The Loaded Dice

Hindsight of a Brand New Soul. A Poor Man's Prophecy

Locations are always important. Consider The Loaded Dice. Until July 2011, a tight young blues rock unit locked in the idyllic if somewhat dreamy town of Dolgellau, Gwynedd. Settled there, beneath the moody shadows of Cadair Idris and besieged by beer guzzling hikers in summer, The Loaded Dice – although they will undoubtedly dispute this – mapped a sound from this moody location, fusing dramatic landscapes with parochial affairs… the sheer intensity of a life locked within a tiny area. That said, the local beauty must have been lost on four young lads aching to crash into some kind of scene with movement…with potential uplift. Whether or not their new home of Manchester offers such a release is a matter of some debate, these days. I am sure, when they relocated, they expected the world to begin to move. They expected doors and ladders. After all those endless days earnestly chasing a sound in those Gwynedd rehearsal rooms had gifted them a rare musicality; a rare confidence.

Although apparently shunning the connotations of ‘Welsh rock’, they took their solid work ethic to the North West, gigging with prodigious intensity through endless pubs and clubs. Turning heads here and there and producing seeming endless stream of songs – this, bewilderingly, is their sixth album – but gaining little headway in terms of audience numbers. They almost seemed trapped by their own brilliance, and their music started to retreat to a defensive stance.

The Loaded Dice first came to the attention of The Quietus one Saturday night in the splendid Manchester hostelry, The Ducie Bridge. Almost within earshot of the soulless monstrosity that is the MEN arena, The Ducie is one of those darkened unpretentious hovels – in a good way – that would attract the likes of Mark E Smith. A pre-regeneration dream, where craggy men hunch grimly over the bar. The Loaded Dice deliberately placed themselves second on the bill that night and it was the artisan nature of their sound that seemed to cut through the deadening murk of a local band bill with such ferocity. Here came the sound that – at a rough guess – Them Crooked Vultures might aim for with a second album. That steadfast fusing of Led Zep majesty with Rory Gallagher-style zest. The boyish attack of Thin Lizzy cut with the deep funk of Little Feat. This is how good they were. This is how good they could be.

There are moments on this album – a number of them – that are every bit as thrilling as their live attack. Not, one adds, that this attack is married to any sense of theatre or show, for they are as low key visually as one might expect from lads from Wales and Stockport. Slightly beardy, intense, sullen and, in the case of singer James ‘Stonie’ Stone, lavishly tattooed. Yet there is something different here. Their aforementioned confidence exudes a steely maturity. Stone’s guitar work skips and swirls with extraordinary delicacy and, perhaps best of all, his voice howls like a banshee…and distinctively so. Later on, on ‘Tall Trees’ and ‘My Friend’, the influences begin to spread infectiously. It is an album of grand designs.

However, it is not quite there not yet. And the reasons are somewhat infuriating. I mentioned that this is The Loaded Dice’s sixth album. While I have much of this on burnt discs and downloads, the sheer weight of material blurs my vision. Within this alarming chunk of work, great songs are left to shimmer from the dust. On this album, for instance, one wonders why the swirling dipping ‘Turbo’, their most blatantly accessible song to date, sits submissively five songs in. To get to it, you pass by some intriguing moments, from the intensity of bizarre album opener, ”Without the Murder’ to the unconvincing familiarity of ‘Silk’. One wonders how the unaccustomed ears might actually make it through to ‘Turbo’. This is nothing that a minor shuffle and a touch of editing couldn’t rectify. However, one senses that the lads stubbornly hold true to their aesthetic instincts. Not necessarily a good thing.

There are other small quibbles. Despite the accompanying press release, I am also not entirely sure if this album is entitled A Poor Man’s Prophecy which, in turn, comes from a trilogy entitled ‘Hindsight of a Brand New Soul’ (phew) or, indeed, if it is the other way around. In truth, I don’t care. ‘Brand New Soul’ would have been more succinct. This is not E.L.P. This is funked up blues rock with a cutting edge. Why muddy the waters?

As I type, I have no doubt that they are lugging amps into some forlorn hostelry in Preston, or somewhere, much to the bemusement of craggy locals. Some might doubt the wisdom of such a schedule but, in short, it is what The Loaded Dice do. They play on, gaining their chops, perhaps? They may never pass this lowly way again so, take my advice, and catch them while they still drift among us; their faces warm with anticipation and hope.

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