Some recent reviews…
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PATSY MATHESON ‘Stories Of Angels & Guitars’ (2012)
Former Waking the Witch member Patsy Matheson returns with her new album, her first in nearly four years. Mind you not that she hasn’t been busy touring relentlessly including some very well received gigs with folk legend Clive Gregson. Patsy plays most instruments on here (including the xylophone!) with Jon Short on double bass and former Housemartin Hugh Whitaker on drums.
This is an album for concentration and enjoyment – with a wine/beer (or tea in my case) in hand along with the lyrics sheet. The vocals are simply stunning, from ‘Under Your Wing’ with a heavenly high vocal part midway through to ‘So The Same’, where Patsy joins her herself on harmonies, something her former band Waking the Witch excelled at. Lovely mandolin solo on ‘Water Is Over The Weir’ and again another song you can lose yourself in. The moving ‘Sylvia Jean’ closes the album, a tale of two young lovers whose romance is cut short after the young man dies in a flying accident.
What makes this album special? The smoothly melodious voice draws you into a song; add a little acoustic guitar and what more can you want? We all have our musicians and singers we like to rave about and I would urge lovers of singer/songwriter and folk music to buy this album.
ROYAL HUNT ‘Show Me How To Live’ Frontiers (2011)
Royal Hunt are back after their last album ‘X’ seemed to disappear without trace but now they are back on Frontiers for their new album. Since the last album gone too are vocalist Mark Boals and guitarist Marcus Jiddell, with vocalist DC Cooper returning (he was the band’s vocalist in the mid-90’s) and new guitarist Jonas Larsen.
Now for the majority of Riyal Hunt fans the return of DC Cooper is like Ozzy back in Black Sabbath or Slash returning to Guns ‘N’ Roses. I however, must be one of the few who really enjoyed the John West fronted albums! This album is a back to basics one after the disappointment of ‘X’. It is not a concept album and Andre Andesen’s keyboards set to ‘stun’ along with DC Cooper on fine vocal form. ‘An Empty Shell’ contains wondrous keyboard runs coupled with just the right amount of guitar. A gentle harpsichord intro (not often you read that in a rock review) gives way to catchy ‘Hard rain’s Coming, a song chosen as the lead song of this album. The band’s use of layered choir backing vocals is used to good effect on this song. ‘Another Man Down’ brings in the band’s skill at creating a story set to music and again those keyboards are swirling all over the place creating a keyboard’s heaven. Again the band shows they haven’t lost the skill of penning catchy melodic metal. Those seeking some OTT guitar solos may feel short changed on the album but then this band has never dues them as a foundation of their sound.
A returning key member doesn’t always mean a return to form, (just ask Megadeth) but in Royal Hunt’s case they are back on form. Now for some live dates and a juicy big concept album next time…
THIS IS FREEDOM ‘Welcome Home’ (EP 2012)
Debut EP that has been a work in progress since 2010. Now I am not ‘up’ on the band’s name-checked in the press release like You Me At Six and Francesqa, but This Is Freedom sound like the rockier end of Hard-Fi. Highlights are spiky rocker ‘Bitter’ complete with a nice synth intro and the slower ‘Hurricane’, adding some variety to the EP. Expect to see them in Kerrang! and becoming one of next year’s next big things…
SAVATAGE ‘Handful Of Rain’ Ear Music/Edel (2011)
The Savatge re-issue campaign continues apace with the band’s 1994 release, their first after the death of Criss Oliva. Although the band are credited it is Jon Oliva playing all the instruments with Alex Skolnick on guitars (his only Savatage album).
Listening to this album you can see where the TSO came from, especially as Paul O’Neill helps on production. The title track is one of the band’s best for me, along with the epic refrain of ‘Chance’. This song has it all, the massive backing, OTT guitar solos and counterpoint vocals (one of the first Savatage songs to use these) so beloved of bands like Queen. For some straight ahead metal you have ‘Symmetry’ and ‘Taunting Cobras’ (great song title). The album closes with a tribute to Criss Oliva ‘Alone You Brethe’, again the band pulled out all the stops on the music and vocals.
The two bonus songs are acoustic versions of ‘Summer’s Rain’ and ‘Believe’ by Jon Olivia recorded this year. Both are full production numbers with keys/drums/acoustic guitar and in the case of ‘Summer’s Rain’ it sounds like a whole new song as it is played at a slower pace than the original.
One of my personal favourate Savatage albums as the band melded their prog metal leanings with big production values.
CRAIG FINN ‘Honolulu Blues’ (CDS 2011)
Craig Finn is of course the singer in the Hold Steady and this is his debut solo single ahead of his album ‘Clear Heart Full Eyes’. Obviously being the vocalist of a band it is hard to escape the sound of your band and in this case it happens partly. Mind you, when your band are the Hold Steady that’s not really a problem. The song has less urgency and guitar than the Hold Steady but the storytelling lyric is still there, along with a vocal that sounds like singing and talking at the same time – if that makes sense! Based on this Craig Finn will have another hit on his hand.
INTENSE ‘The Shape Of Rage’ Pure Legend Records (2011)
Intense are back and also on a new label, German based Pure Legend Records. We’ve been waiting four years for this new one but it has been worth the wait. If you wanted to sum up the band’s sound it is intense (excuse the pun), classic metal with a vocalist, Sean Hetherington who can match the powerful music around him. Too often metal vocalists disappear under the metal bombast of their band colleagues.
If a song like ‘The Elemental’ does not get you air guitaring and riffing then you can’t call yourself a metal fan. This is a tune I am sure Judas Priest would love, both lyrically and musically. One of the band’s best songs to date. ‘Skull Of Sidon II (The Final Stand)’ shows off the band’s prog metal leanings building from a steady intro into neither mighty metal tune. An interesting diversion on ‘For The Fallen’, an almost ballad like song with a moving lyric and acoustic guitar. ‘One Man’s Word’ is one of those atmospheric metal songs so beloved of classic Iron Maiden and Iced Earth.
Three albums into their career and Intense, despite obstacles set in their path, continue to deliver powerful and enjoyable metal. It is about time they enjoyed a lift in success they so richly deserve.
Estrella ‘One Love’/'Party’ (CDS 2011) http://www.facebook.com/Estrellarocks
The band comprise of brothers Paul Gunn (vocals), Luke Gunn (guitar) and Nathan Gunn (bass), with Leo McPherson (drums). They have been building up a decent following in their native Scotland and recorded their debut album with producer John Sinclair (Ozzy Osbourne/Uriah Heep).
‘One Love’ is a perfect arena rock anthem with a big, catchy chorus and a nifty keyboard riff. The sound is not overly slick either, like Def Leppard meets Shy. Not so keen on ‘Party’ which as the title suggests sees the band going all 80′s hair metal and Sunset Strip. They don’t quite pull it off plus they come from Aberdeen, hardly a sunny spot!
On the strength of ‘One Love’ this band have enough to leave you wanting more. Roll on the debut album release in March…
PAUL GILBERT & FREDDIE NELSON ‘United States’ Mascot Records (2009)
This album seemed to have slipped past me on its release but I am glad I read about it on a forum. It features Mr Big’s Paul Gilbert along with relative unknown singer Freddie Nelson. You may gleam a clue about Freddie Nelson’s vocal hero and style from his first name…
This is an album for Paul Gilbert not only to show his undoubted guitar prowess but he gets to play some tasty riffs. There isn’t really a bad song on here and for Queen fans check out ‘Paris Hilton Look-Alike’ or ‘I’m Free’ (marvel at those high notes and the frantic guitar solo) for some simply stunning Queen approved harmony vocals. But it is not all Queen as ‘Pulsar’ has a real Thin Lizzy flavour in the guitar parts and a Billy Sheenan like bass line. ‘The Answer’ features some beautiful acoustic playing from Paul Gilbert, adding variety to musical pot.
If I could travel back in time this album would make 2009 best of with ease. Not sure why this album didn’t make a bigger splash on its original release but you can remedy this now if you like Mr Big/Paul Gilbert, Queen, classic rock get this CD now!
JOSH TAERK ‘Never Look Back’ (2011) http://www.joshtaerk.com
Josh Taerk is a twenty year old Canadian singer/songwriter who releases his debut album on the back of a recommendation on his work from E-Street Band drummer Max Weinberg, plus Terry Brown (Rush) produced the album.
‘Start Again’ is the album’s big rock anthem and naturally was released as single. Think Keith Urban with a bit more clout. ‘Smell The Roses’ is another strong song and features Styx’s Lawrence Gowan on piano. Much of the rest of the album is made up of reflective pieces that bring to mind Hootie & the Blowfish. Easy on the ear and stand up to repeated plays.
I do feel his success will lie in the US and Canada where this style of music does so well, sadly not here in the UK. Josh Taerk has produced an impressive debut album, so get in early and enjoy this album as he will get bigger and more well known as his career progresses.
TOMMY EMMANUEL ‘All I Want For Christmas’ Favored Nations Acoustic (2011)
Tommy Emmanuel is an Australian acoustic guitarist famous for his picking style of playing, based on one of his main influences Chet Atkins. This is his seasonal offering featuring fellow guitarist John Knowles, who along with the other players recorded this album by Skype and downloads.
This is a wonderful instrumental Christmas treat, up there with the Californian Guitar Trio’s classic Christmas album from 2002. The musical styles incorporate a little jazz, some blues, plenty of classical guitar playing and a lot of good music. Hard to pick highlights but ‘Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer’ (lovely playing on this one), ‘Mary’s Boy Child’ (nice, gentle jazzy feel to the music) and the only new song on here, ‘One Christmas Night’, stand out.
Christmas music is often naff and thankfully only played for a short time each year but don’t let this little gem slip you by. Buy it for your loved one/parents/grandparents and then sit back and enjoy over the Christmas period.
JON AMOR BLUES GROUP (2012) http://www.jonamorbluesgroup.com
The highly talented Jon Amor is back with a new album with a line-up featuring two fellow members of the Hoax (the Doherty brothers), the band he rose to prominence with and drummer Simon Small. Recorded in a fortnight it means the album has a proper live feel to it and the band would have no trouble reproducing the music on here in the live arena.
This is good old fashioned blues rock album with some modern twists. There is much to enjoy on here from the blues rock stomp of ‘Juggernaut’ through to the Muddy Waters influence on ‘The Underdogs’. ‘Repeat offender’ may have a simple refrain but it is one that sticks in your head and won’t let go.
Mention must be made of the drums and percussion, some wonderful fills and crystal clear percussion on the album which really help to give the songs an earthy feel. The guitar solos are kept concise, never extending their welcome into one of those endless blues rock solos that leave all but the hardened blues fan bored.
If like you me you only dip into the blues now and then, make sure you get this album as it will keep you in blues heaven.