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Peach Jam

Peach Jam

What else can you do during a heatwave other than lie back and listen to an instrumental album full of Summer goodness? Credit must go to the album cover art work for invoking 70’s style halcyon days. Mike Ross’s latest effort, in his recently prodigious output, offers not just a suite of Southern Rock but, by golly, as John Thompson’s character out of the Fast Show would intone, “This is Jazz”.

He opens the album with the familiar Allman licks of his guitar before what goes into a 14-minute title-track jam of extraordinary musical chops by all players concerned. Accompanied by a Hammond-organ attack supplied by Rob Millis, he slaloms into changes in mood and tempo before slicing through with a riff driven extended solo which segues into a cow-bell inspired (Darren Lee on drums) rhythmic dance through guitar chords. Cue some dizzy Rhodes piano soloing (Matt Slocum) and there is even a sly 'Son of a Preacher Man' motif thrown in before returning to the opening melody: Simply mesmeric.

This is followed by an acoustic re-working of 'Amazing Grace' exuding a warm camp-fire interlude that takes the Gospel church into the cabin in the woods: Short and sweet.

This offers a fitting prelude to the piece de resistance of this mini-LP, 'Galadrielle'. A glorious mash-up of Moog Gospel soulfulness on the keys, and a complementary rhythm section of grooving bass (Derek Randall) and drumming. This is all topped-off with a reverse tape-loop a la Stone Roses 'Don’t Stop' to concoct a heady brew with Psychedelic overtones.

This flows into the plaintive cover of Free’s 'Don't Say You Love Me', a nod to the fellow North-Easterner Paul Rodgers, and a demonstration that Mike is not just an accomplished guitarist but also an emotive and sensitive singer. This all sets up a beautiful finale, a musical paean to his departed father 'Derek and Me', which begins with a nostalgic doo-wop chord progression that morphs into a Blues acoustic and grows into a soaring electric conclusion.

Ivan De Mello

Trios

Trios

For the ordinary Joe, delving into the back of a cupboard might at best uncover an old tour t-shirt, strangely several sizes too small. For musicians like Bernie Marsden, a similar investigation is more likely to uncover something more interesting, as is the case with this selection of numbers that the artist recorded with drummer Jimmy Copley and bassist David Levy back in 2007, which have been gathering proverbial dust since.

It’s a bit of a mystery as to why these very tasty nuggets have been overlooked until now. Fortuitously, given the almost accidental way that the recordings came about (trying out a new studio and having a bit of a jam) and the random choice of songs, which thematically fell into the category of monster numbers performed by power trios, led by some of the best guitar players there’s been.

It’s a testament to the unassuming guitarist that he tackles numbers by artists like Jeff Beck (‘Black Cat Moan’) and Jimi (‘Drifting’ and ‘Spanish Castle Magic’) and, without attempting to re-invent them in the slightest, still brings a freshness of approach through his excellent guitar work and equally impressive vocals, that makes this album a highly enjoyable listen and a bit of a drool-fest for lovers of Classic Rock fretwork.

Simon Green

Blues From The Heart Live

Blues From The Heart Live

Hot on the heels of her first all Blues album released last year, comes a blistering live album from Joanne Shaw Taylor that includes the majority of ‘The Blues Album’, plus a selection of live favourites from her growing back catalogue. The listener knows they’re in for a treat from the opening notes of Peter Green’s ‘Stop Messin’ Round’. This is a real peach of an album, as not only is each song a gem in itself, but we get to hear extended soloing from an exceptional guitarist right at the top of her game to flesh out these numbers.

As well as being backed by a couple of musicians who have worked with Joe Bonamassa recently, the laconic Steve Mackey on bass and Rob McNelley on second guitar (whose slide playing on ‘Dyin’ to Know’ really enhances a classic guitar number), the man himself joins for the three closing numbers: ‘Don’t Go Away Mad’, replicating their duet from the ‘Blues Album’, a bluesy ‘Summertime’ from the ‘Wild’ album and finally a fresh, powerful version of Delaney and Bonnie’s ‘Only You Know and I Know’. These two make a great pairing and while this is definitely JST’s showcase, I can’t help but think that on this evidence these two friends would make a cracking album together.

Further guitar treats are served up by a guest appearance by Kenny Wayne Shepherd, who burns it up on Albert King’s ‘Can’t You See What You’re Doing To Me’. The addition of a single sax player and two backing vocalists as well as Jimmy Wallace on keyboards help to recreate the soulful groove of the recent studio recordings and with the lady’s vocals reaching new heights, this is both an essential listen for existing fans and a good place to start for newcomers. An accompanying DVD shot with the typically strong production values associated with KTBA releases, beautifully captures the action from the Franklin Theatre in Tennessee and helps make this a very tasty package.

Simon Green

Life’s Machine

Life’s Machine

One of the refreshing things about this excellent debut from the Portsmouth centred outfit is, not unsurprisingly given that the lyrics mostly come from the female side of the band, that the songs are written from the female perspective. So, instead of notches on the bedpost bragging or references to lemons being squeezed etc. there are unashamedly honest (and witty) songs like 'What’s Your Name Again' from the viewpoint of the woman waking up in a strange bed after one too many the night before.

Another thing that sets this collection apart is that the band is fronted by two very powerful female vocalists in Lindsey Bonnick and Chloe Josephine, who’s vocal styles complement each other perfectly as they soar over, what turns out, on repeated plays, to be a bit of a classic Blues rock album. The track that epitomises the beauty and grand scale of the vocals is 'Break Me', which is a brilliantly tortured song about a love triangle and, as well as featuring a mini choir to create gloriously layered harmonies, has a burning guitar solo from Ed Clarke, who’s guitar playing throughout is fiery, controlled and interestingly creative.

This track is going to be featuring on many playlists, as are many other songs on this, such as the high adrenalin riff driven opener 'Heart Attack', which also highlights the tight and crunchy playing of Donna Peters on drums and Billy Dedman on bass. There’s probably more Rock than Blues influences on display but either way these are 12 absolute bangers that represent really fine song writing and production values, not to mention outstanding musicianship.

As mentioned, the vocal arrangements are to die for, especially on the Bluesy 'Come Down'. The solo on this track is another scorcher, with each note counting, but it is a pleasant change to listen to a track like this where it is the individual vocal sections that make you want to come back for more. This is an outstanding debut and will undoubtedly be one of the standout albums of the year.

Simon Green

'Above Cirrus

'Above Cirrus

British Prog/Electronic Rock band Pure Reason Revolution are set to release their fifth studio album 'Above Cirrus' on Friday 6th May 2022 through Inside Out Music. ‘Above Cirrus’ contains seven songs that continue many of the musical through lines that fans have come to expect; maintaining a balance between sombre reflection and intrepid exploration. The striking album cover features an art piece called “Deaf Mute” by artist Jill Tegan Doherty. The art depicts a rather traumatised polar bear that’s out of its normal environment and partially covered in slow thawing ice. The musicians on the album are Jon Courtney - guitar, vocals, keyboards, Chloë Alper - bass, vocals, keyboards and Greg Jong - guitars, vocals.

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 their first new material in almost ten years. The resulting landmark comeback album 'Eupnea' was released in 2020. By the time ‘Eupnea’ was released, the band had spent a moderate amount of time anticipating their first tour in over ten years supporting the record. But as the picture of current events became clearer and clearer, and shows kept getting pushed back further and further, the plan changed - and work on ‘Above Cirrus’ began.

The opening track 'Our Prism' storms in with a maelstrom of jarring angular guitars and relentlessly violent pounding drums. A heavy monstrous track to kick things off. The potent blend of Cortney and Alper's vocals meld with intricate complexity and longing intrigue. “And I feel connected and hurt, Body infect the soul, And I feel the wrath spin and pull, Body defect the soul.”

'New Kind of Evil' starts off slow and menacing gradually building into a bewildering cacophony that weaves in and out of the storm with gloomy shades of darkness and timorous foreboding. “She spits wild, now we hasten attack and forsake her, Don’t go today, God I need her, Don’t show a trace, so adored, Don’t turn away or deceive her, Don’t stoke the pain or remorse, As tidal waves spin, New kind of evil burns here, You cut into my life & bend, New kind of evil… Bare!”

'Phantoms' is a full on disco inferno! Awash with electronic beats and trembling synths, but then halfway through thundering block guitar chords enter guiding the momentum into Heavy Rock territory. The vocal harmonies between Courtney and Alper are sensationally devine! “Break, naked and cracked, Show me you rag and bone crooked fear, Chase, raid and attack! Show me your ransacked book of dreams.”

'Cruel Deliverance' starts off sparse, mellow and meandering before gradually building in intensity, filling the air space with clattering dissonance and roaring aggression culminating in a seething mass of discord and disquietude! Again the vocal harmonies between Courtney and Alper are sublime. “It’s a cruel deliverance, in our words, in our wounds, It’s a cruel deliverance and a rush too far, You scold, explode, I run! Now thunder burst, we pull the earth, Messiahs come, allure the earth.”

'Scream Sideways' is ten minutes of mayhem with metamorphosing moods and juxtaposing tempos. The track starts of slow and moody, but once the drums enter everything gets crazy! Intense moments of angst permeate with kaleidoscopic reverence and seething deference. “Scream till you hit the core, Storm after fire now falling, Silence to make you sore Echoes that fight now run, fear!”

'Dead Butterfly' enters with slow moody piano arpeggios and celestial breathy vocals before relentlessly heavy attacking electric guitars come crashing in splattering the soundscape with grinding intensity! The electronic backing makes a spikey bed for the melodies and harmonies to oscillate and float with earnest. The beautiful harmonies from Courtney and Alper are truly infectious, “New enemies revealed on earth, Torn by beasts and beat to dirt, All I feel, pervert alone, The mantle weeps.”

The final track 'Lucid' commences with assiduous vocals from Courtney over delicate piano chords before boundless electric guitar riffs engulf the spaces between the notes, splashing over the drama like a tidal wave hitting the shore! Layers of sound dip and weave enveloping the listener into an aural tunnel of tingling sensations. Vocal harmonies twist and wind creating an atmospheric vortex. “You were lucid for a while then bent dead, You waited for a while, lamented, Take aim my love, It’s murder when the eyes unveil.”

Overall an exuberantly intense, rumbustiously tumultuous listening experience that will leave you quite emotionally exhausted but somewhat rejuvenated at the same time. The stunning vocal harmonies from Courtney and Alper are the albums crowning glory and make this an essential album to hear.

The band also finally managed to re-schedule their tour and played their first UK shows in over ten years. Sadly Chloë Alper didn’t join them due to her current touring commitments with 90s Brit Pop band James. In her place was singer songwriter Annicke Shireen.


Steven C. Gilbert

Shining in The Half Light

Shining in The Half Light

Sometimes it’s not just about hitting the right notes, but having a voice that hits the sweet spot in your preferred range of vocal timbres. We all have different tastes of course, but certain voices have the ability to resonate widely. It’s not just vocal dexterity; some voices have that additional and indefinable charismatic quality, which is the case with the very charming Elles Bailey, displayed here to great effect across ten superbly crafted songs tracks of outstanding quality on her studio follow up to the excellent 'Road I Call Home' from 2019.

The album was originally intended to be recorded in Nashville, but Covid scuppered that plan. Less glamorous, but no less effectively, the songs were instead recorded primarily at Middle Farm Studio in Devon under the direction of producer Dan Weller. This has not resulted in any loss of sonic quality or musicianship, which are both top notch, in particular the consistently tasteful contribution of long term sideman, Joe Wilkins on lead guitar. A little of the music city sheen was added with the tracks being mastered at Sterling Sound in Nashville.

These numbers fairly crackle with a vibrant energy. Opening track 'Cheats & Liars', a dig at the Government, begins with a brooding, tremolo laden guitar figure, punctuated by a crashing drum effect that sounds like a score of work gang chains crashing simultaneously into a wire fence. This builds to a powerful chorus, heralded by the introduction of some sumptuous backing vocals that burst into life along with Elle’s seemingly effortless main vocal, “turn, turn, turn, world keeps a turning, deal us scraps from your silver spoon”. Instantly memorable and bristling with power.

Each of the ten songs has been co-written with a number of different collaborators and this has resulted in an early contender for Blues album of the year. 'The Game' is another melodic uptempo romp with a strong chorus propelled along by Joe Wilkins’ fat riff and effective slide runs. The singer’s honey edged, but tough vocals, cope equally well with the faster numbers as well as slow builders like 'Colours Start to Run', which has some superb keyboard work by Jonny Henderson and strong, Gospel flavoured backing vocals.

'Different Kind of Love' is a heavenly slice of soulful Blues with a simply gorgeous vocal delivery; the inflexion on “kind” in the opening line “won’t you whisper something kind” has an engaging, emotional sincerity that is rarely heard. Absolutely lovely. 'Sunshine City' is another stomper with a great guitar part and some greasy slide playing. 'Riding Out The Storm' has a real Dusty in Memphis vibe, which is as good as it gets. There are no weak tracks. Elles Bailey deserves to be heard by a wider audience and build on her growing loyal fan base. With music as good as this, greater success can only be a matter of time.

Simon Green

Shelter of Bones

Shelter of Bones

An album three years in the making, is usually a sign of artistic malaise, indicative of musicians struggling to make anything of their half-baked ideas. In this case, circumstances allowed Dan Patlansky the time to revisit and refine a group of songs in the best tradition of an artist always wanting to improve their creation; the result being a rich collection of strong, powerful tunes that further showcase the vocal and instrumental talents of the South African musician.

Unlike many other Blues musicians, he appears to focus primarily on the quality of the songs first, rather than using them purely as a framework to hang some solos onto. Their subject matter also have a bit more depth than we usually see. ‘Soul Parasite’, for instance, opens the album with a classically punchy Rock riff and lyrics railing against the failings of political leaders. Whereas many others would be content to pound that riff relentlessly into oblivion, the song leads to a divertingly melodic chorus and contains subtle turns that are characteristic of the skilful production throughout.

‘Snake Oil City’ is the purest Blues number, and again points the finger at corrupt politicians, at an up-tempo shuffle pace over which there is an abundance of deliciously clean soloing. There is much variety of pace over the 10 numbers, including a number of really excellent ballads, the first of which, ‘Lost’, has the sort of sensitive organ playing and phrasing that gets to me every time. Despite the diversity of sounds, the guitarist’s solidly Blues-based phrasing runs through each song like the stripes on a stick of rock.

One of my personal favourites is ‘I’ll Keep Trying’, a beautiful ballad with a sumptuous production, and is one of the three numbers that remain from the original concept of the album produced by Tom Gatza; the producer has teased a sweet, restrained vocal performance from the guitarist, not to mention some gorgeous soloing, and the result is a memorable highlight.

‘Hounds Loose’, released as a single taster for the album, is another take on the old Blues theme of selling your soul to the devil and dealing with the eventual payback. Fittingly this features some scorching lead playing that brings SRV to mind in its intensity. This is a really strong set of cleverly arranged tunes that reveal something new on each repeated listen.

Simon Green

Short Stories

Short Stories

Doing a little research on Mr. Townend, I noted that he moved to Essex in 2001 and gave up music for 10 years. Essex can do that to you of course, but this gent has made up for it since and thank goodness he did. I caught his band a few years back and really enjoyed his guitar playing and the quality of the songs. His singing voice did not have the same effect but, nestled in among the lavishly arranged tunes on this fine collection, his Knopfler-esque vocal style sounds more at home, effectively conveying the sincerity of the lyrics.

Opener ‘Got to Pay Your Dues’ sums up the position of many musicians supported by a relatively small number of ageing music lovers, “We got small town gigs with big long drives, day time job to pay for these lives, low on money after the show, and sleepy old eyes with a 100 miles to go”. This motors along like an old tour van heading up the M1 fuelled by its middle period Chris Rea riff and a variety of guitar tones with some echoing slide. The arrangements of these well-crafted songs raise these numbers well above the average.

‘Just the Way It Was’ is a delightful gentle paced song with a theme of nostalgia “we watched the grainy images of a man standing on the moon, Armstrong and Frankenstein and a baby boom” and has some gorgeous harmonies. ‘Everyman’ is elevated by the excellent guitar work by the top cat in this combo, some trademark elegant Country style bending and careful note selection. The same could be said for the melodic groove of ‘The Picture’, which has some beautiful soloing.

Although the album was recorded over lockdown in a number of locations, with the band accessing remotely (some from Russia), it certainly doesn’t show. On the title track the songwriter sings “I want to write a story that touches your heart” and I’d say, mission accomplished, particularly listening to ‘Cruel to Be Kind’ (not a Nick Lowe cover), with its sad Country lament. ‘Listen up a Little’ is a joyous acoustic tub thumper with some lovely Chet Atkins runs and would have fitted in nicely on the Notting Hillbillies album. The boys with the more tuneful vocals add some happily corny backing on this to give it a good fun rating of 10 out of 10.

‘Lord It’s Time’ is a similarly enjoyable Gospel-tinged romp laced with some more stand out harmony work and a layered arrangement that builds beautifully underneath tasty picking. This is melodic heaven. This artist deserves a wider level of recognition for sure. This album is a good place to start if he’s not been on your radar before.

Simon Green

Altitude

Altitude

English Progressive Rock band Lifesigns released their third studio album ‘Altitude’ in March 2021. The album was recorded remotely and completely crowd funded. Consisting of eight tracks spanning just over fifty four minutes, all tracks were written by founder and leader John Young, produced by Steve Rispin and John Young, engineered and mixed by Steve Rispin at Lifesigns Studio 2, mastered by Robbie Bronnimann at Recognizer Studios, Bristol, with artwork and cover design by Be Wilde. Musicians on the album include John Young (keyboards, vocals), Dave Bainbridge (guitar), Jon Poole (bass, vocals), Zoltán Csörsz (drums) and Steve Rispin (Engineer, keyboards). Guests include Robin Boult (acoustic guitar), Peter Knight (violin), Juliet Wolff (cello) and Lynsey Ward (backing vocals).

The band initially formed in 2008 by keyboardist and vocalist John Young (Bonnie Tyler, Scorpions, Greenslade, Qango, Asia), drummer Frosty Beedle (Cutting Crew), sound engineer Steve Rispin and bassist Nick Beggs (Ellis, Beggs, & Howard, Steven Wilson, Rick Wakeman, Steve Hackett, Kim Wilde, Belinda Carlisle, Iona, Kajagoogoo, Rockets, The Mute Gods). Their first album, ‘Lifesigns’ was released in February 2013 and featured notable guest stars including Steve Hackett (Genesis), Jakko Jakszyk (King Crimson), Thijs Van Leer (Focus) and Robin Boult (Fish). Shortly after the album’s release, Beggs left to be replaced by Jon Poole (Cardiacs, Wildhearts, Dowling Poole). The touring line-up was completed by former Steven Wilson guitarist Niko Tsonev.

The live album/DVD ‘Under the Bridge - Live in London’ was released in 2015 and was recorded at the Under The Bridge Club at Chelsea Football Club. Their second studio album ‘Cardington’ was released in 2017 and was completely funded via a pledge music campaign that met its target in just 48 hours. The album also features guest appearances from Robin Boult, Dave Bainbridge (Iona, Strawbs, Celestial Fire) and Menno Gootjes (Focus). After the release of the album, Tsonev decided to jump ship to pursue his own solo career, he in turn was replaced in the band by Bainbridge on guitar and second keyboards. ‘Cardington’ reached the top ten in the Amazon national chart and was number 4 in the UK Indie chart, all without any mainstream airplay. In 2020, Frosty Beedle left just before the release of the ‘Altitude’ album, and was replaced by Zoltán Csörsz (Flower Kings, Karmakanic).

The album kicks of in formidable style with the monumental fifteen-minute title track 'Altitude'. Opening with a dreamy cascading piano phrase, that dances over sweeping keyboard flourishes, which gradually build weaving in and out with lush sweeping strings augmenting the mood. The intensity increases when bass guitar and drums enter the fold raising the energy levels to greater towering heights. The insistent piano phrase repeats throughout as do warm cello interludes. Soaring guitar adds to the overall magnitude of the piece and elevates the listener to a higher altitude! This song is about the sorrow, pain and perils of wartime aviation. “Imagine what we could do, no wars flying over you, this is our world no weapons here, one day soon, they'll pass your door, all these things, and so much more”. Stirring vocal delivery from Young.

'Gregarious' is a musically lighter song with a delectably hooky melody line and insistent staccato piano chords dominating. Sumptuously lavish guitar lines from Bainbridge add sparkle. Much critical self-analysis in the lyrics. “Sometimes when we fall, it makes no sense at all, how we criticise, all the things we do, it all comes down to you, how we analyse”.

'Ivory Tower' is awash with atmospheric keyboard layers interspersed with soaring melodic Gilmouresque guitar lines that reach for the sky. Funky bubbling bass kicks in half way through advancing the track to a higher plain of consciousness. This song is about heartbroken lament of broken trust. “When I'm looking for perfection, for an angel in disguise, but something pulls me back towards the night, yeah I'm looking for an answer, for an end to all these lies, and I still believe we'll make it to the light”. A sublimely emotive vocal performance from Young intensifies the sentiment.

'Shoreline' has lashings of lush Moog segments with intricate counterpoint rhythms to trip the listener up. Cosmic melodic solo guitar runs from Bainbridge astound with resplendent vocals from Young conveying the spiritual ambience, sounding uncannily like a certain Peter Gabriel in places! “Take me to the shoreline, and let me stare into the sea, this is where the journey started, as we touch the air we breathe”.

'Fortitude' is a ten-minute epic about seeking inner strength. “Do you care?, Do you care?, waiting for moments, searching for words to say, trying to find a way, find a way here”. A visceral journey juxtaposing between light and shade with moments of tranquil aural space, allowing the listener to catch a breath before diving further into the sonic ether.

'Arkhangelsk' is a very short keyboard soundscape interlude before the penultimate track 'Last One Home' enters. A heart-wrenching ballad which is a re-imagined Quango song, co-written by Young and erstwhile band-mate John Wetton. Young’s emotive vocal delivery is quite remarkable and Bainbridge’s guitar work dazzles throughout. “A wall of sea surrounds him, confronting all his fears, this seething mass sustained him, a friend for all these years, and now the tide is turning, he can feel the undertow, the only sound is water all around”. 'Altitude' (reprise) closes the album with a brief electronic re-visitation of the main theme of the title track.

Overall, the album has a clean smooth and crisp production, impressively rich songwriting with effectively stirring arrangements and formidable musicianship. Sure to appeal to admirers of Prog Rock giants such as Genesis, Yes, Camel, Marillion and Gilmour era Floyd.

Steven C. Gilbert.

Mind Control

Mind Control

The more I play it the more I love it! This essential Blues album, which was written during the time of Covid lockdown, brings you songs of life, the difficult direction it can sometimes travel in and shows that with acceptance of circumstance and positivity, you can grow within it. Simo shares with us “It’s my favorite thing I’ve ever done because it was just very natural” revealing what an incredibly cathartic experience the production of this album was for him.

Born in Chicago in the mid-eighties, J D Simo, after continually begging his parents for one, began playing guitar at the age of five. Only just in double figures, he regularly played in bars backed by older musicians and by fifteen had dropped out of school, formed his first band and toured continually before releasing a live EP which sold around 5,000 copies. “For six years,” he says, “I just lived in a van and played all over the country and never really had a home.” He earned a strong following in the Phoenix area where he performed regularly, appealing to all ages, through his dynamic stage performances and intricate guitar skills. Towards the end of 2006 he moved to Tennessee, establishing himself as the lead guitarist in the Don Kelly Band, which led to him being in high demand as a session musician, a capacity which he played in until 2011.

With joining bass guitarist, Frank Swart, and longtime seasoned collaborator, Adam Abrashoff, on drums, at the beginning of 2010 the Rock band SIMO was created. That year was then spent cutting tracks in a makeshift studio and with the addition of longtime friend, bassist-producer-engineer Adam Bednarik (Justin Townes Earle) they succeeded in bringing together an unconventional mix of shared influences. On tour with the release of their debut album, 'SIMO', in the November of 2011, this was brought to an end with a performance and homecoming at the The Basement in Nashville, the site of their very first show. A vinyl single of 'Shake It/AOH' was released by Sundazed Records on 25th, January 2013, with SIMO then being invited to perform at several festivals throughout that Summer. After opening shows for legendary bands such as Deep Purple and Gregg Allman, then also participating in Joe Bonamassa's inaugural cruise, they then carried out their first tour of South USA in 2015.

With friend Joe Bonamassa bringing the band to the attention of the Mascot Label Group and stating that frontman and guitarist JD Simo is “one of the best out there right now”, they were signed, and the release of their album, ‘Let Love Show The Way’, was in January 2016. With guitar tones courtesy of a '69 Plexi and 70's Traynor, this was Simo's second release, but debut album on Provogue/Mascot Label Group, and on Friday 29th January of that year, Ed van Zijl (CEO of Mascot) applauded it saying that “In the end it all comes down to the guitar, the instrument I adore. If played right it is the most expressive tool in music, after the voice of course.” Debuting on the Billboard Blues Chart in January 2016, this album generated positive reviews and international press coverage from music journalists including Rolling Stone and NPR (National Public Radio), who featured them nationally. Their first full and national tour began in June 2016 performing in a crucifying 37 states in less than 4 months, and totalling more than 80 shows. At the close of that year they had performed a colossal 215 shows in nine countries!

After spending over four months experimenting and adopting a different approach to their previous work, the group next created and released the album, 'Rise & Shine', in the September of 2017, with JD claiming that “much of the lyrical content was autobiographical and was hard for him to listen to at times because of its revealing nature.” JD explains that “If you go through my record collection and look at the more contemporary titles, you'll see the Roots, Wilco, Alabama Shakes and Ryan Adams. I listen to a lot of old Soul music, too. Isaac Hayes. Funkadelic. Bob Dylan. 'On Rise & Shine', I was just trying to cull from the vastness that is my normal music diet, and not trying to pander to some target that was easy to hit." This very expansive album of Blues Rock, with the odd Psychedelic twist thrown in, worked perfectly.

During lockdown in 2020, the band started cutting tracks in their Covid makeshift studio on a weekly basis. Joined by Abrashoff and Bednarik, they mused a proverbial soup of shared influences. 'Mind Control', which was released on 5th November 2021, is a product of this raw collaboration of these three like-minded friends making music to make them feel good. Using the creating of this album for self-therapy and enjoyment, simply because they had to, this soulful Psychedelic Blues Rock album brings us their most original, unique and rawest effort yet. Recently joining forces with the highly touted GA-20, JD and his band have just finished a colossal 60 date tour of North America with alternating headline slots.

With toe-curling demonic Blues vibes opening the first album track, 'Go Away Satan', this has a Psychedelic influence throughout, taking you on a crazy musical medley with lyrics reflecting the internal struggle one can have with bleak and tired thoughts. I found myself struggling to make out the song's verse lyrics as it progressed, but still captured the essence of the track, it's 60’s type retro sound and the weary plea for Satan to go fuck himself!

"I'm in Love' follows this, with a cruisy Blues guitar introduction, which develops throughout in a very mesmerising and rhythmic foot tapping way with Simo losing himself in his music and living entirely in the moment like the Blues greats of old. The guitar is the main focus of this track and it carries you on its waves as the voice of Simo's soul seeps into yours as you travel the song together.

'Let's Go' is an old school swampy Blues recording, which digs down deep inside you, making you ponder about life and its negativities, whilst imploring you to shake them off and free yourself, to break the cycle.

With trippy vibes focusing on how shuttered and ignorant these sort of people are on the album's first single, 'Know It All', released in August 2021, this track builds up then leads you away, before ending in a crescendoing finish. JD explains “the importance of humility, avoiding the knee-jerk response of speaking when I should listen or just openly admitting when I don’t know something or am wrong. I strive to be a better human being and often the things I’m most judgmental about in others are those I need to work on most myself.”

"Want What I Don't Have", features some intricate guitar chords with steady drumming to keep the track moving forwards allowing JD to reach deep within himself, to express the struggles of mental health.

"That's When You Know That You're Down' was the second single released, and is a track that he wrote late one night after listening to a bunch of Captain Beefheart. JD shares with us "It’s definitely got a lot of his influence. The riff itself is a take off of an old Magic Sam kind of thing. The song is a meld of those two worlds, I suppose. Love how it turned out!” Indeed, this is a soulful, guitar-focused track that reflects back on his early influences of the 60s and 70s which merged many genres of music together, gritty and raw and a bit like a live jam.

Following this with music and a beat that successfully represents the song title. 'Fucked Up', the next track twists and wildly gyrates in a very 70's Psychedelic way. It blends well together, borrowing from various music styles from Funk to Gospel.

With a captivating, grinding introduction, the next track, 'Devil Is Always Watchin', flows into a groovy Blues number that creeps into your bones as it ruminates about having the devil always on your shoulder, waiting to capitulate on any moment of weakness within you.

'People Pleaser' has a spacey start, with beautiful sequences and Simo's raw Blues guitar, bringing to mind mind-bending colour and lights dancing wildly, gyrating to the rhythm and beat. A real feel-good song, with JD making use of the guitar in so many experimental and interesting ways.

As would probably be reflective of the song title, 'Recovery', this track starts very slow and melancholy before picking up with striking guitar. “Always speak true no matter how hard it seems”, being just one example of Simo's consciousness in the creating of this personal journey through Covid times.

Di Foxy

Uriah Heep Vinyl Picture Discs

Uriah Heep Vinyl Picture Discs

Renowned British Hard Rockers Uriah Heep’s first two albums ‘…Very ‘Eavy …Very ‘Umble’ (1970) and ‘Salisbury’ (1971) were released as limited-edition vinyl picture discs by BMG on Friday 28th January 2022. These beautifully presented albums begin a series of collector picture disc releases from the Uriah Heep catalogue. The artwork for each picture disc has been meticulously worked on, retouching the original art and creating a true visual feast. BMG are set to release further limited-edition vinyl album picture discs on Friday 25th February, this time their fourth album ‘Demons and Wizards’ (May 1972) and fifth album, ‘The Magician’s Birthday’ (November 1972). Both albums feature the original and reimagined artwork of Roger Dean, who is widely seen as one of the masters of 12" album cover art from this time.

Uriah Heep's eclectic debut album '...Very 'Eavy…Very 'Umble' was originally released on 19th June 1970 on Vertigo Records. The original vinyl release was a gatefold sleeve, featuring front man David Byron on the front sleeve, almost unrecognizable beneath cobwebs. The album was reissued by Bronze Records in 1971 after the band signed to that label. The album features David Byron - lead vocals, Ken Hensley - piano, organ, mellotron, slide guitar, vocals (except ‘Come Away Melinda’ and ‘Wake Up (Set Your Sights)’), Mick Box - lead and acoustic guitars, vocals, Paul Newton - bass guitar, vocals, Alex Napier - drums (except ‘Lucy Blues’, ‘Dreammare’ and ‘Bird of Prey’), Nigel Olsson - drums on ‘Lucy Blues’ and ‘Dreammare’, Keith Baker - drums on ‘Bird of Prey’ and Colin Wood - keyboards and vocals on ‘Come Away Melinda’ and ‘Wake Up (Set Your Sights)’. Produced by Gerry Bron, engineered by Peter Gallen and mixed by Peter Olliff.

Side one opens with the monstrous ‘Gypsy’ (Box, Byron). Full of intense Hammond organ stabbing and wailing guitars! One of Heep's finest songs and a highlight of their live set to this day. ‘Walking in Your Shadow’ (Byron, Newton) is a deliciously steady riff driven track. The atmospheric ballad ‘Come Away Melinda’ (Fred Hellerman, Fran Minkoff) shows their mellower side. Concluding side one ‘Lucy Blues’ (Box, Byron) is, as the title suggest, a Blues based Rock song and probably the weakest track on the album. Side two opens with ‘Dreammare’(Newton), a hard driving track with dark and dramatic twists and turns. ‘Real Turned On’ (Box, Byron, Newton) is a tasty groove laden boogie. The Hammond heavy ‘I'll Keep on Trying’ (Box, Byron) is vibrantly intense with inventively eccentric guitar work from Box! The album closes with the opulent and pulsating ‘Wake Up (Set Your Sights)’" (Box, Byron). Although the album was initially met with muted reviews, it’s now widely heralded as a seminal classic of the Hard Rock genre.

Their second album, ‘Salisbury’, was originally released in January 1971 by Vertigo Records. Unlike their first album, songwriting credits for fully half of the record were attributed to Ken Hensley alone, as opposed to the debut's collaborative partnership of frontman David Byron and guitarist Mick Box. Soon after the release, drummer Keith Baker left the band, replaced by Ian Clark (Cressida). With Clark, the band embarked on their first US tour, supporting Three Dog Night and Steppenwolf.

Salisbury’s epic 16-minute Prog Rock infused title track features a 24-piece orchestra and ultimately proved significant for Hensley's instant rise to a position as main composer of the group's music. The front cover of the album depicted a British Chieftain tank, which connects to the title, as Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, England, is a military training area. The original LP release was a gatefold sleeve, with a black-and-white image of the underside of a Chieftain tank on the inside with the turret facing the rear, over which were printed Hensley's comments on each track. The album was reissued by Bronze Records later in 1971 after the band signed to that label for their third album. Salisbury was remastered and reissued by Castle Communications in 1996 with two bonus tracks, and again in 2003 in an expanded deluxe edition. In 2016, Sanctuary Records released a two-disc deluxe edition.
The album features David Byron - lead vocals (except ‘Lady in Black’ and ‘High Priestess’), Ken Hensley - slide and acoustic guitars, organ, piano, harpsichord, vibraphone, mellotron, vocals, lead vocals on ‘Lady in Black’ and ‘High Priestess’, Mick Box - lead and acoustic guitar, vocals, Paul Newton - bass guitar, vocals, Keith Baker - drums and John Fiddy - brass and woodwind arrangement on ‘Salisbury’. Produced by Gerry Bron, engineered and mixed by Peter Gallen and mastered by Tom Coyne.

Side one opens with the strickingly elegant ‘Bird of Prey’ (Box, Byron, Hensley, Newton), a tightly confident performance by the band with effective musical arrangement and immaculate vocals from Byron. The atmospheric ‘The Park’ (Hensley) is tantalisingly exquisite with stunning vocals from Byron. ‘Time to Live’ (Box, Byron, Hensley) is loud and intense! The enchantingly ethereal ‘Lady in Black’ (Hensley) beguiles. Opening side two, ‘High Priestess’ (Hensley) is an intoxicatingly bombastic behemoth! The epic 16-minute closing title track ‘Salisbury’ (Hensley) is a monumental Prog Rock masterpiece that features a 24-piece orchestra. Byron shines with his over-the-top theatrical vocals and the band impress with dramatically intense musical movements that weave, wind, dip and soar with ever changing moods and tempos.

The bands fourth album, ‘Demons and Wizards’, was released on 19th May 1972 by Bronze Records in the UK and Mercury Records in the US. The original vinyl release was a gatefold sleeve, the front of which was designed by Roger Dean. The inner sleeve had pictures of the band and notes by Ken Hensley, while the liner featured printed lyrics. In June 1972 it reached No. 20 in the UK album charts. The songs ‘The Wizard’ and ‘Easy Livin' were released as singles in the UK and North America. The latter reached No. 39 in the US Billboard Hot 100 chart making it Heep's first and only American Top 40 hit. ‘Easy Livin' was also a huge hit in the Netherlands and Germany. The album was remastered and reissued by Castle Communications in 1996 with three bonus tracks, and again in 2003 in an expanded deluxe edition. In 2017, Sanctuary Records released a two-disc deluxe edition. The album features David Byron - lead vocals, co-lead vocals on tracks 1, 8 and 9, Mick Box - lead guitar, Ken Hensley - keyboards, backing, co-lead vocals on tracks 8 and 9, guitars, percussion, Gary Thain - bass (except on tracks 1, 10 and 11), Mark Clarke - bass on tracks 1, 10 and 11, co-lead vocals on track 1 and Lee Kerslake - drums, backing vocals, percussion. Produced by Gerry Bron, engineered by Peter Gallen and Ashley Howe.

Often cited as the band's best album, ‘Demons and Wizards’, is definitely a Rock classic. Side one opens with the fantasy infused ‘The Wizard’ (Clarke, Hensley). An ostentatiously glorious track that leads into the intensely earnest ‘Traveller in Time’ (Box, Byron, Kerslake) which has a fervent locked in groove. The exhilarating and spiritous ‘Easy Livin' (Hensley) is probably one of Heep's best known songs and a mainstay of the live set to this day. ‘Poet's Justice’ (Box, Hensley, Kerslake) is a mid-paced rocker with Byron dominating with his expressive vocals. The Hammond heavy ‘Circle of Hands’ (Hensley) is tenaciously opulent. Side two opens with ‘Rainbow Demon’ (Hensley), another of Heep's greatest songs with its herculean Hammond riff insistently undulating with brooding foreboding. The menacing ‘All My Life’ (Box, Byron, Kerslake) shows off Byron’s wild and resplendent vocals before the mellow acoustic ‘Paradise’ (Hensley) segues into the monumental bombast of ‘The Spell’ (Hensley) to close the album.

‘The Magician's Birthday’ was released in November 1972 by Bronze Records in the UK and Mercury Records in the US. The concept was "based loosely on a short story" written by keyboardist Ken Hensley. The original vinyl release was a gatefold sleeve, the front designed again by Roger Dean. The inner fold had pictures of the band, with the album itself housed in a liner on which were printed the lyrics. The album reached No. 28 on the UK Album Charts. The single ‘Sweet Lorraine’/’Blind Eye’ reached No. 91 in the US Hot 100 chart. The single ‘Spider Woman’ reached No. 14 in Germany. The album was remastered and reissued by Castle Communications in 1996 with two bonus tracks, and again in 2003 in an expanded deluxe edition. In 2017, Sanctuary Records released a two-disc version. The album features David Byron - lead vocals, Mick Box - guitars, Ken Hensley - keyboards, guitars, Moog synthesizer, kazoo, Gary Thain - bass, Lee Kerslake - drums, percussion, and Brian Cole - pedal steel guitar on ‘Tales’. Produced by Gerry Bron, engineered by Peter Gallen and Ashley Howe, and mastered by Gilbert Kong.

Side one opens with the invogorating and stellar ‘Sunrise’ (Hensley), a potent song and another of Heep's best tracks. ‘Spider Woman’ (Box, Byron, Kerslake, Thain) is a short but irresistible chugging boogie. ‘Blind Eye’ (Hensley) is an efficacious track with some fine acoustic guitar strumming and tight rhythms. The sublime ‘Echoes in the Dark’ (Hensley) is entrancing with gloriously trippy guitar work from Box. Side one closes with the beautiful and melancholic piano ballad ‘Rain’ (Hensley). The atmosphere lightens up with the opening track on side two, the rousingly popular crowd pleaser ‘Sweet Lorraine’ (Box, Byron, Thain) before the quaint ‘Tales’ (Hensley) hypnotises with its bewitching atmosphere and seductive elegance. Closing side two is the ten minute Prog Rock epic title track ‘The Magician's Birthday’ (Box, Hensley, Kerslake). An exciting and enrapturing song, with intoxicatingly dramatic twists and turns. One of their finest tracks.

Steven C. Gilbert

Random Repeat

Random Repeat

Having waited 30 years to bring out his first album, the question that might have been raised in relation to a follow up, brought out with almost indecent haste a year later is, has the guitarist fallen foul of the difficult second album syndrome? It’s the old story; all those songs saved up over the years without an outlet, come flooding out, often leaving the well dry after the creativity has drained away. However, in this case the opposite is true; E D has smashed it out of the park and come up with a better offering than his first, pretty tasty album.

I don’t know what E D stands for (Egbert? Edwin? Ellery?) as there is sod all information available about him, even on his own site (which takes minimalism to new levels), but he is on a definite roll at the moment. You know what you are getting from track one; ‘Storm Warning’, is introduced with his trademark fat guitar tone ringing out on a flowing melody with the odd pinched, squealing note to give it that sense of suppressed energy; any restraint is lifted for an impressive freewheeling solo.

‘Don’t Change the Way I Feel’ takes the mood down a notch on a brooding, slower paced song that’s thoughtful construction, not to mention vocal style, brings Mark Knopfler’s solo work to mind (although that esteemed gent doesn’t seem to want to wig out as much as E D does here, on another explosive and extended solo). The quality and imagination of his song writing is displayed on ‘Just Another Night’, a sumptuous Blues number with Nick Bevan’s bass high in the mix, as the guitarist invokes the ghosts of SRV, Duane Allman and Roy Buchanan, and unleashes some fiery Blues soloing that those gents would no doubt have approved of.

‘Take It Away’ changes the feel yet again, with its Country beat and chord changes on the chorus that brings another guitar great to mind, namely the one and only JJ Cale. The noodling guitar lines here are surely a tribute to that particular laid-back troubadour (the lyrics even refer to Greyhound buses and trains, not to mention include the phrase “Crazy mama”). Either way, it’s a delightful track.

‘Probably Correct’ has a frothy, Jazzy feel, and some witty lyrics that perfectly accompany this jumping little number. The extended soloing that emerges organically from the bones of the song, in a long closing passage, takes the feel in and out of the Blues and back into Jazz. Really excellent playing. ‘Fade Away’ has a bubbling bass line and a tight rhythm guitar part (presumably courtesy of Phillip Brannan, who is credited in the supporting role) that provides the bedrock for some more enjoyable soloing.

Despite the abundance of fiery guitar work, these songs are not just loose vehicles for E D to show off his fretboard skills. The songs all have interesting content and the lyrics are surprisingly good. As described, there are a range of styles on display; ‘Tennessee Blues’ is just what you might imagine and features a nice little repeated acoustic guitar motif that is even more reminiscent of latter day Knopfler territory.

The remaining tracks are along the same lines, apart from the closing instrumental track, a beautiful version of Sydney Bechet’s ‘Petite Fleur’, that is played at a 2am in the morning, smoky (well, not anymore, unless you’re somewhere like Russia) nightclub feel. I wouldn’t be complaining if the whole album was comprised of similar covers. That of course would not enable the guitarist, or should we now be saying songwriter, to display his considerable skills. This is a very accomplished album that shows that E D Brayshaw is here to stay as a solo artist; well worth investigating.

Simon Green