“Federal Charm” – Federal Charm

4 stars (out of 5)

4

Federal CharmI have one rule of reviewing that I never break.  I never read a review of something I’m about to review myself.  It’s a good discipline because I know that I’m not being influenced by anyone else’s opinion.  It’s been really difficult with this album because the press releases and Facebook posts I’ve seen have all made me realise that it needs hard work to do this justice because all of the obvious comparisons have already been made and I’m not going to repeat them.

This is a very, very good debut album from a band who have everything in the locker; strong songs, great playing and outstanding vocals all combine to create a very listenable and accessible funky rock album from this Manchester band.  Federal Charm are Nick Bowden (vocals and guitar), Paul Bowe (guitar), Danny Rigg (drums) and L.D. Morawsk (bass), they’ve been together for about two years and this, their first album, features eleven original songs plus a cover of the Lowell Fulson classic “Reconsider Baby” (listed here as “Reconsider”).

The band draw their inspiration from the classic British blues-rock period of the early 70s and play with the assurance and verve of a much more seasoned outfit.  There are obvious influences which I won’t bore you with, but you can also hear touches of Wishbone Ash, Thin Lizzy and the Stones in their twin guitar arrangements, which are under-pinned by powerful drumming and basslines which are more melodic than you might expect from a rock band.  Throw in an occasional touch of Hammond or piano, and you’ve got a classic rock cocktail.  And then there’s the vocals; Nick Bowden has a superb rock voice and he’s equally at ease with the all-out rockers and the slow bluesier material.

The album kicks off with two riff-driven rockers (“I Gotta Give it Up” and “I’m Not Gonna Beg”) before slinking into a funkier groove with “No Money Down” and the slow blues of “Somebody Help Me”.  “Reaction” takes the pedal back to the metal before a keyboard swell eases into the brooding menace of “The Stray”.  “There’s a Light” and “Tell Your Friends” are funky strutting riff-rockers leading to another tempo change for the superb rendition of “Reconsider Baby”.  It’s a brave choice given the list of blues players who have already covered the song (Eric Clapton and Joe Bonamassa off the top of my head) but it works because it’s played at a slower tempo and the emphasis is on the vocal rather than the guitars.  “Come on Down” is powered by another funky riff, while the final two songs “Any Other Day” and “Too Blind to See” nod in the direction of the Stones, particularly the intros.

As a debut album, this is a great snapshot of Federal Charm.  They wear their influences proudly and they move effortlessly from slow blues to balls-out rockers.  The track sequence works perfectly as the album starts and finishes on big rock songs and the slower songs create a contrast to the more raucous rockers.  It’s full of melodic invention and great playing from all four members and the quality of the songs is excellent from start to finish.

While I thoroughly recommend the album, I have to say that you really should make the effort to see the band live to get maximum bang for your buck; they play with a self-assurance that never steps over the line into arrogance and Nick Bowden’s voice is superb live.  They’re playing all over the country in next few months to promote the album, so get yourself out there and see them.

Out on Monday July 1 on Mystic Records (MYSCD213).