Eyes Wide, Tongue Tied (Cooking Vinyl)
Having made their name with crowd stompers like Chelsea Dagger, Baby Fratelli and Creepin Up The Backstairs, despite offering more of the same, things rather levelled off for the Glasgow outfit with the release of their second album, prompting them to go on an indefinite hiatus with Jon Lawler launching new project, Codeine Velvet Club. Despite some impressive and punchy indie pop, it failed to capture much love, seeing Lawler quit to go solo, releasing resounding flop Psycho Jukebox (a follow-up remains gathering dust) before, perhaps inevitably, resurrecting the band. The ‘comeback’ was a somewhat muted affair with We Need Medicine running out of steam at #26, so this could well be a final attempt to reignite interest.
If so, then album opener Me and the Devil clearly isn’t going to get the terrace mob going with its piano bedrock, steady crunchy rhythm, dark lyrics and a bluesy gospel roots. That said, more familiar fare is to be found with the bustling, Americana-tinged Impostors (Little By Little) and the downright rowdy rock n roll stomp Baby Don’t You Lie To Me while Too Much Wine is a sort of mash up of Slade and Status Quo boogie (and even has a line about Creepin Up The Backstairs) and, again heavy on the keyboards, Thief is all classic Britpop swagger with a streak of blues to the bubbling guitar line.
These are all looking for the instant audience hook, but the lazy, bluesy Moonshine, yearning Springsteenesque ballad Slow and the squelchy Dogtown, which welds The Beatles Come Together with Stevie Wonder’s Superstition, show real depth beyond a three minute thrill. I suspect the band’s time is up, but, if so, they’re certainly going out on a high note.
London Love Songs (Mama’s Music)
Gestating for some while and starting out as songs about being a single parent working mother trying to get a foothold on the London music scene, the original sessions were laid down in Abbey Road, looking to form a follow-up to her 2011 debut, The Blacksmith’s Girl, released on Judy Collins’ Wildflower label.
Revisiting the sessions over the years, building and adding, they finally emerge into the light under the guidance of producer John McBurnie, presenting a rather fine collection of, mostly, acoustic-based songs that, as the title suggests, are peppered with references to her experiences in the capital, taking in her relationship with her young daughter (the fingerpicked Five Things recalls their daily walk to Camden Market) and, on lazing cello and sax coloured album opener These Days, with its air of summer days, both the loneliness of her single-parent life and the death of her father.
Although there’s jazz touches in places, especially on the excellent and lyrically compelling Adventures In Sobriety, 60s West Coast folk (growing up she was a big fan of Joni) is the pervasive influence shaping the likes of the heartbreakingly bittersweet plea for attention Tonight, the strings swathed Come Down and the waltzing title track with its hints of gospel blues.
The album ends strongly with On My Mind, featuring just Sadie on guitar and harmonica, and the beautiful Entirely, a song about the unconditional love of a mother for her daughter, with its mother-daughter, but before that there’s her mid-tempo cover of CSN&Y’s Teach Your Children (she did a similar restyling of Ever Fallen In Love on her debut) that originally appeared on the 2012 tribute collection, Music Is Love and is welcomingly resurrected here. There’s a danger that, without a particularly high profile, this could get lost in the crowd, but it’s well worth searching out and could well find a place on your year’s best of list.
LEGENDS OF COUNTRY
Talk About Country (Self-Released)
As you might imagine, country is the genre of choice for this North London outfit headed up by Wendover’s Jof Owen. Inspired by growing up listening to the likes of, George Jones, Johnny Cash and George Hamilton IV, he and longtime friends Adam Chetwood and Rob Jones have put together a set of old school country songs filtered through English pop energy and lyrics, as deftly evidenced on appropriately titled brass splashed album opener It’s A Start.
Reflections on growing up, the title track namechecks not only Dolly & Porter, Willie & Waylon, Charlie Rich and Tanya Tucker, but also beat writer Carolyn Cassady, Little House on the Prairie ad darts legend Jocky Wilson. Darts are clearly another common interest, since the album’s last track, It’s A Long Way Back From A Dream, recounts the story of defending champion Richie Burnett, looking back on driving down from South Wales to compete in the 1966 World Darts Championship on New Year’s Eve only to lose in the final. It also slips in a mention of Crystal Gayle.
Elsewhere you get the jubilant Tex-Mex As Country As They Come, the wistful reflections of the strummed Gone Leaving, playful underachiever’s zydeco shuffle If I Knew What Was Doing I’d Be Dangerous, middle age crisis romps Old Guns and Forty In The Spring and, another nod to childhood musical comfort blankets, Turn To Dolly.
As that and the Burnett story show, behind the tongue-in-cheek playfulness there’s also a streak of sadness, one that rises to the surface on the poignant, stark acoustic The Saturday Dads and its account of absent fathers. They might not have the cool cachet of other home grown Americana acts, but they certainly have the credibility.
Alone, Together (Saint In The City)
After the Americana of debut album Satellites and then the stark folk and electric blues of Mercury State’s recession bleakness, Pearson rings the changes again with a more optimistic outlook (following marriage, fatherhood and beating eye cancer) that’s perfectly summed up in album opener Hymn For The Hopeless, a song that starts out on simple acoustic guitar and builds to an orchestral swell, reflecting the pervading musical approach. This is followed by the mid-tempo 70s blue collar guitar rock styling of The Bridge and emotion-fuelled gradually welling ballad As Deep As Love where you might detect a definite hint of Neil Young.
He cranks it up for Rivers, a distorted garage guitar riff and soaring chorus driving yet another anthem for optimism and never giving up while a chugging bass riff underpins War Stories and its reflection on transitioning into adulthood before taking the mood and tempo back down for fingerpicked album closer Come Back Around pledge for a father to his child. His previous releases built him a solid grassroots following, this may well be the one to see them blossom.
Melt Inside The Sun (Konkord)
Imagine a more feisty, Southern drawling Nico fronting Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and you have a rough idea of what to expect from this latest release by Austrian multi-instrumentalist Julia Hummer. Reverb drenched bluesy rock and roll, filtered through shoegaze gauze and heavy late 60s psychedelia, it’s a heady, albeit, at 38 minutes, rather short affair, indeed, the guitar riffing instrumental Flower Gunshot is just 64 seconds. But, within that time, the likes of the swaggering southern blues-rock Wild Machine with its quivering phasing intro, the heavy Mazzy Star narcotic haze of Strom Aus Licht (sung in German, obviously), Sommertaum (which, with its bird noises, strings and layered psychedelia recalls Ummagumma era Floyd) and the pulsing the slow build lysergic mood that encompasses Beautiful For You do a very good job of getting inside your head. Mike Davies
Serious Poke (LoJinx)
Following the demise of Noah and the Whale, aided and abetted by former bandmates Michael Petulla, Tom Hobdens andMatt Owens, their lead guitarist/keyboard player becomes the first to emerge with a solo album (though Charlie Fink did get a single out on Soundcloud last month), one that suggests he spent some time going through his CD collection to assemble a selection of influences.
Adrenaline Shot kicks things off in a flurry of guitar rock n roll that evokes early Tom Petty while the intro has definite shades of the Stones (who just happen to be on the credits of co-producer Martin Hollis), as indeed does the second track Funny How Good It Feels, though the song itself has a touch of Nick Lowe and vintage Graham Parker & The Rumour about it; albeit given an American feel.
Then you get to Awake and now you’re intermittently into Lou Reed territory (talk-sing vocals included) before the chugging Honey heads into country-hued southern rock with a slide guitar line, while, a little further down the line, One Hot Night is back to the commercial side of Reed, Learn About Love gets into Joe Walsh-like bluesy riffing and album closes on a couple of piano ballads, Still Told A Lie and Lucky People.
It’s clear that guitar-driven American rock of the 70s lights Abbot’s fire (and his singing voice) and the album does, indeed, give it some serious poke even if, at times, he seems to be overdoing it slightly vocally. The songs are generally strong too, most especially the guitar chugging, organ backed domestic abuse themed Don’t Look Like Him, but I suspect it’s going to do rather better over the water than here, quite possibly finding the audience and chart success that always eluded his former band.