Reviews roundup – Whitesnake vs. Savoy Brown vs. Hans Lundin vs. Auburn vs. Aonia vs. Rachel Wise vs. Vegas Strip Kings
Flesh & Blood
Well I did not expect that. I’d seen the video for ‘Shut Up And Kiss Me’ and wasn’t encouraged. But now, 41 years down the line and the 11th proper* Whitesnake album is an absolute peach. * “The Purple Album” disnae count and “Restless Heart” was a DC album really.
Eight years on from “Forevermore” and with my heart still broken from the last time I saw Sir David struggle through a show and he’s really pulled this one out of the bag. If it turns out to be the last Whitesnake studio album it’s a mighty fine way to go out. It’s also quite annoying as with Doug Aldrich long gone, Reb Beach shows himself to be a fine collaborator as does “new” boy Joel Hoekstra. Especially as the only flat part of the album involves two Coverdale solo turns. But enough of the downs as this is an album of highs.
Opener ‘Good To See You Again’ is a barnstormer of a tune with the growly voice Coverdale has to use these days working really well on a song that could easily have sat on “Slide It In”. And it’s that era rather than the glammed up 1987 version of Whitesnake that sets the tone for the whole record. Which is, officially, a very good thing as there is still some bluesy groove and grind going on. ‘Gonna Be Alright’ is a mid-tempo grower before the aforementioned glammy ‘Shut Up & Kiss Me’. ‘Hey You (You Make Me Rock)’ is a guaranteed stadium classic which really needs to go into the live set.
The sag arrives with ‘Always & Forever’ a tad lacklustre before the real duffer, ‘When I Think Of You (Color Me Blue)’ which fails as the power ballad it was meant to be. Luckily the next bona fide gem arrives in the shape of ‘Trouble Is Your Middle Name’, another crowd pleaser. The title track adds some blood and thunder as well as ‘Flesh & Blood’ before the out and out winner, ‘Well I Never’, which without ever breaking sweat just gets under your skin. ‘Get Up’ is a sold song before ‘After All’ shows that Sir David still has a great ballad in him. Then it’s time for the legally obligatory Zepathon in the shape of ‘Sands Of Time’, a Middle Eastern epic which really works.
If you get the deluxe edition (which also has a DVD) there are two bonus tracks and both ‘Can’t Do Right For Doing Wrong’ and ‘If I Can’t Have You’ would have been better placed in the mid-album sag. If it wasn’t for that this would be a five star album guaranteed. Thr whole band put in a great shift with the guitars (including plenty of slide) a real treat. It’s certainly the best Whitesnake album since the 21st century reincarnation and once you get used to the lower register then the vocals work just fine.
It’s so much better than I could have hoped for, rousing and arousing, as a Whitesnake should be.
It’s odd to think that Savoy Brown were formed even before someone as aged as me was born. They’ve has even more members with over 60 musicians passing through their ranks including future members of Foghat, Chicken Shack, UFO, Fleetwood Mac and Yes.
But a couple of years back the current incarnation had a number 1 US album on the Billboard blues chart and haven’t hung around following it up with their 40th album! I didn’t know of them until the eighties and was rather fond of the “Rock ‘n’ Roll Warriors” era. But this harks back to the classic blues rock sound of the seventies and will go down well with any long term fans. The current trio have been playing together for over 10 years now, so Pat DeSalvo on bass and Garnet Grimm on drums know exactly what to do. Founder member Kim Simmonds has always been a remarkable guitarist and this is no exception. Fiery and tasteful, he can do it all.
He’s also been the vocalist for the last few years, obviously having gotten fed up of frontman syndrome! He’s no livewire on vocals going for the Clapton / Snowy White / Cale style of conversational singing. So that will influence your view of the record. Their are no credits with the promo version but the 12 tracks certainly have depth and fit smoothly into their blues rock canon. When they hit a groove as they do on songs like ‘Payback Time’, the fantastic boogie of ‘Walking On Hot Stones’ and the driving ‘Ain’t Gonna Worry’ then it’s an absolute treat.
There are a few mid-tempo songs that seem interchangeable but if you like your blues rock (and I like my blues rock) then this is a record you really should be listening to.
The Solo Years
Tempus Fugit / SPV
Good grief! A six CD box set from the Kaipa mainman shows that he certainly liked to keep himself busy in the eighties after the band split up. Until their nineties reformation, that is.
But it’s still a six CD set of instrumentals from a keyboard player. And that’s a lot when you consider he only released three album – “Tales”, “Visions of Circles of Sounds” and “Houses”. So that means there are three discs of outtakes to take in as well. It’s certainly historically interesting as they saw former Kaipa members Roine Stolt, Max Åhman, Ingemar Bergman and Mats Löfgren as well as early The Flower Kings members Ulf Wallander and Hasse Bruniusson popping in.
But as with a lot of keyboard players at the time he was very keen to explore the new synthesisers of the time. Which does date a lot of the material. Not that it’s bad but no-one listens to Rick Wakeman albums of the eighties either. I mean would you take “1984” over “Journey to the Centre of the Earth”? No, me neither.
But there is a lot to enjoy here especially on the actual albums. You probably need to listen to each disc as a whole as the songs go from a minute long to 13 minutes plus. So the albums are definitely a “whole”. The unreleased “The Veiled Seveneyed Dancer” has some enjoyable moments for fans of synth prog and eighties soundtracks and then there are a couple of discs of outtakes with solo material as well as some music that ended up on future Kaipa releases. It’s a lot to take in in one go especially as he experiments in more overtly pop and dance idioms on certain tunes but, with the original records hard to get, fans of Kaipa will be grateful to scoop this up and complete their collection.
Game Of Faith
In the mood for some JJ Cale meets seventies Bonnie Raitt, confessional, rootsy music? Well say hello to Auburn.
Auburn is basically singer Liz Lenten who writes the songs and a hand picked team of Nashville musicians. They would be Thomm Jutz – producer/guitars (Nanci Griffiths, Mary Gauthier, Mac Wise), Mark Fain – bass (Ry Cooder, Ricky Skaggs), Lynn Williams – drums (Delbert McClinton, Lee Roy Parnell, The Wallflowers) and Britt Savage – harmony vocals (Garth Brooks, Crystal Gayle).
It’s a long way from running music groups in Lincolnshire but Ms Lenten obviously believes that only the best will do. The songs certainly come to life with such sympathetic backing while Liz adopts a semi-spoken vocal style over the top. Things never get above a slow canter but when there are songs as good as ‘I Don’t Love Him’, the bluesy ‘I Drank’ and ‘It’s Not Love’ then the one pace really doesn’t matter.
There are strong melodies throughout and anyone partial to the whole Americana vibe type thing will find an awful lot to enjoy here. Plus it would appear that “Game of Faith” has a unique strategy-based card game that will be launched with the album with each song correlating to a card. No, me neither. But it’s a good one.
Yeah, progeratic isnae going to catch on. No, it’s symphonic metal from Sheffield but to hell with that one female soprano up front. Nope, obviously having been inspired by Simone Simons and Floor Jansens live ‘Sancta Terra’ it’s TWO female sopranos. Yes, more is definitely more in this genre. As it should be.
Add in five musicians and you’ve got a lot going on here. They’ve done a lot of touring on their way to this album so if you left the pub early enough you might have seen them opening for Blaze Bayley, Leaves’ Eyes, Sirenia, Kobra and the Lotus, Xandria, and Martin Walkyier’s Skyclad. They’ve actually been on the go for quite a while now although the twin vocal approach dates back to 2013.
They take their style from the usual influences – so that’s Nightwish, Within Temptation, Delain, Epica and their ilk. And there is nothing wrong with that as when done properly it’s a magnificent sound. They certainly get magnificent on ‘Violet Hours’, the second best song with Lucretia in the title (‘Wake Up, Lucretia’) and ‘At The Masquerade’. There’s also no doubting there ambition as they album closes with the 12 minute plus ‘Hyde And Seek’. Blaze Bayley pops in to add a vocal to ‘Still I Rise’ and from beginning to end the band put on a fine show.
It’s a really enjoyable slab of symphonic metal and if there had been a metal major behind this with a bigger budget it could have ended up being a player in the scene. Quite why they’re unsigned is a mystery to me so hopefully someone in Germany gets their finger out sharpish.
Odd. This record seems to have come out in 2015 so unless it’s spent 4 years getting across the Atlantic then I assume it’s getting some kind of re-promotion.
Which is a good thing as Ms Wise is a mighty fine singer. Even better she’s a country singer who likes to throw in some southern rock grooves hither and thither. So that’s me happy then.
So there’s songs about the South, shooting, love, drink and Jesus. Yup. There’s also plenty of variety with the title track pure southern rock while the fiddle gets ramped up on the Cajun styled ‘Shoulda Known Better and even some chart bothering country pop. That would be ‘Baby Bye Bye’. She can rock it up and make you weep with equal ease, something that not many can manage. So whether you’re looking for some Gretchen Wilson or some Shania Twain then there’s something here for you to enjoy.
It’s quite annoying actually that this seems to have sneaked out as self released record when there is some much dross clogging up the country charts. But the legend that is producer Jim Gaines was happy to twiddle the knobs here and he’s a man who has worked with Stevie Ray Vaughn, Carlos Santana, George Thorogood, Joanne Shaw Taylor and a million others so knows what he’s doing.
An enjoyable release that country rockers should be snapping up.
VEGAS STRIP KINGS
So Cajun meets Zydeco meets blues. That’ll do.
Turns out most of this band used to be in another band but then left that band to form this band and brought a few songs with them. Since then they’ve toured far and wide and put out a live album before releasing this set of mainly original material.
So you’re getting seven originals and three covers with the latter best demonstrated by the Willie Dixon song ‘Sharp As A Razor’. But it’s their own material that really shines assuming that your tip includes the sound of an upright bass and an accordion. So the opening line of Cajun meets Zydeco meets blues probably makes a lot more sense to you now.
Now I obviously prefer it when they get their blues and their rock’n’roll on, so that means that ‘Rotgut Run’, ‘It Ain’t’ and the cover of ‘V8 Ford’ are right near the top of my list but wherever you lay your hat you’ll find pleasure to be had on this record. Having grown up in the world of Scottish country dance bands my ear are well tuned to the accordion so I have no problems with that. And when you add in a few sultry sax solos, pedal steel and a harmonica then it really is a splendid sound.
There isn’t a duff track here as the Vegas Strip Kings as the well seasoned veterans that are Billy Truitt, Al Ek, Jimmy Carpenter, Rob Edwards and Justin Truitt peddle their delightful wares. A real treat of a record.
St Columba’s Hospice Tribute Fund for Linda Hamilton