record reviews september 2015


Contradictions (Billingham)

Paul Smith - Contradictions

A new solo offering by the Maximo Park frontman sees him working with a full band for a set of melodic indie pop that eschews his regular outfit’s jerky guitars for more of a chiming sound that’s reminiscent of such 80s guitar bands as The Woodentops, Lloyd Cole & The Commotions, The Cure and even Duran Duran (listen to Coney Island). It kicks off in infectiously catchy form with the rolling rhythms of The Deep End (where echoes of New Order also sound) from whence the album title comes, and, if it never quite sustains that same immediacy, the likes of The Smiths-toned Break Me Down, Before The Perspiration Falls (the most obvious MP sounding track) and Reintroducing The Red Kite with its oooh oohing backing vocals come very close. At 13 tracks there’s a few that feel a little like ex cess padding, and, one or two of them shade into sounding too similar. But, with a brief acoustic The Golden Glint providing a mid-way interlude, there’s more than enough here to keep Maximo fans happy and introduce him to a new audience too.

Mike Davies


Esteesee (Story)


For her fourth album, the Somerset-born folk singer-songwriter has turned to Romantic poet and druggie Samuel Taylor Coleridge for inspiration, the album featuring settings of his verses, songs inspired by his friends and family and even some based on his dinner table conversations. Joined by, amongst others, Breabach’s Patsy Reid on fiddle, viola and cello, Kate Rouse on hammered dulcimer, Archie Churchill-Moss on a diatonic accordion and Steve Knightley from Show of Hands providing lead vocals (Hardy interweaving behind him) on the Mother You Will Rue Me (a song about when Coleridge ran away from home after an argument with his brother when he was eight and later admitted a sense of satisfaction on making his mother miserable). Opening with the intricate circling melody of The Foster Mother’s Tale, the tale of an abandoned baby and his subsequent fate (that also has Knightley on harmonies) and slipping into the shanty-flavoured My Shanty (inspired by The Ancient Mariner, as is slow march The Curse of the Dead Man’s Eye which has Watchet town crier David Milton reciting the famous water water everywhere lines) with Hardy on whistle and Jo May on spoons, it’s a fabulous album, Hardy again proving she’s as adept at crafting authentically traditional sounding song as she is singing them.

There’s not an even remotely weak number here, though particular note to should be made of the light, skipping Friends of Three relating to ST’s hill-roaming friendship with the Wordsworths, the moodier, sparser George (about his older brother), the harp-accompanied medieval style setting of Epitaph On An Infant and the jazzy viola-plucked Might is in The Mind drawn from an anecdote about then poets table talk.

Naturally, you can’t make an album about Coleridge without at least one number about his legendary opium trip vision, Kubla Khan, but rather than try and weave it into a song, Hardy has called on Tamsin Rosewell to recite the poem in full with herself and Rouse providing the musical accompaniment. Works a treat.

The album closes with two songs named for the poet himself, Along The Coleridge Way, Hardy playing harp as she talks of the 51-mile footpath from Nether Stowey to Lynmouth that led to her discovery of his work, and Elegy for Coleridge, a military-like snare-drum and whistle arrangement of extracts from his self-written epitaph. Coming complete with a booklet containing the lyrics and notes, this is without question one of the folk albums of the year.

Mike Davies


Let It Be (Self Released)


Hailing from County Antrim, by day Murphy’s a psychiatric nurse, an often fairly depressing job, which may well explain why he feels the need to make an album that’s bursting with exuberance and big, catchy pop melodies driven by ringing guitars. He burst out from the opening track, the brass punched Americana rocker Once Upon A Time, repeating the energy and infectious beat on the, Lone Star Heart, slightly folksier Meet Me On The Other Side, the chugging I Smell A Rat with its doo wop backing vocals and the trumpet flourished The Life Of Brian’s Son.

It’s not all so pumped up. Here Goes Nothing is more midtempo anthemic acoustic Heartland rock with a jangly guitar while Not In My Name is an alt-country waltzer and the album plays out with the stripped down acoustic folk of the romantic disillusionment The Idiot and the strings burnished touching ballad Ghosts.

Think Mellancamp, early Ryan Adams, a bit of Jon Bon Jovi’s country aspects and drop in a hint of Belfast accent and you’re on the right path. It takes nerve to share your album title with one of the Beatles’ classic songs, but Murphy has the bottle and the talent to pull it off.

Mike Davies


Home (Quiet Crown)


If you have the balls to adopt the name of one of the Go-Betweens’ seminal songs your own music had best measure up to the reference. As it turns out, fronted by the twin vocals of brother and sister Joe and Helen Hammill, the Middlesborough quintet’s long anticipated debut album is certainly up to the task. A former single, Pull Down The Moon was sepia-toned Americana rootsy pop while the gutsy The Poacher showed they could rough it up, drawing on blues and trad folk equally, and that’s pretty much the territory they range between here. Opening up with the driving rhythm of Skies with its soaring chorus and tinges of Buckingham and Nicks, they balance between the poppier, more urgent, drums and guitars led cuts like Come Home and Belle and the softer, slower and more reflective numbers such as the delicate Red, the stripped back acoustic 60s tinted We Were Children, a fingerpicked Sold My Soul and crooning Orbison meets the Everlys ballad Then You Came Along. The inclusion of Dancing shows they can pull it off live too. It took five years until they felt the songs were ready to commit to history. It’s been time well spent, now you should share yours with them.

Mike Davies 2020