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Federal Charm - Passenger (Album Review)

Thursday, 20 September 2018 Written by Simon Ramsay

With the exception of getting a song played on prime-time radio, there are few things more challenging for a rock band than losing their lead singer. For every AC/DC with Brian Johnson there are, sadly, hundreds of groups who’ve completely nosedived once the face and voice of their operation has upped sticks. But anyone worried about the future of British blues-rockers Federal Charm can breathe a mighty sigh of relief, because they haven’t just survived their frontman’s departure, they’ve actually benefited from it on ‘Passenger’.

With all due respect to the band’s previous frontman Nick Bowden, whose soulful blues delivery was reminiscent of a more vintage era, his exit has unwittingly given Federal Charm the kind of steely contemporary edge their first two records lacked. That’s down to the arrival of Tom Guyer.

Formerly of little-known metal outfit the God Complex, Guyer’s a sensational singer who sounds pleasingly similar to Rival Sons’ Jay Buchanan as he convincingly pivots from pugilistic preacher to bruised-hearted crooner.

His character driven tales incorporate biting socio-political commentary, angst-ridden reflectiveness, cliché free romantic entanglements and score-settling takedowns, but he also tackles modern issues with a fitting sense of anger, frustration and disconsolation.

Not that he’s the only sparkling new cog in this machine. Drummer Josh Zahler has replaced Danny Rigg and brings healthy side order of tricks to the party. In tandem with the peacock proud lines of bassist L.D. Morawski, and guitarist Paul Bowe’s punchy riffs and classy textures, he’s joined an ensemble who breathe out propulsive, power-packed grooves as nonchalantly as most of us exhale carbon dioxide.

Take-no-prisoners opener Swing Sinner finds Guyer wrapping his lungs around Bowe’s stinging staccato motif as he spins a devilish, bluesy yarn about a young man who shoots his abusive alcoholic father and ends up hanging for it. Sonically resembling ‘Pressure And Time’-era Rival Sons, it’s a swaggering attention grabber that perfectly introduces Federal Charm’s new and improved sound.  

Whether they’re unleashing epic instrumental work during New Divide, or twisting acoustic delta blues into something much thrashier on Concrete Creature, there’s a dynamism throughout this record that, thanks to sagely employed tempo and mood shifts, showcases the band’s ability to seamlessly transition from one passage to the next as they tastefully build momentum.

The only problem is that, after beginning promisingly, some tracks are let down by choruses that don’t deliver the requisite soaring pay off, with Guyer merely repeating the same rather flat line on the likes of Choke and You Can’t Rule Me. This isn’t a consistent flaw, though, with Nowhere Is Home, Get Through and Halo all hitting the earworm sweet spot.

That’s something that can’t be said of Death Rattle, though. It’s an uncertain song that shows this line-up haven’t completely figured themselves out just yet. Written about local councils closing down much-loved music venues, it’s a bit of a plodder with a strangely dull and uninspiring hook. Given the subject matter, and their frontman’s sizeable attitude, the band needed to hit the accelerator, get a little punky, and deliver a vitriol drenched protest song for likeminded audiences to shout along to.

Minor teething problems aside, ‘Passenger’ is essentially a promising debut that finds Federal Charm Mark II heading in a direction that, with a few more miles under their collective belt, may take them somewhere special next time out.

Federal Charm Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Thu September 20 2018 - PONTYPRIDD Muni Arts Centre
Fri September 21 2018 - NOTTINGHAM Rock City Basement
Sat September 22 2018 - GLASGOW Classic Grand
Sun September 23 2018 - CHESTER Live Rooms
Mon September 24 2018 - MANCHESTER Deaf Institute
Wed September 26 2018 - HUDDERSFIELD Parish
Thu September 27 2018 - NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE Think Tank
Fri September 28 2018 - SHEFFIELD Corporation
Sat September 29 2018 - BIRMINGHAM O2 Institute 2
Sun September 30 2018 - LONDON Borderline

Click here to compare & buy Federal Charm Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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