With eighteen musicians listed in the making of the latest album by blues guitarist JP Soars, it comes as little surprise that the result is packed full of music that not only holds its roots in blues but encompasses other genres such as folk, Americana, soul and a heavy twist of rock. This is the kind of blues that gives space to brass instruments and nods to artists such as Nickelback, Van Morrison, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Tedeschi Trucks Band.
Given Nelson King’s usual rate of output, I was thinking of sending out a search party, having not had anything by him land in the in-box for quite a while, but thankfully Life Ain’t No Movie Show turned up as if to assure me that he is still very much in the game. Though its all relative I guess as even with this recent breathing space he would still finish in medal position compared with today’s average artist.
Not content with inventing his own musical genres by taking the common building blocks of familiar sounds and fashioning them into new sonic architecture, Garden City is Slang building a whole new world for those sounds to inhabit. It’s a place where “a red river flows through the veins of an enchanted forest” and “through the mist, in the heartland, lays Garden City.” That may seem a bit proggy, but rest assured this isn’t the music of wizards and epic quests, unless the wizards are the musicians making this glorious sound and their quest is a search for the groove.
Books and covers, well, more properly Cd’s and covers; I never learn do I but I’m sure that I’m not the only person to look at this side project release from Jezebel Jones and automatically conjure words such as gothic, pagan, theatre, pathos, cliche, etc. But this is actually far removed from the Buffy watching, pseudo-pagan audience that I might have judged it to be aimed at. In fact its so far removed that it can’t even see Sunnydale in the rear view mirror.
Tales of romance within the music industry are still alive and kicking, you hear stories of buskers being plucked from oblivion to record debut albums, lonely minstrel-type performers suddenly thrown into the spotlight after years of sofa surfing and these kinds of background stories are much more interesting than the reality of someone going through years of learning their craft in numerous bands before suddenly getting a deal with a bunch of friends and going on to be the next big thing.
Even before they had made a single noise, Spiritualized‘s moves were being closely watched by discerning music fans and press alike by virtue of front man Jason Pierce and his previous musical vehicle Spacemen 3. And whilst their droning, pedal heavy, shoegazing and tremolo driven sound would warp and shift to absorb many genres, particularly, gospel and blues, and reference the Phil Spectre “wall of sound” approach, Fucked Up Inside is where it all began.
Multi-Award-winning American Blues guitarist and singer-songwriter Samantha Fish returns for a nationwide UK tour in May 2019. Tickets will go on sale on Friday 2nd November via.
The tour coincides with Samantha’s new studio album to be released in early 2019 which is the follow-up to her critically acclaimed 2017 albums Belle of the West and Chills & Fever.
Blues has always been a good vehicle for delivering a message of pain and heartache. It’s also been a good vehicle for spawning new ways of doing things, it being the birth place of so many subsequent genres – rock ’n’ roll, rock, punk and everything that followed are all based on its methods. Armed with these two factors Anne Deming builds a warped blues song that stomps confidently and regretfully to its bitter conclusion like a woman scorned.
There is a saying; “Class is permanent, form is temporary” well that applies here, ‘Miles To Go’ is an album that takes songs from the vaults of blues music and sets about restoring them for the modern audience. It’s a strange concept for an album but one that succeeds in all aspects of what it is trying to achieve. Calling it a restoration project is very close to what it is and it never feels cheap or a quick fix to sell albums, it’s lovingly done and it’s clear there are two agenda’s; firstly to reintroduce us to songs that were written decades ago (one is from 1927!) possibly by people the musical world have begun to forget and, secondly, to remind us how strong, and relevant, these songs sound when handled correctly.
Canadian blues man Colin James has been writing and recording albums since the late 1980’s and he clearly holds this style of music dear because the songs are perfectly reintroduced to the new century with care and consideration.
They say that in life – and in music – timing is everything, and within ‘The Darkness Between the Leaves’ comes the feeling that we’re leaving summer and entering into the changing season of autumn, which, as I write this, we are.
The album opens with the words “the nights are getting colder, the summer birds are gone, the days are getting shorter…” and this feeling of the passing of time runs throughout this wonderful album.
Alba Griot Ensemble (Alba being the Gaelic name for Scotland and Griot roughly meaning a storyteller, musician or poet) is a clever hybrid of Celtic folk and blues played with traditional instruments of the West African country of Mali and is difficult to categorise. Fans of World Music will no doubt have in their collection more difficult styles of music to pigeon hole but those who follow more commercial styles will struggle to pin it down.
This isn’t the heavy rhythmic music that Paul Simon or David Byrne used in the 80’s, these are finely layered pieces which take on both genres without sounding like either is unwelcome at the table. We have acoustic guitar and double bass from typical folk music sitting side by side with a stringed lute-like instrument called a Ngoni, African percussion and subtle vocals.
The ngoni has a reputation for being able to be played fast, it features heavily especially on the instrumental ‘Horonia’ and shows its speed on ‘Shadow Queen’, it sounds lovely here and bridges the gap between African and Celtic music and sounds at home when the band move into blues and jazz territory.
There is a variation in the music that is welcomed and shows the ability of the band to stretch its legs into other styles of music, this keeps the listener interested because each song delivers a new flavour. ‘Long Way Home’ is one of three songs I keep returning to, it’s possibly the most straight forward track on the album yet it has a percussion and rhythm that remains enjoyable and accessible, ‘Blurred Visions’ with a melody similar to ‘Stairway to Heaven’ flies by at 5mins long before we end the album with ‘North Wind’. A mighty nine minutes in length, it gives the band, in particular the rhythm section, the chance to jam and groove until the album comes to an end. This song closes the album like the sunset closes the day. Great stuff.
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.
On an increasingly packed shelf of roots music stands an artist who is quietly going about his business, blending and blurring the lines between country, folk and blues and playing shows all over the place, and picking up friends and followers as he goes.
If you’re a follower of Mark Harrison, or keep an eye on roots music in general, I won’t be telling you anything new here, you’ve already had the scoop and it’s I who is the late comer, but for those who stumble upon the cd cover and think “that looks interesting” or have heard his music on Radio 2 or perhaps wandered past an acoustic stage at a festival and heard a song or two by him, read on…
The Panoramic View is Mark’s sixth album and is a wonderful dip into nostalgia, these songs could have been written sixty years ago but the great success is how these songs also feel and sound contemporary. The opening track title, ‘One Small Suitcase’, sums up the feeling of the album in three words, these are songs to accompany a railroad trip, sat on an old wooden crate, passing the fields of Idaho, watching the miles and hours drift by with nothing but the stories and imagery that Harrison effortlessly seems to conjure.
Harrison encourages the listener to go on the journey, pack that small suitcase, get on board that train and visit the father surrounded by children, the heart broken man wronged by his woman, the legendary railroad worker and the man living on a farm scratching a living and trying to avoid temptation and passing on his words of wisdom to the upcoming generation. I guess this is a metaphor for what Harrison is trying to do, a blues man at heart, he is repeating and retelling the music of the blues, so it can hopefully find a home among the pop tunes and short-lived celebrity acts. But if you’re hoping for screaming guitar solos, look elsewhere because this is subtle story telling that clings on by it’s nails long after the song has finished.
There are acoustic songs like ‘House Full of Children’, ‘Ragged’ and ‘John The Chinaman’ but there is a growly earthy centre that is found in the superb ‘Hooker’s Song’. Obviously none of this can be done alone, Harrison surrounds himself with some fine musicians, bringing the different tones to life with ease. One thing that particularly stood out was the brass work of Paul Tkachenko, hearing a tuba being played on any record puts me in mind of the silver bands of Northern England, yet hearing it here, on an album so obviously American-inspired allows these stories to feel more relevant to me somehow.
So, like I said earlier, if you have heard Mark Harrison before, I’m probably telling you nothing new here, the songs are good, the music is good and this is what you’ve come to expect from a musician writing and delivering this level of music, but if this is your first visit, you’re in for a treat.
There are many reasons for making records that are purely covers. They range from thoughts of paying homage to the iconic songs that have featured heavily in your life to more cynical ideas of a mere cash-in. Sarah Sharp is very much in the former camp on that axis. The art of course is to be able to bring just enough that is new to the songs but still retain the qualities that made the songs iconic in the first place and again that is exactly what she gets so right on this 6 track release.
The most obvious thing that she brings is a voice that can only be described as breathtaking, that perfect blend of timeless cool jazz vibes and a crystalline contemporary feel, a voice that at once matches the material perfectly but also feels like it opens an interesting new chapter too. Oh What A Beautiful Morning is deft and delicate and You Were Always on My Mind is rendered into a gorgeous late night ballad.
The only song I didn’t recognise immediately was Your Girlfriend Hate’s Me and a little delving reveals that it is in fact an original co-written with Hannah Johnson who as a member of UK country-swing aficionados The Toy Hearts, my own scuffed suede Chelsea boots have grooved around to live on more than one occasion. It is indeed a small world.
I’m not always the biggest fan of covers, standards, pre-owned…call them what you will, songs but here Sarah Sharp gets it all just right and the songs are treated in such a way that they justify this new outing with ease. Her voice alone would be enough to clinch the deal but add in the deft new arrangements which adds groove where there was balladry, ambience where there was swagger, hushed tones where there was bravado and every switch and change in between and you have the perfect tribute blended with the perfect calling card for her own, not insignificant talents.
There are a few odd and almost indefinable generic terms in music, handles used mainly by lazy journalists, like myself, to easily box music, the draw lines of demarcation in an effort to say it is one thing or another. Of all of them the worst is the term “world music”…music that is representative of a culture or a place and therefore meaning something different to every one who hears the word. But maybe world music is actually something else all together…maybe it isn’t music from one part of the planet or another but music which is built from various sounds garnered from all corners of the globe…corners of a globe? Well, you know what I mean.
The fact that Ajay was born in India, lives in Switzerland, that he weaves pieces of pop with rock, blends of eastern instrumentation and western folk traditions, loose psychedelia with rigid structured grooves, plunders the past just as much as he looks to the future, means that he is the perfect world citizen to be able to truly create this new world genre. A genre where east meets west, where worlds collide, where occident dances with orient.
Forget About Yesterday sums up his ability to cross genres and borders perfectly, tabla beats and wailing blues harmonicas, pastel hippy-pop warmth and a looping funky groove beating at its heart and Ordinary Memory sounds as if R.E.M. relocated to the outskirts of Bangalore at the end of the nineties. There are straighter Americana infused songs such as All Your Thoughts, a real end of the night bar room sing-along and the wonderfully named My Wallet is a House of Cards is a stomping blues-rocker.
The real charm of the album is that even though it covers a lot of ground stylistically, just compare the late-night jazz vibes of Grooving In Paris with the retro-folk-pop of While I’m Standing Here, it has a cohesive quality, each song, no matter where it leans generically feels like a necessary part of the whole album. I’ve tried to avoid using the B word, but it has the same sort of breath-taking diversity and exploratory nature as the later Beatles album and for once I feel that such a comparison is no mere rhetoric or hyperbole, Little Boat really is a gem of an album.
So, maybe this is a new genre, more likely it is an acknowledgement that genres don’t really exist or if they do they are a hinderance to musicians creativity rather than a guide. Whatever the answer, Little Boat is an album everyone should hear…today…right now…go and buy it this instant, you’ll thank me later. You will….
There is a quote that comes with the press release of Grandview Station’s eponymous album noting that it has been described as “like finding an album in the basement from 1979 that was lost and never released.” To be honest, as a sound bite, that takes a lot of beating in its accuracy and succinctness. Rock music may be having a tough time trying to work out where its future lies, but sometimes it forgets that it is also okay to look to the past, to tip its hat, in this case most probably a dusty and battered stetson, to past glories too.
There is a big difference between plagiarism and torch bearing, between wholesale plunder and weaving gentle sonic tributes through your music and here we are definitely in the realms of wholly original music being made that just happens to walk with a certain familiarity. The songs are fresh and groove laden, they just happen to also leave you with a slightly nostalgic after taste. I think they call that the best of both worlds.
Country vibes, blues structures and rock muscle all blend effortlessly into music that fits on a time line anywhere between late sixties cosmic country outlaws to modern southern rockers, along the way taking in 70’s rock access, 80’s anthemics, 90’s directness and 21st century reinvention. A fine line between rock traditions and moving the ball forward. And even when they aren’t moving the ball forward, they sound like they are having a great time, and you will too. Isn’t that the whole point of rock music?
Crashing By Design feels like a long lost, mid-paced power ballad, a term which even as I write it seems to under sell how deft and dexterous this song actually is. Fall From Grace’s sultry sax intro heralds a subtle and supple mix of late night musical textures and rock vigour and Hate To Love You is that end of festival, fists in the air, sunset swan song. But Grandview Station really come into their own when they go for broke. Acid Rain is a frenzy of psychedelia and Dixie grooves, Where I’m Not Wanted goes on a crazy ride between Austin and Los Angeles, harvesting the raw blues of the former and the skyscrapping musical attitudes of the latter and It Won’t Be Me puts the album to bed with a wonderful dynamic mix of guitar excess and perfectly poised interludes and sounding oddly like James Taylor discovering hard rock….at last.
Music should always be forward thinking, but not at the expense of forgetting where it comes from and Grandview Station know exactly the path that got them to where they are today. Thankfully they are more than happy to use that as the perfect vehicle to drive into a bright future.
If Love is Just showed that Scott Kirby was all about the idea that if you get the basics right then a song tends to not need much dressing up, that getting the fundamentals right is better than throwing too much into the musical mix, then Something To Move shows that even when he builds more textured music the same rules apply. This time out he opts for a funkier, bluesy workout and whilst there is a lot going on, layers of textured guitars from acoustic rhythms to choppy riffs to delicate lead parts, driving beats, pulsing bass and plenty of gang vocals to back up Scott’s main delivery, everything has room to breath.
It is this basic principle that means that every instrument has its place, each is deferential to the other never stepping on each others toes, and the result is that whilst none of the individual parts are dominant, voluminous or bombastic, nothing so crude as that, the end result is a powerful song. Rock bands could learn a lot from such an approach and pop bands would do well to take head of how infectious and groovesome this song is. They won’t and that is what will keep Scott Kirby well ahead of the pack both within his chosen generic playground or in any other for that matter.
Musical saviours tend to be flagged up almost incessantly by…well, people like me, music hacks looking for something to hang a review on. Million to one shots that seem to come along on an almost daily basis if you believe what we say. Okay, so I’m not saying that Shane Guerrette is here to revolutionise music or usher in some sort of new wave of sonic rebellion but he certainly goes a long way towards mending certain rifts and offers the pop punter the option of having songs that are both melodic and addictive but which set their sights on benchmarks which sit way above most pop fads and zeitgeist fashions.
Nomadic Soul is either the sound of soulful, acoustic blues looking for a younger and hipper commercial outlet or pop music realising that you don’t have to play dumb. It drips with just enough rock driven muscle, blues vibes and funky bass grooves to appeal to those who have always walked the outsider trackways but it is so infectious and groove filled that it could easily take the place of most things in the charts and in doing so, make a refreshing change.
Think about it, the dance floor party pack just want something to throw their allowance at and shake their bits to, the groove is king and this has that in spades. The more discerning listener can comfort themselves in the safe knowledge that this passes muster, is a blues-rock contender and so will be more than okay with it. The coolest thing about it is that both, normally mutually exclusive parties, are right, even whilst they eye each other with suspicion.
Known for creating the soundtrack of a generation, John Fogerty, in conjunction with BMG, is set to release two further albums from his extensive 2018 solo reissue campaign.
Released on the 26th October, ‘Eye of the Zombie’ and ‘Deja Vu (All Over Again)’ follow the critically acclaimed 20th anniversary release of Fogerty’s Grammy Award-winning album ‘Blue Moon Swamp’, the multi-platinum, Grammy nominated ‘Centerfield’, and the gold-certified Grammy nominated album ‘Premonition’, all released earlier this year.
2018 marks the 20th anniversary of John Fogerty’s Grammy Award-winning album ‘Blue Moon Swamp’. Originally released in 1997, ‘Blue Moon Swamp’ won Best Rock Album at the 40th Grammy Awards in 1998, with the song ‘Blueboy’ receiving a Grammy nomination for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance that same year. The album would go on to receive gold certification by the RIAA with the album charting in 11 countries, reaching No.1 in Finland and Sweden.
As co-founder of Creedence Clearwater Revival, Fogerty’s career spans 50 years and he is hailed as one of the most influential musicians in rock history. As the writer, singer and producer of numerous classic hits including ‘Born on the Bayou’, ‘Green River’, ‘Proud Mary’, and ‘Bad Moon Rising’, Fogerty has been honoured as one of the 100 Greatest Guitarists, 100 Greatest Songwriters, and 100 Greatest Singers by Rolling Stone. Earning induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Songwriters Hall of Fame, and Baseball Hall of Fame, he is also a New York Times best-selling author for his memoir, Fortunate Son: My Life, My Music.
The first thing that jumps out from Kat Danser’s new album is how familiar it feels, you’re in the company of someone that knows exactly what they are doing, this isn’t to say there is nothing new here or it feels tired, (there is certainly a knowledge and love for this style of music that sits proudly on top of blues, country, skiffle and rock n roll) but you immediately feel in safe hands.
It’s a ten-track journey through America’s musical heritage with a feeling that you’re either sitting in the back of the tour bus or travelling on a rickety train that eats up the miles while the songs – like the stations – come and go.
It’s no surprise that Kat lives and breathes this style of music, the authenticity in which the songs are presented reflects her knowledge of the genre/s (she has a PhD in Ethnomusicology so to say she knows her stuff would be an understatement). But does knowledge equate to a good record? In this case yes, her vocals lie somewhere between the jazz rasp of Diane Krall and 80’s singer Tanita Tikaram, this isn’t the poppy country voice of Miranda Lambert or Taylor Swift, Kat’s voice has a bass-y, bluesy quality that spring her descriptive, story-teller lyrics into life.
The album plays out like a guided tour of America’s southern states, Kansas and Memphis are mentioned in track names and there is a definite vibe of travel throughout the album. She dips into the sweaty, smoky blues with ease and it’s clear she is trying to recreate the sound and feel of the Delta blues players like Robert Johnson and Skip James but the problem with trying to authentically recreate the feel and sound of a music that is so ingrained into a certain part of the world as it’s people, history and geography is that in keeping that sound if can become limiting in what can be achieved. One step either side from the recognisable sound and you wander off into another genre. One way around this, and what is done so well here, is to bring in very good musicians that can subtly smudgethe rule book and breath new life into the tracks.
A special mention should go to harmonica and sax player Jim Hoke who not only plays some well-fitting harmonica but also some deftly placed sax, it adds a new character to the usual suspects of a blues band.
This album has been spinning around my cd player for a few days and it doesn’t show any sign of being ejected any time soon, so if you want to listen to some grown-up, educated blues and country music that will make your foot move and possibly make you think about a trip to America’s deep south then you could do much worse than giving this a try.
After a run of festival dates in the UK and Europe this summer including a mainstage appearance at Kendal Calling, Saint Agnes release live favourite ‘Diablo, Take Me Home’. Onstage they declare “We are Saint Agnes. We are a rock band.” and in doing so are re-claiming the word ‘rock’ and redefining it for the 21st century. They are the leather jacket wearing, chain smoking, hard rocking siblings to bands like Starcrawler and Black Honey, seemingly raised on a diet of fuzz guitar riffs and hopeless tales of murder. A chemistry reminiscent of The Kills sets them apart with sparks flying between frontwoman Kitty Arabella Austen and co-lead Jon James Tufnell as they trade riffs and vocals with an intense fury highlighted by the raw, analogue production.
Among their consistent releases the band have been relentlessly touring in the UK and across Europe, spending weeks at a time fearlessly preaching their rock n’ roll gospel and converting all who see them to their own Coven. Kitty’s fearless live performances set a new standard for what it is to be a woman in a rock band in 2018.
New single ‘Diablo, Take Me Home’, the band tell us, “is about the conscious decision to escape. Our generation have a (legitimate) sense of hopelessness about the future. The main lyric is a metaphor for giving yourself over to your immediate desires, letting the devil on your shoulder guide you and throwing yourself into the hands of fate. Fuck tomorrow, give me more of today. This song is a battlecry for a screwed generation. We recorded live in a room to 2” tape, no computers, no messing around”
Arriving on 5th October 2018 as the eagerly awaited follow-up to their benchmark album, 2016’s ‘Be Strong Troop On’, the dynamic duo of Richard & Robert Harrison make their return and clearly mean business.
A fusion of molten rock wig-outs, frenzied acoustica, riled-up reggae, and bastardised blues; ‘Kin’ is one hissing cauldron brimful of budding ideas, conscientious lyricism and impressive instrumentation.
Making their name across Europe as a band with a fired-up live show that rings out into the night air like a 21 gun salute at the helm of just two pairs of hands, ‘Kin’ sees the tenacious jamming duo deliver their immense live sound to disc with panache.
With the kernels of ‘Kin’ very much forming in the live domain, the brothers made a conscious decision from the get-go to attack this album as they would a sold-out show. In taking the most ear-worm worthy motifs and immoveable jams to emerge from their free-flowing performances, the pair began to stitch together the material that would form the backbone of the record. With a live and loose feel firmly on the agenda and in letting thunderous sticksman Robert Harrison essentially ‘do whatever he wanted’, the percussion on ‘Kin’ soon became something of literal heartbeat for the record.
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.
If asked to name an exquisite songwriter, we could all roll a bunch of names off without hesitation. Questioned to name a brilliant performer and again we could do so with ease. If pushed for someone who plays with a timeless roots sound yet is still pushing those generic boundaries forward and we might find that to be a more difficult task, yet with a bit of thought we could probably all think of one or two. But if asked to name an artist who manages to tick all of those boxes and you are suddenly in difficult territory. There can’t be many artists able to excel in all those areas, who can be found in that small part of the Venn Diagram where all of these skills are present but Thea Hopkins is certain one of that select club.
Love Come Down is a collection of six songs which wander the American landscape, folk, blues and country rooted tunes that embrace social commentary, love balladry, universal truths and personal reflections. Add to that Thea’s evocative voice and an often wistfully melancholic but never overtly sad touch, jazz textures and lilting acoustica and you have an amazing suite of songs.
Almost Upon a Time is a gorgeous folk ballad, timeless, heartfelt and restrained, Mississippi River, Mississippi Town is a shimmering slice of country, one that eschews the Nashville template and makes more left-field and progressive choices and the title track is a wonderfully understated dreamscape using space and atmosphere as much as the instruments to get the job done. I would say that this is a future classic in the making but then again, why wait?
It would be very easy to just peg Linda Em as being a female Nick Cave, she has the same blends of musical tradition and outsider thinking, and whilst that makes for an easy musical hook to hang my reviewers hat on, it would only tell part of the story. Taking bluesy ballads and heart aching torch-songs, she draws a line from 50’s jazz divas to punk poetesses (you know the one) to modern blues nostalgists, but the real charm here is that there is so much authenticity on show that this feels less like a backward glance to a certain time and a certain style and more a long lost recording, one that was a bit more experimental, a bit further ahead of its time than its better known contemporaries.
Wild Fire, the first single from the EP, is a brilliant boy-girl vocal two hander, all hushed atmospherics and pent up energy, plaintive piano notes, beautifully restrained yet full of powerful intent when it wants to make a point and hit home. By contrast Two Hands is a thing of understated grace and a song that you could imagine the likes of Patsy Cline or Nina Simone having a hit with back in the day and Little Lightmaker wanders right out of the early Nashville book of standards that never was…but should have been.
White Horse takes us back into her own unique territory, a sound that you can’t quite put your finger on. Is it an old classic reworked? Is it a modern tribute? A collection of sounds which are separately familiar and identifiable but positioned in new ways to create something wholly original. Not many artists or bands can revisit and reinterpret the past this brilliantly whilst pushing their own musical agenda, Mazzy Star perhaps did it best, and that ability to unpick the strands of familiar musical patterns and weave them into something even more intoxicating is exactly what Linda Em excels at.
There is something wonderfully glacial about Verve Crystal. The songs are wilfully unhurried seeming to ooze and crawl forward rather than be driven by anything more urgent and anyone who opens an album with an opus clocking in at just under twelve minutes has got to be applauded. So already loving the way Humboldt Been approaches music, I dived into this 5 track offering.
And, as I expected, it is an attitude which seems through the music too. Unrestrained by fad or fashion, there are all sorts of music being bent to the artistic will. Structureless post-rock meets wigged out psychedelia, cavernous echos meet avant-garde exploration, Doorsian dystopian blues meets prog rock shenanigans… and it is brilliant. Not just in its musical belligerence, its will to neither pander to or predict what the listener is looking for but in just how free form and untethered everything is.
There is little point in running through the individual songs as this is a suite of musical statements that merge and mingle and are best dealt with as a whole, in effect forming one continual musical piece and bordering on that much maligned form, the concept album. But perhaps rather than being a concept album this is instead an album of concepts, though what those concepts are really is anyone’s guess, which in itself is another wonderfully freeing aspect of the music.
Music to relax too, music to contemplate, music to get stoned too? Yes, it’s all of those. Big, cinematic, wide-screen? Tick all of those boxes too. Left-field, futuristically retro, offbeat and restless? Again, all of the above. In fact it is fascinating how something so free form and seemingly directionless fits into so many places, ticks so many boxes and jumps across so many genres and purposes. Let that be a lesson to the rest of you. Rules are bad!
A wise man once said, “Fashions and fads are for fools and freeloaders.” Okay, it wasn’t a wise man, it was me, just now, I just made it up. But I stand by the sentiment. If you are a young band looking to make a name for yourself you can either take the obvious route and follow the pack and hope that somehow you manage to stand out in a sea of conformity or you can look for inspiration elsewhere. Elsewhere, in the case of The Licks, is back into a bluesier, rockier and sleazier, era, a time when music seemed to be made by sonic shamans, was tribal, even primal in essence, when gods named Morrison and Hendrix still walked amongst us.
White Monster is a sultry and slowly grooving tune, it struts where others rock, it slinks when less well crafted songs stomp, it links 60s free festivals with 90’s blues revivals and West Coast vibes with Ladbroke Grove squat gigs. It oozes riffs and pulses bass lines to voodoo beats. Twin Peaks therefore comes as a real change of pace, initially sitting between a pastoral piano ballad and spaced out experimental indie before strapping on the blues guitars and firing off Floyd-esque salvos into the night.
One Trick Pony is the sprint finish, and whilst many will chose old school references such as Cream or their modern offspring Royal Blood to try to pin The Licks sound on this one, I find the rhythm, drive and the straight down the line blues progression put me in mind of the oft-overlooked Burning Tree. (Check out their debut album, its awesome)
The Licks are a breath of fresh air. Whilst many bands taking such a nostalgic route forward, most are exploring the same bluesy sonics and seem to miss the point, play it too straight, too clean. Now its possible that the rawness and garage rock vibe I’m loving here is as a result of available budget but I implore The Licks to never loose that edge. There is nothing worse than a band who, having being able to afford to get into a decent studio, proceeds to polish their sound beyond recognition. The Blues needs to be rough, raw, lived in, ragged and most of all sexy. As a wise man once said, “Why be smart when you can be sexy?”
Yes, that was one of mine again. Sorry.
When Idle Time first wafted across the office space, I had The Happy Curmudgeons pegged as folk rock wranglers of the old school. They threaded a path through the likes of CSN, Neil Young, the Grateful Dead and other such roots rockers, absorbed that same blend of a simplicity of intent and deftness of delivery and reinterpreted it for a whole new audience. Of course the great thing about having a whole album of their music to wander through is that you get a fuller picture of what the band is all about. And whilst I stand by my initial thoughts based on the initial single, a full set of songs shows a band that explores many diverse genres and interesting music fusions.
The title track, for example, takes a turn down a fairly gentle, yet highly commercial folk-pop byway, delivering the sort of song that, especially with the boy-girl mixed and matched harmonies, is quite reminiscent of The Beautiful South. At the other end of the sonic palette, Burn Sugar Burn muscles and boogies its way along in that sort of hippy heartland rock way that I was describing in the intro, a great blend of exquisite bluesy guitar and country-rock energy. And then you have pure roots songs like 3rd Coast, part ragged folk, part cosmic country, the old American sonic lore as revisited by the 70’s revivalists being kept alive as the wheel turns once more.
Soulsville, as the name suggests, throws a hot and sassy slice of R&B into the mix, all blues grooves and dark soulfulness and Seasons is the perfect, spacious ballad, high end bass lines wandering through gorgeous acoustic picking and chiming pianos. Butterfly by stark contrast is the band at their most rock and roll all brooding, low-slung guitars and serious intent.
In a way this album reminds me of early Heart. Bear with me. Before they went on to become air-brushed, 80’s MTV stars and cliche rock bar fodder, their earlier albums were a heady mix of straight down the line rock and roll and dexterous folk loveliness, the band as often found wielding acoustic mandolins as they were electric Gibsons. And though maybe not sonically a perfect comparison, The Happy Curmudgeons have the same attitude to musical gene-splicing and genre hopping.
It’s a great approach, it’s healthy, it means that truly new music, rather than being template following nostalgia, is the order of the day and it means that albums become a wonderful dynamic ride through complimentary styles and musical stances. I just pray that I don’t catch the band dressed in leather, “throwing shapes” in a cloud of dry ice next time I turn the TV on. It’s okay, I trust them.
Given their cow-punk credentials, their brilliant collision of roots sounds from both sides of the Atlantic, their gypsy blues bar band busk swagger, it is fairly unexpected that the opening and titular song on their second e.p. Float Your Boat, is a tribute to Desmond Dekker. Actually that isn’t quite fair as Float Your Boat, as the name might suggest, is more about not worrying what is currently cool or musically in fashion but just listening to the music which does as the song title suggests, just like the things you like. A point that they make over a typically quirky blend of wonky folk, rock muscle and bluesy grooves.
They continue to explore some interesting concepts, narratives and inner thoughts to do with who we are and who we think we are. Putting on A Show is an exploration of identity, a soul-searching examination of the ever changing nature of who we are, a song exploring permanence and change, expression and perception. It’s a fairly reserved number considering the musical resources they have at their disposal, but that understanding of restraint means that the doleful violin and distant chime of piano are all the more powerful.
Similarly reflective is Violent and Sad, a melancholic and timeless paean to children growing up in hard environments and I Met A Wolf rounds things off brilliantly, back to their more countrified ways. But as always this isn’t just a pastiche of music made thousands of miles away, culturally unconnected and un-lived but instead drips with their trademark musical machinations. I hate the term British-Americana and this final track just hits the point home. This isn’t a group of people tipping their hat to music from another country, if they are it is only the slightest of nods. This is a sound that is much more than mere nostalgia or reverence, this is the sum of every band that lead to the formation of TMTMS, every late night spent listening to records, every conversation about music, every gig attended, every cool riff they have ever heard, every stage they have walked upon…it is the sum total of the people who made it.
Music isn’t about what we would like to be, it is who we are and this latest e.p. isn’t merely about the music that floats their boat, it is the wind in its sails, their direction of travel and their final destination all rolled into one.
Sitting here in England writing about a band from Croatia not too long after my own country’s World Cup defeat to them, might cause some writers to look harshly on them through some sense of sport related, warped national pride. Well, with me, music has always been way more important than over paid prima donnas kicking a bag of wind about and get a weekly wage that is the equivalent to the cost of a new hospital wing. And anyway, how could you not love what Acid Hags do musically?
Acid Hags make instrumental music that wanders between rock muscle, blues interludes, prog-rock intricacies, off beat jazz infused post-rock and shimmering psychedelic textures. Yes, it is rock more than anything else but runs the complete gamut of sub-genres, eras and styles. It liberally mixes and matches themes and ideas, hops generic fences, gene splices the sound of one scene or era with another and pretty much sonically goes where it wants.
Instrumental music connects with the listener in a much different way than music that relies on lyrics, where the latter has the benefit of direct and obvious communication through words, the former must do so through the more fluid language of the music and the emotions, feelings and moods that it juggles. A much more challenging task, one requiring deftness, careful thought and an ear for interesting composition. Thankfully Acid Hags have these in no short supply. They also have no shortage of technical skill and it is this ability to build intense and infectious passages as easily as they lay down almost ambient atmospheres that is the reason they succeed where many lesser musicians have failed at the same task.
Misanthrope is a perfect example of the dynamic and diversity of the band, a hypnotic blend of chiming riffs and a bass line that moves between harmonising and marauding about being all broody and menacingly and generally frightening the children, whilst Fungicide is a crazy and complex bundle of sound, sometimes songlike, other times just an intense workout, but engaging and challenging in either form.
At the other end of the spectrum, e.p. closer, Bon Appetite, cleverly uses space as an instrument alongside some off beat, off kilter and skittering soundscapes and Tanker is a slow burning combination of all of the above, taking its time to revel its mercurial nature and all the better for it. It’s also a collection of songs that drummers in particular and those interested in time signatures in general will love, as not only do they chose some pretty interesting beat structures for their songs, they also like to take a polyrhythmic approach, shifting timing and tempo as they go to create even more diversity.
Some might call it music made for other musicians and I’m sure that those with musical training will totally appreciate what Acid Hags have created on Wild. But it is also music for those with discerning musical tastes, those fed up with the 4/4 of the mainstream, those who want to be challenged, those who want to follow a band into exciting and fairly unexplored territory. As musical adventures go, this is great, why take the road well travelled when you can follow bands like this into new musical worlds…wait for me to grab my coat, I’m coming with you!
Today would have been the 75th birthday of the man christened Ronald James Padavona, famous for fronting Rainbow, Black Sabbath, Dio and Heaven and Hell and, if legend is to be believed, populariser of the devil horns sign and the man best associated with Dungeons and Dragons style hard rock. Don’t get me wrong Rainbow’s Rising and Sabbath’s Heaven and Hell are sublime albums but he also was prone to a few cliche moments too.
But let us not forget that before all of that he was in a rather good country blues band called Elf who had a string of cool albums and who would probably have done a lot more had one Ritchie Blackmore not enticed them into being his backing band to make the first Rainbow album, a process that broke the band. Anyway, here’s Elf being cool, funky and surprisingly free of swords, dragons and rainbows.