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"You Had It All" by The Rising

Review

That marvellously prolific band The Rising (Chris Logan & Chantelle McAteer) are continuing their highly commendable campaign to not let COVID19 derail the momentum of their career and despite having to relocate for the duration, they are maintaining their plan to create & share new material every month to six weeks.

Next up in this strategy is perhaps their most ambitious project since the pandemic started: a five track EP of original material entitled 'No Hope Without Love', with each component song being released as a single in its own right every three weeks (their first release since "Ain't Nobody Got Me Here But Me")

The first of these will be "You Had It All" and it will be out on  23rd April. Yet another first for the band who seem avidly intent on a voyage of self development as a musicians, as not only is the song a collaboration with Northern Irish singer-songwriter Stephen A Quinn, but he also duets with Chantelle on the recording (which as you might imagine had to be put together from a prudent distance, including Chris Brush contributing drums all the way from Nashville). It is also the multi talented Stephen's artwork which graces the single.

I have waxed about Chantelle's magnificent (and sensitive) vocal stylings & abilities many times in the magazine, so it's intriguing to hear what they sound like alongside those of someone else: frankly I wondered if anyone had the voice to duet effectively with her. However it certainly justifies the musicians' decision to venture the experiment. Stephen's voice naturally is very different to Chantelle's and his approach (on this song at least) equally so: which makes sense as basically the tale is of a romantic break up told from the different perspectives of the people involved, so you would want clear contrasts between them as they tell their stories to each other & to us. However, the voices join together regularly & harmonise effectively, each taking different tones & pitches so they complement yet remain clear to hear.

What struck me most emphatically however was the overall sound of "You Had It All". As you'll know from my previous reviews, while remaining loyal to their love of country, The Rising rarely offer two similar stylings in a row & not only fully explore the breadth of the "country" genre and its departures into rock & pop, but often go so far from this starting point that it's hard to call it country at all. In this case, we are definitely more into a softish rock area & I couldn't help but think of Fleetwood Mac: the sound, the harmonies, how Chantelle on this occasion seems to be channelling Stevie Nicks and even the lyrics which are in prime 'Rumours' territory.  

Yet another triumph for the Rising who once again show just how broad their tastes are & how they have the chops to pull off music from across a broad spectrum: and as with all their work, I want to make it clear that this does not come across as some sort of exercise in technical experimentation, but a another in their long line of warm narratives told with sympathy for the protagonists.

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"Calico Jack" by Alchemista

Review

For their first single release of 2021, Alchemista are offering us a tale of piracy on the high seas in the form of "Calico Jack". While lockdown necessarily ensured that their previous (and indeed festive) single "Ghosts of Christmas" was  by a stripped down version of the band, in this case, we hear the not inconsiderable fruits of a lot of learning by the band who have now acquired the skills to put together a full band performance from remote locations and so they all appear on this track: Caroline White on vocals, the writer of the song, Paul Jayes on keyboards, Peter Garelick on the guitars, Colin Halliwell on drums and sound engineer Aaron Clews of Daybreak Studios (who knitted the various pieces together with Colin & Caroline producing), playing bass guitar.

The song has its genesis back from before lockdown, so they had rehearsed it extensively, which must have helped with recording, but although always pirate themed, it did not gain its title until comparatively recently: a "tribute" to "Calico Jack" (John Rackham) who plied his trade in the Caribbean in the early 18th century & who seems to have designed the Jolly Roger. Thankfully they settled on his story rather than that of a better known buccaneer & this adds yet more freshness to this swashbuckling tune.

The band have been kind enough to share with me parts of their journey on learning how to put the track together & frankly that has been fascinating: not only does it give me special insights into the song to inform this piece, but it has been equally interesting to match their perceptions of "Calico Jack" with what I heard myself before I learned of their own thoughts.

For the band, they built from the keyboard as a starting point & this they (rightly) see as an innovation in how they work which changes the fundamental dynamic of their trademark sound. I'm sure they are correct in perceiving that the general sound is different to previous songs I've heard from them (I'm sure they see this variation as a positive contribution to what they can do) but I honestly would never have described it as a keyboard driven song, so well are the other elements melded in with it: indeed the guitars & drums are very key parts in what you hear.

Alchemista clearly disdain the mundane as a rule and significant numbers of their songs demonstrate this by entering into the world of the supernatural (as our previous reviews have made plain). Quite apart from the change in recording technique, the switch in their other-worldly adventuring from the fantastical to time & place travel has also impacted on what you get to hear. The band described it to me as a transition from the "gothic" to something more akin to "folk rock": I can't quibble with the former as a description of earlier work, but I feel the folksiness of "Calico Jack" is more relative to their other songs than an absolute description: this is not particularly akin to Fairport Convention nor the Byrds. If anything, parts of the song soar like quite hard rock. Any folk element is most noticeable in the melody and perhaps even more so in Caroline's vocals which delivers a considerable amount of emotional clout within a delicacy of approach.

The lyrics are pretty much the lament of a sailor a long way from where he wants to be, but whereas a traditional folk approach to such a subject would be melancholic and downbeat, "Calico Jack", as I said in the preceding paragraph, soars like the albatross high above and roars like a sou'west gale. This show of defiance reminds us that a lachrymose sailor his words may make him out to be, but this one is also a buccaneer who eventually was executed for his crimes.

There is power & pathos in "Calico Jack" and rather than glorifying his deeds, it offers us a look at the man behind the pirate. For Alchemista, it is a considerable achievement: it is greatly to their credit that they were able to make it at all: the skills gained may come in for future use.  Yet beyond this, it is a roistering & potent single which betrays absolutely no sign (to my ears) of being assembled piecemeal: the parts gel to excellent effect & create a single they can justly be proud of.

You can also catch up with  "Calico Jack" in this video:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ZnwZYUMRxE

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"Faker" by Abz Winter

Review

It's actually been a year since we shared the news about "Jump" by Abz Winter with you, a period of time between releases which would have seemed ludicrous eighteen months ago, so meteoric was her career at that point with regular new tracks coming out, each a noticeable progression from the last (though of course her track "Falling For You" has appeared on the 'Front Room Sessions' album during that time).  I'm sure that such a gap was far from Abz's thoughts let alone her wishes but on the evidence before me, I don't think her momentum will have stalled too badly: it certainly has continued its inexorable rise artistically judging by the sound of the latest single from what I gather have been highly productive sessions namely "Faker" (available for pre-order from 16th April & released on the 30th).

Written & performed with her equally high levels of self confidence, "Faker" offers us all the hallmarks of the trademark Abz Winter style we have grown to love: the exuberance & huge personality of her vocal performance, the wit of her lyrics and the way she addresses her subject. Not for the first time in one of her songs, Abz is calling someone out on their behaviour, but as ever, there is a calling to account for sure, but without malice or nastiness: she keeps the moral high ground & wants them to reform.

I've long admired her skill with word play & ability/willingness to use multi syllabic words which many writers either don't know or can't figure out how to use: it adds distinction to her writing & enables the songs to stand out. "Faker" is one such example & in addition another effect is to inject enough good humour to raise the track above the level of a scolding. Not that Abz necessarily minces her words: there are two edits I've heard: one for the radio & another a bit more adult in its language.

Musically, once again she has jumped forwards: Abz has found new sounds to set her words to & again the warmth of her singing acts nicely as a counterbalance to the often icy electronic setting. Slowing things down a bit from recent releases, the effect is to accentuate the lyrics & empower their meaning: they simply would sound false if delivered faster. Likewise, Abz, who has a large arsenal of vocal skills to unleash as necessary, shows us just how powerful she can be at slower speeds & lower volumes.

If "Faker" is representative of her latest body of work, then I think we are in for many treats & surprises in the weeks & months to come now she has new material to share again…. And don't get me started on how good it might be to hear her sing live again.

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'Coventry Cathedral - Easter '21' by Rob Halligan

Review

Fresh out today is a live album of the special lockdown gig which Rob Halligan played at Coventry Cathedral with the help of Ewan Cameron and Chris Hunt a couple of weeks ago, and which you can hear for free by downloading it from Rob's Bandcamp page at https://robhalligan.bandcamp.com/album/coventry-cathedral-easter-21

You can also watch footage of the concert at  youtu.be/8dRoh1mwLwA

The album features predominantly tracks from Rob's most recent releases, reviewed here in "Hot Music Live" and now you can hear them performed live which has always been his intention & hopefully you will still have the chance once the many dates & tour he had planned can be rescheduled.

The songs themselves are "Promised Land", "Wild Horses", "Come Take Your Place", "The Other Side", "When I Survey", "Bigger Than Me" (the current single), "Wayfaring Stranger", "You Never Can Tell" and "Always Heading Home" (the title track of his latest album).

It looks & sounds a very magical session & one which no doubt being there would have enhanced in such a performance space ideal for the sentiments in the song as well as the acoustics: however since it wasn't, we can thank both modern technology for making sharing the experience possible & Rob's generosity in gifting it to us.

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