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Wednesday 1 September 2021

Reviews: The Picturebooks, Robert Jon & The Wreck, Three Colours Dark, The Magic Bus (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

The Picturebooks – The Major Minor Collective (Century Media Records)

Fynn Grabke (Guitar/Vocals) and Philipp Mirtschink (Drums/Percussion), have a freeform way of life, splitting their time between making music, fixing/riding motorbikes and skateboarding the two piece approach their music in the same way. Having released three full lengths of percussive, earthy blues rock, last year the band found themselves with more than an albums worth of material as they couldn’t tour. So what to do with it? Well how about call some of your buddies and tour partners to collaborate on 10 of the 12 songs on this fourth record. 

Fynn especially has been given an easy ride here as all of the guests are vocalists so he just cranks out the riffs as Philipp thunders from behind his kit on tracks such as Catch Me If You Can which features Chris Robertson from Black Stone Cherry, a song that has that echoed sound The Picturebooks nail their colours to the mast with, Robertson channelling his gospel roots for this number. The bass on the record comes from Ryan Sinn (The Distillers) and Dave Dinsmore (Brant Bjork), but primarily the musical quotient is given by Grabke and Mirtschink, having the guest vocalists does mean that this record is very diverse, Holy Ghost (featuring Monster Truck man Jon Harvey) is a swaggering, slide blues rocker, while the preceding Beach Seduction has a moody ambient sound featuring Leah Wellbaum of Slothrust’s haunting vocal.

According to the band only opener Here’s To Magic with Refused’s Dennis Lyxzén and the brilliant centrepiece Too Soft To Live And Too Hard To Die which is a mind-tripping psych, garage rocking duet with Elin Larsson (Blues Pills) were pre-planned the rest of the songs happening organically when the collaborators were asked. Whether it’s the thrusting pure rock fury of Corrina Corrina featuring Neil Fallon of Clutch, the rock radio balladry of Rebel, passionately sung by Lzzy Hale (Halestorm) or the loaded Americana of Riders And Farmers, which feature Laurent Lacrouts and Mathieu Jourdain of The Inspector Cluzo and is almost an autobiographical song about the two bands. 

The album is based around the unifying power of music, bringing together some of the best in business for an all-star karaoke session with The Picturebooks as the house band. They have also included the instrumental track 12 which has been included as way for the fans to get involved as they can write lyrics for, or interpret it how they want and will be featured in a playlist curated by the band. Is it just a studio project? Who knows these songs may find their way into the set going forward, but as it stands The Major Minor Collective is a cracking, collaborative rock record. 8/10

Robert Jon & The Wreck – Shine A Light On Me Brother (Self Released)

Having been carving their name into the modern Americana/country/blues/rock revival since 2011, Robert Jon Burrison and his band The Wreck may well have come to your attention with their last album Last Light On The Highway, they certainly did with me. It’s a brilliant Southern rock album with obvious influences such as The Allman Brothers and Skynyrd but also the same authenticity as contemporaries like Blackberry Smoke and Nathaniel Rateliff & The Nightsweats. It really made me fall in love with Robert Jon & The Wreck so I was excited to hear that a new album was in the works. 

Written, recorded and produced throughout the deepest darkest part of the pandemic last year, Shine A Light On Me Brother, is a much more emotional, introspective and serious than its predecessor but also it’s brimming with the hope of good times to come! Ain’t No Young Love Song, especially is filled with a positivity, a love song that shouts out for radio play, while the title track and Everyday are an opening duo that draws you in with some good time rock n roll, steeped in blues and gospel. 

From here though the album opens up a bit with Chicago being a slinky, R&B number that wouldn’t sound out of place on Stax records, the 504 Horns of New Orleans blowing up a storm fit for The Blues Brothers themselves. Robert Jon’s vocals a smooth as well-worn leather, and his rhythm guitar hangs everything together as the rhythm section of Andrew Espantman (drums) and Warren Murrel (bass) drive moody numbers such as Movin’ and the torchlight folks song Anna Maria. Steve Maggiora’s keys/organs/pianos etc adding a Southern authenticity that hangs in the air throughout, Henry James’ guitar playing coming from the Rossington/Medlocke/Allman teachings bringing feeling and virtuosity to his leads, along with an understanding of how to strip things back to just acoustics on Hurricane and Desert Sun

There’s a lot of raw emotion on this album, as there tends to be on every Robert Jon & The Wreck album but it feels a little more near the knuckle on a track such as Brother which needs the rollicking, almost throw away, shuffle of Radio to follow it, so you don’t burst into tears. Wonderfully gifted song writing from the Sunshine coast of the USA, Shine A Light On Me Brother is an album of down home, blue collar music delivered with passion. They play the Globe, Cardiff on 16th September, you’d be mad to miss it!! 9/10

Three Colours Dark – Love’s Lost Property (Firefly Music Ltd)

Dare I dream? A follow up to one of my favourite albums of last year! The return of Rachel Cohen (ex-The Reasoning) to music, joining former Karnataka bandmate Jonathan Edwards (Panic Room/Luna Rossa) for an album of the wistful, emotional, arty progressive rock they have both been at the forefront of for many years. Well this is now a reality, Love’s Lost Property is the follow up to The Science Of Goodbye, taking a proggier route than the debut but also never becoming to self-involved with just being music for music’s sake. I went into great detail about how I hold the Welsh/West prog scene so close to my heart, especially Karnataka, The Reasoning and Panic Room, on the last review so I won't here. But Love's Lost Property is about a perfect follow up to the debut as you can get. There is still a strong melodic heart to this record driven by the densely layered keys of Edwards and the soaring, spine-chilling vocals of Cohen, who edges into the realms of the Goddess herself, Kate Bush on the pulsating Last Day On Earth

Joining them on the record playing all of the guitars, bass, drum programming and also engineering the record is Tim Hamill, of Sonic One Studios. This is the main trio on the record but there are some guest appearances Dave Gregory (XTC/Big Big Train) giving electric guitar, Steve Balsamo (ChimpanA/The Storys) adding vocals as he did on the debut. Steve Simmons plays some tenor saxophone (where would prog be without tenor saxophone? Answers on a postcard) on the fiery penultimate number Eye For An Eye. The duo of Andrew ‘Wal’ Coughlan (Gary Numan/Cerys Matthews) on double bass and Kate Ronconi (The Rag Foundation) providing some striking violin to Wish I Wished You Well and others. Catherine Tanner-Williams meanwhile brings oboe to the sweet Requiem. These guests arranged into the songs perfectly, the rich compositions ideal for lots of lush instrumentation. The tracks beautifully segue into one another, leaving no gaps, just evocative soundscapes. 

As I said Love’s Lost Property has more progressive elements than the first Three Colours Dark, reminding me of the bands both members have been a part of, though the spirit of pop melodies, still cuts through, mainly from the brilliant cover of Duran Duran’s Ordinary World (my favourite song of theirs). What I thought was going to be a one off album has blossomed into another brilliant project in the UK, but possibly more importantly, South Wales and West, Prog rock scene. Yet again one of my albums of the year! 9/10

The Magic Bus - Το Κάστρο (Self Released)

The Magic Bus are a Greek language rock band from Livadia City and feature members of Redeye Caravan, Nox Die, Peculiar Three and Beyond This Earth. Το Κάστρο (The Castle) is their debut album of punchy hard rock, sitting comfortably in the Greek rock scene with some punk influence as well. Now I have the accompanying information for what the songs are actually about, and this album has lots of literary, historical and fantasy stories. 

Musically though the band are heavily influenced by their countries 90's rock explosion especially Trypes (who they get their name from), and bands such as Ypogeia Revmata and Xylina Spathia who they share a jangly guitar approach with. A mix of alternative, pop and grunge rock The Magic Bus are deeply indebted to these Greek rock leaders, a style that many outside of Greece may not really know anything about. As the more traditional/folk sounds of Το Πλοίο των Τρελών (The Ship Of Fools) ends the record, it'll be worth seeing if Το Κάστρο can break The Magic Bus outside of their home country. 7/10

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