Album Reviews

Filter :

Released Out now

 

Born By The Sea

Never Mind Band

Gullaksen & Øien

It’s hard to believe that these boys are from the remote wilderness of Norway rather than the drier climate of Nashville, such is their authenticity when applying their trade to country music. Despite the relative distance between the two countries, the duo of Roald Gullaksen (vocals/guitars) and Morten Øien (keyboards) remain determined in their efforts by holding aspirations of their own as latest album ‘Born By The Sea’ cranes its neck out over the Atlantic Ocean in an attempt to transmit its signal to its distant neighbours stateside. With an album’s worth of original material, Never Mind Band ease in to their sound with the appropriate ‘The American Dream’, only this is a tale of hardships as it tips its Stetson to the ongoing financial struggles in various towns of America. The accompanying country sound is typically robust, with Roald Gullaksen’s guitar containing a little grit but remaining nicely understated without ever straying. ‘Mayflower’ allows for optimism as it opens up with violin strings and a jaunty rhythm once the guitar and keyboards catch a ride. The skill and expertise displayed by Never Mind Band is of the highest order, and something which has evolved from the live circuit on home shores considering their impressive résumé having performed alongside such luminaries as Hellbillies, Stage Dolls, Postgirobygget, Steinar Engelbrektson band to name but a small sample. Such experience lends itself to the soul-searching expressed throughout the impressive ‘The Father’, with some clever touches involving samples from an anonymous space mission in contrast to the mission taking place down below on planet Earth. The title track of this latest album is the only giveaway as to the ancestry of this duo in relation to their music, as ‘Born By The Sea’ contains elements of Norwegian folk music that also spreads to the vocal. By catering for a balance between the everyday emotions of the infectious melody of ‘Home By Dawn’, and slower tempo of the melancholic ‘Memories From The Past’, Never Mind Band pass somewhere between a world consisting of Brad Paisley, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson, and that’s not bad company to be associated with! ‘Born By The Sea’ is but one reason to suggest that a voyage overseas to the homeland of country music is futile when hearing the faithful rendition stemming from Never Mind Band, which is a quality to be greatly admired considering the distance separating these two lands.


Released 1 September

 

Bahamas Is Afie

Bahamas

Brushfire Records / Universal Music

Canadian singer-songwriter Bahamas, otherwise known as Afie Jurvanen, sets out a new long player on Brushfire Records/Universal Music. Taking in to account the title of the record – ‘Bahamas Is Afie’ – as well as assuming the role of producer and multi-instrumentalist, one can safely suggest that this third album, after ‘Pink Strat’ (2009) and ‘Barchords’ (2012), is very much one that is close to Bahamas’ heart. The opening ‘Waves’ gives way to such ideas with the impression that a great deal of contemplation took place (“I held the bath inside my lungs for days…”) before committing these latest creative endeavours to tape. The time has been seriously well spent as it’s the lure of the gentle acoustic guitar that tingles the senses and gradual introduction of further instruments, along with Bahamas’ hushed vocal – nicely complimented with some dreamy backing –  from the aforementioned song that sets out ‘Bahamas Is Afie’ on this personal journey. The details of this particular voyage become more apparent with the folk roots of ‘Can’t Take You With Me’ that sees a parting of the ways of a relationship. Where this album excels is the manner in which Bahamas can transform those ‘Bitter Memories’ into something sweet sounding and wonderfully infectious with a simple melody, yet still retaining much food for thought inside a song’s brief tenure. In addition to the quieter acoustic folk introspection, there are moments where Bahamas experiments with the volume control by allowing for the mid-tempo country rock of ‘Stronger Than That’ and high-pitched vocals that also extends to the guitars during ‘All The Time’, providing an engaging twist to the overall feel of the album. ‘Little Record Girl’ adds to this tally with yet more country but this time with a brisk twang and an affectionate lyric that is just as much about a passion for music as it is regarding the opposite sex. By closing out on the slowly fading memories of ‘All I’ve Ever Known’ that is aching from the inside out, such is its emotional pull that’s not too dissimilar to the likes of the Blue Nile, ‘Bahamas Is Afie’ is a stunningly good album reflecting on former troubled times which, ironically, have led to the riches lining this latest effort.


Released Out now

 

Angus & Julia Stone

Angus & Julia Stone

Republic Records / American Recordings

After receiving considerable praise for their album ‘Down The Way’ (2010), namely Album of The Year at the ARIA Awards in their native Australia and recognition in countries as far afield as France, Germany and the UK, indie folk pop siblings Angus and Julia Stone are back with a brand new album. Having enlisted Rick Rubin on production duties, the quality of ‘Angus & Julia Stone’ is recognisable from the off with the entrenched sadness of ‘A Heartbreak’ that possesses a genuine haunting quality, emphasised by the trudging rhythmic pattern and downcast vocals. Previous single ‘Grizzly Bear’ sees Angus Stone pick up the mic and relay his affection for a certain somebody in his life, played out to a soulful backdrop of acoustic guitar and keys.  Comparisons can be made with the likes of Mazzy Star and, in particular, The Civil Wars during the interchanging and combined vocals of the Stone’s duo during the ongoing confessions of ‘Heart Beats Slow’. ‘Wherever You Are’ reveals the intimacy of a relationship and one almost feels a sense of prying such is the honesty expressed. The creativity button is given a nudge with the intriguing ‘Death Defying Acts’ that begins at a canter with a single guitar and Julia Stone’s engaging vocal, before the storm clouds start to loom, wonderfully highlighted by some tetchy guitar and crashing percussion, only to take a further twist with a brief spoken passage before concluding with a sting in its tail. The equal billing of vocals works wonders during ‘Other Things’, with its sleepy exchanges and ramshackle approach musically. ‘From The Stalls’ sees the duo swapping vocals once more, and again revealing much sincerity considering the cracked edges stemming from Angus Stone in particular. ‘Angus & Julia Stone’ is a remarkable record for a variety of reasons, but most importantly it is the song writing talent and manner in which the songs are presented that make this a must have addition to anyone’s record collection.


Released Out now

 

‘…Somewhere Down The Line’

Cow Cow Boogie

Rhythm Bomb

Firm favourites at Famous Last Words (FLW) after experiencing the rousing western swing and country boogie of first album ‘Rendezvous’, which landed on the desk approximately this time last year, second album ‘…Somewhere Down The Line’ issued on the Rhythm Bomb imprint is equally impressive, but also offers a tad more compared to its predecessor. Where this second album differs is due to the lovely, understated qualities to the majority of songs on offer. Such understated qualities leads one to suggest an overall degree of pleasantness, but such a description is fitting and meant with genuine affection. Kicking things off, the travelling blues of second-album opener ‘Somewhere Down The Line’ triggers the senses immediately with its use of harmonica and moments of lap steel, only for the mood to take a swinging uplift with the gorgeous wit and one in the eye for the PC brigade with the delightful ‘Home Cookin’. Appropriate action is applied to the cover of the Louvin Brothers’ classic ‘Cash On The Barrelhead’ as Cow Cow Boogie apply their touches with a pacier version of this song, which is highly commendable. Dropping in at the midway point is the excellent double serve of the late-night enticement of the jazz and blues inspired ‘Track 49’, with its tempting offer of “choo-choo, get yourself over to track 49”, only to see temperatures soar further with the sultry and canny ‘Steam Heat’. Once the western influenced ‘Rain’ enters a gallop, it is clear that Cow Cow Boogie is not only a talented bunch of musicians, but one that is blessed in the ideas and creativity departments which, when combined, produces the marvellous results found throughout ‘…Somewhere Down The Line’.


Released Out now

 

Stay Gold

First Aid Kit

Columbia

Having reviewed former single ‘My Silver Lining’ ‘ in these very pages, it is pleasing to hear that sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg have stuck to a winning formula comprising of alt-country blessed with heavenly vocals and lyrics of an introspective nature. The Stockholm-based duo sound closer to the rural south of America than their native Sweden, such is their song writing abilities and sincerity, which is captured once more by producer Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes, Monsters of Folk). With the precursor that was the previously mentioned single to this latest release, lush strings and delicate melodies can often be heard throughout ‘Stay Gold’ as it’s brimming with confidence musically, with only a handful of lyrics giving the game away regarding a variety of anxieties professing to be “as big as the moon”. The trail of quality is most definitely hot throughout ‘Stay Gold’, as indicated by the sweetly addictive melody of ‘Master Pretender’, folk inspired ‘Cedar Lane’ with its huge aching heart, and topped by the waiflike and atmospheric qualities of the album’s title track. With a host of gigs and festival appearances imminent, First Aid Kit, on this current form, is the very definition of their album title as their success looks set to continue.


Released Out now

 

Platinum

Miranda Lambert

Sony Music CMG

Miranda Lambert is back with the brand new album ‘Platinum’ that offers a blend of traditional country with elements of rock music. By combining these two genres is a means of trying to appeal to a broader audience and not just hardened country fans, but while some other artists’ efforts may sound forced, Miranda Lambert makes it all sound effortless as there is a seamless flow of consistency throughout her latest long player. Starting with the solid country rock of ‘Girls’ that immediately provides an example of the sheer power at the centre of her vocal chords despite not really manoeuvring out of second gear. The title track is almost portrayed in a country rap style, if ever such a thing existed, but thankfully it doesn’t fully resort to such measures as the song refers to the pressures that come with fame and success and, more tellingly, the reactions from others. There is room for collaboration as well as Miranda Lambert joins forces with Little Big Town and pulls off a delicate and spacious number that is full of nostalgia for simpler times. What begins as a lone instrument, coupled with Miranda Lambert’s vocal, gradually builds its momentum and in the process peels away a succession of insightful lyrics of a personal nature during ‘Bathroom Sink’, which paves the way for the humorous and rather clever ‘Old Shit’ (Yes, that is correct) that displays its passion for collectibles as illustrated by the background noise of vinyl static. If there is a standout track, however, then that honour falls to the marvellous rendition of western swing of ‘All That’s Left’ featuring The Time Jumpers which, in all honesty, would suit a full album’s worth if ever Miranda Lambert warms to such an idea.


Released Out now

 

Norwegian Classics

Charlie Rackstead & The Sticklesbergen Ramblers

Ramalama Production

What began as a slightly unknown commodity in this neck of the woods turned into an immense listening experience with Charlie Rackstead and The Sticklesbergen Ramblers with their take on a whole host of ‘Norwegian Classics’. By interpreting a variety of Norwegian popular songs via country and bluegrass music not only gives the selected songs a fresh perspective, but more notably for the use of the English language that really breathes new life into these compositions. Take for example the attention grabbing banjo introduction of the Dumdum Boys classic ‘Splitter Pine’ that moves along at a brisk pace and really pricks up the ears with its English pronunciation of the latter word held in the song title. Elsewhere, ‘If I Could Be Your Sunshine’ possesses lovely lilting qualities musically, and is full of wishful thinking in its pursuit of the opposite sex, only to be brought back to down to earth with the realities of ‘Free Life’ that plods out a more robust country rhythm, which portrays the carefree attitude at the centre of this song to great effect, with Charlie Rackstead’s vocal shining in the spotlight as well with a brief stint yodelling, and it’s truly wonderful stuff! Clearly, Charlie Rackstead and The Sticklesbergen Ramblers have done their homework as ‘Norwegian Classics’ contains a measure of all things that often make a good album as there is sincerity, humour, curiosity (‘Cow In The Tunnel’) and of course undisputed talent all of which make ‘Norwegian Classics’ a much have item.


Released Out now

 

Mystery Girl (Deluxe)

Roy Orbison

Sony Music CMG

As with the recent Johnny Cash discovery, another of the original Sun Records’ artists, Roy Orbison resurfaces by way of a deluxe edition of a former release with ‘Mystery Girl’. Marking its 25th anniversary in style, this new edition of ‘Mystery Girl’ includes all of the original ten tracks, but also nine previously unreleased studio works and demos. The accompanying DVD features a full-length documentary, in addition to a number of music videos that truly adds much weight to the overall quality of this reissue. Having received much critical recognition on its first outing, ‘Mystery Girl’ will no doubt revive fond memories for many Roy Orbison supporters, especially with the hit single ‘You Got It’ that has lost none of its vigour. Another facet to the appeal of Roy Orbison was the enigmatic and almost operatic delivery of his vocal that suited his often balladry style with songs such as ‘In The Real World’ and ‘A Love So Beautiful’. A welcome re-release with superb bonus material, ‘Mystery Girl’ has definitely stood the test of time and one that is still worthy of its former praise.


Released Out now

 

Metamodern Sounds In Country Music

Sturgill Simpson

Loose Music

Pulling a draw faster than Billy the Kid himself, Kentucky-raised Sturgill Simpson, who now happens to be a resident of Nashville, makes a swift return with second album ‘Metamodern Sounds In Country Music’. Where debut offering ‘High Top Mountain’ excelled in tailing a steady line to the traditions of country music, as well as offering heartfelt emotions regarding family members or various frustrations concerning life’s career choices or lack of them, ‘Metamodern Sounds In Country Music’ pursues more or less the same path, only the emotions expressed are those scraping the bottommost depths of despair. With songs alluding to such periods of hopelessness, often the result of experimenting with life’s darker side as well as suffering from depression (‘Life of Sin’, ‘Voices’, ‘Long White Line’), there are also moments of hope with ‘A Little Light Within’. However, far from being a miserable experience, ‘Metamodern Sounds In Country Music’ is nothing but an enthralling ride of traditional country, with some nice touches of additional strings during lead track ‘Turtles All The Way Down’, but also one that benefits from a rawer edge in the guitar department and best experienced from ‘Life of Sin’ and ‘Living The Dream’. The wildness truly reveals itself, however, when the appropriately named ‘It Ain’t All Flowers’ sets its reverse course with guitars sucked through a vortex amidst fevered howls as the comedown digs its claws in. The nostalgic trip down memory lane of ‘Pan Bowl’ is the perfect conclusion, considering all that has gone before, and further reason why ‘Metamodern Sounds In Country Music’ is an extremely important record not only due to its inventive side, but for its honesty when chronicling life’s mistakes.


Released Out now

 

Chaophonies

Frankétienne & Mark Mulholland

Jezus Factory Records

It’s not every day that a Haitian poet, painter, novelist, playwright and actor decides to collaborate with an inspirational musician hailing from Scotland, but that’s exactly what Frankétienne and Mark Mulholland decided to do with the album ‘Chaophonies’. The duo’s combined efforts is an 11-track album of literary readings set to music consisting of (creole) folk, indie, blues and with a slight Celtic influence in places. Reading excerpts from his ‘Rapjazz, Journal d’un Paria’, Frankétienne creates a number of guises for the poetic tales of ‘Chaophonies’ that are delivered in an enthralling manner and accompanied by Mark Mulholland’s musical expertise. ‘Chaophonies’ reveals its class from the very start as ‘Mots et réves’ rises like steam from the cobbled streets of a remote village somewhere in the French wilderness during the peak of summer with an impassioned vocal and understated musical accompaniment largely comprising of accordion and acoustic guitar. The strings are wonderfully sombre during the atmospheric and almost western feel of ‘Ville Schizophonique’, which lends itself nicely to the old steam west portrayal of ‘Le petit train’ that sees Frankétienne powering this little number by nearly his lungs alone. Hopefully, the various tales throughout ‘Chaophonies’ are not consigned to a one-off deal, as clearly the Frankétienne – Mulholland partnership is one that has considerable mileage given the sheer quality and inventiveness of this combined effort.


Released Out now

 

Supernova

Ray LaMontagne

RCA

Latest album from singer-songwriter Ray LaMontagne sees a departure from his more straight folk roots sound as ‘Supernova’ lends itself to the psychedelic pop and country-rock sounds prominent during a late 60s and early 70s San Francisco. Producer Dan Auerbach (Black Keys) services were called upon to help with the sonic layers of ‘Supernova’ that is certainly a lot brighter as introductory song ‘Lavender’ indicates with its summery hazy feel created by use of reverb on the  vocal, gentle strumming of acoustic guitar and use of Mellotron. The opening bars of ‘Pick Up A Gun’ blooms into a kaleidoscope of sounds and sees LaMontagne taking several steps further into less familiar territory and one full of psychedelics as there is a real sense of wanting to forget. In keeping with the dreamlike qualities of several of the songs on offer here, the lyrics offer little by way of clues to their overall meanings as LaMontagne has suggested: “Some songs are like riddles, or puzzles, an unknown begging to be figured out,” only this may take some time. Whether ‘Supernova’ is the way forward for Ray LaMontagne only time will tell, as there will be those who lament this change of direction whereas others will undoubtedly welcome this fresh approach and openness to greater experimentation.


Released 12 May

 

Do Tell

Hat Fitz & Cara Robinson

Manhaton Records

A now husband and wife duo, Hat Fitz and Cara Robinson resurface with new album ‘Do Tell’ on Manhaton Records. Having been produced by legendary blues artist Jeff Lang, ‘Do Tell’ is an American roots album with a strong regard for the blues, and one that likes to reside in the past due to its ‘old-timey’ qualities but also retain two feet in the present considering the up-to-date feel of the shuffling beat fuelling such examples as ‘Stray Hat’. It is this very song that also showcases the compelling approach of one half of the duo – Hat Fitz who delivers his lines in a deep husky manner and sounding more a resident of New Orleans rather than his native Australia. In stark contrast, Cara Robison offers a sweeter sounding vocal but one that is also far-reaching considering the soulful belter that is ‘Gotta Love’, wonderfully aided by some dextrous blues guitar playing. Not content, however, to let her man steal all of the limelight, Cara Robinson has added various strings musically to her bow by taking up the sticks in addition to flute, tin whistle and, integral to every skiffle band, the washboard. A beautiful and beguiling combination musically and visually, Hat Fitz & Cara Robinson are fast shaping up to be the next creative duo with a strong roots flavour that will be on the lips of many people, especially when packing such quirky tales of lead song ‘Do Tell’  and tender beauties as ‘Long Dark Cloud’.



Back To Top