record reviews december 2013


DAVID SERBY AND THE LATEST SCAM

David Serby and the Latest Scam (Self-Released)

serby

Playing catchy roots rock with an at times uncanny resemblance to an American Gerry Colvin, Selby’s a California singer-songwriter with a strong pop sensibility and a clear awareness of the power of ringing guitar that should appeal to those with the likes of the dBs, Matthew Sweet and early Tom Petty in their collection.

The cheery summery pop and chiming guitars of True Love kicks off a double CD set that puts the emphasis on the uptempo, the likes of a chugging Amnesia, 60s beat pop flavoured When Couples Fall In Love, and Creedence tinted rockabilly rolling Waiting Out The Storm and the tumbling Do I Still Need To Worry? particular highlights of the first disc. The second disc (which, coloured blue with the first red, suggests he may have a bit of a Beatles affection) has more of a twangy country flavour with Rumor Of Our Own ,nodding to George and Merle Everybody Loves A Fool evoking Buck Owens (via Dwight Yoakam) and country blues strutter Pretty Little Kitty borrowing the riff to Pretty Woman while Better With My Hands is a Willie Nelson honky tonk weepies and Gospel Truth, Tumbleweed Blacktop Blues and Like She Was Never Here all sound like vintage Dave Edmunds. It doesn’t turn over any new ground but it makes strolling down familiar paths well worth the journey.

Mike Davies

NEW WAR

New War (ATPR)

new war

Though the band comes from Melbourne, singer Chris Pugmire and bassist Melissa were both originally members of Seattle based outfit Shoplifting, switching continents after the band’s demise. Here they hooked up with keyboard player Jesse Shepherd and drummer Steve Masterson who is very much the bedrock of the percussion driven and often tribal sound.

The machine gun drum tattoo of Game Of Love with its repeatedly chanted line Oh come to me opens the album and establishes the dynamic before Revealer introduces rolling clouds of synths behind a steady driving rhythm and a gypsy la la la la refrain from some other dimension. A near nine minute Ghostwalking offers a dance between tribal drum patterns and tense bass lines while Hourglassed has the urgency of primal Suicide matched to frenzied war drums and air raid siren wailing synth. Tension is the keynote throughout, Black Site Cantos sounding like a nervous breakdown version of the Glitter Band. The semi-spoken shaman swirl of Calling From The Inside suggests they may well have spend a few hours soaking up Jim Morrison (the album’s effects and spoken word hidden track certainly evokes Horse Latitudes off Strange Days) while the clattering jitter of Slim Dandy and the dark pulse of Josef’s Hands are the glowering bastard offspring of Joy Division and The Birthday Party. The mood’s a bit one level, but there’s certainly no one else out there making a noise anything like them.

Mike Davies

THE MAGIC THEATRE

The Long Way Home (Elefant)

magic theatre

Survivors of the underrated Ooberman’s demise, Dan Popplewell and vocalist Sophia Churney have turned their attention to musical box baroque chamber pop, the sort of music that eerily plays in cobwebbed nurseries while the ghost of long dead children ride rocking horses. Or at least that’s certainly the mood evoked by the Elfmanesque album opener The Sampler. By contrast the following number, the cascading It Was Glorious marries the jaunty 60s sounds of acts like Left Banke with Gallic pop sensibilities, Festival Of Fire is a heady Arabic gallop and I Got The Answer skips through English country fields, intermittently bursting into a tarantella chorus.

Elfman’s there again on the terrific Cathedrals of the Mind while the bitter Your Hateful Armchair is a perfect example of how Popplewell’s inspired arrangements allow Churney’s sweet breathy voice to both counterpoint and chime with the album’s shifting lyrical sands.

The cinematic tinkles of Heart Strings and The Long Way Home both sound as they should be accompanied by tracking shots of Paris rooftops, so it’s perhaps no coincidence that, sung in the original French, the album’s sole non original should be a cover of Love Is Blue, the 60s Andre Popp clavichord based tune that proved a huge hit for Vicky Leandros, Paul Mauriat and Jeff Beck.

It probably won’t sell in huge numbers, but those who discover its charms can count themselves blessed.

Mike Davies

MATTHEW SWEET & SUSANNA HOFFS

Under The Covers Vol 3 (Floating World)

covers

Four years on from Vol 2, Sid and the sometime Bangle reunite for another trawl through the popular songbook and, while their versions rarely deviate from the originals they are never less than entertaining and sparklingly fresh, sounding as fun as the experience of recording them clearly was. The pair taking turns on lead vocals, there’s a British bias this time with Hoffs taking on Girls Talk (Dave Edmunds), Kid (The Pretenders), They Don’t Know (Kirsty McColl) and More Than This (Roxy Music) while Sweet handles Save It For Later (The Beat), How Soon Is Now (The Smiths), Towers of London (XTC) and Killing Moon (Echo & the Bunnymen), though Hoffs’ harmonies are frequently firmly in evidence.

Sweet also takes the lion’s share of the American representation with Sitting till (REM), Big Brown Eyes (the dBs) and The Bulrushes (The Bongos) while Hoffs gets her sultry out for Trouble (Lindsey Buckingham) and nods to fellow girl group The Go Go’s with Our Lips Are Sealed (though co-penned by Terry Hall, that’s 50% Brit too) and the two of them share the spotlight for both Free Falling (Tom Petty). Special plaudits go to drummer Rick Monck who provides solid and crisply recorded bedrock throughout. Superior karaoke perhaps, but it sounds great on the car stereo. Mike Davies

MINOR ALPS

Get There (Ye Old Records)

minor alps

The first full length collaboration between Juliana Hatfield and Matthew Caws from Nada Surf, their voices merge seamlessly over a collection of 11 richly produced guitar led American indie rock with shades of darker folk. Opening with the metronomic pulsing rhythm of the skeletally beautiful introversion themed Buried Plans, it opens up the sound with the dense chugging guitars of I Don’t Know What To Do With My Hands, the circling pattern of Far From The Roses conjuring Blue Oyster Cult filtered through Tusk era Fleetwood Mac. It dips slightly with the hissing drum click backing to the otherwise dreamy and equally Buckingham-Nicks styled If I Wanted Trouble but (save perhaps for the somewhat headache inducing closing drone of Away Again) there’s never any major reservations and, as with the acoustic pastoral loveliness of Maxon, the Buffalo Springfield echoes to Radio Static and the ruminative REM of Lonely Low, they generally hit the target dead centre to make you hope this is the first of many such projects rather than a one-time union.

Mike Davies

NEW COUNTRY REHAB

Ghost Of Your Charms (Kelp)

new country

They may be Canadian but they have Nashville Americana in their blood as, fronted by singer and fiddler John Showman, the quartet produce a full blooded, ballsy country sound that suggests they’re pretty much dynamite live. Opening number Empty Room Blues is a little deceptive in its low key intro but things quickly start to build as Showman sings “I drink all I can hold and if I do myself harm it’s still better than holding you in my empty arms” and the fire takes hold. They drop in the mid tempo Southern rolling Home To You and the bluesy slow waltz Image Of Me, but mostly this is about cranking up the pace and the sound to the level you’d expect of an album that includes a rip roaring cover of Hank Williams’ Too Many Parties And Too Many Pals. On the fiddle flashing Lizzy Dying Of a Broken Heart they recall the Charlie Daniels Band while Fellows employs his bow no less ferocious effect on the hard country rocking biting murder tale The Bank And The Army. This is most definitely one course of Rehab where you come out even more intoxicated.

Mike Davies

YOUNG AVIATORS

Self Help (Electric Honey)

aviators

Glasgow based garage rock with a socio-political manifesto, the Irish trio sink their musical and lyrical hooks into self-interest and personal gain careerists with roaring riffs, racing rhythms and raging harmonies. Sunrise On The Motorway rips out of the speakers with the energy of the formative Clash, keeping the momentum in fifth gear for the likes of Forward Thinking (where early Kinks influence is unmistakable), First Day On Earth, Future Pill (very Undertones), Rejection Letter and the snarly, blues based semi-spoken delivery of the 60s derivative We’ve Got Names For People Like You. That said, the best number here is the centrepiece piano waltz ballad, Deathrays In Disneyland where they simply let the words do the heavy lifting. Whether they have the wings to keep aloft remains to be seen, but this album certainly provides a very persuasive take off.

Mike Davies

CRYSTAL GRENADE

Lo! And Behold (Gonzo MultiMedia)

crystal

When you’re a female singer with a swooping acrobatic voice, you play dramatic piano and sing torch song ballads with themes of emotional angst, isolation and self-examination, there’s every chance you’re going to get likened to Tori Amos. Especially if, as on Changed, you borrow the piano motif from Silent All These Years.

Seven-fingered Mancunian Carol Hodge wears her influences openly, but in addition to Amos she also ()like Hazel O’Connor) draws heavily on European cabaret, a touchstone also reflected in the album’s conceptual framework of life in an 1880s Freak Show, setting the scene with the brief Welcome to the Freakshow opener before plunging into the likes of You Could Have Lived, 19892 Man, Lost For Words, the jittery Take Aim!, a bluesy Go Round Twice and the death-shaded Shape of Things and a nihilistic Nothing To Do With Me.

Her lyrics are well worth spending time over, and you get the impression that she wrote with a view to theatrical production, something compounded by the musically thematic cues that connect the songs. Given the intensity and uniformity of tone, it doesn’t make for an immediate impact but repeated listens ensure it coils its way under the skin. The problem is, of course, that if you don’t like Tori Amos you probably won’t like this, and if you do you may wonder why you’d want a second copy. Believe me, pull the pin on this grenade and you’ll be blown away.

Mike Davies

SILJE LEIRVIK

Endless Serenade (Autumnsongs)

silje

As the name suggests, she’s Scandinavian, Norway to be exact, and, like many female singer-songwriters of the same origin, her music is ethereal and shiveringly beautiful. This is her second album in as many years but unlike the debut it eschews strings and piano for steel guitar and guitars augmented by electronics like drum machines and tape delays. It’s not as experimental as that may sound and there’s still very much a warm, organic feel, albeit much having to do with the purity of her voice and phrasings. She’s not particularly adventurous in her lyrical concerns, pretty much all of the songs having to do with love in some shape or another, but she dresses them in finery, from the opening folk toned Glass of Water and Silver & Gold’s hints of Shirley Bassey Bond to the shimmering notes of When In The Water, the show tune air of The Last Dance and the dramatics of Sno, sung in her native Norwegian. One for the older, more sophisticated end of the market perhaps, but no less adventurous or beguiling for that.

Mike Davies

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