mike davies february 2013

Featuring original members Pauline Black and Gaps Hendrickson, 2 Tone ska outfit THE SELECTER follow up 2011’s Made In Britain with String Theory (Vocaphone), again combining the political and the personal with some good time dance music.

string theory

Recalling their ska version of the James Bond Theme from the debut album, they open proceedings with The Avengers Theme from the iconic 60s TV series, Gaps toasting about the man in the bowler hat over the hiccupping rhythm. The 60s provides a second cover with Black warbling her way through Kathy Kirby hit, Secret Love.

The first of the political numbers comes with Prince Among Men, a strong chorus and hook in service of an anthem to those who have sought to give a voice to those tyranny has silenced, while elsewhere the choppy, brass lurching pop Flatworld addresses the disconnection from reality created by technology and social networking, High Hair concerns itself with how, a people live longer, they (and especially women) are increasingly trying to hang on to the youth for which the world is now geared and, the title prophetically echoing The Clash classic, London’s Burning looks at the events and causes of the 2011 riots .


Warrior (about finding strength within yourself after knock backs) and the pop chorus friendly ska-jazz Doors Ever Open (learning to move on) turn the focus inward, while rhyming plebian with pro-European, Post Modern takes a wry dig at those with an inflated opinion of themselves and, displaying a sense of humour sometimes lost in the earnestness, the album closes with 667 (The Neighbour of the Beast), an infectious ska meets soca duet about disappointment (“sixes and sevens let me down”), though it could have done without their chat about what the album title means.

Musically, it’s not pushing any boundaries (there’s certainly nothing as ambitious as in their early days) and the production’s a bit thin and uneven at times, but they’ve always been more of a potent live force and you suspect that it’s on stage where the songs are going to sound best.

toy hearts

It looks like we may be losing TOY HEARTS to America. The Birmingham swing and bluegrass family trio have been invited to move to the States where they have been declared ‘culturally important’, and while initially this is only intended to be for a few months, the response they’ve been receiving may make it a more permanent relocation.

mellow peaches

With a name like MELLOW PEACHES you would image they came from the American south, but in fact Amit Dattani (guitar, banjo, slide, kalimba) and Richard Harris (guitar, harmonica, mandolin) hail from Dudley in the heart of the UK’s Black Country. The duo have been busy gigging and building a name for themselves, both locally and further afield, for the past two years, working up to debut album I’ll Go Down With This Ship (Own Label).

Dattani says they play country blues, but while that’s a convenient blanket tag there’s a little bit more to it than that. Ragtime is a major element with jug band music and the sounds of Appalachia feeding in to while among their influences they variously cite Mississippi John Hurt Blind Blake, Nic Jones, and Skip James. This might give you a better idea of where they’re coming from, though the two comparisons that immediately came to my mind were John Fahey and Leo Kottke.

From the opening Just A Chain And This Horseshoe of Mind, it’s blindingly obvious that here are two dazzlingly accomplished guitarists, their fingers flying over the frets fast than the human eye can follow. Listen to that and, were it not for the accents, you’d readily believe it was forged in the heart of the Delta. Even more impressive is that, save for a playful jug band version of Charleston featuring kazoo and washboard and the closing trad blues Ain’t No Grave (a number referenced in the opening cut), the material’s all self-penned but sounds coated with the dust of time, particularly Dattani’s banjo showcase Woodbine and the stomping, mandolin driven Mayflower which climaxes in a drunken revel of horns and cajon.

There are other influences at work too, talking blues Gravity has a definite air of Ramblin’ Jack Elliott (though I doubt he’d have found need to include the f word) while Ernest is a spooked kalimba and guitalele instrumental, guitar led instrumental Canary has a strong Catalonian air, while, closer to home, both Lighthouse Keeper and the title track have a 60s folk British flavour, putting me in mind of names like Donovan, Jansch and Don Partridge. A hugely accomplished and pleasurable debut, it’s ripe for the picking and sweet to the taste.

roots-and-branches.com 2014