Fierce Mercy (Lazy Eye)
Hay is probably best known for having fronted Men at Work and being responsible for the annoying Down Under, but he’s been carving his own path for some years no, this, incredibly, his thirteenth solo album now. Catchy upbeat melodies remain his stock in trade, on Come Tumblin’ Down with its rocking beat, ringing guitars, accordion and banjo, but, with lyrics about dying towns, this is actuallymelancholic and generally musically subdued affair, even on the mid tempo love song The Best In Me. Loss, death and the passing of time loom large, notably on Frozen Fields of Snow (a song about a veteran recalling the dysfunctional family of his childhood), the 60’s flavoured soulful pop of Fierce Mercy, Two Friends (written by guitarist Michael Georgiades) and She Was The Love Of Mine, a song written about his mother’s passing. Even so, notes of hope are still struck, such as on the carpe diem themed lushly orchestrated piano ballad A Thousand Million Reasons, the soaringly twangsome Secret Love and the bluesily soulful I’m Gonna Get You Stoned which, basically, is about introducing some relative youngster to the highs of 67 as an escape from the depressive nature of modern life.
Unquestionably the most potent track is one with contemporary relevance, I’m Walking Here written by Hay following the shooting of Trayvon Martin, the title a nod to Dustin Hoffman’s line in Midnight Cowboy with Joe Lopez providing the rap. The deluxe edition comes with three bonus tracks, the 60s powerpop colours of I’m Inside Outside In, Blue Bay Moon, a pedal steel stained country number with hints of Roy Orbison, and, another chiming guitars number, the cascading chords of Love Don’t Mean Enough. At this stage in his career, he’s unlikely to enjoy a worldwide renaissance of his 80s glory days, but making albums like this is a persuasive argument that he should.
Mental Illness (Superego)
Her ninth solo album, and the first in five years, sees Mann in typically wry mood, retreating from the last album’s poppier tones to the largely all acoustic, fingerpicked style with which she made her name, taking her influence from 60s and 70s folk rock. She remains a student of human behaviour, the songs and characters drawn as much from others’ lives as her own, the general theme here being about constantly repeating the same mistakes in the hope that someday things might turn out differently.
Quiet and restrained, heralded by a tinkling bell it opens with Goose Snow Cone, a dreamily melodic song about homesickness and proceeds through the self-explanatory anti-nostalgia of strummed waltzer Stuck In The Past, the cooing heartache in You Never Loved Me, the empty highs of Rollercoasters and, accompanied by pizzicato strings, Patient Zero’s Carly Simon-ish tale of an upwardly mobile hustler getting his comeuppance.
Piano ballad Good For Me, a hymn to self-delusion, provides a powerful centrepiece, a bit like The Carpenters visiting the darkside, Poor Judge offering another piano spotlight on a theme of deception, while Knock It Off, about someone still bothering their ex, again conjures Carly Simon.
Sprinkled with lines like “even birds of a feather find it hard to fly” and “falling for you was a walk off a cliff” serve reminder of her witty wordplay, and while she may, on Simple Fix, sing about becoming our worst mistakes and Lies of Summer is about being in a relationship with a pathological liar, the overall suggestion here is that it’s better to make them than be afraid of living.
Lakeside (At The Helm)
Having been immersed in production work for the likes of Nils Lofgren, Mojo Nixon, Freedy Johnson and the Bottle Rockets, it’s been 12 years since Ambel, a former member of Joan Jett’s Blackhearts, went into a studio to record his own music. This return mixes a handful of his own songs with some well chosen covers, one of which kicks things off in the shape of Scott Kempner’s Here Comes My Love, sounding very much like a slower take on Billy Swann’s I Can Help. The most familiar names on the credits will be Barrett Strong whose classic rock n roller Money gets a scuzzy fuzz guitar work out here and Welch and Rawlings, their Look At Miss Ohio being put through a Neil Young filter.
Producer Jimbo Mathus contributes three tracks, the throaty heavy blues rock Hey Mr DJ which sort of marries Led Zep and T-Rex, the jaunty acoustic Let’s Play With Fire with its twangy guitar and obvious Johnny Cash influences, and thumping Ramones homage Massive Confusion. Ambel’s own numbers aren’t quite as strong, Have Mercy a meat and potatoes Neil Young midtempo rocker, Don’t Make Me Break You Down a lumpen, plodding heavy rock instrumental and both Buyback Blues and instrumental closer Cryin’ In My Sleep fairly standard 70s blues. Even so, for the most it’s a welcome return more often than not.
A Portland duo comprising husband and wife Gabe and Myra Gleason, this is the couple’s debut, a five-track collection that marries R&B and Pop-Rock to strong melodies and her powerful vocals. A song about trying to fit in, the title track opens things and really pulls you in with its tumbling melody line and her voice, it’s just unfortunate that both the title and the song itself slightly echo Rag n Bone Man, even though it is perfectly capable of standing on its own two feet. There’s more of a soul and gospel colour to Free which again features John DeGraziano’s piano and Gabe’s beatboxing percussion. Runaways has more of a dance groove with its itchy rhythm and bassline spine while the EP’s rounded out by delicate piano and strings ballad The One and the rhythmically sparse Who Am I with its percussive backbone and 70s R&B influence. With no profile to speak of, this is likely to get lost in the crowd, but a voice like her’s won’t go unheard for long.