Product DetailsI may have said this before, but I love an album that opens with a statement of intent and “House in the Woods” does just that.  The title track opens with a huge guitar riff backed by a smoky Hammond and you know exactly what you’re going to get, particularly when the lead vocal drops in on top of the guitar/organ interplay.  The arrangements on this album lean quite heavily on the late 60s/early 70s power trio tradition of Jimi Hendrix, Cream and even Rory Gallagher with guitar riffs and fills punctuating the vocals; the addition of the Hammond of Moritz Fuhrhop to this powerful mix offers extra textures and another layer to the sound.

There’s one thing which makes this album stand above the rank and file of blues/rock albums and that’s Henrik Freischlader’s voice; it’s raw, powerful and, at times, incredibly emotional.  Normally you expect singer/guitarists to excel in one discipline, but Henrik Freischlader is a great guitar player and a great singer and he’s equally convincing in all of the styles on offer here.  “House in the Woods” and “Sisters” are blues riff-driven, while “Nowhere to Go” and “1999” are much more funk -influenced, but the first real revelation comes with “Breaking My Heart Again” where Henrik’s voice, rather than his guitar work, dominates for the first time.  The first time I heard this song, I was convinced that it was a Paul Carrack lead vocal, and that’s not a comparison I make lightly.  There are thousands of guitarists who can belt out high tempo blues tunes but, for me, the real singers are the ones who can perform well on the slower, more laid-back tunes as well.  Henrik Freischlader is one of the real singers.

The second half of the album carries on in the same vein, with the funky “Take the Blame” and riff-driven “Hear Your Talking” leading into the ballad “Two Young Lovers” before the brooding menace of “With the Flow” and the closing slow blues of “Won’t You Help Me”.  The album is a well-rounded collection of songs from ballads to fairly hard blues riff-rock; the band sound convincing throughout, but the vocals really shine on the two ballads “Breaking My Heart Again” and “Won’t You Help Me”.

If you’re into the great blues-rock players like Gary Moore, Johnny Winter and Joe Bonamassa, then you’ll love this album; the playing is always superb and there’s a song for everyone here, whether you want a heartfelt ballad, a riffmonster or something with a backbeat, they’re all here.  Listen to this in the car at maximum volume.

“House in the Woods” is out on February 4 2013 on Cable Car Records.


Emile Gerber (Photo by Allan McKay)

It takes more than a little bit of snow to keep the Riot Squad indoors on a Saturday night when there’s live music to be found.  So, last weekend we were at The Finsbury, on the edge of Finsbury Park to check out the Emile Gerber Band.  The Finsbury’s easy to find; it’s about fifty metres away from Manor House station on the Piccadilly Line. The venue’s a bit of a work in progress at the moment, but the atmosphere’s good and the crowd appreciated the quality of the all the bands on the bill.

The Emile Gerber Band is a relatively recent addition to the London live scene and, after this very brief set, I’m certainly keen to hear more.  Emile Gerber is a very, very good blues/rock guitar player who plays in an authentic blues style without resorting to the clichés that players in this idiom often fall into.  As if that wasn’t enough, he’s also got a strong and distinctive voice which works very well with his songs and guitar style.

This short set featured mainly original material, including “Don’t Do As I Do” and “Well Well Well” and a cover of the brilliant Neil Young song “Ohio”.  The originals sound polished in a way that only comes with plenty of practice and a lot of natural ability as a starting point.  I expected “Ohio” to be a bit harder than the version I heard here (it’s a pretty angry song, after all), but it still sounded good.  After this gig, I’ll certainly make the effort to go and see the band (or one of Emile’s acoustic performances) in future.

I’ve got an interesting little observation for you as well.  The males in the Riot Squad at this gig were enthusing about Emile’s guitar playing, while the females were more impressed by his voice.  That’s either a bit of gender stereotyping, or Emile’s got something that works for everyone.  I’ll certainly be back for another listen.

Product DetailsIndependent avant r’n’b artist Dawn Richard released an incredible EP last year, “Armor On”, which was actually an album, and has now released her first album which should have been an EP. With 16 tracks and over an hour’s playing time something has been lost along the way after the excitement of “Armor On” and her intriguing and original way of subverting the r’n’b genre, given its tired and wayward state following the golden years of the mid nineties. That’s not to say this a bad record, far from it, it’s just that I was expecting so much; “Goldenheart” makes a very good try but in the final analysis falls a little short of the mark.

The first third of Dawn Richard’s debut is the part I have the most trouble with, which is surprising considering it’s almost the most experimental segment, sonically at least. Richard and her producers have a default setting musically; a totally electronic, somewhat ambient, sometimes new-agey, beat-heavy soundscape with recurring (6 tracks) rapid hand claps panning from one side to the other, glassy and chiming sound effects, layered synths and multi-tracked harmonies. It’s a cold, crowded mix but ultimately (weirdly) thin and soulless with the disconcerting end result of certain songs sounding as though the backing track used could be interchangeable and almost irrelevant, such is the similarity between them. It feels as though tracks such as “Gleaux” (pronounced Glow) and “Riot” have been made precisely to demonstrate to Richard’s musical persona and aesthetic but instead end up sounding unfinished and experimental for the sake of it.

Pretty Wicked Things”, the sixth track, will make you sit up. Richard fans will already know this track as it was the first single from “Goldenheart” and from the eerie, desolate opening through to the unexpected collision of gentle trance pads, vocal effects exploding and a hefty dubstep drop, she has managed to produce a song with real tension and originality sounding nothing like Calvin Harris, Guetta, Skrillex or any of the other big name producers all of whom have gone from the dance genre to that of r’n’b, for better or worse. It’s an impressive achievement and an example of how I expected this album to sound; vocally Richards is a world apart from her contemporaries.

Warfaire” marks a change in mood musically and the second half of “Goldenheart” is a far stronger and more engaging, warm listen. “Warfaire” is a ballad that has one of the strongest melodies that we’ve heard thus far, it is simple both musically and vocally, impassioned and, (an overused word, but it’s appropriate here) ‘real’.  I believed the sentiment based on Richard’s brilliant, affecting performance. And, this is the surprising thing, the tracks that ditch the glitch and the complicated time signatures and honour the more traditional r’n’b/soul blueprint are without question the most cohesive and effective. Punning power ballad “Break of Dawn” sounds like a Diane Warren song that Beyonce would be happy to take to number 1 and, along with the one-off 3 minute electro pop perfection of “In Your Eyes”, is the best song here.  “Tug of War” is a persistent, soulful mid-tempo roller and could have featured on Electribe 101’s 1990 album “Electribal Memories” and current single, again mid-tempo, “86” is more than a little indebted sonically to Prince’s “Little Red Corvette” but is very much its own odd, unclassifiable creation that expands in power with each listen. The most audacious song though is the title track, Richard’s sumptuous harmonies echoing over Debussy’s ‘Clair de Lune’, it’s straightforward and maybe a little stand-offish but you have to admire her nerve for even attempting it.

All in all “Goldenheart” is clearly a  labour of love which could have been an exceptional debut but ends up being a very good one, due mainly to its unwieldy track listing and running time and a pandering to a style which may not be the one that best suits Dawn Richard’s undeniable talent. This album is apparently the first album of three and I very much look forward to the next instalment from this curious, ambitious and intelligent artist.

This album was released less than two years ago in May 2011, although Akira the Don (or final_tle-800Adam Narkiewicz) has been making music as an artist and a producer for nearly ten years.  He also became a dad this week, so it’s perfect timing to revisit his brilliant second album “The Life Equation”.

 If you listen to 6 Music at all, you’re bound to hear songs that grab your attention instantly and won’t let go.  I heard “Babydoll” while listening to 6 Music on a lazy summer Sunday in 2011.  When the song had finished, thirty seconds on a search engine brought up; a few more clicks and a waft of a credit card and the album was on its way, along with a handwritten thank you from the Don and a couple of badges as well.  It was a good experience before the CD even came out of the case.

If you have to describe Akira the Don with one word, then that word is “eclectic”.  The musical styles, the beats, the samples and the arrangements take their influences from British popular culture of the last 50 years and it’s almost totally unpredictable.  The Don also manages to use humour in a way that most rappers can’t in that he’s actually funny.  You won’t find any of those hapless “skits” that are obligatory on mainstream rap albums, but you will laugh at the knockabout humour of “A Cautionary Tale” and the social comment of “I Don’t Own a TV” (featuring a sample from the’70s Squeeze classic “Cool for Cats”).

“The Life Equation” is a great advert for buying a physical copy of the album; all the lyrics are included in the CD packaging and it’s an album which should be heard from start to finish for maximum impact.  There isn’t a bad track on the album and even the throwaway final track “Big” has some clever and entertaining wordplay.  There are more ideas and poetry here than on a dozen mainstream rap albums and you really don’t know what to expect next.  The rap breakup song “Nothing Lasts Forever” (featuring Envy) moves from amicable split to bitter recriminations before seamlessly shifting into the hugely upbeat Motown pastiche love song “Babydoll”.

Listening to “The Life Equation” is a bit like throwing a lit match into a box of fireworks; you have no idea what’s going to happen next, but you know that it’s going to be entertaining.  From the 100mph rock beats and breakneck-speed rap of “Video Highway” through the melodic Phil Spector feel of “We Won’t be Broke Forever” to the seven-section cycle of the title song, the album absolutely fizzes with musical and lyrical creativity and humour.  Just give it a listen.

Normally we would have loads of Spotify links to this article, but the album isn’t available there so we’ve set up YouTube links where we can.  If you want to hear anything that doesn’t have a hyperlink, you can listen to it The Don’s website here and if you like it, you can buy it as well.

Cover PhotoWell, Happy New Year everyone.  We’ve already decided that 2013 is going to be great year and we’re expecting plenty of great recorded and live music.  And talking of live music, we’re featuring loads of gigs this year starting with some of our friends from Bandhouse Studios as the Radio (in my) Head project approaches its launch date.

 We’ll also be talking to Lilygun’s Anna-Christina about her new unplugged project “Pretty Little Lady” and we’re hoping to have a look at that live towards the end of January.  Keep an eye out for that because it’s looking very interesting indeed.

My New Year’s resolution is that I’m going to watch as much live music as I can this year.  Artists are finding it increasingly difficult to make money from sales of recorded music for many reasons which I’m not even attempting to address here, but we still have a thriving live circuit if you know where to look.  Over the next year, we’re going to try to help you find some great live music wherever you live and, if you miss it, we’ll try to tell you about it.

Have a great year.

Product DetailsOne half of eccentric hip-hop due OutKast, this is Big Boi’s second solo album (Andre 3000 has yet to release his debut) following the acclaimed, sturdy and bombastic ‘Sir Ludicrous Left Foot’ from 2 years ago. “Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumours” main selling point is that, unlike his debut, Big Boi has, this time round, chosen high profile but still relatively underground indie stars to work with and less dependence on his contemporaries within the hip-hop or rap genre. This is not necessarily a surprise as his dream collaborator is Kate Bush, something he has spoken about many times and his adoration and knowledge of Bush’s work is that of a committed fan boy.

“Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumours” is in fact a very broad record, it has massive pop choruses (see in particular the joyous New Edition-indebted, and featuring Kelly Rowland vocal, “Mama Told Me”) and is commercial in a way that the two most predominant guests here, terminally hip Little Dragon and Portishead-lite, US trip-hoppers Phantogram, within the confines of their own work are not. It continues to confirm that Big Boi’s tastes are wide and his love of music generally is far reaching and passionate but there is a compromise sonically here; instead of a union of creative talent on some of these overly crowded tracks there seems to be a disconnect.

Phantogram and Little Dragon generously get 3 songs each and their tracks also featured rappers such as Killer Mike and Lana Del Rey favourite and rap’s next Superstar, ASAP Rocky. On the plus side “Objectum Sexuality” establishes an insistent and funky groove, a silly rap (‘we’re playing doctor but with no stethoscope, just heels and knockers’) and Phantogram delivering one of the strongest and most charismatic choruses here and the short, punching “Higher Res” featuring Little Dragon (only available on the Deluxe version kids!) is one of the few excitingly and genuinely experimental tracks here, vocals and beats continually slipping in and out of view, and hints at what could have been. “CPU” (Phantogram again) is a mess and in respect to the new, mainstream electronic ‘genre’, which this incorporates (EDM), already sounds dated and the overloaded, albeit satisfyingly thick and nasty sounding. “Thom Pettie” leaves Little Dragon sounding completely uninvolved and un-catered for.

Shoes for Running” features Wavves (I’ve never heard of them but they sound like Green Day to these ears which, in itself, is problematic) and is the musical equivalent of a scrappy kids cartoon and not just because it features children singing on the final chorus; it isn’t good by any stretch of the imagination. Some of the best stuff here features Big Boi and his male contemporaries only.  “In the A” is superb, brassy and scorching and “Raspberries” is a woozy, filthy and funny delight. Big Boi’s own performance throughout is top notch and the only consistent element here, he is charismatic and smart and can dominate his own material with no the need for the many helping hands he insists on this time around.

This album reminds me of one those albums by DJ’s or dance acts that were particularly prominent in the mid-nineties that had many high profile ‘featuring’ tracks but failed to deliver any genuine and successful merging of the talents involved. There are touches of EDM here and there (but nothing too heavy-handed), trip-hop, Prince-influenced funk (touching ballad “Descending” sounds like a “Purple Rain” cast off) and of course hip-hop and R’n’B; it’s a surprisingly easy listen and at times a thoroughly entertaining one but it is rarely essential or forward looking in the way that on paper and based on past evidence suggests it might have been. Imagining she actually does get to hear this, I wouldn’t get my hopes too high for that Kate Bush collaboration happening any time soon.