Reviews roundup ~ Joe Bonamassa ~ Residual Self ~ Zero Times Everything ~ Steve Pope ~ Esquys
Well, it’s probably not going to please the blues purists. Mind you, they’ve been complaining about him for decades. Because although this is very much blues rock, there is a whole lotta rock. And, indeed, some roll.
He reckons this is his New York album and there is an urgent and strident sound to a lot of the material. Actually, at times it even feels claustrophobic but I speak as a man who left a capital city to move a small island village so that might just be my mixed up head doing tis thing. To be honest, it took me a few plays to get into this. Obviously I’d heard the advance singles but even with a couple of familiar tunes it did seem very unfamiliar. Which is odd as I’ve been listening to Joe Bonamassa for as long as there’s been a Joe Bonamassa.
But once my head was on right it turned out there was a lot to enjoy here. Granted, a couple of tunes overstayed their welcome – I’m looking at you “Mind’s Eye” – but in the main this is top drawer Joe. In amongst the “new” sounds you’ll find “Curtain Call”, which is far and away my favourite tune here. But that may be because it could have sat happily on a Black Country Communion record. Naysayers will sniff and say Led Zep. I refuse to sniff and say “Judgement Day”. The other out and out classic is “The Loyal Kind” which starts off a bit folky, goes power ballad and then when the backing vocals get turned up, becomes a full on rock and roll stomper. It’s pure dead brilliant, so it is. Elsewhere, old school Joe fans may feel free to get their rocks off to “Hanging On A Loser”.
As you would expect, the production is excellent. Some folks reckon everything Kevin Shirley does sounds the same. And it does. Sort of. But that’s like saying there’s such a thing as too much butter. Arrant nonsense.
It may not be the Great Leap Forward that’s it being billed as but there’s enough twists and turns to keep fans, old and new, listening.
Joe Bonamassa’s new album ‘Time Clocks’ is released by Provogue/Mascot Label Group on October 29th via www.mascotlabelgroup.com / Joe tours the UK in April and May 2022. Tickets: www.jbonamassa.com/tour-dates – they made me say that.
Well, based on the cover art, I decided to take a huge swing and guess that this was going to be some sort of goth metal. And … he scores!
If there was any doubt then a quick scan of the tracklisting would have confirmed that. “Mistress Of Pain”? Check. “Dark Ascension”? Check. “Queen Fiend”? Check.
“Mistress Of Pain” was released as a single and the band had this to say about it. ““Mistress Of Pain is about what every soul of lust is after, and she knows it. Using her charms, she dominates those infatuated with her. She feeds off the pain of the flesh and pain of the mind. Now caught in her web, you’re into deep. The realization comes… you’re the demon’s prey. Let the guitar licks guide you, as you heed the warnings of Rex. Scream out her name, and we’ll curse her in shame.” Put the kettle on, lads.
When I saw they were from New Haven, I was momentarily confused. But then I spotted that they were American and not the scions of inbred Scots fisherfolk. Which was a relief. They also lean on the metal side of goth metal with some full blooded riffs and mighty belches from vocalist Rex Mazza. The opening “Hex Of Rex” may be self referencing in the extreme but it is a fine example of their Sort of Thing. To keep things interesting they’re quite happy to throw in a few post grunge licks hither and thither, so it’s not as if you’re getting bogged down in mess of gumby retro goth metal.
The aforementioned “Mistress Of Pain” is a particularly fine offering with a hint of industrial around the edges while “Beast King” is probably my favourite, all broody and threatening. Which is nice. A decent budget would sort out the few production issues but pound for pound, this is well worth your attention.
ZERO TIMES EVERYTHING
Sound of Music
Aye, you got my hopes up there. I saw the title, caught a glimpse of the word ‘innovative’ and thought finally, someone has got round to releasing a jazz fusion version of the Richard Rodgers & Oscar Hammerstein II classic. But no. Sad face emoticon.
Deep breath time. This ‘Sound of Music’ is all about Pythagoras’ music of the spheres. You know. Musica universalis. As later developed by later developed by 16th-century astronomer Johannes Kepler. who believed that music could be heard by the soul. Well that’s what you get for skiving. Lazy bandits.
Of course what Zero Times Everything actually mean by this is avant garde experimental sounds. To this end, the trio of Tony Geballe – Electric Guitar, Rhythm Programming, Synths, Pietro Russino – Electric & Acoustic Guitar, Electric Violin, Rhythm Programming and Richard Sylvarnes – Analog & Digital Synths, Kaoss Pads, Vocals, Electric Guitar & Bass, Rhythm Programming have been augmented by, quite literally, hunnerds of special guests to conjure up a sound that reminds me of a station announcer having a nervous breakdown when the 14:10 from Clapham Junction is “avoidably delayed”.
The bands own description of their music is “Avant-garde post-industrial pre-cambrian pan-ethnic serial noise proto-punk neocortex music.” Which shows that they’re either a) considerably more intelligent than thou or ii) having a bit of a laugh. I’m leaning towards the former especially on the notional Side A), “Black Hole” which is considerably more abrasive than the notional Side B), “White Hole”. While one has to admire the work ethic that goes into producing a record over 2 hours long and which is quite unrelenting for the most part, I do wonder if a nice cup of tea might have done wonders.
However, I was genuinely entertained by their cover of the Brian Eno track, which one of the band reckons proves that we can “rock-out”. Talk about different worlds! However, I cant think of anything worse than a musical world where everything sounds the same. That’s what the modern day Top 40 is for, where AutoTune meets numbfucks in a battle of mediocracy. That’s one thing that Zero Times Everything cannot be accused of. And if you take the time to click on the video for “Die Nacht ist Leben” then you will finally understand what the word terrifying means. I’m glad records like this exist.
Dead Horse Creek
Is it a country album? I blooming well hope so. And it is.
Back in the days when I had a life, I can’t think of a better Saturday night than stumbling into a bar and finding someone like Steve Pope giving it some country meets southern rock on stage. For sure, he’d have to intersperse his originals with some Georgia Satellites and Steve Earle hits but no-one would begrudge him his own songs. Anyway, turns out Mr Pope is one of those Canadian colonials and that this is his second album.
He’s also bit of a show off as he plays all the instruments as well as doing the singing and songwriting. He also recorded the whole thing at home. To be brutal (and I’m about to be brutal) it sounds like a very good demo. But bills to pay and that. Because I’d really like someone to give him some cash and the phone number of a shit hot drummer. Because there are some damn fine songs here.
He’s got a strong voice and the guitar work is pretty good. When he whips out a really strong song like “Hey There Rock ‘n Roller”, “Hometown Bar & Grill” and “National Holiday” then you can tell that there is a lot of talent tucked away in his DNA. With the sound as it is, it’s the mid-paced numbers that work best and if you were to play this at your next pig roast then absolutely no-one is going to complain.
Aye, aye. I knew it was the aliens all along. Gits.
Someone had to be responsible for the invention of symphonic folk metal and it all seemed a bit otherworldly to me. So, Agharta it is.
Sébastien Normand is the French fella who’s been infected this time. Turns out he used to be the guitarist of Polarys and bassist of Nepenthys. Nope, me neither. But here he turns his hand to a concepty tale about Esquys, a little girl, born in Northern territories. She lives with her tribe, hidden, trying to protect what is left from ancient rites and beliefs. The world has collapsed into a new order ruled and populated only by women. So now you know.
One of the dangers of a project album is that you can lose your way. And with five different female vocalists showing up here it’s a tricky road for the producer to navigate. But he does it well. Fact fans may want to know that they are Anna Fiori, Anna Murphy (Cellar Darling), Ranthiel, Jen Janet (Novarium) and Micky Huijsmans (Sowulo).
He does the sensible thing by not tinkering with the genre formula too much but he still manages to throw in a few wee twists in the arrangements to make sure that you’re paying attention. It helps that the music is uniformly excellent. Of course, I’m a sucker for this Sort of Thing so I’m very much the target audience. But I work on the principle that if I like it then there are a few few other folk in this niche corner who’ll like it as well.
Obviously we don’t want to use the N word but they do hang over this record as they do most others in the field. Especially on a number like “Ghosts” with its choral backing track and fantasy soundtrack vibes. The ballad, “Shadows” is another highlight before things finish with an extremely unexpected cover of the Madonna song “Frozen”. As you do. Although this does more than nod to the Exit Eden version. But then the whole album was an unexpected treat. A real good one.
St Columba’s Hospice Tribute Fund for Linda Hamilton