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It’s new music time as entertainment editor John Turnbull checks out new albums from American Idol Kelly Clarkson, Scottish rockers Biffy Clyro, nu-metal survivors Papa Roach and Southern bluesmen JJ Grey and Mofro.

New Album from a New Artist

Kelly Clarkson – Piece by Piece

WINNER OF the first series of perennial karaoke contest American Idol, Kelly Clarkson has done the best of all Idol alumni, establishing a strong career based on her fantastic voice, down-to-earth attitude and ear for a catchy hook.

She also seems to be a really nice person, which doesn’t hurt.

Following her Idol win in 2002, Clarkson released her debut album Thankful in 2003, containing the hit single Miss Independent. She followed up the next year with Breakaway, which included the international mega-hit Since U Been Gone. A new album and more hits followed every couple of years, with My December in 2006, All I Ever Wanted in 2008 and Stronger in 2011. Every album she released included at least one hit song, and Clarkson worked hard to ensure that she took advantage of every press opportunity put in front of her.

In 2012 she released Greatest Hits – Chapter One as well as a Christmas album called Wrapped In Red, which goes to prove that even talented artists aren’t above cashing in on the season. Piece by Piece is Kelly Clarkson’s seventh studio album, and includes contributions from John Legend, Sia, Bonnie McKee and composer Joseph Trapanese. The first single from the album is Heartbeat Song, an upbeat track likely to stick in your head.

The rest of Piece by Piece is pretty much what you would expect from Kelly Clarkson; outstanding vocals, lyrics about female empowerment, vaguely generic rock backing tracks and an overall earnest vibe – Clarkson really believes the positive words that she’s singing, and she wants you to believe them too.

Best tracks: Heartbeat Song, Run Run Run (feat. John Legend), War Paint 

Sample Lyric: ‘Cause we would be beautiful, without our war paint.’ (War Paint)

Verdict: 7/10 — a poppy album with a positive message, sung by a great voice. Could do with a little more variety on the musicianship front, but a strong effort nonetheless.

New Album from an Old Artist

Biffy Clyro – Similarities

B-side albums are often a crap-shoot — for every collection of hidden gems like Incesticide (Nirvana) or Louder Than Bombs (The Smiths), you get rubbish like a My Heart Will Always be the B-Side to My Tongue (Fall Out Boy) or Retro Active (Def Leppard). Similarities is Biffy Clyro’s second B-Side album, following the 2010 website only release Lonely Revolutions.

Comprised of singer/guitarist Simon Neil, singer/bassist James Johnston and his twin brother singer/drummer Ben Johnston, Biffy Clyro are a  Scottish band who have released 6 studio albums, at least 3 of which are listenable. Formed in Kilmarnock, Scotland, Biffy Clyro started their career playing discordant math-rock for three albums before realizing the value of a catchy hook with their 2007 album Puzzle and singles Saturday Superhouse, Semi Mental and Living is a Problem Because Everything Dies.

The bands growing success was given a boost by the 2009 release of Only Revolutions, including the hit singles Mountains and The Captain. This was a heavier album than Puzzle, with influences from bands like Kyuss and Tool, and set the band on a long period of touring including support gigs for stadium rock acts including Muse and Foo Fighters.

Similarities is a companion album to 2013’s Opposites, which was Biffy Clyro’s first number one on the British Album charts. Much like that album, Similarities is full of catchy tunes with shifting time signatures and obscure lyrics. Not bad by any means, but not very likely to attract too many new fans to the Biffy Bandwagon.

Standout tracks: Milky, Wooden Souvenir

Sample lyric: ‘As my lover comes to bed, she looks fine I look a mess, time to put my clothes on.’ (Milky)

Verdict: 7/10 — good for existing fans of Biffy Clyro, newcomers are encouraged to pick up Opposites or Only Revolutions first.

Album I Expect to Suck

Papa Roach – F.E.A.R.

Born in the fires of the mid-nineties Nu-Metal revolution, Papa Roach were one of those bands who never really got much respect from the mainstream press. While their fans were true believers, many popular music fans dismissed Papa Roach as a poor man’s Limp Bizkit, who were in turn a poor man’s Korn.

Led by singer/shouter Jacoby Shaddix, Papa Roach formed in Vacaville, California in 1993. Back then Shaddix called himself Coby Dick, because that’s a totally badass name, right, and the band spent 7 years struggling in obscurity before the breakout success of 2000 album Infest. Featuring the singles Last Resort, Broken Home and Dead Cell, the album sold over 7 million copies and catapulted the band to mid-level stardom, securing them a semi-permanent slot at heavy music festivals around the world.

Fifteen years and half a dozen albums later, Papa Roach haven’t changed very much. Shaddix is still shouting vaguely emo lyrics over simple nu-metal riffs, the band are still chugging along in the background, and now and again they happen upon a vaguely catchy tune.

In case you were wondering, F.E.A.R. stands for Face Everything And Rise. If you’re one of those people who really likes both acronyms and nineties nu-metal, this is the album for you!

Standout tracks: Face Everything And Rise, Hope for the Hopeless   

Sample lyric: ‘We’re only getting sicker from the secrets we hide.’  (Broken As Me)

Verdict: 5/10 — predictable and a bit out of date but not actively awful

Ch-Check It Out…

JJ Grey & Mofro – Ol’ Glory

While the exact origins of Mofro are lost in the sands of time, JJ Grey put the band together some time back in the nineties in Jacksonville, Florida. Playing a mix of Southern rock, roots and blues, Mofro released their debut album Blackwater in 2001, following up in 2004 with Lochloosa. Both albums told stories of the area that JJ Grey grew up, lamenting the destruction of the natural landscape by the inevitable advances of industry.

For third album Country Ghetto, the band changed their name to JJ Grey and Mofro, supposedly at the prompting of Grey’s grandmother. Under the new moniker they continued to build a fan base with albums like Orange Blossoms (2008), Georgia Warhorse (2010) and The River (2013). While accomplished in the studio, many fans would argue that the band’s real strength lies on the stage.

New album Ol’ Glory goes some way to capture that stage magic, bringing a live feel to a number of the tracks. The upbeat, brass driven opening track Everything is a Song kicks off the set with a relaxed, positive vibe which recurs through the album, tempered with more a soulful feel on songs like The Hurricane and The Island. 

Unashamedly American, although not necessarily in a flag-waving sort of way, Ol’ Glory is the sound of a band in its prime. If you want more of a taster, non-album track Day Three Jam is available as a free download from jjgrey.com 

Standout tracks: Every Minute, Everything is a Song, The Hurricane

Sample lyric: ‘I tried so hard to be the person that everybody thought I was.’ (Every Minute)

Verdict: 8/10 – worth a listen for anyone who appreciates Southern Rock

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