Downtown Mystic. Sha-La Music

Downtown Mystic’s last album Standing Still had a gnarly vintage rock vibe about it, channelling the Stones and the Groovies among others creating a fine footstompin’ stew. 18 months down the line Robert Allen returns with pretty much the same crew (minus Lance Doss, replaced by J.J. Jordan) with an album that retains much of the grit and stomp of its predecessor and adds some West Coast country rock in the vein of early Eagles for what is a robust outing, fairly traditional overall but capable at times of reminding one why traditional can be gobsmackingly good. The best example here is the sinewy, snarled blues of No Exceptions and its tremendous harp wailing, guitar thrashing rush which builds into a fine frenzy. It’s a bit like the Allman Brothers doing an Exile on Main St song as the slide guitars lock in battle with the harp. That harp is played by a chap called “Nasty Ned” and he appears again on the bluesy funked out trip that is Everything, a song that sounds like a more upbeat Little Feat. Way To Know stretches back to seventies FM radio land with its airwave friendly hooks and some fine slide guitar that soars over the melody. Lost and Found is another potential rock radio staple charging along with the harmonies edging into Eagles territory and again some scintillating guitar runs. Along with the Eagles, the Doobies come to mind as DM toot down this highway.
The freewheeling west coast country rock sound we mentioned earlier is evident from the start with the album opener, In The Cold. A fast paced acoustic rocker it captures the likes of Poco and the Eagles as guitars and mandolin mesh over the rhythm section and the harmonies soar, it’s a sparkling and invigorating song and is destined to please anyone who hankers after the first Eagles album and wish they hadn’t ever checked into that damn hotel. That other California band, Poco, seem to be the template for Can’t Let Go, a finely picked number with acoustic slide lacing the excellent voices. As for a ballad Allen delivers Some Day, a song soaked in rippling mandolin and washes of acoustic guitar which again recalls bands of yesteryear. It might be somewhat unfair to name check so many forebears here but Downtown Mystic deliver a fine line in good old fashioned rock and sometimes it’s good to recharge the batteries.

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The Lost Pines, Downtown Mystic, Sean Giddings.

The Lost Pines. Sweet Honey.

Just what we need in the depth of winter is some sweet country music that will warm the cockles of the heart and remind us of summer days and sunny skies. Fortunately The Lost Pines provide just that, perhaps it’s the hot climes of their native Austin, Texas that infuse the grooves of this album (well, if it had grooves) with an infectious warm humour.
A relatively young band they’ve gone from busking to recording in just two years with this second album being produced by the legendary Lloyd Maines. Acoustically driven they have their roots in bluegrass and folk with all 14 songs here written by themselves. While some of the songs do have a rustic feel the overall sense is that of the country pickers who over the years have bothered the popular charts, acts like Hank Williams and Bob Wills. All of the songs have memorable toe tapping melodies while the instrumentalists variously decorate or blaze away with the stand out showcase being Out of the Rain. Over the very assured and at times thrilling playing the vocals by Talia Bryce and Christian Ward drive home the sheer quality on show here. Hot picking, hot singing and hot songs. Sweet.

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Out Of the Rain

Downtown Mystic. Standing Still.

If sweet down-home acoustic picking and playing doesn’t rock your boat then why not fire up the old adrenaline with a shot of good old fashioned full blooded American rock’n’roll. The opening song on Downtown Mystic’s Standing Still certainly fits the bill here. Backdoor is a great rocker with gnarled guitars done in the best Stones’ style while Downtown Mystic mainman Robert Allen hammers home a ribald rock and roll story. Even better is Hard Enough where he’s backed up by Garry Tallent and Max Weinberg from the E Street Band. This song is a killer with Allen doing a great take on Springsteen. Of the 14 songs here there are several other belters, Modern Ways pummels away with a Chuck Berry riff while History reclaims the art of great rock’n’roll piano. Elsewhere Allen recalls the retro sound of the later incarnation of the Flamin’ Groovies on Better Day which has a superb guitar sound. The downside here is that the album is somewhat uneven. A full set of songs such as mentioned above could have produced an album that would sit quite comfortably with the likes of Dave Edmunds’ Rockpile albums. Unfortunately there are a few of Allen ‘s slower songs that leave one a little bit underwhelmed.

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Hard Enough

Sean Giddings. The Morning Greys.

In contrast to the in your face rockers above, the debut disc from adopted Californian Sean Giddings The Morning Greys is a muted affair. The inner sleeve pictures Giddings on a path in autumn and autumnal is a good description of his sound. With only six songs it’s a short season but at the end one is left with the impression that given time Giddings could come up with material to rival Bon Iver, a comparison that begs to be made after listening to this. He plays all instruments apart from the drums and has a light, ethereal voice and admits to being influenced by the likes of Mumford and Sons. The result is a collection of songs that have a resigned, at times despairing air to them. From his publicity it appears that Giddings was due to marry however it fell apart and he threw himself into his music. Perhaps it’s a bit too pop psychology to say so but this information again made us think of Bon Iver and his lost Emma, real or not.
Despite the downbeat message the songs are lush with rippling guitars and washes of keyboards over which Giddings sings beautifully. While they are all fully formed and well worth listening the stand out listen is All It Takes. A wonderful gem of a song, weightless, sparkling and dare I say it, captivating One to watch out for.

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All It Takes