Jo Ash : Constellations, LP released October 2018

Jo Ash is a singer and keyboard player from Ely, releasing her first LP of self-penned compositions. It is an album of introspection, intensity, imagination and above all of confident, well-structured song writing.

The first two tracks have a broad cosmological theme as referred to in the album title, with ‘Otherworldly’ a strong opener to the collection with its orchestral introduction before the acoustic piano and voice drive the song and lift its haunting chorus. Jo’s piano style is rich and compelling on many of these tracks, on ‘4D Journey’ it adorns a stealthy synthesiser bass pulse and another arresting chorus.
If the album generally tends towards slower tempos, in contrast the spirited ‘Story Behind Your Smile’ dances along briskly, ably supported by guesting guitar, bass and drums.

‘Adrift’ and ‘I See You’ are stately ballads where Jo gives full range to her clear, pure voice. ‘Her Eternity’ is a waltz led by some darker piano textures and tempo changes. ‘Smoke And Mirrors’ is a progrockish concoction with marching orchestra, spiky strings and a complex many-section arrangement.

‘Embers’ is a favourite of mine; with minimal piano and backing voices it still achieves a lush, emotive sound and it features one of Jo’s best vocals. ‘Blue Heart’ uses the repeating waltz rhythm of the echoing piano to great effect to counterpoint the abstract sentiments of the words.

For the final song a foreboding drum beat underpins a dark lyric musing on the inevitability of time passing and the idea that we only have ‘30,000 Days’ of life? The sombre chorus drives the song, ‘…here I am walking this Earth….’.
It is an unusual and haunting end to an impressive debut album.

http://joashmusic.com/

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The Nightingales, Portland Arms, Cambridge, 4 October 2018

A long ago sold-out evening at the Portland started with Near Jazz Experience playing a set that explored the seemingly limitless possibilities of a jazz trio; with drums and hefty electric bass providing the foundation for multi-instrumentalist Terry Edwards, mainly on saxophone (sometimes two at once!), melodica and pocket trumpet. Together they produced a super-tight rhythm driven sound varying from complex up-tempo pieces to the more wistful new single ‘Afloat’. The audience were happy to join the celebration of their addictive sound by playing along with percussion shakers (which I think were mostly handed back at the end…)

There was a time when a music line-up would often feature a comedian or poet (John Cooper Clark, Attila the Stockbroker, John Shuttleworth et al) and The Nightingales have maintained this tradition for their shows; on this tour it was cult legend Stewart Lee performing a relaxed and hilarious 20 minute act drawn from some of his 1988 club routines. Much-loved and appreciated, he certainly made his mark and left the audience wanting more!

The Nightingales continue to be a formidable live attraction with an energy and commitment that doesn’t diminish with time. Tonight playing an hour of continuous songs with no let-up for audience interaction or appreciation; it was a fully immersive experience. They have an immense back catalogue to draw on but also still release new material with album ‘Perish The Thought’ just out and featured single ‘Chaff’ being one of the highlights tonight.
Dynamically supported by spiky guitar and incisive bass and the superlative drumming and duelling vocal from Fliss Kitson, the lyrics and vocal demands of founder member Robert Lloyd draw you into their special and unique world. A a bit like listening to the late Mark E Smith, it is an onslaught on the senses. From the noise fuzz of ‘Real Gone Daddy’ to the punching art-rock of ‘Best of British Luck’ and the timeless sentiment of relative oldie ‘Company Man’, tonight showed that the Nightingales continue to push against the barriers.

https://thenightingales.org.uk/
http://www.stewartlee.co.uk/
https://en-gb.facebook.com/NearJazzExperience/

Teleman, Epic Studios, Norwich, 30 September 2018

As part of a tour to promote their excellent third album, London quartet Teleman raised the pulses of their many devoted fans in Norwich (and those who had travelled from Cambridge…).

Support act C.A.R. (the performing name of Chloé Raunet) plays electronic soundscapes where a pulsing bass line underpins her hypnotic vocals and synthesiser lines. Singing in French for ‘La petite fille du 3ème’ added a haunting sixties texture to the sound. An impressive set, well appreciated by the audience.

As the stage was set up to the accompaniment of disturbing mixes of white noise and film soundtracks (2001, The Blob(!) et al) and the LED backdrop glowed with random lightning flashes we were wondering how the current Teleman live sound would reflect the new recordings. Straight in with one of my favourites ‘Strange Combinations’, inexplicably not on any album, but showcasing many of the elements that make the band so compulsive.
New song ‘Cactus’ also does this, with a deep synth riff that drives the song to its loud conclusion, given extra potency when the bass guitar thunders in to add an extra layer.

‘Fun Destruction’ has some great retro synthesiser settings too, while the surreal narrative of title track ‘Family Of Aliens’ is strangely evocative. ‘Submarine Life’ features a vocoder vocal with the funkiest bassline of the evening and the foreboding gothic mood of ‘Fall In Time’ unravels and unnerves like a Hammer Horror. ‘Song For A Seagull’ has a lovely melody and lyric and ‘Twisted Heart’ is a good poppy blast with a hookline chorus that sticks in the mind. To finish the main set fan favourite the mighty ‘Düsseldorf’ pushes all before it. For the encore we had relative oldies ‘Christina’ and modern-life list song ‘Not In Control’ and then it was all over, the time had flown by.

This was the 5th time I had seen the band since 2014; in each show the sound has evolved subtly in many directions and it is always fascinating to watch how the musical contributions of the four players gel so well together. They now have so many strong tracks that some favourites get left out of the set but tonight showed that Teleman are on fantastic form.

https://www.telemanmusic.com/
http://www.c-a-r-music.com/

Elma, Portland Arms, Cambridge, 27 September, 2018

This was the album launch for ‘Dreamland’, the debut long-player from sixties revivalists Elma. With the Portland already nearly full, Fragile Lives (aka Sandy Mill and newly solo) performed a short well-received set of very personal own compositions, mostly with acoustic guitar and a bit of experimental looping.
Chris Fox has more folky roots, and coaxed a whispering, bluegrass sound from his acoustic. As a devoted fan of John Martyn, rather than performing a cover he has written an excellent song in the style of the late, great performer. New single ‘Bird Of Paradise’ is a soothing taster of a forthcoming third album and ‘Pirates’ imaginatively stretched the boundaries of his set. His fine songs, relaxed delivery and skilled musicianship easily won over the supportive audience.

The evening belonged to Elma, with the long awaited release of their album (full review here https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/2018/08/23/elma-dreamland-lp-released-september-2018/).

This was a real showcase for their music, usually performed as a duo but this time with eight players on the Portland stage for the stomping opener ‘California’. The timeless sixties sound was made full by a three piece brass section, two semi-acoustic guitars and a solid backline featuring album producer Chris Pepper on drums. Mark Ellis’s guitar moved effortlessly between styles, as Ellie Gillett’s vocals sailed above, especially on the exuberant but melancholy ‘Slo-Mo’ and the lounge jazz of ‘All I Want’.

The heartbreaking showstopper ‘Butterfingers’ was balanced by the optimistic blast of ‘On My Way’ and two new songs made an appearance too. The audience of many friends and followers (and musical collaborator Boo Hewerdine) were behind the band all the way, it was an evening of genuine celebration.
The finale was appropriately ‘September’ and what an excellent song that is (I love that middle eight!).
A short encore ended with Mark and Ellie performing ‘Over The Rainbow’, which fitted in well as a reminder of the talents of the core duo of tonight’s unforgettable ensemble.

https://www.facebook.com/elmaband/

Ember Rev : Premonition And Ruin, LP released Summer 2018

Cambridge four-piece Ember Rev are currently finalising their third LP, but this excellent previous release from early summer this year is well worth considering first. It is a concept album inspired by the state of the nation, with a feel of reflective and thoughtful protest.

1. Bring It Right Down Based on overheard conversations during train journeys by band leader Dan Ecclestone he has distilled the sentiments and current attitudes to political developments into a disruptive, edgy opus of powerful and personal imagery. The instrumental spikes are partly tempered by the rocking accordion of Chris Peckham and Dan’s vocals remind me of Tom Robinson at his protesting finest.

2. The Fear Another track where you can’t quite pin down the time signature this one broods into a descending guitar figure and hookline of paranoia and warning. There is a good featured voice contribution from Romy Gensale too.

3. Something Almost Imperceptible Relaxing acoustic instrumental passage with guitar arpeggios, glockenspiel and piano but with a sense of foreboding threading through. It is like something from an early gothic/pastoral Genesis album (eg Trespass)

4. Papillon The title is a reference to a quotation from Alexander Pope;’Who breaks a butterfly upon a wheel?’ and famously referenced when Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were given a prison sentence in 1967. Mix those allusions in with a stately strolling accordion rhythm, loping bass, spacious drumming then suddenly a huge chorus crashes in. The pensive, questioning lyrics lead the song to its downbeat conclusion.

5. My Sentiments Exactly
The polyrhythmic undercurrents of much of the album are given free range here, with complex drumming driving the jazzy feel of the tune and another excellent vocal performance from Dan Ecclestone.

6. England’s Finest Hour The finale of the album unifies many of the musical styles we have heard previously. The forthright lyric links a historical context to the present day with the resigned multi-lingual words expressing solidarity with the European continent.

https://www.facebook.com/EmberRev

The Sunbathers : A Weekend Away With…., LP released September 2018

Acoustic indie band The Sunbathers release their debut LP ‘A Weekend Away With …..’, featuring a sea-related theme threading through the 15 tracks. As the duo hail from the East Midlands the geographical distance to all coastal areas adds an extra longing in the references to far-off places as the answer to yearnings and melancholic reflections. Beginning with wave and gull sounds the opening track ‘It Doesn’t Matter If It Rains’ sets the tone of wistful nostalgia explored in later lyrics.

The instrumentation consists of Paul’s sparkling acoustic guitar, with delicate arpeggios and multi-layered harmonic structures. An occasional ukulele and percussion fades in at times, with a melodica giving a reassuring DIY simplicity too on ‘Big Boy Now’ and ‘Shifting Sand’. The chance meeting in ‘If Only’ is a sad lament for a past relationship possibly given new life by a day at the sea, ‘…the wind sweeps in across the bay and takes my breath away and I’m willing you to stay…’.

The waltz time of ‘Girl You Left Behind’ gives an upbeat musical gloss to a brilliantly restrained lyric of disappointment, delivered with subtle emotions by vocalist Julie.
‘Don’t Go Home’ is a plaintive real-time cry from the heart over shimmering echoing guitar, as on many tracks the voice and music complementing each other perfectly.'(Waiting) For Trains’ is a realistic summary of long-distance relationships ‘…what can I do, now I’m a slave to engineering works at Crewe….I wish that one of us could drive, it might just be the only way our love survives..’ ‘Warmth Of The Sun’ closes the album with some sort of redemption from emotional insecurity, having finally arrived at the sea…

It is a beautiful, involving album to escape into, fragile and carefully crafted. Discovering its quiet secrets was a bit like hearing Nick Drake’s Pink Moon for the first time and I can’t recommend it higher than that.

http://www.thesunbathers.co.uk/

Bouquet Of Dead Crows : The Devil’s In The Detail, single released September 2018

As a final prelude to a new LP ‘Motus Octo’ in November, Cambridge quartet Bouquet Of Dead Crows release an alternative version of the album’s second track.

The phrase “the good God is in the detail” is generally attributed to Gustave Flaubert, but less certain is the author of its satanic counterpart. Whatever the origin the Crows have turned it into a hookline for a stately slice of highly-charged rock. Making full use of the stereo separation in the mix, Neil Bruce’s dissonant guitar in the introduction lays down the devil’s own riff, the bass and drums crash in and away we go.

Many diversions and subsections come and go and masquerade as new directions for the song before it keeps returning to that ultra-catchy title line. There is even time for a quick guitar solo, a bit of stabilising bass and a genuinely different middle-eight.

The angelic voice of Antoinette Cooper is the serene influence on this organised mayhem, leading the way over musicians at the heavenly height of their noisy powers.

The band are launching the album with a show at the Blue Moon in Cambridge on 24th November, with other shows being added. See you there!

https://www.bodc.live/