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Smokin

Smokin A

El Toro

A different proposition from El Toro, and one that sways considerably from the norm of rockabilly, with Smokin A and his debut album ‘Smokin’. More notably, Smokin A is a mysterious figure with very little known about this artist apart from the contents of the long player ‘Smokin’ that was recently thrust under our noses. After countless repeat plays, any efforts to pin down the influences at the heart of this record has remained a difficult task, and one that has been matched with much enthusiasm on this side of the counter. If labels are required, however, then Smokin A offers ten tracks of sparsely influenced rhythm and blues blended with sparse references to soul and rock ‘n’ roll. Such references become blurred, however, once the likes of ‘Wishmaster’ makes its entrance with its 60s flavoured organ, but it’s a song that is far more current despite hefty links to the past as it’s a track that wouldn’t sound out of place in an Artic Monkey’s set list or side project The Last Shadow Puppets. The bare components of the song structures continues (‘Work Of Art’) and often shrouded in dark moods (‘Dirty’) and disconnected feelings (‘Smokin’). Such feelings are captured to perfection throughout ‘Normal’ where the central guitar plucks out the lines providing real expression, and one that greatly complements the deliberate lack of interest given by the vocals. With further mystery surrounding this artist due to the addition of two extra tracks that were not chalked up on the board for your reading pleasure, the album presented by Smokin A really provides a sharp prod to one’s senses because despite taking its references from the past, the album ‘Smokin’ does not sound of vintage age yet is more at home in the present. A refreshing outlook indeed from both recording artist and record label.


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Black Heart Music

Ben Rath

Eilean Records

With his living quarters based in Manchester (UK), Ben Rath constructs his ambient compositions by using original recordings of guitar, keyboards and piano, in addition to samples and field recordings. New album ‘Black Heart Music’ follows on from previous recordings Rath has made via a variety of record labels since 2014, as well as recording under the pseudonym Slow Heart Music in 2017 with the final result being an EP of improvised acoustic guitar tracks. With ‘Black Heart Music’, Rath has constructed an album full of ambient textures that can be coarse in sound one moment to more soothing and airy passages the next. The atmosphere can be quite bleak in places where a swarm of grainy synths exist in one instance, only to pass and give way to the picking of acoustic guitar strings and lighter passages of sounds the next. However, the fog of samples utilised is never far away yet less harsh in its execution where the overcast mood from before is represented in gentler tones as mentioned earlier. ‘Black Heart Music’ is straight out of Manchester where its climate and (urban) landscape have played their roles in shaping the influences heard between the layers of this long player, which certainly makes for compelling listening.


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Pyro (Single)

Stale Lane

Concorde Music Company

The duo of Tomi Salmi (vocals/guitars) and Sami Vuollekoski (guitars/vocals), otherwise known as Stale Lane, start their journey with their debut single ‘Pyro’. The opening track from Stale Lane arrives ten years after Tomi Salmi and Sami Vuollekoski’s previous band, MALfUNCTION, decided to call time on that particular musical chapter. Therefore, with time on their side to ponder their next move, it wasn’t long before a decision was reached, with the new project up and running and where Salmi and Vuollekoski currently find themselves under the heading of Stale Lane. Such a decision to start afresh immediately pays dividends for the longstanding bandmates as Stale Lane’s ‘Pyro’ proves to be an engaging alternative-rock track that warms its hands immediately via a buzzing guitar intro that opens out into an impressive lead that weaves a pattern between the moody vocals and main rhythm section. Think Chris Cornell, Pearl Jam and with one or two parts borrowed from Nirvana and you’re somewhere close to the sound and vision that ‘Pyro’ aims for, which really is a good place to start, and one that Stale Lane achieves admirably for this first outing.


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Erasures And Displacements

Bill Seaman

Eilean Records

After a two-year absence, Bill Seaman continues his exploration of “structured improvisations” via his latest album ‘Erasures And Displacements’. By working with a computer and the audible program Ableton Live, Seaman works from his own and/or contributed musical libraries of improvised material, which are then edited via a cut and paste method of sorts and then, once entered, are often erased and built up once more using a “…new set of musical relations” by use of the aforementioned Ableton Live. A web of complexity without doubt in terms of its making, and consisting of a lot more details behind its creative processes than has been described here, ‘Erasures And Displacements’ takes its time and gradually builds its layers without ever over spilling its contents where piano can often be heard and the faint waft of horns (trumpet, cornet, flugelhorn for example) interspersed with various snippets of sound samples that never sound fragmented and work cohesively as a whole. A difficult task no doubt, but one that has been painstakingly pieced together by Bill Seaman and worth every step because ‘Erasures And Displacements’ is an enthralling body of work.


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Lady Killer

Scotty Baker

El Toro

Wearing matching attire and looks resembling one of Hollywood’s film and studio A-listers, with a second clue held by the title of this third offering from Scotty Baker (answers on a postcard to the usual address if you like), ‘Lady Killer’ is the album that should see the Australian rockabilly star gain further popularity. Backed by his in-house band, the equally talented ‘Doel Brothers, along with fellow Aussie Ezra Lee (piano) and the seemingly ubiquitous and guitar maestro Darrel Higham, Baker set about his business with the end result being fourteen new compositions. Beginning with the rockin’ and swinging affair that is ‘Back To The Country’ with its effective use of pedal steel and lyrics full of suggestions about heading back to his roots, or more a question of escaping the hustle and bustle of city life which has served Baker so well in terms of promoting his music to wider audiences. However, any desires of the quiet life thankfully evaporate once the mean and moody rockabilly influenced ‘Bump Stops’ enters the picture because it’s a song full of attitude (held by its rhythm alone) and subtle humour (a key ingredient and definite charm to the song writing of Baker) referencing cars with the opposite sex. Another attraction of ‘Lady Killer’ is the broad range of influences used during such numbers as ‘One And Only One’ that ventures out into rhythm and blues with a fine turn on the sax from Stephane Swervy, and repeated during the bright ‘Baby’s Dress’. Elsewhere, the formerly mentioned Ezra Lee stamps his mark all over the excellent ‘Hank’s Cadillac’ that references Hank Williams, coupled with flashes of Jerry Lee Lewis via Ezra’s dominant and skilful playing. The ghost of rock ‘n’ roll is conjured during back-to-back songs ‘Girl I Need’ and the album’s title track, with both numbers possessing killer guitars at the hands of Darrel Higham, who combines garage rock with rock ‘n’ roll on ‘Girl I Need’, and then helps to drive an infectious rhythm during ‘Lady Killer’ that goes straight to your heart with added HEAT from Scotty Baker’s vocal. ‘I Still Don’t Care’ is a how many finger(s) salute one cares to use in the direction of a former relationship that turned sour. Whereas ‘Forget About My Heart’ raises a glass of humour with its  “…forget about my heart and give my liver some love”, which gains further clarity once the chuggin’ rhythm, à la Johnny Cash, comes into view of ‘One Of The Some’. The genius that is Scotty Baker makes it three albums in a row where the word ‘magnificent’ can be applied, once more, to latest addition ‘Lady Killer’. If there’s to be one winner however, then this latest addition to the Baker catalogue edges the contest by the narrowest of margins, simply for its openness to a broader range of influences, and for its decision to allow its hired hands equal ownership over its contents and turn ‘Lady Killer’ into a real family affair.


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A Night Of Jump Blues

The Big Jamboree

El Toro

It’s big band time! Consisting of eight members, The Big Jamboree sends the listener spiralling backwards to a bygone era of big band, swing, jump blues and rhythm and blues. Clearly in a mood to celebrate and see in the good times, The Big Jamboree attempt to achieve such a goal via opening song ‘Saturday Night’ that relays the days of the week where not much is happening until Saturday finally arrives and is greeted with much enthusiasm and rich character by way of the band’s brass section and lead vocals of Augie Burr. It makes for a great introduction. The tempo really gets going once the driving rhythm of ‘Move On’, before taking a turn of pace with the pleading ‘Baby Please Don’t Go’ where Augie Burr’s crooning vocal shines brightly here. The rest of The Big Jamboree pick up the heartbroken pieces with a sprightly instrumental titled ‘A Room Full Of Blues’, which clearly showcases the band’s musicianship. ‘My Girl Across Town’ and ensuing ‘Tick Tack’ are both reminiscent of J.D. McPherson with both tracks ushering in a bit of rock ‘n’ roll mixed with rhythm and blues that leaves one to conclude, “Good work fellas!”. The real beauty is reserved for ‘You Left Me, Now I’m Free’ where the vocals swoon and the instruments revert to a big band style providing a real sense of a fresh start on the horizon. The Big Jamboree displays a full range of emotions lyrically and musically throughout ‘A Night Of Jump Blues’ that reveals a talented unit at the centre of this record and one that is deserved of your attention and worth getting behind.


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The Band In Black

Johnny Horsepower

El Toro

No doubt viewed by some as an unnecessary exercise when it comes to producing (more or less) carbon copies of the songs of Johnny Cash, but not so for the men in black known as Johnny Horsepower. What makes this trio of musicians standout is their location of Denmark that is far removed from the original man in black’s upbringing, yet mirror that early rockabilly sound they most certainly do and with a few of their own compositions thrown in for good measure. In fact, it’s one of Johnny Horsepower’s own songs that captures the attention from the off with ‘The Story Of The Man In Black’ that doubles up as a tribute to Johnny Cash as well as paying its respects to the early foundations of the rockabilly genre by namechecking Elvis, Carl Perkins et al. ‘Hey Porter’ is a sweet reminder of the basic charms of the aforementioned early roots of rockabilly and remains lodged in the memory bank for days after it has finished spinning. The rest of ‘The Band In Black’ speaks for itself with authentic and inch perfect deliveries during ‘Let The Train Blow The Whistle’, ‘Wanted Man’ and the dark and wry tones of ‘I Didn’t Shiver’ that was one step ahead of Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds fame. If there is a downside to this album, and unfortunately there is, it can be heard from the small cluster of songs beginning with ‘Folsom Prison Blues’ where the band enrolled the talents of W.S. Holland on drums and made the decision to record these songs live. Nothing wrong with that decision of course but, unfortunately, the live setup sits awkwardly with the rest of the LP and would have served far better as an EP in its own right. Small gripes, but definitely warranted when the album ends up sounding like two separate entities. That said, ‘The Band In Black’ is a must for all fans of Johnny Cash and those who simply enjoy the early primitive sounds of rockabilly.


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Swinging From The Chandelier

Nashville

Smith & Wes'sound

Calling your band Nashville after the capital and largest city of the U.S. state of Tennessee is a sure-fire way to get your band noticed. A wise manoeuvre from the five-piece country outfit from south Trøndelag, Møre and Romsdal in Norway. With Frank Kåre Vangen (vocals), Anders Sinnes (guitar), Steinar Grindheim (bass),Trond Tangvik (drums) and Rune Sildnes (keyboards) producing the goods for their third album ‘Swinging From the Chandelier’, which is something of a landmark for Nashville as they celebrate ten years in the music business. It’s not all in a name however, when it comes to this Norwegian country band as Nashville possess a fine knack of writing catchy and melodic tunes that lean towards the commercial end of the country music genre. Nothing wrong with that of course, but sometimes there’s a tendency for such ideas to become a little blurred and samey after a period of time. Having said that, there’s much fun to be heard via the album’s title track, which is a “foot stomping” and carefree country pop number full of recent memories of summer festivities, and one that is followed elsewhere by a memorable rhythm and strong desire for the simple pleasures in life expressed during ‘What I Want’. Likely to be a huge success with country lovin’ folk in this particular part of Scandinavia, Nashville, with their engaging country rock and sense of fun, has the potential to wow American audiences because ‘Swinging From the Chandeliers’ is of a similar ilk to albums produced by America’s major commercial country artists. A shrewd and talented outfit, Nashville can kick back and enjoy their tenth anniversary based on the evidence of their latest LP.


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Vagabond Boots (Single)

Arne Benoni & Tone Holen

Arne Benoni Productions

Norwegian country artist Arne Benoni teams up for a duet with fellow country artist Tone Holen for latest single ‘Vagabond Boots’. With this brand new ditty serving as the title for Arne Benoni’s new LP as well, the current single appears to deal with the loneliness experienced after the demise of a relationship and the seemingly endless drift into the unknown as well as thoughts of prospects new; hence the lyrical refrain “Wearing out my vagabond boots” in the hope of “Sidewalks still unknown”. It makes for compelling listening which, coupled with the aching qualities of the music expressed by way of country and rock music via its guitars, ‘Vagabond Boots’ is a moving ballad that stirs the emotions and sounds effortless in its delivery. Such a feat is hardly surprising considering the two Norwegians at the heart of this song and the wealth of experience that they bring. ‘Vagabond Boots’ has found a definite welcome home at Famous Last Words (FLW).


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Planet

Rylos

Secret Entertainment

A four-piece unit from Finland, Rylos return with second album ‘Planet’. The band’s sophomore effort follows the success of debut LP ‘Game Theory’, which recently received its official release in China. With changes in personnel happening where Rylos has seen new recruits drafted in and, in particular, drummer Misca Muhli whose story is all the more remarkable due to being blind since birth, the sheer determination of this band is probably enough in its own right to bring them continued success. However, ‘Planet’ is likely to continue such good fortune as the nine tracks on offer reveal a heavier and more aggressive side to Rylos yet links to their earlier work remain present, which will please any loyal followers. Part of the newer touches heard on ‘Planet’ are down to singer Mikko Heino’s former band Doodah where a decision was made to resurrect two of their compositions – ‘Posthuman Power Station’  and ‘Into The Gutter’. Furthermore, the addition of guitarist Mikko Hämäläinen, who was also a member of Doodah, has helped spice up the song writing by applying his skills to the likes of ‘My Capricious Heart’, a song of near epic proportions, as well as writing new material along with Mikko Heino in preparation for Rylo’s third long player. With much variety between the layers of ‘Planet’ (‘Stories’, ‘Space Love’ et al) and songs hinting at concerns of an environmental nature mixed with a general sense of loss, Rylos has managed to remain on course to bring their new album to light as well as looking to the future with a third album already in the works. ‘Planet’ is the sound of a hardworking band and one that is revelling in its current period of creativity.


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Hearts On Fire (Single)

KOSAN

Secret Entertainment

Lovingly described as “experienced EDM producers, DJ’s and hermits”, the Finnish partnership of two childhood friends from a remote and rural region of northern Finland, conjure up a sound that is pure 80s pop mixed with heavy use of synths and references to (according to their press bio’) “Italo-disco” or perhaps, more accurately, European electronic music. With this latest release by KOSAN being a double A-side single, it becomes clear why the duo made such a decision considering the strong merits of both tracks. A comparison of the two reveals that ‘Hearts On Fire’ possesses a more up-tempo rhythm made up of bright and shiny synth sounds complete with electronic drums, intermissions of eighties guitar and machinelike vocals. The flipside, ‘Important Nights’, is a slightly more sombre affair that gives the impression of being very reflective with its moodier and late-night tones and, interestingly, for containing a break approximately halfway through that steers this atmospheric electronic piece in what sounds like a change of direction. Very impressive indeed.  A strong, two-track single that bodes well for the rest of KOSAN’s journey via electronic synth pop if they so choose to accept this option.


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House Of Cards (Single)

Lahayna

Snakehand Records

Having graced the UK Top 40 back in 2007 with their single ‘In The City’ reaching #33, which proved an incredible feat considering the single received no industry support or radio airplay as well as the band remaining unsigned, Lahayna reintroduce themselves in 2017 with a brand new single titled ‘House Of Cards’. One reason for this indie five-piece putting the pieces back together is due to the unfinished business of their debut album remaining unreleased, despite being written and recorded. More significantly, however, the aforementioned single, ‘House Of Cards’ touches on the issue of suicide in young people after songwriter Matt Edun lost a close friend to suicide and therefore a collective decision was made by the band to donate all proceeds from the single to the UK charity PAPYRUS, which serves as a means of prevention and support for all those affected by this issue. By raising awareness to the problem of suicide in young people, ‘House Of Cards’ is also a magnificent piece of work musically, beginning with a gentle guitar intro and the delicate vocals of James ‘J’ Ullman before opening up into a stirring ballad full of melancholy yet beautiful nonetheless as rays of light desperately try their hardest to break through the cracks of sadness expressed throughout. ‘House Of Cards’ is a song to be extremely proud of creatively and, more importantly, for the great service it is providing in its support of such an important charitable organisation. Top marks.



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