record reviews january 2021

The QUESTIONAIRES

Atlantic Ridge (Boom Chang Records)

Newcastle upon Tyne-based duo Steve Hall and Jane Wade had a brief career in the 80s, before he quit the music business for academia and criminology and she took up acting in the theatre. A debut album of songs demoed in the 80s, Arctic Circles, appeared in 2002, but they’re back together for a ‘now or never’ reboot with a classy collection of material that flavours what was once called FM rock with jazzy brass and contemporary folk / country with bluegrass dobro, violin, viola, and mandolin.

Fronted by Wade’s smoky, warm and soulful vocals, You’ll hear The Carpenters, Tina Turner and Steely Dan among others, the album opening with Heavy Heart featuring Les Watts on piano, who also performs similar duties on the subsequent The Illustrated Woman, a jazzy showtune-styled number with violin, and the folksier bull jazz coloured flavours of After The Rain.

Elsewhere Was I Ever? features Niles Krieger on violin, Hide And Seek is a moody slice of urban New York Becker and Fagan, the swaying Anna Blue brings in Bevan Morris on bowed bass, Worlds Collide has a delicate twilight ambience, Only Then is a more sprightly mandolin-led number and Liam Fender’s Hammond organ bedrocks the walking beat of the soul rolling You Don’t Need It All before, the most timely and arguably best track, Ordinary People, pays tribute to NHS nurses under the current pandemic.

It ends with a spoken sign off from Ward thanking all involved and introducing two bonus tracks, It Always Rains On Saturday from their debut and, with just voice and acoustic guitar, Anna Blue Unplugged. Highly unfashionable in terms of the current dominant commercial music scene, but, for anyone who appreciates classic, well-crafted, melodic songs, musicianship and vocals, this is a delight. Mike Davies


KERRI WATT

Neptune’s Daughter (Cooking Vinyl)

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Overseen by Lamb Of God’s metal head producer Machine in Texas in 2018, the Glaswegian’s studio debut is a fierce, snarly and prowling beast that filters soul influences through swaggery rock and blues, opening with All The Worse For Me ticking all of the above boxes.

Her roots are in Americana and these still poke through in places, as on the gospel blues of Kissing Fools, another cocksure swagger, followed by the puttering, circling drums and attitude-heavy delivery of Chasing Aeroplanes that’s part Gwen Stefani, part Madonna and part a ballsy Katy Perry while the strut of Band Of Gold with its descending chords is more of a modern pop anthem a la Lady Gaga by way of The Bangles while. by contrast, the Southern blues rock title track nods to The Band and Guns N Roses in equal measure.

Proceeding through a further six tracks it’s an album positively bristling with confidence that suggests what Lulu might have been had she been born a few decades later and been reared on Sharleen Spiteri and Maggie Bell, further heavy lifters coming with the chugging Cut Me Loose, the deceptively titled piano ballad Hellfire and, equally deceptively named, the predatory Spoonful Of Sugar. But the final stretch comes as a striking departure, first with Jessie with its barroom strum, harmonica and galloping drum beat that could easily have been written for Wild Rose, likewise the choppy bluesy country pop rumble of You Can’t Catch Me and the closing anthemic piano ballad I Wanna Sing For You, all of which seem like they’re from a wholly different album. You will, of course, need them both.Mike Davies



THE SAD SONG CO.

Saudade (Self-released)

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Formerly drummer with Frank Turner And The Sleeping Souls, this is multi-instrumentalist Nigel Powell’s fifth solo album, the title echoing his recording name in meaning an emotional state of profound melancholic longing for an absent something or someone. So not nece4ssarily always cheery, though several tracks such as Away Until Christmas Morning (the album was originally due last November) are suffused with light and hope.

Essentially progressive coated pop built around piano figures. Part acoustic, part electric and featuring three instrumentals (Saudade, Makarska Sunset, 25th May 2018 and Sine Qua Non), it’s pleasantly engaging if never actually riveting listening, the strongest moments coming with the clattering, bass rumbling Hold, the repeated classical piano pattern of Hastings, Out Of Season with its musings on mortality and, another piano ballad, Lighthouse while, it must be said, Deserted By Every God does strike a resonant note for the times even if it does sound like the bastard child of Radiohead and Mike Batt. Mike Davies

roots-and-branches.com 2020