The Voluntary Butler Scheme: At Breakfast, Dinner, Tea

The VBS are Stourbridge’s Rob Jones delivering pop music at its best in a quaint and incredibly simple way. Pop eccentricity oozes sumptuously out of his pores. Best of all, it arrives in the Kinks, Bonzo Dog Band, Blur envelope. This is modern British bubblegum. This is ice cream vans and Trumpton and Camberwick Green. Sid James whizzing by in a go kart in Carry on Girls. This is an Alan Bennett play, the shipping forecast on Radio 4 and rueful sea side kisses in the pouring rain. Jones clearly has an ear for the pop song and I’ll wager has a fantastic vinyl collection.

Songs like Trading Things In encapsulates a bubblegum sound Goffin and King or Boyce and Hart would die for. Tobasco Sole could be racing up the hit parade. That’s if there still was a Top of the Pops. The VBS remind me of quintessential quirky British pop groups and sitting down to watch XTC or Pulp or The Smiths delighting in the knowledge that their job is to perform pop music that makes us smile. There are shades of The Rutles Neil Innes goofing out as Lennon with in Alarm Clock. On Hot Air Balloon, there are familiar echoes of Nilsson.

This is a pop jigsaw that unashamedly sounds in part like so many classic pop pieces. Jones is like a curator of an old pop museum unashamedly moulding new classics from the discarded bits and pieces and bric a brac and all with a carefree attitude. Yes, there are loads of old snapshots and very familiar little snippets of pop music along the way but they all come together nicely to deliver a great lo-fi experience. Pop music is simple. Don’t take it too seriously. Go get the kettle on.

A star is born.

[][][][] (4/5) - Review by Charlie Brown

~ Friday, 31 July 2009

Christopher Bell: Cover (e.p.)

The concept behind this ep is filled with good intentions from the 23yr old from Upstate New York. Taking 'five songs from five of his friends' and playing them in his own style is in principle, an interesting idea.

The chances are that most people will never have heard of any of the acts being covered here, never mind Bell himself, but a wee bit of rooting around on the net and you can find the originals of the tracks covered here. That though reveals the fact that Bell's versions of the songs are almost identical to the originals. This begs the question, so why cover them?

The only merit to this ep is the introduction to some of the bands that are covered. Be Bold Brave Robots, The Accident That Led Me To The World and Tom and Leah's Investigation Agency Inc are all worth checking out.

Bell is a competent songwriter in his own right, so why he felt the need to record, never mind release this ep is best known to him.

~ Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Crosby, Stills & Nash: Demos

To many it was not The Beatles or The Stones that encapsulated the Sixties, but Crosby, Stills & Nash. The contribution that CSN have made to music is a hefty one and this album is an interesting insight to the early workings of some of the bands most famous songs.

Marrakesh Express still sounds fresh today and this stripped to the bones version is wonderful. I have to confess to being a huge fan of the band, David Crosby in particular, and the songs written by Crosby that feature here are the best. Almost Cut My Hair is a classic. Perhaps the best song the band ever recorded and this laid back acoustic and vocal interpretation had the hairs on the back of my neck standing on end. Deja Vu is equally stunning.

Stephen's Stills can be heard at the beginning of
Love The One Your With saying 'This is really a fun game.' and you can tell he is enjoying himself on this classic.

It may be a little rough around the edges, but that is the charm of this album. Diehards of the band will love it, but please don't discount it if you are not. If you like Fleet Foxes, then you should certainly check out this album.

[][][][] (4/5)

Listen to Crosby, Stills & Nash: Almost Cut My Hair


Jo Hamilton: Gown

A classically trained musician and member of The Rainbow Chasers, this is the debut album from the Birmingham based lass. With Gown, Hamilton manages to blur the boundaries between folk and electronica with consummate ease. The result is an album full of atmosphere that is rich, warm and often stunning.

The album opener, Exist (Beyond My Wildest Dreams) is the weakest track here, despite the addition of guitar from blues genius Andy Gunn, but this is soon forgotten as Pick Me Up
kicks in. An anthemic exercise in ambient chilled out dance that is perfect for watching the Ibizian sunset.

Hamilton has been compared with Kate Bush and Annie Lennox, but there is nothing on this album as remotely self indulgent or overbearing as those two. What we get is something more akin to Little Boots or Imogen Heap. Experimentation without being pretentious.

This is an album of huge promise. Tracks like All in Adoration and Deeper (Glorious) and Think Of Me shows she has a understanding of using melody and space in perfect harmony.

To these ears Mekong Song stands out amongst a hugely impressive set of self penned songs. The sparse arrangement allowing Hamilton's voice to shine.

Not quite the finished article, but damn near perfect.

[][][][] (4/5)

Listen to Jo Hamilton: Pick Me Up

~ Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Hat Fitz: Play Me Sumthin New

Oh yeah. This is good. I'm getting that in at the beginning for a very good reason. Bare with me on this one. This is an album of delta blues that Leadbelly would be proud of. Nothing strange in that, except that Hat Fitz is a big bearded Aussie who lives in a hut in the middle of the Australian outback. He looks like Ned Kelly, but plays guitar like Robert Johnson and sings like the devil owns his soul. This is blues in its most basic form, passionate and completely infectious.

With the break up of his relationship, missing his son and having to take a series of dead end jobs to pay the bills, Fitz has plenty of material for the 16 tracks on this album.

Opener and title track Play Me Sumthin New is a bitter sweet ballad about the break up of his relationship, the addition of some home recordings at the beginning and end adding to the overall effect. Ragged 'n' Dirty is a classic slice of delta pickin', as is Go With Her. Fitz excels at this stuff. His laid back style, rasping resonator guitar and husky vocals are able to transport you to the deep South or New Orleans. I swear you can close your eyes and believe you are sitting on the patio of
Pat O'Briens on Saint Peter Street sipping a chilled Hurricane.

The gospel tinged blues standard (Keep your Lamp) Trimmed 'n' Burnin stays faithful to
Blind Willie Johnson's version and sound like it was recorded round a campfire late at night. Amazing stuff.

The last third of the album is simply stunning. Brownzville, Gorgia Rag and Roosta Crows are a masterclass in slide blues. Seasick Steve aside, there are not many artists out there today that are capable of playing this style of music with the feeling that Hat Fitz puts into it.

[][][][][ (4.5/5)

Listen to Hat Fitz: Trimmed 'n' Burnin

~ Monday, 27 July 2009

Maeve O'Boyle: All My Sins - Album of the Month - July 2009

The debut album from this 21 yr old Scottish lass is one of the finest records we have came across this year. The heady mix of folk and pop is a refreshing change from the mass produced fodder that clogs up the charts. With Contributions from Deacon Blue's Ricky Ross and The Blue Nile's producer Calum Malcolm twiddling the knobs, this is a classy affair from start to finish.

Released on Linn Records, the recording arm of the world leader in high quality audio equipment, the production is faultless. Calum Malcolm has done an outstanding job.

O'Boyle has been building a name for herself within the music industry for some time now and this album shows what a talented songwriter she is. Blessed with a voice that is able melt your heart (or shatter your ear drum when required), she uses it to tweak every last bit of emotion
on the 10 songs on the album. This is evident on the touching Facing Home, a tribute to her grandfather, while the spine tingling Butterfly is breathtaking.

Pray It Never Happens and Old Greenwich Time demonstrate a skill as a songwriter way beyond her years, while the highlight of the album, Taxi, an ode to late night Glasgow, was written when she was only 13!

I could go through every track on this album giving it a glowing review, but all I need to say is that this album deserves to be in your collection, as it is the best album of the year so far.

[][][][][] (5/5)

Listen to Maeve O'Boyle: Taxi

~ Sunday, 26 July 2009

Paul Steel: Moon Rock

Paul Steel arrives with heavy credentials. Hailed as the next Brian Wilson with a thumbs up from Beach Boys collaborators Van Dyke Parks and Stephen Kalinich. If that’s not cool enough, Sean Lennon also pops in for tea delivering a lovely parcel of compliments. It’s a bit unfair and too early in his career to expect this Brighton based singer songwriter to release Pet Sounds just yet.

On Moon Rock he makes a great attempt at proving, as well as a great ear for lush harmony and quirky pop tunes, he has a great touch as a producer. On Rust and Dust I hear echoes of Jellyfish and vocally on Crossed the Line a definite touch of Colin Blunstone of The Zombies circa Odyssey and Oracle. The opener, In a Coma is catchy and sticks with you, getting strange looks when you sing it walking to the shops for milk.

It’s clear to see when others faltered, why EMI Japan picked up the tab with Steel. He’s definitely not Brian Wilson yet, but shows positive signs of developing. If he spends more time on structure and song-writing instead of blinding us with an obvious talent for trickery in the studio, he could be on his way to writing a classic. Having said that, the string arrangement and vocal dexterity shown on The Way You Are beggars belief for someone aged 22.

If it’s bags full of West Coast inspired harmony and summer sunshine pop you desire and want in early on the career of a new star ready to explode buy Moon Rock now. But be careful, this album’s infectious and may have you locked up for singing too loudly in the library.

[][][][] (4/5) - Review by Charlie Brown

Listen to Paul Steel: The Way You Are

~ Saturday, 25 July 2009

Andy White: Songwriter

There are few artists that can command such loyalty from their fans, but then the affable Irishman is not your run of the mill songwriter. This is White's first album in 4 years, the follow up to the patchy Garageband, and we're glad to report a return to form. Recorded in Australia, England, Canada and America, it is produced by Andy himself with the help of the legendary John Leckie.

If You Want It and First and Discovery are perhaps the two tracks that grab you first, mainly due to the additional vocal interaction from Allison Russell, but it is on the more uptempo tracks where White excels. Take Me Home drives along paying homage to his native Ireland, sounding like the Saw Doctors playing Bluegrass while the Honky Tonk of Twelve String Man is foot tappingly infectious.

The Valley Of My Heart and I Believe are classic Andy White, harking back to albums like Kiss The Big Stone and Out There.

This is a welcome addition to his already considerable catalogue of albums and while maybe not his best is perhaps his most accessible to date. A good introduction to a national treasure.

[][][][} (4/5)

Listen to Andy White: If You Want It

~ Thursday, 23 July 2009

The Dodos: Time To Die

Psychedelic folk is the badge of choice for this San Franciscan duo and that is pretty much on the money. Driven by Logan Kroeber's erratic drums and Meric Long's wistful vocals, the music is exciting and challenging, but not always accessible.

Long's voice is reminiscent of Paul McCartney's towards the end of The Beatles and the music also has many of the pop sensibilities of the afore mentioned.

Much of the album is driven by the drumming of Kroeber, with the drums being there as an integral part of the arrangements rather than just a beat in the back ground. The interaction between the drums and guitar is used to the full on tracks like Longform and Two Medicines, the latter's harmonies and staccato guitar particularly appealing

Fables and This Is A Business have a more folky feel and are only edged out of being my favourites by Acorn Factory. An acoustic driven song that rises and falls melodically and could be straight out of the Stephen Stills songbook.

It is hard to find any negatives on this home recorded album. If you are a fan of Neil Young, Wilco, Fleet Foxes or Springsteen then this album will be welcomed like an old friend.

[][][][][ (4.5/5)

~ Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Windmill: Epcot Starfields

With the anniversary of the Moon Landings upon us there has been a rash of releases with themes relating to space and the stars and one man outfit Matthew Thomas Dillon makes a contribution to that list. Fueled by a childhood visit to the Epcot centre in Florida, he has let his imagination run wild with a science fiction landscape that is stark and disturbing.

His debut album, 2007's Puddle City Racing Lights garnered critical acclaim across the board, but with this slightly one dimensional release, he may struggle to match the plaudits.

The faux American accent wears a bit thin only a few tracks in. The voice is whimsical, twee even, sounding like They Might Be Giants John Flansburgh parodying himself, giving it a nails on blackboard quality.

I suppose we could call it a concept album and I suppose that as such it works. Listened to as a whole it has a sound track like quality, but this results in all the tracks sounding pretty much the same. Repeated listening has failed to have any individual song stick in my head.

The arrangements certainly paint a picture in your mind of the isolation and endless darkness that was portrait in films like
2001: A Space Odyssey or Silent Running, so if that was Dillon's intentions, then he has succeeded, but without the visuals to back it up, it is just repetitive and monotonous.

[][] (2/5)


The Drug Models Love: Slow Hope Parade

The Drug Models Love is New Yorker Kevin McGinnis (formerly of Ursula Points and Dopo Yume). I kind of get what he’s all about despite being cynical when a CD and press release hailing yet another singer songwriter with an acoustic and a drum machine falls through the letterbox. I’m unsure at first, but I get where he’s coming from, a bed-sit like Bret and Jemaine from Flight of the Conchords. It’s somewhere overlooking brownstones in Greenwich Village. It’s Brooklyn, or Queens, chaotic outside yet it’s a calming read at the New York Times Sunday papers, slowly coming round from a hangover. It’s coffee, toast and a piece of vanilla cheesecake. Comforting, necessary and slowly makes you feel like you’re part of the world again. It’s intrinsically a New Yorker’s album, cool, moody and lyrically sharp.

Whereas his previous band Ursula Points were more about My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive this is about a cityscape soundtrack. This is more MBV’s Kevin Shields soundtrack work. It’s about a 4AM drive when the world’s asleep and your home soon and the air is cool and thoughts are clear. The dramatic opener Wrapped in Honey could be straight out of Lost in Translation. All you need is a movie about any major city at night, throw in some angst, a bit of isolation and insecurity and The Drug Models Love could be more than a guitar, a drum machine and some talented engineer friends popping round for a cuppa.

What Slow Hope Parade lacks in bombastic dynamic it makes up for in dramatic ambience. There’s a definite flavour of early Marc Bolan, particularly In Palm Satellites and Heir Apparent.

The Drug Models Love are like a beard. Unusual and strange at first, but once you get used to it, a definite grower.

[][][] (3/5)

Review by Charlie Brown

~ Tuesday, 21 July 2009

The Ettes: Danger Is (e.p.)

The only negative to listening to this EP from New York-born, LA based trio The Ettes is you immediately fall in love with them and want leave home, rob your local drugstore and drive into the plot of a Tarantino movie with Danger Is EP as the soundtrack. You know it’s just lust. It’s a seedy, secret, sordid affair that will never work or last but what a blast and what a ride. From the pulsating bass on the opener No Home to the early Blondie and Ramones Lo and Behold where singer Coco pleads to ‘let’s die together’. By the time the Sonics laced rifferamma of Subject kicks in, you’re hooked.

Normally by looking at the cover you can write the review before listening, all the dark, moody, posturing and style over content, but not these cats, they’re the real deal people. They know what they’re good at and deliver well structured pop tunes. Three great songs and two live tracks give a brief and fleeting glimpse of a band on the verge of something special. The Ettes look the part but also deliver, making you dust off your old Nuggets and Pebbles compilations, put a fuse in the turbo boost bass fuzz pedal, have you forming a garage band and doing a cover of ‘Can Your Pussy Do the Dog?’ by the Cramps.

Wonder if Phil Spector’s allowed visits? If so, he should get his wig back on and hook up with The Ettes. The wall of sound created by Poni’s immense drumming and Jem’s cavernous bass sound, kissed with Coco’s melodramatic vocals are a perfect beat-punk example of how pop should be. The danger is, (oops sorry!) they might be too big to chat up at the bar in a few months time, buy this EP and become friends now.

(If you like this: try The Gossip, The Go Gos, The Sonics, White Stripes, Blondie, Sons and Daughters and The Runaways).

Review by Charlie Brown

~ Friday, 17 July 2009

Wye Oak: The Knot

Baltimore duo Wye Oak play indie folk, sounding like a leftfield White Stripes, with Jenn Wasner's vocals reminiscent of The Pixies Kim Deal. This makes them a rewarding and interesting prospect for those who look for something that little bit different.

Album opener Milk and Honey is short and sweet and sets the tone for the rest of the album with its cinematic soundscapes underpinning the melody. Take It In rumbles in the chorus while in the verse the muted bass highlights the bluesy guitar picking.

Mary is Mary, the longest track at over 7 mins long is an epic and sweeping piece of dark Americana and also quite beautiful.

Siamese is the nearest they come to a pop song, the violin lifting it above the ordinary. On Tattoo the band experiments with sound in the same way Arcade Fire do and pull it of gloriously.

Recorded in their living room, it has a naivety that brings to mind band like Big Star and even Neil Young. Wye Oak bring a refreshing twist to a genre of music that can so often be stuck in a rut and The Knot shows that is can be fresh and inventive.

[][][][] (4/5)

~ Thursday, 16 July 2009

The Phoenix Foundation: Happy Ending

This New Zealand band are much venerated in their homeland and this their 3rd album may struggle to get them noticed further afield. Now, if a band comes from New Zealand they often get unfairly compared to Split Endz or Crowded House, but there is no getting away with the fact that these guys do share a similar sound.

Front man Samuel Flynn Scott at times sound uncannily like Jarvis Cocker and indeed opener Bright Grey could easily fit on a pulp album as could Bleaching Sun. On Slumber Party and Gandolf there is a psychedelic feel, like Sgt. Pepper era Beatles or The Beach Boys Pet Sounds.

The best tracks are 40 Years, all jangling guitars and a perfect song for the summer, and Burning Wreck, a beautiful song made all the more enjoyable by Flynn Scott's lazy vocals.

That said, the main problem with this album is that while there are no duds, there are no real obvious singles on here that grab you and make you pay attention. With the exception of 40 Years, it is hard to see where the radio play will come from.

[][][] (3/5)


Malcolm Middleton: Waxing Gibbous

This is the 5th solo album for Middleton and dare I say... the best. Self produced and featuring contributions from various members of Fife's Fence Collective, Middleton said he did not enjoy making this album, but if that is the case, it doesn't show.

Opener Red Travellin' Socks is quite brilliant. A stomping folk anthem of epic proportions that really gets the heart racing. I really, really love this song. Its energy is also in evidence on Kiss At The Station and Shadows. Both destined to be live favourites.

There are some really beautifully simple acoustic moments on here to. Carry Me and Made Up Your Mind are mellow and melancholy, with the formers use of layered harmonies a stroke of genius.

Just when you are getting comfortable and think you know what this album is all about, you get Zero, sounding like 80's New Order while Box and Knife blurs the boundaries between folk, rock and electronica.

This is a record that is as refreshing as it is comforting and borders on being a masterpiece.

[][][][][] (5/5)

~ Monday, 13 July 2009

Bap Kennedy: Howl On

The former Energy Orchard front man has had his fair shares of ups and downs, but he has consistently produced classic albums that should have gained him far more recognition than they did. This album sees him go in a far more country direction than with previous work, calling upon his childhood obsession with all thing American and the Moon Landings in particular.

Opening track America (see we told you), is a slice of Latin tinged Americana with a soft melody while Cold War Country Blues moves into bluegrass territory and features some nifty Dobro slide along side some strong political comment.

The cover of Hey Joe is an inspired choice with a skiffle beat and some dirty guitar licks thrown in for good measure. Kennedy's voice is as distinctive as ever, warm and comforting, like an old uncle telling you bedtime stories.

While not every track grabs you straight away, like Brave Captain and Ballad of Neil Armstrong, there are enough gems here in Irish Moon, The Blue One and The Heart of Universal Love to make this an album worth having.

Not as instant as 2005's The Big Picture, but it's growing on me.

[][][][ (3.5/5)


Colin Vearncombe: The Given

This, the first studio album for Mr Vearncombe, aka Black, in four years has an earthy live feel to it and minimal production, but that voice.... like a pint of Guiness, velvety smooth, has certainly improved with age.

For many years Vearncombe has taken a back seat from the spotlight choosing to record and tour when the notion takes him. Beautiful albums like Smoke Up Close and Between Two Churches, released on his Nero Schwars label, have satisfied the cravings of his loyal fans, but sadly not brought him back to the mainstream public attentions.

There are only eight tracks here, but it is about the quality rather than the quantity and there is a tangible soul sound going on throughout this album mainly due to the Motown style backing vocals and the Smokey Robinson drum sound.

The soul influences are everywhere on the lilting Blondes while Chapter and Verse is just the perfect summer song, lush strings and understated arrangement.

The highlight for these ears is the beguiling Beneath The Radar where the interaction between the guitar and vocals work in harmony. Beautiful. The album closes on the upbeat Misbegotten Child, a possible single perhaps, like The Corel or The La's in their finest moments.

This album is being given away as a download from his website, so no excuses for not owning it. Re-discover one of the finest voices and songwriters that these Isles has produced.

[][][][] (4/5)

~ Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Dolores O'Riordan: The Journey (single)

Released as a download only single from her forthcoming second solo album, No Baggage. O'Riordan found fame as the voice of critically acclaimed Irish band The Cranberries and fans of the band will be pleased to hear that the trademark vocals are still to the fore, while the sound is pretty much the same as her previous band.

The Journey is a familiar driven slice of radio friendly pop/rock that O'Riordan has became known for. Well if it ain't broken... The vocals are faultless, her Irish brogue as full as ever and the production is warms and slick.

As a taster for the album this is a strong reason for putting it on your wish list.

~ Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Laruso: Plain Paper Napkins (single)

Taken from the Sheffield screamo rockers new album A Classic Case of Cause & Effect, it is a ferocious slab of 100 mph aural assault, all chugging guitars and shouty vocals. Citing there influences as Faith No More and Alice In Chains, there is little evidence of them on this single.

There is nothing as melodic as the afore mentioned and is a fairly rock by numbers affair, albeit done with some passion. With a wealth of up and coming young pretenders doing this stuff better like Flood of Red and Her Bright Skies, Laruso may struggle to stand out.


British Sea Power: Man Of Aran

British Sea Power either delight or disappoint depending on your point of view. If you love them for their anthemic Mercury nominated Do You Like Rock Music? then you may be in for a shock on this new album.

I'll lay my cards on the table, I like this album, but then I like British Sea Power. They take chances. They make music that they like. Man Of Aran is almost entirely instrumental, recorded as a new soundtrack for an obscure documentary about Irish fishermen on the west coast of Ireland.

Now, I grant you, this does not sound like something you may want to shell out your hard earned cash on and the DVD of the black and white documentary that comes with it may not be enough to swing it, but this is a beautiful, haunting, image painting landscape of sound that will delight those of us who hold them dear for the originality and imagination.

Man Of Aran and Woman Of Aran share atmosphere in abundance driven by haunting strings, ethereal vocal harmonies and a repetitive piano loop in the background. Come Wander With Me instantly takes you back in time, epic brass carrying the melody and featuring the only moment of singing on the whole album.
While it has obviously been made to be listened to as a whole piece rather than on a track by track basis, Boy Vertiginous is perhaps the one song that could work on its own merits.

It is true to say the music works best when set against the images portrayed in the documentary, but there is enough here to allow it to stand on its own. This is music to immerse yourself in from one of our most adventurous

[][][][] (4/5)


Fanfarlo: Reservoir

This is the debut by the London based band fronted by Swede Simon Balthazar and a beautiful album it is to. The music brings to mind The Thrills, Belle & Sebastian and at times Dexy's Midnight Runners, but Balthazar's vocals add an ethereal feel giving it an individuality that sets it apart from the afore mentioned bands.

The album is infused with lush instrumentation ranging from glockenspiels to melodicas, adding a twee feel which is favoured by Balthazar's fellow Swedes
Håkan Hellström and Jens Lekman. Opener I'm A Pilot is all sweeping drums, pianos and strings, rising and crashing effortlessly with a real understanding of what makes a perfect pop song. The driving strings and brass of Ghosts melt with the thumping bass sounding like vintage Dexy's in there prime.

Luna proves to be a highlight, the Arcade Fire comparisons aside. The AF comparisons are also to the fore on Drowning Men, all chopped beats and bass interlaced with strings. A personal favourite is the 2008 single, Harold T. Wilkins. Simple, but instantly memorable.

Quite simply there is not a bad track on here. Reservoir is an accomplished and uplifting piece of work that I'm sure will stand the test of time and deserves to be heard.

[][][][][ (4.5/5)

~ Monday, 6 July 2009

Apples: Reason 45 (single)

This hugely infectious debut single from the Midlands band sounds like it could easily have been released in the 80's, having the pop sensibilities of the likes of Haircut 100 and XTC (ask your parents kids).

The jangly guitars and jagged horns work perfectly with the Peter Gabrielesque vocals
. Think Vampire Weekend but happier.

This is a tune built for the summer with a chorus that has more bounce than a fat kid on a trampoline. These guys are definitely destined for great things. One of the best singles we have heard in a long time.

~ Sunday, 5 July 2009

People In Planes: Beyond The Horizon

This is the second album from the Welsh five piece and represents a massive leap forward from their debut, As Far As The Eye Can See. Their debut found them being compared to Radiohead and Pearl Jam and those comparisons won't go away with this new album.

The production on this one though is darker and harder and this gives the songs a polish that was lacking from their earlier work. This record has the potential to make the guys household names.

Opener Last Man Standing has shades of fellow Welsh rockers Lostprophets, not a bad thing, and the thumping bass line is hard to resist. The bands leaning for art rock and the leftfield are still there in the form of Get On The Flaw and Flesh and Blood.

Front man Gareth Jones's vocal are the one constant that threads everything together, like a relaxed Eddie Vedder or Screaming Trees Mark Lanegan.

While this is definitely rock, it also has a pop feel with touches of americana and psychedelia
thrown into the mix. The comparisons with other bands out there continues with the stand outs Evil With You, a brooding slow burner that I imagine the Fleet Foxes would sound like if they made a rock album and Tonight The Sun Will Rise kicking off with Kasabian style bass and drums.

That is perhaps the strength of this album, that it reminds you of something else. Not wholly original, but wholly enjoyable.

[][][][] (4/5)

~ Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Django James & The Midnight Squires: Hurricane (single)

Looking like a refugee from a charity shop, the diminutive 18yr old has shall we a say a unique style. Thankfully his music is more stylish than his dress sense.

It was probably inevitable that he was going to be a musician as he is the son of Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics and Siobhan Fahey of Shakespeare's Sister. He has not followed in his parents footsteps regarding musical taste, instead we find ourselves with some radio friendly rock with a big dollop of glam on the side.

The first of the two track on this single, Hurricane is a rocking bit of power pop sounding somewhere between Razorlight and The Enemy while second song Pretend It's Not Me is leaning more toward the bubble gum punk of the Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs.

Young Mr Jones has a likable voice packed with attitude and Hurricane certainly is catchy enough to find him in the charts both here in the UK and in his adopted home of America.


Manna: Some Girls/Some Boys (Single)

This is the debut single from the Finnish popster, who if we believe the publicity 'combines elements of rock, punk and folk with beautiful pop melodies.'

Now... the likes of Goldfrapp and Little Boots do this stuff very, very well, so if you want to compete in this market, then you gonna need something pretty special.

Sadly Manna fails miserably. This is a turgid piece of electro pop that sound like it was composed by an 8 year old on a bontempi keyboard while searching for the on button. The vocals are almost inaudible as they are so far back in the mix, but perhaps that is a good thing.

As a taster for her forthcoming album released in September, it really is a miserable affair. Expect to hear it on Radio 1 very soon.


Crosby Tyler: 10 Songs of America Today

Crosby Tyler has came to many peoples attention through his association with erstwhile mentor and producer of this album, Peter Case. While he lacks the insightful narrative of Case, his music displays an endearing honesty that make this an album that is easy to warm to.

With this album, Tyler has used each song to portray the America he knows and the things that he loves and hates about it. It was inevitable that George W Bush would pop up and he takes pride of place in the shooting gallery on Leave It All In The Hands Of The Lord, a wry look at George's belief that god is a republican.

The Spanish tinged Six Tattoos and a Tongue Ring is a look at youth culture in his native LA while he manages to confronts a few of his own ghosts on Red, a song about his memories of his father.

The album closes on
Marching Down Them Golden Roads, perhaps the strongest track on offer. It is true to say that there are no real classic on here, but as I said earlier, there is an honesty to this record and it has grown on me with every listen. For once it is refreshing to hear someone sing about what they know rather than pretending to be something they are not. For that alone I doff my hat to Mr Tyler.

[][][][ (3.5/5)


Hollie Smith: Long Player

The New Zealand soul starlet will be a new name to most here in the Northern Hemisphere and this album passed pretty much under the radar in the UK, but back home she is a very big star indeed.

The music is fairly laid back throughout and is designed more for chillin' than burning up the dance floor. Her voice has shades of Mary J Blige and even Lisa Stansfield, and while perhaps not the most powerful of voices, it certainly has its warmth.

The first half of the album is certainly the strongest with opener Can't Let You Down and I Will Do being the stand outs, but after a while many of the tracks become indistinguishable, due to similar instrumentation and repetitive tempo.

There is enough here to suggest that the best is still to come, but if she plans to break the market outwith New Zealand, then it won't happen with this album.

[][][] (3/5)


John Goldie: Open 4 Closure

Scottish guitar master Goldie has a pedigree that few can match and with this album he moves away from the one man, one guitar of previous albums with a stellar line up of musicians for an instrumental album that seamlessly mixes jazz, funk, gypsy and swing.

The interaction between Goldie's fluid guitar playing and Angus Lyons accordion is a joy to listen to, especially on Back Door Creeper, Don't Milk It and An Honorary Scot. There are also plenty of opportunities to just bask in Goldie's guitar skills with Flying Scotsman, which seems to cover all style from bluegrass to flamenco, while Timepiece is a beautifully melancholy finger style piece. Those Who Fell touches on classical and the violin being a welcome addition.

The album closes on the short, but sweet Queens Park Trot with its Tuba bass line. This track may already be familiar to many as it was used as the theme music for the Bafta award winning BBC comedy show, Dear Green Place.

This is an accessible album, even for those who are scared of by the words jazz or guitar and a great introduction to one of Europe's finest acoustic guitarists.

[][][][] (4/5)


Joe Bonamassa: The Ballad of John Henry

The last few years has seen a fairly rapid rise for Bonamassa, going from playing small clubs to the Albert hall in the space of 2 years without actually breaking into the mainstream. In blues and guitar circles he maintains a loyal following and this album will only strengthen their loyalty.

The Americans music is often compared to Stevie Ray Vaughan and Eric Johnson, it is the blues, but he has a flair that few others in the genre can match. Think Rory Gallagher or Danny Gatton.

The album opens with the title track, a pounding piece of classic blues and is followed with a cover of Stop (most people will be familiar with Sam Browns version). This is a blistering blues soul infusion with some breathtaking guitar playing. It really is something special.

Lonesome Road Blues rolls along like a long lost ZZ Top classic with some superb vocals, in fact the vocals throughout the album are faultless.

Another cover is thrown into the mix with Feelin Good. The song has been covered by the likes of Nina Simone, Muse and John Coltrane to name but a few and Bonamassa does a decent job, but brings nothing new to the table.

Highlight of the album is the haunting and beautiful From The Valley. An atmospheric acoustic instrumental that is sure to feature on a movie soundtrack sometime soon.

This is a mighty fine album, but with 4 of the 12 tracks being covers, there are perhaps 2 track two many, but that is minor quibble and does not detract from the enjoyment and I would certainly recommend it to any blues fans out there.

[][][][][ (4.5/5)