Thursday, 26 September 2013

French Boutik – Ici Paris (2 x 7”)

Parisian lounge-mods further the “pop moderniste” sound on their second EP, a double 7” no less!

Following last year's Les Chats de Gouttière EP, Paris-based boy/girl band French Boutik get even groovier on their latest double 7” single. Ici Paris is an more assured and confident take on the mix of lounge, beat and mod-ish sounds that made the band's first EP so welcome and refreshing.

The five piece group, whose musical taste is as sharp as their clothes and haircuts, personify retro cool while documenting the trials and tribulations of la vie moderne. Their sound is rooted in the '60s, as best demonstrated on lead song Ici Paris, the first of three French language songs and a track which would sit easily on La Belle Epoque, EMI's compilation of '60s French girl singers.

Though my schoolboy knowledge of the French language has mostly faded from memory, the odd phrase or sentence cuts through. On Ici Paris vocalist Gabriela Giacoman sings of a tenant (and her cats) fighting against a greedy landlord and the soulless desires of city planners. This theme of the underdog is echoed on Facile, an uptempo floor-filler which rallies against big business.

Pousse Au Crime has a spy movie vibe about it with some neat organ and guitar chops. As on the band's last EP there's a token English language track for us non bilingual rosbif. Kinky Alumette tells a tale of trying to get to a band practise during a Paris Metro train strike. Groovy retro-pop done with flair and humour. As with the band's previous 7”, it's a lovingly designed and packaged affair, and well worth a spin on anyone's Dansette.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

The Band – Live At The Academy Of Music 1971

Stunning 5 disc edition of the Rock Of Ages /New Years Eve concerts. Remastered set captures The Band at their best and contains many unreleased tracks!

Levon Helm, Richard Manuel, Rick Danko, Garth Hudson and Robbie Robertson, collectively known as The Band, were the musician's musicians. With big name fans that included Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Elton John, Eric Clapton and countless others, The Band's reputation as the musicians was largely built on their first two albums, Music From Big Pink and the self-titled follow up. The Band played and pretty much defined Americana before the genre even existed, with the five man group being the epitome of musical brotherhood with their ego-less playing. They managed to mix country, blues, funk, folk and rock into music which sounded comforting and somehow old, (much welcomed in the USA, a country whose young men were away fighting in Vietnam), yet still managed to forge dynamic new ground.

(Click over the jump for more on The Band's Live At The Academy Of Music 1971)

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Richie Syrett – Good Morning Midnight

Mancunian Americana in the area! Great second album from Manchester based singer-songwriter.

It's heartening to find that while the major label struggle waiting for the next big thing, there's plenty of great grass roots and under the-radar-releases out there worthy of our attention. Such records that may not have the benefit of expensive ad campaigns, radio pluggers, and buy-in tour support slots, but rely solely on the quality of the music, a small but growing fan-base, and that all important word of mouth.

One such recent album is Good Night Midnight by Manchester's Richie Syrett. It has a lovely, warm homespun quality, was recorded on a shoestring budget with a simple sonic palette of Syrett's voice, acoustic and (minimal) electric guitar, bass, drums and occasional harmonica. Its songs and style are firmly rooted in the classicist American style of Jimmy Webb, Glen Campbell, et al, a bluesy meld of folk, country and storytelling.

Opening track “Wax On The Melt” borrows the chords from The Seahorses “Blinded By The Sun” before Syrett's voice comes in. And what a voice! To my ears the closest comparison would be Tim Buckley circa Happy Sad, a great tone with gentle swoops on the long held notes, with the song's words delivered sincerely. Thankfully he also has the songs to match it.

The album's Americanisms are deftly offset by some of the song's subject matter which take their inspiration from contemporary northern life in what we now call broken Britain. “Ten Past Ten” relates the sorry tale of sitting on public transport next to a tracksuit wearing lager drinker. “Stone In My Shoes” channels the spirit of Gram Parsons and casts its eye on downbeat, on-the-dole bohemia, subtly aided by the additional of some gentle pedal steel.

There are also some fine moments of introspection, not least on “Sway” a love song of sorts where Syrett reminisces of being fourteen with “big brother hand-me-downs and frayed jeans”. It's on this track where a little English folk creeps in with strings and some Nick Drake style finger picking. There's not really a bad track on this album, with each listen revealing more of the its lyrical strength. Well written songs, beautifully sung and arranged. What more could you want.

Click here for Richie Syrett's website.

Dwellers – Good Morning Harikari

Anyone for some top pedigree stoner grunge from Salt Lake City?

Dwellers are something of a supergroup in the Utah dark rock scene. (OK, I'm not sure such a thing exists but for the sake of this review let's go with it.) Joey Toscana (guitar and vocals for heavy rock outfit Iota) has teamed up with the rhythm section of dark-folk band Subrosa to form Dwellers. Their debut album Good Morning Harikari was recorded eighteen months ago but is only now getting its release on Small Stone Records. Dwellers' sound has its roots in the classic power trio format, though they've mixed in the grunge rock of Soundgarden, Nirvana et al, then stretched it out into something more progressive and meditative.

It's very much a guitar player's album, with only six songs, (though two of those clock in at over the ten minute mark), characterised by lengthy guitar solos, pentatonic riffing, and heavy use of wah-wah. The minimal lyrics tend to feature in the first half of the songs, sometimes re-appearing to towards the end, with each track dominated by ominous crushing riffs, the longer tracks containing less dense second sections where some space is let in and the band stretch out and let the music find it's own dynamic, building up or releasing the tension as the stoned groove dictates.

Opening track “Secret Revival” typifies this approach with its grungy riffs and thundering bass giving way to a four minute breakdown. Closely followed by “Black Bird” which breaks away from their signature sound with its use of slide guitar. They save the best track till last though, at ten minutes long “Old Honey” is, for my ears, the best offering. Pretty much built around one chord, its mystic appeal enhanced by vibraphone and layered intertwining guitars playing eastern scales. It slowly builds and builds before the guitar solo milks the wah-wah pedal's battery for all it's worth.

A special mention also for the album's cover painting which depicts the trio calmly sitting around a table as if waiting to be served breakfast despite the fact that their intestines are all hanging out and draped onto the table and floor. Unsettling maybe but it's once seen, never forgotten and doesn't come across as an afterthought like a lot of modern day sleeve art.

Kontiki Suite – On Sunset Lake

Laid back West Coast jangle, harmony, and good, good vibes courtesy of Cumbrian soft-country psychers.

As I write this we're at the tail-end of one of the wettest years on record. As welcome as an SAD lamp then comes this debut album from Kontiki Suite. A bumper thirteen tracks of Byrdsian jangle, late '60s folk-rock vocal harmony and West Coast haze. The last couple of weeks listening to this CD has saved me a fortune on tanning salon fees. The band's trademark sound harks back to a golden era Californian folk-rock when bands such as The Byrds and Buffalo Springfield ruled the roost, melodic country-ish songs over a soothing bed of strummed acoustic guitars, topped off by a shimmer of twelve-string electric arpeggios and subtle slide playing.

It's surprising to learn that the band weren't in fact formed on Sunset Strip in 1966, they actually hail from the decidedly less sunny English Lake District. For all the California dreaming the band's North-West roots are laid bare on the opening track 'Down By The Lake' where vocalist Ben Singh sings of his desire for domestic bliss aside “the lake.” A simple enough wish no doubt hampered by second homers pushing up house prices.

Conversely on 'Hollywood' Singh expresses a yearning to move in the exalted rock royalty circles of LA. Whether you prefer the Lake District or Laurel Canyon it's clear he has an undeniable ability of for writing strong songs, which the band tastefully flesh out. Dropping a couple of the less successful tracks might have made for a stronger, more coherent album, but there are some genuinely sublime tracks here – 'Magic Carpet Ride' is as much a modern day folk-rock gem as its title suggests, and 'Watching Over Me' would have happily graced an album from the Byrds' mid '60s purple patch. So if you fancy a little bit of winter sun without using your passport this is well worth checking out.

Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires – There Is A Bomb In Gilead

From the heart of Dixie, mixing southern rock, garage, country, soul and gospel in some righteous ragged songs.

There are certain record labels you can trust, such as Alive Natural Sounds. They've been releasing consistently good music for the best part of twenty years, usually by bands that make gritty yet accessible rock that has one foot in the past, yet also manages to point a way forward. They also have a good take on how to release them. As well as CD and digital formats they also do limited bespoke runs of coloured vinyl for most of their releases.

The latest band to get their break courtesy of Alive Natural Sound is Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires with their debut album There Is A Bomb In Gilead. (The title comes from Bains mishearing a hymn as a child, mistaking the word balm for bomb). Though there's nothing particularly new or ground breaking about this album, the mix of southern rock, garage, country, soul and gospel makes for an infectious brew. Sung and played with infectious fervour. It's not a million miles away from the music made by their old touring buddies Alabama Shakes.

The band's music is firmly rooted in the deep south, Bains having formed the band in Birmingham, Alabama, returning there after a spell at college in New York. After a few listens to the album, Bains' knack for storytelling and scene setting begins to shine through. Unlike a lot of more famous song writers he has something to say and he says it well, with a skilful turn of phrase. You get the impression he's one of life's good guys, like a more punky Bruce Springsteen. Take a listen to Righteous Ragged Songs and you'll see what I mean. “Say a prayer for punk rock and a prayer for me” sings Bains. With pleasure sir, 'tis done.

Click here for Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires' website.

Duncan Maitland – Lullabies For The 21st Century

Good old fashioned easy-on-the-ear pop, big on tunes and refreshingly low on cynicism.

Every once in a while a record comes along that may be out of step with current fashions, but is so well written and executed that it deserves a wider audience. This debut solo effort from Duncan Maitland is that sort of record. A shame that quite often such records fall through the cracks press-coverage wise, losing column inches to lesser-talented attention seekers.

Comprising of eleven songs, all with big catchy melodies, that hark back to a time when tunes were considered an essential part of a record's make-up. (Strange to think that melodies are now often an afterthought to a lot of today's song-smiths.) This album sounds to me like the latest addition to that peculiarly English or Anglophilic thread of music and songwriting that begins with McCartney's White Album contributions, continues with the melancholic baroque pop of The Bee Gees, and Gilbert O'Sullivan, through ELO's less bombastic moments, and continues with XTC and the adult-orientated pop of Crowded House and The High Llamas.

It's the early 70's sound that resonates most loudly throughout this set of songs. Real instruments well recorded with an analogue warmth, and treated with just the right amount of minimal effects make for an album that would sit nicely in your collection next to any of the artists mentioned above. The XTC comparison is particularly pertinent, with Maitland having previously contributed keyboards to their recordings, and also written songs with Andy Partridge. The artistic cross pollination is returned by XTC's Colin Moulding guesting on Maitland's album.

Highlights include the ascending “ba, ba, ba” backing vocals on Crash Position. (Jimmy Saville would have approved!), along with the fairground organ gone wrong intro of Horror Stories. There's even room for some Sinatra style crooning for album closer Insect Under The Stone. In truth there's not a bad track here, and though it may be a little too soft rock for some folk's tastes that would frankly be their loss.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Benjamin Folke Thomas - Debut Album, Tour + Free Track!

Harmonic Distortion faves, Trevor Moss & Hannah Lou have given us a heads up on the forthcoming album by Swedish folk-bluesman Benjamin Folke Thomas. The album's entitled Too Close To Here and is released on September 16th b y Bucketfull Of Brains Records. Along with a string of live dates to promote the record Benjamin is giving away a track from the album. Check out "I'm Alive" via the widget below.

Benjamin Folke Thomas’ debut album Too Close To Here is one of the most keenly awaited releases from London’s thriving folk & roots scene.

It is five years since Folke Thomas left the southern Swedish archipelagos to make his name on the London live circuit. He quickly found his feet; and his sound: An astonishing, explosive brand of Americana, delivered through supersonic guitar picking offsetting moody baritone vocals, like a cross between Robert Johnson and Warren Zevon.

Folke Thomas’s live ability has attracted a dedicated fan base and rave reviews, including Q Magazine (“stunning playing… his finger-picking is the best you will ever hear”) and The Guardian (“stands out like Oliver Reed at an AA meeting”). In an attempt to capture his talent on record, cult-label Bucketfull Of Brains released the eponymously titled EP in 2010, described by the Sunday Times as “a convincing calling card…reminiscent of Greenwich Village circa 1965.”

Tours followed (including support slots for with folk duo Trevor Moss & Hannah Lou and a.h.a.b.) and a string of festival appearances including Glastonbury, Green Man, Larmer Tree and No Direction Home.

Growing acclaim led to interest from high-profile music charity Strummerville (instrumental in the careers of many established musicians including Bastille, Anna Calvi and Frank Turner), who in 2012 organised the release of the showcase live album “Equinox…Live at the Hawley Arms”.

In 2012 Folke Thomas toured in the UK, Spain and Texas and received widespread radio play. Too Close To Here is set for release by Bucketfull Of Brains/Proper Music in September 2013.

Tour Dates -

13th The Green Berry, Deal
14th The Crown, Leytonstone, London
15th The Bell, Bath (1pm show)
15th The Old Queens Head, Islington, London (evening show)
16th The Railway Hotel, Southend
17th The Railway, Winchester

18th West End Centre, Aldershot
19th The Borderline, London (Supporting AHAB)

The Movements - The Death Of John Hall D.Y. 7"

Fantastic new 7" from Swedish psych rockers. Released on September 27th on Crusher Records.

My latest jam/earworm (or whatever they're calling them now) is the forthcoming single by Swedish pysch rock band The Movements. "The Death Of John Hall D.Y." has a heavy mid to late '60s folk-rock vibe, slightly borrows its ascending melody and feel from The Byrds "Eight Miles High" and injects a majestic sense of melodrama and sumptuous vocal harmonies.

It's a definite movement (see what I did there?) for the band, away from their garage rock roots, towards something grander, more ambitious. As a taster for the forthcoming 2 albums (yes 2!) it bodes well. Like Elephants 1 is released later this year, with Like Elephants 2 coming early next year. Do investigate!

The Movements are - David Henriksson - Vocals, Gustaf Gimstedt - Keyboards, Christian "Krita" Johansson - Guitar,  Daniel "Dolly" Petersson - Bass, Thomas Widholm - Drums.

Band photo by Anders Bergstedt.

Monday, 9 September 2013

Ape Skull - Ape Skull

Organic classic rock gets a new lease of life courtesy of Italy's Ape Skull.

“Rock is dead they say. Long Live Rock!” - That's what The Who reckoned way back in the early 70s, and those eight words carry a lot of truth. What can now be seen as a musical form reaching its peak with the emergence of heavy blues based rock played with virtuosity by power trios, also signalled the moment just before the rot set in. But it's the last three words that also point to a hopeful future. We have the form down, now take that and give it a function.

Italy's Ape Skull play heavy rock music that has little to do with any music developments since 1974 but that's not the point. What they do is take the blueprint of warmly cranked up amps and groovy hard rock and have fun with it. Let's be honest there's plenty of modern day rock bands that are stifled by the pressure of adding something to the form. Personally I'd rather hear something that comes from the heart and has a bit of soul as opposed to something hampered by an obligation to progression.

Ape Skull's self-titled debut album recalls the golden age of the power trio format, channelling echoes of Cream, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Free, Led Zeppelin, Blue Cheer et al. It's hard acid rock with a soulful groove, and would be more at home on the free festival circuit of the late 60s/early 70s than on any modern day beer-sponsored stage. Not afraid of sitting on the groove or taking an extended guitar solo, this is rock music you can boogie to. unpretentious, unhinged and a whole lotta fun.