Category Archives: album reviews

Folk/singer songwriter: album review – Steve Tilston ‘Distant Days’

This review was originally published in the Autumn 2018 issue of fRoots magazine

Just as Richard Thompson went down the acoustic retrospective route a few years ago with the very well-received Acoustic Classics, Steve Tilston follows with this excellent nineteen-track album which reworks songs from across his almost five-decade career. À la Thompson, it’s just Tilston, his guitar, his voice and his songs. There’s a beautifully laid-back vibe to the whole affair which really gets you focusing on the songs and appreciating just what a finely talented song-writer Tilston is.

Highlights include the autobiographical On The Road When I Was Young, which originally appeared on his 2008 album Ziggurat; I Really Wanted You, from his first album in 1971 An Acoustic Confusion; and his most covered song The Slip Jigs And Reels, originally released in 1992. There is also some deft guitar work on the previously unreleased instrumental Shinjuku, dedicated to Bert Jansch.

It’s efficiently packaged rather than lavishly so, with all nineteen tracks squeezed on to a single disc. However, detailed liner notes from Tilston himself give a track by track run-down on the inspiration behind each song as well as details on where they first appeared.

Much admired as an artist, much covered as a song-writer Distant Days is a timely celebration of the gentle force of nature that is Steve Tilston. With some lovely guitar, poignant lyrics and gorgeous melodies Distant Days is turning out to be one of my favourite releases of the summer. Highly recommended.

Released by Riverboat Records July 2018

http://www.stevetilston.com/

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Singer/songwriter: album review – JR Harbidge ‘First Ray of Light’

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here

Involved in the Midlands music scene since his teens, in bands such as the grunge-influenced Third Bullet as well as production work for a variety of outfits, a change of direction, together with a change of location, has led to a new, more introspective approach for JR Harbidge. Out goes the harder-edged rock artist to be replaced by a soulful, Americana-tinged singer songwriter. The album itself has flavours of Bob Dylan, Crosby, Still & Nash and Neil Young.

There’s a distinctive feel to Harbidge’s vocals, some nice acoustic guitar work and some fine supporting musicians who capture that laid-back Americana vibe just perfectly. The thing about the whole singer songwriter routine, though, is that you really have to have the songs to pull it off. And I’m pleased to say Harbidge has more than delivered in that department. There’s a maturity about the song-writing that belies the fact this is a new direction for the artist.

Covering themes from the personal to the political, from relationships (‘The Side Of You That Cares’) to war and peace (‘I Won’t Support Your Wars’) the songs are engaging and the lyrics elicit empathy. Harbidge has an ear for a good tune as well: “I always try and bring out melody in everything because I live to sing along to songs. If I can’t sing along to a song I’m not interested in it.”

With a voice you can easily warm to, songs you can easily relate to and melodies you can hum along to this is a worthy solo debut for JR Harbidge. Well worth exploring further.

Released by Absolute via Universal/Sony on 5th October 2018

https://jrharbidge.com/

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Folk: album review – Young Waters ‘Young Waters’

This review was originally published in the Autumn 2018 issue of fRoots magazine

Not a duo, no Young and, indeed, no Waters, Young Waters are actually a young five-piece folk band led by songwriter, vocalist and guitarist, Theo Passingham. The band won Bath Folk Festival’s ‘New Shoots’ competition in 2016 and this led to a recording session at Peter Gabriel’s renowned Real World studios. Indeed, six tracks of the eight tracks on the album were recorded in a single day at that session.

Frequently described as ‘neo-folk’ comparisons have been made with everyone from Fleet Foxes to Fairport Convention. Composers, Philip Glass, John Taverner and Estonia’s Arvo Pärt are cited as inspirations, too.

Although the album includes a traditional song as well as another cover, the remaining tracks are all written by Passingham. We are told, however, there is a heavily collaborative approach in terms of seeking out just the right arrangements and harmonies for each song which has certainly paid off. There is a delicate frailty about Passingham’s voice which suits the lyrical content perfectly. Song titles like Dust, Bleary Eyed and Weary Soul give you somewhat of an idea about what to expect, yet the beautiful melodies and beguiling acoustic guitar add contrast and texture to the mix, as do the the deliciously warm choral-inspired harmonies. It is the latter where the Fleet Foxes comparisons are most evident.

Already making an impact on the festival circuit, Young Waters have delivered an impressive debut here.

Released: September 2018

https://www.young-waters.com/

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The new wave of classic rock: six more bands to watch out for

There has been a definite groundswell of bands forming in recent years playing their own original brand of classic hard rock/metal, influenced by both the first wave of hard rock/metal bands formed in the late 60s/early 70s and the NWOBHM (New Wave Of British Heavy Metal) formed a decade later. Following my last round-up a few months ago, here is another batch of bands that have gone out of their way to impress me recently.

1. Ethyrfield

Absolutely everyone who saw them at Minehead’s Giants of Rock this year was raving about Ethyrfield. Not me I’m afraid – this was one of the bands I sadly missed at Minehead. However, I finally managed to catch Ethyrfield at the New Cross Inn and it was well worth the wait. Aged just 17, 16 and 14, Zach Cornish (vocals/bass), Ben Cornish, (vocals/lead guitar) and Dan Aston (drums) put in an absolutely incredible performance. Tony Iommi has mentored the band, they’ve picked up various awards and were voted winners of the introducing stage at Giants of Rock this year and will thus be returning to the main stage next year. I’ll be there. Simply incredible.

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https://www.ethyrfield.com/

2. Saints Of Sin

If many of the bands flying under the NWOCR look to the NWOBHM scene of the late 70s/early 80s for inspiration Saints Of Sin appear to have stepped straight out of the LA metal scene circa 1987. Big hooks, catchy choruses and bags of attitude they were one of Friday’s highlights for me. The band’s excellent album ‘Welcome To The Circus’ is well worth getting hold of.

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https://www.saintsofsin.band/

3. The Black Bullets

The Black Bullets who, if I had to describe them, bring to mind a meeting of Bon Scott and Angus Young circa 1975 and The New York Dolls. Sleazy, raunchy, dirty and brilliantly fun this is the kind of music you could never tire of. From an amazingly strong line-up of acts at the New Cross Inn’s Four Sticks Classic Rock All Dayer back in March The Black Bullets were one of my favourite bands of the day.

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https://www.facebook.com/TheBlackBulletsUK

4. Tomorrow Is Lost

Tomorrow Is Lost, a young band from Newcastle formed last year and fronted by female singer, Cass King, were one of the highlights at the New Cross Inn’s second Four Sticks event this October. Great vocals and a real sense of showmanship I snapped up their two recent EPs after their set and they are now a definite addition to my ‘ones to watch’ list.

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https://tomorrowislost.com/

5. Animal Drive

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. 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. 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.

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http://animal-drive.com/

6. New Device

Polished melodic hard rock and catchy well-written songs, New Device proved to be a great start to the day for when I caught them at the New Cross Inn’s first Four Sticks classic rock event. I picked up a copy of their 2013 album ‘Here We Stand’ and my initial positive impressions were definitely confirmed. Lead singer Daniel Leigh is an impressive vocalist, both when handling the all-out rockers as well as the slower, more sensitive material.

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http://www.newdevice.co.uk/

Related post:

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

 

Folk: album review – Bert Jansch ‘Just A Simple Soul’

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here 

The exquisitely talented Bert Jansch, the former Pentangle guitarist who died in 2011, has been inspiring musicians for decades – from Jimmy Page and Paul Simon to Johnny Marr and Graham Coxon. Indeed, it was another admirer, Suede’s Bernard Butler working with Jansch’s estate, who compiled this double double disc set. The ‘best of’ collection spans Jansch’s entire solo career.

Writing in the sleeve-notes, Butler makes a telling point: “Bert lived and breathed the sound of the guitar and its endless possibilities for communication, storytelling, conversation, emotional dialogue.”

This certainly comes out in the compilation. However talented and dexterous a guitarist Jansch was, his gift was always deployed in the pursuit of the songs and the stories and the emotional connection with his audience, never merely technique for the sake of technique.

Given Jansch’s considerable back catalogue of twenty-three studio albums, beginning with his first self-titled album in 1965 through to his final solo album The Black Swan from 2006, there is a huge amount of material to choose from – and this is just his solo career – the compilation doesn’t touch his Pentangle output or other collaborations. Butler has chosen well, however. Well-known classics like ‘Angie’ and ‘Needle Of Death’ rub alongside lesser known tracks like ‘Sweet Rose’ from the 1985 album From The Outside. Presented chronologically across thirty-nine tracks, each of the eras are well represented and it’s a thoughtful and thorough retrospective which beautifully showcases Jansch’s mastery of the acoustic guitar, his song-writing skills and his innovative interpretations of traditional material.

Just A Simple Soul works both for those looking for an introduction to Jansch’s back catalogue and for committed fans looking for a lovingly-compiled career overview. As Bernard Butler puts it: “We have a life’s work here, and what a life Bert Jansch has given us.”

Released 26th October 2018 on BMG

https://bertjansch.com/

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Review: ‘A Brighter Day’ charity CD and benefit concert for Hastings Citizens Advice service

Hastings is not short of musical talent and neither, can it be said, is it lacking in community spirit or a social conscience either. So, back in the summer, all of this was harnessed for a benefit CD to raise funds for the town’s Citizens Advice service. Spanning everything from orchestral, folk, blues, rock, electro-pop and indie ‘A Brighter Day’ comprises 22 tracks especially recorded by local musicians.

The tracks were compiled by local resident Keith Rodway. The striking cover artwork was created by artist Peter Quinnell. The artists who contributed their work: Polo Piatti, Anita Jardine, Kat Lee-Ryan, Josephine Claire Hamill, Philip George Thornton, Nick Monaghan, Tim Scullion, Carol Prior, Otti A-i, Toby Warren (Elf and Stacey), Fritz Catlin, Simon Charterton, Dave Arnold, Richard James Burley, Tim Hoyte, Alice Trueman (CLUBBS), Charlotte Tingley and Leo Snook (Chasing Shadows), Keith Foster, Steve Stone, Tony May, Phil Little, Ken Edwards (The Moors).

On Sunday 30th September many of the artists featured on the album reconvened for a special benefit concert at Hastings’ fabulously atmospheric Printworks venue. As with the album, we witnessed a fantastically varied mix of styles and genres. Among the stand-outs for me were singer-songwriter Carol Prior, who immediately struck a connection wit the audience and segued effortlessly from a hilarious faux-protest song about getting a police caution for topless bathing into a stunning rendition of a Sikh prayer set to music, the latter of which appears on the album. Another stand-out was Tim Hoyte, whose beautifully elegant acoustic guitar playing graces his self-composed track ‘Flying Dreams’ on the album. A special mention must also go to young acoustic duo Chasing Shadows who do a nice line in Americana-tinged story songs and who I saw at St Leonards Kino Teatre a couple of years ago in what transpired to be one of their first ever gigs. Nice to see these two, Charlotte Tingley and Leo Snook,  developing and growing as performers.

A really talented bunch of musicians, a great atmosphere and a great cause – let’s hope the benefit raised some much-needed cash for those providing advice and support to local people in these tough times.

The album ‘A Brighter Day’ is available to stream and purchase in CD format on Bandcamp at: https://ca1066.bandcamp.com. Priced at just £5 (or pay more if you you like) all proceeds go to Citizens Advice 1066.

CD copies are also available from the following local shops:

– Sea Kale, London Road, St Leonards (opposite the Co-op),
– Borough Wines, Robertson Street, Hastings
– Wow and Flutter, Trinity Street, Hastings

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Folk: album review – Eddi Reader ‘Cavalier’

This review was originally published by Bright Young Folk here

Marking 40 years as a live performer, the former Fairground Attraction singer and celebrated solo artist, Eddi Reader, releases a brand new studio album. Featuring an impressive sixteen songs Cavalier comprises traditional material, her own compositions (along with some from her co-producer, John Douglas) in addition to a couple of covers.

There are some lovely arrangements of traditional songs on the album but, sound-wise, it doesn’t narrowly confine itself to what we have come to regard as folk. From Maiden’s Lament with its laid-back, jazzy clarinet; to the title track, Cavalier, with its slightly funky, slightly indie-ish feel; to Starlight, with its 1950s doo-wop-style harmonies, there’s a wonderful array of sounds and musical influences across the ages here. Of course, the album is not without its more mainstream folk moments either, with tracks like Meg O’ The Glen, based on extracts from the poems of the 18th century Paisley-born poet, Robert Tannahill, which contains some deliciously infectious fiddle.

Reader’s gentle but superbly expressive vocals and her distinctive Scottish lilt are the common thread throughout the album, but it’s also all held together with a talented cast of supporting musicians, some twenty-five in total, through strings and brass and whistle and flute, not to mention five excellent additional backing vocalists.

Cavalier contains some beautiful interpretations of traditional songs and some folk-influenced singer song-writing yet at the same time it is so much more than a folk album. File under ’F’ for fascinating.

Released 28th September 2018 on Reveal Records

http://eddireader.co.uk/

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Blues/rock/soul: album review – Rainbreakers ‘Face To Face’

At the start of the year, towards the end of a long day of drinking and music at Skegness’s Rock and Blues festival, I was about to call it a day and give the last band on the late-night stage a miss when we were suddenly confronted by Rainbreakers. Soulful, bluesy, emotive and powerful, I was immediately captivated. All thoughts of an early(ish) night were rapidly abandoned and Rainbreakers turned out to be one of my favourite acts of the entire festival.

Fast forward a few months and Rainbreakers’ debut album Face To Face is equally captivating. Ten tracks of soulful, classy blues rock it captures the spirit of an earlier classic era while at the same time being fresh, contemporary-sounding and full of energy. Big riffs, deliciously bluesy licks, great melodies and vocals dripping with emotion and soul this a fantastic debut album. Lyrically, the band tackle some powerful themes, too. The opening track Heavy Soul is no trite cock rock number but rather tells the story of vocalist Ben Edwards’ personal battles with his mental health. On tracks like Lost With You, the band amply demonstrate they can handle the slower material with elegance and sensitivity.

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Rainbreakers are Ben Edwards (vocals, guitar), Charlie Richards (lead guitar), Pete Adam (bass), Sam Edwards (drums). Already making a significant impact on the live scene and the festival circuit (and I can personally vouch for that!) both the writing and the musicianship on this album deserves to make Rainbreakers a much bigger name in the UK music scene. A stunningly good debut.

Released: 31 August 2018

http://www.therainbreakers.com/

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Folk-rock: album review – Julie July Band ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes?’ – A Tribute To Sandy Denny

Sandy Denny died forty years ago this year. Although her old band, Fairport Convention, never let a gig go by without still playing at least a couple of songs in tribute to her and although Fairport’s Simon Nicol has a wonderfully rich voice, there is something about hearing Denny’s songs delivered live with a beautiful pure female vocal that has made the Julie July Band a popular choice at festivals and folk gigs. I was certainly immediately won over when I saw them at Warwick Festival last year.

However, with my Sandy Denny boxed set, my Fotheringay boxed set, all my Fairport albums and everything else Sandy-related in my collection the question is do I really need a CD of someone singing Sandy’s songs? I’ve certainly played it a fair few times since it arrived so that’s looking like a very definite yes.

Although not necessarily a complete carbon copy of Denny’s unmistakable vocals, Julie July certainly has a lovely voice and delivers her songs sympathetically. The band, themselves, are a talented bunch and what I find pleasing is that when covering some the material from Denny’s solo albums rather than going for those over-produced slightly schmaltzy arrangements that you get on some of the originals, the band have gone for a more stripped-back sound that lets the songs and the vocals do the main work.

As a devoted Sandy fan there’s absolutely nothing not to love on this gorgeous and heartfelt album. Eleven timeless songs written by Sandy Denny along with Richard Farina’s ‘The Quiet Joys Of Brotherhood’. My only niggle is maybe there could have been one or two left-field surprises as well to make this album just that little bit more unique – say a cover of one of the unearthed Sandy lyrics that Thea Gilmore put to music a few years ago, or a traditional song not generally associated with Denny, or perhaps even a post-Denny Fairport song that was given a full-on Sandy-esque makeover, that just might have given us a glimpse of an alternative universe. But these are minor niggles.

I salute the July Julie Band for their dedication in keeping Sandy Denny’s music alive. Both their live performances and this album do justice to her enormous legacy.

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Released 27th July 2018 by Aurora Folk Records

http://www.juliejuly.co.uk/

 

Rock/garage/punk: album review – Metro Velour ‘Hey You’

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here

Based in the small picturesque village of Montauroux in the Côte d’Azur region of the south of France, Metro Velour are an old school garage punk band. The four-piece is composed of Sebastian Smith (rhythm guitar and vocals), Louis Chevallier (lead guitar), J B Caramellino (drums) and Nico Pasqual (bass). While the latter three are all French, the front-man, Sebastian Smith, is actually an old English rocker whose been around the music scene a long, long time – ever since he formed his first band in 1959, aged 17!

Now in his mid 70s, Smith still clearly has rock n roll in his blood. “Most of the music today is a complete pile of crap,” muses Smith in the documentary on the band’s YouTube site. “The stuff today just pisses me off so much and I thought hell. Let’s get rock ‘n’ roll back where it should be.”

While plenty of us following Get Ready To Rock will counter that music today is not all X Factor and manufactured pop and that there are decent new rock bands about if you look that bit harder, nevertheless you cannot fault Smith’s (and the rest of the band’s) enthusiasm in pursuing their mission.

‘Hey You’ is the band’s debut album. Sound-wise, there’s definitely a flavour of US garage/punk acts like The Stooges, The New York Dolls and The Ramones but there’s also the spirit of British punk in there, too, particularly on account of Smith’s vocals and tongue-in-cheek lyrics (‘I’m in love with those dirty girls…’).

The songs are catchy and well-written and the band are tight and together. You may struggle to believe that this was recorded in 2018, not 1978. But if you fancy a bit of old-school punk blasting out of your speakers this album is well worth checking out.

https://www.facebook.com/www.metrovelour.fr/

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