Tag Archives: Rebecca Downes

Best Albums of 2016 – Part Two

We’re into the top ten now, and this time I’ve managed to rank the albums in order rather that just list them alphabetically. So with no further ado…

10: Rebecca Downes – Believe

Bebecca Downes BelieveDeserved winner of Best Female Vocalist and Best Breakthrough Artist at the British Blues Awards, Rebecca Downes has a great voice, with range and power as well as emotional depth, equally at home with soulful ballads as belting out hard rockers. When combined with her talented backing band result is a hugely varied record, combining blues with hard rock, funk and soul.

9: Tilt – Hinterland

Tilt HinterlandThe band including Fish alumni Steve Vantis, Robin Boult and Dave Stewart deliver a hard-rocking album. The layered sound and powerful bass grooves recall Porcupine Tree and Steve Vantsis’ work with Fish.

But Paul Dourley is a very different sort of singer; his soulful vocals have the occasional hints of Peter Gabriel and Lou Gramm, and if anything it’s his performance that lifts this record from a good one to a great one.

8: Ihsahn – Arktis

ihsahn-arktisThe fiendishly inventive Norwegian black metallers reign in the avant-garde experimentalism of 2013′s Das Seelenbrechen in favour of an album of more straightforward metal songs. But “straightforward” is a relative thing for a band like Ihsahn; there’s a lot of varied creativity on display here, balancing face-melting guitars with occasional moments of atmospheric beauty,

7: Mantra Vega – The Illusion’s Reckoning

Mantra Vega The Illusions ReckoningThe collaboration between former Mostly Autumn singer Heather Findlay and Sound of Contact’s Dave Kerzner results in a record with a strong 70s vibe.

There are nods to Stevie Nicks era Fleetwood Mac and the rootsier side of Led Zeppelin, as well as the folky feel of Heather Findlay’s work with Odin Dragonfly and early Mostly Autumn. It’s an impressive work that’s as good as anything either of them have done.

6: Big Big Train – Folklore

Big Big Train - FolkloreBig Big Train continue to be better than anyone else at invoking the spirit of 1970s English pastoral progressive rock. Again the lyrics are steeped in English landscapes and socio-economic history.

The songs cover subjects from London’s lost rivers to World War 2 RAF pigeons, with music that sometimes evokes the mood of albums like Genesis’ “Trespass”, and at other times is closer to the electric folk-rock of bands like Steeleye Span.

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Rebecca Downes: Be:Live

rebecca-downs-be-liveBlues-rock singer-songwriter Rebecca Downes has been making waves in 2016. She won both “Best Female Vocalist” and “Best Emerging Artist” at the British Blues Awards, and released the excellent album “Believe” early in the year. To bring a successful year to close comes a live album recorded during the tour promoting “Believe”.

If anything, this record is an even more powerful statement on intent than “Believe”. It captures the energy of her electrifying live shows, with a setlist drawing heavily from that album, along with highlights from her début “Back to the Start”, the EP “Real Life” and a couple of well-chosen covers.

It’s a fabulously tight performance from her band, playing high energy blues-rock with a touch of funk and soul. Guitarist Steve Birkett delivers some impressive blues licks, and there’s some great piano and organ flourishes from Rick Benton. But none of them steal the spotlight from Rebecca herself, who is on superb form vocally; at times soulful, at times belting out rockier material. The variety of material is a strength here, there are twelve bar blues stompers alongside hard rockers and soulful ballads. And it’s all recorded and mixed with clear but powerful sound; this is no bootleg-quality filler release.

Highlights are many; there’s the funky “Fever in the Night” and “Night Train”, an excellent cover of Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart”, the piano-driven rocker “Back to the Start”, the back to basics rock’n'roll of “Basement of My Heart” and the guitar-shredding ballad “Sailing on a Pool of Tears”. It ends with a cover of “With a Little Help From My Friends” that owes more than a little to Joe Cocker’s version. Even though Rebecca Downes only has a limited back catalogue it still has the feel of a greatest hits set. As an introduction to her music, this is as good a place as any to start.

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Rebecca Downes announces live album

rebecca-downs-be-live

Rebecca Downes, winner of Best Emerging Artist and Best Female Vocalist in the British Blues Awards 2016, announces a live album Be:Live to be released on December 1st. Recorded at a variety of venues across 2015 and 2016, it presents a typical setlist from one of her electrifying live shows.

This is the track listing:

1. Never Gonna Learn
2. Walking With Shadows
3. Another Piece Of My Heart
4. Night Train
5. Long Long Time
6. Sweetness
7. Back To The Start
8. I’d Rather Go Blind
9. Basement Of My Heart
10. Sailing On A Pool Of Tears
11. Believe
12. 1000 Years
13. With A Little Help From My Friends.

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2016 Cambridge Rock Festival – Part One

Voodd Vegas

The Cambridge Rock Festival is a great little festival specialising in blues, classic rock and progressive rock. It’s always had a reputation as a friendly intimate event, and with all three stages under cover the music takes place in the dry even if the great British summer does its worst. Though it missed a year in 2015, it was back in 2016 for its twelfth event, held again at its usual site at Haggis Farm Polo Club just outside Cambridge. And it promised a strong bill, with a good balance of regular favourites and intriguing-sounding new names. Continue reading

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Rebecca Downes – The 100 Club

Singer-songwriter Rebecca Downes came to London’s legendary 100 Club on a Tuesday night for the launch of her excellent second album “Believe”. Despite it being a school night still drew an appreciably-sized crowd., and you could tell this was going to be a blues gig by the number of Nord Electro keyboards on the stage. Blues-rockers love these distinctive red instruments, and there were no fewer that three of them at the beginning of the evening. Only one belonged to Rebecca Downes’ band; the other two were for the two support bands.

The first of those supports, Bruce Lok, had an interesting sound. On the slower numbers his voice had something of the late Ian Curtis, not what you normally expect from a blues band. There were moments that suggested what Joy Division might have sounded like had they played lounge jazz rather than post-punk, though he sang in more of a rock style on the up-tempo numbers. It did leave the impression of an artist who undoubtedly has some talent, but has yet to find a musical identity.

The second support, Greg Coulson, was far more old-school rock’n'roll musically, and had a sense of showmanship the first act lacked. Greg doubled up on keys and guitar, alternatively working up a blur of notes on that Nord Electro, sometimes playing it with his knee, or swapping solos with the band’s other guitarist. All high-energy and huggely entertaining, it set things up nicely for the headliner.

Launching into the blues-rock boogie of album opener “Never Gonna Learn”, Rebecca Downes proved to be as dynamic a live performer as she is an excellent singer on record, and her tight band proved an superb foil, going from hard rock to soul to funk. The set included most but not quite all of the new album interspersed with highlights from her début, plus a cover of Janis Joplin’s “Piece of my Heart”. Everything from the new album came across powerfully live’ these were songs built to be performed on stage. “Night Train” was an early highlight, featuring some delightful Ray Manzerek style electric piano and an appropriately locomotive-like rhythm.

For much of the set the band played as a five piece with Steve Birkett handling all the guitar parts, but for the last couple of songs Rick Sandford joined them for a spectacular guitar-shredding “Sailing on a Pool of Tears” and the hard-rocking finale of the album’s title track. Unfortunately the strict curfew meant there was no time for an encore.

Rebecca Downes’s music exemplifies the old adage that your favourite genre didn’t just stop as soon as popular fashion moved on. She plays the blues in the style of the classic rock era of the sixties and seventies, and makes few concessions to contemporary musical fashion. But as this gig showed she’s very good at what she does. She will be on tour across much of Britain over the course of the year, playing a number of festivals including the Cambridge Rock Festival in August.

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Rebecca Downes – Believe

Bebecca Downes BelieveAlong with the likes of Chantel McGregor and Jodie Marie, Rebecca Downes is a female blues-rock artist revitalising a traditional form for the 21st century, in her case turning down offers from X-Factor producers because she’d rather make real music of her own than someone else’s formulaic product.

Her second album “Believe” shows she means business, and demonstrates a vocal talent that would indeed have been wasted on sausage-factory pop. With a tight six-piece band including co-writer Steve Birkett on rhythm and slide guitars and Rik Sandford on lead guitar, she plays the blues through a prism of classic rock with nods to soul and funk. Rebecca has a great voice, with range and power as well as emotional depth, equally at home with soulful ballads as belting out hard rockers.

What impresses is not only the strength of the material but the variety; this is not one of those albums where nearly every song is a variation on the same basic template. Highlights include the impassioned funk-rock of “Night Train”, the guitar-shredding ballad “Sailing on a Pool of Tears” and the seductive smoky jazz of “Could Not Say No”. Just occasionally the quality dips, with the middle-of-the-road “Come With Me Baby” and one or two rather ordinary boogie numbers on the second half of the record, but the album ends in rousing form with the hard rock workout of the title track.

In some respects this is an old-fashioned record with little or no concession towards the contemporary commercial mainstream. But a record this good deserves to be heard well beyond niche audiences of ageing classic rock and blues fans. The performance and production manages to combine a rich and sophisticated sound with a crackling energy, which leaves the impression the music is built to be performed live.

The album is released on March 4th, with a pre-released launch party at the 100 Club in London on February 23rd.

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