Category Archives: album reviews

Rock: EP review – Jim Lea ‘Lost In Space’

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here

Formed in the 60s, massive in the 70s and enjoying something of a revival in the 80s, the original Slade finally came to an end in 1991. Since then vocalist, Noddy Holder, has become a a perennial favourite on the nation’s chat show sofas talking about the old days. Guitarist, Dave Hill, and drummer, Don Powell, have resurrected the Slade name and continued to tour Britain and Europe belting out the old hits, with the latter also involved in a well-received collaboration with Suzi Quatro and Sweet’s Andy Scott. Arguably, however, it is bass-player, Jim Lea, who has delivered the most interesting musical output, post-Slade, of all four members. It’s not been a prolific output – family caring responsibilities and health issues put paid to that. However, 2007’s excellent solo album ‘Therapy’ has now been followed up with a six-track EP of new material: ‘Lost In Space’.

The title track is a great catchy slice of melodic pop-rock, proving that Lea has not lost none of his song-writing knack in that department. Semi-autobiographical, lyrically, the words are a paean to living life in an inner world, barely aware of what’s going on in normal life.

The rest of the EP takes on a decidedly more rocky approach. Whereas the the previous solo album took on a wistful, slightly Lennon-esque tone, a number of tracks here put me in mind of Slade in the early 80s – when the former glamsters enjoyed something of a renaissance at the hands of the emerging New Wave Of British Heavy Metal movement thanks to the band’s triumph at Reading festival in 1980. Tracks like ‘What In The World’, all catchy choruses, pounding drums and crunching guitars, would not have been at all out of place on Slade’s 1983 album ‘The Amazing Kamikaze Syndrome’.

Although it’s all previously unreleased tracks some of these songs have been around in demo form for quite some time prior to being worked up for release. Lea’s ‘Going Back To Birmingham’, which appears as a live track on the ‘Live At The Robin’ bonus disc accompanying ‘Therapy’, also finally gets a studio release here.

Anyone who has ever been wowed by Slade at one time or another should rush to buy this EP – not because it’s an interesting curio from the latter years of a former member but because it’s a great rocking EP with some great new songs and some great new music. It’s excellent. Buy it!

Lost in Space EP is released on 22nd June 2018 by Wienerworld

Read my interview with Jim Lea ahead of the release of his new EP here

Jim Lea - Lost In Space - EP artwpork

http://www.jimleamusic.com/

Related posts

Jim Lea For One Night Only – At The Robin
Slade at Donnington 1981
Slade, strikes and the three-day week: the greatest Christmas record ever made

Advertisements

Folk: album review – Greg Russell & Ciaran Algar ‘Utopia and Wasteland’

This review was originally published by Bright Young Folk here

Ever since they won the BBC’s Young Folk Award on the back of their debut release The Queen’s Lover, the talents of Greg Russell and Ciaran Algar have never been in doubt. From such an impressive start, their capacity to innovate and astound with each new release has seemed to build and build. Now onto their fourth album, the question is whether the duo continue on that trajectory or begin to settle into something approaching a pleasing but comfortable formula. The answer is that Utopia and Wasteland continues to set the bar even higher.

Production shifts up a notch, courtesy of Mark Tucker who also adds bass and percussion, but the biggest change with this album is the strong focus on self-penned material. In contrast to the interpretations of traditional songs and well-chosen covers that provided the bulk of material for previous albums, nine of the eleven tracks here are original compositions.

The emphasis on original material has allowed the duo to explore some contemporary issues yet bring their instinctive appreciation of traditional music, Russell’s rich distinctive vocals and Algar’s virtuoso fiddle to create some seriously impressive modern folk songs. Russell has already demonstrated his gift as an immensely talented songwriter (someone who managed to write The Queen’s Lover while bored with revising for A levels, let us not forget). However, perhaps the most striking and moving song here is Algar’s composition We are Leaving, which documents the culture of neglect and indifference that culminated in the Grenfell Tower disaster.

Elsewhere on the album, Line Two is Russell’s take on the HS2 rail project, while Walter reflects on the incredible life of Walter Tull, an English professional footballer who became the first black officer to lead white troops into battle in the First World War and was killed in action at just 29. Algar also brings his talents to bear with a couple of pleasingly inventive tune compositions in Warwick Road and De Gule Huis.

With Utopia and Wasteland Greg Russell and Ciaran Algar once again showcase their incredible talents and demonstrate some superb songwriting into the bargain. An exceptionally strong album, this marks another chapter in the duo’s hugely impressive career to date.

Released; April 2018 Rootbeat Records

http://www.russellalgar.co.uk/

47ca1df777a6cbf1cbbed17bc434569b (1)

Related reviews:

Album review – Ray Hearne ‘Umpteen’ (featuring Greg & Ciaran)
Luke Jackson and Greg Russell & Ciaran Algar at Cecil Sharp House 2016
Greg Russell and Rex Preston at The Green Note 2015
Greg Russell & Ciaran Algar at The Green Note 2014

Folk: EP review – Zoe Wren ‘Gold & Smoke’

Zoe Wren is a singer-songwriter working very much in the folk tradition. She clearly knows her folk history, having studied this at university, and has been performing on the folk scene since her mid-teens, not to mention spots of busking in Camden. Importantly, she is able to bring all this into the mix as a song-writer.

With a stunningly beautiful voice, some gently captivating acoustic guitar and some equally beautifully-written songs, there’s a definite nod to that classic era of singer-songwriters and interpreters of traditional material à la Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez and co. At the same time there is enough about both Zoe Wren’s performance and her songwriting that is new, original and just so damned good that it really helps her stand out on today’s folk scene.

Five of the EP’s six songs are written by Wren herself but she uses her undoubted knowledge of traditional folk songs to revisit a number of familiar themes in the folk canon. What she does so well is take the stories of the overwhelmingly male songwriters and male narrators of traditional songs from past centuries and recast them from a female perspective.

“It’s probably a bit of an odd thing to say as a singer-songwriter, but my EP was partly inspired by my university dissertation. It was called ‘voicing the unsung experiences of women in contemporary folksong’ and it got me thinking a lot about not only how gender is portrayed in traditional folk music, but also what that means for contemporary female singer-songwriters. Some of the songs on the EP explore women’s voices, others just voices and personas in general, but each of the original songs retells a story from a traditional folk song in some way, “ says Wren.

A gifted songwriter and exceptional singer, Zoe Wren brings a welcome perspective and impressive originality to traditionally-inspired music and Gold & Smoke is highly recommended.

Released: 2018 on Folkstock Records

http://www.zoewren.com

Zoe Wren - Gold and Smoke CD on body (2)

 

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

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