Album Reviews

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El Mar De Junio

Ciro Berenguer

Eilean Records

Strictly limited to 130 copies, latest album ‘El Mar De Junio’ (‘The Sea Of June’) from Argentinian Ciro Berenguer sees the musical composer and guitarist set out his stall in a combined use of field recordings, electronics, loops and electric guitar that results in much sound experimentation. With the sound decibels barely rising above three and the approach to the majority of tracks being minimalist at best, it remains an interesting collection of atmospheric tracks that can shine gloriously in a moment (‘Antu’) as well as remain touching and tender during others (‘Camino Al Espinillo’, ‘Luz Entre Los Bosques’). With the album taking its time to bear fruit, and finally being completed during the summer and autumn of 2017, ‘El Mar De Junio’ brings together six years’ worth of memories and emotions (Ciro Berenguer now resides in Barcelona, Spain) that are transformed into a collage of sounds that quietly go about their business and offer moments of genuine beauty.


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Captivity

Forth

Secret Entertainment

Having spent a bit of time with FLW recently via interview ‘Free of Limitations’, Canadian – Finnish alternative rock band FORTH see their second album released. The band’s latest album ‘Captivity’ marries influences from alternative rock, grunge, hard rock to even Elvis Presley himself. The twelve tracks on offer certainly wear their musical influences on their sleeves where pure 90’s grunge seeps from every pore of opening songs ‘Master and Slave’ and ‘Black Angel’ with nods to both Alice in Chains and Stone Temple Pilots. Elsewhere, there is much passion to be heard in the vocals of lead singer Brian Forth who cuts a defiant figure during the ballad-esque ‘Can’t Bring Me Down’ and then switches emotional camps with the equally good and more playful rhythm of ‘Let Me In’. With ‘Captivity’ drawing on the past in terms of its influences, FORTH is a unit that remains out of synch in terms of the here and now. That is not a negative, and meant in praise because FORTH is a band who are genuine fans of music (clearly indicated by the tracks on offer) yet remain unique in their quest by sticking to their own beliefs and producing an album with a strong 90s sound in the year 2019. Such a career path is to be commended by going against the status quo and realising your dreams. FORTH has managed that with their current long player as ‘Captivity’ subtly rages against any notions of musical trends and associated constraints with a barrage of songs that also finds the time to reflect on the highs and lows of love.


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Don’t Touch! (EP)

Andre Williams

Koko Mojo

A nicely packaged vinyl EP featuring four lesser-known tracks from self-proclaimed “performer” Andre Williams. Celebrated by a diverse range of artists including The Cramps and The John Spencer Blues Explosion amongst others and enjoying something of chequered career in and outside of music, Andre Williams is given a fresh platform by Koko Mojo Records. As mentioned, the four songs remain somewhat obscure when up against the likes of ‘Bacon Fat’, ‘Jailbait’ and ‘Pass The Biscuits, Please’. Having said that, the tracks selected for this EP release – ‘Don’t Touch’, ‘Hey Country Girl’, ‘Goin Down To Tia Juana’, ‘Just Want A Little Lovin’ are more conventional for the times because the previously mentioned tracks possessed qualities that suggested Williams was ahead of his time. Taking nothing away from the songs showcased here as they’re equally compelling with much vibrancy in the rhythms of the EP’s title track and pursuing ‘Hey Country Girl’, and then diversity given, along with a touch of sophistication, to the Latin influenced ‘Goin Down To Tia Juana’. Just edging it, however, is the closing ‘Just Want A Little Lovin’ that is most certainly raw yet suggestive of many things in terms of its approach that could be interpreted as near-drunken stupor yet equally confident in terms of its desires. It’s a thrilling finale to a thoroughly engaging EP.


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Cuttin’ With Joe Tex (EP)

Joe Tex

Koko Mojo

According to the liner notes rhythm and blues artist Joe Tex did not find success with his music until the year 1964. All prior attempts to make a breakthrough in the charts during the 1950s was greeted with a muted response apart from those who really appreciated the man’s singing and performing talents; most notably James Brown who, according to many people during the artists period at King Records, pilfered various dance manoeuvres including the microphone tricks, in addition to the “rapping” over the music from Joe Tex. Not to be hard done by though, Joe Tex persevered with his music by extending his talents to the song writing department as well as continuing his own path to break the charts. With four songs selected for this vinyl release, listeners can appreciate the impassioned vocal performances of the likes of ‘Davy, You Upset My Home’ and ‘Cut It Out’ where there is humour to be found in the former track yet jealousy has a habit of plaguing both songs. The tables are turned once ‘Open The Door’ makes its entrance with Joe Tex pleading for a second chance with vocals that can best be described on a par with the heat emanating from a blowtorch with both Little Richard and Jackie Wilson adding to the pressure. The influence of Little Richard can be heard during the closing ‘You Little Babyfaced Thing’ not only in Joe Tex’s voice, but also the pumpin’ piano and brass of this great rock ‘n’ roll number. Thankfully, Joe Tex managed to find success because it would have been a great injustice if the hits had eluded him judging by the quality on display here.


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This Is It! (EP)

Gene and Eunice

Koko Mojo

Described as ‘The Sweethearts of Rhythm and Blues’, Gene Wilson and Eunice Levy certainly lived up to such a description with the gentle way the four tracks selected for this vinyl EP play out. Having resided in Los Angeles, the singer-songwriter pairing, who also ended up dating for a period before tying the knot not too long after, recorded approximately a dozen songs and all their own making between 1954 – 1959. If you’re looking for a musical appetiser in the sense of something to whet the appetite before the main event, then ‘Bom Bom Lulu’ is that song with its lively yet gentle approach of rhythm and blues. In fact, the calmness in relation to the vocals is the essence of Gene Wilson and Eunice Levy who skilfully roundup any hints of rebellion breaking out via the instruments as the duo’s vocals dominate throughout. Such examples can be gleaned from the opening bustle of instrumentation of ‘Hootchy Kootchy’ that soon levels out once the vocals arrive, and then followed in similar fashion during ‘Go On Kokomo’. The final track gracing this EP is the excellent ‘Send Me Someone’ where you can hear the frustrations held in the vocals and therefore giving off a slightly rawer edge that benefits the EP overall. A genuine talented duo, Gene Wilson and Eunice Levy reveal four tracks that live up to such a reputation.


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DANCE!

Freedom Fuel

Secret Entertainment

Second album for Finland’s Freedom Fuel and what a ride this second outing turns out to be! Pumped up and ready to unleash a combined sound of indie rock, garage, pop and swamp blues that made up their debut album ‘Happy People’ as well, Freedom Fuel begin season two (if you like) with the delightfully creative, weird and wonderful epic that is ‘Dancing’. It starts off with an indie rock stomp, before spiralling skywards and seriously loosening up via some bluesy swamp rock and then entering a third phase of mellow electronica and back to where it all began at the indie disco. A truly beguiling start and one that will leave you speechless such is its magnitude. The energy continues with the bristling and bullish rhythm of ‘Planet Away’, which also knows how to have fun judging by its lyrics. ‘DANCE!’ also knows a few moves of its own as there is plenty of room for experimentation during its playback with ‘Suspension Of Disbelief’ providing the strongest example with its static sounding electronica and lone vocal sounding like a direct transmission from space itself. The following ‘Goddageda’ explores this experimental side further by adding more weight to the instrumentation and ends up a combined mix of indie rock and blues rock that trips along another intergalactic space tunnel that is a journey to the other side. A massive leap forward as far as the creativity is concerned when it comes to Freedom Fuel and their latest long player ‘DANCE!’, which almost defies description and will leave you scratching your head in disbelief one minute, and the next grinning in sheer delight. This is down to its overall audacity and, yes, sense of freedom. A remarkable achievement, ‘DANCE!’ deserves to be heard.


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When She Is Here (Single)

Rain On Monday

ROM Music

It’s been a while since any word from Swedish singer-songwriter Rain On Monday (real name Raimond Nurmilampi) and his last output ‘Hiding Places’. With the silence finally broken this month, Rain On Monday signals a comeback via new single ‘When She Is Here’. This latest offering ushers in a more stripped back approach compared to its predecessor with the new single being mainly acoustic driven with the faintest of electronics whispering in the background. The focus of the record is the beginnings of a new relationship and the joys and fascinations this can bring, but not without forgetting the anxieties that can bubble to the surface in those isolated moments, which is all brought to the fore via the hushed tones of Rain On Monday. New single, new start and time for a full-length album judging by the ongoing high quality that ‘When She Is Here’ clearly displays.


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Bedsit

Jamie Hutchings

Come To The Darkside Luke

Coming from a bleak period in his life, but not without forgetting to raise a smile and exude a belly full of laughs once in a while, is Jamie Hutchings fourth solo album ‘Bedsit’. Despite the initial blueprints of the album being conceived within the surrounds of the humble abode of its title, ’Bedsit’ was fully realised in a former shearing shed in the Australian outback. With the New South Wales environment providing a sense of vigour to the contents of ’Bedsit’, with the general stillness and fresh odours of its vast surrounds aiding a period of creativity and multi-tasking for Jamie Hutchings, with additional company by way of bass player Reuben Wills, resulting in nine songs before returning to the asphalt jungle. Delving deep in to the recess, ‘Bedsit’ has been described by the artist himself as “…a stark record, my starkest yet. It was recorded at a time when I was returned to the world of me, myself and I.” While that may be true of some tracks such as the personal and delicately executed duo of ‘Judas Is A Girl’ and ‘Walking Dream’, the latter reflecting a deep sorrow and likely to leave even the most hardened among us in pieces such is its authenticity, there are attempts to reach beyond the melancholy and offer a sense of optimism whether in songtitle or sound (‘Above The Rain’ and ‘Here Comes The Frost’). The true charm of this album however, is to be found by the stripped back nature of its recordings with minimal instrumentation used, often relying on the acoustic guitar and upright bass for example, where you can hear the odd shuffle of feet or a door being closed and leading out in to ‘December Park’, not to mention the album’s engaging and almost hushed entrance ‘Second Winter’ with its largely spoken word delivery that darts between surrealism and reality as well as providing moments of humour. Just as ‘Bedsit’ reveals numerous details regarding the artist at the centre of this record, it can be debated that such details remain far from clear due to being cloaked in mystery and caught up in the complexities of life itself. This is why ‘Bedsit’ is such a compelling listen, and for the intimate way its contents play out that requires further investigation.


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Steady In The Saddle (Single)

Ossian Smith

Secret Entertainment

With this very music paper having championed Ossian Smith after his debut release ‘Sleepless Town’ last year, the singer-songwriter (plus additional band members) returns with a brand-new offering. The single ‘Steady In The Saddle’ throws up previous roots and rock influences however subtle, yet reveals a harder edge and one purported to by Ossian Smith during our previous encounter: “A lot of my newer unreleased material has more of a harder edge to it, which probably comes from listening to heavier stuff like Soundgarden, Stone Temple Pilots and The Cult”. Despite such an announcement bearing creative fruit in the present via latest single ‘Steady In The Saddle’, any suggestion of this being a straight grunge workout is far from obvious. The truth is that Ossian Smith with Miiro Kesti (keys), Markus Ilkka (bass) and Timmo Salakka (drums) have created something far more inventive. By incorporating elements of light grunge kicking off  ‘Steady In The Saddle’, before developing into a rollercoaster ride of rock and funk, the kind of which The Rolling Stones knit together seamlessly, Ossian Smith equally masters by creating a driving rhythm that backs the vengeful message of the narration, inspired by Aesop’s tale of a horse that lost its liberty. It all makes for an engaging listen and bodes extremely well for the release of Ossian Smith’s album this year.


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Everybody Lies (Single)

MSRBL

Secret Entertainment

Transmitting a melancholic electro-pop sound from Helsinki, Finland, is the duo MSRBL. With the new single suggesting that all of us are guilty of spinning a fabricated yarn or two, the synth team at the centre of this record set about their task and created a brooding, midtempo slice of electronic pop that’s befitting of a late-night arthouse movie setting and accompanying movie soundtrack. The additional video to the single, ‘Everybody Lies’, suggests the same outlook with its moody settings consisting of shadowy rooms and dimly lit streets where the occasional neon light glows. It’s a very good follow-up since ‘Echo’ for MSRBL, and one that potentially has much promise if they continue in a similar fashion with their next release.


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Sugar Jump: Dance Til The Break Of Dawn!

Various Artists

Koko Mojo

There’s no better place to start than with Ray Charles classic, ‘Mess Around’, to set up what is (another) lively volume in this near perfect series. With the Mojo Man, as always, laying down his words of wisdom when it comes to the nature of the music and appropriate moves to accompany the often-traditional rhythm and blues doing its thing from the speakers, the latest in this long line of volumes is up there with the best. Largely down to shifting tones musically i.e. the bluesy roll of George Wild Child Butler’s midtempo shuffle ‘Jelly Jam’ from previously mentioned Ray Charles’ lively start, to stepping it up ever so slightly with “cool as” rhythm and blues sandwich (the blues providing the glue in the middle) via Fox Hall and ‘Do The Rock And Roll’. From there on, Clarence Samuels can barely contain his excitement as he sings from the rooftops once news reaches that, “We’re goin’ to the hop tonight,” which is followed by Doug Powell & The Valients irresistible ‘The Whip’, and then proceeded by the blissfully happy tongue twister ‘The Wiggle Waggle Woo’ (Sticks McGhee) and wonderfully tender ‘We’re Goin’ Out To Rock Tonight’ by Kine Morgan. As mentioned earlier, ‘Sugar Jump’ is among the best in its class when it comes to this series of rhythm and blues and remains on course for commanding pole position.


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Wild Life

Various Artists

Koko Mojo

Full of forbidden fruits according to the Mojo Man, and he’s not far off with such an assessment as ‘Wild Life’ piles its way through twenty-eight dancefloor fillers. From top to toe these songs are rockin’ and a-reelin’ beginning with Chuck Cole and ‘My Bonny’, and followed by the perky rhythm that is full of brass instrumentation of excellent Lil Preacher Boy ‘Won’tcha Be My Girl’. There are some notable differences about this particular volume in the Koko Mojo series, and that stirs when Eddie Daniels throws up his rockin’ (roll) ‘Playin’ Hide Go Seek’, to the wonderfully appealing tin can atmosphere secured by ‘Love My Baby’, complete with raw guitar breaks and uncooked vocals of Jesse Allen (Well, it is the blues!). And that’s exactly why the album ‘Wild Life’ is so appealing for its rollercoaster approach that offers a menu of traditional rhythm and blues one minute (Redd Foxx ‘Real Pretty Mama’) and then, staying within the same genre, different takes where darker shades and eccentricities can be heard (Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Ronnie Love and The Admiraltones for example). It’s a sublime compilation of well-thought out tracks that may sound on first impressions like a quickly assembled compilation, yet further listens will soon erase any such thoughts as ‘Wild Life’ lives up to its title and in different ways.



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