Category Archives: MUSIC REVIEWS (RECORDINGS)

HOT HEAD SHOW ‘PERFECT’

When setting up the initial text file for my reviews I have a routine – after typing in the artist name and album title I will add a question mark to reserve the space for the main body text, and then proceed to list tracks and individual musicians. Having set the file up and listening to ‘Perfect’ a number of times I found myself tempted to leave this review as simply a string of question marks! Hot Head Show have succeeded in stumping me; I’m really not sure what to make of this album – having said that, the fact that I persisted and played it a few times must mean something. My first thoughts were to recall the output of Frank Zappa’s Mothers Of Invention, and Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band (minus the Captain’s distinctive vocals), whilst also thinking about a ‘less comedic’ Bonzo Dog Band, but to leave my thoughts there would not do justice to this incorrigible divergent offering of tracks that include lyrics such as, “as cool as a wet brassiere removed in the rain, we must stop meeting this way”.

At times it sounds very much like an improvisation session where individual members of the band seek to explore, and incorporate, as many different musical styles as possible. I do imagine that a live performance by Hot Head Show would be a very memorable experience. I don’t imagine, however, that I will regularly return to individual tracks from this album; but as an opportunity to take a break from the comfort blanket of the familiar and predictable – this seems to be just ‘perfect’!

1/ Kansas

2/ Bethany

3/ Bang Now

4/ Hello Doctor

5/ Bodie Doesn’t Take It Sitting Down

6/ Some Money

7/ Little Kitty

8/ Fingers

9/ Bangfish

10/ Unbearable Lightness Of Bang

Jordan Copeland – guitar & lead vocal

Vaughn Stokes – bass & second vocal

Betamax – drums & third vocal

Jonah Brody – organs & pianos & low/high vocal


CORKY LAING & THE PERFECT CHILD ‘PLAYING GOD’ (Original music from ‘Test: The Rock Opera’)

On ‘Record Store Day’ a couple of years back I visited ‘Media Mania’ in Berwick upon Tweed and came away with a number of items; included was a copy of the double vinyl of The Who’s ‘Tommy’. Although this had been preceded by some ‘concept albums’ I seem to remember it being promoted as the first ‘Rock Opera’; I certainly remember how excited we were around the time of its release. With the appearance of ‘Playing God’ it seems that the concept of ‘Rock Opera’ is still alive. Legendary drummer from Mountain, Corky Laing, has thrown his hat in the ‘RO’ ring, and with his pedigree I was expecting something special. Initial listening helped to remind me how important it is to avoid trying to review anything on only one hearing. I found it hard to muster any enthusiasm at all, around twenty minutes in I was tempted to eject the disc and move on to something else but I persevered and soon found myself beginning to appreciate the instrumentation. I remained less impressed by the vocals, and wondered about the wisdom of seeking to link everything with the narrative.

“The good people of Happyville, set back in a 1970s version of tomorrow, have enjoyed the advantage of genetic engineering for decades without any thought, but the day of judgement is near. When Luke comes to town, and gods develop an interest in Mr. C’s science peddling, the secrets of the townspeople are about to be revealed, and their lives may never be the same again.”

Having returned to listen again I find that my appreciation is growing, the instrumentation is extremely professional, as I expected from Mr. Laing and his colleagues. I still remain to be convinced of the absolute necessity of the ‘opera’ storyline but will continue to return to give a fair hearing. Returning to ‘Tommy’, I have to record that the closing number ‘We’re Not Going To Take It’ used to energise me so much, but on returning to it over forty years later I found myself rather underwhelmed – the song that had once seemed so cutting edge and radical, now felt rather twee and non-challenging. I wonder how ‘Playing God’ will ‘play’ in forty years time.

1/ God’s March

2/ Luke’s Blues

3/ Terrace Of The Gods

4/ Perfect Boy

5/ Tony’s Return

6/ College Girls

7/ Silent Dream

8/ My Brother’s Gonna Die

9/ Open Up Your Imagination

10/ Here Is Our Blood

11/ Jupiter

12/ Tim’s Requiem

13/ Not Good Enough

14/ Father’s Lament

15/ Crying Shame

16/ Journey

17/ Sisterhood

18/ Vital Stream

19/ Revelations I

20/ meltdown

21/ Revelations II

22/ Eyes In The Mirror

23/ Revelations III

24/ Mr. C’s Demise

25/ In This World

Corky Laing – drums, vocals, percussion, guitar

Bonnie Parker – bass, vocals

Denny Colt – guitar, vocals

Lasse Väyrynen – guitars, guitalele, bass, keyboards, backing vocals

Matti Häyry – guitars, guitalele, keyboards, vocals

Tuija Takala – guitar, vocals

Maya Paakari – vocals

Harry Väyrynen – guitar, bass, vocals

Mikaela Mansikkala – vocals

Hanna Paatero – backing vocals


BIV AND THE MNEMONICS ‘THE PACE’

According to my research, Robin Williams is credited with saying that “if you remember the ’60s, you weren’t there”; I was alive in the ’60s and this album certainly goes a long way to helping me remember the mood of much of the music that I listened to then. Optimistic and upbeat, considered and intriguing – ‘The Pace’ has it all. Just as a wine connoisseur takes great pleasure in picking out a range of contributory constituents, I am equally happy when sensing echoes of other artists within the music that I listen to. Among the memories that I felt were being triggered as I listened to this were Bob Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel, and Dodgy (yes, I know Dodgy weren’t a ’60s band, but they were equally good at emulating that sound). This extremely pleasing album presents the listener with a wonderfully uplifting and varied selection of happy and positive songs. Styles range through country, blues, folk, rock and pop without ever labouring any of them. Most definitely a great ‘make you feel good’ album – and the wonderfully retro guitar break at 5.25 in ‘Hella’ simply begs to be heard.

1/ The Pace

2/ Critically Cool

3/ Rolling Deep Into The Backwoods

4/ Manifest Destiny

5/ Ain’t Our Way

6/ The Umbrella Song

7/ Hella

8/ The Winding Rivers Of Northern California

9/ Ladies Of The Hotel Shahil

10/ The Long Arm Of The Law

Jessie Alsop: keys & vocals

Ben Lang: guitar & vocals

Landon Moblad: drums

Dan Paggi: bass & vocals

Evan Wardel: guitar & vocals

featuring –

Andrew Tavis: harmonica & tambourine (‘Ain’t Our Way’)

Steven Tyler Spinner: tenor sax (‘Rolling Deep Into The Backwoods’)

Josh Yenne: pedal steel guitar (‘The Winding Rivers Of Northern California’ & ‘Long Arm Of The Law’)


ELEANORE & THE LOST ‘PARLOUR GAME’

In these days of instant gratification, streaming playlists, downloading individual tracks and shuffle players it is such a joy to come across an album that very definitely deserves to be listened to in its entirety, and sequentially starting with track 1. The songs do stand on their own and certainly suffer no significant loss by being listened to in isolation. A number of them also have very well produced and atmospheric videos to accompany them and a search on YouTube will result in a very pleasant viewing/listening experience. The title track opens the album, with a minimalist clock beat rhythm followed by beautifully enunciated naïve vocals that I found to be rather timeless, and had me recalling a number of bands that I had enjoyed listening to way back in the 1960s. The lyrics encourage the listener to put on a mask and explore – thus we begin our ‘parlour game’ that chronicles a journey of self discovery. Shortly the minimalist piano and cello opening develops depth as extra elements are added to the mix. “Don’t be afraid, put on your mask and let’s play.” The time signature of this has prompted me to pay more attention to other music that I listen to as it strikes me that this waltzing rhythm sounds so unusual – just how uncommon is 3/4 time?

The crystal clarity of Eleanore’s vocals is further showcased in track 2 where it is augmented with some powerful electric instrumentation – “there’s something here that yearns, and something more that drives”. Next, track 3 ushers in hints of middle eastern influences that are reminiscent of some of Natacha Atlas’ work;“wrapped in dark, I dream away.” Instrumentally this third inclusion takes the listener back to a more gentle piano and strings combination.

Track 4 is distinctly ‘Evanesence-esque’, and a bit darker, ”there are demons in your soul and they’re tearing you apart” – once again it features a multi-layered and powerful, heavy yet melodic, rock supporting instrumental foundation on which Eleanore’s exquisite voice builds and continues to amaze. The rock motifs are progressed with track 5 which reverts to a more reserved and thoughtful delivery; yet the hint of something more driven, bubbling away just below the surface, keeps letting its presence be known.

A short instrumental interlude echoing the opening track marks a distinct change in the album’s tone – “everything that lies ahead remains a mystery” – as the songs become distinctly less rock orientated, with echoes of Madonna circa ‘Erotica’, and Gwen Stefani becoming audible. This change offers a chance to fully appreciate the full range of Eleanore & the Lost’s skill and creativity, whilst the signature symphonic/operatic sound continues to provide the thread that unifies the wonderful collection of songs; “I am starting to believe, and I feel wonder filling all of me”.

The intelligent lyrics are beautifully nuanced, and effortlessly reflect Eleanore’s personal development and journey through life. ‘The Key’ is a lovely uplifting and inspirational anthemic prelude to the richly textured closing track. “Now I can see what you’ve hidden from me – I’m trapped in the beat, the music’s taken hold of all of me – I’m learning who I am, and she’s stronger than I’d guessed – strange how I thought that I knew you”. The more I listened to ‘Parlour Game’ the more I heard to intrigue and fascinate me; the broad variety of the songs is truly wonderful, Eleanore’s stunningly entrancing four octave voice, and its lack of fast paced tracks results in a rather uplifting yet relaxing listening experience.

FOOTNOTE:

Life seems to be full of coincidences; regarding this album, another one arose when I read the accompanying Press Kit. I am currently in training for the Brighton Marathon in April 2014 to help raise funds for the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF); I was pleased to discover that Eleanore was specially commissioned to compose the theme song for WWF’s 50th anniversary – the result piece being ‘A True Nature’ – off now to track that down.

1/ Parlour Game (La danza d’amore)

2/ The Calling

3/ Even More

4/ Demons

5/ Everything

6/ Interlude – La danza d’amore

7/ Hidden Wings

8/ Synthesized

9/ Magical

10/ The Key

11/ Strange

Eleanore – all vocals on all tracks

Parlour Game / string arrangements – Eleanore and Adam Pain, drums & keyboard programming Adam Pain, strings -The Holywell String Quartet (Verity Evanson, Kathryn Riley, Gemma Sharples, Amantha Wijesekera)

The Calling / drum programming, keyboards & bass – Adam Pain, guitars – James Betteridge

Even More / all instruments – Adam Pain, bowed double bass samples provided by Nik P.

Demons / all instruments – Roger Davis

Everything / drum programming, keyboards & guitar – Adam Pain, additional guitar – James Betteridge

La Danza D’Amore Interlude / string arrangement & harp programming – Eleanore, strings – The Holywell String Quartet

Hidden Wings / all instruments & additional vocals – Adam Pain

Synthesized / all instruments – Roger Davis

Magical / all instruments – Roger Davis (originally inspired by ‘Barnes’ by c_housel

Strange / string arrangements – Eleanore & Adam Pain, drum programming, keyboards & synth bass – Adam Pain, guitars – James Betteridge

The Key / all instruments – Roger Davis


SPAT ‘DOWN & OUTS’

“The liars keep on lying and the triers keep on trying and the ones who don’t have fun they all refuse ……… the show-offs keep on showing and the know-it-alls keep on knowing and the posh ones keep on looking down their nose ……… so rise up high and look them right in the eye ……… you gotta fight for the right to be you!” (Fuckwits)

Nestled in the rolling Scottish Borders hills is the mill town of Hawick, famous, amongst other things, for its quality knitwear and rugby; it gained national headlines a few years back over a row about whether or not ladies could ride alongside men in the town’s historic Common Riding, and more recently as a result of having a district in ‘GTA V’ named after it. It now deserves a further place in the headlines as a result of the efforts of some dedicated local musicians. Spat’s line-up may have changed since they recorded this excellent EP but the band have been able to make up for Angie’s departure by incorporating Tazz on bass, and Cozzy with his trombone!

They bill themselves ‘Punk Rock, Riot Grrrl/Boy Madness from The Scottish Borders!’ In years gone by the ‘Border Reivers’ freely roamed around the area regularly criss-crossing an almost irrelevant border, these historical raiders are now replaced by many talented musicians. Spat add to that pool of talent and offer an exciting alternative to help increase the diversity of live music that can be enjoyed in the area. Despite working hard to help bring other similar bands into the area, it seems that there remains a certain reluctance to accept bands that are not prepared to restrict themselves to more traditional folk/rock, or churning out cover versions of favourite songs. In fact it seems that many venues quickly lose interest when the words ‘perform their own songs’ are mentioned – such a shame that people are denied opportunities to experience and appreciate original talent.

The lyrics of the opening track, ‘Fuckwits’ sets the scene for what is to follow; recognising that we are surrounded by many different ‘types’ of people, some positive and others negative – the message is, ‘what is most important is to be true to your own beliefs, stand up and be proud’. Listening to this I was reminded of a wonderfully vivid part of Simon Armitage’s ‘Black Roses (The Killing Of Sophie Lancaster’ where ‘Sophie’ lists the range of humanity that passes by outside the flat that she shared with boyfriend Robert:

“We could bolt the door

and keep the world out

or watch the world

as it wondered past,

in all its glory, beautifully mad,

all the nightshift workers and daylight shirkers,

the mods and rockers and emos and moshers

and joggers and bikers and slackers and slickers

……………………………

and the dog-walkers and the dawdlers,

all the late starters and the early risers …

all the human race in its crazy parade.”

Sophie and Robert were attacked because of their alternative dress/culture; I find it extremely refreshing that bands like Spat continue to advocate personal choice and freedom rather than become absorbed by some boring ‘normal’ standards.

The EP continues with ‘No Thrills’, a short and snappy number that would would have been very much at home back in the early days of punk, but still sounds fresh and current to me! ‘Robot’ so impressed me that I featured it as my ‘track of the month’ for October, there are shades of Poly Styrene as Hay powerfully delivers another heart-felt plea for self-belief and honesty – “just take off your mask and be free!” The penultimate track is ‘S.A.D.’, the opening bars of which remind me very much of early Black Sabbath, it soon develops a distinctive character that showcases the band’s instrumental skills – it certainly puts paid to any suggestion that punks cannot play their instruments! The lyrics are intelligent and thoughtful too, which is another thing that appeals to me. Finally, ‘Snobs’, another song with a clear message of self-belief and anthemic hook, “I don’t backstab and I don’t bullshit ….. I’m more real than you’ll ever be.” During initial hearings I was getting a ‘misheard lyric’, “I don’t back down and I don’t bullshit”, which might be misheard but probably wouldn’t be misplaced.

This band’s enthusiasm is really quite infectious and they truly deserve to be given a fair hearing – having seen them live I can also confirm that they are equally proficient and exciting outside the recording studio.

Hay – vox, guitar

Ainz – guitar

Angie – bass

Ryan – drums

1/ Fuckwits

2/ No Thrills

3/ Robot

4/ S.A.D.

5/ Snobs


TOM PERLONGO ‘ALL TIED UP’

Tom is extremely passionate about his music. Strongly influenced by Stevie Ray Vaughan, Joe Bonamassa and Eric Clapton this album brings a selection of original compositions to complement his earlier ‘Blues To The Max’ release. His timeless blues sound includes a contemporary edge as he works his way through a range of songs that demonstrates his range of skills; his masterful guitar playing is a perfect accompaniment for his deep soulful voice.

I have been lucky enough to have been kept informed about the development of this album which makes this release so much more special for me. I previously reviewed ‘Blues To The Max’ and have been able to hear Tom’s music develop from interpretations of other writers’ songs to a greater focus on his own writing. Whilst there is always a place for well played and inspired covers, I have to admit a strong preference for original work and this album doesn’t disappoint. The range of songs contained here is enhanced by the input from Jan Carroll Gregory who shares writing credits on two of them, ‘Hoochie Coo’ and ‘Little Miss Lucky’. Tom is an extremely accomplished guitar player, favouring a special ‘Violator’ as produced by Haywire Custom Built Guitars; his voice could equally have been ‘custom made’ for blues. I can readily imagine Tom and band playing these live in some smokey basement bar, less likely in real life due to indoor smoking bans here in the UK, but smoke of not I’m sure that a great night would be had by all. The songs range from quirkly up-beat numbers, through much more laid back slower ones and includes the extremely poignant tribute to Tom’s late father, ‘Rock My Tears Away’. This album is very much a labour of love and has a great deal of emotion invested in it.

I can easily see’All Tied Up’ helping to increase Tom’s audience, and look forward to hearing more new songs in future.

1/ I Can’t Sleep

2/ Hoochie Coo

3/ All Tied Up

4/ Walkin’ Shoes

5/ Poison In My Eyes

6/ Little Miss Lucky

7/ She Loves Me

8/ Paper Thin

9/ Rock My Tears Away

10/ Stogie Smokin’ Woman


FERAL CONSERVATIVES ‘BREAKS AND MENDS’

Living in the UK and being amazed by the desperate machinations of our current Con-Dem government I was immediately drawn to find out more about a band called Feral Conservatives. I have to admit that what I discovered didn’t quite match my initial expectations; but I certainly wasn’t disappointed and am glad that the name caught my eye and caused me to click further! I had expected something dark, angry and punky with lots of ‘gnashing’ teeth melded with thrashing, discordant, feedback ridden electric guitars! Whilst there are definitely some hints of anger and discord, what is offered in this album is a very different beast indeed. Feral Conservatives are a multi-instrumentalist duo, Rashie and Matt, who describe themselves as playing mandolin-based indie rock with an aggressive edge and a soft bottom (although neither of them will admit to having the soft bottom).

Somebody once told me that the use of a ukelele would automatically bring a smile to her audience’s faces – the prominence given to the mandolin by Feral Conservatives adds an equally positive enhancement to this album. The selection of songs is intriguing and provides ample opportunity for Rashie and Matt to demonstrate their diverse talents. ‘Control’ is a great opening track that grabs attention – dropping the mandolin, ‘Golden Coast’ follows nicely on whilst the next tracks in sequence move pleasingly towards my latest ‘track of the month’, the delightful ‘Haven’t Given Up’. I do love the vibe of ‘Can’t Do This’, but there is a crucial aspect of the lyric that means I will have to avoid playing it on radio – sometimes ‘radio edits’ can work but I fear such treatment would be a step too far and would crucially spoil this song.

Rashie and Matt must be commended for producing an excitingly diverse album that suggests much more is to follow – I eagerly await future developments, but in the meantime will continue to revisit and immerse myself in this wonderful offering.

Rashie Rosenfarb – vocals, mandolin, piano, bass

Matt Francis – drums & percussion, guitar, organ

1/ Control

2/ Golden Coast

3/ Brighter Dawn

4/ Friends Bail Always

5/ Recycled Parts

6/ Haven’t Given Up

7/ Can’t Do This

8/ Captivated

9/ Hourglass