Another year and with it the prospects of as yet unknown names from the West Midlands emerging to capture national attention as well as opportunities for already rising and established acts to build on success to date.
As such, one artist likely to finally capture a wider audience is GEORGE BARNETT who last year followed up his 17 Days album with the Where The Devil Sleeps EP (featuring The Ninth Wave, a track that has since become the name of his band) and The Red Tape mix tape. Most recently he released his third EP, Animal Keeper, the title track with its slurred beats, slinky funk, syncopated rhythms, falsetto vocals and more than a few hints of Terrence Trent D’Arby earning him Radio 1 exposure. Serving reminder of his versatility, the EP also featured Reflection, which adopted a similar slurred rhythmic handclap percussion groove but also slipped into orchestrated piano ballad interludes calling Queen to mind, and the squelchy rib beats, stabbing synth, bubbling bass buzzings and percussive flourishes of Don’t Tell Me. Marrying both old and new dance floor allure with pop sensibility and splashes of baroque rock, his future looks dazzling.
She’s not yet released anything as such, but, still studying at King Edwards, HARRIET HARKCOM has already earned critical praise and predictions of big things head with her scattered live appearances, including two notable hometown shows with Dan Whitehouse. She has a pure folksy voice (but one also capable of hefty power) and a stage charisma of beguiling innocence and her faithful covers of Cry Me A River and Kate Bush’s The Man With The Child In His Eyes and gives a pretty good indication of both her influences and her prowess. At this point in time she could either take the folk pop or the West End route, either way she has the makings of a future star.
Taking their name from the Black Country canal tunnel, DRAKELOW are the new five piece incarnation of Young Runaways. Still fronted by writer and singer Matt Pinfield, they’ve cut back on the orchestrations and focussed on a leaner, more direct guitar pop sound that’s seen them already likened to Of Monsters and Men and The Lumineers. It’s a little early in the day to make any wild pronouncements, but their debut single Amber (Grandflat) was an appealing summery shimmer with hints of The Lightning Seeds and the fact they sent it to New York to be mastered by Alan Douches (who’s worked similar magic for The Twilight Sad and Frightened Rabbit) shows they’re not short of ambition and confidence either.
Born in Walsall and raised in Birmingham, although now based in London JIMMY LIVINGSTONEspent several years living in L.A., working a variety of jobs but always honing his talents as a singer-songwriter. Eventually becoming homeless, he headed out to the Mojave desert to finish recording his self-released debut album, One Eye Open, One Eye Closed. Reared on a mix of his father’s collection of American crooners and his own discoveries in country and rock, he’s channelled many of those influences into his own warm, mellow and soulful music that’s already earned him several notable admirers, not least Lucinda Williams who invited him to support here on her tour of the UK last year. Her guitarist, Doug Pettibone, who also serves double duty with John Mayer, contributes to four tracks while other musicians include Doggen Foster from Spiritualized, drummer Evan Jenkins from the Neil Cowley trio, Billy Bragg’s bassist Matt Round and Frank Zappa’s old brass section.
The PR blurb calls opening redemption-themed number Getting By as ‘the title track to Midnight Cowboy in a parallel universe’, a fair description though rather than John Barry, Livingstone’s version is more likely to be scored by Jim Webb while here and on both the uptempo Desert Song (which lifts the melody line of Gentle On My Mind) and the twangy, brass and strings embellished The Waiting Room you find yourself thinking of celebrated 70s Webb-interpreter Glen Campbell.
Elsewhere, the piano accompanied In Your Own Sweet Time recalls vintage early Neil Diamond while his lushly melancholic balladry deservedly warrants comparisons to Scott Walker and Richard Hawley.
He’s not just about the sumptuous swoon, pumped by the brass section and some hefty Pettibone guitar The World Beneath My Feet swings along like something you might have found on those jazzy 60s soundtracks of films starring Sinatra and his breed (another echo of Gentle On My Mind and brass riff borrowed from It’s Not Unusual), Useless Man is a gutsy Southern bluesy rocker (with cowbells intro), featuring cinematic strings Lady of the Flowers is a dreamy acoustic slow sway, with its female backing vocals Long Time Coming (another hint of Diamond) brings a gospel mood and, recalling his roots, the slow burning fat brass and organ Black Country Girl is sweet Stax soulful.
with another hint of Diamond on the reflective Blue Remembered Hills, while the
California climate clearly informs the sound Livingstone’s more classic easy
listening than Americana, but don’t let that deter you, his album oozes class.
He plays a solo show at the Hare & Hounds in Kings Heath on Jan 23