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Dani Nel – Lo & Barcelona Big Blues Band

Barcelona Big Blues Band

El Toro

When approaching the crossroads marked El Toro Records, the sounds emanating from the Barcelona Big Blues Band is one that is taking a sharp deviation to the left or right rather than pursing the road straight ahead with the label’s more traditional rockabilly and rock ‘n’ roll sounds. By taking this different approach marks new times ahead for this record label, but more importantly recognising a promising and talented prospect when you see one. What the listener gets here is the full-on experience of a big band sound, but one that connects itself to the sounds of blues and rhythm and blues. With Ivan Kovacevic compiling the arrangements and providing direction, the Barcelona Big Blues Band enrols the skilful talents of saxophonist, Dani Nel – Lo who just happens to add an extra zest to each and every song listed here. Therefore, expect to hear a sophisticated set of compositions that are sometimes bristling with energy and enthusiasm – take your pick from ‘Marshall Plan’, ‘Sax Attack’ and the riotous sax contained within ‘Dey – Lo’ – or slightly less hurried numbers as ‘Pomez Stone’ and ‘Jump For George’. The frenzied shuffle of ‘Hot Rod’ with wild blasts of trumpet in the rear, tips its hat in acknowledgement to the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll without resorting to re-enacting its sound because this is all about the ‘big band’ after all. ‘Dani Nel – Lo & Barcelona Big Blues Band’ is a classy long player that successfully incorporates a rhythm and blues sound into a broader expanse of instrumentation that will leave you feeling greatly impressed by the end of its playing time.

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‘Big Hand – 50 Years On The Road’

Ottar Big Hand Johansen

New Cut Music

To mark fifty years of hit records in the music business, Ottar ‘Big Hand’ Johansen celebrates this landmark occasion with a brand new album. To give this latest record the title that is befitting of its status, ‘Big Hand – 50 Years On The Road’ sees one of Norway’s leading lights of country music reignite his passion for this particular genre. By teaming up with other artists including Claudia Scott, Too Far Gone, Billy T Band among others, the majority of songs making up this latest album are original compositions, which have received a working hand from the additional musicians involved in this project. There is definitely a nostalgic feel to the ten compositions making up ‘Big Hand – 50 Years On The Road’, which naturally extends from Ottar Johansen’s vast experience of living and breathing the dream as a singer-songwriter. Therefore, it’s no surprise that you have song titles by the name of ‘Honky Tonks We’ve Known’, ‘Just Like In The 50s’ and ‘Follow My Dream’. However, there is room for forward thinking here as well with two songs that bookend this album; namely, recent single ‘Starting All Over Again’, steel strings gleaming as it maintains a relaxed pace and in line with the reflective stance of the song, and ‘Carry On’ with its campfire confessions going long into the night by way of several of its collaborators and Ottar Johansen leading the line. The creativeness continues once the engaging ‘Outlaws’ makes its entrance and proceeds to identify itself by means of a surly expression, dexterous guitar playing and detailed punctuations of harmonica. In fact, it’s this very song that suggests Ottar Johansen is far from thinking about hanging up his Stetson and packing away his collection of guitars in their respective cases because there’s a sense of mischief to this song, which transforms itself to a sprightly energy during the aforementioned, ‘Just Like In The 50s’ and the “We’ve still got it attitude” of ‘Honky Tonks We’ve Known’. A remarkable comeback, ‘Big Hand – 50 Years On The Road’ celebrates the past yet is equally keen to focus on the present with a few ideas that suggest Ottar Johansen is ready for the next creative venture once the dust settles on this celebratory chapter.

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Reaching For The Light

King King

Manhaton Records

Scotland’s…no, make that the world’s hardest working band King King return with their third studio album, ‘Reaching For The Light’. Return is not really the correct choice of word here as the band, comprising of Alan Nimmo (vocals/guitar), Lindsay Coulson (bass), Wayne Proctor (drums) and Bob Fridzema (keyboards), has hardly been away after a successful 2014, which saw the plaudits rain down on them at the British Blues Awards with accolades for Best Album and Best Band as well as successful headline shows and serving as support act for John Mayall. With no time for rest, King King ended up writing the majority of ‘Reaching For The Light’ when the odd day presented itself from an otherwise busy touring schedule; hence the aforementioned title bestowed upon them of hardest working band. It’s not all about hard work when it comes to King King as they have proven time and again that they have the skills and musicianship to match in the toolbox marked blues-rock. While such a label can be applied to album number three, there is a definite shift in tempo with a number of tracks taking a more reflective stance backed with calmer rhythms. Opening song ‘Hurricane’, however, is at odds with such a description as it’s a pounding rock number that backs Alan Nimmo’s explanation of King King’s tendency of “delving more into a classic rock style” during the making of ‘Reaching For The Light’. A similar approach is given to the rocky guitar that does a perfect job of cranking up the emotions of ‘Rush Hour’. The previously mentioned blues-rock makes an appearance, but not as directly as before because it’s the greater influence of rock music that takes overall charge and where this song differs from their previous works. For our money though, ‘Reaching For The light’ reveals its strengths during its less hasty moments, with such examples as the tender ballad ‘Lay With Me’ and mild, soulful rhythm of ‘Waking Up’ that really shows a desire to get back up on its feet due to coming to its senses. Pick of a very good bunch, however, is reserved for ‘You Stopped The Rain’ which finds Alan Nimmo in contemplative mode, revealing a genuine fragility in his vocals as he’s full of admiration for the person at the centre of this song undergoing such adversity. Rather than holding steadfast to a tried and trusted formula that has provided successful to date, King King up their game by throwing a few more ingredients into the melting pot, which shows their fondness for classic rock, but also reveals a tender side that really does show the band at their best.

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Guitar Player

Nico Duportal and his Rhythm Dudes

Rhythm Bomb

After a successful introduction via a 4-track EP, the first full-length album from Nico Duportal and his Rhythm Dudes hits the shelves. Serving up a rhythm and blues affair from days of old, the six-piece unit have put together a collection of twelve songs, six of them original compositions, with an abundance of skill and flair. There is much enthusiasm whether in the vocals of Nico Duportal or the band’s playing, which has a great knack of delivering an authentic sound. This whole experience is probably best gained from the album’s second track, ‘Lost In The Game’, where the vocals are heady with emotion, “Lost in the game, I don’t know what to do”, with superb guitar and parping horns maintaining the song’s zestful rhythm. It’s yet more knockout vocals that accompany the specific topic of ‘Polish Woman’, where there’s a real oomph in the back of Duportal’s throat and the guitar appears to momentarily trip away on a thread of its own and letting out a rawer sound. The mood is of a different nature during ‘Oh Baby’ as it leans back and lets a deeper blues in, with the guitar illustrating a lot of the emotions held here; hence the album’s title. ‘Can’t Afford To Lose Her’ provides the only real blip in an otherwise strong set, as it’s a little too samey with the band never manoeuvring out of second gear. Initially, ‘She Knows How’ gives the same impression, only this time there’s something charming about its rhythm, coupled with Duportal’s vocal which pulls the listener in with a mixture of relief and joy and it’s truly magnificent stuff! It looks like the success of the first EP was no accident as Nico Duportal and his Rhythm Dudes have another successful record on their hands with ‘Guitar Player’.

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Rocket Girl

Jai Malano

Rhythm Bomb

From one giant leap to the next, having formerly fronted Royal Rythmaires, Jai Malano has opted to take the solo route, albeit with additional expertise via record label mates Nico Duportal & his Rhythm Dudes. Setting her course for solo success is the debut album ‘Rocket Girl’; a predominantly rhythm and blues affair with flashes of rockabilly. Such a description applies to opening number ‘You Made Me Love You’, which sees Jai Malano limbering up for the main event rather than starting out at full throttle. The real action gets underway once the powering rhythm and blues and quick-tongued narration of ‘Learn About A Man’ makes its presence felt. Creating a bigger impression, however, is the soulful delivery of ‘Don’t’, with equally impressive lead guitar that picks away at the senses and adding to the strong expression of independence that is at the centre of this song. The matchup with the aforementioned Nico Duportal & his Rhythm Dudes proves an inspired choice as the differing musical elements gel together effectively. For example, look no further than the rhythm and blues jive of the album’s title track that is bristling with personality, or the peeling back the years via a belting rendition, presumably captured in one take, of Leiber and Stoller’s ‘Hound Dog’. That said, Jai Malano steps it up another notch with the impassioned vocals and supportive sax of ‘So Good To My Baby’. The lights are noticeably turned down low during ‘Tell Me’, not as a means of expressing emotions connected with undying love but more as a means of highlighting the restless state of the individual concerned with this song. What began at a canter, quickly developed into a gallop, ending in nothing but an emphatic victory for Jai Malano’s ‘Rocket Girl’.

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Jonas Fjeld

Sony Music Norway

Setting aside, temporarily, his collaborative work with Chatham County Line, Norway’s Jonas Fjeld enters the fray once more with a brand new long player by the name of ‘Hustrig’. Initially, there is a sense of “warts and all” to the recording of Jonas Fjeld’s latest effort once the opening ‘Oddemans Vise’ rubs the sleep from its eyes, checks the current take of the song, and clocks the time before readjusting itself and then proceeding to tweak the first few bars of its intro on the trusty acoustic at hand. It’s as natural a start as one could achieve, and probably the closest you’ll feel to Jonas Fjeld the recording artist. From then on in the sound becomes richer, with the rather colourful guitar illuminating ‘Ild Og Vann’, while doffing its hat to the Edge (U2) and combining this with the thinnest of country strands to produce an absolute mesmerising experience. ‘Opp Med Himmelporten’ follows a similar pattern with its uplifting mood supplied by the country-rock feel of its guitars and fullness of the vocals during its chorus. There is a wonderful rolling tempo to ‘Midtveis,’ with Jonas Fjeld’s vocal in fine husky form and complemented by the soothing backing vocals. The impression given during ‘Ei Hustrig Natt’ (‘A Cold Grey Night’) is pensive, but one that is far removed from anything gloomy as its song title suggests, as the song performs at mid-tempo with piano and light swirls of Hammond organ often dictating over the rest of the instrumentation. The introduction of piano at various turns throughout ‘Hustrig’ – most prominent during the near-solitary ‘Stillheten’ and close sibling ‘Lampedusa’, which deviates nicely via some cascading (space) rock guitar where the glitter is flying momentarily – is a likely source of influence from producer Thomas Helland, considering his own work under the shortened version of Thom Hell where use of piano is strongly featured. Clearly enjoying something of an Indian summer as far as the creativity goes, Jonas Fjeld delivers yet another top-notch album that reveals moments of intimacy yet remains wise enough to retain some considerable distance.

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You Can’t Use My Name

Curtis Knight & The Squires feat. Jimi Hendrix

Sony Music CMG

After going through rounds of litigation over the years due to Jimi Hendrix’s brief tenure as guitarist with Curtis Knight & The Squires, and subsequent use of the former guitarist’s name once international recognition and stardom with the Jimi Hendrix Experience took place, the release of ‘You Can’t Use My Name’ is a means to restore some justice. In order to do this, the family of Jimi Hendrix continued with their litigation until Hendrix’s contributions as a sideman with Curtis Knight & The Squires could be presented in its original context. Prior to this latest compilation, the problems have been associated with countless inferior copies being released and featuring images of Hendrix at the height of his own personal fame, and therefore nothing to do with the Curtis Knight project. However, with balance restored by the sterling efforts of Eddie Kramer behind the mixing desk and creating a far superior listening experience in terms of what has gone before, You Can’t Use My Name’ is also notable for the inclusion of the previously unreleased ‘Station Break’ and for adding several full-length versions of previously compiled songs; ‘Knock Yourself Out (Flying On Instruments)’ being the pick of the bunch for a peek at the greatness that was emerging on guitar. If there are any grievances regarding ‘You Can’t Use My Name’, it solely lies with the opinion that it’s all a tad mediocre with nothing particularly standing out, apart from the previously mentioned instrumental track, and for the shortage of a charismatic frontman because Curtis Knight falls someway short. It was no wonder that the coattails of Jimi Hendrix were well and truly clung to once he departed to pastures new because it’s his guitar work – ‘No Such Animal’ for example – that leads from the front here. ‘You Can’t Use My Name’ goes some way to readdressing previous issues, but remains for the completest only.

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White Smoke And Pines

Ellen Sundberg


With this being her second album at the still relatively tender age of twenty-one, Swedish singer-songwriter Ellen Sundberg remains close to her roots by continuing to reside in the small village of Bjärme, Sweden, where she sets out her creative ideas. The latest instalment is ‘White Smoke And Pines’; ten songs influenced by alt. country and folk music and performed in English, with the exception of one song title scribbled in her native language and being the musically bright, ‘Vägen är lång (The Road Is Long)’. This sophomore effort has the head of an experienced character, but it is one that is still struggling with the complexities of life as evidenced by the reflective tempo and narrative of ‘What Is Life’. With this opening track hinting at a darker core in relation to this album, such suggestions become fully realised with the intensely personal duo of ‘Hollow’ and ‘Maze of Shadows’, both set to the barest of instrumentation. With such examples penetrating deep beneath the skin, Sundberg spins a broader yarn with the inbound train journey breathing out a combination of her own personal thoughts that cease at various interludes to reflect on the variety of characters also on board, which makes for enthralling listening. No doubt the intimate feel of the majority of songs assembled for ‘White Smoke And Pines’ will translate even more acutely during Sundberg’s current live tour, where there will be room for improvisation if the mood takes her there considering the rolling narratives. As its press release accurately sums up: ‘It’s not always the most comfortable place to be, but very rewarding’ because albums don’t come much more confessional than Ellen Sundberg’s ‘White Smoke And Pines’.

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The Centennial Collection

Billie Holiday

Sony Music CMG

Celebrating one hundred years in the life of Billie Holiday who was born 7th April 1915 and died 17th July 1959 ‘The Centennial Collection’ released on Sony Music CMG is a collection of twenty songs representing some of her well-known vocal performances between the years 1935 to 1945. Nicknamed Lady Day by friend and fellow American musician Lester Young, Billie Holiday proved an inspiring and influential figure on the jazz scene for her distinct vocal delivery that changed both the manner in which the songs were interpreted as well as altering customary rhythmic patterns of the standards Holiday performed. Such a unique and personal singing style has also seeped into areas of pop and soul music showing how far-reaching Billie Holiday’s appeal actually was and still remains to this present day. ‘The Centennial Collection’ begins with the vibrant tempo and optimistic vocal of ‘What A Little Moonlight Can Do’ supported by Teddy Wilson and His Orchestra who flip this chipper number over to the melancholic ‘Gloomy Sunday’  and determined emotions of ‘I Must Have That Man’. The bulk of the songs are performed by Billie Holiday’s own orchestra with such well-known compositions as ‘God Bless The Child’, ‘Summertime’ and ‘The Very Thought of You’ selected for this compilation. The most haunting composition is reserved until nearing the end of ‘The Centennial Collection’ with a masterful choice of words reflecting racial discrimination and, in particular, the lynching of African Americans in the South by way of ‘Strange Fruit’. Serving as a compelling reminder of the greatness of Billie ‘Lady Day’ Holiday, as well as acting as a perfect introduction to the songs she once performed, The Centennial Collection’ is a worthy celebration.

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Starting Over Again

Ida Jenshus

Universal Music Norway

‘Starting Over Again’ is the name of the record and where Norwegian artist Ida Jenshus currently finds herself. With a great desire to change her working habits after three successful albums and winner of three Spellemannpriser (Norwegian equivalent of a Grammy) for her creative endeavours, Ida Jenshus set out on a path of new discovery. Retaining the services of producer Kåre Vestrheim was the only remainder of her past, as Ida Jenshus set to task the songs for ‘Starting Over Again’. The precursor to this latest long player from Ida Jenshus was last year’s ‘Let It Go’ EP that contained the audacious ‘Shallow River’ as it played out over three segments. With this latest album, Ida Jenshus continues where the former EP left off, with songs stretching over the six minute mark, barring a couple of exceptions, and packed with great details. Take for example the title track with its Joni Mitchell inspired vocals set to a delicate rhythm that gradually adds more flesh to its bones as the song progresses via harmonica and atmospheric sounding guitars. ‘Set Us Free’ is blessed with more fine vocals and takes a more direct approach musically, compared to the drawn out nature of quite lengthy ‘Changes / What Is Time?’ for example. Never an easy task the process of reinvention, but Ida Jenshus appears to have cracked it with her latest album ‘Starting Over Again’.

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Still The One – Live From Vegas

Shania Twain

Mercury Nashville

Five-time Grammy winner Shania Twain made the Colosseum at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas her home for two years, having performed over one hundred shows to supporters from all over the world. With her signature of melding country with pop music, Shania Twain added a thirteen-piece band and a number of other features such as dancers and a flying motorcycle to not only put on a show, but one that was fitting of the glitzy traditions associated with Vegas. Such was the overwhelming success of these Vegas performances that the decision was made to release a live album as a memento for those fans who attended, but also for those who were unfortunate to not witness this live extravaganza. ‘Still The One – Live From Vegas’ is the documented evidence of Shania Twain’s residency in Vegas available as a live CD on Mercury Nashville as well as DVD and Blu-ray from Eagle Rock. With the album containing her well-known hit singles ‘Man! I Feel Like A Woman’ and ‘That Don’t Impress Me Much’ that many no doubt were waiting to hear, ‘Still The One – Live From Vegas’ is finely tuned with a sample of Shania Twain’s earlier work with the more country than pop ‘No One Needs To Know’ and ‘Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?’ to name two such examples. With this album being produced by Shania Twain herself, the hands on approach and dedication to her song writing is evident throughout as ‘Still The One – Live From Vegas’ serves as a perfect reminder for those who witnessed one of these live performances.

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Godzilla Vs. Poutine


Robbob Music

Providing food for thought, Canadian Robbob’s second album is ingeniously constructed along a central theme of food and quite possibly a love-hate relationship with this subject considering the album’s artwork depicting Godzilla confronting the traditional Canadian (junk) dish of poutine. Having fallen in love with the vibrancy of the neighbourhood of Limoilou, Robbob set about forming a backing band by the name of Limoilou Libre Orchestra consisting of Samuel Poirier (upright bass), Jean-Sébastien Gauthier (lap-steel guitar) and backing singers the Robbobettes. In addition to the recording of this sophomore album, the Everlovin’ Jug Band provided assistance with two of the songs, making this long player a genuine team effort rather than a personal pursuit. While ‘Godzilla Vs. Poutine’ is a record full of novelty songs, it’s a project worth taking seriously for the manner in which the songs are constructed around predominantly country and folk music and then injected with smart and witty lyrics evoking memories of a genre that rose in popularity during the post-war years. Such nuggets can be found once the aftermath of the city rubble clears (It’s a Godzilla thing!) with deep consideration given to the body parts of a heron with ‘Starin’ At A Heron’; the chuggin’ guitar adding to the catchy tempo of the album’s title track, and saucy narrative of ‘Yodelling For Your Noodles’ complete with Hawaiian sway are enough to keep the poutine at bay. Even song ideas such as ‘Hug A Slug’ probably shouldn’t be seated at the table but it remains the delivery of the song that compels, with Robbob and the Robbobettes finding great form vocally. It’s the seriousness of the musicianship that helps to provide an even balance to the frivolous nature of the lyrics that makes ‘Godzilla Vs. Poutine’ a refreshing release indeed.

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