RICKY ROSEN, “Dim The Lights”
During the past month, Sydney, Australia’s Ricky Rosen has surfaced in my Instagram feed several times, covering songs as varied as the classic “Dream A Little Dream Of Me” through to ones by Frank Ocean, Justin Bieber and Miguel, so I had to check and see if he had any recorded material online. The medical student first came to prominence last year on Tik Tok with his cover of Colbie Caillat’s “Bubbly” sung in 5 different accents. Simply put, Ricky’s got a dreamy voice with rich tones that make listeners swoon. His most recent original single “Dim The Lights” also shows potential for Ricky as a songwriter. He’s nailed his style down pat – pop/jazz with a soulful edge. It’s very reminiscent of Harry Connick Jr. when he arrived on the scene in the 80’s, although online comparisons to Michael Bublé are already in full force. Ricky Rosen is definitely someone to watch for – the music industry will not let viral talent get away with so much natural vocal talent.
RAINA SOKOLOV-GONZALEZ, “40 Days”
Brooklyn jazz/R&B singer/songwriter Raina Sokolov-Gonzalez is not afraid to lay her emotions bare on the table in “40 Days”. It’s a highly polished release that leaves touches of grit in her voice in songs where she can beautifully and frankly articulate her thoughtful lyrics. You can run the gamut of influences that you can hear in her voice, from Judy Garland and Billie Holiday through Diana Ross and Lady Gaga. “40 Days” is about pouring through the thoughts of someone over and over, someone that you need to let go, but you can’t stop dwelling on all that you’ve given and done for them. And you can find more music by Raina to check out, including her previous single “Better For You”, on her brand new EP If They’re Mine. Her music is classy and bold, reflective but unforgiving, and it’s all gorgeous for your ears to hear.
RAINA SOKOLOV-GONZALEZ, “Better For You”
“Better For You” is spicy R&B/pop of a slightly different bent, with plenty of lounge jazz flavour from NYC Latinx singer/songwriter Raina Sokolov-Gonzalez. It’s a very pointed look at women who want to both desire someone and be desired, and questions men through this song why it has to be so complicated. Yes, “Better For You’ is all about sex and is designed to make men uncomfortable while also giving extra thought to what it’s saying to them. Raina has a classic pop style that surely draws from singers like Lena Horne, Judy Garland and Billie Holiday, while invoking a directness you hear in more contemporary singers like Pink and Amy Winehouse that doesn’t mince words to drive her messages home. “Better For You” is entertaining and provoking, proving the two can co-exist in one song.
SHUFFLE DEMONS, “Crazy Time”
As I witnessed at a free live show in Toronto in summer 2019, Toronto’s alt-jazz troupe Shuffle Demons are still going as strong as ever some 35 years after the seminal “Spadina Bus” became an alternative radio and video channel favourite across Canada. The bleakness of 2020 has given the guys perfect ammunition to look on the brighter, sillier side of things with “Crazy Time”, the title song and video (above, directed by Kurt Swinghammer) from their latest album. They choose to skewer fake news and social media stories in particular, and surround it all with their trademark three-saxophone sound, supported by drums and stand-up bass. If you’re looking for something off the beaten path that will put a smile on your face, then seize the moment and check out “Crazy Time”.
DIONNE BROMFIELD, “Bad Intentions”
Dionne Bromfield had a succesful run of about 3 years in the UK when she was a teenager, releasing two acclaimed pop/R&B albums, one of which cracked the Top 40. She is in fact Amy Winehouse’s goddaughter and was signed to Amy’s label Lioness, distributed by Island/Universal. An opportunity to become a TV presenter arrived, and Dionne is now back recording after a 9 year absence, and she’s only 23. “Bad Intentions” is a sweet and spry slice of UK soul, with obvious inspiration from her late godmother, but I hear the contemporary influence coming from the likes of Janelle Monae or Solange. She has the range and the phrasing to sell you instantly in “Bad Intentions”, which is what happens when you fall for the wrong person and realize it later. I’m sure we’ll be hearing much more from Dionne this year.
MOLLY MOORE, “London”
After a couple of quieter, perhaps more experimental singles, L.A. singer/songwriter Molly Moore has turned her talents towards a sultry, soulful side that we haven’t seen too much with “London”. I’m sure this song was inspired by a recent trip to that city, and sometimes with new places come new perspectives. “London” also taps into classic jazz influences that we’ve previously heard, making it a standout release in her growing catalogue of recordings. If you like Jessie Ware, Dusty Springfield, or Lisa Stansfield, then be sure to add “London” to a similar playlist. Hint: A 4 or 5 song EP in this style would be more than welcome!!
MONKEY HOUSE, “Shotgun”
It’s a bit off the path from a lot of today’s pop music, but that’s probably what makes it refreshing: “Shotgun” is new jazzy pop from Canadian band Monkey House. Canadian radio listeners will be familiar with them from the 90’s and early 2000’s with such songs as their cover of Steely Dan’s “Lazy Nina” as well as the original “Big Money” receiving regular airplay. Led by pianist, Emmy Award winner, and Juno Award nominee Don Breithaupt, Monkey House’s “Shotgun” has an 80’s vibe about it that will appeal to fans of artists of that era such as Matt Bianco. But it’s the summery chorus that you won’t get out of your head and can easily be earmarked as a great summer driving song. It comes from the forthcoming album Friday with a video to follow that will be directed by Oscar winner Miles Dale. Don’t let this one slip by – definitely one fine summer bop!
GOLD COMPLEX, “Meant To Dance”
It’s been a while since we heard from Toronto’s Gold Complex, an eight member R&B/jazz/pop collective that released its first EP a few years back. Since that time, I’ve also written about their lead singer Will Bowes and his solo work. Gold Complex’s album New Soul – which includes “Backbone” from their EP – is everything that you could like about a fast-paced, effortless record that straddles many genres. Will can be a powerhouse singer given the song, and we’ve heard his softer but potent solo songs too. And the band is incredibly tight – these musicians have each other’s backs, hard enough to do with eight personnel. But if there’s a song to focus on here, to me it’s the lively, diverse “Meant To Dance”, one of the more pop-oriented songs on the album but it’s incredibly radio friendly. It’s got a delicious pause around the minute mark which can make or break a song, but it shifts wisely into high gear right after, and then unleashes Will’s fierce voice. The rest is a delightful mix that has a lot of 70’s flavour. And a dance remix could open up “Meant To Dance” to clubs too.
I was fortunate to see Gold Complex in concert for one of their sets in Toronto’s Nathan Phillips Square on Saturday, March 9. They are better live than on record, and this is where Will’s wide vocal range has the opportunity to flourish. I hope to see them again, perhaps in a more intimate setting, either indoor or outdoor, for full effect!
For those of you who like their dance music on the chill but sexy and romantic side, then Austin-based producer and guitarist Cloudchord will satisfy that craving with “Alegria”. Using the Brazilian bossa nova style as its basis, the sound of “Alegria” is charming and lo-fi, and goes down easy like the smoothest of brandies or cognacs. The Emmy-winning Cloudchord also dazzles us with his pristine guitar work which shines the most in the latter part of the song. “Alegria” follows up Cloudchord’s 2016 album Imprint and some subsequent collaborative EP’s with Oatmello and the Soul Food Horns. It’s jazzy and funky and you can’t go wrong with an instrumental that packs such diversity into its three minutes.
TOO MANY ZOOZ vs KDA featuring JESS GLYNNE, “So Real (Warriors)”
Sometimes the life of one song can unfold in many different and exciting ways. “So Real (Warriors)” started off as “Warriors”, a rollicking, in-your-face R&B/jazz instrumental by NYC trio Too Many Zooz. It then took on new life for the dance floor in a rework with British producer KDA. A few remixes later (including by Armand Van Helden) and five months after I first wrote about it, “So Real (Warriors)” arrives with not only lyrics but a dynamic vocal by UK sensation Jess Glynne! With Jess’ amazing popularity in the UK – which includes 7 number ones! – “So Real (Warriors)” should find its way quickly into the public ear, bringing what is a fine song in the first place some deserved success in a rather roundabout way. Although Jess has yet to have North American hits under her own name – known best for singing on Clean Bandit’s massive “Rather Be” – “So Real (Warriors)” should help keep that audience attuned for her upcoming album.