Category Archives: Album reviews

Folk: album review – The Story Song Scientists ‘Quantum Lyrics’

Ever since the folk revival began packing hordes of rather studious-looking, tweed-clad young men and women into the back rooms of pubs in the late 1950s, the folk genre has never exactly been ashamed of the more geeky side of its persona. And while the whole concept of a folk singer-songwriter duo turning out songs about mathematics and science is utterly bonkers – it works. But as Kate Bush proved when she released a song called Pi (π) in celebration of the mathematical formula that was drummed into us all at school, if you are a good songwriter and a talented musician you can pretty much write a song about anything.

That is certainly the case with Megan Henwood and Finlay Napier. The Story Song Scientists don’t just regurgitate mathematical formulas at us, however, but rather take us on quite a wonderful journey with their obvious aptitude for great storytelling. From climate catastrophe to medical breakthroughs to the latest in artificial intelligence to a celebration of the life of clouds, via a detour around the necessary ingredients in the Anarchist Cookbook, Quantum Lyrics offers up beautifully-crafted, innovative and thought-provoking songs with lush musical accompaniment and beautifully distinctive vocals – interspersed with some suitably quirky special effects.

The EP follows on from the duo’s well-received 2018 self-titled debut and sees the pair donning their white lab coats once again. With a cover that pays homage to an old BBC2 Open University broadcast Quantum Lyrics certainly succeeds in its efforts to inform, educate and entertain.

Released: 29th October 2021

https://www.storysongscientists.com/

Folk: album review – Seth Lakeman ‘Make Your Mark’

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here

Seth Lakeman’s eleventh album, and his follow-up to 2020’s Mayflower-themed A Pilgrim’s Tale, was conceived during lockdown when, like countless other singer-songwriters the world over, he used the down-time from live performance to ponder the meaning of life, the universe and everything and come up with some new songs.

“The pandemic gave me a real determination to come out musically stronger and I really dug deep into myself for this album,” says Lakeman. “Being able to record and play with the band again was really quite spiritual.”

The result is Make Your Mark. Unlike its highly conceptual predecessor it tackles a range of themes, inspired by Lakeman’s own thoughts and feelings about the state of the world, love, life and death as well as the stories and landscapes of his West Country surroundings. Lakeman has spoken of this latest release as being a kind of sister album to his 2006 release Freedom Fields. The latter celebrates its fifteenth anniversary this year and the set-list for Lakeman’s current tour has focused on both songs from Freedom Fields and from this new album.

Musically, Make Your Mark is exactly what you would expect and hope for from a new Seth Lakeman album: fourteen thought-provoking yet accessible songs, all delivered in Lakeman’s unique trademark style.

Long-time musical collaborator, Ben Nicholls, joins him once more on this album with some deliciously dark, brooding superbly intense double bass playing, as does former Bellowhead and current Steeleye Span instrumentalist, Benji Kirkpatrick, who, once again, adds his distinctive banjo, bouzouki and mandolin playing.

The album is not a leap into the dark musically but from his early days as ‘the poster boy of English folk’ through to now, Seth Lakeman’s albums have demonstrated a quality and consistency in delivering fine folk songs, superb musicianship and those instantly-recognisable vocals. Fans will not be disappointed.

Released: 19th November 2021 by BMG

Seth Lakeman website

Previous reviews:

Album review – Seth Lakeman ‘A Pilgrim’s Tale’

Seth Lakeman at De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill 2019

Seth Lakeman at Folk by the Oak 2014

This week’s featured artist: blues duo When Rivers Meet – new album 19th November

 I hadn’t come across husband-and-wife blues duo When Rivers Meet until I caught them supporting King King on their recent tour. I was immediately impressed as soon as the pair walked out on stage to deliver loud, raunchy, rocked-up blues with bags of noise and bags of power.

The duo’s second album Saving Grace is released on 19th November and follows their extremely well-received debut We Fly Free which was released back in 2020, and two earlier EPs.

When Rivers Meet are Grace Bond (lead vocals, mandolin, violin) and Aaron Bond (guitar, vocals).

Grace: “We were very conscious that our debut album We Fly Free was a step up in production from our two EP releases previously The Uprising EP and Innocence of Youth. We also wanted to keep a live, authentic vibe to the new album to retain the energetic feel in the music.”

Aaron: “We wanted the album to have more of an upbeat rock feel. We knew exactly what we wanted before we set off to record Saving Grace. We set our expectations high. We’re so pleased with the result and just hope everyone else loves it as much as we do!”

Grace: “Although we wanted to do something different from our previous work, we still wanted all the same elements that make our music distinctive and recognisable as When Rivers Meet.”

Aaron: “Saving Grace has a more upbeat rock feeling than We Fly Free,” Aaron says. “We were very conscious when we started to record this album that’s the direction that we wanted to move in, and it was exactly the kind of result that wanted to achieve.”

Aaron: “As well as being inspired by classic blues including John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters, we also draw a lot of influence from classic rock bands that include Led Zeppelin, Bad Company, Cream, and Free. To emulate some of the feel or tone of these legendary blues pioneers and seminal rock bands is something that we strive to do, and hopefully people will hear that in our music and relate to it.”

Credits: Header photo by Rob Blackham, live photo by Bruce Biege

Album released: 19th November 2021

https://whenriversmeet.co.uk/

Related post:

When Rivers Meet and King King at Bexhill

Americana: album review – Fine Lines ‘Deadbeat Lullabies’

Deadbeat Lullabies is the third album from UK seven-piece Americana outfit Fine Lines. Their first two albums received a slew of glowing reviews and they’ve been a popular draw on the circuit, although so far they seem to have eluded me. Hopefully, that will be rectified before too long as they are a quality band and Deadbeat Lullabies is a fine album.

Fine Lines are Zoe Blythe (vocals), David Boardman (vocals and guitar), Gary O’Brien (piano and Hammond organ), Emily Doggett (fiddle), Chris Lee (pedal steel and mandolin), Jim Broughton (bass) and Mark Radcliffe (drums and backing vocals).

Put together by singer-songwriter David Boardman back in 2016 there’s harmony vocals (courtesy Boardman and fellow singer Zoe Blythe) exquisite pedal steel, infectious fiddle, great melodies and heartfelt lyrics. The song-writing is a joint endeavour between Boardman, who cooked up the tunes and the band’s drummer, BBC presenter and all-round music maestro, Mark Radcliffe, who came up with the lyrics. Radcliffe proves himself to be a talented lyricist. His observational storytelling perfectly captures the overall mood that the album evokes.

Fans of late-period Byrds, early-period Eagles, Gram Parsons, Tom Petty and the Band will all find plenty to like here. The influences are never far away but the songs are totally fresh and original.

While I’m writing this on a cold, dark evening in Hastings, these songs are just perfect for a chilled-out afternoon in the summer sun and I look forward to catching them at a festival at some point. We probably all need a bit more of Fine Lines in our lives at the moment.

Released: 25th October 2021

wearefinelines.com

Folk: album review – Various artists ‘Sense of the Place’

Featuring ten esteemed Scottish folk artists, the Sense of the Place album was commissioned by Stonehaven Folk Club with support from Aberdeenshire Council as part of the club’s Folk-In-Crisis-Fund to provide financial relief to performing artists whose livelihoods were seriously impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

An impressive endeavour in itself but this Sense of the Place no random ‘best-of’ style sampler but rather a collection of specially-commissioned and newly-recorded songs drawn from a reference archive of historical and geographical material relating to the coast lands between Findon and St. Cyrus in the north-east of Scotland.

To bring the project to fruition ten songwriters, were invited to use the archive to create ten new songs inspired by the area’s history, culture and geography. It’s a spectacularly ambitious projects with stunning results.

Some internationally acclaimed, others well known locally, there’s a top-notch array of folk singer-songwriters including Iona Fyfe, Kris Drever, Jenny Sturgeon, Findlay Napier and Paul McKenna. Musical accompaniment is provided by Aaron Jones, Mhairi Hall, Emma Smith, Jen Austin and Mike Vass.

Themes for the songs include the tale of Lady Finella – who was assassinated by a Scottish king; a celebration of Aberdeenshire’s Todhead Lighthouse – and those who worked to keep it alight; and the story of the Cutty Sark – told from the point of view of the ship!

It’s a really lovely album raising much-needed funds for an important initiative. Last year, the folk world came together under the #folkforchristmas hashtag to encourage folk fans to support folk artists by buying an album. I’m not sure if there is going to be a similar initiative this Christmas but one way or the other if you’re a folk fan I recommend you put this on your Christmas list.

Released: 27th August 2021

https://www.stonehavenfolkclub.co.uk/

Folk: album review – Various artists ‘Between Islands’

Folk: album review – Jenny Sturgeon ‘The Living Mountain’

Folk: album review -Paul McKenna Band ‘Paths That Wind’

Prog/acoustic: album review – Across The Sea ‘The Wayfarer Triptych’

One of my album delights this year has been the The Wayfarer Triptych from Worthing-based prog acoustic duo Across The Sea. That is not just because I had the pleasure of working on PR for Hannah Katy Lewis and Pete Ferguson who make up Across The Sea but because it really is a genuinely stunning album.

Their nine-track, three-part concept album narrates the story of a girl who discovers a beguiling triptych painting and embarks on a fantastical journey in search of hope, purpose, and a forgotten truth. It’s an ambitious concept by any standards but even more so when you consider that the entire album is built around the extraordinary vocals of classically-trained Hannah Katy Lewis and the equally extraordinary acoustic guitar-playing of Pete Ferguson. Between them they conjure up the sort of magic that other prog outfits with banks of keyboards and a studio full of multi-instrumentalists would be hard-placed to emulate. The sound is deep and lush and all-encompassing with as many twists and turns as the story-telling in the lyrics.

This stunning album with breath-taking vocals, astonishing guitar work and beautiful atmospherics will have great appeal to anyone with an interest in the folk/acoustic and prog worlds. My tip: turn it up loud, forget everything and totally immerse yourself in the magic and intensity that is Across The Sea.

Released: 1st October 2021

https://www.acrosstheseauk.com/

Related posts:

Progressive duo Across The Sea unveil much-anticipated second album

Folk/Jazz: album review – Scott Murray ‘There Was A Love’

Scott Murray has been a notable figure on the Scottish music scene for decades. Initially starting out playing jazz and R&B in the 1960s, he did not turn his attention to folk until the 1980s.

“In the 80s I heard Jim Reid and Rod Paterson on the radio one afternoon and my life changed. ‘Shy Geordie’ sung by Jim Reid, and ‘My Nanie O’ sung by Rod Paterson. I met Anne Combe and Fiona Forbes, and we formed Sangsters. We made a couple of Greentrax CDs, sang all over Scotland at clubs and festivals, got to go to Germany and Canada.”

Murray started tutoring with the Scots Music Group in the late 90s, and in 2010 started working with an Edinburgh-based project called Inspire which was set up to offer people affected by issues such as homelessness, mental health problems, poverty and addiction the chance to participate in music.

It was one of the highlights of my working life,” says Murray, “and led me to make a recording of my own songs, Evenin’s Fa, in 2012.”

Now, almost a decade on Scott has released a follow-up. Recorded a few days after Murray’s 75th birthday, There Was A Love takes a less folky approach than its predecessor and, with its strong jazz leanings, casts a nod back to Scott’s earlier musical life.

“I had a notion to record songs and tunes composed since then, some since lockdown, and decided to acknowledge both the days before I became a folky and our step mother, who was a fine pianist. Someone asked if I’d given up folk for jazz, and I replied that I identify as bi-musical.”

A fine collection of songs, instrumental pieces and poems set to music, eight are newly composed by Murray while the remaining two see him set the work of two of Scotland’s early twentieth century female poets to music: namely Marion Angus and Helen Cruikshank.

While the sensitive and highly evocative piano-playing of Dave Milligan is the dominant instrument throughout and while an instrumental piece (dedicated to Murray’s stepmother) opens the album, there’s also a heavy slice of brass adding texture and a warm jazz groove to several tracks and a mournful, melancholy brass band feel on another: ‘George Sanders & Gypsy Caravans’.

The album features: Scott Murray – voice; Dave Milligan – piano; Corrina Hewat – harp & voice; Tom Lyne – bass; Stuart Brown – drums; Mikey Owers – brass; Phil Bancroft – saxophones; and Martin Green – accordion.

A gentle, contemplative and in many ways, highly introspective album (save for the audaciously irresistible swagger of the New Orleans-style ‘Glenwhappen Rig’) Murray has given us a peek into his inner world that’s proved to be both thought-provoking and musically satisfying.

Released: 13th August 2021

Visit his website here

This week’s featured artist: singer/songwriter/guitarist Joe Matera – new single features Slade’s Don Powell

Darren’s music blog gets a ton of email traffic about artists flagging up new releases. There are not hours in the day to follow every single one up. This one was about to slip through the net but singer-songwriter Joe Matera was a little more persistent and kindly sent me a follow-up email a week later. What’s more he was flagging up that none other than legendary drummer Don Powell of Slade is performing on his new single. That immediately sent it to the top of the my ‘things-worth-checking-out-pile’ – but first a little more about Joe…

Also a prolific and respected music journalist, Joe has played in a number of rock outfits in his native Australia. He was founding lead guitarist for classic rock band Double Vision and before that played in a popular local band On The Prowl. As a guitarist Joe has also collaborated with a number of artists and his original guitar instrumental compositions have appeared on various film soundtracks. In 2012 he performed with Steve Harley for a series of live acoustic performances for radio and TV on Harley’s first ever promo tour of Australia.

Official Promo, 2019 – Photo: Anders E. Skånberg

Joe has continued to tour and record as a solo artist, releasing several albums and EPs of original material as well as providing support for artists as diverse as Peter Kriss (ex-Kiss), Canned Heat and the Bay City Rollers. In early 2018, he joined Swedish based rock band Rough Rockers as permanent member on guitar.

His latest solo single ‘Inside Looking Out’ is released towards the end of this month. It’s a song that starts off deceptively mellow until the aforementioned Mr Powell’s unmistakeable drumming kicks in and we are served up an infectiously jaunty slice of contemporary pop-rock with a blistering guitar solo to boot.

Because of lockdown restrictions the track was recorded remotely across three countries, Don Powell (drums) in Denmark, Janne Borgh (bass) in Sweden and Joe (vocals, guitars and keyboards) in Australia.

Don Powell: “I was really honoured when Joe asked me to play drums on his track. I had SO much fun in the studio recording my drums for him…I can also speak for my engineer Torben Lehmann, we both really got off listening to Joe’s track as I was recording my drums. Can’t wait to do more together.”

Inside Looking Out’ is released via Mercury Fire Music on October 29th on all digital platforms

https://www.joematera.com/

Related posts:

Interview with Don Powell

Album review – Don Powell’s Occasional Flames ‘Just My Cup of Tea’

Veteran drummer Don Powell out of Slade

Interview with former Slade legend Jim Lea

Slade, strikes and the three-day week: the story of the greatest Christmas record ever made

Slade at Donnington 1981

Header photo credit: Sofia Rewert-Strasser

Singer-songwriter: album review – Owen Moore ‘Fireside Songs’

Owen Moore is an Irish-born singer songwriter based in Dorset. Over the past ten years or so he’s put out a staggering ten solo albums of original songs, not to mention a handful live albums too. In fact, my delay in reviewing Fireside Songs since he kindly sent it to me back in the summer has meant he’s had time to put another album since – albeit a compilation of highlights from his previous ten albums.

While Owen tells me he’s had a lifetime of playing countless small gigs behind him, he’s keen to stress that his driving passion in recent years has been his song-writing.

There’s certainly plenty of evidence of quality writing on Fireside Songs. Owen Moore’s lyrics are highly personal, his warm and gentle vocals are consistently engaging and he has a real ear for a catchy melody that will leave you humming along, long after the album has finished.

His style falls into that well-trodden path between folk and Americana, and his songs are captivating and original enough to have plenty of appeal for fans of both. From the Byrds-like ‘Every Once In a While’ to the irresistibly catchy ‘It’s All About You’ to the more traditional big country ballad feel of ‘Diamond Ring’ the album is packed full of songs you want to play again and again. The album ends with ‘The Town of Tralee’, originally released as a single at the back end of 2020,which  is the Limerick-born singer’s affectionate paean to the Kerry town of Tralee where he spent  time as a young man.

An engaging singer-songwriter and a fine guitarist if you enjoy the folky-ish and the country-ish it’s well worth checking out Owen Moore’s Fireside Songs as well as other albums in his prolific back catalogue.

Released: June 2022

http://www.owenmooremusic.com/

Metal: album review – KK’s Priest ‘Sermons of the Sinner’

My review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here

Fans of the perennial metal gods Judas Priest have been lucky on the albums front in recent years. First we had two killer albums from Priest itself. Both 2014’s Redeemer of Souls (recorded after the departure of founding guitarist K.K. Downing with new boy Richie Faulkner) and its follow-up, 2018’s Firepower, stand up against some of the best of the band’s albums from its classic era. And now we have the debut album from Downing’s own iteration of Priest.

After performing a one-off gig in November 2019 it was announced that three former member of Judas Priest, guitarist K.K. Downing, vocalist Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens and drummer Les Binks, would be working together more permanently under the moniker K.K.’s Priest. Unfortunately, Binks suffered a wrist injury that put him out of action and his place in the studio and planned tour is taken by Sean Elg (Death Riders/Cage). Joining Downing, Owens and Elg are Tony Newton (Voodoo Six) on bass and A.J. Mills (Hostile) on guitar. It is still hoped Binks will make special guest appearances when the band tours.

Having been immediately impressed with the mighty ‘Hellfire Thunderbolt’ when it was first released as a single back in May, I’ve been eagerly anticipating the release of Sermons of the Sinner ever since. I have certainly not been disappointed. Sermons of the Sinner is just utterly, devastatingly, jaw-droppingly brilliant. This is not just some disgruntled ex-member throwing together a pastiche of his former band to hit the classic rock nostalgia circuit. This is a serious metal band with a ton of exciting and inspired new material. Every riff, every yell, every beat, every second of the album encapsulates the spirit of Priest and is executed with power, panache and pure class.

To really pass the Priest test though my question would always be this: are there ready-made metal classics here that I can happily go away and hum along to myself in the shower after only one or two listens? The answer to that is a firm yes. From the uncompromising title track to the aforementioned lead single to the anthemic ‘Raise You Fists’ to the dramatic gothic-inspired splendour of ‘Metal Through and Through’ there’s slice after slice of Priest-inspired metal classics here. The album concludes in dramatic fashion with the nearly nine-minute epic ‘The Return Of The Sentinel’ – presented here as a sequel to the classic track from Judas Priest’s 1984 album Defenders Of The Faith.

How this album will be received in the actual Judas Priest camp is anyone’s guess. The two bands are under no obligation to love one another or even to like each other but we, the fans, can happily love both of them. Neither Judas Priest nor K.K.’s Priest are going to be around forever. Let’s treasure them both while we’ve got them.

Released: 1st October 2021 by EX1 Records

https://www.kkspriest.com/

KK’s PRIEST – Jul 16, 2021. Photo credit: George Chin

Related posts:

First single from KK’s Priest out this week

Album review : Judas Priest – Redeemer of Souls

Live review: Judas Priest at Brixton Academy 2015

Live review: Les Binks’ Priesthood at Minehead 2020

Book review: ‘Confess’ by Rob Halford