Threshold –  The Mutineers (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

833061Pitching the vocal perfection of The Civil Wars onto often hard rocking back beats, The Mutineers, capture the heart of what Americana music is, in that they sound like the sweet and sour pulse of that country’s musical heart. A bold statement? Perhaps but between Hard Sell’s low-slung dirty rock drives, Couldn’t Get Over You’s nod to 50’s rock and roll and After Thoughts gothic country vibes they seem to have it covered.

Add to this a touch of Cave-esque apocalyptic blues on I’ve Got The Bottle and the gentle folk ballad of Hourglass to wrap things up and you really have the perfect journey through the honest under belly of American music. And like the music, the narratives they weave and the stories they tell come right out of the Beat writers book of grim reality, epic poems about the losers, the lost and the lonely.

Music might be great at offering distractions from the real world but it is also great at holding a mirror up to it, and this Threshold is a wonderfully cracked and dirt streaked mirror that reflects the realities of life in the dark and forgotten corners of the American dream. Honesty is the best policy, they say, and it is the grim truths and sad realities that thread their way through the songs that make this such a great record.

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Arrow – Ciara O’Neill (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

aWA2ihNr_400x400With her previous album being well received amongst critics and buyers alike and the double single of Hurtin’ /Dreamer already hinting at the delicate folk goodness that her second full album was going to deliver, Arrow’s promotional work had largely already been done for it. Definitely a case of a product being able to sell itself. Ciara O’Neill trades in timeless, noirish and understated folk sounds and vocals with just enough of a Celtic echo to place her geographically but working in the shifting and slightly genre-less musical waters that eschews tradition and rules in favour of exploration and emotion.

Using striking and brooding cellos, and haunting violins to punctuate the core sound of rhythmic guitars and her outstanding vocals, it is an album which is less about solid structures and standard progressions and more about music which floats and moves about on the breeze. Storms Comin’ takes this idea into more minimalist country territory with its twanging guitar, dark vibes and lilting drive, Equal and Opposite is built on the same transience and emptiness as the music of fellow Irish artist Damien Rice and Everything is almost a pop ballad in its accessibility and commercial potential.

She follows in the traditions of hosts of names who have combined elusive and compelling music with the ability to penetrate the mainstream, The Civil Wars, Lisa Hannigan, Glen Hansard and the dear departed Eliot Smith and there is no reason not to think that Arrow will easily find a chink in the armour of the narrow minded record executives and media money men who profess to know exactly what the punters want. Arrow is exactly what the more discerning punters want, it is just that they may not yet know it is what they want. Believe me it is.

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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