Sunday, August 31, 2008

Unholy Majesty

Continuing with the subject of Bristol-based acts another, and again one given to collaborations (notably including Jeremy Smoking Jacket, with SJ Esau), Rose Kemp follows up her 2007 album A Hand Full of Hurricanes with Unholy Majesty that is released, again by One Little Indian Records, on September 1, 2008.

Never one to stick with convention and - for older readers she is the daughter of Rick Kemp and Maddie Prior of Steeleye Span - this is unlikely to be an album that will find universal favour but could well be all the better for it. After her 2003 début Glance she laid her acoustic guitar aside in favour of one electric and, on this album, takes the progression well beyond that already evident on A Hand Full Of Hurricanes. There are folk influences on it, occasionally, but there are certainly plenty of others too; if you can handle hints of folk combined with hard and heavy riffs and experimental rock themes this is probably for you and me. She is touring the UK, mostly with the band, in September.
It is wise to remember that this label, while it is not perhaps a household name, is certainly no stranger to someone who is. If there is a unconventional chanteuse, vicariously known to millions not only for her musical boundary-pushing, that is surely 'One Little Indian' recording artist Björk!

You have been warned.

Phantom Limb

Spending much of Sunday afternoon in the pub is pretty decadent, and something I very rarely do, but I have to say that The Griffin is in my opinion the best pub in Frome, which has quite a few to choose from, and not least because it has its own on-site brewery. In this instance it was simply the music that clinched it!
This Bristol-based six-piece have been stirring up favourable comment since SXSW 2008, and thus a Glastonbury booking on the Jazz/World Stage, where their largely acoustic southern soul/blues caused quite a stir. It also
resulted in a record deal with Irish label Naim Edge. The really impressive thing is their innate virtuosity. Their début album comprises only original compositions, recorded and mastered in Bristol and Monmouth, and was released on August 25, 2008. The vinyl release, also mastered and cut in Bristol, is to follow on September 15, 2008.

The Griffin was far too crowded to take any worthwhile photos, given that it is not huge and Phantom Limb are a six-piece band so that takes up space, but the music was quite amazing. Lead vocalist Yolanda Quarty also provides about half the vocals on the forthcoming Massive Attack album, and has toured worldwide with the same, but trip-hop this is not and they could well lose her to this project, for which she also writes the majority of the lyrics, simply because her voice and the musicians suit the material so well.

The band is something approaching a Bristol 'super-group' and it seems oddly fitting that one of Bristol's premier music venues is a pub called The Louisiana. Check out the album:

1. Don't Say A Word
2. Withering Bones
3. I'll Never Be The Same
4. My Love Has Gone
5. Playing With Death
6. Run
7. Good Fortune
8. We Will Carry
9. Spring Flowers
10. The Hard Way

This is the track list but I couldn't tell you which ones that I like most as I simply haven't decided yet, and when I do I'll probably change my mind.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Sammy is a soldier now...

As we are now in a period of global political and economic uncertainty, and one certainly afflicted by rising energy and commodity prices coupled with falling property values, surely there has to be something to look forward to?
That, I would contest, is music as it seems to have flourished during other similar episodes of uncertainty.

Sammy sleeps alone at night.
She says the world owes her a life.
When she was only five years old
She wouldn't do what she was told
But, when she got to ten
She learned to rein it in.

She knew she'd done something wrong.
She'd never do it again.

But it is so hard to keep the promises you make
And it's so hard to love when all you feel is hate.
Sammy lives in magazines,
She's searching for the perfect jeans.
She'd like to be clean as the sky
Outside and inside; no-one to depend on.

No family or foes, no-one to tell her
What she already knows.

She always says who needs that stuff anyhow?
She once was weak but she's a soldier now.

Major label release?

Definitely not, but that is not to say that Routines - Helene isn't a fine album for the here and now, despite the fact that it was released (Series 8, as SER 001 CD) in 2006, and if the track 'Sammy Is A Soldier Now' was the only good track on it that would still be quite something.
Luckily it isn't, far from it in fact, and not least because 'This Is All We Have To Know' is another very special song, again about growing up, yet cast in a very different light.

The whole album is really good and you should still be able to find it at a reasonable price. If you like it then the previous album,
Postcard, and her earlier work with the band 'Barefoot Contessa' might also be of interest.
You might regard it all as slightly gloomy but I would hold that as suitable, given the current mood, because it is not overly depressing either. I could suggest a few other recent contenders in this category too, but so can you...

Please let me know!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Jem is Down To Earth again...

Who made up all the rules?
We follow them like fools!
Believe them to be true
Don't care to think them through.

I'm sorry, so sorry
I'm sorry it's like this.
I'm sorry, so sorry
I'm sorry we do this.

Part of the lyric of They (2004).

Some time ago I wrote a post, Asleep Again?, wondering what had happened to the artist Jem. It is now confirmed that her second album will be released by ATO Records, initially in the US, on September 16.

Down To Earth, not to be confused with the 1979 Rainbow album of the same name, is already on order based both on my continued liking for her 2004 début album Finally Woken, which was one of the first handful of albums I ever reviewed and I stand by what I wrote then, and the fact that Lester Mendez (Shakira Dónde Están Los Ladrones and others) has been involved in the production of this album. Stranger still is that, perhaps because Jem is now resident in California, some in the US are portraying her as their new best export to us here in the UK.

It will certainly be a good trick if she can do it, not least because she was brought up in Penarth (Glamorgan) and the other UK female solo artist currently making headway in the US is Duffy, with her album Rockferry, and she comes from Nefyn, a small town on the Llŷn Peninsula in Gwynedd. While their music is very different indeed what we have here is two singers, from almost opposite corners of Wales, neither of whose music is noticeably inspired by traditional Welsh music. It is not that Wales is a vast land but neither is it crowded; at 8022 sq. miles it is about 10% smaller in area but has only 30% of the population of New Jersey.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Dog days, please smile down upon us...

This follows from a post I added last year, Soothing Music for Days That Bode Ill, which apparently still has resonance with others judging from the number of times that post has been visited in the last couple of weeks. It is no secret that I often still feel the same way too and, while I can recommend those albums no less a year later, the world has not stayed the same.
Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan have since released Sunday at Devil Dirt and the remainder of the lyrics are here. As one of 'The Gutter Twins' Mark Lanegan has also released an album with Greg Dulli, which is another that I would like to hear but either the music, or merely my appreciation of it, has expanded again.

Empty dish is still sitting where I'm gonna leave it.
This lamp hasn't been lit in quite a long while,
The wick doesn't reach what's left of the oil.
And the rain is coming and I'm overcome.

These bad newspapers they pile up unread
Dogs gaze out the windows, I know how they feel.
Adventure! adventure! Or sit by the door?
Open, open sesame! I'm overcome.

Figurines, dripping faucets, laundry and dust,
I hate to leave this a mess but I must....

Keepsakes can be anchors and anvils and such.
Like pianos and pets and the people we love.
I can't change the world from this place on MySpace
Spiders tag walls with their names in this place.

Figurines, dripping faucets, laundry and dust,
I hate to leave this a mess but I must...

Oh its never a clean break when you're trying to leave
But song birds need homes in live oak trees.

Maybe I've just not got the right idea about what I think they might be but I can't yet figure out the lyrics for the two lines that follow:

I hate to leave this a mess but I must...

Can anyone help? The song remains however, despite the time I've spent trying to figure those lyrics, one of my favourite album tracks of 2008 and it is 'Overcome' from the album Anchors and Anvils
by Amy LaVere.

Leaving that topic aside for a moment, here is another album that rather appealed when I read about it. Some might say that it is slightly twee folksy Americana and had I simply invented that which follows, just to amuse myself this evening, I know that you would not have believed me.

The thing is that I didn't tell fibs - indie label Static Caravan released it - and it is VAN161.

It is of the most improbable heritage. The two acts that combined to produce this met on MySpace. Neither of them come from America and, at least at the time of its release, never the twain had met!
One of them, Phelan Sheppard, is a Londoner signed to Leeds-based The Leaf Label best known in this blog as the home of Parisienne Colleen (Cécile Schott) and her beguiling ambient/electronica, while the other half of the equation is
moomLooo in Tokyo.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The End of Summer?

Most in Britain might reasonably tell you that 2008 was the summer that didn't happen. The weather was fairly rubbish, the credit crunch suddenly seemed more real than anyone realised, and then there would be that disappointment that comes around only every fourth year...
The first two came to pass but Team GB in the Olympics, something that we tend to regard as an affirmation of our poor record in sport, proved anything but that and a launch pad for London 2012.
Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, accepted the Olympic flag and he is possibly the only recipient who, had he felt inclined to do so, could have quite easily made his acceptance speech in classical Greek!
You might well ask why I mention this here and also 'What does that have to do with music?' It has a lot in common - music has for years usually been regarded as a team GB thing, regardless of where the artists come from or their ethnic background and now sport has, apparently quite suddenly, become seen in much the same light. That the Olympians were played off-stage in Beijing by Leona Lewis, only for her to arrive back in her home city in the midst of the Notting Hill Carnival - the world's largest Carribean festival - is something of which both London, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in general, can be justifiably proud.

The thing is that, despite all the global uncertainties, Britain seems more comfortable with its place in the world. I don't think that music is going to let us down between now and 2012 - innovate, adopt, adapt and export will probably accelerate the recent trends, but I suspect that we will also become more receptive to those from overseas.
The main festivals have now come to an end, with Leeds/Reading this weekend, but the pre-sales for 2009 are now on offer, except for those for which the limited allocation has already sold out, and that is most of them.
If one thing is certain, despite several summers of poor weather, Britons remain in thrall to outdoor live music and now there are some out-of-season indoor festivals too. I''m planning to go to S
ŵn 2008.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

It is the music that matters...

A week away from my blog seems a long time. I have returned from a few days away but, unlike last year, I am back home when I intended and fully functional. This evening a different problem presented; I returned home from work, intent on adding some new blog material, only to discover that my street had no electricity and even vinyl won't play without that!

While my recent meanderings were limited to nowhere exotic, rather the comforting familiarity of North Yorkshire in good company, that doesn't mean that I have spent the last week entirely isolated from the world of new music and, also importantly, music that is merely new to me.
It does possibly mean that such music has no obvious connection, and this is an album and artist that I have never heard before, but it appears to make sense to buy it so it is now on order!

Alternative/indie music from North America is currently on fine form and this is just one album amongst many that holds promise. It is certainly not a new phenomenon but it is also true that music and politics share a lot in common. They know what they are up against - European music - and although this might seem a rather strange comment they are rising, vainglorious, to the challenge and that is exactly what is needed right now.

It is, like politics, a situation far more complicated than it might seem and this is why music has spawned a rash of sub-genres that, while we might disagree about the names we give them, share certain common values. To anyone reading this without some prior knowledge the term "anti-folk" is about as helpful as toothache and, in any case, it is also near impossible to define as it can present as different things in different cases. Given that there are too many sub-genres this is a particularly unhelpful situation that merely hinders communication but it is one quite unsurprising.
While I'm on this topic and, as I forgot to mention that Kira Fontana is from California, I might also mention Carrie Rodriguez.

She is from New York and as well as playing her, rather more folk-influenced, songs she also plays a mean fiddle! This, her second solo album, was released in the US on 5th August 2008 by Manhattan Records but, as of now, seems to have no full release in the UK or Europe.

It is just the music that matters!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

An eponymous anagram...

Yesterday I mentioned the album 'Speak For Yourself', the second by UK singer/songwriter Imogen Heap. I have now discovered that her début solo album I Megaphone (1998) - for long hard to find or, if you did do so, very costly - can be found again at a reasonable price even though it might have to ship from the US.

It is now on my wanted list and is available for £5.75 (US $ 12), including delivery to the UK.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

No excuses...

If you think that I mostly like old, or new but less well known, albums then while is it true that I might mention them more often here that is not the whole story.
On my way home from work tomorrow I'm going to go to the nearest store and buy a copy of this album:

I can't pretend I don't want it and I'm not remotely ashamed about that. I'm soon going to be in places that might bring back mixed emotions and I'm going to take it with me. White on Blonde is excellent, more imaginative and surprising even, but it was not the one that I then wanted to listen to!
Late last August the album I really wished I had, but wasn't with me, was 'The Hush' by Texas and I'll take it with me this time.

This is another fine, but criminally under-rated, artist/album that is also well and truly on my current play list. I've had this since it was released in 2006 and it never fails to impress me more with every listen!

The music is truly special of course, but then so is the 'digipack' (MEGACD001). It consists of four illustrated sections that fold in on each other and also a lavishly illustrated full-colour booklet that contains all the lyrics.

Goodbye and Go, c/w Speeding Cars, on clear vinyl 7".

If I had made a list of 'My Top Ten Singles' in 2006 then this would certainly have been included...

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Living With Ghosts

I mentioned this single, the first released by Smoke Fairies, not long ago and today my copy arrived in the post. I have listened to it several times this evening and, while I had rather high hopes for it, I am quite disappointed...

Disappointed with myself that is; Living With Ghosts is far better than I even dared hope that it could be and the b-side Troubles is equally good. I can't wait for the release of their début album and, although this is a very limited 7" vinyl release, I can hardly imagine that both these tracks will not make the cut but one can never tell.
This single may prove hard to get unless you act very quickly but something I can add, and this pleases me greatly, is the lyrics for both tracks on it. They are included in "hand-writing" on the cover accompanying it and while the occasional phrase is hard to read I hope that, with the single to listen to, I've mostly got them correct!

Living With Ghosts:
You to me are only a memory, got a flame still burning where I know it shouldn't be, but it gets hold when the one you're thinking of is no longer. I am haunted, you'll hound me for all my days and I know that somewhere things still go on the same, but it gets hard when the time you are thinking of is now passed. In my mind we still live there. All this time feels like I've gone nowhere. It can get lonely living with ghosts.
You're in my head until I die. So I ran to the mountains. Ran as far as I could. Got to find a new life. Wouldn't do me any good. 'Cause it gets hard when the one you're thinking of is no longer. You're in my mind like an old ugly scar. I'll spend my life trying to hide. Days will go by and I'll still think of you as if you were here by my side.

Out of the northern sky, over the land where the ice fields lie, came a winter it came so cold. I drew my demons out to the snow. Into the night we flew, scoring the sky with the paths we drew. Drawn together like moths to night never believing we'd burn so bright. When troubles keep expanding tie me a long rope 'cause its you that keeps me standing, it's you that I need more.
Over and over we leave, scarring our minds with the things that we've seen never sure what we're looking for, always returning with something more.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

More rock goddesses? One More Won't Kill Us!

Girlschool also come to mind in this respect - being both of that era and another band that I saw live (at the Folkestone Leas Cliff Hall, no less) - but here is a band that I've seen live a couple of times much more recently.

If you haven't yet heard Glasgow four-piece The Hedrons live then you should do so at the first opportunity - and you must leave any preconceptions you might have at home. This applies even if you have the album!
It was preceded by several singles released, inter alia, on 7" vinyl; 'Be My Friend' was one and 'I Need You' was the next.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Rock Goddess

I had little enthusiasm while on my way to work today, not least because almost everyone else is on holiday. I worried about that needlessly, as it happened, and while I was busy everyone I had to deal with seemed to be understanding. When I got home things continued to improve up to a point; yesterday my ISP was sulking but today it was now fully functional again.
Then came a problem and an e-mail I really didn't need! Someone (who will for their own sake remain anonymous) telling me in no uncertain terms that there have never been any all female heavy-rock bands, an assertion that is clearly ridiculous.
In addition he (and I'm making an brazen assumption here as, quite cowardly in the circumstances, there was no name provided) my correspondent also told me that, aged 25, "it" was in a position to know!
At the age of 43 I'm no longer inclined to rage, as once I might have been, and in any case this says it all...

Rock Goddess - Rock Goddess (AMLH 68554, 1983).

At the time this was released "it" was a gurgling infant and I was eighteen years old. I saw them live touring the following album, Hell Hath No Fury, which was released in 1984. They were not the first all-female heavy-rock band (although the two albums mentioned above were both released on A&M, which is a major label imprint) and in the quarter century since plenty more have followed that path, albeit with contemporary differences in both style and content.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

To listen to in 2008 - Part 4

This is quite difficult to write. I've seen so much live music recently, which is very good but tends to colour ones perceptions in a perhaps disproportionate way, and I've discovered so many new artists across a wide range of genres. I'm glad of that too but it makes deciding what to wish for next very difficult indeed.

If there is any connection then it is the ascendancy of - and probably the connection between - new-folk in the UK and Americana. What they do not share in tradition is more than made up in their connection via live-musicianship and what, just a year ago, seemed exciting in the UK is now happening on both sides of the Atlantic. That is not to say it wasn't happening in the US last year, because it was, but the joining of dots is what matters. Openly referencing trans-Atlantic influences is now not only acceptable but also distinctly fashionable, on both sides, for the first time in well over a decade. Not everyone on either side will embrace the new party but in the year that Sub-Pop turns twenty, and the world is changing faster than at any time since, it somehow seems very fitting that there is something of a return to traditional music; in values if not always in execution for nothing remains the same.

Two albums/artists I want to hear are these:

I saw Noah and The Whale live at Latitude 2008 and this is their début album.
This band also has close links with Laura Marling, who appears on some tracks of this recording.

Peaceful, The World Lays Me Down - Noah & The Whale (2008).

To mention another, here is a duo that at least on first listen is quintessentially English.

Smoke Fairies met at school in Brighton and later, when it did not seem to be the Deep South that they imagined, decamped to New Orleans for a year and, as that wasn't quite it either, this was followed by some time in... Vancouver!
They are now in London and concentrating on finishing their first album, which should appear soon, and as likely as not it will be another release in a genre that has risen from nowhere in a matter of a few years. In the meantime Smoke Fairies, like many others, are making headlines with their awesome live performances. Whatever else might be wrong in the UK right now live music isn't it!

Smoke Fairies are Jessica Davies and Katherine Blamire.
It seems unlikely the album will be without influences resulting from their time in New Orleans and who could wish otherwise?

Smoke Fairies release their first single Living With Ghosts on 11 August. It is available for download and there is also a physical version too - 500 copies, all hand numbered, on 7" vinyl.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Live by proxy - the rise and fall of the live album:

I have been thinking about this for a while, more particularly in the last few weeks during which I have had the pleasure to see almost forty bands truly live. I rather suspect that, on reflection, the decade 1975 -1985 was the zenith of the live album. These were almost always double albums and released on vinyl (but also on cassette and some in later cases, not to mention reissues, on CD).
While some were fairly genuinely live recordings of a single gig and some very much edited compilations from several sets, others were even extensively remixed but whatever their status some were genuinely worthwhile.
I have, in this regard, mentioned Live and Dangerous - Thin Lizzy (1978) already. This evening I was thumbing through the archives because we had, for some Friday afternoon reason, ended up discussing Tina Turner at work and in particular the track 'Nutbush City Limits'. Don't even think about asking how we got to this point but, as a result, and when I was browsing this evening I came across Live Bullet - Bob Seger and The Silver Bullet Band (1976) that you can fortunately still buy for a song, digitally remastered, on a sparkling new CD.
I'm even luckier still in that I don't have to wait for it to arrive, nor do I even have to download it. I can't remember when I last listened to it, probably late last century, but I am lucky enough to be able to enjoy the legal alternative again this evening and, as I paid pennies for it second-hand so long ago, to all intents and purposes do so for free. The opening track is, of course, a cover of Nutbush City Limits...

Live Bullet - Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band.

This album was recorded over two performances at the Cobo Arena in Detroit, Seger's home city, on the 4th and 5th September 1975 and released in 1976. The cover may be scuffed but the LPs inside are fine and to be able to listen to the original double vinyl set (EMI/Capitol E-STS161 & E-STS162) makes it even better and maybe, in 2008, it would seem that way to me regardless of any other considerations.
It now seems all the more so however, to me at least, because of the recent revival in all kinds of American music - not least Americana - and which, by seamlessly fusing genres from the last half-century, is quite remarkable on many levels.

To whoever searched 'I'm A Fly' - thank you!

In the last week or so someone ended up here while looking for the lyrics to the song 'I'm A Fly' by Laura Marling and that made me realise that it was not a song with which I was already familiar. Things got even better when I discovered that it is the b-side to the 7" single release of 'Cross Your Fingers', which had also passed me by. (How careless was that?)

Cut to the chase and I have it now. The lyric for 'I'm A Fly' is below:

I'm A Fly

I'm a fly; I'll die tomorrow
So give me all you've got.
I so believe, I so believe.

I'm a fly; I'll die tomorrow
So give me all you've got.
And now here in this foreign place
I have let you down
I've fallen for a foreign place
Not fallen to the ground.
I've gone in blinding, scorching sun
And fallen to my knees.

And I've forgotten what I believe
I so believe, I so believe
I so believe, I so believe.

This is the best I can do at the moment but if you have any corrections or alternatives please let me know.
It is, however, a song I really like and it seems to me as if it is a foray into musically more "traditional" folk territory but perhaps without the customary historical lyrical preoccupations. If this is so then we could be in for even greater surprises in the not too distant future.