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 harmonies..it 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….)

http://www.ginaleonard.com/

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?

http://www.dexysonline.com/
Dexys: then and now

Dos Floris, Corner House, Cambridge, 17 July 2016

On a steamy summer evening the place to be was the Cambridge Corner House pub and venue, for a rare UK appearance of singer and multi-instrumentalist Dos Floris.

Opening the show was a special set from Bouquet Of Dead Crows, pared down to Toni Cooper’s voice and acoustic guitar from Neil Bruce. At present they are working on a follow-up to their accomplished song collection ‘Of The Night’, and tonight there were re-imagined versions of many of the tracks from that album. Musically Neil added extra guitar nuance and colour to underpin Toni’s confident vocals which combined to great effect, especially on the new single ‘Epicentre’.

I have been an admirer of the majestic Dos Floris album ‘The Widowed Earth’ since its release, and at the time of writing I still can’t quite believe that I was watching a performance of that hypnotic music and meeting its creator.

The sound is complex and multi-layered, necessitating some backing percussion and electronics being co-ordinated by laptop, but there was plenty of interesting keyboard lines and experimental effects played live as the tracks developed beyond the album versions. Add in some flute, a pure captivating voice and looped backing vocals for the complete picture.

The ‘natural world’ theme that threads through these songs is most evident in ‘Rivers’ but so cleverly are the music and words intertwined that the simple protest of ‘All The Kings Horses’ seems to be a statement that war is somehow a violation of nature (and possibly is as effective a statement against the Iraq War as the 2.6 million words of the Chilcott Report?!).

One of the highlights was ‘Before You Loved Me’, a torch song that could be from 1920s Berlin if they had had waves of electronica in the jazz clubs. Then a version of ‘To The Wolves Part II’ was dedicated to this humble reviewer which made the evening even better…

http://www.dynamikrecords.org/dos-floris.html
Dos Floris : The Widowed Earth, released November 2015
http://www.bouquetofdeadcrows.com/

Gavin Chappell-Bates : Church Of Rock and Roll, single released July 2016

Gavin Chappell-Bates returns to his musical roots for this rocking new single, the opening track from the 2016 album ‘We Are The Ones’,

The video version begins with birdsong in a quintessential English churchyard, then the shock…a gravestone cross commemorating the demise of Gavin? But don’t worry, he is firing on all cylinders as the guitars crash in for an all-out celebration of his musical influences and the simply stated logic of the importance of ‘rock and roll’.

Like many tracks on the album the hookline is strong and the relentless pace of the song still allows time for a guitar solo and bass break. The Manic Street Preachers get a reference ‘All I learnt was from my own Holy Bible…’, made explicit in the video as the priest flicks through some influential CDs, also including Suede, Led Zep and the Beatles. Definitely not a conventional priest, rolling pages of the prayer book for a use probably not sanctioned by the Church as well as ending up with a non-traditional twist on clerical garb….it is all great fun and in these enlightened times not likely to cause the controversy of Madonna and her ‘Like A Prayer’ video??

But back to the music, it is a compact, gutsy track and it sounds great live!

Home

Atomised : Virtual Strangers LP, released 17 June 2016

Cambridge indie rockers Atomised (named after the edgy French novel by Michel Houellebecq?) release their new album ‘Virtual Strangers’, a follow-up to ‘Dreamlands’ from 2008. They are an accomplished six-piece band, producing an intense and multi-faceted sound.

The opening track is the curiously named ‘Tinselhead’, a guitar driven relentless blaster, setting the agenda for this varied collection of songs.
‘Slipping On Tightropes’ is more mellow, sounding like it could belong comfortably in the Suede back-catalogue. As on many of these tracks the many and subtle guitar effects are meticulously crafted. A title like ‘Fading Polaroid’ is suitably evocative for probably my favourite piece on the album, with a piano line underpinning a touching love song, strongly vocalised by Andrew Ashworth.

‘Virtual Strangers’ is the epic cinematic title track, at nearly seven minutes the different sections describe how our life is driven by modern digital technology ‘zeros and ones…changes our lives’ . It is all a bit bleak lyrically but strangely powerful and addictive (and just when you are feeling alienated a trumpet line soars across the mix to give hope..). In these days of bland lyrics from so many performers it is always refreshing to hear something more reflective/incisive/political.

‘Why Can’t We Be Lovers?’ is the impassioned vocal plea on the next track over a dense but well-balanced backing. ‘Impossible World’ is a quieter contrast, until an explosive drum break takes the sound into a different direction. The album closes with the acoustic country-rock of ‘We’re OK’, an optimistic counterpoint to some of the themes that have come before.

Overall, a very impressive achievement, with some of the 80s and 90s influences distilled into a bold set of ambitious well-produced songs.

http://www.atomised.eu/

‘Beach Sessions’, Waterbeach, Cambridge, 30 January 2016

Half Man Half Biscuit, Junction , Cambridge, 9 June 2016

A welcome return to Cambridge Junction J1 for the much-loved Half Man Half Biscuit. I saw them last year, reviewed here…

http://www.cambridgemusicreviews.net/2015/06/14/half-man-half-biscuit-the-apex-bury-st-edmunds-12-june-2015/

…and it was just as good this time around. Perhaps there was more of an emphasis on the rockier songs, but many of my favourites songs were still in place; the locally lovelorn lyric of ‘For What Is Chatteris’, the musings of mortality of ‘When The Evening Sun Goes Down’ and their tour de force of music and words, ‘The Light At The End Of The Tunnel (Is The Light Of An Oncoming Train)’.

Songs assuring the extended cultural longevity of B-List celebrities were also featured; ‘Bob Wilson – Anchorman’, ‘The Bastard Son of Dean Friedman’, ‘Dickie Davies Eyes’, the nightmarish ‘Gubba Look-a-Likes’ and the sad moments of ‘Tommy Walsh’s Eco House’.

A blasting cover of The Damned song ‘New Rose’ was part of their encore, a super example of how good their band sound actually is, underpinning their unique lyrics…

All together now,

I said “Would you like to go the zoo?”, she said “Yeah, but not with you”
Twenty-seven yards of dental floss, but she still won’t give me a smile…

The Wedding Present, Junction, Cambridge, 29 May 2016

As part of a Bank Holiday weekend mini-tour, the ever-popular Wedding Present arrived in the intimate setting of Junction J2 for a real fan treat, the complete performance of their fifth album ‘Saturnalia’.

Support was from Leeds four-piece Deadwall, with some mellow songs featuring unlikely protest lyrics about the Paris Climate Accord and Shell’s oil activities in the Niger Delta over some moody backings, each time allowing the sound texture to develop with keyboards and subtle drumming. Radiohead are probably an influence, but Deadwall go in their own direction.

The Wedding Present have maintained quality in their output since formation in 1985 and one of the many jewels from the back catalogue is ‘Saturnalia’. This sounds as fresh as it would have on release in 1996 when there was critical acclaim for its experimentation. Playing the album in original sequence involved plenty of guitar changes and some extra keyboard and drumming parts but the energetic band pulled it off in style.

The driving force for the show is of course David Gedge; composer, guitarist, frontman, singer and all-round likeable bloke. The opening ‘Venus’ is to-the-point, ‘Skin Diving’ is a guitar-dominated plea of desperation but my favourite is ‘Montreal’, an incisive tale of rejection.

The second half of the set was a mix of old and new, including a preview of new LP ‘Going, Going….’ due out later this year. The double burst of ‘Kennedy’ and ‘Brassneck’ featuring David’s explosive rhythm guitar and the show ended with ‘Perfect Blue’, showing that after all the emotional hurt of some of the preceding lyrics he is still an incurable romantic….

https://www.facebook.com/TheWeddingPresentOfficial/
https://www.facebook.com/deadwall