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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. I've spared you a review
* You are either the artist or a close relative. (As I'm not, sorry no review)

Mona Wallin - To Build A Fire ***
Another example of Swedicana, Wallin likes things slow and moody, allowing plenty of room for Erik Ivarsson's electric guitar, exemplified in album opener 'Soldier' and the rumbling bar blues rock 'Everbody Knows My Name' that takes its brooding cue from 'House of the Rising Sun'. She's strongest, however, on the folksier, country numbers, notably the frisky twang guitar shuffling 'Cold Came Back' and the similarly styled 'Gold Feet' with its pedal steel flourishes. The stand out and the longest number is the album closer 'Higher Ground', a slow lurch melancholic dusty campfire ballad that, with yearning pedal steel and Kristofer Astrom on harmonies, underlines her backwoods Americana influences. MD

Mike Spine - Forage & Glean Vol I & II ***
A Seattle-based singer-songwriter, activist and schoolteacher who also heads up folk rock outfit The Beautiful Sunsets, Spine's been making music for some twenty years. This 32 track double CD set serves as an anthology of his work drawing on the Sunsdets' cfuticlaly acclaimed Coalminers & Mooonshiners, his Don't Let It Bring You Down solo release and three albums by his punk outfit At The Spine. As such, it's fairly musically mixed collection, though, annoyingly, there's no indication what songs come which line ups.
Diving in, the first disc variously offers up a couple of swayalongs with 70s Mott the Hoopleisms of 'Delirious' and the folksier pop of 'Sand In Your Teeth', the West Coast vibe that shimmers through 'The Beautiful Sunset' and, a particular favourite, the swinging sixties beat pop 'Primrose Hill'. Vol II is, basically, more of the same, but generally rockier, opening with the chugging guitar of 'Kiss and Remember' and ending on the punkier aggression and riffs of 'Battle in Seattle', with the swirly psychedelic folk 'Transylvania' and an 80s college rock version of 'Meteorite' catching the attention in-between. Ultimately, there's nothing here to interest anyone but fans who wants a handy compendium, but what he does, he does competently enough.

Sawdust & Rust - Leaving A Memory ***
A collaboration between singer-songwriters Patrick Rydman and Benjamin Petersen, respectively from Sweden and the Faroe islands, their debut album is a solid collection of folk and blues filtered through pop, soul and rock sensibilities. Some of the bluesier numbers, like 'Room Enough', can be a bit meat and potatoes, but, laced with horns, Tumbling Dice has a hint of Hall & Oates to it and 'Caroline' has a 70s Celtic folk pop air while 'The Shaded' of Your Skin' nods to James Taylor and 'Small Shell from the Sea' takes on a rousing shanty sway. Ending with the fingerpicked Gilbert O'Sullivan echoes of 'Forgetting You', it's not one to spark an international breakout, but, well played and easy on the ear, there's enough diversity and class to make it worth seeking out. MD

Michael Veitch - Wake Up Call **** 'Veteran's Day', the opening number on this five-track EP, a song in honour of those who gave for their country, was covered by Judy Collins on her Bohemian album and sets the musical mood and thematic tone for a set of songs that concern patriotism and a love of America, not in a bigoted Trumpist manner but in a yearning for the idealism of the past, of a time of unity rather than division. The one man and a guitar basics expanded here and there with fuller arrangements, the slow paced, mandolin-freckled folk blues 'Voices of the Old Days' echoes the opening theme with its references to those who fought in WWII while 'Pledging Allegiance' laments the corruption of the American Dream to one of self-interest.
Shifting horizons but maintaining the theme of fighting for right, the orchestrally arranged 'White Rose' concerns Sophie Scholl, the German student activist who was executed for taking a stand against the Nazis, the final track bringing it back home on a heartbeat drum pattern for 'Happy Fourth of July', an anthem for those who, like Kennedy and King, died pursuing dream and a call to not lose hope in the dark days when "now they shoot us on Main Street" as he sings about keeping an eye on the prize. MD

Robert Wheaton - Tomorrow's World ***
Tomorrow's World is Devon based singer Robert Wheaton's debut solo album, despite having been a live performer since his teens. He spent his early days in the folk clubs of London, then dabbled in diverse musical styles such as punk and country, and now performs as a solo act, and as part of folk trio Devonbird. Musically Wheaton keeps it on the lighter, breezier side. The title track open the CD, written about what was predicted for the future in 1978, which admittedly differs more than a little to what we have. The highlight is Stardust, which has an almost psychedelic feel, and is a superbly put together track. While the rest of the album doesn't hit those heights, it's an entertaining listen if a little slight in places, and you even get a Christmas song thrown in. AJ

The Woods - Armchair Expert (single) ****
The new single from Johnny McFadzean is a mesmerising electronic affair, and it's worth checking out the music video online which accompanies it. Making excellent use of live-looping McFadzean creates wonderful melodies which draw you in to a song that is rich and full of depth. Written about the armchair experts who tell you what to do and what not to do, the song tells you not to listen and take a chance. I'd recommend you take a chance and give this song a listen. AJ

Rachel Brown & The Beatnik Playboys - Look Who's Back **
Look Who's Back is an album that seems to have come from another time and era altogether. Rachel Brown has opened for some of the biggest legends of the country scene, such as Emmylou Harris and Willie Nelson, and her vocals make every song sound like an old classic. Song titles like This Ol' Place, Texas Moon, and Whiskey You Win, certainly place it solidly into that country genre. So how much you like this really does depend on how you feel about classic country, but for those who appreciate the likes of Loretta Lynn and Patsy Cline, this will feel like a wonderful nostalgia trip. AJ

A.C.Weir - This Has Been Me Since Yesterday ***
You don't get too many musicians releasing debut albums at the age of 77, but Glaswegian A.C. Weir has done just that. Previously only ever performed at family gatherings, the songs on the album were taken from an impressive collection, most of which were recorded on to an old 'reel to reel' tape recorder. There are some very strong tracks on display, the pick of which is a song written in 1966, Aberfan, about the colliery disaster. Other picks are My Ship is Sailing Tomorrow is about a man imprisoned for a crime he didn't commit, and Thoughts From The Trench. The final song, Walk A Mile In His Shoes is the original recording, raw and unadorned, and all the better for it. Sadly A.C. Weir was diagnosed with Lewd Body Dementia towards the end of the recording process, so we might not see any more new releases which is a real shame given how much promise is on show here. AJ

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