Archive for the ‘Classic Review’ Category

Back in August, Cleveland was the host to the XMG Music Conference. The Conference was held at the Cleveland Hard Rock Cafe. For the Conference, people were able to see part of the music world first hand as bands and singers were put through the same type of experiences as the singers on American Idol: Following their performance of two required songs, the group or performer was told what was good about their performance or what needed improvement. After watching most of the bands or performers turn in performances on the level of William “She Bangs” Hung, it was apparent that the job of talent scout wasn’t as glamorous as you would think.

Having sat through many nameless/faceless bands turn in less than stellar performances, it was always a great relief to finally get to see those acts that could sing, play their instruments or just set themselves apart from the rest of the pack by just performing a song or two on-key.

One such group that made a good impact on me was a band from Madison, Wisconsin. The name of the group is Pine. Pine (who recently gained a new bass player) consists of Mike Delp on guitar, Scott Theis on Drums, Justin O’rourke on piano/synth, Mike “Buzz” Buzzell on vocals and James Jones on Bass.

At the time of the conference, the band was working on their self-titled release. They finally released the album in early December. This release contains several songs that could easily be included on any HOT A/C (adult contemporary) radio station. Some songs that could easily get airtime include “Another Perfect Day,” “Sweet Vicarious” and “Take Me There”.

Even though the first track on the self-titled release from Pine, “LC,” is a rather beautiful and simple track that features a nice vocal harmony that would easily remind anyone of the vocals from The Beach Boys, the album doesn’t truly begin until the second track called “Another Perfect Day”.

“Another Perfect Day” is a track that would make a band like Green Day proud: The track is a strong punk-oriented track that also has a generous amount of “pop” influence to it. The punk/pop mixture on the track creates music that will easily get the listener up and dancing to the beat. And along with the punk/pop, the track also features lyrics with a definite attitude. Although the lyrics (and song title) might suggest happy thoughts, the lyrics are forcefully sung by Mike “Buzz” Buzzell through clenched teeth.

While “Another Perfect Day” features punk/pop feel, the song “Sweet Vicarious” is a track with a heavier rock song with a generous amount of keyboard thrown in. The resulting track is, without a doubt, an Alternative Rock song and would usually not be mistakenly grouped with the pop-based rock and roll found on Top 40 radio. “Sweet Vicarious” is one of the strongest tracks on the 2005 release from Pine.

Easily one of the best and most commercial songs on the album is the track “Take Me There”. While the song has a strong “Alternative Rock” influence, it also has enough “pop” influence to it to make the song an easy candidate for play on both Alternative Rock and Top 40 radio formats. The track is very listener-friendly and has a definite hook that will immediately grab you. If any song on this release could become a “single,” odds are it would be “Take Me There”.

The self-titled album from Pine also includes two things that are “givens” on releases in the 2000s: the hidden track: “Tonight,” and the remake: Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire”.

We all know “I’m On Fire” from Bruce Springsteen as it was one of his biggest hits. And we know that the song is a rock ballad with a “pop” feel to it. But when Pine got their hands on the song, they took it in a much different direction. Their version of the song is a “power ballad,” with an emphasis on “power”. While Springsteen’s version is soft and easy, Pine’s version of the tune features electric guitars and cranks the energy level to produce one of the strongest tracks on Pine’s album. The band’s version of “I’m On Fire” will probably end up being one of the best “cover songs” in this first decade of the new millennium that has already become very heavy on the “cover songs”.

Once Pine’s new release comes to an end with the song “Shovelhead,” the CD continues to advance until it presents the “hidden track” of “Tonight”. “Tonight” is a simple ballad that features just an acoustic guitar with a light keyboard in the background to add some beautiful music to an emotionally powerful song about a man wishing he wasn’t alone.

The self-titled release by Pine showcases the talents of this noteworthy band. From the first song until the end of the album some forty minutes later, the listener can tell that this band could go places if it gets the right opportunities.

And Pine is already getting those opportunities: With the inclusion of “Another Perfect Day” on 96.3 WMAD’s 2005 “Rockin’ the Midwest” compilation and “Take Me There” being nominated for Best Song Of 2005 along with PINE’s self-titled album nominated for Best Album Of 2005, the band is certainly not just a nameless/faceless band to ignore.

This originally ran as a shortened article of less than 400 words back in 2005 in order to give the band Pine some coverage for their new release. At the time, I had to write an article/review to fit the space I was given in the publication I was writing for. I have now fleshed out the review to give the album the respect it deserved back at that time. And while the band has moved on, the album still deserves to be heard.
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Singer-songwriter Scott Smith left Charleston, South Carolina because of a personal reason and moved to the Cleveland area. That same reason made Scott leave a few months ago after spending 3 years as a resident in the area. During the time he was here, Scott played at several of the area’s smaller venues where he would perfect songs he was writing. As a result of Smith expanding his songbook to include his own compositions, he ended up with enough songs to create an album. It is this group of songs that make up his new 2007 album, Quicksand Remedies.

Quicksand Remedies was recorded by Scott while he was in transition between leaving Cleveland and relocating back to Charleston. The album was produced by another local musician, Joe Rohan. Along with Rohan and co-producer Curt Leonard adding their musical touches to the release, it also features some of Cleveland’s best musicians backing Scott up. The inclusion of these talented individuals in the recording process of Scott Smith’s new album ended up making the release full-bodied and varied from track-to-track.

Because Scott Smith incorporates many different musical genres into his writing including jazz,  funk and even hip hop, Quicksand Remedies provides the listener with just a snapshot of what Scott’s sound is like. For instance, on tracks like “Parking Lot” and “Lively,” Scott lets out his reggae side and shows you what he was known for down in Charleston before he started writing his own music. Other songs like “Comin’ Round” and “G Funk” show Scott’s funky side.

Most of the songs on Quicksand Remedies are fleshed-out versions of stuff that Scott has been playing solo for years in the Cleveland area. However, there are songs like “Quicksand” and “Pocket” that show off Scott by allowing the listener to hear what those of us who followed Scott here in Cleveland have known for years: He is just as talented and entertaining when he is alone with just his guitar.

One of the best examples of what Scott sounds like live is displayed on his song, “The Flight”. “The Flight” is a Michael Hedges-inspired song that features Scott performing on his guitar: no band, no singing, just the guitar. While playing this song live, Scott would turn up the reverb on his sound board and let the reverb create a layering effect. Scott recreated this live sound in the studio. The resulting track reminds me of seeing Scott playing this song in concert.

One of the most interesting, and commercial radio-friendly songs on Quicksand Remedies is Scott’s song, “Amazed”. With this song, think Santana w/Rob Thomas-meets-Marc Cohn. The song starts with the listener joining in on a Santana-style jam that becomes a piano-driven ballad. Changing paces several times during the 4-plus minutes, the song fades out way too fast.

Scott Smith has created an album that you must hear that features music of many styles, from rock to reggae; from funk to jazz and everything in between. Each track on this CD has a very distinct sound and the resulting songs that make up this album definitely give a small but powerful indication of the talent of this musician. While it would absolutely require seeing this musician in concert to truly appreciate all he can do with his guitar, Scott Smith has created a release with the help of Joe Rohan and Curt Leonard that shows off just a small amount of his musical ability. Pick up a copy of Quicksand Remedies from Scott Smith and experience this talented musician for yourself.

For more information, go to Scott Smith’s website. Also check out his Facebook account.

Click HERE for a live performance of “The Flight” by Scott Smith

There are two things that immediately come to mind when you first press play on the new 4th St. album by Booze Monkey: Number 1, this is way too good to have been created by one guy. And Number 2, there is no way that the band name of “Booze Monkey” had once belonged to a band that was acoustically based. However, those ARE the facts; at least, according to the history that came in the mail with the CD.

4th. St. is an album that was created by a musician that calls himself Blue Ajay. The release is the first time that Blue Ajay actually released an album under the moniker of Booze Monkey without the second half of the duo, Josh Ludwig. But when Joel decided to leave the act, Blue Ajay decided to continue on by himself. What that led to was a complete makeover of what the band was.

With Joel Ludwig, Blue Ajay created music that had a very simple acoustic blues sound as its base. But with homemade instruments added to the simple guitar and standup bass, the duo started with a unique sound and feel and just evolved their sound from there. After the two had created three releases of uniquely original material, Joel said goodbye to the project and left Blue Ajay to carry on by himself.

After a short break to compose a soundtrack for the movie South Mountain Magic, Blue Ajay decided to revive the Booze Monkey moniker; but this time, he took the music to places it had never been before. What eventually resulted was Blue Ajay’s fourth release under the Booze Monkey moniker, 4th St.

There are two ways it can go when a single musician decides to create an album all by himself: The first way (and the way it usually ends up) is an album that ends up sounding like one person who can play a ton of instruments, but none of them very well. The resulting album leaves much to be desired.

The second way it can go when a single musician decides to record by himself is what happened when Blue Ajay sat down to create the 4th St. album. With no one to curb his creativity, a true piece of art was produced, musically speaking.

Without Joel Ludwig as his partner to help shape the music, Blue Ajay did create an album that contained several bluesy tracks, like “Solitaire (The Old Way)” and “Jane’s Song;” but tracks like “Dick Frankenstein’s Night Out” and “Tellin’ You” set themselves apart from those bluesy numbers. And if someone came up to me after I had heard the track “Hope” from this album told me that this group was once an acoustic blues duo, there would have been no way that I would have believed it. “Hope” contains large amounts of techno and ambient sounds while approaching something that might have been created by Nine Inch Nails- techno song from a formerly-acoustic act; you’re kidding, right?

Blue Ajay created acoustically based blues when he was teamed up with his former partner, Joel Ludwig. However, 4th St, the first solo album Blue Ajay created under the Booze Monkey moniker, proves he is much more than just a blues musician; he is a musician that can produce any type of music if given the chance.

With rock, blues, techno, and ambient music running throughout the release, 4th St. by Booze Monkey is definitely an album that is wonderfully unique. If you’re looking for something that is not your everyday music, then 4th St. by Booze Monkey is what you’re looking for.

Click HERE for the live video to “Dick Frankenstein’s Night Out”.

Click HERE for the live video to “Solitaire (The Hard Way)”

This is a review that I wrote back in late 2008. I never published the review back then and wanted to do so now to give the review some well-deserved publicity. Since then, Blue Ajay has released two other releases under the Booze Monkey moniker that should be just as good and as varied as 4th St. To check out 4th St and the rest of the releases by Booze Monkey, go to the band’s website.

Let me introduce you to a five-piece band from Tennessee- the Nashville and Jackson areas to be precise. The band in question is none other than Vulpine.
Vulpine is a quintet made up of Sean Alexander on guitar, Rum Brown on bass, Sean Fuller on drums, Hatch on vocals, and Billy Lupino on guitar.

Vulpine has only been around since 2004; however, the hard rock/alternative band is well on their way to the top of the music industry. Since their CD release earlier this year when their album Channels came out on Cordova, Tennessee based Brutal One Records, the band has started getting their name out there for the entire world to see.

The album Channels from Vulpine begins with the track “My Addiction”. This song along with “Wasted and Broken,” “Dilate” and “Stabilize” all have similar lyrical concepts, all of which seeming to take the listener on a different kind of “trip,” one of both pleasure AND pain due to the emotions running through the singer’s heart at the time and NOT because of certain substances meant to artificially change the way the person is feeling. The album’s first track of “My Addiction” starts the album off with a lot of energy as the band creates a strong alternative rock song that is perfect for the emotion in Hatch’s voice as he sings about how much he needs more of her love “to balance me out”. “My Addiction” is one of the strongest tracks on Channels and seems to have been the best way to start off this release.

The emotional tug at the heart makes up the concepts on the vast majority of the tracks on the songs on this album. One particular song that is meant to stir up your emotions is the track “Persona”. The lyrics on this song about what you feel when you run into an “ex” some time after the two of you break up is well matched with a ‘rock ballad’ type of melody. While one of the less energetic songs on the release, “Persona” is one of the best tracks on the Channels album.

One of the tracks that truly show off the talent of all of the musicians in the band (including singer Hatch, who adds acoustic guitar to this track) is “Clench”. Yet another song that focuses on the pain in relationships, “Clench” takes that pain and translates it into energy, helping to create a track that has both an emotional side to the lyrics and a strong melody that will keep the listener wanting more.

Like “Clench,” the aforementioned “Wasted and Broken” takes the sadness of the relationship and pairs it with a more energetic feel to the music of the song. The resulting emotional rock song ends up being one of the strongest tracks on the CD.

Channels from Vulpine ends with the so-called “bonus track” entitled “After You’re Gone”. The track features some of the strongest musical writing of any song on the release. With a style that fits with the rest of the release and an energy level that does the same, it is almost impossible to guess WHY the band would have only included the song on the album as an afterthought as the “bonus track”. The entire album of Channels from Vulpine, including this track of “After You’re Gone,” is more than worthy of becoming part of your musical library.

Vulpine’s singer Hatch has produced a very radio friendly album with many if not all of the tracks ready for immediate airplay. The single “My Addiction” and other standout tracks including “Wasted and Broken” and the “bonus track” “After You’re Gone” can be previewed by going to www.myspace.com/vulpine. You can check out the band’s YouTube account and check out some videos from a really good up-and-coming band as they make their way from indie band to superstars.

Click HERE for a live version of “Persona”.

Back in 2005, I wrote this review on Channels from Vulpine. As I was writing for a Cleveland-based publication, I wasn’t able to give the album the space I wanted to give it. Today, I have updated this entry to be a longer, more complete review of this album. Though the band is no loner active as the various members have gone their seperate ways, the album is still up on the internet where it is available for purchase. Listen to the various tracks included in the review and then go to the Amazon.com profile for the band that is also included in the review.

ImageAbby Burke is a very talented Nashville-based singer who has spent many years perfecting her craft. After a long time in the music business, Burke has proven herself as the singer she has become known as. It is this singer that finally decided to go forward and create a release that incorporates many different genres of music into one solid album. On her 2004 debut CD entitled Finally! The Album, Abby Burke showcases her ability to perform any style.

Of course, Finally! The Album is not just about Abby Burke. The release also features a group of musicians known as The Manly Band. The Manly Band consists of guitarists Darin Favorite and Roddy Smith, bassists Roy Vogt and Tim Smith, keyboard player Jeff Lisenby, sax player Glenn Burke, harmonica player Charlie McCoy, percussionists Justin Meeks and Steve Weckerly and background singer Jen Farley. Together, Abby Burke and the Manly Band make up a musical ensemble that is capable of taking just the right blend of genres and creating an album that not only changes constantly from track to track because of the various genres at work on the album, it also allows Abby the chance to show off her talent to sing any style.

Finally! The Album from Abby Burke and the Manly Band contains a balnd of musical standards like George Gershwin’s “Summertime” as well as other well-known tunes. The majority of the release, however, is made up of composition written by some of Nashville’s best songwriters. Two members of the Manly Band have even contributed to the songs on the album, as the song “I Will” was composed by Roddy and Tim Smith.

The album begins with the song “Mine Child,” a tune written by Rachel Owen. The song begins with the guitar playing of Darin Favorite as he lays down some very smokin’ notes to start off the song. When Abby begins singing, her voice is partially bluesy and partially soulful. The song is a very strong way to begin this strong release.

The ensemble immediately changes directions with the feel of their music on the next track. “I Love You for a Day” is a slow-paced tune with a jazzy approach to the music. The lyrics about a forbidden desire add a touch of sadness to the song. The soulful playing by Glenn Burke on the saxophone is what really brings home that jazzy feel.

Another track on Finally! The Album that features sadness to the lyrics is the song “Time”. The focus on this track is most definitely on Abby Burke and her beautiful voice. On this track, you can really feel the emotion in Burke’s voice as she laments about how long she has lived with a broken heart and the fact that the pain has never gone away. This is one of the strongest tracks on the album despite the light feel of the music.

While all but one song on the album was written by someone outside of the group, each song that is included on the release was arranged by someone in the group, if not the whole band itself. It is the arrangement that is the main focus on the Gershwin standard “Summertime,” the song that came out of Gershwin’s opera, Porgy and Bess.

On Finally! The Album, the Gershwin classic “Summertime” was arranged by bassist Tim Smith. The first part of the track features a passage that features only Smith and Abby in a “duet” as they perform a very blues-flavored minute or so of music before the musical landscape changes drastically and the song takes on a “smooth jazz” feel. The unique arrangement of this standard makes it perhaps the most unique and best song on the entire release.

The song with perhaps the most Top 40 radio potential to it is the song “I Can’t Stand the Rain”. The strong bass and drum bottom to the song, mixed with powerful playing of Glenn Burke on the saxophones, together with the rest of the band all combine with Abby Burke’s strong vocals to create a song with mass appeal and make it the track that the listener will probably gravitate towards the most because of the energy produced by the musicians.

Another “standard” that appears on Finally! The Album is the Bill Withers tune “Ain’t No Sunshine”. This is the one track that truly feels like an ensemble arrangement, as several of the musicians in the band take turns with solos. And Abby’s delivery on this track feels as heartfelt as anything else on the release; maybe more. The arrangement by the band on this track gives the song a fresh approach, setting it apart from the original version that was written back in 1935.

The twelve tracks that make up Finally! The Album from Abby Burke and the Manly Band are quite different from one track to the next, giving the album a fresh approach throughout the nearly fifty minutes of music. Together, Abby Burke and the Manly Band have produced one of the best albums I’ve heard in a long time. Give the band a listen- you won’t be disappointed!

This is a review that I created to showcase Abby Burke and her band. I originally wrote an article to promote this wonderful release back in 2005. The original version of this article was very short and looked nothing like this. This version of the review is much better at conveying the idea I wanted to get across over five years ago.

One again, I am posting an updated review on a release I wrote about a few years ago. This review is on The Life you Always Wanted, an album from The Bittersweets. Back in 2008, the original article I wrote had double purpose: One purpose was to give some exposure to the band’s new release; the other purpose was to give exposure to the band’s then-upcoming performance in the Cleveland area. Today, I have expanded the original review to cover the entire album. Here is the 2012 version of the review on The Bittersweet’s album, The Life You Always Wanted.

ImageSinger/Songwriter Chris Meyers never really liked country music until he discovered a love for it while attending college in rural Ohio. While in college, Chris set up a national tour out of his dorm room.
After college, Chris moved to California and met up with singer-songwriter Hannah Prater, a jazz vocalist who toured Europe. The two hit it off and started performing together in a duo that was a country based duo and soon released a self-released EP in 2005 under the moniker of The Bittersweets. With the release of the EP, they started gaining attention in the Bay Area.
With the new found popularity the band was getting, the time was right to expand from just a duo to a full-fledged band. Along with Chris and Hannah on vocals and guitars, the group soon included bassist Daniel Schacht and multi-instrumentalist Jerry Becker.
With the group getting their name out there in the Bay area, they ended up getting an ex-drummer for a couple well-known bands interested in them. A certain Steve Bowman from Third Eye Blind and Counting Crows became the last piece to the puzzle to fill out the band.
When the band was finally put together, Chris, Hannah and the rest started opening for big name acts like Rosanne Cash and Train even before they had an album out to help promote themselves. Soon afterward, they went about putting together The Life You Always Wanted, their first album that they recorded for Virt Records.

The Life You Always Wanted from The Bittersweets begins with the song “When the World Ends”. The slow, steady beat of Steve Bowman’s drums starts the song off. It is Hannah Prater who handles the vocal for this track and the power in her voice really gives the song a lot of feeling. When the entire band gets together, the resulting folk-rock song that is produced gives only the slight indication of what The Bittersweets are capable of.

On the song “Bag of Bones,” Prater and Chris Meyers create a duet-like vocal to a song that sounds like it would have been produced in Nashville and NOT California. The commercial quality of the song would sound as much at home on country stations as it would on Top 40 stations. Once again, it is Prater’s vocals that help make the song as her beautiful, clear voice brings home the true meaning of the lyrics of the song.

Long Day” is the first song on The Life You Always Wanted that feels like a hit single. The song features a rock vibe but it’s the mandolin from Jerry Becker that really gives the track some depth. And with the melodica that Becker also adds to the song along with the cello from David Henry (the same person who helped mix the album), “Long Day” is the song that seems to stick out on the album because of its beauty.

While Hannah Prater handles most of the lead vocals on the release, there are times when composer Chris Meyers takes a turn on vocals. One particular song that features Meyers is the track “Houston”. The driving beat of the song gives the track a bouncy, happy quality that will put a smile on the face of anyone who listens. “Houston” is another song The Life You Always Wanted that has the most mass appeal and it’s that mass appeal that makes the song feel very much like a single.

“Mostly Happy People” begins with Hannah Prater singing the lyrics over a music bed of organ and drum loops, but the sound slowly fills in when the rest of the band help create a track that has a slow, steady beat. Eventually, Chris Meyers joins Prater and they once again create a duet-like track. While the title of the song seems to suggest a somewhat upbeat take on life, the lyrics to the song tell a different story.

Meyers and Prater once again come together on the track “Shooting out the Sky”. The pop-rock track finds the entire band creating a strong track with everyone in the group creating some passionate music.

The Life You Always Wanted by The Bittersweets not only shows off singer/songwriter Chris Meyers as the talented composer that he is, it also showcases Hannah Prater and everyone else that help make up the band for this release; the resulting tracks that make up the release end up being full-bodied and fun to listen to.

Click HERE to see a live performance of “Long Day” by Hannah Prater and Chris Meyers.

This is an updated version of an article I wrote back in 2007. This is the version of the review I would have written had I had the opportunity to go deeper into the review. However, with only about 500 words, I was restricted to the amount of words I could write to describe Mark and the album. The album of 2012 from Mark Dwane is very apropos for this year. The album has not lost any of its appeal since the time of its release and it needs to be heard. Check it out.
Like Jim Brickman, who is known for his New Age instrumental music, Clevelander Mark Dwane is also an instrumental musician. However, Mark Dwane falls into the category of Electronic Music; a form that gives the listener a feeling of floating through the clouds while listening to the music.
To help describe Mark Dwane’s sound, I will let him describe his sound in his own words. This is an excerpt from the interview Mark had in May, 1996 with Margen Magazine, a publication from Spain:
“As a child, I was always interested in music, which was mostly classical. I began lessons on the guitar at age 10 and progressed through a formal education on the instrument. I began composing my own songs very early on, and made my first recording at age 12…..
“Classical music always remained a heavy influence, as well as film scores and experimentalists such as Stockhausen, Reich and the emerging electronic composers.”
Aside from being interviewed in Margen Magazine from Spain, Mark Dwane has also been interviewed in the U.K. magazine Sequences in August of 1996. You can read both interviews in full by clicking on the “interviews” icon on the homepage of Dwane’s website.
With the classical and film score influences running throughout Mark Dwane’s music, it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that Mark also makes a salary writing music for the entertainment industry. On his website, you can find a section devoted to the production music that he has written over the years. Production Music is that type of music that is used in the back of commercials and on television shows to add atmosphere. Some of the clients that use Mark’s Production Music include: Fox Sports, Univision, Comcast Sports, the Playboy Channel, and many others.
Mark’s Production Music is for “commercial use only” and is not available to the public. However, Mark has also been writing and recording his own albums for more than 15 years. His library includes 9 albums and an album of alternate mixes and unreleased tracks. The newest album in the library is 2007’s 2012.
2012 was recorded by Mark Dwane in his own Trondant Studios, in Westlake. Each song was composed by Dwane using his MIDI guitar (a guitar that transforms vibrations into electronic sounds by way of a computer) and many other guitars to create the finished product. While some of Dwane’s other albums could be described as “background music for epic sci-fi movies”, and other as “concept albums”, 2012 has some of both styles in its sound.
The album begins with the title track of “2012”. Like the song title suggests, the music of the track begins with Mark Dwane creating a song that has a very ethereal feel, which is helped along by the inclusion of the harp. It is the best way of sliding into an album full of ethereal concepts.
2012 continues with the track “Skywatchers”. “Skywatchers” features some of Mark Dwane’s best guitar work as he creates a song that has multiple layers and seamlessly blends New Age and Jazz together. This blending makes for one of the best tracks on the album.
With the track “End of Time,” Dwane creates a song that features music that seems to suggest a very ominous occurance. It contains some of the eeriest and most intense music on the entire album.
2012 concludes with perhaps the most beautiful of all of the track, “Ascension”. “Ascension”. contains the feeling of being taken up into the clouds. This track will definitely leave you with two feelings at one: one feeling that suggests some sadness and one feeling that suggests beauty. The final track of the album makes for a great way to wrap up this album that features a lot of beauty and complexity.
Wth 2012, Mark Dwane created a release that is full of imagery that will capture your imagination. If you like New Age or Soft Jazz, or if you are a fan of background music from movies, give Mark Dwane and his release 2012 a listen and find out what the rest of the world already knows: Mark Dwane is a very talented musician and composer. Visit Mark at his website.