Happy Blue (meme records)
I’ve had this unquestionably excellent album for ages; it’s been the never failing first choice accompaniment to many long train journeys and drives in recent months. It was my choice as favourite of the year when called upon to answer that rather invidious question by a close friend and I’ve played tracks on various radio shows since first receieving a copy. So why the delay in putting pen to paper?
The answer is two-fold, I guess. On a personal level, the last few months have been steeped in loss and seeing the profound effect it has on folk I embrace. This album is informed by and infused with the recent loss of (Trevor) Jones’ dad so there is certainly that immediate resonance. Indeed the title track might well be my personal song of the year; the chorus never failing to dampen the eye. It also a song that exempilies the excellence of Trevor’s work; it’s gorgeous of melody and lyrically literate with an almost painterly attention to detail that makes the personal universal.
The second answer is certainly more flippant though no less true. Happy Blue is the latest in a long line of genuinely excellent albums by Jones either solo, as here, or as a part of Miracle Mile, a band he mans with producer, arranger, multi instrumentalist Marcus Cliffe who performs those duties here. And put simply it gets harder to find new superlatives for each release!
Those concerns aside, the truth is that this really is an exemplary and coherent piece of work; the songs are excellent delivering more with each play rather than fading with familiarity. The combination of Trevor’s warm, personable, honest vocals set against simple spacious arrangements which often see Melvin Duffy’s pedal steel guitar adding another emotional layer has become a hallmark sound as recognisable as Neil Finn, Paddy McAloon or Paul Buchanan. That he isn’t quoted in their company remains a mystery.
A notable addition this time is Gustaf Ljunggren on various stringed instruments and more importantly clarinet and saxes which brings new textures to play. Indeed his Steely Dan tinged reeds on the reggae-ish Naked as Adam surely make it a Radio 2 playlist contender.
In short, beautiful, literate, melodic songs excellently delivered and whilst that recipe should be commonplace, it’s not, and of those offerings that offer such ingredients this is right up there with the very, very best.
Oh, and it’s also available on a slab of great sounding heavy vinyl!
Leave Me Alone (Lucky Number)
A lo-fi garage rock female four piece from Madrid, there’s definite shades of 90s acid-tipped shoegazing to their debut album, conjuring thoughts of the Jesus and Mary Chain and The Vaselines with the distorted, fuzzy guitar chimes, but also harking back to the early templates set by the Velvets and Spector and, at times (as on Garden). suggesting a lysergic version of The Bangles. Although Solar Gap is an instrumental (and sounds like the score to some 60s European beat movie) and And I Will Send Your Flowers Back is a restrained breathy kiss off to crap boyfriends, there’s not a huge degree of variation between the 12 numbers, and, as such, things get a little samey over the course of the album. Not as addictive as The Raveonettes, but their ragged charm is undeniable.
Realizations & Declarations Vol. 2 (Self Released)
A jangly guitar New Yorker with his roots in the chiming pop of the 6os and 70s, this, as you might gather from the title, is his follow up to Vol.1. I’ve not heard that, but I’d assume it’s much of the same, opening with the ringing, upbeat The Right Place and proceeding through a further six tracks that vary between alt-country strums like Because of You and the folksier finger-picked Scared Little Boy. Pivoting on the harmonica blowing Walter Mitty with its Replacements-like college rock feel, the album falls thematically between following your dreams and taking chances, the second half rolling along with the waltzing I Got Nothing before the skipalong Pissed Off In Paris and its playful tale of a trip that, starting with being overcharged by the airport taxi, never quite went according to plan and hopes. The reflective Sparrows, an edited down version of a song about finding your own nest that featured on his 2007 debut, brings it to an all too soon close, suggesting he should repackage this alongside Vol. 1 for newcomers to his music or, better yet, set about putting together a new full length project.
Leave The Radio On (Décor)
Born in Argentina and based in Portland, Oregon, Fernando Viciconte has been making music for twenty years, but this, his eighth album, is the first to get a release outside the US. Once compared to Elliott Smith and often sounding like Lennon, he makes the sort of dark, moody, guitar-driven desert-country Americana that you might expect from someone endorsed by the likes of Willie Vlautin, Richard Buckner and Peter Buck. Indeed, the latter contributes guitar or mandolin to eight of the eleven tracks while fellow former REM member Scott McCaughey provides keyboards on six and Richmond Fontaine’s Daniel Eccles plays guitar and/or lap steel on seven.
Opening in strong form with Save Me, he delivers a bruised and often bleak perspective on such numbers as the psychedelic swirls of The Dogs, the slow marching piano-based Friends and Enemies (on which Sarabeth Tucek provides harmonies), the stridently ringing Burned Out Love and the decidedly Lennonesque The Freak. Things take a more subdued turn in the final stretch with the quieter, brooding acoustic White Trees and In Their Heads (shades of Neil Young here) before closing out on the jubilantly anthemic title track that offsets the line “nothing last forever, it comes to an end in a blink of an eye” with the defiant affirmation that “It’s reason to dance, not reason to cry”. Don’t touch that dial!