of songs! As Rich Evans Band, he’s released several albums and songs over the past decade or so, which he’s been re-issuing over the past year through his label Baby Dylan Records (named after his son Dylan).

Rich Evans

One of those albums is B Sides and Outtakes, a collection of seven wonderful tracks that address common themes of life, love, relationships and the struggles of being a musician through honest, deeply-moving lyrics. A talented multi-instrumentalist, Evans plays many of the instruments on his songs with help from his backup band. But guitar, mandolin and harmonica seem to be his specialties, and are beautifully featured on the opening track Roll on Mississippi. Evans’ vocals sound raspy yet soothing on this sweet Country ballad, and backed by a lovely chorus of female vocals.

As good as Evans is on his guitar and harmonica, it’s his skill at writing tender, heartfelt lyrics where he really shines. On the poignant Old Midnight Special he sings about an aging musician unable to accept his growing irrelevance in the music business:

Guess the talent that he’s got has worn a little thin
Time was when he played they’d line up outside the door
Still plays the same bars, but they don’t come round no more
They’ve all grown up, got old and settled down
Guess he still fools himself he’s the new kid in town

These days the kids call out for songs that he don’t know
They don’t care unless they’re ones they play on the radio
He can’t reconcile himself that his better days are gone
Guess he’s still in the same place while the world keeps movin’ on
He still got the ticket stubs, pictures in frames
Of him up on the billboard when people knew his name

One of my favorite tracks is Bad Turns, where an upbeat, bass-driven tempo belies the bittersweet story line about a son inheriting his father’s penchant for making poor life choices:

Must have been about five or six
When Momma set me down and she told me this
Don’t go doin’ like your daddy done
I don’t believe it’s gotta be like father like son
Left us before you turned one
Yeah, the son of a bitch been a long time gone
He’s been making bad turns for so long
I can’t put my finger on what went wrong

Thought history wouldn’t happen again
They wouldn’t do to me what they done to him
But the devil come a knockin’ in the middle of the night
I was good and drunk there was a barroom fight
Swear I never touched that guy
Told me later that he’d up and died
Judge sentenced me to death just to help clear up the mess
I been making bad turns for so long
I can’t put my finger on what went wrong

Evans sings about a life compromised by a lifetime of alcoholism on the melancholy Blues Are Gonna Get You. And on the song about a hardscrabble life in Bakersfield, he touches on other California locales such as the Kern River, Bakersfield’s oil-producing neighbor Oildale, Los Angeles, Santa Cruz and Highway 99, as well as Illinois – all places I know well. I’m impressed that a musician from Britain would have such a good working knowledge of California geography.

He turns romantic on the sensual Irresistible, pleading with a woman he still loves to leave her new boyfriend and come back to him. “Have to steal your love away from him. Have to steal your love right back again.” The bluesy guitars and bass line on the track are particularly good. The album ends on a high note with the bouncy rock’n’roll track Midnight Creeper. Evans tells the object of his desire that nothing’s gonna stop him from winning her love: “I don’t care if your Momma won’t let you. Honey I’m gonna come and get you. I’m the midnight creeper, gonna slide right through your door. It’s a good metaphor to describe how, through his music, Evans slides right into our hearts and minds with his catchy melodies and relatable lyrics. Good stuff!

Connect with Rich Evans Band on  Twitter and Facebook
To hear more of his music, go to Spotify or Apple Music and purchase it on iTunes

A BLUE FLAME – Album Review: “When Your Whole World Turns to Dust”

When You're Whole World Turns to Dust

British singer/songwriter Richard Stone – who goes by the artistic name A Blue Flame –tells compelling stories about life, love, faith, loss and heartbreak through poetic, heartfelt lyrics and sublime melodies. And though he’s not as concerned about the music or sound of his songs as he is the lyrics, I think they sound just right. His songs reflect an eclectic range of styles from doo-wop and old-school pop to easy listening ballads, folk and rock. Plus, his smooth, clear vocals are pleasing to the ear and perfectly suit his thoughtful lyrics.

Following up on his phenomenal 2016 album What We’ve Become is All That Now Remains, which I reviewed, A Blue Flame dropped When Your Whole World Turns to Dust at the end of September 2017. (he does seem to like long album titles!) He takes a somewhat darker tone on this album; many of the song lyrics are sad or bittersweet, speaking to failed relationships, regret, or disillusionment with the state of things. And yet they’re lovely to listen to and never depressing, offering glimmers of optimism and hope.

He writes all his songs and plays guitar on all the tracks. He arranges them with assistance from Adam Ellis, who co-produces and also plays guitar.  Other session musicians add their skills to the mix as needed, including Damon Claridge on drums, Andy Robertson on bass and keyboards, and Tony Robinson on keyboards and horns.

A Blue Flame 2

Back to the Stars” kicks things off with a languid tempo that feels rather like a sad slow dance, as a somber trumpet takes center stage. Soft tinkling of piano keys, a lightly strummed acoustic guitar and gentle snare drums complete the music. With an air of melancholy in his voice, A Blue Flame croons a message of hope and redemption: “When your whole world turns to dust. And all that you’ve known lies shattered and torn in undiluted sorrow. Look at the sky up above and know that you’re loved. Look up and know that you’re loved. And we’ll go back to the stars.”

The sad theme continues with “We Feel Like We Feel,” a beautiful but wistful song with layers of twangy strummed guitars, organ and a soft snare drum. The poignant lyrics speak to a relationship in which the feelings that once drew them together have drained away, leaving them feeling emotionally empty:  “Fleeting bittersweet memory. We found things that you can’t see. Every day we wake up wondering how the day starts. All we can feel is the cold of the steel in our hearts.” “Don’t Wait” is an uptempo pop tune with jangly guitar, piano and smooth trumpet.  A Blue Flame urges us to not waste any more time clinging to fear, self-doubt and regret, and to just “Strip off, dive in and swim.”

One of my favorites is “21st Century Blues,” a catchy song with a hook that would make Burt Bacharach proud. Tony Robinson’s bold trumpet has a starring role, with keyboards, piano and guitar adding to the great instrumental mix. The lively rock guitar riff in the bridge gives the track an extra jolt of energy.

The Future’s a Mystery” is a lovely little song about not worrying about what the future may bring, and just enjoying what we have now: “The future’s a mystery, let’s get on with living today.” A slow doo-wop beat and a beguiling trumpet are defining elements of the hopeful “A Better Way.” A Blue Flame advocates a solution for getting out of our funk: “All we need are easy days to chase the blues away. Let’s find a better way.”

One of the prettiest but also saddest tracks is “The Words Wouldn’t Form” a bittersweet song about feeling heartbroken over someone who’s left you for another. A Blue Flame’s doleful vocals convey a deep sadness as he sings: “I don’t know why I could not say goodbye. Darling I don’t know why the words wouldn’t form.” Musically the song features a gentle strummed guitar, lovely flute and xylophone, and the backing chorus is beautiful. A celtic-sounding flute and acoustic guitar are a sweet backdrop on “All We Need to Know.” The lyrics speak to the honest realization that a relationship was not going to survive. With a hint of cynicism, he admonishes us not to take life so seriously on the peppy “Everything’ s a Lie.” “There’s no need to cry when everything’s a lie. Nothing makes sense anymore. Show me the door.”

A Blue Flame rocks out on the next two tracks. “Empty Head” is a great, hard-hitting song in which he concludes that ignorance is bliss: “Nothing springs to mind. Empty head is here again.” The edgy “See What Tomorrow Brings” is terrific, incorporating touches of psychedelia and punk, and is a song David Bowie could have done. It features heavy guitars, bass and drums, and the distorted guitar riff at the end is awesome. It’s another of my favorites on the album.

The album closes on an optimistic note with “Love Will Set Us Free,” a beguiling song with a similar smooth, slow tempo as the opening track. The piano work is especially sublime, as are A Blue Flame’s vocals and the backing chorus. It’s a fitting end to a unique and wonderful album. His lyrics, music and vocals meld together perfectly, and the album’s production values and music arrangements are outstanding on every level. It all makes for a really beautiful and highly satisfying listen.

Connect with A Blue Flame:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase:  cdbaby / iTunes

VERITY WHITE – Album Review: “Breaking Out”

Verity White Album

Verity White is a singer/songwriter from Cheltenham, UK, and can this woman rock! She plays a bluesy style of alternative rock which, combined with the ferocity of her sultry vocal styling that at times reminds me of Pat Benatar and Joan Jett, makes for a hell of an exciting listen. Verity has been a backing vocalist with the UK band Pendragon, and performed with them on their European tour in 2017. Last November, she released her debut full-length album Breaking Out, which serves as a bold metaphor for this evolutionary next step in her career. With assistance from her husband Alex on guitars and production, Breaking Out delivers 10 stellar tracks.

Verity White

The album kicks off with the audaciously sexy title track “Breaking Out.” Gritty, blues-infused guitars engage in a seductive dance with the steamy bass line and drum beat. The tinkling piano keys in the bridge accentuate Verity’s sultry vocals as she defiantly declares her independence: “I’m worth more than you know. I’m stronger than you know, and I’m better on my own.” Indeed she is, and who are we to argue!

Verity’s amazing vocal range is showcased on “Zeroes and Ones,” where she really seems to channel Pat Benatar. It’s one of the album’s standout tracks, with fantastic instrumentals that complement her powerful vocals that go from soothing to raw.  The dark “Demons in Your Head” offers up fuzzy synths and a heavy buzzing bass line set to a thumping beat. The song’s lyrics speak to personal struggles with emotional issues: “Pop another pill into your mouth. Crumbling because you can’t let it out. Every day’s a constant struggle with the demons in your head. Trying to control you, so you just go back to bed instead.”

Verity let’s her rock goddess alter ego loose on the rousing “I Don’t Care.” With raw energy in her vocals, she sings about not giving a damn and casting aside all self-control on a night of partying: “Gonna drink ’til I can’t remember my name. Gonna drink ’til I can’t be the one to blame.”

See Through” features Alex’s beautiful intricate guitars, mesmerizing synths and Verity’s beguiling vocals, all set to a melodic dance beat. It’s a great song, and one of my favorite tracks on the album. The synth-heavy “Face It” is another gem, and Alex really shines as he lays down lots of gritty riffs. The duo pull out all the stops on the raw, melodically complex “Exhale.” Damn if this isn’t another standout track! Mysterious sweeping synths, snarling guitars, loads of crashing cymbals and a pulse-pounding bass line work in tandem to create a speaker-blowing soundscape. Add generous amounts of Verity’s passionate soaring vocals and you’ve got all the ingredients to raise goosebumps.

Your Darkest Secret” is a hard-driving rocker, with more of Alex’s shredded guitars and Verity’s saucy vocals, while the bluesy “Slow Fall” brings a hypnotic piano riff backed by fuzzy guitars and thumping drums. Album closer “Overcome” is a terrific rock song with awesome multi-layered guitar work. With her raw and sultry vocals on full display, Verity sings “Let the feeling overcome you. Til they’re right into the core. Changing all our dark perceptions. As you ask again for more. Why can’t I feel this way without you?

Breaking Out is a superb debut for Verity White, showcasing not only her mind-blowing vocal abilities, but also her skill for writing songs with compelling lyrics and outstanding melodies. She’s set the bar quite high with this album, but I’m confident she has what it takes to come back with more great music in the future. For now, she’s been touring the UK to promote Breaking Out, and you can catch her next at Mr Wolfs in Bristol, England on January 18th.

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

ADAM COMPTON – Single Review: “Waste a Weekday”

Adam Compton

Adam Compton is a singer/songwriter based in Stevenage, UK, and he just dropped a lovely new single “Waste a Weekday.” The song is a follow up to his excellent debut EP Believe, released earlier this year. Adam also plays in the band Trouble With Tuesday, but wanted to record some of his songs as an acoustic solo act.

“Waste a Weekday” is an uplifting song about just forgetting the outside world and spending a quiet romantic day at home with a loved one. The track has a folk-rock feel, with acoustic guitar that goes from gentle strumming to exuberant and jangly. Smooth, sweeping violin and crisp percussion add subtle dramatic effect that never overpowers. Adam’s pleasing tenor vocals are earnest as he sings:

And we can pretend the world outside don’t exist, yeah
We’re talking over who is gonna have to get the biscuits
To dunk in our tea while we’re binge watching Netflix
We can go outside but why would I do that?
Rather stay in bed watching “Orange is the New Black”
And if I went to work, then I know I’d have to leave her
Being reclusive, ’cause you’re my favorite person to waste a weekday with

Connect with Adam:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music on Spotify & Soundcloud
Purchase on iTunes & Amazon