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Quick Play: A round-up of July 2012 album releases

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

Reviews by Nick van der Meulen, Jason Ritchie, Pete Whalley


PELLEK Bag of Tricks (Liljegren Records/Doolittle Group)

Pellek is a Norwegian singer/songwriter who came to the fore by performing on 'The X Factor' on Norwegian television in 2009. He wrote 'Bag of Tricks' afterwards, presenting some of the material on YouTube, which landed him the role of vocalist in Damnation Angels, as well as The ANABASIS. 'Bag of Tricks' finally saw the light of day after playing a guest role on one of Tommy ReinXeed’s videos.

Pellek has quite an array of guests lined up for this work, including Amanda Somerville and Oliver Hartmann. The result is a melodic power metal album in the vein of Sonata Arctica. Each performer does his/her job well and each song a pleasure to listen to. This album could fit in with Sonata Arctica’s 'Silence' (arguably still their best release to date).

Another great power metal project from Scandinavia which needs to be sampled! ****½

Review by Nick van der Meulen

PRAYER Danger In The Dark (Escape Music)

Prayer is a Finnish AOR/melodic rock outfit which created ripples in 2005 with the release of their debut, 'Wrong address'. Seven years later the band, featuring a revised line up, releases 'Danger in the dark'…

This is a cracking release, with Tapani Tikkanen, the voice and songwriter of the band, in fine fettle with the pen. Ten songs are featured, producing smooth AOR tinged melodic rock which is a joy to listen to. The album is easy on the ears and soothes the soul.

This is a classic example of producing fine rock music without it having to grab you by the throat. Essential for AOR and even Westcoast lovers. ****½

Review by Nick van der Meulen


POLUTION Beyond Control (Escape Music)

Polution is a Swiss rock outfit that has been on the local underground scene since 2005. 'Beyond control' is their sophomore release after their debut, 'Overheated', was released in 2007.

While this is touted for Gotthard and AC/DC fans, this is more modern rock in flavour, with touches of Nickelback and The Offspring to be heard. What makes this stand out is the fact that there is a lot of melody, with Bullet of my Valentine type of guitar harmonies, the riffing is more prominent and Pascal Gwerder’s vocals while raspy at times, adds another dimension to the overall sound.

Essential for hard rock lovers. ****

Review by Nick van der Meulen

WILD FRONTIER 2012 (Music Buy Mail/Cargo Records)

Wild Frontier is a German rock outfit that has been around for 22 years, recording five albums in the process, with '2012' being their latest effort.

While the band is touted as hard rock, it is only the opening track, '2012', which is heavy rock. Most of the album ranges between power pop and melodic rock. The melodies are upbeat and light, leaving one in a good mood as the final notes of 'Gimme gimme' (yes, the ABBA song) fade away.

Another great German band hidden from the world has produced a fine melodic rock album which needs to be heard. ****

Review by Nick van der Meulen

ORDINARY BRAINWASH ME 2.0 Metal Mind Productions 2012

This is the third album by the one man band that is Rafal Zak and listening to this album it is amazing one man can create such deep and wonderous musical soundscapes. There is much on here to be enjoyed by fans of Porcupine Tree (‘Unbirthday’) and even the pomp sweep of Muse on ‘Don’t Look Back’.

Not always an easy listen as the dark lyrics have a computer theme running through them and much talk of failing and fixing yourself. But worth the effort and musically it reveals a little more with each listen. If Rafal Zak is this talented on his own imagine what he could come up with a band of similar minded musicians!

Review by Jason Ritchie

Steel Threads

STEEL THREADS Timing Is Everything

Formed in July 2011 the band consists of Neil Wardleworth on guitar, vocals and percussion, Stuart Eastham on double bass and Cliff Woodworth on fiddle.

Listening to this album you are reminded of the Levellers (more in that band’s acoustic mode as Steel Threads don’t use drums or electric bass) and the Waterboys, both bands who happily melded rock with folk.

Steel Threads also add in a touch of epic rock a la Led Zeppelin on ‘Gave You A Thought’, which if it had a full on rhythm section would blow your speakers! As it is, it is still a mighty beast of a tune.

The fiddle playing certainly keeps the listener’s interest (Cliff Woodworth has the slightly spacey sound former Fairport Convention fiddler Ric Sanders has) as the one weakness in the album for me is some of the songs sound to mid-paced.

Perhaps a couple more songs like ‘Dead In My Mouth’ and the title track would have made this album stronger. Still, of definite interest to fans of the Levellers and the masters of folk rock, Fairport Convention. ***

Review by Jason Ritchie

Ally The Fiddle


It's not often you see an album that attempts to straddle the traditional folk and rock / metal genres. But that's just what this 2008 offering from German fiddler and violinist Ally Scorch attempts to achieve.

Conceived by Ally as a solo project the line up has expanded to include Robert Klawonn (guitar), Diemo Heuer (guitar), Thorsten Hartung (bass) and Stefan Hukriede (drums). As a band they've supported artists like UFO and Ally continues to work as a session player on the European circuit.

In essence Red Unicorn is a 'taster' running to 5 tracks over 25 minutes combining traditional Scottish and Irish tunes with a fairly heavy rock band.

The set opener Catharsis is a short hard hitting number and Glenglass equally evocative, but after a while the absence of vocals (other than a narration on the title track) becomes a little wearisome - particularly on the longer tracks.

The Mason's Apron - a wild jig / reel falls a little wide of the mark and ultimately the band seem uncertain whether they're a rock band playing second fiddle to Ally, or a band truly trying to integrate the genres.

It's a good idea, and Ally's undoubtedly a talented player, but to rise above the 'novelty support act' billing they're going to need more song structure, and preferably a vocalist. ***

Review by Pete Whalley

TIRILL Tales From Tranquil August Gardens / Nine & Fifty Swans

An unusual 'twin' release sees the re-issue of Tirill's 2003 debut album recorded over the period 1998 - 2002, and her new follow-up recorded some 10 years later.

For those, like me, not in the know, Tirill is a Norwegian singer, songwriter, guitarist, and percussionist with a background in progressive and psychedelic rock and medieval music.

The sleeve notes to her new album, courtesy of The University Of Aberdeen, accurately describes it as evocative and ethereal, delicate, sensuous and vulnerable, haunting and seductive, and the perfect accompaniment to the poetry of W B Yeats, from where the lyrics are drawn.

And there, you pretty much have it - both albums have a learned and suggestive feel, one that paints mental pictures of cloisters and places or worship, solitude and learning.

In truth there's nothing to choose between them, and they're for people who want to sit quietly and absorb them and all that 'the arts' have to offer in quiet contemplation.

Not for those seeking a cheap thrill, but those of more studious dispositions. Discuss. ***

Review by Pete Whalley

Victoria Celestine


You have to be sceptical when you get a debut album from a 15 year old to review. Words like 'precocious', 'child exploitation', and 'American Idol' spring to mind.

But surprisingly, 'From The Outside' is a remarkably mature album from a girl who only discovered performing at musical theatre summer camp at the age of 12 and only picked up the guitar at the age of 12.

Invited by Gordon Raphael (Regina Spektor, The Strokes) into the studio to record her debut album, she's already picked up a wide range of awards and plaudits although she remains unsigned at present.

From The Outside displays a song writing maturity beyond her years (think Diane Birch) and she has a vocal style that marries Norah Jones, Marilyn Monroe and X Factor semi finalist Diana Vickers.

For those impressed by Vickers ability, this is probably the album she should have made before finding theatrical success. ***

Review by Pete Whalley

LOIS BLAISCH Through Thick And Thin

Although it's not clear from the PR Blurb and the absence of sleeve notes / credits Through Thick And Thin would appear to be something of a career / demo retrospective from a singer, songwriter, guitarist, producer and performer perhaps best known for her eight times platinum #1 hit Could've Been recorded by Tiffany and performed by Carrie Underwood on American Idol.

But her work goes much wider than that - picked up by Disney as a theme park performer she's appeared on three platinum children's albums, sung on TV show themes including Stingray, worked on numerous film, TV and commercials for prestigious brands such as Pepsi, Coke, Levi jeans.

So it's a wonder she's not made it in her own right. And Through Thick And Thin offers no clues - the vocals are immaculate throughout and her songwriting the sort of AOR material of movie soundtracks (think Carly Simon or Aerosmith).

The collection is, however, somewhat entrenched in the 80s/90s and in need of a production makeover. But if there's ever a 2nd Miami Vice movie, Lois Blaisch is a must for doing the soundtrack. ***

Review by Pete Whalley


Polly Barrett is the 'new jewel' of Irish folk / pop, and it's easy to see why.

Her debut album Mr Bookshop is an 11 track showcase of her acoustic guitar based radio friendy 'pop'. Harking back to the 1970's singer songwriter generation, the album is dominated by Polly's acoustic guitar and vocals with only subtle accompaniment in the form of banjo and backing vocals courtesy of Michael Daly and Josh Sampson on drums.

An unsigned artist from County Cork, where she began her career as a busker, her vocals bring to mind a meeting of the styles of Cara Dillon and Joni Mitchell, and the clarity of the recording adds to the overall ambience.

It's the sort of accessible set that many probably many wish Andrea Corr had produced instead of 'going a bit weird' when the Corrs decided to take a long term sabbatical. ***

Review by Pete Whalley

Cry For Eden

CRY FOR EDEN The 11th Hour

The PR blurb for this debut 'concept' album from Cry For Eden - a female fronted rock band from Portland, Oregon tells us little beyond the line up of Lisa Mann (vocals and bass), Larry London (drums), Don Graham (guitars) and James Borst (piano, keyboards / orchestration), and the fact that with their classical orchestration the band sit in the symphonic metal genre.

With all songs written by James Borst, the 'concept' of the end of days isn't a new one, and the game plan of frequent 'storytelling' interludes from family scenes to news flashes works both for and against the project.

On the plus side, it adds a certain level of atmosphere to the album, but on the downside it breaks it up and is likely to become somewhat wearing on repeated listens. And while bands such as Within Temptation, Nightwish and Epica are referenced, Cry For Eden probably have more in common with early Dream Theater.

For me, the more restrained numbers like One Last Hope and Finally Free demonstrate a more understated and latent power and work better than the more bombastic moments that spill across most of the album. The format of soaring melodic vocals (and Lisa Mann does a noteworthy job in that respect) underpinned by high speed guitar and drum runs is fast becoming a somewhat clichéd sound.

It's not that the playing and performance isn't of a consistently high quality. It is. But the bottom line is that despite some fine moments, Cry For Eden don't bring anything dramatically 'new' to the party. ***

Review by Pete Whalley

Robbin Thompson

ROBBIN THOMPSON Just A Blur In The Rearview

American Song Festival winner singer songwriter Robbin Thompson is no 'new kid on the block'. He recorded his first '45' back in 1966 and has written songs with Springsteen, Eagles bassist Timothy B Schmit, and Dave Matthews drummer Carter Beauford.

He's shared the stage with Dylan, Springsteen, CSN, Tina Turner, Bonnie Raitt, Little Feat and Bruce Hornsby. And he was a member of the early Springsteen band Steel Mill. But since the mid 1970's he's been a solo artist with eight previous albums to his name.

So why haven't we heard of him? Just A Blur In The Rearview - a project that took about 3 years to complete offers few answers. The opener, and title track is classic Springsteen meets Bruce Hornsby with Thompson's vocals eerily reminiscent of The Boss. The same is true of One-Horse Town which adds elements of The Eagles.

Those dulcet tones are a consistent feature of a consistent set that touches on R&B, the blues, country, and bluesy rock 'n' roll - all delivered in that laid back AOR west coast style. There's really only one word for it, and that's 'classy'.

Those who lament the passing of The Eagles would undoubtedly enjoy Just A Blur In The Rearview. But the fact this set dates back to 2007 suggests it's already passed them by without so much as a glance. ***

Review by Pete Whalley

AUTUMN WHISPERS Cry Of Dereliction Vol.1

A rather pleasant debut release from Autumn Whispers - a multi national group of musicians from Norway, Greece, Malaysia and England, with backgrounds in classical, Byzantine, pop, progressive rock and improvisational music.

While the title - Cry Of Dereliction, and the album cover conjure images of the end of days, the album is, in fact the first in a series of seven that will put musical arrangements to selected poems from some of the world's most recognised poets - in this instance, William Blake - as well as their own.

The result is a gently ebbing album of 10 tracks that harks back to the concept albums of the early 1970s British rock scene in a style the band likes to label as 'poetic rock with progressive and classical elements based on enigmatic poetry'.

It's an album the brims with lyrical and musical imagery and one that is both dreamy and graceful. And while it never exactly gathers a 'head of steam' it is rather soothing and one for life's quieter and more reflective moments. It will also strike a chord with those who yearn for those yesteryears when music arrived in gatefold sleeves and wasn't quite so 'disposable'. ***

Review by Pete Whalley

Midwich Assembly


Formed in 2010 Midwich Assembly defy categorisation - broad sonic soundscapes of keys and string arrangements permeate their debut album that encapsulates ambient, alternative and neo prog rock, and electronica.

A five piece comprising Tim Hans Smith Strong (lead and backing vocals), Chris Atherton (lead and backing vocals), Dave Parkinson (electric and acoustic guitars), Paul Bibby (guitars) and Dave Atherton (keys), their strengths like in their rhythms and melodies which range from the sublime to stream hammer percussive, but mostly major in dreamy ambience.

Large sections of the album are instrumental and bring to mind the works of Trevor Horn / Art Of Noise and Blue Nile with, at times, a (distinctly laid back) Dave Gahan style of vocal delivery.

It's a combination that finds the band out on an indie branch of their own. No bad place to be and one that will undoubtedly find them a niche following. There's moments of haunting beauty - Astronomer Royal and Shadowtown for example, have the potential for wider appeal, but in the current climate it's difficult to see mainstream success.

For those who like their music moody and ambient. ***

Review by Pete Whalley

Grace Potter & The Nocturnals


Grace Potter - undoubtedly one of the most exciting and finest vocalists of her generation - is turning into something of a chameleon with each successive album release taking a different fork in the road.

So far we've had her superb 2004 country blues eponymous debut, the 'classic' rock pairing of Nothing But The Water (2006) and This Is Somewhere (2007) - surely her finest hour yielding timeless numbers like Stop The Bus and Apologies, and her last album Grace Potter & The Nocturnals which veered more towards the mainstream pop market.

It's unclear whether she and The Nocturnals simply like to keep exploring new areas or whether they're searching for that elusive breakthrough that could convert them to stadium headliners around the globe. But each album to date has offered up and clutch of timeless gems.

The Lion The Beast The Beat is again something of an enigma of an album - one which attempts to cover all the aforementioned bases, and a few more. And perhaps most disconcertingly, a foray into dance beats.

The result is a disjointed affair that is probably the weakest Grace Potter album to date and one suggests the band may be running out of gas. Yes, there's one or two songs that just about measure up to her previous best (the title track and One Heart Missing being examples), but you can't help but feel the next album may see the launch of a solo career. **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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