ALBUM REVIEW Thirteen Stars - Finest Ramshackle Jam
Fans of Southern tinged rock n’ roll take note… this one’s
a real gem. Finest Ramshackle Jam is the latest album from
Thirteen Stars, a band who really should be receiving far more attention
than they currently enjoy. Of course, popular success relies on riding
a fashionable wave and this style of music hasn’t been particularly
trendy since the Black Crowes swanned their way across the globe back
in the 1990’s.
However, one major advantage for us lovers of unfashionable music is
that when bands make it they do so from a genuine place of love and
respect for the genre, the songs feeling more natural than when made
by groups keen to join a bandwagon. There can be no doubt that Thirteen
Stars’ influences are deep rooted and it’s to be expected
that they should want to flex their musicality somewhat. They’ve
achieved it for sure here, the whole record oozes 70’s Rock groove,
gently infused with 60’s Stax Soul, a slight Country lilt, and
New Orleans RnB, all elements that naturally compliment each other to
build a big well balanced Southern sound. Certainly they’re a
versatile bunch of players.
I mention New Orleans particularly because I can’t help hearing
one of my favourite artists to come from that scene, Dr. John, in the
vocals of Hoss Thompson… he has the same cool husky gravel-voiced
tones and general laid back delivery. A track like Rebel, with
honky-tonk piano and a brass section (even one of those weird jokey
whistle things too) could be straight out of a Dr. John greatest hits
songbook. Another track soaked with the deep south’s finest swampy
moonshine is Mint Jelly, the blues rock swing of ZZ Top’s
La Grange playing a part in the overall feel, and again the charismatic
voice of Hoss exudes great character throughout.
Despite the wide variety of styles all songs gel together cohesively.
A brilliant co-production from Matt Ellis and Hoss at Axis Studios with
mastering by Geoff Pesche at Abbey Road has created a full bodied but
bright and energetic major label sound that quite frankly should now
be regarded the new standard for this style of music… the drum
sound alone is one to kill for. They make an immediate impact, especially
with the snare sounding so huge in the opening song, I’m Ready,
where it really hammers those twos and fours. Minor adjustments tailor
it to the groove based tracks like Give It Good and Sleeping,
where it is resonant and crisp with a distinctive pop. Its presence
is dialled down a touch more for busier songs such as Sorcery
and Razor’s Edge which feature more feel and nuance,
a Hammond organ adding to the overall 70’s vibe.
If guitars are your thing then this album has licks and riffs a-plenty...
very much played tastefully for the song rather than the ego, but when
the time comes to shine then reach for the sunglasses because these
solos burn bright. Only a Soldier, a stomping statement tune
of epic proportions, features a solo that should challenge even the
most accomplished of air guitarists, lasting for at least three of the
seven plus minutes the song runs to.
Other influences can be clearly heard, most notably in Running So
Long, where the comparison to the music of Tom Petty is most obvious,
a subtle twist in the vocal delivery makes a fine homage to the great
man. I should mention here the backing vocals are a thing of soulful
beauty, as they are in fact across the whole album. My favourite track
also has a similar Tom Petty feel, again employing that distinctive
vocal phrasing style, and rich instrumentality… Keep Calm
and Carry On is one heck of a tune… heartfelt and emotional,
timeless, career defining even… quite sublime.
There’s 15 tracks in total running to 55 minutes so it’s
a record that allows the band to really dig deep and show exactly what
they're made of… and it sure sounds good to me. I advise you spend
some time checking them out further, (their previous album was called
White Raven), with Finest Ramshackle Jam available
from June 19th via Rock People Records / RPM Music.
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