BERNIE MARSDEN –WORKING MAN Released – 24th Nov 2023 Conquest Records
There has been a huge outpouring of loving tributes to Bernie Marsden since he passed away peacefully, surrounded by his family on 24th August 2023 at the age of 72. I was lucky enough to see Bernie as part of the classic Whitesnake line up in the late 1970s and early 80s, and also got to meet him a couple of times at shows, and he was the most un-pretentious person you could hope to meet.
Jackson Dean / Tori Forsyth – FACTORY THEATRE Sydney – Oct 18th 2023
Jackson Dean is just 23 years old, hailing from Maryland in the US, and now based, like all the rest, in Nashville, having released his debut album, Greenbroke, in March 2022. He has been brought over to Australia for the Groundwater Festival on the Gold Coast, and has managed to fit in a couple of side shows in Sydney, and next week in Melbourne (CORNER HOTEL, Oct 25th).
Opening act for both the sideshows is Tori Forsyth, a singer from country NSW who debuted in 2017with the evocative single New Wall and the acclaimed EP Black Bird. Forsyth’s highly anticipated 2018 debut album Dawn of the Dark was hailed as one of the strongest country records of the year in Australia, its powerful song writing underpinning Tori’s gritty and expressive vocals. It planted Tori at the forefront of country in Australia, earning three Golden Guitar nominations and landing Tori on stages across the country and beyond. Not one to follow a predictable path, Tori’s second album Provlépseis (2021) was a stunning swerve away from traditional country – a bold and bruising rock record that pushed her out of her comfort zone and became a favourite with fans.
The set on Wednesday was a mix of both, some straight-up country, and some darker, heavier rock songs, delivered with intensity, backed by a really tight band.
We got some old and new songs, including the new single, Sometimes, and all in all were left with a sense that with the right support and exposure, Tori could really make a name for herself.
Jackson Dean will be on the bill at CMC Rocks 2024, and has been picking up exposure over in Australia in the past 12 months, so this was a must-see show, and Sydney turned out in force at the Factory Theatre to welcome him Down Under. A generally more switched on crowd, without the usual cries for a Shoey, and highly receptive to the top quality songs and delivery from Jackson and the band.
Jackson plays and interesting pair of Takamine guitars with custom carved finishes which I’d love to get the story of, and has a superb, solid tight backing band who built up a real head of steam as the show developed. It was all quite low key to start with, and little fuss about this being his first show in Australia, and he played a bunch of songs from Greenbroke, and treated the crowd to some really well chosen covers and a smattering of new songs from his upcoming follow-up album, due for release sometime in mid 2024, which were terrific.
Opening and closing the set with well-known songs Trailer Park and Red Light, Dean took charge of the stage with the power of his vocals. In-between these two we got Big Blue Sky, Don’t Take Much and Keep the Wolves away (Uncle Lucius cover). Then it was Train, and a couple of new songs in Heavens To Betsy, featuring the first of a handful of searing lead solos from guitarist Brandon Aksteter, and the hard-driving Blackout which was a real trip to the dark side…… a crunching riff in the chorus, with a stripped back verse. Jackson’s voice has really warmed up as the set goes on, and he takes the time mid song to thank the crowd for turning up! This has a bit of Gods Country about it with an awesome epic feel to it. In between these new ones we got What’s Up? From 4 Non-Blondes, with some crowd participation teed up at the start, and overall an interesting choice of cover song. Jackson gives it a Chris Stapleton workout and lets the crowd take the chorus, which they do in style.
49 Tons. (Fred Eaglesmith cover) is driven along by the bassline and drums, topped off with a gritty and powerful vocal line and a ripper solo, from the guitar hero who delivers with a hint of fiddle, and some rumbling Toms giving us the sound of the locomotive on the tracks. Fearless is up next, and is yet another example of this rich vocal tone delivering a more powerful sound than on the recordings. After the pulsating Blackout, Jackson did yet another cover, this time Ryan Bingham’s Hallelujah, which showcases more of this powerful voice accompanied by acoustic guitar in the verse, and then soaring over a heavy country rock beat for the chorus . A nice breakdown section letting lead guitarist show off a little, which turns into a lot!
The last two songs of the main set were 1971, the first song the band ever wrote together, and is a rollicking track driven by drums and with more of the fiddle effect on the guitar, before the drum intro to Don’t Come Lookin’ and the guitars kicking in. 100 mobile phones in the air and a few hundred voices singing the chorus back to him to close the set.
An encore was inevitable, and before the rousing Red Light we got the epic ballad of Wings – which again just highlights this young man’s extraordinary voice.
This was a bit of a slow-burner of a set, but Jackson was able to demonstrate what a powerful vocalist he is, and a couple of the unreleased tracks from the next album bode well for the development of his songwriting, and the growing maturity of the performance – assuming his voice holds out! This is a really appealing mix of quality country and southern rock that works so well when done well, and Jackson and the band really delivered on this. This may end up being one of those shows that down the track many hundreds of people claim they were at, as his first show in Australia – those of us who were actually there know the truth!
Morgan Evans Life Upside Down Tour Palais Theatre St Kilda Thursday, September 14th, 2023
Morgan Evans is on the last leg of fourteen sold-out shows across Australia, including two at the Sydney Opera House and a record-breaking crowd at Queensland Gympie Muster. For those of us lucky enough to follow the career of this Newcastle-born, now Nashville resident, they would have witnessed the best part of fifteen years of hard work and commitment. As a Newcastle local, did I feel proud to be there and watch this? Dam right I am.
From the onset, one night at Gympie was not enough. We arrived early Thursday afternoon to find the forest bulging. Campers were forced into overflow areas due to record ticket sales. For the first time in history, the four-day passes were sold out before the event started, and the number of attendees was estimated to be over 45,000, which is incredible given the oversaturation of festivals in 2023. Gympie has always been on the musical fans’ bucket list with a line-up dominated by country. The vibe from the onset was one of relaxation and fun. The transition into the camping area was done with ease; a massive shout out to the volunteers who were pinnacle in making this happen.
LUKE COMBS / CODY JOHNSON / LANE PITTMAN Spark Arena, Auckland 9th August 2023
A full house at Auckland’s Spark Arena on a chilly Wednesday night saw a big slice of New Zealand’s country crew fly and drive in to catch the opening night of the AU/NZ leg of the massive Luke Combs World Tour.
Brad Cox Live at the Dalrymple Hotel Townsville Queensland – 2 July 2023
I had an opportunistic chance to see Brad Cox’s show in Townsville on Sunday night. The venue, the Dalrymple Hotel, a pub in the centre of Townsville on a steamy night, was packed, yet another sellout on this national tour. Nearly 600 “Coxheads” packed the venue tonight to see what has quickly become the hottest act in Australian country music.
LUKE MORLEY – SONGS FROM THE BLUE ROOM Released – 23rd June 2023 Conquest Music
Luke Morley has stood at the very heart of UK rockers Thunder since 1989 as their guitarist, chief songwriter and producer.
He’s been a lynchpin in their 14 albums’ success and served a crucial role in building up these rock heroes’ loyal fanbase and enduring popularity, helping Thunder enjoy 7 UK Top 10 albums and 18 Top 40 singles: impressive metrics, but there’s more to Luke than most know or expect, and his new solo album Songs From the Blue Room brings other less well-known aspects of his talents into the limelight.
Mike Ross, whose album we recently reviewed, doing a low key solo show as part of the Jimmy C Blues Sessions at the Princess Alexandra in Crouch End – just him, a left-hooker with a bunch of guitars, one 12 string acoustic and two steel resonators, and showing his versatility with the rawness of the performance.
MIDNITE CITY IN AT THE DEEP END Released – June 23rd Pride & Joy Music
Since bursting out onto the scene in Nottingham in 2017, Midnite City have toured, gigged, rehearsed and recorded as much as possible, despite the issues from the pandemic, taken on the world and are considered one of the top modern exponents of quality melodic rock.
SAMANTHA FISH & JESSE DAYTON DEATH WISH BLUES Released – May 19th 2023 Rounder Records
Blues powerhouse Samantha Fish and crossover rock artist extraordinaire Jesse Dayton have just unveiled the latest material from their occasional collaboration, the album Death Wish Blues out May 19th on Rounder Records. With gritty, dirty hooks alongside fierce vocals from both Fish and Dayton, the album, recorded over just 10 days, is a bold collision of blues, soul, punk, funk, and fantastically greasy rock-and-roll.
MIKE ROSS THIRD EYE OPEN Released – 28th April 2023
Mike Ross may be familiar to some as one of the three guitarist components of powerhouse UK Blues band RHR (Redfern, Hutchinson, Ross) alongside slide guitar hero Troy Redfern, and heavy blues rocker Jack J Hutchinson (both of whom have been covered in LMM).
I have had this album on regular play since I got an early copy, and have struggled to put pen to paper with a review until now. Third Eye Open is not a typical blues album – it is deeply angry, grungy and heavy, and the lyrics cover a number of social topics that Mike feels very strongly about. Most of all, it rocks!
After a number of releases over the COVID period, this album is the first record of original Mike Ross music since The Clovis Limit Pt 2 in 2020, and while it includes some old riffs and licks resurrected from his archive, including the lead track I Swear, which is discordant, intense, and opens up with some heavy powerchords and searing guitar breaks before the main riff kicks in. Mike says he had “AC/DC plays Black Sabbath riffs” in mind for the feel of the record, and this certainly fits this one. The bass from Derek Randall is crushingly heavy, and Darren Lee provides an immense and solid drum pattern that just powers the track from start to finish.
More in the same vein with Cool Water, with a chopping guitar riff over another thunderous backing, and a pre-chorus that is out of line with the hugely melodic chorus. Mike’s voice is not pretty, but he really shows of the strength and range in this one, and adds some nice touches on the organ to add some warmth to the track.
Title track Third Eye Open, all 8.18m of uncompromising lyrics over the heaviest of riffage, with the vocals delivered with real vitriol tackling some pretty decisive subjects such as sexual freedom, moral signalling and a suggestion that ‘not behaving like an asshole when you knew better’ could be the path to enlightenment! After the first rounds of verse and chords, the track morphs into a Pink Floyd-like middle-eight segment, with soaring trippy guitar lines over a 60’s bass line, and some spoken-word chatter throughout. Then we are back with the heavy riff and some distorted guitar soloing before an even more angst-ridden verse, and a final chorus with the lead guitar shredding over the top of it. Phew!
A brief pause for breath with Born To Me, which sees Jack J Hutchinson adding some vocals, and which rolls through a couple of mellow verses, always threatening to explode, but keeping a level of restraint with some cracking slide guitar providing a neat counterpoint to the monotone of the chorus melody. Just as you think the track is over, a feedback buzz leads into a frenetic return to the main riff, heavier and fizzier, and with some intense slide guitar thrashing that must be amazing to see live (I am really looking forward to June 11th in North London).
Mike played in a band called Taller Than, and Fallen Down was one of their tracks, so it stands out slightly here as being a bit ‘off-message’, however the guitar playing remains incandescent through the light and shade of the different dynamics of the various segments of the track. There is a real old-school Delta blues grit to Face By The Window, all slide guitar, distorted voice, and a snare-driven backbeat, with the slide guitar solo over the broken-chord plucking of the main riff.
We stray into Black Crowes / Blackberry Smoke territory with The Preacher, with a hard-driving guitar riff over the off beat bass and drums. Powerplay magazine described Mike’s work as “like Led Zep fronted by Charlie Starr” and this track epitomises those words. A scintillating old-school guitar solo. The track also has a similar feel to band-mate Jack J Hutchinson’s material, and I love the way the last couple of choruses are delivered with a whole host of extra harmonies (including JJH) and crowd-shouted vocals, while Mike lets rip on the guitar.
There is a southern rock feel too to Ugly Brain, which rumbles along driven by a solid cowbell that provides the straight-up beat, while the band plays around with circular riffs and patterns. The pre-chorus has a huge hook, and again the chorus melody is a little off-key, but complements the basic sound of the track perfectly. Eulogy is a return to the steamhammer riffing that by now we are sensing Mike Ross is so comfortable with, with a tension in the lead vocals, and some spaced out guitars, and an almost white-noise bridge of swirling guitars and voice. This almost has a Talking Heads vibe to the structure and tone, but there is no doubt that it fits with the Mike Ross sound.
The odd-ball of the record – in that it is perhaps the most straight-up song, is (Be With You) Tonight, a duet with well-known London blues-rock singer Jess Hayes. This adds some country to the southern rock feel, with clean and melodic vocals. Mike delivers a powerful solo, and gets the chance to show off some subtlety in the longer solo section. The third of the tracks that were part of a crowdfunder project in 2022 is Never No More, and this sees angry Mike bemoaning the lack of depth of so much modern music, and lambasting the faceless elite who control and manipulate public opinion to serve their own ends. This is a fine slab of grungy southern rock, with a clean lead-break over sparse bass and drums (Brian Irwin on the kit for this one), before Mike ramps up the anger in both lyrics and delivery before the final chorus and a howl of feedback to close.
The record comes in at 72 minutes so you are getting value for money here, and it closed with the epic Kicks Like A Mule, which sees Mike produce something a bit more mainstream in terms of melody and structure, a driving 1980’s rocker, featuring twin-guitar harmonies, some superb accents in the pre-chorus, an extended solo that sees Mike really shine, and which then slides into a lengthy outro of chorus and guitar breaks that will no doubt be a feature of the live shows.
There is a darkness and an edge to much of the stuff on this record, and the lyrics are angry and harsh a times, but there is so much to like in Mike Ross’ work, honest, gritty and earthy, like all great “blues” artists. This record will appeal to a whole range of listeners, from classic blues guitar fans, to grungier heavy rock and southern rock aficionados. Most of all, if you enjoy loud heavy guitar-driven music then sit back, turn up the volume, and enjoy the power and passion of Third Eye Open.
UK Dates – 2023 May 13: Stockton Blues Festival (solo show) May16: Broadstairs The Wrotham May 20: St Austell Band Club (solo show) May 24: Brighton The Greys May 25: Bournemouth Poole Hill Brewery May 26: Gillingham (Kent) Riverside Music Club June 11: London Princess Alexandra, Crouch End (solo show) June 23: Hastings, Black Box (solo show) June 24: Sheffield Honey Bee Blues Club June 25: Leicester HRH AOR Blues Crows
DAVISSON BROTHER BAND HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS Released – May 5th 2023 Red Dog Recordings
These down-home, bluegrass / country / rock / stomping country boys from the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia first appeared on the Aussie radar when the often prescient Michael Chugg pulled them across for CMC Rocks in 2018, and then got them back for some headline shows in 2019, and they certainly attracted some positive attention here for The Fighter album that they toured.