D'Haene's new disc is spring-loaded with hard-locked rhythms, chunky guitar riffing, and metalized melodies sung with a bluesy, soulful inflection. If, vocally, D'Haene tends to be a touch more convincing on more easy-going fare ("Took Me So Long"), that's because of the soulful quality that defines his vocal style.
One of the CD's best points is the way many of the songs surprise you with unexpected bridges and codas, as in "Wouldn't You Like To Know," or with varied flavors like the Latin opening of "Brand New Threads!" The impeccable musicianship and harmony vocals are also a pleasure throughout. The soul influence becomes explicit with the nodding triplets and organ bed of "I'll Be Your Man," though D'Haene's characteristic guitar buzz remains, maintaining consistency with the disk's overall feel. The same thing happens in the jazzy underpinning of "Playin' It Cool," complete with muted trumpet.
Bookended by the hard-rocking "Another Like You" and "My Woman," this set of solid songs and ace playing is worthy listen.
June Moris, White Spot
June Moris' seven-song disc is a hypnotic set; her quavery voice sounds as if it's bubbling up from an underground stream, accompanied by the hum of insects and distant bells ringing. The atmosphere ranges from a strained, thinly angry pounding, slightly reminiscent of PJ Harvey, to a techno coolness, to a thick Brian Eno drone, but Moris' fluty voice carries through all.
It's an effective, even thrilling tactic through the first five songs. On the sixth track, "The Memory," Moris tries for melodramatic balladry, leaving what seems her natural, postmodern sonic habitat, and it doesn't work as well.
At the end one is left, not with melodies to hang a memory on – Moris isn't about that – but with a pleasingly disturbing sense of disquiet. Shivery mission accomplished.
Back Door Slam, Roll Away and Special EP
The blues-rock power trio is dead?… Long live the blues-rock power trio! Back Door Slam is the real thing. The group, which hails from the Isle of Man, may be barely legal in age, but singer-guitarist Davy Knowles has the grown-up, gritty sound, both vocally and on guitar, demanded by the tradition of Clapton, Gov't Mule, and Robert Cray.
A few tasteful acoustic numbers break up the heavy feel of Roll Away, their debut CD. "Too Late" is a pretty power ballad, but even here Knowles's guitar craftsmanship rides front and center. Ably backed up by bassist Adam Jones and drummer Ross Doyle, and fueled by a deep absorption of the electric blues, Knowles' assured riffs and solos would carry the songs even if the writing weren't inherently good. But in a genre where spectacular playing is sometimes allowed to substitute for songcraft, Back Door Slam's songs stand up well – especially for such a young group.
In addition to Roll Away, a full-length CD of mostly original songs, they've recently released a download-only EP of covers on which they display their more straight-up blues chops. Knowles wails and shreds with brash confidence on a ten-minute live version of "Red House," while the band shows how tight and sharp it can be on John Hiatt's "Riding With the King," the Doors' "Been Down So Long," and a few more.
If there's still a place in the world for guitar heroes and for power trios with a timeless crunch, put Davy Knowles and Back Door Slam on the up-and-coming short list. In a world of hyper-talented young musicians, this is truly impressive stuff, because it feels real.