Category Archives: album reviews

Americana: album review – Elles Bailey ‘Road I Call Home’

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here

After attracting a slew of favourable reviews with her debut album, 2017’s Wildfire, the Bristol-based singer-songwriter Elles Bailey is back with a follow-up. Like its predecessor, recorded primarily in Nashville Road I Call Home is a slice of soulful, classy, bluesy Americana. With her husky, emotive vocals and a definite ear for a good song it’s not difficult to see why Bailey has been picking up fans and rave reviews across a range of genres – from rock to folk to country to blues.

Backed by some top class musicians from the Nashville recording scene the album just oozes professionalism and quality. ‘Hell Or High Water’ is a suitably dramatic slice of country rock to open the album, while songs like ‘Little Piece Of Heaven’ and ‘Miss Me When I’m Gone’ perfectly capture the spirit of modern Americana. Some of the tracks, like ‘Deeper’ and ‘Foolish Hearts’ with their deliciously soulful organ and bags and bags of brass give an impression of being recorded not in Nashville but some 200 miles away and a several decades ago in Memphis’s Stax studio. But it’s that skilful yet instinctive blend of influences that has helped Bailey build a solid fan-base. ‘What’s The Matter With You’ meanwhile is a slow, smoky, heartfelt blues while the rock influences come more to the fore in the title track ‘Road I Call Home’ with its superb guitar solo.

Co-writing credits include renowned UK hit songwriter Roger Cook, these days firmly part of the Nashville music scene, along with Nashville’s own Bobby Wood who has written for Elvis Presley and Dusty Springfield among others. Bailey explains the process as follows: “Road I Call Home is a year’s snapshot of being on the road. Eight of the 11 songs were written in two months. I’m very honest to what I write, and right now that’s what I know. I live in that constant state of tiredness, but I love it. I feel so blessed to live this life.”

An incredible voice, some great songwriting and some seriously good musicianship, with Road I Call Home Elles Bailey and her friends in Nashville have given us an impressive album.

Released by Outlaw Music March 8th 2019

https://www.ellesbailey.com/

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Metal: album review – Spirits Of Fire ‘Spirits Of Fire’

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here

Spirits Of Fire is the new outfit fronted by ex-Judas Priest singer Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens.

A supergroup of sorts the project brings together Owens (ex-Judas Priest, Iced Earth), guitarist Chris Caffery (Savatage, Trans-Siberian Orchestra), bassist Steve DiGiorgio (Testament, Death) and drummer Mark Zonder (ex-Fates Warning, Warlord).

Hailed as “classic Priest meets Savatage” guitarist, Chris Caffery, says: “My influences for writing on this record were the bands that we were and are still in! I wanted to write songs that Priest, Savatage, Testament, and Fates Warning fans would like. But, I wanted them to have a personality of their own as well. To give it a vibe that was Spirits of Fire.”

And do they achieve that? There’s a satisfyingly Judas Priest-like vibe to the Spirits Of Fire album and it’s a great slice of classic heavy metal: well-written songs, powerful vocals, dynamic riffs and a thunderous rhythm section. Opening with a furious ‘Light Speed Marching’ it nicely sets the template for the album as a whole and showcases Owen’s considerable vocal range. Title track ‘Spirits Of Fire’, which ended up also providing a name for the band itself, is another furious assault with some nice soloing from Caffery.

Just like on a classic Priest album where you will typically find the odd slower number, here we get the excellent ‘A Game’ and the anthemic ‘Alone in the Darkness’ the latter of which closes the album, both tracks taking the tempo down while sacrificing none of the heaviness.

The whole Spirits Of Fire project has been masterminded by LA-based producer Roy Z who has worked with the likes Bruce Dickinson, Halford and Tribe Of Gypsies and does a sterling job on production duties here. Eleven tracks of classic, polished heavy metal – this debut from Spirits Of Fire is well worth checking out.

Released: 22.2.19 by Frontiers

https://www.facebook.com/SpiritsOfFireBand/

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Folk: album review – Gerry O’Connor ‘Last Night’s Joy’

This review was originally published by Bright Young Folk here

Acclaimed County Louth musician Gerry ’Fiddle’ O’Connor is a fourth-generation fiddle-player, has several decades of playing behind him and has worked with Irish folk outfits Lá Lugh and Skylark, releasing albums with both, besides a range of other collaborations. Last Night’s Joy is O’Connor’s second solo album, following up 2004’s Journeyman.

Across the album’s eleven instrumental tracks O’Connor displays his incredible versatility and virtuosity. The majority of the tunes forming each set are traditional, although there are a handful that have been composed in more modern times. Together, they each take us on a journey through a wonderfully spirited mix of styles, tempos, moods and emotions.

Meticulously sourced, the detailed sleeve-notes for Last Night’s Joy give a fascinating insight into the background to each of the tunes, The listener is therefore provided with little gems like the following, for the delicious tune-set The Old Dash Churn: “The collector Brendan Breathnach recorded County Louth fiddler Peter McArdle in Mark McLoughlin’s Bar in Dundalk in 1971. Apparently, due to time and resource constraints, he asked Peter to play only his more unusual tunes and these double jigs were learned from that recording.”

The haunting Bádaí na Scadáín with gentle piano accompaniment from O’Connor’s son Dónal, originates from the song of the same name telling the story of a father searching for his three fisherman sons lost at sea. Even without words none of the sadness is lost in this beautiful, mournful rendition which is one of the album’s real highlights.

Along with O’Connor’s son, the album also features luminaries of the Irish music scene including Séamie O’Dowd, Niall Hanna, Neil Martin and Seán Óg Graham among others. O’Connor’s namesake Gerry ’Banjo’ O’Connor also appears on one track, the punningly titled StereO Connor, for a set of gloriously energetic American polkas.

Anyone with a love for Irish traditional music and for vibrant, expressive fiddle-playing will, indeed, find this album a joy.

Released on Lughnasa Music on 1 October 2018

https://www.gerryoconnor.net/

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Blues rock: single review – Big River ‘Blackened Rain’

A consistent presence on the live music scene and and around the south-east these past couple of years, Kent-based blues rockers Big River release their latest single ‘Blackened Rain’. We keep being promised an album but, for now, we’ll have to be tantalised with another single. Following on from ‘Hometown Hustler’ and ‘Blues Blood Baby’ it contains that same blend of meaty guitar, soulful vocals and catchy hooks but this latest offering takes the band into heavier terrain and is an out and out blast of unadulterated hard rock. Think Bad Company with a good dollop of Led Zep blasting out from behind and you’re probably along the right lines.

Vocalist, Adam Bartholomew had decided to take some time out from the band and late 2018 saw the announcement of a new lead singer. However, Bartholomew is back once more, providing both vocals and lyrics here, and the new single has already been picking up considerable airplay.

It seems like these guys have had some ups and downs to contend with of late but ‘Blackened Rain’ is a great slice of hard rock and I look forward to that forthcoming album.

Big River are Adam Bartholomew (vocals), Damo Fawsett (guitar), Ant Wellman (bass) and Joe Martin (drums).

Released: 28th January as download on the Groovy Uncle label

https://www.facebook.com/bigriverblues/

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Related reviews:

Big River – Hometown Hustler

Big River – Blues Blood Baby

Hard rock: album review – John Diva & The Rockets of Love ‘Mama Said Rock Is Dead’

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here

Bouncy anthemic keyboards, smooth melodic riffs and catchy sing-along choruses John Diva & The Rockets of Love celebrate and take their cues from that mid-80s era of rock when the likes of Van Halen, Whitesnake (the rebooted American version) and Bon Jovi ruled.

Neither the band nor the album wear their influences lightly so when you listen to these guys there is absolutely nothing, and I mean nothing, to suggest the past thirty-five years have actually happened. The sound, the songs, the riffs, the lyrics, even the names of the band members (I give you guitarists Snake Rocket and J.J. Love) all suggest we are somewhere midway through 1984. This is good in many ways. After all, it was a much-celebrated period for hard rock where a number of bands became absolutely huge. However, some acknowledgement that life had moved on just a bit would not have have gone amiss either. In this post-Jimmy Savile, post-#MeToo era does the world really need a new song called ‘Lolita’ (the band’s single from the album)?

What they do, they do well though and there’s lots to like in tracks like ‘Whiplash’, ‘Wild Life’ and ‘Rocket of Love’ (even if the lyrics of the latter deploy every rock ‘n’ roll cliché known to man). We should also mention the obligatory power ballad ‘Just A Night Away’ – it is the 80s after all!

Frontman, John Diva, describes the album as follows: “It’s a trip for those who have lived and loved Rock ‘N’ Roll, for all those who still do so and for all the millions of people who up to now didn’t even know what they’ve been missing. We’re having a party as big as the eighties and you’re invited to let your imagination take flight by my wild and wonderful life.”

Personally, I think if I was going to travel back in time and permanently inhabit a past era of music, I’d be opting for the mid-60s British R&B scene or the late 70s NWOBHM scene – but if you love that mid-80s American rock scene you will no doubt absolutely love this album.

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Released: SPV/Steamhammer 8th February 2019

https://johndiva.com/

Folk: album review – John Smith ‘Hummingbird’

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

Two years after recording the album Headlong in Sam Lakeman’s Somerset studio, John Smith returned to lay down another new album. Unlike the former, however, which was built around Smith’s song-writing, Hummingbird is very much about celebrating traditional songs and paying tribute to the artists like John Renbourn, John Martyn and Bert Jansch who inspired Smith in the first place. Six of the album’s ten tracks are traditional songs with one cover version and three original numbers.

Less is more was the motto that Smith and Lakeman adopted while making the album. “A folk song’s clarity of purpose is exactly the reason why it has been played in pubs, living rooms and concert halls for hundreds of years,” says Smith. Indeed, this approach has absolutely paid off. Shorn of the typical embellishments we might have come to expect on a modern-day folk album there is beauty and simplicity in the the delivery that gives the lyrics in songs like Hares On The Mountain and Lord Franklin a real resonance.

The lone cover is Anna Briggs’ The Time Has Come which Smith first heard, like many readers will have done, on a Bert Jansch and John Renbourn album. Smith’s three original songs, like the beautiful title track, stand sympathetically alongside the much older material.

A gifted guitarist, a unique vocalist and an impassioned interpreter of traditional material, if John Smith has made this album for his musical heroes then he’s done them proud.

Released: October 2018

https://www.johnsmithjohnsmith.com/

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Folk/indie: album review – Trevor Moss & Hannah Lou ‘Fair Lady London’

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

An integral part of London’s emerging indie folk scene for a number of years, Trevor Moss and Hannah-Lou left the capital for Hastings and are now firmly ensconced in the Sussex seaside town’s thriving local music scene. Three years on from their last album, Fair Lady London is the product of their changed setting and changed priorities.

There is still plenty to showcase the duo’s talent as songwriters here, however. The poignantly bitter-sweet We Should’ve Gone Dancing is immediately and utterly unforgettable while the guitar line on Everything You Need is as beautifully infectious as something that Bert Jansch might have come up with.

For their previous album the duo worked with renowned producer Ethan Johns but now they are back with the trusty 4-track recorder they used on their 2012 album, this time setting up in a castle in the East Sussex countryside. “I’ve never really liked studios,” confesses Moss. “The first one we ever stepped foot in was Olympic as teenagers, the same room as Hendrix, Zeppelin, Stones. I didn’t like it. It felt like a spaceship.”

The lo-fi approach works extremely well and gives the album exactly the kind of understated intimacy the duo’s songs warrant.

Now five albums into their career as a duo Fair Lady London sees Trevor Moss and Hannah-Lou continuing to make music that in its own delicate, gentle and thoughtful way continues to demand your attention.

Released: November 2018

http://www.trevormossandhannahlou.com/

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Folk: album review – The Trials of Cato ‘Hide and Hair’

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

Energetic, innovative and dynamic the press blurb hailing Trials Of Cato as a band that “arrived fully formed” is not just PR hype in this instance. Hide & Hair is a bona fide sweep-you-off-your-feet debut. The three young men from Yorkshire and North Wales met in Beirut while teaching, quickly enthused audiences in Lebanon and arrived back in the UK two years ago. With Hide & Hair they deliver us a lovely blend of mandolin, banjo, bouzouki and guitar, their stunning instrumentation and rich harmonising vocals breathing new life into traditional songs and tunes.

Older songs like My Love’s In Germany, the seventeenth century window’s lament for a fallen soldier, and Tom Paine’s Bones, Graham Moore’s rousing anthem for rights and liberty, rub shoulders with new songs like the equally rousing These Are The Things. Of the instrumental pieces Difyrrwch is the band’s arrangement of three traditional Welsh and English melodies while Kadisha is their own composition inspired and named after a valley in northern Lebanon.

The trio are Robin Jones (mandolin/tenor banjo/vocals), William Addison (Irish bouzouki/vocals) and Tomos Williams (guitar/vocals) with Addison and Jones alternating lead vocal duties across the album.

Few debuts have as much vitality and impact as this one and they have already been receiving plaudits from the likes of the BBC’s Mark Radcliffe who has lauded them as “one of the real discoveries on the folk circuit in recent times”. We shall certainly be hearing a lot more of The Trials Of Cato.

Released: November 2018

https://thetrialsofcato.com/

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Five classic albums whose musical legacy outlived all the people playing on them

With so many rock n roll icons leaving us in recent years I find myself playing a hell of a lot of albums that feature musicians who are no longer with us these days. Many historic albums from the 60s and 70s  now only have one or two of the personnel who played on them still alive. On Small Faces albums like Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake only drummer Kenney Jones remains with us, of the classic Electric Warrior-era T. Rex line-up we have only drummer Bill Legend still around and the same can be said for Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars – with only drummer Woody Woodmansey still around to celebrate the band’s legacy.

But here are five classic albums where none of the musicians playing on them are still with us.

1. Elvis Presley – Elvis Presley: Elvis’s 1956 debut album featured his regular backing band of Scotty Moore, DJ Fontana and Bill Black. Bassist, Black, died in 1965, the king himself passed away in 1977, of course, and Moore died in 2016. The final member of Presley’s original backing trio, DJ Fontana, sadly died this year. The album (with its iconic cover later inspiring the artwork for the Clash’s London Calling two decades later) contains classics like Blue Suede Shoes and Money Honey recorded for Elvis’s new label, RCA, as well as some previously released songs from his original label, Sun Records.

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2. Chuck Berry – After School Session: Although Chuck Berry stuck around until 2017 most of the musicians on his 1957 debut album (which features many classics like Brown Eyed Handsome Man, Too Much Monkey Business and School Days) passed away some decades earlier. Many would argue Johnnie Johnson’s piano was as much an integral part of that early rock n roll sound as Berry’s guitar. However, by the 1980s Johnson was working as a bus driver until support from the likes of Keith Richards put him back in the public eye. Johnson was finally inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame a few years before his death in 2005.

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3. Jimi Hendrix Experience – Are You Experienced: Hendrix’s 1967 debut was praised by Melody Maker for its artistic integrity and by the NME’s Keith Altham for being brave, original and exciting. However, just three years later Hendrix would be dead, followed by bass player Noel Redding in 2003 and drummer Mitch Mitchell in 2008. They leave behind an album that has been held up as one of the greatest and most influential debuts of all time.

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4. Ramones – Ramones: Critically acclaimed upon its release in 1976 and containing evergreen classics like Blitzkrieg Bop, the album “posed a direct threat to any vaguely sensitive woofer and/or tweeter lodged in your hi-fi” claimed the NME’s Nick Kent. The Ramones would be around for another two decades but at the turn of the millennium Joey (d. 2001), Dee Dee (d. 2002) and Johnny Ramone (d. 2004) would all go in rapid succession of one another, followed by original drummer Tommy Ramone in 2014.

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5. Motörhead – No Sleep ’til Hammersmith: A tearful rock world said goodbye to the seemingly indestructible Lemmy in 2015, only one month after the death of Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor. Just over two years later the last member of Motorhead’s most famous and most memorable lineup, Fast Eddie Clarke, was gone, too. The trio recorded six albums together including this iconic live album. When Lemmy formed the band back in 1975 with a promise that “it will be so loud that if we move in next door to you, your lawn will die” he probably wasn’t expecting to be regularly appearing on Top Of The Pops and releasing a live album that went to number one but that is exactly what happened.

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Folk-rock: album review – Merry Hell ‘Anthems To The Wind’

Merry Hell and their rousing brand of folk rock have been around since 2010 now, rising from the ashes of 90s folk punk band The Tansads. Rather than another album of electrified folk the Wigan-based band take a more pastoral approach this time, with the all-acoustic Anthems To The Wind offering reworkings of established favourites alongside some newer songs.

“… although the band has grown in many ways, we have wanted to continue performing in the more intimate venues where the full electric 8-piece would neither fit nor be suitable. The atmospheric hush of the folk clubs inspired a stripping back of many of our arrangements to get to the very heart of our music’s message,” the sleeve-notes tell us.

Much of the album is recorded live: at Bunbury Village Hall in Cheshire and the Lion Salt Works in Northwich, alongside the Music Projects in Wigan.

It opens with a reworking of Drunken Serenade from the band’s first album. Indeed, a memorable line from these lyrics gives this new album its title. It’s clear that songs like this and The War Between Ourselves lose none of their power through the acoustic treatment and, if anything, become yet more anthemic.

The album also proves an excellent showcase for some of the more poignantly reflective songwriting of the band’s Virginia Kettle, and her lovely vocals, on tracks like No Place Like Tomorrow.

Anthems To The Wind shows Merry Hell continuing to innovate and inspire. A fine album that lives up to its name.

Released: 26th November 2018

http://www.merryhell.co.uk/

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Related reviews:

Merry Hell – Bury Me Naked EP

Merry Hell – Come On England EP