ADAM AMOS & NOEL ROCKS – Back Up To Zero (own label ARBR001)

Back Up To ZeroAmos and Rocks recorded two well-received albums in the 1980s but little has been heard from them as a duo since Adam moved abroad, apart from two sell-out shows at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2015. In 2019, however, Adam returned home to Scotland, and they started working on their new CD Back Up To Zero, which was released on the 17th March 2020. Despite that hiatus, they sound very comfortable with each other on a collection of mostly original songs, with solid support from three other musicians.

The instrumentation here is fairly sparse: vocals and guitars are by Adam and Noel, while Noel also contributes well-conceived 5-string banjo on several tracks. Kenny Hutchinson plays accordion and piano and also produced. Su-a Lee plays cello, and David Paton plays bass.

Here’s the track list.

  1. The banjo-driven ‘Back Up To Zero’ was written by Noel Rocks, as are the majority of songs here. As on other tracks, I’m impressed by how well Adam’s guitar harmonizes with Noel’s guitar and banjo. It also has a nice singable chorus, though the harmony vocal here seems a little far back in the mix.
  2. From the title and Civil War theme, you might expect banjo on Noel’s ‘Fields of Georgia’, but in fact it features delicate guitar harmonies augmented by Su-a Lee’s atmospheric cello, and a very effective lyric.
  3. There’s a record by Rihanna that bangs on about shining bright like a diamond. Over time my feelings about it have evolved from indifference to loathing. Fortunately, ‘Like A Diamond’, by Adam Amos, is nothing like the Rihanna song. As a matter of fact, I rather like it: a song about love rather than passion.
  4. ‘Coldest Time Of The Year’ (Noel Rocks) – a downbeat song, but effective.
  5. ‘Belfast Song’ (Noel Rocks) – a reflective, nostalgic song, despite the hint of political comment in the third verse: appropriately leavened with Kenny Hutchison’s accordion.
  6. ‘Loaded With Bad News’ (Noel Rocks) – well, we could all use a little less bad news, these days.
  7. ‘If I Find A Way’ (Adam Amos) is a gentle love song, echoing Paul Simon’s ‘Leaves That Are Green’ in the chorus, but it works well.
  8. The river in ‘Cross That River’ (Noel Rocks) turns out to be the Jordan, giving you some idea of the upbeat nature of the song.
  9. ‘900 Miles’ (Traditional) – this is a very competent version of the old Americana
  10. ‘Superman (It’s Not Easy)’ is a song by Vladimir John Ondrasik III, better known as Five For Fighting. The vocal here is less histrionic than Ondrasik’s version, and I think the song benefits accordingly. A satisfying end to the album with a song they’ve very much made their own here.

There’s much to enjoy here. Good original songs, sympathetically and very competently accompanied by all the musicians, and well-produced. While the vocals are perhaps not as strong as you may remember them from the 80s, they have, to my ear, gained in maturity. If you liked their earlier output, you might just like Back Up To Zero more.

David Harley

Artist’s website:

There are very few videos of Amos & Rocks but David did succeed in unearthing this from 1983 – ‘Maid Of The Mourne Shore’: