Saturday, 25 August 2018

Big Star - Live At Lafayette's Music Room

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

Omnivore CD / 2LP

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

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

Thursday, 23 August 2018

Birth Of Joy - Hyper Focus

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

Glitterhouse CD / 2LP

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

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

Wednesday, 22 August 2018

Dodson And Fogg - A New Day

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

Wisdom Twins CD

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

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

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

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

The Osiris Club - The Wine-Dark Sea

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

Indie CD / LP

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

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

Friday, 17 August 2018

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

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


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

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

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

Click here to buy via Amazon.

Monday, 13 August 2018

Snowchild - Age Of Change

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

Kozmic Artifactz CD / LP 

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

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

Sunday, 12 August 2018

Daniel McGeever - Cross The Water

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

You Are The Cosmos CD / LP

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

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

Saturday, 11 August 2018

Richie Havens - Richard P. Havens, 1983

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

Retroworld CD

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

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

Friday, 10 August 2018

Brad San Martin - Shoot Tomorrow / Learn Tonight

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

Jigsaw CD

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

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

Thursday, 9 August 2018

Belle Adair - Tuscumbia

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

Single Lock CD / LP

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

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

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

The Dealers - Turning Upside Down EP

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

Action Weekend/Bickerton 7"

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

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

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

39th & The Nortons - The Dreamers

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

Stolen Body CD/LP

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

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

Monday, 6 August 2018

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

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


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

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

Sunday, 5 August 2018

Howie Payne - Mountain

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

Full Stack CD / LP

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

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

Saturday, 4 August 2018

Buffalo Killers - Alive And Well In Ohio

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

Alive CD / LP

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

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

Friday, 3 August 2018

Angelica Rockne - Queen Of San Antonio

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

Self Release LP

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

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

Thursday, 2 August 2018

The Lords Of Thyme - Pellets

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

Sunstone LP

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

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

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

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Dream Giant - A Different Light

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

Paisley Parade CD / LP

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

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

The Doors - The Singles

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

Rhino 2CD

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

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

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

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