record reviews november 2020

LEON

Apart (Self-released)

cover L ON - Apart

The sophomore album from the Swedish singer-songwriter charts the ending of a long-term relationship, turning the gaze inwards to reflect on her own flaws and behaviour. A mix of sparkly pop and lush balladry, it opens with the strummed Americana shaded Head and Heart on Fire where, her raspy-voice suggesting Amy MacDonald, she looks back to better days of love in its first flush as choral background voices soar.

The orchestrated intro to And It Breaks My Heart gives way to a chugging rhythm and more big pop melodies while Crazy Stupid keeps the momentum going with perhaps early Katy Perry hints mingled with touches of Stevie Nicks before In A Stranger’s Arms (you can work out what that’s about) is a more-midtempo number and Chasing A Feeling pulls it back to a more intimate mood before opening up into a skittering, synth-driven number.

Elsewhere, the wistful Seventeen with its chiming bells backdrop and quivering anthemic vocals is a particular highlight Tell Me is a soft, semi-spoken minimal piano-backed ballad before ending with the swelling, chorus catchy Die For You and, finally, the piano ballad title track, a perfect end to an album of consummate and classy, emotion-fuelled pop for the more discerning hearts. Mike Davies


ACE OF CUPS

Sing Your Dreams (High Moon)

ace of cups

Survivors of the 1960s, psychedelic San Francisco music scene, the all-female rock outfit comprising, Mary Gannon, Denise Kaufman, Mary Ellen Simpson and Diane Vitalich finally made their studio debut a couple of years back and, buoyed up by its reception, with Dallis Craft replacing original member Mary Hunt, they’ve recorded a second, one which includes contributions from Jackson Browne, Graceland bassist Bakithi Kumalo and Jack Casady and David Freiberg from Jefferson Airplane/Starship.

Kicking off with the blues-rock groove of Dressed in Black it shifts to the shimmering and scampering Afro-pop rhythms of Jai Mai (a song celebrating the Divine Mother) before getting down to some serious rock riffery with Craft singing lead on a cover of Beth Nielsen Chapman’s female empowerment driven Put A Woman in Charge featuring scorching solo from Simpson. Indeed, that’s a constant theme throughout the album, whether on the harmonica coloured, strummed acoustic balladry of the inspirational Sister Ruth as Kaufman sings lead or the blues driven urgency of the near punk Boy, What’ll You Do Then which sassily reverses the usual gender approach of playing around when in a relationship.

Harking back to their roots in the hippie movement, legendary Woodstock peace activist Wavy Gravy sings (or more speaks) lead on Basic Human needs, another strongly African-influenced number about coming together while actor Peter Coyote provides spoken word passage on the organ-swirling Gemini which prompts thought of things like the rock musical Hair.

Elsewhere there’s a New Orleans jazzy swerve to the clarinet coloured goodtime I’m On Your Side, more bluesy swagger for Little White Lies, the swampy, stoned groove Waller Street groove, the first song they ever wrote together, with Kaufman’s wailing harmonica solo and spoken reminiscences of the Haight Ashbury, Hippie Nation days when there was such a thing as free healthcare and a call to bring back the spirit of 68, while Lucky Stars rides a country roll as Simpson sings about getting a guitar and singing our dreams.

It ends with a fusion of two tracks, Browne stepping up the microphone to duet with Kaufman on Slowest River (on which writers Gannon and Kaufman perfectly capture his style) with its piano and soulful and piano tracks its Swinburne-inspired lyric about healing, segueing into the closing Made For Love with Kaufman’s opening rap about, well, making love not war, with Browne joined by both Friedberg and Bob Weir on the title refrain. On Chapman’s song, Craft sings “We got to turn this world around/Call the mothers, call the daughters/We need the sisters of mercy now”. This seems as good a starting point as any. Mike Davies

roots-and-branches.com 2020