Album reviews: Dan Owen, Gabrielle, Blue October & Mikey Collins

Gabrielle is back with new album Under My Skin

Gabrielle – Under My Skin

WHEN the songs for which you are best known are mostly at least two decades old, it would perhaps be remiss not to rely slightly on former glories when convincing fans to buy your new stuff. So it is commendable that hardly anything on Under My Skin, Gabrielle's first record in 11 years, sounds remotely like her only number ones, Dreams and Rise.

The vocal is unmistakably Gabrielle's and her performance on the likes of Every Step and Signs demonstrate quality is the reason for her longevity, even if it has not yielded perennial success. There's a little bit of a Santigold feel about Put Up A Fight. However, the likes of Young And Crazy adopt a paint-by-numbers pop song formula best described as 'filler'.

Diehard Gabrielle fans will see the record as a triumphant return, mixing funk, soul, R&B and Motown. But there may not be enough depth or variety to win over legions of new admirers.

3 stars

Ryan Hooper

Dan Owen – Stay Awake With me

DAN Owen, a 25-year-old former carpenter from Shrewsbury, has a distinctive, throaty and sometimes gravelly voice well beyond his years. You'd be well within your rights to assume he's in his mid-forties with a few music industry decades already under his belt. The singer-songwriter's debut album Stay Awake With Me is an accomplished collection that deftly crosses the increasingly blurry lines between rock, pop, soul and blues.

Owen, who describes the record as a "collection of personal stories and experiences", lays himself bare on songs such as Icarus. The toothsome, orchestral string-backed track has already been added to Radio 2's playlist, and sees him sing about drug abuse, admitting "I only find myself when I lose control". The fifth track, Hideaway, feels like the record's peak, an epic punch of rocky-bluesy musicality combined with Owen's resounding vocals.

The market is currently a bit over-saturated with young male solo stars, but there might be one more space left for a talent like this, if the Sheerans and the Ezras and the Smiths can scooch over just a bit.

4 stars

Lucy Mapstone

Mikey Collins – Hoick

History is dotted with drummers breaking free from rear-of-stage shackles and realising repressed rock star dreams. After Phil Collins, meet Mikey Collins, erstwhile sticksman with the London-based, Australian-accented indiepop band Allo Darlin'.

For a giddy while around the turn of this decade, that band dashed out bittersweet, impish pop mini-masterpieces at a dizzying lick. The pace slowed, then ground to a halt; life moved on.

Collins married, had a child, and now runs a studio in the Kent seaside town of Ramsgate. Hoick is his debut solo album, and its ambitions and themes are concurrently oceanic.

Collins has made a mature, pleasant pop record here, but rare are the moments where it challenges the fizzy flourishes delivered by his old band.

Where Collins looks to add a disco spin, on West Coast, the mind wanders to bands who do glitterball-indie with a more instinctive panache (The Ballet, Hidden Cameras). Elsewhere there are echoes of scene allies The School and US songwriter/arranger Matthew E White. And you'll switch to listen to them instead.

3 stars

John Skilbeck

Blue October – I Hope You're Happy

THIS Texan quintet have been around since 1995 but haven't yet made a huge impression on our market despite their successes in the US charts. They must be hoping that this, their ninth full-length album, will gain them some recognition on this side of the pond.

The album is quite a mixed bag. There is alt rock angst, Your Love Is Like A Car Crash, the radio-friendly pop of I Want To Come Back Home and Let Forever Mean Forever, a meandering piano instrumental called Remission In Cmaj and the downright edgy Colors Collide.

All in all, it is very American and in places reminiscent of The Killers. Whether it is interesting enough to attract ears closer to home is another matter.

3 stars

Steve Grantham

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