BEN KUNDER Better Human Comino Music [Release date 28.08.18]
Toronto singer songwriter’s Ben Kunder’s 2015 debut Golden might have been ‘critically acclaimed’ but that doesn’t appear to have translated to a great deal of public interest if the lack of Amazon reviews either side of the pond is anything to go by.
His follow up, Better Human, propelled by strings, pedal steel alongside guitars, bass, drums and keys, and a plethora of harmony vocal contributors sits deep in Don Henley, Paul Simon, Marc Cohn, Ray LaMontagne and Bruce Hornsby territory, occupying that rarefied space between folk, country, pop and soft rock.
For the most part mournful and melancholy, it’s a consistent set that even without any standout tracks should appeal to aficionados of the genre. Kunder will set foot on these soils for a handful of promotional dates in October. ***
Review by Pete Whalley
STONE THE CROWS & MAGGIE BELL Best Of
Angel Air Records [Release date 13.07.18]
Stone The Crows were – in the early 1970′s – a staple at festivals, popular on the student circuit, and managed by Led Zep’s supremo Peter Grant. Their early rise was effectively curtailed after May 1972 when their guitarist Les Harvey was electrocuted on stage in Swansea and sadly became another member of the “27 Club”.
Angel Air have done much to keep the band’s memory alive, and also highlighting their feisty singer Maggie Bell with several solo albums. The first disc showcases songs from the band’s four albums including – from the debut in 1970 – the glorious vocal pairing of Maggie Bell and Jim Dewar on two covers (a Josh White song ‘Blind Man’ and the Beatles’ ‘Fool On The Hill’).
The debut album was followed up within a year by Ode To John Law which built upon their ballsy blues rock calling card. Included here are the title track and ‘Mad Dogs And Englishman’. The following album Teenage Licks is represented here by ‘Big Jim Salter’ and ‘Don’t Think Twice’. The band’s swansong album Ontinuous Performance often gets overlooked but three tracks are featured including the classic ‘Penicillin Blues’ after Jimmy McCulloch had taken up the guitar position and with Ronnie Leahy on keys and Colin Allen on drums.
The second disc highlights Maggie Bell’s solo work in the 1970s, extracted from the two albums ‘Queen Of The Night’ and ‘Suicide Sal’ expanded with the Taggart TV theme and a bonus live track.
Although Maggie semi-retired to Holland in the eighties – “with a husband and a dog” – in the last decade she has returned to Blighty and performed with several artists including long-time musical journeyman Colin Allen. She still performs regularly in Europe and the UK.
As a dip in the water for the newbie this compilation fits the bill but in truth the full albums are worthy of investment and are still available via Angel Air, with the four Stone The Crows albums housed on two double CDs. Given also that one side of the debut included the 17 minute ‘I Saw America’ and the omission here of ‘Love 74′. ****
Review by David Randall
(This review includes some material previously published by Get Ready to ROCK! in 2004-2015)
MICHELLE LEWIS All That’s Left
The third album from LA based singer songwriter Michelle Holmes, is a mournful, understated folky affair.
Her plaintive vocals and string plucking style of playing take centre stage, with minimalist accompaniment. Highlights in a relatively short 10 track, 33 minute set include a sensitive cover of Springsteen’s ‘Dancing In The Dark’ (which just goes to prove, you can’t go wrong with a well-crafted song), and ‘In Love Again’ – a beguiling duet/co-write with Nashville singer songwriter Robby Hecht (who sounds uncannily like James Taylor), played Lindsey Buckingham, ‘Never Going Back Again’, style.
But overall, while a pleasant enough listen, All That’s Left is just too lightweight to be likely to widen Lewis’s appeal. She plays a handful of promotional UK dates next month (September) as part of a European tour including Netherlands, Belgium and Germany. **1/2
Review by Pete Whalley
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