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)

WHEN RIVERS MEET – Liberty ***

British husband and wife duo Grace and Aaron Bond open their debut album with a striking, stark and funereal paced version of ‘Ring of Fire’ (an approach they also apply, slightly less successfully, to’ Suspicious Minds’), setting a benchmark to which their own material never quite measures up. That said, there’s still much to appreciate as they work through a stylistically diverse set that embraces spooked, echoey desert dry ballad ‘You Blinded Me’, a rockabilly throbbing ‘Regrets & Lies’, the fiddle driven folksy ‘Postpone’ and the train rhythm gospel infused ‘Sweet Dreams Are Coming’. The harmonica stained bluesy ‘Can’t Pay My Way’ with its New Orleans horns colours is a particular highlight, as are the mandolin laced swampy blues ‘Greed’ and, Grace on lead, the gently yearning acoustic closer ‘Need To Be’. In career terms, they’re still bedding in, but I suspect we’ll be hearing much more from them in the years to come. (MD)

THE 19TH STREET BAND – The Things That Matter ****

An Irish-American folk rock duo comprising Caolaidhe Davis and fiddle/mandolin playing co-vocalist wife Meghan, this is a lively six-track mini album that kicks things off in infectious form with ‘Jump In The Water’, keeping the tempo upbeat with the upright bass and slide guitar of boogie of ‘Long Runs The Fox’, a driving ‘It’s True What They Say’ and the jaunty mandolin-led ‘Trouble’. Megan on lead, ‘Set Me Free’ is another pacey cut with blues and bluegrass touches, the only time they ease up (slightly) being on the closing fiddle-laced folksiness of ‘The Things That Matter’, Cally’s voice soaring the scales with the number having a lengthy fiddle and brushed snare final stretch. Undoubtedly an energetic live act, they might want to add a little more light and shade on the next release, but this is well worth finding on the A-Z.(MD)

CRAIG CASSLER – Find My Way ***

A Boston-based San Diego-born singer-songwriter, Cassler embraces a variety of influence, from reggae and Motown to folk and punk, the end result being an often moody and bluesy Americana stew, Break Down Walls recalling The Eagles, while Georgia offers organ-backed southern boogie, If I Was Is more country inclined and Annie Rose touches on Appalachian territory. It’s at its best with the simpler, more acoustic material, Scars and Lines, gradually building from just guitar and tambourine to involve a steady drum beat, electric guitar solos and female backing vocals, the notable standout.(MD)

BEMIS – World Of Difference ****

Brand sparkly new album from Portsmouth band Bemis, who continue to defy musical labels, content to plough their own successfully niche furrow and who have arguably come up with their best album to date. Describing Bemis music is a bit like choosing your favourite flavoured Spangle – it constantly changes! If you want comparisons (and we all need a reference point or two, don’t we?!) then if you got a massive man-sized cauldron and threw Midnight Oil, Crosby, Stills and Nash (oh let’s put Neil in their too!), some Barenaked Ladies, Phil & Don and mixed them all together, then maybe that’s what Bemis might sound like! “A World Of Difference” isn’t just a statement of humanitarian intent, but it’s also true of their musical roots, where they’ve come from, and where they’re going. The title track itself, co-written by founder and constant Gareth Howells and his ultra-talented young son Louis, is the theme around which everything revolves. Pitch perfect group harmonies echo the sentiments of the song, and this is a proud and prominent feature throughout an album that is bursting at the seams with great songs, delivered with great style and substance. (KB)


Austrian Country music anyone? Well as bizarre as that may sound (and trust me there isn’t a yodel in sight!), Mr Grizzley (real name Chris Comper) is for real, and this debut album is a fine example of alt-country where the edges are slightly burred and there’s a carefree raggedness to some of the songs that give it an authenticity belying the Bregenzerwald native’s origins. The slightly kooky Austra-yankee voice takes a little time to get accustomed to, but once you’ve compartmentalised that little aside, then you can get onto the good stuff which is Grizzley channelling the bastardised ghost of Hank Williams on rattlers like “Mountain’s Milk”, the heavenly pedal steel good time rockin’ of “Give Me One Good Reason” and the introspective going-to-hell-in-a-handcart self-flagellation of “I Can See Darkness”. It’s not highly polished, it’s not squeaky clean – but what “Come On In” has, is a bucketful of youthful energy that make the tunes growl from the grooves with a barely concealed countryfied menace. Turn up the volume!(KB)

ROBBIE CAVANAGH – To Leave / To Be Left ***

When an album is released on the prolific At The Helm label then you know it’s going to be quality, and Robbie Cavanagh’s sophomore release continues in that rich vein of musical excellence with an album that brings together a collection of songs spanning a few years and even more emotional tales of love lost and then found. Cavanagh has a voice that cuts through the darkest, deepest instrumentation, confident in its strength and tremulous nature to bring home the meaning of the song, complementing the lush arrangements beautifully. Songs such as “Love Comes Quickly”, “Let You Down” and “Roles Reversed” are typical of the indolent and almost laid back feel that pervades the album as a whole. You won’t find Robbie rocking out too much unless you leave opening song “Get Out Alive” on repeat – sounding every inch the English Ryan Adams, electric guitars and pedal steel chiming nicely to a harmonious summit. An album that will leave you with a warm glow to help you through those cold nights. (KB)