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Ceran, The Ultimate: The Essential Anthology of Ceran

31 Mar, 2016 Matthew Forss


Ceran has been making waves with a host of albums over the last few years around his own blend of pop, R&B, gospel, funk, reggae, and jazz music on his latest compilation, The Ultimate: The Essential Anthology of Ceran.  This is an eighteen-track album with Ceran as lead singer and a few guests, notably Samara and T Fitz, which add a unique blend to the music overall. Ceran even ventures into Latin and French styles.

“All That You Want Me To Be” opens with a steady piano melody with Ceran’s emotive vocals leading the song.  The song does not incorporate other instruments or vocals, which adds to its ballad-esque delivery.  Ceran’s vocals are relatively strong throughout the song.  The melodic arrangements are very catchy.  Fans of piano ballads, pop standards, love songs, and vocal songs will love it.

“Break Free” opens with a swishy percussion dance beat with keyboard effects and Ceran’s characteristic voice.  The dance beat is somewhat muffled by the recording acoustics, but that is fairly pervasive throughout the album.  Still, the song is catchy and incorporates some backup vocals for a gospel-esque format.  However, the music is primarily dance-oriented with all those familiar electronic thuds, tinny percussion, and driving sounds.  Importantly, the music is not too steeped in the dance world with techno or dub styles.

“Encore Une Fois” begins with an atmospheric wash, which heads right into a flowing, European-like piano melody.  Ceran sings in French on this song.  The soft, vocal ballad is quite melancholic, but diverse.  Ceran’s French background shines on this track.  A variety of symphonic washes, swishy percussion, and string-like accompaniment solidifies the track as a Francophone masterpiece.  There are even accordion-like sounds over the latter half of the song, which sets the tone as a romantic melody.

“Open Road” begins with a piano melody and brief, cinematic, atmospheric wash.  Ceran’s emotive vocals take charge early on, but they are not too showy or forced.  The atmospheric washes add a degree of dreaminess to the vocals—especially during the latter half of the song.  At any rate, it is a good ballad with great melodies, instrumental accompaniment, and a solid rhythm.

“Love Is Found” opens with an upbeat, dance melody with piano accompaniment and guest vocals by Samara.  Ceran and Samara are a good duo amidst the danceable sounds and keyboard effects.  The vocals are all very clear throughout. Some of the dance accompaniment resembles horn sounds.  Overall, Samara’s contributions to the track are very beneficial and not overbearing.

Ceran’s new anthology of eighteen original tracks represents a variety of musical styles and vocal calisthenics for the Missouri-based artist.  Ceran finds fluidity and happiness in a variety of genres, which include jazz, lounge, dance, R&B, pop, gospel, reggae, and neo-classical.  There are a few culturally-enriched songs, which feature one Spanish and one French vocal song.  The piano is a focal instrument on the album, but it is played in inventive ways, alongside the more traditional ones, as well.  The music is not wholly classical, rock, or folk.  Instead, Ceran’s influences of Alicia Keys and John Legend appear to be channeled here.  Over the years, Ceran’s vocal strengths and songwriting abilities have improved, and that is certainly the case with The Ultimate…  However, the same issue that has plagued earlier releases is present here.  The only issue in question regards the recording quality, which is not quite up to par from a polished perspective.  Notably, the music quality and creativity is paramount, which does not disappoint. Congratulations on this incredible achievement.

Review by Matthew Forss
Rating: 4.5 Stars (out of 5)

Antonio James, “Midnight Mirror”

05 Dec, 2015 Matthew Forss


Antonio James is a talented down-tempo, R&B, and electronic wizard with producer and singer-songwriter credits from London.

“Midnight Mirror” begins with a few symphonic, electric washes unaccompanied by another instrument.  However, a blurby and trippy dance beat begins with the vocals.  The vocals contain a slight echo, as if they are a little distant.  The percussion is swishy and sauntering throughout. Mid-song, a piano-like sound accompanies the swishy percussion, electronic washes, and a few electric guitar-like notes, as the vocals wax and wane.  The blurby guitar sounds near the end of the song contain a down-tempo or lounge element that is somewhat related to R&B and dance constructions.  The end of the song displays more musical elements, but not to the point of frenzied disorder.  Antonio’s vocals remain rather consistent from a tonal and pitch perspective.

The three-minute-track is a great example of English trip-hop and down-tempo music with a nod to a contemporary R&B form.  Antonio’s echo-laden vocals add a level of mystery to the song, while keeping the beat.  The song is slightly akin to music of the 1980’s coming out of England. However, there are more contemporary elements here.  The spacious washes, rippling guitar work, and emotive vocals set the track apart from other songs in similar genres.  Overall, the song is part contemporary pop and dance amidst a trip-hop and down-tempo backbone.  The song possesses a delicate balance between electronic accompaniment and percussion with vocals that are used in just the right proportion to not be a distraction.  Fans of down-tempo, trip-hop, lounge, electronica, pop, dance, R&B, and simply good music will love Antonio James’ new song.  No missteps here.  Your ears (and feet) will thank you!

Review by Matthew Forss
Rating:  5 stars (out of 5)


Stephen Cogswell, Floating

12 Nov, 2015 Matthew Forss

stepehncogswellSan Francisco-based musician, Stephen Cogswell, release his debut solo album, Floating, which encompasses a hearty mix of folk, blues, gospel, roots, world fusion, and contemporary leanings. Stephen incorporates a talented pool of souls on this recording, including Travis Porter DeLeon, Paul Eastburn, Trevor Garrod, Dan Lebowitz, Melvin Seals, MC JBrave, Deva Blanchard, Rio Life Delaney, Karamo Cissokho, Pamela Parker, and Jenny Simon.  The eleven-track album spans the gamut of inventive and creative songwriting talents with moods and melodies that are soulful, reflective, and solid.

“Borrowed” opens with a few bass notes, piano melody, and Darius Rucker-like vocals amid swishy percussion and a ballad-esque rhythm full of soul and folk.  There are strings and drums that livens the track into a jam-band delight with Dave Matthew Band-esque instrumental breaks. The piano meanders along with sweeping gentleness and historic flavor, while not straying too far into classical or folk worlds.  The light backup vocals and hearty lead vocals cement the track into astonishing brilliance with precise tones and timbres that warm the heart and the soul without leaving one feeling empty or unsatisfied.

“Waiting In Divine” opens with crashing waves and a breezy guitar rhythm with glistening and poignant crystalline tones.  The percussion is laidback and bluesy with Stephen’s vocals laying down a poetic masterpiece.  Backup vocals, not too dissimilar from Leona Naess, appear mid-song, as the tune incorporates soft keyboard sounds that set the mood for electronic brilliance. The bubbling sounds and earthy vocals keep up throughout the song, as the song wraps up with a short flurry of instrumental mixing that does not lead to incoherence ramblings.

“Rest In Your Fields” begins with a breathy flute and funky guitar tones with Stephen’s laidback vocals and jazzy percussion backed by beautiful melodies that carry the choruses into heavenly bliss.  The earthy flute, jazzy percussion, and alternative folk stylings are very contemporary overall with a nod to neo-classical and breezy, Brazilian melodies and rhythms.  The gurgling guitar vibes and sweet vocals make it enjoyable and easy to digest.

“Whale Song” begins with a few swishy percussive cymbals and a few vocals that quickly dive into an ocean of uppity, bluesy, and folksy veins that are more country than urban.  The choruses are ripe with folksy instrumentation that picks up tempo and returns back to a slower, tempo between choruses.  The choruses also contain faster vocals.  The instrumental result is slightly gospel-esque with wild piano melodies, fast plucking and strumming, and twangy tones that resemble the instrumentation of Australia’s Xavier Rudd.  Still, the tune is diverse and a welcome addition to the album.

“The One” begins with a jazzy bass line, spoken words early on, and a swaying, yet funky, jazz melody.  There are funky horns, a steady percussive beat, rootsy keys, and female backup singers for a truly engaging result.  The heady grooves are island-friendly and slightly urban in tone.  For instance, there is a short rap part mid-song.  There is a gospel vein (and message) to the song with extended instrumental breaks, repeats, and backup singers that do not disappoint.

Stephen Cogswell is a remarkable singer and songwriter with a knack for creating island beats and breezy tunes that are not too unlike music by Xavier Rudd, Dave Matthews, Jack Johnson, and even Darius Rucker.  There is a mix of guitar stylings, folksy strings, jazzy and bluesy percussion, and rootsy keyboards that result in an enthralling recording of intense beauty.  The flowing piano melodies are not too overt and help focus the tracks in a rewarding fashion.  The vocals are strong, poetic, and earthy throughout.  It is tough to find any missteps here, because there are none.  If a beach had a soundtrack: Floating would be the answer.
Review by Matthew Forss
Rating: 5 Stars (out of 5)


Groovexpress, Live at GVR

18 Jul, 2015 Matthew Forss

groovexpress2Live at GVR is a six-track release that was recorded live at the Glenbrook Vintage Railway in Waiuku, New Zealand on an actual flat-deck railway car and is the soundtrack from their latest music videos  Groovexpress is a blues, rock, and jazz-driven ensemble with an instrumental repertoire and six very talented musicians. Groovexpress is Mykeljon on electric guitars, Haggis Maguiness on harmonica, Ernest Semu on keyboards, Nic Haslip on bass, Leyton Greening on drums, and Nick Nahi on other percussion. Live at GVR includes three new tracks, as well as three previously-released tracks on their previous release, Ukrainian Doll.

“Amsterdaam!” opens with a vocal ‘one’ and ‘two’ to get started.  After a few drumstick taps, the song quickly morphs into an instrumental gem ripe with bluesy harmonica, jazzy percussion, and rippling guitars.  The whole package is backed by smooth keyboards and a persistent, but varied beat.  The jazzy guitars and keyboards add a bit of smooth jazz undertones, but there are gritty blues elements that add a playful swagger to the tune.

“Blues On The Outside” opens with a little percussive tapping, drums, bluesy keyboards, blurby sounds, and smooth jazz chemistry that does not disappoint.  The opening sequence is a bit reminiscent of Eric Clapton’s Change The World and at other times throughout the song.  The sparkling keyboards, punchy harmonica, and rippling guitar work is jazz-centered and magical. The percussion moves to the forefront at the end of the song, but the outro is rather short.

“Foxy Brown” begins with a rootsy, jazz-laden intro with swishy percussion, B3 organ blurts, and punchy harmonica stylings in an edgy concoction of brilliant musicianship.  The instrumental tune contains a heady rhythm section and rootsy gallantry that would make any jazz aficionado jump for joy.  There are some real smooth guitar sounds that off-set the earthier harmonica tones.  At any rate, this tune incorporates a lot of what makes the other tracks great—varied percussion, a rousing beat, and jazzy sound structures.

“Geraldine” begins with a few B3 sounds, swishy percussion, and guitar-friendly sounds amid a jazzy tune with breezy stylings and smooth jazz sounds that are never overdone.  There are some smooth, yet electric guitar displays of musicianship here that are mostly lacking on the other tracks.  Still, the sparkling keyboard tones and carefree jazz undertones are very special and likeable throughout.

“Tell Me Why” opens with a dreamy percussive sequence, wood block, cymbals, and atmospheric keyboard sounds that are followed by a lightly-played harmonica.  The tune turns into a rather laid-back keyboard, percussion, and harmonica medley with twinkling chimes at times and a rootsy feel amid a jazzy, down-tempo vein.  The sounds are more relaxed and drawn-out overall, which makes for a very satisfying listen.  The track is not only jazz-infused, but it takes on a rock instrumental quality that is never too harsh or loud.

The Auckland, New Zealand instrumental jazz group, Groovexpress, definitely shines through with their latest release, Live at GVR.  Importantly, there are no outside sounds, such as applause throughout the album.  Also, the lack of new material at only three songs may be a deterrent for some.  However, it is a perfect introduction to the band and a perfect companion for long-time fans.  Fans of harmonica infusions, jazzy instrumentals, rugged roots sounds, jazzy guitars, and keyboard tones will love the new music on Live at GVR.  Yes, the album is a little short, but that does not downplay the excellent musicianship throughout.  Instrumental jazz fans have a new album to consider, which will only complement their collection.

Review by Matthew Forss
Rating:  5 stars (out of 5)

Rory McMillan, Remember This, Vol. 1

02 Jul, 2015 Matthew Forss

Album Artwork for Remember This (Volume 1) by Rory McMillanRory McMillan, a Knoxville, Tennessee musician, creates stunning atmospheric and electronic landscapes of aural beauty on the latest release, Remember This, Vol. 1.  There are eight tracks of diverse musical styles in an instrumental context drawing upon jazz, down-tempo, trip-hop, new age, neo-classical, and pop constructions.  The scintillating melodies are perfectly-suited for soundtrack and score themes, too.

“Moving Spaces” begins with an increasingly-progressive atmospheric and spacey resonance with buzzy electronica, symphonic overtures, sparkling noises, neo-classical piano or keyboard notes, and an array of high-pitched tones that electrify the soul.  The tune is a spacious tune with a variety of sounds and noises to set the tone for the entire album.  Importantly, the two-minute running length is not a disappointment here.

“Electro Mystery Panic” begins with a piano-type melody that is punctuated with chip-tune-esque percussion amid a spacey, score-like foundation.  There are swishy sounds, squeaky tones, and majestic atmospheric washes that fall somewhere between intergalactic soul and interstellar gold.  The glittery electronic wizardry is exciting, suspenseful, up-tempo, and diverse.  The music ends rather abruptly, but that does not detract from the rest of the track.

“Grey Mouse Escapes Space Mountain” opens with a vibraphone-like beat with an ambulating, percussive beat akin to a South American thriller score.  However, the beat delves into a swishy, atmospheric medley of slightly horn or buzz-driven elements that come together by the end of the song in perfect harmony.  The instrumental tune is very diverse and cohesive.  The end of the song contains an atmospheric wash of sound that results in a laser-like array of sound that is purely spacey.

“Winter’s Promise” begins with a barrage of swishy sounds, very fast percussion, crystalline bells or vibraphone sounds, and atmospheric buzzes and tones for a stronger overall sound.  The crystalline sounds resemble the sounds of ice crystals or icicles, while the spacey beat creates a youthful and playful result in a slightly neo-classical manner.  The spacey, laser-like sounds near the end of the song solidify the electronic backbone of the track without resorting to ho-hum, ambient sounds.

“A Beach Bum’s First Love” opens with a keyboard melody, bell-like tones, and atmospheric washes with dreamy, ambient sequences rich in lullaby-like harmonies and horn-imbued incarnation.  However, the one-and-a-half-minute song offers only a sample of music.  Still, the short song dazzles ears with electronic adornments constructed in an interesting and appropriate manner.

“Race You To The Stars” begins with a breathy, flute-like sound indicative of an electric pan-pipe that is accompanied with metallic and earthy electronic tones in an abstract fashion.  The electronic pings, tones, and noises are rather jazzy, ambient, and spacey.  The punchy tones resemble chip-tune music or video-game soundtracks with sounds reminiscent of on-screen game noises.  Yes, it is somewhat spacey, as its name implies, but the result is more avant-garde jazz or ambient music.

Rory McMillan’s new album, Remember This, Vol. 1, is a stellar recording of ambient and electronic sounds from an instrumental point-of-view.  The album incorporates several melodies that are rather short, but memorable.  Despite the short, eight-track release, Rory’s music is redeemable with delicate shades of percussion, electronic embellishments, and ambient sound-scapes that are very beautiful.  Rory brings in space-age ambient sounds with jazzy avant-garde tones and assorted industrial elements that are anything but dull.  Anyone with an interest in the more structured ambient, electronic, and space music of Robert Rich, Steve Roach, and Michael Stearns will love Rory’s new sounds here.  Rory’s electronic music concoctions may be influenced beyond our solar system, but the sounds are still down-to-earth.


Review by Matthew Forss

Rating:  5 stars (out of 5)