Ash: Free All Angels (Kinetic)
See, this is how it's supposed to work: I went to the Area:2 show to see Bowie and Moby, but got there in the early afternoon in time to see Ash — previously unknown to me — and was completely knocked out by their punky, melodic, high-energy assault and the winsome personality of their leader. Two days later, I bought the CD at Tower, on sale for $9.99, and have been digging the 14 tracks on the disc and the bonus DVD (containing a couple of live songs and produced videos) ever since. A fan is born! This CD came out last year in Europe, and it's been out for a while here, too, but for whatever reason, the Irish quartet hasn't quite caught on Stateside. Too bad; it's a rockin' affair from beginning to end. Leader Tim Wheeler is a strong singer, really knows how to throw together power chords in cool ways, and is even an intriguing lyricist (mostly relationship stuff, but intelligent). He's ably assisted by guitarist Charlotte Hatherley, who projects a confident, Chrissie Hynde-ish stance live; bassist Mark Hamilton; and steady skinsman Rick McMurray. A couple of tracks feature sweeping string arrangements, too. Among many delights on the CD are “Walking Barefoot,” “Burn Baby Burn” and “Sometimes,” all potent tunes with nice dynamic shifts. At their best, the group moves from sensitive balladic moments to Clash-like chord bombs in the wink of an eye; it's an exciting and intoxicating brew. A band to watch!
Producers: Owen Morris and Ash. Engineers: Morris, Alan Moulder (mix), Ian Laughton & Jez (one song). Studios: El Cortijo, The Wool Hall, Beckington, Rak, Bad Earth. Mastering: Greg Calbi/Sterling.
— Blair Jackson
Roy Rogers and Norton Buffalo: Roots of Our Nature (Blind Pig)
Rogers is possibly the best slide guitarist on the planet; Buffalo is the pre-eminent harmonica cat. Yet, the music they make together (this is their third Blind Pig release) isn't flashy or pretentious in any way. These guys don't need to show off their virtuosity; it's apparent in the little details that give this mostly acoustic music so much depth and character. Stylistically, they are all over the map on these 13 original tunes — a little blues shuffle here, some countryish crooning by Buffalo there, a dash of rock 'n' roll — but it's unified by the remarkable communication between the two main players, who always seem to come up with the right instrumental coloration to match each song: 12-string slide on this tune, chromatic harp on this one, etc. Both are strong singers and songwriters — mostly they deal with romance (lost and longed for), but tunes like Rogers' “Trinity” and Buffalo's spooky “Seven Hearts” show them branching out into unusual areas, too. Fans of Rogers' incredible slide work will also want to check out his excellent recent Evidence solo album, Slideways, an entirely instrumental showcase for his prodigious talents. There's plenty of flash there.
Producers: Norton Buffalo and Roy Rogers. Engineers: Pete Carlson, Buffalo, Justin Phelps, Alan Sudduth, Joel Jaffe. Studios: Bayview (Richmond, CA), Moon Valley (Sonoma, CA), Studio D (Sausalito, CA), Prairie Sun (Cotati, CA). Mastering: Paul Stubblebine.
— Blair Jackson
Doro: Fight (Steamhammer)
It's true, I'll admit it: I want to be Doro. She's cool, she's tough, she's everything metal, and she'll run you over with her powerful, melodic hard rock. You may remember her as the frontwoman for the metal legend Warlock, but for the past 20 years, this emotive German rock chick has been flying solo, amassing 12 bone-crunching albums. This time around, Doro's newest release, Fight, relies more on her raw, earthy, female allure, rather than on a loop-based production of one guitar riff after another. Aside from Doro and her band (Joe Taylor on guitar, Nick Douglas working the bass, Johnny Dee hitting the skins, and Oliver Palotai tackling both guitar and keyboard duties), the release features tracks penned by Gene Simmons (“Legends Never Die”), Russ Ballard and Jean Beauvoir, as well as a surprise — and stellar — performance by Type O Negative bassist Pete Steele on “Descent.” The album is as powerful as possible and as natural as necessary — she's still a metal chick's type of woman!
Producers: Doro Pesch, Chris Lietz and Dan Malsch. Mixers: Malsch and Lietz. Studio: Soundmine Recording Studios (East Stroudsburg, PA). Mastering: Pesch at Skyline Studios (Duesseldorf, Germany).
— Sarah Benzuly
Eleanor McEvoy: Yola (Blue Dandelion/MOSCO)
Yola, the fourth album by this brilliant guitarist/singer/songwriter, may be McEvoy's best release to date. Although the album's title refers to an obscure dialect used in a remote part of her native Ireland, Yola is not “Irish” music, and other than a slight lilt to her voice, McEvoy's songs are universal in nature — typically about troubled relationships. Yola doesn't stray from this direction, with pithy tunes such as “The Rain Falls,” depicting a day when everything goes wrong, ending in being dumped by a lover via e-mail. In her first self-produced project (co-produced with keyboardist Brian Connor), Yola offers tight, well-crafted performances by McEvoy and her band, with superb audio. As a historical footnote, two Yola tracks were released as the world's first SACD single (on Market Square Records), which further spotlights the warm 24-track/Dolby SR recording and sparkling ½-inch 2-track mix. Bravo!
Producers: Eleanor McEvoy, Brian O'Connor. Engineers: Ruadhri Cushman, Ian Cooper (mastering). Studios: Tracked at The Works (Dublin), mixed/mastered at Metropolis (London).
— George Petersen