Royal Southern Brotherhood: Don't Look Back: The Muscle Shoals Sessions (Ruf)
Never has there been such an apt title for an album, RSB started back in 2011 as a collaborative project between Cyrille Neville, of the famed The Meters and Neville Brothers, Devon Allman (son of Gregg) and solo guitar demon Mike Zito the abnd released two albums before both Zito and Allman left, this left just Neville along with bassist Charlie Wooton and drummer Yonrico Scott so they set about finding two new six stringers to take the left and right of stage. Now in a blues/funk/soul 'supergroup' you need to get talent and Neville has yet again come up trumps with Bart Walker who looks like a cross between Jimi Hendrix and Leslie West of Mountain fame taking over from Zito and Tyrone Vaughan (nephew of SRV) cutting in crunchy with a signature tone. The new look RSB arrived on the scene at FAME studios in Muscle Shoals and proceeded to create another album. Unlike previous efforts which had the rockier elements of Allman and Zito's past, Don't Look Back moves forward and evolves their sound adding more of the funk from Neville's history as well as the blues that took pride of place on their first two efforts.
The album kicks off with I Wanna Be Free which has more than a hint of Bonamassa to it showing off Bart Walker's huge voice that compliments Neville's more gospel vocal. The title track is a slower song built on Neville's percussion, Scott's drums and Wooton's bass while adding a touch of banjo to proceedings giving it the swampy bayou feel. With all the songs coming from the belly of the blues, it's with the rhythms and guitar lines that we get more funk driven numbers like Hit Me Once and The Big Greasy both of which feature Ivan Neville on Hammond B3 and clavinet giving that authentic 70's funk feel, Penzi is Latin through and through with the flamenco guitars and bongo/tabla drumming, while Poor Boy is a Vaughan penned track and has that air of familiarity that fans of his uncle Stevie will recognise in an instant. With a blend of styles present fans of blues based music with funk, rock, soul all thrown into the mix, will find something to get them grooving on this third record, with two new members the band sound reinvigorated and ready to take on all comers. 8/10
Artizan: The Furthest Reaches (Pure Steel)
Artizan are a melodic metal band from Jacksonville Florida, now I haven'e heard much by them but The Furthest Reaches is their third album and is a concept album dealing with an alien race being summoned to earth, but the concept doesn't get in the way of this albums songs which are all pure melodic metal with Bill Staley and Shamus McConnery's guitars riffing and soloing with aplomb on the speedy tracks like Hopeful Eyes, while the progressive 9 minute plus title track is driven by Ty Tammeus' percussion and echoes Queensryche in full bombastic flight. In fact the Seattle natives are the band Artizan have most in common with full of driving, powerful music that is as emotive as it is rocking, merging the classic style of metal with progressive touches and heaps of melody with all of it driven by Tom Braden's voice who sounds uncannily like Hammerfall's Joacim Cans with his broad expressive range taking centre stage on this sprawling Sci-Fi concept piece that has more than a hint of Iced Earth's Set Abominae to it. In fact the voice of The Keepers (the alien race) on The Cleansing is supplied by Matt Barlow formally of said band, the IE influence continues on Wardens Of The New World which has guest vocalist Sabrina Valentine duetting with Braden on the albums second long track. Artizan have created a great album that manages to tell the albums concept without losing any immediacy or indeed lacking in metal power, if you like your metal with huge heap of melody and a little prog thrown in then The Furthest Reaches will draw you in and keep you listening for a while. 8/10
District 97: In Vaults (Laser's Edge)
Now there are many progressive rock bands with a female singer around, most fall into the folk, pop or even hard rock style with progressive elements, however District 97 are a pure prog rock band for fans of Yes, ELP, King Crimson, Rush and one of my favourite bands Panic Room. They play technical difficult, virtuoso music with odd time signatures, jazzy refrains and huge keyboard melodies. The band formed in 2006 and started out as an instrumental group, however after a year like this they looked for a vocalist, happily finding on in Leslie Hunt who was a top ten finalist on American Idol. Now this doesn't seem to be the perfect place to find a singer for a prog band but Hunt has an ethereal but gritty vocal delivery that fits the mind bending music perfectly, with a hint of alternative icon Shirley Manson as well as a keen radio edge in her broad range. Her voice sits atop the expansive, Peart-like drumming from founder Jonathan Schang, the bottom heavy dark basslines of Patrick Mulchay, mechanical riffs of Jim Tashjian and the soaring keys of Rob Clearfield, meaning that it is the most accessible part of this complicated collection of songs.
The band manage to channel the metallic darkness of latter period Dream Theater and Shadow Gallery as well as bands like the underrated Tiles with whom District 97 share many similarities especially on Death By A Thousand Cuts which features some drum fills that many drummers would die for along with the off time riffs, huge hammonds and frequent changes of pace. As I said District 97 are pure progressive music with influence drawn from everywhere but mostly sat in the jazz time signatures and Hunt's jazz diva croon that easily switches to a prowling emotional performance on A Lottery which also features a cracking soulful guitar solo too. Despite their clear progressive tag only one track clocks in at over 10 minutes long (the impressive finale Blinding Vision) but still they manage to pack as many time changes and odd signatures as possible into each song, yet they still manage to keep everything very concise and immediate especially on Takeover which is the one song on the album that could be considered 'mainstream' despite it's bass pops, off time drumming and monstrous synths. District 97 play rock music that is devilishly complicated and played by a band full of impossibly talented musicians meaning that only hardcore proggers need apply. 8/10