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A little behind schedule this month for our August album reviews, but its been a really big month for gigs and festivals, Something gotta give, and in this case we are a few weeks out of sync. However here are our teams views about the latest releases, as usual we cover a wide range of genres.

A special runner up of the month album award should go to Louise Distras for this outstanding debt album. Proving with sheer determination and clarity of vision you can achieve your goals.

Louise Distras - Dreams From The Factory Floor 

Louise Distras has been described as "the 21st century Joe Strummer who personifies punk rock spirit and renegade soul" which is one hell of a billing. She is raising a clenched fist, full of fury, that targets injustice, apathy and X Factor culture. She clearly has not just a punk sound but also, more importantly, a true punk ethic. Given the recent success of Frank Turner, who would appear to have a similar style and approach (although not sure about the relative backgrounds), the timing of her debut release,"Dreams From The Factory  Floor" could be perfect.

Against this background, the first song on the album, "Stand Strong Together", is perhaps more upbeat and full sounding than would be expected. It is a strong, well produced, quality song, which almost has a sound reminiscent of Hole. The second track "Bullets", then opens with an Elvis Costello type organ and keeps that theme during the entire song. Louise spits out the lyrics but this isn't at the expense of the tune or the melody. Costello is certainly a good role model, as he is the master of delivering a strong message but wrapped up in a pop song. "Love MeThe Way I Am" has a surprisingly melancholy piano accompanied opening. It has a hint of Amanda Palmer about it, especially with the passionate vocals which accompany it. This is a flavour which is repeated later on "Story Is Over".

The album hits what might be considered the more expected style on "The Hand You Hold". It has angry sounding vocals, matched with ferocious acoustic guitar strumming. This has a much more Punk Folk feel to it which matches the lyrics call for freedom and anti establishment. The acoustic sound, accompanied by a spitting vocal performance, is continued on "Not In Our Name". Both these songs really do bring back memories of the early unpolished work of Frank Turner. It's a bit of a cliche but the adding of a harmonica on the opening of "Black & Blue" gives it more of a Dylan feel. It has a real "busker" feel to it, but that's a positive as its a genuine song with lyrics that appear to be about real life in a small town. This theme continues on "Shades of Hate" which again builds on the image of fighting against a small town attitude. It also successfully off sets the spikiness of the song against a more of a melodic feel.

The ability to add a sense of commercial understanding reappears on "No Mercy". There is the shouty and earnest refrain of earlier songs, but with an added element of a wider market appeal. On "One Thousand Trees" we actually see the use of more backing vocals. The actual effect of this, is to really just highlight how through out the whole album, Louise Distras does a remarkable job of carrying all the songs entirely on her own. A final, special mention should also go to "Dreams From The Factory Floor", which is a spoken protest song, delivered as fist raising violent poetry. It is a stark and powerful track, that the previously mentioned Mr Strummer would surely have been a fan of.

Louise Distras could clearly become a leading light in the current music scene. It is, sadly, very rare to find a young female act who is passionate and has real messages to share.  The majority of the songs are delivered in  a raw, acoustic singer/songwriter way with the added venom of an abrasive vocal style. Importantly, it manages to maintain a real sense of individuality and character. It also shows a strong inclination for spotting the need to include a sense of commerciality and melody. Too often the focus can be on delivering the message and the actual song gets lost. This is definitely not true of "Dreams From The Factory Floor" which is a striking debut album which could see Louise Distras attract considerable success. Review by Paul Hastings

Jonny Cola & The A-Grades - Spitfire

Jonny Cola & The A-Grades’ follow-up to their 2010 long player ‘In Debt’, and ‘Halo’ EP of 2012 is a rollercoaster of an album. Delayed by the frontman Jonny’s potentially life-threatening kidney failure, the funds for the recording were raised in record time via PledgeMusic. The opener ‘In The Woods’ sets the scene, sounding like a love triangle between T.Rex, Mott the Hoople and Sweet thrown into a blender and dragged to the 21st century.  Whilst a slice of catchy pop complete with sugarcoated harmonies, the latest single with an accompanying video, ‘Tropical Beach’ pales in comparison to the rest of the songs on the album. Instant hooks are also at the forefront in the Buzzcocks-y ‘Rain Stopped Play’(why this was not chosen as the single beggars belief) and not forgetting the superb first single ‘Straight To Video’, which builds up into a joyous rocker with a spine-tingler of a guitar solo to finish the track. The waltzy ‘Semaphore’ with its vocal harmonies and spacey sound effects shows the slick production at its finest. On ‘Sunset/Sunrise’ the band throw themselves into a full-on rock opera of over six minutes, including spoken word with more than a passing resemblance to Jarvis Cocker. Ambitious, but in these guys’ hands it works, and it is the perfect accompaniment to show off Jonny Cola’s Bowiesque vocals. With its melancholic sway, ‘Wrong Head’ could have been lifted off any of the better Suede albums.

‘Spitfire’ is a fine collection of glittery but stained, kitsch-driven tales wrapped in a lustful stomper of a package.  It is an anthemic and uplifting second album, yet complex and edgy enough to keep you in its grip to the final note. Fans of quirky, glammy rock – dust off those golden platforms and devour at your pleasure. Review by Anne Johanna (released on 9 September on Scratchy Records.)

Crashdollz - Crashdollz

Born out of the hotbed of the grandfathers of garage punk, Detroit band Crashdollz certainly know a thing or two about rock music. One of them is raw, and the other is loud. Fronted by the eye catching female duo of Nikki Darling on vocals and Rachel Rekkit on guitar, backed up by Ron Krash on bass and Brian Kaos on drums, this punk rock crew have created a bit of a buzz in and out of Michigan.

The self-titled debut album kicks off with 'Dumpster Punk', a riotous blast of punk rock, followed by a more grungey sounding '27 Tulip Pass'. 'Novocaine' begins with enough f-words to turn air blue and is one of the best tracks on the album with a catchy chorus. The album continues in the same breathless vein until 'Dollhouse', a sludgey, menacing creeper of a song and a welcome change of pace, and along with the opening track, it is the definite highlight on the album. But then things take a downturn. The band seem to run out of ideas for the second half of the album and the songs meld into one another in one big punk rock mess. The overcompressed and tinny production also makes for a trying listen-through. Things do pick up a bit on the closer 'Wrecking Ball', but it still fails to lift the second half of the album to the same league as the first. It would be interesting to see the band in live action as the high energy rock'n'roll that underpins the album makes for an entertaining show, I am sure - just a shame the decent tunes, of which there are a few, get buried underneath this poor quality production. Furthermore, had this been an EP of the first five tracks on the album, things could be getting much more exciting. Review by Anne Johanna

Michael Monroe - Horns and Halos 

The word "legend" is used far too easily in todays world, especially in modern music. There is no doubt, however, that Michael Monroe is definitely a true legend. He was originally the front man in the fantastic and pioneering Hanoi Rocks. The fact that this band itself is not a household name is a tragedy (coincidentally one of the titles of their best songs!), especially when it is a well known that they were one of the biggest influences on Guns N Roses. Mr Monroe, however, has never been one to rest on his laurels and over the decades has released great albums, either as a solo artist or fronting other bands like Demolition 23 or even a recently reformed Hanoi Rocks. His previous album, "Sensory Overdrive" was actually Classic Rocks album of the  year. His latest release, therefore, has been met with a sense of anticipation, especially when you consider the absolute first class nature of the musicians which now form his band. On this album it includes bassist Sami Yaffa (Hanoi Rocks, New York Dolls), guitarist Steve Conte (New York Dolls), drummer Karl "Rockfist" Rosqvist (Chelsea Smiles) and Swedish guitar star Dregen (Backyard Babies).

The album certainly kicks off in fine, kick ass style, with "TNT" a fiery and rocking opener which is pure punk n roll. The vocals are instantly recognisable with the sense of anger and passion that have always featured in his voice. It also has the trade mark cool saxophone playing from Mr Monroe, which naturally features through out the entire album. The second song "Ballad Of East Side" is understandably the first single from the album as it's a fun rock n roll song. It's an ode to old New York and it's "junkies, pimps and whores". It's a great reminder that Hanoi Rocks were a genuine sleaze rock band from the gutter, unlike all the later wannabe LA imitators (yes that means you Axl Rose!) This, however, is no retro, old fashioned album. In fact, it has a quite surprisingly modern and polished sound. This is clear on "Eighteen Angels" which has a real commercial rock sound. "Stained Glass Heart" has a slightly slower intro before building in to a mid paced rocker with an amazing, uplifting bridge and chorus. This along with "Child of the Revolution" have the type of melody and chorus that most modern US commercial rock bands could only dream of achieving.

On "Saturday Night Special" it actually kicks off with a guitar slide similar to the one on the classic "She's No Angel" song on his brilliant debut solo album "Dead, Jail and Rock N Roll". This song is two minutes of pure, good time, rock n roll. It's not all sweetness and light, however,  where "Horns and Halos" in particular is a much harder punk rock song. Then on "Soul Surrender" you have an amazing contrast of kick arse punk rock with mid sections that are pure Clash style reggae. The band take their foot off the accelerator slightly on "Ritual". It's not a ballad, but it is a slower and darker sounding song. In fact, it is possibly the closest song to Hanoi, not so much in the sound but in the under current of danger and sleaze.

The good times continue to roll, however, with "Half The Way" which is a perfect blend of punk and old school rock n roll, in the way it builds around a glorious chorus. On this and many of the other songs you also get a real feel for the quality of the musicianship. A special mention must also go to the guitar work which manages to be stylish and flash but without losing the all important melody. Final track, "Hands Are Tied" has a real Kiss feel to the opening. It similarly continues in to a monster of a big, brash, in your face, rock song. Therefore providing a triumphant end to the album. Given Michael Monroe's pedigree, and the quality of the musicians that support him, it should not really come as a surprise that his latest release is so majestic. However, given he has literally seen and done it all, it is quite amazing that the album just feels so fresh and vibrant. It is even possibly one of the most consistent albums he has produced as a solo artist where every song is a winner. The greatest credit is that any new comer on hearing this album will surely find themselves devouring his back catalogue. In doing this, they will then discover a world of music that truly encapsulates everything that real rock and roll music is about. Review by Paul Hastings

The Gas House Gorillas - Punk Americana 

The album title for this new release is also how the band describe their own sound, where it encompasses a broad range of styles that include Jump Blues, Rock & Roll, Swing, Cajun Music and early Punk Rock. They are a band of experienced and skilled musicians who have played for a wide range of acts. They also pride themselves on their live shows where they guarantee the audience a rippin' good time.

The album opens with "One Shot" which is a brash opening number. It has a really good swing feel, with a cool saxophone and horns sound which is actually prominent throughout the whole album. It then moves on to a more old school rockabilly sound with "Cookin At Home" which, like many songs of its genre, is held together by that familiar double bass strum. The pace is then slowed down a touch with "Remember" which has a latin/bossa nova feel to it. The vocals also show a surprising level of smoothness and sensitivity.

The style and pace then skips again with "Find A Little Boogie" which has a fun accappela opening before, as the title implies, it moves in to an old school boogie woogie sound. This ability to show a lighter, more fun side is also clear on the track "Kitty Has Claws". This track is actually probably the best song on the album. It has a bit more energy and vibrancy, which is really cool. Both of these tracks are guaranteed to get a crowd up on their feet and dancing. The bands confidence to show a more frivolous side is also demonstrated by the inclusion of a cover of the Cheap Trick classic " I Want You To Want Me".  They importantly add their own style to the song, which has a more urgent and less polished sound than the original.  This stripped down approach actually perfectly demonstrated how great a pop gem the song is.

It's not all fun and sunshine on the album, as shown by "Black Ju Ju" which is a much slower and darker song.  With lyrics like "She's got  the rhythm of the devil inside" it has a matching dark, slinky sound as it warns the listener of the dangers of the woman of the song. It conjures up images of bluesy, voodoo haunted New Orleans. There is further contrast with "Corpses", where the album contains both a clean and explicit version (perhaps this is the punk influence shining through!). It has some really great lyrics, pointing an accusatory finger at those gig goers who are not prepared to participate at the gig. I am sure everyone has been at one of those gigs with a "too cool for school" crowd, who just remain unresponsive no matter what the band does. Lets hope that isn't too common an experience for the Gas House Gorillas!

Overall this is a really good, old school sounding rockabilly album. In many ways it demonstrates many of the trademarks being established by the Lanark Records label. It is excellently produced and has a really solid band kicking out a bunch of classic sounding songs.  This doesn't, however, just mean its the same old same old. It still has a variety of sounds, influences and diversity. It might have been nice to have heard a bit more of that true punk sound but it would be no surprise if this came to the fore in a live environment. Review by Paul Hastings

Rocket To Memphis - Do  The Crawl 

Rocket to Memphis have been around since 2006 and are led by the smokin' Betty Bombshell. When you hear that Betty has been described as a darker, sexier, Imelda May, you know you are in for a treat. It also comes as no surprise to hear that they have also shared the stage with legends of the scene such as Slim Jim Phantom and Darrell Higham. Their latest album Rocket To Memphis is described as "infectious and fun" as the band provide a "unique, off kilter retro style".

"Go Go" is a great little opening number, with its upbeat and fun feel. It has an almost sixties girl group sound, mixed with a soul group and a good dollop of rockabilly thrown in. The use of an organ/keyboard gives it a really warm sound. Then on "Turn It On" you get to see the strength of the vocals as they are really pronounced and demonstrate a very strong, soulful voice. With the opening lyrics of "Wiggle to the left, sliver to the right" and its title of "Do The Crawl" you already get a good feel for what this song will entail. It transpires in to a song you could imagine Quentin Tarantino had dug up from some obscure  sixties band for use in one of his films. The band aren't entirely caught up in a time warp, however, on "Stompin in Tokyo" they keep the rockabilly beat but add more of an indie/modern guitar sound which has a great effect.

They are capable of slowing things down, as shown by "Black & White", which has a sinister tone along with the jungle sounding drums.  This creates a more haunting and voodoo style which will have you thinking of a shot of rum in an edgy blues club. This Voodoo feel is maintained on "Swamp  Guy" which has a really good rhythm, which is hard to resist,  just as I am sure it would be hard for the "swamp guy" to resist the singer. This is part of a double whammy of male seduction completed by the next track "Make You Mine".  These songs will probably most likely lead to the Imelda May comparisons, where she is clearly  the most well known similar artist, but also  given the warmth in the vocal sound.

Probably the best song on the album is "Slapback" which has a great opening with a more funky bass sound contrasting nicely with the slide guitar. This song is really simple but has an irresistible strut and swagger to it which makes it just rock n roll at its purest. The album ends on a similar high with "Rockin' All Night". Again it brings in that simple but so effective Rock N Roll feel but it is all sweetened by the honey voice of Betty.

This is a really strong album, but not one if you are feeling introspective and deep in thought. It is a feel good album which should be thrown on when you want to get up and dance. Sure, you may throw some embarrassing sixties shapes, but you will be having fun.  Sometimes all you need is rock n roll, a feeling of fun and a smile on your face. Review by Paul Hastings

Rocket Overdrive  - S/T 

Rocket Overdrive have a classic Rockabilly line-up, guitar, drums & a thumpin' slap bass, but these youngsters are no copycats. They combine their influences from heroes of the heydays of Rockabilly like Johnny Burnette, Buddy Holly, Johnny Cash & Gene Vincent, to name a few, with a more contemporary pop/punk sound and have come with a fresh and unique style that has already garnered some attention. 

Given the cover of the CD, the opening number has a surprisingly clean feel and a real poppy sound. It actually opens up like a Cheap Trick number and, though it has a rockabilly beat behind it, there is a more modern shine to it. This cleaner sound is also evident on "Fallin" but, on this track, they add a bit more of an edge, to give it a feeling similar to the Reckless Ones.  The more "pop" influences appear again on  "When Blue Skyes Turn Into Grey" which has a  pop punk sound. However, it is the pop sensibilities and charm which dominate the punk feel. On "Starlight" they surprise us with a straight up ballad start, but then the song kicks in to reveal another upbeat, almost power pop, song. Again it has hints of a Cheap Trick influence as it shares their ability to recognise a quality pop tune. As if to prove a point, on "Anyway, How 'n' When" they deliver another really good power pop song but instead of a pure pop voice they add a feel that there is a bit of an Elvis curled up lip behind the vocals.

They are not afraid to add a bit of variety to their sound and "Listen Up" has more of a classic rock feel to it. This is a good time rock n roll song built on a cool drum beat and a nice guitar lick. On "Blame The Game" they even add a country twang to the punk n roll sound, although they still can't resist adding a few fifties "shooops" throughout the song. Unusually, they probably save the best couple of songs until the end of the album. With "Tomorrow Today" they go full on pop. This is the sort of song that the multi talented Butch Walker tends to knock out in his sleep for commercial rock acts such as SR71. It really has the potential to be a big US pop rock hit. This is similarly true of final track "Who Was?" which finishes the excellent combo of songs to complete the album. Again, it is great to see the band not being afraid to demonstrate their ear for a great pop based song.

In todays world, "pop" can be seen as a dirty word, due to its link to stuff like X factor and pop idol. However, it should be fully embraced when delivered like this, as an album of well written, quality songs. This album has a good mix of retro rock n roll mixed with a power pop feel. It has hints of the classic band Cheap Trick, who were really the masters of pulling this sound off back in the day. It is great to see a modern band embrace this and they could certainly go on to have a big future. Review by Paul Hastings

JD & FDCs - Recognise 

Quality rock n roll bands, indeed any rock n roll bands, from the East Midlands are pretty rare. However, JD & FDCs are here to put that right. Not only have they delivered this excellent debut CD, but they have also managed to get some impressive guest artists, including members of Murderdolls and the legendary New York band, D Generation. 

The title track opens the album and is an immediate statement of intent. With the lines " recognise Rock N Roll" and "Rock It for the boys, rock it for the girls" it is pure punk n roll, all low slung guitar riffs with a glam pop chorus and vocals.. The good time feel doesn't stop with "Ujpest Doza" which opens up with some woahhs and ahhs, which is always a good sign. This track has a sound similar to an old English band called Rich Rags who were one of those 'really should have made it' band, with their Wildhearts and Hanoi Rocks influenced sound. On "Mirrors and Wires", the band manage to add even more melody to the mix and create a classic driving down the freeway song. On "From The Shadows" they do add a bit more darkness to the sound it is, relatively, a bit heavier but certainly a lot meaner. It actually sounds similar to the Gliterratti who are probably the last UK band of this ilk who promised so much. The more uplifting sound continues with "The Secret", which has a great opening drum beat, followed by a bass rumble until the whole song kicks off. The riffs then build in to a pop chorus which actually sound like Silver Ginger Five which was the ex Wildhearts singer's more commercial sounding side project a while back.

The inclusion of a cover song is always a good indicator of a bands influences and this is certainly true of "No Way Out" which is included on this album. The original was a classic track by the awesome NYC punk rock N roll band D'Generation.  When you hear this, the influence on the rest of the album comes clear - the riffs, hint of danger, cool choruses -yep they are all there! When you also learn that D'Generation's guitarist Richard Bacchus actually plays on the track, you have to see that as a huge endorsement.

Those great influences also come across clear on "Never Gonna Stop". It includes the line "Stop me if you heard this song before" and the answer is that you have probably heard similar sounding songs before, but there is nothing wrong with that if it remains a great song. This builds in to huge Kiss esque riffs, that were built for screaming out in arenas. The final track, "Come Dig Me out" adds a nice, different touch by being a duet. It's a great closing number which is fun rock n roll, with a catchy chorus and totally anthemic with its underlying hand claps. If this album isn't enough you can also get their EP "From The Shadows" which is well worth it, even just for the great cover of "I Hate Myself for Loving You". It's a classic rock song that's built for singing along to. Credit to JD & FDCs who add a shiny glam feel, to make it sound really great. It is their equivalent of the glam band Bang Gangs cover of T Rex's 20th Century Boy.

In many ways, this is the band that the UK should have delivered to counter the likes of Guns N Roses etc back in the late eighties and early nighties, as they could have been huge. They add that bit of Britishness and alternative Wildhearts feel, similar to the previously mentioned Rich Rags. It is important to emphasise that this is not some cheap, out of time, irrelevant sound. They also avoid that retro joke feel of bands like Reckless Love. It is just, good time rock n roll which has also been perfectly described previously as "Glunk" - a perfect mix of Glam and Punk. Review by Paul Hastings

Fast Boyfriends - Derelict Aquarium 

Fast Boyfriend are a UK band hailing from South East London, who are regulars on the local music scene. This album is an illustration of the bands desire and passion for their music, where it has been self produced and recorded at various sheds, a barn in Kent and converted garages in Reading and Croydon. So fair play to the band for doing all they can to get their music out there.

The Brit pop influenced "Fantasy World" opens the album and it is a good, upbeat jangly opener. It is followed by "Success" which is a nice sounding song that has the hint of  a potential summer hit. However, at just over a minute, it is very short and sounds like it could do with being expanded as it could easily be one of their best songs. The Brit pop influence is also obvious on "Miss Britain", which has a really good opening guitar line and is reminiscent of early Pulp. In many ways, one of the hardest things for a new band is allowing the singer to find his "voice". It is fair to say that the vocals need some polishing, but it is more a case of him finding a style that suits (as Jarvis did), rather than having a top of the range voice. This is illustrated by "Hesitate", where the vocals work better as they embrace the natural inflictions. The song itself has got indie disco dance floor written all over it and is certainly one of the strongest on the album. Again, however, it is all over too quick and could do with being extended to keep the kids dancing for a bit longer. On "Pearls" there is more of a story telling sound and it has a Shed Sevenesque feel to it ( a band which never got the credit they deserve, but were more than capable of delivering a good song).

Importantly, they are also able to tone down the overall "chirpy ness " that is apparent on most of the songs. Tracks such as "Shoots" and "Heat" provided a nice, and much needed contrast. In addition, on "Enough" they also add a bit more eccentricity. At over four minutes, this is effectively an epic for this band and has shades of Super Furry Animals to the sound. It will be interesting to see how the band develops, where they could look at adding this more extrovert and stranger sound or stick to the more simple indie pop. Perhaps this is answered by the fact that probably the best song on the album "Simplistik (European Pop)" is the breeziest and simplest pop song of the lot. Whilst the title may be being sarcastic, the song itself is a really good pop song. Who knows, perhaps it really could be the UK's next entry in the Eurovision Song Contest. The beauty would be that the European judges would probably love it and not get the irony of the song at all!

Credit has to go to the Fast Boyfriends for their efforts in getting this album out, as it takes a lot of hard work and commitment. There is still room for the band to develop, but with a bit of polish there could be some real nuggets of pop gold here. They still need to work on creating their own identity and sound to some degree, but there is no doubt that this will come. In many ways, it would be nice to see them embrace the 'pop' in their sound, maybe then we could see a potential Eurovision winner!!!! Review by Paul Hastings

The Silver Shine - In The Middle of Nowhere 

The Silver Shine are an established band who originally formed in Hungary in 2004 and this is actually their seventh album. They describe themselves as a vintage punk rock n roll trio with influences such as Social Distortion, Living End and the legendary Ramones. A band full of energy, they have a simple recipe, vintage punk rock and roll with a thunder-handed female upright bass. 

The title track kicks the album off and it is very punk rock n roll but with a rumbling double bass underpinning the sound. There is a great use of shared male and female vocals and an overall 'snarling' sound to the song.  It is followed by "If I Was To Start It All Again" which also has a greasy, menacing rock n roll sound. There are shades of some other great European bands like the Hellacopters and Backyard Babies (c"Total 13") in this song. This is also true on "Open Your Eyes" which really sounds like Backyard Babies but with that thunder-handed double bass sound. There is more of a traditional rock n roll sound on "Never Again', where this time the female vocalist takes the lead. This technique of interchanging the male and female singers is a simple way of adding a good mix and change in feel.


The Silver Shine are also capable of adding some more power to their sound. On "I Am Sorry I Was Wrong" it has a great opening chugging guitar line which slows the album down and adds a more mean and menacing vibe. In fact, you could see this song being turned in to a real heavy power metal song. This idea is taken forward by  "Just Make Your Guns" which almost sounds like a track that could have featured on Iron Maiden's Seventh Son of a Seventh Son album. On a ten track album it is somewhat surprising to see that there are two cover versions included. At least, however, the band have made some class choices. The first is "Jolene", yes, the Dolly Parton one. This is actually a great punk, rock n roll version which succeeds in emphasising the anger of the singer and the lyrics, which isn't so obvious in the original. The other cover is of "Tainted Love" and whilst this song has been covered a hundred times before, The Silver Shine still manage to add their own style and sound to this version.

This album is very much a Punk rock album and indeed, without the use of the double bass could have easily slipped in to straight forward punk. In fact, on some of the tracks even in to a more Metal band. Thankfully, it doesn't stray too far in to the one dimensional psychobilly sound, but it is definitely for those who like a bit of grit and nastiness in their rock n roll. Review by Paul Hastings

Ebenholt Slappers - Downright Upright 

Ebenholt Slappers are a Rockabilly and Rock 'n' Roll band based in Sweden. The band were started in 2006 by Jimmy Asplund, who appropriately plays the upright bass. The Slappers' sound has been described as a mix of psychobilly, neoswing, rockabilly and pop, which all adds up to smokin' red hot rockabilly or rock n roll at it's best 

The opening of first number "Graveyard King" actually sounds like the guitar line from The Pistols' "Pretty Vacant". It then moves in to a mean and moody rock n roll song. Eventually, through the lyrics and the sound, you sense the fun pushing through, perhaps like the king himself rising from his grave. The darker tone of the band is also evident on "Fear Express", it sounds like the way bands took the tone of the rockabilly and then added a punkier sound to create the psychobilly style, but this has the influence of that, rather than being in that sub genre of music. In contrast, on "Average Guy" and "Rockabilly Road" you get a much more traditional and upbeat rockabilly sound. On the first of these tracks, in particular, there is the great use of a boogie woogie piano. They are similar to the stuff that Darrel Higham produces, in terms of being traditional but still relevant. On "Johnny Dodge" it begins with an almost fifties balled opening but then the thumping double bass kicks in and it develops in to a classic, up beat, rock n roll number.  The next track "Harley of Heaven" sees them maintain the slower sound throughout the entire song. It has a real laid back and relaxed beat with a lovely guitar line played over the top. It is a slowie with a real nostalgic feel to it.

At the other end of the spectrum is "Rockabilly Girl" which is fast paced and has a rumbling bass opening. With the lyrics " Red Lips and matching dress, her eyes are screaming yes" and "I know a place for you, the place where you find out what life is all about" it is a real ad for a Rockabilly club, and hopefully the type of girls who would frequent such a place. It's a fun and wild song. The album concludes with "Snort The Line", a song which then tells the story of trying to get over that rockabilly girl. It adds a nice dash of fun to conclude the album where, not surprisingly, it is a Johnny Cash inspired country/blues rockabilly number.

Full credit to the Ebenholt Slappers, that in just eight songs they have managed to produce an album which covers a wide range of sounds, which tend to get lumped in to the rockabilly genre. In many ways, this would provide a great intro to anybody new to that scene or who were interested in discovering more about this type of music. If you were to pick your favourite songs on the album, you could follow that style to help you discover a whole world of new music within a similar bracket. Review by Paul Hastings

Lucy Ward: Single Flame (Navigator Records)

The first (and last) time I came across Lucy Ward was at the 2012 Radio 2 Folk Awards at Salford’s Lowry Theatre, when she picked up  the Horizon Award. During the interval she had been more than happy to pose for photos in the lobby with her award. With her blue hair (already a serious challenger to Eliza Carthy in the ‘how many different hairstyles can you stakes) and full of the joys at her award, she seemed an affable and slightly kooky character (in the nicest sense of course).  With a decent debut album behind her clearly she was marked as ‘one to watch’.

Although Megson’s Stu Hanna again sits in the producer’s chair and contributes his multi-instrumental skills, that is pretty much where the similarity to 2011’s ‘Adelphi Has To Fly’ ends. When people talk about the ‘difficult second album’ syndrome, Lucy Ward seems to have had her ears covered and eyes closed and torn up the rule book as ‘Single Flame’ is an album of such rich diversity in its writing and performance that it makes a mockery of her youth and experience. In fact, within a few moments of the opening track beginning to play, a percussion led ‘I Cannot Say I Will Not Speak’, with it’s references to Dylan and Melanie Safka in both namechecks and in their own song titles,   my immediate thoughts were of Grace Slick and early Jefferson Airplane; so much so that if Lucy started to namecheck white rabbits it wouldn’t have come as too much of a shock.

‘For The Dead Men’ (a self penned protest song released in January 2013 as a single and used in the soundtrack to Folie A Deux) and ‘Rites Of Man’ both inhabit similar musical territory with equally ominous instrumentation to back their bleak visions. In an almost psychedelic swirl and of ominous pulsing percussion, it shows how the folk and acoustic side of Lucy Ward’s songwriting has developed into experimenting with broader musical soundscapes and contemporary takes on typical folk lyrical themes. Some typically bleak folky subject matter recurs in many of the songs – the acapella ‘The Consequence’ and ‘Ink’ (based on a true life story of growing up with an impoverished childhood which leads only one way) add to the doom and despair and show Lucy as a writer who isn’t afraid to adopt a viewpoint which takes the traditional storytelling and subject matter into new realms.

Amongst the collection of primarily original songs, ‘Lord I Don’t Want To Die In The Storm’ is the first of the only two traditional songs on the album and benefits from Stu Hanna’s sparse but perfectly placed banjo pickings amidst the almost bluesy feel to the track. It’s not until almost the end of the album until a more conventional sounding folky fiddle is heard with ‘Marching Through The Green Grass’ taken from the Cecil Sharp Appalachian collection. Along with ‘Velvet Sky’ it presents a more upbeat side to the album. Unfairly critiqued in some quarters as an almost ‘soft rock’ song, ‘Velvet Sky’, apart from being a personal highlight of the album, is notable in its contrasting more lush instrumentation with an almost symphonic sound and a gorgeous melody – one man’s meat eh?

Pride of place on what is a quite outstanding album and one which may be looked back upon in time as a turning point, is the atmospheric ‘Icarus’ with Lucy’s voice soaring over a dreamy languid soundtrack as she makes pleas to the protagonist whose dream chasing aspirations can only ever result  pain and anguish. The final few words are quite chilling – “You know just what you’ll get for chasing dreams above your head.” – yet in a way they act as the blueprint for the album which  is a true testament of Lucy’s progress and potential. Review by Mike Ainscoe

Mike Oldfield – Five Miles Out / Crises (special edition re-issues)

It doesn’t seem forty years since a fresh faced Mike Oldfield released ‘Tubular Bells’ upon the world aided and abetted by an equally fresh faced and ambitious Richard Branson and his fledgling Virgin record  label. Branson went on to conquer the world, and for a short while it seemed that Oldfield might do the same. With the ‘Hergest Ridge’ and ‘Ommadawn’ albums following in quick succession and in a similar vein, he’d created a new niche for extended pieces of instrumental music. Taking the oeuvre to its natural conclusion with the sprawling double album ‘Incantations’ which followed a 3 year hiatus, it seemed that there was only so much of a good thing which his audience could take.

A shift in emphasis in the early 1980’s led to a formula which first appeared on 1982’s ‘Five Miles Out’ of a side long composition (remember the days when vinyl records were king?) in the traditional Oldfield manner, plus a side of shorter and more direct songs and instrumental pieces. Both ‘Five Miles Out’ and the follow up ‘Crises’ gave Oldfield renewed commercial success with top ten chart placings in the UK for the first time since his opening slavo of albums, and for the last time until the cash cow that is the Tubular Bells brand resurfaced (with Tubular Bells II – and TBIII) in the 1990’s. The break into the mainstream singles market (although the quirky instrumentals ‘In Dulci Jubilo’ and ‘Portsmouth’ and the disco themed ‘Guilty’ had previously appeared) ensued with the Maggie Reilly sung ‘Family Man’ (from ‘Five Miles Out’) and the acclaimed ‘Moonlight Shadow’ (from ‘Crises’). For the two re-issues of these albums, various wallet stretching options are being made available.

Five Miles: Originally released in 1982, Oldfield has remastered the recording which will be issued on heavyweight and also coloured vinyl as well as CD. The deluxe CD edition will include what is almost becoming an obligatory 5.1 surround mix and also contains a CD of highlights of the 1982 Cologne gig – Oldfield having overcome his chronic shyness with some 1978 gigs which were recorded for the ‘Exposed’ album.  ‘Five Mile Out’ contains the side long epic ‘Taurus II’ as it’s centrepiece which continues some musical themes from ‘Taurus I’ from the ‘QE2’ album,  while dabbling with some the shorter pieces saw the inspired introduction Maggie Reilly as vocalist on ‘Five Miles Out’ (written about a treacherous short hop flight) and the Hall & Oates covered ‘Family Man’ – both successful as first ‘proper’ attempts at more direct and single orientated material.

Crises: A year on and ‘Crises’ continued the formula Oldfield had hit upon with his previous year’s release, only in a more rounded and satisfying way. The extended piece which is the title track reflected the more electronic instrumentation of the period  particularly with the opening sequencing sounding a bit of a throwback to the ‘Tubular Bells’ piece, and also including some vocals in a similar manner to ‘Taurus II’ from the previous album. However, it is the shorter pieces which grab the attention as they did at the time, with much more fruitful efforts at songwriting reflected by the splendid folky and massively successful ‘Moonlight Shadow’ (which also receives an ‘unplugged’ outing on the re-issue). Maggie Reilly again takes the honours as she does on the plodding ‘Foreign Affair’; coming out very favourably  in comparison with a couple of big name vocalists (Jon Anderson of Yes and Roger Chapman) who do their best to make something of what are slightly inferior compositions. The ‘Crises’ re-issue is the one which will have the fans drooling over a plethora of options; again including heavyweight and coloured vinyls with new interview. The ultimate edition is the box set which again includes the album and alternate versions remixed (including the lovely Reilly sung ‘Mistake’ which only made the American edition on the original release), the 5.1 surround mix again, plus a 2 CD set of the ‘Crises at Wembley’ live recording together with a DVD of concert highlights. All gathered together in a box with 32 page hardback book – quite an appealing and well thought out  package even for the less than hardcore fans.

What stands out proud and clear amongst all on offer on the  two re-issues is Oldfield’s distinctive shrill guitar work and it’s worth bearing in mind that before all the hyperbole and dreams of Tubular-anything, he was simply a damn fine guitarist. The special editions  come at a time when Mike Oldfield is back in the highlight having recently collaborated on another branch of the ‘Tubular’ brand with ‘Tubular Beats’ – a dance orientated work – and with his contribution to the London Olympics Opening Ceremony. Review by Mike Ainscoe

Fairport Convention - Rising For The Moon (Deluxe 2CD  UMC/Island)

It was back in 1969 when Fairport Convention recorded and released three classic albums (‘What We Did On Our Holidays’, ‘Unhalfbricking’, ‘Liege & Lief’) all within a single year. However, it was a case of not allowing the grass to grow under their feet and the departure of Sandy Denny from the ranks along with Ashley Hutchings began a revolving door policy of members over the next few years – one which has continued to the present day, with the Fairport brand becoming greater than the sum of its parts.

After a stint with the short-lived Fotheringay, Denny embarked on a distinguished solo career before being drawn back into Fairport. She ‘officially’ re-joined in February 1974 during a four night stint at LA’s Troubadour. The return of legendary vocalist, Sandy Denny, to the Fairport fold signalled her last input into a band for whom she remains such a distinctive and iconic element. Following the gigs, a recording of which features on the second CD of this remastered set, the recording of the ‘Rising For The Moon’ album saw her final contribution to Fairport and brought the curtain down on this short lived line up.

A major selling point of this remaster, the live recording features a typically eclectic mix of songs  - old, new, traditional and covers -  and several songs the band never performed again including Trevor Lucas’ ‘Ballad Of Ned Kelly’ originally on the ‘Fotheringay’ album. Sandy performs an impassioned version of Dylan’s ‘Knocking On Heaven’s Door’ and her own ‘Crazy Lady Blues’ which includes an additional verse. Dipping into the Fairport back-catalogue, there’s also a sparse and moving ‘She Moves Through The Fair’. The inclusion of a fair smattering of material from Sandy’s solo material pays tribute to the fact that her voice is a major draw to the band and that some concession may well have been made to incorporate more of her music in the live set. And to be honest that can’t be a bad thing as it’s hearing the Denny voice which gives Fairport its uniqueness.

More highlights from the Troubadour show include ‘Solo’ and ‘Like An Old Fashioned Waltz’ from Sandy’s third album, a cover of Dylan’s ‘Down In The Flood’. Fiddler Dave Swarbrick  delivers ‘The Hens March through the Midden’ and a lively ‘The Hexamshire Lass’. Sandy’s signature tune ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes’ gets a faithful rendition along with a tremendous take on ‘Matty Groves’; plus the band rocking out ‘That’ll Be The Day’ to end the set.

The studio recording which followed the gigs saw Glyn Johns (of Beatles, Stones, The Who fame) brought in as producer with an insistence on recording only original songs and no covers or traditional material.  The album includes songwriting contributions from all members of the band although Sandy Denny is credited on seven of the eleven songs which again shows her influence and one which would hold some benefit as, for the first time ever, a Fairport album was produced which included only original compositions.

The album itself is an interesting mix of songs which range in style from the typical Fairport sound to something a little more in the country vein, The title track along with ‘Stranger To Himself’ and the lengthy closer ‘One More Chance’ are all worthy additions to the canon while ‘White Dress’ was chosen as the album’s only single release.

As well as the original album of songs, come a selection of additions and alternatives; the pick of which must be the  previously unreleased and wonderful performance of ‘White Dress’ discovered in the TV archives. Along with some studio demos and alternate mixes is also ‘King And Queen Of England’, which was written for the album but never recorded.

The release of what was their tenth album, saw it receive some favourable reviews at the time, although as with all subsequent Fairport releases, it suffered from the unfair comparison with their staggering early output. By  the end of 1975, guitarist Jerry Donahue, then Trevor Lucas and finally Sandy  herself had left the group, leaving the Troubadour gigs and ‘Rising For The Moon’ as what would become a telling swan song for Denny’s final brief sojourn  in the band. Although not lauded as one of their landmark albums, certainly a timepiece worthy of re-evaluation and worth the price of admission for the live set alone and to hear Sandy Denny’s final contributions to the group. Review by Mike Ainscoe

Phil Martin - Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark – (Brentford Records)

Within the first few seconds,  “Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark” unveils itself as a wholly different entity from Phil Martin’s solo debut of last year, “Before We Go To Paradise”. Whilst the former was a moderately acoustic affair, in the main paying tribute to Martin’s most revered wordsmiths, the tentative toe in the water is now a full-blown plunge. A whole album of self-penned tracks and brazenly confident in the varied scope of musical arrangements – ably aided by a variety of guest musicians – many from his extensive career in bands such as Dr Millar & The Cute Hoors, Red Harvest, Jowe Head & The Demi-Monde – and Mudkiss faves The Bitter Springs.

“Grateful”  encompasses the multi-dimensionalism prevalent throughout the album. An addictive, infectious stomper overlaid with the lyric of a person who has taken stock and who, finally and belatedly, acknowledges their parents’ role in guiding them through life. The commandment of “Look Them Back In The Eye When They Look Down On You” is one I’ll certainly keep a mental note of. The album’s title track is a kind of flipside to “Grateful”, detailing the advice and motivation bequeathed to the song’s protagonist. The arrangement and Phil’s vocal tones conjur images of Al Stewart in a reflective, pastoral setting. One to revisit when the self-esteem needs revitalising.

“Raw Vegetables In Earl’s Court” and “Way Back In Modern Times” are examples of where the musical ideas fall a little short. The implementation of samba and reggae respectively jar somewhat, and the structured lyrics of the workaholic’s life in “Way Back.....” especially require a more favourable treatment.

The lyrics are consistently pristine here – none more so than in the album’s centrepiece – “Getting Away With It”. A jaunty, banjo-led observation on the riots of August 2011, the first three quarters of the track could possibly have been researched from the Daily Mail letters column. It’s denouement, with a renowned sense of relief, exposes this as biting satire. The track is such a comprehensive, astounding piece of work that the following selection, “Intermission”, is placed impeccably in the tracking order – a three minute contemplative instrumental for you to mull over what you’ve just heard. “Halfway Through June” is a summer song that can only be written by a morose, cynical Englishman – and yes, I wish I had composed it! This is what summer is really like!

“Bitter & Twisted” continues the theme of the inner Meldrew inside of us – grating on the issues of training “in shorts and crappy trainers” and having to smarten up at a “posh do” – the grimacing at the latter helped to reassure me that I wasn’t alone in my reservations at these events.

Phil has dealt with his admiration for his peers and has now resolutely stamped his own identity on “Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark”. This should place him in the pantheon of modern songwriting, and contary to that oft-held quote, the third album shouldn’t be a difficult one. Review by Lee McFadden 

Rudimentary Peni - Archaic (Outer Himalayan/Southern Records)

Rudimentary Peni are one of those bands that I’ve known about for what seems like an eternity, but until now, I had never heard a note. Prior to writing this I struck up this conversation with a friend and human punk encyclopaedia:

“I’m reviewing a Rudimentary Peni album”.
“Which one?”
“Ah well, it doesn’t matter which one – they all sound the same anyway – they’re the Status Quo of Anarcho-Punk!”

This twelve track, sixteen minute release originally appeared in 2004, and has now been granted the “remastered” treatment. The whole album is an exercise in minimalist goth/metal, with a vocal reminiscent of Mel Smith (R.I.P) on “Gob On You”. Each track is driven by one cyclical riff, and all songs are mercifully bereft of guitar solos – whether this is down to brevity, inclination or ability is best left to conjecture.  The tracklisting alone signals this isn’t exactly going to be a feel-good affair. “Suffer”, “In Crematorium Flame”, “Lost”, “Mercy Of Slumber” – all blatantly signpost the direction of the creations within. With the exception of one track (more later) the lyrics are more personal than political – but the economy and simplicity of the words leave no room for depth and debate. The entire lyric of “The Enlightened Dreamer” reads – “Most Shall Fail/And All Will Die/So None Shall Live/To Tell The Tale”. “Suffer” is similarly succinct – “Through Decades Of Decay/Despair And Dismay/We Suffer And Suffer”.

The one politically charged selection – “X N.H.S” – purely states – “The N.H.S. Is Closing Down/Dr Barnardo’s Coming To Town/Fight The Hand That Bleeds”. No solutions, no pointers towards radical policy and change – all you’re left with is “Eh?”.

This is basically a quarter of an hour of a grumpy bloke in front of the telly putting the world to rights. Ask him to debate or justify his rants and he wouldn’t have a clue. I searched for depth in this album – I found only caricature.

If Rudimentary Peni are the “Status Quo of Anarcho-Punk”, I’ll respectfully pass on the rest of their catalogue. If Andy Warhol had heard this he may have said – “Everyone will be Father Jack for 15 minutes”. Review by Lee McFadden

Teeth Of The Sea - Master (Rocket Recordings)

The advertising behind Teeth Of The Sea’s third album awards them the title of “sonic assassins”. After listening to “Master” in a single sitting through headphones, this phraseology not only becomes flippant, it is in diametric opposition to the ethos of this album. “Master” is about re-awakenings, rebirths, creations of new aural experiences and fusions of familiar ones. No cold-blooded terminations on show here.

The forty-second introduction, “Leder”, informs straightaway that “Master” will be an exhilarating and excitedly frightening ride.  The bass frequencies already make pinpoint stabs inside the middle of your  head. This gears you up for “Reaper”. The first three minutes – pumping house beats with thunderous percussion – after which the track metamorphosises ito a cinematic rock explosion – screaming guitars, trumpets, bombast. “The Servant” is enticingly unsettling. Layers of broken speech, reverberating trumpets, and the bass drum now replacing the pinpoint stabs with intrinsically-targeted mallets. “Black Strategy” possesses some powerful sound panning – as if the driver in Kraftwerk’s “Autobahn” became drunk and decided to tear down the U-Bahn in pursuit of a boy racer.

“Pleaides Underground Inexorable Master” is an ill-advised excursion into gothic cliche, but this is more than redeemed  with the phenomenal “All Human Is Error”, where your whole head is squatted to make way for a terrifying futuristic war game.

“Master” is a taxing workout for the ears and brain. It’s a journey that requires all of your reserves of stamina – and leaves you simultaneously exhausted and ready to celebrate the fact you’ve travelled its course. Review by Lee McFadden

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