ADRIAN CONNER – Hush!
Adrian Conner may not be a name you’re familiar with. Hush! her eighth release is unlikely to change that.
For the past 15 years Conner has been the lead guitarist in Seattle, Washington based all-girl AC/DC tribute band Hell’s Belles and she performs a similar role in the similarly all-girl Judas Priest tribute band Belles Bent For Leather. So it’s pretty clear where Conner’s rock ‘n’ roll allegiances lie.
Hush!, however, re-imagines some of her earlier solo material performed with an acoustic slant and the support of Amanda Keyes on drums, Melissa Carper on upright bass, and Danny G who plays electric bass on a cover of ‘Little Wing’. There’s also a rendition of Zep’s ‘Bron-Y-Aur Stomp’.
Let’s get the covers out of the way first – ‘Little Wing’ is decent enough but somewhat strangely given an instrumental work out. It doesn’t add much to the very many cover versions already out there and absent vocals, and stretched to 7 minutes, sounds overly elongated (the original on Axis: Bold As Love was only 2:29!). ‘Bron-Y-Aur Stomp’ fares better with a playful up-tempo rendition.
Pledge Campaign funded and self-produced, Hush! has something of a DIY feel to it that could perhaps have benefitted from external production input but nevertheless it has a pleasant ‘campfire’/pop feel.
With a vocal style reminiscent of a young Madonna, the punchy ‘Dark Force’ and infectious ‘Turn It Up’ catch the ear, but overall I’m not convinced that Hush! is strong enough to appeal much beyond her existing fan base. **1/2
Review by Pete Whalley
JANE KRAMER Carnival Of Hopes
For those looking for something to fill the void left by the continued absence of any fresh material from Alison Krauss, Jane Kramer’s second solo album Carnival Of Hopes could be just the job.
With strong links to Asheville (that’s not a typo, Asheville is the centre of the North Carolina roots music scene) Kramer, after a 4 year stint on the West Coast, pulled up stakes from Portland Oregon and returned to Carolina.
Steeped in Appalachian blue-grass, Kramer helped reintroduce Americana music to The Blue Ridge Mountains a decade ago as part of the Asheville based all-female trio the Barrel House Mamas, but her own solo material – featuring a sparkling cast of local producers and Georgia based bluegrass musicians – leans more towards the mainstream and the space occupied by the likes of Krauss and Norah Jones.
Recorded in February 2015, it was the affinity with the Ashville musicians and Appalachian instrumentation in those recording sessions – ‘the wistful southern dobro sound that hurts your heart’ that convinced her to subsequently return to Ashville ‘because Asheville is my dirt, culture, musically and otherwise’.
Both celebratory and introspective, Kramer takes a good long look at her failures and fears on Carnival Of Hopes, stares them down and finds a core inner strength … and hope. That self-examination is underpinned by some wonderful bluegrass and New Orleans influenced playing, and Kramer’s own heaven, but earthy sent vocals. ***
Review by Pete Whalley
S-WORD-S Not So Compliant
If the ‘Rockin’ 1,000′ video plea is to be believed, Italy, doesn’t get to see a great deal of rock’s royalty. So, if Mohammed won’t go to the mountain, the mountain must go to Mohammed. Right?
S-Word-S, formatively The Swords, are an Italian outfit consisting of Fabio Pastore (acoustic and electric guitars and composer), Cesare Maggiolo (bass, lead vocals, and lyrics), and Andrea Fabris (drums). Pastore and Maggiolo met at school 1981 but despite best efforts they failed to get a foothold in the business and The Swords called it a day in 1995.
I0 years later Pastore and Maggiolo reconvened with Fabris on drums, releasing their debut album Breath in 2012. Not So Compliant – recorded between spring 2013 and July 2014 continues their journey.
While Breath was a forceful effort born of frustration and release, Not So Compliant is a more considered venture which echoes their love of English and American rock. As a result, you’d have no idea of their Italian roots, which is something of a shame. But rock is a global phenomenon, and what you have on Not So Compliant is a melee of influences at play.
There’s elements of Ozzie, Alice, U2, Depeche Mode, REM, Asia and The Foos. Blues rock, prog, metal and the American mainstream. If there is a failing, it’s the lack of identity and singular direction. Taken individually, the tracks sound like a sampler of a range of bands.
The playing and production are impressive – some lovely melodies, restrained power, and distinctive guitar work. The vocals too – delivered in a John Wetton style – are memorable and when S-Word-S hit a groove, as on ‘Perfect World’, they are unstoppable and likely to make friends wherever they play.
But as for fame and fortune, they’re going to need to find a way to stand out from the crowd. ***
Review by Pete Whalley
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