Scene and Heard – CCLXVIII : Gingers (or We Ain’t Got No Souls) – The Amber Bugs (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

28471677_1607802395973276_2472359156520433948_nAs a country we have a funny relationship with our redheads. It borders on racism, rubbish racism, but racism none the less. The sort of racism that is limited to someone shouting GINGERRRRRRR! across the street at the russet bonced unfortunate. Thankfully Ben Kelly can see the funny side to it all and to show it he leads his fellow Amber Bugs through a strange bluesy-soul odyssey, one that feels like a groovesome Tom Waits number, well, minus the gargled razor blade vocal and all the banging on about hookers and cheap motels.

But Waitsian it is more than anything else that I can think of, in its shifting dynamics, unexpected changes of pace, its strange meandering nature and mad Mariachi accompaniments and to be honest even the subject matter seems like something few others would chose to sing about. It is diverse and kaleidoscopic, and it deconstructs jazz, blues, soul, fuzz guitar and a few things which don’t have real names only to put them back together in new and confusing ways. It may at first seem like a piece of musical rough but a few listens in and you realise that it is a real diamond…or in this case perhaps a ruby.

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Whistle Down The Wind  –  Joan Baez (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

Joan-Baez-Whistle-Down-The-Wind-1200x1200It is very easy when dealing with artists so deeply woven into the history of music as Joan Baez is to break out the hyperbole; there is plenty of it surrounding her and it is well deserved. Since her debut album saw light of day 57 years ago she has created benchmarks and set trends, awards and accolades have surrounded her and the fact that she has recently announced that this will likely be her last album is both regretful but far from unexpected. You could hardly ask more from her, though close friend Steve Earle is on a mission to persuade her otherwise. But aside from the rhetoric, even if this is her saying goodbye musically, what Baez has delivered here, ten years since the critically acclaimed Day After Tomorrow, is a stunning album.

With songs penned by the likes of Tom Waits, Joe Henry and Mary Chapin Carpenter, it is an album which still after all these years sums up her continual quest to speak about the times she lives in. It is gently political, revelling in observation and social commentary rather than anything more forceful, but it has always been her way. Whilst the likes of The President Sang Amazing Grace takes a literal stance, generally she is happy to remain analogous, making broad statements rather than specific points.

Civil War is a gorgeous, lilting waltz, Last Leaf is the earth song she has long been associated with and Be of Good Heart underlines the feeling of saying goodbye. But this is more than a parting musical glass, it is also a love letter to a society gone far beyond anything her younger self could have even imagined and to a planet that may be past the point of recovery.

Let’s hope that this is not her swan song, but if it is Joan Baez can retire safe in the knowledge that she steps out of the spotlight with all the charm, grace and musical finesse that she first stepped into it with.

Desert Road –  Moonshine Booze (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

362305Whilst one end of the music industry seems always to seek perfection in a singular genre, the quest presumably to be the definitive rock band or the quintessential folk band, doffing hats to tradition and expectation, I for one prefer to get my kicks in a much more rowdy and rough hewn sort of place. The sort of dive that, if it were a real venue, featured bands which lived for the moment, smashed genres together to create their own musical worlds, dragged tradition kicking and screaming into the modern age, before getting it drunk and leaving it with barely the bus fare to home again. And if such a place did exist, Moonshine Booze would be the resident band.

Desert Road sounds like a head one collision at Robert Johnson’s infamous cross roads between Sergio Leone, Gogol Bordello, Tom Waits and Johnny Cash. Joe Strummer and the ghost of the late, great Nick Marsh were along for the ride and there is only a quarter of a bottle of absinthe left. To say that this is merely outlaw country or illicit blues just shows you how bad soundbites are at describing music, for this is something very different.

Rock, blues, country…it’s all in there for sure, there is a touch of punked up Old World musical traditions, barking at the moon Balkan vibes, chaotic klezmer and frenzied folk, but it is the New World that Moonshine Booze is really in love with. Death Melody seems to hold the answers, a brooding dirge which bridges the gap between their European home and their Spaghetti Western hearts, but mostly they are unashamed in their love of this imaginary frontier territory that they have created for themselves. World of Pain is Tom Waits playing cowboy campfire songs, Lemon Box is a punkgrass hoedown and the title song is a saloon singalong on speed.

It’s a world of their own invention but it sounds like a great place to visit, if this album is anything to go by. It is the frontier world of the old west heightened, stretched, exaggerated, intensified, blown apart and put back together in a deliberately haphazard and provocative fashion. So, I have heard the sound track, now where do I buy the ticket?

We All Want The Same Things – Craig Finn (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

craigfinncoverAnyone who is a fan of the mid-20th century, classic American novel will appreciate the voice that Finn uses to weave his small town narratives. It is the same voice you find chattering away at the heart of Bukowski and Kerouac, and once made into music it rings with Springsteen-esque deliveries and Waitsian dreams.

Finn delivers songs to the listener as a barfly does to the next drinker along, the fading early evening light streams through the windows and dust motes dance through the diffused haze. This isn’t where you planned to be but the tales are hypnotising and you recognise yourself in these reflective, kitchen sink odes of love, loss, longing and a life that hasn’t really meet its expectations.

And whilst The E-Street Band would play this more anthemically and Waits would opt for his usual warped musical route, the same honesty and cultural references abound in Finn’s back street operettas. Straightforward observations are the order of the day and lyrically these could be sketches for short stories but instead they are given musical wings to travel the world.

You will find a lot that is familiar on this album, not that it falls into pastiche or plunder, it feels more like walking around the block that you live on, hanging out in the bars you grew up near and observing the lives of the people you have know all your life. You don’t always need a flash of wisdom or clever prose to make a song work, sometimes it is enough to just feel in your comfort zone, it is often broken, edgy, “tired and hostile” but it is home. And this is its autobiography.

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