Long time Brum Beat readers will remember Penelope’s Web, an underachieving but excellent outfit fronted by Dominic Silvani, perhaps best known for the song Salad Days. Now London based, Dominic’s currently putting together a compilation of material, including unreleased recordings, but in the meantime, following on from Arkady, he’s launched a new project THE PROBLEM PLAYS. The slightly nasal voice remains as distinctive as ever (very English and a sort of mix of Pete Atkin and early Al Stewart but essentially wholly unique), but the music, while retaining the folk influences, has some slightly more abrasive edges, most likely down to the inclusion of former Sex Gang Children drummer Kevin Matthews and his frequent guitarist collaborator Ian Billis. Completing the line up is bassist Ben Slight, sometimes flautist with Wolverhampton reggae outfit Progression.
Two tracks have so far surfaced, Armed, which shifts between a slow almost country swaying with a repeated chiming guitar figure and sudden eruptions into noisy clatter and shades of cabaret, and a muscular dark and moody coiled urgency retread of an old number from the songbook, Tired Of London. Silvani’s always been an articulate and inventive writer and performer and it would be good to see him finally get the recognition he deserves.
After initially being turned down by a plethora of labels, Michael Weston-King and Lou Dalgleish finally had the last laugh and were mightily vindicated when How Do You Plead, the debut album by their joint MY DARLING CLEMENTINE project wound up being universally acclaimed and they duo winning Americana act of the year at the British Country Music Awards. They now even top the John Ford Western classic in Google Search.
They return now with The Reconciliation? (Continental Song City), the sequel released at the end of the month and equal (and some might say superior) to the original. While Alan Cook returns on pedal steel, they’ve brought in a new band (Richard Hawley’s) and new producer (Richard Hawley’s, Colin Elliot) and Michael’s swapped the blue safari for a brown jacket and check trousers, but otherwise they don’t stray from the proven path of recreating the classic country sounds of George and Tammy, Dolly and Porter and Buck Owens.
Again you get songs of broken love and heartache, of loss and regret, of joy and pain that perfectly capture (as opposed to pastiche or homage) the quintessence of their influences, both in terms of subject matter and music but also in the way the lyrics feature the word play reversals and ironic contrasts that characterise so many of the great country songs. Case in point the opening track, Unhappily Ever After, an end of marriage weepie compete with heavenly choir and a guest appearance from the legendary Kinky Friedman as the preacher that has as much to do with Elvis as G&T, which features the line ‘we both said I Do instead of I don’t’ as well as a sly Johnny Cash reference in ‘we don’t lie together so I don’t walk the line’.
No Heart In This Heartache follows in honky tonk form as the pair trade verses and come together for the infectious chorus (‘there’s only good in goodbye’) while Pat Walker contributes some fine fiddle work. Then comes the album’s only non-original, a cover of Ronnie Self’s I Can’t Live With You (When You Can’t Live With Yourself) that fits right into the album’s sound and theme before the mood changes for Our Race Is Run, a soulful sax-kissed slow burn ballad that’s a little more Memphis than Nashville and one of the many highlights.
It’s back to the twang for the honky tonking swing bounce of Leave The Good Book On The Shelf with its tasty boogie woogie piano and steel break, a track destined to get the live crowds jumping. A violin playing the refrain from Beautiful Dreamer heralds the first Dalgleish-penned number comes with No Matter What Tammy Said (I Won’t Stand By Him), a deceptively jaunty song that introduces a sober note to the proceedings with its tale of domestic violence (‘I’m seeing black and blue and purple ‘cause he keeps seeing red’) with King playing the knight in shining armour. The co-written I No Longer Take Pride is another deceptive appearances number as King sings in the persona of a guy who’s lost self-respect and purpose since his wife’s death, Dalgleish taking over for the final verse as she offers love and encouragement from heaven. It may sound maudlin, but it’s unexpectedly moving. And it doesn’t hurt that she has one of the most perfect voices you’ll ever hear.
King Of the Carnival shifts shape again for a Tex-Mex heartache down on the border tumbling rumba with mariachi horns that could have come from a Marty Robbins, Tom Russell or, better yet, early Roy Orbison album. Released as a single to mark the passing of the legend and with echo on the vocals, the Gospel According To George is King’s musically familiar tribute to George Jones, the lyrics inspired by the warts and all autobiography.
As with the previous album, the songs about broken hearts and cheating have nothing to do with the couple’s own relationship, but there are two very personal numbers here. The first, written by Dalgleish and shared between the two of them vocally, is Ashes, Flowers And Dust, an admittedly sentimental but also emotionally raw song in memory of his father and her mother. The mood’s lifted by the make the best of a bad job Let’s Be Unhappy, the album’s rock n roll boogie musical mirror to the debut’s Going back To Memphis, before the album ends with the second of the Dalgleish’s personal songs, Miracle Mabel, a gentle acoustic love song to their daughter, on the credits, thanks friends for ‘taking good care of her while her parents were making an album instead of making dinner’.
On the sleeve it says file under country. No, file under country album of the year.
Not really my sort of thing, but Debenhams’s assistant turned Birmingham dance-pop success BETH SHERBURN warrants mention for Overload (Purple Circle), her upcoming Ibiza and gay club friendly single (and assorted remixes) that follows on from previous club anthems Ordinary World and Feels Like I Can Fly. The former charted higher than the Example, will.i.am & Britney Spears in the official UK club charts and Sherburn’s currently working on her debut album with Jud Mahoney and John McLaughlin whose credits include Calvin Harris, Michael Jackson and Lawson.
Still busy back out on the road following their reunion, following Everything’s Shining Bright compilation of their pre-RCA recordings, THE PRIMITIVES have their past revisited again with Lovely (Cherry red), a remastered 25th anniversary reissue of the debut album featuring such numbers as Carry Me Home, Dreamwalk Baby, Thru’ The Flowers and, of course, Crash, arguably the definite song of the British new wave movement. As well as an annotated booklet with personal recollections and rare photos, it comes now with a second CD of 11 bonus tracks culled from B sides, alternate versions, live recordings and other rarities.
These include Way Behind Me, a song The Tremeloes might have recorded, that appears in both the original and acoustic form, the single versions of Stick With Me and Out Of Reach, two versions of All The Way Down, a track that pre-empted the Jesus and Mary Chain sound (the second take being a terrific and very different 60s ‘beat’ rework) and two recordings of Crash, a (rather muddy) live one and, sounding decidedly different to the finished version, the more bass dominated 1985 demo.
Fresh from the daunting task of opening for The Specials at the Coventry Ricoh Arena, upcoming Coventry duo MALIK & PETITTE make their recording debut next month with a self-titled four track EP (UP) that draws heavily on 50s rock n roll and 60s pop. Catchy folk pop lead track No More Love has a touch of Buddy Holly mixed with Simon & Garfunkel (when they were Tom & Jerry), the strumalong Only You conjures The Proclaimers while, quite possibly because it shares the same title, Victoria is a little reminiscent of The Kinks while Rise Up builds indie folk bounce on a shanty foundation. Strong melodies and harmonies, catchy choruses and a general infectious good time feel, they could easily become the city’s next big break through.
An integral element of Birmingham’s dance scene, TROUMACA turned down major label interest to sign with Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood Recordings and now release the first fruits of the union with debut album The Grace, the title a tribute to the guitarist’s St. Vincent born grandmother, who pops up with instructions on how to prepare breadfruit. Again, not particularly my thing (the music, not the fruit), but their marriage of tropicalia, dub and r&b is undeniably accomplished and precisely what you’d want to hear on both the club floor and in the chill out room. The five piece kick off with the Trees, a (mostly) instrumental that’s both pulse pumping and come down before heading into the likes of Sanctify, Gold, Women & Wine, Ivory and the dancehall Lady Colour, the beats sometimes evoking the trip hop moods of Massive Attack, before the title track closes up on a dreamy tropical carnival breeze.
Incredibly now on his third solo album in four years, this month STEVE CRADOCK releases Travel Wild – Travel Free (Proper), a 13 track collection that has a similar vibe, and I use the word advisedly, to both The Kundalini Target and Peace City West. It is, though, wife Sally who’s heard first, singing the title line and indeed the only lyric) of Anyway The Wind Blows while the music establishes the shimmering, occasionally Eastern, psychedelic hippy feel that will predominate.
Sheer Inertia’s a bit more of a rocky number, but Steve’s 60s influences are never far away and you’ll not only hear strong echoes of formative Traffic on the likes of The Magic Hour, 10,000 Times and the title track (which even features a child’s voice a la Hole In My Shoe), and Pink Floyd (Shark Fin Island), but also less feted names of the era like Simon Dupree and the Big Sound (whose Kites is evoked on the identical percussive sounds of Running Isn’t Funny Any More, Out Of Mist and Street Fire), Jason Crest, Keith West (and Tomorrow), and John’s Children. It positively drips catchy melodies and hooks, most especially on I Am the Sea, which vaguely hints at a mixture of The Who and Marrakesh Express, and the brass punched Doodle Book (the only track here that ever suggests Ocean Colour Scene) with its a poppily infectious chorus (a touch of Weller in there) and the Magical Mystery Tour era Beatles. I’d also not be surprised to find he’s also a big fan of legendary but underrated Birmingham outfit the Idle Race too. Neither of the previous albums charted and it’s unlikely that this will either, but for those who recognise its charms, it’ll be on repeat play for months.
Although they’ve been around a few years, I have to confess to never having previously encountered SYLVIA, a four piece Moseley-bred outfit consisting Daniel Sweeney (lead vocals, guitar), Russell Collins (drums), Jamie Kendall (guitar) and Phill Ward (bass). This is most remiss of me since their self-released debut album, Rathea. Named for the port in Co. Kerry where the disembarked to start its recording, parts of it were also put together back in Moseley (where they started to experiment with assorted household objects) and in a shed near Glastonbury (where the local atmosphere fed into the music).
Musically it’s an amalgam of indie (Make Stay It’s Own Way), classic British rock (Heartlands) and (as on When Illuminated, Press To Open and the airy Greyson Chance Syndrome) progressive, the band clearly masters of their instruments and highly accomplished writers with an ear for catchy melody but also subtler textures that embrace swelling waves and gentle whispers in equal measure, the latter notably represented by the gorgeous acoustic Foals while, featuring Sweeney’s graceful falsetto, Bought What I Paid For embraces both extremes to dazzling effect.
That clocks in at six minutes and the band don’t sting on running times elsewhere either, Possessed with its acoustic arpeggios (and hints of Roy Harper by way of The Verve) is six and a half, the gathering sonic wash of Heartlands is over seven and album closer The More It Changes The More It Stays The Same is a marathon ten and half minutes of progressive blissful pastoral soul that’s like taking an extended Radox shower. On the other hand, one of the other stand outs, Falling Ghost is a five minute number of mantra like refrain, Sigur Ros like tinkling cascades and swirling sonic clouds. Sophisticated stuff, they won’t find themselves being embraced by the b-town fans of bands like Peace but anyone who appreciates finely crafted, enduringly timeless music should investigate further.
Forced to cancel their tour due to drummer Jimmy Brown’s repetitive strain injury, UB40 can at least take some consolation from the fact that their new album, Getting Over The Storm (Virgin), is one of their best in years. Previewed back in June, it’s finally now released and finds them getting in touch with the country roots that have always been an integral element of reggae music.
With Melvin Duffy providing pedal steel and Duncan Campbell now sounding fully relaxed in his brother’s shoes, it’s a mix of covers and originals, the former Getting Over The Storm (George Jones), If You Ever Have Forever In Mind (Vince Gill) and Crying Time (Buck Owens) with Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain (Willie Nelson) and Jim Reeves classic He’ll Have To Go both deserve to be huge hits.
Additionally there’s a loping version of Greg Allman’s not entirely country Midnight Rider, a contemporary lyric update of Blind Alfred Reed’s blues burner How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times And Live and a cover of Randy Travis’ On The Other Hand, originally recorded in 1990 with the late Robert Palmer on vocals, but here, because of problems reaching agreement with his estate, featuring Duncan Campbell.
The original material, all by Brian Travers, is strong too, the first coming with the country flavoured Just What’s Killing Me, of their very best pop songs, They’re certainly on a creative high at the moment, Blue Billet Doux comes with hints of the Mexican border in its horns and Latin mood, while I Did What I Did and the Spanish flavour of How Will I Get Through This hark to earlier years. Mind you, the melody of I Didn’t Know is a blatant steal from Hello Mary Lou, Goodbye Heart. Some have been all too eager to write them off, but this certainly shows there’s plenty of life and inspiration left in them yet.
Unlike his acoustic one man and a guitar (and some sound effects) self-titled 2011 debut, Reaching For A State Of Mind (Tiger Dan), the sophomore album by Wolverhampton songwriting genius DAN WHITEHOUSE, is a full band affair that includes Duke Special percussionist Chip Bailey, steel player PJ Wright, multi-instrumentalist (and producer) Michael Clarke and Helen Lancaster from the Old School Dance Band, who did the string arrangements, on violin and viola.
It pretty much divides itself into three distinct musical areas. Moody opening number A Dream That’s Floating Out To Sea is built around slurred beats with Dan adopting a breathy, intimate vocal approach, and the same narcotic style characterizes Chasing Paper (which features Ezio guitarist Booga) which has a similar feel to Phil Collins’ In The Air Tonight and Something In Way with its backwards loops and treated vocal. Then there’s the full blooded rush of blood numbers that have stadium DNA in their melodies, hooks and chiming guitars. That’ll be Come To Me, Come Back and The Light, a track that is not only ridiculously catchy with a crowd friendly chorus but also incredibly brave since the chorus line is ‘there is a light that never goes out’ is not only the title of one of The Smith’s biggest hits but the melody is a tad similar too.
Of course, the influence here isn’t Morrissey but Bruce, which leads to the third group of songs, the softer, slightly Americana ballads such as country sway Maybe I Too Was Born To Run, a song which may reference Springsteen but has more of a Band Southern country influence with its soulful piano, pedal steel and gospel chorus. Nestling in the same bed there’s also yearning waltz The River with its pizzicato strings and soaring ‘it doesn’t matter what the good book says’ chorus, the tender, breathily acoustic Climb and the deeply romantic bittersweet ache of spare piano ballad Why Don’t You Dance With Me, easily one of the finest things he’s ever written, up there with the very best of Richard Hawley, an artist to whom he should both be justly compared and share the same sort of critical acclaim.
After the Dexy’s comeback, closing an album with a number that has the artist talking is likely to spur massive trepidation, but, again steeped in a heady romanticism, Home emerges with head held high, a song born of nights driving back from gigs which references the Aston Expressway as an image of a comforting, welcoming embrace that spurs thoughts of his mother doing the ironing, of the back garden, and of the passing of his grandfather. He only sings two lines “It’s not resignation, it’s not giving, have you been so busy lately you’ve forgotten where it is?’; in an album of doubts and needs, it’s a disarmingly simple reminder of staying positive and true values. An album of the year.