King’s Daughters Home For Incurables – Karla Kane (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

KingsDaughtersFrontCoverI don’t know why I should be surprised that someone from the sun strewn West Coast of America should deliver one of the most authentic sounding folk records of the year so far. It isn’t like music belongs to any one place or people; it’s in the air for any who wish to hear it. King’s Daughters Home For Incurables is nothing less than a love letter to this damp green island, the folk music it has produced and the people who have made it. As a member of the Corner Laughers, Karla has had the perfect excuse to travel the Old World soaking up its traditions and culture, history and quirks, and whilst her main musical vehicle blends these vibes with a myriad of other flavours, here the fingerprint is more identifiable.

 

This is certainly the music of Western Europe, most probably England and perhaps emanating from a folk club in the dark back room of a pub. It is the sound of past eras of folk music as distilled through the 60’s folk revival, polished and evolved for the 21st century. Tracks such as The Lilac Line bubble over with the joyous pop vibe that comes so naturally to her, Mother of the Future is a distant echo of the primal scream and All Aboard is a simulated train ride using only a piano but mainly the songs fit with more expected folk territory.

 

These are the pathways wandered by everyone from Shirley Collins, who gets name checked and Martin Newell who appears here, and modern torchbearers Kate Rusby and Sarah McQuaid. That isn’t to say that this is in any way a pastiche or a retrospective glance, this is a homage, a celebration of the genre but one that moves it forward at just the right gentle pace. It is both familiar ground and fertile soil for new growth.

 

If The Corner Laughers are a high on life, mystical beach party, then this is a back garden musing, probably involving topics such as this year’s runner beans with a strong cup of tea and one eye on the weather. England hasn’t subdued her, it has seduced her and the result is music that is no less brilliant but with the pace and poise that fits the more reserved rural pulse beating at the heart of the songs

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Music People – Emilio Crixell & Border Soul (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

emiliocrixellbordersoulBorders are always interesting places for fusion and creativity. Cultures clash; community’s blend and wonderful new hybrids arise from the melting pot to take on a life of their own. South Texas is just such a place and if that is reflected in its music, there is no better mirror than Emilio Crixell and his musical gang.

The music does take a bit of unravelling, if you are the sort of person who likes to do such a thing, and I like nothing better than unpicking musical threads. It isn’t so much complex, more textured, with all the sounds that have found their way to this culturally diverse region finding a place to co-exist in the music. Mediterranean grooves carried through the Latin sounds of South America, African rhythms that evolved into soul and gospel; Mariachi spice, southern blues-rock and everything in between rub shoulders in one big musical celebration.

If you took the showboating and psychedelia out of Carlos Santana’s early albums, this would sit right in there along side them, in the same way linking the sultry and the sassy, the emotive and the energetic, the familiar and the forward thinking. And also like him this is music that represents the creative gene spicing which takes place in the ever shrinking, ever shifting modern world. Revolutions are fun for a while, but evolution is the way forward.

 

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Let’s Be Friends – Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

Thunderbolt___Lightfoot__Cover.jpgStriping music back to its very essence is something that sounds easy but is rarely done well. The Civil Wars did it, though they never sounded like they were having a lot of fun doing so, The Black Feathers and Flagship Romance excel at it and now I can add this Michigan duo to the list. The art isn’t just knowing what to strip out of a song, it is what you do with what is left, how to build structure and more importantly emotion with the hushed tones and gently chiming guitar lines that remain.

 
Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (incidentally one of my favourite films) seem to naturally understand that the power of the sculpture you build with these minimal materials is as much about the spaces as what surrounds them. It is about the anticipation between the lyrics, the atmospheres that hang between the notes, it is about using your music to draw the lines and let the imagination of the listener and the near silent of the universe colour between them. Sounds simple huh?

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Bleed 432 – Roddan (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

roddanalbumSome things just remain part of modern history. The sleek lines of a Volkswagen Beetle, the iconic shape of a Coca-Cola bottle, the fit of the blue jean, the sound of the classic singer-songwriter. And that is exactly where Roddan comes from, a wonderful modern take on the sound that has echoed from San Francisco coffee shops to London folk clubs for more than a life time, the sound of James Taylor, Neil Young, John Martyn and a list of other revolutionary acoustic guitar-slingers.

But if you can see where Roddan comes from it is where he is going which is much more interesting. The references may be openly worn, and the template recognisable, but it is what he builds on it that is the joy. I’ve never really understood the term Americana but there is something inherently American about Bleed. Across just six tracks he travels through folk, country, blues, acoustic rock, balladry, reggae and torch song, often all within one song. Plaintive violin and emotive harmony vocals help tug the heartstrings and the result is a record that is emotive and soulful, built on the best traditions yet bringing something masterful to the table. How great is that?

 

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Mending Fences – Richard Lynch (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

cover 4Sometimes, after you have been bombarded with prefix riddled country, alt-this and post-that or even more meaningless concepts such as roots or Americana, it is nice to just listen to an album that isn’t afraid to just come straight out and use the country moniker. It was good enough for Merle Haggard so it should be good enough for anyone else. Richard Lynch has no problem with standing by just such a term.

 

And whilst there is a lot to be found on Mending Fences that chimes right from the heart of country, and specifically Nashville, tradition, it is his ability to sound fresh and forward thinking whilst playing to the genres base that is the real strength here. He doesn’t embrace any pop pretensions or indie swerves instead he just does country as you know and love it, and does it damned well. Whether playing the ballad card on the title track, embracing the old time dance hall vibe of Cut and Paste or grooving out with Think and Drive, he explores all moods and styles and always with an eye to musical detail.

The music is wonderfully textured, fiddles float by, steel guitars wash through or soar majestically in the distance, keyboards offer plaintive lines and there is even room for a wonderful upbeat duet with Rhonda Vincent. Anyone who thinks that country music is one dimensional or just re-treading old musical pathways, needs to pick this album up and be reminded that even under the generic label of country music, there is a lot of musical territory to be explored. Mending Fences is the perfect road map to get you started.

 

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New Music of the Day – CCV: Not My President – Squished Penises

14856146_1869370149962994_7925066998024889746_oWe’ll just skip over the bands backstory for now, tales of alien abduction and cryogenic freezing all make for fun punk mythologies but let’s get down to the task at hand. What punk has always been the perfect vehicle for is making statements, political, social, artistic, the blunter and more direct the better, rather than worrying too much about how slickly it is packaged, musically speaking. To some it is just a case of shock and awful, to me it is the most succinct way of making a point, a sucker punch to the brain, a sledgehammer to the modern bland collective consciousness.

Squished Penises operate in that that 1977 “just do it” punk attitude that was coming out of London art colleges, Berlin squats and hustling for change on the Lower East Side at the time, the straight up three cacophonous chords and a whole lot of the terrible truth that seems to now be resigned to the past. It is raw, rowdy and riotous, it is about impact and ideology, revolution and resistance, reaction and rebellion. And, it would seem, alliteration!

I’ve often wondered why when significant musical movements such as rock’n’roll, punk and hip-hop have been born out of social unrest, why there hasn’t been something new born as a sounding board for the turmoil and injustice of this decade. Until it happens we always have bands such as Squished Penises to lead the charge, and for that I thank them.

 

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New Music of the Day – CCIV : Hojas Amarillas – Stephania Sanquiz ft. Noemi Smorra

1485276575630If the original version of Golden Leaves was a perfect blend of driven pop, infectious hooks and vocal eloquence, Stephania Sanquiz’s revisit takes the energy levels even higher and pushes a harder edge. Whilst staying faithful to the original and featuring Noemi Smorra who was one half of the vocal duo on the original English language version of the song, this time it is somehow bigger, edgier and takes the song down a more rock route.

And even if Spanish isn’t your first language, you can appreciate the vocal performance, rising from gentle and restrained deliveries to impassioned joint harmony choruses. Then, as the song heads to its crescendo and the guitars are spiralling out of control firing off squalling rock and roll salvo’s the power of the combined vocal really goes to work creating drama and dynamics.

It is a great remake of the song, it stays close to the original version but brings enough extra power and musical muscle to step over the pop-rock divide. Add to that a slick video which shows the two singers in their respective locations and you have a song and video package which is bound to become a sure fire hit.

 

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The Last Lighthouse – Campfire’s Edge (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

Campfire Edge - CoverThey say that you can tell a lot about a person by the company that they keep. Similarly you can tell a lot about a musician by looking at who has accompanied them on their musical journey thus far. Making your way in any original and creative field is full of interesting and often unexpected twists, opportunities and collaborations and all this creates an imprint, a cross between a fingerprint, a musical DNA and a family tree. Examine that and you can learn a lot about an artist before you even meet them.

With heroes including Brian Eno and Tangerine Dream, time spent as a post rock explorer, sharing stages with the likes of Low, Pan American and Spectrum, writing film score music and a move into the improvisational world of free jazz, you get a feel for the scope and exploratory nature of Nathan Yeager’s mind.

And of those early references and years served before the mast, the two areas which seem to inform The Last Lighthouse most heavily are those hours spent ingesting the progressive electro-experiments of Tangerine Dream and the musical mind set towards composing music suited as much to a film score as a live performance.

The first track, It’s Been a Hell of a Year, is less an opening salvo but more just drifts into the listeners consciousness, a sonorous dreamscape which brings to mind the celestial music of The Enid or the more recent elegantly gossamer creations of SPC ECO. By the time we have got to the wonderfully named March of The Tortoise new elements have been added to this chilled template. The tracks become more confident, more structured, beat driven and brilliantly glitchy and compelling in their oddness. At times, as these two worlds of pastoral charm and clinical futurism clash, it sounds as if you have accidently pressed play on two very different albums yet you can’t quite pull yourself away from the hypnotic result.

Sonoluminescence is a weave of drama and drive and Last Night in Pine Bush NY seems elemental, music built from the primal sounds of nature; otherworldly, ancient and organic. The album’s swan song, Theme From The Last Lighthouse, is a mercurial blend of Vangelis sound tracking, mood music, and beats and noises seemingly being picked up via some sort of deep space monitoring.

You could see these pieces, as Nathan surely does, as a series of sound tacks to short films but an interesting creative twist would be if someone would make the films based on listening to the music. I’m not sure what those would look like but I know I would be at the front of the queue for tickets.

 

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Life on Mars – The Black Astronaut (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

Black-AstronautWell, that’s a new one on me. Hip-hop has always had something to say, at its most basic it is boastful and self-aggrandising, at it’s most clever it is observational and socially aware, but listening to Land of The Lost I have stumbled upon another incarnation. Hip-Hop as philosophy and philosophy on the grandest of scales. Not merely the street philosophy of the underdog but pure, unadulterated cosmic thinking and musing on our place in the universe. But then again anyone taking the moniker of Black Astronaut is probably not going to be bounded by the usual physical barricades.

 

This, of course should have been obvious from the start, the album is after all called Life on Mars after a fairly faithful rendition of the Bowie classic which sits within but also threaded through the title and subjects, the samples and the lyrics is a stargazing attitude and a enquiring mind. Lunar Lunatics takes the drifting vibes of a Pink Floyd classic and projects them like alien voices and the ancient echoes of the universe being picked up by deep space probes whilst the insane rap increases around it.

Is The Galaxy Just Pimping Me reminds us that Charles Luck and his collected lyrical cosmonauts never take themselves too seriously, something many of their contemporaries could learn from and over a De La Soul pop-hop vibe they take their universal musings to its almost illogical conclusion. When You’re Down approaches the cosmic embrace from a different angle, lyrically it asks some big questions, throws in some poignancy but does so whilst adopting a psychedelic groove reminiscent of 60’s sci-fi themes, the past sound of future possibilities.

Some might call this a concept album, a journey across vast distances and across vast subjects. I prefer to see it as an album of concepts. Science Fiction has always had the ability to give us the framework to tackle the biggest questions; the ones that have plagued philosophers and existential thinkers since Copernicus first said “ wouldn’t the map of the planets look better with the sun in the middle?” Iain Banks built vast million year old galactic empires, Arthur C Clark predicted technological advancements, Ursula Le Guin explored gender fluid societies and Douglas Adams took the piss out of it all. So the why shouldn’t hip-hop get in on the action and rap it’s way across the universe too, exploring those same big issues and asking those same unanswerable questions.

We all set our own limits, especially musically. Some artists are happy to talk about their small lives, loves and concerns, some embrace the world and join dots between cultures and creeds. However I suspect that if ever we send a probe to the other side of the galaxy the first images that NASA sees through its grainy glimpse of this alien world will be Charles Luck grooving away to the dying echoes of the big bang and adding some hot beats to the galactic groove.

 

 

Who knew that cosmic hip-hop was even a thing?

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Coming Up For Air – Phil Wilson (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

a3393344671_16Because we live in a world where everything needs to have an appropriate label and people have gone to war over the wrong sub-genre being attributed to a particular artist or album, I feel the need to make an important distinction when describing Phil Wilson’s latest e.p. Some might describe it as dream-pop, but I would rather opt for the term dreamy-pop, for whilst it does wander the same hazy and sonorous pathways of the former, it is built on a confident and robust pop structure, beats are solid, guitar lines chime or soar rather than blur and fuzz and the vocals walk the perfect line between dreamscape and drama.

The title track is a touch of louche and languid brilliance, a hazy torpor of sound that sits on a groove equidistant between Wilco and The Church…if you can imagine such a thing. I can. Opening salvo Glad I Don’t Know takes a more drifting indie pop vibe and Anarchy in Our Guitars and Regrets sit somewhere between the solid frameworks and the transient beauty that Coming Up For Air is built on.

Dream-pop with a gym membership? Washed through indie without the fashion fixations? Pop music built more from fluidity than hook? Who cares? It’s great and that’s what matters and it also does that rare thing these days of filling a hole in the generic map and also cleverly sits mid way between cultish and commercial. Who would have thought that one e.p. could join so many dots?

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