Album Review Saturdays 2023 Episode 19

Album Review Saturdays is all about the new releases, and we grabbed three to showcase that are in a variety of spectrums. The long awaited album from Blur, “The Ballad of Darren,” which is eight years since their last, which probably has to do with all the projects that Damon Albarn seems to be involved in. He’s like the Steve Wilson in his band (Porcupine Tree). Let’s stay in England with a female singer-songwriter that could obviously not use her real name (you’ll see why), and she even decided recently to throw caution to the wind and disguise herself to win The Masked Singer. She did put out an odd vocal showing which seemed to satisfy the masses. so I was extremely interested to see how her EP would do on Album Review Saturdays. For the final pick, I go at Greta Van Fleet, as I have never truly been that impressed, but that might be different now, as their latest has something that has me more interested than before. So what do you say we get down to it and check them out?!

 

Click here for our YouTube Channel “Album Review Saturdays 2023 Episode 19” which features discussion on these albums, as well as two (2) more album reviews not in this article.

 

Blur – The Ballad of Darren

While I have every Blur album, and I probably listen to one of them a year (maybe one more so than others), there’s a professionalism in their development of albums that’s always an amazement when it first gets spun, entered into the CD player, or recently — digitally played through my Air Pods. This is probably a concept record considering the title, but no — it’s not (surprise, after review it’s apparent that Darren is their bodyguard)! So nothing to worry about on that front. It seems the band is just going to deliver on a song finalization promise, and that they do! I just love the creative flow, melodies, hooky and grooves that Damon has floating around in his head. “The Ballad of Darren” is definitely, exactly where Blur is was an every shall be! What you’ve ‘Beetlebum’ -ed about, taken ‘Coffee and TV’ over, or clicked ‘Song 2’ over three thousand times over is all there! There sonic layers, groovy moments, and the hooky lyrical propensities that you catch more and more as you open your ears beyond the instrumental deliveries and clever production techniques that have continued to astound as Blur has grown since the 1988 in London!

They are nearly everything modern about a London rock band these days, as well as a ting into Indie-Rock if you follow (check out the Bowie feel on ‘Goodbye Albert’). The nearly four decades — what! It’s true! In five more years, they’re forty years in! They are always absorbing the culture and climate of the music environment, while still inventing and re-inventing sounds that work on their scale. ‘Russian Strings’ is a beautiful example of how this band can morph, deliver and surprise their own melodic development! They don’t shake off their Brit-pop past, but they don’t dwell there. Blur fans will enjoy every inch of the record, and newcomers are going to love the catchy variety, the awareness in the lyrics, and of course the signature, easy clear vocals of Albarn and the backing harmonies that will definitely get them into the Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame.

The Band

  • Damon Albarn – Vocals, Keyboards, Piano
  • Graham Coxon – Guitar, Backing Vocals
  • Alex James – Bass Guitar
  • Dave Rowntree – Drums

The Ballad of Darren Tracklisting

1. “The Ballad”
2. “St. Charles Square”
3. “Barbaric”
4. “Russian Strings”
5. “The Everglades (For Leonard)”
6. “The Narcissist”
7. “Goodbye Albert”
8. “Far Away Island”
9. “Avalon”
10. “The Heights”
11. “The Rabbi” [only on Deluxe]
12. “The Swan” [only on Deluxe]
13. “Sticks and Stones” [Japanese Deluxe – Colton lead vocals]

 

Bishop Briggs – When Everything Went Dark

When the ‘River’ single went out across the music-multiverse Ms. Briggs had a great hit single, no doubt! Her vocal pattern was a hint unique and the way in which it was delivered had you thinking this female singer-songwriter gets that modern alternative environment.  Two albums deep, here comes “When Everything Went Dark” [EP], but that’s while and after she put on a Medusa mask over her face and went and won The Masked Singer! Okay, so what is Sarah Grace McLaughlin, up to!?  Now you see why she’s known as aka Bishop Briggs.  Now, the question is did the time on a wild television show where she let her raw vocal range and un-tempered passion just release without the protection of studio?  Well, while an EP is not fair to the finality of what’s probably to come, I would say that Bishop Briggs has maintained the rawness she has in signature, but I’m still feeling it’s detrimental to the overall delivery of the songs here.

Let me explain my ear on this, as I do like her and what she’s accomplished and attempting to do!  “Church of Scars,” her debut, still resonates with me, and I feel the the level of attachment to the lyrics and her vocal match wonderfully in that alternative-flex, which is the beat drops that accentuate that experience and energy she brings. “Champion,” the follow up, I liked, listened, and I’ve somehow forgotten (that’s not saying it’s a forgetful record). What it means is that it was more about the single(s) really than the overall album, right!?  I have to be right, as the two singles alone gathered 50 million streams, and the album didn’t reach anywhere near that.  So, where am I with this EP?  She still maintains that gospel, alternative, beat-drop studio produced musicianship, which is the really catchy part, but the delivery flows in and out of issues for me. What?! That’s everything…isn’t? No, I think in some cases she’s over powering the songs with maybe too much vocal fluctuation from high to low, losing my appreciate for the lyric, and maybe over-stepping a bit to the flow of a track. ‘Superhuman,’ where the gospel of her vocal hails much more gentle revealing an easier connection to the melody and music is an example of an execution that I enjoyed tremendously. ‘Bad’ is a better example of the way I’m torn between the love of the clever music, the emotion and then sometimes caught off balance with the vocal. Is it too much, or overstated? I’m still going with it as a good thing, and I am looking forward to where the final album will fall.

Fans of some of Kesha, Billy Eilish and K. Flay are going to like a lot of this, and of course anyone who’s followed Bishop Briggs is going to find a lot to work with in just a 16 minute EP, but they’ll be Jonesing for what’s on its way, like I am.

The band

  • Sarah Grace McLaughlin – Vocals, Keyboards, Piano

 

When Everything Went Dark Tracklisting

  1. Reborn
  2. Baggage
  3. Cherry on Top
  4. Bad
  5. High Water
  6. Superhuman

 

 

Greta Van Fleet – Starcatcher

While I have never disputed that vocals of Josh Kiszka, what I’ve always had an issue with was the wheelhouse that they stay in to accredit those vocals. While the range it’s in matches an era of rock that’s probably the most coveted by people in my over-middle-aged bracket, I keep wondering would they ever be able to find something modern, lower register, or even bass driven. In comes what I feel is an album that does a few test here and there to reach out to those minded like myself. Again, I want everyone to be assured, that if (that band I will not mention) had not existed, we would not be having these reviews, but the fact is — it did, and it was tremendously larger in scale, blues composition, and ultimately in delivery song to song, and obviously album to album. Let’s also be real that the production of this band is much easier than that of the 70’s era, and I do hear a lot of intentionalism that I’m wondering (Chef Jeff saw them this year in Las Vegas with Rival Sons, review coming on our show: Beyond Live) might not translate as evenly in a life performance.

Starcatcher is by far my favorite of the albums. The maturity in lyric and flow of the songs has a very good grip on my ear, which is obviously led by those vocals soaring as they do. I feel that the musicianship surrounding that is doing a better job of melody and arrangement. However, after my fourth listen, that’s where I again come back to the unfair comparison to “that” band. There are some keyboard, harmonics, but beyond that there is no solo that demands attention. There is no entry that give you that wow factor, except maybe that of the vocal, or a fast starting ‘Runaway Blues,’ but that goes right back into their wheelhouse. I would love to hear some breath between the vocals — larger stints, and let’s give the drummer some kick drum power while the bassist grooves more (hear the ‘Indigo Streak’ track…as this is what I’m sort of talking about). It’s the last half of the album that seems to understand what saving rock might sound like, as there is a good guitar solo in ‘Frozen Light.’ It’s the ‘The Archer’ that grabs me the most, letting me know that they’ve got some progressive opportunities. There is a way to make the vocals stick the lyric without over singing, letting the band develop the emotion in riff and hook. That’s where it is for me, and I have a suspicion — or hope, that they find a way to take their sound in that direction, as it was the most compelling for sure, for me!

You probably know this band, so for me to say, if you like Led Zeppelin (there I said it), Journey, Deep Purple, and Cactus to just list a few 70s. I also understand the Rush vocal moments as well. If you’re a 70s rock lover, you should be all over this, if you haven’t already. I’m in there with you — THIS TIME MORE THAN EVER. I’ve got a better feeling on this Detroit rock band now, and I’m actually looking forward to seeing them soon, as well as what they do next to become their own masters! (you see what we did there).

The Band

  • Danny Wagner – Drums
  • Jake Kiszka – Guitar
  • Sam Kiszka – Bass, Keyboards
  • Josh Kiszka – Vocals

Starcatcher Tracklisting

1. “Fate of the Faithful”
2. “Waited All Your Life”
3. “The Falling Sky”
4. “Sacred the Thread”
5. “Runway Blues”
6. “The Indigo Streak”
7. “Frozen Light”
8. “The Archer”
9. “Meeting the Master”
10. “Farewell for Now”

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