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The Mercy Alliance is a Washington DC based band led by talented singer-songwriter Joe Rathbone, whose latest album, Some Kind Of Beautiful Story, sees him collaborate with producer Thomas Johansen, along with drummer Steve Bowmen (ex Counting Crows) and bassist Brad Jones among others to create an emotive take on rootsy indie rock.

The album opens with a beautiful ode to Joe’s native Washington (called aptly enough Washington) that instantly showcases a dreamy melodic indie sound complete with shimmering guitars and woozy harmony enriched vocals, hinting at a 60’s psychedelic influence that again rears its head on the follow-up, Angel Of Mercy which again washes over  the listener with layers of swirling guitar and keyboard, whilst Joe’s delicately refrained vocals seduce the listener further into the hypnotic sound of The Mercy Alliance.

All For The Love Of You changes direction slightly with fuzzy driven guitars replacing the aforementioned sedated swirls, bringing in a shoegaze influence that’s compounded with the synth undercurrent and chugging bassline. Whilst both This Is How They Know and I Can’t Do It, are both different again with Joe’s melodic vocals being joined by strings and twinkling keyboards further peppering his glorious vision, with the latter majestically swelling to a near orchestral finish.

Libertine is perhaps the most aggressive track on here, with Joe delivering a raw, gritty baritone, whilst the band kick up a storm of stomping beats and stabbing guitars, proving that The Mercy Alliance are equally adapt at traditional indie rock fodder as they are creating trance like epics.

Some Kind Of Beautiful Story is a varied, compelling and contagious album that covers a wide range of melodic indie from a hypnotic songwriter very much on the top of his game, if you’re looking for an inventive take on an otherwise stale sound, I highly recommend the mesmeric sounds of The Mercy Alliance

Rhythm & Booze Rating 8

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The Rural Alberta Advantage are something of a new name for us Brits, however the three-piece band have been making great waves over in their native Canada since their formation back in 2006, whilst the likes of Spin, The New York Times, Rolling Stone and Pitchfork have also picked up on the band.

To date the band have released two albums and an early EP, which has seen the group gain acknowledgement with two Juno Award nominations as well as receiving a a nod for the Polaris Music Prize.

Mended With Gold is the band’s third album and could be the one to see the band breakthrough on an international stage with the likes of Q, Uncut and The Line Of Best Fit queuing up to feature the band and their tales of loss, heartbreak and adventure.

Right from the album’s opening track, Our Love… it’s easy to see why the band are receiving such attention from the music media, right from the off Nils Edenloff’s weathered voice hits, over subtle percussion from Paul Banwatt, before big guitars kick in and multi-instrumentalist Amy Cole adds vocal harmonies to a hook-laden chorus. During the duration of the near three minute song guitars drop in and out of the mix leaving Nils vocals exposed over a subdued clatter of percussion before the vocal refrain and guitars crash back into focus, instantly captivating the listener and urging them onwards.

This City opens with a lonesome strummed guitar and Nils vocals showcasing a folky element to the band’s sound before the mix is joined by pattered percussion, drums and electric guitar to create a mix that sounds akin to the likes of lo-fi pop legends Neutral Milk Hotel or Olivia Tremor Control among others. On The Rocks sees piano pierce fuzzy riffs, whilst male/female vocal harmonies deliver a story of a relationship breakdown, before the band deliver a gorgeous wordless vocal hook that’s instantly sticks in the memory and could become one of those big holler along moments live.

Other highlights include the beautiful, autumnal folky lament To Be Scared, featuring delicate finger picked guitar, offbeat clicking percussion, a gorgeous lead vocal and seductive female vocal coos drawing the listener into a majestic dreamy spell, whilst All We’ve Ever Known is summoned in with a torrent of feedback before developing into a hard hitting indie anthem complete with marching drums and striking riffs, whilst the lead vocals are full of vim and vigor as the band flex their muscles. Whilst album closer, On The Run is a beautiful piano led ballad that drops out completely leaving just the stand alone fragile vocals of Nils and Amy intwined as one.

Mended With Gold is a stunning, magical album of indie folk ballads and lo-fi anthems, complete with soaring harmonies, infectious melodies, scattershot percussion and heart-wrenching vocals. Loss, longing and heartbreak has never sounded so appealing.

Rhythm & Booze Rating 9

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A few years back I got to see Danny & The Champions Of The World perform at a small basement club in Cheltenham (Subtone) supporting their recently released album, Hearts And Arrows, the band were a revelation, the album was damn good, but the live experience was on another level completely. That night the band blended rootsy Americana with soul and the rock ‘n’ roll attitude of Springsteen, every song hit the mark, every morsel lapped up by an audience at fever pitch and even now I’d regard it as one of the best gigs I’ve attended among literally hundreds over the years.

So when the chance popped up to review a double live album (recorded this year at the Jazz Cafe, Camden) by Danny George Wilson and maverick band, I leapt at the chance to don my headphones and disappear into a world of stripped down rock, strummed acoustics, parping sax, rich harmonies and pedal steel guitar.

The album opens with the band building up a wall of sound before dropping down to a  gorgeous slice of drums and pedal steel guitar before Danny delivers his gorgeous folky (Dylan-esque) croon. (Never Stop Building) That Old Space Rocket is a glorious opener, instantly showcasing that rich and rootsy sound that could hark straight out of Woodstock (think the organic sounds of The Band!!). only with an additional inspired sax solo, stretching the sound into a cosmic soul direction.

Cold Cold World follows, adding vocal harmonies to an already potent sound creating a 60’s pop feel, whilst the combination of the aforementioned pedal steel and acoustic guitar keep the rootsy sound very much at the forefront. Let’s Grab This With Both Hands is a stunning soul number with Danny really letting his expressive voice go over rolling beats and horns that could have been lifted from a best of Stax compilation, highlighting those various influences that make Danny & The Champions Of The World such an experience.

The first CD continues in much the same vein, stripped down Americana colliding with big soul and timeless rock ‘n’ roll effortlessly, from the rousing, eleven minutes plus of Colonel & The King with it’s “Elvis is a flaming star” refrain and squalling electric guitar and sax solo’s to the organ drenched, country soul of  Darlin’ Won’t You Come In From The Cold, to the band’s tale of the road and firm fan favourite, Henry The Van, a gorgeous folk lament of touring and the band’s old mode of transportation, which even had me singing-along months later in the comfort of home.

The second CD opens with a pounded beat, those stunning pedal steel tones and a quite breathtaking twelve minute plus take on Other Days that again showcases the depth and musicality of the band’s sound, with each of the members of the Champions being allowed to express themselves, whilst Danny introduces the band.

From there the band take it home with a further five tracks that simply blow your socks off, beginning with the one-two winning combo of Every Beat Of My Heart and You Don’t Know (My Heart is In The Right Place) where the band unveil their inner E-Street Band fantasies with a couple of slabs of prime time, driving rock ‘n’ roll that’ll have the most restrained music fan punching the air in salute.

The band could have finished there, but no, Danny and the boys somehow muster the energy to unleash a thirteen minute take on Restless Feet with support act for the night, Trevor Moss and Hannah Lou joining the band for additional vocal harmonies whilst the band weave their magic, with thrilling solos and driving riffs aplenty (checkout the stunning sax solo by Geoff Widowson). whilst the crowd show their appreciation clapping, hollering and crooning along gleefully.

There’s still time for a show stopping encore of Been There Before and a wonderfully ragged, stop-start, grand finale of These Days (again assisted by Trevor and Hannah on vocal duties) leaving the crowd (and me) baying for yet more.

Live Champs is a mind-blowing live album, the band are in glorious form throughout, Danny’s vocals are incredible from folky croon to soulful holler, whilst the song selection highlights the rich and varied sound of the band’s back catalogue. As for production, well it’s so crisp, you can almost smell the cider from the punter by the bar, few live albums truly capture a live atmosphere, but this one does and then some, it leaves you elated, drained and desperate for a repeat performance, like all memorable gigs do.

If you buy one live album, no scrap that one album period, this year make it Live Champs, the perfect document of the best live act in the UK right now.

Rhythm & Booze Rating 10

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Cryptic cover

Following on from the recent Steve Lamacq (6 Music) approved recent single, Festival At Home, Kidderminster based Humdrum Express return with a rather different follow up single, Cryptic Self Pity. Whereas Festival At Home showcased that punchy acoustic style that Ian Passey (the man behind The Humdrum Express) has become renowned for, the new single showcases an electronic dance element.

But do not fear Cryptic Self Pity isn’t some kind of mid-life crisis or vain attempt to snare a new audience, yes there are repetitive programmed beats, but there are few dance tracks that feature wry, observational spoken word humour and there’s probably not another track in history that talks about last minute goals my Tony Pullis managed teams and Phil Collins in the same song!!! If that wasn’t impressive enough Ian lobs in a massive hook-laden yob friendly chanted chorus that you’ll land up hollering along by the end of the first spin.

I love the candid observational lyrics of The Humdrum Express, they remind me of a dry Arab Strap (and that is a very high recommendation from me!!) Whether that’s over a backdrop of acoustic guitars or indeed beats and glitchy electronics.

I urge you to track down sardonic wit of Ian Passey and embrace the everyday humdrum (pardon the pun) that he portrays so brilliantly.

Rhythm & Booze Rating 9

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Melodic hardcore five-piece Frameworks and veteran screamo mob The Saddest Landscape team up for a split single in support of two deserving charities chosen by the bands, To Write Love On Her Arms and AccessSportAmerica as well promoting their joint short trek around the UK.

The split single is a stunning introduction to newcomers of both bands, Frameworks decide to unleash a high octane, feedback drenched cover of Fell In Love With A Girl originally by The White Stripes, whilst The Saddest Landscape deliver a crushing version of fellow hardcore legends Inside Out, with Burning Fight.

Fell In Love With A Girl is drenched in feedback, crashing riffs, pummeling drums and a glorious hardcore holler as Frameworks career out of control with an energetic rendition that has to be heard to believed.

The Saddest Landscape are no less impressive, with a slow sludgy take on Burning Fight, down-tuned riffs collide with brash drums and a wonderfully anguished howl as the band deliver a crunchy metallic take rather akin to a hardcore version of Sabbath.

This single is well worth hunting down for all you hardcore lovers out there, both tracks clobber you like a ton of bricks, if you only buy one single of this nature make it this one!!!

Rhythm & Booze Rating 9


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