the mike davies column july 2016

lefthand man

Initially a studio project by singer Marc Plant and guitarist Chris Smith, Stourbridge’sLEFT HAND MAN has grown into a five piece band with the addition of, first, drummer Nic Burrows and then bassist Ben Wade and Andy Richardson on keyboards.

Following on from last year’s First World Problems EP, released when still a trio, they now unveil their debut album, The Last Things First, on their own Left Hand Records. Listening to the powerful waltz beat opening crowd swayer, Pictures, your first reaction might be to see them as another outfit with an Oasis record collection, but any Gallagher influences are just a small part of a very elaborate tapestry. As you’d assume from their photo, these guys aren’t fresh out of school and they clearly have a knowledge of musical history that they’ve used to solid advantage. Hard rock and blues are in there, evidenced straight from the off with Girl Gone, a swaggery melodic number that shows touch of both classic era Purple and American 70s blues rock, but that, in turn, gives way to the scratchy but muscular acoustic keyboards-backed Restless with its terrific harmonies, while First World Problems changes course to 70s blue-eyed soul evocative of Hall and Oates, albeit with a contemporary click track styled percussive beat to be followed by the heavy riffs of Street Scene that nods to Queens of the Stone Age.

left hand album

Away From Edge is a moodier, acoustic-based walking beat ballad with a jazz-blues undercurrent and a snaky vocal, while Same Old Song is a far swampier, loose-limbed indie affair with some snappy drumming from Burrows and, built around acoustic guitar, Timelines strips it back to 70s-rock stamped bluesy balladry that has hints of Thin Lizzy and Steve Miller. For their eponymous track, backed by organ, they are again in melodic rhythmic prowling bluesy rock territory, Plant’s vocals mixed back and suggesting a touch of Plastic Ono Band era Lennon as much as Josh Homme. The penultimate Seven Year Blues does what it says on the title with some basic grinding riffs and steamrollering drums before they end with shades of Bowie and psychedelia on Falling Then Falling with its treated vocals, cascading piano lines and chugging bass building to a massive sonic climax.

Clearly hugely accomplished musicians with strong creative ideas, both in front of the mics and behind the desk (Smith and Burrows mixed and produced at their Raindance studio), they make a powerful fist.

knight

Now signed to EastWest after a stint of self-releasing, BEVERLEY KNIGHT returns with an album of classic soul in Soulsville, a collection of covers and self-penned numbers in the old school style recorded over the course of one week at the legendary Royal Studios in Memphis, kicking off with the brass blowing Middle of Love, an original track that, if you didn’t know, you’d thing was from the days of vintage Memphis soul.

There’s five covers, first up being a collaboration with Jamie Cullum on the Billy Vera/Judy Clay duet Private Number, followed by bluesy arrangements of Ann Peebles classic I Can’t Stand The Rain and, accompanied on electric piano, Don’t Play That Song For Me, first recorded by Ben E King (whose wife co-wrote it) but best known for the Aretha Franklin version. Featuring Jools Holland, she belts through a version of Hound Dog that goes back to the Big Momma Thornton original, while the last cover sees her team with Sam Moore for a punchy, urgent storm through Sam & Dave’s Hold On I’m Coming.

That Knight has the chops to deliver these with real rather than ersatz souls is never in question , but the fact that her own songs fit alongside so seamlessly is testament to the passion and understanding she has for the genre, whether on mid-tempo balladry like When I See You Again, the full beam torch of All Things Must Change, the Otis-like ballad I Won’t Be Looking Back or the stripped down, strings-backed Sitting On The Edge. Co-written with Guy Chambers and Mark Ronson, driven by handclaps and slide guitar, Red Flag is a funky standout, but everything here is 24 carat gold soul. After five years away from the studio while she made her name on the West End stage, there’s a number here asserts that she’s Still Here. And long may she remain.

laura

Following her sensational debut album, Sing To The Moon, and its orchestral re-recording follow-up,LAURA MVULA returns with The Dreaming Room (RCA), a sophomore release that sees her expanding in new, dancier directions, underpinned by analogue synths and electric guitar riffs, and working with The London Symphony Orchestra, Wretch 32 (who raps on the thudding rhythm, densely-packed black identity ballad People), Nile Rodgers (guitar on the pulsing fun of Overcome) and former Miles Davis collaborator John Scofield. Opening with the urgent declaratory Who I Am, the album addresses identity and her divorce with both reflective melancholic introspection (the six minute hymnal-styled Show Me Love) and defiant assertion (the 70s funk infused stomper Phenomenal Woman, inspired by the Maya Angelou poem and preceded by Nan, Mvula impersonating her grandmother on a phone call where she asks her to write something uplifting).

Her classical training is evident on the fugue-like Bread, a call for help that gives way to the positivity of the textual swirling of Lucky Man before the drums kick in over rippling synth to drive along Let Me Fall with its theme of making her own choices, whatever the outcome (“if I fall, let me fall”, she sings) before the tinkling musical box accompaniment of the Nina Simone-tinged Kiss My Feet (“made my bed, but I can’t rest). He musical diversity and imagination at play here is again illustrated by Angel, which opens with multi-tracked vocoder-treated a capella before the arrival of harpsichord, a handclap rhythm and time signatures blown here and there on the song’s breeze, while the LSO provide the brief instrumental interlude of Renaissance Moon.

It’s a musically and emotionally turbulent affair, that sweeps you up, buffeting you in maelstrom, but leaving you more exhilarated than exhausted by the experience.

carolyn

Oft likened to Sandy Denny and, as one half of Red Shoes, an acclaimed singer and songwriter, Carolyn Evans now has another string to her creative bow. Writing as C.S.EVANS, this month sees the launch of her debut novel, Martha – Trinity of the Chosen (Brewin Books), the first in what is planned as a three-part series. Drawing on her own strong conservationist/environmentalist beliefs and her fierce opposition to fox-hunting, it is a (possible murder) mystery with magic realism notes that follows Martha, a teenager with obsessive-compulsive behaviour.

As evidenced by her meticulously arranged, minimalistic bedroom, she needs order and structure in her world. However, when her mother, Meredith, disappears while on a visit to Wales to settle her father’s estate, Martha’s precisely ordered routine is replaced by chaos.

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A year on from Meredith’s disappearance, with nothing resolved, news that her father needs to leave on a business trip, Martha is forced to stay with her eccentric maternal grandmother at her mother’s isolated family guest house in Pendine, the last place she was seen alive. This may mean an escape from the police and journalists that still her haunt her life, but it also brings back memories she had tried to suppress and the sense of an even greater mystery.

Given her mother’s old room to stay in, locked away in a wardrobe, Martha finds a collection of photographs that leads her to Laugharne, the small town where Dylan Thomas once lived. Once described by a doctor as having ‘a gift’, as the tension in the house rises, Martha now discovers just what that may be as she seeks to unravel the clues and portents, something that, despite her allergy to fur, draws her ever closer to a fox that regularly visits her. As her mysterious gift slowly manifests itself, it will change the way she communicates with others forever and, finally, reveal her mother’s fate.

A compelling written read that draws you into another world that co-exists with our own, it builds to a powerful climax that lays out the path to follow Martha’s journey deeper into the mysterious and dangerous world of the chosen.

Meanwhile, RED SHOES were recently commissioned by Worcester County Council to write two songs for Lending an ear, a project of audio artworks created in collaboration with Worcestershire's libraries and their communities. Only available on the project website (http://www.thehiveworcester.org/lending-an-ear), clicking on Droitwich Spa will take you to Salters, an uptempo country chugger written in response to the memories of locals who used to go to Salters Super Cinema which finally closed in the 1960s, the building subsequently being re-opened as a library, retaining the original proscenium arch and gallery. Then, click on Stourport-on-Severn and you’ll hear The Heart of Stourport Town, a poignant Dennyesque ballad about friendship and community that draws on an interviews with two women who grew up in houses attached to the Tontine Hotel, built in 1772 to provide lodgings and premises for the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal Company, in the 1950s.

roots-and-branches.com 2017