Tag Archives: album review

Folk: album review – The Story Song Scientists ‘Quantum Lyrics’

Ever since the folk revival began packing hordes of rather studious-looking, tweed-clad young men and women into the back rooms of pubs in the late 1950s, the folk genre has never exactly been ashamed of the more geeky side of its persona. And while the whole concept of a folk singer-songwriter duo turning out songs about mathematics and science is utterly bonkers – it works. But as Kate Bush proved when she released a song called Pi (π) in celebration of the mathematical formula that was drummed into us all at school, if you are a good songwriter and a talented musician you can pretty much write a song about anything.

That is certainly the case with Megan Henwood and Finlay Napier. The Story Song Scientists don’t just regurgitate mathematical formulas at us, however, but rather take us on quite a wonderful journey with their obvious aptitude for great storytelling. From climate catastrophe to medical breakthroughs to the latest in artificial intelligence to a celebration of the life of clouds, via a detour around the necessary ingredients in the Anarchist Cookbook, Quantum Lyrics offers up beautifully-crafted, innovative and thought-provoking songs with lush musical accompaniment and beautifully distinctive vocals – interspersed with some suitably quirky special effects.

The EP follows on from the duo’s well-received 2018 self-titled debut and sees the pair donning their white lab coats once again. With a cover that pays homage to an old BBC2 Open University broadcast Quantum Lyrics certainly succeeds in its efforts to inform, educate and entertain.

Released: 29th October 2021

https://www.storysongscientists.com/

Folk: album review – Seth Lakeman ‘Make Your Mark’

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here

Seth Lakeman’s eleventh album, and his follow-up to 2020’s Mayflower-themed A Pilgrim’s Tale, was conceived during lockdown when, like countless other singer-songwriters the world over, he used the down-time from live performance to ponder the meaning of life, the universe and everything and come up with some new songs.

“The pandemic gave me a real determination to come out musically stronger and I really dug deep into myself for this album,” says Lakeman. “Being able to record and play with the band again was really quite spiritual.”

The result is Make Your Mark. Unlike its highly conceptual predecessor it tackles a range of themes, inspired by Lakeman’s own thoughts and feelings about the state of the world, love, life and death as well as the stories and landscapes of his West Country surroundings. Lakeman has spoken of this latest release as being a kind of sister album to his 2006 release Freedom Fields. The latter celebrates its fifteenth anniversary this year and the set-list for Lakeman’s current tour has focused on both songs from Freedom Fields and from this new album.

Musically, Make Your Mark is exactly what you would expect and hope for from a new Seth Lakeman album: fourteen thought-provoking yet accessible songs, all delivered in Lakeman’s unique trademark style.

Long-time musical collaborator, Ben Nicholls, joins him once more on this album with some deliciously dark, brooding superbly intense double bass playing, as does former Bellowhead and current Steeleye Span instrumentalist, Benji Kirkpatrick, who, once again, adds his distinctive banjo, bouzouki and mandolin playing.

The album is not a leap into the dark musically but from his early days as ‘the poster boy of English folk’ through to now, Seth Lakeman’s albums have demonstrated a quality and consistency in delivering fine folk songs, superb musicianship and those instantly-recognisable vocals. Fans will not be disappointed.

Released: 19th November 2021 by BMG

Seth Lakeman website

Previous reviews:

Album review – Seth Lakeman ‘A Pilgrim’s Tale’

Seth Lakeman at De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill 2019

Seth Lakeman at Folk by the Oak 2014

Folk: album review – Various artists ‘Sense of the Place’

Featuring ten esteemed Scottish folk artists, the Sense of the Place album was commissioned by Stonehaven Folk Club with support from Aberdeenshire Council as part of the club’s Folk-In-Crisis-Fund to provide financial relief to performing artists whose livelihoods were seriously impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

An impressive endeavour in itself but this Sense of the Place no random ‘best-of’ style sampler but rather a collection of specially-commissioned and newly-recorded songs drawn from a reference archive of historical and geographical material relating to the coast lands between Findon and St. Cyrus in the north-east of Scotland.

To bring the project to fruition ten songwriters, were invited to use the archive to create ten new songs inspired by the area’s history, culture and geography. It’s a spectacularly ambitious projects with stunning results.

Some internationally acclaimed, others well known locally, there’s a top-notch array of folk singer-songwriters including Iona Fyfe, Kris Drever, Jenny Sturgeon, Findlay Napier and Paul McKenna. Musical accompaniment is provided by Aaron Jones, Mhairi Hall, Emma Smith, Jen Austin and Mike Vass.

Themes for the songs include the tale of Lady Finella – who was assassinated by a Scottish king; a celebration of Aberdeenshire’s Todhead Lighthouse – and those who worked to keep it alight; and the story of the Cutty Sark – told from the point of view of the ship!

It’s a really lovely album raising much-needed funds for an important initiative. Last year, the folk world came together under the #folkforchristmas hashtag to encourage folk fans to support folk artists by buying an album. I’m not sure if there is going to be a similar initiative this Christmas but one way or the other if you’re a folk fan I recommend you put this on your Christmas list.

Released: 27th August 2021

https://www.stonehavenfolkclub.co.uk/

Folk: album review – Various artists ‘Between Islands’

Folk: album review – Jenny Sturgeon ‘The Living Mountain’

Folk: album review -Paul McKenna Band ‘Paths That Wind’

Prog/acoustic: album review – Across The Sea ‘The Wayfarer Triptych’

One of my album delights this year has been the The Wayfarer Triptych from Worthing-based prog acoustic duo Across The Sea. That is not just because I had the pleasure of working on PR for Hannah Katy Lewis and Pete Ferguson who make up Across The Sea but because it really is a genuinely stunning album.

Their nine-track, three-part concept album narrates the story of a girl who discovers a beguiling triptych painting and embarks on a fantastical journey in search of hope, purpose, and a forgotten truth. It’s an ambitious concept by any standards but even more so when you consider that the entire album is built around the extraordinary vocals of classically-trained Hannah Katy Lewis and the equally extraordinary acoustic guitar-playing of Pete Ferguson. Between them they conjure up the sort of magic that other prog outfits with banks of keyboards and a studio full of multi-instrumentalists would be hard-placed to emulate. The sound is deep and lush and all-encompassing with as many twists and turns as the story-telling in the lyrics.

This stunning album with breath-taking vocals, astonishing guitar work and beautiful atmospherics will have great appeal to anyone with an interest in the folk/acoustic and prog worlds. My tip: turn it up loud, forget everything and totally immerse yourself in the magic and intensity that is Across The Sea.

Released: 1st October 2021

https://www.acrosstheseauk.com/

Related posts:

Progressive duo Across The Sea unveil much-anticipated second album

Folk/Jazz: album review – Scott Murray ‘There Was A Love’

Scott Murray has been a notable figure on the Scottish music scene for decades. Initially starting out playing jazz and R&B in the 1960s, he did not turn his attention to folk until the 1980s.

“In the 80s I heard Jim Reid and Rod Paterson on the radio one afternoon and my life changed. ‘Shy Geordie’ sung by Jim Reid, and ‘My Nanie O’ sung by Rod Paterson. I met Anne Combe and Fiona Forbes, and we formed Sangsters. We made a couple of Greentrax CDs, sang all over Scotland at clubs and festivals, got to go to Germany and Canada.”

Murray started tutoring with the Scots Music Group in the late 90s, and in 2010 started working with an Edinburgh-based project called Inspire which was set up to offer people affected by issues such as homelessness, mental health problems, poverty and addiction the chance to participate in music.

It was one of the highlights of my working life,” says Murray, “and led me to make a recording of my own songs, Evenin’s Fa, in 2012.”

Now, almost a decade on Scott has released a follow-up. Recorded a few days after Murray’s 75th birthday, There Was A Love takes a less folky approach than its predecessor and, with its strong jazz leanings, casts a nod back to Scott’s earlier musical life.

“I had a notion to record songs and tunes composed since then, some since lockdown, and decided to acknowledge both the days before I became a folky and our step mother, who was a fine pianist. Someone asked if I’d given up folk for jazz, and I replied that I identify as bi-musical.”

A fine collection of songs, instrumental pieces and poems set to music, eight are newly composed by Murray while the remaining two see him set the work of two of Scotland’s early twentieth century female poets to music: namely Marion Angus and Helen Cruikshank.

While the sensitive and highly evocative piano-playing of Dave Milligan is the dominant instrument throughout and while an instrumental piece (dedicated to Murray’s stepmother) opens the album, there’s also a heavy slice of brass adding texture and a warm jazz groove to several tracks and a mournful, melancholy brass band feel on another: ‘George Sanders & Gypsy Caravans’.

The album features: Scott Murray – voice; Dave Milligan – piano; Corrina Hewat – harp & voice; Tom Lyne – bass; Stuart Brown – drums; Mikey Owers – brass; Phil Bancroft – saxophones; and Martin Green – accordion.

A gentle, contemplative and in many ways, highly introspective album (save for the audaciously irresistible swagger of the New Orleans-style ‘Glenwhappen Rig’) Murray has given us a peek into his inner world that’s proved to be both thought-provoking and musically satisfying.

Released: 13th August 2021

Visit his website here

Singer-songwriter: album review – Owen Moore ‘Fireside Songs’

Owen Moore is an Irish-born singer songwriter based in Dorset. Over the past ten years or so he’s put out a staggering ten solo albums of original songs, not to mention a handful live albums too. In fact, my delay in reviewing Fireside Songs since he kindly sent it to me back in the summer has meant he’s had time to put another album since – albeit a compilation of highlights from his previous ten albums.

While Owen tells me he’s had a lifetime of playing countless small gigs behind him, he’s keen to stress that his driving passion in recent years has been his song-writing.

There’s certainly plenty of evidence of quality writing on Fireside Songs. Owen Moore’s lyrics are highly personal, his warm and gentle vocals are consistently engaging and he has a real ear for a catchy melody that will leave you humming along, long after the album has finished.

His style falls into that well-trodden path between folk and Americana, and his songs are captivating and original enough to have plenty of appeal for fans of both. From the Byrds-like ‘Every Once In a While’ to the irresistibly catchy ‘It’s All About You’ to the more traditional big country ballad feel of ‘Diamond Ring’ the album is packed full of songs you want to play again and again. The album ends with ‘The Town of Tralee’, originally released as a single at the back end of 2020,which  is the Limerick-born singer’s affectionate paean to the Kerry town of Tralee where he spent  time as a young man.

An engaging singer-songwriter and a fine guitarist if you enjoy the folky-ish and the country-ish it’s well worth checking out Owen Moore’s Fireside Songs as well as other albums in his prolific back catalogue.

Released: June 2022

http://www.owenmooremusic.com/

Metal: album review – KK’s Priest ‘Sermons of the Sinner’

My review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here

Fans of the perennial metal gods Judas Priest have been lucky on the albums front in recent years. First we had two killer albums from Priest itself. Both 2014’s Redeemer of Souls (recorded after the departure of founding guitarist K.K. Downing with new boy Richie Faulkner) and its follow-up, 2018’s Firepower, stand up against some of the best of the band’s albums from its classic era. And now we have the debut album from Downing’s own iteration of Priest.

After performing a one-off gig in November 2019 it was announced that three former member of Judas Priest, guitarist K.K. Downing, vocalist Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens and drummer Les Binks, would be working together more permanently under the moniker K.K.’s Priest. Unfortunately, Binks suffered a wrist injury that put him out of action and his place in the studio and planned tour is taken by Sean Elg (Death Riders/Cage). Joining Downing, Owens and Elg are Tony Newton (Voodoo Six) on bass and A.J. Mills (Hostile) on guitar. It is still hoped Binks will make special guest appearances when the band tours.

Having been immediately impressed with the mighty ‘Hellfire Thunderbolt’ when it was first released as a single back in May, I’ve been eagerly anticipating the release of Sermons of the Sinner ever since. I have certainly not been disappointed. Sermons of the Sinner is just utterly, devastatingly, jaw-droppingly brilliant. This is not just some disgruntled ex-member throwing together a pastiche of his former band to hit the classic rock nostalgia circuit. This is a serious metal band with a ton of exciting and inspired new material. Every riff, every yell, every beat, every second of the album encapsulates the spirit of Priest and is executed with power, panache and pure class.

To really pass the Priest test though my question would always be this: are there ready-made metal classics here that I can happily go away and hum along to myself in the shower after only one or two listens? The answer to that is a firm yes. From the uncompromising title track to the aforementioned lead single to the anthemic ‘Raise You Fists’ to the dramatic gothic-inspired splendour of ‘Metal Through and Through’ there’s slice after slice of Priest-inspired metal classics here. The album concludes in dramatic fashion with the nearly nine-minute epic ‘The Return Of The Sentinel’ – presented here as a sequel to the classic track from Judas Priest’s 1984 album Defenders Of The Faith.

How this album will be received in the actual Judas Priest camp is anyone’s guess. The two bands are under no obligation to love one another or even to like each other but we, the fans, can happily love both of them. Neither Judas Priest nor K.K.’s Priest are going to be around forever. Let’s treasure them both while we’ve got them.

Released: 1st October 2021 by EX1 Records

https://www.kkspriest.com/

KK’s PRIEST – Jul 16, 2021. Photo credit: George Chin

Related posts:

First single from KK’s Priest out this week

Album review : Judas Priest – Redeemer of Souls

Live review: Judas Priest at Brixton Academy 2015

Live review: Les Binks’ Priesthood at Minehead 2020

Book review: ‘Confess’ by Rob Halford

This week’s featured artist: folk musician Mel Biggs – new album ‘From Darkness Comes Light’

Mel Biggs, who has recorded several albums as part of acclaimed trio Moirai, is one of the UK’s leading diatonic accordion players. She releases From Darkness Comes Light her debut solo album on 1st October. Over twelve stunningly inventive instrumental tracks, Mel Biggs takes us on a journey through the seasonal changes, both natural and cultural over the course of the year. Accompanied by fiddle, mandolin, piano accordion, guitar and cittern she invites us to join her on this deeply personal and evocative journey.

I ask Mel how the album came about:

This album has taken over a decade to be made. And when I say that, I’m not talking about the physical album, which took 9-ish months in lockdown, but the mental health journey I’ve been on since my early 20s. The darkness of living with anxiety and depression, a binge eating disorder, and menstrual health issues brought forth the light that is my music and composition. Further to this, and rather poignantly, the album’s completion earlier this year coincided with me being diagnosed with ADHD and Autism. Knowing this has given me the missing pieces on my past diagnoses and, well, literally everything in my life! Especially my sensory crossovers which influence my creativity so much.

The diatonic accordion (or melodeon) became my closest friend and confidante early on when I wasn’t able to understand and process the difficult emotions I experienced. It gave me a way to escape and meditate on the natural world around me. The healing power of the great outdoors is one of my biggest sources of inspiration. A sunny day in spring watching washing dry on the line brought forth Shivelight In Spring. Being high up in the Norwegian mountains breezed Oppland Upland into my brain. Zoning out of a difficult day whilst viewing winter’s golden light in the garden gave me Silver Linings. Meditating on the heat haze obscuring the view out the back of my house shone Shimmer into my life. Let me travel the world with my accordion and I’d write and write and be very content!

Mel fills us in on the themes that emerged for the album:

When it came to making the album, I looked at what material I had and realised the running theme was light states in nature through the seasons. Each piece relates to a different point in my personal discovery journey. From Darkness Comes Light is a symbiosis of seasons, nature, and light and their combined effect on mood and mental health recovery. It’s also become a statement to myself of never giving up on finding those missing pieces to understanding and accepting yourself for exactly who you are. Feels like a pretty big thing to say about an album of instrumental folk music, but I prefer using sounds to words any day!

From Darkness Comes Light released 1st October 2021 by Talking Cat Recordings

Available from: https://melbiggsmusic.co.uk/product-category/cds/

Mel Biggs – diatonic accordions, vocals 

Kat Biggs – piano accordion 

Jon Loomes – guitar, cittern 

Bridget Slater – fiddle 

David Squirrell – mandolin, octave mandola 

All tracks written & arranged by Mel Biggs (except track 4 which is Trad.). 

 Keep the conversation going about mental health & follow the ongoing visual work via the blog: www.melbiggsmusic.co.uk 

April 16TH: Story of an 80s heavy metal band – new CD out ‘Epitaph’

Playing their first gig in April 1985, the band April 16TH were late to the party in terms of the UK’s New Wave Of British Heavy Metal scene. By then many of the bands that had started up in the late 70s and early 80s had either packed up, moved on or dramatically changed their style – bringing in keyboard flourishes and, with an eye on the more lucrative American market, a more commercial sheen. April 16TH resolutely didn’t go down this route, opting for a gutsy raw feel reminiscent of the likes of early Tygers of Pan Tang et al.

April 16TH at the Marquee

April 16TH were John Fisher (drums), Chris Harris (guitar), Lawrence Mills (lead guitar), Eric Puffett bass) and Dave Russell (vocals) – and unlike many bands of the era their line-up remained stabled throughout their entire tenure 1985-91.

“Musically APRIL 16TH always preferred a raw guitar base sound to that of the cleaner and ‘less real’ sound afforded by keyboards. The bands rough edge was further enhanced by the use of a single vocalist instead of the more traditional backing vocals set up,” states the band’s retrospective biog.

“Philosophically the band truly believed in the power of rock music as a form of expression. Their stage presentation was a totally unpretentious and honest, yet powerful and exciting experience. “APRIL 16TH” despised the use of stage clothing and over-hyped theatrical performances with larger-than-life egos. At gigs you could find and could talk to the band at the bar or the pub next door, not locked away in the dressing room.”

APRIL 16TH meet Lemmy

Gigging extensively around the south east the band’s early recordings began generating interest from regional radio stations and bookings started to come from further afield. An album Sleepwalking followed in January 1989 which led to further exposure for the band.  Radio One invited April 16TH to record a session for the Tommy Vance Rock Show and there was also a slot for London Weekend Television. Sadly, however, financial woes put paid to any future success, bankruptcy forced their departure from the music scene and April 16TH played their last ever gig at the Cartoon in Croydon on Saturday 13th July 1991.

The story doesn’t quite end thee however and thirty years later we now have a newly released CD chronicling all of the band’s studio recordings.

Why now? I asked guitarist, Chris Harris, who kindly sent me the CD.

Chris: “During our ‘career’ we produced two audio products. The first was a C60 cassette recorded at Cherry Studios in Croydon that we called the Cherry Jam tape. The second was a vinyl LP also recorded at Cherry Studios entitled Sleepwalking. The Cherry Jam tape was essentially a gig getting Demo tape but the Sleepwalking album was a ‘FOR SALE’ LP released by our record company – High Dragon Records of Paris. After the band went bankrupt it was always my intention to self-release a CD containing all the tracks that appeared on both the C60 and the LP. But this dream did not become a reality until July 2021.”

The Cherry Jam tape cover

 “I don’t like the word compilation,” adds Chris. “The title Epitaph was chosen to reflect the sombre memory of our demise and to present all the (recorded) material that the band had available. And so Epitaph was compiled by using the original 1986/87 master tapes. The CD is an exact duplication of the original sound of the band and was not enhanced or re-mixed in any way.”

The Sleepwalking vinyl album

Although not one of the big names of the era Epitaph is a hugely enjoyable compendium of April 16TH’s recorded output and should be of interest to anyone with a love for the NWOBHM scene and in particular those who enjoy those bands who went for the hard, rootsy, gutsy approach and weren’t like the proverbial kids in a sweetshop when they got inside a recording studio but stuck to the basics.

Visit April the band’s Facebook page at April 16TH

And join their Facebook group here

Singer-songwriter: album review – Robert Gray ‘Short Stories’

With his style being described as “sketchbook pop” the music of singer-songwriter, Robert Gray, combines elements of folk, jazz and blues. Playing in a variety of bands on the London live scene, he released in album in partnership with Australian singer-songwriter, Troy Utz, back in 2003. After a break from music and a subsequent move to Germany with his young family in 2012, Gray was inspired to begin writing and recording again.

Short Stories is his debut solo album. Some ten years in the making the album has been recorded at a number of home studios in Britain and Germany. The songs range from the highly personal: the birth of his son, a love-song to his wife on the theme of growing old together, his feelings as his young daughter lay in hospital for an operation – to the more political: a break-up song about Brexit, a young mother working in a sweatshop and Trump’s election to the White House.  

 “I think of my songs as little sketches of a scene”, he says “and in those two or three minutes I am trying to paint a picture for the listener.”

 “When I look back on the album I have a lot of memories of things that inspired the songs and the places where I wrote or recorded them.”

A multi-instrumentalist who plays all the instruments on the album (bar two guest musicians on one of the track), Gray cites J.J. Cale, Richard Thompson and Chet Atkins as key influences

With an easy-going vocal delivery, some rather lovely guitar flourishes and consistently thought-provoking lyrics, Gray turns out some quality songs which make for a highly listenable album.

Released: January 2021

https://www.robertgraymusic.com/