Stagehands: The Silent City

The Stagehands describe what they do as 'Broadway Rock' and it is understandable what they mean by that. There is a sense of the theatrical about what they do. The album is separated into two acts, their words not mine, and tells the story of Stan, a songwriter who travels to Laconia, The Land of Entertainment, in search of fame. Imagine if Glee did an episode dedicated to Queen where the Scissor Sisters are the house band and you get some idea of what this album is all about.

Musically this is a well executed album. The musicianship is beyond reproach but the rock opera format fails to engage without the imagery to back it up unlike the Who's Tommy where the songs were able to stand up in their own right away from the visual aspect of a stage show. The band wanted to create a musical where the members are the actors and the music is the story and in that case they have succeeded in what they wanted to do.

It would be unfair to pick out individual tracks for review as it is clearly intended to be listened to as a whole. Personally I struggled with this album. I found it to be self indulgent and the overall campness tiresome. One for fans of the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

The album can be downloaded for free from the bands website.

[][][ (2.5/5)

~ Monday, 31 May 2010

Water Tower Bucket Boys: Sole Kitchen

If you like your Bluegrass of the high octane variety, and I do, then you will find the Water Tower Bucket Boys sound irresistibly infectious. Hailing from the US capital of all things weird, Portland, Oregon, the guys mash together a diverse range of influences on this their 4th studio album for a sound that is given an extra edge by producer Mike Herrera of punk band MxPx. From the off it is hard to resist the charms of this album. Crooked Road lulls you in with its gentle, lazy arrangement before the chorus moves the tempo into 5th gear and lays the foundation for the little pearls of joy to come.

There is no doubt that when the tempo is up this album works at its best. Tracks like Bread, London Breakdown and Blackbird Pickin' at a Squirrel conjure images in the mind of hay strewn dance floors filled with electrified dancers high on life and moonshine. The album has plenty of less frantic moments with the mellow and strangely beautiful Telegraph providing an welcome change of pace. A particular highlight is the wonderful Tequila With Lime with hypnotic guitar and banjo driving it along and complemented by some amazing vocal harmonies.

The album closes on what is perhaps my favourite track of the 13 on offer. Heaven is a bittersweet tale of what awaits for us when we shuffle off our mortal coil and the addition of drums from Tumbledown's Harley Trotland gives it a slightly poppier feel.

This is a warm and life affirming piece of work that easily deserves a bigger audience. Don't be frightened off by the word Bluegrass. With bands like The Avett Brothers and these guys bringing a punk attitude to the genre you would be missing out if you don't give it a listen and this album is the perfect place to start.

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

~ Friday, 28 May 2010

Hat Fitz & Cara Robinson: Beauty & The Beast

The beauty in question is Cara Robinson, a fine voiced chanteuse from County Down, Northern Ireland whose previous release Keepers Lit was a smoldering Americana tinged slice of folk, and the beast, Hat Fitz, a wandering blues minstrel from the Australian outback who has been steadily releasing album in his native Australia and burning up the festival circuit through out Europe.

The duo who met while Fitz was touring in Ireland and recently married. This is their first album together. Fitz's love of 1920's style electric slide blues is still there but the beast has been tamed by the beauty and folk influences, even a bit of bluegrass, have been introduced. If this album was a recipe it would read... One heaped teaspoon of Seasick Steve, a liberal helping of Catfish Keith, a pinch of Joni Mitchell and a smidgen of The Dubliners. Finish with a dusting of Blind Willie McTell and put into a studio at gas mark five and bake for 1 week. What you get is an eclectic pie with many flavours that shouldn't work together but just do.

Album opener Black Cat Bone is a cover of the late great Jessie Mae Hemphill song and I think she would approve. This is high quality electric blues. Gimea Bay has a similar feel but the screaming harmonica gives it a harder edge. Things take a decidedly folk twist
with the instrumental Fitzmullholland with Robinson introducing the flute and pays more than a nod to her Irish roots. Robinson takes center stage on the wonderfully lilting Where It All Began and the beautiful Lay Me Down. The latter really does provide the perfect showcase for Robinson's stunning and breathy voice.

A real highlight is the mesmerising cover of Blind Willie McTell's Deliah. The vocal interaction of the duo really lifting it but honour of standout track has to go to Backdoor Man. It is a dirty gritty sounding affair that you will find hard to sit still to with Robinson again in fine voice. As an album it is a mixed bag. At 16 tracks it is at least 4 tracks to long but it is still immensely enjoyable never the less

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

~ Monday, 17 May 2010

Joanna Chapman-Smith: Contraries

This is the second album from Canadian Chapman-Smith and a new name to me. Her sound is flavoured by folk with liberal sprinklings of jazz and a decidedly strong Parisian feel. Her voice is sweet and not without considerable charm in a quirky way. Listening to this album the nearest comparison I can make to Chapman-Smith is Norah Jones, not quite as polished but with the same atmosphere and feel. Take album opener Urbanity as a prime example. The dreamy rhodes piano finds itself melting into the mix with the muted double bass and the dampened snare while the accordion dips in and out when the mood dictates.

Tracks like Arbitrary Lines, Tactile World and Melodies reflect the strong French/Gypsy flavours that are everywhere musically on this album. The auto-biographical nature of her lyrics give no clue as to why this should be but do give us an insight to her as a person and the way she sees life. Perhaps she was given a Les NĂ©gresses Vertes album in her teens and was instantly entranced by their Gypsy folk punk. Maybe not the case but I certainly hope so.

With In The Quiet we get a slightly different sound scape, still edged with jazz but far more poppier than anything else contained here and it really is a beguiling piece of music. The piano driven melody is the perfect showcase for her floaty and hypnotic vocal and for me the best track here but then along comes For Good and just confuses matters. This is a masterful and dark slice of pop that is engaging both lyrically and musically. Wonderful stuff.

There is the odd moment that make you thing why! Like Body language. A cappella is an acquired taste for me and this song had me reaching for the skip button every time. With thirteen tracks on this album it would not have been missed if it was left on the cutting room floor.

Contraries is an accomplished piece of work that Chapman-Smith should be justifiably proud of. Not quite the finished article but you get the feeling she has a masterpiece in her.

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

~ Friday, 14 May 2010

George Demure: The Drifter

Scottish musician and songwriter Demure makes an eclectic sound that fuses electronica with live instruments for a retro sound right down to the production. You can hear the likes of Beck (Dress Me Up), Visage (Liza) and OMD (Cold Blooded Old Times) in his songs but he is most definitely his own man with his own vision as tracks like The Drifter and Vampire Waltz prove.

Demure's voice changes from track to track as he uses it to match the moods he creates. On the brilliant title track, The Drifter, the vibe is 60's lounge and he pulls it off with stunning easy while his interpretation of The Stranglers classic Golden Brown is true to the original but more beguiling and interesting at the same time.

Music need independent artist like Demure to remind us that we don't need the major labels anymore. For a start he would not have been allowed to record such an eclectic album. Demure is not trying to reinvent the wheel. There is nothing on here that we haven't heard before, it's just that he does do it with such flair and humour.

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

~ Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Ben Glover: Through The Noise, Through The Night - Album of the Month - May 2010

Northern Irish songwriter Glover headed to Nashville to record this his second album. When I read this I normally know what to expect. An identikit country album that rolls off the production line with session musicians who make every record sound the same. Well I have to apologise to Mr Glover for my misguided pre-conceptions as what he has produced is a rich and warm album full of grown up pop melodies that bring to mind a young Bruce Springsteen. Credit must go to Neilson Hubbard for what is a beautifully produced album.

Album opener Full Moon Child is a deceptive one. It is so laid back it just washes over you only to find that you are humming it 5 mins later. Things really get going with the wonderful Monument Green, a song that has hit written all over it. Glover shows here that he has a firm grasp of what makes a catchy pop song. There are comparisons with David Gray in the whole vibe and feel of this album and none more so on the dreamy Where The Lines Are. The Hot is another song that hooks you in without knowing it, but believe me you will not get the tune out of your head. A perfect summer feel good song.

It is fair to say that this is a mighty fine piece of work. As the saying goes no fillers, all killers. I'm sure that stardom in his native Ireland is assured and with songs of the quality of First Chance For Second Tries he deserves it. Remember the name. He is going to be massive.

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

~ Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Otis Gibbs: Joe Hill's Ashes

Gibbs music follows a strong American tradition. A tradition of story telling that the likes of Woody Guthrie inspired a generation of songwriters with. Gibbs world is one of a gritty reality. His songs are working class anthems that pull no punches and make no excuses. This is real American folk music.

Gibb's voice is gravel laden and world weary sounding like a 40 a day Steve Earle and gives an extra depth to what are at times uninspiring songs. Gibbs is a creative soul as a visit to his website will reveal some stunning reportage photography from his travels. I like Gibbs more on paper than on record. He has a strong social conscious, has something to say and isn't afraid to fight the system. What's not to like.

Musically he sits somewhere between Tom Russell and Tom Waites while never really getting close to either in the songwriting stakes. Don't get me wrong there are some pretty amazing gems tucked away on here. The Town That Killed Kennedy is like a Hunter S Thompson short story and the music carries an atmosphere that works perfectly to create a mesmerising and evocative soundtrack. My New Mind is no less of an outstanding piece of work and for my money is the stand out track here.

For those moments of real joy there are too many songs that are just ordinary. Twelve Men In Sago and Cross Country come across like Americana by numbers. Predictable and pedestrian like.

For fans of honest Americana then it will tick most of the boxes. For those that like a bit more depth to their music then this album fails to deliver the quality that the lyrics deserve.

[][][] (3/5)