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The Old Bridge

Bluegrass Stuff

El Toro

Not just a staple of the American musical diet these days as bluegrass, and all of its associated traditions, appears to be increasing in popularity in various other countries. When it comes to Bluegrass Stuff, Italy is the location for the traditional bluegrass music making up their album, ‘The Old Bridge’.  Any suggestions of an unpremeditated meeting of the minds before laying down the tracks leading to the band’s album are likely to be unfounded considering the level of detail given to this long player, but that doesn’t stop ‘The Old Bridge’ from sounding as if it was freshly baked in the last hour or so, such is the general feeling of spontaneity generated here. Recorded and mixed by Bluegrass Stuff’s very own Massimo Gatti (mandolin/vocals) ‘The Old Bridge’ gets into its stride from the off with a succession of up-tempo numbers comprising of fiddle, banjo, upright bass, mandolin and acoustic guitar. Despite the lively introduction to ‘The Old Bridge’, the mood is somewhat downbeat with unrequited love surfacing on a few occasions with ‘Hurt And Feeling Sad’, ‘Leavin’ Me Behind’ and, in particular, the deep frustrations expressed during ‘Send Me Your Address From Heaven’  being the pick of a very good crop. With a considerable amount of the songs self-penned by band members Ruben Minuto, Matteo Ringressi and the previously mentioned Massimo Gatti and then balanced with a selection of standards, ‘The Old Bridge’ is really worth paying a visit and setting aside some time because you will not be disappointed with such pickin’ delights as ‘Once In A While’ or the yodelling vocalisations of ‘My Swiss Mountain Lullaby’ to realise that you’re in the company of some genuinely wonderful talent.

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Ringer I Vatn

Kjell Reianes

CMM Music

Despite earning a living as an architect, the name Kjell Reianes is associated with music in his native Norway due to a long-held ambition to break into an otherwise competitive market. The breakthrough arrived in 2011, at the ripe old age of sixty-one, with the appropriately titled ‘Aldri For Seint’ (‘Never Too Late’). Significant to this breakthrough was the start of a working relationship with Kaizers Orchestra’s Janove Ottesen, who was responsible for arranging and producing Reianes’ debut offering. Sixty solo gigs later, and various collaborations with numerous artists, Kjell Reianes made the transition from tinkering away with his musical compositions in his spare time, to a full-time commitment, which has resulted in a second album, ‘Ringer I Vatn’. The aforementioned working partnership with Janove Ottesen was reignited for this second outing, with Ottesen taking up production duties once more, in addition to a select few musicians – Ola Kvernberg, Mads Falck Berven, Jarle Vespestad and Eirik Are Oanes Anderssen – being added to the ranks in order to fully realise the ideas behind ‘Ringer I Vatn’. First impressions is that such qualified experience really lends itself to Kjell Reianes latest release, with opening number ‘Lukk Opp Ditt Øye’ sounding as if it was recorded in one take, where instruments are still in the process of warming up before eventually proceeding ahead. There is a pared-back sound to the majority of this latest work, with mainly acoustic instrumentation providing the rhythms to Reianes reflective lyrics where songs such as ‘Bare Ein Gang Te’ and ‘Evig Din’ would not be out of place on a busy side street populated with cafés  somewhere in Paris. Keys are added to the duo of ‘Virvelvind’ and ‘Bossanova’,   which gives the former song a slightly quirky feel whereas the latter is light and breezy. Reianes engaging dialect really captures the sentiment at the heart of ‘Du E Min Eine’ to great effect, and is but one reason why the breakthrough eventually had to happen for this wonderful talent.

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I See You (single)


Propeller Recordings

Not one to rest easy on her laurels, Anne Lise Frøkedal makes a welcome return, but this time in the role of a solo artist rather than her customary duties with Harrys Gym and I Was A King. By trimming her moniker to the more manageable Frøkedal, the decision to embark on this current project alone, seems to work dividends as it throws up another dimension to her song writing where only the use of acoustic instrumentation is used for first single, ‘I See You’. By opting for such a route musically, there is a notable difference in sound where a strong folk presence is audible as the song rolls out its rhythm in unison with a compelling vocal that doesn’t have to try too hard to weave its magic such is its natural appeal. If the same qualities can be transferred to the forthcoming long player, then Frøkedal has another serious project to pursue long term, and one to rival the other two major creative pursuits in her life.

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You’re My Sugar

Fia Sco & The Majestics

Rhythm Bomb

There’s a predominantly western swing flavour to the icing coating the Austrian mountain ranges by way of ‘You’re My Sugar’. The band at the centre of this swinging sound is Fia Sco & The Majestics who seem to have exchanged their Austrian roots for something a bit more American. Such a suggestion becomes even clearer when hearing the added musical ingredients consisting of hillbilly and country, with a definite rockin’ attitude thrown in for good measure. The spark which ignites this album into life, however, is the rolling tongue of Fia Sco’s vocal delivery, which then proceeds to dominate opening ditty ‘Ice Water’ and continues in similar style throughout the rest of this album. There’s no doubting Sco’s presence here as she comes across as a charismatic front figure by breathing life into the songs, with her vocal providing a throwback to another era. All of this talent would not be possible without experienced hands, which comes by way of The Majestics with titles to rival their magnetic songstress and therefore deserving of a mention, so step forth Colonel Rib Kirby (lead/rhythm guitar), Don De Vil (double bass), Big Honzo (steel guitar) and Ray Hammer (drums). With such a force in place, Fia Sco & The Majestics simply can’t fail which is evident from the tight rhythm and quick vocal delivery of ‘Dynamite’ and choo-choo boogie of ‘She’s Gone, Gone, Gone’. With ‘You’re My Sugar’ being a covers fest, pick of the bunch has to be the Howard Stamford and Danny Mitchum composed ‘Hey, Mr. Cotton Picker’ and (at last!) clever spin on Jerry Reed’s excellent ‘Mr Whizz’ to a feminist friendly renamed, ‘Misses Whiz’. Once the locals of their native Austria catch wind of these western flavoured numbers, the icecaps are likely to melt such is the heat stemming from ‘You’re My Sugar’ and, more notably, the talent at the heart of this record.

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The Big Picture

Kat Edmonson

Sony Music

Following the critical success that was ‘Way Down Low, Kat Edmonson returns with twelve new songs under the heading ‘The Big Picture’. By combining a similar mixture of jazz, folk and pop influences to her previous long player, Kat Edmonson’s passion for old classic films also finds a way into this latest set of compositions which, along with the guidance of well-renowned producer Mitchell Froom (Crowded House, Sheryl Crowe, Suzanne Vega et al), really comes to the fore during such songs as ‘Oh My Love’ where the vocal is purring against a backdrop of black and white nostalgia. It’s this very love of vintage films that also finds its way into such numbers as ‘You Can’t Break My Heart’ where the two-tone canvass is exchanged for a grainy colour inspired by a Sergio Leone movie and accompanying Ennio Morricone sound score to support its western flavour.  Elsewhere, there is a lovely light touch to the pop song ‘Avion’ that glides along at some pace and needs to be heard for the manner in which Kat Edmondson wraps her vocal around the very title of this particular ditty. ‘Rainy Day Woman’ is influenced by a 60s pop sound à la Dusty Springfield with its orchestral strings applying the raindrops, in addition to a horn section acting as a buffer against the oncoming (emotional) downpour. One of the most pleasing aspects of ‘The Big Picture’ is the apparent simplicity of some of the songs where less is certainly more when considering the shuffling drums and acoustic guitar of the exquisite ‘For Two’ and mellow tones of final song, ‘Who’s Counting’. Kat Edmonson’s star is on the ascendency as ‘The Big Picture’ is an album full of charm and teeming with creativity that manages to pull all of its components together and yet somehow sound smaller than its overall outlook would suggest. This, of course, is a skill in itself, and one that this songstress manages admirably. Top marks indeed!

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21 Days In Jail!

The Broadkasters

Rhythm Bomb

Trading in their wild brand of rockabilly as The Houserockers by taking in the blues as The Broadkasters, three members of the previously mentioned line up add an additional player to their ranks on harmonica in order to communicate their passion for this other love in their life. Nowhere is this better expressed than the vocals of Rob Glazebrook, who is given centre stage on more than one occasion, such is the charisma in his voice that gives these songs such a faithful delivery. If it’s evidence you’re looking for, then the seemingly one take and straight off-the-cuff ‘Stop Breakin’ Down’ is probably the closest example you’ll get where Glazebrook sounds present in your front living room with the rest of the instrumentation tucked away neatly behind, such is his presence coupled with the raw and ready nature of this particular track. Of course all this would not be possible without the rest of The Broadkasters in attendance, who know how to concoct a driving rhythm or two such as the beating heart that moves ‘Crazy Mixed Up World’, to the rapid execution of its title track ’21 Days In Jail!’. Where this album benefits as well is The Broadkasters ability to deviate from the more regular tempo of the songs, by offering up a few less hurried efforts such as the marvellous, yet snapping at the heels by way of harmonica of ‘Ah’w Baby’, to the steady drip of emotions portrayed effectively with the back burning rhythm of guitar during ‘Come Back Baby’. Full of character and expertly relayed, The Broadkasters slip into their second skin – the blues – and come out triumphant with ’21 Days In Jail!’

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Reality Show

Jazmine Sullivan

Sony Music Norway

‘Reality Show’ is the third full-length album from previous Grammy nominee Jazmine Sullivan. With this latest release being a joint effort in terms of production involving Salaam Remi, Key Wane, Chuck Harmony, Da Internz, Ant Bell, DJ Dahi, Joe Logic and Dilemma, the high number of collaborators reaps dividends for Jazmine Sullivan who goes from strength to strength with a soulful blend of R&B, smatterings of hip-hop inspired beats and mild electronica. It’s the knockout vocals, however, which pierces all exteriors of the songs present here, backed up with heartfelt lyrics reflecting on the various complexities that relationships can bring. Such examples can be identified from the stream of thought that flows through ‘Mascara’, expertly portrayed by a tender vocal which proves to be no fluke once the wider range of ‘Brand New’ enters the fray. There’s some dirt underneath the nails regarding previous hit single ‘Dumb’, which makes its entrance to an echo of vocals that later gives way to Meek Mill’s rapping the male perspective on this ill-fated relationship. The prospect of happiness remains unlikely once ‘Forever Don’t Last’ gets underway as Jazmine Sullivan pours her heart out to the accompaniment of handclaps and acoustic guitar. The tempo is lifted with the dance influenced ‘Stanley’ and then steps down once more with the smooth delivery, and really quite wonderful ‘Let It Burn’. As truthful as it gets, ‘Reality Show’ reveals the inner walls of the troubles and strife that relationships can experience, only these troubled times are given a sweeter edge by the quality and sheer talent of Jazmine Sullivan.

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December Day: Willie’s Stash Vol. 1

Willie Nelson

Sony Music CMG

The first instalment in a series of releases focusing on Willie Nelson’s archived material. Personally chosen by the man himself with help from his sister Bobbie, Willie Nelson sets up this first volume with a selection of songs taken from his musical vault containing a glut of riches by featuring some alternative versions of former songs, cover versions as well as contributions from his Family Band. There is a warm intimacy to the majority of songs with the barest of instruments used via Bobbie on piano, Willie Nelson on guitar and moments of harmonica from Mickey Raphael.  There is a genuine old-time quality regarding opening song ‘Alexander’s Ragtime Band’ with a slight spring in its step exemplified by the sprightly piano keys and Nelson’s quick-fire narration. The rendition of ‘Permanently Lonely’ is a compelling take on the previous recording; sounding close to improvised with the nuts and bolts being reassembled as the song gathers its memories by way of its plaintive vocal and pared back instrumentation. With time for an instrumental jam via ‘Nuages’ before fumbling its way through the lyrical haze and makeshift musical accompaniments of back-to-back ‘I Don’t Know Where I Am Today’ and aptly named ‘Amnesia’, ‘December Day: Willie’s Stash Vol. 1’ is the sound of one of country music’s greats recollecting his past, but with a sense of creativity that often gives fresh perspectives to the majority of songs presented here.

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Santa Is Real (single)

Alexander Lindbäck

Safe & Sound Recordings

Taking a break from his usual duties with Seven Doors Hotel, Alexander Lindbäck embarks on a solo jaunt with his first recording ‘Santa Is Real’. Taking inspiration from The Louvin’ Brothers’ classic ‘Satan Is Real’, Lindbäck spins a yarn on a darker Christmas tale that is more about taking rather than giving. Without wishing to put a dampener on the Christmas festivities with its more serious tone involving murder, drug misuse, prison and the lack of any real gifts being exchanged, ‘Santa Is Real’ possesses a sense of mischief and definite black humour in between the serious drama, especially considering  mum’s unfortunate fate via some gingerbread dough! With the song coming wrapped in a country styling that contains some lovely mandolin, pedal steel and piano, Christmas with Alexander Lindbäck is definitely one to savour for a number of different reasons, but most notably for his refreshing take on the traditional festive song that really brings to life ‘Santa Is Real’.

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Di Første Jul

Tone Damli

Sony Music Norway

There seems to be an unwritten rule when it comes to music, whether in the UK or certain parts of Europe that if one’s chosen career path is of a certain genre, then one has to continue along that chosen path and not digress. Such is the debate currently surrounding Tone Damli’s temporary decision to trade genres from pop music to a more traditional folk sound just in time for the seasonal Christmas rush. The album causing all of the commotion is ‘Di Første Jul’ (‘Your First Christmas’), which happens to be Tone Damli’s first attempt at a Christmas album and one that relies on more traditional songs, as well as lesser known seasonal compositions, personally handpicked by the Norwegian songstress herself. The primary beef with this particular album, from various sections of the Norwegian music press, seems to be the already mentioned trading of genres, whereby a pop artist cannot be taken seriously if attempting anything remotely highbrow as with ‘Di Første Jul’. In addition, there seems to be a few concerns regarding Damli’s decision to bend the rules slightly, by incorporating a specific regional dialect to interpret the songs selected and thereby change some of the texts in order to create a more personal album that is closer to her own heart. While not wishing to enter such a debate – although the first point regarding certain pop celebrities being dismissed when trying their luck at other musical genres riles somewhat – the point to address here is that ‘Di Første Jul’ is actually a good album regardless of past creative endeavours or exchanges of language usage. Getting down to business, ‘Di Første Jul’ is constructed of some fine qualities; namely the delightful vocals of Tone Damli providing the sweetest of touches to the album’s title track and other noteworthy additions as ‘Vi Tenner Våre Lykter’, but also fine musicianship via an assortment of roots instrumentation providing a genuine earthy feel overall, and one that often remains understated. The opening daybreak of ‘Luciasang’, exemplified by its steel strings entrance, is simply glorious, as it then proceeds to go about its business in what sounds like an unfussy manner, when actually there is much detail between its layers with various instruments combining to great effect. The introspective atmosphere given to ‘Snø’ sounds more suited to a rain soaked evening where the car’s wipers are working overtime on the long drive home, but fortunately you’ve got Bruce Springsteen sitting alongside for company. The liner notes for this album release hint at one or two songs containing a less festive tone, but this is part of the appeal of ‘Di Første Jul’ as it’s a Christmas album with a difference as you will hear the odd country twang or the mood can be a tad sombre (‘Mitt Hjerte Alltid Vanker’). However, all these aspects are to be applauded considering the nature of this album release, and one that is far preferable to hearing Slade’s ‘Merry Christmas Everybody’ for the umpteenth time! With Espen Lind providing quality control behind the production desk, the entire blend of this seasonal effort sits perfectly as it considers a variety of emotions which, quite frankly, reflect the shades of colour and light leading up to this particular season. On the evidence of ‘Di Første Jul’, it would seem that pop stars really can operate within different musical genres.

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Home For The Holidays

Darius Rucker

Capitol Records Nashville

A strange one this in terms of timing, but as with most things when it comes to the Christmas season it’s all about getting in there early to maximise profits. Setting such irritations aside, Darius Rucker has set his country tunes on hold for a first in his career with a Christmas album ‘Home For The Holidays’. With producer Frank Rogers at the helm once more, after Rucker’s three solo albums receiving the same working relationship, ‘Home For The Holidays’ transpires to be a thoroughly engaging listen. Part of the reason why ‘Home For The Holidays’ proves a success is down to Rucker’s fine vocal delivery which, in this context, is a throwback to a classic era of singers including Dean Martin, Nat King Cole (‘Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow’) et al. Consisting of the standard Christmas songs, but with a couple of self-penned numbers – ‘Candy Cane Christmas’ and ‘What God Wants For Christmas’ – Rucker makes these songs his own with a warm, smooth delivery throughout ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’, and then finding himself getting into character during the eccentric and humorous ‘You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch’. Sheryl Crow makes an appearance on ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’ with her voice blending nicely to the classic theme of songs on offer here, and complementing Rucker’s slightly deeper tones as there is no suggestion of Crow being a mere background accessory with her vocal often thrust to the fore. There is a boogie-woogie feel to ‘Winter Wonderland’ that really sets up its jaunty rhythm, before arriving at the previously mentioned, and one of Rucker’s own compositions, ‘Candy Cane Christmas’, which consists of the same classic ambience of the festive standards with its orchestral support and impressive silky vocal. Definitely a surprising choice from Darius Rucker, considering his previous works, but a decision that proves worthwhile because ‘Home For The Holidays’ reveals another side to this country musician that is especially appealing once the moving ‘I’ll Be Home For Christmas’ has woven its magic.

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Live At The Royal Albert Hall

Ben Poole

Manhaton Records

Only in his mid-twenties, the name Ben Poole has come a long way in a relatively short space of time. Such progression for this blues-rock maestro is hardly surprising considering the solid foundations having been put in place after acquiring a degree in music at Brighton University and then opening his recording account in confident manner with the EP ‘Everything I Want’ and ensuing full length debut album ‘Let’s Go Upstairs’. Latest release ‘Live At The Royal Albert Hall’ is great testament to the musical strides Ben Poole is making considering the prestige of the Royal Albert Hall, but it is also an album that sees Ben Poole in his natural environment of a live setting where he is truly able to capture the raw energy and passion of his own compositions, in addition to a smattering of covers. The dextrous playing is evident throughout ‘Live At The Royal Albert Hall’ as Ben Poole blazes a trail of musical delights along with his band consisting of Craig Bacon (drums), Mat Beable (bass), Sam Mason (keys) and Amy Eftekhari (vocals) with the early runner ‘Let’s Go Upstairs’ containing some white-hot guitar and the burnt feelings of ‘Love Nobody No More’ being two such examples. Taking up the middle section of this live set is the previously mentioned selection of cover versions with The Temptations ‘(I Know) I’m Losing You’ given a gritty rendition via some bruised vocals, robust guitar and swirling keys, before handing over to the more than respectable versions of Otis Redding’s ‘Mr. Pitiful’ and Billy Myles’ ‘Have You Ever Loved A Woman’. Despite ‘Live At The Royal Albert Hall’ being a landmark achievement in the early stages of Ben Poole’s career, any temptation to rest on his laurels is not something this blues-rock artist is willing to entertain as the bonus entry of a new composition ‘Starting All Over Again’ sets up the next instalment as a seriously mouth-watering prospect. Until that time arrives, ‘Live At The Royal Albert Hall’ serves as an entry point for those less familiar with this emerging talent, but also this live recording captures the true identity of Ben Poole in a live setting. Highly recommended.

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