Published on September 10th, 2017 | by Mike Ainscoe0
The boys of Summer have gone – An Autumn album round up to warm the cockles
It was the 2nd of September and for the first time in several months, I woke up cold. There was a dewy mist in the air and rather than pulling on a t shirt from the pile of clothes beside the bed, a long sleeve option needed sourcing from the bottom drawer. The car had the sort of dewy sheen on the windscreen that meant it was necessary to flick on the wipers before rolling backwards off the driveway. Despite some bright sunlight starting to break through a grey sky that the paint manufacturers might call mouse breath white, the temperature gauge showed an aloof 11o.
Sounds like it could be the sort of voiceover to the opening of some kind of private eye film. Nothing so exciting; just the start of the next set of round up review calls from the Bandwagon mailbox.
Toppermost of the poppermost (as John Lennon used to say…I think) is UFO’s ‘The Salentino Cuts’ (Cleopatra Records). An interesting one from a band who are essential listening in the curriculum of a hard rock education. Growing up in the late seventies, the period that remains their heyday, some of us can say “we were there.” Kudos to them that they’re still doing good-ish trade with a majority of the original/best known version of the band still in place. So what does a band who’ve been active for forty plus years do in their latter years? Make and sell new music albeit in a vastly different marketplace? Revisit their back catalogue – any excuse for celebrating the 10th or 20th anniversary of such and such an album? Or maybe go for the covers album? And again, fair do’s to UFO who’ve avoided all the obvious so far, bar, until now, the last.
Their version of the covers album though doesn’t take the obvious route and pick from the vast hard rock catalogue of their peers. They’ve seemed to have gone along the same route as Rush did with ‘Feedback’ and called up the songs of their own youth and inspiration. Their own back catalogue is filled with albums that were packed with hits and classics plus the odd dodgy moment. They’ve stuck to the formula. While ‘Break On Through’ works a treat with the Mogg voice sounding as crucial as ever backed by some chunky chops of riff and organ –Montrose’s ‘Rock Candy’ aptly rocks, sounding very Paul Rodgers-y, paired up with ‘Mississippi Queen’ by Mountain are a fab combo. OTOHand, ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’ doesn’t cut it. Nonetheless, all those years down the line, it’s good to see and hear UFO still cutting something.
Next up, from MOJO Folk Album of the Year winner in 2015, Tom Russell, ‘Folk Hotel’ (Proper Records) containing 13 Russell originals plus Dylan’s wonderful ‘Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues’. It’s a huge tower block of a set too with well over an hour of listening that concludes with a nine minute talking blues sort of thing in ‘Scars On His Ankles’. The path to ‘Scars…’ is packed by what The Guardian has called “the renaissance man of America” with classy country and Tex Mex tales of trials and tribulations via a tribute to another Dylan and the occasional sparkling finger picking guitar.
From the backstreets of Cardiff comes ‘The Sparrow Of Swansea’, sounding a little similar in melody to ‘Streets Of London’ and paying tribute to Dylan Thomas – a little more diverse lyrically but housed in a familiar musical coat. It’s one with a quivering vocal and acoustic string band signature, evoking a conventional sound, all conquistadores and Santa Fe desert sun. A convincing storyteller of a record.
Also on Proper Records is ‘Unfinished Business’ from Paul Brady his first album in 7 years for anyone who’s counting. New to MrB? Then you can expect an easy listening take on a set of new songs and one applied to a couple of traditional songs – perhaps the pick to be fair. ‘Lord Thomas And Fair Ellender’ and ‘The Cocks Are Crowing’ both get a smooth Brady polish that help them veer from the middle of the road. “Not looking for trouble” he sings on ‘Something To Change’ – hardly a slavering rock beast but a record that sits comfortably next to Clapton and Knopfler on the coffee table.
Since her Tom Jones sanctioned resurgence on The Voice, Sally Barker has really found her legs. High profile and regular support work alongside Fairport Convention has seen her stock rise and she now appears on the ‘In The Shadow Of A Small Mountain’ (Small Mountain Records) release as Sally Barker & Vicki Genfan.
From five days at the foot of the Appalachians, writing sessions on Skype and a New Jersey recording studio with snow outside emerges a transatlantic combo of the American South and something essentially British. Both play acoustic guitar (Vicki, adding banjo-tar and manditar, getting the seal of approval from Steve Vai no less) and sing and bar a couple of minor musical additions, hold court over a forty minute, nine song set. And hold court they do – the blend of the two voices together with some impressive fretwork (Steve Vai is a good judge let’s face it) is more subtle rather than showy, spreading into lounge jazz/blues and some unique percussion effects accompanying their guitars on ’Malaya’ and a more raw country acoustic blues on ‘Moonshine’. A captivating partnership.
The Wonder Stuff pairing of Miles Hunt & Erica Nockalls bring home the bacon on their album ‘We Came Here To Work’ (Good Deeds Records). Music for nights spent in at home in genteel company rather than the typical Wonder Stuff raucous night out template. Having said that there’s no keeping Miles Hunt down be it with an electric or acoustic guitar, night in or out. Lyrically he’s spot on as usual with a bite and a cutting edge and possibly even a mellowing that comes with the acoustic material – ‘I’ve Seen The Good In The World’ he sings which might feel like he’s mellowed a tad to match the stripped down sound but no fear. It’s a setting that allows Erica’s violin to step more to the fore which is hardly a bad thing. They’ve been touring as a duo for a decade now, there’s a big UK tour schedule coming up too so well worth seeking out when they visit the local area.
One of the Felice Brothers Ian Felice releases his debut solo album ‘In The Kingdom Of Dreams’ (Loose Music). We went a bit keen over Simone Felice’s ‘Strangers’ album a couple of years back and he’s on board as producer. It’s a set of songs based on memories of his past and reflecting on how time affects the memory (don’t we all?) all in the context of a world where information overload is at a premium. As such ‘In The Kingdom Of Dreams’ is a reflective album offering a gentle escapism packed with a Dylan-ish drawl with some Dylan-ish couplets – all encompassed within the first few minutes of the title track “I don’t wanna fall, for a courtesy call from the mice in the wall…” It sets off some sparsely accompanied lines of thought including the joke is on me feel of ‘21st Century’ – “The aliens landed on election day, they stole your mother’s lingerie.” One to ponder over maybe alongside an accompanying book of poetry ‘Hotel Swampland’ gathers together writing that didn’t make it into song.
High Down’s ‘Moving On’ EP (Seasick Music) contributes five tracks of hard hitting and vibrant pop punk that could easily be classed as a lively amalgamation of Green Blink type ethics. While they profess an admiration for metalcore and touch bases briefly on closing track ‘Against The Tide’, there’s a much more melodic aftertaste to ‘Moving On’. For a concise interlude, the quintet go all acoustic on ‘Resuce Me’ featuring the contrasting voice of Christina Rotondo. Hard to decide if it’s energetic power punk pop or lapsing into the teeny boy band territory.
One final quickie, this one from Puppet Kings finds them declaring themselves, their music or someone as ‘Very Cool & Groovy’ EP (looks like a self released effort). The trio from Brighton evoke the sandman from the off on ‘Wanderlust’ and veer towards some topical political comment on ‘Rich N’ White’, all backed with a raucous little rockestra. Energetic and potent.