Reviews roundup – Blackberry Smoke vs. Dead City Ruins vs. Guitar Jack Wargo vs. Ivory vs. The Gardening Club
Find A Light
3 Legged Records
In my head, Blackberry Smoke are my favourite “new” band. Then I remember that their debut “Bad Luck Ain’t No Crime came out 14 years ago, that I’m auld man, that I’ve been widowed and I curl up in the corner and weep for my lost life. Then I man up, play some Blackberry Smoke and feel a wee bit better for forty minutes or so.
Which means a new release is very welcome round my way, what with my MP3 player having 5 albums, 3 EPs and a live record by them in its grand collection of 20 MP3 albums. I listen to them a lot! And this is a worthy addition. I’ll be honest. It didn’t grab me as instantly as the last two records have. The opening ‘Flesh and Bone’ had me very worried indeed. It’s a slow start to the record and didn’t work for me at all. But once ‘Run Away From It All’ kicked in, everything started to fall into place. It took a few spins for all the gears to grind into place but it was worth it.
They’ve done particularly well with the slow tunes this time around with ‘I’ve Got This Song’ probably their best ballad to date. They’ve also recorded their most southern song yet with ‘I’ll Keep Ramblin’ the Robert Randolph enhanced tune, an absolute gem. They’ve even brought in the splendidly named Black Bettys for the legally obligatory female backing vocalists. ‘Lord Strike Me Dead’ featuring Amanda Shires is another stone wall classic and the blues rocker ‘Nobody Gives A Damn’ also went straight to the top of my personal hit list.
It’s a varied set with southern rock, country rock and even some folk on the closing ‘Mother Mountain’ where the bring in the Wood Brothers. If anything this sees the country side amped up a bit, but as my deid Irish mammy was the secretary of the Scottish Country Music Fellowship and my pre teen Monday nights were spent sitting in the corner with orange juice and crisps at the Tucson Country Music Club, that’s part of who I am.
I’m not going to say this is their best record because in my head it isn’t. But that doesn’t stop it being a great record and it may get there in time. What I can say is thank goodness for Blackberry Smoke, one of the few bands who can make me rock and roll again.
DEAD CITY RUINS
Never Say Die
Well you’ve got to admire their work ethics. Turns out they sold everything they owned to finance a near year long tour of Europe in order to build a name for themselves. That’s dedication to the cause. And Australian classic rockers Dead City Ruins have the chops to go with that dedication to the cause.
It’s the third release from Jake Wiffen (Vocals), Tommy Cain, (Guitars), Sean Blanchard (Guitars), Matthew Berg (Bass) and Nick Trajanovski (Drums), and it really hits home hard. The years of road training including supports with Skid Row, Ugly Kid Joe, Fozzy, Orange Goblin and Wolfmother has tightened the nuts on their chassis and this is the excellent result.
They eschew the boogie sound most associated with Australian rock in favour of a more seventies classic rock sound allied to a more metallic power which really works on some riff heavy tunes. ‘We Are One’ is a real standout as is the guitar work on ‘Devil Man’. There are a couple of minor sags mid album but it doesn’t really spoil the flow. There is a touch of the Axl around the vocals which might put some off but the hard driving rock which takes up most of the record is full blooded. You certainly won’t want to give up before the closing ‘Lake of Fire’ where they stretch out a bit to great effect.
This should certainly get people sitting up and paying attention.
GUITAR JACK WARGO
Keepin’ It Real
Damn right, he’s keepin’ it real. The kind of classic blues that first grabbed my attention when I was an underage drinker in Blues Basement Bar in Broughton Street. Many’s the time I’d sidle up to the barman to ask him who was on the tape he was playing. Fair play, he never threw me out. Although I did end up an alcoholic so he’s got to take a share of the blame.
Back to the blues and Guitar Jack Wargo has been round the blues block a few times. His first album came out back in 2000 and he’s been on the road for years,, touring with Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Hank Ballard, Billy Preston and Solomon Burke. and opening shows for the likes of Arthur Adams and Eric Burdon. Dues paid.
This is largely a set of originals with the well known writer Trad Arr popping up on ‘Goin’ Down The Road Feelin’ Bad’. His is a seventies based blues rock sound with the emphasis on the blues. And it works really well with songs like ‘Nobody But You’, ‘Inventory Blues and ‘You Don’t Feel the Same’ sounding like songs you’ve been listening to for years. His core band of Arlan Oscar Shierbaum, keyboards; Matt Bragg, bass; Edoardo Tancredi, drums; and vocalist AD Beal do a great job and a host of special guests drop in to do their thing including Mike Finnigan, Rick Reed, Mike “Hurricane” Hoover and the Sweet Inspirations, amongst others.
It’s a strong set with some really good songs which easily sated my blues appetite for today.
Aiiiieeee!!! It’s heavy metal time. And for that we’re off to Belarus.
I don’t know much about Belarus beyond their “interesting” leader Alexander Lukashenko, the fact that they’re the only European country to still have capital punishment and that they beat Scotland at Hampden as we failed to qualify for the 2006 World Cup. But now I can add Ivory to that short list.
They’ve been on the go for a decade, started life as more of a prog band but have since developed into a symphonic metal band. The best kind of metal for an auld fella like me. They’re looking very hard at bands like Rhapsody of Fire (in all its iterations) and have done a bang up job of nailing the style. The main stays over the years have been singer Sergei Butovsky and keyboard player Dmitry Chernyshevski and despite the two lead guitars it sounds as though it’s the keyboards that are the base of the melodies allowing the guitars to concentrate on being metal. Even better they’ve went down the concept route on this, their debut album. And it’s all about Robert Scott’s expedition Terra Nova (1910-1913) to the South Pole.
And it’s a very enjoyable release. It also first came out in 2016 so I’m not sure why it arrived through the letterbox but I’m glad it did. The vocals are very operatic which doesn’t work on all the songs but when everything meshes as on ‘Vanitas Vanitatum’, ‘Terra Nova’ and ‘Warrior’s Story’ then it makes for some compelling listening.
THE GARDENING CLUB
The Gardening Club
This is being billed as a lost prog classic.
Although 1983, when this first came out, did see the avalanche of new prog from Marillion and their contemporaries, so it wasn’t that bad a time to be punting out a prog record. Mind you, as it’s the brainchild of a long time Canadian resident, it may be location rather than sound that stopped this catching the ear back in the day.
The UK-born, Canadian resident Martin Springett is the man behind this, and my favourite part of the press release was the fact that in 1969 he recorded an album of settings of J.R.R. Tolkein’s poems from the Lord of the Rings. It doesn’t actually get more prog than that! Shame that Christopher Tolkein wouldn’t let him release it. Back to this, though, and it’s actually a very English prog album. All Spring meadows and Turner watercolours, it fits into the Camel world of prog. Which also makes it very enjoyable. There are flutes and saxophones, three piece suites called ‘Endersby’s Ride in 3 Parts’ and a surfeit of mellow melodies.
The re-release chucks in a lovely booklet and a handful of bonus tracks which are in the same vein. It may not be a lost classic but it’s a very good album, indeed.
St Columba’s Hospice Tribute Fund for Linda Hamilton