Kevin Bryan reviews new music, compilations and re-released gems.
Jerry Lee Lewis: Rock & Roll Time
Most of Jerry Lee Lewis’ contemporaries from the golden era of rock ‘n’ roll fell by the wayside long long ago, but this irascible character is still pounding the ivories with the vigour of a man half his age.
Producer Jim Keltner oversees a star-studded backing line-up featuring the likes of Neil Young, Keith Richard, Ron Wood and The Band’s Robbie Robertson as they underpin the venerable performer’s contributions on the warm and rootsy Rock & Roll Time.
Jerry Lee may have surrounded himself with rock luminaries but he remains the the real star of the show, and his slightly wheezy vocals breathe new life into much-loved old favourites such as Jimmy Reed’s Bright Lights, Big City and Chuck Berry’s Little Queenie and Promised Land.
Strawbs: Hero & Heroine In Ascencia
The original version of Hero & Heroine captured the dramatic essence of The Strawbs’ highly distinctive prog-rock sound when it first saw the light of day in 1974, leaning heavily on the creative contributions of singer Dave Cousins and lead guitarist Dave Lambert.
The two men made the rather unusual decision to re-record the entire album almost four decades later, and this mildly redundant album is the result.
Souped-up instrumentation and arrangements lend added impetus to fine tracks such as Shine On Silver Sun and Hero & Heroine itself but Cousins’ always rather pained vocals have withstood the passage of time much less happily, and the entire package suffers a little as a result.
Various: Latest & Greatest Driving Rock Anthems
Union Square’s latest three-CD set serves up a deliciously varied menu of rock and pop gems designed to help those long and tedious car journeys to slip by a little more painlessly.
The musical content of this remarkably inexpensive anthology is certainly nothing if not eclectic, with a grand total of 60 tracks including contributions from such unlikely bedfellows as Lynyrd Skynyrd, Madness, Patti Smith and 1960s hit-makers The Nashville Teens of Tobacco Road fame to name but a few.
Graham Parker & The Figgs: Live at the FTC
Graham Parker may seem to have slipped out of the public eye since relocating to the US in the early 1990s, but this intense performer has actually turned out a string of excellent albums since making the momentous move.
This fine live set was recorded in 2010 as he hit the road to promote his latest album, Imaginary Television, and found Parker regaling his audience in Fairfield, Connecticut, with a typically gritty and heart-warming show featuring a blend of new material and tried and tested crowd pleasers such as White Honey, Life Gets Better and the vitriolic Mercury Poisoning.
Madness: One Step Beyond 35th Anniversary Edition
This fascinating re-issue couples Madness’ effervescent 1979 debut album with a recently unearthed rehearsal tape from the same year featuring two hitherto unheard songs, Lost My Head and Sunshine Voice.
The presence of these genuine rarities is bound to whet the appetites of diehard Madness devotees everywhere, and as an added bonus the compilers have also included a DVD featuring the promo videos for One Step Beyond, Night Boat To Cairo, Bed and Breakfast Man and My Girl and a selection of recordings culled from the infectious North London band’s early appearances on the BBC Splendid stuff.
Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors: Medicine
Memphis born and Nashville based Holcomb is a prime purveyor of Americana at its most soulful and expressive, blending classic singer-songwriter sensibilities with a fine line in simple, heartfelt rock.
Holcomb’s 2013 offering, Good Light, was apparently his most successful offering to date and the excellent Medicine should maintain this upward trend, liberally peppered as it is with such choice examples of the tunesmith’s art as You’ll Always Be My Girl, I’ve Got You and the softly beguiling American Beauty.
Wild Smiles: Always Tomorrow
The debut album from energised Winchester trio Wild Smiles wears its impeccable musical influences proudly on its sleeve as lyricist Chris Peden expresses his disillusionment with modern life over a fiery soundtrack inspired by the likes of Nirvana, Dinosaur Jr and The Ramones.
The finished product is surprisingly uplifting despite the overwhelmingly negative subject matter, with I’m Gone, The Best Four Years and Never Wanted This emeging as the best of the bunch.
Various: Stars of Country
The contents of this undemanding three-CD anthology are drawn from the American country music charts of half a century or more ago, including offerings from Nashville luminaries such as Marty Robbins, Slim Whitman, Eddy Arnold and Jim Reeves.
Ricky Nelson also chips in with the uptempo rock of his 1959 hit, It’s Late, sharing the limelight with two classic contributions from the great Hank Williams, Your Cheatin’ Heart and the much recorded Jambalaya.
This excellent four-piece band have been peddling their own inimitable brand of folk fare around the clubs and festivals of their native Cumbria since their formation in late 2008, and Stydd marks their first CD release since 2009’s The Grain.
Stooshie’s beguiling blend of ancient and modern musical influences was initially dominated by instrumental pieces but a few well chosen songs have now inveigled their way into their repertoire too, including Pete Leeson’s evocative Along The Shore and a Victorian murder ballad entitled Rain and Snow, and Rachel Swift’s fluid and inventive contributions on violin should be required listening for roots music fans everywhere.