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Singer songwriter: album review – Mike Silver ‘Alchemy: Fifty Years In Song’

The independent label Folkstock has had an enviable record in bringing young up and coming artists like Kelly Oliver to wider attention. Here, however, Folkstock give us a 16-track career retrospective of singer-songwriter Mike Silver.

As the press blurb itself notes: “Despite a few brushes with national media, Mike has remained the preserve of the initiated.” Such brief brushes include a session for Bob Harris on Radio 1 in the 70’s and airplay on radio 2 for his 2003 song ‘Not a Matter of Pride’ but I must admit Silver had completely bypassed my radar. It’s to the credit of Helen Meissner’s Folkstock label, therefore, in aiming to redress that.

Learning to play guitar at a young age, successfully auditioning for a place in John ‘Johnny Remember Me’ Leyton’s backing band at 16 but turning it down for the security of the South Eastern Gas Board instead, Silver eventually found his artistic calling and re-invented himself as an acoustic singer-songwriter in 1969.

Mike Silver for BBC profile

This compilation therefore marks Silver’s fifty years in this guise and is a fitting celebration of his undoubted talents as both a songwriter and performer. Some beautifully intricate guitar work, thought-provoking lyrics and a warm and engaging vocal delivery make Alchemy: Fifty Years In Song a pleasure to listen to.

Personally selected by Silver, the tracks span from 1984 through to 2012 (Were there licensing issues with accessing the earlier material or has Silver simply made a personal preference for songs from his later era?) Highlights include the addictively catchy ‘Walk Away’, the self-pitying sing-along drinking song ‘Oh Doctor’ and the poignant and beautifully played ‘Breaking the Silence’ reflecting on the plight of Europe’s Jewish population in the 1930s and 40s.

A fine singer-songwriter and something of an unsung hero these past few decades, Mike Silver and his Alchemy compilation are well worth checking out by anyone with an interest in the acoustic singer-songwriter genre.

Released by Folkstock Records 26th March 2019

http://mikesilver.co.uk/

Alchemy cover art Mike Silver

Photo credit: artist publicity

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Folk: album review – Julie Felix ‘Rock Me Goddess’

Although born and brought up in the US Julie Felix made the UK at home and established herself as a folk singer of repute in the mid 1960s, embracing the hippy scene and being a regular fixture on TV screens. Now aged 80, Felix is still singing and recording.

A personal message in the album’s sleeve-notes is all star signs, goddesses and mother earth, accompanied by a picture, of course, of a serene-looking Felix in the lotus position. You suspect her spiritual home, in time and in place, will forever be located somewhere equidistant between Woodstock and Greenham Common. No-one but no-one, however, should doubt the sincerity of Felix’s message nor the importance of the themes she tackles. Songs about ecological destruction, war, peace, power and love loom large, the anger and the hope embodied in the lyrics more relevant and certainly more urgent than ever before.

Woman, with its heartfelt message of female empowerment, is Felix’s perspective on the rise #MeToo movement. Tiger Eyes, meanwhile, takes on modern consumer culture and includes some amazing guitar soloing from guest guitarist, Doug Nofsinger. Amongst the other guests, Peter Knight (Steeleye Span, Gigspanner) provides some beautiful violin on three tracks, including a cover of Knight’s own Lullaby Kiss.

The protest singer personified, today’s world has not left Julie Felix any shortage of issues to protest about. Rock Me Goddess sees her in fine voice continuing to speak (or at least sing) truth to power.

Released: October 2018 by Talking Elephant

https://www.juliefelix.co.uk/

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Hard rock: EP review – Animal Drive ‘Back To The Roots’

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here

Following their well-received 2018 debut, and to give impatient fans something ahead of a promised new album, Croatian hard rockers Animal Drive have recorded a covers EP. The four-track EP comprises covers of Roxette’s ‘The Look’, Whitesnake’s ‘Judgement Day’, Skid Row’s ‘Monkey Business’ and Warrant’s ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’.

Although formed in 2012 the band it took the band some six years before they released their debut album Bite! The polished professionalism of Animal Drive’s hard rocking debut, which drew comparisons with the likes of Whitesnake and Skid Row, showed the wisdom of their decision not to rush straight into the studio. However, given the positive impact of their first album I can fully understand why they now feel the pressure to get something into the hands of newly-won over fans, while they await the arrival of a follow-up. A covers EP makes perfect sense, therefore, but why these four songs in particular? Lead vocalist Dino Jelusic explains, “People used to, and still do sometimes, compare Animal Drive to Skid Row and their “Slave To The Grind” era. That song (Monkey Business) opens the “Slave To The Grind” album and it’s a monster jam, so it felt like a logical fit. Of the other covers on “Back To The Roots”, Jelusic continues, “the other three songs are “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” by Warrant, “Judgement Day” by Whitesnake and “The Look” by Roxette. I’ve always wanted to cover “The Look” in a heavy way, so it was cool to finally do it. We are big Whitesnake fans and had to go for one of their more epic jams. The Warrant song is one of their absolute best and shows what a great songwriters Jani and the band are, plus it’s a great fit for a heavy band to cover.”

The biggest surprise in terms of the choice of material is the inclusion of late 80s pop hit ‘The Look’ here given a hard rock makeover. It was clear from the songwriting on the debut album , however, that Jelusic has an ear for a catchy melody. And no-one can deny the catchiness of this particular little ditty when it was first released. Once Jelusic’s Coverdale-esque vocals and the band’s trademark polished, melodic hard rock sound is applied the band transform it into a great, great rock song. ‘Judgement Day’ is a fairly faithful if slightly more rocked-up cover of the Whitesnake original and their version of Skid Row’s ‘Monkey Business’ is hardly a million miles away from the original, either. However, both tracks demonstrate that these young guys can really play and celebrate two of their biggest influences as well. The ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ cover is more of a departure from the original and, once again, really gives Animal Drive a chance to do the magic with their trademark sound.

If you are tempted to purchase something from Animal Drive I would definitely recommend you start with their album Bite! but if you have it already and are clearly won over and hungry for more then this EP is worth checking out.

Released by: Frontiers 5th April 2019

http://animal-drive.com/

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Related review:

Album review: Animal Drive – Bite!

 

Live review: Seth Lakeman at De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill 7/3/19

This review was originally published by The Stinger here

It doesn’t seem too long ago that Seth Lakeman was being hotly-tipped as one of the young rising stars of the contemporary folk scene and, back in 2005, was being nominated for the Mercury Prize. Now in his early forties and a father of three, but still maintaining those boy-band good looks, he’s become one of the folk scene’s seasoned figures and has no problem packing out the De La Warr.

For this tour he’s supported by singer-songwriter, Carus Thompson. The singer/guitarist does a nice line in Aussie-flavoured Americana, including a love song that was inspired by playing in a maximum security German prison. Once part of Australian folk/country band Carus & The True Believers, Thompson’s music is well worth checking out.

Lakeman has the audience onside from the first song and takes us on a thrilling but thoroughly modern folk-rock romp. The set-list includes material from his 2018 album The Well Worn Path, as well as highlights from across his now-considerable back-catalogue – both traditional and self-composed.

Set highlights include ‘The Educated Man’, a song from the new album which is surely destined to be an audience favourite for many years to come. Another favourite is ‘Portrait of My Wife’ a traditional ballad that Lakeman initially performed as part of the Full English folk collaboration back in 2013. It’s just Lakeman and his fiddle right at the front of the stage for this – the band and even the microphone are dispensed with. The impact is stunning and the crowd join in the song’s chorus of ‘raise your glass to the one you love’.

Accompanying Lakeman, who alternates variously between fiddle and acoustic guitar, are Kit Hawes on guitar, Ben Nichols on double bass and Evan Jenkins on drums. Nichols’ bass playing produces a deep and powerful sound and Jenkins’ drumming really gives the band that folk rock oomph. However, it’s the interplay between Lakeman and Hawes that proves crucial to the dynamic on stage tonight. Whether it’s acoustic guitar versus electric, banjo versus acoustic, electric versus fiddle or acoustic versus fiddle it’s never less than totally captivating and the sound from the two musicians is glorious.

Lakeman tells us we’re the best audience of the tour so far and the band are clearly delighted with the response they get from the De La Warr tonight.

I volunteer for this project called Gig Buddies which is about giving adults with a learning disability opportunities to have an independent social life and I invited my gig buddy, Glenn, along to accompany me to this gig. The final verdict on Seth Lakeman’s performance tonight, therefore, goes to Glenn and he writes: “I enjoyed seeing Seth Lakeman and I love his songs. He was fantastic and I got to meet him afterwards.”

(Additional reporting by Glenn Harris)

https://www.sethlakeman.co.uk/

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Related reviews:

Seth Lakeman at Folk by the Oak 2014

Americana: album review – Elles Bailey ‘Road I Call Home’

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here

After attracting a slew of favourable reviews with her debut album, 2017’s Wildfire, the Bristol-based singer-songwriter Elles Bailey is back with a follow-up. Like its predecessor, recorded primarily in Nashville Road I Call Home is a slice of soulful, classy, bluesy Americana. With her husky, emotive vocals and a definite ear for a good song it’s not difficult to see why Bailey has been picking up fans and rave reviews across a range of genres – from rock to folk to country to blues.

Backed by some top class musicians from the Nashville recording scene the album just oozes professionalism and quality. ‘Hell Or High Water’ is a suitably dramatic slice of country rock to open the album, while songs like ‘Little Piece Of Heaven’ and ‘Miss Me When I’m Gone’ perfectly capture the spirit of modern Americana. Some of the tracks, like ‘Deeper’ and ‘Foolish Hearts’ with their deliciously soulful organ and bags and bags of brass give an impression of being recorded not in Nashville but some 200 miles away and a several decades ago in Memphis’s Stax studio. But it’s that skilful yet instinctive blend of influences that has helped Bailey build a solid fan-base. ‘What’s The Matter With You’ meanwhile is a slow, smoky, heartfelt blues while the rock influences come more to the fore in the title track ‘Road I Call Home’ with its superb guitar solo.

Co-writing credits include renowned UK hit songwriter Roger Cook, these days firmly part of the Nashville music scene, along with Nashville’s own Bobby Wood who has written for Elvis Presley and Dusty Springfield among others. Bailey explains the process as follows: “Road I Call Home is a year’s snapshot of being on the road. Eight of the 11 songs were written in two months. I’m very honest to what I write, and right now that’s what I know. I live in that constant state of tiredness, but I love it. I feel so blessed to live this life.”

An incredible voice, some great songwriting and some seriously good musicianship, with Road I Call Home Elles Bailey and her friends in Nashville have given us an impressive album.

Released by Outlaw Music March 8th 2019

https://www.ellesbailey.com/

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Live review: Glen Matlock headlines Hastings Fat Tuesday 5/3/19

It’s often remarked upon what a uniquely thriving local live music scene Hastings has. Nowhere is this more in evidence than the annual Fat Tuesday extravaganza. Taking in over 250 separate performances from over sixty different bands across more than twenty-five venues over five days simply a whirlwind of live music. And most of these gigs are completely free.

Headlining it all this year is none other than rock ‘n’ roll legend and former Sex Pistol Glen Matlock. Like the other bands performing on the final night – Fat Tuesday itself – Matlock plays several twenty minute sets in several different venues tonight. But, as the main headliner, he also gets an additional forty-minute slot after the other bands have finished, courtesy of the Carlisle.

While Matlock is whizzing around these other venues it gives me the chance to catch another couple of bands in the Carlisle first: the excellent Hastings-based punk-folk outfit Matilda’s Scoundrels and then the Tunbridge Wells outfit Suncharmer with their brand of riffed-up indie rock.

Both bands are well received but the place soon gets properly crammed in time for Matlock. Playing a mix of Sex Pistols classics (‘God Save The Queen’, ‘Pretty Vacant’), recent solo material (‘Keep On Pushing’, ‘Fisherman’s Friends’) and classic cover versions such as Bowie’s ‘John I’m Only Dancing’ and The Small Face’s ‘All Or Nothing’. With a great band behind him (bass, vocals and electric guitar) and Matlock on vocals and acoustic guitar, they cram a pile of great rock’n’roll into their forty-minute set. Matlock’s adulation of the rockabilly era is apparent throughout – but for all the year zero posturing back in the day, punk was always about rediscovering the format of the classic three-minute rock ‘n’ roll song. It’s a superb performance that goes down perfectly with a suitably raucous crowd.

There had been other highlights from the weekend for me, of course. Saturday – branded as the unplugged day – saw me catch more of Matilda’s Scoundrels, some Indie-ish pop-rock from Elephant Radio, a gloriously insane set from Brass Funkeys and an excellent acoustic set from indie-folk singer-songwriter Trevor Moss. But having a genuine legend to headline was a fitting end to the madness that is Fat Tuesday.

A bona fide rock ‘n’ roll icon. Performing in the pub. Free entry. On a Tuesday night. It can only be Hastings…

http://glenmatlock.co.uk/

 

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Related posts:

Fat Tuesday 2017 preview

Fat Tuesday unplugged 2017 review

Dodgy at Fat Tuesday 2017 review

 

Welcome to Darren’s music blog

Darren’s music blog. Five years old today. Something I started on 8th March 2014. 286 posts and 119,000 visits later I’d like to thank everyone for their support and express my gratitude to anyone who’s found anything of interest here over the past five years.

Darren's music blog

Live reviews, album reviews and more. From classic rock to contemporary folk.

Welcome to my music blog. I have fairly varied tastes in music: folk, rock, glam, heavy metal and more. My first ever gig was the Donington Monsters of Rock festival (Slade, Whitesnake, AC/DC…) back in 1981, aged 15. Live music has been an important part of my life ever since but, finding I have more free evenings than I used to, one of the things I was determined to do was see more live bands.  I am using this blog to post my reviews of many of the gigs I’ve been to, as well as occasional album reviews. Feedback is welcome so do please feel free to leave any comments.

For those bemused by the eclectic nature of the artists covered here, let me try and explain. Since being a teenager I have always enjoyed discovering and…

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Metal: album review – Spirits Of Fire ‘Spirits Of Fire’

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here

Spirits Of Fire is the new outfit fronted by ex-Judas Priest singer Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens.

A supergroup of sorts the project brings together Owens (ex-Judas Priest, Iced Earth), guitarist Chris Caffery (Savatage, Trans-Siberian Orchestra), bassist Steve DiGiorgio (Testament, Death) and drummer Mark Zonder (ex-Fates Warning, Warlord).

Hailed as “classic Priest meets Savatage” guitarist, Chris Caffery, says: “My influences for writing on this record were the bands that we were and are still in! I wanted to write songs that Priest, Savatage, Testament, and Fates Warning fans would like. But, I wanted them to have a personality of their own as well. To give it a vibe that was Spirits of Fire.”

And do they achieve that? There’s a satisfyingly Judas Priest-like vibe to the Spirits Of Fire album and it’s a great slice of classic heavy metal: well-written songs, powerful vocals, dynamic riffs and a thunderous rhythm section. Opening with a furious ‘Light Speed Marching’ it nicely sets the template for the album as a whole and showcases Owen’s considerable vocal range. Title track ‘Spirits Of Fire’, which ended up also providing a name for the band itself, is another furious assault with some nice soloing from Caffery.

Just like on a classic Priest album where you will typically find the odd slower number, here we get the excellent ‘A Game’ and the anthemic ‘Alone in the Darkness’ the latter of which closes the album, both tracks taking the tempo down while sacrificing none of the heaviness.

The whole Spirits Of Fire project has been masterminded by LA-based producer Roy Z who has worked with the likes Bruce Dickinson, Halford and Tribe Of Gypsies and does a sterling job on production duties here. Eleven tracks of classic, polished heavy metal – this debut from Spirits Of Fire is well worth checking out.

Released: 22.2.19 by Frontiers

https://www.facebook.com/SpiritsOfFireBand/

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Folk: album review – Gerry O’Connor ‘Last Night’s Joy’

This review was originally published by Bright Young Folk here

Acclaimed County Louth musician Gerry ’Fiddle’ O’Connor is a fourth-generation fiddle-player, has several decades of playing behind him and has worked with Irish folk outfits Lá Lugh and Skylark, releasing albums with both, besides a range of other collaborations. Last Night’s Joy is O’Connor’s second solo album, following up 2004’s Journeyman.

Across the album’s eleven instrumental tracks O’Connor displays his incredible versatility and virtuosity. The majority of the tunes forming each set are traditional, although there are a handful that have been composed in more modern times. Together, they each take us on a journey through a wonderfully spirited mix of styles, tempos, moods and emotions.

Meticulously sourced, the detailed sleeve-notes for Last Night’s Joy give a fascinating insight into the background to each of the tunes, The listener is therefore provided with little gems like the following, for the delicious tune-set The Old Dash Churn: “The collector Brendan Breathnach recorded County Louth fiddler Peter McArdle in Mark McLoughlin’s Bar in Dundalk in 1971. Apparently, due to time and resource constraints, he asked Peter to play only his more unusual tunes and these double jigs were learned from that recording.”

The haunting Bádaí na Scadáín with gentle piano accompaniment from O’Connor’s son Dónal, originates from the song of the same name telling the story of a father searching for his three fisherman sons lost at sea. Even without words none of the sadness is lost in this beautiful, mournful rendition which is one of the album’s real highlights.

Along with O’Connor’s son, the album also features luminaries of the Irish music scene including Séamie O’Dowd, Niall Hanna, Neil Martin and Seán Óg Graham among others. O’Connor’s namesake Gerry ’Banjo’ O’Connor also appears on one track, the punningly titled StereO Connor, for a set of gloriously energetic American polkas.

Anyone with a love for Irish traditional music and for vibrant, expressive fiddle-playing will, indeed, find this album a joy.

Released on Lughnasa Music on 1 October 2018

https://www.gerryoconnor.net/

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Film review: ‘Bachman’ new rock documentary on guitar legend Randy Bachman – released 26 March 2019

If you’ve admired the music of Randy Bachman but you don’t know too much about the man himself beyond “the guy who was in Bachman Turner Overdrive”, “the guy who was in the Guess Who before that”, “Canadian” and, perhaps, “Mormon” – and are keen to find out a little more then this new 78-minute documentary by FilmRise could well be of interest. Scheduled for release in DVD and digital formats on 26th March it tells the story of aspiring young Winnipeg musician through to seventy-something rock legend still out on the road performing.

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Never one for the sex and drugs and rock and roll lifestyle and, in his own words, “not a party animal” there’s certainly none of the how-I-made-it-through-years-of-debauchery-and-came-out-the-other-side-alive narrative nor, given that Bachman is living a very comfortable life and clearly enjoying what he does, is there an Anvil-style struggling-against-the-odds-in-the-face-of-rock-n-roll-adversity tale. Through the interviews with Bachman and his family, as well as rock royalty like Neil Young, Peter Frampton, Alex Lifeson and BTO bandmate Fred Turner, you do start to get a feel for what makes Bachman tick, however. A common thread running through many of the talking head segments is just how driven Bachman was and how focused his life has been on the music. It’s telling that in spite of his having converted to the Mormon faith prior to his first marriage, one of Bachman’s musical associates asserts in the film that his “spirituality is rooted in the guitar” above anything else. And we find out Bachman loves guitars – an awful lot. In one scene the film crew accompany Bachman to a storage facility and we find out just how much he loves guitars as he opens up a seemingly infinite collection of guitar cases and exhibits one instrument after another.

Although Fred Turner appears in the film I was perhaps expecting it to delve a little more deeply into the on-off musical partnership between Bachman and Fred Turner. However, it must be stressed that this is very much a film about Randy Bachman – the man, as opposed to Bachman Turner Overdrive – the band. Nevertheless, it’s a very watchable documentary and, at 75, it’s heartening to see Bachman still performing music and still being driven by it.

“BACHMAN” will be available on DVD, to stream or download on iTunes, Prime Video and Google Play on 26th March 2019.