New Music of The Day – CLXXVI : Just How She Died – Tommy Hale and The Magnificent Bastards

13680952_10154500097599113_8359076590053511933_nLike most musical labels employed by journalists and music tribe devotees, Americana, roots…even alt-country seem to have lost any meaning rather quickly. Despite hailing from a part of the world where those labels are used in abundance, Tommy Hale is just an old school rock and roller. Fully able to rock out when the mood takes him, here we find him pushing a bluesy, bar-room meets music-hall number.

The piano skitters along in Waitsian fashion, the bass pulses, drums play a straight, singular and solid beat, guitars resonate through the gaps but front and centre is Tommy’s whiskey soaked recollections and wailing harmonica.

Let’s not bother with chronology, this is timeless, forget geography or genre, this is nothing less than universally accessible music and nothing more than the soundtrack to a few too many at any bar, anywhere in the world. It could be everything, it might be nothing…who knows, just enjoy it.

 

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Spare Parts For Broken Hearts – Paul Menel and The Essentials (reviewed by Dave Franklin

51d5bG5ELGL._SS500The inclusion of the track Common Ground on this album makes for an interesting point of reference between past and present. Menel’s anthem for the doomed youth of The Somme is one of the high points of the first of two albums he made with IQ back in the late eighties. Many existing fans struggled with what they saw as the creeping commerciality he brought to the previous progressive waters of the band and his time with them always seen as one of a battle between old values and new horizons. Back then Common Ground was a sweeping soundscape, a typically proggy thing of widescreen breadth and grandeur. This time around it is a taut, groovesome pop-rock piece and you can almost feel his sense of relief as he gets to explore his own sound.

It is a route that we have seen before, Peter Gabriel with Genesis and Alan Reed with Pallas, both shrugged off the expectations of the progressive rock straight jacket to build a new audience in more commercially minded arenas. And like them the result here is the best of both worlds. The experiences of the journey so far bring intricate but well-defined song-writing, textured but never cluttered, the freedom to play with styles and hop generic boundaries makes for a wonderful variance and sense of musical exploration.

Pedestal is a graceful wander through pastoral pastures, They Call Her Leaf is a sumptuous Gabriel-esque slice of textured pop and Hey, Did You Hear About Paul is a deep, emotional exploration. It is an album that rocks out when it feels like it, covers a lot of ground musically but it’s finest moments are in its smoother, quieter moments, in the subtlety of the balladry, the folk reinventions, its world music references, its fine details and intricacies. It is an album of gentleness, dynamics and depth, of hypnotic patterns and shifting colours. More than anything it is an album of great beauty. It is an album that will but Paul Menel on the map.

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The Semi-Hollow – Les Robot (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

a1445398870_16I know I’m always searching for music that is pushing new boundaries, testing the limits, fusing disparate threads into new forms and making truly creative inroads towards new sonic pastures. Occasionally you find it in the fleeting corners of more conventional songs or as fillers on albums between more commercially viable options. And then you stumble across people such as Les Robot who just go for it with reckless abandon.

It takes a few plays; I’ll give you that. Firstly you get that WTF moment, the thought that this is madness, a suicide note to an unbalanced musician’s career. Then you try to work it out, piece together what is actually going on here, tease apart textures and layers to properly understand it. A post-mortem if you will. Then you start to appreciate it. Then you like it, but you are not sure why. Then you love it. Then you realise that this is a work of genius ….and often madness, but it’s pretty much the same thing, right?

I can’t give you labels, but then the best music sits beyond such pigeonholing anyway. Lets start with rock, it’s definitely rock, sometimes runaway, joyous, indulgent guitar rock, technically slick and easy to pin down. But more than often it goes way beyond that, it wanders around proggy soundscaping and structures, it blasts through industrial wastelands treading on broken glass and twisted metal, it offers classical interludes and dystopian soundscapes. Sometimes it does all of that within just one song!

I guess the art is not to be pinned down, to subvert expectation and if you thought that you pretty much knew what instrumental rock sounds like, by the time you have navigated the 5 twisting and mercurial tracks offered up here, the rule book will be a smouldering pile of ash, your pre-conceptions will be cowering in the corner and your mind will be truly broadened.

Headache Machine is an industrial slab of jagged edges and warped architecture whilst Oz takes more familiar routes though does so at breakneck speed. Bumble B Boogie often sounds like machines writing a progressive rock album, making musical choices that conform to some sort of cool, internal logic and Imp at times sounds like nothing less than the end of the world. But it is title-track and finale that sums up best how diverse and off the wall Les Robot’s thinking is as deft and delicate acoustic beauty are slowly subsumed by alien sounds and dystopian drama.

I like music that I can’t just hang a sound bite or label on, can’t kick into a well defined generic drawer, music that I didn’t see coming. Well, I didn’t see this coming. I feel like I have been run over by demon-possessed truck, experimented on by extra-terrestrials, have stood on the edge of the end of the universe itself, been attacked by cyborgs and had a music shop collapse on me. What a way to spend a morning. And the weird part is…I can’t wait to do it all again.

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New Music of the Day – CLXXV: The Fuzz and All That They Feed – Port Erin

15823159_10153985879836876_7307184432675953030_nPort Erin are known for hopping genres as easily as you or I might flick through TV channels – funk, psychedelia, jazz grooves, trippy progressive rock and out and out pop have all been easily mastered by this mercurial trio. On the first single ahead of their forth-coming album, Ocean Grey, they find themselves weaving Floydian dreamtimes and melancholic atmospheres into cinematic soundscapes.

As always it seems to come natural to them and with a video that also seems built from the same enigmatic minimalism it is both rich and haunting like a modern take on an Ingmar Bergman piece, film as art and music as cinema. For all of its length (over eight and a half minutes is a long time in this short span dominated world) and subtle nature it is captivating music, hypnotic even, all textured undertones and gentle layers but takes a far from obvious journey.

 
Most people setting out to make a record this deft and understated would wash keyboard sounds together and leave big holes in the result to signify atmosphere and spacial awareness. Port Erin are cleverer than that and whilst there is always a lot happening; rhythmic guitars, distant brass, shuffling drums, chiming electronica, gently wandering dynamics, slow-burning builds, chattering background vocals and bass notes which provide the dots that allow all the relevant lines to be drawn, it is how this is all threaded together that makes it a master class in musical cunning, understatement and brilliant production restraint.

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Phil Cooper’s A Welcome in The Wild Tour of Canada

17264269_874445039363711_3670526988593739171_nOur good friend and splendid acoustic pop chap, Phil Cooper, has just announced that this year his musical travels will see him wander even further than usual as he heads off to Canada.

If you live within travelling distance of any of these dates then we heartily recommend you catch him live, scribble in his trusty doodle book, enjoy the music, buy a CD and sleep peacefully knowing that you have helped keep one on the good guys on the road and in the game.

Sunday May 21 – Relish, Toronto, ON
Tuesday May 23 – Dr. Disc Records, Windsor, ON
Tuesday May 23 – Phog Lounge, Windsor, ON
Saturday 27 May – Intimate & Interactive Niagara, Ridgeway, ON
Sunday May 28 – Michael Williams Presents Sunday Night, Oakville, ON
Tuesday May 30 – Graffiti’s Bar and Grill, Toronto, ON
Friday June 2 – Grimross Brewing Co., Fredericton, NB
Sunday June 4 – Baba’s Lounge, Charlottetown, PEI

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Lil’ Lost Lou – Lil’ Lost Lou (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

d5ebd5_c48de4c1c2034fd0ab717876d020807b~mv2There is a certain poignancy coming to this album as I do just hours after hearing that Chuck Berry had duck walked off this mortal coil. I wonder what he would make of the fact that here is a female artist from one London’s most hallowed musical boroughs weaving the same country, rhythm and blues and boogie-woogie threads together that he helped forge into the rock ‘n’ roll sound some 70 years earlier.

It is quite fitting therefore that to record her debut solo album she chose to head to Nashville, hole up in former Chess pressing plant with revered songwriter and producer Billy Livsey and a cast of musicians that reads like a who’s who of Music City session stars. Her London based musical vehicle, The Rabble, takes the form of a country-punk-skiffle outfit and whilst there are songs here which would easily sit in such a set, the shuffling Bad Boy and raucous opening salvo Boy From The City, there is generally something much more deft and defined at work.

It is an album steeped in American musical dreams as much as its Camden roots, Ride a Train is a soft and intimate gospel, He Put a Hook In Me is a haunted Voodoo groove and Brown Boots sits at that point where country blossomed into rock’n’roll. But it is the collision of its Old World originator and New World players that seems to make it not quite meet the conventional expectations of either the tried and tested Americana sound nor the British pastiche movement that has formed in its image.

Instead it is something new, something less geographically beholden, and why not? The world is a wonderfully cross-cultural and connected place and the music we make should reflect that. If we can have Tibetan Jazz and Moroccan Hip-Hop then Camden Country isn’t too much of a stretch is it?

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Hang on a Second – Them Dead Beats (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

17021804_1908024782766215_8556527798649675957_nIt may be a very simple idea, but as is often the case with simple ideas, it’s a good one, namely take the groove and grit of blues and give it the scuzzy garage rock treatment. It worked for their previous release, Give Us A Minute, and it works here too. And just as before, the saleability of such a simple and oft visited genre clash is the songs themselves, after all anyone can drive the blues-rock car off of the cliff of convention but the art is ending up with something which is more Thelma and Louise’s dramatic swansong and less a short traffic report on page 7 of the local newspaper.

Thankfully drama is never in short supply here. Roll With Me is apocalyptic burlesque blues, the soundtrack to that final party as you watch the mushroom clouds blow away all evidence that we were even here and 1959 is the mutant offspring of John Lee Hooker and The Birthday Party…raw, visceral, scary and addictive. All I Need is a strange hybrid of The Coral’s mercurial old time sing along style and a strange pop edge buried in their usual guitar onslaught but it is the  opening brace of songs Change and Get Mine that represent their signature sound, the bruising tumble of jagged guitars, howling harmonica’s and a vocal which, try as I might, I can’t help but picturing Nick Helm on the other end of. Weird?

Yes, they may be exploring the same musical territory they did first time out, but why not? As the record proves there is still a lot of great work to be done here and these are the chaps to do it. They join dots between Memphis in 1956, Detroit in 1969 and New York in 1977 and at a time when “rock” has become polished, defined, packaged and refined to within an inch of its skinny-jeaned and complicated hair-styled life, maybe it is time to turn back to “rock and roll” for our kicks. There is no denying that underneath all the jagged edges and punk rock sonic poses, that is essentially what this is.

It’s elemental; it’s out of control but just enough in check, it’s savage, stroppy, sweet and sour, and slightly silly…but never a joke. Rock and roll is serious business and it looks like it is back on the menu. Who’s for Seconds?

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Florescentia – Charlotte Cardinale (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

CharlotteEver since a string of, essentially pop, artists from Amy Winehouse to Duffy to current hyperbolic sensation Adele re-appropriated and repackaged soul for a shallower, style over substance world, the genre seems to have traded in its essential elements for ticket sales, music awards and a fast track to the dream. What their particular brand of blue-eyed soul seems to be lacking… the groove, the sensuality, the sass, the sound of gospel going funk, of rhythm and blues having an elicit relationship with pop…sits at the heart of Charlotte Cardinale’s music.

That isn’t to say that she is a backward glancing, rose-tinted revivalist, but you could make an argument for her being the perfect bridge between the aforementioned pop sensations and originators such as Aretha Franklin, Etta James and Irma Thomas. Not in a sonically literal sense but as a conduit for taking the essence of the genre and bringing it to a modern audience.

Tracks such as Hands Together are majestically atmospheric, all slow, lilting grooves and sumptuous vocal washes, lingering anticipation and Stories seems merely to wrap a voice and acoustic guitar around an emotion, a transient feeling rather than anything more substantial. But this is an album that crosses a number of generic boundaries too. Monday is a country-blues shuffle, and tailpiece You’re Wrong is a full on soul-rock groover.

But it is when she is tugging heartstrings, evoking feeling and sonically clothing herself in the smoky vibes of the late night, jazz club chantress that the magic really happens and there are more than a few tracks here, not least opening salvo Dust and Tears, that if they popped up on commercial radio would almost certainly open the right doors.

Florescentia is a fantastic showcase for this Italian artist, a slick, sophisticated and versatile collection and one that will act as the perfect calling card. If there is any justice in the world this release is the first step to Europe, and indeed the world, finding a new jazz/soul champion. A Roman Holiday perhaps?

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Any Joy – Adam Scott Glasspool (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

a0386002033_16Modern technology has presented a lot of new sonic possibilities, even for the grassroots, jobbing musician. A guitar is no longer just a guitar, a voice more than a voice and I recall seeing Adam Scott Glasspool demonstrating this concept live in a small venue as banks of affected guitar sound washed around him, resonant and otherworldly, sweeping and cinematic and yet all resulting from one man, six strings and a broad minded approach.

It’s an approach he continues to explore on his latest e.p. Any Joy. Whilst In The Shade of the Trees offers a fairly expected take on the chilled, ambient acoustic experience, shimmering guitars embellished by some intriguing haunting background noises and a lilting melody centre stage elsewhere he is less conventional.

Arkansas is a wonderfully chiming instrumental, part classical oriental, part BBC Radiophonic Workshop, intriguing in its lack of urgency and its ability to use notes to merely create bubbles around existing natural atmospherics and let both nature and the listener fill in the rest.

Even the slightly more substantial tracks which bookend the e.p. This Can Be and Where I Am Unknown seem the product of drifting, primal sounds, distant echoes of the birth of the universe and disembodied vocals rather than the usual musical building blocks.

It is music that seems in turn the product of a human composer, the mournful sounds from deep within a dying computer and transient, elemental sounds of the natural world. It is at once ancient and futuristic, timeless and outside of time itself. I guess the greatest complement you can give any original songwriter is that you can’t pin down exactly where their music fits into the scheme of things. And here that is an understatement, to say the least.

Pre-order Any Joy (and all previous releases) HERE

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Sweep Me Away – Ed Lofstedt (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

ed lofstedt - sweep me away (press pack) - cd case-front 2Music can be used to do many things, evoke emotions, enhance or change moods, it can be deep and clever, throwaway and frivolous and sometimes it can even change your life. It can also be used to send a message, act as a voice in the wilderness and give people hope to others.

Bristol singer-songwriter Ed Lofstedt has teamed up with CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) a charity for the prevention of suicide in men aged 18 – 45 and attempted to set to music the turmoil and confusion of the modern world, of love, loss and life and the pressures faced by young people today, to raise awareness for the campaign.

It is an album of many hues, some tracks such as The Wheel dealing with the same minimalism and atmospheres that you expect from the likes of Damien Rice, others such as Sea of Japan taking more obvious, but no less supple, melodic routes. But always there is a wonderful intricacy and slightly leftfield approach which matches commerciality with a more artistic approach, something that will appeal to both the serious music consumer and the fashionista alike. It takes the integrity of folk, the accessibility of pop, the earnestness of indie and blends them into a wonderful swirling and difficult to pin down genre.

It is an album that requires repeated play, each run through revealing some subtlety or musical detail, interesting counterpoint or non-conformist structure that you may have missed the first time out. It is therefore a rewarding album, one that, because it releases its secrets slowly means that as a listener you feel as if you are doing the work, that it is a personal voyage of discovery, that it is somehow yours. And you know how us music fans like to feel that we were the first to discover any new musical territory, well, this is the perfect voyage of discovery.

The album is released on 20th March with a free launch gig at The Grain Barge in Bristol on 30th.

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