APRIL ALBUM OF THE MONTH
Tired of Waiting. It’s a fine song alright – it also reminds us that it’s been a long wait for the follow up to Thirteen Stars last album ‘White Raven.’ But the good news is that it’s emphatically been worth the wait. Finest Ramshackle Jam is the band’s ‘A Night At The Opera’ – an album created on an expansive canvas, with songwriting that pushes new boundaries and is creatively packed with a wide range of textures, styles and influences. Finest Ramshackle Jam is a new milestone for Thirteen Stars, it’s a benchmark for the scene and it could be an early contender for album of the year.
I first interviewed Hoss from Thirteen Stars back in summer 2015 and have closely chronicled the band’s story since through dozens of interview features and shorts. The band hasn’t had the luck of others and they tend to shy away from the attention game on social media, but the keystone of the band has always been the music. A band that lives to play and for whom the adventures on the road inform the creative process that follows. And there’s great music intelligence in the band too – my interviews with the guy I called ‘the prof’ was more than cheeky banter, as Hoss Thompson lives the music he grew up on and weaves the influences into the sounds of a new century, a new decade for rock in the modern age.
‘I’m Ready’ gives the album a strutting start – a great song to mark the band’s long-awaited return. Energetic, intense and muscular – and with a wonderful opening guitar flourish – the song evokes energy and sunlight. It’s a confident song fitting for a band that is landing its most sophisticated and complete set of songs to date.
‘Give It Good’ immediately follows with a happy-hour party of funk and groove. It’s music that suits Hoss’s growly voice well. The band has always loved those 70s funk rockers – think Deep Purple mark III or Trapeze – and whilst not a disco tune, it’s heading towards that 70s funk thing with a modern treatment. It’s a song that underlines there’s a lot more bandwidth to Thirteen Stars than that cowboy hat southern rock thang: It’s beyond rock – my kids loved it in the kitchen when I was listening to it, so the song passes the goldfish bowl test – good music is just good music, and it will find ears to enjoy it if given a chance.
Next up is ‘Running So Long’- a song that needs no introduction. Song of the month for Great Music Stories last year and song of the week with Classic Rock. A feel good song for the summer, it somehow now matters more given what the country’s going through and the need for songs that can uplift and empower. A song that always retains the excitement of the first play, this is music to lift the soul and evoke happy memories of long summer evenings, of hope and warmth. There’s more than a hint of Tom Petty here, an artist very close to the band’s heart. Hoss opened my radio tribute on the great man, and from a recent interview I sensed Hoss is still coming to terms with the loss of Tom Petty.
A slow burning country pop rocker, Hoss told me ‘Running So Long’ was not initially intended as a Tom Petty tribute, but written on a Gretsch and using some of Tom’s musical devices, the Petty influence in the band made itself known. But it’s more than this. There are signature Thirteen Stars spins on the song – and even a hint of Brian May and vocal harmonies that are unmistakably 70s Queen.
‘Steel Horse’ washes in the country vibes but in a way that is alert, alive and exciting. A song with a story behind it, it’s a song about a steam train that yearns back to a nostalgic, romantic ideal of a lost age.
With ‘Keep Calm And Carry On’ Thirteen Stars couldn’t have penned a more appropriate song for 2020. This is the song from a first spin that just brings it – and its grit, power and rich chorus likes really speak for this tough age. It was one of three songs from the album I was fortunate to premiere on my rockshow last year. Originally ‘Keep Calm’ (to me) spoke for the division surrounding Brexit; today it resonates again. It’s an empowering rally cry to lift you when only rock n roll is left.
Unlike other popular rally songs, ‘Keep Calm’ is not one of those almost contrived radio songs with a big bouffant. It has a truth and natural power that makes the song work. The best radio songs are songs that stand on their own two feet and choose themselves – and ‘Keep Calm’ is one of those.
‘Sleeping’ brings some heavy, banging action and is followed by horn action with the band’s last single ‘Mint Jelly’ – great songwriting and storytelling once again, but the video here really frames the music well. The visual side of the band’s evolution with this album has also gone up a number of levels from what went before.
We’re barely half way through the album and already the breadth of musical treatments is impressive. It’s pretty much a double album’s worth of material that the band is unleashing – and I’ll have to avoid talking about each song or this review may become a novel!
‘Razors Edge’ is a special song for Hoss. In a new Great Music Stories interview on the album airing today Hoss explained the context: “I wrote this song at a time when I was living in a city that I didn’t like very much and was feeling isolated, alone and I was quite unhappy. The bombastic opening was very inspired by ‘Anthem’ by Rush. I wanted to take this to half-time to see how it grooved and it ended up with a bit of a Sabbath feel.”
‘Be There In The Morning’ is another big departure for the band. Written in a single take late one evening, it was inspired by 50s Rock n Roll sounds and also the late 70s influences of Tom Petty and Elvis Costello. The ability of the band to take their music to polar extremes on one album creates the basis for experimentation and eclecticism, which is what, creatively, makes this album a breath of fresh air.
‘Rebel’ Hoss regards as an experiment that just snowballed. The band wanted to bring in influences from Motown and soul – that ‘Exile On Main St’ Rolling Stones era combined with a dash ‘Asbury Park’ era Springsteen. From there the ideas just grew, as the song became bigger and took on a life of its own. If you listen carefully, there’s even a bit of Queen-era ‘Millionaire Waltz’ going on – and some special sounds from Seaside Rendevous.
‘Sweet Lies’ takes inspiration from days on the road with The Quireboys – Hoss even played bass for these rock n roll greats once – and the album closes with ‘Only A Soldier.’ Anyone that has followed by Friday show will know what this song means to me and also to many of my listeners. It’s an old song from the band that evolved live on stage – and had to be re-created for an album in its current form. A true opus of unrelenting rhythm, drama and power through layers of music. Based on an American Civil War poem it is the perfect closer to any album, to any gig, to any rockshow. A song that already has created its own legacy.
I remember when Thirteen Stars won song of the week with a rock mag last year they didn’t seem to know how to react. So many bands overuse the word humble, but Thirteen Stars just seemed to be lost for words. Herein lies the charm, the authenticity and the true character of the people behind the music. They don’t play the PR game as well as some, they are a band in it for the music. They draw on passionate influences but they craft their own creations with intelligence, with care and with seriousness. Their warmth and connection is always heartfelt and their commitment to music is that of a vocation. Thirteen Stars may not be first to win a sprint but I have a clear feeling they will still be in the game when many have been and gone. With Finest Ramshackle Jam we have the album that defines in essence and craft who this band are, their dolly-mixture-bag of influences and all the sides of their collective personality – and, like the band, this is an album that will endure for the long term.
‘Finest Ramshackle Jam’ is released on June 19th
Album and vinyl pre-orders from https://thirteenstars.bigcartel.com
Listen to my new feature interview with Hoss on the new album at midday today on greatmusicstories.com
Follow the band on social media
Listen again to Thirteen Stars interviews from the Great Music Stories archive:
January 2020 – new album countdown
September 2018 – interview short
June 2017 – Wildfire festival Haribo jukebox
November 2016 – Freddie Mercury tribute