Archive | April, 2016

Plants and Animals – Waltzed In From The Rumbling

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Plants and Animals – Waltzed In From The Rumbling

Posted on 28 April 2016 by Joe

Canadian act Plants and Animals have never managed to match their excellent first album Parc Avenue (2008). This debut is full of great pop singles, inventive prog rock, psychedelia, folk and alternative charm. I still play it regularly, but sadly the same can’t be said of their subsequent releases. While 2010’s La La Land added a nice enough 1970s West Coast vibe, it has not been revisited since by me. Next album, The End of That from 2012, was even more forgettable.

plants500

Waltzed In From The Rumbling is the next attempt to match Parc Avenue and in some ways it’s the closest they’ve got so far. The same laid back, improvisational structure of the songs helps gives it a  warmth that their previous two albums lacked.

It also has two career best songs, full of interesting psychedelic rock and folk twists and turns. Off the Water is one of these as it meanders wonderfully through its smart keyboard and guitar hooks. Stay is the other. This starts with a soft, slight intro that at around the minute mark explodes into psychedelic pop.

But while these two tracks stand out,  the rest is merely solid rather than spectacular and pleasant rather than euphoric. Opener We Were One sounds a little like filler Radiohead, albeit with a nice whimsical segment. They’ve also strayed worryingly into Broken Social Scene territory rather than finding their own voice. The vocals on Flowers in particular sound far too similar to BSS’s Kevin Drew.

Is it fair to constantly throw their stunning debut album at Plants and Animals when reviewing other releases? Probably not, but with even the band’s own press release being nosed around the greatness of Parc Avenue, these comparisons are not going to go away any time soon.

This is as near as they’ve come so far to emulating that quality, but its still a long way from Parc Avenue.

6/10

by Joe Lepper

Plants and Animals – Waltzed In From The Rumbling is released on Apr 29.

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Sandy Denny – I’ve Always Kept A Unicorn

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Sandy Denny – I’ve Always Kept A Unicorn

Posted on 19 April 2016 by Joe

Often the best ideas are the simplest. Take this 40-track Sandy Denny compilation for example, which takes away her usual folk rock backing and instead focuses on her beautiful voice with the simplest of accompaniments of either acoustic guitar or piano. It’s such a simple idea but one that showcases the former Fairport Convention, The Bunch, Fotheringay and the Strawbs singer’s talents perfectly.

The press release says this “is the best album that the late Sandy Denny never made”. I’m inclined to agree.

ive-always-kept-a-unicorn-the-acoustic-sandy-denny-min

Compiled here are a range of live radio and TV recordings and demos, including three exclusive tracks recorded at Richard Branson’s Manor Studios in December 1971 for The Bunch’s 1972 rock and roll covers album. It’s a career retrospective as well, with tracks from various other bands and solo career.

Among the many highlights is a stripped back version of Milk and Honey, originally by her former boyfriend Jackson C Frank and released with fuller instrumentation on the 1967 Saga Records split album Sandy and Johnny, along with Johnny Silvo. This wonderfully emotive song really comes alive with just her vocals and guitar.

This notion of the acoustic Sandy Denny being the best Sandy Denny is a theme that is carried throughout this collection, especially on one of the best segments, a three song set of just vocals and piano recorded at the BBC Paris Theatre. The title track from her solo album North Star Grassman and the Ravens in this segment is real hairs tingling on the back of your neck stuff.

This is already my favourite Sandy Denny album, which showcases just how good a singer, songwriter and performer she was.

9/10

by Joe Lepper

Sandy Denny – I’ve Always Kept A Unicorn – The Acoustic Sandy Denny is released on April 22.

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David Thomas Broughton – Crippling Lack

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David Thomas Broughton – Crippling Lack

Posted on 18 April 2016 by Joe

There are two surprising things about David Thomas Broughton’s sprawling triple vinyl release Crippling Lack. One, is that it was recorded while he lived in Pyongyang, North Korea, not a country I’d ever associated with experimental English folk music.

The second is that he describes the tracks on its first volume, which are delivered in his Jake Thakray meets Vivian Stanshall way, as “pop”, albeit “deceptively approachable pop”.

Already he’s posing some interesting questions? Just why is an English folk singer living in North Korea? And, what does he think pop music actually is?

CripplingLackOnlineHiResV2

In total this collection straddles an hour and 40 minutes and is being released in three volumes, one at a time over three months between April and June, all on different record labels. This serialised global folk opus also features artists from the UK, USA, North Korea and France, including Beth Orton, Sam Amidon, Luke Drozd, Rachel Dad, Minjung Kwon-Brunoni and Aiden Moffatt.

While the first volume is promoted as being more appealing, Broughton delivers a warning for the second, as being “unravelling and disintegrating into barely structured fragments”. Meanwhile, the third ties the whole thing up, featuring some reprises from the first volume, Beth Orton’s appearance and a Luke Drozd collaboration called Plunge of the Dagger. This final track the press release worryingly describes as “euphorically unsettling”.

As Broughton suggests the first volume is indeed approachable, particularly the lovely opening title track, inspired by his time in the north west of England near the river Mersey. It’s beautiful and also introduces the listener to his distinct vocal style, which will not suit all tastes.

The track Beast focuses on his relationship with the tiny birds outside the expat compound of apartments in North Korea he lived while making this album. While I assumed the country’s main USP was jack boots and childish dictators, it seems for him the everyday relationship between tiny warblers and humans is a more pressing concern. Or is it a metaphor? Recorded on a vintage Farfisa with added bird calls it is once again not exactly what I’d call pop, but is nevertheless an intriguing track.

Best on the first volume is Words of Art, where Arab Strap’s Aiden Moffat pops in to bounce off of Broughton’s musings. With a full band feel with drums, Moffat’s bass like mutterings and Broughton taking the high notes across its seven minutes works well.

Volume two, while a little more experimental, is certainly not completely unravelled or barely structured. River is a lazy-drunk 1920s gospel, but with Sam Amidon on violin it is very traditional sounding and very structured. This volume gets slightly more unhinged with the 13 minute Concrete Statement but it’s not until this volume’s closer the 16 minute I Close My Eyes that I see what Broughton means by unravelled. This is indeed a complete and utter mess.

The third volume sees things improve, particularly on Beast Without You, which features Amidon’s wife Beth Orton, the album’s most well known collaborator. It’s actually the most approachable track on the whole album thanks to her distinct voice.

Finally, Plunge of the Dagger, featuring Drozd closes proceedings. This starts off nicely “unsettling” as promised but then, at about the half way point in its nearly 10 minute duration just descends into more mess, as if all involved have decided to fall onto, rather than play their instruments.

In the end the listener has felt like they’ve been taken on a journey. Along the way there have been some real highs, most notably the Orton and Moffat collaborations. There have also been some quite frankly unlistenable moments too, particularly on the second and third volumes. Did I enjoy it? In parts and over the year I’m sure I’ll find more to dislike and like in its tracks as I listen more. For now though I feel it is an epic project that is only partially successful in being something anyone would want to listen to.

6/10

by Joe Lepper

David Thomas Broughton – Crippling Lack Vol 1 was released April 4, 2016 by Edinburgh’s Toad Records. Vol 2 is released on May 2, 2016 on LeNoizeMaker Records in Lens, France and Vol 3 is released on June 6, 2016 on Paper Garden Records, USA.

For more information vist David Thomas Broughton’s website.

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John Howard – Songs For Randall EP

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John Howard – Songs For Randall EP

Posted on 14 April 2016 by Joe

There’s something very Reithian about John Howard’s cover series of EPs, that carry the unofficial strapline of informing and educating, as well as entertaining the listener.

His 2013 Loved Songs EP introduced me to singer songwriter Laura Nyro, who always seemed to reside in the shadow of her contemporary Carole King. His cover of her wonderfully upbeat Blackpatch prompted this reviewer to go out and buy her early 1970s album Christmas and the Beads of Sweat, which that track features on.

Then in 2014 his Songs for Someone EP offered an entertaining education to some lesser known artists he admires and has collaborated with: Darren Hayman, Alex Highton, Ralegh Long, Robert Rotifer and Ian Button. His cover version of Highton’s Song For Someone was a particularly stand out here.

John Howard

John Howard

Now it’s the turn of Randy Newman to be the subject of Howard’s mission to entertain, inform and educate.

As a Newman newbie I’ve listened to very little of a lengthy back catalogue that dates back to the early 1960s. His track Baltimore, covered so brilliantly by Nina Simone, and his soundtrack for the Toy Story series of films have shamefully been the extent of my knowledge so far.

To enlighten me Howard has served up five of his favourite Newman tracks, mostly made famous by others from his fledgling songwriting career in the 1960s.

First up is Nobody Needs Your Love, originally recorded by Gene Pitney with all of the lavish early 1960s pop production you’d expect. Here Howard focuses on the sad lyrics far more while retaining the excellently catchy chorus. I’m going to say right off the bat that I prefer Howard’s version here, but mainly because I’ve always found Pitney’s vocals too nasally. It’s also interesting to hear this low-key, sadder take on what is essentially pure 1960s pop.

I Think Its Going to Rain Today is up next. This is one of Newman’s most covered tracks and one he also recorded for his debut 1968 album Randy Newman. Since Julius La Rosa first recorded it in 1966 there have been 65 known covers from artists as diverse as Leonard Nimoy, Dusty Springfield, Bette Midler Peggy Lee and even Val Kilmer. The source material is so diluted that comparisons are futile, which leaves us just with Howard, his marvellous voice, a piano and some great songwriting. This track was a real eye opener as I’ve heard it so many times before but never even knew it was by Newman. Duly informed, educated and entertained.

More education follows with Just One Smile, a relentlessly upbeat track I knew from the Blood, Sweat and Tears version in 1968 but one that Howard is more familiar with through the Gene Pitney version. As with Nobody Needs Your Love, Howard’s version is more melancholy, although the vocal arrangements on the chorus give more than a nod to this track’s 1960s pop heyday.

Snow, originally written by Newman for Harry Nilsson’s 1970s album Nilsson Sings Newman, emerges as my favourite. This is a track I’d never heard before that is quite, quite beautiful. Howard’s version is full of respect and after hearing Nilsson’s version I think I’ve found my next album purchase.

Feels Like Home wraps up the EP. This is one of Newman’s relatively recent songs and one that he recorded himself, for 1995’s album Randy Newman’s Faust. It’s another remarkable song with Howard’s vocals offering a completely different take. While Newman’s soft singing style makes him sound vulnerable, Howard’s strong vocals give this song a more uplifting quality, especially on the chorus.

I’m looking forward to my next musical education already from Howard’s next EP.

8/10

by Joe Lepper

 

John Howard – Songs for Randall EP can be downloaded via iTunes.

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Glastonbury Festival Emerging Talent Competition finals – Pilton (April 9, 2016)

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Glastonbury Festival Emerging Talent Competition finals – Pilton (April 9, 2016)

Posted on 12 April 2016 by Joe

Of the four Glastonbury Festival Emerging Talent Competition finals I’ve attended this was perhaps the most surprising, with bands far exceeding the promise they showed from their submitted audio and video clips.

In most years the best sounding act from their submissions goes on to impress live at the competition’s annual  finals at Pilton Working Men’s Club.

This year was different with all the acts deciding to offer something far more than the simple promise on offer in their submissions.

Of course each year the quality is high. An act has to be excellent to make the finals from an initial entry of thousands and a long list of 120 acts,  picked by 40 music journalists and bloggers including myself.

She Drew the Gun with Michael Eavis

She Drew the Gun with Michael Eavis

Based on this year’s final eight submissions,  it was only really Bossy Love, with the sensational pop of Tell You What, that stood out for me.  The rest though certainly proved me wrong, all stepping up a gear, especially eventual winner Wirral’s She Drew The Gun.

Here is a band that demands to be seen live with singer songwriter Louisa Roach’s delivery and stage presence offering some real hairs standing up on the back of your neck moments.

She Drew The Gun's Louise Roach

She Drew The Gun’s Louisa Roach

As with their clip, their billing as dreamy psych-pop band on their Facebook stage also proved to be a masterclass in under selling. Live they are so much more, with Roach’s generation defining lyrics on the track Poem shining brightest. They were definitely my favourite on the night and thankfully also of the ETC judges, who include Festival organisers Michael and Emily Eavis.

She Drew the Gun also win £5,000 talent development cash from PRS for Music Foundation as well as a main stage slot.

Bossy Love

Bossy Love

Glasgow’s R&B Bossy Love  impressed, as I expected, and marched into second place on the night. They have a “we are going to be famous and there is nothing you can do to stop our relentless juggernaut” vibe about them as they took to the stage. I can’t see many standing in their way.

In third was another surprise – London folk singer Hattie Whitehead. As with She Drew The Gun, her Soundcloud clip offered promise but not much more. Live, with a full band and electric rather than acoustic guitar, it was a different story. The songs had depth and shine and she emerged as a genuine contender to win the first place prize. She and Bossy Love also grab £2,500 PRS for Music Foundation prizes as well as festival slots this year.

Hattie Whitehead

Hattie Whitehead

Also performing on the night were rapper Lady Sanity, 13th Floor Elevators-esque Early Ghost, south west of England singer/song-writer Henry Green, Marcus McCoan and London’s Gillbanks. All have also been awarded slots at the festival after their impressive performances on the night.

Words and pictures by Joe Lepper

To see more pictures from the night click here.

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Dressy Bessy – Kingsized

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Dressy Bessy – Kingsized

Posted on 08 April 2016 by Dorian

In recent months I’ve been finding myself encountering more and more albums by well-regarded artists that are, for want of a more sophisticated analysis, a bit dull. They are well played and nicely produced; but fundamentally lacking in spark. My awareness of this dates back to the Green Man festival last year where I was struck by the level of earnestness amongst the newer bands. This is not a bad thing per se but after watching a dozen electronica tinged folk acts sounding a bit sad and serious I longed for some amateurish abandon (a role The Fall filled pretty effectively at least).

So it was, in my current mood, particularly exciting to discover that Dressy Bessy had returned with a band new album, Kingsized, after a 6-year hiatus. Upon listening to the album I was delighted to hear that their sloppy, stroppy approach to high energy guitar pop was in full force and sounding better than ever.

Dressy Bessy Kingsized

On their last two albums, Electrified and Holler and Stomp, the band had tried to adopt a heavier and darker tone with mixed success – losing some of their better pop elements in the process. Kingsized works particularly well by retaining some of that beefier sound whilst applying all the pop nous that made their early work so infectious.

The high-tempo opener ‘Lady Liberty’ is a case in point, and a song that illustrates the band’s best qualities and showcases Tammy Ealom’s vocal delivery perfectly. The overall quality throughout is very high and there are half a dozen single contenders on the album. ‘Cup ‘O Bang Bang’ may well be the best of these and features former Pylon vocalist Vanessa Briscoe Hay on backing duties.

Probably the most significant change on this release is the use of additional musicians on most songs on the album. Peter Buck adds 12 string guitar on a few tracks and Young Fresh Fellow Scott McCaughey contributes keyboards. In particular, it is the use of a handful of backing vocalists (including Wild Flag’s Rebecca Cole) that adds most depth to this album. Ealom has a wonderful voice that is the just out-of-key enough to sound interesting without sounding unprofessional. The additional of other vocals to bolster her delivery works really well throughout.

It is pretty rare for a band to come back from an extended period of inactivity sounding as good as they did before, and the resulting album is usually a bit of a let-down. So it is particularly gratifying for one of your favourite bands to return with an album that may be their most consistently enjoyable record to date.

9/10

By Dorian Rogers

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Purson, Wild Birds of Britain and Crosa Rosa, The Brudenell Club, Leeds (April 2, 2016)

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Purson, Wild Birds of Britain and Crosa Rosa, The Brudenell Club, Leeds (April 2, 2016)

Posted on 04 April 2016 by John Haylock

I knew if I waited long enough 1972 would happen again, I just never expected it to happen at the legendary Brudenell club in Leeds in 2016.

Tonight’s headline band, Purson wear their 1970s prog-inspired influences proudly and defiantly, even taking the time and effort to dress accordingly, with great emphasis on flares, crushed velvet cat suits and much embroidered haberdashery, so you not only get a sonic treat but an extremely pleasing visual one.

Purson

Purson

Purson’s new album Desires Magic Theatre is a somewhat retro blast of 1970s rock, with lots of cosmic lyrics, great guitar solos and some dynamic vocals courtesy of their striking front woman Rosalie Cunningham. Live they transcend their influences with virtuoso playing, intricate song structures and some fantastic solos. The album does not prepare you for the passion and sheer joy of their onstage performance.

This gig was the final show on the current mini-tour before a summer schedule that sees them playing in the USA and attending various festivals. I’m sure by their return in Autumn word would have gotten out that these young musicians are a great live draw.

Purson

Purson

Two very different bands supported. Firstly the enigmatically named Wild Birds of Britain, in a short set they played some very nice guitar based numbers, lots of nifty lead work with the requisite quiet, melodic middle section before the trippy solo and final riffy end bit. Again it was very retro sounding but assembled with genuine love.

Crossa Rossa

Crosa Rosa

Completely opposite were Crosa Rosa, a young, energetic and grungy three-piece from Nottingham, who blazed across the Brudenell stage like a firestorm of sound. Check out their debut EP ‘Pantophobia’ and catch them on the next Dot to Dot festival in Nottingham, Manchester and Bristol.

Words by John Haylock pictures by Arthur Hughes

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