Dare – Sacred Ground Review

DARE Sacred Ground small

 

Whilst listening to this in the car, I came up with the thought that listening to this album was like spending a day hill walking with a best mate who had been overseas for a while. The hill walking bit, I guess, is all to do with the images the underlying Celtic theme conjures up. The central idea in the thought was that whilst out walking you fell back into easy conversation with your mate as you reminisced about days gone by. His stories of live, love and loss were told with such passion that you felt as if you had been there even for the events that happened when he was overseas.

 

I have been a big fan of Dare and whilst I enjoyed their last couple of albums, I, like many others, felt they were a little too mature i.e. polite and pedestrian. I have to admit that after listening to this album and writing this review, I went back and listened to a couple of songs from those albums and wondered why I had issues and wasn’t content to sit back and enjoy without nit-picking.

 

Whatever fears I had about this album disappeared quickly as even on the first listen I got caught up in it and was singing along  by the second chorus of “I’ll Hear You Pray’. Darren’s voice is as rich as ever and Vinny Burns does a good job in the guitar department. All the songs are pretty damned good, making selecting highlights pointless.  ‘Home’ sets the scene and “I’ll Hear You Pray’ really grabs your attention before the feel good ‘Strength’ has you hooked. ‘Every Time We Say Goodbye’ is an effective ballad.  Around the mid-point ‘Days Of Summer’ is a very catchy number. Bon Jovi or Dark Horse could have some fun churning out ‘On My Own’. The Celtic flavour gets turned up a notch on ‘Until’ and closer ‘Along The Heather’. When Darren sings ‘those were the best days of our lives’ on ‘All Our Brass Was Gold’ it signals that the last few longs are all taking a nostalgic view of days gone by. On ‘You Carried Me’ we are treated to a tale where ‘we have climbed every mountain and crossed every sea’ and on  ‘Like The First Time’ there is a ‘distant train where she longs to go’. The aforementioned ‘Along The Heather’ closes the album.

 

Dare are back on top form with a spring to their step. A cause for celebration!

Fab Box – Two Review

 

Back in 2009 when I last reviewed Fab Box (their debut album ‘Music from the Fab Box’) it was summer and I remember the CD being the album of choice as its mood perfectly matched the good weather we had been experiencing. Fast forward to 2015 and this time I’m reviewing the album over the Christmas holidays when we seem to have been battered by a series of storms, albeit it is exceptionally mild for this time of year.

 

My first time experience of this album is whilst driving in the rain with the regular swishing of the windscreen wipers and the sound of rain as the back drop. Against this backdrop opening track, ‘Unconditional’, starts playing. An up-tempo track with stabbing guitars whose catchy chorus will have you singing along on the second chorus. A talking of the catchy choruses, by the time ‘Something is Coming Your Way’ arrives, the guitars are cranked up to to 10 (on a Fab Box scale), the band have hit their stride and we have another catchy chorus in play.

 

These guys share my love of all things 80s with tracks like ‘Test of Time’, which evokes thoughts of Journey, Survivor, Bad English and host of other bands, ‘Freedom’, a slow ballad and perhaps my favourite track from the album, ‘Heaven on Earth’, which reminds me of anther song, whose name escapes me.

 

The other style I associate with Fab Box is Westcoast and tracks such as the boppy ‘Down to You’ and the smooth ballad, ‘Kathy’, reminding me of bands such as Chicago, helping to reinforce that link.

 

If ever a title hinted at the content of a song ‘Starting Up A Fire’ does it for me because, as anticipated, it has a strong hint of Bryan Adams running through it. And of course, then we have the ironic title ‘It’s Not The End’ fading out the album, whereas I wanted the band leave me aching for more. A minor glitch for me, but I guess those of you who like more sedate closing tracks, will beg to differ.

So fab box have continued where the debut left off. Another enjoyable album of breezy pop influenced rock. Well done guys.

 

Rating: 4 stars

Mystery – Delusional Rain Review

 
Mystery are a band that I have reviewed a few times in the past, but as activity at my webpage has been sparse to say the least for most of 2015, I didn’t pay that much attention when a press release came in saying Mystery were about the release a new album.Then I happened to be surfing over at Dangerdog and noticed that Craig had given the album a 5 star review. As the Christmas holidays were coming up and I would have some time to available to to listen to music, I decided to download the album and hear what it was like.

 

Since I last reviewed the band, Benoit David has been replaced by Jean Pageau on vocal duties, but to be honest, their styles are so similar, that I wouldn’t have noticed with doing some research. And this same theme holds for the band in general. This album doesn’t deviate too much from my memories of their previous work.

 

Opening track,’Delusional Rain’, fades into being and slowly you get sucked into Mystery’s world. It gradually wraps a blanket of music around you until a few tracks down the line you realise you are sitting very comfortably and enjoying the listening experience. ‘The Last Glass of Wine’ has hints of Dream Theater at their most commercial on this slower track.

 

At almost 20 minutes long, ‘The Willow Tree’, is the centre piece of the album. In my head I’ve always had the band in the 5 to 7 minutes AOR meets progressive territory, with the progressive elements being the secondary consideration. However, checking back to previous reviews I see that longer tracks are feature of their albums. As you would expect with a track this length, it takes a few twists and turns, but as is Mystery’s way, this is more of a cruise down meandering roads, rather than a bumpy roller coaster ride with violent changes of direction. Somewhere in the the middle, things do get heavier when I began thinking of Rush meets King Crimson with potentially a bit of Dream Theater thrown in the mix as well. You get the idea, even when they are rocking out a little, the band still have their sights firmly focused on melody. That more intense guitar work is also featured on ‘Wall Street King’ which follows.

 

I have always associated these guys with Yes due their chosen style of vocalist and on this track we head back to the Seventies with the organ pumping out the intro to this final track. A pomp affair that mixes Yes with the pomp meets AOR of Magnum.

 

Listening to this in the car driving both too and from work just after Christmas, it struck me that I always arrived at my destination feeling chilled out and relaxed. Mystery just seem to have that effect upon.

 

Rating: 4 stars

Harem Scarem – Thirteen Review

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Can’t say that I am big fan of live videos, but when Harem Scarem decided to call it quits a few years ago, I bought a video of one of their last shows at Firefest. I don’t know what it is about that video, but I watch it and I feel really sad. Maybe it is just me and nothing like what the guys felt at the time, but I just get a sense of frustration and disillusionment from the video. Nothing wrong with the performance, but I can’t work up any enthusiasm and haven’t watched it that often.

Well after a trial separation Harry and Pete couldn’t get along apart and got back together again. I was a little disappointed when their first output was what seemed like a pointless re-recording of Mood Swings, especially when, although I they were decent, the new tracks didn’t really fit in the earlier material. But well, I guess that album was more to do with the band getting back the rights to those songs than anything else. So now the guys are back with their first proper album after the reunion.

I actually bought this album through a Pledge Music campaign. It was the first time I had ever done that and I gotta say the experience was little underwhelming. There were a few videos (13, I think, which makes sense) which gave some insights into the recording process and I ended up with a signed copy of the CD. In addition to the physical copy I also got access the download version. I not sure why, because there was no promise when I signed up, but I always thought the first listen to the album would be from my downloaded version, knowing that the physical copy would be arriving later. In fact, the album was on Spotify a few days before the official release date, with download availability coinciding with the official release date. And people wonder why streaming services are on the up and downloads are on the decrease!

Putting that all to one side, for those of us that follow the band, the question I was most interested in was the musical style of the new album. I wondered if the band would take the opportunity to maybe revert back to the power-pop which they seemed to favour around the middle of their pre-split output, or if they would go for the full retro sound ala Mood Swings which many fans have been calling for. In fact, this time out I think the guys just decided to make an album to suit themselves. What does that mean? Well, the general sound is the slightly rockier style that was present for the couple of albums pre-split, but this time out in the vocals I hear lots of Queen and musically the guitars have a swagger that reminds me of Van Halen and on a couple of tracks a marginally darker heavier sound.

For me, Harry’s voice has just the right amount of rasp to it to give the vocals character and make them distinctive and Pete’s guitar initially sounds simple, but with the revelation of complexity being the prize for repeated listens. Generally speaking the lyrics have an upbeat vibe to them, even if during one of the songs the band do state that ‘every other cliché applies’. Sounds like they enjoyed making the album and this transfers to the listening experience.

As with other albums, it’s a tad on the short side and I can’t help wondering if the time spent recording the bonus acoustic versions of a couple tracks couldn’t have been better spent writing and recording additional material. But, hey maybe it a case of never mind the length, which is equivalent to that of old fashioned vinyl, hear the quality.

The album starts off decently with Garden of Eden, but when “Live It” swaggers onto the speakers it is clear boys are back and on top form. The lyrics are cheesy as hell, but oddly inspiring and uplifting – “Life’s a shot and you get one, so live it free, live it hard”. That swagger stays for “Early Warning Sign” with it’s power pop meets hard rock – essentially the type of music at which the band excel. Do I detect a little bit of Van Halen-esque groove going one – maybe? Harry is the star on the next couple of tracks – the mid-tempo catchy “The Midnight Hours” and the good, but perhaps predictable balladry of “Whatever It Takes”.

Things get a little heavier for “Saints and Sinners” but the chorus still still very catchy. And talking of catchy, “All I Need” is arguably the catchiest track on offer. The amount of care these guys put into the recording process pays when the harmonies are this good. “Troubled Times” like, “Saints and Sinners”, typifies the type of music they band seem to be happiest playing these days. “Never Say Never” is a slower track where the vocals harmonies are to the fore. The heartfelt lyrics perhaps reflect the band’s struggle to keep going, but like they say in the song “every other cliché applies”. “Stardust” is a strong close to the album.

Yeah, it’s a good one!

Category: 4 stars, Reviews, Year 2015 | Comments Off on Harem Scarem – Thirteen Review

Weend’ô – You Need To Know Yourself

Weend'ô You Need to Know Yourself album cover

 

Weend’O are a French prog rock band who’s biography describes them as a subtle mix of rock, between Pink Floyd’s ambient references and Tool’s modern riffs, with the harmonised and uncluttered arrangements influenced by singer Anneke Van Giersbergen (ex The Gathering).

This is their first album which was released back in November 2012. The band consists of Laetitia (vocals & keyboards), Terence (guitar) , Maxime (bass) and Nathanael (drums).

I didn’t hear too much Pink Floyd going on and having had limited exposure to Tool, I initially struggled to think who the band reminded me of. More modern progressive bands like Porcupine Tree and Anathema were two that came to the fore, but Weend’O add in more of a mainstream rock element to their sound than either of those two with the guitar more in focus. Taking the vocals into account, I showed my age by thinking of a progressive version of Judie Tzuke. However, the answer to who these guys and girl sounded like was to be found in the biography that mentioned "The Gathering".

While the band describe themselves as progressive and do venture off into a couple of near 10 min tracks (Betrayal and Deadline), the other songs are around 5 or 6 mins and are mainstream with slight progressive overtones. The songs are melodic and if I say pleasant listen, then I mean it in a good sense. Whilst the overall sound isn’t heavy, the guys do like to rock out quite a bit in a subtle way with the guitarist earning his money with plenty of activity. On "The Soulmate" vocalist, Laetitia, gets to be the star on an slower ballad.

The version of the album I’m reviewing has radio edits of 3 of the songs included – 2 at the start and 1 at the end. They make the album overly long and I prefer the longer full versions of the songs anyway.

However, that minor point about the bonus tracks aside, Weend’O have created a respectable debut.

Red Tide Rising – The Rising

The Rising Album Cover

Red Tide Rising are:

Matthew Whiteman – Lead vocals
Andrew Whiteman – Guitars
Sean Verity – Bass
Matt Guerin – Drums, Percussion

The band have released a couple of singles prior to recording this album and previewed this album with 3 singles to show the different intensities of the band. They are a young bunch of guys with some members still in their teens. The album was recorded in 2013 with the help of Mike McAree (In This Moment’s engineer) and Jeff Kanan (Kelly Clarkson, Madonna, Staind, Rick Rubin and others).

I have to admit that I didn’t read any of the blurb about the band prior to listening to the album for first time and with the sort of prog rock cover, I was expecting something quite different from the modern post-grunge alt rock meets prog metal that I heard. OK, regular readers will have guessed by now that these guys have their work cut out to impress me with this type of music.

After the doomy opening of piano led instrumental "Rising Tides" we’re off into the land of modern alt rock meets alt metal where to my ears songs tend of merge together into a sonic barrage with individual songs having little to differentiate them. Apart from "Scars" about half way through, nothing really sticks in my head until we get the title track at the end of the album which seems to a more mature composition, despite the unnecessary swearing. Earlier in their career, a portion of the proceeds from their first single release, "Finding Home", was donated to a suicide prevention organisation, so they aren’t singing about ‘partying all night long’.

I guess what I’m saying is that if you are into bands like "In This Moment" or "Five Finger Death Punch", then this will be of interest, but melodic rock fans who favour retro hard rock should approach with caution. OK to dip into for a couple of songs occasionally.

Huis – Despite Guardian Angels

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Huis is started life in 2009 after Pascal Lapierre (keyboards) and Michel Joncas (bass & keyboards) had visited Holland. They named the project "Huis" which means "house" in Dutch and "home doors" in French. Gradually the other members – Sylvain Descôteaux (vocals), Michel St-Père (guitars) and William Régnier (drums) – were added to this French Canadian Progressive Rock band.

I haven’t written any reviews in a long time and it is therefore quite ironic I should pick a release from Canadian Prog Rock label Unicorn Records to kick start the Mood Swings website revival. Some of Unicorn’s releases in the past have proved to be a challenging listen as they venture off into the depths of jazz fusion or get a little too progressive for my tastes.

Thankfully "Despite Guardian Angels" is a relatively straightforward progressive rock release with a traditional neo-progressive or even symphonic feel. For me this evokes acts such as Marillion, IQ, Pendragon and Pallas. I’m sure there are other more recent examples. In fact, inspired by listening to these guys, I have also been listening to Sound Of Contact, featuring Simon Collins, who have a traditional progressive vibe.

Overall the sound is quite keyboard driven, but the guitar work, in which I detected a distinct David Gilmour sound, also manages to make itself heard. Sometimes the objective of progressive rock can be to simply highlight the skills of musicians with over indulgent playing and highly complex arrangements. In the case of Huis it seems the guys are team players, with the objective to create progressive music that is very listenable, even, for example, the two instrumental pieces, Oude Kirk 1 & 2.

The songs are consistently good, making it difficult to pick out highlights. For me, the mid album tracks seems to be the most rewarding – "Light & Bridges" featuring some good synth work, "Little Anne" which reminds me of Stationary Traveller era Camel and "If By Morning" which has a melody line that reminds me of the opening to Dream Theater’s "Pull Me Under". Maybe I just prefer longer tracks when listening to progressive rock.

This has been a pleasant re-introduction to the world of reviewing for me.

More info: www.huisband.com, www.unicorndigital.com

Lana Lane – El Dorado Hotel

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I remember buying  Lana Lane’s "Garden Of The Moon" album, her third, quite a while ago. I was very impressed and played it quite bit. Over the years I guess it gradually moved its way to back of the shelf and I haven’t played it for ages. So hearing Lana’s new album is a welcome re-introduction to her work, which is her new album after a 4 year hiatus.

Opening track, "A Dream Full Of Fire", I had labelled as a surprisingly calm affair which felt more like a mid-album track. In fact, listening back to it whilst writing this review, it has a bit more life than my initial impression would indicate, but I guess it just takes the 8 min song a while to get going. "We’ll Meet Again" is where the album seems to kick into gear with a track that shows the ‘progressive Heart" description that I remember from "Garden Of The Moon".

Not unsurprisingly the title track starts off with some Spanish guitar. This track has a brooding undertone which contributes to the feeling that the album is building a sense of anticipation. "Darkness Falls" has shades of light and dark with heavier guitars giving the ominous feel. "Hotels" is a ballad in which Lana dwells upon the life of travellers who spend a great deal of their time alone in hotels. Musically everything is fine, but I have to admit that my reaction to the lyrics is a desire to shout at the speakers "Oh stop moaning and get on with your life!".

The sense of anticipation that I mentioned earlier feels like it has reached a climax with the majestic "Believe". It chugs along very nicely and comes to life when Lana’s voice box enhanced vocals add an extra dimension. The retro sounding keyboards also contribute to this being a really great track. After this I guess there was no other choice but to have a change of pace with the up-tempo "Life Of The Party". In one sense I think this change of pace is necessary, but I just don’t think Lana suits this style, the result being a rather average sounding track. "Gone Are The Days" keeps things moving along thankfully raising the standard of the album back up again, with "Moon God", featuring a reappearance of the voice box, continuing to maintain things on a even keel.

When I said earlier that the album has the feel of building up to a climax and I mentioned "Believe", I got it wrong because the albums reaches its peak with the sublime "In Exile". The progressive/pomp elements which have only been hinted at so far are let fly on the intricate 11 minutes album closer. Lana’s voice is beautiful and clear, plus the play out which seems to go on forever never quite seems long enough.

More info at: http://www.lanalane.com/ & http://www.thetank.com/

Trevor Sewell – Calling Your Name

Trevor turned solo in 2011 after many years of playing sessions and touring with other artists. He recently won a number of awards in the States and the latest news is that he has been nominated for a British Blues Award 2012 for the track “Hate Me For A Reason”.

First off, I guess I should say that the blues element of my album collection doesn’t extend much beyond the late and definitely great Stevie Ray Vaughan. I guess there is an overall bluesy feel to ACDC’s music, but that is veering off subject. However, it does highlight that when it comes to blues rock, my preference is to have the emphasis on the rock. With the scene set, let’s take delve into the more mainstream blues of this album………

Opener “Where The Wild Ones Go” is a lively start with a little bit of a swagger to the music and a more than a hint of SRV. And from SRV, we move onto a smoother sound (“Hate Me For A Reason”) that makes me think of Robert Cray, who I seem to remember be interested in around the same time as SRV, but I never got around to buying any of his albums. On the vocals front there is a Joe Cocker thing going on. Title track, “Calling Your Name”, is a slightly slower number with a brass section and for me it sounds a little like Eric Clapton musically, but still with Joe on vocals.

So quite a few name checks so far and that correctly gives you the impression that this album contains plenty of variety. Things take a little turn off the main blues track when “Condemned” emulates Dire Straits. A couple of tracks, “No Future ’round Here” and “Don’t Need Nobody”, seem like they could have come out of a Blues Brothers movie. Despite the fact that I am fan of the movie, these are probably my least favourite tracks.

The longest number is “Hundred Years”, a tribute to Robert Johnston, which is delta blues played on an electric guitar. Maybe it is because they are in the style most familiar to me, but the tracks which really excel here are the ones that evoke the spirit of SRV – tracks such as the aforementioned opener, plus “Gone Too Soon” and “Lost Something”.

I get the feeling that Trevor is very relaxed and confident playing this music which is reflected in the seemly effortless vibe to the album, an attribute which is rare and fairly hard to achieve. This is an album that is easy to listen to and enjoy when you are in the mood for some Blues.

 

Big Dream Bus – Big Dream Baby

Big Bus Dream consists of Mike Shannon who started the band in 2006 and is the songwriter, guitarist and vocalist. He is joined by Chick Tsikouras (previously Pat Methany and Mamas & Papas) on guitar plus song writing. The band’s debut album, “The Jesters of Xmas Town” was released in 2008.

The band describe their music as social comment echoing the likes of John Lennon and Lou Reed. In fact, the general vibe of the album with it’s acoustic roots with more electrified arrangements is said to evoke Reed’s “Transformer”.

For me when listening to the album the names that sprung to mind were Tom Waits, Warren Zevon and Tom Petty. I have a Warren Zevon album but it isn’t something that I listen to all that often. I like it when I dig it out, but it isn’t something that screams play me very often. This brand of adult orientated rock just doesn’t light my fire and whilst I would describe the majority of the album as an OK listen, there are a few tracks such as the Talking Heads like “Laughing” and spacey “Here I Am” that actually tipped the balance and I found annoying. The most successful tracks for me were ones like “Mary’s Spoken” and “Letting Go’ which fitted in to the pleasant, but perhaps not overly exciting category.

A bit of a rambling album with hippy tendencies that reminds me of a quirky road trip movie. At the end of the movie you wonder what it was all about and why you stayed up watching it and didn’t go to bed earlier.

www.4thward.com

www.wampus.com