Tag Archives: album review

Folk/singer songwriter: album review – Steve Tilston ‘Distant Days’

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

Just as Richard Thompson went down the acoustic retrospective route a few years ago with the very well-received Acoustic Classics, Steve Tilston follows with this excellent nineteen-track album which reworks songs from across his almost five-decade career. À la Thompson, it’s just Tilston, his guitar, his voice and his songs. There’s a beautifully laid-back vibe to the whole affair which really gets you focusing on the songs and appreciating just what a finely talented song-writer Tilston is.

Highlights include the autobiographical On The Road When I Was Young, which originally appeared on his 2008 album Ziggurat; I Really Wanted You, from his first album in 1971 An Acoustic Confusion; and his most covered song The Slip Jigs And Reels, originally released in 1992. There is also some deft guitar work on the previously unreleased instrumental Shinjuku, dedicated to Bert Jansch.

It’s efficiently packaged rather than lavishly so, with all nineteen tracks squeezed on to a single disc. However, detailed liner notes from Tilston himself give a track by track run-down on the inspiration behind each song as well as details on where they first appeared.

Much admired as an artist, much covered as a song-writer Distant Days is a timely celebration of the gentle force of nature that is Steve Tilston. With some lovely guitar, poignant lyrics and gorgeous melodies Distant Days is turning out to be one of my favourite releases of the summer. Highly recommended.

Released by Riverboat Records July 2018

http://www.stevetilston.com/

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Singer/songwriter: album review – JR Harbidge ‘First Ray of Light’

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here

Involved in the Midlands music scene since his teens, in bands such as the grunge-influenced Third Bullet as well as production work for a variety of outfits, a change of direction, together with a change of location, has led to a new, more introspective approach for JR Harbidge. Out goes the harder-edged rock artist to be replaced by a soulful, Americana-tinged singer songwriter. The album itself has flavours of Bob Dylan, Crosby, Still & Nash and Neil Young.

There’s a distinctive feel to Harbidge’s vocals, some nice acoustic guitar work and some fine supporting musicians who capture that laid-back Americana vibe just perfectly. The thing about the whole singer songwriter routine, though, is that you really have to have the songs to pull it off. And I’m pleased to say Harbidge has more than delivered in that department. There’s a maturity about the song-writing that belies the fact this is a new direction for the artist.

Covering themes from the personal to the political, from relationships (‘The Side Of You That Cares’) to war and peace (‘I Won’t Support Your Wars’) the songs are engaging and the lyrics elicit empathy. Harbidge has an ear for a good tune as well: “I always try and bring out melody in everything because I live to sing along to songs. If I can’t sing along to a song I’m not interested in it.”

With a voice you can easily warm to, songs you can easily relate to and melodies you can hum along to this is a worthy solo debut for JR Harbidge. Well worth exploring further.

Released by Absolute via Universal/Sony on 5th October 2018

https://jrharbidge.com/

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Folk: album review – Young Waters ‘Young Waters’

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

Not a duo, no Young and, indeed, no Waters, Young Waters are actually a young five-piece folk band led by songwriter, vocalist and guitarist, Theo Passingham. The band won Bath Folk Festival’s ‘New Shoots’ competition in 2016 and this led to a recording session at Peter Gabriel’s renowned Real World studios. Indeed, six tracks of the eight tracks on the album were recorded in a single day at that session.

Frequently described as ‘neo-folk’ comparisons have been made with everyone from Fleet Foxes to Fairport Convention. Composers, Philip Glass, John Taverner and Estonia’s Arvo Pärt are cited as inspirations, too.

Although the album includes a traditional song as well as another cover, the remaining tracks are all written by Passingham. We are told, however, there is a heavily collaborative approach in terms of seeking out just the right arrangements and harmonies for each song which has certainly paid off. There is a delicate frailty about Passingham’s voice which suits the lyrical content perfectly. Song titles like Dust, Bleary Eyed and Weary Soul give you somewhat of an idea about what to expect, yet the beautiful melodies and beguiling acoustic guitar add contrast and texture to the mix, as do the the deliciously warm choral-inspired harmonies. It is the latter where the Fleet Foxes comparisons are most evident.

Already making an impact on the festival circuit, Young Waters have delivered an impressive debut here.

Released: September 2018

https://www.young-waters.com/

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Folk: album review – Bert Jansch ‘Just A Simple Soul’

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here 

The exquisitely talented Bert Jansch, the former Pentangle guitarist who died in 2011, has been inspiring musicians for decades – from Jimmy Page and Paul Simon to Johnny Marr and Graham Coxon. Indeed, it was another admirer, Suede’s Bernard Butler working with Jansch’s estate, who compiled this double double disc set. The ‘best of’ collection spans Jansch’s entire solo career.

Writing in the sleeve-notes, Butler makes a telling point: “Bert lived and breathed the sound of the guitar and its endless possibilities for communication, storytelling, conversation, emotional dialogue.”

This certainly comes out in the compilation. However talented and dexterous a guitarist Jansch was, his gift was always deployed in the pursuit of the songs and the stories and the emotional connection with his audience, never merely technique for the sake of technique.

Given Jansch’s considerable back catalogue of twenty-three studio albums, beginning with his first self-titled album in 1965 through to his final solo album The Black Swan from 2006, there is a huge amount of material to choose from – and this is just his solo career – the compilation doesn’t touch his Pentangle output or other collaborations. Butler has chosen well, however. Well-known classics like ‘Angie’ and ‘Needle Of Death’ rub alongside lesser known tracks like ‘Sweet Rose’ from the 1985 album From The Outside. Presented chronologically across thirty-nine tracks, each of the eras are well represented and it’s a thoughtful and thorough retrospective which beautifully showcases Jansch’s mastery of the acoustic guitar, his song-writing skills and his innovative interpretations of traditional material.

Just A Simple Soul works both for those looking for an introduction to Jansch’s back catalogue and for committed fans looking for a lovingly-compiled career overview. As Bernard Butler puts it: “We have a life’s work here, and what a life Bert Jansch has given us.”

Released 26th October 2018 on BMG

https://bertjansch.com/

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Folk: album review – Eddi Reader ‘Cavalier’

This review was originally published by Bright Young Folk here

Marking 40 years as a live performer, the former Fairground Attraction singer and celebrated solo artist, Eddi Reader, releases a brand new studio album. Featuring an impressive sixteen songs Cavalier comprises traditional material, her own compositions (along with some from her co-producer, John Douglas) in addition to a couple of covers.

There are some lovely arrangements of traditional songs on the album but, sound-wise, it doesn’t narrowly confine itself to what we have come to regard as folk. From Maiden’s Lament with its laid-back, jazzy clarinet; to the title track, Cavalier, with its slightly funky, slightly indie-ish feel; to Starlight, with its 1950s doo-wop-style harmonies, there’s a wonderful array of sounds and musical influences across the ages here. Of course, the album is not without its more mainstream folk moments either, with tracks like Meg O’ The Glen, based on extracts from the poems of the 18th century Paisley-born poet, Robert Tannahill, which contains some deliciously infectious fiddle.

Reader’s gentle but superbly expressive vocals and her distinctive Scottish lilt are the common thread throughout the album, but it’s also all held together with a talented cast of supporting musicians, some twenty-five in total, through strings and brass and whistle and flute, not to mention five excellent additional backing vocalists.

Cavalier contains some beautiful interpretations of traditional songs and some folk-influenced singer song-writing yet at the same time it is so much more than a folk album. File under ’F’ for fascinating.

Released 28th September 2018 on Reveal Records

http://eddireader.co.uk/

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Blues/rock/soul: album review – Rainbreakers ‘Face To Face’

At the start of the year, towards the end of a long day of drinking and music at Skegness’s Rock and Blues festival, I was about to call it a day and give the last band on the late-night stage a miss when we were suddenly confronted by Rainbreakers. Soulful, bluesy, emotive and powerful, I was immediately captivated. All thoughts of an early(ish) night were rapidly abandoned and Rainbreakers turned out to be one of my favourite acts of the entire festival.

Fast forward a few months and Rainbreakers’ debut album Face To Face is equally captivating. Ten tracks of soulful, classy blues rock it captures the spirit of an earlier classic era while at the same time being fresh, contemporary-sounding and full of energy. Big riffs, deliciously bluesy licks, great melodies and vocals dripping with emotion and soul this a fantastic debut album. Lyrically, the band tackle some powerful themes, too. The opening track Heavy Soul is no trite cock rock number but rather tells the story of vocalist Ben Edwards’ personal battles with his mental health. On tracks like Lost With You, the band amply demonstrate they can handle the slower material with elegance and sensitivity.

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Rainbreakers are Ben Edwards (vocals, guitar), Charlie Richards (lead guitar), Pete Adam (bass), Sam Edwards (drums). Already making a significant impact on the live scene and the festival circuit (and I can personally vouch for that!) both the writing and the musicianship on this album deserves to make Rainbreakers a much bigger name in the UK music scene. A stunningly good debut.

Released: 31 August 2018

http://www.therainbreakers.com/

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Rock/garage/punk: album review – Metro Velour ‘Hey You’

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here

Based in the small picturesque village of Montauroux in the Côte d’Azur region of the south of France, Metro Velour are an old school garage punk band. The four-piece is composed of Sebastian Smith (rhythm guitar and vocals), Louis Chevallier (lead guitar), J B Caramellino (drums) and Nico Pasqual (bass). While the latter three are all French, the front-man, Sebastian Smith, is actually an old English rocker whose been around the music scene a long, long time – ever since he formed his first band in 1959, aged 17!

Now in his mid 70s, Smith still clearly has rock n roll in his blood. “Most of the music today is a complete pile of crap,” muses Smith in the documentary on the band’s YouTube site. “The stuff today just pisses me off so much and I thought hell. Let’s get rock ‘n’ roll back where it should be.”

While plenty of us following Get Ready To Rock will counter that music today is not all X Factor and manufactured pop and that there are decent new rock bands about if you look that bit harder, nevertheless you cannot fault Smith’s (and the rest of the band’s) enthusiasm in pursuing their mission.

‘Hey You’ is the band’s debut album. Sound-wise, there’s definitely a flavour of US garage/punk acts like The Stooges, The New York Dolls and The Ramones but there’s also the spirit of British punk in there, too, particularly on account of Smith’s vocals and tongue-in-cheek lyrics (‘I’m in love with those dirty girls…’).

The songs are catchy and well-written and the band are tight and together. You may struggle to believe that this was recorded in 2018, not 1978. But if you fancy a bit of old-school punk blasting out of your speakers this album is well worth checking out.

https://www.facebook.com/www.metrovelour.fr/

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Folk: album review – Greg Russell & Ciaran Algar ‘Utopia and Wasteland’

This review was originally published by Bright Young Folk here

Ever since they won the BBC’s Young Folk Award on the back of their debut release The Queen’s Lover, the talents of Greg Russell and Ciaran Algar have never been in doubt. From such an impressive start, their capacity to innovate and astound with each new release has seemed to build and build. Now onto their fourth album, the question is whether the duo continue on that trajectory or begin to settle into something approaching a pleasing but comfortable formula. The answer is that Utopia and Wasteland continues to set the bar even higher.

Production shifts up a notch, courtesy of Mark Tucker who also adds bass and percussion, but the biggest change with this album is the strong focus on self-penned material. In contrast to the interpretations of traditional songs and well-chosen covers that provided the bulk of material for previous albums, nine of the eleven tracks here are original compositions.

The emphasis on original material has allowed the duo to explore some contemporary issues yet bring their instinctive appreciation of traditional music, Russell’s rich distinctive vocals and Algar’s virtuoso fiddle to create some seriously impressive modern folk songs. Russell has already demonstrated his gift as an immensely talented songwriter (someone who managed to write The Queen’s Lover while bored with revising for A levels, let us not forget). However, perhaps the most striking and moving song here is Algar’s composition We are Leaving, which documents the culture of neglect and indifference that culminated in the Grenfell Tower disaster.

Elsewhere on the album, Line Two is Russell’s take on the HS2 rail project, while Walter reflects on the incredible life of Walter Tull, an English professional footballer who became the first black officer to lead white troops into battle in the First World War and was killed in action at just 29. Algar also brings his talents to bear with a couple of pleasingly inventive tune compositions in Warwick Road and De Gule Huis.

With Utopia and Wasteland Greg Russell and Ciaran Algar once again showcase their incredible talents and demonstrate some superb songwriting into the bargain. An exceptionally strong album, this marks another chapter in the duo’s hugely impressive career to date.

Released; April 2018 Rootbeat Records

http://www.russellalgar.co.uk/

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Related reviews:

Album review – Ray Hearne ‘Umpteen’ (featuring Greg & Ciaran)
Luke Jackson and Greg Russell & Ciaran Algar at Cecil Sharp House 2016
Greg Russell and Rex Preston at The Green Note 2015
Greg Russell & Ciaran Algar at The Green Note 2014

Folk/country/Americana: album review – Marina Florance ‘Fly Beyond The Border’

Catching singer-songwriter Marina Florance live a couple of years ago she immediately impressed both with her heartfelt songs and the seemingly effortless but compellingly sincere country-ish vibe that she pulled off. Fly Beyond the Border is Florance’s third album, bringing together brand new material, some recent collaborations with other artists and some previously released singles.

Although coming late in life to a professional music career, the album sees Florance really hitting her stride as a song-writer of note. Her themes of life, love and relationships are universal but her honest, heartfelt delivery makes you want to hang on to every word.

Florance has been working with the lottery-funded Warm & Toasty Club’s Coast To Coast Project where she was commissioned, alongside co-writer Jules Fox Allen, to write three songs based on the memories of residents at retirement complexes along the Essex Coast. One of these songs ‘Sirens’, celebrating the tenacity of women in often very difficult circumstances, features on the album.

It’s not just the sensitive lyrics and Florance’s heartfelt delivery though. There’s some suitably impressive musicianship on this album, too. Alongside Florance’s guitar and mandolin there’s a fine group of accompanying musicians, including some lovely Americana-tinged fiddle playing from Mark Jolley that compliments Florance’s songs perfectly. Meanwhile, ‘The Blue Lady’, featuring some beautiful dobro and guitar from Ben Walker, is a definite highlight.

If you have not yet come across Marina Florance, there’s plenty for fans of folk, country, Americana or singer-songwriter to fall in love with and Fly Beyond The Border is well worth checking out.

Released: March 2018

https://www.marinaflorance.com/

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Live review: Toledo Steel at The Dev, Camden 12/5/18 (album launch gig for ‘No Quarter’)

The New Wave Of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) gave a shot in the arm to the hard rock/heavy metal scene in the late 70s/early80s. By the second half of the seventies many of the original pioneers from the late 60s/early 70s were on hiatus or running out of steam and a crop of new bands took the can-do spirit of punk and began taking hard rock out of the mega stadiums and into the altogether more accessible pubs and small venues. The scene didn’t last long and apart from a few bands who made it into the mega stadiums themselves, many fell by the wayside. In recent years, however, there has been a renewed interest in the NWOBHM. A number of the old bands have reformed and are out gigging again but, importantly, a whole new generation of younger bands, many of them taking direct musical inspiration from that scene, are once again filling up pubs and small venues, releasing albums and building up solid fan-bases.

One of those bands is Toledo Steel who are releasing their debut album ‘No Quarter’ and, in the guise of playing the official after-show party for the Frost & Fire heavy metal all-dayer at Camden’s Underworld, are at The Dev to formally launch it with a special gig.

Formed in 2011 in Southampton and with two well-received EPs under their belt the five-piece combine melodic vocals, a twin guitar attack, furiously heavy delivery and a ear for a catchy well-written song. Indeed, those very qualities that made NWOBHM bands like Saxon and Iron Maiden such a breath of fresh air back in the late 70s.

With two EPs and a brand new album the band have a really decent stash of powerful material to draw from, their set-list tonight combining earlier material like the utterly unforgettable ‘City Lights’ with material from the new album like the excellent title track ‘No Quarter’ and a song that celebrates the curse of tinnitus ‘Heavy Metal Headache.’

Looking around the crowd packed into this smallish boozer tonight it’s noticeable that there are a fair few of us in our late 40s/early 50s, clearly drawn to this renaissance of classic-sounding metal. But what is more significant is that we are far outnumbered by much younger guys and girls around the same age as the band. This is looking far less like a mid-life crisis driven nostalgia-fest and far more like a genuine movement – and that is a very hopeful sign for the future of rock.

Fast and furious, loud and heavy as hell but never less than tuneful and melodic Toledo Steel are everything you want from a truly great heavy metal band and ‘No Quarter’ is a brilliant debut album.

Released: May 18th 2018

http://www.toledosteel.co.uk/

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