record reviews june 2016


Black Feathers (DME)


The musical name of Danish singer-songwriter Sara Lewis, the sound of her debut album has been dubbed Nordic Noir, a dark, brooding acoustic based, sometimes otherworldly affair based around her melancholic croon, sometimes sprinkled with eletronic sounds and skittering beats. Lyrically too it lives in the shadows with lines about loss, death, the unknown, occasionally punctuated with a flash of love and light. Patti Smith is an occasional reference point, especially on the more sonically muscular numbers Cave. We’ve Said Enough and Into Your Love while the seven minute rumble of Choose and the pulsing strings Riverstone sport Nick Cave resonances. There’s alt-folk colours here and there, notably with album opener The Dirt while pop sensibilities are evident on Lights On and the album closes on a relatively lighter acoustic note with the rippling, cobwebby Home. We will, I suspect, be hearing quite a bit about her in the coming months.

Mike Davies


Good Times! (Rhino)


The first new album in almost 20 years sounds as though it might have come from their heyday, and with good reason. Several of the tracks were actually written and recorded, though never finished, during the 60s, and were finally completed for this 50th anniversary release. The title track , which serves as the opener, was written by Harry Nilsson and recorded with Mike Nesmith in 1968. Now featuring Nilsson’s original guide vocal with distinctive new vocals by Mickey Dolenz, it sounds like a vintage Monkees number, not least because it shares a melodic kinship with Last Train To Clarkesville. Elsewhere, other resurrected tracks include the Jeff Barry/Joey Levine-penned Gotta Give It Time (featuring Al Gorgoni on guitar), a slow paced cover of the Goffin-King classic Wasn’t Born To Follow (best known for The Byrds version) with Peter Tork on lead vocal (and, in fact the only Monkee featured) and, featuring Tork, Dolenz and the late Davy Jones, Love To Love, a number that, even if you don’t read the credits, you immediately know was written by Neil Diamond.

The other tracks are all new recordings, four of them all featuring the three surviving members, including Whatever’s Right by Boyce and Hart and sounding just like the stuff they wrote for the band back when. There’s some unlikely names providing the new material too. XTC’s Andy Patridge contributes You Bring The Summer (which sounds like you’d expect from the title), Rivers Cuomo from Weezer provides the tinkling cascade She Makes Me Laugh, Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben Gibbard wrote the gentle ocean breeze ballad Me & Magdalena on which Nesmith and Dolenz share vocals, while Fountain of Wayne’s Adam Schlesinger not only wrote the bouncy vaudeville-like Our Own World, but also plays on several of the tracks. The most unlikely credit though comes from Noel Gallagher and Paul Weller who joined forces for the shifting psych-rock Birth Of An Accidental Hipster a blend ofthe acid daze of the Beatles and Beach Boys(complete with another splash of vaudeville piano) featuring Nesmith Dolenz and his daughter Coco on the layered harmonies.

Of the remaining tracks, Tork wrote and features on the strummed folksy shuffle Little Girl, Dolenz and Schlesinger share credits on the Lennonesque party stomp I Was There (And I’m Told I Had A Good Time), while, Schlesinger on piano and chamberlain, Nesmith sings his own dreamy show-tune styled ballad I Know What I Know. Quite rightly, there’s no attempt to reinvent the sound that, at its height, rivalled Beatlemania, leaving you with an album that is both nostalgic and timeless, but also feels as fresh and innocent as when they first burst on the scene.

Mike Davies


Maps (Harbour Song)

king h

The spoken opening track, Howl, delivered by Mike Watt of The Stooges like something of out the American Gothic tradition, leads you to expect some sort of desert noir Americana. What you get from Halifax-born Ben Adey and his sessioneer collaborators is a cocktail of retro rock and pop that, on many an occasion, most notably When It Stops and Dream, calls to mind Thin Lizzy. It’s punchy but melodic, driving through solid blues rock with This Town yet also nodding to 70s West Coast influences on Unstuck and, on The Night and Diana, even touches of Hall & Oates and Steve Winwood, respectively. It’s not all heads down and sweat, the band doing a confident line in softer rock and ballads, as with the country-rock shades of Roads, the Steve Miller influenced Morning Light, the chugging While I’m High with its soul backing harmonies and, despite the suggestions of the title, the acoustic delicacy of Bloodsport, while album closer Constant Reminder as an almost Isleys/Stevie Wonder groove.

At 14 tracks, they may be trying too hard to show their wide range of musical styles and influences, but there’s no denying that Adey has both the ambition and the talent to carry it off.

Mike Davies


Just Crazy Enough (Dave Stewart Entertainment)


Formed by the four Holbrook sisters, Sarah, Hannah, Eva and Liza, and produced and released by Dave Stewart, the Nashville-based Colorado quartet mingle folk, indie and pop to often enchanting effect, setting out their stall with the breathily-sung dreamily melodic strings and piano of Is The Doctor In Today. Having said, that they instantly chop things around with the bass throbbing, nervy spooked pulsing You Could Be My Baby while Rooftop is a summery part a capelladoo wop soul number featuring Eva on beat-boxing Rooftop.

Elsewhere, Lost As Anyone is all gossamer and cobwebs, Moonshine Hill a newgrass stomp underpinned by Hannah’s bass and Stronger Than My Fears a finger picked acoustic ballad laced with electronics and background African tribal-like chants. The centrepiece, though, has to be their rework of Metallica’s Enter Sandman, substituting the heavy gloom for plucked violin, sparse percussion, tinkling keys to evoke a dark fairyworld mood. Worth going crazy over.

Mike Davies


Emma King (Great British Songwriting)


She comes from Kinsgton-Upon-Hull, but her musical roots lie very much across the Atlantic, most particularly in southern R&B and soul, her part self-produced and independently released new album kicking off with the Sheryl Crow vibe of Devil City before sliding into the bluesy soul of All The Other Fools where she recalls Christine McVie in her Chicken Shack days while there’s also 60s soul colours to the choppier Now We Get Away, Rollin’ In and the orchestrally arranged ballad belter Over & Out.

She started out in more of a country vein and that remains evident here on the country-soul piano ballad Baby You Don’t Mean Nothing with its Stevie Nicks hints, the early Taylor Swift shades of the country-pop soarer (Let’s Hope) Tomorrow Is A Better Day and the Tom Petty meets Fleetwood Mac feel of You Like Awake. Likely to find a bigger audience in America than here, perhaps, but, even so, after early career setbacks this is an auspicious relaunch.

Mike Davies 2020