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Games (Single)

Gundelach (feat. Ary)

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Steadying himself for his upcoming full debut album release, Norwegian artist Gundelach (first name Kai) sets free latest single ‘Games’. By working with fellow artist, songwriter and producer Ary, Gundelach managed to find the rhythm he was looking for after the pair listened to a batch of techno records, in addition to a Juno 60 synth being introduced that led to the bass sound filling the verses of new single ‘Games’. A few hours later and the song was finished in terms of structure and lyrical content. The final decision was made by Gundelach himself, and that was to complete the job at home in his own studio with ‘Games’ ending up a self-produced record, and a first for this Norwegian artist. The final result is an atmospheric and at times minimalist piece of work that incorporates elements of pop music and techno and one that sits rather comfortably under a neon lit LA landscape. In other words, ‘Games’ would’ve been a definite candidate for the soundtrack of Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive had it landed a tad sooner. That said, it’s not difficult to comprehend the kind of quality and company Gundelach (featuring Ary) and new single ‘Games’ is residing in.


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Fine Line (Single)

Jimmy Smash

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Jimmy Smash comprising of mid-twenties pairing Håvard Lyngstad and Mikkel Graham Guttormsen from Fredrikstad, Norway, cite some rather interesting and eclectic influences when it comes to producing the sounds rattling around inside their collective creative tank. With references to America’s urban districts mingling with aspects of their own upbringings, not to mention taking inspiration from the likes of Quincy Jones and Bon Iver to name but two of their musical heroes, the Norwegian duo certainly like to add much detail in terms of their own compositions. Take latest single ‘Fine Line’ that is wrapped in a lyrical content that is of the personal and confessional variety yet remains at a distance due to reservations of being misled when hearing the slightly camouflaged messages coming from this song. The musical backdrop of ‘Fine Line’ radiates a shimmering light of pop music mixed with R&B that is every bit as tender as the words spoken. With ‘Fine Line’ being written and produced by Jimmy Smash, and therefore applying a full hands-on approach to this, their second single, based on this evidence it would seem that these Norwegians certainly have a bright future ahead of them.


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Greetings From Austin

The Don Diego Trio

El Toro

Judging from the stories behind latest album ‘Greetings From Austin’, The Don Diego Trio, along with invited guests to add their creative contributions, had a memorable experience when laying down the tracks for this new recording. The idea to invite other artists to contribute on ‘Greetings From Austin’  was borne out of a week in Austin, Texas, after The Don Diego Trio had received a nomination (the band’s second) for the Ameripolitan Awards. Therefore, with time on their side and rather than spend the week window-shopping, The Don Diego Trio decided to record a brand new record that would serve as a postcard of their time in Austin, Texas. With Mario Monterosso agreeing to produce the album, in addition to lending his vocals and guitar playing for the sessions, and therefore becoming an integral part of the band for that one week in Austin, The Don Diego Trio (or quartet if you like) really let go of the reins in order for the creativity to flow. The end result is thirteen tracks of honky tonk and rockabilly written and recorded in record time and one would never know it considering the quality on display here. Naturally a whole host of guest musicians helps, but full marks to all concerned in making the entire contents of this album because it certainly reigns supreme once the freight train boogie of ‘Daddy’s On A Freight Train’ comes rolling down the track with improvised clickety-clacks from vocalist Don Diego Geraci that signal the end of the song. The mood is buoyant during ‘Truck Drivin’ Daddy’, which possesses a definite whiff of Dale Watson’s earlier truckin’ tunes; ditto the band’s song ‘Monday’ that is even closer to the aforementioned Watson and therefore inspired decisions as both numbers are genuine rockin’ delights. There are several clues during ‘Greetings From Austin’ to suggest that the band certainly enjoyed themselves in the making of this record, where humour can be found in some of the song titles (‘Django From Twango’), not to mention rewording on various classics (‘I Didn’t Walk The Line’). The Don Diego Trio has created a snapshot of a memorable week in Austin, Texas, by way of album ‘Greetings From Austin’ that serves as both a tribute to the City, but also its musical heritage.


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A Time To Dance And Sing (Single)

Ann-Kristin Dordal & Ottar "Big Hand" Johansen

Tyrirot Musikk

Ottar “Big Hand” Johansen is a familiar name at Famous Last Words (FLW) after recent solo album (‘Big Hand – 50 Years On The Road’) and double effort with fellow Norwegian country artist Arne Benoni  (‘Benoni & Big Hand’). This time out, Ottar Johansen enters the fray with a new (to our ears anyway) singing partner by the name of Ann-Kristin Dordal who has made something of an impact musically in her home town as well as overseas in countries such as Spain and Sweden. With the chosen single being a composition written by Jakup Zachariassen and Martin Joensen (The Faroe Islands) in collaboration with Bjørn “Southern” Nilsen (N), the pairing of Ann-Kristin Dordal with Ottar Johansen proves a winning combination. The reasons for this is down to the lovely lilting intro of piano, steel string and Dordal’s vocal that thankfully doesn’t exaggerate the “Americanisms” when it comes to her accent and therefore resulting in a sincere performance where her voice gives off a folk – country styling. With lyrics seemingly purporting to the hardships that life can bring and how easy it is to forget the pleasurable sides of life (‘A time to dance and sing again”), the pairing of Johansen and Dordal manage to smooth such woes, especially when their vocals combine with the country music support that is up there with the best this side of Nashville. ‘A Time To Dance And Sing’ makes for a fine combination between two Norwegian artists who should perhaps consider an extended project of the LP kind.


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It’s Too Late Now

Chris Ruest & Gene Taylor

El Toro

We’re in blues territory with the latest album from Chris Ruest and Gene Taylor. With this album being mainly a combined effort with additional support coming from Brain Fahey on drums, the main pairing of Ruest and Taylor complement each other with twelve tracks incorporating a classic blues sound along with moments of boogie-woogie and American roots music. Such examples can be heard clearly via the piano fingers of acclaimed musician Gene Taylor during the appropriately named instrumental ‘Torpedo Boogie’ that really fires along at pace. Where this album benefits greatly is the variety in tempo where, for example, the more energetic zip of boogie-woogie is replaced elsewhere with a laidback blues approach and excellent narratives of ‘Keep Talking’, ‘Sad And Lonely Child’ and ‘Life’s Like Lightning’ with Texas blues’ guitarist Chris Taylor greatly impressing throughout. If you enjoy your blues steeped in tradition yet combined with other components of rock ‘n’ roll that occasionally suggest Ruest and Taylor are more than comfortable in the present (look to the roots rock of ‘I’m Down’ and bluesy rock of ‘I Tried’), then ‘It’s Too Late Now’ is definitely a ticket worth purchasing.


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Smokin

Smokin A

El Toro

A different proposition from El Toro, and one that sways considerably from the norm of rockabilly, with Smokin A and his debut album ‘Smokin’. More notably, Smokin A is a mysterious figure with very little known about this artist apart from the contents of the long player ‘Smokin’ that was recently thrust under our noses. After countless repeat plays, any efforts to pin down the influences at the heart of this record has remained a difficult task, and one that has been matched with much enthusiasm on this side of the counter. If labels are required, however, then Smokin A offers ten tracks of sparsely influenced rhythm and blues blended with sparse references to soul and rock ‘n’ roll. Such references become blurred, however, once the likes of ‘Wishmaster’ makes its entrance with its 60s flavoured organ, but it’s a song that is far more current despite hefty links to the past as it’s a track that wouldn’t sound out of place in an Artic Monkey’s set list or side project The Last Shadow Puppets. The bare components of the song structures continues (‘Work Of Art’) and often shrouded in dark moods (‘Dirty’) and disconnected feelings (‘Smokin’). Such feelings are captured to perfection throughout ‘Normal’ where the central guitar plucks out the lines providing real expression, and one that greatly complements the deliberate lack of interest given by the vocals. With further mystery surrounding this artist due to the addition of two extra tracks that were not chalked up on the board for your reading pleasure, the album presented by Smokin A really provides a sharp prod to one’s senses because despite taking its references from the past, the album ‘Smokin’ does not sound of vintage age yet is more at home in the present. A refreshing outlook indeed from both recording artist and record label.


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Black Heart Music

Ben Rath

Eilean Records

With his living quarters based in Manchester (UK), Ben Rath constructs his ambient compositions by using original recordings of guitar, keyboards and piano, in addition to samples and field recordings. New album ‘Black Heart Music’ follows on from previous recordings Rath has made via a variety of record labels since 2014, as well as recording under the pseudonym Slow Heart Music in 2017 with the final result being an EP of improvised acoustic guitar tracks. With ‘Black Heart Music’, Rath has constructed an album full of ambient textures that can be coarse in sound one moment to more soothing and airy passages the next. The atmosphere can be quite bleak in places where a swarm of grainy synths exist in one instance, only to pass and give way to the picking of acoustic guitar strings and lighter passages of sounds the next. However, the fog of samples utilised is never far away yet less harsh in its execution where the overcast mood from before is represented in gentler tones as mentioned earlier. ‘Black Heart Music’ is straight out of Manchester where its climate and (urban) landscape have played their roles in shaping the influences heard between the layers of this long player, which certainly makes for compelling listening.


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Pyro (Single)

Stale Lane

Concorde Music Company

The duo of Tomi Salmi (vocals/guitars) and Sami Vuollekoski (guitars/vocals), otherwise known as Stale Lane, start their journey with their debut single ‘Pyro’. The opening track from Stale Lane arrives ten years after Tomi Salmi and Sami Vuollekoski’s previous band, MALfUNCTION, decided to call time on that particular musical chapter. Therefore, with time on their side to ponder their next move, it wasn’t long before a decision was reached, with the new project up and running and where Salmi and Vuollekoski currently find themselves under the heading of Stale Lane. Such a decision to start afresh immediately pays dividends for the longstanding bandmates as Stale Lane’s ‘Pyro’ proves to be an engaging alternative-rock track that warms its hands immediately via a buzzing guitar intro that opens out into an impressive lead that weaves a pattern between the moody vocals and main rhythm section. Think Chris Cornell, Pearl Jam and with one or two parts borrowed from Nirvana and you’re somewhere close to the sound and vision that ‘Pyro’ aims for, which really is a good place to start, and one that Stale Lane achieves admirably for this first outing.


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Erasures And Displacements

Bill Seaman

Eilean Records

After a two-year absence, Bill Seaman continues his exploration of “structured improvisations” via his latest album ‘Erasures And Displacements’. By working with a computer and the audible program Ableton Live, Seaman works from his own and/or contributed musical libraries of improvised material, which are then edited via a cut and paste method of sorts and then, once entered, are often erased and built up once more using a “…new set of musical relations” by use of the aforementioned Ableton Live. A web of complexity without doubt in terms of its making, and consisting of a lot more details behind its creative processes than has been described here, ‘Erasures And Displacements’ takes its time and gradually builds its layers without ever over spilling its contents where piano can often be heard and the faint waft of horns (trumpet, cornet, flugelhorn for example) interspersed with various snippets of sound samples that never sound fragmented and work cohesively as a whole. A difficult task no doubt, but one that has been painstakingly pieced together by Bill Seaman and worth every step because ‘Erasures And Displacements’ is an enthralling body of work.


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Lady Killer

Scotty Baker

El Toro

Wearing matching attire and looks resembling one of Hollywood’s film and studio A-listers, with a second clue held by the title of this third offering from Scotty Baker (answers on a postcard to the usual address if you like), ‘Lady Killer’ is the album that should see the Australian rockabilly star gain further popularity. Backed by his in-house band, the equally talented ‘Doel Brothers, along with fellow Aussie Ezra Lee (piano) and the seemingly ubiquitous and guitar maestro Darrel Higham, Baker set about his business with the end result being fourteen new compositions. Beginning with the rockin’ and swinging affair that is ‘Back To The Country’ with its effective use of pedal steel and lyrics full of suggestions about heading back to his roots, or more a question of escaping the hustle and bustle of city life which has served Baker so well in terms of promoting his music to wider audiences. However, any desires of the quiet life thankfully evaporate once the mean and moody rockabilly influenced ‘Bump Stops’ enters the picture because it’s a song full of attitude (held by its rhythm alone) and subtle humour (a key ingredient and definite charm to the song writing of Baker) referencing cars with the opposite sex. Another attraction of ‘Lady Killer’ is the broad range of influences used during such numbers as ‘One And Only One’ that ventures out into rhythm and blues with a fine turn on the sax from Stephane Swervy, and repeated during the bright ‘Baby’s Dress’. Elsewhere, the formerly mentioned Ezra Lee stamps his mark all over the excellent ‘Hank’s Cadillac’ that references Hank Williams, coupled with flashes of Jerry Lee Lewis via Ezra’s dominant and skilful playing. The ghost of rock ‘n’ roll is conjured during back-to-back songs ‘Girl I Need’ and the album’s title track, with both numbers possessing killer guitars at the hands of Darrel Higham, who combines garage rock with rock ‘n’ roll on ‘Girl I Need’, and then helps to drive an infectious rhythm during ‘Lady Killer’ that goes straight to your heart with added HEAT from Scotty Baker’s vocal. ‘I Still Don’t Care’ is a how many finger(s) salute one cares to use in the direction of a former relationship that turned sour. Whereas ‘Forget About My Heart’ raises a glass of humour with its  “…forget about my heart and give my liver some love”, which gains further clarity once the chuggin’ rhythm, à la Johnny Cash, comes into view of ‘One Of The Some’. The genius that is Scotty Baker makes it three albums in a row where the word ‘magnificent’ can be applied, once more, to latest addition ‘Lady Killer’. If there’s to be one winner however, then this latest addition to the Baker catalogue edges the contest by the narrowest of margins, simply for its openness to a broader range of influences, and for its decision to allow its hired hands equal ownership over its contents and turn ‘Lady Killer’ into a real family affair.


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A Night Of Jump Blues

The Big Jamboree

El Toro

It’s big band time! Consisting of eight members, The Big Jamboree sends the listener spiralling backwards to a bygone era of big band, swing, jump blues and rhythm and blues. Clearly in a mood to celebrate and see in the good times, The Big Jamboree attempt to achieve such a goal via opening song ‘Saturday Night’ that relays the days of the week where not much is happening until Saturday finally arrives and is greeted with much enthusiasm and rich character by way of the band’s brass section and lead vocals of Augie Burr. It makes for a great introduction. The tempo really gets going once the driving rhythm of ‘Move On’, before taking a turn of pace with the pleading ‘Baby Please Don’t Go’ where Augie Burr’s crooning vocal shines brightly here. The rest of The Big Jamboree pick up the heartbroken pieces with a sprightly instrumental titled ‘A Room Full Of Blues’, which clearly showcases the band’s musicianship. ‘My Girl Across Town’ and ensuing ‘Tick Tack’ are both reminiscent of J.D. McPherson with both tracks ushering in a bit of rock ‘n’ roll mixed with rhythm and blues that leaves one to conclude, “Good work fellas!”. The real beauty is reserved for ‘You Left Me, Now I’m Free’ where the vocals swoon and the instruments revert to a big band style providing a real sense of a fresh start on the horizon. The Big Jamboree displays a full range of emotions lyrically and musically throughout ‘A Night Of Jump Blues’ that reveals a talented unit at the centre of this record and one that is deserved of your attention and worth getting behind.


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The Band In Black

Johnny Horsepower

El Toro

No doubt viewed by some as an unnecessary exercise when it comes to producing (more or less) carbon copies of the songs of Johnny Cash, but not so for the men in black known as Johnny Horsepower. What makes this trio of musicians standout is their location of Denmark that is far removed from the original man in black’s upbringing, yet mirror that early rockabilly sound they most certainly do and with a few of their own compositions thrown in for good measure. In fact, it’s one of Johnny Horsepower’s own songs that captures the attention from the off with ‘The Story Of The Man In Black’ that doubles up as a tribute to Johnny Cash as well as paying its respects to the early foundations of the rockabilly genre by namechecking Elvis, Carl Perkins et al. ‘Hey Porter’ is a sweet reminder of the basic charms of the aforementioned early roots of rockabilly and remains lodged in the memory bank for days after it has finished spinning. The rest of ‘The Band In Black’ speaks for itself with authentic and inch perfect deliveries during ‘Let The Train Blow The Whistle’, ‘Wanted Man’ and the dark and wry tones of ‘I Didn’t Shiver’ that was one step ahead of Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds fame. If there is a downside to this album, and unfortunately there is, it can be heard from the small cluster of songs beginning with ‘Folsom Prison Blues’ where the band enrolled the talents of W.S. Holland on drums and made the decision to record these songs live. Nothing wrong with that decision of course but, unfortunately, the live setup sits awkwardly with the rest of the LP and would have served far better as an EP in its own right. Small gripes, but definitely warranted when the album ends up sounding like two separate entities. That said, ‘The Band In Black’ is a must for all fans of Johnny Cash and those who simply enjoy the early primitive sounds of rockabilly.



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