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MEDICINE HEAD -
Fiddlersophical
Angel Air 2011

Older and wiser, an unlikely British hero returns to tell it like it is and squeeze all of his life into the grooves.

There are many faces to John Fiddler, the most radical ones being a sardonic hippy of John Peel’s darlings MEDICINE HEAD and the metal belter at the front of BRITISH LIONS, and it’s the former that the veteran’s been sticking to during the last decade. But that was a stage-only option, while the prospect of a new album seemed unlikely, yet here it is, 35 years on since the previous record, and with a modern edge as Fiddler put all his experience into it now.

Why not if our reality is such a sore, and how else to sing of it all if not in the bluesy vein? So “Free” launches the agenda in the HEAD traditional ring of acoustic guitar and harmonica where the strident approach reveals a lyrical hope that turns urgent in the upbeat swampiness of “Narcisister”. But if “First I Lost My Mind” slows things down for the playful to turn into the painful, “Cadillacs And Diamonds” flows on a laid-back West Coast vibe which denies consumerism in the name of love. Yet “I’ll Turn You On” is the best power ballad this side of hard rock and it’ll take ages to forget Laurence Archer’s slide figure that carries “The Haunting”. And there’s peace in the end, as “Angela And Misfits” flattens all the questions marks hanging over Fiddler’s songs into a straight and smooth pop route. That’s the philosophy to live by.

****1/4
HOMERUN -
Black World
Tanzan Music 2011

No gloom at all, the Italian hard rockers fire off their second tuneful missive with riffs to savor.

It's hard to play heavy metal today without careening either to depressive delivery or sleazy glam, yet musicians from behind the Apennine ridge have always ride the balanced wave not striving to reinvent the wheel. And that's how it goes for this album which blissfully ignores a last couple of hard rocking decades, save for the cold keyboards under the guitar rage, and is all the better for it. The title track and "Silence's Broken" may boast a bit of alternative edge in its heart but serve as a nice showcase for Matteo Albarelli's cutting vocals, yet the band's real force is their melodic verve that makes the chorus of "No More" simply irresistible, its acoustic version tagged to the end to bare the sextet's sensual nerve even more impressive.

The sway of "Ephemeral Light", hung on the dual guitar fulcrum of Andrea Ringoli and Valerio Castiglioni, possesses a stadium appeal and can run the iron charts, while ballad "As We Did Before" gets too close to sentimental morass until "Princess Of Time" pitches a real pain in its piano-driven emotion. But then there's a fervent rock 'n' roll of "Lipstick" to cure it all with the air allowed to breathe between the riffs, and the funky "Intoxication Of Love" propelled by Paolo Luoni's bass. Nothing new, of course, yet who needs new when the old rules work so efficiently? HOMERUN's black world is a comfortable place.

****
STEVE ELLIS -
Ten Commitments
Angel Air 2011

The everlasting talent delivers a new album in many years to show his affair with music is still hot.

It almost didn't happen, as Steve Ellis seemed to not have planned to record anything fresh at all, but when an invitation came to try out a new studio the veteran and his band rose to the occasion without relying on his road-tested evergreens. And if half of this CD rolls on covers, the soul slant the singer imposes on such classics as the Fabs' "Please Please Me" (with a video making it onto the same disc) or BUFFALO SPRINGFIELD's sprightly "On The Way Home" brings on a delight of non-immediate recognition. More so, Ellis connects his past with a present day with the smoothly funkified, in the '70s way, "Healing Touch" from the same team who composed his perennial "Everlasting Love", even though its boisterous successors here are two new songs: the bubbly, brass-washed opener "Don't Let Me Be The Only One" and "Perfect Sunday" with its memorable chorus.

When it comes to showing a hard edge, Steve demonstrates the sharpness of his vocal blade in a swaying take on NINE BELOW ZERO's recent boogie of "Hit The Spot", which AC/DC would be proud of, while reaching for the soft spot in Ian McLagan's "Never Say Never" takes Ellis too close to Rod Stewart's kind of banal sentimentality. Still, the pure upbeat soul of "Thank You Baby For Loving Me" and the infectious, anxious reggae of "War Train" with its Marley quote, and the mellifluous, uplifting "We Got It" see him reign on his own terrain, his voice as young as in the times of LOVE AFFAIR. Ten dedicated cuts have this fine artist in the spotlight. Good this album happened to be - and to stay.

***2/3
Robin GEORGE’s LOVEPOWER -
LovePower And Peace
Angel Air 2011

A master guitarist reaching out for his address book and for the listeners’ hearts – in the memory of "the good and the gifted we lost too soon" and for the tragedy not to strike again.

You can’t blame Robin George for his desire to play safe after two of his promising endeavors have been thwarted by ailing singers, David Byron and Phil Lynott who chose substances-fuelled deaths over life. Both are present here, on the guitarist’s star-studded project from which all profits fuel three British charities -- all in the name of life.

There’s Lynott’s spirit in the LOVEPOWER BAND’s take on his Elvis’ tribute "King’s Call", in George’s hands a moving, acoustically framed lament for THIN LIZZY’s singer himself, while Byron’s own voice carries another twilit ballad, "Tired Eyes". That highlights the leader’s MO: a careful use of existing tracks for additions and overdubs. Yet it never sounds like a recycling, as DIAMOND HEAD’s Sean Harris breathes fire in LIFE’s "Cocoon" and Jacqui Williams’ voice completely transforms old chestnut "Seven Golden Daffodils", rough in DAMAGE CONTROL’s version and totally transcendental now. One of the latter group’s recordings, "Alice", forms a part of the bonus section of the CD, "Friends of LovePower" alongside gems from Robin’s archives featuring, among others, more URIAH HEEP’s members, Pete Goalby and John Wetton, but the bulk of it rides on the back of new songs.

It starts with a title cut which grows from an acoustic roll into a gospel hot-air balloon soaring on Ruby Turner and Jaki Graham’s soulful belting and floating with Mel Collins’ sax, Ken Hensley’s Hammond and a mighty choir. The same package lies in the foundation of the grooving, slide-smoothed "World" where Arthur Brown joins the "Emmerdale" actress Freya Copeland Vix and Robin George at the idiosyncratic mic. And, of course, there’s his shining guitar in the center of it all, but the veteran’s only happy to share the spotlight even in these stakes, so "Bluesong" cradles Steve Hunter’s solo. What with the seriousness of it all, "Pride" is a jolting slab of funk to shake up one’s mood, and "Another Lonely Light" harks innocently back to the early ’60s. Perhaps, "With A Little Help From My Friends" seems a bit hammy as a closer to the main part of the for more veterans – from MOTORHEAD, MOTT THE HOOPLE and more - and, in the end, it is what it does when an artist calls for the indifferent kindred spirits to get there for the right reasons. Listening is taking part in this one success of an endeavor.

****
LEVIN TORN WHITE -
Levin Torn White
Lazy Bones Recordings 2011

Melodic onslaught from the masters of the trade whose names speaks for themselves but not for their music.

With surnames not so rare, in such combination it's easy to tell who these people are and that what the trio came up with isn't so easy. While Alan White is most famous for drumming with YES where experimental edge is well hidden but always present, his pairing with Tony Levin, a progressive bass supremo, makes for a fantastic rhythm section bent on a tune - the fact that both played with John Lennon can't be ignored. But here, the leading melodic force and most recent common denominator is David Torn, a guitarist whose idiosyncratic style renders their inherent adventurousness even more intriguing.

To be transported - and transfixed - savor the talents' tangle of "The Hood Fell", rocking to the tilt but sweet to the core, an airy transparence of "Convergence" or the iron-fist-in-a-glove of "Cheese It, The Corpse" which makes a rewarding sense only with repeated spins. As for immediate eureka, there's Torn's mighty chord to open the proceedings with "No Warning Light", its initial soundscape indeed not predicting the intensity of what's to follow: a dark, heavy, almost industrial groove. In "Ultra Mullett" it takes the CRIMSO-like jive to a freaky dancefloor with Levin's bottom-end antics peppered with his Chapman stick chops and Torn's wild flurries, whereas in "White Noise" the stringers ride a spacious percussive powerhouse of the titular band member. At the same time, "Pillowful Of Dark" sees its ghostly gloom shot through with acoustic guitar's flamenco vignettes against the hazy talk, and "Sleeping Horse", serenity wrapping around anxiety, is as progressively deep and pleasant as it gets, but "Crunch Time" packs some funky rage in its many layers.

It's a complex work, just as one expects, but there's no bare professionalism. The players' smiles are hidden in many a corner of this musical labyrinth and it's emotionally rich. So take risk as these veterans always do, and ripe the discovery.

****3/4
JAMES NAKED -
James Naked
Out Of Control 2011

A new artists with a great promise debuts on a brand new label from Leeds. The lad's got soul!

His is a telling name for Naked's music builds on vulnerability and self-assuredness in equal measure. Which is not surprising given the artist's CV includes work with the likes of John Holt and Finlay Quaye, and this, his first EP sees an instrumental input from Matt Steele of BRAND NEW HEAVIES. But it's James' rootsiness and emotions that impress most on "Crazy Girl" that mixes acoustic guitar strum with a smooth organ purr to make a bed for a silky voice and then welcome a psychedelic crunch to rock the bottom, yet its riffs turn nebulous in the song's unplugged re-imagination which hangs onto romantic thread.

In between lie a lysergic swirl of "No Apples" with its acid jazz breaks amid purple haze of sound effects, the lyrical, soulful recital of "Talk To Me", and the predatory "Don't You Get Me", high on desperation, a trumpet cool and infectious unpredictability. Yet it's impossible not to get Naked - and not to wait for his full-blown record.

****1/2
VITTORIO TOLOMEO -
Prize Day
Vittorio Tolomeo 2011

An Italian maestro makes a strong statement for the international community to take his country seriously.

Straight rock-wise, the Apennine Peninsula didn't have much to offer for a long time, what with progressive and metal bands making the world consider their music almost as bombastic as opera, which means good but for aficionados only. Now, there's a chance to break the trend, as Vittorio Tolomeo delivers his debut that's as traditional as modern to suck any alternative joker and melody lover in its boiling cauldron. The opener, "Migrant Soul", lays its drive on the line, vocals reveling in the slithery guitar web that gets adventurous with "Rain Way", yet it takes repeated spins to discover all the layers the Messina man piles here with a smile. There's an optimistic jaunt of "Crawling Art" and an anxious folk march in the bluesy drones of "Love Insane" that could have swung Fillmore four decades earlier, while "Passenger" gets into one's soul and tugs on the heartstrings with its punchy beat and almost orchestral sway.

It's as big an album as it gets to make you take it home, and when "You Don't Stop" waves good-bye, you really don't stop wanting more.

****
DAVE GREENSLADE -
Routes-Roots
Angel Air 2011

A sonic autobiography of the organ grinder who takes stock of his life in music with no intention to stop.

Perhaps, it's because of his quiet stage presence and dedication to the performance rather than the show that Dave Greenslade, for all his immense skills, didn't join the rock keyboardists' elite to be ranked alongside Emerson, Wakeman or Lord. Still, his work with Jon Hiseman's COLOSSEUM and his own GREENSLADE is highly revered, while the man's solo career has always veered between transparent prog rock and jazz. This album fully explores the latter option, Greenslade painting musical pictures of his 55-years-long creative life's pivotal moments.

The veteran's old fans will cherish his new take on "A Valentyne" written in 1969 for COLOSSEUM but here given a righteous, if gentle, ivory-tinkling swing and taken beyond the strict-form original. Yet the major surprise comes just when the maestro makes his entry with "Routes" dissolving his piano jive in a big band sound - a one-man orchestra for there's no other players on the record - and then goes for the synth-led fusion, all filled with emotion. Thus, "Sideways" is pregnant with anxious expectancy, and "Boogaloo" rides the tinsel town night-time groove that invites Greenslade's famous Hammond to join the chorus, whereas in "Born To Eternity Time" Fender Rhodes pays tribute to Joe Zawinul. "Conversation" twines all these adventurous threads together and imbues the resulting dreamcatcher with familiar solemnity that turns celestial in the anthem-like "The Last Dance" to celebrate the road that still runs.

****
PHIL SOUSSAN -
No Protection
Puss In Blue 2011

Read the interview

A starry-eyed bassist marries vulnerability to exuberance to turn the life-affirming dream into reality.

Known mostly for his stint with Ozzy but having applied his skills to many a record as both player and producer, Phil Soussan is a musicians' musician, which means his solo records can be as guests-infested as it gets, yet that's not the way things work for the man who doesn't want to lose himself in an aural fest. So, with a point to make his second album more focused and personal than its predecessor, Soussan did almost everything alone here. Not that the result is simple and downplayed: the songs are big, sometimes in the grand '80s style, a measured dose of glam keeping it all in the charts' brace.

The title cut opens and closes the proceedings in vibrant romantic fashion, Phil voice soaring, strong and warm, in the echo-filled heights, while in between the bookends such a pure lyricism, that peaks in acoustic "Angel", shares the space with the muscular funk of "Big Love", where Howie Simon delivers a shredding solo, contagiously dirty rifferama of "Same Thing" and perky Americana of "Just Like You". Then, the streamline charge of "Just Business", the bombastic rock 'n' roll of "Change Of Perspective" and the groovy "Free My Soul" see Soussan revisit a hard rock turf, but the Beatlesque, slightly psychedelic "Keeping Alive A Memory" posits the artist's credo nicely: "if you live in the past, you won't be living anywhere else". And who can blame him for wishing to shape his feelings like this and pour 'em out? So if at almost an hour, "No Protection" might seem a bit too long, what with "In The Name Of Love" being rather generic, if optimistic, and "On My Way Back Home" reflecting a "Penny Lane" light, it's a pleasurable trip into Soussan's world everyone can relate to. Which is a sign of a big artist.

*****
JOE DENINZON TRIO -
Exuberance
Fiddlefunk Music 2010

What's a four-string rock instrument? A bass? No! Here's an electric violin that swings wild and intelligent.

This side of Dave Swarbrick and Jean-Luc Ponty, a violin still doesn't play more than a supporting part of rock 'n' roll armory. Don't mention Nigel Kennedy when it comes to the bowed innovation but if you're in for the David Cross or Eddie Jobson school of amplified recklessness, take Joe Deninzon on board. Having several projects on his hands, now he comes forward with a jazz rock trio to present an impressive array of originals and covers.

While Deninzon's classical roots obvious in his bluesy interpretation of Chopin's "Nocturne in Eb" and his bassist Bob Bowen's tremulous "Exuberance, In the Face Of Utter Anguish And Despair", easily the best cut on the album, Joe gives folk jive a shine in STEELY DAN's "Bodhisattva" dancing with Steve Benson's acoustic guitar as he does in the klezmerized jig of "Wichita Lineman". The fiddler steals the Gypsy scene from the axeman in Django's "Nuages" by unleashing Vivaldi's shadow, but the most unexpected treatment receive RADIOHEAD's "The Tourist" and ALICE IN CHAINS' "Heaven Beside You": sparse yet moving when the violin detaches itself from the unison with guitar and pirouettes on the glossy glacial spot for its own - and the listener's - pleasure.

Everything's got swing here, and a nuance too, just listen to the baroque-on-fusion sensually textured anxiety of Deninzon-co-penned "Ellipsis", the Jobim-inspired bossa nova of "Sun Goes Down" with its sultry female vocal, or the breezy "Night Coast" with a bass solo as a distant thunder. But the well-hidden rock edge is felt in many places here, first of all, of course, in Fats Waller's "Jitterbug Waltz", to send a shiver down one's spine. Exuberant it ain't yet soul-warming, yes.

****
HENRY McCULLOUGH -
Unfinished Business
Silverwolf 2011

The unsung guitar hero revisits his back roads and looks at his past from a different perspective.

Maybe it's because of his unique talent to play for the band, rather than himself, that this British gentleman didn't join the upper echelon of axemen, even though he played on the classic records by Joe Cocker, THE GREASE BAND and SPOOKY TOOTH, took part in the original recording of "Jesus Christ Superstar" and moonlighted on FLOYD's "Dark Side", and of course, was part of WINGS. And it's the latter's "Big Barn Bed" that lies in the center of the veteran's latest solo album where he re-imagines, sometimes radically and mostly in a soft country way, some classics he originally was involved with.

Thus, that Paul McCartney slice of space groove turns into a homespun ghost-cloth here, while Ronnie Lane's "Kuschty Rye" sees its communal zip curled into Dylan's drawl; and vice versa, Bob's "Ballad Of Hollis Brown" brings on nervy tension that's hard not to share. Still, in Henry's hands everything is nicely smoothed for the kind of Nashville sound that McCullough glorifies in the bitter-sweet "I Couldn't Sleep For Thinking Of Hank Williams" and throws at listener with enviable bluegrass energy with the opening "The Last Of The Bluesmen", both shot through with a slide guitar. The Eire motifs also carry the sunny filigree twang of "Josie's In The Garden" and a new cut of the homeward-bound reflective "Belfast To Boston", now recorded in Ireland not in Poland like it was for its namesake album.

Then, the urban feel crawls in with the multifaceted jive of "Tumble Dry" where scintillating guitars roll the veteran's indifferent voice, as is the introspective "Faded Christian" cosmic blues breaking into desperate cry. But Fats Domino's boogie of "Let The Four Winds Flow" bristles brazenly with brass and barrelhouse piano to open the door for Frankie Miller's perennial "Drunken Nights In The City" that gets a creepy baroque shimmer now. There's a vintage in these tracks to grip the most weathered heart, so it's good to have one's business unfinished to return to it once and again.

****1/3
TOBI - Spirit In Me
McTrax International 2011

British answer to Justin Bieber if you like - but smarter, more soulful and he plays guitar to boot. Ah yes, and has a living legend on his side.

Rocking with FREE at 15, Andy Fraser knows the meaning of term "wunderkind" too well, so to him a 16-years-old fellow Englishmen Tobi might be a lightweight latecomer, but his is a talent that's hard to ignore and not make the first outside artist on the "All Right Now" riff author's label's roster. By the way, Fraser's first post-FREE band was called TOBY, but don't expect any heaviness here, for Tobi and Andy, intertwining their guitar and bass and sometimes voices, bake soft soul cakes, with "Nothing Gonna Stop Us", sweet and slightly gritty, a direct link to Marvin and Smokie.

The class oozes out from beginning to end, from the deep, underwater bubbling of "Here We Go", where the youngster's voice keeps surface tension tight for the better reflection, to the closing tremulous ballad "All Along" that flows across the 7-minute mark to demonstrate his thoughtful playing and leave a delicious aftertaste. Mostly too clever, perhaps, for a chart action, the album holds such groovy cuts as "The Real Thing" or the bluesy "Halfway There", oiled with harmonica, in its midst, while gentle funk of "It's Not Easy" can jolt the MAROON 5 camp. It's that strong if a bit naive which, given the artist's age, is forgivable, and the promise of greatness is indisputable.

****
THOMAS TOMSEN -
Sunflickers
Thomas Tomsen 2011

An axe savant from Germany invites heavy friends for a torrent of smooth, well-informed pieces.

Last years seemed to have seen diminishing returns in the guitar heroes department, and Thomas Tomsen may not be one of those what with his session work overload, playing in several bands and teaching guitar: so the master doesn't have much time for doing his own thing. Yet Tomsen's very well established on a solo path, this being his fourth album and featuring the top-rank names, especially in the bass department where Tony Franklin, who takes a solo on the groovy "Up And Up", Bob Daisley, Stu Hamm, who jolts the harmonious "Crazy Crocodile", and Doug Pinnick anchor the guitar flight. Derek Sherinian's keyboards may add orchestral drama to "Godfather's Work" which splices a filigree fret-magic to a memorable riff, and "Swedish Toccata" betrays the main man's classical education: as Malmsteenesque as its title suggests yet enjoyable nevertheless. And if the title cut's rock 'n' roll outstays its welcome, it's hard not to like "Shadow Play" snake-like melody. Quite regular yet strong work.

***
LUTHER GROSVENOR -
If You Dare
Angel Air 2011

With the third solo album into a career spanning five decades, former SPOOKY TOOTH and MOTT THE HOOPLE axeman gets reflexive.

When it comes to striking on his own, Luther Grosvenor rarely visits a recording studio: it was 25 years between 1971's "Under Open Skies" and "Floodgates" with another 15 until "If You Dare" emerged, its cover photo a time-stricken mirror of the guitarist's debut's one. Not much gloss here, then, as the veteran uses his real name rather than glittery Ariel Bender alter ego, which means his antenna is tuned to heavy blues. It's there, in "Heroes", where Grosvenor namechecks his idols from Albert Collins and Burt Weedon to George Harrison and Gary Moore, while the piano-led "Tears Run Dry" packs a tremulous Lennonesque vibe in the same bluesy way, Luther's instrument's tone clear and dense.

The title track - both versions of it, piano and guitar ones - builds a bruised elegance more lightly and optimistic, and the opener "Dusty Track" is transparent, the '80s English way, electric keyboards dancing around the master's weary voice, but "Fire And Water" spins its rockabilly sway before giving it a psychedelic lurch. For a good measure, "Say Never" melds the classic elements - the alluring riff, the "shoo-be-doo-wop" backing vocals, the barrelhouse piano - into heavy sarcasm any of Grosvenor's old bands would have been proud to demonstrate, whereas the boogie of "Kids" throws his youthful energy to the crowd like a ball of fire. Clapton and Page who Luther also mentions should learn a lesson from him: if they fade away, Grosvenor dares and wins.

***4/5
TRAVELLERS -
A Journey Into The Sun Within
Metal Mind 2011

Yellow brick road leading to space, a new progressive quartet find their travelling legs and stand tall.

Ever-eager to go into a different direction Wojtek Szadkowski, a mastermind behind the Polish prog protagonists SATELLITE, came with an idea to bend his keyboards to female vocals and folk flow this time, and there's no need to go further than opening "Magic" to fall under the spell of his new creation. But Robin's siren voice calls to continue, and that's where the journey starts: non-intrusive guitar riffs keep the band's tapestry transparent - and transporting - while an electric ambience gives the picture a sharp danceable edge, so even the initially insipid "Letters To God" comes out enchanting. "I See The Light" might ram its '80s buzz into the FLOYD goal, yet "I Dream Softly" possesses an anthemic uplift of cosmic oratorio, the titular lightness left mostly to the voice, as the instruments mostly rage here, as opposed to the aerial dance of "The Sun".

Perhaps, too breezy for serious prog lovers but their inner discotheque-goer - and their girlfriends - will be much pleased by this pretty debut of an album.

***2/3
HEAVEN'S BASEMENT
Unbreakable
Heaven's Basement 2011

All guns blazin', a new hope of British hard rock deliver their debut EP.

26 minutes allocated for 7 tracks means you'll hardly have a moment to breathe here, on this English quartet's new mini-album. Having lodged down a memorable European track and an appearance at Download Festival as well as snatching a slot at even more prestigious High Voltage Fest, the foursome, produced by Bob Marlette, have a lot to offer to the public: their EP's title track packs a punch with a hurricane of riffs and screams in quite a fashionable arrangement that fails to hide an arresting tune. "Guilt Trips And Sins" shows some restraint in the rhythm section groove, yet propels itself into one's brain even more irresistible, its chorus a stadium winner as is the refrain of "The Long Goodbye". Elsewhere, "Paranoia" pitches the band's humor high and mental, the cut's insistent beat delicately piledriving its singalong into the charts' realm, whereas the desperate edge of "Let Me Out Of Here", while oozing the class instrumental-wise, reeks of generic alternative conformism. Still, "Leeches" shapes its reckless anger right and points to a great future for the band. Long may they kick.

****
JON ANDERSON -
Survival And Other Stories
Gonzo Media 2011

The ex-YES nightingale finds a new way to connect with the planet.

Of all the people cherishing world music in their heart, it was only logical that Jon Anderson feeds this gift back to the world, to give back as much as he takes - and, over the years, he took on Latino, Native American, Celtic and other musics. So, with his main band on hiatus and without foreseeing his illness would result in his colleagues ditching him, the singer made a call through his site to the fans to send him mp3s which he could use for new songs. Some melodies and lyrics were well in place by then, as he performed "Big Buddha Song" as early in 2005, but here it gains a different, magical clarity. More so, the veteran made it easier to compare the method he used by including here the brooding "Just One Man" that he'd previously recorded with Rick Wakeman.

No matter how it's been done, though, for everything sounds like genuine Jon, much more like him than on "In The City Of Angels", another of his experiments that "Unbroken Spirit" shares its soulful gloss with. "Understanding Truth" unfurls even more gently, with acoustic guitar and silky echoing harmony, and "Effortlessly" is one of Anderson's most sensual ballads, while "New New World" is urgent, if luxuriant and string-adorned anthem. But the flow slows down in "Incoming" that pushes the 8-minute mark, its ambient throb under the voice working the listener towards transcendence, until the rise in the tempo and volume takes one to a highly spiritual level, crowned with the life-affirming "yeah yeah's". Then, the piano-led "Cloudz" rings crystal clear and the sunniest song on offer, "Love And Understanding", shoots its electric beams all around: it's hard not to love the album which holds the world in it.

****1/4
THE MUGGS -
Born Ugly
Nuggs Music 2011

Album number three sees the Detroit threesome lose their melodic meat on the rattling carcass.

The title is misleading, of course, but it's not an ironic invitation to admire the Michigan trio's new work. While its predecessor, 2008's "On With The Show" was nearing the molten gold standard, this one turns the lava into a sludge that's for the most part not as hot and sparkling. It's hard not to get your feet stuck in the sweet tar of the title track's riff and "Sturm Und Drang", but you've heard it all before chez Iommi, yet "Dear Theo" and "Clean Break Blues", stricken with Danny Methric's slide guitar, kick the dirt in style and lend the vocals additional melismatic snap. And it's not all pummelling - "World Around" has a magic acoustic ring to it - even though in "Kitchen Sink Blues" the hard rock attack is executed elegantly. Seems like the band got stuck between their own tuneful leanings and their chosen genre's constraints.

***
MR. BIG -
Bitter Streets
Soundtrack Records 2011

The '70s heroes come back to life, still full of passion - and succumbing to the rhythm.

If their American namesakes' return to the fray caused quite a stir, the British veterans' resurrection is little short of sensation. The band fizzled out in 1978 to get back and release an album in the '90s. The last we heard of Dicken, their leader, was we the singing guitarist presented a collection of his work and seemed to have drawn the line for good, yet here it is, a new record that's as good as old. The comparison's made easy by its closer, a fresh - yet still with harmonica of another Mr. BIG's player, Ed Carter - cut of the group's only hit, 1977's "Romeo", the path to which starts here with a lushly orchestrated ballad "Come And Dance", and there's a lot of rug-cutters in between.

While the sway of the title track could rock Roy Orbison's hardest fans, a piano-propelled "Die In Love" possesses an infectious disco groove, where mirror ball is kicked with sharp riffs, and "God Save Me From The Blues" spreads its finger-popping boogie and wah-wah's all around. The '70s ooze out of many a pore here, yet when the tunes are as arresting as in "Baby Come Around" and as life-affirming as in sunny "Sandy" with its almost baroque guitar crunch, the drift is timeless. The dance-machine driven and samba-shaking "It's Over" that, in fact, sounds extremely welcoming. As does all the album.

****1/3
FRANCK CARDUCCI -
Oddity
Franck Carducci 2011

An exercise in literary progressive rock stripped off any pretentiousness - and is all the better for it.

A sage, a Greek hero, a female warrior, a spaceman and... a walrus? The cover suggests a heady mix of influences, while five tracks and a cover inside hint on another neo-prog abomination, but no, the diversity thrives here. While originality has long left the art rock building, self-indulgence remaining intact, the Amsterdam-based multi-instrumentalist Franck Carducci doesn't play by the genre's rules and makes concession only to subject matter - Homer, Carroll, Kubrick - to let melodies dictate the way the stories go. He pays overt tribute to his heroes, first of all Steve Hackett the meeting with whom inspired Carducci to realize his own ambition, in a breezy cover of GENESIS' "Carper Crawlers", a bonus cut which finishes the album that starts in those Englishmen's style with "Achilles", featuring John Hackett's flute, yet veers away in the piano-led and mellotron-colored crystal realms.

The leader's guitars and bass sprinkle fairy dust all over the flow and underpin it with some catchy riffs. Those come to the fore in a heavier "Alice's Eerie Dream" - here, on display is Franck's love of Chuck Berry's licks and Jimi Hendrix's bluesy shots, topped with a classic hard rock vocals and boogie piano from the main man. "The Quind" places its delicacies differently, though, in transparent layers of vocals and Hammond, whereas "The Eyes Of Ages" takes it all in the folk direction, where violin and the Carducci brothers' mandolins engages the listener's emotion in a wonderful light dance which gets groovier in "The Last Oddity". An enjoyable journey with no second wasted, rich on texture and content. Off with the head!

****4/5
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