Six years on since the release of Shadows, during which time various members have been involved in other projects, most notably Norman Blake’s The New Mendicants, this is less of a follow-up and more of a come-back. However you want to view it, though, their tenth studio album has all the trademarks you’d expect, with crooning vocals, shimmering guitars, rich harmonies, strong breezy melodies and the band’s take on cosmic country, hitting the road running with I’m In Love (sung by bassist Gerard Love) and Thin Air. Hold On and the Byrdsian, strings-burnished The Darkest Part of the Night take the tempo down slightly, serving welcome reminder of the band’s ability to craft yearning, buffed balladry. The remaining eight tracks effortlessly maintain the quality level, I Have Nothing More To Say, with its rippling keyboards, conjuring vintage West Coast summer folk rock, I Was Beautiful When I Was Alive introducing a hint of moody psychedelia, Steady State floats on dream pop clouds while, perhaps appropriately, It’s A Sign is quintessential Fannies. The album ends with the stripped back slow waltzing Connected To Life. They should remain so with yours.
The Sides and In Between (Nevado)
The witty name is the band soubriquet of Atlanta brothers Peter and Nick Furgiuele, indie and garage rockers for whom this is their fourth album. Laden with reverb and echo, album opener Rotten and something like Still Alive set the template, a nod to 60s rock n roll with the sort of guitar work that characterised the likes of Shakin’ All Over punctuating a jaunty pop rumble. As you might suspect, there’s clear Beatles influences at play (listen to Magic), but you’ll equally hear their American cousins, both contemporary and more recent (Get Closer welds the Beach Boys and Blink-182), while the echoey vocalled Knee Deep wallows in the delta mud with a Tom Waits junkyard vibe.
There’s an evident playfulness at work (listen to with the walking beat Going Home with its whistling and arms-linked chorus and what sound like synth seagulls and the vaudeville-like Heading South with its laugh track in a Monkees styleee). It closes with the brief It’s You, a feedback-laden doom pop number with background harmony chant evocative of Endless Sleep and the two-minute poppy punch The Last Trace, and, while it may not have pushed any envelopes or mined new territory, it has taken you on a very engaging retro rollercoaster ride.
Little Girl (Folkal)
Hailing from Caernarfon, Sera can sing in both English and Welsh, but, with one exception, it’s the former she adopts for her new album, one which underlines her move from piano to guitar. She has a soft, variously whispery and warbly voice that, at times, suggests a Welsh Dolores O’Riordan (notably so on Optimist), but has no problems in soaring when required, as amply evident on the waltzing Little Girl, a song about the parent-child connection based around her relationship with her divorced father. Following an Americana trail, there’s the country folk shuffle of Carry Me (a song about her battered but beloved series one Land Rover), its upbeat nature mirrored by the following train rhythm of Creative Side. Storm Cloud is a slower relationships waltz, while, a reflective number about time’s passing, the strings-embellished Waterside harks back to her piano period, sharing a theme of memories with the slow swelling This Town’s remembrance of her Caernarfon childhood . The sole Welsh language number comes with the penultimate Mond Am Eiliad, a fragile track featuring just acoustic guitar, sweeping strings and crooned harmonies with co-writer Siôn Russell Jones (the English version appears as hidden bonus), the album ending on the six-and-a-half minute Through The Night, its thumping slow drum beat, bluesy riff and dark atmospherics unlike anything elsewhere. The little girl’s all grown up. Mike Davies
ERINA RAE and the MEANWHILES
Soon Enough (Clubhouse)
Five years on from their last, EP, release, Nashville Erin Rae spent just two days to lay down her debut album. But there’s no sense of anything being rushed, the vibe one of laid back, airy country, the arrangements kept to the guitar, bass and guitars minimum, occasionally embellished with pedal steel, keyboards and cello.
She has a soft, slightly husky voice (vaguely reminiscent of Patsy Cline) and the songs drift through the usual relationship themes, although, as seen on Minolta, about giving someone a camera to record their life while she’s way from them, often not from the usual perspectives, while Futile Attempts is a hymnal-like number about the protagonist’s dying father.
While the simple acoustic bass and cello accompanied Rose Color (shades of Emmylou) and the Texicali-tinted Spitshine are particular highlights, bookended by the atmospheric instrumentals Light Pt 1 and 2, the album works more as a whole than individual numbers, a light, calming listen that washes over you like a clear spring.
The Great Unknown (Fortress Sounds)
Her icy pop built upon minimal arrangements and synth effects with occasional guitar incursions has seen Liverpool’s McCool slowly gather a substantial following, McCartney, Chris Martin and Bernard Butler all having provided input and encouragements along the way, while her 2013 self-titled debut won Female Artist Of The Year at the Liverpool Music Awards.
The trip hop opener Pins with its hissed synth and smoky vocals quickly establishes a hypnotic groove and, while there’s very little evidence of the debut’s spooked jazz-hued folk that prompted thoughts of the Smoke Fairies or Enya filtered through the Cocteau Twins (though Just Let Me Go is close), its pulsing pop is no less beguiling, sparking catchy and radio-friendly moments like Cardiac Arrest, the mental health-themed Fortress and Oh Danger (about her fear of flying), while something like the guitar driven staccato Magnet nods more to the punchy pop rock of early Sheryl Crowe and You and I nods to soul smoked R&B. Her debut laid the ground, this one unfurls the red carpet.