Swiftly following up Desire, GOODNIGHT LENIN offer another enticing taster of the forthcoming album with Portrait of Youth (Static Caravan), one of their classic gradually building anthemic numbers that starts off slowly and simply builds to a tumultuous crescendo on surging drums and storms of fluttering keyboards and guitars like The Waterboys on steroids. Magnificent
Three years on from The Paper Grenade, CHRIS TYE returns with his most assured and, produced by Michael Clarke, sophisticated album yet, the self-released Stronger In Numbers reinforcing that, like his friend Dan Whitehouse, he should be known far beyond his current audience base. Whitehouse lends his backing vocals on a couple of tracks, as do Wes Finch, Boat To Row’s Michael King, Jayne Powell and Vijay Kishore, the latter to be heard on moody album opener Feature Flight with its crisp percussion and swirlingly atmospheric guitars. Love On The Line starts out crunchier but then settles into a pulsing bassline dominated swaying pop song before the title track arrives in all its six-minute glory with Paul Connop gusting on electric guitar. Inspired by the death of a close friend, the softer moments see Tye in Paul Simon vocal mode, the song featuring bursts of static noise, opening out around the four minute mark into a delicate instrumental passage of piano and acoustic guitar before it closes with solitary piano notes enveloped in white noise.
Perhaps also inspired by thoughts of mortality, Low On Time is more easy lazing, jazzy toned folksy chamber pop with ooohing chorus and brushed drums, giving way to the slow march beat of the lovely Simonesque The Half Way Up, another number that builds to an orchestral swell.
The Simon influences hang around for the end of relationship Happy When You’re Sad with its drumsticks percussive taps punctuating a dreamy melody and chorus carried on clouds of keyboards and strings. No Sing, co-penned with Jo Hamilton, is another fabulous cinematic strings-adorned, lolling swayalong number, Tye demonstrating his very effective swoonsome falsetto while Anna Bennett provides viola and violin.
Come By My Window shifts the musical mood with shimmering harp-like keyboard trills and sparse drum fills, the song a slow waltz into melancholia before If There Is Love takes another swerve for an almost Jeff Lynne sound with its carousel waltzing melody and layered vocals. Things get stripped back for the evocatively titled penultimate Death By Indifference, a solitary ruminative piano eventually joined by strings, the album closing with More Than A Dream, its repeated single piano note and shaker percussion enrobed with a lush melody, the Tye falsetto taking the song to the heavens and beyond, joined by King for a multitracked vocal finale. Wonderful stuff.
STEVE RAVENSFIELD hails from Wolverhampton and Broken Diamonds is his self-released debut, one firmly rooted in 70s rock and r&b with clear traces of such names as Clapton, Morrison, Free and even Bowie. He has a throaty voice, but perhaps not the best ear in judging his own music. Opener Wishing Well (not the Free number) is solid bluesy rock, but the decision to have a female backing singer repeating his lines in overdramatic gospel mode was probably not a good idea. He’s solid rather than inspired, on How Blind Is Your Love he recalls Chris Rea, but the song is standard, forgettable blues rock ballad fare (again with backing singer Ange Lloyd wailing away), an accusation that can be equally levelled at the likes of Completely, Ride On, Sometimes It’s Always Me and Midnight Child with its clear Lynyrd Skynrd touches.
He fares better on the more acoustic strum of the poppier No More Love and rumbling soulful ballad closer I Bleed and, as you would expect from Gavin Monaghan, the production is faultless, but the emphasis here is more on rough than diamonds.
Lizzy Daniel-Sam and Chris Taylor front new Birmingham acoustic folk outfit MIDSUMMER, their self-released debut album The Stories You Tell not just one of the best in its genre, but across the board. The sound bolstered by Ben Kyte (bass), Jenny Chen (violin), and Andy Gordon (accordion, uke, guitars, percussion) they cite Fleetwood Mac, among their influences, but a more pertinent comparison would be early Mumfords, The Dreaming Spires and Goodnight Lenin, even if ‘I’ll Wait’ has Lizzy sounding not unlike Lucy Spraggan. Aside from the quality of the playing, vocals and the music itself, one of the things that distinguishes them from the crowd is J Clay providing trumpet on several of the tracks.Their ability to pen an infectious, hook-laden melody can be heard with 1000 Days, which sees Chris on mandolin and fellow Birmingham folkie Joanna Karselis on fiddle. Stoney Face keeps it brisk with its folksy jaunt and hint of Dolly Parton while the traditional flavoured title track (penned by Taylor after seeing a clearly troubled singer-songwriter at the Hare & Hounds) takes the pace down for a dreamy sway accompanied by acoustic guitar and delicate strings.
Playful duet I Was Made In Birmingham is a mandolin and trumpet led celebratory about their hometown and surely the only song to feature the word actuary, while, by contrast, Wasted Time with its watery guitar and melancholic trumpet is a pastoral ballad about recovering from a broken relationship. Again backed by strummed guitar, the penultimate love song You Got It Then has a trace of Elton John’s ‘Candle In The Wind’ to the tumbling melody refrain, with the album closing on an optimistic note with the seven-minute Summer’s Over as Chris sings about the need for change and rebirth, trumpet joining again for the final bucolic flourish. Keep an eye on then, they could easily be the next big thing on the contemporary folk scene.