The Value Of Nothing (Bloodshot)
The latest solo album from the frontman of Seattle outfit The Supersuckers is another dose of punk country, here produced by Jesse Dayton whose twiddled knobs for Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, and Waylon Jennings. Spaghetti doesn’t come close to that trinity, none of whom are likely to have recorded the rock n rolling Fuckin’ With My Head or the Tex-Mex bouncing People Are Shit, though you could well imagine Waylon getting his gravel behind If Anyone’s Got The Balls.
However, for spit, grit and sawdust saloon ass-kicking country rocking , you could do a lot worse than Empty, Waste Of Time and the title cut while the talk-sing One Man Job and When I Go I’m Gone are the sort of mind-tempo bluesy swayers to be cranked up at final beer closing time.
Following last year’s release of sophomore album, Calendar, the French label now make available the Russian rock combo’s debut. Clearly not a great changed between albums, this being equally influenced by 80s new wave jangle pop with Joy Division (Normandy), The Cure (Compass), Orange Juice (Wind In Her Hair) and The Chameleons (Warm Eyelids) among the most obvious. As with the follow-up, the adherence to their role models and the tendency for the songs to all follow a similar guitar/keyboards route means it too becomes overly samey, but if you ever wondered what Inbetween Days might sound like with a heavy Russian accent, then this is for you.
Cavalcade (Signature Sounds)
Three years back Americana singer-songwriter Jeffrey Foucault recorded an album titled Cold Satellite, a collaborative project with poet Lisa Olstein who supplied various writings which he turned into songs, recording them with a band comprising guitarist, David Goodrich, Jeremy Moses Curtis on bass, Morphine drummer Billy Conway and Alex McCollough on pedal steel. Their second outing follows the same pattern, adding Hayward Williams on vocals, guitars, and keyboards, though the end result is less country and more rock n roll, a mix of moody, bluesy ballads and cranked up guitar swagger. It’s the latter that works best, opening with undoubted highlight Elegy (In A Distant Room), a number that variously echoes Miracle Legion, Wire Train, The Hooters and REM, with Elsewhere, Tangled Lullaby and a Band-tinged southern rock title track not too far from the benchmark. Unfortunately, it’s rather less interesting on numbers such as generic boogie blues Necessary Monsters and meandering slow burners Careless Flames and Glass Hands. There’s no faulting the musicianship, but somewhere in the process Foucault seems to have forgotten to bring sufficient substantial hooks and melodies along for a fully satisfying album.
Time Will Take You (Own Label)
Backed by Ryan Adams’ Cardinals and musos whose CVs include Patti Griffin and John Hiatt, McFeron has a sweet reedy nasal voice that occasionally makes him sound a female Dylan, especially on things like the mid-paced twangy Good To Be Back Home. There’s a touch of Petty in there too on an album that swings between the big ringing guitars and strident drum beats of something like Down The Road and Bringin’ It Back and slower organ backed southern soulful feel of How The Money Comes and Back To The Farm (Life Is Good) where thoughts of The Band are uppermost. He introduced a lazy laid-back jazzy swing to You And Me while long Weekend is a good time sunshine country chugger with fiddle and bar room piano. Not an immediate album, but the more you listen the cosier it becomes.
Love Your Dum And Mad (Apollo)
See what she did there? Hailing from a small north-east coastal village and with Norwegian-Pakistani heritage, Shah weaves disturbing, dark and swirly stories of lust, loss, regret and revenge, variously bedrocked by sparse but intense chugging guitar riffs, industrial clangs, brooding piano, haunting clarinet and relentless drums, often seeming (as on The Devil) to draw upon the drones of the songs her father sang in Urdu.
It’s an album of two halves, the first, featuring such numbers as the metallic edged Aching Bones and To Be A Young Man and the Cave-like Runaway with the second, appropriately ushered in with the jazzy Floating, a more hushed soundscape of sonic spider-webs and ice caves, captured on the likes of the splintered Used It All, piano waltzer Dreary Town and the sinewy Filthy Game with its minimal repeated keyboard pattern. Listening to that, it’s easy to understand why she’s been likened to Marianne Faithful and PJ Harvey though I’d also add New Zealand’s Jordan Reyne to the mix while her at times operatic vocals suggest the dark cabaret worlds of acts such as The Dresden Dolls. Not something you stick on for light background music, but resonating in a darkened room it’s a thing of some wonder. You should also check out her Dreary Town single which features her cover of Cry Me A River, suggesting Nina Simone may be in her CD collection too.
Someone’s Son (Own Label)
When you declare Waits, Springsteen and Dylan to be your major influences, then folks should have a pretty good idea of where your own music’s coming from. That’s certainly the case with Dublin singer-songwriter Eamonn O’Connor’s second album. Recorded in smalltown Texas with his current live band, it pulls together elements of folk, country, blue collar rock and his own Celtic heritage for a collection of songs that share a similar overcast shadow. Opener She Don’t Know sets a downcast lyrical mood that also permeates things like the rocking Please Don’t Pull Me Down, barstool ballad I Won’t Be Coming Home, the regret-streaked slow swaying title track., a waltzing Broken Love Song and Forever With Wings, all of which address bridges burned or relationships lost or battered.
He doesn’t just deal in broken hearts, Born To A Holy Land a biting folk-infused mid tempo rock commentary on the Middle East and the paradox of providing humanitarian aid to refugees while arming their persecutors, but he’s certainly at his best when his tugging at the heart rather than the conscience.
THE DIRTY GUV’NAHS
Somewhere Beneath These Southern Skies (Blue Rose)
From the opening throaty notes and rolling guitar riffs of Can You Feel It, you know you’re in for an album of classic Southern rock of the Crowes persuasion, mixed in with some Skynyrd and Allmans and a liberal helping of Exile on Main St, era Stones. As such, nothing disappoints as numbers like Honey You, Good Luck Charm, Lead Kindly Light, Goodnight Chicago and This Is My Heart serve up the expected mid tempo bluesy ballads, raunchy swagger, gospel soul and booze boogies, perfectly tuned for stadium crowd rousers, anthemic uplifts and chorus swayalongs. On the other hand, it’s all so perfect textbook that the music ultimately drowns out any sense of the band’s actual identity. Bet they’re volcanic live, though.
Cathedrals of Colour (Own Label)
Slightly reminiscent of The Hooters with their jangling acoustic guitars but also filtered through Kings of Leon and (as on Love Is A Fire) the yearning side of Coldplay (one of their acknowledged influences along with Death Cab For Cutie), the Austin quartet’s sophomore album is well worth seeking out. Opening with the chiming chug of Inch Of Rope, it’s packed with catchy hooks, toe tapping melodies and singalong choruses, frontman of Austin Jones delivering the songs with a soaring emotional quiver.
There’s a few slow numbers, Hospital World, The City At Night and a six minute Walls, but for the most part it’s infectiously upbeat with particular highlights in Your Eyes Shine In The Darkness, the soaring Love Is A Fire with its anthemic chorus and the jubilant title track. If they could muster the airfare for a promo tour, they could really strike a chord here.
GOO GOO DOLLS
Although Iris seems to be a regular Top 20 visitor, the Dolls have never really established themselves a commercial proposition on these shores, only one of their 10 albums having ever dented the Top 40. Their latest hasn’t brought about any change in fortunes, but, with lots of shouty choruses, simple chord sequence melodies, catchy hooks, it’s exactly the sort of thing high schoolers would have blaring out of the car stereos as they cruised the highways were such scenarios to exist in the UK. From the opening circular bubbling rhythm of Rebel Beat to the chugging Keep the Car Running, they play the sort of college rock that sells by truckloads to America’s teenagers and wannabes, numbers like When The World Breaks Your Heart, Last Hot Night and Slow It Down (which sounds a little like Hey There Delilah) purpose built for party or break-up scenes on shows like One Tree Hill. Maybe the magnetism just doesn’t have the same attraction here.
The Music of Joanna (Sospiro)
If you’re looking for something to listen to in a quiet room, the lights down and the mind receptive to thoughtful lyrics and affecting imagery, then Stevenage singer-songwriter Omer may well fit the bill. He’s got a soft-toned, husky voice, his strummed guitar complemented by producer Neill MacColl (harmonica, mandolin), Sarah Allen (flutes), Neil Cowley (piano), Kate St. John (oboe, harmonium, accordion) and rhythm section Simon Edwards and Martyn Barker, his delivery at times reminiscent of the 60s UK folk scene headed by Donovan and the young Al Stewart without actually sounding like either of them. That Dylan’s also an influence goes without saying.
A mingling of English and American folk, the songs variously adopt confessional and character perspectives, offering stories and parables as he addresses such subjects as mental illness (Strange Are The Ways), depression (That Old & Familiar Bed), and Freedom (There Is A Light) while Priests & Professors, Ferryville and The Golden Shore are all state of the nation observations. The inclusion of a cautionary tale about women’s wiles called The Odelisque, named for the concubines in an Ottoman seraglio, underline the literary nature of his lyrics while the closing soulful, organ backed title track suggests he may not be wholly unfamiliar with the work of Leonard Cohen.
THE ELECTRIC SOFT PARADE
Last heard of six years ago, brothers Alex and Thomas return with their fourth album, an unabashed soundtrack for a potential summer which, while sounding like a slightly low budget production, sparkles with all the requisite sunshine on melody laden songs that will instantly spur thoughts of Squeeze, The Beatles and The Beach Boys but also, notably on Brother, You Must Walk Your Path Alone, 60s Elusive Butterfly folkie Bob Lind.
Things dip somewhat on the jaunty cheeky chappie bounce of Mr Mitchell, which aspires to The Idle Race but ends up more Keith West, and the dreary piano backed Never Again, but with the Difford-Tilbrook sounding The Sun Never Sets Around Here, a dreamy acoustic seven minutes The Corner Of Highdown And Montefiore, Lily’s tumbling pop and the layered harmonies, tempo-shifting title track this will sound just perfect as you gather round the barbecue table.
Never heard of Leao? Chances are you’ve never heard of Madredeus either. They were apparently big in Portugal some twenty years ago, Leao being one of their guiding forces for a decade before embarking on a solo career. He’s also been dubbed Portugal’s answer to Brian Eno. If none of this spurs your interest, perhaps the fact that the album, a compilation drawn from the English language tracks on his last three albums with the addition of two new recordings, features vocals by Beth Gibbons, Stuart Staples, Neil Hannon and Joan As Policewoman.
Dreamy, cinematic and assuredly Latin-flavoured balladry is the default mode, often sounding as on the Hannon-sung Cathy) like they have been plucked from a stage musical soundtrack, but with Leao’s shifts in the musical time signatures; Lonely Carousel, sung by Gibbons, for example, is tango based with gypsy violin while Joan Wasser’s The Long Run is a fairground cabaret waltzer. Staples, as you might imagine, is all semi-spoken quivering emotion on the richly orchestral The Light Holds So Many Colours while elsewhere Scott Matthew (not Matthews) deserves plaudits for his hushed nicotine-stained duties on Terrible Dawn and Incomplete, as does the sultry Sonia Tavares and Leao’s regular collaborator Ana Veira who turn on the smoky jazz notes of the remaining three songs. Leao himself (or at least his musicians) is responsible for Lost Worlds, a brief instrumental that shows why he’s been kept busy as a film music composer over the years. One to nestle comfortably among your early Scott Walkers.
Young Folks (Rhino)
A double disc compilation of artists that share a loose ‘folk’ musical connection, it’s nothing of not eclectically comprehensive, ranging as it does from readily identifiable new folk acts such as Frightened Rabbit, First Aid Kit, Noah and the Whale and Bellowhead to rather more tenuous claimants like Ellie Goulding, Lianne La Havas and, er, Fun. Surprisingly, Alt-J (Something Good) and Kurt Vile (Air Bud) fit into context more than you might imagine, though making a case for Megan Wyler’s annoying Can’t Get You Out Of My Head is rather more difficult. With names that also include Jason Mraz, Cat Power, The Staves, Michael Kiwanuka, Alabama Shakes and James Vincent McMorrow, it’s a useful sampler that might hopefully lead on to discovering more about those who were less familiar.
The title referring to the large gatherings of flocks of swooping starlings as opposed to the track by Tall Ships, this is the second album by Oxford’s answer to Mumford And Sons, an indie folk pop five piece who write the sort of catchy melodies and clever lyrics that feel as though they’ve always been part of your life. Fronted by the Olly Wills, a man whose voice has a sort of Robin Gibb tremble that quivers with on the edge emotions, they say the album’s about ‘people leaving, about different paths and about moments and how they shape the memories traced in the songs’. Which translated means there’s plenty of both big chorus anthemic regret and curled up resignations, though jangle-folk album opener Morning News is clearly about the worrying increase in surveillance and the recent phone hacking scandals as Wills sings about how ‘they’re inside your television, inside your telephone, creeping through the carpet that they fitted in your home’.
It’s an impressive opener, but the rest of the album rarely dips below that standard with wistful reverie Sophia Loren and the broken-hearted Chimes swiftly providing two further highlights. Riding a chugging train rolling rhythm, Hudson is the sort of song to make Noah and the Whale think about chucking it all in, I Held You Once builds to a rousing festival-swaying anthemic chorus of ‘I held you once, it was the longest night of my life’, the brass burnished Ring On Her Finger takes the mood down to a more reflective note, enhanced by windswept electronics, with the line ‘she’s got that ring on her finger, time on her hands’ underlining Wills’ lyrical acumen.
Musician’s lament Another Band Has Gone adds a touch of folksy blues to its tale about playing to indifferent audiences, the album rolling to a close with Calling Out Your Name’s orchestral widescreen quivering moving on ballad, November has hints of both the Mumfords and Martin Stephenson with low key banjo, Morricone guitars and shifting percussive patterns, and, finally Into Daylight evokes the rising sun with a shimmering haze of electronics before distant, echoing vocals emerge like a call to prayer transmitted on beams of crystal. An album of the year without question.
Elvis Club (Blue Rose)
Founded in 1982 New York by Dictators guitarist Scott Kempner and featuring Manny Caiati, Eric Ambel, and Frank Funaro, all of whom took turns on lead vocals, the Del-Lords were one of the leading lights of what would come to be known as the urban roots-rock movement, a combination of blues, country, folk and 60s garage rock that majored on gritty guitars, frequently given a twang reverb, a pounding drums foundation, big major chords and swaggering rock n roll melodies. Their 1984 debut album, Frontier Days, and 1986 follow-up Johnny Comes Marching Home were greeted with critical enthusiasm, but rather less commercial success however, their third release, Based On A True Story proved the breakthrough they’d been waiting on, adding a crossover rock audience to their a fierce loyal following. Unfortunately, despite a solid fourth album in Lovers Who Wander, it wasn’t enough to sustain a career momentum and when Ambel quit shortly after, the band called it a day, Kempner joining forces with Dion Di Mucci and maintaining an ad hoc membership of The Dictators.
But now, 23 years after the last album, he’s regrouped the band, Michael Duclos replacing Caiati on bass, for arguably the strongest release of their career. All the signature elements are there, but, produced by Ambel, there’s a tougher, harder edge, evident on Me And The Lord Blues, the twangy classic-sounding When The Drugs Kick In, playful slide boogie Chicks, Man!, Princess and the steamrollering blues You Can Make A Mistake One Time. That’s complemented though by the softer, countrified sounds of the harmonica led Flying, wistful slow tempo love song Letter (Unmailed), where they come close to the sound of Mink DeVille, and, another Kempner lead vocal, All Of My Life.
Kempner’s again responsible for the material, although Mistake is a co-write with Ambel while the 60s tinged twangy pop Everyday seems them revisiting a number co-penned by DiMucci. There is, though, one cover, the album closing up with a rolling, rumbling version of Neil Young’s Southern Pacific with Ambel doing a pretty good impression of the man himself.
Unlikely to prompt any major career revival perhaps, but anyone who appreciates classic American guitar rock can’t go wrong with this.