Category Archives: album reviews

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/

DYWcU6GXUAEIBom

Related reviews

Album review – Marina Florance ‘This That & The Other’

Marina Florance – Emerging Talent Showcase

Advertisements

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/

a0684855829_10

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/

61BGSrxzTNL

Related review:

Mearfest at the Carlisle, Hastings 2017

Folk: album review – Will Finn & Rosie Calvert ‘Beneath This Place’

Will Finn and Rosie Calvert will be familiar to many folk fans as one half of a capella singing quartet The Teacups. On ‘Beneath this Place’, however, they go for a somewhat different approach: traditional folk accompanied by a range of instrumentation including the steel pan, no less. While such a combination may scream ‘twee novelty record’ that’s very much not the case and there’s some interesting sound textures and sensitive album song interpretations.

“Just as I sing in different styles,” explains Calvert, “I play folk tunes differently on the steel pan than I would calypso.” Such an approach has allowed them to create a sound that’s unique while very much in the tradition of European folk. Opening up with the traditional ‘Banks of the Sacramento’ which captures the initial excitement of the American gold rush the use of the steel pan in such an unexpected context opens the album in fine form. On other tracks like ‘January Man’ that follows the steel pan takes on an altogether more mournful tone.

The duo’s harmonies, of course, honed over the years are as delightful on this album as they are with The Teacups on tracks like ‘Paddy’s Lamentation’.

With accompaniment from Evan Carson (bodhran and percussion), Matt Downer (double bass), Sam Partridge (flute and whistles) and Seth Tinsley (guitar) the duo have produced a fine album in ‘Beneath This Place’. Having enjoyed seeing them on stage with The Teacups I very much look forward to catching the due performing these songs live at some stage.

With so many excellent but perhaps not always particularly distinctive albums being released on the contemporary folk scene ‘Beneath This Place’ genuinely does offer something that little bit different. Well done Will Finn and Rosie Calvert.

Released: 1st June 2018 by Haystack Records

https://willfinnandrosiecalvert.com/

Beneath-This-Place

 

Folk-rock: album review – Fairport Convention ‘What We Did On Our Saturday’

Adapting the chalk-board cover and title of the band’s classic 1969 album ‘What We Did On Our Holiday’, Fairport Convention’s latest album ‘What We Did On Our Saturday’ is a two-disc live recording of a 50th anniversary performance at their Cropredy festival last summer.

I was there last year and it was indeed very special to see all five surviving original members of the band take the stage and perform their earliest songs once again; along with surviving members of later line-ups and other guests deputising for the ones who are are, sadly, no longer around to perform. It was an absolutely unforgettable night and it’s obviously lovely to have a memento from that special performance.

The question now, however, is how much the live recording lives up to my memories of that evening, particularly when performing material from such iconic albums in the folk rock canon as the aforementioned ‘What We Did On Our Holidays’, ‘Liege & Lief’ and ‘Nine’.

The double CD’s twenty-five tracks are heavily weighted towards the band’s late 60s/early 70s heyday when what is now a much-loved national treasure really was pushing the boundaries in terms of both rock and folk music. The superb ‘Hiring Fair’, however, from the band’s mid 80s renaissance is rightfully included along with the instrumental ‘A Surfeit of Lampreys’, as is the rather twee ‘Our Bus Rolls On’ from last year’s studio album ‘50:50@50’.

Chris While and Sally Barker both do an excellent job filling in for the irreplaceable Sandy Denny on tracks like ‘Come All Ye’ and ‘Rising For The Moon’, as does PJ Wright standing in for Denny’s late husband Trevor Lucas on a superb ‘Ned Kelly’. Richard Thompson’s unmistakeably brilliant guitar on tracks like ‘Sloth’ alone make it worth buying, never mind all the other highlights.

Standing in a field in Oxfordshire last year witnessing all of this felt like something really, really special. This album is, indeed, proof that it was. Buy it.

Released: June 15th 2018 on Matty Grooves

http://www.fairportconvention.com/

7c12a1399d0bd72f653e390cbf464b16

Related reviews:

 

Fairport Convention at Cropredy 2017

Album review – Fairport Convention ‘Come All Ye: The First Ten Years’

Fairport Convention – 50th anniversary gig at Union Chapel 2017

Fairport Convention at Cropredy 2014

Fairport Convention at Union Chapel 2014

Iain Matthews in Etchingham 2016

Album review – Ashley Hutchings ‘From Psychedelia to Sonnets’

Album review – Ashley Hutchings ‘Twangin’ ‘n’ a-Traddin’ Revisited’

Album review – Sandy Denny ‘I’ve Always Kept a Unicorn: The Acoustic Sandy Denny’

Fotheringay at Under the Bridge, London 2015

Fotheringay at Great British Folk Festival 2015

Richard Thompson at Royal Festival Hall 2015

Richard Thompson at Folk By The Oak 2014

Album review – Richard Thompson ‘Acoustic Classics’

Judy Dyble at WM Jazz at The o2

 

 

Melodic rock: album review ‘Revertigo’

This was review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here

Revertigo is a Swedish duo comprising Mats Levén on vocals (Therion, Candlemass, Yngwie Malmsteen) and Anders Wikström (Treat) on guitar. Long-term friends and occasional collaborators Revertigo is the name of their new project together. The duo play all the instruments on the album apart from drums, where Thomas Broman (Great King Rat, Michael Schenker, Electric Boys) does the honours.

“Mats and I always had an idea of creating something that would celebrate the fact that we really enjoy working together, but with busy separate music careers, it wasn‘t until 2016, we sat down and concentrated on new songs with a firm plan,” said Anders in launching the album.

The eponymously-titled album is a classic slice of melodic hard rock. The opening track ‘Hoodwinked’ is all big riffs, catchy choruses and beautifully-constructed solos and begins the album in fine form. The powerfully rhythmic ‘Symphony of Fallen Angels’ is another highlight as are the power ballad ‘Unobtanium’ and the anthemic ‘Breakaway’.

The production is polished and strong melodies and memorable refrains reverberate throughout the album. It retains a hard rock edge, however, and avoids slipping into overly-shiny, over-produced AOR territory. As Anders says, “We might not be reinventing the wheel, but we’re certainly putting on fresh tyres.”

There’s clearly a strong chemistry between the pair, both in terms of song-writing and playing, and anyone with a love of quality crafted melodic hard rock will enjoy Revertigo.

Released: 23rd February 2018 by Frontiers

https://www.facebook.com/ReVertigoOfficial/

1000x1000 (1)

Singer/songwriter: album review – Jim McCarty ‘Walking In The Wild Land’

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here

Jim McCarty, of course, is known to rock fans as the long-standing drummer of the Yardbirds. Indeed, he is the only original Yardbird left in the latter-day version of the band and the only member to have appeared on all of the band’s recordings. McCarty, however, has also had something of a career sideline as a singer-songwriter/guitarist, releasing ‘Out In The Dark’ in 1994 and ‘Sitting On Top Of Time’ in 2009. Now, for 2018, comes a third solo release: ‘Walking In The Wild Land’.

Completely, different from anything you might expect under the Yardbirds name, it’s an album of lovely, mellow, countrified rock in classic singer-songwriter vein. While “drummer releases solo album” headlines might set alarm bells ringing in certain quarters there is nothing to fear here. There is some quality song-writing and deft musicianship on this album, from the laid-back charms of the title track to the melancholic ‘Changing Times’ to the jauntily upbeat delights of ‘Charmed’.

‘Connected’ meanwhile, with its jaunty piano refrain, put me in mind of a Sunny Afternoon-era Ray Davies.‘Soft In A Hard Place’ has a beautifully fluid guitar solo and on checking the sleeve notes we discover it’s provided by none other than Rush’s Alex Lifeson. In a way that sums up the album as a whole, quietly understated but unselfconsciously delivering something that is both elegant and meaningful.

Away from the Yardbirds drum-stool, ‘Walking In The Wild Land’ demonstrates Jim McCarty’s genuine gift as a singer-songwriter. This is an album well worth checking out – just don’t go expecting ‘For Your Love’ or ‘I’m A Man’.

Released by Angel Air 9th March 2018

http://www.jamesmccarty.com/

9200000088335432

Hard rock: album review – Animal Drive ‘Bite!’

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here

Bite! Is the debut album from Croatian hard rock band Animal Drive. Four guys in their mid to late twenties, front-man Dino Jelusic has toured as a vocalist with the Trans Siberian Orchestra. He’s joined by talented guitarist Keller, bass-player Rokindjaand Adrian Boric on drums.

I came equipped with zero knowledge of the Croatian rock/metal scene prior to reviewing this CD but extremely polished production, a thunderous rhythm section some blinding guitar work and powerfully melodic vocals means there’s much to like about this album.

In terms of both song-writing and delivery, epic power-ballad ‘Father’ very much put me in mind of David Coverdale. Indeed, the band cite Whitesnake, along with Skid Row and Dream Theater as key influences. Of the faster-paced material ‘Had Enough’ (also released as a single) is one of the stand-out tracks, a furious assault that comes with a catchy hook, great guitar soloing and some soulful mature vocals – all the ingredients you would want from a great hard hard song.

The band was originally formed in 2012 which in many respects shows the advantages of not rushing straight into recording an album. Dino Jelusic has clearly had the opportunity to hone his writing skills and, importantly, the band have managed to get themselves snapped up by a big label. The album is released by Frontiers, whose roster is full of well-known acts like Toto, Yes, Journey, Thunder, Survivor, Whitesnake and Boston. Such is the sheer professionalism of Bite! that it wouldn’t be out of place sitting alongside releases from much more experienced and established bands.

One of the most impressive debuts I’ve heard in a while.

Released: 23rd February 2018 by Frontiers Music

http://animal-drive.com/

ANIMAL-DRIVE-Bite

The first seven rock records I ever owned

With music-loving parents rock music had always been in the background growing up. By my early teens I’d begun taping a few things off my dad when I first got a portable tape recorder. But these are the first albums that I actually owned.

ONE – AC/DC – Highway To Hell

My dad had been an early adopter as far as AC/DC were concerned, buying High Voltage not long after it was released in the UK and playing it pretty much constantly as I recall. Highway to Hell came out in 1979 and not only did my dad have a copy but my older stepsister had one, too. By 1981, though, she was getting far more into punk and so gifted me her copy. My first rock album – and what an absolute classic to start off with.

81k-3sh8OhL._SL1500_

TWO – Status Quo – Never Too Late

Not the greatest Quo album but a good solid album and a great cover of ‘Somethin’ Bout You Baby I Like’ which had made the top ten. I was already a confirmed Quo fan when the album was released in March 1981, just in time for my fifteenth birthday in May – thanks Mum!

61Q+azCQxaL

THREE – Slade – We’ll Bring The House Down

Another fifteenth birthday present (thanks Dad!). I’d been aware of Slade in the early 70s, of course, but by the time I was a teenager they’d virtually disappeared off the radar completely. But I remember watching Top Of The Tops when Slade burst on the screen with their brilliantly raucous comeback single ‘We’ll Bring The House Down’. I asked for the album for my birthday and a life-long devotion to all things Slade followed. Not Slade’s most famous album by a long stretch, but in terms of making an impact on a youthful Darren perhaps the most significant album I ever owned.

R-1960611-1464858910-7240.jpeg

FOUR: Deep Purple – In Rock

A friend at school sold me this second-hand. He decided he was a punk not a metalhead and this was therefore surplus to requirements so I bought it off him for 50p. A true classic album, I loved (and still do) the combination of Jon Lord’s eerily atmospheric Hammond, Ritchie Blackmore’s manic guitar wizardry and Ian Gillan’s deranged screaming. Deep Purple had been defunct for several years by this time but this was an indication that I would be dipping back into the back catalogues of the previous decade for many of my subsequent musical purchases over the coming years.

R-1849291-1340887670-6848.jpeg

FIVE: Whitesnake – Ready an’ Willing

Bought from a record shop in Southport while I was in a youth theatre project this album immediately impressed – with one unforgettable tune after another. Just a few weeks later Whitesnake, along with AC/DC and Slade, would be one of the first bands I ever saw – live at the Donington Monsters of Rock festival.

41L1lnlxT1L

SIX – Status Quo – Whatever You Want

I remember getting this from the local newsagents where they had a small rack of cut-price LPs amongst all the magazines and sweets. I bought it mainly for the title track and ‘Living On An Island’ but this became an album I played loads.

SharedImage-60219

SEVEN – Rainbow – Down To Earth

Another bargain, this is one I got cheap from a mail-order company. I had already taped my dad’s copies of ‘Rising’ and ‘Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow’ by this time and was a fan of Ronnie James Dio’s vocals but I also really warmed to the more commercial rock of the Graham Bonnet-fronted Rainbow, too. Still a really great album and still one of my favourites.

I took this (along with my recently-purchased Ready an Willing and Whatever You Want) to a party in the summer of 81 and they all got a bit scratched and battered, sadly. It was an early lesson in why you should not take records to parties – but, with any luck, hopefully someone would be inventing the CD for me in a couple of year’s time….

4035

So that was my first bunch of albums. Many, many hundreds more would follow over the years. But, looking back, I feel fairly nostalgic thinking about how it all started for me and, if I may so myself, not a bad choice of albums at all….

Hard rock: album review – Voodoo Circle ‘Raised On Rock’

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here

Inspired by the likes of Rainbow and Deep Purple, Germany’s Voodoo Circle have been delivering melodic hard rock for a decade now. Recently, Voodoo Circle underwent a metamorphosis that both of those aforementioned bands have had considerable experience of, namely a change in vocalist.

Herbie Langhans replaces David Readman as lead singer for this latest album – Raised On Rock. “I feel that the band sounds even more autonomous, a little less bluesy and much meatier with Herbie at the mic,” Alex Beyrodt, the band’s guitarist, founder and lead composer, enthuses. “This allowed me to work on ideas which would probably not really have suited his predecessor David Readman but are absolutely perfect for Herbie’s powerful voice.”

Virtuoso guitar combined with accessible melodies and unforgettable hooks is, as Ritchie Blackmore discovered long ago, an irresistible combination and there’s some good song-writing and quality musicianship on this album. ‘Running Away From Love’ deploys all of those tricks and opens the album in style. ‘Where Is The World We Love’ and ‘Chase Me Away’ show a slower, more reflective side of the band but, again, strong melodies, memorable choruses and passionate, soulful guitar solos leave their mark on the listener. The Blackmore-esque epic ‘Dreamchaser’ dates back to the earliest days of the band. Originally written for Voodoo Circle’s debut album Beyrodt wasn’t quite happy with the result but, finally, it takes its place on this album. “The arrangement of the number was changed and overhauled repeatedly over the years, now it’s matured to the point where it was ready for recording,” says Beyrodt.

Langhans has a voice perfectly suited for this type of material and long-term fans of the band should have no worries at all about accepting him into the fold. Meanwhile, for those who may be less familiar with Voodoo Circle but have an abiding love of beautifully-played melodic hard rock this is an album well worth checking out.

Released: 9th February 2018

http://www.voodoocircle.de/

Voodoo-Circle-Raised-on-Rock-01