LONESOME DESERT STRUM David Gideon (independent) *****
No matter what the genre, nothing is more maddening than someone jumping on a trend because it’s popular. Metal, pop and folk music are all full of poseurs, but nowhere is insincere imitation more prevalent than in country. So, when someone comes around that sounds and feels like the real deal, I notice. That’s the case with David Gideon’s Lonesome Desert Strum; it just doesn’t get any more honest and engaging than this.
Lonesome Desert Strum mixes autobiography, tall tales and good old-fashioned twang, the kind of album Johnny and Merle would’ve really dug. This vibrant and exquisite sounding album was recorded in Nashville and is full of honky-tonk barn burners, campfire ballads, southern slow dances and rootsy rave-ups, the likes of which we don’t hear much anymore. Gideon himself produced the album, so kudos for a job spectacularly well done. He called in a number of legendary sidemen who clearly understood what he was after; Dave Roe (Johnny Cash, Sturgill Simpson), Kenny Vaughan (Marty Stuart, Lucinda Williams), Steve Hinson (George Jones), Billy Contreras (Hank Williams III), Pete Abbott (Average White Band), and Chris Scruggs (Marty Stuart). Having these gents involved in the recording explains at least partly the heavy old school magic oozing from these songs.
As it says on Gideon’s website, he’s “the kind of larger-than-life character you’d read about in a Jack Kerouac novel: adventure-seeking, well traveled and a little bit wild, with stories to tell and songs to sing.” Who wouldn’t want to spend an hour in the company of a guy like that? I was talking to my sister-in-law the other night about music, about different genres and such. I told her that, ultimately, there are only two kinds of music; the stuff you like and the stuff you don’t like, and that it’s different for everyone… all other considerations are irrelevant. Lonesome Desert Strum is an album I’m enjoying a great deal and to me, that’s what counts. www.gideonmusichouse.com
BEST CUTS: Southwestern Skies, Crazy Horse, Lonesome Desert Strum, Wings Of An Angel
THORNS Tony Martin (Battlegod/ Dark Star Records) ****
This is the third solo record for the former Black Sabbath singer, his first since 2005’s Scream. He’s obviously taken care of his voice over the years as Thorns sees him flexing his considerable vocal muscle. Backed by a band that includes drummer Danny Needham (Venom), bassist Magnus Rosen (ex-HammerFall) and guitarist Scott McLellan, with assists from bassist Greg Smith plus a co-lead vocal from Pamela Moore, this is a metal album to be reckoned with.
Martin sings with fire, passion and melodic accuracy. Thorns is a solid and richly textured record that I’m enjoying a great deal, but it took a bit of work to separate it from the 5 records he did with Black Sabbath that I am so familiar with. It’s similar to considering Rob Halford’s work outside of Judas Priest, but I digress. Fans will relish sludgy numbers like Damned By You, which shifts tempo neatly for a cool guitar solo from McLellan, the opening track As The World Burns perfectly sets the pace for what is to come, while Black Widow Angel is a successful cross pollination of early Trouble and the Sabs. Thorns is much closer to that vibe than stuff like The Cage albums Tony did with guitarist Dario Mollo around the turn of the millennium.
A cursory look at Tony Martin`s section on Wikipedia reveals a startling number of albums (25) since he first came to our attention with 1987`s The Eternal Idol, and that’s not considering how he very nearly replaced Ronnie James Dio on Black Sabbath’s Dehumanizer record. Tony’s vocal range is put to more effective use on Thorns, and the varied sonic textures ranging from the doomy stuff to the acoustic country rock/rap of This Is Your Damnation give him lots of room to play and hint at the limits of what he can do. I know he plays guitar, though I don’t know if he does so here. I follow him on Facebook, where he mentions that he played some fiddle on the disc.
Plenty of thunder here in Thorn’s tracks along with cool changeups like the intro section of the title cut. If he keeps making records like this Tony Martin will be thought of as more than ‘that guy that used to be in Black Sabbath’. Nice work Tony, and kudos to your band mates too. https://darkstarrecords.net/artists/tony-martin/
HOT TRACKS: As The World Burns, Damned By You, Thorns, This Is Your Damnation
THE SUN IS SHINING DOWN John Mayall (Forty Below Records) **** ½
At a time of life when most folks put their feet up and coast into the sunset, John Mayall keeps making great records. At the tender age of 87 (or is it 88?) he gives us The Sun Is
Shining Down, a record that rivals 1993’s Wake Up Call. With his band plus an array of special guests and his strongest vocal performance in some time, Mayall kills it.
Recorded at Robby Krieger’s (The Doors) “Horse Latitudes” studio with Grammy winning producer Eric Corne- as have all of his albums since 2014’s A Special Life- The Sun Is Shining Down is rich and surprisingly textured for a blues album. “I couldn’t be happier with the new record” John says. “Each one of the special guests brings something unique to the album, and our team works so well together. I think you can hear the chemistry in the music.” Guitarist Mike Campbell is one of those guests, Scarlet Rivera of Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Review is another. Her violin playing on Got To Find A Better Way and Deep Blue Sea (Mayall originals) is a delightful surprise, calling to mind John Mellencamp’s The Lonesome Jubilee and what Lisa Germaine brought to that party.
Mayall’s main backing band of Greg Rzab (bass), Jay Davenport (drums) and Carolyn Wonderland (guitar) have really caught a wave with The Sun, a groove that ebbs and flows like waves at the beach, and the help of players like Buddy Miller and Melvin Taylor just make a good thing even better. While it may not be the star-studded affair that 2019’s Nobody Told Me was (that featured people like Joe Bonamassa, Alex Lifeson and Todd Rundgren) pound for pound this new disc is the better album. Buddy Miller’s baritone guitar is a cool addition to John’s version of the Bobby Rush tune I’m As Good As Gone and Carolyn Wonderland’s sublime soloing on the title track is just so… fucking cool. Let’s not forget Mayall’s vocal performance, harmonica playing and lyrical keyboard work; add all these elements up and you have one hell of a record.
The Sun Is Shining Down is the latest disc from a blues legend and the Godfather of the British blues scene which is of some note, but I advise getting your hands on this because it really is an excellent record. www.johnmayall.com
HOT TRACKS: The Sun Is Shining Down, Got To Find A Better Way, I’m As Good As Gone
LIVE AT THE KING EDDY The Harpoonist & The Axe Murderer (Tonic Records) ****
An historical collision in February of 2019 has resulted in what will surely be one of THE blues releases of the year. The venue, an iconic blues joint in Calgary; the band, a Canadian blues/rock duo and purveyors of psychedelic flavoured blues. Live At The King Eddy bristles with spirit and energy that cannot be ignored.
The Harpoonist & the Axe Murderer are Shawn Hall (The Harpoonist- vocals, blues harp) and Matt Rogers-(guitar,drums) and have 6 studio albums under their belt so they have a wealth of material to draw from. Tagged by some as a 21st century version of Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee, they figured their forced absence from the live scene (join the club) called for a live release as their logical next album. The Rolling Stones Mobile Studio was enlisted for the occasion, now a marquee component of the Cantos Collection at The National Music Centre in Calgary. Perhaps you’ve heard of some the bands that used it between 1970 and 1990; Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Fleetwood Mac, The Who, Dire Straits and Santana to name a few.
Carefully constructed from performances over a three-night stand, Live At The King Eddy also includes a little help from their friends; Vancouver soul powerhouse Dawn Pemberton, Winnipeg based musician Andrina Turenne, and keyboardist Geoff Hilhorst. It was mixed by Graham Lessard and, like any live record worth its salt makes you feel like you were there. Shawn and Matt’s version of the blues, played with rock élan and a psychedelic disregard for hoary conventions, a willingness to peek into corners and under the bed, goes over well with the appreciative crowd. The ‘boom-chick’ drumming of a guy playing guitar at the same time, while functional, does bug me somewhat but I totally get it; like Rush, they want to be able to make all the noises themselves.
To the uninitiated, Live At The King Eddy might sound rough around the edges and a bit simple but that’s just how The Harpoonist & The Axe Murderer like it; direct and uncomplicated, and in a world of digital perfection, it’s refreshing to hear. Live At The King Eddy closes a 15 year chapter for Shawn and Matt but, like the press info says, whatever may lay ahead for them musically is “certain to deliver good vibes, rock, groove and soul in abundance.” www.harpoonistaxemurderer.com
HOT TRACKS: Roll With the Punches/ Sweat This Pain, Mama’s In The Backseat, Love Me ‘fore Ya Leave Me
A GENTLEMAN’S LEGACY The Murder Of My Sweet (Frontiers) *** ½
Progressive rock from Stockholm, anyone? The latest from Murder Of My Sweet is a concept album that picks up where 2007’s A Gentleman’s Hurricane by Mind’s Eye left off. A Gentleman’s Legacy advances the storyline with adventurous and sophisticated musicianship; this band has serious game.
With a name inspired by a 1944 noir film, The Murder of My Sweet was destined to be dramatic and then some. The leader of the band is drummer/ producer Daniel Flores, who
was also in Mind’s Eye. He decided to continue the story initiated with A Gentleman’s Hurricane, his old band’s last album. “The album took about three months to write and five months to record from start to end” Daniel says. “I had to make a worthy record not only for Mind’s Eye fans but for our amazing The Murder Of My Sweet fans.” This is the 6th album for TMOMS and it amazes me that we’re just hearing about the band on this side of the Atlantic now- but then the European rock scene is so much more vibrant.
In case you don’t know the connection between the two discs (I didn’t prior to receiving the press with the new record), Hurricane was a concept album about Adam Evangelista, a former CIA agent and stone cold gun for hire who had gone rogue. Legacy follows the story of his daughter Pandora, now fully grown and going down the same road as her father, taking revenge on those who gave Adam his orders. Sounds kind of Jason Bourne-ish, I’d say. Plenty of room here for high drama and tense musical moments to be sure, prefaced by the dramatic bit of theatre on the opening track.
The band is Daniel Flores on drums, Mike Palace on guitar and Patrick Janson on bass. Their singer is Angelica Rylin, who takes on the character of Pandora in the story and as a vocalist sounds quite similar to Lee Aaron. Sonically this has much in common with early Queensryche and perhaps Genesis, with the music itself serving to advance the development of the story; an ultimately satisfying marriage.
When it comes to rock & roll I’m more of a meat and potatoes kind of guy; propulsive beats and catchy riffs are my thing, hence the seemingly lukewarm rating. Even so, I recognize A Gentleman’s Legacy to be quite a musical achievement that warrants further study. The obvious next move is to get my hands on Hurricane and play them back to back… I’ll let you know how it goes. https://www.facebook.com/tmomsband
HOT TRACKS: Trick Of The Devil, Ghost, Heads Of Tails
ON MY WAY Katie Henry (Ruf) *****
The sophomore release from this New Jersey songwriter/ multi instrumentalist is stunning. The follow-up to 2018’s High Road, On My Way is captivating grooviness and well told tales. As Henry Yates of Classic Rock, NME and The Guardian has noted, she is “a runaway talent you need to keep up with” and he’s right.
Though the blues is one of the arrows in Katie’s quiver, there is so much more to On My Way than that. “There’s a great range of songs on this album” she says. “you get a sense of the things I’ve been going through; the fights I’ve won, the fights I’ve lost, and the determination needed to continue- all wrapped up in a rock and roots package.” Yates
came up on the New York jam scene, where her stage presence evoked a Bonnie Raitt meets Janis Joplin comparison. Legend has that, at an early show, a fan observed “it’s like she has John Lee Hooker in her back pocket!” Listen to Too Long from the new album and you’ll hear what that fan meant.
Of the making of On My Way Katie says “we recorded the album live during the pandemic, and it was so fun to be able to record in a room with people after feeling isolated for such a long time. The majority of (it) was recorded live, and I love that feeling… it’s like capturing lightning in a bottle.” Some of these songs like Bury You and Too Long combine musical punch with emotional vulnerability, it feels like she’s opening up and letting us in with profoundly personal work. “A lot of these songs are about letting go” she notes “and how scary, but ultimately liberating that can be.” In other words, the kind of songs you either see yourself in, or would like to.
There’s a darkness to On My Way That I can certainly relate to, along with a message of hope the I probably need to hear. This is already one of my favourite albums of the year. www.katiehenrymusic.com
HOT TRACKS: On My QWay, Bury You, Too Long, Catch Me If You Can