record reviews november 2014


HANDSOME JACK

Do What Comes Naturally (Alive)

handsome

Named for the character in the Borderlands game, there’s a musical trivia interest to this New York garage rock outfit in that the keyboards are played by Bob Nave, one of the founding members of The Lemon Pipers. Although best remembered for Green Tambourine, the Pipers’ preferred musical tastes where much heavier, and that’s carried over here in what the band calls its boogie soul. Big on bass, throaty guitar and psychedelic blues, numbers like Wasted Time, the harmonica blowing Creepin’, Between The Lines, a Canned Heat inspired Dead Tracks and the strutter Ropes And Chain should find favour with fans of Blue Cheer, Gov’t Mule and Eric Burdon while the riff to Leave It All behind may well evoke Jefferson Airplane. It’s meat and potatoes stuff, but it certainly satisfies the appetite.

Mike Davies

THE WRITTEN YEARS

The Written Years (Deer Hwy)

written years

A trio from Vancouver, they spent six years putting together their debut album but the time and efforts’ paid off with a collection that marries folk rock, indie and post rock in a whirl of ringing guitars, triumphant drum lines and Wade Ouellet’s keening melancholic vocals. They call it Winter Music, and there’s certainly a brisk crispness to things like It’s Not Your Fault, I Would Miss My Home If I Knew and You’re Too Kind while slower, moodier numbers such as a bluesy, cinematic Homesick Dirge (the story of a fractured relationship which talks of a cold house, snow and being frozen inside), the gradual swell of keyboards driven The Phone Is Ringing and Are You Okay? have an iciness of isolation and loss. Not entirely the cheeriest of listens, but certainly worth bending an ear as the season gathers in.

Mike Davies


ORFILA

Writing On The Wall (Somebody’s Music)

orfila

An acoustic brother/sister trio, Matt, Louise and Abi, have a definite air of The Corrs and Rumours-era Fleetwood Mac about their folk-country pop and come endorsed by such veterans as Beverly Craven, Richard Digance and Albert Hammond, even if that probably won’t mean much to the younger Radio 2 audience at whom the music’s pitched.

With the drum tracks laid down by Steeleye Span’s Liam Genockey, it’s a solid based affair over which the girls’ airy vocals float and warble, even if, at times, they do seem a touch flat and strained. The end result’s a pleasant if slightly inconsequential affair that’s sits comfortably in the background rather than really grabbing your attention, the mostly self-penned songs never departing from lyrics about broken hearts and memories of what was. They do include two covers, the sisters harmonising nicely on a somewhat lacklustre version of Hammond’s I’m A Train that includes some particularly unconvincing yeehawing, and, slightly better, a folksy strum through I’ve Just Seen A Face. At the invitation of John Mostyn, the trio shaped and demoed the album at King Heath’s Highbury Studios with pre-production by Rob Peters before Genockey got involved and things shifted to Kent with Pete Brown engineering and producing. You can’t help but think, they’d have done far better staying in Birmingham.

Mike Davies

FLAGSHIP

Flagship (Bright Antenna)

flagship

A five piece from Charlotte, North Carolina, this is big, stadium friendly music with widescreen soundscapes, Drake Margolnick's soaring, emotive vocals and Matt Padgett’s immersive, lead heroic guitar. They make an immediate impression with the first two numbers, Are You Calling recalling the anthemic work of early U2 while Holy Ghost conjures the majesty of Coldplay’s bigger cathedrals. Michael Finster’s drum skittering on Waste Them All and propelling Gold And Silver with a steady military beat, the band are clearly hardwired to epic sounds, but it’s not all mountain-scaling stuff, the album featuring a much more ruminative mid-section that opens with the falsetto voiced Wagon (though, admittedly this does build to a tumultuous climax) and proceeds through the wearied, slow swaying Fever, a mid-tempo pulsing Neverland and the shoegaze fuzz of I Do (the lyrics of which reference Del Shannon’s Runaround Sue) before the riffing intro and drum surge of Living Underwater kick bring things back to a massive scale. Given they’re signed to the label run by former Killers manager Braden Merrick, you can expect this flagship to be flying at full mast.

Mike Davies

THE JIGSAW SEEN

Old Man Reverb (Vibro-Phonic)

jigsaw

One of the leading names on the psychedelic pop revival scene, they’ve been knocking round now for 25 years and yet still sound like fresh young things still reveling in their love of the music. Given just how long they’ve been doing this, you might well expect them to have found a blueprint and stuck with it, but the new album seem them reaching out in a variety of stylistic directions.

The title track opener is classic garage rock riffery, at times recalling both The McCoys and The Beatles as the song addresses the difficult balance between making music and working in the industry but then the similarly themed Idiots With Guitars slows it down for cosmic pyschedelia swirls, Die Laughing (a gallows humour number about AIDS) is 60s Spector-influenced pop complete with tumbling piano chords, while Understand flirts with baroque pop, Hercules And Sylvia (a song about two zoo gorillas) trips down 70s orchestral prog rock lanes, Abide is all spaghetti western and closer Grief Rehearsal calls to mind Gerry & The Pacemakers with added country twang guitar. They don’t court mass audiences or, indeed, look much beyond their now established fan base, but whether you’ve been with them from the start or just exploring the retro scene, this will provide ample resonance.

Mike Davies

ANI DIFRANCO

Allergic To Water (Righteous Babe)

ani

Underscored by the often smouldering, smoky New Orleans blues and jazz grooves that permeate the material, this is a more personal album than the politically charged work of the past. She calls it "a lot of married with kids songs", conceived and created while she was pregnant with and then nursing her son. Not that she’s come over all gooey by any means, the title track itself a spare, piano backed, fingerpicked bluesy satire on America’s food allergy obsessions, the lazing, cellar jazz sway Happy All The Time is a playful dig at armchair activists and the slinky sashay of Woe Be Gone offers a view of the world where ‘everywhere you look you just see damaged goods’.

And if not looking out of her window, she’s gazing inward with the fractured sound of Careless Words lamenting “words, I can never unknow” while the brass and electronics swathed New Orleans slow march “Harder Than It Needs to Be” has her singing “Honey, please don’t laugh at everything I say in a humorless way. . . . Let’s not make it harder than it needs to be.”

Which isn’t to give the impression that she’s in the throes of some post-natal depression. Set to a samba rhythm, See See See See is a uplifting love song, a mood echoed by Yeah Yr Right while the heady Tr’w is purringly sassily sensual.

With electronics snaking through the funky ooze of album opener, Dithering, it’s clear that DiFranco’s still pushing herself into new territory, never afraid to take risks, but, it’s perhaps the moments when she allows herself to stretch back and, as on the gentle, atmospherically sultry closer, Rainy Parade, accept that sometimes you need to just take what life sends, and if it gives you lemons make lemonade, that makes her the artist she is.

Mike Davies

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