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

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

Reviews by Pete Feenstra, Alan Jones and Pete Whalley

Big Dix

BIGDIX Joanne & The Devil FreeMood FMP12C001

'Joanna & The Devil' by the unfortunately titled BIGDIX is a hard rocking retro affair that dabbles in rock blues, punk pop and psychedelia with some choice guitar breaks and passing melodies on an album constantly hampered by clichéd lyrics, poor vocals and even poorer diction.

That may be a little unfair on an Italian rock outfit who blaze away in the vein hope that rocked up lyrics such as 'you are so sexy' is going to find them an audience beyond the garage.

But having pilloried the lyrics to the opening 'You Make Me Crazy' I should also add that there is some rasping guitar playing on the album as a whole. Matteo Idini's AC/DC style pile driving riffs on 'Change The Way', and the hi-octane rocking of guest Mario Percudani on the punky pop cover of 'Burning Love' stand out, while the band revert to a kitchen sink and all approach on the would be psychedelic boogie of 'Psychedelic Blues'

The biggest problem with this album is that it appears to be a jumble of loosely related ideas gathered together under the rock label, in a fleeting snapshot of different influences which too few of the songs manage to successfully resolve.

'Time For Love' is an acoustic ballad with an intricate guitar break that nearly works, and 'So Hot' borrows a Faces guitar line as part of a would be tough rocker on which the vocals don't cut it.

Similarly, the ambitious 'Devils Blues' opens with a mock-schlock devil's voice, but kicks in on the back of Fabio Corradi's mesmerising slide parts which almost make you forget another whiny vocal from fellow guitarist Matteo Idini. The two combine for a heavier workout on 'The Blackman', but again the vocal is as desperate as the lyrics, though some wild slide playing and big wall of guitar sound drives the song on energetically.

It's hard to know who this album is aimed at, as rock fans in general are unsparing in their criticism of anything that doesn't hit the mark, and this album misses by miles. But just when you have given up, the band belatedly pull something together on 'I Wonder', a piano led bonus track, which is a rock ballad with a decent vocal. It's probably a case of too little too late, but something to build on. ***

Review by Pete Feenstra

BIG BOY BLOATER & THE LIMITS The World Explained Azan Records Azan 112

'The World Explained' might have been better titled 'The world according to Big Boy Bloater', as this ten track album closely resembles Bloater's own wry take on the world.

'The World Explained' is an album with soulful intentions that doesn't always realise its ambition, as Bloater doesn't quite have the voice or the material to cross the big divide between his retro past and a song driven future. But there's much to admire from the concise arrangements and song driven style to the tidy playing and ever present humour.

Perhaps there's more irony in his own lyrics than he intended. On one of his best songs 'Lifetime Money Back Guarantee' Bloater sings 'What you get is what you see' and completes the couplet with; 'I'm hiding nothing from you there ain't no mystery'. The lyrical meaning could easily be extrapolated and applied to his own musical style, on a song delivered in a grating voice that doesn't quite have the warmth or timbre to make it special.

'The World Explained' is a bold attempt to establish Bloater as a strong songwriter. It's a work in progress, with 'She Gets Naked For A Living' being both poignant and biting in its unwavering focus on reality; 'Three minutes shaking what you ain't got, don't make no career'. And he opts for a partial compromise on the mono feel of 'Double Whammy' as he revisits his own whammy bar past with additional lyrics. The song doesn't quite have the presence of Lonnie Mack's distant cousin 'Wham!' (also later known as 'Double Whammy'), but it's the closest Bloater gets to a signature song.

The only instrumental on the album is 'Black Sambuca', a gritty twang led, retro r&b outing, with a cheesy Farfisa sounding keyboard and contrastingly tough sculpted guitar notes over a staccato rhythm track.
And while you suspect both these tracks will connect with his older fans, a literal interpretation of 'Stop Dragging Me Down' suggests he wants to move on from the honking sax, double bass, flattop scene. The well crafted opener 'Leonard Cohen' is a good example of his potential while the relationship song 'Insanely Happy' is the clever kind of word play that bodes well for the future.

In the end Big Boy Bloater settles for something of a compromise on the good time 'Hey Funky!' which shows that whatever his song writing aspirations, he's not lost his sense of fun. ***

Review by Pete Feenstra


Whether you describe this album a cow punk, garage rock or left field alt. country The 'Campfire Tales' by The Agnostic-Phibes Rhythm & Blood Conspiracy is an uneasy, relentless mix of fire & brimstone narratives that would fit into one of those dark Coen brothers movies, where the characters stalk the landscape looking for redemption, or perhaps revenge. Not so much a B movie musical landscape as primal impulses taken to the point of cowboy parody.

The Canadian band is a composite of the six string wielding, horror film loving, punk veteran and singer song writer Jackson Phibes and Calgary alt. roots outfit The Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir, featuring Bob Keelaghan, Vladimir Sobolewski, and Jay Woolley.

And given the constituent parts, 'Campfire Tales' is everything you would expect from a twisted alt. roots supergroup. They sucker you in with a shimmering twang guitar motif, segued into the promise of 'Campfire Tales', stoked by ribald roots music and exaggerated stories made for the big screen. The gruesome vocals, noirish narratives and dense musical arrangements make for a difficult ride at times.

In many respects, growled vocals and murder ballads aside, they've already been beaten to punch by bands like the alt. country twang of Blanche, while there are hellfire preachers aplenty in dozens of whisky soaked garage bands.

But what makes this project that bit different is that is rises above vapid comparison with say Beefheart, Screaming Jay Hawkins or Tom Waits, with 12 unrelenting tracks that shift from the languid to the frenetic and convey the kind of stories normally relegated to the twilight hour. On 'Wolfman Franz' Jackson Phibes howls at the moon, and on the best track of all, 'Windigo Song', we're taken on a wild slide and hot picking ride, with frenetic cowboys vocals.

The whole album appears like some sort of alcoholic flash back without the drugs. Phibes delights in post biblical gut wrenching tales played out over sluggish arrangements, as evidenced by 'Voices' and the led foot clanking of 'Blind Ghost Moan', which at least has the benefit of cleverly evoking the song title.

There are as many riveting moments as there is annoying sludge. The tension building guitar drone of 'Neckin' Party' is undoubtedly effective and fits well with the recently released video, but the tension building dynamics fail to deliver what they promise, save for the eerie theramin and controlled feedback.

Similarly on the relentless bottom end piano line of 'Magpie & Skunk', they only offers a brief tension breaking device in the mid-section rocking guitar and piano break, before going back to the one dimensional arrangement.

Even the band appears to recognise the need for some levity on the twang cowboy instrumental jig of 'Wild Night Company' and they add neat picking and whammy bar mangled notes on the up tempo 'Butcher, Maker, Undertaker'.

The vocals are mercilessly mixed as the band finally strike a happy medium between whisky soaked, grated glass vocals and dark lyrics that consistently turn your expectations inside out. This is an everyday album full of wild playing, serial killers and lyrics from the other side of the fence. Time to put the cocoa on. ***

Review by Pete Feenstra

RICKY FERRANTI & THE RUSTY MILES Rusty Miles Tanzan Music TM12C001

It's hard to know just who this album is aimed at, for while there's a mix of passable Americana, would be southern rock and occasional classic rock, 'Rusty Miles fails to evoke its thematic mission statement of a journey.

Put simply, 'Rusty Miles' is an aggregation of very loosely related musical ideas that neither the songs nor some indifferent vocals convince you otherwise. The fact that multi instrumentalist Ricky Ferranti is a good guitar player merely adds to the frustration of an album whose best moments turn out to be the four instrumental tracks.

The slide led title track starts promisingly but a combination of raspy vocals and a telegraphed chorus means it's a road journey with too many diversions. 'Don't Stop' is better, being a catchy rocker with a big guitar figure and booming chorus, while 'Keep On' starts out as a would be slice of Americana but ends up unforgivably with boy band chorus.

Things improve on the wah wah led 'Feel So Bad' which is a rocking stomp with a good hook and guitar break. Ricky leads with some tasty dobro on 'Let Me Know', a duet with Sherrita Duran that doesn't quite make it, but not through a lack of trying, as evidenced by the speedy picking on the suitably title 'Country Junky'.

Vocalist Marco Rancati guests on the poppy 'Let Me Down' which despite a big chorus and an inevitable solo isn't really the sort of material that will appeal to southern rock, Americana, or classic rock fans. And therein lies the problem with an album that tries too hard be all things to all people but rarely settles on one direction

The fleeting Hendrix instrumental 'Jimi's Colour' and melodic guitar led 'Interstate 65' appears to be closer to Ricky true calling, while the piano/dobro pairing on 'New Orleans' has a filmic quality. But unfortunately in between those he opts for another cringing ballad My Eyes On You' and worse still he finishes with a misconceived mock Elvis vocal on 'You're My Cat'.

'Rusty Miles has its moments but in a crowded market place there are so many better options. ***

Review by Pete Feenstra


Firewater is a one man metal project by Canadian multi instrumentalist Dean Meehan. The great front and back photographic artwork houses 16 tracks of regulation melodic metal with just enough fiery playing and chanted hooks to keep fans happy. But overall there's too much emphasis on harmony choruses and not enough lead guitar in the mix.

The title track sets the standard with a good melodic hook which is curiously at odds with Dean's own growly voice, though he is smart enough to add harmony vocals. Most of the material is mid tempo, riff led metal, with 'Hail To The King' being a good example of his style, while 'Man The World Forgot' benefits from doubled up guitars and keen backing vocals.

'Blasted In Beverly Hills' is a self explanatory rocker while 'Motley & Kiss' is the centre piece of the album. The chanted hook is an ode to both Motley Crew & Kiss and comes with the explanatory line; 'Here's a funny twist, Everything I learnt in life I got from Motley & Kiss'. If that floats your boat then this album is for you

For the most part, Firewater ticks the right soft metal boxes, with 'Sick' being one of the heavier efforts and 'Still Deranged' borrows heavily from Sabbath. There's also the catchy 'Slip of the Tongue' and the potent call and response of the closing 'Give And Take'.

But long before the end, the album slumps a little and it gets just a tad wearisome with the pedestrian 'Dead Girls Don't Lie', as there's no getting away from the clichéd lyrics and a plodding arrangement.

Basically there's no substitute for good songs and the best efforts here stand out like a belisha beacon with the irreverent 'Lipsync To This' at least offering some twisted humour while 'Rat Race' works on the back of another strong repeated hook. 'Firewater' is an ok album, probably the kind you might buy after sinking a few beers and seeing the band do their stuff live. ***

Review by Pete Feenstra


Described as 'psycho groove' played with 'the energy, the passion, the raw emotion of a hot young band', Vim Dicta certainly tick the right boxes. This EP has an after hours, live in the studio feel, but is shot through with creative, spontaneous energy. Vim Dicta are not so much a power trio as simply a young garage combo who indulge themselves in some raw psychedelic mayhem.

Led by the exploratory vocals of Cori Elliott and post psychedelic guitar playing of Matt Tunney, the band is powered by the Keith Moon style, free form drumming of David Halicky. Best described as a visceral work in progress, you can feel the energy, the drive, the disparate influences and raw ability in 4 tracks, 18 minutes worth of a band breaking out of the rock & roll starting blocks.

This is raw, jammed out psych rock with a tendency towards sudden tempo changes, almost as if they have get fed up the present and are restless to move on to something else.

The tightly wrapped opening of 'Lucky Strike' for example, starts as a funky groove with echoes of The Beatles 'Come Together', with an exclamatory 'wooh' vocal part and shifts into a repeated guitar/pounding drums fury. Similarly 'Your Man', opens with a lumbering, grungy intro, all buzz guitars and a sludgy blues feel, before a sudden frenetic ending.

And for a band who apparently like to remain free of labels, genres and adhere to the notion of the jam spirit, they still draw on some hard core influences, from the stripped down, raw bluesy undertow of The White Stripes to Cori's unlikely but confident Jim Morrison style vocal phrasing on 'Mezmer'. The latter is a good example of the way the trio blend in different musical influences, moving from a reggae feel with a jagged edge, through some extravagant cymbal splashes towards a splintered psychedelic jam, that resolves itself in a big guitar splurge and high register ethereal vocals bathed in echo

On the closing 'Far Away', they almost approach the white noise territory of Jesus & but for the busy drums and more guitar. This debut EP comes with plenty of free form passion and a psychedelic undertow. But apart from the bluster and expansive singing, I'm not always sure they know where they are going, though the by the time of the closing percussive frenzy of 'Far Away' you do feel like you've been taken on an exhilarating musical journey. ***

Review by Pete Whalley

OCTOBER TREE  The Fairy's Wing

If there's one thing in life that really gets up my nose it's indulgence. Self indulgence is bad enough, but pandering to somebody else's indulgence is just plain wrong.

And this is what has happened here. Greg Lounsberry, erstwhile leader of prog-lite October Tree decided to include his wife Tammy in the decision making process for the new album. 'I want to make an album about fairies' was the apparent reply.

Now, rather than just giving her a bitch-slap and telling her not to be so stupid as no-one, anywhere, is going to be interested, he indulged her and went off and wrote an allegorical novella about said fantasy creatures and 'The Fairy's Wing' is the musical result.

What is really unfortunate is that the album is actually quite good with good song structures and excellent playing throughout - think Marillion with a female vocalist.

However, it doesn't matter how good the music is, you just cannot escape the subject matter of the lyrics which are simultaneously both fatuous and risible.

Track titles such as 'The Ogre', 'Into The Glade' and 'Cult Of The White Witch' give a flavour of the nonsense within and unless you have a real connection with mystical dwarves, witches, fairies and other such drivel, the album quickly becomes tiresome.

Like I said, it is a real shame as there is much to admire about the music - perhaps next time they could write about war, peace, politics, sport, love, poverty, anything other than fairies, and perhaps next time it might be worth a listen.

Incidentally the novella is available on Kindle if you really have both time and money to burn. *** (music)

Review by Alan Jones

SCOTT COOK Moonlit Rambles Groove Revival GRP005

Scott Cook's 'Moonlit Rambles' is an aptly named work from a Canadian song smith who's sharply observed narratives maximizes their impact.

Accurately described as a 'prairie balladeer' Scott imbues his narratives with both irony and perception in the manner of the late Harry Chapin, and he's not averse to delivering them in an occasional emotive flutter akin to Hank Williams.

And if this occasional lurch towards country might alienate his crossover appeal, then its quickly counterbalanced by songs from the heart, that explore country, folk and Americana in its broadest sense, with the focus squarely on the meaning of the words, while the music takes care of itself.

Scott may not quite have the voice or at least the timbre, to make the most of a Kerouac style musical journey, but his autobiographical tales draw you into the significance of his observations.

There's a raw gut honesty in his lyrics suggesting that he didn't have to work hard at his stories or the intrinsic imagery. He provides a life time's experience while retaining enough optimism to work towards a better future.

He sets out his concerns from the very beginning on the cleverly crafted 'Song For the Slow Dancers', a song about musical integrity and meaning; 'I'm told its all about the branding, Not that old peace, love, and understanding'.

The author also realises that 'The drunken throng'll jump around to any old thing', and he quickly adds a mission statement; 'But a song strong enough for world-changing must be, Clear as the moonlight, clear as a straight answer'. And it's the same moonlight that sparkles all over this poetic and philosophical chronicle.

Scott shines his light in different places, illuminating the community spirit of 'Goin Up to the Country' and the polar opposite hustles and bustle of urban life in 'A Million Miles'.

But he's equally capable of uplifting the spirit on a love song like 'Let Your Horses Run', or on the contemplative title track. Then there's the fragility of 'Time With You', on which he sings 'How did we all get so beaten down? How'd we get so over run, Sometimes a string drink'll block it out, And you buy yourself another one'

The reflective 'Go on, Ray' has a filmic quality and on the closing 'Song for a Pilgrim' he slips into a harmony duet with Emily Brown, as the narrator heads for the open road to reconnect with the self.

'Moonlit Rambles' is full of rich imagery, intertwined with an Americana musical landscape with aching pedal steel, plucked banjo, delicate acoustic and the occasional hoe-down fiddle of the poignant 'The Lord Giveth (and the Landlord Taketh Away').

Scott's words preside over a shifting, gently paced musical landscape that's serves to amplify the meaning of his lyrics.

'Moonlit Rambles' is a successfully realised conceptual musical journey that resonates with feeling and integrity and lacks only a defining vocalist to take it up that extra level. ***

Review by Pete Feenstra

VIVA LA VENUS Bleeding On The Edge Of Happiness

If you were to stumble across Viva La Venus - a female fronted band from North Carolina made up of Wendy Brancaccio (guitar / vocals), Susan Darney (guitar, vocals, bass), Mary Anne Barckhoff (bass, guitar, vocals) and Tray McLamb drums) - in a pub / club you'd almost certainly think 'this is a band with potential'.

Sadly, their debut album Bleeding On Edge Of Happiness only hints at what they could become. The problem is two fold. Firstly, the material while 1980's retro - think Susanah Hoffs meets Hazel O'Connor meets Pat Benatar, with some driving rhythms, some equally dreamy moments, and occasional twin guitar lines (a la Thin Lizzy) - fails to latch firmly onto any one particular style. Secondly, the material, while promising, is badly in need of some production wizardry.

Perhaps surprisingly, Bleeding On The Edge Of Happiness is the band's 3rd album. Their first, The Never Ending Morning Story, landed them a deal with Sony Music Television, and their second Forget The Fairy Tale national attention.

But despite some nice playing and some decent vocal work, Bleeding On The Edge Of Happiness sounds more like a bunch of [promising] homemade demos and as a result falls a long way short of the finished article. It could have been so much more. **½

Review by Pete Whalley

MOJO FILTER Mrs. Love Revolution' Club De Music MRCD0911

With a semi naked figure embossed in psychedelic art work and an album titled 'Mrs. Love Revolution', Mojo Filter promise more than they deliver.

Sure there's some Paul Kossof style riffs, occasional Hendrix influences and on their best efforts 'The River', an ascending Garcia style guitar line, but overall the vocals are poor, the production none existent and by the time of the plodding 'Give Me More', a moderate guitar solo tries unsuccessfully to rescue a song without a core structure.

And that is a pity because there are moments when we get glimpses of what the band probably wishes to be, as they fleetingly hit a Stonesy country rock groove on 'Liar' and extend the country element to some deft picking on 'Las Vegas', a song that doesn't match the band's playing ability. In short, too often the woeful vocals and lack of quality material and indeed hooks hinders them.

There's partial exception to the rule on the impressive riff driven 'Lick Me Up' which despite a redundant stop-time pause, has the benefit of a catchy hook. 'Ragged Companion' also works hard trying to slip into a groove that is never fully realised.

In sum, Mojo Filter set their ambitions higher than their ability, as sadly there's neither the wit nor ingenuity here to suggest anything other than a mediocre 'try harder' end of term report. **

Review by Pete Feenstra

TELERGY The Exodus

Oh dear. For some time now I've been banging on about there being no place for religion in rock music - any religion, any rock music, just say no.

So imagine my joy when this shows up - an American progressive (supposedly) rock band telling the story of the Old Testament through the medium of music.

I won't waste time (mine or yours) by going into any great detail about this, but suffice to say, if you like your rock music totally schmaltzed up (like only the Americans can do - ‘No Charge' anyone?) then this is for you and only you.

Each track begins with a retch-inducing conversation between a grandmother and grandson who, for some reason, find themselves alone together in the attic. She regales the poor child with various stories from Exodus in the Old Testament - the plagues, Pharaoh's revenge, the golden calf, etc ad nauseum - each story being followed by a passage of instrumental music.

This music, truth be told, is reasonable some of the time, but nothing to write home about, and certainly not worth the excruciating effort of listening to the biblical intros - some of which go on for some time. If I had been the kid I think I would have clubbed the old bag to death with a discarded tennis racquet.

Incidentally, the picture disc CD has a rather disturbing image of the musician responsible for this nonsense releasing a dove of peace from his hands.

They just can't help themselves can they?

Review by Alan Jones

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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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