By Rick Tilley (Metal Discovery)
You may not know the name Ian James Stewart, but you may well have heard of Strangeways, the fabulous band he has played guitar and been chief songwriter for since the 1980s. Ian is also a multi-instrumentalist, producer and vocalist and 'Junk DNA' is a solo album full to the brim with atmosphere and emotion; in fact, it feels like he really put his heart and soul into recording this.
According to the accompanying press release, 'Junk DNA' should be filed under blues rock, but I feel to do such a thing would be an incredible disservice to both Ian and the album. Whilst blues does play a part, there is so much more to enjoy here. Prog & melodic rock, jazz, folk, soul...the list goes on. Opening with the title track, 'Junk DNA' gets off to a great start. This is one of the tracks which has more of a bluesy feel to it, but I was also reminded of 'Crest Of A Knave' era Jethro Tull, which was a pleasant surprise; however, it is following track 'Phosphorus' that gives me shivers when listening. This is eight minutes plus of pure magic and the influence of Steve Hogarth and 'Season's End' era Marillion shine through. It is a wonderful, wonderful piece of music with fabulous, emotional lyrics, vocals, keyboards and guitar work. This is worth the price of admission on its own and really sets the scene for a beautifully laidback and haunting body of work.
'Big White Monkey' has a real southern, swampy swagger to it and sounds like early Joe Bonamassa (before he started releasing albums every five minutes). 'Path Of Lightning' and 'So Far, So Good' also have a Steve Hogarth feel, but coupled with It Bites circa the 'Eat Me In St. Louis' album and the guitar work here, and on much of the album, has a tone and quality that David Gilmour would be proud of. For proof of that guitar genius then check out 'Heaven Knows' and the sublime 'If This Is Life'! 'No Water' also adds Paul Simon to the mix and 'Know Is Nothing' solo era Fish. Now, I know I'm referencing lots of people, but I'm not suggesting Ian James Stewart has copied anyone, just that those artists and albums are ones which mean a lot to me, for various reasons, and 'Junk DNA' creates similar feelings.
This is a long album, (75 minutes plus) so you do have to be in the right mood to listen to it all in one go, but when that happens you will be rewarded. There are also two tracks which didn't quite hit the mark for me on first listen. 'Charlie Parker' is not a bad track but it's just not on my wavelength and final track 'When U Love Somebody'. Now that is actually a great song and it has grown on me tremendously, but here lead vocals are taken by Canterbury Scene and Soft Machine legend Robert Wyatt. His singing is instantly recognisable but they have a very different feel to what has gone before which can be slightly jarring at first; of course, it is just a bonus song.
Overall, 'Junk DNA' feels like a very introspective work, that's just my opinion , but it is ultimately a joyous experience, for this listener at any rate. I will point out that this isn't going to be for everybody who comes to Metal Discovery looking for their dose of metal or hard rock but, in an era where that bastion of trash Simon Cowell seems to have inflicted mind control over the population, talent this fantastic really shouldn't go unnoticed.