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/

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Hard rock: album review – Animal Drive ‘Bite!’

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here

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. He’s joined by talented guitarist Keller, bass-player Rokindjaand Adrian Boric on drums.

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.

In terms of both song-writing and delivery, epic power-ballad ‘Father’ very much put me in mind of David Coverdale. Indeed, the band cite Whitesnake, along with Skid Row and Dream Theater as key influences. Of the faster-paced material ‘Had Enough’ (also released as a single) is one of the stand-out tracks, a furious assault that comes with a catchy hook, great guitar soloing and some soulful mature vocals – all the ingredients you would want from a great hard hard song.

The band was originally formed in 2012 which in many respects shows the advantages of not rushing straight into recording an album. Dino Jelusic has clearly had the opportunity to hone his writing skills and, importantly, the band have managed to get themselves snapped up by a big label. The album is released by Frontiers, whose roster is full of well-known acts like Toto, Yes, Journey, Thunder, Survivor, Whitesnake and Boston. 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.

Released: 23rd February 2018 by Frontiers Music

http://animal-drive.com/

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The first seven rock records I ever owned

With music-loving parents rock music had always been in the background growing up. By my early teens I’d begun taping a few things off my dad when I first got a portable tape recorder. But these are the first albums that I actually owned.

ONE – AC/DC – Highway To Hell

My dad had been an early adopter as far as AC/DC were concerned, buying High Voltage not long after it was released in the UK and playing it pretty much constantly as I recall. Highway to Hell came out in 1979 and not only did my dad have a copy but my older stepsister had one, too. By 1981, though, she was getting far more into punk and so gifted me her copy. My first rock album – and what an absolute classic to start off with.

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TWO – Status Quo – Never Too Late

Not the greatest Quo album but a good solid album and a great cover of ‘Somethin’ Bout You Baby I Like’ which had made the top ten. I was already a confirmed Quo fan when the album was released in March 1981, just in time for my fifteenth birthday in May – thanks Mum!

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THREE – Slade – We’ll Bring The House Down

Another fifteenth birthday present (thanks Dad!). I’d been aware of Slade in the early 70s, of course, but by the time I was a teenager they’d virtually disappeared off the radar completely. But I remember watching Top Of The Tops when Slade burst on the screen with their brilliantly raucous comeback single ‘We’ll Bring The House Down’. I asked for the album for my birthday and a life-long devotion to all things Slade followed. Not Slade’s most famous album by a long stretch, but in terms of making an impact on a youthful Darren perhaps the most significant album I ever owned.

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FOUR: Deep Purple – In Rock

A friend at school sold me this second-hand. He decided he was a punk not a metalhead and this was therefore surplus to requirements so I bought it off him for 50p. A true classic album, I loved (and still do) the combination of Jon Lord’s eerily atmospheric Hammond, Ritchie Blackmore’s manic guitar wizardry and Ian Gillan’s deranged screaming. Deep Purple had been defunct for several years by this time but this was an indication that I would be dipping back into the back catalogues of the previous decade for many of my subsequent musical purchases over the coming years.

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FIVE: Whitesnake – Ready an’ Willing

Bought from a record shop in Southport while I was in a youth theatre project this album immediately impressed – with one unforgettable tune after another. Just a few weeks later Whitesnake, along with AC/DC and Slade, would be one of the first bands I ever saw – live at the Donington Monsters of Rock festival.

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SIX – Status Quo – Whatever You Want

I remember getting this from the local newsagents where they had a small rack of cut-price LPs amongst all the magazines and sweets. I bought it mainly for the title track and ‘Living On An Island’ but this became an album I played loads.

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SEVEN – Rainbow – Down To Earth

Another bargain, this is one I got cheap from a mail-order company. I had already taped my dad’s copies of ‘Rising’ and ‘Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow’ by this time and was a fan of Ronnie James Dio’s vocals but I also really warmed to the more commercial rock of the Graham Bonnet-fronted Rainbow, too. Still a really great album and still one of my favourites.

I took this (along with my recently-purchased Ready an Willing and Whatever You Want) to a party in the summer of 81 and they all got a bit scratched and battered, sadly. It was an early lesson in why you should not take records to parties – but, with any luck, hopefully someone would be inventing the CD for me in a couple of year’s time….

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So that was my first bunch of albums. Many, many hundreds more would follow over the years. But, looking back, I feel fairly nostalgic thinking about how it all started for me and, if I may so myself, not a bad choice of albums at all….

Live review: Four Sticks – Classic Rock All Dayer at the New Cross Inn, London 25/3/18

More evidence of the avalanche of impressive talents that constitute what has been loosely labelled the New Wave of Classic Rock came in the shape of the Four Sticks event at south London’s New Cross Inn last Sunday. From 2pm through until 11pm ten bands took to the stage and cranked up the volume.

I arrived just in time to catch New Device begin their set. Polished melodic hard rock and catchy well-written songs, New Device proved to be a great start to the day for me (even though I missed the first couple of bands…) 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.

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

From there it’s on to Hammerjack who offered a brand of sleazy, raunchy rock ‘n’ roll that put me in mind of AC/DC, Aerosmith and Guns N Roses. The Guildford-based band have been around five years now. Definitely worth keeping an eye on.

http://www.hammerjackuk.com/

Next up were Black Whiskey who appeared on the introducing stage at Giants of Rock and will be returning to Butlins Minehead in 2019 on the main stage. A band who drip with classic rock influences, from Free to Led Zeppelin to Thin Lizzy, they effortlessly give the impression that they’ve been playing this way for for decades yet still manage to deliver something that is both original and compelling. I’d seen this band once before at the aforementioned Giants of Rock and picked up their album – but seeing them a second time they grew on me even more. Their debut album Heavy Train is well worth listening to and they’ve another album out later this year.

https://www.facebook.com/BlackWhiskeyUK/

After that it was time for the unbelievably talented Ethyrfield. Absolutely everyone who saw them at Minehead’s Giants of Rock this year was raving about them. Not me I’m afraid – a man’s got to eat at some point and 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.

https://www.ethyrfield.com/

Then it was time for StoneWire. Classic heavy, bluesy rock fronted by a female vocalist with a great voice, this London-based five-piece continued to keep the New Cross crowd entertained.

http://www.stonewire.net/

One of the great things about the slew of bands who are finding themselves thrown together under the New Wave of Classic Rock label is the huge variety in sound and styles. So from the precocious virtuoso talents of Ethyrfield and the experienced bluesy southern-flavoured rock of StoneWire we go straight to 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 The Black Bullets were one of my favourite bands of the day.

https://www.facebook.com/TheBlackBulletsUK

Then it’s time for for penultimate headliners Beth Blade and The Beautiful Disasters. Big loud riffs, quality hard rock, great catchy songs and another female singer with a great voice, Beth and her band-mates certainly kept the quality levels high. I picked up a copy of their 2016 album Bad Habit which deservedly picked up a pile of rave reviews.

https://bethbladeandthebeautifuldisasters.com/

And so on to the headliners Burnt Out Wreck, the band fronted by former Heavy Pettin’ drummer, Gary Moat. When I saw these a few weeks ago supporting Anvil I actually thought they were much better than the headliners. But now they are headlining, over eight hours of bands and much alcohol, appears to have taken its toll on the New Cross audience and there don’t seem to be many of us who’ve stayed the course. This does not dampen Moat and co though who deliver an awesome set of rock ‘n’ roll swagger that has ‘headliner’ written all over it, regardless of how many they are playing to.

https://www.burntoutwreck.com/

So a fantastic day, some fantastic bands and, for me, my first all-day drinking session in the New Cross Inn since I was a student at Goldsmiths College across the road in the mid 90s. I’ll be back there for a full weekend in the Autumn – if not before.

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Live review: Lindisfarne at St Mary in the Castle, Hastings 24/3/18

This review was also published by the Hastings Online Times here 

After well-received performances from both Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span at Hastings’ St Mary in the Castle this past year, it perhaps came as no surprise that it was time for that other giant of the late 60s/early 70s folk-rock: Lindisfarne.

The band had been on hiatus for around a decade but the Lindisfarne name was resurrected in 2013 when founder member, Ray Jackson, began touring with a number of other former members from various eras of the band. They were soon to find that there was clearly a huge amount of affection out there for the Tyneside folk-rockers but after a couple of years Jackson stepped back and retired. That was not the end of the reunion, however, as in stepped another founder member with Rod Clements from the band’s classic line-up taking Jackson’s place.

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Audiences are no longer treated to Jackson’s brilliantly distinctive and instantly recognisable mandolin-playing (the man who came up with the mandolin intro on Rod Stewart’s ‘Maggie May let’s not forget) but Clements is a gifted musician (switching between electric fiddle, mandolin and slide guitar) and an engaging presence on stage. He’s joined by Dave Hull-Denholm, son-in-law of original front-man the late Alan Hull, on vocals/guitar; Charlie Harcourt, who originally played with the band in the mid 70s, on guitar; Steve Daggett, who toured with the band in the 80s, on keyboards; Ian Thompson who, like Hull-Denholm, has been around since the 90s, on bass; and, finally, former Roxy Music drummer, Paul Thompson, on drums.

Denholm-Hull’s voice is surprisingly reminiscent of Alan Hull’s distinctive vocals and he does the band’s legacy, and his late father-in-law proud. There are plenty of Lindisfarne classics to keep the Hastings crowd entertained, too: ‘Lady Eleanor’, Road To Kingdom Come’, ‘Wake Up Little Sister’, ‘We Can Swing Together’, ‘Meet Me on the Corner’ and, of course, ‘Fog On The Tyne’, Newcastle’s finest produced so many unforgettable songs back in the day and the band tonight cram so many of them into two hours.

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With bands like the aforementioned Steeleye Span and Fairport Convention going from strength to strength in recent years it’s nice also to also see Lindisfarne firmly back in business – and playing and sounding great. Maybe it’s time for an album, too, guys?

 

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Photo credits: Richard Broady

http://www.lindisfarne.com

Related review:
Lindisfarne at Great British Folk Festival

Live review: The Young ‘uns – The Ballad of Johnny Longstaff at St Mary in the Castle, Hastings 22/3/18

Teesside-based folk trio The Young ‘uns have been singing about injustices, historical and modern, for some years now, releasing four well-received albums and touring folk venues and festivals up and down the country. Their songs, written by the trio’s Sean Cooney, have covered everything from fighting poverty in the 1930s to fighting homophobia in the 2010s.

The Young ‘uns latest tour, however, The Ballad Of Johnny Longstaff is devoted to a single theme. Johnny Longstaff was born in Stockton-on-Tees just after the First World War. Poverty and unemployment drove him to London as a teenager, via the Hunger March of 1934. Whilst in London Longstaff became more and more politicised, volunteering for the Spanish Civil War in 1936 as a young man of just seventeen. Longstaff recalled his experiences in a series of recordings in the 1980s. Using excerpts from these tapes and photo montages from the period interspersed with their songs, The Young Uns bring his story to life once more.

With sixteen songs composed by Cooney the trio sing their way through Longstaff’s remarkable life. Songs like ‘Any Bread’ and ‘Carrying The Coffin’ recall the poverty and destitution of life in the north-east in the Great Depression while ‘Cable Street’ retells the tale of the famous battle with Moseley’s fascists on the streets of London. As the show unfolds songs like ‘The Great Tomorrow’, ‘Trench Tales’ and ‘David Guest’ recall the experiences of fighting Franco’s fascists, from the bitter conditions and lack of food to the heroics of fallen comrades that Longstaff fought alongside. The show ends with a rendition of ‘The Valley Of Jarama’, a song song sung by Spanish Civil War veterans and written by Alex McDade, himself one of the volunteers of the British Battalion fighting the fascists. Although the forces against fascism were defeated in Spain, Longstaff, who died in 2000, was adamant that the Spanish Civil War was a vital prerequisite for the successful defeat of fascism in the guise of Hitler’s Nazism just a few years later.

I’ve seen the Young ‘uns on multiple occasions now and their live performances, in addition to their brand of movingly defiant songs, usually involve much hilarious ad-libbed banter, both between themselves and with the audience. With The Ballad Of Johnny Longstaff, however, the guys prove that their gift for storytelling and their natural affinity with the underdog also means they can pull of a project as ambitious as this and move an audience to tears in the process.

http://www.theyounguns.co.uk/

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Related reviews:
The Young ‘uns at Cecil Sharp House
The Young ‘uns at Great British Folk Festival

Live review: Gaz Coombes at ULU, London 28/2/18

Doing a handful of UK warm-up dates prior to the release of the album ‘World’s Strongest Man’ and a full UK tour in May, I catch up with Gaz Coombes and his band at the old University of London ULU building, now rebranded Student Central.

Stepping out on to a stage so packed out with twinkling retro sound equipment, kitsch standard lamps and vintage keyboards that the uninitiated may have mistaken it for a particularly camp car-boot sale, Coombes is clearly delighted that the crowd have braved the snow and ice to turn out for him.

My fascination with Gaz Coombes began when Supergrass first burst on to the scene in the mid 90s as that cheeky, wacky, slightly zany antidote to Blur and Oasis’s ongoing battle for the crown of Britpop. And since the band’s split in 2010 my fascination has continued as I’ve followed Coombes through his solo career – where he’s just about to release his third album ‘World’s Strongest Man’.

We began to get hints of a more mature, more introspective side to Coombes’ writing with the release of Supergrass’s third album, via tracks like ‘Moving’, and this is very much the path that his solo career has continued along. Coombes has eschewed any temptation to become a one-man Supergrass tribute and, save for the odd rendition from his former band like the aforementioned ‘Moving’, he’s tended to stick resolutely to solo material for his live shows. And, clearly, he’s now getting to the place where he’s got a really strong and growing body of work to draw from. Coombes’ first solo album ‘Here Comes The Bombs’ showed some real promise but was a somewhat austere electronica-influenced affair that took many by surprise. The second, the Mercury prize-nominated ‘Matador’ with its fuller production, beautiful melodies and sensitive song-writing understandably drew considerable praise from many quarters. With Coombes’ third album, however, it may well be that he’s on to something even more special.

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Photo credit: Steve Smith

Tonight’s set-list includes songs from all three albums but, unusually for a live gig promoting any new or soon-to-be-released album, the new songs were amongst the strongest and the most memorable and dare we say it the biggest crowd-pleasers. In terms of highlights tracks from the new album like current single ‘Deep Pockets’ sit really well alongside earlier material from the such as ‘Buffalo’, ‘Hot Fruit’, ‘20/20’ and ‘Matador’. And there’s no risk of austerity in terms of sound on this tour either: we have lush sonic textures on the keys, a captivating rhythm section and a divine-sounding trio of female backing singers supporting Gaz’s unmistakable voice and nifty guitar-playing.

Just as, nearly a quarter of a century ago, Supergrass grabbed my attention because I thought that they were doing something more interesting than either Blur or Oasis at the time, so it seems when it comes to the matter of solo careers, too. I am tempted to conclude that Coombes is doing something more interesting than either Damon Albarn or Noel Gallagher these days and I do think we are going to be in for a real treat when ‘Worlds’ Strongest Man’ is released.

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Photo credit: Tom Rose

http://www.gazcoombes.com/

Related reviews:
Gaz Coombes at the Roundhouse 2016
Gaz Coombes – Matador
Vangoffey at the Social 2016

Hard rock: album review – Voodoo Circle ‘Raised On Rock’

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here

Inspired by the likes of Rainbow and Deep Purple, Germany’s Voodoo Circle have been delivering melodic hard rock for a decade now. Recently, Voodoo Circle underwent a metamorphosis that both of those aforementioned bands have had considerable experience of, namely a change in vocalist.

Herbie Langhans replaces David Readman as lead singer for this latest album – Raised On Rock. “I feel that the band sounds even more autonomous, a little less bluesy and much meatier with Herbie at the mic,” Alex Beyrodt, the band’s guitarist, founder and lead composer, enthuses. “This allowed me to work on ideas which would probably not really have suited his predecessor David Readman but are absolutely perfect for Herbie’s powerful voice.”

Virtuoso guitar combined with accessible melodies and unforgettable hooks is, as Ritchie Blackmore discovered long ago, an irresistible combination and there’s some good song-writing and quality musicianship on this album. ‘Running Away From Love’ deploys all of those tricks and opens the album in style. ‘Where Is The World We Love’ and ‘Chase Me Away’ show a slower, more reflective side of the band but, again, strong melodies, memorable choruses and passionate, soulful guitar solos leave their mark on the listener. The Blackmore-esque epic ‘Dreamchaser’ dates back to the earliest days of the band. Originally written for Voodoo Circle’s debut album Beyrodt wasn’t quite happy with the result but, finally, it takes its place on this album. “The arrangement of the number was changed and overhauled repeatedly over the years, now it’s matured to the point where it was ready for recording,” says Beyrodt.

Langhans has a voice perfectly suited for this type of material and long-term fans of the band should have no worries at all about accepting him into the fold. Meanwhile, for those who may be less familiar with Voodoo Circle but have an abiding love of beautifully-played melodic hard rock this is an album well worth checking out.

Released: 9th February 2018

http://www.voodoocircle.de/

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Americana: album review – Orphan Colours ‘All On Red’

Back in the summer of 2010 I was one of many thousands at Fairport Convention’s Cropredy festival being wowed by the impressive talents and uplifting melodies of the then newly-formed alt-country outfit, ahab. Sadly, the pressures of holding it all together proved too much and the band split. Two of their number, Steve Llewellyn and Dave Burn, were not done yet, however. Together with ex Noah & The Whale guitarist Fred Abbott, Danny & The Champions of The World drummer Steve Brookes and bass player Graham Knight, they formed a new band Orphan Colours.

As Llewellyn explains, “At the end of 2013 both ahab and Noah & The Whale had been chewed up and spat out by the music business. We found ourselves out of a job despite both band’s upward trajectories. The toll of touring and hard graft was too much. Speaking for myself, I had a lot more to give and I wasn’t anywhere near done yet. I had a backlog of songs that weren’t fit for ahab and I wanted to get them out into the world. So despite having failed with ahab and the financial pressures I was under, I put every penny I had into this project.”

After a really promising EP ‘High Hopes’ in 2016 the band set to work on the live circuit but have now finally released their debut album. Compared to the up-tempo numbers of love and heartbreak from the ahab days, All On Red mines more of a classic, laid-back, country-rock vibe but the talent for strong melody, heart-warming vocals and infectious choruses is as evident as ever. The deliciously-sounding ‘Start Of Something’ which opens the albums gives you everything you would want from a great country rock song and from then on the album doesn’t falter.

“I had written my fair share of sensitive songs for ahab – about love and loss and all that, and there’s a few on here but I really wanted to bring a bit of rock n roll into the UK Americana scene and I feel like we’ve achieved a good balance on this record,” contends Llewellyn.

It was particularly nice to catch the band performing a few songs from the album as part of an in-store appearance at Bexhill’s Music’s Not Dead record store last Saturday (well three-fifths of them anyway – drummer, Steve Brookes, eschewing the chance to set up his kit on the tiny shop window stage and guitarist, Dave Burn, managing to damage his ankle falling of stage the night before). Gamely, the depleted gang honour the gig anyway and deliver an impressive, heartfelt performance. While only a small number of those crammed into the shop owned up to witnessing either Orphan Colours or ahab live before, it was encouraging to see that they had clearly won over a number of new fans.

All On Red is a very impressive debut album. Let’s hope the music world conspires to keep Orphan Colours around for a few years longer than it did their predecessors.

Released: 26th January 2018

https://www.orphancolours.com/

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Related reviews:
ahab at Cropredy 2015
Orphan Colours in London 2016
Dave Burn – solo album review

Folk-rock: EP review – Merry Hell ‘Bury Me Naked’

If I was to try and sum up the band Merry Hell I’d ask people to imagine if Fairport Convention had come from Wigan. That is not in any way intended as an insult. Being from Lancashire and being a long-time fan of Fairport Convention it is definitely 100% meant as a compliment.

Merry Hell’s lyrical themes tend to be somewhat edgier, politically, compared to Fairport but not in an over-earnest ranty way. Bitter-sweet reflectiveness and wry good humour tend to be the band’s hallmarks. And so it is with ‘Bury Me Naked’ – the band’s new single. Written and sung by the band’s female lead, Virginia Kettle, it’s a great mid-tempo sing-along with an ecological theme and a friendly rebuke about filling our lives with too much junk and clutter. Originally appearing on the band’s second album this track is a re-recording featuring some fiddle wizardry from incoming band member, Neil McCartney.

The second track ‘Sailing Too Close To The Wind’ is a slower-paced ballad that’s lifted from Merry Hell’s most recent album Bloodlines. Going back to my initial analogy, this track would not have been at all out of place alongside some of the memorable songs that the likes of Ralph McTell gifted to Fairport Convention after they got back in business as a touring and recording unit. Two additional songs ‘Drunken Serenade feat. The Banshee Reel’ and ‘No Place Like Tomorrow’ also showcase the band’s song-writing and musical abilities.

Musically, lyrically and, indeed, politically there is a much-needed place for a band Merry Hell in today’s Britain and it’s good to see them going from strength to strength.

Released: February 26th 2018

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

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Related reviews:

Merry Hell ‘Come On England’