Toronto-based singer/songwriter Joël LeMay (@itsjoelmusic) scores with his R&B flavoured story “You Fucked Up”

JOËL, “You Fucked Up” (free download)

Toronto has many fine up and coming performers who are finding themselves in the midst of a keener interest in R&B/soul – which Toronto has always fancied back to the 1950’s.  And yes I’m talking about beyond Drake and The Weeknd who we really have to thank for flinging the door open wide. 23 year old Joël LeMay actually hails from closer to North Bay from a family of music-makers, but is rooted in Toronto now to create his craft.  “You Fucked Up” is an excellent start.  It’s a fine piece of storytelling when your lover is cheating and has ‘splainin’ to do.  But that seems to happen after she drinks lots of whiskey, so what kind of mess have you got yourself into?  “You Fucked Up” is over 4 minutes long but breezes by because of the gritty, captivating vocal that makes you want to hear this story.  The production by Manuso Joshua is deftly subtle, allowing the song to bask in R&B/soul/alternative folk flavours.  If “You Fucked Up” is any indication, Joël should do well both as a solo performer and an in-demand featured vocalist who can adapt to many styles.  Download “You Fucked Up” for free at the link above and watch for more new music every month from Joël.


Another “Loser” preview: “I’m Alive, but I’m Not Here” by @callmeKarizma

KARIZMA, “I’m Alive, but I’m Not Here”

The great appeal about Minnesota native and hip hop performer Karizma is his ability to get inside common themes in the teen and young adult minds.  “I’m Alive, but I’m Not Here” may seem on the surface like it’s just about being down and out, with a style that focuses less on hip hop this time and more on an acoustic Green Day-meets-Beck-meets-Blink 182 narrative, but it’s not.  It’s also about not being alone with who and what you are, there is always someone else, and hey that person may be even worse off.  Karizma is big on empathy and outreach, qualities that you don’t find in many performers these days, and they resonate with his audience of ‘losers’.  Karizma’s album Loser arrives on Saturday January 30 so be sure to pick it up.  Listen above to “I’m Alive, but I’m Not Here” as well as “u suck” and “Euphoria” (both of which I’ve recently written about).

Check out the soothing, gentle “Chestnut Spoke to Maple” by Toronto’s @Justin Nozuka


JUSTIN NOZUKA, Chestnut Spoke To Maple (EP)

I didn’t see this one coming when it dropped early last month, but immensely talented Toronto singer/songwriter Justin Nozuka released Chestnut Spoke To Maple, a four-song EP, kind of out of nowhere, and not really as a follow up to 2014’s bold and experimental Ulysees. It was recorded after a series of acoustic shows which Justin performed throughout last year, as well as opening for the likes of Brian Wilson.  There’s always a lot of deliberate quiet and rawness in some of Justin’s songs, and this EP basks in peace, tranquility, love, and being at one with nature.  The gentle zinger here is a stripped down rendition of Sade’s By Your Side (originally from the 2000 Lovers Rock album) which Justin reinterprets and makes his own.  The EP is rounded out by the soothing ear candy of “September Grass” and “Moonlight”, while only “Willow” seems to fade into the background well before it ends.  Overall though, Chestnut Spoke To Maple is the kind of record to play when you need a distraction or to relax, knowing that someone like Justin Nozuka can make it all feel better for its duration.

The Voice season 9 contestant @Chance_Pena scores with low-fi original “1965”


15 year old Texas singer Chance Peña was a dark horse Top 20 contestant on the most recent season of “The Voice”, but you couldn’t help but root for him with his sincere performances that soared beyond his young years.  He was too-harshly critiqued for his performance of Imagine Dragons’ “Demons” (below) on the show – I personally thought it was the best of that night, honest and vulnerable to the core, and it got better as it went along – which was his last until coach Adam Levine knew that Chance had more to offer and brought him back.  And without that, we wouldn’t have got to see Chance’s take on The Civil Wars’ “Barton Hollow”, which stood out as thoroughly unique from the rest of the performances.  Like season 8 winner Sawyer Fredericks, Chance simply cannot be placed in the same pop box as the rest of his fellow contestants.  He is working on new original music, and he’s posted “1965” on Soundcloud above for you to hear.  It’s low-fi but that adds to his touching story-telling charm; a song like this needs no busy arrangement.  While he might be leaning towards folk and Americana as his key sub-genres, I still think Chance has a lot to offer as a diverse pop singer.  Keep your ears out for more new music from Chance Peña.

More about @LucienDante’s album Our Of We


Last week was one of those weeks when one song came out of nowhere and floored me, and that is “Black Water” by Chicago-based singer/songwriter Lucien Dante from his album Our Of We.  It debuted on my chart at #21 with its expressive vocal, engaging charm, and gorgeous arrangement.  While it remains my favourite from the album, Our Of We is full of other delights which will keep you thinking as you’re listening.  Lucien’s influences seem to come from all over – I hear pop, classical, folk, EDM, and R&B/soul at various times – and he doesn’t sound like anyone in particular.  Most of his songs seem to be delivered with a shy-sounding vocal that gives perspective from a viewpoint of wonder, discovery, and keen interest.  But when he breaks away from a minimalist sound and heads toward a powerful bridge or chorus, the confidence in his craft really comes out.  Most of the songs are produced by TKANG! who obviously has a good read on what the singer is trying to convey.  I’ll admit the songs aren’t really for everyone but Lucien is very persuasive.  So do yourself a favour and check out the club-worthy “Ivory Toast”, “Spark”, “Light, Love & Chaos” and the hip-hop flavoured “Love Me Lessons (Imma Be)” (nothing to do with the Black Eyed Peas 😉 ) as starting points.  This is a great start from a singer/songwriter who consistently delivers, making Our Of We a personal, sincere, and enlightening experience!  Listen to the album above (and do download “Black Water” for free on Lucien’s Soundcloud page) and pick it up on iTunes.

You will be tantalized by the expressive @LucienDante’s “Black Water” (Free DL)


LUCIEN DANTE, “Black Water” (free download)

Just when I think that 2015 can’t be loaded up with more fine singers and new music, and along comes Chicago-based singer/songwriter Lucien Dante with “Black Water” from his release Our Of We, available for free download right here (I am unable to embed the link).  This is a young man who is able to marry real-life experiences, largely from living overseas in Germany, to his art, and is thus able to touch the listener profoundly.  I still have to listen more to “Black Water” to figure out what it’s all about, but the strikingly subtle production, which becomes quite powerful towards the end, compliments the singer’s refreshingly shy-sexy-confident vocal that has the ability to draw you in and keep you there under musical lock and key.  Think of him being somewhere between Jeff Buckley, Bon Iver, and Matthew Koma… what a unique artistic space to find him in!  I will be delving more into the Our Of We release in the coming release and I expect to rave on further about Lucien Dante.  Below is also the first song I heard from him, “Spark” (also available as a free download right here) which is in a different more EDM setting, but look past a sometimes busy production for the unique vocal performance.  Lucien Dante is one-of-a-kind and you can’t say that about many singers in these contemporary days when so many fine voices pervade social media.  


Clap along to “S.O.B.” by Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats @NRateliff


There’s no denying the power of a song that uses hand claps and a classic R&B melody from the get-go.  Like Matthew Koma’s “I’m F**kin’ Romantic”, I don’t think you’ll hear “S.O.B.” on the radio, but it will be one you’ll be hearing everywhere else because the instant live impact of a song like this is irrefutable.  Nathaniel, who hails from Denver, doesn’t look like a rock star but has a compelling and gritty voice.  And with his band The Night Sweats, they are off to a good start with sales from their debut self-titled album.  Bonus:  They are signed to the revived classic Stax record label!  Watch the video up top for “S.O.B.” then head over to iTunes to pick it up.

You should hear Melissa Manchester’s new single “Open Spaces and Gas Stations” @Melissashares


MELISSA MANCHESTER, “Open Spaces and Gas Stations”

Grammy-winning superstar Melissa Manchester carves out some new territory in her illustrious and busy career with “Open Spaces and Gas Stations”.  What pop music fan doesn’t own at least one of her records? 🙂 This new single follows the New York-born singer’s recent pop/jazz success with You Gotta Love The Life, which features Al Jarreau and Dionne Warwick among others.  The singer has nary skipped a beat over the years with album releases, performing, and teaching, and “Open Spaces” switches pop styles for Melissa, in this collaboration with Toronto-based singer/songwriter James Collins, who co-wrote Melissa’s “My Christmas Song for You” as well as the much-played “Frozen In Time (The New Wedding Song)”.  “Open Spaces” treads successfully into Stevie Nicks/Fleetwood Mac territory – think of Stevie’s duet with Don Henley on “Leather and Lace”, or maybe Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” or “As Long As You Follow”.  The former to me is the best reference, which also captures not only the standout country-flavoured backdrop but also the delicate, seasoned production.  It’s the kind of gentle song that makes you feel good and will hush an attentive audience in concert.  It may not necessarily sound too much like Melissa Manchester in her heyday, but audiences will find much to enjoy with “Open Spaces and Gas Stations”.  Give it a listen below.

Conquering “The Grind” with Canadian singer/guitarist @DavidCeliamusic

DAVID CELIA, “The Grind”

The timing could be just right for veteran Toronto singer/guitarist David Celia with the release of his recent album Double Mind.  Not only does David’s earnest and edgy rock sound recall fellow Canadian Sam Roberts and perhaps even older Neil Young songs, but it’s suddenly very current with the recent arrival of similar performers such as Hozier and James Bay.  “The Grind” possesses a theme to which anyone can relate – trying to withstand and beat whatever ‘grind’ is pushing you down.  It’s a folk-flavoured 3 minute record chock full of ace musicianship that goes down just easy, making it very radio friendly (which Canada’s CBC has already recognized).  After more than a decade of releases (including one for Universal) and supporting other notable musicians, David Celia could get his due with “The Grind”.  Watch the video above.


Star Power: Alberta’s Jason Purcell (@jvpurcell) with “Modern Man” and covers of @lanadelrey and Gordon Lightfoot songs

JASON PURCELL, “Modern Man”, with “West Coast” and “If You Could Read My Mind”

Alberta singer/songwriter Jason Purcell has got that unassailable ‘IT’, and I hope that the rest of the world will soon catch on!  

From his recent EP I Want To Know comes “Modern Man”, which showcases a voice that falls somewhere between Nick Drake, Joshua Radin, and Jakob Dylan, with classic overtones from 60’s pop/folk and 80’s alternative pop, if ever a Peter Murphy song met up with one by Simon & Garfunkel.  Jason’s taut “do not be alarmed” will stick around in your head long after the song is over.  

And like a good pop introduction should do (and I found out about Jason through the Fluence site on which I help curate some submissions), I had to hear more songs by Jason, so I listened to a few of many acoustic cover versions to choose from on You Tube.  When I saw that he covered my very favourite Gordon Lightfoot song, “If You Could Read My Mind”, I had to watch, even a tad reluctantly.  Slowing down Lightfoot’s jauntier melody, Jason draws you into every second of his rendition with his deliberate phrasing and how he plays to the camera.  Like one of my other recent favourite singers, UK’s James Poole, the camera absolutely adores Jason.  

This was made even more apparent in the more formally produced cover of Lana Del Rey’s “West Coast”.  I’m not in love with the song, but Jason’s interpretation gave me goosebumps.  Like with Lana, he has a vulnerable, fragile quality to his voice that totally suits the song.  Plus, he can raise an eyebrow, crack a smile, or stare you down, and you are totally sold.  

All in all, Jason Purcell is one you need to watch, and I look forward to new music from him soon!  Listen to “Modern Man” above, and watch the videos for “West Coast” and “If You Could Read My Mind” below.