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MARVIN AYRES -
Eccentric Deliquescence
Mandalic Records 2008

Strange it may seem yet unfocused it isn't. With Sonja Kristina a muse, a good curved air is guaranteed.

A founding member of THE GOVERNMENT and a hand in the CULTURE CLUB, SIMPLY RED and FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD successes, as his biography goes, these days Marvin Ayres explores ambience where his skills as pianist, violinist and cellist are employed to create an update of musique concrete. So much for the deliquescence, then, as "Soured Alchemy" floats on a gentle tune awashed in echo which, later on, unwinds into a cavernous, but cozy, soundscape that, in "Elegias Collage", houses an enthralling throb of the strings and a soothing piano surf. Thus, what could be otherworldly is firmly grounded - never more so than in traditional "The Bark That Is Bearing" sung as if from the self-imposed exile in the wilderness, from a harmonic place of inner light, while "Insomnolence" brings a dissonant anxiety into this deceptive bliss... without ruining it. And when the closing "Durdy" welcomes some whistling wind mischief, satisfaction sets in. That's what's "eccentric" means!

****
STEFAN ROSQVIST BAND -
The Guitar Diaries
Liquid Note Records 2008

Forget your Malmsteen - Sweden has a new guitar hero!

It's as clever as it's fast; more so, it has a feeling - not a common streak among today's instrumental virtuosi. All this means Stefan Rosqvist stands out of his peers' crop, and his full-length debut is something to enjoy rather than admire. Where others would go dirge-way with "Fallen Heroes", Rosqvist takes the rocking, finger-popping path and takes off to soar from there. An impressive flight which, in "Decisions", sees Stefan delicately trade licks with seven other guitarists including such revered names as Phi Yaan-Zek and Bo Eriksson who he exchanges solo with in "The Still" and duets in folky-tinctured "Singlemalt". Mostly, though, he sounds like a one-man guitar orchestra, so these collaborations are more the sign of fraternity than of a need to be abetted to run free. That's a real feel!

****
CHICKEN SHACK -
Stan Would Rather Go Live
Angel Air 2008

Some thing don't change: old bluesman comes home to roost - triumphantly.

He's not a guitar hero, Stan Webb, which doesn't mean the CHICKEN SHACK leader is lacking chops or charisma; maybe it's due to his non-scandalous life without losing his mind on LSD or cavorting a fellow musician's wife - whatever the reason, this 2004 UK performance is a little less than glorious. And if the opener "So Tell Me" may sound excuse-like, it's only a bait for the audience to get hooked on the long notes Stan's lungs are capable of and his solid licks, and be transfixed until the closing part that holds Webb's band's only hit, the still extremely emotive "I'd Rather Go Live".

The most magical moments, though, lie elsewhere: in NINE INCH NAILS-via-Johnny Cash dark contemplation of "Hurt" attached to the even more heart-wrecking "You Are The Sweetest Little Thing", and "The Thrill Is Gone" which in its dramatic sparseness leaves BB King's version far behind. Kudos to the second guitarist Gary Davies who shares the lead with Stan and does an impressive country chicken in "Chicken Shack Opera", but it's Webb who takes "I Know You Know Me" down the average blues noodling route. Quite an exception, with the bursts of inspired heroism making the CD and the DVD it's a soundtrack of testify to the British blues' ageless relevance.

****1/4
DEF LEPPARD -
Songs From The Sparkle Lounge
Mercury 2008

An elusive concept as an excuse for a good-time music. Too good to be true blue.

After the covers album, "Yeah!", the Sheffield's heroes continue rocking on the good foot, yet the cover crowd notwithstanding their "Sgt. Pepper" it isn't. Neither it nears "We're Only In It For The Money", which rings much closer to home, and Yoko Ono's quote, "This Is Not Here", held up in the pictured theater, doesn't bring a note of surrealism into proceeding while there's an alternative edge to the opening "Go". Yes, it's this banal: what about a sweet ballad titled "Love" brimful with QUEEN-esque harmonies? Mostly, still, what the pause-less album pushes forward is a glam rock 'n' roll with the '70s vibe, such as "Bad Actress" or "Nine Lives" featuring Tim McGraw, which melodically isn't what's expected from the veterans. "Gotta Let It Go" points to much better ideas the band could have came up with, but that's a little more than the coda to the missed chance.

***
DAYS BETWEEN STATIONS -
Days Between Stations
Bright Orange Records 2007

An otherworldly world music, a progressive hajj, a masterpiece.

There are many ways to success but furrowing in the direction of your own choosing is hardly one of these. Not that it bothers much guitarist Sepand Samzadeh and keyboard player Oscar Fuentes who've been doing their thing since 2003 when the two clashed their respective cultures for the first time in LA. Since then, the duo's improvisations served as a basis for THE PINEAPPLE THIEF's "Saturday", but it's only now that DBS realise their vision on a full-scale aural tapestry.

It's dark, starting with "Requiem For The Living" where a multi-layered guitar melds with Iranian wail courtesy of Samzadeh's uncle before the grand picture unfurls, while Hollie's dramatic vocalise in "Either / Or" takes a listener to the great gig in the skies, PINK FLOYD-way, and further on - with space-rock synthesizers spreading the mind-boggling waves. "Laudanum" charts the jazzy territory through the sax-blown mists, and if the "Radio Song" rocking electronica sounds as triumphantly retro-futuristic as the KRAFTWERK works, it's hard not to be haunted by the captivating piano figure of "How To Seduce A Ghost". There's a lot going on on this album, so it requires a spin after spin to explore it in full, but every new listen feels delightful.

*****
TODD GRUBBS -
Time, Space And The Electric
Grubbworm Music 2008

Every picture tells a story: the Tampa's finest uses guitar as a sonic brush.

A solid presence on the Florida music scene for more than 25 years, Todd Grubbs always has some surprise up his sleeve, and this time his sleeve - and guitar - is painted by fellow musician and artist David Hervey. Welcome to the gallery, then, where aural illustrates the visual, and each of these eleven pieces accompany a picture in the booklet. Here, abstract meets the concrete, the title track whispering "Wake Up" to ease in on the Arabic motif, before the measured shredding makes an appearance on the out-of-the-mix drums. The grit gets smoothed out with Derek Sherinian's mellow piano adding poignancy to "Edith" - guess, that's a Piaf portrait there - while "The Argument" welcomes metal guru Ralph Santolla for a duel, and "The Electric Life" splices rock 'n' roll with operatic vocalise.

If that's too earthy, a balance comes with the cosmic twang of "Dreaming Aboard An Alien Aircraft" which Hank Marvin would marvel at and an Icarus flight of "The Fearless Future" which hints of Ritchie Blackmore's "Burn" near the end. The paying dues to tradition culminates with "Curved Time", a speedy groover riding on a Hendrix's riff to end this emotionally charged album on a crest of a tidal wave. A master class in guitar art!

****1/2
STRATOSPHEERIUS -
Headspace
Fiddlefunk Music 2007

Classy yet unclassified: the Big Apple wild woods for all to get lost.

Pagan and porn fests might be too weird a circuit for airing the music of such a disciplined collective but there's a madness in their method that's quite captive, even though in the opening "New Material" craziness prevails. If you get past its funky grooves and the hackneyed Rimsky-Korsakov quote, there's much to enjoy in Joe Deninzon's violin-stirred brew that CRIMSO's David Cross would approve.

The "Mental Floss" folky dance of the violin and Mark Price's frenzied guitar nods to the progressive rock tradition, while the "Old Ghosts" breezy jazz shot through with a lounge country is so delicious that the cover of POLICE's "Driven To Tears" almost feels like a foreign body here - saved by fantastic new arrangement. "Gutterpunk Blues", on the other hand, sees Deninzon's gentle mandolin strum quite organically spliced with heavy metal attack Jimmy Page wouldn't be ashamed of. Former band member, the famous Alex Skolnick, had a hand in composing "Heavier Shtettle" which rams it all home and looks back at his, and Joe's, ancestors' Jewish villages in Russia, now long dead. That's where the space gets in one's head and out to the skies. Weird can't get no better than this!

****

THE KOOKS - Konk
Virgin 2008

The Brighton four go all nosey. Smell the aroma!

Named after Ray Davies' studio where it was recorded, there's not much of THE KINKS' influence - the English quartet's second album picks up where its predecessor, "Inside In / Inside Out", left off and offers a nice blend of tasty pop rock and, strangely, reggae. The "Mr. Maker" chorus having it all, the hookful "Do You Wanna" with its heart-throb beat is a raucous proposition d'amour, so the "See The Sun" slur and almost faulty guitar solo feel all the more endearing. Still, around central ballad, the teenagerly awkward "Love It All", the mood changes and with "Stormy Weather", as stompy as it is, some gloom sets in, even "Shine On" sounding quite murky. But that's fantastic once you understand there's a young man's entire day is soundtracked, from dawn till dusk and the skank'ed up next mourn of the acoustic groover "Tick Of Time". When the grand scheme of things gets laid out so nicely, the life is beautiful.

****2/3
GUILLEMOTS - Red
Polydor 2008

Another attempt at untangling their enigma isn't ropey at all, so roll it and follow the thread.

If you take this foursome's music as a labyrinthine challenge, a clew on the cover looks like a clue to the band's second outing, but the Kraut disco of the opening "Kriss Kross" feels ever more puzzling with Fyfe Dangerfield's clear voice gliding over the marching sweep of the cosmic strings and synthetic riffage: that's as delicious as it gets. It would fit much better as a grand finale, while the "Big Dog" music machine haze is a perfect pulse-setter in its trip-hoppy seductiveness. Elsewhere, the lysergic "Cockateels" and "Clarion" swirl from the late '60s raga to the next decade's hedonistic dancefloor, whereas "Last Kiss" welcomes some good-time rave, and "Falling Out Of Reach" brings on a blissful, harmonic comedown. After that, even the "Cinderella sold her soul / There's no such thing as rock and roll" statement of the delicately glistening "Standing On The Last Star" is alluring, yet "Take Me Home" is so bittersweet no Ariadne will not heed this call. An awesome record!

*****
BABYLON MYSTERY ORCHESTRA -
Axis Of Evil
Babylon Mystery Orchestra 2008

The evil that religions do: a new treaty on the great lie in the skies.

Sidney Allen Johnson is a stubborn man who fears no risk. Back in 2006, on "The Great Apostasy", the singer and guitarist explored in-depth the Satanic nature of the Christian church, but this time it's Islam that gets slammed for Muhammad's violent dogma which is ruining our world right now. So there's a rightful anger in the viscous bass riffs and lashing guitar bursts of "We Ride, You Die", and Tony Iommi's fans will have a blast with "DevilSpawn", but death metal doesn't rule the game here as "Illuminati" sails on acoustic strum while "Islam" blends harmonic chant with rock 'n' roll and the "Martyr" creepy sadness gets into one's soul. A solid record by the brave one.

***
STEVE ELLIS -
The Love Affair Is Over
Angel Air 2008

Previously unheard emotions from the man who brought us "Everlasting Love", which is here as well.

His has been an illustrious career - from the LOVE AFFAIR pop in the '60s to the WIDOWMAKER hard rock in the '70s - but when punk swept the UK, he felt like a fish out of water. More so, his first solo album, 1977's "The Last Angry Man", recorded with the aid of friends such as Rogers Daltrey and Chapman, got entangled in the producers' disagreement and shelved. As a result, Steve Ellis quit music for the docker's job that almost cost him both legs, but now the singer's been standing his own ground for some time, and the time came to dust off the tapes... and be amazed. Not releasing these songs was a crime.

An arc to a new cut of "Everlasting Love", elegantly rocking "Life User" is a blistering tone-setter, its weary optimism lighting Steve's vocal swagger, offset with Roger Chapman's vibrato, and Albert Lee's guitar lines. The album's line-up features such talents as Brian Robertson, then in THIN LIZZY, Henry McCullough, Henry Spinetti, Tim Hinkley and Brian Oadgers - exactly what this voice needs to shine through with flying colors be it on folksy, acoustic reel that is"Wind And A Lady" or soul-shattering, wisely orchestrated ballad "Rag And Bone". Most of the songs like the Lennonesque "Hang On Joey" and honky-tonk ballsy "Blackmail" are joyfully anthemic and brimful with life-affirming nervousness, so it's a highlight through and through.

The mood of "The Last Angry Man" is carried on with Ellis' own basement tapes, or the results of 1983's "Basement Days" with the reformed LOVE AFFAIR guitarist Mel Taylor, which weren't meant to produce an album but to have fun... if only dramatic "El Doomo" in all its heartbreak was funny. But while the "War Train" heavy reggae chugs on even more seriously, "I Lost My Feelings" comes rockin' an' reelin' and "Warm Love", if released, would have followed the hit way of its everlasting predecessor. With a live bonus DVD, it's an essential collection to have a love affair with.

*****
JANN KLOSE - Reverie
Jann Klose 2008

A soft-spoken dream has a lot going on to it. Shine on and float downstream!

Joni Mitchell? Nick Drake? Jacques Brel? The line of jazz-loving acoustic troubadours is made longer by this young American whose songs glow endearingly in the gloom of our times. Who can't relate to the "I don't wanna wake up" sentiment of "Beautiful Dream" with its snake-like electric guitar and the light violin glide? It would have made a perfect finale to this adorable album but that's an opener, so one's in for a treat - or, if you get the hint of the sad instrumental "Ithaca", the Odyssey journey.

While "Clouds" and the flugelhorn-awashed "All These Rivers" swing into a sunny mood, the "Hold Me Down" accordion-oiled reggae is humorous and lilting at the same time, and "Questions Of The Heart" might be the most tremulous ballad of the year without being saccharine - sell it to SCORPIONS, Jann, it's that good! And in the end is... "The Beginning": a brooding grand piano jive courtesy of Lars Potteiger. So program it backwards and have this delightful trip again. And again.

*****
JEFF CHRISTIE -
Outer Limits /
Floored Masters - Past Imperfect
Angel Air 2008

The Yellow River had a spring and an estuary. Here's where the story temporarily ends.

Remembered mostly for their tremendous hit, CHRISTIE were a mindchild of one Jeff Christie, a songwriter of immense proportions who deserves much more than he's been getting over the years. Out on his own for the first time, in 1978 Jeff set to work on his solo album but the timing was too wrong with punk having swept any thought of a well-crafted pop rock song such as the achingly urgent "On The Same Side", or "It Aint Easy" from Christie's former band's last sessions, so the planned record didn't see the light of day - until now. It's a great collection of mostly acoustic-tinged would-be smashes like the surefire dancefloor, rather than studio floor, filler "Midnight Express" riding on funky bass, and catchingly gentle single "Both Ends Of The Rainbow". Elsewhere, the flute and sax-adorned buzz of "You And Me" which gains momentum during its course could have go down well with the folk and fusion fraternities, whereas the '60s-styled "Saints And Sinners" lurches the disco-ska way.

"Yellow River" has proved to be both a blessing and a curse, nobody taking its writer as a serious musician, but there were a couple more attempts to re-establish Jeff Christie as such, the cream of those included here. The anthemic sweep of the "Shine On" harmonies could have made it a great arena-chanter in 1981 and is hard to resist now as is "Yuletide Lights" that can chart any given Christmas. Will Angel Air dare to put it out on a single to make Christie shine anew?

****4/5
DISTORTED -
Voices From Within
Candelight 2008

Cold doom metal from the warm shores of Israel. Spooky yet calm.

Over the last twenty years Israel has produced a clutch of great heavy bands that, curiously, are in favor of connoisseurs only. This quintet might become one of those ensembles if "Voices From Within" wasn't just their second album since the group's formation in 1996 and if their music wasn't so Nordic in its juxtaposition of Miri Milman Snow Queen-esque folksy voice, full of melismas, and sharp yet disciplined guitar riffs of Benny Zohar and Raffael Mor who also adds some nice growling to the mix.

The opener, "One Last Breath", is a good example of the formula - but here's a simmering rather than sizzling, and the delight wears out all too soon tasty soloing notwithstanding. The genre aficionados will love it, though, with the acoustic "A Soft Whisper" soothing the brew and "Letting Go" as delicate a goodbye as it gets, while the "Fading" choral harmonies deserve to be widely heard. If it's the difficult second, the next one may be a big bang.

***
RACING CARS -
Bolt From The Blue
Angel Air 2008

The not so latest, yet hot and soft as a fudge, album from the South Wales' finest band.

In today's warped reality it's a little wonder that RACING CARS new album has been recorded before their previous one, 2007's "Second Wind", in 2000. On par with their three LPs of the '70s, it just wasn't properly released but, judging by the crowd reaction on the bonus DVD, the group's fandom who had the chance to buy the disc at the gigs loved it and knew it all to well. Now, it's everybody's turn to join the club following Morty's call in the opening "The Time Has Come" which feels like a gentle pat on the back. There's no outstanding tracks, they're all sunnily good, but the "Potters Blue" acoustic ringing pitches the nostalgie high, while, on the other side of heartbreak, the autobiographical "Up Against Trees" rocks the boat in fine fashion with Graham Williams slide guitar adding to the swagger that draws the listener in "Running Scared". The "I've Had Enough" ironic blues aside, the album's full of love which oozes out the "Lost Without You" hushed tones, lends drama to "Faith In You" and fills "Baby Dirl". A rare thing of beauty in our warped reality.

*****
THE ROLLING STONES
Shine A Light
Polydor 2008

Is the decadence back? The greatest band in the world cast stones into their past.

Martin Scorsese got it all wrong. Yes, Mick 'n' Keef & Co are capable of radically changing the set list from night to night, and it's great that for the November 2006's performance in New York's Beacon Theater they dusted off some gems that have never been played live. But it's the band's new material that makes them still relevant force and draws near famous guests who appear here, and there's just nothing from "A Bigger Bang" - apparently, on the director's request - while a third of the material comes from only two albums, "Exile On Main St." and "Some Girls". Both were decadent in the creative circumstances: in 1972, Richards drove his compadres rootsy way due to his heroin-fuelled energy whereas Jagger was apathy-stricken, and in 1978 it was the singer who took the reins from the court and needle bound guitarist to dabble in punk and disco. Here's your tradition and modernity coming together, yet not on this album, even though it sounds great.

One of the things that make THE STONES so great is their ability to play rough, and that's how they are from the opening "Jumpin' Jack Flash" up to the closing title track. Such an approach enlivens rather sleek rock 'n' roll of "She Was Hot" and gives piquancy to Christina Aguilera's part in the country honk of "Live With Me" which, still, are overshadowed by the "Champagne & Reefer" ebullience: it's been quite a while since the band did Muddy Waters, and Buddy Guy takes it all into some other direction. Not the same with Jack White's too-reverent contribution to "Loving Cup". Guests are extra here, the band themselves waxing lyrical on "Faraway Eyes", imbuing the slack of "Some Girls" with tasty sarcasm and letting Ronnie Wood slide it in, and then pushing Richards forward for the 1967's rollicking "Connection". Strangely, "Sympathy For The Devil" lacks the usual creepy gusto, yet "Little T&A" rocks the socks off and socks the rocks off. That's the decadence, the creative time.

****1/2
THE PARRISH & GURVITZ BAND -
The Parrish & Gurtvitz Band
Wet World 2008

Unreleased second album, plus the first one, both produced by George Martin, fill the gap in the Brit rock history and place one hell of a band back on the map.

In the beginning there were two singing guitarists, Paul Gurvirz and Brian Morris, and they were the driving force behind the '60s rhythm-and-blues also-rans THE KNACK. Then, Gurvitz became Curtis and shot high with GUN, while Morris turned into Parrish and tried to become a songwriter; their friendship still was firm enough for both to drop the solo efforts started on the dawn of a new decade to join forces again. "Parrish & Gurvitz", laid down with Lou Reizner at the helm and re-cut with the Fab Four producer, was released in 1971 and showed the mellow side of Brian and Paul. The opener "Another Time, Another Day" rolling out on the West Coast-influenced harmonies with sharp middle section that sees the sensitive rhythm section of Mike Kellie and Rick Wills undepin the main men's velvet guitars, whereas adorable "Why" may have come from "Abbey Road", and "Janine" is a tremulous, folk-tinctured ballad: the term "acoustic hard rock" would be perfect for their music, especially with the "Loving You" psychedelic riff and orchestral sweep, and the hippiedom could have latched onto the "Libra" hooks if the group got what their deserved.

Unfortunately, the band didn't get it, and their second album, recorded after the US tour, has remained in the vaults - until now. What occupies the first disc of this set feels more bluesy, "Birmingham" and "Rainy Day Man" featuring the boogie piano of Micky Gallagher wouldn't have been out of place on BLIND FAITH's LP, but "One Way Street" introduces a funky brass section, and "Give It All Up" looks like an update of "A Whiter Shade Of Pale": yes, it's this deep. Why the tapes with such an emotional song as "When Evening Comes", which seems destined to have dented the charts, and with such a riff-fest that is "On My Way", were sent to be gathering dust is hard to grasp. Facing the dead end, Gurvitz and Parrish let their friends form Peter Frampton's CAMEL, and went their separate ways - Brian solo and Paul, back with brother Adrian, with THREE MEN ARMY. What's remained is an accomplished work of rare elegance, ready for re-evaluation.

*****
DAVE WALKER -
Walking Underwater
Iron Horse 2007

Read the interview

The most underrated British blues singer comes to the surface again - with a mighty splash.

Strange it may seem but Dave Walker's name is subscribed to the dark recesses of the blues history, his work with SAVOY BROWN and FLEETWOOD MAC and short stint with BLACK SABBATH notwithstanding. Having moved to America, Walker, in his own words, was "shiftless hippie for a few years, working on ranches and doing a lot of manual jobs", and this experience has enriched Dave's understanding of his chosen genre. Cue "Walking Underwater", the singer's best work to date which funnily starts with a fine slice of walking blues that is "Little Susie & Mr. Tight", and one will be forgiven for thinking it's a late '60s recording. While it's not that easy to sound natural in such a lyrical idiom, in "Rabbit's Foot Charm" and "Crazy Baby" the veteran is totally convincing.

Smooth "Blues From The Bottom" may feel a tad melodramatic, yet the emotional pinnacle emerges in the drama of the title track, a deeply moving ballad where the voice glides over the instrumental bedrock and fathoms the human desperation while Robert Britten's crystal piano soothes the heat. And if that's not enough to go down, the next in line is "Weep No More": a heavy gloomy piece splicing Dave's doomy vocals with Jim Lewis' crying guitar. But "Hard Headed Woman" with its powerful slide closes the album with a great dose of rocking panache. There's sadness and there's madness, and that's what they call the genuine blues.

*****
SUPERGRASS -
Diamond Hoo Ha
Parlophone 2008

Sixth album by the Oxford joybringers sees them go rootsy way with rainbow in their eyes.

Two and a half years since "Road To Rouen" seem to have made the English quartet make up their minds and decide they belong to the bright side of life, so "Hoo Ha" is a battle cry of the invigorated bunch rather than a heavy sigh. All right, there is heaviness in the title cut, "Diamond Hoo Ha Man", but that's a great catchy riff which takes it all into the glam territory with "Rebel In You" ever more glittery, so this time a revolution feels far away and the lyrics state it straight: quite reasonable in view of the fans' divided reaction to the band's previous record. And perhaps that's in their defense that the psychedelic chorus of "The Return Of..." adds the word "inspiration" to the title, and the two-and-a-half minute marching dirge "When I Needed You" reaches out for worried optimism.

But now Gaz Coombes is in for some trouble again as everybody's heard most of the tunes before, "Ghost Of A Friend" exposing the spectres of Ray Davies melodies, Brian May's guitar and Bob Dylan's whine in "Like A Rolling Stone", while "Buttefly" smells of Ziggy Stardust. Yet the "Outside" proggy ring with piano in the beginning and the Moog solo comes very tasty, and the overall impression is good - for a while. Until the next great record, that is. They'd better bring it on sooner rather than later.

****
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