Saturday, October 14, 2017

“Always With You” by Danielle Haskell – A Musical Story of Pain, Faith, and Recovery


When Danielle first told me about the heart-touching history behind the writing of this song, I was hesitant to write a review of it for fear that I would not do it justice.  I am still a bit fearful of that, but after a week of having it tug at my heart, I decided I had to give it my best shot. So, here it is.

I will dispense of the usual discussion about production quality, normally my favorite part of an analysis, because the production is flawless – ready for airplay on any major syndicated network alongside of the greatest artists in country and Christian music.

Sir Elton John once said, “Music has a healing power. It has the ability to take people out of themselves for a few hours.” Danielle’s song “Always With You,” is one of those songs that heals, and that is exactly what she was trying to achieve with the tune, for both herself and her listeners. She needed a song that would remind her of her loss, and that would help inspire others to “chin-up” in the face of adversity.

On her seventeenth birthday, Danielle lost her beloved Grandmother who had been battling cancer. Her Grandma was the devoted family-type, who always attempted to inspire family members to keep a sense of humor, and to accept and be kind to everyone by means of the “Golden Rule.” As chance would have it, a week before the diagnosis of cancer, Danielle was in Quebec City. Knowing that her Grandma was not feeling well, she stopped at a local church to light a candle and say a prayer. Near the church, she found a shop and bought her grandmother a gift – a stone with an angel engraved on one side, and the phrase “Toujours Avec Toi” inscribed on the other – “Always With You.”

Shortly after giving the gift to her grandmother, the diagnosis came. Along with the diagnosis came conversations between the two of them about fears and beliefs, and the phrase “Always With You” took on a new meaning for Danielle, and she knew it would be the title of her next work. She and her producer wrote the song within an hour, and she was able to record it in time for her Grandmother to hear it just before passing.

As proof of her Grandmother’s love of family, Danielle now wears a heart pendant that her Grandma had made for her before passing. On it is a cross and the words “Toujours Avec Toi.” The pendant was made before her Grandmother knew that Danielle was writing “Always With You” in her honor.

Ms. Haskell has the wonderfully unique talent of writing relatable lyrics for the masses.  Whether or not you are a person of faith, the song will inspire you to be strong in the face of adversity, focus on the good and not the bad, and to remember that regardless of who you are, someone out there will always be with you.

“Rain, keeps pouring down. No break in the clouds. No peace for your soul. The days, keep moving so slow. You’re looking for hope. And you feel all alone, but you’re not alone. I am here. I am here!” ~ Danielle Haskell

You can follow or subscribe to Danielle via these links:





Friday, September 8, 2017

Nikki Briar – Shining Brighter Than Ever


In her hit single, After the New Wears Off, Nikki Briar asks her partner: “After the new wears off, do you still care?”

I have been listening to this song for three months now, several times a day, and there is nothing about the song that is wearing on me. I don’t think Nikki has any concerns about her shine fading anytime soon. In fact, I think she is a rising country star to be reckoned with for years to come – somewhat of a rarity for a Jersey girl.

Once I heard After the New Wears Off, I had to dig a little deeper into her song history, and I found Country Thang. A track that more deeply explores Nikki’s combined rock and country roots.  Both songs are flawlessly produced in traditional Nashville style, and both songs are permanently installed in my iTunes favorites library.

It is not a coincidence that Briar is extremely talented. Both of her parents were extremely gifted musicians in their own right. Her father, Joseph, was a touring drummer in the Motown band, The Victorians. Her mother, Oksana, was a classically trained pianist and artist. Nikki is a great example of an apple that didn’t fall far from the tree. However, instead of decaying in the shadows of that tree, she planted new seeds and grew taller and brighter than the original.

Nikki epitomizes the spirit of rising musicians. She doesn’t stop touring in support of her music – 220 shows per year! She has performed openers for the likes of Tim McGraw, Granger Smith, Chase Bryant, Parmalee, LoCash, Cassadee Pope, and more. In addition, she has headlined at the legendary Stone Poney in Asbury Park, NJ, and the Stanhope House in Stanhope, NJ.

Finally, Nikki is a proud Army wife, and performs the national anthem whenever possible at numerous military events. Her patriotism is evident in the recordings on her first EP, A Soldier’s Princess.

Get a little taste of country and a lick of rock. Find Nikki on social media:

Twitter and Facebook: @NikkiBriar


Or, visit all things Nikki Briar on her website:  http://www.nikkibriar.com

Monday, August 28, 2017

Sophie Smith - Underwater?


She’s not underwater from what I hear!  I was introduced to this new lyricist / vocalist from England a couple of days ago online, and I am so glad I took the time to check out her new single “Underwater” on YouTube (which by the way, was just uploaded last month and already has over 2,800 views).

Of course, the first thing that struck me was the power and clarity in Sophie’s voice.  As I’ve said in previous reviews, the music can be beautifully composed, performed, and arranged, but if it’s layered with a not-so-adequate voice, it’s all for naught.  That is certainly not the case in “Underwater.”

The second characteristic of the song that I noticed was its simplicity of instruments chosen. I’ve long been a fan of the “less is more” concept in this regard. Many songs over the last couple of decades are layered with so many guitars, vocal tracks, and even keyboards that they almost can’t help but sound “good.” By “good,” I mean far better than the song is going to sound when it is performed live, unless there are twenty-five musicians on stage.  Sophie’s “Underwater” track avoids that, consisting primarily of an electric guitar, vocals and harmony, some non-intrusive keyboard pads, and a beat – certainly not overwhelming.

My favorite component of the song is the lyrics - powerful and thought provoking. Take this part of the verse for example:

“And I can feel your heart beating through my chest, pushing its way through. And I can feel your touch with my memories, keeping you alive.”

These types of lyrics can mean many things to different people, yet at the same time, they create a desire to know what Sophie was thinking about when she wrote them.

“Underwater” by Sophie Smith is available on iTunes at http://apple.co/2vyke8t

Finder her on Twitter at @Sophiielouuiise

Friday, August 19, 2016

Kat Oxley - Jacksonville's Rising Country Star

Originally hailing from California, Kat Oxley transplanted to the beautiful North Florida region in 1992, and now considers herself a native.

Kat has been singing since she was four, and started writing her own music at the age of thirteen. Artists such as Miranda Lambert, Little Big Town, Dixie Chicks, and Nickel Creek inspire her. She brings years of life experience to her music and hopes to motivate and captivate her audience by writing songs that stir emotions across the spectrum. Happy, angry, melancholy, and inspiring topics can be found throughout her works.

When not in the studio, Kat can be found fishing the vast waterways of Florida, honing her skills at the local firing range, practicing archery, or simply kicked back by the pool or at the beach.

Kat is married to Jeff Oxley, an MMA trainer who supports her musical aspirations with the passion of a fighter.

Kat has recently signed a recording contract, and she is excited to bring the rest of her music to the world!

You can visit her website at Kat Oxley Music, or find her on Kat Oxley's Facebook, or on Kat Oxley on Twitter.


Like and follow, and look for much more great music from Kat Oxley very soon!


Monday, January 11, 2016

Choosing Your Passion as Your Career

A few people are blessed to realize early on in life what their true passion is and are capable of making a career out of it. A second group of people knows what their life’s calling is but are too afraid, for any number of reasons, to pursue it as a career. Then there are the majority of us that spend most of our lifetimes trading hours for dollars in a career that can be tolerated but is personally unfulfilling – never giving a thought to what it is that we would ultimately like to accomplish in our very finite lifetimes.

I consider myself one of the few blessed. I work virtually every day, because I love what I do. I have known what I wanted to be since the age of ten. Yet, even I was sidetracked for a short time by the enticements of corporate titles, steady paychecks, and pats on the back from executives who, truth be told, would have thrown me under a bus at a moment’s notice to save their own careers.

Then life happened. The shit hit the fan in triplicate, and I was left contemplating whether to continue down my current path or skip both forks in the road and blaze right through the woods to the destiny that called me. Some people never have that head-in-the-hands, heart-wrenching moment, and so they just carry on as pretenders – doers of all things other than what they were put on Earth to do.

I was compelled to write this post based on a conversation that I had last week with a senior executive who is struggling to come to terms with his life and his career. He knows what he is doing is not his passion, and has at least three things he would rather be doing for a living. Struggling to prioritize those things and decide which to do, he asked “How do I know which is my life’s calling? How do I know if I can be happy doing it for the rest of my life?”

My answer started with three questions back to him:

1.    Are you willing and capable of taking a temporary pay cut?
2.    Are you willing to work more hours and perform more administrative tasks than you have ever had to perform before?
3.    How many vacation days do you have saved for this year?

He answered yes, yes, and 13 days. My recommendation made sense to him:

“Sell your Mercedes and stop eating out. Take the thirteen days off (that’s seventeen total days, now that you work weekends), and spend at least ten hours a day on your first passion choice. Get a business license, create a marketing plan, hire an attorney, set up your accounting records, purchase your capital equipment, build your website, create your first product and begin to sell it. If you do that, you will have worked five weeks as compared to your current forty hour a week job.

On day eighteen, if you find yourself running back to the serenity of your corporate position, you have not found your life’s calling. You have found a hobby. You will need to repeat this process next year with your second passion choice.

On the other hand, if you find yourself compelled to work another seventeen days without a break, you’ve probably found your life’s passion, and there is nothing that can stop you now.”

Sunday, September 13, 2015

"Whiskey and Wine"


When I first hear a song, the producer part of me goes first to musicality and production quality. If I like it enough, I will go back and listen to the lyrics and the vocal quality.

The first time I heard "Whiskey and Wine" by Rugged Grace on Chasing Your Dream Radio, I thought, “This is worth another listen.” The production quality is very evident, and it sounds like true red-dirt country music. So much so that I thought I must be listening to (at least) a regionally known duo. Little did I know that they had less than a hundred followers on their Twitter account.

Therefore, I went and found their music on SoundCloud.com, and found another song I was hooked on called "Kiss You All Damn Night." Now I am hooked on this song was well.  In fact, now I am hooked on the entire Rugged Grace EP, which I just bought on iTunes, and I hope you will enjoy it as much as I do.

By the way, the couple is getting married next Saturday, September 20th, and I’m sure they would appreciate a music download purchase as much, if not more, than a dollar on their wedding tree.

On their iTunes debut, the lyrics are real, funny, and as down-to-earth as country lyrics come.

“Let’s go rob a bank.” “I love you baby.”  - Rugged Grace