Reviews roundup – Tarja vs. Elvenking vs. Mick Kolassa vs. George Wilhelm vs. Tullie Brae vs. Red Dragon Blues
In The Raw
Tarja has been disappointing me for a while now. Her first two solo albums were excellent but the two after that sorely tried my patience. Add in more live releases than studio sets, a Christmas album and a (glorious) classical album in the guise of “Ave Maria – En Plein Air” and I’d decided not to bother picking this out of the pile. But I did.
And the first few tracks had me ho-humming away as her always enjoyable voice meandered through a set of sub-par songs. But then you arrive at the lovely ballad,’You And I’ and it’s almost as though a brand new record kicks in. Because from that moment on it’s the Tarja I’ve been waiting for. ‘The Golden Chamber’ is a magnificent piece of music, almost prog in construction and one of the finest things she’s put her name to. ‘Spirits Of The Sea’ runs it a close second, mind, as Tarja and her collaborators move onto a different level.
And that’s before you arrive at the (whisper it) Nightwishy number, ‘Silent Masquerade’ with Kamelot’s Tommy Karevik helping out. That run of music makes the whole thing worthwhile and reminds me of why I’ve kept plugging away in the Tarja fan club. It’s unfortunate that the lesser tracks are all front loaded but stay with and some musical wonders await you.
Reader Of The Runes – Divination
Odd. I still think of Elvenking as a new band although they’ve been on the go for a couple of decades now. Maybe it’s because they left it late before deciding to become a good band. Because they’re that odd cove who are getting better the older they get.
“Secrets Of The Magick Grimoire” was, by far, my favourite Elvenking release and although it’s early days, “Reader Of The Runes – Divination” could end up giving it a run for its money. Granted they’re still sticking to the folk/power metal template that has served them well over the years. Apparently, they’re intending to make a conceptual series of albums with this being the first installment. Of course I’ve no idea what that concept is beyond the band saying they’ve created a world of their own for their songs to inhabit.
My problem with the Elevenking of yore was that the songs didn’t match the performance. They’ve fixed this over the last couple of albums and the best of the numbers here, such as ‘Eternal Eleanor’ ‘Warden of the Bane’ are as good as anything they’ve ever done. For sure there are still a couple of plodders I could have done without (say hello to the near title track – ‘Divination’) but I still reckon the reason that Elvenking have never quite crossed over into the big league is vocalist Damna. The songs deserve a Hansi Kürsch to fully bring them to life, roaring from the mountaintop.
Still it’s up there with the best of their output and has a fully realised all around sound that leaps from the speakers. A good one.
MICK KOLASSA & the Taylor Made Blues Band
149 Delta Avenue
He’s fair knocking them out is Mick Kolassa. But after a couple of recent albums performing classics of yore he’s back with a new set of original songs. Which is nice.
His Taylor Made Blues Band certainly does a bang up job of bringing the songs to your ears with David Dunavent on guitar and backing vocals, Leo Goff on bass, Lee Williams on drums and Chris Stephenson on keyboards, with Susan Marshall and Daunielle “Pie” Hill on backing vocals really stepping up to the mark. There’s a fair number of special guests but that core group is a damn good one.
Nine of the songs are from his pen and he’s done a grand job with the opening ‘I Can’t Slow Down’ an absolute barnstormer, especially for those of who’re looking at the end of days. It’s the best of a fine bunch with ‘Cotton Road’ and ‘Whiskey in the Mornin’ running it close. There’s some great harmonica work from J D Taylor which adds some real colour. It’s actually the covers that let the side down a bit with the new arrangement of the much covered ‘I Don’t Need No Doctor’ really missing.
But a couple of small missteps on an otherwise great set is nothing to be concerned about. It’s why God invented the skip button. An enjoyable release.
Ear To The Stars
Turns out that George Wilhem was / is in A Band that supported Saliva. That’s the kind of information that I’d keep to myself, sealed in an envelope, only to be opened upon my death.
I’m sure they’re lovely, really, but I’ll just stop over here. Cheers. Because over here is a one man band, prog meets metal, concept album. Daddy, is it you? According to Mr Wilhelm it’s ” a journey based around the human race, our wonder, amazement, and curiosity when staring up at the cosmos, our struggle to construct a brighter future, and the fallibility that comes with being human.” And it’s quite magnificent. Yes, I think the drums are programmed but we can’t all afford to go out and hire Ed Warby.
Where this lives is in a world where Ayreon meets Pain Of Salvation to mutually sample Carl Sagan while veering between out and out prog metal and more classic styled seventies prog. And isn’t that a place you want to be? No? Well fuck off out of this website then. It is a self produced, self performed, self released effort so there are the odd wee rough patches but as modern prog goes I’ll take ‘Interstellar Aberration’ and ‘Confronting The Great Filter’ over most of what’s released nowadays. He’s not the best singer but there is probably as much voice filtering as out and out singing with a few death growls for good measure. And I don’t really care when the musical exploration is so majestic.
Oh, just go and download it.
Blimey! That lass can sing. And play. What with piano, Hammond organ and cigar box guitar. What? She wrote all the songs as well. Now you’re just taking the pish.
She can scream, she can holler, she can bring you to tears. Which isn’t that difficult nowadays, to be honest, but still. The opening ‘Price of the Blues’ is a hard driving song about domestic abuse before she takes you to church on ‘Seven Bridges’, one of the many album highlights. I’ve always said there should be more handclaps on records and they’re used well here. As it’s the blues there are a fair few tracks about relationships gone awry but she’s never maudlin with it, looking for some light at the end of the black. There isn’t, but we’ll keep that our wee secret.
The gritty, riff infested ‘Break These Chains’ is the best of the heartbreak songs and the things she can do with her voice and a lyric should be illegal when you end up feeling the way I do right now. It’s not all doom and gloom and there are a couple of tunes of celebration but when you’re as low down as me it’s the dark unmentionables that get to me. It would be taking the easy way out to say that this will appeal to Beth Hart fans but I’m a huge fan of the easy way so there.
One of the best voices I’ve heard in years with songs to match. Definitely one of the blues albums of the year.
RED DRAGON BLUES
Red Dragon Blues
Songwriter / singer / guitarist Luke Cuerden has spent a fair few years with hard rocking Koritni as has drummer Chris Brown. But don’t come here looking for any Horns Up type shenanigans.
No, Mr Cuerden likes things in a more modern, mainstream rock/pop kind of way. Which is fair enough. This is his gig. So it’s mainly alt-rock with a few bluesy guitar licks hither and thither.
He’s also very keen on harmony vocals and when they kick in over an off kilter riff it’s oddly redolent of Kings X. There are hints of jazz, some Japanese voiceovers, the odd a cappella ELO moment and a couple of tunes that sound like Redd Kross out-takes. So a strange mix altogether. The one thing that does hold it together is the vocal harmonies as it’s rare to go a couple of minutes without any. and back in the day
The opening ‘No April Shadow’ is actually one of the lesser tracks but when the should be the opening track ‘Bar H, Part 1 (Nihongo Welcome)’ arrives so does the experimentation. It’s certainly an interesting release and there are plenty of damn that’s good moments. If they’d just been a wee bit more joined up I might have had a slight drool. But it’s still definitely worth checking out.
St Columba’s Hospice Tribute Fund for Linda Hamilton