record reviews 2-7-19

JADE JACKSON – Wilderness (Anti-)

jade

Though flagged up as country and folk rock, Jackson’s second album is far better described as chiming late 70s new wave influenced pop, the most obvious touchstone being Blondie. That said, it opens in ringing guitar California country style with Bottle It Up, the sort of thing you put on and play loud as you’re getting ready to go out on the town as, a female empowerment celebration of pouring stuff one to cope with feeling down (“If ever I get lonely gonna pour myself a drink”) on which she quips “I don’t need a man’s hands to open the jar.” However, the spirit of Debbie Harry quickly makes itself felt with the bassline and drums of City Lights and the ebullient bounce of Don’t Say That You Love Me (complete with lap steel) taking you back to the heady days of Denis, Hanging On The Telephone and Dreaming.

Bursting with hooks and catchy choruses, the album’s upbeat fizz is a direct response to the dark times in her early 20s that preceded it, a hiking accident leading to an addiction to prescription drugs which, when she kicked that spiralled into depression and an control-related eating disorder that left her feeling suicidal for several years.

Deciding to address all this through songs (notably album closer Secret where she sings “All the walls inside me fell down/I don’t want my bones to be buried in this town”), the album deals with making the leaps across the beckoning chasms, of addressing a sense of self and drawing on melancholy to beat the demons rather than give in to them.

There’s a couple of stripped back to bare acoustics confessional numbers in Dust and Shiver, but mostly this cranks out the stadium-friendly power chords, driving rhythms and soaring vocals on things like Multiple Choice, a funky groove Now Or Never (Atomic territory), the mid-tempo Long Way Home and the propellant title track about being lost and hiding away under the sheets but finding a way to climb out of the hole.

Being honest, there’s not a huge amount of musical variety in the more uptempo numbers, but the energy, the melodies and her raspy-edged voice are ample distractions. Mike Davies

TIM STAFFELL – aMIGO (MoscoDisc)

staffell

Given this was supposed to ride the triumphant wave of the Bohemian Rhapsody phenomenon, it’s arrival several months after the film’s release when it’s all but vanished from cinema screens seems some pretty poor marketing. Nonetheless, it’s worth searching out as it’s a remastered reissue of the 2003 solo album by the grittily-voiced former Smile bassist and singer whose place his art college deskmate, one Freddie Bulsara, took over in 1970.

Staffel went on to variously join Humpy Bong, which featured former Bee Gees drummer Colin Petersen, then Morgan with Maruce Bacon and Morgan Fisher from Love Affair, reuniting with Bong singer Jonathan Kelly in the melting pot of Outside, before leaving the business to work as a model-maker, animator and commercials director, returning in 2001 to form aMIGO.

The album, physically available for the first time in ten years, leans heavily to jazz, funk and blues, hardly likely to set Queen devotees heart alight, but, featuring contributions from Fisher, Snow White (who provides the guitar solos on Love of the People and Just Couldn’t Say) and Brian May who duets on Earth and Doin’ Alright, both of which featured on Smile’s only releases, the latter being resurrected in Queen’s self-titled debut. Rounded off with the sax fuelled groove of a live studio version of the funky Just Couldn’t Stay, it deserves to be more than a musical curio and should certainly find favour among fans of Cocker, Carrack, Winwood and their ilk. For the record, Staffel released a follow-up, Two Late, in 2018 and also featured on the film’s recording of Doin’ Alright…Revisited and is currently working on a third album. Mike Davies

RALPH MOLINA - Love & Inspiration (Vapor)

molina

The drummer with Crazy Horse since they first formed in 1962 as Danny & The Memories, Molina has been a constant in Neil Young’s backing band for some 40 years, but this is his first solo album. You’d think that, in that time, something might have rubbed off, but no, what you get is a polished but bland set of laid back FM rock love songs often dressed up in lush arrangements that largely only serve to underline his soft, pleasant but undistinguished vocals. According to the sleeve Ian McNabb co-wrote Dance On The Wind, but his name doesn’t figure on the lyric book, while neither Young or Billy Talbot felt moved to give their old mate a guest hand. Completists might want a copy, but it has to be said that the latter half of the title is in short supply. Mike Davies

OLYMPIA – Flamingo (Opposite Number)

Olympia - Flamingo

And here’s yet more Blondie-shaped American alt-pop and new wave even if Olympia Bartley does come from Australia. Like Jackson’s album, it draws on personal experiences of dark times, here the addiction and loss of someone close to her, and transforms them into something joyous. It kicks off in surging style with guitars akimbo on Star City and pretty much maintains the upbeat approach for the remaining ten numbers, a walking bassline carrying along the breathlessly sung Come Back, coming over all swirly with bass pulses for Won’t Say That, hanging out with Sunday Girl on Two Hands though she does pull it down to a slower groove on First You Leave, the puttering bass rhythm of the dreamier Nervous Rider and the widescreen open-desert atmosphere of the title track with its echoey vocals. She’s not particularly well-known outside of Australia, where her debut album was nominated for an Aria, the Oz equivalent of a Grammy, but this and a brief set of UK dates, including a Latitudes appearances, should go some way to changing that. Mike Davies

roots-and-branches.com 2018