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Queen Caveat – Manufactured Happiness

Queen Caveat were building something special even before ABC’s “20/20: Sunset Boulevard” featured them  deservedly in a 2-hour documentary piece in April 2012. Debuting with EP “Emptor” in 2010, relying on a mix of music-scene-newcomer rage and decent indie rock ballads, they followed up with 2012 effort “Slap on the Wrist”.  With this, their second release, they were already establishing a solid formula of dynamic caffeine-infused gritty ground-glass rock with mellow thoughtful songs which made the most of Lauren’s siren-scary-yet-vulnerable vocal. Their most recent single, “Mr California”, marked their debut and welcome to our Fish Pond family in 2013, and has remained a weekend early morning rock favorite for me to start my day. Here we review their latest release, as they light up 2014 with “Manufactured Happiness”.

Manufactured Happiness

Queen Caveat comprises the hyper, lunatic ball of energy that is Oklahoma’s own Lauren Little, “the voice”, carefully stitched together with some amazing musical talent provided by the Grohl-inspired rocking Ben Epand (guitar), studious and thoughtful music maestro Will Weissman (bass), and easy-going hold-it-together party-guy Jesse Magnuson (drums).  The insight of watching their growing pains on Sunset Boulevard was an eye-opener for me; these guys have worked, and worked bloody hard to get where they are.  They have loved and lived Queen Caveat, and having followed all of their material so far, it feels like this is the coming out EP for these guys.  True to their roots and as dynamic as any work they’ve produced to date, this one is something special; it has high musical quality infused with just enough commercial production to not sell out, but to please the ears of so many. I hope you enjoy it as I surely have.

Starting the album with an anthemic crowd-rousing “Marion”, it feels like a good choice to get things moving. Some albums take their time to grab you; with this one, from the very first few bars, it feels like the whole band has caught me by the throat and given me a good shake. This track particularly reminded me of the first time I heard Papa Roach’s “Last Resort”. It’s punchy, driving, punctuated by Lauren’s spitting, snarling vocal, and the scene is set. I’d say there was a build; well, there kind of is, but ironically it’s the fastest descent into organized beautiful wah-chaos I’ve ever heard, like being caught in the middle of an unstoppable and ever-escalating glass-fight in a dirty old Edinburgh pub. A powerful and violent 2 minutes and 30 seconds in total, the whole band brings the noise capably, driving the song to a deliciously dirty and distorted demise.

Queen Caveat 6

The first single from this EP is “Breathe”. One of many great features of this band is that they know how to showcase the diversity of all of the musicians in songs which are similar enough to come together as a cohesive EP, but different enough to make it really interesting to the listener.

Kicking off with Ben’s clean guitar sound, Lauren’s vocal shows her softer side, particularly some of those lovely catches in her voice, vulnerable, and so very real; even “softer”, she sounds like she’s been screaming 24/7 for the last 10 years. It works.

Fundamentally, I love the commercial back-beat style of this number.

“Far from the target, you miss it every time,
It’s growing like a lie, and I’m over being under-satisfied;
You know I will not listen, but will you listen to me?
I know it is divided, because I still haven’t decided what you mean to me”

Bringing in an uncharacteristically soft drum and bass sound with some synth backing, the build to the chorus, and the chorus itself, is beautiful harmony to listen to. I’m struck by the beat, but in a totally different way to “Marion”. With a breath-catching tag line (“am I allowed to breathe?”), it’s a welcome pause for thought already in the EP, less angry and delivering everything which Queen Caveat is commercially capable of. It’s well mixed and very worthy of its status as the first single of their 2014 campaign. With lyrics which are thoughtful and convincingly performed, it strikes me that they haven’t succumbed to convention; there is no solo, no instrumental. It’s just a well-written and solid number; verse, pre-chorus, chorus, verse, pre-chorus, chorus, chorus, bridge, chorus, outro. It’s neatly packaged, it still rocks, but in a milder way, and it does the job.

Lauren 1

I’m so glad that they’ve included the seminal “Mr. California”, remixed, in its full glory, as the third song on the EP. I’ve made no secret that I love this track, especially combined with the video, which shows the intensity of the QC experience; Lauren, lizard-like and half-naked, all over the delivery, the band cohesively banging out the performance of a lifetime. You can read everything I had to say about this song in this separate 2013 review here.

A surprise favorite for me is track number 4. “Spine” pumps the brakes a little, or at least takes the pedal off the metal, it’s upbeat, with everything that makes me smile about a well-written rock song:

This might sound weird; but “Spine” gives me little hints of the joy I experienced every time I listened to “That Thing You Do”. It’s the hand-clap, that bounce beat, which, regardless of intent, gives the song a surfer feel, and makes me smile broadly. It’s a longer track at over 4 minutes, and it deserves the play-time just because it’s that sunny and enjoyable to listen to.

Lauren’s voice showcases through the first two verses, pretty and frivolous. It disguises a dark lyrical relationship reflection, despite the nice little synth effects throughout the production; there are some noteworthy beautiful bass runs from Will, giving the song a backbone. The driving chorus gets the point across, picking up the pace, giving me a feeling like I’m confidently chasing the big wave in Point Break;

“You turn your back like you don’t see,
Can’t be that easy to reject me, why?
You never see me cry;
Now I’m here picking up the pieces,
Pieces of my pride,
Make it right,
You never see me cry”

Again relying on lyrical content, clever writing, and well put together instrumentals (rather than padding with solos), to me this one is the winner of the EP. I seriously hope to see it as the second single on the album, because in my opinion this could do really well in commercial radio play and sales. Love it.

All three of Queen Caveat’s EP efforts so far have included one or two ballads, they do it capably, and by this point I’m glad they bring down the pace a little so that I can better enjoy the dynamic changes in the whole work of art. “Brave Boy” fulfills that role. It’s a very simple number, clear as a bell, honest as hell:

“Brave boy,
I give you all the things I saved, boy,
I am not afraid;
Even after you protect me,
From the world that couldn’t get me,
Hey boy,
I am not afraid”

The back third of the song rocks out, and it’s appropriate, actually one of the first instrumental breaks I’ve heard in the EP so far, before bringing the piece down to its quiet bare bones. The final line seems all the more meaningful when I reflect on Lauren’s epic energetic and mad performance art:

“I’m not afraid, of being called crazy anymore”

The EP is rounded out with “Everyone We Know”. In keeping with it’s companions, it’s a solid end, not a stand out, just powerful and well worth a listen. It has beat, it has drive, and it’s got all of the ingredients for a hardcore “chill out” at the end of the night. That’s not to understate the writing, I love the guitar especially; the riffing tripled across Ben’s lead, Will’s bass, and Jesse’s sticks, means that they can bring the whole EP together in a climaxed high. In many ways, after the really superb and frantic delivery of “Breathe”, “Mr. California”, and “Spine”, “Everyone We Know” is much needed, to bring the racing heart down to normal pace a little, and to reflect on everything that I’ve just heard in this 20 sweet minutes of madness.

I’ve listened to Queen Caveat’s material for over a year now, all of their previous work, and I really do think that “Manufactured Happiness” is a phenomenon to watch. It’s different to “Emptor” and “Slap on the Wrist”, both previous EPs filled with strong work, but not as cohesive as this effort. As I told Ben after the first memorable listen to this EP, I’m not blowing smoke. There’s something seriously crazy good about the way these songs work together and the mood that they create. It’s their break out EP, of that I’m sure, and I look forward to watching it fulfill all of its potential.

And hey guys, what about manufacturing some happiness over here on the East Coast? We’d love to see you before 2014 is out.

David Mark Smith
Founder, Global Musicians Fish Pond
Singer/Songwriter, My Lucky Fish

You can read more about Queen Caveat in their Fish Pond profile here, or at their website here.

You can buy more of their material here on iTunes.

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Toonyun – 9Teen84

Toonyun (Shirley To) is an accomplished singer, songwriter, actress, pianist, and bass player currently living and performing in LA. I met Toonyun on recommendation from the wonderful Margo Rey, a fellow Fish Pond family member and Billboard Adult Contemporary chart resident, who recommended her as a great bass player and a decent person. She joined our global family in January of 2014. A really enigmatic and interesting artist, she is all Los Angeles and seeming-worldly wise all in one artistic package. Born in Hong Kong and attending the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, before moving to LA and attending the Hollywood Musician’s Institute, she has a wealth of material from her first 2 EP’s, “3” and “Just So You’ll <3 Me”.

Shirley 5

It will soon become evident to you; Toonyun is a passionate musician, and a lover of many styles of music, listing Bjork, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Debussy, John Mayer, Suzanne Vega, and Bauhaus as the first amongst many influences. “9Teen84” is musically nice to listen to, clever, well-crafted, and displays a diversity of styles which I expected when I first read about Toonyun’s long career in acting and music to date. Enjoy the video with me here as you read the review.

It’s well worth following the backdrop as you take in this song, for its numerous noteworthy scenes. The work starts lyrically much as it means to go on, the words making me thoughtful and slightly worried as I read through them.

“1+1=3
3 can be anything I want it to be
If you can see through my eyes then you’ll agree”

Stopping and starting, the accompaniment gives the opening a sense of the ethereal from the start. I have to say, it took me a couple of listens to get used to the heavily-effected vocal over the slightly bizarre instrumentals, but on the 3rd listen, I’m digging it. I really like that little bit of “wah”-ing trombone introduced at the back half of the first verse.

The snare at the end of the verse snaps the song into a poppy chorus, breaking open the capsule, spilling out Bjork-ish logic, and carrying you along on a beautifully medicated wave. I’m thoughtful about the coincidental year of the title,  sharing with George Orwell’s novel, which gives the song an extra futuristic, even robotic, tint. The Abba-esque (minus one) band of three Shirleys only adds to the feeling of disengagement from the world, and immersion in the swirling modernist music.

“Don’t ask me what this is all for
My life at war
Don’t ask me why all my logic’s out the door
Undo 1984
The answer’s also 2”

It’s funky as far as grooving on a Saturday afternoon goes; the lyrics impress me, they feel bold, more meaningful than REM, and yet requiring Einstein’s mind to process. The industrial-pop backbeat to the whole song has me moving some part of my body in tempo throughout; the split-image black dog and Toonyun, with a nice transition into a human-art section set to pink ribbon, a minimalist modern-white chair, and Toonyun artfully sprawled, is a perfect visual aid.

“Love is real the world is not
How I feel chases after my thoughts
You know the bird is in tragedy
if the bee plays inside the box”

It’s the birds and the bees busy pollinating at an insane pace, at an awkward angle, obstructed by bleak and complex emotions.

There’s a gloriously long instrumental in the middle of the song after chorus number 2 – it’s about 35 seconds long all told. It’s a clever bit of construction, and the video really comes into its own here. There are two distinct sections to the instrumental. The first highlights those freaky metallic drums and the trombone, and the second brings in a beautiful Rhodes keyboard sound, the Doors brought up to date. It’s accompanied by a sneaker-clad Toonyun busting some cool moves, a thought-provoking and crazy modern ballet.

Next comes a transition down, which showcases Toonyun’s voice as clearly as the song permits, no effects, clear, lovely, and with minimal accompaniment. It’s just a short piece to throw us wildly yet willingly screaming into the final chorus, a strong ending, all “logics thrown out the doors”, which brings this little space oddity of a work to a climax.

“Don’t ask me why I threw your logics out the doors
Undo what you’ve done before
Don’t ask me why I don’t sing those songs anymore”

This song is perhaps most like “Golden Lotus” from her previous work, although it’s a bit unfair to compare because she’s so diverse even within each EP. Toonyun has done an strong job here with a workmanlike performance, with yet another wild departure from the norm (if indeed there is one). It takes some listening and some thought to get fully into the song, but it’s clear that it’s intelligently put together, musically fun to listen to, with lots of little adds for those interested in digging deeper either into the instrumentals or the lyrics. The video makes this into a work of art (as fellow Fish Pond family member Haikaa might say) by providing a high quality and well-scripted visual backdrop to her latest.

Wishing Toonyun the best with the release of her latest EP, “Fear is Dear”, and looking forward to plenty more exemplary work to come.

David Mark Smith,
CEO and Founder, Global Musicians Fish Pond
Singer/Songwriter, My Lucky Fish

You can read an excellent interview with Toonyun here in Asiance Magazine.

You can review Toonyun’s pictures and the song here on her Fish Pond profile.

You can purchase all of Toonyun’s music to date here at iTunes.

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The Western Den – The Midwinter EP

I first met Deni Hlavinka about a month after launching the Fish Pond family (April 2nd, 2011).  I always found her to be a consummate professional, an excellent natural-yet-educated vocalist, a talented pianist, and a thoughtful and rather brilliant lyricist.  You can catch some of her early work here.  Fast forward nearly three years, and Deni has met Chris West at Berklee College of Music in Boston where they both study; about a year ago, The Western Den was born.  The pair couldn’t be a more perfect musical match, and a great example to our Fish Pond family of, quite frankly, “nice” inspirational people.  Chris is Bermudan, all about family, and a quietly brilliant foil to Deni’s piano and female lead, with his own unique smooth-as-silk voice and epic guitar style.  This, their second EP, has all the qualities of a cozy family winter night around a fire.  Join me as we walk through this musical Midwinter reflection.

The Western Den Album Cover

As musical works go, this one is particularly pleasing.  You’re not going to get cutting edge new original material; there is plenty of that in their previous work, both individually and together.  Instead, you will get the brilliance of two musicians at the top of their game, putting the best of their talent into these beautiful carols.  Their choice is interesting, choosing two classics (“O Come, O Come Emmanuel” and “In the Bleak Midwinter”).  Intertwined lovingly like a surprise gift,they have also chosen a carol originating in Provence, France; the English translation of “Un flambeau, Jeannette, Isabelle” (Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabelle).  All in all it’s a must listen, in all regards.  Grab some warm gluhwein, a bag of roasted chestnuts, and snuggle up to this winter epic.

Beginning the EP with “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”, a carol based on Psalm 137;  they are straight in with their forte, two angelic voices, in multi-part harmony, backed by a rich, warm piano which is so characteristic of their work.  It’s as smooth and velvety as a marble mocha macchiato.  It’s a great start, bringing out all of the elements that I love about their work.

You’ll hear the simple beauty of both of their voices; the ethereal quality so reminiscent of Deni’s “The Dove and the Boulder”.  The harmonies are well thought through and executed.  Deni’s vocal is glowing; I’ve heard it range from edgy new material to Italian language opera.  There is a touch of the violin, Chris’ guitar is woven in, warm as a father’s hug to his returning prodigal son.  The work builds orchestrally, magnificent, and one which would sound amazing turned up to 11 and echoing throughout a domed English cathedral.

“Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella”, is a cleverly chosen number, which you can listen to here:

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A work translated from the French, the song inspires quiet and awe, “hush”, wise words silencing a wondrous crowd as a newborn sleeps.  The original inspired the painting below by Georges de la Tour in 1648 (“The Newborn Christ”).  I’ve taken the rather unusual step of including it because I liked studying it while I listened to Chris and Deni’s version of this previously unheard work.  It took me to a nice place.

Jeanette Isabelle

Intro-ing with a beautiful guitar part with what sounds almost like some mandolin overlaid, Deni’s vocal is once again pure, clear as a crystal decanter filled with melted snow.  Interspersed with tubular bells and their combined harmony vocal, it’s comfortable, peaceful, a Christmas message as old as the mountains yet as ever-present.  It’s becoming a theme of the EP now, that symphonic build of each song, until we are brought back to that lovely guitar once again, a touch of violin moving the work along and overwhelming the listener.  I love the idea that the back half of this version of the carol relies entirely on instrumental and non-lyrical vocal effects.  It works.  Like, a lot.

The final track of this lovely, if rather unexpected, medley of carols, is “In the Bleak Midwinter”. I’ve enjoyed the last two songs so much, I’m eagerly anticipating what could possibly be coming next.  I’m very familiar with the carol, but enjoy their mature-yet-embryonic take on each one.  I’m actually really glad to hear that Chris’ vocal leads this out.  With two such incredible vocal talents, whether hearing them live or recorded, I love the balance that they carry between them.  This version brings out everything which Chris sets out at the table for the duo; a guitar part filled with clever and well-placed form and technique, which marks Chris out as a very, very proficient player, coupled with his pitch perfect vocal which is a joy to listen to.  He is a master of both.

The Western Den 3

This track is reminiscent of The Western Den I saw live in Vienna, VA, in the first half of 2013, supporting Melissa Ferrick.  Chris and Deni blending their vocals and respective strong instrumental talents like a perfect morning smoothie, fresh, tasty, and leaving you wanting so much more.  It’s a delightful carol, and a delightful version, to end this, their second EP.

Chris and Deni, The Western Den, are together a force of musical nature.  The girl from Stephens City, VA, and the guy from Bermuda, two stellar talents, one entity in harmony that was just meant to be.  I really soaked up everything on offer in this EP, it’s not forced, it’s not seeking to break many boundaries, or to shock; it’s taking well-respected family values, educated and natural musical highlights, and putting them to work with their significant creative talent, thereby laying a strong foundation for so much that I’m yet to hear in years to come, and , I’m sure, I will absolutely love.  Congratulations to them both, in the anticipation of reviewing much of their future work.

You can buy “The Midwinter EP” – and I strongly recommend it – as well as their first work, “Battle Hymns”, here.

One world, one family, one musical heartbeat.

David Mark Smith
Founder, Global Musicians Fish Pond
Singer/Songwriter, My Lucky Fish

You can read a review of The Western Den caught live in Vienna, VA, in early 2013, here.

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Anna Beatriz – Beautiful Ride

I first met Anna Beatriz in Loewes Hotel, Hollywood, in February of 2013. My first impression: bold, with a voice full of depth, fun, and a passion for her music which showed both in her performance and in her enthusiastic conversation. Originally from Santos, Brazil, Anna comes with a wealth of experience in the business, recording her first album, “Sobre Nós”, in 2006.  She completed her Associate of Arts degree at the Hollywood Musician’s Institute in 2013. With this brand new EP, she brings us an exciting and novel mix of jazz-infused big band pop. Come with me on this Beautiful Ride.

Anna Beatriz - Beautiful Ride

This has been an interesting album to review for me; it is unique, in the sense that I am exposed to very little music like it. It’s reminiscent of my very first impression of Anna Beatriz, bringing something of a classy big band feel to modern pop music. With songwriting shades of Basia, she hints at Michael Bublé with the brass section, and drives the EP onward with a vocal which is a little reminiscent of Maria Vanedi out of Colombia. Accompanied by some world-class musicians, she’s produced a little gem in “Beautiful Ride”.

“Let them Say” is a strong start to the EP; beginning with a brass section which had me swinging to the beat immediately, eyes closed, I was imagining alley cats dancing in the moonlight after hours.  It’s co-delivered in Brazilian-Portuguese and English language, inclusive and multi-cultural, giving the immediate feeling that everyone can join her:

Her vocal is immediately captivating, sultry, gravelly, and draws you into the song. With a simple melody, building the theme through the first verse, the chorus wells up and brings out such happy abandoned feelings. My favorite part is the refrain, the jazzy guitar accompanying Anna Beatriz’ lovely vocal;

“Let them say, I don’t care
Let them talk, doesn’t matter to me,
Let them think, whatever they may,
Let them go on forever, let them talk, I run my own show”

…and she does. As the song builds from this point on, it’s brought to a peak with a fabulous clarinet solo. Rounding out the work with this glorious big band epic finale, the point of the song, the wild abandon, is well summed up in this last lyrical spit-in-the-eye at convention;

“Who cares if I go out to play or dance in the rain,
Or do nothing at all;
I may win, lose ,or draw, but I’m still in the game,
I’ll do my part”

Moving on to “Falling Love”, she slows the ride down somewhat; something of an interlude number in it’s slow jazziness, it feels all Ronnie Scott’s club in Soho, London, with a cigar and a single malt, and being carried on the current of a smooth-jazz sea. There’s a notable pick-up of pace in the middle – I do like this about Anna Beatriz’ writing. It fits the style well, blending the run-on jazz feel of the song with an epic poetic celebration of her glorious lover:

“The world can stop,
The sun can shine forever;
All I want is you might and day,
Because life is more bright
When I’m with you,
I won’t ever touch the ground again”

From this moment on, “Falling Love” leaves you falling into an ironic high. It’s a good place to be. It’s even taken me away from the drabness outside with this minus 2 degree Fahrenheit weather we’re having.

At this point I’d like to mention; this is not a style of music I’m used to listening to, but by this time in the EP, I’m really digging it. The entire work is written in a way that eases you in, and gives you the time to immerse yourself in the different elements which make up Anna Beatriz and her band.

Ana Beatriz 5

“Another World” showcases Anna’s voice well. Planned gaps in the instrumentals give her the chance to show every edge of that glassy vocal. Sweet like honey, this is another song full of feeling, heat, beat, and sweeping celebratory highs and lows. Above all, a great finish, abrupt and unexpected, and appropriate to the lyric:

“Wake me up when this whole messy world;
Is done”

“Leave Me Alone” is the heartbreaker in this musical journey. This one has more than a little soft rock in the delivery.  I love songs like it; a heartfelt, desperate, clever lyric which is emotionally communicated to an eager audience. Anna Beatriz gives it her all. I can only imagine what sparked this one.

The brassy hopeful intro belies a very different song to come.

“If you could walk in my shoes,
You would feel my heart is breaking,
I’m giving and you’re taking all my time;
I can’t take the waiting, because the climb is too high,
I’m slipping down and falling to the ground”

It’s a painful reprise to “Falling Love” – a very different message, with an aching overtone to the chorus, powerful yet agonizing at the same time. The guitar solo is superbly executed and well-placed, a long-lost love of mine. It’s a song to mull over a sad glass of wine, with more than a few tears diluting it.

“If you don’t know what you want from me,
Let me go”.

Anna Beatriz rounds off the EP with such a sparky upbeat number, it is almost shocking after the melancholy of “Leave Me Alone”. “Beautiful Ride” is the whole point; it’s tying up the rough stuff with the beauty of the ongoing journey of life. Finger-clicking, infused with a wonderful trumpet solo; backed with jazz guitar that is brilliantly understated, then comes to the fore in the delightful finger-picking of Takeshi.

“Oh, it’s a beautiful ride,
in the circle of life where I’m going,
there’s nowhere to hide,
Naked thoughts I am ready to share,
It takes time, I don’t mind
As long as I get there”

Oh, she got there. This EP ends on a fabulous discordant jazzy note, well-defining the genre for which it’s intended. She’s taken us on a ride, brassy, bold, emotional, well-delivered, professionally executed, with a lovely demonstration of her powerful vocal. She’s clearly had fun in the effort of putting this EP together.

Join me in congratulating Anna Beatriz; you can buy this latest effort here, and you can view her Fish Pond profile here. I expect much more to come from Anna, and look forward to seeing her in Los Angeles again very soon.

David Mark Smith
CEO and Founder, Global Musicians Fish Pond
Singer/Songwriter, My Lucky Fish

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Anni Kannika – Breaking Down

This has been the longest, darkest and most uninspired four months of my life. Losing my voice has been hell and it’s made me feel like I’ve lost so much more than just songs and melody, it’s as if the one thing that’s come to define me as a person has been taken from me. Without music, I feel like I’ve lost my way and my purpose.

Anni Kannika Blog

As an artist, I usually have a twisted love for dwelling in darkness, it’s a good place to go for songwriting at times:) But at this moment I don’t feel like writing and it does no good to live in dark and pessimistic thoughts. So I’ve decided to make something out of my journey, maybe something that other people who face similar challenges can relate to and get inspired by..

This is my story. I’m inviting you to follow me as I go through all the stages of overcoming my vocal chord injuries and find my way back to music.

Love

Anni

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Hadley Kennary – In Fall

Hadley Kennary started writing music at 14 years of age.  Inspired by “birds and beloveds, demons and dogs”, and releasing her first EP in 2011, the culmination of her work to date is captured in 2013’s beautiful 10-track album, “In Fall”. About the album, Hadley says “I think the general theme…has been accepting reality…there are only so many things you can control, and in the end you have to just let go and fall into what is meant to happen.” Hence the title track, and what has proved to be a remarkably strong debut effort from an already highly accomplished singer and songwriter.

Hadley Kennary - In Fall

I first came across Hadley Kennary in 2011 when our Berklee family was fledgling and starting to grow; heard for the first time in a duet with Deni Hlavinka, her early tracks on the Fish Pond are – I’m so glad to hear – reflected in the album in “Storybook Worthy”, “Lead”, and “Cry of the Flypaper”. My first impression back then was of an extremely pure and versatile voice; Hadley is truly a unique vocal talent and seemingly always able to capture it throughout  her recorded media. In this album, she’s written something lyrically intelligent, a heartbreaking yet freeing journey through love and loss, ultimately leading to “In Fall”.

Leading out with “Two Yellow Birds”, I find an immediate affinity, and almost an album favorite. With a steel guitar sound over a lovely clean acoustic, the song draws my heart into it from the very first bars. Hadley’s initial vocal is as clean and beautiful as I would have expected from her. But the key to this song is the lyric, carried by a haunting melody. Indeed it speaks for itself, so I’ll start you with a whole verse and chorus:

“He hatched long ago,
and she’s a fledgling in his eyes,
She wants to build with him a garden,
but he’s only seen them die
Proclaiming “roses only bloom in spring”,
but she shakes her head and starts to sing
A song she knows like the back of her wing,
and she sings;

They say
If you love her let her go,
If you love her let her grow,
The truth is,
If you love her let her know,
If you love her, love her, love her so”

I am entranced. It’s insightful, beautiful, a letting-go moment, and absolutely heartbreaking and empowering at the same time. The metaphor of flight, and gaining wings, is a well-used but powerful one. It’s an extremely strong start.

We move lightly into a similar intro, picked guitar and steel above it. And with a “one, two, one-two-three-four” we are into one of my favorite songs of 2012.

“Gasoline” is a testament to the power of love at its craziest moments, all-consuming and burning bright. What makes this song outstanding is (in my opinion) in the near-perfect construction; it has all of the elements of a hit, it has beat, it has passion, it has a lyric worth following and relating to, and it has a brilliant melody which makes it timelessly singable.

The verses contain so many quotable lines, among my favorite is:

“I am old enough to know I am naive
I know I’m not as wise,
but Pollock and Picasso made a masterpiece, in your eyes”

The chorus truly drives this song forward, a perfect summing up:

“Gasoline makes the young heart burn,
but fill her up and the wheels will turn,
Go 65 in a 15 zone,
Hard to swallow,
But I’m willing to drown,
A tank of you,
I can’t slow down”

The bridge comes on like gentle waves: “oh love, please don’t go love, please don’t go love, oh love, I don’t know love”. It’s an impassioned plea, filled with several vocal layers of Hadley’s voice, and shifts effortlessly into a final chorus. I’ve seen this one performed live (at least on YouTube) by several Fish Pond family members from Berklee (see below), and the live performance if anything makes it even better, because you can read the passion in the performance.

This is the hit from the album, with no doubt whatsoever.

It’s followed by “Otis”, a comfortable number which showcases Hadley’s voice, and starts to induce thought overload with another well-thought-through lyric. A song of “if only” love, seeing everything someone is capable of and wishing it to be right-here-right-now; that overcoming differences is not a given, and that acceptance of reality, and the passing of time, can be numbingly difficult. “I Remember What You Said” shifts gear with a delightful pedal-note guitar track behind it. It’s a nice change in mood for the album, with complex timing; “Your words cradle my head, but your arms pull away instead”. By now this is becoming one of those albums which I can truly fall into and forget writing altogether. It’s a warm blanket with a bleeding-heart lining.

Following “Extract” (a surprise change in style for Hadley, well executed, and tipping a hat to an almost 80’s-style beat-driven and keyboardy pop number), is “Storybook Worthy”. You can listen to it here:

An excellent example of her early work, this song is so pure in expressed emotion through the melody. The guitar is a lovely accompaniment, as alone as the feelings invoked by the song:

“This my confession, I believe I’ve learned a lesson,
About the fairytales I’ve been learning all my life;
These happy ends I’ve come to know,
Yes they will come and they will go,
but endings are okay, if you laughed along the way”

The chorus is another favorite moment on the album for me, a cry from the heart of understanding, beautiful memories, held never and yet forever.

“Well so what, if I didn’t say I loved you?
And so what, if you didn’t love me?
And so what, if it wasn’t always storybook worthy?
You’re still in my story book
On my pages and always will be”

It’s wonderful that the build is all achieved through the use of vocal technique and variations on the melody, and the backing acoustic guitar solidly supports the sentiment throughout. With a repeated last chorus which brings me to honest tears every time I listen to it, “Storybook Worthy” is everything solid about this album; a continued theme which doesn’t let up through the entire body of work.

“Well I loved you”

Hadley Kennary 5

“Tangled” brings us an upbeat interlude, it’s a smiling moment, still on the theme of yearning and love, with a very noteworthy chord structure at the back end of the verses, and listen out for that Hadley-uniqueness again in the word “Tangled” at the start of the chorus. “Lead” is another familiar song from early days, and has a catchy angle, drum-led, with the use of harmony throughout. “Cry of the Flypaper” follows; and it strikes me it’s nice as a listener to hear how spread these beautiful acoustic songs are, with that steel guitar. These are strong mid-end-album songs, keeping the listener involved, and if you’re anything like me, by now you have become a true fan.

And so to the title, and final, track, “In Fall”.

Gritty and radio-like at it’s start, “In Fall” is the whole point, and draws the theme to a thoughtful close. The piano is welcome, calming, and a soft start to this last work on the album. As it turns out it builds into the coming of age that I hoped for in the end:

“Mother I didn’t get your control,
Though I tried to rule the world;
And I’d like to think I have your organic soul
But I’m just your little girl;
Oh mother I am in your hands,
So shake my bones and shake your lands,
And fall down, down, down,
Fall down”

For me, it’s the story of a child growing, wind beneath the wings, and the acceptance, maturity, and wisdom which comes with the generations.  For you, it may be something different.  But then in that diversity of opinion is the true beauty of well-written songs.

Perhaps you can tell that I’m a fan. This album yields so many treasures, and is one of the few with which I can close my eyes and follow through as a perfect building story. Its theme is love, loss, growing, and so much more. It’s essence is powerful, underpinned with super writing and execution of both instrumentals and vocal. But it is in this last where the truly remarkable moments lie. Hadley’s voice always was a force of nature. This album proves that intelligent writing and heart, put together and poured out with all the passion and belief of a very talented musician, really, really works.

David Mark Smith
Singer/Songwriter, My Lucky Fish
Founder, www.globalmusiciansfishpond.com

You can buy the album here on iTunes.

You can read more about Hadley here at here Fish Pond profile and enjoy some of these songs before album mastering came about.

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Auguster – A Change of Scene

Jimmy Marino has been with us since 2012. Growing up in Southern California, he had constant musical input from an early age with mother’s preferred Mozart and father’s well-loved Judas Priest. Writing his first EP by the time he graduated High School, he moved in the fall of 2011 to Boston, MA, and Berklee College of Music. My first encounter with Jimmy was a rather brilliant rough cut of a song called “Bridges”; taking his time and coming of age, Jimmy brings us his first full-length album, ‘A Change of Scene’, and with it, shows us all of the fabulous diversity and talent that his formative years and experiences have provided.

Jimmy Marino - A Change of Scene - Feature

A 13-song epic, I’ve been expecting a lot from this album for some time.  I’m a genuine fan, incorporating “Bridges” into every set of mine, as the up-beat folky, yet tipping a hat to pop-punk, number that it has become for me.  I wanted all of the unique rasp that Jimmy edges his top notes with, combined with the well-grounded guitar and piano that I saw glimpses of in his early work.  He doesn’t disappoint. It’s a debut work to be proud of, and I’d be very surprised if Jimmy doesn’t get picked up by a major label in the next 2 years.  Enjoy ‘A Change of Scene’ with me.

You can listen a couple of demo versions (the mastered version is as yet unreleased) right here while you read.

The album starts out with “Intro”. It’s only a minute and 13 long, but full of lovely effects which tease around the themes of the first number on the album. I haven’t heard this kind of start in a while, and it’s a refreshing and fulfilling moment, almost like the theme played before a theatrical musical. A lovely build up, which serves for Jimmy to slam into the quite brilliant and obvious single from the album, “Bridges”. Note that this is the first pre-release of the mastered version!

Beautifully starting with a simple guitar track, “Bridges” leads in with a teaser of that unique vocal that Jimmy carries so well. It’s lyrically very insightful, leading my songwriting partner Rachael Schoellen, on first listen, to nod and ask “how the hell did he get THAT so right?”.

“Bridges with no chance we know to break
are the ones that we give more than they can take”

After a wispy and precisely executed chorus, the second verse comes with all of the energy that makes me think of the best pop-punk songs in Jimmy’s work. It’s acoustic, but it just makes you want to jump around your apartment. This, yes this, is the reason I love to cover this song.

“Coffee cups and unresolved farewells
Can’t understand the stories that they tell,
“I love you” was the one phrase never heard,
So that bridge collapsed without another word.”

Here is a first great example of the edge to Jimmy’s voice. It’s a well-written melody, catchy, singable, and yet he makes it unique. In truth it can’t be covered precisely by anyone, because his singing voice is one-of-a-kind.

“I will find my way,
to places I have been,
I’m leaving here to try to save,
all my bridges that decayed,
Fix the scars I made that I have yet to see”

Resisting the urge to extend the song, he’s kept it punchy, short, two minutes 48, and leaves me with a real appetite for more.

Jimmy Marino - A Change of Scene - Feature 2

‘Sensible Enough’ is a solid and nicely executed band number, with some catchy harmonies, the kind of song that will see the masses waving their arms from side to side to the beat – it’s a crowd-pleaser. Fourth track “Lost” is a noteworthy song, vulnerable, with guitars that have been beautifully produced. Yet again it holds one of those choruses that’s memorable enough to want to sing along with it after only a couple of listens. The vocal feels raw, not over-produced, a little nasal, and it works. “Lost” brings a favorite moment:

“I can’t help feeling;
Lost,
Lost,
Lost”

In every “lost” there is a little different natural vocal effect, which will show you exactly what I mean about his incredible talent for singing; strong baritone, then gravelly and raw, then falsetto, beautifully intertwined. Try 3:18 and you’ll see what I mean.

California Rainstorm is the next “single” I came across on the album. It stands out from the crowd, and you can listen to the demo version here.

“It’s not so dark out with my eyes closed,
but I’ve never been as lost as now,
it’s like a calm collected panic
And I feel my heart in my mouth”

Haunting and well-supported by the instrumentation, it’s a lovely first verse, almost showing clouds clearing as he moves into the chorus, using the best of that rangy voice and falsetto again. This one’s clearly designed to make you think. Such a beautiful mix of confused and mournful sorrow, until that chorus, and a ray of hope – and I still don’t quite know why the chorus makes me feel so hopeful, with the promise of the pouring rain:

“So make your way for the skyline
the clouds are just beginning to form
It looks to me like we’re out of time
Cause when it rains it always seems to pour,
It’s a California rainstorm”

The lead guitar and strings in the mix after the second chorus are an almost overwhelming build which totally support the feeling Jimmy’s conveying with the song. It’s the kind of work to get utterly lost in. It’s a winner and no doubt.

“Don’t Worry About Me” is a frivolous and clever track, up-beat and in-your-face, and once again gives me even more of a sense that Jimmy has some pop-punk in his influences somewhere.

“Tunnels” is a study in how acoustic guitars should be recorded, full in backing, not too many effects or additions, but just perfectly balanced as a lyrical number you’ll really want to listen to and understand. He finished off this component of the album with “Interlude”, with some Steve Vai and Joe Satriani-ish lead outs, and an anthemic build with vocal, cymbals crash, and then bringing the pace down again with a piano fade out.

“Cannonball” is a really interesting number. Themed and led by the piano, high-end in to start and continuing throughout, there’s a ton of feeling poured into the initial lyrics, almost resentful, ripping into it, and then brought down to encourage:

“You know your broken bones,
can go a little further,
But if you just try,
Well you might take back your life…

The guitar solo in this song – speaking as a lead guitarist myself – is immense, it’s so supportive of the feeling, and is used to excellent effect, short and sweet.  It makes this all the best of a slamming rock song which relentlessly drives on and on:

“your pride’s a cannonball,
you’ve got it hung around your neck”

“Little Bird” follows, a sweet sentiment.  I find the term “little bird” an amazing and evocative analogy for coming of age, growing, flying the nest, vulnerability and strength, and on and on.  He’s done it justice here for sure.  It’s an emotional and believable number.  “21” is emotional, speaks to the old adage “Falling in love is easy; staying in love is very special”.  Of all of the songs on the album, this one brought a tear to my eye.  Beautiful.

“Moving Day” deserves calling out, and for me, is the third pick on the album for a single.  It’s so ‘Jimmy’ for me.  It’s everything energetic, college, California, friends, songwriting, and emotion.  Listen out for the banjo in the backing which I loved as a little touch which made the song.

“When I leave, will you still sing my song?
If I go will you carry me away?
And I’d rather you came with me, cause I’m scared to go alone,
but this is still the place you need to stay”

It’s a tough message, but has me smiling and right there with him. As so many of Jimmy’s songs, it’s empowering and understandable. This is a guy who feels all the emotion of every moment, but is in this life to live it. It’s a good feeling – summed up by the “hey hey” in the instrumental.

“When I left, did you still sing my song?
When I went, did you carry me away?
And I’m sure you don’t remember, but that sunny afternoon,
For you I know that nothing really changed,
But for me that was my moving day”

Track 13, and we’ve reached the close of the album. In truth, “Home” is a super closer to the eclectic but sensible mix and story that we’ve just heard. The now familiar guitar and piano carry a now lonely vocal:

“And there I loved, and there I lost,
What once I thought was mine,
And I was told the biggest lie,
That my wounds would heal with time,

This was the place I once called home,
My heart’s been right here all along,
And though I’ve crossed these roads before,
I’ll keep on moving till I’m gone”

It’s a great listen, heart-wrenching, and finishing with the sound of a crowd as we fade into the silence of the end of a super album, and the anticipation of the next….

“I’ve watched my young boy’s soul
finally growing strong”

Truth is, I always knew Jimmy Marino “had it” since our first introduction. He’s really hit the mark here, taking his time to mix anthemic numbers with ballads, with frivolous and light up beat numbers, with strong and catchy billboard-style singles. Jimmy, your Fish Pond family is proud of you, and glad to have you. Onward, upward, here’s to stellar success.

Heard Jimmy Marino yet? Go check him out on his Fish Pond profile here.

One world, one family, one musical heartbeat.

David Mark Smith,
Singer/songwriter, My Lucky Fish
Founder, www.globalmusiciansfishpond.com

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Last Day Kiss: Going Undercover

Last Day Kiss consists of Ashley Sonlin (vocalist/songwriter) and Juan Carreno (guitarist/producer). Juan picked up his first guitar at age 11, and Ashley wrote her first song at age 7. Last Day Kiss was formed in January of 2011. Both studying at Berklee, Ashley and Juan bring us a superb and unique mix of talent, with their debut EP available here.

In a Fish Pond family first, we invite you to go undercover with Last Day Kiss; in a weekly feature called “Tunesday”, we’ll be following a diverse series of covers produced by the pair, with a new video released each week.

We encourage you to support their covers, their EP and their website; these guys are exemplary members of our Fish Pond family and always have a friendly word and a smile.

One world, one family, one musical heartbeat.

Week 3: The Third Day Kiss
This week we have something a little different for you guys!! 🙂 We did an acoustic mashup of two Zedd songs: Clarity (ft. Foxes) and Spectrum (ft. Matthew Koma). Please let us know what you think and share it with your friends if you like it!

Week 2: The Second Kiss I Reckon
Our newest cover of “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac went up yesterday afternoon! Please watch and let us know what you think and share it if you like it!! Thank you so much! ~A&J

Week 1: The First Kiss
HAPPY TUNESDAY! Our once-a-week covers are starting up again 🙂 Here’s Brave by Sara Bareilles! 🙂 Please share if you like our version, we worked really hard on it!

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Haikaa and David: Being Independent Doesn’t Mean Walking Alone

I think there’s a bit of irony in the term “Independent Musicians” because I’ve never been so dependent in my life as I am as a musician.

HaikaaMusic

Haikaa Yamamoto; Artist, Author, Musician, Life Coach

I depend on the kindness of fellow musicians and producers to record new songs, on graphic designers and webmasters to help me out with my digital platform, on friends who are bloggers and on friends in general to share my content, I depend directly on every single fan who purchases my music and the list goes on!!!

This state of “dependency” may have left me feeling rather vulnerable at times you know, but it also brought me out of my shell in a very positive way. When I decided to record my song “Work of Art” in as many languages as I could, I ended up doing versions in 20 languages with the help of more than 40 collaborators around the world. And that was just the beginning. As I expanded my digital presence, I got to meet lots of interesting and kind people who were nice to depend on!!!

One of them is David Mark Smith, an incredibly talented musician who created a network of 240 musicians from 33 different countries called Global Musicians Fishpond in just two years. I’m very happy to share his story here and I’m looking forward to seeing you swimming on this fishpond with us.

Independent Musicians; Never Walk Alone
by David Mark Smith

As a musician for the last 25 years, I realized a dream in January 2013 with the release of a lifetime’s writing; my band, My Lucky Fish, released our debut album “Best Thing”, and so came the end of the race, a goal met, another challenge completed. Little did I realize how much interaction and good people making an album entails, and that in fact it’s just the start of the process; now this thing needs to sell!

In 2010, my music partner Rachael Schoellen and I formed My Lucky Fish . In the name is an important story. At our first gig, a then 7-year-old girl, Vanessa, watched us for 2 hours, and presented me with “…my lucky fish, because I love you and your music and want you to be happy and lucky your whole life”. And so was born a brand, “My Lucky Fish”.

My Lucky Fish - David and Vanessa

David Smith, Founder of the Fish Pond, Vanessa, and the Lucky Fish

We took 2 years end to end, Rachael and myself co-writing 9 decent songs to be able to independently produce an album. During the process, I had the help of some amazing people; Ricky Furr, an amazing soundman, studio engineer, and producer out of Winchester, VA; Tom Graham, playing bass, a student at Shenandoah University; Doug Sharpe, fabulous lead guitarist; and guest slots for Jeremiah Shaw on cello, of the Juilliard School, and John Terrell on lead guitar, himself an amazing producer who ended up mastering the album. It was during that two-year period that I realized that an independent musician is never truly independent, but through hard work is blessed by some good luck, and the good nature and skills of those around them.

My Lucky Fish - Rachael

My Lucky Fish’s Rachael Schoellen

What better place to find a home for My Lucky Fish than a Fish Pond? And so it came to pass that during that period, in April 2011, off the back of a brand born of a child’s heart (thank you Vanessa) I launched Global Musicians Fish Pond. I say “I”, but it’s never really about self in this business. Formed from 5 high school bands, and the belief and determination of some really great former high schoolers (thanks Joe Demski (Behind Tomorrow) and Mike Frazier (Random Holiday) of Sherando in Stephens City, VA), the goal was to establish a global family, to give any musician and music listener who loves independent music a resource to publish, collaborate, be reviewed, and to enjoy a very real community atmosphere. I have so many good people to thank for the fact that in August 2013, we have become 240 musicians in 33 countries around the world.

Pranam Background 2

Pranam Bai Richter; the Fish Pond’s Head of Global Publicity

Joined by our Head of Global Publicity Pranam Bai Richter, in January 2013, we have reviewed billboard artists, and count among our number Gregg Wright (Michael Jackson’s former guitarist), Josh Doyle (formerly of the Dum Dums and winner of Guitar Center Singer Songwriter of the Year 2012), Queen Caveat (great alternative rock band featured on ABC’s Sunset Boulevard series in 2012), and Margo Rey (billboard top 20 artist in 2012 and top 30 artist in 2013). We have some of Berklee College of Music, Boston, MA, best musicians (see Deni Hlavinka, Chris West, and many more), and a rich vein of talent from Hollywood Musicians Institute in California (see Jonina Aradottir, Anna Yanova, and more). We have the amazing Haikaa in California, a true book-publishing, painting, recording artist and life coach. The list goes on. We are truly blessed, we are a growing family, and a force to be reckoned with.

Being in this business is hard. Calling yourself an independent musician is harder although the norm these days; however look around you and see how many people are right there with a similar story; one of hard work, positivity, and above all, passion for music and art. All I ask is that you come and check us out if you want to become part of our family. Musicians, and listeners are all welcome. We offer publicity, networking opportunities, chances for collaboration, reviews, and even a slot for partners for those ethical people who are known to be musician-friendly. It’s a family that we take very, very seriously indeed.

In closing; remember this…independent musician, okay, but never, ever walk alone. Visit us, join us support our cause. You’ll have a great time doing so, whether musician, music listener, or partner.

One world, one family, one musical heartbeat.

David Mark Smith
Founder and CEO
Global Musicians Fish Pond

David-Fish-Pond-1

You see, you are not alone. People like David strengthen my faith in music and in humanity.

Best of luck and see you next week!!!

Love,

Haikaa
In Diversity,
Normal is everything.
http://www.haikaa.com

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