Film Review of ‘Crock of Gold: A Few Rounds with Shane MacGowan’, BBC4, 16 March 2021

Another in-depth TV treat for the music obsessive, following the recent broadcast of ‘King Rocker’, chronicling punk legends The Nightingales.

With Julian Temple at the creative and directing helm, ‘Crock of Gold: A Few Rounds with Shane MacGowan’ is an informative, romanticized, warm, irreverent and funny trip through the career of the Pogues frontman, with interviews, live performances, animations, TV appearances and Irish history. The two hour running time allowed for a huge supporting cast orbiting around the music and cultural influences of Shane; from Samuel Beckett and W.B. Yeats to Joe Strummer and Johnny Depp. Family members and friends provided extra insight but in the end it was the music clips and comments from Shane that were the key.

Shane MacGowan seemed to have been filmed in the front row at numerous London gigs in the late 70s for the likes of the Sex Pistols and The Clash, noticed by the NME as ‘the face of ’77’. These appearances were followed by many recordings of the early Pogues shows, encapsulating their electricity and commitment to re-energising traditional Irish music.

Many of their best songs featured; ‘Streams Of Whiskey’, ‘A Pair Of Brown Eyes’, ‘The Sick Bed of Cuchulainn’, ‘Sally MacLennane’ and of course ‘Fairytale of New York’ also had to be there, particularly serving as a reminder of the talent of Kirsty MacColl. The sentimentality of ‘A Rainy Night In Soho’ is probably a superior song and their brilliant cover of ‘The Band Played Waltzing Matilda’ was juxtaposed with a liner leaving for the US, one of many references to the Irish diaspora.

Shane described the intensity of success when the band’s fame led at one point to 364 shows in one year, causing health problems and ending with him leaving the band in 1991, (though there were reunion shows from 2001 onward). With excerpts from his 60th birthday tribute show, this very watchable film left a lasting impression.

Shane MacGowan – Official Website

The Pogues, Thetford Forest, 14 June 2014 | cambridgemusicreviews

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Hannah Rose Kessler : My Theories On The Apocalypse, EP released 19 March 2021

Packed full of ideas lyrically and musically, UK singer songwriter Hannah Rose Kessler releases her new EP.

‘Don’t Worry’ starts with an acoustic loosening up then bursts into a pulsing chord rhythm over sparse drums. The opening line is like it is from a novel that you know you will keep reading ‘…my hands they melt away into the background…I follow you into the trees…‘ As expressive guitar patterns come and go the double vocal of Hannah leads us along a sinister path lyrically ‘….don’t worry my dear there’s no need to have fear…’.

‘I’m Alive’ keeps up the intensity and creativity, this time with strident keyboards to the fore. After the strenuous dazzle of the two openers, ‘Before The Fall’ presents evocative imagery in a looser song structure ‘….stuck in this entropy…we plunge into waves and rest on the shore…

There is much more; previously released single ‘Come Feel Me’ is reviewed here, spoken word song ‘Your Female Rage’ is full of hard-hitting points before finale ‘A Thousand Cuts’ features big, industrial slices of sound-gothic.

For the listener, the variation of genre, style and content is satisfyingly rich and unpredictable and Hannah is in absolute command of it all.

Hannah Rose Kessler | Facebook

Record label – Reckless Yes

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Natasha Nicole : Alright In The End, single released 26 March 2021

Singer/songwriter Natasha Nicole from Wolverhampton UK has put everything into this debut single, creating five minutes of welcoming meditations.

Beginning with a folk-inspired waltzing acoustic guitar and an immediate, inviting lyric ‘….go home…kick back….cut yourself some slack….you don’t need to carry this load alone…’, Natasha’s pure voice sets the tone. Additional instruments join in and the vocal becomes more ethereal as the music evolves into more dream-pop territory. The listener is eventually immersed in the big, reassuring chorus, ‘…it will be alright in the end…’ which though sounding comforting still has a slight undercurrent of doubt.

The track flies by; at the end a brass solo adds to the polish on the sheen of the production and immediately you want to hear this gorgeous and timeless track again….

Natasha Nicole | Facebook

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Jo Ash : Here, Then & Somewhere Else, EP released 9 March 2021

The new EP from Jo Ash is five haunting tracks mainly featuring solo piano, a contrast to her song-based solo recordings and performances fronting rock band Derecho.

Opener ‘Petals’ starts hesitantly with a simply-stated theme that develops into a broad and echoing soundscape. Though threaded through with melancholy it calls to mind yearning for open landscapes and escape, especially when a vocal line adds to the texture. ‘Enchanted River’ is a more introspective keyboard study, flowing and cyclical with a calm gentleness laced with a bit of darkness.

Synthesisers are featured on ‘Innocence’, adding a full string sound before Jo’s voice soars above it all in a stately waltz. I particularly like the relaxed pastoral atmosphere of ‘Unspoken’; free of time and place. ‘Orion’s Quest’ evokes a blend of limitless journeys and mythology all leading to the famous constellation. It is an epic six minutes, again driven by a piano chord sequence that keeps returning as other sounds drift in and out. Jo’s voice weaves through the cosmos, culminating in a dramatic passage halfway through before the track drifts off into space. It is certainly a spectacular finale to the collection.

An innovative bonus to buying the EP – it comes with a free short story to add to the mystique…..

http://www.joashmusic.com

Derecho : Beneath A Stained Glass Sky, LP released November 2019 | cambridgemusicreviews

Jo Ash : Constellations, LP released October 2018 | cambridgemusicreviews

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Model Village : World of Carp, LP released 5 March 2020

With their first LP since ‘Healing Centre’ in 2015, Model Village storm the citadel of sharp but polite pop on this ten song collection.

The distinctive guitar introduction of opener ‘Insufferable’ and immediate lyrical touchstones, ‘….drinking Pinot Noir….embracing failure….what will we do?…’ show that the Village are back with a bang. Lead singer Lily sounds optimistic yet full of regret while the rest of the band add harmonies and a complex musical backing. ‘Oslo’ is a likeable up-tempo jaunt that transposes the action of a relationship to Scandinavia to add to the feeling of uncertainty ‘…..if I dare to speak the language I’d be lost in translation… ‘. It creates an atmosphere a bit like an arthouse film where not much happens, but there is still a winning resolution in the final reel ‘….you know I’ll be coming back for you today…’.

‘Roll It Over’ is driven by the strong melody to give another pacey song with many musical nuances and a dominant vocal performance. A surprise middle-eight makes a welcome appearance near the end. The momentum continues with ‘Otters’, a light, jazzy and summery confection featuring an enigmatic title, imagery and trademark retro electric piano.

A highlight for me is ‘Roles’ – I am very partial to this type of slow blues track and this is a fine example. Over the six minutes there is loads of time to develop the lyrical ideas, ‘….are you smoking to impress me cause that would just depress me my dear…’. Instrumentally the band have a great time, with plenty going on around the guitar arpeggios including a demented solo, roving basslines and the drums only just staying restrained. I like the way that extra syllables are pushed into the main melody to keep up an atmosphere of doubt ‘….its not that easy to throw yourself into a role that you don’t believe in…’.

The band continue to move through different genres and styles; on ‘Sunburn’ a long experimental introduction evolves into a pensive and thoughtful song, ‘Popular Band’ is a wry self-referential resume of the band’s 12 year career while the hypnotic ‘Variety Box’ is another take on the blues and showcases the best vocal performance on the album.

The album closes with the big ballad ‘Miseryguts’, as the strong melody is boosted by extravagant 70s Carpenters style backing vocals. There is more too, on a very satisfying mix of timeless indie-pop from this artful Cambridge-based collective.

model village | Facebook

The Other Ones : The Other Ones, LP released February 2021

The debut long-player from London four-piece The Other Ones is a riot of noise and craftily crafted punk, with a few quiet sections slipping effectively under the radar of fuzz. There have been some pre-release singles to whet the appetite but surprisingly not the brilliant opening track ‘Drown You’. This song has it all; a killer introduction that springs from nowhere, a punk riff from heaven/hell, harmony vocal lines and spellbinding chorus ‘…all I ever really wanted to do is drown you…’. The drums and guitars drench the listener in distorted sound and it is pure pleasure.

‘On Top Of Me’ has a chord sequence that seems to be catching up on itself and demented guitar lines that underpin the energy of the vocal. ‘Forever Young’ is a perennial pop single, then within the field of energy of ‘Money’ there is lyrical acerbity and absurdity to get to the truth, ‘….we never kiss…..we never touch….. we only talk about money…’. It is not until track six when we have some calm respite with the acoustic ‘I Wish I Was Your Boyfriend’ with the biting ‘…your always in my mind but whose on yours…are you only with me because you’re bored?…’.

‘Better Off Alone Again’ strays into full-on rock territory while ‘Wasted Youth’ is a glorious drum extravaganza. Title track ‘The Other Ones’ is almost frightening in its intensity and serves as an effective manifesto for the band. Closing with the ethereal acoustic lines of ‘I Think Too Much’ is an unexpected departure but seems to work perfectly well to bookend this dynamic collection.

The Other Ones | Facebook

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Katy Kirby : Cool Dry Place, LP released 19 Feb 2021

The new LP from Texas-based singer/songwriter Katy Kirby is refreshing, lyrically challenging and hints of summers to come in its music.

The short and sparse ‘Eyelids’ sets the dreamlike tone for the collection; acoustic guitar and piano complementing the beguiling vocal. With music and words that seem not quite aligned but very much in a good way ‘Juniper’ has one of those chord sequences that sounds like it is constantly catching up with itself and instantly lodges in your brain. A relaxed voice effortlessly flows above the uncluttered backing, sometimes giving way to just a lone guitar. The imagery of the lyrics ‘…you don’t need a gardener to know…which way the blossoms going to float….’ meshes seamlessly with the instrumentation, with extra nuances through the two and a half minutes running time. According to Katy “This is a song about motherhood, mostly...’.

The jumpier rhythm and hesitations of ‘Peppermint’ is followed by the delicate and playfully addictive ‘Traffic!’. Previously released as a single this gorgeous dancing melody is a winner, with a hook to immerse yourself in. A guitar solo, heavenly choir and electronic voice treatments all add to the mix.

The LP is packed full of treats, including the quiet piano ballad of ‘Portals’ and probably best of all the leisurely musings, big chorus and grand finale of title track ‘Cool Dry Place’ followed by the enigmatic low-key bookend of ‘Fireman’.

At the intersection of indie pop, lo-fi folk and perfectly crafted song writing this is a gorgeous debut album.

Katy Kirby (kirbykaty.com)

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Mischa : New Beginnings, EP released February 2021

A track by track review of the excellent debut EP from rising UK country-pop singer/songwriter Mischa.

1.Do You Remember. Released as a single last year this is the most immediate track on the EP; a glorious combination of slow-burning verse gradually rising to a great big title hookline. The nuances of the tune are brought to life by Mischa’s versatile voice and the well-balanced instrumental production features a driving rhythm guitar, duelling with some bluesy lead lines.

2.Won’t Be Long. Slowing down for this ballad, piano and pedal steel set the tone as Mischa shows her vocal range from quiet meditation to soaring above the band.

3.If I Cried. The emotional centrepiece of the four tracks, a stately torch song where the straightforward melody is fully inhabited with a clear statement of heartbreak, ‘…if I cried….would you notice then?….would you stop or do it all again?….’ The powerful vocal performance inexorably draws the listener in to share the sorrow.

4.Moving On. One of the eternal themes of country music, the leaving behind of place or relationship connections to branch out. This track aligns the underlying regret of the verse with a cautious optimism in the punchy chorus. The quieter middle-eight sums it up ‘…you give me no reason to stay…so I’ll just walk away…’, before a final chorus leaves a strong impression of the confident voice and rich production found in these four songs.

Mischa Jankowska | Facebook

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Kammahav : Distans, LP released 22 February 2021

Kammahav are Christian Gustafsson from Forshaga in Sweden and Tony Jenkins from Cambridge, composers and performers of this new double CD.

It is a rewarding and dense mix from the start; emerging from a collage of sound effects is the grandiose pop of ‘Stitches’, referencing the assassination of Swedish politician Olof Palme in 1986. With distant vocals and fuzzy guitars like mid-period Neil Young it is a standout track. ‘Carrying On’ showcases the acoustic pop of the duo then the orchestration richly fills out the sound to impressive effect. ‘It’s Not Me…It’s You’ picks up the pace in a cinematic relationship song which the title line succinctly describes.

There are depressing political reflections on ‘The 52’ and in comparison the list of possible fates for the singer ‘….I could drown …I could suffocate…I could be stranded beneath the ice…’ sounds strangely uplifting. A strength of the duo is when they meld together the Scandi-noir soundscape of melting guitars and strings with the personal but disconnected words, evidenced on the slow-burning ‘Hea’.

And there is much, much more including the compact pop burst of ‘Seaside Ghost Town’ and the mellow play out of ‘…To The Sea’, as well as a whole disc of bonus tracks, remixes and alternative takes, showing the endless inventiveness of this creative pairing.

Kammahav – Home | Facebook

Everlasting Records | Facebook

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Hannah Rose Kessler : Come Feel Me, single released February 2021

A new single from UK singer/songwriter Hannah Rose Kessler, a preview of her EP due in March.

Previous release ‘I Really Wanna’ was a hazy meandering where the vocal and harmonies spun jazzy lines on top of amiable guitar, acoustic bass and quiet percussion. A track that pulled the listener into a warming but slightly dissonant world.

Now ‘Come Feel Me’ brings martial percussion to the fore, hollow and unrelenting over deep and fuzzy bass pedals. The vocal seems isolated in the quite bleak wasteland of the music where there may be the optimism of ‘….colours changing in the sky…’ but soon the realisation of ‘…..so lonely, I’m lonely, we’re lonely….’. Halfway through the track adds some huge slices of industrial guitar before the loneliness and the plea of the title phrase gradually fades away.

On repeated listens you realise that this is a real grower and that underneath the harsh exterior this is a smart, intricately structured pop song. Hannah writes and plays music which is not trapped in a narrow genre; on the basis of these two tracks the EP should be an intriguing listen.

Hannah Rose Kessler | Facebook

Record label – Reckless Yes

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