Tag Archives: album review

Soul/pop/rock: album review – John Wallace Wheatley ‘Spent the Morning Watching TV and Looking Through My Phone’

Having made a noteworthy impact on the UK Americana scene and garnering many favourable reviews as part of Suburban Dirt, their frontman John Wallace Wheatley is open about seeking out a complete change in musical direction for his first solo album: Spent the Morning Watching TV and Looking Through My Phone. “I got bored of mandolins, banjos and hipsters wearing cowboy shirts and singing about mountains, trees and birds,” he confessed to one interviewer recently.

The acoustic guitars and cowboy shirts are out and, picking up his electric guitar, Wheatley delivers an album of perfectly crafted, bitter-sweet, soulful pop-rock.

With ten self-composed songs, including one co-written with cousin Donald Wheatley, John Wallace Wheatley’s tender, soulful vocals and warmly evocative guitar and piano playing instantly transport you back to some of popular music’s most memorable eras. It’s immediately evident that Wheatley is well-suited to this change in musical direction and he’s come up with the songs to boot. Moreover, the team he’s assembled for this solo project, particularly Andy Fairlough’s work on the mellotron, provide for some lush, exquisite, multi-layered, musical textures.

As a lyricist Wheatley doesn’t do either lightweight or upbeat. Themes include death, self-doubt and existential crisis and two of the songs are inspired by a visit to a cemetery and the chance discovery of a gravestone bearing his own name. For soulful pop-rock with intelligent song-writing, sincere vocal delivery and gorgeous instrumentation, time spent immersing oneself in this album could prove immeasurably more satisfying than a morning spent watching TV and looking through your phone.

Released: 27th November 2020

https://www.facebook.com/johnbumbag/

Hard rock: album review – AC/DC ‘Power Up’

I can remember my disappointment four years ago when AC/DC announced that Brian Johnson was pulling out of their then current tour due to hearing problems but that they would likely conclude the tour with a “guest vocalist”. When Axl Rose came forward to fill in for Johnson I was hugely, hugely sceptical but was completely won over as soon as I saw him actually perform with the band. I even looked forward to the possibility of some sort of Axl-AC/DC collaboration album.

However, when rumours began that Johnson, along with recently-departed bass-player Cliff Williams and laid-off drummer Phil Rudd, were reconvening with Angus Young and the late Malcolm Young’s replacement, Stevie Young, such fanciful notions were immediately put to one side. Brian Johnson was back where he belonged and the classic AC/DC line-up, or as near as humanly possible to it, was being resurrected. This felt exactly right. It’s been six years since the last AC/DC album Rock or Bust and twelve years since Black Ice. What could be a more perfect way to end 2020 than with a new AC/DC album?

Of course, absolutely no-one was expecting any musical surprises with Power Up. And there aren’t any. Indeed, when the first single off the album ‘Shot In The Dark’ gave us a sneak preview of what was in store I would have sworn blind, had I not known it was new, that I already had it somewhere on one of the albums recorded since For Those About To Rock was released. That’s not a criticism at all. The fact that a brand new song like that instantly feels so comfortably familiar after all these years and after various traumas and tragedies is testimony to the band’s ability to deploy all their trademark musical tricks to still make a great new classic.

Across the album we have twelve tracks of classic AC/DC – hard riffing, catchy choruses, bouncy rhythms and a lead singer screaming his lungs out as he has for the last forty years. Welcome back Brian. Welcome back AC/DC.

Brilliantly, expertly, joyously predictable, Power Up is exactly what we needed in 2020.

Released: 13th November 2020

https://pwrup.acdc.com/

Related posts:

AC/DC at The Olympic Stadium, London 2016

AC/DC at Wembley Stadium, London 2015

Folk/acoustic: album review – Stephen Clark ‘The Lady Aurora’

Featuring original compositions, some new arrangements of traditional tunes and a couple of reworkings of well-known covers this mainly instrumental album on the theme of nature is the solo debut from London-based acoustic guitarist, Stephen Clark.

Encompassing acoustic blues riffs, Appalachian mountain tunes, some Celtic influences and a 14th century Arabic love song, not to mention a touch of J.J. Cale and the Penguin Café Orchestra, The Lady Aurora is an aural delight.

On the live circuit Clark is one half of acoustic duo One Man Down, along with musical partner Jeff Porter who also plays on three of the album’s tracks. Clark’s musical influences range from Django Reinhardt, to John Martyn, Nick Drake, and Johnny Cash and, indeed, such influences and numerous others shine through on this album to create something satisfyingly original.

The evocative ‘Rising Tide’, with a melody that manages to convey both beauty and menace, was written at the time of the great floods of 2014 while a couple of tunes ‘Shimmering Light’ and the title track itself were inspired by a sightseeing trip to the Northern Lights. ‘Muddlin’ Through Boogaloo’, meanwhile, is a traditional blues groove with a hint of Latin. The Appalachian tunes include a lovely version of ‘Shady Grove’ that many will be familiar with as the melody that Fairport Convention recycled for their version of ‘Matty Groves’ on their seminal Liege and Lief album.

Acoustic blues junkies, die-hard folkies and, even though there’s only a couple of actual songs, followers of the acoustic singer-songwriter genre will all find plenty to like in this album. Stephen Clark is a nimble and talented player with a wide musical hinterland and a gift for evocative composition and arrangements The Lady Aurora is well worth exploring.

Released: 6th November 2020

https://stephenpeterclark.wixsite.com/website

Glam rock: album review – Rossall ‘The Last Glam In Town’

From Slade’s Til Deaf Do Us Part in the early 80s New Wave of British Heavy Metal boom, to Sweet’s melodic, prog-inspired masterpiece Sweet Life in the early 00s, there have definitely been some great albums from glam rock artists who subsequently managed to reinvent themselves once the allure of sequins and silver platforms began to wane. But, really, has there been anything approaching a great glam rock album since the 1970s? Look no further Glitter Band alumni, John Rossall, has just released one.

All tribal beats, honking brass, fuzzed-up guitar, sing-along choruses and enough handclaps and chants of ‘Hey’ to last you a lifetime, The Last Glam In Town is a modern masterpiece of the genre.

Rossall was part of the original Glitter Band back in the day, playing not only on a string of the shamed Leader’s early hits but going on to record a succession of Glitter Band favourites without their now-disgraced and unmentionable frontman. Rossall subsequently left in 1974 for a somewhat uneventful solo career. I’ve seen him numerous times over the past couple of decades wowing the crowds with a selection of hits from both  Glitter (the man) and Glitter (the band). Last Glam In Town, however, is something else altogether – a whole new album of superbly-crafted songs that capture the vibrance, assertiveness and pure fun of glam in its heyday.

Longtime collaborator Mark Standley along with members of Rossall’s touring band, post-punk outfit the Nightingales (whose lead singer, Robert Lloyd, sings two songs), and John Robb of punk legends the Membranes (who also provides vocals on two tracks) all feature on the album alongside Rossall.

Among the album’s ten glam-filled tracks, highlights include the wonderfully menacing album opener ‘Fear of a Glam Planet’ and ‘Blackpool Rocks’ a tribute to Rossall’s home town and his father and musical hero, Bob Rossall, who returned  to Blackpool after serving in the Second World War and played in Blackpool’s Empress Orchestra for two decades.

Another track ‘Equaliser’ was written by Rossall’s old friend Alan Merrill of Arrows, writer of the glam anthem ‘I Love Rock ‘n Roll’, who gifted  the song to Rossall before tragically passing away from Covid back in March. Alongside the original material, the album also contains a suitably glammed-up cover of the Honeycombs ‘Have I The Right’ and concludes with an energetic cover of one of the Glitter Band’s biggest hits, playfully retitled here as ‘Let’s Get Together Again (Again)’.

For inspired and original glam rock with energy, joie de vivre and twenty-first century credibility John Rossall is definitely your man. A superb album.

Released: 30th October 2020 by Tiny Global Productions

https://www.rossall-glitter.com/

Related post:

Glitter, glam and Blackpool rock: interview with glam rock legend John Rossall

Singer-songwriter: album review – Judy Fairbairns ‘Edge of the Wild’

Edge of the Wild is a collection of original songs from Hebridean-based author and artist Judy Fairbairns. Drawing inspiration from several decades spent living on the Isle of Mull and celebrating the wild beauty of its dramatic Atlantic shoreline, Edge of the Wild can be seen as something of a companion piece to Fairbairns’ acclaimed 2013 memoir ‘Island Wife’.

“Inspired by all around me, the beauty of nature, the weather, the seasons, the moon-tides, the people in my village, something someone said in passing,” says Fairbairns,  “these songs are formed from my thoughts about what I see, what I feel, what I long for and what I already have.”

Recorded over a three-year period ‘Edge of the Wild’ is Fairbairns’ debut album, and makes full use of an obvious gift for language and she serves up some heartfelt highly personal lyrics, beautiful clear vocals and instantly appealing melodies.

Production is courtesy of Scottish producers Wild Biscuit and instrumentation is from John Saich. Technology and beautiful piano playing combine to provide a suitably atmospheric and highly evocative backdrop for Fairbairns’ singing. ‘Edge of the Wild’ is an immensely satisfying listen and a fine musical debut.

Released: 16th October 2020

https://judyfairbairns.co.uk/tag/edge-of-the-wild/

Blues rock: album review – King King ‘Maverick’

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here

With a second lockdown, miserable British weather and little sign of something vaguely resembling normality returning any time soon a new King King album is probably just the antidote we need. Driving rhythms, fat riffs, soulful vocals and big choruses, Maverick takes us right back to the classic era of blues rock.

King King’s fifth album, there’s been some adjustments to the line-up since their last offering, Exile & Grace back in 2017. Joining Alan Nimmo (vocals/guitar) are Nimmo’s brother Steve (guitar) – the two toured together for a couple of decades as the Nimmo Brothers, of course – alongside Jonny Dyke (organ/piano), Zander Greenshields (bass) and Andrew Scott (drums).

Recording the new album with the new line-up has been a whole lot of fun and very interesting,” says Alan Nimmo. “It’s great watching the guys using the great talent they have bringing the songs to life.”

From the bombastic swagger of opening track ‘Never Give In’ to the anthemic balladry of closing song ‘End of the Line’ Maverick has all the ingredients you’d expect from a great blues rock album, including some gorgeous guitar solos and lush soulful keys. Lyrically challenging? Not particularly. It’s mainly tales of childhood dreams, love, togetherness and sunshine – exactly the sort of thing you’d have expected Paul Rodgers to be singing about forty-odd years ago.

Will it change the world? No – but it certainly cheered me up on a wet and miserable day. Welcome back King King. Another album of well-written, nicely-polished and superbly-executed blues rock. Just what we needed.

Released: Channel 9 Music 6th November 2020

https://www.kingking.co.uk/

Related review:

King King at Hastings 2018

Folk-rock: album review – Merry Hell ‘Emergency Lullabies’

Never a band afraid of speaking its mind, committing pen to paper and pulling out some rousing anthems, for their latest album Emergency Lullabies Lancashire folk-rockers Merry Hell turn their attention to the climate crisis, lockdown and the NHS.

The climate-themed songs ‘Leave It In the Ground’, ‘Sister Atlas’ and Emergency Lullaby’ were originally released earlier in the year as singles.  Having spent three decades active in the green movement there are few issues as close to my heart as this one and I was delighted to hear the band were taking on the climate mantle. With subject matter such as this, however, there is sometimes a danger that the songs either end up a bit twee and preachy on the one hand or that they are so ethereal and other-worldly that they fail to really communicate the scale and terrifying urgency of the task in hand on the other. However, with these three songs Merry Hell pull it off magnificently. They don’t tamper with their formula: it’s classic Merry Hell, sung with that same mix of fiery passion and down to earth humility that rings out from all of their best recordings.

Emergency Lullabies is Merry Hell’s sixth album. Not only did they overcome the challenges of completing Emergency it during lockdown but the extraordinary events of 2020 would, of course, provide no shortage of inspiration. If ever a band were going to rise to the challenge of celebrating togetherness and mutual support during tough times as well as paying tribute to our key workers going the extra mile it was going to be Merry Hell. ‘Beyond The Call’ was written the night the UK went into lockdown in celebration of the NHS. ‘The Green Hill of Home’ and ‘We Are Different, We Are One’ meanwhile are typically anthemic sing-alongs on the theme of solidarity and community.

‘Violet’ takes a somewhat different approach, adopting that lighter, tongue in cheek, slightly music hall, slightly Victoria Wood-esque tone that can be found on Virginia Kettle’s recent solo album.

My absolute favourite track on the album though is another Victoria Kettle song, ‘Three Little Lions’, an epic, brooding, slice of folk rock that really put me in mind of classic period Steeleye Span. Just an absolute joy to listen to.

From poignant ballads to rousing anthems Merry Hell are just tailor-made for times like these and the musicianship remains as top-notch as ever.

Released: 8th November 2020

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

Related posts:

Album review – Virginia Kettle ‘No Place Like Tomorrow’

‘Sister Atlas’ new single Merry Hell salutes those taking climate action

‘Leave It In The Ground’ – Merry Hell release climate call to action

DVD review: Merry Hell ‘A Year In The Life’

Album review: Merry Hell ‘Anthems To The Wind’

EP review: Merry Hell ‘Bury Me Naked’

EP review: Merry Hell ‘Come On England!’

Indie-folk: album review – The Sunny Smiles Three ‘Fireman Spaceman Mermaid’

Describing themselves as “vaguely acoustic music for the vaguely thinking person” The Sunny Smiles Three are a new alt-folk trio composed of John Parkes, Alaric Lewis and Simon Smith. All three have spent a good few decades as stalwarts of the UK’s indie music scene. Frontman, John Parkes, has been in the likes of the Greenhouse, Fuzzbird and the Sinister Cleaners. Alaric Lewis has played bass with Breaking the Illusion, Cyanide Pills and Suzi Blu as well as being an in-demand guitar tech for some of rock/pop’s royalty. Drummer, Simon Smith, meanwhile was in the Wedding Present, the Ukranians and Cha Cha Cohen.

Fireman Spaceman Mermaid is the trio’s debut album but also includes bonus songs from a recent EP, giving you a whopping sixteen tracks of delightful indie alt-folk-rock.

Named after the retro ‘Sunny Smiles’ charity booklets back in the 1950s and 60s, the three do a nice line in slightly quirky-but-beautifully-crafted acoustic songs with bitter-sweet lyrics and catchy melodies. Parkes is a gifted singer-songwriter, able to conjure up lyrics that so perfectly capture slices of everyday life – like a Ray Davies for the modern era. And with their impeccable indie pedigrees the three have enough musical clout between them to ensure Fireman Spaceman Mermaid is nothing less than a cracking debut.

Released: The Orchard / FR Records 16th November 2020

http://thesunnysmilesthree.blogspot.com/

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

The Living Mountain was written by Aberdonian Nan Shepherd, in the last years of the Second World War and it sat in her desk drawer until it was published in 1977,” writes Jenny Sturgeon in the album sleeve-notes.

Inspired by Shepherd’s memoir, once described by the Guardian as “the finest book ever written on nature and landscape in Britain,” Sturgeon’s album of the same name celebrates Shepherd’s nature writing and the Cairngorms mountain range in the eastern Highlands. Each of the twelve songs on the album take their titles from the chapter headings in Shepherd’s celebrated volume.

From the gentle birdsong and low mournful dulcimer hum of the opening track ‘The Plateau’ to the hypnotic piano and slowly pounding percussion of the final song ‘Being’, Sturgeon uncannily captures a sense of the beauty, bleakness and wonder that this very special landscape instils. Ten of the twelve songs are inspired directly by Shepherd’s writing while the remaining two are Shepherd’s own poems, set to music.

Joining Sturgeon who plays piano, harmonium , dulcimer, whistle and guitar are Mairi Campbell (viola and vocals), Su-a Lee (cello), Grant Anderson (bass and vocals) with additional field recordings from Jez Riley-French and Magnus Robb.

Beautifully sung and exquisitely played The Living Mountain is a captivating celebration of the natural world and timeless and inspirational nature writing.

Released: October 16th 2020

https://www.jennysturgeonmusic.com/

Folk: album review: Pat Walsh ‘Simply Whistle’

Simply Whistle pretty much does what it says on the tin. For the past five decades Pat Walsh has been part of the north-west traditional music scene and across each of its nineteen tracks this album puts Walsh’s tin whistle and her beautiful jigs, reels and flings centre-stage.

Walsh was born to an Irish family in Manchester in the mid 1950s. This beautifully-packaged CD with its informative twelve-page booklet details not only the background to the tunes, both the traditional numbers and original compositions, but also Walsh’s own life story and her abiding love of traditional music.

“I have tried to describe the really important part that Irish traditional music has played in my life,” she says in the sleeve-notes. “And my enduring passion for playing and listening to it. I have often wished that my great grandfather John Ryder, the fiddle player from Longford had done something similar for later generations to read. If my grandchildren or their children get the bug for trad music, I hope they find that this memoir and the tunes fill in the back story, or maybe even it will pique their interest. Either way, this is for them.”

Produced by Mike McGoldrick, who has played alongside Walsh and also features on the album, the production retains a clean and simple feel which works so well. Within seconds of putting the album on Walsh’s evocative playing has immediately transported you to another time and place.

Released: 14th September 2020

https://www.patwalshwhistle.com/