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Esteban Alvarez releases “La Bikina”

Esteban Alvarez releases “La Bikina”

FACEBOOK: www.facebook.com/estebanalvarezmusic/

Composer and classically trained pianist Esteban Alvarez is making a lot of noise with his new song “La Bikina,” from his new album Piano Meets Mariachi at the moment, but the road to stardom for him has not been the easiest of paths traveled. Born and raised in San Jose, Costa Rica, Alvarez has been playing piano since adolescence. He taught himself how to play and compose on a keyboard that his father brought home one day when he was a boy, and from there, nothing could contain his attraction to the fine arts. Studying music and physics at the University of Costa Rica, Alvarez was chosen at just 20 years old to conduct and arrange music for the Escazu Folk-Music Band at SIVO in Central Europe, no small achievement for a man of such a young age. This led to a full scholarship to Baylor University the following year where he would major in classical piano performance and study directly under Dr. Terry Lynn Hudson and Dr. Vincent DeFries. His abilities on the piano were evolving into something much stronger than even his closest mentors could have predicted, and after graduating from Baylor with honors, it was on to the highly regarded jazz program at the University of North Texas. He became a staple in the jazz ensemble and was clearly the brightest mind in his class. Relocating to Austin, Esteban has been recording, writing and performing his own imprint of classical music even before leaving school, and in “La Bikina,” we get to see what all of his hard work was for.

Piano Meets Mariachi probably wasn’t recorded to redefine what classical music is going to sound like for Latin audiences, but it certainly does a good job at doing so nevertheless. For once we can have a true mariachi record that can feature jazz elements and accents from pop, standards, folk and classical music without coming off as a watered down attempt at making a commercially savvy hybrid. I don’t know about anyone else, but isn’t that something that fans of mariachi have been craving since the turn of the century, when many critics complained that the style had reached a creative plateau?

Alvarez doesn’t have to try very hard to sell us on his inventiveness, and that’s the magic in a short instrumental track like “La Bikina;” it lets the musicians’ hands do all of the talking. Robert Moog once said that “When a pianist sits down and does a virtuoso performance, he is in a technical sense transmitting more information to a machine than any other human activity involving machinery allows.” Is it Alvarez’s relationship with the piano that makes him so capable of expressing his emotion and message to us in this medium? Is it the piano’s exceptional magnificence that is allowing us to see the magnificent side of Alvarez? Perhaps the other way around? Whatever the case may be, Piano Meets Mariachi is my choice for piano album of this latter portion of the 2010s, if for no other reason than its amazing portrayal of a musician’s undying love for his instrument.

I-TUNES: itunes.apple.com/us/artist/esteban-alvarez/727835327

Clay Burton

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Cathy Hutch is Free Wheelin’

Cathy Hutch is back!

URL: www.cathyhutch.com/

Country music, like many other genres in the larger umbrella of popular music, has often served as a notable flashpoint for a lot of the political and social unrest that has been present during various times in history. Just a little more than a decade and a half ago, the United States’ foray into the War on Terror was essentially soundtracked by a legion of Nashville songwriters eager to support the war effort but unfortunately put into the precarious position of being too closely associated with the American conservative movement (thus alienating half of their intended record-purchasing audience). This isn’t an isolated occurrence. We look to our artists, our actors, our musicians to guide us through the storm when it gets to windy out and we can’t see our way through the lightning and fog. It’s a scary world out there sometimes. Right now, feminism is finally getting the sort of mainstream platform that it has collectively worked tirelessly towards for over a century. In this movement we are being made privy to some truly sensational female songwriters, performers and producers that genuinely have a shot at changing the game for future generations of female artists for the better. One standout on the Canadian side of the border that’s caught my attention most recently is none other than Fredericton, New Brunswick’s own Cathy Hutch, a phenomenally gifted singer and songwriter whose new record Free Wheelin’ pushes the limits of country music to revolutionary territory and brings with it some great rallying cries for the contemporary revolution in equalitarianism that we’re witnessing today.

Cathy Hutch isn’t your typical country singer. Actually, she’s not even your typical musician. In a collection of songs that could sit perfectly fine next to any of your favorite classic rock records as easily as could beside Tanya Tucker or Patsy Cline, Free Wheelin’doesn’t particularly fit into any one genre over another, instead embracing its heterogeneous influences with a fervor that is quite refreshing and aesthetically pleasing to hear. In the title track, a white hot overdriven guitar takes us careening through a furious verse that calls for self-empowerment, tenacity and confidence with a cocky swagger that challenges any of the most amplified macho power anthems you’ve heard in the last decade and beyond. “Reflections of My Life” paints a poignant picture of the yearning and inner conflict that rages when we don’t want to die, but we don’t know how to go on living the way that we always have (and possibly the only way that we know how). There’s a uniquely feminine resolute spirit and backbone that drives all of the passion behind Cathy Hutch’s music and lyrics on Free Wheelin’, and it’s moving not only for women but for my fellow music critics as well to see such a strong contribution from an up and coming artist like this. 2018 needed something to definitively pick up the pace and set the bar for the upcoming decade in popular music, and I think this album does both exceptionally.

TWITTER: twitter.com/CathyHutch

Clay Burton

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The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina – Act 3

The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina – Act 3

CD BABY: store.cdbaby.com/cd/themerrymakersorchestrina

The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina is a trio based out of the New York City area and led by singer/songwriter/guitar player Ryan Shivdasani. The band has altered their lineup since the recording of this full length, but there’s little question listening to Act 3’s thirteen cuts that nothing will change about Shivdasani’s creative vision for the band’s music. It isn’t easily classifiable. It’s close to say that Shivdasani’s musical loyalties lie with terse, often angular guitar driven art rock with minimal clutter and an elevated lyrical quality, but you can’t quite pin Shivdasani and the band’s songs down – they take some surprising, label defying turns along the way that makes it clear they are far more than just another power trio revolving around a central figure’s guitar work. The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina’s album Act 3 shows that there are many more acts to come for this talented songwriter and his equally talented band mates.

“Together” may seem like a relatively improbable opener thanks to its crazed pace and fiery temperament, but it becomes clear that The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina want to get Act 3 off to a fast start and there’s simply no other song on the album that would have worked as effectively in this spot. It has a strong punk rock bite and Jack Redford’s bass playing has every bit of the energy this sort of track demands. “Particle Craze” and some of the album’s later songs sound profoundly influenced by bands like Television, early Talking Heads, or Richard Hell and the Voivoids, while manifesting its own unique character. We get the first hint of his lyrical acumen with this tune, but that really emerges in full with the album’s third song. “Watched You Out My Window” tells a story in a way that few songs on Act 3 do and has great subtlety in doing so. Shivdasani’s guitar work hinges on a melody that sets the song’s overall emotional tone while the lyric doesn’t show all its cards at once.

“East of Eden” is cut from the same cloth as the album’s second song but with a much more deliberate tempo and a stronger focus on melody. There’s a balance here, however, between melody and atmospherics that’s missing from much more direct melodic efforts like the previous tune. The lyric is definitely just as strong as before and tells a very different story than “Watched You Out My Window”, but there’s every bit of the same insight into character as we enjoy with the previous song. Shivdasani and the band whip together some real menace with the song “Enemy” and it makes the same sort of deep impact we heard with the last two tracks. The chiming lilt of “Slip Away” blends country and folk influences together in a charming way that’s perfectly in keeping with what’s come before and benefits from one of Shivdasani’s best vocals.

The rhythm section really shines on the tune “Anarchy” and it has a pleasing retro sound with some flourishes along the way and a stormy ending that marks this as the band’s own. There’s a lot of great lyrical content in this track and Shivdasani delivers with more playfulness than you might expect going into it. “Blood Country” comes at you from the same place we heard with the earlier “Particle Craze” and other tunes along the way and gives us a lyric that provides listeners no comfort at all. There’s some light production touches influencing this song, like many of the others, and it makes this one particularly effective. “Wait Behind” ends Act 3 on a laid back, melodic note with a warm Shivdasani vocal. The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina will impress a lot of listeners with this release and you’ll be hard put to not find something on this album that will get under your skin and stay there. It’s one of 2018’s best releases.

SPOTIFY: open.spotify.com/album/4nVCsOykvkuBMzinHtU69g

Clay Burton

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Conor Gains – Compass

Conor Gains – Compass

URL: www.conorgainsband.com/

Conor Gains’ solo debut Compass opens with the song “I Know” and, from that song alone, listeners will rest easy realizing they are in confident and capable musical hands. The blues and jazz influences powering the ten song collection are cut with a tangible nod to soul and R&B in the way that Gains, one song after another, holds listener’s attention thanks to his penchant for writing and singing over deeply felt, atmospheric grooves. “Walking Alone” opens in a spartan manner with warm, tactile guitar accompanying one of Gains’ finer vocals before the drums enter and the song launches in earnest. There’s a light presence of backing vocals deepening the song’s soulful qualities, but Gains is more than capable of single-handedly carrying the song’s emotional demands. Brief passages of lead guitar punctuate the song at key dramatic points without ever overstepping its mandate.

“Dance Like It’s Your Birthday” mixes pure R&B stomp with a strong blues influence. The vocal presentation is highlight from the first and ends up being one of the best aspects of the song and achieves a particularly rousing quality during the track’s chorus. There’s a quick guitar rave up opening “Ordinary Love” segueing nicely into a slow burn torch song complete with stylish backing vocals and understated percussion. Gains’ singing glides through the changes and brings a gentle lift at specific points that widens the song’s reach. Each of the ten songs on Compass shows him to be a master of mood who never over-exerts to achieve effects. Instead, he makes his presence felt with an effortlessness that wins you over from the first. There’s even a smattering of rap vocals added near the song’s end.

He proves expert with gradual transitions as “I’ve Been Looking for Your Heart” builds from a muted opening to a stormy, impassioned conclusion without ever striking a false note along the way. Gains has the phrasing talents of a much older singer and certainly much of that can be attributed to a passion for perfecting his craft, but it’s just as much innate skill. “In My Head” has some tasteful, yet wonderfully bluesy piano playing matching every bit of the intensity in Gains’ singing. There’s a glowering intensity, even a low key menace, accompanying this tune that’s impossible to ignore and it revolves around the aforementioned piano and Gains’ show stopping vocal. It’s a mightily impressive way to start the album’s second half.

“Back to You” shifts the album’s musical gears slightly with an acoustic based tune. It has a palpable live feel to the performance, despite the flawless backing vocals, and reaches some rousing pinnacles along the way. There’s a surprising hint of Bon Iver’s influence in the massed vocals and clear focus on ambient production during the song’s first half, but it isn’t a pronounced thing. Compass’ longest song, “Miracle”, keeps Gains working in relatively low key musical surroundings and embraces his blues influences once again while bringing an impressive horn section to bear on the final result. The album’s second to last track “Darkness in the Light” continues to explore the more pensive edge of his songwriting, but Gains and his collaborators once again confound expectations during the song’s second half and push the envelope some. Compass concludes with another comparatively lengthy piece, “Mexico”, which blends more of his patented talent for soulful grooves with an evolving roots rock sound build around the guitar and never pushing too hard on listeners. This is a fully immersive and rewarding musical experience that bears repeated listens.

YOU TUBE: www.youtube.com/watch?v=uD0U5ZTpxJo

Clay Burton

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Patiently Awaiting the Meteorite – Electrified

Patiently Awaiting the Meteorite – Electrified

URL: patientlyawaitingthemeteorite.band/

Patiently Awaiting the Meteorite are poised to receive enormous attention and praise for their forthcoming debut Canyon Diablo if the first single “Electrified” is any reliable indication of the quality of the release as a whole. The result of a collaboration between producers The Grand Brothers and singer/songwriter Dee, “Electrified” is the sort of unabashed cinematic pop we don’t often hear anymore. The three creative forces behind this project obviously work quite well together and they should; the Grand Brothers produced Dee’s second solo album Day by Day and helped further propel the singer’s career to new heights following success that saw Dee’s single “Miles and Miles (Living on the Edge)” featured in a Ford automotive commercial during the 2018 Super Bowl and the singer’s enormous success using YouTube as a medium for conveying his talents. The new single shows the trio’s forthcoming release will likely be remembered as one of the more memorable releases in recent pop history and, if the single is any indication, this is a creative train the three of them can ride for some time to come.

You read everywhere about pop music’s narrowing creativity, how it increasingly panders to its audience along the same tired formulaic lines, and then you hear a song like this and a little hope is restored. It’s clear that the Grand Brothers and Dee are aspiring to do more with the form than checking off the customary boxes and hoping to hit some basic marks. Instead, the arrangement for “Electrified” wants to grab your attention and it does thanks to the perfect synthesis of synthesizers, electronic rhythm section, and compelling vocals. The song, likewise, never runs on too long and that shows the trio intuitively understand exactly what the audience isn’t looking for, if nothing else, and they hone their attention in on capitalizing on that rather than losing their way with sideshows or needless flourishes. The electronic instrumentation, frequently derided as cold and sterile with other artists, has real bite in the hands of Patiently Awaiting the Meteorite without ever trying to bludgeon the audience into submission.

Dee’s vocal is the cherry on top of it all. He definitely isn’t what you would deem a normal, every day singer, but he has personality and presence that helps define the track every bit as much as what we’ve heard from his solo work and it’s apparent the Grand Brothers understand how to frame his voice for maximum effect. Everything is in balance here and, even when the music falls away and Dee’s voice stands alone, this non-traditional vocalist is obviously capable and primed to carry the tune on his shoulders for a time. The warmth in his voice and the obvious dramatic flair he pumps into his phrasing elevates some fine, far from merely placeholder, lyrics into the realm of a vital message for anyone who listens to the song. “Electrified” sends Canyon Diablo off into the word with tremendous energy and Patiently Awaiting the Meteorite are poised to soon bear the fruits of its high quality.

SPOTIFY: open.spotify.com/album/0dRuEdzkyxSb3Hj2CerZrq

Clay Burton

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Little Stranger – Sing It High

Little Stranger – Sing It High

SOUNDCLOUD: soundcloud.com/littlestrangermusic/sing-it-high

The third studio release from Little Stranger, Styles & Dynamics, emerges with its first single “Sing It High” and it sets the bar high for what is scheduled to follow. The EP title reflects much of what drives Little Stranger’s music, undoubtedly a conscious decision, and the polished production framing the song presents their stylishness and command of music dynamics with great balance and in the best possible aural light. There’s an assortment of instruments dropped into the song’s musical mix, but it never all comes at once and “Sing It High” develops with a tremendous amount of artistry. Little Stranger has gained a lot of praise for their live shows, for good reason we can be sure, but their talents as composers deserve every bit as much note. John and Kevin Shields, not related, possess an enormously personable style together and their creative collaboration sparks from the first.

INSTAGRAM: www.instagram.com/littlestrangermusic/

We don’t hear them at the beginning however. Instead, a snappy drum beat sweeps listeners right into “Sing It High” and it’s clear from the first a slightly rambunctious, unfettered spirit is going to guide much of what we hear for the next four minutes. The introduction of other instruments, acoustic and electric alike, diversify the musical stew in a measured way that never introduces everything at once but, instead, staggers the addition of new colors in a dramatic way. We definitely get a sense of the song unveiling itself to us with great patience that never feels like it drags along. The guitar work is particularly memorable and shows how Little Strangers has zero fear of blending seemingly dissimilar elements in a convincing way. Their confluence of hip hop with more traditional musical styles never feels forced and seems, in all truth, as natural as breathing for this duo.

This freshness extends to their vocals, as well. There’s never too much attitude they bring to bear – the boastfulness and confidence coming across in the lyrics and their delivery isn’t any of the mean-spirited swagger you hear from other hip hop acts, but instead comes off as more a statement of personal/artistic prowess with an upbeat, even slightly humorous, edge. It’s difficult to catch all the lyrics because the intensely rhythmic vocals are intent on matching the music, but critical lines emerge, there’s some nice post-production effects applied to any assortment of passages, and even a dollop of harmonies to sweeten the musical pot a little more. There’s a ton of personality shot through this song as well and it helps make it one of the more memorable single releases in recent memory as well an excellent opening salvo from Styles & Dynamics. Charleston, South Carolina may seem like an unlikely headquarters for this duo, but songs like this will lead you believe that this city may be harboring a musical act ready to take on the entire world.

SPOTIFY: open.spotify.com/track/36wBg9fye5QndAziIH3pDV?si=tI4dbCc3SbGFCWV3yFcCQw

Clay Burton

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Ron Greene – Matchbook

Ron Greene – Matchbook

SPOTIFY: open.spotify.com/artist/7c2YcIhXOY3ezJUmD5i97G?si=0KLkRjZzSS-UhWkWoPrzWw

A memorable single should be punchy, pared down to the essentials, and ready to wow listeners. Ron Greene’s new single “Matchbook” accomplishes all of this and more while pointing the way towards a promising new future for this veteran entertainer, writer, singer, and musician. Hailing originally from the midwestern hub of Indianapolis, Indiana, Greene is now based out of Idaho and has established a reputation as one of the Pacific Northwest’s most prolific live acts. Those superb turns on stage and recordings have earned him the respect of his peers and a growing fan following that he’s set to exponentially expand with this recording. “Matchbook” is co-written with another Pacific Northwest export enjoying a steady rise into national and global fame, Jerad Finck, and they demonstrate obvious chemistry as a songwriting duo that Greene promises they will further explore in the future. That’s great news as they’ve really struck pay dirt with the song “Matchbook”.

I-TUNES: itunes.apple.com/album/id1354098454?ls=1&app=itunes

Some listeners might find fault with the song’s admittedly limited musical range, but they misunderstand the song by doing so. A listen to Greene’s lyrical content reveals that this is a pretty dark tune about feeling backed against the wall by circumstances and the focus of the words doesn’t have a single lull where listeners are allowed to come up for air. The musical arrangement mimics that – the focus is unwavering from the start and even the song length reflects the fixed nature of the song’s emotions. There’s a certain exultant, rousing quality invoked by the performance, but it’s once again a celebration of the fatalism lurking in the song’s heart. Greene is, in essence, heartbroken, pained, and ready to burn his world down around him if things can’t get better. Anyone who has lost in love, especially “unjustly”, will relate to the song’s sentiments and, particularly, the way Greene sings them.

It relies on drum machines and synthesizers for its musical sound, but they are never used in an unimaginative way. Greene, instead, orchestrates their presence in the performance with a keen ear for what the audience wants to hear and how to match it up best with his singing. The result will bowl many listeners over from the first. He clearly entered the recording studio with a clear eye and ear for what he wanted those sessions to produce and it’s easy to hazard a guess that he’s thoroughly satisfied and happy with the lightning in a bottle he’s captured with this release. Ron Greene’s “Matchbook” is a outright gem from the first listen and only gains additional luster with repeated hearings. He’s an artist working at a high level, this single makes that amply clear, but he doesn’t even sound like someone who’s yet reached their peak and the next two years or more should prove crucial for Greene’s future development. At any rate, the sort of talent on display here is due to be with us for some time to come and the music scene is better off for it.

SOUNDCLOUD: soundcloud.com/ron-greene/matchbook/s-wI4UJ

Clay Burton

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River Road by Gary Douglas Band

River Road by Gary Douglas Band

FACEBOOK: facebook.com/garydouglasband

“River Road,” the new song by The Gary Douglas Band, has been hard to miss if you’ve been listening to good radio lately, and for good reason. For those who aren’t in the know, the dynamic Americana of this New York-based outfit (led by none other than lawyer/troubadour Gary Douglas) has been electrifying live audiences and garnering a mammoth sized amount of press buzz in recent years. “River Road,” sees him bring legendary producer Niko Bolas into the fold, along with a variety of musicians among the most leading in Nashville.

The track opens up with the band breaking through a brick wall of silence, guitars and drums galloping after each other, and a grinding organ trailing behind them. There’s so much nobility in Gary’s voice, almost like a weathered traveler who still takes to the road because he knows that he belongs there. The lyric “Take my hand, I wanna feel more than iron and steel,” is so profoundly emotional in its delivery, especially for any of us who grew up in the quiet, “nowhere” towns of the Midwest. Who would’ve thought this cat was from Brooklyn originally? He sounds like he grew up with me and my friends on the Front Range in Colorado, where long hot summer days gave way to sunsets over the Rockies, the sun seemingly able to escape out of our little town to whatever life was on the other side of those mountains.

Gary gives us really impeccable social commentary about the cold and disconnected nature of labor and industry in America, a commentary which sadly has become more and more relevant with each passing year it seems. The mighty effervescence around the guitar solo dueling with the saxophone sort of replicates that struggle between the urban and the rural to find a way to coexist with each other. I found myself getting emotional when I was listening to this song; as its relatability gets almost too intimate in some places. This guy really gets it. There’s a fire that burns really hot when these guys get together and play music, and that fire seems to warm even the frostiest parts of our soul. “River Road” maybe should have been titled “White Water Highway,” because it is nothing short of a thrill ride.

I am very excited to hear The Gary Douglas Band’s new album, Deep in the Water, which is set to drop in the near future, and definitely am making a point to see these guys live when they come through my town. For a city boy who has devoted most of his life to jurisprudence and the science of public policy, there is no pretentious intellectualism or hidden agenda in these lines, no overproduced, polish dripping overdubs or samples, no cheats or hacks to make this music sound more legitimate than it really is. Those who say there’s no such thing as an honest lawyer need to make a point to hear “River in the Road,” a spectacularly honest, earnest rock ballad by a genuinely awesome songwriter (who also just happens to practice law).

Learn more about The Gary Douglas Band’s music and mission at garydouglasband.com, and watch for Deep in the Water, soon to be available everywhere good music is sold.

CHECK OUT TOUR DATES: www.garydouglasband.com/tour-dates/

Thomas Patton, III approved by Clay Burton

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Kevin Durr – Better Angels

Kevin Durr – Better Angels 

JANGO: www.jango.com/music/Kevin+Durr/_full_bio

Though his music is often very entertaining and deliberately so, Kevin Durr’s Better Angels clearly has higher aims. It’s the latest album from a Chicago singer/songwriter who, over the last fifteen years, has built a formidable discography and established himself as one of the foremost purveyors of the style working the Windy City club circuit and beyond. He has a truly different lyrical spin than many of his peers, neither purist nor imitative, and has tackles the album’s twelve songs with an understated sense of daring and a confidence level that makes each of these tracks sound like emphatic statements from the heart. Despite the indie nature of the recording, Better Angels’ production values help convey the material with clarity and nuance while Durr also ensures there’s a satisfying amount of variety spread out over Better Angels’ dozen songs. It’s one of the more thoughtful and musically excellent recordings in this vein that I’ve heard in some time.  

“I’m Not Sleeping Anymore” kicks Better Angels off with a near anthem that sounds the call for consciousness and engaging the world in an undeniably passionate way. The union of Durr’s voice with a backing female voice makes for an effective pairing on each of the album’s twelve tracks and a big reason why is they never fret bring their voices into lockstep accord with one another. Their harmonies, when they hit, are very satisfying, but they do a lot of playing off one another, unconcerned with seamlessness. “The Writing on the Wall” is one of the album’s more carefully wrought, patient numbers and the obvious care taken with both composition and performance pays off with a particularly resonant number that vividly conveys intelligence and mood alike. “To Believe in Love Again” is one of the album’s more traditional and direct numbers, but it never errs too much on the side of obviousness and has enough melodic complexity to mitigate its relatively staid guitar work. “Beyond and Above” tests the limits of Durr’s musical ambition unlike any other song on the release and the two distinct section comprising the song sound natural rather than like he attempted to mesh two half finished songs with mixed or terrible results.  

“In the Now” is, like the earlier “The Writing on the Wall”, one of the album’s more deliberate and laid out pieces, but the strong sense of structure defining its sound never leaves it sounding cold or flat. “Joy” is similar in this respect, but the writing for this song reaches another level and rates among the best lyrical moments on Better Angels. There’s definitely a personal streak coloring the second to last song “Didn’t We?” but, like Durr’s best songs, his sense of individual and collective achievement is always informed by a pragmatic recognition of the obstacles his subject(s) overcame to realize their dreams and inner mission. This is music emboldened by inexhaustible passions, guided by skill, and delivered with impressive professional polish. Kevin Durr’s Better Angels will appeal to anyone who loves singer/songwriter material with an acoustic edge but, likewise, anyone who appreciates genuine music with an appealing commercial side will flock to these songs.  

Clay Burton

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Cat Thompson – Be Mine

Cat Thompson – Be Mine 

SPOTIFY: open.spotify.com/track/0kF5SE7VZd35k4q4GVzbkm

 “Be Mine” will quickly gain status as one of 2018’s best pop singles thanks to the chemistry struck up between producer Khaled and singer/songwriter Cat Thompson. Hailing from Australia, the Northern Irish and Filipino performer has commanded both national and international stages opening for performers with a global presence. She’s learned those lessons well. “Be Mine”, coming on the heels of her last successful single “All I Want”, shows her growing confidence as both a vocalist and performer and undoubtedly will fluently translate over to the stage. She’s renowned as a electrifying live performer and this song provides her ample opportunity to enhance her stage show with another sure audience pleaser that, likewise, allows her to show her growing range as a musical artist. She’s currently working on her next EP release and, if “Be Mine” is an early hearing of what’s in store with that outing, we can bet on Cat Thompson’s continued ascension into the upper echelons of the modern pop world.  

She is born aloft higher and higher into rarefied air thanks to an astonishingly complete talent. Thompson definitely has a voice with commercial appeal, but it reaches far beyond merely entertaining casual fans with some spending power. Instead, she has fantastic emotive talents that bring these lyrics to life in such a way that it imbues “Be Mine” with equal parts passion and desperation. The stakes are high for her to consummate the desire in the heart of the song’s title and she makes listeners believe with every line. “Be Mine” runs a little under three and a half minutes long and there isn’t a second of wasted musical effort during the entirety of the song. If anything, Thompson and her musical partners demonstrate a clear ear for hearing exactly what this song needs and resisting any temptation to transform it into something cruder, more overwrought.  

Some listeners will be surprised by the light sophistication and understated planning that goes into this performance. Rather than just relying on rhythms and groove to make her musical point, the arrangement for “Be Mine” places just as high of a premium on melody as it does R&B swing and the result gives “Be Mine” a distinct flavor lacking in much of the genre. Cat Thompson is clearly, to some extent, attempting to craft out her own space in the modern pop scene and this is a critical step in that direction. She remains quite connected to what her target audience is listening for in performances like these, but it’s equally apparent Thompson is fixed on delivering performances and songs that satisfy her heart before anyone else. The obvious emotional velocity she brings to this material and the intelligent, never busy backing she benefits from makes “Be Mine” one of the best pop singles I’ve heard in quite some time. It’s a tasty preview of what’s to come with her soon to drop EP and a brilliant standalone in its own right.  

I-TUNES: itunes.apple.com/gb/album/be-mine-single/1336711880

Clay Burton

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BANAFSH “Soul Man of the East”

BANAFSH “Soul Man of the East” Single Review

FACEBOOK: en-gb.facebook.com/banafsh.band/

Step into another world – a far off land to the East. Your mind wanders. Your soul searches for a comforting friend and moral compass. You find what you’re looking for when you come across Iranian band, BANAFSH. Their new single “Soul Man of the East” transforms your mind into a meditated state, all you hear and feel are their ambient strings, percussions, keys and father-like vocals.

BANAFSH is a nine-member band that hails from Tehran, Iran. Tehran is Iran’s largest city and it also happens to be one of the most populated towns on the planet. It makes sense then that a band with rich, centuries old culture would utilize its backyard for inspiration and elevated sounds. There are men and women in the group. I was expecting to hear a bit more female-backing vocals, but I couldn’t quite capture their sound. Perhaps seeing them live would be a different experience. Let’s face it, sometimes bands sound better live anyway.

I’m not saying that’s the case with BANASH, but I would gander the females in the band likely have a more spotlighted sound on a larger stage. I would hope.

I think what BANAFSH does best is create a pallet for the listener that is basic – they don’t try and overwhelm the listener with a loud ruckus; they don’t try and put EDM with jazz. They simply fuse together electrical instruments with whispers of traditional Eastern instrumentation. It’s modern enough to not feel like it belongs in a certain era. It doesn’t feel dated.

Vocalist, Payman’s delivery is a bit striking. At first. He grows on you. He has such a deep voice it’s reminiscent of Vincent Price in “Thriller.” Okay, not that scary! He’s commanding, but still charming like in a father figure way. The lyrics are very easy to follow: “I’m speaking, as the soul man, of the east. I sing with any rhyme that you please.” He wants to be your friend. He pleads with you that their mission is peace and no matter your stance, don’t judge them because they life in Iran. Or, don’t just assume things.

Kudos to BANAFSH for wanting to lead the charge and become musical peace ambassadors. I think they accomplish this in “Soul Man of the East.” It’s the first track from their upcoming album, A Pledge for Peace. I think it’s easy to get caught up in just the lyrics and forget the moving arrangements in this song. The guitars really rock – and the violin segments are mystical and immediately transfix your mind to another world. You can dance to this song. You can meditate to this song. You can exercise to this song. Not only is it a fun track (it grows on you), but also you find yourself reflecting on it hours later.

Overall, this track garners a 4 out of 5 stars. It’s a nice introduction to world music for new listeners and music lovers will fall for the guitars.

Clay Burton

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Doug McCurry & The Verticals II’

Doug McCurry & The Verticals II’

URL: www.dougmccurry.com/

I had the pleasure of reviewing Doug McCurry’s debut solo record, ‘Seven Songs About Leaving’ back in 2011, along with his follow-up release in 2012 titled ‘Romance Like It Was’. I have to say that I was on the fence then where I could sense a true artist underneath with glimpses of greatness but wasn’t fully convinced at that time.  I even said, “Keep digging deeper and deeper Doug McCurry because I know you have it in you and I feel if Doug finds the perfect match & tone and just sticks with that then we will witness something very special”.  Well, I am very happy to announce that Doug McCurry didn’t just take this advice in stride but ran with it and proved me wrong!  And I couldn’t be happier to be proven wrong in this instance because I always knew Doug McCurry had major talent but just wasn’t tapped into his full potential as a musician.  The new album, ‘Doug McCurry & The Verticals II’, showcases Doug McCurry finding his true voice and true sound that doesn’t just work for me but works on a collective whole.  I have to say that I am no longer on the fence but am fully convinced now that Doug McCurry has arrived and that you are witnessing something special here.

‘Doug McCurry & The Verticals II’ is the second installment and follow-up to the 2016 release. This record was just released this month, April 2018, and I am already hooked on all 10 tracks.  McCurry always had that garage band-type element to the songs giving them that raw edge and you’ll still get that here.  Starting with track two, “Pretty Eyes on Fire”, I instantly connected with the cool, jam session feel to go along with the sing-a-long, snappy beat.  Next on “Precious Rose”, one will sense fierce and cherished moments all coming together like peanut butter and chocolate.  Track three, “Sugar & Lies”, will have you singing the sweet line “Sugar, Sugar” followed by the sound of seagulls at the beach set to an easy-breezy background on “Beautiful Pain”.  On the song, “That Josephine”, get a dose of psychedelic notes all to a suave rock backdrop and then hear Doug McCurry going all Beck vocally on “Devils & Crosses” where highs and lows battle it out.  Track nine, “No One Recalls Gary”, had a slick style musically but oddly enough had me cracking up because it made me think of a person I used to know named Gary and the funny inside joke my fiancée and I have when it comes to the name Gary; long story and so little time! The record ends on a very subtle and airy note on “Floating On The Wind” that sounds just like it’s written.

Overall, I am really impressed with this effort from Doug McCurry as everything was in sync musically & vocally. Dubbed as Alt-Pop-Rock, I’d agree with that to an extent, but honestly Doug McCurry should never be labeled because it is and always will be multi-genre, Experimental Indie music at its finest with no boundaries and no apologies.  ‘Doug McCurry & The Verticals II’ is able to stick with that formula while also appealing to the many senses from a Pop-friendly point of view.  I’d have to say Doug McCurry has done it and achieved his ultimate sound for Today & Beyond that I knew Doug would find eventually.  We don’t give actual ratings anymore but for the sake of this review I would like to since it relates and ties in with what I’ve been saying.  I gave the previous reviews mentioned 2.5/5 and 3.5/5 Skopes respectively but this review more than deserves a 5-star rating.  Just due to the major improvements I heard all around and the incredibly catchy rhythms, ‘Doug McCurry & The Verticals II’ gets 5 big SKOPES and nothing less!  Hat’s off to you Doug McCurry for creating music that’s loose, that’s hip yet classic and that just fits.

AMAZON: www.amazon.com/Doug-McCurry-Verticals-II/dp/B079Z2SC88

Jimmy Rae (jrae2@att.net)

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Nicola Thoms release Beautiful Mind Single

Nicola Thoms release Beautiful Mind Single

URL: www.nicolathoms.com

“Beautiful Mind” is the latest single from Nicola Thoms, and it’s a breath of fresh air by a new Pop artist for Soul and RnB music lovers too. There is a back story to her and the song she wrote about her Grandfather that are worth sharing. Nicola grew up being surrounded by soul and R&B music, and throughout her youth, long car journeys with her parents were always accompanied by the likes of Whitney Houston, Stevie Wonder, Candi Staton, Teddy Pendergrass, Michael Jackson and Lauryn Hill, and these artists very much lay the foundation for her love for music.

She also draws inspiration from more current artists including Amy Winehouse, Jhene Aiko and Lianne La Havas, but just the thought of Teddy Pendergrass being an influence on her is a point of interest because to put it mildly there was never a better Soul singer. You can hear some of these others mentioned, written all over her voice though. She compliments, rather than copies anyone, and that’s a hallmark of any great original artist. Her voice does all the rest needed to win you over with a song that hits home, where the heart always is and always will be.

INSTAGRAM: www.instagram.com/nicola_thoms/

On this single, her voice is simply enhanced by electronics to bring out the occasional flashes of energy throughout the song. There’s no music of any dominating force, it’s all a showcase of top notch vocals and her capabilities are as strong as they come. And the song itself being about her Grandfather is where the whole thing comes together, and you feel what she’s singing through the lyrics, let alone her astonishing voice. Frankly, Nicola leaves other singers of her generation in the dust. She’s the type of singer that sticks to your mind, body, heart and soul. There’s no arguing that.

SPOTIFY: open.spotify.com/track/4gbpso3Gn4ncT7zwKKyRXX?si=l7jty0K0QZO5RBH0zu9GDg

Nicola’s Granfather being the subject matter of the song, it’s about being scared-of memories drifting too far, and some of the great things about her Grandfather. It’s almost like a dream with her singing to him, and/or about him. This is a very mystifying song because of her relationship with her Grandfather, and it just makes the song everything it can be. Laughter and pain are one in the same and you get the feeling you’re living the song. It’s a live animal that way, and an untamed one too. The lion becomes unleashed the second the song begins.

SOUNDCLOUD: soundcloud.com/nicola_thoms/beautiful-mind

What a music education means is more than meets the eye, and that’s why Nicola sounds so mature for her age. She’s really been developing for some time now, so this single isn’t some kind of fluke, it’s guaranteed to come with follow-ups, as it followed up another track called “Nothing On Me” which is another story, altogether. But check out “Beautiful Mind” for all it’s worth, and you’ll be wanting to hear anything you can by this young and quickly growing singer from the East of London, while the rest of the world awaits without knowing what to expect from her. She brings fireworks to the ears.

Clay Burton

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Sirens – I Believe

Sirens – I Believe

URL: www.SirensMG.com

(Washington DC) Sirens is a band made up of Stevie Lee Kinzer, Josh Barnhart and Jacob Barnhart. The guys met at a show in Wyandotte, Michigan at the ZUBA music festival while playing in different bands. The band was spontaneously formed that day but technically Sirens (USA) was born after Steve Lee Kinzer decided to move from Michigan to the Washington DC in 2017.

Their latest single I Believe single lifts off the ground quite nicely with methodically layered rhythm section, hooky musical flow against a grand slam chorus. The build up to the chorus si impressive and serves up a mesmerizing melody meshed against heartfelt vocals and well placed harmonies from Jake Barnhart and the gang. I would describe this piece a captivating, mesmerizing and invigorating. As the track hits solid stride it dishes out s consistent rock-driven groove meshed with heartfelt vocal flow that flows and ebbs its way through to emotional fruition.

I can hear many different musical textures reminiscent of Muse, Coldplay, Modest Mouse, and even classic XTC. The single is extremely melodic but definitely brings to the table a lot of musical variety and much in the way of hooky melodies via a short and sweet format. You will notice rich musical textures overflowing everywhere – from thick as a brick moog bass, driving multi layered rhythms, sonic synthesizers and keyboard accents, vocal harmonies all built upon a rock solid rhythm section. I like the quirky solo and the Beach Boys-esqe type harmony ending the song – nice touch.

All band members play their parts extremely well song for song and note for note. Let me go on record to say there’s not a dull moment on the entire production. The music is passionate and just exciting and suspenseful to listen to.

It’s hard to find any noticeable weaknesses with this single no doubt. If I was producer I think would shy away from the fade out ending and just cut it off somewhere within the harmonious segment. I wish there was a bit more peak and valley effect within the song. Overall the vocal deliver comes on way too strong across the board. Maybe more live instrumentation like Sonic Trumpet, Horns and percussion. All of the above would give it more of a pop appeal without losing the hard rock edge.

From start to finish I Believe by Sirens is a rock solid musical production from start to finish. It’s an extremely consistent, catchy, and a highly melodic ride, with a powerful message to boot. Its strength – it’s just a good and consistent listen and it’s strong suit is it’s positive message. The music will grab the listeners senses refusing to let go. All in all these lads combine amazing musical talent with effective songwriting and vocal abilities delivered hot to the touch via an entertaining collaboration that will have you dancing into the unknown.

I-TUNES: itunes.apple.com/us/album/white-album-single/1351058031

Clay Burton

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Brian Hutson – Anything Can Happen

Brian Hutson – Anything Can Happen

INSTAGRAM: www.instagram.com/brihutson/

The near-certain success of Brian Hutson’s latest single release “Anything Can Happen” will likely move this young New York based singer into the upper echelon of singing talents in popular music today. His 2015 discovery by producer Joe Vulpis has lead to a number of important and entertaining releases like his idiosyncratic cover of the Christmas classic “Blue Christmas” and the EP release Midnight Sessions and his new song builds on their quality while expanding his reach further than before. Hutson’s voyage from his Hudson Valley upbringing, working on Wall Street, and finally making major forays into the popular music world is an unique tale even for these modern times and you hear that excellence reflected in every minute of “Anything Can Happen”. It’s a winning effort from a young performer who has a limitless future and a bright 2018 ahead of him.

You can hear the promise in his voice. The entirety of “Anything Can Happen” is practically a vocal clinic with Hutson dispatching one inspired turn after another and showing unflappable instincts for knowing what the song needs. A lesser performer might have been overwhelmed by the idea of living up to Hutson’s success thus far, but he sounds galvanized by the opportunity. Despite the obvious fact that this isn’t a live performance, it’s difficult to not hear how Hutson’s vocal is completely informed by the musical arrangement and spills out of him in a stylish release that explores different channels in the listener’s emotional register. He consistently shows the same mastery of song that you hear from much older artists, particularly the iconic ones, and Hutson’s supreme confidence is one of the track’s most vivid features. He especially excels during the song’s chorus and it’s one of the track’s best moments overall.

There aren’t a plethora of instruments involved in this song, but the sounds present are woven together in a substantive thread that evolves nicely from the first and has a sense of knowing where it’s going from the first. Acoustic guitar lines nearly act as a second vocalist matching Hutson’s voice at various points in the song, but assume a capable supporting role at other points as well. The bass and drumming on “Anything Can Happen” give it some additional force, otherwise it might float rather dreamily – that foundation is important to the song’s overall success. The beauty of a song like this, ultimately, lies with how natural it sounds and it moves from a rather simple beginning into something much vaster and grander sounding. Brian Hutson’s career trajectory, thus far, has been one of the most memorable in recent memory and the new single “Anything Can Happen” brings home the reality, once again, that this is one of the best young performers coming into the scene for some time. It’s a great beginning to 2018 for Brian Hutson and will only get better from here.

SOUNDCLOUD: soundcloud.com/brihutson/anything-can-happen/s-OjauX

Photo Credit Angela Talley

Clay Burton

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