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Idiot’s Hill

Basko Believes

Rootsy

Basko Believes, real name Johan Örjansson, is a Swedish singer-songwriter who took it upon himself to tap into his lifesavings and head out to Denton, Texas in order to record latest album ‘Idiot’s Hill’. With musicians willing to offer their services from the likes of The Polyphonic Spree, Israel Nash Gripka and Midlake, Basko Believes has created an album that nestles in the category marked Americana but at the same time allows for other influences consisting of soul, pop and indie guitar rock. Take the epic qualities of the inch perfect ‘The Waiting’; a song that steadily builds and seemingly grabbing an extra instrument along the way to add to the layers of narrative that is full of nostalgia and convincingly told by Basko Believes, who is a mixture of Van Morrison and Ray LaMontagne. There is a great tenderness at the centre of this latest album, but it is one that also draws on various anxieties as depicted by the song ‘Wolves’. While the majority of this album delights in a variety of ways it is the shimmering guitar beauty of ‘Lift Me Up’ and the letter of regret posted to one’s former dwelling rather than the act of physically travelling during ‘Going Home’ with its delicate rhythm of guitars and strings that sets up Basko Believes as a force to be reckoned with.


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Poison (single)

Barlow Gin & the Hatchetmen

Untitled

Hailing from Bristol in Tennessee, USA, Barlow Gin & the Hatchetmen is an eight piece ensemble with a multitude of instruments at their disposal that includes a knockout blow by way of leading Lady Kat Rush’s magnificent vocals. It is rather fitting that such a wealth of talent should desire a “don’t fence us in” attitude when attempting to apply a label to the music emanating from the Barlow Gin & the Hatchetmen’s stable as there is a real melange of genres including aspects of rhythm and blues, swing, jazz and a fleeting drop of rockabilly that is reflected to a greater degree by the stylish appearance of Kat Rush. With a debut album currently a work in progress, first single ‘Poison’ is a strong concoction of seductive vocals and forceful brass that will have you smitten from the off and giddy with delight once under the intoxicating spell of the central narrative. Whether this is a safe haven only time will tell, but for now Barlow Gin & the Hatchetmen have just created a winning formula as far as first singles go as there is no bitter edge to the ‘Poison’ they are peddling.


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Artificial Natural

The Kokomo Kings

Grime Tone

A culmination of Scandinavian neighbours – Swedish and Danish to be precise – joining forces to carve out the largely blues influenced, with moments of rockabilly, that is ‘Artificial Natural’. Starting in fine fashion is the authentic rockabilly-blues of ‘Wrong Doing Woman’, which picks up a steady pace before letting the apron strings fly with some red-hot guitar that is equally complimented by the interesting spin of the narrative with the central protagonist being female (for a change) and possessing an unhealthy love affair for deviant behaviour. Elsewhere, ‘Hook, Line and Sinker’ plays a game of cat and mouse to a lively tempo and drawing more on a straight blues influence. There is humour present with ‘She’s So Skinny (She Can Hide Behind A Fishing Line)’ that is also a reflection of the changing nature of the generational eras that suggests a big difference in terms of the one these Kokomo Kings reside in mentally, and the one they actually find themselves in. Such a theme is taken up once more with the title track ‘Artificial Natural’ that finds the aptly-named Harmonica Sam severely scratching his cranium in a bewildered state due to an increasing trend for cosmetic enhancement. The charm offensive of ‘Charmageddon’ opens the door to rock ‘n’ roll, as it’s a riotous affair of guitars and harmonica with a flair for dark humour, “She’s so evil, she’s banned from hell”. A chance discovery, The Kokomo Kings ‘Artificial Natural’ is a thrilling ride of rockin’ blues with aspects of rockabilly and rock ‘n’ roll, and one that is extremely perceptive of the changing nature of modern society as the band’s wicked sense of humour reveals. There is nothing artificial to report when it comes to The Kokomo Kings.


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Heart’s On Fire (single)

Passengers

Sony Music Norway

Beautiful as it is tender, there are no surprise revelations from Passenger (Mike Rosenberg) and new single ‘Heart’s On Fire’ as it offers a straight confessionary tale of one’s burning desires for another played to an acoustic guitar and various strings. With a new album on the horizon entitled ‘Whispers’, ‘Heart’s On Fire’ is not only a reminder of this man’s talents, but a strong indicator of the indie-folk sounds to come.


Released 11 April

 

Gå som det her

Bøgdabråk

Bøgdabråk Records

Returning with a fresh set of country rock ditties from the Norwegian county of south Trøndelag, Bøgdabråk has steadily built up a name for themselves on the live circuit, as well as maintaining their roots with the traditional ‘trønderfest-culture’ that is particularly special to the inhabitants of Trondheim and surrounding areas. With two albums already behind them, Bøgdabråk release album number three ‘Gå som det her’ which consists of eleven tracks delivered in specific dialect from the band’s main region. Central to the creative compositions of this latest album is vocalist Leif Inge Hopstad, who has not only penned all of the songs but contributed production duties as well with producer Tony Waade. The end result is an album with energy in abundance as clearly displayed by the driving opener ‘Han der’ (‘Him There’) and ‘I kveill’ (‘This Evening’); the latter of which packs an addictive chorus and the perfect accompaniment of female backing vocals and fine guitar work that sees Bøgdabråk clearly enjoying themselves. The Bøgdabråk tempo is taken down a notch during the ballad ‘Håp’ (‘Hope’) and exquisite delivery of ‘To på natt’ (‘Two At Night’) that finds Leif Inge Hopstad in superb form vocally. The energetic and catchy guitar thrust of ‘Vinterland’ (‘Winterland’) and equally matching ‘Sånne Kara’ (‘Kind Kara’) are good enough to grace a Tom Petty album, if ever the need arises, because Bøgdabråk have a knack of churning out memorable, hook-laden country rock songs that reside long in the memory bank once ‘Gå som det her’ has ceased playing. Catch the band live on their forthcoming tour in support of this inspiring new release as Bøgdabråk cannot fail to disappoint considering the overall quality of ‘Gå som det her’.


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My Silver Lining (single)

First Aid Kit

Columbia

For those who missed the much-touted album ‘The Lion’s Roar’ from sister duo and Stockholm-based First Aid Kit, then a second helping is in the offing with the imminent release of ‘Stay Gold’. Ahead of this new album release, however, is new single ‘My Silver Lining’ that is blessed with sumptuous strings, heavenly vocals and interesting turns with lyrics purporting to anxieties being “as big as the moon” as the troubles experienced seem to outweigh any hope for a silver lining. An inspired choice as far as first singles go, First Aid Kit look set to continue their previous successes judging by the quality of ‘My Silver Lining’.


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Out Among The Stars

Johnny Cash

Sony Music CMG

Discovering ‘Out Among The Stars’ was definitely the equivalent of striking oil for the first time during the Gusher Age in Texas in the early 1900s. The reason for such enthusiasm marking this latest discovery of forgotten Johnny Cash studio recordings is for the simple reason that the twelve songs listed (track thirteen being a remix) here have never been released before, making this album a brand new product rather than a rehash of previously released material with the usual bonus additions of demos, outtakes and alternate versions. The songs making up ‘Out Among The Stars’ were originally recorded in Nashville in 1981 and 1984 with Billy Sherrill controlling production and contributions by way of June Carter Cash with ‘Baby Ride Easy’ and ‘Don’t You Think It’s Come Our Time’, as well as Waylon Jennings lending vocals to Hank Snow’s ‘I’m Movin’ On’. The discovery itself is credited to John Carter Cash – the son of Johnny Cash – who happened to chance upon the songs in the vaults of Columbia Records after many years of neglect until now. Indebted for this wonderful find, ‘Out Among The Stars’ is a solid body of work and a welcome addition to the musical legacy left by Johnny Cash.


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Jukebox Daddy

Billie and the Kids

Rhythm Bomb

Hailing from Zagreb, Croatia, the posse that is Billie and the Kids – seven members in total – return with their second long player that is packed with even more resolve than their first outing. The impact of the Kids’ second album ‘Jukebox Daddy’ is immediate, as lead vocalist Ana Klabucar – aka Billie – bursts out of the traps with the appropriately named ‘Scorched’ in a vocal that will stop you dead in your tracks due to its immense power that sounds one moment doused in kerosene and the next dripping in honey, either way the Kids’ front figure is truly blessed because this is a vocal to die for. Where this album differs to its predecessor is the high volume of original material that is proudly announced in the sleeve notes and rightly so because there is a genuine sense of nostalgia captured as ‘Jukebox Daddy’ revives, to great perfection, a 1950s rhythm and blues sound that is moving and shaking for all to witness in 2014. The rumbling boogie of ‘Your First Kiss’ and lead track ‘Jukebox Daddy’, that once more parades Billie’s impassioned voice (Ah, the sound of those rolling notes!), are but two examples that encapsulates everything that is right about this album when it comes to recreating an authentic 50s rhythm and blues sound. Part of this magic is down to the proficiency of the musicianship, but also for the significant role bassist Jurica Stelma performs with regard to the band’s songwriting, as his prolificacy in this area is crucial to the wealth of original material littering ‘Jukebox Daddy’. If your life is crying out for a faithful rendition of rhythm and blues that has just jumped straight out of New Orleans by way of Zagreb, then you have come to the right place as Billie and the Kids is peddling a deeply rousing and rhythm shaking version of this very genre that will bowl you over.


Released 21 March

 

Man O’ War EP

Orbo

Grappa

Norwegian west coast artist Orbo (Ole Reinert Berg-Olsen) reappears after a few years away with a four-track EP ‘Man O’ War’. Serving as a prelude to a full album release in September this year, ‘Man O’ War’ is the first collection of songs to make use of the English language since the critically acclaimed ‘Prairie Sun’ in 2010. With the promotional banner declaring the Orbo sound as genuine handmade rock ‘n’ roll, and this being a fair description considering the man behind the moniker Ole Reinert has written the entire contents and played a large hand in the production along with band member Reidar F. Opdal, there is definitely more than a hint of Americana, however, regarding the four songs making up this latest EP. First track ‘Deadlock’ sets the wheels in motion, bringing to mind the alt-country rock sound of Tom Petty with its acoustic guitar and pacey rhythm that has an immediate appeal set against an intriguing narrative concerning the alluring qualities of the opposite sex, but beware the honey trap. The mood is reflective during ‘Time To Move On’ with the lead vocal really claiming the song, set to a more restrained beat including piano that works accordingly while the song laments a relationship that was doomed from the start. There is much to enthuse over with the tender ballad of ‘Sleep Through The Night’ which sets up the grand finale of the title track appropriately as ‘Man O’ War’ genuinely gives the impression, by way of its rhythm section, of the initial steps of a journey that has set sail for a distant horizon of its own choosing before reaching its destination via some red-hot guitar. Judging by the consistency and quality of all four tracks making up ‘Man O’ War’, September looks set to be an important month in the Orbo calendar.


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Mathias Lilja

Mathias Lilja

Rootsy

Despite a longstanding history as a singer-songwriter stretching over a twenty-year period that has seen him front The Strollers and still maintaining a working relationship with The Maharajas, Mathias Lilja is poised to pursue the life of a solo artist with his debut record. Considering this lengthy gestation period of whether to commit to a full-length album of original material plus one cover – Townes Van Zandt’s ‘No Place To Fall’ – it only seems right that Mathias Lilja should name his first solo album under his own moniker, as the songs suggest many hours of devotion such is the quality on display. With alt-country being his preferred choice as the musical accompaniment to the personal nature of the lyrical content, Mathias Lilja sets about his business with a warning shot to those preferring to remain oblivious to the very notion that ‘Evil’ could be lurking around the next corner. ‘Don’t Fade On Me’ ups the ante further by means of brushed instrumentation working in unison with Lilja’s impassioned vocal reflecting on what might have been. Any suggestion of bad luck pursuing this Swedish singer-songwriter once again rears its head during ‘Devil’s Almanac’ that presents a rougher ride perfectly summed up by the harder edge of the guitars. ‘Give It All Away’ instantly calms the waters, however, with its predominately folk roots giving way to some pedal steel that adds a lovely aching quality to the song. ‘I Will Stay’ is the perfect example of how country music should sound if there’s a formula to be found that blends its traditional elements with a commercial appeal, as it’s an infectious tune full of bristling energy and smart lyrics and a clear indicator of how it should be done. It is this blend of styles, however, that makes Mathias Lilja’s solo album a force to be reckoned with, especially when considering the lyrically bleak and flashes of distorted guitars that stands out in complete contrast with the rest of this debut.


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Coming Home

Siri Vølstad Jensen

Playroom Music AS

With a growing trend for a pop country crossover, latest addition to this style is Siri Vølstad Jensen with her debut album ‘Coming Home’. Remarkably, this first outing is a product of Norway when, in fact, its contents sound a far closer relation to the country sounds emanating from Music Row in Nashville. Full marks, however, for the convincing sounds on display, which has been a lengthy process in the making and one which actually took in the sights and sounds of Nashville for a period before making a return home. With the trade secret therefore out in the open, the end product is one that is skilfully handled and once more utterly persuasive in the vocal department as ‘Burn Baby Burn’ blends a bit of the traditional country via Dolly Parton with its modern sisters the Dixie Chicks. Title song, ‘Coming Home’ leans on a more conventional country style, with acoustic guitar and strings and Siri Vølstad Jensen sounding beyond her tender years with the only giveaway being a slight vulnerability to the vocal during the chorus, that actually works in her favour due to the sincerity of the emotions expressed. This openness given by Siri Vølstad Jensen extends to ‘Whatever It Was’ and, in the process, proves to be one of the strong points of the album that once more calls for a bit of old-style country while retaining one foot in the present. The pop tendencies are more present in the up-tempo ‘Let Love’ but still not quite to the extent of Taylor Swift’s ‘Red’, for example, due to the heavier weighting of stringed instrumentation wonderfully paraded by the ballad ‘Almost You’. ‘Coming Home’ is the first landmark in the musical career of Siri Vølstad Jensen, and it is one that will prove to be a major step for this country songstress from Norway such is its overall quality.


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Slow Me Down

Sara Evans

Sony Music CMG

Crossing the divide between pop and country, Sara Evans delivers in fine fashion with latest album ‘Slow Me Down’. Having worked in collaboration with three of the eleven songs listed here and in terms of production duties with producer Mark Bright (Rascal Flatts, Lonestar et al), Sara Evans offers her own interpretation of events through her own works but also by means of a cover, for example, of Gavin DeGraw’s ‘Not Over You’. Such is the impact of this rendition of DeGraw’s song – who also lends a helping hand with harmony vocals – as Evans claims it for her own by stamping her authority all over it by means of a stirring vocal and subtler use of instrumentation that is equally affecting as its original. The collaborative work also extends to a duet with The Fray’s Isaac Slade during ‘Can’t Stop Loving You’, that is a perfect combination of Sara Evans powerful and slightly sweeter sounding vocal and Isaac Slade’s gruffer tones. If it’s a more straight country sound you’re after, however, then ‘Slow Me Down’ is not about to abandon this ship, despite containing a commercial appeal, as the likeable ‘Put My Heart Down’; steel guitar of ‘Good Love Is Hard To Find’ and wonderful ballad that is built of sturdier foundations in spite of the immediate ramifications suggested by the narrative of ‘Better Off’. By combining country music with a modern sheen of pop music that leans towards its darker edges and sometimes falling into the latter category with ‘You Never Know’ as one such example, Sara Evans has expertly blended a formula that works as a whole in order to achieve crossover appeal, but in the main create a convincing and thoroughly enjoyable body of work in the shape of ‘Slow Me Down’.



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