Russell Lee – What Do I Do

There’s some music that simply sits in a certain place, the kind of material that screams out to be used for a particular purpose. With Russell Lee’s tunes, that purpose firmly falls in the ‘road trip’ camp. Country tinged rock has always done that for me, bringing up all kinds of imagery pertaining to those long drives that usually go on through the night. It doesn’t matter what the purpose of the journey might be, that is the beauty of the way in which country tends to be so adaptable. There is always that curious balance of positivity blended in with a wistful melancholy.

what-do-i-do-front-coverOpening track ‘Picture’ sets that scene well, laced with a sense of hope while at the same time having a sense of longing running through the song in the background. This is all the more accented by Lee’s vocals, which have a warmth and friendliness to them that draw in the listener to engage with the story he has to tell. Moving on to ‘Piece Of This Earth’, there is more of that recognisable whimsy which is brought to the forefront by the addition of a drawling harmonica and lyrics that draw on the rawness and reality of the human condition; “Everybody’s got a piece of this earth / Everybody’s got a heart and soul /  Everybody needs to do their part right now.”

Title track ‘What Do I Do’ turns things up a notch with a swirling organ and a slightly faster pace that invites some toe tapping and maybe even a little head nodding, while ‘Never Know Your Name’ takes a sidestep into campfire acoustic territory, with a growling electric guitar part that adds a touch of gritty emotion.

The road trip feel is maintained throughout the album – just take a moment with the pure country swing of ‘High and Low’, that has shades of early R.E.M. mixed in with its bluesy sounds, while ‘Heartache’ rattles along at a pace that will make anyone feel as though they are making some real headway as they keep holding on behind the steering wheel. There is no doubt that after a few spins of What Do I Do, many will find themselves singing along to the record shamelessly, letting the uplifting tunes enter their soul and take them into that happy place that feel good tunes only can.

The real beauty of the album is found in the way in which the songs manage to have such a strong consistency throughout, while at the same time offering such diverse arrangements. ‘If You Could Read My Mind’ pulls things right back with soaring strings that sit beneath Russell Lee’s voice and create a warm bed for his thoughtful lyrics to gently dance over.

The real moment of clarity comes on Lee’s own unique rendition of the classic ‘Amazing Grace’. Rather than trying to be clever or gimmicky, Lee simply lets the hymn speak for itself, and as a result it becomes an anthem that is not only a sensitive version but also an ideal showcase for his own particular sound. One for the road, for sure, but also an album that makes for some enjoyable listening in the comfort of your own home.

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Amery Rey Tuesta – Mr. Black Pants

Luis Antonio Amery Rey Tuesta, or just “Amery Rey” to the rest of us, is something of a prolific character. Hailing from Peru, his work spans a range of styles and is a testament to the passion he holds towards creating music and creating something with authenticity.

a1646983019_2Mr. Black Pants is, from the very start, an album filled with fresh, fun beats and a keen sense of humour. Opening with ‘You Don’t Understand’, the Peruvian roots are immediately apparent, while laced with a slightly manic tone. The blending of South American brass with distorted guitars is at times mind-bending, but an utter thrill. ‘Un Lugar Mejor’ holds on to that very same feel, powering ahead with a squealing guitar that is as aggressive as it is soothing – a strange mixture that creates a kind of dream-like state. Amery Rey Tuesta’s vocals provide a particularly arresting feel at times – ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ sees his voice wailing and crooning as if performing a dance with the music, winding around it and blending with the song’s ebb and flow. This is all before the utter ferocity of ‘Roar’ which positively explodes with energy, its bristling guitars spluttering with a tone that feels slightly rusty at the edges, and some bass notes that create a terrifying euphoria.

At its heart, this is an album that in many ways defies categorising. At times Tuesta’s vocal leans towards the angry politi-rap of Rage Against The Machine, while at others there is a more melodic, world music vibe that on occasion wanders in the direction of Santana. As such, there are moments to be found that offer a certain moment of calm. Of course, I use the word calm tentatively – for example, on ‘Ironic Life’, there is a beautiful swelling organ that creates a degree of peace, while over time the instrumentation builds up over it, once more constructing the signature frenetic and cataclysmic tones that are so regularly provided. The real fun is when a more unusual guitar tone reveals itself – a moment of flamenco here, the twang of jazz there – there are times throughout the album when a new sound will pop up and surprise you. Add to that the fact that there are tracks that are so tight and filled with energy, like the blistering ‘What Did You Say’, that scrabbles along at a breakneck pace with soaring guitars that create a hugely uplifting feel.

The diversity of style and tone is also very welcome – the parping brass on ‘My House’ shifts things into a kind of manic jazz-lounge aesthetic, while ‘What Do You Mean’ manages to blend a two-tone ska vibe with a smoky blues feel. Ultimately, Mr. Black Pants is a surprising collection of tunes – perhaps not immediately what you might have expected, but on the whole an album that blends together some classically Latin tones with a post-Nirvana grunge underbelly.

Jonathan Cavier – Fields Of Gold

When it comes to the humble cover song, a few questions spring to mind. What were the artist’s motivations for recreating a classic? Is this an attempt to rework the song in a way that reflects their own unique style? Does the song offer the chance for the artist to display their talent in the context of their own specific influences? These are all questions that may present themselves – although the answers might not always be apparent.

fields_of_goldAnd so we find ourselves presented with Jonathan Cavier’s own cover of Sting’s classic ‘Fields Of Gold’. Cavier is currently releasing a series of covers, and as mentioned this can often be an ideal way to present your own sound to an audience while doing so in the context of a song that offers some familiarity. Cavier has certainly stuck to the script – the recording is not a million miles removed from the general tone of the original. This is no experimental black metal version, that’s for sure. A a result, this becomes an ideal showcase for Cavier’s voice which carries with it a sense of melancholy laced with a steely determination. While this might not be the next song to race up the billboards, it still stands up as a worthy rendition of a classic song, and provides Jonathan Cavier with a strong platform on which to present his artistry.

Jennifer Hope – Bring Me To Life

Many will still be aware of the original Evanescence track ‘Bring Me To Life’ that was popularised in 2003 after being featured on the Daredevil soundtrack. At the time it was an edgy, zeitgiesty tune that brought the current emo and goth rock into the forefront, paving the way for the runaway success of other bands such as My Chemical Romance.

Jennifer Hope’s cover of the track is a fascinating reworking of the original. While in many ways it doesn’t veer too far away from the aesthetic of the original, it manages to serve as an ideal device for showcasing Hope’s formidable vocals. Musically where things differ is the leaning towards more ambient, chorus laden tones, creating a more ethereal tone that from the start has the potential to bring a shiver to the spine.

While ‘Bring Me To Life’ has provided an excellent opportunity for us to catch a glimpse of what Jennifer Hope is capable of, and in many ways leads in to the question: what next? At Crossradar, we are certainly looking forward to hearing her powerful voice on some original tunes.

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Eddy Mann – The Consequence

Sometimes a song comes along that is pure and unadulterated, free from pretence. Sometimes when such a song happens, it can be hampered by a certain amount of overbearing earnestness. Often it’s a result of very real passion and integrity, but sadly as so much art often goes, it can end up being received with a degree of cynicism. Thankfully, ‘The Consequence’ by Eddy Mann has come up trumps, managing to balance a purity in its message and tone without toppling over under the weight of its own passion.

tcq_coverAt its core, what we’re being given here is a simple, back to basics acoustic track with a heart of gold. The chord progressions feel familiar, while the whole time as though they are being presented with a twist – the guitar performance is warm and nuanced, with some touching moments that really help to underpin the song’s melody. Eddy Mann’s voice, too, has a warmth to it – none of that cliched grit so often found in country and southern rock. Instead, we’re given a vocal that is more airy and thoughtful, which helps to lift the track and leave the listener with the feeling that they have just been quietly serenaded for a few minutes.

Charles Luck & Black Astronaut – Life On Mars

Offbeat and filled with a dry sense of humour, Life On Mars is a hip-hop record like no other.

Black Astronaut is a hip-hop collective headed up by the enigmatic Charles Luck, who has brought together a number of artists from across the globe to put together this ambitious, sprawling collection of tunes. Based in Atlanta, Black Astronaut also draws on talent from Chicago, London, Sweden, and several other global locations.

 

Simply jump in at the start and be surprised by the curious, slightly slurred tones of ‘The Race’, which sets things up by winding time itself all the way back to the beginning – biblically so, in fact, back to the time of Genesis. The lyrics are written with an ever so twee feel, not unlike the work of Lewis Caroll and the comic verse found in the Alice In Wonderland stories. There is a touch of the metaphysical here, as we are led all the way back to the dawn of time: “I was surrounded by sleepwalkers and thought I was the only one up /Because they kept both eyes open, but left the third one wide shut /They shook hands and smiled, and had me fooled for a day /But the look on their faces, gave them away.”

Next up is a rather touching cover of David Bowie’s classic ‘Life On Mars’ here presented with piano and a confident vocal that truly nails the song while also adding a fresh feel to it. This being the year of Bowie’s passing, there is a sadness that comes with listening to the song these days, but this makes it all the more powerful.

This is not a record to simply put on and check out. It’s certainly not background music – it demands a certain amount of involvement from the listener, constantly reaching out and encouraging a reaction, be it thoughtfulness, laughter, or passion. And don’t be surprised to find that this is a record that asks you to put a little work in yourself – you will find that there are many moments where you will need to stop and go back over what you just heard.

What is most refreshing about Life On Mars is that rather than simply taking samples and chopping them up to be redistributed in a haphazard fashion, here we have been offered something that is, on the whole, entirely original. Admittedly there are covers and interpolations here, but there is an underlying sense that this has been created out of a desire to make new art that responds to the world around it, rather than simply imitating it or recreating it. Some might say that too many cooks spoil the broth, but here we have an example of how many hands make light work – and more to the point, a thoroughly engaging collection of tunes.