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Quick Play: A round-up of December 2011 album releases

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

Reviews by  Pete Whalley

LINCOLN DURHAM The Shovel [vs] The Howling Bones

The blues guitar / percussion combo isn't exactly a new formula. And of recent times both Seasick Steve and Jack White have successfully exploited their love of the blues by stripping it back to just these basics.

So with his acoustic Gibson slide guitar with gnarly pickups screwed to it, it's inevitable that Lincoln Durham will draw comparisons with Seasick. But in a spitting contest, like a young gunslinger, The Shovel vs. The Howling Bones is likely to kick Steve's, now somewhat comfortable, ass.

But while he won the Texas State Youth fiddle championship at the age of 10, somewhere down the line Lincoln Durham - a young man with haunted eyes and the whiskey soaked vocals of a young Paul Rodgers - sold his soul to the Devil in return for that of a withered, weathered old bluesman.

Recorded using early to mid century Gibsons, Kays, Sivertones, Voxes, Bells & Howells guitars and supported by Rick Richards on drums and with just the occasional helping hand on guitars, mandolin, piano, accordion and backing vocals, The Shovel vs. The Howling Bones bleeds blues authenticity. It's dark, raw, and passionate. And to coin a much used phrase 'the real deal'. ****

Review by Pete Whalley

CAM PENNER Gypsy Summer

With his fourth and first self produced album, Canadian singer songwriter Cam Penner has come up with a rather classy release.

Leaving home at eighteen, Penner left small time life to spend his next thirteen years absorbing the North American sub culture of the homeless and deprived.

That journey, working in homeless centres, shelters (while at the same time spending endless hours writing and playing) has left an indelible mark in the humility of his music. And while 'retro' may be the flavour of 2011, Gypsy Summer reaches only as far back as Neil Young, Crazy Horse and Springsteen's more reflective folk / country moments inspiration.

As a consequence it's classic 'modern' Americana. Penner's engaging vocals fall in the quieter Springsteen / Stripe register, the production is crisp and clean, but best of all is the 'feel'. A wonderfully warm groove that somehow, you only expect from analogue recordings pressed in fresh vinyl. ***1/2

Review by Pete Whalley

JIM KROFT The Hermit And The Hedonist

First a word as regards the eco friendly 'cut out' gatefold / sleeve packaging which is becoming a trademark of Jim Kroft releases. It's simple and incredibly effective artwork.

Based in Berlin, the Scottish singer songwriter specialises in finely crafted pop / rock with a clear line of sight back to Beatles and Sgt Pepper, and the 1960's in general.

The opener and first single Memoirs From the Afterlife has echoes of the Fab Four, and is swiftly followed by the melancholic Modern Monk, a love song with the hallmarks of Lennon McCartney and Eric Stewart. Together, they set a template for most of what follows - middle aged, melodic, radio friendly pop / rock.

Co produced with Laura Marling's drummer Matt Ingram, and ideally suited to the Radio 2 audience, The Hermit And The Hedonist breaks no new ground and is unlikely to have listener's 'tuning out'. But neither, it has to be said, is it likely to have them 'tuning in'. **1/2

AMELIA WHITE Beautiful And Wild

Nashville based singer songwriter Amelia White's self released fourth album reminds in many ways of the more left field output of Sheryl Crow. But with one exception, Crow's ability to add hooks that almost guarantee commercial success.

Produced by Marco Giovino (Band Of Joy, Norah Jones, Rodney Crowell) Beautiful And Wild sits neatly in the American / roots genre with many having made comparisons with Lucinda Williams. But to my mind the album is epitomised by a virtually unrecognisable cover of Bryan Ferry's More Than This.

Now some may say that to take such a well known song and deconstruct it so comprehensively is quite an achievement. But to this reviewer's ears it simply serves to underline that despite the quality of the playing, production and singing, the songs on Beautiful And Wild simply fail to cut mustard in any commercial sense. Which means Amelia White is unlikely to register on any mainstream radars anytime soon. **

Review by Pete Whalley

ALY COOK Brand New Day

It's really only since the Alison Krauss generation of players put the 'cool' back into country, that the genre has become a magnet for everyone from Jon Bon Jovi to Robert Plant. Up until then 'country' music was regarded as somewhat 'cheesy' and anodyne by rock fans.

Unfortunately this debut album from New Zealander Aly Cook, which she descibes as 'country blues crossover', bears many of the traits of that former period. Now in her late forties, the making of Brand New Day has clearly been a personal goal for her, and on a positive note her vocals are pretty decent, bringing to mind another New Zealand singer songwriter - Sonny Southon who released a wonderful debut album Falling Through A Cloud back in 1990 but gave music up for meditation and yoga.

But vocal prowess aside, Brand New Day has little of substance to offer. It's pleasant in a radio friendly sort of way, but frankly it lacks major hooks, the playing is nothing above 'run of the mill', and simply sounds dated. It also only runs to a miserly eight tracks over 30 minutes.

As a personal achievement Brand New Day is an album to be proud of and will likely cause a few ripples in New Zealand where Aly's been nominated for Female Country Artist of the Year, and Next Magazine New Zealand Woman of the Year. But it's unlikley to make much of an impact further afield. **

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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