Reviews roundup – Rosy Vista vs. Keith Stone vs. Slug Comparison vs. Bobby Rush vs. Xavi Reija vs. Randy Casey vs. Ciolkowska
Steamhammer / SPV
A long, long time ago over in Hanover, Germany, Rosy Vista released a couple of singles and an EP before splitting up in the early nineties. Fast forward nearly thirty years and the band have got back together to release their debut album.
They’ve re-recorded the five tracks from the EP, put together six new tracks and bunged in a cover of ‘Born To Be Wild’. And, you know what, to these old ears it sounds great. Of course, eighties rock was what I grew up with so it’s perfectly designed for me, with it’s emphasis on classic hard and melodic rock. They can fire out crunchy guitars and melodic licks with equal abandon and if they were this good back in the day I’m surprised that they didn’t make more of a name for themselves.
It’s melodic in a Precious Metal style and Andrea Schwarz – vocals, Anca Graterol – guitars, Angela Mann – bass and Marina Hlubek – drums do a bang up job of recreating the music of my youth. But with a 21st century production that leaps out at you. Schwarz has a great, gritty voice and when they’re firing on all cylinders as on ‘Crazy’, ‘Sadistic Love’ and ‘Master of Control’ it’s a real treat. It says a lot for the quality of their writing that the one bum note is the Steppenwolf cover. They should have stopped after ‘Changin’ My Mind’. That aside, a real surprise and a real treat.
KEITH STONE with The Red Gravy
Blues With A Taste Of New Orleans
Album number eight from Keith Stone sees him teaming up with NOLA band The Red Gravy for this latest offering.
His last record “The Prodigal Returns” was also a New Orleans focused album with a certain Dr John popping in but now in tandem (triandem?) with Tom Worell (keys), Kennan Shaw (bass) and Eddie Christmas (drums / percussion) he’s found a sweet spot for his singing and playing.
It’s a set of all original material all underpinned with funky rhythms and old school dance grooves. The rhythm section is particularly outrageous and it took a lot of effort to get past the second track ‘Love Done Put Me Down’ which is one of the finest songs you will hear this year. That’s not to put the other tunes because they’re great but that one has a helping of extra special sauce. Elsewhere they can lock down a slow blues (‘You Ain’t Got Nothing’), some primo Professor Longhair piano (‘Red Gravy’) and sparkling guitar lines (‘Don’t Count Me Out’) with consummate ease.
There are some well placed cameos from Brent Johnson on slide guitar and Jimmy Carpenter on saxophone, it’s well produced and arranged and there is no earthly reason why you shouldn’t be buying this immediately.
When You Were Living Here
Some Canadian prog via the Netherlands as a Dutch record label brings us the latest offering from vocalist/guitarist Doug Harrison of Canadian progressive rockers Fen. Truly it’s a global village.
Now I’ve never heard of Fen or Doug Harrison. He has released a previous solo album and EP and this one sees him collaborating with the likes of guitarist Sam Levin (Fen), bassist Mike Young (The Devin Townsend Band), Randall Stoll (Congenital Fixation, KD Lang), Jeff Caron (Fen), Nando Polesel (Fen) and, Dave Young (Devin Townsend). So that’s a lot of Fen and a lot of Devin Townsend. But not a lot of prog.
It’s proggish in the way that King’s X were (and are) proggish. But it has just as much in common with mainstream modern rock bands and post-grunge outfits. Which doesn’t really float my boat. Steven Wilson fans will probably take to it though and as there are a helluva lot more of them than there are of me, then this could do well for him. If they get past the awful band name. He has got a great voice which really comes to the fore when he aims for the jugular with the modern day version of a power ballad. Which is why ‘Fine With It’ is utterly magnificent. It has space to breathe, an impassioned vocal and some glittering guitar. A gem.
A couple more like that and he would have had me. But this is a sound that is hugely attractive to modern ears. If they get to hear it this could be big.
Porcupine Meat / Chicken Heads
Rounder / Omnivore
So why am I drawing your attention to a an album that came out a couple of years ago and an even older box set? It’s simple, folks. It’s because octogenarian bluesman Bobby Rush will be heading this way on a European tour with a London date on the 9th April at the Jazz Cafe. Something that you really shouldn’t miss.
Bobby Rush was born in LA in 1933, then traveled to Arizona where he started his first band which included the great Elmore James. Fast forward to “Porcupine Meat” his 25th album and a Grammy winner to boot and the then 82 year old was in sparkling form on a record of old school, horn suffused blues that more than deserved its Grammy Award. He does funk, he does blues and he does mucky! There’s not a bad track on the record and if you missed it you need to get yourself sorted. And get a ticket for the show.
A couple of years earlier and his fifty year, retrospective box set, “Chicken Heads” was released. It’s an immense set, 4 CDs, nearly 100 tracks 1964’s ‘Someday’ through the 1979 collaborations with Gamble & Huff to tracks from 2004’s “FolkFunk”, it’s a monstrously good set that should be required listening for blues fans complete with a 32 page booklet detailing his career with some fabulous photography.
His sort won’t come this way again, so enjoy it while you can.
The Sound of the Earth
If there is one thing you can rely on it’s that MoonJune will bring you ridiculously talented musicians working in unison to provide you, the listener, with some really out there jazz, fusion and, indeed, jazz-fusion.
And so it is with Spanish drummer, Xavi Reija, who has teamed up with guitarist Dusan Jevtovic (see reviews elsewhere), bassist Tony Levin (King Crimson and beyond) guitarist Markus Reuter. And even by the standards of MoonJune this one is all over the place. That’s a good thing by the way. Yes there is plenty of seventies styled Beck type fusion on offer but just when you get used to that, you’re swept off into an ambient psychedelic landscape.
Quite why these tapes have been lying around for over two years is anyones guess but we should just be glad they’ve seen the light of day. The opening ‘Deep Ocean’ is the heaviest of the tracks on offer but when they head off into Part 1 of the title track (of four parts) then things take that psych turn I mentioned earlier. That four parter is the real gem of the album, a fully collaborative effort with every member of the collaboration testing the boundaries of each other and the music. It’s also where you suspect that Levin had an input as there are moments that bring to mind some of his eighties recorded output.
But it’s a four headed beast in unison that will keep bringing you back as repeated plays show colours and phrases you’ve missed. A splendid release.
I Got Lucky
Album number eight from Randy Casey and he’s not messing about with jazz odysseys. No, he’s sticking to the tried and tested electrified rocking blues. Which is a very good thing.
See, Mr Casey has that knack of writing songs that you’re sure you’ve heard before. It’s clever, let me tell you boy. So you’re nodding away in comfortable familiarity before you remember it’s a new record. It’s mainly an electric take on Delta blues with plenty of slide to the fore. Although he can throw in a slow blues when the mood takes him and ‘Six Feet Of Rain’ is a good one. I can empathise what with sharing a latitude with Kamchatka Peninsula, Russia, Chirikof Island, Alaska and the Nunavut territory, Canada.
However, ballads aside, Mr Casey is at his best when he sets off on a slide driven blues ride with ‘Soo Line’, ‘Bed Bug Blues’ and ‘One Step Ahead’ instant favourites. He’s got a very listenable voice, is a great guitarist and has a certain, almost southern swagger to a lot of his music. His is the sound that makes for a great night out at the club of your choice but if you can’t make it to Minnesota then this is the next best thing. A good one.
To Russia for some psychedelic prog, courtesy of Ciolkowska, a band from Saint Petersburg.
Apparently, the title “Avtomat Proshlogo” with Russian means Automat of the past, “a vivid description of cause-and-effect law or Karma. Right. I’ll get me coat. But, hang on, their space rock styled take on prog is actually very enjoyable. And how many prog bands do you know that have a trumpet and a ukulele player listed in the credits?
It’s largely instrumental with some Russian vox hither and thither and was recorded live in the studio. They also like to stretch out as they throw in seven, eight and nine minute long tunes. But they never outstay their welcome as the melodies, hooks and arrangements are really well done and there is always something just around the corner that takes you a wee bit by surprise.
The band have been together since 2012 with a few earlier releases to their name. It’s mainly original with a couple of covers of songs by Liompa and udUbrenje. Although if they hadn’t mentioned that on the sleeve I’d be none the wiser as they fit seamlessly into the album. They get a bit trippy now and then, especially on ‘End of Action’, probably my favourite tune. Mainly because it takes me back to my youth of tramping round festivals looking for the dub tent, man.
It’s a record that lives up to repeated plays with something interesting in every tune. People who like their space rock to come with a side order of fusion and depth will certainly find this worth checking out.
St Columba’s Hospice Tribute Fund for Linda Hamilton