Kentucky Headhunters: On Safari (Plowboy Records)
Any band whose opening track is called Beaver Creek Mansion should automatically receive a 10 rating. Kentucky Headhunters roots sit all the way back in 1968 when brothers Richard and Fred Young started Itchy Brother in Metcalfe County, Kentucky. Kentucky Headhunters become a thing in 1986 with lead guitarist Greg Martin on board. Debut album Pickin’ On Nashville in 1989 was widely acclaimed. The current line up is completed by Doug Phelps, lead vocals since 1995 and bass since 2008.
On Safari is a mixture of country, blues and rock with a metal edge. Tracks like Deep South Blues Again, I Am The Hunter and Lowdown Memphis Town Blues all flow with soul and passion, with some typically free flowing guitar work beloved of the Southern rock style. It makes you want to grab a cold one and stomp that foot on the porch. It's not all brilliant mind, with some of the more religious themes a little hard to stomach.
God Loves A Rolling Stone is not a homage to Jagger and co, but an evangelical tinged Jebus hymn which I could do without. This is probably unsurprising given the band's side projects include a gospel rock album (Martin was part of The Mighty Messiahs) Still, when the band do let go, the music is mighty fine and Phelps voice sits comfortably with the band’s southern swagger. 7/10
Herman Frank: The Devil Rides Out (AFM)
Guitarist Herman Frank is probably best known for his work with German legends Accept. Having left the band after 1983’s Balls To The Wall, he forged a career with Victory as well as producing numerous bands including Saxon. A return to Accept for Blood Of The Nations, Stalingrad and Blind Rage saw him leave the band again in December 2014.
It won't be a surprise to discover that his third solo release, The Devil Rides Out sticks pretty rigidly to the formula of the aforementioned metal outfits. Blistering solos, thunderous drumming and average lyrics are all firmly in place for a pretty formulaic release which ticks all the heavy metal boxes. Thunder Of Madness may be the stand out track with its ferocious speed and aggressive power.
Part of the difficultly is vocalist Rick Altzi, mouthpiece of several other bands including Masterplan, At Vance and Frequency, whose gritty gnarly voice just grates a little as the album progresses. On the plus side, Frank’s fretwork skills are stunning, shredding for fun with a sharpness that’ll cut you. Bonus track Forever is the obligatory power ballad and adds nothing. Average heavy metal by numbers. 6/10
Demon: Cemetery Junction (Spaced Out)
When I was 13 years old I was fixated by an album called The Plague by Demon. A family holiday in the Isle Of Man was made tolerable because of that album, on cassette, which spent the entire trip on a loop on my Sony Walkman. I was vaguely aware that the band had already released their two most highly rated albums, Night Of The Demon in 1981 and The Unexpected Guest the following year.
I don't even know why I loved The Plague so much as it really hasn't stood the test of time very well. After 1985’s British Standard Approved interest waned and it was with some surprise that Cemetery Junction appeared recently. It transpires that the band has maintained momentum since reforming in 2001, with three albums and an appreciative audience still out there to welcome them. I bet the Germans bloody love them.
With a pretty stable line up in place, the band knit around original vocalist Dave Hill. Drummer Neil Ogden has been on board since 2002, guitarist Dave Cotterill since 2007 whilst bassist Ray Walmsley has previously played guitar for many years. Ken Wayne’s keyboards and Paul Hume’s drums complete the line up.
Unfortunately Cemetery Junction isn't very good. Opener Are You Just Like Me is okay, but second track Life In Berlin stinks. Musically the band are incredibly competent but it's just so pedestrian and rooted in 1986. This is the kind of stuff Magnum churned out around the Vigilante era (shudders - Ed). Turn On The Magic, The Best Is Yet To Come (if only) and Queen Of Hollywood are all Synth heavy average rock with Hill’s slightly strained vocal style possibly the only thing connecting the band with their past.
By the time you get to Thin Disguise it's pretty desperate stuff. The title track doesn't make it any better but I can see this lot going down a storm at Hard Rock Hell or some other nostalgia drenched festival. I'm astounded the band are still plugging away and full kudos to them for that. It's just a shame that the atmospheric intent never quite translates to top class tunes. 5/10
Tiebreaker: Death Tunes (Karisma Records)
Tiebreaker play Norwegian rock ‘n’ roll. Death Tunes is their second full release, following on from 2014’s We Come From The Mountains. With a mix of influences including a healthy dose of Pearl Jam, this is a pretty decent album full of Melody and power. Thomas E. Karlsen’s vocals are gritty and powerful, with his performance on Cannonball reminiscent of Chris Cornell in his prime. If you like guitar driven rock with a melancholic edge combined with the raw passion of early garage rock then check this release out.7/10