Reviews roundup – Mandoki Soulmates ~ Jon Strahl Band ~ Hellgrimm ~ The Magic Bullet ~ Badge ~ Calum Ingram
Living In The Gap/Hungarian Pictures
Blimey! I just aboot pit ma back oot picking this off the doorstep. But it’s a CD, I hear you cry. Whits yer problem, auld fella? Well, in the manner I recall from my glory days as a freelance journalist when speed, booze and girls were regularly delivered, this CD came along with a giant, LP sized book and a massive promo, full colour, paperback. But just to show it’s sort of the modern world, the PR bumph came on a USB. People note. This is how journalists should be treated.
I first encountered Hungarian musician Leslie Mandoki around about 2004 when I was going through a Jon Lord completist phase and realised that Mr Lord popped up on the Man Doki Soulmates Allstars ‘Legends of Rock’ live release, along with a host of other proper legends that had been brought together for some TV spectacular. Turned out Mr Mandoki had been the singer in a German pop band before embarking on a serious of interesting solo albums.
And that brings is to this release. Or rather two releases because, as the promo bumph indicates, this is ambitious stuff. ‘Living In The Gap’ is up first, the first Mandoki Soulmates album in a decade. It’s a concept album and as with previous releases it’s chock full of weel kent faces. SO you’re getting Bobby Kimball (Toto), Chris Thompson (Earth Band), Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull), Nick van Eede (Cutting Crew), Peter Maffay, David Clayton-Thomas (BS&T), Tony Carey (Rainbow) as well as some Supertrampers and bunch of jazz folk like Al di Meola, Mike Stern, Simon Phillips, Randy Brecker and more.
So, musically it’s faultless as they embark on some melodic near prog mixed with classic rock. The concept addresses the divided society we live in and the need to build a cohesive world. Oddly prescient considering this was recorded in 2019 long before the abomination of 2020 arrived. I’ll largely leave the politics to others but it’s certainly something that needs addressing when we’re watching modern day witch hunts and the filthy clutches of authoritarianism and wrongthink.
With Mr Mandoki hailing from Cold War Eastern Europe he’s in an excellent position to see how the ideals post Berlin Wall have long since vanished. But regardless of your politics this makes for a good listen. There’s a handful of great songs with “Where We Belong” a standout for me. Over on “Hungarian Pictures” things are a wee bit different. The concept goes back to the ‘Legends of Rock’ mentioned above when Mandoki was talking to Greg Lake and Jon Lord about an idea he had for an album built thematically around the Hungarian composer Bela Bartok. Sadly neither Lake nor Lord are around to bring it to fruition but this is where the jazz folk named above come into their own and, for me, this was the killer part of the package.
The music is sublime and the arrangements and performances stunning with ‘Transylvanian Dances’ as good a piece of music as you’re likely to hear all year. Remarkable. If you want your own copy of the fancy books you’ll need to spring for the vinyl edition which has those as well as the 2CD.
JON STRAHL BAND
Heartache & Toil
This is a good one. Well good if you like deep fried blues rock with some soul and groove. And if you don’t like that then more fool you.
The Jon Strahl Band hail from Indianapolis and sees Mr Strahl on guitar and vocals along with Mitch Millhoff on bass, Nick Mallers on drums, Bill Mallers on keyboards and horns from Joshua Silbert on saxophone, Bruce Knepper on trumpet, and Charlie Krone on trombone. A dozen original songs, some justified swagger and a whole host of good times. They’ve had a couple of records prior to this but it’s my first encounter with their felicitations.
At times there are hints of the Allmans and a touch of Wet Willie. The band that is. There’s a funky edge to a lot of what they do, some delightful piano trills in all the right places and a handful of songs that grab a hold of you right from the off. Those include “Hey Yeah, All Right”, one of the songs that really benefits from the horn section. “How Long” is one of the bluesiest tracks on offer and has some really good guitar work. If you think you look good on the dance-floor then “Can’t Look Back” should be enough to get your booty shaking and the closing instrumental “Indiana Moonshine” is a sweet little thing that belies it’s name.
The band as a whole work really well together, there isn’t a single track that makes you want to hit the skip button and this is one of those records that surreptitiously ends up as one of your favourites without you noticing it seeping into your bones. A real good one.
Burning V Records
Album number two from Hellgrimm although mainman Jerry Connor (guitars/songwriter) has certainly done the rounds in an array of bands over the years. Hellgrimm sees him teamed up with singer/drummer Erica Missey, the pair having both been in Monkeysoop although Hellgrimm sees her moving from bass to drums.
So what are you getting? Well it’s sort of old fashioned stoner meets grunge with some old school metal solos over the top. Which is nice. It’s certainly frenetic and full of energy as they crash through a set of short and not so sweet tunes. There are a few Sabbath licks on the likes of “Wicked Man”, something that is always welcome while they are at their grungiest on “Rorschach”.
The guitars are definitely the highlight of the record as the riffs and solos are uniformly excellent but the vocals leave me a wee bit cold. I reckon they needed to be a bit darker to go along with the music. But that might just be me. I’m a funny bugger. One to stream before you buy.
THE MAGIC BULLET
Aye, aye. Are you up for an hour long electronic psychedelic experimental track called “Lengthy Audio Work With A Pretentious Title In Russian”. To be fair, it sounds a lot more impressive in the original Russian – “Длинная Aудио Pабота C Претенциозным Hазванием Hа Pусском Языке”.
You may ask why a Lancashire immigrant from the wilds of Surrey is releasing an hour long electronic psychedelic experimental track called “Lengthy Audio Work With A Pretentious Title In Russian”. It’s a fair question and, apparently, the rather prosaic answer is “the internet”. Mick Magic (for it is he) saw a request from Russian label oligarch Alexey Kondart asking for just such a thing for his Broken Tapes label. Unable to resist a challenge that handily kept him locked up in his mini studio, Mr Magic set about the business of messing with ones head.
Which makes up one of the two discs here – “Solidarietas”. More on the second disc later.
And if you are the kind of person who likes a lot of drone, some KrautLanc and the sound of your brain flushing away then this will make you very happy indeed. It’s certainly challenging and I’d stay away from it if you’ve been isolated for several months. I made that mistake and found myself in the garden chatting to the magpies about the Song of Solomon (one for the Popol Vuh fans there). It’s actually very good but I found a 10pm listen in the attic record room with a lava lamp was the best environment for me taking it all in.
If that weren’t enough the second disc – “Curiositas” pulls together several strands from the wonderful world of MM looking back to the halcyon days of Magic Moments At Twilight Time and travelling through said twilight time to more recent affairs. It’s where people looking for dark techno takes on Austrian Christmas carols should be heading rapidly. Yes, really. You also get a paean to the all conquering AFC Wimbledon, a splendid electronic romp through “Dance, Freak” and a couple of Easter EBM numbers. There’s even a radio session from that time the Welsh decided that life wasn’t hard enough.
It’s certainly never dull and in a fairer world “Solidarietas” would be attracting a lot of attention.
Nepotism alert. I have been a visitor to M&E headquarters on more than one occasion but no money changed hands despite my fervent belief in #cashonly #norefunds Maybe next time.
No video so here’s something from MMATT.
Ah, the NWOBHM! Where a bumfluffed Mr H came of age. I was a smidgen too young for the early days but managed to sneak in towards the end when it became My First Musical Thing. Snakebite and Raven. Happy days.
Badge were one of the many bands who passed me by despite bunging out a single, “Silver Woman”, which reached the heady heights of number 27 in the Sounds heavy metal chart. (Ask yer Granda).
That saw a lineup of Graham Waudby, Tony Dixon, Stu Mclean, Rob Zipfel and Mike Cooper who then did the time honoured thing of recording some demos and having a huge pagger in the Wallsend services car park resulting in one or more of them refusing to get back in the van until they all agreed they were heavy metal. Allegedly.
Fast forward to 2012 when a German record label released a CD of their demos and old material called ‘Stormrider’. Then came a call from Brofest to reform and play alongside Salem , Tysondog , Holocaust , Deep Machine and Avenger. Graham Waudby and Tony Dixon got a band together and those heady times saw singer Waudby deciding to carry on with a new lineup. And now there’s a new album.
Granted, a lot of the songs date back to the early days. But that’s a good thing when you’re a NWOBHM band and Badge have certainly stuck to their roots. Hell, there’s even a song called “Rock Chicks”. The music is fairly standard meat and potatoes NWOBHM. Folk who thrilled to the likes of Alverna Gunn, Samurai (any of them), First Born or Lone Wolf will find themselves right at home here. The best tunes – “You Mean Nothing”, “Supernova”, “Cry In The Night” – will have you looking out your studded wristband and wondering whether you can still squeeze into that 1981 Mildenhall festival shirt. (No, you can’t).
I enjoyed this and I’m all in favour of lost NWOBHers having another go.
Dancing In The Moonlight / Demon Eyes
Really? You’re going there. One of the Top 3 pop singles of all time*. Thin Lizzy. Dancing In The Moonlight. You asked for it.
He’s a cellist you know. From Paisley. I’m Scottish but have managed to get through life only knowing one person from Paisley. And he ended up in charge of the Ministry of Defences cyber security programme. If those are the only job options available to, um, not Paisleyites, that was him, you know, Norn Oirish, loud mouth, folk fae Paisley then, well it’s no wonder they mourn the passing of the textile mills.
So, “Dancing In The Moonlight”. It’s alright. For sure it sounds different with a cello but different isn’t always better. I’ll give it a five. But flip it over and I really liked “Demon Eyes”. It’s considerably darker hued, his voice is more suited to it and the cello sounds as though it actually belongs there. I’ll give it an eight.
Turns out the Lizzy cover was the idea of of Tony Visconti who co-produced the original track and who worked with Ingram on the 2017 Sky Arts TV series Unsigned Heroes. Fair enough if it gets him some notice but it’s “Demon Eyes” that people will play more.
There’s only a 13 second teaser video available and I canny be arsed with that so here’s a live thing from a wee while back.
*along with “Get Ready” by the Temptations and “Rock On” by Sir David Essex.
St Columba’s Hospice Tribute Fund for Linda Hamilton