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Paradise Valley

John Mayer

Columbia

John Mayer returns with latest album ‘Paradise Valley’ which sees a return to roots of sorts with a largely country-tinged affair held together by a light smattering of the more bluesy pickings he is more renowned for. Such familiar sounding ground can be heard midsection with the (almost) brisk tempo of ‘Call Me The Breeze’ that is dramatically cut short when in full swing only to be greeted by the mellow pop edges no doubt brought to the table by Katy Perry during ‘Who You Love’. In fact, there is such an effortless quality about the majority of songs held within that one cannot help but succumb to such delights of album opener ‘Wildfire’ that is all handclaps and campfire boogie or the gentle acoustic strum of open love letter ‘Dear Marie’ to realise that John Mayer possesses something of the Midas touch when it comes to songwriting.


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The Wild Feathers

The Wild Feathers

Warner Music Norway

Interestingly, The Wild Feathers amalgamated from a number of bands where several of the members were responsible for main vocal duties. One would assume a clash of egos due to their former responsibilities but not for newcomers The Wild Feathers as they merely utilise such clear advantages to their overall benefit. The end result for the band’s eponymously titled album blends country, folk, blues and rock that harks back to a 70s era full of Rolling Stones, The Eagles, Crosby, Stills and Nash yet given a modern sheen. Guilty of such comparisons is opening track ‘Backwoods Company’; a song full of vigour with its raucous guitars spliced with occasional bluesy harmonica. Next up is the driving and melodic ‘American’ that is nostalgic in its outlook and suggestive of open roads. ‘Tall Boots’ reveals a tender side as does ‘Left My Woman’; the latter of which draws out the strength in depth of the vocals. Our money, however, is on the gathering momentum of ‘The Ceiling’ with its uplifting qualities and dramatic finale that render ‘The Wild Feathers’ a resounding success.


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The Civil Wars

The Civil Wars

Columbia

Debut album ‘Barton Hollow’ from American country-folk duo The Civil Wars was always going to be a tough challenge to overcome when it came to album number two. Despite any initial fears held due to the sheer quality running throughout their debut album, The Civil Wars pull out the stops once more and deliver a resounding triumph that expands on its predecessor with a fuller and slightly firmer sound. The cover artwork with its darkened cloud depicting a sense of impending doom sums up the regret felt during ‘The One That Got Away’. There is a real sultriness about ‘I Had Me A Girl’ that even stems to the guitar strings sounding tetchy under the song’s humidity. ‘Same Old, Same Old’ is anything but tired sounding as it reveals an aching beauty that leads appropriately into the tenderness of ‘Dust To Dust’. It is sincerely hoped that The Civil Wars fight off any further sense of unrest, as reported in the media, and make it to third base because they now have two classic albums on their CV.


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In These Waters

Mads Langer

Sony

Danish Mads Langer opens up ‘In These Waters’ in broody fashion with hefty electronic beats steadily illuminating ‘Number One’ before lifting the mood with the lyrically playful desires of ‘No Gravity’. Once the indie-pop hooks cast out their lines further – ‘Elephant’, ‘Not Meant To Be Broken’ – the realisation dawns that Mr Langer knows a thing or two about crafting songs with considerable depth yet maintaining a commercial edge. Unfortunately, this is sometimes his undoing as ‘Glass House’ consists of too much gloss and is at odds, for example, with the folk loveliness of title track ‘In These Waters’. Such gripes are minor, however, especially when the penetrating loss of ‘Never Forget You’ with its striking vocal delivery leaves its mark only to be usurped by the closing rawness held in Langer’s throat of standout track ‘Dire Straits’ that renders one utterly speechless.


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Transparency

Ivy League (TX)

Fist In The Air

‘Transparency’ is the debut album from Boston three-piece Ivy League (TX) who deliver a punk rock sound that definitely resides on the perimeters of grunge as songs such as ‘Void’ and ‘Coalesce’ peel back the years to a nineties era. With initial hearings suggesting a band ploughing the same furrow on one too many tracks, persistence will be duly rewarded because this album is a definite grower. The lighter edges of opening song ‘Canopy’ wears its heart on its sleeve and is then duly shattered with the quite brilliant  ‘History Repeats’ stretching itself with, ‘I never want to feel this way again’ only for ‘Losing Sleep’ to reiterate such misgivings . Heartfelt and raw, ‘Transparency’ deserves your attention, just don’t expect immediate gratification.


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Consanguinity

Pariso

Tangled Talk Records

Seemingly falling from nowhere in terms of this second album release due to a non-existent promotional campaign, Pariso return after a year’s absence with ‘Consanguinity’. With Lewis Johns (Gnarwolves, Goodtime Boys, Hexis) on production duties, the songs lining the four walls of this sophomore album lightly purport to family relations and the ties that exist, which is perhaps wise considering use of the Norwegian phrasebook when drumming up a title for ‘Trolljegeren’. It is the manner in which ‘Consanguinity’ really grabs at the senses from the off with its raw intensity but also competing layers of guitar with ‘The Separation’ setting itself up as a perfect example before ‘Maniai’ muscles its way past with its shuffling yet dense rhythm. If there is to be a standout track here, however, then ‘Tower of Genus’ conjures up some magic midway through its brief duration with a surprising turn of events in the vocal department that suggests there is a lot more to come from Pariso.


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Perdition

The Redhot Trio

Western Star

Either there is a cleverly formulated master plan afoot here or The RedHot Trio is blissfully unaware of the confused signals they are transmitting. Walking out from underneath a blanket of darkness, the artwork gracing the Trio’s ‘Perdition’ is more akin to that of a heavy rock band rather than the sauntering Johnny Cash-inspired ditties on offer. The only real indication of the wildness suggested by the exterior arrives in the shape of the superbly boisterous ‘Devil Woman’ with its red-hot guitars and occasional hollers. From then on in, The RedHot Trio pull off the unexpected by driving into mid-tempo territory and, in the process, reveal a succession of jaw-dropping numbers. Look no further than the on/off love affair of ‘Whiskey Train’ or the rolling down the tracks of ‘Unspoken Words’ to the deep regret flowing through ‘Letter To Donna Jayne’ in order to understand that there is great talent at work. Marinated in western flavours ‘Day By Day’ and ‘My Old Guitar’ nearly reach the summit, especially the latter with its wondrous brass instrumentation, only to give way to the guitar picking and quirky instrumental that is ‘The Mental Breakdown’. If The RedHot Trio can reproduce or better songs of this magnitude, then the next instalment is one to savour. As it stands, ‘Perdition’ is a beguiling collection of songs from a genuinely gifted set of musicians.


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The Blessed Unrest

Sara Bareilles

Epic Records

(Very) American indie-pop is the order of the day when it comes to Sara Bareilles third outing ‘The Blessed Unrest’. There are terrific vocals throughout this album and some very intelligent compositions to be had with the hidden depths and leading piano of ‘Hercules’ and the delicate introspection of ‘Manhattan’ with the barest hint of brass instrumentation passing through at various intervals. ‘Satellite Call’ follows in similar fashion but weighs slightly more heavily on the brooding side of things before opening skyward on Bareilles signature vocal. While there may be some cynics deeming ‘The Blessed Unrest’ as mere TV fodder (i.e. the perfect accompaniment to the latest string of US dramas) such notions remain unwise, despite the obvious initial familiarities, because Sara Bareilles has produced a thought-provoking body of work with much to offer if given the time.


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Long Way Down

Tom Odell

Columbia

With a voice that belies his tender years and not too dissimilar from Jeff Buckley, ‘Long Way Down’ is the debut album from Tom Odell. Having won the critics’ choice prize at this year’s Brits, the award was more than justified considering the quality of the songwriting. There are, however, moments where the songs on display would benefit from a little variation and a little less of the Buckley-isms but considering we’re on the first stepping stone to possible future greatness such quibbles are merely small gripes. The gathering momentum of ‘Grow Old With Me’ sets things up nicely only to be hastily pushed aside by the barroom piano stomp that is ‘Hold Me’ bringing to mind Paul McCartney and Mike Scott of ‘Waterboys fame. There is some niggling tension running through ‘Another Love’ as Odell lets out an expletive that thankfully ushers away any notion of always the victim only to be brought back down to earth with the beautiful yet barely audible ‘Sense’. Despite the sadness, Tom Odell’s world is not about to crumble just yet as there is definite mileage in this singer-songwriter.


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Dirty Girl Blues (single)

Burning Condors

Snakehand Records

London four-piece Burning Condors evoke memories of a pool of bands who once peddled that scuzzy, sleazy rock ‘n’ roll and blues-inspired sounds from Gallon Drunk to The John Spencer Blues Explosion that sat comfortably with the indie market. ‘Dirty Girl Blues’ is another step in the right direction that tantalises the senses with its sultry buzz saw slide guitar that underpins the tension further with its chiming tones during “That girl never gets what she wants, That girl never gets what she needs”. The flipside ‘What Your Mamma Said’ deserves equal billing as it is a frenetic number laced with lovely backing “wha-oo” vocals before the end result eventually collapses under its own steam. A definite hot prospect.


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Live Love, Give Love

Fanny Mae & The Dynamite Believers

Enviken

Latest export on the Enviken label is Sweden’s Fanny Mae & The Dynamite Believers with the rather magnificent ‘Live Love, Give Love’. Thirteen songs ranging from varying degrees of rockabilly and rock ‘n’ roll with added swing and a knowing pop sensibility that sets out this debut as a little bit different. Such indications are clearly signposted in the dark undercurrent flowing through ‘Condition Unknown’ and the ballad-esque ‘Rocket Scientist’ with both giving way to the possibility of crossover appeal. There is of course more familiar territory with the rockin’ and gritty ‘Right Here Again’ and seriously infectious soda pop inflections of ‘Hipshakin’ that will even have the normally restrained amongst us shaking their limbs. ‘A Place In My Heart’ reveals a lilting chorus that catches you unaware and soon claims your heart whereas polar opposite ‘Can’t Stand Your Love’ has more than a whiff of Buddy Holly about it. With a more than competent cover of Bobby Darin’s ‘Dream Lover’ possessing glimpses of sunlight, especially when the vocal reveals its rawness, to the cautionary tale of ‘Time Don’t Heal Every Wound’ and gallows bound ‘Stand Up’, ‘Live Love, Give Love’ is a prime example of a band leaning on the past yet equally at home in the present.  


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Ayahuasca: Welcome To The Work

Ben Lee

Lojinx

How time flies! It certainly does when one considers the great departure in sound from the indie-pop of ‘Breathing Tornados’ and latest album from Ben Lee ‘Ayahuasca: Welcome To The Work’, but it only seems like yesterday – fourteen years, in fact – that ‘Nothing Much Happens’ had such a ring of truth about it. Described as Ben Lee’s most ‘ambitious work to date’ and as a ‘sonic document’ of various experiences with the medicinal plant Ayahuasca, the ten tracks presented here sees the Antiopdean edge closer to John Lennon in spirit due to the desire for experimentation and exploration of untapped levels of consciousness. Nowhere is this more evident than the entering through the portal of ‘Welcome To The House of Mystical Death’ and greeted by a shamanic Tricky before opening up into the light of ‘Meditation On Being Born’. There is beauty to be found here with Appleonia and Ben Lee providing dual vocals to, ‘In The Silence’ stretching out an arm to Lee’s past work, whereas the delicate and skeletal nature of songs ‘The Shadow of The Mind’ and more developed ‘The Will To Grow’ continue the experimental journey. It is satisfying to know that artists such as Ben Lee remain willing to push the creative envelope further by taking risks which to others may seem like commercial suicide. ‘Ayahuasca: Welcome To The Work’ was one risk worth pursuing as it is a fascinating addition to a lengthy catalogue of work.



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