Jan & Feb album reviews 2015

Shakey Graves “And The War Came”
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The name Shakey Graves is slightly misleading as rather than being a band, it is actually a solo artist called Alejandro Rose-Garcia from Austin, Texas. Certainly, when listening to “And The War Came”, you won’t believe it is the work of just one man, but instead you will imagine a ramshackle bunch of country desperados.
The first track on the album is “Only Son”, which has a subdued and melancholic beginning, until it slowly builds in to a passionate folk song that is reminiscent of the excellent Shovels & Rope. This comparison is further emphasised by “Dearly Departed” and “Big Time Nashville Star”, which also feature Esme Patterson. The first of these songs, is a great rough and ready Americana sounding number.

Alejandro rocks out a bit more on “The Perfect Parts” and “If Not You”, which are delivered in more of a southern style that is like the Kings of Leon if they were genuinely still a bunch of raw, country boys. They have a real authenticity about them, and will have you reaching for that bottle of bourbon. Many of the songs, like “Pansy Waltz” and “House of Winston” have a country/Americana feel and sound to them. They’re the sort of songs that lead to your mind wandering and painting images of dusty, country plains at the end of a long, hot, sunny day.
We see Esme Patterson returning on “Call It Heaven”, which finishes the album off with a simple, country sing along. It neatly demonstrates the raw and simple approach of the whole album.
This folk/Americana sound is one that simply won’t die, indeed it has seen a recent resurgence. Maybe it’s because in this day of constant technology and fast paced living, what we crave is the simple warmth that these raw songs can deliver. With this release, Shakey Graves have given us another album that has a real sense of authenticity about it. It has a low key production and isn’t a case of the style over substance approach that so many bands are forced to adopt. You kind of know that it is created out of a love of music and the hope that some people might just appreciate his willingness to show his skills and passion.

Justin Townes Earle “Absent Fathers”
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This is Justin’s second release in just under four months and is basically an accompaniment to “Single Mothers”. The albums were actually recorded at the same time and were originally to be released as a double album, until it was decided that each half needed to be released independently so they can make their own statements and have their own identities.
Opening track “Farther From Me” is an absolutely glorious song to begin the album. Ironically, given the title and lyrics, it has a real sense of warmth and a pleasant feel to it. It’s so good that you will be very tempted to just press repeat and listen to it again before hitting the rest of the album.
It is followed by the more stripped back sound of “Why”, where the slide guitar gives it a great contemporary country feel. Whilst the title of “Least I Got The Blues” really tells you all you need to know about that song. However, we soon get more of that lush sound returning on “Call Ya Momma” which again has a warm and appealing feel to it.

The mood changes dramatically with “Day & Night”, a slow and mournful tune, full of sparse emotion. This is also true of “When The One You Love Loses Faith” which is a quite beautiful ballad. Squeezed in between these tracks, however, is the great party swagger of “Round The Bend”. “Someone Will Pay” is another upbeat song which will have you tapping your feet and reaching for a cold beer (and maybe a woman to dance with!). It’s the ability to throw the listener’s emotions all over the place, which really makes this such a brilliant album.
The album ends with another sparse and delicate song, in the shape of “Looking For A Place To Land”. There is a raw emotion created by the sound of Justin Townes Earle’s fragile voice accompanied only by the sound of a picked guitar line. It’s music at its most basic but also at its most emotional and heartfelt.
Given the brilliance of the tracks on “Single Mothers”, it is pretty amazing that he has managed to produce another full album of equally, and possibly better, quality. The world is full of earnest, singer songwriters, delivering tales of heartbreak and woe. Few, if any, are able to match Justin Townes Earle. This is partly because he isn’t wallowing in self-pity and amongst the despair, his sound also offers hope. A large part may also be down to the fact that you know that he is playing from the heart rather than just playing out a role like some of his contemporaries. Whatever it is, the fact is that no one will have released a better double header than “Single Mothers” and “Absent Fathers”. Certainly, their release as a double vinyl collection will be a definite must buy.

Josh Nolan “Fair City Lights”
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“Fair City Lights” is the debut album from Singer/Songwriter/Multi-Instrumentalist Josh Nolan. However, there is a sense of a man who has paid his dues peddling his musical wares across bars in many small towns. The album certainly comes across as being by a man with a story to tell.
Opening song “Do It Right” sets the tone very early for the album, there’s a huge shadow of Springsteen at his most reflective and melancholic over the track. It has a story telling lyrical style which is repeated on tracks like “When I Was Young”. Songs like these and “Lulbegrund Revival (Golden Age)” will surely have a readymade fan base in those that enjoy the Boss and indeed many of the other acts he has influenced.

There is a perkier sound to “Waiting On The Night” and you can imagine that when played live it could be a full on rock n roller. It contains the lyrics “driving along with my windows down” and it’s certainly perfect for a cruise in the sunshine. A similar sensation is created by “’Till The Words Run Out” which is another up-tempo number. These songs bring a more joyous sound to the album with the additional horns and background vocals which really bring the song to life.
Josh adds an almost soul feel to “Come Mornin’” and it brings some light to what otherwise could be a more standard country number. Whilst songs like “Brave Heart Too” and “East KY Skyline” are the kind of Americana sounding tracks that Ryan Adams has made a fortune from. The whole album comes to a rather solemn end with the slow paced “Between The Lights”. It has the feel of an epic track that takes the listener on a thoughtful journey.

Whilst some artists may not like direct comparisons being made between them and other musicians, it is really hard to not make the link between Nolan and Springsteen. Although, let’s be honest there are far worse artists to be compared to! Also, it’s not made in a “rip off”/ “poor man’s version” way, but just an acknowledgement of an influence in terms of sound and style. The songs have a substance and quality to them which suggests that they will be warmly received and cherishes by many fans. Another lazy comparison is Ryan Adams, there is a sense that the music and lyrics come from the heart and a genuine love for the songs that are being created. It’s a sincere album, but importantly, not po faced, so it still has a wider appeal beyond just any bandwagon jumping Americana hipster i.e. you don’t need a beard and over styled haircut to love it!!
Tim Barry “Lost & Rootless”
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We first experienced Tim Barry when he supported Frank Turner. He was a hugely engaging and charismatic musician who managed to capture the audience instantly and win them over. The songs themselves were equally appealing and managed to both tug at the heart strings and have a sense of humour. He hasn’t wasted time in getting his next album out and therefore we were eager to see if he has kept the quality up on “Lost & Rootless”.
We hear a gentle acoustic strum on “No News From North” before that great raw voice kicks in. It’s a slow and thoughtful tune. The style continues on “The James” which has a mournful and wistful sound that portrays real heartache.

Just in case you are worried it may be all doom and gloom, up pops “Poppa’s Porch” which is a finger clicking, light hearted ditty. Then you will find it hard to not clap along to “Older & Poorer” with its country feel. When Tim does pick up the pace and add a more light-hearted feel to the song, the lyrics themselves remain quite down beat, as demonstrated by “Breathe Slow Let Em Pass”.
The title track “Lost & Rootless” and “Solid Gone” are just great songs that really demonstrate Tim Barry’s ability to deliver his songs in a story teller style. They end up like little plays all compacted into three minutes of simple acoustic tunes.

Whilst Tim may claim to be lost and rootless, that’s certainly not true of his musical style. That should surely be rooted firmly in the deep American South. Nearly all the songs are just Tim and his guitar (which we can only hope is some kind of beaten up old favourite, rather than anything shiny and new). The album is slow and melancholic but picks up the listener and gently takes them to the countryside where it sits you down on a dusty porch at sunset with a whisky in your hand. Not a bad place to be!
The Disconnects – “Wake Up Dead”
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The Disconnects are a 4-piece Rock N Roll band from Neptune City NJ. They are made up of Ryan Switzer (Guitar/Vocal) Tommy Miller (Guitar) Anthony Ruscitto (Bass) and Joe Brendel (Drums). Whilst the band began playing in 2011 and have put out a couple of releases they are a new band to http://www.thesoulofaclown.com. We are certainly glad to have found them though because we love anything with a punk rock heart and that is very true of The Disconnects.
The album gets off to a real rip roaring start with the brilliant punk rock of “Demolition Heart”, a song with a great swagger. It has a Pistol’s sneer but with something of a Guns N Roses shine to it. It’s fair to say that some of the songs like “Wake Up Dead”, “Makes Me Wanna Kill” and “She’s a Fink” are just straight up, no thrills punk rock songs..not that there is anything wrong with that!

There are, however, also some absolute gems where the band really brings something a little bit special. For example, “Lonely Boy” has a great seventies glam pop feel to it which isn’t surprising given the T Rex references in the lyrics. This glam sound is continued on the mid paced “I Don’t Mind” and the songs have a sound reminiscent of the equally great (and recently reformed) Last Great Dreamers.
They also throw in a bit of sleaze on tracks like “E=MC5” and “For Misty” which have that perfect throwaway rock n roll sound that was mastered by legends like Hanoi Rocks and Johnny Thunders. Despite its title, “Kills Me Sick” is a sweet little rock roll song that is very New York Dolls esque. Whilst “Fade Away” is just a really strong song that keeps the punk rock feel but really blends it into an almost power pop tune.
Having not heard of The Disconnects previously, this album came as a very pleasant surprise. Anyone who likes the gutter punk sound of bands like New York Dolls, Hanoi Rocks or say D Generation will absolutely love this album. This type of low slung, rock n roll will always have an underground following but very occasionally a few bands will create a scene which sees the exposure grow a bit. Let’s hope The Disconnects can be part of this, we certainly need more rock n roll outlaws in this world!!
Help them achieve that by getting a hold of the album here:
http://www.glunkrecords.bigcartel.com for UK and Europe sales
http://baldylonghair.com/shop/ For North America
http://chiselrecords.com For Canada

Emilyn Brodsky “Eats Her Feelings”
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When you hear this album it comes as no surprise that Emilyn was born in New York City and grew up in that great City’s punk rock heart. That’s not to say the album is particularly punk, although it’s appropriate that the phrase “charmingly aggressive” has been used to describe her. Likewise, it also doesn’t come as much of a surprise to hear she has toured with the likes of Amanda Palmer and The Hold Steady, as well as seeing her songs picked up by some TV shows that are in the know.
Opening song “Scaffolding” immediately shows that Emilyn has quite a unique but endearing style. The song is quite sparse in parts but the lyrics are neatly punctuated by the instruments. The really interesting part is Emilyn’s vocals which are kind of spoken and deliver the lyrics like a story. It actually has a sound that strangely reminds us of Lilly Allen or even more Kate Nash.
The track “Paper Thin Line” is a great indie pop song. It has an infectious melody and a sing along line which will just carry you along. The same can be said of “In The Wash” which is like a quirky little friend that you can’t help but love. Whilst “Do It Yourself” builds up slowly until once again it just grabs you and gets firmly stuck in your head.

The album is full of surprises, like the simple, fifties sounding and offbeat “Functional Alcoholic” and then “Wash The Rinds” which is like some kind of Mexican Calypso tune. Some of the songs do have a more mature, fully formed pop song feel and on tracks like “Born Again” and “Someone Belongs Here” there is a sound which is like Jenny Owen Young.

The album comes to a conclusion with the atmospheric pop of “Good Days”. It’s a good way to end the album because that’s the impression the whole album gives you. It’s a perfect accompaniment to a ‘good day’. The whole album is really inventive and intriguing. This is even true of the layout, where there are various answer phone message clips between the songs. Normally this might be a bit annoying but on “Eats Her Feelings” it just really works. It just gives you a few seconds to pause and build up the anticipation as to what the next song will deliver..which is inevitably yet another gem of a song.

Derek Grant “Breakdown”
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The name Derek Grant may not be one you instantly recognise, that’s unless you’re an Alkaline Trio fan. Derek is actually the drummer from that band but as “Breakdown” demonstrates, he is also a talented multi-instrumentalist and singer. This album was written against his own issues of substance abuse and divorce, hence the title. Do not fear, however, it’s not an album wallowing in self-pity.
Opening song, “Holiday Breakdown” is a perky little acoustic pop ditty which has a far more summery feel than its title may suggest, hence the “futures bright, but not today” line. There is a fuller, more polished sound to “Waiting For The End Of The World” which has an almost, laid back, Gaslight Anthem feel to it. Whilst “Love Is A Bad Dream” is similar but with more of a sixties feel to it.

Initially, “Got A Feeling” comes as a bit of a shock as it has a far more adult pop /commercial feel to it. You could honestly see this troubling the top of the pop charts, that’s not a bad thing.. It’s a quality song. Equally “Lucy” has an instant attraction to it, although we see a bit more of Derek’s punk roots showing, all be it delivered with an acoustic guitar riff.

Presumably, many of the lyrics are a reflection on Derek’s own life and troubles. That would certainly appear to be true of “Good Long Look” which suggests a man who has decided to seriously think about the direction his life is going in. The album comes to a premature end with “You Don’t Know” which again is a reflective song, but hidden within an almost country, upbeat tune.

There was a time when the mention of a solo album by a drummer would make any music fan shudder. Although maybe Dave Grohl has changed that for good and we can forget about Phil Collins!! It is questionable how Alkaline Trio fans will take to the album as it is some distance from their material. Hopefully, however, they will welcome it as a sign of growth by Derek. This is really a first rate collection of songs. Whilst it is firmly in singer/songwriter style, there is an added pop element which really lifts the songs, despite the introspective lyrical content. It certainly has the potential to appeal to a far wider audience than his main band. Whatever, the commercial success, lets certainly hope this is the first of many releases from Derek.
Adam Faucett “Blind Water finds Blind Water”
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Adam hails from Little Rock, Arkansas and it has to be said is in possession of a very fine beard… but don’t let that put you off, this is no shallow hipster. Indeed Adam has been performing as a solo artist since 2006 and in a band before that. His style on this album is said to offer a sound which is “part folk, part blues, part elemental rock stomp, part unidentifiable cosmic holler” (Arkansas Democrat Gazette).
The first thing which strikes you on opening number “Day Drinker” is Adam’s voice. It is quite distinctive as this type of Americana sound is normally accompanied by a gritty downbeat tone. Adam’s however is far clearer and much higher. The song “Melanie” is a great swaggering Americana that has a bigger and more upbeat sound then many of the songs on the album. More typical of the general style of the music is “Edgar Cayve” which is a brooding acoustic song that will surely appeal to fans of early Ryan Adams. Songs like this and “Poet Song” have a really melancholic feel to them. These tracks and others like “Opossum” are really written for late night listening and reflection. It certainly isn’t a pre going out to a party album!
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There is also a folk/country feel to songs such as “Walking Home Late”. Together with songs like “Spirit man” they give a greater sense of warmth to the album than the more stark acoustic tracks. The album ends with “Rock Aint Gold” which actually sees a return to the bigger, fuller band sound. It’s a powerful song and it would actually have been good to have more numbers like this style on the album.
It’s hard not to make the obvious comparison to Ryan Adams when considering this album. That’s not to say the sound or style is just derivative. It’s just that you can imagine Adam’s fans loving this album. There is also a nagging sense that this could be the platform on which Faucett could build a big career. You can just imagine in a few years’ time many hipsters will be saying “Oh, I used to like Adam Faucett but back in his ‘Blind Water’ days” like so many do now referencing Adam’s ‘Heartbreaker’.

Murder By Death “Big Dark Love”
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Murder by Death is a name we recognise but have not actually ever heard any of their albums. Which is a surprise given that this album comes after a formidable nearly 15 year career. This is actually their seventh album and given it is on the brilliant Bloodshot label and is offering up a rootsy indie rock sound it should be a good one. So don’t let the name put you off.. It’s not some death metal band!
This is quickly demonstrated by opening track, “I Shot An Arrow” which is a really great quirky pop/Americana hybrid. It’s like a more straightforward Blitzen Trapper and it helps to allow the album to immediately capture the listener. Likewise, “Strange Eyes” has an appealing organ opening before developing into a catchy peak.

The title track “Big Dark Love” is a slower, more brooding number which raises the intensity on the album. Songs like this and “Dream In Red” have an almost claustrophobic effect, really surrounding the listener. In contrast, “Solitary One” with the addition of horns and strings has a much bigger and open sound. They also deliver a great, uplifting song on “Last Thing” where the banjo is added to give an upbeat country twang to the track. The peak of the album, however, is “Natural Pearl” which is a brilliant number that chugs along like a kind of country/rockabilly song.

A strong contender for a single must be “It Will Never Die” which has the potential to be a huge hit as it has a Mumford & Sons feel to it. It is a catchy song which you could see just being a surprise hit…let’s hope so! The album then concludes with “Hunted” which sounds like a song that should be the backdrop to an old fashioned, guns at dawn, western shoot out.
As a first introduction, for us at least, to Murder By Death, this album is a damn impressive start. It’s fair to say that the whole Americana/folk rock scene is getting a bit over crowded these days. However, Murder By Death have something unique about them which makes them stand out in this busy crowd. Many of the songs on the album just have a different twist that ensures that they never become run of the mill. It is that diversity which ensures that the listener is eagerly awaiting the next song. Then when it’s finished you will want to go right back to the beginning and start all over again (or go out and buy another Murder By Death Album!).

Butch Walker – Afraid Of Ghosts
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If we’re being totally honest, this is the first Butch Walker release that we have approached with a sense of apprehension rather than complete excitement. Normally, we see the album releases pre-empted by a great, upbeat, rocking single or sneak previews. It has been very clear since news of this album first emerged, that Afraid Of Ghosts was not going to be a Butch Walker party rock collection. This should, of course, come as no surprise given that much of its inspiration has come from the death of Butch’s father.

The title track, “Afraid Of Ghosts”, is the first song on the album and sets the tone for the tunes that follow. It’s a slow, acoustic track which has a sense of poignancy that few singer songwriters ever achieve. The single “Chrissie Hynde” follows a similar vein and whilst not exactly a homage to Ms Hynde, there is still a glimpse of the admiration of one artist for another. These opening songs and indeed the whole album will definitely be a soundtrack to support many people as they go through difficult times in their own lives.
Songs like “How Are Things, Love” and “Father’s Day” are just brilliant and beautiful, epic ballads. These are proper ballads full of passion and emotion as opposed to the empty clichés that are normally produced by rock bands. They are the songs that live will bring the whole crowd to a state of complete silence and awe. The lyrics of “Father’s Day” would be poignant and heart breaking in any circumstances, but against the backdrop of Butch’s own loss this is taken to a whole new level. The song therefore acts as almost a centrepiece for the whole album. The ‘epic ness’ of the songs are raised even further with “Bed Of Fire”, a song which, in a better world, would be a huge James Bond theme tune!

It’s not all pain and suffering though, although “I Love You “ is as close to upbeat as this album gets. It’s a neat little acoustic pop rocker and has Butch’s calling cards of a beautiful melody and catchy tune. Likewise, he hasn’t lost his skill for carefully worded song lyrics and a sense of fun. A fact neatly shown by “Still Drunk” with the lines “we had sex on a brick wall of the public library for all to see”! There is also a neat balance between being both sensitive and intense but with an underlying uplifting melody on “21+”. Then “Autumn Leaves” has perhaps the warmest and most full sound of all the songs on the album. The tune provides a warmth against the stark coldness of the lyrical content.

As stated at the outset, anyone looking for Butch in party rock mood as he was with The Lets Go Out Tonights or on Spade, may well be disappointed. The key strength to everything that Butch Walker has ever done, however, is that he will always be 100% genuine and honest. This album reflects an artist who has been through heartbreak and delivered an album which expresses those feelings. It has a depth and sincerity that very few writers are capable of dreaming of, let alone creating. Even as huge Butch Walker fans we were initially sceptical having heard the pre album releases. However, that’s because they need to be heard and understood as part of the whole album, which is in fact a master piece of song writing. It won’t be our favourite Butch Walker album, mainly because we’re really just grown up glam rockers at heart. It is, however, probably his best album and is one hell of an accomplishment given the circumstances in which it was created.

The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion “Freedom Tower – “No Wave Dance Party 2015”
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Whilst The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion may have been around for nearly a quarter of a century, there seems to have been no dampening in their spirit or their desire to continue rocking and rolling. This album keeps true to their New York roots in being big, diverse, exciting and enticing, all at the same time.
Despite the morbid title of opening song “Funeral” it is a fairly explosive opening number. It’s rooted in the blues but takes in a whole lot of influences from rock to funk to R N B and back again. Songs like “Wax Dummy” and “Do The Get Down” keep the bombastic style going and the mixture of sounds and styles combining to form an in your face cacophony of noise.

The band then really hit the psychedelic funk button on tracks like “White Jesus”, “Crossroad Hop” and “The Ballad Of Joe Buck”. They recall a sound which weirdly sounds like what would have happened if The Beastie Boys were a group of dirty blues rockers rather than frat metal brats. It’s a total combustion of sounds that the band somehow manage to mangle in to really great coherent songs.
“Bellevue Baby” is about as straightforward as the band get on this album. This time it’s a monster of a soulful rocker that has an almost seventies rock feel to it. That’s a feel which is also present on the final track “Cooking For Television”, but this tune also contains the swirling psychedelic blues rock which leaves a massive imprint all over this album.
The reference to ‘Blues’ and ‘Explosion ‘in the band’s name are certainly very apt. This isn’t a quiet, sensitive album but instead is an in your face, funk, blues-rock triumph of noise. In many ways it almost feels like you are listening to a mash up mix tape given the variety of styles and influences. There is a sense of dirty blues rock at its core but it is overloaded with a whole range of influences from seventies rock to modern RNB as well as traditional rhythm and blues. It all makes for a wild and crazy listen.

The Delta Routine “You And Your Lion”
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This album is actually the fourth release from The Delta Routine who are a foursome hailing from Milwaukee. According to front man Nick Amadeus the majority of the album was apparently written on the road. This is certainly obvious on a collection of songs that have been influenced by the sights and sounds that the band have experienced during a period of extensive touring across the States.
When you hear “Chains Off Me” it is actually Nick’s voice which first catches your ear, it has a wonderful gravelly tone. It actually has the same raspy soul as our very own Paulo Nutini and is perfect for delivering lines like “Drink less whisky so more people will miss me”. The band ramp up the good time sound on “Gone Again” which brings to mind the country flavoured rock of someone like Lucero. This upbeat sound is kept going as the album hits an early high with the appropriate fun time sound of “On A Saturday Night” and the slightly funkier “Nothing On Me”. They then add a bit of swagger to “Queen Of New Jersey” and together with “You And Your Lion” these songs are really the point where the album comes alive.

The pace is then slowed down with “Home With You” and its country folk feel and then even more so with the more soulful blues of “On A Roll”. The band are soon up and rocking with the bar room blues of “Dying Too” which has a Southern rock, almost Black Crowes esque vibe to it. The album then all wraps up with “Don’t You Want So Long” which has an easy Americana swing sound.
The Delta Routine follow a fairly well-worn road in the style of sound, blues influenced rock songs. However, as demonstrated by the phenomenal, and surprising, success of bands like The Alabama Shakes, it still has a big appeal. This probably has a lot to do with the genuine, almost earthy, quality of the sound. It is an antidote to the shiny, mass produced and unauthentic pop that pollutes the music world. Certainly, for any fan of Southern influenced Americana/Country rock, this is another mighty fine addition for your probably extensive music collection.

Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires “Deconstructed”
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This is the follow up to the band’s last release “There Is a Bomb in Gilead”. That album actually generated a lot of critical praise which saw the band really raise their profile. For us, it was an album which we enjoyed but didn’t quite catch our heart. We were therefore keen to see how the band would develop on this latest release.
It certainly begins in fine, rocking form as “The Company Man” opens up with a hint of ‘Black Betty’ before turning in to a Bad Company song performed by a garage rock n roll band. Indeed, what could be more rock n roll than a song all about rallying against ‘the man’? The sound gets even more raucous on title track “Deconstructed” which is a great bar room song. The band don’t stop there though and we see them harnessing the power of Led Zeppelin gone country on “Burnpiles, Swimming Holes”.

The tempo is finally taken down a bit with “The Weeds Downtown”. It’s still a pacey number but the sound is more akin to the sleazy blues of The Stones. Alongside next track “What’s Good As Gone” they provide a nice couplet of bluesy rock n roll songs before we hit the more funky line of “Dare Defend Our Rights”.
The listener has to hold on until near the end of the album before they can really take a breather. “Mississippi Bottomland” is the most restrained song on the album. Well, almost, there is still a bar room chorus to keep the song moving along. The album then draws to a close with the Americana flavoured rock n roll of “Dirt Track”.

Whilst the album may cover a number of styles and genres e.g. Blues, rock, country, Americana etc. the simple truth is that it’s just a damn fine rock n roll album. Indeed for those of us who are already missing the brilliant Jim Jones Revue, this band may well be the perfect replacement. Like that band, they take the basic roots of rock n roll but add a garage and raucous flavour which makes it all sound fresh and contemporary. It’s the kind of album which really proves the old adage that rock n roll will never die!

The Great Secret “Deep Inside The Lungs Of A Whale”
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The Great Secret may indeed be an unknown act at the moment in the UK but they are hoping to let a few more people in on the secret with their second EP “Deep Inside The Lungs Of A Whale”. They are a Scandinavian alternative/indie artist who describe this EP as a ‘vibrant punch in the gut’.

It opens with the wonderful “Judy” which is a brilliant punk pop, glammy rock number with a great feeling of sleaze. It actually has a sound similar to the glitter rock of Semi-Precious Weapons. In total contrast, “Blackflickan” and “Photogenic Slumber” are slow and sparse ballads with the haunting vocals bringing on an almost Bjork esque feeling to them. The curve balls don’t stop there though and “Meteor” is like some sort of fifties number mixed up with a show tune. It’s slightly insane but also great fun!

The band rediscover their rockier sound on “Plastic Gut Meltage”. It possesses a cacophony of sounds which merge from almost metal to pop almost at the same time. They then end the album with “Star Fish” which is almost a twee pop song, or at least until it melts into an almost industrial feel.

The term eclectic is used far too often in music and often just describes a mess. However, you would be hard pressed to find a better term for this EP. Indeed, it almost feels like it’s at least three different bands playing (sometimes all on the same track!). It certainly isn’t boring and provides a stimulating listen which is pretty rare with bands these days.

Darlia “Petals”
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Rather than a full debut album, this is actually a mini album that brings together all Darlia’s singles to date, including a new recording of their debut track “Queen of Hearts”. It is certainly a release we have been looking forward to since the moment we first saw that video. At the time we thought that at last we had witnessed an indie group that sounded and looked like a ‘proper’ band a la The Manic Street Preachers.
Opening track “Stars Are Aligned” certainly doesn’t disappoint, it’s a corking indie rock song with a hint of glitz and glammer. Full of crunching guitars and a sing a long chorus that just soars. Whilst newest single “I’ve Never Been to Ohio” starts with a great drumbeat before bursting in to another huge anthem of a chorus. It has a darker feel which creates a sound reminiscent of Mansun at their catchy best.

There is no let up on the instant appeal of the songs as the album continues with the brilliant “Queen of Hearts”. The band then hit a more melodic and ‘pop’ sound with “Dear Diary” which in the right or, depending on your point of view, wrong hands could easily be tuned in to the next big hit for The Vamps! (That’s a plus for us!!).

The ‘final’ song on the album is “Say Your Prayers” which is the Indie equivalent to a power ballad and is bound to be a live crowd favourite. The album also includes acoustic versions of “Pandemonium” and “Candy man”. The second of these proves a real treat. It takes the hardest and most caustic track on the album and turns it in to a great new track. It almost has an Oasis feel but actually mainly just shows that taking a good song and breaking it down really demonstrates its real strength.

It’s a relief that the excitement generated by that first video isn’t dampened by this release. Indeed, the only disappointment we are left with is that it’s all over far too soon. Darlia come across as a ‘real band’ who are capable of generating a scene and a loyal fan base like bands such as The Manic Street Preachers and Placebo did before them. Like those bands, behind the great songs, there is also a hint of sleaze and danger sprinkled with a bit of glitter and that’s the type of band and songs we really need right now.

Taylor Locke “Time Stands Still”
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Whilst the name, Taylor Locke,may not be familiar to you, he is no newcomer to music, having been part of the LA Music scene since 1999. In fact he had a fair bit of success, although not as much as he deserved, as the co-founder and lead guitarist of Rooney. This is his first release as a solo artist and comes with the added intrigue of knowing inspiration for the title comes from a folder of lyrics given to Taylor by the legendary Kim Fowley.
Opening number “Burbank Women” is a slow, mid paced song which is a gentle intro to the album. Compared to that slow burner, “The Game” has an instant attraction. It’s a pure adult pop song with an almost seventies feel to it. The sound will just have you dreaming of beautiful, sunny, summer days. Equally as bright, but even faster paced, is “Running Away From Love” which is a huge power pop number.

There is an almost ‘stripper theme’ tune to “So Long”, although we are sure that the song is far more honourable that that! This song almost has us recalling Taylor’s Lojinx label mate Butch Walker. It’s another crunching power pop song but with a cheeky hook to it. Whilst the almost sixties vibe of “Time Stands Still”, alongside other songs such as “The Art Of Moving” and “No Dice” have a similar feel to Jellyfish or the off shoot from that band – Umajet.
Taylor’s also not afraid to have a bit of a rock out, as demonstrated by “Call Me Kuchu” which is almost seventies rock in the vein of the legendary Cheap Trick. There is a far more contemporary feel to “Going, Going, Gone” which is really just a great example of adult pop and perhaps a neat telling of his own experiences in Rooney.

This is a really quality album full of well written pop songs. For some reason, the term power pop never really seems to resonate here in the UK. If it is used, it comes with an almost retrospective style or influence. As it happens, it is a term perfectly suited to this album. The songs are ‘pop’ tunes but have a strength and substance that we don’t normally associate with that genre. They probably won’t be troubling the top of the pop charts, but that’s not to say they couldn’t if they were put through the marketing machine and were presented by some fake boy band. It is therefore more likely that this will remain a hidden gem, known only to those with an ear for a good melody. It will at least be in good company alongside the likes of Jason Faulkner and the brilliant Brendan Benson.

Prima Donna “Nine lives And Forty Fives”
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It comes as no surprise that Prima Donna are infamous on the LA scene as they have that gutter rock sound we associate with that town and it is clear that they have been raised on a steady diet of punk and glitter rock. There is, however, some substance to their musical background having toured with legends such as Adam Ant, D Generation and even Green Day. Indeed, frontman Kevin Preston has also participated in the Green Day side-project Foxbro Hot Tubs.
This album certainly gets off to a flying start with “Pretty Little Head”, which is an in your face sleazy, glam rocker and shows the band mean business. There is a more ‘contemporary’ feel to “Deathless” and the intro even has an almost Strokes esque sound. Don’t panic though, they haven’t joined the legion of boring indie bands. Instead a song like “Born Yesterday” adds some cool honky tonk piano a la The Quireboys or perhaps The Throbs (a band from back in the day that you really should check out!). They’re also not against a few power pop moves, as shown by the almost bubble-gum (but brilliant) “Living In Sin”. Whilst their cover of Dwight Twilley’s “I’m On Fire” is like an awesome, big, glam rock stomper.

Whilst there are elements of both pop and glam, the band is certainly on the dirty side of rock n roll, as shown by “Rubbish” which has a New York Doll’s ‘trash’ feel to it. A message that is firmly rammed home by the good time rock n roll of “Tattooed Love Girls” which has us reminiscing about the legendary Hanoi Rocks.
The phrase ‘all killers, no filler’ really applies to this album, the pace just doesn’t let up. It’s a dirty rock n roll album with a big, smudged lip stick mark plastered all over it. Anyone who has a love for rock n roll with a glammy flavour will love this album. If we’re honest, it’s not very ‘now’ but there are enough bands delivering boring music pretending to be rock. Prima Donna, however, are taking us back to far more wild, fun and exciting times …and more power to them!!

Chip Z’nuff “Strange Time”
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If your reading that name and it means nothing to you then you have seriously missed out. Chip Z’nuff is one of the founder members and bass player in the band Enuff Z’nuff. A band who actually had their greatest exposure with their debut album, but have struggled to match that commercial success since. That in itself is a tragedy as they have released some of the finest pop rock tunes known to man. Anyhow, this is one of their main songwriters’ first solo album.
We are gently introduced to his solo work by “Sunshine” a tune that displays the same love of The Beatles as his main band. It’s a psychedelic, laid back, Lennon esque ballad. When we first heard the debut single from the album, “Rock Star” it did cause us some concern as it is one of the tracks furthest away from ‘the Z’nuff sound’. Along with the title track “Strange Time” and “Dragon Fly”, they are sprawling, psychedelic rock songs that, if were honest, are missing the melody we normally associate with Chip’s work. Maybe they are best listened to with Chip’s preferred cigarette of choice to fully appreciate the spiralling effect of the songs!

Don’t panic though, there are still plenty of good songs on the album! Far better is “Still Your Face” where is firmly back in Beatles territory, although it might actually be closer to ELO as it had us thinking about their big hit, “Mr Blue Sky”. “Strike Three” is another number which has a strong tune and would sit comfortably on Enuff Z’nuff’s Tweaked album. Chip manages to merge both sides of the album on “Hello To The Drugs” which has an expansive feel but maintains the stronger sense of melody. He also delivers a very fine, punkier version of the great Kinks’ track “All Day & All Of The Night”, which nicely rounds off the album ‘proper’.
We also get a few bonus tracks, including “My Town” and “Yesterday (Another Wasted Day)” which are great pop rocking numbers. There is also one of the best songs on the album in the form of the provocatively titled “Tonight We Meet (and now were going to F***)”. That song is a real power pop gem that reminds us of the great fun character Mr Z’nuff is.
This is quite a hard album for us to review, mainly because we are such huge fans of Chip’s ‘day job’ band. We consider Enuff Z’nuff to be one of the most underrated bands in music. Our natural urge, therefore, is to love those songs that are most reminiscent of that band, of which there are many. Credit should be given to Chip for seeking to strike out and do something different and those songs may well attract new/different fans. One things for sure is that a songwriter of Chip’s quality deserves all the exposure he can get.

JD McPherson “Let The Good Times Roll”
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When JD McPherson first hit the music world with his debut “Signs And Signifiers”, the level of success and press attention must have come as a bit of a surprise. It’s not exactly as if the commercial world is known for welcoming a fifties/rockabilly style sound. However, the quality of that album was so damn good that perhaps it shouldn’t have come as a shock. This time around the challenge is to match that debut and deal with the weight of expectation that success has brought.
Any fears are soon put firmly to bed by the brilliant title track “Let The Good Times Roll” which opens the album. It thankfully, also confirms that we are not going to see some sort of ‘reinvention’, the track is firmly in the old school rock n roll camp. The energy and high spirits are kept up with “Bossy” another vibrant track.
JD McPherson is really at his best when he adds a bit of hip shaking and funk into the mix (see the brilliant “Firebug” from his debut). On this album, “It’s All Over But The Shouting” is a guaranteed floor filler. Songs like that one and “It Shook Me Up” are the ones which will really get you dancing around the kitchen.
One of the real highlights on the album is “Head Over Heels” which, whilst still firmly rooted in fifties rock n roll, has a more contemporary feel similar to what we heard on the album by The Caezars (a brilliant young UK band). Tracks like “Shy Boy” and “You Must Have Met Little Caroline?” have an added ‘something’ and it’s this ability to bring the sound bang up to date which makes JD McPherson so special.

For the romantics there is, of course, a heartfelt ballad in the shape of “Bridge Builder”, a slow and seductive tune that just crawls along. Whilst “Precious” is another great soul number which will have you turning the lights down.
For us though, we look to JD McPherson for some good old rock n roll and the album is just full of that. “Mother Of Lies” is a great, retro sounding number which blends rock n roll with an almost Northern Soul sound. The album then ends with a real bang on “Everybody’s Talking About The All-American”, which is as traditional rock n roll as anything by the likes of Chuck Berry, Elvis etc.
There really is something very special about JD McPherson. His songs are unashamedly ‘retro’ and clearly influenced by days gone by. However, he manages to add something (and we can’t put our fingers on exactly what that ‘something’ is!) that makes the songs sound fresh and relevant today. It is far too easy for this style to just sound clichéd and nostalgic, but these are just timeless songs. JD McPherson is in an exclusive club with the likes of Darrel Higham and his wife Imelda May in creating a rock n roll sound which is as relevant and exciting now as it would have been if it had been released fifty years ago ….which is no mean feat!

One response to “Jan & Feb album reviews 2015

  1. Pingback: Jan & Feb 2015 album reviews | The Soul Of A Clown·

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