Tag Archives: album review

Rock: album review – Don Powell’s Occasional Flames ‘Just My Cup of Tea’

After decades of touring the circuit blasting out the old hits with erstwhile colleague, Dave Hill, in his reconstituted version of Slade, the last few years have been something of a creative renaissance for drummer, Don Powell. There was the enormously well-received album with Suzie Quatro and Sweet’s Andy Scott, there’s been work with his new Don Powell Band and he is also about to release his second album as part of Don Powell’s Occasional Flames. Just My Cup Of Tea sees him, once again, with guitarist/vocalist, Les Glover, and lyricist/poet and ukulele supremo and Slade superfan, Paul Cookson.

Paul Cookson is a brilliantly witty lyricist and poet, indeed publishing an anthology of Slade related poetry ‘Touched By The Band Of Nod’ back in 2007. I have a signed copy! Of course, there are numerous nods to Slade on the album and ‘Coz We Luv You’ is an affectionate tribute to our four heroes from Wolverhampton with a trademark Slade stomp.

The cultural references across the album’s fourteen songs go far beyond Slade and 70s glam, however. ‘I Won’t Be Playing Wonderwall’ is a witty Oasis pastiche, for example, but much of the album gives off something of an early 80s post-punk vibe – choppy, slightly aggressive yet highly tuneful playing, teamed up with sharp, observational semi- spoken-word lyrics. Not the album lacks more sensitive moments, too, like the poignant ‘We Are The Hearts’ or the affectionate ‘Bernie and Elton’ tribute to the bespectacled pianist and his long-time lyricist.

There quality of the musicianship on the album is great, too, both from the trio themselves and their musical guests. Cellist, Liz Hanks, who has played with the likes of Liam Gallagher, Richard Hawley, Paul Heaton and Thea Gilmore is one of the album’s guests for, example, while the group’s own guitarist, Les Glover, has a very impressive musical CV, running from Elvis sideman, James Burton to 10cc’s Graham Gouldman.

Glorious words, great playing and Don Powell out of Slade, too – what’s not to love about the Occasional Flames!

Just My Cup of Tea is released on 1st August 2021

http://www.occasional-flames.co.uk/

Related posts:

Interview with Don Powell

Veteran drummer Don Powell out of Slade

Slade legend Jim Lea releases video footage in bid to locate recently stolen guitar

EP review – Jim Lea ‘Lost In Space’

Interview with former Slade legend Jim Lea

Jim Lea at the Robin 2, Bilston 2017

Before glam: the debut 60s singles of Bowie, Bolan, Slade, Mud and Sweet

Slade, strikes and the three-day week: the story of the greatest Christmas record ever made

Slade at Donnington 1981

Slade at White Rock Theatre, Hastings 2015

Giants of Rock, Minehead 26-29 January 2018

Slade at Brighton 2019

Americana: album review – Beki Hemingway ‘Earth & Asphalt’

“We are two Americans living in Ireland doing original Americana which is folky and rocky at times.”

So stated the charming hand-written note that accompanied the CD and press release announcing Beki Hemingway’s latest album. Folky and rocky Americana does indeed sound just the sort of thing that Darren’s Music Blog should be investigating so I decided to find out more.

Working with her husband and musical partner, Randy Kerkman, since the mid-90s Hemingway has already released half a dozen albums, the last being Whins and Weather which came out in 2017. It was around that time, however, that the pair made some major changes to their lives. Leaving behind Denver, Colorado they emigrated to Ireland in late 2016, settling in Dundalk on Ireland’s east coast.

Channelling the spirit of the likes of Emmylou Harris, John Mellencamp and Hank Williams Earth & Asphalt serves up eleven tracks of gorgeous, sun-kissed, heart-felt Americana. And there is, indeed, some rocky bits. Kerkman is a greatly talented guitarist, whether turning in some achingly poignant guitar licks on the slower tracks like ‘Shape of My Face’ and ‘Hurricane’ or some Stonesy-type riffing on songs like ‘We’re Not Going Anywhere’, not to mention bags of gorgeous-sounding, upbeat Americana on the rest.

Expressive and emotive as a singer and a great story-telling lyricist and melodious song-writer, Hemingway’s vocals are the perfect fit for her husband’s playing. Bass, drums and keyboards from a succession of supporting players round out the sound nicely and it’s extremely well-produced with some rich-sounding harmony vocals.

What you won’t really find is much in the way of Celtic influences, however much they are soaking up the scenery and culture of their new lifestyle.

“It turns out that being here has only made us sound more American,” says Hemingway. I can’t disagree with that! Simply gorgeous.

Released this year Earth & Asphalt is available from: http://blog.bekihemingway.com/

Folk: album review – Màiri MacMillan ‘Gu Deas’

On her long-awaited debut album entitled Gu Deas (meaning south or southern), Màiri MacMillan presents us with interpretations of eleven traditional Gaelic songs. For MacMillan, Gaelic folksong and the Gaelic language is not merely some recent exploration of Scotland’s rich musical heritage. She lives and breathes it and is very much the genuine article.

From Milton in South Uist, MacMillan was brought up surrounded by Gaelic language, culture, music and song and began singing at an early age. Gaelic is her first language and Gaelic songs, and traditions run deep in her family.

“The songs on this album have been learned from recordings of women, mostly from South Uist, who passed on songs for future generations,” she writes in the sleeve-notes.

MacMillan is blessed with one of these beautiful, clear, pure voices that is just so perfect for this material and her familiarity with and deep love for the songs shines through.

The songs have been given fresh-sounding but sympathetic contemporary arrangements by the musician Mhairi Hall, who arranged and produced the album, learning from past recordings of South Uist tradition bearers. Alongside Hall (harmonium, piano, flute, and whistle), the album features Megan Henderson (fiddle and voice), Ali Hutton (bodhrán, guitar, whistle, great highland bagpipes) and Rachel Newton (clàrsach, electric harp and voice).

The extensive sleeve-notes, in both Gaelic and English, provide full lyrics and additional background information for each of the songs. The themes range from mythical creatures to long lost love to banishment to battle laments. An especially poignant moment is at the end of the first song ‘Wily Margaret’ where a few verses from an original field recording of the song, now in the custody of National Trust for Scotland, are spliced into MacMillan’s own version.

A beautifully-made album that will find a suitable home with anyone who has a love for Gaelic songs and traditions.

https://mairimacmillan.com/

Folk/Americana: album review – Sons of the Never Wrong ‘Undertaker’s Songbook’

Formed in Chicago almost thirty years ago Sons of the Never Wrong are an alt-folk trio with a signature sound of soaring harmonies and lush acoustic arrangements built around  of thoughtful, witty song-writing.

Their ninth studio album, Undertaker’s Songbook is something of a celebratory release as  the band approach their 30th anniversary.

Founder members Bruce Roper (vocals, guitar) and Sue Demel (vocals, guitar, djembe, dulcimer) along with long-time member Deborah Lader (vocals, banjo, guitar, mandolin) who joined the trio in 1998, replacing original member Nancy Walker, are joined by a range of musical guests and spoken word collaborators for this special release. Guests include Marc Kelly Smith, Karen Savoca, Anne Harris and Pete Heitzman helping bring colourful texture to Sons of The Never Wrong’s trademark blend of folk, jazz, pop and rock influences.

Opening track, the gorgeous gospel-tinged, soul-flavoured ‘Muddy, Muddy River’ with guest, Bob Long, on organ and piano is clearly destined to be a centre-piece of future live performances and is a modern-day classic in the making – absolutely gorgeous.

Elsewhere on the album, the melancholic, ecologically-themed piano and vocals number ‘Shorebird’ is another stand-out track, along with the Indie-ish anthem ‘Om Not This Time’. Tracks like ‘Everyone’s In The House’, meanwhile, take us into more classic folk singer-songwriter territory, evoking the genre’s golden age.

Beautifully presented with hand-painted cover art from Lader, Undertaker’s Songbook is a fine album to mark the trio’s thirtieth anniversary.

Released: 1st June 2021

https://sonsoftheneverwrong.com/

Americana/folk/jazz: album review – John Hinshelwood ‘Called Back’

John Hinshelwood is a Scottish singer-songwriter from Lanakshire. As a teenager in the 1960s the likes of The Beatles and Bob Dylan made a big impact and he was also profoundly influenced by those US West Coast bands, like The Byrds. Indeed, as well as sharing a stage with Roger McGuinn, Hinshelwood has actually recorded with late-period former Byrd, Gene Parsons, as well as putting together a tribute to ex-Byrd and ex-Burrito, the late Gram Parsons.

That was certainly going to be recommendation enough for me and I was anxious to check out Hinshelwood’s latest album. With a long career he’s got a number of albums to his back catalogue, both individually and as collaborations, mostly in the folk/country/Americana vein where he’s built his reputation.

This latest album Called Back, is something of a departure. Lyrically, the album adapts the writings of nineteenth century American poet, Emily Dickinson and transforms them into fourteen songs.  Poetry adaptations into songs is not particularly unusual in the folk/singer-songwriter genre – and I’ve reviewed plenty such examples here. Where Hinshelwood attempts something really ambitious and fairly unique, however, is in deploying a range of very different musical styles across different genres with the aim of creating music that matches the sentiment of each particular poem. We therefore get a lovely range of styles from bluegrass and Americana through to jazz and traditional folk.

The album definitely benefits from repeated listens as there is always something more that reveals itself to the listeners each time. He’s put together a fantastically diverse bunch of musicians to see him through this project, too, from members of his own regular touring band, to veteran LA session percussionist, Steve Foreman, to BBC Young Musician of The Year, David Bowden, plus many more.

An ambitious project, brilliantly executed and well worth a listen. Fans of country-tinged, folky Americana will love this album but there’s much, much more besides.

Released: 10th May 2021

http://www.johnhinshelwood.com/

Folk/country singer-songwriter: album review – Tom Clelland ‘Handpicked & Collected’

Tom Clelland is a Scottish folk singer-songwriter. He’s released several albums to date and Handpicked & Collected is something of a career retrospective. A double CD compilation comprising 23 tracks it brings together favourites from his previous albums along with live recordings.

His approach takes something from the Scottish folk tradition, something from American country and with Clelland’s compelling story-telling at the heart.

The first disc (the “Handpicked” part) features eight songs penned by Clelland based on historical events and myths. Themes range from war – including ‘Carion Craw’ commemorating the Battle of Harlaw in 1411 and ‘The Wind She Changed’ written at the time of the second Gulf War – to the supernatural such as ‘The Ghost With The Squeaky Wheel’ and ‘The Devil and the Hangman’.

With the second disc (the “Collected” part) we get a whopping fifteen songs and the themes are more eclectic here. There’s a much more personal feel to some of the song-writing here. Opening track ‘Slow Down’ is a delicious slice of infectious olde-time country while another country-flavoured track ‘Country Music Once Again’ takes a wry look at Clelland’s musical influences over the decades. There’s more of Clelland’s historical-based storytelling as well as the one track that’s not wholly original is ‘How Far To Babylon’, with lyrics adapted from a poem by Robert Louis Stevenson.

While Clelland’s vocals and guitar are at the core of all twenty-three tracks various musical guests provide additional accompaniment at various points, bringing added authenticity to the diverse range of musical influences explored on the album whether that’s Scottish folk or American country – from Mairearad Green on pipes to Willie Gamble on pedal steel.

Handpicked & Collected is a delightful retrospective from a talented singer-songwriter with a foot in both the folk and country camps.

Released: 10th May 2021

http://www.tomclelland.co.uk/

Singer-songwriter: album review – Ronan Gallagher ‘Time Waits For No One’

Ronan Gallagher has the sort of rich, seasoned, easy-going vocal delivery that makes it sound like’s he’s been performing around the pubs and bars of Ireland for decades. Married to some irresistibly catchy melodies, some thoughtful every-man style lyrics and a great cast of supporting musicians who deliver a fine blend of Celtic-infused Americana, it’s a sure-fire winner. Incredibly, however, Gallagher did not begin singing or learning to play the guitar until just over five years ago.

Clearly a natural, Time Waits For No One is Gallagher’s second album, a follow-up his debut Always Broke Never Broken released back in 2019.

Describing his songs “as gritty, passionate, raucous, lyrical, and at times political” they mostly tell stories of everyday life.

There are ten such gems on this album. They range from the title track, a jaunty number about living life to the full whatever your age, to the imposing ‘The World Is Burning’ a soul-infused, bluesy flavoured epic on the theme of environmental destruction. ‘Miss You’ meanwhile is a slow, sentimental country track with bags of character and bags of steel guitar. There’s no shortage of humour either with a US televangelist-style hellfire preacher making an appearance on one track.

There’s nothing about this album I don’t like. I just absolutely love it – incredible work and deserving of a much wider audience. Check it out!

Released: 16th Mat 2021

https://ronangallaghermusic.com/

Folk: album review – Gnoss ‘The Light of the Moon’

Following a hugely well-received debut album in 2019, Scottish folk four-piece Gnoss are back with a follow-up. The Light Of The Moon reveals Gnoss to be in fine form once again and they will not be short of plaudits for this release. Featuring seven instrumentals and four songs, whether it’s the infectiously upbeat pieces or the more poignant ones The Light Of The Moon simply oozes with life and joy.

Built around the same quartet of Aidan Moodie (vocals, acoustic guitar), Graham Rorie (fiddle, mandolin, electric tenor guitar), Connor Sinclair (flute, whistles) and Craig Baxter (Bodhran, percussion) as on the previous Drawn From Deep Water album, this one also boasts Braebach’s James Lindsey on double bass.

Moodie: “The creative process spanned the strangest period in our lives. Most of the writing was done in isolation, with us finally coming together to arrange and carve the album’s sound in the autumn. We set out to create  a record that was distinctly Gnoss not only by writing all-original material but looking more closely at blending the sonic textures of our instruments.”

“The album was recorded at the end of a year that should have been filled with career highlights and instead became quite the opposite – and I think all the emotion connected with that was channelled into the creative process of the release and we pushed ourselves into new spaces musically.”

Vibrant, inventive and joyful The Light Of The Moon promises to be one of the real stand-out contemporary folk albums of the year. A most excellent and not-at-all-difficult second album.

Released: 7th May 2021 by Blackfly Records

https://gnossmusic.com/

Folk: album review – Christina Alden & Alex Patterson ‘Hunter’

Folk singer-songwriters and multi-instrumentalists, Christina Alden and Alex Patterson are a duo from Norwich who have been performing together about seven years now. Hunter is their debut album as a duo.

Once they got over the initial shock of an enforced hiatus from live performance, like many other artists the duo have been able to use their enforced downtime creatively, and this album Hunter is the result.

“Before the pandemic hit we had a full year of concerts booked throughout the UK and Europe. And like many other artists we saw those all fall away in a matter of weeks. This came as a big shock and was initially very hard to come to turns with; losing our work and our sense of identity. We wanted to channel our energy into something positive and so decided to record our debut duo album. We used our new found time and space to be creative; to write compose and develop music.”

“This album was made during the lockdowns of 2020/21 at home in The Folk Cellar on King Street, Norwich. Our house is in the middle of the city centre but the normally busy streets were quiet and so we were able to record everything at home. We have really enjoyed creating this album together; working on composition, returning to old instruments that had not been played for a while and revisiting fragments of song ideas written in old notebooks.”

Hunter is an impressive debut. With nine original songs and one arrangement of a traditional song (‘My Flower, My Companion and Me’) the duo demonstrate an instinctive ear for melody that’s both memorable and heart-warming, providing the perfect setting for Alden’s beautifully clear yet equally heart-warming vocals.

When I first began to play the opening song and title track ‘Hunter’ I did initially have a nagging feeling that it would be from that canon of traditional songs that are oh so beautifully written and sung but dwell on man’s strange obsession for chasing small furry animals for fun – but no! ‘Hunter’ is actually a lovely story of two normally solitary animals – the grey wolf and the brown bear – forming a magical and unlikely friendship. Many of the songs on this album celebrate the couple’s love of the natural world and their concern for its future – using that age old-gift of folk story-telling to convey a narrative that’s both charming and thought-provoking in equal measure.

Joining Alden (guitar, vocals, banjo) and Patterson (fiddle, vocals, viola, cello, tenor guitar and shruti box) is Calum McKennie on double bass. Patterson himself produces and Alden provides all the artwork.

Beautifully packaged with a hand-printed sleeve and illustrated booklet where the duo share information about the background and inspiration for the songs, Hunter really is a delightful album and well worth a punt.

Released: 7th May 2021

https://christinaaldenandalexpatterson.com/

Folk: album review – Honey and The Bear ‘Journey Through The Roke’

Honey and The Bear are folk duo and singer-songwriters Lucy and Jon Hart. The Suffolk-based couple originally met at a song-writing event, began writing and performing together and spent several years touring the folk circuit before releasing their debut album Made in Aker, back in 2019.

Journey Though the Roke is the follow-up, ‘Roke being an old East Anglian word for the evening mist that rises from the region’s marshes and water meadows. As with so many other musicians these past twelve months, many of the songs on the album were conceived during lockdown. We are presented with eleven original songs as well as the duo’s adaptation of a traditional Irish ballad.

Of the former, the beauty of their Suffolk coastal landscape and richness of its history is at the core of many of the songs, from the jaunty ‘Freddie Cooper’ celebrating the heroics of the Aldeburgh lifeboat crew to the utterly haunting ‘The Hungry Sea’ that tells the story of Violet Jessop who incredibly survived the Olympic, Titanic and Britannic maritime disasters, before eventually dying in Great Ashfield, aged 83.

Of the latter, the one non-original song on the album is a tender version of ‘My Lagan Love’. It’s a song that has been performed by numerous artists from The Chieftains to Kate Bush but fans of Sandy Denny and Fairport Convention will also immediately recognise the tune given it was repurposed for Denny’s cover of Richard Farina’s ‘The Quiet Joys of Brotherhood. ‘My Lagan Love’ makes for a lovely addition to the album, laying down some deep folk roots amongst the new compositions.

The duo meld together a range of folk, Americana and pop influences to produce a sound that’s both original and creative and very easy on the ear. Lucy Hart has a clear, distinctive voice that’s perfectly suited to such a fusion of musical influences and husband Jon’s harmony vocals are also equally suited. Unusually for a duo, both play guitar, bazouki and double-bass and there’s quite a bit of toing and froing between the two of them across the dozen tracks as they swap instruments and show us what talented multi-instrumentalists each of them are.

As well as the duo themselves, Evan Carson, Archie Churchill-Moss, Graham Coe and Toby Shaer from Sam Kelly and The Lost Boys provide additional musical backing that’s every bit as captivating as their playing with The Lost Boys.

A beautiful and highly listenable album and a wonderful celebration of the East Anglian landscape and history from an extremely talented duo, Journey Through The Roke is highly recommended.

Released 23rd April 2021

Visit Honey and The Bear website here