New rock trio Silverthorne tear the sky wide open

Many years ago now, when Thunder had reconvened following a split I’d gone to see them play on their comeback UK tour. Along for the ride were a young trio, who went through several names before settling on ‘Winterville’, led by a blonde singer/guitarist from the North East named Peter Shoulder. He’d garnered praise from Thunder’s own frontman Danny Bowes, and it was easy to see why after seeing this band perform. I distinctly remember them coming on to indifference, and after gradually grabbing the ears of punters there only to see Harry’s boys do their stuff, went off to huge cheers. It was largely down to Shoulder’s vocal, the sort of soulful bluesy delivery that evoked memories of a young Coverdale, but with his own slant.

Winterville only got to make one album before splitting themselves, however Shoulder wasn’t idle for long. He teamed up with Thunder’s Luke Morley to form The Union, who released three albums in the first half of this decade to critical acclaim. However, this came after Thunder had once again called it a day, and it was noticeable at The Union gigs how many Thunder t-shirts were in evidence, suggesting their fans still weren’t quite ready to let that band go. Morley took the hint, reuniting once more with his Thunder mates and they have continued to more success. Meanwhile, save for a low-key acoustic tour a few years ago, Peter Shoulder had apparently disappeared off the radar. Until now – when he reappeared with a new rock trio, featuring bassist Daniel Spree and a certain Brian Tichy on drums. The Tichy link quite possibly came about when The Union opened for Whitesnake a few years ago (while Tichy was a member of Coverdale’s outfit), nonetheless this was quite a surprise when announced, with a teaser for a new song ‘Tear The Sky Wide Open’. That song and video were released fully on 12 August 2019, and they promise more to come soon.

On the evidence of this one song, it sounds like the North East man has got his mojo back in a big way. The track is very reminiscent of Winterville, with that heavy electric guitar sound once more to the fore, alongside that distinctive voice adding the touch of class. With the mighty Tichy driving it all along this looks to be a must-see band for 2020 if they make it over to the UK (Shoulder is now based in LA alongside Tichy and the unknown – to me, at least – Spree).  I’ve no idea whether they have a full album’s worth of material yet, so it may be that they play as support to another band. Either way, I look forward to getting reacquainted with the guys soon – or newly acquainted, in the case of their bassist!

Silverthorne Facebook Page

4 - deserving

4 – Deserving

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Caught Live: The SoapGirls, Live Rooms Chester 28th July 2019

The South African ‘revolt rock’ sisters came to Chester on a wet and windy Sunday night in this unassuming looking venue close to the city’s railway station. They’d been allocated the smaller bar stage as opposed to the larger main stage, but that’s probably suitable for the trio (including their touring drummer Sam Ogden) as they’re used to this kind of setting, as they continue their seemingly relentless gigging schedule. This was the first chance I’d had to see the Soapies since the release of their fourth album ‘Elephant In The Room’, meaning they had the CD available to buy on the night. They have been playing several tracks from it at their gigs for some time however, so these songs are already well established in the minds of their followers, dubbed the ‘SoapSuds’.

There were three acts on the bill tonight, and things got under way with Spam Javelin. A trio who dress in what looks like posh Christmas wrapping paper (!), they specialise in short, snappy and speedy numbers touching on a variety of offbeat subjects. Some of these last little more than a minute! They weren’t on long but it felt like an intense workout just watching, such is the ferocity of their delivery. Next up were Saltwater Injection, a duo of a drummer/vocalist and a bassist, who play what cannot be described as drum & bass! The bassist had a heavy distorted sound, while the drummer thrashed about while delivering some disconcerting screams and roars. Energetic as it was, it was a bit atonal for my rather traditional tastes (in other words, I kinda like a song I can remember!)

Whatever else is said about the SoapGirls, one thing that they definitely do well is pen a catchy ditty. For all the controversy about their look (once again, they performed in little more than body paint and lingerie) they do have a knack for a pop hook amongst their own guitar assault. Bassist/singer Camille ‘Mille’ Debray declared from the outset that they were about freedom of expression, and anyone who didn’t agree could leave (or words to that effect!) She sounded a little hoarse, something she did acknowledge before getting things underway with ‘Ex-Girlfriend’ from the latest album. It is Mille who draws most of the attention, with her penchant for either bending over backwards or doing the splits while still playing her bass, while guitarist/singer Noemie ‘Mie’ Debray focuses on smiling at the punters while splitting their heads with that buzzsaw of a guitar. Mie has taken a more prominent vocal role of late, allowing Mille to astonish those present with  her gymnastic acts. How she does that while never missing a beat is beyond my comprehension, though if you can look beyond the antics you will see an accomplished four-stringer.

I’d seen them twice before already this year, and on this occasion they opted not to do the ‘One Eyed Willy’ drinking challenge (a dubiously-decorated bottle containing an alcoholic cocktail, which they challenge an audience member to drink) or any of their usual slapstick stunts, focusing instead on playing the music. The set concentrated on the current album (I particuarly liked ‘Bitter’; hard rock but with that pop element to lodge in the mind) but there were some oldies from the two previous records played too, including ‘Sam’s On Crack’, ‘Society’s Rejects’ as well as ‘Bloody’, ‘Hater’ and of course ‘Champagne Cocaine’ from their first independently-released album (second overall),  ‘Calls For Rebellion’. As is so often the case, they got several people up on stage with them to ‘help’ on ‘Bad Bitch’, the song which got them played on Planet Rock – albeit in heavily censored form!

They’ve been touted as the ‘next big thing’ for a couple of years now, and as is so often the case they do win over new people. I overheard more than one first-timer speaking to Mille afterwards telling her, Mie and drummer Sam Ogden how much they enjoyed the show. They believe in doing it the old-fashioned way, with a strong gigging schedule and playing to whoever makes the effort to come along. If I’m honest, I’d have expected them to have been playing bigger stages (such as the main stage here) by now, but they’ll get there eventually even if it means no compromise whatsoever in their beliefs.  Recommended that you take the chance to see the SoapGirls live should they rock up anywhere within reach.

5gtrs

5 – Delightful

The SoapGirls Facebook Page

Saltwater Injection Facebook Page

Spam Javelin Facebook Page

Caught Live: Danny Vaughn, Tivoli Venue Buckley 21st July 2019

The guy who blew the whistle on the PledgeMusic scandal at the start of the year came to North Wales, to play a selection of songs from an album he nearly had pulled from underneath him. Thanks largely to an understanding – and fiercely loyal – fanbase built up over many years the Tyketto singer was able to get his solo album ‘Myths, Legends And Lies’ completed and pressed despite being one of many artists left in the lurch when the PledgeMusic bubble suddenly burst in January.  The album features many guest musicians including Chris Childs, bassist in both Tyketto and Thunder but for this tour, Vaughn has opted to tour solo with just his acoustic guitar. He’s no stranger to this format having done several tours with Dan Reed, so we had a good idea what to expect tonight.

The opener was another acoustic performer, who rejoiced in the name of Edd Case (!)
A Chester native, he gave a pleasant enough performance until the last song, a passionately and powerfully delivered number from the viewpoint of a soldier forced to fight battles at the whims of politicians. That point was made almost 50 years ago by Black Sabbath (‘War Pigs’) but the issue remains depressingly relevant all these decades on.

There’s little else I can say about Danny Vaughn; almost 35 years after he first came to the attention of UK rock fans as lead singer of Waysted, he remains at the very top of his game. He did indeed perform several songs from ‘Myths, Legends and Lies’ alongside a selection of tracks from across his back catalogue, taking in Tyketto, Vaughn (his eponymously-named early 2000s band) and even Waysted (a request from the audience for ‘Heaven Tonight’ was granted on the spot). All of which were delivered impeccably before what must be said was an audience of die-hards. I’ve said this before, but someone of his calibre really should be in arenas performing before far bigger crowds than this. When you see certain veteran bands playing in football stadia before huge crowds, and charging a pretty penny for the privilege it does jar, when you know those singers in those bands can’t hold a candle vocally to this fella. He did by my reckoning two hours of songs, interspersed with some tales from his life on the road, and with a setlist that he basically improvised on the spot. He changes it around from night to night, giving those who do follow him from show to show something different every time. Of course he ended with Tyketto’s ‘Forever Young’ before coming out to the merch table to sign CDs and posters for punters.

I’d love to know what his secret is, since he has retained his voice far better than many of the same vintage. Maybe he’s just taken better care of himself than others I could name, but whatever he does I hope he keeps on doing it for a while yet. I’ve seen the guy play many times, acoustically and with a full electric band and he has never disappointed once. On leaving the venue I encountered Tivoli manager Rokib looking happy, as he knew he’d witnessed an excellent show. The last time Vaughn played this place was over two decades ago with Tyketto, and even without the band he still raised the roof of this famous old nightclub. When he comes back in whatever guise, go and see.

5gtrs

5 – Delightful

Danny Vaughn Facebook Page

Album: The SoapGirls ‘Elephant In The Room’ (self-released)

The Debray sisters (bassist Camille ‘Mille’ and guitarist Noemie, or ‘Mie’, a.k.a. The SoapGirls), those two threats to all that is good, proper and decent have returned with their long-awaited new album ‘Elephant In The Room’. They’ve billed it as their third album but it’s actually their fourth, if we include their 2011 (pop-orientated) major-label release ‘Xperience’. That platter, a hit in their South African homeland, has now been put in the same cupboard under the stairs as Pantera’s first four albums however, since they made it when they were still teens, and had little to no influence on its content. This one then, is their third as independent artists, and if you have the two previous offerings (‘Calls For Rebellion’, 2015; ‘Society’s Rejects’, 2017) then you’ll know what to expect here.

As with the last two albums, there’s a saucy cover shot of the girls; that should please the Beavis and Butthead brigade (huhuhuh – the girls themselves find the cartoon duo funny) but will doubtless reinforce the prejudice against them from certain quarters. What their detractors are missing however, is that there is no sleazy record executive ‘encouraging’ them to dress (or not, as the case may be!) provocatively, there’s no outside influence at all. Their look, and musical direction is all their own; they set out to please themselves first and if you like it, that’s great but if not, that’s fine too. All they ask is that they be allowed to be themselves; they’re not changing their style for anybody. Anyway, cover photos matter little once you’ve got the music playing, and as this album has been played in the car for pretty much the past week, we’ll talk no more of their image and focus on the sounds.

Cover image 'Elephant In The Room' by the SoapGirls

Cover image ‘Elephant In The Room’ by the SoapGirls

‘One Way Street’ picks up where they left off with the last album, that insistent drum beat and jagged guitar riff is present and correct. It’s Mie who takes lead vocal on this number, Mille coming in on the choruses with the two blending nicely in the pre-chorus. That is one of several tracks that will be familiar already to the Soapsuds, as it’s been played live over the past year. ‘Bitter’ continues the pace, but has a gentler guitar intro more akin to post-punk than hard rock, and with a harmonised chorus of ‘Not My Fault You’re Bitter’. The riff in the verses to this one made me think of Michael Jackson’s ‘Beat It’!

Though there’s plenty of the usual Soap tropes with lyrics dealing with their various trials and tribulations, heavy guitar, F-bombs dropped all over the place and that vocal combination of the raucous Mille and the sweeter sound of Mie, there are a few new wrinkles this time around too. For one thing the production on this record is a noticeable step up from the last two records, the grungy riffs are still there (‘Chains’ is as heavy as anything, and ‘In The Name Of God’ has a guitar sound Queens of the Stone Age would cast envious ears to) but the overall sound is that much sharper, clearer. For another, this time around they’ve introduced their brother (Redd-Valentino Debray) who features on ‘My Development’. An angry riposte against a neighbour who objected strongly to the band’s rehearsing, it is prefaced by Mie presumably relaying the tirade they were subjected to, before Redd delivers a rap/rant of his own in the verses. Redd is also credited on ‘Sugar Gets You High’, a typical Soapy rocker combining that buzzsaw guitar with Buggles-style ‘oh-oh’ vocals. This one has a particularly catchy chorus which suggests they haven’t totally left their pop credentials behind them; I could imagine that fitting in on radio if only they wouldn’t put those oh-so offensive electric guitars all over it (!)

Another ‘first’ is on ‘I Stand Alone’; this one’s actually preceded by a spoken introduction from Mille, actually stating outright that a certain person tried to split them up, mess up (or words to that effect!) their lives. She then tells the unnamed individual *exactly* what she thinks of whoever it was, before the main song kicks in. Even when it ends she hasn’t finished, all but shredding her throat with yet more anger directed at that particular miscreant! ‘Ex-Girlfriend’ has a guitar intro reminiscent of Madchester/indie, but once it kicks in it’s business as usual with the combination of savage guitar and catchy choruses, while ‘Fade To Black’ has no connection with Metallica but is built on a guitar riff that had me think of ‘Save Tonight’, for those who remember 1990s one-hit wonder Eagle-Eye Cherry!

Their albums are traditionally lengthy affairs, usually consisting of around 16 or 17 tracks but they’ve upped the ante a bit this time, presenting the album on two discs and adding two bonus songs: reworked versions of ‘One Way Street’ and ‘Sugar Gets You High’, with the verses sung in French. Although that’s actually their native language (they’re French-born although raised in SA) this is another first so far as I’m aware.

If you’re already on the Soapbox then you will like this album, it’s better-produced but it is still travelling along the ‘rebellion rock’ direction of the two albums which came before. Those who haven’t been won over yet probably won’t be with this record, it’s unapologetically as hard-hitting and as defiantly provocative as before. The record was initially released digitally but if you get along to one of their UK or European gigs from this point on they should have the CD available for you to buy and get signed, in their inimitable fashion!

The SoapGirls Facebook Page

4 - deserving

4 – Deserving

Caught Live: Chasing Dragons/The Loved and Lost/Fear Me December, Percy’s Cafe Bar Whitchurch 13th July 2019

A particularly severe case of ‘Same Night Syndrome’ hit on this night when there was a choice of multiple gigs all within reach. Sadly I couldn’t make any of this year’s SOS Festival in Prestwich (a good – and reasonably priced – event featuring local and national bands held over a weekend), and also on this night Lancaster nutters Massive Wagons were headlining a multi-band bill themselves over at Chester’s Live Rooms. Meanwhile, however, I plumped for this lower-key gig in Whitchurch, mainly because I wanted to see Midlands Metallers The Loved and Lost, a band I haven’t seen live in too long.

The other thing which swung it Percy’s way was simply because it’s free entry to the gigs at this small but interesting bar, with its stage setup in an adjoining courtyard. As is usual with me I arrived moments before events got under way, with opening band Fear Me December coming on just as I got my (soft) drink and took up my spot. Although based in Manchester, the core members are originally from Argentina, but supplemented by a rhythm guitarist and a bassist who looked familiar, but it took me a while to identify that it was Freddy Spera from Novacrow on the low end. Normally he’s completely unrestrained live, but with this outfit he restricted himself to a few brief stomps, leaving the small stage clear for singer Victoria. She had me worried throughout her headbanging, coming perilously close to smashing her head into the box set up at the front for her to stand on. She didn’t do that thankfully, and their short set got a good reception from those assembled on the courtyard.

Fear Me December at Percys

Fear Me December at Percys

Next up were The Loved and Lost, following a quick changeover. They had a slight change to their line-up for this show, with regular bassist Jack Bates unavailable the Worcester foursome brought in Becky Moore for this date. The left-handed Becky slotted in alongside guitarist Dan Fletcher and drummer Sam Ward perfectly, as the band ran through their repertoire of prog-metal from their two EPs released to date. Frontwoman Jordan Quinn enjoyed herself immensely, seemingly singing with a permagrin throughout. Speaking to the bassist afterwards I learned they’d had just two rehearsals prior to this date, she was excellent and you’d have been forgiven for thinking she was an integral part of this outfit. For me their best song is ‘Drag Me Down’; the new material they’re presently cooking up will hopefully be in this vein.

Closing things were Chasing Dragons, a new band to me but not to the more switched-on, two of their songs are in Primordial Radio’s system for instance. Not knowing a thing about them I had no expectations, but the minute I heard vocalist Tank she won me over. They’re a melodic Metal band with a nimble-fingered guitarist in Adam Smith and bassist Murf, driven along by drummer Katie Bullock. But the heavily tattooed Tank was the standout, one of the best singers I’ve heard on this circuit in many a year, and with an engaging stage presence too. With her up front they have more than a fighting chance of making a jump to bigger stages before very much longer, she’s that good a singer. Their set included both Primordial-listed tracks, ‘Like Gravity’ and ‘Broken Jaws’, and they got a great reception from the Percy’s crowd. I was sufficiently impressed to get two of their CDs, and I’ll definitely look for these again.

All in all a fine night of Metal down at Percy’s, a venue well worth checking out as they often have some good bands play in this tiny courtyard.

4 - deserving

4 – Deserving

Fear Me December Facebook Page

The Loved And Lost Facebook Page

Chasing Dragons Facebook Page

Caught Live: Ryan Hamilton and the Harlequin Ghosts (with The Amorettes), Waterloo Music Bar Blackpool 22nd June 2019

Much as I would love to say I came along to check out a band I’d never heard of before, that’s only partially true. I had only heard of this band a few days prior, but the impulse decision to come to this show was based on the fact that The Amorettes were support. The band as we knew it actually split earlier this year with the departure of the McKay sisters (drummer Hannah and bassist Heather) leaving singer/guitarist Gill Montgomery to rebuild. In one of those strange coincidences you get from time to time, at around the same time Aussie trio Tequila Mockingbyrd had just parted company with their own singer/guitarist. So, two bands of a similar style, one needing a rhythm section and the other needing a frontwoman, it only made sense that these should join forces especially since it was heavily suggested by fans of both bands that this should happen. The hybrid Tequila Amorettes have announced they’ll honour previously booked dates by both, and in addition to this they have just expanded the live line-up to a foursome with the addition of second guitarist Laurie Buchanan.

As it turned out this was only the second full show performed by the new line-up, at this converted pub in the southern end of Blackpool. A dedicated rock bar and live venue with a reasonably big stage and a decent viewing area for a pub, this was also only the second time I’d ventured to this place for a gig this year. The T-Byrd/Amorettes came on led by drummer Josie O’Toole, who sat at her kit and just slammed it for the next hour. Any concern that this merged band wouldn’t be quite the same was soon dispelled as the T-byrds drove along this material with just as much oomph as the McKay sisters did, powering through a set of around ten songs – all of which were designed to get fists pumping and heads shaking. O’Toole really has some motor in her, giving it the beans and locking in superbly with bassist Jacinta Jaye. The addition of a second guitarist proved to be useful mid-set when Montgomery lost the low E string of her guitar while playing, she demonstrated impressive dexterity in getting the errant string off while still singing her lines! The fact she had a rhythm guitarist covering the parts helped of course but it was amazing to see her playing, singing and being guitar tech all at the same time. Proof that women are much better at multitasking than we fellas, then (!)

I’m not sure whether this arrangement will continue beyond the tours booked for both acts, but if you go to see either ‘The Amorettes’ or ‘Tequila Mockingbyrd’ this year you’ll get these four ladies, and you’ll get a hard-hitting, hard-rocking set in either case. I’d hope that this line-up will carry on past this year, whichever name they choose to go with as the Aussie pairing fitted in like they’d always been there. I see no reason why they can’t play a set combining the two band’s songs whether they continue as The Amorettes or Tequila Mockingbyrd. Excellent stuff and we hadn’t had the main act yet!

When you’ve not heard a note from a band before seeing them for the first time it’s difficult to write much about them, so to cut to the chase I did enjoy Ryan Hamilton and the Harlequin Ghosts, but it took me a few numbers to get into it. All of the band came on wearing suits and ties, Hamilton himself also in a hat, and they played a set which to me was like a harder Blackberry Smoke with added infusions of humour. A five-piece band with a potent lead guitarist in Dave Winkler, and Carol Hodge on keyboards and backing vocals, rounded out by drummer Mickey Richards and bassist Rob Lane, I’d assumed that because Hamilton is American (Texan, to be exact) that the rest of the band were too. Not so, all bar Hamilton are British and between songs, he made much of the cultural differences between his country and ours. He had this crowd give several ‘yeeeeehaaaawww’ chants, much to his amusement, and made many jokes about British slang words not known in the US. In addition, he was amused to have it pointed out what the acronym of their latest album ‘This Is The Sound’ spelt out (has anybody mentioned this to Swiss prog-metallers Cellar Darling, by the way?) 😀

Though there is a clear country influence to their sound (Hamilton himself does sound like Charlie Starr vocally) they’re probably a bit too far over to the rock side to appeal to country fans, not that this mattered to a pretty decent crowd, all of whom had me at a disadvantage since they all knew this stuff!

I’d certainly go and see these again if they came near me, but it was the Amorettes now powered by Tequila (Mockingbyrd) which led me to jump in the car and head up the M6, and I look forward to seeing more of this merger in the near future.

Ryan Hamilton and the Harlequin Ghosts Facebook page

The Amorettes Facebook Page

Tequila Mockingbyrd Facebook Page

 

4 - deserving

4 – Deserving

DORJA release new single/video ahead of full album release

A year after international hard rock collective DORJA issued their debut album (‘Gemini’) to crowdfunders they are finally ready to release the record officially this month. Gearing up for that, they’ve already put out two tracks online complete with promo videos, firstly ‘Chainbreaker’ and now the title track ‘Gemini’ has come out.

The video for ‘Gemini’ (directed by Dan Coffey) sees the various band members in low key lighting, performing against a black background alongside reflections of themselves, while vocalist Aiym Almas is shown flicking through and then dropping Polaroid photos, which are later revealed to be portraits of the band members themselves. Also there’s another scene showing the singer conducting a ‘photo shoot’ with the rest of the band, which was of interest to a camera geek like me, since they were using what looks to me like a vintage Bronica SQ-A medium format camera. Their earlier video for ‘Chainbreaker’ utilised on-stage footage intercut with scenes from the road, with the studio recording soundtrack up until the final minute where it segues into the band actually performing live, getting the crowd to chant ‘DOR-JA’ as they did during this number when I saw them last year.

Also released recently was a stripped-back version of ‘Use You’; described as ‘acoustic’ although both guitarist Sarah Michelle and bass player Becky Baldwin are using their regular instruments, this shows the quintet in a relaxed, informal setting with three of them on a sofa (!), while drummer Anna Mylee is sat playing the cajon.

‘Gemini’ will see a full release on 21st June 2019; as one of the crowdfunders I got my copy a year ago and have reviewed it here. Following this the band are looking to play a run of dates in the UK and Europe around August; when they come around I shall be in attendance.

http://www.dorjaband.com

 

Album: Holly Henderson ‘Monday Green’ (Trend & Chaos)

I heard her first before I saw her. Four years ago in Liverpool, having just joined an all-girl band Holly Henderson introduced herself with a mighty blast of rhythm guitar, before stepping onto the stage (somewhat tentatively) to join the others. She was performing under a stage name then, but she elevated that group single-handedly, bringing not just looks but a feisty attitude, as well as a mastery of her instrument well beyond her years (she was just 19 at the time).

Even then it was clear she was going to go much further than playing rhythm guitar for a touring cover band; when not playing live she was also putting out home-recorded demos on YouTube, of her own material as well as some selected covers of artists who influenced her. These demos were eventually collected into an EP, released online (‘Opium Drip’, 2016), but by the time that had happened her home recordings had caught the ear of Pete Thorn, a Canadian guitarist and producer based in Los Angeles who has recorded with many ‘names’ in the industry. He established contact with her and after hearing her cover of David Bowie’s ‘Lazarus’, he did something remarkable: he invited her over to Los Angeles to record a full album in his studio, with some of his fellow professionals, furthermore he actually paid for the plane ticket himself!

Holly Henderson 'Monday Green' cover photo

Holly Henderson ‘Monday Green’ cover photo

The album was mostly recorded in early 2017, with finishing touches added later that year but only now is the complete album seeing the light of day. In the meantime Holly has gone on to release two more EPs (‘Desert Wax’, 2017; ‘Rust’, 2018), venturing into a more electronic style, as well as appearing on sessions for other artists. When I finally got my hands on this completed album (it is only available digitally at the moment, either for streaming or purchase) I was a little concerned that because I’ve got to know Holly over the past few years, even travelling down to her home town of Maidstone on two separate occasions just to see her perform material from this album live, I might have become a little too ‘invested’ in this project to give it an objective appraisal. Hence, it has had a LOT of play over the past few days; on constant play in the car or via the download I got from Google Play (other platforms are available!) before putting fingers to laptop keyboard.

Opening with ‘Uncommon Love’, a co-write with Pete Thorn, this number sets the tone with a quietish opening before the guitars are unleashed. You’d expect a good portion of guitar when you’ve got a highly-regarded six-stringer as producer, and axe fans aren’t going to be disappointed here. It’s not a hard rock or Metal project by any stretch of the imagination, but rockers will find much to savour here. ‘We Sold The Earth’ is one I do know from her live performances, in which she laments the fact that almost everything on Earth is the property of huge corporations (‘We sold the Earth and all its creations, all its colours‘).

What’s clear from this album as opposed to her home-recorded work is that her voice is much more prominent here. She didn’t previously consider herself a singer; whereas before she’d multi-track her vocals heavily or swamp her voice in effects, that’s been pared back on this album, allowing her voice to find an identity, as opposed to a choir of Hollys. That’s down to Pete Thorn, who encouraged her to use her voice much more, as is evidenced on ‘Somebody Knows’ and lead-off single ‘Loneliness’. The latter is an immediately catchy, instantly memorable uptempo rocker that is a sure-fire radio favourite, if radio is savvy enough to pick up on it that is! ‘Pride Can Wait’ was also released ahead of the full album, and this is a completely different kettle of fish. A quieter number not too far removed from her ‘Opium Drip’ material, the production on this song is lush and showcases what a gorgeous voice she has. It builds up into a power ballad with the guitars gradually coming to the fore.

The next track ‘Doldrums’ is my personal favourite of the album, another slow-burner like ‘Pride Can Wait’ which reminds me a little of Radiohead (another of her influences). Again, her voice is allowed to shine, with layers only used where necessary. This is probably the most ‘prog’ track on the album, with the song eventually breaking into a fantastic guitar solo at around the two minute 30 mark. Breathtaking. How do you follow that? Why, with a song about a ‘bad Tinder date’ of course! ‘Ghost of Denmark Street’ was influenced by a real-life encounter and features a half-spoken vocal over a prominent bass line, with an acerbic lyric recounting how that date didn’t exactly go as hoped! Once again, she delivers a searing guitar solo to go with the line of ‘Little psycho boy, I wanna take you home‘ (the song was originally titled ‘Psycho’ when performed live.)

‘Your Hands’ (which originally featured on ‘Opium Drip’) comes next. Here it has been shortened, tightened up, with a cleaner sound once again bringing Holly’s voice further up but retaining the killer guitar solo at the end. What I take from listening to this song and the album as a whole is how good the production is; it could so easily have ended up as a Pete Thorn album featuring Holly Henderson, but not a bit of it. He’s subtly, but effectively brought the best out of her, sharpening her sound and giving her a platform to showcase her immense talent, but without taking anything away from who she is. That is also down to the other players on the album; it must have been a privilege to play alongside top talent such as bassist Jon Button (currently touring with The Who) and drummer Blair Sinta who has performed with world-renowned names such as Chris Cornell and Stevie Nicks among many others.

‘Cost of Love’ will probably have you singing ‘Roxanne’ over its Police-style guitar riff, with some memorable lines (‘the heat always rises in the cracks in the council house window‘ and ‘you crushed my conscience and you took it like a drug; now the world is on fire and our leaders are drunk‘). Another uptempo number which would sound great on radio, once again if the powers that be are actually paying attention! Closing number ‘Frantic’ once again starts off with gently tinkling guitar, and on this occasion Holly has deployed the layered vocal to introduce the main body of the song. It’s this song which provides the background to the cover image of Holly playing guitar sat on the loo – she actually recorded the guitar part for the pre-chorus in the bathroom to get the desired sound! I suppose it’s not quite Deep Purple in the Grand Hotel but y’know, the end justifies the means! This one has a huge chorus sound which is likely to stick in the mind after the album finishes. Unless of course you play the whole thing over again (!)

As said earlier I was wondering whether the fact I have got to know Holly as a friend would impact on my thoughts on this record. but there is no doubt about what a well-produced, well-recorded set this is. If she didn’t have the writing and playing talent to start off with no amount of production sheen would hide it, but she has it all in her locker. What Pete Thorn and his players have provided is the sharp focus to make sure that talent gets recognised. This album was well worth waiting for, and what’s worth remembering is that this material is two to three years old. A lot’s happened since then, and this is one of the few artists I know where I honestly don’t know what to expect from her next. The genuinely exciting thing is that unlike some so-called ‘alternative’ acts who have gotten huge by sticking to what works, by ‘staying inside the box’, Holly has a whole collection of boxes, of different shapes, sizes and colours to choose from, so what will follow from this album is a mystery to me. But I am looking forward to finding out!

‘Monday Green’ (a pun title, based on ‘mondegreen’ or misheard song words) is everything I’d hoped for and more besides. Despite being close to this whole thing in so far as having followed her journey from backing musician in a cover band to her recording in LA with some of the best in the business, I’ve no other option than to award the full five inflatable guitars. Sadly for Holly, they’re not inflatable Telecasters though!

5gtrs

5 – Delightful

www.hollyhendersonmusic.com

Album: Desensitised ‘Sister Psychosis’ (Sound-Hub)

In this day and age when pretty much all the media outlets are controlled by a handful of huge corporations, and only those who are carefully selected and vetted by the ‘gatekeepers’ get to be presented to the masses gift-wrapped for their adulation, it’s good to know that you still can get to hear of a band by old-fashioned word of mouth. My first encounter with Desensitised came two years ago, at a birthday bash organised by a fellow gig-going friend, who’d seen this band several times and booked them to play (also performing at that event was Lauren Tate from Hands off Gretel, another band I found out about from the grapevine).

Desensitised album cover 'Sister Psychosis'

Desensitised album cover ‘Sister Psychosis’

That night, they were playing acoustically and without any drums; I’ve since seen them numerous times plugged in, electric and untamed and so I was looking forward to hearing this first full album from the trio. They have a following of mainly punk fans, but this album does cover a few bases in its eight tracks.  Opening track ‘Emily’ is a typically energetic piece of power pop, about a girl of ‘beauty beyond belief’ who is also ‘eaten up by jealousy’. The punkier ‘You’ll See’ (a previous single) keeps the energy levels high, with meaty guitar from Libby Butters-Smith and a powerful roar from bassist/singer Charlotte Radford, with following tracks ‘All Eyes On Her’ and ‘Messed Around’ showing their knack for a catchy chorus.

Things ratchet up a notch with ‘Wasted’, with a pounding bass line and heavy guitar sound more akin to the hard rock of The Amorettes, then comes ‘I See Red’, a pogo-able number sounding like it could have come from the 1978 post-punk era. Penultimate track ‘Burn The Witch’ has also been previously released; a favourite of mine, it’s a slow, menacing track unlike pretty much everything that’s come before with Radford showing remarkable range to her voice, low rumbles in the verses and power in the choruses.

For all this however they saved the best until last; ‘He Loves Me Not’ is the archetypal acoustic ballad with which to close things. Radford’s vocal delivery on this one is spine-tingling, she shows here she’s no mere punk shouter but a singer of versatile talent. Indeed it is she who truly shines on this record; whenever I’ve seen the girls live it’s been glamorous guitarist Libby Butters-Smith who caught the attention with her untamed stage antics, reminiscent of Este Haim but on record, the bassist/singer comes across as a star waiting to be discovered. One other thing to note is the drum sound, a satisfyingly solid delivery from Claire Brookes and something that isn’t always evident on records from certain other bands with far higher budgets than Desensitised had.

I have only one real quibble with this album – it’s too damn short! At eight tracks, most of which are short and to the point, totalling 25 minutes, it’s certainly snappy but there’s a definite sense of being left wanting more; I found myself humming that melody from ‘He Loves Me Not’ almost immediately after it ended and it wouldn’t leave my head for some time after.

Charlotte, Libby and Claire can rightly be proud of this record, self-funded and released and already garnering acclaim. They’ve had airplay on Planet Rock’s New Rock Show and their gigs are now starting to draw in growing numbers of attendees, so it’s to be hoped they find their way to my part of the world before someone snaps them up to a major deal! Despite the brevity of this debut album, I will still award all five inflatable guitars.

5gtrs

5 – Delightful

Desensitised Facebook page

Album: Whitesnake ‘Flesh & Blood’ (Frontiers)

Cover art for Whitesnake 'Flesh & Blood'

Cover art for Whitesnake ‘Flesh & Blood’

Released 12 months later than scheduled, Whitesnake have finally issued their 13th studio album, Flesh & Blood. Available in multiple formats: as a straightforward CD,  a deluxe CD/DVD edition with bonus material (including two tracks not featured on the standard edition), digital download or for vinyl revivalists, you have a choice of red, silver or gold for your honest twelve inches of Whitesnake, or you can just have plain old black vinyl.  The first album of original material to feature the current line-up, it marks the first time mainman David Coverdale has written alongside long-serving guitarist Reb Beach, as well as with relative newcomer Joel Hoekstra.

Even the most ardent Whitesnake fan will accept now that Coverdale isn’t the singer he once was, that ‘lung-busting roar’ of yesteryear is now supplanted by a vocal blend, with Coverdale heavily backed on stage by every other member bar drummer Tommy Aldridge. For a guy who will be 68 this year though, he nevertheless must feel that he has something left to give since he still wants to produce new music, not just trot out the hits of three decades ago.

There are few surprises here, despite the new blood, though one does manifest itself in the very first number ‘Good To See You’. Coverdale has dropped an F-bomb on record for what I am sure is the first time (he’s notorious for using that word practically as punctuation when on stage), as he urges us all to ‘make some f- noise’.  All the usual tropes are present and correct, fun songs made for the stage (‘Shut Up And Kiss Me’; ‘Trouble Is Your Middle Name’) ones that promise he’ll be around ‘Always & Forever’, or those that show his sensitive side (‘When I Think of You’). That also means he’s used just about every one of his lyrical cliches at his disposal on this album; when not rhyming ‘fire’ with ‘desire’ he’s ‘tongue-tied’ with his ‘temperature rising’ or someone is making him ‘beg and plead’ yet again.  You could play lyric bingo with this album and get a full house of all his favourite phrases, which you’ve heard many times before on just about any previous Whitesnake record.

I did note that this line-up has managed to emulate successfully several different past eras, for instance second track in ‘Gonna Be Alright’ is reminiscent of Coverdale/Page with those brooding, menacing guitars hanging over proceedings. ‘Shut Up and Kiss Me’ meanwhile, could have come off ‘Slip Of The Tongue’ – perhaps that’s Reb Beach’s influence, he can do a pretty good Vai when required. The poppier ‘Always and Forever’, with its Lizzy-esque twin guitar will make you think of ‘Guilty of Love’, while closing number ‘Sands of Time’ is another attempt by Coverdale to recreate the epic magic of  Zeppelin’s ‘Kashmir’.  Even here though, he’s peppered the song with hackneyed clichés like ‘winds of change’, and ‘eye of the storm’.

Realistically, this late in the day Coverdale isn’t going to come out with a complete change of image and direction, you know what you’re getting with him by now. However I cannot be the only one who was tempted to throttle the speakers (or stomp on my earbuds, listening to it on Spotify for review purposes) when he came out with yet another promise to ‘set the night on fire’!

Even the cover art, another variation on the ‘amulet’ theme used for every album since 1987 is starting to look a bit hackneyed now. I’m all for brand identity and all that, but Whitesnake once used to give us fun, if sometimes risqué covers for their albums, not just the same old ‘Serpens Albus’ thing in a different colour and a slightly different pattern in the background for each record. So, a bit of a mixed bag; some good stuff (‘Heart of Stone’ is the highpoint of this whole record, that shows the man still has a good tune in him), some fine playing from the guys backing him and also a lot of recycling of old ideas and lyrical phrases we’ve heard many times before. If you’re a fan you’ve probably bought this album already; if you’re wavering then I’d give it a cautious ‘yes’ – but do get the deluxe edition, since the bonus tracks are (in my view) good enough to have been included on the album proper in place of at least two others which did make the cut. ‘Can’t Do Right For Doing Wrong’ is a slow-burner with some tasty guitar licks, while ‘If I Can’t Have You’ does have a surprise in it, with a Queen-style harmony vocal intro before the main riff smashes in.  These, plus ‘Heart of Stone’ means this offering squeaks four inflatable guitars.

4 - deserving

4 – Deserving