Artists S - Z
The Tragic Company
With a reputation that spans Andalucía, a Costapop winner's accolade to their fame and over a decade of experience in the music business The Tragic Company (TTC when I’m feeling too lazy to write their full name), finally present their first CD entitled ‘Bass, Middle, Treble’. Staunch exponents of the Estepona Rock scene this group has a well deserved and hard fought reputation amongst their peers and fans but would this translate to their long player and if so what vibe would they bring. Steeped in the 90s rock sound updated for the new millennium it is an accomplished compilation of soulful rock songs that get under your skin and stay there. Musicianship way beyond competent with a soundscape including violins and Hammond organs transports this album light years away from standard 4-piece rock band fodder. In fact it was only a few days after first hearing the cd I found myself humming some of the songs in my kitchen which is always a good sign.
Starting off with 'Part of you', we are introduced to a familiar sound with a track awash in the soulful 90’s rock vibe of groups like Sound garden. This song sounds familiar like an old friend, almost a bit too familiar so provided there has been no copyright infringement it is a brilliantly comfortable piece of work. 'Out of my way' continues the soul fly rock vibe but this time with a surprisingly authentic Country feel. Again, familiarity in the vibe and again pleasantly so. To make a song sound familiar without copying anything in particular to me is one of the best achievements a musician can do. Catchy as hell, another old friend come back to visit.
They say to sing rock you must sing in English. For me this attitude is as ridiculous and divisive as other adages such as "to rap you have to sound American" or "white men can't jump" all of which were proven as nonsense in time. That said it is to Juanma Medina’s credit that as a Spaniard he can sing more convincingly and with better expression in English than many bands to whom English is their native tongue. Also the lyrics on the sleeve (although I’m sure you guys missed out a few verses), showcase Juanmas in-depth writing ability, again far better than many of those for whom English is a first Language.
Next up the first single off the album with an incredible video to match, 'Forever'. I wasn’t sure about this song upon my first listen. Sure it’s a great track but I didn’t see a first single, but as often happens I was proven wrong as this is one of the songs which embedded itself into my subconscious and I found myself singing whilst chopping the onions. Good feeling and vibe on this song with Francisco Gil providing a great lead guitar throughout. With 'First hymn' harking back to the soulful country feel of 'Out of my way' I was enjoying this album but although extremely accomplished, with its soulful soft rock and country feel it was for me beginning to sound a little twee.
Now for the track that struck terror into the heart of this reviewer, The Rock Opera. Why because for a first album a rock opera is an ambitious project. Most groups do well to just pull off 10 quality tracks with no filler and run to safety as fast as their legs will carry them, and as such if I were told that a band had included a rock opera on their first album it would have generated the kind of sneer for which Jeremy Paxman is famous. But after the first few bars had passed (by the time the seriously talented drummer had kicked in), I knew I was in for a treat. In fact I also knew that the first four songs had been a ruse. A polished and competent way to lead me into the album where the really funky stuff was about to start.And what of the Opera?Thoroughly enjoyable stuff. Reminiscent of ‘The Who’, Juanma makes an extended nod to his ‘Mod’ leanings with this 12 minute piece. Great use of repetition on 'The bellboy' and 'you are forgiven' as well as 'I need money' and 'The rescue', which also has an engaging yet subtle call and response between the Hammond organ and guitar riff. Good if a little passé story which is reflective of the instant gratification and consumerism of society today. They could possible follow up with 'The story of the Greedy Banker', on the next album, just a thought boys. The Story is also a little optimistic in that the Bellboy escapes prison then takes on and defeats the Drug Barons. Not that I’m an expert on International Drug cartels but I feel it necessary to point out, just for the record, don’t try this at home kids. I also like the fact that as a story it doesn’t overly moralise and is devoid of pathos. It tells the story of the bellboy but leaves us to come to the conclusion all on our own that he is aF'ing idiot. Guest appearances by David Gil and Cristina Gallego make me think TTC kept this one in the family, no problems there as I am a fan of nepotism as long as the benefactors deserve their place and can do the job which is definitely the case here. Criticisms, one of opera's main power points is its use of change of tempo, sound and texture and as such this Rock Opera falls short with the only tempo changes being the ballad 'Laura' and the haunting 'Stupid fool'. Other than that, it rocks throughout with segments going from good to great but as such partly misses the point. Also in this age of electronic musical wizardry the Opera seems a little disjointed and I half expected it to run continuously mixed rather than so many stops and starts. Most importantly this opera allows TTC to show off their other side. Great rocking danceable riffs and most importantly it allows the drummer Andres Gallego to show off his skills, and he absolutely kills it, especially on the intro to 'I’m gonna get ya'. Please be warned and alert your lawyers now, I will be sampling that s**t!!!
With the twee label fully shaken off, TTC returns with the ballad ‘Every moment’, and what a track. Unlike the first four songs which although addictive were 'likeable', this track is soul consuming. Filled with feeling like a warm yet whimsical summer’s day this is where TTC excel. The kind of song that makes you stop what you are doing and stare into the distance with not a memory but the feeling of some moment or event that touched you in your past. This song is filled with emotion and shows Juanma Medina’s love of the Soul genre placed perfectly in rock ballad form, my high point of the album.
Back to the competent rock formula with ‘Molly’ and ‘When I close my eyes’, both perfectly written, performed and engineered. Particular note for the writing on ‘Molly’ with its intelligent handling of a sensitive and very important subject again without being moralistic or overbearing.Great songs, but for me missing the X factor which I found in ‘Every moment’ and ‘The Bellboy’.
Bringing us to a conclusion, TTC bring back the X factor missing from the previous tracks in spades via ‘Save yourself’, another track that had me hooked before the vocalist even started singing. This is where TTC gets me every time. When Juanma wears his heart on his sleeve and brings his unique blend of Country and Soul into Rock this group in unmatchable and just for the record the kitchen effect was subsequently replaced by this song which worrying engraved itself into my brain, set itself to replay and played itself over and over at any moment in which I was not fully concentrating on something else leaving me to wonder was this song scarily good or just scary?
Now that I am doing more reviews I have created a new acid test for albums which is; will I still play this now that the review has been written. For this cd the answer is a resounding yes. Not only will I still play it, but due to TTC’s ability to craft unique soulful rock songs filled with emotion there will be days when I will be in the kind of mood that only ‘The Tragic Company’ (at least certain songs), will do, and that in my opinion is about as good as an artist can get.
You can listen to this free on the internet but seriously guys, you are going to want to own this album so just go buy it which you can do from Tolone Bar, Calle Real No.5, Estepona, Louie Louie Bar, Calle Real No 11, Estepona, the Jazz Pub in Puerto DeportivoEstepona. Also available at Amazon.com, ITunes, Spotifly or email the boys on giving a name and address to have one sent out to you.
Amazon link: Bass-Middle-Treble by The Tragic Company
ITunes Link: Bass, Middle, Treble by The Tragic Company at iTunes
Forever Video on YouTube
The Tragic Company on MySpace
And Balckhorse Songbook Album Review
Blackhorse Songbook Album review
Due to other commitments and my promise to myself (and to all of you), to reduce the length of my reviews this year here is my review of ‘Songbook’, by Blackhorse the solo project by Juanma Medina the creative genius behind The Tragic Company. I like it.
Ok not enough, Ok I like it a lot, in fact it’s quite brilliant.
Still not enough?
Yep that’s what I thought, ok then, let’s just start at the beginning.
Firstly I love the whole album because it’s the side of Juanma Medina that I prefer as I am more of a fan of the soft rock, country insightful side of this musician a la ‘Save yourself’ or ‘Every moment’ than I am of the hard rocking steel guitar strumming version shown on for example ‘Burning lung’.
As such it was within the 1st few strums of the guitar of the lead track Reykjavik I thought “Here we go again”, as I was immediately 100% sure that I was going to like this album. Especially when the Hammond Organ chords came in, immediately showing off Juanma's eclectic sensibility, and leaving me to think that this guy really can do country. Truth be told this track really should have stayed as the intro, a bit like Chloe Lawrence’s voices I don’t know, this beautiful piece of music reminiscent of the Jose Gonzalez Cover version of ‘Heartbeats’ leading me to contemplate how well this music would suit an advertisement, just like the Jose Gonzalez song was used in the Sony’s Bravia advert, (You know one with all the coloured balls). Sounding perfect and complete as it was, it would have been a perfect track from beginning to end for me, and then the singing came in and as I had already made up my mind that what had preceded was complete and perfect it was at first disappointing to me, and continued to disappoint me right up until it hit the melody in the pre chorus which drew me and engaged me so much I forgot my previous conclusions and went to on enjoy the song as the artist had conceived it.
Being someone with an eclectical musical taste (as revealed by my Radio EL Intercambio show), what I love the most about Juanma Medinas music is his use of multiple influences often within one song. In fact in almost every single song on this project I personally hear influences from all over the place. For example the 1st track reminds me of something by the Goo Goo Dolls whereas the second track has a chorus which to these ears is Country Rock yet with an almost South American possibly Argentina harmony in its construction sounding like something by Airto Moreira or Gilberto Gil. This ability to draw influences from so many diverse places around the world and stitch them up into one cohesive patchwork is fabulous and one of the reasons I am such a fan of this man’s work.
Keeping with playing to what are in my opinion his strengths, ‘Fake girl’ is the first song I love. So much to the effect that when I grow up as a musician (i.e. learn to sing, oh and play an instrument ...error ogh and errrr , write, mmmm and well compose and then get some overall talent and then some inspiration) I would like to be somewhere in between a Craig MacDonald and a Juanma Medina ballad. Fantastic track with a great chorus line.
Next track ‘’Never Mind’ is just brilliant. With a rhythm track loosely based on ‘Golden Brown’ by the Stranglers, again Juanma nodding to his mod roots, (can’t get nothing past me kid, I’m 20 years deep digging in the crates), and in inviting Luke Bosano ofOrange Peel fame to take the mantle of lead vocalist Juanma mixes this influence with others to (unlike Mark Ronson who just gets players to copy the original), create something fresh and new.
When I 1st heard ‘3am call’, I though what a great song but when dropped in the context of the album in takes on a whole new meaning and lease of life. In fact it drops like an absolute bombshell. Iconic intro, again with those Latino sounds and rhythms.Fantastic melody and fabulous harmonies. This song is as catchy as hell with a real mellow dance ability it was never in any doubt that this would be the single, and just like 'Espejo Negro' by the Oh Trikeliansmade me want to get Radio EL Intercambio back up and running earlier than planned just to play it. Put simply, this song is simply radio play all day.
When I review an album I take multiple listens but usually by the 1st one I pretty much know what I think about it leaving the 3rd 4th and 5th listens just to flesh it out. In this case it only really took one listen to Sally for it to strike me with its interesting subject matter and careful and thoughtful handling of an interesting topic. Like Molly from the Tragic Company’s Bass Middle Treble, it was nice to hear a topic other than how much I love you or in the case of most R&B nowadays how badly I want to f**kk you. One of the reasons why as a writer I am such a fan. “Sally made love last night for the 1st time in her life”, although the instant pregnancy ending seems a little far-fetched it could be the true life story of Julie Goodyear so it’s not as if it never happens.
Just as I did with the Oh Trikelians, I still recommend Juanma really should make some songs in his native language. The Estepona scene alone has a plethora of great Rock bands none of whom sing in Spanish and I have no idea why they don't. As a reviewer my opinion is this. As a sometimes Rapper I on occasion write and perform in Spanish, (yes you guessed it badly) but if my language were good enough to be fluent in my second language, (as Jesus Gomez or Juanma Medina are in English), I still could not envisage myself writing exclusively in Spanish even though I am living in a mainly Spanish audience. To me it would just be a waste of my ability to translate thoughts, feelings and emotions in my native language in which no matter how good my Spanish may become, (yes anyone who has heard me speak Spanish can start laughing now), still would not supersede my ability to communicate in English. Surely using the language with which you can communicate emotions and thoughts better would be an advantage. I mean even if it were just one track, one track couldn't hurt a core English speaking audience, (it might even be seen as a novelty), but would definitely do a lot to encourage the Spanish musicians to have more pride in their music internationally and could even open up the huge market of South America. As usual, it’s just my thoughts people, just my thoughts.
Bringing in the social commentary on ‘Take a Look behind’, and taking us back to the basic philosophy behind the staggeringly good Tragic Company Rock Opera ‘The tale of the greedy Bell boy’. Proving to us the fact that like a comedian being a brilliant song writer isn’t only about being off the wall and expressing things people have never thought about. Being brilliant can also be about taking everyday scenarios that we all know and expressing them in a way that makes us look at them a new. This is something Juanma does well.
My fav line of this song being “it’s like you want someone else’s life” reminding me a job interview when I was asked if I could be anyone in the world who would I be. When I answered myself they repeated the question a number of times due to the assumption that I didn’t actually understand it. Nelson Mandela, Ghandi, Donald Trump and other such luminaries were suggested to me so when after careful consideration I answered “myself”, the interviewer burst out laughing, told me that I was the most arrogant interviewee he had ever met and promptly offered me the job. This is song brought this memory back from the vaults making me smile and wondering if I should send it to him by way of indenting my answer.
Track number 10 ‘Lead me’, is misleadingly lacklustre when I starts and made me think that it was just going to be some filler, but then it turns out to be incredible and inspiring. Again, with incredible use of the Hammond organ taking this song from a country vocal to an almost Gospel vibe. This is the song that you might miss the first time you play the album but is the song that will picks you up when you’re having a really bad day.
On his God Son album Nas made a track flicking through his rhyme book and spitting random lyrics from unreleased things he’d written over the years. A fabulous idea although unfortunately the track was shit. What I love the most about the Blackhorse 'Songbook' album is that I know Juanma has done the same thing, He has looked over a number of tracks that he had write over a period of time and decide to do something with the ones that he liked and thought had potential, Blackhorse 'Songbook' being the result and it is absolutely fabulous.
One of the reasons being because although it’s all in the same musical genre (luckily for me one Juanma does well and that I enjoy), it is also quite sparse with regards to its direction and attitude. Because it’s a number of songs taken which I assume were written at different periods, after different experiences in his life. If you sit down and write and record an album in 6 months (or nowadays 2 weeks), there will be a central theme and feel running through all the tracks even if you don’t intend there to be. With this album there definitely isn’t. It seems completely random and the only central theme running though these tracks is the writer experiences and talent making a great body of work without sounding too stylised or stuck in an epoch or rut.
Also special note to all of the contributions from the many very talented musicians from the Andalucian scene such as David Quiros who furnished me with those hypnotic Hammond organ chords on ‘Reykjavik’ and ‘Lead me’. Antonio Bazan bringing to Blackhorse some of that Oh Trikeliansdrum skill. Alejandro Hidalgo’s Custom Radio Lead guitar as well as Tomas Jeckyll’s guitar skill and finally showcasing Gibraltar’s best kept secret Luke Bosano from hard rockers Orange Peel’s soft rock vocals. One of the best things about having a scene is being able to call on friends and colleagues to just pass through and add their talent and ideas to a project producing an end product like this. People who contribute from a sense of mutual respect and love, not session musicians who turn up only for the money.
Ending with the track ‘Where eagles tread’, great piece of music, lovely and accomplished just not my sort of thing which was great because by this time I was actually finally happy to have found something about this album I didn't like.
If you like your songs well written, your melodies captivating, your musicianship top quality, your music eclectically inspired and your rock soft you can do no better than have this album in your collection. Well done Juanma, you’ve got another top class album under your belt. Long may you continue to record more.
Ok so today I had a 200 km drive and loaded my mp3 player with some hype music to keep me trucking as they say. So there I am listening to Daddy Devil by VybzKartel, Action Bronson, Papoose and other Hardcore Hip Hop and Reggae Dancehall tunes when after about an hour I heard the opening guitar line of Reykjavik. Now let me make this plain, I still get loads of criticism for only writing about the music I like, I guess because it makes El Intercambio seem a bit twee like a Disney Movie where everything inside it is warm, fluffy and lovely. In fact even I sometimes wonder about this myself and although on a very limited time budget selecting tracks for Radio EL Intercambio from the massive amount of Andalucian music out there, I wonder if I am maybe listening to too much Andalucian output therefore losing perspective and thinking that this stuff is better than it actually is. My point???, So there I was with the last brass stabs of a psychotically murderous Reggae Dancehall anthem in my ears and Reykjavik starts, and to be honest, driving down the Carraterra at 140 plus kph I really wasn’t in the mood for any mid tempo soft rock country shit. I also wasn’t in the mood to scroll the mp3 player back so I resigned myself to listening to the Blackhorse Songbook album until it annoyed me enough to make the effort to turn it over, and you know what? I listened to the whole album. In fact I didn’t even remember that I was going to turn it off until the end where as I said, as competent as it is ‘Where eagles Tread’ just isn’t my kind of thing which was the first point that I realised I wasn’t meant to be listening to it. Yes, even in my crazed erratic driving mood, songs like Sally which started off sounding corny still struck me with their melodies and song writing so and proved to me (and I hope you too), once and for all that I am not just tripping on Andalucian music due to a lack of other music in my acoustic diet, this stuff stands up to anything being made anywhere and what’s more I really do like it and given the option to play Blackhorse Songbook or any of the plethora of other soft rock albums old and new I now know that Blackhorse Songbook would be in my top ten selection. Big foot note I know but a point I had to make. Good Andalucian music competes with anything out there, long live the fusion and musical styles of Andalucía.