= December 2017 =  
Ian A Anderson
Shit & Shine
Housewives
Kamasi Washington
Sproatly Smith
The Granite Shore
dbh
Green Seagull
No Line North
Opel
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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IAN A ANDERSON -  DEATHFOLK BLUES REVISITED
CD from Bandcamp

Ian was one of the original English country blues guys to emerge from the Bristol area in the sixties, playing beatnik clubs like Les Cousins in London and the Troubadour in Bristol.  Stereo Death Breakdown was his first album, ably assisted by his own country blues band; it emerged on the Liberty label at the tail end of the sixties.  He then went on to make a lovely organic country blues record with steel guitar wizard Mike Cooper, before releasing a few albums on his own highly collectable Village Thing label in the early seventies.  Later on that decade he formed a duo with Maggie Holland called Hot Vultures who released three albums of folk blues, before taking a break from touring and recording to concentrate on broadcasting and producing a few world music artists, eventually settling on editing the esteemed Folk Roots magazine, a magazine that evolved from his quarterly magazine The Southern Rag.

Now some 50 years later, and older than the artists that first ignited his love of the country blues, he has returned to doing solo gigs, and fired up again has recorded this short but sweet album of rural country blues.  Back to basics and recorded solo and direct to one microphone, the record starts with “Keep Your Hands Off Her” a staple of his early live shows as learned from Big Bill Broonzy and Leadbelly, tweaking the lyrics as to not upset our increasingly delicate sensibilities. “A Fool Such As I” follows, this song was written by Bill Trader, it has been recorded over the years by a few people such as Hank Snow and Elvis, I myself first came to know the song in the late seventies, when it appeared on the debut album by Rodney Crowell.  Ian invests this song with a lovely guitar figure.

“Pretty Polly” is a traditional murder ballad that is both simple and gruesome, with Willie killing Polly and burying her in an open grave, just barely bothering to throw a few shovel loads of soil over her. It seems to me that Polly has never fared well in songs; she was also killed after being mistaken for a swan, in another classic folk murder ballad, it has been recorded by The Dillards etc, poor old Polly!  “I Love The Life I Live” written by Willie Dixon, appeared on the first Hot Vultures album, here it sparkles in this new paired down version.  “Break ‘Em On Down first appeared on his debut album, but this time it has a different tune and also new words, Ian invests this song with some lovely sympathetic playing.

“Fair And Tender Ladies” a traditional ballad has long been a favourite of mine and works well in this acoustic folk blues setting.  “The Wreck Of The Northfleet “ a tragic tale of a ship floundering in the sea off the Kent coast in Dungeness, Ian learned this song off of the Sussex singers Harry Upton and Johnny Doughty, it’s pretty harrowing and Ian shines on it, playing some lovely sympathetic acoustic guitar.  The album closes with “Crazy Fool Mumble” a song written by Ian for his appearance on John Peel’s Nightride radio show, it provides a fine end to this short (28 minutes) record.  Ian accompanies himself throughout on acoustic and slide guitars as well as a 7 string resonator, producing a lovely rural country blues record, welcome back!  (Andrew Young)

 


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SHIT AND SHINE – THAT’S ENOUGH
(EP/DL from Rocket Recordings
HOUSEWIVES – FF061116
(LP/DL from Rocket recordings

Wasn’t there an Aussie band back in the 60s called the Queasybeats? Maybe not but that would be a pretty good name for Craig Clouse to trade under if it weren’t for the fact he already had the most striking soubriquet, $hit and $hine

Title track opens with a sound clip from the Fast Show (Whitehouse’s toff and his Mrs asking the way to the garden party and Mark Williams’ evidently troubled bystander giving his psychotic directions). Built on the ominous foundations of a squelching rumble that will tickle the curiosity of JK Flesh fans you’ll think the needle’s stuck which is ridiculous. Who’s ever heard of anyone blowing fluff off a download code? Then it starts fizzing and crackling like demonic cybernetic dystopia. Oh but its bleak…If Sex Swing were to ditch their instruments and go all knobs n’ wires this is what is should sound like. Now there’s an idea to conjure with.

‘The Worst’ is also heavily reliant on sampled dialogue (almost to a fault) from American Pop Idol. Well In never thought I’d be bigging up the Cowell and I’m not, because it’s all about the beats, those pulsating little beauties that sustain us over 8 minutes. ‘I Like You Betty’ (Caddyshack, I think) is the edgier, more upbeat track, affecting mock explosions and teetering edge of the seat fair rides. Original, dark and fun. For those of us who have found Clouse’s work occasionally a bit difficult to love this is a reaffirmation of how good he is when he’s right on it.

Recalling how good Housewives were at Rocket’s All Day bash in 2016 brought into even sharper relief how non-plussed I’d felt on hearing their earlier releases. Rocket do seem to have an uncanny knack of knowing when to pounce and grab.

Seven sequentially numbered tracks called ‘Excerpt’ may at first glance suggest a band that is not really trying or else have parents with a comprehensive collection of Soft Machine albums but then first impressions can’t always be trusted (Mike Yarwood being a case in point – refer to the same parents and they’ll explain that one to you). A wheezy warm up gives way to a percussive, almost ska-beat which settles into a military rat-tat and a distant, “long-corridor” vocal. The kling-klang of “Excerpt 3” and “Except 5” sound like The Magic Band in frantic coupling with Hey Colossus although arguably the classiest example of that frenetic discordance is “Excerpt 6” on which the jagged rhythms lock into mortal combat with the atonal yelping. It’s all foreplay in comparison with the concluding “7” though. The reedy sounding sax riding on a suspenseful opening is how Jan Garbarek might sound scoring a film noire.  Menacing beats whip it into a shamanic intensity the pounding suggestive of some bizarre and quite possibly unsavoury initiation. Housewives Choice never sounded this interesting on the Light Programme on the wireless. Get your grandparents to explain THAT one to you.
(Ian Fraser)

 

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KAMASI WASHINGTON – HARMONY OF DIFFERENCE
(LP/CD/MP3 on Young Turks Recordings theyoungturks.co.uk)

When your loyal correspondent saw the eminent jazz sax man Kamasi Washington at the Bonnaroo festival in Tennessee, Washington made an astounding claim to the audience.  He said he and his band had just wrapped up in the studio, where they had recorded eight albums worth of music.  Could Harmony of Difference be the opening of the flood gates?  Only time will tell.

Everything about Washington is big, and often unconventional for jazz.  He’s a huge guy, and his flowing robes only make him seem larger.  His debut album, 2015’s suitably titled The Epic, was a massive 3 hour, 3 disc set.  He leads a big band, all of them hand-picked virtuosos, and they make an expansive sound.  Rather than play small, smoke-filled clubs in front of a couple of hundred jazz die-hards, he often plays festivals in front of thousands.  Harmony of Difference is released not by a jazz label such as Blue Note or Verve, but Young Turks Recordings, whose roster includes non-jazzers such as Jamie XX, SBTRKT, and Wavves.

Harmony of Difference contains music which was originally part of a multimedia exhibit for New York’s Whitney Museum of Art 2017 biennial.  The exhibit illustrated how forces that seem to be working in opposition could come together as a composite of complex beauty.  This included original paintings by Washington’s sister Amani Washington.  Indeed, art and music are a family affair; at the concert mentioned at the beginning of the review Washington brought out his father Rickey Washington, who helped nurture his music and career, and plays almost as mean a saxophone as Kamasi.  The elder Washington also contributes flute to this recording’s sensational closer “Truth.”

The titles of the six tracks on Harmony of Difference pretty well sum up the work’s themes – Desire; Humility; Knowledge; Perspective; Integrity; Truth.  It is a plea for unity and understanding.  We may not all come from the same background, or agree about everything, but let’s try to seek ways to channel our differences into something positive.  And by heavens we could all use more of that in the world today.  Many of the tracks cross-fade into one another, again not exactly standard jazz operating procedure.

Opener “Desire” starts with upright bass player Miles Mosely’s gentle lead-in, with a lilting musical theme that would re-appear later in the record, courtesy of Washington’s tenor sax, and a deft piano solo by Cameron Graves.  “Humility” follows next, with upbeat tempo and a big band sound, not unlike that of Christian McBride.  An even better piano solo from Cameron Graves is followed by a spirited solo from trumpeter Dontae Winslow, and a searing sax break from Washington.  “Knowledge” slows things down a bit, with a nifty rapid-fire trombone solo by Ryan Porter.  “Perspective” enters Grover Washington Jr. territory, highlighted by both Washington’s sax and Porter’s trombone, while “Integrity” introduces a Latin beat.  Washington’s compositions throughout are extremely lyrical and tuneful; one can imagine any or all of them as songs with words reflecting the themes.

All of this leads to the climax, the ambitious 13-and-a-half minute “Truth.”  That’s what it’s all about, and I don’t mean the Hokey Pokey.  Truth reprises earlier themes, starting small, with guitar by Matt Haze and tasteful vibes by Nick Mancini.  The song builds and builds, eventually incorporating all the horns, electric bass by Thundercat, plus a string section and chorus.  The tempo shifts keep the two drummers Ronald Bruner Jr and Tony Austin with their hands full at all times.  A section highlighting the strings and guitar brings to mind the Philadelphia sound, with its smooth arrangement reminiscent of Gamble & Huff’s finest, and the work of Quincy Jones.  This piece would be a mother to see live.

Harmony of Difference is big, brassy, played with gusto, and packs themes we can all appreciate.
(Mark Feingold)

 


SPROATLY SMITH – 11:59
( CD on Bandcamp )

The Sproatly Smith canon of marvellous music began in 2009 with the stunning debut album “The Yew & The Hare,” followed by a slew of weird-folk albums of equal quality. I was struck by the band’s use of folk melodies, unusual instruments and strange recordings, all of which made for very atmospheric listening. Later, the Weirdshire compilation packages built on the band’s Herefordshire roots, bringing in other groups and artists to the roster.

The new album opens with harmonium drones and a melancholy solo acoustic guitar playing a folk melody, 'The Highland Widow's Lament,' before the song is sung proper. Light percussion and a slide guitar add to the mournful atmosphere. So far, so classic Sproatly! 'Lost Villages Of Holderness' begins with sampled harp and birdsong, until a looped strings melody appears, and then the sounds of the sea. The song itself recalls lost villages, especially those which have fallen into the ocean. More slide guitars open up 'Beetle,' and again, with the use of distant birdsong, the atmosphere is reflective and melancholy. 'The Land Of Green Ginger' uses sampled sound recordings to create an atmosphere of nostalgia, which, with the soft female vocals and pipe organ, brings a wonderfully warm atmosphere. This technique of merging lengthy extant recordings with music is again classic Sproatly.

'Willow's Song' takes the listener into more overtly folk territory, with bowed instruments and another acoustic guitar. The song itself carries a beautiful melody over its scratchy, intentionally wonky backing. Definitely an album highlight. 'Tomo's Tale' opens with more tuned percussion (or possibly an mbira) and more environmental recordings; synths and half-sung, half-spoken vocals lie over this. 'The Bonny Bunch Of Roses' rather surprisingly brings in a drum machine thunking away beneath its very weird sampled recording, which perhaps is an old song sung by Sproatly Smith's granny. A most peculiar track! 'Ribbons' brings in a bass line reminiscent of Floyd's 'Careful With That Axe, Eugene' before heading off into wonderfully psychedelic territory - another album highlight, beautifully recorded and arranged. 'Lonely Scapa Flow' sounds like Gorky's circa 1995 with added mbira, while 'Willoughby's Combination' is more of a synth-enhanced trip.

The final three tracks are even more mournful than those preceding them. 'Wassail' is a lovely track opening with atmospheric bonfire recordings, before the faintly Indian song hoves into view, with its Wassailing theme. 'The Mistletoe Bough' uses the melody from 'In The Deep Midwinter' and other Christmas classics along with tanpura and another atmospheric recording to weave an atmosphere of wonder and nostalgia, while album closer 'Lullaby' is a marvellously arranged but oh-so-brief psych-folk track of considerable beauty.

From the debut album, I was hooked by Sproatly Smith's marvellous use of folk, melody, weird (and normal) instrumentation, and general application of sounds, recordings and synths. This new album is a little more quiet than earlier ones, dare I say it even ambient in places, but it is certainly up there with all the good ones. A super addition to the Weirdshire canon, and available on CD from the band’s colourful Bandcamp home.

(Steve Palmer)

 

THE GRANITE SHORE – SUSPENDED SECOND
(LP from Occultation Records)

The Granite Shore comprise of singer songwriter Nick Halliwelll (who owns occultation records) guitars, keyboards and most lead vocals. Phil Wilson, acoustic guitar. John Howard, piano and vocals, Steve Perrin, guitar and vocals. Ian Henderson, drums. With Arash Torabi, bass. This is their second album, following on from the highly acclaimed 2015 release “Once More From The Top”.

In the wake of last year’s seismic vote to leave the European Union, Nick thought that there would be a whole lot of songs about it, but, finding himself surprised by the lack of anything much, decided to write an album full of songs concerning this very important decision.  Being a big fan of pop music in general, he then proceeded to wrap these songs with instrumentation of an accessible nature, so the subject matter is quite serious, but the record remains enjoyable.

“So It Begins”, the lead off track eases us in with a nice keyboard with taut driving bass and drums, Nick has a warm baritone voice which is used to good effect throughout this record particularly on this track. “Outside, Looking In” reminds me immediately of a John Howard tune, even though it’s written and sung by Nick.  This song has ol’Blighty rattling a tin cup for spare change. “Buyer Beware” questions our new status; will we now have blue passports again?  It has us stagnating, our memories sealed up in amber. “There’s Always One” gets into the nitty gritty of our current situation, and questions the price we will have to pay, an issue that’s becoming clearer by the day, how did we seemingly sleep walk into this mess?  The song has a pretty tune, which offsets this major issue of borders and taxes, etc, etc.  “Someone Else” a nice piano ballad full of descending chords, wonders how we can suddenly change personas, with the answer being that we suspend and pretend!

“Where Does The Sadness Come From” uses the weather of Great Britain as a metaphor for this new malaise, some lovely lyrics of stiff upper lips and steady ships.  Imagine Abba forty years down the line, this will give you an idea of where they are coming from.  “I Suppose So” sees a dreaming Albion, with a thousand terrors running through its head, a troubled sleep, still worse things happen at sea.  Steve (formerly of the punk band The Distractions) plays a terrific succinct lead guitar line throughout this one, it also has some more of those super ooh’s and aah’s from the backing singers. Nice piano too. “ The Performance Of A Lifetime” is the centre piece of the album, an angry mob bays and fades out to a nice dreamy keyboard pattern, i love this one, it has hints of Love’s “Old Man”.  A loping song that’s over nine minutes in duration, Steve’s sympathetic guitar lines are integral to the songs structure, a refrain of “We will send you sweetly to your rest, beyond all noise, beyond all violence, we will send you sweetly to your rest, and as you know, the rest is silence”.  It is also the proggiest tune on the record, almost ten minutes long, with hints of Genesis and Barclay James Harvest, which I’m sure the band will emphatically refute.  “Commodities” closes out this fine record, a song concerning tomorrow and a betrayal of trust, some fine electric piano and gorgeous acoustic guitar from Phil.  A rare thing has been achieved here, a highly literal album of pop music.

(Andrew Young)

 


dbh - MASS 
(LP/CD on Thread Recordings)

This is the third record of solo instrumentals from dbh (all lowercase please), and follows up “Mood” and “Time Flies” it was recorded by Karl Sviensson at Queen Ark Audio, Manchester.

dbh is a composer and multi instrumentalist based in Manchester , playing with NASDAQ and FTS 100 and playing all manner of instruments with Kiran Leonard, Irma Vep and Julie Byrne.

A record of immense beauty, being both cathartic and peaceful.  Standout tracks for me were the ever so lovely spectral guitar lines in “Light Pools” which peel away into the vast inkiness, building cathedrals of epic graceful strings.  “Med Sun” has a playful warmth to its acoustic guitar tones.  “ Ghost Of Eyeless”  is stately and elegant, arpeggio acoustic guitars, bass, cello, piano and a tiny bit of banjo trace out the tune, the instruments added in layers, creating a pleasing tune that soothes then jars, before a classic motif is explored and embellished.  “Blues 11” an Eastern flavoured bluesy tune that uses a strange tuning DADFAD with capo. “Hike” a piano led tune accompanied by minimal atmospherics that takes us from the foothills to the top of a mountain, taking in the clean air and wondering at the beauty of the view. Lastly the title track “Mass Appeal” a short solo acoustic guitar piece and the only song on the album in the standard guitar tuning of EADGBE.    (Andrew Young)

 

GREEN SEAGULL  - (I USED TO DREAM IN) BLACK AND WHITE B/W NOT LIKE YOU AND ME
(7” single from Megadodo )

Following on from their single earlier this year and prior to their first full length album early next year we have another couple of jangle inflected psychedelic songs.  I really rated the first single by this lot and this one doesn’t disappoint, straight out of the gates we have a chiming 12 string baroque charmer that would appear to have been beamed in from 1967, full of sixties imagery and topped off with some big fat electric lead guitar. Second song “Not Like You And Me” takes a similar path as the A side and adds groovy organ into the mix, its punchy and tight as a gnat’s bottom. (Andrew Young)

 

NO LINE NORTH - DREAMS OF TREES PART 1
(CD on Twin Lakes )

This is the first part of a split recording, with the second part due imminently, being more of a garage rock affair whilst retaining the folk feel of this one.  The band has a few albums under their belt already and also a recent split single with female singer Lys Guillorn.

“Line Drive” is a lengthy instrumental opener.  Ethereal guitar introduces us to a motorik, banjo led rocker, sort of picking up where Scott 4 left off, bubbling synths, taut bass, terrific arcing violin and driving drums.  “Butterflies” with Lys Guillorn joining in on vocals, Brian’s Violin playing really elevating the song, pretty harmonies and a tight rhythm. “Sky And Sea” continues in a similar fashion, plenty of nature references investing the tune with a pastoral feel with the violin again given prominence.  The violin playing of Brian Slattery is their secret weapon and again is used to great effect throughout the next song “Under The Sun” joined by some fine flat- picked acoustic guitar, played by singer John Schlesinger (who also writes the songs).  “Sugar Baby” sung by John, reminding me of one J. J. Cale, which is never a bad thing in my book. This is straight out of the old weird America, an updated traditional, as heard by them from an old Dock Boggs record.  It twinkles in the gloaming, and you can almost see the fireflies. A new band for me and one I will keep a close eye on. (Andrew Young)

 

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OPEL – THE BOUGH AT JACOB’S RAKE DEMOS
(Digital album from https://opel1.bandcamp.com )

A self-styled “wicker rock” band who were active in the latter part of the 1990s, it would suggest that Opel pre-dated the Noughties wyrd folk revival. That assumption is only partly supported judging from this highly eclectic, stylistically fluctuating collection of demo recordings.

At its best this sounds like a souped-up Pentangle with hints of how Trembling Bells might sound were they to spend an inordinate amount of time cruising up and down 1970s California freeways. Another plus side is that Claire Colley’s affecting vocal sounds not dissimilar to Meg Baird in places.

In fact it all starts promisingly enough ‘She Don’t Care’ packs a decent motor while showcasing the band’s indelible predilection for strong, catchy melodies. ‘Double Bubble’ also proceeds at an urgent skitter with a gorgeous air redolent of the First Era of Psychedelia while the prominent raga guitar and organ stylings sound as if they’ve been lifted straight from the 1967 year book. Best of an impressive opening triptych, though, is the jazz-flecked “253 (Sunshine)” a forceful, driving tune with its rather curious coda and endearingly daft lyrics (“my old man’s a spaceman”, indeed).

Thereafter the quality control fluctuates just a little. The power balladry while pleasant and well executed enough is a little more mainstream 70s but while it’s time warped it’s never twee. If there is the suggestion that they’ve hit cruise control then that’s dispelled by the gutsy ‘More Like Roses’ a folk metal rocker par excellence (Evanescence take note) and there are a couple of instrumentals that acquit themselves just fine, not least the closing, eerie drone of ‘Winter Morning/First Light’
A band out of time, you sense, back in the days of Brit Pop and all that nonsense. What they might have given for the patronage of a label like Fruits de Mer who, funnily enough, issued a truncated CD version as part of the goody bag at this year’s 15th Dream of Dr Sardonicus. Well if that doesn’t make you at least the slightest bit curious…
(Ian Fraser)