record reviews june 2014

JONES

To The Bone (MeMe Records)

Scan 2

I’ve had a copy of this record for ages now, so long it’s become a first choice ‘go to’ when I need music to stir the senses. It’s been with me soundtracking train journeys through English landscapes both lashed by rain and painted in pre-summer sun and it’s been ideal for both.

Jones – Trevor Jones, one half of the mighty Miracle Mile – is both a deft lyricist and composer with a beguiling ability to find a commonality in his personal situations and to then couch it in both words and tunes that, to borrow his title get right ‘to the bone’. And if that suggests a mood of reflection throughout the record, it’s spot on. Jones addresses friendships, relationships and the fragility of life itself within these fourteen songs often provoking a strong emotional / cerebral response with a phrase or observational angle that hits home in the listener. Indeed a damp eye has almost become a hallmark response to new works from the man.

Stylistically, it’s easy to draw comparisons to Paul Buchanan and Paddy McAloon, both artists who’ve similarly refined and distilled their craft over the years but it’s also possible to find glimpses of other craftsmen in these songs. Indeed the work of Johnny Mercer / Henry Mancini is alluded to a couple of times towards the end of the record.

One thing that can be easily overlooked is just how fine a singer Jones is; it’s a very English soulful sound he makes, not great in a classic vocal sense but emotionally available and intimately fragile, both great and rare qualities. It helps that Miracle Mile partner and producer Marcus Cliffe captures this with breathtaking clarity. And speaking of Cliffe, mention must be made too of the gorgeous textures he weaves behinds Jones’ vocals and the excellent sonic quality he brings to their work. Spotlight too on Melvin Duffy whose pedal steel and dobro filigrees are a joy throughout.

What is perhaps most astonishing is that Trevor Jones, whether solo or as a part of Miracle Mile, has released some sixteen or so albums to date with each being a genuine step forward from the last. One reviewer has already tagged this one the best yet – until the next! And I really can’t add anything to that except to say that this is a genuine gem that you really do need to hear – often.

Steve Morris

BLUE SKIES FOR BLACK HEARTS 

Self-Titled (Velvafonic)

blue skies

The accompanying blurb suggests you’ll be into the Portland outfit if you like Big Star, Buddy Holly and Teenage Fan Club while citing a review that described them as a fusion of John Lennon and Brian Wilson. All of which is slightly over optimistic. Certainly, they have a definite retro feel of simple  60s power pop n soul (accentuated by the tinny production) and there’s a pleasing ringing guitar rush to many of the songs and Pat Kearns’ vocals have an appropriate nasal twang. However, while the likes of Keep on Keeping On, Nothing Came In The Mail, Waiting To Run and Don’t Look Back (wow, cowbells) sound fine with the car windows down and the sun and breeze behind you, the songs themselves don’t really stand up to close lyrical inspection. Great for a beach party, but probably not one to mention in the same breath as No 1 Record or Grand Prix. 

Mike Davies

 WILL STRATTON 

Gray Lodge Wisdom (Talitres)

will stratton

Titled from bed-ridden repeated viewings of Twin Peaks and recorded while undergoing chemotherapy for testicular cancer, rather inevitably the experience is reflected in the material, the swirling title track with its steady drum beat and Tamara Hope’s backing vocals and the simple acoustic Fate Song with its ambient cosmic whirl intro, both meditations on survival. But, as the fingerpicking New York based singer-songwriter says, it’s not a cancer record as such, more about being grateful for the life we have and about the wisdom we accrue from confronting the contrasting perspectives of darkness and light. 

The two cuts frame the album, and in between it’s mostly simple, sparsely arranged fingerpicked folk that, in both his playing and slightly husked breathy vocal variously conjures thoughts of Simon (particularly on Wild Rose), Drake and McLean. A new clarity of appreciation of the world around him is evident on Long Live The Hudson River Valley and the strings-laced Dreams Of Big Sur, both of which are dazzling showcases of the intricacy and complexity of his instrumental skills. The same holds true of  the equally strings-heavy Yeah, I’ll Requite Your Love (”maybe there’s time for one more go at this game”) and the slightly simpler picking of country blues The Arrow Darkens where he muses “are we immune to natural beauty?”  The strings are, perhaps, over-used and the songs might have benefited from a sparser approach, but the cumulative effect remains hugely engaging, 

Mike Davies

DRIVING MRS SATAN 

Popscotch (AquaLoca)

mrs satan

Based in Naples and London and fronted by Claudia Sorvillo, the acoustic trio (double bass, uke, guitars) take heavy metal numbers and reinterpret them as soft jazzy indie pop. This has, of course, all been done many times before, most notably by Gothenburg outfit Hellsongs, and, after a while the novelty does rather pall. Here, the trio take on songs by Helloween (I Want Out), Motorhead (Killed By Death), Black Sabbath (Never Say Die0, AC/DC (Hell’s Bells) and three from Iron Maiden (Killers, 2 Minutes To Midnight, Can I Play With Madness), rearranging them and investing them with lush pop sheens and whispery vocals that makes them unrecognizable from the originals while imparting certain post-modern ironic contrast between the sound and the lyrics.

There are moments of undeniable inspiration (the pizzicato pop treatment of Metallica’s Battery, the samba styled 2 Minutes To Midnight) and loveliness (Faith No More’s From Out Of Nowhere) here, but they would be advised to quit while they’re ahead before (as Hayseed Dixie will tell you) the law of diminishing returns sets in. 

Mike Davies

 

FAGERVALL BJÖRKENVALL 

The Silence (ROOTSY Nu)

fagervall

Not the easiest of names to pronounce, the is a duo comprised of Tony Björkenvall and Markus Fagervall, both well known in their own right in their  native Sweden, the former fronting a country rock outfit and the latter as a winner of Swedish Idol. Coming together, they’ve produced an album of darkly melancholic pop that highlights their deep vocals and harmonies, influences of the Everlys, the Lumineers and Simon & Garfunkel sharing space with touches of a-Ha and  The Eagles.

These are huge soaring pop ballads, driven by piano and guitar, big on melody and harmony and packed with hooks and catchy choruses, ranging from the bustling summery bounce of I Can’t Lose You Now and the handclap beat of Oh My Love to the banjo accompanied  widescreen feel of Another Man’s Shoes, the country rippling Drunk On Grey and the acoustic country rock sway of the Swedish sung Kruumvamies. Not one likely to get mass exposure, but certainly well worth seeking out. 

Mike Davies

 

BUFORD POPE

Sticks In The Throat (Unchained)

buford

As you might expect from someone named Buford, this is steeped in the South, a Southern country rock twang and drive permeating the album’s 11 cuts. Surprising, then, to discover he actually hails from Gotland in Sweden. Nonetheless, this sounds pretty authentic, whether he’s cutting up a  bluesy strut as on Stand Up For Your Man, in the seat for a Segerish swaggering rock n roll Don’t take It Out On Me or  delivering Rod-like throaty husk on She’s Gotta Country Mouth. Ultimately leaning more in a bluesy rock than country direction, it’s not doing anything new or particularly memorable, but while it’s on there’s never any inclination to reach the skip button. Mike Davies

THE RISING SOULS 

Self-Titled (Self Released)

rising souls

An Edinburgh trio fronted by Dave Archibald, a man described as a cross between Paul Rodgers and Paulo Nutini, bluesy soul and roots is the order of the day, delivered with powerhouse vocals and a dirty groove that can’t fail to evoke thoughts of early Free and Van Morrison. Don’t Say You Love Me kicks things off in muscular form with a pulsing riff and Archibald wailing well well well in classic blues mode, moving on to the jazzy itch of Monster, Fool In Time’s Frankie Millerish country skip and the chugging bluesy strut The Boxer. Probably better live where they tend to take off into bluesy jams, but even so, turn this up load and it you’ll find the walls starting to sweat.

Mike Davies

CHRIS DEVOTION AND THE EXPECTATIONS 

Break Out (Armellodie)

devotion

Swaggering fuzzy guitar Glaswegian new wave rock  with no pretentions to be anything else, as opener Saddest Things indicates, Devotion clearly spent time listening to early Costello, Only Ones and Buzzcocks albums, never taking time out for anything much below the strident  high octane rock n roll until On The Line winds things up on an acoustic ballad. That it’s the weakest track indicates where the strengths lie, the four piece swaggering through  rough, ready and rowdy  riffs and melodies of  From Your Lips, Saddest Thing, and Looking For Another Girl with particular stands outs in If You Wanna Leave where the Ramones meet the Small Faces and When The Girl Comes To Town which arrives like Jonathan Richman and leaves like The Replacements. No frills, no fuss, all fun. 

Mike Davies

VICTOR CAMOZZI  

Cactus & Roses

carmozzi

Big of drawling vocal, guitar twang and beard, Camozzi is firmly in the mould of Texas outlaw country rock with echoes of such names as Steve Earle, Robert Earl Keen, Kristofferson  and, on the title track and Ballad  Of The Mystiqueros, Tom Russell.

This is his third album and is pretty much a textbook example of the genre, packed with waltzing melodies, songs about broken hearts, drinking, loss and living the hard life sporting titles like Bottom Of My Broken Heart, The Lost Girl, Crooked and Daddy Don’t Do Cocaine, a song in which, while he may drink, make his wife cry and get high, the head of the household is clearly a loving father because he don’t snort the white stuff. Who said Americans don’t do irony?

It’s not going to elevate him to the ranks of those he calls to mind, but if any of them have a place in your collection, Camozzi will fit perfectly well alongside. 

Mike Davies

© roots-and-branches.com 2014