Category Archives: album reviews

Singer-songwriter: album review – Beth Lee ‘Waiting On You Tonight’

Waiting On You Tonight is the latest album from Texas-based singer-songwriter Beth Lee and the follow-up to her 2016 album Keep Your Mouth Shut released in the name of her roots rock ‘n’ roll band Beth Lee & The Breakups. This time it’s a solo album recorded not in Texas but in California.

Having toured with the support of Texas blues guitarist Chris Duarte over recent years, for her latest album Lee consciously set out to explore other avenues of her song-writing abilities. While the Americana influences that characterised previous releases are still very much alive and present, here she gives voice to a much wider set of musical influences. These range from her nineties love of the ethereal vocals of Hope Sandoval, to the pop-friendly melodies of sixties girl groups, to the southern soul of Stax Records to contemporary Americana artists like Nicole Atkins. 

Lee’s soulful, heartfelt vocals and evident song-writing abilities are equally well-served by a top-class team of musicians in Julie Wolf, Vincent Rodriguez, James DePrato – the latter two being drummer and guitarist respectively for Chuck Prophet. Rodriguez also produced the album.

With Waiting On You Tonight, Beth Lee effortlessly distils generations of musical influences, from country to blues to soul to 60s pop to rock n roll, to deliver this gorgeous set of original songs that captures so much of what’s great about American music in its most golden age.

Released: 12th February 2021

https://www.bethlee.net/

Folk: album review – The Chair ‘Orkney Monster’

The Chair are an eight-piece folk band from Orkney. Formed in 2004, Orkney Monster is the band’s third album. Based around twin fiddles, banjo, accordion, guitar, drums and bass and this album, although recorded in the studio, aims to capture some of the energy and exhilaration of their live performances and promises their unique brand of ‘Orkney Stomp’.

Do they pull it off? Certainly. In Orkney Monster the band deliver an album that’s full of zest and joie de vivre while digging deep into their island heritage. There’s reels and jigs aplenty, with a slew of original compositions from band members as well as a handful by contemporary Scottish writers and a few traditional tunes, too.

As an eight-strong outfit the band are able to really go some on those infectiously rollicking reels and the interplay between the musicians is a wonder. But there is a more sensitive side to the band, too, as we hear on tunes like the wonderfully poignant ‘Wee Davie’ written by the band’s guitarist, Gavin Firth.

Mostly instrumental, the album does also include a couple of songs. There’s a lively take on ‘Walk Beside Me’, written by bluegrass and country artist, Tim O’Brien, that the band make truly their own as well as a beautifully mellow cover of Tom Waits’ ‘Shiver Me Timbers’.

Superb playing, beautiful tunes and buzzing with energy, Orkney Monster is simply a delightful album.

Released: 4th December 2020 by Folky Gibbon Records

https://www.lovethechair.com/

Alt-rock/Britpop: album review – Supergrass ‘Live On Other Planets’

A pun on their similarly titled 2002 studio album, Live On Other Planets is a live double album from Supergrass celebrating the band’s long-awaited reunion. Supergrass (and their fans) were incredibly lucky that they were able to complete the majority of their tour (at least the UK and European legs of it) just prior to COVID-19 putting a huge spanner in the works for them and the rest of the music industry. Rather than capturing a single concert the sleeve-notes state the album was recorded at various locations. Moreover, the CD version comes with an additional bonus disc that was recorded at the band’s livestreamed Summer lockdown gig at Oxford’s Bullingdon Arms.

I was at Alexandra Palace back in March for one of the band’s two London dates. Indeed, it was my penultimate live gig before lockdown and this album definitely captures some of the excitement and buzz of those reunion concerts, not to mention pretty much the entire set-list. Beginning with a magnificent ‘In It For The Money’ all the obvious crowd-pleasers are included from across the band six-album career. However, as with the reunion tour there is a big emphasis on songs from the very first album I Should Coco which celebrates its twenty-fifth anniversary this year. Gaz Coombes is in fine voice, there’s a ton of energy coming from all four members and the crowds sound just as enthusiastic as I recall they were at Ally Pally.

All live but with no live audience in the room the third disc, meanwhile, is a like a modern-day version of those old Radio 1 sessions that bands used to do for the BBC in the late 60s and early 70s. “Weird but like a good weird,” as Gaz says. It makes for a lovely bonus disc.

Released on the band’s own Supergrass Records label the album has been mixed by long-time collaborator John Cornfield who worked on the band’s first three albums. All proceeds from the album go to the #SaveOurVenues campaign.

Live On Other Planets is a brilliant memento for anyone who made it to the reunion tour – and if you are still awaiting the rescheduled gigs (including a much-anticipated slot at Glastonbury) it’s a great taste of what’s in store.

Released 27th November 2020

https://www.supergrass.com/

Related reviews:

Supergrass Live at Alexandra Palace 2020

Gaz Coombes at ULU 2018
Gaz Coombes at the Roundhouse 2016
Gaz Coombes – Matador
Vangoffey at the Social 2016

Blues rock: album review – Storm Warning ‘Different Horizons’

Another album of impressive blues rock from Storm Warning who have been a fixture on the UK live scene for over fifteen years now. However, this latest album Different Horizons is tinged with a note of sadness. Shortly after completing recording, guitarist, Bob Moore, sadly passed away. Different Horizons thus now acts as something of a tribute to Moore’s playing and song-writing. He was part of the band from its inception.

“Not flashy or fast, but clear, beautifully intoned and with exactly the right combination of effects. No one sounded like Bob, live or in the studio,” says vocalist Stuart Maxwell in the liner notes.

Although the band are also known for stamping their own mark on blues standards here they focus on nine new original compositions.

Commencing with birdsong before embarking on a classic slice of blues rock with title track ‘Horizons’, it’s a beautiful album and a fitting tribute. I particularly loved the moody, smouldering, bluesy guitar on tracks like ‘Can’t Sleep For Dreaming’ and ‘Long Road’ where Ian Salisbury’s soulful keyboards perfectly compliment Moore’s guitar playing. But there’s also lots to enjoy on the rockier tracks, too, like ’Questions’ with its Bad Company-esque riffing. ‘Come On In’, meanwhile, goes for some choppier Feelgoods-style R&B.

Different Horizons is an album that’s highly recommended for blues rock fans and a fitting tribute to their departed guitarist, Bob Moore.

Released: Autumn 2020

https://www.facebook.com/stormwarning.co.uk

Folk/acoustic: album review – The Lost Notes ‘Lowlifes and High Times’

From Moseley in Birmingham, The Lost Notes are a five-piece acoustic outfit who fuse folk, jazz and bluegrass influences to create their own unique but accessible sound with their gorgeous three-part harmonies taking centre-stage.

Lowlifes and High Times is the follow-up album to the band’s well-received debut. Comprising eleven tracks plus a couple of bonus reworkings, the songs “celebrate the ups and downs of journeymen, despots, sleazeballs, fools, the planet and the consciously idle,” the band tell us.

The band are: Ben Mills: vocals, guitar, piano, harmonica; Oli Jobes: lead guitar, vocals; Lucy Mills: vocals; Silas Wood: double bass; and Max Tomlinson: drums. The key songwriters are Mills, a jazz fan, and Jobes, a folkie. Those creative differences clearly blend together well. There’s enough jazz on the album to really make it swing and instantly get your foot tapping but enough folk to ensure the songs are based around storytelling and catchy melodies. What it means is that things never get in the slightest bit self-indulgent but they never get worthy and dull either.

Notching up appearances at the likes of Moseley Folk Festival, Bromsgrove Folk Festival and Beardy Folk Festival, I can see exactly whey their irresistible blend of folk, jazz and Americana and those beautiful harmonies would go down a storm at festivals. Definitely ones to watch.

Released: 5th December 2020

https://www.thelostnotes.co.uk/

#FolkForChristmas the top 10 folk / acoustic / Americana albums of 2020 on Darren’s Music Blog

The hashtag #FolkForChristmas was dreamt up as a means of supporting artists whose income has been devastated by the impact of coronavirus and lockdown this year. People are encouraged to support independent artists and their wonderful music and shop with them this Christmas rather than heading off to Amazon. In putting this list of recommendations together I’ve used nothing more than the totally scientific method of ranking them in order according to the number of hits each of these reviews received on my website.

No. 1: The Longest Johns – Cures What Ails Ya

If no-one has done more than Port Isaac’s Fisherman’s Friends to repopularise sea shanties in recent years, then surely no-one has done more than Bristol’s Longest Johns to give them an alt-folk makeover, pull them into the twenty-first century and make them cool. Cures What Ails Ya is the Longest Johns’ third album. A brilliant album from the men who made shanties sexy – buy it!

Full review here

No. 2: Peter Knight’s Gigspanner Big Band – Natural Invention

Forming first as a violin-guitar-percussion trio creating a wonderful fusion of traditional English folk and a beguiling blend of international influences, the duo of Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin subsequently joined for occasional tours and a live album under the delightful Gigspanner Big Band moniker. Now, the big band has got even bigger – with former Bellowhead legend John Spiers joining. A stunningly good album, even if you’re stingy enough to only buy one folk album this year make sure it’s this one.

Full review here

No. 3: Jenny Sturgeon – The Living Mountain

Inspired by Nan Shepherd’s memoir, once described by the Guardian as “the finest book ever written on nature and landscape in Britain,” Sturgeon’s album of the same name celebrates Shepherd’s nature writing and the Cairngorms mountain range in the eastern Highlands. Each of the twelve songs on the album take their titles from the chapter headings in Shepherd’s celebrated volume. Beautifully sung and exquisitely played The Living Mountain is a captivating celebration of the natural world and timeless and inspirational nature writing.

Full review here

No. 4: Lorraine Jordan – Send My Soul

Send My Soul is the fifth studio album from singer song-writer Lorraine Jordan. Memorably described as ‘Celtic soul’ her music builds on her family’s Irish roots while also embracing more contemporary influences. It’s a combination that works fantastically well and from the moment you put it on the album oozes soulful sophistication and captivating musicality. Indeed, such is the powerfully understated beauty of the title track that I had to double-check that this was a brand new song and not a modern interpretation of a long lost gospel soul classic.

Full review here

No. 5: Tom Fairnie – Lightning in the Dark

An Edinburgh-based singer-songwriter whose writing cuts across a number of styles, encompassing Americana, folk, country and blues – Tom Fairnie and has built up a considerable reputation on the Scottish folk circuit. Over in Austin, Texas, Grammy-nominated producer, Merel Bregante, came across Fairnie’s music, was inspired by his songs and invited him over to Austin to record. Friends, family and fans rallied round to make that happen, courtesy of a crowdfunding campaign and a series of benefit gigs and Fairnie pitched up in Texas. An absolute gem of an album.

Full review here

No. 6: Johnny Steinberg – Shadowland

With a name like that, songs that tell tales of heartbreak, cheap whiskey and Jesus, not to mention some deliciously effortless musicianship that just seems to ooze Nashville, I was somewhat surprised to learn that Mr Steinberg hails not from Nashville but from Norfolk (at least these days – although he’s from Yorkshire originally). What surprised me even more, however, was learning that Shadowland is, in fact, Steinberg’s debut album. Outstanding songs, exquisitely well-played and beautifully sung this album radiates such class that I’m still getting my head around the fact it’s a debut album.

Full review here

No. 7: Siobhan Miller – All Is Not Forgotten

All Is Not Forgotten is the fourth solo album from Scottish folk singer Siobhan Miller, three times winner of MG Alba Scots Trad Music Awards and a 2018 BBC Folk Awards recipient. A beautifully pure voice that is just made for Scottish folk along with some exquisitely lovely musical arrangements and some instantly appealing songwriting ‘All Is Not Forgotten’ commends itself to you as a stand-out album as soon as you put it on.

Full review here

No. 8: Virginia Kettle – No Place Like Tomorrow

Virginia Kettle’s vocals have been a key element of of Merry Hell’s sound since the band’s inception a decade ago. Before joining her husband John, brothers-in-law Bob and Andrew, and sundry others in the eight-piece folk-rock outfit, however, she’d established herself as a singer-songwriter in her own right. A mellower and more personal offering than a Merry Hell release No Place Like Tomorrow is a charming album that showcases Virginia Kettle’s obvious talents as a singer-songwriter.

Full review here

No. 9: Judy Fairbairns – Edge of the Wild

Edge of the Wild is a collection of original songs from Hebridean-based author and artist Judy Fairbairns. Drawing inspiration from several decades spent living on the Isle of Mull and celebrating the wild beauty of its dramatic Atlantic shoreline, Edge of the Wild can be seen as something of a companion piece to Fairbairns’ acclaimed 2013 memoir ‘Island Wife’. An immensely satisfying listen and a fine musical debut.

Full review here

No. 10: Adam Amos & Noel Rocks – Back Up To Zero

Both Amos and Rocks are each accomplished song-writers and their reflective, thoughtful but easy-on-the-ear lyrics align nicely with some gentle, catchy melodies. The Americana as well as the Celtic influences shine through and it makes for a very pleasing mix. An engaging and likeable album from this duo let’s hope there’s a good few more gigs and a few more albums in them yet.

Full review here

Soul/pop/rock: album review – John Wallace Wheatley ‘Spent the Morning Watching TV and Looking Through My Phone’

Having made a noteworthy impact on the UK Americana scene and garnering many favourable reviews as part of Suburban Dirt, their frontman John Wallace Wheatley is open about seeking out a complete change in musical direction for his first solo album: Spent the Morning Watching TV and Looking Through My Phone. “I got bored of mandolins, banjos and hipsters wearing cowboy shirts and singing about mountains, trees and birds,” he confessed to one interviewer recently.

The acoustic guitars and cowboy shirts are out and, picking up his electric guitar, Wheatley delivers an album of perfectly crafted, bitter-sweet, soulful pop-rock.

With ten self-composed songs, including one co-written with cousin Donald Wheatley, John Wallace Wheatley’s tender, soulful vocals and warmly evocative guitar and piano playing instantly transport you back to some of popular music’s most memorable eras. It’s immediately evident that Wheatley is well-suited to this change in musical direction and he’s come up with the songs to boot. Moreover, the team he’s assembled for this solo project, particularly Andy Fairlough’s work on the mellotron, provide for some lush, exquisite, multi-layered, musical textures.

As a lyricist Wheatley doesn’t do either lightweight or upbeat. Themes include death, self-doubt and existential crisis and two of the songs are inspired by a visit to a cemetery and the chance discovery of a gravestone bearing his own name. For soulful pop-rock with intelligent song-writing, sincere vocal delivery and gorgeous instrumentation, time spent immersing oneself in this album could prove immeasurably more satisfying than a morning spent watching TV and looking through your phone.

Released: 27th November 2020

https://www.facebook.com/johnbumbag/

News: Swedish singer-songwriter James Auger AKA a Choir of Ghosts releases new single and video

Following the release of his debut album (reviewed here) back in April, the alt-folk musician James Auger aka A Choir of Ghosts releases a new single. ‘Skin & Bones’ is released on November 20th with an accompanying video.

“The song is about the realization that you can’t always ‘fix it’ for the people you love. Sometimes they have to solve it themselves, and you can’t do anything but watch and hope for the best. In order for things to grow to its full potential, you sometimes have to let go,” says Auger.

“It’s a hard realization but I think a lot of people can identify with the feeling of sudden emptiness, when you come to something in your way that you cannot share, but rather have to go about alone. Your only hope lays in that once the obstacle has been passed, you can rendezvous on the other side.”

A spring 2020 European tour was cancelled due to Covid-19, but Choir of Ghosts has now sprung back into life with this gentle, longing beautiful song and atmospheric video filmed deep in the Scandinavian forests.

Released: Nov 20th 2020 by Greywood Records

http://www.achoirofghosts.com/

Related post:

Album review – A Choir of Ghosts ‘An Ounce of Gold’

Hard rock: album review – AC/DC ‘Power Up’

I can remember my disappointment four years ago when AC/DC announced that Brian Johnson was pulling out of their then current tour due to hearing problems but that they would likely conclude the tour with a “guest vocalist”. When Axl Rose came forward to fill in for Johnson I was hugely, hugely sceptical but was completely won over as soon as I saw him actually perform with the band. I even looked forward to the possibility of some sort of Axl-AC/DC collaboration album.

However, when rumours began that Johnson, along with recently-departed bass-player Cliff Williams and laid-off drummer Phil Rudd, were reconvening with Angus Young and the late Malcolm Young’s replacement, Stevie Young, such fanciful notions were immediately put to one side. Brian Johnson was back where he belonged and the classic AC/DC line-up, or as near as humanly possible to it, was being resurrected. This felt exactly right. It’s been six years since the last AC/DC album Rock or Bust and twelve years since Black Ice. What could be a more perfect way to end 2020 than with a new AC/DC album?

Of course, absolutely no-one was expecting any musical surprises with Power Up. And there aren’t any. Indeed, when the first single off the album ‘Shot In The Dark’ gave us a sneak preview of what was in store I would have sworn blind, had I not known it was new, that I already had it somewhere on one of the albums recorded since For Those About To Rock was released. That’s not a criticism at all. The fact that a brand new song like that instantly feels so comfortably familiar after all these years and after various traumas and tragedies is testimony to the band’s ability to deploy all their trademark musical tricks to still make a great new classic.

Across the album we have twelve tracks of classic AC/DC – hard riffing, catchy choruses, bouncy rhythms and a lead singer screaming his lungs out as he has for the last forty years. Welcome back Brian. Welcome back AC/DC.

Brilliantly, expertly, joyously predictable, Power Up is exactly what we needed in 2020.

Released: 13th November 2020

https://pwrup.acdc.com/

Related posts:

AC/DC at The Olympic Stadium, London 2016

AC/DC at Wembley Stadium, London 2015

Folk/acoustic: album review – Stephen Clark ‘The Lady Aurora’

Featuring original compositions, some new arrangements of traditional tunes and a couple of reworkings of well-known covers this mainly instrumental album on the theme of nature is the solo debut from London-based acoustic guitarist, Stephen Clark.

Encompassing acoustic blues riffs, Appalachian mountain tunes, some Celtic influences and a 14th century Arabic love song, not to mention a touch of J.J. Cale and the Penguin Café Orchestra, The Lady Aurora is an aural delight.

On the live circuit Clark is one half of acoustic duo One Man Down, along with musical partner Jeff Porter who also plays on three of the album’s tracks. Clark’s musical influences range from Django Reinhardt, to John Martyn, Nick Drake, and Johnny Cash and, indeed, such influences and numerous others shine through on this album to create something satisfyingly original.

The evocative ‘Rising Tide’, with a melody that manages to convey both beauty and menace, was written at the time of the great floods of 2014 while a couple of tunes ‘Shimmering Light’ and the title track itself were inspired by a sightseeing trip to the Northern Lights. ‘Muddlin’ Through Boogaloo’, meanwhile, is a traditional blues groove with a hint of Latin. The Appalachian tunes include a lovely version of ‘Shady Grove’ that many will be familiar with as the melody that Fairport Convention recycled for their version of ‘Matty Groves’ on their seminal Liege and Lief album.

Acoustic blues junkies, die-hard folkies and, even though there’s only a couple of actual songs, followers of the acoustic singer-songwriter genre will all find plenty to like in this album. Stephen Clark is a nimble and talented player with a wide musical hinterland and a gift for evocative composition and arrangements The Lady Aurora is well worth exploring.

Released: 6th November 2020

https://stephenpeterclark.wixsite.com/website