Suitcase Heart (Self-Released)
A relationship break up and open heart surgery brought focus to the former Burn Down the Mission frontman’s sophomore album, producing songs that explored themes of mortality and sense of self and direction, the latter underpinning understated but soaring opener, Broken Faith with its Orbison undertones.
He has a soft, worn and wearied voice with notes of both hurt and hope that float across his melodies, occasionally rising to falsetto and always keeping the emotion on the surface. Titles like How We Break It, Bound To Be Exposed (with its bluesy keyboards), a 60s psychedelic-styled Nothing Wrong With A Little Rain, the guitar-twanged swagger of Looking For A Way Out, a slowly building It’s Me Tonight and the dreamy mid-tempo optimistic title track itself all nod to the lyrical content, though there’s nothing here wallowing in self-pity. The album closes on the brief piano ballad There’s Always Two, a song that references his mom and dad, where he sings how the fates have had their way with him. Hopefully, now fortune will too.
THE TRAVELLING BAND
The Big Defreeze (Sideways Saloon)
Manchester Americana merchants, the five piece have been knocking around for some time, building a solid reputation and following without finding the gateway to the next level. While this won’t open the door, it might turn the key a little further with its driving, anthemic melodies and vibrant guitars, especially with its appeal to fans of Ram era McCartney. As that suggests, there’s a more British flavour this time round, evident from opener Passing Ships with its nervy piano figure, the strings and perhaps a hint of early Beautiful South to the tumbling melody and the dark-tints of the lyrics. Garbo has a jaunty musical hall rhythm to its swagger with faint hints of The Kinks and Squeeze, while Making Eyes nods to Britpop days, Hands Up is an anthemic cocktail of glam guitar reverb, slow march drums and soaring, arms waving chorus, Quicksand marries US late 60s college rock and The Who and Borrowed And Blue remains in the era for what might called pastoral-psych. Although For All The Fallen gives good march, handclap big sky anthemic, there isn’t a stand out track here to provide a major breakthrough, but there’s enough to make you want them to keep trying.
March of Tracks (Crooked Prairie)
A San Franciscan singer-songwriter, Brewster straddled the Americana and country fence, opening cut Make Or Break pretty much staple Nashville rocking country fodder about being on the road and taking chances, Never Keep A Good Man Down a slice of funky country strut and Lady Luck taking the mainstream country blues route and laying over some jazzy licks. By contrast, World Closing In is an itchy gypsy jazz shuffle with mandolin, fiddle and upright bass, One More Moment a moody guitar and vocals number and Innocent Sinners a rippling bluegrass coming of ager with four part harmonies. It’s all listenable without making you get too excited, though Chesapeake is well worth a listen, a Paul Simonesque acoustic number inspired by his own roots, his ancestor being William Brewster, one of the original Pilgrim Fathers on the Mayflower and senior elder and religious leader of the Plymouth Colony.
Viva Melodia (Much Obliged)
Back in 2008, Kerr was being hailed as one of Scotland's best kept secrets. Six years later, things haven’t changed much. He apparently got his first break in Japan, when his debut album, Calling Out To You, earned a place in a magazine's list of the Top 20 albums to have come from Scotland. One of the tracks, The Sore Feet Song, even ended up as theme song to a popular animation series.
Likened to Belle & Sebastian, Orange Juice and, more obviously, The Lilac Time, Kerr's soft treble vocals brush lightly over the jangly, upbeat, frisky pastoral pop of things like All Day Long or Man’s Man and the more fragile balladry of the acoustic, woodwind kissed Safe From You, the strings-laced 5am and All Day Long.
Taken individually they're pleasant enough, but gathered together you can't help noticing that, dividing neatly into either slow or mid-tempo, the melodies tend to be rather same, although he does break out of the template on the brass bursting The Bitter Part with its echoes of the Postcard label’s vintage blue-eyed soul-pop days and the album closes on the relaxing violin based instrumental title track. Good for listening to with the windows down on a warm day, but chances are he'll be relying on those Japanese royalties for a while longer yet.
Feel the Noise (Alive)
One of the leading names of the late 70s power pop movement in America, Collins was drummer for The Nerves, a trio that also featured Peter Case, before forming his own outfit, The Beat and, subsequently The Paul Collins Beat, making a name for themselves on the early 80s indie rock scene. They still exist, albeit with a floating line up and Collins also fronts the country-inclined The Paul Collins Band as well as maintaining a solo career. This is his fourth solo release, and the first since 2006, and is very much in the vein of the earlier power pop material (the cover shows a rather younger version of the now follically-challenged Collins), kicking off in classic style with Feel the Noise, a hymn to rock n roll and guitars that should give Ramones fans a thrill. Things don’t much deviate throughout, flagging up the ringing, reverb guitars, the 60s beat influences, chugging melodies and tidal waves of hooks and catchy choruses through numbers like Only Girl, I Need My Rock N’ Roll, the glorious Beatles-esque With A Girl Like You, a Buddy Holly-styled Baby I’m In Love With You and the 60s folk-pop Can’t Get You Off My Mind which conjures thoughts of The Grassroots. Produced by Jim Diamond, he also throws in a cover, giving Four Tops classic Reach Out I’ll Be There a stabbing drums and power pop treatment that has the vibe of a great night in some downtown bar. Shamelessly retro and nostalgic, and hugely enjoyable for it.