Category Archives: album reviews

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.

http://www.kingsizeslim.com/

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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

http://www.greenmatthews.co.uk/

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Folk/rock/renaissance: album review – Blackmore’s Night ‘Winter Carols’

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here

Ritchie Blackmore’s move from the hard rock of Rainbow and Deep Purple to the renaissance folk of Blackmore’s Night, with his wife Candice, has always been controversial among rock fans,

When I reviewed the Blackmore’s Night compilation ‘To The Moon And Back’ for Get Ready To ROCK! back in the summer I concluded that in spite of there being much to like in their music I just wished they would exercise a bit more quality control on some of their more obvious material.

For the most part, this CD (a remastering of their 2006 2-CD Christmas album with three additional bonus tracks) definitely falls into that latter category. Don’t get me wrong. I love Christmas and in spite of not having a religious bone in my body I do actually enjoy hearing Christmas carols. But when a musician of the calibre of Blackmore puts out an album of Christmas songs I expect him to push the boat out a bit creatively.

Maddy Prior and early music specialists The Carnival Band, for example, have put out some fabulous albums of Christmas music over the years, unearthing obscure 16th century carols or putting together fascinating arrangements of more familiar ones as well as introducing an even more fascinating array of centuries-old instruments.

Most of the arrangements on ‘Winter Carols’, however, are a predictable mix of treacly AOR meets twee medievalism. There are some stand-outs. ‘Wish You Were Here’ (not the Pink Floyd track but a cover of a song by Swedish band Rednex) has Blackmore picking up his electric guitar and beautifully executing some typically Blackmore-esque solos.

There’s also some lovely live versions of ‘Emmanuel’ and ‘We Three Kings’ which work really well but for the most part, I’m afraid, I found this album a bit too twee and a bit too predictable.

Released October 2017

http://www.blackmoresnight.com/

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Related reviews:
Blackmore’s Night – To The Moon & Back
Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow – live in Birmingham

Folk: EP review – MacQuarrie and Toms ‘Granite’

This review was originally published by Bright You Folk here

Celtic-Cornish folk duo MacQuarrie and Toms, who have been performing together since 2014, arrive with their second EP Granite. Featuring two songs and four instrumentals it showcases the combined talents of Stuart MacQuarrie on fiddle and Jamie Toms on acoustic guitar.

Sweet Nightingale is a charming rendition of a traditional Cornish folk song. Granite is the Hardest Stone, meanwhile, is the duo’s interpretation of a song by Chris Lethbridge, who wrote a number of songs inspired by the Isles of Scilly.

Dark and brooding, it tells the story of the Scilly naval disaster when four warships and 1,550 sailors lives were lost in a catastrophic night at sea back in 1707. The drone-like tones of an Indian Shruti Box, the beautiful haunting fiddle-playing, and the dark mournful vocals make this the definitive stand-out track.

With the tunes the duo take an inventive and engaging approach, both with their own material like Toms’ Clutterbuck and MacQuarrie’s Bunch of Fives, as well as with their own interpretations of other writers.

The sleeve-notes relate what happened when they approached Will Coleman for permission to use one of his tunes on the EP, We ’ent Goin’ Far. Coleman’s amusingly philosophical response was, “Writing tunes is like having kids – they fly off into the world and have a life of their own (and you just sit at home waiting for the phone call from the police/ambulance/DNA expert).”

Listeners can be reassured that the tunes, whether composed by Coleman or others, do indeed take on a life of their own on Granite but they are far from any sort of disaster.

Inventive musicians with an imaginative and well-chosen set of songs and tunes, there is plenty to like about this EP.

Released Summer 2017

http://www.macquarrieandtoms.com/

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Folk: album review – Pilgrims’ Way ‘Stand & Deliver’

This review was originally published by Bright Young Folk here

Following two previous albums (2011’s Wayside Courtesies and 2016’s Red Diesel) north west-based band Pilgrims’ Way are back with a third. There has been a line-up change since the last one, with Jude Rees now joining Tom Kitching, Edwin Beasant and Jon Loomes, but there has been no let-up in the band’s trademark vigour and verve.

Stand and Deliver is a concept album of sorts, that brings together a selection of traditional highwayman songs, always a rich and enduring source of material in English folk.

The album promises fifty different instruments across its eleven tracks and we hear oboe, bagpipes, flutes, recorders, hurdy gurdy, Jews’ harp, harmonica, concertina and melodeon, to name a few, as well as guitars, bass, drums and percussion.

In addition, the band cite almost as diverse a list of musical genres influencing their interpretations as they do instruments; from classic-era folk rock, through to Madchester, doom metal, disco and West End musicals.

The juxtaposition of the vocals of the three male members of the band alongside new member, Jude Rees, also adds to that sense of variety and contrast.

It is an ambitious project, for sure, and there could be a danger of something like this lacking coherence but the enthusiasm of the band and their combined musical talents definitely carry it through.

Material-wise, there is plenty that many folk fans will be familiar with, but the band definitely put their own stamp on well-known songs like Ibson, Gibson, Johnson and Cadgwith Anthem.

A sonically-menacing Saucy Bold Robber, with an arrangement inspired by a folk take on doom metal with some great vocals from Rees, is also another highlight.

The album finishes up with a spirited, tongue-in-cheek cover of the 1981 chart hit Stand and Deliver. How could any album about dandy highwaymen fail to pay tribute to Adam and the Ants?

Stand and Deliver is an ambitious album that is executed with style and panache. While there are obvious echoes back to some of the folk-rock albums of the classic early 70s period there is also something fresh, innovative and daring about Pilgrims’ Way that make this album a delight to listen to.

Released 20th October 2017

http://www.pilgrims-way.net/

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Folk: album review – Georgia Lewis ‘The Bird Who Sings Freedom’

This review was originally published in the October 2017 issue of fRoots magazine

Georgia Lewis won the 2015 Bromyard Festival ‘Future Of Young Folk’ and she has already packed in a nicely diverse range of projects into her musical CV so far, touring and recording with prog-rock band, Maschine and performing regularly with The Causeway Céilí Band as well as with her own trio, where Felix Miller (guitar) and Rowan Piggott (fiddle) have been accompanying Lewis on vocals and accordeon for the past five years.

‘The Bird Who Sings Freedom’ is Georgia Lewis’s debut album. Joining the regular trio are Tom Sweeney on double bass and Evan Carson on percussion. As well as thoughtful and innovative interpretations of traditional folk songs like Raggle Taggle Gypsies and Wife Of Usher’s Well, Lewis takes an inventive approach to sourcing other material. The title track, and album opener, is based on the words of poet and civil rights activist, Dr Maya Angelou, set to music by Seaford singer, Jerry Jordan, and covered by Lewis. Meanwhile, on True Lover she has a stab at setting an A.E. Houseman poem to music, with some pleasing results.

Until One Day, inspired by the forced separation of her great-grandparents during the war, is Lewis’s one wholly original composition and shows promise as a songwriter in both lyrics and melody.

It is also worth listening out for the fiddle contributions of Rowan Piggott, another rising star of the folk scene who has his own debut solo album out shortly. Piggott plays some suitably authentic-sounding traditional Swedish fiddle accompaniment on his own composition on the album: A Royal Game / Kungsleden.

A delicately expressive voice, Lewis’s final song, the murder ballad Lady Diamond, very much put me in mind of the way Sandy Denny might have approached and re-interpreted a traditional ballad like this. And that has got to be a huge recommendation from my point of view. An album worth checking out and a name worth keeping an eye on.

Released July 2017

http://www.georgialewis.co.uk/

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Folk – album review – Peter Knight’s Gigspanner ‘The Wife Of Urban Law’

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here

Folk rock icon, fiddle supremo and former Steeleye Span-er, Peter Knight, along with the rest of his trio Gigspanner have been busy lately. This is their second new album of the year. First, in the summer came a live album from the expanded line-up of the band (known as the Gigspanner Big Band) and now this autumn the trio release ‘The Wife Of Urban Law’.

For those unfamiliar with Knight’s current outfit (Gigspanner actually began as a side project to Steeleye Span but is now his main focus after leaving his former band four years ago), they veer more towards the folk end rather than the folk-rock end of the spectrum. However, to merely describe them as folk ignores the huge range of musical influences that are at play on a Gigspanner album; from English folk to eastern European, French, Cajun, African and even aboriginal influences.

This latest album continues in that vein and is as expansive and inventive as ever. Knight’s virtuoso fiddle is, of course, an intrinsic part of the overall Gigspanner sound but so, too, is the suitably atmospheric acoustic-electric guitar of Roger Flack and the absolutely spellbinding percussion of new boy, Sacha Trochet, who took over from original conga player, Vincent Salzfaas, recently.

Material-wise, imaginative interpretations of traditional folk songs like ‘Green Gravel’ and ‘Bold Riley’ sit alongside self-penned numbers like the lively ‘Urban’s Reel’ which opens the album and ‘Lament for the Wife of Urban Law’ based on an inscription on a 19th century Oxfordshire gravestone which gives the album its title.

Hypnotic, infectious, inventive and utterly, utterly unique, Peter Knight’s Gigspanner continue to shine and this is yet another superb album from the trio.

Released 31 October 2017

http://www.gigspanner.com/

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Previous reviews:
Gigspanner at Hastings 2017
Gigspanner Big Band at Hastings 2016
Gigspanner ‘Layers of Ages’ album
Steeleye Span in London 2015

Rock/metal: album review – Wicked Stone ‘Ain’t No Rest’

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here

Formed in 2015, Wicked Stone are a British five-piece hard rock metal band, citing influences such as Guns n Roses, Alter Bridge and Black Stone Cherry ‘Ain’t No Rest’ is band’s debut album from Wicked Stone.

The title track is a strong opener. A powerful chugging riff with some nicely melodic lead guitar and a catchy chorus, their music definitely embraces a timeless classic rock feel while the vocals give it a more contemporary edge. ‘Hit It ‘n’ Quit’ It is another stand out track. Big and bombastic with a machine gun-like rhythm section and a Guns N Roses-esque stadium rock chorus, I can imagine this going down well live. ‘Rattleshake’ is another great track with some superb soloing which definitely helps convince you this band has got something going for it.

And in bolstering their classic rock pedigree still further the band can point to their drummer, Olly Smith, who played alongside current Judas Priest guitarist, Ritchie Faulkner, and the daughter of Iron Maiden bass player, Steve Harris, in the Lauren Harris Band. The other members of the band are Joe Hawx (vocals), James Forrister and Ryan Stageman (guitars) and James Amos (bass).

While I am not quite sure all of the songs are memorable enough to immediately pass the singing-in-the-shower test (always the sign of a genuinely classic hard rock record for me) there is, nevertheless, some real promise shown on this album and ‘Ain’t No Rest’ it is a worthy debut.

http://wickedstone.co.uk/

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Blues rock: single review – Big River ‘Hometown Hustler’

A big, fat, bluesy southern-rock sound, Big River know how to pull off an authentic classic rock vibe. Hometown Hustler is the band’s single release ahead of their forthcoming debut album. A meaty riff, gritty vocals, catchy chorus and delicious harmonica, Hometown Hustler also showcases some fine songwriting abilities as well as, hopefully, providing a real taste of what the album has in store when it’s released later this year. The band maintain Hometown Hustler has already become a firm live favourite after being introduced into the set earlier this year and I can see why.

Having enjoyed the Gravesend-based band last year when they shared a bill with ex-Bad Company guitarist, Dave ‘Bucket’ Colwell, it was clear then that they drew on some impeccable musical influences and could turn out some classic-sounding guitar-based blues rock. This new release has cemented their reputation in my mind. A band well worth checking out.

Big River are Adam Bartholomew (vocals), Damo Fawsett (guitar), Ant Wellman (bass), and Luke Calvert (drums).

Released: August 2017

https://www.facebook.com/bigriverblues/

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Metal: album review – Klogr ‘Keystone’

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here 

Keystone is the new album from Italian-American alternative metal outfit, Klogr. Some may find the juxtaposition of very melodic, rather proggy instrumentation with grungy, alt-rock vocals something of an acquired taste but there are certainly some strong tunes here.

As with their previous album ‘Black Snow’ environmental themes loom large. Explaining the thinking behind the title, band-leader and vocalist/guitarist Rusty Rustichelli reveals, “Man proclaimed himself the “Keystone” of our system but he is just a guest, a not-essential animal. Without a lot of underestimated living beings, like bees, the cycle of nature would suffer serious damages. The earth without human beings could exist, human beings without the earth, no.”

One of the stand-out tracks is ‘Dark Tides’, dedicated to the marine conservation campaigners, Sea Shepherd, with whom the band have had a long association. Melodic and thoughtful, yet forceful and, at times, downright brutal, it warns in dramatic fashion of the threat posed by the destruction of the ocean ecosystem.

The album has been mixed by triple Grammy winner, David Bottrill, who has an impressive CV, working with the likes of Peter Gabriel, Muse, Smashing Pumpkins, Tool, Dream Theater, Stone Sour and Rush.

Personally, the vocals don’t really work for me but that is not to deny there is some great musicianship on this album along with some compelling song-writing, some powerful lyrics and some quality production. Fans of the band will certainly not be disappointed with ‘Keystone’. ***

Released October 2017

https://www.klogr.net/home/

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