Aloe Blacc: Good Things

Aloe Blacc is one of a new breed of soul singers that takes the quintessential Detroit soul sound and updates it for a new audience. Unlike his fellow Stownsthrow label mate Mayer Hawthorne, Blacc has the voice to pull it off. This is the Californian's second solo album, having previously been a member of the band Emanon, and should see him set to become a name to be reckoned with on both sides of the Atlantic.

The album opens on the track I Need A Dollar which has already had considerable exposure in the States after being used as the theme music for the tv programme 'How To Make It In America'. From its piano driven intro to the stabbing brass, it is a classy track with poignant lyrics and a slight sense of the melancholy. Fans of Al Green will lap up the classic soul of So Hard, Momma Hold My Hand and You Make Me Smile but it is on the slightly dirtier funk tinged Hey Brother and Politician that Blacc stamps his own authority. On Hey Brother especially, Blacc finds his own voice with a nod toward the Blaxploitation movies of the 70's where the soundtracks echoed the seedier side of life.

With a wealth of great soul records out there from the past five decades, you are always going to be spoilt for choice, but in Blacc you get the feeling that he is not here to re-live the past but instead create the future.

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

~ Friday, 20 August 2010

Spyn Reset: Objects In The Abstract

Seattle based collective Spyn Reset deliver jazz fueled progressive instrumental music that has a lot of heart and soul. Music is a very emotive thing. It works on the listener on many different levels that very few other art form can manage. It can render a person in a state of near ecstasy or draw a tear from even the most cold hearted person. That is the power of music. Listening to Objects In The Abstract you get the feeling that Spyn Reset understand this power.

Objects In The Abstract is a mainly uplifting experience with the tempo driven hard most of the time and some impressive individual musicianship making the bands free spirited sound all the more convincing. The music is always interesting and tracks like Yellow Plants and Silent Reflection show a deep understanding of structure and composition that allows the band to paint canvases with their sound. If John Coltrane was still with us, you would pretty much imagine that he would be doing similar stuff to these guys.

On an album of impressive tracks from start to finish, it is the wonderful The Spotless Studio that draw the most praise. The piano driven piece is punctuated by some wonderful
staccato drumming and free flowing bass before being joined by the rasping saxophone of Darian Asplind which really does make it stand out.

You don't have to be a jazz fan to appreciate this album as it has so many other facets to its overall sound. This is infectious music played with a dexterity and passion that will win over the most sceptical listener.

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


Stuart Newman: Single but Defective

Some albums don't require a review just a warning.

Home recording has came a long way since the conception of the old 4 track with a c60 cassette but Stuart Newman has proved that no matter how good the technology, if you don't know how to use it the results are always going to be poor. Even if the recording/production was good it would make very little difference as he has very little concept of songwriting and is blessed with a voice that was made for sign language. This is self indulgent drivel that mocks the listener. If you are unfortunate enough to have this pile of crap inflicted upon your ears then you may find yourself questioning if this is a piss take or if Newman even actually likes music.

I'm not sure if I feel sorry for him for actually thinking this deserved to be released or angry at him for having so little respect for music. Avoid.



Imagine Dragons: Hell and Silence (ep)

Las Vegas's Imagine Dragons have crafted an impressive commercial sound that pitches them somewhere between The Killers and Athlete on this 5 track ep. Front man Dan Reynolds singing style sounds far more British than you would expect but then again the bands overall sound owes more to British bands than it does to anything on their side of the Atlantic.

All Eyes has an electro rock feel with a killer chorus and brings to mind The Killers circa Hot Fuss as does Hear Me. This is an ep that has indie cool but with the bigger picture in mind. Personal favourite is the wonderful Selene which proves that these guys have the ability to create a sound that is all their own. It is hard not to imagine that they will have a posse of major labels sniffing around on the back of this ep.


Kidd Russell: Backyard Heroes

Every genre of music has its good and bad sides and hip hop is the one that probably divides people more than any other. Personally, the majority of hip hop out there does nothing for me apart from making me turn off the radio. The misogynistic self righteous pomposity of many of the genres biggest names is there for all to see and it is not an endearing quality. Kidd Russell is a man who is not afraid to blow his own trumpet and with Backyard Heroes he stakes his claim to join the big league by following the same predictable lyrical path of those before him but musically he blurs boundaries to make him a slightly more appealing prospect.

Russell mixes throwaway lyrics on some tracks with some serious subject matters on others and it is the throwaway stuff that works best, like on
She Feels Like Home and Hurricane. Where things really go wrong is when he gets serious, like on Dear Shooter. The lyrics are so cringingly bad that I am still unfurling my toes. The subject matter is one that deserves a better song, delivery and lyric.

If your idea of cutting edge is Eminem, then this will probably end up your new favourite album but if like me your idea of good hip hop is De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest then you will be best to give this album a wide berth.

[][] (2/5)


Tunng: Don't Look Down Or Back (single)

If you are new to Tunng, describing them to you will be a futile exercise but hey, lets give it a go. Folk electronica with psychedelic tendencies played on a vast array of weird and wonderful instruments for people who don't like discos. Not sure that helps.

Don't Look Down or Back is the perfect antidote to the British summer. This acoustic driven harmony laden track exudes enough sunshine to make the rain bearable and manages to lift even the lowest of spirits as well as being the perfect introduction to the bands latest album ....And Then We Saw Land. Tunng are a band that deserve to be household names but for now we get to keep them as our little secret.

~ Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Luke Jackson: ...And Then Some

This album was first released in 2008 and is thankfully now getting its first release here in the UK. I say thankfully as this is a great record with Jackson sounding like what you would imagine Teenage Fanclub would sound like if they were to have a jam with Squeeze.

Jackson's musical journey, for this his third album, has been a long one that started with an obsession with Swedish musician Magnus Borjeson whose band Beagle are one of his favourites. The pair eventually met in Paris and this resulted in an invitation to record, what would become ...And Then Some, in Sweden with Borjeson. With a cast of local musicians and string arrangements by the sadly missed Robert Kirby who had previously worked with the likes of Nick Drake and Elvis Costello, Jackson has produced a quite remarkable record.

There is an energy to this record that is quite rare. It is hard to put your finger on it but the combination of the arrangements, songs and production really do work perfectly. This is a really beautiful sounding record. Album opener Come Tomorrow bursts into life with an attention grabbing intensity that is kept up throughout. This is followed by one of the albums best songs, This Life. The string arrangement really is something to behold while Jens Jansson's drumming is mesmerising. The quality continues with the beguiling Trouble and the punk sensibilities of Goodbye London but it is the wonderfully understated The Fear that really captures the attention. Again the string arrangements are quite sublime.

It is hard to say exactly what makes this record so enjoyable but Christoffer Lundquist's analogue recording and production must take a lot of the credit. Go on treat your ears to a truly beautiful sounding record. Its been worth the wait.

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

~ Friday, 13 August 2010

The Pines: Tremolo

The Pines are the duo of David Huckfelt and Benson Ramsey who have brought on board a selection of impressive session men for this their second album. They make heartfelt alt-folk that has an honest simplicity about it with subtle undercurrents of blues and country. It is not an album that grabs you straight away but more of a grower that takes some time to uncover its charms.

There is a melancholy feel to the whole record yet opener Pray Tell only gives this away in its lyrics as it moves from folk finger picking to slide blues in one seamless move. On Meadows Of Dawn the vibe is Americana and paints a desolate picture lyrically while the music has an ethereal feel which is quite unsettlingly beautiful.

Their versions of Spider John Koerner's The Skipper and His Wife and Mississippi John Hurt's Spike Driver Blues are both masterclasses in interpretation and perhaps even better than the originals. The album finishes on its two best tracks, the instrumental Avenue Of The Saints and Shiny Shoes. The former, clocking in at just over 2 minutes, brings to mind Bruce Springsteen at his atmospheric best while the later, the longest track on the album, is a meandering piece of folk that the likes of Neil Young does so well.

This is an album for lazy Sunday afternoons reading the papers and nursing a hangover. It is just that type of record. Is it as good as their debut record Sparrows In The Bell? Honestly... no, but that would take some doing.

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


La Cherish: La Cherish (ep)

I'm not sure what London 3 piece La Cherish are hoping for from the release of this 4 track ep. The music they make is already well catered for and done with a lot more flair. Vocalist Leah Gregory's voice has shades of Madonna about it but somewhat less interesting than Madge herself and with no passion whatsoever but she is not helped by the woefully produced bonetempi organ style backings which don't even manage to sound twee, just bland.

Some bands obviously feel that just because they have recorded something they have to release it but this sounds more like a rough home recorded demo. The first 3 tracks are all instantly forgettable with only the last track Danger showing any signs of promise.

What they do may work better live but it ain't working for them in the studio. This really is offensive music.


Stephanie Finch & The Company Men: Cry Tomorrow

Stephanie Finch has put together an intriguing line up of musicians and songwriters for this mightily impressive record. You know, I'm not sure if Ms Finch is the star of the show here. Yes she has a wonderfully stunted and characterful voice but for me it plays second fiddle, most of the time, to the songs. Her 'backing band', The Company Men, features fellow San Franciscan resident Kelly Stoltz and long time collaborator Rusty Miller along with her husband, the incomparable Chuck Prophet. With these guys on board you get the feeling that she always knew she was going to produce something pretty special... and she has.

From the opening chords of
Tina Goodbye you find yourself entering a world of beautifully crafted, recorded and produced alt-country songs with more than a nod and a wink towards the Beach Boys, Blondie, The Rolling Stones and The Beatles. This album is a rich melting pot that exudes a lo-fi warmth with tracks like Don't Back Out Now, Transmission and the utterly brilliant All Is Forgiven all sounding completely different yet all linked by the same deep understanding of melody and composition.

Sensitive Boys Finch gets the perfect showcase for her voice and it appears sweeter and mellower here than anywhere else on the album while on In My Book Of Love it takes on a persona not dissimilar to Patti Smith. Finch's performance throughout this record is faultless as she proves to be a formidable orator and confident front woman.

There simply isn't a bad song on here and I honestly can't single out one particular track as the whole album is a highlight. Like I said before, I'm not sure if Finch is the star of this record but this album is not necessarily all about her. It has been a team effort. The one thing I am sure of is that this record is pretty damn near perfect.

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

~ Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Tara Mathew: He Said She Said (single)

Canadian born songstress Tara Mathew has a big voice that fluctuates somewhere between Anastacia and Whitney Houston with a real soulful quality. Sadly though her songwriting talents don't match her voice. He Said She Said is a truly awful piece of work with cliche ridden lyrics which sounds like it was recorded and mixed by a complete novice. Her press description of this song as R'n'B is far wide of the mark. This is puerile mechanical dance pop with no redeeming qualities.

A listen to her debut album Individuality just confirms the lack of songwriting talent. She has the voice but that is it. With a good songwriter on board and a producer who actually knows what they are doing she could be a name to reckon with.


No Machine: On Ebay (single)

We were big fans of No Machine's last single Toast The Toaster with its summer fueled vibe and the River brothers have picked up where that left of with their new single On Ebay. The sound and production is again big and in your face but the vibe is slightly more mellow. The brothers love of orchestration is used to brilliant effect with a sound that flirt with pop, reggae and phsycadelia that brings to mind The Police and Big Audio Dynamite at their finest.

I can't see
On Ebay filling the dance floors in the same way as Toast The Toaster but it could easily whip any summer festival crowd into a frenzy. Pop music just got cool again.

~ Friday, 6 August 2010

Woman E: Few and Far Between (single)

Few and Far Between is the debut single from electro 3 piece Woman E who take their name from the pseudonym given by the courts to the dominatrix in the Max Mosely/News of the World sex case. This is perhaps the most interesting thing about this band as the music is neither sleazy or sexy. Few and Far Between is formulaic electro dance fodder with the deeply unpleasant vocals of Ria Berlin grating like nails on a blackboard.

This is unoriginal dull euro pop for those who buy dance compilations and install 300 watt bass bins in the back of their Vauxhall Corsa and sit at traffic lights with the windows down scaring pigeons with songs like this. Avoid.

~ Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Lotte Mullan: Plain Jane

Lotte Mullan has been plying her trade around London for a few years now and turning a few heads along the way with her acoustic folk and breathy heartfelt vocals. The realisation of her potential is the debut album Plain Jane which places Mullan firmly in the richly deserved spotlight. The music has an honesty and simplicity that is a refreshing antidote to the style over substance of Lady Gaga and La Roux that record labels inflict upon our youth.

Mullan has surrounded herself with some steadying hands in the shape of former Christains songwriter Henry Priestman and former Mercury Men guitarist Simon Johnson and this has added a maturity to her sound. Lyrically she take her cue from personal experiences and shows she has a distinct mischievous side.

Album opener Fire In My Soul finds comparison with the likes of Kirsty McGee but only poppier and strangely is less indicative of the rest of the music on the album than an opening track would normally indicate. Her cover of Ben Taylor's Wicked Way turns the tables on the male sexuality of the original and is a confident statement of Mullen's aforementioned mischievous side. Alright With Me has been re-recorded from when it first appeared earlier in the year as a single. In its previous guise it was a snappy little pop ditty but has gone all grown up and been given a bluesy makeover that works just a well as the original. La La Love You is a song which has future single written all over it and is a perfect showcase for her plaintive breathy voice.

Picking a stand out track from this impressive debut is a difficult task but live favourite Valentine Song is quite beautiful, resplendent in its sparse arrangement and hypnotic brushed beat but honour of best track has to go to the magnificent How To Hold On. The sound of the bellow organ gently introduces the song before the rest of the band strikes up and makes this song ninstantly likable piece of summer infused pop.

As a debut this is a strong and impressive one from the 26 year old Suffolk songwriter and comes thoroughly recommended. Move over Ellie Goulding and Amy MacDonald, there's a new girl in town.

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


Tony McLoughlin: Ride The Wind

Tony McLoughlin like a lot of Irish musicians, takes his influences from across the Atlantic and his press release pitches his name alongside Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young and Tom Petty. Take this with a large pinch of salt for McLoughlin may aim to reach the same heights as these musical legends but is a long way off coming close to anything these guys have ever done. That is not to say that he does not have his own merits. He has a clutch of descent songs and the voice has a strange fragility that grows on you with each album he releases.

For this album McLoughlin has chosen to work with local musicians and producers instead of recording in Nashville like he did for his hugely impressive last album, Tall Black Horse. This has proved to be a serious mistake on his part as Tall Black Horse producer Thomm Jutz provided McLoughlin with a warm and rich sounding record that was littered with some of Nashville's finest musicians like Fats Kaplin and Pat McInerney who brought the best out of his songs but for this album he allowed friend and band member Ben Reel to take on the production duties. The result is the total opposite of Tall Black Horse in every sense of the word. Reel's production is a car crash that has rendered the music on this album non descript and sterile.

In musical terms McLoughlin's sound for this album is more Dire Straits than Springsteen and is unlikely to win him any new fans. You Look To Me, You Look For It All and Let The River Run are barely indistinguishable from each other, sounding like variations of the same song while the title track, co-written with Tommy Womack, is Americana by number and instantly forgettable. There is a rare glimpses of what McLoughlin is actually capable of on the last track of the album, Treeline. This is a quality song that is beautifully structured but has had the passion sucked out of it by the naive production.

Just as I didn't enjoy listening to this album, I didn't enjoy writing this review as I know that McLoughlin is capable of far better. Do yourself a favour, avoid this record and buy Tall Black Horse instead.

[][ (1.5/5)


John Goldie: Picked In The Past

When you read the track listing of this album you could be forgiven for thinking this is just another covers record designed as background muzak for pretentious wine bars but you would be doing a serious injustice to this outstanding piece of work. Goldie's name will be familiar to guitar fans as he is regarded as one of the finest finger stylists in the world but he will be a new name to most people even though this is his fifth solo album. The guitar skills and musicianship on display with this instrumental album are simply mind blowing and far beyond the reach of most guitarists.

When Goldie first became interested in the guitar in the 70's, it was a voyage of discovery that led him to emulate the likes of Richie Blackmore, Paul Kossoff and Brian May by jamming along to their records and honing his skills. His career path saw him swap the electric guitar for the acoustic and experiment more with finger style techniques but he always harboured a love for the music of his youth. With Picked In The Past Goldie has taken 13 rock classics (and a wonderful version of the Mission Impossible theme) that influenced him and arranged them for acoustic guitar. Not quite as simple as it sounds. To comprehend what Goldie has achieved with this album is quite literally mind bending. With just him and his faithful Martin guitar, no over duds or studio trickery, he has captured the complexity, melody, feel and spirit of some of rocks most famous tunes.

The album kicks of with Free's classic Alright Now and is instantly recognisable. The familiarity we all have with these tracks and Goldie's arrangements of them are what makes this album a work of art in its own right. Black Magic Woman and Stay With Me
become something far more intriguing that Santana or The Faces originals with a hypnotic catharticness about them. An odd track to cover is Queen's Crazy Little Thing Called Love but Goldie brings out the jazz blues that underpinned the track but was hidden behind the theatrics of Mercury and co. Indeed, Brian May has lavished praise on Goldie's take on the song as has Bill Wyman with his version of The Rolling Stones Honky Tonk Woman.

On an album littered with little gems there are a few nuggets that shine ever so slightly brighter than others. Bowie's Space Oddity sounds quite unlike you have ever heard it played before and is quite simply beautiful. The Eagles Desperado is equally beguiling. Goldie has to be applauded for taking songs that most people know inside out and breathing new life into them. This is a truly amazing piece of work.

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


Tyler Stenson: Bittersweet Parade - Album of the Month - August 2010

Every so often you get an album through to review that kinda takes you by surprise. In Tyler Stensons case the surprise is that he is not a bigger name than he is. The singer songwriter from Portland is a well known face on the cities local music scene but Stenson comes equipped for bigger things. The music is simple yet mesmerisingly beautiful and the voice distinctive, full of warmth, expression and with an aching sorrow in it at times. I've never heard of Stenson before this album but he has been a productive boy with a clutch of albums and ep's before this release with some glowing reviews to boot.

The music is primarily acoustic and flirts with folk, Americana and bluegrass but it is none of these. Instead it takes on a pop element without being poppy. Confusing I know but suffice to say that the songwriting is of a quality that the like of Ryan Adams and Jackson Browne would struggle to match. This is beautiful, heartfelt and honest music that is performed with a conviction and passion that is simply irresistible.

Straight from the start you are in no doubt that you are listening to something very special. Opener Welcome The Change introduces a confident voice comfortable with intelligent lyrics that draw the listener in rather than patronising them and all set to a deceptively simple melody that is underpinned by driving acoustic guitar and flashes of mandolin. The Road is no less of a masterpiece, in fact there is nothing on this album for anyone to remotely dislike. The production is equally as impressive as the music, enveloping the whole album in a warm glow with space to allow the instrumentation to breath.

On an album of this quality it is hard to pick out individual tracks for praise but if pushed I would have to say that As The Crow Flies is a particular favourite. In fact I am struggling to think of when I have ever heard such a beautiful and mesmerising piece of music as this. It is a remarkable song and quite breathtaking.

This is by far one of the most accomplished and beautiful albums that I have ever heard and Tyler Stenson has produced something that he should be justifiably proud of. I seriously can't believe that this man is not a star as he has proved with this album that he is in every sense of the word. I can't recommend this album enough. Seriously.... buy it.

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

~ Sunday, 1 August 2010