Album Reviews

These are only my opinions, but I do love music and try to be as varied as possible in what I listen to. So, here are a few albums that I've been listening to recently. There will obviously be new albums, which I'll review along the way and, hopefully, they might entice you to give one or more of them a go.

A Classic Rock CD
Each month, for the past few years, I've bought Classic Rock magazine (and latterly it's associate mag, Classic Prog). As with most mags nowadays there is a free CD with Classic Rock and that CD is usually a source of inspiration for me, and I normally end up purchasing at least one new album each month, based on what I hear.
In January the CD was entitled 'Ones to Watch 2013' and it was astounding. Of the 15 tracks on there, I've already bought five of the albums that they come from, and I'm waiting for a couple more CD's to be released.
The free Prog CD's have also nudged me in the direction of some great stuff, particularly Big Big Train. If you need some hints what to buy each month you could do worse than pick up a copy of CR.
Albatross by Big Wreck
Having heard the title track on the Classic Rock CD I ordered this album immediately, but my initial impression was not that positive. The reason is that, for me, the first few tracks are okay, but don't seem to offer much different from many other bands. But once the title track comes on then the album just seems to get better, track by track.
All is Fair has a hard driving beat with some fine lyrics, sung powerfully. Rest of the World and You Caught My Eye are almost Metal, although not so much that it put me off. But then, to counterpoint that Control and album closer Time are nice, melodic pieces that show these boys are not just a one-trick pony.
All in all, it's an album I will carry on playing because I think there are a few nuggets I've yet to unearth.
Blak and Blu by Gary Clarke Jr
This is a very confusing album. When I heard a great blues track on the CR sampler I thought 'You'll do for me', but as much as there are some great blues/rock tracks on there, these are interspersed with some fairly run of the mill soul and r 'n' b songs. Of the 15 tracks on the album, there are four or five that just mean nothing to me, and the thing is, if you like them then you probably won't like many of the other tracks that I like.
There are some very good tracks on there - Bright Lights, Travis County, Numb, Next Door Neighbour Blues - but even when the riff from Third Stone from the Sun grabs you, it's not long before it gets 'sampled' with a soul track.
No, sorry Gary, I think you need to decide whether you're Robert Cray or Lionel Richie because otherwise you're going to have a very divided audience.
English Electric Part 1 by Big Big Train
I first heard Big Big Train a couple of years ago when they brought out the excellent Underfall Yard. They play a very English sort of Prog Rock, reminiscent of a collaboration of early Genesis and Caravan, and so I was anticipating the release of this new album for many months. As the title suggests, this is one of two ‘English Electric’ albums, and we’ll get to the second one soon. But this first album has to be one of the best albums I’ve heard for many a year.

Once again, I heard ‘Judas Unrepentant’ on a Classic Rock sampler CD and was immediately grabbed by it, and on playing the whole album I was astonished that this track was by no means the best on there. The whole album is a sort of ‘celebration’ of England and Englishness, as seen over the past century, and is really a follow on from the themes in The Underfall Yard.

‘Judas...’ relates the story of infamous art forger, Tom Keating, and follows his life as he becomes disillusioned with art critics, so turns the tables on them by forging the works of famous artists. The theme is quite sinister, but the lyrics and constant musical mood changes are hugely captivating. The same can be said of ‘A Boy in Darkness’ which relates the tale of an 11 year old boy who, like many at the time, spent most of his young life down the mines.

But worry not, it’s not all doom and gloom. Most of the other six tracks are uplifting, lilting songs about the English countryside. ‘Winchester from St Giles’ Hill’, ‘Summoned by Bells’ and ‘Upton Heath’ are joyful, almost pastoral celebrations of timeless country scenes, and David Longdon’s wonderful vocals can’t help but move you.

For me, though, amongst all of this wonderful music, ‘Uncle Jack’ and ‘Hedgerow’ just make me smile. They are basically the same song - one acoustic, one electric – which rejoice in the life to be found in our hedgerows, and will not fail to lift your spirits.

All in all, this is a wonderful, original album of quintessentially English folk/prog/rock and if you are a  of The Canterbury Scene, and all it evoked, then you will love this.

 

English Electric Part 2 by Big Big Train
I wish this had been the first album. Or maybe they could have done it as a double album. The reason I say this is that, if this were the first album then I would have given it five stars, then the other would have had to have six.
The bottom line is that Part 1 is better than Part 2, but only just; by a hair's width, and if I'd heard this album first I would have been blown away. The trouble was I expected so, so much after hearing the first album, there's no way this could possibly have lived up to that expectation, but it was very, very close.
I've put off reviewing this for a couple of months because I wanted to have a good listen to it, and I'm glad I did because, on its own, this really is a very good album.
If you were unsure whether this was going to be a prog rock album, then the 15 minute opening track, East Coast Racer, will soon persuade you. Like a lot of Big Big Train's music, the story is very English, and based on the legendary train - The Mallard - which at one point in the last century held the record for the fastest trip from London to Scotland. Swan Hunter is about the famous Tyne shipyard and the effect it's closure had on the community. Worked Out tells the story of the early miners 'We're working men, we follow the seam...' Leopards is unique in that it is a nice little love song, nothing like the other huge, swirling numbers.
Keeper of Abbeys is , possibly, my favourite track, but that will no doubt change. The Permanent Way is a sort of reprise from Part 1, with the lilting harmonies of Hedgerows and Uncle Jack drifting in and out. The final track, Curator of Butterflies, is once again based on fact, about a lady who worked at the Natural History Museum.
They are the bald facts, but they tell you nothing of some of the intricate, elegant and rousing melodies that these remarkably talented musicians produce. If you've bought neither of these yet, then buy this one and listen to it first. You will love it, and then when you get Part 1 it will blow you away.
As I said earlier, a real pity that this wasn't a double album because it would probably be one of the finest for many, many years.
Home by Aynsley Lister
I've been following Aynsley's career for about half a dozen years now, and I have nothing but admiration for him. That sounds a bit clinical - I absolutely bloody love him! That's more like it. He's one of a great crop of young, English blues/rock guitarists, and his live performances are something to behold.
He's produced 3 or 4 studio albums prior to this and his last, Equilibrium, which came out 2010, was an excellent album. so it's nice to be able to say that this is just as good.
He has a wonderful feel for the guitar and plays some beautiful slow blues, as well as classic twelve bar. That is very evident in opener 'Home', 'Impossible' and also 'Free' which sounds like a eulogy to his late father. Tracks like 'Sugar', Possession' and 'Straight Talking Woman' show the rockier side of his playing, and the dirty, bluesy version of 'Feeling Good' (recently covered by Michael Buble) is excellent. And the quirky 'Hyde 2612' is straight out of TV's 'Life on Mars'.
All in all it's probably his best album so far and I'll be going to see him perform it live in a few months time. Get it now!
Postcards from Capricorn by Chris Buck
Once again, I heard this guy on one of the Classic Rock CD samplers and thought I needed to hear a lot more of him - and how right I was.
I get the impression that he's about 21, with dreads down to his arse, but boy does he know his way around a guitar.
All of the tracks on the album are covers, but not the usual suspects, and in between great versions of Oh Well and Running on Faith, there are blues classics that I've rarely heard before. The maths of 7 tracks for 45 minutes will tell you that none of the tracks are just a quick whizz up and down the fretboard, and the blend of sublime, slow blues guitar on the likes of Running on Faith and the wonderful Still in Love with You, are mixed perfectly with faster and equally wonderful versions of Oh Well and Tom Petty's rarely heard Out in the Cold.
Chris has a lovely, laid back way of playing (you can't imagine him duck-walking across the stage) but his tone and timing are just excellent.
If he's only 21 then I really can't wait to hear what he's like in a decade's time. Hopefully, long before that, I'll have been able to see him live and make up my own mind.
Seesaw by Beth Hart & Joe Bonamassa
When I first heard 'Don't Explain' by these two, a year or so ago, it sort of took me aback. I really wasn't prepared for what was to come. I assumed that it was another Bonamassa album with some bird doing a bit of singing - how incredibly wrong I was. To say it was one of the best things I'd heard in years is an understatement, and I still feel the same about it now. Beth Hart is probably one of the most remarkable vocalists around at this time, and since hearing her on 'Don't Explain' I 've bought half a dozen of her albums and seen her in concert twice - and neither of those things has changed my opinion one iota.
This new collaboration, then, had quite a lot to live up to, and the reason that I've given it 4 stars is that it didn't quite, although if I could have given 4.5 then that would have been closer. The thing is, the more I hear it, the more I think I'm under scoring it because some of the tracks just sort of creep up on you, and if you're not in the right frame of mind you just sort of miss them.
Tracks like Nutbush City Limits, Seesaw, Close to my Fire and A Sunday Kind of Love are obvious crowd pleasers, and Beth performs them beautifully, but when you sit down and listen to the nuances in I Love You More.. and Rhymes you begin to realise what a truly brillaint vocalist she is. Obviously there are two names here, and Joe obviously chips in with the odd wonderful guitar part, but to be fair his playing is not as evident as in the first album, and it's as if he's saying 'You really gotta listen to this lady'. Which is exactly what I'm saying. Lots of people are aware of Joe's talent, and it's because of that that most of us got to hear Beth Hart for the first time. Now, here's a reprise, just to confirm your first impressions. Go and buy some more.
I'm off to see the pair of them at Hampton Court in a few weeks time and I cannot wait.
Tennessee Mojo by Cadillac Three
Julian Cundiff tends to send me a few music mags throughout the year and with a recent one came a CD that he'd picked up by a band called Cadillac Three. I'd never heard of them so put it to one side for a few days, planning to listen to it in the car.
Well, a decent journey came along and from the very first note I was hooked. These are real down south boys and their accent is so strong that, at first, you really have to strain to understand what they're saying, but that was part of the hook. That southern drawl is so infectious, as is the whole album, and I haven't been able to stop listening to it.
It's basically just a celebration of being Southern, with songs about women, drinking, cars, drinking, sunbathing, drinking...and drinking. I don't think there's one particular stand-out track - they're just all really good - but a couple of one's that hit you are the title track, 'Get Your Buzz On' and 'The Sticks'.
Musically, it's like ZZ Top and Skynyrd going along to the Allman Brothers' hotel for a jam session. It's great! 
The Next Day by David Bowie
I was really worried about listening to this album. I love Bowie, have done since Hunky Dory days, but his last efforts more than a decade ago did very little for me. When the single came out a month or so ago, with the promise of an album to follow, I greeted the news with a mixture of joy and trepidation.
'Where are we now' was definitely Bowie, but it seemed sullen and dour and I just thought that if the album was made in the same vein then it would be hard work - Oh, Ye of little faith!
From the opening chords of the title track you know this is the real Bowie. The driving Earl Slick guitars, drum attack and powerful vocals belayed all the doubts. By the time you get to the third track, The Stars Are Out Tonight, those doubts are a distant memory and you're just striving to catch hold of those wonderful lyrics.
I got the 'Deluxe Edition', whatever that means - I think it means I got 3 extra tracks, so 17 in all. Out of those I can only think of one, possibly two, that I have doubts about. The rest are all great in their own way. The standout track for me, at the moment, is Set The World On Fire, but that may change in a few more listens.
This is the album that should have come after Scary Monsters, although there are similarities in a few tracks off of the Tonight album.
It's pointless listing the tracks I like, you may as well just get the album and read them for yourself.
If you like Bowie then you will love this, trust me. I just have one question - a tour, maybe?
The World is Yours by The Union
This is their third album, and although without the impact of the first album this is still a great record. Once again the music drifts from rocking blues in 'You're My Jesus' and 'The Perfect Crime' to sublime lilting tunes like 'To Say Goodbye' and 'You Can Share My Dreams'.
Pete Shoulder's vocals are both powerful and soulful, and he and Luke Morley have once again produced an album of understated brilliance.

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