How time flies. Astonishingly, it’s 20 years since I first began writing about Wolverhampton-born (and sometime Birmingham-based) CARINA ROUND. In that time, she’s released four solo studio albums (five if you count the double album Tigermending remixes), three EPs, sung on four Pucifer abums (and toured with them), recorded two album as part of Early Winters alongside Justin Rutledge, duetted with Nina Persson on Fight Song from the soundtrack to God’s Pocket and released a cover single of Duran’s Come Undone. And relocated to America.
Now comes Deranged to Divine (Do Yourself In), a career retrospective spanning 2001-2015, taking in all the albums and the Things You Should Know EP, as well as two previously unreleased numbers.
The debut album, First Blood Mystery, accounts for two tracks. The jazzy, Latin-flavoured piano led Message To Apollo was the opening number, a song about “getting through a period of disbelief in myself, in my creativity and individuality”, while the languid How I See It is equally jazzy, but more torch with its muted brass. You can understand why she landed a Ronnie Scott’s residency.
The second album, 2003’s sweatily sexual The Disconnection, picked up Interscope after an intial self-release, yields four numbers. A celebration of the things she'd discovered about herself, a confrontation and exorcism of anger and pain rather than simply ranting on about them it was a no less intense experience than its predecessor, a prowlingly feline PJ Harvey filtered through Patti Smith and Led Zeppelin with her writing influences still firmly seated in the works of Plath, Rimbaud and their like.
From it comes the awakening of self that is the clattering and molten passion fury of Into My Blood, Lacuna’s prickly piano nerve ending with its sleazy melody line where she cuts free of some lover "looking for an excuse to call yourself a fuck up' while defiantly embracing her own permanence in the world, the distinctly contrastive gently lapping acoustic Overcome with its Eastern rhythmic colours and the American version of Elegy, a narcoleptic acoustic bossa nova that channels the ghosts of Plath and Virginia Woolf, aware that some things have to be broken for the light to come through yet understandably scared about what lies beyond.
2006’s more commercially accessible Slow Motion Addict, produced by Glen Ballard, also has four tracks included, first up being the stadium rock ballad Come To You with its soaring chorus, the slow beats, whisperingly sung Downslow, the trip-hop styled title track itself with its nervy percussion and the aggressive, guitar pulsing indie rock of Want More, albeit an alternative mix version and one of the two previously unreleased numbers.
At five cuts, her fourth album, 2012’s Tigermending, contributes the most material although, surprisingly, not Pick Up The Phone. Nevertheless, you do get the swirly urgency of You Will Be Loved, the staccato tumbling melody line of the self-delusion themed The Girl and the Ghost featuring her high soprano finale, the irresistible poppy You and Me with its line about Kings Heath and do do do refrain, the slurry folk influenced Mother’s Pride’s tale of lost innocence and, co-written with Eno and Dave Stewart, a ghostly The Secret of Drowning closes up the collection with its eerie synth and strings ambience.
Two tracks are lifted from 2009’s self-released and somewhat hard to find Things You Should Know EP, the fragile For Everything A Reason with its neurotic electric guitars and, one of the finest songs of the decade, the dreamy, utterly lovely and emotionally plaintive Gary Go co-penned Backseat and its lighters-aloft singalong refrain. Which just leaves the other unreleased track, Ballard co-write Gunshot, a slow acoustic country-and gospel coloured ballad that, for obvious stylistic reasons, didn’t make the 2006 album, but deservedly finally sees light of day here.
All of this comes with a 28-page lyric booklet containing a collection of studio photos that also mark the changes over the album’s timespan. Critically acclaimed, Carina’s never had the wider commercial success afforded lesser contemporaries, but rather than compromise and seek mainstream acceptance, she’s remained true to her musical soul, producing some of the finest music of the past 15 years in the process.
The world’s current refugee crisis has prompted the release of several albums looking to raise awareness andm where possible, funds, most recently Robin Adams’ Refugee project involving host of (mostly) Scottish musicians from the (loosely folk scene. Like that, these albums have been multi-artist affairs; however, Birmingham’s self-styled six-string community theologian DAVID BENJAMIN BLOWER (perhaps best known for his junk-folk 2010 album The Darkness Doesn’t Love You Baby, Come Out While You Can) has recorded a one-man collection of songs addressing the issues and, in particular, this country’s response. Mostly stripped down to just him and an acoustic guitar (though there are some unexpected moments when a more full-blooded, band sound takes over), his non-profit Welcome The Stranger (Minor Artists) very firmly takes its cue from Billy Bragg (who Blower vocally recalls) and Woody Guthrie, the first song, Chaldo-Assyrian Homeless Blues, a contemporary rework of the latter’s I Ain’t Go No Home In The World Anymore.
Drawing on the Dust Bowl ballads as well the Old and New Testaments (religion – and the blind eye it turns - comes in for several comments), it’s raw, angry and heartfelt in its stories of the displaced, and of those who turn their backs, it ranges from the account of refugees joining the traffickers queues and fleeing To Europe’s Shores in search of a better, safer life to the strummed tribal beat of In Praise of Rome, a coruscating attack on the way governments continue to engage and trade with regimes which, in the imagery of the song, “still practice crucifixion on dissidents and thieves”.
Elsewhere, the salvational folk-hymnal O Albion questions what it means to be British in today’s world , clinging to the belief that the good to do the right thing still exists while the title track points out the discrepancy between what the Bible preaches about strangers and the reality practiced by politicians and More Than Conquerors addresses the way the world’s dynamic has changed and the need to cast off the Empire mentality and embrace global community where everyone is a neighbour in need.
The Persian Hunger Strike of 2016 is a very specific reference to the French riot police’s tear gas attack on the Calais refugee camps on February 29 and the subsequent action by a number of (mostly Christian) Iranians to sew each other’s mouths ups, a symbolic statement of their voiceless state.
Finally, Everything is Changing, with its “keep calm and carry on” mantra is about how we can no longer close our eyes and pretend the problems don’t exist. As he says, “ there’s a rising panic at seeing the world’s ‘problems’ making their way across Europe, all the way to our borders… panic that we can no longer keep re-arranging the world ‘out there’ in order to maintain ourselves ‘in here’.” It’s thoughtful, provocative and hugely engaging listening.