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Quick Play: A round-up of December 2010 album releases

We've listed albums in order of star rating. Best first.

Reviews by Pete Feenstra, Pete Whalley, Joe Geesin, Nikk Gunns, Jason Ritchie

BLACK WATER RISING Black Water Rising

New York based four-piece Black Water Rising originally released their self-titled debut album last year, and a solid effort it is too. The bandís sound is guitar driven yet radio friendly - think the heavier end of recent Winger crossed with Black Stone Cherry, and maybe a bit of Black Label Society in places - there is a heavy southern groove going on with some great heavy riffs in there.

The songwriting on 'Black Water Rising' is consistently good and there is not a weak track on the album, in fact I would suggest that the bandís days on independent labels may be almost behind them as this is one of the strongest releases from a new band that I have heard for a long time.

It is hard to single out individual tracks as better than others here but 'The Mirror', 'Hate Machine' - complete with a Scott Weiland style vocal from Rob Traynor, 'Blessed' ,'No Halos', 'Living Proof' and the Queens of The Stone Age style 'Sale On Your Soul' are all highlights amongst the albums 11 tracks.

Black Water Rising are a great new band and one that I have no doubt we will be hearing from again.  *****

Review by Nikk Gunns

SCRATCHED MATINEE Notes From The Incurable (2010) www.chrisfrancis.net

The name may not be familiar but the man behind it is former Ten guitarist Chris Francis. He plays and produces everything on this album with vocals from a US session vocalist Phil Philsworth.

There is a bit of his Ten/melodic rock past to be heard, most notably on the 'woo oh' backing vocals on 'Those Long Winter Evenings', but overall the music is more in keeping with Queen (few Brian May approved licks here and there), Lillian Axe (the way the music can be uplifting yet the lyrics are very bleak) and Radiohead, for the use of distorted guitars rather than vocals.

'Summer Days' is perhaps the most instant song on here and it reminded me of Lillian Axe in the 90's mode - a drak lyric wrapped up in a very melodic song. 'New Moon Monday' brings in a piano backing backed by a few choice riffs. Another song to feature tasty harmony vocals.

Full marks to Chris Francis as he resists the urge to flood each song with endless guitar solos, prefering to scatter them throughout the album as well as providing some big riffs.

Don't go expecting a Ten spin-off but if your bag is Queen, Lillian Axe and modern rock then look no further. ****

Review by Jason Ritchie

SMILEK Stranded (AMG Music)

Smilekís new album 'Stranded' contains 9 tracks of honest American hard rock - maybe a little bit on the safe side at times, but good throughout nevertheless. Featuring elements of Poison, Def Leppard, Poison, Firehouse and Bon Jovi - you pretty much know what you are going to get here - big sing along choruses, hooks a plenty and lots of loud guitars.

The album may only be 9 tracks long but all 9 are good. There are two ballads in 'Promise To Remember' and the Leppard-like 'Put A Little Love On The Line'. 'Touch of Pain' and 'American Dream' give a passing nod to Bon Jovi whilst 'Fields of Fire' features one of the best guitar solos on the album. Other highlights on the album include 'I Ainít No Good' and title track 'Stranded'.

'Stranded' is a good album and in places like The US, where music like this still gets played on the radio, it should do well for the band.  ****

Review by Nikk Gunns

STRATOVARIUS Darkest Hours (Edel / Ear Music)

Five track mini album that acts as both appetiser to their forthcoming new full length album 'Elysium' in January, also coinciding with a couple of UK dates in December.

The opening title track is typical Stratovarius, symphonic power metal with both gothic and progressive edges (thereís a hint of Rush to the vocals).

The second new track 'Infernal Maze' opens more melodically and builds well, the keyboards and guitar intricately weaving into a fantastic metal song. Stratovarius are clearly at the top of their game here. A high speed neoclassical guitar solo seals the deal.

This release is then bolstered by a demo version of 'Darkest Hours' and two live tracks, 'Against The Wind' and 'Black Diamond'.

A fine taster, the new album should make for essential listening. ****

Review by Joe Geesin

TAHITI 80 The Past, The Present & The Possible Human Sounds (2011)

Tahiti 80 are certainly a band who like to give their listeners some variety. At their heart lies a keen ear for a pop melody and on top of this they build a wall of keyboards, sampling effects and synths that Tangerine Dream would be proud of!

Sometimes this can become overbearing as can be heard on 'Rain Steam & Speed' which veers to much into dance for my own liking but would doubtless go down a storm on the dancefloor. '4am' on the otehr hand is a perfect pop meets trance number, something that say Pure Reason Revolution would do albeit with added guitar crunch.

Tahiti 70 are definately worth a listen and there is much to marvel at musically on here. The vocals are nicely understated as well giving a very pleasant vive throughout the whole album. ***½

Review by Jason Ritchie

DAVID ĎRockí FEINSTEIN Bitten By The Beast
(Niji Entertainment)

Feinstein will always be remembered by working alongside Ronnie James Dio in The Prophets, The Electric Elves and Elf as well as for fronting The Rods (with whom he tours next year).

The album kicks off with 'Smoke On The Horizon', a hard and fast yet melodic metal track that adds a punk like energy to the metal of the likes of Dio and a non boogie Krokus.

Chunky riffs, a fine guitar solo and nicely rough vocals. The opening to 'Evil In Me' nods to Sabbath and, like 'Break Down The Walls' with its Judas Priest influence, is fine trad metal with loud rough (if a touch strained) vocals.

What most metal fans will look for here is the track 'Metal Will Never Die', which features Feinsteinís cousin Ronnie Dio, one of his last recorded performances. It is a fine performance too, true testament to Dio indeed.

'Kill The Demon' continues in similar fashion, and is one of the most Dio-esque tracks. Heavy too. 'Rocks Boogie' both rocks and boogies, and 'Run For Your Life' is a stand out rocker.

Feinsteinís name and music will forever be in Dioís shadow, but thatís no mean shadow to be in.  ***½

Review by Joe Geesin

MISTHERIA Dragon Fire (Lion Music)

Virtuoso pianist Mistheria has produced another completely overblown neoclassical album full of more metal pomposity than imaginable. Aided by bassist Alberto Rigoni and drummer John Macaluso, the album is full of guest guitarists and vocalists.

This project was probably fun to make, as itís so completely overblown and self indulgent. There are plenty of fun moments too, from full on classical metal to melodic rock to the ultra twiddly noodles of Malmsteen / Imperlitteri, itís extreme in three directions.

In each case the guitarist and vocalist has been chosen to fit the song, but most of the songs are well connected and extreme in more than one sense.

The intro to 'Lies And Deception' is electric, the main song (after the guitar widdles) is chunky and melodic, a solid and rough edge to the guitar that is augmented by a good keyboard sound that could be slightly higher in the mix.

The intro to 'Killing The Pain' features some fusion piano before some searing guitar come in.

Symphonic metal meets shred. If itís not totally your bag, it can be tough going at times, while at others still pretty enjoyable. ***½

Review by Joe Geesin

THOMAS ASHBY Bedroom Bedlam

The music industry is bursting at the seams with talent that is going completely unnoticed and Bedroom Bedlam by Thomas Ashby is an evident example of this. At just sixteen years old most kids are sitting around wasting away on Facebook but it's a different story for Tom who spends his time writing imaginative alternative rock music and trying to get his prominent potential noticed.

You wouldn't expect much from an album recorded entirely on an old iBook but as soon as 'Elusive' kicks in, you are proved entirely wrong by the haunting, echoed vocals reminiscent of Kyle Falconer from the band of Scottish alt rock gods, The View.

'Melodic Sleep' boasts a mellow and subdued guitar melody but what really brings this track alive is the lulling softness of the stunning vocals which could draw the sting out of any situation with their floaty and elegant feel. Another thing that thoroughly impresses me in this track is Tom's ability to use falsetto without tearing your ears apart and withdrawing the calmness from the track.

'Exp' is a fifty-two second instrumental piece which immediately raises the mood and prepares the listener from the incredibly catchy, upbeat guitar riff of 'Bedroom Bedlam'. The vocals in this next song are a little on the shaky side but where they lack, the elaborate electric guitar penetrates through and he quickly redeems himself from being on the receiving end of harsh comments.

The gradual outro to title track, 'Bedroom Bedlam', slides effortlessly into the equally as gentle intro to 'Wait' which maintains its silky smooth tone throughout and blends into the slightly ambient 'Interlude'.

'Friend In Need' is the acoustic production which follows and fills the seventh slot on the album effectively with a slightly more pop sound than the rest of this experimental album.

'Up in the Sea' sees Tom step slightly out of his comfort zone by mixing ambient rainfall effects with bold, marching vocals and a light-as-air piano melody. This is definitely a brave advance that contrasts the previous tracks yet he pulls it off brilliantly and creates what is, in my opinion, the best of the album so far.

The next track diverts away from stereotypical love songs and diminishes the connotations that come with them. 'Fallen For You' is a real twist on those mainstream love songs you see on telly in which some washed out pop star declares their shallow emotions about some random girl to the world. Tom's version of an affectionate track has a certain depth to it which you could only expect from the likes of a more mature artist such as Brandon Flowers.

'The Way We Are' has a positive note to it which demonstrates the basis to a perfect feel-good track. As the song progresses, more instruments are added to the blend and counteract the plain feel the track gives out due to how repetitive it is lyrically.

The next track on the album throws you straight back into the 90's with the use of a melody similar to the music you would get on something like Pokemon Yellow. Essentially though, that is not a downside. Everyone loves the joyous sounds of the good ol' Gameboy! As always, Tom manages to bring a serious side to the track and this time accomplishes it by adding some substantial lyrics and impressive vocal work.

The penultimate track on the album is 'Lights On' which would be perfectly fitting to the scenic parts of a movie. The feather-like piano feels extremely light and creates a basis to the vocals of the track which are once again rather repetitive. However, in this track I don't find the repeated lyrics boring in the slightest as it is somehow extremely relaxing and plunges you into a sense of inner security.

Album closer, 'Our Own Way', show this kid's amazing ability to structure an album effectively by closing the record on a gradually softening track which sums up all of his abilities nicely with a variety of instruments being used.

The album is definitely deserving of much more attention that it has already received. After all, this kid is only sixteen and although he has room for improvement, he also has plenty of time ahead of him to carry out those improvements and become a musical virtuoso. With a little more encouragement and the confidence to experiment with sounds more he will definitely have a chance of going far with his music. 'Bedroom Bedlam' is certainly worth checking out. ***½

Review by Abigail Suter

GLYN BAILEY & THE MANY SPLENDID THINGS The Disturbance (2010)

This is the third album by Glyn Bailey and the first with a full backing band. It's a strange affair, mixing some 70's classic rock sounds with the more off the wall moments of Talking Heads.

To be honest this is not one I can really see myself playing a lot again, although the big opener 'The Old Illawalla' and 'Fuktup' are worth a listen.

Not bad and if you've enjoyed Glyn Bailey's earlier work doubtless you will like this one but for the inquisitive listener not much to draw them in. ***

Review by Jason Ritchie

PREACHER STONE Uncle Buck's Vittles
www.myspace.com/preacherstonerocks

Country rock from America, that nods into blues and southern territories.

Opener 'Can't Keep A Good Man Down' kicks off with a moody guitar that then crashes in, hints of Bad Company, Zeppelin, and then goes in a smooth direction with hint of Americana.

'Carved In Stone' is definitely in Americana territory, abeit beefed up a little, but it's definitely FM oriented without being totally AOR. Some nice guitar work in 'Come On In', and a hint of Skynyrd.

'Early Morning Rise' is heavier with some crunchy blues guitar, and husky smooth vocals - could be a cross between Chris Rea and Led Zeppelin.

There's a harder edge to the guitar on 'Nuff Said', the most metal track thus far. The song structure is akin to a mid 80s glam metal band.

While keeping this dirty yet smooth blues/rock/southern influence, later songs also dip into folk and further into country. Enjoyable cover of 'Come Together' to finish with too.  ***

Review by Joe Geesin

LYNNE HANSON  Once The Sun Goes Down

Lynne Hanson describes her musical style as Ďporch music with a little Texas red dirt'.

In truth, her third album Once The Sun Goes Down is the sort of finger picking folk/country/Americana meld that's likely to feature highly on the playlists of the Bob Harris Country show.

Her band comprises multi instrumentalist David Baxter, drummer Blake Manning, bassist Brian Kobayakawa and keyboardist Jason Sniderman supplemented by Justin Rutledge (banjo), Gilles Leclerc (mandolin) Kevin Fox (cello), Paul Reddick (harmonica) and Roman Tome (percussion). And that's not to mention an assortment of backing vocalists.

But Once The Sun Goes Down has an uncluttered sound, the players perfectly complementing Hanson's laid back story telling style. While never falling short of being an absorbing listen, it's an album that only after repeated listens begins to burrow under your skin. It's an approach that has earned her loyal followings in Canada, the States, Europe and Australia.

If there's a standout track, it's Mary Mary, a wonderfully cautionary up-tempo country/Americana tale of the consequences of pushing a woman past breaking point. But elsewhere, Once The Sun Goes Down perhaps lacks the hooks that would mark it out as a great, as a opposed to a very good, album. ***

Review by Pete Whalley

30 POUNDS OF BONE Method Armellodie ARM18CD

Ah ha! Standby for anew release from the Armellodie label, so put the kettle on and hold all calls.

For the uninitiated, Armellodie is an enterprising Scottish label that champions interesting and challenging new music from north of the border. Such is the drive, energy and belief in the label's artists that the accompanying press release is often as interesting as the music itself.

And in the case of multi-instrumentalist and one man band Johny Lamb aka Thirty Pounds Of Bone, the enthusiastic press release is not misplaced, though you do suspect that too often 'Method' the album struggles for a consistency and originality to match its passionate advocacy.

'Method' is the kind of album that sits in the twilight zone of the real and the imagined, over a series of ten songs that offer musical snippets, moods, atmospheres and raw heartfelt lyrics that suggest young Johnny really digs deep to uncover his emotions and meanings.

Yet while he inevitably mines a rootsy field on the ironically titled, 'How we applaud the unhappiness of the songwriter', and steals his melancholy arrangement for a cover of the traditional 'All for me grogg' from Radiohead and further adds some Floydian bluster to the delicate guitar work of 'The fishery', there's not quite enough of his own style to stand out from the crowd.

This after all is the age of the singer song writer like never before, or at the least not since the 60's. And while Thirty Pounds of Bone effortlessly dips into plaintive drinking songs like 'Crutches' and belatedly adds an Brian Eno style cacophonous density to some evocative lyrics on 'Darling' he's mining a series of styles, production techniques and ultimately songs that have already seen the light of day via higher profile artists in the same field.

So while the aching pathos of the closing 'Where I used to live' works well in terms of topping and tailing the album, it's a wee bit too slight to take your breath away.

A singer song writer after all, has to engage you either emotionally or appeal to the cerebral, and the problem with 'Method' is that while it partially does both , it does so only fleetingly, making the album as a whole an interesting rather than essential piece of work. ***

Review by Pete Feenstra

THE BARSTOOL PHILOSOPHERS Sparrows
www.thebarstoolphilosophers.com

www.myspace.com/thebarstoolphilosophers

Originally released in 2009 this album is a good solid prog metal album.

The album opens with a complex rhythm and a building swirling keyboard before the guitars come in, there are touches of Transatlantic and King Crimson.

The slower bursts are fine modern prog rock with hints of IQ, Pallas and 90s Marillion. The second track 'Silence' rocks pretty well, with some crunchy guitar work and the keyboards fitting in well.

The lyrics are very personal, being written around the divorce that vocalist Leon Brouwer recently went through.

The album fluctuates between virtuoso prog rock/metal and mainstream hard rock, with crunchy moments.

Well worth a listen. ***

Review by Joe Geesin

ZOE SCOTT Women On Top
www.zoescott.com / www.myspace.com/zoescott

Although singer/songwriter in nature, the delivery here warrants review. With a voice comparable to both Sheryl Crow and Shania Twain, the music is power pop meets rock'n'roll. Basically delivered with the balls of Katy Perry meets Cher and a touch of Tina Turner.

'Get It Somewhere Else' is typical of the Ďgirl with attitude' delivery, and the album's title track is just as sassy.

The slower acoustic singer/songwriter moments I could have done without, though. While the voice stands up, the music doesn't.

Yes this is pop, but there's enough melody, crunchy riffs and power to give it a mention. A lot of fun. This is head and shoulders above so many of the attention-getting female singers who are, in comparison, rubbish.  ***

Review by Joe Geesin

PARTY TONIGHT Rock n Roll For The Masses (Red Pony Records)

Italian band Party Tonight have released 'Rock n Roll For The Masses'- 8 tracks of sleazy, adrenaline fuelled party rock that takes influence from a host of Ď70's and Ď80's bands, alongside the likes of more recent bands such as Hardcore Superstar and Crucified Barbara.

The band appear to be almost tongue in cheek at times and unfortunately this does make them come across like The B52's on crack at points throughout the album. That said the vocals of singers Chris Dandy and Michelle suit the style of music well and the band know what they are doing in that respect. They do sound Scandinavian which may help them in the fact that this CD would go down well in that part of the world.

Highlights on 'Rock n Roll For The Masses' include 'F**k You, Goodbye', 'Grubby Mind', the atmospheric 'Take On The Devil', 'Sexy Lady From Underworld' and 'A Good Tellin' Off'. The band has been promoting the album heavily in their native Italy and has recently supported both Crashdiet and Crucified Barbara.  ***

Review by Nikk Gunns

MOLESKIN Voluntary Inventory (Of Not A Very Nice Everyday Life) www.myspace.com/moleskinfrance

This French band were formed in 2004 and are play pretty straight hard rock. Modern hard rock with some retro influences.

The opening track opens rather drearily before things pick up, with touches of Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin. The press release adds QOTSA, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam, which I can kinda see.

'Out Of The Blue' is a one minute track with a banjo edge to the guitar sound, and '3 Words' adds a slight celtic edge to the grungy sound.

The pace slows for 'My Resurrection', with strong vocals and a hark back to the 80s. Later on there are strong Zeppelin influences and some good melodic hard rock. But that said, I somehow found it all rather ungripping. 

Good but unmoving. **½

Review by Joe Geesin

 


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***** Out of this world | **** Pretty damn fine |
*** OK, approach with caution unless you are a fan |
** Instant bargain bin fodder | * Ugly. Just ugly


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