Category Archives: album reviews

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




Americana: album review – Orphan Colours ‘All On Red’

Back in the summer of 2010 I was one of many thousands at Fairport Convention’s Cropredy festival being wowed by the impressive talents and uplifting melodies of the then newly-formed alt-country outfit, ahab. Sadly, the pressures of holding it all together proved too much and the band split. Two of their number, Steve Llewellyn and Dave Burn, were not done yet, however. Together with ex Noah & The Whale guitarist Fred Abbott, Danny & The Champions of The World drummer Steve Brookes and bass player Graham Knight, they formed a new band Orphan Colours.

As Llewellyn explains, “At the end of 2013 both ahab and Noah & The Whale had been chewed up and spat out by the music business. We found ourselves out of a job despite both band’s upward trajectories. The toll of touring and hard graft was too much. Speaking for myself, I had a lot more to give and I wasn’t anywhere near done yet. I had a backlog of songs that weren’t fit for ahab and I wanted to get them out into the world. So despite having failed with ahab and the financial pressures I was under, I put every penny I had into this project.”

After a really promising EP ‘High Hopes’ in 2016 the band set to work on the live circuit but have now finally released their debut album. Compared to the up-tempo numbers of love and heartbreak from the ahab days, All On Red mines more of a classic, laid-back, country-rock vibe but the talent for strong melody, heart-warming vocals and infectious choruses is as evident as ever. The deliciously-sounding ‘Start Of Something’ which opens the albums gives you everything you would want from a great country rock song and from then on the album doesn’t falter.

“I had written my fair share of sensitive songs for ahab – about love and loss and all that, and there’s a few on here but I really wanted to bring a bit of rock n roll into the UK Americana scene and I feel like we’ve achieved a good balance on this record,” contends Llewellyn.

It was particularly nice to catch the band performing a few songs from the album as part of an in-store appearance at Bexhill’s Music’s Not Dead record store last Saturday (well three-fifths of them anyway – drummer, Steve Brookes, eschewing the chance to set up his kit on the tiny shop window stage and guitarist, Dave Burn, managing to damage his ankle falling of stage the night before). Gamely, the depleted gang honour the gig anyway and deliver an impressive, heartfelt performance. While only a small number of those crammed into the shop owned up to witnessing either Orphan Colours or ahab live before, it was encouraging to see that they had clearly won over a number of new fans.

All On Red is a very impressive debut album. Let’s hope the music world conspires to keep Orphan Colours around for a few years longer than it did their predecessors.

Released: 26th January 2018

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Related reviews:
ahab at Cropredy 2015
Orphan Colours in London 2016
Dave Burn – solo album review

Folk-rock: EP review – Merry Hell ‘Bury Me Naked’

If I was to try and sum up the band Merry Hell I’d ask people to imagine if Fairport Convention had come from Wigan. That is not in any way intended as an insult. Being from Lancashire and being a long-time fan of Fairport Convention it is definitely 100% meant as a compliment.

Merry Hell’s lyrical themes tend to be somewhat edgier, politically, compared to Fairport but not in an over-earnest ranty way. Bitter-sweet reflectiveness and wry good humour tend to be the band’s hallmarks. And so it is with ‘Bury Me Naked’ – the band’s new single. Written and sung by the band’s female lead, Virginia Kettle, it’s a great mid-tempo sing-along with an ecological theme and a friendly rebuke about filling our lives with too much junk and clutter. Originally appearing on the band’s second album this track is a re-recording featuring some fiddle wizardry from incoming band member, Neil McCartney.

The second track ‘Sailing Too Close To The Wind’ is a slower-paced ballad that’s lifted from Merry Hell’s most recent album Bloodlines. Going back to my initial analogy, this track would not have been at all out of place alongside some of the memorable songs that the likes of Ralph McTell gifted to Fairport Convention after they got back in business as a touring and recording unit. Two additional songs ‘Drunken Serenade feat. The Banshee Reel’ and ‘No Place Like Tomorrow’ also showcase the band’s song-writing and musical abilities.

Musically, lyrically and, indeed, politically there is a much-needed place for a band Merry Hell in today’s Britain and it’s good to see them going from strength to strength.

Released: February 26th 2018


Related reviews:

Merry Hell ‘Come On England’


Blues rock: single review – Big River ‘Blues Blood Baby’

Ahead of an album release this summer, Big River unveil a second single. Meaty rhythm, soulful vocals, catchy hooks and big fat guitar ‘Blues Blood Baby’ is another slice of swampy, bluesy, classic rock boogie from the Kent-based band.

The brainchild of guitarist and session man, Damo Fawsett (who was previously part of another Kent-based hard rock band, Slam Cartel) Big River have been making their mark on the live music scene for a couple of years now. With a vision to celebrate the blues, they bring those classic blues rock sounds of past decades to new and original material and demonstrate some deft song-writing abilities in the process.

The track was recorded on analogue equipment at Ranscombe Studios in Kent, giving it that raw and vintage vibe reminiscent of great albums of the era. I’m looking forward to Big River’s debut album coming out but, for now, ‘Blues Blood Baby’ is a nice taste of what’s in store.

Big River are: Adam Bartholomew (vocals), Damo Fawsett (guitar), Ant Wellman (bass), Joe Martin (drums) Paul Martin (rhythm guitar).

Released: 2nd March 2018



Related Reviews
Big River – Hometown Hustler
Dave ‘Bucket’ Colwell at Leo’s Red Lion 2016
Slam Cartel at New Cross Inn 2015


Folk/Rock: album review – False Lights ‘Harmonograph’

This review was originally published by Bright Young Folk here

In that beast known as folk rock we often find that the ’rock’ element tends to be closely rooted in whatever were the current rock influences of the period. Late ’60s Fairport Convention, mid ’70s Steeleye Span or late ’80s Oysterband all captured that Zeitgeist perfectly; and some classic albums came about as a result.

It is not unreasonable to insist, therefore, that if this melding of the two genres is to continue in a meaningful sense that it is time for some more contemporary influences to be embraced.

The first False Lights album Salvor was released in 2015 with a mission to make ’folk rock for the twenty-first century’ and won many fans as a result. Harmonograph continues in that vein and there is an unstoppable energy and momentum about the album from the very start.

Nearly all the tracks on the album are traditional songs from the folk canon, augmented with a couple of adaptations of traditional hymns alongside a tune composed by the group’s Tom Moore. The album is steeped in history and draws on some wonderful folk tunes but it celebrates traditional music without ever being constrained by it.

The lyrics to folk songs like Murder In The Red Barn remain as dramatic, as unforgiving and as brutal as ever; but being removed from any archetypal folk stylings in terms of delivery they are given a potency that is quite startling against a backdrop of jangly indie-sounding guitar and breezy, contemporary-sounding vocal delivery. It really makes the listener hang on to every word of every song.

A stellar line-up of Jim Moray, Sam Carter, Tom Moore, Archie Churchill-Moss, Barnaby Stradling and Stuart Provan means there is never any let up in quality and there is plenty of virtuoso musicianship as well as bags of energy and creativity.

This album is a clear demonstration that False Lights continue to impress and innovate on the road on which they started back in 2015. It does not mean that we have to put away our Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span or Oysterband albums but it does mean that in Harmonograph we have some twenty-first century folk rock that can easily stand proudly beside them.

Released: 2nd February 2018


Related reviews:
Moore, Moss, Rutter at Cecil Sharp House


A renaissance in classic heavy metal: six bands to watch out for

There was a time not too long ago when anything described as a ‘new’ heavy metal band I simply did not get at all. All these weirdly-named sub-genres and even weirder-sounding vocals that just left me feeling old, bewildered and confused.

But in recent years there seems to have been a real renaissance in classic heavy metal from young, upcoming bands who cite influences such as Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Saxon and a host of others from the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) stable from the late 70s/early 80s. Well-written songs, great guitar solos, melodic vocals and crunching riffs: classic heavy metal seems to be in better shape than it’s been for many, many years. There’s plenty out there but here’s a quick round-up of bands that have really captured my imagination recently.

Hell’s Gazelles

Stage presence, charisma, good songs, great riffs, quality musicianship. Many upcoming young bands have some of these elements. Few have them all. But Hell’s Gazelles had absolutely everything – in spades. A young four-piece from Oxford, vocalist Cole Bryant has an immense vocal range and proved himself an incredible front-man. Similarly, the young Nath Digman is a great lead guitarist. Amongst very stiff competition Hell’s Gazelles were definitely the stand-out new act of the weekend for me. It’s hard to predict what the music industry or the rock scene is going to be like in twenty year’s time but if Hell’s Gazelles are not up there alongside whatever 2040’s equivalent of Iron Maiden or Judas Priest is by then there’s no justice in the world. Get their debut EP ‘Hell’s Gazelles’.



Dubbed the ‘new queens of rock’ JoanovArc immediately impressed with an energetic and high-quality performance. Big drums, powerful bass, nice heavy guitar and great vocals, their songs stand up nicely alongside the likes of female hard-rock trailblazers Girlschool, Rock Goddess and Joan Jett. Formed in 2004 by sisters Sam and Shelley Walker, they were soon joined by Deborah Wildish. After five years as a trio, Laura Ozholl completed the line-up. These new queens of rock are definitely worth watching out for.



Kaine is a four-piece formed in 2009 and musically inspired by the late 70s/early 80s New Wave Of British Heavy Metal boom. Powerful well-written songs and powerful delivery, you can hear the influences from their musical heroes like Iron Maiden in their performance. The band released its debut album ‘Falling Through Freedom’ in 2012, and it’s follow-up ‘The Waystone’ in 2014. New album ‘A Crisis of Faith’ is now on pre-order and due for release in 2018. Definitely on my ‘ones to watch list’.



Killit are one of the most impressive bands I’ve come across in recent years. They just have that knack of coming up with instantly catchy, instantly memorable songs and demonstrate the centrality of great song-writing to truly great classic rock. They are awesome performers, too, with vocalist Gaz Twist a talented front-man with a great voice. Numbers like ‘Calm Before The Storm’ and ‘Shut It Down’ from their debut album meant that this classic-sounding heavy metal band can wow audiences with some classic-sounding heavy metal songs.


The Mighty Wraith

Hailing from the spiritual home of heavy metal itself, Birmingham-based four-piece The Mighty Wraith deliver powerful vocals and mighty riffs. Catching them on the off-chance one night while at a loose end in Wolverhampton last Autumn, frontman Matt Gore and his bandmates immediately stood out alongside the other bands taking the stage that evening. 2017 was an important year for the band, with a new EP ‘Outcast’ released, support slots for the likes of of Armored Saint and even hosting their own festival ‘Wraith Fest’. Looking forward to seeing more from these in 2018.


Toledo Steel

Powerfully majestic but hard and heavy Toledo Steel put me in mind of classic-era Dio and Rich Rutter’s vocals and Tom Potter’s and Josh Haysom’s guitars are the perfect combination for this brand of hard-hitting melodic rock metal. Toledo Steel are definitely on my list to see and hear more of and I am certainly enjoying their excellent six-track EP ‘Zero Hour’. The band’s debut album ‘ No Quarter’ is released in May this year.



Metal: album review – W.A.S.P. ‘Re-idolized (The Soundtrack To The Crimson Idol)

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here

Moving away from the trashy, good-time, OTT lyrics of earlier albums, The Crimson Idol (released in 1993) saw Blackie Lawless and W.A.S.P. move into the territory of the concept  album.

The Crimson Idol tells the story of dispossessed teenager, Jonathan Steele, who becomes addicted to drink and drugs following the death of his brother and rejection by his parents. He turns his life around by becoming a rock ‘n’ roll star but still seeks acceptance from his parents. Trying and failing to reconcile with them the story ends with Steele committing suicide.

Now, some twenty-five years after it was first released, The Crimson Idol is back in the form of Re-idolized (The Soundtrack To The Crimson Idol). It’s a four-disc package that includes two CDs (the complete re-recording of the original album by the current W.A.S.P. line-up, including several tracks that were never included on the original album), along with DVD and Blue Ray versions of the hitherto unreleased Crimson Idol film. The album was originally intended to be accompanied by said film and several hundred hours of footage was shot at the time. Assembled here to create approximately 50 minutes of screen time it finally sees the light of day.

Filmed in grainy, evocative black and white, it is to be seen very much as an extended album-length video rather than (in contrast to say The Who’s Quadrophinia) a fully-formed rock film in its own right. As such, I’m not sure it’s something I would necessarily want to go and see at the cinema but it’s certainly a compelling visual memento of a very significant album in W.A.S.P.’s career.

For the CDs there is a definite energy and vitality about the recordings, even if I remain to be fully convinced of what overriding artistic point is being served by bands re-recording classic albums.  However, having seen the band perform the album in full on their recent UK tour, W.A.S.P. are definitely firing on all cylinders, Lawless’s voice is as powerful as ever, guitarist Doug Blair is an awesome player and it’s great to hear the album with the original missing songs fully restored to their rightful place in the story.

The serious W.A.S.P. fan will almost certainly want to buy this. For the more casual fan, whose interest in W.A.S.P. may have been rekindled by both the recent tour and the publicity around this release, the original version of The Crimson Idol (retailing at around half the price) may well suffice.

Released: February 2nd 2018


Related review:
W.A.S.P. at Hastings 2017


Metal: album review – Anvil ‘Pounding The Pavement’

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here 

Few who have seen the brilliant ‘Story Of Anvil’ film could fail to fall in love with this band. But is being the world’s most loveable metal band enough to make you want to carry on buying their albums? On the evidence of the band’s latest offering the answer has got to be yes. Ahead of a UK tour in February ‘Pounding The Pavement’ is a very creditable offering. While it’s true there is no new equivalent of ‘Metal on Metal’ here there is plenty of typically Anvil-style good-time heavy metal, with tracks like ‘Smash Your Face’ and ‘Rock Your Shit’ delivering trademark crunching riffs and sing-along choruses.

Opening with ‘Bitch In A Box’ I did at first think come on guys it’s not 1981 any more but the album does also showcase some more mature lyrical themes.

The anthemic ‘Nanook Of The North’ explores the fate of Canada’s inuit population. As a Canadian band, we wanted to focus on more Canadian topics,” Kudlow explains; “I remembered a course at the College of Movie History, where I saw one of the first TV documentaries ever. I did some research on the internet and came across that strange overtone singing the Inuit do. I was totally awed and knew immediately what I had to do: write a song with that typical tribal feel. That college documentary was made some time during the 1920s and is called ‘Nanook Of The North’, named after the protagonist of the documentary. So I had found my title and the subject of the song.”

Another noteworthy track is ‘Warming Up’ with its Ballroom Blitz-style drum shuffle.

It’s clear that vocalist and guitarist, Steve ‘Lips’ Kudlow, and drummer, Robb Reiner, still love what they are doing and that there’s more to them than simply being endearing but unlikely stars in a tragi-comic blockbuster. Along with current bass player, Chris Robertson, Kudlow and Reiner are still rocking and still making decent new music. This album is well worth a listen.

Released: January 18th 2018



Blues: album review – King Size Slim ‘Live At The Palace’

This review was originally published by The Stinger here

Proof, if it were needed, of what a dynamic live venue the newly-refurbished Palace in Hastings is turning out to be comes in the form of this new CD from King Size Slim.

Toby Barelli, no stranger to the Hastings live scene, has been gigging for ten years now in his King Size Slim persona. His brand of raw, heartfelt, acoustic blues has picked up many fans along the way.

After spending a couple of years as part of pioneering 2-Tone ska heroes, The Selector, Barelli switched to a rootsy, ballsy, acoustic blues boogie sound. King Size Slim was born.

Spanning ten self-composed tracks ‘Live At The Palace’ captures Toby Barelli on fire with the Hastings crowd earlier this year. A talented guitarist and a naturally charismatic performer this CD positively drips with atmosphere and groove. Playing his trademark battered Tricone Resonator guitar, for this gig he’s also joined by a full band of Rufus Stone on upright bass, and James Gulliver and George Macdonald on percussion.

Songs like ‘Dark Soul’ and ‘Monkey, Where Are You?’ are given a real added potency with the funky bass and infectious percussion. The gig, and the album, ends with a rousing, singalong, rendition of Barelli’s ‘May We Find’ – surely an anthem for these troubled times?

A brand new studio album is promised for 2018 but, in the meantime, this live CD captures the excitement and energy of a King Size Slim gig. Anyone familiar with Toby Barelli’s work will surely want to buy this – particularly if you were at The Palace on that magical night.



Folk: album review – Green Matthews ‘A Christmas Carol – A Folk Opera’

This review was originally published by Bright Young Folk here

Following in the footsteps of Fairport Convention’s Babbacombe Lee and Peter Bellamy’s The Transports, Green Matthews’ A Christmas Carol presents itself as a ’folk opera’. With twenty songs stretching over an hour, it retells the tale of Charles Dickens’ renowned Christmas story by putting new lyrics to well-known carols and traditional tunes.

Green Matthews are Chris Green, (vocals, guitar, mandocello, piano, accordion, bass guitar and drums) and Sophie Matthews (vocals, flute and English border bagpipes). For this album they are also joined by Pilgrims’ Way’s Jude Rees who joins the duo on melodeon and oboe.

Musically, the album brings to mind some of the much-celebrated Christmas albums by Maddy Prior and The Carnival Band, with their inventive arrangements of well-known carols and their vast array of different instruments. However, the latter have often spiced up their traditional Christmas fare by delving back in time and unearthing one or two obscure but captivating tunes to accompany the more familiar ones.

Although Green Matthews offer us beautiful, luscious arrangements of well-known tunes, it would perhaps have been nice to have heard a few less familiar ones, as well. One cannot fault the musicianship, however, and it is lovely to hear such tunes played so beautifully on such a well-produced album.

Lyrically, apart from a couple of clumsy lines here and there, the story of Ebenezer Scrooge is translated into song in a thoroughly engaging and entertaining way. Vocally, the duo have sought to avoid the twin clichés of the “finger-in-the-ear folk voice” on the one hand and “musical theatre camp” on the other, we are assured in the album’s accompanying publicity. This they certainly achieve and the songs are delivered with sincerity and passion and a complete lack of affectation.

For those looking to expand their festive folk selections this year and wanting something a little different from the plethora of carol anthologies and traditional Christmas songs, this brand new folk opera based on Charles Dickens’ finest may well just do the trick – a worthy addition to any collection.

Released: November 2017