So For Real –  Ed Hale (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

511iujCP7BL._SS500There is a real skill to being able to make music that simultaneously sounds like you have been listening to all of your life but also the newest, freshest music to waft through the airwaves but it is a skill that Ed Hale appears to possess in no small amount. I guess it is what happens when you combine a wonderful musical imagination with a template that has served songwriters so well for the past 50 years. But just because someone takes the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix out approach” that doesn’t mean that they can’t give it a fresh lick of paint, re-shape, refine, have fun with and add new and exciting sonic detail to it. And that again is something that Ed Hale revels in. So For Real is definitely a case of evolution rather than revolution.

Summer Flowers kicks things off majestically, a veritable heatwave of retro-pop vibes, a flex of rock muscle and some wonderfully psychedelic moves and it is these corner stones that define the albums personality. But this isn’t plunder, plagiarism or pastiche, for all its backward glance to past glories, songs such as Gimme Some Rock ’n’ Roll chime in tune with bands such as Flaming Lips or Wasuremono as readily as it does anything from previous generations.

Stephanie’s Song (It’s Alright, It’s Okay) wanders some strange country backroads, one’s most deffinatly leading away from Nashvegas and possibly leading north towards Mercury Rev’s secret hideaway, Honestly is bold and unabashed folk-rock and Martha’s Sleeping blends cinematic pop with a sort of wide-screen cosmic folk music.

So For Real proves that there is life in the singer-songwriter format yet and as always, forgive another cliche, “it ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it.” Forget your earnest, would be troubadour with complicated hair and skinny jeans, Ed Hale is everything that image isn’t. This is a solo player thinking like a band, a master craftsman who isn’t afraid to have fun, a student of the musical past who knows how to carry its most important musical hallmarks into the future. It is music that is instantly familiar yet wonderfully fresh. How does he even juggle so many brilliant contradictions? But then if we knew the answer to that….

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Faith and Science  –  Moderate Rebels (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

ZVf-WDTgIn a world where people seem to feel entitled to all of the answers, where ironically the demand for knowledge has left us with a society who are less informed but more confident in their ignorance, it is nice to know that there are people who still revel in the mysteries of life. I don’t need to know how electricity works to enjoy a cup of tea and I don’t need to subscribe to a religion to know right from wrong, why not just follow your own path and try not to piss too many people off. Which is pretty much what Buddha said, I think.

Similarly when it comes to making music Moderate Rebels aim for an easy life too. “Less chords and words; simple and complicated; direct and vague. We have our mottos.” They sound like a band after my own heart. Faith and Science is a wonderfully swirling yet direct and hypnotic slice of modern psychedelia, one built around a tribal stomp, relentless guitars, crashing pianos and mercurial vocal chants and in many ways it is perfect in its blunt mantric simplicity. It doesn’t pay to over think things.


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Miles To Go – Colin James (reviewed by T. Bebedor)

CJ_MTG_CD.LPCover_Electronic-1100x1000There is a saying; “Class is permanent, form is temporary” well that applies here, ‘Miles To Go’ is an album that takes songs from the vaults of blues music and sets about restoring them for the modern audience. It’s a strange concept for an album but one that succeeds in all aspects of what it is trying to achieve. Calling it a restoration project is very close to what it is and it never feels cheap or a quick fix to sell albums, it’s lovingly done and it’s clear there are two agenda’s; firstly to reintroduce us to songs that were written decades ago (one is from 1927!) possibly by people the musical world have begun to forget and, secondly, to remind us how strong, and relevant, these songs sound when handled correctly.

Canadian blues man Colin James has been writing and recording albums since the late 1980’s and he clearly holds this style of music dear because the songs are perfectly reintroduced to the new century with care and consideration.

Original blues singers like Muddy Waters, Little Willie John, Blind Lemon Jefferson and others had nothing like today’s production quality so to take these scratchy-sounding tracks and give them a make-over with new arrangements, musical parts and production methods breathes new life into these tracks, and the end result is a homage to the old ways while keeping it relevant to todays blues audience.

In parts the album feels like a who’s who of modern blues with little hints and nods to artists like Eric Clapton, BB King, John Mayer, Tedeschi Trucks Band and the guitar tone of Mark Knopfler (particularly on ‘Black Night’). There is also the influence of Chicago soul and ‘I Need Your Love So Bad’ could be a Ray Charles track. The feel of the album draws from different parts of the blues spectrum but never feels disconnected, which is down to the safe hands these songs are left in.

On the first listen the album felt very generic but then you realise these songs are the base ingredients to what blues music was (and has become) and then it all makes sense. As well as having nine reinvented songs, James has included two self-written songs; ’40 Light Years’ and ‘I Will Remain’, these sit nicely in the mix and, again, they don’t feel disconnected. This is an album steeped in the history of a genre as popular today as it was 40 years ago, written by someone who obviously loves and cherishes this kind of music. If you like any style of blues this is well worth a listen because it bridges the gap between old and new and proves that blues still has something to say.



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Baby Let Me Go – Smoking Martha (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

Btco0oigWell, that’s a side of Smoking Martha that we don’t get to hear too often. Their normal go to sonic weapons are low slung guitars firing off salvos of jagged riffs, big beats and pulsing bass lines, fist in the air stadium anthems topped off with in-your-face vocal attacks. But everyone needs a break now and again, a chance to show a different side to their character, some time to express themselves in a more thoughtful and considered way. Baby Let Me Go is all of those things and more.

They take a simple acoustic guitar driven platform and instead of layering things up with bold and bombastic musical textures, they do little more than swathe it in delicate strings – cascades of violins and brooding cellos – and this is the perfect way to deliver such a heartfelt song. Vocalist Tasha D explains that the subject matter is very personal, a “way  of  dealing  with  death  and  finally  letting  go,” and allowing the emotion and reflection in her voice to sit centre stage with little to get in the way seems to make the song as powerful as any of their more “foot on the monitor” outings.

Where there is usually power here is pure emotion, where there is impact, here is soulfulness, where there is energy, here are the last hints of anguish. This is a song about closure. And even though this is a highly personal song, one specific to those who wrote it, like any good song it universally relates. He have all loved and lost and whatever the specific circumstances we can all find something in this song which helps us deal with our own pains, our own longings, our losses and unrequited loves and the brilliance of Baby Let Me Go  is that it may have been written as Tasha’s song, as Smoking Martha’s song, but as soon as it is put out into the world it becomes your song, my song, our song…everybody’s song.

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Last Chance Riders – Downright Disgusted (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

fdobomjpckhkcophMan, that riff! You can’t beat a low-slung, scattergun blast of straight and honest garage rock of the sort that might have lured you into a club on the Lower East Side sometime around ’78. It growls, it grooves and it echos with the ghosts of the greats of blues, rock’n’roll and punk. The advantage that Last Chance Riders has is that they have the benefit of modern production allowing them to stand with one foot in both worlds, that of the “let’s just do” and the “let’s make this sound great” simultaneously.

And great it is, both polished and impactful but also honest and attitude driven. Throw in Jessie Albright’s vocals that run from world weary to anthemic as the song requires and a band who know that its all about getting the basics right rather than covering things in studio glitter and you have a song that both makes us shed a tear for the likes of Johnny Thunders and begs the question that perhaps the time is right play that scene all over again.

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Scene and Heard – CCCXCV: She’s Bleeding – Ignacio Peña (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

bleeding-1.jpgThis time out Ignacio Peña pauses for breath somewhat with a song that mixes occasional soaring crescendos with more measured and lulling musical passages. She’s Bleeding, another song taken from the forthcoming Songs For the Fall of an Empire, is all about dynamics, about light and shade, power and pause, about understanding that if you start from a musical low point, with respect to impact and volume, when you do go for the big chord, the big hit, it is all the more effective for the distance covered.

As always Peña is dealing with bigger issues here. Where others are happy to write songs about relationship trouble, about temporary emotional issues and the pointless minutiae of everyday modern life, he prefers to tackle more complex themes such as the covert machinations happening out of sight of the person in the street but which are the real driving forces of the world around us. Heavy stuff? Certainly but his skill with a turn of phrase enables him to engage the subject poetically and with such deft and often graceful music as the delivery system for such a discussion, the song works on two levels. Engage with the song fully and you will find, as with all of the songs released from the album so far, something important, poignant and perfectly timed being discussed. Chose to listen from a distance and you still encounter a great alt-rock song, one built from clever dynamic and gloriously sweeping music.

But that would be to miss the point of course and Peña’s whole drive seems to be making people think about wider, deeper and more complex issues. It would be very easy to write off the world’s current problems of increased nationalism and isolation, greed and division merely as politics at play, but what he understands fully is that those are the symptoms not the cause and asks you to look closer and deeper at what games are being played, what strings are being pulled by the actual powers behind the throne. Music can often make you feel, but less often does it make you think. Thankfully here we have an artist capable of making you do both.

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All That’s Left – Michelle Lewis (reviewed by T. Bebedor)

416GKJY2X1L._SS500Elton John once sang “sad songs say so much” and it’s probably safe to say that we all have a sad song in our list of all-time favourite songs, those are the songs we are often drawn to, we can sympathise, empathise and relate to these moments of emotional outpouring. We find comfort knowing some rich, famous singer in LA shares the exact same emotions that we do.

Michelle Lewis’s album has more than its fair share of sad songs, but they are mostly delivered with an optimistic outlook, yes, she’s been hurt but she’s still here and not only has she learnt from those heartbreaks she’s managed to channel it into songs and it’s pretty uplifting in parts.

The album starts with ‘That’s What They Say’ and it’s a fantastic opening song, and possibly the strongest on the album, Lewis is rightly put front and centre but with a full band supporting her country-tinged voice perfectly. The album dips its toes into folk, country, pop and there is even time for a duet with Nashville singer Robby Hecht on ‘In Love Again’, a wry look at accepting our partners annoying habits.

Bruce Springsteen’s 80’s classic ‘Dancing In The Dark’ is bravely covered here, the emphasise is put on the lyrics with the music being stripped back to reveal something of a folk song. The biggest compliment I can give is that it doesn’t feel out of place among the other tracks.

For anybody with a weakness for sad songs, get yourself a box of tissues for ‘Scars’, it will make even the stoniest of hearts crack a little, written after learning about the life her Grandmother lived, her losses, her triumphs and, eventually, her passing.

It’s immediately followed by the upbeat, pop song ‘You and Me’ that has simple production but has a catchy chorus, so if you’re not still teary-eyed from ‘Scars’ you’ll be humming ‘You and Me’.

There are hints of Celtic influences on earlier songs, particularly on ‘Push On’, another strong song that the record producer in me would suggest backing vocals. You can almost hear a second melody that would lift the track but maybe that’s the point. These are private, intimate songs whispered between friends, lovers and singer and listener.

I initially thought this was going to be another ‘girl with a guitar’ album, singing about break ups and sadness but this is so much more. Michelle’s world is one of accepting and exploring sadness, it’s everywhere we look if we stop and notice it, but she also recognises the lessons learnt and the joys that can come from experiencing, and negating, it.

It’s definitely worth a few moments of your time.

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Resist Lies –  Noise Therapy (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

maxresdefaultHonesty is the best policy so I’m gonna come right out and address the elephant in the room that is the stumbling block of Noise Therapy’s sound right away. There is a major discrepancy in terms of delivery and production between the quality of the vocals and the instruments playing behind it. Okay, this is metal, it comes with a certain brutality, rawness and passion but when it comes to the vocal execution you can’t help  but be distracted by it to the point where you fail to appreciate the music that it is paired with. I know not everyone is aiming to have a career in music, maybe this is just for fun but even on those terms I think it is a problem that they need to address.

But with that out of the way I can get on with talking about its selling points, I do prefer to champion a cause rather than poke a critical finger so let’s do that now. Even from the titles you can see that Noise Therapy have something to say, references to freedom of speech, anarchy, change and general statements about dissatisfaction prepare you for a lyrical onslaught that chimes so in tune with the issues of the day.

Devil’s Advocate follows a grunge inspired route, all muted, low end visceral riffs and Atom Bomb laces some dexterous textures through a symphonic metal landscape but for the most part the songs are based around a harder edged post-hardcore but one referencing a classic metal sound. Defend Freedom of Speech is Iron Maiden reimagined for a new generation and No More Platforms For Idiots is straight out of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal template.

If they could bring the vocal skills and production up to the level of the music, mix it in effectively rather than sit it on top then they would really have something here, I guess that they are on a budget to make this but with such a great job done with the music it seems that for a bit of extra money and effort they could really get this over the line. They have a lot of poignant things to say, they just need to find a better way of delivering it. 

Musically you could argue that they are not necessarily bring much new to the table but that’s okay with me. Sometimes it is enough just to re-invent the wheel especially if the wheel in question allows you to open up the throttle and take a white-knuckle joyride through the side streets and alleyways of the history of rock and metal before unashamedly heading down the highway to follow in the tyre marks of previous iconic musical suicide machines. Or something…I’m not great with analogy.

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Next Weekend – Bilk (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

v7Uw6ZBQ.jpegBilk is back out doing what it does best. And what it does best is deliver short, sharp salvos of trashy street punk energy woven through infectious and highly charged indie blasts. Three eighteen year old Essex boys singing about exactly what eighteen year old Essex boys should be singing about, that is falling out of one glorious weekend of drunken chaos with the vow to do it all again once the working week is done.

Part social commentary, part pure celebration, Bilk is the perfect successor to the likes of Mike Skinner’s Street’s in providing the background groove to young lives in the modern age and echos with the same visceral sound that The Libertines found kicking about the backstreets of London where it had lain dormant since the punks packed up and headed off down new musical paths. But that was all a long time ago and a new generation has come through looking for their own soundtrack to urban life, to lost weekends, to one-night stands, to letting off steam, to irresponsibility, frustration and social carnage. Next Weekend proves once again that Bilk is the perfect band for the job.


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Borrowed Time –  AALTA ft. Desi Valentine (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

unnamedBorrowed Time is the sound of past musical traditions, modern sonic inventiveness and future music potentials all mixing liberally in what can only be described as a fresh move for pop. For pop this definitely is, but it is pop with a soulful heritage, Valentine’s vocals alone leave that sonic finger-print on the track. But as deft and addictive as the vocals are, this is pop music built also from some gorgeous textures. Rather than the perfunctory, identikit sound of most of today’s chart bound competition, real thought has gone into the wonderfully layered musical threads that form the song’s body.

AALTA is not afraid to leave space when anticipation and atmosphere feel like the appropriate tool, sensual brass is brought in to carry the main riff, again a brave but wonderfully memorable approach and the cascade of subtle harmony vocals are exquisite rather than powerful.

Everything here is built with a soft and subtle touch and it is these wonderful gossamer layers of music threaded together rather than the usual big crescendos and blunt musical statements that actually land on the listener with a  bigger impact and mark out Borrowed Time and indeed AALTA as being in a class of their own.

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