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Quick Play: A round-up of May 2009 album releases

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

ALEX VALENTINE A Short Album About Love (Dumb)

Forget the lousy title, singer-songwriter Alex Valentine has delivered a wonderful piece of music with shades of Paul Simon and James Taylor. I guess his peers would include the likes of Jack Johnson and Thom Yorke. His wispy vocals may not suit everybody’s tastes but he has a passion and charm that is quite soothing.

This is his third album following on from the acclaimed Tardis Heart. There are some upbeat moments like the catchy ‘Sing A Happy Song’; and ‘The Widow Swan’ has an irresistible Celtic feel. I’m always dubious about albums that purport to explore love and personal emotions; it’s often the case that they’re sentimental nonsense but there’s honesty and depth here that saves it from being middle of the road dross. Recommended.
*** ˝

Review by Neil Daniels

BIRD EATS BABY Here She Comes-a-Tumblin’

Brighton based alternative rock - with a difference. How different? Well, alongside the drums, bass guitar and piano are a violin, cello and some smooth female vocals.

Some changes of rhythm and not being too anal in being different make the whole thing quite accessible. The strings come to the fore in opening track “Seventeen” which occasionally veers into Jewish / traditional Russian music rhythms.

“I Always Hang Myself With The Same Rope” features strong vocals and an indie sound, and “Shiver Up The Spine” is a jangly waltz done alternative style.

Throughout the album the rhythms change their mind more frequently than Steve Harris in Prog mode (although hints at the waltz are a recurring theme), and at no stage does the Cello take you into Beatles territory.

It’s hardly rock’n’roll but it’s a lot of fun. ***

Review by Joe Geesin

BO DIDDLEY Rock N Roll All Star Jam 1985 (Angel Air)

Well, there's little that can be said about the legendary rock and roll star Bo Diddley that hasn't been repeated a million times before. This CD is a great piece of archive material that commemorates Diddley's career; the great guitarist died in June 2008.

In 1985 Diddley got a rather high-profile band together to celebrate the 30th Anniversary of his first chart hit, erm, 'Bo Diddley.' The band included Ronnie Wood, John Mayall, Mick Fleetwood, Ronnie Lane and Kenny Jones of The Faces, Carl Wilson of the Beach Boys, and Chuck Berry, amongst others. Even the great heavy metal bassist Rudy Sarzo was involved. If you want to learn about the beginnings of rock 'n' roll this CD is a great place to start your journey with excellent versions of 'I'm A Man' and 'Rock 'N' Roll Music.' Fun stuff indeed. ***

Review by Neil Daniels

SO SHUSH Wistful Wanders

So Shush are a female fronted alternative rock band (Carole Smart (vocals) and Ian Drumm (guitars / keys) from Salford. That is, if two people can be a 'band'.

Influenced by sixties pop, obscure indie and progressive rock, Wistful Wanders is the band's second album, their eponymous debut having already generated interest on both sides of the Atlantic, primarily via internet radio stations.

With a distinctly melodic approach the band's sound veers towards indie pop and with the album running out at 9 tracks over 30 minutes, is aimed typically at the three minute 'single' format.

Wistful, aptly describes much of the material here - the swooping keys alternate between a sixties Hammond and eighties synth sound, while Carole's ethereal vocals are floated over the top. It's a marriage of eighties Madchester and sixties California.

The overall effect is undoubtedly pleasant - washing over and around you, but the absence of a real killer tune suggests that, for the time being at least, So Shush are unlikely to join the mainstream. ***

Review by Pete Whalley

ERUPTION  All Screwed Up (Escape)

Eruption is the latest band on Escape’s growing list of artists. The melodic rock outfit formed in 2003 in Australia by Italian guitarist Santi Rigolizio. Since moving to England they’ve managed to secure a record deal and some gigs around London. All Screwed Up is a good album but what it lacks in originality it makes up for with entertainment.

Most of the songs are great fun. There’s a major Deep Purple influence with thumping rock songs like ‘Temple Of Love’ and ‘Natural High.’ They also owe a debt to Aerosmith and Van Halen. There have been a few line-up changes in their short history but its Rigolizio’s dedication that has led them to this point and if they continue to produce good albums like All Screwed Up they’ll have a bright future in the melodic rock scene. But on the other hand, they’ll have to work on a more distinctive sound to stand out in a saturated market. Good luck to them. ***

Review by Neil Daniels

THE SEEKERS Greatest Hits (EMI)

Without The Seekers, there may have been no AC/DC. Probably not true, but the popular combo - formed in 1963 - were the first Australian act to top the UK charts, notching up eight Top Twenty hits between 1965 and 1968.

And while the 'rock and roll' in the lyrics of their hit Morningtown Ride referred to a boat ride, as opposed to the sex and drugs variety, the sad fact is that baby boomers will find much of this collection instantly recognisable. I was [almost] embarrassed to find childhood memories of Children's Favourites on the BBC Light programme surfacing from subconscious memories. More worryingly, I seemed to know every verse, chorus and vocal harmony line.

It has to be said, that the recording quality here is excellent and the songs have never sounded better, but nostalgia aside most of the material is not original, being covers of the likes of Dylan (Blowing In The Wind), Simon & Garfunkel ( 59th Street (Feeling Groovy)), The Byrds (Turn, Turn, Turn), and The Mammas and Papas (California Dreamin').

But, of course, you get all the instantly recognisable hits - I'll Never Find Another You, A World Of Our Own The Carnival Is Over, Morningtown Ride, and Georgy Girl, and more.

So, not rock and roll as we know it Jim, but nevertheless a lesson in timeless simplicity. And to be fair, they did see the potential in Whiskey In The Jar long before Thin Lizzy were a twinkle in Phil Lynott's eye. But, nostalgia aside, quite why anyone would want the 28 tracks on offer here, is beyond me. **½

Review by Pete Whalley

KIKI DEE The Best Of (EMI)

Kiki Dee - under or over rated? A great backing singer, or an underachieving solo artist? A difficult one. But let's be honest, mention the name and only one thing comes to mind - her 1976 duet with Elton John, Don't Go Breaking My Heart.

The sad truth is that it did nothing to progress Kiki's career, instead saddling her with unfulfilled expectation.

And this Best Of collection does little to solve the riddle, kicking off with the aforementioned Elton/ Bernie Taupin penned number, and followed with Kiki's other standout vocal track from the period - I've Got The Music In Me - which reached #19 in the UK charts in 1974 and showcased her vocal potential.

But sadly, nothing much else here reaches those heights and while some tracks bring back the odd wave (or at least a few ripples) of nostalgia, it's all a bit, I'm sorry to say, lightweight.

One track does, however, stand out. Her 2008 collaboration with Carmelo Luggeri - Walk Of Faith - which is both contemporary and a showcase for what Kiki still has to offer. It burns brightly, but briefly - the other number with Carmelo being, unfortunately, distinctly 'music for pleasure'.

So, The Best Of offers no answers, and is unlikely to win over new fans. Most solo artists (and bands) have an instantly recognisable modus operandi. But Kiki Dee's back catalogue fails to offer up any cohesive thread of continuity. Which leaves the case for the prosecution fairly compelling. **½

Review by Pete Whalley



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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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