Reviews roundup – Rebecca Downes vs. Skald vs. Reverend Freakchild vs. Dekonstruktor vs. The Steel Woods vs. Thundermaker
More Sinner Than Saint
Mad Hat Records
Album number three from Rebecca Downes and its her best collection of songs to date.
She’s always been a good singer and now that the songwriting is up there matching her vocals, “More Sinner Than Saint” makes for a splendid listen.
It continues the progression from blues rock into more mainstream classic rock with the bluesy licks tucked away in a few backgrounds but when there are songs as good as ‘Take Me Higher’, If I Go To Sleep’ and ‘Screaming Your Name’ on offer, all you can do is kick back and enjoy. The songs are all originals from Ms Downes and guitarist Steve Birkett, with the main band comprising Dan Clark (bass) and Lloyd Daker (drums). Keyboard player Rick Benton who used to be in her band before heading off to Magnum is back and he’s brought Magnum mainman Tony Clarkin to solo on one song (‘Breathe Out’).
Alan Nimmo from King King also pops in to play on ‘Big Sky’ but the album is a showcase for Rebecca Downes who takes the opportunity with both hands and delivers a top album. With all the melodies on offer there are plenty of songs that deserve a wide audience so here’s hoping radio wakes up and pays attention. A real good one.
French Vikings, eh? They’d better turn out to be from Normandy or someone will be waving the Cultural Appropriation Flag.
But, seriously, this is very good. As someone who comes from Northern climes and who has spent a lifetime being pissed off at the Greco-Roman centric view of world history perpetuated by universities clinging on to their “classics” legacy I’m always pleased when someone looks elsewhere for inspiration. In this case to Iceland and the collective medieval Icelandic works, the Prose Edda and the Poetic Edda.
So the words are taken care of but what about the music. Well no-one knows what the Norse folk of old got up to but it’s pretty safe to assume that it bore a lot of similarity to other ancient Northern indigenous music, some of which has been passed down over time in the outer fringes of Sámi culture in northern Finland, extreme northwestern Russia and across the Arctic regions. So percussion and the odd animal gut strung between two sticks. And they’ve largely stuck to that although it’s the voices that make or break a project like this and Skald really pull that off.
It’s considerably more mainstream that the shamanic stylings of Heilung so there is nothing here that will upset fans of Game of Thrones or Enya but, regardless, they make an excellent and sometimes joyous noise. I thoroughly enjoyed it and hope that others out there will look North rather than South. To that end I heartily recommend reading “The Edge of the World: How the North Sea Made Us Who We Are” by Michael Pye as a good general intro to what shaped my part of the world. Buy that and listen to this. You won’t regret it.
Road Dog Dharma
I’m rather fond of the Reverend Freakchild and his very personal take on the blues.
The last time I encountered him on “Preachin’ Blues” he was in a surprisingly conventional setting considering the triple album madness of “Illogical Optimism”. So he’s upped the odd this time out with “Road Dog Dharma” seeing the Rev on a radio station tour as the basis for his new record. So in-between some splendid originals and a varied set of cover versions you also get him chatting away on an array of interviews with assorted DJs.
And it kind of works. If you think of it as being an actual radio show rather than just a record. It’s as if the Rev has been given 70 minutes of air time to sing, chat and “teach not preach”. That’s his saying for when he wanders into the realms of Buddhism. As he does.
But the music remains great. He’s a good singer, an excellent guitarist and when he’s blethering he comes across as a very engaging personality. The music goes from acoustic to blues rock to jam band without ever dipping in quality. The covers are from JJ Cale, ZZ Top, Townes van Zandt and the Rev Gary Davis. We won’t mention the Beatles. It’s a bonus when he describes how a song came into being and of the originals I’ve found it heard to shift away from ‘Hippie Bluesman Blues’and ‘Keep On Truckin’.
A real treat of a record.
Eating The Universe
To Russia for a dose of drone.
This started life as a cassette only release from the band formerly known as The Moon Mistress. Then cometh the CD, now cometh the reissue.
It’s drone mixed with doom and a smattering of industrial with the vocals, which are buried deep in the mix, declaiming all sorts of horrors. “I am mighty King of tower of the dead, Messiah God of thousand worms.” You know the sort of thing.
There is a relentless grind to proceedings most of which serves as a mere entree to the main course that is the half hour long eponymous ‘Dekonstruktor’. It ebbs and flows, almost disappearing in places before struggling back to life. I’m not going to claim this is easy listening but for those out there who revel in misanthropic rhythms then come hither, come hither.
THE STEEL WOODS
As anyone who’s known me for more than a fortnight can attest it remains my whole-hearted passionate belief that good southern rock is God’s chosen music. Somewhere up there he’s sitting on a rocking chair on the porch, dog at his side listening to a celestial Volunteer Jam. Which is one way of saying this couldn’t be more up my street unless it there was an actual stage in my actual stage with the Steel Woods playing on it.
The opening ‘All Of These Years’ has a great, rocking riff before they slow things right down with the slightly bitter ‘Without You’. Then it’s time for the obligatory Black Sabbath cover. Yes, you read that right. The debut had ‘Hole In The Sky’, this one has ‘Changes’ done as a country soul ballad. Which really, really works. Then another ballad before they remember to lively things up on the splendid ‘Blind Lover’. ‘Compared To A Soul’ has a mucky, swamp vibe to it before the title track arrives and with it, the best of the ballads.
The album closes with a quartet of songs where they pay homage to their roots with takes on songs from the Allman Brothers Band, Merle Haggard, Tom Petty and Alabama songwriter Wayne Mills.
Country/Southern rock band The Steel Woods released their debut album “Straw in the wind” in 2017. Now as 2019 starts they’re releasing their second album – “Old news”.
They’re less “rawk” than most of the modern day Southern rockers but that could actually work in their favour as they’re also more radio friendly. Obviously I’m a rocker at heart so there are maybe two ballads too many for me but that doesn’t stop this being a drop dead gorgeous record.
Gods Of The Earth
Thundermaker Music/ Martician Music
To Sweden. And the Metal. Which makes sense because Abba aside, Sweden basically is Metal.
Thundermaker is a project of multi-instrumentalist Marty Gummesson and drummer Eddie Juneskär. They got together back in 2013, released a debut album and now, a few years later, they’re back with a second album of old school metal.
And they’ve either got an impressive little black book. Or plenty of cash. Or blackmail photos because they’ve reeled in an array of weel kent faces to help them out including former Alice Cooper guitarist Kane Roberts, ex Iron Maiden man Blaze Bayley, Mike Andersson and the mighty Thor, sadly sans Pantera to help out.
It’s an odd cove, though. Because it sounds like a long lost NWOBHM demo. It’s grainy and grubby with only the main riff and the vocals standing out. I’m guessing that’s because the vocalists recorded their contributions in their home studios. Which, sadly, means the biscuit tin drumming is the responsibility of the band.
That’s a shame because the I like meat and potatoes old school metal. What with being old and that. And there are some good riffs in here just desperately looking for a backing track. If ‘Deity In The Sky’ and ‘Protector Of The King’ were done properly they’d be anthems in waiting, just not like this.
St Columba’s Hospice Tribute Fund for Linda Hamilton