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Aligning themselves with the seemingly ever-burgeoning retro blues rock scene, UK act Federal Charm are back with album number three... although, when 'Passenger' turned up for review, this is my very first experience of the band. A new name on me. In fact, I've always had a love/hate relationship with retro blues rock as it's frequently characterised by stagnant genre mimicry, where bands struggle to forge a unique identity, predominantly for the very reason they've opted to exercise their musical chops within the realm of the tried-and-tested in the first place. Incessantly, it's the genre mimicry that dominates, rather than colours, compositions. So, I have to be honest, I approached this one with my usual level of apprehension...

It was quite a refreshing delight, therefore, to discover that Federal Charm, while discernibly inspired by retro blues rock acts, have actually succeeded in crafting a sound that sets them apart from the usual imitative merchants within this scene. Firstly, their take on blues rock is actually quite heavy. Not all the way through, but when Paul Bowe's rhythm guitar kicks in with what can be, at times, a resonant and grungy distortion, it instantly adds a greater hard-hitting depth to the songs than I've come to expect from this perennially disappointing genre in the twenty first century. His leads are pretty nifty, too. Licks and solos feel organic, jammy and naturally posited within the compositions, rather than forced through any kind of blues rock compositional paradigms.

Actually, it's the non-paradigmatic nature of the songs on 'Passenger', and the natural flow in how they've been reified through some fine musicianship, by five guys that sound naturally cohesive in their collective performances, that sets Federal Charm apart. Nothing feels forced or contrived here. Apparently, drummer Josh Zahler and vocalist Tom Guyer are both new to the band for this release. I can't comment in comparative terms against the band's previous lineup and material, but along with Bowe, bassist L.D. Morawski, and keys/guitar guy Kyle Ross, this latest incarnation of Federal Charm are a rather potent quintet. Apart from Bowe's fretboard work, Guyer also stands out here, with a voice that's full of character, grit and timbre as he weaves some ever-interesting melodies over the instrumentations.

With a great production that's as organic sounding as the compositions and performances themselves, and a well-balanced mix that brings everything together with spot-on levels, 'Passenger' is a very strong album from a bunch of guys that indubitably have a ton of natural talent, both individually and collectively. A refreshing kick up the arse of an all too often self-imitative, retro blues rock scene. Definitely a name to keep an eye on in the future.
Review by Mark Holmes
14th Sept 2018
1) Swing Sinner
2) Choke
3) Emerald Haze
4) Death Rattle
5) Nowhere is Home
6) Get Through
7) Concrete Creature
8) Can't Rule Me
9) Halo
10) Speak Out
11) Parting Words
"A refreshing kick up the arse of an all too often self-imitative, retro blues rock scene."