Album review: FEDERAL CHARM – Passenger


Wire Sound Records [Release date 14.09.18]

Federal Charm’s fourth album finds them with a significant line-up change featuring new singer Tom Guyer and drummer Josh Zahler.

Lead guitarist Paul Bowe and solid bassist LD Morawski continue to be part of the song writing process and team up with second guitarist and keyboard playing vocalist Kyle Ross.

The new members bring additional bluster, especially Guyer’s Robert Plant machinations and Josh Zahler’s busy percussion.

From Tom Guyer’s opening feral cry through his booming range throughout a breathless album, it’s evident that he’s out to make a big impressions and ‘Passenger’ gives him all the room he need to propel his phrasing and dominate the songs with real brio.

‘Passenger’ finds Federal Charm doubling their bluster, fattening their sound and extending their jagged rhythms (not unlike Rival Sons), as a means of building some angry unresolved tension in their grooves. Indeed, the perfunctory ending to the lyrically bleak opener ‘Sing Sinner’ carries the unresolved tension into the post Zeppelin stop-start dynamics of the new single ‘Choke’.

One of several doomy relationship songs Guyer manfully delivers a surfeit of lyrics as Bowe fires off a telling solo over Zahler’s percussive pattern, while the band crank up the energy all around them.

And energy is what this band is all about. It’s such an essential part of their restless style that you could imagine ‘Passenger’ being a debut album rather than their fourth release.

Federal Charm is the sound of a band moving from its new formative stages towards a bigger sound full of exaggerated staccato rhythms, Guyer’s overarching vocals and Paul Bowe potent mixture of riffs and buzz tones.

Everything comes together at just under the halfway point on ‘Nowhere Is Home’ as the band nails its new direction.

One of several relationship songs (in this case family) ‘Nowhere Is Home’ has a much warmer and mellifluous feel. It’s carried by a melodic sweep that features Kyle Ross’s sudden uplifting synth line which melds perfectly with the vocal.

The band builds on this excellent song and production highlight with the impressive ‘Get Through’. Much like its broken relationship subject matter, the song is short, sharp and to the point.  It’s also another staccato, guitar driven piece with jagged riffs and subtle dynamics with distant echoes of ‘Who Are You’ by The Who.

Then there’s the equally good and very dense ‘Can’t Rule Me’, with its unlikely Beefheart influence courtesy of Bowe’s jagged riffs and the band’s punctuated rhythms. It’s a perfect meeting of voice and unsettling rhythms on a tight arrangement that includes a lovely descending double guitar and vocal line on a track that defines the new band’s style.

‘Passenger’ is the sum of its parts and careful use of dynamics. From Tom Guyer’s booming vocal and Paul Bowe’s ripping guitar lines to the combo’s muscular interplay, you are hearing a band that is revelling in its new found identity.

You can almost overlook the flagrant Led Zeppelin influences, particularly on the Page and Plant influenced ‘Speak Out’, or indeed the familiar generational protest song of ‘Concrete Creature’. The latter is voiced over an acoustic-into-electric riff and a Monster Truck style vocal on the outro, as they forge their own style.

At present, Federal Charm’s music surpasses their song craft with a loose set of themes glued together by intense rhythms, steely riffs and Guyer’s big phrasing. It’s in those moments when he sounds more relaxed as on the polished ‘Emerald Haze’ that the band’s music starts to breathe.  Guyer’s measured vocal finds an equilibrium straddling the gap between his clarity of diction and intuitive phrasing with some big vocal swoops, as Bowe adds another significant solo.

Guyer also brings expressive edge to the pointed narrative of ‘Death Rattle’, which deals with the demise of live music venues, essentially their own work place.

The patiently built vibe of the song is in sharp contrast to the spiky lyrics: “Gentrification, the death rattle of our nation, exchanging money for cultural assassination,” as Paul Bowe’s angular riffs recall Jethro Tull’s Martin Barre.

Given the fact the original singer Nick Bowden was also the co-writer of a lot of the band’s previous material, it’s no surprise to find that this album opens as if they are finding their feet, but it’s the way they power through any lingering inhibitions and circumspection to find a common purpose that gives this album great promise for the future.  ***½ 

Review by Pete Feenstra

Pete Feenstra presents his Rock & Blues Show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Tuesday at 19:00 GMT, and “The Pete Feenstra Feature” on Sundays at 20:00

David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 BST (GMT+1, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 20 September 2020.

UK Blues Broadcaster of the Year (2020) Pete Feenstra presents his weekly Rock & Blues Show on Tuesday at 19:00 ( BST, GMT+1) as part of a five hour blues rock marathon “Tuesday is Bluesday at GRTR!”. The show is repeated on Wednesdays at 22:00, Fridays at 20:00). This show was first broadcast 22 September 2020.

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