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:

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

Finder her on Twitter at @Sophiielouuiise