Tag Archives: album review

Americana: album review – Elles Bailey ‘Road I Call Home’

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here

After attracting a slew of favourable reviews with her debut album, 2017’s Wildfire, the Bristol-based singer-songwriter Elles Bailey is back with a follow-up. Like its predecessor, recorded primarily in Nashville Road I Call Home is a slice of soulful, classy, bluesy Americana. With her husky, emotive vocals and a definite ear for a good song it’s not difficult to see why Bailey has been picking up fans and rave reviews across a range of genres – from rock to folk to country to blues.

Backed by some top class musicians from the Nashville recording scene the album just oozes professionalism and quality. ‘Hell Or High Water’ is a suitably dramatic slice of country rock to open the album, while songs like ‘Little Piece Of Heaven’ and ‘Miss Me When I’m Gone’ perfectly capture the spirit of modern Americana. Some of the tracks, like ‘Deeper’ and ‘Foolish Hearts’ with their deliciously soulful organ and bags and bags of brass give an impression of being recorded not in Nashville but some 200 miles away and a several decades ago in Memphis’s Stax studio. But it’s that skilful yet instinctive blend of influences that has helped Bailey build a solid fan-base. ‘What’s The Matter With You’ meanwhile is a slow, smoky, heartfelt blues while the rock influences come more to the fore in the title track ‘Road I Call Home’ with its superb guitar solo.

Co-writing credits include renowned UK hit songwriter Roger Cook, these days firmly part of the Nashville music scene, along with Nashville’s own Bobby Wood who has written for Elvis Presley and Dusty Springfield among others. Bailey explains the process as follows: “Road I Call Home is a year’s snapshot of being on the road. Eight of the 11 songs were written in two months. I’m very honest to what I write, and right now that’s what I know. I live in that constant state of tiredness, but I love it. I feel so blessed to live this life.”

An incredible voice, some great songwriting and some seriously good musicianship, with Road I Call Home Elles Bailey and her friends in Nashville have given us an impressive album.

Released by Outlaw Music March 8th 2019

https://www.ellesbailey.com/

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Metal: album review – Spirits Of Fire ‘Spirits Of Fire’

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here

Spirits Of Fire is the new outfit fronted by ex-Judas Priest singer Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens.

A supergroup of sorts the project brings together Owens (ex-Judas Priest, Iced Earth), guitarist Chris Caffery (Savatage, Trans-Siberian Orchestra), bassist Steve DiGiorgio (Testament, Death) and drummer Mark Zonder (ex-Fates Warning, Warlord).

Hailed as “classic Priest meets Savatage” guitarist, Chris Caffery, says: “My influences for writing on this record were the bands that we were and are still in! I wanted to write songs that Priest, Savatage, Testament, and Fates Warning fans would like. But, I wanted them to have a personality of their own as well. To give it a vibe that was Spirits of Fire.”

And do they achieve that? There’s a satisfyingly Judas Priest-like vibe to the Spirits Of Fire album and it’s a great slice of classic heavy metal: well-written songs, powerful vocals, dynamic riffs and a thunderous rhythm section. Opening with a furious ‘Light Speed Marching’ it nicely sets the template for the album as a whole and showcases Owen’s considerable vocal range. Title track ‘Spirits Of Fire’, which ended up also providing a name for the band itself, is another furious assault with some nice soloing from Caffery.

Just like on a classic Priest album where you will typically find the odd slower number, here we get the excellent ‘A Game’ and the anthemic ‘Alone in the Darkness’ the latter of which closes the album, both tracks taking the tempo down while sacrificing none of the heaviness.

The whole Spirits Of Fire project has been masterminded by LA-based producer Roy Z who has worked with the likes Bruce Dickinson, Halford and Tribe Of Gypsies and does a sterling job on production duties here. Eleven tracks of classic, polished heavy metal – this debut from Spirits Of Fire is well worth checking out.

Released: 22.2.19 by Frontiers

https://www.facebook.com/SpiritsOfFireBand/

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Folk: album review – Gerry O’Connor ‘Last Night’s Joy’

This review was originally published by Bright Young Folk here

Acclaimed County Louth musician Gerry ’Fiddle’ O’Connor is a fourth-generation fiddle-player, has several decades of playing behind him and has worked with Irish folk outfits Lá Lugh and Skylark, releasing albums with both, besides a range of other collaborations. Last Night’s Joy is O’Connor’s second solo album, following up 2004’s Journeyman.

Across the album’s eleven instrumental tracks O’Connor displays his incredible versatility and virtuosity. The majority of the tunes forming each set are traditional, although there are a handful that have been composed in more modern times. Together, they each take us on a journey through a wonderfully spirited mix of styles, tempos, moods and emotions.

Meticulously sourced, the detailed sleeve-notes for Last Night’s Joy give a fascinating insight into the background to each of the tunes, The listener is therefore provided with little gems like the following, for the delicious tune-set The Old Dash Churn: “The collector Brendan Breathnach recorded County Louth fiddler Peter McArdle in Mark McLoughlin’s Bar in Dundalk in 1971. Apparently, due to time and resource constraints, he asked Peter to play only his more unusual tunes and these double jigs were learned from that recording.”

The haunting Bádaí na Scadáín with gentle piano accompaniment from O’Connor’s son Dónal, originates from the song of the same name telling the story of a father searching for his three fisherman sons lost at sea. Even without words none of the sadness is lost in this beautiful, mournful rendition which is one of the album’s real highlights.

Along with O’Connor’s son, the album also features luminaries of the Irish music scene including Séamie O’Dowd, Niall Hanna, Neil Martin and Seán Óg Graham among others. O’Connor’s namesake Gerry ’Banjo’ O’Connor also appears on one track, the punningly titled StereO Connor, for a set of gloriously energetic American polkas.

Anyone with a love for Irish traditional music and for vibrant, expressive fiddle-playing will, indeed, find this album a joy.

Released on Lughnasa Music on 1 October 2018

https://www.gerryoconnor.net/

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Hard rock: album review – John Diva & The Rockets of Love ‘Mama Said Rock Is Dead’

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here

Bouncy anthemic keyboards, smooth melodic riffs and catchy sing-along choruses John Diva & The Rockets of Love celebrate and take their cues from that mid-80s era of rock when the likes of Van Halen, Whitesnake (the rebooted American version) and Bon Jovi ruled.

Neither the band nor the album wear their influences lightly so when you listen to these guys there is absolutely nothing, and I mean nothing, to suggest the past thirty-five years have actually happened. The sound, the songs, the riffs, the lyrics, even the names of the band members (I give you guitarists Snake Rocket and J.J. Love) all suggest we are somewhere midway through 1984. This is good in many ways. After all, it was a much-celebrated period for hard rock where a number of bands became absolutely huge. However, some acknowledgement that life had moved on just a bit would not have have gone amiss either. In this post-Jimmy Savile, post-#MeToo era does the world really need a new song called ‘Lolita’ (the band’s single from the album)?

What they do, they do well though and there’s lots to like in tracks like ‘Whiplash’, ‘Wild Life’ and ‘Rocket of Love’ (even if the lyrics of the latter deploy every rock ‘n’ roll cliché known to man). We should also mention the obligatory power ballad ‘Just A Night Away’ – it is the 80s after all!

Frontman, John Diva, describes the album as follows: “It’s a trip for those who have lived and loved Rock ‘N’ Roll, for all those who still do so and for all the millions of people who up to now didn’t even know what they’ve been missing. We’re having a party as big as the eighties and you’re invited to let your imagination take flight by my wild and wonderful life.”

Personally, I think if I was going to travel back in time and permanently inhabit a past era of music, I’d be opting for the mid-60s British R&B scene or the late 70s NWOBHM scene – but if you love that mid-80s American rock scene you will no doubt absolutely love this album.

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Released: SPV/Steamhammer 8th February 2019

https://johndiva.com/

Folk: album review – John Smith ‘Hummingbird’

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

Two years after recording the album Headlong in Sam Lakeman’s Somerset studio, John Smith returned to lay down another new album. Unlike the former, however, which was built around Smith’s song-writing, Hummingbird is very much about celebrating traditional songs and paying tribute to the artists like John Renbourn, John Martyn and Bert Jansch who inspired Smith in the first place. Six of the album’s ten tracks are traditional songs with one cover version and three original numbers.

Less is more was the motto that Smith and Lakeman adopted while making the album. “A folk song’s clarity of purpose is exactly the reason why it has been played in pubs, living rooms and concert halls for hundreds of years,” says Smith. Indeed, this approach has absolutely paid off. Shorn of the typical embellishments we might have come to expect on a modern-day folk album there is beauty and simplicity in the the delivery that gives the lyrics in songs like Hares On The Mountain and Lord Franklin a real resonance.

The lone cover is Anna Briggs’ The Time Has Come which Smith first heard, like many readers will have done, on a Bert Jansch and John Renbourn album. Smith’s three original songs, like the beautiful title track, stand sympathetically alongside the much older material.

A gifted guitarist, a unique vocalist and an impassioned interpreter of traditional material, if John Smith has made this album for his musical heroes then he’s done them proud.

Released: October 2018

https://www.johnsmithjohnsmith.com/

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Folk/indie: album review – Trevor Moss & Hannah Lou ‘Fair Lady London’

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

An integral part of London’s emerging indie folk scene for a number of years, Trevor Moss and Hannah-Lou left the capital for Hastings and are now firmly ensconced in the Sussex seaside town’s thriving local music scene. Three years on from their last album, Fair Lady London is the product of their changed setting and changed priorities.

There is still plenty to showcase the duo’s talent as songwriters here, however. The poignantly bitter-sweet We Should’ve Gone Dancing is immediately and utterly unforgettable while the guitar line on Everything You Need is as beautifully infectious as something that Bert Jansch might have come up with.

For their previous album the duo worked with renowned producer Ethan Johns but now they are back with the trusty 4-track recorder they used on their 2012 album, this time setting up in a castle in the East Sussex countryside. “I’ve never really liked studios,” confesses Moss. “The first one we ever stepped foot in was Olympic as teenagers, the same room as Hendrix, Zeppelin, Stones. I didn’t like it. It felt like a spaceship.”

The lo-fi approach works extremely well and gives the album exactly the kind of understated intimacy the duo’s songs warrant.

Now five albums into their career as a duo Fair Lady London sees Trevor Moss and Hannah-Lou continuing to make music that in its own delicate, gentle and thoughtful way continues to demand your attention.

Released: November 2018

http://www.trevormossandhannahlou.com/

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Folk: album review – The Trials of Cato ‘Hide and Hair’

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

Energetic, innovative and dynamic the press blurb hailing Trials Of Cato as a band that “arrived fully formed” is not just PR hype in this instance. Hide & Hair is a bona fide sweep-you-off-your-feet debut. The three young men from Yorkshire and North Wales met in Beirut while teaching, quickly enthused audiences in Lebanon and arrived back in the UK two years ago. With Hide & Hair they deliver us a lovely blend of mandolin, banjo, bouzouki and guitar, their stunning instrumentation and rich harmonising vocals breathing new life into traditional songs and tunes.

Older songs like My Love’s In Germany, the seventeenth century window’s lament for a fallen soldier, and Tom Paine’s Bones, Graham Moore’s rousing anthem for rights and liberty, rub shoulders with new songs like the equally rousing These Are The Things. Of the instrumental pieces Difyrrwch is the band’s arrangement of three traditional Welsh and English melodies while Kadisha is their own composition inspired and named after a valley in northern Lebanon.

The trio are Robin Jones (mandolin/tenor banjo/vocals), William Addison (Irish bouzouki/vocals) and Tomos Williams (guitar/vocals) with Addison and Jones alternating lead vocal duties across the album.

Few debuts have as much vitality and impact as this one and they have already been receiving plaudits from the likes of the BBC’s Mark Radcliffe who has lauded them as “one of the real discoveries on the folk circuit in recent times”. We shall certainly be hearing a lot more of The Trials Of Cato.

Released: November 2018

https://thetrialsofcato.com/

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Folk-rock: album review – Merry Hell ‘Anthems To The Wind’

Merry Hell and their rousing brand of folk rock have been around since 2010 now, rising from the ashes of 90s folk punk band The Tansads. Rather than another album of electrified folk the Wigan-based band take a more pastoral approach this time, with the all-acoustic Anthems To The Wind offering reworkings of established favourites alongside some newer songs.

“… although the band has grown in many ways, we have wanted to continue performing in the more intimate venues where the full electric 8-piece would neither fit nor be suitable. The atmospheric hush of the folk clubs inspired a stripping back of many of our arrangements to get to the very heart of our music’s message,” the sleeve-notes tell us.

Much of the album is recorded live: at Bunbury Village Hall in Cheshire and the Lion Salt Works in Northwich, alongside the Music Projects in Wigan.

It opens with a reworking of Drunken Serenade from the band’s first album. Indeed, a memorable line from these lyrics gives this new album its title. It’s clear that songs like this and The War Between Ourselves lose none of their power through the acoustic treatment and, if anything, become yet more anthemic.

The album also proves an excellent showcase for some of the more poignantly reflective songwriting of the band’s Virginia Kettle, and her lovely vocals, on tracks like No Place Like Tomorrow.

Anthems To The Wind shows Merry Hell continuing to innovate and inspire. A fine album that lives up to its name.

Released: 26th November 2018

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

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Related reviews:

Merry Hell – Bury Me Naked EP

Merry Hell – Come On England EP

 

Singer songwriter: album review – Marianne Faithfull ‘Negative Capability’

This review was originally published  by Get Ready To Rock here

With a recording career spanning over fifty years ‘Negative Capability’ is Marianne Faithfull’s twenty-first album. Battling arthritis, contemplating bereavement and dealing with loneliness, it’s a highly autobiographical and emotive offering from Faithfull. “It’s the most honest album I’ve ever made,” she says. “I’ve always tried not to reveal myself. There’s nothing like real hardship to give you some depth. I’ve had terrible accidents and I’m really damaged. It’s changed my life forever. I’m in a lot of pain and worked really hard to get strong so I can do my work. The great miracle is I was able to make this beautiful record. I really had no idea how it would turn out.”

Alongside a house band composed of Rob McVey, Warren Ellis and Rob Ellis and Ed Harcourt (who also collaborates with Faithfull on the writing on several of the tracks), Nick Cave also puts in a guest appearance on one track, the magnificent ‘The Gypsy Faerie Queen’ which Cave has co-written with Faithful.

Faithfull’s voice today is a world away from the soft, gentle, wistful lead vocal the world fell in love with when ‘As Tears Go By’ was released back in 1964. Her vocals, aged, deepened and absolutely full of life, love, loss, tragedy and reflectiveness, these songs are delivered with 100% sincerity and conviction. For those wanting to make comparisons, Faithfull even returns to her iconic 1964 Jagger & Richards interpretation, one of two covers on the album, alongside Bob Dylan’s ‘It’s All Over Now Baby Blue.’ Of the new material, the aforementioned collaboration with Cave, alongside the majestic ‘In My Own Particular Way’, the haunting ‘Witches’ Song’ and ‘They Come At Night’ (co-written with Mark Lanegan) are all absolute stand-outs.

With beautiful songs and stunning musicianship in ‘Negative Capability’ Marianne Faithfull has delivered a late-career classic.

Released: 2nd November 2018 on BMG

http://www.mariannefaithfull.org.uk/

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Folk: album review – Daimh ‘The Rough Bounds’

This review was originally published by Bright Young folk here 

Launched twenty years to the day after Daimh’s first ever gig, The Rough Bounds sees the Gaelic super-group in celebratory mode. Unlike The Hebridean Sessions, the live album released to mark their fifteenth anniversary, this new album sees the band looking forward and exploring new material, both self-composed and traditional, rather than revisiting songs from earlier in their career.

“Half of the tunes on the record are written by the band and the other half are traditional, the only exception being that of a set of melodies composed by piping legend, PM Donald MacLeod from the Isle of Lewis. We wanted to pay tribute to one our favourite composers, but the set also serves as a stepping stone between the old tunes and our own contemporary pieces,” explains the band’s Angus MacKenzie.

No knowledge of the Gaelic language is required to appreciate the beauty of the exquisite sounds rolling off the lips of singer, Ellen MacDonald, but the lyrics, we are informed, cover those familiar themes of drinking, feuding and loves lost at sea. There can be few more powerful arguments in favour the band’s outspoken passion for preserving and defending Gaelic language and culture than hearing these lyrics delivered so beautifully on songs like Trusaidh mi na Coilleagan and Tha Fadachd orm Fhìn.

Of the tune sets 12th of June and the Donald Macleod Reels showcase some wonderful pipe-playing, while the uplifting Happy Fish contains some gorgeous interplay between accordion, whistle and fiddle.

Strong melodies, exhilarating pipes, enchanting fiddles, hauntingly atmospheric accordion and breathtakingly beautiful vocals The Rough Bounds is pretty much everything you could ask for from an album of Gaelic folk.

Released: May 2018

https://www.daimh.net/

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