Here I am writing about a compilation album which you cannot buy, but is easy to obtain. Perhaps I had better let Nick Katona explain: “Each Year we host a holiday release to showcase many bands and artists that you may not be aware of; but should be. The album will feature many styles of holiday music and original music; all of which will touch your heart and soul. May it inspire you for in giving, we receive so much more. To receive your copy as a gift from MRR and with the kind permission of all of our contributing artists we ask you to commit a great act of kindness. Send us proof of you donating to your local charity of choice, it can be your time, or tangible goods such as blankets, food or clothing. Think outside of the box, donate your time at the local food bank, soup kitchen or shelter. Certainly, the hospitals would be grateful for volunteers or donate blood today and save a life. We would like to promote the good deeds of great citizens and with your permission, we will share your photos on our page set up this holiday season to spread the good news.”
15 songs, nearly 80 minutes in length: one thing I really enjoyed about this album is the sheer variety, and it has allowed me to come across bands I have not heard of before. ‘The Sled’ starts with two of these, Jennifer Cutting’s Ocean Orchestra and Jack Potter. “Fall Leaves, Fall” is stunning in its arrangement, and I felt that I was listening to a reborn version of Renaissance, with beautiful orchestration, great woodwind, stunning rock guitar, and a singer who reminded me of Annie Haslam. A short piece of detective work later and I discovered that it was indeed Annie and that this song came out a few years ago. This is one of the delights of this album, as it truly is meant to be broad and wide-reaching, so while it does include songs from MRR artists, of course, it isn’t restricted to just that. Jack Potter’s “Snow Globe” is delicate, starting with just piano and again wonderful vocals, this time care of Salley Elsey. Taken from the ‘Pride Before The Fall’ album which was released earlier this year, I was reading more about it when I started filling up and had to compose myself for a minute. The reason is that one of the guitarists is none other than Colin Tench, and I don’t think any of us who knew him will ever really get over his loss last Christmas, so to find him on a Christmas album for 2018 feels both poignant and fitting. I know he would have a laugh about it.
I have always been a fan of Don Schiff, so it is great to see him here, while one of MRR’s newest signings, DC Snakebuster shows that rough and raw blues, with some great harmonica, also has a place at Christmas. Federico Fantacone provides some gorgeous piano, while Darrel Treece-Birch treats us to a song from his new album, ‘The first step..is to take one’ with the glorious “For Giving” which contains not only the sweeping keyboards we have come to expect but also some glorious guitar. Andy John Bradford is in fine form with “Raise A Glass For Christmas”, and overall the whole album is a delight.
So, what are you waiting for? This album is streaming until the end of January, but you can get your own copy now just by doing something for others at Christmas. Surely that is what the season should be about, instead of the commercial brashness it has become? Think outside the box, make a difference. Many already do so without any thought of reward, and for those who do, then here is a gift from some wonderful musicians just to say thanks.
10/10 by Kev Rowland
It is hard to imagine in this world of 24/7 connectivity, but there was once a time where there was no such thing as the internet. Consequently, the only way to discover information was by buying books, and I have just gone to a bookcase and brought out ‘The International Encyclopedia of Hard Rock & Heavy Metal’, written by Tony Jasper and Derek Oliver and published in 1983. Why? Because the front cover is a picture of Mick Box in his natural environment, on stage, and nearly fifty years on from when Uriah Heep was formed he is still there. True, there have been some line-up changes over the years, but from 1986 to 2007 they were the same five guys treading the boards wherever anyone would have them play, often without record label support. Phil Lanzon (keyboards) and Bernie Shaw (vocals) have been in the band since 1986 (although they started working together in Grand Prix before that), while drummer Lee Kerslake had to retire in 2007 due to ill health, and was replaced by Russell Gilbrook while bassist Trevor Bolder sadly passed away in 2013 and was replaced by Davey Rimmer.
When they released their debut album in 1970, it was famously reviewed by Rolling Stone magazine’s Melissa Mills who began her review by saying, “If this group makes it I’ll have to commit suicide. From the first note, you know you don’t want to hear any more.” Well, with one classic album after another in the Seventies, and various “return to form” albums such as the mighty ‘Abominog’, it is safe to say that Heep has not only made it but have thrived. This is their 25thstudio album, and although they have become more polished over the years, there is still a Hammond Organ as the backbone, while Mick Box is refusing to settle into his dotage. Apparently, he is 71 years old now and is still teaching young ‘uns tricks or two.
Any fan of the band will listen to the harmonies at the introduction to “Rocks In The Road” and smile, as it is exactly the same sound they were producing more than 40 years ago. To celebrate the album they are undertaking a world tour which will encompass 61 countries, again putting bands half their age to shame.
Uriah Heep, Very ‘eavy… Very ‘umble, still hitting the road, producing great music as they continue to keep living the dream. Essential for any fan, and if you have never actually heard any of their albums (and I guess that is a possibility, maybe) then start with this one and then head back to the early Seventies and give yourself a treat. All together now, “Was only seventeen, I fell in love with a gypsy queen…”
8/10 Kev Rowland
When I started writing some thirty years ago, one of the reasons for doing so was that I was aware of some wonderful music which the mainstream press ignored. Being able to sing and/or play instruments no longer seemed to be as important as it used to be, and the state of music being played on normal commercial radio filled me with despair, so I just didn’t listen to it anymore. This is how I became involved in the underground scene, and over the years have been fortunate to hear some incredible music which otherwise would have passed me by. Earlier this year Peter Matuchniak sent me a copy of his latest project, ‘Gyreland’ by Bomber Goggles and I loved it immediately. One of the people involved in that was Steve Bonino, and we soon discovered we had a lot in common and I interviewed him for his latest album, ‘Stargazer’ (which is awesome, everyone should have a copy). Following on from that he sent me some of his older material, and I am currently playing Children of the Moon from 2014. My only question has to be, why on earth didn’t I come across this before?
Children of the Moon is multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Steve Bonino, with singer Pascale Elia and drummer Jimmy Keegan. If that isn’t enough in the way of Spock’s Beard credentials, Ryo Okumoto guests on one song and it was mastered by none other than the mighty Rich Mouser. To say this album is a delight is a masterful exercise in understatement. Power pop, pop rock, crossover prog, melodic rock, call it what you will but know that there are some gorgeous songs here with great hooks. Both Steve and Pascale take turns on leads, as well as harmonizes, while Jimmy shows yet again why he is such an in-demand drummer as he adds nuances here and there without removing any emphasis from the melody.
There are quite a few different styles here, and “Everybody Loves Love” is a standout country number (the pedal steel is a wonderful touch), while “My Young Man” is a singer-songwriter classic which belongs in the late Sixties with gorgeous harmonies. Special mention must be made of Amy Tori, who guests with flute on five songs, and this adds an additional sense of class and style to the album that works really well. Many of the songs seem incredibly personal, so much so that I felt at times that I was almost intruding, but it was all so good that I couldn’t turn away. The CD is still available, and it is also possible to stream through Bandcamp, and I can only urge all those into wonderful psychedelic power pop to get straight over to https://thesteveboninoprojects.bandcamp.com/album/children-of-the-moon and discover it for yourselves.
9/10 Kev Rowland
I first really started paying attention to Atreyu with the release of 2004’s ‘The Curse’, but although I grabbed all their albums up to 2009’s ‘Congregation of the Damned’ I hadn’t realized they had got back together after the hiatus following that to release an album in 2015, and here they are now back with the next, the seventh in their career. It is hard to believe that Atreyu has been together for twenty years now, as they still sound as angry as ever, mixing that aggression with melody and metal to create a sound designed to throw a mosh pit wherever they play. I also put them into the same category as Killswitch Engage and Avenged Sevenfold, all bands out there creating their own masterpieces and not worrying about the rest of the scene. There are parts of “The Time Is Now” which one would say belongs far more in the canon of their recent touring partners Slipknot than Atreyu. These guys have been turning it up and cranking it even harder than they used to, and took inspiration from their classic ‘Lead Sails Paper Anchor’ as they experimented and brought all the ideas under the Atreyu banner.
There is a freshness, which has been brought about by the way of working. “Every song with the exception of two was fully written in the studio,” says Brandon Saller (drums, vocals). “We’d split off into groups and crank out two ideas per day. We’d never written a fresh idea from scratch every day. Spontaneity makes things flow so much better though. We also never spread an album out like this either. We laid the foundation with five recordings, sat with them, and finished with a better picture of where we wanted to go.” Atreyu is very much back, and this reminds me so much of why I loved ‘The Curse’ when it was released. Methinks I need to dust that one off and put it on, as this has reminded me of what a powerful band they are. Superb.
8/10 by Kev Rowland
This is the debut album from Dutch neo-prog band The Dame, which as the name might suggest is built heavily around the female lead singer, Marian van Charante. They have been gaining a lot of attention for their image and style, as apparently they aim to convey a feeling of the Roaring Twenties in what they do, although it must be said that with a download as opposed to a CD that isn’t necessarily apparent. For the most part, the keyboards are actually quite basic and in the background, but given that Thijs de Ruijter is actually the son of the guitarist Stephen and is just 16 years old perhaps that is understandable.
The songs feel like stories, which is very much a positive, and Marian moves between singing softly and bringing in elements of Alanis Morissette with her phrasing. It is pleasant enough, but this just doesn’t shine the way it should. Some of that is down to the arrangements which feel a little clunky at times, and the production which often pushes the snare drum over the top of the guitar. The use of acoustic guitar as an additional rhythm works well, but I can’t get nearly as excited over this as many others seem to be.
6/10 by Kev Roland
Is it really five years since Simon Godfrey (Tinyfish, Valdez) presented us with the debut Shineback album? Unlike the debut this isn’t a concept, but is very much a progression in terms of ideas and approach. “We humans do a marvellous job of failing to communicate with one another, often when it matters most”, says Simon. “All the songs on ‘Dial’ carry that as an underlying theme. Musically, very much like the debut album and last year’s ‘Minotaur’ EP, the new record seeks to hop the fences between genres, just to enjoy the process of getting dirty while in the hunt for buried sonic treasures”. Alongside Simon’s regular writing partner (and label mate) Robert Ramsay, guests returning from ‘Rise Up Forgotten…’ include Matt Stevens (The Fierce & The Dead), Dec Burke (Frost*, AudioPlastik, Darwin’s Radio), Hywel Bennett (Dec Burke Band) and Henry Rogers (Touchstone, Mostly Autumn). New collaborators Tom Slatter, Daniel Zambas (We Are Kin), Karl Eisenhart (Pinnacle) and Simon’s bandmates in Valdez Joe Cardillo and Tom Hyatt are also involved. There are quite a few people taking part, but normally this is just for one song (not all on the same one), so while there are five guest guitarists adding to proceedings, Matt and Karl combine on “Kill Devil Hills”, while Tom Slatter is just on “Here I Am” and Hywel is on the title track, while Dec allows himself some real attack on “Consider Her Ways” so it isn’t really a guitar fest.
What really makes this work is the deftness and lightness of approach, with Simon using plenty of keyboards to create an environment for his vocals and ideas to really shine. There are times when the music is very much in a light, high register with virtually no bottom end, but this contrasts against a rocky approach, with the feeling that we are back in the early Eighties and synth-based power pop is the order of the day. Just listen to “Consider Her Ways” and I can guarantee that you will soon be singing along with the chorus and petitioning Chief Elephant to get this released as a single. This is an album which is just plain fun to listen to, and Simon firmly nails his prog credentials to the wall by closing the album with one song that is more than twenty-six minutes long, and one that goes past thirteen. In many ways it is a very modern album, also looking back into the Eighties and Nineties, bringing together multiple commercial styles with pop and prog to create something that is a load of fun, and never takes itself too seriously. The delicate emotional piano of the title song counterpoints what has gone before, and if ever an album deserves multiple plays it is this one as every time I have listened to it I have gained something else. When the debut album was released, BEM was very much in its infancy, but now is easily one of the most important prog labels around, so let’s hope that this release gains the kudos and publicity it deserves, as this is a delight.
8/10 by Kev Rowland