Roots music, like most generic labels, is too broad a term to really convey anything useful to the listener. It covers all sorts of world, folk and traditional sounds, sounds that seem to lie at the beating heart of one culture or another and also seems to imply a nostalgic backward glance to a sound that is fairly well established, that is instantly identifiable, easy to pin down and even point to on a map. But if ManaLion is to be found anywhere in this broad musical scatter gun of ideas, it is found in a rare and interesting corner that is marked progressive, forward-thinking perhaps even futuristic.
It’s difficult to tell from this song whether Jo Oliver is a rocker who happens to write very melodic and infectious songs or is a pop artist trying to build a more robust and memorable sound. Not that it really matters that much because either way you look at it Shine On works a treat. If pop music often follows the same tried and tested pathways and rock music is riddled with cliche and bombast, here we find a song that is able to neatly walk the fine line that divides the two camps.
Even on the first play of this album you come away with the feeling that these are songs forged by a very skilled writer and recorded by an experienced band. And you would be right, just one look at Mats Ronander’s resume reveals that he not only has a pile of solo albums behind him but is a go to, top flight session man and has toured as part of, not only home grown legends such as ABBA but has graced the ranks of the likes of Ian Hunter and Graham Parker’s live line ups. In short, the man knows what he is doing. And then some!
Having gathered around him an equally impressive cast of players he has created an album which mixes slick country grooves, polished blues and approachable rock, all shot through with accessible, soulfulness and infectious vibes. It’s where commercial possibilities meet rootsy traditions, where the sound of the American dream gets dressed up for an even bigger international audience.
At one extreme you have the purer Nashville infused sounds of the Karin Risberg led Nothing’s The Same, a song that just glistens with rhinestones and personal reflection and at the other The Bridge plays with big funky, soulful blues. The title track wanders through some latin inspired beats, Spare Me Some change is a bluesy plea and My World showcases the gospel harmonies which are never very far away from the proceedings.
It’s a fine album, deftly constructed, able to wander across genres yet deliver a consistent overall sound, one where rootsy underground music is taken from the truck stops and downtown blues bars and represented and repackaged for a slicker uptown audience. Purists might prefer their music with the rough edges still in evidence but Ronander’s ability to create such sounds for a much bigger stage is exactly why he has had such a successful career.
I have to admit that as a new name to hit the review pile I was more than pleasantly surprised at Slightly Stoopid’s latest, and ninth, album. Always one to judge books by covers (hey, we all do it) and on this occasion the music by the band name, I was relived when what emanated from the speakers was not actually some frat boy, pop punk as the name had suggested to me but in fact a really cool West Coast fusion band.
Even fusion is a loaded term but here it comes in the form of a cool blend of roots-rock, reggae, pop and blues, in the past have even explored more extremes genres such as punk and metal. Here though the focus is very much on island life, ska, reggae and calypso sounds form the core but there is plenty of room to follow those musical threads to their logical extensions and incorporate hip-hop, soul-pop, folk and roots rock and roll and much more besides. So how does a band fit all of those, often mutually exclusive styles together? Well, normally a band doesn’t, at least not well, but Slightly Stoopid, despite their name, are actually extremely clever, more than that they are deft arrangers, superb players and are brilliantly imaginative conceptually.
You can tell a lot about a band by the company they keep and the fact that Ali Campbell turns up for a ska-pop groover, Yellowman brings the old school reggae and dub legend Don Carlos fronts two slick and sultry dance floor anthems, says all you need to know here.
Nine albums in and it’s my first encounter with the band. My bad, as the youth of today say but at least people know what to get me for the next eight birthdays!
Dan Owen has announced a string of live dates for October and November, following the release of his forthcoming debut album Stay Awake With Me on August 17th.
Regarding the record Dan says, “This is my first album. I like to think of it as a collection of personal stories and experiences. I feel like this is what I have been working for since I first picked up a guitar at 8 years old. A lot has happened since then and these songs cover some of the high and low points for me and some of those closest to me. I am really grateful to everyone who has been a part of the process and I couldn’t be more proud of the result.”
The announcement comes as Dan’s latest single ‘Icarus’ is added to the Radio 2 playlist with rave support for the Shrewsbury singer coming from across the station.
The song features soaring guitars and expansive orchestral strings while Dan’s jaw-dropping vocal abilities deliver a dark and hard-hitting story about drug abuse. It’s the latest song to be taken from the forthcoming album, which also features the previously released and highly acclaimed singles ‘Made To Love You’, ‘Hideaway’ and ‘What is a Man’.
‘Made To Love You’ has amassed over 12 million streams on Spotify, while his last single ‘Hideaway’ proved a highly praised radio hit. It was featured as ‘Record Of The Week’ at both Radio 1 and Virgin Radio, while it also received strong support across the board of tastemakers at Radio 2.
In the few short encounters I have had with the fabulously named Mr Mooq, he has never ceased to surprise me. Whether he is updating post-punk pop for the modern age with Double Happiness or contributing to the post-industrial dance/TED talk machinations of The New Occupants, there is always something interesting going on within his musical outings.
This time out he follows a smoother, more chilled furrow, pop it still is, but this time it is built with soft, kaleidoscopic elements, soulful, late night mainstream grooves and hippy abandon. That might not sound very fashionable, and that is exactly why I love his approach. Fashion is only something that can be seen by those who follow, people who lead only catch fleeting visions of it as they check their rear view mirrors. And after all , if you opt to make music that never chimes with the fickle fads of the modern age, how can you ever be out of fashion anyway? Fashion is just something other people work with, Mr Mooq seems to have no truck with those sorts of limiting restrictions.
Revelling in the past is all very well and good but the best music, or at least the most original, seems to be made as people move things forward. It’s evolution, it’s forward-thinking, it is the way the world turns. Jackie Dope is the sound of the world turning and music moving into pastures new. Yes, you can break the song apart and find very recognisable musical building blocks being used, but it is what they are used to build which is the real charm.
Over a lazy and sultry hip-hop groove he hangs soulful vibes, trippy electronica, deft rap flows and a wonderful use of space and anticipation. It certainly beats with a chilled hip-hop heart but it also evokes a timeless soul, commercial R&B and a strange blend of cocktail lounge sophistication and urban street smarts.
But I guess that is how the whole scene rolls forward and you can run a thread through blues, jazz and soul that eventually takes you to hip-hop and then beyond as that in turn has evolved into its own offshoots and sub-genres But they all come from the underground, form honest expression, from the street, from the heart, which is why blending them together seems such a natural thing to do. Then again, there always has to be someone who gets there first!
Covering iconic songs is a tricky thing especially songs as ingrained in the public consciousness as Wild Cherry’s Play That Funky Music (White Boy). Many have tired, Euro-poppers Roxette made it sound predictably…well, Europop, Tim Campbell delivered an over-produced, over-polished version, Extreme rocked it out, Prince made it sound like it was his own song and a host of TV music show wannabes have sucked the very soul out of it. The problem with attempting to cover a well-known song is that you have one of two options. Either you bring something new to the song which implies that you think that you can do better than the person who wrote it in the first place or you stay faithfully to it which begs the question why bother covering it at all? The answer, it would seem lies somewhere between the two approaches.
Thankfully that is exactly what is going on in the latest foray into this funky hallowed ground. The original is a blend of groovesome and soulful guitar licks, stomping bass lines and funky, energetic drumming. All good so far. The thing that most people generally get wrong is over filling the space between the backbeat and the vocals, not here, here there is just the right amount of space and anticipation. Brass attacks punctuate the air and backing vocals do no more than underline with raps and shout outs. And the reason for this space is to create a dynamic restraint, which is blown wide open when the white hot, jagged guitar gets its turn in the spotlight.
True to the spirit of the original with just the right amount of originality and freshness to justify revisiting this classic, exactly the fine line you need to walk to make such a cover work. Perfect.
There is some music which transcends genres. I’m not saying that in a sensationalist way or to invoke the modern trend for hyperbole, it is just that some music is built along such classic lines that it predates the contemporary need for generic labels and neat pigeon holes. Okay, there is a touch of jazz eclecticism to be found, soulful vibes abound and the balance between the neo-classic piano which forms the foundation of the e.p. and the deft designs and clever musical motifs built from rock, pop and indie that adds the sonic detail hint at the familiar. But for the most part it seems to create a genre of its own, partially because it is happy to hop generic boundaries at will but mainly because it doesn’t conform enough to any one. Eclecticism is the name of the game.
The more driven end of the music, songs such as Lethe with its sultry dance groove and Xtralarge, which rounds things off, have something of Kate Bush about them, an overused reference point I know but there is something in the singular vision, the same willingness to ignore trend and fashion and make music which conforms only the artists own musical rule book.
Higher is built on a wonderful play off of soulful lead vocals and sumptuous banks of harmonies, exquisitely show-casing Em’s sweet and sensual voice, able to whisper gently in the listeners ear to create intimacy but also able to push upwards to create dynamic and drama. La Belle Etoile is perhaps the most intriguing of songs, the natural beauty of the sound of its French lyrics blending with dreamy textures and arabesque vibes to create a wonderful blend of eastern exoticism and western pastoral chill.
It’s a stunning collection of songs, seeming not tied to culture, clime, genre or generation, a timeless, restless musical soundscape that captures all the beauty of the past and all the potential of the present. I guess that is how you build the sound of the future.
Picture courtesy of Clair Price
You have to love an album which comes at you like the future of pop music whilst effortlessly blending past golden ages and Where’s The Magic does all this and more. For every cutting edge synth line there is a funky groove, for every futuristic dream-pop vibe there is a jazz-soul heartbeat for every forward thinking idea there is a wonderful past reference. And I guess that is really how things get moved on. Musical revolutions are fine on paper, but they are more the stuff of journalistic copy than really changing the musical world. But blending the past with the present to usher in the future, that is actually where it is at…that is Where The Magic is.
There music is effortlessly accessible, songs such as I Wanna Dance With You Again being an instant future pop classic , the slow burning I Could Spot You In A Hundred Miles blending mercurial chamber-pop construction with strange infectiousness and the title track coming on like a long lost and wonderfully quirky Fleetwood Mac song.
And if the music is beguiling Nina Mortvedt’s vocals match it step for step. Able to wander between sweet soft-rock grandeur and underground pop cool, she lays down lyrics which are wonderfully introspective via a delivery which is rich, expressive and sensual. Put the two together and Band of Gold prove beyond doubt that the future of pop is in safe hands.
There is an interesting ambiguity that sits at the literary heart of Things I Wish You Said, the first single from Indifferent Matters. Whilst the lyrics seem to dwell on a loving and functioning relationship, heartwarming analogies and the realities of trying to make things perfect in an imperfect world, the title hints at a missing piece in this puzzle, something wished for and so presumably not present. But that’s love for you and maybe that is all part of the intrigue of the song.
Musically it is on just as tantalising ground as it builds on chilled and soulful minimalism, with chiming guitars and plaintive piano just guiding the words to their intended destination, before sullen brass edges in and sounds the changes. Beats build, a trumpet carries the main riff, banks of sumptuous harmonies add body and the song grooves and sashays towards its conclusion. Things I Wish You Said deftly splices ambient funk, alternative soulful rock, laid-back blues and an air of neo-hippyism to great effect, and why not, that isn’t a blend you come across too often and they do it elegantly. If song marks their first time around the musical block, I can’t be the only one intrigued to hear what happens next!
Even if I didn’t rate the music you have to love a band with a name like The Harpoonist and The Axe Murderer, doubly so once you find out that their current album is called Apocalipstick! Thankfully I do rate their music. A lot. They make exactly the sort of vintage music for the modern age which is really ticking a lot of boxes for me at the moment.
Whilst there is something in its eclectic flights of fancy and sonic choices that suggests it is the product of the modern world, it beats with a more experienced mind, a more lived in heart and a much older soul. Raw blues, early rock and roll, gospel grooves and soul moves all come together to build music which revels in its own ragged glory, its own substance over style heart, its own celebration of the way music used to be made.
Hard on Things and the wonderfully named duo responsible for it remind me of the ethic of artists like The Band, ones who in the face of the current zeitgeist deliberately subverted expectation and delivered something far older and less fashionable, wonderfully out of step with the current trend and just waited for others to catch up. The Band did it in the face of encroaching hippiedom and hard rock, The Harpoonist and The Axe Murderer do it against a backdrop of landfill Indie, disposable pop and bedroom rappers. Why follow fashion when you can start your own, wholly new, roots movement?
I know age shouldn’t really come into such things, I always see art, music… creativity of all sorts as being a level playing field and it is all about the end result not the back story so beloved of TV shows and marketing companies. But I will say this. Damn! Grayson Word is seventeen years old and he has delivered a stone cold soul classic. Or more accurately the hottest one I have heard for a long time. It runs on a blue-eye groove, of course it does, but it is miles removed from the modern pop-R&B that commercial artists seem to be infusing their music with of late. This is no Sam Smith or Conor Maynard re-appropriation of classic sounds for commercial gain, Grayson Word feels like the real deal.
As someone who hasn’t travelled as much of the world as I would like, who explores a lot of the world through it’s music and everything that it evokes, Grayson Word sounds like nothing less than America’s beating heart. And to be fair it is probably an America that never existed outside its road movies, TV adverts, beat legacy, films literature and other rose tinted nostalgia, but in my mind it is what America should sound like. Away from the celebrity spotlight of what we laughingly call the music industry, disposable pop with it’s bland shopping mall beat and faceless landfill indie – all complicated hair and scenester regulations, he offers us something real, something authentic, something that you won’t look at in ten years time and just muse “what was I thinking!”
When he funks it out he does so with the same eloquence as the likes of Curtis Mayfield, Forget How To Fly exhibiting the same genre-hopping brilliance as it drives funktastic bass lines, rock guitar lines and evocative Hammond swells through soulful territory. Striking Matches chimes with vintage soul-pop and the title track pops and pulses with the same inherent cool that Stevie Wonder energised his songs with.
It is the sound of basement soul gatherings blending into back street Chicago jazz clubs which in turn become the sound of illicit blues parties and underground gigs. It is the sound of an alternative, underground path that music took when it should have become the mainstream. It is the sound of a midnight ritual designed to re-animate the zombie corpse of the muse of music that mattered, still matters and will continue to matter, long after the current boy band wannabes have returned to a day job where the main concern is asking the customer if they want fries with that!
Sadly the modern pop picker probably only has access to the glorious past that this album references via modern cash-ins such as James Blake’s distorted musical musings or the pub landlady of pop, Adele, and her false retro posturing. Even if this wasn’t the case, Grayson Word would still be important to the cause, but the current bandwagoning makes his brand of modern-retro classic essential as a torch to be kept burning. Word!
Check the album out on Spotify
Molly Kruse has that classic Americana sound, it is hard to pin down musically in anything other than a general sense but geographically it is the cultural pulse of that great nation. Tilt your head one way and it is a classic soul number, the other and you catch a lilting country vibe, step back a bit and it is an uptown pop-jazz number from the classiest of clubs, move nearer and it is a cool, modern R&B piece.
As someone who hasn’t travelled as much of the world as I would like, who explores a lot of the world through it’s music and everything that it evokes, Molly Kruse sounds like nothing less than America’s beating heart. And to be fair it is probably an America that never existed outside it’s road movies, TV adverts, beat legacy, literature and other rose tinted nostalgia, but in my mind it is what America should sound like. Away from the celebrity spotlight of what we laughingly call the music industry, disposable pop with it’s bland shopping mall beat and faceless landfill indie – all complicated hair and scenester regulations – Ms. Kruse offers us something real, something authentic, something that you won’t look at in ten years time and wonder “what was I thinking!” Molly Kruse is not only the real deal, she is the real deal made over for the modern audience. Perfect.
A band closely associated with a previous era returning to the musical fray has a few problems when it comes to recording a new musical calling card, something to underline that this is more than just a bank balance driven, rose tinted, nostalgia trip. New material finds you ignoring your obvious selling point and the power of your back catalogue but a straight out greatest hits collection brings nothing new to the table. The Christians, however, as their deftly crafted, hard centred, soul-pop songs indicated first time around, were always smarter than most. So the idea of a reimagined and rerecorded collection of their best known numbers seems the perfect way for the recently reconvened band to make their presence known.
Sings and Strings does what it says on the tin, a greatest hits package but one made up of new recordings. That in itself shows a commitment to the here and now, a willingness to not merely rely on past glories but this album is even better than that. This hits package is set to the distinctive vocals of original frontman Gary Christian, joined by band members for the last decade Joey Ankrah and Neil Griffiths, but largely driven by piano, the eloquent strings of The Echo String Quartet and the harmonies of the AMC Gospel Choir, and it works brilliantly.
Their music has always been seeped in soulfulness and melody, and driven by an elegant dynamic which lends itself to such a rendering, and it is a reimagining which keeps the beauty of the songs front and centre but just dresses them in more exquisite musical trappings. The band were once described as “The Temptations in ripped jeans, producing gritty-centred songs in a sugary vocal shell,” this is the sound of those ripped jeaned soul boys all grown up. Ideal World in particular moves from poignant pop to transcendent classical grandeur with effortless ease, Harvest For The World is a sumptuous vocal cascade yet retains its original sassy groove and Forgotten Town seems even more lyrically effective and hard hitting being stripped to its vocal core.
The Christians have never really gone away, though recent years have seen them slip from many peoples mind, but this collection, which underlines their ongoing 30th Anniversary tour reminds us that they wrote some brilliant songs, songs which lend themselves to this brilliant make over. Even if you have the songs from back in the day, Sings and Strings really adds another dimension to the bands musical heritage. And if you are new to the band and looking for a way in, this is the perfect place to start.
Music can’t help but be anything other than the sum total of the artists creative past and the more mercurial and wide ranging that is, the more likely the end result is something unique and ploughing a singular furrow. Zialand’s musical make up reads like a strange contemporary fantasy novel, a backstory penned by the likes of Neil Gaimen or Terry Gilliam. A diet of Chicago classics and west coast cool from a young age, growing up in Greenland and Norway, a gospel choir, piano lessons, an LA story, an Australian rebirth and collaborations with British post-punk producer and legend John Fryer.
But that was then and this is now and now is all about an album under her own name, Unbridled and Ablaze, which will be out in spring and a first single, Landslide, as an initial calling card. Given the myriad musical threads which run through her DNA, Landslide blends some familiar sounds, sultry electro-pop, sensuous R&B and perfectly measured soul vibes, it’s just that it is woven together in a seamless and singular way. It is smooth, dark and delicious, brilliantly understated and expertly delivered.
If you are worried about where pop music goes next beyond the identikit cloning that the industry serves up, where soul music heads now, to shake off the chart usurpers who claim to be re-inventing it for the good of all, then look no further than Zialand’s inspired first single and brace yourself for the album to follow. 2018 is looking pretty interesting already!
For all things Zialand list the website HERE
Music is driven by many factors and we often find that the biggest inspirations, the best creative flows are the result of being presented with the biggest hurdles. When faced with two life changing diagnoses, instead of pulling away and feeling sorry for himself, Alphonso Archer was driven to be more creative, more pro-active, more focused and the result is a fantastic collection of songs which goes by the name of Formula For Life.
It is an album woven from a wide range of subtle and soulful threads, jazz infused blissfulness, groovesome R&B and perfect pop forms blended together to create infectiousness and accessibility. And yet despite all the generic juggling and stylistic mixing it is an album with a very cohesive sound, one which brims with sophistication and modernity yet one that is aware of its place in the musical scheme of things, one which understands exactly where it is coming from and because of that knows where it is going. And where it is going is into a bright new musical dawn.
On songs such as Omens it revels in a chilled R&B vibe, one which will appeal to both the commercial minded pop punter and the more discerning movers, shakers, and underground tastemakers and the title track is built on jazz-soul sweetness and brims with positivity. But there is also room for more off-beat ideas, Where Have All The Flowers Gone? sees Alphonso Archer go green and over a mesh of minimal beats, classical guitar and brooding strings a spoken word narrative discusses the plight of the humble bee. Also included is a re-mixed rap version but for me the almost Shakespearean delivery of the original is the one that does it for me.
Bring You Back Again explores some reggae vibes and Let’s Keep Things Simple is a brilliant pop-soul cross over which given a fair wind and the right promotion could easily be a chart bothering contender. And despite the familiarity of the building blocks used to create this album, the end result is wonderfully original, deftly wrought and chock full of personality. Where soul has often become a catch all for impressive feats of sultry lyrical dexterity that all too often forget to invest in any genuine emotion, this is a record built on the heartfelt and honest, which after all were the hallmarks of the genre in the first place.
And whereas many artists working in this soul-jazz-pop axis have a tendency to be lyrically light and bereft of depth, Formula For Life has some wonderfully poignant moments, it tugs heartstrings, explores relationships and generally has much to say about life and it is that combination of musical exploration, poeticism and lyrical honesty that means that it might just propel Archer into the market he deserves. We can only hope.
Life affirming, that’s what this is! It is a term which gets banded about a lot but there is something so positive, so infectious, so groovesome, so…well, great, that there is really no other term for it. At a collision point where pop contagion smashes into soul vibes, where just enough rock solidity underpins strutting funky moves and then all topped off with vocal hooks so strong you could hang your coat on them, this song and indeed the band are masters of all that they survey. They walk a line between unselfconscious cool and industrial strength party anthems creating a sound which has only one function…to get you up and dancing and even on the first play of this wonderfully addictive track, it is difficult to see how it could ever fail.
Sometimes you want something sophisticated, slick and introspective, something to dwell on, make you think and ponder the meaning of life…but this isn’t the song for that, this is the track that kicks the night off, fills up the dance floor, the soundtrack to a series of summer beach parties and the last song of the festival and it does all that without breaking a sweat. It may sound like throwaway pop soul but it is cleverer and more infectious than that. Even if it could be considered short shelf life, throwaway music, it is executed so brilliantly it is better termed “throwaway pop that you will want to keep forever.”
Lindsey Harper does that most rare of things, she makes pop that sounds both grown up and wonderfully infectious at the same time. Throwaway pop is two a penny, it always has been, and that is pretty much the nature of the beast. But pop aimed at a more mature audience generally misses the point, taking itself too seriously and forgetting why it came into the room in the first place. New Life, however, is the best of both worlds.
It hooks, it zings, it pops and it certainly grooves, it is infectious and accessible but it is also cleverly put together, sassy, soulful and bluesy, and it adds an unexpected lyrical astuteness to this often misunderstood genre, so much so that the end result is nothing less than deep and meaningful pop.
And as cleverly wrought and finely crafted as the music is, it is Lindsey’s voice that is the stand out feature, how could it not be? It is a voice filled with the ghosts of soul legends and jazz-blues icons, a natural and all encompassing vocal equally happy to whisper softly in your ear or hit the big crescendo. It comes as no surprise that she has already played the likes of Madison Square Garden and the Houston Rodeo.
In short it is pop in an evening dress, pop with an eye on the long game, pop reaching its full potential. Throwaway pop songs that you will want to keep forever! Whatever will they think of next?
Well, if that isn’t the feel good hit of the summer I’d like to know what is! As earnest heroes of indie crank out earnest indie songs, rockers master their clichéd poses and pop divas suggest pointless dance routines which everyone will have given up on by next week, Nick takes a simpler approach.
Simple, infectious, joyous abandon…. pop-soul style. How can you not like this guy, he makes great videos, doesn’t take himself seriously and is obviously having a lot of fun. Even without the video it’s a real earworm of a song, try getting that chorus out of your head once you have heard it.
Sassy, funky, groovesome, fun, frivolous and flippin’ great. I’m sure that the guy is many leagues down a very successful career path but there is part of me that really wishes that the place in the video is somewhere that he works part time…you know just between national tours and winning awards.
Working as a reviewer who has no real control (pun intended) over what music lands on my sonic desk has a few drawbacks. For all the wonderful unpredictability, lucky finds and eureka moments about ninety per cent of what comes my way falls into the identikit-dance or twee singer songwriter categories, all been done, all been heard before. Thankfully the other ten per cent can be labelled refreshingly cool, brilliantly different and splendidly well thought through. Tom Cameron’s 1403 is definitely in the latter category.
The core of the song is built on plaintive neo-classical piano and his smooth and emotive voice, and even as the bass comes in followed by acoustic guitar and a red-hot guitar play out part, it is those two elements which are what it is really all about. Part pop, part lounge jazz, it is polished yet powerful in all the right places, it tugs heartstrings without playing the schmaltzy card, it is the sound of what happens when you take the idea of writing a sophisticated yet commercially viable pop ballad and give it to someone who really knows how music works.
Amidst the gradual rise in the public awareness of issues surrounding gender, gay rights and equality in general, The Bleeding Obvious album comes at the perfect time. Whilst most of the issues it deals with generally pervade into the public’s consciousness via weighty TV debates by dusty academics or sensationalised news stories, the songs here come from the other end of the spectrum, the smaller, personal thoughts and experiences of someone living a regular life at the heart of the matter.
In a fairly guarded way the songs explore the changes and challenges that its author Jess Rowbottom has faced in the last couple of years and whilst others rally against such issues in bombastic terms, hers is an album which deals with the personal details, the universal experiences of the day to day. Much of the power of the record is the use of “talking head” commentary, people revealing their own stories of coming out, of dealing with others reactions and prejudices, in their own words and voices.
Musically it is a wonderful generic pop hop across everything from disco to synth-pop, blue-eyed soul to ambient dreamscapes and harnesses the lyrical poignancy of arch agitators Chumbawamba to the futuristic beat of The Pet Shop Boys and the northern directness and dark, social exploration of Reverend and The Makers yet never really sounds like any one but sometimes all at once.
Sometimes the power of the message is in how it is delivered and here the importance of what is being offered lyrically comes wrapped in some deft and original musical packaging. Whilst the album obviously has an immediate audience amongst those you initially relate to the topics, the music may also act as a Trojan Horse, engaging a wider spectrum of people driven by the music first and the message second. Education by osmosis is a powerful tool.
In the ever-shifting social-political world, this album should and indeed could, become an important milestone. Demonstrations and transient news stories are all very well, but this is the sound of one person, alone and mussing, a voice in the wilderness calling on those who already relate and those who wish to understand. And when all is said and done it is the singular human voice that has always wielded the power.
Ever 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?
Last summer the video for Baby 126 seemed to come out of no-where, brimming with infectiousness and feel good, sun-soaked vibes. And if the concept of a Shakespearean sonnet delivered as a rapped vocal may have then been hard to imagine, this song proved that with the right ingredients – blue-eyed street soul vocals, breezy pop, slinky, jazz horns, easy dance grooves, not to mention the singers own force of personality – the only surprising thing about it was that it hadn’t been done before.
But if this three-track release shows anything, it is not just what a commercial success the lead track could prove to be but also the range that Ruby covers both musically and lyrically. If Baby 126 is the obvious clarion call for a party, the other tracks work in more subtle ways. Fire is built of darker materials, slow burning, raw, bluesy and confessional, and between the minimalist structures some of those hallmarks of the Lighterthief studio, squiggly electronica and warped distant atmospherics add interesting musical punctuation.
Azul takes a more traditional line; chilled, soulful and sensuous, its graceful and classic lines reflect a timeless style that has endured from Souls golden age through to the modern pop divas who still tribute its iconic style. It is testament to this track that it could exist anywhere on that timeline.
Baby 126 was the calling card, a colourful blast to grab your attention but now packaged with two very different songs, a much bigger and more interesting picture is emerging. As a taste of the full-length album, which is currently being recorded, this is indeed the most tempting of musical appetizers.
Available from – www.lighterthiefmusic.com
Although centred in a classic blue-eyed soul and pop sound, Stronger is a record of surprising dynamics that references past heroes such as Paul Carrack, Mick Hucknall and even Hall and Oates rather than any of the current crop of pop chancers who have appropriated that title. It is also a gentle reminder that if you look beyond the likes of the awful Sam Smith and his overly earnest, emotionally bankrupt yet commercially lucrative pantomime, the real work, the artistic work, the work with actually longevity is being done by people like Mi’das.
Wish Road is a solid way to kick off the ep, but Vienna is the song that really taps into a rhythm and blues heart and dances between driving rock grooves and soulful interludes. It’s anthemic, big and clever and sounds like the perfect encore at a festival with the sun going down behind the stage and the party in its fullest swing. This could be the soundtrack to your summer. Between the big hitters, the real brilliance of the artist is found. Too Little Too Late is piano ballad that builds into a fully orchestrated opus and Like You Did Then is a heart-wrenching ballad built on atmospheres and emotion.
But saving the best till last a revisit to Wish Road finds a mix of gospel, world music harmonies, half heard blues riffs and dream-pop experimentation and blends them into a slow burning, slow building progressive soul epic. Every now and then you need someone to come along and over turn the musical apple cart. Marvin Gaye famously did it with What’s Going On? Maybe it’s time to do it again and I think we may have found the man for the job.