John McKeown: Candy Girl (single)

Candy Girl is the first single from John McKeowns official debut album When You're Real and first appeared on his unofficial debut album last year (yes... I'm just as confused). The song has been re-recorded with producer D'Mitri Tikovoi who has previously worked with Placebo, Ed Harcourt and The Hours and has been given a rousing anthemic folk makeover and you know what... he may just have a hit on his hands. The pop overtones of the original recording have been replaced with looping fiddles, banjos and a new found confidence that could quite easily find its way onto Radio 2's playlist.

McKeown may be nudging 50 but with a change of producer he seems to have found his sound. What a difference a year makes.

~ Friday, 30 April 2010

Morgan O'Kane: Nine Lives

It would be hard to describe Nine Lives as anything other than uplifting. Brooklyn based O'Kane's music comes from the mountains. A mix of Appalachian Folk, Bluegrass and Zydeco all played with an intensity and passion that is hard to resist. The Banjo is O'Kane's weapon of choice and he uses it along side his gruff vocals to take you on a journey into his world of characters and stories from the flip side of America. In terms of production, well... there isn't really any. What you get is raw and unpolished and surprisingly all the better for it.

When O'Kane lets rip like on Gone it is hard to keep your feet still and indeed this is the case with much of the fifteen tracks on this album but it also suffers from a sameness. Given the Banjo's dominance throughout it leaves little scope for variation and does detract a little from the undeniable infectiousness of this record. Tallulah May is a contender for stand out track with an old suitcase finding itself being used as a bass drum just to help drive everything along while the same tactic is employed on the unfeasibly fast Snug Life.

Listened to as a whole this is a far more satisfying album than if you just dip in and out but as previously said it suffers from a sameness that borders on repetition. It is only on the last track,
Sail Away, where the Fiddle and Dobro are allowed to match the Banjo in the spotlight and the difference is instantly noticeable.

Despite its short comings this is still a hugely enjoyable album with a definite feel good factor.

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

~ Thursday, 29 April 2010

Emil Friis: The Road To Nashville

The Road To Nashville is the 3rd album from Danish singer songwriter Friis and moves slightly away from the roots based Americana sound of the first two releases. For many music fans Nashville holds a fasination and Friis is no different, though perhaps it is more America and Americana in general in Friis's case. Recorded in just two days in that well known hotbed of country music, Sweden, Friis has again teamed up with local musicians and crafted an atmospheric and left sided take on a musical style that is already well catered for.

Friis's voice has a nasal quality to it similar to David Gray and his accent and phrasing seem strange at first but quickly become quite endearing like on the title track where the sparse arrangement and interaction between the trumpet, guitar and piano make for a heady mix. The downbeat and melancholy vie for attention all over this album with tracks like Everything's Ruined and These Two Hands being prime examples while still being strangely beguiling never the less.

If you are looking for a record that you can chill to, unwind to and a record that sounds like an old friend then this will do the trick. The musicianship throughout is faultless and the production is reminiscent of that wide sound that made the likes of Chris Isaak's records sound so good.

The Road To Nashville may just sit a wee bit to far outside the comfort zone for Country and Americana fans to pick up on but that would be a pity as it breathes some new life into a genre that often needs its boundaries pushed.

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


Pearl & The Puppets: Because I Do (ep)

Listening to this ep you would probably find it hard to believe that Pearl aka Katie Sutherland hails from Kirkintilloch, just outside Glasgow. Why? Well the young Miss Sutherland sings in a faux 'Mockney' accent that makes you immediately think of Kate Nash or Lily Allen.

I have seen Pearl & The Puppets, and indeed pre-puppet Katie, live on many occasions. Live she connects with an audience with an undeniable ease and a bucketful of charm. On this 4 track ep there is none of this charm or between song banter to distract the listener and what you get is generic pop/folk that sounds like countless other artist out there. This is unoriginal and uninspired middle of the road music for those who think Katie Melua is cutting edge. The title track has Ms Sutherland in full 'Mockney' flow and will no doubt have certain Radio 2 dj's falling over themselves to play it. Girlfriend and Mango Tree bring nothing new to the mix while Lower Ground has b-side written all over it.

Island records obviously see something here that my ears are missing as they have signed her up and hooked her up with some impressive names in the studio. Twenty First Artists management, home to Lily Allen and James Blunt, have also taken her on their books and she has already had two songs used on tv adverts, so it would appear that playing it safe, predictable, unoriginal, unimaginative and giving hefty nods and winks to the musical styles of other artists is the way to go. Who would have thought it.

I really wanted to like this ep as live the band are an enjoyable experience but I just can't find anything positive to say about it.

~ Thursday, 22 April 2010

Television Personalities: A Memory Is Better Than Nothing

For those unfamiliar with the Television Personalities, the band’s naïve, amateurish, DIY approach was influenced by punk rock’s attitude that anyone could make records. They shunned professionalism and leather trousers for fanzines and anoraks. Thanks to people like Alan McGee championing them as one of the most truly independent bands of the UK music scene in the last 30 years. The Creation’s founder idolised the band’s Dan Treacy and claimed in a Guardian article in 2008 ‘that the shambolic genius behind the Television Personalities made me realise I could run a label. Yet this great songwriter hasn’t been fully recognised for his contribution to music.’ Their indie credentials had Kurt Cobain traipse across London to beg them to play a show in 1991 at the Astoria.

The Television Personalities have a new album out on Rocket Girl called A Memory is Better Than Nothing (rgirl66). It’s great to have them back. In fact it’s great, after his personal travails to have Dan at all. The stand out track is You’re My Yoko. With its frighteningly honest lyric 'All the places I have been. All the places I have seen. Well, that's me. That's Daniel. I've been mad and I've been bad. I've been glad and I've been had. Well, that's me; that's Daniel.All Things Are You, You Freed My Spirit and The Girl In The Hand Me Down Clothes prove that for TVP fans this is a return to form. The current line up, Texas Bob Juarez (guitars) Mike Stone (bass guitar, keyboards) and Arnau Obiols (drums) should be applauded for steadying the ship.

The TVP’s are definitely one for the indie purist and fans will recognise the familiar darker side that may suggest Treacy’s physical and mental well being may not be at its best. You only hope that A Memory is Better Than Nothing brings Dan Treacy a deserved period of solace and contentment.

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

Review by Charlie Brown

~ Monday, 19 April 2010

The Band Of The Eye: Contagious Ignorance

Contagious Ignorance by The Band of the Eye rattles along nicely without really grabbing you by the collar and giving you a big smacker. It’s average at best. I read the press pack and info on the band and was expecting so much more. The only thing I’d possibly suggest is it might be an idea to under promise and over deliver.

I wasn’t won over by the album but it has some decent touches. Their best moments are on Why You Are So Awful, Contagious Ignorance, Forgotten Man’s Friend and Beatnik Acoustic they certainly shine and show a bit of promise. These four songs could be released as an EP to create a buzz about the band. The rest of the album for me is unimaginative and the remaining songs overall aren’t good enough though maybe they need time to develop. The singing isn’t strong enough for the style and direction they seem to be taking.

The over riding feeling is that The Band of the Eye read the book of rock'n'roll but need to channel more of this confidence into writing better songs. This band aren’t as good as they think they are. It’s their debut album and is available on download only which might tell you what prospective record companies thought about them. Not a bad effort but not for me.

[][][ (2.5/5)

Review by Charlie Brown


Ghostfire: The Last Steampunk Waltz (single)

There’s a strangely beguiling Olde London town subplot to Ghostfire’s The Last Steampunk Waltz. The self financed new single delivers two thought provoking and dramatic songs. They are quite difficult to place musically. Maybe a mixture of Tom Waits, Nick Cave and The Cramps, doing a prog rock Victorian operetta.

They remind me of goth bands like The Mission or Sisters of Mercy, bands who used to open up for Killing Joke or Echo and The Bunnymen. The type of bands who would be on Cherry Red or Blanco y Negro in the eighties, making the front cover of Sounds because of their hedonism. A bit of money thrown at them by a major willing to take a punt
wouldn’t harm them either. They’d certainly be a warm addition to the pap on the charts these days.

Downside? Not really enough to go on with two songs, I’d like to hear more and with any luck and a deal they could deliver a great album.

Review by Charlie Brown

~ Saturday, 17 April 2010

Steve Mayone: Long Play Record

Mayone has been a singer songwriter for over 20 years. From the evidence on Long Play Record he’s still trying to find his voice musically and lyrically. This rather washed over me and felt a bit like a vanity project.

Vocally it’s weak, lyrically it’s jaded and unimaginative. The imagery is clichéd and at times the voice struggles. It sounds like a compilation of demos. This might be the job of the producer or engineer, oh sorry, Steve Mayone is the producer too.

The Beach Boys backing vocals and arrangements and the Lennonesque echo can’t disguise how self indulgent this is. Island In The Sun – the one where he tries do a Lennon is tired sounding. Poor Heart improves but not too much. Mayone doesn’t know what he wants to be or sound like. On High Lonesome he tries his best Tom Waits, it’s folksy and country but sadly he thinks it’s a lot better than it really it is. That’s why it’s good to have an impartial voice behind the recording desk. It’s bland and the cliché police should’ve been called in by track eight Secret Garden.

A Little Rain with it’s lap steel, decent arrangement and brass section gets close to Van Morrison but sadly is too short in length. This might be a minor hit or decent B side if stretched out and given to someone like Take That. There’s generally a reason why a songwriter is still relatively unknown after twenty years and that’s generally down to a few things, bad luck, bad taste or lack of talent. Plus points? At least he’s still trying and doing his own thing and hopefully his luck will change.

[][] (2/5)

Review by Charlie Brown

~ Thursday, 15 April 2010

The Len Price 3: Pictures

The Len Price3 were born in the wrong decade, in fact the wrong country. They shouldn’t be British and hail from Kent. They should’ve been from America, probably the North West, guzzling Romilar D cough syrup and starring on a Nuggets Collection from the mid to late sixties. If like me, you believe that Mount Rushmore should be carved with The Stoogies, that it all started with Louis Louis and The Velvet Underground added some art school cool then it’s simple, you either get it or you don’t. On Pictures, a glorious album, this band get it.

The Len Price 3 bring a more quintessential, Kinks, Who and Yardbirds feel. Having a great record collection is just as crucial as geography. Their reference point seems to be mid to late 60s classic British pop. Pictures and Keep Your Eyes On Me will draw obvious comparisons to The Who and The Kinks but the delivery and feel is closer to the The Action and The Creation. The album has more hooks than Peter Hook compering a Captain Hook convention. They understand the concept, structure and feel of the pop song and it’s exciting to hear quirky lyrics, great harmonies, fantastic guitar and at this point let’s give a nod to Neil Fromow’s excellent drumming.

The album was recorded on tape, giving an authentic 60’s analogue feel. There’s shades of The Flaming Groovies and Redd Kross on The Girl Who Became A Machine and You Tell Lies. There’s also a nod to The Turtles on The Great Omani. Pictures doesn’t fade out, by track 12 Under the Thumb, I honestly believe I’m hearing about the fifth hit single.

This band should be massive but for now we get to have them all for ourselves. Buy it. Cherish it. It’s out now on Wicked Cool Records, the catalogue number’s WC032 (CD) and WC033 (LP) you’ve no excuses.

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

Review by Charlie Brown

~ Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Nell Bryden: Tonight (Ash Howes Radio Mix- single)

Nell Bryden makes music from a bygone era. Country, Jazz and Blues are blended together with an unmistakable 50's sound that doesn't sound dated in the least and Tonight is a sassy upbeat number you could imagine Patsy Cline singing with as much gusto as Bryden delivers it with here.

There is no denying the charm and flair that Bryden's music has and her debut album What Does It Take
is a wonderful piece of work but it is hard to see her music having the mass appeal to make her the star she deserves to be. Let's just keep her our little secret.

~ Friday, 9 April 2010

Russell Crawford: Bad Luck (ep)

Australian singer songwriter Crawford's music has a quirky edge to it with hints of Squeeze, Elvis Costello and The Boomtown Rats giving it a jangly pop feel. Title track Bad Luck is an upbeat ode to life's losers with a tongue firmly in cheek and this a theme that follows on throughout. The seriously infectious Leave It All Behind has a punkier edge with some great harmonies and a killer cheesy organ causing havoc in the background.

Honour of best track goes to Soon Enough, a tune that has a summery quality to it that is reminiscent of Matthew Sweet or REM in their poppier moments. The ep finishes with a rocked up cover of the Patrick Swazye hit She's Like The Wind which is an amusing distraction.

The one thing that lets this ep down is Crawford's rather flat and monotone vocals but if you can look beyond them you'll find some mighty fine classic pop tunes with a retro MOD feel. There is enough here to suggest that his forthcoming album Floating Aimlessly should be worth checking out.


Sandi Thom: This Ol' World (single)

Thom's career up til now has been built on one incredibly annoying song, media manipulation and clever management. Some things never change.

Changing musical genres as often as most people change their underwear, Thom has now turned her attention to the blues (yeh... it is as bad as it sounds) and called in the considerable talents of Joe Bonamassa for this the first single from her forthcoming 3rd studio album, Merchants and Thieves. One real big problem here though, she can't sing the blues. The voice just can't do it. The music and lyrics are cliched, contrived and ultimately forgettable. If Little Britain did a parody of a female blues singer it would pretty much sound like this. Bonamassa tries his best to rescue it with his guitar twiddling but to no avail.

Hopefully this record will reward Thom with what she deserves... obscurity. Can't wait for the album.


Kim Richey: Wreck Your Wheels

In certain circles Kim Richey's name is synonymous with songwriting of a quality and pedigree that many aspire to but seldom manage. An integrity in her craft that few can match. Richey is a songwriters songwriter, something that is evident by the names that feature in the co-writing credits of this album, including Beth Rowley, Mark Olson and Boo Hewerdine. Wreck Your Wheels will delight those who loved her 2002 album Rise but for those who still hold her first two albums close to their hearts, they may question if the pedestal she sits upon is whole heartily deserved.

From the moment that the opener and title track Wreck Your Wheels kicks in you know you this is a special song. The driving bass and drums are almost hypnotic while the guitars chime in unison with Richey's plaintive yet expressive voice, the low harmonies of Neilson Hubbard an inspired addition. The beautifully downbeat Keys benefits greatly from its sparse arrangement and has the stamp of co-writer Boo Hewerdine all over it while In The Years To Come, co-written by former Jayhawk Mark Olson, she strays deep into Americana territory which sits strangely out of place with the rest of the album. This only proves a minor aside however as the charm of
99 Floors strikes up and washes over you with its slightly haunting yet incredibly warm arrangement. Back To You has a similar vibe and is certainly where Richey excels on this album.

For all the writing talent on display here you get the feeling that she has relinquished to much control on this album to others, as at times it feels rather dis-jointed. Never the less, it is a good introduction to a talent that is increasingly moving further away from her musical roots and defying the musical labels put upon her.

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

~ Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Downchild: I Need A Hat

40 years in any business is an achievement. In the music business it is a miracle, yet Donny Walsh and his cohorts have been playing their polished big band boogie woogie blues to an eager audience for four decades and show no signs of slowing up. This album is a fitting tribute to what they have achieved with an array of special guests including Memphis Horns legend Wayne Jackson and Elwood Blues himself, Dan Aykroyd. Legend has is that Downchild were the inspiration for Aykroyd and the late John Belushi's seminal Blues Brothers.

The music is blues, not the dirty bar room kind, this is smoother than a pint of Guinness. Fans of BB King and Muddy Waters will feel right at home here. It is an infectious cocktail that has been shaken, stirred and had a cherry put on top. Good time music that comes with a smile as compulsory. The title track is everything that is good about this album. Soul infused horns, hammond battling it out with boogie piano and a generous lashing of sweet bluesy guitar all acting as the support act to Chuck Jackson's whiskey soaked vocals. Somebody Lied slows things down and takes you to a sweaty New Orleans blues club where the house band seem to have been bathing in the smoldering romanticism and danger of the Mississippi, with every note containing a little piece Southern charm that is so effortless that it stirs the soul.

The beauty of this record is that everything flows in perfect harmony and imparts its good time vibe with a nod and a wink, like a trusted old friend you haven't seen for 20 years who pops in to say a hello like it was 10 mins since you last spoke. You don't need to like the blues to get a lot out of this record, just the ability to let your foot tap and have a good time. By the time the instrumental closer El Stew comes around you will be reaching for the start button, perhaps not for the first time.

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