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THE ISSUES -
It Goes to 11
The Issues 2011

The southern-fried punk with a twist and turn and humor served in spades.

With an amp on the cover and the title like this, the smile is guaranteed, but the SPINAL TAP allusion is played up by the number of tracks on this Atlanta trio's offer. But who counts when the stone's hurled at the listener with "WTF" - sung not as an acronym when it comes to refrain - and the ball rolls with punky attitude and pop nous on the most of the cuts. Geoff Adams' axe chops the sound thick, while in Wayne Vokovich, whose deep bass swings the contagious "Saints" and the metallic "Champagne Suicide", the band have a Strummer avatar. But if there's a shade of retro in places, "Run Right Back" ropes in the current alternative radio format, while the soulful tune would make "Name" a hit on the waves, and "FMPs" links the jive to the opener. The pump works overtime here, and we got no issues with that.

****3/4
BRONZ -
Carried By The Storm
Your Tune Music 2010

A blast from the past: 25 years on, a lost gem of British hard rock finally releases its thunder to the world.

Mid-'80s weren't the best of times for the U.K. heavy rockers who missed NWOBHM and lacked locks-and-frocks of their younger American counterparts, but for this quintet it was even worse. Their debut, 1984's "Taken By Storm", was a nice slab of molten riffs and brought the band a US deal, but when it came to the second album guitarist Shaun Kirkpatrick was the sole original member in the new line-up who, with Max Norman at the console, delivered this. Or almost delivered because their label went bankrupt, and the tapes got shelved until now that the terminal illness of bassist Lee Reddings prompted Kirkpatrick to finish the job, release "Carried By The Storm" and go on tour with the rest of his squad. And it was worth the wait.

It's as sharp as it is smooth: the sax-oiled title cut holds the best what the '80s could offer in the memorable choruses department, Ian Baker giving Loe Gramm a run for his money, while the riffs of "Can't Live Without Your Love" embrace the listener from the off and welcome a well-hidden acoustic flamenco lick in their shouty midst. Of course, there's a tremulous ballad, "You And Me", flowing on URIAH HEEP Phil Lanzon's keyboards, but the panache of "There's A Reason" is also so sincere, it doesn't feel dated. Towards the end, though, the drift becomes more generic, yet "Dangerous Game" has a good vibe to its swing thanks to Redding's bass to end the album on a positive note - still resounding.

****
HOT RED DRESS -
Being Me Is What I Do
Realsmooth Music 2011

A veterans' label's debut tries to turn their old glories into contemporary success story.

What can look like a young band, the West Midlands trio hold, in fact, two old guns in their ranks, drummer Bob Peach and guitarist Keith Rimell who wrote most of the material here as he did way back when the two were paving a boulder road to NWOBHM trading as SUPANOVA. Now, though, there's a female warbler, Kat Howell, at the mike, and a light instead of the erstwhile heaviness.

Still, the same perky panache keeps the modern mood-setter "Shoes", the infectious romp "Hear Me" and the live rock 'n' roll of "If You Could Be Me" that turns the record's title on its head. One could hardly resist it and the electronics-tinged "Don't Tell Me" when it comes to an urgent footstomping that's as commercially indie as it gets and, as well as "Just Another Day" boasts some nice riffage. There's a feeling of familiarity to some of the hooks yet that doesn't diminish the overall quality of the outcome.

****
THE TEA CLUB -
The Tea Club
Rockfold 2010

A chill of the wilderness: a grand concept expanse with a freezing aural wind. Not for the faint of heart.

All's got mixed up it seems. While the New Jersey's collective's previous effort, "General Winter's Secret Museum", it's on this album that the real cold sets in and gets to the listener's bones. Those bones may rattle to the powerful riff of "Simon Magus" which sees brothers Dan and Patrick McGowan waxing lyrical to inject the right dose of bliss into the drums-driven anxiety and glacial web of guitar and synthesizers. Yet after such nice promise, the pattern becomes slightly boring, indie-way, where melodies are drowned in lifeless cleverness.

It's so clear in the epics, the closing "Astro" and the threatening "The Night I Killed Steve Shelley" that packs a lot of gloom but, save for the central harmonic part, is thin on murderous turns. Caressing tunes come in the transparent "Tumbleweeds" and "Royal Oil Can" - looks like the band may make a great folk rock ensemble if they decided to change the tack, even with a heavy, Hammond-loaded dance that's on display in "Out Of The Ocean" which goes mental when there's no need for it. There are many arresting moments on offer but it somehow doesn't work as a whole.

**3/4
JOE BECKER -
Short Stories
Chops From Hell 2006

A rough-cut blues collection from the master of the tone who goes beyond the texture this time.

Joe Becker knows his way around six strings too well to deliver every time he hits the "Record" button, and here he cuts straight to the matter, as "(You Were) Never The One" engages from the get-go, once the ballad reveals its boogie core in the piano run. It doesn't matter, then, that the overall sound is a little bit raw, like demo, and why not if the genre dictates feel over smoothness, laid out here in solos?

Irony abounds and pops up even in "Sweet Old Fashioned Blues", that features Joe's namesake Jason Becker's technologically enhanced parts (Jason's lost the ability to play due to his illness) and in the two-part heavy overdrive of "Blues For Drinkin'". Yet there's enough more reflective moments, like in the gilded "Little Brother" or "Thoughts" where unison guitars are stacked into a little orchestra, but for "Martin's Old Uke" Joe strips all the embellishments in favor of strumming his acoustic to deliver the same amount of emotions. Short yet to the point.

***1/2
MICK CLARKE -
The Rambunctious Blues Experiment
Rockfold 2011

Warts and all: the raw 'n' dirty stew from the British master of the genre.

Held in high esteem since his day as a leader of THE KILLING FLOOR, Mick Clarke has never stopped playing, with his own band or solo, or even when a string broke, as on "Woodsman", the closing track on this album. Hence the "rambunctious" part of its title - the blues aren't meant to be polished, after all, as the opener "Cheap" states - with the "experiment" element joining in from the veteran's current MO: the guitarist called the shot to drummer Russell Chaney with no prior rehearsal which, intuition at play, resulted in grand spontaneity. Clarke cut some agnail while adding a bit of bass at the postproduction stage, yet the wayward spirit reigns all over the dozen tracks on offer.

It hangs well in the Chicago blues tradition, Dangerous Dave Newman wailing on his harp, even though "Groundhog Man" harks back to the Delta's slide with a slice of Diddley beat. But if "Old Bones" rattles its distorted heavy riff with a modern, Jack White-approved edge, the sadness of "Something Wrong" could have been well coated in an orchestral sweep. On the other side of emotional spectrum, "Shake That Boogie" and the instrumental "Go Go Freddie" are irresistible feet-tappers, so the only smooth thing there should be the floor where the rug has been cut, while "Slipaway" thrashes its hook in the equally infectious, if moderate, manner. The album bursts with a youthful energy: the experiment proved to be successful.

****1/3
VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR -
A Grounding In Numbers
Esoteric 2011

A triangle is played out to make a scientific peak for purveyors of the most mathematics-rooted art rock of all.

When it comes to architecture, triangle is the most durable form, so its no wonder that the third post-reunion album from the very geometry-minded prog ensembles, recorded as a trio, is strong. Released on March, 14, which suggests a Pi number, it packs the VDGG's inherent angularity in a circular shape, flowing in and oozing out with the anthemic swell of the band's mid-'70s: "Your Time Starts Now" looms large on Hugh Banton's organ over which Peter Hammill paints a solemn, if gloomy, paean to the temporal run, whereas "All Over The Place" presents a theatrical drama, playful and deep at the same time, complete with Brechtian chorus and spine-tingling synthesizers coda.

But the brain lemmings are never far away from the contemporary configuration of the old guns, and "5533" sees the digital game expressed verbally, while the nervy "Highly Strung" rages in the quirky '80s way in the interplay between Hammill's guitar and Guy Evans' drums. The outstanding tracks are "Mr. Sands" and "Bunsho" which meld elements from all the VDGG's eras into this day's artefact to please old fans and embrace new ones, but the retro light of "Snake Oil" has a special charm to it, too, with piano throwing golden splinters for the guitar to riff, and then a sharp riff forms the base of "Embarrassing Kid" where the harmonies are so subtle they're hard to notice. Yet it's equally difficult not to see the structural beauty in the album's equation.

****
COPERNICUS -
Cipher And Decipher
Nevermore / MoonJune 2011

One trip in the mental, elemental and fundamental too far, or grooves that melt one's brain.

Joseph Smalkowski, or Copernicus, is a poet, a very tuneful one whose recitals go well with improvised music in the best beatnik tradition, and he doesn't stop to surprise - this time he even introduces a boogie jive of "Infinite Strength" into the aural melange - yet while his previous album, "Disappearance", was full of subtleties, this one comes on rather blunt. If the threat of "Into The Subatomic" eases in graciously on madful organ and grinding drums, the punk approach doesn't work as well further on, so the further you go the stronger your desire to hit the "Skip" button, especially during the 15 minutes of closer "The Cauldron", yet the demented jazz flow of "Matter Is Energy" is energetic indeed and the slowly burning "Free At Last!" will see HAWKWIND fans latch onto the lament. "The Universe can be comprehensible", states the auteur in the center of it all over the Chinese-shaped, delicate guitars' ebb, but now Copernicus' cosmology, with all its world music backdrop, chimes too otherworldly to grasp.

**1/3
HUW LLOYD-LANGTON'S LLG -
Hard Graft
Allegro Music 2010

An album that almost didn't happen, but there's no such thing for the former HAWKWIND axeman.

Huw Lloyd-Langton has a lot of heroic qualities that made him a pillar of a certain space-rock ensemble, and he persevered when, on the way to this record, some of its parts got lost and some parts of the veteran's organism went on strike, too. It was worth it, though, if only to set the guitarist in the bluesy mode that resulted in three instrumentals tagged to the end of the disc, including the Delta-soaked "Slow Tran A-Coming". The problem is, Lloyd-Langton's voice doesn't match the scope of his progressive flights like that of the title track whose acoustic intro wouldn't be out of place on "Classical Guitar Tales", laid down at around the same time, but leads to a harmonic drama that packs all the labor which went into it to wrap the outcome in beauty. The cosmic transparency of "Hey Mama", which sounds like Phil Lynott fronting PINK FLOYD, is arguably the most vibrant piece the master's ever delivered, yet there's a sharp riff in "PDT - Photo Dynamic Therapy" to remind of his WIDOWMAKER past, with a slinky slide guitar and a fat vibrato to boot. A solid work to graft itself on your subconscious, while your mind is blissfully tripping.

***
MARK HEALEY -
Inside Out
Angel Air 2011

A BADFINGER bassist makes good vibes in a good company with no disrespect to the legendary name.

American Mark Healey has been plucking four strings for the great British band since 1986, stepping in five years after BADFINGER had released their last - to this day - album, so there's no surprise his creative juices were flowing. Yet touring, production work and writing for films kept the bassist well-occupied for a long time, until now when, with the help of his colleagues, including the parent group's sole original member, Joey Molland, he delivers this wonderful platter. No pretention in it, the sign of a real master; it's melodies that dictate the run, like in the title track's silky blues and everywhere else.

Starting unassumingly with autumnal "Anything" which could have graced any classic 'FINGER album, the record gains momentum with a four guitars riffy roll and sassy female backing of "Don't Know What Love Is", and hangs a hard rock promise on the funky undercurrent in "Know Who You Are". Then, there's an irresistible Americana urgency in "Just A Matter Of Time", while "Something About To Change" is channelling the Quiet Beatle's catchy spirit in its acoustic web, and "Begin Again" holds a wave of dark-hued optimism in its heart. A lovable record for seasoned souls.

***1/3
MICHAEL STANLEY -
Just Another Night
ItsAboutMusic.com 2011

The Midwestern hero delivers an Indian Summer message - long but rich on content.

It should be generally prohibited to make records that reach a 75-minute mark without a certain diversity quotient, but Stanley knows his way around Americana too good to stretch his music too thin on the ground. So if the '80s gloss of the opener, "Just Another Night In America", and the funky "Something Do Something" grates, once the epic folk rock closer "Winter" winds down you feel like coming out of a good meditation roller coaster, as the record's groove gets to your nerve. The vibe is really tight in the piano boogie which is "Pay Me Now" and the bluesy groove which shoots through the heavy guitar and Hammond of "Lap Dog Dance". Yet while the tremulous "Angelina" shines like a beacon, tired melancholy permeates "Any Time I Try", and there's a touch of gospel to "Throwing Shadows", a transparent duet with Jennifer Lee. Sequenced differently, the album could have turned out rather dull, but it is warm and welcoming.

***
ROBIN GEORGE'S LOVEPOWER -
LovePower And Peace
Robin George 2011
Buy and help.

Rock elite unite their ranks for a valiant cause. And it sounds good, too.

Robin George has a solid hard rock pedigree, but it takes some soul force to go for a good reason such as supporting Macmillan Cancer Support. So the guitarist not only came up with an optimistic tune but also handed it to two of the best British belters, Ruby Turner and Jaki Graham, to deliver. The ladies delivery over George's strum can send shivers down the hardest spine, while Mel Collins' honeyed sax and Ken Hensley's Hammond stitch together heaven and earth in this uplifting piece that grows from an acoustic ballad into a choir-supported hymn which sound familiar and impossible not to get drawn into. If it moves you, make your move - buy the single, make cancer go.

****
BORIS SAVOLDELLI -
Biocosmopolita
MoonJune 2011

A song is carried on the wind: an ecology trip around the city with a voice as a guise.

Vocal acrobatics can be jarring: in jazz, they smell of elitism, and it's a vain boast when they're shaped as a human beat-box. Boris Savoldelli walk a thing line between the two fields conjuring a rarefied urban atmosphere that build on the joie de vivre of his debut, "Insanology", and the glass-and-concrete of his collaboration with Elliott Sharp on "Protoplasmic". It's hot and humid now, Brazilian-way, a samba wind filling even the rock 'n' roll of "The Miss Kiss", so once the opening "Aria" wraps itself around your ears, your head is in for a treat.

Then, your feet follow the voice into the carnival warm-up of the title track where the percussion of maestro's voice is spanked with Jimmy Haslip's supple bass for the exotica level to shoot skywards. The only other guest instruments are Paolo Fresu's brass on two cuts, "Concrete Clima" seeing Savoldelli sprinkle a bluesy grit on his chords. It's this sharpness that sucks the excess saccharin from "The Dischordia", while the piano ballad "Biocosmo" is rightfully sweet and "Dandy Dog" have a wonderful panache to it. What's jarring after that is the fact Boris Savoldelli isn't a star yet.

*****
JOEY STUCKEY -
The Shadow Sound
Virtuoso Music 2010

A mixed bag of a bluesy rag - and immense talent that shines a light.

This sonic master from Georgia has been ploughing a musical landscape for nigh on two decades now - writing, playing, twiddling knobs, sending his voice over the waves - but now, once Jeff Healey's gone, Joey Stuckey emerges as his true rival and successor. There are many sides to the blind guitarist, which makes his new album feels like a hits collection, with emphasis on "hits" and blues as common denominator, a Southern jive that propels a brass-oiled funk of "Take A Walk In The Shadows" and the slow lava of "Runnin'" and keeps the listener guessing as to what lies around the bend.

Surprises abound, a slap echo of "Funny" bears a vibrant '80s imprint and a hell broken loose, the instrumental "Holy Tree Hopeful" does a samba, while a fusion streak peeking from "The Light That Guides" unfurls its gauze in full in "Hold", alternately gentle and roaring. The maestro even has a go at a power ballad, in "Mr. Mooney", that could challenge any metal band for its sensitivity if not for the slide guitar inflections which give the piece an extra layer of gloss and, thanks to the classical piano thread, class, whereas the cello-augmented "Not The End Of The World" sends emotions into a waltz. An acoustic live take on "Truth Is A Misty Mountain", right out of his soul depth, shows what Joey Stuckey is capable of on-stage. A real thing.

****
UNCLE SID - Eye Rock!
Long Live Rock 2010

Safe and sound attack from Vancouver. Is New Wave of British Columbia Heavy Metal rolling on?

Six years on since "Rock In The Universe", the avuncular four come up with a new record. Deep in tradition of sonic bricklaying, there's nothing new to these ten songs save for the beautiful fact that many of the skin-zipping riffs, courtesy of Henry Seto, are based on good old rock 'n' roll. Take the foot-stomping catch of "Love Design" or "No More" to revel in the eye of the hurricane. Now, there's a lady singer, Lor Dane, to hitch the ride: her sensual voice remindful of Doro gives the 9-minute ballad "The Pain" a powerful sweetness, and in the opening "Free Your Soul" the ensemble's kick feels strong, but "Turn You On" simply lacks impetus and rages for its own sake. Nobody's perfect, then, but UNCLE SID play the game right.

***
MICKEY WYNNE -
Running On Empty
Mickey Wynne 2010

Natural born Liverpudlian takes in the smell of Windy City.

Having worked with Peter Green and having had John Entwistle in the band he led in America, it's no wonder this Brighton-based guitarist has a way with a blues lick - a Chicagoan one, as the title track of Mickey Wynne's four-track EP's title cut shows. It has a desperate crunch and a groove for the vocals to be drowned in, while the guitar rages and wails in short bursts once in a while imitating the harmonica: a brilliant production - echo, effects et al - and a riff to die for, or from. A different, folky vive, yet the same sensibility carries "Against All Odds (I'll Do It)" in its acoustic roll, but "French Blooze" is too airy and languid to catch the skin, and the buzz and slide guitar of "All Quiet (On The Eastern Frontier)" pays tribute more to Mark Knopfler than J.J.Cale as possibly was intended.

Many artists say less in a longplay than Mickey Wynne does on this mini-album. A winner.

****1/3
PYEWACKET - 1967
ItsAboutMusic.com 2011

A faithful recreation of the Summer of Love spirit from the one who was there and remembers it well.

They shared the bill with MOBY GRAPE and BUFFALO SPRINGFIELD yet, up to now, PYEWACKET didn't get to the footnotes in texts on the SoCal scene - even the "Nuggets" aficionados never heard of them. Two years of lifespan left produced some recordings that lay dormant until the tapes became unusable, so when the band's leader John McKindle decided to revive their legacy in 2010, he had no other option than to re-cut the best of it - alone, in his bedroom. Cue these 15 tracks that, from the opener, "Together", pull you into the '60s with jangly guitars and mellifluous harmonies, "I Am The Sky" being a hit which, unfortunately, didn't happen.

It's a fresh recreation of what was before, in the old ways, not like The Fabs' 1969's take on 1957's "One After 909", while "Love For Love" may have found a part in the Liverpudlians', or THE BYRDS', cache, and the acid-seared riffs of "Why Me" and "I Thought" has a retro-modern ring to it and "The 8th Moon" runs a memorable folk thread. There's a beauty of naivete in it; for the most part, though, you can remember a lot of similar, and more successful, music in such vein, "If I Really Cared To" sounds very generic. Still, it's all adorable - what's not to love there? Now, on to "1968".

***1/2
MO FOSTER -
Bass Themes
Angel Air 2011

Four-string virtuoso opens up his chest of small wonders - shining dimly.

Equally adept in rock and jazz - he played with Gary Moore and Gil Evans if we limit the veteran's CD to G-force - Mo Foster's solo output has a new age imprint on with the bass rumble lurking underneath a serene surface. Such quietly dramatic approach is perfect when it comes to production music which he's been serving up for many years now, this collection, comprised of 30 short cuts, spanning 1983-2009.

For all their diversity, the pieces present a unified, integral front stricken with lyricism and showing master's supple touch be it in the faux big band jive of "Slink" or an Oriental shimmer of "Afternoon In Kyoto". Mo's accompanied by the equally virtuoso friends who know how to shape their flight to his vision, so Ray Russell chooses to be cosmic on the fusion of "Alone In New York City" and twangy on "Steam Driven", while Tony Hymas sprinkles the pavement with golden piano in "Goodbye Old Friend". Still, it when the bass take a solo that the drift becomes most impressive like in the blues of "Jerry's Monet Bridge", the tango of "All Night Stake Out" or the cinematic "Staring Into The Abyss" where the depth is fathomed with low-end sonics. And then there's that rumble in "Good Cop, Bad Cop" and a shade of "Gimme Some Lovin'" urgency in the funky "Stomp", whereas humor slips into the breezy "South Coast Samba". Background music doesn't come more clever and enjoyable than this.

****
BEAU -
The Way It Was
Cherry Red 2011

The John Peel protege gets back in action with his stark chanson verite.

For John Trevor Midgley music life is a story of disappearance and resurfacing. Championed by the most adorable British radio DJ, the associate of proggers TRACTOR's solo outing lay in the field of singers-songwriters - and remains there to this day. On the wave of public interest of recent times and with much attention paid to "Unreleased Recordings 1972-1985", Beau, as the man's mostly known, delivers a fresh stash of songs that might as well be ancient in their timelessness; that's why one has to read the lyrical explanation only after the music stops.

The topical span is most epic in the transparent "Today Began A Thousand Years Ago" and the dramatic "Castle Song", but it's the personal fare such as the title track or "Kiss Me With Your Eyes", originally written for "Warhol: The Musical", that burns the hottest in the space between acoustic guitar and the veteran's impassioned voice. There's classic balladry, the subject matter notwithstanding, for the depth of stories of "The Rabbi At The Gates Of Prague" or "Cry For The Priest", the former a retelling of a legend and the latter a lament for the Polish clergyman who perished in the hands of Communists, is immense. At the same time, the Coleridgean theme of "The Albatross & The Whale" comes packed in waltz and "The Part We Have To Play" is the most emotional ode to Ronald Reagan you'd ever likely to hear.

There's still beauty in Beau's music, so it's nice to have the troubadour back.

***3/4
ANDY KIM -
Happen Again
Angel Air 2011

The "Sugar, Sugar" maker returns with more sweet things in store.

With a string of chart kickers in the '60s under his belt, including that ARCHIES' song and "Rock Me Gently", in the '70s Andy Kim withdrew from music to deliver three obscure albums between 1980 and 1991 as Baron Longfellow and be rarely seen outside his native Cnada. But when the veteran shared a festival stage with BARENAKED LADIES, their singer Ed Robertson admited being a fan and persuaded Kim to return. More so, the two co-wrote "I Forgot To Mention", a country-flavored breezer that, some years later, grew into this record.

A serious work which shows the hitmaker didn't lose his way with an infectious tune, the songs here mostly lack erstwhile immediacy - save for the instantly memorable ditty "Love Has Been My Friend" - but possess the autumnal wonder that glows in the opening "3 Days In Heaven" and the string-caressed "The Oh, Oh Song", yet there's a bright optimism in the acoustic "Love Is" that R.E.M. would be happy to have written. Recorded with an expert team whose pedigree includes THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS and Lou Reed, and mostly produced by THE CALL's Jim Goodwin, the glistening arrangements, like in the Beatlesque "Judy Garland", could have induced a guilty pleasure if it all didn't sound so modern. And if the echo and bass lick of "Without You" smell of the '80s, its rhythm welcomes remixes able to propel Andy Kim back to the top where he belongs.

****
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