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September October

GRAHAM ROBINS

‘The Shipping News’

Self produced

Genre – Country Rock

Star rating 7/10

This album greets us with various monochrome images of a man wearing a black coat and hat all set against a background of rocks and the sea. He’s looking reflectively at the seascape – maybe looking forward or thinking back. The image recalls later Van Morrison and very late Johnny Cash. On listening to the album it’s apparent that he’s looking back: to days of youth, days of childhood, and some of the places he’s traveled to. It is more Morrison than Cash with themes that are closer to Van the man. The audio production is excellent with spare arrangements that allow the songs to breathe.

 

The album contains twelve songs and most of the team liked it very much up to and including track 8 ‘Gangsters of Rock ‘n Roll’ – this was voted best on the album by our team. It is a really good song and it is probably telling us in a poetic sense that Mr. Robins hasn’t been particularly well treated by the music biz in times past. It’s a super track with a hint of Latin and an all round rhythmic lilt that is irresistible. That track was voted best by a short head over another quality song ‘Drown in Your Eyes.’ This is a slow soulful ballad with an element of Ray Charles in the harmonic structure. If the right artist picks this one up and records it then Graham Robins’ pension plan will probably be sorted –it is a really good song, no doubt about it. These two songs are of a far higher standard than most of what we’re hearing lately and are the peak of the album.

 

Leading up to those two peaks are ‘Back to the Heartland’ a Celtic flavoured ballad – very good with lovely flute; Walking in Silence a mid-tempo ballad; ‘Now All the Heartache’s Gone’, an really excellent country tune with exquisite pedal steel and fiddle; ‘Snow Blind’ another quality song; the title track ‘The Shipping News’ an impassioned song of yearning – these are all good tracks with a dreamlike quality to the lyrics. We didn’t go for ‘A Letter from Paris’ track 6, it really does sound like ‘Moondance’ re-written, or at the least something written over a jam on the chords of ‘Moondance’- a bit obvious this one and not as good as the preceding or succeeding tracks.

 

Up to track 8 Graham has established an identity and sound that though influenced by Van Morrison is distinctive but on the final tracks that distinction is somewhat lost; we felt that Graham really sailed very close to sounding too much like Van Morrison. That’s not in itself a bad thing but Graham is Graham and Van is Van. This is especially so on the closing track ‘Waiting on the Healing’. We can’t help feeling that some assistance from an independent producer might have guided Graham a little distance from that sound and retained the greater individuality of the opening tracks.

 

So all in all this is a good album with two real stand-out tracks and several good ones, for us it did dip a little at the end; but if you like Van Morrison and that dreamy Celtic sound; well you’ll get plenty of that and a little more from this generally very enjoyable album.

Review Team

TIM AVES & WOLFPACK

The Wolfpack Burnham Sessions
Square One Records – Square 034

Genre – Chicago Style Blues

Star Rating 8/10

This is an excellent album by Tim Aves & Wolfpack: for the uninitiated Tim is the big guy who fronted two very popular Essex based Blues / R&B acts – The Rockin’ Armadillos and Automatic Slim; he also hosts the Sunday night blues show of Saint FM radio. On-stage Tim has a big personality with elements of classic show biz – check jackets / wild colours – almost the ‘cheeky chubby chappy’ of British Blues, a right good turn as they say up North – it’s an infectious mix and it enhances Tim’s deep enthusiasm and love for the music. This release is on Tim’s own Square One label which has hosted most of his past musical ventures. The artwork is instantly striking and captures a classic ‘Chess Label’ 1960’s style – we would suggest it’s a lesson for graphics (and publicity?) people – it tells us exactly, with no waffle, what the album is about – which is classic electric blues with  a 21st Century twist. The twist is simple enough –a modern and excellent live studio sound produced in Saint FM studios at Burnham-on-Crouch in Essex by Pete Crisp (who produced the recent Hokie Joint album). The music – electric blues consists mainly of the songs of Howlin’ Wolf and Willie Dixon – Tim has a lifelong passion for Wolf’s music and this album is indirectly a tribute to Wolf and in general we think it really honors the great man’s legacy.

 

The opening track is a cracker – ‘Down in the Bottom’ – a boogie built on a visceral slide guitar riff and a guttural vocal from Tim – singing Wolf songs can be a trap for the unwary – Wolf’s voice was so powerful that inviting comparison can be a trap but on this album Tim avoids any unfavorable comparisons and gives what is probably his best ever vocal performance. It leads and inspires the best from Joel Fisk on guitar who weaves neatly around Tim’s own guitar lines; and Rob Barry on bass underpins everything. Paul Lester is on drums. It all produces a tight edgy sound. Dale Storr from Sheffield adds fine piano, recorded separately, on three of the tracks –as an aside, we thought it a pity that they didn’t record our favourite Wolf song ‘How Many More Years’ this line-up would produce a killer version of that. ‘Poor Boy’, ‘Forty-Four’ follow and lead the listener through a string of Wolf’s hits interspersed with Kim Wilson’s ‘Full-Time Lover’ and Doyle Bramhall’s ‘Life by the Drop’. The main selection closes with Tim’s own ‘Robert Johnson’s Shoes’ and then there is a bonus track – a live version of  Wolf’s seminal ‘Smokestack Lightnin’’ it’s a 14 minute extended version and very good – stays pretty close to blues modes and is a touch less acidy ‘a la Quicksilver’ than we’ve heard in other extended versions. They call it a bonus but its really saying ‘you’ve heard the studio stuff – this is how we do it really live!’ It’s a cracking finish to an excellent record – a fitting tribute to a musical giant and a record of which Tim can justifiably be proud-recommended.

Review Team

PAUL WASSIF

Looking up Feeling Down

BB&W Records BBWCD001

Genre – acoustic roots / blues

Star rating 6.5/10

According to the publicity Paul Wassif was encouraged to pursue a solo career by none less than Eric Clapton & Bert Jansch who both add a nice touch to this record. Paul is from Bristol but actually started playing with various bands in New York. He has a considerable reputation as a guitar player having played alongside Bert Jansch on two albums and numerous gigs. This is a pretty good album and it has to be said that the guitar playing is excellent all the way through, Paul is an exemplary guitar picker – this is particularly so on the instrumental title track ‘Looking up Feeling Down’, other notable tracks are ‘Southbound Train’ Bill Broonzy’s song and the traditional song ‘900 Miles’; also Paul’s song ‘Please Don’t Leave’ has Eric & Bert (Clapton & Jansch) recording together for the first time. It’s all pretty laid-back and Paul’s voice has strong echoes of Mark Knofler and at times, Kris Kristofferson. The team here thought that this was OK and it was all very relaxing, but possibly a touch too relaxing. While Paul’s guitar is excellent his voice wasn’t that distinctive on these songs and maybe a more individual style will develop in time, but it does require a little more than excellent guitar and OK voice to push an album right to the fore.

Review Team

Society

‘A Crooked Mile’

Society002

Genre ‘Country Rock’

Star Rating 7/10

This is harmony laden Country Rock / Americana in the classic Byrds, Flying Burritos, America, CSNY mould, you’ll get the idea. Now if you listened to a lot of the aforementioned artists then you won’t last the full distance on this album, it is redolent of much of that music – but if the genre is relatively new to you then this may be very appealing. The opener is a road song –think of Gram Parson’s ‘Wheels’ and very melodic. Track 2 ’40 Days’ is the best on the album a nice mix of country over a Delta blues like riff – drives along very nicely with a good chorus. ‘Light of the Morning’ follows – a country waltz with a very ‘Eagles’ type sound, especially the vocal- nice track but we couldn’t get our heads round what the lyrics were actually about – strange – maybe we missed something. The rest of the album is nice enough with ‘Morning Star’ a bluesy track that recalled the band – a standout. All in all a good album with Matt Wise on vocals guitars and other stringed things; F. Scott Kenny (only Americans have names like that) on drums, and Ben Lancaster on bass both provide excellent harmony vocals. The band is augmented with pedal steel, piano and organ to produce a full sound. This is OK, but maybe it’s the neo-cool ‘post modern ‘hang-loose’ sensibility, the songs don’t quite have the interest to sustain a full album, but especially if you’ve listened to a lot of the genre, but on the other hand they play very well, it’s melodic and at times touches a peak that hints at some really good things to come.

Review Team

DIANA BRAITHWAITE & CHRIS WHITELY

DeltaPhonic

Electro-Fi 3419

Genre – retro blues

Star rating 7.5/10

The Canadian blues duo Diana & Chris have a track record second to none, several awards for their previous albums and numerous accolades. They’ve met and played with the best – including in Chris Whiteley’s case being taught and encouraged by no less than Lonnie Johnson. This record presents us with a simple formula two people who love the blues playing the music that they love. It is that simple – this is classic blues covering much of the range of classic styles. The problem for some of our team is that it’s a bit too much of what we’ve heard before, and there is a slight lack of ‘spark’, maybe that would be there in live performance but it doesn’t really spark on the record. There wasn’t too much to make any of us say ‘Yeah, I’ll go out and buy that’, we might buy it at a gig after a live show but probably not otherwise. The question arises, is this fair criticism? After all the artists are quite open about it- they love classic blues and they love to play it-well on that basis-what you get is exactly what it says on the tin; but on the other hand blues is not a static historic form – its there to be developed stretched innovated and they don’t really do that on this record. The themes both musically and lyrically are standard fare. So yes, we applaud music that is immaculately played and superbly recorded, but for us to truly commend something we need to see an attempt at originality and some excitement, edge, or a sense of danger from the artist. Otherwise there is a danger of getting what we get in painting ‘chocolate box art’, we don’t have that here, but it is a danger to be avoided.

Review Team

 

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