Wednesday, 28 December 2022

Flash Single Review: Marsha and the Positrons - New Leaf

Marsha and the Positrons are a kindie rock band from Washington DC. I first discovered them when I was compiling a Spotify playlist of transport songs and included their very catchy song "Alien in an Ambulance". Their music is thoughtful and engaging, incorporating numerous positive social messages throughout. Their latest single, "New Leaf", is an absolute gem, and is taken from their forthcoming album due for release in the new year. This truly is a feel-good track, which exudes a richness of texture and musical depth throughout.

An isolated vocal introduces the track, before a melodic keyboard infiltrates the sound, like raindrops from the sky. The song gradually builds in intensity with precision and patience, with the bass adding additional dynamics to the overall sound. The rhythm is light and sparse, allowing the melodic components of the combined instrumentation to really shine.

The middle eight features a haunting piano alongside some scintillating harmonies, which succeed in adding considerable ambience to the music, an approach that the Cocteau Twins perfected back in the eighties. Although the song is relatively short at under two minutes, there is clearly a lot going on here, with the band pulling out all the stops, although I personally would have preferred to have heard more.

The wistful vocals exude a unique sound, fortified with lyrics which serve like a stream of consciousness, with hardly a moment to pause for breath, between each new sentiment. The myriad of ideas contained in the song essentially anticipate the arrival of the new year; visualised as a beacon of hope and opportunity if we approach it in the right way. 

The lyrics also appear somewhat reflective at times, with the artist occasionally reminiscing about the past 'thinking over the last one', although we are now 'starting fresh'. The sentiment is also inclusive and not self-indulgent, where we are all invited on this musical journey 'if you put your hand in mine', because ultimately 'I want to wish you a happy, sweet new year'.

This is a quite superb piece of music, from a band who have really built a name for themselves over the years. The lyrics unravel like poetry, the arrangement is crafted with considerable expertise and the vibe is charming and optimistic. If this song is anything to go by, I'm sure the new album will be well worth a listen. This is a band clearly on top of their game, and I look forward to hearing more from them in the future.

Marsha and the Positrons - hope springs eternal.

Monday, 26 December 2022

Flash Single Review: Beppie - What Should I Wear?

Beppie is an innovative children's musician from Edmonton, Canada, and despite her relatively recent arrival on the music scene, has already released five albums to date. "What Should I Wear?" is her latest single taken from the new album "Nice To Meet You". It's a song of both power and intensity delivered with an unusual sense of irony.

The song kicks off with an electrifying guitar riff, blending nicely alongside a hypnotic drum beat, which enables the raw vitality of the vocals to take centre stage. The bass adds additional power, as the track continues to stake its claim with considerable gusto. 

The guitars are blisteringly tight and really cut through the wall of sound, with the drums sounding equally formidable and almost tribal at times. The overall vibe pays homage to the likes of the Ramones or perhaps even the Ruts, with the kind of edgy rhythm, which never lets up for a second.  This is all delivered with one final punch before the song disappears into the darkness.

On a lighter note, the lyrics highlight the various fashion options available to the artist on any given day, despite the frustrating intrusion of the elements. Whether she decides to wear a sweater in 32 degrees, or sandals and shorts when 'it's raining outside', it's going to be her decision and hers alone, and if 'people stare' she doesn't care. Her exasperation of choice can even appear angst-ridden at times, where, 'I wouldn't be surprised if I lose my mind'. 

Despite the indecisiveness seemingly on display, the irony is not lost on the listener. There's no political message here as such, or any call to action that this genre of music typically requires. Instead the artist takes the listener on a lighthearted journey into her wardrobe, and does so with noticeable relish.

This is an excellent piece of retro rock, delivered with humour, irony and even nonchalance at times. Interestingly, it is a song which provides a significant departure from much of her music, which often involves an eclectic jumble of ideas, merging into one ambitious vision. In this sense, Beppie is quite an unusual artist, never seemingly happy to stick with one style; always searching for new ideas to experiment with. An approach, which appears to apply to both her music and her wardrobe.

Beppie - the joy of dressing is an art.

Friday, 23 December 2022

Flash Single Review: The Little Wattlebird Band - Homemade Christmas Tree

The Little Wattlebird Band are a folk duo from Queensland, Australia, who craft beautiful songs inspired by both nature and the collective imaginations of children. Their combined experience in early childhood education and visual arts has inspired a selection of songs that are an absolute delight. A real standout song for me is "Homemade Christmas Tree".

If you are looking for a Christmas song, that will make you weep with joy, and send your spirit soaring through the stars then this is the song for you. An extraordinary piece of music; both captivating and uplifting in turn. A truly breath taking piece of work, evoking perhaps shades of Lou Reed without the cynicism.

The music is quite gentle and sparse with a melodic bass line underpinning the rhythm, with what sounds like a mandolin taking centre stage. The vocal blend is quite velvety and rich, with harmonies that perhaps pay homage to the pristine sweetness of Simon and Garfunkel.

The song is gentle, highly melodic, and captures the attention of the listener immediately. The harmonies are superb, adding an additional layer of resonance to the overall sound. Despite the uplifting melody, the arrangement is light and easy-going, with an execution of delivery seemingly effortless but never indifferent. 

The lyrics describe the discovery of a fallen branch, lying under a tree appearing lost and forlorn. This discovery during a warm Australian Christmas stroll, inspired the artists to 'turn that branch into a Christmas tree'. 

The duo then describe the process by which this occurs, ultimately transforming the branch into a magnificent tree that can now 'be enjoyed by everyone'. The chorus celebrates the finished product, which ultimately becomes their "Homemade Christmas Tree".

It is such a simple idea, highlighting how things need not be discarded, but can be restored with a little love and imagination. As a result, Christmas can then be celebrated in a less consumerist way. You should also check out the video, which provides a unique amalgamation of the ideas contained in the song through art, drama and live performance.

The legendary British DJ John Peel once said that his favourite songs always made him cry. Well he would have loved this song; a real tear-jerker that pulls at the heart strings, and would surely appeal to the whole family. It's also worth nothing that this song is not just for Christmas, but could be played the whole year round, such is its lyrical appeal and potent melody. 

The Little Wattlebird Band - festivity and sustainability.

Sunday, 9 October 2022

Flash Single Review: Esther Crow - Homemade Halloween

"Homemade Halloween" is the new single from the illustrious Esther Crow and it has certainly been worth the wait. The song essentially provides a narrative for sustainability, and does so in a fun yet unapologetic way.  Following fast on the heels of her most recent release "Stuff", this song truly has it all with its potent message, live instrumentation, and killer opening riffYou should also check out the video for this song, where the artist's sustainability message is recited by a singing tree.

The lyrics of the song are equally impressive, providing the kids with numerous examples of how to create their very own Halloween experience. Now it's 'time to use those magical minds', and 'take something old and make it new'. Whether this involves turning a blanket into 'monster fur' or creating a 'subway car' out of a box, we are all encouraged to get creative through using that 'artist brain'. 

Although the music appears to be wild and chaotic at times, the artist always appears to be in complete control, even allowing the song to really let rip at the end in an almost psychedelic foray into the unknown. Her ability to scan complex vocal patterns into very tight spaces also enables her to reveal her message without diluting the impact of the music.

Esther Crow is a unique artist, who manages to create musical soundscapes that intoxicate and delight in turn. Her music takes the listener on something of a rollercoaster ride, where classic rock riffs are exploited to perfection, and transformed into an originality of intent and purpose. She is an eco warrior with a clear vision, providing a narrative of sustainability and hope for future generations. She also manages to do this with both humour, and an acute awareness of pop sensibility. I just hope the song gets the recognition it truly deserves. 

Esther Crow - another slice of retro rock perfection.

Friday, 7 October 2022

Album Review: Todd'n'Tina - Dynamite!

Dynamite is the debut album of Todd'n'Tina, a family-friendly duo from Minnesota, USA. The album features ten super sounds brimming with pop sensibility and raw attitude. The music is punchy and highly melodic, and delivered with a noticeable intensity of purpose. Now I don't know if it's the old punk in me or what, but their music really ticks all the boxes for me, with its slightly retro sound delivered with power, energy and finesse.

"French Toast Day" really throws down the gauntlet with its thumping backbeat and minimalist keyboard. The vocals are released full throttle, exclaiming how every day should be a 'french toast day', and why not? Shades of the Rezillos on display, where rhythm, melody and attitude combine in a delightful piece of power pop.

"Dermatologist Assistant" bounces along in fine style, with its hypnotic piano, and infectious rhythm. The lyrics keep the listener intrigued throughout, as the artist declares 'I'm a dermatologist astronaut yes that's a thing'. The song also features some intriguing galactic sound effects to further enhance the dramatic effect. A hint of There Might Be Giants on display here, with a reciprocal vocal that is highly effective.

"Unicorns and Narwhals" informs the listener as to why these two creatures (both imaginary and real) simply 'can't be friends'. There are various reasons for this, including how 'they both have horns so nobody's going to win', and 'one likes to fly and one likes to swim'. A truly imaginative lyric, which succeeds in telling the type of story you could probably recite in a children's book. 

"Silly String" features a backing track that reminded me a bit of Cornershop's "Brimful of Asha", but this time sped up, and delivered with a touch more exuberance.  Here the message is one of classroom angst, where the lyrics recall childhood memories that are perhaps still a little raw. Nonetheless, the artist manages to transform these tortured childhood memories into a cathartic outburst of energy, where nothing really matters because 'I've got silly string'.

Apparently "Giraffes Like Peanut Butter", well who am I to disagree, although I could hazard a guess that there aren't too many songs around with a similar song title. The harmonies here are superb, and the intensity of the music typifies their sound which is uncompromising and relentless. The reciprocal vocal resurfaces again here, as does the piano, providing the glue which holds the music together.

"Panda Bear Dance" is an absolute delight, with its melodic piano, and its lively groove. So simple, yet highly effective, and easy to dance to, as long as it's not 'in your underwear'. The song has an infectious vibe which is incredibly catchy, and very easy on the ear. A real treat for the little one's who are sure to absolutely love it.

"If Darth Vader Had an iPhone" sounds like Star Wars has collaborated with Batman, and hired Frank Black to help out on vocals. Another delightful piece of power pop, which is sure to be very popular live. The song is pure twelve bar blues, and grinds away with noticeable intensity. The vocal scan is superb, and really opens up towards the end, with the chant 'go Darth Vader' providing real sing along opportunities for the kids.

"Peanut Butter Pickle Truck" bristles and shines in glorious fashion, with an exuberant piano and vociferous vocal competing for space.  The harmonies reminded me a little of the B52s, providing a melodic diversion to the relentless rhythm on display. The song then somewhat surprisingly, and seemingly out of nowhere comes to an abrupt halt. Shame, I would like to have heard more. 

"Flossing is my Hobby" is my absolute favourite track on the album, with a sound that pays homage to the new wave era of the late seventies. The music is truly exhilarating and sets a breathtaking pace, revealing its full identity in just one minute. This is a no-nonsense piece of foot stomping energy, delivered with heaps of attitude, and topped off with an absolutely mesmerising guitar solo to seal the deal. 

"Two Old Friends", finally brings the album to a close, whilst also providing a noticeable change of pace.  Here a sublime vocal delivers a delightful melody that glistens and shines throughout.  The song explores themes of friendship, conflict, resolution and ultimately hope, where as long as we are loyal to our friends we can 'find something good in each and every day'.

I really like this duo, their lyrics are original, and their sound is raw and authentic, which is somewhat refreshing in the digital age. One of the major strengths of the album is that both artists can really sing, and each deliver their message, in their own unique style. They certainly know how to engage the listener, and have managed to put together a selection of songs which are both entertaining and thought-provoking. Ultimately, this is a feel good album, it's great fun, and brilliantly executed, so if you want to brighten up your day, then give this album a spin, it truly is out of this world.

Todd'n'Tina - simply dynamite.

Sunday, 4 September 2022

Album Review: Stacy & Athena - Best Day Ever

Stacy & Athena are a musical duo from New York, who have been writing and performing music since their college years. Having gradually gone their separate ways to bring up their respective families, they reconnected as a result of the pandemic, collaborating on a socially distanced birthday song. They had so much fun writing together, that they decided to keep going, resulting in the release of their debut album Best Day Ever. The album is quite superb, featuring rich acoustic instrumentation, delightful harmonies, and a host of original songs that are sure to inspire and entertain children across the globe.

And whilst we're discussing the globe, the opening track "Save Our World", attempts to do just that. Here the duo explore 'the type of things we can do' to save our planet, because ultimately, 'the earth is counting on you'. Here 'we go round and round and round to make the change somehow', whether this involves planting trees, or recycling our waste, we are all encouraged to do our bit for the planet. The music supports the sentiment here, with the acoustic guitar taking centre stage, piercing the wall of sound on display amongst an array of instrumentation competing for space.

Next up, "I Believe in Me" really conjures up a heart warming message of positivity, where we are reliably informed 'I can do anything because I believe in me.' The lyrics encourage the kids to think for themselves, and perhaps most importantly never 'follow the crowd'. Again the acoustic guitar takes centre stage, with a shuffle beat and a sparse bass providing additional support. Towards the end the song is stripped down to its bare essentials in true anthemic style, where we are encouraged to 'clap our hands' and sing 'because I can do anything'.

Feelings and emotions are clearly a hot topic at the moment, with the new generation having to deal with an increasingly complex and confusing world. The song "Breathe" further explores this topic; offering possible solutions, such as the importance of remembering to breathe particularly when we feel angry. The bass playing is a real stand out here, rich in texture, and demonstrating an exquisite understanding of both space and melody. The whispering harmonies contribute further to the lyrical impact, creating an overall atmosphere worthy of the theme on show. 

"Best Day Ever" has a lovely Crosby Stills and Nash vibe, featuring lyrics which declare with supreme confidence that this will be 'the best day ever', and 'we're gonna have fun', and why not? Life is too short not to. The melody rises and falls in tune with the overall vibe, which is relaxed and uncomplicated. The harmonies are highly effective, particularly on the chorus which is swimming in pop sensibility. 

"Chocolate Chip Cookies" has a tougher, more raw appeal, which at times ventures almost into Ramones territory. This song has heaps of attitude and really grabs the listener around the throat demanding to be heard. I love the bridge which features a dazzling guitar solo, with perhaps a hint of wah-wah pedal thrown in for good measure. No nonsense, pure rock and roll - love it!

From new wave to seventies disco, "Kooky Crazy" is a real blast from the past, featuring a rhythm guitar that wouldn't sound out of place on a Chic album, alongside an effusive saxophone and a pulsating bass that had me almost jumping out of my seat. Brilliant!

"Some Kids" has a nice country vibe, featuring crystal clear vocals alongside a stomping rhythm section. The arrangement is paradoxical, in that although the kids are told to 'stop' this only encourages them to continue with whatever activity they are currently embarking on. This idea is then reversed at the end, where the kids who finally want to sleep are told to 'wake up', much to their consternation. A very original idea, highly interactive and great fun.

"Happy Birthday to You" is another lively anthemic song, full of fun and gusto. I love the nonchalant vocal, which encourages the listener to join in with the actions. Whether they are instructed to 'clap to celebrate', 'march to celebrate', or 'jump to celebrate', the message is clear and we are all eagerly listening. The chorus is the real standout, with a hypnotic hook that really cuts the mustard. There is so much going on here, and all packed in to a song barely more than a minute long. 

All in all, a truly inspired album, crammed with alluring melodies that will no doubt delight and inspire the kids in turn. I love the freshness and energy of the music,  which is highly original, thought-provoking and brilliantly put together. Their sound draws on influences including, folk, country, rock and even disco at times, and does so in fine style. On this form I'm sure we'll be hearing much more from them in the future.

Stacy & Athena - the world needs you.

Tuesday, 23 August 2022

Album Track Review: Music With Michal - Fireworks

As the weather warms up here Down Under, it's the perfect time to pop on this summer jam from Music with Michal. Taken from her latest release Summer Days, "Fireworksis a scintillating piece of atmospheric pop with one of the finest melodies you are ever likely to hear. The song also benefits from the welcome input of the Tiptoe Giants, who contribute some superb harmonies throughout. I suggest you keep an eye out for both these artists, because they are currently on an upward trajectory, and heading for the top.

The song begins with stirring keyboards that create the sense that something special is about to happen. The pulsating rhythm builds the tension, as several families who have gathered on the beach anticipate the onset of a spectacular scene. Surrounded by their loved ones, onlookers revel in the 'happy atmosphere' of this celebratory evening. As the fireworks shoot across the sky the chorus builds to an explosion of sound that delights the senses.

Just as you think the melodic component has run its course, we are then treated to another tuneful treat as we revel in 'wonder and delight', 'on this beautiful night’. The bridge then shifts gear in almost rap style, informing the listener to 'look up at the colourful skies' with a chant that is both infectious and uplifting. We are finally left with the chorus to see the song out, which it does in fine style, repeating the refrain with delicacy and finesse.

This song ticks all the boxes. It has superb lyrics, a magnificent tune, an ambitious arrangement, and fantastic production. All in all, an excellent song by an amazing artist who is currently setting the pace from her home town of Christchurch. I've already played this song numerous times, it is so intoxicating, you are guaranteed to feel good after hearing it.

Music With Michal - rocket to the top.

Friday, 8 July 2022

Video Review: Levity Beet - Fine Feathered Dinosaur

"Fine Feathered Dinosaur" is a recent release from the very talented Levity Beet, an award-winning artist from New Zealand, who has been making music for children and families since 2008. The song is super catchy, short, sweet and to the point, signing off in just under two minutes. 

The music video is equally impressive, and really brings the song to life. The idea behind the video is pretty simple, a happy dinosaur couple give birth to a baby dinosaur who then goes on to dance throughout the day making friends along the way. How can you not love a video like that?

The video also highlights the little known theory that 'many of the dinosaurs we once imagined as big scaly lizards actually had wild bright feathers'. Now I'm no expert when it comes to making videos, but I love the way this video captures your attention immediately. The colours are tasteful and inviting, and the animation courtesy of Dooverberry Dave is superbly executed.

Levity Beet is a very exciting artist whose reputation continues to grow, and on this form you should be hearing a lot of him in the future. He has released five albums to date, featuring a host of superb catchy songs for the kids to groove along to. 

Levity Beet - dinosaur boogie.

Sunday, 26 June 2022

Album Review: The Little Rockers Band - Getting to the Gig.

The Little Rockers Band are a duo from New Jersey, USA, and their most recent album Getting to the Gig provides a much needed tonic for the troops. This album is seemingly dedicated to all the kids out there, who may have missed out recently as a result of the pandemic. It's superbly put together, and is essentially a concept album, which focuses on travel and movement, with a particular emphasis on children's fascination with travel generally. The songs on display here, entice the children to both have fun and use their imaginations on this magical journey of wonder and intrigue. 

The album begins its intrepid journey with the opening track "Travelling Rock", a flirtation with twelve bar blues which you are sure to love if if you are an Elvis fan. Shades of "Jail House Rock" come to mind, but this time around the lyrics anticipates all the excitement that lies ahead 'all the way across the country'. The song also features some superb harmonies which add both melody and texture to the track. The song also includes a mesmerising guitar break, followed by some intricate piano playing, that is sure to have everybody's feet tapping.

"Anywhere" features a Hammond organ, and a rhythm pattern slightly reminiscent of the Kinks "See My Friends". The song is quite rich in texture and provides a running narrative of this particular magical mystery tour.  In this world, it doesn't really matter where we are going, or when we get there, we just kick back and enjoy the trip. Here we are 'riding round without a care', all is well with the world because I have 'you by my side', and 'you can take me anywhere'. Great stuff!

"Riding on My Bike" is slightly funkier, featuring a clean guitar sound sparring with a quite sophisticated drum pattern and an almost reggae inspired bass. The lyrics are tight and compressed, creating the necessary tension for the chorus to really explode. Again, the song reflects on the simple pleasure of enjoying a bicycle ride as we take in a bit of sightseeing and 'make friends with the clouds up here'. Being an avid cyclist myself, I can really relate to this song, with its cool, laid-back delivery.

"Super Kid" also incorporates a funkier approach, with the Hammond organ once again taking centre stage. The bass and drums create a sublime groove with effortless expertise. I also love the reciprocal vocal, which blends together with noticeable clarity throughout. Again a clean guitar with a hint of delay provides a superb introduction for the bridge to fully materialise. Now I'm only guessing here because I don't have the sleeve notes, but are the lyrics here referring to the quiet achievers who don't always get noticed, but make a huge difference? I'll leave that for you to decide.

"Looking Out My Back Door" provides a wonderful rendition of the famous Creedence song, beginning with a guitar sound that could have been lifted from David Bowie's "Let's Dance". This is an excellent rendition of a classic song, by one of my favourite US bands. You are sure to love this, the musicianship is exquisite, as are the vocals, which blend together perfectly.

"Smoothie Shake" provides a surprising musical departure, featuring a drum machine, which could sit quite comfortably on an OMD or Human League album. Despite this seemingly eighties vibe, the lyrical imagery is steeped in fifties nostalgia, as we 'do the smoothie shake'; a dance which turns out to be suitable 'for both young and old'. The lyrics really hit the mark, and you could almost imagine Fonzie grooving along to this song with the rest of the gang on the set of Happy Days.

"I Wanna Have Some Fun" is a real foot stomper, and in true eighties fashion, sounds like Robert Smith has been drafted in to write the backing track. The bass and drums really drive the song along with exquisite power and minimalism. The message is clear and to the point 'I wanna have some fun', don't we all?  This is a truly uplifting song, that attempts to move and groove in time with the heartbeat of the universe.

"Shooting Star" is slightly heavier, incorporating a more distorted guitar, along with a hypnotic keyboard. The arrangement on the verse creates the type of tension and release that allows the chorus to really soar. The message here is clear, get out there and try and reach your potential, because you too can be a 'shooting star'. The song also features a truly fabulous solo on the bridge, adding additional vitality to the track. The music finally draws to a close with some delightful piano, serenading a somewhat sweet and yet powerful vocal.

I guess you can't have a song about a road trip without mentioning "Traffic Lights;" a song which describes the regimental directions emanating from traffic lights, which we are sure to encounter on our way. The lights are then cleverly utilised to dictate the movement of the song, resulting in the lyrics inspiring the musical arrangement. There are also some interesting musical hooks dispersed throughout, with some tasteful guitar playing adding a certain ambience to the overall sound.

"The Wheels on the Tour Bus" actually plays homage to the famous nursery rhyme, although this particular rendition features a bass line which reminded me a little of T. Rex's "Hot Love". The song is incredibly catchy, and a great way to finish off the album, with a lively rendition of a famous children's song, executed with a quite detached and yet whimsical delivery. 

This duo have created a soundtrack to a wonderful uplifting journey, where children are entertained and inspired in turn. Although the album appears to be firmly entrenched in fifties nostalgia, it also references musical influences from other decades and does so seamlessly. The harmonies are superb and the musicianship is thought-provoking and tasteful throughout. All in all a magical journey of melodic delight, which is sure to have wide appeal.

The Little Rockers Band - the golden age of rock 'n' roll.

Monday, 6 June 2022

Flash Single Review: Tom Weber - I Need a New Song

I met Tom Weber on Instagram during the early days of the Pandemic. We've never actually met face to face, or even spoken on the phone, but due to the wonders of modern technology we've been able to keep in touch bonding over a mutual appreciation of some of our favourite bands. Including the Psychedelic Furs and New Order, a band who I was lucky enough to play support to back in the day.

Having become more familiar with his work of late, I've realised he must qualify as one of the hardest working children's musicians around. His most recent single "I Need a New Song" is great; it immediately grabs your attention with the kind of hook that really makes you sit up and take notice. 

The song has a nice relaxed groove, with bongos carrying the momentum, alongside an imaginative bass, and some subtle guitar underpinning the groove. The keyboard floats around in melodic sympathy to the lead vocal, and the lyrics cleverly describe what the artist hopes to achieve by creating this elusive song.  He does this by emphasising how this isn't 'any kind of song', but a song which is going to make me 'sing along', and 'move my feet'. I'm sure we would all agree with that.

Towards the end the music gradually slows down, as the artist quietly reflects on his search for a melody to 'sooth my soul'. The music almost floats into jazz territory here, as the individual parts gradually dissipate into the ether. The trumpet which had previously boldly declared the instrumental hook, now moves around almost forlornly amongst the ashes of the dying song, searching for a place to rest. Well, I'm not sure if that's what the artist intended, but that's what it sounds like to me. A melancholy drift into the unknown.

All in all an inspired idea, and a great song with a hook to die for. Tom Weber clearly knows how to craft music that has real singalong appeal. A man with an ear for a great melody, who has come up with a fantastic song that I for one, would love to cover myself.

Tom Weber - lost and found.

Sunday, 5 June 2022

Flash Single Review: Claudia Robin Gunn - Baby Blue Whale

I absolutely love this; the latest piece of pop perfection supplied courtesy of the very talented and highly prolific Claudia Robin Gunn. I'm referring to her recent single "Baby Blue Whale" a gentle and thought-provoking song which ebbs and flows like the waves of the ocean. There's more to this song than meets the ear, as it represents just a small piece of a much bigger picture on display here, but more on that later.

The song opens with a highly melodic acoustic guitar which set the scene for the arrival of the vocals which begin interestingly on the chorus. The song features a sparse rhythm section with the drums pulsating like a heartbeat, and the bass exploring the space in-between. 

The lyrics are simple and descriptive, and the vocal scan leaves enough space for the guitar to create the type of atmospheric soundscapes often heard on Brian Eno albums. This whaling adventure is clearly a family affair with a brief mention of 'Mama Blue Whale', before the song disappears into that good night with a feast of swirling guitars left in its wake.

The song is taken from the forthcoming album - Sing For the Sea - Little Wild Ocean Friends, which includes some of her finest work to date. Featuring twenty four original songs which celebrate our breathtaking oceans and the variety of creatures that call it home. Created with funding from Creative New Zealand, this is the first of a two phase project which focuses on wildlife conservation and awareness. Soon to be followed by Sing for the Earth - Little Wild Animals.

Claudia Robin Gunn is an artist that cares, a true poet and tunesmith who captures the imagination and stirs the senses with her work. She has an ability to create musical soundscapes that resonate deeply with her audience. She is an artist on a mission, who utilises her art, in order to both raise awareness and entertain, providing a deep emotional connection with her ever-increasing fan base. 

Claudia Robin Gunn - an artist on a mission.

Saturday, 4 June 2022

Flash Video Review: Blackberry Jam and Jack Hartmann - Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

If you're looking for an inspirational new video for kids, then look no further than Teamwork Makes the Dream Work, a recent collaboration between Anthony Haughton from Blackberry Jam and Jack Hartmann. These two fabulous artists recently got together and came up with this priceless piece of uplifting pop. The song is incredibly catchy, superbly produced and features inspirational lyrics which amongst other things 'show kindness and give love'.

The video transports the viewers off to their very own fantasy island, where the calypso inspired music is performed surrounded by palm trees, sun sea and sand. The video also features everyday footage cleverly inserted into the frame, where the lyrics match the film in a perfect fit.

The two vocals blend together superbly, as does the instrumentation, with a solid bass, supporting a penetrating keyboard and a minimalist guitar. It's almost impossible not to feel good after watching this  video which conjures up images of love, peace and kindness, performed with a vibrant purity of intent.

Both artists are currently taking the world by storm, with their prolific songwriting, inspired videos and relentless work ethic. I suggest you check out their back catalogue at your earliest opportunity, where you will find an absolute treasure trove of inspiring and educational songs for children. I'm not sure who's idea it was to get together, but I'm glad they did, because I've had this song humming round my head all week.

Blackberry Jam and Jack Hartmann - the dream team.

Flash Single Review: Captain Festus McBoyle - Breathe

Captain Festus McBoyle and his motley crew are a comedy trio from New Zealand, and their recent single "Breathe" is as catchy a tune as you are ever likely to hear. The song is great fun, has a lively upbeat delivery, and tackles the complex issue of how to deal with adversity when it arrives, which is hinted at in the song title "Breathe".

The music features a ukulele driving the rhythm, alongside a lively accordion providing the additional melodic flavour in true Celtic fashion. The lyrics describe a random series of misfortunes which may occur at any time, including bumped heads, sore toes and flat tyres. The solution is to 'take one deep breath' and then everything will be 'all right'.

The song also explores how although we're all different this simple truth of taking one deep breath applies to each and every one of us. In this world the clouds that appear in your day can be overcome 'like a dance in the rain'. There is a lot going on here, so be sure to give this song a spin, it's sure to brighten up the darkest day.

From what I can gather, they are a pretty phenomenal live act too, with their own particular brand of Vaudevillian musical comedy lighting up concerts and festivals across the country. The trio have been described as a cross between Monty Python and Spike Milligan and their award-winning music continues to reach an ever growing audience.  With songs as didactic and inspirational as this, I'm sure their reputation will continue to grow.

Captain Festus McBoyle - piercing the darkness.

Friday, 3 June 2022

Album Review: The Zing Zangs - The Good Day

The Zing Zangs are a folk duo from Vancouver, Canada, who have already made their mark on the world despite only recently bursting on to the scene. Their new album The Good Day is quite superb, featuring eleven delightful tunes, expertly produced by award-winning producer Dean Jones. The album in true "Virginia Woolf" fashion, recites the story of a single day in the life of two good friends.

The opening track "Prelude" sets the scene, with the sound of birds taking centre stage alongside some lively percussion. The music although only thirty nine seconds long, captures the essence of a brand new day and a genuine sense of wonder about what lies ahead. 

The next track immediately provides the answer, where a 'sleepy Sunday cooked up inside' eventuates in the idea to form a band. Here, fingers are no longer wasted tapping on the table top, but are used to locate the required instruments that 'could use a helping hand'. A major strength of the song is its coherent melody, combined with a simplicity of delivery both sweet and charming in turn.

"Chatterbox" is even more upbeat, with its sprightly melody, and garrulous lyrics crammed into an increasingly bizarre arrangement. Here a reciprocal vocal dominates the chorus, before the song disappears as quickly as it arrives. 

"Good Day" provides another example of the strength of songwriting on display here. The syncopation of the lyrics, and the space created allows the melody to really soar, and the heartfelt vocal delivery finishes the job in fine style. 

"Invisible Friend" describes the fascinating relationship the artist shares with her imaginary friend; the vocals of which reminded me a little of one of my favourite Irish bands the Cranberries. The music is pulsating and succinct, before it embarks on an intriguing bridge where the melody really explodes before coming to an abrupt end. I would have liked to have heard more but there you go.

"Hide and Seek" is a no-nonsense piece of electronica, which clearly benefits from the input of the very talented Mista Cookie Jar, who brings his own unique brand of rap to the proceedings. This song is so cool, a real foot stomper if there ever was one, and essentially provides a musical illustration of the famous game we can all relate to. 

What can I say about "Park Song", I was literally blown away by this. It proceeds with a melody that even Dylan would be proud of. The ability of these two artists to effortlessly bash out a brilliant tune is very impressive. The lyrics even find the space to describe the song writing process that takes place where 'the melody just kicks in every time'. Certainly a novel idea, and essentially a song which describes the importance of friendship, with just a hint of melancholy. 

"Shadows Dance" features a sparse guitar, some minimal keyboards and the most beautiful vocal you are ever likely to hear. The lyrics are sweet and heartfelt, and the melody complements the lyrics superbly. Like all great wordsmiths the words soar and swirl around an intoxicating melody that clearly hits the target. It is the effortless delivery though that really sets the tone, with the artist expressing a purity of spirit that reminded me a little of Enya.

As the album draws to a close, we finally find ourselves 'On the Front Porch" where the crickets are out, as we reach the end of this majestic day. The music has a light jazzy feel, as the lyrics describe the simple desire to kick back together 'while the nightbirds sing'.  If you are fond of imaginative lyrics then this is the song for you, with a dazzling array of images on display. The music also captures an old-fashioned sense of wonder, with a soundtrack that could fit on a Louis Armstrong album.

The final track "Soup" reminded me a little of "Her Majesty" by the Beatles with its punchy succinct statement squeezed in right at the end. On this occasion "Soup" appears on the menu asking the question 'do you drink soup or do you eat it'? A charming little ditty, perhaps gently reminding the listener that as the night draws in, we may be hungry and just have enough time for a light meal before bed time. The obvious thing to do at this point, would be to write a bed time song, but here the duo have cleverly drawn the curtain on proceedings with a gentle prod in a different direction. 

The Zing Zangs are a very talented duo, who are able to craft songs with intoxicating melodies and memorable lyrics. Their album provides a breath of fresh air in a complex world, where life is viewed here as exciting and opportunistic, despite the perils that may surround. All in all a delightful album, which blends a cerebral sound, with sublime vocals which successfully reflects the optimism on display.

The Zing Zangs - I'll be there for you when the rain starts to fall.

Thursday, 2 June 2022

Album Review: Itty Bitty Beats - Imaginarium

Itty Bitty Beats are back (as if they had ever been away) with their brand new album Imaginariumfeaturing ten fabulous new songs guaranteed to have everyone up and grooving. This is their fourth album to date, and features a delightful brand of melodic ditties which will no doubt charm and inspire in turn. The world also seems to be finally waking up to this dynamic duo, who have been really smashing it on Spotify recently with over eighty thousand monthly listeners to date. 

"Marpo The Hippopotamus" kicks off the proceedings in fine style, with this somewhat classical sounding description of the aforementioned hippo 'with no voice'. The music sounds almost vaudeville at times with its dramatic musical soundscapes, matched with a vocal that pays homage to Liza Minelli in her Cabaret era. The song finishes on a positive note, with our friendly hippo eventually finding her voice and receiving a 'standing ovation'.

We are then all invited to a "Party on the Moon", which has a more contemporary sound, and ventures into Tao Cruz territory. In essence the lyrics describe a birthday party which takes place seemingly on the moon. With an album title such as "Imaginarium" clearly anything is possible here. The vocals are delivered with serious conviction assisted by the melodic component which serves to further brighten up the sound.

"Rocktopus" describes an octopus who is in fact also a 'drummer in a rock band'. Here the music utilises a guitar sound which would sit comfortably on an AC/DC album. The drums and bass provide a solid backdrop culminating in a mini drum solo. We are then treated to a mesmerising guitar solo before the song comes to an abrupt end like a car crashing into a brick wall. Not the sort of song you would expect from this duo, but a welcome surprise, and all you heavy metal fans out there are sure to love it.

"Tutti Frutti Island" takes us into calypso territory with a clever reciprocal vocal, which reminded me a little of the Beatles "Twist and Shout". The song has great energy, and features a variety of instrumentation which blends together superbly in this hypnotic feast of sound. The bridge sounds like it's being narrated by a game show host, who invites us all onto the "Tutti Frutti" dance floor, to participate in a variety of dance steps.

"Sock Mess Monster" boasts one of the best song titles I've heard in a while, and has a lovely Celtic feel, which unfolds like an Irish jig. "The Sock Mess Monster" is in fact the 'Irish cousin of the Loch Ness monster', providing a humorous exploration into Scottish folklore. The music is joyful and uplifting, interspersed with a spoken voice. This lyrical technique creates the necessary dialogue for the lead vocal to dictate the pace of the music. An interesting idea, a great arrangement, and without doubt my favourite track on the album.

"Ride on a Cloud" features what sounds like a banjo and a trumpet competing for space. The melody is sublime reaching a crescendo on the chorus where the artist floats 'gently up' and then 'sales through the sky', on this imaginary journey. There is clearly a sixties music influence here, with an overall approach that sounds like a bizarre cross between "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" and "Streets of London".

"Mermaids" will surely have huge appeal, with its easy listening vibe and superb harmonies which keenly inform us that 'we are mermaids and we love to play and swing'.  The song has a lovely country feel, featuring what sounds like a pedal steel guitar floating around in the background. There is also a dreamy lyrical display, which conjures up images of imaginary mermaids gliding through the water through 'the oceans blue green waves'.

Of course you can't have an album which stirs the imagination without mentioning unicorns. "Little Unicorn" is literally drowning in melody, and provides a description of the 'littlest unicorn you've ever seen'. This magical tale is accompanied by a sparse guitar and a gentle keyboard, which creates the required atmosphere that the lyrics demand. An absolute gem, and the type of song that children would probably love to hear at bedtime to serenade them to sleep.

"Dragon Tea Party" features some dexterous guitar playing, accompanying the lead vocals which describe the intrepid outcome of inviting 'a dragon to tea'. This tea party takes place 'under the apple tree', and the dragon clearly contributes to the proceedings, managing to warm up the tea pot with a breath of hot air. A fabulous idea for a children's song; brilliantly executed.

"Dream Machine" is essentially a bed time song, but this time the bed becomes a dream machine, which explores the dreamlike state of a child. Whether this is a cowboy adventure, a deep sea dive, or a rocket trip, the lyrics explore the infinite imagination of a child in great detail. Here bed time is no longer a monotonous ritual, but an exciting experience, providing opportunities for exploration and adventure 

Once again "Itty Bitty Beats" have really knocked it out of the park, with an album that does exactly what the title suggests. The band take the listener on a magical journey where we can party on the moon, sneak off to an imaginary island, ride on clouds, pretend to be mermaids, and even invite a dragon to a tea party. There is no shortage of inspiration here, along with some excellent musicianship, stirring melodies and scintillating vocals throughout. I highly recommend it. 

Itty Bitty Beats - imagination on the run.

Sunday, 15 May 2022

Album Review: Benny and Friends - Benny Time

I was very excited to receive an advance copy of the new album from the remarkable Benny Time which will be released worldwide later this month. Benny is an artist who clearly cares about the community, and who has a proven track record of helping other musicians. It is no wonder that so many kindie artists welcomed the opportunity to perform on this album. He has managed to amalgamate a phenomenal team of musicians here, who have added their expertise to create something really special. His overall ethos clearly succeeds in leaving the impression that we are all friends, are all connected and all depend on each other to survive on this crazy planet. 

"The Do Song" wastes no time in introducing a host of stars keen to join the party and add their own unique musical style to the proceedings. The door is always open here, and everyone is welcome, including none other than The Beanies, Tiptoe Giants, Lah-Lah and Justine Clarke. Yes, you heard me correctly, a host of amazing artists who seemingly pop round out of the blue for a quick singalong, culminating in a wonderful cacophony of sound. This is a quite unorthodox way to begin an album, but it must have been great fun to put together, and as the story unfolds, this turn of events seemingly inspires Benny with the lyrics for the next song.

"Cars Are Everywhere" arrives straight out of the seventies, with its full-on punk arrangement, which reminded me a little of "Fast Cars" by the Buzzcocks. Anyone remember them? A full throttled vocal delivered into a melting microphone, with guitars ripping through the track like a chainsaw. There is precious little time to pause for breath here, as the artist provides a no-nonsense piece of minimalist rock, and does so with heaps of attitude. Clearly Benny is also in step with what is going on in the US independent scene at the moment, with a song that would sit well on an Esther Crowe album.

"A Little Recycling Adventure" provides an unexpected twist to the proceedings with an interesting diversion into gospel music, courtesy of the superb vocals of the East Coast Inspirational Singers. The song is brimming with pop sensibility, wrapped in a glorious sea of stirring melody throughout. There is a great message here too, emphasising the fact that we probably all have more than enough stuff, and maybe it's time to 'put out the trash and put it on repeat'.  This is a truly uplifting song, with wonderful instrumentation throughout. I particularly like the bass playing, and the way it blends its funky intricacy with such potent melodic input.

"He Needs to Wee" certainly takes the listener by surprise, adding a twist of levity to the proceedings. Here the artist attempts to narrate a beautiful picturesque scene, but is interrupted constantly by the inconvenience of a full bladder, barging in on the song because of 'a need to wee'. Clearly Benny doesn't take himself too seriously, reminding the discerning listener that the kids often tend to appreciate slapstick.

"Cars Are Everywhere" resurfaces once again, providing a high intensity trip down memory lane, with a unique blend of rockabilly and surf pop, which is sure to get your foot tapping. The irrepressible Bree from B Minor Music introduces the song, encouraging the artist to embark on a hectic car journey, in order to witness what I assume is some kind of record breaking surfing event. An energetic almost tribal drum pattern then dominates the sound, along with a clean guitar lick adding additional melodic intrigue. There's so much excitement on display here, as the artist collaborates in an intense piece of minimalist rock, with additional guitars courtesy of Papa Surf.

"Little Grey Clouds" is more laid back, and is essentially a piece of poetry recited to music. Featuring some beautiful acoustic guitar, and a haunting harmony, the song whisks the listener away in a sea of melancholy, where emotions are stirred, heart strings are pulled and we are reminded 'it's okay to cry'. The song clearly benefits from the input of Claudia Robin Gunn, who adds some scintillating harmonies throughout. Although the song is gentle and melancholy, it gradually builds in intensity culminating in a truly magnificent crescendo at the end. 

"The River" is my absolute favourite track on the album, and is clearly enhanced by the inspired vocals of the Itty Bitty BeatsThe music is almost jaunty at times, featuring some nimble guitar playing, a melodic piano and some very subtle drumming. The song is both catchy and original, and manages to captivate the listener throughout. Perhaps rekindling fond memories of exotic destinations from the past, and a time when there was nothing to do and all day to do it. Truly marvellous.

"Stepping Stones" has a lively laid back groove, which proceeds in good old country fashion, with a sprightly banjo and a hypnotic bass competing for space. I really like the melody on this song, which is further reinforced by some inspiring lyrics, which describe the landscape with considerable expertise. Perhaps most importantly the lyrics highlight how we can all share this beautiful land, learn from each other and ultimately 'grow'. The song also features the delightful Aunty Trace, a Bundjalung Mulungiali elder, who recites some eloquent poetic verse towards the end of the track. The song ultimately provides a sense of poetic justice, emphasising how 'our culture is like stepping stones' 'where the knowledge and sharing all go round'. 

"How Great Are We" continues with this melancholy mood, and does so with some assistance from Loopy Tunes another fabulous duo from New Zealand. The song begins with a haunting melody, and some intricate rhythms providing the perfect backdrop for the vocals to take centre stage. The song shifts gears about half way through, providing an anthemic embrace between vocal and instrumentation. The song ultimately succeeds in creating a reciprocal vocal arrangement, where we can all join in, with perhaps shades of Ben Lee on display.

It is at this point that "Cars Are Everywhere" returns once more with a delightful introduction from Story Surprise. This time the lyrics are recited over a somewhat jazz infused musical arrangement. I wonder if the number of songs referencing the ubiquitous impact of cars carries a veiled environmental warning, I guess we may never know. What we do know, is that this version both musically and lyrically is in complete contrast to the two previous songs which share the same title. However, this is an album with no shortage of surprises, where seemingly anything can happen at any time. The music keeps the audience guessing, wondering which road the artist will take us on next, confident in the fact that it will be somewhere interesting.

"Good Morning" is essentially a gentle ballad recited to a young child, who has clearly just awoken, ready for a new day. I am sure most parents could relate to this song, which features an alluring string section, along with what sounds like a double bass sparring with a delicate piano. The lyrics are heart-warming and optimistic, visualising a  world less hectic and intense than the one most of us inhabit in the big city. Here we get 'to play and run free' because 'today is your day'.

All in all a truly wonderful collection of songs, which serve to stir the emotions and lift the spirits throughout. The album is both heart-warming and even comical at times, providing an eclectic selection of songs that continuously surprise. The artist moves seamlessly from punk to gospel, to country to folk without breaking sweat. Benny Time clearly has a lively imagination and a big heart, which has enabled him to create an album which is both intoxicating and original. A true artist, and a true gentleman, who manages to create harmony not just in his music, but also in the wider community. I take my hat off to him. 

Benny Time - we're all in this together.

Monday, 28 February 2022

Flash EP Review: Future Dinosaur - Kids Imagine Nation

If you're searching for a slice of high energy pop that your kids will absolutely love then look no further; Kids Imagine Nation are surely the band for you. Their latest EP Future Dinosaur is absolute dynamite; featuring three songs of musical mayhem guaranteed to get the kids up and moving. Here, power pop meets rap, meets techno with shades of the Rezillos thrown in for good measure. Does anyone remember them? This is Kindie Rock at its absolute best, and its probably also worth mentioning that they are a pretty phenomenal live act too, having performed over seven hundred live shows in 2021 alone. Not bad in the era of Covid.

"Tyrannosaurus Rock" really packs a punch, opening with a drum roll to kick start the song with breathtaking pace. Shades of "The Banana Splits" famous theme music dominates the intro, alongside an electric guitar that tears the roof off. There is precious little time to pause for breath here, with a vocal arrangement compressed into one unifying blitz of energy. Short, sweet and straight to the point the listener hardly has time to digest the music before its gone, like a thief in the night. Brilliant.

"Future Dinosaur" has more of a funky vibe, featuring an infectious rhythm that dominates the song throughout. The "Future Dinosaur" is also described in considerable detail, with its 'laser eyes', 'golden wings', and 'spaghetti' arms'. The music here, is more keyboard orientated, and benefits from some additional galactic sound effects which swirl around seamlessly, teasing the ear as the song progresses. Once again, there's plenty of attitude in the vocals, the overall vibe of which reminded me a little of  "Video Killed the Radio Star", but this time sped up and updated for the twenty-first century.

Last but by no means least "Be A Dinosaur", continues the party with this foot stomping anthem, but this time offering a touch more melody for the masses. The song is essentially an invitation for the kids to participate in a series of dinosaur moves, which are succinctly expressed in the lyrics. Here, the kids are encouraged, amongst other things, to 'stomp roar' and 'swing your tail on the floor',  the vitality of which, made me even want to get up and have a go. I am sure this would be a great song live, and sufficiently energetic to wear the little ones out, and help them get to sleep at night.  All in all a superb track brilliantly executed.

This is a fabulous EP from a band who combine foot stomping rhythms with magnificent melodies, and do so with truck loads of attitude. This band have enough energy to light up Manhattan, and on this form you will definitely be hearing a lot more from them in the future. Make sure you also check out their new concept album, a radio play, which explores a day in the life of the band which turns out to be "The Best Day Ever"This band hit all the right notes, they look great, they sound great and they deliver their message with olympian energy. So, what are you waiting for, do yourself a favour and get streaming.

Kids Imagine Nation - pump up the volume.

Monday, 14 February 2022

Album Review: Pachamama - Flor Bromley

Flor Bromley is a bilingual singer-songwriter of Peruvian ancestry currently based in New York. Her latest album Pachamama is an extraordinary piece of work, featuring twelve intriguing songs which pay tribute to both Mother Earth and the artist's Indigenous roots. Now, I'm no expert when it comes to Peruvian folk music, but I do understand how the music makes me feel. The richness of the sound, the glorious melodies, the wonderful themes, and the crystal clarity of the vocals are very impressive. The music leaves the listener revelling in a sea of melody, sure to brighten up the darkest of days.

The album opens with the title track "Pachamama", which is superbly sung throughout, and cleverly harnesses an interesting fusion of instrumentation, providing additional texture to the overall sound. The song also features the very talented Wendy Sulca on vocals, whose dulcet tones add further resonance to the song.  It is essentially a song of gratitude, where the artist expresses her love of the earth through the simple everyday things we sometimes take for granted. All in all a charming song, which succeeds in reminding the listener how we are all connected here on 'Sweet Mother Earth'. 

"Drop of Water" features a highly melodic delivery, but it is the lyrics which are the real standout. Here, the artist herself embodies this drop of water, and narrates the ensuing adventures in the first person. In essence, she becomes a minuscule part of the rain cycle, where the process of convection, succeeds because 'we make a connection'. All you teachers out there looking for an innovative way to teach the water cycle should take heed. Not only, does the melody inspire the senses, the lyric really hits the mark. The song also features a lively violin, which floats around the song serenading this heroic water drop with delicacy and finesse.

"The Ocean" represents a tribute to the majestic beauty of the ocean, which is summed up in all its magnificent glory as being 'full of wonder'. Here, the artist reminds us that when you live on a planet as vulnerable as ours, there are 'so many ways you can help.' These include, the importance of conserving water, caring for the animals and keeping the beaches clean. The song is similarly rich in texture, featuring an array of sounds which float around in sympathy to the sprightly melody of the track. The song also features additional vocals courtesy of Laurie Berkner, whose sublime voice complements the track superbly. 

"Mango's Tango" features what sound like a violin, a double bass and an accordion, combining to create a superb tango vibe. The song essentially emphasises how we need to 'be who we are', always try and be kind, and accept our differences. Despite the complexity of the arrangement, the music is quite fluid throughout, and flows like gentle water into a cool stream. The melody is superb, and the rich production and absorbing lyrics result in a song of considerable impact. Again, I don't claim to be an expert when it comes to this genre of music, but the sumptuous blend of instrumentation stirred up in me a myriad of memories, including foreign holidays, rich exotic places and cultures beyond my comprehension. 

"Peas and Carrots" clearly benefits from the input of Saul Paul an American rapper from Houston, Texas. You can hear his influence all over this song, which succeeds in combining folk music with rap, and does so with an eclectic combination of sounds that are quite amazing. The song also finds space for the Peruvian composer Daniel Alomia Robles to crash the party, adding further mystique to the track. Lyrically, the song is more light hearted-than some of the other songs, and clearly benefits from the clash of musical approaches on display here.

"Totora Horse" has a rich country vibe, and achieves this with the assistance of Justin Lansing, who also happens to be one half of the fabulous Okee Dokee Brothers. The song bounces along in fine style, featuring some nimble guitar playing, a lively fiddle and a tasteful rhythm section.  The chorus is brimming with pop sensibility, and is as catchy as anything you're ever likely to hear. The message is equally uplifting encouraging the listener to keep trying, because essentially, 'if you never try you'll never know', and if you feel the fear then 'let it go'. Well, I'll certainly second that emotion.

"Mother Nature" is essentially a celebration of our amazing planet that is succinctly described as 'full of beauty'.  It also features a spoken voice, which describes the variety of delights in a world where 'Mother Nature is full of fun'.  I love this song because it is so catchy; it's a real foot tapper, that is sure to brighten up your day. Some of the descriptive verse is superb, with the artist reflecting on how 'the wind caresses my face' and 'nature is balance and grace'. Interestingly, the energy of the sun and the moon are eloquently described as having a transforming effect, an idea which further cements the transformative impact of the song.

"Nusta Tika" has a cool funky vibe, courtesy of a lively fiddle, some sublime drumming and a sparse baseline which hits all the right notes.The song tells the story of an Incan Princess who needs to save her Father and is assisted in doing so by some mystical creatures. Here the protagonist is encouraged to 'run and run', and the shift in tempo during the chorus reflects the imminent threat of the situation. Immediately following the chorus the fiddle picks up the pace, before we are treated to a brief interlude of musical dexterity of what sounds like a banjo. The chorus reminded me a little of the Irish band the Corrs, with its uplifting melody and penetrating vocal delivery.

Arguably the most ambitious track on the album is the highly experimental "Condor, Puma, Snake," a song which reflects the spiritual importance of animals in Peruvian history and does so in fine style. According to the Inca Trilogy, these aforementioned animals represent the three stages of Inca life. The condor representing the Heavens, the puma the earth and the snake the underworld. As a result, the song is broken into three distinct sections, featuring lucid descriptions of life from the individual perspective of each animal. The vocal delivery somehow captures the sound of each animal providing further authenticity to the track. All in all an outstanding piece of music, which sounds unlike anything I have ever heard. Simply amazing!

"Let's Move It" has something of a French feel, and features an accordion and some sprightly percussion sprinkled throughout the track. The Gallic music on display, conjured up memories for me of a French holiday I embarked on as a young boy, where I encountered buskers on the streets for the first time. If only you could bottle that happiness. The lyrics represent a call to action to get moving, as we are advised to shake our head, bend our knees, and perhaps most importantly enjoy our 'sunny day'.  In short, this is a great dance song for the kids, and all you teachers out there should again take note. If you are looking for an upbeat song with an exotic twist, that is guaranteed to get the kids moving then look no further. 

"Luz" is a gentle ballad; sung almost entirely in Spanish so I am at something of a loss as to its lyrical content. However, the mood of the song suggests that the artist is serenading a young child, perhaps with the intent of providing comfort and hope for the future. The song features the most beautiful melody you are ever likely to hear, and is a wonderful way to finish the album. The lead vocal is interspersed with the voice of a child, which adds an exquisite drop of innocence to the song. The acoustic guitar is played with considerable expertise, and provides the perfect soundtrack to the vocals which penetrate the space provided with breathtaking clarity. 

Listening to this album opens your eyes to a whole new cultural experience, evokes memories of days gone by, and builds bridges between the past and the future. As mentioned earlier, it's not the kind of music I am particularly familiar with, but I am certainly glad I persevered as I did, because the album had a considerable impact on me. The music penetrates the psyche to such an extent that you can almost picture the splendid grandeur of the Amazonian forests in all their pristine beauty. Whether you listen to the album in English or Spanish the effect is the same. The music transports you to far off places of mystery and imagination, offering a cathartic cleansing of the senses. All in all a magnificent piece of work, inspiring, thought-provoking, and thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish. Flor Bromley is an artist of extraordinary imagination, and has created here something of a musical masterpiece. I highly recommend it.

Flor Bromley - never turn your back on Mother Earth.

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 Wiggle's 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.