Once rightly described as the "new-Hendrix" and hailed by people as veritable as Barack Obama, 34 year old Austin native Gary Clark Jr, shot to stardom with his major label debut Blak & Blu, a stunning mix of blues, rock, soul and hip-hop spawning massive tracks like Bright Lights, Blak & Blu and When My Train Pulls In. A whirlwind of tours followed that mant that his albums, including the introspective and personal on his second release The Story Of Sonny Boy Slim, were commercially unsuccessful in comparison to his live performances. I'll admit that Sonny Boy Slim album did take a little while to sink in as it didn't have as much of the genre bending of it's predecessor. However it seems that Clark Jr has rediscovered his fire and manged to distill his live prowess into an album and it's once again come from a personal place.
This Land opens with the incendiary title track a damning indictment of racism in it all it's forms, driven by synth bass, electronic drum beats and Clark Jr's signature Gibson SG, he starts by saying that he's "paranoid and pissed off" before reciting the hatred he's been subjected to in a defiant way. He has said that the album has been influenced by the election of Donald Trump, the rise of racism in America, the Colin Kaepernick incident that exposed the NFL to accusations of blackballing the player over his 'take a knee' protest against the murders of black Americans. A damming look at America as it stands today this is Clark Jr laying out his manifesto for the future, musically as well, producing this album has meant that he can really let himself go from blues-drenched rockers, thumping punk (Gotta Get Into Something) to Prince-like histrionics and dub-reggae (Feel Like A Million) it's the man moving away from his guitar solo driven past on to more lyrical arrangements.
Speaking of Prince some of the percussion overdubs have been done by Prince alumni Sheila E, though the majority of instrumentation is from Gary himself, who still occasionally shows his six string finesse on tracks like I Walk Alone, a track that has a big slab of the Purple one in it. At over an hour it's a lot to take in but it keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout, the numerous audio twists and turns have you guessing what's around the corner. It's only March but we may have the blues album of the year already, almost flawless. 9/10
A New Revenge: Enemies And Lovers (Golden Robot Records) [Matt]
Another week another project featuring Tim 'Ripper' Owens (Jesus this man gets around a bit), this time though he's in a new project with Keri Kelli (Slash’s Snake Pit, Alice Cooper, Vince Neil Band), Rudy Sarzo (who’s work with Ozzy Osbourne, Dio, Whitesnake) and long-time Scorpions drummer James Kottak (also from Montrose, Warrant, Kingdom Come). A New Revenge is a lot more melodic than any of Ripper's previous work drawing more from the bands of his bandmates, take a song like The Way it's got a highly sexed lyrics and a massive hook, something that it shares with the cheesy as hell Never Let You Go. It's unashamed hard rock which Ripper does do well trying some latter Dio phrasing but it's all just a little light for my taste to be honest, he only really gets to let rip on The Eyes but then all of this hard work is undone by Only The Pretty Ones which is dreadful, I mean truly dreadful! Still this one track aside it's an alright hard rock record from some of the big hitters in the genre. 6/10
Pharlee: S/T (Tee Pee Records) [Matt]
The San Diego five piece have got their freak flag flying high as their sound sees chunky grooves with blues drenched psychedelia. Dylan Donovan and Zachary Oakley are the rumbling rhythm section driving Ethereal Woman and giving the crashing power to Warning this is probably one of the best songs on the record a full beast of a track building from the Maharishi opening into a explosive mix of Figgy's fluid guitar work and the towering B3 Hammond of Garrett Leaks giving that 60's vibe to proceedings. With influences of Blues Pills, Blood Ceremony, Electric Citizen and Ruby The Hatchet it's the soulful vocals of Macarena Rivera that add the final touch to this bands retro-style of rocking, she really wails over the wall of organs and fuzz riffage that this six track album has to offer, recorded on analog equipment you can hear every buzz from the amp and echo on the vocal, it leads to a much more authentic sound that many of the acts signed to Tee Pee Records have. Pharlee are a band born out of the fertile San Diego music scene and their self title debut is magical mystery tour of foot stomping rock n roll. 7/10
DiAmorte: The Red Opera (Dark Star Records) [Polly]
If Anne Rice was in a metal band with Danny Elfman, this is what I’d picture their debut album to be like. The album has a strong classical influence with vast layers of symphonic metal throughout, but I did feel that there was something missing from it. The talent is here, from the impressive vocals, bridges and heavy drums but unfortunately it wasn’t the most gripping of albums I’ve listened to. I can see (or hear) that the album is there to tell a story like an opera but the album didn’t make me care enough to find out what it is. I can hear the influences of Epica throughout this album and some aspects of The Agonist’s early work in the respect of vocals but I guess what this album is missing is catchy choruses.
I enjoyed the classical sides of the band combined with metal and I can appreciate the time and dedication that has gone into it. More importantly I can appreciate the production that’s gone into this, because honestly, I don’t think this album would be much cop without it. Even though I have my favourites on the album that I would add to my symphonic metal playlist; Scarlet Mercy, Saviour Nevermore I: The Confrontation and Vae Victus if I was to sit down and listen to an album this would not be my first choice, I think this is mainly for the significant lack of riffs. If my grandfather liked metal, I feel like this is what he would like, unfortunately my grandfather and I didn’t see eye to eye on our music tastes. I wouldn’t say the album is terrible but not amazing, it’s definitely different but not the most gripping of releases. 6/10