Okay, I’m not the biggest fan of people covering other artists work but if you are going to do it then the art is to bring something new to the song, retain the essence of the original but create a new and sympathetic sonic world for it to inhabit. And that comes from truly understanding what the instigating work was all about. Dance Me, a reworking of Leonard Cohen’s iconic Dance Me to the End of Love, shows that Sterling EQ understand their chosen song implicitly.
Although essentially just another guy with an acoustic guitar, singer-songwriter these days, Mat Caron seems miles removed from the usual gap year, troubadour with the designer-distressed, skinny black jeans giving us the benefit of his world experience garnered in the six months since he moved out of home. Mat’s voice alone creates an air of world weariness, of experience and a life lived, dulcet tones delivering semi-spoken, bitter-sweet nuggets of wisdom, personal world views and edgy narratives.
Add to that simple, direct, rhythmic and often hypnotically repetitive guitar work and he creates something wonderfully at odds with the current musical zeitgeist, instead feeling more like an off shoot of nineties, American college rock, the sort of thing that would sit comfortably alongside the likes of an acoustic Sebadoh or a chilled out Bob Mould.
Audience Song exists somewhere between Leonard Cohen and John Martyn, a blend of the hushed and the hazy, the sonorous and the subdued, and Long Wind is a more frantic, melodic drive, an introspective wander through thoughts and opinions, a confessional, therapists chair outpouring, lyrically poignant and mesmerising. And between these two sonic points he describes his musical world. Transference (Still Moon) has a downbeat Portishead trippiness rooted to its core and A Learning Curve reveals his resonant vocals to be the indie successor to Johnny Cash.
But more than anything it is the language he uses that sets him apart from the modern pack, the fact that he doesn’t shy away from delving into the depths of modern society, contemporary life…his life… and talking about its dark underbelly. If you have had enough of the perky pop and the shallow nature of modern artists, if you are looking for a darker take on the human condition, something both personal and self-examining yet universally relevant and more than anything else brilliantly honest, then Mat should be your next port of call.
Americana is a term that is banded about all too easily, like roots or world music or terms such as celebrity, phrases like awesome and paradigm shifting. You could even argue that anything made outside of the USA can’t be part of the cultural heritage of that geographical location. And whilst on paper Jane Allison displays all of the hallmarks of music that has it’s birth place on the far side of the Atlantic, like all home grown music it can’t deny it’s own heritage. The result is a cross-cultural, cross-genre, globally inspired brand of music that may tip it’s hat to America but is infused with the folk roots of it’s own location on this side of the water and more specifically Wales. But then again I don’t know why I am getting so bogged down with labels, country music has its roots in the music of the largely European settlers of the Appalachians, making music in this vein is just a distant cousin, both familiar yet different.
Just Another Girl wanders between the music of the Old World and The New, sometimes conforming to Nashville expectations in the lilting cowboy balladry of the title track but as often as not mining a darker musical and lyrical theme in the reflective tones of All Over Now. Thankfully Jane manages to avoid the obvious clichés that often go hand in hand with folk and country and through sheer force of song writing, not to mention a compelling voice, weaves a path through much more interesting territory – a pathway that links Leonard Cohen to Kate Bush bisected by one that links The Indigo Girls to Gretchen Peters. In fact it is in Peters haunting textures and resonant beauty that many comparisons can be found, a similarly timeless sound that has abandoned the rules and traditions of the genre it is associated with in favour of just being great and slightly otherworldly music.
I can see Jane Allison following a similar path for it is amongst the more insular, less commercial sounds that the finest moments of the album are to be found and as an indication as to where her already varied musical career may be heading, I it is enough to have me watching her with great anticipation.