Harry Manx: Bread & Buddha - Album of the Month - October 2009

Manx is a troubadour. A musician that is always travelling and experiencing the musical delights that the world has to offer. His music is blues, but is infused with influences from India and Asia. In the 80's Manx moved to India to learn under the tutorship of Rajasthani musician Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, who won a Grammy with his collaboration on A Meeting By The River with Ry Cooder. During this time he was gifted a Mohan veena, a 20-stringed sitar/guitar, by Bhatt which now heavily influences his music.

Manx is blessed with a breathy voice that is both evocative and soothing, perfectly suited to the laid back feel that pervades this album. Opener Nine Summers Lost is deep in Ry Cooder territory, no bad thing, but still retains a vibe that makes it unmistakably Manx.
We get our first taste of the Mohan Veena on True To Yourself. The Eastern influences prevalent in the ethereal backing vocals of Samidha Joglekar and that beautiful mystical sound produced by the Mohan Veena.

This is a vibe album. A weekend treat to relax to, the perfect antidote to the working week. There are no duds on here at all. Your Eyes Have Seen is a particularly brilliant track. The excellent and delicate slide guitar plays nicely alongside the bittersweet, downbeat even, lyrics.

Even if your not a blues fan, the songs on here are strong enough to enthral. It reminds me a lot of the great slide players like Kelly Joe Phelps and Johnny Dickinson, but there is also a feel of 'Local Hero' era Mark Knofler. This is a great album, confident and endearing from a musician that really should be better known than he is.

www.harrymanx.com

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

~ Saturday, 31 October 2009

The Brothers Movement: The Brothers Movement

Hold on.... just want to check something. Nope, it is not an early Verve demo. Sorry about that, but The Brothers Movement have a very similar sound to Richard Ashcroft and cohorts, but slightly more psychedelic. Hailing from Dublin, you get the feeling they used to listen to The Frank and Walters and it rubbed off on them. In a previous life the band were called Mainline and touted by the likes of NME and Q, only then they sported a harder sound than this new incarnation.

The 11 tracks on this self titled debut are all deeply rooted in the bands obvious love of the psychedelic sound, coming across like a poor man's 13th Floor Elevators, but it is the production and not the songs, as weak as they are, that really lets this album down. The mix is reverb laden and the guitar sounds are harsh, making for uncomfortable listening.

The album opens with the best track on the record. Blind could easily be a Verve track, with Neil Paxton sounding uncannily like Richard Ashcroft. Someday also works well, the interaction of the guitars with the organ lifting it above the ordinary. Unfortunately the rest of the album fails to ignite any passion as they trot out a succession of 'Madchester' sounding tracks that even bands like Northside wouldn't have touched with a barge pole. The Salute and Coming Home feel like the band are trying to be the Stone Roses and failing miserably.

This really is pretty turgid and uninspiring stuff that is badly recorded and executed. Avoid.

www.myspace.com/thebrothersmovement


[] (1/5)

~ Thursday, 22 October 2009

Flood Of Red: Leaving Everything Behind

Flood Of Red have been a name to reckon with since they first appeared on the scene with their debut single An Hour Away, a shouty slab of Emo rock, but as this album shows the band have grown up since then. Under the watchful eye of producer Brian McTernan, the band have found a more melody driven sound that shows a maturity way beyond their years.

In front man Jordan Spiers the band have a vocalist capable of intense emotion and his style is perfectly suited to the epic soundtrack of the band. While there are comparisons with Lost Prophets and Funeral For a Friend, Flood of Red have a more commercial sound that will certainly appeal to a wide audience.

Hailing from the Scottish town of Airdrie, more Guantanamo bay than Montego bay, the music reflects the urban landscape that the band grew up in. At the beginning of the album we hear Spiers tell us 'I'm from the dullest town I know' and this sets the tone for this brooding and dark piece of work.

While this is certainly an impressive album, a little bit of self editing would not have went a miss. With 14 tracks it is at least 3 tracks to long. Electricity, Losing All Balance in Fells Point and Paper Lungs could all have been left on the cutting room floor and would not be missed. These tracks aside this is an album that stands up to repeated listening.

The Harmony has a feel of Feeder at their finest, while Like Elephants starts out sounding like Snow Patrol before transforming into a overblown slice of pomp rock. Classy stuff. One endearing quality of this record is how Spiers allows his Scottish accent to come through throughout, particularly evident on The Heartless and Loving.

This is music that could just as easily work in a stadium as it could in a sweaty club. It is music played with passion from a band who have spent their time relentlessly touring and perfecting their craft. The album closes where it started with the epic The Edge Of The World. A track that lifts and lays the listener with effortless ease.

This is a mighty fine debut from the young six piece, just not quite the finished article.

www.floodofred.co.uk


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

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The Phantom Band: Throwing Bones (single)

The excellent Phantom Band round off what’s been a wonderful a year with the release of Throwing Bones from the critically acclaimed album Checkmate Savage.

Highlights of 2009, so far, include REM’s Peter Buck's blessing as a convert to the cause, but surely giving Bjorn Again a guitar so they could play Metallica’s Enter Sandman in a Norwegian forest has to be a fitting zenith and in keeping with the surreal nature of The Phantom Band.

This is a good single, a slow burner moving along with a feel close to Can meets Beta Band meets Stereolab. After three or four listens the most noticeable thing, apart from the great driving beat is the change in dynamic with the bass. Mid way through we seem to go into a vocal doo-wop, because bassist Gerry was too drunk to play so Andy mimicked the bass line using his voice. What’s more weird is that it works.

Did you know the Throwing of The Bones is from the culture of central eastern Andes and is one of the most ancient forms of divination? Either that or its something you do with your dog.

Throwing Bones coincides with a tour in November. I’d have selected Folk Song Oblivion as a single and given it 5/5 as it represents the flavour and feel of the live experience far more. However I’m not an A&R man. I’m just a chap who shares a name with a lovable loser and insecure cartoon character.

www.phantomband.co.uk

Review by Charlie Brown

~ Monday, 19 October 2009

Martin and James: Bad Dream (ep)

The duo of Martin Kelly and James O'Neill have been catching the attention of labels across Europe for some time, culminating in them signing to Vertigo/Universal music in Germany. Hailing from just outside Glasgow and now relocated to Berlin, it is a sad indictment of the British music industry that these guys were not picked up by a UK label.

They have been compared to Crowded House and Simon & Garfunkle, and it is easy to see why, but there is a lot more to them than the comparisons suggest. The 5 tracks on this ep are dreamy pop/folk all wrapped us with rich vocal harmonies and sealed with a summer twist. Opener She's Like Guiding is a stripped bare, vocal and guitar slice of bittersweet pop that plays with harmonies, both from the guitars and voices, to stunning effect.

The title track is simply wonderful. This is the type of song that the likes of Newton Faulkner and Damian Rice could only dream of writing.
You're A Window raises the tempo with its skiffle beat and repetitive guitar riff and is perhaps the weakest of the songs on offer. Things get back on track with Little Bits Of Light, which has a rockier feel to it, coming across a bit like a cross between Turin Brakes and Elbow. Things are brought to a close with the hypnotic, and best track, Devils In The Doorway. The vocal interaction between the guys here is fantastic and shows a true understanding and awareness of their craft.

Having heard quite a bit of their music, it is clear that these guys have a big future ahead of them and this is a great introduction.

www.martinandjames.com

~ Thursday, 15 October 2009

Mayer Hawthorne: A Strange Arrangement

Just checked the calender there. Was not sure if I had somehow been transported back to 60's America. This album does that to you. Hawthorne's sound shows a love of soul music, even down to the production. It is perhaps no surprise that he has this obsession considering that he grew up just outside Detroit, the soul capital of America.

The idea is a good one. Take that classic sound made famous by Smokey Robinson, The Platters, Curtis Mayfield, et al, and bring it to a new audience, except Mark Ronson already beat him to it. As a songwriter Hawthorne shows he understand the music, the songs are authentic and true. It is just that Hawthorne's vocals don't cut it. It is hard to see past his limp falsetto and enjoy the music on this album. In the hands of, say, Al Green or even Alexander O'Neal this could have been a great album, but as it is, it fails to excite.

Hawthorne's vocal frailties aside, tracks like Your Easy Lovin' Ain't Pleasin' Nothin', Make Her Mine and One Track Mind capture the Atlantic Soul sound perfectly while The Ills is a killer floor filler of real quality in the vain on Curtis Mayfield's Move On Up.

If you are looking for a new take on classic soul, then this may be the album for you. As good as the music is, I personally can't get past Hawthorne's vocals.

www.myspace.com/mayerhawthorne

[][][ (2.5/5)

~ Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Katy Carr: Coquette

The artwork on this, the 3rd album from the London based songstress, conjures up a bygone era. The 1940's to be exact. A time when the world was at war and Britain had its heroes. A time where girl next door stars like Vera Lynn and Gracie Fields were all the fashion. This era obviously hold a fascination for Carr, but while the song titles are evocative of that time (The White Cliffs, Berliner Ring, Army..... you get the idea), the music is far more current.

Carr's vocals have a breathy quality, sort of Beth Orton meets Cara Dillon with hints of Eleanor McEvoy, but with an undeniable Englishness about it. Musically she takes her influences from the world of folk and mixes it with electonica and lush arrangements for a soundtrack that while not grabbing you on the first listen, certainly grows on you with repeated plays. This is music that requires a wee bit of work on the listeners behalf, but the rewards are certainly worth it.

After the brief opener, Star Song, we are introduced to the wonderful Sparkle, a mesmerising song that has a music box quality about it. Hot on its heals is Berliner Ring, the accordion and arrangement giving it a Parisian feel, conjuring up images of the bustling clubs of occupied France, where glamorous singers entertained the officers and well heeled of Paris.

Carr has an undeniable skill as a song writer and lyricist. Her ability to use music to transport you to another place and time is extraordinary, with tracks like the exquisite Belladonna and the dreamy Violetta proving this beautifully.

This album is a scrapbook of characters, places and stories from deep inside Carr's imagination and it has been a mesmerising experience to glimpse into her world. I can't fault this album. Quite simply it is a masterpiece.

www.katycarr.com

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

~

Rachael Sage: Too Many Women (single)

Taken from her 2003 Public Record album, this song is featured in the soundtrack of the remake of the 80's film Fame, and hand picked by the director no less. Those of us still traumatised by the site of Leroy resplendent in lycra and leg warmers from the original film will be surprised to find that this mellow little ditty is not what we would expect to find on the movie's soundtrack.

The comparisons with Tori Amos are inevitable on this piano driven slice of art pop. Sage has a pleasant voice and great interpretation, but as her new album Chandelier proves, her music has moved on little since Too Many Women was recorded.

The exposure that she will gain from the film may push her into the public gaze, but she may struggle to stay there.

www.rachaelsage.com


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Lotte Mullan: Alright With Me (single)

This is the debut single from the likable songstress who has been out on the road touring with The Mercurymen, Henry Priestman, Marcus Bonfanti and others, just learning her craft and winning over audiences with her girl next door demeanour and catchy mix of folk and pop.

Alright With Me is all about being comfortable with who you are and judging by her performance, this is something that Mullan has no problems with. She is not re-inventing the wheel here, but she does what she does with considerable style. Her voice is breathy and endearing while her lyrics, although serious, show she has a fun side. As a precursor to her forthcoming debut album, this is a lovely little snippet of quirky pop that will have you humming all day.

The single is available as a free download for a limited time from her myspace.

www.myspace.com/lottemullan

~ Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Sol Skugga: Fairytales and Lullabies

Swedish singer songwriter Skugga has been steadily releasing albums in her homeland with a Gothic metal edge in the vain of Evanescence and Flyleaf. There are also folk and electronica influences thrown into the mix. The resulting sound it akin to what you would expect Sweden's entry into the Eurovision song contest to sound like.

If you like the watered down soulless sound of poodle permed 80's soft rockers Heart, then you may indeed love this album, but Skugga unfortunately does not posses a voice anywhere near as good as either of the Wilson sisters. Say It opens the album and things look promising with the vocal samples and funky bass line. Sadly this lasts all of 10 seconds before descending into a cliché
ridden slab of naive pop. This song more or less sums up the album, in that there is no real depth to the songwriting. Title track Fairytales and Lullabies makes excruciatingly painful listening, the wispy vocals only serving to irritate the ears further.

It is hard to find any redeeming qualities about this album. Sweden has produced some rockers of real quality in the likes of The Soundtrack Of Our Lives and Millencolin. Sadly Skugga is not one of them and instantly forgettable.

www.solskugga.com

[] (1/5)

Review by Dylan Lennon

~

Chungin & The Strap-on Faggots: Chungin & The Strap-on Faggots

Chungin & The Strap-On Faggots make you smile. Representing the sound of young Tallinn, Estonia and Berlin they pack a delicious post punk punch wrapped up in cool pop sensibility and sealed with a bubblegum kiss. Just a shame it isn’t 1979.

There’s a tremendous amount of charm and excitement and a good electro punk new wave sound. If you have to say which band in the record shop would they’d be close to obviously it would be a band beginning with C but musically, for easiness they sound like the Hives and The Buzzcocks.

On Cats of Destiny you could be mistaken for thinking a young Johnny Rotten was on vocals. In a perfect world, maybe the bygone days when DJ’s like John Peel championed bands like this, they’d carve out a decent career.

Tight Jeans sounds like a live favourite with a feel of early Magazine. Dogshit City is redolent of The Jam meets Killing Joke with the Damned dropping in with the drink and drugs. The album is underpinned by a great rhythm section with fantastic drumming and great power pop guitar hooks. There’s even some electro pop in there to boot. I’m Not Your Messiah is catchy, funny and brilliantly ironic.

This is a great piece of power pop tinged punk and despite their name maybe not being too Radio 1 friendly for daytime airplay rotation, if they’re really serious calling themselves something 60’s garage sounding like The Stoics might just be the way to breakthrough.

If they’re playing a dingy sweaty club near you check them out. Never mind The Baltics and buy this.

www.myspace.com/chungin

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

Review by Charlie Brown

~ Saturday, 10 October 2009

Newton Faulkner: Rebuilt By Humans

If this was a novel, the editor would be brought in and quite rightly slapped about. At the core is a decent enjoyable album but the listening experience is somewhat hindered by too many throw away snippets like Cheltenham, Intro, Resin on my Strings and Resin Theramins. Where Faulkner thinks he’s been quirky, he’s just being self indulgent and interrupts the flow.

Self-editing in any creative format is crucial and on She’s Got The Time, Faulkner and his mates are relaxed as they jam out on a Dylanesque throw away tune. If people around him were smart they’d see that if it was worked on, expanded and developed a hit single could’ve been unearthed. There are too many things happening on this record, chief among them, is Newton Faulkner trying to find himself musically.

Having said all that, there’s no doubting his popularity is down to endeavour, charm and performance. Badman and I Took It Out On You are good songs and in Over and Out there’s a hit single.

Newton Faulkner is marketed as a singer songwriter. If that’s the case, on the evidence of this album, the song writing part isn’t too far off but needs developed. His singing and guitar playing are good but the song writing part needs work. What drives Rebuilt By Humans on is while the songs aren’t outstanding or earth changing, there’s a confidence and belief which is infectious.

On the strength of a repeated listen this album is not an unpleasant experience but it’s not life changing. The overriding feeling is that it’s nearly a great record and could’ve been so much better.

www.newtonfaulkner.com

[][][] (3/5)

Review by Charlie Brown

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Tom Hingley: Thames Valley Delta Blues

As front man for the much venerated Inspiral Carpets, he was the voice of one of the most iconic bands to emerge from the 90's 'Madchester' scene and arguably one of its finest live bands. Many people expected Tom's solo work to be... well, Inspiral Carpets mark II, but the reality is a million miles away from the organ fueled music the band was famed for. His debut, Keep Britain Untidy was an acoustic album recorded live in the studio. No overdubs. No studio trickery. Just vocals and guitar. Thames Valley Delta Blues is conceived through the same ideals.

The one thing that strikes you straight away is that voice. Sweet and pure, ranging between baritone and falsetto with faultless grace. Completely unexpected, but completely captivating.
As with Keep Britain Untidy, the lyrics on this album deals with a particular period in Hingley's life. Here it deals with his relationships with his children, his partner and his friends. Given that Hingley is an articulate orator, you feel like a bit of a voyeur watching from a distance on the intimate details of his life.

As we said before, the music is a big departure from his Inspiral days. There is a mellowness to all 15 songs that has perhaps came with age to the once angry young man, but you feel Hingley has fought his battles and is happy with his lot. There are some songs of great beauty contained here. Thirst Born, Don't Want To Be A Fighter Any More and Tiny Babies show Hingley to be a modern day Woodie Guthrie or Pete Seeger. A beat poet for the 21st century.

Hingley may always be overshadowed by his former band, but that is a pity. He has something to say and it is worth listening to. This is folk music for the modern world, but without the pretension. I like it a lot.

www.tomhingley.co.uk

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

~ Thursday, 8 October 2009

Tom Ovans: Get On Board

This is the 12th, yes 12th album from the irrepressible Austin, Texas musician and has a kind of homemade feel, mainly due to the fact it was recorded as a live session in the studio. Ovans is one of those musicians that can divide the listener into two camps. Maverick genius or Bob Dylan impersonator. Now, I personally can't stand Dylan's music or voice, but I do like Ovans. His brand of dirty blues ridden Americana has a rawness about it with an integrity that is easy to connect with.

Album opener and title track Get On Board is a rockin' bit of alt-country that reminds me of Matthew Sweet at his finest. The voice still has that rasping quality, like a young Rod Stewart, which is perfectly suited to the more stripped back acoustic stuff like Every Single One, Rainbows (very Steve Earle) and the epic To Late Now.

Ovans does like to rock out when he gets the chance. The downbeat and plodding Breakdown and Cry is overshadowed by the more driven Honourable Mention and the short and sweet Never Been In Love, but the stand out Night Train is by far the best of the full band tracks on here. The inclusion of the horn section an inspired decision.

The honour of best track must fall to Western Plains Blues, a truly simple and beguiling piece of county blues that seems to encapsulate what Ovans is all about.

I'm the first to admit that this album won't be everyone's bag, and perhaps Ovans was born 30 years to late, but there is an undeniable charm and honesty to his music that makes him an artist worth searching out.

www.floatingworld.co.uk/music/tom.ovans/index.html

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

~ Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Gliss: Beauty (single)

This is the second single from the LA based trios latest album, Devotion Implosion, who have been touring heavily with the likes of The Hours and Smashing Pumpkins.

Their sound is not really in the same vein as either of the afore mentioned, instead we have pop melodies hidden behind chain saw buzz guitars. There is a shoe gazing element to the song, but in a good way. Think the Pixies covering The Jesus and Mary Chain doing a cover of Yellow by Coldplay. Anyway, it is a catchy little thing. Looking forward to hearing the album.

www.gliss.tv

~

Bob Cheevers: Tall Texas Tales

Ok, I admit it, I'm a fan of Bobs. I first encountered Bob around 8 years ago and was totally blown away by his live show, so, while I may be a fan, I am also one of his harshest critics. This is the umpteenth album from the Austin based storyteller, in a career that should have seen him as big a star as say Willie Nelson or Johnny Cash, but fate dealt a different hand for Bob. While he gained respect from fellow musicians, his talents have been largely missed by the public. His last album, Fiona's World, was not his finest moment, and while this new album is a somewhat return to form, it still does not capture the shear magic of One Man, One Martin or Gettysburg To Graceland.

To Cheevers and indeed his fans, the lyrics are just as important, if not more so, as the music. It is no exaggeration to say he is one of the last great American storytellers. His ability to let his music paint pictures in your mind is simply amazing. This album is a look at the heart of Texas, each song acting as an insight to Cheevers adopted home.

There are some moments of sheer magic here, but this album takes a couple of listens before it clicks. Give This Heart is a bittersweet tale of love and really is one of the best songs that Cheevers has ever written. Is It Ever Gonna Rain is classic Bob. The fragility of his voice laid bare on the sparse arrangement, which allows the lyrics to shine.

One track that would have been best left on the cutting room floor is the Zydeco tinged Luckenbach which just doesn't work, the accordion just becomes irritating while the mock crowd whooping is cringe worthy. Album opener Grown Up People is another that fails to ignite any passion, at best it can be described as a filler track. There is enough on here to suggest that these are temporary blips as album closer Falling is more like what we know Bob is capable of, while Mushroom Cloud Lil is an epic unfolding tale which brings to mind one of Bob's earlier classics, Old Soul.

Don't get me wrong, this is a good album, just not Bob's best, but still head and shoulders above other pretenders out there.

www.bobcheevers.com

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

~

Her Make Believe Band: AM Radio

The debut long player from this quirky band hailing from Auckland, but based in London, is a confident and infectious piece of work. Based around the songwriting talents of Cy Winstanley, they produce a masterful blend of Americana fused with Jazz, Soul and Pop. The bubblegum melodies are given extra depth by the vocal harmonies of Winstanley and Vanessa McGowan, with Winstanley sounding uncannily like a cross between Paul Simon and Tim Finn.

The previously mentioned vocal harmonies are used to great effect on the album opener Welcome Home, a song that sounds like a long lost 10,000 Maniacs masterpiece. The production is excellent, allowing the songs to breath and beautifully warm. The title track and The Last Hour however, manage to steal the limelight. Building slowly through out, both are lovingly crafted slices of Americana.

This is an easy album to get into, sure the lyrics are throwaway, but the music is seriously good. Sometimes you just want to listen to something that isn't trying to change the world. It does have its tender moments though on Lonely Soul and I Can't Help Dreaming Of You, both having a feel of Neil Young, Harvest Moon era, about them.

This is a record that is hard to pigeon hole and all the more enjoyable for it. A truly worthwhile addition to anyones music collection.

On a non musical note, the digi pak packaging of the cd is made from 100% recycled cardboard and biodegradable paper foam. A nice touch.

www.hermakebelieveband.com

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

~ Friday, 2 October 2009

Ben Reel: Time To Get Real

There is a well worn expression for this type of music. Music that neither delights or dismays. 'Middle of the road' describes this album perfectly. Ben Reel hails from Northern Ireland, but there is little evidence to hint to that here, as his inspiration is from America. Where fellow Irish songwriters like Bap Kennedy and Declan O'Rourke take this inspiration and craft into something original, Reel fails to inspire and this album fails to rise above mediocrity.

Some of the tracks here seem like a parody of country music. Like a time warp taking us back to the 70's when showbands were all the rage in Ireland. Time Just Slips Away is a prime example, the vocals more Johnny Cash than Johnny Cash. The generic country sound continues with Who Are You, Keep On Drivin and title track Time To Get Real. It is inoffensive stuff, but totally unoriginal and uninspired.

There are a few glimmers of hope in the country blues of Feel Alive and the chilled vibe of Raise Your Glass, but the production, as on the rest of the album, lacks any warmth. In this genre there are an abundance of artist that shine, Reel is not one of them.

www.benreel.com

[][ (1.5/5)

Review by Dylan Lennon

~ Thursday, 1 October 2009