Jo Ash : Growing Flying Falling, LP released June 2023

A new album release from singer/songwriter and keyboard player Jo Ash, a follow-up to her twin EPs Matinee/After Dark from the end of 2021. Jo’s sound has developed to produce her strongest collection so far, from the electronic dramas of opener ‘The Phoenix’ with its impressionistic lyrical touches (‘… scarlet wings beat against the grey….looking out to an untouched maze…’) to the elegant beauty of solo piano and voice on ‘The Painter’; probably my favourite track on the collection.

Her self-production skills lend extra textures to the pulsing ‘Under The Sky’ followed by the moody ‘Tidal Wave’ with its elaborate orchestration fully realised. The gorgeous distant echoing sound of ‘Anybody’s Fool’ is framed by cello and gentle piano and features a subtly catchy chorus. ‘Apparition’ shows Jo’s baroque storytelling side while ‘The Willow Tree’ is driven by a strong melody and a confiding vocal.

The final two tracks show possible future directions; the pounding electronic sequencer and synthetic drums of the brilliant ‘Run’ and the acoustic guitar drifting around Jo’s soulful voice in ‘Under The Giants’. This is an excellent collection, full of light, shade, musical commitment and strong song-writing.


R.J. Archer & The Painful Memories : Lay It Low, single released 9 June 2023

A new single from Cambridge blues-rockers R.J. Archer & The Painful Memories, a follow up to their March release ‘I Can’t Lose You’ with both tracks featuring on the LP ‘Horseplay!‘ due in September this year. The earlier release was a taut, spiky blues shuffle, with the angst in the vocal working towards the strong hook of the title line.

This new companion piece ‘Lay It Low’ is mellower in pace and tone, with some neat harmonies in the vocals and the winning sound of a double lead guitar break. It is infused with the spirit of classic 70s country rock, at times melancholic and wistful but always musically interesting; effortlessly switching sections between verses, chorus and an unpredictable middle eight and showing how this band continues to progress and grow in confidence.

Carterband : How Do I Work This?, LP released June 2023

A new recording from Carterband, led by musician David Carter, a member of multi-talented Cambridge collective Lizard Brain. Featuring a full range of genres and moods, the LP is crafted carefully into neatly structured songs that invite the listener to become part of David’s unique musical world.

The opening pair of sparse poppy three minute bursts roll along nicely with a bonus of sonorous sax on ‘Calling Any More’. The gentle jazzy meditation of ‘Waterloo Station 20/07’ is an attractive listen with thoughtful lyrics (‘…harmonies are harder in a minor key…’, ‘….riding tandem with the random traffic in our lives…’) then ‘Good Men Do Nothing’ features some bitter political reflections. The next two tracks are longer, intriguingly dense and dark with mellow instrumentation that fits perfectly, especially the piano and saxophone to frame the inverted domestic bliss described on my favourite track ‘Everything Is Fine’.

‘Jet Pack’ is fizzing punk energy followed by ‘Safe From Harm’, featuring a string quartet and haunting vocal. ‘Always’ is a classy end to this excellent album; an effortless ballad with acoustic guitar, trumpet and the definitive final statement ‘….the times we’ve spent together are the best days of my life…..and the best part of me is with you……I’ll always love you….’

Half Man Half Biscuit, Junction J1, Cambridge, 15 April 2023

Cambridge indie-stalwarts Model Village have supported HMHB before and tonight they warm up the sold out crowd with tales of getting older, social comment and wry observations over some jangly guitar and keys. With bass and drums setting a jazzy-folk pace for Lily’s vocals, the Village feature tracks from their three albums; most recently the critically acclaimed ‘World of Carp’.

Half Man Half Biscuit return to the Junction for a near two hour set including many tracks from early on in their long career. Good sound quality meant we heard nearly every lyrical twist and cultural reference as well as the dynamic instrumental power that intermeshes so effectively. Full of highlights, a brilliant show much appreciated by the packed audience.

Ward Thomas, Corn Exchange, Cambridge, 10 April 2023

Charlie Worsham opened the show; soon connecting with the audience with his combination of guitar, mandolin and warm vocals. Tales of Nashville and his extensive musical journey (including a performance in Cambridge in his college days) introduced his thoughtful songs; highlights being ‘Young To See’ and ‘Old Time’s Sake’.

Ward Thomas have many excellent songs; their extensive set featured most of their new (fifth) album ‘Music In The Madness’, starting with the mid-tempo ‘All Over Again’ and they later included my favourite new ballad ‘If It All Ends Today’; a casually beautiful melody and sentiment delivered to perfection.

The album is mostly their confident country-pop but ‘Justice & Mercy’ is rich story- telling Americana, joined on mandolin by Charlie Worsham to augment the superb band. A cover of Razorlight’s ‘America’ fits in neatly and there was plenty of time for older classics, especially the heartbreak double of ‘Cartwheels’ and ‘Guilty Flowers’.

Catherine and Lizzy’s vocal harmonies combine with strength and subtlety, showcased especially on the quieter or slower songs like ‘One More Goodbye’ or the acoustic stillness of ‘Safe’.

An encore of the celebratory ‘Carry You Home’ followed by the gentle ‘Love Does’ was the perfect end to this excellent evening.

emzae : I Guess, Anyway, single released 12 April 2023

A new track from emzae; composed, performed and produced by the Derby based musician. It will be the central track on her forthcoming album ‘All Those Things I Thought I Knew’, due on 1st September this year. ‘I Guess, Anyway’ is the follow-up to the concise funky blast of ‘Extraordinary’, also to feature on the album.

In contrast to the casual tone of the title it is a sweeping, epic track encompassing many of the themes of her strong run of previous singles, both lyrically and musically. With a soothing introduction establishing the gentle waltz pace the phrases drift in and out ‘….if the sky still is the limit it seems like its falling for me….’ leading into ‘…..if only I’d taken a moment to capture the confidence I had before…’. There are four musical sections to investigate the themes of introspection and reflection, culminating in a big thoughtful chorus ‘…here I am at least twice my age at the same time I swear I’m too young, for the next stage….’.

Just when you think the song is ending in atmospheric contemplation big bold washes of sound create a guitar sounding solo to herald the strong finale; a cascade of dense electronic immersion for a passionate declaration of powerful words; ‘…..the knowing nothing years….desperate for loving years…..wishing for golden years…..hate getting older years……it’s all been played out before….’

I have followed emzae’s music for a while (see other reviews on this site) and with this track her gift for melody has combined with one of her best ever vocal performance to produce a brilliant result.

Photo credit : Madison Fiorenza

Indiepop Alldayer, Firebug, Leicester, 4 March 2023

A revisit to this haven of musical adventure and the chance discovery of hidden gems. The Verinos were part of an initiative to encourage older women to form bands and their self-penned tunes went down well with the early afternoon crowd.

Breakup Haircut were the highlight for us, full of frenetic punk sparkle and with songs like ‘Out Of My Way (I’m Not Getting On The Nightbus)’ and ‘Why Can’t I Be Cool Enough to Move to Berlin?’ there was an addictive energy to the performance. Lilith Ai held the audience rapt with just guitar and voice, interweaving introspective lyrics with sparse yet intricate musical lines.

The blast of ‘Blurred Visions’ opened the set from Chemtrails and there was no let up from the guitar, keys and dual vocals from this sonically powerful band, very well supported by the packed audience. The reassuring indie constructions from adults were very welcome; full of lyrical intrigue and unpredictable instrumental turnarounds. Headlining band ME REX ended up as a solo performance but by this time the low key, thoughtful songs were a fitting closedown to the evening…

The Wandering Hearts, Norwich Arts Centre, 13 December 2022

Opening this fine evening of folk and Americana music in this converted church venue was Lauren Housley, showcasing her soulful voice and song writing as featured on her album ‘Girl From The North’. With just acoustic guitar backing her performance had instant appeal for the near sell-out audience.

For this tour The Wandering Hearts have stripped back to the core trio and with two excellent albums already and many new songs due for release soon their set was rich in highlights. Blending their three harmonies for an introductory cover of ‘White Christmas’ and then into the subtle delights of early single ‘Burning Bridges’, the acoustics of this ancient building showed off the gorgeous sounds.

The three performers create a very full sound, with only guitar backing for many of the tracks, sometimes augmented by mandolin and piano. To contrast the gentleness of ‘Dolores’ and ‘Lullaby’ there were plenty of anthemic choruses like ‘Build a Fire’ and main set closer ‘Devil’. With a seasonal finale of Auld Lang Syne blended with the outstanding ‘Wish I Could’ it was a superb show, echoing long in the memory.

Jesca Hoop, Storey’s Field Centre, Cambridge, 8 December 2022

Chloe Foy opened the show with the ethereal title track from her 2021 debut album ‘Where Shall We Begin’ (reviewed here) and immediately set the tone for this thoughtful and engaging evening in the spiritual surroundings of this attractive hall. Her songs interweave lyrical honesty with a heartfelt vocal performance supported by a single guitar; combining to great effect particularly on the glorious ‘Evangeline’. Chloe also contributed harmony vocals and multi instruments for the rest of the show.

Headliner Jesca Hoop, brought her evocative songs to shine and intrigue, featuring many from her newest album ‘Order of Romance’. Her sparse guitar lines combine with sensitive percussion and bass as a platform for her distinctive voice and lyrics that pull the listener into a world of abstract imagery and personal reflections.

The music moves in unexpected directions, a balance of dark and light that gently sparkles in the excellent acoustics of this venue. The melodic beauty of ‘Lyrebird’ and ‘Pegasi’ were standout tracks, staying in the mind long after this brilliant show had ended.

The Proclaimers, Corn Exchange, Cambridge, 5 November 2022

John Bramwell (former frontman of I Am Kloot) opened the show with a combination of intriguing lyrics and intricate acoustic guitar lines, delivered with warmth and clarity. His sparse and thoughtful songs made an instant connection with the audience.

Two thirds of the way through a huge sold-out tour The Proclaimers return to Cambridge and as usual they deliver musically and emotionally to a packed hall of adoring fans. The show started with the title track from their new album; the duo continues to record and featured new songs throughout the set.

‘Over and Done With’ and ‘Should Have Been Loved’ are up-tempo fun songs boosted by their appearance in the excellent ‘Sunshine on Leith‘ movie, but it is the irresistible swirl of ‘Let’s Get Married’ and their debut hit ‘Letter from America’ that first raise the roof. At the heart of the show are many hidden gems; going back to their guitar/vocal roots for ‘Misty Blue’, the simple beauty of ‘Make My Heart Fly’ and spiritual intensity of ‘Sky Takes the Soul’. The political messages are still strong too, with the independence theme of ‘Cap in Hand'(from 1988) and especially the moving description of immigration ‘Scotland’s Story’ (2014) sounding bang up to date.

Craig and Charlie Reid have created a huge back catalogue of memorable songs with the contrasting giants of ‘Sunshine on Leith’ and ‘I’m Gonna Be (500 miles)’ being the best known. Towards the end of the set these were of course received with massive enthusiasm as the superb band sound soared into the rafters of the venue. Finally, the party atmosphere of ‘The Joyful Kilmarnock Blues’ sent us away happy into the rain and fireworks until the next time…