Larkin Poe: Winter - An EP

The last album in the series opens with the delicious almost Carpenters-esque Desert Dream, tight harmonies and double-tracked vocals. The great work on the previous three mini albums continues with tracks like the gorgeous Trance meandering in a laid back style and again with an excellent vocal delivery.

If there was an earlier hint on Fall about a maturity and a more commercial approach then the tense, melodramatic, Taller Far Then A Tall Man, if not a strangely titled song, is a potential radio friendly unit shifter. Cure For The Common Cold shuffles along weaving its winter imagery and This Girl closes the album, a compelling track, delivered in a perfectly understated way So the themed seasonal project is over. For me it’s been a complete success.

An honourable mention at this point to Mindy Lacefield and Annette Munster for their artwork, adding to the continuity and helping to embellish the whole experience.
Now it’s time for the world to wake up and catch a potential major country pop crossover act before they drown in a sea of Grammys. From what I’ve garnered over their albums I’ve reviewed, Larkin Poe may be too intelligent and sharp to even want to be the next big thing but sometimes these things are taken out of your own hands.

They’re on the road in the UK at the end of March and into April.

www.larkinpoe.com

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

Review by Charlie Brown

~ Sunday, 27 March 2011

Larkin Poe: Fall - An EP

The Lovell sisters Rebecca and Megan continue their ambitious themed project releasing a mini album for each season with the simultaneous release of Fall and Winter on April18th. So now we ease into Fall and we aren’t let down, opening with the evocatively mature Memories.

By now we know what to expect from Larkin Poe, romanticism, clever instrumentalism, mandolins, ukuleles, guitars, dobro, lap steel. We aren’t let down with the rueful Just in Case then the charming Spooked.

There’s more of an edge vocally to this set of songs and dare I say a more commercial mainstream feel. Full marks to the band they have behind them helping to deliver the great arrangement in all the songs. The band really come to the fore on the last track, Fall From The Tree showing a darker, more atmospheric side, this is the most autumnal track on the mini album. You can’t really beat a mandolin and lap steel when they come together as perfectly as they do when Rebecca and Megan Lovell are in full flow. My favourite track is the breezy It Gets Better As You Go.

Talented and still so young the future’s bright for two women doing their Southern Bluegrass thing. I’m looking forward to cuddling up to Winter.

www.larkinpoe.com

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

Review by Charlie Brown

~

Amy Lashley: Travels Of A Homebody

Travels Of A Homebody is a bit like a book of short stories with music. Lashley is a songwriter who obviously loves her craft and sees her lyrics as important as the music that carries them. The twelve songs on here feel like little musical postcards that are windows into Lashley's life. She admits to suffering from uncontrollable stage fright and an awkwardness in social situations so instead uses her music as a cathartic process to express her personality. As a mother, wife, daughter and artist she is not as far removed from the lives that we all have as she may think. Her songs touch on things that we can all relate to irrespective of the life we have.

The album opens with Kiss Indiana Goodbye, a song that feels different in both style and approach to anything else on the album and is one of its finest moments. Lashley's voice has a fragility to it that suggest her vulnerability, but it is also sweet and pure. This is a truly beautiful song. The Gypsy jazz of
Who Am I Kidding is totally unexpected but it is the lyrics that make this song shine. A tale of adolescence and self discovery that has a happy ending. Menstruation is not usually a subject regaled in song but with Lil' Red Girl we find out that it can sometimes be a girls best friend or an unwelcome monthly visitor. Somehow I can't see Radio 2 play listing it anytime soon.

The album benefits greatly from the earthy and warm production of her long time partner Otis Gibbs, a brilliant songwriter and storyteller in his own right, allowing the songs and Lashley's
voice space to breath. Emmett Till is a perfect example of this. The sparse arrangement leaves the voice as the focus of attention and Lashley grabs it with both hands, delivering a mesmerising performance. The overall vibe of the record is laid back roots and americana which is executed perfectly by the small band of musicians gathered together. Happy-O and Ode To Middle Age feature some lovely dobro playing from Thomm Jutz whose various playing talents on guitar, bass, mandolin and organ are all over this record.

The album closes on what for me is the stand out track. Older Brother is an uptempo country ride with a killer acoustic riff, some great vocals and rock solid drumming from Pat McInerney. A simpler song you wont find. Given Lashley's disposition, we are unlikely to ever get to hear her perform these songs live but that somehow only adds to the charm of this record. Lashley paints with a broad brush on an even bigger canvas as she embraces different styles with considerable ease and I for one find it refreshing, charming and engaging.

www.amylashley.com

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

~ Saturday, 26 March 2011

Tom Moriarty: Fire In The Doll's House

London based singer songwriter Tom Moriarty follows the worn path of troubadours armed with an acoustic guitar and a note book who has a tale to tell and an every so jaunty slant on the world. Moriarty's greatest asset is his smokey and gravel laden voice but this is a voice that deserves better than many of the songs on here. Recorded in the legendary Abbey Road studio with producer Ian Grimble (Mumford & Son and KT Tunstall) there is something rather soulless and sterile about it which suffocates the music.

This is a record that has frustrated me greatly, as for me this is a record that has a split personality. Half the songs on here are mind numbingly ordinary, boring even, while the other half is like it was written by a completely different person who understands the dynamics required to make music with soul. The record opens with the title track and the combination of Moriarty's voice and the driven acoustic guitar pickin' hooks you instantly then the bridge and chorus reduce it to levels of blandness from which it can't recover. Dance With Me is karaoke country by numbers while Ask Me Why is mediocre busker fodder. Where Are You Now and From Now On are only marginally better but still on the wrong side of insipid.

The best track by a country mile is the dirty alt-folk of Life's A Mystery where for the first time you actually feel that Moriarty has pushed himself. His voice gets to shine in a way that the other songs on the album just don't let it as he competes with distorted hammond and guitar on what is a brilliant song. All You Need and Smile If You Wanna Get High are also songs of real quality that blends soul with rock and pop, and bares comparison to the likes of Van Morrison in his prime. These songs, along with the Kitty, where Moriarty does his best Tom Waits impersonation, illustrates that he knows what it takes to write great music and is better than the rest of this album and its production has to offer.

www.tommoriarty.co

[][][ (2.5/5)

~

Parlor Hawk: Hoarse and Roaring

Hoarse and Roaring is the debut album from Utah based alt-folksters Parlor Hawk which has seen them being compared to the likes of Ryan Adams and Wilco. The music that Parlor Hawk produces does indeed contain elements of both these acts but they have an ace up their sleeve in the shape of front man Drew Capener, who is blessed with a voice that can convey emotion in a way few could ever manage. You know when you listen to this record that this is real musicians playing real instrument.

This album was actually released a year ago but only popped through our virtual letter box in the past few weeks. We don't normally review albums that have been out this long but this is no ordinary record. The intensity and passion is there from the start with album opener
Home. The guitar picking of the intro is joined by Capener's breathy vocal before piano, tambourine and harmonies build into a joyous choir filled end. Like Thieves is a different beast all together with crashing guitars and drums all underpinned by the drone of the hammond. Fans of Band Of Horses will love it. The whole vibe of the album is laid back, open and windswept. If ever a record was made for cruising down endless roads stretching through backwaters as you chase the setting sun with the top down then this is it. The exquisitely beautiful Julian had me there. In my mind it was all slow motion and picket fences. I was there. I swear I was.

It is a strange record in many ways as it is incredibly commercial but perhaps not that fashionable. Tracks like Second Skin and Flowers are firmly based in alt-country but there is something about them which crosses over into the mainstream in much the same way as Damian Rice managed with O. In fact if you didn't know better you could easily believe that Lark was written and performed by Rice. The earthy acoustics mixed with plaintive vocals, eerie harmonies are something that Rice used to great effect in the past.

When 14 years strikes up comparisons with Will The Circle Be Unbroken, made famous by the Carter family, are immediate and maintains a spiritual feel through out. The album closes on Saddest Song with a strong air of melancholy in the lyrics and a stripped bare acoustic and vocal approach which is up there with Julian as stand out track. There is a lot to like about this record. Sure, its not the happiest record you'll hear but it is uplifting in other ways and personally... I love it.

www.parlorhawk.com

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

~ Friday, 25 March 2011

My Son The Hurricane: You Can't Do This

We reviewed MSTH last year with their ep Check The Barometer and this mini album takes up where it left off. The sound is still soul inspired and funky with MC stylee vocals from Jacob Bergsma. Now, I was none to complementary of Bergsma's lyrical abilities or his penchant for over exuberance of the vocal chords but he's kind of grown on me. He now come across as more of a Beastie Boy than Vanilla Ice.

Things kick of with the instrumental Doom Bringer, a slow brooding brass laden death march that is full of melancholy and sorrow. The downbeat vibe continues with Pushin' Up Daisies which features some brilliant soulful vocals before Bergsma interjects with his best Will Smith impersonation. Things really move up a gear with the brilliant Honour Among Thieves where the Beastie Boys comparisons are in full effect and Bergsma excels while the funky guitars and stabbing brass of Cookie Monster is pushed into overdrive with rapid fire lyrics but you feel this is a track that works live so much better than it does in the studio.

Life Of An Emcee sees us back to the downbeat and feels like nothing more than a filler. Not one of the albums finest moments. Barrachone goes someway to restoring the balance with its carefree fun spirit of blues and soul while Longhair's Lament is pure bubblegum soul with throwaway lyrics that have their tongue firmly in cheek (It is a spoof right?). The album closes on the excellent The Sullivan which morfs from indie pop to kitch disco without stopping for breath.

I'm still far from being a convert but MSTH have grown on me. I'm not convinced that the MC vocal style and the bands sweet funky soul riffs are the best combination but it is played and performed with a considerable amount of passion and lots of fun. If you are looking for something different from the commercial hip hop of the charts then these guys may just be the breath of fresh air you've been waiting for.

www.myspace.com/mysonthehurricane


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

~ Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Let's Whisper: The Shortest days

Indie attitude and more importantly an indie ethos is great. When you add the promise of two members of twee indie bubblegum Vermont’s The Smittens your hopes are high. I was expecting so much and felt it didn’t quite deliver and at times it felt too contrived for me.

The idea for Dana Kaplan and Colin Clary to take time off from their main band and release an album seems like a decent enough premise. The overriding feeling is one of a missed opportunity. The Smittens could’ve done so much more with these songs. At least they have a drummer.

Maybe I’m being harsh. There are some nice moments throughout with echoes of Yo La Tengo and the Go Betweens but when the chance was there to go for something a bit more like The Pastels, or Beat Happening or Daniel Johnson we don’t really want to hear what at times sound like Strawberry Switchblade demos.

On Evy and Sarah, Dana Kaplan’s sweet pop voice takes centre stage and on Jackpot then 2 Hours sounds uncannily reminiscent of Tracyanne from Camera Obscura, no bad thing. Dana also shines on The Countdown, the stand out track of the album.

I’m an indie person. I like going to indie cinemas to watch indie movies. I buy indie music. I buy books by indie publishers. This album is released on WeePOP! Records and in the finest indie tradition, like Postcard, will be in hand screen printed covers all individually assembled and numbered in a run of 500. I’m not smitten by Let’s Whisper but I am starting to warm to them. I can’t help but think how brilliant the indie sensibility of Shortest Days would’ve been if it was recorded by The Smittens giving it the added shot of pop bubblegum.

www.myspace.com/letswhispermusic

[][][] (3/5)

Review by Charlie Brown

~

Max Raptor: Portraits

If it’s post-punk power pop with a contemporary twist you crave, then look no further than Midlands based Max Raptor’s debut mini album Portraits.

From the opener The King is Dead we are into full on hooky guitar orientated rock. Into track 2 The Great and the Good you think, yes, a band with something fresh to say. As someone getting on a bit, it’s good to see bands reflecting the times. In my day, the days of Beta Max and a hand held communicating system being a carrier pigeon, there were loads of bands with an anger and rage.

Track 3 Beasts, could be a hit single if given the necessary airplay. Track 4 Obey the Whips doesn’t relent and we hear an early Dave Grohl rock scream from Foo Fighters era when they were still good. By Carolina it becomes clear that Max Raptor are a Later With Jools Holland appearance away from making it big time. You can see Patron Saint (Of Nothing) being a summer festival favourite.

Overall there’s Killing Joke, The Clash and Red Lorry Yellow Lorry. Max Raptor deliver that British punk attitude and do it effortlessly and unlike most new groups, in a manner that doesn’t feel contrived. They’ve been playing live for years now and the hard work’s starting to pay off. On Portraits producer Dan Weller captures that distinct energetic power of a band setting up and playing live, the way it should be. Along with the outstanding vocal and guitars, honourable mentions at this point to the power house of a rhythm section from Matt Stevenson on drums and Tom Garrett on bass.

If this band are playing at club near you, I’d catch them soon, before they start playing arenas and ignore the little people. An outstanding debut.

www.maxraptor.co.uk

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

Review by Charlie Brown

~

Right Said Fred: Stop The World

I am not going to take the mickey because it’s Right Said Fred. Here’s the facts: The first act since The Beatles to hit No.1 in America with their debut single, over 20 million records sold, No.1 in 32 countries and they gave me and a mate one of the best laughs of our lives one fine Saturday afternoon. They deserve respect. However after listening to their new long player, it appears they have lost their fun batteries.

A career built on camp eccentricity has given way to a lame attempt at serious artist credibility and there are only a few glimpses at their previous ability to have a laugh at themselves. That coupled with a very poor production has produced a sub-standard product that wishes to be mentioned in the same breath as The Kinks and the best singles band ever to come out of Britain, Madness.


We start with the title track Stop The World and you can see what they are trying to do in the Kinks/Madness stylee but it fails badly. “Stop the world I’ve had enough”, so have I, as the track morphs into Billy Joel’s ‘We Didn’t Start The Fire’ and ends with a refrain of ‘and I’m sleeping’. Yes you were when you agreed to use a Bontempi keyboard as a backing track, as with a little more effort this tune wouldn’t have been so bad. Madness prevail again on Julianne but the productions thin and only a nutty boys style video could save it. They need investment as it’s more like demo material and is as flat as young Julie’s pancakes, who apparently, is also his only weakness. More tea vicar?

The cheesy Raining In England is as obvious a song as ‘There’s Midges In Scotland’ but will probably be an xmas No.1 in one of the ex-pat colonies and goes all stadium rock at the end as you imagine old Dickie Fairbrass flying over the crowd at Wembley, whilst Obvious is pure filler with chorus guitars and sounds slightly like the very overrated Mary’s Prayer with a Hank Marvin sound-alike helping to provide every obvious cliché in the book.

However, Waiting For A Train sits much better and is a reminder of their old sense of humour, full of innuendo and very club friendly. This time the Hi-NRG production is spot on with echoes of Kraftwerk even! But it’s back to Cheddar gorge and plastic platitudes with I Ain’t Your Guy and seriously sounding too serious. Someone sounding like Mike Barson, appears to be playing the keys at the start of Trouble With Love but doesn’t enter the singles club the song ends up in. The lyrics are seriously dickey and Richard appears to have gone straight as he proclaims he’s a ‘karma chameleon and a sex machine’ who ‘needs a one night stand’. You are really bringing this on yourself.

Tomorrow’s Just Another Day is plagiarised next with We’re All Criminals, an attack on PC culture but it’s probably the best song on the album. It’s got a great chorus and Chrissy Boy is surely playing the solo but alas poor production prevails. When they do dance music, the production steps up and Happily Ever After goes all Balearic/La Isla Bonita but it won’t change your life. The brothers bald are seriously down in the dumps on Come Dancing and they must have left their thesaurus in the house as they sing ‘Let the music play, there’s nothing left to say’. Indeed. Word. Most def.

Feels Like Love feels like a 50s style piece from a cruise ship production where we could imagine the Baldinis donning Danny Zuko wigs and dancing with RaRa skirted cheerleaders. Maybe a nice costume change for the live show but also a contender for worst song on the album. The final cut is Two White Boys and initially this seems like proper Fred, as it’s lyrically obtuse at first, but segues into a chorus of ‘We sing about anything that makes us sing’. Goodness gracious. What it does do after wishing otherwise is finally nail the point that whatever mojo the Freddymen ever had has sadly gone.

Stop the world? It’s stopped.

www.rightsaidfred.com

[][] (2/5)

Review by Captain Dhilin Kunderan

~ Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Nicole Atkins: Mondo Amore

Mondo Amore is the follow up to the acclaimed Neptune City of 2008 by New Jersey born Nicole Atkins. When I heard the album was written and recorded after splitting from her partner, her record company and her old band, I was expecting more vitriol but the turbulence is controlled. I was expecting more bite and this is where Mondo Amore lets itself down, it’s like Kylie or Taylor Swift getting angry when I wanted PJ Harvey or Courtney Love angry.

Having said all that, Mondo Amore is a decent album. On track two, Cry Cry Cry there’s some great country pop, on Hotel Plaster and My Baby Don’t Lie there’s a couple of potential hit singles with a darker lyrical subtext underpinning their mainstream poppiness. The stand out track though is This Is For Love and the album is worth it for what in normal circumstances-major label backing- would be a radio friendly hit.

There a few wrong moves. You Were The Devil and War is Hell feel a bit contrived and are too weak, veering off point, toward melodramatic vamped up torch songs when a stronger finish is required but that said, her vocal performance on the album’s final track The Tower, redeems the album.

This is a respectable return to form. The chaos both professional and personal does come through on this album but not through venom or spite but in trying to be all things musically and having too wide a range in styles. I think she maybe just needs a wee cup of tea and a cuddle.

www.mondoamore.nicoleatkins.com

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

Review by Charlie Brown

~ Monday, 21 March 2011

Erland & The Carnival: Nightingale

We liked the debut album from the Orcadian singer songwriter Erland Cooper and his illustrious cohorts but that second album is always a tricky one. Do they push themselves forward or settle for the tried and tested formula. With Nightingale they have gone for the latter with the folk histrionics of their debut replaced by Beefheart psychedelia. They have also used some unusual recording techniques, recording the album in the hull of a wooden boat moored on the Thames, attaching mics to the wood to catch the vibrations and lapping water outside.

There isn't anything around at the moment that sounds quite like this. Yeh, the likes of Jim Noir and The Corel try to but they don't quite manage to pull it off. Cooper proved with his debut that he has a love of fine literature and is again inspired lyrically from a wide range of sources including The Egyptian Book Of The Dead and TS Eliot. Psych fans will revel in the splendour of the darkly Gothic
Emmeline and the sprawling and spiraling The Trees They Grow So High. The recurring theme throughout this record is the use of various analogue synths that add electro elements ranging from the killer riffs of Map Of An Englishman to the twee bleeps and blips of I Wish I Wish and East And West.

Just like his debut, this is not one of those albums that gets you on the first play but by the third listen you will have fully succumb to its off kilter charms. There are some moment of shear pop pleasure in the shape of
Springtime, imagine a folk band playing New Order, and I'm Not Really Here, a song that sounds like it should have been the theme tune to some obscure 70's movie starring Michael Caine as an ordinary guy caught up in London's underworld out to avenge the death of his family.

This is a record that sounds like it was recorded four decades ago and that is a good thing. There is an earthiness and warmth to its sound that is as much a breath of fresh air as the music itself.

www.erlandandthecarnival.com

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

~

Julius Way: The Slow Death Of Julius Way

You wonder what Nick Drake would make of the throng of singer songwriters who have made a career out of, shall we say, his influence. I'm sure many of them don't even realise it. Perhaps Julius Way mainstay Matthew Adam doesn't realise it either but his music is steeped in the spirit of Drake. You get the feeling that Adam is a sensitive soul. Someone who is in touch with his feelings. Someone who longs to be cradled in the bosom of mother earth. An idealist with conviction. Having never met the guy, I can't say that any of this is true but his lyrics make me think I may be right.

The Slow Death Of Julius Way unfolds like a personal diary, where we are privy to little glimpses of a soul laid bare, thoughts unclouded by resentment and a longing for a different way of life. In its context, this is a remarkably beautiful piece of work. The album opens on what is for me the albums only weak point. I Will Live has a baroque sound that just pales when compared to the rest of the album. Jessie's Yurt is a far more palatable proposition with chiming guitars and celebratory vocals all underpinned by foot stomps and hand claps. Brilliantly different.

Things take an unexpected turn with
Cradle, complete with feedback. If Arcade Fire were to make a folk record I'm pretty sure it would sound like this. Some of the albums most beguiling moment are initiated with the addition of the dulcet tones of Bex Baxter like on Friends, The Dawn and Slow Death. The interaction between Adam and Baxter is a thing of real beauty. There are however two tracks that really stand out. The simplicity of both Creed and Doya exemplify what makes this record for me. The production is uncluttered, naive even, but this means that the songs can't hide. What you get is an honest representation of what Adam wanted us to hear.

Even with all its imperfections and low tech approach, this is a joyous album that is all the more endearing for it. If you want music that is pure and heartfelt, then this album needs you as much as you need it.

www.juliusway.bandcamp.com

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

~ Friday, 18 March 2011

Cyrus Malachi: Ancient Future

Ok, I admit it. I know basically nothing about the whole hip hop scene here in the UK. I am of an age where the whole thing passed me by. I ain't got a 'crew' or come from the 'street' and I just don't relate to it. The endless repetitive beats and samples strike me as lazy but the one thing about it that I do get is its lyrical nature. From the little I do know, I can see the distinct difference between what is coming out of the UK and from across the pond. Cyrus Malachi is a good example of where the lines get blurred. His lyrics come from the life that he lives and has lived. That is a world of inner city London where drugs, prostitution and death are expressed without the need to drag it into misogynistic sexism, racism and money. Then he teams up with a variety of American artists for several tracks and that is where Malachi loses his identity for me.

As part of the revered trio Triple Darkness he already comes with a pedigree and most of the 20 tracks on this record will only serve to cement his reputation. With a host of different producers including Diplimat and Beat Butcha, the beats are kept fresh and range from grime to soul. For me, it is where Malachi tackles what is on his doorstep that he really shines.
Black Madonna is a lyrical journey that tackles race, self worth, being proud of your heritage and societies obsession with the unobtainable perfection.

The previously mentioned Americanisation of his music is rammed home on
Master Builders and King Cobras where the likes of Bronze Narareth and Rustie Jaxx spout endless crap from the handbook of exploitation and bullshit as they try to cram the n-word into as short a space as possible. Am I the only one who finds it offencive. It is not empowering. Why he felt the need to collaborate with these guys when he is capable of producing powerful descriptive songs like Black Maria, a song about prison life and the effect it has on individuals and their families, is beyond me. It is simply brilliant. Concrete Flowers and The Crucible are track of similar quality and are a million miles away from the collaborations with his American counterparts.

Even through my grizzled old suburban ears I can see what it is that Malachi is doing. I can also see that he knows how to do it well and yeh, I can even relate to some of it. At 20 tracks though, it is at least 6 tracks to long but then I'm not its target audience.

www.myspace.com/cyrusmalachi

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

~ Thursday, 17 March 2011

Afterlife Parade: Death (ep)

Afterlife Parade is a strange proposition. Not so much a band as a project headed by singer songwriter Quinn Erwin that was born out of personal loss which explores the role death plays within our society, the way that we view it and how we deal with grief. Erwin took the view that death is a homecoming and should be celebrated and set about creating music that reflected this.

Death is the first of two ep's, the second being entitled Rebirth, which opens with a experimental fusion of samples, vocal loops and electronica called Fate - An Introduction, that gives a meditative feel to proceedings before giving way to the pomp rock of the title track which has a decidedly 80's feel about it, bringing to mind Simple Minds circa their Sparkle In The Rain album. Nothing But Love Can Stay is a beautifully arranged anthemic ballad which is helped greatly by the additional breathy vocals of Tianna Calcagno.

Stand out track for me is the haunting
Arrows Fly, a country tinged ballad in the mould of Bruce Springsteen that is packed with atmosphere and heartfelt lyrics. Simple has a similar feel to it and is no less beguiling as Erwin has a knack for taking the simple and embellishing it into something beautiful. The ep ends with Afterlife Parade, as song that wouldn't be out of place on any Arcade Fire album. The sound is big, expansive and all enveloping, something which producer Jeremy McCoy has obviously picked up with his day job as bass player with The Fray.

This is highly enjoyable record from a songwriter who picks his influences from far and wide to make music which has a familiarity to it that makes it easily accessible but I don't know if he has convinced me that death is something I plan to embrace anytime soon.

www.afterlifeparade.bandcamp.com

~

Katie Armiger: Confessions Of A Nice Girl

This is the third album from the 19yr old Texan who makes polished country with a pop rock edge that was all the rage in the late 90's with Shania Twain and Leanne Rimes. It is not as bad as it sounds but only if you can get by the rampant commercial exploitation by her record company. There is something rather vomit inducing about the way she is marketed with sponsors promoted on the albums artwork. It is a sad day when it becomes more about making money from endorsements than making good music. Armiger is painted as the aspirational girl next door that boys want to date and girls want to be, where she is giving something back. P##s off. Are people really that gullible?

Ok, so what about the music! Well there is nothing here that you haven't heard before. Tune into one of the plethora of Country station across the US and you'll be hard to tell the songs apart and this album is guaranteed to make the play lists of them all. Cynical? Maybe... but true. Armiger has a nice voice, complete with Southern twang and the songs are well crafted and produced. In terms of the music it is an enjoyable listen. If throwaway bubblegum lyrics with some killer riffs and hooks all polished to within an inch of its life float your boat then this album is gonna make your day.

The album opens with former single Best Song Ever, an upbeat radio friendly slice of Country AOR much loved by the likes of Taylor Swift. Indeed the track was produced by Swift's producer Chad Carlson. Kiss Me Now is another former single and is one of the albums most enjoyable tracks with some classic guitar riffs layered with some lovely Hammond from Howard Duck. Armiger seems to be most at ease when tackling one of the albums several ballads. Both That's Why and Scream provide a perfect showcase for her voice. With Cry, Cry, Cry, the only track on the album that she took on sole writing duties, she proves that she is capable of penning a song of genuine quality. Her inner rock chick comes out on the rocky Ain't So Sweet, which is bolstered by some impressive guitar work from Kurt Allison, and on what must be a future single Can You Handle It.

As I said before, musically this is not a bad record at all. It has its moments of sickly sweet dirge in the form of
Leaving Home but mostly this is an album that should establish Armiger as a contender in the commercial side of Country music and give her label plenty more opportunities to devalue her music by prostituting her talent for a quick dollar. Shame... she deserves better.

www.katiearmiger.com

[][][][

(3.5/5)


~ Monday, 14 March 2011

Carrie Elkin: Call It My Garden

Here is another album by a girl with an acoustic guitar; just what the world needs right now. Harsh? Sexist? Maybe, but please afford me the time to elaborate. The album starts off with a Joni Mitchell style laugh on Jesse Likes Birds, which come across as a Steve Earle hoedown and ends blandly with a Hootie type Shangri-la at the end and yes, Jesse like a lot of things but you wouldn’t want to hang out with him. Guilty Hands is slightly better but does nothing more than emphasise the influence of the church on what should be the devils music.

The carnage continues with Lift Up The Anchor and The Things We’re Afraid Of. Insatiably vacuous tunes accompanied by a quote from ‘Whispering’ Bob Harris describing them as 'spellbinding'. Maybe young Sidney Vicious missed an opportunity here? Carrie then manages to cover a song even more insipid than her own with the sleeper Iowa. Now, I can guess what demographic these tunes are aimed at but I didn’t know Sunday school teachers were such a large percentage of the record buying public.

And now for an interlude. The next five songs are much better. Landeth By The Sea has a cinematic/soundtrack feel to it while Shots Rang Out is a hard hitting tale of abuse and the repercussions that come with it. Berlin is a well structured song with a chorus that builds beautifully that even a old cynic like me can appreciate. By track 9 St. Louis, Carrie and I are starting to develop empathy as she clearly likes gardening and is starting to sound like a storyteller. The best song on the album is the wonderful Dear Sam which is sung like her lover is lying beside her as she sounds intimate and almost naked.

Then comes the last song Edge Of The World and back to earlier form. It is fair to say that I don’t take as much issue with the song as I do with the accompanying press blurb which describes this song as, “Pushing boundaries, taking great leaps and a ragged, romantic wild carnival”. Have they ever been on a night out? I fell asleep. It goes on that it would be ‘nice closure for the record’. As long as you promise not to make another one. What this track made me realise was that sunshine I felt in the second half of the album was only a clear autumnal day because of the poor quality of the material that preceded it.

What the world needs right now is a girl with an acoustic guitar. Harsh? Debatable. Sexist? No. Apathetic artistic endeavour? Yes.

www.carrieelkin.com

[][] (2/5)

Review by Captain Dhilin Kunderan

~ Saturday, 12 March 2011

Kimmie Rhodes: Dreams Of Flying

Hot on the heels of her 'Christmas' album comes Dreams Of Flying. Ms Rhodes has an impressive body of work behind her but as with Miracles On Christmas Day, it is hard to see why she is so highly thought of with this latest release. The majority of this album is generic, insipid, middle of the road Americana with few redeeming qualities. It is not helped by the bland production that manages to make real musicians sound like sequencers and samples. If you haven't guessed already... I really don't like this record.

The album opens with the nauseating title track. A song bereft of any kind of dynamic from the painful lyrics to the weak vocals and terrible arrangement. This is seriously turgid stuff. There is some relief in the form of her cover of Donovan's Catch The Wind which features a duet with Joe Ely. Turnin' My World is the only track that shows what we all know she is really capable of. I so wanted to like this record. I know what beautiful music she can write, the evidence is there to see, but this is an instantly forgettable record with production that has rendered any emotion that the songs possessed, totally lifeless. If you like the type of music that gets played in elevators and supermarkets then this is the album for you.

www.kimmierhodes.com

(0/5)

~ Thursday, 10 March 2011

Bruce Cockburn: Small Source Of Comfort

Bruce Cockburn is Canadian musical royalty and rightly so. Small Source Of Comfort is his 31st album release yet given his vast output, he just doesn't release a bad record. He just doesn't. Along with the likes of Tom Paxton, the mere mention of Cockburn's name carries a seal of quality. A beat poet of sorts, definitely a protest singer, Cockburn has never been afraid to voice his opinions and that is something that has not changed with Small Source Of Comfort. Much of this album was written during his travels which took in the diversity of Brooklyn to Kandahar in Afghanistan. As always with Cockburn he has a way of uniting lyrics and melody with effortless ease and this is nowhere more evident than in the sombre Each One Lost which relates to the deaths of two young Canadian soldiers which happened while he was in Kandahar. It is a genuinely touching song that had the hairs on the back of my neck standing.

There are plenty of lighter moments like on Call Me Back which deals with the frustration of waiting for a phone call. One of the most interesting ideas on the album is in the form of the track Call Me Rose which sees Richard Nixon reincarnated as a single mother living on benefits in a housing project with her two kids. I think they call it karma. Of the 14 tracks on the album, 5 of them are instrumentals with Bohemian 3-Step and Lois On the Autobahn being the pick of the bunch, showcasing Cockburn's considerable guitar skills.

Definite highlight is the mournful tango Radiance which you would not be surprised being sung in a back street Fado bar in Lisbon's Bairro Alto. Driving Away is another standout which features the additional vocals of Annabelle Chvostek who co-wrote the song. It really is a beautiful song, full of melancholy and the perfect accompaniment for that late night glass of wine before bed.

As I said before, Cockburn just doesn't make bad records but this is not his best album, far from it, and may disappoint some fans but stick with it. It is a grower.

www.brucecockburn.com

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

~

Malcolm Holcombe: To Drink The Rain - Album of the Month - March 2011

To Drink The Rain is the 8th studio album from Holcombe but I am sure that he will be as new a name to most as he is to me. Holcombe lives in the hills of North Carolina, an area that just seems to have the ability to produce artist that know how to make passionate and expressive music that is as timeless as it is magical. Just look at David Childers, Charlie Poole and The Avett Brothers if you need proof. Lucinda Williams said that Holcombe is '...an old soul and a modern day blues poet' and that he is. He has a voice with a world weary warmth that makes every word sound like poetry on this collection of 12 stunning songs.

One Leg At A Time open the album in fine style with the influence of the likes of Doc Watson evident in this guitar 'rag'. It is hard not to warm to this record immediately with a simplicity to it that extends from the lyrics to the production and some brilliant playing from the assembled cast of musicians as is evident in the relentless drive of Bobby Kallus's drums on Behind The Number One which is matched by Luke Bulla's fiddle and Jared Tyler's dobro. This is a great song with lyrics that reflects Halcombe's restless nature.

The beautiful ballad Becky's Blessed (Backporch Flowers) is one of the albums highlights, which brings out the best in Halcombe's throaty vocal drawl. Halcombe has lived the good life (or bad life depending on your point of view) and fought his demons but To Drink The Rain sees him in the most settled period of his life. At peace with himself and with his God. Often compared to Tom Waits and Bob Dylan, and you can see why these comparisons stick, he is perhaps more in the mould of Mississippi John Hurt and Townes Van Zandt but don't be fooled into thinking you have heard it all before. Oh no, Holcombe has his own way of doing things that is backed up with 50 years plus of experience to draw on. If you don't believe me, just listen to the title track and thank me later.

This is a brilliant album that has been beautifully produced by Jared Tyler. It just makes me want to see him play live so much.

www.malcolmholcombe.com

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

~

Genetic Agony: Genetic Agony (ep)

Madrid based rockers Genetic Agony have obviously been influenced by rock acts from the 70's and 80's with bands like Slayer, Rush, Metallica and Megadeath making an impact on their sound. This 5 track ep was recorded in their hometown with the guys deciding to master the album at London's famous Abbey Road studio. Musically they owe far more to American acts than anything that Abbey Road is famous for producing.

The ep kicks of with the track American Dream and is the most radio friendly of all the tracks with shades of Stone Temple Pilots about it. Front man Rafe's vocals have a distinctive twang given that he sings in English and it is not his first language. They won't win any prizes for originality but it is always going to be hard to reinvent the wheel given the genre of music they play. What they do do however is play with a fearsome passion and self belief in music that they obviously love.

The band show they are adept at tackling Metal ballads which can often sound cringing limp but they pretty much pull it of with both Black Demons and Just Promises. Both these tracks, especially Just Promises, would have any self respecting denim and leather wearing metal head waving their lighters above their mullet with conviction. On Blue and Desperation they attempt to rock out but both these songs are pretty forgettable and follow a bland formula of uninteresting power chords and ham fisted lyrics. Not their finest moments.

This ep is enjoyable enough but music history is littered with bargain bins full of records like this. If they are hoping for bigger things then they need to be far more original than this.

www.geneticagony.com

~ Tuesday, 8 March 2011