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747

Lady Antebellum

Capitol Records Nashville / Universal Music Group

After the smash hit that was ‘Need You Now’ in more countries than one can remember, this very song seemed to redefine the meaning of modern country music as it had more in common with the slick, commercial gleam of pop music than anything deep-seated in American country roots music. Despite this shift in style from a more traditional country sound, the change in tactics worked as there was no denying the song’s irresistible hooks and desperate pleas in the wee small hours for a relationship not to meet its demise proving deeply persuasive to even those not quite converted. Seven Grammy awards later and Lady Antebellum find themselves ready with album number five, ‘747’, which alludes to the band’s hectic touring schedule involving various methods of transport and stopgaps of hotels and motels until the next live venue calling. There appears no sign of fatigue as ‘747’ reveals the same winning formula which has made Lady Antebellum such a great success as this fifth album is built on strong harmonies, catchy melodies and a general knack of knowing how to write quality songs that will appeal to the masses. Such a feat is not an easy task to constantly maintain, yet Lady Antebellum show their strengths with the close-relative of the previously mentioned ‘Need You Now’ with the more robust yet equally longing ‘Long Stretch Of Love’. From there on in, ‘747’ utilises an assortment of ‘modern’ techniques, alongside a few traditional country trappings, to bring to life the addictive pull of ‘Bartender’, ‘Lie With Me’ and ‘Sounded Good At The Time’. There are moments of quieter reflection as well with the nostalgic ‘Damn You Seventeen’ and touching ballad ‘One Great Mystery’, the latter of which contains the Lady Antebellum trump card of interchanging vocals. Even the slightly underplayed yet determined title track wins the plaudits as it shows a grittier side to this band and is most definitely one of the standout songs. How Lady Antebellum maintain such a consistent level of song writing prowess is anyone’s guess because ‘747’ is another sure-fire winner to add to their growing number of recorded works.


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Surfin’ NSA

Bang! Mustang!

Rhythm Bomb

Not completely unfamiliar terrain for Rhythm Bomb Records having previously issued the instrumental album ‘Surfing Hootenanny’ by the Surfin’ Gorillas as next in line is the new surfin’ instrumental from Germany’s Bang! Mustang! Having formed from the remnants of previously successful international acts including Los Twang! Marvels, Messer Chups and The Rob Ryan Roadshow, Bang! Mustang! tear through a succession of guitar powered instrumentals that will leave you breathless after first hearing. With a penchant for films and usage of samples, the obvious choice is the guitar instrumental for this four-piece band as any number of these sixteen tracks could slot into the background of a fifties or sixties inspired feature film. Concentrating on the contents of ‘Surfin’ NSA’, the opening gesture is a rolling, tumbling mixture of drums and drilled guitar sounds with a definite Mescalero flavour as the song travels at considerable speed. The guitar surfin’ delights do not stop at this juncture either as there is a seemingly endless flow ranging from the exceedingly raw to the layered depths of ‘King Kahuna’ for example, and a change of tactic with the Latin spiced ’58 Degrees’ suggesting that the influences inspiring Bang! Mustang! are numerous. Instrumentals seem to be a hot ticket when it comes to the rockin’ scene at the moment and Bang! Mustang! can definitely include themselves as one of those hot prospects as most likely to cause a breakthrough judging by the quality shown throughout ‘Surfin’ NSA’.


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Chroma

Three Winters

Termo Records

By holding a name such as Three Winters provides something of a clue as to the contents held within this new album release under the heading ‘Chroma’. Saturated in a number of electronic sounds that are in parts bleak and claustrophobic and on other occasions possessing a more expansive side yet retaining a dark edge, Three Winters has created a predominately instrumental soundscape that is a suitable ally for music set to film. ‘Cinematic, electronic night music’ is a fitting description, but ‘Chroma’ is also open to interpretation as the sizable blanket of whiteness of ‘A Thousand White Lights’ suggests. With the first creative shoots of ‘Chroma’ revealing themselves as loose ideas rather than anything concrete with a full album in mind, the end results are to be applauded due to the manner in which the album works as a cohesive unit. Its influences remain as vast as the creative sounds dreamed up, with pockets of early 80s references springing to mind as well as industrial music and the aforementioned nod to the ideology of film score structures. If it’s clarity of definition you’re seeking however, then ‘Atrocities’ is the closest sibling to an eighties sound that relied heavily on doom-laden synths – ditto ‘At The Centre Of Dystopia’ – but is also in line with the present considering its structural progression that could just as easily find a home with fellow Norwegians Zeromancer and their most recent efforts. ‘Daybreak Monuments’ slowly opens its eyes and acts as a brief conduit to the longer lasting ‘Animism’ that really opens its doors to a richer sound that is forever aiming higher on the back of keys and electronic drumbeats. Similar in nature is ‘Aeon Surveillance (MKII)’, only this time the rhythm is swifter and the tone is most definitely lighter. Normal service is soon restored with the recurring drone of beats and swirling electronics of ‘Hazard’ that comes to a suitable finale under the funeral procession of measured sounds that is ‘Channel 0’. While ‘Chroma’ is suggestive of a nearing of the end in terms of its atmospheric approach, there remains a shaft of light that offers the merest hint of optimism. It remains, however, that despite any small measure of hope, ‘Chroma’ is at its most engaging when operating from the depths of despair.


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Live Champs!

Danny & The Champions of the World

Loose Music

Helping to revive memories of a sublime live performance staged in Oslo earlier this year, Danny & the Champions of the World mark their latest entry with a double live album ‘Live Champs!’ While wholeheartedly agreeing with the Champs thoroughly nice guy and frontman Danny George Wilson that a live album is “…something that a studio album cannot capture” when it comes to seizing the raw energy of any band, this latest release goes some way to capturing the essence of the Champs in a live setting. Having been recorded at a sold-out show at the Jazz Café in Camden on the 6th March this year, with additional support coming from Trevor Moss and Hannah-Lou, the set list for this double album release is a pick and mix of earlier works taken from the band’s self titled debut as well as ‘Streets Of Our Time’, ‘Hearts & Arrows’ and naturally their most recent and critically acclaimed album, ‘Stay True’. It’s those very recordings from ‘Stay True’ that nail the live credentials of Danny & The Champs to the top of their mast and offers the perfect examples of why this band is something special as ‘(Never Stop Building) That Old Space Rocket’, ‘Let’s Grab This With Both Hands’ and ‘Stop Thief!’ really ignites the senses. For those who are yet to witness Danny & The Champions of the World in a live setting, then the exhilarating and lengthy ‘Colonel & The King’ should be enough persuasion the next time The Champs is in town because although ‘Live Champs!’ is a splendid effort overall, nothing compares to experiencing this wonderful band live in the flesh.


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Monster Mash: 20 Vintage Halloween Hits

Various Artists

Union Square Music

In time for the Halloween festivities Union Square Music has compiled a twenty-track collection of the weird and wonderful from the vaults of a long-lost era. Despite this being a ‘themed’ release, the songs complied here are suitable for any occasion as there is much comedic value between the layers rather than anything to cause sleepless nights. In fact, the breadth of originality presented throughout is the most frightening aspect, due to such inventiveness being in short supply nowadays and something to be truly envied. Early indicators set by Bobby “Boris” Pickett with his witty and charming ‘Monster Mash’ and back-to-back contributions via Sheb Wooley’s ‘The Purple People Eater’ and David Seville’s ‘Witch Doctor’, each containing the added bonus of helium filled supporting vocals, reveals such depth in the creativity department. The subject of purple people eaters resurfaces with the familiar opening guitar signature of Bo Diddley when he confronts his nemesis during ‘Bo Meets The Monster’, and the Big Bopper offers a rockin’ slice with a difference by means of a toy instrument to portray the rock ‘n’ roll wannabe from outer space. In between the more playful moments the earthmoving vocal of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins classic ‘I Put A Spell On You’, Kip Tyler’s mean and moody ‘She’s My Witch’ and more straightforward rockin’ tune for this particular compilation from Elroy Dietzel & The Rhythm Bandits with ‘Rock-N-Bones’ levels the playing field and provides the perfect balance for an utterly absorbing set that should remain spinning long after the assortment of spectres have departed until next year’s Halloween festivities.


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Sundown Heaven Town

Tim McGraw

Big Machine Records / Universal Music Group

The versatile and hardworking Tim McGraw returns to his musical country roots after plying his other trade as an actor covering both bases of film and television. After the impressive ‘Two Lanes of Freedom’ in 2013, McGraw’s latest acquisition to his vast musical output is ‘Sundown Heaven Town’. This latest album begins with the wry smile of ‘Overrated’, wonderfully depicted by the opening picking of a banjo suggesting simpler times before an avalanche of instrumentation storms in to express the present with its pressures of feeling a need to fit in and conform. The nostalgic ‘City Lights’ eases the pressure with its bright country rock tone and a narrative reminiscing on the carefree days of late adolescence when staying out late and being in love was all one had to worry about. With ‘Sundown Heaven Town’ spanning a total of eighteen tracks, there is much to take in here. However, whittling this current album down to a more manageable size must have been a tough proposition for Tim McGraw who, in hindsight, is to be applauded for remaining steadfast in his own convictions, considering the consistency and quality of tracks on display. Whether it’s the mild delivery of ‘Portland Maine’; country rock of ‘Dust’ or knowing mismatch in the relationship stakes of ‘Diamond Rings and Old Barstools’, McGraw possesses an ability to make the entire contents of ‘Sundown Heaven Town’ sound effortless, such is his ability to conjure up infectious melodies that get straight to the point and remain free of any excesses. Such vision also extends itself to experimentation with more traditional elements of bluegrass and folk combining with pop to create the rather uplifting ‘The View’, and certainly modern for the country genre without actually being country due to its heavy usage of electronics and once more sounding like pop music that is ‘Lookin’ For That Girl’. For our money though, it’s the quieter introspective moments that find McGraw once more in nostalgic mode with the exquisite ‘Meanwhile Back At Mama’s’ and angelic qualities of ‘Last Turn Home’ that really touch the deepest nerve.


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Safe & Sound

Orbo

Grappa

Despite the moniker attached to this latest album from ORBO – aka Ole Reinert Berg-Olsen – providing a fair description of the tranquil life this west coast rock ‘n’ roller was living while assembling the nuts and bolts of this twelve-track long player, nothing should be taken for granted, however, when it comes to the ideas behind the songsmith at the centre of this record. The reason for such caution is that despite the previously mentioned serene lifestyle when under construction, the combination code to the inner workings concerning the songs making up ‘Safe & Sound’ is a tougher proposition to crack. This is where a lot of the interest lies because despite the familiarity of the music, with its strong associations with American country rock as well as more straight rock ‘n’ roll, the subject matter reflects a broader palette and one that is not so straightforward. Of course, universal themes of love and heartbreak are present, but it’s the appealing originality of songs reflecting, for example, the mental state of Napoleon Bonaparte during his time in captivity (‘Man O’ War’), and personal accounts of family members fleeing for their lives during the Second World War (‘Ridin’ The Waves’) that give the description ‘handmade rock ‘n’ roll’ real credence. There is even a surprise choice of cover with the Bee Gees ‘You Win Again’; given a fresh makeover with an understated and mid-paced version that is naturally a tad grungier than its original conception. There’s no hiding from other influences either when it comes to ORBO’s own compositions, and nor is there any suggestion of wishing to do so judging by the loving respect to Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers with the bright, melodic pop-rock of ‘Time’; solid country rock of ‘Everything Might Change’ that also pays its respects to Del Amitri, and the bluesy rock of Rolling Stones’ inspired ‘Man For You’, that sets up a mouth-watering prospect for a live setting. The quieter moments are reserved for the beautifully executed ballad of fine vocals that is ‘Telling You Now’, and the aforementioned personal ode to his grandparents’ heroic navigation through German occupied waters during the Second World War, tenderly captured here with the barest of instrumentation and fragile vocals during ‘Ridin’ The Waves’. By showing a great measure of respect and courage in its own creative decisions, ‘Safe & Sound’ is a record that may sound familiar on first hearing, but there is a lot more to be discovered beneath its layers that certainly warrants further investigation.


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Single Mothers

Justin Townes Earle

Loose Music

Alt-country musician and son of famous father Steve Earle, Justin Townes Earle marks his return with latest album ‘Single Mothers’. There’s a relaxed feel to the majority of songs on offer here, which entices a sense of security only for this to be misleading once the listener really gets under the skin of the narratives as there’s plenty of heartbreak between the layers. Opener ‘Worried Bout The Weather’ is lethargic in its delivery that never shifts from second gear, but it’s the perfect companion for the sentiments at the centre of this song with Townes Earle apprehensive about a relationship that is seemingly without direction. The languid feel of the music steps over into the protective ‘Single Mothers’, revealing some fine blues guitar and on occasions an impassioned vocal turn from Townes Earle that is quite possibly tackling his troubled relationship with his aforementioned musical father. Once ‘My Baby Drives’ makes its entrance, it’s like a thump to the head as the tempo lifts considerably before settling down again with a succession of alt-country ballads that really strike an emotional chord. Pick of the bunch includes the touching and downright melancholic ‘Picture In A Drawer’ and considered delivery of ‘White Gardenias’, nicely supplemented with steel strings which, as a whole, leaves its mark long after its conclusion. While ‘Single Mothers’ lacks consistency in places as revealed by the lacklustre ‘Time Shows Fools’ and rather ordinary ‘Burning Pictures’, it’s the moments of quieter reflection (‘It’s Cold In This House’) that really sparks moments of sheer magic.


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Born By The Sea

Never Mind Band

Gullaksen & Øien

It’s hard to believe that these boys are from the remote wilderness of Norway rather than the drier climate of Nashville, such is their authenticity when applying their trade to country music. Despite the relative distance between the two countries, the duo of Roald Gullaksen (vocals/guitars) and Morten Øien (keyboards) remain determined in their efforts by holding aspirations of their own as latest album ‘Born By The Sea’ cranes its neck out over the Atlantic Ocean in an attempt to transmit its signal to its distant neighbours stateside. With an album’s worth of original material, Never Mind Band ease in to their sound with the appropriate ‘The American Dream’, only this is a tale of hardships as it tips its Stetson to the ongoing financial struggles in various towns of America. The accompanying country sound is typically robust, with Roald Gullaksen’s guitar containing a little grit but remaining nicely understated without ever straying. ‘Mayflower’ allows for optimism as it opens up with violin strings and a jaunty rhythm once the guitar and keyboards catch a ride. The skill and expertise displayed by Never Mind Band is of the highest order, and something which has evolved from the live circuit on home shores considering their impressive résumé having performed alongside such luminaries as Hellbillies, Stage Dolls, Postgirobygget, Steinar Engelbrektson band to name but a small sample. Such experience lends itself to the soul-searching expressed throughout the impressive ‘The Father’, with some clever touches involving samples from an anonymous space mission in contrast to the mission taking place down below on planet Earth. The title track of this latest album is the only giveaway as to the ancestry of this duo in relation to their music, as ‘Born By The Sea’ contains elements of Norwegian folk music that also spreads to the vocal. By catering for a balance between the everyday emotions of the infectious melody of ‘Home By Dawn’, and slower tempo of the melancholic ‘Memories From The Past’, Never Mind Band pass somewhere between a world consisting of Brad Paisley, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson, and that’s not bad company to be associated with! ‘Born By The Sea’ is but one reason to suggest that a voyage overseas to the homeland of country music is futile when hearing the faithful rendition stemming from Never Mind Band, which is a quality to be greatly admired considering the distance separating these two lands.


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The Fox, The Hunter and Hello Saferide

Hello Saferide

Sony Music Norway

Hello Saferide is the alias Annika Norlin prefers to use when the creative thought processes demand an English interpretation rather than her mother tongue of Swedish. Interesting as the inner workings of these creative thought processes might be as to why Hello Saferide lends itself to English text is one for Annika Norlin alone. Once the opening bars of ‘I Forgot About Songs’ starts up, nearly introducing OMD’s ‘Enola Gay’, all such thoughts are instantly forgotten. It’s the static, droning sound and fragile vocal of this opening song that is instantaneous in its appeal, as it slowly edges itself away from the brink by revealing the things in life that matter, but somehow became lost in translation. ‘The Fox, The Hunter and Hello Saferide’ is understated in its execution by utilising the barest of instrumentation, applied with the lightest of brushstrokes and providing a lo-fi feel overall. The songs themselves appear to be reflecting a (personal) journey, and one that is looking back (‘Dad Told Me’), beautifully relayed through bouts of happiness and deep regret during the sublime ‘Berlin’ and cascading tears of the equally moving ‘Raspberry Lips’. The pitter-patter rhythm of ‘Hey Ho’ picks up a gradual momentum of subtle electronics and ever so faint distorted guitar that gives the impression of a lengthy sigh such is its apparent regret of opportunities missed. ‘Rocky’ reveals a pent up and misunderstood narrative that is dressed up in a folk arrangement, before ‘This Body’ paves the way for a choir of vocals which strikes a chord deep within. ‘The Fox, The Hunter and Hello Saferide’ is a lo-fi masterpiece reflecting on the various interactions of personal relationships that should find a safe refuge with all those having undergone similar experiences. Miss this album at your peril!


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Creation

The Pierces

Polydor

Following up their breakthrough album ‘You & I’ in 2011 after several years of trying, the sisterly duo of Allison and Catherine Pierce, otherwise known as The Pierces, make a return with new long player ‘Creation’. The fresh outlook of this new album began after an initial trip to Peru where, under the supervision of a local shaman, The Pierces underwent an experimental trip to reach inside their innermost selves in order to induce positive changes by means of the hallucinogenic compound Ayahuasca. The results certainly had the desired effects as the sisters set about their song writing duties with much vigour after a lacklustre period as the previous held fears soon began to evaporate. While ‘Creation’ is not a great departure in sound from its successful predecessor (if it’s not broken…), the rediscovered confidence can be heard in the more subtle touches throughout the album suggesting that patience is key here, as repeat listens will prove an enriching experience. The title song is one of the strongest indicators of this renewed confidence judging by the radiant nature of its chorus. This self-assurance is reinforced with the persuasive power of ‘Kings’ with its realisation, “If we want to, we could do what kings do” as drums rumble in the distance and the influence of Fleetwood Mac is not too far away. Similar references apply to the opening segment of ‘Believe In Me’ until the song pulls away and The Pierces pursue their own route by opening up to the possibilities of love as depicted by the song’s shimmering chorus. The softened approach to ‘I Can Feel’ works wonders, building the song gradually before hitting a glorious chorus of harmonious vocals and a combination of synths and flecks of guitar that is never overstated. Just as The Pierces have taken their time to rediscover the creative formula that was such a success in 2011, but this time with an open approach to all possibilities available at their disposal, ‘Creation’ is the album to continue their success story providing the songs are given time to become associated with due to the various subtleties held deep within.


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Endless Optimism

Elsa & Emilie

Sony Music Norway

Just as the obsession has been with female vocalists in the UK from the music industry and those willingly lapping this up, the same pattern seems to be happening in Scandinavia or, more to the point, Norway where to be female and possessing a beautiful and ethereal vocal backed by an assortment of electronic pulses that have a habit of sweeping and soaring has become an obsession. The latest in an increasingly lengthening line regarding such comparisons is Elsa & Emilie who, through no fault of their own, churn out an album’s worth of all too familiar sounding material that could be any number of female artists to have graced the scene during the past few years. There is undoubtable talent present and the majority of songs are fine, with the solid opener ‘Endless Optimism’ and haunting beauty of ‘Run’ being two particular highlights, but overall, where this album would have benefitted most is a change in the creative process in order to set it apart from what has gone before rather than adhering to an overused formula. Take for example the meandering pleasantness of ‘All Our Money’ and saccharine ‘Firemaker’ as two prime candidates performing adequately at surface level, but after deeper exploratory fail to offer much in the way of substance. ‘Young and Beautiful’ patches up some of the deficiencies with more character in the vocals and complimented by the lone piano giving a source of inspiration for the duo’s next creative venture. Despite all of its professionalism, ‘Endless Optimism’ contains too much familiarity due to the current saturation of the market with similar sounding artists. On this occasion, Elsa & Emilie would do best to follow their own advice, “This could be anything, let’s find a place to start” because they need to find their own identity, which is more than viable considering the glimpses of talent evident here, and with time definitely on their side.



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