Category Archives: Album Reviews

Reasons To Be Thankful – Precious Gifts

I started out blogging, mostly about music, less than three years ago. Little did I imagine that a hobby I started as a creative outlet would give me so much pleasure and lead to the making of a huge number of new friends and a second career.

My site now sees around 30K visitors a week and has led to paid work as a writer.  More importantly to me is that i now get numerous requests from artists and musicians asking me to review their work.

I can’t possibly meet all these requests, especially during the summer months, but I am really honoured that people are prepared to put their work into my hands to ask for a review.  An artists work is an extension of their person, every note in every song took thought, creativity and a huge amount of work to create.  An artist trusting me to review their work fairly and objectively is a huge leap of faith.  Every time I listen to a new piece of work I am aware that I have been handed a truly precious gift, a piece of work that someone has poured their all into.

I try very hard to that each piece of work with the respect it deserves.  I listen to an album numerous times before finger meets keyboard and I try to only review things that resonate with me on some level.  If I hate something I recognise that others may love it, I know that my view is not going to be shared by some who read my writing.  It is hard to tell an artist you won’t review their work because you don’t connect with it.

I am so thankful that people like to read my work.  As any musician will tell you it is incredibly difficult to be heard in today’s music industry.  It is equally hard to build an audience for your writing.

That is why it is such an honour to see musicians sharing your posts and reaching out to thank you for a review.

If you want to write about music it takes endeavour but much more importantly it needs total honesty if you are to gain any sort of credibility.

This week is something of a case in point.  I am off to Europe’s best and biggest rock festival, Download, on Thursday.  I have been inundated with requests for interviews and coverage of bands performance at the festival.  Of all the bands I have asked to interview not a single one has turned me down (though I still await two responses).  Those I will be interviewing are amongst the biggest names in rock music and they have agreed to be interviewed by me.

I do realise that bands are keen for any sort of coverage that will help to keep their name out there, but that doesn’t stop me from feeling that I am blessed to be able to do “work” of this nature.

This has been a very very good week.

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Son Primo - My Ruin - Album Review

Son Primo – My Ruin – album review

Son Primo - My Ruin - Album ReviewSon Primo

My Ruin (Self Released)

CD/DL

Available now

Rating 8/10

I first came across Manchester alt-rock outfit Son Primo on last years excellent Charity album Bostin’ Days, a double album of covers of Levellers songs released to raise cash for the Devon Air Ambulance. Their cover of the Levellers “3 Friends” was excellent so I was looking forward to checking out the self released album My Ruin.

I guess the first thing to say about any self-release is a comment on the quality of the recording and Son Primo certainly score here because My Ruin is beautifully mastered and engineered and the cover art is superbly photographed.

Album opener “Stoner Daydreams” gives an instant feel of what you will experience for the following 45 minutes and nine-tracks.  The track is a grower and features soaring guitar riffs over Robby Edgar’s slightly gruff vocal.  The addition of keyboards halfway through the track adds both depth and texture to the track.  I felt that this track reminded me very much of the Kaiser Chiefs, it’s great stuff.

Son Primo - My Ruin - Album Review

Title track “My Ruin” stays in the same indie-rock vibe but this one reminded me of Snow Patrol.  It is a song of missed opportunities and regret, a reminder to look after your relationships whilst you can.  “Spun Out” gives us a change of pace as the baseline dominates the early part of the song before those guitar riffs kick in and take over.

As we hit the middle of the album two mighty songs kick in.  Both weighing in at over seven minutes “Tinted Eyes” and “Icarus Looking Skywards” are very much the backbone of the piece.  The former opens with a deep bass groove that builds slowly to the introduction of guitars as the pace of the track accelerates.  The track has the feel of a power ballad but the lyrics are far from a love ballad.  Instead it speaks of the futility of looking to others for validation and there is more than a hint of bitterness across the piece.

The latter has a more fanciful and experimental feel to it as the keyboards and strings give the track a more free and flighty vibe.  It feels contemplative and perhaps slightly introspective and it is totally absorbing, the sort of track where you lock into it and suddenly, despite being over seven minutes long, it is over.  It’s the kind of track that leaves you exploring time and again as you search for the hidden meaning that it hints at throughout.  It truly is a beautiful track, it is worth buying the album for this track alone.

“The One” almost delivers a shock after the previous track as we move to a much more aggressive vibe. It is one of the heavier tracks on the album and certainly adds a new dimension.  A dimension that is continued through the next track.

Album closer “Wasting Time” is perhaps the most out and out rock track on the piece, the slightly distorted guitar and vocal melds with syncopated drum rhythm which harks back to the golden days of rock music.

Overall My Ruin is a very good album, one which rewards repeated listens and one I anticipate will be on my playlist for quite some time to come.

Son Primo are on the Internet here: They are also on Facebook.

 

Stevie Simpson

Stevie Simpson – Some Days Are Diamond – album review

Stevie Simpson – Some Days Are Diamond [self release]Stevie Simpson

CD/DL

Available Now

8.5/10

Stevie Simpson has been playing regularly at motorcycle rallies and festivals all over the UK since 2000.  Working under the billing of  STEViE One Bloke One Mandolin, Simpson is a stalwart of the grassroots festival scene picking up new fans and new friends at every gig.  Alan Ewart checks out Simpsons fifth studio album for Louder Than War.

Stevie Simpsons new release is a complex collection of tunes so lets start with the basics.  Some Days Are Diamonds offers 11 track and weighs in at just under an hour in length.  The album is beautifully mastered and engineered and in typical Simpson style it is the vocal that carries the songs.  The music is stripped back, almost bare though in addition to Simpsons mandolin there is some banjo, guitar, fiddle and even keyboard playing a supporting role.

Stevie’s voice I guess would be described as gruff, it is gravelly and smokey.  Think Tom Waits crossed with Steve Earle and add a touch of Johnny Cash.  Like those wonderful artists Simpson is first and foremost a story teller and that voice tells the story of his life.  You can hear the joy, the pain, the good times and bad throughout the piece.

The opening track “Arrival USA” lets you know straight off that you are in for an emotional ride, the subject matter the Boston marathon bombing, the irony of Chechen brothers bringing terrorism to the streets of the nation that adopted them.  Simpson also draws on the irony of atrocities committed in the name of religion.

Dodge A Bullet is perhaps the most personal track on the album, dealing as it does with Simpson’s near fatal heart attack, his subsequent recovery and his determination to keep having fun whilst perhaps having to cut back on the excesses of youth  Stevie tells of partying through till dawn but now being more likely to be found drinking tea rather than whiskey.  Bring Me A Beer is the sort of bar-room tale that Tom Waits would be proud of.  It is the tale of the songwriter who is sat in a dark and smoky bar hugging a beer and writing songs that no-one will ever hear.  Like many of Waits songs it is part melancholia part hope and like Waits at his finest Simpson leaves you wondering.

Slaughter uses the trick of disguising a dark, disturbing and violent tale behind a bright, melodic and joyful “rag-time” piano.  The Mechanic and the title track are stories of life, travelling songs.  They are allegorical tales, the engines and motorcycle journeys tell the tale of Simpsons life.

Some Days Are Diamond is a truly excellent album.  It is enjoyable throughout but like all great music it improves with each listen and it rewards those who take the time to analyse and understand.  Those who take the time to look a little deeper, to explore beyond the obvious are those who will get the most from a lovely piece of work.

Gaz brookfield

Gaz Brookfield: True And Fast – album review

Acoustic Troubadour Gaz Brookfield is back with his fourth studio album.  In True And Fast Brookfield treats us to a collection of personal observations on life, love, politics, religion and the music industry.  As usual Brookfield lays himself bare for all to see.

Gaz Brookfield is one of the hardest working men in the music business.  It is far from unusual to see Brookfield perform 200 or more shows a year as he hauls himself up and down the highways and byways of our green and pleasant land in a never ending struggle to make a living from what can only be described as broken music industry.

Brookfield has built a loyal following, I have yet to meet someone who, having heard him play, hasn’t instantly become a fan.  You can’t help but like a man who works so hard at his art and who is prepared to allow you to look so deeply into his psyche through the medium of his songs.  As someone who has seen Brookfield perform on numerous occasions I was already familiar with some of the tracks on the album, something that in my view makes a review more difficult.

Brookfield’s strength as a songwriter is his ability to take seemingly banal observations on everyday life and turn them into a song.  On True and Fast Gaz tells us about his ongoing struggles with his not so trusty old van Ozzy, so called because it’s “always fucked.”  In typical Brookfield style the seemingly superficial hides a deeper truth as Gaz tells Ozzy, “you mend me when I mend you.”  Followers of Brookfield’s music will know that he has struggled with depression and his life on the road is both cause and cure.

Gaz’s constant touring is a recurrent theme in his songs and he hints at a desire to put down more permanent roots in “Sailor Jerry’s Kitchen” and in the album closer “Cornish Fishing Town.”  The theme is unsurprising for a man who is shortly to marry and yet Brookfield admits that his ideal home would have a “festival back garden” complete with a stage and a fire-pit.

In both “Just A Ride” and “Godless Man”  Gaz contemplates his own mortality and his struggles with religion, not an easy subject for someone brought up in a religious family.  Diabetes Blues reveals Brookfield struggles in coming to terms with the condition, especially given that cider is now off the menu.

Throughout the piece Gaz remains honest, self deprecating and humorous, though he has not above an acerbic sideswipe at the government and the music industry.  Solo Acoustic Guy may seem like a bit of self-deprecating humour but it also lays open the injustice of promoters and festival organisers who expect musicians to play for free or for “exposure.”

Brookfield demonstrates his fierce independence throughout the album.  With the exception of the banjo and steel guitar on “Mud and Rainbows” and fiddle parts by long time friend and collaborator Ben Wain, Gaz plays all the instruments himself.  In my view Brookfield is underrated as a guitarist, his ability to mix styles seamlessly is an art and he is extremely proficient at doing so.

True And Fast contains half a dozen tracks that are the equal of anything that Brookfield has produced in the past and both Knights of the Round Table and Cornish Fishing Town are amongst his very best work.  The album is a grower, repeated listens reward us by revealing the hidden subtleties in the songs.

What I find most appealing in all of Brookfield’s work is that he delivers a sometimes damning social commentary, always honestly, often painfully but always in a way that offers forward hope for the future.  There is a resounding positivity in Brookfield’s work that is amply illustrated in Diabetes Blues when he sings “so from cider I’ll abstain, i’ll do my best not to complain, and after all there is always single malt.”

True And Fast is another fine offering from Brookfield, another gem of an album from a man whose enthusiasm, hard work and gifted songwriting deserves every success.

Embracer – Mend – EP review

Embracer – Mend [Take This To Heart Records]Embracer - mend

Download [Free]

Available Oct 09

I have to confess that when I am sent music to review I tend not to read the accompanying record Company or PR blurb.  This is especially true if I am not familiar with the band.  I prefer to listen without pre-conceptions.  As a result I confess that this has lead to some real surprises, some of them not exactly pleasant at that.

So it proved with Embracer’s latest offering, Mend.  Of course those who have been reading these pages for a while know that here at Sound Of Summer we only review music that we connect with.  When I first spoke to the lovely people at Take This To Heart Records I checked out a few of the bands on their label on YouTube and found that most had a punk, post-punk or hardcore leaning so when I sat down to listen to this EP I expected to have my eardrums assaulted.  I had also spotted that Embracer had been on the Vans Warped Tour so I most certainly did not expect what I actually got.

There may only be three track on this release but they are beautiful.  I don’t mean just nice this is stripped back to the bone, acoustic, personal and heartbreakingly beautiful.  For the most part the sound is just vocalist Jordan Bradley and an acoustic guitar.  The vocal is simply stunning, pitch perfect and full of emotion as he tells his tales of broken families, absent fathers and broken hearts.  Where Bradley’s heart is on his sleeve mine was in my mouth, this is lump in the throat raw emotion, painful experience put to music.

I won’t try to provide a breakdown of each track it would be pointless.  In “Remission” Bradley sings about “being afraid to breathe and break the silence” and that is how this music grabbed me.  From first note to last I was enthralled, gripped and almost afraid to breathe for fear of breaking the spell that Bradley weaves with his voice.

This is music that leaves you emotionally exhausted, drained.  Dark, brooding, emotional and personal from beginning to end Mend gives a real insight into the bands songwriting skills and probably what is to come from Embracer.  I for one can’t wait for a full length release from this band.

~

EMBRACER is a five-piece outfit based out of Charleston, West Virginia. They are on Facebook, they Tweet as @Embracer

Check out Take This To Heart Records at their website, on Facebook, They Tweet as @T3Hrecords and you can check out other artists signed to the label on their YouTube channel

Bullet For My Valentine

Bullet For My Valentine – Back With Venom

There was a time not that long ago when we thought that Bullet For My Valentine were going to kick on to become one of the most important rock bands on the planet.  Described variously as hard rock, heavy metal or metal core, this was a band who were Kerrang’s best British Band three times and who won the best live band award in 2010.  Their 2008 album Scream Aim Fire was an absolute monster of an album, 2010’s Fever didn’t quite hit the heights of its predecessor.

Then what happened?  Well frankly Bullet For My Valentine lost focus, drifted into side projects and in 2013 pushed out Temper Temper an album that even die-hard fans would accept was at best mediocre.  Fast forward to 2015 and Bullet For My Valentine are back with a new offering – Venom.  The question is does Venom mark a return to form or is this the poison that will send them to the hidden hell of rock obscurity?

The Guardian, that well known bastion of quality writing on the metal genre, damns Venom with faint praise.  Dom Lawson says that Venom “does at least suggest that frontman Matt Tuck has embraced heavy metal in its bombastic entirety again.”  Lawson continues “where Venom does succeed is in the ferocity of its heavier moments, which while seldom straying from entry-level metalcore and thrash cliches, do at least sound like the work of a band who like metal enough to stop ruining it.”

Lawson does have a point.  Check out “Pariah”  the guitar wok is exemplary, heavy pulsing and threatening but you can barely hear the bass guitar in the mix and the lyrics rend towards the cliched.   Check out the video for “You Want A Battle” it shows huge promise, heavy guitar and Tuck’s screamed lyrics suggest some real energy and Venom, but what’s with the schoolboy choir?  Seriously!

The Evening Standard, like the Guardian sees Venom as a mixed bag.  John Aizlewood that Bullet For My Valentine “sound rejuvenated: howling, super-fast, riff-laden guitars thrash it out with Matthew Tuck’s hollered vocals and his emotionally repressed lyrics. It packs a punch, although Tuck’s bizarre insistence that anything resembling melody be removed is predictably self-defeating.”

Venom does mark something of a return to form for Bullet For My Valentine.  There are moments of real promise, ‘No Way Out’ and ‘Broken’ pack serious punch, they are heavy, meaty and aggressive, played with both energy and pace.  I really liked the album but I must say that it does have something of the feel of a band desperately trying to recover past glories rather than moving forward.

I will be seeing Bullet For My Valentine live in a small venue in October.  I will be interested to see how the new songs translate to the live arena. Perhaps by then Venom will have ingrained itself more deeply into my psyche, we shall see.

~

Bullet for my Valentine are on the internet here.  They are on Facebook and they Tweet as @BFMVOfficial 

Neck Deep

Neck Deep Back with Superb New Album: Life’s Not Out To Get You

Neck DeepBritish pop-punk outfit are back with their second album, Life’s Not Out To Get You, and I must say that after a few listens it is a pretty credible effort.  The Welsh five-piece have been around since 2012 and this album is a follow up to last years debut Wishful Thinking.

Kerrang call Life’s Not Out To Get You “incredible” and the pop-punk album of the year, all without offering even the simplest (and laziest) justification for their viewpoint.  It is perhaps articles like this that are responsible for the slow walk to death that music magazines are taking at the moment.

Sputnik music come over all fan-boy about “Life’s Not Out To Get You” but at least they present a strong rational for their 4.5/5 rating.

“Neck Deep has got the chops that has made them relevant in the punk scene that many say is fading. If these opinions have any factuality to their merit, than Neck Deep is just the band to swoop in and save the day” they say.

I have to agree that Life’s Not Out To Get You is a good album and it is very good in places.  There are lovely hooks, bags of drive and tons of energy throughout the album.  If you are a fan of bands like Green Day, All Time Low and Blink-182 you will love this album  It is clear that Neck Deep are comfortable and competent and the album keeps you engaged most of the time.

As DIY Magazine points out Life’s Not out To Get You is beautifully engineered and produced.  They describe the album as “as guiltily satisfying as you’d expect any feel-good, buoyant pop punk effort to be.”  Therein lies the problem for this old codger.  As someone old enough to have basked in the glories of the late 1970’s punk revolution I can’t help but feel that it’s all a little bit too nice.

Where is the anger, the angst and the bitterness?  Where is the shredding of guitar and the heavy bass lines that categorise the punk bands of old.  The very title of the album is a clue.  Sorry neck Deep but Life is out to get you and you better be ready to spit in it’s eye and kick it in the nuts when it does come.

Don’t get me wrong, Life’s Not Out To Get You is a long way from the safe bland and boring crap that dominates the charts at present, but I prefer my punk to be more punk than pop.  I prefer my punk to be angry and aggressive thats why Stray from The Paths Subliminal Criminal, also released yesterday is more likely to be in my headphones.

That said the new Neck Deep disc is a very enjoyable offering, a solid 7/10.  I am certain that it will win Neck Deep a lot of airplay on 6 music and expand their growing audience.  I look forward to hearing how some of the songs work out live when I see them at Reading festival in a couple of weeks time.