Book review: ‘On Track: Hawkwind – every album, every song’ by Duncan Harris

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here

‘Hawkwind – every album, every song’ is another volume in Sonicbond’s ‘On Track’ series, this time taking on the Herculean task of documenting the prolific adventures of Dave Brock’s gang of space rockers in the recording studio over the past five decades.

Author, Duncan Harris, takes us on an album-by-album, track-by-track tour of every Hawkwind studio album, from the folk, busky and “startlingly melodic but totally unrepresentative ‘Hurry On Sundown’ (the opening track on the band’s eponymous 1970 debut) through to ‘The Fantasy of Faldum’ (the “sprawling, acoustic rock-based finale” of their most recent 2019 album ‘All Aboard The Skylark’).

Harris is never short of an opinion on any of Hawkwind’s vast output and his pithy one-paragraph assessments take us through the highs (‘Master Of The Universe’ from 1971′s ‘In Search Of Space’ is “the jewel” “the definitive Hawkwind song”) and the lows (‘Turner Point’ from 1982′s ‘Choose Your Masques’ is “by universal common consent… the worst piece of so-called music ever officially released under the name Hawkwind”).

The publication, of course, includes Harris’s take on the actual hit single ‘Silver Machine’ (“once the swirling fluttering synthesisers are removed, turns out to be somewhat bland rock and roll more suited to the 1950s than the 1970s”) as well as ‘Quark, Strangeness and Charm’ “the hit single that never was but should have been” (“a bouncy new wave tune that suggests Squeeze were avid listeners”).

Besides all the officially-released studio albums, Harris also includes a handful of essential live albums and a couple of albums from Hawkwind spin-off projects, giving us a grand total of thirty-two albums being pored over.

The book is also a hive of information about the band’s ever-fluctuating personnel and shifting musical direction.

Rather than simply giving us a standard intro piece to each album, as other authors in the series have done, Harris also groups the albums into eras representing different phases in the band’s evolutionary history. This allows for some additional context-setting over a defined period rather than each album simply being looked at as a momentary snapshot in time.

Accordingly, we get the Dawn of The Hawks era covering the early days, The Day of The Hawks era covering the Lemmy period as well as later phases such as the band went through new wave of heavy metal influenced and techno-dance influenced stages, for example.

A fascinating well-researched book written by someone who, although you definitely won’t agree with him on everything, clearly has an unquenchable passion for the band and a detailed knowledge of its history. While Harris’s book has not filled me with a desire to seek out every Hawkwind album ever recorded I certainly came away with renewed respect and genuine affection for this most remarkable of bands.

Published: Sonicbond Publishing 26th March 2020

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Gothic rock – album review – The Birthday Massacre ‘Diamonds’

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here

Diamonds is the eighth studio album from Canadian gothic rock outfit The Birthday Massacre. That genre embraces a whole range of musical styles, of course, and the influences here lean heavily towards the electro-pop end of the goth spectrum. Indeed, listening to the album immediately transported me back to some of the alternative club nights I went to as a sixth former in the 80s when I was occasionally allowed to hang out with the much cooler kids.

Their first since 2017′s Under Your Spell, Diamonds offers up nine brand new songs from the Toronto-based six-piece. Personally, I’d have preferred them to have upped the rock quotient with a bit more guitar and a bit less synth.

The former is not entirely absent though and there’s some nice moodily atmospheric riffs from guitarist Rainbow and some appealing solos from lead guitarist Falcore but they do tend to get drowned out in the mix somewhat.

Of what there can be no complaints about at all, however, is lead singer Chibi’s vocals as she delivers that trademark sweetness with a slightly dark undercurrent that works so perfectly for this genre.

Engaging vocals, catchy melodies, evocative atmospherics and enigmatic lyrics Diamonds is a strong product from The Birthday Massacre. Whether you completely fall in love with it or merely appreciate the depths of creativity and emotion that have gone into producing it will really depend, as a rock fan, on just how much you love electro-pop.

Released by Metropolis Records 27th March 2020

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http://www.thebirthdaymassacre.com/home.html

 

Singer-songwriter: album review – Thomas Charlie Pederson ‘Daylight Saving Hours’

Daylight Saving Hours is the second solo album from Thomas Charlie Pederson, lead singer and guitarist with Danish alt-rockers Vinyl Floor. Unlike the guitar-driven indie rock of Vinyl Floor, however, Pederson’s solo offering takes a mellow acoustic minimalistic approach, continuing in the vein of his first solo album Second Hand War released in 2016.

Recorded at the apartment of his brother (and Vinyl Floor’s drummer) Daniel, who also produced and mixed the album, Pederson states, “The project started out as demo recordings but I’ve decided to release these songs because I want to present them as raw as possible and because I want to preserve the feel of how they were written.”

The 14 songs on the album are centred mainly around Pederson’s vocals and either his piano playing or his acoustic guitar. For all it’s stripped back intimacy, however, the album does not lack polish, with Pederson’s brother providing some lovely atmospheric flourishes with additional string and organ arrangements. The result is an instinctively sympathetic backdrop to Pederson’s contemplative lyrics and melancholic delivery.

“Unlike the first album – which was quite introvert and personal – the new album sees me writing mostly about other people with a strong emphasis on the lyrics and melody and a few lyrical wordplays thrown in for good measure,” Pederson adds. “ I write about the commitments of love, illusionists, other worldly interference, melancholia, women in trouble and the different aspects of getting older.

Given my own music tastes I very much empathise with those musicians who enjoy exploring both their rock side and their acoustic side. An album of intimate lyrics and appealing melodies Thomas Charlie Pederson more than proves his worth as a singer-songwriter with Daylight Saving Hours.

Released by Karmanian Records 7th February 2020

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https://www.facebook.com/thomascharliepedersenmusic/

News: 40th anniversary re-release for Hunter/Ronson/Van-Zandt-produced classic by the Iron City Houserockers

Forty years ago former Mott and Bowie alumni Ian Hunter and Mick Ronson teamed up with Steven Van Zandt (Bruce Springsteen and Southside Johnny), co-producers the Slimmer Twins (Steve Popovich Sr. and Marty Mooney) and the Iron City Houserockers to create the band’s legendary second album Have a Good Time (But Get Out Alive).

Hailed by Rolling Stone magazine at the time as “a new American classic” Cleveland International Records is now releasing the album as an expanded 40th anniversary deluxe reissue on 22nd May.

iron Get-Out-Alive-CD-Cover

Although their debut album Love’s So Tough essentially took the band’s live show and brought it to the studio, they were looking for something more far-reaching for the follow-up. Lead singer Joe Grushecky wrote the title track ‘Have a Good Time (But Get Out Alive)’ at the time Pittsburgh’s steel industry was “going down the chutes,” he says. 

“I started really zeroing in on the characters of Pittsburgh, the people who lived in my neighbourhoods, the guys who were coming out and seeing us play every night,” says Grushecky. “The whole identity of Pittsburgh was changing.”

During one particular show, as the audience was becoming a bit too enthusiastic, Grushecky told a fan, “Man, have a good time, but get out alive!” He suddenly realised he had a great song title, which ended up becoming the moniker for the album as a whole.

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Grushecky credits Van Zandt for making him a better writer by encouraging him to make every lyric of every song count and guiding him through that process. “Steve was great with arranging,” he says. “He gave invaluable input and ideas to the band.”

Ronson and Hunter may have looked the archetypal rock and roll stars of the day, but Grushecky recalls the reality being somewhat different. “They were salt of the earth guys and they were a team,” he says. “You could tell the strong affection they had for each other. It was an honour for me to work with both of them. I’ll say that to my dying days. It was just a tremendous experience for me.”

Ian Hunter looks back fondly on his time working with the band:

“Joe and the Houserockers were and are an actual rock and roll band. So many ‘rock and roll’ bands are not real – they just look and act like they are – and fool people most of the time. These guys are for real – and what a lovely man Joe is.”

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In the liner notes Grushecky offers his own reflection of the record that emerged:

“We had great songs and the band was smoking,” he writes. “We all knew something special was happening. The results were a mixture of Pittsburgh rock and roll, Jersey Shore savvy and soul, and English mystic and muscle. Add a dash of Cleveland moxie and an anything goes attitude and a legendary album was born.”

The core group was Grushecky on vocals and guitar, Gil Snyder on piano and vocals, Ned E. Rankin on drums, Art Nardini on bass, Marc Reisman on harmonica and background vocals, and new recruit Eddie Britt on guitar, who replaced founding member Gary Scalese following an injury.

Featuring many of the Houserockers’ signature tunes like ‘Pumping Iron, ‘Junior’s Bar’, and, of course, the title track, the album is released by legendary indie label Cleveland as a remastered two-CD set that includes a bonus disc with 16 previously unreleased tracks of demos and other rarities. The new vinyl edition will include a download card of those same 16 tracks to go with a vinyl replica of the original album.

Cleveland International Records was originally launched in 1977 by Steve Popovich and was relaunched in 2019 by Popovich’s son.

More information at www.clevelandinternational.com

Have a Good Time (But Get Out Alive) is released on 22nd May 2020

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Folk: album review – Adam Amos & Noel Rocks ‘Back Up To Zero’

Back Up To Zero is the third album from acoustic singer-songwriter duo Adam Amos & Noel Rocks. It comes after quite some gap since the first two though. Adam Amos and Noel Rocks recorded two albums together in the 1980s and toured around the UK and Europe. Their endeavours as a duo came to a premature end, however, when Amos relocated abroad. Two sell-out reunion shows at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2015 evidently encouraged them to rekindle their working partnership as a permanent set-up once more and they began working on Back Up To Zero in 2019, on Amos’s return to live in Scotland.

The album comprises eight original songs along with one traditional number and one cover. The duo (Amos guitar/vocals and Rocks guitar/banjo/vocals) say the songs are mainly drawn from their personal observations, with influences from Scotland, Ireland and North America.

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They are joined by a number of guest musicians: renowned Korean born Su-a Lee (Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Mr McFall’s Chamber, La Banda Europa) on cello, David Paton (Pilot, Elton John, Albert Hammond) on bass and Kenny Hutchison on accordion and piano, who was also the album’s producer.

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.

Released: 17th March 2020

https://www.amosandrocks.com/

amos rocks

Folk: album review – Kirsty Merryn ‘Our Bright Night’

After making quite an impact and scooping up tons of praise with her debut She & I, an album which paid tribute to inspirational women in history, Kirsty Merryn is back with a follow-up. In her own words Our Bright Night is about “tales of the supernatural, the dying of the light and the land.”

“It’s a reflection of the world we live in, both real and imagined, and the way in which ignorance to social issues can result in devastating results,” says Merryn.”After She & I I wanted yo strip everything back and make this album a more intimate affair.”

The result is a cool, classy album of contemporary folk with Merryn’s crystal clear vocals and gently captivating piano taking centre stage. There are guest appearances from Phil Beer who contributes violin on opening track ‘Twilight/Banks of Sweet Primroses’ and Sam Kelly whose vocals also grace a track ‘Shanklin Chine’.

The eleven tracks are mostly original material written in a folk vein but there are a couple of Merryn’s interpretations of traditional standards, too. Captivating vocals combined with intimate delivery and enigmatic songwriting makes Our Bright Night a worthy follow-up to Merryn’s well-received debut.

Released: 24th April 2020

https://www.kirstymerryn.com/

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Elvis songs before Elvis – the origins of six iconic Presley classics

From Hound Dog to Always On My Mind the original versions of six classic Elvis songs

Hound Dog

Written by songwriting team Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller when they were both still in their teens, ‘Hound Dog’ was created specifically for blues singer Big Mama Thornton. It was recorded in 1952 and released in 1953. Rather than being seen as just a rough early prototype of a tune Elvis would later make famous, Thornton’s version of Hound Dog is rightly regarded as iconic in its own right, helping lay the foundations of black R&B in rock music. The song has cemented Thornton’s place in rock ‘n’ roll history, even if she never made more than a few hundred dollars from it. Presley’s version was released three years later in 1956.

Are You Lonesome Tonight?

We go right back with this one. ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight?’ was written by Vaudeville songwriters Roy Turk and Lou Handman in 1926. Numerous versions were recorded in the late 1920s but the first was by Charles Hart, in 1927. In 1950, the Blue Barron Orchestra recorded a version and the song became a staple of crooners of the era. In his final months of national service with the US Army, Elvis began considering new material for his return to a recording career. Presley’s manager, Colonel Tom Parker, suggested ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight?’ – the song being a favourite of Parker’s wife. Presley’s version was released in November 1960.

Suspicious Minds

‘Suspicious Minds’ was first written and recorded in 1968 by Mark James. Here we hear it taking shape as a soulful pop ballad. While the arrangements on the James version are virtually identical to those on the Elvis version recorded a year later. the magic is somewhat lacking. After spending much of the 60s churning out B movies, ‘Suspicious Minds’ was one of the songs recorded by Elvis in the Memphis recording sessions following the success of his televised 68 Comeback Special. Recorded in January 1969 it was released in August 1969 and became Elvis’s first number one in several years.

The Wonder of You

Written by Thomas Baker Knight Jr. ‘The Wonder of You’ was first recorded by film actor/singer Vince Edwards in 1958 but never released. A year later a version was released by Ray Peterson who had a Top 30 hit with it in both the US and the UK. It would be 1970, however, before Presley took Peterson’s sugary, sentimental teen ballad and transformed it into the bold, dramatic and unforgettable version that we know today. Presley recorded a live version of the song in Las Vegas in February 1970 and it is this  live version of the song that was released as a single in April 1970.

An American Trilogy

‘An American Trilogy’ is actually thee songs. The “Oh I wish I was in the land of cotton” bit is from ‘Dixie’ which became an anthem of the confederacy in the Civil War. The “Glory, Glory Hallelujah” bit is from a song called ‘Battle Hymn for the Republic’ which was the marching anthem of the opposing federal anti-slavery Union Army. And the “Oh, hush little baby don’t you cry” bit is from ‘All My Trials’ said to have emerged out of African American spirituals. Country musician and composer Mickey Newbury had the idea of bringing the three together, representing three strands in America’s troubled history, for his 1971 album and a subsequent single. Presley introduced ‘An American Trilogy’ to his concert set-list in January 1972. A live recording was made the following month which was released as a single but although it became a staple of Presley’s live shows, paradoxically, the single didn’t do as well in the US charts as Newbury’s original.

Always On My Mind

A love song expressing deep regret to a departing lover ‘Always On My Mind’ was written by Wayne Carson, Johnny Christopher and Mark James. Mark James, of course, we already know as the writer and original singer of ‘Suspicious Minds’. ‘Always On My Mind’ was first recorded by BJ Thomas in 1970 but the first version to be released was by Gwen McCrae in 1972. Presley recorded his version shortly after separating from his wife, Priscilla, and it was released in November 1972. Here we can hear both the BJ Thomas version and the Gwen McCrae versions.

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Book review: ‘On Track: Fairport Convention – every album, every song’ by Kevan Furbank

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here

The ‘On Track’ series by publishers Sonic Bond provides an album by album, track by track overview of a number of artists. The latest in the series to get this treatment are British folk-rock legends Fairport Convention. Author, Kevan Furbank, takes us on a fascinating journey through each of the band’s thirty studio album’s, from 1968’s self-titled debut to this year’s Shuffle and Go.

Each entry begins with a factual summary of personnel, recording information and release dates, followed by a brief potted history the album’s genesis and the band’s fortunes at the time it was recorded. That is then followed by Furbank’s review of each track. Having read a fair few books on folk-rock, Fairport and some of their leading personnel, most of the history was familiar to me. However, Furbank really comes into his own with his pithy and usually very insightful track by track reviews. And what he’s superb at doing is capturing the familiar styles of different Fairport personnel as well as some of the band’s most used external songwriters. ‘Tale In Hard Time’ one of Richard Thompson’s early songs on 1969’s What We Did On Our Holiday, for example, is thus introduced as “another of Richard’s gloomy/jaunty songs, an upbeat rhythmic number with slit-your-wrists lyrics” beautifully summing up a whole canon of classic Thompson output.

Furbank is also meticulous at pointing out where the band have returned to a song, as they have done on frequent occasions, and making comparisons with the earlier versions – or highlighting where the band have returned to a similar lyrical theme or musical arrangement in a different song. So if, like me, you were thinking I’m sure they’ve recycled that Eddie Cochran riff for one of those fifties rock n roll – meets trad folk song mash-ups just once too often, this book will tell you exactly which song and which album they tried it on first and where (perhaps unwisely) they thought it was a good idea to try it again.

I read the book over a single weekend, often playing the relevant albums as I turned the pages. I thoroughly enjoyed the author’s critical insights even if I did not always agree them. For those familiar with Fairport Convention’s history this will be a fascinating sit-down read, as well as a really useful reference for the future. However, if you are a Fairport fan looking to learn more this shouldn’t be the first book you read on the band. Start with Clinton Heylin’s ‘What We Did Instead Of Holidays’ or Mark Eden’s ‘Electric Eden’ or the band’s own authorised biography first and you will enjoy what this book has to offer all the more.

Published 26 March 2020 by Sonic Bond

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Folk / singer-songwriter: album review – Kevin Hunt ‘Devil’s Daughter’

In spite of being something of a regular fixture on the UK folk circuit, over two decades of writing songs ever since his teenage years and a long-term collaboration with violinist Ian Pearson, Irish-born singer-songwriter Kevin Hunt has waited until now before releasing his debut album. Devil’s Daughter comprises ten tracks of self-composed. In addition to Hunt (vocals, acoustic guitar and harmonica) and Pearson (violin) it includes an impressive line-up of session musicians: double bassist John Parker (better known as one half of the acoustic duo Nizlopi), Dan Wilde on guitars, piano and organ, Jamie Welsted on drums and singer-songwriter Anna Hester providing backing vocals.

It’s apparent that the years Hunt has spent honing his craft as a songwriter have not been wasted and he delivers an impressive debut here.

“One of the first songs I wrote was about the troubles in Northern Ireland and I discovered I could more effectively express how I felt about complex subjects in song than I could any other way so I guess that’s when song-writing started for me, “ he notes.

​”I’ve realised that the meaning of songs is in who hears them and over time those songs change and what the listener takes from them will change too. As long as they are written from a genuine place – good, bad or ugly – then they will carry in some shape or form. What a song might be about is not really up to me to define even if I’ve written it. That’s for someone else to decide for themselves. That’s what makes music pretty special as an art form. Songs are just moments, that’s all. Not definitions or dogmas.”

A gift for lyrical storytelling combines with a warmly satisfying voice and some deft musical interplay between the assembled musicians to make this an album that you get more and more from with each repeated listen. No-one could ever accuse Hunt of rushing himself in bringing his songs to the recording studio but it has certainly been worth the wait. Devil’s Daughter is a very welcome debut. Like many musicians the world over any gigs that Hunt had lined up in support of this album will now be completely up in the air. However, whether you have seen him live previously or just looking for something new as you contemplate what is likely to be many weeks without any gigs to out to this album is well worth seeking out.

Released: 5th June 2020

kevin hunt

https://www.kevinhuntband.com/

Singer-songwriter: album review – A Choir of Ghosts ‘An Ounce of Gold’

A Choir of Ghosts is the alter-ego of Swedish singer-songwriter James Auger and An Ounce of Ghosts is his debut album. Written over a three -year period this highly personal album is influenced by both the thick forests of the Scandinavian landscape and the experiences and feelings he went through over that time.

Right from your first listen of the album a number of things become immediately apparent. First, Auger has a fantastic voice – with that slight Americana vibe that makes for perfect singer-songwriter territory. Secondly, he’s really got a good ear for catchy memorable melodies – even after an initial couple of plays this album feels like it’s been a much-loved part of your collection. And finally, this is a really well-constructed, beautifully-produced debut album – from the epic orchestral soundscapes that dominate tracks like the grandly-titled ‘Sinner In Rapture’ (also released as a single) to the warm, introspective feel of stripped-back acoustic numbers like ‘Driving Home’.

Beautiful melodies, thought-provoking lyrics and gorgeous production An Ounce of Gold is an extremely impressive debut album and one well worth seeking out.

Released: Greywood Records 3/4/20

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Available from: https://greywoodrecords.bigcartel.com/product/a-choir-of-ghosts-an-ounce-of-gold-cd

http://www.achoirofghosts.com/