Reviews roundup – The Neal Morse Band vs. Blue Moon Marquee vs. Pete Kronowitt vs. Divan vs. Alicesweet Alice
THE NEAL MORSE BAND
Metal Blade Records
It’s the way of the world nowadays. Album, tour, live album of tour of album. And so it is with the Neal Morse Band, and their tour promoting the 2015 album ‘The Grand Experiment’.
He’s released plenty of live material over the years, so it’s no surprise that he seems to have run out of ideas for titles, even if it is a song of the last album. Thankfully, he never seems to have run out of musical ideas, and in the company of Mike Portnoy, Eric Gillette, Bill Hubauer and Randy George, this makes for a tremendous release.
The show was recorded in front of a thousand Dutch fans, and as his wont, the live show really does concentrate on bringing ‘The Grand Experiment’ to life. They start with the opening track to that album and then head off in a lengthy exploration of the album. But they don’t forget that people had paid good money to be there, so they dig out a few oldies along the way including a trip back to Spock’s Beard for a cracking run through “Harm’s Way”.
There’s an acoustic interlude in the middle and plenty of chances for the band to shine individually throughout the show. The centrepiece is the half hour spent in the company of “Alive Again”. If you watch the DVD you’ll also see the band switching it up with Mike Portnoy on bass, Eric Gillette on keyboards and Neal Morse on drums, before Gillette takes over drums and Randy George rips it up on guitar. Elsewhere you get fabulous highlights from the Morse back catalogue with “Leviathan” and “The Creation”.
The DVD palls a little in comparison to immersing yourself in the music, but it is a fantastic prog release.
BLUE MOON MARQUEE
Away to the Canadian colonies now to lend an ear to Blue Moon Marquee, a self described Gypsy Blues band originally from Alberta who comprise A.W. Cardinal (vocals/guitar) and Jasmine Colette (vocals, bass, drums). They’d both worked the music scene for a while before forming Blue Moon Marquee after an impromptu late night jam and recording session in 2012.
They look back to the golden days of blues and jazz, especially the nineteen thirties and to the music of Louis Armstrong, Blind Willie Johnson, Charley Patton, Memphis Minnie and others for inspiration, and their original material reflects their passions.
So you’re getting blues, jazz, swing and ragtime, all done in fine style with the unmistakable sound of an upright bass on the likes of the title track, “Trickster Coyote” and “Double Barrel Blues”, the best numbers on this, their third album. The music outshines the vocals, but once you get used to his stylings, then you’re left with a fine, fine album.
A Lone Voice
Mean Bean Records
The times they are a changing. Which was always a stupid arsed thing to say. Of course they are. But protest folk bucks that trend by continuing on its merry way, telling us that stuff is bad and that we really ought to do something about it.
Pete Kronowitt is one of the latest folkies out there to tell us that guns are bad and that women are, like, people too. Cheers for that, I had been wondering. On the plus side, he’s a good singer and can hold a tune.
It’s not really my cup of tea, but there are a lot of people out there who will love this. He takes the spirit of the sixties, brings it a wee bit up to date, and as stated above, sings about guns (“Got Guns?”) and women (“Body, Choice & Mind”). He also sticks it to ‘the man’ on “Puppet Master”, and I’m sure ‘the man’ will change his mind after hearing it. However, he does come up with a cracking ballad on “You Are Here”, and in between the politics there is a lot of talent on offer.
Somebody ought to have a word with indie bands about their naming conventions. Divan. Really? Whither Armchair and Pouffe?
Like just about every indie band in the world they sound a wee bit like Radiohead and a wee bit like Editors. Cue slightly awkward keyboard noises, scratchy guitars and the vocals of someone who hasn’t had a good poo in quite some time.
That would be “Shards”, the opening number here. Elsewhere they make some attempts at that soaring thing that earned a fortune in writing royalties for Snow Patrol, but I doubt many X Factor finalists will be looking here for an anthem. They make a few attempts to be dark, moody and meaningful, but it’s all a bit sixth form study room.
Quite remarkably Alicesweet Alice are on to their fifth album, albeit after a three year break and a hedty turnover in staff. They’re basically a standard US alternative rock band who’ve got a well thumbed copy of Foo Fighters Greatest Hits on standby, but they do us the courtesy of throwing in some sixties psych and paisley pop licks hither and thither.
They can get a bit poppy as well, in as much as there are a few nineties college radio moments in the grooves of songs like “Daredevil” and “Little Miss Know It All”. But it’s mainly post grunge meets psychedelic. They can certainly throw in a few swirly touches on songs like “Wednesday’s Child” and they get a bit left field on “The Hostage”.
Overall, it feels a bit out of time. They might have made a breakthrough fifteen years ago, but you get the feeling that the time for Alicesweet Alice may have passed.