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White Smoke And Pines

Ellen Sundberg


With this being her second album at the still relatively tender age of twenty-one, Swedish singer-songwriter Ellen Sundberg remains close to her roots by continuing to reside in the small village of Bjärme, Sweden, where she sets out her creative ideas. The latest instalment is ‘White Smoke And Pines’; ten songs influenced by alt. country and folk music and performed in English, with the exception of one song title scribbled in her native language and being the musically bright, ‘Vägen är lång (The Road Is Long)’. This sophomore effort has the head of an experienced character, but it is one that is still struggling with the complexities of life as evidenced by the reflective tempo and narrative of ‘What Is Life’. With this opening track hinting at a darker core in relation to this album, such suggestions become fully realised with the intensely personal duo of ‘Hollow’ and ‘Maze of Shadows’, both set to the barest of instrumentation. With such examples penetrating deep beneath the skin, Sundberg spins a broader yarn with the inbound train journey breathing out a combination of her own personal thoughts that cease at various interludes to reflect on the variety of characters also on board, which makes for enthralling listening. No doubt the intimate feel of the majority of songs assembled for ‘White Smoke And Pines’ will translate even more acutely during Sundberg’s current live tour, where there will be room for improvisation if the mood takes her there considering the rolling narratives. As its press release accurately sums up: ‘It’s not always the most comfortable place to be, but very rewarding’ because albums don’t come much more confessional than Ellen Sundberg’s ‘White Smoke And Pines’.

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The Centennial Collection

Billie Holiday

Sony Music CMG

Celebrating one hundred years in the life of Billie Holiday who was born 7th April 1915 and died 17th July 1959 ‘The Centennial Collection’ released on Sony Music CMG is a collection of twenty songs representing some of her well-known vocal performances between the years 1935 to 1945. Nicknamed Lady Day by friend and fellow American musician Lester Young, Billie Holiday proved an inspiring and influential figure on the jazz scene for her distinct vocal delivery that changed both the manner in which the songs were interpreted as well as altering customary rhythmic patterns of the standards Holiday performed. Such a unique and personal singing style has also seeped into areas of pop and soul music showing how far-reaching Billie Holiday’s appeal actually was and still remains to this present day. ‘The Centennial Collection’ begins with the vibrant tempo and optimistic vocal of ‘What A Little Moonlight Can Do’ supported by Teddy Wilson and His Orchestra who flip this chipper number over to the melancholic ‘Gloomy Sunday’  and determined emotions of ‘I Must Have That Man’. The bulk of the songs are performed by Billie Holiday’s own orchestra with such well-known compositions as ‘God Bless The Child’, ‘Summertime’ and ‘The Very Thought of You’ selected for this compilation. The most haunting composition is reserved until nearing the end of ‘The Centennial Collection’ with a masterful choice of words reflecting racial discrimination and, in particular, the lynching of African Americans in the South by way of ‘Strange Fruit’. Serving as a compelling reminder of the greatness of Billie ‘Lady Day’ Holiday, as well as acting as a perfect introduction to the songs she once performed, The Centennial Collection’ is a worthy celebration.

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Starting Over Again

Ida Jenshus

Universal Music Norway

‘Starting Over Again’ is the name of the record and where Norwegian artist Ida Jenshus currently finds herself. With a great desire to change her working habits after three successful albums and winner of three Spellemannpriser (Norwegian equivalent of a Grammy) for her creative endeavours, Ida Jenshus set out on a path of new discovery. Retaining the services of producer Kåre Vestrheim was the only remainder of her past, as Ida Jenshus set to task the songs for ‘Starting Over Again’. The precursor to this latest long player from Ida Jenshus was last year’s ‘Let It Go’ EP that contained the audacious ‘Shallow River’ as it played out over three segments. With this latest album, Ida Jenshus continues where the former EP left off, with songs stretching over the six minute mark, barring a couple of exceptions, and packed with great details. Take for example the title track with its Joni Mitchell inspired vocals set to a delicate rhythm that gradually adds more flesh to its bones as the song progresses via harmonica and atmospheric sounding guitars. ‘Set Us Free’ is blessed with more fine vocals and takes a more direct approach musically, compared to the drawn out nature of quite lengthy ‘Changes / What Is Time?’ for example. Never an easy task the process of reinvention, but Ida Jenshus appears to have cracked it with her latest album ‘Starting Over Again’.

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Still The One – Live From Vegas

Shania Twain

Mercury Nashville

Five-time Grammy winner Shania Twain made the Colosseum at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas her home for two years, having performed over one hundred shows to supporters from all over the world. With her signature of melding country with pop music, Shania Twain added a thirteen-piece band and a number of other features such as dancers and a flying motorcycle to not only put on a show, but one that was fitting of the glitzy traditions associated with Vegas. Such was the overwhelming success of these Vegas performances that the decision was made to release a live album as a memento for those fans who attended, but also for those who were unfortunate to not witness this live extravaganza. ‘Still The One – Live From Vegas’ is the documented evidence of Shania Twain’s residency in Vegas available as a live CD on Mercury Nashville as well as DVD and Blu-ray from Eagle Rock. With the album containing her well-known hit singles ‘Man! I Feel Like A Woman’ and ‘That Don’t Impress Me Much’ that many no doubt were waiting to hear, ‘Still The One – Live From Vegas’ is finely tuned with a sample of Shania Twain’s earlier work with the more country than pop ‘No One Needs To Know’ and ‘Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?’ to name two such examples. With this album being produced by Shania Twain herself, the hands on approach and dedication to her song writing is evident throughout as ‘Still The One – Live From Vegas’ serves as a perfect reminder for those who witnessed one of these live performances.

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Godzilla Vs. Poutine


Robbob Music

Providing food for thought, Canadian Robbob’s second album is ingeniously constructed along a central theme of food and quite possibly a love-hate relationship with this subject considering the album’s artwork depicting Godzilla confronting the traditional Canadian (junk) dish of poutine. Having fallen in love with the vibrancy of the neighbourhood of Limoilou, Robbob set about forming a backing band by the name of Limoilou Libre Orchestra consisting of Samuel Poirier (upright bass), Jean-Sébastien Gauthier (lap-steel guitar) and backing singers the Robbobettes. In addition to the recording of this sophomore album, the Everlovin’ Jug Band provided assistance with two of the songs, making this long player a genuine team effort rather than a personal pursuit. While ‘Godzilla Vs. Poutine’ is a record full of novelty songs, it’s a project worth taking seriously for the manner in which the songs are constructed around predominantly country and folk music and then injected with smart and witty lyrics evoking memories of a genre that rose in popularity during the post-war years. Such nuggets can be found once the aftermath of the city rubble clears (It’s a Godzilla thing!) with deep consideration given to the body parts of a heron with ‘Starin’ At A Heron’; the chuggin’ guitar adding to the catchy tempo of the album’s title track, and saucy narrative of ‘Yodelling For Your Noodles’ complete with Hawaiian sway are enough to keep the poutine at bay. Even song ideas such as ‘Hug A Slug’ probably shouldn’t be seated at the table but it remains the delivery of the song that compels, with Robbob and the Robbobettes finding great form vocally. It’s the seriousness of the musicianship that helps to provide an even balance to the frivolous nature of the lyrics that makes ‘Godzilla Vs. Poutine’ a refreshing release indeed.

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The Old Bridge

Bluegrass Stuff

El Toro

Not just a staple of the American musical diet these days as bluegrass, and all of its associated traditions, appears to be increasing in popularity in various other countries. When it comes to Bluegrass Stuff, Italy is the location for the traditional bluegrass music making up their album, ‘The Old Bridge’.  Any suggestions of an unpremeditated meeting of the minds before laying down the tracks leading to the band’s album are likely to be unfounded considering the level of detail given to this long player, but that doesn’t stop ‘The Old Bridge’ from sounding as if it was freshly baked in the last hour or so, such is the general feeling of spontaneity generated here. Recorded and mixed by Bluegrass Stuff’s very own Massimo Gatti (mandolin/vocals) ‘The Old Bridge’ gets into its stride from the off with a succession of up-tempo numbers comprising of fiddle, banjo, upright bass, mandolin and acoustic guitar. Despite the lively introduction to ‘The Old Bridge’, the mood is somewhat downbeat with unrequited love surfacing on a few occasions with ‘Hurt And Feeling Sad’, ‘Leavin’ Me Behind’ and, in particular, the deep frustrations expressed during ‘Send Me Your Address From Heaven’  being the pick of a very good crop. With a considerable amount of the songs self-penned by band members Ruben Minuto, Matteo Ringressi and the previously mentioned Massimo Gatti and then balanced with a selection of standards, ‘The Old Bridge’ is really worth paying a visit and setting aside some time because you will not be disappointed with such pickin’ delights as ‘Once In A While’ or the yodelling vocalisations of ‘My Swiss Mountain Lullaby’ to realise that you’re in the company of some genuinely wonderful talent.

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Ringer I Vatn

Kjell Reianes

CMM Music

Despite earning a living as an architect, the name Kjell Reianes is associated with music in his native Norway due to a long-held ambition to break into an otherwise competitive market. The breakthrough arrived in 2011, at the ripe old age of sixty-one, with the appropriately titled ‘Aldri For Seint’ (‘Never Too Late’). Significant to this breakthrough was the start of a working relationship with Kaizers Orchestra’s Janove Ottesen, who was responsible for arranging and producing Reianes’ debut offering. Sixty solo gigs later, and various collaborations with numerous artists, Kjell Reianes made the transition from tinkering away with his musical compositions in his spare time, to a full-time commitment, which has resulted in a second album, ‘Ringer I Vatn’. The aforementioned working partnership with Janove Ottesen was reignited for this second outing, with Ottesen taking up production duties once more, in addition to a select few musicians – Ola Kvernberg, Mads Falck Berven, Jarle Vespestad and Eirik Are Oanes Anderssen – being added to the ranks in order to fully realise the ideas behind ‘Ringer I Vatn’. First impressions is that such qualified experience really lends itself to Kjell Reianes latest release, with opening number ‘Lukk Opp Ditt Øye’ sounding as if it was recorded in one take, where instruments are still in the process of warming up before eventually proceeding ahead. There is a pared-back sound to the majority of this latest work, with mainly acoustic instrumentation providing the rhythms to Reianes reflective lyrics where songs such as ‘Bare Ein Gang Te’ and ‘Evig Din’ would not be out of place on a busy side street populated with cafés  somewhere in Paris. Keys are added to the duo of ‘Virvelvind’ and ‘Bossanova’,   which gives the former song a slightly quirky feel whereas the latter is light and breezy. Reianes engaging dialect really captures the sentiment at the heart of ‘Du E Min Eine’ to great effect, and is but one reason why the breakthrough eventually had to happen for this wonderful talent.

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I See You (single)


Propeller Recordings

Not one to rest easy on her laurels, Anne Lise Frøkedal makes a welcome return, but this time in the role of a solo artist rather than her customary duties with Harrys Gym and I Was A King. By trimming her moniker to the more manageable Frøkedal, the decision to embark on this current project alone, seems to work dividends as it throws up another dimension to her song writing where only the use of acoustic instrumentation is used for first single, ‘I See You’. By opting for such a route musically, there is a notable difference in sound where a strong folk presence is audible as the song rolls out its rhythm in unison with a compelling vocal that doesn’t have to try too hard to weave its magic such is its natural appeal. If the same qualities can be transferred to the forthcoming long player, then Frøkedal has another serious project to pursue long term, and one to rival the other two major creative pursuits in her life.

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You’re My Sugar

Fia Sco & The Majestics

Rhythm Bomb

There’s a predominantly western swing flavour to the icing coating the Austrian mountain ranges by way of ‘You’re My Sugar’. The band at the centre of this swinging sound is Fia Sco & The Majestics who seem to have exchanged their Austrian roots for something a bit more American. Such a suggestion becomes even clearer when hearing the added musical ingredients consisting of hillbilly and country, with a definite rockin’ attitude thrown in for good measure. The spark which ignites this album into life, however, is the rolling tongue of Fia Sco’s vocal delivery, which then proceeds to dominate opening ditty ‘Ice Water’ and continues in similar style throughout the rest of this album. There’s no doubting Sco’s presence here as she comes across as a charismatic front figure by breathing life into the songs, with her vocal providing a throwback to another era. All of this talent would not be possible without experienced hands, which comes by way of The Majestics with titles to rival their magnetic songstress and therefore deserving of a mention, so step forth Colonel Rib Kirby (lead/rhythm guitar), Don De Vil (double bass), Big Honzo (steel guitar) and Ray Hammer (drums). With such a force in place, Fia Sco & The Majestics simply can’t fail which is evident from the tight rhythm and quick vocal delivery of ‘Dynamite’ and choo-choo boogie of ‘She’s Gone, Gone, Gone’. With ‘You’re My Sugar’ being a covers fest, pick of the bunch has to be the Howard Stamford and Danny Mitchum composed ‘Hey, Mr. Cotton Picker’ and (at last!) clever spin on Jerry Reed’s excellent ‘Mr Whizz’ to a feminist friendly renamed, ‘Misses Whiz’. Once the locals of their native Austria catch wind of these western flavoured numbers, the icecaps are likely to melt such is the heat stemming from ‘You’re My Sugar’ and, more notably, the talent at the heart of this record.

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The Big Picture

Kat Edmonson

Sony Music

Following the critical success that was ‘Way Down Low, Kat Edmonson returns with twelve new songs under the heading ‘The Big Picture’. By combining a similar mixture of jazz, folk and pop influences to her previous long player, Kat Edmonson’s passion for old classic films also finds a way into this latest set of compositions which, along with the guidance of well-renowned producer Mitchell Froom (Crowded House, Sheryl Crowe, Suzanne Vega et al), really comes to the fore during such songs as ‘Oh My Love’ where the vocal is purring against a backdrop of black and white nostalgia. It’s this very love of vintage films that also finds its way into such numbers as ‘You Can’t Break My Heart’ where the two-tone canvass is exchanged for a grainy colour inspired by a Sergio Leone movie and accompanying Ennio Morricone sound score to support its western flavour.  Elsewhere, there is a lovely light touch to the pop song ‘Avion’ that glides along at some pace and needs to be heard for the manner in which Kat Edmondson wraps her vocal around the very title of this particular ditty. ‘Rainy Day Woman’ is influenced by a 60s pop sound à la Dusty Springfield with its orchestral strings applying the raindrops, in addition to a horn section acting as a buffer against the oncoming (emotional) downpour. One of the most pleasing aspects of ‘The Big Picture’ is the apparent simplicity of some of the songs where less is certainly more when considering the shuffling drums and acoustic guitar of the exquisite ‘For Two’ and mellow tones of final song, ‘Who’s Counting’. Kat Edmonson’s star is on the ascendency as ‘The Big Picture’ is an album full of charm and teeming with creativity that manages to pull all of its components together and yet somehow sound smaller than its overall outlook would suggest. This, of course, is a skill in itself, and one that this songstress manages admirably. Top marks indeed!

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21 Days In Jail!

The Broadkasters

Rhythm Bomb

Trading in their wild brand of rockabilly as The Houserockers by taking in the blues as The Broadkasters, three members of the previously mentioned line up add an additional player to their ranks on harmonica in order to communicate their passion for this other love in their life. Nowhere is this better expressed than the vocals of Rob Glazebrook, who is given centre stage on more than one occasion, such is the charisma in his voice that gives these songs such a faithful delivery. If it’s evidence you’re looking for, then the seemingly one take and straight off-the-cuff ‘Stop Breakin’ Down’ is probably the closest example you’ll get where Glazebrook sounds present in your front living room with the rest of the instrumentation tucked away neatly behind, such is his presence coupled with the raw and ready nature of this particular track. Of course all this would not be possible without the rest of The Broadkasters in attendance, who know how to concoct a driving rhythm or two such as the beating heart that moves ‘Crazy Mixed Up World’, to the rapid execution of its title track ’21 Days In Jail!’. Where this album benefits as well is The Broadkasters ability to deviate from the more regular tempo of the songs, by offering up a few less hurried efforts such as the marvellous, yet snapping at the heels by way of harmonica of ‘Ah’w Baby’, to the steady drip of emotions portrayed effectively with the back burning rhythm of guitar during ‘Come Back Baby’. Full of character and expertly relayed, The Broadkasters slip into their second skin – the blues – and come out triumphant with ’21 Days In Jail!’

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Reality Show

Jazmine Sullivan

Sony Music Norway

‘Reality Show’ is the third full-length album from previous Grammy nominee Jazmine Sullivan. With this latest release being a joint effort in terms of production involving Salaam Remi, Key Wane, Chuck Harmony, Da Internz, Ant Bell, DJ Dahi, Joe Logic and Dilemma, the high number of collaborators reaps dividends for Jazmine Sullivan who goes from strength to strength with a soulful blend of R&B, smatterings of hip-hop inspired beats and mild electronica. It’s the knockout vocals, however, which pierces all exteriors of the songs present here, backed up with heartfelt lyrics reflecting on the various complexities that relationships can bring. Such examples can be identified from the stream of thought that flows through ‘Mascara’, expertly portrayed by a tender vocal which proves to be no fluke once the wider range of ‘Brand New’ enters the fray. There’s some dirt underneath the nails regarding previous hit single ‘Dumb’, which makes its entrance to an echo of vocals that later gives way to Meek Mill’s rapping the male perspective on this ill-fated relationship. The prospect of happiness remains unlikely once ‘Forever Don’t Last’ gets underway as Jazmine Sullivan pours her heart out to the accompaniment of handclaps and acoustic guitar. The tempo is lifted with the dance influenced ‘Stanley’ and then steps down once more with the smooth delivery, and really quite wonderful ‘Let It Burn’. As truthful as it gets, ‘Reality Show’ reveals the inner walls of the troubles and strife that relationships can experience, only these troubled times are given a sweeter edge by the quality and sheer talent of Jazmine Sullivan.

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