Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Quickies - Elles Bailey, Robert Jon & The Wreck, and Austin Gold

Elles Bailey – Shining In The Half-Light Deluxe Edition
Okay, so I’m gonna do something a bit odd here, and review half an album.  How come?  Because I reviewed the original release of Shining In The Half-Light last year, that’s why.  So you can go read that review, though I'll just reaffirm what I said then - that it’s the best album of Elles Bailey’s career so far.
What about these bonus tracks that put the Deluxe in this Deluxe Edition then?  Are they just outtakes’n’filler swept up from the studio floor?  No, dear reader, they are not.  What you get for
Elles Bailey posing in the half-light
Pic by Rob Blackham
your money includes two brand new songs, two newly recorded covers, and live-in-the-studio versions of five tracks from the original album.
The first of the new tunes is ‘Spinning Stopped’, a delicate twirl of folkie Americana whose stripped back tones wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Bailey’s Ain’t Nothing But album.  The lyrics combine a mother’s fascination with her new child, a meditation on the world-stopped period into which that child was born, delivered with subtlety and warmth.
‘Hole In My Pocket’ is a more muscular affair, even if it opens in controlled fashion.  Matthew Waer adds supple bass lines to offbeat drum patterns from Matthew Jones, while Joe Wilkins delivers sparse flourishes of bendy guitar.  Bailey’s vocal is assertive, gradually supplemented by more of those delicious backing vocals that adorned the original album.  And then – crash, bang, wallop!  They put their collective foot down and give the thing a proper seeing to, just to make clear they can rock.
The covers also come in two different flavours.  It seems like a bold move to cover anything by the maverick genius John Martyn, but Bailey and co take his wistful, acoustic ‘Over The Hill’, and propelled by bristling electric guitar from Wilkins and waves of organ from Jonny Henderson they turn it into a joyfully rhythmic, muscular animal – hell, danceable even!  By way of contrast, the cover of Creedence’s ‘Long As I See The Light’ is contemplative and downbeat, with Bailey nailing the vocal to render unnecessary any comparisons with John Fogerty, while Henderson adds piano embellishments and Wilkins digs out a scraping slide solo.
To be honest, I’m not sure that the five live takes explore much territory beyond the originals – seems to me that Bailey might have been better revisiting a few songs from her back catalogue, armed with all the learning she and her chums have done since.  Because make no mistake, the new stuff here shows that Bailey and her band have matured big time over the years, and now ooze confidence as they go about their work.  
I’m looking forward to seeing Elles Bailey live tomorrow night – and I'm hoping she plays ‘Over The Hill’!
The Shining In The Half-Light Deluxe Edition is released on 17 March, and can be ordered here.
Robert Jon & The Wreck – One Of A Kind EP
Robert Jon & The Wreck like an EP – they’ve released a few of them over the years.  And maybe it’s a particularly good idea these days, to get some fresh material out between albums, to go alongside continued touring.  Of course, it’s got to be quality “product” – and One Of A Kind, produced by some time Stones knob twiddler Don Was, is just that.
I know, it's only wreck'n'roll, but I like it!
Pic by Trees Rommelaaere
They open up this quartet of tracks with ‘Pain No More’, a dynamic thing that veers between surging, pulsating passages and dialled down verses, with some squealing slide thrown in along the way.  It’s not got the strongest chorus they’ve ever produced, but given their songwriting standards that’s a bit like saying a second hand Porsche is nothing to get excited about.
They put that right on the catchy ‘Who Can You Love’, a lower key song with a dialled down vocal from Robert Jon Burrison, subtle injections of twanging guitar, and trademark quality harmonies on the chorus.  It’s a bit too countrified for my taste mind you – what I really wanna hear from these guys is high quality wreck’n’roll.
And that’s exactly what they deliver on the remaining two tracks.  ‘One Of A Kind’ wades in with staccato riffing and rat-a-tat vocals, boosted by slithering, serpentine lead guitar from six-string whizz Henry James.  It’s a punchy, emphatic adrenaline rush of a tune – but if anything it’s bettered by the closing ‘Come At Me’.  Throbbing bass and twisting and turning, twinkling guitar lines drive the verse – and then it explodes into a scruff-of-your-neck chorus, followed by a wild guitar solo.  Then they smack you around the head with that chorus a couple more times, before heading for the exit.
One Of A Kind is a like a weekend city break to some city that never sleeps – short, intense, and highly enjoyable.
One Of A Kind
 is out now on Journeyman Records, and can be downloaded or streamed here.
Austin Gold – Those City Lights
I don’t often venture into reviewing straight-up hard rock on this site, even though it’s why I first got bitten by the music bug – one of the reasons being that not much of the new stuff I hear floats my boat.  But I’m happy to make a brief exception for this latest release by English band Austin Gold, because they refresh the musical parts a lot of modern rockers don’t reach.
David James Smith - subtlety personified
Their main man David James Smith brings a lot to the party, with a clear, powerful voice and bags of range, suggestive of Toby Jepson, some damn fine guitar work, and serious songwriting chops – and the rest of the AG crew live up to his example.
Think Thunder maybe, or a less angry Wayward Sons perhaps.  Those City Lights is melodic hard rock, with plenty of light and shade.  So ‘Mountain’ is a soaring rush of energy akin to some kid with a parachute chucking themselves off, well, a mountain.  ‘Morning Light’ is a sensitive breather, which is much needed amidst the forceful gale blowing elsewhere.  And ‘Real You’ is an demi-prog extravaganza packed into five and a half minutes, incorporating hop, skip and jumping drum rhythms, big guitar motifs, ethereal, stratospheric backing vocals, chocolate box piano, and more besides.  You could liken it to Magnum at their very best.  Well, I could, anyway.
Oh yeah, and Smith is a declared Beatles nut, which may seem strange when he wasn’t even born when the Fab Four called it a day, but as it emerged when I interviewed an earlier line-up of the band a few years back, his dad’s music tastes have been a big influence since he was a kid.  So on a song like ‘Get In Line’, and elsewhere besides, you can hear distant echoes of late 60s rocking Beatles.  Mind you, with the blend of guitar and keyboards, you might equally compare them to modern day Uriah Heep (if that doesn’t sound like a contradiction in terms).
Whatever.  If you like your hard rock to have a healthy dose of sophistication, Austin Gold could be just the band for you.  Go experience Those City Lights, and see what you think.
Those City Lights
 is out now, and can be ordered here.

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