Apparently a major influence on Jack White, the North Carolina-born singer’s been knocking around for some years, spreading his deep baritone over rockabilly, western-noir and bluesy country, as on this latest collection of 13 tracks, named for his hometown. He actually opens with a couple of covers, bringing a touch of the Big O to Findlay Brown’s ballad I Had A Dream before switching to a gravelly rasp for 1957 country/blues Lonesome Train. There’s other covers too, an eclectic choice that embraces Jerry Lee Lewis obscurity Tomorrow’s Taking By Baby Away, a reading of Chaplin’s Smile with a somewhat ill-fitting saloon bar piano and, another evergreen, My Funny Valentine, unrecognisably transformed into a sort of Tornados space-surf instrumental with organ. There’s another surf-guitar instrumental too in Midnight At Vic’s, followed, in turn, by the dreamier instrumental shades of Out Of The Way.
Back with the covers, he cranks up the rockabilly for T Bone Burnett’s I Don’t Know from the soundtrack of Crazy Heart while Mahalia Jackson’s Trouble of the World channels Eric Burdon singing House of the Rising Sun.
His own material is no less eclectic, Where Do You Roam is an ominous desert noir rumble, seemingly singing in an echo chamber Knock Knock (Who’s That Knockin’ on My Coffin Lid Door?) is a spooked rockabilly for some boneyard party, while Tell Me Why I Do is a country barroom piano blues and the swaggering boogie riffing Nightide is surf-grind instrumental auditioning for Tarantino on which he’s joined by 10 piece collective New Romans. It’s not going to stop him being “one of the best kept secrets of the rock n roll underground”, but it will find ardent favour among those who are in on it.
Moonbeam Parade (Ugly Cat Music)
Featuring contributions from the likes of Howe Gelb, Charlie Sexton, Glenn Fukunaga, Kimmie Rhodes and Gabriel Rhodes, this is the fifth album by the Austin-based Italian and comes with a simple strummed gradually building cover of Bowie’s Rock and Roll Suicide, the verses prowlingly sung in Italian save for an interlude by Gelb. Everything else is self-penned or co-written, kicking off with the sultry sung staccato guitar rhythm and loping New Orleans brass Shaky Legs, a similar prowling mood informing the noirish 4th of Vodka.
There’s a jazzier feel to the bluesy slink of Play With Fire, while Eve’s Song is more of scratchy, brooding number, musically redolent of her Latin roots, which are even more in evidence on the tango-like Silvery Gown with Gelb on piano and the line “the night I opened the door, I knew that drowning in pain, and I break would through its core, get the needle out of my vein.” Generally speaking, this is a largely blues infused album, at times tinted with country, as with The House Always Wins, or even a hint of Broadway balladry with There’s A Bridge, a song that perfectly resonates with the fact it was written in a motel room in the middle of the night. There’s a lot of pain oozing out of the songs here, an ideal accompaniment for a night in brooding with a bottle of whisky as a companion.
THE NEW 52
Let Me Sleep (Haven)
Produced by Boo Hewardine, this is the handle for Irish singer Darragh Cullen, his thrd album wearing influences rather openly on its sleeve, early Radiohead most obviously so on the melody and soaring Thom Yorke falsettos of Coming Home. Elsewhere you can pick your way through The Beatles (Turning, Lie To Yourself), Elbow (Let Me Sleep), Elliot Smith (Good Intentions) and even Hewardine himself on the waltzing Last Of The Gang. They’re decent tracks, but the shadows of their inspirations do tend to hang heavy, and he’s better when things are less obvious, such as the fairground waltzer Manhattan (For A Handful of Beads), the fragile, pedal steel-backed Song For Sara or even the no frills, straightahead bluesy swagger of Over.
BLACK ANGEL DRIFTER
Black Angel Drifter (Bastard)
A one off project by Robert Hacker Jessett and Annie Gilpin of Morton Valence, this is not one for the easily musically distressed. Steeped in Morricone-infused Gothic Western and hazy psychedelia, it’s a sort of Lee and Nancy on heroin, opening with a wall of distortion on Skylines Change/Genders Blur before throbbing drums, twang guitar and keening pedal steel arrive, only to be then drowned by the gathering white noise. Crickets chirping throughout the tracks, it slides into Black-Eyed Susan, a drug-themed number co-written with the poet David C with police radio transmissions and a cracked bullwhip in the background, which in turns gives way to the sparse, rumbling chant-rhythm blues of Sister Pain and, by way of contrast, the plaintive broken love song The Visit with Gilpin and Hacker sharing verses.
The halfway mark sees them take on Dylan for another desert noir excursion with one of his lesser known numbers, Man In The Long Black Coat, returning to their own material for the poignant, pedal steel hung prisoner’s regret country ballad If I Could Start Again. There’s a similar mood to the wearily sung Lead On, Take It Away, but then you get a massive stylistic leap with the album’s closing epic, 24:33 lasting precisely that, an ambient homage to John Cage that features just those bloody crickets and other background insect and bird sounds before the pair suddenly return around the 20 minute mark with the sound of a car and an untitled (possibly The Fire Club) druggy number about the working day and unfulfilled dreams, finally ebbing away to let the crickets chirp their way to the end. It would have been immeasurably better had the crickets not been a constant presence, both between and in the tracks, but if you can ignore them there’s much her to intoxicate.
Black Opal (Spunk)
Sometime channelling the ghost of The Triffids, Shining Birds are a self styled “eucalyptus dream pop” experimental pop septet from New South Wales, this, their second album, swathed in electronic sounds and sonic shimmers. Semi-spoken by lead singer Dane Taylor, Rivermouth, a song steeped in bush and coastal imagery, won Song of the Year on an Australian radio station and, again drawing on natural imagery, the eco-themed single Helluva Lot has also picked up considerable back home airplay.
Although they have a radio unfriendly tendency to write lengthy songs (two here, the spare ballad Lonely Song and the uptempo Morning Light, with has shades of Midnight Oil, hover around six minutes, while Buried, on which they recall fellow antipodeans Icehouse, is almost seven), they do know how to craft a melody, as evinced by the cascading synth-pop of Love Shadow (a hint of The Human League perhaps) and driving heat-hazing album opener I Can Run. The largely instrumental Utopia perfectly captures their ‘dream pop’ tag while, again playing to their roots, the wholly instrumental Charlie heavily features didgeridoo from Gondwanaland’s Charlie McMahon. They may find it slightly harder to secure a ready audience over here, but word of mouth should certainly help their profile grow.