Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Brent Cash - A New High

 (This review first appeared in issue #63 of Shindig! magazine.)
Marina CD / LP

There was a wave of song-crafters from the mid '60s, influenced by Brill Building classicism, who further pushed the possibilities of what a pop song could be. Burt Bacharach, Brian Wilson and Jimmy Webb being just three examples of writers that added sophistication, sly subversion and progressive optimism into pop. Georgia's Brent Cash is the latest name in this lineage, back after a five year hiatus with his third and strongest LP to date. Bar the strings Cash plays every instrument on the record.

It's oddly fitting that the album's title track references Richard Nixon, whose political demise roughly coincided with the end of sunshine pop's time in the sun. Here earworm melodies sit atop obliquely shifting piano chords and inventive arrangements. Beneath the light and breezy soft-pop feel lies some serious alchemy. Cash has created a sound that both pays tribute to his forerunners and adds new depth. Dig the new breed.

The Hardy Tree - Through Passages Of Time

(This review first appeared in issue #63 of Shindig! magazine.)

Clay Pipe Music LP

As London town continues to morph ever more rapidly into structures of steel and glass, the ghosts and echoes of its past are still there for those prepared to listen. That's the thinking behind this album from Clay Pipe Music's founder Frances Castle. With a palette of Mellotron, vibes, sequenced Moogs and viola courtesy of The Left Outsides' Alison Cotton, The Hardy Tree paint a musical elegy to the Smoke's lost landmarks, both big and small.

Interspersed with recordings of market street hawkers, running water, church bells, creaking doors and the sound of building work, this collection of instrumental pieces is uniquely affecting and owes a lot to music made for music for schools and colleges TV programmes in the 1970s. Imagine Nick Drake trying his hand at strange, spooky electronica. Hauntological library music that will have you falling in love with the city and its history all over again. 

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Super Dooper Love: Mainstream Hits & Rarities 1973-76

(This review first appeared in issue #63 of Shindig! magazine.)

Ace CD

New York in the '70s may have been a city on the verge of financial meltdown but judging by this 24-track compilation its soul scene was in rude health. Mainstream Records started out as a jazz label but by the mid '70s focused almost exclusively on soul, with a roster that included big name signings (The Dramatics, Little Richard), established R&B names from the '60s (Doris Duke, Lenny Welch, Freddie Scott) alongside less well-known singers and groups.

Highlights include the slinky and seductive 'The Lonely One' by Special Delivery Feat. Terry Huff, pentatonic bass riffs on '(I'm Your) Friendly Neighbourhood Freak Pt 1' by Calvin Arnold, and the strings 'n' funk mix on Doris Duke's 'Business Deal'. You'll also find vocal harmony groups, proto-disco, Afrobeat and woman-to-woman style talked vocals. Not everything here is killer but you'll be hard pushed to find a collection that better encapsulates the time, place and spirit.

Monday, 24 July 2017

Nick Piunti - Beyond The Static

(This review first appeared in issue #63 of Shindig! magazine.)

Sugarbush LP

Not strictly a new release, but this 2015 album by Detroit's Nick Piunti gets its debut on limited blue vinyl. For those uninitiated the former Respectables front man is one of the leading exponents of guitar-driven, uptempo, melodic pop. Put simply this is top notch power pop. Twelve tracks with not a duffer among them. Aside from his knack for boss tunes Piunti can also turn out neat, sharply barbed lyrics - “She's in six bands, none of them good”, or “while I'm burning both ends, you're just fanning the flames” delivered by his slightly raspy vocals. A little lyrical sourness to offset the sweet melodies.

Detractors may say there's no new surprises with Piunti staying well within the parameters of the genre. But if you do something this well, why change? Fans of Red Kross, Nick Lowe and Silver Sun need to get on this. Let's party like it's 1979!

Ronee Blakley - Ronee Blakley

(This review first appeared in issue #63 of Shindig! magazine.)

Man In The Moon CD

Although best known as an actress with a resume that includes roles in Robert Altman's Nashville and Dylan's Renaldo And Clara, Ronee Blakley's parallel singing career generated some fine records, not least her eponymous 1972 debut for Elektra Records. With a predominate slant towards country music, it's a record that's stood the test of time, and still sounds fresh mainly due to Blakley's pure, crystalline voice and the musicianship of her assembled session players.

Alongside the country tracks are more introspective, piano-led songs ('Attachment', 'Graduation Tune') which compare favourably to those released by Blakley's friend and contemporary Joni Mitchell. Also of note is 'Fred Hampton', a protest song about the death of the Black Panther, shot by Illinois police at the age of 21.

Poor sales meant there would be no more records for Elektra though Blakley recorded a 2nd LP for Warner Brothers and continues to self-release music via her website.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Anton Barbeau - Heaven Is In Your Mind (Ltd. col. 7")

Four song 7” from your favourite pre-apocalyptic psychedelic popster!

I've written about the music of Anton Barbeau before on a sadly now defunct website, his Empire Of Potential LP being something of a delight and a great entry point into his work. With that in mind it's good to know that since re-locating from Cambridge to Berlin he's still coming up with the goods musically. His latest single on the ever reliable Fruits de Mer label is a four song affair, sixteen minutes of music on one coloured 7” (nice work by the cutting engineer!)

The bad news is there's only one Barbeau-penned track here – 'Secretion Of The Wafer' is melodic, elegant, driven by synthy swells and sparse piano notes, and full of sphinx-like mystery. The musical equivalent of a Buddhist koan.

To say that's bad news is misleading as the the rest of the single is made up of three very enyoyable (and brave) covers. Traffic's 'Heaven Is In Your Mind' being the title track of along with versions of Big Star's 'September Gurls' and David Bowie's 'Scary Monsters'.

This blue or yellow vinyl only set is released on July 24th but if you want more Anton Barbeau head to Fruits de Mer's annual three-day summer festival in Wales where Mr. Barbeau will be playing a solo set. The 15th Dream of Dr. Sardonicus runs over the weekend of August 4th-6th in Cardigan. Visit the Fruits de Mer website for more info.

Click here for the Fruits de Mer website.
Click here for more on Anton Barbeau.

Cyanna Mercury - Archetypes

Athens based Cyanna Mercury debut LP gets vinyl release plus new video!

Here at Harmonic Distortion we've followed Cyanna Mercury since their first self-released single 'Ode To The Absent Father' back in 2014. Since then the band have gone from strength to strength getting better with each release and have recently released their debut long-player. Archetypes fuses western psych-rock vibes with eastern scales and dynamics. I think you'll like it. Oh and the band have some tour dates coming up. Check out their website for full details.

I'll resist from giving a track by track breakdown and just let the music speak for itself, check out the album via the embedded Bandcamp player below. The album is available digitally and on CD, as well as on very desirable gatefold 12” vinyl. Yes indeedy! For the more visually-inclined there's also a new video for the track 'Nothing We Can Do'. Sit back, turn it up and enjoy!

Click here for Cyanna Mercury's website.
Click here vinyl goodies from Cyanna Mercury's Bandcamp page.