Frank Topper – “Hands On Me” / “No Way In Hell” Feat. Dee Wolf – Singles Review
Alrighty Frank…let’s hash this out here…
There are many positives here, and still a little bit of work to be done as well…really just depends on what the intentions and goals are for the songwriting of Frank Topper. He’s a good guy…looks like he’s been back doin’ his thing since around the start of the pandemic again…I’ve checked into a few other random tunes aside from the ones I’m reviewing here, including a video for a song called “Behind Closed Doors” which actually featured the humble man himself singing right there on the couch. It’s rare for the ol’ dedicated songwriters to step in front of the camera or mic, so it definitely caught my attention.
Anyhow. Most recently he’s put out a couple of songs with singer Dee Wolf, and that’s what we’re talking about here today. I began with a cut called “Hands On Me” that also featured artist Charles Brusman handling the music – Topper’s got the lyrics in this collaborative effort. Designed to be on the sexier side of sound without being too direct or too racy, this team of three executes at a high level, and you’ll hear that in the smoothness of the results in both the performance & production you’ll discover. Dee is pretty much nothing short of sensational here; I know full-well the demands that are made of a singer coming in to sing someone else’s song…you’d be surprised…a lot of the time they receive somewhat of a blueprint & a melodic design, and the rest falls on them to make work…somehow. It really comes down to how flexible the actual songwriter is when it comes to making necessary changes; they can be a crowd that is attached to their words more than most, and sometimes that can be a huge battle, but a necessary one that, when that compromise & middle ground is reached, that’s what’ll suit the song best. If there’s no back & forth between the artists involved and the songwriter in any situation, that’s where I’d be intensely worried…that’d be where you’d know that, either you have a completely 100% perfect song guaranteed to hit the number one spot for its flawlessness…or you’ve potentially got artists working with you that don’t wanna rock the boat or are just too plain polite to point out changes that could make a song even better than it’s presented originally. Some songwriters want that feedback…some don’t…and some realllllllllly don’t want any advice at all – I have no idea which category Frank would fall into on a professional level, but I can definitely find a few points where things could tighten up a bit to give these tunes a bit more context so the rest of us can catch onto it all.
Lemme explain what I mean. Thirdly…
Like…a reference to a third anything would be weird after not specifically mentioning a number one, or item number two item on a list, would it not? That was right around where my first questions popped up in listening to “Hands On Me” – by the time Frank got to listing his third favorite thing, I had to go back to see if I had somehow missed the first & second…which…perhaps abstractly, I did? The point being, when it comes to songwriting, people are always going to seek out the meaning and direct correlations to the words involved…the tighter that becomes, the more focused, the better the results – and quite often, the performances you’ll find reflect that. For the vast majority of what Frank’s looking to communicate on “Hands On Me,” it comes through well enough to have an idea of the overall theme for sure; the longer it plays on, the more you appreciate his playful approach to this lights-off scenario. Lyrically, there’s no question that “Hands On Me” gets stronger with its cohesive details as it plays on, with the most tangible ideas coming through the best in the subsequent verses after that first chorus. Where both this song, and the next, truly work their most magic on you is without question through the vocals of Dee Wolf…a talent of which, if I were Frank Topper, I’d be looking at somehow signing to a long term contract to keep this collaboration continuing on for years to come – she’s got an absolutely stellar voice and does the most of what she can in the confines of a very delicate vibe. You can hear that she’s got the potential to have a seriously powerhouse singing voice in the boldness of her tone and most confident moments…but that’s not what’s called for here on “Hands On Me” – this required a more tender & controlled approach, which is exactly what she gives it. Surrounded by the delicate & charming music by Charles Brusman, between the music & vocals, it becomes easy to lose yourself within the sweet sound of the results here without having to worry too much about whether or not every single word fits the concept…it’s really only us critics & whatnot that have to think about that stuff anyway. For the average everyday listener out there, “Hands On Me” would more than likely hit the mark of satisfaction without much of a hiccup at all…it’s pleasant, inviting, and very well-performed.
Along with JDPMusic for “No Way In Hell,” and accompanied by Dee’s radiant vocals once more, they bring out a Country-based tune for this second single. If we’re comparing the two tracks to each other, there’s almost no doubt whatsoever that “No Way In Hell” would be the more likely of the cuts to find a wider audience…”Hands On Me” is a decent tune, but if we’re talking single-worthy sound, this second slice from Frank Topper’s songwriting collection is just that much more accessible, that’s facts. A lot of that isn’t even anything to do with the switch in genre so much as the energy itself; it’s simply human nature that people respond to up-tempo tunes with more excitement than they do with mellower stuff. Doesn’t fundamentally mean one song is necessarily better than the other – it’s just a comment on how people listen to music…hate me if ya wanna, I’m just the messenger, not the guy who makes the rules. With that tremendously awesome slide guitar from JDPMusic starting up “No Way In Hell,” you can’t help but have your ears respond positively – that’s immediately enticing and quickly gets us all interested. From there on, Dee takes the microphone and dazzles us with bold soulful tones, nearly gospel-infused when it comes to the backing vocals as well…and all-around, she delivers with pure professionalism and a remarkable performance to once again be proud of. As far as the lyricism goes, Topper’s got some great moments here, and still reveals space for his own evolution to occur. Take the first line in this song for example…a reference to ‘getting stuff’ is in there…and maybe – MAYBE…that’s all it is – ‘stuff.’ What would you like that stuff to be in our minds Frank? A big giant stuffed Teddy bear? A ham sandwich? Blankets for the cold? The point is that there are words that are sometimes too big of an umbrella for the things we’re looking to describe…’stuff’ could be so many things – and maybe that IS what he means it to be, simple & plain – but to me, it’s moments like that where I hear the opportunity for Frank to dive even further into the details, search for the words that really apply and provide that imagery we wanna hear as listeners that help the lyricism connect. Otherwise you run the risk of having a bunch of cool sounding lines in a song that may or may-not be fully understood without some kind of context or story in the liner-notes to come with it…and that’s not exactly the route you’d wanna choose when you’re in the songwriter’s gambit. The most precise way I can put it to ya, is that there wasn’t a single solitary time where I’d spin “No Way In Hell” and not find myself completely enjoying listening to it on the surface – it’s a lively tune with a ton of spark to it that makes for a fantastic experience – but I never did come to a definitive conclusion about what this song was actually about…and that still remains a mystery to me. Does that affect the single-worthy sound you’ll hear from Dee and JDPMusic together? Not one bit really – a song like “No Way In Hell” has more than enough catchiness and charisma on display to find itself right at the top of the Country charts when it comes to the overall sound & flashy style you’ll hear – and it’s never been a requirement for anyone out there that every single word of a song has to help bring the full picture into focus. All I’m simply saying is, as a songwriter, it’s these kind of moments that Frank will want to take a closer look at in the future to follow – is he saying everything he wants to say, or is he leaving some opportunity on the table by having our listening ears fill in the gaps to glean a potential meaning behind it all? Perhaps that’s the intention all along…there are writers out there that love the abstract…ultimately, I think it’s up to Topper to decide which kind of songwriter he really wants to be. There’s no doubt that when you hear the sparkling results come back like you’ll hear from Dee on either of these tunes that…well, you’d be completely excited if you were the person that had written them to begin with and hearing how well they’ve come out in the end – but there is a difference between listening as a creator, and that of a pair of listening ears unattached to the brainwaves that wrote it all. I think there’s room for Frank to be more detailed in his writing and really find a way to show us more in our minds through the imagery of his words – and I’ve got all the faith in his potential to do so, if that’s the direction he chooses to go. As it stands, he’s got two enjoyable tunes with stellar guest-stars that deliver with professionalism & verifiable passion…and that’s really helped elevate these singles to where they are now – credit to the man for that though, you do have to know what really works to suit a song, and the discovery of how well Dee Wolf works with Frank’s music, is a path to pure gold. The reality is, we don’t always get to know what any song is about, from any artist or band out there…the bottom line is most people just want something well worth their time in turning up, and it’s hard to argue that this collaborative effort hasn’t accomplished that with the bulletproof hooks you’ll find on “No Way In Hell” and Dee’s inspired performance with JDPMusic. Lots of positives here in this collaboration, and lots of reasons to continue it further as far as I can hear…there’s always room for anyone to evolve in their art & craft and you’ll find some of those too in listening to these singles…but that’s always a good thing in the world I’m livin’ in, otherwise I’m not sure what the point would be for any artist or band out there to continue forward. I like what I hear, I hear the potential, and I’d certainly listen to more from Frank & his crew of talented guests in the future…I highly suspect he’ll always have something in the mix for ya that everyone can enjoy.
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