Zebulon –  Jon Lindsay (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

a2408855845_16Is nothing sacred? How can I earn a quick buck writing about music if artists like Jon Lindsay won’t stay put in one or another other genre. Actually its worse than that, Zebulon seems to create a genre of its own, one made of all the best bits of American music over the last 80 years. Is he allowed to do that? Do the unions know? Am I going to have to start earning my money now? Damn it! Last time out Jon could be more easily categorised as a modern pop troubadour, this time around he is somewhere between a music hall entertainer, a roots revivalist, a social commentator, a musical archivist and a curator of all things cool.

Zebulon pops when it needs to, rocks in a perfect gentle but assured fashion and drives on a bluesy-gospel funk. Bar room pianos skitter past, Hammonds swell and soothe, brass sections boogie things up and a pulsing back beat is created by a perfectly on the money rhythm section. It’s the Asbury Dukes playing a modern pop card, Nick Lowe funking it up or any number of modern power-pop bands exploring its parents record collection.

But it is clever beyond the music, and perhaps perfectly timed considering the partisan, opinionated and entrenched world which seems to be coalescing around us. Based on a gig he played for a young Southern girl before she headed off to a Northern college, some of the rhetoric and narrow-minded talk which acted as a back-drop to that evening has informed the song’s lyrics.

But politics and world views aside, this is a cracking song. It would be enough that it has something very important to say, but the fact that it also comes on as a history of American musical styles and never feels forced, overly eclectic or anything other than the coolest, most groovesome song that you have heard in a long time just marks Lindsay out as an important artist to watch.

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Corinne Crimson – EP (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

Corinne-Crimson-cover-FBI think that the reason that Corinne Crimson’s songs seem to stand up against the tide of bedroom EDMers and pop wannabes is that where as the competition, largely speaking, built their songs up from sampled beats and synthesised grooves, Corinne writes in a more traditional way on a guitar, adding the musical texture once the song is bolted down. This means that unlike those aiming to be the next David Guetta or similar clubland sensation working from a beat up towards the melody and generally bypassing the groove, her songs manage to build all these components in before the machines take over, the perfect symbiosis of tradition and technology.

And the result is a set of songs which are vibrant and dance orientated but which against the run of the mill clubland fayre seem to exist in three dimensions rather than the flatland beat that has become the norm. Angel kicks things of with a lazy, looping and sultry groove; island vibes and an inherent restraint make this the perfect calling card, a lesson in understatement, not giving away all the goods straight away but the perfect first step into her world.

Catch and Release introduces a more rock vibe behind its electronic motifs and unleashes a response to the ungallant ways that some men conduct themselves and Honey Brown Skin takes a more frivolous pathway, talking about the sun-kissed, carefree environment that is the birth place of this music. Corinne herself refers to it as California Beach Girl Music so it seems only fitting that such topics are part of the conversation. A more life affirming moment comes with Say What a song which wanders between Day-Glo acoustic pop and funky dance culture and it is a funkiness which is heightened on the ep’s final track Testosterone.

It is worth mentioning Fly Away at this point, a wonderful pop-dance number which doesn’t appear on the e.p. but would fit right in. It contains all the elements of a would be dance anthem, build ups, break downs, exotic solos and infectious beats and when added to this collection acts to underline how vibrant, accessible and effortlessly cool her songs are.

Not everything has to have a deep meaning and require lyrical pondering or musical dissection, some music can be taken at face value, is to be enjoyed and appreciated for its “in the moment” qualities. Corinne Crimson’s latest e.p. is just that, an up front, in your face, collection of songs. But far from being challenging it seeks merely to try to get you to join the party. Yes, it is interesting lyrically, has something to say and makes some very valid points but I’m sure she would be the first to say it is all about the party first, plenty of time to talk later.

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We’ll Be Fine – Flood County  (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

26240176_721660528040086_1618765054163463668_oAnyone with half a good ear would place Flood County fair and square in the country oeuvre, but genres are tricky things to get to grips with. Either they are so vague as to be next to useless, or, and yes metallers I am looking at you, they are so precise and convoluted as to only neatly relate to one or two bands. Country music definitely falls into the former category. So this is country, but it is what gets threaded through We’ll Be Fine that we need to talk about, the deft musicality which personalise it, the clever sonic choices which make it stand apart from the rest of the rhinestoned, pick-up truckin’ line dancing lesser mortals.

For whilst it is an album which has a country core and even elements that will find favour with the Music City purists, this is an album, and indeed a band, who don’t follow the rules, at least not to the letter, and therefore don’t fall for the cliches. By and large theirs is a soothing and soulful take on the genre, restrained and delicate and the gently sweeping violins and lilting banjo’s touch on pastoral bluegrass and bucolic folk as much as they do the traditional country music building blocks.

Songs like Most of The Time, The Road and the title track itself provide confident country grooves but they are balanced by the restraint of The Old Famous Smile and the delicate waltz of World Come Undone. It swings when it choses, it struts when it feels like it but most of all it is a deft and well crafted collection of songs, songs which would rather underplay their musical hand in favour of a softening soulfulness and a wonderful delicacy. Less is indeed more. Much more!

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Scene and Heard  – CCXXXX : Gentle  –  The Rumble Skulls (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

3622b3_06fdc4e18e3b43bcb0a5ed7bbf7a78d4~mv2_d_1600_1600_s_2Whilst the bands name and generally imagery suggests something a bit more foot on the monitor, rock and roll, and indeed a quick dip into their other musical offerings confirms this, Gentle, as the name suggests, comes from a more considered place. It fact it comes from that place that seems to often deliver great cross over music, the place where bands step out of their comfort zones and  explore the generic landscape more full. It is a place where popsters toy with rock muscle, where rockers get their head around pop sensibilities and understatement. And whilst Gentle isn’t a million miles away from the Rumble Skulls signature sound, it does offer some nice balance.

The charm of the record is that it sheds a few layers without losing its grove and drive, it is just this time out it rocks on an acoustic guitar led rhythm and funky beat. The vocals are impressive and the short solo break, they should always be this short, throws in a lovely touch of oriental spice. In short it rocks without being a full blown rock song, it pops without resorting to cliche and fashion and it swerves that dangerous rock-ballad territory by keeping things upbeat and fun.

When you look at the people that make up The Rumble Skulls it is easy to see why this song works so well, with credits ranging from Gary Barlow to David Gray to Lionel Richie and songwriting for film and mainstream TV, it is clear that this is a band who know what makes a good song, and this is undoubtable a good song. And what makes it a good song is the limits that it sets on itself…none. Gentle could just as easily be found ripping up the charts in the hands of the latest pop sensation as it could as the swan song of a stadium show from any number of rock stalwarts or being played in a small grassroots venue by an unknown, underground indie-kid acoustic troubadour appealing to the cool movers and shakers.  And when you have a song that versatile how could it not be a sure fire winner.

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Satisfied – Ashley J. (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

ASHLEY J SINGLE COVER ARTWORKAshley j is possibly the perfect pop product for the moment. She effortlessly combines that modern take on a retro image that is in vogue, with slick and vibrant, dance driven pop grooves. And if previous singles such as Trapped and Unbreakable have played a fairly straight forward hand, this time out she shows a more understated side to her music, where a chilled dance groove is more prevalent than here usual infectious beats.

But it proves that within her realm of accessible and commercial music, she can turn her hand to almost anything, Satisfied being an ultra-slick, slightly futuristic blend of restraint and wide-screen musicality. It temptingly holds back when you expect it to run wild, it builds big sounds without swamping the song with too much instrumentation and the depth and texture it carries is the result of creating enough space to let the songs individual components  breath and flow, to have time and room to let the listener become beguiled by its restraint and fragility.

Ashley has been building an image as a new breed of pop icon, Satisfied, with all its  futuristic grace and cutting edge sonic creativity, shows that she has the ability to cross over into other genres as well, any time she choses.

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Shadows In The Mind’s Eye –  L.HUNT (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

23319157_1526531737440360_2240410559550552270_nI have to admit that when you see the term Rock Opera or Concept Album in the notes for a review submission, I tend to clench my teeth and expect the worst. Maybe I grew up in the wrong time when such terms were linked to the likes of Rick Wakeman dressed as a wizard and putting historical productions together…on ice! So I girded by loins, thought of queen and country and went in….

Thankfully these are different times and Shadows…, is far removed from those days. Thankfully we live in a more enlightened, less pretentious time and whereas concept albums used to sound like the drug addled musings and flights of science fiction fancy found in the works of Michael Moorcock, L.HUNT offers something much more worthy. Shadows…, and the album it is from LifeWork: Passage One – The Question (okay that does sound like it should be on a Yes album) explore the concept of the human condition and madness and in these tough times of isolation and worry, anything which raises such awareness, no matter how conceptually driven, is to be applauded.

Musically it is fascinating too, a great snapshot of what you can expect from the complete work, rising from neo-classical confusion where gypsy violins wind through piano meanderings and skittering percussion whilst an imploring and emotional charged vocal takes centre stage. Crescendos and breakdowns create dynamics and tension, wailing guitars add to the chaos and in just three minutes they leave you drained. But they also leave you hooked and wanting to know more. Singles, if indeed we still call them that, used to be an advert for the full album and that is exactly what Shadows…, is, the perfect hook, a fantastic promotional piece and a beguiling track in its own right.

 

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Runaway Blues –  Jarel Portman (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

Jarel_Portman_coverPortman is one of those musicians who understands that nothing is truly new but that the way forward is by using the same creative building blocks as before but just putting them together in new ways. It would be easy to merely dismiss Runaway Blues as just another blending of pop and rock, using the accessibility and slickness of the former to tame the rawer and baser urges of the latter. Dig a little deeper and you will find something much cleverer at work.

Runaway Blues is a song built through bringing contrasting elements together and using them to complement rather than conflict with each other. So the slick west-coast rock sound is given some edgier muscle from cooler east coast climes, intricate bass grooves roll through the often spacious nature of the lead work, intricate musical motifs dance around the edge of the song and pop immediacy is spliced with effortless cool and energetic drive.

The result is music which seems at once coming from a familiar place yet leads a way towards a new rock dawn, which has a timeless quality in that it could have been had its genesis in any decade since the seventies but which bristles with cutting edge production and ultra-modernity. It’s a conundrum but then if everything was easily explained the world would be a dull place to live.

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Rad Science  – Eleventyseven (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

22860073_10159511871290223_3324345195166671554_oF. Scott Fitzgerald famously said that there were no second acts in American lives. He also said a bit about trombone players and jazz music. He also predicted that pop-punk has had its day. Maybe. He was wrong about a lot of it. Eleventyseven are not only back after a three year hiatus, with a new album, but Rad Science is their fifth to date and their first on their own label. This feels very much like a second act to me and pop-punk certainly isn’t dead, it just needed a bit of a polish, a re-tune and is ready for another spin round the block, leaving tyre tracks on the street and the smell of burning in the air and Eleventyseven have proven to be just the people for the job.

But enough of the tenuous car analogies. The band’s chosen moniker for their music is neon-punk and as journalistic labels go it is pretty much spot on capturing their blend of vibrant pop sensibility and punk energy, old-school guitar muscle and cutting edge electronic futurism and Rad Science is neat slice of sassy accessibility and clever genre-splicing.

Holding Out, the current single, leans heavily on the EDM side of their signature sound, weaving together dance vibes and big choruses, a surefire winner with the dancefloor set and compare this with the slick but visceral punk urges of opening salvo New Rock Bottom and you have an idea of the limits of the territory that the band work in. And these limits are wide enough to encompass Kicking The Habit’s futuristic electro-rock, Inside Out’s skittering pop, the hat tip to pop-punk past of New York Minute and the more balladic dance grooves of Microchip.

It’s safe to say that there is plenty going on here, but then again this is a band which has more than earned their stripes, know a thing or two about writing songs which are both commercial and immediate but which also appeal to a more discerning musical palette, and who are about to embark on a really exciting second act. F. Scott who?

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3 Candles x Biggest Christmas = Bull’s Asshole – Lil Hemwoid (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

155659046Damn! Where even to start? I’ve spent years tweaking the most insightful comments out of the strangest music, making sense of warped artistic thought processes, from dream pop to electro-clash punk, folk odysseys to progressive meanderings. Even within the cutting edge of forward thinking hip-hip and cosmic rap, I manage to pull out meaning and reason. I have to say that this strange track has left me struggling for words.

Its hip-hop, of sorts, a slow progressive, dark and ambient hip-hop which skitters it a trap-rap sort of way rather than grooves like the old school style. It threads in strange percussion and weird electro samples, the music is the easy part of the equation. Lyrically…..

It’s satire right? But a satire of what I haven’t yet worked out. It seems to switch its lyrical focus at will and at times even seems to be two or three songs bolted together…or just some sort of studio jam and drug fuelled rap stream of consciousness. Is it about consumerism? Patriotism? Celebrity? The Music Industry? I don’t know, I really don’t know.  Sometimes music is more than entertainment, sometimes it is meant to confuse, intrigue and subvert the listeners expectations. Maybe it is just playing with us, a joke that we are not in on. 3 Candles is all that and more, whatever you are expecting to hear you won’t be ready for this…but you will play it again…and again….and again! Weird!

 

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What a Pretty Day –  Ranzel X Kendrick (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

Ranzel_X_Kendrick_Texas_SagebrushRoots music is a tricky term, two wide ranging to bolt anything down too specifically, able to accommodate genres such as country, folk, blues and all sorts of world music, but if there is one artist whose music seems to sit nicely under its journalistic umbrella it is the wonderfully named Ranzel X Kendrick. His self-termed Freestyle folk needs no other qualification or label, it not only does what it says on the tin, a scattergun of rambling folk and country licks, it seems to swerve the rigidity of the former and the cliche of the latter and find its own down-to-earth, sweet and accessible path.

Here joined by vocalist Rebecca White, What A Pretty Day is from the forthcoming Texas Sagebrush, the middle of a trilogy of albums which began with Texas Paintbrush and is set to conclude with Texas Cactus. The real charm of the song is that it has a free-wheelin’ jam session feel to it, is loose and laid back, not in its studio presentation, that is as on the button as it needs to be, it is just that the understatement and relaxed personality of the song makes it seem like you have a couple of friends over busking for fun in the back yard, all of which is a nice antidote to the over slick, overtly earnest and ultimately false feeling of much modern music.

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