Reviews roundup – Voodoo Six ~ District 97 ~ Popa Chubby ~ ART ~ Hot Ham & Cheese ~ Switchblade Romance
They’ve been on the go for a while now, have Voodoo Six, without breaking through to the big time. If anything they’re probably known best for being one of the former bands of current Judas Priest guitarist Richie Faulkner. Either that or their ex-vocalist being the grandson of Brucie Forsyth.
Which is a shame because they were and are very good. Amazingly, this is their sixth album and if you like your rock heavy, dark and melodic then this is a very good place to be. The songs are uniformly good with some excellent musicianship on show. Granted, a lot of the songs do follow the same mid-tempo format but that doesn’t detract from their power.
Nik-Taylor Stoakes is on to his second record with them now and his voice really lifts the songs. Add in some cracking solos and it’s a bit of a hidden treat. ‘Lost’, ‘Inherit My Shadow’ and ‘Last To Know’ are real winners. Even the legally obligatory ballad, Never Beyond Repair’ works. Maybe it’s because they’re not metal enough for the heavy crowd and too heavy for the modern rock crowd. Something is holding them back but it’s certainly not the music. A good one.
District 97 get a lot of praise. Makes me suspicious, that. But damn it all it always turns out to be well deserved.
And their fourth studio album is no exception. It’s been a while as “In Vaults” came out four years back but if you’re going to create something this complex it probably takes a wee bit of hard work on top of the inspiration. There’s been a couple of changes and Andrew Lawrence on keyboards and Tim Seisser on bass guitar are now alongside vocalist Leslie Hunt, drummer Jonathan Schang, and guitarist Jim Tashjian.
Even when they kick off with a relatively short (by prog standards) tune, you’re thrown straight into the deep end with a wildly imaginative arrangement. Welcome to District 97! And so it continues through a dense, complicated but always listenable experience. The big tune this time around is the closing ‘Ghost Girl’ but the eleven minutes speed by in a welter of inventiveness. As on an earlier release they’ve plucked a song from one of Leslie Hunts solo records (“Your Hair Is On Fire” from 2009) and ‘Sea I Provide’ is a real highlight. Granted, I haven’t heard the original but I’m guessing it’s somewhat different from her post American Idol releases.
Best of all is ‘Trigger’ which is probably one of the most melodic of the songs on offer. It’s top quality prog from top to bottom and “Screens” is a record prog fans should be listening to.
It’s A Mighty Hard Road
A new Popa Chubby album. Meh. I’m still peeved at him cancelling his Edinburgh show this year. Git.
Still you know what you’re getting with one of his records. Which is to say, red hot rhythm and blues. He knows how to write a catchy melody and the playing is always top grade. In fact on this record he plays lead guitar, drums, bass, keys, harmonica and vocals on the majority of the tracks. As well as writing 13 of the 15 tunes.
So he regales you with songs of the everyday and the working man. Themes we can all relate to. So ‘It’s A Mighty Hard Road’, ‘If You’re Looking For Trouble’, ‘Why You Wanna Bite My Bones’ and more are tunes that hit the mark. He closes with a couple of covers which couldn’t be more different. ‘I’d Rather Be Blind’ was first recorded by Freddy King in the early seventies although it’s the Wet Willie version I remember best while ‘Kiss’ by Prince is, well, ‘Kiss’ by Prince’!
It’s a really enjoyable album although a tad overlong. But then everything Popa Chubby does is supersized!
Some Italian melodic prog rock now from ART. Which is a terrible name in the world of the internet. And that’s before you factor in the pre Spooky Tooth Art.
Anyway if you do manage to track them down then this is their second album following on from the 2016 debut “Planet Zero”. And Denis Borgatti – Vocals, Enrico Lorenzini – Keyboards, Roberto Minozzi – Guitar, Ivano Zanotti – Drums and Diego Quarantotto – Bass have done a bang up job on a really enjoyable release. As with the first album this is, deep breath, a metaphor that seeks to represent the contrast between an introspective vision of man’s fears and insecurities in relation to the dystopic world in which we live. Which is why we Scots drink.
There is a lot of eighties about this release. But in a good way. At times you sometimes forget it’s prog, so melodic is it. But then they’ll throw in some crazy transitions and you’re back in the saddle. There’s plenty of good music here although they’ve front loaded the album with the two best tunes – ‘No Way Out’ and ‘Black Mist’, the latter of which features one time Y&T man Stef Burns on guitar.
There’s plenty here for passing Marillion or Porcupine Tree fans and it’s a prog release worthy of a wide audience.
HOT HAM & CHEESE
Jib Machine Records
Turns out this is the long awaited covers album from Hot Ham & Cheese. Yes, that’s the name they picked way back in 2005. The follies of youth.
I guess long awaited means long awaited by Charlie, Louie and Robby aka the band. Because I doubt there are many INXS fans out there waiting to hear their version of ‘Devil Inside’. To their credit they certainly jump all over the place when it comes to covers. For sure, is there an alt rock band out there who haven’t covered ‘Rockin’ In The Free World’ by that overrated curmudgeon Neil Young? But they throw in a tune by early US punks Reagan Youth, a Nine Inch Nail tune and one of the Queen songs that hasn’t been played to death. That’s Tenement Funster’ and it’s the best thing hear, re-imagined as an earnest semi-acoustic grunge tune.
An extra point for covering themselves as well, if the writing credits are anything to go by. They also visit the world of Tom Petty, Frank Zappa and the Grateful Dead. Six of the songs have been released before but this is your once in a lifetime opporchancity to enjoy them all in one sitting along with the four new recordings that kick the show off.
Old Gods’ Return
I’m not getting back in the bus until you say we’re heavy metal. I can imagine Bonfire bass player Uwe Koehler saying that before he walked away after 18 years with the band.
Now with a solo album under his belt he’s put together a new band. And if their name makes you think of an eighties goth pop band they’re pretty much balls to the wall old school metal. And I’m not just saying that because of the chorus on the opening ‘We Are One’ which is so Accept it hurts. But if you’re an auld fella like me who grew up on eighties metal you’re going to like this.
Koehler is now singing and guitaring as well as writing all the songs. Apart from one, that is. And if you’re going to do a cover version why not do one by a barely remembered Australian synth pop act from 1983. To be fair it did get to number one in Germany so I’m sure ‘Send Me An Angel’* is thought of fondly. There’s no synths on this version though. *no relation to Blackfoot.
That closes the album but in between there are plenty of crunching riffs and quality metal. Koehler isn’t the best singer you’ll ever hear but his gritty, raw voice works with the material but it’s the riffs you’re going to come back for. That and the shredding solos on proper metal belters like ‘From Down Under To The Top’ and ‘I Am What I Am’* – *no relation to La Cage aux Folles
Proper metal for those of a certain age. I enjoyed this.
St Columba’s Hospice Tribute Fund for Linda Hamilton