Somewhere near the end of 2015, Tom Baker (of Boston band Dirty Truckers) rallied round the troops and formed a side project, Tom Baker and The Snakes. A filthy and sloppy three guitar assault, The Snakes featured another face from the Truckers and the guitarist from Watts (albeit switching to drums!), alongside members of Gymnasium and Family Township. The resultant ‘4 Stars‘ EP flaunted a love of the Stones and The Replacments throughout and band’s shamelessly gritty sound represented the musical equivalent of diesel and dirt.
Having already released four studio albums under her own name, including one with other blues musicians Cassie Taylor and Dani Wilde, much like her UK counterpart Joanne Shaw Taylor, Samantha Fish has carved out a successful career on the blues circuit.
The names Matt Knee and Rosie Doonan might not be at the forefront of your mind, but prior to the launch of Dark Horse, both musicians had been fixtures on the music scene in the north of England. Matt had been drummer with Wakefield post-punkers Last Gang, while Rosie – among other things – had found herself with a much higher profile gig as part of Peter Gabriel’s orchestral shows in 2012.
Within Dark Horse, Doonan’s slightly trill vocal style is a good match for the retro pop sound and for some people, this may well prove to be the EP’s main attraction. However, as good a performer as she is, it’s the music that really counts here…and ‘Shot Down’ offers three songs that are an instant mood lifter. The band knows all about making that important first impression, too, making no apologies for front-loading what is arguably their best track.
Although marketing themselves as a blues rock band, Ritual King don’t always play much in the way of anything too bluesy on most of their debut EP, ‘Elixir’. Their sound is very much of a late 70s rock persuasion, occasionally injected with a very slight bluesy swagger – a sound that, although fairly solid, too often lacks that special something needed to distinguish them from so many other UK bands at the time of release.
In the summer of 2016, singer-songwriter Max Shrager released ‘Thoughts of You‘, a solo collection of lo-fi tracks written and recorded over a six year period. As if experiencing M.Ward and Tobin Sprout through an old AM radio, the songs weren’t always the easiest to get into or even the most melodic, but there was something about Shrager’s approach that had a curious appeal.
As one half of duo The Shacks, Shrager continues along a gentle and almost vertiginous path, but given the luxury of a proper recording budget, his musical preferences are warmer and more inviting. Not only that, but having Shannon Wise handle the band’s vocals is a step towards a sound that’s better still. Wise has a presence: it’s not the style of your average singer whom allows a forceful voice to take command of the material in hand, but rather the opposite. By using her tones in a hushed and minimalist fashion, she constantly draws in the listener, in a way that so often accentuates the quirkier aspects of the music.