Dar Williams: Many Great Companions

This double album retrospective from Williams show just what an outstanding body of work she has to draw on. Call her what you will. Folk singer, Americana balladeer or just singer songwriter, it is hard not to listen to this without unforgiving admiration. The first of the two discs see her re-record many of her finest songs stripped to the bare with just acoustic guitar and vocals. This is something that many have done before but the twinning of Williams beautiful voice and the simplicity of her songs make this a record of rare beauty. The whole thing is given further gravitas with guest appearances from a stellar cast including Mary Chapin Carpenter and Gary Louris. Both If I Wrote You and The One Who Knows sound simply breathtaking given the addition of harmonies from Louris and Carpenter respectively, but this is a record where you won't feel the need to hit the skip button as the quality throughout never dips below stunning.

The second of the 2 discs follows a more straight forward greatest hits format showcasing tracks from her 15 year career and shows that she understand the commercial demands of radio and record labels without sacrificing your integrity as a songwriter. There are comparisons in her style with Alanis Morrissette, Sheryl Crow and Suzanne Vega but while she has never received the mainstream success of the aforementioned, it brings into sharp contrast what a adaptable and contemporary artist she is. From the lilting americana tinged February to the rockin' It's Alright she shows herself to be a storyteller and orator to match Paul Simon or Jackson Brown while on Are You Out There you can imaging that KT Tunstall may have had this song on repeat when she was writing her new album.

Personally I prefer the acoustic cd, purely for the atmosphere it creates, but this is a mighty fine showcase of a talent that surely deserves far more airplay and column inches than she currently receives.


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

~ Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Kimmie Rhodes: Miracles On Christmas Day

Bah humbug. Is it just me or does your blood run cold at the thought of a Christmas album. I dread the office party here at Music Critic hq. I would happily throttle Noddy Holder, Aled Jones and all those countless smug gits inflicting their ho, ho, ho, jingle flippin' bells on us every year while the royalty cheques roll in. Aaaaaarrrrggghhhhh.

Oh well.... here goes. Miracles On Christmas Day started out as a project to write a Christmas song each year and now comes out as 'a present to all her friends worldwide'. 'So she is giving it away free' I hear you ask. Nope.... Not much of a present then is it. I like Kimmie Rhodes so I really wanted to be positive and like this album but with the odd exception it hits every cliche under the sun. Not even the excellent production and stellar cast of musicians can disguise the fact that this is a pretty underwhelming record.

The title track pretty much sums up everything that is wrong with this album. It is so sugary I can feel my teeth hurt within the first few bars. It has been a long, long time since I have heard a more tedious and nauseating song than this.
By complete contrast, her cover of Carol Of The Bells is magnificent. Her wispy voice suits perfectly the folk balladry and outright weirdness of this song. In a similar vain is the beguiling and beautiful cover of William Chatterton Dix's What Child Is This set to the music of Greensleeves. It really is something of beauty. Unfortunately, these two song aside, this is an epically bad record.

Her album with Willie Nelson, Picture In A Frame, is a record that is never far from my turntable and 2007's Walls Fall Down was one of my favourite albums of that year, so It is hard to believe that she has manged to get it so wrong with this record.


[] (1/5)

~ Monday, 15 November 2010

Lynn Miles: Fall For Beauty

Fall For Beauty is the eighth studio album by Canada’s Lynn Miles. It’s an accomplished and polished album, it’s clear the woman has heart, can sing and knows her way around a decent country folk song. She has a confidence yet a sweet lilting vulnerability.

There is also an honesty and truth solidified by life experience in this album as Miles writes from the heart on Little Bird and Three Chords and the Truth. Fall For Beauty opens with a country epic, is there such a thing as a Springsteen-esque stadium filler? If there is then it has to be Something Beautiful.

There’s a strange thing going on with Lynn Miles, she has a sweet country folk voice but there’s a dark undercurrent on this album’s subject matter. The song Love Doesn’t Hurt broaches abusive relationships and domestic violence.

There is a downside and it’s just a minor point and only my opinion but after a while the formula feels too similar and all the songs seem to merge into one. This isn’t to say it’s bad, it’s all very melodic but suffers from being a bit formulaic and heavy on cliché. Who will love this? Fans of Mary Chapin Carpenter, Shawn Colvin and Kim Richey.

For fans of country, folk and a sweet voice, this is a must. Mainstream success though close will maybe have to wait.


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

Review by Charlie Brown


Roselands: Faded Postmark

Delusion can be deceitful. That inner belief that no matter how bereft of talent people in bands are, no matter how many times people tell them how bad they are, they still continue. When it gets to the point that the only positive quality of any piece of work is your perseverance it may be time to think about that job in the call centre.

I’m guessing and I may be wrong that Mark McLaughlin is closer to 40 than 20 and has surrounded himself with people who tell to him about how great he is as a singer songwriter and how amazing his band are. How he sounds so much like Van Morrison.

Why keep going? Delusion. Now in London, main man Mark McLaughlin, like so many before him sings, I use that term lightly, he tries to sing, clichéd songs of lost love and Glasgow School of Art and the rain and connects that to the romantic image of a sepia tinged America that bands like The Bathers did so much better twenty years ago.

Roselands have made a huge mistake. They think that we are interested in anything creative they have to offer. I can’t think of anything positive to say about this album. Its mediocrity scares me. From the opening out of tune Walk This World to By and By.

This album should be held up as proof that record companies know their job and would never give a band like this a deal. Sadly the modern age easily allows bands like this the opportunity to release anything.



Review by Charlie Brown


Larkin Poe: Summer - An EP

Larkin Poe are Rebecca and Megan Lovell, formerly, till January 2010, The Lovell Sisters. This incarnation of the band sees them move toward a more literal storytelling style with less emphasis on bluegrass and more focus on pop and soul.

Interestingly, Summer is the second mini album in a series of seasonal releases of four albums. The openers Praying For The Bell To Ring and Sea Song skip along with a nice atmospheric Americana feel. A great soundtrack to a drive through winding country roads and sleepy one horse towns. The mood changes by Wrestling A Stranger, it becomes a bit more tense as the band, particularly Chad Melton on drums, go for it, as they hit the pedal to the floor and get out of town sharpish. We rein it in a bit as the songwriting takes centre stage again on the brilliantly assured Natalie and Enough For You.

Overall, I’m genuinely of the opinion that live tracks on an LP or mini album are a bit of an easy option and should be kept for B sides of single releases. In Larkin Poe’s case it actually serves well as we hear how skilled and confident they are live. There version of Massive Attack’s Teardrop seals the deal.

I cant wait for Autumn. A definite buy.


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

Review by Charlie Brown

~ Sunday, 7 November 2010

Izzi Dunn: Cries and Smiles

Singer songwriter and cellist Izzi Dunn arrives with serious credentials, recent collaborations and tours with Gorillaz, Roots Manuva and Mark Ronson. On Cries and Smiles, a smooth confident album from start to finish, this slice of R&B and stylish jazz soul is brilliantly delivered and could see her kick into the mainstream.

The single Nothing But Love is a well produced high end song, co-written with house producer Tom Middleton that could be a smash in the US. On Loser, a collaboration with Booty Brown, who Izzi met when on tour with The Gorilallaz shows an eye for contemporary pop. Then we hear her adaptability with a stripped down atmospheric track called Kill Me Slow reminiscent in melody to Amy Winehouse and in vibe, to Portishead.

There are some great punchy soul string parts and clever ideas throughout that remind you of albums by Prince and Chaka Khan. As well as talented pals, Izzi clearly brings insight and a great record collection to the studio. On Analogue Girl she’s reading my mind. My favourite song by far. I agree completely, longing for the golden age when things were simple and Beta Max king! 'I like old cassettes and dusty 45’s' sings Izzi, tongue warbling firmly in her cheek.

What has to be said at this point is this isn’t normally my favourite musical genre. I don’t do modern R&B, preferring to go to the source; Curtis Mayfield. So if this old Ramones fan is excited then she’s definitely on to a mainstream winner.


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

Review by Charlie Brown


Jake Cogan and the liberty roses: Jake Cogan and the liberty roses

Scottish singer songwriter Jake Cogan has been making a few waves across the folk and pop world with her enigmatic stage performances and beautifully crafted songs for a few years now. With most of the songs being co-writes or covers, the emphasis is firmly put on Cogan's considerable vocal talents with the blend of folk and pop melodies acting as embellishments to her breathy and haunting voice.

Album opener The Endless Road is a rather uninspiring affair, mainly due to the lack luster production of Marc Pilley but things are soon redeemed with the spirited fiddle and banjo driven Spinning Rooms. It is however with the arrival of her cover of the Jimmy McCarthy classic The Mad Lady and Me that you become fully aware that you are listening to a very special talent. Christy Moore and Sinead O'Connor have both covered this song but Cogan takes it and gives a performance that towers head and shoulders above their versions which is no mean feat.

The beautiful Tonight is driven by the inspired inclusion of a Tabla drum and serves to give a unique feel to the whole song by tying together the haunted vocals with the ethereal fiddle arrangement. The whole effect is quite mesmerising. Cogan again manages to pull of a masterstroke with her cover of Gillian Welch's Annabelle where she outshines the original
with a performance that is simply breath taking.

The album closes on the stark and bittersweet A Road Less Travelled which again highlights the breathy, almost pained, vocals of Cogan who is sure to find herself on a much bigger stage with the release of this album. It is not perfect but that is easily forgiven because of that voice... and oh what a voice it is.


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

~ Friday, 5 November 2010

Toy Tin Soldier: Toy Tin Soldier

TTS are a wee bit of a Scottish super group with members of the band also playing with The Proclaimers, Horse and Mr Kil to name but a few, so it would be fair to say that there is a fair bit of expectation on the bands shoulders. The band is primarily a vehicle for the songwriting talents of Joe Gallacher. The Blantyre lad headed to Brighton to serve his musical apprenticeship which included joining up with the guys from Turin Breaks before heading back to Glasgow with a head full of songs and a new found maturity to his voice and writing approach.

The album kicks off with the mellow Only Pictures, a song with soulful undertones added by the hammond playing of Greg Barnes, which would happily grace any Elbow or Embrace album. On 18 they re-enforce their soulful credentials with a beautifully crafted and laid back ballad where you can hear the influences Gallacher picked up working with the guys from Turin Breaks.

The whole vibe of the album is a laid back affair even when the tempo is picked up like on the sublime Hey Politician and country tinged Bright eyes. Giving Hey Politician a run in the 'best track' stakes is the beautifully fragile Not Surprised. A song that is built on the simplicity of Gallacher's voice which exudes a particular purity and sweetness on this song while the melody acts only to cast a hypnotic spell. Beautiful.

The album closes on the sweeping Send Up A Flare which is infused with an epic pomposity that provides a classic ending to a mighty fine debut. While the songwriting and musicianship throughout is faultless, at times the production lets the whole thing down with the vocals sitting to far back in the mix and the electric guitars being to prominent but this is a minor quibble on what could be on many peoples 'album of the year' lists.


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


Proud Proud People: How To Be Humble

This is an EP or maybe it’s more of a mini album by Proud Proud People, from Sandbach, it’s released on Butter Bridge Records.

The overall feel is Richard Hawley meets English folk indie sound. We kick off with Razorblade,
an intriguing and punchy opener. They are at their best when the get near to Camera Obscura and Belle and Sebastian territory on Broken Bread with a dual vocal performance and they clearly deliver on the excellent title track How to be Humble.

The best thing about the band is the energy punctuated by the brass giving a nice cool sixties sound like Love. The worst thing, is the affected mock Ian Curtis meets Morrissey vocal on Midnight Oil and Locust which detracts and is only saved by rest of the band somewhat saving face. There are a few problems which a decent A&R man would be able to spot and organize. This would be a delicious indie folk 4 track EP and feels like a missed opportunity.

Overall this is a decent debut but there are still a few problems with consistency. It’s definitely worth buying but with more songs like How to be Humble and Broken Bread, Proud Proud People could be in with a decent shout.


[][][] (3/5)

Review by Charlie Brown

~ Thursday, 4 November 2010

therunningchelsea: The Moonstruck Confederate

Therunningchelsea is the rather strange name that Suffolk born and Newcastle based musician Tom Hollingworth chooses to release this album under. It’s something of a musical cooperative with Charlie Walsh on vocals, Rob and Ed Harringtion of Ajanta and poet Al Cummins all involved.

Musically, it’s an eclectic mish mash of sixties English psychedelia and acid, at times prog rock, at times alternative but never boring. It’s full of interesting ideas, challenging and unlike most wallpaper music around just now, makes you sit up and take notice. At times it feels like we’re in an art school movie soundtrack or background music to an art installation. It’s most certainly worth sticking with and after a few listens stand out tracks start to emerge. Songs like Requiem For Dorothy show a deft touch and on Spread Yo-Self Fatly there’s black humour and drama as well as the spirit of Sid Barrett, Can and Captain Beefheart.

Rise is a downbeat acoustic song that could grace any album by the biggest selling bands of the last ten years. The Moonstruck Confederate is never going to be a million seller but that’s not what it’s about. Sometimes self indulgence and breaking the formulaic approach can work. It’s about writing for yourself and not thinking your Gary Barlow. This album is a return to sanity and as far from Simon Cowell as one can possibly get.

Don’t go changing.


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

Review by Charlie Brown