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Out Among The Stars

Johnny Cash

Sony Music CMG

Discovering ‘Out Among The Stars’ was definitely the equivalent of striking oil for the first time during the Gusher Age in Texas in the early 1900s. The reason for such enthusiasm marking this latest discovery of forgotten Johnny Cash studio recordings is for the simple reason that the twelve songs listed (track thirteen being a remix) here have never been released before, making this album a brand new product rather than a rehash of previously released material with the usual bonus additions of demos, outtakes and alternate versions. The songs making up ‘Out Among The Stars’ were originally recorded in Nashville in 1981 and 1984 with Billy Sherrill controlling production and contributions by way of June Carter Cash with ‘Baby Ride Easy’ and ‘Don’t You Think It’s Come Our Time’, as well as Waylon Jennings lending vocals to Hank Snow’s ‘I’m Movin’ On’. The discovery itself is credited to John Carter Cash – the son of Johnny Cash – who happened to chance upon the songs in the vaults of Columbia Records after many years of neglect until now. Indebted for this wonderful find, ‘Out Among The Stars’ is a solid body of work and a welcome addition to the musical legacy left by Johnny Cash.


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Jump into The Midnight Ball!

Dale Rocka and the Volcanoes

Rhythm Bomb

The mood of this first ever album release by Dale Rocka and the Volcanoes is definitely one of celebratory, as suggested by its title and visually explicit by the ultra-cool artwork gracing its exterior. At the heart of the album’s rockin’ contents, however, is some real cool cats who remain hell-bent on letting their hair down after a fifteen year stretch that has seen countless live performances and various recordings, but never as a four piece until now. So without further ado, ‘Jump into The Midnight Ball!’ is all you can do because its rockabilly rhythms are simply irresistible and will have you moving those limbs until the early hours, such is the relentless pace. The preparation for the festivities at hand starts appropriately with ‘The Midnight Ball’, which has a touch of Bill Haley & His Comets about it, and serves as the ideal ‘warm up’ for what’s to follow. Dale Rocka – real name Massimo Rocka who is responsible for the majority of the songwriting – and his explosive cohorts reveal their wares without any hesitation during standout track ‘Bad Blood’ with its gritty guitars sounding borderline garage rock and Dale’s vocal reminiscent of Darrel Higham on occasions. There is a real glint in the eye with the superbly titled ‘Mama Bring Back (My Blue Suede Shoes)’ that contains a subtle humour, despite being down in the deep end, and reveals the band’s creativity to a large extent, especially when it comes to failing to namedrop the song’s title at every opportunity, which is a refreshing addition. ‘Rag Mop’ is nimble on its feet with a frantic yet light(ish) sounding rhythm and skilful guitar that is brought to the fore. Taking the festivities down a notch, yet remaining consistently compelling with its grungy guitar sound and distortion in the vocal, is the whipping into shape demands of ‘That’s Why I Tell You’. Such advice is soon forgotten, however, once the inventiveness of ‘Remember Last Night’, with its amusing touch of giving the impression of an ‘extra voice’ trying desperately to recollect the morning after the night before, is played out to a brisk tempo and shuffling rhythm. Dale Rocka and the Volcanoes have just had one hell of a party with ‘Jump into The Midnight Ball!’, the good news however, is that this particular midnight ball is open and available to all, and it is one that will not let you down.


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Jukebox Daddy

Billie and the Kids

Rhythm Bomb

Hailing from Zagreb, Croatia, the posse that is Billie and the Kids – seven members in total – return with their second long player that is packed with even more resolve than their first outing. The impact of the Kids’ second album ‘Jukebox Daddy’ is immediate, as lead vocalist Ana Klabucar – aka Billie – bursts out of the traps with the appropriately named ‘Scorched’ in a vocal that will stop you dead in your tracks due to its immense power that sounds one moment doused in kerosene and the next dripping in honey, either way the Kids’ front figure is truly blessed because this is a vocal to die for. Where this album differs to its predecessor is the high volume of original material that is proudly announced in the sleeve notes and rightly so because there is a genuine sense of nostalgia captured as ‘Jukebox Daddy’ revives, to great perfection, a 1950s rhythm and blues sound that is moving and shaking for all to witness in 2014. The rumbling boogie of ‘Your First Kiss’ and lead track ‘Jukebox Daddy’, that once more parades Billie’s impassioned voice (Ah, the sound of those rolling notes!), are but two examples that encapsulates everything that is right about this album when it comes to recreating an authentic 50s rhythm and blues sound. Part of this magic is down to the proficiency of the musicianship, but also for the significant role bassist Jurica Stelma performs with regard to the band’s songwriting, as his prolificacy in this area is crucial to the wealth of original material littering ‘Jukebox Daddy’. If your life is crying out for a faithful rendition of rhythm and blues that has just jumped straight out of New Orleans by way of Zagreb, then you have come to the right place as Billie and the Kids is peddling a deeply rousing and rhythm shaking version of this very genre that will bowl you over.


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Roots Man

Levi Dexter

Dextone Records / Rhythm Bomb

Levi Dexter was last seen bringing the house down at Camber Sands to a manic tempo courtesy of his rhythm section that had this legendary singer weaving and boppin’ til almost the wee small hours. The inclusion of Levi Dexter as one of the main attractions at the Rockabilly Rave last year was an inspired decision, as was Rhythm Bomb Records to add the rockabilly Hall of Famer to their roster. Mustering a collection of rockabilly and rock ‘n’ roll numbers with a light smattering of original compositions penned by the man himself, Levi Dexter’s ‘Roots Man’ is an enjoyable ride and one that is blessed with impeccable taste. Kicking off with the title song ‘Roots Man’, Levi reveals his affection for the very scene that inspired his own musings but in the same instance pays homage to a number of its pioneers ranging from Elvis Presley to Chuck Berry. Larry Donn’s ‘Honey Bun’ spins out at considerable pace, reviving memories of the aforesaid grand live performance, before slowing immeasurably and, in the process, following the correct ‘How to…’ manual when it comes to reconstructing a song as expertly shown with the Cochran/Capehart composition ‘Completely Sweet’. This is where Levi Dexter appears to thrive, however, as further covers consisting of a rockin’ version of Jack Guthrie’s ‘Oakie Boogie’, to a modern yet authentic sounding choice via Bob Butfoy’s ‘The Man Who Counts’ and quite literal translation, considering the jittery tempo, of Hank Penny’s ‘Hadacillin Boogie’ all display a willingness to reach for the creative button rather than simply going through the motions of producing an exact replica of what has gone before. That is not to say that Levi’s own material is not without merit because ‘Boppin’ Bernie’ is easily at home with the record hops of the 50s due to its faithful delivery, but there is further cause for celebration with the darkly humorous ‘Cannibal Party’ that is completely unexpected and a welcome addition due to stepping outside of the usual obsessions concerning girls and cars. Overall, ‘Roots Man’ is a terrific tribute to several of the original records of the 50s rockin’ scene that will appeal to those who prefer a mainly covers album, but also provide the perfect tonic for those seeking a bit more creativity.


Released 21 March

 

Man O’ War EP

Orbo

Grappa

Norwegian west coast artist Orbo (Ole Reinert Berg-Olsen) reappears after a few years away with a four-track EP ‘Man O’ War’. Serving as a prelude to a full album release in September this year, ‘Man O’ War’ is the first collection of songs to make use of the English language since the critically acclaimed ‘Prairie Sun’ in 2010. With the promotional banner declaring the Orbo sound as genuine handmade rock ‘n’ roll, and this being a fair description considering the man behind the moniker Ole Reinert has written the entire contents and played a large hand in the production along with band member Reidar F. Opdal, there is definitely more than a hint of Americana, however, regarding the four songs making up this latest EP. First track ‘Deadlock’ sets the wheels in motion, bringing to mind the alt-country rock sound of Tom Petty with its acoustic guitar and pacey rhythm that has an immediate appeal set against an intriguing narrative concerning the alluring qualities of the opposite sex, but beware the honey trap. The mood is reflective during ‘Time To Move On’ with the lead vocal really claiming the song, set to a more restrained beat including piano that works accordingly while the song laments a relationship that was doomed from the start. There is much to enthuse over with the tender ballad of ‘Sleep Through The Night’ which sets up the grand finale of the title track appropriately as ‘Man O’ War’ genuinely gives the impression, by way of its rhythm section, of the initial steps of a journey that has set sail for a distant horizon of its own choosing before reaching its destination via some red-hot guitar. Judging by the consistency and quality of all four tracks making up ‘Man O’ War’, September looks set to be an important month in the Orbo calendar.


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Mathias Lilja

Mathias Lilja

Rootsy

Despite a longstanding history as a singer-songwriter stretching over a twenty-year period that has seen him front The Strollers and still maintaining a working relationship with The Maharajas, Mathias Lilja is poised to pursue the life of a solo artist with his debut record. Considering this lengthy gestation period of whether to commit to a full-length album of original material plus one cover – Townes Van Zandt’s ‘No Place To Fall’ – it only seems right that Mathias Lilja should name his first solo album under his own moniker, as the songs suggest many hours of devotion such is the quality on display. With alt-country being his preferred choice as the musical accompaniment to the personal nature of the lyrical content, Mathias Lilja sets about his business with a warning shot to those preferring to remain oblivious to the very notion that ‘Evil’ could be lurking around the next corner. ‘Don’t Fade On Me’ ups the ante further by means of brushed instrumentation working in unison with Lilja’s impassioned vocal reflecting on what might have been. Any suggestion of bad luck pursuing this Swedish singer-songwriter once again rears its head during ‘Devil’s Almanac’ that presents a rougher ride perfectly summed up by the harder edge of the guitars. ‘Give It All Away’ instantly calms the waters, however, with its predominately folk roots giving way to some pedal steel that adds a lovely aching quality to the song. ‘I Will Stay’ is the perfect example of how country music should sound if there’s a formula to be found that blends its traditional elements with a commercial appeal, as it’s an infectious tune full of bristling energy and smart lyrics and a clear indicator of how it should be done. It is this blend of styles, however, that makes Mathias Lilja’s solo album a force to be reckoned with, especially when considering the lyrically bleak and flashes of distorted guitars that stands out in complete contrast with the rest of this debut.


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Kiss Me Once

Kylie Minogue

Warner Music Norway

Incredible to think that ‘Kiss Me Once’ is Kylie Minogue’s twelfth studio album as it only seems like yesterday that the phenomenal success of ‘Fever’, with its smash hit single ‘Can’t Get You Out Of My Head’, was blaring from almost every city nightclub and student den the length and breadth of the UK. Such are the facts, however, that this new studio offering, consisting of thirteen tracks, is the first album since ‘Aphrodite’ in 2010. Opening song from ‘Kiss Me Once’ will immediately douse any doubts concerning the relevancy of Kylie Minogue in 2014 as ‘Into The Blue’ peels back the years with its uplifting qualities yet, at the same time, is reflective in its thoughts concerning past events. The immediacy of ‘Million Miles’ will translate to the dance floor in a matter of seconds with its solid dance beats. Similar suggestion can be given to ‘I Was Gonna Cancel’ as it is hip to its core and sounding not too dissimilar to Daft Punk’s recent creativity. ‘Sexy Love’ is a strong album track rather than a future single nomination and one of the highlights with its shades of funk interspersed with dance rhythms and tinges of 80s pop music. ‘Mr. President’ is an intriguing oddity that pays equal respect to Marilyn Monroe and Rihanna with its sexual tone “Ah, Mr. President!” and warped electronica that seeps into the vocals, before closing the set out with the sombre and breezy pop of ‘Sleeping With The Enemy’. ‘Kiss Me Once’ is a welcome return for Kylie Minogue, and one that is finely tuned with elements from her own past  and with those of the present that will not only appease her existing fan base but also win many new admirers.


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Grown Up (single)

Emilie Nicolas

Sony Music Norway

Emilie Nicolas takes a bow with the first instalment from her forthcoming long player due this year. The song causing a bit of a commotion is the wonderful slow burner that is ‘Grown Up’, which sounds as if it’s coming from a small remote corner of the Norwegian landscape such is the sparseness of the ingredients used. The lack of instrumentation compliments the beguiling fragility of the vocal held in ‘Grown Up’, as the song recounts a coming-of-age tale that could easily be mistaken for a separating of the ways after a troublesome relationship. Either way, Emilie Nicolas’ debut album should be one to savour judging by the qualities shown of ‘Grown Up’.


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Coming Home

Siri Vølstad Jensen

Playroom Music AS

With a growing trend for a pop country crossover, latest addition to this style is Siri Vølstad Jensen with her debut album ‘Coming Home’. Remarkably, this first outing is a product of Norway when, in fact, its contents sound a far closer relation to the country sounds emanating from Music Row in Nashville. Full marks, however, for the convincing sounds on display, which has been a lengthy process in the making and one which actually took in the sights and sounds of Nashville for a period before making a return home. With the trade secret therefore out in the open, the end product is one that is skilfully handled and once more utterly persuasive in the vocal department as ‘Burn Baby Burn’ blends a bit of the traditional country via Dolly Parton with its modern sisters the Dixie Chicks. Title song, ‘Coming Home’ leans on a more conventional country style, with acoustic guitar and strings and Siri Vølstad Jensen sounding beyond her tender years with the only giveaway being a slight vulnerability to the vocal during the chorus, that actually works in her favour due to the sincerity of the emotions expressed. This openness given by Siri Vølstad Jensen extends to ‘Whatever It Was’ and, in the process, proves to be one of the strong points of the album that once more calls for a bit of old-style country while retaining one foot in the present. The pop tendencies are more present in the up-tempo ‘Let Love’ but still not quite to the extent of Taylor Swift’s ‘Red’, for example, due to the heavier weighting of stringed instrumentation wonderfully paraded by the ballad ‘Almost You’. ‘Coming Home’ is the first landmark in the musical career of Siri Vølstad Jensen, and it is one that will prove to be a major step for this country songstress from Norway such is its overall quality.


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Mann For Min Hatt

Don Martin

Artistpartner Records

Today is the day that Don Martin lets loose his second album in less than a year with the hip-hop and inventive electronica, coupled with spoken word (street) poetry, of ‘Mann For Min Hatt’. Surprisingly, the eight songs contained within were regarded by Don Martin and his fellow cohorts as surplus stock that was simply gathering dust with nowhere to go. Surprising because the songs on offer reveal much strength in depth but there is a considerable amount of creative intrigue to win over those who remain indifferent to rap music despite its many variations.  However, as a goodwill gesture to existing supporters and those newly acquainted with the musings of this Norwegian songwriter, Don Martin made the decision to give something back and show his appreciation with a mini-album before the next full-length album. Despite the serious subject matter by way of the overt political message of ‘Boikott Israel’, narrated to large degrees in English, and local issues of ‘Straight Outta Groruddalen 2’ that concerns a valley in a northeast section of Oslo, the rest of the album gives way to its mother tongue and rightly so considering the localisms of ‘Straight Outta…’ as to portray this any other way would be a major disservice. Once more though, it is this latter song which reveals a sense of humour as there is doubt as to whether the song qualifies as a remix during its start up and it is this very humour, subtly given, that is never very far away that lends an extra layer of charm to the whole album. If you’re looking for immediate prize winners though, then the moody beats, mixed with synthesised horns, of ‘Fedora Don (feat. Boss Castro)’ and mellow edges of the title track, that is interlaced with some noticeable piano, are two such tracks from an album that is far more than its concept suggests.


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A Perfect Contradiction

Paloma Faith

RCA

Visually entertaining as well as musically, Paloma Faith is back with her third album ‘A Perfect Contradiction’. With its continuing theme of rich colours when it comes to the artwork and sense of nous by calling on the talents of Pharrel Williams to help co-write recent single ‘Can’t Rely On You’, the ‘contradiction’ implied in the title is perfectly misleading as Paloma steps up another creative gear and one that is consistently better than its predecessors. Nowhere is this more evident than the aforementioned Williams/Faith collaboration ‘Can’t Rely On You’, that is full of old school dance beats but given a modern gloss and narrated with a sassy vocal that will have you reaching for the repeat button. The traditional flavour is also captured in ‘Mouth To Mouth’ with its 80s pop influence but this time finding Paloma Faith in more restrained manner but nonetheless still compelling. The lure of Motown is all too much for ‘Take Me’ and accompanying ballad ‘Only Love Can Hurt Like This’; the latter of the pair revealing a vulnerability in the Paloma Faith exterior. There is a brief hiccup with the rather pedestrian ‘Other Woman’ and its familiarities with other female artists of similar ilk, but fear not as this songstress finishes in style with red-hot ‘Trouble With My Baby’ and shifting style of ‘Love Only Leaves You Lonely’.


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Slow Me Down

Sara Evans

Sony Music CMG

Crossing the divide between pop and country, Sara Evans delivers in fine fashion with latest album ‘Slow Me Down’. Having worked in collaboration with three of the eleven songs listed here and in terms of production duties with producer Mark Bright (Rascal Flatts, Lonestar et al), Sara Evans offers her own interpretation of events through her own works but also by means of a cover, for example, of Gavin DeGraw’s ‘Not Over You’. Such is the impact of this rendition of DeGraw’s song – who also lends a helping hand with harmony vocals – as Evans claims it for her own by stamping her authority all over it by means of a stirring vocal and subtler use of instrumentation that is equally affecting as its original. The collaborative work also extends to a duet with The Fray’s Isaac Slade during ‘Can’t Stop Loving You’, that is a perfect combination of Sara Evans powerful and slightly sweeter sounding vocal and Isaac Slade’s gruffer tones. If it’s a more straight country sound you’re after, however, then ‘Slow Me Down’ is not about to abandon this ship, despite containing a commercial appeal, as the likeable ‘Put My Heart Down’; steel guitar of ‘Good Love Is Hard To Find’ and wonderful ballad that is built of sturdier foundations in spite of the immediate ramifications suggested by the narrative of ‘Better Off’. By combining country music with a modern sheen of pop music that leans towards its darker edges and sometimes falling into the latter category with ‘You Never Know’ as one such example, Sara Evans has expertly blended a formula that works as a whole in order to achieve crossover appeal, but in the main create a convincing and thoroughly enjoyable body of work in the shape of ‘Slow Me Down’.



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