Album Review :: Dave Arcari – Devil’s Left Hand

Delivering more of his bar room brawling music, Dave Arcari sets fret boards and stages alight with another offering of trademark blues.

As a follow up to his hugely successful Got Me Electric, delta bluesman Dave Arcari delivers his latest offering, Devil’s Left Hand. Combining his now trademark fusion of traditional pre-war delta blues based riffs and a voice that feels at home down on the bayou, Arcari pleases both fans and newcomers with this latest album, his sixth in total.

With the impressive and wonderfully accurate tag of “Scotland’s answer to Seasick Steve” hanging over his head, a lesser musician would be swallowed up by such a hallowed compliment. Dave Arcari, however, is not a lesser musician. Rather than shy away from this pseudo sycophantic compliment, Arcari instead relishes in the spotlight and the accolades that follow a statement like that around.

In this latest collection of material, Arcari once again demonstrates the vast wealth of musical talent and knowledge from which he regular draws upon. With a unique ability to combine the sweet, soothing sound of the American Deep South with the more folk and vague rock elements of traditional Scottish music, Devil’s Left Hand once again aptly demonstrates the Scots guitarists best assets and love of what he does.

Kicking off the album is the eponymous “Devil’s Left Hand”, a traditional sounding delta blues based song that immediately illicts the sights, sounds, smells and anything else affiliated to the blues. Perfectly picking up where Got Me Electric left off, this track, along with “Can’t Be Satisfied” and “One Side Blind” have the almost boyish enthusiasm for the music that makes the man himself tick. “Blue Train” and the wonderfully titles “Come to my Kitchen” continue along this line of thought. The effortlessly smooth and indefatigably cool sound of the slide steel guitar rasping the sound into the listeners’ ears. If the devil could play guitar then it would truly sound like this.

Once again, Arcari features a traditional Scots folk song on an album, this time the wonderfully paced and highly charged “MacPherson’s Lament”. However, as is becoming a regular feature of Dave Arcari, any traditional element and rose tinted, Walter Scott romantic visions of shortbread boxes and roaming in the gloamin’ are shattered in a cocktail of gravel toned vocals and malevolent guitar. Perhaps this is a sign of the modern society in which we live but the furiously updated and harder, nastier sounding version of a folk song dating back to the seventeenth century certainly fires up the blood.

In all, Devil’s Left Hand is an album of which many things can be taken from. For fans of Arcari and his original and unique approach to both Scots folk music and the blues, this is more of what has been experienced before. For new listeners, the album serves as a fantastic introduction, not only to Dave Arcari as an artist but also to a genre that is progressively moving towards a tighter, more enclosed niche market. With artists like Arcari and his contemporaries, hopefully the blues, and specifically folk and delta blues, will not disappear entirely from gig venues all over the country and world.

Jonathan Whitelaw

The album is on general sale now and Dave is currently touring the UK. For details, visit his official website:

Album Review :: Bad Religion – The Dissent Of Man

Bad Religion have been kicking some major dick for the past 30 years and with The Dissent Of Man, their 15th full length studio release. I’m hoping the awesome punk rock has not diminished one iota.

It has to be said, if I went off the general consensus of Bad Religion albums, I could probably write this without even listening. The band themselves have not really adapted their sound much from their initial release How Could Hell Be Any Worse, with the same quote on quote 3 chord punk rock, fast paced drums and politically driven vocals release after release. I’m making them sound like they’ve gone stale, trapped making music for a scene that has long since past, but this for some bizarre reason, is not the case.

Bad Religion, in some incredible way, have managed to keep their same sound without it becoming repetitive or un-inventive, and TDOM is no exception. If it ain’t broke don’t fix, right?

From the get go, it’s business as usual. Opener, ‘The Day The Earth Stalled’ is a minute and a half slice of glory, with lyrics that denounce that the band are “looking back”; with opening lines: “Do you remember when? We were young, adventure had no end? Those were the days, my friend. But I’m not talking about that at all.” This is Bad Religion at their best, as much intensity as can be fit into the 1:27 royal rumble of punk rock chaos. The vocal harmonies on the chorus aren’t anything new to old BR fans, but I’ll be damned if they still don’t please me immensely.

The lyrical content has not been put on a back burner for this album.  ‘Won’t Somebody’, a personal favorite, really put this album on a level with the best of Bad Religion as far as word play goes. Lines like: Won’t somebody please come up with something , ‘cuz Jesus just don’t seem to be impartially working” and “Just a moment of bliss amid all of the waste. The despair and oblivion of our precarious race. It’s ours to face now,” shows that the intellectual outspoken views on society the band hold so dear are still prominent in their minds and souls. The first single, ‘The Devil in Stitches’, is no different. Other than being from the slightly more popped up spectrum of the BR scale, which makes it an obvious choice for being the single, it is still a hard hitting sing-a-long anthem with an awesome array of vocal melodies.

The musicality of this album gets a good dose of insanity with the track ‘Meeting of the Minds’ – a song which follows in a similar vein as ‘1,000 More Fools’ from, legendary album, Suffer – has a very raw stripped down sound which, even though the production values of Bad Religion albums have increased a whole lot since 1988. The listener finds themselves transported back to an era where Greg Graffin had a full head of hair and Epitaph was just there to sell Bad Religion records.

If I had to pick a weak track on the album, I guess it would be ‘Cyanide’. It’s my least favourite, but not a weak track in any sense, in fact, it’s pretty good. That’s all I have to say about that!

Throughout the album it is clear that the many years of singing in a band has done nothing but good for the vocal talents of Greg Graffin and the rest of the band. At a number of different points throughout the album a surprising shock of vocalism is injected into the mix, with Graffin pushing the vocal octaves higher than any previous Bad Religion effort.

The album seems to slow in tempo nearer to the end, but the heavy sound is not lost. With the exception of ‘I Won’t Say Anything’, which features an acoustic guitar, its nothing but distortion all the way. The Dissent Of Man is an album that truly does not stop. Oh wait, it just did. Luckily I can just hit play and listen all over again.

EP Review :: Under Stars & Gutters – Soundtrack To This City

After a successful tour with The Lawrence Arms, Irish punk band, Under Stars & Gutters have released, their first EP, Soundtrack To This City, just in time for a forthcoming tour of the American East Coast.

Starting out with ‘We Want Control’ US&G reveal their punk side with both with its title and lyrics. The band set a high standard for the rest of the EP and establish a blend of guitar, bass and drums to call their own. Whilst the chaotic intro wasn’t all that amazing, when it slows down the track starts to really shine. Short instrumentals and better sounding vocals are what really make this song worth listening to. ‘3167’ – a love song with a fast heavy beat – works well. Definitely one of the better songs on the EP.  ‘Just Like A Movie’ is a real highlight of this record. The instrumental half way through is brilliant in it’s own right, and helps break up and redefine US&G’s sound. Of all the songs included, ‘If You Met Drama’ stands out the most and, in my opinion is, the best here. A catchy chorus helps this song shine out above the rest. ‘This City’ sounds lacking compared to the others and, for me, is the most average song here.

Overall ‘Soundtrack to this city’ is a solid first release. Despite some songs seeming a little average, it definitely has some songs that you’ll have on repeat time and time again.  The EP is available to download here for free.

Album Review :: Morrissey – Bona Drag (20th Anniversary Edition)

“Re-issue, re-package, re-package”

When I hear on the TV that Pixie Lott has got a ‘deluxe’ or ‘expanded’ edition of her debut album, I can’t help but ask what she or her album have done to deserve such treatment. It’s not that I don’t think she’s talented, and this definitely doesn’t just apply to her, but does a year (or less) old album really need a re-release? No, I didn’t think so. That’s not the case here. Morrissey’s eponymous solo compilation, Bona Drag, has clocked up twenty gruesome years, and the arrogant king of indie rock has decided it’s time to unleash it upon the world again. This time, with a host of unreleased tracks and bonus content.

The man who sang about the tacky, needless practice of re-releasing songs with The Smiths is now on his fourth solo re-release, and there’s not a hint of irony about it. Whilst some, myself included, decree Mozzer’s constant contradictions, I can’t help but love this expanded and remastered version of a classic indie album. Morrissey is known for his perfectionism, and it was under his watchful eye that Bona Drag was given a new lease of life. The quality of each track has been improved, and in some cases extended, to create one of the finest remasters I’ve ever heard.

Though it may be a B-side collection, Bona Drag contains some of Morrissey’s finest solo tracks. Those who dismiss his solo work as lacking in comparison to The Smiths may be surprised to find they enjoy this. Tracks like ‘Hairdresser On Fire’, ‘The Last Of The Famous International Playboys’ and ‘Picadilly Palare’ all feature and sound fantastic. The real ‘meat’ (bad choice of words really) of the album comes from it’s bonus material. Some tracks have been extended, for better or worse, but some previously unreleased tracks have been included too.

Outside of the a brand new release, it’s rare for a fan like myself to find a Morrissey track I haven’t heard. This re-issue contains 6 previously unreleased songs from Manchester’s most famous son. Seeing as this is a twenty year old album, it’s hard to review it on the merits of the original tracks. I mean you’ve had two decades to listen to them. With the bonus stuff, it’s a different story. All six tracks are good and each were recorded around the time of the original release, something that definitely helps keep things cohesive. ‘Lifeguard On Duty’ and ‘The Bed Took Fire’ (an early recording of ‘At Amber’) are the standouts, alongside ‘Please Help The Cause Against Lonliness’. By far the best of the bonus material, it was written by Morrissey but recorded by Sandie Shaw. A demo was recorded during the Viva Hate sessions, and that’s what’s on offer here. It’s great and I can’t see why it was never properly recorded.

Despite this being a re-release, it’s something every Morrissey fan should be buying. The remasters are some of the best I’ve ever heard. They alone should be worth price of entry. The bonus material just puts the icing on the cake. If you felt a bit burned after Mozzer’s recent re-issuing, fear not. This is not just the same again.

Album Review :: Robert Plant – Band of Joy

Veteran rocker and hell-raiser Robert Plant takes a different route and seeks to re-invent himself once more time.

band of joy

Robert Plant - Band of Joy © Decca/Universal Music

“Its not to hard to figure out, you see it everyday/And those that were farthest out have gone the other way.” The less than immortal words of Huey Lewis and The News’ 1986, “Hip to be Square”. Although perhaps a little more recognised as an established artist and influential figure on music than Huey, this lyric no matter perfectly describes the latest offering from Robert Plant. Arriving with the frankly hard to believe ninth solo album since 1982, the once Golden God delivers Band of Joy, a tribute to his band before joining Led Zeppelin. The rest is history of course.

Seeking to capitalise on his vastly popular and Grammy Award winning Pushing Sand with Alison Krause, Plant seeks to further himself from the harder rock and roll edge that has made him a household name and forever the envy of many teenage boys and girls for generations to come. Band of Joy however is far from a conventional rock album, its description more aptly described as folk and bluegrass. Certain buzz words such as “alternative” and “fringe” have also been notably present in general reviews and commentaries on the album, all desperately seeking to tag and brand the work of a man who is progressing through his life into his sixth decade and taking his music styles and influences with him.

The opening quadrant of songs sets a relatively calming, soothing sense of self being about the album as a whole. With songs such as “House of Cards” and “Silver Rider” championing this newfound sense of tranquillity and haunting obedience, Plant and his band deliver what is rapidly becoming the archetypal sound for the aging front man. Masterly crafted with a looming and hair rasiningly ghostly atmosphere, Robert Plant firmly stamps his foot down and eliminates any possibility that this album is another overly produced, mass marketed effort to throw on the re-hashed rock pile.

Band of Joy continues with the rich sounding “You Can’t Buy Me Love”. A much harder rock sounding song than Plant has produced in almost a decade, this track harkens back to his early solo years, not seeming out of place on an album such as Pictures At Eleven, his solo debut in the early 1980s. “Falling in Love Again” and “The Only Sound that Matters” follow, taking the sound and pace of the album to a much softer, bluegrass and delta soul direction. Pedal steel and slide guitars, provided by bluegrass legend Darrell Scott provide a meaty chunk of Americana from the Black Country rocker.

Rounding out the album is “Even this Shall Pass Away” the up-tempo, drum centric book end to the calming and soulful opening, eleven tracks previous. With a much more disjointed, highly amped and distorted guitar feel, this track gives long term fans of Plant and all of his previous incarnations and projects something to smile about. A song that would not feel out of place on a late era Zeppelin album, Plant still proves that his vocal range, although tainted by the inevitable rigors of forty years of hard living, hard drinking and harder women, is still a force to be reckoned with in the 21st Century. In all, this track is as disjointed in its sound as it is being placed on an album with a direction very opposite to its inception, something that has kept a singer like Robert Plant on top for a long time and hopefully for longer to come.

Jonathan Whitelaw

The album is available on general release. Tour info and previous discographies are available from Plant’s official website:

EP Review :: Well Wisher

If you never thought a “Happy-go lucky” emo record would ever exist. Well it does. This is it.

Well Wisher made their Moon and Back debut in “Going Underground” and now they are back with their long awaited E.P. Four slices of dulcet post-hardcore, with heartfelt lyrics and corny song names. Truly a deadly combination.

This release doesn’t wait around, before the first second elapses on opener ‘Fill Me, Filmy’ the listener is already drawn into the tornado that is Well Wisher. Though probably not intentional, there are a lot of catchy line within this song. Vocal lines like, “I dragged the ocean, under seven leagues of shit,” will surely have a bunch of nerdy comic book reading virgins damaging their vocal chords at future Well Wisher shows.

The intensity decreases momentarily for the most part of second track ‘Pegwarmers’ (what is with these song names?) This track is more reminiscent of early 90’s “emo” which the band clearly draw from heavily for inspiration. The musicality of the band can not be shunned, the guitar riffs are intricate and draw the listener into the darker depths of the sound. As much fun as their is within the band and their music, it is clear they are not just “fucking about,” there is more talent in the art these five guys make then in any other band I have seen in the past few years.

‘Tops Off’ would probably be the single if there was one released. It is the most accessible and ‘poppy track’ on the record, but this is by no means a low point on this four track E.P. Quite the contrary. With a heavy feel of the band Cursive, the third instalment will definitely be a crowd favourite if it is not already. A great sing along track that would easily have been at the forefront of a music scene now unfortunately pushed further underground.

The E.P ends with ‘White Krunk’, a great finale which twists, turns and tickles the cochlea of any who listen. It builds into a mass insanity of beautiful noise and is the perfect end to a bloody good E.P. I was afraid the closing words of the review would be something along the lines of, “it doesn’t quite catch the atmosphere of their live shows,” how wrong I was.

Spot On.

Be sure to check out Well Wisher on MySpace. You can download this EP from their BandCamp.

Album Review :: The Xcerts – Scatterbrain

“Play Some Reuben!” – Ian Critchley

Ian’s cries from the front row during Southsea Fest forced a wry smile to cross Murray MacLeod’s face. Perhaps it was in recognition? I think so. There was no hate in Mr Critchley’s words, he was merely making a point. One that I agree with – this band have quite a bit in common with Reuben. They’ve brought a bit of the Surrey-based outfit’s post-hardcore style back, but in a more accessible way. I like it, I like it a lot.

If I was to describe Scatterbrain in one word, it would be “powerful”. Each track on the album has a great passion behind it. It’s easy to see that this record means a lot to the guys and that’s important to me. When you get bands making albums for reasons other than they really want to, you don’t get the same effect. It just doesn’t come across right. Now I’ve mentioned “post-hardcore” and “powerful” and I can tell what you might be thinking. No, this isn’t an album full of screaming and heavy distortion. In fact, it’s the opposite to that. It’s emotionally powerful and that’s been captured perfectly by, producer, Mike Sapone.

For a band so early into their career it’s odd to see such a difference between their debut and this album. In The Cold Wind We Smile hits the listener immediately, whereas Scatterbrain builds and flourishes into a great album. It’s a real grower. It might not hit you on first listen, but give it time and you’ll be singing it’s praises. It’s packed with subtleties that you don’t often find in a record like this. Little things that make tracks like ‘Gum’ so brilliant.

Those looking for the ‘hardcore’ experience (and wonder where the Reuben comparisons are coming from) will find that in tracks like ‘Hurt With Me’ and the aforementioned amongst others. Don’t get me wrong, this is not an identical experience to a Reuben record. There’s nothing on the scale of something like ‘Our Song’ in terms of screaming. The two bands just share similar qualities. Ones that help the band and this album appeal to a wider group of people. I won’t be surprised when the hardcore kids are listening to this whilst tracks like ‘Young (Belane)’ can be heard coming from the UK’s indie-rock clubs and ‘Hurt With Me’ is being played on Radio 1. There’s a lot to love here and it’s rare that a band has the potential for such wide appeal.

I’m giving The Xcerts a lot to live up to, but they deserve such comparisons and praise. Scatterbrain is a real tour de force of an album. One that show’s the bands range of sounds, that they’re in no way a throwback to a forgotten scene. The guys have really pulled it out here and have become one of my favorite UK bands with this record. If you haven’t heard this, you need to.

Album Review :: Sundowner – We Chase The Waves

“…this is not an album of incredible studio production, mass-multi-tracked instrumentation, auto-tuned, top ten hit record bullshit. But who the fuck would want that?”

For anyone who doesn’t know, Sundowner is the acoustic side-project of Chris McCaughan, guitarist and singer of the band Lawrence Arms. I was skeptical of using this as an opening line, I didn’t want to give the impression that this was just a side-project and that without the Lawrence Arms link, Sundowner would be nothing. Oh contraire, Sundowner is by all means a project to be taken very seriously, and this second release only continues to clarify that point.

The album has quite a peculiar start, the song The Flicker, is very sombre and not one you would expect to be chosen as an opener. It’s a good song, just one that seems odd to begin with. Less than three minutes in and it is obvious the lyrical talents of McCaughan have not diminished in the slightest. It becomes clear at the end of the song why this was chosen,  as it builds up and slips sublimely into Araby by way of a classic ‘1, 2, 3, 4.’

As far as progression goes, there is nothing intensely different from the first Sundowner record. If anything, this record has been given even more of a stripped down feel, with minimal instrumentation giving it a real home recording effect. Some people might find this a little strange. I personally, think it’s fucking great, as the album focuses far more on the lyrics, vocal melodies and guitar tracks, making this a very personal record with a far more natural flow than previous effort, Four, One, Five, Two.

Making this record was no half-arsed process. Whilst listening through the album, it is clear that a lot of work has gone into the vocals specifically. Both the main vocal and back up sounds have pushed the boundaries for Sundowner. Not so much in terms of range, with a very comfortable array of notes coming from the mouth of this Chicago born singer/songwriter, but more in terms of rhythm. The closing track, What Beadie Said, is a perfect example of the entire albums curious but effective motion.

As said before, this is not an album of incredible studio production, mass-multi-tracked instrumentation, auto-tuned, top ten hit record bullshit. But who the fuck would want that? If you look for deeply intricate lyrics, kick-ass sing along melodies and some good acoustic rocking, then this album might be just what you’ve been looking for.

Check out Whales and Sharks and also Mouth Of A Tiger, personal faves of mine.

Advance EP Review :: Kelly Kemp & Bangers/El Morgan & The Arteries

What happens when you combine two Southsea songstress’ with two awesome punk bands?

For many artists the split EP (or EP’s in general) are a thing of the past. Thankfully they’re still a factor in the underground music scene, helping promote new bands and introduce people to acts they otherwise might have passed by. I mean, Without Alkaline Trio’s iconic split with Hot Water Music, the sultry tones of Chuck Ragan and Chris Wollard might have eluded me for even longer (cheers, Ian). That’s exactly what’s happened here.

I was introduced to El Morgan back in May when she toured with Austin Lucas and I, along with many others in that pub cellar, immediately became a fan. When I found out she was putting out some new material, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. The fact that this was a collaborative effort was icing on the cake. Unlike the Trio, my love of El’s music had given me three new artists to listen to. I’d heard of everyone included on this record before, but had never really checked them out. As per usual, I find out I should’ve been listening to these guys a long time ago and feel like a fool.

This type of collaborative effort is something I’m not familiar with. Maybe I’ll sound like even more of a fool, but this combination seems rather original. Four artists – two singer/songwriters and two bands – paired up to collaborate on a record. It intrigued me to say the least, especially considering I was a fan of the El/Arteries tracks in their original form. The outcome is great.

El’s tracks have a harder edge than the acoustic originals. The main vocal is delivered with a ferocity I’m not used to hearing from her, and it took me a few listens to properly appreciate them. The addition of The Arteries turns simple, melodious, acoustic songs into fast paced punk anthems. ‘Ballroom’ is probably my favorite of El’s tracks, and a good bit slower than ‘Blah, Blah, Blah’, so I was really interested in how this would turn out. I was really impressed – as I was with all four tracks – but the way this track slowly builds before revealing it’s true punk colours made it for me. I still have a soft spot for the originals though.

Kelly’s songs are one’s I’m less familiar with and I think that made them an easier listen. I wasn’t constantly thinking about another version, like I was with the other two. The former NoComply singer really shows her range here. ‘Bridges Over Broken Hearts’ is my favorite of the four tracks. I still haven’t got it’s sing along hook out of my head. ‘The Great Fall Down’ is just as good. Both tracks have got a great 90’s punk feel to them. They’re fun, sing-a-long songs that’ll stick with you for a while. If you’re a punk fan and want something new and interesting to listen to, you won’t go wrong with this.

The EP is released on 7″ on October 11th. You can buy it at Specialist Subject Records and get the MP3s now.

Ska & Pop-Punk Promo :: Fighting Evil is Cool!

Closing the record is Brain Salad, a zombie anthem with the chant “what do we want? we want brains, brains, brains.”

The thing with local bands is that there’s so many of them. Pretty much all are shit. But occasionally one of them, despite not ‘making it big’ or what-not, seem to stick together because they seem to just have so much fun. Half Man Half Biscuit spring to mind. Another one, is Fighting Evil is Cool!. It’s not just the fact that there’s cutesy four-chord riffs and a trumpet that makes you realise that here is a band not doing it because they want to be the next NME-cover fuck-wits, but that they’re doing it for the shits and giggles. And that’s something no review is ever gonna convey really, but we’ll try for the craic.

Quintet ska-punk outfit Fighting Evil is Cool! hail from Derby way. They sound like what The Sprites and The Zutons would if they co-wrote an album. There’s a trumpet, a kazoo gets brought in given half an opportunity, and there’s songs about hobos, satanists, zombies and giant monsters. I know of well established ska bands that don’t do what these guys do half as well. So what is it they do?

They’re a band you’d stumble upon playing a back-room in a pub and end up, ten pints later, £30 quid down and alot of skanking later, dancing with complete strangers thinking they’re your best mates. They’re a band you’d remember with fond memories a couple months down the line and go “yea, that was a wicked night”. They’re young and energetic and a little bit geeky.

So, highlights of the debut? Baron Nagant features the kazoo previously mentioned, has really fantastic progression and catchy hooks: it’s a sweetly made pop song. Dave gets a little bit more punky and Go On Get Wasted has gotta be up there in a dual with Titus Andronicus’ Theme From Cheers for the coveted title of Drinking Song of 2010. Closing the record is Brain Salad, a zombie anthem with the chant “what do we want? we want brains, brains, brains.”

Simply put: if you’re into ska and bouncy songs, check ’em out. You’ll find something you like. If they’re gigging in your area, go. I bet they’re wicked fun live.

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