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

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

Reviews by Joe Geesin, Pete Feenstra, Nikk Gunns, Nick van der Meulen Jason Ritchie, Pete Whalley


Simon Hopper (vocals/mandolin/mandola) presents his new album recorded with Andee Price (vocals/double bass), recorded like a live album and it really is a fine piece of folk.

The songs have a theme of love running through them and despite some darker lyrical moments the music remains upbeat throughout. One real pleasure is listening to the mandolin/mandola playing, sometimes fast and furious like on 'Solid Ground' (a real traditional English folk song feel to this one) and then much more restrained on 'Everything'.

'Oh, Sally Ann' is simply wonderful - lovely vocal interplay between Simon and Andee Price backed by a fast tempo makes for a song crying out for airplay. 'Black Birds' would appeal to Americana fans and the mandolin riff for some reason reminded me of the song by McGuiness Flint, 'When I'm Dead And Gone'!

Another strong set of tunes and hopefully this album can catch some of the current interest in folk generated by bands like Mumford & Sons. More please! ****½

Review by Jason Ritchie

THE VAMPIRE DIARIES (Original Television Soundtrack)

Vampires have never been cooler. Every generation finds them irresistible, and for many of us baby boomers out first encounters will have been with the buxom young babes in nighties that graced the Hammer Horror movies.

It's a fascination that resurrects with each fresh generation. More recently, we've had the drop dead gorgeous Kate Beckinsdale in the Underworld franchise, the excellent True Blood, and of course, the Twilight series.

And one of the latest teen fantasy horror to hit these shores is The Vampire Diaries, now in season 2.

But hey, who wants to discuss the merits of sex, blood, and rock 'n' roll? The question is does the original television soundtrack have what's needed to force it's way onto your Christmas list?

To put the answer in context, let me first stake my cards to the table and say that compilation albums aren't something I would normally entertain as a purchase. But regardless of the merits of the TV series, the soundtrack is a quite superb collection.

If there's a theme, it's that it's a moody, atmospheric gathering. And, of course, there's plenty of loose references to blood, hearts, bloodstreams, heartbeats, howling at the moon and the like. And the majority of the artists, with a few notable exceptions, are new to me.

But, like blood, it flows exceptionally well and virtually every track is a killer. And there are some really outstanding inclusions - Placebo's stunning reworking of Kate Bush's Running Up That Hill, the magnificent Bloodstream by Stateless, We Radiate by Goldfrapp, Head Over Heels (Tears For Fears) – another inspired interpretation by Digital Daggers, the moving Jason Walker duet - Down, and the beautiful piano ballad,Cut by Plumb.

All in all, pretty bloody cool. ****

Review by Pete Whalley

3-CD (Universal)

There's an easy way to tell whether it's Christmas, or Father's Day. And that's a profusion of CD compilations aimed at Dads. Typically, going by titles like Rock Classics, Driving Anthems or, perhaps simply, Top Gear.

They all follow a similar pattern. First, there's the obligatory classics that every rock compilation since time immemorial has included - Layla, All Right Now, You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet, Sunshine of Your Love, and The Boys Are Back In Town.

Secondly, there's a scattering of more recent numbers to spice things up, in the case of Rock Anthems the likes of Bon Jovi's These Days, U2's Beautiful Day, Nickelback's Rockstar, and The Killer's When You Were Young.

And in between there's everything from Sabbath to Supertramp, Dire Straights to Dan Reed, and David Bowie to The Darkness.

Yes, they're all here, including lest we forget Owner Of A Lonely Heart, Addicted To Love, and Freebird. Fifty fairly essential sounds.

Of course, it's all pushed out to a tight budget price so you get little by way of packaging or information. But who cares, because there's only one place to keep this sort of collection. That's right – the glove box. But with punters increasingly simply plugging in their mp3 players, outside of the 2 for £10 impulse buy shelves the market for this sort of product must be increasingly limited.

In terms of quality and value for money it's difficult to give it less than *****. But would I buy it? No, there's way too much duplication for any self respecting GRTR! reader. I guess that make's it the ideal stocking filler. ****

Review by Pete Whalley

THE OUTCAST BAND 'The Longest Mile' Thirsty Dog/Universal

This is the band's fourth album but the first since 1995, as the band disbanded in 1996 before returning a couple of years ago. The album is produced by Phil Tennant, who has produced the Levellers and the Waterboys previously, which gives a big clue to this band's sound. The songs are for the most part fast paced, often with a swirl of violin, mandolin and guitar, in fact the band are better at these style of songs than the slower numbers.

The single 'Orphans' and 'The Garden Song' both successfully meld folk influences with the faster alt rock/punk beats. Live this sort of tune must really come into its own. 'Hurricane Day' is another belter and highlights where the band stand apart from bands like the Levellers. The Outcats Band use guitars much more and often with a slight distortion as ca be heard on thsi song.

The Outcast Band can more than hold their own with the Levellers and the Waterboys and I'd urge fans of both bands to grab this album.  ****

Review by Jason Ritchie

YEN HARLEY The Substance Of Things

Named after an old flame of mainman Lukas Batteau, Utrecht based Yen Harley (Lukas Batteau - vocals / guitar, Rolf Perdok - guitar, Josine van der Splinter - bass, and Berry Vink - drums) have a distinctly none European sound. But that's the nature of today's global music industry.

Originally influenced by the grunge bands of the early nineties such as Soundgarden, Smashing Pumpkins, Alice In Chains and Pearl Jam, Yen Harley Mark I broke up in 2006, after which Batteau - encouraged by his wife - reinvented himself as an acoustic singer songwriter.

And although that went well, with a well received EP and over a hundred gigs in 12 months, including festivals and opening for the likes of Tracy Bonham, Batteau yearned for the darker, heavier sound that only a band could provide.

So, in 2009 Lukas Batteau (the band) was assembled and after some hard gigging set to work in the studio to record The Substance Of Things. With the band complimenting, in a restrained fashion, and with Batteau's vocals well up in the mix it's a combination that gives Yen Harley a somewhat unique sound.

With the exception of the Michael Stipe / REM influenced Call It Love For the album is a dark, brooding and ponderous affair. It's not going to get any party started, but it is perhaps the appropriate accompaniment to the end of a stoned evening. ***

Review by Pete Whalley

MATT GUNSTON Friday Night Of The Broken Man

Looking rugged on the cover in a 1960's Jason Statham sort of way, Friday Night Of A Broken Man is the second album from London / Madrid based singer / songwriter / rocker Matt Gunston.

On first listen I was a little nonplussed at Matt's vocal style. It was almost like he was trying too hard and using the full range of his vocal pyrotechnics on each and very note. No middle ground, just the full on squeezing of every ounce of emotion from every word. But a few listens in, it's getting under my skin.

Matt wears his classic rock singer / songwriter influences on his sleeve - from echoes of Billy Joel on Waiting Up, Bono on One Night Stand, Jim Kerr on Midnight Lover, or Springsteen on Searching For Cash.

Although he's described on his PR blurb as falling in the rock / goth / metal genre, Friday Night Of The Broken Man couldn't be further removed. Yes, it's on the rock edge of the singer / songwriter field, but more in the way of say, Rickie Ross post Deacon Blue (Meet Me, being the perfect example). And it's predominantly a keyboard based set with Matt's vocals having that broken rasp that comes from a lifetime of Benson & Hedges.

His sixties and seventies influences are apparent in some strong melodies and hooks, and with a resurgence of interest in the singer / songwriter genre, with the right exposure anything is possible. That may be his main problem. But with so many old hands cashing in on the nostalgia trip, a suitable opening slot may be all it takes. ***

Review by Pete Whalley

STONE AXE Stone Axe 1 (Ripple Music)

Reissue of their 2009 album, adding a 12' vinyl edition. A modern classic rock band who have a very nostalgic 1970s feel.

Large parts of the album are very fuzzy, strong nods to Thin Lizzy and Led Zeppelin with a slight stoner feel. It's strong stuff with a lot of guitar. 'There'd Be Days' stands out, more than a hint of Free and Bad Company (the rhythm very similar to Can't Get Enough). A fine bluesy boogie indeed.

There's a hint of SAHB to 'Skylad Rae', and a nod to Hendrix in there too, and the intro to 'Diamonds And Fools' has early AC/DC stamped very heavily all over it. In fact the whole song does.

This is great modern classic rock, but the constant over use of fuzz does give a blanket stoner feel.

Well worth a listen.  ***

Review by Joe Geesin

BODINROCKER Mysterious Man

Anders Bodin is the main man behind this album and his love of Status Quo shines though on the album. Hardly surprising as he cites them as a musical influence and he has supported them as well.

Bodin manages to nail down the Quo's simple but effective boogie - listen to '526' or the single 'Scooter' for proof. The music is kept simple, no OTT guitar solos and minimal Hammond to keep the song's rhythm going.

Of definite interest to Quo fans and those who enjoy a little classic rock boogie.  ***

Review by Jason Ritchie

ELOAH Ode To Brother Horn

Art-house prog, or New Age Rock. This project was recorded in the 90s and released two years ago, so quite why the PR company is working it now is as mysterious as the music.

From flute to new age rhythms, acoustic picking, vocal effects and occasional choir-like backing, and a guitar solo that hints at David Gilmour, and that's just the first track.

As you go through the album, there are bigger sounds, drifting vocals, tribal drums, strong guitar, there's a lot going on.

The lyrics are warm and there is lots of passion, the album is dedicated to vocalist Elmar Fuchs late friend Jorg 'Brother Horn' Horner. There are some wonderful moments, some good tunes, but the album is punctuated by parts that don't seem to fit or just drift by.  ***

Review by Joe Geesin

TUBEFREEKS Complex Disorders

USA grunge rock band with a lot of noise, and a heavy influence of mid 70s Black Sabbath as well as Pantera, Alice In Chains and Stone Temple Pilots.

Opener 'Aflagarden' has, like 'SOB', a strong nod to Tony Iommi’s guitar, while 'Dumb Games' takes that grunge guitar sound in a more alternative direction.

At times the vocals nod to Ozzy, and on the slower tracks only a wailing guitar detracts from a stoner feel.

'Warm December' has a good riff and pace, and 'Sequenze' really adds a heavy rhythm and an early 80s Sabbath guitar solo. Sadly this solo work is far too short.

Well worth checking out.  ***

Review by Joe Geesin

DEEP AWARENESS Awareness (Prudence 398.6757.2)

When presented with an album by a synth playing German musician dealing with ten tracks that deal with consciousness in its greater form, and such individual concepts of space, clouds, surroundings, breath, sense, sleep eternity etc, you just know you are in for some kind of ambient album.

And so it proves as 'Awareness' by Deep Imagination' - aka Electronic / Ambient / Trip Hop, keyboard playing composer Thorsten Sudler-Mainz - opens with portentous synth laden power chords, which acts as an intro to space, on track two, 'Awareness Part 2 - Clouds'.

There's an ethereal feel to the synth sounds and a melodic development not unlike Jean Michel Jarre. In fact thinking about it, most of this album sounds routed in that early 80's feel - perhaps even the 70's synth sound pioneered by Klaus Schulze - for no matter how deserving of respect, the concepts Thorsten explores reflect the synth driven sounds of an era gone by.

'Awareness Part 03 - Surroundings' extends the feel of the album, albeit with an electronic drum pad and a stronger melody line, perhaps reflecting the concept at hand.

And as the album works its way through the seemingly interconnected concepts, composer Sudler-Mainz manfully tries to evoke a musical progression with slowly evolving syth lines and a semblance of a percussive beats on 'Tradition'.

But two tracks later on 'Breathe' you are hard pushed to feel much more that you felt at the outset of the album. Sure he's pushed the tempo along a bit with some tic-toc electronic impulses over swooshing synth sounds, but overall he seems to be subsumed by the very concept of space that he seeks to make sense of.

There are certainly some thematic moments worth checking out and ambient textures aplenty, but as a composer it is surely Thorsten's job to do more than scratch the surface of the technology at hand. Even electronic pioneers Tangerine Dream tried to diversify their style via techno, ambient and even dance music to break up the tedium and deadening hand of the synth.

But perhaps I'm expecting too much. Perhaps we all need to darken the lights, shut our eyes and concentrate on two of the albums best tracks 'Awareness Part 7 Elements' - and 'Awareness Part 08 - Senses'.

The former features a synth generated pan pipe sound with a Floyd style drum pattern and synth noodles, circa 'Wish You Were Here'. The latter is a based round a percussive loop tape over more evolving synth cycles.

There is also a vaguely Chinese feel to the bells on Awareness Part 9 Sleep', before the suite concludes with the suitable titled 'Eternity', which features a belated sonorous sax solo bathed in echo reverb and an inevitable keyboard wash.

'Awareness' does have its moments and given that space it deep perhaps its incumbent on ambient fans to dig that little deeper for meaning. For the rest of us you suspect 'Awareness' will be quietly filed away, and only occasionally given the light of day to check out the efficacy of your domestic sound system.  ***

Review by Pete Feenstra

DJEVARA The Rising Tide (part 2): Hear No Evil

A concept reflecting the path of decent / disintegration followed by the recovery re-affirmation they felt in their own lives and this is the second part.

Taking the very DIY approach, this has a very live feel as it was recording live in the studio, direct to tape.

For alternative rock / grunge it is well written, and opens with political / social views. One of the tracks is an open letter to a band member's cousin who infuriatingly won't leave an abusive relationship. So the socio-commentary is very close to home.

It is also very noisy, lots of crash, some driving bass lines (a little too much fuzz at times).

At times the vocals come at you thick and at times are fired out like a rap.

The music is heavy enough to stop the alternative feel being too jangly.

Bang up the street of Metal Hammer and Kerrang!

If you like stripped down heavy alternative you'll like this.   ***

Review by Joe Geesin


Modern straight American hard rock with a stripped down feel.

From the opening track 'Free', the music is fairly basic, bolstered by effects (that include fuzz), and the vocals seem to be produced to sound far away; not quite that 'down the telephone' effect but heading that way.

The title track is more uptempo but overly fuzzed. The music could mix Grand Funk with Sammy Hagar, but in a most ordinary way.

Both guitar and bass have some good lines, 'Life's Too Short' a good example, but the thin vocals and plodding rhythms detract.

Not bad, but just so so ordinary.  **½

Review by Joe Geesin


Right, hands up, who wouldn't start running with a title that?

From the outset the guitars are fast and furious, a decent riff, and just when you think there may be some hope the vocals are a tad unintelligible. The riffs are chunky with a good solo, and the odd burst of something good.

The opening bars to 'My Last Resort' allure to something big before the main mid paced thrash comes in.

There are clear influences of Slayer, even a nod of Venom. But some of the intros and vocals are rushed. This is all straight out of the 80s and heavily beefed up.

There is a lack of direction and production, something that affected Anthrax, Metallica and Megadeth on each of their debuts. I'm not saying they're that good, but things could improve with some tidying up. **½

Review by Joe Geesin

FEN Trails Out Of Gloom (Ripple Music)

Progressive, melodic, aggressive alt-rock that has a kind of stoner feel.

The opening track kicks off acoustically, a progressive folk feel. When the drums and vocals come in you can sense it building into a grunge track but doesn't. It slowly becomes electric and adds the stoner dimension.

'Through The Night' definitely adds grunge to alt-metal in a dark way.

Some tracks do build well, almost becoming decent hard rock, but they never really take off.

This album drifts by at other times, never really biting or grabbing the listener.

Imagine a grunge 3-piece trying to be a progressive folk duo, with a foot each in gothic rock and nu/alt metal played partly acoustically.

I'm sure some will get this, but I really just couldn't get into it at all. **½

Revie by Joe Geesin

MODERN DAY MOONSHINE Refuge (Ripple Music)

Opening track 'Unsung' kicks off acoustically, when the 3 piece get going it hints at singer / songwriter with electric(ish) band, touches of CSN&Y at their folk end.

'Expiration Date' picks things up a little, as does 'Don't 'Waste', which hints at the soft side of Allman Brothers or Grateful Dead. Much of the rest of the album hints at the Americana side of Neil Young and CSN&Y, I couldn't find much evidence of the Hendrix influence the press release insisted upon.

Some decent melodies, some good guitar work ('Fitting The Mold' stands out), but so much of the album I skipped through, through fear of just drifting through it. **½

Review by Joe Geesin

(Bristol Archive Record )

Quite why we're covering a Reggae album on a rock site is anyone's guess, especially when reggae is the bastard son of authentic Jamaican music (Ska, Mento) with more commercial leanings.

That said, if you like reggae you'll like some of the tunes here. Joshua Moses' 'Africa' features some good vocal harmonies, and much of the sound comes from the drums/bass/keyboards.

Other artists include Talisman, Black Roots, Restriction and The Radicals.

Most of the tracks here are a lot more authentic than the more commercial reggae/pop of the 80s (UB40, Aswad), but personally I find that the very nature of the reggae rhythms makes for a more disjointed sound. The Dub sound just doesn't flow like Ska does. **½

Review by Joe Geesin

TESTIFY Pushing Back Darkness

Vixen. Now there was a much under rated female rock band who has quite a bit of success in the big hair days of the late eighties/ early nineties.

But although Testify - a Californian power rock/metal band - are fronted by ex Vixen player Lynn Louise Lowrey, it isn't until you start digging around in the archives that you realise that since the days of Vixen's first two excellent albums Vixen, and Rev It Up, it's been choppy ride as the band has gone through countless line ups. And Lowrey herself has only been the band's bassist / backing vocalist in the last decade.

Testify, however, sees her hang up the bass to take centre stage in front of the power trio of Scott Weisenborn (guitar), John Angle Jr (bass), and Chuck Hernandez (drums)

And Pushing Back Darkness is a raw, bludgeoning affair. Yes, it will wrestle you to the ground and give you a good kicking while you're attempting to protect your Crown Jewels. It's a thug of an album - short, punchy and mean.

Unfortunately the production isn't the greatest and Lowrey's vocals are often buried fairly deep in the mix. Nevertheless, you suspect Testify are a band who'd live up to their reputation as a great rock club draw. But they're going to need a little more finessing if they're going to progress further. **½

Review by Pete Whalley

RANSOM BRIGGS The Sky's The Limit

Singer/songwriter Ransom Briggs has recorded new album 'The Sky's The Limit'. The album has an overall West Coast feel with the vocals reminiscent of some of the late ‘60's bands from the area- but unfortunately, these are a little watery at times and also a bit repetitive.

Don't get me wrong, there are a couple of great tracks- opening number 'Beautifully Used' has a Santana feel to the guitar work, whilst the vocals on 'Threshold' and 'Rock & Roll Man' have more than a passing hint of Nirvana to them.

There is nothing too bad about this album apart from the repetitiveness of the material. Briggs is a man with a lifetime of musical experience and I'm sure there will be a lot more to come.  **

Review by Nikk Gunns

WINNEBAGO DEAL Career Suicide (Cargo)

Two piece punk / rock'n'roll who produce a real racket, and this is their third album.

Opener 'Heart Attack In My Head' is fierce, brutal, noisy rock'n'roll and comes over as very forced (like forcing carrots through a sieve without chopping them very finely first).

'Tokyo Rip' and 'I Want Your Blood' continue in a slightly (VERY slightly) more melodic vein, but it's still pretty rough and energetic.

Yes this is punk and rock'n'roll at its most brutal. Despite evidence of a melody ('Nobody's Fault But Mine' a case in point), the thrash the hell out of it angle still rules, as do any effects that give the guitar and vocals that cheese grater edge.

Some good tracks, riffs and rhythms, but 100% attitude overdose does in no way compensate for a complete and utter lack of finesse. **

Review by Joe Geesin

DISTRICT 97 Hybrid Child (The Lasers Edge)

I was going to describe District 97's debut album 'Hybrid Child' as a progressive rock opera but that would make it out to be more then it is. In reality the band have produced an album that will appeal to some fans of prog rock but one that will no doubt fail to cross over genres and appeal to the wider market.

On paper the Chicago based band have a winning formula - they have a member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on cello (Katinka Kleijn), 2007 American Idol Top 10 Finalist (I guess this is the equivalent of the X Factors live rounds?) Leslie Hunt on vocals and a band that are each skilled at their given instrument.

The opener 'I Don't Want To Wait Another Day' is a 7 minute track with limited, and repetitive vocals, whilst 'The Man Who Knows Your Name' is near on 9 minutes long and it is nearly 4 minutes before the vocals start, 'Termites' is a heavier sounding track that feels disjointed to the rest of the album.

Then we get to 'MindScan' parts I-X. Many of these are instrumental and, to be fair, all 10 parts combined have a running time of just over 27 minutes. 'MindScan IV: Welcome' has a very theatrical feel, whilst 'VI: Hybrid Child' is a softer vocal and piano performance that builds into a full band number that really highlights Hunt's vocal abilities- as do parts 'VIII: What Do They Want?' and 'IX: When I Awake'.

'Hybrid Child' clearly works for some people as many on the internet have raved about the albums dynamics and free-flowing movements, however, I feel that the appeal will only be to the minority. **

Review by Nikk Gunns

THE CHARIOT Long Live (Good Fight Music)

Apparently, The Chariot has been around for some time, with 'Long live' being the band's fourth release. They have sold over 100 000 units to date and, after hearing this, I cannot imagine how they did that.

The album is a wall of noise, with different drum beats to differentiate between songs. It is stated that their music is raw and aggressive and I'm not going to argue with that, but it is definitely not melodic. The 'vocalist' knows only one pitch of scream (no singing here) and the guitarist can differentiate between three chords if you're lucky.

This is the most excruciatingly painful album I've had to listen to in years and I'll be very pleased not to have to listen to it again.  * (and this is being generous).

Review by Nick van der Meulen


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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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