New Album recommendations

As John Harrison, Folk Club MC and Folk-blues Master Supreme has been saying since around the Folk Club in September – Christmas is not so far away, so buy a CD. But which one? At Bonn Folk Club the choice is ‘only’ between what the guest artist has on the table, but outside, in the big-wide-world there are a squillion discs/downloads crying for attention. Here are some of my favourites from this year.

Layla Zoe – Back to the Spirit of 66 (Alive/Optimal Media)

Okay, I am a little biased here. The inner sleeve and booklet photos are mine. No complaints that Layla has used an image from Toon van Gerven for the cover and first booklet pics though – they are great shots! I don’t need to go into much detail about the music on offer, just check out my review of the Bonn show on this very tour HERE

Layla switches from fragile flower to tough nut in the time it takes to let the applause die down between songs. 30 concerts, over 60 days, in 6 Countries – culminating in her 17th appearance at the Spirit of 66. Alongside her is Paul Jobson proving that combining the bass and keys job saves on costs without impairing sound quality as Jobson covers both with skill and ease. She sings that “Men are just weak” on ‘Weak’ but Krissy Matthews shows that they can be strong indeed when they play rock guitar – especially on blistering solos. Felix Dehmel on drums keeps up with the mood and pace changes that any Layla show brings with panache and calm.

The concert was part of the 2020 tour that was cancelled for obvious reasons at the time and, as Layla so rightly puts it, “It’s great to be in the moment, together again at last”. She saviours every moment, and so too does the audience. Excellent work too by my favourite producer Martin Meinschäfer, who always seems to manage a perfect sound balance.

Lazarev Project Group – Groove Journey (Timezone Records)

Russian born guitarist Igor Lazarev has long been a figure in the Bonn music scene. His early heroes were rock Gods like Richie Blackmore and Jimmy Page. By his mid-twenties heroes were the likes of Wes Montgomery, Scott Henderson and Miles Davis. The result is an engaging mix of heavy rock and improvised Jazz that can give the impression sometimes of being on a highway without a map or signposts. You just have to rely on the road to take you home and Lazarev’s winding musical journeys always bring you safely back after an exhilarating visit to musical places you might not have visited before.

The guitar is a central element of course, but there’s plenty of room for improvisation from trumpets, sax, bass and keys. Familiar local players here include drummers Claus Schulte and Wim de Vries. Waldemar Leczkowski on sax and bassists Christian Kussmann and Fritz Roppel. My personal favourite is ‘Nachtgespräch’ with evocative trumpet from Antoine Colin and guitar/bass guitar from Igor and Fritz Roppel.

The whole CD is a pearl showcasing the talented jazz here in Bonn at the present time. There is a lot going on, so perhaps this is not the disc to play for relaxing late-night jazz evenings at home. The music on here is not background sound, it demands attention – and is well worth that attention too!

Mike Zito/Albert Castiglia – Blood Brothers (Gulf Coast Records)

I’ve been a fan of Mike Zito ever since I first heard his recordings on RUF Records. Each one choc-full of quality self-written songs and tasteful electric guitar riffs. His music has a genuineness that anyone who has met Mike will agree comes from the Man himself.

A couple of years ago Albert Castiglia joined the RUF Blues Caravan and was a chip off the old Zito block. It was no surprise to discover the two are best of friends. Back then, Zito was the better writer and better guitar player to my ears but Castiglia has caught up fast. In May 2020, he won a Blues Music Award in the ‘Blues Rock Album of the Year’ category for his album, Masterpiece and in 2023, he won two Blues Music Awards as ‘Blues Rock Artist of the Year’ and ‘Blues Rock Album of the Year’ for I Got Love.

In short, on ‘Blood Brothers’ we are listening to two musicians at the top of their game and trading guitar licks and vocals as only two men locked into the same groove can do. The result is a surprisingly hardrock edged release that is overflowing with great songs and edgy guitar. A disc that makes no grand claims but rocks out in grand style. If it helps to sell records I will mention that Mr Joe Bonamassa is on here too, but hey, he wasn’t really needed. Zito and Castiglia are more than capable of mesmerizing guitar playing on their own. Highlights are ‘A thousand heartaches’ with a melody that sticks like the very best pop songs. ‘Bag me, Tag me, Take me away’ that boogies along like an express train headed for home, and the punk swagger of ‘My Business’.

If there’s any justice, this disc will be cleaning up at Blues Awards very soon and rightly so. Incidentally, if you find the studio cut a little too polished, there is also a live disc coming out on Nov 17th but already available at gigs: ‘Live in Canada’ has pretty much the same track listing, with tasty additions including Zito’s classic ‘Gone to Texas’ and is a little more rough around the edges. Either disc is a winner (or even both!)

Rolling Stones – Hackney Diamonds (Polydor)

Not surprisingly, The Stones are the only band in this review section not to have appeared in Bonn this past year. Given the age of the three band members, it’s amazing that they’ve played anywhere at all this past year – but we’re talking the best Rock n Roll band on Earth of course and what’s normal for others…

Interesting that the Stones are now portrayed as essentially a threesome. Ronnie Wood first joined the band in 1975 but was only officially a member from 1993. Mick and Keith can afford to be picky I guess. Steve Jordan has taken the drumstool since Charlie Watts passed on. One wonders how long before he gets ‘Band Accreditation’? There are almost as many recording engineers and assistants as there are musicians on the tracks too. I can’t help feeling that it’s all deliberately split up so that a lot of people can say in future “Hey, I worked on a Stones album“.

Anyways, that’s all by the by. What ultimately matters is that all these names will be associated with an excellent album and not a dusty trio of old rockstars failing to live up to past glories. ‘Hackney Diamonds’ stands up with the best of the Stone’s albums to my ears. If there is no riff that will etch itself into Rocklore the way the one starting ‘Satisfaction‘ does, and no runaway train of a rocker to match ‘Jumping Jack Flash’, there are plenty of top-class rockers on here that are delivered with an energy and attitude that would put many a younger band of rockers to shame. ‘Bite my Head Off’ shows Mick (and Paul McCartney) getting into a straight on Punk groove. Maybe not Angry Young Men now but they sound angry, and how does Mick get away with using the ‘F’ word? Johnny Rotten would have been roasted on hot coals over it back in the day. Come to think of it, how does Mick still have such a vocal range after all these years? He seems at least a match for Lady Gaga.

Die hard fans will be glad that the Stones sound never gets lost and ‘Mess it Up’ has that familiar Keef riff to roll it along as does the opener ‘Don’t Get Angry’. Keith gets a vocal to himself on the bluesy ‘Tell Me Straight’, the late Charlie Watts was still around long enough to provide drum tracks on a couple of numbers here and the presence of Lady Gaga on ‘Sweet Sounds of Heaven’ is more than just a ploy to grab a younger audience – she melds perfectly with Mick on what could go on to become a Stones classic in years to come. Clearly, Mick, Keith and Ronnie are still ‘trying out’ new blood to add to their band – McCartney on bass, Elton John and Stevie Wonder to fight over the piano stool?. Who knows how the band will look in future? Maybe only our grandchildren will have the answer…

Maik Krahl – In-Between Flow

There’s been some fantastic Jazz music in Dottendorf this year. As a long-time fan of Chet Baker I can recommend German trumpet maestro Maik Krahl’s new release. It’s not all smooth trumpet playing by any means, and there’s no singing here either. There is though plenty of bright improvisation from within the talented quartet and always, just as the playing begins to reach its limits, Krahl’s gentle trumpet is there to round up the errant chords and lead them safely back to pasture.

Not too noisy and not too safe. quality music from someone who is already giving the Till Brönner’s of the Jazz World a run for their money. Recommended for both relaxing and listening.

What are your recommendations from this year’s releases? Let me know via the Comments box. There are still plenty of shopping days to Christmas.

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