Tropical Soul – Holly Holden Y Su Banda (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

B3E3D5EB-6A83-40C8-9D7B-384AFBAD068DWhen the term “world music” crept into the public consciousness it tended to be the domain of a certain type of guy (and it generally was a guy). One who would use the fact that you hadn’t heard of a certain Moroccan hip-hop/jazz fusion band or his new favourite Mongolian Tuvan choir, to play his favourite game of one-upmanship with you. Well, we quickly saw through him and soon realised that there is no such thing as “world music” there is just the world and music.

But if you were going to invent such a thing as world music from scratch then Holly Holden would fit right into such a genre. The antithesis of the aforementioned cultural bore collecting music like rare stamps, Holly is instead a troubadour in the perfect sense, a wander through musical worlds and physical places and it is her adventures in Latin America and The Caribbean which have informed the aptly named Tropical Soul.

Reggae, salsa, bolero and other Latin cornerstones blend effortlessly with soul, pop and R’n’B vibes and even language becomes a fluid element as English and Spanish become blended and interchangeable. And all this creates a truly world sound, one not quite belonging to any one place but fitting effortlessly in many. Musical Esperanto if you will.

Pop fans will love the accessibility, Latin aficionados will love the sensual grooves, beach bums will love how it reminds them of sun soaked tropical memories and everyone else will just marvel at how infectious, euphoric and optimistic the songs are, even when dealing with more wistful and reflective issues.

With a full album to follow, this e.p. really is a great calling card for what should amount to a very productive year and if groovesome, bi-lingual sultry, sunshine, tropical pop happens to become the musical fashion statement of 2017, and it very well might, remember where you heard it first.

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Songbag – Jimmy Ragazzon (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

14523166_530420057164341_499152615037926649_nI shouldn’t be that surprised that a man with his feet planted so firmly in Italian soil can sound so authentically part of the American music canon, after all, the development of a musical style is the story of influence and influx, old traditions and new beginnings, movement and melding. And if Americana music is built from the music of the Western Mediterranean just as much as it is myriad other components, why shouldn’t it find its way home again.

Normally found leading the long-established Mandolin Brothers, this is Jimmy’s first solo album though listening to it you could be forgiven for thinking that it is the product of a musician who can push such albums out as a matter of course. Stripping things back to an acoustic guitar led quintet, it is built on wonderfully layered textures, deft interplays and percussive acoustica rather than the drums and drama he is normally surrounded with.

It tips hats to stalwarts of the American songbook, via covers by Dylan and Guy Clark, but mainly from its ability to offer up songs that feel as if they are long forgotten folk standards, outlaw country classics and chilled blues album tracks that have been wrongly overshadowed by more obvious hits.

The ghost of Townes Van Zandt hovers over the albums swansong, In A Better Life, and 24 Weeks channels the same commercial vibe meets cult classic that John Mellencamp was so good at knitting together. But more than anything it is the natural musical outpour of a man who has spent a life seeped in the country, blues, bluegrass and folk music traditions and who just wanted to add his contribution to the musical record. The only question is, as I said earlier, why did he wait so long?

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Brutalism – Idles (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

UnknownIf Divide and Conquer hinted at a snarling, confrontational beast of an album to follow, I don’t think many were expecting it to be quite this bruising, this aggressive, this visceral, this intense. It’s our own fault, they tried to warn us; lead singles as shots across our musical bows, exposure via the more discerning radio pundits and write ups with the more switched on musical media…and NME. And as you, the listener, sits there stunned, feeling violated and awkward after giving the album its first spin you think you yourself…yeap, should have seen that coming.

 

Idles seem more and more relevant every week. Like Sleaford Mods gritty look modern society’s dark underbelly, Idles speak from the streets, they are the kids who never see their parents due to them both holding down two jobs, they are the kids swigging cider in the night time bus shelter, the kids who dropped out of school early, who can’t find a job, who are looking for a way to break their cycle, who wonder what happened to the world that the people on the TV promised them.

 

As the world seems to fracture and divide along cultural, class and political lines Idles are an angry voice in the crowd, a short, sharp shock message to other disenfranchised and lost souls, a musical punch in the face but also a wake up call and rallying cry. At turns witty and wistful, aggressive and vengeful, it is articulate and blunt, frenzied but concise and always full of bile and darkly poignant observations. Aggressive gutter poetry for a forgotten section of society, adrenaline fuelled street shamans or just ranting lads from the wrong side of the tracks? Whatever it is, the timing is perfect.

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The String Quartets – Jethro Tull (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

largeIf ever there was a contemporary band whose music was the perfect subject matter for arrangement for string quartet, it is Jethro Tull. There was always a classical feel to many of the original arrangements, especially during their progressive-folk heyday from which many of these songs have been garnered. Add to that the wandering nature of Ian Anderson’s flute, often the lead line of many of these songs and you have all the basic ingredients for the perfect exodus to more classical climes. But who would take on such a task? The Carducci Quartet that’s who.

I guess if a string quartet were good enough for the likes of Beethoven, Bartok and Britten then it is good enough for Anderson, and The Carducci Quartet appealed to our hero due to their ability to perform as a symbiotic unit, one that results in them going beyond being four brilliant players and become one single musical organism. And the results are stunning.

Adding the obvious flute focal points and occasionally John O’Hara’s masterful and fluid piano to the violins, viola and cello of the Quartet, a whole host of classic Tull songs are re-examined, re-explored and re-interpreted in such a way that as much as the original songs are clearly on show, much that is new also emerges. Sub-melodies, transient counterpoints and seemingly fleeting and inconsequential musical lines often find themselves with a larger role to play, sometimes these new arrangements are content to capture just the essence of the original recordings on their way to beautiful new reimagining, other times they remain true to the original band-centric deliveries.

Aqualung, Living In The Past, Songs From The Wood, Heavy Horses and many more classics all come under the ear of John O’Hara’s new orchestrations and as they see a new lease of life in wonderful new musical trappings you realize that even if 10 more such albums were produced, it wouldn’t seem a song, a chorus or even a musical bridge too far.

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Daylight Ghosts – Nick Ellis (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

15202604_1316011128449431_1176065568511259739_nIt takes a brave man to record a whole album in one, six-hour recording session, an approach that is anathema to the modern music world’s love of glacial, piece meal recording and often excessive desire to enhance, polish and over-produce. Thankfully Nick is just such a man and in place of the fakery and falsehoods that might mark many of his peers work, here there is honesty and heartfelt passion, a directness of communication and a clean-limbed narrative.

But if the system of delivery might seem simple, the music is anything but as a wonderful deftness and intricacy drives the acoustic guitar and the versatility and resonance of Nick’s voice is hypnotic in it’s own right. And these qualities are made even more prominent by the blankness of the musical canvas that they’re painted on to. Instead of banks of extraneous sounds and unnecessary embellishments you can feel the atmospheres and weight of history hanging in the room he recorded in, St. Georges Hall Crown Court Room, in Liverpool and it often feels as if he is merely bringing alive all the emotions, woes, worries, relief, loves and loss which have collected in the corners of that historic place.

References from John Martyn to Townes Van Zandt, from beat writers to social commentators of film and TV abound but more than anything this is an exercise in musical nakedness, of stripping your songs down to the bare essentials, of just telling the tales unadorned; music warts and all. And it is not only all the better for such an approach, it is nothing short of a triumph. Any songwriter entering the studio for the first time to put their creations down for all posterity should be made to listen to this album as a point of reference to show that tension, emotion, drama and the stuff of life itself need to be inherent in the very bones of the song not created by a paid engineer. Get that right and you can’t lose.

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Stop Pushing Love Away – The Pete V Project (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

Pete-V-Project-Publicity-1400x1400We all know that music is cyclical in nature and that there isn’t too much that exists in the present that doesn’t have some sort of root in the past. Even with that in mind it isn’t often that a song manages to sound both backward glancing, forward thinking and completely relevant to the present day all at the same time. The Pete V Project’s latest single does just that.

Once underway the song is driven by a happy hardcore beat, all urgency and adrenaline and wonderfully at odds with the restraint and soulfulness of Marie Virginie Pierre’s sublime vocals and the woozy, sultry late night, jazz bar vibes of Antonio Campbell’s sonorous saxophone. But that is the art of it I guess, it may be easy to drop this track into a box and label it EDM, but it references as many past sounds as it does offer new musical benchmarks.

It’s a straightforward and unfussy song; it does what it sets out to do with a minimum of fuss, that is, build a clean-limbed and eminently danceable track. But even with the simplest of lines, most easily recognisable of beats and very few extraneous details or musical embellishments it still manages to find somewhere new to take the genre. EDM soul? Happy jazz-core? Don’t worry about it…just dance

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That Wave – Fassine (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

16386988_1404796789571932_89372378693267558_nIt initially seems like an odd step for my new, favourite purveyors of ultra-chic, hi-concept, cinematic, alt-pop to cover my home town’s most famous musical son, but once you get your head around the idea you realise that there is a lot of wonderful warped, psychedelic middle ground. The common zone on this very specific Venn Diagram is a fascinating place, one that sees Fassine bring new textures, depths and subtleties to an already unique piece of music.

 

If XTC’s original saw the band pushing the boundaries of the acid-laced, sunshine pop that has always close to Andy Partridge’s heart, Fassine remain true to the spirit of the original, the music evocative of the titular wave and awareness of that wave being an analogy for the overwhelming power of love. And whilst it would be sacrilege to wander off of the beaten track too much and to presume that the track could benefit from any major musical reassessment, what Fassine do is pay homage to a band that they clearly love and add their chiming electronica and the slick musical lines that are the hallmark of their music.

 

I’m not normally one for covers, but this comes from the heart, is reverential and is the perfect way to bring XTC to a new audience, this song is 25 years old and I’m sure there are fans of Fassine who weren’t even born at the time that Nonsuch, the album that brought the song to the world, was released. And you can tell that the choice of this as a cover is right when both the sound of XTC and Fassine seem to mingle in effortless fashion, blurring the lines between the original and the modern revisit.

 

If you are going to cover a song, do so for the right reasons. That Wave in its slightly new but ultimately familiar trappings is back for all the right reasons.

 

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Reflections of Love – Les Fradkin (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

16003026_941877352581190_7762757272469811084_n-1New Age music is one of those categories that are so broad as to almost not have any consensus of definition. If, however, you use it to classify music, which is used to create an inspiring, relaxing and uplifting environment one conducive to a creative, stress free and meditative environment, then Reflections of Love is New Age music.

Throbbing back beats and pulsing bass lines form the heart of the song with chiming electronica and effected guitars building deft and intertwining melodies and hooks around it as choral washes ghost in and out of the piece. But this is not music designed to be examined too rigidly under the microscope, it is music designed to evoke a feeling, create an atmosphere, evoke a mood, induce tranquillity, something it does effortlessly.

There is a powerful drive behind the music, which may mean that it is a bit too intrusive as an aid to mediation but it is this same powerful drive that creates a wonderful sense of euphoria and optimism as it heads down its unique sonic pathway. And even if you aren’t in need of such music as a tool, it is a wonderful example of genre-shifting instrumental music and will find fans in the neo-progressive, cinematic and even classical camps.

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The Paris Orchestra Challenge

17264151_414167922275346_4265908524884235496_nShaun Buswell and 100% Swedish Erik Nyberg have made a name for setting themselves unnecessarily difficult musical challenges, ones which normally see them forming scratch orchestras from random but generally musically adept strangers, teaching them new, uniquely scored sets and then performing for public delectation and amusement.

Well, like a couple of musical Dave Gorman’s, they are off again, with trusty and unpaid cameraman Matt Green in tow, for another round of fun, frolics, chaos and possible cacophony, this time in a Paris bound direction. But let’s here it straight from the horse’s mouth, as it were….

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New Music of the Day – CLXXIV: Fill Me Up – Amilia K Spicer

12208422_1065755913455581_3507079851417193879_nIf the term “Americana” conjures clichéd images of long, dusty highways, clapboard churches and hoedowns in truck stop bars, then you need Amilia K Spicer in your ears…and indeed your life! Whilst blending the heartland sounds of America – lilting country grooves, folky acoustica and a gentle but persistently driving rock beat – there is another, less tangible quality at work, one that breezes through the spaces between, one that is built from more elemental and primal qualities.

Yes, you can boogie the night away to the song’s jaunty goodness but as the video visualises, this is music that communes with nature that wallows in the fact that America may be a young country in respect of its society but its land is ancient.

They say that every place, every wood, every hill, every stream has a song in it if only you are silent and respectful enough to be able to hear it. I suspect that Amilia is not only aware of this but has been collecting these sounds for years and then deftly building modern day bardic ballads and shamanistic earth songs out of them.

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