Reviews roundup – Wentus Blues Band ~ Jennifer Saran ~ Snide Remarks ~ Lick Creek ~ Hardland ~ Oktoplus
WENTUS BLUES BAND with Duke Robillard
Too Much Mustard!
Turns out that the Wentus Blues Band first met Duke Robillard way back in 1987 when they were the opening act on his tour of Finland. He later turned up for their 30th anniversary party and did a joint tour of Finland with them.
And now they’ve only gone and recorded an album with him. They travelled to Rhode Island and he produced, played guitar and contributed a few songs alongside some band originals and a few covers. And it’s good. The band are tight and hot, the production is warm and inclusive and there’s more than a few good tunes. Unfortunately for me, one of the covers is ‘First We Take Manhatten’, a Leonard Cohen song I have a particular hatred for. But once I remembered to hit skip after the Robert Johnson tune, ‘Judgement Day’, all was well.
The one downside of working with Duke Robillard is that you’re going to struggle to come up with songs as good as his and the title track is a real album highlight. But the band are no slouches and ‘She’s A Killer Hot Blonde’ manages to live up to its title. There is some fantastic guitar playing on offer, some tasty Hammond swashes and the sound of a good time being had by all. The slower tracks are less memorable but when they hit a boogie run, the Wentus Blues Band bring the blues to life. A good one.
Jennifer Saran has fired out a few albums in recent years, covering easy listening, soul and even a Christmas album. There’s always been some jazz in her music but this new EP is most definitely none more smooth jazz.
She’s still working with Narada Michael Walden and they’ve co-written all the songs here on a release that dips back into the world of classic vocal jazz. Ms Saran has never let me down with her vocals and this new release is no exception especially as the material allows her voice to smoulder. No more so than on ‘Let The Waves Wash Over’, a song that would have been a huge hit had Sade recorded it back in the eighties.
As you would expect from Narada Michael Walden the production and arrangements are top drawer. The horns are really effective, complementing the songs rather than drowning them, which is often the case. Lyrically, a couple of the songs embroil themselves in modern day politics but regardless of your stance it’s hard to resist the live in the studio take, ‘Get Over Yourself’ which is driven hard by the bass. Another excellent release from an assured performer.
Life Is Hell
Nil By Mouth
Time for things to get a wee bit shouty with old school punk band Snide Remarks. No, me neither.
But then they did take over 30 years from their 1982 founding before they bothered releasing a record, “Reserekted” in 2014 (following a live in the studio set in 2012). They blame that on line up changes, splits and plain bad luck. And that bad luck has continued as after this studio album was recorded but prior to release guitarist and founding member Keith Bernard died. It never rains.
Bearing in mind their early eighties heritage it’s no surprise that they sound exactly like you would expect a second generation UK punk band to sound. So, somewhere between the Exploited (my ex-neighbours) and the Anti-Nowhere League. Now I’m no punk but I do have a soft spot for the more visceral eighties punk than it’s seventies predecessors so I rather enjoyed this.
It also benefits from an in your face production which was lacking in the olde days so the guitars really do come screaming right at you. Some of the songs are a bit interchangeable but there is no denying the passion and intensity of tunes such as ‘God Has Your Number’, “Punk Rock Mafia” and “I Don’t Care”. There is passion in the grooves which is something that folks of their vintage sometimes lose and if you’re one of those folks who lose the will to live in-between Rebellion weekenders then do yourself a favour and try some new old punk.
Too Damn Country
I like country music. As I say every single bloody time I get a country album to review, my deid Irish mammy was the Secretary of the Scottish Country Music Fellowship and I spent far too many Monday nights when my Dad was dying in the hospital parked in the corner of the Tuscon Country Music Club with a bag of crisps and an orangeade. It’s why when I first heard the likes of the Marshall Tucker Band and the Outlaws that I felt right at home. I’m no jist an auld metalheid.
Which brings us to the rather unsavoury named Lick Creek. They bunged out an EP a couple of years back but this is their debut album and it’s really rather enjoyable. Oddly it gets better the further in you get. I wasn’t wowed by the opening few tracks but by the time they hit ‘Big Dogs’ things started getting interesting. There is a rougher edge to their sound that suits me better and there are a few more southern and country rock influence taking hold. Unlike the pop country acts of today there is absolutely no mistaking them for anything but what they are with some proper steel guitar and mandolin along for the ride. And you can actually here it rather than it being buried in the mix.
But they’ve got plenty of good hooks in there and if only country radio played country music then the title track and ‘Mississippi’ would be getting plenty of airplay. The harmonies are excellent, something that comes from having a permanent female harmony vocalist alongside lead vocalist Lance Stone. There is some real talent here so if you like your country country go check them out.
Ach now, see, that’s messin’ wi’ ma heid, that is. I’m listening to this thinking “they sound really different from their debut”. Which they would, considering the Hardland I was thinking of was a Greek hard rock band who released an album in 2017 as opposed to this Hardland who are a Dutch hard rock band who released a record in 2017.
So, now that I’ve worked out it’s a different Hardland I’m able to take a proper listen. And it’s good. They’re an eighties influenced melodic rock outfit with a few tinges of AOR about them with a penchant for eighties synths. Which is why they’ve covered ‘Are Friends Electric’ by Tubeway Army aka Gary Numan. But jumping back to the opening track, ‘The Nation’s Biggest Enemies’, and it was one I do not like. It’s a bit too rock rappy for me and almost put me off going any further. But I’m glad I did as there is a lot to enjoy here.
Gazza is up next and then it’s off into the good stuff. There is a cracking ballad in the shape of ‘Love, Love, Love’ even if the lyrics are a bit hippy drippy. ‘Pleasure And Pain’ is a real standout and would really have made it’s mark back in the day. And they’ve penned their own eighties synth pop hit on ‘Rise And Shine’ while ‘Haunted’ shows more of a heavy side. The main duo of Paul Evers (guitar) and Aeilko Venema (guitar) take turn about on vocals and I’d rather they stuck with one singer as it makes things a wee bit disjointed. Both are decent enough but I like a bit of stability in my listening experience. shared the vocal duties on a CD that was a combination of robust heavy rock and AOR type of songs. On their second the two lads have dug a bit deeper as ‘In Control’ is an album where Hardland can’t be pinpointed to a certain definite style. Variation is key on ‘In Control’. Th
They’ve went all out on this one, even going so far as to have a bonus DVD if you get yourself a hard copy. Videos, behind the scenes and live. It’s nice to see someone making the effort and fans of eighties melodic rock should be getting in here.
Aika ei auta
They like to keep things secret do Oktoplus. Not only does their prog meets fusion sound date back to the late eighties when they first got together but this record actually dates back to 2012.
So, of course, they leave the promo work for seven years and then send out the CD without a press release. And the lyrics and sleeve notes are in Finnish. Must be all those days when the sun never rises. Or sets.
A shame really because this is really good. The prog side is fairly standard but they throw a lot of seventies style fusion in there along with some ridiculous percussion. And lets not forget ‘Myrskyn jälkeen’ where they invent rap/prog. Not something I’d been waiting for. The main, rap free vocals are from Eija Talo-Oksala and she has a really expressive voice. When it’s not being supplanted by a vocoder. Oh yes. The slight melancholy of ‘Rauhaton’ is a favourite of mine and you really get to hear those rolling R’s. Something we Scots are a dab hand at.
It’s something that deserves to be raised from its secret bunker. Prog fans should be heading to Bandcamp now.
St Columba’s Hospice Tribute Fund for Linda Hamilton