Scarlette Fever: Crash and Burn (single)

Crash and Burn has an anthemic pomposity that fits into the same neat power pop world of Katy Perry and Snow Patrol and based on this single Scarlette Fever could easily replicate their success. The combination of breathy vocals, pulsing bass line and spiking guitars make this a well crafted, if somewhat predictable, pop song that is radio friendly enough to be a hit across Europe.

However... a wee visit to her website offers up some tracks from her forthcoming debut album for your listening pleasure (or in this case dis-pleasure).
It looks as if Crash and Burn is the pick of the bunch as songs like Good Day, Elated and Single White Female are lyrically and musically shallow, sounding like Shania Twain at her insipid worst. Oh dear.... obscurity beckons.

~ Thursday, 6 January 2011

Pete MacLeod: Rolling Stone (single)

The Scottish singer songwriter has recently relocated back home after an extended spell living in Los Angeles and seems to have returned with a new found enthusiasm for his craft. A long time favourite of indie pop mogul Alan McGee, that elusive record deal has eluded MacLeod and his self released output has been poorly produced and badly promoted but things could be looking up with this download only single.

Rolling Stone is a powerhouse slice of pop that benefits greatly from the robust production skills of Stuart MacLeod (no relation). The influences are there for all to hear. Richard Ashcroft, John Lennon and Lee Mavers have all left their mark on this record. That is not to say that MacLeod sounds like any of them as he seems to have found that balance between familiarity and originality with this record. This is a big song from a guy who looks determined to prove that McGee was right about him all along.


Emily Smith: Traiveller's Joy

For many Emily Smith is the darling of the Scottish folk scene and it is perhaps because of her voice rather than for her songwriting skills that she has achieved this. With past work, for me, her strength has been as an interpreter of other peoples work and traditional standards, and it is indeed the case again on this album.

The album opens on the title track, a song based on the words of Scottish poet Helen Fullerton which is brought to life by the whistle playing of Alan Doherty and the haunting fiddling of Stuart Duncan. The self penned Take Me Home is uninspiring stuff that fails to rise above the ordinary as does Butterfly but she shows that she is capable of writing strong contemporary folk in the piano driven Dreams and Lullabies. Still We Dance On is further proof that she is maturing as a writer and is one of the strongest tracks on the album. Smith shines brightest on the Richard Thompson penned Waltzing's For Dreamers which sounds like it could have been written especially for her. Her version of the folk standard Gypsy Davy is a new twist on the arrangement which is interesting rather than engaging.

This is an enjoyable album but not one that will set the heather on fire. It is that voice that sticks out most with the songs and arrangements playing second fiddle, so it is appropriate that she closes the album on the unaccompanied What A Voice where you will indeed find yourself saying what a voice.

[][][] (3/5)


Martin Sexton: Sugarcoating - Album of the Month - January 2011

Massachusetts based singer songwriter Martin Sexton makes a beguiling sound. Sugarcoating is an album of contrasting styles that is all held together by some fantastic musicianship and Sexton's distinctive vocals. If you want to grab someones attention then the beautiful sounding Found is a perfect choice as an album opener. The sweeping grandeur of the chorus sits perfectly with the sparseness of the verse and brings to mind a young Martin Stephenson and the Daintees circa Boat To Bolivia, especially in Sexton's voice.

Always Got Away is a song of real beauty, the kind of song that Jackson Browne excels at, complete with choral backing to lift it to a different level. This is seriously good music. Just when you think you have got the measure of Sexton, he turns the tempo funky with the blue eyed jazz soul of Livin The Life, Boom Sh-Boom and Easy On The Eyes and shows that he is a musical chameleon who is hard to pigeon hole. On an album of this quality it takes something special to really stand out and in Shane Sexton has crafted a masterpiece of lyrical and musical integrity that is breathtaking. Friends Again comes close to matching Shane in its sheer majesty and is a timeless piece of music.

This is an album that throws out something new with every listen and I'm ashamed to say, given the size of Sexton's back catalogue, that this is my first encounter with his music but I look forward to getting acquainted with it. All of it.

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

~ Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Susan Cattaneo: Heaven To Heartache

Boston songwriter Susan Cattaneo is a new name here at Music Critic towers and judging by the 12 beautifully crafted and produced tracks on Heaven To Heartache, she is a very welcome one. The album opens on the laid back beat of Gotta Get Gone which exudes a kind of honky tonk sleaziness with some fantastic guitar licks and dobro playing. Baby We Fly is completely different in both mood and execution to anything else on the album and is the type of song that eager newly weds take to the dance floor for their first dance. A beautiful song.

The main vibe of this album is one of the poppier side of country. It is bubblegum Americana that it meant to get you dancing rather than contemplating the meaning of life. Girls Night Out is a perfect example. Throwaway lyrics to sing along to with a country rocking backing to fill the dance floor. It is also extremely radio friendly with songs like Fall To Fly, On Again Off Again, Watch The Sparks Fly and Shave all destined to make the play lists of countless radio stations across America. If this album is not competing for an award at the 2011 CMA awards I'll be very surprised.

I like this album. It is fun. It is blatantly commercial and it wares it credentials on every track. Music sometimes can take itself to seriously but this album is a slice of light relief that will put a smile on your face and a spring in your step. There are some songs of real beauty on here that show Cattaneo is a songwriter that knows her craft and on Handle With Care she saves the best till last. This piano driven ballad shows she has a more lyrical edge when required and is in possession of a beautifully sultry voice that is blessed with depth and timbre.

This could be the album that makes Cattaneo a household name this time next year.

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


Dave Arcari: Devil's Left Hand

It seems that Dave Arcari never stops. He seems to constantly be on tour so how he manages to fit in the time to record, never mind release an album, is one of life's little mysteries. Arcari is the perfect example of a self sufficient musician. He is proof that you don't need the big music wheels to be successful. He releases his albums on his own Buzz Records and runs the operation in a way that puts many larger indie labels to shame.

Musically Arcari is unique and could be seen as an acquired taste. It's blues at its heart but played with a punk sensibility. The vocals growls while his Scottish accent is distinctly audible. This is not mass appeal music but it is passionate, fun and hugely enjoyable. The Devil's Left Hand is the follow up to last years critically acclaimed Got Me Electric and does not deviate from Arcari's trademark National slide-driven alt blues. The album features original compositions alongside interpretations of song by Johnny Cash, Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters.

The album opener and title track
Devil's Left Hand sees us in familiar territory with suitably dark lyrics and staccato guitar before giving way to the wonderful cover of Muddy Water's Can't Be Satisfied which sound suitably raw and dirty. Another cover that shines is Johnny Cash's Blue Train which were sure Cash would approve of. Arcari lays his resonator down to strap on a telecaster for what is, in my opinion, the albums highlight, Trouble In Mind. This much recorded blues standard is masterfully executed in Acari's capable hands and really is something special. Fans of Arcari will not be disappointed with the fare on offer but I doubt this is the album that will get him the much deserved airplay to expose him to a wider audience. It is a great album, just not a commercial one. For those of us that hold artist like Dave Arcari dear, we will treasure each release but ultimately he seems destined to be our little secret. Shame.

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