Archive for the ‘Album review: rock’ Category

In the boys’ club of Australian Blues, there is a dearth of stand-out women bandleaders. And the few who rise to the top are almost all singers. Which is great, but in a music that in built on the conversation between a human call and a tart guitar response, surprisingly few play blues guitar on the level of a Shane Pacey, Kirk Lorange or Jan Rynsaardt.

One who does is Christina Crofts. And no one plays guitar like Christina Crofts.

A rising voice in the Australian Blues world, Crofts consistently peels back the ears of audiences with her razor-toothed slide guitar work and very Lucinda Williams vocal and attitude. Her playing, performing and songwriting is imbued with the spirit of her late husband Steve, one of this country’s most underrated guitarists.

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But Croft’s voice is very much her own and on her new EP – Like We Used To – she has realised the strongest expression of it yet.

Opener ‘Breakaway’ rolls in like a howling thunderstorm, shot through with the white lightning of Crofts’ Stratocaster. The rhythm section of Stan Mobbs and Tony Boyd literally thunder under the guitars – Crofts and engineer Russell Pilling have gone for the  over-amped Marshall sound of much contemporary blues here, and it is a force of nature.

The title track, ‘Like We Used To’, which follows is a tasty, upbeat contrast. A spry piece of Tex-Mex rock’n’roll, it has a sweetly nostalgic feel and a warm ear-worm of a guitar lick. It also brings out the country edge to Crofts’ vocal, which is a perfect foil to her six-string work.covers-0001

‘Don’t Cry’ is even more country rock’n’roll with the groove held steady under the sure tiller of Mobbs and Boyd.

Closer ‘Lucy’ is a juicy Little Feet latino-funk groove which tells a story of Bad Woman Blues. Crofts’ slide-guitar here virtually scratches your eyes out from the first note, its tone befitting the morality tale of the home-wrecking protagonist. Crofts’ lyrics throughout deserve a mention: they work on classic blues and roots templates, as you want, but have a wit and originality about them which is a relief in an often cliché-sodden genre.

It’s been a long wait since 2008’s Midnight Train for some new music from Christina, but Like We Used To will convince anyone with ears that she is back and ready to spit sparks. Watch out boys – she’s the hellhound on your trail.

Like We Used To is available from Christina Crofts’ website – https://www.christinacrofts.com/store

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Who knows how these things happen – my Reviewer’s Box was one day filled with a bunch of new releases that said one thing to me: The Song isn’t dead, after all.

Hell it’s not even ailing. And here was me thinking The Song had passed; lately the evidence wasn’t good, with national Song of the Year gongs going to insipid ukelele bleats and Grammies being throw at nursery rhyme la-la songs. Harsh I know – but we all get those moods from time to time.

Sydney artist Adrian O’Shea‘s Dr Taos album helped lift me out of the fug. Named for O’Shea’s alter-ego under which he performs and records, the whole shebang is as cool as his portrait on the inner sleeve. (Check out the good Doctor: shades, tiger-pattern suit, on a velvet and gilt lounge – you know this album is going to have Style).

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And style it has – O’Shea’s songs are informed by everything from British Pop to US art-rock, a little bit country, a lot folk and everything in between. And yet, was with all good (not to say great) songwriting, his work is all of the above and yet none of it. No pastiche or wannabe here: the songs are his and his alone, written from his heart and sung from his soul.

And it is O’Shea’s voice that is Dr Taos’ secret weapon – in all of popular music a strong song, put across by a truly affecting voice is an irresistible one-two punch. Add to this the songwriter singing his own songs, with all the drama, depth and nuance conveyed and that one-two becomes a triple whammy.taos1

The classic English power-pop of opener ‘Merry Go Round Thieves’ grabs you immediately (great guitar playing too – the guitar playing and classic range of tones all across the album is  a personal delight). ‘Pick You Up’ is wide-eyed psychedelia. The songs range from the epic (the expansively named, and sounding, ‘Forever of Tomorrow’) to the sweetly intimate (‘Love Strikes’). There are Celtic hills and country roads and gritty urban alleys and noisy clubs. It is quite a trip, yet O’Shea’s songs are strong enough to hold it all together – we start at the same place, and we know we will come Home to the same place.

Like all exceptional Pop writing, you feels as if you have heard this line or that hook somewhere before, and you just can’t put your finger on it – but of course you haven’t. The only problem is Dr Taos – at fourteen substantial songs – is maybe a little long for a single serve.

But which of these fourteen good’uns would you lose? It would be a hard edit. Adrian O’Shea has pulled a remarkably consistent stream of great work from his creative inner.

He is off to Europe soon to tour this album – Dr Taos. I do hope he comes back to us. We wouldn’t want to lose him.

In a week where we read sad talk of Angus Young retiring AC/DC, Australia’s greatest rock’n’roll export, this CD popped up in my Reviewer’s Box. And it cheered me right up again.

Back In Blue: A Blues Tribute to AC/DC is more than a gathering of the tribes, more than just a summit meeting of Australia’s leading blues artists. It is a project conceived by Queensland musician, Darren Griffis, as a shot in the arm for depression-busting organisation, Beyond Blue.

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Each artist has taken a track of the AC/DC album Back In Black and reinterpreted it in their own image. It’s a smart idea, and one that comes off as brilliantly as one would expect.

From Geoff Atchison’s slinky ‘Hell’s Bells’ with vocalist Jane Michele (fading in out of a smart, scene-setting cut-up of radio grabs announcing Bon Scott’s shocking and untimely death), via Chase The Sun’s heavy ‘Shoot To Thrill’ (wunderkind Jan Rynsaardt sizzling on guitar) to acoustic superstar Lloyd Spiegel’s chugging ‘Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution’, Back In Blue: A Blues Tribute to AC/DC is a thrill ride for lovers of modern blues – and anyone else with ears and a soul.

Treats along the way are hair-raising Hammond organ whizz, Lachy Doley – also a hell of a singer – showing no mercy to ‘Back In Black’ and Eightball Aitken’s surprisingly slinky (and waaaay more believably horny than the original) ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’. Back In Blue1

Gail Page’s almost gospel-tinged take on ‘What You Do For Money Honey’ and Genevieve Chadwick’s whiskey-throated ‘Have a Drink on Me’ show why they will always be regarded by we humble subjects as this country’s Queens of the Blues.

Special mention (and a shiny gold star) goes to Marshall Okell flipping the randy ‘Giving The Dog A Bone’ on its black head. Okell’s strutting mid-song rap on depression and fight-back spirit takes the double-entendre sleaze out of the original and replaces it with grit and guts.

It is significant that producer Darren Griffis chose Back In Black to hang the Back In Blue project on, as the original album was AC/DC’s declaration of mourning for recently deceased singer and icon Bon Scott. Yet it was also a statement of spirit and strength, a rallying cry to carry on in the face of tragedy. Let’s hope Back In Blue reaches out to those those who need its spirit the most.

 

It was a couple of Byron Bay Bluesfests ago when I came across Glenn Cardier again. Seeing his name up, I had made a point of checking him and his crack band, The Sideshow in one of the smaller festival venues. I’m glad I did – apart from being up close to the band (I am quickly losing enthusiasm for the huge tents and screens), I was mesmerised by Cardier, in pork pie and shades, front and centre,  growling his strange songs, his acoustic guitar driving the band and the crowd.

I had been a fan in the 70s. Glenn Cardier always stood out to me, seemingly of a different tribe than the grizzled ‘young fogeys’ who made up the singer-songwriters of the times. Apart from the freak-cabaret whiff of his bowler hat, Lennon specs and waistcoat, his songs seemed wryly funny, yet dark. And always entirely original.

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After seemingly bobbing up on every festival bill and touring the world with that other existential jester, Spike Milligan, Cardier retired for 25 years. In early 2002 he returned to low key gigs, and now has given us his fifth album since his 21st century resurrection, Cool Under Fire.

Recorded almost entirely by himself, with the help of some heavy friends such as Sideshow (and everywhere else) guitarist, Rex Goh and country darlin’ Catherine BrittCool Under Fire is a rich helping of what we love about Cardier. The songs are wry and droll, many illuminated with a cinematic glare or dark-street noir. The humour is there – the hilarious pulp detective ‘A Case of Mistaken Identity’ and the everyman-Elvis of ‘Impersonation of The King’; a lot of it, of course, dark and world-weary, such as ‘Cold Light of Day’ (a Weimar gypsy lurch, tipsy as Kurt Weill). CUF-cov-400

There are the Pop smarts that raise a writer like Cardier above many of his genre: ‘Win Some, Lose Some’ is loaded with hooks and the harmony of ‘Welcome Home, Johnny-Oh’ is a darker shade of ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’. And of course, commensurate with Cardier’s novelistic approach to lyric, there is romance – the romance of rock’n’roll with its cars (gotta be Cadillacs, Jim), sexual heat and girls girls girls (‘She had bumper-bullets that would do a Cadillac proud‘) but also sweet, everyday romance of the sort that keeps your average, jobbing muso existential jester going.

‘The Day I Fell In Love With You’ is perhaps one of the loveliest, most unadorned love songs I have heard for a long time. Here, Cardier reminds me (not for the first time on they album) of the late American singer Warren Zevon. Cardier, like Zevon’s in his tender moments, is happy to drop artifice and cleverness if something needs to be said plain and simple. This country simple approach raises a smile in ‘Loretta’ and lifts the heart in ‘Rise and Shine’ – a song of hope.

But it wouldn’t be Glenn Cardier if he didn’t leave us with a wink, and a shadow-play and maybe a twinge of loss. ‘The Last Jukebox’ seems set in a post-civilisation Mad-Maxscape, all dust and empty desert winds. It seems dark, listless – with all hope fading out to a pale glimmer. And yet:

“Only one thing left to do –,
Only one thing left to do –,
Come on now, come over here,
It’s gonna be alright –, 
Only one thing left to do.

Dance.”

 

Cool Under Fire is released 1 August 2016.
For more information go to www.glenncardier.com

From out of Perth comes blues-rocker Matty T Wall, to whom I give a whole bunch of gold stars straight up.

In the petrifying forest of current blues, Wall cuts through with a unique voice. There is much on his new album Blue Skies just familiar enough to satisfy the blues purists, yet plenty different enough to satisfy me and the thousands of blues fans who yearn for a truly new voice in the genre.

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Gold stars first: One – in the sea of Strats and Les Pauls, Wall uses a beautiful white three-pickup Gibson SG which he rings any sound from he wants. It has a throatiness and a sweet chime that works so well with the blues. Two – everyone (including SRV) does Hendrix‘s ‘Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)’; on Blue Skies, Wall chooses to cover that tornado-tune’s cooler yet equally gorgeous sister, ‘Voodoo Chile’, his 12-minute version making me wonder why not more blues artists do.

Three – Blue Skies is a completely consistent album of stunning music; a gumbo of most modern styles, all worked up beautifully. Opener ‘Burnin Up Burnin Down’ is a heavy horn-driven Chicago stomper. ‘Am I Wrong’ is Slim Harpo on amphetamine. ‘Love Gone Away’ is the kind of minor-key blues Joe Bonamassa tears up – yet Wall’s soloing here uses much more texture and jazz flavours than mighty Joe.Matty-T-Wall - Album cover

‘Scorcher’ is a virtuoso guitar workout á la SRV’s ‘Rude Mood’, a thrill ride where Wall, like SRV, never seems to run out of energy, or ideas. Great guitar, great vocal too: ‘This Is Real’ is deep-fried slow-funk that has Wall in Robert Cray soul-blues mode.

Title track ‘Blue Skies’ has a country edge that brings to mind the same-named Allman Brothers tune. Wall adds some heavyweight guitar along the way, and a gospel edge. The effect is epic but never overblown.

Recorded in Perth and New York (Wall means business) with a crack band that plays like they mean it, Blue Skies should really be noticed by everyone who is listening out for the good stuff. We will see. I truly hope so.

Published May 2016 on theorangepress.net

 

Tony Cini, main man of Sydney blues rockers, The Arc Riders, is a pretty good friend of mine. Tony has lots of friends in the blues and roots-rock fraternity, being a champion of the form and a tireless worker and advocate of this still-energetic and surprisingly popular music. For years the front man of The Ginhouse Blues Band, Tony is well loved and regarded as a ‘Superhero of the Blues’.

The Arc Riders have just released their debut album, The Arc Riders. As a friend of his, am I cool to write this review? Well, real friends don’t bullshit each other, especially about music, so let’s start there.

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And, anyway, I find the things I like about The Arc Riders are the same things I like about Mr Tony Cini. The music is passionate and gutsy, pumping with a big heart and a sincerity that rings true. Too many current blues releases now go for a “fake authenticity” borne mostly out of kids playing a grown-ups’ game. Cini has been around the blues-block enough times to have paid his dues in spades. On the liners he thanks (among his friends and players) Elvis, Hendrix and Irish hellhound Rory Gallagher – even though the spirits of all three wash over the album, it is Gallagher’s rough, ready and very human ghost which gets in all the cracks and blows through the tracks.

The production of the album also has veered from the current vogue in blues of garagey roughness and flailing loudness, in favour of a lean and focussed energy that is deeply informed by Cini’s blues-rock roots in Ginhouse and earlier in 70s hard-rockers Geeza. No fat here, kids – all killer, no filler. The-Arc-Riders-CD-1

Having members of Chase The Sun as the core power trio for the album helps – Jan Rynsaart‘s leads come coiling out of the speakers like rattlesnakes snapping; he has always been a heartstopping player and The Arc Riders documents some of his best recorded work: ‘Rattlesnake Shake’ is dazzling and the triplet trills on album opener ‘Illawarra Train’  will send guitarists back to the woodshed. Heavy friends such as Lachy Doley on keys, Cameron Henderson on stinging Telecaster and the wonderful Cass Eager all help to flesh out this satisfying and rich album.

Cini lets the band groove and breathe, even letting them stretch out and jam in the codas of a couple of tunes – which gives The Arc Riders a nice live feel, letting the energy flow. The quieter acoustic pieces – such as the rustic cowboy lament ‘Out on The Western Plain’ – sit among the hard blues tracks as welcome breathers, very lovely in their own way, the passion cooler and calmer.

The Arc Riders works well across all the styles Tony has written for. The tunes are strong, the band kicks it and Cini’s sincerity and depth of true feeling stays direct, unsullied by a fussy production. His influences are there, but a lifetime of playing and breathing music has made his sound his own.

Published February 2016 on theorangepress.net

 

The first thing you notice is the pin-sharp grooves and right-in-the-fucking-pocket playing. This is the sort of wound-tight funk that Steely Dan did (still do) so well: brilliantly layered rhythm section with smart and sassy horns on top and close-harmony vocal to sweeten or curdle the mix, all tight as skin and sharp as sarcasm.

The next thing you notice is the lyrics. No ‘want your body on the dancefloor’ or ‘you light up my life’. No, the 12 songs on Suit & Tie’s new album Creep Season deal with the muck and grit between the neat folds of life – venereal disease, stalking (the title track), whoring, scoring, playing, straying, date-rape and anal sex. It is all quite dead-pan and it is all drop-dead hilarious.

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Suit & Tie is, for all intents and purposes, songwriter and vocalist Mev Stuart – and anyone he can coerce or blackmail into doing his musical dirty work. Creep Season contains contributions from thirty-two of this town’s finest and most creative musicians. The bribes must be immense, yet the results are stunning.

Creep Season grew from a chance remark by his initial collaborator, keyboard player Jerry Craib while watching a Steely Dan documentary way way back in 2007 (“we could take the piss out of this”). Despite its eight-year gestation, it all sounds amazingly fresh and consistent.

Stuart’s songs come from his observations of life’s bright pageant, or at least the soiled fag-end of it. His vocal delivery is one of the reasons it all works so well – he inhabits his songs’ compromised characters with true dramatic relish and a wry eye on us all.

Prior to publishing this review, I asked Mev Stuart a half-dozen questions. He obviously didn’t like the tone of a couple of them, but he politely took the time to answer all six. I couldn’t stop laughing.

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John Hardaker: The songs on Creep Season have taken since 2007 to complete – did you have the idea/vision right from the start, or did the project evolve as you went?

Mev Stuart: Jerry and I had the idea straight off the bat. It started off fairly benign with ‘Big Idiot’, a song about a guy who wears pleated slacks when he goes out with his mates, and who never picks up at parties because he’s an idiot. Once that song was done it just spurred us on to write more, because it was so much fun to write songs like that. There’s no risk when you’re just having a good time.

John Hardaker: You mention that the seed of the album was your original collaborator saying ‘let’s take the piss out of this’ while watching a doco on Steely Dan’s AJA album. Is it all piss-take or is there some real fan-boy love for the Dan there as well?

Mev Stuart: *boyish grin* LOVE Dan. I grew up with Dan. My dad Max started playing their tapes when I was about 15. My best mate gave me Gaucho and Aja on tape for my 21st birthday, and I ended up repairing that sucker about 5 times, because I would just play it constantly, and anywhere, in any filthy tape munching player I could get it into.
 I always thought Fagen was joking about everything because of the way he sings, and when there’s 15 layers of joke-voice going on it kind of has an effect. Suit & Tie pays homage to that, and to them – without ever wanting to pretend it can be as good, and making that quite clear through the device of humour.
And about “my original collaborator”, Jerry – he’ll be back. He’s doing it and that’s that. He’s up to his ridiculous knees in it. Oh! Speaking on that, he once turned up for a session wearing those weird rubber toe-shoe things. I opened the front door, saw them, said, “Um..this is a shoes-off house Jerry… from now.. so..” He flatly refused to take them off.

creep season1John Hardaker: In fact, many of the tunes bring to mind Frank Zappa ‘taking the piss’ out of smooth bands of his day like Steely Dan on his albums such as ‘Sheik Yerbouti’. Is Zappa’s scatological humour an influence?

Mev Stuart: I still play Sheik Yerbouti. As teenagers we used to drive around in my mate’s Holden HR with it cranked, and yell out the windows at pedestrians, “RAMMIT!, RAMMIT!, RAMMIT!”, thinking they’d know what we were shouting about. But really, I have noticed that people are either highly amused or creeped out by the use of words like “finger” or “smell her pussy”, but whatever the reaction, it’s always accompanied by laughing – sometimes probably out of shame or embarrassment. Dropping a few choice gutter balls has no shame for me, I just want to make people laugh basically, and that’s a way.

 John Hardaker: Why so many musicians?

Mev Stuart: *eye roll * Why the fuck not?
 But seriously, since sound engineering has completely screwed my ability to enjoy a live band, I just go around pretending the gigs are all Suit & Tie auditions. Like, you know, “shit she’s really enjoying this, she’s in!”, or “Ooh… Nup. Look between his eyes, that’s the crack of earnest. Don’t want him.” Look, I just love the process of recording and producing, and the more people I can do it to, the better!

John Hardaker: You mention in the liner notes that the songs’ subject matter comes from your observations of others over time. Are any of your characters roughly of your own build, weight and height, or would that be telling?

Mev Stuart: It’s not about my body, John. Don’t be tasteless.

John Hardaker: Has the Biblical epic of making Creep Season taken it all out of you, or is there more to come? What next for Suit & Tie?

Mev Stuart: Half of half the songs on the next record are already written. We’re going to do it slightly differently this time round though. I cheated myself out of a few opportunities by getting too involved in production too early in the writing process. I want to very roughly sketch out the tunes but then choose the relevant musicians for each song and develop them together as a rhythm section. The minimum requisite 67 layers of overdubs -most importantly vocals – will still be done the Suit & Tie way, later – see, you don’t want musicians saying stuff like, “I’m NOT playing soprano sax on a song about bum licking”.
 Suit & Tie has a long way to go. We haven’t finished musically, lyrically or conceptually yet. I’m primarily a song writer and producer; that job never ends, and I tend to think this record has been a learning process.. a toe in the water. There will definitely be more Suit & Tie.

 

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For more information go to http://justmev.com/creepseason/

Creep Season is available at https://suittie.bandcamp.com/merch