record reviews february 2018


Don’t Talk About It (Bloodshot)

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Born Beth Chilcott in Perth, leaving home at 14 she eventually wound up in Nashville and, sow signed to Bloodshot, this is her second album, one that draws on blues, country, rock and soul alike, all delivered in a gutsy, no-nonsense voice. It opens in no prisoners style with It’s So Cruel, a 70s Southern rock swagger with a sheen of T Rex glam about an adulterous relationship, moving on to the Hispanic doo wop roots of Believe In Heaven with its plangent riffing guitars, tribal thump drums and plucked strings.

The twangsome title track is a moodier, softer affair that calls to mind the country female genre of the 60s, and even has some chiming bells in there, cranking the tempo back up again for the walking bassline country pop Easy Way Out before hitting further balladeering heights on the sad sway Break My Heart Twice.

There’s more twang reverbing on I’ll Make It Through co-penned with fellow rising Nashville country name Nikki Lane, the track taking a tangent into a dreamy, stripped back section before the final crescendo. Somebody Else is another driving throbber, her twangy vocals marrying to a powerpop groove that suggests a country Blondie, but it’s I Am A Woman, sung near a capella with just a hint of faint organ in the background reinforcing its traditional spiritual colours, that, strikingly a timely note, that proves the album’s solid gold heart.

It’s a hard act to follow and, while solid enough, the rocking Infatuation and the reflective Southern country blues barroom swagger Don’t Give A Damn inevitably sound somewhat like an anti-climax. Such minor quibbles aside, this seems set to see Ms Boots leaving a sizable footprint on this year’s country scene.

Mike Davies


A Glasgow Band (Armelodie)


Based, as you might gather, in Glasgow, Cruickshanks offers up diverse cocktail of Scottish pop that doesn’t necessarily always hang together as a cohesive whole but does afford some engaging individual moments. Youth Never Dies kicks it all off with a surging two-minute instrumental before the Glitter Band rumbling, tumbling pop beat of CAAGB which, in turns, folds into the swayalong love song For A Girl, though perhaps the guitar work’s a little too harsh for the sentiments.

Although there’s a tendency to clutter them up with overly complex guitar patterns, he’s at his best on the simple pop songs like Michael, which has a definite touch of both tropical breezes and early Who, the chugging bass riffs of Superman, Cosmic Star and the summery jangle and cascading chords of Dreams on which he’s joined by fellow Glasgow folkie Siobhan Wilson on backing vocals.

Mike Davies


Shadow People (Because Music)


A Perpignan-based French psych-surf pop White Stripes format duo of Lionel on vocals, guitar and keys and Marie on drums and vocals, delivered in both French and English and opening with the 60s garage sound instrumental Ouverture, it’s not hard to hear both Spector and Velvets influences at work. The former notably so on the reverb guitar shoegazing feel of the spoken Le Premier Jour with its clear Serge Gainsbourg nod, the latter in the underpinning melody line and Lionel’s vocal style on Istanbul Is Sleepy.

Reverb guitar and drums dominate throughout, but there are shadings, such as the acoustic touches to the title track, sung by guest vocalist, actress Emmanuelle Seigner, and the synths percolating through Dimanche. Devotees of early Jesus and Mary Chain and New Order should duly swoon over The Gift, fittingly featuring Peter Hook while the instrumental Motorizatti Marie provides the album’s most strident garage rock stomp, the whole thing ending on another instrumental, the slow gathering De La Part Des Dopains which, featuring police sirens and trumpet, is named for the original French title of Charles Bronson’s 1970 thriller Cold Sweat and draws upon the spaghetti western colours of Morricone. Decouvrir.

Mike Davies


Tell Your Friends (Prediction)


The former drummer with Kaiser Chiefs, leaving after the third album to become a jobbing songwriter, as the main writer Hodgson was largely responsible for penning the likes of I Predict A Riot and Ruby, going write material for the likes of Mark Ronson, Q –Tip and Shirley Bassey, not to mention Feels Like Summer from the Shaun the Sheep movie. This marks his return to recording himself and, as such, it’s a passably pleasant collection of 70s-shaded pop with synths, guitars that might, in places, call to mind McCartney and Difford/Tilbrook. However, he seems to have kept his weakest songs for himself, his rather nasally and reedy vocals not helping to dissuage the feeling of a general lack of excitement and a surfeit of studio polish. There’s moments when, as with the strings-laden ballad Suitable, a bouncy My Own American Dream and the Squeeze meets Supertramp opener RSVP, it almost overcomes the limitations, but nothing in the delivery ever persuades you he’s got any involvement in them. The last track’s titled Don’t Forget To Sleep; shouldn’t be a problem. Tell your friends not to bother.

Mike Davies


sad song

Worth (Passive Aggressive)

When not drumming for Frank Turner, Nigel Powell has his own solo venture, this being the third album and one that draws more on the folk infused progressive rock he explored as part of The Unbelievable Truth. Very much an inward-looking confessional album and featuring Ryan Robinson on guitars, Jason Moulter providing bass on four tracks and Turner and Kat Jones among the backing vocals, it opens with Lifestyles, a rumbling drum rhythm and loose limbed acoustic guitar biblically-referencing number about seeking redemption that has him singing “Christ ran away from here” and asking “is John prepared to wet my head, even though I say I don’t believe?”

There’s more positivity here than is customary for Powell, the bubbling bass beats and skittering percussive notes of I Don’t See It driving a song about how there’s always a light out there and “there’s always hope even if you don’t see it yourself.”

The Einmal Is Keinmal, Islands and Lonely is A State of Mind are three successive tracks chronicling a recent relationship, the first another dark shaded bass and electronic beats throb counterpointed by hazy vocal clouds, the last, co-written with Chris T-T, a striding pop rhythm with tumbling chords, the two sandwiching a spare two-minute ballad etched solely on electric piano.

T-T also had a hand in The Body Beautiful, a dramatic, almost theatrical ballad which has an almost Floydian element to it, along with a Radiohead sheen, doubtless down to the involvement of their engineer, Graeme Stewart.

What You Make Of It is another lively rhythmic number, the piano and percussive beats giving it a sort of Andalucian feel, the album closing with the self-declaratory Worth My Bones with its a capella intro and almost Aboriginal tribal rhythm and finally, again sounding Floyd echoes, the near nine-minute epic Wounded Lion, electronics, drums and a Gilmour-esque guitar solo building from a brooding introduction to a swelling crescendo as, with another Biblical reference in ‘doubting Thomas’, it contemplates the country’s political upheaval over the past two years. One that you need to sit down and really listen to, the patience and focus brings potent rewards.

Mike Davies


Full Circle Nightmare (SubPop)


Punky powerpop cum folk rock, Louisiana bred, Portland-based Craft’s third album is an unabashed autobiographical rock n roll journey through love and loss fuelled by the titular and perhaps emblematic heartbreaker. Kicking down the door it opens with the surging Fever Dream Girl, a similarly ebullient approach to be found on Belmont (One Trick Pony) while, maybe it’s me, but album closer Golden Calf Moan has the feel of a big MeatLoaf lost love ballad.

Along the way, there’s also a nod to his bluegrass roots on Exile Rag, some Creedence-style guitar to the military march beat ballad Heartbreak Junky (“You were a jet plane, I was a parachute failing") that eventually spills out into an organ-backed Southern country rocker.

A particular stand out is the midtempo femme fatale portrait The Rager, though the piano and country twang meets glam driven Fake Magic Angel, the Dylanish swayer Bridge City Rose and, featuring some warm horns, the wistful sway of Slick & Delta Queen all run it close. It traverses a variety of musical landscapes, but the ride always has a view worth taking in.

Mike Davies


Roller Coaster Ride (Self-Released)


A four-piece fronted by Anders Bodin, this is, basically, a Swedish take on Status Quo, this 4-track EP a taster for both 2018’s upcoming Eye To Eye and also featuring two cuts from their Rock It The Right Way album. As you’ll gather, there’s nothing original here, but fans of the signature Quo pop boogie sound will undoubtedly enjoy the catchy British rockpop of the title track and the heads down, hair shaking Vacation.

Mike Davies


I Like Fun (LoJinx)


Their style and sound hasn’t greatly changed since the debut album some 30 years ago, but if you’re a fan of that then the latest from John Linnell and John Flansburgh will undoubtedly check all the boxes you want. Playful, absurdist lyrics, handclaps, horns and quirky hyper pop melodies that deceptively couch songs of death, disappointment and dread featuring such lines as “We die afraid. We live in terror” and “the grave is the loneliest place” on album closer Last Wave or the apocalyptic pessimism of “By the time you get this note, a millennium from now, we’ll have all gone up in smoke” from By The Time You Get This.

Clocking in at 15 tracks, it’s mostly musically uptempo, with only The Microphone and the wheezing The Greatest shading towards balladry and the wilful art-pop eccentricities mostly limited to the title cut and McCafferty’s Bib. Those who haven’t succumbed to their idiosyncrasies will doubtless find this as irritating as anything they’ve released, but 32 years on, they’re clearly doing something right for someone.

Mike Davies

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