• Artist: Greg Aaron
  • Album: Believe (debut)
  • Label/Producer : Fuzzy Wuzzy Vinyl/Allen Kedea
  • For those into: Matchbox 20, Linkin Park, and Keith Urban.
  • Songwriter s: Greg Aaron, and Oala Moi.
  • Co-writer s: Allen Kedea, Tattz & Loggy (p.k.a. Naka Blood), Moses Tau, Maurice & Leeroy (p.k.a. LEO).
  • Tracks: 10
  • Album duration: 36 mins
  • Languages: English, Haku (ABR), Motu, & Solomon Islands Pidgin
  • Release date: Aug 2011
  • Featured vocalists: Naka Blood, Hanley Logoso, LEO, & Lee Walters.

Port Moresby – Monday 15 August 2011: The Papua New Guinea music industry’s English language album market is so deprived of new and regular releases that it was a pleasure listening to “Believe”.

“Believe” is Greg Aaron’s debut album from the Fuzzy Wuzzy Vinyl label. It only took 36 minutes for me to listen to 10 tracks of mostly self penned songs by Greg, who is a newcomer to the PNG recording industry. EMTV viewers will remember him as the winner of 2010 Digicel Stars. On this album, there are nine three minute-plus songs except for the title track (“Perfect”) which is longer at just over four minutes. My first impressions are that this album is so radio friendly, and the song writing and arrangement superb.

I would like to christen the title track “Believe” a grunge hip hop youth anthem. It is so introspective and empowering that one wonders if Greg is trying to reach out to youths oppressed by the pains of adolescence and the expectations of the Establishment. The production sounds so Linkin Park, and for a while I thought Marshall Mathers III (aka Eminem) made this his latest side record. The rappers are actually Naka Blood who I think are a one-take wonder. Not many people would know that they actually arrived and were told to write their rap, rehearse, and record it in the same recording session. I’d like to think bigger things are going to happen for Naka Blood.

The guitar chime effect by Adrian Gedisa is just awesome! I also think “Believe” will appealto the Nau FM market. This track was co-written by Greg, Allen Kedea, and Naka Blood’s Tattz and Loggy.

The second track is called “Come Back”, and I was fooled by what seemed to me a Gregorian chant intro that I thought Greg was actually going to do a Josh Groban cover. This song is another one solely written and performed by Greg. It sounds to me like a typical diet pop song of the pained love song type. I also got the impression that “Come Back” celebrates the art of regretting, and the folly of human yearnings for a second chance at love. Fans would normally find similar pained love songs on records released by The Eagles, Billy Joel, Elton John, and Michael Learns to Rock.

“Come Back” is also an excellent production effort. Listen to the abrupt crash cymbal as soon as the track ends. Although the drums are programmed I think Allen has artfully stamped this track with a live drum antic to give the track a true rock song edge. To incorporate rock mannerisms like the crash cymbal effect is just a classic move. Allen has shown that, whether in the studio or on-stage, there are rock mannerisms that are for rock producers and live musicians a hard habit to break. Allen is showing signs of a meticulous producer.

The music bed and Greg’s voice is a neat excuse to get in the car for a relaxing drive. Just whack this track on your player and enjoy the ride.

The third track is a bilingual attempt called “Negana”. It is in English and Haku (Autonomous Bougainville Region). I would like to think that this is the first of Greg’s R ‘n’ B songs. Fans of Hanley Logoso, who sang the AKay47-penned and produced song “South Pacific Beauty”, will also recognize his voice in “Negana”. I see this track finding its way onto music mp3 drives which is the choice music medium for teenagers here and now.

The fourth track “Nothing’s Quite As Good” is one of three personal favourites, and it is a great song writing effort by Greg. It takes me back to the 90s and Matchbox 20. Greg’s voice is in character as he weaves it through each verse and he sounds like he had fun writing and recording this song. If FM100 and FM Central also have rock music programs, this song will definitely find itself on both their playlists. Not only will this become a favourite on radio but at live concerts as well.

The fifth track “Perfect” is another bilingual attempt stamped with a live acoustic guitar sound. It is a vocal collaboration with versatile singer Moses Tau, who wrote and sang the Motuan translation. This track sounds to me like a polished country rock song that has the potential to also appeal to the pop market, except in PNG there are no such categories.

Greg does a good vocal job here, and his versatility on other tracks on this album has killed the preconceived idea I had of him as this country rock singer and songwriter trying to emulate Keith Urban.

The piano, acoustic guitar, snare drum, and Greg’s voice on “Perfect” sound like a great production decision to select sounds that illuminate the song both lyrically and musically.

“Perfect” was the first single release to radio to mark Mother’s Day 2011. As a song writer, it is easy to write songs about other people but I also think difficult if you set out to write atribute to your mother which this song tries to do. Kudos to Greg and Moses, who both did a great job writing and singing! I suggest that this song be lined up next to “Come Back” when taking that relaxing car drive.

I also thought Moses’ wailing harmonies added a level of spirituality and of a deep yearning to connect with someone who is no longer here, and this makes perfect sense. There are some people out there whose mothers are no longer in this life and this song can be seen as a fitting tribute written and performed on their behalf. Moses’ body of work basically comprises non English songs. But this does not stop him from doing a great job interpreting “Perfect” lyrically and vocally, and actually doing a great job while at it.

There is also an aside that works in Greg’s favour by working with an established artist like Moses on “Perfect”. Because FM Central is a hiri motu language station, Moses is a ticket for Greg to the FM Central listenership. Therefore, I suspect FM Central will find an excuse to play this song on-air on the hour every hour come album release time.

The sixth track “Shine” is a Hip Hop/R’n’B song with a tinge of that Gregorian chant again. I think it should be first choice for a music video release to YouTube. It features LEO’s Maurice and Leeroy. I can imagine “Shine” will also find itself amongst DJ mixes on the dance floor. The Fuzzy Wuzzy Vinyl mantra is candy for your ears and I reckon “Shine” stands true to that statement. I am not a hip hop fan, but an exception is made for this song. I like the looping musical bed on this track so much that I hope it is also released as a mobile phone ringtone. Oh! And I think this track will also find itself on mp3 playlists that teenagers these days keep as part of their entertainment armour. “Shine” was co-written by Greg, and LEO’s Maurice & Leeroy. Allen is responsible for the beats.

The seventh track “Sultan’s Daughter” is definitely my personal favourite. Again, the production sound is so Matchbox 20. I also think the song title is a play on the Dire Straits song titled “Sultans of Swing”, and could be in acknowledgement of the guitar work by Adrian Gedisa on this album. I would like to push the envelope by saying that perhaps Adrian and Greg also follow the work of guitarist Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits fame. I also thought “Sultan’s Daughter” had a touch of Ian Moss (Cold Chisel guitarist) to it. Come to think of it, I remember Ian Moss had a song called “Tucker’s Daughter” from one of his solo album releases many years ago. I wonder if Ian Moss was an inspiration for this track. The drum programming by Allen Kedea on this track deserves a production award because it just sounds so “live”. Drum programming is so popular that I have always thought that producers drum program because they do not have what it takes to setup, tune, record, and mix live drums. But then with technology, who needs a sound room when you can reproduce live drums using drum programming software. I will put my money on “Sultan’s Daughter” to become a radio hit and a crowd favourite. Greg’s song writing and voice just rocks! Adrian Gedisa plays the guitar on this track like a man possessed.

The eighth track “Tropical Island” is aimed musically and lyrically at fans in Solomon Islands and “North Solomon Islands” (Buka). This track is a tropical reggae tune co-written by Greg and Naka Blood’s Tattz. I loved the versatility of Adrian Gedisa on guitar.

I think “Tropical Island” is also an attempt to relate to the Yumi FM market. I say this because this radio station has already made itself out to be a promoter of good Solomon Islands music such that there is a huge PNG following in country.

The ninth track “Troubled Soul” by Greg features vocalist Lee Walters. This track is a rock reggae or “ska” song and an all-out call to wandering vagabonds to “come on home” from wherever you are. This should make a good live song. Here is another reason why Greg’s vocal and song writing is just out of this world. I think I would give a second-take to Lee’s voice if I passed it. There are not too many females here with vocal presence and integrity.

Oh! And while writing this review and listening to “Troubled Soul”, I turned to a brother in law to ask if he recognized the male vocalist at all. His response was: “is this Jimmy Barnes?” I told him that Greg Aaron is actually Papua New Guinean.

And what better way to top it off than with a pop ballad! The tenth and last track “Smiling Death” is my contribution as a songwriter. This is the only song that Greg did not write or co- write. But it goes to show both Greg’s and Allen’s generosity at taking another’s song and breathing life into it. Since “Smiling Death” is my own song, I think I should not be allowed to offer a critique. I will let you be the judge.

I also think Greg and Allen did well by not restricting their song choices only to one particular genre. Therefore, the album has the potential to attract airplay at different radio stations, and reach different listening audiences. From a marketing point of view, this gives Greg and his label a chance to determine which market or markets to concentrate on in future albums based on the success of the debut album. In addition, I recognize the lyrical and musical integrity shown in each composition by the respective songwriters. I think this album has raised the song writing standard for the genre in so far as making and releasing a commercial record in PNG is concerned. But a singer/songwriter like Greg, blessed with the keyboard and guitar musicianship he has, will ensure that he goes all the way if he wants to.

He can write, record, and perform great genre tunes. Not many commercial recording artists here can do all three whatever the genre.

I also recognize and commend the production sound set by this album as far as my favourites “Come Back”, “Nothing’s Quite As Good”, and “Sultan’s Daughter” are concerned. As a producer, Allen is making inroads into unfamiliar territory but he has not done a bad job. I think for the umpteenth time it is called versatility, and I think that although many are capable recording engineers few are chosen to be hit making producers. If Allen keeps his nose to the grindstone, he will make himself a permanent hit maker.

I also understand Allen spends a lot of time reading about and listening to the works of other peers within the industry here and abroad. For smart producers, this is done to keep track of the integrity and viability of their work. This is also a way of oiling the hit machine whether one is a producer or songwriter.

Not unless you are of the Bob Dylan kind where spontaneity is the name of the game. For instance, I read a Dylan-myth elsewhere that during the recording of one of his albums so many years ago, Bob rented a studio and professional musicians and brought them together without a recording plan or a song demonstration tape. The idea was to get together and just write and record whatever songs they could create in the studio without the slightest concern for commercial success or failure. I think that Bob Dylan makes serious albums (and not necessarily commercial albums). I have often wondered whether Bob Dylan has ever stopped to listen and appreciate the music of contemporaries and to incorporate some of their ideas into his work. Not that he needs to because he produces critically acclaimed works anyway.

Allen should also be commended for featuring talented vocalists as it is not so easy to record and release such genre material given the market’s preference for non-English language albums. If it is the Fuzzy Wuzzy Vinyl music policy to take a left-of-the-middle approach to commercial music here, I think Greg’s debut album benefits well and I hope the same opportunity is earned by another artist in the not too distant future.

Let me also say on record that I will continue to admire and follow Adrian Gedisa’s work. Music producers can be selective if they can afford to but Adrian is a reason that producers do not have to look far and wide to engage guitarists with energy, friendship, and smart production sense. These are some of the qualities of session musicians essential to converting bare song ideas into an album that is worth the trouble. I have seen Adrian evolve over time.

I remember meeting him as a hardcore rock guitarist just over ten years ago. It is a pleasant surprise to note how he has developed a knack for playing different styles, and I think through this album, his versatility to this point in time has been captured on a record.

In the end, I hope you get to listen and relate to the tunes and the lyrics on this album that you are able to embrace Greg Aaron’s work every time you get a chance. Greg’s album was recorded under the Fuzzy Wuzzy Vinyl label by producer Allen Kedea under contract from Digicel for Digicel Stars 2010 PNG.