Tuesday, 18 January 2022

Album Review: Children: Our Voices IntertwineD - Kath Bee & Doug Stenhouse

Kath Bee is a singer, songwriter and author from New Zealand. Her latest album "Children: Our Voices IntertwineD" features ten outstanding songs; which she, along with fellow songwriter and producer Doug Stenhouse, have crafted to perfection. Essentially the album shines a light on the emotional impact experienced by children during lockdown. The songs on the album were sung by the children and also originated from the ideas of the children involved. Consequently, the mood of the album exudes an honest and authentic reflection of this emotional catharsis.

The album takes the listener on an emotional journey where the children express their thoughts, fears   frustrations and ultimately hopes for the future. Sometimes this is expressed in sheer frustration as in "I Want To Scream", alternatively escapism appears to be the solution as portrayed in 'The Teddy Bear Team". Either way this emotional upheaval provides a cathartic outlet for children to express themselves, and an opportunity for parents to gain insight into how their children are coping.

The opening track "Sisters and Brothers" describes the kind of angst often experienced when stuck at home with siblings who we may love, but perhaps don't get on with 'all the time'. The message is further enhanced through the minimalist intensity of the bridge where the drums and vocals almost drift into Rap territory. Despite the sombre mood of the lyrics, the music is quite upbeat, and manages to convey a sense of optimism, through the brighter side of blackness.

From Rap to Punk, "I Want To Scream" lays down the gauntlet with a pulsating bass, that sounds like a track extracted from a new wave compilation. Shades of Blondie perhaps, with a twist of the Ramones thrown in for good measure. I love the total conviction of the vocals, which are delivered with tremendous gusto. All in all, a magnificent slice of outrage, which despite its youthful nihilism still manages to finish on a note of optimism, recognising that despite everything, 'tomorrow's another day'.

The somewhat dreamy "Ko Tatou Tatou New" provides another interesting musical departure. Here a double bass and what sound like a mandolin, provide the backdrop for the type of vocal melody Thom Yorke might conjure up. The song informs the listener that 'no matter where you come from' we are in essence 'one big community'.  The music has a slightly jazzy feel, which sits comfortably alongside the overall message, that despite the doom and gloom we're all in this together.

"A Little Song" is really quite superb, it is succinct, highly melodic and upbeat in delivery. The lyrics express a message of gratitude for the simple things in life, and the chorus manages to both charm and intrigue in turn. The emotional prosody is self-evident here, where the jaunty musicianship complements the emotional content of the lyrics. The heartfelt simplicity of the message also provides a much needed sprinkle of optimism in these challenging times.

"The Teddy Bear Team" recounts the charming story of a child who seemingly develops a real-life friendship with her toys. In true Alice in Wonderland tradition, the lyrics then describe the series of events that occur as a result, beginning with 'the creaking of the floorboards' and ending with the realisation that she was in fact 'only lost'. The music is initially quite sparse with just an isolated keyboard on display, before the arrival of a string section; gradually building in intensity, and culminating in the type of explosive climax often heard in Disney movies. 

"Autumn Leaves" describes a picture of Autumn narrated through the extraordinary imagination of a child. Amongst other gratifying images, we are informed that as the leaves fall 'it is not a race', and 'they will finally find their resting place'.  The music is centred around an acoustic guitar, with an imaginative violin filling in the additional space. You can almost picture the child staring through the window quietly observing the leaves as they fall to the ground. I am sure even Charlotte Bronte would be impressed.

"Today I Am the Sun" has a more nonchalant vocal delivery, where the child imagines he inhabits a number of different identities, whether this is a bird, a cloud, or even 'a snail steady and slow'. Here, the vocals sound completely detached from this lyrical stream of consciousness; conveying a sense of complete resignation. Although it remains a mystery how such transformations would occur, the descriptions are once again concluded with a note of optimism where ultimately 'that's okay'.

If I had to pick a standout track from the album, the track "Uncertainty" would probably fit the bill. Intense, upbeat and easy to dance to, the song benefits from its funky vibe, with a hammond organ and some slap bass dominating the groove. The song also features a wah-wah peddle which ebbs and flows in true seventies style. The chorus is spelt out for additional effect, and the lyrics advise the listener to 'embrace uncertainty'.  I read somewhere recently that what people most crave in life is a sense of certainty, perhaps exposing children early in life to the futility of such yearning is no bad thing. 

"So Quiet" describes a deserted school, which as a result of lockdown has become barren and bereft of life. The music is quite dramatic with an intensity akin to Art Garfunkel's "Bright Eyes". The vocals are as clear as crystal and the haunting piano reminded me a little of Harry Nilsson's version of "Without You". The song is swimming in melancholy, and provides 'a time to reflect', 'renew and start again'. 

"Learning New Things" combines a lyrical chant with a series of spoken voices, and is delivered in true Laurie Anderson fashion. This musical anthem also benefits from a wistful and somewhat psychedelic vibe, further enriching the overall sound. The song celebrates the importance of learning, with the music providing the canvas for various children to describe their short term goals. This musical dichotomy provides a final flourish to this engaging and thought-provoking album.

This album has a certain melodic content that could rival Neil Finn, and an amazing ability to move between different musical genres seemingly at will. The music really pushes the boundaries, harnessing an eclectic variety of influences each merging into one unified whole. The contribution of the children involved should also not be underestimated, who interpret such sentiments with a rawness and vulnerability that is deeply moving. Despite the darkness of some of the subject matter, the music still manages to inspire, entertain and even delight. Perhaps most importantly the album succeeds in providing a much needed soundtrack for these uncertain times.

Kath Bee & Doug Stenhouse - giving the children a voice.

Thursday, 13 January 2022

Flash Single Review: Allergies - Matt Heaton

Matt Heaton is a singer-songwriter from Boston, USA. and his latest single "Allergiesis both witty and brilliantly executed.  Here Don McLean meets Woody Guthrie at a Wiggles concert, and the result is a song swimming in melody and lyrical precision. The musicianship is excellent throughout, with a pulsating bass and a shuffle beat providing a solid foundation for a lively fiddle to let rip. 

The music is lively, upbeat and even humorous at times, from an artist who clearly has an ear for both rhyme and melody. The lyrics unfold in a series of rhyming couplets describing a list of allergy induced ailments; all delivered in a fun and light-hearted manner. Although the arrangement is tightly compressed the song still finds the required space for the fiddle to intoxicate the ear in almost Dexys Midnight Runner's style.

The song features some sprightly guitar playing, and sublime lyrics, where Blakean images such as 'every rosebud has a thorn' add further impact to the song. The dichotomy created between the complexity of the rhythm and the clarity of the message shows a musician in complete control. The overall production of the song is also worth a mention, as the vocals are as clear as crystal, and every lyric easy to decipher.

The song is also featured on YouTube in a high-spirited video where tissues are pulled out of boxes, and alternative medication experimented with, as the musicians bravely play on. The video is a delight to watch, leaving the impression that all involved had heaps of fun in the process.

Matt Heaton is essentially a poet, who constructs witty lines with tremendous skill and imagination. His music resonates because he can paint a picture in full colour, and his jaunty laid back style is both warm and engaging. His back catalogue is crammed full of similarly appealing songs that would liven up any party. So, if you've not yet come across this prolific artist, do yourself a favour and get streaming.

Matt Heaton - rhythm and poetry.

Friday, 7 January 2022

Mini Album Review: Shine - Sue McBride

Sue McBride is a singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist from Halifax, Canada. Her music is both educational and entertaining, and succeeds in fusing elements of folk music with a Celtic twist. Her debut children's album, Shine, provides a masterclass in both musical dexterity and lyrical ingenuity; containing only six songs, the music keeps the listener constantly engaged, moving between different musical styles seamlessly. 

The album begins in fine form with the intriguing "Little Lighthouse", which is both catchy and upbeat. What sounds like a ukulele takes centre stage, accompanied by a brass section that adds both rhythm and melody to the track. Here, the artist takes the listener on an intrepid journey, where the one constant is the reliable little lighthouse, which continues to shine even through hazardous thunderstorms 'when the tall waves pounce'. The middle eight is particularly dramatic, with lyrics that describe how 'the fierce winds blow', accompanied by an experimental piano that reminded me a little of Mike Garcon.

"Canada" unfolds like a geography lesson, where the letters of the home country are spelt out in almost Aretha Franklin style. Here, the artist refers to her native country like a close friend in which 'the world loves you'. The acoustic guitar takes centre stage, with the somewhat saloon style vibe adding a certain exoticism to the track. Lyrically the song highlights aspects of Canadian identity including the national sport of ice hockey, the extremely cold weather and the contrasting languages, all celebrated under the maple leaf flag.

"Earth Is For You" benefits from a superb melody and some lively percussion, which tantalises the listener throughout. The lyrics emphasise how we are all connected to the earth, encouraging us to all play our part, including 'every bird every bee' and 'every tall oak tree'. The song also provides an absorbing melodic twist at the end with a thoughtful vocal round that concludes the song very effectively.

"Bubbles Bubbles" is more ambitious than its title would suggest, and features an array of alluring sound effects that continue to surprise. The arrangement becomes increasingly complex as the song progresses, utilising sound effects that sound almost galactic at times. The song is really quite extraordinary, with each verse attempting a different rhythmic approach, and further experimenting with different instrumentation. Its restless energy and complex arrangement reminded me a little of "Strawberry Fields Forever".

"Canoe Song/Land Of The Silver Birch" features what sounds like a cello, and an acoustic guitar combining to create this sumptuous feast of melody. There are also some interesting vocal patterns used here, the emotional impact of which reminded me a little of "Running Up That Hill" by Kate Bush. Here the artist gives us a glimmer of her influences, through a glimpse of the natural world, where nature appears to work in harmony with the music. Like many of her songs, the sheer depth of musical texture leaves the impression that the artist is experimenting with a variety of ingredients in order to come up with the perfect combination of sounds.

Last but by no means least "The Alphabet" takes us into jazz territory with a lively piano and an interesting trumpet competing for space. Another educational song, with an interesting interpretation of the alphabet, which I'm sure the kids will love. The musicianship is superb, and although I don't have the sleeve notes, I am reliably informed that the artist is something of a multi-instrumentalist. If this is indeed her playing, than clearly we are talking about a significant talent here

All in all, a fine selection of songs, which are original, engaging and superbly executed. This eclectic sequence of songs blend together perfectly, with their sheer depth of musical texture providing additional impact to the overall sound. The musicianship is superb throughout, and the songs are arranged with considerable expertise. The major strength of the album is the way in which the artist stirs the emotions through the divine combination of absorbing lyrics and delightful melodies. There is considerable ambition here in both execution and delivery, and I suggest you check this exciting new artist out at your earliest opportunity.

Sue McBride - there is a light that never goes out.

Tuesday, 21 September 2021

Flash Single Review: Gee Up! - Poco Drom

You better buckle up for this one, because the latest single "Gee Up!" from Poco Drom is an absolute stormer of a track, where electronica pumps up the volume with earth shattering intensity. This song is really out there, an extraordinary piece of high-energy music, which firmly establishes this UK artist as a major new talent.

This song would stand out on any playlist; it literally hits you over the head from the start, where an explosive rhythm, releases the type of raw energy that would be celebrated on any dance floor. The song also features some dreamy and wistful backing vocals, providing additional texture to the overall sound. 

Despite it's electronic appeal, the song works equally well, when played on an acoustic guitar and stripped down to its bare essentials.  I know this because I've seen it on YouTube, and you should check it out to.

Despite the artist being something of an eco warrior, living off the grid, and adopting an alternative lifestyle, there is no specific message here as such. The song simply describes the rapturous thrill of a hectic horse ride. The listener is then left hanging on for dear life, as the music shifts through the gears, with an explosive chorus repeating the words 'gee up, gee up' through a melting microphone. This could be an imaginary or real journey, either way, the song works through its fusion of power and simplicity, which never lets up for a second.

All in all, a superb track, which is as original as it is appealing. Here, Hot Butter meets the Cocteau Twins, with a little help from Lenny Kravitz on the way. A fabulous fusion of eclectic musical styles, which merge together in one moment of sheer magic. Poco Drom is clearly worth keeping your eye on, and may indeed be a dark horse for future greatness, who knows? Watch this space.

Poco Drom - high energy with a smile.

Wednesday, 8 September 2021

Flash Single Review: Try Try Again - Professor Jefferson Band

Professor Jefferson Band are a four-piece band from the USA, who write educational songs for children, and do so with tremendous expertise. Their most recent release "Try Try Again" is something of a quirky classic, featuring lyrics which regard failure as an opportunity, and not something to be feared. The cover sleeve features a picture of non other than Thomas Edison himself, who you may be aware regarded failure as an essential part of the creative process. 

He was in good company as Samuel Beckett, Confucius and Sumner Redstone all believed misfortune to be a prerequisite to success, as long as you don't give up on the way. The fact is, those who never failed never did anything, and this sentiment is outlined superbly here, where harmonica blends with acoustic guitar to create a song earnest in message, but nonetheless upbeat and very catchy. 

The bass playing is excellent throughout, and the drums kick like a mule. The vocals are superb, assisted by lyrics which are warm and informative, providing solace to all those sensitive souls who might be afraid to have a go.  The Smiths experimented with a similar idea in the eighties with their famous hit "Ask," but this song discards the petulant sarcasm of Morrisey, and offers instead, heartfelt sincerity and genuine room for growth.

The harmonica takes centre stage on the chorus, adding further dynamics; hitting the target in almost Dylanesque fashion. The lyrics appear somewhat conversational at times, revealing the type of dialogue that might occur between a caring parent and a sensitive child. Despite this didactic approach, the song is very catchy, and loaded with pop sensibility.

This band truly are the thinking person's rock 'n' roll. They somehow manage to merge sublime musicianship, with a cerebral approach that easily resonates with the listener.   An absolute gift for teachers or parents, trying to find the right message to motivate children.

Professor Jefferson Band - cerebral rock.

Tuesday, 7 September 2021

Flash Single Review: Catch Me If You Can - Lah-Lah

As a music teacher and musician I have always admired Lah-Lah's commitment to educating children about the joys of live music making. Bearing this in mind, a notification for their latest single just popped into my Insta feed so I thought it was about time I further investigated this band and their impressive back catalogue. The latest track "Follow Me" is great fun, but it was the earlier single "Catch Me If You Can" that really caught my attention. It certainly is an appropriate title considering how catchy the tune is.

The song lays down the gauntlet right from the start beginning with an almost declarative outburst of the chorus, before the verse really kicks in with some verve. Here a lively keyboard fuses with a bass line that pays homage to Peter Hook. The song is upbeat and intoxicating and really captures the attention of the listener with its steady hypnotic vibe.  Here electronica fuses with pop opera where Kate Bush teams up with Sarah Brightman and employ New Order to come up with a backing track.

There's an interesting diversion during the middle eight, where a staccato keyboard breaks up the rhythm pattern, providing temporary respite, before we return to the groove with some vengeance. Additional instrumentation is included towards the end to further build the intensity, before everything is eventually stripped out, to finish as we began. Poetic justice, or simply an interesting arrangement, I'll let you be the judge of that.

This is a truly great song, and is one of many classic tracks that Lah-Lah's Big Live Band have been involved in over the years. It is punchy, melodic and easy to dance to. The vocals are bright and piercing, and lead the song in fine style. Lah-Lah truly is one of Australia's finest exports, with their growing reputation now reaching across the globe. You really need to check out the band's back catalogue, there are plenty more where this one came from.

Lah-Lah - songs to learn and sing.

Saturday, 4 September 2021

Single Review: Everyday Heroes - Music With Michal and Claudia Robin Gunn

Well Christmas came early for me this year as I was lucky enough to receive a pre-release copy of "Everyday Heroes" the new single from two giants of independent music, Michal Amy Bush (Music with Michal) and Claudia Robin Gunn. These two inspirational artists have collaborated to create a song that is both educational and entertaining. The tone is upbeat and optimistic, and spreads a message of gratitude for all the essential workers out there doing their best to keep us all safe in these uncertain times.

The opening four bars draw the listener in immediately, with elements of the Police classic "Message In a Bottle" on display. The lyrics are compelling and highly effective, and effortlessly stay on topic throughout. The song is essentially a celebration of essential workers, whether this is postal workers, teachers or nurses, they are all 'heroes' here, with the listener consistently encouraged to 'come and celebrate them all with me'. 

Unsurprisingly, it is the vocals that are the real stand out, and in particular the musical blend of these two superb artists; who combine with breathtaking clarity. We are also treated to some endearing children's voices during the break, who contribute to the growing list of essential workers before finally declaring them as 'everyday heroes'. This warm embrace between the enthusiastic outbursts of the children and the wistful backing vocals of the artists brings a certain sense of vulnerability and charm to the track. The melodic diversion that follows is similarly effective, and cements the central idea that 'if we work together we can keep each other safe'.

The overall arrangement features a highly melodic bass, a hypnotic drum pattern, and some nimble guitar work throughout, constantly searching for space to add additional melody to the track. Towards the end the instrumentation is removed almost entirely, with just the drums and the vocals left to carry the message. Here the song takes on an anthemic tone, inviting the listener to sing along and celebrate these every day heroes 'who make the world go round and round'. 

These two artists clearly understand the power of dynamics, where all the instrumentation is then reintroduced for a final flourish, alongside a sumptuous vocal blend, cleverly adapted to bring the verse and chorus together. It leaves the listener feeling both inspired and informed, and does so with a melody as sprightly and engaging as anything you're likely to hear.

All in all a fabulous song, delivered with tremendous expertise and skill. The message is compelling and delivered with both style and substance. I take my hat off to these two superb artists who have delivered the world a much needed boost, and done so with both flair and imagination. This song is certainly going to be the number one song on my playlist, and you should make it yours too. Also make sure you check out the official YouTube video where, due to the wonders of modern technology, the artists still manage to perform 'together' despite the current lockdown in New Zealand.

Music with Michal and Claudia Robin Gunn - a match made in heaven.