THAT HIDDEN PROMISE – Album Review: “Who Knows Now?”

That Hidden Promise is the music project and alter ego of British singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Wayne Lee. Based in Somerset, England, he’s been recording and performing under that moniker since 2011. The talented and versatile fellow writes his own songs, plays acoustic and electric guitar, and creates all his own music, including beats and percussion. He’s produced an extensive catalog of outstanding alternative and pop-rock music over the past nine years, often incorporating blues, post-punk, folk, electronic, psychedelic and shoegaze elements into the mix. The result is a varied and eclectic sound, delivered with exceptional guitar work and distinctive vocals that remind me at times of a young Bob Dylan.

I’ve featured That Hidden Promise on this blog a number of times over the last three-plus years, most recently just two months ago when I reviewed “You Can Have the World”, the lead single from his new album Who Knows Now?, which dropped October 2nd. The album is an ambitious and meticulously-crafted work featuring 12 tracks that, in Lee’s own words, “explores what it is to be in these times, through the joys, the frustrations, the anger, injustice and how do we even know what our place is in this world anymore?” The album was recorded and entirely self-produced, mixed and mastered by Lee between March-May 2020.

The album opens with “Intro“, an ominous instrumental track with a harsher and more psychedelic feel than any previous songs I can recall hearing by him. The spooky industrial synths and mix of wailing and distorted guitars set a darkly beautiful tone for what’s to come, and I love it. Next up is “You Can Have the World“, and as I wrote in my review of the song, Lee’s intricate layered guitar work is nothing short of spectacular as he delivers an explosive torrent of ever-changing textures that go from melodic to aggressive buzz-saw to screaming distortion. It’s an electrifying and powerful wall of sound for his plaintive vocals, driving home the urgency expressed in his biting lyrics that speak to finding strength through one’s confusion and rage over a corrupt and unjust system in order to survive and ultimately rise above it: “You can have the world if you’re gonna pay / Though have you got the nerve to fail again and again / Those who lead won’t keep you down / They may seek acclaim but it’s clear / If I win, If I fail in this world, Ain’t a damn thing to do with them.” I think it’s one of the best songs he’s ever recorded.

On “Your Own Enemy“, he urges us to live our own truths and forge our own paths forward in life: “Cut out all the voices, all the actions not working for you / Act free Act simply Act in your best interest / Forego your ego / Your shackles, release them / Construct your own self, not one projected for you.” Over a driving rhythm of throbbing bass and urgent toe-tapping beats, he layers a mix of gnarly and jangly guitars, all of which makes for a rousing and satisfying folk-rock song.

Caught in Yesterday” is a breezy and pretty tune, with lots of great guitar work and pleasing horn synths. The lyrics are an assurance of unconditional friendship, acceptance and standing by someone,: “You’ve got nothing to prove to me / If the world should split in two I’d be on the side with you / If the world should break in four we’d belong for evermore.”

Following on that thread, “End Game” is pre-apocalyptic, and speaks to finding acceptance and peace of mind when the end does arrive: “As we reach the end game / As we near our time don’t let fear sweep over / Just learn to free your mind / So take me with you to paradise / Away from conflict Away from these times.” It’s a musically complex and stunning song, and a real testament to Lee’s impressive songwriting and musicianship. The song opens with an ominous-sounding drumbeat, accompanied by gentle industrial synths, then a lovely strummed guitar enters along with shimmery synths, softening the mood as Lee begins to sing. Eventually, the languid vibe is briefly interrupted by a flourish of screaming guitar, only to calm back down. This back and forth continues through to the end, punctuated by some really stellar guitar work. It’s one of my favorite tracks on the album.

As the album progresses, I’m struck by how really good every track is, as well as the variety of melodies, textures and sounds he’s used. It holds our interest from one track to the next, keeping the record from ever feeling monotonous or predictable. “One Day Other Than This” is a melancholy but lovely song with his heartfelt vocals accompanied by gentle string synths and beautifully strummed guitars, whereas the gorgeous “Stop Praying For the Sun” has a sweeping cinematic feel like a song you might hear in a Western movie soundtrack. Lee explained to me that lyrics are about not waiting for things that are out of your control to happen (praying for the sun), and also whether what you’re doing or where you’re headed is just delusion: “A new delusion of false design / If the best of times will come / Stop praying for the sun.”

Not In This World (Or the Next)” has a folk/Americana vibe, with a bouncy, head-bopping beat and lively riffs of jangly guitars. That Hidden Promise seems to ponder about our purpose on this earth: “I’ve given more than I can take / How much longer should I have to wait? / There’s time to come, there’s time to try / You give your all, but is it right? Alright.” The hauntingly beautiful “What Lies Beneath” is another favorite of mine, thanks to its eerie melody, piercing synths, and incredible guitar work.

That Hidden Promise turns more hopeful with “Calling All You Seekers“, a poignant ballad about holding on to our sense of adventure and optimism, and never giving up: “Calling all you seekers / The places yet to go / The majesty of wanderlust forever taking hold.” And even more so on “In the Night Time“, a celebratory folk-rock song about grabbing hold of one’s dreams and trying to make them real: “In the night time I’m inspired, and I just can’t settle / On fire / And this fever burns inside.

The closing track “Screaming in My Soul” seems to be somewhat auto-biographical, or at the very least, touches on some of the demons that plague musicians and songwriters if I’m reading these lyrics correctly: “Do you know what’s it’s like? To have a demon strip your soul / Well I know /All the songs that are trapped in my head / All the words that are lost in some black hole / I wish I could know how to bring them home / Got a screaming in my soul now.” Over a pulsating hypnotic groove, he layers swirling synths and a mix of intricate guitar riffs and textures to create a mesmerizing track.

With “Who Know Now?, That Hidden Promise has created his best work yet. It’s an exquisite album filled with exceptional songs, and his impressive songwriting, musicianship and production skills are evident on every track.

Follow That Hidden Promise:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music on  Soundcloud /  Spotify /  Tidal / Napster
Purchase on  iTunes /  Amazon / Google Play

ART BLOCK – Single Review: “Borderline”

Art Block is an alternative folk singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist from East London, England. A prolific musician, he’s been making beautiful music for several years, and has released multiple singles and EPs since 2015, including his Pete Maher-produced Acoustic Sessions album in 2019, and The Basement EP this past March. Last November (2019), I reviewed the haunting title single “The Basement”, which you can read here.

Over the past few months, he’s been releasing remastered versions of some of his earlier songs. One of them is “Borderline“, a beautiful but melancholy song about the lingering pain from a love that’s faded away. The music and lyrics were written by Art Block, who played the electro-acoustic guitar. The Electric and steel guitars were played by Ben Walker, who also produced and mixed the track. Aurora Dolby did the remastering. 

The guitar work is sublime, particularly Walker’s mournful steel guitar that gives the song a bit of a Country feel, as well as creating a stunning backdrop for Art Block’s tender, heartfelt vocals. He has a lovely and incredibly emotive singing voice, with an ability to convey a deep sense of sorrow and despair as he sadly laments: “What must I do? To win the fair alliance with you? Why don’t you shred my soul? ‘Cos our love is so weak and old. Who are the lost ones walking with me? Who are the wounded all I can see? Oh, Borderline in the sea. Oh, cross the line here with me. Oh, Borderline.”

It’s a wonderful song, with a quiet intensity and poignancy that rips at our heartstrings.

Follow Art Block:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase:  Bandcamp / Google Play

BENJAMIN BELINSKA – Single Review: “Young in Baltimore”

Ben Belinska

Benjamin Belinksa is an earnest and thoughtful young singer-songwriter and musician based in Newcastle, England. Born in Stoke-On-Trent to Welsh and Polish parents, Benjamin moved to Newcastle when he was 17, but soon thereafter spent time in Glasgow, Berlin, and then Paris, working at a series of menial jobs while also writing music as time permitted. After meeting fellow musician E.A.R in Paris, the two formed the band Paris, Texas, and released two albums with cult producer Kramer (Low, Will Oldham, Daniel Johnston). Eventually, they moved back to Newcastle together, where Benjamin suffered two serious setbacks: First, while rushing to catch a connecting train in York station, he left behind a suitcase containing most of his early songs, which he never recovered. Then, months later, he was viciously assaulted in a random attack by four guys in broad daylight as he was walking home from work, suffering injuries to his eye and throat that landed him in a hospital.

It was during his recovery period that he decided to stop drifting once and for all, and set down roots in Newcastle. He also got the impetus to write songs for what would become his debut solo album Lost Illusions, set for release on August 28. Thinking back on his years of drifting, and how it became an inspiration for the album, he told Ali Welford in an interview for NARC. Magazine: “Drifting is not a bad thing – it allows you to let go of many illusions, but still, they are very attractive. I wanted to grab hold of one again – namely, that I am the master of my own direction. The title ‘Lost Illusions’ is a reference to the childish disappointment that we all go through when we discover that the world is just a lot of silliness. But despite this, it only has one theme – the extraordinary sadness and wretchedness of human life, and my amazement at the fact that this wretched life can nevertheless be so beautiful and precious.”

On July 31st, Benjamin released “Young in Baltimore“, the lead single from the album. Like all the tracks on Lost Illusions, the song was recorded by Benjamin with a back-up band, and mixed and mastered at Soup Studio in London by Giles Barrett and Simon Trought. It’s a charming dream pop track, with a sunny, retro vibe that calls to mind some of the great soft rock and synth pop songs of the 1980s. The song has a lovely, upbeat melody, with a lively toe-tapping beat overlain by chiming synths and warm guitar notes. It all creates an enchanting soundscape that serves as a pleasing backdrop for Benjamin’s gentle, heartfelt vocals as he sings the bittersweet lyrics about a woman contemplating love’s regrets: “When you were young and dumb, he promised to make you his wife. Natural, and he’s cold, you say you’ve wasted your life.” The song also strikes a particular chord with me, as I grew up in San Jose, California, which is mentioned in the lyrics: “Was the winter in San Jose, yeah, the heart attack by the bay? What will you do, your past is blue, and your life is stuck there.”

About “Young in Baltimore”, Benjamin told me “While writing the song, I was thinking about the pressure to conform that we all go through, and how some of us enter into situations, relationships – not out of passion, but out of the illusion that we have no choice. I had moved to a new city, I was working a job I hated. I kept asking myself questions like ‘Have I made the right decision? Should I be doing this? Was it better before, when I was younger?’ I was also obsessed with Robert Frank’s photo-book ‘The Americans’, thinking about the people in those pictures, imagining their lives. I kept coming back to this image of a woman on a train. All of my regret, reluctancy and nostalgia collided with this image. It became a prism out of which another formed; somebody considering the end of a marriage. Only later did I realise it was a symbol of my life at that moment.

As for the bright-sounding music, it’s there to counteract the story. I was living in Glasgow at the time, too. It rains a lot there, so it was also in defiance of that. A rainy place needs sunny music.

Connect with Benjamin:  FacebookTwitter
Stream his music:  SpotifyApple Music / Soundcloud
Purchase: BandcampGoogle Play 

THAT HIDDEN PROMISE – Single Review: “You Can Have the World”

That Hidden Promise single art

That Hidden Promise is the music project and alter ego of British singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Wayne Lee. Based in Somerset, England, he’s been recording and performing under that moniker since 2011. The talented and versatile fellow writes his own songs, creates all his own music, including beats and percussion, and plays acoustic and electric guitar. He’s produced an extensive catalog of alternative and pop-rock music over the past nine years, often incorporating blues, post-punk, folk, electronic, psychedelic and shoegaze elements into the mix, resulting in a varied and eclectic sound, and delivered with exceptional guitar work and vocals that remind me at times of Bob Dylan.

that-hidden-promise-photo

I first featured him on this blog in May 2017, when I reviewed his single “All Things, All Will Come”, then again in October 2018 when I reviewed his wonderful all-acoustic EP Drifted Hope. In August 2019, he released a compilation album All Things Here, Till Now (2011-2018), a sort of greatest hits album volume one, featuring 22 of his best recordings over that seven year period, including the five songs from Drifted Hope. Many of the tracks are really excellent, and I highly recommend my readers give them a listen on one of the music streaming platforms listed at the end of this review.

Now he returns with “You Can Have the World“, the lead single from his forthcoming album Who Knows Now?, scheduled for release in early October. The album was entirely self-produced and recorded between March and May 2020, and Lee explains that many of its songs explore the subject of “trying to understand where we are individually and as a society, hence its title ‘Who Knows Now?‘” He further elaborates “The concept behind the single, is of someone looking into a city and world riven by division, chaos and revolution, whilst seeing the potential to rise through sacrifice and failure and up against a system all too quick to take the credit.”

The song blasts open with an onslaught of chiming and fuzz-coated gnarly guitars, accompanied by thunderous percussion that never lets up for an instant. Lee’s intricate guitar work is nothing short of spectacular as he delivers an explosive torrent of ever-changing textures that go from beautifully melodic to aggressive buzz-saw to screaming distortion. It all serves to create an electrifying and powerful backdrop for his plaintive vocals, driving home the urgency expressed in his biting lyrics. I think it’s one of the best songs he’s ever recorded.

As the city breaks down
I will look across and smile
For a thousand times or more, I’ve seen it die

A silhouette of reflections
A beating heart of righteous rage
Brings us to a point of certain change
And it goes
And it goes
Again

You can have the world
If you’re gonna pay
Though have you got the nerve
To fail again and again
Those who lead won’t keep you down
They may seek acclaim
But it’s clear
If I win, If I fail
In this world
Ain’t a damn thing to do with them

Connect with That Hidden Promise:  FacebookTwitterInstagram
Stream his music on  Soundcloud /  Spotify /  Tidal / Napster
Purchase on  iTunes /  Amazon / Google Play

1i2c – Album Review: “Lockdown Made Me Do It!”

1i2c

Electronic music seems to be a genre that’s alive and flourishing, as there are lots of artists around the world still making it in all its myriad forms. I’ve featured a fair number of them on this blog, and one of the more interesting – and eccentric – is British composer and producer 1i2c (one eye to see). Based in Stevenage, a mid-size town north of London, 1i2c is the music project of John Whitaker.

Heavily influenced by the music of some of his favorite artists like Jean-Michel Jarre, Gary Numan, Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream, Depeche Mode, The Prodigy and Royksopp, he’s an imaginative and innovative composer whose music spans across a wide range of styles within the electronica genre. He’s also quite prolific, having produced a tremendous output of music over the past five years, beginning with the release in January 2016 of his debut album The Great Distraction. Since then, he’s released an astonishing 11 albums, as well as numerous singles and EPs. I reviewed his December 2018 album Winter, (which you can read here), and am now pleased to feature his latest release Lockdown Made Me Do It!, which dropped July 27th. It’s a concept album obviously inspired by the COVID-19 lockdown that’s upended just about everyone’s life over the past five months.

All of his releases have essentially been concept albums based on an overriding theme, with the sounds and titles of each track reflecting an element of the album title. For example, Power Struggle contains industrial techno songs with titles like “Electron”, “Incandescent” and “High Tension”, Horror Show features songs with more of a psychedelic goth and darkwave vibe, titled “Monster”, “Lunatic Waltz” and “Doorway to Hell”, and Winter includes appropriately-named tracks like “Cold Season”, “Chill” and “Deep Freeze”. So too with the tracks on Lockdown Made Me Do It!, with titles like “Confusion”, “Virus” and “Keep Your Distance”. 1i2c states that he wants his album themes to paint visual pictures in our minds, further adding “My journey will continue until I run out of ideas.”

The album opens with “Spirit“, a rather enchanting yet mysterious composition with a galloping EDM beat overlain by lush, spacey synths that call to mind some of the late 70s music of European composers Giorgio Moroder and Cerrone. The song is really pretty in the beginning, but turns darker as the synths take on a harsher, more industrial tone, as if to indicate that something is amiss. The next track “Confusion” confirms that something is indeed amiss, as the melody becomes more urgent, with gnarly industrial synths and an almost chaotic percussive beat that give the song an ominous vibe. Still, there are bits of beauty to be found in the delicate piano keys as well as the almost cheerful sounding xylophone notes at the end.

Trauma” is an interesting track, as it starts off scary and harsh, but soon settles into a mesmerizing dance beat, accompanied by a mix of sharp industrial sounds combined with some lovely synths that make for a darkly beautiful song. As our journey through the extended lockdown continues, we find ourselves immersed in “A Dark Place“. To a repetitive whiplash beat and harsh psychedelic synths, a woman’s haunting voice repeatedly asks “Sometimes I wonder why?“, a question I suppose we’d all like some answers to.

Reality” sets in with a hypnotic EDM beat overlain by pulsating industrial synths that convey a continual state of ennui brought on by endless days of lockdown. Is this the new reality? By now, we’re left feeling like were “Sleepwalking” through life, unable to participate in the many activities involving social interaction that we once took for granted. Musically, the track has more of a rock feel, thanks to electric guitars and more aggressive percussion. The intense, buzzing synths are harsher as well, giving off a decidedly menacing vibe.

1i2c has produced a brilliant video for the song that’s at once funny and disturbing. The video starts off with scenes of bright blue sky with fluffy clouds, then transitions to black and white as he’s shown sitting in the middle of a country road, blindfolded with his hands tied and wearing a bad wig and a shirt on backwards like an improvised straightjacket. He then gets up and stumbles down the road in a sort of macabre dance, as if he’s losing his mind. Didn’t I say earlier that he’s eccentric? He eventually makes his way back to his car, gets in, and drives off. As he drives through the village in the rain, the color returns at the end, as if to possibly signify that all is not hopeless and brighter days lie ahead.

And speaking of disturbing and eccentric, 1i2c delivers both in a big way on “Virus“, coughing and hacking his way through the track, sirens wailing in the background. As to be expected, the instrumentals are deliciously dark, harsh and menacing. To try and avoid catching the virus, one must do our best to “Keep Your Distance“, and the message is delivered by a volley of cacophonous industrial synths and dark, skittering percussive beats, accompanied by creepy sounds of buzzing flies.

The terrific video for this song was actually conceived by Nicolai Kornum. He pitched the concept to Whitaker, then shot some footage for Whitaker to compose the music around. The video stars Whitaker and M. W. Daniels, and was filmed, edited & directed by Kornum. Shot in black and white, it opens with a masked man played by Daniels standing on the sidewalk next to what appears to be a bus shelter, reading the newspaper. An ad for Chiquita bananas on the back of the shelter states “we are bananas”, a cheeky little nod to our current societal state. Whitaker walks up to the man from behind and coughs heavily, then turns and walks away. Incensed, the masked man then follows Whitaker through the streets of London, temporarily losing sight of him in a park. He soon sees him walking and resumes following him to a bridge across the Thames, where Whitaker has stopped to take in the view. The man taps him on the shoulder, and as Whitaker turns around, the man pushes him over the railing and into the river. It’s an extreme measure to rid himself of another potential virus carrier!

Those pesky buzzing flies are back in full force on the album closer and title track “Lockdown“. Once again, 1i2c uses razor-sharp industrial synths and sets them to a pulsating electronic beat to create a sense of foreboding and losing one’s mind. It’s the perfect ending to a brilliant album that beautifully captures the stress and emotional trauma inflicted on society by the COVID-19 lock down. He’s a talented and incredibly creative artist, and I strongly urge my readers to check out more of his works.

Connect with 1i2c on Facebook / TwitterInstagram
Stream his music on Spotify / Soundcloud / Reverbnation
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes

CALLUM PITT – Single Review: “Fault Lines”

Callum Pitt single art

As a music blogger, I’m sent a continuous flood of music by artists, bands, labels and PR reps for my consideration for possible reviews. While a lot of it is decent or even quite good, I cannot possibly write about all that comes my way. But every now and then, a submission stands out among the rest, grabbing my attention or resonating with me in such a way that makes me want to share it with my readers. Such was the case when young British singer-songwriter Callum Pitt reached out to me with his powerful new single “Fault Lines“. I was not familiar with Callum, but after listening to it and his previous songs, I became an instant fan, as I love his music.

Based in Newcastle Upon Tyne in northeast England, Callum writes folk-inspired alternative and dream rock songs influenced by such acts as The War on Drugs, Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes. With his soft, pleasing vocals, rich harmonies, beautiful melodies and meaningful lyrics, he’s captured industry attention and built a growing fan base since the release in 2017 of his gorgeous first single “You’d Better Sell It While You Can.” His equally beautiful second single “Least He’s Happy” has been streamed nearly two million times on Spotify, an astonishing feat for an indie artist. He’s followed those two singles with several more over the past three years, as well as a four-song EP Poisoned Reveries in 2019. Also in 2019, Callum won the Alan Hull Award for songwriting. The award, named for the Newcastle-born songwriter and founding member of Lindisfarne Alan Hull, recognizes song-writers living and working in the North East.

Callum dropped his latest single “Fault Lines” on July 24th, which was released via Humble Angel Records. Although he’s addressed social and political issues on previous songs, with “Fault Lines” he takes a more direct and outspoken approach. He explains: “‘Fault Lines’ is about polarization. It is directed at the British government and right-wing press who have incited hatred and division in the public through their rhetoric over the past few years in particular, splitting us down the middle as ‘leavers’ or ‘remainers’, demonising immigrants and refugees, and allowing the stain of white supremacy to spread. It encourages ignorance and prejudice to be met with education and conversation.”

Though the lyrics are rather scathing, Callum delivers them with beautiful instrumentation and sublime vocals. His strummed guitar work is really wonderful, and complemented by lovely keyboards and crisp percussion that create a resounding backdrop for his fervent vocals lamenting the current socio-political divide afflicting Britain. The lyrics also describe the situation in the U.S. pretty well, which is why the song resonates so deeply with me. The large ceramic pitcher Callum holds in the photo that’s been broken and glued back together symbolizes our fractured society that can still be repaired if we have the will to come together in open and honest conversation.

Seems like all you do is fight and see the world in black and white
Spinning truths like you can move our minds as wind upon a kite
And we feel so small, like we can’t stem the tide at all
As papers sow the seeds of anger, setting off like a snowball

Well we got lies making divides from these soothsayers
Setting fires between two sides and I feel jaded
I push my head above the water
Pull away from the disorder, as the tides polarise

We got fault lines running through our bones
The division grows and leaves these empty holes

We rise and fall under the weight of words that fan the flames of hatred
When we demonise, we form a mind that will not be persuaded
Well I am so small and I can’t change too much at all
I’ve got no answers to these fractures, other than breaking these walls

Well we got lies making divides from these soothsayers
Setting fires between two sides and I feel jaded
I push my head above the water
Pull away from the disorder, as the tides polarise

We got fault lines running through our bones
The division grows and leaves these empty holes

Follow Callum:  FacebookTwitterInstagram
Stream his music:  SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloud
Purchase:  Google PlayAmazon

WAITING FOR SMITH – Single Review: “Lines of Love”

Waiting for Smith Lines of Love

Waiting For Smith is the music project of London-based singer/songwriter Harry Lloyd. His music career was born from adversity; while working as a ski instructor in the French Alps, Harry broke his back in two places during avalanche training. Fighting for his life as he was airlifted to the hospital in a helicopter, he had an epiphany that he should dedicate his life to music. He spent a year in bed recuperating and learning to play guitar, eventually naming his music act Waiting For Smith after a drummer named Smith who always failed to show up for recording sessions.

He quickly got to work writing and recording songs, and since late 2017 he’s released 12 outstanding singles that collectively have been streamed over 345,000 times on Spotify. Given his own life experiences, Lloyd is fascinated by change, which has inspired him to write songs that reflect our innate ability to evolve for the better. He says “I’m also a hopeless romantic, so a lot of my songs focus on the different angles on love. My music is like a free form of therapy and hopes that he can bring a similar liberating feeling of comfort and emotion, to make listeners smile and sometimes cry.” His sincere, accessible lyrics are delivered with upbeat, pleasing melodies, beautiful guitar work and his warm, soothing vocals.

Waiting for Smith

Following up on his previous single “Long Life”, a bouncy and heartwarming Americana-infused song he wrote during his recovery, Waiting for Smith released his latest single “Lines of Love” on June 26th. Produced by Andy Wright and Gavin Goldberg (Eurythmics, Annie Lennox, Massive Attack, Natalie Imbruglia, Jeff Beck), the song was inspired by a long-distance phone call from a friend Lloyd had one night while walking around King Cross. The song is a plea for someone to keep the faith and persevere through a difficult time in their life, an assurance that a loved one or friend will always be there for them no matter what, and that everything, even the most trying times, will pass eventually. Lloyd states “I want people to feel hopeful when listening to ‘Lines of Love’, to dance carefree and even raise their hands in an almost tribal sense of unity. We can overcome the speed bumps in the road, our lives and our relationships and that is surely where the good stuff comes from – out of the struggle.

“Lines of Love” has a pleasing folk vibe, opening with Waiting for Smith’s soothing vocals accompanied by his gently strummed acoustic guitar. A kick drum enters as he croons “It’s often difficult to over speculate. One minute you’re up and then you’re down, and that’s your day.  It’ll be alright, it’ll be just fine, it’ll be OK. But I guess we’ll never know. So please hold on to my lines of love, they are strong. And I promise that it won’t be too long now, before we have our house down by the sea in the sun.” As the song progresses, soft percussion is added along with his own backing vocal harmonies, giving the track a fullness of sound and a comforting sense of warmth reflected in the hopeful lyrics. It’s a wonderful song, and another winning single from this very talented young artist.

Follow Waiting for Smith:  FacebookTwitterInstagram
Stream/purchase his music:  SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloud/ Google Play 

A BLUE FLAME – Album Review: “The Secret Breeze”

British singer/songwriter and musician Richard Stone – who goes by the artistic name A Blue Flame – tells compelling stories about life, love, heartache and loss through poetic, thoughtful lyrics and sublime melodies. His music reflects an eclectic range of influences from doo-wop and old-school pop to easy listening ballads, folk, jazz and rock, delivered with sophisticated and utterly pleasing instrumentals and his smooth, clear vocals. The passage of time and the challenge of keeping the faith – both in God and oneself – are recurring themes in his songs, and while a lot of his lyrics are sad or bittersweet, they’re also lovely to listen to and rarely depressing, offering glimmers of optimism and hope. Stone also has a wry sense of humor that shines through on some of his songs.

A Blue Flame2

I first featured Leicester-based A Blue Flame on this blog back in October 2016, when I reviewed his beautiful debut album What We’ve Become is All That Now Remains. In January 2018, I reviewed his equally superb follow-up album When Your Whole World Turns to Dust, which he released in September 2017. (You can read those reviews by clicking on the “Related” links at the bottom of this page.) Now he’s about to drop his third album The Secret Breeze, set for release on August 17th, and which I’m previewing today.

Stone writes all his songs, sings vocals and plays guitar, and arranges them with assistance from Adam Ellis, who co-produces and also plays guitar. Other session musicians adding their skills to the album included Damon Claridge on drums, Tony Robinson on horns, Glenn Hughes on piano and Hammond organ, Tom Bull on upright bass and Jo Preston on flute. Though some of the songs were written prior to the outbreak of the pandemic, others reflect these trying times, as he explains: “One of the album themes (as ever) is loss, as I suppose that’s what I feel so keenly. I think the brightness of the 1960’s casts a long shadow to mix metaphors somehow. All that hope and positive change seems like it almost never happened.”

The Secret Breeze features 12 tracks, all of them very good to excellent, but I’ll touch on the ones that resonate with me. The opening track and first single released in advance of the album is “With Love from a Friend“, a bewitching song that beautifully showcases A Blue Flame’s superb songwriting and arrangement skills. The delicately strummed acoustic and chiming electric guitars, sparkling piano keys and jazzy upright bass notes are exquisite, and when combined with the languid tempo and lovely vocals, the song has a dreamy, atmospheric quality. The lyrics seem to be about an inability or fear to fully act on one’s true feelings: “I’m writing a letter that I’ll never send. From the edge of my memory, time without end. And I’ll write at the bottom, ‘with love from a friend’.” It’s a gorgeous song, and instantly one of my favorites on the album.

It’s Raining All Over the World” speaks to the sorry state of current events the world over, what with a global pandemic, rising authoritarianism and social unrest causing anxiety just about everywhere. A Blue Flame fervently laments “What have we done my friends? Looks like the end. Now it’s raining all over the world.” Despite the rather depressing lyrics, the music is great, especially the infectious doo wop melody, terrific guitar work and vibrant piano keys.

Another favorite of mine is “Too Fast“, both for its wonderful instrumentals and relatable lyrics. The song starts off with a gentle acoustic guitar, then a marching drumbeat ensues along with Spanish-style guitar notes as A Blue Flame sings of the rapid passage of time (something that freaks me out on an almost daily basis anymore): “We were too young to know what we were doing. Its just how it is. It’s how we all live…way too fast.” Eventually, the music expands to a carnival-like vibe, with exuberant flutes, horns, and more of those lively marching drumbeats that contrast with the pessimistic and timely lyrics: “The world’s a great big mess. It’s mad. And we can’t catch the truth as it rushes by. So, so, so, so sad.”

The bittersweet “The Moon Obscured the Sun” sounds like a song Harry Chapin and Burt Bacharach could have written together. The lyrics speak to a love that might have been, except that the two never had the courage to act on their feelings: “I remember you from a lifetime long ago. We were frightened into silence, by the things we didn’t know. We couldn’t find the words to say a love we should have spoken yesterday.”

Tiny Little Thing” is a poignant anthem about not allowing others to bring you down with their negative thoughts and hurtful words, causing you to curl up into a ‘tiny little thing’ a kinder and gentler metaphor for the fetal position: “These could be the good old days, if you decide to make them so. Don’t turn yourself into a tiny little thing. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done, who hurt you, or who you hurt. Don’t turn yourself into a tiny little thing.” I like the jangly guitars and crisp percussion, but the highlights for me are Hughes’ wonderful piano and organ work. And it goes without saying that I love A Blue Flame’s highly emotive vocals.

The standout track for me is the dark and sultry “Your Mother Said Everything Was Beautiful“. It’s a brilliant song, with an edgier vibe than many A Blue Flame’s songs, and I love it. The lush instrumentals are absolutely fantastic, especially the gnarly surf guitars, Hughes’ mournful organ and Robinson’s blaring wah wah trumpet that brings chills. The lyrics seem to speak to the conundrum of how people with the most wealth and power are often the most unhappy in life: “Your mother said everything was beautiful. Everyone had everything. They saw themselves as queens and kings. They had the keys to the secret breeze. They owned the wind in the trees. So please now tell me why, did all the people cry?

Album closer “If Tomorrow Ever Comes” is an interesting and dramatic song about contemplating the end of the world. It has a complex melody and powerful, varied instrumentation that make for a fascinating listen. It starts off like a folk tune, with sounds of waves crashing onto a beach, accompanied by a gently strummed acoustic guitar and reverb-heavy electric guitar chords. An organ soon enters as Stone croons “If tomorrow ever comes, I’ll be waiting there for you. You can take my hand and say ‘we did all that we could do’.” The music continues to build with jangly and distorted guitars, bass, heavier percussion, tambourine and glittery synths, while his vocals become more impassioned: “And if our sorrow ever leaves. We’ll dance into the sky. Looking down upon the earth, we’ll hold each other tight./ But we’re stuck inside a clock, wishing it would stop./ And you can’t tell what is real, when you’re turning on a wheel./ For if the world should end. We’ll not be there my friend./ If tomorrow never comes.” The music rises to a powerful crescendo, then fades as the song ends with the same crashing waves we heard at the beginning. It’s a fine finish to an outstanding and thoroughly satisfying album.

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

PHILIP MORGAN LEWIS – Single Review: “Rock That City”

Philip Morgan Lewis3

British singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer Philip Morgan Lewis is one of the more creative and adventurous artists I know of. The London East Ender isn’t afraid to explore a wide range of genres and influences for the creation of his own eclectic sound. Drawing from alternative rock, blues, garage rock, folk, R&B and EDM, he crafts exciting blues-soaked rock that nicely complements his distinctive raspy vocal style. He’s one of those artists you immediately recognize upon hearing his songs.

He’s released a fair amount of music over the past decade, beginning with his 2013 EP Karma Comedown. He then released a number of singles, and in late 2017 dropped his brilliant album Grief Harbour, which I reviewed. In 2019, he took a stylistic departure from his usual comfort zone and released a fun album House Works, featuring eight House/EDM tracks. He then followed a few months later with a fantastic bluesy single “Blowtorched Dreams”. Now Philip is back with a great new single “Rock That City“, released on July 13th via label Tx2 Records.

Written and recorded during the COVID-19 lockdown, the song is an ode to many of the social things we’ve all been missing these past several months. Philip says it’s “all about release and freedom”, and the lyrics speak to breaking loose and having a fun night on the town: “Gonna rock that city where life’s so crazy / And I go make it right / Gonna rock that city tonight.” A talented multi-instrumentalist, he plays all the instruments himself, and does a fine job here delivering some  bluesy rock’n’roll. With it’s strong, driving beat, buzzing bassline and grungy guitars, the song reminds me a bit of the great Black Keys song “Fever”. His unusual raspy vocals register in the higher octaves, resulting in a unique style and sound unlike any other singer I’ve heard.

The accompanying video was artfully filmed in black and white on the streets of London during the lockdown. A number of famous sites featured in the video that are normally filled with tourists were totally devoid of people. Philip is shown making his way through buildings, parking garages or the streets, completely alone.

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

ANDY STERN – Single Review: “I Don’t Mean To” ft. Greg Blackman

I recently learned about British songwriter Andy Stern when he followed me on Twitter, and reached out to me about his new singles “I Don’t Mean To.” and “It’s Your Love That Keeps Me Going“. Originally from London, but now living in Herfordshire, Andy has long wanted to be a songwriter, and taught himself to play the guitar around five years ago so that he could write songs. In his bio, he explains “I have always loved listening to beautiful melodies written by the likes of Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder, Barry Gibb and countless others. Melodies that take you somewhere unexpected. I also love the stark, simple messages that Phillip Larkin expressed in his poems; he can make you think, ‘I didn’t realise I felt that till now’. These people have helped me write songs about my own life experiences and observations. As we go through life our perspectives on love and close relationships change. This is what I try to capture in my songs.”

Not being a singer himself, Andy looks for talented singers who are touched by his songs and lyrics enough to want to sing them. As such, he has worked with established British vocalists like Greg Blackman and Roisin Quinn to help bring his songs to life. Greg has a beautiful and soulful voice, and happily sang vocals on Andy’s latest singles. Nick Kozuch programmed additional instruments and produced both tracks, and played guitar on “I Don’t Mean To.”. Daniel Arbiter played guitar on “It’s Your Love That Keeps Me Going”.

“I Don’t Mean To.” is a heartfelt song of apology to a loved one, letting them know you didn’t mean to make things difficult, and hoping they’ll give you another chance:  “You and me know, we know that we don’t get on too easily. It’s nothing new, Me trying too hard to get through to you. Probably drove you away. I don’t mean to.” The song has a pleasing vibe, with strummed guitars, gentle percussion and delicate synths. Greg’s soft, smooth vocals nicely convey the vulnerability expressed in the lyrics.

The second track “It’s Your Love That Keeps Me Going” is a beautiful song of love to someone who’s love has sustained him. The track has an R&B feel that calls to mind some of the 60s and 70s songs by Soul groups like The Originals, The Dells and Heatwave, thanks to its languid doo wop-inspired melody. The instrumental work is really lovely, highlighted by intricate guitars, gentle drumbeats that sometimes border on military-style, and smooth organ. Greg’s beautiful vocals sound especially soulful here, occasionally rising to a sublime falsetto that reminds me of the late Donny Hathaway as he croons “And it’s you, makes me see what a wonderful world this can be. Like you open it up for me. Happiness is a gift that you give to me thankfully. Cos it’s your love that keeps me going.”

I’m impressed by the quality of Andy’s songwriting and lyricism, and really like both of these outstanding singles a lot. To hear more of his songs, check out his Website and one of the music sites listed below.

Follow Andy on Twitter
Stream his music:  SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloud
Purchase:  Amazon