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On The Great River Road

Chris Almoada

Tessy Records

Having been a part of the rockin’ scene recording and performing live since the late 70s and therefore one of the ‘…first generation of European artists to embrace rockabilly’, Chris Almoada is poised with his latest project, ‘On The Great River Road’. This current album has not been a short ride as the initial ideas began as far back as 2010, and finally concluding at some point in 2013. Having composed all of the melodies himself, but with additional help in terms of the lyrics coming from Las Vegas-based David E. Miller, Chris Almoada relays a collection of tales stemming the length of this Great River Road with a backing that is largely rockabilly. There is a great old-time quality about this whole package from the artwork and most definitely from a number of the contents inside. Right from the off the album’s title song drums up imagery of a torrid landscape, but it is not something to be overly fixated with as the aforementioned rockabilly sound takes hold rather than this being a straight country album. More to the point, ‘On The Great River Road’ has more in common with the country pioneers and assortment of hillbilly musicians who turned their attention to rockabilly once this genre started to take hold during the 50s. The blustery and catchy chorus of ‘Maiden Rock’ is one such example bringing to mind Marvin Rainwater, only to be given a good run for its money by the gripping rhythm of ‘The Gem From Illinois’ that shares a passion for a long-lost sweetheart. The tempo steps down a few notches during the piano ballad ‘Palmyra Lane’ that sees Chris Almoada in reflective mood and spinning out this yarn to the remaining customers propping up the bar in some remote town. There’s no let up once ‘The Falcon’ digs its talons in deep as it’s something of a wild ditty with a guitar itching to take centre stage such is its restlessness. There is a return to a more authentic country sound illustrated greatly by the truly grainy style of ‘Memphis Odyssey’, before the almost epic, by these standards, ‘Rabbits May Be Dancing’ introduces itself and then suitably followed by the galloping rhythm and occasional yodelling vocal of ‘Patch Of Green’. With much to consume here, ‘On The Great River Road’ is clearly a labour of love considering the time spent honing and crafting these songs into a cohesive unit in order to recount this great journey. Therefore, just like the artist at the centre of these songs, this is a journey that is well worth discovering and one that is deserved of much attention.


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Let It Go

Ida Jenshus

Universal Music Norway

Entering a creative, transitional phase is Norway’s Ida Jenshus with the ‘Let It Go’ EP. Consisting of four tracks, this next step in the career of Ida Jenshus sees her embark on an exploratory journey which begins with the epic ‘Shallow River’ that is full of dark, shadowy imagery and roots instrumentation with a definite late sixties feel, before evolving into something lighter in tone with the vocals becoming more like Joni Mitchell. Playing out in three segments as the storm clouds gather once more to see out this opening song, ‘Shallow River’ is an audacious beginning for Ida Jenshus and one that strengthens its grip as the rest of the EP progresses. The next step is ‘Hero’, set to a more traditional structure compared to the expansive nature of its predecessor, the song starts off in a murmur and then rides out on a wave of chiming guitar and acoustic support with a fine vocal turn, which is eclipsed by the time ‘Set Us Free’ arrives as Ida Jenshus’ voice dominates from start to finish. The finale of ‘Sylvia’ is full of tenderness and perfectly expressed by the pared back sound of acoustic guitar and Ida Jenshus. With a new album scheduled for next year, it will be interesting to hear how this newfound direction will develop over a much greater scale for Ida Jenshus. In the meantime, ‘Let It Go’ is sufficient evidence that this songstress is on the right path.


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Melody Road

Neil Diamond

Capitol Records

After bringing the house down on the Graham Norton show recently with current single ‘Something Blue’, which is also undergoing heavy rotation on UK radio stations right now, Neil Diamond returns with album ‘Melody Road’. This latest release is Diamond’s first original album in six years and is co-produced by heavyweight producers Don Was and Jacknife Lee. Having established a long and illustrious career, ‘Melody Road’ shows no signs of slowing down as it’s full of heartfelt songs that reflect on times gone by, but with this songwriter still maintaining a focus on the future. Beginning with a song, in part, regarding the art of song writing and the joys this can bring when finding that perfect melody, ‘Melody Road’ starts out this latest journey for Neil Diamond in a strolling manner. Next up, however, ‘First Time’ gains a spark in its step and blossoms out into classic Diamond territory once the rousing chorus reveals itself in a bluster of instrumentation, and the renowned coarser edges of his vocal open up as well. ‘Seongah And Jimmy’ provides another strong vocal performance but remains too mawkish in its sentiments and plodding in its overall delivery. Such misgivings are soon forgotten once the compelling ‘Something Blue’ enters the fray with that irresistible chorus pepped up lightly in the background with brass instrumentation that once more shows Diamond on classic form and providing the very definition of a foot-tapping number! Then, of course, there is the other side of Neil Diamond that he does so well with the ballad ‘Nothing But A Heartache’, that suggests nothing lacking in the vocal department as the emotions pour out, leaving a painful and sorrowful exit. There’s something here for all Neil Diamond supporters as the more simple arrangement of ‘(OOO) Do I Wanna Be Yours’ is reminiscent of the journey taken during ‘Home Before Dark’ where the instrumentation was often peeled back. Not content with putting his feet up, Neil Diamond chooses to let his creative impulses to take hold, and rightly so when the majority of songs contained within ‘Melody Road’ remain on a par with some of his best recordings.


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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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