THE MILESTONES : HIGHER MOUNTAIN – CLOSER SUN

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Out now on Turenki Records

Finland’s classic rockers The Milestones are back with the fourth album in their 20 year history. Not exactly prolific but quality over quantity is a rare commodity in this age.  Their last effort “Devil In Me” was an excellent slice of what the band are all about. Now just 4 years later they are back with “Higher Mountain – Closer Sun”.

For the most part the album takes off where its predecessor ended, when you have a winning formula why not if the songs are as good, fortunately these are slightly better.

If you like your rock on the classic end of things this band will bring new joy into your world.  A very live feel is heard throughout,  LOUD responsive guitar tones (with a bevy of Telecaster, Firebird and Les Paul usage) and a rhythm section that clearly knows the meaning of the word – groove – throw on top a vocalist who actually seems to be enjoying his music and its hard not to listen to this and smile.

Opener “Walking Trouble” kicks the album off with high energy, a driving riff collide with gritty vocals and rocking harmonica from frontman Olavi Tikka and you’ll be turning this up loud.  “Shalalalovers” continues the theme but throws in a little more commercialism with the chorus hook likely to be in your head days after.

The band prove they have exquisite taste by next serving up a faithful cover of Foghat’s 1976 classic “Drivin Wheel”, high energy and a will to make the song their own is displayed.  Next we can catch our breath a little with the southern rock inflections of “Oh My Soul” before the predominantly acoustic “Grateful” prepares up for the Stonesy crunch of “Sweet Sounds”.

A nice Humble Pie vibe is experienced on “It’s All Right” and this is the first of a couple of corker tracks with the telecaster twang  bedrock and laid back delivery (at least for the verses) of “You” show strong song writing and good maturity from the band.

“Looking Back From Yesterday” sits in mid-tempo waters and does take a few listens to sink in fully before “Damn” ups the tempo with a ridiculously simple yet effective riff drives the song on, its also got a killer chorus as well.

Closing track “Fool Me” seems a little haphazard compared to the majority of the album with riffs that are disjointed and quirky in equal measure, maybe not the killer closing track the album deserves but pleasant enough.

“Higher Mountain – Closer Sun” is another excellent release from The Milestones, How they’ve managed to escape more widespread popularity is beyond me but this album is strong enough to certainly give them a chance of that.  Well crafted songs in a retro spirit with great vintage guitar tones and packed full of strong vocal hooks make this one of the best pure rock releases you are likely to hear in 2014.

Check it out now.

Rating – 92%

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THE MILESTONES – DEVIL IN ME

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Originally reviewed in 2010 and back from the archives.

Bold, soulful and groovy are the words to describe The Milestones whose 70’s influences include such greats as Lynyrd Skynrd, Allman Brothers, a touch of Bad Company and healthy dose of the attitude of Bon Scott era AC/DC. You’d swear these guys were coming out of the southern reaches on America but no, they hail from Finland and have produced a quite marvelous album in “Devil In Me”.

If you enjoyed early Black Crowes and the two gems from Cry Of Love or the above mentioned bands you will enjoy this thoroughly. Great songs powered along by clear twin guitar with guitar tones that are on the right side of vintage dirt, a grooving rhythm section and a superb vocalist in Olavi Tikka who is equal parts Chris Robinson/Bon Scott and Paul Rodgers. This is an album made in the finest traditions of when it was the music that mattered – you can smell the earth, the bourbon and the Marlboros and I don’t think I’ve enjoyed an album in a similar vein so much in quite some time.

No need for picking out individual tracks for this is an essential purchase from start to finish. If you have a penchant for 70’s rock in its more honest form then check this out now.

Rating – 90%

BALTIMOORE – BACK FOR MORE

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Out now on BLP Music

“Back For More” marks the 12th album from Swedish hard rock merchants Baltimoore and it’s the band heaviest in some time.  As always led by the distinctive voice of Bjorn Lodin the album fuses traditional hard rock textures with a few left turns and interesting musical twists.  In the band are some old faces from the bands past in bassist Weine Johansson and Hammond organist Örjan Fernkvist, who are joined with a couple of new faces in guitarist Mats Attaque and drummer Klas Anderhell.   Bjorn Lodin is still the principle songwriter so the bands trademark sound is still here in spades.

Opener “Cry Out For Innocence” blasts out the speakers with biting intent and Lodin sounds suitably aggressive in his vocal delivery.  With a fast paced riff that wouldn’t be out of place on an MSG record (along with a hint of Uriah Heep’s Easy Livin) this is powerful stuff.  New lead guitarist Mats Attaque makes a great first impression with some soaring lead lines and it all adds up to a great opening track.

“Don’t Say No” keeps the tempo and momentum high but is a more commercial flavoured rocker with a truly infectious chorus. The bottom end is truly thunderous and once again Attaque lays down another blistering performance.

“Until The End Of The Line” slips into mid-tempo waters for a dual faceted track which fuses a restraint verse before building for the bridge and ultimately hitting its stride for the melody rich chorus.  Lodin knows how to craft a song and this is a strong example of how he likes to tease the listener with giving them something traditionalists would appreciate before throwing in a curveball.   A song with good radio potential.

The promo sheet says some tracks were originally written with Lodin’s other oufit HARD in mind.  “Are You Onto Me” may well be one of these numbers as its sounds pretty similar to feel with Lodin’s work on his two efforts with the Hungarian outfit.  A slightly disjointed track which doesn’t possess the immediacy of its predecessors yet finds its feet particularly in the middle instrumental section which has a great folky bounce to it (in a Thin Lizzy like delivery).

“Break Into Something New” is another poppier rock song and could be seen as the cousin of “Until The End Of The Line”.  Lodin throws down his pop vocal for the verse before rising to the rock occasion for the main hooks (the pre-chorus is another charmer) and chorus.  It’s an enjoyable track with a fun nature.

You might think it would be time for a breather but the band keep the rock going for “Means To An End” and it has one of my favourite vocal deliveries on the album from Lodin.  Some really cool harmonised lead guitar fills are here too.

“Gun Of Doom” initially starts out pretty basic but moves into more interesting waters after the monotonous opening and verse riff which do drone on a little, but the bridge and chorus provide some alternative drive, its probably the least accessible track on the album and does take a few listens to reveal its character.

Track 8 brings up the albums lightest moment with a shuffle feel, something  Lodin likes to have on most albums he has done.  You can see why as he knows how to lay a vocal over this feel perfectly, its  a track which has a positive chorus, yet has a dark side elsewhere.  It’s a track that would have also fitted on the bands “X” album well too.

“Say It Like It Is” is a slowish track, with allows Lodin a chance to work the vocal line well.  It’s another track with nice variety, the hanging chords of the bridge work well too.  Punching in and out of Lodin’s vocals are some call and response lines from Attaque.  Its another track that requires few listens to really get into but it’s a slow burner but after several listens of the album has become one of my favourites.

The title track closing the album with a main riffs inspired by traditional Swedish folk rhythms, but given the Baltimoore rock edge.  There is really no-one else out there doing anything like this and its makes for a very original and interesting sound, although the chorus doesn’t always sit easy with the rest of the track.  Once again though good performances all around and that main riff is a delight to the ears.

Overall the twelfth album from Baltimoore is another very strong effort.  Its hard to really say they sound like x and x, the band do have their own sound which is based on influences you may be able to call, but there’s a lot of originality here.

Once again Bjorn Lodin and co have delivered another very good album which may alienate some people due to its lack of conformity in what maybe “expected” in a rock sound, but for those that likes twists and turns in their music this is highly recommended.

Rating – 90%

AN INTERVIEW WITH BJORN LODIN OF BALTIMOORE

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One of the hardest working musicians in Sweden over the last two decades has to be Bjorn Lodin. With 12 albums under the Baltimoore banner, at least another 10 with him behind the mic for other acts and many more producer credits he’s become one of the most respected names in Scandi-rock history. We caught up with Bjorn to discuss the new Baltimoore release “Back For More”.

Bjorn, we chat again, it’s been a while since Baltimoore’s 2009 release “Quick Fix”, what have you been up to in that time?

After QF, I was asked to join Hungarian band HARD. That call came just right, I was ready for a change of scenery…

Hard took up a lot of your time over the last few years, is that now over and if so why?

Yes, it sure did. At first I was going back and forth but after about a year I moved to Budapest and set up camp there. I brought a bunch of recording stuff and guitars so I could keep working with productions I had going. I had a very nice apartment and the owner was kind enough to let me sound proof it and I made it quite useful. I produced a female Hungarian artist while I was there, recorded drums in my studio in Sweden and did the rest in Budapest. We made 2 albums with Hard, and did some live shows. It was a great adventure, and sure wasn’t something I would have imagined doing but after a year and a half away from my family I called it. We’re still in touch but right now I’m focused on Baltimoore. If there’ll be another record with me and Hard, it won’t happen anytime soon.

Ok, the new album “Back For More”, when did work commence on it?

I love writing songs and wanted to make a 3rd Hard album, so I started writing stuff while still living in Budapest, and made some demos. The songs I came up with wasn’t what Hard was all about… I wrote most of the songs for the other 2 albums and tried to get some of my vibe in there… I guess I took it too far this time.  Anyway, that’s what I do so, I still liked what I’d come up with and decided to do them with Baltimoore. So with none of my new songs suitable for a new Hard album, the idea of a new album skidded to a halt. I went home for X-mast 2011 and tracked some drums and bass with Hempo and Weine, then back to Budapest for another 3 months before I wrapped it up and moved back to Sweden.

Did you have any other musicians lined up or in mind from the start?

Yes, I tracked lead guitar with János Szücs in Budapest, and Hempo (Hilden – drums) was on for a while but he got a severe back problem so he had to step down. He’s had some surgery now and is doing better. Mankan (Sedenberg) was also on for a while, to play rhythm guitar, but it turned out to be too difficult due to workload and logistics. Anyway, when I came back to Sweden I first made my Swedish solo album ready – that I’d been working on for 10 years, and then got Klas Anderhell in to track the final drums. It’s been a curvy stretch…

Mats Attaque.

Mats Attaque.

What was the catalyst to getting Mats Attaque on board; I believe you two have previous history?

I realised in order to get this done I needed a guitar player who played a lot like me – but better. Yes, we were in a band together in the mid 80’s, the band prior to Baltimoore. Several of the early Baltimoore songs came about around that time. We also grew up in the same area and share a lot of rhythm. He’s got a great voice and guitar tone and he’s influenced me and my playing for sure. I had been meaning to look him up many times but… Anyway, I called him and he was available. He turned out to be perfect for this. Made my day!

When did rest of the band join and why where they picked?

Rather than being ‘picked’ they were politely asked to join and be ready to take the abuse J

At first, we weren’t gonna use organ – only twin guitars, but after Örjan Fernkvist and I had a session with the songs there was no turning back. Örjan and I go way back and he’s been on several recordings with me over the years. He even played on the first Hard album. Weine (Johansson) was the first guy I asked. He’s been in the band since 1991, with the exception for Quick Fix, where Björn Lindkvist was playing bass.

We should probably point out that back in the mid-late 80s you signed a solo deal but called it Baltimoore, not Bjorn Lodin.  12 albums in do you think this has been a help or a hindrance? Do fans not get upset with line-up changes?

The band I was in with Mats – Ready Steady, were demoing for a label. That fell through and I was asked to do a solo album. At 23 years old, it didn’t sit well with me going solo. I wanted to pursue the opportunity, especially since it was Scandinavia’s biggest label at the time, but not as ‘Björn Lodin’. I made 2 albums with the same producer and he had a clear vision of how it should sound and I really had no say… I’m glad I didn’t, it turned out very good – despite I was rather ‘unmanageable’ at the time J. However, it wasn’t the sound or approach I had in my head and that’s why I’ve re-recorded many of the early songs.

As far as fans and line-up changes go… Not really…maybe in the beginning people were confused, thinking this was a ‘normal’ band, but by now I think they have gotten used to it. Hell, I’d even replace myself if the right singer comes along!

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So what’s on the new album? Tell our readers about the 10 tracks and why you think they are worthy enough to be released?

-It’s 10 of the best songs I’ve written J. Big credit to Mats for stirring the pot the way he did! I feel this record is just right. It sums up what Baltimoore’s music is all about. We tried our best, like we always do…this time – in my book, we nailed it.

This was all recorded at your home studio right?

Yes, except some guitar tracking that we did online.

This album is probably the band heaviest since the Nikolo Kotzev days, there’s a nice bark to it, it sounds great and Mats is on fire.  How do you keep the energy and consistency so high in the bands long running history?

I feed off others. After a few years trying to get a steady line-up, forming a band etc. I gave up – way too many compromises involved, making the creative process suffer. I decided to do my music this way. I know it might look as an unconventional way of playing rock music… I’ve certainly answered this question many times over the years, but after I sobered up back in 1994, I decided to just go with it.

When I first teamed up with Nikolo Kotzev in 1992, we had no choice but to produce, record and mix ourselves. I realized then that it was the only way to do this. I didn’t want to rely on anyone making my music ready, so after we split up I went at it myself…figuring out how to record and mix. I’m learning new things every day.

REAL DRUMS!

REAL DRUMS!

What were you looking for sonically in this release?  Does the music take your ears where you need to go or do you dictate the sound from the off?

I’ve been looking for this sound for a long time J. Once the songs have passed pre-prod, you need to make the recording a certain way in order to be mixed in a certain way. This is the difficult part! I’m no friend of the plastic and artificial sound from drum samples. I don’t care how good the song is – if I hear a sampled drum in there I turn it off. Once the songs were arranged and ready to be recorded – they already had the sound. Of course it can be mixed different ways, but the main part of the sound is in the arrangements…how the drummer plays, how hard the strings on the rhythm guitar was hit etc. Putting the final make-up on and making the final tweaks in the mixing took a long time but it was all down hill.

Lyrically where were you looking this time round?

Well, I’ve always strived to improve my writing in English, and sometimes manage better than others… My lyrics are basically about me and what’s around me, my outlook on things. I vent in my songs. I also invite other writers sometimes and this time my friend Theresia Scher wrote one song and we co-wrote another. Writing in English is difficult!

The album has a digital only release, is this a result of changes in the industry and if so how do you feel about that?

Yes, it’s the only thing – if any, that made any sense this time. I don’t do my music with the music industry in mind. But sure, this is the worst possible business adventure one can think of. It will change, eventually…

You are an ardent voice against Spotify etc, is the music scene ultimately doomed?

Na, musicians/artists will always find a way and some will just stop what they’re doing – people in general are the ones being fukked in the ass J. Spotify, YouTube, Google and the likes (if they don’t change their approach towards song writers and artists – and why would they?) will end up with legacy catalogues and mainstream stuff. That business model simply doesn’t make any sense to a working musician to be part of. But hey, we can always go on tour and sell t-shirts, right?!

You seem to know everyone in the Swedish music scene, yet you don’t follow the pack and like unearthing fresh talent, why aren’t you taking the easy buck and doing what is expected of someone with your reputation?

I don’t think there’s an easy buck anywhere… And as far as the pack travels, I guess I’m still trying to find mine J. There are many different ways to do music. But being a musician/composer on the path of exploring and figure out what’s within is probably not the smartest career move. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Too much navel contemplating left to do!

Looking back over the 12 albums do you have any regrets? 

None whatsoever! It takes time to figure things out.

I know you love the stage so has the limited touring activity with Baltimoore been something you’d have liked to have done more with, or are you comfortable with it’s predominantly studio only status?

Yes, there’s nothing like being on stage with a good band. It hasn’t been in the stars for this band, something I’ve given a lot of thought…and the logistics in members being all over the place hasn’t helped. This time around we’re not too far away from each other and I hope we can set something up for later this year.

What next for the band and yourself for 2014 and beyond?

Well, at the moment I’m mixing and co-producing Thomas Larsson’s upcoming album. I’ve also cracked open the legacy Baltimoore albums and are preparing them for a new mix and some new overdubs. It’s about 70 songs, so it will take some time…hopefully they will be out in 2014. Some videos are in the making…

I’m also doing a sort of country album with original songs together with another line-up. Not sure that I’ll do the hick-up thing with my voice though J.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Not really. I hope people give this album a shot and that they’ll find something they like in there!

Bjorn, many thanks for your time, it has been a pleasure.

Thanks!

Order Baltimoore – Back For More at: