the mike davies column april 2018

The end of the month sees the return of ROBERT LANE with his self-released second album, Only A Flight Away, one that shows a marked increase in confidence and prowess. Opening with The Hundred House, short blues guitar instrumental that calls to mind the work of Gary Moore and early Peter Green, it kicks into gutsy life with the melodic blues rock Man of the Moment, the vocals slightly back in the mix Beatles influences mingling with shades of Thin Lizzy, switching to bottleneck mood for Baby Knows, acoustic guitar underpinned by a bass drum thump and handclap percussion.

They’re a tad misleading though, with the album then switching musical tack for the acoustic Right By My Side which feels like a folksy Lennon while, backed by piano and what sounds like a cello drone, the orchestrated ballad Far Too Busy suggests Jeff Lynne back in the Idle Race days.

Featuring fingerpicked guitar, The Instigator’s another folksy acoustic ballad, woodwind (synth) briefly introducing a vaguely ethereal renaissance mood towards the end, switching to electric piano for the George Harrison colours of Take As Long As You Need before the tempo picks up again on Hoping For Anything (But You) with its clattering drum pattern, keyboards and stuttering guitar swirls and riffs driving the nagging chorus hooks. Bizarrely, it reminds me of a rock version of early Gilbert O’Sullivan.

Following a 54-second reprise of The Hundred House, it takes flight on the summery Bill Frost’s Flying Machine, a whimsical simple acoustic number that nods to the psychedelic folksy pop of the late 60s embodied by the likes of Mark Wirtz, Simon Dupree, Orange Bicycle and Kippington Lodge before ending with the crowd friendly strummed acoustic protest swayalong Who Do You Think You’re Talking For. I wasn’t fully persuade by his debut album, but this makes ne a convert.


Born in Nottingham and now based in Cradley Heath, DANIELLE CAWDELL is an NHS speech and language therapist working with children in and around schools , but also a rather fine singer-songwriter and pianist who makes her album debut with the self-released Silence Set Me Free, co-produced by Dan Whitehouse and Jason Tarver, who also respectively contribute guitar/background vocals and synth and, er, guitar ambience, while Kirsty Griffiths and Hannah Brown both provide backing vocals.

danielle-cawdell

Recorded live in the studio, it’s a meditative affair, Cawdell’s slightly husky vocals (occasionally evocative of a purer-voiced Sandy Denny) largely set against her piano accompaniment that, according to the notes, hark to the arrangements of Perfume Genius and, perhaps less obviously so, the songwriting of Joni Mitchell. Confessional and introspective, taken at one sitting there’s not a huge tonal variety, the tracks, all one word titles bar one, largely taken at a similar pace albeit with some subtle tempo shifts. As such, it offers a calming cumulative listening experience probably best suited to a dimly lit room and a glass of wine, but this in no way undermines the experience of the individual songs.

Opening with Pinch, the lyrics based around a friend’s poem, it immerses itself in melancholia and (as on Future Gazing which shifts from image of prayer to self-reliance) hope alike, and, while each track swims in sheer quality, particular highlights would have to include the catharsis-themed Hush about choosing life for yourself rather than living another’s decisions, the fulsomely arranged Shake and the bass guitar thrumming broken relationship Heaven which, relatively speaking, is the album’s rock n roll number and sports the evocative line “if you cut my legs in two, you’re going to choke on my blood.”

Elsewhere, steeped in loss, Brother oozes empathy for someone’s suffering (“I never knew sadness like this, I never knew fear like this”) and features a particularly atmospheric guitar solo finale, while the title track with its synth strings and soaring background vocals, is piercingly open-hearted in addressing commitment (“ I can’t do forever but you’re on my mind”) and need. Striking a similar note, it ends with Forevers, from whence comes the album title, where she sings “in your bed I felt like a paying guest”, finding freedom and release and not being “chained to your voice”. Quite stunning.

Following on from last year’s 24 Days, Mick Butler aka SICKY has a new three-track EP, Star, that again underlines his ability to write accessible catchy melodies and deliver them with power and conviction. The lead track is a rousing glam rock stomp with a strident drum drive and bursts of raging guitar, an urgency that also drives the tribal thumping Einstein’s Baby, while, in contrast Water is a more stripped back ebb and flow bluesier number with a raw demo feel.

mountain cloth

The latest release from Giant Manilow Records, a label based in Birmingham and Bergen, is Haircutter, the latest from MOUNTAIN CLOTH, a four-piece that includes ex-pat Bryn Bowen, also part of e-mail outfit The Shalfonts. I guess you’d call them a mix of indie, rock and punk with touches of folk, progressive, jazz and pop, the album features 10 tracks, of which two are just brief interludes, one referencing the No 50 bus and the other self-descriptively titled pause, but only two push past three minutes, the bass-based walking beat Crackin’ Wise and the moody undulating Dominate featuring a watery circling guitar pattern. The jerky, time signature shifting Wasps of Summer is a particular standout as is album opener Get Paid To The Sea, winding up with the clattering prog-blues 58 seconds of Mud. It takes some tracking down, but the search pays dividends.

cornerstone

CORNERSTONE are a Wolverhampton duo comprised of Dave Lawrence and James Davey and Taxi Rank, the lead track off their Oh My Days EP, due for release later this month, was written some 25 years ago following Lawrence witnessing a crowd of people waiting for a taxi all ignoring a homeless man asking for change. The demo attracted label interest, but then circumstances changed and music was put on the back burner. A quarter of a century later, the pair have opted to give things another go, with proceeds going to local homeless charities.

Produced by Gavin Monaghan, who also plays keyboards, it’s firmly in the CSN&Y tradition of Americana with a thundering drum pattern augmented by violin and cello, a mood echoed on the other numbers with the violin and accordion accompanied tumbling melody of Riverside, the more urgent violin-driven, Laurel Canyon colours of the first kiss reminiscences of the changes-themed Oh My Days and the more acoustic and slightly psychedelic folk flavoured Sailing Ships, another song reflecting on the passing of childhood days. Here’s hoping it’s the foundation for a bigger building.

roots-and-branches.com 2017