Album Reviews

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Between The Bars EP

The Civil Wars

Columbia

The Civil Wars return with an interesting choice of covers in the format of an EP. The decision to include Portishead’s ‘Sour Times’ is testament to the Bristol band’s creative talents but also lasting appeal considering their debut album, which ‘Sour Times’ is lifted from, is now in its twentieth year. The Civil Wars certainly do the song justice by means of guitars rather than electronica, naturally, but use of the word ‘haunting’ is problematic to describe their rendition of this trip-hop number because such a description was reserved for the original composition. Elliot Smith’s ‘Between The Bars’ seems the most obvious choice of cover due to the lingering vulnerability held by both parties when it comes to their music. The Civil Wars turn such similarities to their advantage by not only paying homage to the original, but issue it with new life by creating a roomier version and therefore providing a fresh perspective as all good cover versions should. Surprise choice between the covers is an interpretation of Michael Jackson’s ‘Billie Jean’ that is handled with the bare minimum of acoustic guitar and the vocals of Joy Williams and John Paul White, who claim the song as their own such is the difference between the two versions. ‘Between The Bars’ might be a stopgap depending on The Civil Wars current hiatus, but nonetheless it’s a very engaging one that shows them in a slightly different light.


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Big Bang Boogie

Ricky Fabian

Rhythm Bomb

There is an air of change at Rhythm Bomb Records as one or two recent releases display a variation in sound to accompany the rockabilly the label is normally renowned for. That is not to suggest that there has been a complete overhaul in the sound department, as the variations in styles remain subtle at the very least. Ricky Fabian, however, is one of those artists who, with his ‘Big Bang Boogie’, opens the doors to numerous influences whether the near big band feel of the title track or western swing of ‘Never Trust A Girl’, there appears nothing this emerging cool cat cannot do. With the recording having taken place at Lightning Recording Service in Germany, it is remarkable to think that the level of consistency and creativity of ‘Big Bang Boogie’ is a little shy of thirty minutes due to the amount of songs on offer here. The straight rockabilly of ‘When You Break A Heart’ and affection for Sonny West’s ‘Sweet Rockin’ Baby’ during ‘Rockin’ With My Baby’, not to mention the wonderful balladry of ‘Searchin’, bringing to mind Eddie Cochran when in this mood, are yet more examples why the name Ricky Fabian is likely to be heralded as the next big thing come the rockin’ weekenders during the summer months. There is just one thing Ricky Fabian needs to address, however, and that is to record a second helping of ‘Never Trust A Girl’ with the male species as the bane of the troubles next time if we’re going to restore an even footing in the equality stakes.


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Enjoy The Ride

Pete Anderson & The Swamp Shakers

Rhythm Bomb

The clue is definitely in the title when it comes to Pete Anderson & The Swamp Shakers new album as there are enough musical references here, crammed inside a rockabilly exterior,  that will appeal to the broadest of tastes and therefore making that ‘journey’ one of the most pleasurable you’re likely to experience. Whether it’s the opening roll of upright bass and finger pickin’ guitar of ‘Don’t Be Shy’ setting the wheels of the Hudson Hornet (add your own choice of car here) in motion, only to make a brief stop to pick up the next passenger, ‘You Gotta Be Mine’ that’s swinging across the dance floor in sheer delight to an irresistible rhythm courtesy of the The Swamp Shakers, you will not be disappointed. There is a considered approach to ‘Red Corvette’ with its welcome change in pace, doo-wop backing vocals and (almost) understated guitar only to be outdone by the persuasive slow swing of ‘Barbie Doll’ that is handled with great precision by all present and no doubt in reference to the goddess at the centre of all the attention. Without a moment to rest, however, ‘Hot Rod Rocket’ peels away at considerable speed and sounding as if it’s being pursued by the local law enforcers with its frantic rhythm and wild hollering, and all of this from Latvia as well!  An inspired collection of songs, executed with great expertise and therefore worthy of repeat listens, especially considering its sheer breadth of content that requires more than one sitting, ‘Enjoy The Ride’ is clever, clever stuff indeed.


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She Put A Spell On Me

Marc & the Wild Ones

Rhythm Bomb

Second album in for the cross-cultural four-piece that is Marc & the Wild Ones after their impressive debut ‘The Rockin’ Beat Of…’ issued a few years back. The difference between first base and second base is immediate, however, as there is a maturing in sound, which is commendable as their venomous edge remains intact but there is a noticeable difference from the get-go with the restrained qualities of opening duo ‘Be Boppin Baby’ and ‘Can’t Stop Loving You’ that benefits their overall sound immensely. Even Marc Valentine’s vocal is reined in slightly, giving the impression that patience is sometimes a virtue as he sounds in commanding form and giving a bourbon soaked edge to ‘I Love My Baby’. There’s a tinge of blues to the on the road ambience of ‘Please Don’t Go’ that is borderline expansive in terms of its vision as the Wild Ones teeter on the edge of fresh territory in the creativity department. Elsewhere, ‘Boppin Little Kangaroo’ is as playful as its name suggests only to be given a short life by the rabblerousing ‘Real Rockin Baby’ with its Johnny Burnette & the Rock ‘n’ Roll Trio undertones. ‘She Put A Spell On Me’ is clearly seduced during the dark current trawling through ‘Little Ann’, with further experimentation by means of sax this time as it purrs down the shirt collar of the smitten individual. If Marc & the Wild Ones can carry such form into their next venture without forgetting to dip their toes in the creative pool, and lose a little formulaic baggage along the way (‘Honey Bun’), then album number three promises to be an even greater step in their evolution.


Released 17 February

 

High Top Mountain

Sturgill Simpson

Loose Music

There is much heart and soul permeating throughout Sturgill Simpson’s debut release on Loose Music that runs a gauntlet of emotions ranging from failed relationships to hardships of the working kind before paying tribute, with genuine affection, during ‘Hero’. Having recorded ‘High Top Mountain’ – a reference to a particular site with significance in Kentucky close to where Sturgill Simpson grew up – at Falling Rock (Nashville) under the watchful eye of producer Dave Cobb and later Hillbilly Central; the latter of which featured such country legends as Waylon Jennings and Tompall Glaser, the desire to create an authentic sounding country record was evident from the start having also enlisted the skilful talents of Country Hall of Fame pianist Hargus ‘Pig’ Robbins and steel guitarist Robby Turner. Where others may have buckled under such self-induced pressure, Sturgill Simpson has taken in his stride as ‘High Top Mountain’ is a cast-iron collection of archetypal country that evokes memories of a period in music confined to the history books. That is not to say that Sturgill Simpson is without his own identity because the wild and passionate ‘Poor Rambler’ and exquisite delivery and honest admissions of ‘Water In A Well’ are but two songs that suggest otherwise. In fact, it is not difficult to comprehend where such emotions stem from, having spent years drifting in and out of unfulfilling occupations which, in hindsight, has led to the position where Sturgill Simpson now finds himself as ‘High Top Mountain’ is deserving of high praise indeed.


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Uten at du vet det

Sigrun Loe Sparboe

Tylden

‘Uten at du vet det’ is Sigrun Loe Sparboe’s first solo outing after deciding to make the move back north after a lengthy stint residing in the nation’s capital. In accordance with this transition to a place closer to her roots was the decision to compose all of the songs in her native language, in order to build a stronger relationship with each and every composition and truly express the song’s emotions. Such decisions appear to have paid off as ‘Uten at du vet det’ is instantly spellbinding with its plush string arrangements and uplifting qualities that reveal themselves layer by layer. There is a real live quality to ‘Solefall’, with the vocal pushed to the fore and accompanied by delicate guitar, before changing lane and shifting up a gear with the delightfully addictive ‘Ta mæ med’ complete with handclaps and foot stomps. ‘Nord’ is an ode to home and is delivered in a combination of sumptuous strings and vocal to turn even the harshest of critics which is game, set and match once ‘Globus med lys’ intoxicates the senses with its slow dance under the moonlight. Despite all of the loveliness, ‘Uten at du vet det’ makes a deviation with the dark undercurrent of fingerpicking ‘Ved rokken’ and closely pursued by the anxious and persuasive ‘Ingen vet’ and utterly sublime ‘Unnskyld’. Such digression is completely welcome due to providing a fine balance of emotions and, in the process, sets up ‘Uten at du vet det’ as a debut that will be extremely difficult to surpass due to being nigh on perfect.


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Universe

Truckfighters

Fuzzorama Records / Sony Music Norway

Coming on the back of very high praise indeed from Josh Homme of QOTSA fame along lines of, “Probably the best band that ever existed”, Truckfighters duly repay such faith with an album chockfull of stoner rock straight from Sweden. Consisting of seven tracks, which is probably wise considering some of its contents sprawling mini-epics – the excellent chiming guitar signature of ‘The Chairman’ that is pepped up further with a robust undercurrent – ‘Universe’ marks the fourth long player from this Swedish three piece. With songs often rotating around driving rhythms which appear similar in nature yet reveal themselves to be something completely different after several sittings, Truckfighters open up in style with the blustery ‘Mind Control’ and aforementioned ‘The Chairman’ before leaving it up to the multi-layered ‘Get Lifted’ to truly stretch its wings and reveal the band’s skilful musicianship and further creative talents. The name Truckfighters has just got that much bigger as ‘Universe’ is a deeply rich and, on occasions, complex record that deserves to be heard.


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DISN30LAND AF30R D30K

D-A-D

Mermaid Records

With clever use of words to indicate the milestone Danish ‘cowpunk’ rockers D-A-D has reached with 30 Years 30 Hits, such longevity is duly rewarded with this accolade consisting of a double CD with tracks spanning from the band’s initial beginnings in 1987 to the present. The secret to D-A-D’s enduring appeal lies in their ironic play on words and mix of melodic and (often) hard-edged rock that is at its peak with the wild and savage ‘Marlboro Man’, psychobilly influenced ‘Isn’t That Wild’ and the more considered ‘A New Age Moving In’. There is, however, much to absorb here with a more mainstream yet nonetheless compelling ‘It’s After Dark’ revealing a penchant for pop music, to the ‘raising a smile’ and defiance of lead vocalist Jesper Binzer’s ‘I Won’t Cut My Hair’. DISN30LAND AF30R D30K is a compilation to be rightly celebrated and not interpreted as a parting farewell as these albums sometimes suggest because there is definitely more to come from D-A-D when considering the depth and quality of this 30 year landmark.


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Memphis

Spymob

Untitled

Having received a tipoff regarding this latest release from Spymob – the musicians behind Pharrell Williams’ productions – leaves nothing but a feeling of eternal gratitude due to the quality of the songs on offer here. With an album that is more twang than anything remotely disco, ‘Memphis’ is built on alt-country foundations with elements of indie pop as indicated by ‘I Dream About Her’ that stumbles to gather its thoughts after a night out on the tiles with Beck’s ‘Odelay’ before facing the Monday morning blues. ‘Sometimes It Doesn’t Feel Right’ is equally hazy yet more country in its leanings and aching from the inside out. There is a lovely lilting chorus to the more downbeat ‘Sundays’ that re-treads a similar theme to the aforementioned album opener as another week comes to a close and nothing but thoughts of the dreaded working week ahead. Where this album really pays off, however, is the diversity Spymob bring to ‘Memphis’ due to their ability to turn their hands to a variety of musical genres, which this four piece subtly integrate between the cracks without straying from its main intentions of an alt-country sound. Such evidence is found in the choppy guitar work and slightly eccentric ‘Making A Killing’, bringing to mind Beck once more, and the intricacies and dexterity of ‘Heavy Load’ before resuming to the more conventional and breezy country goodness of ‘Sweet Lovin’ High’. If the year had reached its conclusion already, then ‘Memphis’ would be topping the end of year album poll because it is simply that good. As it stands, Spymob has just set the benchmark for others to follow, as ‘Memphis’ opens 2014 in some style.


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Sirene

Skambankt

Sony Music Norway

Hailing from Jærland in Rogaland, Norway, Skambankt offer a subtle version of hard rock that is more Queens of the Stoneage than Queensrÿche. The immediate impact ‘Anonyme hatere’, with its driving guitars, sets out ‘Sirene’ as a serious  record that has visited one or two dark places considering a few of the titles on offer. Look no further than the pounding rhythm of ‘Voodoo’ or ‘Sort blod’, that wouldn’t sound out of place in terms of the current renaissance The Cult is experiencing overseas, to understand where Skambankt is coming from. Despite early signs indicating a touch of the sameness, it is left to the gradual ascent and ethereal qualities of ‘Gamle spøkelser’ to set a different course, which is duly followed by the rugged exterior of ‘Sånne som deg’ with its welcome interchanging vocals, before being consumed by the dark shroud that is ‘Ulv, ulv’. With an imminent winter tour, the songs making up ‘Sirene’ will definitely prosper in a live setting, but overall, there is too much familiarity to suggest that Skambankt’s latest effort is breaking any new ground despite containing noticeable strengths.


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No Depression

Uncle Tupelo

Sony

Viewed by many as torchbearers for the alt-country movement, Uncle Tupelo’s ‘No Depression’ is given the re-issue treatment by way of a Legacy Edition that sees a multitude of extras including, for the first time on CD, the 10-song demo tape ‘Not Forever, Just For Now’ that was recorded by the original line-up of Jeff Tweedy, Jay Farrar and Mike Heidorn (1989). Given that this album was first released in 1990, ‘No Depression’ has not lost any of its edge with its intriguing mix of country and indie rock that no doubt had some bearing on Teenage Fanclub’s ‘Bandwagonesque’ during the same decade. With producers Sean Slade and Paul Q. Kolderie behind the helm and responsible for artists such as Radiohead, Pixies and Dinosaur Jr, then the crossover of styles becomes even more apparent with the ‘Graveyard Shift’ and ‘Factory Belt’ leading the way. ‘No Depression’ is a timely re-release considering the current popularity in roots music, but a reminder of a ground-breaking album that should secure a new level of interest from those unfortunate to miss out during its initial release.


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Full Skull

Bent Life

Fist In The Air & 6131 Records

With a high volume of live dates planned throughout 2014, Lincoln, Nebraska’s Bent Life is more than prepared for such a lengthy schedule judging by the powerhouse that is latest album ‘Full Skull’. Thundering out of the traps is title track ‘Full Skull’, setting the tone with its pulsating guitar assault and met by the intriguing complexities and bullish manner of ‘Bricks’, only for all to be consumed by the cavernous and more primitive bellow that is ‘Unlearn’. There is no doubt that the contents of ‘Full Skull’ will be equally at home when in a live setting, as there is a suggestion of a looseness to the recordings, despite the technical efficiencies on display, that will probably usher in moments of improvisation, which can only be a good thing. At full throttle, Bent Life is leading the overseas charge when it comes to a hardcore sound.



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