Van Morrison : Keep Me Singing, released Sept 2016

Nearly an hour of new music from Van Morrison, what a treat!

The opening song ‘Let It Rhyme’ sets the tone; gorgeous strings, Hammond organ, harmonica break and of course the timeless voice of Van The Man, which shows no decline over the years. The thirteen tracks here are all original songs apart from a cover of ‘Share Your Love With Me’ and the a co-writing credit with Don Black for the striking ‘Every Time I See A River’.

The first four tracks follow the laid-back loose jazz/blues feeling, immaculately arranged and produced. ‘Memory Lane’ is nostalgic; “It’s autumn time, going on November, I view the leaves in all their splendour, is it déjà vu, I just can’t remember..”, this is a recurring theme in the Van canon, but he manages to give it a new twist. ‘Holy Guardian Angel’ recalls some of the spiritual atmosphere of two of my favourite albums ‘Avalon Sunset’ and ‘Enlightenment’, as does much of this new collection.

‘Look Behind The Hill’ is short and sweet, then Van teases us with the twelve-bar blues of ‘Going Down To Bangor’ (“…bring me my bucket and spade..”) and plenty of place-name checks. Whereas the crowd pleasing live track from 1999 told us “…precious time is slipping away…” the penultimate track on this album says it’s ‘Too Late’, maybe so, but it is a great pop song.

‘Caledonian Swing’ is the closing instrumental, a celebratory groove showcasing much of the musical talent on this album.
Following on from the excellent ‘Duets’ from last year, this is a fine and welcome addition to the living legend’s catalogue.
Van Morrison: Duets, released March 2015
Van Morrison, 3 August 2014

Paul Goodwin, Corner House, Cambridge, 23 Sept 2016

I was intrigued by the review of the new Paul Goodwin album that read “A great album if you want to wallow in his or your misery” and so I went to hear him at the newly refurbished Corner House pub and venue. With just acoustic guitar accompaniment he weaves impressive and heartfelt tales of loss and love.

The songs are measured and immaculately crafted with each phrase carefully in place, perhaps explaining the long gap between the newly released ‘The Northern Lights In The Neon Tube’ and his last mini-album in 2011. The most affecting songs are the sparsest; ‘Muscle Memory’, ‘Black Coffee and Bromide’, ‘Heat Death’ (a bit of a show-stopper, in the context of a small but rapt audience in the venue and despite a loud mobile-phone conversation at the bar…).

The song titles give clues to the general downbeat mood but like the canon of alleged arch-miserabilist Morrissey, it’s fine by me.
The set ended with ‘Watertight’, a confessional (“..but the scars have just become part of my skin…”) , emotional (and possibly optimistic?) finale and much appreciated by the crowd.

Paul Goodwin plays at the Portland Arms on October 17th, with a full band. See you there…

Perfect Machine : Burn EP, released August 2016

This is a mysterious new four-track EP from Cambridge musician Perfect Machine, with a set of contrasting songs mainly built around many and varied electronic sounds.

The opening song ‘It’s Love (Again)’ features guest vocals from Cail Baroni, which is about the only piece of information given by the CD sleeve and website (but they do feature some great images of stars!). A minimal pulsing beat and whispered voice starts off before building in intensity and a big late-period Depeche Mode style hookline from Cail.
If this is ‘love (again)’ it sounds a bit scary.”..we pierce our hearts, tattoo our skin with lies…”

‘Sunrise With Me’ is a peaceful concoction of keyboards, percussion and quiet lyrics, with some lovely descending scales like a waterfall of 80s synthesisers. The title track ‘Burn’ is a heavier prospect, with bassy notes and layers of vocals. The instrumental breaks veer into doom-laden prog-rock territory. Good stuff indeed.

My favourite is ‘Lost In The City’, a childhood nightmare of paranoia set to an electronic 1920s Berlin style soundtrack, featuring what I think is real clarinet, but who can be sure? The disturbing atmosphere resolves as the song continues and it ends in a sort of ambiguous but optimistic way. Probably.

Give this EP some repeated listens, it is unlike anything I have heard this year from the Cambridge music scene and not a guitar in sight…

Psychic Lemon, Blue Moon, Cambridge, 2 Sept 2016

Billed as a ‘Psych Spectacular’ the Blue Moon continues to enhance its musical offering for the discerning music fans of Cambridge.
Opening the show was singer/songwriter Naomi Randall. Describing herself as “a middle-earth beatnik folk singer“, she played timeless songs accompanied by her own gentle acoustic guitar with subtle extra textures added from a semi-acoustic (wielded by the guitarist from Moonstrips). Lyrics about the changing of the seasons and wildlife with dark overtones when added to descending arpeggios and the beautiful clarity of her voice were an intoxicating brew. This was a good contrast to the louder sounds that followed…

DiG are a blast of space-rock glory, the two guitars, bass, drums and strong lead vocal keep pushing the sound to the limits. This is psychedelia to lose yourself in, self-penned tunes topped off with a great cover of ‘Waiting For The Man’, one of my favourite Velvet Underground songs.
Psychic Lemon have featured on this site before, it is always a pleasure to see them live. Since the release of their excellent debut CD they have lost a guitarist/vocalist so the sound has now evolved into sparser vocals and extended instrumentals with a remarkably full sound from the remaining trio. Luminous back projections reminiscent of the end of 2001 : A Space Odyssey add to the atmosphere. Songs from the album such as ‘Good Cop Bad Cop’ and the closing ‘Ticktok’ pound your senses to great effect, with little allowance for some of the quieter moments from the album.

It may never be possible to stage another sixties-style psychedelic “happening” in these cynical times but this was still a great night out…

Moscow Circus : Resounding LP, released June 2016

Music and lyrics can be many years in the making; this album from Nottingham-based four piece Moscow Circus was mostly written and played live during 1987 to 1991. Finally it has been recorded by the reformed band, giving a neat ambiguity to the title, is it ‘resounding’ down through the years or re-sounding for this new era? The good news is the album sounds fresh and relevant, as well as drawing confidently on its many influences.

‘Timebomb’ is the strong opening song, a mix of unrelenting bass, insistent guitar line and paranoid lyrics. It all motors along like a hybrid of late 80s Bunnymen/Cure/REM which is a good combination. ‘Bleed For You’ is densely worded, as is most of this album, this lyric cleverly showing the power balance in a relationship but not in a direct narrative. There are many well-crafted lines from twists like ‘…you ate my words like you always do…‘ to surreal ‘…I should have worn my other shoes, I can’t reason in these they give me the blues…‘. The track rocks along with a repeating guitar figure. ‘Clarity’ is a quieter piece, with spoken ending ‘…on the continuum between wrong and right…’

My favourite is ‘Princess Rainbow’, a lyrical confection about an imaginary relationship (or is it?) and a hook chorus, reminding me of Robyn Hitchcock on top form. Seeming to usually be the outsider appearing within the song, lead singer/composer/guitarist Jonathan Beckett comes up with some good lines in ‘Snapshot’ (…I need to know I’m not the only human in the race….’).

There are plenty of words to get absorbed in but the music is good too; a sensitive keyboard sound at the end of each section in ‘Wintersong’, blazing rock in ‘Ex Genius’ and swirling psychedelic organ in ‘Coconut Shy’ and ‘Between The Lines’. The album ends with the reflective mood of ‘Chances’, fragmented words over six minutes of dark, brooding drums and guitar.

Patience is a virtue, this album was worth the wait…


Gina Leonard : Catch EP, released July 2016

Gina Leonard writes and plays dream-like, enigmatic alternative folk music, based around acoustic guitar, some atmospheric effects and vocals that weave gently through. This five track EP starts with ‘Playing Dead’; a voice and distant guitar drifts in, giving way to the impressionistic words of a melancholy ballad, fragile and a bit troubling too. A lovely acoustic guitar threads underneath, as it does on the following song, the title track ‘Catch’, with some soft percussion and bass and a hook line that lodges in your head.

‘Red Hands’ is a haunting narrative about a couple whose lives take some wrong turns; with many contemporary resonances it is ambiguous and ambitious. There is some well-judged synthesiser to add to the otherworldly atmosphere. ‘Glass Eyes’ is more up-tempo, with playful and flirtatious lyrics over a jazzy groove.

My favourite is probably the simplicity of ‘Every Time’. It is just vocal and guitar and Gina sounds like she is in the room with you. Confessional words about the potency of music “singing in those gets me every time”. I agree.

This impressive EP finishes all too quickly…..(If you need more, listen to Gina’s heartrending cover of Dylan’s ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right’ on YouTube….)

Dexys : Let The Record Show, LP released July 2016

‘Let The Record Show: Dexys Do Irish And Country Soul’ is the full title of this new CD, the follow-up to their 2012 magnum opus ‘One Day I’m Going To Soar’. The title may be slightly misleading; I was anticipating a majority of new interpretations of the likes of ‘Carrickfergus’ but many of the songs included are much more recent, all given the unmistakable vocal insights of Kevin Rowland. The rest of the band play carefully blended acoustic instruments ; no over-lush strings or brass extremes.

The pastoral and mostly instrumental ‘Women Of Ireland’ is followed by the Bee Gees’ hit ‘To Love Somebody’ and the track list jumps around in a similar way for the whole album. There are many recurring Dexys features: a spoken introduction (to ‘Curragh Of Kildare’), the drum sound that could be in the room with you, personal asides added in the middle of the lyrics and the ability of the songs to grow in stature with repeat listens.

‘How Do I Live’ (1997 mainstream mega-hit for Leann Rimes) is a highlight and would have slotted in nicely onto the last album , ‘Grazing In The Grass’ is an up-tempo hallucinatory brassy blast. Best of all for me is ‘The Town I Loved So Well’, an understated but potent story of how a youthful idyll is changed beyond recognition by conflict. The song has a similar feel to ‘And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda’ (as covered by The Pogues) and it is equally powerful. Several reviewers have focused on the song ‘Both Sides Now’ and just as the Joni Mitchell re-recording in 2000 expresses a lifetime of reflection, Kevin Rowland delivers a similar retrospection.

And who can resist the waltz of ‘I’ll Take You Home Again Kathleen’, sounding as if the immaculate band are playing on the small stage in your favourite pub?
Dexys: then and now