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The Driving Test

A Musical Car Ride

Whilst we would love to give every album/EP/single a full indepth review,we are only human and don't have a time turner so we aren't able to give every release the time and attention it deserves.

In the past that would have ment that we either reviewed a release or we didn't, but now we have a third option, a middle way.

The solution here has been a simple one. Rather than review individual artists' CD's at length, we play them one after the other on a long car journey. The simple listening test is: "are they bearable in the car - interesting, enjoyable, not distracting". This may not be how the artists want us to hear their work, but it's how a lot gets listened to for the first time and at least raises awarenes! The rating system is simple and provides a shorthan for reference.:

***** Classic album, standout artist - a joy to listen to anywhere
**** Great album - the perfect soundtrack to a long car journey
*** Good album - pleasant background in the car - but nothing unique
** You have to be a fan of this music/artist. Nearly spared you a review
* You are either the artist or a close relative. (As I'm not, sorry no review)

Frank Migliorelli & The Dirt Nappers - The Things You Left Behind***
Hailing from smalltown Croton On Hudson in New York, Migliorelli's musical career embraces everything from library music and children's songs to the soundtrack for a Chippendales video. Here, though, he and the band are in twangsome American guitar rock of a 70s and 80s persuasion with its echoes of Petty, Mellencamp and on the end of relationship title track echoes of Elvis Costello. Though they get frisky on poppy 'I Wanna Know' and the barroom country pedal steel bounce 'Every Bartender In This Town Knows My Name', the default mode is midtempo, exemplified in solid style by the free falling shades of 'She Moves Like A Mystery', the slow strummed 'Vagabond Shoes', the piano backed 'She's Not Coming Home' and the bluesier organ-backed tones of 'The Fire Inside' and 'Key To Your Heart'. 'Take It Back' and the high school shooting/NRA-themed 'Only Here' balance the broken heart numbers with a political edge and while this may not reach the same heights as its obvious influences, it comes pretty close on several occasions. MD

Kete Bowers - Paper Ships ****
"Paper Ships" sees Kete Bowers step up from being a good singer-songwriter into an excellent one. Produced by Cowboy Junkie, Michael Timmins, Bowers appears to have found a sounding boards that has allowed his songs and performance to reach a greater depth. "Paper Ships" has a dark cowboy feel to it, transpose the prairie to the sea to find songs of isolation, self-discovery and redemption. This is an album that gives you space to fill in gaps with your experiences and know that his strength of writing has got your back. Impressed? Oh Yes. NK

Ana Egge - Is It The Kiss **** Is It The Kiss is the 11th album from Ana Egge, which is impressive in itself. The album is a predictably well put together mixture of country, folk, Americana and soul, full of depth and vulnerability. Egge's storytelling shines throughout, especially on the likes of the heart-breaking tragedy Teacake and Janey. Among the highlights are Hurt A Little, about the need to work hard to make things work, and Rise Above, about the rising tribalism in the world today. Steve Earle says that Egge, "sings like she's telling us her deepest, darkest secrets", and these are secrets you'll want to hear again and again. AJ

Ummagma - Compass ****
It's been seven years since the Canadian/Ukraine husband wife team of Alexander Kretov and Shauna McLarnon released their debut albums, released on the same day in July 2012 (admittedly there have been a couple of EPs since then). It's a whirlwind of difficult musical influences, with hints of Wolf Alice and the Cocteau Twins at play, that defies categorisation. The highlights come early with Rolling and Caravan, the former with an almost disco feel, the latter with more of a trance element to it. Compass is an innovative record, full of soaring beats and captivating lyrics. AJ

Jared Deck - Bully Pulpit ***
Bully Pulpit is the second album from Jared Deck, and has a real Southern gospel vibe to it. Deck has come up the hard way; laid off from working in a factory back in Oklahoma, fired from church, but never losing his never say die attitude that seeps through his music. Mixing rock and country, all wrapped in that aforementioned Southern gospel vibe, this is a blast out loud album. Not all of it hits the aimed for heights, but there's enough going on here to mark out Deck as one to watch for the future. AJ

Fiona Ross - Fierce & Non-Compliant ****
Following hot on the heals of "Black, White And A Little Bit Of Grey", Fiona Ross ups the ante on her new cut, "Fierce & Non-Compliant". Non-compliance is a state of disorder one that can challenge the accepted. It's a state, you can slip into non-compliance which is just a bit sloppy or you can deliberately non-comply to challenge the perception, there are great wines that can't call themselves a Burgundy, for example because the winemaker has decided to do that something a little bit different. Fiona Ross' music has jazz at it's core, but it's the imagination that gets thrown into the mix that gives it that something else and whilst the purist may not like the vintage, it's fiercely Fiona Ross. NK

Stevieray Latham - Suburbia EP **
Inspired by his time backpacking across four continents, Suburbia is Latham's third release, and perhaps the most accessible. As the title would suggest, it's grounded in the urban, with lyrics covering the dystopic nature of living in any bustling metropolis. Mixed in with the low key arrangements you get the occasional scattering of natural sounds; Bulgarian street corners, the hubbub of Shanghai, the fountains of Eastern Europe. Pick of the songs is probably the title track which opens the record, which sounds like a low fi Arcade Fire. The tracks are well produced, full of poetry, but there's nothing here that will stick with you once it's finished. AJ

Michael Maclennan - Dreamers **
Dreamers is the follow up to 2016's Roaming Soul, and it's a well named collection. There is a very dreamlike quality to its deeply intimate music, which is both its strength and a weakness. There is very little change in pace from first song to last, and it's a very relaxed and hypnotic album. It's the type of record you can stick on and just allow yourself to drift along in its tranquil reflective pull, but there are too few moments of drama and passion to elevate it. That makes Dreamers a lovely album, but not a great one. AJ

Jack Klatt - It Ain't The Same ***
How much you like this will depend on which way you swing musically. Minneapolis-based Klatt is described as a balladeer and a bluesman, to which categorising you should add honky tonk country. I'm not big on blues, so World Shaker and Caught In The Middle rather passed me by, but I suspect even genre devotees might find forgettable. On the other hand, if you like a touch of Orbison then opening number I'll Never Let You Down and Tinted In Blue will definitely appeal; however, it's in the barroom where he shines best, pedal steel and twangy guitar guiding Ramblin' Kind, dirving the honkly tonk route for Highway Lines and giving it the old school country sway in Tomorrow. Love Me Lonely ends on a fingerpicked dusty van Zandt note, It Ain't The Same is cowboy campfire soul and there's even some Holly meets Jerry Lee rock n roll with Prove My Love. A curate's egg then, but one with appeal to different Americana yolks. MD

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