record reviews april 2014


 Homeward (Taylored)


Not to be confused with Dropkick Murphys, five years the Glasgow five piece were hailed as Scotland’s 3rd best band, I suspect they may have slipped a little further down the list since then. Drawing on such influences as Wilco, Petty, the Everlys (notably on Some People) and the Lemonheads and fronted by brothers Andrew and Alastair Taylor, they trade in a soulful and (mostly) mellow country power pop Americana, lush with harmonies and yearning chords and melodies, This is their 12th album, so the chance of them making some overnight mainstream crossover breakthrough is probably rather slim, but, while none of the songs bite you on the arm and refuse to let go,  they do make an appealing noise that, laced with pedal steel on four tracks,  will appeal to long standing admirers of Teenage Fanclub and nostalgic Marmalade  fans.

Although there’s some squally noise to the opening of When it Starts and both Halfway Round Again and Style have a  relatively strident beat, the album’s default mode is mid-tempo acoustic strum (Come Home, Wishing) on occasion (the piano accompanied Butterfly and Carry Me Home and the organ backed Rainbows) slipping into dreamy balladry. As undeniably pleasant as it is ephemeral, they’re worth sharing a night with but you won’t be inviting them to move in. 

Mike Davies


Sweet The Love That Meets Return (Self Released)


Produced by Danny George Wilson of Danny and the Champions of the World, the bearded Dorset-based singer-songwriter’s debut album should warm the hearts of those whose CD collection include the likes of Roddy Frame, Prefab Sprout, Boo Hewardine and, well, Danny and the Champions of the World. Featuring Wilson on organ and harmonium, some lovely pedal steel from Harry Senior and Bethany Porter on cello, it melds sometimes bitter lyrics with winning sun-kissed melodies and catchy chorus hooks, as perfectly exemplifed by I Did Things I Shouldn’t Have Done, Michael and the bluesily flavoured Red Leaves On The Cherry Tree (a title that nods to his other career as an artist) where he shows a touch of ballad-mode Lennon.

Save for almost working up a sweat on the twangy Broken Hearts tale of loss and jaunty summery pop opener I Remember Us, it’s content to maintain a steady, laid back pace, allowing the instruments to breathe and Millson’s sweet voice to work its spell. Only a couple of numbers stand out individually, but taken as a whole this is a very respectable first outing that promises a rewarding future. 

Mike Davies


Burnt Offerings (Bucketfull Of Brains)


Born on the outskirts of Turin and now based in London, Miller’s third album continues his cocktail of folk, desert noir country and rock that’s earned comparison to the likes Jeffrey Lee Pierce, the Walkabouts and Gene Clark but mostly, and especially on Lupita Dream and  the woozy Sands Of Time, Lee Hazelwood.  As you might imagine, there’s a definite 60s feel to things, notably so on the folk rock of Your Black Heart, Pictures From A Different World and Boulevard Of Souls, with plenty of Horse With No Name styled loping rhythms and ghostly desert guitars to match the visionary imagery as the album plots the descent of two lives towards disintegration on a spiral of destructive passion.

The doom-laden shanty-influenced Sorrow Knows Better turns up the noise and distortion slightly with a searing guitar solo and the album bids farewell with the psychedelia steeped, mystical (and slightly Dylaneqsue) On The Stone Beach. Burn offerings they may be, but there’s some lingering flavour here. 

Mike Davies


Weightless (True North)

matt a

Best known as a gruff-voiced blues guitarist, this latest finds Andersen summoning thoughts of the young Joe Cocker and Marc Cohn with grooves fattened by organ and horns. Those with an aversion to the blues can safely approach this, the sound tempering his more familiar inclinations with soul and country colours, even featuring pedal steel on several cuts, notably so on So Easy and Drift Away, a broken-hearted swayer strong enough to survive sharing its title with Dobie Gray’s classic.

I’m less enamoured with the bar room  blues rocking working man  homage City Of Dreams, a song more likely to impress in a live context, but the funky blues gospel closer What Will You Leave with its fat horns and backing singers, the r&b shuffling Alberta Gold, the title track’s marriage of Southside Johnny and Little Feat and the emotional slow burn double punch ballad whammy of  Let’s Go To Bed and Between the Lines all have the feel of classic Muscle Shoals. 

Mike Davies


Forcefield (Memphis Industries)


Unless you happen to be some earnest prog outfit, opening your album with a three part, near nine minute could be potential commercial suicide. TPC don’t play prog, they play guitar based college pop rock (or at least they do now) that’s generally interchangeable with the dozens of other US bands doing the same thing to varying degrees of success.

As such it does, of course, set them apart from the herd, but more importantly they manage to pull it off with Argentina (Parts I, II, III) , romping from the drum bashing bouncy pop punk  to an organ and backed slower passage before closing out with some skirling guitar work.  That out of the way, the remainder keeps things to the three minute mark, kicking off with the chugging radio friendly, chorus singalong  Hot Tonight and following on with a succession of power chord laden numbers like Miserable, Gonna Be Ready, Toy Guns and the strolling down the street feel of  ThroughThe Wire while the bass throbbing Tunnel Vision  nods to garage punk.

Long time fans may get a bit sniffy about such blatant hit chasing, but if you just want to turn up the noise and have a good bounce around  the room, this serves as well as any.

 Mike Davies


Silver Ladder (Signature Sounds)


On his past albums, the Milwaukee native's dust coated husk of a voice and playing has evoked both JJ Cale and Mark Knopfler , Neither are absent here, the bluesy opening Lies You Forgot You Told  in particular riding the Cale trail and What Else Was It? recalling the latter, but you may also find yourself thinking of John Hiatt on several cuts while  the slow waltzing Remember the Milkman (with Nickel Creek’s Sara Watkins on harmony) can’t help but recall Dr. Hook’s Dennis Locorriere.

Elsewhere Sympathies has a Stonesy swagger, You Don’t Have To Tell Me is a more country sounding uptempo shuffle than he’s done in recent years, Trempealeau is lovely love song ripple  and  the strummed Back In the Wind is positively folk pop exuberance. But then he throws a curve as Copenhagen Airport arrives with a distorted rumble and menacing searchlight sweeping groove, a virtual instrumental save for the  two line lyric which arrives midway, If You Shoot At A King You Must Kill Him is a semi-spoken brooding, atmospheric, apocalyptic fever dream with its roots in the beat poetry movement and Landfall provides a simple strings and keyboard pulse closing coda. Ever an ambitious and powerful artist, under the guiding hand of producer Chuck Prophet, this may be his strongest work to date. 

Mike Davies


Mess (Mute)


The New York avant rock trio can always be relied on to be  experimental and unpredictable listening. 2012’s WIXIW saw a return to the heavily electronic nature of the debut. They Threw Us All In A Trench And Stuck A Monument On Top, and this stays on the same path,  intermingling the difficult and demanding  moments of Can’t Hear Well, Boyzone and  the nine minute drip-torture tribal drone Perpetual Village with the comparatively electro-pop accessibility of the Numanesque relentlessly marching Vox Tuned D.E.D, I’m No Gold and (after its bizarre computer-speak ‘take my pants off’ intro) Mask Manager’s krautrock disco and the defanged PiL of Dress Walker.  Ending with Left Speaker Blown’s  seven minute  wasteland minimalism, they’re probably best experienced in either a strobe-filled 3am nightclub or a flotation tank. 

Mike Davies


This New Day (Self Released)


The Abergavenny trio kick off their debut in confident form with the title track, a surging fast-slow mix of post hardcore hammering drums, chest beating guitars and anthemic riffs. Unfortunately, that’s where the ideas end with pretty much all of the other nine tracks repeating the formula, the exceptions being ballads by dint of cutting out the faster bits. They’ve been mentioned in the same breath as early U2, Simple Minds, Funereal For A Friend and Stiff Little Fingers and it presumably won’t be long before someone drops an Alarm reference too, but while the live experience might be energetic noise, at the end of the day they have neither the memorable melodies nor the songs to sustain the comparisons. 

Mike Davies


Haul Away! (Play It Again Sam)

liz green

If you had to tie a tag to the Manchester contemporary folk singer, then perhaps a female Brel may not be too amiss. There’s  certainly a heady whiff of him on the album’s sea-themed title track which also nods to the Brecht-Weill brand of cabaret.  To which end, Rybka transports you to some Eastern European gypsy campfire or tavern, Pirate Jenny doubtless lurking in the shadows, Where The River Don’t Flow (apparently an upbeat song born from a fascination with death rituals) reinforcing the fancy with a mazurka coating. On the other hand, banjo driven trad-shaded drone blues opener Battle  has a stark backwoods air while Penelope is all Spanish tarantella and  the wonky waltzing  Into My Arms and the piano-tinkling Bikya bring you right back to English music hall.

It’s an intoxicating brew for a set of songs (and one piano based instrumental, Little i) addressing words, communication, ideas of home, love and death, heavily steeped in imagery of water (two have River in the title and the cover shows her part body-painted with a blue sea) which seems almost ironic given the earthy feel of the arrangements and melodies, an elemental touch compounded by the belching tuba on Empty Handed Blues.

Her debut album announced the arrival of an idiosyncratic new voice on the indie folk scene, this cements her position at its heart. 

Mike Davies


Spectre (Mute)


Still going relatively strong after their peak during the late 80s/early 90s when they were de rigueur at goth clubs, the Slovakian collective (singer – or more accurately growler - Milan Fras here counterpointed by Mina Spiler) continue to deliver dense industrial dance (mingled with rock and choral elements) with heady power to the people/reject nationalism political content.  The recent events in the Ukraine have again given them relevance, though, to be honest, after some 30 years they are running a little low on new ideas. That said, they’re not as earnest as the label would suggest (they did after all do an album of national anthem covers), and on opening track Whistleblowers (yes, they whistle), a non specific tribute to the likes of Manning, Snowden and Assange, they’re actually quite playful and it’s hard to take their liver liver liver chant on the (sort of) rock n rolling Eat Liver! Too seriously.

Musically pitched somewhere between Suicide, Dépêche Mode and Yello, they’re canny enough to ensure the great percentage of their invective comes wrapped up in accessible and invigorating melodies and rhythms, numbers such as  the leviathan-like crawl of No History, the martial beat of Bossanova (apparently "a declaration of war against all oppressive rulers and political systems") and Americana all worming their way into the bloodstream. The album proper closes with Spiler delivering Koran, a delicate pulse of a song built around a series of idealistic platitudes while Fras growling interjects ‘words are nice, words are memories of pain’. Great industrial-goth  party music, though you might not want to get cornered by any of them in the kitchen.

The  deluxe edition comes with four bonus tracks, two of which hark back to the band’s predilection for warped cover versions, in this instance Serge Gainsbourg’s Love On The Beat and an unlikely electro-disco reading of Blind Lemon Jefferson’s Sea That my Gave Is Kept Clean that could actually prove a surprise hit. 

Mike Davies


© 2014