You’ll Never Walk Alone –  Tim Cheesebrow (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

Tim_Cheesebrow__Somebody__Somewhere__Cover_Never judge a book by a cover and never judge a song by its title. I tentatively pressed play on this expecting a cover of the famous Rogers and Hammerstein number, one that in my country at least is firmly entrenched in football (sorry, soccer) culture. Thankfully what greeted me was a slick and sassy country rock groover, relax, its all going to be okay.

Taken from the album Somebody, Somewhere, Tim Cheesebrow offers a lesson in how these things should be done, a neat blend of alt-country jauntiness, upbeat bluesy rock, squalling slide guitars and sumptuous, gospel inspired backing vocals. In many parts of the world this would be tagged as Americana music, but I guess in his Minneapolis home patch it is probably just termed…well, music. Great music at that.The song’s dynamic is buoyant and filled with the right blend of loose attitude and on the button precision, it takes a confident writer to weave together music which feels so relaxed in its delivery and yet still have everything landing just perfectly.

The more I try to dissect the song, the more I fall in love with its construction, but that isn’t what music is designed for. Forget the soothing and fine-tuned purr coming from under the hood, let’s just open this baby up and see how fast it will go….and then go and hunt down the album!

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Vince Carter! – Papi Ver$ace – Prod. by BeatStars (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

papi-versace-33227999Not every piece of music has to start revolutions, similarly not every track has to merely re-invent the wheel, and between the cutting edge and the tried and tested you find Papi Ver$ace’s Vince Carter!, a blend of old-school, slow grooving hip-hop, confident street level rap and a skittering trap-rap vibe. Okay, we have heard it all before, sort of, it’s built on a certain familiarity, for sure, and sticks faithfully to the rap canon of cool flow and edgy content but it is also cohesive, glossy, stylish, and sophisticated, as his candied melodies get compressed through a sleepy, singsong delivery.

And it is this addictive combination of hypnotic vocal delivery and trippy accessibility which really moves the ball forward, breaks out of the comfort zones and offers a new take on an old sound. It is the perfect eulogy for the streets, the hustle, the hassle, the grime and the game, it plays to stereotypical images but it drips with dark reality. If ever rap music spoke with the aspirations and aggrandisements of the young urban experience,  this is where it is said most eloquently in raps own first language.

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Lit –  Penelope Robin (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

24862495_1880905258890721_3836180888003871458_nThey grow up so fast don’t they? As you watch Penelope Robin strut her mini-gangster groove through her latest video, it is hard to think that she is only ten. Yes, ten! But Lit is anything but the usual pre-teen musical stock, instead it is a cool and confident track which takes all of the swagger and street smarts of any number of high profile, highly commercial rap or R&B artists and reassembles it for the teen market. Whilst the term Lit does have darker connotations if you hang out on the wrong side of the tracks, here it is returned to a more innocent meaning, a feeling of fun and excitement, a party vibe, just the barest hint of rebellious hi-jinks and a touch of euphoria.

The result is a song which pushes day-glo pop into groovesome R&B realms, takes the innocence of her age and welds it on to a sophisticated, skittering beat and a tongue in cheek gangster vibe which to an older audience is that confusing child/adult blend that was so great about Jodie Foster’s Tallulah in Bugsy Malone but will not even raise an eyebrow amongst her intended market.

You could argue that there are safer routes for a so young, would be pop star than embracing the bling and bluster of the gangster rap image but kids copy their peers so it is only natural that a raising star is going to imitate what is already around her. Kylie took cheesy pop and made it smarter…eventually anyway, Britney infused her brand with effortlessly cool underground danger, Lit is just the sound of the next cycle kicking in. More than anything Lit is fun, knowing and slightly parodical, but it is also full of pop effervescence and right now at that age it is all what adds to the charm. As she grows and shapes here own image, her own sound, and what we now have to call her “brand” it will be fascinating to see the path she takes.


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A Good Old Fashioned Protest –  Keegan McInroe (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

Keegan McInroe - 'A Good Old Fashioned Protest' - cover (300dpi)_previewThe problem with most protest music, well, protest in general I guess, is that it spends so much time knowing what it stands against that it doesn’t really know what it stands for and even if it does, it offers few solutions. What we need is a positive protest, bi-partisan protest, informed protest, protest which knows where it comes from but also knows where it is going, protest which can both act as an opposition and equally as a suggestion as to the way forward. What we need is Keegan McInroe’s Good Old Fashion Protest.

Keegan’s latest collection of songs has an interesting resonance with another album which passed through the review pile recently, that of Nick Harper and The Wilderness Kids. If Nick’s titular, opening salvo of Lies! Lies! Lies! is an Englishman’s response to the confusion and turmoil of the Brexit decision, amongst other things, its parallel, Talking Talking Heads clearly defines this American’s view of the blind faith, ultra-partisan, tribalism being piped into homes across the country he calls home in the name of democracy.

And whilst it certainly has something important to say, Keegan, as always, has an eloquent way with words and the humour running through the songs, from cynicism to satire to just plain silliness is the real charm, adds fun and accessibility to what in the hands of most would be the creative equivalent of taking sledgehammer to a walnut. But whilst at times, such as on Bombing For Peace, there is the same sly grin that infused Arlo Guthrie’s infamous debut, Alice’s Restaurant, the flip side of the coin comes with subtle and poignant pieces like Christmas 1914, a gentle and lilting song which deserves to be granted access to that small canon of classic songs which includes The Green Fields of France and The Band Played Waltzing Matilda. And if you think that is too a grand statement to make, I ask you to play it and tell me I’m wrong.

We are treated to spoken word philosophy, visions of a better world, speaking of truth to power, the profound and the profane, small town narratives and universal truths, social commentary and political calling out, all put to his trademark country-folk acoustica. It is an album for our times, as much a reflection of the world around us as it is a call for change. It would be nice if in a few years time we can look back and think of this as a piece of history but I feel that such is the state of the world that Keegan McInroe could find enough material to put out such an album every six months or so. And that is the saddest truth of them all.

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Inertia –  We Are Parasols (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

We Are Parasols - Inertia (cover)If someone like Nick Cave best typifies the dark, sweeping and majestic end point of the western blues derived musical experiment; this is the flipside of that coin. Portland/Atlanta trio, We Are Parasols, makes music which comes from a younger, though similarly angst ridden, oddly sultry and intense place, but one that has evolved out of the possibilities afforded by more recent technologies and more likely to tip its hat to Krautrock pioneers and New Romantic non-conformists than the more traditional canon.

And whereas the likes of Cave and the dark hordes which imitate his moves often rely on angular collisions and jarring music to create their apocalyptic beauty, We Are Parasols are driven by a more simpatico heart, one that pulses with an industrial, sometimes motorik beat but one which is also swathed in sumptuous harmonies, delicate synth washes and distant chiming guitars. Even when they rough things up a bit on songs such as the slow building Scoptophilia or the explosive Recoil, their music seems to mesh into post-rock walls of sound and shoegazing, effect drenched noise cocoons, the overall effect crushing rather than cutting.

The music suggests something beyond human a sort of impossible blend of the primitive and ancient and the clinical and futuristic, a hybrid of animal and machine, primordial yet complex as eerie atmospherics and Stygian sounds vie for attention and the end result is a heavy, claustrophobic and nebulous musical collection.

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And I Told Her So –  Rhett Repko (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

22780295_1929575750703674_4033104463955799012_nHaving quickly taught me a lesson about books and covers, or at least cynical journalists and their jaded perceptions, the brace of songs that I have got to know Rhett through over the last few months has been exactly what I needed to restore my faith in pop music. And at the heart of the music is something that seems to have been lost along the way, a universal truth that seems missing, a misplaced piece of the musical jigsaw and it is this. Even pop music needs to be well written. Programmed beats, a dance routine and ten words repeated ad infinitum might sell well now that the music industry has a Big Brother-like hold over our musical tastes and cravings, but Rhett, for all his young years, makes music which demonstrably carries that important nugget of pop wisdom.

And hence the result is a song which welds pop sass to rock muscle, places jaunty riffs amongst groovy rhythms, covers the usual lyrical subject matter in a more eloquent way and passes the “am I dancing by the onset of the first chorus” test with ease. In short it struts majestically through a pop-rock landscape, master of all it surveys. I make that three out of three…good work and I’m already waiting for the next one.

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Scene and Heard – CCXXX :  My Infatuation (Love Vibration)  – Andrew Farstar (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

Album CoverWhilst knowing where you come from is important as where you are going, any release manifests itself as just one waypoint along that musical direction of travel. Or as one famous game changer put it “it’s not where you’re from, it’s where you’re at” and musically where Farstar is at is interesting indeed. Having come from a more contemporary jazz and pop place, My Infatuation, from his second album Metamorphosis sees him heading into a more alt-pop, chilled EDM zone, one which combines deftly wrought dance vibes with a mellow delivery and as such appeals not only to the obvious clubland set but will find favour with a slightly more mature audience.

Many working in a similar field are happy to create fast and furious beats, “banging tunes” as the youth call them, I believe, but as in all things speed is easy to achieve, slower, more controlled, spacious and subtle music is a harder trick to pull off, but pull it off he does. Skittering dancefloor beats carry a smooth and sassy R&B groove and it has enough cool pop sensibility to break out and appeal to a wider audience. That’s a lot to fit into one tune.

And if My Infatuation contains the required groove and pace of a midnight dance floor or a mid set festival track, it also is sassy and sultry enough for the more laid back dance experience. It is built on confident beats and airy electronica but allows enough space between that the music never becomes claustrophobic or cluttered.Not everything has to be the fastest, the most intricate, the most driven; we have matured enough to get beyond that. What Andrew Farstar offers instead is solid and sexy, and when has that not been more than enough for a good night out.

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Accomplice One – Tommy Emmanuel (reviewed by Ian O’Regan)

Accomplice-One-600x600.pngAliens walk among us. It is known.

For the most part, they keep their heads down, hiding in plain sight, disguised as ordinary citizens, never drawing attention to themselves, never giving the indigenous human population cause to be concerned, going about their daily lives much as we go about ours.

But occasionally, some of the more reckless among their numbers can’t help themselves. They break ranks and start to show off the extraordinary, utterly inhuman talents of which these advanced beings are capable. Which is all very well and good as long as they do it in the privacy of their own pods, lairs, dens, or whatever other enclosed spaces serve as their homes.

The problems really start when these reckless youths, these ridiculously talented pan-dimensional travellers from beyond the limits of our universe, go into recording studios, and record themselves, resulting in albums that are , among other things, flagrant demonstrations of the limitations of human endeavour!

That’s when the whole balance of human-alien coexistence is put at risk, when the human race can no longer bury its head in the sands of deliberate ignorance, when we must confront the reality that, yes, Carl Sagan and Arthur C Clarke were right: Aliens Walk Among Us.

Mind you, when the results of these demonstrations of alien capability are as magnificent, as extraordinary, and as thoroughly delightful as the new album from Tommy Emmanuel (so talented, so gifted that even his fellow aliens are jealous!), it’s hard to do anything other than sit and gaze in wonder at the stars, making utterly futile attempts to imagine the kind of universe where such feats of musical brilliance are possible.

An extraordinary thing happens when truly gifted musicians get together. As magnificent as the individual components might be, where the musicians are as humble as they are brilliant, where each one regards the others as their inspiration, the results are far greater than the sum of the parts.

This album is a collection of duets, some with singers, some instrumentals with other musicians, mostly covers, along with a small number of original tracks.

Featuring collaborations with Jason Isbel, Mark Knopfler, Ricky Skaggs, David Grisman, among others, many styles are on display, from straighforward country to boogie blues, to one of the most deft and beautiful versions of a Django Reinhart classic that I have ever heard, this album is quite simply a Must-Have in any collection.

This is not just for the guitar aficionado, as some recordings by impresarios can be. This is so much more than a demonstration of what the guitar can technically do in the right (non-human, obvs) hands. This is a celebration of the art of music, the joy of music, the sheer beauty-for-the-sake-of-it that music can be.

There are one or two slight dips in the overall level; Amanda Shires features on violin and vocals on a version of Madonna’s Borderline, and I’m not sure that it’s really up to the standard of the rest of the album.

But shortly after that, Jerry Douglas (if the Tommy Emmanuel being doesn’t convince you of the existence of aliens, surely not even the most determinedly myopic of you can argue that Jerry Douglas is human???) pops up on a rendition of Purple Haze that, on its own, makes up for any earlier lapses on the album.

Previously, some scientists have claimed that the human race is safe because these pan-dimensional beings know that they cannot co-exist in the same place at the same time without creating rifts in the fabric of the universe, and so they remain solitary, avoiding each other for the sake of reality itself.

It turns out that this theory is rubbish. Aliens walk among us. Together. This album is proof!

And now that we know this, there will be no apocalypse, no Armageddon. The worst that will happen is that eBay will be flooded with guitars, previously owned by actual humans, causing the second hand guitar market to crash. But that’s such a small price to pay for this gem of an album.

Released January 19th  via  Players Club / Mascot Label Group

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Orion  –  The Raft (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

a3599421306_16I always look forward to music coming from Phil Wilson and The Raft and the fact that their work rate is so vibrant means that you never have too long to wait for such musical treats. And why do I look forward to them so much? Well, it is that balance of familiarity and forward thinking, a musical echo of a host of 80’s post-punk adventurers, who were in turn mining a sixties jangle pop heyday but done so in a way that feels like we are striding forward rather than looking back. Maybe it has something to do with the cyclical nature of music, it certainly has a lot to do with the craftsmanship on which the songs are built. I suspect the answer is a bit of both.

If movements such as the west coast Paisley Underground and New Zealand’s Dunedin Sound channelled bands such as Love and The Byrds, as did our own movers and shakers, The Bunnymen and The Soft Boys, then The Raft are merely carrying the same torch through into a new era, and why not, music such as this deserves its longevity. The Raft respect the past, but they don’t want to be stuck there and so their blend of haze and harmony, gentle psychedelia and poppy accessibility, whilst reminding you to give your old Dream Syndicate albums a spin more often, is instead a brave step forward into a new potential pop horizon.

Aren’t we tired of the production line, vacuous, landfill commercial dance-pop that has become successful through marketing dollars and the laziness of the modern pop picker rather than through any artistic merits? So do something about it! Start backing music which marks you out as an individual, music which makes you smile, which delivers hope as well as homage, which feels like it is going somewhere, is leading a renaissance, is willing to play its own game. If any of that seems like something you want to support then bands such as The Raft are you first port of call.

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Scene and Heard  – CCXXIX: The River  –  Sky Orchid (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

Sky_Orchid_coverSky Orchid is a band that could only really exist today, who make a sound which whilst using familiar musical tools and sound palettes feel part of a post-genre world. A world were tribal divides and musical demarcations are long gone, where ironically alternative music is also mainstream, where even the very notion of what a band has been questioned. More than that Sky Orchid are the sound of restraint, space, understatement and the slow burning dynamic.

Oddly enough, most two-piece guitar and drum bands seem to want to compensate for the other missing musical elements by turning up the volume, hitting the power chords and drenching everything in a wall of scuzzy noise and thunderous beats. Sky Orchid take a different tack and play to the strengths of being a duo. Music is layered up gradually, plaintive piano notes chime, simple beats form an open structure and guitar textures are laid one on top of the other like swaths of gossamer, delicate cloth each one shifting the mood, building and altering the musical hues but doing so almost imperceptibly And even when the obvious crescendo comes they are still throwing curveballs, dropping down to create tension and anticipation before delivering the goods.

It is a song which whilst feeling like a cultish alt-pop, art-rock, post-indie number is in fact as accessible and infectious as anything bothering the charts today. It is also ten times cleverer.

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