Reviews roundup – The Stray Cats vs. Paul Nelson vs. Danny Lynn Wilson vs. Iron Savior vs. IAC sampler vs. Lobster
THE STRAY CATS
I loved the Stray Cats. Of course I was just a bairn at the time and already enthralled by Showaddywaddy, Matchbox, Darts and Shakin’ Stevens so when something came along in a similar vein but a wee bit more raw and raucous, I was a goner.
Of course success didn’t last and with their chart days long gone and their last album of original material, “Choo Choo Hot Fish” came out over a quarter of a century ago. But now, to mark the 40th (Jesus H Christ!) anniversary of their formation, they’ve gone and made a new one. The good news is it sounds exactly like the old ones!
It would seem that the original magic of Brian Setzer (guitars/vocals), Lee Rocker (bass/vocals) and Slim Jim Phantom (drums/vocals) has been rekindled as this is as good as anything from their early days. It’s up their with my favourite, “Rant n’ Rave with the Stray Cats”. It’s the simple, pared down sound of prime time rockabilly allied to some great new tunes. It’s hard to pick favourites as they all leap out of the speakers but the repeat button seems to be getting hit a lot when ‘Cat Fight (Over a Dog Like Me)’, ‘I’ve Got Love If You Want It’ and ‘ I Attract Trouble’ come rumbling through.
It’s so much better than I’d hoped for and if it turns out to be their last, then they’ve finished with an almighty bang.
Over Under Through
I like it when someone has lived a life before laying out their stories in music. It makes things a bit more real than some teenager moaning on about how hard their life has been. Walk four decades in my shoes and then you’ll have something to wail about.
And so it is with Paul Nelson who has had a Navy career and a family life before he started singing his songs at open mic nights. Now he’s not doing anything new as he mixes up blues, folk and old school country but he has a great voice and some better songs. He’s got you hooked from the JJ Cale style swampy opener ‘Go Down Ezekiel’ (you know, the Gog and Magog fella)which grabs a hold and won’t let go. So much so that it took me a wee while before managing to move on to the rest of the songs.
It’s one of ten original songs on offer along with a cover of ‘I Walk The Line’ and it’s a mark of his talent that there isn’t a bum note to be found. He rarely gets above a gentle canter musically but with a confessional style and some thoughtful arrangements (think lap steel, mandolin and flugelhorns!) there is always something of interest to grab onto. If you were looking for a couple of numbers to try on for size I’d point you towards ‘Silent Majority’ and ‘There Is Weeping’ which really showcase his quite remarkable style.
An absolute peach of a record which couldn’t be more recommended.
DANNY LYNN WILSON
Peace Of Mind
Someone else who doesn’t believe in raising a ruckus is Danny Lynn Wilson who is another fella mixing up folk, country and a bit of blues in his songwriting.
It probably sits in best with the horrendously named Americana genre. Although that doesn’t sound as awful as the Dale Watson alternative, Ameripolitan. But anyone who finds themselves listening to musicians tagged thus will find a lot to enjoy here.
In fact if you imagine early Cowboy Junkies with a baritone lead you wouldn’t be a million miles off as tunes like ‘Sympathy For Your Man’, ‘Shine It Off’ and ‘No Walls’ gently wander through your consciousness.
It’s expertly produced and arranged with producer Dave Gross chucking in banjo, wurlitzer, harmonium and the odd kitchen sink to fill out the mellow grooves. It’s a late night treat of a record that keeps on throwing up new things with repeated plays. A good one.
Kill Or Get Killed
Every time an Iron Savior album comes out I wheel out the same phrase; “like a mix of Helloween and Blind Guardian…It’s balls to the wall, foot on the monitor, none more power metal.” So why should I change when Iron Savior are happy to stick to their guns.
This is album number ten (excluding re-recordings) from Piet Sielck and his merry men since his long gone departure from pre Helloween band Gentry. Unlike his teenage chums he’s never strayed from cranking up the guitars and howling and snarling over some ferocious riffs.
If anything this one seems even harder than usual as they move on from “Screaming For Vengeance” era Priest to “Painkiller” era Priest. But it works and this is a riproaring blast from beginning to end. You can’t help but punch the air and singalong to ‘Roaring Thunder’ and ‘Eternal Quest’, my out and out favourites here. They do throw in one wild card, the near eight minutes mid-tempo stomper that is ‘Until We Meet Again’ with its more subdued vocal and almost Avantasia / Ayreon feel. But it works and I wouldn’t complain if they went down that road again.
It’s an Iron Savior album which means a) it’s really, really good and b) will go oddly unappreciated. Do your bit and give them some love. You won’t regret it.
Sampler albums can be strange things. It’s fair enough if there’s a theme to them but when you have a far ranging roster of artists it can make for disjointed listening.
And so it is with IAC Records whose remit is to “bring national and international exposure to talented Northern and Central Californian musicians”. This time around it’s nine albums from Dirk Hamilton (no relation), Eric Westphal, Willie Hines, Napa Valley Duo (two albums), Nathan Ignacio, Andrew Durr and the James Blonde Band (two albums) with two tracks from each album on this sampler.
So, Dirk Hamilton goes for a rootsy Springsteen type sound, Erik Westphal is an outstanding blues rocker with ‘Footsteps’ my favourite track here. Napa Valley Duo are a cello and piano um, duo, and their laid back jazzy pop vibe is rather nice. Willie Hines goes for an Americana vibe with ”Let’s Not Waste Time’ another gem. Some modern rock next from the James Blonde Band before we’re back in Americana / folk mode with Nathan Ignacio. Then some country folk from Andrew Durr whose ‘The Way You Look Tonight’ fills out my top three.
There’s no rubbish here and I’m interested enough in three of the performers to go looking for more which is surely the point of the whole thing. If you’re looking for something new then you could very well find it here.
To Finland now for some modern, melodic hard rock from the dreadfully named Lobster.
It’s the second album, following on from “Carousel” from Ana Kaunisto (vocals/guitar), Tomi Viitanen (guitar/vocals), Sami Ketola (bass) and drummer Esko ‘Zeko’ Takamäki. Oddly, considering the self-proclaimed SRV, Allmans, Skynyrd influences of Viitanen none of things show in the music of a band who got together back in 2014. There’s even less sign of his beloved Zappa. However, fans of modern Foo Fighters inspired acts will find themselves at home.
But what they do is produce accessible, enjoyable mainstream rock which, had a major intervened, would have sat happily on the mid-afternoon stages of just about any pop/rock festival out there. They’ve got some strong melodies on tunes like ‘Lose My Mind’ and ‘Friction’ which stick with you for a good while. They’ve also thrown in teo cover versions. ‘Maniac’, the Michael Sembello song from Flashdance and ‘All Of Me’, the John Legend song. One of them works. I’ll let you find out which!
It’s an independent production so there are some rough edges but songwise it’s as good as any other modern rock out there.
St Columba’s Hospice Tribute Fund for Linda Hamilton