Sunday, 23 December 2012

Meg Baird - Seasons On Earth

Second solo album from founder member of Espers. A master-class of intimate and timeless, acoustic folk.

Philadelphia based songstress and founder member of psych-folkers Espers, Meg Baird releases her 2nd solo album Seasons On Earth. As the title suggests there's a back to nature feel to this collection of intimate folk based songs, with song titles including Stream, The Land Turned Over, Even Rain and Stars Climb Up The Vine. Unaffected by current musical fashions, the closest reference points are the Brit-led folk boom of the 1960's, Sandy Denny, Pentangle, and Island Records' 70's folk output. That's not to say it's nostalgic or an exercise in faux retro acid-folk, it's anything but; there's a authentic timelessness to the record, perhaps due in part to the fact that her family has deep roots in American folk music.

The acoustic guitar playing is confident and intricate, with autumnal open tunings that Nick Drake would be proud of. There's a feeling that any number of the eight original compositions on here could become standards such is the strength of the songwriting. Added to this are two interesting choices of covers. The first being a sublime reading of Mark Almond Band's Friends, the second being The House Of Love's Beatles And The Stones. (I never did understand the line about putting the V in Vietnam but it doesn't seem to matter here). Though overall the record has a sparse sound there are added instrumental embellishments of parsimonious electric guitar, harp and tasteful pedal steel. A perfect listen as the autumn nights draw in.

Click here for Meg Baird's website.

Hyde & Beast - Slow Down

Drummers of the world unite and take over. Sunderland rock royalty join forces for some gentle psychedelia.

Let's face it, in rock history there's a fair number of bands in which the drummer was the coolest member – Meg White, Charlie Watts, The Band's Levon Helm. Hell, even Ringo was the most engaging raconteur on the Beatles Anthology mega-fest from a few years ago. So when the drummers from two of the north east's most respected bands decided make an album together the result should be well worthy of attention. And so it is with Slow Down, the resulting album made by Dave Hyde (from The Futureheads) and Neil Bassett aka Beast (formerly of The Golden Virgins).

The album title perhaps referencing the difference in tempo between the material here and the more up-tempo offerings of their other/previous bands. Rather than being a percussion-heavy indulgence, the pair have instead produced a laid-back, experimental and fun set of simple, 3-chord songs completely at odds with any current trends. In fact they owe more to the late 60's, early 70's proto glam of T-Rex, and the homespun, feet-finding recordings of Paul McCartney's first solo album McCartney

Click over the jump for more on Slow Down.

Remi Kabaka – Black Goddess OST

Long out of print soundtrack of experimental afro-jazz from 1978. A fine vintage!

Black Goddess is a 1978 movie written and directed by legendary Nigerian director Ola Balogun. The soundtrack music is getting a stand alone release courtesy of the good folks at Soundway Records.

So how does the soundtrack stand up on its own without the accompanying visuals? Pretty well actually. Comprising of six extended instrumentals, all composed by one of Nigeria's top session musicians of the day, Remi Kabaka, it opens with “Brothers and Sisters”, a chirpy, clavichord driven groove with a jazzy sax solo.

The album really hits its stride though with the following track “The Quest”. Beginning with a plaintive and searching saxophone before the rest of the band join in. Although the band only comprises of four members there's plenty going on within the track's tight, repetitive polyrhythmic grooves; african drums, bass and keys all locking in tightly to provide a bedrock for the sax to take full flight.

“Slave March” contains a sadness and slower tempo that its title suggests, with call and response keys over a taut and popping bass line. Title track and album highpoint “Black Goddess” contains a siren-like swing atop tribal drums, with both tenor and soprano sax providing soaring solos.

“The Quest (Piano solo)” reprises the earlier tune on ghostly electric piano, before the percussive album closer “The Warrior” lets the talking drums have the final word.

The Stepkids - The Stepkids

Funky times are here again! Awesome retro tinged psych-soul from Connecticut three-piece.

As our hunger for all things authentic and soulful continues it's only a matter of time before the soul revival gets around to re-visiting the era when when soul met psych. And that's what The Stepkids are serving up here on their delightfully funky debut album. Hot on the heels of a series of limited 12” vinyl releases, the Connecticut three-piece's self titled album conjures up sounds reminiscent of post Monterey soul, think The Temptations, Shuggie Otis, Funkadelic and Rotary Connection. Though there's more to it than that; a willingness to experiment, some exquisite baroque touches, along with sunshine pop harmonies.

Recorded on analogue tape much like the records in their collections, the album begins with fittingly titled Intro, a slow 'n' swampy soul gumbo worthy of Dr. John. Distant vocals appear out of the mist over a spacey bass, conga and slide guitar before the track nicely leads into the more urbane Brain Ninja. This sounds like the theme to some long lost 70's cop show, a deliciously daft song complete with wah wah guitar, alternating falsetto, tenor and bass vocals. It lives up to its title as I've not been able to get it out of my head since first hearing it. There's a video online which despite owing much to the Beastie Boys' Sabotage video is worth a look. 

Click over the jump for more on The Stepkids.

Thee American Revolution - Buddha Electrostorm

Primitive garage stompers fly their freak flag high. Re-release of 2009 LP with bonus tracks and fresh packaging.

Originally released in 2009 by Garden Gate/Elephant 6 Recordings Co., Buddha Electrostorm is getting an worthy re-release on Fire Records complete with an extra track. Thee American Revolution is the musical pairing of Robert Schneider (Apples In Stereo) and his brother-in-law, fellow psychedelic adventurer Craig Morris (Ideal Free Distribution). Though there's credit given by the duo to the input of one “William Shears”, a British musician of supposedly 60's pedigree. Though I get the feeling this could be a ruse to create interest and mystery. Let's not forget Billy Shears is a name used on Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. There's also the conspiracy theory that Paul McCartney died in 1966 and was replaced by a Canadian policeman named William Shears Campbell. Whoever Mr. Shears is, his influence is evidently a good thing as a quick listen will prove.

There's a clue as to their sound by the seemingly obligatory “Thee” as opposed to “The”, a long standing garage band tradition. The album is an American take on the brasher end of the 60's British Invasion, with bands such as The Who, early Kinks and The Troggs providing the template for their roughly hewn garage rock. The three chord riff from Wild Thing gets a makeover on several of the tracks, a difficult thing to pull off without sounding tired and jaded but they manage it, aided by a sprinkling of lysergic psych-pop. It's an album that's heavy on the fuzz and wah-wah pedals, has more hooks than you local fishing tackle shop and rocks like a mutha. Revolting in the best possible way.

Booker T. Jones - The Road From Memphis

60's legend, aided by some famous pals, in fine return to form.

Back in the 60's when soul music rivalled The Beatles in terms of world and chart domination, two record labels both had very convincing claims to rule the soul roost, each boasting an in-house recording studio and house band. The first of these was Berry Gordy's Motown, a production line set-up with a string of solo vocalists and vocal groups, smoothly groomed for pop stardom, their music aimed at both a black and white audience. The hidden, faceless, in-house studio band became known as The Funk Brothers.

Deep down south in Memphis, Stax Records put together an altogether grittier soulful groove. During the time of the civil rights movement, the label staff along with the in-house studio band were progressively mixed race. The house band at Stax was Booker T. And The MG's, led by organist Booker T. Jones. The MG's line-up was completed by bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn, guitarist Steve Cropper, and drummer par excellence Alan Jackson Jr. (Who died in tragic circumstances in 1975). Together this super tight unit provided the backing on literally hundreds of soul tracks for singers such as Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Sam and Dave, The Staple Singers, and Johnnie Taylor. On top of this the group also managed to find the time to make hit records of their own, perhaps the best known of which is the classic “Green Onions”. 

Click over the jump for more on The Road To Memphis.

Thee Attacks - That's Mister Attack To You

Gettin' feisty with Denmark's latest contenders for the garage rock crown.

If you want that authentic 60's beat and garage sound there's a couple of places in Europe you could go, the best choice by far being Liam Watson's Toe Rag Studios. That's where Denmark's gutsy retro-rockers Thee Attacks chose to record their debut album. And for those who care about these things (and you should) it's in punch-packing mono.

The band's sound unashamedly harks back to the early to mid 1960's proto-mod and Brit group R & B. Think pills, think sharp dressed youths, think ripped-speaker rawness. Think live bands at Liverpool's Cavern or Hamburg's Star Club or Kaiserkeller. The closest comparison musically would be The Who or more specifically The Detours or The High Numbers. With no room for introspection and highfaluting concepts, this is music for letting off steam to, music for dancing all night to, music that's stripped back to basics, no sloppy jamming, or extraneous polishing, just tight up-tempo songs played with energy and ruck inducing attitude. It's refreshingly unpretentious and well executed.

The band will be back on UK shores for some live dates early next year, until then this LP will do nicely.

Click here for Thee Attacks' website.

Monday, 10 December 2012

DC Fontana - Pentagram Man

DC Fontana return with a brand new maxi EP (or mini LP?) New songs, new singer, new sounds!

A little over a year ago I had the reviewed DC Fontana's previous release La Contessa, an accomplished, kitschy take on freakbeat, ye-ye, and R&B-tinged '60s pop. As fine as that LP was, it was still something of a revelation to hear
the latest offering. Gone is the foreign language pop, along with vocalists Karla Milton and Kicca Andriollo. In their place comes new vocalist Louise Turner, and five new songs that show the band in fresh light. They can still knock out great catchy pop tunes but there's also some pleasingly diverse tangents as the band flirt with folk, jazz, prog and even ambient, experimental music. A shorter record than La Contessa it may be, but it packs as big a punch.

The new recordings are topped and tailed by two versions of the title track Pentagram Man, firstly featuring new vocalist Louise Turner, latterly with vocals from ex-Sorrows vocalist Don Fardon. Whichever version you choose it's an irresistible piece of music beginning with sampled dialogue I'm guessing is Aleister Crowley before the music kicks in – heavy organ, biting lead guitar, rolling baggy beat with nifty bass lines holding it all together. With the chorus' chord sequence borrowed from Sympathy For The Devil, the Fontanas still have a foot in the retro camp but they've steered away from total homage towards something that's more their own.

It's this new found confidence that's all over the EP. Following song DevilAngel is a pop soul classic, the band re-inventing Spector's wall-of-sound over a Tamla beat. What Would It Take? Sees them venture into finger-picked acoustic loveliness, though there's still room for sonic invention – listen closely and you'll hear some backwards guitars, an accordian, along with a Bryter Layter style flute solo.

Keyboardist Scott Riley takes over the lead vocal duties on Satisfied (Part One) for a more bluesy, jazzy vibe. There's more of a band feel to this song, at times sparsely backed they feel their way through it letting the song's own dynamic push the playing as it progresses. It's easy to see why this is a live favourite. It's on the next track where the biggest sonic leaps have been made. Sighed DC is a lengthy experimental sound collage that wouldn't have been out of place on Screamadelica. Dubby, trippy, ambient and atmospheric. Perfect for watching the sunrise after having stayed up all night. It would be nice to think DC Fontana might explore their experimental side more in the future if the results are as good as this.

All tracks are produced by long time Julian Cope associate, Donald Ross Skinner. (Bizarrely I once gave him and the group Prolapse a lift to a gig in Bristol but that's a story I'll save for another time.) As always the band have made a great film to accompany their music, do yourself a favour and click over the jump to check it out.

Click here for DC Fontana's website.