NOVEMBER ALBUM OF THE MONTH
If you’re a fan of The Allman Brothers and early Clapton you’re in for a treat here. ‘The Clovis Limit Part 2’ is an album rich in sonic warmth and conviction that is both a celebration of retro influences and yet, in spirit, speaks for the dark days we live in today.
This month, it’s been hard to choose one album of the month from the eclectic shortlist of material spanning dark ‘end is nigh’ metal, to ‘cool kids’ indie guitar – and ‘big hair’ southern rock. I’ve never been a cowboy-hat kinda guy, nor am I partial to doing the “Hi y’all” southern drawl at the cheese counter of my local Sainsbury’s; but I have warmed to Americana and country music a bit since lockdown. We live in a time when directness and truth in music has cast aside spin or artificiality – and it’s the simplicity, the storytelling and authenticity of this broad southern genre of music that, along with the blues, somehow has greater resonance in these unprecedented times.
Anyway, back to this album: Mike Ross I first met by accident at the Colour of Noise Christmas Show at Brighton’s Green Door Store in December 2016. Different times. We had a really engaging interview outside the venue, so much so that we missed the opening songs from Bruce’s band on stage. That first interview with Mike, those first impressions of a musician, have enduring relevance for this review. Mike struck me as a very warm person, somewhat understated but hugely thoughtful and vocational about music, both the influences on his journey and the opportunity to express himself through the guitar form. Mike exuded a musical truth that was both nostalgic and forward-looking – and this defines the spirit on what, four years later, he has captured on this album.
I’ll be honest, the album didn’t really grab me on first listen – a lot of albums don’t if the time or place of that first play is wrong. Then about 10 days later, I was setting off on a car journey one Sunday morning and thought I’d grab the CD and give it another chance for the 60-minute drive. It was on this drive, with bright autumn sun breaking through the trees, framed by the greens, reds and browns of the autumn countryside that this album grabbed me – and fully. It wasn’t just the songs, it was the richness and life of the recorded sound that connected; a sonic experience full of spiritual warmth, sensory interest and expression. I now remember clearly that trip and my experience of the album. Looking back, it reminded me of two things: First, the importance of properly listening to an album in full and, second, not treating music as background music while doing something else. In the age where music has been trivialised as just being ‘tunes’ – MP3 files we listen to as the lobby music to busy lives on our portable devices – my reawakening with this album reminded me how we are on the edge of losing the real magic of recorded music: the lost art of taking time to properly listen to a full album on a good system and through good speakers – to take it in properly and to be conscious of how it makes you feel. ‘The Clovis Limit Part 2’ works as body of work, an album in the truest sense – with a start, middle and end.
The album opens well with ‘Thanks A Lot’ – a song with bright energy, pace, purpose, good sound and interesting chapters within the song that bring excitement. If you’re listening to this as background music, this song may struggle to settle – but if you’re actively listening to the song, it will really grab you and make you want to give this album an hour of undivided attention.
Next up, we’re into to ‘None Of Your Business,’ a rasping southern rocker. The arresting grooves make it an obvious choice for radio – and the national media success for this song proves that Mike is creating the songs that, on merit, can comfortably sit at the high table with the best rock artists around. Whilst first and foremost a guitar purist, it’s the tone of the vocal on this song that, for me, is most memorable.
Reminded of the incidental music in ‘War of the Worlds,’ there are atmospheric links between some of the tracks that reference Mike’s experimental ‘Dystopia Rising’ piece from lockdown – itself spookily relevant in tone to the dark days we have all been through this year. These textures present an interesting mood setting for the songs on the album, eerie and unsettling moments that frame the album firmly in the year 2020.
The next two songs are the album’s true convincers. ‘The Only Place You Ever Take Me Is Down’ is all about the all-encompassing mood, one to turn up loud and an immersive song you can really get lost in. ‘Hammer’ follows, and the yearning blues vibe opens a new window into the album. It’s the control with this one that brings warmth. There was something about listening to this on a bright autumn day that gave the music colours in my mind. It’s funny how with great music, you can remember in your mind the setting you were in when a piece of music grabbed you. For me, the guitar solo mid-way through this song is pure autumn sunshine.
‘Tell Jerry’ is wonderfully engaging, evoking moments from the RHR story that have been so enjoyable.
‘The Loser’ brings it down a bit, a song about never giving up. Composed in a single, sit-down session on a day off while touring Europe, the lyric was written to inspire listeners who feel alone or defeated. Directly and simply, the song is a rallying cry for the lonely and disaffected; a sentiment that is particularly apt in these times of great uncertainty and anxiety. It’s the only track from new album without drums – although Mike does whistle a bit.
‘Leviathan’ is a monster track that fully lives up to its name. The introduction oozes drama, scale and has a hint of menace. The emotive vocal, deep baseline and guitars sych together really well, the parts working as one. This isn’t a song trying to be popular or catchy, it’s its own entity and true to itself. Music as art.
‘Unforgiven’ is an Allman Brothers party, it could even be a new theme for the new-look Top Gear. Despite an obvious nod to Mike’s heroes, the music flies and loops like a bird – happy, free and majestic. A gentle warmth and light to the recording, a song that will inspire and pick you up if you’re not having a great day.
‘Don’t Say A Word’ is a simpler song that goes in a straight line, but works within the context and running order of tracks on the album. ‘Shoot You If You Run’ finishes the new collection with intensity and a touch of swagger, the guitar work richly alive and arresting.
For me, this album crowns a period of hard work from Mike. When I set up Great Music Stories Radio, itself an unplanned product of lockdown, my aim was to give an open platform for rising artists – free of favourites, commercial considerations and heavy plugging. It was an open space and the artists that stepped forward and wanted to engage with listeners where those that got the airtime. It says a lot that Mike was very active at this time: He did interviews allowing us to try to make sense of unfolding world events, he did sessions for both our summer festivals, he made indents. He wrote accompanying notes on the sets he submitted, took part in my Working Musician series and, most important, he got busy writing and recording new music.
Looking back at all this, this is a musician who has gone towards uncertainty. At a time when many artists are waiting for gigs to come back, Mike is moving forward and just getting on with it. He is practising his craft and, crucially, he is creating new music at a time when homebound fans need it most. Through all this, there is creative growth for Mike as an artist – the stubbornness to not give in, the fight and passion to keep creating means the music spiritually reflects the context in which it has been created.
Mike Ross has grown as a person, a musician and a creative. He is an artist that will emerge from the Covid era as a bigger, more rounded creative force than he was going into it. This new album is not just a collection of songs, it’s a statement about the gritty determination of a DIY musician to stand tall and move forward at a time when the future of the arts universe has been in the balance. The grit is real, the authentic recorded sound is the truth – and the autumn sunshine is the hope for better days.
The Clovis Limit Part 2 is released on 30th October
Order the item and view other releases at Mike’s store: https://shop.mikerossmusic.co.uk
Listen Again to some of Mike’s interviews
Mike’s interview for our Wellbeing Festival, August 2020