The Rhythm Express ft Maiko Watson - Principe Valiente - Naomi Wachira - Max Subar

The Rhythm Express - Jolene ft Maiko Watson.

Background - A few months back I was turned on to a haunting YouTube clip of Dolly Parton singing her most recorded song, “Jolene”. The original 1973 track had been slowed from single format to long playing 33 1/3 speed. That listening experience was both eerie and a revelation. No doubt, Dolly Parton possesses a grand set of pipes. Slowed down it becomes more evident, in that every inflection, bend in a vowel, a word is extraordinary and rocked with emotion. 

With that in mind and captivated by the change of tempo, I began hearing other possibilities. What if this was done with a reggae feel - early Bob Marley and Wailer's rhythm section style and backing vocals reminiscent Marley’s backup singers, the I-Threes. Acutely aware Parton and a cappella sing group Pentatonix just won a Grammy for Best Country Duo/Group Award with an updated version of ‘Jolene’; the song’s alluring story, sumptuous melody and sweeping beauty was more than the Rhythm Express could resist. 

In fact, we decided to keep the song’s country charm with a guest appearance from guitarist Tim Boviconti of Ron Sexsmith/ Burton Cummings fame. Tim’s lap steel, acoustic and electric guitar keeps our ‘Jolene’ rooted in tradition. Great songs lend themselves to all sorts of interpretation. ‘Jolene’ rocks our world. - Enjoy, Bill King (Jolene 7 Arts/Side Door Records). The Rhythm Express Facebook here, Maiko Watson Facebook here.

Making a cover version of a song as instantly recognisable as 'Jolene' does call for some reinterpretation to make it worthwhile. In this case the reggae meets Americana approach is both respectful and creative. Musically The Rhythm Express add their top quality credentials and provide a superb soundtrack, with Maiko Watson's vocals ensuring the genre crossover works. Fabulous version!

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Principe Valiente - Strangers In The Night.

Background - After an outstanding self-titled debut album in 2011 and the breathtaking „Choirs Of Blessed Youth“ in 2014, the Swedish post punk / shoegaze band lead by Fernando Honorato, true to their vision, continues to carve out its own unique musical path. Drawing inspiration from ambient experimentalists like Cocteau Twins, 80's sci-fi soundtracks as well as exuberant vocalists like Bowie and Kate Bush, Principe Valiente ventured deeper into the sonic landscapes of their minds.

The intensity of the athmospheric sound and the interplay of melodic guitar strings, the dark drifting drums, rhythmic bass lines and above all the warm, emotional voice of the singer, have remained. The listener is captured in a mixture of longing and loneliness, which is fluently and hypnotically directed. Calm pieces alternate with energetic compositions, such as the recently released single "Strangers In The Night", and give the album a strong note of ambivalence. The second single "Wildest Flowers" will follow on 28th of April.

With their third work „Oceans“, the band has created another alluring world with "human, all too human" lyrics and phantasmagorical soundscapes. Cool, yet impassioned and loaded with sweet anxiety, Principe Valiente have managed to make an irresistibly beautiful and intense continuation of what was started in the previous two albums.

„Oceans“ was partly recorded by the producer Martin Ehrencrona (Les Big Byrd), and partly in various basements and art school lobbies around their hometown Stockholm, Sweden. The combination of innovative and inspired material makes for an invigorating listen as it is difficult to pinpoint in regard to genre. „Oceans“ will be released on May 12th, 2017 on CD and as a download by afmusic, and as a limited Vinyl edition by Manic Depression Records. Website here, Facebook here.

'Strangers In The Night' has a dark almost Gothic feel to it. Layered rock music swirls around, whilst the vocals add even more atmosphere. There is enough melody, but only enough, the band ensure the feeling they create as the song builds makes this a hypnotic piece.

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Naomi Wachira - Beautifully Human.

Background - “I am an African girl, well I know where I’m coming from, and I know who I want to be...”  is the defiant soul-anthem that jumpstarted Afro-Folk Singer/Songwriter Naomi Wachira onto a whole new path and calling. The words from the title track, African Girl, on her first EP release (2012) paved the way for this Kenyan-born, Seattle-based artist, who is determined make a contribution in the world by offering music that is poignant, hopeful and life-giving.   Five years later, with a critically acclaimed self-titled album (2014), an acoustic EP “ I am Because You Are (2015), comes her sophomore album Song of Lament, which she says, ‘was born out the many tragic losses we’ve witnessed globally - ranging from cases of police brutality to the refugee crisis - that made me grieve about who we’ve become, but also burned a desire in me to create art that would serve society at large and hopefully lessen the chaos around us.’    

Song of Lament, which was recorded at historic London Bridge Studio (Seattle, WA) with producer Eric Lilavois (Saint Motel, Atlas Genius, My Chemical Romance), is a testament to Wachira fully embracing her creative power and its ability spread goodness to the world. As the world churns with chaos and self-inflicted woes born out of fear and mistrust of the ‘other’, she hopes the album will be a balm, a beacon of hope, a reminder of both our darkness and light, but also the belief that mindfulness and empathy can serve humanity in much better ways.  The album delves into issues of violence funneled through political ideologies by weaving real life events with thoughtfulness and compassion, while asking questions about how human beings arrive at this place of utter darkness (Heart of a Man). She highlights issues of human equality, especially when it undermines the divine sacredness of those who are different  (Beautifully Human) and longs for a society that truly takes care of each other (I am Because You Are).  

With an uprise in chaos all over the world,  she acknowledges how easy it is to despair on the status of a world that is hell bent on destroying itself (Up in Flames).  She sings a mournful dirge for the countless lives lost at sea while escaping war torn homelands in search of peace and dignity (Farewell) and questions those who perpetuate violence in the name of faithful religious expression (Where is God?).  And with an existential yearning, she wonders why Africa, one of the most resourceful continents in the world, has struggled to find her footing (Song of Lament).  But not all the songs are heavy.  Her first and last tracks (Our Days Are Numbered, Think Twice) are a reminder that while the sun does not discriminate between the good and the bad, fulfillment is found when we spend our days practicing kindness and wisdom and taking account that our actions really do matter, when all's said and done. She joyously blesses her mother and father, with whom she credits for the woman she is today (Mûrathimwo) and encourages all of us who’ve hit rock bottom in life and feel disillusioned, to never give up or look back (Run, Run, Run).

There is no doubt Wachira is determined to create a niche in the world with her uplifting and sombering music and perhaps inch us closer to one another as we remember our shared humanity.  And like the two predecessors she has long admired, Tracy Chapman and Miriam Makeba, she hopes that she can truly make the world a better place.  Asked about what she really hopes to accomplish with this album she says, “if there’s one thing I learned from my parents, it is to try and leave a place better than I found it. My hope is that this album will do just that. I know we are certainly living in dark times, but I hope that we will all find the courage to be light in whatever way we’ve been gifted… that we will seek to understand those who are different from us and find ways to both acknowledge and celebrate our differences and similarities.” Website here, Facebook here.

The leading single 'Beautifully Human' from the sophomore album "Songs of Lament" is quite stunning. Naomi's vocals have melodic power and range, the music leans a little towards a reggae beat and is vibrant throughout. A song with a simple and yet poignant message, leaves me looking forward to the album with both intrigue and some unashamed excitement.

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Max Subar - Balcony.

Background - Chicago-based singer-songwriter Max Subar has shared his third single "Balcony". Prior to this single Max released two other tracks. The first was "Morning Song", which debuted on Impose and the second was "Blue And Green", which premiered on All Things Go. All three songs will be featured on his debut EP 'In A Dream' due out April 28, 2017. 

Singer/songwriter Max Subar aims to remain bound to his midwestern roots with songs that radiate closeness and warmth. Growing up, his mother’s old nylon guitar became a familiar friend in the wake of moving to Australia and back as well as his parents’ divorce. Max’s grounded relationship to songwriting has helped shed light on his own experiences and struggles; from euphoric intimacy to the isolation of depression and anxiety. His debut EP reflects upon themes of love, loss, and reflection. Website here, Facebook here.

'Balcony' is our second feature for Max Subar, we shared 'Morning Song' a few weeks back. The vocals are again quite intimate and grow in power as the song unfolds, whilst the music is a work of quality and craftsmanship.

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