Wednesday, 8 December 2021

Handsome Jack - Get Humble

Timeless American rock 'n' soul stew. No reinvention of the wheel but they sure can roll it!

It's a well trodden musical path but damn it still sound good. Handsome Jack are a trio based in Lockport NY whose music is an timeless amalgam of southern rock, soul, gospel, blues, R&B, with a little bit of funky country thrown in for good measure. Their latest album Get Humble was released last month by the always reliable label Alive Records. Gutsy locked-in grooves and raspy vocals are the order of the day, delivered with aplomb and conviction. The addition of harmony vocals, a touch of brass here and there and the party is good to go. It may only be rock and roll, but Handsome Jack avoid the trap many bands make – with these guys the emphasis is on the roll, not the rock. A massively important point here.

There are highlights aplenty - the slide guitar solo and tasty drum fills on 'High Class Man', the call and response vocal lines on 'Get Humble', the low bass rumble of 'New Home In The Sky'. It all makes for a compelling feelgood listen, one that's suere to bring a little bit of sunshine and warmth in these dark winter weeks. If the likes of The Black Crowes, The Allman Brothers Band, and the rootsier side of ZZ TOP are your bag, this will be too. Good times guaranteed.

Handsome Jack are:-

Jamison Passuite (guitar/vocals)
Joey Verdonselli (bass/vocals)
Bennie Hayes (drums/vocals)

Click here for Handsome Jack's website
Click here for Handsome Jack on Facebook
Click here for Handsome Jack on Twitter
Click here for Handsome Jack on Instagram
Click here for Handsome Jack on Bandcamp

Tuesday, 30 November 2021

The Fishheads – Pleasant Valley Sunday / Let's Get Together 7”

Fruits de Mer all-stars cover version single, just in time for Christmas!


We love a decent cover version here at HD, and here's a piece of 7” black plastic featuring two of them! The Fruits de Mer label have assembled an all-star band of their favourite acts to record versions of The Monkees' 'Pleasant Valley Sunday' and 'Let's Get Together', a song written by Chet Powers aka Dino Valenti, and covered by loads of people. Perhaps best known is The Youngbloods' version as featured on their eponymous 1967 LP.

The Fishheads feature Astralasia's Swordfish, Anton Barbeau, Crystal Jacqueline, Icarus Peel, John Chinn, Paul Chousner, Holly Bowler and more. Their version of 'Pleasant Valley Sunday' is a fairly faithful take, with that lovely folk-rock guitar motif and lovely layered harmony vocals. 'Let's Get Together' gets a spirited upbeat makeover, its communal cooperative vibe enhanced with suitably festive flute flourishes. In a just and fair world it would be a contender for Christmas number one. Unlikely I know but should you purchase this 7” single I suggest you play it loud in the run up to the big day.

As an extra incentive to purchase the mono-mixed vinyl, it comes with an accompanying CD featuring stereo mixes and a 40 minute mix by Swordfish that takes the songs as a starting point but branches out into new sonic realms. Well that certainly beats hearing Mud's 'Lonely This Christmas' for the millionth time while queuing at the checkouts in Tesco.  


Click here for the Fruits de Mer website.



Sunday, 14 November 2021

Bearhug - Eight Song EP


The rediscovery a four-track cassette recorder sparks a series of homespun CDR releases.

The rise of affordable digital home recording over the last couple of decades has in many ways been a great boost to musicians. Not only can they save massive amounts of money by not hiring expensive studios, the technology's boundless capability has theoretically made anything possible. You can literally recreate a 40-piece orchestra in your box bedroom. 

A good thing then surely? Well yes but there has been some negative knock-on effects. Firstly the struggle to survival experienced by some dedicated full-time recording studios. But even sadder than that, to my mind at least, was the almost overnight extinction of four-track cassette recorders. In my late teens and early twenties much of my spare time was spent laying down rudimentary tracks, experimenting with drones, tones, tape speeds. It was a voyage of discovery that led me to find out about mic placement, how to double track vocals, and the instant psychedelia achieved by flipping the tape over to enable a backwards guitar solo or the effects of reversed cymbals.

I'm reminded by all this by way of a self-released CD that I received in the post recently by an artist called Bearhug who makes music on a rediscovered four-track recorder that had been laying dormant in an attic for several years. Bearhug plans to release a new EP/mini album each month, some under different names. There will be 40 numbered CD copies of each release and a video posted online to accompany one song from each release.

I'm heartily in favour of this homespun cottage-industry approach. It's done not in pursuit of perfection but to celebrate spontaneous creativity. And before you start thinking it's marginal and twee, I bet you'll have records in your collection that were made in the same lo-fi spirit. McCartney's debut solo LP, Beck's early work, or Michelle Shocked's The Texas Campfire Tapes are just three example that spring to mind.

Featuring eight songs with a total playing time just a chorus shy of 13 minutes, Beahug's first mini album is a playful affair. Kicking of with 'Harry Hooper', a song about the baseball star with lyrics read from the blurb of a book. It's a sweet melodic affair, recorded quickly featuring just ukulele and vocals. Elsewhere there's lo-fi electronica, industrial fugs, experimental indie, a delightful untitled ukulele instrumental, a track about Sylvester Stallone, and my personal favourite track 'Graham's Melting Circuit Boards'.

It would be nice to think that this is somehow the start of a revival of lo-fi four-track recording, and that there'll be a groundswell of cottage industry CDR labels. Unlikely perhaps but the music here, along with the attitude in which it was made is something to be celebrated. It will be interesting to see what Bearhug does next.

Wednesday, 13 October 2021

Aquaserge - The Possibility of a New Work for Aquaserge

The possibility is now realised. France's avant mavericks return.

Regular readers of this blog, should they exist, may often wonder if it doesn't somehow have an identity problem. Well, yes and no. The music featured quite often falls into one of two seemingly unreconcilable camps. One which celebrates melodically memorable songwriting, harmonious, big on craft and tried and tested methods. The other is more experimental and prone to pushing boundaries or breaking them down. The truth is I tried to reflect this in the blog title – Harmonic Distortion. There's no reason why as music lovers we shouldn't love both of these approaches. With that in mind, the Toulouse-based group Aquaserge are something of a touchstone band for me, as they create work which is indeed melodically memorable, dynamic and fresh.

So I'm immensely pleased indeed that this month sees some released music by the mighty Aquaserge. Before we get round to the to the music, it's worth trying to pin down what it is that makes this group of musicians so special. I've written about the band before, having reviewed the live album déjà-vous? in print and prior to that penning a feature for Shindig! magazine centred around the release of their laisse ça être album. I remain as in awe of the ensemble today as I was when I first played the record. For anyone who's unfamiliar with the work, it's an audaciously playful album that has elements of classical, jazz, rock, third stream, post-punk, funk, European film soundtracks and more, though never in a derivative sense. The common thread that runs through all their work is improvisation, experimentation and well, fun actually.

A written synopsis of the new record gives little sense of how much fun the record is. The Possibility of a New Work for Aquaserge a tribute to the work and methodology of four 20th century composers working at the margins of experimental classical music, namely Giacinto Scelsi (1905-1988), György Ligeti (1923-2006), Edgard Varèse (1883-1965) and Morton Feldman (1926-1987). Here's a confession for you – I am neither familiar with the works of any of these composers, nor have I heard of any of them before. “Call yourself a music writer?!” I hear you cry. Well perhaps I was just listening to different records during my formative years. My guess is that most people who read this will be similarly unfamiliar with them too. And that's my point – it will in now way impact on your enjoyment of the music Aquaserge make.

Anyone who enjoys the dynamic and alchemy of musicians working together in common purpose will surely dig Possibility. The album is being released as part of Made To Measure, Crammed Discs' composers series. Originally started in the 1980s and dormant for over twenty years, the label has recently reactivated the imprint this year. Now expanded to a nine-piece Aquaserge honour the work of these composers, taking their ideas and methodology, expands them and add their own 21st century stamp. In this tussle between structure and improvisation, between seriousness and playfulness they manage to find a sweet and richly rewarding spot.

For this album Aquaserge are - 

Audrey Ginestet – vox, bass, synth
Benjamin Glibert – guitar, bass, organ, synth backing vox
Camille Emaille – percussion, vibraphone, tubular bells 
Julien Chamla – drums, percussion, organ, synth, bass harp, backing vox
Julien Gasc – vox, synth, rattle 
Manon Glibert – clarinets, backing vox 
Marina Tantanozi – flutes, backing vox 
Olivier Kelchtermans – baritone sax, backing vox 
Robin Fincker – tenor sax, clarinet, backing vox 
Sylvaine Hélary – flutes, backing vox

Click here for Aquaserge's website.
Click here for Aquaserge on Facebook. 
Click here for Crammed Discs.


Sunday, 26 September 2021

SKRIM - The Crooked Path

Uneasy listening – improvsed excursions to the outer limits.

Before we get to the sounds on the new album by Norwegian duo SKRIM and their accompanying guest musicians, I must mention the album design. The sleeve art features an arresting ariel photograph of the intricate traffic system in Osaka, Japan. It's modern, complicated, confusing yet somehow planned and purposeful. Open the gatefold sleeve on the vinyl edition and there's a larger shot from a different angle, that expands the view.

In many ways these photos perfectly represent the music within. It's at times similarly confusing, multi-layered and complex, perhaps designed to take the listener out of their comfort zone and to question what the role of sound and music is. There are no songs as such on The Crooked Path. Instead the album is broken down into two improvised, free-ranging parts – 'When Mammals Go Dancing' and 'Akihabara by Night', each taking up one side of the vinyl.

So who are SKRIM? Morten Qvenild and Gard Nilssen were previously know as duo sPacemonKey. (That's their chosen upper/lower casing by the way, not my bad typing!) The pair renamed themselves SKRIM for this release after the mountainous region of Norway that separates the cities of Kongsberg and Skien. SKRIM are joined on this album by Ståle Storløkken (organ/electronics) and Stian Westerhus (guitar/electronics).

Much like the mountainous region the duo named themselves after there are peaks and troughs within this music. Full on electronic cacophony at times, in other places quiet, sombre passages with space for melodies to breath and weave. There are times when riffs emerge and the quartet make a brutalist post-punk noise. Even when there's a seemingly all encompassing barrage of drums and atonal electronic squawks, there are still melodies to be found, albeit buried. Perhaps a ploy to make you listen harder, they act as gifts and rewards for making the effort.

The Crooked Path will be unlikely to find an audience outside of late night Radio Three and 6Music Feakzone listeners but I guess SKRIM are not making music to become popular. More likely their mission and purpose is to explore the possibilities of what can be achieved with four open-minded musicians in one room. If you're looking for a lesser travelled path this could be just the unsettling experience you're after. Be brave, be bold, and travel to the furthest reaches, you may enjoy it there!


Sunday, 19 September 2021

Flukten – Velkommen Håp

Modern adventures in jazz and blues.

One trend I've noticed in my own listening choices over recent years is towards instrumental music. An odd thing given how much I love lyrics. The emotion conveyed by well chosen words and a beautiful voice can be incredible as we all know. But there's something about wordless music that allows you to make a stronger connection. The absence of lyrics allows a certain space to engage your own imagination.

In some way it must also up the game of the musicians involved; rather than providing backing for a vocalist, they're tasked with telling stories and conveying feeling with notes. Be it sadness, happiness, joy, despair, humour, anger or any point on the complicated spectrum of human emotion.

One recent instrumental album I've enjoyed recently is this debut by Norwegian jazz quartet Flukten. Recorded in two days at Propellor Studios, a converted old mill near the Akerselva waterfall, Velkommen Håp, (in English Welcome Hope) is a playful adventure in modern jazz. Bluesy in places, quite often jaunty and uplifting.

The record opens with it's title track, a hurried post-punk rush. It's not too long before the track's tightly played central motifs emerge from the sonic soup. This battle between improvisation and composition has long been a characteristic of jazz and Flukten honour this tradition, adding their own 21st century stamp along the way.

'Budeie Boogie' features the drums and bass kicking out a delightful R&B rumble with the guitar and sax playfully topping the track off with uplifting melodies. 'Framsyning' is an excursion into free jazz, opening with a series of guitar chords before all band members eventually join in and take the music to newer places.

There's wonderful use of blue notes in 'Barneblues' which is the closest the the band get to a tradition twelve bar format. They band return to this use of blue notes later on in 'Bleik Myrk Legg'. As fun as these tracks are, to my mind the best moments on the album are where the band venture into a more contemplative, melancholy mode, as on 'Jonas Og Hvalen' and album closer 'Blomstrene', a softly satisfying landing and nice counterpoint to the album's otherwise wild flights.

Flukten are - 

Hanna Paulsberg - saxophone

Marius Hirth Klovning - guitar

Bárđur Reinart Poulsen – double bass

Hans Hulbækmo - drums

Click here for Odin Records on Bandcamp.


Sunday, 12 September 2021

Interview with Farmer Dave Scher (All Night Radio, HOO)

Los Angeles musicians Farmer Dave Scher and Jimi Hey had played in a string of bands together in the nineties, including Strictly Ballroom and Beachwood Sparks. But it was as duo All Night Radio that the pair were able to give full flight to their creativity. All Night Radio's sole album, Frequency Spirit Radio, was released on Sub Pop Records in 2004. Admired by those in the know at the time, the record's stature and reputation is such that it's now getting bespoke vinyl release later this month thanks to UK label Big Potato Records. You can hear it's psychedelic majesty via the embedded player below, or click over the jump to read the full interview with Farmer Dave about how the album came to be.


Saturday, 21 August 2021

The Hawks - Obviously 5 Believers


A round-up of recordings by five nineteen-year-olds from Birmingham. Featuring Stephen TinTin Duffy and Dave Kusworth.


Quite often, hearing a musician's juvenalia can be something of a let-down. I should know, stashed in my attic is a carrier bag of cassettes featuring some of my early musical endeavours. Solo demos, rehearsals by my first band and reverse tape sonic experiments, all lovingly captured on a Tascam four-track portastudio. To listen to them now would be an excruciating experience.

I mention this because one of the more interesting releases to have landed on my promo pile recently is The Hawks' Obviously 5 Believers. It's a collection of the early recordings by a group of five young Birmingham musicians made as Margaret Thatcher came to power and the 1970's gave way to the 1980s. Each member was only nineteen years old at the time. Whereas my assorted cassettes would create a cringe-fest upon hearing, The Hawks' recordings reveal a band with a wealth of talent beyond their meagre years – great songs which are well sung, played with verve, and youthful swagger.

As you may have garnered from the band name and album title there's a debt to purple patch Bob Dylan. Indeed the Hawks do a decent job of updating Dylan's “thin wild mercury sound”. But alongside the classicism, they're also freed up by some post-punk freedom in the subject matter, delivery and attitude. So what became of the Hawks and why did they not go on to bigger things? Well, actually some of them did. The band included Stephen “Tin Tin” Duffy, famously a member in the early line-up of Duran Duran, who would go on to have success both solo and with his group The Lilac Time. Guitarist Dave Kusworth also progressed in his musical career, going on to play with Nikki Sudden along with numerous other bands.

Fans of Stephen Duffy will be pleased, and probably not surprised, that he comes across as a fully formed artist here – there's the unmistakable voice for one thing, but it's the quality of writing that impresses most. Among the album's highlights is 'All The Sad Young Men' which offers a sideways look adolescent melancholia. 'Big Store' examines the emptiness of consumerism backed by a darkly descending chord sequence. 'Bullfighter' is probably the poppiest offering – jaunty, intelligent guitar pop sounding not unlike Mick Jones leading The Clash, whereas 'Aztec Moon' has a mystical feel, and hints at the depth and direction the band could have explored if they'd stayed together.

Dave Kusworth's guitar playing is the other big presence here. His solos and motifs, sometimes mercurial, always tasteful and song-serving. The perfect foil and accompanist for Duffy's young-man-discovers-the-world songs. Sadly Dave Kusworth passed away suddenly in September last year. To honour a promise to his friend and bandmate, Duffy is releasing The Hawks' recordings on CD and limited vinyl LP via newly formed label Seventeen Records. Without that all important lucky break, acclaim outside of Birmingham and them eluded them. A shame as the evidence here shows a band that could have gone on to great things. Appreciation is still appreciation however, even if it comes 40 years later.

 Click here for more on The Hawks' Obviously 5 Believers on Facebook.


Sunday, 25 July 2021

The Poppermost - Hits To Spare

Entertaining and affectionate spoof on the world's favourite beat group.


I think it was Samuel Johnson who said it best - “When a man is tired of The Beatles he is tired of life”. OK, he was talking about life itself but you get my drift. The Beatles back catalogue is a nigh-on perfect body of work that will sound fresh forever. I know there are contrarians out there who argue otherwise but they're just trying to get a rise out of decent-minded rational folk.

It's now 60 odd years since the Beatles first entered a recording studio and began that incredible sonic journey. They left us with a back catalogue that continues to amaze and inspire each new generation of musicians, sometimes subtly, sometimes overtly, occasionally in the form of pastiche. Imitation is the highest form of flattery, after all. All good fun, and guaranteed to raise a smile. It's a cold hearted person who doesn't like The Rutles.

Into this arena steps The Poppermost with a brand new album Hits To Spare. Despite the band name it's a one man outfit – Glasgow-based musician Joe Kane plays all the instruments and even more impressively given the Fabs reputation for harmonies, sings all the vocal parts. Clever stuff! Hits To Spare takes inspiration from the Beatles' work in the first half of the 1960s, harking back to an era when musicians were also entertainers.

If you're going to spoof the Beatles you better make sure you have catchy tunes and Kane don't let you down, but it's the attention to detail that's equally impressive – the way he ends album opener 'Egg & Chips' on a sixth chord; the lolloping rhythm and harmonica lines on 'One Of Those Girls'; the way 'Call To Me' mirrors the Beatles' take on early '60 American R&B and girl group sounds complete with “sha la la” backing vocals.

The album's title track 'Hits To Spare', sits bang in the middle of the album. Modelled on 'Hard Day's Night', it's a knowingly cheeky tribute to the Fabs' ability to churn out top-notch chart-toppers and turn them into hard cash. “Let's write a swimming pool” sings Kane. Well you would if you could wouldn't you!

Elsewhere Kane does a pretty accurate McCartney vocal on 'Georgia Peach', a homage to Little Richard and his influence on the young Macca. In the interest of balance the rockin' Lennon snarly vocal on 'Well I Will' is pretty convincing too.

The economy class Beatles, (not my description, none other than Beatle George's), are also well represented – there plenty of Ringo style beats and fills and chiming guitar breaks a-la Harrison.

You'll no doubt have your own favourite track on this album but mine is 'Park And Ride'. Who wouldn't love a humourous reimagining of 'Ticket To Ride' using buses, that most Beatle-esque mode of transport, as it's subject. If you're looking for a musical pick you up, done with affection and attention to detail, these tunes are for you. A splendid time really is guaranteed for all.


Click here for The Poppermost on Twitter.

Click here for The Poppermost on Facebook.

Click here for The Poppermost on Bandcamp.

Wednesday, 16 June 2021

Mark & The Clouds - Waves

Psychedelic guitar pop! Trio's third album is a generous, melodically memorable treat.    


One of my recent late-lockdown listening joys has been the new album by Mark & The Clouds. It came out recently on Gare du Nord Records and is the band's third full-length outing following on from Blue Skies Opening (2014) and Cumulus (2017), both of which were put out by also fabulous Mega Dodo Records.

I'll give the chaps this – they know how to pull me in. Opening track 'You & Me In Space' has a sound that draws on savvy Revolver-esque guitar pop, complete with backwards solos. Crashing chords and drums combine in on the opening riff, but leave enough space for a catchy vocal melody. The track is followed by the altogether gentler textures of 'Back In Time', a dreamy, wistfully laid-back ode to memory and nostalgia. Like the opening track, it too pays heed to that often forgotten rule of pop music – that melodies should be memorable.

What follows is just shy of an hour's worth of gently trippy, psychedelic power pop with plenty of little touches and attention to detail to ice the cake - The softening strings on 'Winter Song', the bombastic riff and swagger of 'No One Makes a Sound', and the spaghetti western twang on 'Somebody Else'. Oh and they have a nice line in twisting middle eights too.

So who are Mark & The Clouds? The band are a London-based trio fronted by Marco Magnani (formerly in Instant Flight, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, Smokers, and Avvoltoi), along with Shin Okajima on drums, and John O'Sullivan bass, pedal steel and backing vocals. Or I should say that is the core band for live appearances. On record their sound is fleshed out by guest musicians.

Marco, the band's sole song-writer, is equally adept with lyrics as he is with melodies, as evidenced on 'Peace Not Religion' with its admirable adult-in-the-room honesty, and 'Heavy Drops Of Rain', which displays a bittersweet acceptance of life's curveballs.

Aside from the new album the band also have a 7” vinyl single out now on the increasingly happening Hypnotic Bridge label. For a committed sun-worshipper like me it takes something quite special for me to say this but here we go – Bring on the Clouds!


Mark & The Clouds are -

Marco Magnani – Vocals, guitar, harmonica

Shin Okajima – Drums 

John O'Sullivan - Bass, backing vocals, pedal steel

Click here for the band's website


Wednesday, 5 May 2021

The Bamboos - Hard Up

Australia's top soul band release their tenth studio LP full of socially conscious danceable grooves


A most welcome discovery for me recently has been Australian band The Bamboos, though I'm somewhat shocked to discover they've been making sweet and funky soul music for the best part of 20 years! Oh well, at least there's a wealth of back catalogue to dive into. The Melbourne-based band are set to release Hard Up this week. It's their tenth studio album and is guaranteed to satisfy long-time fans and no doubt win over a few new ones too.

Hard Up saddles the line between retro and contemporary, and as you'd expect from a nine-piece revue-style band there's plenty going on to keep your interest - punchy horn lines, tasteful guitar and keys, and that all important locked-in drum and bass groove. Soul music is nothing without a great singer though, and thankfully fronting The Bamboos is the phenomenal Kylie Auldist. Equally adept at providing powerhouse vocals as she is at delivering those requiring sensitivity. Check out the contrasting styles between the version of Black Box's 'Ride On Time' and the soft and sensitive 'I Just Heard You Leaving'.

Thematically the album touches on universal daily struggles ('Hard Up'), and tips its hat at the kind of politically aware soul that Curtis Mayfield may have penned ('Power Without Greed'). It's a rallying cry for justice that moves feet as well as minds, and has a pretty neat flute solo. The album is as much about good times as it is about hard times however and there's an ultimately up-lifting good-time vibe throughout.

The record also features some great guest vocal appearances - Sydney-based singer Ev Jones on 'While You Sleep'; LA-based Joey Dosik channels Smokey Robinson on 'It's All Gonna Be OK'; and rising US star Durand Jones guests on 'If Not Now (Then When)', a track that harks back to classic sixties style soul.

Alongside the great vocals, the band, centred around founding member Lance Ferguson are on top form. Check out funky Meters-style instrumental 'Wishbone' should you need proof. The album was recording in a week of sessions just prior to last year's Melbourne lockdown. Hard Up is an irresistible affair that warrants repeat plays at an ever increasing volume. Neighbours you have been warned!


Click here for the band's website


Sunday, 11 April 2021

Voice & Strings & Timpani

Emotionally charged experimentalism.


When it comes to art, culture, and especially music, it's said we live in bland and unadventurous times, most often by people who hanker after after a supposed golden age. Anyone with a willingness to listen outside of their own comfort zone will know this is not the case however. Thankfully there are scores of musicians and labels releasing music that's non-conformist, passionate, at times challenging, but that has the all-important ability to move hearts and minds.

One such record label with a consistently high standard is Hubro Records, a record label based in Norway whose back catalogue contains often unclassifiable music that skirts the edges of classical, modern jazz, electronica, folk, and even Sousa, yet belongs to no singular camp. The records Hubro release belong to their own category. Experimental in nature yet highly engaging and always with a deep emotional core.

A recent example is this eponymous long-player by Voices & Strings & Timpani. It's the latest project by guitarist Stephan Meidell and drummer Øyvind Hegg-Lunde, two musicians who have a long-standing relationship with Hubro and the wider Scandinavian experimental music scene. This album is a perfectly recorded suite of tracks, made all the more remarkable when one considers that a large part of it was recorded live at Bergen's Nattjazz Festival in 2016.

Opening track 'Cashmere' washes in with evocative swoops of harp over an insistent electronic pulse before wordless vocals and bluesy guitar add to the drama. I'm loathe to use the word journey but there's a sense that you're about to be taken somewhere. 'Escargot' follows, driven by a repeated bass line, it features French language vocals from the Mari Kvien Brunvoll and Eva Pfitzenmaier. My rudimentary, rusty French won't allow for a full translation but I guarantee you're unlike to hear a more engaging song about a snail anytime soon. It eventually drifts out with bursts of slide guitar. It's as if the soundtrack to Paris, Texas has been reimagined in some far off parallel universe.

'Swarming strings Made Out Of Light' sees the vocals switch to English, but are half-buried beneath a barrage of percussion. Three songs in and it's becoming clear that Voice & Strings & Timpani is a genre-free zone, though it's disparate tracks are held together by a uniformed sense of purpose between the musicians involved. And so it continues throughout the rest of the record. 'Laxevaag' containing percussion that sound like ticking clocks, added noise that could be dogs barking, and a textural layering of keyboards. It's a simultaneously disorientating and meditative.

'Community' is a short folksy interlude featuring effects laden vocals and flutes. It gives way to the epic emotional electronic beats of 'Talk Tick Talk'. Much like the album's cover, an abstract photo of oil on water, the music is fluid, ever shifting, and though it's primary colours don't change much, the way they're put together does. It's a strange yet and enchanting record, one that deserves the undivided attention of a one-sitting headphone listen, and one that will have you finding more with each listen.

Wednesday, 17 March 2021

Vinny Peculiar - Return Of The Native

 (This review first appeared in issue #89 of Shindig! magazine.)

Few writers mix humour and poignancy as well as Mr Peculiar. While Bowie, Reed and Iggy took inspiration from '70 Berlin, here we have songs rooted in '70s Worcestershire. Take 'The Singing Schoolteacher', a moving tribute to Clifford T. Ward who taught at Peculiar's Bromsgrove school for a year before pursuing his musical career. Such nostalgic reminiscences inform much of the lyrics – picture a teenage Peculiar devouring Melody Maker and NME, soaking up influences from an era that straddles the tail-end of prog, through to glam, punk and disco.

The locations may be specific but the experiences will chime universally. Be it local school rivalries played out on bus rides home, laments for lost music venues or the love life of an English civil war battle re-enactor, Peculiar has the ability to make you laugh out loud one minute then have you wiping a tear away the next. A delight.


Lee Fields and The Expressions - It Rains Love

(This review first appeared in issue #89 of Shindig! magazine.)

Fields has been making records since 1969 so it comes as no surprise that he can put together a class soul album. His latest is more of a Sunday morning record rather than a Saturday night party platter, with themes of thanks, love and both romantic and religious devotion. Then of course there's that voice. It ranks with the best – James Brown, Otis Redding and Levi Stubbs. But comparisons are meaningless given the conviction with which he sings. 

A great singer still needs a band of course, and the Expressions are on excellent form throughout. Standout moments? There are many - the attention grabbing middle eight in 'Bless With The Best', the infectious bass-driven groove of the title track, or 'Wake Up' with its dub feel and lyrics that fight back against fake news. For all the vintage soul classicism there's enough new moves to keep any neophiles satisfied too. Masterful.


Monks Road Social - Lost In Rasa / So Long Soho (Ltd. 7")

(This review first appeared in issue #89 of Shindig! magazine.)


Two standout tracks from the collective's recent debut album Down The Willows. 'Lost In Rasa' features lead vocals by Dr. Robert of the Blow Monkeys. It's string-laden stoner soul at its finest. Think Marvin Gaye on the cover of What's Going On – face turned to the rain but always in search of beauty. A song full of sad yet dreamy reflections and longings.

The flipside features Pat Dam Smyth on lead vocals. A name new to many though he has history having left his native Northern Ireland over 20 years ago to follow a nomadic musical existence. Spells in Dublin, Liverpool, Los Angeles, Berlin and London have led to the worldly wisdom that informs 'So Long Soho', a lament to a quickly fading bohemian enclave. Imagine Ray Davies in a sentimental mood at the pub piano, then join in on the singalong chorus. Monks Road is where it's at!