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Vindfang

Sigrun Loe Sparboe

Grappa

There is a sense of the unknown surrounding Sigrun Loe Sparboe’s second solo outing, ‘Vindfang’. From the slightest of glances over the shoulder of the cover art, to finding a new home with a major record label and, of course, airing ten new compositions for the first time in the public domain, the sense of trepidation is palpable. The move back to her beloved Harstad, however, proved the perfect tonic when setting about the task of writing the songs making up ‘Vindfang’, as both time and space were found, in addition to the picturesque scenery of the local environment providing much inspiration to help inspire these new songs. Whilst there are various clues indicating a feeling of sailing in uncharted waters, ‘Vindfang’ reveals itself in parts as, musically, a record of steely determination and fresh ideas, but one that is smart enough to not stray too far from its previous sibling, ‘Uten at du vet det’, considering the perfect formula that was concocted for this debut record. It was always going to be an uphill task for Sigrun Loe Sparboe to surpass the previous glory of ‘Uten at du vet det’, but, masterfully, this folk songstress, along with her faithful in-house musicians, has managed to sample various aspects of her debut solo record and apply subtle changes to some of these previous arrangements and runaway with a succession of new songs. Wise judgement indeed as the daydream feel of ‘Paraply’, and title track, ‘Vindfang’, are the two candidates that bear the strongest resemblance to the aforementioned debut album. But there is progression here, and it proves to be Sparboe’s boldest and strongest statements with a beefed-up sound concerning one or two tracks, which are then counterbalanced with songs containing slightly fuller arrangements or, whisper it, considerable deviations from the folk brand. Such examples can be gleaned from the near muscular in its construction of opening gambit ‘Forliset’, as it’s a song with a real edge and bubbling intensity that begins at a slow canter, only to gather pace, where one can sense the fluctuating weather pattern of the northern region of her homeland during the transition from autumn to winter, and captured magnificently here in a mere five minutes. Further progression is made with the pop tones and brisk tempo of ’12 Spor’, that filters elements of folk music but ever so lightly, only to be usurped in the surprise stakes by the pounding rhythm and pop influenced ‘Som Fortjent’, leaving one to holler, “C’est magnifique!” at its conclusion. Clearly, this was not in the script yet these two songs do not sound out of place when nestling between more customary numbers as the stirring beauty of ‘Om Du Fortsatt Vil Ha Mæ’ or the cold, biting rhythm that drives the compelling ‘De Som Frosten Tok’ because there is a genuine cohesive whole to ‘Vindfang’. By guiding this latest album along similar routes, as well as taking risks by diverting away from traditional folk music, albeit in small doses, Sigrun Loe Sparboe is shaping up to be an artist with a definite strong vision and creative flair that is willing to test certain boundaries yet remain respectful to the genre her music is often categorised under. Once the contents of ‘Vindfang’ begins to unfurl and starts to familiarise itself, any notion of a sense of uncertainty soon diminishes, as it becomes apparent that Sigrun Loe Sparboe has successfully hurdled the ‘difficult’ second album syndrome by combining the strongest components of her debut solo record, and then rewriting these, before taking giant strides with a set of new ideas that provides the perfect balance between the old and new, and reveals a genuine natural progression until the third instalment in her career.


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One More Time

Rusty Pinto with CC Jerome and his Savoys

Rhythm Bomb

The charmingly named Rusty Pinto who, by the way, possesses a voice to die for, makes a welcome return with the album, ‘One More Time’. This new full-length album is far from being a solo affair as a meeting of the minds occurred prior to its recording involving another talent in the form of CC Jerome and his accompanying Savoys. What the listener gets, therefore, from this combined effort is a blast of authentic rhythm and blues with definite added swing, and one that is often characterised by a vocal that is full of personality. From such examples, the jaunty rhythm and pleading nature of the lyrics of ‘Just One More Time’ smacks you in the face from the off, as this is a tale of one relationship that is heading straight out the door. The lively rhythm and unrequited sentiments of ‘Shirley’ support such notions, and one feels for the central character at the root of this song. There’s a mixture of covers and original songs that make up ‘One More Time’, with Rusty Pinto’s very own ‘Hold My Hand’ among the highlights; being full of verve and (all) eyes fixed on his love that makes for compelling listening. There is a change of atmosphere once the gritty mid-tempo ‘Deacon Jones’ Wife’ rolls out its beat and manages to inspire ‘Stumbling Block Blues’, due to being similar in its approach as well as possessing a driving rhythm that is greatly exemplified by Rusty Pinto’s vocal and fine musicianship. By touching on a series of emotions often associated with love and its breakdown, Rusty Pinto is all persuasive when it comes to portraying the narratives of the characters involved, which combined with the often infectious rhythms sets up ‘One More Time’ as an album not to be missed.


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Trouble Train

Løiten Twang Depot

Baaten

Produced by Forrest Lee Jr. and recorded at the Cash Cabin Studios is the debut album from Norwegian country band, Løiten Twang Depot. With a forewarning of troubled times ahead by way of the storm brewing as depicted by the album’s artwork, as well as the title itself a dead giveaway to the contents inside, Løiten Twang Depot is a band that is not afraid to tackle its inner demons head on. In order to do this, the five musicians riding this ‘Trouble Train’ cleverly disguise the emotional turmoil of the lyrics by means of country tunes that are often sprightly and therefore fitting of the American tradition when it comes to this genre of music. Evidence of this approach from Løiten Twang Depot is the light feel, musically, of ‘Devil’s Touch’, with nice use of backing vocals, only it’s a song not to be taken lightly due to having its foundations in a particularly troubled time in lead singer Bjørn Flaaseth’s life, but without giving any direct indication here. ‘If I Give My Soul’ presents a different angle by openly confessing a life turned bad, despite having everything at their disposal, and whether redemption is still within their grasp. It’s the calm delivery of the wrought love affair of ‘It’s All Over’ that also follows the tradition of American country music, where the vocals never resort to histrionics in order to relay its tale despite residing in deep despair. A cover of Merle Haggard’s ‘The Fightin’ Side of Me’ sends out its warning as it’s a song full of patriotism, which in the context of the band performing could equally be referring to their homeland. With Merle Haggard among the influences in relation to ‘Trouble Train’, the song ‘Chasin’ The Sun’ is a tip of the hat to another hero, Johnny Cash who receives a more direct acknowledgment via a cover of his ‘Big River’ composition. By writing an album that fits in with the traditional country sound that America has become renowned for, Løiten Twang Depot provide a timely reminder of what country music should sound like given the current gloss applied to this genre in the 21st century.


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Quiet! Gibson At Work 1938 – 1957 Vol. 1 & Restless Guitar 1952 – 1962 Vol. 2

George Barnes

El Toro

Two volumes celebrating the guitar maestro George Barnes. Volume one ‘Quiet! Gibson At Work’ covers the years 1938 – 1957, with the second volume compiling a selection of Barnes’ work and input from 1952 – 1962 via ‘Restless Guitar’. By compiling two comprehensive albums, the name George Barnes receives a welcome revival as he was at the forefront helping to pioneer the electric guitar during its early years. Not just a jazz session player, George Barnes turned his attention to a variety of genres and earned his stripes by tackling everything from blues, country, rockabilly and rock ‘n’ roll to name but a few.  As mentioned, ‘Quiet! Gibson At Work’ focuses on those early years and really provides a vast amount of material to wade through, complete with comprehensive notes from Dave Penny to provide the historical details. With blues and country jazz making up the first side, before shifting to swing and country jazz, there is much to discover whether from the enigmatic singing via The Yas Yas Girl (Merline Johnson) ‘Love Shows Weakness’; lively country jazz of ‘I Love My Fruit’ (The Sweet Violet Boys), or the blues strum of ‘New “Sail On, Little Girl”‘ (Jazz Gillum) and George Barnes providing detailed guitar patterns from behind. Volume two, ‘Restless Guitar’, tracks the development of the guitar sound where the rhythm is of a different nature and really gets moving with two numbers by Dean Hightower with the early groove of ‘Plunkin’ Party’ and expressive ‘Moon Rocket’ that really provides the listener with an idea of its subject matter. Once more there is great variety on display with ‘Restless Guitar’ that will take you on a romantic ride by way of ‘Harbour Lights’; set you on edge via the tough attitude of ‘Purple Monster’, or create some serious rhythm with the superb boogie-woogie of ‘Pinetop’s Boogie Woogie’ (Lawson-Haggart Rockin’ Band), showing that the works and times of George Barnes are really worth (re)discovering.


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Quiet! Gibson At Work 1938 – 1957 Vol. 1 & Restless Guitar 1952 – 1962 Vol. 2

George Barnes

El Toro

Two volumes celebrating the guitar maestro George Barnes. Volume one ‘Quiet! Gibson At Work’ covers the years 1938 – 1957, with the second volume compiling a selection of Barnes’ work and input from 1952 – 1962 via ‘Restless Guitar’. By compiling two comprehensive albums, the name George Barnes receives a welcome revival as he was at the forefront helping to pioneer the electric guitar during its early years. Not just a jazz session player, George Barnes turned his attention to a variety of genres and earned his stripes by tackling everything from blues, country, rockabilly and rock ‘n’ roll to name but a few.  As mentioned, ‘Quiet! Gibson At Work’ focuses on those early years and really provides a vast amount of material to wade through, complete with comprehensive notes from Dave Penny to provide the historical details. With blues and country jazz making up the first side, before shifting to swing and country jazz, there is much to discover whether from the enigmatic singing via The Yas Yas Girl (Merline Johnson) ‘Love Shows Weakness’; lively country jazz of ‘I Love My Fruit’ (The Sweet Violet Boys), or the blues strum of ‘New “Sail On, Little Girl”‘ (Jazz Gillum) and George Barnes providing detailed guitar patterns from behind. Volume two, ‘Restless Guitar’, tracks the development of the guitar sound where the rhythm is of a different nature and really gets moving with two numbers by Dean Hightower with the early groove of ‘Plunkin’ Party’ and expressive ‘Moon Rocket’ that really provides the listener with an idea of its subject matter. Once more there is great variety on display with ‘Restless Guitar’ that will take you on a romantic ride by way of ‘Harbour Lights’; set you on edge via the tough attitude of ‘Purple Monster’, or create some serious rhythm with the superb boogie-woogie of ‘Pinetop’s Boogie Woogie’ (Lawson-Haggart Rockin’ Band), showing that the works and times of George Barnes are really worth (re)discovering.


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Dani Nel – Lo & Barcelona Big Blues Band

Barcelona Big Blues Band

El Toro

When approaching the crossroads marked El Toro Records, the sounds emanating from the Barcelona Big Blues Band is one that is taking a sharp deviation to the left or right rather than pursing the road straight ahead with the label’s more traditional rockabilly and rock ‘n’ roll sounds. By taking this different approach marks new times ahead for this record label, but more importantly recognising a promising and talented prospect when you see one. What the listener gets here is the full-on experience of a big band sound, but one that connects itself to the sounds of blues and rhythm and blues. With Ivan Kovacevic compiling the arrangements and providing direction, the Barcelona Big Blues Band enrols the skilful talents of saxophonist, Dani Nel – Lo who just happens to add an extra zest to each and every song listed here. Therefore, expect to hear a sophisticated set of compositions that are sometimes bristling with energy and enthusiasm – take your pick from ‘Marshall Plan’, ‘Sax Attack’ and the riotous sax contained within ‘Dey – Lo’ – or slightly less hurried numbers as ‘Pomez Stone’ and ‘Jump For George’. The frenzied shuffle of ‘Hot Rod’ with wild blasts of trumpet in the rear, tips its hat in acknowledgement to the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll without resorting to re-enacting its sound because this is all about the ‘big band’ after all. ‘Dani Nel – Lo & Barcelona Big Blues Band’ is a classy long player that successfully incorporates a rhythm and blues sound into a broader expanse of instrumentation that will leave you feeling greatly impressed by the end of its playing time.


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‘Big Hand – 50 Years On The Road’

Ottar Big Hand Johansen

New Cut Music

To mark fifty years of hit records in the music business, Ottar ‘Big Hand’ Johansen celebrates this landmark occasion with a brand new album. To give this latest record the title that is befitting of its status, ‘Big Hand – 50 Years On The Road’ sees one of Norway’s leading lights of country music reignite his passion for this particular genre. By teaming up with other artists including Claudia Scott, Too Far Gone, Billy T Band among others, the majority of songs making up this latest album are original compositions, which have received a working hand from the additional musicians involved in this project. There is definitely a nostalgic feel to the ten compositions making up ‘Big Hand – 50 Years On The Road’, which naturally extends from Ottar Johansen’s vast experience of living and breathing the dream as a singer-songwriter. Therefore, it’s no surprise that you have song titles by the name of ‘Honky Tonks We’ve Known’, ‘Just Like In The 50s’ and ‘Follow My Dream’. However, there is room for forward thinking here as well with two songs that bookend this album; namely, recent single ‘Starting All Over Again’, steel strings gleaming as it maintains a relaxed pace and in line with the reflective stance of the song, and ‘Carry On’ with its campfire confessions going long into the night by way of several of its collaborators and Ottar Johansen leading the line. The creativeness continues once the engaging ‘Outlaws’ makes its entrance and proceeds to identify itself by means of a surly expression, dexterous guitar playing and detailed punctuations of harmonica. In fact, it’s this very song that suggests Ottar Johansen is far from thinking about hanging up his Stetson and packing away his collection of guitars in their respective cases because there’s a sense of mischief to this song, which transforms itself to a sprightly energy during the aforementioned, ‘Just Like In The 50s’ and the “We’ve still got it attitude” of ‘Honky Tonks We’ve Known’. A remarkable comeback, ‘Big Hand – 50 Years On The Road’ celebrates the past yet is equally keen to focus on the present with a few ideas that suggest Ottar Johansen is ready for the next creative venture once the dust settles on this celebratory chapter.


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Reaching For The Light

King King

Manhaton Records

Scotland’s…no, make that the world’s hardest working band King King return with their third studio album, ‘Reaching For The Light’. Return is not really the correct choice of word here as the band, comprising of Alan Nimmo (vocals/guitar), Lindsay Coulson (bass), Wayne Proctor (drums) and Bob Fridzema (keyboards), has hardly been away after a successful 2014, which saw the plaudits rain down on them at the British Blues Awards with accolades for Best Album and Best Band as well as successful headline shows and serving as support act for John Mayall. With no time for rest, King King ended up writing the majority of ‘Reaching For The Light’ when the odd day presented itself from an otherwise busy touring schedule; hence the aforementioned title bestowed upon them of hardest working band. It’s not all about hard work when it comes to King King as they have proven time and again that they have the skills and musicianship to match in the toolbox marked blues-rock. While such a label can be applied to album number three, there is a definite shift in tempo with a number of tracks taking a more reflective stance backed with calmer rhythms. Opening song ‘Hurricane’, however, is at odds with such a description as it’s a pounding rock number that backs Alan Nimmo’s explanation of King King’s tendency of “delving more into a classic rock style” during the making of ‘Reaching For The Light’. A similar approach is given to the rocky guitar that does a perfect job of cranking up the emotions of ‘Rush Hour’. The previously mentioned blues-rock makes an appearance, but not as directly as before because it’s the greater influence of rock music that takes overall charge and where this song differs from their previous works. For our money though, ‘Reaching For The light’ reveals its strengths during its less hasty moments, with such examples as the tender ballad ‘Lay With Me’ and mild, soulful rhythm of ‘Waking Up’ that really shows a desire to get back up on its feet due to coming to its senses. Pick of a very good bunch, however, is reserved for ‘You Stopped The Rain’ which finds Alan Nimmo in contemplative mode, revealing a genuine fragility in his vocals as he’s full of admiration for the person at the centre of this song undergoing such adversity. Rather than holding steadfast to a tried and trusted formula that has provided successful to date, King King up their game by throwing a few more ingredients into the melting pot, which shows their fondness for classic rock, but also reveals a tender side that really does show the band at their best.


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Guitar Player

Nico Duportal and his Rhythm Dudes

Rhythm Bomb

After a successful introduction via a 4-track EP, the first full-length album from Nico Duportal and his Rhythm Dudes hits the shelves. Serving up a rhythm and blues affair from days of old, the six-piece unit have put together a collection of twelve songs, six of them original compositions, with an abundance of skill and flair. There is much enthusiasm whether in the vocals of Nico Duportal or the band’s playing, which has a great knack of delivering an authentic sound. This whole experience is probably best gained from the album’s second track, ‘Lost In The Game’, where the vocals are heady with emotion, “Lost in the game, I don’t know what to do”, with superb guitar and parping horns maintaining the song’s zestful rhythm. It’s yet more knockout vocals that accompany the specific topic of ‘Polish Woman’, where there’s a real oomph in the back of Duportal’s throat and the guitar appears to momentarily trip away on a thread of its own and letting out a rawer sound. The mood is of a different nature during ‘Oh Baby’ as it leans back and lets a deeper blues in, with the guitar illustrating a lot of the emotions held here; hence the album’s title. ‘Can’t Afford To Lose Her’ provides the only real blip in an otherwise strong set, as it’s a little too samey with the band never manoeuvring out of second gear. Initially, ‘She Knows How’ gives the same impression, only this time there’s something charming about its rhythm, coupled with Duportal’s vocal which pulls the listener in with a mixture of relief and joy and it’s truly magnificent stuff! It looks like the success of the first EP was no accident as Nico Duportal and his Rhythm Dudes have another successful record on their hands with ‘Guitar Player’.


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Rocket Girl

Jai Malano

Rhythm Bomb

From one giant leap to the next, having formerly fronted Royal Rythmaires, Jai Malano has opted to take the solo route, albeit with additional expertise via record label mates Nico Duportal & his Rhythm Dudes. Setting her course for solo success is the debut album ‘Rocket Girl’; a predominantly rhythm and blues affair with flashes of rockabilly. Such a description applies to opening number ‘You Made Me Love You’, which sees Jai Malano limbering up for the main event rather than starting out at full throttle. The real action gets underway once the powering rhythm and blues and quick-tongued narration of ‘Learn About A Man’ makes its presence felt. Creating a bigger impression, however, is the soulful delivery of ‘Don’t’, with equally impressive lead guitar that picks away at the senses and adding to the strong expression of independence that is at the centre of this song. The matchup with the aforementioned Nico Duportal & his Rhythm Dudes proves an inspired choice as the differing musical elements gel together effectively. For example, look no further than the rhythm and blues jive of the album’s title track that is bristling with personality, or the peeling back the years via a belting rendition, presumably captured in one take, of Leiber and Stoller’s ‘Hound Dog’. That said, Jai Malano steps it up another notch with the impassioned vocals and supportive sax of ‘So Good To My Baby’. The lights are noticeably turned down low during ‘Tell Me’, not as a means of expressing emotions connected with undying love but more as a means of highlighting the restless state of the individual concerned with this song. What began at a canter, quickly developed into a gallop, ending in nothing but an emphatic victory for Jai Malano’s ‘Rocket Girl’.


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Hustrig

Jonas Fjeld

Sony Music Norway

Setting aside, temporarily, his collaborative work with Chatham County Line, Norway’s Jonas Fjeld enters the fray once more with a brand new long player by the name of ‘Hustrig’. Initially, there is a sense of “warts and all” to the recording of Jonas Fjeld’s latest effort once the opening ‘Oddemans Vise’ rubs the sleep from its eyes, checks the current take of the song, and clocks the time before readjusting itself and then proceeding to tweak the first few bars of its intro on the trusty acoustic at hand. It’s as natural a start as one could achieve, and probably the closest you’ll feel to Jonas Fjeld the recording artist. From then on in the sound becomes richer, with the rather colourful guitar illuminating ‘Ild Og Vann’, while doffing its hat to the Edge (U2) and combining this with the thinnest of country strands to produce an absolute mesmerising experience. ‘Opp Med Himmelporten’ follows a similar pattern with its uplifting mood supplied by the country-rock feel of its guitars and fullness of the vocals during its chorus. There is a wonderful rolling tempo to ‘Midtveis,’ with Jonas Fjeld’s vocal in fine husky form and complemented by the soothing backing vocals. The impression given during ‘Ei Hustrig Natt’ (‘A Cold Grey Night’) is pensive, but one that is far removed from anything gloomy as its song title suggests, as the song performs at mid-tempo with piano and light swirls of Hammond organ often dictating over the rest of the instrumentation. The introduction of piano at various turns throughout ‘Hustrig’ – most prominent during the near-solitary ‘Stillheten’ and close sibling ‘Lampedusa’, which deviates nicely via some cascading (space) rock guitar where the glitter is flying momentarily – is a likely source of influence from producer Thomas Helland, considering his own work under the shortened version of Thom Hell where use of piano is strongly featured. Clearly enjoying something of an Indian summer as far as the creativity goes, Jonas Fjeld delivers yet another top-notch album that reveals moments of intimacy yet remains wise enough to retain some considerable distance.


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You Can’t Use My Name

Curtis Knight & The Squires feat. Jimi Hendrix

Sony Music CMG

After going through rounds of litigation over the years due to Jimi Hendrix’s brief tenure as guitarist with Curtis Knight & The Squires, and subsequent use of the former guitarist’s name once international recognition and stardom with the Jimi Hendrix Experience took place, the release of ‘You Can’t Use My Name’ is a means to restore some justice. In order to do this, the family of Jimi Hendrix continued with their litigation until Hendrix’s contributions as a sideman with Curtis Knight & The Squires could be presented in its original context. Prior to this latest compilation, the problems have been associated with countless inferior copies being released and featuring images of Hendrix at the height of his own personal fame, and therefore nothing to do with the Curtis Knight project. However, with balance restored by the sterling efforts of Eddie Kramer behind the mixing desk and creating a far superior listening experience in terms of what has gone before, You Can’t Use My Name’ is also notable for the inclusion of the previously unreleased ‘Station Break’ and for adding several full-length versions of previously compiled songs; ‘Knock Yourself Out (Flying On Instruments)’ being the pick of the bunch for a peek at the greatness that was emerging on guitar. If there are any grievances regarding ‘You Can’t Use My Name’, it solely lies with the opinion that it’s all a tad mediocre with nothing particularly standing out, apart from the previously mentioned instrumental track, and for the shortage of a charismatic frontman because Curtis Knight falls someway short. It was no wonder that the coattails of Jimi Hendrix were well and truly clung to once he departed to pastures new because it’s his guitar work – ‘No Such Animal’ for example – that leads from the front here. ‘You Can’t Use My Name’ goes some way to readdressing previous issues, but remains for the completest only.



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