I Wanna Be OK (Own Label)
California songstress and winner of assorted second division music contests, Ortner’s had her songs placed on such high profile movie soundtracks as American Pie 7 and I Hate Valentine’s Day, the latest bomb by Nia Vardalos. She was also chosen to sing at Kate Hudson’s birthday party. Of such are celebrity dreams made.
Her debut album is LA pop with occasional country streaks and she has the sort of vocal that sounds as though it’s been engineered to slip seamlessly into any prime-time soap drama you fancy, but for every song that suggests stardom there’s another that tells of cut out bins and the half-empty bar circuit. On the plus side Jezebella twangs along like Taylor Swift with the sass on, the semi-spoken title track prowls around a moody bassline before it hits the moment when the fireworks presumably go off in the video and the wind machines get turned on, The Beauty In Me gets an A in the power ballad exams and, with its heavy percussion and forbidding strings, Strangers is the sort of dramatic number she probably envisioned Shirley Bassey belting out. The rest though is just forgettable, disposable fodder coated with obligatory electronic with the annoying, kittenishly-sung Say Those Things one of the worst offenders. It may get her a place on some talent show panel but you can’t imagine it producing sell out concert queues. If the title is the summit of her ambitions, then the album does its job.
Life In Easy Steps (DB Industries)
An upcoming Liverpudlian singer-songwriter, Vincent’s debut prompts indifference and involvement in equal measure. He has a pleasant, soft-toned voice and a fondness for country influenced tunes, and when the two gel together – as for example on the gentle pedal steel backed waltzer Burns Like Cotton In The Fields where he hits an easy croon somewhere between The Mavericks and Don Williams, the uptempo Johnny Cash feel of the title track or the slow sway of Heaven Knows– then the album sparks. However, there’s also numbers like Light Of The Stars and Demons which are pleasant but unmemorable and the rocking Riot’s Cry which just sounds as though it’s there just to wake things up a bit. It all passes nicely in the background, occasionally attracting your attention with a hummable chorus or vocal catch, but at the end of the day, the hardback photo book style packaging (which also includes a 4 track bonus CD) is more impressive than the contents.
Through All Times (Rainbow Box)
Based in south east London and/or Norwich depending where individual members are at the time, the four piece lay down their template and agenda with opening track The Grandest Of Gestures, a numbers that sees frontman Daniel Hopkinson’s quivering voice floating over shimmering piano and keyboards, steady drumming and acoustic guitars. They sound like a less grandiose Puressence and they write emotionally wrung songs with major chords, attractive melodies and sufficient hooks to keep the attention.
However, the mood rarely shifts throughout, leaving you with an album that’s forever building dramatic and emotional tensions but never quite finding release. A crisper, cleaner production would have helped too and while numbers like Adolescence, Until I Sleep and Sparkle are high points, the songs simply aren’t strong enough to stand-out in the crowd.
II : from Psychedelia to a Distance Place (Sound Practices)
Named after the sister of Titus Groan and formed by Tony Durant while at Exeter University, the six piece outfit released one album, and then disbanded. That was some 40 years ago. Now, spurred on by a Forgotten Classics feature in Mojo and a gathering online following, Durant has resurrected the project, looking to carry on where he left off.
Which, of course, means it all sounds dated (the production, however, is very fresh) but then that’s probably the point. Again working with guitars, drums and a brace of cellos and violins, the sound recalls the 70s progressive folk, both the original references to Jade and Comus but also the likes of Tull (without flute), Gryphon and, especially on Melancholy Road, Stackridge. Piper At the Gates rather suggests that early Floyd may be an influence in there, though at the same time Lost Connections also suggests a touch of ELO.
Lyrically far from the embarrassment that might have been anticipated of a bloke in his late 50s/early 60s revisiting a relatively fey genre, it’s actually engaging listening with The Girl From Kandahar particularly good. And if Tir Na Nog can enjoy a career renaissance far more successful than first time around, perhaps Durant’s might bloom again too.
Super De Luxe (Elefant)
Apparently singer Kev Sherry is the second cousin of David Byrne. There is, however, no relation between the music of Talking Heads and that of Sherry’s sextet. Rather they share the same love of Big Star, The Cyrkle, Beatles, Beach Boys and The Byrds as fellow Glaswegians Teenage Fanclub whose Francis Macdonald produced both their 2008 debut and, following their departure from Island, this belated follow-up.
As you’d expect from the references, there’s loads of chiming guitars, glorious harmonies and 60s sensibility songs that make you feel like bouncing down the street, punching the air, glad to be alive. They’ve also enfolded recent immersion in Motown and classic soul, evident on the disco hints of Future Bound and Stay Before You Leave, while Say You Love Me has an air of the Bay City Rollers’ best terrace sawyers mingled with 50s doo wop, Mona Lisa opens like some ABBA pop classic before heading into a Harpers Bizarre sunshine pop time warp, and Gabrielle rounds off the collection in vintage 70s McCartney mood.
It doesn’t all work, the jittery pop Hit And Miss takes a vague stab at Northern Soul and lives up to its title, Don’t You is unmemorable while woozy ballad Lock Me Out seriously drags. Disappointingly too, Orbison merely namechecks the Big O rather than being a full on tribute, but its Raspberries’ power pop offers ample compensation and, taken as a whole, the album is welcome evidence that the lights are still on and there’s someone home.
The Daisy Age (Wind Some Lose Some)
Imagine a Danish baroque pop cabaret Chris Isaak with a deeper baritone and a fondness for Scott Walker rather than Roy Orbison and you’re heading in vaguely the right direction, though there’s a fair few tangents to the pathway too with Only For The Lonely smearing some 40s jazzy music hall over the landscape, Comedy Club evoking the mood of The Doors’ Strange Days, Champion Days sounds like something from some 60s beat movie soundtrack and, while it may be the original film title of the Help!, Eight Arms To Hold You is much more Tom Waits than Lennon & McCartney.
There’s a shadowy spooked feel throughout (as befits lyrics involving undertakers, late night dives, sleeping pills, bloody hands, and death), deftly underscored by shuffling rhythms and twangy guitars and while opening number Heart Of Africa, with its melancholic strings and a touch of Antony & The Johnsons, is the stand-out, pretty much everything on this intoxicating debut repays listening.
Not Over Yet (AD)
There’s any number of bands out there playing old school blues rock, churning out the riffs, grimacing through solos and imaging they’re Led Zep, Rory Gallagher, Free or even Wishbone Ash for the night. Few of them are ever going to go further than their local pub, but this four piece could well prove the exception. As tracks like Travelling Blues, You Better Run and You Wanna Be My Baby shows, they have a solid understanding of the roots of British blues rock and the vocals and musicianship to play it with assurance and authenticity. Paul Muir has a touch of Paul Rogers about him without sounding like a copyist while Paul Turley lays down muscular riffs and wailing harp that acknowledge tradition rather than cliché. Damien Campbell and Billy Dedman provide the rhythm section lynchpin that keeps it all grounded.
You can hear the influences, Back Again with its Eastern colours nodding to both Zeppelin and Gary Moore, You’d Better Run keeping Bad Company, You Ain’t Coming Home steeped in Peter Green, vintage Whitesnake and even David Gilmour while, shifting continents, Who Do You Think You Are conjures Hendrix and, with Turley on mandolin, Man Like Me shows they’ve listened to Southern country blues by the likes of Skynyrd too. It’s not easy for a young blues band to make their mark these days, but if anyone’s going to these are.
Dawn Of Delight (Talitres)
Based in San Diego and signed to a French label and influenced, they take their influences from 60s psychedelia, variously conjuring echoes of the Velvets (Havana), OMD (Ghost Beacons), Jesus & Mary Chain (Age of Attraction), Suicide (The Queen of New York) and Barret-era Floyd (View From Dihedral Wall), which means you get layers of echo, reverb, jangling guitars, throbbing rhythms and extended drones, not to mention titles like The Omni Present Heart Shield and Universe of God Shadow. All very trippy but, at the end of the day, its highs never really get above midway.