Travelin Jack – ‘Commencing Countdown’ (Steamhammer/SPV) Print E-mail
CD Reviews
Written by Mark Ashby   
Thursday, 28 September 2017 04:40

Travelin-Jack Commencing-Countdown webBerlin retro rockers Travelin Jack take great steps to try and emphasize that they are not, in fact, a “retro” band. Despite openly admitting to drawing on the well of Seventies-era Thin Lizzy, Rush (obviously in their pre-‘2012’ prog out days), fellow countrymen Scorpions (again, obviously in their Uli Jon Roth incarnation), Slade (before they sold out to the commercial TOTP-driven hit machine), guitarist Flo Kraemer goes to enormous lengths to stress that “there’s nothing retro about our sound”, adding that “we simply prefer the sound of an era when this music was really wicked”. Fair enough, dude – but retro is retro is retro and, whether they like it or not, Travelin Jack are going to be filed very quickly under that very category. And their cause isn’t exactly aided or abetted by their image – huge platform boots, feather boas and Starchild-meets-Starman-meets-Bolan glittery make-up galore!


Now, it’s inevitable that any band is going to get comparisons with either predecessors or contemporaries, and the first that jumps to the front of my mind as the opening bars of ‘Land Of The River’ is another group of their fellow countrymen – Blues Pills. Alia Spaceface’s opening vocal crescendo invokes the sound of Elin Larsson, as well as summoning the spirit of Janis: her lush delivery also reminds immediately of the incredible, and hugely underrated Lynne Jackaman. None of this is meant in a negative way, because if you’re going to be compared to anyone else, it may as well be three of the best there was and is. And this woman sure has a helluva set of pipes on her: a tremendous range combined with the ability to hold both a note and a melody, aided by a stunning production which draws her performance to the fore, with the rest of the band very much playing the supporting role to her leading lady performance (they openly admit to tailoring their sound to her vocals).


Talking of the music, there’s nothing really surprising going on: the rhythms – courtesy of Steve Burner and Montgomery Shell (and there’s nothing retro about those stage names, is there?) on bass and drums respectively – are thick and beefy, while Kraemer (or ‘Flo The Fly’) lays down some extremely neat, crunchy riffs, combined with some superb melodies and precisely interjected solos: unlike his comrades in the aforementioned Blues Pills, he doesn’t stray too far from the conformative path, concentrating on adding to the overall feel and impact of the songs rather than disappearing off at widdly-wankery tangents just for the sake of it.



Travelin Jack also prove that they can write a bloody good hit song. Lead single ‘Keep On Running’ has an infectious groove which bumps and grinds with the sort of innocent double entendre in which bands like Slade and T-Rex specialized, combined with the heaviness of Byron-era Uriah Heep and UFO around the time of Schenker’s first stint. In fact, the UFO comparisons continue with ‘Cold Blood’, as the riff initially reminds of that of ‘Doctor Doctor’ before evolving into a more ‘In Trance’-era Scorps slice of thumping psychedelia.


There’s something criminally familiar about ‘Galactic Blue’ that I can’t quite put my finger on: I’ve heard that riff, that vocal phrasing somewhere before, but I just can’t place it on my musical map. Not that it matters, as it’s familiarity embraces you before it disappears off in a weird space-rock third-quarter that reminds of Hawkwind at their least trippiest. ‘Time’ sees the band approach their bluesiest, with Alia’s haunting, deliberately jarring, vocal over a simple hook before the song explodes like a rampant supernova, ejaculating its spunky, infectious hook all over your eardrums and into your dirty rock ‘n’ roll soul with its gradually evolving heaviness, culminating in a scream that will haunt your dreams for days afterwards.


‘Miracles’, by way of complete contrast, is punky and punchy, with Spaceface managing to evoke both Debbie Harry and Stevie Nicks in a single breath – and, yes, that is Mac’s ‘The Chain’ blatantly ripped off at just over a minute in! Cheeky sods. ‘What Have I Done’ is the closest the album comes to a ballad, with another boisterously bluesy vocal from Alia, which is both laconic and melancholic, and a superbly structured last third. ‘Fire’ contains another of those riffs I’ve heard before – but, hell, there’s nothing new in this dirty old game we call rock ‘n’ roll – while the song ebbs and flows like a moontide, moving between a ‘Whole Lotta Love’-style Zep crunch and a Free-style swagger, while closer ‘Journey To The Moon’ is perfect in its placing, strutting like Bolan and pouting like Jagger while punching with the weight of Kossoff jamming with Page, while Alia’s vocal just drips from the speakers with a lascivious “do you want more, boy?” sense of anticipation that makes you immediately hit repeat…


As I’ve intimated, ‘Commencing Countdown’ does not offer anything new to the rock ‘n’ roll canon. It does offer authenticity in its creators’ love of the music which they are attempting, quite successfully, to recreate. Regular readers will know that I hate the whole “retro” tag: music should be fresh and relevant, yet respectful to the past that brought it to this point in time. Travelin Jack, by and large, have achieved that goal.


‘Commencing Countdown’ is out now.


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