FIEFDOM OF ANGELS: SIDE ONE by Kevin Max (music review)

The lid on musician/poet/author Kevin Max’s imagination is slowly being peeled back as new glimpses of his Fiefdom Of Angels franchise continue to surface. From the first random clues as to the focus, story, and imagery of this new venture on through to the release of the Zero Issue of the graphic novel and, most recently, the release of the FIEFDOM OF ANGELS: SIDE ONE EP, my curiosity has steadily evolved into fully engaged interest. I certainly think that caution should be exercised when toying with the mythology and the reality of angels, but, one certainly has the right to wonder why the topic hasn’t been subject to such a deep exploration, the likes of which Max is now attempting to execute, before. While I really can’t offer any additional insight or even an opinion about the substance of the series (due to the fact that only the introductory Zero Issue has been released so far – with further issues and a possible novel yet to come) I can say that the musical tapestry that Max is skillfully weaving around the project through the release of the FIEFDOM OF ANGELS: SIDE ONE EP will only heighten the expectations for future releases whether they be in the form of new graphic novel issues, text, or film. Unlike the original 1983 Real Life version of “Send Me An Angel,” Kevin Max’s cover version opens the EP with a hauntingly grandiose, atmospheric feel that sets the tone for the EP as an entirely different direction from past releases by Max. “End of the Beginning,” successfully blends a clear Beatles influence into the mix without compromising the unique thematic integrity of the project as a whole. The track, in particular, harkens back to some of the material released in 2001 on Kevin Max’s first solo release STEREOTYPE BE. While “Shadow Play” doesn’t stick out above the rest for any particular reason, it does serve as an added layer of dramatic contemplative texture that could have really set the stage for Max’s cover of Muse’s “Take A Bow” had “Shadow Play” been sequenced to play just before “Take A Bow,” which, unfortunately, it wasn’t. What comes before “Take A Bow” is a cover of Queen’s 1980 “Dragon Attack.” While it’s a decent song in its own right, it seems to be somewhat out-of-place in terms of the mood and feel of the EP as a whole. “Take A Bow”, an epic theatrical climax to the EP, ensures that EP finishes with a bang and leaves the listener wanting  more. The EP certainly accomplishes what all good teasers and movie trailers do: build interest and lead the listener curious about what is yet to come as Kevin Max’s brainchild continues to unfold before us.

Heather Williams: EP (INO Records) – Review

I happened upon the music of singer/songwriter Heather Williams purely by accident, but, I was hooked instantly. After hearing her unmistakably sincere voice on the individual tracks that were released on iTunes some time ago, the question of why she didn’t have more of a promoted presence in the music world immediately surfaced. Since then, however, she has signed with INO Records (Derek Webb, Sara Groves, Skillet, MercyMe, etc.) and just recently released her debut EP on the INO label at iTunes. The four tracks featured on the EP showcase her range and ability from the sassy, soulful, groove of “Beautiful Thing” to the anthemic beauty of “Hallelujah” and the moving sincerity of “Holes.” The EP then closes out with a glittering pure pop track called “This Time Around.”

“Hallelujah” is a confessional and celebratory song that starts small, but, builds in presence until crossing a dramatic musical threshold toward the end. Lyrically it begins with recognition of humanity and our need for grace. But, the ultimate message is that, despite fact that we struggle and fumble through our daily existence making mistake after selfish mistake, God’s unconditional love for us still calls.

“Holes” is a piano-driven track that exhibits the pop sensibility of Williams while also showcasing her soulful voice. Like the lyrics in “Hallelujah,” “Holes” communicates the experience of someone who has humbly realized her human limitations and, as a result, opened herself to the hope of something much bigger.

“Beautiful Thing” is the track that hit me immediately as an infectious, gutsy, whimsical pop groove. Its terribly catchy and one can’t help, but, to nod, wiggle, toe-tap, or all-out dance while its playing. Its another track that displays the deep soul in the voice of Heather Williams, but, does so with a power and groove that is distinct in comparison with the mellower ambiance of “Holes,” and “Hallelujah.” “Beautiful Thing” seems like the kind of song that should be on the radio and, in airplay on pop-format radio stations, would stand head and shoulders above most of the vanilla, formulaic music that currently dominates radio playlists.

“This Time Around” provides a distinctively pop canvas on which Williams has masterfully painted her story of redemption and the hope that is found in God’s grace. It is a theme common to all four of the songs on the EP, but one that deserves to be showcased as much as possible because it is the hope of our lives.

Heather Williams, amidst the cloud of insincere musicians with watered down goals and wayward objectives in today’s music industry, is an ever so refreshing breath of fresh air. I can honestly and without reservation suggest that, for less than the price of a tall latte, Heather’s new EP is well worth the price. Find it at iTunes.