Faithful (Jenn Bostic Music)
It’s the sort of story they love on X-Factor; at age 10 she was on her way to her Minnesota school when their car was hit at busy junction, killing her father. Dad was a musician and Bostic resolved to follow in his footsteps, studying at Berklee College of Music and eventually relocating to Nashville. Jealous of the Angels, a heartfelt piano ballad written about that terrible morning and the sudden loss of her father became a YouTube hit and generated enough interest to warrant the UK release of her second own label album, Jealous. Unfortunately, while revealing a pleasant if rather generic voice that leant towards the Sheryl Crow/Shania Twain axis, it was all rather melodic, but unmemorable background listening.
Quite what she’s done between that and this I don’t know, but it’s certainly made a difference. While still within the arena of slightly country-tinged adult rock, her voice and melodies are now more muscular and confident, evident from the start with the title track, its power mirrored in such numbers as soaring tempo shifting ballad Kinda Feel Like Fallin’ In Love , What Love Feels Like with its a capella gospel choir intro and southern country soul sound and jazzy swing closer I Don’t Like You At All.
There’s a fistful of stadium friendly piano ballads too, particular highlights including the slow building Cold and Frozen, a defiant Fight For Your Life and piano waltzer Chasing Rainbows. Having finally and set free found her voice and confidence, on this evidence Bostic now truly deserves to become the star she was touted.
Be The Media (Self Released)
Those expecting a folk roots album from former Wailin’ Jenny singer songwriter Annabelle Chvostek can think again. Strapping on a 1957 Kay electric guitar and recording live with just the rhythm section of Jeremie Jones (drums) and Tony Spina (bass), she’s gone back to the rock ‘n’ roll basics, driving on energy and emotion kicking up attitude clouds with the title track opener and keeping the fire blazing on the bass throbbing, slightly samba This Night, the choppy riffing urgency of Inside The Scream/Screen and, after its deceptive near silent intro, Black Hole as its sparse rumbling and effects (Lisa Gamble on saw) build to a furious sonic storm.
Balancing these are the album’s quieter, more reflective moments, most notably the brooding, echoey Jerusalem which features her on scraping solemn violin, the lyrically intense Carnal Delights (more saw) with its carnival merry go round chorus, and the stripped back acoustic ballad You Can Come Now.
Interestingly, there’s a definite air of Lou Reed to shuffling album closer Say It Right and another influence rears its head on the album’s sole cover, resetting the folk-roots button for a spare, mandolin-backed version of Neil Young’s Like A Hurricane. It may well lose her some of the old faithful, but it could also gather a hefty interest among fans of Tanya Donnelly and those of a similar persuasion.
Coastal Tones (Concrete)
Having thrown in the towel in 2011 having failed to persuade the business or the world outside of Manchester (the band hail from rock n roll hotbed Cleethorpes), trying to cope with day to day mundanity proved even more of a challenge, so Rob Cross, Paul Smith and Chris Day, augmented by new addition Sam Carlton on keyboards, resolved to give it another try and, if nothing else, tidy up unfinished business.
Thus this return to the fray with a third album couched in the world of austerity Britain and frequently sounding uncannily like The Smiths (especially on Cross’s vocals and delivery on opening number Beats Like Distant Tides) though something like Transpennine (named for the northern railway line) also suggests Jarvis Cocker while hints of the Manics (Money To Money) and even Placebo surface throughout.
As per the punning title, the album’s a celebration (if not always an upbeat one) of the sort of small seaside towns in which they grew up, the 80s indie electronic sound of the strident From The Provinces namechecking Doncaster, Basingstoke, Scunthorpe and Runcorn, among others, while the moody, sax-drenched On A Nelson Skyline was apparently inspired by the view from a Grimsby tower block.
Lyrically inspired by such writers as Bukowski, Welch and Burroughs, it has its feet in the gutter and its head in the stars (brightly glistening in the sky on the shimmering splendour of Clover), unquestionably best expressed in the Smiths-like title track with its haunted rain-washed intro and train rhythm and, a long time live favourite that finally finds its way onto disc, album closer Thirtysomething Lovesick Ballad, a spoken word day in the life monologue (inspired by Pulp’s F.E.E.L.I.N.G.C.A.L.L.E.D.L.O.V.E.) about hopelessness, broken dreams and dead end benefit street lives set to swirling keyboard, driving percussion and fierce guitars. They call themselves council pop, but with this album, the property market could be theirs for the taking.
Welcome Back (Mute)
Remember Beth Jeans Houghton, the girl behind such folksy pop as the Hot Toast EP and her Yours Truly, Cellophane Nose debut album with Hooves of Destiny. Right, now forget all that. Following a scrapped follow up and a mental breakdown, she’s reinvented herself as a rather darker creature, taking her cue from punk and metal, sounding as she’s been gorging on Sabbath, P J Harvey and Sonic Youth. Even the first track on the album is titled Black Flag in tribute to one of her favourite hardcore bands.
The attitude has transformed too. Out go any ethereal notions of candyfloss fantasies as she gives free rein to the darker side of her emotional psyche and sexuality with a collection of break up and kiss-off songs, amping up the sleaze on things like the tumbling percussion alt-rock If You’re Legal Knees as she sings “knees up mother brown, if you are legal, my boy is going down!” while the twangsome punk-noir Young Entertainment as "What is it like to fuck your mistress with her hands tied?" like some audition for the 50 Shades of Grey sequel.
Yet, in all this spikiness, she’s not lost her grip on a strong sense of melody and hooks, as evidenced by the rockabilly hints to Hard To Please, the flamenco heart of the metal ripped Chips To Go (runaway bride drinks it off in the pub), the hypnotic rhythms of a sensually enticing Raw Honey and the romping Mr Hyde where she’s a sort of 21st Century Suzi Quatro.
Nor has she abandoned the softer side, serving up gorgeously tender looking for love piano ballad Four In The Morning, 60s doo wop swayalong After The Show, the dreamily waltzing, vocally woozy Isn’t It Wild (which features a words of wisdom on love sample of Leslie Jeans – her grandmother? - over a wonky keyboard) and Hunter where a sort of Shangri-Las backing mutates into a soaring power ballad, her voice still as able to conjure that silken softness, just now with an added dose of 60s soulfulness.
Future Islands' Samuel T. Herring joins her for Mind Is On My Mind, a two and a half minute galloping repeated one night stand drama that churns together touches of Kate Bush, Bad seeds noir and spaghetti western guitars to heady effect. Many artists try and reinvent themselves, only a few ever manage to do so with credibility intact. Bowie is one. Beth Jeans Houghton is now another.
Rhythm & Reason (Thirty Tigers)
The son of Sri Lankan Tamil immigrants, Bhiman filtered his background through the inspirations of both Richard Pryor and Curtis Mayfield’s sociopolitical observations and the music of Bill Withers, Sly Stone and the Staple Singers for an album that touches on various notions of immigration and being an outsider as its central theme, played out in a cocktail of blues, folk and soul. The latter’s clearly evident on opening track Moving To Brussels, an immigrant’s song he describes as “a Dear John letter to their native country”. Soul, reggae and a tropical feel come together for the lilting There Goes The Neighbourhood, a ‘send them back where they came from’ sentiment most immigrants will have confronted at sometime, but then things get funkier on the early Motown influenced Bread and Butter wherein, reminding how immigrants contribute to society, the narrator talks of the daily grind, of the contentment of family and how “We know when to work, we know when to party.”. A more personal inspiration informs the calypso lullaby Bennie Please, his recent entrance to the world of fatherhood sparking this song about a mother trying to get her hungry child to sleep, never easy to do “in this godforsaken land.”
.The strings-swathed acoustic ballad Up In Arms strikes the most political note as well as the most specific subject in that its sung in the persona of former Black Panthers founder Huey Newton as he recalls his fall from grace and prominence, the lines “The police they always ask, ‘Why the senseless violence?’ But they light the spark, We’ll be dry brush and the wind” particularly pertinent in America at present.
He can be playful too. Although the title has clear implicit connotations, the romping Buddy Holly meets Motown meets 60s garage rock Waterboarded (In Love) is about being subjected to the first degree by a jealous lover while the gallows-humoured, hip hop-influenced, slow chain gang rhythm Death Song has the Grim Reaper talking about he has to ‘harvest the greed’ and The Color Pink turns an eye on religious paranoia, describing it as a sort of coming together of Pops Staples and anti Gay rights preacher Jerry Falwell using a line like “The colour pink is the sign of the devil” to illuminate the ridiculous beliefs the latter holds.
But if that adopts humour as a weapon, orchestrated for horns and woodwind, The Fool is far more serious-minded and, while the lyrics could be about being deceived in a relationship, they were actually written about the Sri Lankan civil war, another example of how he subversively weaves political statement into seeming love songs. The album ends on an upbeat gospel note with Closer To Thee, horns lifting his passionate vocals to an inspirational finale to an inspirational album.