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The Journey So Far – The Best Of Loreena McKennitt

Loreena McKennitt

Quinlan Road

Loreena McKennitt deserves the upmost respect for a career that has spanned thirty years and one that has been guided independently due to producing and promoting her own recorded output through the Quinlan Road record label, which McKennitt is also the proud owner. With such a long and established career in the music industry, and one that is certainly not about to reach its sell-by-date as the album title suggests, the combination of Celtic and folk roots McKennitt is renowned for has been whittled down to a carefully selected twelve-track album, nominated by McKennitt’s own fans, that is ‘The Journey So Far – The Best Of Loreena McKennitt’. Mingling amongst the tracks is a beautiful rendition of traditional Irish folk song that was used as part of the film score to Highlander III in the form of ‘Bonny Portmore’, with ‘The Mummers’ Dance’ revealing a fresh makeover due to additional electronica and followed by a stirring vocal performance set to various strings of ‘Down By The Sally Gardens’. With such a back catalogue of material to choose from, the inclusion of ‘Dante’s Prayer’ was definitely wise considering its haunting beauty that fittingly brings an end to the album. ‘The Journey So Far – The Best Of Loreena McKennitt’ is a finely balanced retrospective of McKennitt’s work to date, and one that is a worthy introduction for those less familiar with her music.

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The Lights From The Chemical Plant

Robert Ellis

New West Records

The music of Robert Ellis resides in two camps when hearing latest album on New West Records ‘The Lights From The Chemical Plant’, and that is one that lovingly embraces the past in terms of country music, and the other is one that resides in the present by means of various modern methodologies providing it with an up-to-date edge. Working like a well-oiled machine but without the added gloss due to enough frayed corners, Robert Ellis proceeds with ‘TV Song’ that is full of fancy in its efforts to escape from the tedium of the everyday as it plays out to an atmospheric soundtrack. If ‘TV Song’ offered some hope in terms of its wishful thinking, then proceeding track ‘Chemical Plant’ is more grounded in its narrative as it traces the phases of a relationship and the differences this brings. Once more there is great technique in the instrumentation as guitars and various strings are gently caressed providing more of the same atmospherics that compliments the reflective tone of Ellis’ vocal. There is not much in the way of happiness to be found in the piano-driven ‘Bottle Of Wine’ as it hints at loneliness, only to be confirmed by the alt-country ‘Still Crazy After All These Years’ that sounds as if it’s playing to an empty barroom. Nearing its end, ‘Houston’ sheds the last teardrop with intimate lyrics depicting the end of a relationship with both home and heart as there really is nothing left apart from ‘The Lights From The Chemical Plant’ for company.

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Glenville Railroad Tracks (single)

Bill Fadden & the Rhythmbusters

Migraine Records

If you like a heavy dose of authenticity with your rockabilly, then next stop along the Glenville railway line is as good as any to park your wares and take in the sounds of latest single from Bill Fadden & the Rhythmbusters with ‘Glenville Railroad Tracks’. Issued as a limited edition 45 vinyl, and more a double A-side considering the supreme quality of the title track and flipside ‘The Payback’, ‘Glenville Railroad Tracks’ finds Bill Fadden & his boys in majestic form by creating a real sense of a bygone era that has managed to find itself in the present still moving and shaking to an undeniably infectious 50s rockabilly rhythm. It’s the attention to detail given to ‘Glenville Railroad Tracks’ that also impresses as it hurtles into your senses under a cloud of smoke, complete with genuine steam engine whistle, before offloading a series of narratives all rolled in to one with varying degrees of complexities of the relationship kind. More coal is added to the fire with the previously mentioned ‘The Payback’ that really stokes up a serious momentum with its pressing rhythm and Bill Fadden sounding like a man with a score to settle, “You’ve been playing untrue and now the jokes on you, Yeah that’s a payback baby”. If this is the sound of things to come with Bill Fadden & the Rhythmbusters, then the suitcase is packed and ready waiting with much anticipation for the next pickup from Glenville Railroad.

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Back On The Horse

The Skinner Group


The wait for an echo has been a lengthy one until now that is, as Grahame Skinner finally makes his long anticipated comeback under new moniker, The Skinner Group. The title of the new album is one that is definitely open for interpretation, having interviewed Grahame Skinner for these very pages, suggesting a mixture of relief at the realisation of new material finally seeing light of day but coupled with anxiety at the thought of the unknown in terms of its perception. Fear not as ‘Back On The Horse’ is a sheer delight from beginning to end with creativity in abundance and enough memorable hooks to warrant a high level of repeat visits. Previous single ‘Surfer Gurl’ revives old memories of Skinner’s former indie outfit Cowboy Mouth, as the song resembles a piece of driftwood from an aborted third album, only given a new lease of life here, with Skinner crooning in fine fashion and pining about the one who got away to a grungy backbeat provided by longstanding stalwarts Douglas MacIntyre and Mick Slaven. ‘Oh Dear ‘ is breezy in comparison, and closer to another former band that hit the heights during the 80s, and would be the ideal candidate for second single such is its infectious rhythm and clever touch with its knowing self-pitying lyrics. The ghost of Hipsway is even more evident during the immediacy of ‘Down On My Knees’ with its 80s style chorus complete with backing singers really giving the game away. In the midst of such familiarities exists new explorations with ‘Something Cinematic’ a prime candidate due to being something of an oddity with its pondering beat, poetic vocal and topped off compellingly by Mick Slaven’s guitar, which is left to its own devices as it scores a red-hot trail right through its centre in a stinging and bad tempered moment of improvised greatness. Elsewhere, ‘Who’s That Man’ could be a personal ode as it reflects on being out of touch with current trends via a warped take – wonderfully executed – on The Beach Boys surf pop before falling headlong into the abyss that is ‘Hole In My Soul’, but not before paying reference to Aidan Moffat on the way down during the song’s fadeout. If this is the sound of Grahame Skinner in the modern state of things, then the decision to get back on the horse was an inspired and extremely wise one.

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Just Honky Tonkin Around!

Rhythm River Trio

Rhythm Bomb

One of the definite highlights at last year’s Rockabilly Rave, the Rhythm River Trio return with the playfully titled ‘Just Honky Tonkin Around!’ With the proud announcement of ‘Twelve smashing tracks in true mono’ adorning the sleeve, the Rhythm River Trio certainly live up to this declaration by offering a factually brief set of songs that actually feels much longer, which is a compliment due to the amount of creativity crammed into the shortest of time spaces. In addition to the twelve songs, the Trio has managed to capture a truly authentic ambience as one feels transported to a fifties setting expertly handled by Sugar Rays Vintage Recording Studio. Flexing their talents over a soundscape incorporating elements of country with, of course, a flurry of rockabilly, the Rhythm River Trio turn on the style from the off with the marvellous ‘Honky Tonkin Around’, compellingly told by lead vocalist David Short and with the song picking up an extra yard with some wonderful guitar halfway through. ‘Drinkin Wine Spo-dee-o-dee’ and ‘Oakie Boogie’ have certainly paid their dues here, as elements from both songs are present before quietly tiptoeing to the cover of ‘Teardrops From My Eyes’ and, more notably, during the band’s self-penned ‘Monday Mornin’ that is full of vigour despite its bleary-eyed central character searching for a saviour. ‘Love Come Back To Me’ received an airing at the previously mentioned Rockabilly Rave and revives some hazy memories of our own due to the forceful manner by which the song infiltrates the senses with its gradual and later incessant picking of guitar, prominent upright bass and lovely drawn-out vocal that leaves nothing but warm memories. It seems, however, that the Trio saved their severest of heartbreaks for the final two outings with ‘Gone And Left Me Blues’ and ‘I’ll Go My Way’. The former of the two songs is at one moment full of bitter resentment and at others sounding utterly desolate, which is full credit to the band due to a convincing vocal played out to a moody rhythm the kind of which Johnny Cash would have been proud. This is finally topped off by the more gentle sway of the aforementioned ‘I’ll Go My Way’ with its brilliant yet desperate request, “Just tell me one time that I’m on your mind”. On the evidence of ‘Just Honky Tonkin’ Around!’ the Rhythm River Trio is one of the finest in their field.

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Agent Cooper

Russian Red

Sony Music Norway

Looks can be deceiving when it comes to ‘Agent Cooper’, the new album from the enigmatically named Russian Red. Behind the exterior lies real name Lourdes Hernández who is one of Spain’s biggest names with an indie rock influence mixed with a deep knowledge of pop music; just don’t expect anything bordering on the mainstream, as suggested by the front cover, because, as mentioned earlier, looks can be… In fact, the whole album is caked in mystery from the cryptic album title to the “look twice in order to see it” ingenious song titles, which could be a reference to a number of past relationships set in chronological order to give the narratives a sense of history to the point of meeting their sell by dates. Musically, the songs are given the same quality control, despite being a touch more immediate than their song titles suggests. The glorious sweeping chorus of opener ‘Michael P’ intoxicates the senses and leaves a lump in the throat with its protestations, “I get so lonely when you’re gone”. Even better, however, is the 80s tinged ‘John Michael’ with its fusion of guitars and keyboards that brings to mind the solid album efforts the likes of The Psychedelic Furs used to include in their works. ‘Casper’ is directed by some fine guitar work that takes a moment to breathe once Russian Red applies the brakes with sumptuous vocals to offer serious reflection on, no doubt, a relationship that turned sour. Triumphing over all, however, is the early minimalist beats and fragile vocal of ‘Xabier’ that almost lasts the distance before crumbling under the weight of its own revelations to the backdrop of guitars set to shoegaze. Russian Red has delivered the package ‘Agent Cooper’ which, if you choose to accept, can be found under the code word: SUBLIME.

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Blank Project

Neneh Cherry

Warner Music Norway

It has been a while since the days of single ‘Buffalo Stance’ and subsequent album ‘Raw Like Sushi’ that really propelled the name Neneh Cherry into the pop consciousness. It comes as a surprise, therefore, that one of the former musical arrangers on Massive Attack’s ‘Blue Lines’, that saw both Robert Del Naja and Andrew Vowles returning the favour by contributing to the aforementioned ‘Raw Like Sushi’, is making a comeback with new release ‘Blank Project’. The wait, in fact, has been sixteen years for Neneh Cherry’s latest solo album that is a collaboration with RocketNumberNine and features a guest vocal by Robyn. Considering the lengthy gestation of this current project, the album itself was recorded and mixed within a mere five days under the watchful eye of producer Four Tet. What transpires is a ten-track album that is often minimalist in its approach and recalling the former ‘Blue Lines’ days with the seriously stripped-back instrumentation of ‘Across The Water’ and dark electronica of the title track, that could have been a candidate for the Bristolians’ ‘Mezzanine’ album. Despite the title suggesting a project void of purpose, the reality is far from it as ‘Blank Project’ attempts to make sense of a number of personal issues and tragedies, as well as the everyday; hence the sparseness and loose creativity throughout, giving the impression of a greatly improvised body of work and one that is distinctly Neneh Cherry due to its insistence on following its own set of rules no matter the rest of the competition. ‘Blank Project’ is a challenging album creatively, and one that makes for persuasive listening.

Released 21 February


The Scheen

The Scheen

Artistpartner Records

The Scheen’s debut album finally gets to see daylight after last year’s single release ‘I Am I’. Possessing a front figure that is well known for last year’s participation in NRK’s Stjernekamp, now last year’s chip paper, as The Scheen is an altogether different proposition with its roots firmly set in an indie rock sound. Despite having an ace in their pack when it comes to vocal duties in the form of Atle Pettersen, it would be a great disservice to suggest that The Scheen is anything other than a promotional vehicle to aid Pettersen’s progression as The Scheen is a properly assembled outfit comprising of Tobias Ørnes Andersen, Robin Ognedal, Rein Blomquist and Nickolas Main Henriksen who have been together for some considerable time and, in the process, built up a wealth of experience on the live circuit. With such a longstanding relationship between this five-piece band from Skien (Norway), it is little wonder that first album offering ‘The Scheen’ sounds anything other than accomplished. The impressive opening strum of bass and guitars coupled with Atle’s compelling vocal pulls the listener in from the off with lyrics suggesting an off-kilter relationship with the daily grind of everyday living. If that wasn’t enough, then the pounding beat and fitful sounding guitars holding together ‘I Am I’ really excels with its gritty edge and interspersions of electronica. Despite its glum title, ‘Nothing To Win’ opens the door to a pop influence with an irresistible chorus that reeks of next single contender, which could easily be bestowed to its near neighbour with the sweeping melodic indie rock of ‘The Race’. For the moment, current single ‘Run’ is given that honour and is every bit powerful in its delivery as it is anxious with a concluding tempo giving the impression of chasing down endless empty avenues. The Scheen’s qualities lie in their ability to provide a balanced album that is one moment full of intricacies (‘Sleep In Silence’), revealing the band’s hidden depths, and the other more immediate with the uplifting feel of ‘Ghost’ being a prime example. As far as debut albums go, The Scheen just got off to a very good start.

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Wilt & Rise


Fist In The Air & 6131 Records

Having formed in Cornwall during 2011 under the name Veils before deciding to make the switch to Vales, this British four piece are set to release their long-awaited album ‘Wilt & Rise’ on Fist In The Air & 6131 Records. Being described as angst-filled screamo and aggressive hardcore, such descriptions are highly appropriate when hearing the frantic vocal and guitars of opening bow ‘Dead Wood’ and equally relentless in its outpourings ‘Scripted’ that really sets ‘Wilt & Rise’ on a choppy course of emotions. For our money though, it’s the fluctuating pulse between the coarse vocals, which are close to bursting, and guitar breaks during the contemplative ‘Open Arms’ that is paired appropriately with the deep breath of ‘Survival’ that takes a tumble for the worse during its climax, that really compels the most. ‘Katrina’ displays another facet to the band with its restrained approach and icy guitar strings that is greeted by the immediate punk edges of ‘Branches’ which once more offers a bout of reflection when grinding out its sound. The wait has been truly worthwhile as ‘Wilt & Rise’ is an honest account of a band battling against a tide of emotions that looks set to continue.

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Love Is A Trap!

Nelson Carrera

Tessy Records / Rhythm Bomb

Released on Tessy Records via the prolific Rhythm Bomb label in Germany, Nelson Carrera issues a warning that ‘Love Is A Trap’. Largely consisting of original material, Carrera, who grew up in Angola before later settling in Portugal and finding himself in fine company with other likeminded artists such as Carl & the Rhythm All Stars and Ruby Ann, issues this latest album under his own moniker, but not without help from an assortment of supporting musicians. The title song will be a source of contention for many but the song itself is reminiscent of a late-fifties era beginning to sway towards a lighter pop market with the harsher elements of rock ‘n’ roll being toned down. Nothing wrong with that of course, but if you’re looking for something with a bit more bite then the serious guitar of ‘Cold Heart’ and rockin’ rhythm of ‘But She’s Not You’ are but two examples to help soothe those rockin’ hearts. The issue of relationships continues to be a thorn in the side of Carrera with the cover of Hank Williams ‘I’ll Be A Batchelor Till I Die’ before raising a holler with a little Jerry Lee Lewis inspired ‘Who’s Gonna Love Me Now’ that really puts a spark in the system, only to be usurped by an outstanding rendition of Buck Owens ‘Crying Time’ which, for our money, takes home the prize. If love really is nothing but a devious shroud, then, in the hands of Nelson Carrera, it really isn’t so bad after all as the lure of ‘Love Is A Trap’ reveals.

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The History Of Music: A Mosaic

A Clean Kitchen Is A Happy Kitchen

Jezus Factory Records

If you want to the know the definition of commercial suicide when the record company execs call for your next offering to be laden with hit material, then ‘The History Of Music: A Mosaic’ is unlikely to do you any favours. Whether the end results were down to a large quantity of pharmaceuticals consumed, coupled with a gifted ability to piece together or perhaps unpick the expansive sound collage throughout, then only A Clean Kitchen Is A Happy Kitchen possess the answer to any concerns regarding the first query as there are no doubts concerning their musicianship. Difficult when trying to sit and consume this record in one sitting, but brilliant when the intricate details start to reveal themselves, the second full-length album by A Clean Kitchen Is A Happy Kitchen is a sprawling mass of post-rock and psychedelic experimentation with elements of free-form jazz that, when melded together, gives the impression of musical post-it notes, if there were such a thing, placed in no particular order but somehow this absence of any form of direction functions with apparent ease. For those looking for an accessible point, however, then ‘Floyd Is Warped’ is as good as any with its stone-cold drum pattern, buzzing guitar that later becomes more animated, before heading into flashes of white noise and suitably followed by the complexities inside of  ‘Yellow’ that shows off the band’s expertise, especially when guiding interludes of awe-inspiring feedback.  ‘The History Of Music: A Mosaic’ is definitely not a record for everyone, but it is one that is welcome for its persistence in testing boundaries and general lack of conformity to any given rules, which is fast becoming a scarce commodity in the current state of things.

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‘Scream & Bop’ (single)

The Doel Brothers

El Toro

In honour of their festival appearances this year, The Doel Brothers have conjured up a 45 vinyl single consisting of ‘Scream & Bop / I Left My Wife In Vegas’. Such was the impact of the former song, that El Toro Record’s head honcho, Carlos Diaz, bestowed the honour of official song for this year’s Screamin’ Festival held in Spain; meaning that ‘Scream & Bop’ is likely to be remembered for years to come such is the status of this legendary music festival. Promotional tools aside, ‘Scream & Bop’ stands on its own feet with its jittery rhythm, fine guitar break and delightfully raspy vocal curl, “Doooowwwnnn on the beach at the Screamin’ Bop” supplied by brother Gordon and giving the game away that rockabilly is present in their repertoire when the mood feels right. The flipside, ‘I Left My Wife In Vegas’ flexes the Western Swing muscle of The Doel Bothers and offers another reason why this four piece is highly sought after, such is their flexibility but also their dexterity when managing other genres as ‘I Left My Wife In Vegas’ sounds effortless. Equally appealing, however, is the band’s sense of humour as the hapless victim(s), depending on which way you perceive it, is waking up with one dreadful hangover when the dust settles after this Vegas vacation. All things considered, ‘Scream & Bop / I Left My Wife In Vegas’ is the perfect accompaniment to any rockin’ festival this year, but as a 45 single in its own right, The Doel Brothers have just weaved the magic once again.

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