I was keen to hear this band’s debut recording as I own all of Innes Sibun’s dozen previous CD’s, but I also wanted to learn more about Marcus Malone, who has managed to fly largely under my radar. Innes (whose surname rhymes, more or less, with Simon, I believe) is a gritty Blues/Rock lead and slide guitarist, whose work would appeal to fans of Rory Gallagher, whereas Marcus’ vocals (he restricts himself to rhythm guitar here) appear to lean towards Soul and Funk as much as they do towards Blues or Rock, so I was curious to hear how successfully their styles would combine.
Innes is, of course, adept at supporting vocalists, having worked with Robert Plant many years ago and most recently with Sari Schorr (before ceding the guitar role in the latter band to Ash Wilson) and he shows up well in the lyrically rather repetitive title track which opens proceedings. The rhythm section, which includes Stevie Watts on keyboards and Roger Inniss on bass (drummer Chris Nugent is a new name to me), is also quickly into its groove.
Malone’s ‘Let Me Love You’ is described in the release notes as a crossover between Dave Grohl and Paul Rodgers, but I didn’t really feel those influences. Similarly I didn’t hear the alleged Curtis Mayfield influence in Sibun’s ‘I Want You Back’, although it is the stronger song of the two for me. Likewise the Malone penned ‘Taste Of Your Love’, which adds Massimiliano Guidi on acoustic guitar as Innes switches briefly to mandolin, pales a little in comparison with the trio of Sibun compositions which follow it.
The first of those three songs, ‘Jodie’, is in a Country Rock vein, although the Rolling Stones are the stated vibe, while the slow minor Blues ‘I’m So Tired Of Living’ features some trademark Sibun guitarwork and is, for me, the best song on the album. ‘Lovelight’, which Innes wrote several years ago in Mostar, Bosnia, has a more radio friendly hook, perhaps a little like some of Whitesnake’s later work.
Malone’s ‘She’s My Girl’ is described in the promotional notes as Motown meets the MC5 (a concept I’m still struggling with, even after repeated listens!), but I can hear the influences of the Stones and the Faces (perhaps it’s the repeated “ooh, la, la” refrain…) more clearly in this good time rocker.
The penultimate track ‘Rabbit Hole’ wasn’t intended for this album, but Innes persuaded Marcus to include it and contributed some great guitar to make it one of the stronger songs in the set. Indeed, for me, it would have made a stronger album closer than the funkier ‘Everyday’s A Miracle’ (confusingly the promo notes refer to “Stevie Watts’ beautifully understated gospel lines”, yet states elsewhere that he is replaced by Moz Gamble on this song), which has its own charm, as well as overtones of the Isley Brothers.
So all in all a nice listen, with Innes’ compositions faring best to these ears after the first few auditions, and definitely a band that I’ll hope to hear in a live setting (the album launch gig will be at the Boom Boom Club in Sutton on Saturday 15th February).
Apparently there is no truth in the rumour that the powers that be wanted Brexit to coincide with the release of Anchor Lane's debut album 'Casino', although a bit like Brexit, their eagerly awaited release on Friday 31st January on R7 Records has certainly been well worth waiting for! To coincide, with the album's release, the Scottish Rock band are also holding an album launch at London's The Black Heart in Camden tonight (Thursday 30th January), followed by a headline gig at Bathgate's Dreadnought Rock on Saturday 15th February with support from Quiche & PYRO.
Anchor Lane first came to the public’s attention in 2017 with the release of their 4-track EP 'New Beginning'. Since then, they have toured incessantly scoring notable guest spots with Cheap Trick, Eagles of Death Metal and Tremonti. The band have garnered an impressive reputation as a thrilling and dynamic live act and have notched up significant appearances at renowned Rock festivals including Download, Isle of Wight, Stone Free, Belladrum and Hard Rock Hell.
'Casino' is a sonically exhilarating album from the band who take influences from Royal Blood, Nirvana, Soundgarden and The Foo Fighters. Despite being in their early twenties, there’s a maturity to Anchor Lane’s song writing. They don’t shy away from tackling difficult subjects as 'Casino’s themes include toxic relationships, addiction and the death of a close friend. The album was written by singer Conor Gaffney, guitarist Lawrence O’ Brien, bassist Matthew Quigley and drummer Scott Hanlon in Glasgow and recorded at Vale Studios in the Midlands with renowned rock musician, writer and producer Toby Jepson (Wayward Sons, Gun, Little Angels). Indeed, so the story goes, the album name reflects their gamble of sacrificing their jobs to concentrate on writing the album. Packed with immense sounding up-tempo tracks it showcases the band as exceptional Rock musicians and skilled songwriters.
Perfect opener, 'Blood & Irony', the first of two tracks co-written with Black Star Riders legend Ricky Warwick, with its hook-driven grungy feel, builds to a rip-roaring crescendo, a triumvirate of guitar solo, fuzzy guitar and intoxicating howling vocals, that immediately showcase Gaffney’s prowess as a frontman. The first single taken from the album 'Fame Shame', is much more than a raucous up-tempo Rock track, given its Punky, catchy riff and fist pumping chorus of "We Don't Care!" - think The Offspring - although Warwick's influences come to the fore mid-section with trademark Lizzy/Wishbone guitar harmonies. The official music video was filmed in the band’s hometown of Glasgow with director Ross Boag (Biffy Clyro, Twin Atlantic and Fatherson) whose aim was to capture the raw energy of the band’s live performance - Fame Shame's message condemning society’s fascination with technology and social media.
'Voodoo's Bad Company/Free Blues Rock vibe intro heralds another well constructed track that most certainly keeps the '70's alive and kicking, again not only showcasing the versatility of Gaffney's voice but also some spellbinding guitar from O'Brien, as is another card up their sleeve, the album's title track, another slice of 70's Rock, with its subtle twist of distorted vocal/wah guitar plus great backing vocals. Almost halfway through and there's not let up in the quality with 'Clocks', time for some more glorious, wholesome, head banging guitar riffage and great vocals, welcomely complemented by some neat mid-section keys.
Don't be fooled by the slower intro to 'Stone Cold Hearted' which nicely develops into a Creed meets The Feeling hybrid - sort of Heavy Rock lite - whilst 'Shell Of Me' is another slow opener that delightfully takes things down a gear with another great vocal/distorted guitar, proving that the guys can certainly mix it up a bit. Despite its misleading title, 'Flatliners' is a refreshing, catchy, up-tempo Heavy riffing Punk Pop singalong that just gets better and better with repeated plays.
Hanlon's pounding opening drums on their latest single 'Dead Run' - the incredibly catchy stadium Heavy Rock track which touches on the subject of addiction - is the second track co-written by Ricky Warwick, who also lends backing vocals to the chorus. And talking of Warwick, the Black Sabbath Country sounding underbelly on the quirky 'Honey', brings the album to a fitting close. Indeed, 'Casino' sweats all the passion of William Wallace, with their proverbial balls of Rock under their kilts. Time will tell, as to what other cards they have hidden up their sporrans, but with 'Casino', there is no doubt that the gamble has paid off.
If, like me, you didn’t know much about Albert Cummings before hearing his latest killer album ‘Believe’ then listening to the opening track, the old Sam & Dave chestnut ‘Hold On I’m Coming’ will tell you almost everything you need to know: clearly this geezer from Massachusetts has good taste and is unafraid to not only tackle a much covered number but deliver a cracking performance that bears comparison with the energy of the original; he has the pipes for sure, which sets him apart from the majority of gunslingers out there, and his powerful tones handle this and other tunes on this excellent album as if he has been gargling jet fuel before breakfast for a number of years.
His voice has the authority of Howling Wolf and it’s probably no coincidence that he covers ‘Little Red Rooster’, again taking a classic track and putting his stamp on it. I almost haven’t mentioned that he also plays stinging lead lines on his Strat’ with a lovely clear tone that is a real pleasure to hear; no widdling for the sake of it, but Classic Blues phrasing. The production on the album is superb; the music leaps out and smacks you in the face from the off with some excellent horn arrangements, well up in the mix and the sort of distinctive backing vocals that really lift the songs, as on second track in ‘Do What Mama Said’ which sizzles with vibrancy.
‘Queen of Mean’ keeps the tempo at close to boiling with an electric Texas style shuffle, the horns are again just magic on this, really exceptional. The strength of Albert Cummings’ vocals and his confidence are epitomised by his tackling Van Morrison’s ‘Crazy Love’ and knocking it out of the park. After that ‘Get Out of Here’ kicks things off again with a cool and infectious riff against which there is some nifty organ work. The keys are again prominent on a funky take on Little Walter’s ‘My Babe’. The remaining tracks are just as good; in fact, the whole album is ridiculously good. Fingers crossed that we get to see this gent play some gigs on this side of the pond before too long. Definitely the real deal.
24 year-old Frenchman Felix Rabin, has been on my radar for a couple of years now. I had the pleasure of seeing what I think was one his first UK gigs when he opened for Danish dude Thorbjorn Risager (try saying that after four pints) at the 100 Club back in March 2018. Well he impressed me, and he obviously impressed some others in the know that night as he ended up as the support for Wishbone Ash later that year which put him in front of loads of discerning ears and eyeballs.
Momentum gained, in 2019 he did not one but two headline tours up and down the UK and satisfyingly saw the crowds grow when he returned to the same venues. When I saw him I picked up his EP ‘Down Our Roads’ which featured 5 originals and a polite cover of ‘Hey Joe’ all recorded back in 2015 when Felix was just 19. You can’t quite believe that this nice French boy would talk back to his Mum, let along shoot his old lady as the protagonist in ‘Hey Joe’ does, but the guitar work here is far from polite and drenched in fuzzy wah wah and weaving way around the beat in a suitably Jimi-esque fashion. The originals are strong too, especially when you consider that the Stones didn’t actually get around to writing their own material until Keef & Mick were 22 and here’s Felix knocking out them out at 19. The recordings on that EP gave you a good taste of Felix’s talents and whet the appetite for what the future might bring.
Well that future is here and Felix has a new EP called ‘Pogboy’. The title comes from the nickname he earned in the studio while recording it due to his habit of using the “Pog” effects pedal on just about every song. According to the maker’s website it gives you a “peanut butter milkshake thick sound”. Well you can certainly here it on a lot of the tracks here, particularly the crunchy double tracked ‘Angels’ (no, not a Robbie Williams cover, phew).
Engineered by Ross Hogart, the man behind the knobs for Van Halen and REM, there’s an airiness and sparkle to the sound that was missing from ‘Down Our Roads’, which sounds more like an unusually good demo in comparison.
Everything has moved up several notches here - the writing, the playing, the mood, the singing and the production all sound like the proud work of a young man taking his first steps into greatness rather than a precocious boy who’s been studying SRV in his bedroom. The feel of it puts me in mind of John Mayer’s ‘Heavier Things’ - a laid back vibe of Blues-but-not-Blues where the songs are given space to shine and subtle shades of brass pop up here and there for colour. It’s interesting how brass is used on this EP, sometimes it’s way in your face like on Gary Moore’s ‘Back To The Blues’ album and other times it’s more in laid back Miles Davis ‘Blue In Green’ territory. Whoever arranged it has done a fine job. That’s not to say Felix has put that Strat back in the case - the subject of death makes a return on the slow burner called, um, ‘Death’ where Felix gets all Gary Moore on yo’ ass, accompanied by those mournful muted trumpets.
If there’s one problem with this EP it’s that it comes to an end after just half an hour - you just wish there were another half a dozen songs like the ones you’ve just heard. But perhaps Felix has been quite canny in producing an all-killer-no-filler work here that will get him noticed and leave those listeners hungry for more. You won’t to get to hear it until April, but in the meantime you can hear those old songs on Spotify and there’s videos of a few of them on Felix’s web site - which Felix himself edited the clever clogs. He’s touring the UK in March opening for the marvellous Samantha Fish and hopefully he’ll have a few sneaky advance copies there that you can score ahead of the release date.
The rumours were flying prior to this release that Nikki Lamborn and Catherine Feeney (Been) were going to deliver a Blues-Rock album and join the resurgence in the genre led by Bonamassa, King King, Robin Trowner & Co. Well, to a point it’s true as five of the thirteen song album ‘For Better For Worse’ are Blues based. One thing is for sure, Never The Bride is known for variety and here we cross the Rock genre with the Blues, Country, Americana and even some Gospel elements dropped in for good measure.To carry out this recording, the choice of producer Livingstone Brown in London’s State Of The Ark studios, who has work with artists such as Tina Turner, The Climax Blues Band and Mr. Trower through to De La Soul and Maxi Priest, to name a few, can only suit the job in hand perfectly.
The opener kicks off with ‘Love Finds The Young And Old’, a mid-pace Blues rocker, which has a Bon Jovi anthemic feel about it, leads us to a quick genre switch with song two, ‘Web Of The Stranger’, the Bond themed number that Nikki adopts Shirley Bassey style phasing. In at three - ‘For Better For Worse’ - eases us in like a Sunday morning with a Blues ballad, where Nikki reaches for her heartfelt inner Janis (yes, Joplin) backed smoothly by Been’s sensitive piano pieces. So, we move swiftly on to what I’m calling the top number of album! ‘Don’t Trudge Mud In The House of Love’ - a title Seasick Steve would easily accommodate - with this deep down and dirty Blues rocker that should be top of every Blues DJ’s playlist - end of!
OK, lets move on and not to disappoint their original fan base track five goes more AOR with ‘We Can Work it Out’ before the first of two songs featuring keyboardist Catherine singing in her own Scottish voice with ‘Mind How You Go’ and later with ‘I Got A Calling’ (track 10) which, If I said were crossing Eddi Reader and The Mavericks, you can get a sense of the Pop/Country Been is taking us down.
In at seven - ‘Tiger Bay’ is a clever number, which could quite easily see fifty drummer boys matching down the valleys of South Wales to meet the incoming ships, whilst tracks eight and nine are home to a couple of AOR belters in the form of ‘April Rain’, a heartfelt piano ballad, and more mid-tempo, ‘You’re Not Alone’.
As for ‘Independence Day’, well, I feel like I’m on one of those Venice gondolas when we go all Bassey style on song eleven. Closing the album at number twelve is ‘Girls Are Back in Town’, a mid-pace rocker, and then lastly, the more down-tempo Gospel Blues of ‘Don’t Let the Rain Fall Down’ - not sure how you’re going to stop it Nikki and Been – but you do have a good collection for your repertoire!
Both physical versions of Vinyl and CD are available along with the usual digital outlets.
Celebrated Swedish Hard Rock band sensation H.E.A.T will tomorrow release their brand-new album 'H.E.A.T II' via earMUSIC, the first to be produced entirely by the band - with Jona Tee (keyboards) and Dave Dalone (guitar) as producers. Also featuring Erik Grönwall - vocals, Jimmy Jay - bass and Don Crash - drums, the album goes back to the band’s beginnings, redefining the raw H.E.A.T sound - a sound that oozes Classic Rock coolness paired with the snotty confidence of one of Rock and Roll’s most talented bands today.
In 2009, H.E.A.T not only had a huge hit in Scandinavia with the song '1000 Miles', but that same year the band’s second album 'Freedom Rock' was nominated as one of the Top 50 albums in 2010 by Classic Rock magazine UK. Since then, they’ve toured all over the world, blowing audiences away with their outstanding live concerts. In 2019 the band released their live album 'Live At Sweden Rock Festival' - their second ever live recording - and for the first time on video – showcasing a lively and intoxicating setlist including 'Living On The Run', 'A Shot At Redemption' and 'Bastard Of Society'. So with their proverbial bar already set very high - how would this new 11-track offering fare?
If you really needed immediate affirmation that the 'real' H.E.A.T is back ablaze, then the pounding riff and drum on 'Rock Your Body' proves that their embers are well and truly burning nicely on this opener, thanks to Grönwall's fiery vocals - think Nathan James meets Joey Tempest - complemented by that, oh so 80's fusion, of Dalone's guitar and Tee's keys, that even throws in a mid-section 'Kashmir'-esque like snippet. Their fourth and final single 'Dangerous Ground' opens with the starting of a car engine, and fittingly its beat, chugging riffage and Dickinson inspired vocal, ignites into a killer track of great harmonies, chorus and lyrics that will make you want to put your pedal to the Metal. Indeed, H.E.A.T described the single as "the desert racing song of the century" and it's certainly one that you will want to listen to, full blast in your motor! Continuing with their resurgence and their signature sound, their aptly named third single 'Come Clean' is another classic combination of the AOR, Melodic and Classic Rock spectrum that kicks ass - with Dalone's awesome guitar solo not only bringing back great memories of Eddie Van Halen, but also its chorus, vocals and pounding drums, drawing comparisons to Iron Maiden and Bon Jovi.
It's fair to say therefore, that H.E.A.T don’t hide their love for their Classic Rock. Indeed some might accuse of them being cheesy, and inevitably, copying their heroes. However, as The Jam once put it: "The public gets what the public wants" and the fist pumping chorus of singalong 'Victory', which continues the pace with its classic guitar/organ riff, is not only proof that they’re young, ambitious and full of energy and ideas, but it also gives another generation the opportunity to re-discover the melodic approach to Hard Rock with bands such as Foreigner, Journey and Whitesnake, even though big hair and leathers are no longer mandatory! Don't be fooled by the Bluesy opening riff of 'We Are Gods' plus its melodic mid-section, before guitars kick in for yet another fist pumper with a great chorus. And once again there's no hiding place with the appropriately named 'Adrenaline' - with its catchy chorus, Dalone's knock-out guitar, outstanding vocals from Grönwall, plus some great drumming from the perfectly named Crash.
Their first single, 'One By One' released last September, gave a first glance as what is to come for the new album, and deservedly received a lot of airplay on Planet Rock. Another well constructed slice of Melodic Rock with some great backing vocals, it has a real 'Rocky' feel about it and as such is a real belter - H.E.A.T describing it as "about enlightening people and showing an alternative path to life. A road less travelled, if you will.” 'Nothing to Say' slows things down a bit - its unique 80's ballad/keys vibe somewhat reminiscent of compatriot Roxette rocks, whilst the punishing riff of 'Heaven Must Have Won An Angel', will no doubt surely result in a number of mature Classic Rock punters adding H.E.A.T's patch to their well-worn Denim uniforms. 'Under The Gun's big opening, develops into another driving microcosm of their mesmerising, freshly sounding, energetic Classic Rock and bombastic melodies - with dual guitar harmonies aplenty. Finally, their second single 'Rise' is a massive anthemic AOR hammer, which again the band describe as "uniting and rebelling against the powers that be. Whatever that may be is subjective to the listener.” Well, to put it simply, its a final, fitting, fist pumper of a singalong/chorus, that mid-song meanders into another bad ass Dalone guitar solo.
As the band said: "They just do it and they want to be the best at it." Well they certainly have achieved that. A real epic Melodic Classic Rock rollercoaster of a CD that not only turns up the gas to H.E.A.T mark two, but one in turn that will make you sweat and want to keep permanently on your current Hard Rock playlist. H.E.A.T play three exclusive UK shows this May along with British Rock band VEGA, award winning band Mason Hill and 4-piece Collateral, at Wolverhampton KK’s Steel Mill on Wednesday 28th May, London's Garage on Friday 29th, and finally Swansea's Patti Pavilion on 30th May. This is preceeded by a fifteen date mainland Europe tour, starting in their native Sweden at Stockholm's Fryshuset next Friday 28th February, and finally concluding at Aschaffenburg's, Colos-Saal in Germany on Monday 26th May.
Since making their noisy presence on the UK Rock scene known, the hard-hitting, three-piece British Alt-Rock, Grunge Rock band Molly Karloff have been busy in the studio recording the tracks to their highly anticipated second studio EP, 'Supernaturalation', which is due to be released next Friday 6th March, through Roulette Media and distributed by Cargo.
Following the release of their critically acclaimed debut EP, 'Dancing for Money' (2018), the Oxfordshire based band have toured their contagiously high-energy, hook-filled, fist pumping sound around the country, including packed venues across Oxfordshire and London’s Camden Town. Indeed, the band’s EP launch party will be held tonight at The Black Heart in Camden, London, supported by Spidervayne and Black Tree Vultures.
Comprising of Simon Guilliard (vocals, guitar), Dan Podbery (bass) and Jowie Adkins (drums), as expected, the EP embraces and evolves their unique, yet familiar Hard Rock sound, of stripped back guitar and bass grooves. Recorded at Parlour Studios, Kettering and engineered, mixed and produced by Neil Haynes (Sacred Mother Tongue, Black Dogs, Awake, Sympathy State), the band see 'Supernaturalation' as a precursor to the release of their debut album later this year.
Their title track was written using a baritone guitar, and right from its opening riff, the addictive hook and aggressive vocal immediately slaps you around the face (think The Offspring), setting the tone and hooks for a real foot stomping head banging groove and chorus, that takes a dig at hypocritical attitudes to drug addiction in society. Their first single released last month, 'She Said', is an infectious Hard Rock collision reminiscent of The Brew meets Black Orchid Empire (check them both out as well), with its swirling guitars intro, melodic verses, cool wah riff, punchy chorus and soaring vocals. Ironically its subject matter is all about perseverance, although you won't have to worry about that as its a track you will want to play over and over again.
The Punky guitar riff and vocal overtones of 'Do You Wanna' proves that both Punk Rock sensibilities and a unique Hard Rock sound can mix with big grooves and catchy choruses. Can't wait to see this one live tonight. Aptly, the driving rhythm assault continues with 'Do It Again' - plenty of melody and groove with another contagious chorus laid over the pumping hooks of the guitars. All about having no regrets, there are certainly no regrets in the construction of this fourth track which sees a short and frenetic guitar solo build into a crescendo before its final chorus. With its catchy, opening, foot-tapping Funk-Blues groove riff, EP closer 'The Other Side', about breaking taboos, doesn't hold back, simply delivering a straight-up, ‘four to the floor’ Hard Rock tune to finally Rock out to.
Whilst the EP lyrically captures the band giving a middle finger to numerous social issues; with a sideways dig at hypocrisy in society, musically that wild edge continues to manifest itself in their no-nonsense, addictive and distinctive attention-grabbing guitar riffs and catchy, chorus lines. Supernaturalation is certainly no Frankenstein's monster and all augurs well for their debut album later this year. In fact, I'm sure Boris & his Crypt-Kickers would love it. Molly Karloff's Supernaturalation tour continues next Friday 6th March at Oxford's The Bullingdon and concludes at The Carlisle in Hastings on Saturday 27th June.
West Midlands based Shyyne release their new album ‘Go Your Own Way’ on Saturday 4thApril, care of WDFD Records. Don’t be switched by the album title to Fleetwood Mac, because this 4-piece outfit are unashamedly bringing their brand of 80’s sleaze Rock from the Californian coast to streets of the UK! Think Skid Row, Van Halen and Motley Crue for easy reference.
The band features singer Toni Gale, formerly of Surrender and Rezist, who is very much in the Vince Neil mould, and along with ex-Roulette guitarist Mark Wilkins, they formed the band back in 2015. The rhythm section of Matt Freeman on bass guitar and Richie Bevan on the drums complements their current line-up. The bands philosophy is good songs and fun times - so lets see and press play!
Opening up, ‘Say Goodbye’ races down the tracks with speed and ample riffing in all the right places. The first of one of my many favourite songs in this collection, with its Van Halen style of vocal harmonies, is ‘Movin On’, which is both very hooky and instantly memorable from the first listen through. ‘Feelin Fine’ works along the same line of the previous track with hints of the North East’s Tygers Of Pan Tang style of Rock rhythm.
‘Broken Down Girl’ is a clever little rocker with breakdown sections ideally set for masses of scantily clad ladies joining in (Oh, that was the 80’s!), followed by the title track, which drops in at No.5 for the sunset strip sleaze crowd, with its catchy chorus line and riff laden delivery. However, it’s the songs next up, ‘Show Me’ and ‘Take Me Down’, that represent the top numbers for me on this twelve song outing and define the bands quality.
Following up with ‘State Of Mind’, ‘Shut Up’ and, close to making my top three, ‘Aint A Crime’, roll steadily along the M6 before ‘Friday Nite’, in at No.11. The pace finally drops with the David Lee Roth kind of Blues styled closing track (think ‘Little Ain’t Enough’ album) in the form of ‘Song For The Broken Hearted’. In summary, not only a perfect player for that motorway drive, but also when this dreaded virus curfew is lifted, make sure you get along to see their show.
Noble Jacks hail from the Southern coastal city of Brighton, and comprise of UK Americana nominated award fiddle playing Will Page on vocals/guitar, along with Matty Deveson on bass. Formed in 2014, they finally stabilised their line-up to build a concrete platform, which has led them to play at festivals such as Glastonbury, The Isle Of White and Bestival, along with many European events.
Having just come off a tour with The Dead South and the “CV” thing obviously putting paid to further dates, including an album launch show, the good news is that they released their new aforementioned sophomore deluxe CD edition of 'Stay Awake' for peoples ears yesterday.
Comparison time? Well if your bag is The Levellers and Mumford Sons style, you’re going to like what’s going on here! Lets hit the start button. First up on this fourteen track album is ‘Ten Times’, a catchy mid-tempo violin riffed Folk rocker, followed swiftly by a more lighter dreamy Pop guitar driven ‘Lights Out’.
In at No.3 the love hopeful ‘Rely On Love’, while the Indy laced ‘Stay Awake’ trots us along the bridal path. ‘Morning Light’ has something of a Paul Simon vibe about it, leading to the more easy listening, yet rhythmic numbers, ‘New Beginning’, ‘Lift Me From The Floor’ and ‘This Rose’.
For me to say that the best two songs are next, is of course arguable, but the anthemic Rock of ‘What Did You Say’ and hooky guitar lines of ‘This Is Real’, caught me on the first play and tick the strong song box! ‘Enjoy The Ride’, followed by ‘Road Of Death’, may not sit well together as titles when your just about to take a journey, but they do return to their lighter Folky Americana from earlier on the album.
‘Noble Ground’, once again with that Paul Simon styled lick, and the Irish violin folk influenced ‘Dreams Carry Me On’, close down this Summery long player. When all this “CV” finally dies down, we will hear the Country lanes basking in ‘Stay Awake’ plus further growth on the live circuit.
This could be my Blues/Rock album of the year for 2018 or 2019, if not both! It was originally crowd funded, but Pledge Music went bust and took all those funds with them; undeterred, the band felt an obligation to its fans and self released the music at its own expense in late 2018. After relentlessly touring to finance the fulfilment of all pledges, the band re-released the album, complete with a bonus track, at the end of 2019; many fans have been happy to buy both versions, such is the mutual loyalty and love between them and the band.
Originally formed as a makeshift duo of Chris Buck (guitar) and Sally Ann Evans (vocals & keyboards) for a one-off gig, the addition of Dominic Hill (bass) and Bob Richards (drums) has transformed the unit from South Wales into a hard working and much loved Blues/Rock mini-institution. In short, one of those bands whose gigs and recordings you don’t want to miss.
One day someone will get to ask the members about their musical backgrounds, as they seem to have sprung from nowhere, with the exception of Bob, whose CV includes stints with AC/DC and veteran Welsh Prog rockers Man. This relative obscurity is hard to explain, given that Chris is one of the finest guitarists on the current scene and Sally Ann’s powerful vocals are equally memorable.
The album opens with ‘Slow Train’, whose guitar outro and catchy vocal refrain make it a live favourite, and follows it with the ballad tempo ‘Change’; it is a measure of Chris’ taste and restraint that someone who can play so much guitar is content to play so little in service of the ballad.
‘Sunrise’ sees Sally Ann’s soaring vocal follow Dominic’s snaking bass lines, while both of them are in fine, soulful form on ‘Sinking’; Chris provides great guitar outros for both songs. Anyone wishing to dip in for a taste of just how powerful Sally Ann’s vocals can be should check out ‘Back To Yesterday’.
The true strength of any band’s sound lies in the rhythm section and Dominic and Bob lock in together hand in glove; their light, tasteful work on ‘Trail Of Tears’ is a good example of how less can be more. If that doesn’t sound like a natural description for a AC/DC drummer, then perhaps it will give an indication of Bob’s versatility.
‘Ain’t No Moonlight’ is funkier, with the voice and keyboards having more than a hint of Gospel about them, while ‘Going Home’s big vocal makes it another live favourite. ‘One Four’ has been added to the reissue as a bonus track.
If you haven’t yet heard Buck & Evans, you’ll want to put that right; and if you get the chance to buy this album, you won’t regret it.
Slow Train; Change; Sunrise; Sinking; Common Ground; Back To Yesterday; Fix You; Trail Of Tears; Ain’t No Moonlight; Going Home; (bonus track) One Four.
Rory Gallagher fans, of which there are plenty – as evidenced by this excellent release already being No 1 in the Billboard Blues Chart – have been spoilt of late with this collection following hot on the heels of last year’s exciting release of ‘Blues’, a bunch of unreleased alternate takes and live performances, that for fans was a real treat, especially so coming 25 years after his untimely death. I remember my first teenage encounter with his music, a version of ‘Bullfrog Blues’ on an Old Grey Whistle Test collection, which immediately made my ears prick up and whetted the appetite for more. This was followed soon after by the purchase of ‘The Story So Far’ after flicking through a rack of albums in a record shop (that simple but marvellous pleasure) and being captivated by the cover illustration on the LP showing his trademark look, the proverbial check shirt and jeans. I’ve been a lifelong fan ever since and my shelves are full of Rory Gallagher vinyl albums, CDs and DVDs.
Listening to the latest offering, and thinking about how to describe it, I pondered the question about what it is about his music that continues to attract fans, including myself. It’s certainly not his voice; every line he sings is as if he just about manages to get the words out, his hoarse bark sounding strained. His communications on live recordings are similarly delivered, as if he’s just finished running the 100-metres in record time and is attempting to deliver his stage chat in equal record speed, while breathless. Despite this, there is still an indescribable charm about his effective vocal style. The songs themselves, whether covers of old Blues or originals all sound original in his hands and of course the simple fact is that he was a fantastic guitar player with a distinctive style, who played with an energy and honesty that reflected his down to earth and unpretentious personality.
These previously unreleased recordings, a 20 strong set taken from four shows in London, Brighton, Sheffield and Newcastle during 1977, demonstrate again his fluid skills on his battered Strat, and stand comparison to his own classic (up there among the best from anybody) live albums from the 70’s, ‘Irish Tour ’74’ and ‘Live in Europe’. There are of course some songs from those albums in the new collection. Like crowd favourites ‘Walk on Hot Coals’, ‘Tatoo’d Lady’, and the aforementioned ‘Bullfrog Blues’. It is interesting to compare versions; with his free flowing and exuberant guitar playing, he throws in all sort of freshly improvised tricks amongst the melodic power chords that make many of his songs stand apart from the predictable 12 bar structures often found elsewhere.
Listening to these tunes with reviewer’s ears made me realise just how much of the fretboard he covers in each song; each tune is a masterclass for aspiring guitarists on how to fill out every inch of a song with supremely tasty soloing and licks. There are plenty of classic songs not on the other live sets from the same era, like ‘Used To Be’ and (one of my long time faves) ‘I Take What I Want’, not forgetting the Jazz tinged Blues of ‘Calling Card’. They are all amphetamine charged versions with the band collectively playing as if their lives depended on it. There is also room for an extended acoustic section, kicking off with another favourite, ‘Out On the Western Plain’.
This is a really fine addition to the Rory Gallagher canon; every number is a real gem of a performance and reflects the tightly honed skills of a band playing at the top of their game led by a wizard of a guitarist. You could drive yourself crazy with these sort of reflections, but, listening to these stonking performances definitely made me feel deep regret that I wasn’t there to witness the shows in person. At least, we now have this release to enjoy, again and again.
Southern Californian Jake Smith works his songs under the “The White Buffalo” flag. He’s not here to give you a verse, bridge and chorus routine, he’s here to give you a story you can relate too. Whether it makes people laugh or cry, and many have said his work does, he’s drawing from the Rock, Soul, Blues and Americana genres. Jake’s voice is of the deep gravel type variety, so lets imagine Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen and Bruce Springsteen all rolled into one for a reference.
Producing the album is Shooter Jennings (son of Waylon), who has worked with Marilyn Manson through to Tanya Tucker, to highlight his diversity. This release marks Jake and his band’s sixth White Buffalo album on the new Universal Snakefarm Records. The band consists of Jake vocals/guitar, Christopher Hoffee on bass (plus additional guitar) and Matt Lynott on drums. Shooter also provided piano/keyboards to the recording.
Press play! The opener is ‘Problem Solution’, a catchy rhythmic number, guitar heavy to begin with, which then switches down to piano mid-song, almost like two songs become one, thus ticking the clever box. ‘The Drifter’ drops the tempo with the “Lets gets some alcohol” line hanging around a number of times regarding the subject matter, before, with gusto we are uplifted in almost Los Lobos style with ‘No History’.
In at track four, the missing you love song comes in the form of ‘Sycamore’, followed by the interestingly titled ‘Come On Shorty’, a mid-tempo break-up tune, happy in melody, but angry in lyrical content. The melancholy anguish of ‘Cursive’ sweeps along with its heartache, soon to be given a kick, with the almost Punk Rock of ‘Faster Than Fire’ following up.
However, the top tracks on this eleven-song collective are saved towards the end, with the pure class of ‘Widows Walk’ (suffice to say which is now on repeat), followed closely by ‘River Of Love And Loss’ - very sparse and atmospheric - yet effective. ‘The Rapture’, dark in its delivery, lets the Buffalo roam free, and along with the smoothing ballad of ‘I Don’t Know A Thing About Love’, they both fittingly close down this piece of art.
The album’s release date of Friday 17thApril was due to coincide with a European tour in April, but given the current lockdown, these dates have now been rearranged for late November/early December, including London’s O2 Forum in Kentish Town on Wednesday 2ndDecember.
Mariana (Marjana) Semkina, better known as the vocalist, lyricist and co-songwriter with the Russian Progressive Chamber Rock band Iamthemorning, released her debut solo album 'Sleepwalking' on 14thFebruary 2020 through the Kscope record label. Featuring contributions from Jordan Rudess (Dream Theater), Craig Blundell and Nick Beggs (Steven Wilson) and the St. Petersburg Orchestra "1703". Semkina has one of those angelic and unique voices, not unlike the heavenly dulcet tones of Kate Bush, Heather Findlay (Mostly Autumn), Anne-Marie Helder (Panic Room) and Chrissy Mostyn (Blackheart Orchestra). Her song writing blends complex melodic lines and poetic lyrics with classic and ancient literary references. The new material doesn't stray too far from the Iamthemorning sound, but does clearly resonate with distinctive individual and unique overtones, channeling a vulnerable sensitivity with delicate and subtle dreamy textures of a more personal nature. A spellbinding and compelling mixture of alternative Folk, Pop, drama, beauty with intense emotive lyrics.
Semkina formed Iamthemorning with Russian pianist Gleb Kolyadin in 2010. Their name was taken from the song ‘I Am the Morning’ from Oceansize's debut release, 'Effloresce'. The band self-released their debut album, '~', in April 2012. Their second studio album, 'Belighted', was released by Kscope in September 2014, with their third studio album, 'Lighthouse' being released in 2016. That same year the band won Album of the Year at the 2016 Progressive Music Awards. The fourth album 'Ocean Sounds' was released in 2018 and came with an accompanying DVD of live in the studio footage. Their latest studio album 'The Bell' was released in 2019.
Mariana explains the motivation behind releasing a solo album “It wasn’t my plan to ascribe any profound meaning or concept to creating ‘Sleepwalking’, it’s purpose was more personally therapeutic, it was supposed just to help me get through some dark times, and at the end of that period in my life I found myself, not only renewed but with a collection of songs that were too personal to release under any other name other than my own”. She continues “I wanted to use ‘Sleepwalking’ as a way to translate emotions in the most sincere and unrefined way. No sugarcoating, no filters, just creative, honest thought caught in the moment. Turning those dark times and feelings into pure creative energy, something beautiful, something that has purpose”.
The stunning album artwork makes reference to Semkina's love for classical art, unifying photography with the 17th-Century Vanitas movement; “I am a big lover of classical art, and with this cover I wanted to create some sort of a unity between medium of photography and the Vanitas art movement, a genre of still life painting. The paintings of the genre usually contain collections of objects symbolic of the inevitability of death and the transience and vanity of earthly achievements and pleasures; it exhorts the viewer to consider mortality, which is extremely close to where this album came from.”
The fragile and brooding 'Dark Matter' opens the album with a quiet restrained entrance, delicately building in intensity with layers of strings and atmospheric keyboards adding to the overall tension. Semkina's angelic falsetto voice shimmers majestically over the top like a wondrous angel! “One day I’ll find, the hole inside, what used to be my heart, became dark matter”
'Am I Sleeping Or Am I Dead', a deep question! Hopefully just sleeping! “Thousand thoughts are rushing through my head, wondering am I, am I sleeping or am I dead”. Another gently sweeping song with tingling harp peppering through waves of strings. Semkina's soft celestial voice soars and escalates to an ethereal high register. Hair raising and quite stunning! With the song coming to an abrupt end, 'Turn Back Time' wastes no time entering the fold. This track takes the pace up slightly with tantalizing percussion providing the driving energy and an accessible and catchy melodious chorus to rouse the listener. “But it’s okay, to be afraid, when the whole world around is on fire”.
Third track in 'Ars Longa Vita Brevis' opens with daintily plucked acoustic guitar before Semkina's cherubic vocals wash over the silky smooth string accompaniment. 'Ars longa, vita brevis' is a Latin translation of a Greek aphorism. The aphorism quotes the first two lines of the Aphorismi by the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates. The familiar Latin translation suggests the long-lasting impact of art over the brevity of life.
Fourth track 'Invisible' is another deeply atmospheric song with emotionally fraught seraphic vocals that grapple with your heart-strings and inner sensitivity, “I have become invisible, all my sorrows they are coming”. Heart wrenching stuff indeed! 'Lost At Sea' delves into further dark caverns of sorrow and gleaming foreboding! Eloquent falsetto vocals cut through the heavy mist shrouded air like a freshly sharpened knife, “Let the waters embrace my heart, until I figure out how to be apart, let the waters teach my soul, to embrace it all and accept it all”. 'Skin' starts with warming melodically plucked strings before gradually building with sumptuous decorous piano, plush teasing percussion and insistent palatial drums. Semkina's mellifluous vocals are delicately soft and gracefully soothing, despite the highly sensitive, painful and emotionally charged lyrics, “I am sanding light, peeling my skin off, off my body where you touched it”. 'How To Be Alone' starts quiet and wispy before ascending with assertion. The lyrics cascade like waterfalls from euphonious vocals, “I will teach you how to be alone my girl”.
'Everything Burns' is possibly the weakest song on the album, a little bit one-dimensional musically. However, Semkina's vocals are sensitively emotive and silky smooth, with accompanying sweeping strings warming to the ears, “ I breathe through pain, my skin is burning, and I will find I am on fire”. 'Mermaid Song' enters with a delicately controlled bowed cello before empyrean vocals soar towards the heavens, rising and flying over the busy percussion below. The gathering pace elevating the tension to euphoric heights, soaring strings battle with lively percussion as they head towards the glorious climax! “Hold your breath your under water, but you won't get away from your fear”. Beautifully mellow and sweet-sounding piano arpeggios introduce the spellbinding 'Still Life', the concluding song on the album. A gracefully meandering and audio spacious track, which allows breathing space between the notes. Melodious and soothing vocals shimmer and sparkle with a meditative and calming influence. Overall, a beautiful sounding album with emotionally intense lyrics and stunning vocals to match.
Steven C. Gilbert
Having just watched an interesting documentary on the Allman Brothers and the birth of Southern Rock, it was with added interest that I got to review a band with the aforementioned influences. Everyday Heroes, at first sight, you could be thinking Rag & Bone Man had joined a Rock band, but that’s where the comparison ends, as lead singer/lead guitar man Luke Philips is more Chad Kroeger than our English south-coast Soul man.
Everyday Heroes, hailing from South Wales, a healthy breeding ground for the new Hard Rock/Southern Rock genre, have shared the stage with the big boys, a la Thunder, The Darkness and The Answer, to name a few, at the Steelhouse and HRH festivals.
To the album! Recorded and produced at Boneyard Studio, Neath, by Andrew Francis and Phil Humphreys, ‘A Tale Of Sin & Sorrow’ drops in with 11 songs, and will be available on Friday 5thJune.
The opener ‘Texas Red’ and ‘Find My Way’ are probably nearest to the old style Southern Rock of this collection, the latter turning out to be my favourite with its ZZ Top groove running shot gun throughout. The band then switch it up more Hard Rock style with ‘Standing Stones’ and the riff endowed ‘The Witches King’.
The probable radio track ‘Soul to Save’ is a cleverly arranged number with a catchy chorus which should satisfy the more mainstream DJ’s. ’Victorious’ comes over all Mutt Lange production style with the sort of Def Leppard backing vocals across an array of guitar riffamania he became known for. ‘All Outta Faith’ fits in at No.7, dare I say kind of Bon Jovi American stadium Rock, which breaks us down to a Rock ballad in the form of the ‘The Crow’.
The guitar laden ’Breathe Again’ is that kind of festival Rock track you toast with your beer in the mid-Summer sun - should we be allowed out this Summer to see one! ‘West Of Forever’, an anthemic rocker, rolls us down the tracks with an interesting burst of a trumpet, to the final song ‘Without A Throne’, down-tempo, with an excellent vocal delivery from Mr. Philips, not forgetting a massive contribution overall from Daniel Richards - rhythm guitar/backing vocals, Jay Haines - drums/backing vocals and Lewis Watkins - bass guitar.
There is also a storyline running through the album, which I’m sure the band would not only supply to the lyric fanatic through their website but it’s also a good source regarding future must-see tour dates given the current dreaded lockdown.
Want to take a trip to ‘Art Rock’ heaven? Then look no further. The genre in question was created with the intention of listening and contemplation, rather than for dancing. So, when I hear this album was released following eight months of post-production, you know you’re going to find a piece of work with time and energy spent.
The Petal Falls are a five-piece Hard Rock band consisting of Keith Leahy – lead vocal/guitar/keyboards, Robert Harpum – guitars, Robin Tucker – drums, Dave Richards – guitars, Marius Ryndziewicz – bass guitar, plus additional guest keyboards on this album from Duncan Lowe.
The Kent based band actually signed to a label in the nineties, got caught up in said contract, effectively having their musical hands tied, and consequently were not getting any of their material released. Years later, and now out of those contractual chains, they have recently released ‘All These Years’ through the Handful Of Dust label, their second album in two years, following 2019’s ‘Workin’ All Night Workin’ All Day’.
‘Between My Brother & Me’ opens up in big drum rhythmic style, pulsing through the heart of the song, leading us to ‘I Won’t Be There’, falling into kind of Peter Gabriel territory. Next up is ‘Second Sight’, which goes more down-tempo with a dreamy texture, followed by ‘All These Years’, with its chorus effect guitar opening up to a more AOR leaning.
’A Lifetime Too Late’ returns to a more keyboard dominated mid-tempo track, then onto ‘In The Shadow Of The Clan’, which reaches out for a piece of yearning euphoria. Similarly, the next song ‘Say A Prayer’ is backed with some classy female backing vocals from Avril Davis, Tracy Tucker and Sharron Wallace, before the catchy ‘Liberated’, closes the album with track number eight.
I mentioned Peter Gabriel earlier and he is an obvious influence, but you will find a variety of other influencers ranging from Pink Floyd right through to Aussie singer John Farnham that rightly cements The Petal Falls in the aforementioned genre.
Toronto’s Bywater Call were formed initially by vocalist Meghan Parnell and guitarist Dave Barnes in 2017, gradually building into the seven-piece in which they operate today, comprising also of Bruce McCarthy on drums, Mike Meusel on bass, Alan Zemaitis on keys, Stephen Dyte on trumpet and Julian Nalli on sax.
Taking their songs best described as a cool blend of Blues, Rock and Soul on the live circuit in Canada and Europe, prior to releasing them as their self-titled debut album at the end of last year, has served them well. Now, imagine crossing Aretha Franklin and Bonnie Raitt’s voice - well that’s where singer Meghan’s heart and tone live.
Ok, lets spin the disc! ‘Arizona’ an uplifting up-tempo number in sound, if not in lyric, opens its doors with an underbelly of Gospel Soul. ’Forgive’ jumps at you in out and out ‘Stax Records’ sixties Soul style, keeping the brass section busy, as does the following track ‘Talking Backwards’.
Next up is ‘Bring Me Down’, a Bluesy organ laden ballad, which highlights all the band member’s individual talents at various points during its seven-minute transition. ’Nightmare’, despite the title, is actually a smooth groover, before we shift gear in a funky Blues direction with ‘Over & Over’. Meanwhile, ’Hometown’ falls right into the aforementioned Ms. Raitt’s territory of a Blues ballad, and works well as a prelude to the song of the album.
Based on the fact that today’s human being has an overloaded choice of music to sample and a shorter attention span, I would have positioned ‘Silver Lining’ at least at number three in the playing order. Suffice to say that the British IBBA had ‘Bywater Call’ at number one in their playlist chart at the end of March and this particular tune was the top choice in their DJ’s play-listing.
The soulful despair of ‘Walk On By’ and the heartfelt ‘Swing Low’ - that is cleverly built in its arrangement - end this excellent collection of well-crafted songs. European dates scheduled for early May will no doubt be re-arranged, so let’s hope they start to include the UK on their tour list. That’s an order Canada! Remember we saved you guys from becoming Americans..............
Amy Birks is a singer songwriter from Stoke-On-Trent, West Midlands, possibly better known in the Rock world as former lyricist, co-composer and lead vocalist of the 2017 Prog magazine Limelight Award winners Beatrix Players. Birks released her self-produced debut solo album 'All That I Am & All That I Was' on MAB Records on 3rdApril 2020. The album was produced and mixed by Birks, except 'I Wish' which was produced by Nick Wollage - famed for his engineering on the soundtracks to dozens of major motion pictures including 'Atonement', he also worked on Tony Banks' 'Seven (A Suite For Orchestra)' - engineered by Wollage and mastered by Nick Robbins of Sound Mastering. The album artwork is by Birks with sleeve photography by Richard Shakespeare. The album features an array of musicians including Oliver Day (guitar and mandolin), John Hackett (flute), Caroline Lavelle (cello), Maria Kroon (violin), and Emanuela Monni (drums). Guests on the album including Steve Hackett (guitar) on 'I Wish', Callum Greenaway (piano) on 'I Wish', Ian Burdge (cello) also on 'I Wish', Romain Thorel (piano) on 'Keep Me Guessing', Penkhull Village Brass on 'Say Something', and Birks father Andrew Birks (backing vocals) on 'Jamaica Inn' and 'Say Something'. A tantalising Progressive, classically-influenced Chamber-Pop infused album.
Pursuing music at school, Birks went on to study a degree in Music Technology at Staffordshire University - writing and production - with a brief time spent as a model. During this time, Birks became managed by a photographer who was friends with Brian Tatler, frontman and guitarist with Heavy Metal band Diamond Head. “I’d go to Diamond Head rehearsals and make the tea”, Birks says. “Then I’d sit on the floor and watch them go. There are a lot of great songs in Heavy Metal that we don’t appreciate – catchy melodies that connect to the classical world. What an education!”
Whilst studying at University, Birks formed the Beatrix Players, with friends Tom Manning and Helena Dove, and by 2006 they relocated to London. By day, Birks worked as a graphic artist, designing sunglasses. By night – and at weekends – she worked on music, influenced by Eddi Reader, Ani DiFranco, Joan Armatrading and Natalie Merchant. By 2013 the group metamorphosised into a different trio all together, Birks leading the ensemble vocally, and completed by Jess Kennedy (piano, backing vocals) and Amanda Alvarez (cello). Their arresting blend of Chamber music, Folk song and Progressive style was soon compared to Tori Amos and Kate Bush with the release of their debut EP 'Words In Lemon Juice'.
Gathering momentum in the Progressive scene, and championed in particular by Prog Magazine, when debut album 'Magnified' emerged in 2017, the group came to wider notice, going on to win the Limelight (best new band) award that year at the Prog Awards. Over the next year, Beatrix Players opened for Carl Palmer, Steve Harley and Big Big Train. At the end of 2018, Birks had topped the Female Vocalist category in Prog Magazine’s Readers’ Poll. Sadly due to creative differences within the group, they decided to spit up. Having amassed many self-penned songs, Birks decided to forge ahead and release them as a solo album.
Writing, producing and arranging the album that would become 'All That I Am & All That I Was' took Birks to George Martin’s AIR Studios in Hampstead, No. 50 England’s Lane and the floating steel ship studios, Soup in East London’s Trinity Wharf. Her 11-song collection takes the listener on an emotional roller-coaster ride, but will definitely make you feel uplifted and refreshed by the end. The opening song 'Jamaica Inn' transports the listener to a character-led drama with a Cornish coast-themed (“This is from my love of classic English literature, I’m a big Daphne du Maurier (the author of the 1936 novel Jamaica Inn) fan.”). A delicate, slow and moody opening that gently builds to an intense and catchy chorus “So if the cold don't get you, the souls from the sea, all will be awaiting at Jamaica Inn”. 'Unlike The Heart' is a sparse and spacious sweeping, beautifully melodic, sad heart-wrenching ballad with superbulous emotionally wrought vocals, “Unlike the heart, there's no quick start for the mind, unlike the heart, some things are hard to find”. The song is about a friend of Amy's, who sadly had taken their own life. Graceful cello and piano accompaniment add to beguiling atmosphere.
'More' is another mid-tempo, reflective and intensely emotional song about failed relationships. “And the battle for now is won, but the war it whittles on for me, though it lessens by and by, still I'm sobered by its soul and stride”. 'Not Every Night' continues on similar themes from the previous two songs, again mid-tempo with emotionally poignant and reflective lyrics. “So much crimson in your rage, and too little respect, for the memories that we made”. Powerful and affecting performances.
'With All That I Am' has an insistent longing and foreboding vulnerable quality with expressive plaintive vocal delivery. “With all that I am, cannot be what you want me to be, so I bid you farewell, but please let me leave in peace”. Emotionally intense, with disconcerting feelings of disquiet. 'Say Something' carries the heaviest message of all, relating to Birks’ time as a teenage model and the older male who took advantage. “It was okay, was it, to touch me like you did? You took away that pleasure, forever.” A deeply personal song with intensely harrowing lyrics. Darkly haunting and powerfully moving vocal performance from Birks.
The next two songs 'Catherine' and 'All The Fault Of The Lady Anne' veer towards a more historic storytelling angle with tales from the court of Henry VIII. Catherine of Aragon being King Henry's first wife whom he divorced as she didn't provide him with a surviving son, and also by the fact that he was infatuated with Anne Boleyn! “He woke up today, with a hate for Catherine, grown tired of waiting, tired of negotiating, starts a war of hearts” a mellifluously sparkling and poetically entrancing vocal performance with spaciously generous and classically colourful regal musical accompaniment. 'All The Fault Of The Lady Anne' takes on the story of the King's second wife's downfall! The King's eventual marriage to Anne Boleyn didn't go too well and she was subsequently arrested, accused of treasonous adultery and incest! She was, of course, executed for such crimes! “For it was all the fault of the Lady Anne, and the moon doth shine as bright as it can, down into the room tempting chastity's hand, where the temptress lay bare with a morsel of a man.” Silvery laced piano delicately tinkles and spirals setting the melodious progression. Birks' mezzo-soprano voice emotes the sorrowful tale with magisterial elegance.
The gentle ballad 'Road To Gordes' has lyrical connections with France, signposting Birks’ future relocation to the South Eastern mountain village. Quite clearly a place where she has experienced great healing and inner peace, “For on the road to Gordes, I find my peace, amongst the ochre and the olive leaf, and it is here that I remember to say, be kind to yourself.” Light and airy diaphanous vocals shimmer and glide over the elegantly sweeping silken strings with fluid grace.
Off to Latin America with the Flamenco spark of 'I Wish' with lyrics based on the words of Christina Rossetti’s 1862 poem 'I Wish I Was A Little Bird'. Christina Rossetti is a poet, activist and the subject of some of the most famous paintings of the Pre-Raphaelite movement. The track features Prog Rock legend Steve Hackett on acoustic guitar. The single is accompanied by a video featuring Amy and a mysterious Flamenco guitarist each represented in stunning origami stop motion piece, created by Susan Raybould (Origami Om) and pushed the boundaries of traditional origami design. “I wrote this song during a trip to Colombia where I was influenced by the classical guitar and percussive sounds of Bambuco. The Rossetti poem works perfectly as this is a dark lyric about the fragility of the mind and how the past can so very easily come back to tease and torment”. “Quicker I forgive and forget, the less time I spend inside my head, the more I live without regrets.”
For the final song we are transported back to France with the sparkling piano-led album closer 'Keeps You Guessing', co-written with French band Lazuli’s keyboard player Romain Thorel. A romantic love story of a long distant relationship; “And the distance between us, will not diffuse, it only increases the aperture, to let the light through.” Flooding piano washes over the track like a majestically flowing river meandering towards the sea, with eloquently evocative vocals wrapping around the expressive lyrical syncopation like a warm glove to cold hands.
Throughout the album, Birks’ beautifully enunciated modern mezzo voice is notable, by turns vulnerable, playful and powerful, her storytelling coming vibrantly to life with each track. This album will move you, empower you and revitalise you.
Steven C. Gilbert
Wishbone Ash are one of those bands that, back in the day when you had to rely on music journalism and what your friends listened to rather than expecting to have the entire musical universe at your fingertips, sounded great in the abstract; reviewers would talk about twin lead guitars intertwining to make grand aural landscapes. For whatever reason (almost complete absence of radio play was one factor) I never got around to investing in an ‘Ash LP, apart from a cheap cassette (eyes moisten with nostalgia) bought out East (where is that now he wonders?) that wasn’t the best representation of their work (or the best quality for that matter); overtime the bits and pieces I heard never quite lived up to the numerous reviews I’d read.
So, although the band has apparently been ploughing on steadily over the years with original member Andy Powell maintaining the integrity of the name, it was still intriguing to see a brand-new spanking album ‘Coat of Arms’ to review. Naturally, I have been listening to a lot of the back catalogue as well as the new release and in my opinion it’s every bit as good if not better than the old stuff.
The introduction three years back of guitarist and fan of the group, Mark Abrahams, has been credited as providing a fresh injection of youthful energy into proceedings and the twin guitar attack from him and Andy Powell are superb throughout, ‘Drive’ being a good example. ‘Too Cool for AC’ is another one full of tasty riffs and weaving lines that vary interestingly as the song progresses, ending with competing solo lines that end up combining joyfully in twin guitar heaven.
It’s classic Ash in that respect, with melodic harmonised guitars flowing in and out and beautifully fat toned and equally tuneful solos everywhere; the vocal sound is the same, with Andy Powell sounding unchanged from his youthful self; however, the addition of Mark Abrahams as a co-writer with Andy Powell has resulted in a strong set of songs that have more focus than some of the older material, and seem more accessible, with great hooks, one after another.
There isn’t a duff track in the collection, which ends as strongly as it begins with the sinuous and catchy riffing of ‘Personal Halloween’, enhanced by a great horn arrangement - marvellous! For lovers of non-stop fabulous melodic guitar playing that never descends into thoughtless widdling, this is highly recommended. The ‘Ash are back with a vengeance (even if they’ve never been away)! Hopefully we will get a chance to see these songs played live when the current difficulties end.
Graces Collide are a three piece modern Hard Rock band from the south-coast city of Brighton, with Danny Wenham on vocals/lead guitar, while twins Jurgan and Will Hamblin play bass and guitar respectively. Good to see they are flying the Rock flag amongst the Indie bands that dominate their city. Appealing to fans of the likes of Alter Bridge and Shinedown, to name a couple, the band have produced a powerful riff laden piece of work in the form of their 10 song debut album ‘Our Tomorrow’.
Opening up proceedings ‘This Hell’ drops like a plane of stormtroopers heading into battle, followed by ‘Another Sun’ featuring guest vocalist Nikki Smash from The Rocket Dolls, swaying from side to side as if you’re in a dingy on rough seas. Keeping on the tracks, but only just, ‘Ride’ motors energetically, and is said to be the prelude sample of what is to come from their follow up album later this year.
Next up is ’Fear Alone’ - the album’s ballad? Only joking! A light twenty seconds of keyboard soon gets rocked, although it’s at a lesser pace given its predecessors. ’Find Our Way’ reaches out in anthemic style and is the top tune for me from this collection - ready to face any virus thrown their way.
The album’s title track similarly has an arms to war attitude, leading us to ‘Kraken’ – a Nordic sea monster - whilst ‘Run and Hide’ beats its chest amongst a heavy riff and catchy chorus, along with complimentary lead guitar soloing, that would be my choice as the radio single.
Closing out, ‘Make Me Scream’ and ‘Come Back Down’ pounce with more anthemic riffery, ensuring that fists are finally firmly in the air to the sign of the devil! There is no mention of their GC’s drummer, so one assumes they are using guests and have a vacancy? Overall, plenty of promise, with new material and rescheduled live dates, both to look forward to later this year.
Vega are a 6-piece British Rock band formed back in 2009 featuring Nick Workman (vocals), Martin Hutchinson (drums), Marcus Thurston (guitar), Michael Kew (guitar), Tom Martin (bass) and James Martin (keyboards). ’Grit Your Teeth’ is the band’s sixth album that blends a mix of dark and light within their brand of AOR/Melodic Rock, and is available to pre-order now, with a release date set for Friday 12thJune via Frontiers Records.
My usual comparison check from the originals of this genre was tough as the production of this album by the ‘Graves Brothers’ is very much up-to-date, hence elements of the likes of Def Leppard, Mr.Big & Reo Speedwagon circa 1980/90 were the closest I could call on. Regular appearances at the HRH indoor festivals, plus major support slots with Magnum and Dan Reed Network has started building the Vega brand, so let's see what they have on offer.
Hitting the disc – on first play it rocks all the way, right through to final track #11, with both track #4 and #8 immediate in their impact. OK, opening up, ‘Blind’ motors along, with its catchy chorus line, to their latest single ‘(I Don’t Need) Perfection’, which has a definite touch of sleaze about it, one that a pole dancer could well embrace in their routine!
Their first single and title track drops in next, comfortably firing itself into AOR heaven, plus I must also mention the brilliant album cover with a croc on the front, although a certain social media site beginning with ‘F’ now keeps delivering me these creatures devouring their prey!
’Man On A Mission’, the first of the stand out numbers on this collection, with its clever vocal mix, should easily be making its way on to Rock radio playlists, whilst ’Don’t Fool Yourself’ riffs itself away through to the more mainstream radio friendly keyboard enhanced ‘Consequence Of The Heart’.
A sequenced guitar build up leads into ‘This One’s For You’, then on to, for mine, the other stand out song, that comes in the form of ‘Battles Ain’t No War’. In a more down tempo mode, it shows the excellent depth in the band’s song writing and has the feel of a film score about it! ‘Save Me From Myself’ picks up the pace again, as does ‘How We Live’ and closing track ‘Done With Me’.
So, buckle up and hold tight, Vega are back with the album of their career, that not only will take you to screaming highs and gritty lows, but it’ll also keep you coming back for more.
Pure Reason Revolution are a British Prog Rock band formed by Jon Courtney and Chloë Alper at the University of Westminster, London in 2003. Their music incorporates elements of Progressive Rock, Folk Rock with sprinklings of Electropop for good measure. Fair to say their sound is an amalgamation of such diverse influences as Pink Floyd, Beach Boys, Porcupine Tree, Nirvana, Kraftwerk, Chemical Brothers and Fleetwood Mac. Main songwriter and creative force Courtney had previously played with Pop Punk guitar band Gel, which was scouted and signed by Seymour Stein, the founder of Sire Records. Their sole album 'Sparkly Things' was released in 1998. Alper used to front the Indie Punk band Period Pains, who scored a hit with an anti-Spice Girls song 'Spice Girls (Who Do You Think You Are?)' in 1997.
Pure Reason Revolution began life as a Reading Indie band called The Sunset Sound, which featured Jon Courtney, Chloë Alper and Jim Dobson, but it was during their time at the University of Westminster (2000 - 2003) where Courtney, brother Andrew, Chloë Alper, Greg Jong and Jim Dobson came together to form Pure Reason Revolution, going through a number of name changes along the way including "The Wow" and "Pendulum Dawn". The band's name was inspired by Courtney's University thesis on the nature of genius and its application to Beach Boy Brian Wilson, for which he studied Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant.
Their first single 'Apprentice of the Universe' was released on Alan McGee's Poptones label in 2004. By autumn 2004 they signed to SonyBMG and the following year saw the band releasing two singles - 'Bright Ambassadors of Morning' (the title is from a line in Pink Floyd's ‘Echoes’ on the ‘Meddle’ album), and 'The Intention Craft' - plus one mini-album, 'Cautionary Tales for the Brave'. Their first full-length album, 'The Dark Third' was released in April 2006, and was produced by Paul Northfield (Rush, Porcupine Tree, Gentle Giant, Dream Theater). Sadly, due to low record sales, Sony dropped them in December 2006.
The second album 'Amor Vincit Omnia' was released in March 2009 on the Superball Music label and was a departure from their more dreamy, classic-Prog style of 'The Dark Third', with electronic elements now becoming a greater and more prominent part of their sound. The title of the album is Latin for 'Love Conquers All', alluding to Vergil's famous line from Eclogue 10.69. It is also a reference to the painting Amor Vincit Omnia by the Italian baroque painter Caravaggio, completed circa 1601. Their third album 'Hammer and Anvil' was released via Superball Music in October 2010, co-produced by Courtney and Tom Bellamy (The Cooper Temple Clause). The new music continued the dark, electronic themes of 'Amor Vincit Omnia', and was partially inspired by themes of World War I and II.
The band parted ways in November 2011 following touring in support of their 2010 album 'Hammer and Anvil', releasing their final EP, 'Valour' in November 2011. Since then, Jon Courtney formed an electronic duo with vocalist Sammi Doll called Bullet Height and released their debut album ‘No Atonement’ in 2017, while Chloë Alper formed a new Rock band with Grammy and MOBO nominated multi-instrumentalist Mat Collis called Tiny Giant in 2015. Their first single 'Joely' was released in May 2016, which won them a nomination for the Limelight (New Band) award at the Progressive Music Awards Eon Music. They released a further three singles, 'School of Hard Knocks', 'Draw Me A Line' and 'Thirsty & Sad'.
In June 2019 Courtney and Alper re-united as Pure Reason Revolution and played the Midsummer Prog Festival, Openluchtheater, Valkenburg, Netherlands. Courtney and Alper were the only returning members. The reunion was a huge success and with refreshed enthusiasm and renewed chemistry they set about writing and recording new material. The resulting new album 'Eupnea' was released in April 2020 on Inside Out Music. Their fourth album and first for ten years was produced by Paul Northfield, who produced their debut album 'The Dark Third' in 2006, and features collaborations with former guitarist Greg Jong. The album title 'Eupnea' means natural relaxed unconscious breathing. Containing just six songs, but with two of the tracks exceeding the ten minute mark, it is an ambitious and multifaceted album that draws on the bands strengths from the early psych-Prog of the first album to the more experimental experiences of the second and third albums.
The album opens with the dramatic and intense 'New Obsession', delicate atmospheric synths set the foundation with the sound of heartbeats, telephone rings, and hospital monitor beeps gently passing through to add dramatic weight. The track builds layer by layer with sparse sweet guitar plucking over insistent drums before waves of synths wash over adding further texture. The tempo increases before insistent and intricate melodic vocal interplay between Courtney and Alper enter. The blend of the two voices is quite sublime and magically majestic. The harmonic interplay between Courtney and Alper is a key focal point that defines the essence and overall strength of the band. Heavy crunchy guitars and thunderous drums punch through the wash of Electronica making their presence felt and adding weight to the overall bombastic story unfolding. Segueing smoothly from the slow fade of the opening track, 'Silent Genesis' is a behemoth of a song that unfolds and sprawls over ten minutes. The opening starts with fragile and frail crackling synth textures and electronic beats before the driving drum rhythm is established, silken shimmering slide guitar proceeds to weave between the beats before erupting euphorically into a cacophony of snarling over driven electric guitar power chords peppered with intricate phrases and melodic passages. The songs unfolding epic journey is multifaceted with dips into tender serenity and moments of intense jubilation and intoxication!
'Maelstrom', one of the shorter songs on the album, opens with a lone hypnotic drum pattern before Alper's celestial vocals launch themselves into the maelstrom of hooky piano and rumbling bass. Courtney's voice then joins Alper's in the harmonic euphony, a pleasing melodic chorus gives the track delectable prominence. Proceedings take a darker turn with 'Ghosts & Typhoons', which is a gradually building track that starts dark and brooding with atmospheric and succulent synthesiser generated textures, tinkering piano runs and soaring sustained electric guitar runs. Irrepressible towering vocal harmonies abound reaching scorching heights of exultation, with delectable tempo changes and elevating blistering crunchy power chording guitars slashing away as though life depended upon it! Exciting and exhilarating stuff!
'Beyond Our Bodies' is the shortest song on the album, clocking at just over four minutes, this track starts out as more of a melodic ballad type piece, but as like the other tracks on the album it starts gentle, gradually building in intensity until all hell breaks loose near the end! The final song on the album is the monumental labyrinthine title track 'Eupnea', all thirteen minutes and twenty three seconds of it! Opening with the immortal words 'Breathe', it already sounds epic before it even gets off the starting block! Sustained Floyd sounding synth chords set the scene with diaphanous airy harmonic vocals gliding over the top. Rampant guitars hammer out perfectly executed repeating melodic phrases, determined to make their musical statement of intent to facilitate and guide the passage of the piece onwards through the maze of sound and upwards into the euphoric stratosphere. Cleverly placed mellow breaks, mood dips and rising crescendos keep the progress of the song vivacious and enticing. Resplendent ethereal vocals from Alper majestically float and weave over sweet melodic passages with style and grace, quite in contrast to the dense heavy and dark interludes that predominate. A gargantuan awe-inspiring track!
The album brims with confidence and feels very refreshed and assured. A full-on kaleidoscope of cinematic colours and dark atmospheric textures with strategically placed elements of exhilarating raucous heavy thrashing go on to make this album a captivating and adventurous masterpiece. Definitely the rebirth of Pure Reason Revolution and with out doubt their finest album.
Steven C. Gilbert
Guitar virtuoso Axel Rudi Pell started out releasing material on the SPV record label way back in 1989, just as he does again this week with his new offering ‘Sign Of The Times’, released this Friday 8thMay. Americans Johnny Gioeli (vocals), Bobby Rondinelli (drums) join together, with Axel’s fellow Germans Volker Krawczak (bass) and keyboard man Ferdy Doernberg, on what is Pell’s 18thalbum, with Tom Geiger promoted from engineer to producer.
After a first few spins, there’s no doubting the 70’s Classic Rock influences of Deep Purple/Rainbow. Indeed, this record could easily be what Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, featuring Ronnie James Dio, would be releasing now, if they were still together today. Pell has also removed the dated mystic wizards and kings from earlier releases, going for a more up-to-date lyrical choice of content.
Kicking off the ten-track CD is ‘The Black Serenade’, a short intro that sees Axel flexing his guitar muscle in preparation for the hard-hitting power shot of ‘Gunfire’. ’Bad Reputation’ drops a gear in a more mainstream radio friendly feel, through to the title track - a Dio inspired seven minute epic. Fittingly complemented by the following track, ’The End Of The Line’, next up is the album’s ballad, ‘As Blind As A Fool Can Be’ - vocally delivered by Gioeli in true AOR Rock ballad style - mobile flashlights raised people!
Track seven, ’Wings Of A Storm’, is the track of the album for me, one that could quite easily be slotted on to a certain ‘Stormbringer’ album, whilst on the other hand, the following ’Waiting For Your Call’, veers nearer to a lighter edge.
There’s a shock change of style within the opening minute of track nine, ‘Living In A Dream’. Dare I mention the ‘R’ word? Yes, rockers, not ‘R’ for ‘Rock’, but ‘R’ for Bob Marley’s ‘Reggae’! The ‘Police’ manipulated the genre to their advantage as ARP does here - if only for a minute! Finally, the riff laden ‘Into The Fire’ delivers us back into the temple of the king as a perfect closure. Just judge for yourself upon its release!
Thirteen Stars are a four-piece Southern Rock band from West Cumbria. The band has been working for some ten years now and signed to the ‘Get Off Your Rocka’ label in 2015. Hoss Thompson fronts on vocals/guitar with Jax Sedgwick also on guitar, Mike Reid on bass and Andy Bates on drums.
The Southern Rock genre in the UK has seen a resurgence in recent years, so can Thirteen Stars stand out in the pack? Well, yes they can, because in Hoss they have a distinct advantage with his gravel throaty vocal style certainly not native of his County. Thompson must have been weaned on Savannah cigars and whisky! Support slots have included The Quireboys, Skinny Molly and Hayseed Dixie, along with HRH and Planet Rock indoor festivals. Time therefore to spin their latest offering, ‘Finest Ramshackle Jam’, which is due out on Friday 19th June.
Opener, ‘I’m Ready’, is a meaty rocker with a catchy chorus line, whilst ‘Running So Long’ free falls distinctively into Tom Petty country, gliding across the everglades. Meanwhile, ’Sweet Lies’ slots in nicely at number three, building up to the album’s promo track, namely ‘Give It Good’. Think Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Ronnie Van Zant fronting the Red Hot Chilli Peppers on this dance/Rock number, while you slip your funky shoes on! Certainly mainstream radio potential.
‘Sleeping’ switches from light to a more heavier dark riff laden feel, similarly with ‘Sorcery’ following on. ’Be There In The Morning’ drops back to their lighter Petty infused Country Rock mode, although ’I Do Anything’ is a steady groover, sounding like an AOR player, especially if it makes it over the Atlantic. Previous single ’Mint Jelly’ is out and out Southern Rock with its ZZ Top guitar style driving it along the freeway to ‘Rebel’, which has elements of Americana that a certain Mr. Springsteen has executed so well over the years.
’Steel Horse’ goes full on Country Rock with plenty of “Yee Haws” for good measure, while, in contrast, ’Keep Calm & Carry On’ fulfils the AOR playlists. This leads us, into the almost Metal sounding Rocker of ‘Razor’s Edge’, duly keeping our devil’s horn hands still raised for ’Break It Down Slowly’, another of the heavier riff laden tracks living in Zeppelin territory, which is the penultimate number to the top tune of this fifteen song collective.
’Solder’ is a seven minute plus epic track, with subtle acoustic picking, building to a mega riff, complemented by some classy vocal lines and guitar soloing to end. Quite simply their ‘Freebird’. Thirteen Stars have produced an album of finest variety across their chosen genre, but wonder if promoting the album with their funky current single ‘Give It Good’, they should they have cut a couple more numbers in that vein. Maybe next time?
FM first started out way back in 1984, adopting the American AOR influences of the likes of Foreigner and Journey. This proved a battle as the UK was fired up on NWOBHM bands such as Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Def Leppard etc. at the time, but they did gradually build their fan base on major support slots with the likes of Whitesnake, Bon Jovi and Status Quo, to name a few.
They recorded their final album ‘Dead Man’s Shoes’ in 1995 and it wasn’t until 2007 that the band was persuaded to reform for a one-off show at Nottingham’s Rock City as part of the ‘Firefest’. That show was enough for the band to re-emerge, and a comeback album ‘Metropolis’ was released in 2010. Now in 2020, the band release their 12thalbum ‘Sychronized’ this Friday 22ndMay, with three original members still in place, namely Steve Overland (vocals/guitar), Merv Goldsworthy (bass) and Pete Jupp (drums).
With Jem Davis on keyboards, who joined back in 1995, and Bernie Marsden’s sidekick Jim Kirkpatrick on guitar since 2010, it appears second time around is proving worthwhile, as the band is now headlining their own tours in the UK and Europe to full houses.
And so on to the new album, and its title track, a mid-paced radio friendly opener with guitar riffing similar to the 80’s vibe used by a certain MJ on his hit ‘Beat It’, that aptly guides us to the next track, ‘Superstar’, upping the gear a little more this side of the Atlantic with some exceptional soloing from Mr. Kirkpatrick.
’Best Of Times’ has a kind of New Country Rock feel about it, which gives space to hear the vocal strength that Overland possesses in abundance, while 'Ghosts Of Me And I’ is a Rock ballad that again wouldn’t be out of water in the USA’s mid-west. Although, ’Broken’ brings us right back into AOR melodic heaven, given its hooky chorus with guitars and keyboard crossings.
’Change For The better’ is a smooth rocker with a feel good vibe, that takes us to the more heavier, and my second favourite tune off this twelve song collective, ‘End Of Days’. ’Pray’, a guitar laden groover, provides good back-up to the previous song, following it up with the lighter ‘Walk Through The Fire’, in true keyboard dominated style, such as that successfully employed by Mr. Mister way back when!
’Hell Or High Water’ takes a more Rock and Roll/boogie stroll along the feel good factor highway, although in contrast, track eleven, the massive ‘Angels Cried’ is, in my opinion, the top tune from ‘Synchronized’, and is a classy Blues based ballad, that ticks all the right boxes from all members of the band. And last, but not least, ‘Ready For Me’ closes out the album in true FM style.
Because of Covid-19, their tour coinciding with the release of the new album will now be rescheduled, although, at the time of writing, it is hoped that their appearance at Monsterfest in Inverness during the weekend of 12th-15thNovember will go ahead.
It is 2020 somewhere in South London. Rews pause for breath in the middle of their latest single ‘Heart on Fire’ before the distorted guitar kicks back in for a renewed crescendo, which is the signal for the mosh pit to kick off into a swirling mass of frenzy! But wait….this is lockdown 2020 right? (Note to future self – this was the time of stay home, stay alert, save the NHS, no gigs, no fun, and endless Zoom calls!). So what is going on? An illegal lockdown party? Has Dominic Cummings come round to play? No <sigh> The stage is…. my YouTube playlist, the mosh pit is my front room and I am, in the words of Billy Idol, ‘Dancing With Myself’!
The reason for my impassioned dancing? Well, my imprisoned Covid-19 days have been truly brightened by the discovery of Rews and their second album ‘Warriors’. It is an album that takes a journey through tough situations and as frontwoman Shauna says, “this new album contains some of the most honest, painful and uplifting songs that I’ve ever written.” It helps that Shauna’s voice ranges from husky Blues, through smooth Pop to powerful Indy vocals. And that the album is full of hum along tunes and Indy riffs. Although there are some good remotely recorded lockdown songs by socially distanced bands, I have something much better to get me through the pandemic.
The album kicks off with ‘Birdsong’, which was the first single from the album and the song that first drew my attention to Rews. A powerful and catchy tune, with some cool riffs. The accompanying video gives some clues as to why Rews are attracting a growing fan base with their high energy live sets, with ‘Birdsong’ as an instant sing-a-long favourite of mine already.
Track 2 is ‘Razorblade’, which is again another strong track and goes a long way to allay Shauna’s concerns about the possibility of that ‘difficult’ second album. ‘Warriors’ builds on the excellent debut album ‘Pyro’ released in 2017 and Shauna goes on to say, “I think the album Warriors is a pure expression of who and what Rews is.” The album bears testament to those tough experiences, for example the inspiration for the track ‘Heart on Fire’ came while Shauna was training for a marathon. It is also the third single from the album and is a catchy uplifting anthem representing the fire that is in all of us. I’m definitely putting it onto my running playlist!
The album continues as it started with crunchy thumping base lines and anthemic vocals, which does, however, present a danger of the tunes seeping into your sub-consciousness resulting in involuntary insomnia and humming along at 4am! ‘Love Hate Song’, ‘Monsters’ and ‘Play Dead’ are all capable of doing just that. The album finishes with a subtly more refined track - ‘Habits’ with a slightly less intense vibe, which concludes the album nicely and encourages me to flick the “Repeat Play” button to the on position.
Shauna has been doing her best to keep stay at home spirits high with some innovative ways to create a community spirit during lockdown. She has done play along guitar tutorials of Rews songs, on-line festivals, fan led music videos and bundles of positive energy on social media that reflects the feelings and vibes expressed in the songs on ‘Warriors’.
Rews have a reputation of being one of the most exciting female contemporary Rock bands on the circuit. So it was doubly disappointing that their latest tour was cancelled as the lockdown froze the live music scene to an enforced pause. Wrinkly Rockers sadly didn’t get the chance to see them live earlier this year. And don’t we miss the ecstasy and adrenaline of the live music gig? I certainly hanker for the hot sweaty atmosphere of a famous London venue, the physical pulse of the bass thumping my chest and the social interaction of sharing the live experience between the band and the crowd.
Maybe the late night tube ride and the ears ringing the next day are not so missed, but I for one will be first in line to see Rews in the flesh when we break the chains of lockdown. Shauna proclaims that “Life is meant to be lived and enjoyed regardless of where you are.” So whether the mosh pit is in my living room, or at a Camden night spot, Rews have certainly helped me through the dark days of Covid-19 and ‘Warriors’ is my album of the moment. The single ‘Today We’re Warriors’ is out on Friday 26thJune and ‘Warriors’ is released on Friday 7thAugust on Marshall Records
Heart Is On Fire
Today We’re Warriors
Love Hate Song
High energy female Hard Rockers Haxan have a message for their Rock mothers Girlschool. They’re saying “Were taking your 80’s Rock ‘n’ Roll, mixing it up with some 70’s Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow (featuring Ronnie James Dio), dressing it up for the present and pronouncing we’re going to be the new kids on the block!” Well, we’ll raise a glass to that, for this powerhouse trio from South Wales are out to ‘Kill time before time kills you!’
Releasing their debut album ‘White Noise’ on Friday 24thJuly, they’ve teamed up with producer Todd Campbell (Phil Campbell & The Bastard Sons) at the Stompbox Studios, South Wales. Haxan have already made a name for themselves prior to this release, playing at Download, Monsters Of Rock Cruises and Planet Rockstock, along with support slots with Status Quo, Electric Six and the Subways.
The band is made up of Sam Bolderstone vocals/guitar, Harriet Wadeson on bass guitar and Jess Hartley on drums – so let’s Rock! The opener ‘Damned If You Do’ kicks off at full pace down the M4, with speed restrictions lifted, dropping of at ‘Killing Time’ the top anthem of this nine song collective. ’Nine Lives’ is almost equally as strong as its predecessor, and purrs along with Jess pounding the kit in true Cozy Powell style, whilst ’Grave Digger’ brings out the riffamania, Messrs Blackmore and Dio made their name on.
’Louder Than Words’ alters the mood with its call of arms to war feel about it, but then, downing tempo, ‘Black Sheep’ gives Harriet a deserved spot at the bottom end. ’Crash And Burn’ picks up the pace again taking us through to the album’s powerful lead single, the epic five and half minute ‘Skeletons’, loosely their ‘Still Of The Night’ (Whitesnake). Closing out is ‘Living Dead’, a circus full of demons which makes for a clever ending.
As far as albums go - and I do believe that 9-10 songs is more than enough for an album - the quality of this content makes this the best long player I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing so far this year. ’Killing time before time kills me’ - I see this band undoubtedly rising somewhere on the horizon!
London based Heavy Rock band Black Orchid Empire (BOE) released their new Album 'Semaphore' on Friday 12th June on Long Branch Records. Arguably their finest work to date, 'Semaphore' is a record inspired by the genius of the greats of Science Fiction and is dedicated to their ever-growing Rock and Metal fanbase that is gaining momentum now globally.
We have closely followed the trio of Paul Visser, Billy Freedom and Dave Ferguson from their early days as “ones to watch”.
Millions of music streams and ever growing socials is now testament to how hard these boys have worked to create huge, memorable Rock music that combines heavy-hitting savagery with intense melodic beauty to attack your senses. Their technical, fearlessly complex grooves and gigantic sing-along choruses give something for everyone to get their ears into.
A ferociously tight live band, BOE have toured Europe and the UK extensively, recently supporting Skunk Anansie on their sold out 25th anniversary shows, including Brixton Academy, Glasgow and Bournemouth. These appearances, as well as previous tours with HED p.e, INME, Black Map and Ravenface, combined with festival slots at Download, Standon Calling, Planet Rockstock, Camden Rocks, Teddy Rocks and Taubertal, sees the bands reputation ever growing.
'Semaphore' is the third of their current trilogy ('Archetype' and 'Yugen' preceding) that sees them continue to push the musical envelope. Indeed, the album title starts us on our intergalactic journey as the only way of being telepathic. A series of Flags that can send us visions - 'Semaphore'.
'Emissaries' - begins our music journey - a short prologue if you like at the beginning of the album that perfectly tees your senses up and almost lulls you into a false sense of serenity. Beautifully choreographed wording that ends with holding your imagery of a star ship rocket launch 3-2-1 before sublimely leading into the first track ….
'Singularity' - bursts into life setting your pants on fire before sending your head into instantaneous motion. A great opening track based around a stranded spaceship staring down the abys of a black hole (if you’re interested). A hard-hitting opener with some furious drumming by Billy “the real deal” Freedom and some serious badass bass from Dave Ferguson that has just had an equally badass visualiser drop (today's Video Of The Day).
'Natural Selection' - is a melodic belter with some excellent range changes and stick clicking. It’s also about aliens and has a rather good video alongside to accompany it.
'Motorcade' – a personal favourite of mine that I immediately fell for. Probably because its theme is about a secret assassin. It almost has a Motorhead feel start before rolling into a solid rhythm of drums, with plenty of melodic and heavy toneage. A rollercoaster monster of a track, best served along the high street with the windows down.
'Red Waves' - immediately has that Punky Clash feel to it. Amazing track that just won’t let you rest. BOE have a great way of building then releasing tunes that assault your senses up down, sideways, over, back again allowing you to build before releasing your energy into an all-out workout. It’s great for your fitness as well as your ears - honestly!
'Heliopause' - relax, float away, get ready.
'Winter Keeps Us Warm' – Winter Winter oh Winter. You know the anthem one – well this is it. Paul Visser’s vocals bring the harmony of this song together simply divinely. This track builds, your head gently swaying to a big sigh of his lullaby voice before you start your lung bursting chorus audience participation. Some fantastic range changes in this track - an absolute anthem you will be singing all the way home and with another excellent video to accompany it.
'Dust' - pardon? Furious riffage from the outset. A track that makes a bassist hands bleed and a drummer lose his sticks. Bring It!
'Faces' - is a pure technical genius of a track. I’m surprised a band could keep up playing this one live to be honest….. but they do and we're very lucky people. Fantastic rhythmic genius this one.
'Death from Above' - is up next and to be honest I cannot believe bass player Dave has any fingers left. Played loud this track will definitely get your neighbours attention… or the police.
'Evergreen' - the tracks on this album just get better and better. You could almost say this album has something literally for everyone. 'Evergreen' is another beautiful harmonic choreatic song that gets you singing a mini anthem. A track you can shout out with your headphones on and literally not care who is staring at you - just beautiful. Again, another great video for this one.
'Monolith' – bloody hell, keep up. A total wall of sound headbanging banger of a track that will shatter your PPE and melt your face orf.
'Crash' - ends the album. Its quite astounding how a track could almost leave you thinking you’ve heard it in a film somewhere.
The technical ability and production on this album along with great song writing brilliance has to make any Rock/Metal fan give it a little stream. We prefer the river version, but definitely 9/10 for pure enjoyment. We have an idea what’s coming for a 10 score, so keep your eyes on these guys. Never has there been a better time to be part of the Empire so if you get a chance after Covid - get along to see Black Orchid Empire live and release some of that lockdown tension. Live gig/tour dates on their website
Bad Touch are a five-piece Southern Rock band from England’s Norfolk zone, and if you're looking for the British version of The Black Crowes, then look no further. Now in their tenth year as an unit, although their first album wasn’t until 2015, they are releasing ‘Kiss the Sky’ tomorrow Friday 19th June.
This is their fourth album in five years on the Marshall Record label and was recorded at the famous ‘Rockfield Studios’ in South Wales. With Nick Brine as producer at the desk, who having worked with the likes of The Darkness, Thunder and Ash, was obviously going to bring a quality sound to their thirteen-song collective.
Plenty of Southern Rock swagger and foot stomping runs right through the album from the opener ‘Come A Little Closer’ to the closing number ‘Something About Your Kiss’. An interesting choice of cover version comes in the form of ‘I’ve Got The Music In Me’, originally recorded by Kiki Dee (possibly a breaker into mainstream radio). It’s the ballad ‘See You Again’ that makes for the stand out track, falling a little more mid-Atlantic, similarly with the following track, ‘Before I Die’.
Bad Touch are Steve Westwood (vocals), Daniel Seekings (guitar/vocals), Rob Glendinning (guitar), Michael Bailey (bass) and George Drewry (drums). Ex-King King keyboard maestro Bob Fridzema also stamps his mark in places. Having already built a following and a presence on the UK and European club/festival circuit over the last few years, timing of releases are now becoming gap fillers until shows re-open. People don’t forget and the break should bring a resurgence on attendances - let's raise a glass to that! That’s a good touch!
Prog Rockers Lonely Robot are the brain child of producer, guitarist and singer/songwriter John Mitchell (Kino, Frost, Arena, It Bites), and are set to release their fourth studio album ‘Feelings Are Good’ on Friday 17th July through Sony/InsideOut Music. The album will be available as a Limited Edition CD Digipak, Gatefold 2LP+CD and as a Digital Album in both 16 & 24 bit versions (all including 2 bonus tracks). The cover artwork is by Paul Tippett/Vitamin P (Black Star Riders, Frost) which features a stark and disturbing image of a head with taped eyes and mouth! John says of the cover: "The artwork is meant to be a little disturbing. The closed eyes and taped over mouth are supposed to represent how people are very guarded with their emotions and what better way of emoting them than through the windows to the soul and the smile?" All songs were written, recorded, produced, mixed and mastered by Mitchell at Outhouse Studios, Reading. John also handles all vocals, guitars, bass and keyboards with the assistance of Craig Blundell (Steven Wilson, Steve Hackett, Frost) on drums. ‘Feelings Are Good’ is a bit of a departure from the first three Lonely Robot albums or ‘The Astronaut Trilogy’ as it has become known. John explains "On ‘Feelings Are Good’, I wanted to explore more personal themes and the songs are very much about individual experiences and narratives that I believe had been the cornerstones, good and bad, to my life. The long tall and short of it is that we’re back on planet Earth, and I have a personal lyrical axe to grind!”
Mitchell is a multifaceted musician who has his fingers in many musical pies! He seems to be in about three of four bands all at the same time, whilst also producing and engineering other artistes at his own studio Outhouse in Reading. If that wasn't enough he is also co-owner of the White Star Record label along with Chris Hillman (owner and founder of Magick Eye Records). Mitchell came to prominence in the Prog Rock music field around 1997 when he joined Prog Rockers Arena. Arena were founded in 1995 by Clive Nolan, keyboardist of Pendragon and Shadowland, and Mick Pointer, the original drummer of Marillion. Guitar virtuoso Mitchell replaced Keith More in 1997 and subsequently went on to record the 'The Visitor' album with them in 1998. As well as being in several other bands at the same time, Mitchell continues to work with Arena and has appeared on a further seven studio albums to date.
As the 90's drew to a close and the new millennium entered, Mitchell started to spread his musical wings and expand his CV further, appearing on two albums with The Urbane, 'Neon' (1999) and 'Glitter' (2003). The Urbane were a four-piece band from Reading, formed in 1994 and comprising of Mitchell on lead vocals and guitar, Martin Raggett on bass guitar and Paddy Darlington on keyboards. They split up in 2006. In 2004 Mitchell formed Kino with Pete Trewavas on bass (Marillion), John Beck on synthesizers (It Bites) and Chris Maitland on drums (Porcupine Tree). Their debut album 'Picture' was released in 2005, however, by 2006 the band went into hiatus due to Mitchell joining John Beck and Bob Dalton in the new It Bites lineup. Kino's second album 'Radio Voltaire' didn't appear until 2018.
Also in 2004, Mitchell formed Frost with songwriter, producer and musician Jem Godfrey. The band featured John Jowitt on bass (Arena, IQ and Jadis), Andy Edwards on drums (Robert Plant and IQ) and John Boyes on guitar (Freefall). Their well received debut album 'Milliontown' was released in 2006, with a further two, 'Experiments in Mass Appeal' in 2008 and 'Falling Satellites' in 2016. The band have gone through several lineup changes over the years with Godfrey and Mitchell being the only constant members. Their latest 'Others' EP was released in June 2020 with a new album due out in September 2020.
In 2006 Mitchell joined British Prog Pop band It Bites as their vocalist/guitarist replacing original singer and guitarist Francis Dunnery. Along with Bob Dalton on drums, John Beck on keyboards and Dick Nolan on bass guitar (Lee Pomeroy replaced Nolan on bass in 2008) they released two critically acclaimed studio albums 'The Tall Ships' (2008) and 'Map Of The Past' (2012), not to mention three brilliant live albums 'When The Lights Go Down' (2007), 'This Is Japan' (2010) and 'It Happened One Night' (2011). Sadly It Bites decided to call it a day in 2019. Despite being busier than the average musician could handle, Mitchell guested with many other artistes throughout the noughties including John Wetton, Touchstone and Heather Findlay to name a few! He even joined Alternative Rock band “A” in 2008, playing bass in place of original bass player Daniel P. Carter to support The Wildhearts on their UK tour, as well as a ten-date headline tour in 2009. Then in 2012, Mitchell toured with Martin Barre in his band "New Day", singing lead vocals on Jethro Tull songs.
In 2015 Mitchell released 'Please Come Home', the debut album from his new musical project Lonely Robot. It featured a number of guest artists including Peter Cox, Steve Hogarth, Jem Godfrey, Nik Kershaw, and British actor Lee Ingleby. The second album 'The Big Dream' was released in 2017, with the third 'Under Stars' in 2019, the concluding album of what Mitchell calls ‘The Astronaut Trilogy’. Onto 2020 and the upcoming release of the new Lonely Robot album 'Feelings Are Good'. This album sees Mitchell with his feet firmly back on Planet Earth and digging down deep into his personal psyche and getting in touch with much deeper emotional issues and feelings that have effected his life, the good and the bad! Many of Mitchell's musical influences including Genesis, Yes, Marillion, Asia, Pink Floyd, It Bites through to the 80's Synth Pop sounds of the likes of Nik Kershaw and Howard Jones can all be heard throughout his work, and this album is no exception!
The short title track opens up the album with a lone synthesised vocal, sounding very much like a vocoder. “This distant anger and quietest rage, don't be long now, just turn the page." 'Into The Lo-Fi' is a lively track with an insistent and relentless energetic drum pattern that never seems to let up! A radiant perma glow interjects through the rumbling denseness jostling for prominence. The vocoder style vocal gets another outing on this one, albeit only fleeting! A song about our fast paced modern life with it's constant chaos and eternal discord! Things were easier in the past! “Give me the lo-fi, give me the past, if this is my life then it's killing me fast, rewind, rewind, rewind...”
'Spiders' is an epic track with subtle elements of the King Crimson formula percolating throughout, definitely a stand out track and a Prog Rock masterpiece construction! Over driven dissonant angular electric guitar riffs bulldoze their way between the unrelenting grooves, with insistent stabbing piano punctuating key notes in the score. Intense jarring off-beat drum sets the heavy laden groove, with heavy gritty guitar phrases relentlessly imposing through the audio melange adding further exciting dynamic layers and intoxicating textures. Lush synth runs brighten the darker edges and sweeten the down beat mood. Impassioned vocals add to the superlative atmospheric melody. “Quietly spinning catastrophe, vulnerable figures in webs. Spiders spinning innocence, I can't get you out of my head, spiders you took everything, and left me defenceless."
'Crystalline' opens with a beautiful piano motif and mellifluous heart wrenching vocals full of melancholy emotion salubriously washing over the top. “All of this time I thought I was the child on the inside, you took me apart and throw all of my pieces away, it's a history grave a promise you made, and I should have just heeded the signs.” The intensity builds and climbs reaching an emotionally wrought peak with a deft nimble-fingered labyrinthian guitar solo, before the tension subsides returning to the opening piano motif and bringing the track to it's final conclusion. Lush ornamental waves of pure delight!
'Life Is A Sine Wave' opens with chugging palm muted rhythm guitar before a driving mid-tempo four on the floor drum pattern sets the rhythmic intention. Bright symphonic synth hooks abound over breathy silky smooth vocals that dip and soar like an emotional roller coaster. “Feign indifference you sometimes crack, you show a glimpse when facing back, life is a sine wave to get atop, fighting with shadows with all you got.” A dreamy, spacey, Neo-Prog guitar solo dips into Pink Floyd territory! Intense, gripping, well crafted, technically sublime, heavy on the sustain, and executed with perfect precision, makes this track one to return to time and again!
'Armour For My Heart' is heavy on the bass drum and busy on the hi-hat. A short repeating keyboard hook holds everything together before a musical amalgamation ascends into the stratosphere in a lush bright candescent glow, sprinklings of luminous spacey echoes awash over iridescent dazzling textures and lustrous layers. A song about having one's heart broken too many times and the need to build defences to prevent further heartbreak! “You sharpen your sword, and your poison remark, by making defences I'm building armour for my heart”.
'Suburbia' is another rhythmically insistent track with a massive wall of sound that dips and rises in intensity and mood, varying tempo changes help to break the flow and shake up the senses. Emotionally flowing in a spiral of oscillating movements and multidimensional connections that come at you from various juxtaposed angles. “Suburbia, your modern life perfect world, big advances hide your eyes, you ride the times and demonise the soul.”
'The Silent Life' is a deeply sublime arresting atmospheric ballad. A beguiling sonic bed of delicately shimmering cellos peppered with decorative piano arpeggios, support raw, emotionally exposed and vulnerable euphonious vocals as they delicately glide over the top with a strong sense of purpose and respectful grace. “For in the endless street parade, there's beauty in her silent ways, she's living life to observe, never speaks a single word, and in tooth by tooth she builds a smile, and lives the silent life." A tastefully restrained and technically proficient melodic guitar solo, reminiscent of David Gilmour or Steve Rothery, tingles the senses and is quit simply stunning!
'Keeping People As Pets' is another busy and dramatic track with multiple cinematic layers. It starts out as if it is going to be an 90's dance track with programmed synthesiser phrases prominent, but thankfully a more straight forward Rock beat with discernible electric guitar squeals are established pretty quick! The vocals are slightly more gritty and raspy than heard on previous tracks and periodically delivered synthesised. “At times we look down on God, so hard to keep up charade, what first was told, in perfect gold, it slowly becomes scarred.”
'Army Of One' opens with the sound of marching feet before huge waves of synth chords and a tsunami of electric guitars flood the air space and drown the silence. Once the tidal wave of sound subsides a lone piano and vocal are left bare for a few seconds before the intense heavy Grungy chorus hook “lets go to war!” comes crashing in like a steam hammer! “Are you listening, can you hear me, am I even making sense, I am battered, bruised and broken, it is only self defence, So, let's go to war...” Stabbing synth chords fight with intense, angry, despondent and disillusioned vocals creating a cornucopia of astounding sounds! The raucous energetic guitar solo sounds quite disturbed and restless, which fits the overall mood of uneasiness and foreboding.
'Grief Is The Price Of Love' is a short, emotionally intense ballad with delicately picked acoustic guitar accompaniment over heart-wrenching ethereal vocals. “When you were a child, with those innocent eyes, they sheltered you from the above, grief is the price of love, and how the words echo with age, however you turn, there is one fault you must learn, there's no rainbow without some rain.”. The album also features two bonus tracks, orchestral versions of 'The Silent Life' and 'Crystalline'.
Overall this is a majestically grand, musically well-crafted, technically sublime and proficiently produced album, full of intense emotions and deep sentiments expressed through innovative compositions. Mitchell bares his soul on these songs which makes this album compelling listening.
Steven C. Gilbert