RECORD REVIEWS

CRAIG FINN

I Need A New War (Partisan)

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The fourth solo album from The Hold Steady frontman is a moody, noirish affair about characters trying to tread waters and not sink beneath the pressures of modern society, the songs dressed in horns and piano as Finn narrates their stories, setting the mood from the start with Blankets as he sings about how “When they swept up all the empties / The parties always seemed like such a waste.”

Staccato pulsing keys provide the framework for Magic Marker, a tale of bad choices and their consequences with Annie Nero and Cassandra Jenkins on backing vocals Stuart Bogie’s horns arriving to punctuate a lyric about how “some priest got me clean” and “it’s been twenty years since what we call the accident and everybody knows but no one ever mentions it.”

Compassion and empathy permeate the songs, looking for a way to do more than just administer a sticking plaster, as he sings on A Bathtub In The Kitchen “Francis, is there some way to help that's not just handing you money?” The horns coloured waltzing Indications conjures a retro air before, underpinned by a bass drum thump, Grant At Galena, from whence comes the album title, unfolds the story of a veteran fallen on hard times trying to find a place and meaning in his life (“I found a bird in the backyard / It flew into a wall / Brought it into the foyer / Prayed its sins are absolved / I finally felt useful / Trying to save something small”).

It’s a sentiment also embodied in the semi-spoken narrative of the brassy, soulful Something To Hope For in which the narrator talks about an insurance pay out as a sign of silver linings when “the only kind of dreams you ever seem to have are bad dreams.”

It and Carmen Isn’t Coming In Today, a poignant sketch of two wounded souls in a relationship neither have enthusiasm for but which neither want to quite, are the album’s most Springsteen-influenced tracks. The album winds down with Holyoke with the restless narrator, out on the road “Thinking about the pioneers / Blazing trails and cutting clear / All the roads that led us here”, the late night piano and horns-soaked slow waltz of Her With the Blues snapshot of “You with the camera/Backpack and walking shoes/Taking pictures of garbage cans/This is where people live”. And, finally, there’s the bittersweet love story of Anne Marie & Shane (“Anne Marie loves Shane so much/But sometimes Shane can get a little rough/She thinks it's just the way they brought him up/Some things he don't wanna say”), a story of a couple trying to make it but which ends on a downbeat note that seems to encapsulate the fallout from the pressures and stresses of living in today’s America as he notes how “Anne Marie came back on a bus on her own/Moved into the basement of her step-father's home/If I were you, I wouldn't even ask about Shane.” Outstanding. Mike Davies


ALLMAN BROWN

Darling It’ll Be Alright (Self-released)

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The second full-length album from the soft, breathily voiced Hong Kong-born, London-based singer songwriter doesn’t mess with a successful template, offering up easy on the year brushed folksy pop in the Paolo Nutini and Bon Iver manner, opening with Home’s heartfelt letter from a life on the road, that theme of isolation and separation also informing Lonely Hearts, Los Angeles, a number that also references his struggle with tinnitus.

The default mode is intimately sung, slow or mid-tempo balladry, finely embodies in the likes of Bury My Heart, the acoustic picked Hurting, Waiting For Something To Believe In and closing piano ballad Natasha, love song for his wife.

He never actually puts the pedal to the floor, but he does lift the pacing here and there, chugging along on the infectious Crazy Love, building fuller instrumentation for Shapes Of The Sun and the strum of Darling, It’ll Be Alright carried by a handclappy beat.

There’s probably more of a market for him in America than back home, but if you don’t know the name but your collection includes any of his influences, then this won’t disappoint. Mike Davies


FRANK CARTER & THE RATTLESNAKES

End of Suffering (International Death Cult)

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Former frontman with The Gallows, Carter’s been ploughing a successful solo furrow for a while, but this third album could well prove his breakthrough to wider awareness, mixing soft, intimate tones with big dramatic indie rock flourishes and snarly guitars, as for example on album opener Why A Butterfly Can’t Love A Spider, a track that also reflects his increasingly prowess as a songwriter.

Reunited with Tom Morello, Tyrant Lizard Kind is more of a riff driven squally groove, an approach that also underpins the likes of Heartbreaker, Latex Dreams, bluesy rock loping Crowbar and Kitty Sucker while a slow grinding Angel Wings gradually builds to a massive stadium swell. Closing with the brooding five-minute title track, piano trills taking it to the end with sampled children’s voices, it’s ample evidence that Carter’s ready to move to the next level. Mike Davies


JESSE MAC CORMACK

Now (Secret City)

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Moving from the roots rock folky sound of his previous three EPs. The Montreal singer-songwriter’s debut album finds him edging more towards the headier pop inflection of Perfume Genius and even Talk Talk, prime examples being No Love Go or the musically nervy ambience of album opener Give A Chance although, that said, Stay and To The End have definite traces of prog in their DNA that devotees of Yes or Marillion might not find displeasing. The dysfunctional relationship-themed title track is particularly strong, a surging rhythmic drive and a funky undertow propelling its along, while, in contrast, Passageway floats on swirling of keyboard clouds, a six-minute tremulously Hurricane building to sonic storms before ending the album on the echoey atmospheric, strings-swathed Nothing Lasts. A musical and emotional graduation ceremony, he’s awarded honours. Mike Davies


VAMPIRE WEEKEND

Father of the Bride (Columbia)

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Following the departure of multi-instrumentalist Rostam Batmanglij, theband’s fourth album, the first in six years, save for his co-write onthe sunny, piano tinkling Afro-pop shuffle and sway We Belong Together, is very much an exclusive vehicle for Ezra Koenig, albeit in occasionalcollaboration with other writers. The result is a scattergun of ideas that musically dart here and there, from the opening with the wedding setting of Hold You Now, a simple acoustic fingerpicked folksy number co-written with Hans Zimmer and punctuated with choral choruses by Danielle Haim, the catchily tumbling almost calypso flavoured Grateful Dead-influenced Harmony Hall and the skewed jazzy funk of Sunflower with its scat vocals and jazz fusion guitarist Steve Lacy to the processed vocals of Flower Moon that mingles Brian Wilson and PaulSimon, the Afro-Hispanic jauntiness of This Life (co-written with Mark Ronson, sampling Sierra Leone’s SE Rogie and referencing Johnny Cashs’s Satisfied Mind) or the shuffling drums folk pop Stranger before ending with the piano-accompanied ballad Jerusalem, New York, Berlin.Oscillating between jubilant optimism (Koenig is now happily wed and a father) and downcast anxiety (he still nurtures an existential pessimism) with themes that range from relationships in strain to climate change, the 18 tracks make for a sometimes disjointed listen, held together mainly by Koenig’s distinctive vocals and the consistently infectious melodies not to mention the creative imagination that canflip from 2021 which samples Yellow Magic Orchestra or the early hours piano lounge jazz and samples of My Mistake to the more familiar Graceland ripples of Married In A Gold Rush (another with Haim on backing vocals) and the moody and languid shuffle of Unbearably White. Possibly best enjoyed in small doses rather than gorging all at once,it’s very welcome return.Mike Davies

roots-and-branches.com 2018