Reviews roundup – Mindi Abair ~ Bravado ~ for King & Country ~ Cheyenne James ~ SC-CH ~ Hoia
MINDI ABAIR & The Boneshakers
No Good Deed
Pretty Good For A Girl
It helps to have friends in high places. Ms Abair does, possibly acquired while she’s been honking her saxophone for some weel kent faces. Which may be why Kevin Shirley is twiddling the knobs on this release.
Of course you can’t polish a turd so it helps that Ms Abair is an excellent singer who has a fabulous band supporting her. With Shirley having worked with Beth Hart he knows how to record a strong vocal and that’s definitely the case here. Strange then that the record kicks off with probably the weakest track. But then the near title track, ‘No Good Deed Goes Unpunished’ kicks in and everything falls into place.
It’s a mix of covers and originals and she does a bang up turn on ‘You Better Run’ although she’s nae Pat Benatar. But then, who is. There’s a surprising dearth of saxophone here but if you have a hankering for horns stick around for the closing Ike Turner tune, ‘Baby, Get It On’ where she duets with drummer Third Richardson. It’s worth it. Elsewhere it’s a mix of soulful blues with the occasional jazzy run hither and thither. And it’s basically a damn good time on record. Which is actually quite rare these days when everyone just has to be so serious all the bloody time.
The best of the originals is probably ‘Mess I’m In’ which has a cracking pop melody running through it. Definitely one to get out to mainstream radio. Bar the opening tune Ms Abair and her band don’t put a foot wrong on what is a delightful release.
Cauld winter was howlin’ o’er moor and o’er mountain,
And wild was the surge of the dark rolling sea,
When I met about daybreak a bonnie young lassie,
Wha asked me the road and the miles to Dundee.
Normally I wouldn’t bother. Mainly because I’ve been to Dundee before. But it would almost be worth dragging myself over two bridges to get there now that Dundee actually has a decent rock band. That would be Bravado who, on album number two are made up of Pamela Stewart (vocals), Paula Knight (guitar, vocals), Mally Jones (keyboards), Steve Magners (bass) and Alan McWilliams (drums).
After a bit of a fake opening they set about the business of playing classic rock (with a few pop references) with gusto. There is certainly plenty here for fans of melodic rock to enjoy with an enjoyable mixture of hard riffs (‘Guilty’) and softer moments (‘Where Have You Been?) that works well. In places the guitars have a new prog sound to them that fits surprisingly well. Ms Stewart has a very strong voice while Ms Knight gets a tip of the hat for both writing the songs and playing thon fine guitar.
In places it’s definitely got an eighties vibe but I’m assuming that’s what they were going for. If so it’s a job well done, especially when they turn the temperature up. Something that makes songs like ‘Circles’ and ‘Return To Rock’ a rerr terr. They’re not reinventing the wheel here but there is always an audience for well performed rock. And that’s what you’re getting here.
for KING & COUNTRY
Burn The Ships
Australian born, Nashville raised, brothers to Rebecca St. James and musicians who’ve released this third album which saw them nominated for Top Christian Album at the 2019 Billboard Music Awards. So now you know.
To be honest, I’ve always found contemporary Christian music a bit of an odd cove. I mean it basically seems to be nineties pop music with added God. Now as someone who was once accepted into theological college I have absolutely no issue with the latter. It’s the former that confuses me. for KING & COUNTRY are following that tradition but at least they have had the common courtesy to write some good nineties pop tunes.
After the opening ‘Introit’ which actually isn’t an Introi (ask yer meenister) they hit you with a top notch melodic pop song. That’s ‘Joy’ which was the lead off single that got to number 2 in the US Christian charts. Add it’s a cracker. Then it’s into the follow up single, the mid tempo ‘God Only Knows’ (no, not that one) which also got to number 2. So no real surprise that the album got to number 1 in the same chart. It was maybe a wee bit more surprising that it got to number 7 on the actual Billboard chart. I say surprising because it’s amazing how many CCM albums skirt around the whole God thing. “Oh, it’s about spirituality and oneness!. No. It’s either about God or it isn’t.
Not every song mentions God but when your actual standout song is called ‘Amen’ then you know where you stand. They’re also willing to tackle more contentious subjects with the aforementioned ‘God Only Knows’ actually dealing with suicide. And have a look below to see who appears in the video . The title track is actually a reference to Hernán Cortés and his arrival in what is now Mexico. Of course here it’s about accepting Jesus as your saviour and not looking back. Now me and the big guy have some serious issues these days but if it’s your way to a loving life, then go for it. It’s a lush sounding album with a strong production and excellent performances, and it’s easy to see why they’re at the forefront of the genre.
Burn It Up
If you start your debut album with a cover of Grits Ain’t Groceries then you’re well on your way to some brownie points from me. Granted it’s hard to live up to Little Milton or Wet Willie but it certainly gives Cheyenne James the opportunity to let rip. So you know she can sing. Then it’s on to the first of the original songs (there are four of those and six covers).
Gypsy Mama is a harmonica drenched shuffle that gets the feet tapping. So she can write as well. This is shaping up to be a bit of a treat. And so it proves as Ms James and her band – guitarists Dave Carter and Mark May, bassist Rock Romano, harmonica player Steve Krase, keyboardist Randy Wall, drummer Jim Brady and the horn section of saxophonist Eric Demmer and Lamar Boulet on trumpet and flugelhorn – lay down a really enjoyable set of tunes.
Not everything glitters as not even the greatest of vocalists could rescue the Van Morrison cover, Steal My Heart Away. Of the other originals the jazzy slow blues of What Does It Mean is magnificent while the closing cover of You Know You Love Me Baby is just full of cheek and sass. It’s a well produced and expertly performed set of songs that is a great introduction to a real talent.
Well this arrived with a very polite letter from a Swedish based Polish gentleman who performs “slightly weird psychedelic instrumental music inspired by Pink Floyd, Fela Kuti, Carlos Santana and Massive Attack.”
And I can’t argue with that even if my Fela Kuti knowledge is negligible. But as the others seem spot on I won’t argue. It’s certainly dreamy and ambient albeit enlivened with some spiky guitar lines. It’s safe to say that Mr Szachewicz likes to do things a wee bit differently as his previous project included a snoring solo. None of that her, just some just some delightfully melodic psychedelia with ‘Hana’ probably my favourite of the four offerings, although the seaside sounds of ‘Pościg were hard on its heels.
The EP flashed by in 12 minutes and, unusually for me, I was left wanting more. Definitely worth checking out on Soundcloud and Spotify.
We’re keeping things experimental with an offering from Indian based multi-instrumentalist Prateek Rajagopal.
Seems he’s had a couple of EPs out there but this is his debut album. He must have a decent Rolodex seeing as how he’s drafted in Porcupine Tree alumni Colin Edwin on bass and Wojtek Deregowski on drums. Which kind of makes sense seeing as how he’s working in the room next door to the PT sound.
Atmospheric prog that sometimes comes on a wee bit dark and foreboding. Which is slightly at odds with his reflective vocal style but which works nonetheless. I wasn’t too taken with the effects drenched opener but once the ten minutes of ‘Escape Orb’ wrapped me round its finger I was happy to go on exploring. There is some excellent guitar work from the mainman and it’s a heavy, dense track that really works. He digs out some vintage synths (or digital equivalent) on ‘Electric Wizard’ and the treated vocals here really work as he delves into some psychedelia.
It’s an exceptional offering that prog fans looking for something fresh should be investigating.
St Columba’s Hospice Tribute Fund for Linda Hamilton