michael mcarthur, oh, sedona

michael mcarthur, oh, sedona

Dive into the raw innermost thoughts of Michael McArthur with his profoundly personal EP Oh, Sedona. Over a decade ago McArthur gave up his stake in the bistro he owned with his brother and left to pursue music. His career launched swiftly, but as he was playing cross-country tours, alone or with an ensemble as large as the Imperial Symphony Orchestra, he grew closer to losing himself, and farther away from his wife. After 8 active years he brought things to a halt to rebuild his marriage and himself. Incidentally, he sparked one of his most creative bouts thus far. The result was his acclaimed 2019 album Ever Green, Ever Rain, which was the first release on his own label, Dark River Records.

On Oh, Sedona and his other EP that is still to come, How to Fall in Love, McArthur offers some acoustic renditions of songs from Ever Green, Ever Rain such as “We Live & We Die”, and “Wild in the Blood”, but keeps things fresh with new tracks as well. A man who has always used songwriting as a form of therapy, McArthur’s music is a lifeline that he is tossing out into the world for anyone who might need a hand, especially in a time when the physical connection of a live concert isn’t possible. That being said, he also wanted the recordings to imitate how songs take shape in a live setting: “Performed in the way that I wrote them, there’s something about the uncovering of a song that invites you to reach down a little deeper. To listen with both ears. To be at ease.” The introspective artist says that the integrity of the songs depends on them being revealed in their most fundamental form. The title track, “Oh Sedona”, is written in remembrance of his recently departed grandmother and her influence on his life, whose funeral has unfortunately been postponed indefinitely due to the pandemic. The song puts this immeasurably mournful experience into a different light. McArthur says “You can’t know the importance of a funeral, of that collective remembering, the final farewell, until you’ve attended one, or until you’re unable to.” It’s this kind of heavy emotion that unifies the EP, and invites the listener to dig deep.

While emotion is the glue that holds Oh, Sedona together, McArthur’s voice is undoubtedly the crowning feature. It is in many ways the quintessential American folk voice, tinged with vibrato, earthy and absolutely gorgeous. Honestly, I could go on and on about it. “Oh, Sedona” first showcases the powerful conviction that is ubiquitous in the vocals of all of the tracks. The ends of his falsetto lines in “We Live & We Die”, “Wild in the Blood”, and “Elaine” diffuse into the silences, like a breath of relief. “We Live & We Die” as well as “Elaine” also highlight his lower, more robust voice which is equally potent.

Despite being closely intertwined, each of the four original tracks have something unique to offer. The idea of not being able to say goodbye in “Oh, Sedona” gives it a heartbreaking intimacy that intensifies in the middle of the song before coming back down to rest, quietly melancholic. The entire tune is so down to earth, from the unplugged sound to the harmonica to the open-hearted subject. “We Live & We Die” begins with some intriguing rubato guitar picking and yearning suspended chords that build the tension until the pain consumes McArthur at the end, sending shivers down your spine. “Wild in the Blood” sneaks up on you. It has this sweeping sadness that you don’t notice is building up until it overtakes you. “Elaine” features touching lyrics whose intimacy and tenderness is deepened by the name in the title.

The cover of Prince’s “Purple Rain” deserves its own consideration. Piano, drums, synth strings, and various other instruments create the grand slow-jam feel of the 8 minute long original tune. It features a guitar solo, soulful harmonies, and Prince’s unmatched voice. McArthur completely strips it down, cutting out 4 minutes and trading in all the instruments for acoustic guitar. It’s completely his own take. The soul is still there, but instead of McArthur trying to simulate Prince’s soul, it’s McArthur using the original song’s words and melodies to bare his own soul. He exchanges the epic slow-jam feel for his token sincere and intimate sound, allowing the cover to adopt the same tone as the rest of the EP.

Oh, Sedona is a raw, genuine expression of poignancy, and worth feeling vulnerable for. It’s available on all major streaming services, as will How to Fall in Love on August 14th, 2020.

Keep up with Michael McArthur here.

cancelled plans w/ cat call (6/24/2020)

cancelled plans w/ cat call (6/24/2020)

On June 24th, Imperfect Fifth hosted our first official variety show with the indelible Cat Call. An idea sparked by Cat Call founder Brittany Brave, we were more than happen to collaborate it into existence with a badass lineup of incredible female voices. We started the evening with some awkward banter from Imperfect Fifth’s Meredith Schneider, followed by a bangin’ comedy set from Brittany Brave. Jillian Riscoe, Kamber, Jessie Hyde, and Lauren LoGrasso followed, with a night of compliments and good feelings all-around. But, truly, we were there for the talent. And not a single beautiful human disappointed.

Keep your eyes on the scroll for everyone’s tip jars. Remember, we’re all out of work to one degree or another right now, so every little bit helps. Feel free to donate to the Imperfect Fifth Tip Jar, and leave a note for which writer/intern/performer you’d like to support. Enjoy the entertainment, and remember to be kind to yourself and others!

P.S. Please take a moment to adore Brittany Brave, who is the object of our featured photo.

Sponsored by EZVisibility.

emily duff, born on the ground

emily duff, born on the ground

She was born in Flushing, Queens and raised by a pack of cigarettes. With only four chords to remember her mother by, she took her love of vintage guitars, muscle cars, and old man bars and pursued music without ever looking back. She sang lead vocals for Gary Lucas’ Gods & Monsters, and opened for Bob Dylan and Paul Simon at Jones Beach Amphitheater with her band Eudora. After taking a break to grow, get married and raise some lovely kids, she turned once again to music in 2015 to release her debut solo album Go Tell Your Friends. She is Emily Duff. A wife, mother, and artist who managed to find happiness and become a role model despite never really having one herself. A couple more albums and some TV and film projects later, she is now looking back at the past with the confidence and wisdom from motherhood and marriage in her new record Born on the Ground.

This illustrious musician sings nine “love” songs that represent nine different breakups from her past. With time and self-love, she looks back on these experiences without anger, instead, she wants to examine them with the maturity she has gained. While the songs on Born on the Ground refer to Duff’s past relationships, she points out that breakups aren’t always romantic, one can break up with friends, careers, and even bad habits. They’re hard, but they can be the seed that turns into a better understanding of yourself. The universality of what Duff is discussing is reflected in Born on the Ground. Her songwriting shows an expert command over the genres of country, roots, soul, and rock and as a result, the album is a well crafted, classic set of accessible songs. Rock and blues are established by the drums, country is brought in by Duff’s voice, and the bass, guitar, and keys drift in between. Her sensitive lyrics are graced with sophisticated metaphors, and there’s a guitar solo in every song.

Some tracks are more straightforward, like the opener “We Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere”, with the line “Oh honey get off the train, we ain’t goin’ nowhere” talking about a dead end relationship. It has a bluesy-rock sound to it from the piano and underlying harmonies, but it also has a kind of deep earthiness to it. “There Is A Way Out” urges someone to deflate their ego, telling them that they don’t have to be so self centered. Lines from “Knuckle Sandwich” such as “how ‘bout my fist down your throat” and “how’d you like if I opened up a can of whoop-ass” make her message crystal clear. “Forever Love” tells of a supposedly undying love that ended anyway. But accessible as they are, these songs are far from boring. “There Is A Way Out” has a fun piano solo and the bridge is almost anthemic with its full harmonies, cymbal crashes, and guitar solo. “Knuckle Sandwich” is just an explosion of energy, driven by the spirited guitar, supported by the drums and ornamented by the lightning-fast piano glissandos. It contains itself just for a moment towards the middle of the track only to come back stronger, with unbridled energy that persists right to the end. “Forever Love” is pretty classic in its blues/country sound. Yet it has almost gospel-like harmonies in the chorus, which has this congregational sound to it that compels you to sing along with it. The clarity of these songs creates a sense of knowing between you and them.

The rest of the songs on Born on the Ground are more puzzling. The title track has some ambiguous lyrics such as “Put on my favourite red party dress, and dance with the devil in five-inch heels” and “when you’re born on the ground, you’re dead inside.” The bass in particular but also the mood of the song in general has a darkness to it, suggesting that something may be going on underneath the surface. In a similar way, “No Escape” hints at something alluring, from the 1920’s blues club feel of the music to Duff’s sultry voice. But the electric organ and lyrics like “I would do most anything if you would only disappear” denote something sinister– right down to the expressive ending. “Something Sexy” has a classic rhythm guitar part and a strong country vibe, and the lyrics chide someone for not understanding a “phenomenal” girl. Perhaps the girl in question is Duff herself, looking back at a relationship with a renewed sense of self-worth… but perhaps it means something else entirely. “Killer” still has the same kind of sound as the others, but it also has a wistful quality from the fuzzy bass, electric piano and held chords that soften it. Duff sings “there’s a killer among us, tearing at this happy ending.” It’s unclear what exactly is going on, but seems as though there’s something poisoning her relationship. The final track, “Easy Go!” has a fun rhythm in the guitar, which is great for bringing ‘er home. The lyrics seem to be about warning someone not to love her, “lovin’ me’s like diving into flames,” but at the same time implores her lover not to haunt her.

The songs that you find puzzling and straightforward might be different from mine, but no matter how you interpret it you can expect Born on the Ground to be both relatable and thought-provoking. There’s more to this album than meets the eye, much like Emily Duff herself.

Produced by Eric “Roscoe” Ambel, and recorded live in Brooklyn featuring the Emily Duff band and guests Eric Ambel on guitars and vocals & Syd Straw, Mary Lee Kortes & Tricia Scotti on background vocals, Born on the Ground will be released on June 26th. You can also see Duff doing her “virus escape” live stream from her Hudson street fire escape every Sunday at 4 PM EST on her Facebook page, and watch the video for “We Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” here.

holy hive, float back to you

holy hive, float back to you

Brooklyn based trio Holy Hive pairs transient harmonies and Paul Spring’s exceptional falsetto with poetic lyrics in their tranquil debut album Float Back To You. Following their acclaimed EP Harping and successful live shows, Holy Hive combines Spring’s folk guitar playing, Homer Steinweiss’ precise drums and Joe Harrison’s grounding bass to create their soulful, vintage sound. The album also features several guest musicians, including Mary Lattimore on the harp, Leon Michels on saxophone and keys, Shannon Wise on backing vocals, Dave Guy on trumpet, Nick Movshon on bass, and Spring’s wife Sophia Heymans on the piano. Each of these talented musicians brings something unique to the table, pushing Float Back To You passed the boundary of a simple folk or soul album.

While generally, the album is laden with dreamy harmonies and jazzy drums and bass, each of the songs also brings their own individual flair. “Broom”, “Hypnosis”, “Blue Light”, and “Float Back To You” each use the dreamy sound to their advantage. “Broom” parlays the hazy harmonies into a smooth brass interlude. “Hypnosis” uses them along with harp and electric piano to create a mesmerizing sound. “Blue Light” sounds like lounge music and has a pensive, wistful mood to it. The harmonies in the title track “Float Back To You” serve to augment the potent feeling of longing within it. These tunes all feel suspended in the air, but each in subtly different ways.

Other songs on Float Back To You take on a more unique persona and use surprising harmonies to pique your interest. “Oh I Miss Her So” is undoubtedly a standout track. Its whimsical use of harp sounds like something out of a fairy tale, and the unexpected harmonic changes are enchanting. The beginning of the song floats into the sky, but then the drums bring it back down to earth and drive a gentle groove. “Red Is The Rose”, on the other hand, is more mysterious, and carries with it undertones of sadness. It is a reimagining of an Irish folk tune, and the mystical music really plays into that folklore element. “Embers to Ash” also has a darker, almost spooky tone to it created by the electric organ and phantom-like keys. The concluding track on the album, “Sophia’s Part”, begins with discordant piano notes, yet the clash isn’t unpleasant. In fact, as the motive repeats it slowly becomes pleasingly crunchy. All of the instruments in this song seem to be completely in their own world, yet somehow the song remains cohesive and satisfying.

Paralleling one another both in title and in sound, “Be Thou By My Side” and “You Will Always Be By My Side Forever” are two love songs that feel more like classic folk. “Be Thou By My Side” features some beautiful guitar picking and is simple, tender, and infused with love. “You Will Always Be By My Side Forever” has more going on, but still has a folk quality to it. While its music is somewhat sparse, it gets the message across, and the sax and jazz organ outro prolong the easy vibe of this track to ease you into the final song.

Finally, we have the individuals of the album. The bass, drums, and piano at the beginning of “Didn’t You Say” have the most obvious jazz/funk sound to them, and the harmonies in the chorus are delicately soulful. This track shares a lot of the same characteristics as the others (falsetto, touches of brass, jazz undertones), but it also feels as though it could easily stand on its own. It finishes with a fleeting piano outro that transitions into “Embers To Ash.” “Cynthia’s Celebration” is an instrumental interlude. This is an unexpected inclusion but at the same time it makes total sense considering the abundance of skilled musicians at the band’s disposal. In it, blurred sounds from the bass, harp, and electric keys are set against the crisp drums and piano, making for a relaxed but engaging sound.

Float Back To You has a lot to offer. It uses several elements to produce twelve songs that calm your mind but excite your heart. The album is available digitally, on CD and on vinyl, so you can listen to it however you please. You can also watch the music videos for “Broom”, “Be Thou By My Side”, and “Float Back To You.”

emanuel, session 1: disillusion

emanuel, session 1: disillusion

R&B artist Emanuel released his debut EP Session 1: Disillusion, the first installment for his debut album ALT THERAPY. The four-track EP is full of melodies that will have you falling in love with the Ontario singer. With a voice that resembles John Legend, but with his own unique sound, Emanuel crafted a beautiful and immersive introduction to the music world.  Emanuel released the EP on June 19, Juneteenth, and introduced it by saying:

“Debuting to the world on Juneteenth, a symbolic day in the celebration of freedom and emancipation for all enslaved Blacks in America … immerse yourself in the sights and sounds of love, hope, and healing as the world shifts right before our very eyes.”

“Need You”, the first track on the EP, is all about falling in love with someone and wanting it to be different. The first verse deals with exactly that, with Emanuel even saying he fell in love like a song on the radio, but wanting it to be different than past relationships. This powerful ballad is Emanuel expressing his need for this pure love. It is the perfect introduction to how honest he is on this record.

“Thought It’d Be Easy”, is Emanuel’s most honest and vulnerable track. He goes deep inside his heart and comes to the realization that he is not over a past relationship. Being with another girl does not stop him from thinking about this girl, something that many people can resonate with. Listen carefully to the lyrics and hear the pain in his voice, because he carefully lies his heart out on the line here.

“Addiction” has you floating in and out of a high. With Emanuel’s vocals layered on top of a head-bopping beat, the track is all about getting high and wanting to stay in that feeling. Even though he knows it might not be right, he embraces the nights like these. The lyrics, “I get a funny feelin’ when the plane goes down / It’s the same feelin’ when the drugs run out / I’m so high, I don’t wanna come down / The buildings and the people look like ants right now” give a chill vibe, similar to the sounds of Frank Ocean. This song has the potential to rise up the charts and become the next addition to your jam playlist.

The EP ends with a remix of “Need You”, wrapping up the EP perfectly by adding a little extra to the track. It is fun to listen to, spicing up the original version without going overboard. Deeper beats and more instrumental gives the song a new life and speeds it up. Including the remix along with the original shows he isn’t afraid to switch things up in his music.

Session 1: Disillusion is the strong first collection of music Emanuel needed to showcase his talents. Dealing with self-reflection, drugs, sex and relationships seems to be his forte, and it is working out in his favor. With Idris Elba as the Executive Producer, as well as curating the video for “Need You”, and Gary Noble mixing the record, the R&B singer has already surrounded himself with big names in the industry. After listening to the tracks, I think you will find yourself listening on repeat until the next collection is released.

Enjoy Session 1: Disillusion now.

john legend, bigger love

john legend, bigger love

John Legend released his much-anticipated album Bigger Love on Friday. Inspired by his wife, and family, the album explores themes of love, sensuality, and intimacy, but also draws from the extensive tradition of black music that has influenced Legend as an artist. Among the anxiety induced by the pandemic, and the outraged and mourning protesters flooding the streets, Legend explains how he intends for this album to fit: “During these painful times, some of us may wonder if it’s ok to laugh or dance or be romantic… but it’s important for us to continue to show the world the fullness of what it is to be black and human. Through our art, we are able to do that. This album is a celebration of love, joy, sensuality, hope, and resilience, the things that make our culture so beautiful and influential.” In a nod to his debut album Get Lifted, Legend offers Bigger Love as an uplifting, heartfelt work that inspires you to love, dance, and be happy.

Listening to this album, the overarching quality that comes to mind is soul. Bigger Love is soulful in its music, Legend’s voice and the surrounding harmonies, and even its message. The use of “big” in the title refers to the album’s expansive amounts of joy, soulfulness, and diverse range of musical styles. The tracks embody many different genres, and expressive vocals, gospel-like harmonies, and Legend’s expert falsetto are ever-present. Every song has an easy, untroubled sound to it, but they also have unique touches that elevate them to a higher level.

“Ooh Laa” tells you right away what the album is going to be like: a clash of contrasting forces. It kicks things off with two wildly different genres– 50’s doo-wop and trap music. The doo-wop comes from a sample of a 50s recording of the song “I Only Have Eyes For You” by the Flamingos. Continuing in the vein of hip-hop, “Actions” samples a song known from “The Next Episode” by Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg, reminding listeners of that era of hip-hop. The central lyric plays on the phrase “actions speak louder than words,” a mantra that is especially relevant to the protests that have been happening recently.

Moving over to funk, “I Do” and “One Life” are dance songs. They have groovy basslines and are mellow but have catchy choruses that make you want to move. “One Life” stretches into contemporary jazz and uses strings to add some individuality. The chorus, with lyrics like “We’ve got one life, I won’t waste it,” are universal and inspiring, they really feed into the uplifting sentiment of the album.

Beginning with “Wild” featuring Gary Clark Jr, we begin to see a lot of slow jams and ballads, but there is still some contrasting material inserted in between. “Wild” tugs at you. It is a song that you would play in the car on an open road at dusk with the windows down. Its hard-hitting beat and the chromatic upwards motion in the guitar part pulls you along with it. “Bigger Love” takes a right turn with its Afro-Caribbean beat, but continues to include elements of gospel and house music in the vocals of featured artist Natalie Imani. It really drives the central message of the album: hope, optimism, and resilience.

Bringing the energy back down, “U Move, I Move” featuring Jhené Aiko is about two people in complete harmony. What’s unique about this track is how the beginning has a very minimal amount of music. Legend’s voice really stands on its own. When the music does come in, it’s swelling and romantic. Aiko’s voice complements Legend’s nicely, but it has its own distinct timbre that adds interest to the song. Despite being recorded in quarantine, the effortless harmonies between the duo are coordinated perfectly. In “Favourite Place”, short brushstrokes of harmonies paint the background. The tune is sultry and alluring, with more trap beats and gospel harmonies. “Slow Cooker” on the other hand, is all about taking it slow. It’s infused with cuisine-related metaphors, which work well for Legend since he and his wife Chrissy both like to cook. The swaying 6/8 time makes one think of a couple slowly moving to the music, delicately enveloped in an intimate moment.

Just when you think the album has hit a plateau when it comes to genres, some folk music is thrown in. “Focused” reaches out to ordinary people with lyrics like “everybody has their days when the work feels like chains.” Its defining musical characteristic is the acoustic guitar, but the connections to gospel and jazz remain strong thanks to the harmonies and jazz chords. “Conversations in the Dark” is a soulful love song reminiscent of Legend’s 2013 hit “All of Me.” It highlights the small intimate moments in a relationship. “Don’t Walk Away” features artist Koffee, who pilots a return to the Afro-Caribbean flavour from earlier. Gentle harmonies subtly support the infectious chorus that really highlights Legend’s control over his voice in this song.

For the last four tracks, deep emotions move to the forefront. “Remember Us” featuring Rapsody uses lounge piano, flute flutters, and deep bass to make a beautiful musical foundation that supports the emotional lyrics which remember some departed friends. Rapsody adds a contrasting but fitting quality to the music, expertly spitting out lyrics but still matching the vibe of the song. “I’m Ready” featuring Camper recalls Marvin Gaye’s soul-stirring music and is a tribute to him in that way. This track has a very cool a capella beginning that establishes some surprising rhythms and harmonic changes which continue throughout the entire song. “Always” is another love song. It has a simple, sweet message and relatively straightforward music but still has some twists along the way.

The final song, “Never Break” is an anthem for 2020. It discusses the power of the human spirit, something that is crucial for the valiant protesters around the world. Suspended chords create a deep sense of passion, which is amplified by the wonderfully jazzy chords. Towards the end, there’s a powerful build-up before the haunting final “no” that instills a great sense of resolve within you. The track, with its resilient sentiment and hopeful mood, is the perfect ending to Bigger Love.

Ultimately, this is an album you won’t want to miss. It sweeps through and lifts you up at a time when things feel low. Give it a listen on Spotify or other streaming platforms, and be sure to check out the amazing cover art painted by artist Charly Palmer.