Tuesday, November 24, 2015


I'm still here and still very much listening, watching, and reading too.  The lists seem to start earlier each year, or maybe that is just me becoming older each year. On the other hand, if I'm honest I actually start thinking about them at the time I first go to an outdoor festival, so late June!
I've looked through a few already and, with mine in more-or-less in the bag now but they will not be revealed until about the start of December, the common ground and the contrasts are interesting to me and in some cases rather surprising.
In the meantime here are two playlists, each about the length of a typical CD album, that compile some of my favourite songs of 2015:

These playlists represent a mixture of all those things and also other things that I have liked along the trail this last year. It is quite likely that 'Tracks of 2015 #3' will follow in the next week or so. There is no implied ranking-by-merit by list or indeed within them. 
An astonishingly good song, or even two, does not necessarily make an album; equally an album can be all the more astonishing for not having any particular stand-out track. This is why I am so much heartened by the resurgence of the EP, whether physical or digital. It allows the emphasis on quality over quantity. It is also much more affordable for new and independently minded artists. I shall be including a more in-depth list of EPs and mini-albums this year. The lists of LPs and EPs and mini-albums mentioned below will be, as heretofore, presented in alphabetical order by artist.

I almost forgot to mention this - The UK Blog Sound of 2016. I am part of the voting for that for the fourth year and my three choices are now submitted; the resulting 'Top 15 list' will be revealed, here and on other participating blogs, on December 3. The winner (and the four runners-up) will be announced on January 5, 2016.
The considerable organisation and time that this involves is undertaken by Robin Seamer who is also responsible for new music blog Breaking More Waves, which I highly recommend that you visit.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

New Music 2015 - Part 80 - Rainey Qualley - Turn Down The Lights

This mini-album has been bubbling under the surface since its US release back in early June. It is finally getting some exposure this side of the pond thanks to the recent release of 'Me and Johnny Cash' as a single and to promote that Rainey was live on RTÉ in Ireland to kick things off.

The track list is:

  • Turn Me On Like The Radio
  • Dead and Gone
  • Watered Down
  • Never Mine
  • Me and Johnny Cash
  • Kiss Me Drunk
  • Cool, Wild, Whatever

At the risk of seeming to damn it with faint praise, which if I wanted to do I would have achieved by not writing about it at all, it is country inflected pop. Qualley is a co-writer on all tracks, usually with John Ramey. It is not needlessly ornamented or overproduced. Furthermore it has no obviously weak tracks but also bear in mind that this is not an up-tempo affair by any means.
Not all music needs to be a challenge. I like this for that reason and also for its lack of pretence, or indeed pretentiousness. The whistling at the end of opening track 'Turn Me On Like The Radio' is worth a mention in that respect.
I'd rather like to think that she will be playing live in the UK next year. I can think of several festivals at which she would fit in well. I intend to be at one of them.

Another strange thing about this release is that when I bought it some months ago I could have paid about £7 to download it from Amazon UK but instead I paid only very slightly more than half of that, including shipping, to have the original (Cingle label) CD delivered from the US!

Monday, November 09, 2015

New Music 2015 - Part 79 - Lanterns On The Lake - Beings

Once upon a time, not so very long ago, the release of new studio LPs in the two months before Christmas was something of a rarity. That is not so much the case now and for a variety of reasons.

A band that I have followed, both live and recorded as well as with mentions in these scribblings, for almost as long as I can remember is Lanterns On The LakeHailing from Northumberland, Lanterns On The Lake comprises Hazel Wilde, Paul Gregory, Oliver Ketteringham and Bob Allan.

Beings - Lanterns On The Lake. Released  13 November Bella Union (UK) and PIAS (N. America).

The second and latest single taken from it is 'Through The Cellar Door'. Theirs has never been music to party to and probably never will be. It is perfect to share with a small group of friends and then remember that some of the best in things in life are the simplest and least extravagant. That approach, as beautiful as it is, doesn't square with the cult of ruthless self-promotion that the top-end music industry regards as normal.

It is certainly none the worse for that.

Saturday, November 07, 2015

New Music 2015 - Part 78 - Aurora Aksnes - Running With The Wolves EP

This seems to have been one of the biggest 'stories' in a whole slew of UK newspapers for a couple of days. Yes, I am going to comment on it.
Whatever you think about pre-Christmas hubbub or the much-commented-upon John Lewis Christmas TV advertisement that isn't an issue for me. John Lewis Partnership, a UK chain of department stores, has a history of choosing an artist to cover a well known hit song as a sound-line to their annual campaign. The song and the artist chosen are often surprising juxtapositions. In 2012 it was Gabrielle Aplin covering Frankie Goes To Hollywood and the track 'The Power Of Love'.

That the press seems to think that the singer Aurora Aksnes, chosen to cover Oasis' 'Half The World Away' on it, is unknown is quite the issue for me. Where have all you supposed music sleuths been?

She released the 'Running With The Wolves EP' in May this year (Decca, Universal Music Group --- so hardly an underground release) and she certainly hasn't spent the time since then hiding in a cave somewhere in her native Norway.

Aurora, Walled Garden Stage, Green Man Festival, Sunday 23 August 2015.

I guess you just had to be there to realise that something beyond the usual was going on. Always keep your eyes and ears open, and not just for the music alone...
Don't worry about Oasis (they'll love hating the cover and blaming each other all over again), or indeed this saccharine version designed to serve a single purpose. I don't blame Aurora
for taking this opportunity to gain exposure without having to allow any of her own music to be compromised by its use in the advertisement.
Her brand of Scandinavian electro-pop might have been a bit too dark for the target market anyway...  This is the title track.

Unless that is you fancy spending Christmas dancing in a deserted quarry backed by a mysterious metropolis.

The four-track EP is far better than the song covered. Aurora's début LP is due for release in early Spring 2016.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

New Music 2015 - Part 77 - Mahoney & The Moment - Goodnight Moon

I mentioned only yesterday that New Music 2015 is still very much live as far as my listening and writing is concerned. This is just one song that exemplifies why that is and always should be so.

I have mentioned Mahoney & The Moment before. In September 2013 I commented thus and I don't regret that for a minute. I like this new song so very much. In a sense I am playing catch-up now and I'm enjoying that too.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

New Music 2016 - Part 1 - The Black Feathers - Soaked To The Bone

Yes, I know it is not even November for another few hours; enjoy Hallowe'en and bear with me.  I am far from done with 'New Music 2015'  but I have decided to start on 2016 with this post for a reason beyond merely the fact that I can.

'Soaked To The Bone' is the début full LP from Gloucestershire-based duo The Black Feathers that comprises Ray Hughes (vocals and guitar) and Sian Chandler (vocals). It is released by Blue House Music on 26 February 2016.

It follows the five-song 2014 EP 'Strangers We Meet', which I mentioned here and that also featured in my best-of 2014 list in the category EPs and Mini Albums.
'Soaked To The Bone' consists of ten self-written songs and a Bob Dylan cover (albeit one more recently associated with a well-known UK female artist!) and none of these songs appeared on the aforementioned EP.  The track list for it is as follows:

  • Take Me Back
  • Goodbye Tomorrow
  • Arclight
  • Blind
  • All For You
  • Homesick
  • Winter Moves In
  • Down By The River
  • Make You Feel My Love (Dylan)
  • Spider and The Fly
  • Clear Blue Sky
I'm not even going to try and pick a favourite here, despite having had the CD on heavy rotation for well over a fortnight now and this should tell you something about how I regard The Black Feathers. On the album they have a splendid cast of collaborating musicians including Phillip Henry (dobro) and Anna Jenkins (violin and viola). The Black Feathers are on tour in the coming weeks and live as a duo they are quite something.

Frome Cheese and Grain - 25 April 2014

I shall be going to see the pre-launch tour locally and I suggest you do so too if it is within reach - it includes dates in Inverness and Glasgow in early December. I'm sure that you will wish, and likely be able, to purchase a copy of 'Soaked To The Bone' direct from them at the time.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

New Music 2015 - Part 76 - April Verch - The Newpart

If spirited fiddle-playing is your thing and you haven't heard it yet this album could make you very happy indeed.

The fourteen tracks include a handful of traditional pieces, several composed by Canada's April Verch herself, and the rest comprises of interpretations of those by others. All-in-all it has quite a variety of styles that I can best attempt to describe as a blend across the already blurred, at least in my mind, boundaries of UK and Canadian folk fiddle-playing and bluegrass. In fact it doesn't matter one little bit how it is categorized - the important thing is that, quite simply, it works.
It was released by Slab Town Records, which as far as I can tell exists largely for the release of her many recordings, in June of this year.

This is the opening track on The Newpart and is the traditional tune 'Belle Election'.
There is a mix of tunes and songs here.

From 5 - 15 November she is undertaking a short UK tour with her band. I'd like to see a live show but as it happens all the locations are very inconvenient for me to get to except perhaps for the one in London and I can't make that for other reasons.

Friday, October 23, 2015

$200 --- a guitar or a gun?

This is a chilling question.

I'm off to a local folk music festival tomorrow and so it is likely I won't be finishing this post until Sunday. I know where I'm heading and hopefully it involves no guns but plenty of guitars. Both it and this post will continue my theme of listening to music from 2015.
Also, for the first time in ages or so it seems to me, this post will address a song lyric in detail. Not however that of a song I am likely to hear tomorrow.

It took me a couple more days than I intended before continuing but that is how it goes sometimes. On the other hand I have expanded the scope to include two songs: Both include at their heart internal contradictions. The concepts that are boiled-down here are much to do with recent events in the US and in particular the issues both addressed or avoided by the various candidates, of any particular persuasion or none, who are pitching to become the next President of The United States. It is not, I don't hesitate to add, a situation in any way unique to the US. It is just that it is sometimes easier to focus on the bare bones of the matter from a more distant viewpoint.
The first comes from Will Hoge's 2015 release 'Home Town Dreams' and a very fine album throughout. 
It is sung in the first person from the viewpoint of a teenage man looking for a taste of the larger world.

Guitar Or A Gun

A cool September morning, waitin' on the pawn shop to let me in. 
$200 worth of summer yard mowin' that I just had to spend.
I had my eye on two things, but I could only pick just one.
A young man's first decision; is it a guitar or a gun?

I can still hear daddy's voice say "now think about it son.
One of these will last forever, and the other's just for fun.
One can feed your family, and one will end you up in jail." 
And he seemed to know which one was which, but me, I couldn't tell.

I could learn to shoot like Jesse James, out there on the run, 
or play guitar and be a Rolling Stone, now that just sounds like fun.
A rock star or an outlaw, well either way I've won, 
when I walk out this door with a guitar or a gun.

I've thought about it long and hard, as I held 'em in my hand, 
standin' at the crossroads, still deciding who I am.
They're both just wood and metal. Six bullets or six strings?
Whichever choice I make I'll leave here feeling like a king.

Will I learn to shoot like Jesse James, out there on the run, 
or play guitar and be a rolling stone, now that just sounds like fun.
A rock star or an outlaw, well either way I've won, 
when I walk out this door with a guitar or a gun.

A cool September morning, waitin' on the pawn shop to let me in. 
$200 worth of summer yard mowin' that I just had to spend.

Should I learn to shoot like Jesse James, out there on the run, 
or play guitar and be a rolling stone, well that just sounds like fun.
A rock star or an outlaw, well either way I've won, 
when I walk out this door with a guitar or a gun.
when I walk out this door with a guitar or a gun.

With a guitar or a gun.

The protagonist admits that while his father, who is offering the advice, seems to be clear about the correct option to choose he himself is quite unclear about it all. You could say that this is an example of the wisdom that simply accrues with age and experience; even if that experience is only that of observation of the behaviours and outcomes of others.

This post was going to be about that alone until I was listening to this next song. I was really listening yesterday evening when I realized that this contained a lyric that encapsulates another more subtle contradiction - in this case one person, an adult, worrying about one problem while either oblivious to or wilfully ignoring the flip-side and that it is an attitude that is in large part driving the former.

Dry County Blues

There's a car full of pillbillies looking to score
From one of them trailer-court front-porch drug stores.
And a tired coal miner on a long West Virginia beer run.

Dry county blues, not a beer joint in sight.
Half the county's laid off, laid up or gettin' high.

At the head of the holler there's a makeshift casino
with a rusty pool table and blackjack and bingo.
Ain't nothing illegal as long as the sheriff gets paid.

There's good Christian women locking their front doors,
Praying their daughters don't turn into meth whores,
While their sons are out drinkin' and drivin' and trying to get laid.

Dry county blues, not a beer joint in sight.
Half the county's laid off, laid up or gettin' high.

Nowhere to go, not a damn thing to do.
So you turn a blind eye, and barely get by.
Dry county blues.

This is from Angaleena Presley's 2014 (in the US) and 2015 (in the UK) LP 'American Middle Class'. It is her début solo album and another cracking record. It is not even half as good however as seeing her play live so here she is doing just that.

Cambridge Folk Festival, 31 July 2015.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

New Music 2015 - Part 75 - Bella Spinks - Debut EP

It was a journey without any destination. One thing that I most certainly did not expect when I started this little project in September 2006 was ever to be able to review releases that few have yet had the chance to hear.  This is the latest stop on the way.

Bella Spinks is a 22 year-old and from Brighton. She writes songs with a notable literary bent. This is music that simply won't stay in the background. It will ensnare you - the piano might catch you first but it is the words around which it ebbs and flows that soon become the challenge and thus reveal the true worth in this. I could make comparisons with other artists but I don't feel the need to do that. I think that spoon-feeding would be unhelpful and possibly even insulting, both to the artist and to readers who I hope will also become fans and listeners.

Debut EP - Bella Spinks. Released 27 November 2015 by Sublime Music.

I can suggest music that you might like, the choice is entirely yours, rather than try to tell you what music you should like. I will also mention, as a champion of the revival of the EP format, that less is so often more. The early release of a small collection of well chosen, carefully honed tracks is the way to go. It focuses attention and allows the music to speak for itself.
This is the track list:
  • Call You Home
  • Regenerate
  • George Of The 5th Of September
  • Laura Save Yourself
You can't be expected to make a judgement for yourself without anything to listen to. 

A live version of  'Call You Home' recorded in a church in Brighton. December 2014.

Friday, October 16, 2015

New Music 2015 - Part 74 - Cattle & Cane - Home

Here is a thing. Cattle & Cane is another band including siblings that I have chosen to mention. Four of the five band members in this case: Joseph, Helen, Fran and Vin Hammill and Tom Chapman on drums.
I can almost hear the ghostly whisperings now and, just like the lone Wichita lineman, there is with a little luck some method in my seeming madness. This is their first album.

It is, if I may use a dirty word, pop. It is not however pop in the sense that those who deny, based on much modern "pop", that the genre should never have existed at all. Cattle & Cane is certainly no one-trick pony. The nearest that I can bring myself to say is that this is Anglo-American pop of the highest order. It is already released by Quiet Crown Recordings.

This is track 7 from it: Sold My Soul.
The other thing I should say is that I really like this whole album; more so with each and every listen and there have been quite a few now.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Unusual song covers.

Once upon a time I had mixed feelings about an artist covering the songs of another artist. I can't actually remember why I felt that way but I got over it a long time ago. It is, of course, the staple diet of the very many talent contests on TV but that has hardly encouraged me. On the other hand my most recent post mentioned only covered songs and that I suppose made has made me think about the subject yet again. That is in a sense driven by the fact that Ryan Adams' cover of Taylor Swift's '1989' in toto actually didn't spark that response because I have worked through my thoughts on that territory before.
This is one by an artist, Natalie Prass, that I saw live this summer, and mentioned, with a song I might not have imagined her taking on. Let's see how this turns out.  She is covering a song in an entirely different genre to her own and one that was first released in the year she was born.

Here she covers Slayer and 'Raining Blood' from the 1986 album 'Reign In Blood'. The original is below.

You may like neither version one little bit but I contend that it was an interesting, and even braver, choice.

Monday, October 05, 2015

New Music 2015 - Part 73 - Lizzy and the Bluenotes

It transpires that much of the live music that I see in October will have at least significant blues influence.
Lizzy and the Bluenotes is not on my list, more is the pity. It was serendipity that caused me to notice this trio from Brighton this evening. I currently have not much to go on other than that the band comprises Lizzy Boyd, Daniel Shaw and Oli Vincent and their line is semi-acoustic blues with a distinct soul streak running through it.

I could listen to their cover of Fenton Robinson's 1967 track 'Somebody Loan Me A Dime' on repeat and I know that because I just have.

I thought you might like a bit of Janis Joplin too.
Likewise the cover of Amy Winehouse and 'Stronger Than Me' from her often rather overlooked 2003 LP Frank. I realise that this is a review based only on covers but I'm happy with doing that if they are strong and show the promise of things to come. I'm looking forward to what happens next.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

New Music 2015 - Part 72 - Stick In The Wheel - From Here

The other strand to modern UK folk is delineated by this. I saw parts of several of the performances that Stick In The Wheel played at Cambridge Folk Festival 2015, but unfortunately all of none of them. Furthermore I was never in a place to take worthwhile photographs, which was a shame too. The album was still many weeks away from release at that time.

The début LP 'From Here' was released on 25 September 2015.
It comprises a mixture of traditional songs and new compositions but what unites all this is the urgency bought to bear on them. The sparse arrangements and the vernacular delivery of Nicola Kearey define it, well actually nail it. There is nothing remotely false or unconvincing about either of these things - in that sense it rather reminds me of the best of Glasgow's (now late lamented) Sons and Daughters and lead singer Adele Bethel. The music of Stick In The Wheel is however acoustic. Messy, but also astonishingly controlled. That brings The Pogues into the equation from time to time but Lucy Ward too. Think 'Alice In The Bacon Box', from her first album, here. It tells a story that could belong to a refugee right now.

It isn't actually backward looking and certainly does not hark back to a golden age. The feeling here is that the daily grind - on Bows of London in particular - just goes on. Whatever the surface shine might belie, it is that nothing has really changed at all.

New Music 2015 - Part 71 - Ange Hardy - Esteesee

This is the first of a pair that I prefigured here earlier this week. It is my first response to a variety of informal discussions, at festivals and elsewhere, about an apparent division in modern UK folk music.
I'm not going to make judgements for I will take as much time as is needed to assess both sides of the coin. This is not fence-sitting, for I like both for their respective virtues.
There are two fairly distinct kinds of tradition, in interpretation, and this represents one of them.

The title, pronounced as written, refers specifically to Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772 -1834).

This comprises new music on the theme of old words. In that sense it is the academic side of modern folk and I suspect that there are some that would say that this is not what folk music should be about. I beg to differ about that.
The nub of this lies with a conundrum that is at the heart of contemporary folk and one to which I have no answer and believe there is none to be found: does it reflect and seek solace in the values of the current time with regard to times past or attempt the mirror image of that situation, or indeed both?

It is without doubt a very fine album indeed. 

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

An interesting dilemma.

About this time last year I mentioned that I was going to start listening over again to all of my long-list of music (EPs and albums together) that I had noted should be considered for those end-of-year rituals. In the end I did that, twice over, and the result was that I whittled that list of fifty-something down to just twenty LPs and a handful of EPs. Some were something between; let us agree to call them mini-albums for sustained quality, not length, is the defining criterion here. That process now needs to commence all over again.

I'm fine with that but there is a nascent problem. I'm pretty sure that my qualifications for inclusion on this long list are every bit as discerning as was the case last year. It is absolutely vital that this is so; as it stands today my long-list currently runs to one-hundred-and-eight items. A quick survey suggests that on average each is 40 minutes in length. To put it another way, if I were to start listening now (21:15 Tuesday) with no breaks at all I would get to the end of it early on Friday evening!
I'm not planning to do that, not least because I also have live music to go and see tomorrow evening.
It also brings me to another issue. That of all the live music that I have seen in 2015 and the discussions, both in person and remotely, about that. The good thing about this is that I certainly have a lot to reflect on!

My next two posts will both be in the series 'New Music 2015'. Both about albums released in the last couple of weeks, that should logically be included in the category of UK folk, and yet they are two very different beasts indeed.
I shall aim to make sure that both posts are published simultaneously. 
The order in which they actually appear will be decided by the toss of a coin. I'll get someone else to do that for me and with the outcomes known to them beforehand.
What remains true from the start is that, even as my taste in music has evolved over these last nine years and it most certainly has and in ways I might not have anticipated, I will not chose to write posts about things that I don't much care for. I do make comparisons in order to explain why I favour one thing over another. I regard that as something inevitable.