Vanja Sky – Reborn (Kick the Flame Records) – Release date 7 July

In 2018 she was the newcomer on the Blues Caravan alongside Mike Zito and Bernard Allison. In the five years since though Vanja Sky has been building a very solid reputation and an excellent band as shown last year in her appearance at Bonn Harmonie on the mighty Rockpalast. There were some very promising songs on that show from the upcoming new disc. That disc is now coming up for release in July, . Titled Reborn and in comparison to her debut Bad Penny the title could not be more apt.

If you haven’t visited Vanja Sky’s music since her RUF records days then you are in for a surprise, and if you are a fan of hard rock music it will be a very pleasant one. The opener ‘Hero’ gives you a whopping big clue as to where the music has headed with its clap-along opening drum beat perfect for big venues at Rock festivals which is where the current band seems destined to triumph. Indeed, There are big rock riffs throughout the disc and the influence on Vanja’s musical direction of guitarist/arranger Gunther Haas cannot be overestimated. Haas gives ‘Devil Woman’ (remember Vanja wearing those devils horns at Rockpalast – see below pic?) and ‘Rusty Fingers’ a perfect ZZ Top vibe as well as a classic feel to the much covered Humble Pie song ‘I don’t need no doctor’.

Many readers will appreciate the contribution of Roger Innis on so many contemporary blues releases and he was with Vanya Sky in the Studio in Hamburg contributing to the lyrics on ‘can you here life knocking’, ‘Riding high’ and Rusty fingers’ 

Vanja’s rising status is seen in the guest appearances on ‘Reborn’. I remember telling Gerry MacAvoy about a young Croatian girl doing Rory Gallagher’s ‘Bad Penny’ on her debut disc and his promising to check it out – and here Gerry is playing bass on Vanja’s storming rendition of Rory’s live classic ‘I take what I want’. She delivers an excellent version of Ten Years After’s ‘Love to change the world’ too, and there’s Rick Lee from the band on drums.

She may not be the greatest female rock vocalist on the planet, but there’s a quantum leap in Vanya’s voice and confidence here with the songs well calculated to work within her vocal range and kick ass too. Great production work too by Bodo Schulte and Vanya to get a good rock sound from both voice and music.

It’s hard to pick highlights from such a solidly satisfying rock release but certainly ‘Muha’ with the shared vocals of current Nazareth and Don Airey vocalist Carl Sentance is a standout, as is the pop/rock ‘Can you hear life knocking?’. But picking stand-out tracks is literally, well, being picky. Vanja sings on the ballady ‘Runaway’ “I want to fly. Just like Freebird, stay in the sky”, and that tells you where the musical heart of the girl and her band is coming from in 2023 . If you’re a fan of rock heroes like Rory, Thin Lizzy, ZZ Top and co then check out the latest Vanja Sky disc. The cover shows her as a young child on a tv screen next to the lady all grown up in 2022, and, like the lady, the music is all grown up and ready to rock with the best of them.

Richard Bargel – Dead Slow Stampede (Clementine Music)

First a quick catch-up for those who are not familiar with the name Richard Bargel. Growing up in Bonn Bad Godesberg, Bargel started out as a folksinger but even early on was thinking outside the box and formed his own puppet and theatre company ‘Lumpentheater’. The ’70s saw him building up a following in England by playing at some of London’s premier pubs and clubs (100 Club, Dingwalls, Half Moon in Putney). He was in some excellent company too embracing a mixture of styles with the likes of D.P. (Elvis) Costello and Wizz Jones. The ’70s also saw Bargel forging his blues links through concerts with luminaries of the genre such as Champion Jack Dupree and Memphis Slim.

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Layla Zoe – The World Could Change (Cable Car Records)

It’s been nine years since Layla Zoe and Henrik Freischlader last collaborated on an album together, the result being arguably Layla’s best to date ‘The Lily’. The intervening years have seen Layla with her own band deliver the excellent double disc ‘Gemini’ and 2020’s ‘Nowhere left to go’ which, despite its patchwork band born out of Covid regulations at the time, was by no means a disappointment (see my review on this site). Certainly, the current world situation has created plenty of fuel for creative songwriters, which Layla most certainly is. It’s certainly significant that the last release by Layla was not a music CD but a book of poetry. Given that Layla pours her heart out in every song I was disappointed not to find a foreword in said poetry book – events to hang the words on, so to speak. The same goes for this new CD. The intimacy of the lyrics suggests nothing is pure imagination, everything is experience. Why else call a song ‘Jasmine’? and have a lyric “I’ll care for you tonight, little black and white pearl”. The devil, as they say, is in the detail. And in Layla’s lyrics here, there is always so much tantalizing detail.

As always with Cable Car releases, the disc is beautifully presented, with an eye-catching black and white ink illustration by Caroline Sandmayer who also designed Henrik’s own ‘Missing Pieces’ cover. The very first two tracks illustrate the breadth of emotions on the disc overall. Track one, ‘Dark Heart’ is indeed a dark tale of life at its lowest ebb, yet track two, ‘Honey pie’ is the opposite – a “child of love and light” who, it transpires, plays xylophone. Again there’s that little hint of detail that this is perhaps from real life, and therein lies for me the strength of Layla’s lyricism. How deep do you want to go as listener?

Tracks like ‘The world could change’, ‘Man behind the curtain’ and ‘We’re all the same’ possibly have roots in the turmoil of War that we currently live in – if we are fortunate, only diffusely – through news bulletins. Elsewhere though there is tenderness as “Baby bird, I’m sorry I couldn’t help you fly” and fierceness as in “Life ain’t worth a shit, if we can’t look fear in the eyes”. Finally, throughout the disc, hope is always there. “Every villain, every house of cards, crumbles to the ground” (Truth song), “Secretly we light a candle, whose tiny flame must never waver” (The world could change), because, quite simply, “In the end we’re all the same. We fight to smile and survive. To live and love and be” Am I suggesting this is a very complex disc? Well it is. And then again it isn’t. Good versus Evil. There’s that “tiny flame to disable the evil plans” and the choice to “Stand up in your courage. You don’t have to lose”. If all else fails, there is the haunting final song/prayer ‘Shine brightly‘ that is for me the discs high-point. With all the world’s troubles we can rise up; physically as individuals, and spiritually too- from birth to death “To shine brightly as we transcend. To shine brightly even in our end”

So, I have written a great deal already. Really a powerhouse performance lyrically and emotionally by Layla. Poetry put to music. But this is a music CD and not a poetry book. Of course, the music side is where Henrik Freischlader very much comes in on this disc – as the player of every instrument bar the keyboards (Henrik’s band keyboard player Moritz Führop keeps things ‘in house’ here i.e. Cable Car records). Ordinarily, The talents of Mr Freischlader would be more than enough to embellish any vocalist’s solo disc. Layla though here has set the emotional bar high, and, whereas Henrik’s guitar playing is always tasteful and doesn’t dominate with its Peter Green/Gary Moore Bluesrock tone, I wish he’d kicked a bit more a*s as he does on his own new release for example on ‘Hall of shame‘. Freischlader understandably lets Zoe do the real shining on here, and that’s maybe a conscious decision. The rhythms and beats he provides are all watertight, no complaints technically. No great guitar solos and no bad ones. When one musician plays pretty much everything a ‘live take’ goes out the window, and I rather miss that edginess. Will we ever get a chance to hear Layla take this on the road with her own band? I hope so. The World can change – believe in the Firegirl and her words from the heart.

The World Could Change is released on 11 November

When Rivers Meet – We Fly Free

It’s barely been two years since Grace and Aaron Bond had a musical epiphany.  After eight years of making music largely as the fancy took them, the husband and wife team from Essex discovered they could make a pretty great Blues Rock sound.  In fact, they liked it so much that the duo headed out on the roads of England in an old VW Camper to test out their new musical love – and then came Covid.

At this time you would expect the story to take a downward turn.  Instead, the Pandemic proved to be the making of them.  Proof of that is in a record-breaking four wins at this year’s British Blues Awards.  Alongside Best Emerging Artist, Best Band and Best Album they also picked up the curious Most Inspirational Online Performance award.  All of which makes both band, and album well worth a listen for all Blues Rock lovers out there (and I know there are many around Bonn area!)

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Rozedale – Rozedale

Popular French rockers Rozedale are back with something new, and and I don’t mean just a change in spelling (from Rosedale) either. The band centred around Amandyn Roses’ punchy vocals and Charlie Fabert’s tasteful guitar licks have completed their third studio disc.  ‘Third album syndrome’ (there’s even a name for it) usually develops as follows:  New band kicks off with a solid debut, filled with songs that have perhaps been years in the making (1st release). Band then find out what went down best from this first disc and use that knowledge to deliver a solid follow-up (2nd release).   But then comes the question: should release number three stay safe and be more of the same? Should it show progression and risk losing fans?  For Rozedale it’s make your mind up time..

Actually, that subtle spelling change is a clue to the musical path taken.  Yes, things have changed, but not too much.  Overall the band has kept it’s sound – and that’s a good thing.  Using the mixing skills of Chris Sheldon (Radiohead/Foo Fighters) is an equally wise move –  guaranteeing that this release maintains a Rock edginess even in its introspective moments.

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Layla Zoe – Nowhere Left To Go (Layla Zoe Music)

Layla Zoe certainly didn’t make it easy for herself. 2018’s superb double-disc ‘Gemini’ seemed to say everything that could be said and in the best way possible. It was electric, it was Blues, Funk, Gospel and Rock. It was the sum of all the releases before it. The subsequent ‘Retrospective Tour’ and disc suggested a watershed moment had been reached. Did it also leave the self-proclaimed firegirl literally with ‘Nowhere Left To Go’? – is this perhaps the aptest album title ever penned? Well, no, as it thankfully turns out. Whilst NLTG doesn’t re-invent the wheel as far as Layla’s music is concerned it is, thanks to plenty of new faces behind the songs, still a fresh as well as a strong statement from the heart. It also still showcases the lady’s amazing voice with that trademark emotional intensity that is the secret of Layla Zoe’s success.

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Lockdown Releases – Getting Music to the People











As happened during the first Corona lockdown, musicians, creative souls that they are, have been finding ways to keep their music in the public eye or get the buzz from a live show (depending on your viewpoint of the musicians concerned).  So let’s take a look at some of the music that’s been happening in the musical bubble of

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