Wednesday, 3 October 2018

Shizo Fun Addict - El Shoegaze Bossa Nova

Seventh album from Jet Wintzer and Jayne Gabriel's ever-evolving collective!

The clue is in the title with this one. The meeting of shoegaze textures, indiepop melodies and Brazilian Bossa rhythms make up this latest long-player from New Jersey's Schizo Fun Addict. The band have been around since 2000 and are centred around the musical partnership of Jet Wintzer and Jayne Gabriel. For this record they're joined by guitarist Rex John Shelverton (Bellavista, VUE, Portraits Of Past) and new drummer Daniel Boivin (Asa Ranson, Death Of Fashion).

Musically this album occupies a place quite unlike any other. It is in turn sexy, moody, melancholic, dreamy, sad, cinematic and slowly charms rather than demands your attention. A touch of mariachi brass here and there along with plaintive piano adds to the vaguely spaghetti western feel while the clever use of analogue keyboards and layered guitars makes any attempt at genre-placing futile. Put simply this is mood music – transformative and moving. Best heard on a rainy Sunday morning while contemplating life's regrets and hopes. Deep themes demand deep emotionally resonant music. Here is some.

El Shoegaze Bossa Nova is available digitally now from all the usual outlets. There is also a limited audiophile vinyl release via Sugarbush Records.

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Click here for Sugarbush Records.

Papernut Cambridge - Mellotron Phase: Volume 2

Retro-to-go! A second volume of library music from Ian Button & co!

It's impossible not to love Papernut Cambridge. Already this year they've released the fantastic album Outstairs Instairs, and now this, a follow-up to 2017's Mellotron Phase: Volume 1. For anyone unfamiliar with those two albums here's the crack – Outstairs Instairs is a song-based album rich in sentiment, intelligence and lyrical ideas and allows the collective's many talented musicians to shine. Mellotron Phase: Volume 1 is a 10” vinyl LP featuring library-music inspired instrumental pieces with sounds sourced from original Mellotron tapes. At times the music is funny, sad, moving, intriguing, cheesy, evocative, wry, uplifting and much more. And now we have a volume 2!

Released by head-Papernut Ian Button's Gare Du Nord label in conjunction with boutique library music company Ravenwood, this album is as authentic as it gets. As stated on the sleeve - “Apart from the drums, bass guitar and some light percussion all the instrument sounds you hear on this record were made originally by a Mellotron or one of its contemporary tape/disc-based playback instruments. The sounds were picked from Gforce's M-Tron Pro tape libraries... Throughout, the original unedited mono patches were used to preserve the tone and functionality of the original instruments.”

Library music remains as highly prized among collectors as ever and continues to inspire today's musicians. It's not difficult to see why. It allows them to step outside of traditional band-based collaborations and draw upon a different set of influences – foreign pop and folk, soundtracks, new age music,TV themes, light entertainment orchestras, military bands. Literally anything goes. The track titles on Mellotron Phase: Volume 2 are evocative in themselves – for example 'Cha-Cha-Charlie', 'Cygnus Probe', 'Boss Club' and 'Sergeant Major Mushrooms'. My own personal favourite being 'A Cowboy In Montmartre'. Each piece is its own mini film score delivered with wit, verve and a whole lot of musical ability. For all the melodic and stylistic variation, the sonic restrictions lend the album a continuity of sound which holds the whole thing together in a most delightful and satisfying way.

Like its predecessor Volume 2 is released on 10” vinyl. There is also a CD version which collates both volumes. Buy with confidence, you will love this record.

Click here for Papernut Cambridge on Twitter.
Click here for Gare Du Nord Records.
Click here for Ravenwood Music.

Various - The Three Seasons

Mind blown! 3LP set celebrating the flowering of late '60s counter-cultural pop!

It can't have escaped your notice that The Beatles are on sale again. This time to mark the 50th anniversary of the White Album. Originally released in 1968, a year after the dazzling summer-of-love opus Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, and a year before they opted to “get back” to their roots by playing a stripped-down adaptation of rock and roll. Now I love the Beatles as much as I ever did but I've long since concluded that Paul McCartney has had quite enough of my cash over the years and I'm not shelling out a chunk of my wages on the boxed set of the White Album, as good as it may be. I'm sure the 102 takes of 'Sexy Sadie' are illuminating in their own way but I won't be investigating further.

A much better way to celebrate the flowering of late '60s counter-cultural pop is via this latest compilation from Fruits de Mer Records. A triple vinyl set featuring the cream of today's psychedelically inclined grass-roots artists covering their favourite tracks from the late '60s. The set is titled The Three Seasons in reference to the the years 1966, 1967 and 1968. It's from these three momentous years that all the tracks are taken. There are big names covered (The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix Experience, Small Faces, Love and even Neil Diamond), along with the ever fascinating foot-notes from the era (Touch, Family, Made In Sheffield, Don Shinn and more).

There is so much great stuff here it's difficult to know where to begin. Take a look at the tracklisting below to get an idea of what makes this such an amazing collection. I won't go through every track but they're all worth hearing. Standouts for me include The Locker Room Cowboys excellent take on The Stones' 'We Love You', The Past Tense's version of 'Magic In The Air' (originally by The Attack) and Jay Tausig's take of folk standard 'Let No Man Steal Your Thyme' (included here having been covered by Pentangle in 1968).

Suffice to say this is probably the best compilation I've heard all year, I can't recommend it highly enough. Oh and it also features three '60s legends in The Pretty Things, The Electric Prunes and The Yardbirds. So if fiftieth anniversaries are your thing avoid that White Album deluxe box set and opt for this fabulous collection instead. You will not regret it.

Side 1
1. The Past Tense - Magic In The Air (originally by The Attack : recorded in 1967)
2. LoveyDove - Bedazzled (originally by Drimble Wedge and the Vegetations : 1967)
3. Campbell Stokes Sunshine Recorder - Amelia Jane (originally by Made In Sheffield : 1967)
4. Jack Ellister - Aquarius (originally by The Zodiac:Cosmic Sounds : 1967)
5. Rob Gould - Granny Takes A Trip (originally by The Purple Gang : 1967)

Side 2
1. Mark McDowell and Friends - Up The Wooden Hills To Bedfordshire (originally by The Small Faces : 1966)
2. Anton Barbeau – Sunshine Superman (originally by Donovan : 1965)
3. The Electric Prunes - 7 and 7 is (originally by Love : 1966)
4. Moonweevil - Child Of The Sky (originally by The Deviants : 1967)
5. Kris Gietkowski - A-Minor Explosion (originally by Don Shinn : 1966)
6. The Yardbirds - Think About It (live in 2016) (originally by The Yardbirds : 1968)

Side 3
1. The Locker Room Cowboys - We Love You (originally by The Rolling Stones : 1967)
2. King Penguin - White Bird (written : 1967, released by It's A Beautiful Day : 1969)
3. Aunt Cynthia's Cabin - Solitary Man (originally by Neil Diamond : 1966)
4. The Luck Of Eden Hall - Reflected (originally by Alice Cooper : 1968)

Side 4
1. The Honey Pot - Kites (written by Hackaday/Pockriss; recorded by The Rooftop Singers / Simon Dupree and the Big Sound : 1967)
2. Cary Grace - 1983 (A Merman I Should Be...) (originally by the Jimi Hendrix Experience : 1968)

Side 5
1. Sidewalk Society - A Saying For Today (originally by The Action : 1968)
2. Jay Tausig - Let No Man Steal Your Thyme (trad. recorded by Anne Briggs : 1963 / Pentangle : 1968)
3. Magic Bus - Tribal Gathering (originally by The Byrds : 1967)
4. Proud Peasant - Down At Circe's Place (originally by Touch : 1968)
5. Icarus Peel - Beck's Bolero (originally by Jeff Beck Group : 1966)

Side 6
1. The Green Ray - Dusty (originally by John Martyn : 1968)
2. Ex-Norwegian - Winter (originally by Family : 1968)
3. Consterdine - Fly (originally by J.K. & Co : 1968)
4. The Gold Needles - The Smell of Incense (originally by West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band : 1967)
5. The Pretty Things - Loneliest Person (live at the Half Moon, 2010) (originally by The Pretty Things : 1968)

Click here for Fruits de Mer Records.

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Lara Smiles - All For You

Debut album of bold and glossy electro-indie rock.

Lara Smiles is that rare artist that recognises the importance of accessibility while simultaneously chipping away at the coal face of experimentalism. This duality is present throughout the the ten tracks that make up her debut long-player All For You. Self-produced by Smiles and mixed by recording legends Youth and Tim Bran, the album brims with confidence, strong melodies and state-of-the-art pop production.

At the core of the sound is a three-piece indie rock band – Smiles on guitar and vocals, Sara Leigh on drums and Joe Singfield on bass. All superb players. Added to this are layers of electronic sound taking the record to a different place and level. None of this would matter of course if Smiles' songs and singing were not up to task. They are however, and then some. Coming across like a version of Amy Winehouse seeped and schooled in post-punk and electro rather than vintage soul and jazz. That comparison is bolstered by the album's closing track 'Turn It Around', a relative soft landing after the preceding fast-paced tracks, where Smiles delivers a final aural-love-letter full of soulful longing and melodic twists and turns.

A startlingly impressive debut from an artist who will no doubt progress and develop as time goes on.

Click here Lara Smile's website.
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Eyeball – Paradox Of Eternal Limits

Experimental astral rock from North Carolina.

A nice surprise waiting for me when I returned from my summer holiday was this CD EP by Eyeball, they're a quartet from Raleigh, North Carolina. Not only do Brian Oaksford, Trey McLamb, Aaron Albrecht and Myriam Martian have a great collection of surnames they also make music that entertains, challenges, defies expectations and gets into a fistfight with any notion of categorisation. The band describe themselves as a “Psychedelic Experimental Music Ensemble” which is a pretty good starting point. Paradox Of Eternal Limits is their debut release and came out in 2017. Don't expect any love songs here unless they relate to aspects of quantum physics or astronomy.

Opening track 'Acid War' is built around an ominous and eerie guitar riff, driving beats and a vocal that despite being centred only two or three notes is as catchy as they come. The track comes across like Jethro Tull's 'Aqualung' re-imagined by Neu. Pretty neat! 'Inside The Moon' opts for a more textural Dreampop approach with slow tempo, shoegazey guitars, electronic shimmer, and (what sounds like) a violin solo.

'Astral Projector' then flips any expectations on the head by going all acid-folk – gently strummed acoustic guitar, hand-held percussion and a vocal that sounds not unlike Anton Barbeau. The EP finishes with 'The Red Minimum' a doom-rock opus that starts slow but picks up tempo a minute in. It comes adorned with '50s sci-fi movie sounds and a vocal from the John Lydon school of singing. It occupies that sweet spot between punk and metal.

Interesting to note that with only four songs the band demonstrate a variety of styles and sounds. If they ever release a full-length LP and really stretch out who knows where they'll take us. Wherever that is it will be worth the ride.

Click here Eyeball's website.
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Sunday, 9 September 2018

PoP - 3

Second time around for New Jersey band. An infectious mix of power pop and indie rock.

I send apologies to any regular readers for the recent lack of posts. A combination of school holidays, going away on a family holiday, and getting back to an increasingly demanding workload at the day job has meant I haven't had the time I'd have liked to concentrate on the blog. Hopefully that should change soon, and looking on the positives there's been a build up of great music to listen to, write about and gently push your way. So I'll start now!

One promo that was waiting for me when I came home from holiday was this EP from PoP. The band are a three-piece based in New Jersey, USA. They original formed as a quartet in the mid '90s and like many a band worked hard, wrote some great tunes, gigged plenty but somehow never managed to get that lucky break and wider recognition. The music eventually took a back seat as careers and families became more of a priority. As all musicians know the desire to make music is an itch that will eventually need scratching. With the sudden and unexpected passing of founder member Ian Long, the remaining members (Andre Mermegas, Matthew VanNortwick and Christopher Goss) got together to record this five song EP in his memory. It's a fitting tribute that not only shows that the band have lost none of their drive and energy, but also that they can still turn out decent catchy tunes.

The music a mix of Anglo and American power pop and melodic indie rock (think of a Venn diagram with circles representing Big Star, Teenage Fanclub, Foo Fighters, and The Jam, then place PoP somewhere in the middle). It's a sweet spot that finds just the right balance between jangle and crunch. Factor in vocal harmonies, overdriven guitar riffs and tunes that pass the whistle test and you have a pleasing and accomplished comeback.

Lyrically it's a case of taking stock with songs that either look back to the band's earlier days and lack of lucky break ('Warhol's Promise') or document the band's present ('4 Is 3') and their future ('New Again'). Today is a different era to those heady pre-internet days of the mid '90s and whether PoP progress any further this time round only time will tell, but that's really not the point. The music is reward enough as I'm sure they're only too aware. And one of its many associated pleasures is being able to share it with an increasingly switched-on world. Ladies and gentlemen take a listen to PoP.

Clickhere for PoP on Facebook.
Clickhere for PoP on Bandcamp.

Saturday, 25 August 2018

Big Star - Live At Lafayette's Music Room

(This review first appeared in issue #77 of Shindig! magazine.)

Omnivore CD / 2LP

This hometown set from 1973 has been released before (as disc four on the Keep An Eye On The Sky box set) but a standalone release comes newly restored and remastered, and makes its debut on vinyl. The band were supporting Archie Bell and The Drells at the same venue where four months later they'd play the legendary Memphis Rock Writers Convention.

Despite Chris Bell having recently left, the new three-piece are captured on top form. With superior sound and performances than those on the Live (at WLIR) album from the following year, it's a set worth owning for Jody Stephen's joyful drum fills alone, and contains sprightly covers of The Kinks, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Todd Rundgren and T Rex. It's also a reminder that the band were not then lauded – acoustic versions of 'Try Again' and 'Watch The Sunrise' compete with disinterested audience chatter and receive scant applause. Here's to hindsight!

Thursday, 23 August 2018

Birth Of Joy - Hyper Focus

(This review first appeared in issue #77 of Shindig! magazine.)

Glitterhouse CD / 2LP

Birth Of Joy's fifth studio LP finds the band capturing their road-worn psych-blues rock in all its VU meter pushing glory. No fancy production embellishments, more a straight ahead juggernaut of a record that you either jump aboard or risk being crushed by. For all its bludgeoning testosterone-fuelled energy there are many moments of sophistication – the scale-ignoring organ fills on 'Join The Game', the swing-jazz found on 'Forenoon' or 'Sypdorkat's hint of afro-rock rhythms.

The Dutch power trio's tag-line is “sixties on steroids” and indeed their sound has roots in the organ-led heavy rock of Deep Purple, ELP, Vanilla Fudge et al. Similarly the album's title could be read as a sly reference to fellow Dutchman Thijs van Leer's long-serving prog rockers, but Hyper Focus pioneers as successfully as it follows. State of the art 21st century heaviosity that's both a portal to the past and to new possibilities.

Wednesday, 22 August 2018

Dodson And Fogg - A New Day

(This review first appeared in issue #77 of Shindig! magazine.)

Wisdom Twins CD

You wonder how Leeds-based polymath Chris Wade finds the time. The debut LP released by his musical nom de plume Dodson And Fogg, came out in 2012, since when he's released a further sixteen albums, wrote several books and made a couple of films.

The music on his latest album falls loosely under the folk-rock banner, be it the delightful sitar accompaniment on the titular instrumental, or the one-chord acoustic guitar and flute boogie on 'Look At Your Home', Wade finds enough variety to maintain interest, at times recalling a cross-legged Bolan and the anti-establishment protest of Roger Waters.

Best of all is elegiac closer 'There's a Change In The Air', where rooted and muted brass sounds back an exploratory electric guitar. A neat musical metaphor for contemporary Britain? Perhaps not but the homespun folk on A New Day resonates with a decidedly bucolic Brit-folk vibe that's as eternal as the Pennines.

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

The Osiris Club - The Wine-Dark Sea

(This review first appeared in issue #77 of Shindig! magazine.)

Indie CD / LP

Much modern music claims to fall under the banner of dark psychedelia but little of it contains such drama and energy as found on this second LP by London-based quartet The Osiris Club. Their follow-up to 2014's debut The Blazing World sees them mix nightmare-inducing '70s prog with doses of post-punk spikiness and nu-metal urgency. It's music that echoes King Crimson, Cardiacs and even at times The Teardrop Explodes, but ultimately evokes their own shadowy universe, one dense with guitar riffs and ominous textures.

Such sombre haunting is not surprising given the songs' subject matter which draws from the horror fiction of HP Lovecraft and Robert Aickman, and sinister comic book characters ('Citadel of the Fly' is inspired by occultist Gustav Strobl from Hellboy). It may be an unrelenting voyage to the darker side of music and the human psyche, but is recommended for those that need to nourish their inner Goth.

Friday, 17 August 2018

Nick Coleman - Voices: How A Great Singer Can Change Your Life

(This review first appeared in issue #77 of Shindig! magazine.)


Coleman's previous book A Train In The Night was a poignant but hopeful account of suffering from Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss. A big deal for anyone but more so if you've spent the previous 25 years writing about music for a living. Though impaired his hearing has returned in sufficient form to allow the consumption and enjoyment of music again.

Voices is the result of binge-listening to his favourite singers in an attempt to store up the feelings, insights, nourishment and emotions they generate. Over the course of ten taut chapters Coleman distills what it is about an artist's voice that makes it so affecting, mixing in some social history and a little autobiographical colour. He dissects why certain music chimes with us at certain times (or not in the case of Sinatra). It's a subjective book but covers much ground mixing the great with the unexpected. Whether analysing rock 'n' roll giants, Motown legends, footnotes of jazz, or ruminating on British blue-eyed soul, rock's mature sophistication and punk's re-scattering of the dice, Coleman always presents a precise and engaging case.

As Coleman knows only too well there are times we'll all need the services of a doctor, nurse, specialist or surgeon. Hopefully not often and not for long. Our favourite singers however can be called on every day for solace, sensitivity, salvation, inspiration and wonderment. Coleman's book is a warmly written reminder of this that will have you delving into your music collection with fresh thanks and renewed appreciation.

Click here to buy via Amazon.

Monday, 13 August 2018

Snowchild - Age Of Change

(This review first appeared in issue #76 of Shindig! magazine.)

Kozmic Artifactz CD / LP 

This Wichita-based power trio know certain boxes need ticking for successful doom/stoner/sludge rock – long songs, ominous riffs and sheer heaviness for starters. What happens beyond that determines whether you rise above the competition. Snowchild needn't worry - subtle tempo changes, intuitive ensemble playing and dynamics ensure that Age Of Change never gets boring. And despite the old-school rock leanings, the subject matter makes for an album as contemporary as they come.

Anyone upset because Black Sabbath have knocked it on the head can find solace and cause for celebration here as bassist/vocalist Larry Donaldson is a graduate from the Ozzy School of Vocal Phrasing. There are other influences – the intro of 'Born in Flames' owes as much to Isaac Hayes' Hot Buttered Soul as it does to Master Of Reality, and 'Boudica' expands their palette with sitar-like guitar, eastern scales and a space rock vibe. Dark, heavy and soulful.

Sunday, 12 August 2018

Daniel McGeever - Cross The Water

(This review first appeared in issue #76 of Shindig! magazine.)

You Are The Cosmos CD / LP

Edinburgh-based musician McGeever has plied his trade as guitarist in The Wellgreen and Delta Mainline but now steps out front with this wholesome solo debut. Taking inspiration from Lennon's piano period with a pinch of Bill Fay, McGeever has a classicist's approach to songwriting, turning out meaningful heart-on-sleeve lyrics and memorable choruses. His middle eights are pretty decent too.

'MMXIII' is a highlight with dreamy backing vocals, strings and what sounds like a Mellotron in the coda. 'You're Coming Home' is a Memphis soul ballad transported to Auld Reekie, whereas 'For Violet' makes the personal universal, a heartfelt song for a newborn family member that could melt the most cynical of hearts. Not one to shy away from the big themes, with family, love, life and death all covered, there's a sense of McGeever taking emotional stock, looking back and forward in equal measure, with a rarely found but welcome openness.

Saturday, 11 August 2018

Richie Havens - Richard P. Havens, 1983

(This review first appeared in issue #76 of Shindig! magazine.)

Retroworld CD

1969 was a defining year for this Greenwich Village folkie. The opening appearance at Woodstock and the release of this sprawling 17-song collection, which originally came out as a double vinyl set. The Orwellian title taps into the paranoia of the age, the songs half utopian ideals, half the dawning of dystopian realities, all rendered in the production values of the time - heavy stereo, loose jams with subtle exotic touches of tabla, sitar, congas and even an Ondioline.

An underrated writer mixing poetry and protest in his self-penned songs, Havens' was also a skilled interpreter, unearthing nuances here in songs by Dylan, Donovan and Cohen, along with four Beatles tracks. Most poignant is the final run of songs (side four of the original vinyl), recorded live at a Santa Monica gig where his rich soulful voice, warm rapport and willingness to improvise remind us what an original talent he was.

Friday, 10 August 2018

Brad San Martin - Shoot Tomorrow / Learn Tonight

(This review first appeared in issue #75 of Shindig! magazine.)

Jigsaw CD

The former member of indie-popsters One Happy Island stays the right side of twee on the follow-up to 2015's Tell Someone, not striving for complication or perfection, but winning listeners over with simple arrangements and inspired instrumental touches from his guest players (Mitch Easter, Pete Weiss and Kevin Dunn). Added to that is his vocal delivery, reminiscent of Eric Matthews, and a winning way with tunes, be it the stately piano pop on 'Promises' or the sprightly upbeat 'Hey Everyone'.

The main attraction however is the range of subject matter. Martin is unafraid to lay his frailties, fears and faults on the line which makes for an album that's honest and brims with curious thoughts and obsessions. Whether comparing the merits of various British jazz critics, analysing the appeal of The Bar-Kays' 'Soul Finger' or documenting his move from Massachusetts to North Carolina he's unguarded and open. Therein lies the album's charm.

Thursday, 9 August 2018

Belle Adair - Tuscumbia

(This review first appeared in issue #75 of Shindig! magazine.)

Single Lock CD / LP

Muscle Shoals is famed for its soul music but Belle Adair's second LP makes it clear there are other sounds to be found in modern day Alabama. With a sound rooted in '70s soft pop and melodies and tempos more indebted to Teenage Fanclub than to the purveyors of deep, brassy soul, Belle Adair channel the same introspective melancholia that made the records of Big Star and Badfinger such a bittersweet delight.

Though the record is named after the band's hometown and was produced at the legendary FAME Studios by longtime Wilco collaborator Tom Schick, there's an unmistakable Anglophile tint to it. Personal but universal lyrics, chiming guitar arpeggios, gentle organ washes and Matt Green's understated vocals all help recall the legacy of the British invasion and merge it with some southern state sadness. A successful and intoxicating mix, and one that deserves to resonate far beyond the Cotton State.

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

The Dealers - Turning Upside Down EP

(This review first appeared in issue #74 of Shindig! magazine.)

Action Weekend/Bickerton 7"

This three-tracker from the Basque country quartet is a black vinyl time-capsule that mixes '60s British blues boom with a hint of freakbeat. Very 1965. It captures the band at full throttle, their lean, mean sound delivered at a pace that'd make Lewis Hamilton want to pull off the track and have a good cry. 'Wearing A Frown (Again)' is a souped-up rhythm 'n' blues stomper which manages to fit a catchy chorus, wailing harmonica and and a couple of guitar solos into its two minute span.

'My Little Gem' is a mod dancefloor filler - call and response vocals, frantic bass line, with a smidgeon of backwards guitar. It's a track worth any mod's jukebox money. 'Got No Gouda' may be a throwaway jokey tale about lacking some Dutch cheese but it's played with conviction and an attitude that would rival those rum punks from '77. Neat, neat, neat!

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

39th & The Nortons - The Dreamers

(This review first appeared in issue #74 of Shindig! magazine.)

Stolen Body CD/LP

What started as the bedroom project of Nick Wheeldon (Os Noctàmbulos) has blossomed into a new line-up including members of Bootchy Temple and Jaromil Sabor. Though they've only been together since the start of the year it's clear this Paris-based quintet has some serious alchemy going on. The sound of The Dreamers may have roots in garage rock but there's an optimism, an openess, a sense of possibility and a passion here that's not often found in the genre.

The songs are all melodically memorable but what really sets them apart is the genuine emotional delivery. In that sense The Dreamers owes as much to soul or gospel as it does scratchy garage punk. This is the third attempt at recording a follow up to 2012's On Trial, the first two sets of recordings deemed not up to scratch. It's worth the wait. From the heart, strangely uplifting and an unexpected gem.

Monday, 6 August 2018

The Johnstons - Bitter Green / Colours Of The Dawn / If I Sang My Song

(This review first appeared in issue #74 of Shindig! magazine.)


Britain may have had the Watersons, ISB and Pentangle but in Ireland The Johnstons were one of the top acts of the '60s folk revival, and the group in which Paul Brady first came to national prominence. Their final three studio albums are compiled here along with a raft of bonus tracks from singles and extended plays.

Listened to chronologically the traditional and contemporary folk covers give way to more satisfying baroque material with Brady's maturing songwriting yielding its best fruits on the final LP If I Sang My Song by which time the group had become a duo, with only Brady and Adrienne Johnston remaining. Of particular interest to Shindiggers is 'Continental Trailways Bus', a hippy trail backpacker's anthem, the sitar-strewn version of 'Jesus Was A Carpenter' and the introspective 'December Windows'. Also noteworthy is the superb reading of 'Border Child', sadly still as poignant and relevant today as it was in 1972.

Sunday, 5 August 2018

Howie Payne - Mountain

(This review first appeared in issue #73 of Shindig! magazine.)

Full Stack CD / LP

During the mid noughties when the weekly music press was pant wetting over the new rock revolution, Liverpool band The Stands released two albums that have weathered better than many made by their louder contemporaries, marked out by the songwriting and vocal talents of frontman Howie Payne. It's been eight years since his debut solo LP (Bright Light Ballads, produced by Ethan Jones), but Payne is back, with his sorrow-shot voice still the perfect vehicle to impart songs of ache and longing.

Recorded quickly and for the most part live, the gentle ballads and acoustic folk-pop at times steer close to the middle of the road, but Payne is skillful enough to make the journey an enjoyable one, favouring subtlety over brashness. Go with him and you'll find Mountain has a uniquely mellow and wistful charm, and that Payne still has his knack for turning out melodic Scouse-infused Americana.

Saturday, 4 August 2018

Buffalo Killers - Alive And Well In Ohio

(This review first appeared in issue #73 of Shindig! magazine.)

Alive CD / LP

Always one of the more astute bands on the Alive roster. Buffalo Killers may be long of hair, full of beard, and stacked of amps, but they're not afraid to get in touch with their soulful, nuanced side. Beefed-up country rock with a chunk of funk thrown in, brotherly harmonies and a musicality not often found in a rock outfit makes this album a delight. Think Crazy Horse armed with diminished and augmented chords.

Incredibly this is the band's eighth LP and they show no sign of letting up with ideas and inspired moments. Take for example the leftfield guitar solo and Curtis Mayfield-esque falsetto on 'Parachute', the high-to-low vocal descent on the last line of the chorus in 'Death Magic Cookie', and the pedal-steel embellishments by (new-ish) member Sven Kahns. There's also enough riffage and grunge to keep the rockers happy. Not only alive and well, they're positively thriving.

Friday, 3 August 2018

Angelica Rockne - Queen Of San Antonio

(This review first appeared in issue #72 of Shindig! magazine.)

Self Release LP

Gram Parson's vision of Comic American Music has seemingly come to full fruition in 2017. Not only has the year brought us stellar LPs by GospelbeacH and The Parson Red Heads, but now we have this late contender from Cali-Cowgirl Angelica Rockne that may well be the cream of the crop. It's a debut that's cosmic but real, emotional and honest, full of heart and soul and features a killer backing band. 'Smoking When It's Raining', 'Married By Elvis' and 'Glitter Rags' all help evoke an America of small towns, big but burnt dreams and open hearts.

Comparisons to Mazzy Star, Emmylou Harris, Stevie Nicks, Patti Smith, Grace Slick and Ryan Adams all carry weight stylistically, but the girl from Nevada City proves herself to be her own person and by the end of the album's eight tracks the only option is to play again. Bears repeating and then some.

Thursday, 2 August 2018

The Lords Of Thyme - Pellets

(This review first appeared in issue #72 of Shindig! magazine.)

Sunstone LP

Their version of 'Hares On The Mountain' with Bonnie Dobson was one of the standout tracks on the Shirley Collins tribute LP Shirley Inspired, so a fair amount of anticipation awaits their full-length debut. Though released on CD last year, it now gets a much warranted vinyl outing that doesn't disappoint, opening with great interpretations of two traditional folk songs - the murder ballad 'Bruton Town', and supernatural love song 'George Collins'.

Though touted purely as a folk rock band, there's more to them than that, as evidenced by the six remaining original songs– 'Freight Train To Rainham' is a Booker T style groovy soul instrumental and the sumptuous pedal steel playing hints there may be a country rock band lurking somewhere within.

Fans of the folk-rock's high watermark (Fairport, Pentangle, Sanny Denny et al) will find themselves a favourite new record and a band with four great vocalists and superb musicianship.

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Dream Giant - A Different Light

(This review first appeared in issue #72 of Shindig! magazine.)

Paisley Parade CD / LP

The Roger Dean-a-like artwork may promise heavy prog but Dream Giant's debut overflows with ideas-packed psychedelic indiepop. It's (almost) all the work of one man, Harry Dean, formerly a member of Bear Driver who's reinvented himself as an auteur of kaleidoscopic neo-psych. In lesser hands it could come across as lightweight and twee, but there are enough ideas and melodic twists here, along with an intelligence, that makes this a delight from start to finish. And for a bedroom recording it sounds lush and epic.

Opener 'Every Song' may be one of the best pop songs you'll hear all year, breezily melodic and catchy to the max. 'Moonfire Mountain' sounds like early JAMC albeit with a wide-eyed optimism and sense of wonder. The spirit of '67 is alive, well and in good hands. And in the true spirit of psych it will melt minds in most delightful ways. The future looks bright.

The Doors - The Singles

(This review first appeared in issue #72 of Shindig! magazine.)

Rhino 2CD

It's difficult to think of an American band from rock's late '60s salad days that so divides sentiment. For every person that holds them in high esteem, there's another that will decry the band as overrated, at times pretentious, indulgent and overblown. Even among their West Coast contemporaries were musicians that refused to open up to The Doors. Former Byrd David Crosby to this day doesn't have a kind word to say about them, as anyone who follows his Twitter feed will know. His main gripes being that as a band they “didn't swing”, and that Jim Morrison was a bit of a bozo.

Whether you agree with Crosby or not there's no denying that among the band's back catalogue contains a body of work that has stood the test of time and gained new fans from successive generations. And listening to this value for money 44-song collection, the accusations of being overblown are easily laid to rest. Their reputation has long been that of an “albums band”, or one best experienced live where they had the freedom to improvise and give in to their jazz-rock/free-form leanings. But from the evidence here they could also turn in concise, memorable tracks that fitted nicely onto a 7” pieces of plastic, had catchy choruses and sounded good on the radio

All the tracks have been remastered, with killer A-sides 'Break On Through', 'Light My Fire, 'Hello I Love You' and 'Touch Me' all sounding as fresh as they would have done when the LA quartet first committed them to tape. This collection's other USP is the inclusion of all B-sides including those from their posthumous releases right the way up to the 1983 release of 'Gloria'/'Moonlight Drive (Live)', along with four tracks in in mono radio versions. The only omission is of ' Not To Touch The Earth, the flip-side of the 1980 reissue of 'People Are Strange', but given the other riches I guess we can live without that.

If your vinyl copies are wearing a little thin this could be just the compilation to have on your Christmas list. Unless you're David Crosby that is.

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Fuchsia - Fuchsia

Specially augmented reissue of the classic 1970 debut! Includes 2nd disc of rarities, DVD, magazine and poster!

Fruits de Mer are not known as a reissue label so as this 2LP set marks their first foray into the reissue market they've pulled out all the stops. Even by FdM standards this bumper package is pretty special. An original copy Fuchsia's 1971 debut on the Pegasus label will set you back a few hundred quid. For a fraction of the cost you can have this newly pressed 180g coloured vinyl reissue which comes complete with a second disc featuring early demos, rarities and new recordings. There's also a 15-minute DVD featuring founder member Tony Durant talking about the album, a 24-page magazine and a fold-out poster. Told you it was special!

A little background info then – Vocalist/guitarist Tony Durant formed Fuchsia at Exeter Univeristy back in the '60s. The band was named after Fuchsia Groan, a princess character in Mervin Peakes' Gormenghast trilogy from the 1940s. Their sole LP came out in 1970. Like many acid-folk albums of the era (by the likes of Forest, Vashti Bunyan etc.) it was drowned out of the cacaphonous marketplace, pushed to the sidelines by big labels, big names and a burgeoning new heavy rock scene. As the years passed the album quietly staked out a life of its own. Slowly picking up converts and fans, and ageing rather well. Listening to it today, it defies its simple acid-folk classification, and contains a unique spirit. There are jazz influences on it, along with baroque instrumentation. At times quirky and playful, other times serious but always engaging and full of warm sentiments and plenty of heart.

The album would go on to inspire subseqent generations of hip-to-the-groove musicians. Most recent and notable being Swedish group Me And My Kites who named themselves after one of Fuchsia's best known tracks. The band actually feature on disc two of this set backing Fuchsia vocalist Tony on a version of 'The Band', a track which was originally issued on a 7” by FdM in 2014. A highly recommended package for fans both old and new.

**The band will be playing at the Sixteenth Dream of Dr. Sardonicus Festival in Cardigan, August 3rd to 5th! **

**Also the Half Moon, Putney on August 10th!

Click here for Fuchsia on Facebook.
Click here for Fruits de Mer Records.

Sendelica - Cromlech Chronicles III

Third instalment of exploratory instrumental Prog from Wales' celebrated spacerockers!

Here on the flat mud-banks of the east coast, we're about as far from West Wales as it's possible to be on Britain's main landmass, both in terms of distance and landscape. That may be why each time I've spent time in that beautiful country I've come home with my batteries spiritually re-charged. The combination of hills, valleys, clean(er) Atlantic air, rich folklore and a less-toxic national pride inspires and impresses me each time. All these things feed into the music that's made there too of course. Those teenage years spent listening to John Peel spin the latest record from Datblygu opened my ears to a seam that grew richer as more musicians came to my attention. Be it the Cool Cymru of the Manics, SFA et al, the gentle psych of Gorky's and CaStLeS, or the acid-folk of Meic Stevens, it was clear that Welsh music at its best had that elusive “it”.

All of which brings me to this new outing from Sendelica. It's the third in their series of improvised get-togethers. For the “Cromlech Chronicles” sessions the band de-camp to Mwnci Studios in West Wales for two days of playing, improvising and recording. The results then released by the mighty Fruits de Mer label. I've written about a couple of previous Sendelica records, their 7” tributes to Frank Zappa and DavidBowie. Without the restrictions of interpreting someone else's songs their muse is free to take flight in whatever direction it chooses. Over the six tracks on Chromlech Chronicles III we're treated to ambient textures, soothing sax-led loveliness, and some harder edged prog-rock (opening track 'BS'). Taken as a whole there's a meditative quality that mirrors both the physical surroundings as well as the musicians' mindset, one of freedom, open possibility and a willingness to enter into the mystic.

As always with Fruits de Mer Records plenty of thought has gone into how the physical product is presented. Three being the magic number here. Chromlech Chronicles III comes on three pieces of 10” vinyl (coloured of course). Then there's the 3D sleeve and accompanying 3D glasses. It's a welcome addition to the Welsh music canon.

**The band will be playing at the Sixteenth Dream of Dr. Sardonicus Festival in Cardigan, August 3rd-5th!**

Click here for Sendelica.
Click here for Sendelica guitarist Pete Bingham on Twitter.
Click here for Sendelica on Facebook.
Click here for Fruits de Mer Records.

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Papernut Cambridge - Outstairs Instairs

David Essex fronting Lieutenant Pigeon! Papernut Cambridge return with more warm-hearted pop!

Here we are at the mid point of 2018, a strange time in an increasingly strange land. A government in crisis; a civil war in all but name being played out under the ongoing Leave/Remain struggle; Donald Trump popping over to meet the Queen; cloudless skies over a sun-blistered Britain; and perhaps most incredulous of all the England football team doing well at the World Cup. You could not make it up.

Oddly though the feeling round our house is more redolent of the warm glow of an uncomplicated childhood Christmas. This is in no small part thanks to the release of Outstairs Instairs, the latest long-player from Papernut Cambridge. New music from Ian Button and his assembled band-mates is always cause for celebration, more so when it's this accomplished and satisfying.

Papernut Cambridge continue to draw on the early-Seventies for much of their musical ideas, a touch of Ronnie Lane, some gentle glam stomp, a bit of wonky pub piano, some spoof hotel lounge bar music and plenty of warm-hearted pop. The overall effect is akin to David Essex fronting Lieutenant Pigeon.

But don't be fooled into thinking they're simply aping their '70s pop annual heroes. This is more than a Top Of The Pops / Hallmark Records sound-alike. What sets PC apart is that they actually say something in their songs. They have meaning depth and purpose. Outstairs Instairs bristles with emotional intelligence, and finds lead Papernut/songwriter/vocalist Ian Button full of acceptance. Acceptance of the world, along with his place in it. Many of the songs here offer an outlook that celebrates small acts of kindness and how much they're needed when our so-called leaders seem to have lost their moral compass.

Not only does the music hit the mark but as is always the case with PC, they present it in an attractive and interesting way. The vinyl version of Outstairs Instairs plays from the outer edge inwards on side one, and from the centre outwards on side two. Something to do with the inventor/architect Richard Buckminster Fuller and the C60 molecule named after him apparently. (Don't ask me, I'm no scientist!)

As befitting such a large and loose collective, the Gare du Nord Records extended family get involved – Jack Hayter features on viola, with (amongst others) Darren Hayman, Robert Rotifer and Luke Smith also playing various bits and bobs. If you've yet to experience the mighty Papernut, now is the time!

Click here for Papernut Cambridge on Facebook.
Click here for Papernut Cambridge on Twitter.
Click here for Gare Du Nord Records.

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Walk Upright - Walk Upright

This week's hottest gig + debut album of spiky art-rock from London quartet!

Adding to Gare du Nord's impressive list of releases this year is this eponymous debut LP from London's Walk Upright. Lyrically rich with London-centric frustrations, delivered with heart, soul, humour and a healthy lack of cynicism, this limited edition CD was recorded in the band's rehearsal space underneath a road-supporting arch in Leyton. Sessions were disrupted each time a lorry rumbled past overhead. With this in mind it's no surprise the album has a taut, stripped to the bone sound. Short but to-the-point songs, spiky guitars lines, hooky keys and an infectious urgency to win you over within a couple of catchy choruses. And it does. Think Wire, Elastica and Blur at their best.

With not a duff track among them it's hard to pick a favourite but contenders include early single 'Trash Wave', an art-punk tour-de-force, or 'Waiting For What' with its killer bassline. Then there's 'Dont Weep Melissa' with its earworm chanted chorus, or the incredible saxophone solo (courtesy of Bozo Zoo's Alex Nicoll) on 'Wasting My Time'. Anyway take a listen via the Bandcamp player below and pick one yourself.

One quarter of the band lives in Austria so it's not often the band get to play shows together but this Friday they'll be playing a special album launch show at the Betsey Trotwood, EC1 this Friday(July 6th). Support comes from Picturebox + Robert Rotifer. Should be one to remember! Five pounds on the door. Bargain!

Walk Upright are -

Denis Osborne – guitar/vocals
Dee McGruddy – keyboards/vocals
Richard Easeman – bass
Gareth Spicer – drums

Click here for Walk Upright on Twitter.
Click here for Walk Upright on Facebook.

Sunday, 1 July 2018

Smash Fashion - Rompus Pompous

LA's premier junkshop glam outfit back with a new LP!

Rock is dead they say, Long Live Rock!” - The Who, 'Long Live Rock' 1972

Hey hey, my my, Rock and Roll will never die” - Neil Young, 'My My, Hey Hey (Out Of The Blue)' 1979

Rock music's resilience is something else (as Eddie Cochran might have said!) Should human civilisation ever destroy itself, millions of years from now some future race of intelligent cockroach on an archaeological dig will probably find a Crosley turntable and stash of RSD reissued Thin Lizzy and AC/DC albums. They'll treat them as sacred texts and a new religion will arise, with power chords, pinched harmonics and sexually charged lyrics at its core. That's how resilient rock music is.

The last time Rock took centre stage in the mainstream was when The Darkness were on the verge of becoming world beaters with their first album. That never came to pass but it did show that classic rock had more mileage in it. Justin and co never fulfilled their early promise but they did serve as a reminder that classic rock is called classic for good reason

LA-based quartet SMASH Fashion make a heady brew of music that merges classic, stadium and glam rock. They serve it up with a hefty dose of good natured humour and some cheeky innuendo. And wouldn't you know it, it's fun! If their latest album Rompus Pompous had been released in 1979 it might by now have been getting the RSD colour vinyl reissue treatment, weighted as it is with all the tropes and moves of rock classicism.

Their debut LP Big Cat Love came out in 2014, since when main songwriter/vocalist/guitarist Roger Deering has stockpiled a fresh batch of hook-laden gems which make up their new long-player. Such is the infectious joy spread across the record, even Bowie's go-to keyboard man Mike Garson was persuaded to guest on the album, contributing piano to 'Smiles And Daggers'. It's impossible to listen to Rompus Pompous in its entirety without a smile appearing on your face. This is good-time stuff that justifies being played loud. Plenty of twin guitar solos, '70s FM playability, a knowing silliness and a production sheen not often found in 2018. Stick this on in the car on your way to work and Monday morning's sinking feeling will soon disappear. Out now!

Click here for the band's website.
Click here for SMASH Fashion on Facebook.

Ryan Martin - Gimme Some Light

Regret, realisation and redemption. Tales from the crossroads of modern masculinity.

Ever since the early '70s, a time referred to by some as “the me decade”, there's always been an array of confessional singer-songwriters in the musical firmament. Call it the Dylan effect. Having ditched the political for the personal in the mid'60s our Bob-ness inspired a generation of (mostly male) musicians to wear hearts on sleeves and encouraging the baring of souls, with each subsequent generation adding a new wave to the genre. Some were bad, many good, and a select few were amazing. So here we are now in the time of #MeToo, a long-overdue watershed moment in gender politics. It's an interesting time for female musicians with lots of great music being made. By extension any male singer-songwriter secure in their own talent should be able to rise to the challenges that the current social and political climate presents.

Ryan Martin is the latest sensitive musician to come to the fore. A Californian currently residing in New York, I doubt Martin would claim to be a political writer, or overly concerned with gender politics for that matter but his latest and second LP Gimme Some Light does capture something of what it means to be a man in today's world. It's as open and honest an LP you're likely to hear all year, with a rare emotional complexity. Rather than the bold declarations, sureties and definite opinions we associated with the age of social media and political bombast, there's nuance, self-doubt and vulnerability. A sense of him saying “hey I may have messed up in the past, I can't promise to be perfect in the future, but I can try to be better.” It's refreshing to hear such honesty.

Martin's back-story is a colourful one involving a traumatic car accident, addiction, subsequent treatment and spells in jail. The dark times inform but don't define his music. Gimme Some Light is infused with the notion of turning things round, steering away from all that's destructive and finding a better place, a better way of being. And the tunes and arrangements are pretty good too! With a similar buffeted and bruised Americana to that of Neil Young and Ryan Adams, Martin's autobiographical songs paint a picture of a man at times down but not out.

'All The Good Men' fades in with a background of ambient white noise before piano and pedal steel lead the way into a song which sets the emotional tone and themes of the album. There's regret but it comes with tempered with realisation. 'Destitute Darlings' is an E-Street Band rocker worthy of The Boss himself, full of passionate street-level romance delivered with bar-band wall of sound. But there are many great songs here, a mix of sparsely arranged ballads and full on rockers, all melodically memorable and from the heart. Gimme Some Light is proof that the future need not be toxic after all.

Click here for Ryan Martin's website.
Click here for Ryan Martin on Twitter.
Click here for Ryan Martin on Facebook.
Clickhere for High Moon Records.

Saturday, 23 June 2018

The Paperweight Array - Greek Theatre Show EP

If psych-tinged British guitar bands are your thing (and why wouldn't they be?) we have a great recommendation for you. The Paperweight Array are a Northampton-based trio who've just released Greek Theatre Show, their third EP, via Bandcamp. We've written about them before having enjoyed their debut EP Transmissions From A Distant Star. The follow up Kaleidoscope Of Antiquities was also on our radar but somehow slipped through the net when it came top writing about it. (Must have been a busy time work-wise, that's what usually stops me posting more!)

Anyhow their latest is well worth a listen. The opening track 'The Mountain' is reminiscent of Ride at their floppy-haired best, a mix of irresistible rhythms and spiky guitars. The title track 'Greek theatre Show' follows with more of a mid-'60s folk-rock feel. Lyrically it explores the volatile minefield of fractured friendships before leading into an extended coda of modal guitar arabesques.

They save the best for last however - 'Reflections (On A Western Trail)' has a Seahorses-meets-Big Star vibe, seemingly simple but actually quite complex chords and melody and ends in an extended guitar solo that any aspiring axe-god would be proud of. All of the band's releases are available via Bandcamp so go check them out. Here's hoping a long-player will materialise sometime soon.

Click here for The Paperweight Array on Twitter.
Click here for The Paperweight Array on Facebook.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Us and Them - On Shipless Ocean

Second LP from Swedish acid-folk duo! Gentle electronica, glacial vocals and Robert Kirby-esque strings!

Us and Them are Britt Rönnholm and Anders Håkanson, a musical duo from Sweden who make beautiful, soft and fragile acid-tinged folk. We've featured their music several times before on HD, most recently when they released 'When I Was Walking', a limited edition 7” single on Mega Dodo Records early last year. Their music is perfect for quiet reflection and seems fitting that as we approach the high summer solstice and the turning of the year's tide they're back with a full-length LP also released by the increasingly reliable Mega Dodo label. On Shipless Ocean is Us and Them's strongest and most confident release to date.

The pair's primary influences are never far from the surface – musically there's Sandy Denny and Vashti Bunyan, subject and theme-wise there's Northern Europe's natural world of climate, weather and the elements. Listen deeper however and there's more to heard - Echoes of Angelo Badalamenti's Twin Peaks theme in album opener 'The Trees and the Sky Above', and a gentle smattering of ghostly electronica throughout. For all the ethereal beauty there's also a constant worldliness best evidenced on 'A New Life' which offers dignified lyrical stock-take of everyday emotions.

Us and Them's previous releases have contained cover versions, most notably the 10” tribute to Sandy Denny which came out of Fruits de Mer a few years back. On Shipless Ocean is more centred on original tracks but does contain one cover, an expansive ten minute version on Kevin Ayers' 'Lady Rachel' where the muted electronica meets exquisite finger-picked guitar. Other highlights include 'Changes and Choices' where the albums instrumental palette expands with various shades of woodwind, and 'Tail', a nine-minute opus complete with Robert Kirby-esque strings.

Fans of any of the artists mentioned will find in Us and Them new torchbearers for the sort of acid-tinged folk that gets more resonant with each passing year. For a sound that supposedly only shone briefly in the late sixties/early seventies it's proved its resilience and Us and Them make fine modern-day custodians.

Vinyl lovers will surely want to get hold of the 180-gram aqua marine coloured version, limited to 300 copies only.

Click here for more on Us and Them.
Click here for Us and Them on Facebook.
Click here for Mega Dodo Records.