Atter last week’s smorgasbord of genres in the column, I thought it unlikely that this week would be as diverse. I suspect I was doomed to be wrong, and I you will agree after reading.
John Mayall: Tough
Mayall is a veteran bluesman who is releasing his 57th with this release. He recently disbanded the Bluesbreakers and decided to head off on his own. This struck some as odd considering the Bluesbreakers were entirely his band, rather like Whitesnake or Dio. Still after so many years doing the same thing with the same band, it's no wonder he wanted to have a new start.
You need not have worried about what he is up to next, as this release sees him treading the reliable blues ground he is so known for. The music is brilliant, that great blues that reminds one of the ole' Rolling Stones and the Yardbirds. Lyrically the songs are hit and miss, some coming across as a bit twee to this ear. However, his rant against modern music will amuse many who read this column. It's an enjoyable enough CD, but there are times I just wanted him to keep schtum and just play the tune.
Lyrically some of it feels rather forced and unnecessary. Fans of his old band will no doubt buy this and enjoy every minute. If you are new to John Mayall, a greatest hits of the Bluesbreakers might be a better idea.
Harvestman: In a Dark Tongue
The name evokes visions of the green-man in the dark glades in the middle of primordial woods surrounded by various forest nymphs and beasts. The music is folky yet impenetrably deep and intense. It means to take you into a place where there is beauty that threatens. Very much in keeping with Druidic and ancient pagan views of nature and all that it encompassed.
This would be space rock in the mode of Hawkwind, except it's about forests and glades. It's not very similar to other pagan groups like Skyclad either. It's odd and mesmerizing, definitely needing the right frame of mind to get into it. Not sure, but I suspect that the experience would work better if various substances were consumed before listening to this epic, aural nature-fest. Certainly an acquired taste, there is no doubting the talent and thought that went into producing such a dense release. Rather like the movie the Labyrinth, beautiful and intriguing while at the same time a wee bit disturbing.
Deep heavy and very monolithic… and involves the don of all things stoner. That would be Wino of St Vitus, The Obsessed, Spirit Caravan, and the Hidden Hand on guitar with the bloke from Om and Sleep on bass, Al Cisneros on drums, he of Melvins and Altamont fame. To round things up Scott Kelly of Neurosis is on guitar. Yes, that band who fans are devoted and as intense as the band itself.
You could probably say it's a supergroup with members described as "living legends" in their genres. As you can quite imagine, there is a lot to expect from this outting. Power stoner metal is one way of describing it. It's replete with heavy slabs of Sabbath, which is, I suppose, to be expected. Detuned and crunchy, this is an ode to everything that is what stoner rock has become today. That said, it's eminently listenable, even if you are not a huge fan of the genre. To be honest, I quite enjoyed it in all its sludgy glory. It's rare a group like this delivers this level of quality.
It struck me as an update to the classic Black Sabbath sound. And like BS, this release is rather enjoyable from the first listen. For once a supergroup that delivers the goods amidst all the hype.
A Storm of Light: Forgive us our Trespasses
This lot are from NYC, which is nothing that unusual. What is rather odd is that they seem to be able to make epic soundscapes as if they hailed from somewhere far more northern, bleaker, and possibly Scandinavian. Heavy, but beautiful and epic, this is that type of metal that creates entire visions of whatever it is they are trying to portray. This is full senses metal that leaves nothing unstated or to the imagination. That said it does evoke powerful images in the mind’s eye.
Just because it's dense and heavy does not mean that it can be catchy and a joy to hear. It's melodic yet deep and meaningful. It's always interesting to hear an American take on this sort of music. I have to say this was quite interesting to hear to and grows rather nicely with each listen. Yet, another example of some of the great metal that is being produced in the US that is similar to its Scandinavian counterparts but with a distinctly American, East Coast even, touch. Quality epic metal is quite an effort to get right and this band have done a superb job with this release.
Rod Stewart: Sessions
Yes, that Rod Stewart, he of trade-in identical blondes, the diminutive Scotsman who has been plundering the “American song-book” much to the delight of ladies of a certain age who never knew him in his more “lairy” days. This is an epic odds and sods exercise that gives the fan, and reminds the rest of us, what a talent Rod Stewart was and still can be.
You get to hear alternate and stripped down versions of all his hits, some of which sound better than the released version. More interesting are the songs that “got left behind” and ended up not making it on to various releases of his. Now with many of such release it's clear to see why various things were left off, especially when a band can barely muster and album worth of decent material.
Now to be fair, I was only given access to a sampler of the three discs on offer in this set. However, I enjoyed every minute of the alternate versions of “You Wear It Well” and especially the piano version “Forever Young.” There are tracks here that ended up on a Ron Wood solo album. This is a collection that fans of the old classic Rod will enjoy.
I hope you find something to your liking in this batch of reviews. Please keep safe and rocking… as always check out live music whenever you can.