Storm Inside TitleOK, we should have got this out a little bit earlier but after a launch party for the album, which had a higher bodycount than the Leeds-Chelsea 1970 Cup Final replay (although the gig was more entertaining), and a deluge of albums being released at the same time, things got a bit congested. Anyway, we got there in the end and it was well worth the wait. “The Storm Inside”, the fourth Little Devils album, is the work of a band at the top of their game both as writers and performers. The band has built up quite a following on the live blues circuit in the UK and Europe with their unique sound and the energy and quality are captured well on “The Storm Inside”.

The foundation of the band’s sound is the rhythm section of Graeme Wheatley (bass) and Sara Leigh Shaw, aka the Pintsized Powerhouse, (drums); whatever the style or tempo, they do the business while still leaving the space for Big Ray (guitar) and Yoka (vocals) to do their bit. It’s a bit of an understatement to call Yoka a singer; she has a huge dynamic range, dealing equally well with the belters and the ballads but she has a few more weapons in the armoury. The first is that she plays saxophone, which isn’t unknown in blues bands and adds another lead instrument to the mix. The second is that she plays flute, which is very unusual in a rock context (unless you count Jethro Tull and Focus). Apart from having a bit of prog baggage, the flute works really well, its clear tones cutting through over-driven guitar tones very effectively to add an unusual texture to the band’s sound.

There’s a bit of a concept feel to the album as well, as it’s topped and tailed by storm-themed songs. The moody and atmospheric “Storm Warning” opens with slide resonator guitar and harmonica while the album’s closer “Heavy Weather” is a slow blues featuring Yoka’s flute. In between, you get another twelve tracks ranging in style from the traditional slow blues with a big guitar solo of “My Perfect You” (the first single from the album) to the Motown rhythms of “Stand”, featuring horns from Penny and the Pounds and the country blues of “Cold”.

It’s easy to see (and hear) why Little Devils are carving out such a niche for themselves with their live and studio work; they do all of the things that you would expect a good blues band to and then they sprinkle it with their own magic ingredients to create something a little bit special. Whether it’s a sax or flute solo, or even Graeme Wheatley’s growling vocal delivery, there’s always something a little bit different going on to set this band apart.

“The Storm Inside” is out now on Krossborder Rekords (KBR 2015/3).

ThornsWell, this is certainly a welcome change of pace to fit in with the British summer arriving at last.  Tess of the Circle is a collective of musicians built around the (confusingly, male) singer/songwriter Tess Jones and, in terms of songs and arrangements, harks back to the classic era of British folk/rock in the seventies.  The songs on “Thorns” are very much in the introspective lyrical mould which first became popular at that time with the success of Carole King and James Taylor and the arrangements vary from solo acoustic fingerpicking and vocal to full group arrangement with drums, bass, keyboards and strings.

“Thorns” is the second album from Tess, following the solo “Magpie” in 2010 and the band assembled for the project all have solid experience of working with well-known performers apart for the guitarist Lee Clifton, who auditioned by dubbing his own guitar parts on to the band’s demos.  While working on an indie label budget, he’s managed to attract some major label players to the project with the strength of his songs and this quality shows in musical settings where the players rely on skill and technique rather than volume and effects to fill out the arrangements.

The album opens with the current single “Better Days” which, after a low-key intro, is driven along by a rhythm pattern from the two strummed acoustics and slightly discordant strings enforcing the lyrical theme of escape and growth.  “Vagabonds and Rogues” is a mid-tempo, mainly acoustic piece leading in to the opening electric riff of “Cracks and Burns”, which demonstrates a slightly different, harder-edged approach to the songs made possible by using the full band.  “Eyes of a Clown” is another introspective acoustic piece, this time filled out by a haunting string arrangement.  “History” is much more uptempo with an intro which vaguely recalls the Divine Comedy’s “National Express”.  I’m guessing that the position of “Lifesong” at the centre of the album is quite deliberate; all of the songs are very good, but this stands out from the very first hearing.  The Latin rhythm patterns of the acoustic guitar intro are emphasised by the piano part and it feels like this is the song where everyone gave it their best shot.  Tess’s voice is powerful throughout, but is really exceptional here and Lee Clifton’s guitar work generally, but particularly the two solos, is stunning.

“Say What You Want (Run)” takes the foot of the pedal a little before “No Place Like Home” where Tess Jones vocal sounds incredibly like Greg Lake (yep, the ELP Greg Lake), featuring yet another lovely guitar solo.  The title track is a gentle, mainly acoustic piece, about a relationship which isn’t quite working, building up to a full band section and an acoustic coda.  The poignant “Mixed Emotions”, with its lilting strings is the penultimate song before the closer, “”Girl in the Window” goes back to Tess’s performing and writing roots with finger-picked acoustic backing and ethereal backing vocals bringing the album to a wistful close.

You can certainly hear the influences on this album; it has a very seventies feel with references to gentle troubadours of that era but there’s also a move towards the raunchier folk feel of Jethro Tull, for example. There are eleven well-crafted songs here which are delivered by incredibly good musicians playing subtle and intricate arrangements.  If you appreciate those qualities, and I certainly do, then you should be listening to “Thorns”.

Out on July 17th on Vintage Voice Records Ltd. (VINVOC005).