Frank Turner – “England Keep My Bones”

Anyone who’s familiar with Winchester’s Frank Turner and his intense touring habits knows that he is never in one place for too long, not even his own home. Frank Turner (and his backing band The Sleeping Souls) has been touring solo for a few years now and manages to create acoustic folk-punk songs that cut the crap and get to the core of life and love.

People that know his music are avid followers, and people that aren’t usually have a different outlook after hearing him. Yes, he’s just that good! Frank Turner’s incredibly popular third album Poetry of the Deed sang songs of life’s little appreciations, constantly being on the road and the lessons learned from seeing the countries of the world. England Keep My Bones is album number four and focuses almost oppositely on Frank’s resounding love for his home and England’s heritage, but at the same time manages to keep that acoustic punk-rock spark.

Album opener Eulogy triumphantly bursts out with a punk attitude after a horn intro and gets the album started on a high with its punk-style lyrics “But on the day I die I’ll say “At least I fucking tried!” and that’s the only eulogy I need.” Peggy Sang the Blues is a song about Frank’s grandmother visiting him in a dream, but also cleverly hides punk style lyrics about playing poker in heaven and giving him sound advice on life around a blues style sound, as the title suggests. The good vibes keep coming hard and fast when I Still Believe from Frank’s latest EP Rock & Roll kicks in with its tribute to different generations of musical influences and how they’ve all helped bring people together, and creates a massive sing-along anthem.

Rivers is another song about the life of a punk-rock troubadour and traces paths across England that Frank has travelled before eventually returning home, and first single I Am Disappeared harks back to his earlier material and sings about dreams of Bob Dylan and spontaneous travelling. English Curse throws a curveball to the album – it’s an entirely acapella song about how William II died in the New Forest after being shot with an arrow by Walter Tyrell in 1100. While it’s a beautifully crafted bit of sung poetry, it also shows Frank Turner indulging his heritage and the history of his home on England Keep My Bones.

If I Ever Stray lightens the tone again with its joyful country styling and makes a promise to his friends that “If I ever stray from the path I follow, take me down to the English channel, throw me in where the water is shallow and then drag me back to shore” showing that even though Frank travels, he never forgets who his friends are. Wessex Boy carries on the theme of his friends and home through Frank singing about Winchester and all his fond memories of the places he went, and even mentions the Railway Inn where he played his earlier shows and occasionally still does whenever he’s back for long enough. Wessex Boy also manages to paint a clear picture of Frank Turner’s roots and what inspired him to start making music, and it’s clear from the passion he sings this song with how important his roots are to him.

Nights Become Days’ melody breaks up the pace of the album nicely before Redemption’s piano led symphony creeps through and builds into something entirely different and heavier. Album closer Glory Hallelujah might seem anti-religious, proclaiming “There never was no God”, but looking deeper I believe the message is that people should live to appreciate everything they have while they have it before they die. It’s not so much anti-religious as it is life appreciating.

The extra three songs available on the deluxe version of England Keep My Bones include Song for Eva Mae which is a melodic acoustic song about his Goddaughter, Wanderlust which is more of a country style song and Balthazar, Impresario which reminds me of Journey of the Magi from Poetry of the Deed. Though they don’t really add to or fit in with the theme of England Keep My Bones much, which is probably why they’re extras on the deluxe version, but any fans of Frank’s solo acoustic numbers will like these little extras a lot.

While it may not have the same immediate life-affirming attitude that made Poetry of the Deed so popular, England Keep My Bones adds a lot to Frank Turner’s arsenal and reaffirms your faith in England, reminding people of the pride we should have in the history and tradition of our country. Another great album from one of the last honest musicians in the world.

VersaEmerge @ The Joiners, 17/5/11

Mere minutes after the doors have opened and already a large crowd has gathered around the front of the stage at The Joiners on a bright Spring evening. Although the fact that not one of them is old enough to remember Thundercats being on TV and the PA is pumping out new age pop-rock-rap should be cause for concern. But tonight is no ordinary night – it is the first night of Floridian rockers VersaEmerge’s first ever headlining UK tour.

Kids Can't Fly start off the evening.

But first, opening up the night is the schoolboy ska-punk stylings of local boys Kids Can’t Fly. After the younger audience members at the front are done going crazy for them coming on stage, Kids Can’t Fly jump straight in with their fresh and funky mixture of punk-rock and duelling vocals with added Sax appeal, showcased by their songs Open Wide and Vicious Circle which both rock and bounce in equal measures. Kids Can’t Fly round off their set with the bouncy summer anthem The Summer and their big, catchier-than-H1N1 single She Called Shotgun which is currently making the rounds on rock music TV channels. By the end of their set, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Kids Can’t Fly are higher up the bill after the crowd reaction they get, so hopefully we’ll be hearing a lot more from them in the future.

Southampton's Finest - Not Advised

After the room is plunged into darkness and In The Hall Of The Mountain King chimes through the PA, it can only mean that Southampton’s Pop-Punk prodigal sons are being heralded to the stage. The second their intro music ends, Not Advised plunge headfirst into I’ll Call You a Winner, straight away showing they are a force to be reckoned with. The A.R.K and Jane Says Left work wonders in getting the crowd to sing and chant along in time with the band before Not Advised decide to bust out brand new songs All I Need and the slower, brooding Good News for the first night of the tour. To close off their set, Not Advised go from zero to hardcore in no time with their anthemic single Right Now before finishing on crowd sing-along favourite The World’s Not Ready. If Not Advised are the future of home-grown pop-punk-rock, then the future is definitely bright!

The atmospheric, ethereal sounds of VersaEmerge coming to the stage, softly blending into Stranger, are broken only by rock-vixen Sierra Kusterbeck’s siren-like vocals building into the kind of punk-rock scream that could shatter the glass in your hand, to which the crowd go equally as mad as they take no breaks before playing Fire (Aim Your Arrows High).

Sierra and Blake kicking things off.

While it might be easy to compare VersaEmerge to other similar female-fronted rock outfits signed to the Fuelled By Ramen label (yes, we’re looking at you, Paramore…), Kusterbeck and Co. do a fantastic job of setting themselves firmly in a league of their own with their dark-tinged alt-rock style and the pure energy of a band hungry to make a name for themselves. While guitarist Blake Harnage bounces with energy during their set, Sierra stalks about the stage like a cat preying on a small furry creature its spotted and you can tell that there is something darker at work in VersaEmerge’s music tonight.

The point at which Sierra’s haunting vocals shine the most is after their older material, including fan favourite and breakthrough single Past Praying For, when she announces “This song is about someone… but they’ll never know”  and they blend into You’ll Never Know and Your Own Love.

Latest single Figure It Out works well in getting the crowd jumping and moving before they go into Mind Reader, but it’s their big hit single Fixed At Zero that brings down the house as they close their set to deafening cheers and screams from the feverish fans.

Kusterbeck lulls the crowd to a close

After only the slightest encouragement from the crowd, VersaEmerge grace the stage again for an encore of their hauntingly melodic Clocks from their EP, Sierra’s hypnotic vocals bringing the evening to a chilling close.

If this evenings show is anything to go by, VersaEmerge are indeed out to make a name for themselves – and if they’re able to keep delivering shows this memorable, then it’s hardly going to be challenge for them!

Foo Fighters – “Wasting Light”

Arguably one of the biggest rock bands in the world today, Foo Fighters are back with their seventh studio album Wasting Light. After their last album Echoes, Silence, Patience, Grace I personally found Foo Fighters to be coming out with one particularly good song per album, and the rest coming across as background songs – just the same old stuff on a new album.

With Wasting Light, Dave Grohl took his band back to the drawing board and took a close look at their “early days” albums like their debut and The Colour and The Shape, and took on producer Butch Vig who had produced Nirvana’s Nevermind album to put the new album together. Right from the outset, it is possible to tell that going back to basics has worked in their favour.

Album opener Bridge Burning is evidence of Foo Fighters going back to their The Colour and The Shape era, with a more melodic sound of Monkey Wrench taking the foreground on this song but with a different kind of twist behind it. It’s powerful, like their recent stuff as show by Dave Grohl’s opening line of “These are my famous last WOOORDS”, but also more technical and melodic at the same time.

First single Rope introduces a new, ethereal sound to what they are trying to achieve on Wasting Light before the anthemic chorus comes in and gives a feeling of nostalgia, already showing just how much Foo Fighters are going back to the days of experimenting and trying out new sounds. White Limo also goes in a new direction, taking on a heavier kind of rock with its angry, distorted vocals coming across more like a combination of Foo Fighters’ powerful rock and a Queens of the Stone Age stoner-rock fuzz. This is also a good reminder of Dave Grohl’s side project Them Crooked Vultures, as White Limo could easily have been lifted off of that album too.

These Days is a pleasant, chilled out song to start with, contrasting a lot of the rock madness on the rest of the album, but then becomes something much bigger as it grows into a more butch, beastly song showing how Foo Fighters don’t want anything to slow the pace they started the album with.

Back and Forth and A Matter of Time both have a mix of heavy, fuzzy guitars and Taylor Hawkins’ salvo-like drumming layered under melodic vocals, demonstrating more straight-talking lyrics like “my past is getting us nowhere fast, I was never one for taking things slow”. These kinds of simple lyrics over a stripped back sound show that Foo Fighters can exist without a big budget studio recording and come out with something as good as this.

The heavy bass middle section in I Should Have Known comes courtesy of ex-Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic, and was apparently written about Dave Grohl dealing with the suicide of Nirvana singer Kurt Cobain so it’s fitting that the singer and the bassist of that former band should re-unite for this song, before Walk closes the album.

If it took Dave Grohl and company going back to their roots, working out of their garage and stripping back to a rawer, unpolished sound to produce something as good as Wasting Light, then clearly it’s a formula that works incredibly well for them!

Yellowcard – “When You’re Through Thinking, Say Yes”

After a two year hiatus, Floridian pop-punkers Yellowcard are back with their seventh album When You’re Through Thinking, Say Yes. Originally, they met with mixed opinions over having a violinist (Sean Mackin) in their regular line-up, adding a new and interesting element to their pop-punk sound. After the popularity of Ocean Avenue in 2003 though, their unique mixture of pop-punk with added strings became a unique and significant sound in the genre in the following years.

I always found Ocean Avenue to be a good record as it brought the band into the public eye, but after this they seemed to fall short of the mark with their following albums. It’s clear on When You’re Through Thinking, Say Yes that Yellowcard are going back to replicate the sound and the dynamic they had on Ocean Avenue (that of deep, chugging, staccato guitars and flowing violins and riffs in the chorus) but also trying to evolve their sound to stay relevant in a genre that has seen bands come and go with popularity in the time they were simply on hiatus.

When You’re Through Thinking, Say Yes has a lot of what made Yellowcard so recognisable with songs like With You Around and Sing For Me almost coming straight out of the Ocean Avenue era. While these songs are good, it makes it seem as though Yellowcard are living in the past rather than evolving their sound to become something more cutting edge.

That being said, songs like album opener The Sound of You and Me evoke certain feelings of nostalgia that remind fans why they liked Yellowcard in the first place with its swirling, high-end guitars, and first single For You, And Your Denial shows an element of evolution among the band that keeps them in the present day through its pounding riffs and lyrics of “Desperation kills, but when it’s on your sleeve you wear it well”. While the strings may not play as prominent a part on the album as a whole, when used in songs like this they make more of an impact rather than blending into the background.

Second single from When You’re Through Thinking, Say Yes is the slower, more melodic Hang You Up. While its lyrics of “I don’t hear music anymore, my ears are tired of all the pictures in the words, you are in them still” may seem typically love-struck, its melody and execution bring emotions to the surface of the listener rather than allowing them to switch off from the album for any moment.

Life of Leaving Home is another song that shows a new side to Yellowcard with its use of heavier riffs mixed with melodic choruses and high-end guitars, owing more to post-rock rather than their usual pop-punk sound and is definitely a highlight of the album. Hide and Soundtrack also give long-term fans something to enjoy with the latter in particular using more of the sound that got Yellowcard the notoriety they have now, and uses more prominent strings during the chorus. See Me Smiling is another evocative song that Yellowcard do so well with Ryan Keys vocals giving the lyrics their meaning, before Be the Young rounds off the album with a snippet of what Yellowcard are gradually becoming through their changing sound.

When You’re Through Thinking, Say Yes easily has a lot that fans of Yellowcard’s earlier work will be pleased with, but there are also a few gems here that can attract fans from a newer brand of pop-punk bands.

Funeral For A Friend – “Welcome Home Armageddon”

The Welsh power-house quintet known as Funeral For A Friend have been going strong since forming in 2001, and were pretty much the leading band in the post-hardcore movement of that decade. Welcome Home Armageddon is studio album number five from the Bridgend Boyos, and for many reasons sees a new and reinvigorated approach to their sound.

Firstly, there is another line-up change from their last album Memory And Humanity, seeing founding guitarist Darran Smith leave the band and bassist Gavin Burrough (who joined the band on that album) take over as guitarist with new member Richard Boucher take over bass. On top of that, Welcome Home Armageddon has been released through independent record label Distiller Records, whereas Memory And Humanity was released through Join Us Records, the bands own record label. The combination of these means Funeral For A Friend have shaken everything up, torn up the instruction manual and gone back to basics on Welcome Home Armageddon.

The band has said themselves they want to progress rather than go back on themselves with their sound, and that’s very true of Welcome Home Armageddon, but there are definitely similarities in its sound to their successful first album Casually Dressed & Deep in Conversation. While Memory And Humanity went back to the heavy/melodic mix and the technical sounds their first album had, it was also very studiously put together. Now, Welcome Home Armageddon has a more raw and infectious side to it, and never lets up for a second with its onslaught of brutal and beautiful (…or “brutiful”?) sounds in equal measures.

Album opener This Side of Brightness is a melodic instrumental bit, but also lulls you into a false sense of what the rest of the album will be like when the first actual song Old Hymns jumps to life with its technical drums and high-end guitar. The slow build-up on single Front Row Seats to the End of the World gets rudely shoved out the way when the angular guitars, machine gun drums and brutal vocals tumble out of the speakers and create a sound reminiscent of the FFAF of old, giving longer-term fans something to enjoy in the process!

Sixteen brings back a riff-heavy sound similar to that of Casually Dressed… but also manages to mix in a more punk-rock sound in process, adding a new element to an already good sound. Normally, each album Funeral For A Friend make has a melodic acoustic song to break up the mayhem on the album, and at first it sounds like Owls (Are Watching) might be that song for this record. But when the raw, heavy groove comes in, it becomes apparent that with Welcome Home Armageddon Funeral For A Friend aren’t taking any time out to rest.

Damned If You Do, Dead If You Don’t carries on the fast paced onslaught of riffs with Medicated slowing the pace down again before becoming a more anthemic and emotion-led number with the lyrics “Screaming out for another feeling, paper houses cutting corners.” Broken Foundation busts out the grooves so fast and hard it could knock down walls, and is a pleasant surprise towards the end of the album when you think things are dying down a bit, before the title track rounds off the album in the true Funeral For A Friend style of leaving you wanting more.

Welcome Home Armageddon is packed with some of Funeral For A Friends finest works of the last few years, meaning long-term fans will be happy with what they hear whilst also being inventive enough to gain new fans in the process.

Not Advised @ The Joiners, 21/2/11

Not Advised at the Joiners

The fact that there are people queing in the cold February mist half an hour before the doors open at The Joiners for the evening is surely a testament to how quickly this show sold out. Of course, this is no surprise when you consider tonight is a showcase of mostly homegrown talent from Southampton, and the homecoming show of Southampton’s own pop-punk prodigies Not Advised.

People are still ambling their way into the main room from the misty weather when it’s time for local newcomer James McVey to open. As such he starts playing his mixture of acoustic and feel-good pop-rock to a half empty room when he opens with an acoustic cover of Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream. It’s a reflection of the general candy-coating of McVey’s songs and it’s a good cover to start with before his backing band, all with trendy hair styles and shirts, start off the set with Breathe. McVey does manage to make an impression on the gathering crowd with his melodic pop tunes similar to a British The Rocket Summer, and his other songs All Eyes on You and Who I Am Now enhance this familiarity. Oddly enough, he closes his set with another pop song cover, this time tackling Ke$ha’s Tik Tok. Some people might question why he opens and closes his set with cover songs, but he manages to put an indie-rock slant on the pop tune that actually turns it into a pretty good cover and gets a good audience reaction for an opening act.

Second on the bill tonight are The Holiday, who hit the stage with their bouncy pop-rock tunes and snappy suits. Their sound comes across at times like a strange mixture of Weezer and McFly, with lashings of indie thrown in. After they open with You and Me, they keep the pace of their set moving with The Weekend before finishing with a crowd sing-along.

Pegasus Bridge is the only band on tonight’s bill from outside Southampton, namely Manchester. But the fact they’re not part of the Southern crowd here tonight doesn’t mean they get less credit – in fact, Pegasus Bridge are creating quite the name for themselves. Their jaunty, synth-laced indie rock has earned them spots on Radio 1’s Introducing Stage among other recent achievements. Their song Paris gets a hefty reaction from the audience members already familiar with them, and the slow and moody melody manages to reinforce their sound, like a mixture of The Kooks and Twin Atlantic with added techno. They round off their set with their single Ribena, during which Jim Thomas from Not Advised makes his way on stage to join them much to the joy of the crowd! It definitely seems like Pegasus Bridge are going places, so I wouldn’t be surprised if you hear more from them in the future.

When the lights dim and the refrain from In the Hall of the Mountain King plays, it is the sign that heralds Not Advised and their homecoming show on the last night of their UK tour. With their fans feverish from both excitement and the rising heat of the packed out room, Not Advised open by diving straight into I’ll Call You A Winner, frontman Jim conducting the crowd to go accordingly crazy. Closely following this are fan favourites The A.R.K. and Jane Says Left which, as expected, gets the crowd singing along at the tops of their lungs. Not Advised have obviously been busy while touring, as they have not one but three new songs to play during their set tonight. The first, All I Need, carries on the distinct sound that Not Advised have and looks like it could bring a bright future to the band.

But this evening is not without its losses – Not Advised lay to rest one of their earlier songs A Red Light Situation, as they announce it won’t be played live anymore. As such, they make it an occasion to remember by turning it into an acoustic rendition and allow the huge crowd of the evening to sing most of it themselves. As if saying goodbye to the old, their final new song of the evening Good News ushers in a new phase of their career and is a sure sign that their upcoming album will be just as great as their EP. They round off the evening with their most recent singles, the epic anthem Right Now and the final big sing-along of the evening The Worlds Not Ready, bringing the evening to a riotous close.

If this is the future of homegrown pop-punk, then the future is very bright for Not Advised!

Chuck Ragan – “Gold Country”

Perhaps better known for his daytime work as the frontman of punk band Hot Water Music, Chuck Ragan has also made a career for himself with his own blend of country folk punk in his spare time. I first saw Chuck Ragan support The Gaslight Anthem (which is fitting since they’re both signed to Side One Dummy Records) and liked his unique sound so much I thought I’d give his record a go, and Gold Country is Chuck Ragan’s latest and most popular album release.

What Chuck Ragan does on this, his solo project, can’t really be categorised into any one particular brand of music. There’s a lot of country, some blues, some acoustic, but then every so often there’s this uplifting little twist of punk which adds some bounce to the songs and gives you something you don’t expect. So to say that Gold Country is a blues record would be wrong, as would saying it’s a punk record, because its neither of them and yet both at the same time.

There’s an eclectic mix of different sounds on Gold Country, but opening the record is For Goodness Sake which is simply Chuck Ragan and a guitar creating a beautiful flowing introduction to the album. The next couple of songs are probably not the best ones on the album, but that perhaps because they’re a little slower than what you first expect from the album. But all of that changes when you start hearing the intro’s to Done and Done, a particular favourite of mine from this album with lyrics like “wake up now we’ve got to go, somewhere higher’s all I know. Leave behind the walking dead, leave the mess don’t make the bed”, The Trench and, a bit later, Cut Em Down which pick up a little bit with a twist of some punk rock added to the mix of bluegrass and violin from Jon Gaunt (the other creative half of the general project). These songs seem to be a bit closer to home for what Chuck Ragan normally does, and you can tell that from how good they sound and how they add something new to the mix of songs.

Some of the other songs take on a softer sound and have a lot of tender, meaningful lyrics coming from the heart. 10 West is a song about his longing to settle down somewhere in California with its lyrics like “I’m heading to your mountains, through your rivers, onto your sea. And I’ll make it only if I stay rolling.” This is followed by Ole Diesel, another ballad-y song and then later on by Let It Rain, a song quite clearly dedicated to Chuck Ragan’s wife.

Quite a few of the songs on Gold Country clearly take their influence from some older artists, which is probably why Chuck Ragan is detaching himself from his punk roots more and indulging himself in more folk-like influences. There’s an undeniable influence of Johnny Cash on Rotterdam that you’d be crazy to ignore, and the country roots are also evident on Good Enough For Rock And Roll and Don’t Say A Word. The slower songs like these contrast well with the more energetic ones, as it then makes it more of a mix of different kinds of folk ranging from bluegrass to country to a bouncier kind of folk, showing how versatile Chuck Ragan can make one kind of genre.

The album closer Get Em All Home is a pretty touching song clearly written about bringing troops in service home safely with the line “And all I can do is pray that the world will see what this war costs”. It’s a nice way of rounding off an album like this, but why there’s a 30 minute loop of a roaring log fire sound running afterwards isn’t explained. Surely that’s going to mess with a few people’s MP3 players. Who knows, maybe that’s the reason!

Gold Country is generally quite an inventive album, and takes you through a range of different feelings. Some parts are a little too country-style for my taste, with that twang-y, electric-y slide guitar sound going in the back of some songs, but some of the others will be easy to like if (like me you already like The Gaslight Anthem and Frank Turner as there is definitely similar vibes going on!

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