Marmaduke Dando: Heathcliffian Surly

The best thing about singer songwriting balladeer Marmaduke Dando's debut is it’s really enjoyable to listen to because it’s different, original and interesting. How does someone so young have such an old fashioned voice? It’s almost of an another time and place. One of sepia photographs, of melodramatic climax before something sinister slaps us from romanticism back to an inevitable reality.

Heathcliffian Surly is lyrically and vocally honed from that old school that’s close to Kurt Weill, Jacques Brel and Scott Walker but with a modern twist. From the opening track Odessa! to closing track The Last Embrace and all in between, there’s a peculiar freshness. On Life Can’t Get Any Better and the stand out ballad, This I Ask Of You, reminiscent of David Sylvian’s solo work merged with the lyrical sharpness of Nick Cave.

'If this is civilisation I want no part in it' croons young Marmaduke and his horror at the modern world may be well be his own undoing. My biggest worry about this album is despite the great quality of songs, I fear the world may not be ready for something as clever or quirky. Marmaduke Dando could’ve been on the Tube in the 80’s and then next week on a forty day UK tour supporting The Birthday Party, gaining a minor Top 40 entry with an explosive Top of the Pops performance pushing them into the top 20. In fact, if the single was the quirky Bertolt Brecht’s Alabama Song styled Give Me Detumescence they could have even have their very own Frankie and Relax controversy.

This album is worth buying for many reasons. The songs are well structured and the performances from the large supporting cast are first class. Along with the great artwork, the lyrics come in a fold out sheet and they are a remarkable literal treat.

A fantastic album.

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

Review by Charlie Brown

~ Thursday, 28 October 2010

Fools Paradise: Fools Paradise

Fools Paradise isn't a band but rather a musical project between several well known North East musicians and lyricist Irving Graham. Revered producer/songwriter/musician Frankie Gibbon is the man mainly responsible for the musical content, playing most of the instruments and co-writing all the tracks but the upbeat nature of the music is in stark contrast to the dark, personal and biographical nature of the lyrics. It is not evident if the process of laying himself bare has been a cathartic experience but given the intensity of the lyrical content we can only hope that Graham has been able to lay some ghosts to rest.

With vocal duties spilt between Gibbon, Daisy Flockhart and Al Harrington, the album is given texture and variety with Harrington and Gibbon's vocals sharing the same world weariness with an almost spoken delivery while the fragility of Flockhart's soulful voice works perfectly on Curtain Of Cover and Jigsaw.

The darker nature of this album is never far away with tracks like the Dire Straits-esque Little White Lies touching on themes of domestic abuse and denial. A read of the accompanying lyric booklet reveals the epic title track, Fools Paradise, as a confessional where you almost feel guilty for being allowed to glimpse the disturbing side of someones life. Despite the nature of the lyrics, this is not a gloom laden record. Don't get me wrong, I doubt the Samaritans will be using it for their next tv advert but the vibe is similar to that of an album by Pink Floyd or the afore mentioned Dire Straits. If you are not convinced then we do get a song of hope in the shape of the wonderful Sonshine. A fathers open letter to his son that is full of optimism and aspiration and is genuinely quite touching.

This album works on a couple of levels. You can simply just enjoy it as good music or delve deeper and uncover an insight into a troubled soul that looks like it may have finally found peace.

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

~ Tuesday, 19 October 2010

LZ7: Light

The Manchester pop hip hoppers have already made a stir off the back of their cover of the children's gospel song This Little Light for the charity Message Trust and this album follows the same musical template that has worked for the likes of The Black Eyed Peas with radio friendly dance pop for the masses. The polished electro beats of LZ7 are certainly catchy but with an abundance of acts producing almost identical dance pop, have these guys got what it takes to stand out?

If the single and album opener is the yard stick by which they wish to be measured, then the answer is no.
This Little Light is inoffensive enough but you could turn on any commercial radio station across the country and would be hard pushed to tell this apart from anything else on their playlist. If someone told me this was the new album from Aqua, or NDubz then I wouldn't argue with them. Ok, ok... Yes, I'm not their target audience and I dare say if I was 13 then this would be a constant on my ipod and I would dance my buns off at the school disco to them.

There are a few small gems that shine in the shape of Sold Out which is an instantly catchy slice of summer fueled pop that is easily the best thing on here while
Party Time and Four Points are undeniably fun pieces of kitch pop but then on the flip side you have the very ordinary Fall At Your Feet, Ditto, Superstar and The Greatest Day. These songs, and in indeed most of this album, could be by any number of bands that clog the charts as there is no originality or depth to the music. It just sounds like countless other acts out there. It is not that it is really bad, more that it is just not very good. That said, expect to see them in the charts very, very soon.

[][][ (2.5/5)

~ Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Aaron Shanley: Let The Sun In

Lisburn singer songwriter Shanley is part of a new breed of musicians that the area is producing with effortless ease and this 8 track mini album shows him to be one of the best of the bunch. He takes his cue, as many of his counterparts do, from the other side of the Atlantic and fuses it with a pop sensibility much like fellow Northern Irish songwriters Bap Kennedy, Ben Glover, Andy White and Brian Houston do. The vibe of this album is mellow as are his breathy vocals, which are made all the warmer by the reverb laiden production.

Album opener Coming Down has a grandiose and somewhat epic feel to its intro before settling down to the sparse arrangement of the verse with resplendent plaintive vocals before rising again for the chorus with added lush harmonies giving extra texture and depth to what is a mighty fine song. The quality continues with the wistful Go Easy and the stunning title track Let The Sun In. The latter is quite beautiful and shows a songwriting talent far beyond his tender 20 years.

The ramshackle alt-country of Ana Came Along and Sarah Rose shows another string to his bow as he takes the tempo up but it is without a doubt on the melancholy balladry of the rest of the album that he truly shines as A Little Rain and Today I shows. This is a supremely self assured debut from a name that is already at the top of the 'one to watch' lists of those in the know.

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

~ Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Kitty The Lion: Gutted/Split Ends (single)

Being hailed as the great white hope of Scottish music along side Pearl and the Puppets, Kitty The Lion's music has quite a bit in common with the afore mentioned. Both make generic folk pop and both sing in exaggerated accents, except Kitty front woman Anna Meldrum lays on the Scottish accent to such an extent that it becomes comical rather than quirky. Vocals aside, their brand of folk is catchy enough if hardly memorable. I have seen the band live on several occasions mainly due to the fact that the hugely talented Sorren MacLean is part of the band and this has perhaps made my expectations higher than they should have been but Kitty The Lion does him a disservice both live and on the two tracks featured on this single.

They may be getting certain corners of the Scottish media hot under the collar but with fellow Scottish acts like Maeve O'Boyle, Iain Morrison, Martin & James and Second Hand Marching Band producing music that outshines this at every turn, I'm baffled as to why.

~ Friday, 8 October 2010

Cowboy Junkies: Renmin Park - The Nomad Series - Volume 1

Renmin Park is a bit of a departure from the Cowboy Junkies normal output. I suppose you could almost call it a concept album. Inspired by Cowboy's mainstay Michael Timmin and his family's 3 month stay in China, it is the first of four planned release over the next 18 mths under the banner of 'The Nomad Series'. Based around characters Timmin encountered in the small Chinese city of Jingjiang on the Yangtze river, he describes Renmin Park as 'a fictional love story about two people whose two worlds will forever keep them apart'. The songs are a mix of sounds he collected on portable recording devices during his travels, character based original compositions and a couple of covers of songs by two of China's biggest rock stars.

We are enticed into into the atmosphere of China with a broad spectrum of samples ranging from a military brass band to children playing and traditional singing to the cacophony of traffic that fills the streets before giving way to the sparse and beautiful title track, where we find ourselves in familiar Cowboy's territory. For a band that are know for their bleak soundtracks,
Sir Francis Bacon At The Net and the cover of Zuoxiao Zuzhou's I Cannot Sit Sadly By Your Side sees them darker than I've ever heard them before. The latter is strangely beguiling while the former left me bemused by the unintelligible lyrics and feedback laden backing.

The tempo heads upbeat with the wonderful (You Got To Get) A Good Heart that sound uncannily like something you would expect to here from Beck while Cicadas uses a sample of the little insects to great effect for this atmospheric ramble that metamorphosis into a different beast towards the end of the song with a decidedly funky twist.
A Walk In The Park is perhaps the one track that leaves the listener no way into it, not because the lyrics are sung in Chinese but because of the deeply unpleasant nature of the singers voice. A truly, truly awful song.

I've been a fan of the Cowboy Junkies for more years than I care to remember and this for me is their most disappointing album to date as the negatives on Renmin Park strongly outweigh the positives. If you want an introduction to the band at their finest then buy The Trinity Session and leave this album well alone.

[][] (2/5)


Matt Henshaw: Can't Hold Back (ep)

Henshaw is definitely a soul boy at heart and you imagine he must own a fine record collection judging by the various samples that he uses here. The ep is a collaboration with hip hop narrator ReggiiMental and moves into territory that will be familiar to fans of Mike Skinner, Just Jack and Plan B with a mix of Henshaw's bluesy pop vocals and ReggiiMental's machine gun spoken approach.

The title track and The Deepest Cellar play the soul card to great effect and just when you think you've got the measure of this record along comes the reggae dub of Far Away and Adidas Trainers, forcing a rethink. Given all the technology and samples used on this ep, it is the acoustic bonus track Naughty Girls that really shines and is refreshingly uncluttered.

All the tracks on here, except Naughty Girl, appeared previously on ReggiiMental's album The Deepest Cellar which was released in May of this year, so why exactly they felt the need to release this ep is best known to them.

~ Wednesday, 6 October 2010

The Drop: Looking To The Sky (single)

London based reggae collective The Drop release this, their debut single, having already made some waves on the festival circuit sharing a stage with the brilliant Toots and the Maytals and Dreadzone, so it will come as no surprise that The Drop's sound has definitely been influenced by the likes of Toots but for Looking To The Sky they have adopted a far more earthy roots dub sound compared to some of their other songs, but I have to admit I prefer this harder sound and find it instantly infectious with front man Dandelion's vocals the perfect foil for the hypnotic beat.

Looking To The Sky
is an impressive debut and I'll definitely be looking out for an album in the near future.


CrestFallen: Cities On The Edge Of Forever (ep)

Southampton metalcore outfit CrestFallen will keep the faithful happy with this 6 track ep yet for those new to the band they may find it all a bit too predictable. Don't get me wrong, the relentless double kick of the bass drum and ferocious guitar riffs will have even the most cynical head banging but like countless other bands that go for the fast/slow tempo changes, CrestFallen trod a well worn path. Many moons ago I was sent along to review a Napalm Death gig. I remember being intoxified by the energy of the music yet totally bemused by the growl that passed for vocals. The vocals almost seemed like anti music and this is how I find myself feeling about CrestFallen.

COTEOF gets underway with the ambient sampled monologue of The Truth Will Set You Free which seems like a pointless exercise compared to what follows with Elysium Plateau, an old skool riff fest of the kind beloved by Megadeath while Behold A Pale Horse is a far darker and harder affair and easily one of the better track of the six on offer.
Both The Essence and Disclosure follow the afore mentioned fast/slow principle so beloved of this genre. While they are not bad songs, they are not very imaginative or original. The best is saved for last in the shape of The Tether Incident with its mix of fantastic drumming, soaring guitars and predominately clean vocals that cut through to provide texture and meaning to the song.

Perhaps I'm not the best person to review this ep but I am a fan of good music in whatever form it comes and CrestFallen certainly have their appeal but call me old fashioned, I actually like it when you can hear what the singer is singing.


Ethan Ash: No Early Nights (ep)

I'm not sure about Ethan Ash. In his press release it mentions that he has recently shared the stage with Newton Faulkner and Nick Harper but any comparisons on this 4 track ep with the afore mentioned would be far wide of the mark. He writes summery folk pop that is pleasant rather than memorable or attention grabbing. Vocally his voice is not strong enough for the vocal gymnastics he tries to pull off, especially on Tried To Get Rid Of Me.

So, like I said, I'm not sure about him. I can see songs like Dawning and
Hushed Quiet Silence perhaps appealing to Jack Johnson fans but when you compare him to artist who are ploughing a similar furrow like Foy Vance and Boo Hewerdine, he is outshone at every turn. At just 22 he has time on his side but as No Early Nights shows, he is far from the finished article.


Phantom Limb: Live In Bristol

With a name like Phantom Limb you could be forgiven for expecting a band bedecked in denim and leather but cast those pre-conceptions aside. The Bristol outfit's sound is in fact more of a soulful Americana that is crowned by the glorious voice of Yolanda Quartey and as this live album shows, they are a very special band indeed.

The 8 tracks featured here are gathered together from their self titled debut album, old releases and some new material and the one thing that strikes you when you listen to this album is why these guys are not shifting the same amount of records as fellow Bristolians Massive Attack.

Album opener
Run catches your attention straight away with Quartey's breathy vocals and the sparse arrangement working in unison to create an ethereal atmosphere that the likes of Steely Dan do so well. The vibe of the whole album is mellow and it is not difficult to vividly imagine the audience sat spellbound as this recording transports you there every time you close your eyes.

It is difficult to pick out a particular track for praise as there is no one highlight. The whole album is a highlight. I can't pay this recording any bigger complement than saying it makes me want to go and see them live at the soonest possible opportunity.

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

~ Friday, 1 October 2010

Franz Nicolay: Luck and Courage - Album of the Month - October 2010

Nicolay will be known to most as a former member of The Hold Steady and World/Inferno Friendship Society but this is not his first foray into the limelight as a solo artist. 2009's Major General was a well received debut with other subsequent low profile releases showing Nicolay's willingness to diversify and experiment with his sound. That experimentation has served him well as Luck and Courage is a wonderful record that blends his punk sensibilities with that of an articulate troubadour.

If you are expecting a record that sound like any of his previous bands then you will be disappointed. Luck and Courage is a masterclass in instrumentation, arrangement and poetic musings that his previous incarnations have been unable to capture. This is Nicolay's Sgt Pepper.

His skills as a storyteller is evident from the very first track, Felix & Adelita. His lyrics of forlorn love are framed by a hypnotic brushed snare, mellow organ underpinning the song throughout, with the tight sound of the banjo emphasising the chord changes. The whole premise of this album is based around the afore mentioned Felix & Adelita and tracks where their life, love and destiny takes them.

This is an album that is packed with songs of real beauty. This Is Not A Pipe, Z For Zachariah and Job 35:10 are all simply stunning and layered with melancholy as we are regaled with stories from Nicolay's fertile world of colourful characters and strange places. It is however on The Last Words Of Gene Autry that he reaches his pinnacle. This piano driven ballad is the perfect backdrop for his plaintive yet expressionate voice.

Luck and Courage is a work of grand proportions that deserves to be heard. The production of Willie Nelson and Franz Ferdinand producer Jim Keller is suitably understated with the assorted cast of musicians all carrying off their roles with aplomb. I genuinely have not been able to stop listening to this album and its destiny to become a classic in my book is already confirmed.

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