JULY ALBUM OF THE MONTH
OK folks, it’s time to take the black T shirts off and get those chinos on for summer. Here’s an album that reminds us that guitar rock music today extends far beyond heavy rock riffs, mosh pits, devil horns and those sometimes tired-looking black T shirts (usually with a skull motif thrown in for good measure). Rock music has always been a broad church. When thinking of our nostalgia for big-hair classic rock of the 80s, it’s important not to overlook the fact that Dire Straits were the biggest-selling rock band of the 1980s and there wasn’t a hint of Spinal Tap anywhere in sight with them. And so, here in 2021, we have a luscious sounding, brilliantly produced album that reminds us that, even today, the richness of the rock scene is based in its diversity. Here we have music that is a delicious rock-blues-jazz-soul soufflé; it’s music in fact that makes a bit of a nonsense of genre altogether.
The Ellis Mano Band remind me of a Swiss Toto. With expert production and musicianship throughout this fine album, here are top-flight studio musicians from the Swiss music scene, people that have spent years making music with other artists – and now gather to make the music they want to make together.
Throughout, there’s easy, comforting warmth to the songs on this collection. It’s a good, uplifting album for summer, the perfect soundtrack to sun-drenched BBQs in the garden, evening drinks as the sun goes down – as we return to those simple pleasures of shared experiences with loved ones after so many months of lockdown and isolation.
‘Horrible Truth’ opens the album well. With musical flourishes evoking the sun breaking through a grey cloud, the album opens with a warm, energising mood: The vocal is rich with life and the impressive guitar solo lifts the track out of the ordinary. The album is nicely set up in just four minutes.
‘Sweet Sin’ is nice mood music and reminds me of early Dire Straits – but the vocal has a range and rasp that gives the music more of an edge and a bit more intensity.
‘Amedo Mind’ takes you to the jazz bar, the kind of music you’d enjoy at a Portugese beach bar after a long day lounging in the sun. Sadly though, given the restrictions on overseas travel, you may have to settle for it being music for your drive to the fish n chips shop in sunny Newquay.
‘The Fight for Peace’ shuffles the pack. Great control in the opening. Serious, sultry blues expression, music with long dark shadows. Builds nicely and finishes well.
‘Johnny and Susie’ has a nice American AOR feel that wouldn’t be lost on a Don Henley or Toto album, or even something out of Dirty Dancing. This is the album track that brings the radio-friendly rock. Catchy, easy-to-like and the kind of song that can broaden the appeal of rock and blues to new audiences.
By ‘Long Road,’ the album is evolving as “variations on a theme”- the blues anchor going left and right and touching a mosaic of other genre influences. Here the subtle country infusion comes in at the start of the song. The backing vocals lend warmth, and there’s more than a hint of Joe Cocker in song construction and build. Another emotive and authentic vocal display, a song that will resonate with many people after the dark journeys and wellbeing hardships during lockdown – the loss, the pain and yet also the enduring hope.
‘The Question’ featured for a number of weeks on my show, a popular song that drew many requests. The opening of ‘Breakfast’ reminded me of The Commitments ‘Try a Little Tenderness’ – and let us be clear, blues and soul for breakfast really is quite marvellous.
‘Keep it Simple’ could be straight out of ‘Brothers in Arms.’ Atmospheric – almost cinematic – music that can take you away to that happy place where the sun always shines.
‘Heart ‘N Mind’ is the final triumph of this splendid album, which closes with solo acoustic guitar. Beautiful, stripped-back and heartfelt music that builds into a Coldplay-like anthem mid-way through. A song about enduring and healing and emphatically the band saves the best song til last. Beyond genre, this is just a great song – one that has something for everyone.
Does this album have classic influences? Yes, it has plenty of them. But, there again, all music draws on past influences. What is significant is that this music is no parody. There are references, familiar hints – but the band his its own character and sound. There is intelligence in the song structures, talent in the playing and art in the production.
And the people behind the music are good fun too. I did an off-the-wall interview with the band a few weeks ago and they played ball. They were up for some fun, they thrived on spontaneity and they were hungry to engage, communicate and celebrate life. This reflects the personality that contextualises the songs on this album. The music is alive, it resonates with ‘the now’ and it reminds us that, in today’s rock n roll world, it is quality that matters – not hype or fashion.
‘Ambedo’ is released on Friday June 25, 2021 via Jazzhaus Records