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.

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'.
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.