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London With The Lights On

Stooshe

Warner Music Norway

Spilling forth in glorious fashion, London-based three-piece Stooshe reveal their debut album to be something of considerable depth, setting it high above sea level of the overpopulated run-of-the-mill formula of girl bands. ‘London With The Lights On’ is anything but formulaic as Stooshe open up their world in a sassy ‘Supremes-esque ‘Slip’ and complimented with the quasi-Motown sounding ‘Love Me’, complete with spoken worded exchanges between band members and in the process revealing their sense of humour in the broadest of London accents. The knockout blow arrives, however, with the sublime ‘Black Heart’ showing the girls can play it straight and oh boy, what a song! At your own peril, avoid prejudging Stooshe on face value as you will leave severely empty-handed because ‘London With The Lights On’ is a glorious treasure-trove of stunningly good songs.


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Secondhand Rapture

MS MR

Sony

‘Secondhand Rapture’ could very well be a contender for album of the year if it were not for sounding like the smaller sibling of an already established act. Right from the off former single, and opening track, ‘Hurricane’ tugs at the senses with its pendulum beats and confessional lyrics delivered in a near detached execution and setting the stall out for a promising encounter. However, this is where the problem lies, despite being a more than solid effort, as nearly the majority of the album has more than a whiff of prime Florence & the Machine about it. This is something MS MR will have to get used to as ‘Bones’, ‘Ash Tree Lane’, ‘Head Is Not My Home’ et al prise up this more than worthy comparison and while there is nothing wrong with that, it just feels that the world is not in dire need of this right now which, unfortunately, the album’s title adequately sums up.


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Mother

Natalie Maines

Sony

Being one of the former vocalists of country-pop outfit the Dixie Chicks, Natalie Maines decision to embark on a solo career would always be a tough challenge to undertake considering the success of her previous band. Fortunately, for all concerned, the end results are to be admired. Ditching the country guitars for a more gritty approach comprising of a mixture of covers and original compositions, Maines has crafted a fine solo album. With co-production duties coming from Ben Harper, ‘Mother’ also leans on the songwriting talents of Eddie Vedder whose ‘Without You’ is trademark latter-day Pearl Jam, despite being a solo effort, and Maines does not do it any disservice. In fact, there is no hiding when it comes to Maines’ decision-making as the choice of Jeff Buckley’s ‘Lover, You Should’ve Come Over’ slightly misses the mark whereas title track, and Pink Floyd song, ‘Mother’ more than makes up for the lacklustre of the previous song. After a seven-year absence from the music industry, it’s hoped that Natalie Maines does not wait another seven years for her next creative foray because ‘Mother’ is as good as any place to start a solo excursion.


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Annie Up

Pistol Annies

Sony

Pistol Annies open up with the blues tinged ‘I Feel A Sin Comin’ On’ that is all finger clicks, gorgeous harmonious vocals and more than a little suggestive in its desires. From this sultry opener it’s business as usual as the country roots branch out with the addictive country-pop of ‘Hush Hush’, nicely followed by the pressures of the daily routine of trying to look presentable ‘Being Pretty Ain’t Pretty’, and further complimented in nature with the unfortunate reality that plagues some relationships ‘Unhappily Married’ compellingly told in its darkly humorous trade-offs. There is some contentment to be found here, however, as the Steve Earle influenced ‘Loved By A Workin’ Man’ reveals that the male species has its charms only for the absorbing and beautifully executed ‘Blues, You’re A Buzzkill’ to bring the mood back down and revert to type once more. Difficult second album syndrome is definitely not a part of Pistol Annies’ vocabulary as ‘Annie Up’ is deserving of the highest plaudits.


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What I Saw

Maia Hirasawa

Sony

By some transcontinental journey, Maia Hirasawa’s ‘What I Saw’ landed in the lap of FLW and what a stroke of good fortune that was due to being completely dumbfounded by the quality of the eleven glorious indie electropop and ballad-esque ditties on display. Hooked from the beginning with the irresistible emotional pull of ‘You’ that lives long in the memory even after the events of the unreciprocated love has fizzled out, Maia Hirasawa has a knack of constructing infectious melodies whether shifting tempo with the more upbeat ‘Lights Out’ or coming back down again with the sparse offerings of ‘Still Think Of It’. There is definitely talent at work here, and ‘What I Saw’ is one of those rare unexpected finds that will still have a place in your heart in some years to come.


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Take A Look At The World (single)

Ralph Myerz

Sony

Preceding forthcoming album ‘Supersonic Pulse’, Ralph Myerz offers a timely reminder of his craftsmanship with the persuasive dance tones of ‘Take A Look At The World’. There is, however, a darker undercurrent to this floor-filler not in the sense of the bleakness projected by many an indie band but more in conjunction with a notion of time running out. Incorporating the electronic pop nuances of fellow Norwegian Annie into the mix reveals further astuteness as her almost ethereal shades perfectly compliment the driving beats. ‘Take A Look At The World’ is a promising precursor to hopefully an even more promising long player.


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Tidal Lock

Old Soul

Dog Knights Productions

As first impressions go, don’t be dissuaded by the artwork because Old Soul muster up a guitar fest that is as epic as it is dense. Despite being only four songs in length, the opening sprawl of ‘Ethereal Faultless’ is a perfect example of this grand vision as it stretches for little over ten minutes. With ‘Tidal Lock’ being Old Soul’s third output, clearly the Michigan band has progressed their sound considerably as there is a painstaking attention to detail as second in line ‘Ghost Incomplete’ is full of claustrophobic rage before fizzing out into obscurity. The complex structure of ‘Paradigm Pendulum’ is awe-inspiring in its audaciousness, and the final declaration of ‘Watermouth Mirage’ burns out in a raging intensity leaving one to ponder the merits of ‘Tidal Lock’ and the realisation that they will take some beating.


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Rough Hands

Rough Hands

Holy Roar Records

There are no compromises to be found here as Rough Hands deliver an inducing set of post-hardcore songs of brutal intensity that never outstay their welcome. The eponymously titled EP clocks in and clocks out without so much as a whimper as perfectly orchestrated with opener ‘Dilute’ and then proceeded with the headlong assault of ‘Maledictus’. ‘Toska’ nearly offers more of the same only for Rough Hands to deftly change tactics midway through with skeletal guitars leaving room for the finale of ‘Spite’ to offer a similar manoeuvre but with more abrasive intent. It will be interesting to see how Rough Hands develop with a broader canvass of a full-length player.


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Didn’t It Rain

Hugh Laurie

Warner Music Norway

Incredible to think that Hugh Laurie has gone from comedic actor to serious actor and now turning his attention to blues music with follow-up album ‘Didn’t It Rain’ to the well-received debut ‘Let Them Talk’. Whilst the latter focused on celebrating and reviving classic songs from the world of NOLA blues, ‘Didn’t It Rain’ is a departure from the New Orleans sound and a steady progression into the exploration of the blues further inland towards America’s central regions. In doing so, Laurie has turned his attention to early pioneers such as W.C. Handy ‘St. Louis Blues’ and the imaginatively titled Jelly Roll Morton ‘I Hate A Man Like You’ bringing this up-to-date with more recent artists Dr. John ‘Wild Honey’ and The Animals Alan Price with ‘Changes’. If there are any doubters remaining, however, as to the musical credentials of Hugh Laurie, then roll back to the contented sentiments of ‘Junkers Blues’; weep at the quite exquisite ‘Careless Love’ or eavesdrop on the stripped-back sounding before adding some weight confessions of ‘Send Me To The ‘Lectric Chair’ to realise that ‘Didn’t It Rain’ is more than a simple side project reliant on its various collaborators to give it kudos. ‘Didn’t It Rain’ is the second instalment of a fascinating journey of America’s blues music. Long may it continue.


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Tate Stevens

Tate Stevens

Sony

Slipping into a confident country-rock groove from the off with ‘I Got This’, Tate Stevens ability to balance work and play is far from troublesome. Such self-assurance has no doubt been gained from previous stints fronting the Dixie Cadillacs; the Outlaw Junkies and later the Tate Stevens Band, therefore making the transition to solo artist a natural progression as the move looks set to pay dividends. Such conviction can be garnered from the robust and guitar-driven ‘Ride It Out’ that simply lights up this self-titled debut. Mamma’s approval is sought after concerning Tate’s latest flame on the mid-tempo rocker that is ‘Sweet’ whereas ‘The Last Thing I Do’ is relentless in its desires as guitars and occasional piano compete for pole position. There is room of course for the obligatory ‘big’ country ballad with ‘Power Of A Love Song’ but it remains the slightly more quirky, and Brad Paisley-esque, ‘El Camino’ that truly charms.


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The Low Highway

Steve Earle

Warner Music Norway

With Steve Earle’s creative enthusiasm for coming up with the goods time and time again, ‘The Low Highway’, accompanied by The Dukes and Duchesses, shows no signs of waning as this album will take some topping. Being cited as his ‘road’ record, nicely illustrated by the liner notes, ‘The Low Highway’ reveals a breadth of acoustic strummers, country-rock numbers, elements of bluegrass and in the process revealing all facets of Earle’s enduring talents. The mid-tempo jaunt and slight carefree attitude of ‘Love’s Gonna Blow My Way’ breezes through only to be halted in its tracks by the wonderfully portrayed barroom blues of ‘Pocket Full of Rain’. It is left to the title track and lovely drifting strum of ‘Burnin’ It Down’, however, to claim the overall prizes.


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Home

Rudimental

Warner Music Norway

Title track and opening up the front door to Rudimental’s debut ‘Home’ starts proceedings sublimely as it meanders at mid-tempo with a constant wary glance over the shoulder which is in stark contrast to the explosive drum & bass and soulful vocals of former UK No. 1 single ‘Feel The Love’. This London-based collective have truly ploughed their own furrow musically by years spent in dancehalls (not that type), listening to pirate radio, improvised DJ set ups as well as sourcing material from older siblings who had that advantage of age on their side in terms of arriving at the sounds first. Of course London’s urban surroundings has also provided inspiration – ‘Hell Could Freeze’ reflective of this with its mix of sweet vocals that now and again rub up against a more abrasive surface. With various artists offering their services – Emeli Sande weighs in with the brooding ‘More Than Anything’ and closing ‘Free’ – Rudimental’s ‘Home’ brings to mind Massive Attack’s seminal ‘Blue Lines’, due to the level of collaborations, and in the process reviving a much-missed concept.



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