Reviews By Paul McGee

Rivers of England  Astrophysics Saved My Life Self Release

This band hail from the West of England and are comprised of Rob Spalding on vocals, guitar and keyboards, Brian Madigan on drums/ percussion, Jacob Tyghe on bass.

This is their second release and the 11 tracks here cover the ground from folk-rock to lightly tinged jazz arrangements. The vocal talents of Spalding carry the project on a warm glow of melodic tunes and acoustic arrangements, backed by some excellent strings (Danyal Dhondy take a big bow).

There are a number of additional musicians that help to enhance the experience and Neil Gay (guitar), Innes Sibun (guitar), Bill 'The Goat' Owsley (double bass), Patrick Morgan (drums), Roo Primrose (violin) all contribute to an overall sense of sweet release. 

In Universe, In Universe kicks off the project and explores great themes of infinity both, within and without. Endless affinity with the cosmic whole is a theme that runs throughout and we are asked to embrace loving awareness with the daily experience of being alive. Underneath the Moon is a gentle reflection on a relationship and our place in the great enigma.

There are plenty of references to water and sailing in songs such as You, Me and the Sea; Norfolk and Waves. Born For This is a very positive statement for living an expansive life and feeling alive. Love, Science & Peace is a plea for love in times of loneliness while In the Barley plays on conflicting emotions of wanting a simpler rural life versus the race to succeed in the city rat race. This is a very pleasant record and worth checking out. 

Rami and the Whale Self-Titled BIEM/NCB

Rami and The Whale is the solo project of Swedish singer-songwriter Rasmus Blomquist. This is his first release and the 12 songs were written over a period of ten years.

Rami is joined by an array of musicians, with Kristin Freidlitz on violin, Erik Lundin on flute, Henri Gylander on lead guitar, Ryan McMackin, Björn Sima and Johan Magnberg sharing drum duties across various tracks and Jonte Johansson with Lisa Illy on vocal harmonies.

The songs are very much rooted in contemporary folk with a slow, lazy groove and gentle vocals to lull the listener into a calm sense of being. The Unfinished Song and Autumn Song are instantly appealing while I Am Rami visits his relationship with the World and all its’ wide-eyed wonder.

The vocals are very much the catalyst for these songs and Rami sings in a plaintive and sweet voice. The mood is one of contemplation and reflection and the understated playing and rich melody constantly impress. The strings on Echoes of Matter play against the simple guitar lines to great effect and Shipwreck visits the past in order to free old demons. Tiny Seed ends the record and looks to a future where hope and expectation reside. This is a very strong debut release.

Don Conoscenti Anastasia Howlin’ Dog

This is a new release from American singer-songwriter, record producer, and multi-instrumentalist Don Conoscenti, originally from Chicago, Illinois. He has released 9 previous albums since the early 1990’s and is a student of jazz, in addition to the blues, Americana, and rock, as a member of several bands. This project is a diverse and lush affair with 14 tracks covering an hour of music that includes big vocals, string and horn arrangements and plenty of excellent playing. Mainstream rock with quite a bit of soul.

Special guests include Grammy winning orchestrator/arranger Paul Buckmaster, Eliza Gilkyson (Anastasia), Kevin Welch (What Else Could I Do), Ellis Paul (Love Is a Curious Thing), Dan Navarro (Drink Another Round), plus others.

The studio musicians are excellent and add real colour to the songs with Richie Cannata, sax and Bob Andrews, piano, Mina Tank on background vocals and Don Richmond on banjo, pedal steel and mandolin really pushing the performance levels higher.

There are plenty of superb guitar breaks which can only be expected from this experienced and mature player and the acoustic feel of Ariana, The Other Side, What Else Could I Do and She Didn’t Break Me show plenty of layers to the song-writing skills on display.

The up-tempo arrangements of Drink Another Round, Love Has Come, are balanced against the reflective That Train, viewed as a metaphor for life’s journey while the big blues sound of Smith Road is a slow groove with some fine solo work on guitar and swirling organ. So, plenty to excite on this release and something to suit all tastes. 

Mia Rose Lynne Follow Me Moon Waterknot 

This impressive artist grew up in Northern California and was exposed to bluegrass and Western Swing music at an early age through her family who had a touring group. Now living in Nashville, she released her debut recording Open Space in 2014 to much interest and media attention. Her songs are folk ballads with a rootsy feel and some lovely string arrangements that elevate the listening experience to another level. 

The 11 acoustic based tracks were all written played and sung by Lynne who is accompanied by a superb coterie of musicians who serve the songs beautifully. The understated playing and gentle touch of Danny Mitchell (Piano), Matt Slocum (Cello), Jeff Taylor (Accordion), Eli Bishop (Fiddle/Viola), Chris Donohue (Bass), Joshua Hunt (Drums/Percuson), Liz Poston (Backing Vocals), Austin Filingo (Acoustic/Electric Guitar), Chris Moyse (Acoustic Guitar & Vocals) are all perfectly aligned with the sweetly seductive vocals and acoustic guitar playing of Mia Rose. 

Opening up with two songs, January and Different, that speak about a rekindled relationship and aiming for happiness, despite external commentary and pressures. Colorado is about keeping a relationship together and being willing to sacrifice everything to hold that sense of true love. Not Just You & Me is a song for everyman and the daily lives that are quietly led by you and me in our corners of the World. Porcelain Doll lightens the theme with a quirky love story that begins on a shop shelf and ends with a happy reunion. 

Starlings is self-rumination on a long car journey and the reflection that ‘this is just the kind of drive that writes a song, by the time I’ve made it home’. Where To Begin and Gunshy are back-to-back songs about troubled times in relationships and wanting to endure the pain and struggle in the hope of a resolution ("I don’t wanna lose you by giving up"). The closing track I Like You a Lot is a playful wordy romp through the imagery of a love crush. Sung with Chris Moyse, it is the perfect antidote for much of the weighty themes before, but does not diminish in any way the bright talent of this exciting new talent. Definitely one to watch.  

Jaimie Michaels Once Upon a Different Time Appaloosa

Produced by Jono Manson and mixed at Kitchen Sink Studio in Chupadero, New Mexico, this is the 10th album in the past 20 years for Jaimie Michaels. Jaime was joined in the studio by his regular team of players, guitarist Ben Wright, bassist Josh Martin and drummer Mark Clark and a number of special guests. His sound is warm and gentle with plenty of insight in the words that reflect a musician and song-writer of some experience and a great deal of talent. 

Warming speaks as a reflection of our times and is a protest song against the waste of war and the way that political power corrupts. Somewhere Like Italy asks that we live for now and not overthink this life. Steal Light has a lovely blues shuffle and is reminiscent of JJ Cale with some nice understated keyboard parts. Circling Around and Singing For My Supper have philosophical messages contained in the clever wordplay, while The Heat speaks of a love that has gone cold (“we’re just two winding roads that no longer meet”). This is a very fine example of a talent at the top of his creative game and writing engaging and fun arrangements that are a joy to hear.