Single: DORJA ‘Far Gone’ (download-only)

Those DORJA girls are adept at generating a buzz alright, with the release of their latest single ‘Far Gone’ after a lengthy teaser campaign involving cover art, snippets of the track and a brief taster of the accompanying video all leaked to social media over the past few weeks. The track itself is the first to feature new guitarist Sarah Michelle, who joined in the summer shortly before the group played a series of UK dates. One of those gigs was a return to PKD Festival, held in Scotland and where DORJA made such an impression upon that event’s organisers in 2016, that they booked the band again immediately for the following year. Footage from their 2017 appearance has been used for their promo video, which is linked at the bottom of this post.

‘Far Gone’ has been part of their live repertoire for some time; I saw them play it back in March, yet was only recorded in the summer while all the members were in the UK. The song is a blues-influenced hard rocker in their now-familiar style, gently led in by Sarah Michelle’s opening guitar and Aiym Almas’s throaty vocal, before the powerchords kick in, in true Whitesnake tradition (‘Break me, or take me as I am, I’m not giving in’). The arrangement is similar to the live rendition save for the absence of the brief drum solo – but they have simply replaced one Zeppelin nod with another, with ‘Whole Lotta Love’-styled atmospherics in its place (kept short).

If you liked the material on the earlier ‘Target Practice’ EP then you should enjoy this too. It wouldn’t surprise me if it were to appear in physical form on a future EP as they have more material ready to go, and have been writing again since Sarah Michelle joined up. She is a perfect fit for this band, and I look forward to hearing how she influences the writing of their future material.

For now though, this will keep we Dorjians going until they reconvene for more live dates, which are planned for early 2018. With the membership scattered far and wide, they have to plan things long in advance, but they’re gaining a loyal following which should mean we see and hear a lot more from them in the coming year.

The video for the single is now available on youtube, to get a high-quality download of this track please click this link to go to their online store.

4 – Deserving

 

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EP: Holly Henderson ‘Desert Wax’ (self-released, download only)

When DORJA founding member, guitarist Holly Henderson announced her departure from the all-girl rock quintet earlier this year, one of the reasons she gave was that she was ‘still searching for her musical identity’. There always was more to her than meets the eye (or the ear); even while playing rhythm guitar in a touring covers band she had been writing her own music and putting up demos. The material she wrote herself was often very different from what she was doing in a band situation; she’d co-written three songs in a punky style for a previous band before contributing to the writing of all the material issued to date from DORJA (including that band’s imminent release ‘Far Gone’). Her own stuff however was drastically different; ranging from laidback, late-night listening to more rocking, but alternatively-styled music she has proven to be an artist willing to switch styles and genres, keeping her followers on their toes.

This EP (released in August 2017) is about as far removed as is possible to get from DORJA, it is a full-on dive into experimental, ambient electronic music. As such it was one I had to listen to on numerous occasions to even begin to get it, since I will cheerfully admit to being an unreconstructed, dyed-in-the-denim hard rocker totally set in my headbanging ways. That said, based on what I already know of Holly’s work I believe in her talent unconditionally, so whatever form her music takes I am willing to investigate. (I do not say that for many artists!)

Holly Henderson - Desert Wax

Holly Henderson – Desert Wax

‘Desert Wax’ is a concept EP, the storyline of which she has gone into in more detail about on her own site but is essentially about a group of people so disillusioned with society that they break away in search of their own space. The title track sets the tone, with layered, echoed vocals over an ambient backing track. Her vocal is drenched in effects, so that it becomes another colour on the palette. ‘Not’, the third track does appear to feature a guitar but don’t expect hard rock here – the idea is for this music to take you on a journey, and I found it best listened to as a whole, in one sitting, with headphones to get its full impact. If you’ve got an upmarket hi-fi and have the isolation in which to listen to this properly, you’re more likely to feel this music more deeply.

Standout track for me is ‘Safe Place’ in which Holly duets with herself using two different effects, (one deepened) on her voice to achieve a call-and-response type of song (“Take me to a safe place/I’ll take you to a safe place“).

Holly could probably come up with something distinctive even if you just gave her a paper and comb, but ‘Desert Wax’ shows her in a totally different light to what I’ve seen and heard of her before. If I’m completely honest I don’t think I’d let many other artists take me on the journey I found myself embarking on with this EP, it is so far outside my metallic comfort zone. Once over that mental hurdle however, I found this to be an engaging listen, with more than a hint of prog. She has that knack of drawing you in, just as she did with previous offering ‘Opium Drip’.

Holly Henderson has come a long way in a short time already, it’s almost impossible to believe that this is the same person who wrote three punk rock-styled tracks last year for an EP recorded by another band, but it’s true – she wrote that as well ūüėČ
She has however demonstrated a depth and range to her talent that will take her so much further, and with the release of her first full album of original material still to come, I see only a bright future for this Maidstone miss.

The ‘Desert Wax’ EP is available on CD Baby or Music Glue, as well as from all the usual outlets, and if you want to try for yourself a Spotify link is provided below:

4 – Deserving

 

 

The ‘new’ recordings from ‘Rainbow’

After Ritchie Blackmore surprised fans last year with a short series of shows under the name ‘Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow’ (featuring a new line-up, natch!), rather less surprising is that he has decided to do some more, after initially insisting that he would only do this as a one-off. Another short run of dates is to take place next month (one of those is at Manchester Arena, which must be in doubt now since the venue is still out of bounds following the dreadful attack last week), and to coincide with these shows, he has issued the first official recordings under the Rainbow name since 1995’s ‘Stranger In Us All’ album.

First up is a reworking of ‘I Surrender’, the band’s highest-charting UK hit which reached No. 3 in the charts way back in 1981. That track introduced singer Joe Lynn Turner to the group’s fans, he is not involved in this remake however; it is current vocalist Ronnie Romero who is heard on this version. Positives first: Blackmore still displays a deft touch on the guitar with some quite tasteful lead playing. Unfortunately, he does himself no favours with the backing – the drums sound flat, mechanical, as though it was a machine playing them. It turns out that it WAS – a comment on YouTube from a fan was met with a response from none other than Blackmore’s Night drummer David Keith, a.k.a. Troubadour of Aberdeen, who revealed that the recording only features Blackmore and Romero with everything else programmed. The result sounds lacklustre, the ‘drums’ could have come from a phone app. Romero impressed live, but this song is not suited to his voice. His harsher voice lacks the smoothness of Turner’s original delivery and all but destroys the radio-friendly sound of the original.

The other track is an instrumental rendition of ‘Land Of Hope And Glory’; the piece has traditionally been used as a prelude to Rainbow shows, of course. It starts off with strings playing the melody before Blackmore comes in with his unmistakable guitar tone. This is also somewhat lacklustre, if only he’d actually brought his musicians into the studio with him it would have been so much better. Hearing one of the greatest guitar players of the rock era deliver what is frankly a half-arsed job over a drum beat that could have been purchased off the shelf is totally disappointing, especially after a two-decade wait for anything under this name. It actually sounds like a Blackmore’s Night demo, but you bet your boots had he done this under the BN name, he’d have put more effort into it. That’s what is so disappointing, he knows he has fans still who have waited a long time to hear him play rock once more, yet when he deigns to do so, he is so lackadaisical about it that you wish he had not bothered.

As a Rainbow fan of many years’ standing, I am completely underwhelmed with this effort – listen to it on YouTube if you must, then dig out the old vinyl LPs to hear this man play with meaning, with menace – with passion. Not recommended.

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2 – Disappointing

EP: DORJA ‘Target Practice’ (self-released)

It has been a long time in coming, but finally there is a physical CD of material available from this hotly-tipped all-girl hard rock band who were last seen on these shores in July 2016.

DORJA launched in June last year; formed by Belgian drummer Anna Mylee during a spell in Los Angeles, she recruited fellow LA expat, Kazakh-born singer Aiym Almas before turning her attention back across the Atlantic to complete the line-up. She had worked with guitarists Holly Henderson and Rosie Botterill before, touring the UK extensively and gaining many admirers, and so both were drafted in from the covers band they had been part of previously. In turn, they invited bassist Becky Baldwin (one of the most active performers on the live scene currently, also a member of trio iDestroy and metallers Triaxis) into the fold, and the five initially conducted writing sessions via Skype before the whole group met up in LA in May 2016. ¬†Whilst there, they recorded one of their new songs (‘Fire’) and released it as a download-only single. That track also features (unchanged) on this EP, while the three accompanying tracks were recorded at the beginning of 2017 in England, with the singer adding her vocal tracks from her LA base.

Those who have followed this outfit from the start will already know ‘Fire’; a hard-hitting number with chunky riffage and a powerhouse vocal. Lyrically, it also sets a tone (heard throughout this record) of empowerment (“No, you’re not winning this game; I’m not a prize that you can claim”) which gives this material more depth than a party-hard lyric often heard in hard rock of this style. (Not that I’m against a bit of hard partying, of course!) ¬†The lyrical theme continues on ‘Not In Your Shadow’ (“Hear me speak, it’s louder than what you might remember”) but on this number, the guitars are dialled back a little allowing a more soulful, passionate vocal. ¬†The heavier guitars are back on ‘Reaching Out’, with another defiant lyric (“And I will survive, because you don’t fight my fight”) delivered over Anna Mylee’s¬†syncopated beat, accompanied by some tasty lead soloing from Holly Henderson. The title track ‘Target Practice’ closes this EP, a mid-paced rocker featuring nice vocal harmonies, which builds up into a guitar-heavy crescendo.

For such a new band, this is an accomplished first offering. All the material is self-written (credited collectively) and this outfit is already starting to fulfil its huge potential. In particular, they have a real star in that lead singer, she has both raunch and tenderness in her delivery and knows when (and when not!) to deploy either quality.

The logistics of having an international membership mean that they only get together and perform some of the time, however I believe that if they were given the chance to spend more time as a unit (even if that meant a wholesale decampment to Los Angeles) they could deliver a fantastic debut album, one that would stand the test of time. Certainly if given the backing their talent merits, they must surely become huge in the years to come.

DORJA have just performed a trio of UK dates to launch this EP; a writeup of their set supporting LiveWire (AC/DC tribute) at Bilston will follow. They will return in July for festival shows, be sure to go along and catch these girls live.

targetpractice

Click image or link to go to DORJA webstore including CD and other merch

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4 – Deserving

Single: CATS in SPACE ‘How Does It Feel’ (Harmony Factory)

Power pop revivalists CATS in SPACE have returned with this cover of one of Slade’s best-loved songs, released only on 7″ vinyl. No digital downloads, not even a CD version – it’s available only on either red or white vinyl (or both, if your pockets are deep enough) on a good old 45 RPM seven-inch single. (Ask your parents if you didn’t understand that last sentence!)

The Cats have already covered this song, when they performed live earlier in the year. In the audience that night was a certain Daniel Bowes, of Thunder fame; as well as singing for the venerable British band, he is also a respected figure in the industry, and also hosts a weekly radio show on Planet Rock in the UK. He has been supportive of the CATS in SPACE project ever since their debut album (‘Too Many Gods’) was released last autumn, playing tracks from it on his show and also wearing one of the band’s T-shirts during festival performances by his own band. When approached to contribute vocals to this single, he said it took him ‘about a second and a half’ to agree to it. The resulting track is thus a duet between himself and regular CATS in SPACE vocalist Paul Manzi. Initial copies come with the record sleeve signed by the entire group plus Danny Bowes, and the Slade cover is backed with a new track penned by Cats guitarist Greg Hart and 10cc vocalist Mick Wilson, titled ‘Scandalous’.

Single by Cats in Space

Single by Cats in Space

Being old-school myself, even my turntable is primitive; you have to remove the platter and move the belt from one pulley to the other in order to change speed. It’s usually on the ’33’ pulley so it was time to change it over to ’45’ so that this record could have a spin. The ‘A’ side is a straight rendition of the Slade song, with Manzi starting it off and alternating lyric lines with Bowes. Neither singer tries to emulate the great Noddy Holder (wisely) however, they bring their own qualities to this rendition of the song. If you know the original, then this version is a little cleaner-sounding, possibly a bit rockier, but not much different. The cover has reportedly had the thumbs-up from original Slade drummer Don Powell, which says they must have done something right!

Flip the single over and we get to hear previously unreleased track ‘Scandalous’. On this track as well as on the ‘Too Many Gods’ album Greg Hart demonstrates how he can make a new song sound very much in the style of his favourite acts, while not copying them outright. Listening to this song, a catchy power-pop number, you’ll think of Queen, or maybe City Boy, perhaps even Wilson’s band 10cc, but in the chorus, when they sing ‘Scandalous!’ ¬†I was reminded strongly of the Bee Gees’ hit ‘Tragedy’! A good song that perhaps could have made the album, although of course overshadowed by a very good delivery of a classic, genuine 1970s song.

The single is still available at the time of writing via the band’s website; the signed copies have all been sold now but the group (along with Space Elevator) are playing a short run of UK dates later this month, and so if you get one at their merch stand there’s a great chance you can still get it signed. Recommended.

4 - Deserving

4 – Deserving

EP: Holly Henderson ‘Opium Drip’ (self-released)

Available online via Amazon, Google Play and iTunes, this release is billed as an EP but is actually more of a mini-album, with seven tracks recorded solo by musician and songwriter Holly Henderson. Not yet 21, but with extensive experience already performing live as well as¬†writing and recording her own material, she was previously¬†known to many as guitarist ‘Kitty Vacant’ from her time with all-girl band The Sex Pissed Dolls. To those who only know her for blasting out powerchords and joking with the fans this EP will come as a surprise, since the material is very laid-back¬†and¬†chilled out. She is also known for her artwork, and this EP features a piece of her work as the cover art.

Artwork for Opium Drip

Artwork for Opium Drip by Holly Henderson

The songs are all home recordings, produced whenever she could find time in her busy schedule of touring and all collated for the first time on this EP. She lures the listener¬†in with first track ‘Breakdown’ with some gentle guitar noodling and a dreamy, etheral vocal. The template is similar throughout the EP, although she does play some tastefully bluesy licks in ‘Life Has A Bug (I Fell Ill)’. There are harder guitar parts there too, blistering solos are introduced when you’re already lulled into a false sense of security such as the stunning solos on¬†‘Your Hands’ and title track ‘Opium Drip’. These songs are not heavy in the rock sense, but are very heavy on feel and emotion, you really sense she’s poured much of herself into these songs, they tend to¬†start off slow and quiet but build into climactic crescendos.

Overall, this EP is best listened to when played late at night with the lights dimmed, sat on your favourite chair with a glass of wine. She was always destined for far more than spending her evenings bashing out I-IV-V chord sequences, and this material shows a far greater depth to her talent than was apparent during her Kitty Vacant days. I look forward to seeing how her songwriting develops in the coming years, be it solo or with DORJA (the all-girl hard rock band she is a member of currently), as she has already demonstrated the ability to pen two-minute punky thrashabouts as well as radio-friendly hard rockers. Now we see a more introspective side to her writing, and I predict she will be much in demand both as a performer and as a writer in years to come.

Available to download via:
iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/gb/album/opium-drip/id1138146772

Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/music/album/Holly_Henderson_Opium_Drip?id=Bbnqgj63ssgauxl2oeuieprkcbu&hl=en_GB#details-reviews

Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Opium-Drip-Holly-Henderson/dp/B01L9Q5F6W/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1472775223&sr=8-1&keywords=opium+drip

4 - Deserving

4 – Deserving

EP: The Sex Pissed Dolls ‘Maniac’ (Sex Pissed Dolls)

It’s been a turbulent month¬†for all-girl punk/new wave cover band The Sex Pissed Dolls; first of all they parted company with both their guitarists only days after their much-anticipated appearance at the Isle of Wight festival, then they were struggling for a while as to what they should call themselves. They’d been shortening their name to ‘The Dolls’ on some bills, in order to allow themselves to be more easily advertised but¬†for a brief period last month they were¬†calling themselves ‘The Septic Dolls’. Fortunately the group’s management reconsidered that move and they¬†reverted to their original name, having presumably decided that it just couldn’t be bettered.

In amongst all of that, they were also having to bed in two new guitar players. The new members have taken on the stage names of their predecessors and have had to hit the ground running, performing at several festivals and also at Silverstone, where they played for a crowd of Formula One fans following the recent British Grand Prix. Now they have finally released their debut EP consisting of three tracks of original material, produced by Steve Brown (who produced The Cult’s ‘Love’ album among many others) and recorded at Peter Gabriel’s Real World studio. The EP is available now as a download and will also be released on vinyl in strictly limited quantities.

It isn’t made clear on the information provided with the download who wrote these songs; the new tracks have been performed live since March, when the previous Connie Rotter and Kitty Vacant were still in the band. They did post a photo back in February showing the group in the studio (along with Tommy Scott of Liverpool indie-rockers Space), which suggests that the line-up as it was before June played on this EP. With all three tracks safely in my music folder then, let’s fire up the MP3 player and give them a (virtual) spin.

The first thing you’ll notice is that all these songs are short; no more than two-and-a-half minutes for any of them. Definitely true to the punk spirit in that aspect, then! Lead-off song ‘Maniac’ kicks in with a riff reminiscent of Zeppelin’s ‘Communication Breakdown’ and some strong vocals from Nancy Doll, with nice harmonies on the chorus. In this one, the lyric warns a ‘wannabe Ted Bundy’ just what he is dealing with here (‘you don’t realise, you’re kissing a maniac’). All these tracks are counted in by Anna Key’s drumsticks and next song ‘Shitty Old Town’ is one inspired by the experiences of one of their fans, living in a small provincial town which could be anywhere in Britain (‘living in a place with no energy’). Nancy’s vocal inflection here is Southern/Estuary English (she’s actually Northern!)¬†and the guitar riffs here are harder and more jagged than on the first track. Last track ‘Sci-Fi’ is another chantalong designed to have you pogoing across your living room (if your knees are still up to it!). ‘Maniac’ is the pick of these three songs for me, although all have gone over well on stage when they’ve been played live.

The Dolls have always performed a selection of covers from a diverse range of bands coming under the punk/new wave umbrella, which has meant they’ve covered a huge range of styles. All of these are short, snappy high-tempo songs that¬†remind me as much¬†of their near-namesakes the New York Dolls as¬†the Sex Pistols, which is no bad thing. Now that they have some new blood in the ranks, it will be very interesting indeed to see what direction their future material will take.

Sex Pissed Dolls 'Maniac' EP cover

Sex Pissed Dolls ‘Maniac’ EP cover (click image for Amazon link)

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4 – Deserving