Back in the 80s, one of the bands I championed was PENELOPE’S WEB. They were fronted by Dominic Silvani, a singer whose voice has been brilliant described as a rich mix of unemployment and Eaton, who also wrote the material. Despite being taken under the wing of former Kinks manager Robert Wace, they never found the success their very English sax-drenched folk-rock deserved, but during their existence they did produce an impressive collection of recordings. Last year, I mentioned that Silvani was putting together a 19 track compilation and that now arrives in the form of the self-descriptive title of Retrospective 86-89 on German indie label, Firestation.
Assembled from various sources, inevitably the sound quality varies somewhat, but there’s no disguising the quality of the material itself, kicking off with perhaps the band’s defining number, Salad Days with its pulsing keyboards intro and gathering rhythmic urgency, a soundtrack to a memoir of a dissolute, sybaritic life if ever there was one. Among other familiar numbers, you’ll find the slow burn, slightly sinister The Lost Weekend, Something To Sleep On, the jazzy saloon piano backed Little World and Perfect Crime while the perhaps more obscure material includes the louche jazzy folk swing of Little World, the jangling, tumbling indie rock of Anyway and the broodingly dark ballad Rebecca. There’s also two, presumably never before released, Untitled tracks, the second of which has the hurried pace of train speeding through the night across some Andalucian plain before slowing down for the extended sax solo finale, as well as demo versions of Political Nightmare and Potboiler. Disappointingly, costs mean there’s no sleeve notes identifying the dates or sources of the material or, indeed, indicating the band line up, but this is a very welcome release for those with fond memories of the band, anyone interested in the history of the West Midlands music scene of the 80s or indeed with an appreciation of a thoughtful, expressive and highly individual marriage of English rock, folk and jazz.
Following on from debut single Amber, DRAKELOW mark Record Store Day (Apr 19) with the limited edition (CD and vinyl) release of String, a self-penned slice of highly melodic mid-tempo dream pop balladry that reaffirms the debut’s promise, coupled with an excellent acoustic slow waltzing cover of Grace Cathedral Park by Red House Painters. All proceeds go to Cancer Research and Rage Arts, a charity dedicated to helping disadvantaged youngsters get into music and art, and the band will be playing a free instore set at Swordfish Records on the day.
Available only as a download, DAN WHITEHOUSE releases Reaching Further For A State of Mind, a four track collection of outtakes from current album Reaching For A State of Mind. Just because they didn’t make the final cut in no way suggests they’re below par, though, all ballads, including any of them would have upset the fine balance. Comprising the slowly gathering How Wonderful You Are, Walking Away (a classic timeless Whitehouse bruised heart number that builds to a huge choral climax), the minimal The House Is Burning Down (My Love) with the aching regret in his hushed voice set against a low drone and the spare acoustic guitar and piano backed Only You Know that sees him scaling his falsetto register and introducing drums and warm brass as the track builds to its finale. Impeccable as always.
Vocals shared by Gracie Lee and guitarisy Andy Parkes, LACED cite Radiohead, Miles Davis and My Bloody Valentine among a diverse list of influences, but listening to their debut Rattlepop single, Celeste, with its quiet/loud dynamic, the more obvious comparison would be to 80s goth outfits like All About Eve and The March Violets.
Equally retro, but this time 60s psychedelia/prog, emerging quintet THE EXPLODING SOUND MACHINE release their download debut EP, First Twist In The Tale, three tracks that speak very notably about their influences. End Of The Sun patently hitches its wagon to the first couple of Floyd albums while Lady Medusa appropriates the swirling organ melody line from The Stranglers’ Golden Brown, itself nicked from Dave Brubeck’s Take Five, to introduce some heavy prog and Brick Faced Man puts The Pretty Things, Floyd, Kaleidescope and Donovan’s Hurdy Gurdy Man in the blender and presses the button. It’s solid, heady stuff, but they might want to find more of their own sound rather than slapping together slabs of others’.
Their first Top 40 entry since 1992, Escape From The Shadow Garden (SPV) is MAGNUM’s 18th studio album and continues to build on the career renaissance they’ve experienced since their 2004 reformation. Driven by Mark Stanway’s keyboards, six minute opener Live 'Til You Die immediately announces that this is classic Magnum, rich in pomp and anthemic riffs, Bob Catley taking control from the offset. Unwritten Sacrifice provides the first of the album’s steamrollering heavy ballads and that’s pretty much the two poles between which it swings. The solid hard rock of the former’s echoed with the tribal drum rhythms of Crying In The Rain, Falling For The Big Plan and the heads down thrust of Too Many Clowns and Burning Rover. while the big emotional anthems build a wall of power with the successive towering, gradually swelling majestics of Midnight Angel, The Art Of Compromise (up there with the finest numbers Clarkin’s penned), the inspirational keep persevering message of Don’t Fall Asleep and the piano led, nigh operatic epic sound of Wisdom's Had Its Day.
They sign off with The Valley Of Tears, opening with melancholic Stanway keyboards and a weary sounding Catley, but gradually picking up the slow marching rhythm to mirror the shift to man the barricades and never give in positivity (“the sun will come up each day”) to end on a climax that’s the pomp rock equivalent to the Les Mis’s One Day More. Their recognition on the Broad Street Walk of Fame is well overdue.
Stourbridge born DEBBIE BONHAM, younger sister of the late John, returns with her first album in six years in Spirit (Spectra), a collection forged from a period of personal emotional intensity and part recorded in Nashville, something reflected in the strong Southern rootsy blues rock feel of numbers like throaty dobro driven opening swaggerer Fly, co-penned with John Hogg and Simon Sessler, her molten cover of Sparklehorse’s Painbirds, the ballsy grind of Feel So Alive and the smouldering, swampy Good Times.
There’s various shades of country here, Take Me Down is a twangy roll that summons thoughts of Take It Easy, I Won’t Let You Down harks to the jangle of the Byrds, Lay Me Down nods to the gospel country soul of Bonnie Bramlett while Stop Now conjures images of Christine McVie’s bluesy soul contributions to Fleetwood Mac.
The slow burning and channelled power of Killing Fields makes it a particular highlight alongside the Southern country blues muscle of the autobiographically defiant Spirit In Me where, towards the end a searing guitar solo’s followed by BJ Cole working his pedal steel magic. Of course, it’s another, even more celebrated name that will garner the album enhanced attention as, on the bluesy stomp of What It Feels with its underlying Cajun rhythm, one Robert Plant delivers a brief wailing harmonica solo that will have Led Zep fans going weak at the knees.