Monday, April 27, 2020

Little Red Kings - The Magic Show Part One

Little Red Kings – who’re they then?
I press play on the latest offering to be winged my way by a PR company to be greeted by a tastefully tuneful piano and vocal intro, and then . . . three tracks whoosh by in ten and a half minutes, borne aloft on a gale of song-led roots rock energy.
I still haven’t got down to the brass tacks of what the opener ‘Harry’s Town’ is all about, so I dunno anything about the identity of Harry or what’s so special about his town, but Little Red Kings make it sound like a good place to be.  There’s kicking drums, rock’n’rolling guitar, sinuous bass lines and playfully delivered vocals, and ultimately a belt-it-out earworm of a chorus that collapses into a hollering terrace chant outro.
Little Red Kings making a big noise
‘Almost Over’ eases into earshot with pulses of organ and throbbing guitar before opening up into another adrenalin rush of booming drums and a big, gutsy chorus.  It’s a well-constructed choon, but the energy still bursts out at the seams until they rein it in for the bridge – and then it breaks loose again, tearing off into an anthemic singalong while some lead guitar bleeps away, making like Angus Young on the intro to ‘Thunderstuck’.  Then ‘That’s What You Do’ has a subtly brooding verse, with a thudding drumbeat and eerily droning keys, before crashing into another mountainous chorus with soaring backing vocals.  It twists and turns teasingly, thrashes along with a post-punk sensibility, and chucks some buzzsaw guitar into the middle eight to add some extra edge.
Who are these guys?
The understated cover of the promo cd, with its peculiar artwork, doesn’t offer many clues.  I take a squint at the accompanying press release, but it doesn’t leave me much the wiser.  It does tell me that The Magic Show Part One is Little Red Kings’ second album though.  It also quotes some reviews that refer to their “consummate blues rock” and such like.  Well yeah, I can see that they deliver blues rock in exactly the same way that Mott The Hoople – didn’t.  Or the Faces, maybe.  Or Springsteen, even.  Or none of them.  Point is, the blues may be in there, but it’s all jumbled up with other strands of rock’n’roll.  Except of course, just to confound my argument, on ‘Mama’s Boy’ - a two and a half minute vignette of Delta-like blues conjured out of nothing more than spooky, scratchy guitar playing and haunted vocals.  
Their rootsiness takes a different turn on ‘Weather The Storm’ though.  The lilting piano and gentle elegiac vocal could almost be Billy Joel until it’s melded with violin (courtesy of guest Rosie Toll) to take a Celtic turn as the lyric starts to reference the Irish Sea and – if I hear it right – Tir Na nOg, the “Celtic otherworld”.  Which sounds appropriately epic as the song swells and the story-telling becomes more strident, before subsiding to a gentle ending.
And the following ‘Peppermint’ gets similarly windswept as it builds from a suspenseful intro, surging rhythm guitar and more of that supple bass to arrive at another BIG chorus.  And a rare guitar solo plays out against the repeated refrain, brief and spiky, cymbals crashing around like waves.  Check out this acoustic performance.
Who the hell are these guys?
They get back on the rockin’ horse with ‘Lose The Light’, which teases again with a subdued
opening, all ticking drums and bumps of bass, before letting loose with a driving rhythm and dense jangling guitars, good harmonies and a romantic turn that sounds like Springsteen by way of The Gaslight Anthem – except British.
So that's who Little Red Kings are.
And then they take a sharp turn and head into left field for the closing two tracks.  ‘Norfolk Border’ is all droning notes and hesitant piano chords as an ambient backdrop for a murmured, half-spoken vocal, like Roger Waters executing some minimalist tale of angst.  Finally ‘Magic Show’ starts off in thoughtful mode, leaning on piano and organ, before swelling into a majestic chorus, then fading back with quirky squiggles of keyboards and more of that sinuous bass playing, plus effects-treated vocal interjections and some circus ringmaster declaiming taking it into Peter Gabriel-like dramatic territory.
The Magic Show Part One is such an eye-opening surprise that part of me doesn’t want to know – just leave Little Red Kings as deadly guerrillas of roots rock, who strike and then sink namelessly into the night.  But nah, I’ve winkled out the info, so let’s roll the credits.  Little Red Kings were founded in Norfolk by singer and guitarist Jason Wicks.  Dougie Archer supplies more guitar and vocals, while the keys are courtesy of Craig Stevenson, and the rhythm section of Harry Wickham and Ben Beach respectively provide the skin-bashing and that springy bass.
Now, I’m not going to tell you The Magic Show Part One is some earth-shattering masterpiece.  But I will tell you that it’s striking enough to have made me sit up and listen damn close – in fact Little Red Kings’ firing on all six cylinders commitment wouldn’t allow anything else.  You owe it to yourself to get an introduction to these guys and their music.

The Magic Show Part One is released on 29 May, and can be pre-ordered here.

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