Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Voodoo Circle's 'Whisky Fingers' - Album Review

This will be my final review of the year. I was not sure if I would be able to fit everything in, given how many great albums came out between July and October (2 or 3 most weeks!), but I have just about managed it thanks to a quiet couple of months on the album release front! In this review I shall be looking at German hard rockers Voodoo Circle, or Alex Beyrodt's Voodoo Circle to give them their proper name. Founded by guitarist Alex Beyrodt (Sinner; Silent Force; Primal Fear) in 2008, the band released their fourth album Whisky Fingers earlier this month. Most of Beyrodt's other bands fall into the heavy/power metal category, so he formed this band to create and pay tribute to bluesy hard rock music which has been a big influence on him throughout his career. Joining Beyrodt on Whisky Fingers are original members: frontman David Readman (Adagio; Pink Cream 69) and bassist Mat Sinner (Sinner; Primal Fear; Silent Force); and new recruits: keyboardist Alessandro del Vecchio (Edge of Forever; Eden's Curse; Hardline; Silent Force), who also duets with Readman on some songs, and drummer Francesco Jovino (Edge of Forever; U.D.O.; Hardline; Primal Fear). Style-wise, Voodoo Circle sound a lot like Whitesnake - mostly the pre-1987 bluesy hard rock era, rather than the more hair metal-influenced period, but there is a little of that thrown in too. In fact there are some times throughout this album, and their previous album 2013's More Than One Way Home, that sound almost too close to Whitesnake. This is certainly Whitesnake worship of the highest order, but the songs are strong and this will certainly tie me over until Whitesnake release another album, something which David Coverdale mentioned recently in an interview! Beyrodt's meaty, bluesy guitars and Readman's soulful vocals dominate the sound on Whisky Fingers, but del Vecchio's washes of hammond organ add plenty of colour and bring to mind the sound of early Deep Purple and Uriah Heep. I am glad that del Vecchio's involvement in Voodoo Circle has not been too overpowering. While being a great AOR songwriter and producer, there was a time were an album of his songs was being released on Frontiers Records almost weekly under various names. I really like him, but it was overkill for a bit and, as he did with Hardline, he has been known to take over! The fact that Voodoo Circle are with AFM rather than Frontiers probably saved them from this fate, and del Vecchio is here as a musician/contributing writer rather than a project leader. While Whisky Fingers is certainly nothing original, it is a very solid feel-good rock album - something that is always welcome!

Opening with single Trapped in Paradise, the album gets off to a hard rocking start. A John Sykes-esque riff drives the song, with a counter-melody coming from del Vecchio's organ. This is Slide it In-era Whitesnake, which works well as Readman and del Vecchio trade vocals to create a full sound. Their voices compliment each other well, and the combination is used sparingly throughout, not overdoing it. The song contains a powerful chorus with a big hook, and then the song slows down as it drops into an atmospheric guitar solo, that soon transitions into a big keyboard moment. It is a strong album opener, and one that sets the tone for what is to come. Heartbreaking Woman is dirty 1970s blues rock at it's best, with strong washes of hammond organ and a meaty guitar tone that rips through your speakers. The song alternates between foot-stomping rock sections and more soulful moments which recalls Mk. III Deep Purple. The chorus is the best moment, with Beyrodt's guitar matching Readman's vocals note for note, before relaxing into a bluesy groove for Readman to croon over. A soulful guitar solo is also included for good measure. Watch and Wait (I Got My Eye on You) opens with a jangly acoustic guitar pattern, which gives plenty of space for Readman's strong vocals to take centre stage. There is a little of Led Zeppelin about the song's early sound, with that slightly folky vibe, but it is not long before the song builds up to rock mode. Rhythmic kick drum beats and a swelling of keyboards heralds the main meat of the song. It is not the heaviest song on the album, but it contains an infectious groove and switches between the acoustic moments and the blues rock effortlessly. After that slight detour, Medicine Man (not a Whitesnake cover..) gets back to 'business as usual'. A blistering riff is the centrepiece of the song, but Readman steals the show with his bluesy vocal delivery that suits the song perfectly. A high-energy chorus based around the song's main riff is a powerful moment as del Vecchio's keyboard stabs help to distract from the wall of guitars. For how up-tempo the rest of the song is, the atmospheric solo seems a little out of place but it manages to work pretty well. This is one of the album's standout songs. The Day the Walls Came Down is a ballad, and a very good one. Acoustic guitar and piano form the basis of the verses which are quite gentle and allow Readman's voice space to breathe nicely. The chorus is rockier of course, but it still maintains the slower pace. It has quite an anthemic vibe and, although cliché, works very well within the context of the album. A slow-burning solo is included too, ticking another essential part of a good power ballad off the list! Heart of Stone is more rocky, but does not excite like the rest of the songs presented so far. The chorus just is not that memorable, and the rest of the song is quite workmanlike without ever really getting going. I do like the guitar lead the follows the chorus however, that is a memorable lick that stands out.

Straight Shooter is better, and the simple vibe works well here. del Vecchio shows off his vocal talents again here, taking lead on the pre-chorus. His higher voice works well here, and is quite different from Readman's blues croon. The song's bouncy verse riff and big organ chords sound great, and again brings to mind Mk. III Deep Purple, with Readman and del Vecchio filling the David Coverdale and Glenn Hughes roles perfectly. I love the song's chorus too, despite how simple it is. The big vocal shouts work well, giving the song a slightly rowdy vibe which works well. The Rhythm of my Heart is a real bit of classic blues. It is a slower song, with beautiful guitar playing from Beyrodt that shows just what a great player he is. The less-is-more approach to the verses is great, with perfect note choice that compliments the vocals perfectly. Soul oozes from this song, and Readman showcases his talents perfectly. The slightly gospel feel to the backing vocals helps to add to add something special to the song, and when the guitar solo starts you know that this is a great tune. It is very precise, which each note picked out perfectly with no fat left to trim. An excellent song, and one of the album's best. Devil Takes me Down cranks the volume back up after that blues workout, and hits you between the eyes once again. Now if the rest of the album was not Whitesnake worship, then this song certain is. If I was told that David Coverdale actually wrote this song and gave it to Voodoo Circle I would not be surprised. The duet-style vocals are employed once again to good effect, and there is even a big keyboard solo! This song is a bit of good old fast rock 'n' roll and is extremely enjoyable. Following on from that we have 5 O'Clock which is another powerful rocker. The verses are very groovy, with a laid back feel to them that only emphasises the power of the chorus when it kicks in. The choruses are driving pieces of songwriting with a prominent bassline that holds everything together. It is a good bit of boogie rock that can only put a smile on your face! The album's closing number Been Said and Done is also quite bluesy. del Vecchio's keyboards dominate the sound throughout, making use of plenty of great retro sounds to give the song that vintage 1970s rock sound. Beyrodt is no slouch either, with plenty of bursts of striking lead guitar. Readman and del Vecchio combine their great voices together for some powerful high notes packed full of soul. The song also contains a hidden track called Coming Home to You (I think this is really a 'bonus track', but it has not been separated out from Been Said and Done so I will call it a 'hidden track') which is pretty good with another solid rocking chorus. Overall, Whisky Fingers is a enjoyable modern classic rock album that contains plenty of great songs that remind you of the heyday of blues rock. This will not win any awards for originality, but it has rounded out 2015 nicely and puts a smile on my face.

The album was released on 4th December 2015 via AFM Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Trapped in Paradise.

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