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Review

James Forest Returns With His New Album ‘All Shades Of Purple’

It has been too long since we’ve had a new collection of songs from James Forest. His last lyrical album was in 2017 with the stunning James Forest and the East Road. Since then, he has released the instrumental albums Music for Films Vol 1 and 2. 

Now, James Forest returns with his new album, All Shades of Purple. It is a collection of songs that yet again showcases his multi-instrumental talents. He uses instruments including guitars, Wurlitzer, Casio SK-1, Moog grandmother, Korg micro-preset, Yamaha cs-5, tape loops and bass pedals. He uses them to weave subtle but captivating layers of music within each song. He has also brought in Sandy Davis (vocals on “Smoke”), David Marchand (pedal steel guitar on “Smoke”), and Brett Lanier (pedal steel guitar on “Days Go By”) to add something different to a few of his tracks.

Forest has gained a reputation for creating music that has a natural and free-flowing manner. His opening track “Lately” is a perfect example of this trait. There are a few seconds of silence before he counts in then his story begins. He does so with the sound of his guitar that performs delicately. It is soothing on the ears. Then, Forest joins in with the opening lines, “Lately, I’ve been alone / Walking on a narrow line / I’ve been alone”. As the song progresses, it is clear to hear how the music moves without any urgency. The words and its soundtrack can breathe, giving it an appealing and captivating quality. 

Listen to “Smoke” off of All Shades of Purple

His gentle guitar style continues into the beautiful “Give Love”. It’s difficult not to get lost within his words. “Moments of Grace” lets the listener enjoy some more of Forest’s great work on his six-string. His fingerpicking style is as soothing as his voice. His fingers dance around the strings to create an enchanting tone. He then adds a psychedelic vibe towards the second half of the track.  It blends with his guitar to create a mood which at times, overshadows his lyrics. It all comes together to the first stand out moment from the album.

Talking of stand out moments, “Smoke” stands tall above the rest. Its intro feels different as he has switched his guitar for keys. Like those before, it flows so effortlessly to set the mood for the song. Soon, Forest joins in with his words, “Firewood smoke dancing in the pines / In the late afternoon light / A little house in the country / A little glass of wine”. 

As the song continues, the listener will notice an additional voice provided by Sandy Davis. Her addition enhances the track further. Especially how their vocals intertwine for the lines “You’re trying to find a home, you’re looking for a job / Just try to take care of the one you love / You gotta find a place to settle down / Baby, you’re still wandering around”. A faultless moment from beginning to end. Following up comes “Someone Like You” and “Born to Die”. Both offer the usual delicate sound but are a little overshadowed by the calibre of songwriting that “Smoke” had to offer. 

All Shades of Purple is an album filled with beautiful layers of music. However, his storytelling quality delivers a lot too. There have been a few songs in which this talent has stood out, “Magic” is another moment that highlights his way with his lyrics. His opening lines paint the scene, “Up all night talking about the end of the world / Waiting for the sunrise and its warm colours”. The detail and emotions he shares have depth and delivered with an honest tone. Sometimes he uses simple words that have more of an impact. No lines show this more than, “In the wide-open somewhere / Our souls will be free / In the wide-open somewhere / No weight, no worries”. 

James Forest has assembled yet another beautiful collection of songs that does not disappoint with ‘All Shades of Purple’

“Days Go By” brings another showcase of his musical talents before the album comes to a close with “Ways Mills”. Like its opening track, “Ways Mills” is yet another perfect representation of the music of James Forest. His fingers dance around his guitar to create yet another mesmerising tone. His vocals are soothing as he shares his words to provoke imagery, especially with lines such as “Country roads and beautiful trees / Time dissolves in the breeze / As the sunset dances in your eyes / The horizon becomes waves of light”. As the song comes to a close, it leaves you relaxed. It is the beautiful nature of the album and another reason why All Shades of Purple is essential listening.

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Review

S J Denney is back with his latest single ‘Slow Burn(er)’

If you follow S J Denney on his social media sites, you will see he is always busy creating new music. You can tell he has a genuine passion for his craft.  Not only that, but he is always looking to learn and evolve his songwriting abilities, including his arrangement talents. It was a quality that was clear to hear from his outstanding An Island of Clouds EP. Each release before it felt like a natural progression of his work, but his latest EP was something else. It features carefully crafted, impressive lyrics and a rich depth of sound. It was clear to hear why he was proud of what he had created. 

Denney is moving on to his latest chapter of songs, Beneath the Skin EP (due later this year). He has already shown what is to come with “The Sticking Point”. With momentum on his side, he sets free, “Slow Burn(er)”. He says, “Originally, I’d intended to take a bit of a hiatus after ‘An Island of Clouds EP’. I was happy with how that record came out and didn’t feel like I had much to say that I hadn’t already said. A personal loss sparked a creative streak. That all started with Slow Burn(er). Like all of my forthcoming record, the lyrics are deeply personal. I originally thought I would spend a long time refining this song, as it was personal to me. That’s where the title name originated. If anything, having a title in mind meant that the song poured out of me really quickly, like they usually do”.

Interestingly, Denney wrote the vocals before the music, as it is the latter that stands out on the first listen. There is an array of instruments used throughout “Slow Burn(er)”. Most of them performed by Denney, as he demonstrates his multi-instrumentalist talents. These include an electric guitar, acoustic guitar, organ, shaker, tambourine, congas and drum programming. Not only that, but he has enlisted in the talents of Amadei Šaršanski (bass guitar) and Hugo Lee (alto saxophone) to add a little more to the mix. 

“Slow Burn(er)” opens up with a delicate drum loop, followed by the subtle use of his guitar. Something he says, “from the very start I knew that I wanted to use a drum loop similar to Massive Attack’s Teardrop”. Its introduction slowly pulls in the listener, preparing for his story to begin. He does so with the lines, “Am I really to blame? / This flame burns inside of me I’ve got nothing to gain / From telling the truth”. As it continues, the music flows effortlessly and without any urgency. Letting the various instruments intertwine to create its atmospheric sound. However, that drum loop continues to stand out, as does Lee’s alto saxophone (as this song comes to its close). 

Yet again, S J Denney impresses as his songwriting continues to grow in sound and depth

Dig a little deeper, and Denney’s storytelling qualities continue to impress. It’s a story about escaping a relationship that is not right. It’s all set up during the opening lines, including “Now there’s something to lose / So I’m moving on with my life / Cause I was right all along”, which follows. Like his music, his vocals flow effortlessly and feature the talents of Roisin O’Hagan. He uses his words wisely to paint the moments about the relationship. Stand out lines include “All you’ve given to me / Is an empty hole in my life / I’m scared of what I’ll become”. It all comes together to create yet another impressive track by S J Denney. It sets the anticipation for his upcoming Beneath the Skin EP.

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Review

‘Troubling Times’ Sees The Welcome Return Of Climbing Trees

It’s hard to believe it’s been three years since Climbing Trees released new music. Not only that but five years since their superb album Borders. Where has the time gone? The band’s frontman Matthew Frederick explains their absence, “We decided to take a year off in 2018 to spend a little time on our various solo and side projects. Before we knew it, two years had passed, then three, and a whole lot has happened in the world in that time. We didn’t want to come back until we had something to say, and, more importantly, a good song to say it with, and Troubling Times certainly feels timely in that sense. We’ve really enjoyed making music as Climbing Trees again, and we can’t wait to get back out on stage in front of the Trees fans, whenever that may be”. 

Now the guys are back with their new single, “Troubling Times.” For this one, it was the collective effort of Matthew Frederick (Vocals, Piano, Electric Guitar, Percussion, Backing Vocals), Colenso Jones (Electric Guitar, Acoustic Guitar, Backing Vocals) and Jack Beddis (Drums). You can hear this combination at work as soon as you press play. Together they create a soft alt-rock vibe that flows effortlessly during its intro.

Soon, Frederick starts their tale with, “In the troubling times / There’s no space for the man in the middle / From the withering highs / It’s hard to see the ones below.” As always, Climbing Trees talents shine with their lyrics. They offer both depth and imagery with their words. With this song, they paint various scenes with a range of emotion. Of them all, the lines which stand out the most are “When the end is in sight / Moving through the darkest tunnels / Now you put up a fight / You will see how far you go.”

As much as the lyrics stand out, its soundtrack is equally as impressive. Its atmospheric vibe adds extra depth to the story, even more as the song reaches the second verse. The use of strings increases its captivating nature. It seem to amplify everything which makes “Troubling Times” a delight to hear. A wonderful arrangement created by Frederick’s but delivered by the talented David Grubb Quartet. 

As the song comes to a close, the music and its arrangement impress even more. There is something special about the strings and how they interweave with the repeated line “In the troubling times”. The tone of the delivery with the combination of these instruments creates something beautiful. It is the perfect way to close a great track. 

Climbing Trees remind us of their stunning musical talents with ‘Troubling Times’

“Troubling Times” is a stunning reminder of the musical talents of Climbing Trees. Thankfully, they are planning to get back out on the road (when they are permitted). Also, they are working towards a new album. The latter is a challenge as the members are busy working on solo/side projects. Hopefully, the planets align soon. But, no matter the wait, as the latest single shows, it will be worth it.

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Review

Michael Baker Delivers More Captivating Stories With His New Album ‘How Come You Sleep’

Prolific songwriter Michael Baker returns with his third studio album How Come You Sleep. The expectation is high due to outstanding releases such as Keys to the Kingdom EP and Salt. For this new collection of songs, he teamed up with long-time friend Andrew Stuart- Buttle (a Multi-Instrumentalist and band member with Lucy Rose) to produce this album. 

During the creation of the album, he wanted to create something honest and relatable. Baker explains, “I’ve been getting letters and messages throughout the year from people saying that my songs have got them through a very hard time, and I don’t know how to reply to them other than as if I’d known them my whole life. That’s the way that I would do it. I hope that my music gives them as much as it’s given me”.

Opening up comes “Yellow Little Mood”. It begins with subtle electronic elements, as shown throughout last year’s album Salt. It creates a relaxing atmosphere which is soon joined by Baker’s acoustic guitar and accompanying electric guitar. With the tone set, his captivating vocal presence joins in with the opening lines, “Does it tie a bow round to talk pretty / I suppose that our bones are not meant to rattle”. As always, his storytelling manner in which he shares his words never fails to impress. It is a trait that has always shone with each song he creates and will continue to do so throughout How Come You Sleep

‘How Come You Sleep’ shines a light yet again on Michael Baker’s outstanding storytelling qualities

Next is “Caught In The Crossfire”, which stands out due to Baker’s delicate and emotional tone. This song flows effortlessly from start to finish. It also includes some attention-stealing harmonies to add extra layers to its captivating sound. It is difficult not to get lost within this song. Following on is “How Come You Sleep” which offers more of his storytelling qualities.

“Fold Your Hands” offers more outstanding vocals, layered with a soothing atmosphere created by Baker and Stuart- Buttle. This combination makes up the foundations of what makes this album special. As these elements intertwine, it creates an irresistible emotive tone that many people connect to when listening. It is easy to tell these musicians craft songs with a personal and relatable element. “Punch Drunk Fists” and “Houses” offer more of their beautiful audio magic at work. 

There are no weak moments throughout How Come You Sleep. However, there is one song that continues to stand out with each playthrough. It takes something special to do so and “Today” has that extra quality. It opens up with delicate use of the keys to set up the mood. Reflecting the tone comes Bakers vocals with the lines “I hear your whispers in the morning / I can see you in my dreams / So no more drinking through the daytime darling / Well I can dream”. Not only does his way with words shine yet again, but the way they are delivered does so too. 

Here is a song that is all about Bakers voice which steals the spotlight. It begins with a low key sound that lets the listener focus on the story. The way the lyrics are delivered feels like there is more to its tale, maybe something personal. It could be the choice of words, especially with part of the chorus, “I’m gonna let today affect me in my own way honey / Let the tears rain / Let the tears rage”. Or maybe it is because of the way he shares lines such as “Feel like saying that I’m sorry”. Whatever the reason, it gives this song a quality, making it essential for listening.

Seeing things out is “Lightly Looms”. It offers a similar vibe to all the songs before it, which is not a bad thing at all. Overall, it wraps up yet another outstanding album by Michael Baker. It may not offer anything new musically, but it is all about the quality of the songwriting. Here is an artist who understands how to connect with his work and write with genuine honesty. 

As a bonus, there is a deluxe edition of How Come You Sleep. These feature a combination of Live and seven-inch versions of songs from the album (with the additional track “Baby Books”). It is highly recommended you give these a listen as it is a real showing of how good Michael Baker sounds. The tracks “Fold Your Hands” and “Today” highlight his exceptional musical qualities. If you are left wanting more, don’t worry as there is another album already in the works.

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Review

Simon Walker Returns With His New Single ‘Something Beautiful’

It’s hard to believe it has been five years since Simon Walker has showcased his songwriting talents with “Years Go By”. It is a catchy acoustic-driven track which highlighted his impressive vocal presence. Since then, he has been busy fine-tuning his skills with other musical projects. However, he did release two cover albums over the past year. Of which, his versions of “Wherever You Will Go (The Calling)” and “No Easy Way Out (Robert Tepper)” stand out. These are both great examples of his vocal abilities. 

Now to the present. Walker is excited to release new music, including his upcoming new album. The first track from his forthcoming release is called “Something Beautiful.” The single also features an impressive array of talent in support with Josh Paul (from Daughtry on bass), Peter Redshaw (from the upcoming band Afflecks Palace on drums) and Andy Taft (guitars). He has said there are more surprise guest musicians to appear on his upcoming collection of songs. 

Simon Walker shows the wait for new music has been worth it with ‘Something Beautiful’

With his songwriting abilities and the supportive other talents, what does “Something Beautiful” have to offer? First of all, he is showcasing his softer side with this ballad. It’s clear to hear from the opening lines “To tell you the truth, I’m addicted to you / I can’t get you out of my head”. It is a song all about finding that special someone and marriage.

Due to the lyrical tone, the right mood is required for its soundtrack. Luckily, Walker has an outstanding vocal presence which shines throughout. As for the sound, the band blend to create a tender atmosphere to enhance the lyrics. There is a moment just over mid-way when the electric guitar is let loose with a killer solo. 

Lyrically, Walker has a lot to say, and he chooses his words wisely. He describes many scenarios of being with the one you love. But ultimately, it is a song about proposing to that special someone. No lines say this more than its chorus “Before I saw your eyes, I knew they were colourful / When I hold you close I feel something beautiful / I get down on one knee, I’m begging you please, Marry me / Don’t turn away, I want you to stay here and marry me”. It all comes together to deliver a simple message but with maximum effect. Overall, this welcome return of Simon Walker is an impressive one.

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Review

Tim McNary Tells Us ‘We Got It’

Tim McNary is back with his first release in almost five years. With his previous releases, he developed a reputation for his honest and emotion-filled songwriting style. Not only that, but his vocals reflected the moods to perfection. He gave each track its soul in the way he shared its story. You will get no better examples of this than the songs “Bela” and “The Other Man”. 

“We Got It” is a song co-written with Jess Nolan. McNary describes it as “It’s a song about a hike with some of my dearest friends in East Tennessee on a sunny, booze-tinged Memorial Day. There are of course multiple layers should you choose to read into them”. From the caliber of his previous releases expectation was high. 

So, with a long gap between releases, does McNary’s talents still shine? The answer to that is YES! As soon as you press play, he sets the mood with a delicate acoustic guitar. It doesn’t take long for his warm vocal tone to come in. As it does, he sets up his latest story with the lines “Walking towards the water, our bare backs to the sun / All such fragile creatures wondering what we’ll become”. As always, his voice has a charm that is difficult to resist. 

The song continues, the music glides along effortlessly to create a mesmerising soundtrack. Woven throughout are also some strings, which embellishes the mood with impressive effect. Its sound subtly takes a back seat for McNary to let his lyrical and vocal talents steal the spotlight. 

Throughout the song, McNary uses his words to paint a picture of his hike. He takes the listener along his trek, throughout its ups and downs. His lyrical talents shine brighter as the song comes to a close. It ends with “We’re a little dizzy, rambling over the rocks / The deep trees lead us, never for a second lost / The sun’s getting weary, but we find our way back to camp / Applause is erupting and everyone’s starting to dance”.

He might have been away for almost 5 years, but Tim McNary still knows how to create great music

“We Got It” is the first of many tracks to be released by Tim McNary this year. Going off the calibre of this song, listeners are in for a treat. Until then, check out his albums While You Are Walking and Above The Trees. You will not be disappointed.

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Review

Bet Smith Storytelling Qualities Shine With ‘Downer’

Singer-songwriter Bet Smith has gained a reputation for the depth of her lyrical talents. Not only that but how they are delivered is equally as impressive. There is a natural honesty within the core of each of the songs she creates. This trait was evident throughout her debut release Loose Ends. It is a collection of stories described as “rich in environmental imagery, and reflect on both the fragilities and strengths of nature and human beings as animals within it”. It was a captivating EP which included the beautiful “Lone Wolf”. 

Loose Ends EP also featured the musical talents of the Currie Brothers (Rob and Andrew). It was a collaboration which would continue into the album Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is. With this release, they swapped the warm folk sound to one with an upbeat alt-country vibe. “Bakesale Angel, BBQ Queen” and “Broken Down Wagon” are great examples of this change in sound. However, Smith still delivers some softer moments which the outstanding “My Heart Doesn’t Care” highlights. 

Now Smith returns with a new collection of songs under the name Downer. It is an album assembled during 2020, during a short-term layoff from her day job. It features lyrics which are a cumulation of anxieties, imaginings and big feelings she was having. Yet again, it promises to be another captivating release. 

As soon as you press play, the opening few seconds of “Forgive You” grabs the listeners attention with Smith’s gentle and emotional tone. It’s hard not to feel the pain within each word of “I want to forgive you, I want to forgive you, I want to forgive you but / You say you ain’t done nothing wrong, you ain’t done nothing”. It is a song which may have a different meaning to those who hear it. However, it is about “economic injustice, greed, environmental destruction and the climate crisis”. The music is given extra depth from Rob Currie (Electric Guitar, Bass) and Andrew Currie (Drums). It adds to the song’s emotional message, but this one is all about the story and its delivery. 

Watch the video for “Forgive You” below

Following on comes “Some Greater Power” which offers another superb vocal performance from Smith. Her soothing tone glides along so effortlessly. What also stands out is the subtle use of the intertwining acoustic (by Smith) and electric guitars (by Rob Currie). Next comes a story about unrequited love called “All of the Above”. Again, her way with words shine as she paints the scene that many will find familiar. Especially with lines such as “What is this aching, what is this poison running through my veins? / Making me talk crazy, making me do desperate things / What kind of bus are you, hitting me this hard / You seem to like this bullshit so far”.

“I Would Rather Run” is a dark horse of a track. Personally, it did not stand out at first. However, with each additional listen, it kept on stealing my attention more and more. There are so many outstanding qualities from this song. First of all, its soundtrack adds so much to the tone of her words. It is subtle but very effective thanks to combined musical talents of Smith with the Currie Brothers. It also features a killer guitar solo from Rob Currie. 

Next is the lyrics and how they are delivered. It’s a tale described as

“an imagined dystopian future in which a couple who have built a life of self-sufficiency, faced with the impending onslaught of desperate people seeking food and refuge. They must decide whether to stay and protect that life and their small piece of fertile land or to surrender and avoid conflict”. 

Smith’s vocals show off an impressive range which continues to maintain a captivating feel. She sounds so good throughout as her words provoke imagery. But, it is how she delivers the lines “I don’t want to fight, I would rather run” which stands out the most. The emotion within those words adds so much. It reminds the listener about her incredible vocal presence.

Things slow back down with the arrival of “North Ontario”. It is a sad tale about life and love, inspired by the Northern Ontario landscape. The song flows along with another so effortlessly as Smith lets her storytelling qualities shine yet again. Fans will recognise “Signs of Hostility” as it appeared on the Loose Ends EP. But, this time around she strips backs with an acoustic performance. It gives her words more of an impact, as she shares a tale inspired by the women of the Gulf Islands of the Salish Sea. 

‘Downer’ offers yet another captivating collection of songs by Bet Smith, delivered with vocal perfection

Seeing out the album is “What Matters Most” and the title track “Downer”. Both other more stripped back sounds let Smith’s vocals and storytelling quality shine yet again. It wraps up another captivating collection of songs which showcases her songwriting talents to perfection. Downer is an album which comes under the category of essential listening.

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Music You Should Know Review

S J DENNEY NEW EP IS INSPIRED BY ‘AN ISLAND OF CLOUDS’

When S J Denney released his Forgotten Friends EP in 2019, he showcased an impressive progression with his songwriting. Not only had his lyrics become more relatable and honest, but his musical arrangement developed too. This year saw the release of the songs “Unsung Hero” and “A Place We Knew” which continued the evolution of his work. It also gave a taster of his new EP An Island of Clouds.

Denney says the inspiration for An Island of Clouds came when he “saw a formation of clouds, which really looked like an island to me. That’s where the title came from. I then decided to use all the changes in my life as inspiration, as well as the challenges facing the wider world. I started out by coming up with a set of titles and then wrote the songs to them. This really changed the creative process and made it really exciting”. 

He continues by saying “I worked with Alex Hutchinson on the artwork. He designed the collage, based on lyrics from the songs, as I wrote them. We also decided to make one big collage for the EP and then use sections of it for the single covers, based on the portion of the large collage that was referencing the given song”. 

Denney opens up his EP with something a little different with “Beginnings”. He has stripped back all the music to offer something that is all about his voice and some impactful backing vocals allowing the listener to focus on the story and his delivery. His lyrics say so much, especially the lines “In the beginning / We were strong and they were brave / Now they’re beginning / To look the other way”. Thanks to its minimalist feel, it lets each word breathe, giving them more purpose.

Again, the lyrical qualities by Denney continue to stand out during “A Place We Knew”. He talks about the good memories created with that special someone. Up next is “I Could Be Forgiven” and compared to the prior tracks, this one offers more musically. On the surface, it seems that his acoustic guitar is doing the work. However, the various instruments used help to enrich this song and give the listener more to notice. Of them all, the subtle guitar in the background is one which stands out the most.

Sometimes they say less is more and this is the case with “This World Moves On”. With just over 2 minutes, this is the shortest track, but it easily stands out compared to the others. Instantly, the use of the piano sets a soft emotive tone. Denney reflects the mood with the opening lines “Took a ride in a hot air balloon / I flew straight up / I came back down / And I landed in a different place / This world moves on”. It hards to ignore the delivery of the lyrics throughout as they have a more personal feel to them. The atmosphere is enhanced further with the addition of stringed instruments which adds to this captivating moment.

‘An Island of Clouds’ is yet another great showcase of the storytelling quality of S J Denney

Finally comes “All of the Above” which includes the hidden track “Unsung Hero”. First brings more of Denney’s storytelling quality which is supported by some brass instruments. It shows how he is not afraid to add something different to his music. The latter is a personal moment which is an ode to his wife. “Unsung Hero” is a tribute to what she has brought to enrich his world and make him a better man. No lines highlight this moment of respect and thank you more than “But has it occurred to you / That you never get the credit you deserve? / Don’t you know / My hero’s unsung?”. 

Yet again, the growth of the songwriting and arrangement by S J Denney continues to impress. An Island of Clouds offers something different to his previous releases. However, it is still built around his love for a story. It’s a good lesson for musicians to not be afraid to try something new and to continue to learn the craft.