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SALT OF THE SOUND : Beyond Here.   (https://saltofthesound.bandcamp.com/)

'Beyond here' is the third album from husband and wife duo Anita and Ben Tatlow. Quoting from the press release, "Following in the footsteps of Journeys (2013) and Echoes Of Wonder (2015), Beyond Here is their most personal release to date, exploring deeper themes of pain, grief and loss. Yet the abiding message is one of hope and trust in God's calling on our lives." Receiving rave reviews for their earlier work, as far as I am aware Salt Of The Sound pretty much plough their own musical furrow within ccm. For those unfamilar with their work, think 'Enya', or 'Bliss' but more so! So we have periods of long extended ambient chords, with beautiful (predominantly female) heavily reverbed vocals delivering sometimes simply snatches of lyrical phrases - occasionally almost overwhelmed by the ambient sounds to the extent that words are difficult to follow. Standout tracks for me are 'Beyond here', 'Calling in the wind', 'Deep peace' and 'Breathe new life'- largely because they have more 'shape' than most and come nearest to being considered as 'songs'. 'Deep peace' in particular demonstrates the beauty of Anita's voice. Production and sound quality are both of a high standard. Those who enjoy ambient music - and when in a certain mood that includes me! - will find much to appreciate here, and I am sure that this latest release will gather the same acclaim as the previous two albums. For ambient music fans then, 9/10. Dave Deeks

JIMMY P BROWN II : Eraserhead.   (Retroactive Records)

The first thing you notice about this album is the vocal, which has a distinct theatrical feel – it made me think of what The Divine Comedy might sound like if they embraced rock with a metal tinge. It makes for very interesting listening therefore as it’s not at all straightforward. I loved the solid backing with the soaring guitar lines: the drumming is so solid and precise you could use it as a time signal. The rhythmic shifts suited the material well, underlining the theatricity mentioned earlier. I found it hard to find solid reference points: the band sounded a bit like Pain, with slices of early Evanescence, Def Leppard, Red Hot Chilli Peppers and My Chemical Romance, whereas the vocal veered from The Cure to Disturbed to Marillion then back to The Damned. Then just as you think you’ve got them pegged, they throw in a seriously singable chorus in “Entertaining Angels” and a gorgeous guitar hook in “Memoria”. If you like your rock metally but with less predictability then this is well worth a shot. Best track: Digital postage stamp.  8/10. Paul Ganney.

SIMON LAW : The Haven.   (Plankton Records)

This single release from Plankton Records’ creator is a mellow and beautiful song. He explains; “I wrote this song in January of this year when I went to visit my 90 year old mum who lives in [a] care home, where she is suffering with Alzheimer’s Disease. She was asleep in her chair and wouldn’t wake up. So while I waited I wrote the song for her and then sang in when she awoke some two hours later!” Boasting just an acoustic guitar and keyboard, the gentle introduction leads to Simon’s clear and thoughtful vocals. It’s a very personal song and tells how he wants to break through his mother’s haze and tell her that He belongs to her. There’s also a verse dedicated to a friend who had recently passed away. Having written a similar song on my father’s passing many years ago, I found the words quite touching. Mid- song closes there’s an electric guitar solo, which I wasn’t too sure really sat well with the rest of the song. However, it didn’t stop me from playing the song three times in a row.   8/10.

ASHES REMAN : Let The Light In.   (BEC Recordings)

Press play and you’re hit with solid drumming, powerchords, driving bass, powerchords, melodic guitar solos, powerchords, guitar riffs, sung vocals, huge choruses. Did I mention the powerchords? This is metal, a la Evanescence (“Six Feet Down” has that definite Moody grunge), Aerosmith (“Captain” for example – although I’d argue that this has a better vocal), Helloween (the opening to “Criminal”), P.O.D. et al. (with a bit of Third Day on “Follow”). There’s some nice touches to create a sound of their own rather than sit mid-genre. The funky licks in “On Fire”, for example, the rhythmic shuffle in “Captain” and the choruses that hint at Bon Jovi singability (see “Always Faithful” – and there’s a few guitar licks on this track (see the outro) and all over the album that suggest they’ve more than heard of the band). Thematically the lyrics are faith-based: they’re not afraid to name “the God of new beginnings” as the one who wants “All Of Me”, for example (from which I did like “I’m a mass of contradictions – I’m a doubter who believes”). It was a sheer delight to listen to an album of this musical quality where I could also enjoy the lyrics without occasional “sorry?”s (if you listen to a lot of rock/metal, you’ll know what I mean). When I listen to an album for the first time, I tend to note tracks that I think might qualify as “best”. After listening to this album, I’d listed 7 of the 10 tracks – the others only missing because I knew I’d heard something better already. Yes, it is that good and really does get better as it goes on. I’d quibble with the record company that a band formed in 2001 are “veteran”, but that’s my only one. Enjoy (I did). Best track (after several listens – this wasn’t easy): “All Of Me”.   9/10   Paul Ganney.

PAUL WHITFIELD : My Phenomenal. (https://itunes.apple.com/gb/album/my-phenomenal-single/1435976159)

Let me say straight away that this is not a worship song, it’s a love song. South Yorkshire based singer, Paul Whitfield, wrote this for his wife Andrea to play on their wedding day. He says, the song is called “My Phenomenal” for the following reason. “I had been single for a long time and whenever someone would say “When are you going to get yourself a woman Paul? I would reply with “It would take someone pretty phenomenal for me to get married!” And Andrea is that phenomenal person. So in effect she is “My Phenomenal.” It’s a mid-tempo ballad, were the opening piano is quite sumptuous to the ear. Obviously sung from the heart, Paul’s vocals are excellent throughout, as he describes how he met his wife. There’s a great, fuller, orchestral sound as the song moves to the chorus, followed by seamless move into a particularly moving bridge. Listening, I couldn’t help thinking that the overall sound reminded me of a Barry Manilow epic, and I mean that as a compliment. A really good song that will appeal to many listeners.   9/10.

JAVEN : Grace.   (Tyscot : TYS984225-2)

After a 5 year hiatus, Florida native, Javen returns with his 7th studio album, ‘Grace’. It begins with a spoken track, giving his take on what “Grace” actually means to him. That’s followed by the title track, which is in typical black gospel style. The backing singers are on top form, but featured artist Margaret Bell wails and hollers uncontrollably, much to the songs detriment. Out of character to the rest of the album, there’s almost a southern gospel taste to the acoustic version of “Amazing Grace.” Javen features a number of guest artists who contribute to different songs, and Candy West’s contribution is way off the mark. What starts with Javen’s smooth vocals, ends with West ruining a good song. Tye Tribbett is the next guest to lend his voice to proceedings on “Right Now Praise.” This is an infectious song of praise, and one of the best on the track listing, proving that gospel doesn’t have to be all about shouting like a mad thing. “You Lift Me Up” is a duet with Christina Bell, who sings “I was empty inside, but you changed my life.” How many Christians have said that before! The song works well between the two voices, while Javen also includes a spoken interlude with Psalm 23. I would have liked to have heard more songs with just Javen singing, as I felt many of his guests just didn’t come up to scratch. A pity really, as he certainly has the talent himself.   5/10.

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