Smoking Martha, In Deep, 2018

smoking martha - in deepFrom Down Under come Smoking Martha, built around songstress Tasha D and guitarist Mick Broome’s love of raw rock ‘n roll. Joining them are Azz on guitars, Matty on bass and Jordon on drums.

Now I must confess that I wasn’t all that impressed on first listen. Don’t know why, but in hindsight I probably wasn’t paying enough attention. Because repeated play has taught me that this is actually a very solid rock album. Martha has a damn fine voice for this type of rock and the songs do travel beyond the all too familiar. Even when it is sometimes in the details.
So, after spending a bunch of time with the album ( I got the version with the 5 European bonus tracks, the album itself has 10 songs) I am totally digging tunes like So Lonely, Say You’re Mine, To The Stars, and so on. The melting pot that make up all the songs is quite broad I think. A bit of punk energy, classic rock , grungy overtones, melodic hard rock and probably even more. And a song like Baby Let Me Go proves that know how to chill too, beautiful!

So in the end I can say that it is a tasty rock affair that shows a singer in possession of an impressive delivery and a band that is able to give the songs energy and flair. And knows how to keep things interesting. More proof that rock is not dead at all. It is lurking somewhere, waiting for you to fall for it again!

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Alan Simon, Big Bang, 2018

ALAN-SIMON-Big-BangA couple of releases into Alan Simon now (check for instance this or this). And now we have Big Bang playing. And it is definitely something different compared to those before. Not only from a technical point of view, with the press sheet talking about 120 musicians or 200 active tracks per song on average… Or the inclusion of the sound bank of the universe from NASA.

This is indeed a musical odyssey from the origins of our universe to the destiny of planet Earth. And one that marries classical themes and orchestrations with contemporary music like never before in Simon’s work. As far as I know it that is. With a starring role of Supertramp’s John Helliwell on various saxes. So the instrumental pieces prevail and are a showcase of diversity, atmosphere and feeling. Lingering dreamy melodies, sound scapes and bits of rock interweaving. Like in Seven Moons In the Sky, where Roberto Tiranti delivers the vocals. Or on Fools, with Saga’s Michael Sadler. And Pink Floyd fans will embrace The Soul Of The Stars, with great guitar playing by Paolo Ballardini.
Because of the less obvious rock side, at first I wasn’t too sure about this album. But the more I played it, the more I fell for it. Diversity, dynamics and combining genres has always been part of Simon’s music and this is no exception. There is a certain grandeur to the themes that will get you hooked, sooner rather than later. Else you can always look at the fantastic space photography present in the art.

So the man delivered again. Simple as that!

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OH, Metallia, 2018

oh - metalliaThis is the second time Olivia Hadjiioannou, better known as OH., makes an appearance here on the blog. The first time was the first ever vinyl here (still is I think) and now she is back with a stunning looking digipack and lush booklet. And this is not the only stunner here. Olivia is a true one woman force. She writes, plays, records, mixes and masters all her music herself, is very into (award winning) video, and if I am not mistaken also models for her art. Truly mindblowing. And speaking of mindblowing, here we have a musician that seems to excel at everything she does. Fluent in drumming, bass, guitars, piano and violin!

So how does that translate to the music on this EP?

Red Lion is opening with her voice (used as an instrument on this release), followed by a slapping bass and then frenetic riffing. She can shred like the best of them. The use of her voice is pretty intriguing throughout. Singing multi layered counter melodies, or dramatic wails, she creates atmosphere for sure. Not an easy introduction maybe, but a colourful and energetic show piece of her abilities. Bee opens with acoustic guitar and proves a song that keeps transforming. Androgyny welcomes you with multi layered vocals before the thrashy riffs take over again. But the combination of vocals and metal again creates something special.
Of the 6 tracks, my personal favourite so far is Dragon Kiss. Maybe one of the most melodic pieces, yet still testament of her vivid imagination and skills to pull off amazing musicality.

I can imagine that people get confused because of the frantic pace of change throughout. But I cannot help but be impressed by the creativity on display. Unique!

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Martin Turner, The Beauty Of Chaos, 2018

martin turner - the beauty of chaosTo put the record straight; the full name of this double disk is Martin Turner ex Wishbone Ash – The Beauty Of Chaos, Live At The Citadel, St. Helens – 26th February 2016. And it is a deluxe 2CD + DVD set. Glad we got that out of the way ๐Ÿ˜‰

And indeed you regular followers of the blog, lots of (ex) Wishbone Ash has been landing in my CD player lately. Not that I mind that much, Argus is a classic record of course. And talking of that, disk 2 features some of that classic Ash tracks with The King Will Come, Warrior and Throw Down The Sword to name a few.
But there is a lot more to enjoy on this live album. Some tongue in cheek humour, some fantastic playing, especially from Misha Nikolic who has a great tone in his fingers. And I love songs like Falling Sands (what an enchanting guitar melody) or Interstellar Rockstar.ย  But also the very recognisable harmony singing and dual guitars shine.
So the album is very much worthy of your time and money. Even without seeing the DVD yet. No, Martin Turner (bass and lead vocals), Danny Willson (guitar and vocals), Misha Nikolic (guitar) and Tim Brown (drums and vocals) have got a good thing going here. Timeless music.

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The Soul Exchange, Edge Of Sanity, 2018

the soul exchange - edge of sanityThe boys from The Soul Exchange sure like to keep busy. Ever since coming on my radar in 2016, they keep writing and releasing new music. So this is already release 4, and the third with fabulous singer (and keyboardist) Daniel John in their ranks. Not that I want to short sell the band of course, after all they provide much of the canvas and songs for John to shine on. Another big role is for producer and co-writer and arranger Magnus Ljunqvist.

But on to the album now; 9 regular songs and a bonus track for those lucky enough and a total playing time of 51 minutes. John is now the sole lyricist, with the Von Bell’s, John and Ljunqvist writing the songs. Lyrically the album explores the darker side of the human psyche. Tailor made for Daniel’s emotive delivery.
The songs are, as before, a winning combination of classic hard rock with some contemporary metal infused, with emphasis on melody and vocal harmonies. The album sounds big, think Metallica’s black album is a reference. And should modern radio still be playing rock, a lot of songs on here would fit seamlessly in, as they impact already on first listen.

And since the album still gets better with every play, it is safe to say the band have created another winner. Personally I hope the band break in Europe, so we will get a chance at seeing them live. Very very solid, and surely an album to check out!

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Peter Banks, The Self-Contained Trilogy, + The Anthology, 2018

peter banks - the self-contained trilogyPeter Banks, is that not the first guitarist of Yes? Indeed he is, he played on their first 2 albums. And what you might not know is that he suggested the name change from Mabel Greer’s Toy shop! This collection contains 3 of his solo albums, namely Instinct, Self-Contained and Reduction.

Now 3 CD’s might sound like an awful lot to digest. But I think you will be surprised should you decide to have a listen. That is if you, like me, never heard them before. Not only is the material at hand of an enormous diversity, it is also larded with intros or short interludes with spoken word that show a keen sense of humour.
Back to the music, you will find anything from ambient to shredding, to funky, groovy to progressive here. And I must also admit that I like his guitar sound better than that of his successor in Yes, Steve Howe (who is a fabulous guitarist in his own right of course). Banks shows more of a rock vibe in his playing and sounds, and that suits me just fine.
And while I wonder if that diversity might be a reason for some to avoid his music, I was sincerely amazed listening to this. Banks proves to have been an amazing musician and a powerful creative force with the combined abilities of Vai, Satriani and maybe even any other guitarist you can think of.

peter banks - be well be safe be luckyShould you first want to sample Banks’ talents, there is also an Anthology available in the form of this double disc Be Well, Be Safe, Be Lucky…The Anthology. Disc 1 is a collection of some of his finest work. And disc 2 features a lot of rarities and extended versions. The latter making this release also interesting for the people that already enjoy his music.

For only being familiar with the name, to getting a more deeper insight in this man’s talent, 5 CD’s of discovery for all to enjoy!

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Gregory M. Hurley, Seafoam, 2018

gregory m hurley, seafoamHow fitting to name your album seafoam, and put a strat in that colour on the cover. Nice touch! What is also nice, is what Greg Hurley is offering us on this debut.

Well debut, it might be his debut album, but in his young days, Hurley spent a lot of time honing his skills on every stage that gave him a home. And now, after years of being inactive (life sometimes gets in the way), he has built a studio and unleashes his work to the unaware public.

And I must say, the man knows how to play and write a decent tune! I guess the songs are a reflection of his influences. And I am confident that The Beatles rank high there. A song like You’re You clearly fits well in the Beatles songbook, and Hold On Tight would sit comfortably on any mid career ELO album (and no, it is not a cover from them).ย  Other influences seem early Santana on songs Where You’re At and Pick It Up or Steely Dan on WiggleRoom.
The title track is a wonderful moody instrumental, but actually every track on the album is tasty and well done. Especially considering he played everything himself if I understand correctly.

Bottom line, this release deserves a big audience because the songs will appeal to everyone who appreciates quality pop / rock songs.

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Wishbone Ash, 2 remasters, 2018

WISHBONE-ASH-Twin-BarrelsWISHBONE-ASH-Raw-To-The-BoneTwo not so typical Wishbone Ash albums have been released with the “remastered and definitive editions” treatment.

On Twin Barrels Burning (1982), we find Trevor Bolder (Spiders From Mars, Uriah Heep) on bass and vocals. This besides regulars Andy Powell, Laurie Wisefield (both guitar and vocals) and Steve Upton (drums). The regular album holds 3 bonus tracks, bringing the total up to 12 tracks. The second disc features the album, yet with the American remixes. Even when in my mind the original sounds much more American when compared to, say, Argus. ๐Ÿ™‚
Since I never heard these albums before, I think they are a solid testament of their time. Still some great songs on it, especially Hold On.

Next one is Raw To The Bone from 1985. The original 10 songs got company from no less than 5 bonus songs, recorded in 1986! The second disc holds 2 live performances with 8 tracks in total, recorded by the BBC. On bass and lead vocals we now get Mervyn ‘Spam’ Spence, whose phenomenal range gives an even more commercial rock vibe to the songs. (The bonus tracks are with Brad Lang on bass and Phil Palmer instead of Wisefield on guitar).

Guess it is safe to say it were trying times for the band, but on their own the albums hold up pretty good in my opinion. Nothing shocking, but then again, I did not grow up with these (you cannot have all). It rocks, and you will always find at least a couple of songs that tickle your fancy…

The fact they are still around, isย  proof of their will to survive.

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Ted & Majella, Better Together, 2017

ted & majella - better togetherThe Ted in this release is famed guitarist Ted Turner, whom you might know from his days in Wishbone Ash, or the couple of tracks he played on John Lennon’s Imagine album. Majella is not only his wife, but also a singer and together they invented a new genre called new age soul.

Well I will be honest as always, to me this sounds like a singer songwriter album with lots of pop sensibilities and with heartfelt guitar playing (imagine a bit more rocking version of Mark Knopfler). Yes, there is lots of soul present in the songs, but coming from inside, not akin to the musical genre. And I guess the new age bit refers to their look at the world we live in today. “Everything has a relationship, we are nature, and systems only exist through collaboration. And are bigger than us.”

Nothing wrong with that of course and despite my critique about the genre tagging, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the music. It might be more light-footed compared to the stuff I usually listen to, but everything, from the playing, to the sound, and to the delivery oozes class.ย  Majella has a pleasant voice and her melodies work. The result of all this, is that the album radiates a passion. For life, for each other, and for nature.

So this is beautiful from start to finish and in my opinion suited for the majority of the people. Dreamy and sometimes intense!

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XSyntax, Watermusic, 2017

xsyntax - watermusicXSyntax is the alter ego of fellow Dutchman and synth enthusiast Richard Aardenburg. Richard claims to be influenced by Rick Wakeman, Jean Michael Jarre and Tomita and describes his music as a mix of EDM, ambient, downtempo and urban. And this is his first release.

Alas I am not an expert in these genres. All I can say is that since most of the songs have beats in them, EDM seems closest, with a bit of ambient here and there. But maybe that’s just me.

For him, music is like water, so it can come in different modes and shapes. So where I was expecting songs around a theme of water, this is not the case here. Instead we get songs like the calm Dream On, the uptempo Technix V where sequencers and beats dominate, or the mid tempo Caravans In The Desert.
There are 11 songs and a bonus track on the album, and most of the songs are around 3 minutes.

I think the ideas are there, but XSyntax needs to work a bit more on finding a good balance in the mix. In some tracks certain parts are so much louder, they drown out the rest. What is good is that he keeps trying to find new sounds to use. Also he always works with melodies, but could sometimes do with a bit more arrangement. A drum computer and a melody does not always give enough body to the songs. But again, that is just my opinion.

If you are into the genres mentioned, check for yourself!

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