Anzi – ‘Run Away’

Independent Spotlight is a continuing series on Stewart’s blog. The series revolves around independent artists and bands sending their music to Brett to review. No band is promised a positive review, and all music is reviewed honestly in an effort to better independent music.

In this morning’s edition of the Independent Spotlight, we return our gaze to Anzi, a rising indie pop artist signed to Chrome City Records. Last August, we explored her soulful pop debut, ‘On My Own.’ Now the Washington DC-based performer has released her sophomore endeavor, a single entitled ‘Run Away.’ Is it a tune worth spinning, and does it propel Anzi forward into new artistic territory? Let’s find out!

Right out of the gate, ‘Run Away’ is much more electronic-tinged than its predecessor. The soulful R&B nature of ‘On My Own’ has been traded out for a much more punchy, infectious, even danceable sound. It’s laden in bright, jingly synthesizers and copious reverb as Anzi sings about eloping with a significant other. Thematically, it’s certainly a departure from ‘On My Own.’

The production of ‘Run Away’ is quite good, highlighting Anzi as a strong vocalist who has a knack for penning good pop hooks, something that truly is quite difficult and underrated. It’s clear that she’s aiming for an 80s-esque sound, and in that vein, Anzi is very successful. Lyrically, however, the song is inundated with endless tropes about innocent love and running away with a perfect significant other. The song covers no territory that hasn’t been thoroughly explored for over forty years by every pop artist under the sun.

My main criticism of Anzi’s ‘On My Own’ was that it showed hints of a potentially poignant and soulful performer with a lovely voice. That observation still stands, perhaps even more starkly, with the release of ‘Run Away.’ I’d still argue that Anzi’s potential would likely be put to better use with stronger lyricism and more compelling subject matter.

Similar to ‘On My Own,’ however, ‘Run Away’ is still a perfectly acceptable pop song. It’ll be a nice inclusion to a spring break playlist. If that’s the target Anzi aimed to hit, she’s done so. The song is worth a listen if you enjoy carefree pop music. I still hope for more depth and artistic exploration in Anzi’s future, though, because this new single doesn’t do her full justice in that department.

Press Release – The McClinton Experience – March 27, 2017



Deblynne McClinton Delves Deep Into Soul & R&B Hits

Hailing from Stone Mountain, Georgia, The McClinton Experience has become one of the most recognizable and eclectic live bands in the independent music scene. Comprised of a group of versatile veteran musicians, the Deblynne Petty-McClinton led outfit elegantly traverses a massive catalog of tunes. Digging deep into Motown, soul, funk, jazz, and more, The McClinton Experience will often be found performing songs from the likes of Anita Baker, Sade, Jill Scott, the Supremes, and mores.

Prior to forming The McClinton Experience, Deblynne McClinton spent years performing in venues in and around Atlanta. She has taken the stage at a bevy of weddings and special events, including the Disneyland Legends in Concert show to perform a tribute to Billie Holiday. In addition to being a versed interpreter of others’ music, McClinton is also a unique creative force unto herself. Her latest studio endeavor, a contemporary jazz song entitled ‘Be Sure,’ is due out March 29.

On May 19, The McClinton Experience will perform at Riley’s On The Square, a beautiful wine bar in downtown Lawrenceville. (178 E. Crogan St.) Fans can connect with The McClinton Experience on social media and the band’s official website for continued updates on events, new releases, and more! For a free quote on a potential booking for your event, connect with the band on GigMasters.

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Voice in the Attic – ‘Thought’

Independent Spotlight is a continuing series on Stewart’s blog. The series revolves around independent artists and bands sending their music to Brett to review. No band is promised a positive review, and all music is reviewed honestly in an effort to better independent music.

In this morning’s edition of the Independent Spotlight, we return our gaze to Voice in the Attic, the artistic moniker of B.C. Bogey, an award-winning songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. Last time we checked in on Bogey, he had released ‘After Songdown’ a remarkable record I explored in great depth nearly two years ago. The songwriter is back, however, and he has a new single entitled ‘Thought.’ Does it stand tall against its remarkable predecessor? Let’s delve into it and find out!

‘Thought,’ as Voice in the Attic describes it, is “a little think piece.” Thus, it’s certainly steeped in traditional early 1970s singer songwriter introspection. This can often be treacherous territory for independent artists because they run the risk of entering the realm of cliche, but Voice in the Attic navigates away from that especially well, as he has done in the past. His performance feels intensely personal and passionate, which gives it an aura of authenticity.

The sound has a beautifully contemporary flair to it, aligning sonically with some of Voice in the Attic’s previous work. I’ve previously compared his music to Eddie Vedder’s acoustic ventures, and that parallel is still profoundly apt. ‘Thought’ is orchestrated beautifully with subtle percussion and melodic acoustic guitars, but there’s an edge lent to it by Bogey’s growly voice. In the two years since I dug into Voice in the Attic’s last record, Bogey’s voice still remains one of the most poignant and recognizable in the indie music scene.

Lyrically, the song is quite splendid, albeit embracing brevity. The song wanders in melancholy territory that alludes to Bogey losing a relationship of some sort, perhaps even one that he never expected to lose. “I thought there was more,” he croons. “I thought we were taller. I thought there was poetry in music.” In the vein of his previous work, Bogey remains as lyrically compelling as ever.

‘Thought’ doesn’t attempt to blow down any new doors or astound the listener. It’s a lovely acoustic singer songwriter ballad that aligns thematically with many of its genre counterparts. It is, however, an exceptionally well performed and produced endeavor in that arena, far exceeding the typical “singer songwriter” that comes across my desk on a near-daily basis. Voice in the Attic continues to be one of the most fascinating and consistently excellent indie acts around.

Ahmed Aly – Selections from ‘Miles More to Go’

Independent Spotlight is a continuing series on Stewart’s blog. The series revolves around independent artists and bands sending their music to Brett to review. No band is promised a positive review, and all music is reviewed honestly in an effort to better independent music.

In this evening’s edition of the Independent Spotlight, we shine our gaze on Ahmed Aly, an independent singer songwriter hailing from Cairo, Egypt. His latest studio endeavor is ‘Miles More to Go,’ an album we’ll be delving into a selection of songs from here on the Spotlight. The record, which was produced in Nashville and London, spans a bevy of genres in the “pop-rock” spectrum. The pop singer songwriter scene is certainly an inundated one, but Aly is attempting to break through that noise. How successful is he at doing so? Let’s find out.

‘Leaving,’ a tune featuring female vocalist Madeline Wise, exhibits a strong chemistry between the two lead talents. At times, Wise’s croons enter Lucinda Williams soundalike territory, but the two lead vocalists bounce off one another well in a lush pop landscape of punchy percussion and electrifying lead guitar. Lyrically, the track is often forgettable, but the vocal harmonies between Aly and Wise and very strong.

In a way, the melancholy ‘On A Plane’ is a stronger track than ‘Leaving,’ especially in regard to the instrumental performances. The acoustic orchestration is beautiful, accented softly with waterfalls of synthesized string sections. In particular, the instrumental interlude in the middle of the track is absolutely stunning. It wonderfully complements the soft-spoken ‘Table For Two,’ a song that houses Aly’s best vocal performance and lyricism in this selection. The foot-tapping pop ballad is actually quite lovely, especially in its final moments as the electric guitar breaks loose.

Aly’s musical output includes some entirely instrumental music as well, as showcased in the pensive ‘Chasing Dusk.’ Out of these six songs, ‘Chasing Dusk’ is the undeniable highlight of the collection. While Aly’s pop vocals are enjoyable, the production of ‘Chasing Dusk’ is hauntingly beautiful, elevating the artist’s sound from basic pop rock to sophisticated instrumental composition. It is most certainly a direction that Aly should explore in further depth.

Perhaps like ‘Chasing Dusk,’ ‘Starlight’ shines brightest as a piece of instrumental composition. Aly’s pop vocals are doused in lyrical stereotypes that lessen the impact of ‘Starlight,’ but the song is recovered by the nuances of the production. ‘Fairy Queen,’ however, is quite a pretty love ballad, even if calling someone a “fairy queen” is a bit kitschy. The atmospheric space ‘Fairy Queen’ occupies does make for a surreal listening experience.

Ahmed Aly’s music is especially strong in the arenas of production, composition, and instrumentation. ‘Chasing Dusk’ exudes this prowess, and Aly’s music is at its strongest instrumentally. His lead vocals, while pleasant, are often burdened by forgettable, cheesy pop lyrics. If the lyricism was to improve, Aly would be armed with a perfect arsenal. In the meantime, these are still fun songs worth a spin.

Iain Campbell – ‘Piano Works’

Independent Spotlight is a continuing series on Stewart’s blog. The series revolves around independent artists and bands sending their music to Brett to review. No band is promised a positive review, and all music is reviewed honestly in an effort to better independent music.

In this evening’s edition of the Independent Spotlight, we return our gaze to Iain Campbell, an artist we delved into last weekend who had released two absolutely stunning classically inspired instrumental compositions. Now the Glasgow artist has released a four track EP which is currently available on Bandcamp entitled ‘Piano Works.’ Does this short collection stand tall against its excellent predecessors? Let’s find out.

The songs on ‘Piano Works’ are inherently different in execution than ‘Winter’ and ‘I’m Still Here,’ the two songs we explored here on the Spotlight last weekend. These four tunes are essentially live recordings. There are no overdubs and the songs were recorded live in one take. All four are original compositions that were also recorded and produced by Campbell. Thus, there’s a more raw atmosphere to ‘Piano Works’ than those other two singles.

‘Sometimes’ opens up the EP and sets a beautiful tone for the collection, offering a melancholy exploration of Campbell’s prowess as an emotive pianist. Completely lathered in reverb, the song actually sounds like it has droning synthesizers in the backdrop. (It doesn’t.) It’s a lovely piece, though Campbell’s final mix and master is a bit all over the place. When it peaks, the sound distorts, and it’s difficult to tell if that was intentional or not. (This happens throughout the EP as well.)

Hence, moving focus away from the production quality and focusing it on the music, ‘The Last Door’ is another somber instrumental that’s especially moody. It has a very ethereal atmosphere, as if it’s scoring a dreamy walk through a mystical spirit realm. Every note of ‘The Last Door’ feels important… the listener can feel the weight of the composition. One can’t help but wonder: is there a conceptual story behind these songs?

‘Embers’ is an enthralling piece as well, one that cascades in tiny waterfalls around the listener. Despite the noise levels peaking and distorting, I’d still argue these songs are worth listening to on a quality set-up. The intricacy of their performances is worth engrossing oneself into. The finale, ‘Horizon,’ actually does have a sense of finality to it, too, as if it’s scoring the sun rising after a long evening. It’s a more uplifting track – a perfect closer.

‘Piano Works’ is much stronger as one larger sonic portrait than four individual tracks. I wouldn’t even recommend listening to songs individually. If you want to hear this album, sit down with all four songs and listen to them in order. They’re all similar, but in a complementary way that captures an overarching emotion. As I said in my last review, there aren’t enough talented classically-influenced composers and pianists in the indie scene, so Campbell’s work shouldn’t go unnoticed.

Press Release – BLACKKISS – March 23, 2017



BLACKKISS To Perform April 25 At Taos Mesa Brewing

On Tuesday, April 25, the independent acoustic country outfit Blackkiss will perform at Taos Mesa Brewing in Taos, New Mexico. The desert-born act’s sound draws its roots directly back to the heart of the Navajo-Indian reservation. In his early years, Blackkiss founder Pete Sands was raised on a healthy diet of Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and other wholly authentic, outlaw country acts Blackkiss is reminiscent of.

The band rose to prominence after touring the western parts of the United States and performing at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. Later that year, Blackkiss released their debut record, an endeavor entitled ‘Dirt Dance Floor.’ Their uniquely gritty and bare-bones country sound is often compared to the Rick Rubin-produced ‘American’ era of Johnny Cash’s career.

Outside of the studio, Blackkiss has earned their stripes as a versatile and dynamic live act. They’ve performed at an array of festivals and opened for acts the likes of John Moreland, Two Car Garage, and one of Sands’ favorite acts, Whitey Morgan and the 78’s. Blackkiss’ signature style of dark country blues won over audiences across California in their most recent tour. Sands has an impressive repetoire of music as well, having worked with notable country acts such as the White Buffalo and the Randy Rogers Band.

Fans can connect with Blackkiss on their official website! Their show at Taos Mesa Brewing in Taos, NM is scheduled for April 25.



The O Sound All Stars – ‘Nu Wop Doo Wop, Vol. 1’

Independent Spotlight is a continuing series on Stewart’s blog. The series revolves around independent artists and bands sending their music to Brett to review. No band is promised a positive review, and all music is reviewed honestly in an effort to better independent music.

As an independent music critic, I get a sea of lackluster music across my desk on a daily basis that’s either pretentious, overproduced, or both. It’s not often I come across an act that exudes pure authenticity, prowess, and passion, an act where the love of the craft is clearly the foremost inspiration for the music. That is the case, however, with ‘Nu Wop Doo Wop, Vol. 1,’ a collection of nine songs featuring a bevy of remarkably talented performers.

This LP was released under the name The O Sound All Stars, a group that consists of Baba Adetobi, Mike Harris, Regi Beverly, Humble G, Blacknile, and Romeo Maxwell. All of them are multifaceted talents, offering not only their voices to the project, but their talent as songwriters, musicians, music directors, and more. Their sound couldn’t have come together, though, without Doug Dostal, the owner of O Sound Studios in Cleveland.

Dostal, who recently passed away, was a staple of the independent music community in Cleveland. He fostered talent and acted as a mentor for many of the rising musicians in the area. His “All Stars” are in fine form on this first volume of contemporary doo wop songs, as each song is an original composition jam-packed with a variety of genre influences. The sound is certainly doo wop influenced, but there’s so much more at play, too.

‘I Love Music,’ the introduction to the album, showcases The O Sound All Stars elegantly with pitch perfect harmonies chock-full of soul and R&B influence. Humble G is spotlighted on the opening track as a hip hop artist, too, which adds further flavor to this wonderful sonic concoction. You can tell ‘I Love Music’ was recorded for the love of the art.

When you listen to tunes like ‘Crazy Baby,’ you can’t help but think about the musical lineage of this doo wop. Though many people may not know this, Cleveland was a fairly large hub for doo wop and soul music. Acts like the Mills Brothers and The Valentinos rose out of that scene in the 1950s and 60s, and later on the city was a mecca for funk music, too. ‘Crazy Baby,’ a funky tune centered around a vocal harmony, is right in line with that musical history.

Classic doo wop influence is most immediately noticeable on ‘Academy,’ a quirky coming of age ballad about one’s school days. Uniquely, the tune is performed to a blues riff, too, which makes it even more fascinating. ‘Academy’ sounds midwestern through and through, as if it could have also arisen out of the Chicago scene. The suave ‘I Love You’ is a superb follow-up as well, a tune that takes full advantage of the vocal range of the All Stars.

One of the strongest facets of ‘Nu Wop Doo Wop, Vol. 1’ is its versatility as an album. It genre hops frequently, but remains cohesive and compelling through each of those leaps. ‘Second Chance,’ for example, is an R&B track completely unlike ‘Academy’ or ‘I Love You.’ It’s done with such conviction, though, that it aligns thematically with the rest of the songs perfectly. The same can be said for ‘I’ll Make You Happy,’ another R&B-infused tune that’s exquisitely accented by a fantastic percussion beat and sporadic nylon guitar.

‘Where Are You’ is one of the finest tracks of the nine due to its inherent chemistry. The performers are perfectly in step with one another and the vocal performances are breathtakingly good. I’d go as far to argue that ‘Where Are You’ houses some of the best vocals I’ve heard in the independent scene thus far this year. The songwriting is sharp, too, and infectiously memorable.

If there is a weak link on ‘Nu Wop Doo Wop, Vol. 1,’ it’s likely ‘She Don’t Even Know.’ It’s not necessarily a bad song, but it lacks some of the personality and intensity of its counterparts. It’s another R&B number, one that’s a bit too R. Kelly for its own good. It’s so slick that it actually lacks some of the emotional depth of songs like ‘Where Are You.’  This is very quickly rebounded by the phenomenal, retro-tinged ‘I’m Just Lovin’ Me,’ a fantastic doo wop tune that even incorporates a fantastic brass section.

By and large, this is one of the best records the independent music community has released in the last six months. It’s completely uninhibited by pretense. It’s for the love of the music, and there’s no a moment in this collection of songs that isn’t very obvious. As an entry in each of these performer’s catalogs, it should be a proud flag planted in the ground. As a swansong for Doug Dostal, it’s a work to be proud of, and a memory worth preserving.

Press Release – Michael Black – March 20, 2017



Michael Black To Release Inspirational Debut Single, ‘6×8’

On Saturday, March 25, the up and coming independent music artist Michael Black will release his debut studio endeavor, a dynamic new single entitled ‘6×8.’ Having previously written country music, Black expanded his artistic horizons for his new release by delving deep into hip hop. The message of his music is a simple, but vitally important one: to inspire his fans to live life to its fullest potential, learn along the way, and never harbor any regret.

Born and raised in New Jersey, Black has always had a penchant for songwriting. ‘6×8’ is an effort inspired by his son and difficult experiences he had during the early stages of his life. “I consider myself to be a true story lyric writer,” Black explains of the new single. “So, I base all of my lyrics off my experiences or the others around me.”

Superbly produced and passionately performed, ‘6×8’ is an elegantly penned single that exhibits Black’s natural prowess for songwriting. Due out next Saturday, the song will be available for streaming and download on all major digital music platforms. Fans can connect with Michael Black on his social media below!

Iain Campbell – ‘Winter’ and ‘I’m Still Here’

Independent Spotlight is a continuing series on Stewart’s blog. The series revolves around independent artists and bands sending their music to Brett to review. No band is promised a positive review, and all music is reviewed honestly in an effort to better independent music.

In this afternoon’s edition of the Independent Spotlight, we shine our gaze on Iain Campbell, an independent instrumental composer hailing from Glasgow. His two new singles, ‘Winter’ and ‘I’m Still Here’ are excursions through his style of classical composition, with both tracks written, performed, and produced entirely by Campbell. Both available on Bandcamp now, are they singles worth picking up? Let’s delve into them and find out!

First and foremost, it’s worth noting that classically inspired music doesn’t come across my desk nearly as much as I would like it to. There’s a hole in the indie music scene that desperately needs to be filled in that niche, and a composer like Campbell might be the person to do it. ‘Winter’ is one of the most superb instrumental pieces I’ve dug into in months. It’s doused in emotional intensity and instrumental prowess, elegantly accented by moody, but very sparse synthesizers and sound samples.

As a primarily piano-based piece, ‘Winter’ is performed in an especially articulate way. There isn’t a note that feels awry. Every piece of the sonic puzzle feels intentional and meticulously planned, but at the same time avoids sounding derivative or sterile. ‘Winter’ reminds me of Brian Eno’s famed ‘Music for Airports.’ It’s the kind of song you could turn on in the background of your day and never tire of. To that end, the second single Campbell released, ‘I’m Still Here,’ is very much in that vein as well.

‘I’m Still Here’ is similar in structure to ‘Winter.’ It’s a piano piece that’s accented by light orchestration. The atmospheric and reverb-laden synthesizers and string sections are in much more abundance on ‘I’m Still Here,’ however, offering a dynamic soundscape that’s a stark contrast from the other single. The slow building of the synthesized string sections can send a chill down one’s spine… it’s masterfully crafted and hauntingly beautiful.

It’s not often I get to dig into music here on the Independent Spotlight and leave with very little critiques, but rather, a sense of fullness. Iain Campbell’s music is the perfect soundtrack for your soul. Turn it on whenever and it’ll soothe and inspire. I hope he continues down this path and experiments along the way, too. He’s a very talented performer and composer who could do some compelling work. Keep tabs on him below and pick up the music on Bandcamp.

Angie and The Deserters – ‘Stay’

Independent Spotlight is a continuing series on Stewart’s blog. The series revolves around independent artists and bands sending their music to Brett to review. No band is promised a positive review, and all music is reviewed honestly in an effort to better independent music.

In this afternoon’s edition of the Independent Spotlight, we shine our gaze on Angie and The Deserters, an Americana outfit out of California with a new record out entitled ‘You.’ Citing influences the likes of Fleetwood Mac and Tom Petty, the band is striving to craft a modern Americana sound that’s chock-full of acoustic instrumentation and rootsy vocals that sound like they’ve been summoned from the ground itself. Their new single, ‘Stay,’ is a fantastic excursion into their unique sound. Let’s delve into it a bit.

Lead by Angie Bruyere, Angie and The Deserters’ influences are immediately apparent when spinning ‘Stay.’ The powerful female lead vocals are very reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac, and Bruyere’s performance on ‘Stay’ is captivating. It’s a love ballad that’s not especially kitschy… it feels genuine and raw, and the bare-bones acoustic performance lends itself well to that atmosphere. The same can’t be said for many outfits putting out love tunes as their lead single. ‘Stay’ is lovely through and through.

Instrumentally, the performances on the single are rather superb, never overpowering the soundscape or Bruyere’s presence. The Deserters accent her, they don’t steal the show. That’s exactly how that dynamic should work, and the musical camaraderie of the outfit is apparent. ‘Stay’ is worth listening to on a quality sound system, too, because it’s jam packed with tiny nuances. Softly strummed mandolins and the occasional organ peek out from behind the sound every few seconds in moments of subtle, but beautiful brevity.

Aligning Angie and The Deserters with contemporary, popular counterparts, fans may find their music similar to that of Holly Williams, Hank Williams Sr.’s granddaughter, or perhaps that of Honey Honey, an Americana country duo that’s also picked up significant traction in recent years. Frankly, there aren’t enough quality, passionate Americana outfits producing high quality music, so Angie and The Deserters are filling a welcome hole in the indie scene right now.

‘Stay’ is very much worth your time, and it’s also indicative of ‘You’ being an album very much worth checking out. Connect with the band below to keep updated with their releases, events, and more.

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