Category Archives: album reviews

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

 

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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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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

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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

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/

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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

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