FEBRUARY ALBUM OF THE MONTH
The strength of the new rock scene today is its scale. A few bands get the cut-through but never overlook the underdogs.
Cloverhill is a band that has grown with us through the length of a two-year Covid era – and absolutely on merit. At a time when some bands seemingly focused on maintaining brand visibility during the various lockdowns, Cloverhill knuckled down and focused on the music. They wrote new songs, they did sessions and they recorded live lockdown sets. They worked hard.
Cloverhill was always one of the first to say ‘yes’ for our three lockdown radio festivals. They faced the same difficulties as others, but somehow they found a way to write and record. They always engaged with our listeners on Friday nights – and I noticed they always say a ‘thank you’ to every media outlook (big and small) that supports them. Most important, they wrote a fine new album. ‘Just North of Hell’ is commendable for the implicit, dogged determination to write and create – when it was probably easier not to – and it is perhaps this defiance to Covid that has resulted in the band’s best music to date.
In some ways, Cloverhill don’t tick the boxes for a young rock band. They don’t wander round with tattoos and black T shirts. They don’t call everyone ‘brother’ and I can’t imagine anyone throwing their pants on stage for them in wild hysteria. They look like a bunch of next-door dads. There’s no fancy outfits and, from when I’ve met them, there’s even a hint of shyness. But none of this matters when the band can produce fine music. Music after all is for the ears, and this band should be judged by the music they deliver. Authentic, honest and true – there has to be respect for a band that is serious about writing the best music they can, working hard and pushing themselves.
At Great Music Stories, I’ve been known for some time to bang the drum on new music, young bands and acts that point towards modernity over retrospection. All that said, I am a child of what’s known now as the ‘classic rock’ era – and, like any genre, there’s nothing wrong with retro if it’s done well. The writing here is good and the technical playing is something to really enjoy. Having recently purchased a new set of B&W speakers to support my Arcam SACD player, this is one of those albums where the playing really comes alive on a good HiFi system. Music should be listened to on a good system, and these songs grow in such an environment.
From the outset, there are two standout ‘radio singles’ from this album. The aptly titled ‘Radio’ is a driving classic – one of those feel-good songs to play loud with the windows down during a spring or summer evening. The song had a log run with us for about a year on my Friday show, one of those go-to ‘pick me up’ songs that always delivers – and never gets tired.
‘Beach’ is the other standout. The band was a little nervous about giving the wrong message with a country ballad, but this is another example that great songs are just great songs – they stand up on their own, making the genre irrelevant. Underpinned by a moving true story, this for me is the finest song the band has ever done. In terms of tone, arrangement and control this is a masterful song. Cloverhill are at pains to sometimes point out that “rock ain’t dead” – but, in truth, it’s not about rock. ‘Beach’ reminds us that good music is timeless and universal, the genre doesn’t matter.
Thinking generally about the album, this new release offers a greater range and evidences evolved song-writing from Paul and the band. The album has strong roots very much in classic rock, but the blues, funk and country flourishes are the highlight moments that make it most interesting. A case study in good craft, the songs start and finish well – and the album length (as a journey) feels about right.
‘Get up’ we premiered on the Friday show, a song that had a six-week run. A slight sense of menace to open the album – and the “rock ain’t dead” message speaks for the grassroots scene at a time when it faced so many challenges. The song also showcases the technical strength of the band as three-piece – I noted during the set at Wildfire Festival how accomplished the bass and drum section of the band was.
‘Talk Dirty’ brings the funk (as does ‘Lovely Rita’ later on) – the live version of this song we first aired during the Modern Rock Wellbeing Festival in August 2020. An exciting song that graced the biggest weekend of the GMS Radio lockdown run.
‘On Fire’ is a classic blues-rock standard, the hammond rooting it firmly in the retro 70s – whilst ‘Angels’ has something really direct about it. I could imagine Paul busking this song or singing it round a campfire on summer’s evening: it has that authentic rootsy vibe – and an authentic lyrical element.
The pounding rock turns up with ‘Up to Eleven’ – my quibble here is it could have been earlier in the album to spice up the mid-section of the track listing. To some extent, this is Cloverhill’s version of Crows’ ‘Rock n Roll Ain’t Dead’ – a defiant statement of belief: “God gave us rock n roll so turn it up to eleven.” A song made for the stage, it would effortlessly solicit a call-and-response reaction from a rocking audience. One to play loud – even up to the Spinal Tap 11.
With ‘Guinness and Whiskey’ and ‘Leaves a Scar,’ Cloverhill establish themselves as a credible force in today’s blues-rock scene
In some ways, I am perplexed why this band hasn’t been signed by a small label or management team. I guess that, in today’s scene, there’s seemingly an obsession with image, relatability (what a terrible word!) and social media numbers – and on these fronts the band possibly isn’t front-of-mind. The imaging isn’t the band’s key strength – they’re not spring chickens, they don’t dress to please and, in fairness, the weakest aspect of this album is the cover which really doesn’t do the music justice. But all that said, we have to remember it always needs to be the actual music – the quality of the writing, the arrangements and the band’s ability to play well on stage. Cloverhill won’t win the image game, but their music warrants far greater attention.
This album is not breaking new ground in modernising rock, but it is accomplished playing and there is truth, belief and fight from this band. And a rock album with some of the better singles of the last year. Our job in this scene today is to give everyone a kick of the ball and not leave people behind. Cloverhill may not be the cool kids – but their music is a match for anything that’s been released this month.
The album is released on 4 Febraury 2022.
For album pre-order and social links – visit the band’s website at https://cloverhillrock.co.uk