Sweet Nothings –  Eliot Dean Baker (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

tumblr_pfuazmVbLb1rll5k4o1_500Considering how far we have come since the singer-songwriter became a staple part of  the modern music canon, how many songs have been written largely around one voice and one guitar, you might be forgiven for thinking that there wasn’t much more to do with such a format. But as is always the case it is not the format but the creativity of the artist, the singer not the song. Eliot Dean Baker is proof of just such an idea and using just the basic ingredients he is able to create something rather compelling.

Following a slow burning journey from gentle picking, emotive strings and a spacious beat he manages to steer the song along a dramatic and dynamic path mainly though deft construction rather than a layering on of overt and obvious sonic textures. The song does gain weight as it travels to its sudden conclusion but only slightly, the odd bit of guitar embellishment here, some beguiling vocals there but largely this is about the song, the vocal delivery and the way he alone wanders between quiet atmospheres and triumphant crescendo.

My go to artists for songs such as this are often the likes of Damien Rice or David Gray, not exactly break through acts but neither have been bettered that often and their ability to do so much with such a sparse musical tool kit is reflected in the way Eliot Dean Baker works too. Baker weaves the same smoke-like and transient sounds around him, the same air of the otherworldly, an ethereal grace matched buy a very human condition. I’m not saying on the strength of this one song messers. Rice and Gray should set an extra place at the table just yet but they might want to make sure that there is a coffee brewing in case guests do drop by.

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Vanessa Peters – Foxhole Prayers (reviewed by T. Bebedor)

a3021777516_10Throughout history, creative minds have always responded to injustice or outrage in their own way – Picasso’s 1937 painting Guernica immediately springs to mind – and music is a powerful platform to air one’s own feelings on certain subjects.

Music can be political but at the same time still needs to be heard, so getting the balance between getting the message heard and remaining entertaining is tricky but this tightrope is expertly handled with Vanessa Peters’ 11thstudio album. She tackles broad subjects like politics and growing violence but also brings the listener into her more private world, sharing her self-doubts and fears.

But don’t worry, this isn’t a tubthumping political ride, it’s a creative mind writing about the world around her.

Like most solid albums the songs grow and evolve the more you hear them, and the result is something very homely and comforting but something that also has the intelligence to keep you on your toes knowing that dark times are just around the corner.

Peters’ voice is surprising resilient, not the strongest, but it sits just as happily in the softer moments as well as the rockier songs and her delivery is honest and invites the listener to come along for the journey, it’s a voice that you want to listen to.

The album’s opener, ‘Get Started’ is a gentle kick in the pants and a call to arms, yes things aren’t always buttercups and crumpets but we have a hand in our own path so make a choice and stick to it, no matter what stands in the way. This positivity runs throughout the album, even when she is laying her fears bare on ‘Fight’, it is quickly followed by ‘Lucky’, another slice of positivity. ‘The Riddle’ sounds like the best Radiohead song that Radiohead didn’t write, it has the acoustic guitar, the dreamy melody and distorted effects that the Oxford band produced during the 90’s.

The title track acts as an intersection midway through the album, announcing a slight change to atmosphere and, interestingly, the album seems to get better as it goes along, three of the final four songs are wonderfully up-tempo and reinforce what a strong and varied songwriter Peters is. ‘Carnival Barker’ is an almost humorous metaphor for the current American president and the sideshow that surrounds him (reminding me a little of the Talking Head track ‘Democratic Circus) and ‘Trolls’ rattles along before a return to more familiar ground in the albums closer, ‘What You Can’t Outrun’.

In this world of commentators, bloggers, vloggers and whoever else people listen to now it’s clear that songwriters are still powerful voices and I’m yet to think of a reason not to listen to this one.

Micah P. Hinson and The Musicians of the Apocalypse tour dates

mailMicah P. Hinson and the Musicians of the Apocalypse will release their new album ‘When I Shoot At You With Arrows, I Will Shoot To Destroy You’ through Full Time Hobby on 26th October. Recorded in 24 hours somewhere in East Texas, the new album is the follow-up to last year’s universally-lauded ‘Micah P. Hinson Presents the Holy Strangers’ and will be available on CD, LP and as a download.
Micah P. Hinson and the Musicians of the Apocalypse have confirmed a handful of European shows in November and December, including one at London’s Oslo on 4th December. It will be Hinson’s first London appearance since his sold-out Scala show last October.
Fri 30 November – Penninck Huis – Deventer, NL
Sat 01 December – HINK Festival – Den Haag, NL – TICKETS
Sun 02 December – Autumn Falls Festival – Brussels, BE
Tuesday 04 December – Oslo, London, UK
“There is a cathedral in the town of Santiago de Compostela,” explains Micah. “It is said to be the final resting place of St. James. Going back through history, pilgrims have been trekking to, and from, the cathedral for years, wanting to find peace, solace, and hope in their steps along the walk from France- into Spain- within the ancient Basque Country. Once inside the grand doors of this cathedral is a statue. A man named Master Mateo took it upon himself to carve it from stone in the 12th century. It is of St. James, surrounded by 24 musicians- seemingly trapped in stone of the ages- their ancient instruments in hand: some tuning, some looking, some simply sitting and waiting. They have been waiting patiently for over 800 years- waiting for St. James to lift his hands and begin to conduct them. They are The Musicians of The Apocalypse. They will bring Hell and Heaven to Earth. They will bring The Apocalypse.”

Continue reading “Micah P. Hinson and The Musicians of the Apocalypse tour dates”

The Missing Persians – The Missing Persians (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

a3751326650_16As soon as Old Man’s Shoes emanates from the speakers you quickly realise that you are in a very different musical world from the vast majority of music made these days. I guess it is an age thing, once you have put behind you the vacuous trappings of cool and fashion that younger musicians seem to value so highly, you are free to actually make the music you want to, rather than the music which fits zeitgeist and demographic. Yes, this is music made by chaps who have been around the musical block a few times, are clearly more interested in enjoying what they do ahead of all other considerations and are happy to flick hearty V-signs to expectation, trend and the usual music industry concerns.

So with that all out of the way The Missing Persians revel purely in making the music that they want. It is highly literate, observational and amusing, deftly wrought, cuts a cautious musical cloth – less is indeed more – and wanders some rootsy but quintessentially British sonic pathways. Difference growls with a blues rock and roll vibe but one as heard through the lens of the pre-punk, pub rock scene As I mentioned when reviewing Hot Cats, there is a lot of the Nick Lowe vibe that comes through in their music, but I’m not going to bang on about that again. Every Now and Then has a touch of The Oyster Band’s folkiness woven on to a reggae groove and Think is a bar-room jam par excellence. But being a fan of language and lyric, it is the gloriously named China is the Workshop for the Widgets of the World which holds the essence of the band for me. A humorous observation on the capitalist systems love of the lowest common denominator delivered with awesome alliteration and wondrous word play.

It doesn’t take long either to appreciate the versatility of the band, they make brave and understated musical choices, only put in what is necessary for the song rather than the ego of the performers but even with such a stripped back approach manage to take in old school rock and roll, folk intricacies, a uniquely British take on Americana (Anglicana…is that a thing?) bluesy swagger, pop balladry and rootsy vibes of their own design. It also becomes clear that their editing process is tightly controlled. But there are few songs here that you could see as a commercial success in today’s climate, that is because the songs are actually too clever, that they would too easily confound and confuse this year’s pop picker and that is modernity’s loss. That said each song here seems to be very much stand on its own two feet, there may be no hits in the commercial sense but there is no filler either, no more of the same, no also rans.

What you have is a collection of songs full of wit and wisdom, silliness and style, deft playing and well trimmed, clean limbed deliveries. In an age of excess and showboating, where substance is secondary to appearance, here is a band to remind us of what is important…or at least what should be important anyway. They say that a prophet isn’t appreciated in his own land, but The Missing Persians know that some things are more important than profit!

Free  – Collins and Streiss (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

Free_Cover_Collins_StreissObviously more by accident than design but Collins and Streiss’s sound owes something to their initials and all that implies. If they became a trio by incorporating someone whose surname began with an N then the CS&N moniker would be highly appropriate. Appropriate because their blend of rich harmonies and rootys, country rock, west coast cool and gratuitous sax is not a million miles away from that famous trio.

And by the time they put their foot on the gas at about the half way point, they drive the song through the same territory that Tom Petty was happy to call his musical stamping ground. But for all the achievements of such icons, they can’t take all the credit, people have been making slick, sumptuous and sassy rock since the year dot, or at least since the year microdot…if you know what I mean, and they have been making it ever since, though not always as well as this. So Collins and Streiss sit at the cutting edge of a timeless sound, it evokes the past and reminds us of former glories but it also speaks to the here and now and suggests that the future is in safe hands too. Lovely!

Seán McGowan announces debut album and tour dates

6abc8b5f-779c-4342-ab2f-924152999c9cSeán McGowan has announce the release of his debut album, Son of the Smith, through Xtra Mile Recordings on 11 May 2018. Preorders for the album on CD, LP and digital are available at this link

https://seanmcgowan.lnk.to/sonofthesmith 

The first single taken from the album is ‘Off the Rails’, out today -14th February – which you can check out below.

‘Off the Rails’ sears along with an e-bow guitar drone thrumming underneath while Seán gives the lyrical equivalent of an arm around the shoulder and kiss on the cheek of his mates for being there for him.

As a glimpse into Son of the Smith, it captures his band absolutely ploughing through the parts he wrote for them. In that spirit, Son of the Smith captures everything live. Recording at SS2 Studios in Southend with labelmate Sam Duckworth (AKA Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly.) and Jay Malhotra, drums were done without a click-track, each instrument colliding with the rhythm. “It feels urgent, like it could tip over the edge at any point,” Seán says. 

Continue reading “Seán McGowan announces debut album and tour dates”

I’ll Be Ready When The Great Day Comes – John Johanna (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

a2984411118_10I didn’t realise people still made albums like this, but I’m damned glad that they do. Well, that John Johanna does anyway. Even before you immerse yourself in the music you encounter a mercurial air that hangs above its sonic presence, one that swirls with the sparse lo-fi technology of studios past and a feeling that this is all about the music rather than any gimmickry or unnecessary polish.  I’m not saying that it is in any way scrappy or unpolished, I’m saying that it doesn’t need to be and doing so would probably detract from the purity of the music rather than bring anything useful to the table.

Musical it wanters between 60’s psyched out pop and acid folk and the modern era’s indie bands who have completed the circle and revisited those times as a reaction to the corporate commerciality of the modern industry. But apart from the music it also wanders further back in time in spirit too. If musically you can place the sound it in a small basement club in Ladbroke Grove courtesy of an enlightened but brooding promoter fed up with the hippy-dippyism of the Summer of Love going on outside, pull at its threads and it takes you back even further in time. Bound takes in remembered conversations about Promethean mythology and World Unknown is centred around 18th century theological writings. Neither does it limit itself to purely western ideas, Knowledge and Power, Nathaniel in particular grooving on an Indian raga.

It is an exploratory album, one which heads off in so many directions, into academia, non-western musicality, spirituality and any number of ideas which see east and west, occident and orient, clashing in a wonderfully creative way. Combining the folk delicacy of Nick Drake, the soaring delivery of Jeff Buckley and the outsider thought process of Tom Waits, I’m happy to report that he rarely sounds like any of those. In fact it only ever sounds like John Johanna, which is as it should be.

Sons of Rage/West Sierra – The Decrees (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

a1746898339_16If the art of good rock music is taking a robust sound and lacing it through with infectious melodies and memorable hooks and the art of great pop music is to aim higher than the short shelf life teen market and create something with longevity and integrity then The Decrees are artists indeed. It comes as no surprise to find that they call Dunfermline home, I can hear the distant echoes of the same Celtic fanfares and, on West Sierra in particular, the same martial beats as that towns fellow guitar slinging warrior poets Big Country.

Sons of Rage is built from the same threads of widescreen musicality, post-punk edge, poignant lyricsm and defiance that ran through the many and myriad originators of the “big music” back in the day and rather than steer their ship too close to the fickle rocks of fashion The Decrees sail unimpeded through deeper, more realistic, more original and certainly more rewarding waters. And like those who helped draw the charts they use to navigate to their own horizon, they have that fantastic ability to turn kitchen sink dramas into street opera, to turn the mundane into mythology to entwine and layer simple melodies into wonderfully rich musical motifs . They also brilliantly  remind us that modern music doesn’t have to be the bastion of those who promote their skinny jeans and complicated haired style over actual musical substance. Thank you Decrees, you have just brightened my day.

Scene and Heard – CCXVIX : Anywhere, Everywhere – The Singer and The Songwriter 

7f6c48f9-ced1-44f7-aab5-6dd9e47bb282If ever a song encapsulated the idea of breaking free, of heading out into the great wide open, seeing the world and collecting the memories that will keep you warm later in life, the ones that enable you to look back and think…I have lived a full life…Anywhere, Everywhere is it. Documenting their nomadic life as jobbing musicians it is at once a celebration of their chosen profession and a life-affirming and aspirational message to others to follow their dreams.

This lead single from the forthcoming EP Directions comes with a wonderful travelogue video showing the realities of the life of those who make their living in the grassroots music scene, criss-crossing the country, seeing the sites, busking, gigging, sofa surfing, embracing the creative life and undertaking that journey together.

Musically the song centres around a universal folk format but jazzy vibes and bluesy moods help paint its own unique picture and the almost rock driven, dynamic lifts, stuttering and soaring brass stabs and the wide screen backing harmonies seem somehow to place it into a new strand of Americana, one which seems to be built on a cosmically aligned, slightly psychedelic groove.

It is this blend of the clear and simple, but definitely not simplistic, song lines and the ability to then shift into a sound which neatly reflects the big skies they are travelling under and the open horizons that they are heading into that is the songs real charm. If America is the land of the iconic road trip then this is its perfect soundtrack.

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?

 

The Collection – Nelson King (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

005357988_500There was a point a few songs in to The Collection, possibly somewhere around Always You that I recognised the same battered style and ragged glory of one of my favourite musical cult heroes, Nikki Sudden. In my book, it doesn’t get better than that. The same loose and slightly louche approach, the same street gutter observations, the backstreet mythologies being woven, the broken guitar-slinging poet. And that is the thing I am finding that I love about Nelson King’s music, each song reminds me of fallen musical heroes or underrated and under the radar torch bearers. The key word here is remind, not replicate.

Yes, there is a lot in his sound which you can trace back to classic sounds of previous eras but those sounds are called classic for a reason and after all they do say that familiarity breeds content…or at least they should. But as I have pointed out before, it isn’t enough to unpick your favourite threads from the existing weave of musical history, it is all about the design you fashion them into next. The Collection seems to lean more into an acoustic driven place, electric guitars do little more than embellish the existing motifs or add interesting detail and the bass is happy to wander a root note route through the background. But as always the combination of old blues emotions, dark sleazy grooves, understated rock dynamics and country rock licks works to perfection but the new trick being pulled out of the bag here is space. Space that allows atmosphere to linger between the notes, anticipation to hang between the words.

It is this sort of rock music which is timeless, fashions come and go but this flavour of British heartland, small venue, underground, in the know rock seems ever present. It links the old folk heroes to the stolen blues scene of the 60’s to the sleazy and emotive outpourings of the likes of Messrs. Sudden and Kusworth. All of those have known that it isn’t about what you steal; it is what you then do with those references. Some miss the point, some wish to merely emulate, Nelson King uses it to write his own footnote in the underground musical history books.

Pratfalls and Curtain Calls – Bob Pepek (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

18447049_10155365908384459_7179221236589081933_nAs the title of the album suggests, Pratfalls and Curtain Calls is autobiographical in nature, an artist reflecting on the world around him in all it’s honest and gritty glory, its intimacy and loneliness, its ultimate highs, its desolate lows, love, loss, life and everything in between. But then the stage as a soapbox and the recorded medium as mass communication provide the ideal way of presenting your take on the world around you. Quite frankly anyone not taking such an opportunity to add something thoughtful to the collective discussion is really missing an opportunity. Not here though.

Thankfully Bob Pepek’s most recent album is full of wonderful narratives which are both intimate in nature and universal in appeal, the ideas may come from personal experience but to be honest, we have all been there, we can all relate. It might be argued that the slickness of production such as found here can sometimes blunt the central message, that a stripped down and grittier approach is often a more effective medium. I would argue that we have probably had enough earnest indie-kids in wide brimmed hats sporting their first beard, telling us how the world really is and the lushness and rich textural qualities found here actually reinforce the message.

It’s a tidy mix of pop-R&B and acoustic led rock; it is melodic, wide-screen, exquisitely arranged and tasteless to a fault. It also covers a lot of ground musically. Take Me For Me is a slow building ballad which walks us from simple economy to anthemic crescendo with an acoustic take on the song included for those on a musical diet whilst Ship Me Away is heartland rock destined for a bigger stage. Between these parameters Bob weaves deft lyrics through addictive melody, blends the simple and direct with the detailed and the wonderfully embellished and walks a fine line between restraint and extravagance. But the song is always what is on show here and no matter how grand he gets with weaves of dexterous flamenco or washes of orchestral strings it never overpowers the song itself, something other artists should take note of.

Mainstream music doesn’t have to be a dull and predictable affair, Pratfalls and Curtain Calls certainly plays to a mainstream audience but one less concerned with fickle fashion and flavours of the month and offers, not only a collection of great and well crafted songs but a lesson in how to dress, enhance and present them to the public. The middle ground has never sounded so cutting edge!

Weeding Out The Wicked – The Two Man Travelling Medicine Show (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

IMG_0098Last time I dipped my toe into the crazy waters of The Two Man Travelling Medicine Show it was to experience their clattering cider-punk-country-hoedown Tightropin’ a song which gave me the opportunity to roll out all those literary juxtapositions and two worlds colliding musical metaphors. But a full album is a whole different affair. Here, rather than just the quick snapshot that a single offers, you get a fuller sense of the musical landscape this intriguing band calls home.

Opening salvo, Winter Walks, offers a wholly unexpected and slightly disarming start, a more plaintive, pastoral introduction to the band than the one I was subjected to, but never the less threaded through with wonderful dynamic changes, mournful stings and Beatle-esque descending progressions. This is quickly followed by the frantic cow-punk of Tick Tick and thus the boundaries of their sonic kingdom are quickly defined.

And whilst there is a lot about this album which reminds you that the folk urges of this side of the Atlantic and the country twangs of our colonial counterparts are certainly generic cousins, there is a lot more at work here too. Whilst Lose Your Step is classic wistful reflection with a UK postcode and Country Singer has all the references that its name implies, the most interesting tracks are the ones that throw you a few curveballs. Serial Killer is a strange punk musical hall gang show, Magazines is a classic pub rock era strut that Nick Lowe would be proud of and the track from which the band takes their name is a splendidly drunken waltz. And even after pinballing between all of those musical demarcation lines they still manage to surprise me with Circling The Airport, a cinematic, soundtrack of a song that, however hard I try not to, has be thinking of The Goo Goo Dolls Iris, for all the right, sky-scraping and emotive reasons.

Going into an album on the strength of one song is always interesting, sometimes you realise that a band are a one trick pony and the single is all you needed to hear anyway, other times you find that it isn’t representative at all. After hearing Tightropin’ a few months ago, Weeding Out The Wicked turns out to be the best of both worlds. That song is representative of only one part of the bands sound and through the course of the album they take wonderful sonic journeys through associated genres and conduct interesting cross pollinating experiments but all the while the sound is cohesive, fresh and original. It isn’t often that you find that happening, I can tell you.

Nobody Talks About It – Martin Lucassen (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

15400441_1189161714497991_1297423572202544000_nI guess we live in a world where labels and pigeonholes have become too important. It’s all the fault of us lazy journalists and our attempts to package and market music in neat, easily demarcated bundles. Martin Lucassen’s sophomore album reminds us of the folly of our ways, for even though it happily wears terms such as pop and occasionally folk or Americana on its sleeve, it is surely more than enough to describe it as a collection of slick, well crafted, commercially accessible songs.

So if we abandon the criteria of assigning labels, what can we use as musical yardsticks? Well, we can talk about the textures, the way often a series of layered sounds are woven together to create depth and dynamics, in the same way that the beauty and impact of a water colour painting is in its ability to apply dramatic colours in one place and leave the paper blank in another.

We can certainly talk about the benefits of a clean-limbed approach towards the instrumentation, for with the possible exception of the excursion into edgier pop-rock territory that is Welcome To My World, ironically, Martin’s world is one of musical economy, of subtle detail and of restraint rather than of showing his hand too often. Why be big when you can be clever?

It is this musical elbowroom that he allows himself which allows the subtle mechanics of the songs reveal themselves through the spaces in the top line melodies. Here a wonderfully concise bass run pops through, there sumptuous vocal harmonies pass by just on the edge of the song or more often than not the spaces are filled with atmosphere and anticipation, a tool as powerful as any clever riff or fancy drum fill (take note kids.)

Pop music is done often, but in general not done well. All too often it is happy to sacrifice creativity for formula, to wander very narrow, established pathways for fear of losing site of the pop-fan dollar. Martin Lucassen shows us that if you flip this model on its head, draw in influences from a number of genres, you can write songs, which both appeal to the masses and retain the integrity required by the more discerning listener. Throwaway pop songs that you will want to keep forever!

Even by the second track on the album, Believe, I am reaching for comparisons to such as Crowded House, pretty much the highest benchmark in my world for music able to offer both popular and critical appeal. Beautiful Thing meanders through some hazy, acid laced, bucolic, Beatle-esque soundscapes, Magic Home employs some wonderfully shuffling Americana and New Years Eve is a wistfully reflective letter to himself. It is both diverse yet wonderfully consistent.

And the narrative of the album takes a similar route as the music. Its combination of being both concise and lyrical, gets the message across in clear and poetic terms, is personal but relatable on the part of the listener, it is heartfelt without being clichéd, a modern approach to expressing timeless sentiment.

The best songwriters don’t concern themselves with labels or genres, they understand that it all comes down to just one thing – creativity – and whatever inspirations you take, whichever musical building blocks you use to fashion that melodic vehicle, it is all there to be used and learned from. Martin Lucassen understands this better than most.

 

Rising Tide – Jay Elle (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

jay-elle-coverA lot of music has an immediate element, something that hooks you as listener; it might be a chorus, an infectious riff, a beat or a rhythmic groove. From the first few bars of the titular opening salvo it is Jay’s voice that opens the door and beckons you to come in. It is great to come across a vocal that subverts the industry standard template and offers something individual, something that hasn’t come from the production line. It is a rich, deep, resonant offering that matches the same sultry tones of Bryan Ferry with a slick and soulful urban folk delivery.

This vibe runs through the first two songs lulling you into a slightly false sense of security. You Got Away then up’s the dynamic and heads into a more melodic rock territory and I can’t help thinking that this is a long lost John Waites track, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing I guess.

By the time All Through The Night Comes along we are into some serious anthemic rock territory and final song Way Down The Road continues in a similar vein.

It is a mixed bag generically speaking and whilst the rock end of the spectrum is big and clever, slickly produced and full of accessible hooks, I can’t help thinking that it is with the opening brace of songs that the truly original hand is played.

That said it is a great showcase of what Jay can do, the songs are all effective, offer alternate takes on where his immediate market might lay and definitely marks him as someone to look out for. Whether you want a late night, soothing, back room balladeer or a fist in the air anthem wielding rocker it’s all here, so his next move is going to be one that is viewed with great interest.

So long and thanks for all the music – IX : Bap Kennedy

bap-kennedyI’m not sure where I first came across Energy Orchard and the wonderful songs of Bap Kennedy, I suspect supporting the likes of Big Country or The Alarm at some London venue in the early nineties. I must confess that I haven’t played any of his music for a while now, purely a testament to the size of my music collection and my own lazy habits rather than anything else. But as I write this with the bands debut album spinning away in the back ground it reminds me of those days where me and my friends seemed to be whizzing up to London to watch  bands at places such as The Town and Country Club  and The Marquee almost every weekend.

Although too late to be part of what journalists labelled the Big Music, they managed to capture the same small town dramas of Big Country and the widescreen visions of The Waterboys, two bands I still play on a regular basis. Now I have been reminded  of how great their music was, albeit for all the wrong reasons, I think this first Energy Orchard album will have a its place restored next to the record player for a few weeks to come. So Bap Kennedy, so long and thanks for all the music.

I Know My Place – Gaz Brookfield (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

14354920_10153788188541466_8361563475397586241_nTo say that Gaz Brookfield has remained a fiercely independent musician, DIY stalwart and cottage industry enterprise is like saying that he is partial to the odd tattoo or used to have a bit of a thing for cider. Gigs are booked without agents, he chauffeurs himself around aided only by his own assigned RAC man and albums are recorded largely under his own multi-instrumental steam. But there comes a point where it is time to up the game, head into the realms of bigger and slicker production, aim for a fuller sound, work with a band. What is a West Country Boy to do?

 

Well, the logical extension is to gather friends who have steered their own creative crafts through similar independent waters and put together a gang of like-minded musicians and studio folk, this time operating under a slightly more striking and collaborative Do It Themselves flag.

 

But fear not I Know My Place is still very much trade mark Gaz, the same buoyant mix of humour, history and honest reflections – life affirming, optimistic and joyous, acoustic driven songs but now it is Gaz plus, Gaz 2.0, Gaz and the boys. Effectively what you get is the best of both worlds, the range, style and scope of songs that you have come to expect from him with added depth, colour and vitality. The barrelhouse piano and meandering country violin of Life Begins, the skittering banjo and Hammond wash of Flaws are testament to this and the wonderful narrative of The Tale of Gunner Haines reminds me that the distance between Gaz and the likes of The Men They Could Hang or the lyrics of Blyth Power is not that far.

 

And if there are still some wonderfully personal and minimal outings such as Sand and Sea, and The Ferry Song reveling in appreciation and love for the natural world and people around him, there are also some total rockers, the Gogol Bordello-esque World Spins, the up beat and vivacious title track and the poignant and touching tribute to a fallen friend that is Getting Drunk for Christmas, a seasonal alternative standard if ever there was one.

 

Maybe the punks got it wrong, maybe it isn’t about kicking down the barricades and declaring year zero, maybe it is actually about climbing through the back window of the music industry party and being an awkward, uninvited guest until there are enough of you stood glaring from the back of the room that the hosts can’t ignore you. I reckon any day now someone will beckon Gaz over for that metaphorical vol-au-vent and I’m not even sure if he will take it.

Black Beauty – The Twilight Hours (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

largeA quick flick through the The Twilight Hours family tree will give you a few pointers as to what is probably going to come your way over the course of this sophomore album. More than that debut Stereo Night signposted the way to a sound, which combines 50’s doo-wop harmonies and coffee house acid-folk, tied to a 60’s dye-tied, hippy pop sound and just a hint of chilled late night folk-rock. But where as the first record erred a touch to the melancholic side, this time around, even when tugging heartstrings and dwelling on life’s regrets they manage to do so in a more positive and reflective manner.

But if the lyrics have become more palatable, the song writing was always pretty much in place. Confident melodies, bright, rich harmonies, clean limbed and unfussy production and a sound that plays around in the territory of a bare boned Beach Boys sound. You know… the early stuff when Brian Wilson was still a team player and could roll out commercial, Day-Glo pop seemingly at will, before he became a bonefide genius and the trouble really began.

It is pretty much an unexpected sound, but pleasantly so, to find in todays music pile, mixing as it does obvious pastel pastiches, classic crooning and hippy dreamtime sounds, albeit with just enough hard edge electric guitar to push it into new territories and certainly not what you would expect coming from a city more associated with Husker Du and The Replacements. Maybe Prince really did leave something in the musical DNA of the place.

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