Review: Kirk Fletcher – My Blues Pathway

Cleopatra Records (25th September 2020)

Reviewer: David Pearce

Kirk Fletcher is a Blues guitarist who has been playing professionally for over 20 years. His first solo album was ‘I’m Here and I’m Gone‘ released in 1999. Two more albums, ‘Shades of Blue‘ and ‘My Turn‘ were released in the next decade. More recently Fletcher has self-released a live album and 2018’s ‘Hold On‘. Along with his solo work he has played with Cyndi Lauper, Joe Bonamassa and The Fabulous Thunderbirds and many other musicians. 2020 sees the release of his new album ‘My Blues Pathway‘.

The first track ‘Ain’t No Cure For The Downhearted‘ is a smooth blues inflected number that starts with a superb riff that leads into Fletcher’s marvellously deep and resonant voice. The guitar playing reminded me of Mark Knopfler but the voice is pure blues from the first note. It is a classy start to the album. ‘No Place To Go‘ is another gorgeous guitar led track that is smooth and oozes quality both musically and vocally. This is a singer who is absolutely steeped in the heritage of blues but who brings it up to date with a gorgeous soulful sensibility.

Love Is More Than A Word‘ has an Otis Redding feel to it with its ability to take you straight to the heart of the lyrics. You can feel the longing in his voice and his understated guitar playing. This is simply a gorgeous song that is absolutely timeless. ‘Struggle For Grace‘ returns to the more uptempo blues and it really makes you realise that Fletcher can literally turn his hand to virtually any style of playing and singing, such is his prodigious talent. ‘Rather Fight Than Switch‘ is a down and dirty blues number that seems to come from the heart of New Orleans and uses the whole range of his vocal styling to fantastic effect. He throws in a blistering guitar solo into the mix for good measure. It is a song that is probably my favourite on the album.

Heart So Heavy‘ takes us back down a notch with a mournful riff to start with and it just suits the title so well as the loneliness just comes through in each tortured note. His blues vocal once again shows a real and rare ability to sing in pretty much any style. ‘Fatting Frogs for Snakes‘ could only be a title that hails from America, and almost certainly you have the swamps of the South in your head. It is the most traditional blues song on the album and sounds as though it could be a classic from the 1940s or 1950s. ‘Place In This World Somewhere‘ really takes the tempo up a notch as he borrows from the Philly sound to give a different edge to the song. It is a song that contains, to my mind, his best pure vocal on the album.

D Is For Denny‘ is a rock and roll number that you could imagine Elvis belting out lyrics to at the beginning of his career but it is actually an instrumental with a virtuoso performance from Fletcher demonstrating, if there was any doubt, what a truly great guitarist he is. ‘Life Gave Me A Dirty Deal‘ is the final song on the album and it starts with the most gorgeous harmonica solo imaginable. When Fletcher’s voice comes in, it is terrifically world weary and you can believe that life has indeed given him a dirty deal. It is a brilliant end to a brilliant album.

So many times when I am reviewing I wonder why certain artists have not made it bigger and Kirk Fletcher definitely comes into that category. Blues is not necessarily the most accessible musical form, but Fletcher makes it talk directly to your heart. Give him a go. You definitely will not regret it.

Review: South Of Salem – The Sinner Takes It All

Self Release (September 25th 2020)

Reviewer: Dan Mann

My ‘introduction’ to South Of Salem was the band’s video for the song ‘Cold Day In Hell‘, featuring a young lady with a large pair of shirt potatoes!. The song itself was refreshing, as here was a British band not falling into the trap of starting to sound all the same.

The album arrived in my inbox , courtesy of Rob at Stampede Press, and I must admit I was looking forward to hearing more from the band.

If there’s one adjective to describe South Of Salem, it has to be ‘attitude’, or more precisely ‘Attitude!’, the band’s music having a very forward sound, something that grabs your lugholes and quite franky doesn’t want to let go.

All the while though your left in no doubt that this is a British band, there’s always something lurking within the DNA of Brit rockers that announces their heritage.

The Sinner Takes It All‘ consists of ten tracks which to coin a phrase are ‘all killer and no filler’, all blending perfectly together to create a coherent collection of tracks without a weak one sticking out like a sore thumb.

Nope I’m not going to do a song by song breakdown, instead I expect you to go out and spend your hard earned cash and discover the delights of South Of Salem for yourselves.

One to add to your music collection for sure!

Review: King King – Maverick

Channel 9 Music (October 16th 2020)

Reviewer: Peter Scallan

Ah – been looking forward to hearing this one based on the lead track ‘I Will Not Fall‘. I first came across these guys when they supported Gun at the Barrowlands some years ago. In fact, it was Jools Gizzi from Gun who told me to come early to see them! And I wasn’t disappointed and subsequently bought the albums. The band has changed somewhat in terms of membership in the last year or so and we now also have the incredibly talented Stevie Nimmo on guitar augmenting his wee brother Alan. Having seen the Nimmo Brothers perform together previously, I can’t wait to see this line up of King King live. Anyway, to the album.

Opening song ‘Never Give In‘ kicks off and any concerns about changing line-ups is blown firmly out of the water. Built around a big staccato guitar riff, this is melodic blues rock of the highest order. And Alan Nimmo sounds the best he has sounded in a long time with his soulful, bluesy and effortless vocals – maybe having Stevie in the band has created some healthy competition as he is no slouch vocally either. Next up is ‘Fire In My Soul‘, and this picks up where the opener left off with quality blues rock.

The tone and tempo changes for ‘Whatever It Takes To Survive‘. This opens with some soulful vocals from Alan Nimmo over tasteful guitar and keyboards and builds into a powerful chorus. The song rises and falls throughout with great guitar playing in the mix also. The pace is picked up with ‘I Will Not Fall‘ with an almost dancey rhythm and keyboard riff – absolutely killer. We drop back into ballad territory with the wonderful piano and vocal opening to ‘By Your Side‘. And what a great bridge and chorus before the rest of the band join in and the song changes somewhat into an almost early Foreigner-style ballad. This perfectly demonstrates the melodic strength of the song-writing on this album. And we are only half-way through!

‘One World‘ opens the second half of the album and is another song with slight dance tendencies, a la Steely Dan, with the great keyboard work and a superb vocal melody. The upbeat feel continues with the opening of ‘Everything Will Be Alright‘. Kicking straight into the song with lead vocals from the get go, it drops into a laid back segment before picking up and building to the chorus.

When My Winter Comes‘ is another song opening with piano and vocals to great effect. In fact the song continues in that mode and with another killer chorus, is captivating to say the least. The pace is picked up with a driving bass and drum rhythm for ‘Dance Together’. Ironically, although the word dance is in the title and considering the upbeat dance feel of some of the songs, this is one is a straight ahead blues rocker and it just pumps along nicely. The closing song is appropriately called ‘End Of The Line‘. Driven by a funky rhythm in the verses, it has some great soulful vocals and then picks up for the big chorus. Superb stuff!

For me, this is King King at their best. I loved the last album, but just felt it was maybe a little over-produced and the band lost that soulful edge Alan Nimmo brings with his playing and singing. This is just superb – top notch song writing, top notch vocals and production/mix that brings the best out of both in my humble opinion. To use the Glaswegian vernacular – it’s a pure dead belter by the way!

Review: Jim Kirkpatrick – Ballad of the Prodigal Son

US One Records (September 4th 2020)

Reviewer: Peter Scallan

Although another blues album for me to review, Jim Kirkpatrick is well known to me in terms of his work with melodic rock kings FM. I was also lucky to see him do an acoustic set some years back at HRH Blues in Sheffield when I was playing with the Brian Rawson Band. I thought his acoustic set was superb, but was a little disappointed in the full electric set later in the day, which just didn’t land with me. Therefore, I was a little apprehensive when I got this to review.

‘Ballad of the Prodigal Son‘ is the opening song and is a pacey blues rocker which has a Bad Co feel to it. This is followed by ‘No Such Thing As A Sure Thing‘ which has a more blues country feel to it. ‘Ain’t Going Down‘ also has slight Bad Co feel to it with a bit of Bonamassa thrown in. It also has a great opening guitar riff and brings something different to the party. Next up is an instrumental called ‘Blue Heron Boulevard‘ in which Jim gets to show off his tasteful guitar playing. I can imagine this being the theme tune for a travel or a car show! The guitar harmonies veer from reminding me of the Allman Brothers to Bill Nelson and prime Be Bop Deluxe. A delightful piece indeed! We move back to big blues riffola for ‘Be Hard With It‘ with its grooving guitar and some cowbell magic. Blues rock at its best which I can image on a classic Pat Travers album. ‘Skin and Bone‘ is built around a rotating drum pattern and walking bass line. It does remind of something but I just can’t place it but demonstrates the variety in the song writing.

Always On The Road‘ is a it a bit of twelve bar blues with tales of travelling and leaving love behind. While, Jim does a great job vocally, I would love to hear Steve Overland (The Man in my eyes) chant this song. We have a real country opening to ‘61 and 49‘ and this is indeed a country rocker with some nifty bottleneck and some stellar backing vocals from Sarah Miller. We then slip into a blues ballad called ‘Talk To Me‘. This slowly builds and while I like it, for me it’s the weakest track on the album.

The tempo is lifted markedly for the bouncing rocker that is ‘Gravy Train‘. Driven by guitar and organ, this is a short pacey rocker which does the trick. Next is ‘Brave New World‘, which is quite possibly my favourite track. Sounding like a cross between Pink Floyd and King’s X, it’s a slice of alternative blues while being really melodic with a killer chorus. Great stuff! And before I know it I am at the last song. It’s a slow burning ballad of sorts called ‘All You Need Is All You Have‘. Building to a crescendo, it provides a great finale for the album.

If I am honest on the first few listens to this album I thought it was an ok album and not really doing it for me. However, it was on rotate with the latest Walter Trout and was the second of the albums, so quite possibly it was the fact that the Trout album blew me away right from the off. However, as the album rotated more as Mrs Scallan and I toured the west coast of Scotland, we both really started to pick up the nuances of this album. As such, this was a real grower and I have got to say that I am so glad that it was on rotate on holiday. Otherwise, I would have quite possibly missed out and what has turned out to be a really superb album! Hats off to ya Mr Kirkpatrick!

 

Review: Walter Trout – Ordinary Madness

Provogue/Mascot Label Group (August 28th 2020)

Reviewer: Peter Scallan

As I get older, I feel myself strangely drawn back to the music that most excited me as a kid, which was blues and blues-based rock. In fact you could say I am regressing as it’s something I have an urge to do at some point, having already had a taste of the blues having sung in the Brian Rawson Band for a year or so. But that’s another story altogether! As I delve into the blues a little deeper I am discovering gems that have been hidden in plain sight all along. One such gem is Walter Trout, who I was looking forward to seeing on the Keeping the Blues Alive cruise with Joe Bonamassa. It’s some small consolation that I got the job of reviewing the latest album from Walter Trout.

The album opens with the title track ‘Ordinary Madness‘. This is a slow burning slab of blues which slowly builds. While it is traditional blues groove, Walter’s vocals and guitar-playing make it far from ordinary. We then pick up the pace with ‘Wanna Dance‘ with an intro that builds into a rhythm section driven blues rocker and the vocals moving up a notch. It also has a killer chorus in my opinion. The groove changes again with a country blues feel with ‘My Foolish Pride‘. An acoustic guitar based number, it shows a more sensitive side to Mr Trout’s playing and vocals.

Heartland‘ just kicks straight in with drums and it’s up and running. To my ears this is classic melodic Americana and from the get-go has got that Tom Petty feel to it. We then return to a more recognisable blues format with ‘All Out of Tears‘ which is another blues ballad of sorts. It moves along with piano, organ and guitar weaving various textures and layers and is just magnificent to my old ears. The feel changes again with the opening bars of ‘Final Curtain Call‘. The opening guitar riff has a swagger not unlike a classic Jimmy Page riff and it rocks out somewhat, with an edgy vocal. Some great harmonica in there too!

Heaven In Your Eyes‘ takes us into the back-half of this album. It’s a mid-paced melodic ballad, with the intro reminiscent of Gary Moore’s Empty Rooms. This song highlights a more accessible, almost commercial side of the blues, which Walter easily pulls off. Opening with acapella vocals, ‘The Sun is Going Down‘ is just a masterpiece in terms of vocals, guitar and lyrics. The guitar riff has the feel of Chris Whitley circa Din of Ecstasy with a slightly grungy blues feel. We are then back on the up-tempo side of Walter’s repertoire with another huge slice of melodic blues that I could imagine Alan Nimmo from King King singing. Called ‘Make it Right‘, it motors along with more top notch playing and singing. And just to keep you on your toes, the feel and tempo change yet again with ‘Up Above My Sky‘. This has an almost dreamy, psychedelic 60s feel initially and is just sublime. And then just around the half-way mark it kicks into a great guitar driven monster with Walter giving it big licks. And just as quickly we are back into that 60’s feel again. And speaking of the 60’s, we have ‘OK Boomer‘ as the closing number. Sounding semi-autobiographical and reflective, Walter is asserting that he most definitely ok! It is a driving rocker and is a fitting end to this album.

I am sure those who are more in the know with regards the back catalogue of Walter Trout, might be able to point to the highlights of his career. And yeah, some of the tracks tread a well-worn path. However, very few will do it with the aplomb of this veteran of the blues scene. For me this is a master class in how to put a blues album together and then some. It just gets better every time I listen to it! If this is ordinary madness, I want to completely lose my marbles!

Review: Derek Sherinian – The Phoenix

Inside Out Music (September 18th 2020)

Reviewer: David Pearce

Derek Sherinian is a keyboardist whose name may not be familiar to the general music public, but those in the business rate him incredibly highly. Alice Cooper, with whom Sherinian has made a number of albums called him ‘The Caligula of keyboards’! He also toured with Kiss, Billy Idol and has his own band Sons of Apollo. His last solo album was ‘Oceana‘ in 2011, so the title ‘The Phoenix‘ suggested to him by a friend on Facebook is entirely appropriate.

The album includes regular contributors Simon Phillips, the drummer who has co-written the album with Sherinian, Tony Franklin, who has appeared on all of Sherinian’s previous albums along with fellow bassists Jimmy Johnson and Billy Sheehan. Guitarists Joe Bonamassa and Zakk Wylde are also regulars on Sherinian’s music. On this album Steve Vai, Armen Ra, Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal, Ernest Tibbs and Kiko Loureiro complete the line-up.

The album starts with title track ‘The Phoenix‘. An unmistakeable prog rock sound starts with the distorted guitar solo before the drums and keyboards pile in. It is an electrifying start to the album that reminds me of Yes in their pomp. The technical virtuosity of the musicians involved in the project is immediately obvious.

Empyrean Sky‘ starts with a more straightforward rock introduction before moving into Sherinian’s Rick Wakeman style keyboard playing. I have always been a fan of Wakeman’s and this definitely stands alongside anything he has done. It then develops into something of a free form jazz style composition before settling back down into more straightforward rock again. It is a dizzying and magnificent piece of music. ‘Clouds of Ganymede‘ is a melodic delight that develops the interplay between guitar and keyboard beautifully. There is a Vangelis style sensibility to it that really works well.

Dragonfly‘ is a fantastic jazz piece with the unmistakeable influence of Vince Guaraldi, the genius behind the Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack. This track would definitely be at home on that album. It is a delight and probably my favourite on the album. ‘Temple of Helios‘ returns to Prog with a slow building tune that plays with the listener’s expectations. You wonder which way the song will develop after an introduction that could move into any area. What you end up with is a track that sounds like an extended version of a theme tune for an 80s police series! What can I say? It’s great fun.

Them Changes‘ is a much more straightforward rocker with the only vocal performance on the album. It comes from the superb Joe Bonamassa who makes the song take flight with his bluesy style and fantastically powerful singing voice. ‘Octopus Pedigree‘ is the penultimate song on the album, and we are back in Wakeman territory with Sherinian’s virtuoso playing taking the track into the realms of classic rock.

Pesadelo‘, the final track, means nightmare in Portuguese and is appropriately unsettling with a tune that sounds like a fevered dreamscape with each instrument playing its part in creating a truly unsettling effect. It is a fitting end to an album that moves easily between styles, but which creates a superb overall sound. It cements the already high reputation of Derek Sherinian and confirms him as one of the foremost keyboardists of this or any other era.

Review: Brother Firetribe – Feel The Burn

OMN Label Services (September 18th 2020)

Reviewer: Dan Mann

Scandi rockers Brother Firetribe return with their fifth album, ‘Feel The Burn‘ and I for one am pleased to see a new release from the band.

Brother Firetribe have built up a loyal following since the release of their debut album ‘False Metal‘ back in 2006, so there’s a fair bit of anticipation from fans regarding a new album.

Giving us ten tracks in total, the album kicks off with ‘I Salute You‘, which thrusts us headfirst into recognisable Brother Firetribe territory with the trademark synth laden sound and Pekka Heino’s wonderfully smooth vocals.

Trust me when I say Brother Firetribe fans will love this album, the songs are catchy, especially the latest single ‘Night Drive‘, or ‘Chariot Of Fire‘ which will have you singing along within seconds.

The different layers of each track are clear and precise with a decent production. Take ‘Bring On The Rain‘, listened too on headphones it’s all enveloping, with a real drive behind it.

The album finishes as it starts, no petering off here as single ‘Rock In The City‘ races along at a frantic pace bringing things to an end in an absolute flourish of AOR  grandeur.

And suddenly you find you’ve gone through ten tracks before you’ve realised it! Time to play it all over again.

This is without doubt going to be another contender for one of my favorite releases of 2020 and it’s great to have Brother Firetribe back, firing on all cylinders!

Review: Trishula – Time Waits For No Man

AOR Heaven (September 25th 2020)

Review: Dan Mann

After the superb debut, ‘Scared To Breathe‘, last year, Trishula are back with the follow up ‘Time Waits For No Man‘.

Just to bring you back up to speed, Trishula is the brainchild of guitarist Neil Fraser, who is once again accompanied on vocals by Jason Morgan. Joining them is Rick Benton (Magnum) on keyboards, Neil Ogden (Demon) on drums and Dan Clark (Rebecca Downes) on bass with additional backing vocals provided by Georgia Morgan.

What we get is a cohesive album, sounding like a band who’ve all been together for many years. The level of musicianship shines through and delivers ten tracks of solid melodic rock.

If your familiar with the debut, then expect the same, except ‘Time Waits For No Man‘ just adds that little bit extra sprinkle of magic.

As seems to be the norm with a lot of the albums I’ve been listening too lately, picking outstanding tracks is at times difficult. However on ‘Time Waits For No Man‘ there is for me me one song that really grabs me, and that is the title track. With a beautifully haunting guitar, layers of keyboards and a controlled drum & bass sound, plus the superb vocal talents of Jason, this is a stunning track.

Trust me when I say the other nine tracks do not disappoint whatsoever. If you like your melodic rock, then this is a ‘must buy’. A contender for my favorite releases of 2020!