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

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

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

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Songs of Praise, Swindon – My 12 favourite gigs of 2016 – part 1 (by Dave Franklin)

12376559_918068144947598_1890568069506145317_nI don’t get to go to many gigs that I am not involved in promoting these days, but whilst I am always present in more of a work than a punter capacity, I still get to watch, work and hang out with some wonderful bands and a set of people who are imaginative, affable, mad, crazy, creative, visionary and unlike anyone you’d meet in normal walks of life. With that in mind I thought that I’d pick my top twelve gigs I have been part of this year.

Polar Front, Lionface and Honey Trap – 7th January @ The Victoria

Polar Front are the local success story of the last year from fledging steps towards a sassy melding of R&B grooves with shimmering indie-pop to becoming soundscaping leviathans. Not only do they build massive sonorous dreamscapes and towering sonic cathedral in Sophie Goldsworthy they have the voice to back it up.

Lionface have similar draw dropping qualities, twisted electronic pop, jagged guitars and brooding melodies and one of the most mesmerising performers you will ever witness fronting the musical package.

 Gaz Brookfield and Ben Wain, Nick Parker and George Wilding – 18th February @ The Victoria

 It’s always a fun night when Gaz and his right hand man Ben head back to the town of the formers, formative musical years. Now commanding massive audiences but somehow still able to deliver an honest, often poignant, sometimes just plain fun set that still feels intimate and accessible, that’s one hell of a trick.

Nick Parker is one of my favourite people from this strange musical world to spend time with and just as big a Waterboys fan as me. His set of quirky stories, kitchen sink narratives, and sing-along rhymes defy anyone not to join in.

Opening the night was George Wilding who may look like Nick Drakes drug dealer but whose command of gutter poetry, back street operas and strange urban mythologies are second to none….except Joseph Porter. (Oh, go look him up.)

 SNDubstation and The Hat Club – 18th March @ The Locomotive

 This one was so memorable not only for the class of the bands who both take reggae and ska and blend them into wonderful, euphoric and unique musical shapes but the fact that the venue, normally known for homing a smattering of speed addled, budget lager drinkers who try to ignore and find fault with whatever music was programed that week were invaded by a party crowd who proceed to blow the roof off the place.

 The Black Feathers, Jonny Payne and The Thunder and Phil Cooper – 7th April @ The Victoria

 Anyone who doesn’t like The Black Feathers can’t be my friend. I’m sorry, those are the rules and there is nothing I can do about it. As they wander country, soul and folk musical roads they manage to lay waste any competition via the sublime way their vocals harmonise. The song crafting is great and they have an amazing stage charisma, add to that the fact that they are thoroughly nice people to hang about with and the attraction isn’t hard to see.

Jonny Payne does a neat line in Americana – country, folk, soul and gospel all find their way into the mix and the fact that The Thunder who make up the rhythm section are also two thirds of The Black Hats, one of the first bands I put on in Swindon sparks a few nostalgic conversations.

No one does accessible, acoustic pop like Phil Cooper; imagine Neil Finn with an English accent…and a hat.

 White Lilac, Wasuremono and Neverlnd – 21st April @ The Victoria

 I grew up musically with all the independent labels of the post-punk era and this gig was like a journey back in time. Sadly White Lilac is no more, as far as I’m aware, but like Wasuremono before them they blend post-punk boundary pushing, pastoral dream-pop and shimmering shoegaze into interesting new forms. The headliners take a more raw-edged approach though tempered when needed by some haunting cello lines, their support pulling at more bucolic, and atmospheric strings and garnering strange sounds from an array of retro technology.

Opener Neverlnd take the more commercial approach but still manage to walk that difficult line between radio play and cult status.

 Don Gallardo and Luke Tuchscherer – 8th May @ The Beehive

 We don’t get to put on many gigs at The Beehive but when one of East Nashville’s finest comes looking for a show you beg, borrow or steal to make it happen. Thankfully it only took a phone call.

There is quite a market in this country at the moment for music labelled Roots, Americana, or even British Americana, but when the real thing comes to town you sit up and take notice. You know how the music score of shows like “Nashville” just sound different to anything we produce on this side of the water, well, that makes a good point of reference as some of that music for that show was supplied by Mr G.

That said Luke Tuchscherer is one of our own and not only did he play the perfect support he then jumped on the drums and backed up our colonial cousin.

Soaked To The Bone – The Black Feathers (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

1540-1I have always thought of The Black Feathers as being this country’s answer to the Civil Wars (or vice versa depending on which duo you came across first.) But it never seemed like a lot of fun being in The Civil Wars and their perpetual output of break-up songs before, in an act of self-fulfilling prophecy, they imploded quite spectacularly. The Black Feathers, however, seem to have the  ingredient missing from their Nashville counterparts, something that means that even when singing post-relationship laments such as opener Take Me Back, you sort of know that everything will work itself out in the end, less a Romeo and Juliet pairing of star-crossed lovers, more a musical …well, Ross and Rachel.

 

It’s a positivity, which flavours the album, so that even when things aren’t going quite so well for the people in their songs, it is reflective, looking for hope and silver linings, rather than melancholic and self-pitying. Similarly the usual cheap clichés are avoided, no screen doors were slammed and no pick-up trucks were harmed in the making of this album, possible a first for such a country infused outing.

 

But when you get down to it the quality of the songs is what really matters here and in terms of vocal harmony you will rarely find better. Homesick in particular is an amazing showcase of this talent, with minimal music to underpin it, the strength of the voices, crossing each other, then closely knitting together, swirling around each other, complementing and contrasting as required is often breath-taking.

 

With the massive rise in popularity of country music on this side of the water and the fight back in the folk community for a return to some of its more traditional pastures, this album puts The Black Feathers front and centre of those burgeoning scene.

Strangers We Meet – The Black Feathers (Bird in Hand Records) Reviewed by Dave Franklin

Strangers We Meet - The Black Feathers (750px)I often think of a bands live performance verses their CD recordings as being a bit like the book verses film analogy. The CD (or film) is merely the captured essence of the live show (book) and with even the best will, hardest efforts and most imaginative thinking can only be a teaser for such. Like a book, the live show is where you can experience every nuance, explore every layer, and really understand the players as well as their music. That said, Strangers We Meet, does come pretty close to getting inside the heart and soul of what The Black Feathers are all about.

 

As a husband and wife duo, there is an intimacy and understanding that some bands can never rival, as their sumptuous vocals entwine, something of this is revealed both in the pure passion of the delivery and the heart on sleeve nature of the lyrics. It is a collection of songs that openly displays its influences in the Heartbreaker era Ryan Adams-esque guitar lines dressed only with minimal instrumental accompaniment, Sian’s soaring Emmylou Harris pitch to Ray’s Gram Parsons response and touches of The Civil Wars occasionally brooding emotive sentiments.

 

Americana music in the UK is certainly on the rise but few on this side of the water capture the distilled essence of Appalachian folk and East Nashville rebel country as well and the fact that they are able to easily embed pastoral Old World folk themes says as much about the family trees of their chosen genres as it does about the song writing prowess of the band.

 

It is a great e.p. of that there is no mistake, one that you certainly should have in your collections but my advice is buy it at a gig after you have watched the live show and all the subtleties, sly winks, in jokes, grace and charisma of the two performers will forever be grafted onto every subsequent listening of the record. Like I say, always read the book before watching the film.

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