“Amplify” – Tess of the Circle

4 stars (out of 5)

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Amplify ScrollerIt’s just under three years since the gentle, acoustic Tess of the Circle debut, “Thorns”, was released and reviewed here in 2013. You would expect the band to move on in that time, but this is a radical departure, a bit like Dylan going electric, but no-one here at Riot Towers is crying ‘Judas’. The clue’s in the title; “Amplify” is the sound of Tess Jones and Lee Clifton picking up electric guitars, turning up the volume and exploring the more rambunctious side of their music. Powered by the creative rhythm section of Ben Drummond (bass) and Paul Stone (drums), the band has produced an eclectic, riff-driven, powerhouse of an album.

 The seventies influences are impossible to ignore, with elements of rock, prog and even a bit of folk in there as well, but Tess and Lee’s playing combined with Tess’s raw and slightly vulnerable vocal put their original stamp on the album as it moves through rhythmic changes and interesting chord patterns. If you’re looking for some common ground between this and “Thorns”, you’ll find it in the lyrics, taking an introspective look at relationships; some are working, some aren’t and some are over.

 The album opens with “Love is the Drug that You Crave”, a monster guitar riff underpinned by a melodic bassline, organ and massed harmonies in the chorus. There’s just a hint of Atomic Rooster in there, if anyone remembers them. As the album unfolds, there are psychedelic references in “I’m Not Ashamed”, folk/rock vocal intonations and call and response on “Face the Changes” (maybe a hint of Roger Chapman without the vibrato) and a drift from unison guitar riffs on “Drowning Without You” to solo with a heavy Indian influence; on a raga tip, you might say.

 The final three songs move back towards the stylings of “Thorns” with the gentle lead vocals and some lovely backing vocals of “Summer Rain”, the string section on “The Waves Break us Down” and the mandolin-led arrangement of the closer, “This Higher Ground”, creating a feel of the song cycle spread over the two Tess of the Circle albums.

 Tess Jones has taken the impassioned songs of his first, mainly acoustic album, dialled up the power, and created an album that stays true to his singer/songwriter roots while introducing twin lead guitars, Ginger Baker/Keith Moon drums and various rock and folk stylings to spice up the mix. It can stand alone as a rock album or be seen as an electric companion piece to “Thorns”. Either way, it’s a fine piece of work.

 “Amplify” is released on 22nd April on Cadiz Music (VINVOC016).