Category Archives: album reviews

Folk: album review – Eddi Reader ‘Cavalier’

This review was originally published by Bright Young Folk here

Marking 40 years as a live performer, the former Fairground Attraction singer and celebrated solo artist, Eddi Reader, releases a brand new studio album. Featuring an impressive sixteen songs Cavalier comprises traditional material, her own compositions (along with some from her co-producer, John Douglas) in addition to a couple of covers.

There are some lovely arrangements of traditional songs on the album but, sound-wise, it doesn’t narrowly confine itself to what we have come to regard as folk. From Maiden’s Lament with its laid-back, jazzy clarinet; to the title track, Cavalier, with its slightly funky, slightly indie-ish feel; to Starlight, with its 1950s doo-wop-style harmonies, there’s a wonderful array of sounds and musical influences across the ages here. Of course, the album is not without its more mainstream folk moments either, with tracks like Meg O’ The Glen, based on extracts from the poems of the 18th century Paisley-born poet, Robert Tannahill, which contains some deliciously infectious fiddle.

Reader’s gentle but superbly expressive vocals and her distinctive Scottish lilt are the common thread throughout the album, but it’s also all held together with a talented cast of supporting musicians, some twenty-five in total, through strings and brass and whistle and flute, not to mention five excellent additional backing vocalists.

Cavalier contains some beautiful interpretations of traditional songs and some folk-influenced singer song-writing yet at the same time it is so much more than a folk album. File under ’F’ for fascinating.

Released 28th September 2018 on Reveal Records

http://eddireader.co.uk/

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Blues/rock/soul: album review – Rainbreakers ‘Face To Face’

At the start of the year, towards the end of a long day of drinking and music at Skegness’s Rock and Blues festival, I was about to call it a day and give the last band on the late-night stage a miss when we were suddenly confronted by Rainbreakers. Soulful, bluesy, emotive and powerful, I was immediately captivated. All thoughts of an early(ish) night were rapidly abandoned and Rainbreakers turned out to be one of my favourite acts of the entire festival.

Fast forward a few months and Rainbreakers’ debut album Face To Face is equally captivating. Ten tracks of soulful, classy blues rock it captures the spirit of an earlier classic era while at the same time being fresh, contemporary-sounding and full of energy. Big riffs, deliciously bluesy licks, great melodies and vocals dripping with emotion and soul this a fantastic debut album. Lyrically, the band tackle some powerful themes, too. The opening track Heavy Soul is no trite cock rock number but rather tells the story of vocalist Ben Edwards’ personal battles with his mental health. On tracks like Lost With You, the band amply demonstrate they can handle the slower material with elegance and sensitivity.

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Rainbreakers are Ben Edwards (vocals, guitar), Charlie Richards (lead guitar), Pete Adam (bass), Sam Edwards (drums). Already making a significant impact on the live scene and the festival circuit (and I can personally vouch for that!) both the writing and the musicianship on this album deserves to make Rainbreakers a much bigger name in the UK music scene. A stunningly good debut.

Released: 31 August 2018

http://www.therainbreakers.com/

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Folk-rock: album review – Julie July Band ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes?’ – A Tribute To Sandy Denny

Sandy Denny died forty years ago this year. Although her old band, Fairport Convention, never let a gig go by without still playing at least a couple of songs in tribute to her and although Fairport’s Simon Nicol has a wonderfully rich voice, there is something about hearing Denny’s songs delivered live with a beautiful pure female vocal that has made the Julie July Band a popular choice at festivals and folk gigs. I was certainly immediately won over when I saw them at Warwick Festival last year.

However, with my Sandy Denny boxed set, my Fotheringay boxed set, all my Fairport albums and everything else Sandy-related in my collection the question is do I really need a CD of someone singing Sandy’s songs? I’ve certainly played it a fair few times since it arrived so that’s looking like a very definite yes.

Although not necessarily a complete carbon copy of Denny’s unmistakable vocals, Julie July certainly has a lovely voice and delivers her songs sympathetically. The band, themselves, are a talented bunch and what I find pleasing is that when covering some the material from Denny’s solo albums rather than going for those over-produced slightly schmaltzy arrangements that you get on some of the originals, the band have gone for a more stripped-back sound that lets the songs and the vocals do the main work.

As a devoted Sandy fan there’s absolutely nothing not to love on this gorgeous and heartfelt album. Eleven timeless songs written by Sandy Denny along with Richard Farina’s ‘The Quiet Joys Of Brotherhood’. My only niggle is maybe there could have been one or two left-field surprises as well to make this album just that little bit more unique – say a cover of one of the unearthed Sandy lyrics that Thea Gilmore put to music a few years ago, or a traditional song not generally associated with Denny, or perhaps even a post-Denny Fairport song that was given a full-on Sandy-esque makeover, that just might have given us a glimpse of an alternative universe. But these are minor niggles.

I salute the July Julie Band for their dedication in keeping Sandy Denny’s music alive. Both their live performances and this album do justice to her enormous legacy.

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Released 27th July 2018 by Aurora Folk Records

http://www.juliejuly.co.uk/

 

Rock/garage/punk: album review – Metro Velour ‘Hey You’

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here

Based in the small picturesque village of Montauroux in the Côte d’Azur region of the south of France, Metro Velour are an old school garage punk band. The four-piece is composed of Sebastian Smith (rhythm guitar and vocals), Louis Chevallier (lead guitar), J B Caramellino (drums) and Nico Pasqual (bass). While the latter three are all French, the front-man, Sebastian Smith, is actually an old English rocker whose been around the music scene a long, long time – ever since he formed his first band in 1959, aged 17!

Now in his mid 70s, Smith still clearly has rock n roll in his blood. “Most of the music today is a complete pile of crap,” muses Smith in the documentary on the band’s YouTube site. “The stuff today just pisses me off so much and I thought hell. Let’s get rock ‘n’ roll back where it should be.”

While plenty of us following Get Ready To Rock will counter that music today is not all X Factor and manufactured pop and that there are decent new rock bands about if you look that bit harder, nevertheless you cannot fault Smith’s (and the rest of the band’s) enthusiasm in pursuing their mission.

‘Hey You’ is the band’s debut album. Sound-wise, there’s definitely a flavour of US garage/punk acts like The Stooges, The New York Dolls and The Ramones but there’s also the spirit of British punk in there, too, particularly on account of Smith’s vocals and tongue-in-cheek lyrics (‘I’m in love with those dirty girls…’).

The songs are catchy and well-written and the band are tight and together. You may struggle to believe that this was recorded in 2018, not 1978. But if you fancy a bit of old-school punk blasting out of your speakers this album is well worth checking out.

https://www.facebook.com/www.metrovelour.fr/

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Rock: EP review – Jim Lea ‘Lost In Space’

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here

Formed in the 60s, massive in the 70s and enjoying something of a revival in the 80s, the original Slade finally came to an end in 1991. Since then vocalist, Noddy Holder, has become a a perennial favourite on the nation’s chat show sofas talking about the old days. Guitarist, Dave Hill, and drummer, Don Powell, have resurrected the Slade name and continued to tour Britain and Europe belting out the old hits, with the latter also involved in a well-received collaboration with Suzi Quatro and Sweet’s Andy Scott. Arguably, however, it is bass-player, Jim Lea, who has delivered the most interesting musical output, post-Slade, of all four members. It’s not been a prolific output – family caring responsibilities and health issues put paid to that. However, 2007’s excellent solo album ‘Therapy’ has now been followed up with a six-track EP of new material: ‘Lost In Space’.

The title track is a great catchy slice of melodic pop-rock, proving that Lea has not lost none of his song-writing knack in that department. Semi-autobiographical, lyrically, the words are a paean to living life in an inner world, barely aware of what’s going on in normal life.

The rest of the EP takes on a decidedly more rocky approach. Whereas the the previous solo album took on a wistful, slightly Lennon-esque tone, a number of tracks here put me in mind of Slade in the early 80s – when the former glamsters enjoyed something of a renaissance at the hands of the emerging New Wave Of British Heavy Metal movement thanks to the band’s triumph at Reading festival in 1980. Tracks like ‘What In The World’, all catchy choruses, pounding drums and crunching guitars, would not have been at all out of place on Slade’s 1983 album ‘The Amazing Kamikaze Syndrome’.

Although it’s all previously unreleased tracks some of these songs have been around in demo form for quite some time prior to being worked up for release. Lea’s ‘Going Back To Birmingham’, which appears as a live track on the ‘Live At The Robin’ bonus disc accompanying ‘Therapy’, also finally gets a studio release here.

Anyone who has ever been wowed by Slade at one time or another should rush to buy this EP – not because it’s an interesting curio from the latter years of a former member but because it’s a great rocking EP with some great new songs and some great new music. It’s excellent. Buy it!

Lost in Space EP is released on 22nd June 2018 by Wienerworld

Read my interview with Jim Lea ahead of the release of his new EP here

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http://www.jimleamusic.com/

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Folk: album review – Greg Russell & Ciaran Algar ‘Utopia and Wasteland’

This review was originally published by Bright Young Folk here

Ever since they won the BBC’s Young Folk Award on the back of their debut release The Queen’s Lover, the talents of Greg Russell and Ciaran Algar have never been in doubt. From such an impressive start, their capacity to innovate and astound with each new release has seemed to build and build. Now onto their fourth album, the question is whether the duo continue on that trajectory or begin to settle into something approaching a pleasing but comfortable formula. The answer is that Utopia and Wasteland continues to set the bar even higher.

Production shifts up a notch, courtesy of Mark Tucker who also adds bass and percussion, but the biggest change with this album is the strong focus on self-penned material. In contrast to the interpretations of traditional songs and well-chosen covers that provided the bulk of material for previous albums, nine of the eleven tracks here are original compositions.

The emphasis on original material has allowed the duo to explore some contemporary issues yet bring their instinctive appreciation of traditional music, Russell’s rich distinctive vocals and Algar’s virtuoso fiddle to create some seriously impressive modern folk songs. Russell has already demonstrated his gift as an immensely talented songwriter (someone who managed to write The Queen’s Lover while bored with revising for A levels, let us not forget). However, perhaps the most striking and moving song here is Algar’s composition We are Leaving, which documents the culture of neglect and indifference that culminated in the Grenfell Tower disaster.

Elsewhere on the album, Line Two is Russell’s take on the HS2 rail project, while Walter reflects on the incredible life of Walter Tull, an English professional footballer who became the first black officer to lead white troops into battle in the First World War and was killed in action at just 29. Algar also brings his talents to bear with a couple of pleasingly inventive tune compositions in Warwick Road and De Gule Huis.

With Utopia and Wasteland Greg Russell and Ciaran Algar once again showcase their incredible talents and demonstrate some superb songwriting into the bargain. An exceptionally strong album, this marks another chapter in the duo’s hugely impressive career to date.

Released; April 2018 Rootbeat Records

http://www.russellalgar.co.uk/

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Related reviews:

Album review – Ray Hearne ‘Umpteen’ (featuring Greg & Ciaran)
Luke Jackson and Greg Russell & Ciaran Algar at Cecil Sharp House 2016
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Folk: EP review – Zoe Wren ‘Gold & Smoke’

Zoe Wren is a singer-songwriter working very much in the folk tradition. She clearly knows her folk history, having studied this at university, and has been performing on the folk scene since her mid-teens, not to mention spots of busking in Camden. Importantly, she is able to bring all this into the mix as a song-writer.

With a stunningly beautiful voice, some gently captivating acoustic guitar and some equally beautifully-written songs, there’s a definite nod to that classic era of singer-songwriters and interpreters of traditional material à la Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez and co. At the same time there is enough about both Zoe Wren’s performance and her songwriting that is new, original and just so damned good that it really helps her stand out on today’s folk scene.

Five of the EP’s six songs are written by Wren herself but she uses her undoubted knowledge of traditional folk songs to revisit a number of familiar themes in the folk canon. What she does so well is take the stories of the overwhelmingly male songwriters and male narrators of traditional songs from past centuries and recast them from a female perspective.

“It’s probably a bit of an odd thing to say as a singer-songwriter, but my EP was partly inspired by my university dissertation. It was called ‘voicing the unsung experiences of women in contemporary folksong’ and it got me thinking a lot about not only how gender is portrayed in traditional folk music, but also what that means for contemporary female singer-songwriters. Some of the songs on the EP explore women’s voices, others just voices and personas in general, but each of the original songs retells a story from a traditional folk song in some way, “ says Wren.

A gifted songwriter and exceptional singer, Zoe Wren brings a welcome perspective and impressive originality to traditionally-inspired music and Gold & Smoke is highly recommended.

Released: 2018 on Folkstock Records

http://www.zoewren.com

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Folk/country/Americana: album review – Marina Florance ‘Fly Beyond The Border’

Catching singer-songwriter Marina Florance live a couple of years ago she immediately impressed both with her heartfelt songs and the seemingly effortless but compellingly sincere country-ish vibe that she pulled off. Fly Beyond the Border is Florance’s third album, bringing together brand new material, some recent collaborations with other artists and some previously released singles.

Although coming late in life to a professional music career, the album sees Florance really hitting her stride as a song-writer of note. Her themes of life, love and relationships are universal but her honest, heartfelt delivery makes you want to hang on to every word.

Florance has been working with the lottery-funded Warm & Toasty Club’s Coast To Coast Project where she was commissioned, alongside co-writer Jules Fox Allen, to write three songs based on the memories of residents at retirement complexes along the Essex Coast. One of these songs ‘Sirens’, celebrating the tenacity of women in often very difficult circumstances, features on the album.

It’s not just the sensitive lyrics and Florance’s heartfelt delivery though. There’s some suitably impressive musicianship on this album, too. Alongside Florance’s guitar and mandolin there’s a fine group of accompanying musicians, including some lovely Americana-tinged fiddle playing from Mark Jolley that compliments Florance’s songs perfectly. Meanwhile, ‘The Blue Lady’, featuring some beautiful dobro and guitar from Ben Walker, is a definite highlight.

If you have not yet come across Marina Florance, there’s plenty for fans of folk, country, Americana or singer-songwriter to fall in love with and Fly Beyond The Border is well worth checking out.

Released: March 2018

https://www.marinaflorance.com/

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Folk: EP review – Thom Ashworth ‘Hollow’

This review was originally published by Bright Young Folk here

A relatively new entrant to the folk scene, Thom Ashworth already made quite an impact with his first EP Everybody’s Gone to The Rapture at the start of 2017. Now he is back with a second and the elements that ensured his first release stood out from the crowd – his distinctive tenor vocals and stripped-back minimalist accompaniment from his acoustic bass guitar – equally apply to the second, Hollow.

Comprising four tracks, two are traditional songs and the other two are written by Ashworth himself. Of the traditional material, High Germany is the song about the War of The Spanish Succession, performed by Martin Carthy, The Dubliners and others over the years. Here it is turned into a rousingly defiant protest song as Ashworth delivers lines like “Oh cursed be the cruel wars that ever they should rise” accompanied by his trademark guitar sounds and powerfully rhythmic percussion.

The title track, meanwhile, is one of Ashworth’s own songs and is altogether a more mournful and sombre affair with eerily atmospheric accompaniment. The other original song, rispin’s War,picks up the anti-war theme of the first track.

Paean to the working man and woman,Work Life Out To Keep Life In, rounds the EP off in fine form and perhaps hints that Ashworth may well turn out to be the Billy Bragg for the mid twenty-first century.

This release is another clear demonstration that Thom Ashworth is a folk singer with important things to say and a unique way of saying it.

Self released: November 2017

http://thomashworth.com/

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Live review: Toledo Steel at The Dev, Camden 12/5/18 (album launch gig for ‘No Quarter’)

The New Wave Of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) gave a shot in the arm to the hard rock/heavy metal scene in the late 70s/early80s. By the second half of the seventies many of the original pioneers from the late 60s/early 70s were on hiatus or running out of steam and a crop of new bands took the can-do spirit of punk and began taking hard rock out of the mega stadiums and into the altogether more accessible pubs and small venues. The scene didn’t last long and apart from a few bands who made it into the mega stadiums themselves, many fell by the wayside. In recent years, however, there has been a renewed interest in the NWOBHM. A number of the old bands have reformed and are out gigging again but, importantly, a whole new generation of younger bands, many of them taking direct musical inspiration from that scene, are once again filling up pubs and small venues, releasing albums and building up solid fan-bases.

One of those bands is Toledo Steel who are releasing their debut album ‘No Quarter’ and, in the guise of playing the official after-show party for the Frost & Fire heavy metal all-dayer at Camden’s Underworld, are at The Dev to formally launch it with a special gig.

Formed in 2011 in Southampton and with two well-received EPs under their belt the five-piece combine melodic vocals, a twin guitar attack, furiously heavy delivery and a ear for a catchy well-written song. Indeed, those very qualities that made NWOBHM bands like Saxon and Iron Maiden such a breath of fresh air back in the late 70s.

With two EPs and a brand new album the band have a really decent stash of powerful material to draw from, their set-list tonight combining earlier material like the utterly unforgettable ‘City Lights’ with material from the new album like the excellent title track ‘No Quarter’ and a song that celebrates the curse of tinnitus ‘Heavy Metal Headache.’

Looking around the crowd packed into this smallish boozer tonight it’s noticeable that there are a fair few of us in our late 40s/early 50s, clearly drawn to this renaissance of classic-sounding metal. But what is more significant is that we are far outnumbered by much younger guys and girls around the same age as the band. This is looking far less like a mid-life crisis driven nostalgia-fest and far more like a genuine movement – and that is a very hopeful sign for the future of rock.

Fast and furious, loud and heavy as hell but never less than tuneful and melodic Toledo Steel are everything you want from a truly great heavy metal band and ‘No Quarter’ is a brilliant debut album.

Released: May 18th 2018

http://www.toledosteel.co.uk/

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