Vibrato – Paul Gilbert
I usually shudder when an album by a solo-guitarist lands on my door mat. Usually these albums are little more than a self indulgent exercise with every other instrument too low in the mix while the listener is subjected to nothing but twiddly solos. These guitarists are obviously good, but seem intent on telling the world about it on a daily basis. I often find my self bored by track 2, and ready to switch the album off by track 3. Not so with Mr. Paul Gilbert…
Paul Gilbert can play the guitar. And he plays it VERY well indeed. Clearly he recognises that only an idiot would doubt his ability and so this album is not one long guitar solo screaming out ‘Look at me! I can play!’ Instead, what we have here are well crafted, solid songs that not only show case Gilbert’s playing ability, but also his song writing skills as well. This is why Paul Gilbert’s latest album Vibrato is refreshingly good!
Vibrato is made up of some instrumental tracks, tracks with vocals, and 3 live tracks from a couple of years ago. As you’d expect from the man once voted the 4th greatest guitar shredder ever, the backing band are superb musicians that, like Gilbert, know when to dazzle and know when to get down to just playing a decent song.
The 3 live tracks are decent recordings too including a great cover of AC/DC’s Go Down and show that this guy is no fluke and can nail a great solo live with ease – but lets be honest, there would be a problem if he couldn’t!
A range of influences crop up throughout the CD from jazz, to Bowie, to funk, to all out rock. The title track is a perfect example of how the album will appeal to those who want solo’s at the speed of light and those who want to enjoy a broader range of musical prowess. Being someone in the latter of those two categories I can safely say I enjoyed this album. Gilbert’s guitar playing is as good as ever, and while at times it’s jaw-droopingly good, it’s not too in your face. I’d have no problem playing this CD again, and I’m sure fans of his previous projects would not be disappointed either.
(By the way, if you are one of those people really would rather just hear some crazy guitar playing, then head for track 10 – you won’t be disappointed!)
To find out more about Paul Gilbert you can visit his official website HERE.
France 98 – Girl Band
I received this album in the post recently and it stood out straight away. Mainly because unlike the other discs that turned up, this had no art work and press release telling me about the band. Just a disc with the bands name, EP title, and the track names. A real case of ‘Let the music do the talking’.
So here goes. Girl Band’s latest release France ‘98 starts off with a wall of feedback before crashing into a dirty riff and something of a Kasabian inspired vibe. There’s a real swagger to the music – an air of ‘We don’t care if you don’t like us’, which in an age of squeaky clean pop bands is always quite nice!
I like these guys. There’s nothing amazingly spectacular to be had here, but what they do, they do well. In other words, they know how to rock. Track 2 Busy At Maths grinds along nicely with screeching guitar noises in the background, and the 1 minute 17 seconds noise fest that is France ‘98 is, well a 1 minute 17 second noise fest! What more could you want?
By this point there are a few influences creeping through. The feedback and wailing guitars conjure up images of Nirvana having a scrap with White Stripes, while some of the quieter moments have a bit of an Echo & The Bunnymen edge.
Final track Handswaps is a monster of a track. It has a certain sinister feel to it and, like a Nirvana hidden album track, has some incredible bursts of power shrouded in and amongst a slower darker side that is always going to build up to something big.
So overall, an impressive offering. Admittedly it is let down a bit by the sometimes questionable production quality. I’d like to have the vocals much higher in the mix, and more bass, but that aside there is more than enough on here to make me want to check out more of this band. This is not for the faint hearted – and I like that!
To find out more about Girl Band visit their site HERE.
Story – David Bronson
‘Story’ was written, recorded and produced by David Bronson, with really rather good results. Opening up with the fantastic ‘The Turns’, Bronson has taken on board the sounds of Neil Young, David Bowie (why am I getting so many CD’s with a Bowie sound lately?), and even, dare I say it, a 70’s era Elton John in places, to give the listener a great sounding, well crafted, delightful album.
Each song is a story in itself, but also part of a greater tale of life and discovery. There’s a real bombastic sound to the album thanks in part to the great production and not being afraid to really rock when the songs need to go up a notch. On the flip-side there is also a slower, more folk inspired side with a hint of Bright Eyes that manages to work well with the more grandiose moments.
Tracks ‘If’ and ‘Easier’ illustrate the two sides to Bronson really well with ‘If’ building into a great all round rock number while ‘Easier’ slips down a bit into a country-laced song with some lovely harmonies and a more dreamy vibe to it. Final track ‘Unending’ captures the lot in one track and is a great way to sign off.
You’ve probably guessed that I like this album! It’s not the sort of thing I’d usually go for but there is so much attention to detail throughout the album, and while it may not have a radio friendly ‘hit’ to introduce Bronson to a wider audience, there is easily enough on here to warrant a listen from any folk-rock or indie fan.
To find out more about David Bronson visit his site HERE.
Running In The Family (25th Anniversary Edition) – Level 42
If ever there needed to be proof that fashion is a fickle beast, then surely the 80s is a case in point. Whilst once derided for the questionable hairstyles, unfortunate clothes and a long list of bands sporting both, the 80s have gone through something of a resurgence, or at least re-evaluation, over the last few years.
Some acts of course fair better than others under the harsh light of the 21st century, Spandau Ballet for example still irk me more than is rational whilst Simple Minds earlier work seems more appealing with each listen. However, despite their omnipresence in the later part of the decade, my over-riding memories of Level 42 are of Mark King’s bass emblazoned with the LEDs up the fret board rather than the music… or so I thought.
Spawning no less than five Top 40 hits, including the Number 3 title track, Running In The Family saw Level 42 at their commercial peak but ultimately it would be the album that split the band.
The album has the classic crisp, electronic production of the late 80s and the remastering has added an extra crispness to the sound. Thankfully the quality of the songs themselves serves to counter any negative thoughts you may have about the 80s sheen, even if the smooth jazz-lite of It’s Over does sound like the soundtrack to a dinner party serving shrimp cocktail and Babycham.
To Be With You Again and Fashion Fever allow Mark King’s thunderous thumb the chance to do what it does best before ending on the earnest social commentary of Freedom Someday.
There is plenty to explore throughout the bonus tracks and nothing says the 80s like a Shep Petitbone Remix, present and correct amongst the extras. More interestingly there are six ‘Acoustic Re-interpretations’, recorded for this release they see the songs stripped down to a far more basic set up.
Lessons In Love still shines, whilst it lacks the driving throb of Mark’s bass the melody is still as infectious as ever. Running In The Family and Sleepwalkers also work well, only Freedom Someday feels a little stretched.
The three live tracks taken from the 1987 live video have been lovingly mixed and mastered, capturing just enough atmosphere but ably demonstrating just how good Level 42 were outside of the studio as well as in it.
The band would never be the same again after this; creative differences and exhaustion saw the departure of both Phil Gould and Boon Gould and commercially Level 42 would not surpass the success of RITF. 25 years on this album still offers something to the nostalgia hunter as well as the new comer, good pop never goes out of fashion; thankfully shoulder pads did.
To find out more about Level 42 you can visit their official website HERE.
The Best Of Eva Cassidy – Eva Cassidy
The wonderful thing about music is that you don’t have to be the best in the world to have an impact. Musical history is littered with examples of those who, whilst technically lacking, had the one thing that is more important than any amount of professional training; passion.
It is one thing to stand on a stage in front of some high waisted trousers and millions of viewers and proclaim ‘This is all I’ve ever wanted’, it is another thing to just keep your head down and get on with it. Talent will prevail.
Eva Cassidy is the perfect example of this, an undeniably elegant voice but certainly not perfect, but she certainly knew how to use her vocals to the best of her ability and every song on this collection feels achingly genuine and heartfelt.
Sadly taken before her time, it has been the subsequent years that have seen her music finding new ears with every passing moment. The very best of Eva Cassidy is released to coincide with what would have been her 50th birthday and is a fitting tribute to a true talent.
It is not enough to simply record a ‘good’ version of an existing track; you need to be able to add your own mark to make a cover version work. This is something Eva managed to do with a rare consistency. Ain’t No Sunshine and What A Wonderful World both honour the originals yet sound uniquely ‘Eva’ gentle but sublime.
There are delicate versions of two tracks made famous by Cyndi Lauper, both Time After Time and True Colours have a restrained grace about them, the chorus for Time After Time is about as beautiful as you can get.
It is also to her credit that she manages to keep the emotion in Danny Boy without it becoming too gloomy, as this is surely one of the most depressing songs ever written and can easily become unbearably melancholic.
It really is all about the song throughout this collection, vocal and instruments beautifully accompany each other, no histrionics, no overproduction to hide the cracks, simplicity is the key and it works. If you haven’t already discovered the delights of the Eva Cassidy back catalogue, then this is the perfect place to start.
Play For Today – Ultrasound
To say it has been a while is an understatement, 13 years is more like a generation. Having released a series of gloriously cinematic singles before unleashing the full debut album ‘Everything Picture’ in 1999, Ultrasound appeared to be on the brink of creating something special… but this is where the story ended.
Label rows and band tensions led to the untimely demise of band many tipped for greatness and Ultrasound were consigned to the footnotes of musical history. Until 2010 that is, reuniting at first for a charity event this one off became something more solid and now in September 2012 Ultrasound are preparing to release their sophomore effort ‘Play For Today’.
It was certainly a double take moment when the CD landed on my mat, I did buy the singles way back when and even in the time of the reunion, they were never a band I expected to be returning to the front line. Curiosity got the CD into the player; brilliance is what kept it there.
‘Play For Today’ is a stunning album, full of warmth, wit and just the right amount of bile. Whilst this may be the follow up to their 1999 debut, it seems the band are fully aware that time has passed, this is not an album they could have been produced in 2000, this is an album for the here and now.
The epic opener ‘Welfare State’ is littered with tongue-in-cheek references to the band’s colourful past. The frank confessional of ‘we crashed and burned but we returned’ and ‘We’ve been away for a while, but we were never in style’ serves to poke fun at, as well as hold their collective hands up, to the rise, fall and rise again of Ultrasound.
‘Twins’ has the sweeping grandeur of the classic early Ultrasound singles, the minimal verses give way to the soaring chorus and if there were any justice in the world, this would be a massive hit single.
‘Nonsense’ is a jangly 60s influenced sugar rush of a tune about the battles between how we see ourselves and how others view us. As Tiny implores ‘I’m useless and I’m ugly, no one understands’ and ‘I’m far too old to make it now’ you feel this is more than a touch of brutal honesty in his words.
The mournful brass of a Colliery Band opens ‘Between Two Rivers’ before the gentle strum of an acoustic and sparse piano introduces the verse. Heart-searching not heart-breaking, few vocalists can deliver a tune like Andrew ‘Tiny’ Woods can, you need look no further than this song for proof.
There is more to ‘Play For Today’ than just epic balladry though, ‘Goodbye Baby, Amen’ is full of spikey punk riffs and as caustic vocals whilst ‘Glitterbox’ allows Vanessa Best lead vocal duties and is darkly soulful.
The debut album ‘Everything Picture’ was at times brilliant but all too often was just sprawling and unfocused. ‘Play For Today’ is finally delivering on all of that early promise; elegant and intelligent in a way indie hasn’t been for years. Cherish this album while you can, God knows when the next one will come along.
To find out more about Ultrasound visit their Facebook page HERE.
The Emperors Of Wyoming
That is the trouble with time; it just slips away no matter what you do and before you know it the decades have passed. The story of The Emperors Of Wyoming began in the late 70s but only now in 2012 do the four contributors finally get together.
Fear not though, this is not a sad tale, when I tell you that one of the ‘Emperors’ is Butch Vig it should rest your mind that the intervening time has not been wasted. Presumably named after the Neil Young song, the four Emperors, Butch Vig, Phil Davis, Franklin Lee and Peter Anderson, all knew each other in the early days but despite being friends, they never quite got it together at the time to form a group.
This has been put right however with the forthcoming release of their eponymously titled debut, ten tracks of Americana tinged country-folk rock. Upon listening to the CD the Neil Young assumption seems to be justified, think the American big hitters, Petty, Springsteen, Dylan and you are in their ball park.
The Emperors however are aiming for far more than just riffing the greats, they want to stand shoulder to shoulder with them. As debuts go, this is a bold and pretty successful attempt. Vig has spent the best part of twenty years twiddling the knobs for a few relatively (ahem) successful acts as well as forming part of Garbage and knows how to produce a tune.
This is a story of four though, perhaps not the household names Butch Vig is (well, in this house anyway) but more than bit players in this American opus. Each man adds their own flavour and colour with vocalist Phil Davis’ voice carrying just the right level of gravitas for the job at hand.
Easing in gently with the wistful ‘The Bittersweet Sound Of Goodbye’ before ‘Avalanche Girl’ with “Radio Hit” written all over it steams in with the drive of a Tom Petty classic. Channelling his best Mick Jagger, Phil Davis carries the earnest ‘I’m Your Man’ with a cheeky swagger, albeit with a twinge of arthritis in the hips as he declares ‘I may be rusty, but I still run’.
‘Cornfield Palace’ and ‘Sweep Away’ are more traditional country affairs with subtle lap steel whilst ‘Brand New Heart Of Stone’ has a slightly sleazy undercurrent that sounds like Neil Young has stumbled onto the set of True Blood.
‘The Pinery Boy’ returns to the feel of ‘Avalanche Girl’, a driving rhythm and the return to the big American anthem The Emperors seem to be able to produce at will. There is however still a corner of the great American songbook reserved for blighty though with a cover of John Martyn’s Bless The Weather to round off the album in elegant style.
It has the slick production you would expect from a Vig release, going for the epic rather than the raw(hide) but the songs stick from the outset and it is at times hard to not picture the rolling plains of the great American outdoors. Which I guess is the aim.
To find out more visit their Facebook page HERE.
Kick (25th Anniversary Issue) – INXS
Released September 17th 2012 – UMC
If 1985s Listen Like Thieves album saw INXS knocking on the door of main stream success, then the 1987 follow up surely ‘kick’ed it open… So, with the poor pun out of the way early, what exactly does the 25th Anniversary issue of Kick have to offer? The answer is plenty.
Released as a rather extravagant 3CD and 1DVD set, you get the remastered original 12 track album along with a host of bonus rarities and a DVD with the videos and previously unseen documentary footage. For the eagle eyed amongst you, you are probably wondering how this differs to the 2004 ‘Deluxe Edition’ that featured a 12 track bonus CD. Well, it does indeed incorporate the out-takes and demos from this release but adds a whole host more.
Much like the recent Kinks box set, there are only samplers available for the likes of me to review; this however is more than enough to remind you just what a stunning pop/rock record Kick is. Part rock a la Listen Like Thieves but with a more danceable edge, combining to produce an album that propelled the band to superstardom, especially the enigmatic Michael Hutchence.
The most striking thing about the album itself is just how well it has aged, whilst so many late 80s albums suffer from the horrendous over production rife at the time, Kick still has a freshness about it that makes it sound vital and exciting. Given the band were originally not overly happy with the sound, it is testament to producer Chris Thomas’ vision and understanding of the band that it stands up so well a quarter of a century later.
With no less than five hit singles (Need You Tonight, Mystify, New Sensation, Devil Inside and Never Tear Us Apart) along with songs that would go on to become live staples for the next few years (The Loved One, Guns In The Sky, Wildlife), the albums appeal goes a lot deeper than just the two biggest hits.
As always it is in the unreleased tracks that the real insight can be gleaned, the demo and unreleased mixes allow a glimpse into the writing process and the building blocks for Kick. The Chicago Demo of Mystify is the matt version, the gloss would come later but it is all there bar the production. The Soul Version of Never Tear Us Apart lets Michael do his best preacher impression and works surprisingly well.
With the classic Need You Tonight boosting that iconic riff and the breath-taking Never Tears Us Apart etching themselves permanently into the psyches of each generation since, the lasting impact of Kick can still be felt today. You need only look to the God awful Professor Green track that bastardises, sorry, ‘samples’, Need You Tonight to see how influential they have become. Whilst 1990s ‘X’ would see the band build on the success of Kick, they arguably never bettered the near perfect ‘pop’ encapsulated in these twelve tracks. Michael may be gone but his legacy lives on, Live Baby, Live.
To find out more about INXS and the Kick reissue visit their website HERE.
The album can be pre-ordered from:
The Kinks At The BBC preview
The Kinks At The BBC out 13th August
The Beatles may get the credit for the tunes, but The Kinks are surely the Godfathers of the indie attitude. Long before the sibling rivalry of the Gallagher brothers, the Davies were bickering, fighting and generally raising merry hell. The Kinks At The BBC boxset (due in August) charts the entire career of The Kinks from cocky upstarts in the 60s through to their eventual disbanding in the 90s. Squeezed into this weighty five disc collection there are a huge array of sessions and live tracks capturing every facet of a seminal group, from start to finish.
The full box set was not ready at the time of writing so I have been issued with a sampler CD instead, a teaser for the main event that contains a tempting selection from across the five discs starting with a 1964 version of You Really Got Me from the Playhouse Theatre. With a ragged energy and over enthusiastic tambourine this captures the raw excitement the band generated and shows the Rolling Stones were not the sole heirs to the bad boy crown. The 60s saw the birth of pop music as we know it and this song perfectly encapsulates the changing times. Fast forward to 1994 and Phobia from a Johnny Walker Session has an almost Joan Jett rock stomp and whilst far removed from their 60s heyday it still shows the Davies brothers were prolific writers long after most of their peers had fallen by the wayside.
There is a fantastic version of Lola from the The Kinks Christmas Concert 1977 with Ray Davies joking ‘I told you I was a blues artist…’ before introducing the band. It is these captured moments that add the extra value to the set, adding some personality to the tracks.
Given this collection spans nearly half a century of recordings the quality inevitably falters at times and the alternate version of Days from Colour Me Pop is rough to say the least. However, it is not about the audio clarity in a case like this, the song shines through and the raw recording just adds to the sense of discovery.
A box set like this is not really meant for the new comer; that is what the Greatest Hits is for. What The Kinks At The BBC does offer is the chance for the aficionado to hear long lost gems and delve deep into the world of one of the defining bands of a generation, a group whose influence can still be heard today. For those looking for something to immerse themselves in, look no further.
To find out more about the box set visit The Kinks website HERE.
You can pre-order the box set on Amazon.
A Diamond In The Mind – Duran Duran
I admit I have form when it comes to reviewing Duran Duran. I make no attempt to disguise my infatuation with the band that are singularly responsible for introducing me to the world of music but that doesn’t mean I can’t be objective. Hell, even I don’t listen to Liberty very often. Except for Serious though, that is criminally overlooked these days.
But anyway, following on from last year’s triumphant ‘All You Need Is Now’ album, widely regarded as the natural successor to 1982s classic Rio, A Diamond In The Mind (Duran Duran Live 2011) captures DD live at both the top of their game and on the brink of personal disaster…
Having rescheduled a string of shows due to Simon Le Bon’s undisclosed vocal problems, it has since transpired that this had indeed posed a very real threat to not just the tour but the band itself…
The CD is trimmed down to a single disc friendly 14 tracks, this does mean that the hard-core fan may be a bit disappointed at the omissions but this is usually always the case with a commercial live album, you can’t please all of the people after all.
With a back catalogue as extensive as Duran, the running order looks like a ramshackle Greatest Hits with a few new tracks thrown in for good measure. With high energy versions of Planet Earth, A View To A Kill and The Reflex scattered across the 14 tracks, the Duran Duran live show of today is a full on pop assault. Only Ordinary World and Come Undone offer a chance to catch your breath, at the same time reminding you that Duran are (often under-rated) master song writers.
AYNIN is represented with the title track, Blame The Machines and the Girls On Film Y2K glitz of Girl Panic! It is a shame that The Man Who Stole A Leopard is omitted, an album and tour highlight, it harked back to the likes of The Chauffeur and the slightly Avant guard sound the band perfected in the 80s.
(Reach Up For The) Sunrise is further proof the Duran boys are not relying solely on the past and marks the run in to the end of the show. The Wild boys spliced with Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s Relax paves the way for the show stealing finale of Rio. A regular set finisher these days, it is still easily one of the finest pop singles of the 80s and I have not been to a DD show yet where it fails to raise the roof with a mass sing-a-long.
Maybe I am biased but the magic of a Duran concert is that despite the fact they are an 80s band, a Duran show never feels like a nostalgia trip, their new material is the equal of their 80s output and this is a band with a history, not one relying on a history.
For all Your Duran Duran needs, visit their offical website HERE.