Sunday, April 27, 2014

New Music 2014 - Part 12 - The many shades of transatlanticism

It has just occurred to me that amongst the various 2014 albums that I consider may feature in my year-end 'Best of 2014' list, the majority actually happen to come from the USA. It is in part a result of my liking for roots and Americana but, more generally, it is part of a trend towards transatlanticism (if that is a made-up word then I blame Ben Gibbard!) in such things.
This first is an example of what I'm thinking. If I were to ask many in the UK what came to mind when the words "music" and "Nashville" were combined, the answer would still represent the apparent status quo that existed from the late 1950s until less than a decade ago and that represents two generations... So what has changed?

The answer is not simple I think. There is no cultural take-over involved. It is indeed quite the opposite - UK music has changed and in the process become far less insular in both influence and ambition. Nashville has changed too, and in many of the same ways as it happens, in the sense that it realized that it could have a wider reach; therefore my adoption of the term 'transatlanticism' for all these changes of emphasis. The artificial distinction, imposed by both sides for so long, has simply melted away...

I chose Torres' début album for two reasons. One is that it was actually released in 2013 and as such does not impinge on my comments or thoughts on the albums of 2014. The other is that unless you knew otherwise I could probably convince you that Mackenzie Scott is a UK artist, from any town you care to think of.
That would be a total fabrication: she is from Macon City, GA and moved to Nashville, TN to attend Belmont University.
This album is certainly no Music City stitch-up. For one thing it is self-released, so it took a bit of finding on CD, but in no way is it amateur in any sense - from writing through to recording and production. It isn't standard Nashville fare either, but neither does it ape any of the recent UK acoustic singer-songwriter tropes to any extent. Some of the tracks could hold a candle to almost anything...  One thing it generally is not is cheerful, that is not to say that it does not lack optimism.

July 2014 is the 45th anniversary of Woodstock, arguably the festival that defined the course of modern festivals - and not least because it rained. This summer is the 50th anniversary edition of Cambridge Folk Festival (31 July - 3 August 2014) and it is now completely sold out.

This next suggestion is the fourth LP by UK band Redlands Palomino Company, which was recorded almost live in a chapel in Gloucestershire, England, and released by Clubhouse Records on April 14, 2014. I saw the band live at Truck Festival 2013 and was mighty impressed. Several portions of the video below were actually shot live at Truck Festival.

Opportunities await those that remember.
I was rather surprised to see Paul Simon and Edie Brickell both in the news this week and for all the wrong reasons. The best the UK press seemed to be able to do, as regards the latter, is to remind us that 'All I Am' was covered by Emma Bunton on her first post-Spice Girls album.
This is a case of damning with faint praise both-ways round: it assumes we can't even remember the original version, written by Edie Brickell and Kenny Withrow, from the 1988 album 'Shooting Rubber Bands at the Stars'. While the aforementioned cover version is worthy of a footnote there is, at least in my opinion, a far better one and that comes from someone who is almost unknown in the UK. This is the 2008 album 'Deranged' by Stacee Lawson from Huntington, WV and, I should mention, the rest of the album is well worth a listen too.

This CD was self-released; mine (above) has no code at all. Stacee Lawson is out there still, playing live.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Live & local in central-south England

Well here things are; after RSD (of which more later) and an inconvenient computer failure what better is there than the thought that unlike RSD live music is a year-round occurrence in these parts?
None of it gets better than Acoustic+ in Frome. Yesterday was the 98th edition and probably one of the finest that I have had the delight to attend. The first artist to play has been around since the start of Acoustic+ about a decade ago and is currently on a 'World Tour' - indeed he was in Trowbridge last week and will be in Bristol this coming one! He is also an active promoter of live music hereabouts as well as a fine singer-songwriter. In the past he has often played accompanied...

Yesterday he played solo and with plenty of the usual patter between songs...  Leander Morales.
The act I was most looking forward to seeing was Gloucestershire duo The Black Feathers. Due to Play at Acoustic+ in late 2013 they had to pull out at the last minute as Sian Chandler had lost her voice. A month or two after that they played Nunney Acoustic Café, but I was elsewhere that day. I was determined to see The Black Feathers this time and not least because, in the intervening months, their star has very much been in the ascendant including, if I remember correctly, a mention on Mike Harding's independent folk and roots show. Having finally seen them play live I can certainly see why that is. I bought the 2013 CD EP 'Strangers We Meet'.

On it they have discreet and subtle backing, including Anna Jenkins (of 'The Red Clay Halo') on violin and viola, but yesterday they were just performing as a duo.

They mentioned that this was probably the amongst the largest venues that they have played. Once their début album arrives I doubt that this will remain true for long. A certain kind of festival awaits The Black Feathers with breath bated and, believe me, it is the kind of festival at which I may be in attendance.
The last act to play was another that is a stalwart of the arts scene hereabouts - Ben Waller and the Tell Tale Signs. Usually a five-piece they were joined, for the purposed of looped sounds, by a Toshiba laptop that proved wholly uncooperative! They got on fine without it and then, as if one trouble was not enough, one of Ben's guitar strings broke. The result of this was that he borrowed Leander's acoustic guitar, when he needed one, for the rest of the set. I never quite managed a picture with all five band members in it as this one lacks the drummer.
Towards the end one of the rarer instruments seen at Acoutic+ made an appearance...

Autoharp. There is a whole festival dedicated to this instrument.

That leaves just one of the four acts to mention. It was the only one about which I had no prior knowledge at all and, if you know me, you will already know that such things are one of my favourite festival pastimes and why I like the smallest of stages and opening acts in general. In this case, however, they were first support and the band was Budada.
The four-piece based in Bristol/Bath are an interesting find indeed and difficult to categorize. You might therefore best check it out for yourself!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

A weekend unconnected.

This is just a quick note:
A computer failure; a local one as it was a malfunction of my main home computer, has seen me off-line since the Easter weekend. I'm back now.
The interesting thing is, however, the amount of time I spent delving into my physical music collection in those few evenings...
Not only did I rediscover much music that I had (at least almost) forgotten I had by listening to it, I made a simultaneous virtue of reordering the shelves that contain it. It is certainly not perfect, and you would most likely not understand the system as it is now. It was a huge game of pelmanism (played with approximately 880 CDs) and it was far more complicated than simply matching identical pairs, although there are four of those as so far discovered.
I'll tell you this; it is now a far better situation than it was last Saturday! What I decide to do next, in the sense of ordering them, is still a mystery and not least to me. The point is that playing music was actually the original aim - the re-organisation just came out of that and finding things that I wanted to play. While that process has yet to visit my collection of vinyl, a great amount of that got played too!
The effect on me, of losing my connection to new music, was salutary. My New Year Resolution 2014 was to listen to at least eight hours of new (to me, at least) music each week and until now I was well up with that. I'll catch up in the next few days but now I have another, which is to rediscover all the recorded music I already have.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Festivals 2014

This is no long discussion of the many and varied music festivals this summer. I'm simply thinking that this coming long weekend is the time when I really ought to finalize what I intend to do and when so that, as well as getting tickets, there can be a working timetable of sorts. I have some ideas, not all of which are mutually compatible, and I have already ruled several things out due to those to which I have already committed. While pondering I have, of course, been listening to music and also perusing some of the many photos that I have taken at festivals past, and not exclusively last year.
This one is prompted by the release of the recent collaboration between London three-piece Daughter and musicians from The Northern School of Music, Manchester around songs from the 2013 LP 'If You Leave'.
Daughter - The Garden Stage - End of The Road Festival - 31 August 2013.
This was memorable especially for its sense of fragility -  that something might just shatter for no apparent reason. Reworked, with an orchestral backing, the songs are every bit as remarkable. This is 'Amsterdam'. The five-song EP is currently available to purchase on download from the usual places; a limited version on 12" vinyl is released on 26 May.
As for the second album from Daughter - if and when it happens - the band has certainly made their first a tough act to follow!
You might think I have become distracted from my purpose here, but that is not actually the case. I have to chose just one or possibly two festivals to go to - from amongst of a fistful that I might like to go to - so aspects of what make a festival special to me are very much on my mind. End of The Road (EOTR) has many of those features, and I'm going in 2014, so it is a benchmark in kind.
One possibility is to travel the road of Roots and Americana to its home festival in the UK (I am ruling out foreign sorties in 2014). This is another picture I took at EOTR 2013, also on the Garden Stage, the previous evening.
Diana Jones - The Garden Stage - End of The Road Festival - 30 August 2013.
She was touring her 2013 LP 'Museum of Appalachia Recordings' that, despite its title, consists entirely of new songs.
It is not just about the music; it is about the ambience - that combination of facilities, catering, clientèle, and then the almost indefinable other factors. The weather is something that remains completely unpredictable.
I have narrowed my choice of additional festivals to just two. Which should I choose or, as that is just possible, both?
Not only do the dates not clash with each other, or anything else I to which I am committed, the artist-overlap between the two is probably non-existent.  Further to that I have never been to either before, so I have only reviews and my hunches to go on.
Should you have been watching 'Later With Jools Holland' (BBC2, just now) then you will have seen Rae Morris providing vocals for Clean Bandit. Here she is when I saw her live at Deer Shed Festival 2012.

This is another 2014 festival I can't go to as both it, and Latitude Festival, share the weekend with Truck Festival!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

New Music 2014 - Part 11 - The Cadbury Sisters

I wasn't really planning on a new post so late tonight but then these things just demand attention - now.
It is becoming clear that Bristol sibling trio The Cadbury Sisters is garnering much attention for their acoustic harmonies but not just because of them. Much inspired by Laura Marling they say, but also by artists that are much older than either her or them. The first place I heard their music played, although I was already faintly aware of them, was on Amazing Radio, where Kathryn Tickell has been on the case for some time now, hence the session below. So have others, including the likes of BBC6 Music.

It is three-part harmony but quite unlike The Staves and certainly not like Haim either. Their latest EP 'Close' is released by Bristol-based label and live event promoters Fear of Fiction in June. The Cadbury Sisters are appearing at many festivals and suchlike during the summer and it would be a mistake to miss the opportunity to see them live on a small stage.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Cyclical thoughts on music

This post started with a comment I wrote on Facebook yesterday. That was itself born out of a question somebody asked me the day before and, therefore, put me in mind of something that I had half-remembered a few months ago. In some ways it has to do with the forthcoming Record Store Day 2014 (19 April) [RSD] too:

I've just been exploring the dark (often only metaphorically but sometimes also musically), dusty depths of my music collection. I have found plenty of dead woodlice and even more albums that I had forgotten that I owned. This is good - the albums that is, not so much the moribund crustaceans.
To tell the truth a few of the albums would have better remained forgotten in the sense that ignorance (or merely forgetfulness) is bliss and I shall not dwell on them. Libraries should not work on that principle. 
Some of the LPs I was truly glad to discover again; 'Songs About People I Know', Stricken City's 2009 début album, was just one. The small dead spider stuck to the playing face of the CD was easily removed. It really shouldn't have gone there anyway. It did make me wonder, when listening to the CD after its removal, what has happened since the band split in 2010...
That is also how new things are found.

Whilst I am thinking about the direction this theme is heading, be aware that the direction of music was never very predictable when observed in retrospect. With RSD fast approaching, consider this article - 1o UK independent record shops to visit before you die. Of course I was going to mention this; one of the ten, Raves From The Grave, has its original store in my home town of Frome. It has more recently opened stores in Warminster and Bath too.
To be quite honest I got bogged down with this post for a couple of days but, just now that problem evaporated when I remembered about this. It also reminded me about just why the small stages at festivals, as well as support bands in general, are always at the top of my list of things to see. This is Oklahoma City based band Horse Thief playing End of The Road Festival 2012; Cameron Neal on guitar and vocals.

The début album, Fear In Bliss, is released today by Bella Union and Horse Thief is booked to play at End of The Road Festival 2014.
It is, of course, available on vinyl.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

New Music 2014 - Part 10 - Roots and Americana

I have been listening to all kinds of music lately and as you might have guessed that has included much that goes under the heading Roots and Americana. I'll start with three forthcoming albums that have come to my attention but perhaps I should add that I already have all the previous albums by these artists; to some extent I am therefore a convert already.

Jessica Lea Mayfield - 'Make My Head Sing', released on 2 June 2014 in the UK.
This is the third album by the Ohio native who first came to my attention at End Of The Road Festival 2010, playing the Tipi stage and previously quite unknown to me. Her albums thus far are 'With Blasphemy, So Heartfelt' (2008) and 'Tell Me' (2011), both released by Nonesuch Records, and were produced by Dan Auerbach. I'm not sure about the details of this one yet, as I have only recently found about it, except to say that it is released by ATO Records. This label is snapping up many artists in this broad music space including Caitlin Rose and Hurray For The Riff Raff who have peppered this blog over the last few years.
It is certainly a dramatic and very deliberate departure from the aforementioned albums. An interview in which she explains how it came about, and the history behind it, is here:

The appearance here is true of this next artist Amy LaVere too, but she is the only one of the three that I have never seen play live.
'Runaway's Dream' is released by Archer Records on 26 May 2014 in the UK.
It is a concept album but, before you click elsewhere in fear and loathing, be aware that this has been done before to some acclaim: In my book Anaïs Mitchell's 'Hadestown' (2010) is a case in point.
This one is however loosely based on the story of Seasick Steve, with whom she toured extensively as support, and also her own few days as a teenage runaway. To that list I shall add another bridge - Alynda Lee Segarra of Hurray For The Riff Raff and in particular the song Ramblin' Gal from the album 'Watch Out Mama' (2012). Their new LP 'Small Town Heroes' was released in the UK, again on ATO Records, on 31 March 2014. It isn't one of the three included in this post because I have mentioned it already.

The last of the three is this and the only one by non-American artists but like its predecessor, The Lion's Roar (2012), it was made with Mike Mogis at his studio in Omaha, NE. It is all a far cry from the time I first saw First Aid Kit live in the old-style Tipi stage at End Of The Road Festival. That is no bad thing because the potential was clear for all to hear.
'Stay Gold' is released by Columbia on 9 June in the UK.
It remains to be seen if First Aid Kit can sustain the momentum that was generated by 'The Lion's Roar'. One thing that I can say with certainty, having seen them play again on the Garden Stage at EOTR 2012, is that First Aid Kit certainly does not disappoint live.
Maybe I need to buy a ticket to Green Man Festival in August - I've never been before, so that would tick another box.