Category Archives: album reviews

This week’s featured artist: Beth Lee – new album out ‘Waiting On You Tonight’

Making a name for herself fronting roots rock ‘n’ roll band Beth Lee & The Breakups, Texas-based singer-songwriter Beth Lee dips deep into a much broader range of musical influences for her latest album. These span her nineties love of Hope Sandoval, to the pop-friendly melodies of sixties girl groups, to the southern soul of Stax Records to contemporary Americana artists like Nicole Atkins. 

Waiting On You Tonight puts Lee’s soulful, heartfelt vocals and her evident song-writing abilities centre-stage. She effortlessly distils generations of musical influences, from country to blues to soul to 60s pop to rock n roll, to deliver this gorgeous set of original songs that captures so much of what’s great about American music in its most golden age.

Released: 12th February 2021

https://www.bethlee.net/

This week’s featured artist: Luke Jackson – new EP ‘Of The Time’ out now

Canterbury-based singer-songwriter Luke Jackson has scooped up numerous awards since first being nominated for the BBC’s Young Folk Awards back in 2013.

As a folk and roots-based artist he’s tapped into a school of song-writing that goes back many generations yet his songs always seem so effortlessly contemporary, topical and relevant.

This latest seven-track EP ‘Of The Time’ is no exception. Written during lockdown these songs take us on a powerful journey, not only of Luke Jackson’s own thoughts at various times over the months between March and November 2020, but feelings that many, many of us will immediately empathise with:

“The man in charge looks troubled on the TV. Doesn’t have a single thing to say” he sings on opening track ‘I Am Not Okay With This’.

The subjects are often bleak but the songs are never bleak, testimony to Jackson’s power as a songwriter and warmth as a performer. And he can be passionate and outspoken and uncompromising but avoids that temptation to get ranty – a trap that some singer-songwriters dealing with contemporary subject matter can sometimes fall into. Again, it’s a mark of his gift as a songwriter and the pure poetry of his lyrics.

The production nicely captures that mood, too.

“The songs lend themselves to a more sparse, acoustic production so the obvious person to do these recordings with was Elliott Norris at his ‘Good Neighbour Records’ studio,” he tells us.

I first saw Luke Jackson at Cecil Sharp House five years ago and was hugely impressed. His ‘This Family Tree’ album that I picked up that evening has frequently been on my stereo ever since – but it has been a treat to get fully up to date with Luke Jackson’s more recent output and familiarise myself with his wonderful 2019 album ‘Journals’ as well as this year’s brand new EP. As soon as I heard it I had no hesitation in making him this week’s featured artist.

Released: 29th January 2021

Available for download via http://lukepauljackson.com/shop/

Related review:

Luke Jackson and Greg Russell & Ciaran Algar at Cecil Sharp House 2016

This week’s featured artist: Tim Izzard and the new glammed-up Ziggy-esque album ‘Starlight Rendezvous’

Based in Hailsham in East Sussex, Tim Izzard is a musician who has worked across a variety of musical genres but Starlight Rendezvous, released last month, is his debut rock album. Taking glam-era Bowie as its starting point the album makes nods in the direction of pop, prog, rock and garage, and delivers something that is both creative and original yet unashamedly wears its influences as unselfconsciously as Mick Ronson in his golden Starman costume.

Izzard tells us: “It’s a play-it-loud, 40 mins concept album (remember them!) where the time is 632 AF, we are in a Brave New World and ‘The Visitor’, Thomas Jerome Newton, is still alive and still waiting to find his way home after nearly 200 years.”

Izzard adds: “I wanted to write an album that sounded like what first and still excites me musically and that I’d want to listen to once finished. So back to Bowie playing Starman on TOTP and the album, Ziggy. Roxy Music’s first two albums, Transformer/Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground. Bowie’s live Beeb version of Waiting For The Man still does it for me.

The chords and melody for Man Who Fell To Earth came easily to me one day, and just sounded immediately like it should be a tribute. So the title Man Who Fell To Earth I chose as he appeared like an alien on TOTP and left us so dramatically two days after Blackstar, almost as if his mission had been accomplished. The lyrics name-check his songs but also the impact they had on me ‘listening in my room’.

That self-penned Bowie tribute, the excellent ‘Man Who Fell To Earth’ has already been picking up airplay including here on BBC Radio Sussex and in the US on glam rock internet station Dandy’s Stardust Dive.

Tim Izzard’s album Starlight Rendezvous is available on Bandcamp here:

https://timizzard.bandcamp.com/

Released: 13th January 2021

https://www.facebook.com/TimIzzardMusic/

Progressive folk / experimental: album review: Steve Tyler ‘The Enduring and the Ephemeral ‘

Steve Tyler is a renowned hurdy gurdy player and from early music to traditional folk to industrial electronica he is at home playing within a variety of genres. He currently performs as a duo with Katy Marchant, as well as in the medieval-inspired trad folk band Woodwose (again with Marchant) and as part of the cross-cultural outfit Meridianum Ensemble.

The Enduring and the Ephemeral, however, is Tyler’s first album comprised fully of his own original material. The unique, utterly mesmerising sound of the hurdy gurdy takes centre-stage in this album of rich, layered, experimental prog-folk subtitled ‘Hurdy gurdy based multitrack music for the end of time’.

“The intention was merely to render in sonic form some patterns from the imagination, rather than following any particular theme or genre. However, as many of the pieces arose from contemplation of the passage of time and the juxtaposition of different chronological perspectives, a theme of sorts has arisen.”

Tyler’s main creative drive is his interest in patterns and rhythms and the resulting interweaving of different components into a sonic structure. Tyler’s infectiously hypnotic hurdy gurdy playing is thus textured by his use of numerous other instruments, namely cittern, reed organ, psaltery, guitar, bass guitar, hammered dulcimer, gothic harp and percussion. However, the album also features guest musicians: Katy Marchant who plays, variously, bagpipes, recorder, shawm and vocal on several tracks) and Jane Harbour, from the Bristol-based band Spiro, whose vocal and violin-playing can be heard on the final track ‘Lullaby’.

A lovely touch, particularly for ELO fans, is the inclusion of the late Mike Edwards – the cellist from the original line-up of Electric Light Orchestra who was tragically killed in 2010. Tyler had previously worked with Edwards and an unaccompanied improvisational sample of his was located and, by chance, fitted perfectly into the dark, haunting piece on the album entitled ‘Tethys’.

A rich, fascinating and uniquely other-worldly album, Tyler creates some utterly compelling sonic textures and fans of experimental music, prog and folk will all find much to draw them in here.

Released: Autumn 2020

http://www.stevetyler-hurdygurdy.com/

Folk/acoustic: album review – Milton Hide ‘Temperature’s Rising’

Hot on the heels of Lancashire-based folk-rockers, Merry Hell, who released their eco-themed Emergency Lullabies album last November comes Temperature’s Rising, another environmentally-conscious album title from another act immersed in the UK folk scene: East Sussex’s Milton Hide.

I’ve much enjoyed seeing this husband-and-wife acoustic duo, Jim and Josie Tipler, out on the live scene here in East Sussex on a number of occasions. Their thought-provoking, observational and often humorous self-written songs were always a treat to witness and it was a delight, therefore, to get my hands on their debut album.

While their acoustic-driven melodies are at the heart of Temperature’s Rising there’s plenty more to the album besides. The dozen songs here are all ones that the duo have performed live over the years. However, a cast of guest musicians, their contributions all recorded separately and expertly weaved into the album within the necessary constraints imposed by life in lockdown, add rich texture to the duo’s melodies.

Bruce Knapp from Moltenamba provides some deliciously Americana-flavoured guitar on several tracks, Fred Gregory and Phil Jones from Hatful of Rain come in on mandolin and string bass respectively, while Ian McIlroy from Rough Chowder plays accordion and Simon Yapp from Ian Roland Subtown Set adds some distinctive fiddle-playing. The whole album is produced and engineered by John Fowler of Dandelion Charm who also utilises his multi-instrumental talents on guitars, bass, keyboards and drums while Clare Fowler, the other half of Dandelion Charm, adds some backing vocals.

The title track ‘Temperature’s Rising’ utilises the full band set-up to deliver a rousing modern-day folk-rock anthem. Josie Tipler: “Greta Thunberg was making news and climate activists were very prominent in the media. Also, there was a lot of protesting going on – anger over US elections and Brexit. “

Meanwhile, ‘A Little Piece Of Mind’ sees Jim and Josie in classic acoustic duo mode. With a more than a nod to the melody of Elizabeth Cotton’s evergreen skiffle favourite ‘Freight Train’ the lyrics here similarly utilise train metaphors but the song is actually Josie’s ode to the menopause and mid-life crisis.

The poignant ‘Littlefield’, inspired by Jim spotting a welcoming light in the window of a house that had been empty for many months, channels the spirit some of those classic English folk-inspired singer-songwriters in the vein of Sandy Denny et al and is beautifully sung by Josie.

‘Say It All The Time’ is another highlight. Quite unlike anything else on the album, the song was initially prompted by a bleak mood that came over Jim during a walk on the South Downs one day and the subsequent death of a musician friend who had tragically taken his own life. It was originally released as a charity single back in 2019 to raise awareness of suicide prevention. Remixed for the album the spiky, slightly eighties, slightly goth-sounding keyboards from producer and multi-instrumentalist, John Fowler, really make this track and perfectly capture the mood of the song.

Mention should also be made of the beautiful packaging including fold-out lyric sheet featuring original artwork by Hastings artist Helen Bryant.

Anyone who is already familiar with Milton Hide’s live act will want to buy this album but hopefully ‘Temperature’s Rising’ will also help bring the duo’s unique talents as songwriters, singers and musicians to a much wider audience. A very welcome full-length debut from Milton Hide with some superb musical guests.

Released: 5th March 2021

Website: www.miltonhide.com

Related posts:

‘Say It All The Time’ – East Sussex duo Milton Hide release fund-raising single to raise awareness of male suicide

Saturday Unplugged – live review Hastings Fat Tuesday 2020

From sea shanties to glam rock: five music acts who have had a good lockdown

1. The Longest Johns

I’ve been following Bristol-based acapella group The Longest Johns since they sent me their first album to review back in 2016. Following the tiktok sea shanty viral sensation that is ‘Wellerman’, however, they now find themselves in the Top 40 – with a lovely rather dumbstruck announcement on their Facebook page giving their reaction as follows: “BY POSEIDONS BEARD! It’s only gone top 40! We did it everybody, thank-you to all our families, the mod’s and the fantastic discord community, Thank-you to Anna for singing it with us and thank-you to EVERYONE who bought Wellerman and got a (Can’t believe i’m typing this) SEA SHANTY IN THE CHARTS. Ohhhh!!”

Read album review here

2. Slade

2020 was looking like a terrible year for glam veterans, Slade. Guitarist Dave Hill sacked drummer Don Powell from the continuing (ie: post- Jim and Noddy) version of the band. Bass-player Jim Lea had his prized guitar stolen and Noddy Holder exchanged a few sharp words about his former song-writing partner Jim in press interviews. All that was put to one side, however, as all four original members expressed their joy at their greatest hits compilation Cum On Feel The Hitz going straight in at No. 8 in the UK album charts back in October. This was the band’s highest ranking in the UK album charts since Slade In Flame was released back in 1974!

Read more here

3. AC/DC

Only a few short years ago the wheels well and truly seemed to be finally coming off the AC/DC machine. Rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young had tragically passed away, drummer Phil Rudd was sentenced to home detention after an unedifying case involving drugs and threatening behaviour, vocalist Brian Johnson ended up being replaced by Axl Rose following major hearing problems and bass-player Cliff Williams saw the writing on the wall and decided he, too, had had enough. However, with Stevie Young replacing his late uncle, Malcolm, the classic post-Bon Scott AC/DC line-up (or as near as humanly possible to it anyway) was resurrected and a brand new album Power Up ended up reaching No. 1 in twenty-one countries.

Read album review here

4. John Rossall – ex Glitter Band

Glitter Band founder member, John Rossall, released a wonderfully menacing twenty-first century reboot of classic 70s glam rock with his The Last Glam In Town album. Released back in October last year, it picked up favourable reviews everywhere. All tribal beats, honking brass, fuzzed-up guitar, sing-along choruses and enough handclaps and chants of ‘Hey’ to last you a lifetime, The Last Glam In Town is a modern masterpiece of the genre.  “It’s like I’ve written them myself almost!” he told me when I interviewed him late last year. “It’s a surprise. The reviews everywhere – it’s been beyond my wildest dreams really.”

Read full interview here

5. Tim Burgess of the Charlatans

While there has been no big Charlatans comeback (their most recent album was back in 2017), Tim’s Twitter Listening Parties have been one of the bright spots throughout the pandemic. The idea was a simple one: an album and a time would be chosen and fans would converge on social media to exchange their memories, reactions and appreciation of said album. Soon there was a queue of artists eager to get involved and, for me, one of the highlights was when they featured the album by Heavy Load, a band which was composed of people with and without learning disabilities, of which my current boss was the former bass-player. You can find out more about Heavy Load, the award-winning film of the same name that was made about them and the charity that they inspired here.

Tim Burgess // Piknik i Parken // The Charlatans // 2019-06-13 18:19:07 // Grünerløkka, Oslo, Photo credit: Tore Sætre / Wikimedia

This week’s featured artist: alt-rock duo The Fools Horses

Asking us to imagine what the offspring of the White Stripes and Radiohead might sound like, Kent-based alternative rock band The Fools Horses have recently released their debut single ‘Drifting Away’.

The Fools Horses are Noah Kemp (guitar and lead vocals) and Tommy Pearce (drums). Both just 16, and from the Faversham/Whitstable area, the duo met in school – bonding over similar musical tastes and drawing on influences from bands such as Muse and Royal Blood.

The duo say they explore many styles in their music but for their first single they have gone for that mellow, melancholic alt-rock vibe that Radiohead set the bar for on OK Computer. I love it. Not only have they captured a mood that so many of us must be feeling right now but with this original piece of song-writing they’ve also demonstrated they can turn in a pretty decent melody, too.

Talking about the song Noah Kemp says: “Drifting Away was written in lockdown about losing someone you love and has multiple meanings. On a personal level it’s about a breakup. However, it also relates to lockdown, and how people you used to talk to every day at school or something, are slowly drifting away as you lose contact. I wrote the lyrics by writing down exactly what I was feeling at the time and then sort of arranging them into cohesive lyrics.”

Check out the single on Spotify here:

https://open.spotify.com/artist/4YsSc1fj3fgVvljLNH1OY5?si=rQ6EPFDeRa-mq1y5khMnwQ

Instagram:https://www.instagram.com/thefoolshorses/

Americana: album review – John Edwin & the Banjodasha Hillbillies ‘Divine Life of Punarvasu’

Swedish singer-songwriter-instrumentalist, Peter Danielsson, had spent time on the road performing in a variety of different outfits. Around a decade ago he felt it was time to go solo and that a change in musical direction was in order. He bought himself a banjo, taught himself to play clawhammer (the distinctive banjo playing style common to a lot of old-time American music) and reinvented himself as bluegrass performer, John Edwin.

As well as old-time standards he also began introducing more of his own material into his live act and, over time, he’d picked up a group of collaborators and reinvented himself once more, now as frontman of John Edwin & the Banjodasha Hillbillies playing a new country/folk sound based on fretless banjo and electric guitar.

Divine Life of Punarvasu is the outfit’s debut album, showcasing eleven original songs written by John Edwin (Peter Danielsson). Irresistibly catchy melodies, pleasing vocals and that distinctive trademark blend of fretless banjo and electric guitar serve to make this and instantly likeable album and one worthy of repeat playing.

Lyrically, the album explores decidedly the non-redneck themes of Vedic astrology and yoga philosophy but are delivered with a sincerity and down-at-home ease that effortlessly rolls with the music whatever your spiritual (or non-spiritual) leanings.

A highly enjoyable debut.

John Edwin & the Banjodasha Hillbillies are:

John Edwin alias Peter Danielsson: five string banjo, fretless banjo, vocals & acoustic guitar
Kenneth Bakkelund – electric guitars
Pedro Blom – Ukuele bass
Jörgen Andersson – snare drums

Released: 15th November 2020

http://www.johnedwin.com/pages/se/hem/john-edwin-the-banjodasha-hillbillies.php

Folk-rock: single review – Merry Hell ‘When We Meet Again’

That early January post-seasonal lull can be a bit of a downer at the best of times. With a Covid second wave biting hard and restrictions on normal life set to continue for the foreseeable people could be forgiven for not feeling too optimistic. However, folk rockers Merry Hell always seem to have that knack of turning out a suitably uplifting anthem when the occasion requires it. And just as many of us are taking the decorations down, preparing for a return to work and wondering what these next few months are going to be like up pop Merry Hell with a brand new anthem.

‘When We Meet Again’ is the latest single from Merry Hell and the lead track on a newly released three-track EP.

“When We Meet Again is a song of hope for 2021 and beyond. Written by John and Bob during the second lockdown period of 2020, it is born of our strange and difficult times but looks forward to the pleasures of being with the people whose company we enjoy, whether it be spending time with friends and family, or simply getting back to gigs and festivals and sharing our music and joy with audiences.”

“In addition to the band, the song reflects its theme of togetherness by featuring the combined voices of our 300 strong Social Isolation Choir. All the members recorded their parts individually and submitted them remotely to the band. Our production maestro John Kettle, assembled everyone into a harmonious whole. The single also includes two tracks from our album Emergency Lullabies – both also featuring the choir.”

Both rousing and poignant ‘When We Meet Again’ is a celebration of optimism and hope and togetherness and recording it remotely has clearly not diminished the band’s ability to come together to deliver another of their memorable anthems. You can bet that when the opportunity does finally come to start performing it live it’s going to be one hell of a crowd sing-along.

The other two tracks on the EP are ‘We Are Different, We Are One’ and ‘Beyond The Call’ – both taken from the excellent Emergency Lullabies album released last November.

Released: 1st January 2021

http://www.merryhell.co.uk/when-we-meet-again.html

Related posts:

Album review – Merry Hell ‘Emergency Lullabies’

Album review – Virginia Kettle ‘No Place Like Tomorrow’

DVD review: Merry Hell ‘A Year In The Life’

Album review: Merry Hell ‘Anthems To The Wind’

EP review: Merry Hell ‘Bury Me Naked’

EP review: Merry Hell ‘Come On England!’

Folk: album review – Mossy Christian ‘Come Nobles and Heroes’

Traditional musician, singer, dancer and researcher, Mossy Christian won plaudits for his album of fiddle duets with Jim Eldon a year ago and now releases his debut solo album. Come Nobles and Heroes is an album that primarily focuses on tunes and songs from Christian’s home county of Lincolnshire. His frames of reference are very much source singers like Joseph Taylor, Harry Cox and Walter Pardon along with those of the early post-war revival

As a writer and researcher, Christian has published numerous papers exploring the folk tradition, on subjects such as ‘The Midwinter Traditions of Lincolnshire’, ‘The Musical Pennock Family of Goathland’, and the folk-song collectors Frank and Ethel Kidson. What it means is that as a singer and musician Christian brings passion and knowledge to his interpretations that is perhaps unrivalled on the folk scene, certainly in a performer so young. And what a performer he is.

From the sprightly tune-set of the opening track, combining two tunes sourced from a manuscript compiled in the 1820s by Lincolnshire papermaker Joshua Gibbons, to the poignant ‘The Way Through the Wood’ a Rudyard Kipling poem originally set to music by Peter Bellamy, to the final rousing song celebrating the music hall comedian and champion clog dancer Dan Leno, Christian takes us on an exhilarating journey through eighteenth and nineteenth century life.

This is not an album for those who insist on their folk being packaged with a contemporary twist. The only concession to modernity is the clarity of the modern recording equipment which allows the talented singer and player, his equally talented supporting musicians and, importantly, the wonderful material to take centre-stage. In addition to Christian (fiddle, vocals, concertina, melodeon) the album features Tim Walker (percussion, cornet), Gina Le Faux (mandolin), Johnny Adams (trombone), Jon Loomes (guitar, hurdy gurdy), Edwin Beasant (bass bugle) and Ruth Bibby (clog dancing).

Assembled with love and meticulous attention to detail and performed with verve and vitality Come Nobles and Heroes is a fine collection of songs and tunes and an impressive solo debut from Mossy Christian.

Released: 1st January 2021 by One Row Records

http://nicksites.net/mossy/