CD Electronica/Electro Review Jazz & Easy Review Rock Review Vinyl

CD/Vinyl Review Round-up #2

Last week I offered you a dozen or more pieces of vinyl for review. This time I’m mixing it up a little, splitting the content into CD and vinyl

For your delectation, this week…

ON VINYL

SIMPLE MINDS

Title: Street Fighting Years

Label: Virgin

A bit of a lost classic this one and an album that was much derided when it initially appeared back in 1989 because it focused on social issues of the day. And good for Simple Minds, I say. I wish more artists would do the same today. Goodness knows there’s plenty of material on offer. 

Offering top notch song-writing, great arrangements and a defiantly non-commercial presentation, this is a project to live with. Let it infuse into your brain for best effect. 

A double album, presented in a gatefold on black vinyl, if offers excellent mastering with low noise: I had to up the gain on this one. Always a good sign.

DUSTBOWL REVIVAL

Title: Is it You, Is it Me

Label: Medium Expectations

Providing an up-beat, relatively light delivery with a mobile, orchestral backing this Los Angeles combo totes a multi-genre presentation, some decent vocal harmonies, the odd highlight (i.e. Get Rid of You, very 70s in its style) but my mind kept wandering to what I was going to eat that night and if I needed to go the shop to get a bottle of milk. Blandness infuses this LP package, I’m afraid. It’s sincere, yes. They really do try, sure. But do I really care? No.

Presented as a double album in a gatefold with lyric insert, mastering sounds rather digital in an edgy way and is a little claustrophobic with a rolled off midrange and clipped treble. A Chilli perhaps? Or maybe a curry….

YOUNG GUN SILVER FOX

Title: Canyons

Label: Legere

Offering a touch of early-period Billy Joel, late-period Kool & The Gang and a smattering of Jamiroquai and the Doobies, this is a jolly, happy, arms circling, dancing until you’re dizzy and falling into a bed of daisies type of album. 

The band sound like they’ve all had a pay rise, a really good night’s sleep, have just met their soul mate partner and can’t smile wide enough. 

This jazz-funk-lite outing is light in tone, full of brass accents, backing harmony vocals and hooks a-plenty while its mastering and pressing is good. This one’s a grower.

CASUAL HEAVEN

Title: Sail by Summer

Label: Apollon 

From the Norwegian pairing of William Hut and Jens Kristian, this electro-pop outing provides pleasantly inoffensive ditties. The Pet Shop Boys on laudanum, in fact. The band would do very well in the next Eurovision Song Contest. Or the previous one. Or even the one before that. This is an album that you could take home to meet your mother or your boss or your probation officer and each would smile approvingly.

Pressed on white vinyl, I was happy to hear a spacious and airy master here with plenty of space for the music to roam. So…yay the mastering engineer, then.

THE FANTASY ORCHESTRA

Title: The Bear and Other Stories

Label: Disco-ordination

Featuring a blend of pro musicians and members of the public, this community project combines efforts from, of all places, Paris and Bristol and features quite extraordinary covers from the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Caetano Velso and Sun Ra! Offering a decent mastering, the sonic presentation is intriguing. There’s an attractive harmonic chaos and appealing amateurish tone around the arrangement. A slightly avant orchestral backing plus a sense of slightly twisted easy listening vibes form an attractive, kinda Morricone, presentation. The end result is unique (to my ears at least) and absolutely fascinating.

GUS RING

Title:For Us Lonely Souls

Label: Kick the Flame 

A LP of varying shades, all of them dark. There’s a bucket of introspection on Gus Ring’s third LP release. Featuring an admirable master, melancholia is dominant here and it’s accompanied by reverb-laden pianos, ghostly strings…you know the template. 

Providing a slightly ah-a vocal presentation style but presented under a grey sky, this is a sincere, heartfelt and emotionally direct release that works around the message. And this guy has plenty to say. Chatty, that’s Gus.

ON CD

CHIP WICKHAM

Title: Blue to Red

Label: Lovemonk 

Wickham, a UK jazz sax/flautist but also producer and composer has released his third LP on the Madrid label. Wickham’s work is soul inflected. He’s also worked with Nightmares On Wax in the past and you can see why. There’s a relaxing, easy, sunshine glinting off the wing of a passing swallow-type approach to the music that tells of deep summer. 

And yes, there’s up-tempo outings on here too but even they have a swinging, cool, finger-clicking aspect to their delivery.

Mastering is a tad bright and compressed with well lit mids and knife-edged bass thwacks but don’t let that put you off. The music here is almost sensuous with an intangible aesthetic. It deserves attention.

MATCHBOX

Title: The Albums 1979-82

Label: 7T’s

Spanning a healthy 65 tracks, this clamshell box set features four albums from the well known rockabilly revival band. 

Taken from their Magnet Records catalogue, the albums include their self-titled debut which reached No.44 in the UK chart, 1980’s Midnite Dynamos that included the title track single (No.14 in the UK charts) plus the No.4 hit, When You Ask About Love. There’s eight bonus cuts here too.

Flying Colours and 1982’s Crossed Line complete the box contents. Along with a 20 page booklet. The mastering is a mite compressed with a highlighted midrange but the music is not aggressive.

This is a fun set from a fun group who never took themselves too seriously. In fact, I was surprised to read, in the booklet, the band described as a rockabilly version of Status Quo. Which is revealing and honest!

GIRL

Title: Wasted Youth 

Label: HNE

A quartet from London, they were a heavy rock band out of their time. They should have been a NWOBHM outfit but they didn’t fit. Too late for glam and too soon for pretty-boy hair metal the group lost their way in fame terms but did produce some worthy music along the way and did very well in, surprise, Japan.

Mastering here is pretty good. Neutrality is pushed close to the limit but there’s enough clarity and space here to open up the soundstage. 

The debut isn’t here but there is Wasted Youth (1982), Killing Time (1997), plus a host of live tracks here which will be ideal for the fans: Live at the Marquee Club, London 1981 (2001), Live in Tokyo (2020), Live at the Greyhound 1982 (2013), Live at the Birmingham Odeon 1982/Hammersmith Odeon 1982 (2013/14) plus a selection of bonus tracks.

Under-rated, there’s plenty to like about Girl. If you’re into early 80s British rock, check out this box set, you may very well be surprised.

JOHN SCOFIELD

Title: Swallow Tales

Label: ECM

Accompanying Scofield’s guitar is Bill Stewart on drums and Steve Swallow on bass. This new release from the trio shows how well the guys work with each other.

There’s a real ease in how they approach their music. In fact, that’s backed up by Schofield himself who commented, “We made this recording in one afternoon with little forethought.” They apparently didn’t need much. They just started, got on with it, finished and reached for a beer, I guess. Job done. And rather lovely it sounds too with an easy flow to the music.

They’re tight, yes but there’s no real effort in their delivery. All of the ditties were penned by Swallow, incidentally. 

RENÉ HALL

Title: My Kind of Rocking

Label: Jasmine

This CD is subtitled ‘The unsung rock’n’roll guitarist and arranger 1950-1960’ but Hall began his trade in jazz circles, working with the likes of Earl Hines, Andy Kirk and Ernie Fields and then leading a sextet and recording for the likes of Decca, RCA and Jubilee. During the 50s, he then turned his attention to the emerging rock’n’roll genre that was becoming prominent. He would have an incredibly full career, being a side man on a host of other people’s hit records and would eventually produce significant work alongside the likes of Eddie Cochran, Bobby Darin, Sandy Nelson, Sam Cooke, Bobby Womack, the Impressions and Marvin Gaye but this CD concentrates on a single decade, with the Hall name front and centre on the recordings. 

There’s a distinct orchestral arrangement to Hall’s rock’n’roll but the man’s own guitar style is quite delicious. He offers a natural and expressive technique combined with discipline and precision. He knows what to do, where he’s going and how to get there and he’s not afraid to add a bit of dazzle along the way. Under-rated this man certainly is, all rock’n’roll fans need to get a dose of René Hall, then they need to dig around and check out his other work too. He offers a mine of quality guitar work across music history that needs much more attention. I want to see a full documentary on this guy!

MONSTER BOX OF ROCKABILLY

Label: Floating World

Wow! I could end the review right there, actually. Brief but to the point, you might say. To expand upon the one word statement, what we have here is a clamshell box set packed with 12CDs featuring familiar stars like Carl Perkins but its the lesser names that take the eye such as The Dazzlers, Dick Glasser, Tommy Bell, Narvel Felts, David Starr, Jack Kitchen and many (many) more. And let’s not forget Ray Orbison – ok that’s a misprint from the included booklet but it did have me researching my socks off for a moment there. 

I wish Floating World had refrained from trying to list the track listing on the rear of this box, though. The print is so small, you’d need to upgrade the Hubble to see the 315 names penned here. And yes, that’s how many songs are stuffed into this wonderful set. This rockabilly feast is an education, let me tell you. 

This is a genre in a box, a cultural event in ones and zeroes, a stupendous collection of often obscure and hard to find notables. 

Reporting on the mastering for this one is vaguely redundant. The overall job, from Floating World, has been a good one let’s say that but really, the original source is dominant here in terms of final sound quality. The range is vast in sonic terms (from superb to poor) but, such is the content, even the poor original masters sound wonderful in atmospheric terms, if nothing else. 

A masterly collection and one that all rockabilly, rock’n’roll and general rock fans need in their lives.

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