Each year, Music Connection staffers listen to scores of demos and unsigned band releases submitted to us. Of all these submissions, here is the cream of the crop––the 20 Top Prospects who are too good to overlook. Each total score you see is based on the merits of production, lyrics, music, vocals and musicianship. MC welcomes all unsigned recording artists to send material to us in 2019 by first checking out “Get Reviewed” at musicconnection.com/reviews/get-reviewed.
An experienced pro backup singer for mainstream artists, Kayla Starr really steps up and takes command on her dense, trippy, often challenging, but ultimately unique recordings. “Deepest Sea” and “Truth” are dark, multi-layered and alternately chaotic and jarring, but Starr’s voice sounds great. “& Say You Will” really stands out for some us due to its artful juxtaposition of heavy, mournful tones and bright, scintillating keyboards. Though none of the tracks are particularly catchy/memorable, there are passages that could definitely complement a moody/horror movie. It’s alluring stuff and we admire Starr for swinging out there and not playing it safe. We urge her to take even more chances with her voice.
Tennessee artist Sarah Harralson is back-ed by a crew of Nashville cats whose nimble, knowing skills help elevate her crafty tunes and allow her appealing voice—with its tomboy-next-door grittiness—to hold your attention. Her subjects (the career criminals in “County Time,” the relatable metaphor that fuels “Watered Down Whiskey”) are depicted in ways that draw you in. “Chasing Ghosts” sounds tailor-made for young teens. If there’s a weak link in all this it’s her material—the songs’ hooks are not quite as infectious as they gotta be. Still, Harralson is a compelling wordsmith and it’s clear that she is on track to deliver catchy songs with undeniable impact.
Here’s a highly evolved foursome led by an appealing frontman (Jeffrey Krantz), whose strong voice (augmented at times by a golden-toned female backup) is ideal for guitar-driven alt-rock. Each song here (“Run Away With Me,” “Until We Meet Again”) is catchy, crafty, and skillfully engineered and produced for maximum results, helping the band to achieve a consistently inviting, effervescent sound. They dig into their roots with “What Happened to My Rock & Roll,” which laments the loss of rock music’s depth and dominance. All in all, every creative choice––whether a dirty, distorted guitar tone or a terse, tight solo––serves the song and studiously avoids overindulgence.
We dig the male/female vocal tandem of East Coast prog-metal fivesome The Earth & I. Not only is the screamo singing more than convincing, but when paired with the confident, husky-toned female power of Kendyle Wolven––and the band’s tight, turn-on-a-dime instrumentation—something special emerges. On “CGMTC” she displays her soaring, emotive abilities, which echo Paramore’s Haley Williams. “Slight Departure” and “Skies Like Fences” give Wolven and her mates plenty to busy themselves with––perhaps too much at times––but their daring dips into blues-rock and even smooth-jazz are unexpected treats for listeners (Coheed & Cambria fans, perhaps) who appreciate a challenge.
Blessed with a sweet and youthful voice, Natalise has a quality that will connect with teens and young kids––a perfect fit for the Disney Channel. Driving that point home are songs such as the catchy “Be,” whose sunny, inspirational message allows the singer to trill effortlessly, convincing the listener that no task is impossible. Each song is produced and arranged with a professional touch, right down to the deep drum tone and the subtle build-up of the pensive, piano-driven “Love Unconditional.” The soft, cuddly “One Kiss” has a lovey-dovey sweetness that works because the singer sounds genuine. There are artists with stronger voices, but it’s hard to deny this one’s natural appeal.
Jackie Popvec fronts The Vindys with a voice that exudes confidence and sex appeal. Material will have to improve, however, for this act to lure today’s audience as the group’s pop/rock material (such as “Too Long”) sounds a day past its sell-by date, giving off an early 00’s vibe. “Wrong with Me” shows off Popvec’s range and expressiveness and the band’s lead guitar dazzlement. We hear something pretty promising in the jaunty, jazzed-up R&B tune “Red Wine.” Reminiscent of Amy Winehouse, the song allows Popvec to exude slinky sex appeal amid a sassy arrangement that features a full-on horn section. Seems this Ohio band is truly in its element on this vibrant slice of vintage pop theatre.
Catchy, inventive and consistently clever, the Vermont-based duo GOOD WTHR delivers a brand of hip-hop that’ll appeal more to the college listener than to hard-core headz. “I Promise” deploys a smile-inducing snippet of a children’s group repeating the command “I promise to have fun and just be alive today!” The Chainsmokers-like “April 3rd,” with its memorable chorus, “Wake up, wake up!,” will definitely appeal to teens. Our favorite is “Somewhere Shining” with its grooving track and a smooth amalgam of sounds (including a whiff of reggae) that’s a people-pleaser. It’s the kind of unique song, with a super-catchy chorus, that cannot help but appeal to a wide range of listeners.
Gifted with husky, mellow pipes that can belt out songs steeped in vintage R&B and soul, Alicia Michilli is a young artist who’s old-school in the best way. Girl can wail, okay? And we admire her choice to not show off more on these original tunes. Though she flavors her phrasings with melisma and well-timed trills, you get the sense on the spirited “Crazy” and “Heartbeat” that she never wants to overdo it. Only on the soft, sweet ballad “Gypsy Soul” does she give a glimpse of what a powerful engine her voice can be. We urge this rising artist to seek out a collaborator who can help her create superior material—songs that both challenge and showcase her powerful voice.
Tony Ingerson has a complete grasp of what makes blue-collar country music great. On “In It,” his powerful XXL vocal cords bleed country music with raspy, chesty authenticity. The song doesn’t have a great hook—it’s not a single—but it is sturdily built and gives the artist plenty to work with. Interestingly, on “Old Flame” (“can’t seem to blow out my old flame”) and on the touching ballad “Good Enough,” Ingerson’s tone is surprisingly different, imbuing the songs with a standard, less distinctive country tenor. Though we don’t exactly hear a hit song among this artist’s wares, these radio-quality recordings show a likeable artist who’s working at a high level.
Singer-songwriter-engineer Chris Gleason spearheads Noise Floor Delirium, a decidedly alternative country act that generates a rustic, twangy, whiskey-soaked swagger that’s set to a stomping beat. It’s an identifiable sound that’s consistent throughout these recordings, which feature Gleason’s roughhewn lead vocals bolstered by a dynamic sidekick in Lucy Martinez. “Creep-show” and “Wintermoths” revel in stellar mandolin, slide guitar and especially fiddle. The slower, heavier song “This World or the Next” unleashes gargantuan distortion on the guitar chords. We appreciate that Gleason has conjured a signature sound for his band; we only wish the songs were more memorable.
Thompy’s got a sound (call it college rap) that we find to be unique and ultimately compelling. His signature—a reverbed, whispery, semi-stoned flow with sometimes intricate wordplay––is set to a languid, spacey track on “Endless Summer” where he muses cleverly about escapism and downtime. Though he adjusts the track’s cadence at midpoint, the artist could maybe do more to keep it going strong. “Icy” has a childlike simplicity, a borderline goofiness, that maybe wears a little thin after a while. But you can’t deny its catchy singalong quality. Thompy rebounds with “Wild Thangs” where his signature whisperflow creates a soothing intimacy and some compelling lyrical ideas.
Singer-songwriter Cynthia Brando has a voice that’s ideal for folk music, wonderfully throaty and possessed of authentic backbone. And on her recordings she wisely puts that voice out front, with only a minimum of acoustic combo accompaniment. It’s what allows a lively song like “Sparkle” to connect with the listener––you sincerely feel her joy and gratitude at being in a great love relationship. Brando shows the flipside in “Afterthought,” conveying the sadness of unsatisfying romance. “California Song” is packed with vivid imagery of personal experience and enthusiasm that’s palpable. Right now, the artist’s vocal persona outshines her material. Still and all, it’s clear she could captivate a coffeehouse crowd.
With a voice that emits a forthright, classic-folk resonance, Karen Tobin lures you into her world, one which is full of wistful, reflective moments filtered through a mature woman’s sensibility. The mellow, melodic “Homeless Heart” might be her best outing, a song propelled by a Spanish acoustic guitar motif and Tobin’s articulate, heartfelt musings on her longing for true love and connection. The artist imparts wisdom again on the jangly “Before It’s Too Late,” musing about the many sides of love. On “Those Blue Eyes, she conveys the tingle felt when the first spark of love is ignited. A former major-label artist, Tobin’s skills are formidable; she would be especially pleasing on the winery circuit.
Though the artist’s “Intro” begins with a dreamy synth-heavy vibe, she attacks the mic with a feline ferocity that is raw, often dark, and she states her mission (“no gimmicks, no fake shit”) in no uncertain terms. Just as impressive is a consistently strong production hand that provides a sophisticated foundation, deftly helping to shift and shade cadences and beats to keep things from succumbing to repetition. “Westside” is a duet as MaryJane (showing a raspy, Demi Lovato singing voice) trades off with a male vocalist to describe familiar landmarks of their ‘hood. And while “X Rated” is unabashedly graphic, it is also overthunk—too much going on. Versatile and vibrant, MaryJane shows she’s a force.
There’s some serious musicianship in these songs of solitary suffering by prog-metal duo Project Sapiens. Hailing from Copenhagen, Denmark, their songs offer up a whole prog-platter of goodies for the faithful. Hardcore metalheads, in fact, will go for “Here We Are” with its Avenged Sevenfold/Killswitch vocals and existential lyrics. A very well-put-together scream-along song. Leaning to the mainstream (and more original vocally) are the songs “Anger” and “My Prison Cell” with its ‘90s-era whispers. Musicianship is impressive throughout while the drum tracking is solid. The lack of any trace of an accent in Mads Rahback’s lead vocals is a definite plus for this Project’s commercial prospects in the US.
Pierre Fleming - 7.8
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Pierre Fleming’s got a relatable voice—very emotive and heart-rending––and it fits his material quite well. Add to that his use of ambient textures in his tracks and it indicates an artist with true potential. The short “Darken Space” is soulful and likeable, though it could use a sharper, more memorable hook. Some of us feel that “Mountain Top” is his best; we especially dig the song’s chanting by what sounds like a brigade of a thousand soldiers. Great effect! We suggest a remix here to make Fleming’s voice louder. “Another Chance,” with its stark, understated, acoustic treatment, could be a nice fit for Chris Brown and suggests Fleming might do well to seek publishing opportunities for his songs.
Abby Bryant fronts her band with a persona that’s easy to like, generating an inclusive, rootsy, modern sound that’s flavored with classic elements. “Gonna wash my spirit clean,” she proclaims on “River Song,” which, along with “New Morning” and “All You Gotta Do,” delivers consistently optimistic, extroverted, inspirational messages. The deep echo on Bryant’s voice gives it a welcoming, wide-open vibe. And her organ skills ignite a consistent shower of sparks. You can easily imagine her and this tight band winning hearts and minds at a festival. Overall, we’d like to see this band rise to the next level as songwriters.
Though his lyrics are familiar territory to any hip-hop fan, it’s the musical flair that Rashaann brings to his songs that sets them apart. Instead of dark, heavy sonics, his beats are often bright and breezy, as on “Pray For This,” and result in an effective counterbalance of light and dark, edgy and edge-free. And Meraki Anoir’s singing on this track takes it all to a higher level as Rashaann castigates rappers who bitch and moan and take no risks. Our favorite song might be “Sometimes,” where the artist rants and raves a laundry list of whims and wishes, making his case to his chosen woman. A NYC performer with plenty of stage time under his belt, Rashaann is consistent and confident at the mic.
This Americana outfit are solid players with an appealing sound, right down to the lead vocals, whose tone is a consistently natural fit. The group’s vocal blend is also a strong thing to behold. The material is another matter, however. While the band conveys its themes––whether the nostalgia-fueled “I Miss America” and “Peace, Love” or the rocked-up relationship song “Nobody Like Me” with an assured, experienced hand–– there is something underwhelming about the chorus hooks. Despite the obvious craft in the songwriting, they prove to be overly familiar and obvious. Most effective is “Nobody Like Me” which has a noisier, hard-charging rock vibe. Honey River is a solid band that could take more risks.
Jazzy pop crooner Adam Robert Thomas dishes up some tasty slices of sound that seem to glow with the breezy, carefree vibe of summer. “Feel Alright” is an ideal opener; disarmingly simple and direct, the song radiates a light, entertaining atmosphere that characterizes this performer. Just as fun, but more funky and uptempo, is “Freight Train” whose whoosh of energy (and brisk piano and jazz guitar work) perfectly mirrors the song’s title. Thomas impresses us most, however, on the soulfully seductive, sweet ‘n easy “Got to Get You.” Here is where the artist really shows his worth as a singer, demonstrating impressive range, expert control and a romantic sensuality that is altogether convincing.