Betty Soo and Doug Cox: Across The Borderline - Lie To Me

When my colleague, the esteemed Mr Brown, reviewed Betty Soo's Heat Sin Water Skin album, he berated the music industry for letting a talent like Soo's go un-noticed but seven months later and her star is in the ascendancy and the music world is paying attention. The pairing of Soo and Doug Cox may seem like an unlikely one. Not because the are musically that different but because they live 2500 miles apart. Music has a way of bringing people together and this record is testament to that.

The 10 tracks here are all covers. The duos interpretations of some of the writers that inspired them to make music their careers. Names like Guy Clark, Louden Wainwright III and Butch Hancock are familiar to many but Jeff Talmadge and Betty Elders will be names that are new to most. Apart from the songs, the main focus is Soo's wonderful voice and Cox's superb dobro playing.

The album opens with Lie To Me by Austin songwriter Jeff Talmadge but it is only Soo's voice that makes this rather ordinary song shine. The duos version of Jane Siberry's You Don't Need is much better than the original. Personally, Siberry's voice has a nails on black board quality to me, so Soo's voice is so welcome. Listening to this record I keep finding myself asking why two such accomplished songwriters and musicians felt the need to record other peoples songs, especially when most of them don't match up to the quality of their own material.

Cox's vocals on Be Careful There's A Baby In The House are bordering on painful. I don't think Loudon would approve. Of all the songs tackled it is the final track, Guy Clark's Dublin Blues that fairs the best with for the first time the playing and singing having real conviction and feeling. This record is a huge disappointment that does little to boost the reputation of either of the duo. I wanted to like this record so much but with every listen I find something new to dislike. For me this is an idea that should never have made it to record.

[][] (2/5)

~ Thursday, 29 September 2011

Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion: Bright Examples

The husband and wife duo of Irion and Guthrie seems to be as blissful a musical union as well as a personal one. Bright Examples could easily have been a self indulgent exercise but it is far from it. Both are outstanding artists in their own right and it could have been easy for Guthrie to trade on the family name made so legendary by Woody and Arlo but this is an album that will remove any silent whispers. Bright Examples has a well honed sound, and as strange as this may sound, that comes across like a meeting of Neil Young and The Carpenters.

The duo have not been short of some famous friends to call upon in the making of this album. The Jayhawks Gary Louris and Mark Olson pop up along with the irrepressible Radoslav Lorkovic. There is an organic feel to this record with the production adding a wide and lush aspect to its overall sound. The album opens with the downbeat and beguiling Ahead Of Myself with Irion's falsetto voice sounding fantastic. Never Far From My Heart teases you in with its wonderful dual vocal intro and unfold into a classic slice of Americana before the 60's inspired Speed Of Light transports you to a summers day in San Fransisco with Jerry Garcia caressing your ears.

A real stand out is the shimmering First Snow, co-written with Gary Louris, where the ghost of Gram Parsons hangs on every note. This is music that seems to emanate from the past. There can be no doubt that their influences come from 60's and 70's as the winsome folk of Cry Quieter and the sheer towering majesty of the title track Bright Examples confirms.

As fantastic an album this is, the pair do mis-fire on the twee Dupont Circle but we can forgive them this blip as the other eleven tracks prove a breath of fresh air. This is a wonderfully written, played and produced record that doesn't disappoint given the expectations the duo come with. A true gem.

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


Jon Gomm: Passionflower (single)

If you have never seen Jon Gomm live it is hard to comprehend exactly what it is he does. Listening to this single, the first in a series of releases under the banner of 'The Domestic Science Singles Series', you would be forgiven for believing that you are listening to a band but no... it is just the one guy with an acoustic guitar. No overdubs or studio trickery.

Passionflower is a beautiful ballad with Gomm's voice sounding better than it ever has. The playing is stunning and goes far beyond what most people would thing an acoustic guitar would be capable of and it is this understanding of pushing boundaries and ignoring limitations that makes Gomm so special. The single is available to download for 'pay what you want' from Gomm's website and check out the video while you are there and have your mind blown.

10% of the proceeds will go to The Happy House
children's home in Watamu, Kenya.


The Water Tower Bucket Boys: Where The Crow Don't Fly (ep)

The Portland quartet caught our attention last year with their superb album Sole Kitchen which was packed full of high octane bluegrass, so we were delighted to see this 5 track ep pop into the Music Critic HQ mailbox.

Where The Crow Don't Fly sees the guys in a mellower place with the tempo brought right down. The title track kicks things off and the chilled vibes are set in motion. This is quality music, played beautifully and genuinely affecting. Pilgrim Song features some great harmonica playing from Carlton Gill-Blyth that interweaves with the intricate mandolin playing of Kenny Feinstein. This is a great song that has touches of Crosby, Stills and Nash about it with the wonderful vocal harmonies.

The tempo is raised slightly on the infectious Easy Way Out with the unmistakable drone of a Hammond B3 underpinning the whole song. The ep closes on the beguiling R Song which is a bit of a departure from the guys normal output and sounds uncannily like Elbow at their full flowing best. While this is a departure from what we know the band for, it is a welcome one all the same.
Having caught the band live earlier this year, they certainly capture the energy of their live shows on record and this ep shows the band at their chilled best.

~ Monday, 26 September 2011

Erich Luening: Red Flags

This is the debut release from the Massachusetts songwriter and freelance journalist. His influences are cast far and wide with elements of soul, folk, pop and rock sitting shoulder to shoulder in this hugely enjoyable record. Luening is fortunate to find himself with friends in high places as Juliana Hatfield, George Berz (Dinosour Jnr) and Evan Dando (I freakin' love The Lemonheads) make guest appearances.

The soulful sounds of Uncle's Sweater starts our musical journey with some sweet falsetto vocals and a simple tune that sticks in the head. With Hard Fall Down the landscape changes to dark indie pop with a killer chorus that lingers. It comes as no surprise that Evan Dando features on the glorious dis-chord of Red Flag as Luening leaves you in no doubt of his musical influences.

As Luening continues to try and encompass every musical genre known to man we find ourselves melting at the warming beauty of the folk fueled Never Run which wouldn't sound out of place on a Neil Young album. He seems to be able to move with ease to whatever takes his fancy and a great deal of the credit for this must sit with producers Matthew Cullen and Allan Cole. Luening endears himself to me even more when he proves that he is a man of supreme musical taste by covering Big Star's I'm In Love With A Girl (Alex Chilton was indeed a genius). He remains pretty much faithful to the original but Luening's voice manages to bring something different to the table.

The record closes on the Springsteenish I'm Already which sounds like a late night take at the end of a recording session just when you thought there was nothing there and you end up with a wee nugget of treasure.
There is nothing fancy about this album but the honesty, simplicity and integrity is something that can make any record something special and Luening and his cohorts have indeed created something very special. Very special indeed.

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


Catherine MacLellan: Silhouette

MacLellan won herself a small army of admirers with her Water In The Ground album and she had a lot to live up to being the daughter of the late great songwriter Gene MacLellan. Her new album Silhouette has already had the critics in a lather with its 'rough around the edges feel' which lends a kind of sympathetic warmth to the album. This wasn't a record that grabbed me on the first few plays but worked on me over a period of time. There is a strong commercial edge to her songs, in a similar vain to Sheryl Crow or Alannis Morrisette, that should see her expand her following to within Europe.

The formula of poppy Americana is evident from the first track, Stealin', and is carried on throughout the album. MacLellan's plaintive vocals can at times become monotone as with the deadbeat Keep On Fighting but then emotionally expressive as on Keep My Eye On You. With Keep On Fighting it is as if she doesn't believe in the song and as a consequence, neither do I. When she finds her mojo though, she really does prove herself to be capable of making music that truly connects as with Lines On The Road, a blissful and haunting song that perfectly suits her voice and is a real stand out.

The country balladry of Trickle Down Rain is also a song that gives MacLellan a perfect platform to show her talents with shades of Nanci Griffith ringing in my ears. She also pays a touching tribute to her father in the shape of one of his most famous song, Snowbird. With the likes of Elvis and Anne Murray having recorded versions of the song, MacLellan easily puts her stamp on it and the stripped back arrangement works beautifully. The album closes on my personal favourite, Chop That Wood. The simplicity of the song is laid bare with just piano and vocals and is passionate, moving and evocative. Proof if needed that MacLellan is a formidable songwriting talent.

Silhouette is never going to be one of my favourite albums as it is just a bit to disjointed and commercial for my tastes but there are a few gems like Chop That Wood and Lines In The Road that alone make this an album worth having.

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


Girls Guns and Glory: Sweet Nothings

Fronted by the golden voiced Ward Hayden, sounding like a cross between Elvis, Chris Isaak and Buddy Holly, Girls Guns and Glory play a seriously infectious brand of retro country rock'n'roll that pays a huge debt of gratitude to the likes of Johnny Cash, Hank Williams and The Everly Brothers yet still manages to sound fresh and not at all dated.

Album opener Baby's Got A Dream sets the tone for the whole album with a slick slice of country rock that builds and builds before exploding into life with a cacophony of guitars and Hammond organ. Both Sweet Nothings and Night Time have some serious guitar licks going on but at different ends of the spectrum with the former taking a rockier route and the latter with a definite hint of cowpunk. Things take a mellow turn with the wonderful Last Night I Dreamed where at times Hayden sounds uncannily like Roy Orbison and Charlie Rose lends some beautiful pedal steel playing.

Girls Guns and Glory remind me at times of a country version of The Stray Cats and none more so as on Root Cellar and Snake Skin Belt. The album closes on the track that nudges it for me as the albums stand out. Universe Began is a grandiose ballad with some fantastic drumming from Michael Calabrese and heartfelt vocals from Hayden. The musicianship throughout this record is of the highest standard with Paul Dilley's and Chris Hersch's bass playing and guitar work playing a massive part in the enjoyment of this brilliant record.

Every so often a musical genre need to look back to move forward and Girls Guns and Glory have found the perfect balance on Sweet Nothings. Rockabilly and country in perfect unison.

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


Fearing & White: Fearing & White

We like Andy White here at Music Critc HQ but his new musical partner Stephen Fearing is a new name to us. White an Irish troubadour with a punk ethic that through the years has acquired an Americana sound while Fearing is a rootsy country singer with an embellished reputation in his native Canada. The resulting album is a mixed bag of Americana and rock that is at times stunning and at others frustratingly incoherent.

Album opener Say You Will feels like a warm up jam that somehow made it onto the record and no one noticed. It is not until 3 tracks in that things take an interesting turn with the brilliant Mothership. The muted bass and multi layered vocal interaction really sets this track apart from the boredom that proceeded it. The bittersweet pop of What We Know Now brings to mind the twee pop eccentricities of Edwyn Collins and makes both guys sound far more at home with their partnership.

Contender for stand out track is the gritty blues of Under The Silver Sky with some nifty guitar playing courtesy of Fearing and a twin vocal attack that highlights the distinct differences in the guys voices. They both have a very different vocal approach but somewhere in the world of Fearing & White it just works. It is however the sumptuous Heaven For A Lonely Man that nudges it in the stand out stakes. The chiming guitars and textured vocals combine in a blissful union that casts a hypnotic spell.

October Lies seems to have been lifted from the Noel Gallagher book of how to rip of other bands as it sounds uncannily like Half The World Away (the theme from The Royle Family). I wanted to like this album a lot more than I do but much of it seems thrown together and rushed. The sum of the combined talents should have produced a record far better than this and I kind of feel let down. With the odd exception this is a pretty unremarkable record that is unlikely to help either Fearing or White increase their fan base.

[][][ (2.5/5)


Blame Sally: Speeding Ticket and a Valentine

San Fransisco quartet Blame Sally seem to use music as a cathartic release. Speeding Ticket and a Valentine is an album strewn with lyrics that relate to the personal lives of the 4 female members. While the lyrics make it an album that is easily relatable, the music lets it down with a country sound that comes across like a Shania Twain pastiche.

Of all the 10 tracks contained on this album, there is only a slight spark of originality. When they do get it right, like with Mona Lisa Smile & Take Me There, they are nothing short of stunning but there are are too many tracks with the pseudo pop rock of
Living Without You and the lightweight harmonies of Throw Me A Bone which sees them stuck in a comfort zone of mediocrity and banality. If the production had a slight rough edge to it then they may have managed to pull this album off but as it is, it all feels rather sterile and soulless.

The country twang of Bird In Hand has been done so many times before, and done better, that it sounds contrived with Big Big Bed following the same formula. With every listen I begin to resent this record more and more as there are the seeds of what could have been a good album but it is hidden behind the over polished production and what appears to be an overbearing desire to make a quirky record.

Given the experience of the band and the additional musicians draughted in, I was expecting far more from Blame Sally. There is no doubting the musicianship on display, it is just a pity they don't have the songs to do them justice.

[][] (2/5)


Eleanor McEvoy: Alone

It has been a mystery to me for many years why Eleanor McEvoy is not a household name. It is fair to say that many of her, less talented, contemporaries have achieved greater success while she has almost been forgotten by the music establishment. McEvoy is a songwriter that I have held in great affection for many years. She has an honesty to her music with lyrics that have never shied away from the darker sides of live whether that be the abuse of women and children in Africa or by the catholic church in Ireland.

With Alone McEvoy revisits a career that covers 10 albums and 22 years of recording with stripped back re-recordings of tracks from every period of her music. Her best known songs, Only A Woman's Heart & Sophie are both present and sounding even more fresh and poignant than when she first recorded them. Only A Woman's Heart catapulted McEvoy to fully fledged star status in her native Ireland, and indeed in most of Europe, but moving away from major labels to gain more control over her career meant that her public profile dipped considerably. This is a real pity as she arguably recorded some of her better work when freed from the confines of label interference, as the majestic and unsurpassed album Early Hours demonstrated.

You'll Hear Better Songs (Than This) from the afore mentioned Early Hours is a definite highlight with its sideswiping lyrics and melancholy diminished chords. Throughout McEvoy's trademark distinctive Irish brogue is in full effect. Days Roll By is an equally splendid song that deals with growing older and unaccomplished dreams that can ring true with all of us. For Avoidance Of Any Doubt is a masterclass in lyric writing that shows a wry sense of humour that is an undercurrent of much of McEvoy's music.

If I'm honest, then McEvoy's last two albums have proved to be huge disappointments in terms of the songs and the production but with Alone she has recaptured that something, that indefinable something, that makes an artist truly special. The voice still has the capability to make my spine tingle and 20 years on from first discovering her music, I have fallen in love with it all over again. The re-recorded versions of Just For The Tourists and Only A Woman's Heart are simply magnificent and are worth buying this album for, excuse the pun, alone.

Eleanor is currently on tour in the UK and Ireland. Catch her if you can as she is quite simply magnificent live.

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


Billy Vincent: Once On The Grand Union (ep)

I don't know if the guys from Billy Vincent are fans of, or even heard of, Les Negresses Vertes but they share the same punk folk ethic as the shambolic French band but there is no denying that Billy Vincents roots lye firmly in the English folk. You can here everything from The Clash to Billy Bragg and Dexy's Midnight Runners in this 4 track ep.

Opener St. Catherine's Oratory throws you off with its melancholy opening before erupting into a sprinting punk folk workout but it is the following Through Stations For Trains that is the stand out for me with a rousing anthemic chorus that sticks in the head long after this ep is finished. The bittersweet Young Hearts shows the band are capable of moments of real tenderness with some heartfelt vocals and brilliant pedal steel playing to make this a truly memorable song.The ep closes on the countrified Truly with some wonderful harmonies that morphs into a rocking slice of alt-folk.

You get the feeling that Billy Vincent really come alive when on stage but they manage to transfer some of that energy with this ep. Definitely a band to watch.

~ Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Syd Arthur: Ode To The Summer (single)

There is a reason why bands release singles. It is a teaser for what is to come and with this single, Canterbury 4 piece Syd Arthur have certainly got my attention. I've no idea what the rest of their stuff sounds like but Ode To The Summer is a fitting epitaph if they were never to record anything else ever again.

This is a total killer of a single. Seriously... this is one of the best, if not the best single I have ever been asked to review. It flirts with jazz, rock and pop and you can see that these guys must have one hell of a record collection where Allan Holdsworth sits next to Soft Machine. It has a seriously infectious riff all driven along with some gloriously laid back jazzy vocals. A blissful masterpiece. I simply love this song and can't wait to see if their album can match this majesty.


The Dirty Tracks: Never Been To Mars (single)

Spanish indie popsters The Dirty Tracks have a sound that is familiar yet hard to pigeon hole. They have a certain fragile grandeur to their sound which is mainly due to the production but they sit on a border between emo rock and 60's psychedelia without ever sounding either. It is obvious that Muse have been a major influence in their sound but there is a twee charm to The Dirty Tracks that makes them hugely endearing.

Never Been To Mars is a ramshackle blur of Peter Hook bass lines with muddy guitars and twisting vocals that I'm sure John Peel would have loved as much as I ldo. The single is backed up by two other tracks. House Of Dolls starts so weakly that I feel the urge to hit skip but suddenly bursts into life and displays a quirkiness that manages to redeem itself but it is the brilliant The Square that steals the show for me with front man Coma's falsetto vocals soaring above the interweaving guitars and samples.

The band are on tour in the UK at the moment and on the evidence of this are well worth checking out.


Collapse Under The Empire: Shoulders & Giants

Shoulders & Giants is the first of two concept albums from the German post industrial soundscapers. Like their previous releases, this is an all instrumental album that ebbs and flows with a brooding intensity, like a metallised version of Front 242 (ask your dad), but it also means that It suffers from sounding a bit like a soundtrack from some Armageddon inspired video game.

Even if you like your music dark, you may still feel the need to glue a couple of halogen bulbs to your eye balls as this is darker than a black hole. The bleak feel of this album is part of its concept where it imparts a brutality while showing glimmers of hope. There is a sameness to all 10 tracks on here. A lift and lay effect where quiet ponderous sounds give way to a cacophony of layered textures that are at times overpowering, at times boring and at times moving.

Much of the instrumentation is repeated as in the tracks
Shoulders, The Last Reminder and Incident
which I presume is intentional and part of the concept. The thing is though, that this record sounds like an album without a vocal. The structure of the songs are such that whenever I listen to them, I can follow the vocal melody yet there is none. It is a bit like listening to The Cocteau Twins without Liz Frazer's vocals. You can take so many more risks when you make an instrumental album as by its very nature you have melodic freedom yet CUTE have played it safe from start to finish.

Based on its concept, it achieves what it sets out to do but it is at the listeners expense. This is pop music pretending to be something it is not as it would appear are CUTE. Not a bad album, just not a great one.

[][][] (3/5)


Ladies Who Lunch: Landscapes and Personal Spaces

Ladies Who Lunch are a four piece rock band from London. They seem and sound like nice chaps and if the PR blurb which accompanied their album is anything to go by, they aren’t short of confidence. The trouble with listening to their debut album, Landscapes and Personal Spaces is that it isn’t good, not at all. I thought I was going to hear the next big thing but sadly for them, I didn’t.

I tried really hard to give Ladies Who Lunch a second third and fourth chance yet still they didn’t grab me. In some ways I felt a bit sorry for them. They bang on about working with legendary producer Harvey Birrell but the biggest problem with this album is the production. Beneath Your Skin is a good case in point. A decent enough song but the guitar hook isn’t loud enough and ultimately like most of the album lacks any intensity. On the few occasions when they try and change direction and get more dramatic with grungy minor chords on Broken Glasshouse and Currents they seem to lack direction and guidance in terms of structure, again as much the producer’s fault as the bands.

Ultimately the songs aren’t strong enough and it all seems to be one dimensional. It’s tough trying to think of anything positive to say. There’s a world of difference between writing songs for your pals who’ll just love everything you do and taking those songs out there into the world and convincing the public that you’ve got what it takes. Somewhere along the line, Ladies Who Lunch, whether through mismanagement bad luck or lack of experience have got it wrong at every turn from their name, the structure of their songs to their choice of legendary producer.

[] (1/5)

Review by Charlie Brown


The Breakers: The Breakers - Album of the Month - Sept 2011

The last place you’d expect The Breakers to hail from would be Copenhagen. They sound like a classic Stax soul blues rock’n’roll band schooled on Steve Marriott, The Four Tops, Marvin Gaye but also a smattering of Cheap Trick, Tom Petty and The Black Crowes but they seem to be leading a Danish soul music revolution.

One of the things we love most at The Music Critic is when we hear a band who you can tell have listened to decent records and loads of groups. There’s a feel of The Stones at their Muscle Shoals, Brown Sugar and Wild Horses best. Not many people know that the Muscle Shoals Sound Rhythm Section were the first rhythm section to buy their own studio. The Breakers bassist and drummer perform excellently throughout this album. I would wager they’d have a future as session men in their own studio if they felt like putting their feet up.

The songs are all great, very well arranged, the bass and drums disciplined and the singing soulful. You’ve got the cool of The Yardbirds and the swagger of the MC5 on The Jerry Lee Symptoms and Riot Act. Tracks like Rainy Day and If You Please sounds like The Faces at their heart broken best and Soulfire sounds like the same band in party mode. Soulfire and Baby Blue stand out as great radio friendly tracks and Temptations gets an honourable mention in despatches.

This album is on Little Steven Van Zandt’s Wicked Cool label and he produces and arranges the album too. If anyone has a decent ear for a good time rock’n’roll band then it’s him. Fantastic.

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

Review by Charlie Brown


Goodluck Jonathan: This Is Our Way Out

For me, Goodluck Jonathan is an answer to a quiz question. Who is the President of Nigeria? Answer? Well done go to the top of the class. Goodluck Jonathon are also, a five piece from Brighton who have released an album called This Is Our Way Out. Sadly it’s not very good. I found this album depressing and soulless from start to finish. Radiohead or Nick Drake can be depressing but there’s something that lets you connect with their music. The same can’t be said for this album.

There’s loads of posturing and intensity but it’s mainly style over content. It is at times pretentious and full of heartfelt angst but is ultimately all bluster with no subtlety. You feel like saying here’s an acoustic guitar sing me one of your songs but they can’t connect. It sounds like they can only perform turned up to ten in an aircraft hangar. Everyone sounds like they’re showing off instead of working collectively as a band.

The songs aren’t good enough though the playing is good. It strikes me that Goodluck Jonathan are one of the those bands who read guitar, drum and bass player mags instead of buying records and trying to work out what made bands tick. Fatman stands out as does Away From Here but that’s about it I’m afraid.

Calling an album called This Is Our Way Out doesn’t help either. On this showing you’re not going anywhere in a hurry chaps. After hearing this, the answer to the question is still President of Nigeria.

[] (1/5)

Review by Charlie Brown


The Innocence Mission: My Room In The Trees

When you listen to bands like The Innocence Mission you have to be in the mood, forget about garage punk, The Ramones and The Dead Kennedys. You have to bring a willing, clear mind and listen to something with no preconceived ideas. You have to listen to what’s going on and what’s happening is a wonderfully compelling and musically proficient album.

On listening to songs like All the Weather and Rhode Island it’s evident that singer Karen Peris has a delightfully charming, childlike innocent quality to her voice. The music matches this with a warm, laid back style. The nylon string guitars and harmonies are high in the mix giving a natural sounding album. Everything fits really well, giving a smooth and dreamy sound. In terms of the stand out tracks, The Happy Mondays and Spring are beautifully crafted pop songs.

The album itself is wonderfully produced as is the sleeve, again everything fits perfectly. You’re left wondering why they haven’t enjoyed a breakthrough which matches and reflects their critical acclaim. Maybe it’s because The Innocence Mission aren’t reinventing the wheel. What they are doing, as all artists should, is looking for truth and honesty and stick to what feels right for them. My Room In The Trees is like a good book that’s recommended to you. You love it and pass it on.

If you like Joni Mitchell, Nick Drake, The Cowboy Junkies and 10,000 Maniacs when they were really folky, you’ll love this album.

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

Review By Charlie Brown


The Rudiments: Doctor Bones Fried Medicine

Glasgow based band in Love and Byrds inspired album shocker. It’s not a new story. For decades, the late great Arthur Lee and his pals on the West Coast folk and psychedelic music scene have inspired more groups in Glasgow than you could shake a deep friend mars bar at. I know why. Weather.

I listened to Dr Bones Fried Medicine on a wet Monday afternoon as the tail end of an American hurricane battered the west coast of Scotland and it worked well. Glasgow bands have always worked better in the rain dreaming of sunshine and 60’s West Coast Americana. The Rudiments are a five piece Glasgow outfit who have followed that tradition.

Stuart Smith’s laid back vocal style and the bands folky harmonies and tricky guitar work shine on Doctor Bones Fried Medicine. There’s a lot of upside, great sixties influenced band with fantastic harmonies and nice Beatlesesque moments by a band who you can tell have listened to the right records. Downside; if you’re going to sound mellow and laidback, make sure the songs stay tight and well constructed, there are a few moments when the music goes off project and when you’re only releasing seven songs and an EP lasting twenty two minutes, it’s crucial to keep the quality high.

With songs like the wonderful opener For Simpler Times, the country folk feel of Whisky From a Bowl, to the great closer The Last Hero of Switzerland and a barrage of prevailing Westerlies battering the west coast of Scotland with rain all year round, The Rudiments have no excuses.

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

Review by Charlie Brown


Ian McFeron: Summer Nights

Ian McFeron from Seattle is a man on a mission. Not only does he manage himself, his own label, organise his own tour schedule, book venues, hotels and play constantly; last year it was over 200 shows, this year even more to come as we speak. He still finds time to record his latest album, Summer Nights, his sixth album in eight years. It was recorded over a ten day period, in East Nashville.

This is an accomplished album which with any luck, should see Ian McFeron get his reward. It is at times gospel, folk, even jazz and swing. It has a maturity which meanders, especially on the title track Summer Nights, toward a similar feel and vibe in terms of arrangement to those clever Van Morrison albums. On tracks like the stark and dramatic Hard Since You’ve Been Gone a great vocal performance, similar to that distinctive John Lennon angst and echo when he was losing his mind working with Phil Spector.

The opener, Shine a Little Light and You’re Still On My Mind also stood out for honourable mentions. The backing musicians also deserve loads of praise here as does producer Doug Lancio for garnering that warm, natural live feel as if the band were recording together as a unit.

It’s unusual for me to like anything that remotely sounds like David Gray, Jack Johnson, Paulo Nuttini or Ryan Adams but there is definitely a skilled artist at work here. There are many troubadours out there but unlike a lot of his polished slick contemporaries you get the feeling that with the relentless touring, travelling and 6 albums in 8 years, Ian McFeron is benefitting from doing it the hard way. He is the real deal and isn’t faking it.

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

Review by Charlie Brown


Shirley Lee: Winter Autumn Summer Spring

'The mist came down quite suddenly’ sings Shirley Lee on Beachy Head, track 9 of Winter Autumn Summer Spring. I kind of got that feeling after track 2. Sometimes artists find it difficult to know when to stop. Unless you’re Prince and even then at a push, punters don’t want to hear thirty songs that sound the same unless they’re considering root canal treatment without anaesthetic. Everyone needs a good editor or in this case, an A&R man or a producer to say less is more.

Positives? You could get a decent album by selecting 12 songs from the 30 available. The Haunted, Winter Light, Selfless and I Remember You were decent enough. There are some nice moments, at times the guitars and vocals sound natural and warm. The artwork and presentation of the LP are great. There’s obviously a clever songwriter in there but when clever sarcasm is the order of the day, the tune isn’t hooky enough and when the tunes are better, the lyrics just wash over you.

Another problem is the one dimensional vocal which seems to add to the overall air of self indulgence. It was hard to tell what season we were in. After a while the songs just kind of sounded the same apart from the weird drum loop on An Old cricketer (For John Peel). This stood out because it was different not because it was good. What we really needed were some great pop hooks and something that will grab us in.

Unfortunately the only feeling I had was that we were listening to rejected demos by The Lightening Seeds. The lesson here is less is more.

[][] (2/5)

Review by Charlie Brown


Tellison: The Wages Of War

Reviewing The Wages of War by Tellison was particularly difficult. It’s far easier to review something if it’s very bad or really good. When something is just OK it can be thorny. One of the main problems with Tellison is that they are too mainstream, and commercial to be indie yet seem to be pitched and marketed as an indie group.

This isn’t a bad album, in fact the songs are well arranged, the performances by all involved are competent, the biggest problem is it’s just OK. They have all the right chord changes and the drummer who likes a fill or two but there’s something a bit too normal and the path they’ve chosen is a tired, clich├ęd, well trodden one. It also sounds a bit dated to me.

To the music. On Rapture there’s an urge toward Snow Patrol heartfelt stadium rock. However Snow Patrol write with a far more dramatic narrative and are therefore capable of connecting with so many more people. In terms of the songs that slightly stood out, Collarbone and Horses were enjoyable and I liked Know Thy Foe but I felt like I was back in 1989 and grunge hadn’t happened. There’s so much earnestness on display when rock’n’roll should be about fun, about having a good time, it’s a party, let’s try and be Iggy or The Ramones. I think Tellison’s benchmark seems to be The Editors.

Overall, The Wages of War passed be my. If you like your rock close to bands like The Psychedelic Furs, Diesel Park West and Feeder you’ll love this. I’m sure there are loads of fans out there who are really into this type of thing, sadly I’m not one of them. I really hope they do well but I can’t see it.

[][][ (2.5/5)

Review by Charlie Brown