Sunday, 23 December 2012

Meg Baird - Seasons On Earth

Second solo album from founder member of Espers. A master-class of intimate and timeless, acoustic folk.

Philadelphia based songstress and founder member of psych-folkers Espers, Meg Baird releases her 2nd solo album Seasons On Earth. As the title suggests there's a back to nature feel to this collection of intimate folk based songs, with song titles including Stream, The Land Turned Over, Even Rain and Stars Climb Up The Vine. Unaffected by current musical fashions, the closest reference points are the Brit-led folk boom of the 1960's, Sandy Denny, Pentangle, and Island Records' 70's folk output. That's not to say it's nostalgic or an exercise in faux retro acid-folk, it's anything but; there's a authentic timelessness to the record, perhaps due in part to the fact that her family has deep roots in American folk music.

The acoustic guitar playing is confident and intricate, with autumnal open tunings that Nick Drake would be proud of. There's a feeling that any number of the eight original compositions on here could become standards such is the strength of the songwriting. Added to this are two interesting choices of covers. The first being a sublime reading of Mark Almond Band's Friends, the second being The House Of Love's Beatles And The Stones. (I never did understand the line about putting the V in Vietnam but it doesn't seem to matter here). Though overall the record has a sparse sound there are added instrumental embellishments of parsimonious electric guitar, harp and tasteful pedal steel. A perfect listen as the autumn nights draw in.

Click here for Meg Baird's website.

Hyde & Beast - Slow Down

Drummers of the world unite and take over. Sunderland rock royalty join forces for some gentle psychedelia.

Let's face it, in rock history there's a fair number of bands in which the drummer was the coolest member – Meg White, Charlie Watts, The Band's Levon Helm. Hell, even Ringo was the most engaging raconteur on the Beatles Anthology mega-fest from a few years ago. So when the drummers from two of the north east's most respected bands decided make an album together the result should be well worthy of attention. And so it is with Slow Down, the resulting album made by Dave Hyde (from The Futureheads) and Neil Bassett aka Beast (formerly of The Golden Virgins).

The album title perhaps referencing the difference in tempo between the material here and the more up-tempo offerings of their other/previous bands. Rather than being a percussion-heavy indulgence, the pair have instead produced a laid-back, experimental and fun set of simple, 3-chord songs completely at odds with any current trends. In fact they owe more to the late 60's, early 70's proto glam of T-Rex, and the homespun, feet-finding recordings of Paul McCartney's first solo album McCartney

Click over the jump for more on Slow Down.

Remi Kabaka – Black Goddess OST

Long out of print soundtrack of experimental afro-jazz from 1978. A fine vintage!

Black Goddess is a 1978 movie written and directed by legendary Nigerian director Ola Balogun. The soundtrack music is getting a stand alone release courtesy of the good folks at Soundway Records.

So how does the soundtrack stand up on its own without the accompanying visuals? Pretty well actually. Comprising of six extended instrumentals, all composed by one of Nigeria's top session musicians of the day, Remi Kabaka, it opens with “Brothers and Sisters”, a chirpy, clavichord driven groove with a jazzy sax solo.

The album really hits its stride though with the following track “The Quest”. Beginning with a plaintive and searching saxophone before the rest of the band join in. Although the band only comprises of four members there's plenty going on within the track's tight, repetitive polyrhythmic grooves; african drums, bass and keys all locking in tightly to provide a bedrock for the sax to take full flight.

“Slave March” contains a sadness and slower tempo that its title suggests, with call and response keys over a taut and popping bass line. Title track and album highpoint “Black Goddess” contains a siren-like swing atop tribal drums, with both tenor and soprano sax providing soaring solos.

“The Quest (Piano solo)” reprises the earlier tune on ghostly electric piano, before the percussive album closer “The Warrior” lets the talking drums have the final word.

The Stepkids - The Stepkids

Funky times are here again! Awesome retro tinged psych-soul from Connecticut three-piece.

As our hunger for all things authentic and soulful continues it's only a matter of time before the soul revival gets around to re-visiting the era when when soul met psych. And that's what The Stepkids are serving up here on their delightfully funky debut album. Hot on the heels of a series of limited 12” vinyl releases, the Connecticut three-piece's self titled album conjures up sounds reminiscent of post Monterey soul, think The Temptations, Shuggie Otis, Funkadelic and Rotary Connection. Though there's more to it than that; a willingness to experiment, some exquisite baroque touches, along with sunshine pop harmonies.

Recorded on analogue tape much like the records in their collections, the album begins with fittingly titled Intro, a slow 'n' swampy soul gumbo worthy of Dr. John. Distant vocals appear out of the mist over a spacey bass, conga and slide guitar before the track nicely leads into the more urbane Brain Ninja. This sounds like the theme to some long lost 70's cop show, a deliciously daft song complete with wah wah guitar, alternating falsetto, tenor and bass vocals. It lives up to its title as I've not been able to get it out of my head since first hearing it. There's a video online which despite owing much to the Beastie Boys' Sabotage video is worth a look. 

Click over the jump for more on The Stepkids.

Thee American Revolution - Buddha Electrostorm

Primitive garage stompers fly their freak flag high. Re-release of 2009 LP with bonus tracks and fresh packaging.

Originally released in 2009 by Garden Gate/Elephant 6 Recordings Co., Buddha Electrostorm is getting an worthy re-release on Fire Records complete with an extra track. Thee American Revolution is the musical pairing of Robert Schneider (Apples In Stereo) and his brother-in-law, fellow psychedelic adventurer Craig Morris (Ideal Free Distribution). Though there's credit given by the duo to the input of one “William Shears”, a British musician of supposedly 60's pedigree. Though I get the feeling this could be a ruse to create interest and mystery. Let's not forget Billy Shears is a name used on Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. There's also the conspiracy theory that Paul McCartney died in 1966 and was replaced by a Canadian policeman named William Shears Campbell. Whoever Mr. Shears is, his influence is evidently a good thing as a quick listen will prove.

There's a clue as to their sound by the seemingly obligatory “Thee” as opposed to “The”, a long standing garage band tradition. The album is an American take on the brasher end of the 60's British Invasion, with bands such as The Who, early Kinks and The Troggs providing the template for their roughly hewn garage rock. The three chord riff from Wild Thing gets a makeover on several of the tracks, a difficult thing to pull off without sounding tired and jaded but they manage it, aided by a sprinkling of lysergic psych-pop. It's an album that's heavy on the fuzz and wah-wah pedals, has more hooks than you local fishing tackle shop and rocks like a mutha. Revolting in the best possible way.

Booker T. Jones - The Road From Memphis

60's legend, aided by some famous pals, in fine return to form.

Back in the 60's when soul music rivalled The Beatles in terms of world and chart domination, two record labels both had very convincing claims to rule the soul roost, each boasting an in-house recording studio and house band. The first of these was Berry Gordy's Motown, a production line set-up with a string of solo vocalists and vocal groups, smoothly groomed for pop stardom, their music aimed at both a black and white audience. The hidden, faceless, in-house studio band became known as The Funk Brothers.

Deep down south in Memphis, Stax Records put together an altogether grittier soulful groove. During the time of the civil rights movement, the label staff along with the in-house studio band were progressively mixed race. The house band at Stax was Booker T. And The MG's, led by organist Booker T. Jones. The MG's line-up was completed by bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn, guitarist Steve Cropper, and drummer par excellence Alan Jackson Jr. (Who died in tragic circumstances in 1975). Together this super tight unit provided the backing on literally hundreds of soul tracks for singers such as Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Sam and Dave, The Staple Singers, and Johnnie Taylor. On top of this the group also managed to find the time to make hit records of their own, perhaps the best known of which is the classic “Green Onions”. 

Click over the jump for more on The Road To Memphis.

Thee Attacks - That's Mister Attack To You

Gettin' feisty with Denmark's latest contenders for the garage rock crown.

If you want that authentic 60's beat and garage sound there's a couple of places in Europe you could go, the best choice by far being Liam Watson's Toe Rag Studios. That's where Denmark's gutsy retro-rockers Thee Attacks chose to record their debut album. And for those who care about these things (and you should) it's in punch-packing mono.

The band's sound unashamedly harks back to the early to mid 1960's proto-mod and Brit group R & B. Think pills, think sharp dressed youths, think ripped-speaker rawness. Think live bands at Liverpool's Cavern or Hamburg's Star Club or Kaiserkeller. The closest comparison musically would be The Who or more specifically The Detours or The High Numbers. With no room for introspection and highfaluting concepts, this is music for letting off steam to, music for dancing all night to, music that's stripped back to basics, no sloppy jamming, or extraneous polishing, just tight up-tempo songs played with energy and ruck inducing attitude. It's refreshingly unpretentious and well executed.

The band will be back on UK shores for some live dates early next year, until then this LP will do nicely.

Click here for Thee Attacks' website.

Monday, 10 December 2012

DC Fontana - Pentagram Man

DC Fontana return with a brand new maxi EP (or mini LP?) New songs, new singer, new sounds!

A little over a year ago I had the reviewed DC Fontana's previous release La Contessa, an accomplished, kitschy take on freakbeat, ye-ye, and R&B-tinged '60s pop. As fine as that LP was, it was still something of a revelation to hear
the latest offering. Gone is the foreign language pop, along with vocalists Karla Milton and Kicca Andriollo. In their place comes new vocalist Louise Turner, and five new songs that show the band in fresh light. They can still knock out great catchy pop tunes but there's also some pleasingly diverse tangents as the band flirt with folk, jazz, prog and even ambient, experimental music. A shorter record than La Contessa it may be, but it packs as big a punch.

The new recordings are topped and tailed by two versions of the title track Pentagram Man, firstly featuring new vocalist Louise Turner, latterly with vocals from ex-Sorrows vocalist Don Fardon. Whichever version you choose it's an irresistible piece of music beginning with sampled dialogue I'm guessing is Aleister Crowley before the music kicks in – heavy organ, biting lead guitar, rolling baggy beat with nifty bass lines holding it all together. With the chorus' chord sequence borrowed from Sympathy For The Devil, the Fontanas still have a foot in the retro camp but they've steered away from total homage towards something that's more their own.

It's this new found confidence that's all over the EP. Following song DevilAngel is a pop soul classic, the band re-inventing Spector's wall-of-sound over a Tamla beat. What Would It Take? Sees them venture into finger-picked acoustic loveliness, though there's still room for sonic invention – listen closely and you'll hear some backwards guitars, an accordian, along with a Bryter Layter style flute solo.

Keyboardist Scott Riley takes over the lead vocal duties on Satisfied (Part One) for a more bluesy, jazzy vibe. There's more of a band feel to this song, at times sparsely backed they feel their way through it letting the song's own dynamic push the playing as it progresses. It's easy to see why this is a live favourite. It's on the next track where the biggest sonic leaps have been made. Sighed DC is a lengthy experimental sound collage that wouldn't have been out of place on Screamadelica. Dubby, trippy, ambient and atmospheric. Perfect for watching the sunrise after having stayed up all night. It would be nice to think DC Fontana might explore their experimental side more in the future if the results are as good as this.

All tracks are produced by long time Julian Cope associate, Donald Ross Skinner. (Bizarrely I once gave him and the group Prolapse a lift to a gig in Bristol but that's a story I'll save for another time.) As always the band have made a great film to accompany their music, do yourself a favour and click over the jump to check it out.

Click here for DC Fontana's website.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Vinny Peculiar - Other People Like Me

Early 70's inspired observational and skewed Britpop from suburban Manchester. Crack open the Watneys Party Seven!

Alan Wilkes AKA Vinny Peculiar is in a nostalgic mood. For his latest studio album, the Salford maverick is taking a wry and wistful look back to the era of art infused glam-rock. With references to Bowie, Alice Cooper, Page Three Stunnas, Wigan Casino and Mott The Hoople throughout it's part celebration of those times, but one which is tempered by the confessional and painful adolescent regrets retold in the lyrics. The effect is like a more melancholy Jarvis Cocker. Stories of stealing Cream Eggs from the Post Office, signing on, and dodgy haircuts abound.

Click over the jump for more on Other People Like Me.

The Witch And The Robot - Fear Of Mountains Part I

First part of high concept rock opus from Cumbrian freak-folk misfits, and a good excuse to visit the Lake District.

The Witch And The Robot is an apt name for a band whose music is two parts pagan freak folkery and one part electronic krautrock. Much like their friends and fellow Cumbrians British Sea Power, doing things differently is their modus operandi.

So what we have is a loose concept album featuring songs based on characters who all have connections with the Lake District, some fictional, some factual. Parts two and three will no doubt follow in due course. Despite such localism, it's an album which by sheer force of its passion and uniqueness should have wider appeal and contains many inspired moments.

Click over the jump for more on Fear Of Mountains Part I.

The Amazing - Gentle Stream

Rightfully boastful name, beautiful album. Laurel Canyon spirit re-locates to Scandinavia.

Picture the scene – Laurel Canyon, 1969, the sun's hazy heat shimmers the air, heavy with reefer smoke. A few half dressed kids chase dogs round the legs of rock royalty as they work out the extended coda to their latest mid-tempo gentle folk rock opus. The guitar lines spiralling and intertwining, relaxed yet exploratory. The drums and bass pushing in all the right places. It's all too beautiful, man.

That's the image that comes to mind while listening to Gentle Stream, the title track of the second full length album from Sweden's psychedelic folk rock collective The Amazing. Though that's not the full picture, there's more. The song is lent an icy European coating courtesy of lead singer and songwriter Christoffer Gunrup. It's a bit like a modern day take on Wooden Ships, played by Crosby, Stills Nash & Nico, albeit a male Nico.

Click over the jump for more on Gentle Stream.

The Waterboys - An Appointment With Mr. Yeats

Mike Scott & co return with a collection of WB Yeats' poems set to music. And it works too!

If anyone's qualified to turn such mystic and romantic poems into songs it's Mike Scott. It's not the first time he's set a Yeats poem to music; “The Stolen Child” was for my money at least, the stand out track on the 1988 Fisherman's Blues album. This time round there's a full album of such material, with titles including “A Full Moon In March”, “The Lake Isle Of Innisfree” and “An Irish Airman Forsees His Death”.

Click over the jump for more on An Appointment With Mr. Yeats.

Charles Packy Axton - Late Late Party 1965-67

Mighty Memphis soul. Forgotten sax hero's first and long overdue anthology.

You may not have heard of Charles Packy Axton, though things could, and should have been so different. Born into the all conquering soul dynasty of Memphis based Stax Records, (Packy's mother Estelle Axton and his uncle Jim Stewart were the label founders), he was perfectly placed and talented enough to have capitalised on his advantageous position. Packy took up the saxophone at a young age and formed The Royal Spades, with Steve Cropper and Donald “Duck” Dunn, both later to have greater success as members of Booker T & The MG's, the legendary Stax house band. The Royal Spades became The Mar-Keys. Axton's partying was to eventually cause a split with the band along with a career damaging rift with Stax Records.

Axton continued to record though and had a national hit with 1965's “Hole In The Wall”, credited to The Packers is basically Booker T. And The MG's in all but name, featuring Axton, Cropper, Booker T, and drummer Al Jackson. Only bassist Dunn is missing from the line-up. It's at the heart of this new compilation which features seventeen mainly instrumental tracks.

Click over the jump for more on Late Late Party 1965-67.

Orchestra Of Spheres - Nonagonic Now

Time to go global for pick 'n' mix purveyors of afro-tribal beats, electronic dance, Mali blues, funk, & psych.

Cosmic, infectious, hypnotic, playful and fun. Just some of the words that spring to mind while listening to the debut album from Orchestra Of Spheres. As part of the Frederick Street Sound And Light Exploration Society in Wellington, New Zealand (see link below), the band are well placed to make music that is not tied down by genre restrictions or audience expectations. Part Fela Kuti, part Can, part George Clinton, with hints of psych and avant jazz.

Album opener Hypercube is a fantastic statement of intent, a call to arms for like-minded souls to fly their freak fly high, polyrhythmic drums fighting with call and response chanted vocals, possibly in a made up language. There Is No No follows with desert drone guitar and gamelan giving way to hyperactive bingo-caller vocals. There's even a Celtic folk influence to be detected on Spontaneous Symmetry, its twangy guitar lines courtesy of a biscuit tin guitar. As the album progresses the pychedelic and free jazz elements come to the fore as on the trippy Hypershere and Eternal C Of Darkness, basically Nina Simone meets Delia Derbyshire on the set of The Magic Roundabout.

They come across as a band that takes having fun seriously, as demonstrated by their stage costumes which are as bizarre as their home-made instruments. Mind-expanding and with no comedown.

Click here for Orchestra Of Spheres on Bandcamp.

Spindrift - Classic Soundtracks

Dust down your ponchos! Time for some spoof spaghetti western soundtracks with a dose of heavy west coast psych.

Somehow the music you hear in your childhood stays with you all your life, so if you spent your early years glued to the TV showing Sergio Leone spaghetti western re-runs, those wonderful soundtracks by the likes of Ennio Morricone are going to have an effect on the music you make as an adult. And so it is with Kirpatrick Thomas, front man with Los Angeles band Spindrift, self-proclaimed leaders of the neo-cosmic cowboy revolution.

So what we have here is a concept album of sorts, songs and instrumental pieces taken from movie soundtracks that don't (though possibly should) exist. The song titles are evocative in themselves; “Japexico (Flute Theme From Treasure Of The Black Jaguar)”, “Legend Of The Widower Colby Wallace”, “Showdown (From The Legend Of God's Gun)” and so on. 

Click over the jump for more on Classic Soundtracks.

Nat Baldwin - People Changes

Unique and awesome 4th solo album from Dirty Projectors bassist. Spiritually yearning mix of strings & woodwind with a hint of free-jazz.

Let's be honest, if you're a singer-songwriter it's difficult to get noticed in the crowd, such is the saturated market. Originality helps, as does taste, honesty, believability, and genuine warmth. All those qualities are present on this release. And then some!

Although the songs were composed in 2007, Baldwin wisely allowed them room to breathe, letting them evolve naturally, letting the arrangements settle in over time before finally recording them in 2010. Using a deceptively simple palette of vocals, bowed double bass, violin, clarinet, alto saxophone, trumpet and one track added drums and guitar, Baldwin hand picked a small, trusted group of musicians, including some childhood friends to record with.

Click over the jump for more on People Changes.

Hanni El Khatib - Will The Guns Come Out

Best get tooled up, here comes some raw and dangerous garage punk-soul.

For folks that needed to phone a helpline when The White Stripes confirmed they'd split, a new gunslinger's in town. LA musician Hanni El Khatib takes his inspiration from the greasy underbelly of the great American songbook, those lesser celebrated R&B, soul, blues and doo-wop songs from the 50's and 60's whose sinister sentiments marked a time when rock and roll was truly dangerous. When gang fights, hot rods and cheap kicks were all the kids needed for a good night out.

You may be familiar with his cover of Funkadelic's “I Got A Thing” from a recent Nike commercial, featured on the album as a bonus track. The song is stripped down to a raw and ready garage rocker, all fuzz guitar, snapping drums and throat stripping vocals. 

Click over the jump for more on Will The Guns Come Out.

Phantom Buffalo - Cement Postcard With Owl Colours

Daydream guitar pop? Indie-psych? College rock? Art-rock? Who cares, it's bloody ace!

I had no expectations before I listened to this album, having not heard of the group before, but wow, what a treat! It reminded me of why I love guitar based indie music before it became synonymous with the dreaded landfill tag. What it represents is a truly alternative and enlightening listening experience. A real ragbag of styles and moods, melodically inventive with cryptic lyrics and more twists and turns than a mountain road. Instrumentally it's a lo-fi guitar, bass and drums affair but it's what you do with that template that counts.

Hailing from Portland, Maine, USA, the band were originally called The Ponys until a similarly named band from Chicago were booked to play SXSW the same year. Hence a name change and Phantom Buffalo was born.

Lead vocalist Jonathan Balzano-Brookes possesses a pure tone, not rock in the slightest but extremely likeable and perfect for carrying the band's brand of dazzling and beguiling pop tunes. (I've found myself waking up a couple of times this week unable to get their song “Atleesta” out of my head. Kylie would no doubt approve!)

The problem may be that it will prove too esoteric for a lot of people's tastes; the band's previous two albums have all been released to large critical acclaim offset by the public's indifference, which is a shame as there's some stunning stuff on here. Investing a little time with this album reaps huge rewards. A real gem.

Click here for Phantom Buffalo's website.

Sara Lowes - Back To Creation

In-demand Mancunian pianist finally gets round to making her own record.

The album title possibly referencing the fact that she's finally got around to making a solo LP, Manchester's Sara Lowes has long been in demand as a musician for hire, having toured and recorded with several name acts including King Creosote, Jim Noir and Micah P. Hinson, along with a long standing association with UK/US folk-psych outfit The Earlies.

Recorded at The Earlies studio, with Christian and Nicky Madden from the band on production duties, the album has a lovely analogue warmth which is sustained over the whole album despite all the changes of mood and style.

Having been schooled in classical music from an early age, and coming from a family of accomplished classical musicians, Lowes' skill as a pianist is apparent from the off; title track “Back To Creation” opening with searching piano chords and a vocal harmony wash before getting into it's Ben Folds style pop stride. It later offers a stylistic nod to Geno-era Dexy's Midnight Runners (always a good thing in this reviewer's book). 

Click over the jump for more on Back To Creation.

The Leisure Society - Into The Murky Water

Joyously kaleidoscopic 2nd album from the UK's top indie-folk collective.

The Leisure Society return with their follow up to 2009's The Sleeper. It sees them build on the sound of the first album, and the demos and B-sides collection A Product Of The Ego Drain.

The album opens with the title track “Into The Murky Water”. A few bars of portentous drum fills and marimba riffs give way to a sound which can only be described as Vaughan Williams challenging Jethro Tull to a musical version of the game Twister. Like many of the nine songs that follow it contains a chorus that will get under your skin like a tattoo. If we still had milkmen in this country no doubt they'd be whistling it.

It's a very English sounding record, with plenty of strings and folksy arrangements but there's also an American West Coast thing going on with some of the backing, most similar to Arthur Lee's Love. (Love's track “Alone Again Or” actually gets a mention at one point.) And “You Could Keep Me Talking” sounds like Jethro Tull's “Living In The Past” (them again!) covered by the Beach Boys.

Click over the jump for more on Into The Murky Water.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings - Soul Time!

Taut funk grooves, and soulful social commentary from the world's greatest contemporary soul band.

The soul powerhouse that is Daptone Records is the closest thing we have to a modern day Motown or Stax Records. Continuously putting out great singles and albums that hark back to the classic soul and funk era of the 60's and 70's while satisfying a thoroughly modern desire for something authentic, human and emotional. They stand as a beacon of hope in the avalanche of plasticity that is modern day conveyor belt pop. Soul time indeed.

The Dap-Kings of course are well known for having been Amy Winehouse's backing band of choice. So if you're not familiar with the records they've made with Sharon Jones, chances are you'll have heard them on Back To Black or Rehab. It's backing Sharon Jones however where it all slots into place. Like Aretha Franklin she possesses a voice that commands and demands respect, along with the ability and emotional range to sing dance-floor shakers, vulnerable ballads, and social protest anthems. All of which take their place on their latest platter.

Click over the jump for more on Soul Time!

Butch Walker And The Black Widows - The Spade

Life's a blast! Top US producer step out of the control room for latest album of scorching rock-pop.

Producer of choice for Weezer, Pink, Fall Out Boy and Avril Lavigne among others, Butch Walker proves with his latest record that his songwriting skills are also up there with best of them. The Spade is a ten-song blast of feelgood rock, full of good humoured observations about being middle aged but still rocking. There's also some telling recollections from his (partly misspent) youth, with references to Bryan Adams, Duran Duran, Iron Maiden, and bizarrely Frank Poncherello. The songs are interspersed with snippets of studio banter, and contain lyrics which show Walker as being as good with words as he is with melodies. A good story teller like Walker is not the only raconteur on the album, his friend Patrick Keeler (Yes he of The Raconteurs and The Greenhornes) is on kick-ass form on drums throughout.

There's no pushing of musical boundaries, the songs all being in the mould of classic American guitar rock but they're catchy as hell and literally jump out the speakers at you. Listening to the album is like meeting up with a valued and jovial friend down your local pub, it's familiar but at the same time fun and you know there'll be new stories, laughs aplenty, and you need its rejuvenating effects.

Click here for Butch Walker's website.

Click over the jump for a video of the track "Synthesizers".

Richmond Fontaine - The High Country

A novel idea. Portland, Oregon four-piece release dramatic song-cycle for their tenth studio album.

We're constantly hearing about the death of the album as an art form, or about how people's attention spans are somehow shorter due to the prevalence of shuffle culture. Reassuring then to be presented with an album that demands to be listened to from start to finish. For their tenth studio album Richmond Fontaine have opted to make a song-novel. Part love story, part mystery, part thriller, the tale is set among a remote rural logging community in Oregon. The main characters are a young woman trapped in a loveless marriage and dead-end job at an auto-parts store, and a mechanic who returns to the area to look after his ailing father. The pair fall in love and conspire to leave and find a better lives for themselves. Nothing is ever going to be so simple though as other characters enter the tale, including speed addicted ex-army psychotic and a drug dealing bar owner. 

Click over the jump for more on The High Country.

J Mascis - Several Shades Of Why

Debut solo album from Dinosaur Jr. noisenik.

J. Mascis is that rarest of creatures, a prolific slacker. Best known for his sonic assaults in bands Deep Wound, J. Mascis & The Fog, Witch, the criminally overlooked Sweetapple, and of course Dinosaur Jr. The perennially long haired Mascis has finally got round to releasing his solo debut album.

Back in the late 80's before grunge went overground, indie guitar music was subject to hollow bodied guitar snobbery, I'm thinking of Orange Juice, The Smiths, Everything But The Girl et al. Until the likes of Teenage Fanclub and Dinosaur Jr broke through with their Jazzmasters and Jaguars and dragged indie out of the sixth form common rooms and back onto the streets. (OK, that may be slightly revisionist but you get my drift).

Click over the jump for more on Several Shades Of Why plus the video for Is It Done.

Serge Gainsbourg - Histoire De Melody Nelson - 40th Anniversary

One for the hipsters. In depth re-issue of Serge's greatest LP.

You have to hand it to the French. As a nation they know how to “do cool”. And Serge Gainsbourg did it better than most. With a genre-straddling career over 4 decades, his status as a national treasure was assured via his genuinely controversial and provocative lyrics and music. It's difficult to imagine a UK artist generating a similar amount of admiration and love were they to release records dealing with incest, under-age sex, nazis, along with dub-reggae versions of the national anthem. His funeral in 1991 brought a shocked Paris to a standstill. It's a shame then that the world's most famous Gauloises smoker is almost as well known over here for what he said to Whitney Houston on a French chat show. Doubtless though the quality of his music which will win out over time, and where better to start than what's often cited as his greatest album, Histoire de Melody Nelson, now being re-issued with added bonus material 40 years after it's initial release.

Click over the jump for more on Histoire De Melody Nelson.

Various - The Spar Records Story - Nashville's Great Unsung Indie Label

3 x CD treasure trove of under-the-radar 60's pop, soul, country, doo-wop, R&B, ballads and all points between.

Just when you think you have the sixties sussed, and feel that there's no musical stone left unturned, that every release has been pored over a million times, a compilation appears that shows just how rich the pickings of that decade are.

Spar Records was set up in Nashville in 1961 and became most famous for being a “sound-alike” label, releasing cut-price cover version records of the hits of the day on their Giant Records imprint, and distributing them through outlets that didn't normally stock records. The irony was that many of those recordings were as strong as the original versions, in some cases better. In fact if the original version was recorded in Nashville, it was highly likely that the same session musicians would end up playing on the sound-alike version. Musicians playing on this compilation also played on big hit records by the likes of Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, The Monkees, George Jones, Linda Ronstadt, Neil Young and Johnny Cash among others.

Click over the jump for more on Spar Records

Grey Reverend - Of The Days

Alternate tunings ahoy! Beautiful, timeless, exploratory folk from sometime member of The Cinematic Orchestra.

Brooklyn based musician L.D. Brown (Aka Grey Reverend) was born and raised in Philadelphia and grew up on a musical diet of jazz, blues and late 80's indie bands such as Dinosaur Jr. and My Bloody Valentine. After first taking up the saxophone Brown later switched to the guitar, and learnt his craft in a succession of Philadelphia bands as well as immersing himself in music theory and jazz improvisation.

Brown relocated to New York in 2006 and began playing solo gigs at various venues around the city. One of the venues in which he plied his trade was a coffee shop run by his sister. Fortunately for Brown the shop was frequented by Jason Swincombe, leader of British electronic jazz outfit The Cinematic Orchestra. After being suitably impressed by Brown's sparse, low-key folkish songs, Swincombe commissioned a cover of his band's song “To Build A Home”. This in turn led to Brown singing with the group on tour as well support slots performing his own material.

Four years on from that first meeting Brown is ready to release his first album on Swincombe's Motion Audio label. Predominately solo performed with just an acoustic guitar, though a plaintive harmonica appears on “Forsake”. 

Click over the jump for more on Grey Reverend's Of The Days.

Nitin Sawhney - Last Days Of Meaning

Ninth studio album from award winning composer, DJ, social commentator and national treasure.

It seems there's not much Nitin Sawhney can't do. And what he does do, he does very well. Never one to shy away from big themes, for his latest studio album he subtly explores the prejudice and embittered viewpoint of fictional character Donald Meaning via 11 songs interspersed with spoken word passages from Meaning, expertly played by Sawhney's friend, the actor John Hurt. (The pair met as a result of Hurt narrating for Human Planet, the BBC series scored by Sawhney).

The music ranges from the bluesy soul of “The Devil And Midnight”, complete with vocal from Yolanda Quartey to the sadly reflective “I'm Done” featuring Hannah Peel. It's the raga influenced music featuring Indian instrumentation where the album truly shines, as on the virtuoso sitar and groove of “Kite” and the mournful flute of “Daydream”.

Meaning is presented as a fully rounded person, embittered though not without likeability and redeeming characteristics. It's a timely and much needed reminder that understanding and common human ground is an area we need to explore rather than blaming scapegoats. A fine and thoughtful album, sadly in danger in being drowned out by rhetoric from all points on the political spectrum. 

Click here for Nitin Sawhney's official website.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Buffalo Killers - Dig. Sow. Love. Grow.

It's less than a year ago since I reviewed Buffalo Killers' previous album 3 for Subba Cultcha, (I'll put a link here soon when the relaunched site is back up and running), it's great to see that the band's creativity shows no signs of letting up. Their recently released fourth album Dig. Sow. Love. Grow. is an extension of where the band were at on their last album – earthy country rock, dripping with Zachary and Andrew Gabbard's vocal harmonies. This time round there are some heavier moments creeping in, as on album opener Get It with its 70s guitar riffage and one-note Stooges style piano. While not quite into metallic zones it does represent the heavier end of the blues rock spectrum.

For the most part though the clue is in the album's title – earthy, organic, hippy love vibes are in the area. The album sounds like Harvest would have had Neil Young decided to record said record with an electric band. It's electric, and rock 'n' roll, but shot through with some down home warmth. While it lacks a killer track on a par with 3's Huma Bird, there's still rich pickings here. Their take on southern rock ticks all the right boxes – grooves, songs and great harmony singing all present and correct. And man, as for those guitar tones and solos! Dig it indeed!

 Click over the jump for a video for Buffalo Killers' track Get It.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Elefant Records - Latest 7" singles

Elefant Records of Madrid have long been purveyors of fine indie-pop, one of a sadly dying breed of labels that still holds dear to its heart the notion of independence, bespoke vinyl releases and a love of music over commerce. As well as releasing great albums by the likes of Helen Love, Juniper Moon, The School, and the recently reformed Primitives, the label are also responsible for putting out desirable slices of 7" vinyl. Maybe not so good for the environment we're told, but when they're lovely coloured vinyl they sure as hell look nice rotating on your Dansette! 

With that in mind let's cast our eyes and ears over the label's latest three 7" EPs. Click over the jump to read about singles by YouDoMeToo, Wild Balbina and El Palacio De Linares. There's also videos from all three bands so go on, hit the jump!

Friday, 19 October 2012

The Velvet Underground And Nico - 45th Anniversary deluxe box set

All the Velvets' albums are truly superb, but there is something special about their debut. It contains some of their best songs - Sunday Morning, Heroin, All Tomorrow's Parties, Femme Fatale et al (always wanted to say that!) Factor in the iconic Warhol banana cover, the literary, classical and experimental influences and you have an album that's simply years ahead of its time. The band were such an unlikely grouping, a truly disparate set of characters coming to make so much more than the sum of their parts.

It's becoming de rigueur for classic albums to be reissued in these deluxe box sets and this LP is an album that warrants such attention. To celebrate 45 years since its release Universal Music/Polydor are putting out a bumper 6 disc collection featuring the original studio album in stereo and mono, rehearsal tapes, acetates and live material, as well as Nico's Chelsea Girl LP. It also contains an 88-page booklet with photos and an essay by none other than Richie Unterberger. (Click here for an interview I did with Richie earlier this year)

NB. Any of my friends or family reading this may want to snap one of these up as my Christmas pressie. Just a thought.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Syd Arthur - Dorothy (Released 12th November 2012)

Despite the best efforts of Mumford And Sons it would appear that folk is no longer a four letter word. With acid-folk having become a widely recognised and much loved genre over the last few years. Original vinyl albums from the late 1960s and early 1970s by the likes of COMUS, Mr. Fox and Forest fetch large sums from collectors, while an increasing number of contemporary groups and artists look to the past for their sonic inspiration.

Though not quite acid-folk, Canterbury's Syd Arthur released one of 2012's better albums over the summer. On And On was released on the band's own Dawn Chorus label, picking up up praise from all the monthlies as well as the blogosphere. Their sound owes much to the Canterbury scene of the early 1970s, though there's more to them than just aping the past. Their music is a melting pot of folk, jazz, world music and progressive rock, put together in such an energetic way that somehow makes them very now. An what a great name they have, effortlessly evoking English psych with a deeper, olde England, that of Camelot and the round table.

If the album passed you by over the summer it's worth sticking it on your Christmas list, though if you can't wait that long the band are releasing a single from the album on November 12th. A stand out track from their album, Dorothy will be released digitally along with a live version. available from all the usual digital outlets and also the band's own Bandcamp page. The band will also be taking to the road in the UK throughout November should you want to catch them live.

Friday, 28 September 2012

Temples - The Golden Throne/Shelter Song

One of my favourite new bands of the year is Temples. I was fortunate to be at the Green Man Festival in August and witnessed their set in the Far-Out tent on the Thursday night. They describe themselves as a neo-psych duo (though the addition of a drummer for their live set indicates they may now be a three piece). 

Their sound is a modern, guitar-led take on '60s west-coast psych. Tastefully retro, and done extremely well. If that's not enough, factor in the fact that they look cool as liquid nitrogen onstage, the lead singer/guitarist has that classic skinny white-boy with afro look going on, while the bassist nonchalantly stands to the side, holding it all all together with McCartney-esque bass runs.

I'm not sure if they've secured a record deal as yet but judging by the two tracks on their Soundcloud page it can't be long before some ink is drying. Do yourself a favour and check them out on Facebook or Twitter before the rest of the world catches on. I've "widgeted" their two online songs here too for your listening convenience.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Trevor Moss & Hannah-Lou - free 4 song download

Husband and wife duo Trevor Moss and Hannah-Lou are giving away a free 4song EP as a taster for the forthcoming album La Ferme De Fontenaille. The album was recorded on an old Tascam 4-track cassette portastudio in the Loire, France earlier in the year and is due for release on November 5th 2012 on their own label  - The Anglophone Recording Company. If you're a fan of well crafted, intelligent and heartfelt songs, close harmony singing, and homespun acoustic charm I'd recommend you check it out.

For full details of the LP, tour dates and the free download EP head over to the duo's website.(

Click over the jump to see the video for A Proud Surrender

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Greenleaf - Nest Of Vipers (Small Stone Records 2012)

Hi-drama Swedish fuzz rock? Yes please!

When a band names itself Greenleaf, you can bet your bottom bollock they're either clean living straight-edgers that drink nothing stronger than a cup of green tea, or that they're partial to the occasional skunk-packed jazz cigarette. On discovering that this band's music comprises of murmured vocals and '70s style fuzzy guitar riffs, I'd be willing to wager another gonad that it's the latter substance that floats their boat. 

Click over the jump for more on Greenleaf's Nest Of Vipers.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Happy Monsters LP - Funk for children!

I've always had a soft spot for children's records that dates back to Rolf Harris' Two Little Boys 7" and an LP by Pinky & Perky that were jointly owned by me and my older brother. The Pinky And Perky LP had a version of The Kinks' Apeman on. I reckon it now resides in my mum and dad's loft. One of these days I'm going to get up there and dig that beauty out. I always root kid's records when they're in with a chance of the Christmas number one slot too, if a children's record can't be number one at Christmas then there's something wrong. It seems po-faced and churlish of us to wish otherwise.

Those seeking some vintage and slightly creepy children's records should check out the excellent Fuzzy Felt Folk compilation that came out on Trunk Records a few years ago. Sinister early '70s acid folk for kids, great stuff. Trunk Records also recently released an album of music recorded for the classic kid's TV show Fingerbobs, also well worth tracking down.

I was a happy man to find this LP called Happy Monsters in my local charity shop for the princely sum of £1. Released on the American Happy House label and dating back to the early '70s. Side one features a story about Betty and Bobby meeting some friendly monsters in the land of Ooog. Flip it over to side two and you're treated to five instrumental funk tracks augmented with klaxons, quacks and horns. Versions of CC Rider, Kiss Me Goodnight and perhaps best of all James Brown's Papa's Got A Brand New Bag. Click on the music player and take a listen, you'll never hear the original in the same way ever again. Please feel free to use the comments section to recommend you own favourite kid's records. Stay young folks!

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Lemon Jelly - Ramblin' Man (2002)

In honour of me finally renewing my passport after a couple of years dithering I'm doing a post on one of the greatest travel songs ever. And also one of the best list songs too, right up there with Hello by The Beloved. Now I'm not a very well travelled chap, in fact I sometimes get a nosebleed walking to the corner shop for a newspaper, but there's something about this track that stirs a desire in me to go-a-globetrottin'. Despite its title conjuring up images of worn out shoes and dusty roads, it's decidedly more Dan Cruickshank in spirit than it is Woody Guthrie, and that's a large part of its appeal. 

(Click over the jump for more on Lemon Jelly's Ramblin' Man.)

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

The Primitives - Echoes And Rhymes

Coventry's indie popsters return with a feast of obscure '60s covers.

Wait around long enough and it seems every band eventually reforms. The allure of the stage and public adoration is just too much to resist. Whether it's The Stone Roses or The Beach Boys, Cast, The Verve, Pulp, Blur or Dodgy, it seems they just can't help get back back together for one more bite of the cherry. I'm not knocking this at all, in fact I'm quite looking forward to seeing The Stone Roses at Heaton Park. What does gall me though is their tendency and desperation with any new material to attempt to prove what geniuses they were all the time, and to hint at our foolishness in not noticing it. Refreshing then that indie guitar band The Primitives have instead chosen to release an album of obscure '60s pop tunes. There's a dignity and sense of realism in this that I like. The resulting album is something of a triumph made all the more so as taste gets the better of ego. Much like The Detroit Cobras who only ever release versions of old soul and R&B tracks, The Primitives have delved into the world of lesser celebrated '60s beat groups and singers in search of the material that makes up their comeback LP Echoes And Rhymes.

Click over the jump for more on The Primitives' Echoes And Rhymes.

Monday, 30 April 2012

My Goodness - C'Mon Doll

It wasn't all that long ago that blues duos could only be found in juke houses of America's deep south. However since Jack and Meg White saved rock 'n' roll 10 years ago in the time honoured fashion of re-packaging  music of black origin for white folk, it looks like the duo format is here to stay. I'm all for it. Just geetar, drums and voice. Such a stripped down sound means you better have something to say and it better be said succinctly, make people feel good, and be punky and funky. There's nothing extraneous. No overdubs, no hiding behind smoke, mirrors or massive production so you'd best make it good punks.

A pleasure then to learn that Seattle garage duo are currently on tour in the UK this May supporting We Are Augustines. A double pleasure to find that their debut single C'Mon Doll is released at the end of the month. If you dig Fat Possum Records, The White Stripes, The Black Keys, The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, raw blues, or gritty and grainy garage rock this is right up your alley. There's to be a full length album later in the year but for now this will do nicely.

Click over the jump to see the video for C'Mon Doll by My Goodness.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Three Minute Tease - Three Minute Tease

Latest band and album from the criminally unknown Anton Barbeau and pals.

Got a favourite song with the word onion in the title? The Beatles' Glass Onion maybe? Green Onions? What about Cheese And Onions by The Rutles? OK, there's not that many to choose from I guess. Right up there with the best of them is Love Is Onion, the opening track on this eponymous album from Three Minute Tease. A perfectly constructed piece of psych-pop, with spiralling raga guitar scales, mid '60s McCartney bass-line, and best of all, cryptically engaging lyrics that challenge the very notion of what pop music can say, and how it might say it.

Led by Sacramento born songwriter Anton Barbeau, and ably abetted by former Soft Boys Andy Metcalfe (bass) and Morris Windsor (drums), Three Minute Tease are proof that great pop is no longer simply the property of youth. In fact, if anything Barbeau's knack of knocking out ever so slightly lysergic guitar pop has been perfected by years of relative obscurity. He could well be the greatest cult songwriter that you've yet to hear. I previously reviewed Anton Barbeau's career overview compilation Empire Of Potential (to read my review click here). Whereas that album by its very nature was something of a sonic shapeshifter and showcased different eras of Barbeau's long career, this latest album benefits from it's coherent band sound. OK, so it breaks no new ground musically but then why should it? It's sweetly melodic and accessible but spiked by the acidity of Barbeau's top notch lyrics.

It's hard to resist song titles such as the previously mentioned Love Is Onion, Thanks For Lifting My Leg and Sensual Pleasure Of Pie. And with cryptic mentions of Cuban heels, The Beatles, Jan & Dean and Norman Mailer you can be sure you're in the company of a unique songsmith, a rare commodity these days. Like all the best art (and drugs) it may change the way you look at the world, and you may never be the same again. But in a good way, and without a nasty taste in your mouth come morning time.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Rob Johnson Music - Throw The Sun Into The Sea

One of the albums I've enjoyed recently has been Fawn, the debut offering from Young Astronaut (see post here), so it was a very welcome surprise to find out that the album's producer, Geoff Swan, has also produced “Throw The Sun Into The Sea” by London-based composer Rob Johnson. Beautifully recorded, the album slowly reveals its charms over the course of the ten instrumental tracks. It's an album that owes more to film scores and neo-classsical composers than it does to rock, dance or pop, and would happily sit alongside albums by the likes of Mike Oldfield or Nitin Sawhney.

Click over the jump for more on Rob Johnson

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Infernal Overdrive - Last Rays Of The Dying Sun (Small Stone Records 2012)

 Debut album of classic rock riffage from New Jersey's hard rocking quartet.

Having recently reviewed a couple of their releases for, I've recently become an admirer of Small Stone Records, a record label that's based in Detroit, Michigan. Home to an ever growing roster of classic rock, hard rock, blues rock, metal, and stoner rock bands, they're purveyors of a sound that wouldn't cut it with your Shoreditch fashionista but has a loyal and discerning worldwide audience. Defiantly anti-fashion, it's a label that does what it likes and likes what it does.

I also like the label's tradition of fantasy fuelled album covers. Each illustrated cover harking back to hard rock's golden era, usually featuring some sort of mythical beast emerging from the earth, sky or sea to endanger the lives of your humble rock band and fan. The cover of Last Rays Of The Dying Sun, the debut album from New Jersey's Infernal Overdrive is no exception; a horned, winged, red-skinned monster/devil peers over a hillside, his fiery tongue merging with the road on which our hapless heroes travel along in their souped up automobile. The inside sleeve shows a burning road sign declaring it “Route 666”. Crikey! Shall we go for a ride then?

Click over the jump for more on Infernal Overdrive

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

The Story Of Rock 'n' Roll Comics DVD

This fascinating documentary gets a DVD release on April 24th. It tells the story of Todd Loren, the man behind the San Diego publishing house Revolutionary Comics. Loren was born in 1960 and grew up with a love for both comic books and the burgeoning rock music bursting forth from both sides of the Atlantic. After amassing a considerable amount of money from hosting comic book and record conventions, aged 18 he went on to open a shop and mail order business selling mostly bootleg music memorabilia. This in turn led to the formation of Revolutionary Comics where he was to combine his two passions with the "Rock 'n' Roll" series of comics, producing comic book biographies of rock's biggest hitters. Their inflammatory tagline was "Unauthorized And Proud Of It".

Click over the jump for more on Rock 'n' Roll Comics along with the official movie trailer.

Monday, 5 March 2012

The Best Of Perception & Today Records

Due for release on BBE Records in April is this double CD, (or 2x2LP with 2x7" vinyl) featuring the best output from Perception Records, a label which was operational from the late '60s until 1974. A strangely and admirably eclectic roster presided over by label president Terry Phillips and Boo Frazier. Although overshadowed at the time by more renowned labels such as Motown and Philadelphia International, (perhaps because unlike such labels it didn't have an instantly recognizable in-house production style), its time has come for a re-appraisal. Ranging in genre from soul and funk, through to proto-disco, latin, jazz and rock. It represents the best of Manhattan's then dancefloor orientated musical output. Sounds great already doesn't it!

To read my full album review click here. If you'd like to hear a taster check out this beauty - "Surrender" by Black Ivory.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Small Faces 4 classic album deluxe reissues ... (and the best gig I never went to.)

On May 7th Universal Music will be releasing deluxe editions of four Small Faces studio albums. Namely Small Faces (Decca 1966), From The Beginning (Decca 1967), Small Faces (Immediate 1967) and the classic Ogden's Nut Gone Flake (Immediate 1968). All releases will be expanded into 2-disc editions (3 in the case of Ogden's).

There are people who claim The Small Faces to be a greatest band of the '60s, better than The Who, The Rolling Stones and even The Beatles. These people mostly populate the Medway towns though so such claims should be taken with a contrary pinch of salt.

(Click over the jump for more on The Small Faces and the best gig I never went to)

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Young Astronaut debut LP Fawn - Free Download

In these strange times when music has little monetary value, the world is awash with free MP3s, usually as a taster for full length albums that you may be then tempted to buy. Or as a thank you for signing up to a band's mailing list. If you were of the mind you could actually amass a half decent music collection, legally, and without having to break into your piggy bank. Of course as any shellac dealer can tell you the value is in the format baby; rare, coloured and collectable vinyl is where the money is.

In fact so omnipresent are the words free MP3 that they usually fill me with a sense of dread, nothing makes me feel more jaded and cynical. Which is why this week I've been pleasantly surprised to come across Fawn, the debut album from Young Astronaut. The band are giving the whole album away via their website ( It's a heartfelt blend of folk and indie, with fine playing and strong songs. It has in no small way restored some of my faith in the future of music and youth culture in general. I've listened to it a couple of times this week at work and it's fair to say I was transported. That's emotionally, not carted off against my will! Anyway I reckon you should check it out via the stream below or click on the cover art above to download from the band's website. Enjoy!