Monday, 19 August 2019

SMASH Fashion - Rompus Pompous

(This review first appeared in issue #84 of Shindig! magazine.)

LA-based Smash Fashion burst onto the music scene with their debut Big Cat Love in 2014 proving that the retro glam scene wasn't purely reserved for Italian bootboys. Rompus Pompous serves up another batch of guitarist/vocalist Roger Deering's songs. They're bold, brash, melodic and defiantly good-time, with a sonic template based on '70s FM rock and lyrics that are playful, funny and hark back to a time before rock music started taking itself so seriously. Duelling twin-guitars abound and actively embrace the much-maligned guitar technique of squealing pinched harmonics.

For all its knowingly tongue-in-cheek humour, Rompus Pompous does however contain a genuine rock ballad epic in 'Smiles And Daggers', a track that rivals Guns 'n' Roses' 'November Rain' in scale and ambition. It reveals a musically hot band at the top of their game and comes embellished with sumptuous piano playing courtesy of David Bowie's long-serving keyboardist Mike Garson.

Sunday, 18 August 2019

Magnus Carlson - A Nordic Soul

(This review first appeared in issue #84 of Shindig! magazine.)

Carlson has been a big star for over two decades in his native Sweden, firstly as a founder member of indie rockers Weeping Willows and latterly via several collaborations and a successful solo career. This is his first full-length solo outing in the UK and focuses on his deep love of northern soul. Recorded in part by long-time Paul Weller associate Andy Lewis at the Modfather's Black Barn Studio, it's stacked with uptempo dance-floor fillers, all taut grooves, punchy horns and melancholic high strings. With any justice it will bring Carlson the wider audience he deserves.

If side one is about being on the floor shaking some talc, side two broadens out into more of a comedown feel, most successfully on the lush orchestral ballad 'Broken Promise Land', which features backing from Carlson's Weeping Willows band-mates. Medway modernists will also be pleased by guest appearance of Fay Hallam on 'Now That It's Over'.

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

J.P. Bimeni & The Black Belts - Free Me

(This review first appeared in issue #84 of Shindig! magazine.)

JP Bimeni's back-story is like none other. A descendant of the Burundian royal family, he fled Burundi aged 15 during the 1993 civil war after three attempts on his life. Having survived being both shot and poisoned he managed to attain refugee status and moved to the UK, taking a college place in Wales. It was there he started listening to the soul music that would go on to inform his own singing style. A spell in an Otis Redding tribute revue brought him to the attention of Madrid's Tucxone Records who paired him with The Black Belts to record this infectious album.

If the meeting of southern soul with uptempo African funk doesn't grab you then Bimeni's impassioned vocals surely will. Equally stirring on the tearjerkers or the floor-filling modern funk numbers. Free Me is one of the year's must-have soul albums and a reminder of how compelling singing from the heart can be.

Monday, 12 August 2019

Sha La Das - Love In The Wind

(This review first appeared in issue #83 of Shindig! magazine.)

Bill Schalda was a teenage member of '60s Brooklyn vocal group The Montereys who would later pass on his love of close harmony singing to his three sons Will, Paul and Carmine. Together the quartet supplied background vocals to Charles Bradley's Victim of Love LP. Producer Thomas Brenneck was so taken with the results he encouraged the group to make this full-length album which merges doo-wop sensibilities with soul's expansive and emotional range.

Featuring their unique close family harmonies backed by the finest musicians of Daptone's extended musical family (including members of The Budos Band, Menahan Street Band, The Dap-Kings), Love In The Wind is built on pure love of the music, palpable in the ghostly doo-wop ('Those Days Are Over', 'Do What'), and the standout uptempo psych-soul groover 'Carnival'. The mix of era-respecting authenticity, youthful spirit and combined team effort is a winning combination, even by Daptone's high standards.

Saturday, 10 August 2019

Dirty Streets - Distractions

(This review first appeared in issue #83 of Shindig! magazine.)

The Memphis trio's fifth LP unleashes a barrage of greasy blues 'n' boogie rock, big on pentatonic riffs, driving drums and floor shaking bottom end, as exemplified on the album's bookending tracks 'Loving Man' and 'Trying To Remember'. Aside from the heavy duty rock are revelatory moments where the band break out of their blues box and venture off on different tacks. 'Dream' showcases their softer, textured pop side, whereas 'Take A Walk' sees the band go all-out into wah-wah enhanced funk-rock.

'Can't Go Back' allows drummer Andrew Denham to take centre stage. Then there's the lyrical voodoo and hip-hop beats of 'Death's Creep' or 'On The Way' where vocalist/guitarist Justin Toland mixes bluesy vocals with British finger-style acoustic picking. Recorded live at the historic Sam Phillips Recording Studio in their hometown, Distractions honours the south's hard rocking musical traditions and adds a high voltage boost. Best played loud.

Friday, 9 August 2019

Kelley Stoltz - Natural Causes

(This review first appeared in issue #82 of Shindig! magazine.)

Stoltz's love of '60s Brit Invasion and '80s post-punk sounds is well known so it's no surprise echoes of both loom large on his latest album. Be it the dreampop of the title track, the lo-fi psychedelic pop of 'My Friend' or the indie-disco of 'Decisions Decisions', he combines spiky guitar lines with whistleable '60s pop melodies, then nicely drenches them with chorus and reverb. In this musical tug-of-love it's the '80s that ultimately wins with Stoltz going full out retro-electro on 'Static Electricity', with call-and-response robotic vocals, synth shimmers and dive-bombing guitar solo.

As the album progresses each tracks reveals a different mood or aspect of Stoltz's personality; gently mocking sarcasm on 'How Psychedelic Of You', a jaunty sing-song round the old Joanna on 'A Rolling Tambourine', and best of all 'Where You Will', a slice of wistful melancholia with Stoltz beautifully channelling his inner Morrissey and Marr.

Thursday, 8 August 2019

Prana Crafter - Enter The Stream

(This review first appeared in issue #82 of Shindig! magazine.)

Most musicians are inspired to some extent by their surroundings. Few transmute the experience of landscape into music as artfully as William Sol AKA Prana Crafter. From his home in the woodlands of Washington State's Olympic peninsula he's released several cassette albums of nature-inspired psych-folk that combine the vocal vulnerability of Neil Young, the exploratory virtuosity of Jerry Garcia with an Eno-esque knack for ambient textures.

Enter The Stream is his most engaging album so far, a mix of downbeat Americana and sonic exploration. Against a backdrop of trickling water, the title track sets the mood on a record that champions the eternal beauty of the natural world over the ugliness of contemporary global politics. In Sol's hands even white noise and scales more usually associated with doom-rock have a soothing quality, as evidenced on 'Moon Through Fern Lattice' and 'The Spell' respectively. As rejuvenating and refreshing as a wild swim.

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

Durand Jones & The Indications - You And Me / Put A Smile On Your Face (7")

(This review first appeared in issue #81 of Shindig! magazine.)

Something is happening and Mr. Jones knows what it is. Our appetite for rare soul remains as insatiable as ever. The mix of grit, groove and passionate emotion distilled by American musicians in the sixties and seventies continues to fascinate. With this in mind Durand and his Indications pay homage to two lesser-celebrated soul acts.

'You And Me' was originally recorded as a demo by Ohio-based Penny & The Quarters in the early seventies. Durand adds an early Motown vibe with a sweet falsetto over a doo wop chord sequence. 'Put A Smile On Your Face' is a melancholic gem originally cut by Detroit's EJ & The Echoes in 1967. Durand's faithful take offers neat drum shuffles and a vocal delivery that gets straight to the emotional heart of the lyrics. The fact that these versions were recorded quickly in a electric piano repair shop only adds to the authentic vintage vibe.

Tuesday, 6 August 2019

Paul Steel - Carousel Kites

(This review first appeared in issue #81 of Shindig! magazine.)

The Paul Steel back-story is a cautionary tale. Chewed up and spat out by the major label machine while still in his early twenties, the desire to make daringly creative music remained thankfully intact. Ten years on from his ambitious first LP April & I, this second offering continues the story narrative of the now April-less “I”. It's a richly packed affair, a 15-track gap-less song cycle full of stylistic shifts. Everything from rock, baroque-pop, muzak and computer game sounds gets a look-in including a “Yacht-rock dream sequence”.

SMiLE-era Brian Wilson is the strongest and most recognisable influence, but Steel's precocious skills as a writer and arranger take him into many other musical realms. There's the sense that nothing is beyond his capabilities. That said Carousel Kites is a challenging listen, the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink barrage of ideas makes it an album easier to admire than to truly love.

Sunday, 4 August 2019

Jack Ellister – When An Old Cricketer Leaves The Crease/Supernaut (Ltd. 7”)

Double A-sided 7” covering songs by Roy Harper and Black Sabbath!

Odd juxtapositions, you just gotta love 'em! Whether it's a Public Enemy/Anthrax collaboration, 'Long, Long, Long' following 'Helter Skelter' on The Beatles' White Album, or even Mel Smith and Kim Wilde putting out a Christmas single, sometimes putting incongruous ideas, genres or artists together can yield surprising results. This new 7” by Jack Ellister is a case in point. On one side you have a lovingly heartfelt piano-backed reading of Roy Harper's most famous song. Flip the record over and there's a version of a Black Sabbath album track ('Supernaut' from Black Sabbath IV). While the Harper track is suitably sentimental and elegiac, the Sabbath cut is a space-race inspired heavy-riffing juggernaut, featuring distorted bass guitar, lead synth lines and clattering drums played by Jack's brother Tomasz. Somehow in an inexplicable way the pairing works. For me, being the sentimental type, the Harper cover edges out as favourite but I'd encourage you to have a listen and pick your own winner.

Oh one more thing before I sign off - there's an lovely back-story to the recordings on this single as told by Jack on the press release which I feel is worth including here...

"The grand piano used on 'Cricketer' belonged to my grand father in Torun, Poland.
In 1990/1991 my father took me and Tomasz to Poland to get it over to Germany. We had to smuggle it out because it was forbidden to transport instruments across the border, as they might be valuable collectible items or state property. We did it in two turns using an old Mercedes 9-seater. On the first trip we took the inner metal works and mechanics out and hid them under lots of other stuff. On the second journey a month later we got the wooden frame, which appeared like a sort of cheap big wardrobe when not inspected properly. Luckily the wooden outer parts fit into the lift in Stuttgart and didn't need to be carried up the stairs to our flat on the 6th floor where we lived in at that time. It was great to have it around and we used it a lot on early recordings.
My brother Tomasz was then made to play classical music on that thing for about seven years, and he recorded me playing 'Cricketer' in the living room in Stuttgart (not the same flat) just before it went back to Poland for good, together with my parents.

'Supernaut' is one of those Sabbath tracks that doesn't seem to belong to their obvious classics, but for me it somehow earned itself a special place in their canon. Tomasz sent me the drums recorded in his cellar studio/rehearsal space and I added all the rest at home."

Click here for Jack Ellister's website.
Click here for Jack Ellister on Facebook.
Click here for Jack Ellister on Twitter.
Click here for Fruits de Mer Records.

Saturday, 3 August 2019

Jason McNiff - Joy And Independence

(This review first appeared in issue #81 of Shindig! magazine.)

Mcniff's music is rooted in the Anglo-American storytelling tradition but offers more than a mere stylistic re-tread. His sixth and latest LP Joy And Independence is as stripped down as they come, mostly one voice, one guitar, no studio trickery, just songs and sentiments that draw you in and stay with you long after the disc has stopped playing. It's part travelogue, part autobiography and part emotional stock-taking with McNiff looking back at lost loves, his early troubadour days and the changing nature of dreams and ambitions.

His wistful reminiscences take in travels through Italy and northern Spain, and he recalls the fading rainy London of the 1990s with a rare sensitivity and a knack for finding the universal in the specific. Fans of Blood On The Tracks will find much to immerse themselves in here. Aside from the first person songs there's also sympathetic commentary on the Amanda Knox story. Rich pickings.

Friday, 2 August 2019

The Jim Mitchells - Love Hypnotic

(This review first appeared in issue #81 of Shindig! magazine.)

Sydney-based five-piece The Jim Mitchells have a sound that's from the garage but is refreshingly non-macho and comes infused with a DIY Daisy Age feel. Ambiance and texture share equal billing with melody, and you're drawn in by dreamy sounds rather than bludgeoned by riffs. Described by the band as “an ode to love and mental struggles”, their full-length debut Love Hypnotic is a laid-back, gently intoxicating affair as exemplified on album opener '(Let Them All In)' with its languid beats and sun-dappled guitar lines.

'We're Up High' fuses indie with two-chord raga-rock, all repetitive groove and spiralling guitar. 'Easy Love' is a soothing slice of soft 'n' hazy psych not dissimilar to the music of Allah-Las, whereas 'Got To Believe' sounds like Supergrass taking a hiatus in Haight-Ashbury. A highly enjoyable album, and one that deserves to be part of your soundtrack to the imminent summer of love.

Wednesday, 24 July 2019

The Neighbourhood Strange - Russian Spy / Many Secrets (7"/CD)

The Salisbury psych-rockers are back with a single about recent hometown events.

Without wishing to make light of the seriousness of dosing someone with Novichok, at the two minute forty seconds into 'Russian Spy' there's a discordant guitar break which attempts to render in musical form the disorientating effects of the life-threatening nerve-agent. Undoubtedly safer than imbibing, it highlights The Neighbourhood Strange's growing confidence, as well as signalling the healthy state of modern psychedelic rock. With a melody that draws from eastern European folk and a brash swagger that's distinctly a “British-dudes-with-guitars” thing, 'Russian Spy' is modern musical reportage at its finest, from a band uniquely placed to commentate on such matters.

On the flipside of the vinyl is 'Many Secrets', an equally enjoyable if more trad Brit-pop affair; guitar-driven but with a big chorus. Vocalist Marcus Turner turns in a performance that's both melodic and punkish, while the band sound like they've mastered the art of ensemble playing, countless gigs having helped gel and hone their collective sound.

If the two tracks on the vinyl single aren't enough the CD version contains both 'Russian Spy' and 'Many Secrets' along with an extra three tracks. 'Mary Mary' has a neat quiet/loud dynamic and errs towards the band's West-Coast garage rock side. 'Walk On Water' has a languid, rolling feel, with plenty of space for organ runs and swells. 'Desert Sand' bookends nicely with 'Russian Spy', it's a short instrumental interspersed with occasional vocal shouts and encouragements. It too has a melodic feel that comes from somewhere between Eastern Europe and the Silk Road. Packed with plenty of surfy guitar, kind of like Dick Dale meets the Arabian Knights.

If you want to catch the band playing live, they have a hometown gig at the Market Square, Salisbury on August 23rd. Or if you can't make it check out this rather fine disc instead.

Click here for The Neighbourhood Strange's website.
Click here for The Neighbourhood Strange on Facebook.
Click here for The Neighbourhood Strange on Bandcamp.

Sunday, 21 July 2019

Papernut Cambridge - Nutlets II 1978-2001

A second volume of covers. Revelations, re-evaluations, and really good left-of-centre pop!

If there's such a thing a a regular reader of this humble blog, they'll be aware that Papernut Cambridge are a big favourite round at our house. And a productive lot they are too. Take their self-penned albums which brim over with warmth and intelligence, or the library music inspired instrumental albums, Mellotron Phase Volumes I & II. There's enough discs there to keep you happy should you ever find yourself on a on a desert island with said records and a record player. If that's not enough for you, you are obviously too fussy and demanding, but fear not, there's always Nutlets 1967-80 which they released in 2015. It's an album of cover versions giving an insight to the band's roots and musical loves. Featuring big melodic hits from the tail-end of the '60s to the beginning of the Thatcher years, it remains a celebration of pop's age of innocence that's sure to please even the most jaded sets of ears.

The good news is they're set to release a follow-up this week. Nutlets II 1978-2001 takes up roughly where Volume I left off. Beginning in the post-punk era what binds all the choices together is not genre but a certain subversive spirit, music that's slightly left-of-centre, says something lyrically, but still adheres to the notion that pop should be fun, and should at very least move you emotionally or physically. Or preferably both.

A lot of the songs you'll be aware of, some perhaps you won't. Some may be your own personal favourites, others may be new to you. You may be indifferent to some of the originals but hearing these covered versions in the context of this collection might give you fresh insight and have you e-evaluating your opinions. The collection draws from the well of post-punk, C86, electro, left-field guitar pop and college rock. Rather then try and re-invent the songs or give them a makeover, the band have pretty much kept to the tempos and styles of the originals, which is refreshing when you've been let down in past by one too many free CDs from Mojo magazine, and they're all imbued with Papernut's inimitable passion.

So what songs to they cover? There's the full tracklisting below but if you'd indulge me for a short while I'll break just a few of the songs down into three highly personalised sections - Really good pop, (songs that I personally know and love), re-evaluations, (stuff I glossed over first time round), and revelations (songs that are new to me).

Really good pop - Who can resist the perfect pop of 'Getting Nowhere Fast' by Girls At Our Best? Ditto Primal Scream's 'Velocity Girl', a dark song wrapped in the sunniest of melodies. Then there's Suede's 'Metal Mickey', a song that pre-dated the onslaught of Britpop and was in hindsight better than all of it. My favourite from this section is Daft Punk's 'Digital Love'. I loved this track from the very first time I heard it, it's instrumentally audacious, catchy, and really great fun.

Re-evaluations – Big Audio Dynamite's 'Medicine Show' scores big here. I kind of passed them over at the time. Something to do with the basic proto sampling, guitars without headstocks, and long coats. I admit now I was wrong and always enjoy hearing them on the radio, all the more so after having heard Papaernut Cambridge cover them here with such brio. Similarly the cover of New Order's 'Bizarre Love Triangle' has sparked a renewed interest in the Mancunian synth-pop band.

Revelations – Topping the list in this section is 'Boil In The Bag Man', a superb song originally by Adam and The Ants, which takes a swipe at the-man-on-the-street. This and covers of songs by Josef K, Psychedelic Furs, ESG and The Only Ones means this album is, for me, as rich in discovery as it is in discs of a more desert island nature. Everything this band has released is highly recommended and this set of covers is no exception. Dive in!

Available on 2LP vinyl or CD.

Full Tracklisting -
WE LOVE YOU (The Psychedelic Furs)
BOIL IN THE BAG MAN (Adam and The Ants)
DID YOU SEE HER (Pink Military)
SPLITTING IN 2 (Alternative TV)
PUBLIC IMAGE (Public Image Ltd)
STARS ARE STARS (Echo and The Bunnymen)
UNITED (Throbbing Gristle)
IN A NUTSHELL (Orange Juice)
VELOCITY GIRL (Primal Scream)
MEDICINE SHOW (Big Audio Dynamite)
THE KILLING JAR (Siouxsie and The Banshees)

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

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Grifter Kid and the Midnight Raiders – The Receipts of Time

A stylistically diverse LP full of softly painted vignettes.

Many a fine band has fallen through the cracks of critical acclaim and failed to generate press coverage due to the eclectic nature of their music. It would be a shame if that happened to Grifter Kid and the Midnight Raiders. Music journalists, (myself included), are very often guilty of using pigeon-holes, genres and comparisons when trying to get across a sense of what a band or artist sounds like. And while there are comparisons to be made and genres to mention in describing Grifter Kid's latest long-player, its restless stylistic shape-shifting is what makes it such an enjoyable record.

I admit to not having heard Grifter Kid's previous three albums but The Receipts of Time brims over with intelligent, literate songwriting that draws on both personal memories and creative imaginings. Wedded to these vignettes is a pick-and-mix attitude to styles and a wealth of inspired instrumental flourishes. The album's attempt at different styles and moods could almost be seen as an experiment and exploration of one's identity. It's bit like Mr Ben, the '70s cartoon character who could try being a cowboy for an afternoon, or a Roman centurion or spaceman, while still being able to change back into his day suit in time to make it home for his tea.

While The Receipts of Time may borrow stylistically from America's rich musical heritage – there are moments of Coltrane-esque jazz swing, gut-bucket blues, and spoken word noir – it's an British record through and through. 'Wrestling, Darts, Snooker' is a nostalgic homage to a '70s/'80s childhood, the days of only three TV channels, and the tail-end of British monoculture. Elsewhere there are Brit-centric references to fish and chips, pellet guns and shopping malls. And only a band from these isles could title a song 'Gardening In My Suit'. If all that makes you think they're resurrecting the jingo-istic ghost of Brit-pop fear not. It's something far more subtle and nuanced.

So who, what, where and why are Grifter Kid and The Midnight Raiders? Karl Theobald may be more familiar to you as an actor, with TV roles in Plebs, Skins, Green Wing and most recently Danny Boyle's new film Yesterday. With such a successful acting and comedy career it's surprising he can find time to devote to music-making but thankfully he does. As leader and main songwriter/vocalist in the band I suppose that makes him Grifter Kid (a reference to the iconic kids bike perhaps?). The Midnight Raiders comprise of Theobald's longtime friend saxophonist Nigel Woolston, double bassist/vocalist Rowan Lambourne-Gibbs, pianist Russell Marsh, and drummer Dan Hale. The album also features guest appearances from Sam Beer (guitar), Gerardo Marrone (bass) and Keiron Phelan (flute). As consummate a group of players as you're likely to find, equally at ease whether improvising over a series of ninth and thirteenth jazz chords, having a decent stab at reggae, or impersonating a piano lounge bar-band. An under-the-radar release it may be but one that sets the bar high.

Clickhere for Grifter Kid's website.
Clickhere for Grifter Kid on Bandcamp.
Clickhere for Grifter Kid on Facebook.
Clickhere for Grifter Kid on Twitter.