They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover (actually, that is usually a good guide, given that thoughtful or interesting artwork tends to reflect the quality of the offering, but never mind), which is why this splendid album hasn’t until recently been given the listening time its quality merits by yours truly; to be honest the cover is pretty ordinary, consisting of a standard promo style photoshoot of another male quartet dressed in leather, and doesn’t promise much.
However, like opening up a box of Black Magic and finding that the contents have been replaced by the finest confections of your preferred chocolate provider, the contents of this collection are an unexpected and happy surprise. There’s nothing ordinary about these 13 songs, which in their sophistication and melodic power sound like the mature output from an established headlining band rather than the debut album of an emerging gang of young tyros.
This is classic anthemic Rock that has the depth and distinctiveness to stand out from the crowd of also rans. The album is non-stop energy full of soaring, melodic guitar lines, punchy chords, fast syncopated riffing and frenetically punchy but super tight drumming (often matching the dynamic riffing in crunching breaks). The sound is immense and it’s no surprise to learn that while the recordings were made in the Parr Street Studios in Liverpool, they were mastered at the Abbey Road Studios by Frank Arkwright, a mastering engineer with a deft hand (and good set of lugholes).
The icing on the cake is the assured vocal performance of front man Stevie Stoker who is clearly to the manor born (if the manor is stage front and centre) and no doubt gives it large in live performance. His Classic (that word again) Rock vocals are admirably boosted by some really strong backing vocals from the rest of the band, namely guitarist Jake Grimes, bassist Ryan Lee and drummer Jack Corbett. The combination of these together makes every track sound like a potential single.
If they can recreate this vocal sound live they will be a mighty potent force indeed. I really like Jake Grimes’ guitar work; there is nothing self-indulgent about it. The playing is fast but melodic, swirling patterns that build in an almost Prog Rock like way. Really enjoyable. Each track here is a gem. The pace only drops on track 9 for the excellent 'Mystery', which starts off with a catchy guitar run and builds up to a mid-paced ballad that a few years back would have had the potential to become a big Pop/Rock crossover hit with a decent bit of airplay (great backing vocals too). This is an amazing debut from a band that undoubtedly has a big future.
Those of you with long memories will fondly recall pre-virus times when live music ruled our diaries; small venues were often the most rewarding and the occasional gig was even free of charge! One such free venue was Big Red on Holloway Road in Islington (sadly the new owners have kept/stolen only the name, but not the music), which enjoyed a loose association with Ramblin’ Man Fair. Each year at least one band from the RMF roster would play a warm up (or warm down) gig at Big Red around the festival weekend; Skinny Molly and The Cadillac 3 are two notable examples.
And so it was on Friday 19th July 2019 when we were offered a double bill of Otis and Robert Jon & The Wreck; the bands may hail from Kentucky and California respectively, but I knew enough to know that what we’d get would be “Southern Rock”, so attendance was a no brainer.
I assumed that Otis would headline, as they had made a brief snowbound visit to London in March 2018, when the sparse crowd at the Boston Music Room in Tufnell Park was treated to an encore which included the band’s Kentucky buddies who had been happily propping up the bar: yes, Black Stone Cherry (who were in town doing some promotional work, I think) happily played to a crowd which probably numbered less than 50! But, no, Otis took to the Big Red stage first and vacated it after an entertaining hour; I don’t think any of us was quite prepared for what came next…
I had only managed to research Robert Jon & The Wreck via YouTube and the band’s website and I suspect that much of the packed bar was even further behind the curve, but 90 minutes later everyone was wondering why and how they’d never heard of the band before. Soon afterwards they landed a highly successful place on one of Joe Bonamassa’s Blues cruises and Europe prepared to welcome them back in the middle of 2020; ‘Last Light On The Highway’ was intended to accompany and promote that ultimately postponed tour.
They will hopefully be back this Spring for a handful of dates, including at the 100 Club (rescheduled for Friday 7th May), and in the meantime most of their back catalogue has gained a UK distribution on both CD and vinyl via Amazon and Proper Music. Many listeners will use ‘Last Light On The Highway’ as their starting point, but I’ll be surprised if they don’t then work their way backwards through the band’s impressive discography.
‘Oh Miss Carolina’ is a fine opener which should appeal to fans of Blackberry Smoke; it is also an introduction to the “whisky & honey” vocals of band leader Robert John Burrison, who also plays rhythm guitar, leaving most of the solo guitar work on the album to the impressive Henry James.
‘Work It Out’ benefits from both a mini horn section (just trumpet and saxophone) and some soulful backing vocals from Mahalia Barnes and Jade McRae (both of whom accompanied Joe B. on his last UK visit), together with Juanita Tippins. The song was written about the band members’ long-term romantic relationships, whereas the following ‘Can’t Stand It’ conversely deals with being left or ghosted by a significant other. ‘Can’t Stand It’ should also find favour with fans of The Eagles and The Doobie Brothers.
‘Tired Of Drinking Alone’ showcases Henry James’ fine slide guitar playing, which had left a few jaws on the floor at Big Red. As for Robert Jon’s vocal, while nobody will ever quite fill the void left by Gregg Allman, this is plenty good enough to make me miss Gregg just a little less.
‘Do You Remember’ includes some lovely unison guitar work which suggests that Robert Jon and Henry love the Allman Brothers Band as much as many of us do. ‘This Time Around’, like several of the preceding songs (few of which exceed 4 minutes), should hopefully ensure that the band gets some radio airplay to further boost its growing reputation.
Southern Rock generally lives happily with one foot in Country music and the other in Rock, but ‘Don’t Let Me Go’ shows that this band can rock out with the best of them. ‘One Last Time’, in contrast, starts off much slower, with the soulful backing vocalists back on board, before Henry’s solo brings it to a conclusion. ‘Gold’ maintains the slower mood, with Robert Jon’s vocals to the fore throughout, save for another brief, but soaring guitar solo.
The two-part title track which concludes the album begins with Robert Jon’s voice cushioned by acoustic guitar and subtle strings before moving to a heavier, slightly Prog-ish feel with the strings introducing more guitar, then Steve Maggiora’s tasteful keyboard work. Warren Murrel’s bass locks in with the energetic drumming of Andrew Espantman, before the acoustic guitar returns to bring things home.
Based on personal experience, I would unreservedly recommend this band to you as a live act; although the solos here are a little constrained by time, this studio session is still a fine piece of work and an excellent introduction to what will, for many, be a new band (although, like Blackberry Smoke, these guys have been waiting for nearly a decade to gain a foothold in Europe). Why not buy this album and a live one too, just to get the full flavour? You won’t regret it!
Oh Miss Carolina; Work It Out; Can’t Stand It; Tired Of Drinking Alone; Do You Remember; This Time Around; Don’t Let Me Go; One Last Time; Gold; Last Light On The Highway Pt. 1; Last Light On The Highway Pt. 2.
The "Queen of the Slide Guitar" quote has being branded about Finnish born Erja Lyytinen, and with that in mind, the guitar is mixed high on this live recording bringing the evidence duly to the listener’s attention. ‘Lockdown Live 2020’ was recorded in her hometown of Kuopio at the Bluesounds Warehouse Studios and was originally sold as a live internet show, and now with this audio and filming of the show available on CD and DVD.
Kicking in with slide licks, the opener 'Don’t Let A Good Woman Down' trots along, complimented by some classy organ playing, followed by the stomping ‘Cherry Overdrive’ from her last studio album ‘Another World’. ‘Black Ocean’ is my stand-out number, superbly riff laden in a Free/Cream fashion, while the rest of the set mainly pulls from Erja's latest album plus three standards from 2017’s ‘Stolen Hearts’. The closing track, 2003's crafted ballad, ‘Wildflower’, winds down proceedings perfectly.
A great sampler for the avid fan or as an introduction to the artist. Packed with quality songs and musicianship for the ever-growing Blues/Rock female fronted acts such as Joanne Shaw Taylor and Samantha Fish, to name a couple.
Tracklisting (CD and DVD): 1. Don’t Let A Good Woman Down (Voracious Love - 2010) 2. Cherry Overdrive (Another World - 2019) 3. Black Ocean (Stolen Hearts - 2017) 4. Hard As Stone (Another World) 5. Torn (Another World) 6. Dreamland Blues (Dreamland Blues - 2006) 7. Lover’s Novels (Stolen Hearts) 8. Another World (Another World) 9. Snake In The Grass (Another World) 10. Rocking Chair (Stolen Hearts) 11. Wedding Day (Another World) 12. Wildflower (Wildflower - 2003).
Wille & The Bandits release their new album 'Paths' by Fat Toad Records and distributed by Proper tomorrow, encapsulating the excitement and gusto of Rock ’n’ Roll. The album is a breath of fresh air challenging the listener while embracing technology and instrumental possibilities that are afforded to musicians in current times. To support the release of their new album, the band will tour the UK in March 2019 with special guests The Rainbreakers, beginning at the Ropetackle, Shoreham, on Wednesday 6th March and ending in London on Saturday 30th March at the O2 Academy 2 in Islington. From humble roots in Cornwall, Wille Edwards (lead vocals, guitars), Matt Brooks (bass) and beats master Andy Naumann have toured with bands and musicians such as Deep Purple, Status Quo, Joe Bonamassa, the Jon Butler Trio and Warren Haynes. In 2014 the band was voted in the Top Ten bands to see at Glastonbury. They also played the Isle of Wight festival as well as at the London Olympics, picked to play by being voted one of UK’s best Live acts. Other festival appearances include Boardmasters and several festivals in Europe.
Edwards Cajun style intro on the album opener 'One Way' sees Andy's thundering drums and Wille's bottleneck guitar immediately driving us down the right path with a thumping anthem, thanks to an Edwards guitar solo and some political fist pumping backing vocals from Brooks and Naumann, on a song that you can't help singing along and tapping your feet to. The political message continues as the band unite with the groovy funk of 'Make Love' (not war), its retro flower power feel all the more accentuated as the guitar licks were not only recorded using 1950's valve amps, but the vocals were run through a vintage tape machine. The introduction of a cool swirling Hammond organ further demonstrates the versatility of the band on 'Victim Of The Night', about someone who finds solace in the toxicity of the nightlife. Well the solace of their forthcoming UK tour certainly appeals, as this track builds into an outro featuring guest vocalist Alex Hart, that soars into epic Blues Rock with wailing guitars. You know that occasional feeling when you hear a song for the first time and it just hits the spot? The moving ballad 'Four Million Days' does just that - opening with Matt's cello and Wille's finger picked acoustic guitar, it is a joy to be behold, also showcasing Andrew's consummate drumming plus the power of Wille's vocals, its piece de resistance being Edwards signature lap slide Gilmouresque solo, weaving in and out of its outstanding orchestral construction. Follow that. Well the pace and political message picks up again with the impressive 'Chakra' - taking us in another musical direction with its world music vibe - Andy's percussion literally drumming home its environmental message with his djembe and hang drum accompanied by Wille on electric Weissenborn and Matt on his six string bass.
To keep us on our musical toes, the track genre order continues to twist and turn, with some more groovy funk on 'Keep It On The Down-Low' - the combination of Wille's hip-hop/rap vocal and bottleneck solo, Andrew's heavy percussive elements and some serious funky bass from Matt - very reminiscent of Blondie's 'Rapture' meets Derek Trucks meets AWB's 'Cut The Cake'. Love it. And talking of vibe, the band use the the retro valve amps and vintage tape machine once again to good effect on the Nick Cave/Tom Waits sounding 'Judgement Day', its powerful message about people from a religious background, surviving as best they can on the street, inspired by the TV series 'The Wire'. 'How Long' is Edwards heartfelt tribute to his late idol Chris Cornell - a song fittingly written and delivered by Wille, right from the guts about depression and how difficult it is to overcome. And if you needed a headbanger after the raw emotion of the previous song, then their first single 'Find My Way' takes you down that very same path, thanks to the combination of Wille's husky vocal run through a 1970's space echo, plus playing his super fuzzed out slide through a 1953 amplifier guitar, seriously whoopin' ass as it belts along. However, the start of its cool mystical sounding second phase sees Brooks on six string bass, Naumann on Udu and Djembie drums and Edwards playing Indian scales on a dobro, before they find their way back to a rockin' path outro with some great backing vocals from the engine room of Naumann and Brooks.
The Indian influence continues on the opening of 'Watch You Grow', its subject matter all about the beauty of becoming a parent and your child's subsequent development. Indeed, this toe-tapping track certainly grows on you after repeated plays, which sees Willie once again playing his Weissenborn, a hypnotic bass line from Matt plus Andy on an African tongue drum (yes really), that all adds up to that 'You Can Call Me Al' world music feel. It's now 'Retribution' time - the final track on the album - the band signing off with the message of how governments have sold out our planet and it is now payback time. More like 'Retro-bution', given Edwards soaring Skynyrd like lap slide solo, once again consolidated by Brooks and Naumann's solid foundations plus some awesome keys. A real cracker to round off an album that has everything musically: attitude, experimentation, energy, diversity and thought provoking messages, whilst at the same time having the beauty of the manoeuvrability of another dimension in a raw, live, environment. This is real Rock 'n' Roll as we know it, personified. On this evidence, Wille & The Bandits are certainly heading down the right path.
Melbourne Rock band Electric Mary release their fourth studio album ‘Mother’ this Friday 15th February via Listenable Records. The five-piece consisting of Rusty Brown (lead vocals), Pete Robinson (guitar, vocals), Alex Raunjak (bass), Brett Wood (guitar, vocals) and Paul 'Spyda' Marrett (drums), have been around for ten years, globally renowned for their explosive brain-bending live performances and are regarded as one of, if not the best live bands in Oz. Indeed, the band has held their own while sharing the world’s stages with some of the most revered names in Hard Rock. Whitesnake took them on the road, Judas Priest asked them to support, Deep Purple had them in stadiums. Kiss, Alice Cooper, Motorhead, Def Leppard all followed and even after ten years on the road Electric Mary continue to impress Rock music fans and media across the planet.
'Mother' follows their previous milestone album ‘III’, released way back in 2011, preceded by 2008's 'Down To The Bone' and before that 2004's 'Four Hands High'. Throw in another five EP's and a live album for good measure, and it's fair to say these guys have consistently over time put in a quality Classic Rock shift. Consequently, their brand of take no prisoners Rock 'n" Roll has understandably seen their fans licking their lips in anticipation at this long awaited follow-up, not only in expectation of it being as ground-breaking as the band's previous discography, but also deservedly propelling them to that next level.
Brown's explosive opening vocal on 'Gimme Love' is an immediate indication that these Oz Rockers have not lost any of their undoubted energy. Robinson's driving riff and solo, with a twist off Psychedelic Space Rock, is definitely the offspring of Zeppelin and Montrose, and even though, for mine, this rocker ends a bit prematurely, this has the label of "see you down the front" wrapped all over it. There's no let up in the head banging Hard Rock of 'Hold Onto What You Got'. Packed into an amazing three minutes, Rusty's vocal sounds like a delightful hybrid of Plant and Dan McCafferty, once again complemented by some awesome, succinct fret work. Unapologetically, the pace slows down for the Blues Rock of 'How Do You Do It'. The story goes that Brown named the band after visiting Jim Hendrix's Electric Lady Record Studios in New York. That's where he met studio manager "Electric" Mary Campbell and you can guess the rest. Suffice to say that both Jimi and Mary would be blown away with the construction of this track, that doffs its cap to the master with some more superb guitar riffs and salvos plus another powerful, vocal from Rusty. Another slow one, the second longest track on the album, is 'Sorry Baby'. No need to be sorry as the song neatly builds around Raunjak's cool bass and Spyda's exceptional sticks, before the killer guitars of Robinson and Wood kick in, not forgetting Brown's outstanding vocals of course. The track just goes to prove that Classic Rock doesn't need to be played at one hundred miles per hour.
Don't panic! The next track, 'The Way You Make Me Feel', doesn't mean that Rusty and the boys have gone all "Jacko" on us. However, following an up-tempo drum and guitar intro, Pete and Brett's wonderful guitar harmonies are very reminiscent of Thin Lizzy, with Rusty's vocals again reminding me of Nazareth. Robinson's opening riff on 'It's Alright' leads into an excellent spoken vocal delivery from Brown - think of a slower Billy Joel's 'We Didn’t Start The Fire' - before it explodes into a killer chorus of "It's Alright", another cleverly constructed song with its fuzzy guitar solo plus the versatile Rusty sounding a tad like Rod during his Faces era. Most probably the stand out for mine from the album so far. But hold on - what do we have here? The longest track on the album, the appropriately named 'Long Long Day', with the vibe of its intro smacking of 'No Quarter', with a fitting riff to match, sees another slower vocal delivery from Brown, before Robinson lets loose with an incredible solo on this ultimate headbanger, equally matched by its powerful vocal climax. Wow. From the longest to the shortest track on the album. Their single 'Woman' sees Spyda picking up the pace, as Rusty steps back into Plant mode, not to be outdone by the fuzzy Montrose sounding tones of Pete and Brett. A real stormer to finish off the album, which was engineered and mixed by Ricki Rae. To quote Brown "Music has always had something to say when it comes to relationships. This is two and a half minutes of rip-roaring Rock that delivers the punchline." Can't argue with that Rusty.
Just the eight tracks then, with a running time of 35 minutes, from a kickass band with badass sound. But definitely a case of Hard/Blues/Stoner Rock quality not quantity, with oodles of extra scope for taking all these classic tracks that extra mile during their killer live shows. A consummate win win and a real Mother of a Rock album. Hail Mary.
British Rock band Aaron Buchanan And The Cult Classics recently signed to Listenable Records and to celebrate, the band and the label release a Special Edition of their acclaimed album ‘The Man With Stars On His Knees’ today, featuring five brand new bonus tracks, consisting of two brand-new studio tracks ‘Undertow’ and ‘Fire In The Fields Of Mayhem’ and three live tracks on the CD version.
Turn the clock back to Ramblin' Man Fair in July 2017 and we interviewed the former Heaven's Basement vocalist and nattily dressed Aaron with his equally stylish sister and Cult Classics guitarist Laurie, who played the Rising Stage on the Saturday. We had seen Aaron and Heaven's Basement supporting Aerosmith at Clapham's Calling Festival just over three year's before and in a really frank discussion Aaron talked about life after Heaven's Basement, how ABATCC got together and their new album 'The Man With Stars On His Knees'.
Go back a further two years and having toured the globe for four years fronting Heaven’s Basement, Buchanan walked out of one band and immediately into a studio just out of London with producer James Curtis-Thomas, guitarist Ryan Woods and Laurie. In the years prior, Curtis-Thomas and Buchanan had spoken many times about producing a record with deep, mature, and colourful content; just a few months later and a stint for Buchanan in Australia where many of the vocals were tracked in a shed just outside Brisbane, the now critically acclaimed and award winning record ‘The Man With Stars On His Knees’ was born out of a tiny studio just outside London with no hot water or central heating. A true testament to the belief in the music and vision Buchanan had bought to the table.
Since the formation of the Cult Classics in 2016 and the release of ‘The Man With Stars On His Knees’ in May 2017, it has been a rollercoaster ride of tours, shows and festivals. Forever supporters of Buchanan's eclectic, eccentric and left hook vision, Tom McCarthy (guitar) and Laurie have been constants from day one, but in mid-2017 they re-shuffled the line-up and brought in ex-The Defiled (and STOMP) drummer Paul White and ex-Grim Reaper bassist Mart Trail, as Buchanan decided they needed to grow, as did their show. Well the rawer approach with hard guitars and hard singing certainly worked, not only on the evidence of their aforementioned Ramblin' Man set, but also when we saw them vying for band of the day as they closed out The Orange Stage at the O2 Stone Free Festival in June last year and then again supporting The Quireboys at The Forum last September.
As its title suggests, the opening 'Show Me What You're Made Of' is the driving hors d'oeuvre of expansive things to come which, despite its brevity, builds and explodes into life. And sure enough, their debut single 'All The Things You've Said And Done', that originally made the coveted Planet Rock playlist, certainly delivers, with its catchy chorus and Alter Bridge/Daughtry vibe with a touch of a late great Chris Cornell scream at the end, courtesy of Aaron. The bonus on this Special Edition is an additional live acoustic version - with a beautiful vocal duet from the Buchanan clan with Laurie also accompanying Aaron on guitar. You can take Buchanan out of the basement, but you can't take the basement out of Buchanan as testified by the number of Heaven's Basement songs still in their live set. 'Dancin' Down Below' - another single that originally made the Planet Rock playlist - smacks of his former employer's (no problem with that) with a smattering of The Hives thrown in for good measure. With White beating the shit out of his drums, this is a live staple - Buchanan's party trick being to draw the crowd closer into a compact mass to enable to surf his way onto their shoulders, before finishing this song with a headstand whilst still perched precariously on the crowds shoulders. The rakishly thin warbler, all boots and braces, has never been known to be shy.
A microcosm of Buchanan's eclecticism, eccentricity and left hook vision, is another live staple 'The Devil That Needs You' which delightfully twists and turns before departing with a devilish head banging riff that sees Laurie's Fender Telecaster and Tom's Gordon Smith Les Paul style white guitar roar into overdrive. Again this is another track that gets the live Special Edition bonus treatment with another lovely Aaron and Laurie duet, which I believe was also recorded at their Siren 107.3FM session in May 2017. By the way, y'all check out their amazing Youtube cover of Dolly Parton's 'Jolene' as well. Seriously. Back to the album, and once again we're thrown another curveball with emotion flowing through the music and lyrics of 'Journey Out Of Here' - its chills very reminiscent of 30 Seconds To Mars and U2. And talking of comparisons, the title, and longest track on the album, is complete affirmation of Aaron being a huge Freddie Mercury fan. Indeed, it's fair to say that the album includes a number of tracks with Queen like harmonies, but this is a serial killer Queen vocal from Buchanan. Also check out Buchanan's Youtube cover of 'Love Of My Life'. Stunning.
Anyway, I digress. 'A God Is No Friend' is another slower paced track with a rasping vocal from Buchanan, before the band pick up the pace with 'Left Me For Dead', another live nugget with some stand out drumming from White. It's fair to say that the band is not all about Mr. Buchanan though. The album crosses so may Rock genres and combines the influences of the band, none more so than Mart Trail's undoubted NWOBHM input on 'Mind Of A Mute' - it's mystical intro descending into a Heavy Metal riff to die for, with the versatile voice of Buchanan sounding very reminiscent of the good old days of Scott Stapp. Would love to see that one live, as I would the next track 'Morals' - which again keeps Freddie's spirit alive and kicking. The good news is that on this Special Edition you also get a live version of 'Morals' plus, to finish off with, two exclusive brand-new studio tracks. Not be confused with Heaven's Basement's firm favourite 'Fire Fire', 'Fire In The Field' was actually the 'B' side of the aforementioned single 'All The Things You've Said And Done'. Still sounding fresh and ace, Aaron strains those fiery vocal chords once again as his sibling gives Slash a run for his money with an outstanding guitar solo. We finally reach 'Undertow', which is real virgin territory, but is thankfully not out of place with the quality that has preceded it. With its pounding beat plus great vocal and guitar harmonies, it definitely complements the original album, and is affirmation, if you needed it, that Aaron Buchanan And The Cult Classics is still very much in business.
Aaron Buchanan And The Cult Classics are one of those live bands that, even if you don't know any of their songs, they will definitely entertain you, leaving you with a smile on your face. Although, I must admit that it's weird revisiting an album that was originally released 21 months ago, plus a number of songs that I have seen performed live, but on the other hand it does reemphasise what an awesome release it was and this Special Edition is. "I really do not understand why this band isn't more popular" is a quote that manifests itself across many bands nowadays. Well fingers crossed that this 15 track Special Edition not only reaches the masses and gets the attention it fully deserves, but that it also kick starts the direction of the band to the next level, in eager anticipation of some more exceptional brand new material.
When I step out to my local Tuesday night Blues and Roots Club this is exactly what I’d like to hear! Trevor pulls out all the tools for the genre on his solo album ‘Sawdust Man’. Gravel voice (a la Tom Waits/Seasick Steve etc.), guitar (with varying rhythms), harmonica and stomp box.
The title track opens this ten song collective and chugs along like were on a Mississippi boat ride hunting alligators. ’Runaway Train’ motors down the track with some top mouth organ licks on its destination, loving a free spirited woman on the way for all her imperfections. Personal favourite ‘Black Dog’ is a catchy little number down tempo on the previous two, but cleverly laid with swirling guitar licks.
The ‘River Song’ instantly brought similarities to the latest Robert Plant style of Folky/Asian influences that he’s adopted. Trevor switches it up with some heavy doses of slide guitar on ‘Red Boots’ hitting on a jealousy vibe. ’Cat Scratch Fever’, a title made famous by American Rocker Ted Nugent, but no not the same, as Trevor digs deep into his gravely vocal chords and crossfires with harmonica brilliantly on this number.
’Been So Long’ has that really early Quo (Yes, Status) style before they went out and out twelve-bar blues, whilst ’Stranger in Hell’ takes us down tempo with an open a beer and chill mode. ’Something On My Mind’ picks us up kind of Hillbilly in it’s manner, while the closing track ‘Went Out Walking’ rocks with the harmonica/filtered vocal only tune, cleverly bringing us to an end.
While I may direct this to the mid-week Blues and Roots Club goers - it can easily be appealing any day or mood of the week. Get on it people!
It’s fair to say that this young talented singer and songwriter has firmly cemented her growing reputation with this, her second album, a really fine collection of eleven songs recorded in Nashville, with her excellent band and a bunch of session musicians, including a horn section that provide a Muscle Shoals feel to several numbers, as well as closer to home in Wales. The overall feel of the album has an Americana tinged feel, both in the themes of many songs, reflecting no doubt the influence of the number of different co-writers for most songs, as well as the expansive, soulful and Bluesy musical landscape presented, definitely more Western than West Country for this Bristol born singer.
Opening track ‘Hell or High Water’ sets the scene with a distinctive minor key guitar motif that could be the accompaniment to a cinematic view of a gun slinger riding slowly down a cliché main street in a sepia tinged shot; tasteful slide guitar licks help set the scene and single chords played on the down stroke underpin the confident vocals, with the drums entering half way through as a semi-middle eight/chorus starts “May I introduce the shape I’m in, I could write a book from the scars on my skin”, followed by a lovely slide solo. A powerful opener. The theme is continued with ‘Wild, Wild West’ which, after a strummed acoustic opening, launches almost immediately into the chorus “So come and give an eye for the main attraction, I’m going to promise you a real good show, for every lie there’s a chain reaction, through the curtains see the truth unfold, cut throat cheaters, gun slingers, deceivers, we’re in the wild, wild west”. A big anthemic feel and an obvious live crowd pleaser. ‘Deeper’ sounds like you’ve been transplanted back to the mid-70’s to a studio somewhere between Alabama and Memphis and Aretha is outside joking with the horn section while having a smoke; somewhere close by a brown river is chugging lazily through a burning landscape. ‘What’s The Matter With You’, opens with some Bluesy guitar and is all clipped chords, moody organ and nice guitar fills. This wouldn’t be out of place in a Beth Hart set actually.
If it isn’t clear, all these songs are really well crafted, very melodic with great hooks that stay in the memory and have depth. The playing is very sensitive to the songs and really well produced (take a bow Brad Nowell and Steve Blackmon). ‘Medicine Man’ epitomises the feel of the album, a delicious slide intro playing a swampy riff played low down on the neck, played in between the vocal lines “mirrors and smoke and trickery, your very own real life make believe, bring your own money and get in line, two for a nickel, three for a dime, miracle cures for aching bones, but he takes your gold and sells you stones” building up to a powerful chorus and wailing multiple layers of slide. A really good song. The whole album is great: the title track is a big, punchy song with a rocking chord and jangling guitar backing that is straight into the chorus. ‘Help Somebody’ is another catchy number that preaches a global message, “we need to help somebody, try a little tenderness and a whole lot of love” with a clever chord change on the chorus and pumping horns throughout. With a harmonica solo; ‘Foolish Hearts’ is a big Country ballad that possibly points to where this fabulous singer is heading, whilst ‘Little Piece of Heaven’, written with Black Keys man Dan Auerbach, is the most Pop, crossover sounding track, a really catchy ditty.
Elles maturity as a songwriter is displayed on the final track ‘Light In the Distance’, a beautiful song, all her own, inspired by the final days of a friend: “these are weary bones I carry, all I once was, gone before, time to sleep in, endless dreaming, a light aboard from distant shores, but for now hold my hand as I leave for the promised land, because there’s a light in the distance, calling me home, I’m not afraid, this broken body is ready for its soul to roam.” Accompanied only by solo piano, played by Jimmy Nichols, this is a moving piece and shows that the singer is not afraid to move away from the Blues/Country territory she is associated with. There are no duff tracks on this collection, which bears repeated listening and is highly recommended. Is it too soon to ask when the next album is coming? I can’t wait.
Listening to the new album from the formidable Finn you probably won’t be mentally filing it under Blues Rock, if you indeed felt the need to categorise it, which is what you might be expecting from the exciting guitar player and singer. ‘Another World’ sticks out from the seeming plethora of albums by players grounded in the Blues by its wide sonic landscape, flowing out from the narrower confines of the Delta into an ocean of musical ideas, really well recorded, each track bursting out of the speakers electrically charged with engineering and production skills on display.
Opening track ‘Snake In The Grass’ sets the scene with its opening riffing guitars, interweaving to create a distinctly Psychedelic feel, before the vocals kick in. Erja stands apart from many female vocalists on the blues scene by singing in an attractive melodic voice rather than the more common 40 Woodbine a day and half a bottle of Scotch tinged tonsils of other singers. This enables her to write material that is more diverse; the catchy chorus on ‘Snake’ being a case in point, underpinned by strong harmonies the chorus soars above the duelling guitars of Erja and guest guitar shredder Jennifer Batten, and is, to these ears, reminiscent of harmonies on some Hendrix cuts. The layered guitar playing between these two after the middle 8 (quite a rare beast itself) is especially tasty.
The album is chock full of very nice guitar playing, as you might expect, solos, fills and licks being squeezed into every available gap and songs being extended with additional passages of instrumentation to give many of them the feel of mini-Prog like guitar operas. The guitar tone throughout is a fat sustained one that brings the fluid tone and playing of Carlos Santana to mind; no surprise then that ‘Hard as Stone’ was inspired by Erja sharing a stage with the man himself.’This tune features a delightful interlude with harmony guitars that recall the dual guitars of Thin Lizzy. Another guest player, the slide genius that is Sonny Landreth, features on ‘Wedding Day’, a typical song about love gone wrong that is a bit of a theme throughout, which sizzles along and is the most Bluesy number on the collection. In ‘Cherry Overdrive’ Blues style double entendres - “Got a new car, gonna take a ride, a fast ignition, a working transmission” (either that or Erja is a Top Gear fan) - are used over an ambient groove and floating guitar lines.
The title track ‘Another World’ is a big Rock ballad, with a vague lyrical message that is delivered powerfully, and which builds to a shredding, explosive solo where Erja shows off her impressive technique. It’s probably fair to say that there isn’t much going on lyrically in most numbers, despite many being heartfelt, but, as someone who believes that the lyrics are subservient to the quality of the melody and instrumentation of a song (but clearly easier to write about, which is why we read so much guff about songs that are moderately unlistenable but offer some supposed insight into an experience of staring into the void etc - that you’d want to avoid) this is not a criticism, especially when there is so much else going on.
Further examples of the diversity of sounds on offer are provided by ‘Miracle’ with its chiming Jazzy chords and the tale of loss in ‘Torn’ that feature a violin accompaniment and Emerald Isle feel, which could almost be a Corrs song, at least until the big, fat toned guitar comes in. Despite the wide range of influences on show in this collection of songs they have a very homogenous feel, featuring as they do the distinctive Scandinavian, melodic vocals of Erja and her fluid guitar playing over a collection of memorable tunes, beautifully produced. A nice collection and a signpost to further musical adventures from the Finn.
Wily Bo Walker and E D Brayshaw joined forces to write this double album as a story book about three friends (Johnny, Louise and Harry) and the paths they take. From the accompanying booklet and first listen these guys have put a lot of time and energy into this project.
Wily’s vocal is the first thing that strikes out, the gravel tone voice that could be described as a cross between Chris Rea and Mark Knopfler gives the songs a British feel against an Americana sound that they’ve produced. E D Brayshaw's guitar work instantly reminded me of Thin Lizzy style guitar players’ a la Gary Moore and Brian Robertson and the classy female backing vocals from Karena K complements the material perfectly.
Thirteen songs may sound like a single album, but many of the tracks are more than four minutes long, normally found in the Prog world. Kicking off with what I would call the radio single ‘Storm Warming’, a mid-pace rocker, followed by a more chilled number in the form of ‘I Want To Know’ and the hypnotic ‘Motel Blues’ open side one.
’Loan Me A Dime’ is slow Bluesy number you could imagine playing in a gangster’s smoky back bar, whilst ‘September Red’ brightens up the room with a vocal gathering and a immense guitar solo from E D in the latter half of the track. The loose acoustic style ‘Killers On The Run’ closes side 1.
Album two opens up with two gutsy Rock and Rollers in the form of ‘Running Wild’ and ‘Night Of The Hunter’. In at number three finds the guys in a lighter shade of Americana, reminiscent of some early ‘Eagles’ material, with ‘Tennessee Blues’. ’
After the Storm’ follows a steady path to what, in my opinion, is the album’s best song ‘The Ballad Of Johnny & Louise’. A brilliant epic composition with all the elements of a massive hit song (and it should be). Hats off ladies and gents for this one! The title track ‘The Roads We Ride’ follows along a Springsteen style highway with a reprise of ‘Storm Warning’ to end.
So, we have a story for the lyric lovers and plenty of variety for the Blues/Rock listener. Tune in people!
It’s interesting to read reviews and press releases about musicians you know nothing about; however it’s often a double edged sword as along with the heads up background info’ comes a whole pile of hyperbole and print sized summary headlines that you end up rebelling against in order to avoid the same clichés and adding to the chorus of claims that whoever is being reviewed is the absolute new bees knees. Sometimes it’s easier to follow the flow. Accordingly, Lethbridge Owen is a Pop-Rock/Folk-Rock outfit that are dead ringers for Rumours era Fleetwood Mac (not really!), which is one way of looking at it.
Another way is to describe them as incorporating a number of varying influences, that certainly includes Folk, that results in a distinctive and impressive sound; the rich acoustic guitar picking tones displayed throughout this enjoyable collection of songs are reminiscent of the tone and inventiveness of a number of UK guitarists that came out of the 1960’s Folk scene (Bert Jansch and John Renbourn for example) and Kelly Lethbridge’s vocals have that unaffected Folk purity but with a very warm melodic tone that has a bit of a Country feel (they can add Country Rock to the list of sound-alike genres!).
This combination is evident on ‘Leaving Home’, which even adds a bit of fiddle towards the end. The picking is particularly nice on ‘From Now On’. Kelly’s voice is very listenable and her layered harmonies on these tracks are lovely, adding a lot of depth to what is a beautifully recorded and well produced album. The opening track ‘All We Have Is Hope’ is the standout track on a standout collection, crammed full of hooks and different vocal melodies. The slight inflection given on the single word “Yeah” which forms part of the chorus is a real ear-worm that grabs the attention, simple but effective. A lot of time and thought has clearly gone into arriving at the lush arrangements of these songs, which are full of catchy instrumental sections and multiple stops and pushes.
The other real distinctive feature of these songs is the excellent guitar work by co-leader Jimmy Owen. You can see where the Mac comparisons come from, an easy on the eye male and female singer songwriter combo, one of whom is a special guitar player that can Rock out where required. However, Jimmy Owen’s guitar work is much more prominent, taking flight on most songs in bursts of powerful melodic lines that are a real feature and contribute hugely to the rich arrangements and overall feel.
Hendrix is quoted as an influence and it shows, as the solos have a real bite. A number of songs are upbeat and rocky, like ‘Two Steps Forward’ (or even a bit Funky, like on ‘Back To The Blue’) without compromising the melodic content or breaking up the homogenous feel of the album. I’ve been playing this album non-stop without remotely getting to the point of overfamiliarity; it’s a collection that bears repeated listening and whets the appetite for hearing them live as well as raising expectations about what they will produce next. When it comes to genre descriptions perhaps its best just to file this under “good music”.
Following their last album ‘Ride of Your Life’, the four-piece all girl band JoanovArc release their follow up on Friday 31st May with the self titled ‘JoanovArc’. An eleven song unashamed commercial Rock outing, which if I said to you, mix The Cult with Texas and The Foo Fighters, you would get an idea of the direction and influences the girls have acquired/adopted over the years.
For the lyric lover this not a collection of silly love songs, no we are dealing with the London riots of 2011, drug addiction, two-faced friends, reflection, denial, delusion and mixed emotions to name a few subject matters. The opening track ‘Burning’ for me is the top number simply on strength of the epic chorus, followed closely by ‘Down By the River’ with ‘Waiting For’ sandwiched in-between making a good opening three.
The anthemic ‘People Coming Up’ hits on the high and lows of drug taking with some clever production work mid-song to bring us up in the latter half while ‘Take It Out’ Rocks us to the middle. In at number six we drop tempo for a catchy easy listening acoustic singer-songwriter style (even Noel Gallagher influenced) number in the form of ‘When We Were Young’.
Laura Ozholl (rhythm guitar and vocals) distinctively Sharleen Spiteri style vocal is laid out on ‘Try it On’ and the recent single release ‘Jane’. Samantha Walker (bass & vocals) returns to the main vocal with the Bluesy Rocker in the form of ‘This Way’ and the more Grunge inspired ‘Slipping Away’. Closing out the album is the smooth vocal laden acoustic ‘Go Home’, a cool way to end this well crafted collection of songs.
Let’s not forget to mention the competent guitar playing of Shelley Walker riffing and soloing throughout which can only be admired along with the backbone of the outfit Deborah Wildish on drums.
Mixed and mastered by former ‘King King’ drummer Wayne Proctor, adds a polished coating to the album that will suit both mainstream as well as Rock radio. Put Friday 31st of May in your diary whatever your format ladies and gentlemen!