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Nights Come Alive

Damokles

Vinter Records

Supporting a strong work ethic which has seen the components of debut album ‘Nights Come Alive’ assembled in a time that the Guinness Book of Records should consider for an award, given that the band known as Damokles have only been in each other’s pockets since late 2019. Such an incredible feat once you consider all the restrictions a pandemic has wrought upon this world, and associated problems this has created for many. It’s no wonder that once ‘Nights Come Alive’ gets underway, it immediately gives the impression of a band having strained at the leash for too long, given the wave of emotions that pour out and with only the ventilation holes of its ten-track playlist offering an outlet to do so. No matter, as the short, sharp bursts of post-punk, mixed with indie-rock and emotional 90s post-hardcore provide ample coverage to what lies at the heart of this Oslo-based five piece, which may not always be easily decipherable, but makes it even more fascinating and worthy of repeat visits. Cryptic tales abound therefore, but there are signs pointing to feelings associated with alienation, boredom, and despair. For those in recent memory, debut single ‘Closing Time’ was an angular blow to the ribs and one powered by 80s grunge merchants The Afghan Whigs to those in positions of power and tempted by corruption. Further similarities arrive with even more recent, ‘Bodies Get Bored’, and again the dishevelled overcoat of The Afghan Whigs proving a source, in addition to mining energy from At The Drive-In, with lyrics purporting to similar concerns of dishonesty and its repeated cycles as indicated by its impressive words, “The parasite is as good as its host, The fruit is ripe, Let’s dictate its cost”. Music for the current times without doubt, and with lyricist Gøran Karlsvik possessing an uncanny habit of “right place, right time” mentality when it comes to his creativity and the rest of his projects. With Damokles providing the outlet on this occasion, there appears to be something of the “personal” amidst the growth of ‘Miniature Gardens’, which is also the band’s most marketable commodity given its accessibility via its alternative-rock leanings. ‘Breathtaker’ offers another side to the Damokles’ sound with its considered approach, before collapsing under a familiar weight of post-punk noise. It is from these shoots of creative differences which helps spawn the gothic, theatrical moments of the album’s title track, to quite different yet remaining an irritable ball of noise that is the excellent ‘Ms. Misanthropy’. Damokles has clearly enough ideas in their tank to maintain their current level of output, but one that has by no means reached anywhere near its zenith. Amen to that because album #2 is already in production, suggesting Damokles is already straining at the leash once more. Turbulent times it most certainly is, but with Damokles providing the soundtrack there is much that will resonate here and comfort to be found in this terrific debut.


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Sweet Dreams Forever

Various Artists

Atomicat

An album to commemorate four major stars of country and western music who died in tragic circumstances is issued by Atomicat Records and under the banner ‘Sweet Dreams Forever’. The four country stars celebrated by this album release are Patsy Cline, Cowboy Copas, Randy Hughes, and Hawkshaw Hawkins who lost their lives in 1963 when a small plane they were travelling in crashed on their way back to Nashville after a concert. With country music losing such talented musicians, their music remains alive and well and worthy of such tributes bestowed upon them such as Atomicat’s ‘Sweet Dreams Forever’. It remains the sweetest of dreams with the album coming in a threefold digipak complete with tasteful, and representative of its time, poster design, with the rest left for Dee Jay Mark Armstrong who supplies the liner notes and track list. Focusing on the songs, those that feature is taken from the years 1948 to 1962, with this being prime up-tempo country and western music of course and most definitely the authentic kind! With all four country stars – Hawkshaw Hawkins, Cowboy Copas, Patsy Cline, and Randy Hughes sharing the same billing, the album, ‘Sweet Dreams Forever’, divides their tracks, but is done based on the year of each song release. Chronologically selected therefore, the songs chosen beginning in 1948 as mentioned above, with Hawkshaw Hawkins making the opening appearance with the fine ‘Dog House Boogie’ that should be considered prototype rockabilly. From this position, Cowboy Copas present C&W ‘Hangman’s Boogie’, before sidestepping and making way for Randy Hughes and His Band and fascinating, not to mention ahead of its time anecdote of the ‘Tattooed Lady’, which raises further intrigue given there is no writer assigned to this song. A quick perusal of the song list suggests Randy Hughes edges it with most of the songs for this collection, with more brilliant examples as the romantic ‘My Little Country Rose’, hillbilly boogie ‘Tapping That Thing’, and another eccentricity on the back of local homebrew ‘When Elephants Start To Roost In Trees’. The rest of the album then ping-pongs between Hawkshaw Hawkins, Cowboy Copas, and Patsy Cline, with the latter artist performing trademark ‘Walkin’ After Midnight’ and established ‘Stop, Look And Listen’ which surely gave those rockabilly cats a run for their money with its sharp, snappin’ rhythm and strong, dominant vocals. Excellent performances all round, with a good representation of their works considering there is only twenty-nine tracks to do so, ‘Sweet Dreams Forever’ is therefore a remarkable album and one that remembers these four stars of country music in style, not to mention offering terrific value for your money. Essential listening.


Released 1 April

 

Sadie’s Gentlemen’s Club Visit 04. Ecstasy

Various Artists

Atomicat

Preparation for the next visit to ‘Sadie’s Gentlemen’s Club Visit 04. Ecstasy’ involves songs chosen to bring joy to those who inhabit such establishments where the music will thrill, excite, and provide much pleasure and create an overall state of “Ecstasy”. That looks set to be a done deal for those entering ‘Sadie’s Gentlemen’s Club Visit 04. Ecstasy’ where from its attractive layout created by Gito Lima and housed via trifold digipak with the songs compiled by Mark Armstrong, the feeling is that any visitor is already in safe hands. Beginning the evening’s proceedings with a Ray Charles and His Orchestra number and one that should be known to all, ‘Hit The Road Jack’, provides further reassurance that “Visit 04” will live up to its previous visits (albums). The sweeping orchestral strings backing Jamie Coe’s ‘Cleopatra’ is the kind of track such albums as ‘Sadie’s…’ was built for, given its flamboyant and noirish flavours, not to mention suitability for a 60s film score. Next up is Chuck Daniels and The Downbeats with ‘Tiny Tim’, which is an excellent slice of popcorn with its mood intentionally underplayed. The greatness continues via personal touch of ‘Cry To Me’ with a sublime performance by Solomon Burke, and then more fine vocals from The Chantels and ‘Well, I Told You’. New experiences for some punters can be heard during compelling Sam Butera and song ‘Equator’; a song fascinating for its approach that is one moment pared back with strong vocals driving, then more of a full band sound joining in, and ends up sounding authentic as it does thoroughly modern. There’s no doubting the origins of Bull Moose Jackson’s traditional rhythm and blues ‘I Want A Bowlegged Woman’, likewise the excellent turn from Wynonie Harris with ‘Bite Again, Bite Again’ which is among the highlights of many throughout this latest album. Add to that instrumental ‘Drumble’ from interestingly named Dennis and The Menaces, and a title track offering from always reliable Ben E. King, without neglecting appropriate for the album ‘Pills’ from Bo Diddley, and there is ecstasy supplied on many, many levels during the fourth visit to the engaging club known as “Sadie’s Gentlemen’s Club”.


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Sadie’s Gentlemen’s Club Visit 03. Taboo

Various Artists

Atomicat

Third visit to the club many people are currently talking about, and that being “Sadie’s Gentlemen’s Club” where the topics of discussion are those of a forbidden nature and likely to offend. Thankfully, it is the music from this nocturnal establishment which does the talking with some songs in this context relaying stories with content some may find distasteful, unthinkable, and certainly off-limits given the subheading of “Taboo” attached to this album. A song about drinking fits the bill perfectly and sets up another evening’s worth of entertainment at ‘Sadie’s Gentlemen’s Club Visit 03. Taboo’ with the rhythm and blues of ‘Let’s Drink Some Whiskey’ via Al Jackson. From this atmospheric party song, Lucky Millinder with Sister Rosetta Tharpe tone it down a notch with the power emanating from the vocals and the big band orchestra more restrained yet without losing any influence as the subject of the song aims to get to grips with the new sensation of rock ‘n’ roll. The instrumental ‘Blue Mambo’ is the kind of rhythm and blues exotica you’d expect to hear frequenting any such establishment as Sadie’s Gentlemen’s Club given its rhythmic flair and therefore suitability for late-night festivities. Don Johnston ‘The Whipmaster’ offers something different and is a skewered hybrid of rock ‘n’ roll with country and western flavours in terms of its rhythm with a noirish tale of revenge that sees the protagonist serving time. Fantastic track and one that will hopefully see more of his work crop up on other compilations. From such depths of despair comes light and can be found with album closer ‘King’s Highway’ with the vocals of Bobby Day providing optimism and hopeful redemption for those who’ve entered ‘Sadie’s Gentlemen’s Club Visit 03. Taboo’. The only difficulty being, that once you enter for a third visit, it’s going to be difficult to leave given the compelling nature of the music and all its wonderful variety.


Released Out now

 

Spotlight On Jackie Wilson – Mr. Excitement

Jackie Wilson

Koko Mojo

Another album in the Koko Mojo “Spotlight Series” that focuses on individual artists who have contributed much to music’s historical past is Jackie Wilson. Given the extra moniker “Mr. Excitement” because of his lively stage manner when performing live, the legend that was Jackie Wilson gave much to rhythm and blues, rock ‘n’ roll and early soul music. Album compiler Mark Armstrong gets to work once more and brings another twenty-eight tracks for your listening pleasure. The album showcases Jackie Wilson’s extraordinary operatic tenor vocal, and features his stint with Billy Ward and The Dominoes, before going on to perform as a solo artist. All is featured during ‘Spotlight On Jackie Wilson – Mr. Excitement’ with added liner notes providing details of Wilson’s career, and housed in an environmentally sound digipak. Turning attention to the playlist, with tracks selected from a ten-year period, it is Billy Ward and The Dominoes that kickstarts this album. Having replaced Clyde McPhatter as the vocalist in Billy Ward’s Dominoes in 1953, Jackie Wilson is heard as part of this setup during the first six numbers with, in particular, ‘St Louis Blues’ and ‘Learning The Blues’ demanding special praise. From excellent beginnings, the rest of this collection switches to Wilson’s solo performances from 1957, including the smash hit ‘Reet Petite (The Finest Girl You Ever Want To Meet)’, which brought him much fame and was reissued in the 80s securing #1 on the UK Singles Chart. However, there is more to Jackie Wilson than this one track, with examples as the ballad-esque ‘I Know I’ll Always Be In Love With You’, larger-than-life rhythm and blues of ‘Baby Workout’, to pop tendencies of ‘Love Train’, musically colourful ‘I’m Comin’ On Back To You’ and, as with many of his performances, charismatic ‘The Joke (Is Not On Me)’. With Brunswick housing most of the solo recordings, Jackie Wilson made a name for himself not only because of his incredible voice, but also for displaying skills as a songwriter and for his duet performances with Linda Hopkins featured during the end of this collection. All three songs performed with Linda Hopkins are absolute belters and could easily charge the national electricity grid given the astonishing power of both singers. Revealing itself to be a fascinating, not to mention important set of albums is Koko Mojo’s “Spotlight Series” given its norm of not adhering to predictable formulas when compiling such albums, but also serving as a reminder of incredible performers as the magnificent Jackie Wilson.


Released 1 April

 

Spotlight On Sam Cooke – Movin’ and Groovin’ with Sam Cooke

Sam Cooke

Koko Mojo

It was probably about time that Koko Mojo released an album’s worth of material to show appreciation for the musical legend that was Sam Cooke. Arriving in a three-fold digipak complete with CD and liner notes and a twenty-eight song setlist all written by, and compiled by Dee Jay Mark Armstrong, and with artwork produced by Urban Zotel, the quality is already high. The tracks themselves reach back as far as 1951 and beginning with The Soul Stirrers featuring Sam Cooke and highlights two nonsecular tracks with the second lifted from 1954. From this early part of Cooke’s career, time moves quickly in terms of this compilation and picks up once more in 1958 and showcases several of Sam Cooke’s solo performances with songs ‘Win Your Love For Me’, ‘Running Wild’, I’ve Got A Right To Sing The Blues’, and title of this album ‘Movin’ And Groovin’. That, of course, is but a small selection of what is on offer here as the setlist flits between examples of solo material, before dipping back into The Soul Stirrers but this time with Jimmy Outler takin up lead (‘Jesus Be A Fence Around Me’), and ditto Paul Foster (‘He’s Been A Shelter For Me’), and with Sam Cooke assuming song writing and additional song writing duties. With much of the track list stemming from late 50s and early 60s and including well-known songs ‘Little Red Rooster’, ‘Shake, Rattle And Roll’, ‘The Twist’, there is also plenty of variety with previously mentioned gospel but traditional standards as ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot’ and further additions featuring The Falcons, Johnnie Taylor, and The Simms Twins that once again showcases Sam Cooke’s prowess as a songwriter. A very fine overview of a supreme talent who has received much recognition for his work, but this time with a little extra something else by way of Koko Mojo’s Spotlight series and, on this occasion, ‘Movin’ and Groovin’ with Sam Cooke’.


Released Out now

 

Vocal Group Harmonies – Let’s Go Latin Again

Various Artists

Koko Mojo

The first outing featuring vocal harmony groups with added Latin influences arrived in 2021 under the heading, ‘Vocal Group Harmonies – Let’s Go Latin’ on Koko Mojo. Since that first album release, the reception was particularly warm given that this was new musical territory explored by the record label, and one packed with variety due to traditional cultural rhythms mixing with established rhythm and blues and an emerging rock and roll sound. With album #1 proving a success, the decision was made to compile a second volume and issued with a simple brief to “Let’s Go Latin Again”. Due to the positive response given to the first CD, ‘Vocal Group Harmonies – Let’s Go Latin Again’ increases its track list to include an extra three songs compared to its predecessor and therefore totalling twenty-eight songs altogether. As mentioned, the approach of this series assumes much interest in those vocal groups from the Latin quarters of America and offers a platform to an earlier generation of Latinos with a keen interest in the rhythm and blues sounds of the times. Such was the impact that Black African American rhythm and blues was either duplicated or presented with added Latin influences. The songs selected for ‘Vocal Group Harmonies – Let’s Go Latin Again’ provides examples of these influences and focuses on the years beginning with 1954 and concluding in 1963. More notable is the inclusion of artists that will certainly have a few listeners searching on the net for any available information given the obscurity of what is largely on offer here. There is familiarity, however, to begin with and comes from reliable Andre Williams and on this occasion featuring The Don Juans during the track ‘Going Down To The Juana’. Despite the established name of Andre Williams, the song adheres to rhythm and blues yet pulls from Latin sources giving the song a light overall feel and one that sounds pared back. From such a bright beginning, the rest of the album continues to flourish with quality all the way from extremely rare doo wop via The Charmers with ‘The Mambo’, rhythm and blues exotica from the Calvaes and song ‘Anna Macora’ and once more with different number and equally fine ‘Mambo Fiesta’. Delving deeper into Latin-American flavours mixed with rock ‘n’ roll is Los Locos Del Ritmo and ‘Vengan Todos A Bailar’. The second volume ‘Vocal Group Harmonies – Let’s Go Latin Again’ is not only a rock and roll album with a difference, but one that contains much quality, not to mention plenty of obscurities that will keep any listener entertained for many weeks to come.


Released Out now

 

Rockin’ Soul Party Vol. 4

Various Artists

Koko Mojo

Bridging the gap from the third instalment in the series ‘Rockin’ Soul Party’ is volume number four. With Mr. Rhythm and Soul situated in El Paso, Texas, and tasked with loading up another thirty tracks of rhythm and blues and early soul from the years beginning in 1957 and leading up to 1963, the latest album ‘Rockin’ Soul Party Vol. 4’ contains many established names such as Ike and Tina Turner, The Orioles, The Drifters, The Coasters, Marvin Gaye, and Sam Cooke. It makes for a real source of power, but also offers insights of the early stages of their careers and early indicators of the greatness that was emerging from many of these artists. It is the blending of traditional rhythm and blues with blues and gospel that led to the formation of the sound known as soul music. Such variety can be heard emanating from the speakers once this latest volume gets underway. But given the larger profiles of the artists already mentioned, no album escapes the Koko Mojo injection of obscurities featuring musicians less prevalent when it comes to such compilations. Therefore, step forward Bernard Byers with track ‘Sitting By The River’, and rare doo wop from The Danleers and ‘I’m Looking Around’, not forgetting Rivals who bring the rhythm and blues to ‘Love Me’. An album that is equal to all its previous volumes and one that comes housed inside environmentally sound packaging complete with detailed notes, and with all tracks mastered for the best possible sound, there really is no argument when it comes to ‘Rockin’ Soul Party Vol. 4’ because it’s an essential addition to anyone’s record collection with a keen taste for early soul music.


Released Out now

 

Koko Mojo Songwriter Series: Willie Dixon

Various Artists

Koko Mojo

A compilation featuring the works of Mississippi resident Willie Dixon is not an everyday occurrence in the same vein as say, an Elvis, Gene or Eddie “Best Of” for example. That is not to suggest the name Willie Dixon was not as influential as the most well-known musical faces of the 50s because the talents of Willie Dixon stretched from vocalist, songwriter, and producer, in addition to being a renowned upright bass player. With the release of ‘Koko Mojo Songwriter Series: Willie Dixon’, the songs gathered for this latest album focus on Willie Dixon’s years with the Chicago-based record labels of Chess, Checker and Cobra, which proved highly successful periods in his life due to the high levels of creative output. Rather than focus directly on Willie Dixon performing his own compositions, with three being the number here, the album makes a lot of room for other musicians to join in and perform those songs written by the “songwriter” himself. Before delving into the performances of others however, Willie Dixon as part of the Big Three Trio really lays out the foundations for this album by beginning with no less than six tracks including detailed yarns (‘I Ain’t Gonna Be Your Monkey Man’), and instrumentals (’88 Boogie’). It makes for more than a good introduction before paving the way for Howlin’ Wolf (‘Rockin’ Daddy’), Little Walter and His Jukes with choice cut ‘Mellow Down Easy’, which is simply a terrific track, and Muddy Waters with ‘Tiger In Your Tank’. All these musicians surface again throughout the album, along with Bo Diddley who also features on a recent Koko Mojo release of the same series. Given the track list is set at twenty-eight songs, the album ‘Koko Mojo Songwriter Series: Willie Dixon’ provides a wealth of riches between its grooves and especially concerning the main musician, songwriter and producer at the centre of this record.


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Koko Mojo Songwriter Series: Bo Diddley

Various Artists

Koko Mojo

Seemingly in vogue is the artist Bo Diddley given the number of reissues and compilations appearing from other record labels at present. The focus on this pioneering musician comes from the stable of Koko Mojo who bring fresh life to their “Songwriter Series” with a profile of Bo Diddley and those musicians of the same time capsule who covered his songs. By taking a journey on the “Down Home Special”, the ‘Koko Mojo Songwriter Series: Bo Diddley’ collection looks first at Bo Diddley’s tracks from Chess Records’ subsidiary label Checker Records, beginning with self-titled ‘Bo Diddley’ in 1953 and concluding with ‘You All Green’ in 1963. Fourteen tracks, therefore, from Bo Diddley himself, including excellent and established tracks ‘Who Do You Love’, ‘Mona’, and ‘Pretty Thing’ for example. Other highlights can be heard in imaginative ‘Down Home Special’ complete with train effects and whistle, to gradual hypnotic rhythm of ‘You Don’t Love Me (You Don’t Care)’, which sounds like it’s trying to persuade the other half of this former partnership into a rethink given the already mentioned hypnotic flavour. A terrific track and ditto the rest of the “Bo Diddley” contents such as the tale told during ‘Story Of Bo Diddley’, and then slightly different approach with its added “pop” edges of ‘Deed And Deed I Do’. Rather than this compilation being a straightforward appreciation of Bo Diddley, what transpires next is a selection of artists with their takes on various Bo Diddley compositions. Offering examples from the vocal harmonies of The Marquees with two songs, ‘Wyatt Earp’ and ‘Hey Little School Girl’, to fellow Checker associate Little Walter and His Jukes with instrumental ‘Roller Coaster’. With Bill Black’s Combo chipping in with a version of ‘Hey Bo Diddley’, and later the UK’s Johnny Kid and The Pirates providing their interpretation of ‘I Can Tell’, the music of Bo Diddley was certainly appreciated by a considerable number of musicians as the album, ‘Koko Mojo Songwriter Series: Bo Diddley’ effectively demonstrates.


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Rockin’ Rollin’ Covers Vol. 3

Various Artists

Atomicat

Given the quality of what has gone before in terms of album releases by Atomicat, you immediately get the feeling that you are in safe hands with each album release. The same feeling applies to latest compilation ‘Rockin’ Rollin’ Covers Vol. 3’, a series that sees a variety of artists from the 50s and early portion of the 60s attempting their hands at songs made famous by other, and often well-established artists of these same time periods. The results are often inspiring and more times than not worthwhile executions of songs made popular first time. As with many of Atomicat releases, the musicians featured are household names, but there are always plenty of interesting twists with equally as many lesser-known artists represented. Two names and tracks that immediately jump out from the playlist are Carl Perkins “piano” version of classic ‘Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On’, to another classic ‘Mystery Train’ originally by Little Junior Parker and then Elvis Presley jumping on board, before Vernon Taylor offering his version which, it must be said, is another terrific take on this excellent song.  By investing your hard-earned cash in this album, any listener will certainly receive their money’s worth because it is filled with quality tracks from LaVern Baker and superbly rockin’ ‘Hurtin’ Inside’, to Ted Daigle turning up the heat just like Eddie (Cochran) during ‘Cut Across Shorty’. There are beautiful vocal harmonies to be found via Donnie And The Dreamers’ ‘My Memories Of You’, wild antics especially in the guitars of ‘She, She, Little Sheila’ by The Darnells, and really rather different version and especially for the times in terms of its vocal delivery from Billy Ward And His Dominoes and song ‘Jennie Lee’. With a total of thirty tracks selected for your listening pleasure, and too much to cover in one review alone, let’s say that with the addition of Ernest Tubb And His Texas Troubadours, Jerry Demar (Listen out for those guitars folks!), Dee Dee Sharp, and Charlie Gore to name but a handful, it is clear that ‘Rockin’ Rollin’ Covers Vol. 3’ is a summary of cover versions from 1952 – 1963 yet contains more than enough details to keep any listener engaged. Absolute rockin’ greatness!


Released Out now

 

A Forest (Single)

Damokles

Vinter Records

Reviving a trend that was prevalent during the 80s when B-sides of vinyl 45s often produced songs that were on a par with, and in some instances surpassed the main event of the A-side. In addition, the flipside of these singles saw cover songs being a popular choice, which brings us to the present and Damokles latest single. Revealing impeccable taste once more is the post-punk and indie stalwarts from Oslo, Norway, and their take on The Cure’s ‘A Forest’. A brave decision some may consider, but given the quality of Damokles output thus far, it is fine to assume we are in safe hands. Without straying too far from the original, and with noticeable differences being a crisper sound emanating from some of the guitars and distortion in the vocals, it serves as a reminder of the quality of the decade in question and one that should not be forgotten. The heat is well and truly turned up towards the end and swallowed whole in the very darkness that a forest at night contains. A fine appetiser before the main event at the end of this month with the release of Damokles’ long player.



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