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‘…Somewhere Down The Line’

Cow Cow Boogie

Rhythm Bomb

Firm favourites at Famous Last Words (FLW) after experiencing the rousing western swing and country boogie of first album ‘Rendezvous’, which landed on the desk approximately this time last year, second album ‘…Somewhere Down The Line’ issued on the Rhythm Bomb imprint is equally impressive, but also offers a tad more compared to its predecessor. Where this second album differs is due to the lovely, understated qualities to the majority of songs on offer. Such understated qualities leads one to suggest an overall degree of pleasantness, but such a description is fitting and meant with genuine affection. Kicking things off, the travelling blues of second-album opener ‘Somewhere Down The Line’ triggers the senses immediately with its use of harmonica and moments of lap steel, only for the mood to take a swinging uplift with the gorgeous wit and one in the eye for the PC brigade with the delightful ‘Home Cookin’. Appropriate action is applied to the cover of the Louvin Brothers’ classic ‘Cash On The Barrelhead’ as Cow Cow Boogie apply their touches with a pacier version of this song, which is highly commendable. Dropping in at the midway point is the excellent double serve of the late-night enticement of the jazz and blues inspired ‘Track 49’, with its tempting offer of “choo-choo, get yourself over to track 49”, only to see temperatures soar further with the sultry and canny ‘Steam Heat’. Once the western influenced ‘Rain’ enters a gallop, it is clear that Cow Cow Boogie is not only a talented bunch of musicians, but one that is blessed in the ideas and creativity departments which, when combined, produces the marvellous results found throughout ‘…Somewhere Down The Line’.


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All The Way Up

Ilias

Aguenar

The breakdown of communication seems to be a recurring theme for Algerian/Australian singer-songwriter and musical producer Ilias when it comes to his second effort ‘All The Way Up’. With one given the option of choosing which artwork should represent this sophomore album consisting of three space themes, any notion of a trial separation from a current relationship is either being taken to extremes or alternatively suggesting that such an option has long since departed. Beginning where previous long player ‘Somewhere In Time’ left off with the reflective guitar stroll of ‘Someone Like You’, there is enough suggestion, musically, that the windows of opportunity are opening for the first time despite the lyrical severance at the heart of this song. Such optimism gathers further momentum with the breezy indie-pop ‘My Girl With Blue Eyes’ that continues to have links to its predecessor ‘Somewhere…’ but also provides the first indicator of a departure from this former album due to being consistently tighter in its execution and offering a more full-bodied approach. ‘All The Way Up’ deviates truly from any former path once the atmospheric ‘Picture The Sun..’ glides into view and sets up the much-touted, in these very pages, of former single ‘Fire Away’. It was the manner in which ‘Fire Away’ seemed to dramatically dispel any former guidelines by throwing itself to the lions and undergo a major transformation with its film score concept and flitting rhythmic pattern that suggested only one word, DRIVE. From this neon lit landscape of LA, the influence of Radiohead can be heard with the melancholic ‘It’s All About Her’ that exists in its own shell of atmospheric electronics and quiet acoustic guitar and is complimented by the memory held during ‘Turn The Clock Back’ with a nice touch of glockenspiel. ‘Jet Glow’ is the proceeding vapour trail and provides further room for reflection with its emerging and often moody guitar reflexes. Despite suggestion of a future direction involving film scores, Ilias continues his love affair with indie music as ‘She’s Someone Else’s Problem Now’ pays homage to The Smiths, whereas elements of Radiohead spring to mind once more during ‘Finding You’ considering its somewhat improvised guitar with a rather nasty bite. The reprise of ‘Someone Like You’ is a fitting finale not only for surpassing its former incarnation with a vocal that gives an honest account of personal loss, but also for being the last tear shed on a body of work that is consistently better and creatively richer than its predecessor. ‘All The Way Up’ is a magnificent achievement and one that offers plenty of scope for future directions.


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Futurology

Manic Street Preachers

Columbia

A quick turnaround from the Manic Street Preachers after the critical success that was last year’s ‘Rewind The Film’. Back with a thirteen-track album that marks a significant change of direction for this Welsh trio by drawing on a number of electronic influences ranging from Kraftwerk to early Simple Minds, due to a longstanding affection for such musical reference points but also as a result of a previous road trip throughout Europe when touring that proved inspirational. That is not to say that ‘Futurology’ is not without the various ticks and nuances of a typical MSP album because there are signs of their post-punk sound via a number of guitar riffs and lead singer James Bradfield’s instantly recognisable vocal that still amazes with its ability to navigate its way around complex and jagged lyrics. Another notable difference is the role Nicky Wire’s bass performs as it pushes to the fore during a number of songs with a real authority (‘Walk Me To The Bridge’, ‘Misguided Missile’) à la Derek Forbes and provides a solid spine to the band’s more adventurous urges. While there is suggestion of a certain level of bleakness considering the trip back in time, there is light between the covers as suggested by the immediacy and breezy nature of the title track and furthered exemplified by the rousing chorus of ‘Walk Me To The Bridge’ with its golden splashes of electronica. Politics and a sense of detachment is portrayed to great effect during the machinelike ‘Let’s Go To War’, only to be usurped in the futuristic mechanical stakes by the hypnotic electronic pulses of ‘Europa Geht Durch Mich’. There is no doubting the Manics’ love affair with music as ‘Futurology’ continues a previous trend of guest vocalists with Scritti Politti’s Green Gartside’s wondrous touch on ‘Between The Clock And The Bed’ being one such highlight. Such affection, however, also gets the better of them and is best illustrated by the instrumental ‘Dreaming A City (Hugheskova)’ as it is no ‘Theme For Great Cities’. Thankfully, this remains the only hiccup in what transpires to be a monumental leap forward for the Manic Street Preachers, without completely ditching their past, as the barely audible intro of the krautrock-inspired ‘Mayakovsky’ raises much curiosity, if you know a thing or two about the Manic Street Preachers history, by ushering in a bit of The Beatles ‘White Album’. It appears the Manic Street Preachers is entering a rich vein of form and one that is opening up to the possibilities of experimentation. Hopefully, the band’s next endeavour will continue along a similar path as ‘Futurology’ because it is definitely among their finest works but, more importantly, it’s the first signs of a fresh start.


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Stay Gold

First Aid Kit

Columbia

Having reviewed former single ‘My Silver Lining’ ‘ in these very pages, it is pleasing to hear that sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg have stuck to a winning formula comprising of alt-country blessed with heavenly vocals and lyrics of an introspective nature. The Stockholm-based duo sound closer to the rural south of America than their native Sweden, such is their song writing abilities and sincerity, which is captured once more by producer Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes, Monsters of Folk). With the precursor that was the previously mentioned single to this latest release, lush strings and delicate melodies can often be heard throughout ‘Stay Gold’ as it’s brimming with confidence musically, with only a handful of lyrics giving the game away regarding a variety of anxieties professing to be “as big as the moon”. The trail of quality is most definitely hot throughout ‘Stay Gold’, as indicated by the sweetly addictive melody of ‘Master Pretender’, folk inspired ‘Cedar Lane’ with its huge aching heart, and topped by the waiflike and atmospheric qualities of the album’s title track. With a host of gigs and festival appearances imminent, First Aid Kit, on this current form, is the very definition of their album title as their success looks set to continue.


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Savage Beat

Frantic Rockers

Rhythm Bomb

What begins, surprisingly, in a bit of a whimper ends up resembling something akin to the name Frantic Rockers and their ‘Savage Beat’. Having not had the pleasure of witnessing Frantic Rockers in a live scenario, one suspects that their brand of wild rock ‘n’ roll, with a heavy dose of the blues, is a force to be reckoned with when up on stage. In terms of their current issue out on Rhythm Bomb Records, the opening trio of ‘I Wanna Boogie’, ‘Hoodoman Blues’ and ‘Rolling Stone’ remain a bit tepid in the sound department and give the impression of a band warming up before all cylinders are fully firing. Once that torch paper is lit, however, then some serious rockin’ action begins and starting with use of the harmonica during ‘Crying and Pleading’, which is supported by vocalist Jesse’s persuasive delivery. With the harmonica warming up during the former song, it is red hot by the time it gets to the absolutely flyin’ ‘All Through The Night’, with Jesse getting in to his stride and keeping tabs with the scorchin’ rhythm. The Frantic Rockers is definitely a tight unit musically, but they also possess an important ingredient in vocalist Jesse as this frontman has the ability to possess songs with a raw and domineering voice that steers such examples as ‘Rumours’ and ‘Howling’, but also add a touch of variety by breaking into spoken word passages during opener, ‘I Wanna Boogie’. Despite the earlier misgivings, Frantic Rockers ‘Savage Beat’ eventually does exactly what it states on the tin, and that is deliver an exhilarating ride of wild and savage bluesy rock ‘n’ roll.


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Let’s Go Sparkin’ With…

The SideWynders

Rhythm Bomb

An appropriate album title for The Sidewynders with ‘Let’s Go Sparkin’ With…’ as there is a real energy fizzing between the grooves of the majority of songs, but also there is much to get incensed about judging by the angst that relationships can (sometimes) bring and reflected here. Beginning with the sprightly sounding ‘Lyin’ Baby’ with added steel strings, the contents of this song reveals a different tale, however, and one of a relationship that went sour and now replaced with resentment as indicated by the parting shot, “I hope that you live life with regret, with my heart you are in debt, because baby – baby what you done to me is lowdown dirty crime”. This is why The Sidewynders matter so much because they really do care about their feelings and the state of their music which, by the way, is as every bit skilled as the ideas and personal reflections scribbled here. Unfortunately, for these cool cats, the relationship stakes fail to see an improvement as far as luck goes, but it all makes for compelling listening which, combined with the dextrous guitar and light rhythm of ‘Fancy Free’ and followed by the rockabilly and severely broken heart of ‘No Shame’, The Sidewynders know something about turning misery into sheer delight. There is a touch of the Bill Haley’s with the percussion entrance of ‘Dry Run’, which proceeds with a similar rhythm to ‘Jailhouse Rock’, and then catching a second wind with the breezy tempo of ‘Closer & Closer’ that showcases some fine vocals. Just before last orders is called though, The Sidewynders up the ante further, as far as any competition is concerned,  by revealing the creative delight that is ‘She’s Got It Made’, taking its inspiration from big band and swing and offering superb interchanging and dual vocals that makes our life definitely complete!


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Lew Phillips

Lew Phillips

Rhythm Bomb

‘Fallin’ In Love Is Easy’ is the introduction to Lew Phillips eponymously titled album on Rhythm Bomb Records, but it is also the first introduction to the second coming of the late and supremely great legend that was Buddy Holly. No doubt Lew Phillips is either experiencing one of two emotions and that is extreme gratitude with being compared to one of the pioneers of rock ‘n’ roll music, or such a comparison is beginning to grate after being informed umpteen times, “Wow! You sound like…” There is simply no escaping the fact though, when hearing Lew Phillips for the first time it will leave you breathless, momentarily, before the senses begin to react once more and the next step requires a quick look at the album cover just to make sure you followed the instructions correctly when inserting or setting down the correct album. Despite such a glaring comparison, there is definite genius at work here as all of the compositions are originals and penned by Lew Phillips himself, but it is the manner in which he moulds a number of them as if providing his interpretation of various Buddy Holly songs. For example, ‘Marie-Lou’ is Lew Phillips homage to ‘Peggy Sue’, complete with one or two vocal hiccups that really come to the surface during the excellent ‘Be My Baby’ and is probably the closest replica of Buddy Holly vocally coming through the speakers along with the equally infectious ‘Tell Me Why’. For our money though, the doo-wop backing and Lew Phillips pining over the memory that was ‘Laurie-Anne’ is the main source of treasure among many wonderful delights. Lew Phillips self-titled record will leave you speechless for a number of reasons, with one openly obvious one.


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Platinum

Miranda Lambert

Sony Music CMG

Miranda Lambert is back with the brand new album ‘Platinum’ that offers a blend of traditional country with elements of rock music. By combining these two genres is a means of trying to appeal to a broader audience and not just hardened country fans, but while some other artists’ efforts may sound forced, Miranda Lambert makes it all sound effortless as there is a seamless flow of consistency throughout her latest long player. Starting with the solid country rock of ‘Girls’ that immediately provides an example of the sheer power at the centre of her vocal chords despite not really manoeuvring out of second gear. The title track is almost portrayed in a country rap style, if ever such a thing existed, but thankfully it doesn’t fully resort to such measures as the song refers to the pressures that come with fame and success and, more tellingly, the reactions from others. There is room for collaboration as well as Miranda Lambert joins forces with Little Big Town and pulls off a delicate and spacious number that is full of nostalgia for simpler times. What begins as a lone instrument, coupled with Miranda Lambert’s vocal, gradually builds its momentum and in the process peels away a succession of insightful lyrics of a personal nature during ‘Bathroom Sink’, which paves the way for the humorous and rather clever ‘Old Shit’ (Yes, that is correct) that displays its passion for collectibles as illustrated by the background noise of vinyl static. If there is a standout track, however, then that honour falls to the marvellous rendition of western swing of ‘All That’s Left’ featuring The Time Jumpers which, in all honesty, would suit a full album’s worth if ever Miranda Lambert warms to such an idea.


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Nothing’s Changed

Rough Hands

Holy Roar Records

After their eponymously titled debut EP, Rough Hands return with five new tracks under the banner ‘Nothing’s Changed’. The title of this latest EP is not to be taken literally, considering the progression Rough Hand’s has made since their aforementioned debut offering. While any differences between these two EPs is subtle, apart from the skeletal and atmospheric instrumental that is track two, ‘Nothing’s Changed’ shows a tad more experimentation with songs given a bit more room to breathe yet still retaining the coarse and corrosive edges held in both vocals and sound. The pummelling rhythm of ‘Mind In Pieces’ is instantaneous, but where this song may have pursued a similar path to its predecessor in its entirety, it manages to shift down a gear and is all the better for it. The title track is simply immense with its dark undertones, controlled aggression and forceful guitars that eventually slides into the maelstrom of noise that is ‘Selfish Misery’ which, to Rough Hands credit, remains temporary as it reveals several different facets and a solid indication of a band truly beginning to find their feet. Overall, ‘Nothing’s Changed’ is a significant step in the right direction to a full-length player by offering genuine signs of development but without straying too far from the band’s original concepts.


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48:13

Kasabian

Columbia

Naming your latest album ’48:13′ suggests that time is beginning to catch up with Kasabian. Not that this five piece from Leicester has anything to prove, of course, after a succession of critically well-received albums and legion of loyal supporters championing their cause, but the signs of a band struggling for fresh ideas is slowly beginning to reveal itself. This latest album, however, begins in fine fashion with the humming static of electronics and subdued fizz of guitars that is ‘(shiva)’, before flowering into the thunderous beats and tripped-out psychedelia of ‘Bumblebee’. The film score inspired entrance of ‘Stevie’ would not sound out of place in a Bond film as it eventually catches up with an exhilarating rhythm that gives a fine impression of a song moving in transit as there is a real sense of one car pursuing another, hence the Bond reference. ‘Mortis’ is a mournful and brief instrumental that directs the listener to the first lacklustre effort in the ideas department, both musically and lyrically, with ‘Doomsday’ and followed by the all too familiar ground of yet more pounding beats and boastful comments running throughout ‘Treat’. A change of tempo and style is welcomed with the intriguing ‘Glass’, that is more considered in its use of electronica and fleeting standard instrumentation but then, surprisingly, takes an even greater twist in its strategy by closing out with a spoken word passage that contains the telling line, “When the biggest criminals I ever met wore a suit and tie”. ‘Explodes’ continues the more restrained approach and owes a slight debt to Gary Numan, before returning to tried and trusted ground with the pounding ‘Eez-eh’ that skewers the usual suspects of Primal Scream, Happy Mondays and Stone Roses in one fell swoop. Not without its faults, ’48:13′ warrants enough attention for the sometimes weird and wonderful and one or two forays venturing into classic Kasabian territory. However, it’s the latter category that requires considerable tinkering if, next time around, Kasabian is to enter a whole new era.


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Norwegian Classics

Charlie Rackstead & The Sticklesbergen Ramblers

Ramalama Production

What began as a slightly unknown commodity in this neck of the woods turned into an immense listening experience with Charlie Rackstead and The Sticklesbergen Ramblers with their take on a whole host of ‘Norwegian Classics’. By interpreting a variety of Norwegian popular songs via country and bluegrass music not only gives the selected songs a fresh perspective, but more notably for the use of the English language that really breathes new life into these compositions. Take for example the attention grabbing banjo introduction of the Dumdum Boys classic ‘Splitter Pine’ that moves along at a brisk pace and really pricks up the ears with its English pronunciation of the latter word held in the song title. Elsewhere, ‘If I Could Be Your Sunshine’ possesses lovely lilting qualities musically, and is full of wishful thinking in its pursuit of the opposite sex, only to be brought back to down to earth with the realities of ‘Free Life’ that plods out a more robust country rhythm, which portrays the carefree attitude at the centre of this song to great effect, with Charlie Rackstead’s vocal shining in the spotlight as well with a brief stint yodelling, and it’s truly wonderful stuff! Clearly, Charlie Rackstead and The Sticklesbergen Ramblers have done their homework as ‘Norwegian Classics’ contains a measure of all things that often make a good album as there is sincerity, humour, curiosity (‘Cow In The Tunnel’) and of course undisputed talent all of which make ‘Norwegian Classics’ a much have item.


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The Bet

Benjamin Finger

Watery Starve

The identity of Norway’s (Frank) Benjamin Finger remains an enigma and one that is on a par with the UK’s modern street artist Banksy. Such a mysterious identity is fitting of the music this Norwegian is peddling, as it is more about electronic atmospheric soundscapes than anything singer-songwriter by way of an acoustic guitar and unkempt facial hair (although…see above regarding the latter). What the listener gets, therefore, with Benjamin Finger’s latest album release ‘The Bet’ is a collage of sounds pertaining to various moods, such as the aptly named ‘Faintheartedness’ with its fleeting rhythm providing the woozy emotions by means of stammering vocalizations and simple piano that eventually ends up chopped and sliced and left flickering in a succession of electronic bleeps and whirrs.  Imagine if you will the characteristic tender openings of guitar strings being picked of an Explosions in the Sky composition and you are somewhere close to the shimmering and waiflike ‘Rosencrans Exit’. One can extract that ‘The Bet’ is concerned with humanities inabilities to safeguard world resources, given that the majority of songs presented here possess dreamlike qualities and therefore suggesting only one likely outcome if the downward spiral persists. ‘Bad-Luck Planet’, in particular, serves as one such precursor by sounding as if it has exited one world only to find itself wedged in a completely vacuous space as illustrated by the repetitive hum of electronica. Just as ‘Nasal Breakdown’ sounds equally grounded in its tracks, the space entered is far more pleasurable considering the beautiful ethereal vocals that surround it. ‘The Bet’ is a patchwork of ideas and emotions stitched together and striving to make sense of the world by means of various electronica and occasional guidance from elements of classical music that provides no further clues to the enigma that is Benjamin Finger only that he remains in a class of his own.



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