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Old 10-31-2012, 06:40 PM   #1571 (permalink)
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Vengeance descending --- Crystal Eyes --- 2003 (Heavy Fidelity)


An album I had originally slated for “Bitesize”, this turned out to be so good in the course of my listening to the first few tracks that I decided it deserved a place here. Formed in Sweden in 1992, Crystal Eyes have currently six albums, of which this is the third. Their last was in 2008, but there's talk of a new one soon, so fingers crossed! The last copy I had was corrupted, but even then I got a real sense of listening to something special, so I've bought it again from a different source.

The title track opens proceedings with a phrase which is I'm sorry going to dog this review, and it's Iron Maiden. I can't help it: the guitars sound very Maidenesque, the melodies on occasion border on rip-off without quite hitting that ground, and it's thoroughly enjoyable metal all the way. At least vocalist Mikael Dahl sounds nothing like Dickinson, with his own style even though he does imitate the “air-raid siren” a lot. It's a fast and powerful opener, heavy but very melodic, putting me in mind also of Nightscape, whose only album “Symphony of the night” I reviewed a long time ago. There's a certain military style that creeps into the song close to the end, and it sort of (sort of) slows down, but refreshingly though this is an instrumental section it's not peppered by mad guitar solos or shredding, with the two guitars working very well together.

A deep, throaty bassline from Claes Wikander starts “Highland revenge”, soon joined by the twin guitar attack of Jonathan Nyberg and Dahl, in a semi-historical tale of vengeance that Manowar would be proud of --- well, what was it the title said was descending, after all? Some great thunderous drumming courtesy of Stefan Svantesson, and a really nice little guitar breather in the middle, what sounds like keys but I don't see any credit for those. Oh wait: I see from my friends Encylopaedia Metallum that Dahl plays the keyboards too. Rather embarrassingly, he then yells “Freedom!” Uh yeah, Mikael: how many times have you watched “Braveheart”, exactly? Possibly a little off for a band from Scandinavia to be singing about Scottish independence, but then, stranger subjects have been covered, and it's a decent rocker with a lot of heart, and a great chorus: very anthemic.

A nice gentle little intro to “Mr. Failure”, but it doesn't last as the guitars toughen up and the song gets going and is a good power anthem with another great chorus ... hold on a minute! They're singing “Mr. Failure” in the next track! So that means, uh, the titles got fecked about. Thanks a lot, Megaboon! I paid a dollar for this? Right, I'll have to look back and see what track I was talking about, then. As it goes, “Mr. Failure” is great fun, a fast, rock and rolling beast that just doesn't care and doesn't in any way take itself seriously. It's followed by “Dream chaser”, which has a guitar opening perhaps just a little too close to a famous song by Guns n Roses, but is pretty damn great, with a more Maidenesque sound coming through as the track gets going, and the drums roll out a pretty decent attempt on “Die with your boots on”. Sorry guys, but the comparisons just can't be overlooked.

Oh, it seems the track I thought, or was led to believe, was “Mr. Failure” originally is called “Child of rock”. Well, that's what happens when you're too poor to shell out for the CD. Also, watching porn while trying to do a review is not really recommended. Really must get my eyes tested. Anyway... on we go, and “Dream chaser” has another fistful of hooks and a great chorus, and a truly excellent guitar solo from Nyberg. This takes us into the longest track, seven minutes plus of “The wizard's apprentice”, on which for some reason session vocalist Daniel Nieman, best known for his work with Lost Horizon and Heed, takes the mike. I have to say, good as the song is, I don't see any really appreciable difference between his vocals and Mikael Dahl's, not so much that there should be any reason the regular singer couldn't do this song. Perhaps there were other reasons.

Nice guitar work too, but what comes through most powerfully is the earthquake drumming of Svantesson, which really drives the track and gives it an even heavier edge than the ones that I have already heard up to this. “Metal crusade”, as you might expect, keeps things hard and heavy, marching along on a robust guitar line with Dahl back on vocals, and it's another of those “rock will never die” songs that are generally quite funny, depending on how seriously the band are taking themselves. ”Heavy metal roars in our brains/ Heavy metal runs in our veins!” Uh, yeah.

Another marching, military style rhythm and more Maiden tricks on “The beast in velvet” --- I assume they're not talking about Eddie! --- No, it's the tale of a degenerate aristocrat who seems to enjoy hunting people, safe from any sort of legal repercussions as he is one of the wealthy and privileged, and therefore protected and untouchable. Great solos from both Dahl and Nyberg, and some nice noodling on the frets too, then we're into “Heart of the mountain”, which has a touch of the Gary Moores about it, definite celtic feel, perhaps harking back to “Highland revenge”, with again some great guitar interplay between Dahl and Nyberg: they really work well together.

The album closes on the oddly-named “Oblivion in the visionary world”, and no, I have no idea what it means, though looking at the lyric it seems perhaps it may be about death or the afterlife, and facing same. Either way, it's a nice laidback respite from all the mad power-metal which, great as it is, tends to get the tiniest bit wearing at times. Oh, and I'm wrong: this is far and away the longest track, almost nine minutes long. Some exquisite and heartfelt guitar work from Nyberg and a beautiful solo from Dahl as his axe partner keeps the main melody: just lovely. Oh wait, once again I'm wrong. The song ends before the six minute mark and then there's silence for a minute or so, then some mad “Muppet Show”-type jam comes in for a few seconds and it's over. Exceedingly weird. But a damn fine album, and a band I need to hear more from.

TRACKLISTING

1. Vengeance descending
2. Highland revenge
3. Child of rock
4. Mr. Failure
5. Dream chaser
6. The wizard's apprentice
7. Metal crusade
8. The beast in velvet
9. Heart of the mountain
10. Oblivion in the visionary world
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Old 11-03-2012, 04:18 PM   #1572 (permalink)
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Okay, so who have we not slagged off so far? So many countries, so little time... Ooh I know! What about Hungary? Sure, they only entered the contest for the first time in 1994, but that's no reason to exclude them. In fact... here's their very first entry, which rather amazingly came fourth. Not bad for your first try! I have to say, it's a damn fine song: quite folky and the acoustic guitar really suits the mood of the music. Sung by a lady called Friderika Bayer, it's actually more indicative of the kind of songs that countries like this used to enter into the contest, before they all started going pop and dancy, so that now they pretty much all sound the same, whether they're sung in English or in their native language.

Seems Hungary never managed to win the Eurovision, but bringing songs of this calibre into the contest they must surely be credited, at least partially, with raising the bar for future years. There was a time when you could watch the Eurovision and actually get a flavour of what each country's national music was like; even if you couldn't understand what they were singing about, it was still an experience. Now, it's just all so much X Factor rubbish mostly, with the only difference being that it may be sung in another language. But you can't even be sure of that anymore.

So though we're dedicated to slagging off the worst of the worst in this section, as I picked this at random and had never heard it before, let's hear it for Hungary, who in 1994 brought a sense of magic and class to the Eurovision Song Contest.

1994 --- Hungary --- “Kinek mondjam el vétkeimet (Who will be there?)” by Friderika Bayer

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Old 11-04-2012, 03:48 PM   #1573 (permalink)
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I really liked your Dio review, but I would conclude that probably through no real fault of his own, that Dio on two ocassions was in a band (Rainbow and Black Sabbath) that were good enough for his awesome vocal talents and by the time he decided to go solo, he would never be able to reach the heights of what he had achieved with either of those two bands. Apart from his solo debut which is a very good album, the rest of his solo discography was mostly just average metal fanfare (based on the albums that I've heard)
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If you can't deal with the fact that there are 6+ billion people in the world and none of them think exactly the same that's not my problem. Just deal with it yourself or make actual conversation. This isn't a court and I'm not some poet or prophet that needs everything I say to be analytically critiqued.
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Old 11-05-2012, 05:17 AM   #1574 (permalink)
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I'd agree with you up to a point. I think every metal head has "Holy diver" in their collection, and it is one of the seminal metal albums of that period. I don't think I know anyone, who's into metal, who has a bad word to say about it. Personally, I think it and "The last in line" form the apex of Dio's achievements, and from there on he began to slide into not quite mediocrity, but a far lower level of quality. Maybe it was the brilliance of those two albums that did for him: people expected the third one to be as good (I know I did) and it wasn't, then the fourth was, let's be honest, pretty average and after that, up until I think "Killing the dragon", he released a fairly okay but nothing special slew of albums that totally failed to capitalise on the success of "Holy diver" and "The last in line".

I guess you could pull tracks from most of the albums and make up one decent one (excepting HD and TLIL), but that's not really good enough, is it? After releasing, what, ten albums, there should have been at least a glimmer of the spark that fired the debut, but by and large there wasn't. I really consider his later solo career a missed opportunity, and the disappointment of the third and fourth albums led to my stopping buying any new material from him, something I only started doing again a year or so ago. I didn't feel I'd missed much.
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Old 11-05-2012, 03:10 PM   #1575 (permalink)
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Lions and Tygers and Bares, oh my! Still to come...

In order both to give my readers (that's you lot) a preview of what's next for review, and really to push myself to make sure that I get off my arse and actually do the reviews, I'm going to publish a “coming next” list each Monday, detailing what albums are going to be reviewed that week. I'll then do my damndest to stick to that.

At the moment, the new albums I have for review are from Marillion, Big Big Train, Steve Harris, Hostsonaten, Magnum, Jadis, Ten, Susannah Hoffs, Tygers of Pan-Tang, Imagine Dragons, Freedom Call, Deacon Blue, Tony Banks, Barenaked Ladies, Winter Tree, Neal Morse, School of Seven Bells, Mystery, Ritchie Sambora, Nanci Griffith, Status Minor, The Script, Kamelot, ZZ Top, Wolfsbane, Two Door Cinema Club and more.

Some of these will find their way into “Bitesize”, so if you don't see albums slated for review in a particular week here, then you'll find them, well, there. Naturally, life may intrude and prevent me fulfilling my intentions every week, but insofar as I can I want to try to stick to this schedule, as I'd like to get through all of these before the new year rolls around, assuming we don't all die near the end of December, thank you very much Mayan civilisation!

So then: the schedule for this week, ending November 11, in no particular order is:
British Lion by Steve Harris
The hipsters by Deacon Blue
Someday by Susannah Hoffs
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Chapter One by Hostsonaten
See right through you by Jadis
Night visions by Imagine Dragons
Ambush by Tygers of Pan-Tang
Land of the crimson dawn by Freedom Call

If someone would prefer an album mentioned reviewed before others, let me know. I'm easy, as long as I get through them, but there's no reason you should have to wait longer than you have to for an album you want to see reviewed. Hey, I'm just a nice guy, y'know?
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Old 11-06-2012, 09:23 AM   #1576 (permalink)
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Note: now that we're in November, I'm still trying to get through the backlog of new albums I have, so for the next two months I'll be reviewing these almost exclusively. The odd old one might sneak in, but generally I'll be working to try to clear the decks in advance of 2013's new crop, so with that in mind I won't be identifying them by “Meanwhile, back in the real world” here, or indeed “Realworld Bitesize”, er, there. You know, in “Bitesize”, my other journal? They'll just be albums I'm reviewing, but all --- or at least 90% --- from this year. With that in mind...

The lion sleeps tonight. Sort of.

British Lion --- Steve Harris --- 2012 (EMI)


Yeah, that Steve Harris. The one from Iron Maiden. The one who formed Iron Maiden, indeed, the only surviving member of the original lineup. You would probably say “about time”, what with Bruce Dickinson now on his sixth solo album, but there's an interesting story behind this. Seems that all the way back in the nineties Steve was mentoring a band who impressed him called, wait for it, British Lion. He kept in touch with them after they split up, writing with/for them whenever he got a break from Maiden's heavy recording and touring schedule, and this is basically the result. So really, it's not a Steve Harris solo album at all: it should really be called “British Lion” by British Lion, but no doubt the usage of the Iron Maiden bass player on the sleeve will attract much more interest than it would had it just been marketed as from the band British Lion.

That said, Harris is well involved, writing, producing and of course playing bass on the album, but if you think you're finally going to hear what the shy guy behind the four-string sounds like singing, you're out of luck, as he remains behind his beloved bass guitar, handing over all vocal duties to Richard “Ritchie” Taylor, original member of the band, while the guitar duties are split between Graham Leslie, erstwhile member, and David Hawkins, Taylor's new man on the axe. I admit I'm a small bit disappointed, reading the background now, as I had initially assumed this was a new project of Harris's own, but nevertheless what I've heard of it to date sounds good, so let's give it the old once-over, shall we?

There's wah-wah guitar from the off in the opener, “This is my god”, then the music drops almost completely away to introduce Taylor's vocals, which though strong without the music it has to be said are not that powerful when the full band kicks in. Decent guitar work, and of course as it's being touted as Harris's own solo effort (if only for marketing purposes) his bass is quite prominent in the mix, possibly moreso than on most Iron Maiden albums. But is it more Iron Maiden-lite than British Lion? Well, from the first track I'd say no; in fact, someone hearing this on the radio would not equate it with Maiden at all. It's nowhere as heavy, hardly metal at all, and indeed Harris states it looks back more towards the seventies hard rock of bands like UFO and The Who than coming anywhere near his own band. That's good in its own way: a new Maiden album would be nice, but it's also gratifying to see a solo artist properly stretching themselves beyond their usual influences and styles.

But I wouldn't say I'm too impressed even at that. The opener is good yes, but I don't see anything terribly great about it, and as the album goes on Taylor's somewhat ineffectual vocal starts to grate a little. The production is also quite muddy, odd given that an experienced hand like Harris is at the helm. And it's not just the vocal, though that is certainly below par: almost all of the instruments sound pushed too far down into the mix. Yeah, all except the bass. Hmmm. There's a quite Iron Maiden refrain to the chorus in “Lost worlds”, and you could almost imagine Bruce singing this, in fact I wonder if it might make an appearance on the next tour, touted as a Steve Harris solo song? Wouldn't be that surprised.

There's also an Iron Maidenesque bass-led instrumental ending to this song, but I must admit it's one of the better ones on the album. Things rock out in no uncertain fashion then for “Karma killer”, David Hawkins's growling guitar getting a good run out here, as he shows why Taylor decided to hook up with him after the initial breakup of British Lion, when he and Leslie went their separate ways. There's also a certain eastern influence to the melody here, something quite indicative of the writing Steve Harris has done, particularly on albums like “Piece of mind” and “Powerslave” for Maiden. Another thing only recently utilised, with varying levels of success, on Maiden albums has been keyboards, but here British Lion (you can't really say Steve Harris; it's not just him) use them quite well on the intro to “Us against the world”, though the guitar melody is classic Maiden. Must say, Taylor's voice sounds much better on this; perhaps it's when he pushes too hard that it falls short, as here he's quite restrained and it works well.

The next track is the only one on the album written by just Taylor with Harris, and features the first contribution of original British Lion guitarists Graham Leslie and Barry Fitzgibbons, and I have to say it's “Seventh son of a seventh son” Maiden, almost a copy of parts of the melody from songs like “Only the good die young” and “The evil men do”. It's a good rocker though, and “The chosen ones” is also the second longest track, just under six and a half minutes, with also a curious element of Dave Edmunds' “Girls Talk” in there, then the longest on the album, running for two seconds over seven minutes, is the only one on which all previous members of the band, plus one other, all collaborate.

“A world without Heaven” has a big hard guitar intro, then powers into a very Maidenesque melody, but with an almost soft chiming guitar line behind Taylor's vocal, again featuring the twin guitar attack of Leslie and Fitzgibbons, the second of three tracks recorded with them before the breakup of the original band. It's again a song you could imagine Maiden performing onstage, and would fit in quite well with their current themes and repertoire and image. British Lion though could certainly do with a stronger singer, and I find myself wondering if Steve has released this album as a) a promise kept to Taylor about helping him make it big or b) an easy vehicle upon which to launch his own solo career? Although in fairness, he does state that he doesn't see this album as a solo project, more a side project. Not sure what the difference is really, but I think what he's saying is that he's not planning to leave Maiden any time soon, unlike Dickinson, who left to pursue a solo career and then later came back to the fold. Iron Maiden is Steve Harris's first love, and it looks like he's planning to remain faithful to her.

Probably the most, indeed only, progressively-leaning track on the album, it's also one of the standouts, though one of the heaviest tracks comes as David Hawkins makes his return on guitar with “Judas”. Again though I have to say Ritchie Taylor's vocals are just not up to the job, and you have to wonder if Steve had chosen to assemble another band, or at least recruit a different vocalist --- or do the job himself --- if this album might have been better? I guess you have to say fair play to him for keeping faith with his old comrades though, it's just a pity they're not as good as he seems to think they are. Well, that's unfair: the guitar playing is great and the drumming is, well, the drumming, and with Steve himself taking bass, new guy Hawkins on keys, it could have been a very tight-knit band, but it really is let down by Taylor's weak and almost ineffectual singing.

“Eyes of the young” is the last track on the album to feature the original guitarists, and rocks along really nicely with an almost commercial melody, even Taylor's vocals almost rising to the occasion, and if there is to be a single from this album then I would pick this. I could see it doing quite well on radio: it's just heavy enough to appeal to metal fans (and Harris's name being associated with the project should already have them on board) and light and airplay-friendly enough to have one foot in the AOR camp, even edging close to pop, dare I say it? No I don't, but definitely the most instantly memorable song on the album, and British Lion/Steve Harris's best chance for a hit single. “These are the hands” takes things much further back into the 70s, with influences from the likes of Free and Bad Company, a big heavy grinding guitar sound against a general Maiden melody, and we close on “The lesson”.

Perhaps (and I know this is going to sound unkind but anyway) the lesson is that there's no room for friendship in business, or at least that friendship should not define business? I really feel Steve slipped up here, allowing Ritchie Taylor to take the vocals when he clearly is not up to it. On some tracks he comes close, but generally speaking he seems to be straining to be heard once the music gets going in earnest, and with another singer I think British Lion, as in here, the second incarnation, or third if you prefer, could have been much more of a force than I feel they will end up being. Maybe I'm wrong, and they'll go down hugely and everyone will love them, but as a showcase for a solo effort for Steve Harris I feel this will be a rather large disappointment for many Iron Maiden fans.

Of course, quite likely that Harris was not looking for those sort of fans, and was trying to do something different. That's certainly achieved with the closer, a ballad of all things, on soft acoustic guitar and lush strings keyboards, an acceptable backdrop for Taylor's voice, as he doesn't have to stretch or push to be heard, the music very laidback and gentle, some beautiful piano from Hawkins rippling along the melody, and “The lesson” laying claim to release as a single also, and forming an unexpected and very different ending to this, Steve Harris's first steps into the world of solo performance.

TRACKLISTING

1. This is my god
2. Lost worlds
3. Karma killer
4. Us against the world
5. The chosen ones
6. A world without Heaven
7. Judas
8. The eyes of the young
9. These are the hands
10. The lesson

In the end though, I'm left a little perplexed. Is this to be seen as a solo effort from Steve Harris, or is he just helping out the band he mentored in the nineties? The fact that the album is called “British Lion” and that the same name applies to the band, or did, is confusing. I think maybe if it had been “British Lion featuring Steve Harris”, or “Steve Harris and British Lion”, I would have been more sure of how to approach the album. As it is, I'm left with a dilemma: do I review this as the first solo album from the Maiden bassist, or as a band featuring him? It's hard to say, but if it's to be seen as his first solo effort, then in general, and on balance, I think it's something of a disappointment.

Not so much a savage bite from the British Lion really; more a scratch from the British Kitten.
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Last edited by Trollheart; 11-06-2012 at 12:49 PM.
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Old 11-06-2012, 08:01 PM   #1577 (permalink)
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Nice one TH! Not only do I love the Art of Noise/Tom Jones version of "Kiss" and think it's about a million times better than the original, but believe it or not, I can sing it pretty well so it's my go to track whenever I'm somewhere there's karaoke going on.
I think I speak for everyone when I say, we need to see this on youtube.


Glad to see you're journal is still kicking Trollheart! I've been reading a bit on the last few pages, and hope to be leaving a worthwhile comment soon. Glad you're keeping it up.
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Old 11-07-2012, 05:12 AM   #1578 (permalink)
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Thanks nsw! Nice to see you wandering through my journal again, you're always welcome...
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Old 11-07-2012, 06:17 AM   #1579 (permalink)
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I think I speak for everyone when I say, we need to see this on youtube.
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25 Albums You Should Hear Before the Moon Crashes into the Earth and We All Die


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Old 11-07-2012, 02:56 PM   #1580 (permalink)
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When I started researching this edition originally, I was more than a little surprised to find that there were only about three songs I could find that fit the bill. However, digging deeper I unearthed more, and now I almost have too many. It's a familiar theme, though not one that comes up all that often, but it has been treated several different ways by several different artistes, so let's have a look at some of them here.

Family man (Mike Oldfield) from “Five miles out”


Spoiler for Mike Oldfield:

One of the very few hits Oldfield had in his career, and as such, again atypical in that it's a non-instrumental. Mike Oldfield of course made his name on the back of his multi-talent on just about every instrument you can name (and probably also some you can't), with his big breakthrough coming in the continuous symphony “Tubular bells”, for which he will always be best remembered. He did occasionally use some vocalists on his albums though, most notably Maggie Reilly on the hit “Moonlight shadow”, and here again on this. The song was later covered by Hall & Oates, but as that's the same song we won't be looking at it here, and have gone for the original.

Family man (Fleetwood Mac) from “Tango in the night”


Spoiler for Fleetwood Mac:

A massive comeback album for Fleetwood Mac, who had not seen any real success since 1982's “Mirage”, this put them back on the map and gave them a whole new lease of life, yielding no less than five hit singles, of which this was the last, and least successful. Still a great song though.

Family man (Colin Hay) from “Gathering mercury”

Spoiler for Colin Hay:

Never heard of him, you say? Ah, but what if I were to sing thusly: “I come from a land down under...”? Yeah, he's one of those Men at Work, who were so popular in the eighties, but he's apparently had a moderately successful solo career stretching back to 1987, and this is from his current, and indeed eleventh solo album. Wow. Talk about a man at work! (Sorry)

Family man (James Taylor) from “In the pocket”


Spoiler for James Taylor:

A legend who's had other songs with “man” in the title, such as “Company man” and “Handy man”, this song appears near the end of Taylor's 1976 album.

Family man (Black Flag) from “Family man”


Spoiler for Black Flag:

Punk is certainly not something that makes its way into my journal often, if ever, and certainly not hardcore punk, but I'm intrigued by this. Utilising only spoken vocals by Henry Rollins, it's, well, let's say it's different... Damn scary, with a pretty terrifying message at the end, if you get it. Just listen to the anger in that voice.

Family man (Craig Campbell) from “Craig Campbell”

Spoiler for Craig Campbell:

And to finish, to quote Monty Python, now for something completely different! This is country singer Craig Campbell, from his debut self-titled album released only last year, and in fact the first single taken from that album.
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