Tag Archives: acoustic

Chris Fox : From The Shadows, LP released November 2019

A track by track review of ‘From The Shadows’, the third album from Cambridge contemporary folkster Chris Fox.

1. Bird Of Paradise A likeable and catchy song that Chris has been performing live for a while, a relaxing bluegrassy piece featuring contrasting backing vocals and a subtly cool acoustic ensemble driven by upright bass.

2. Tinseltown This current single is a darkly humerous murder ballad about how a US summer job went awry, ending with the consequences from ‘….paid me a couple of grand to bury a body in the sand…the coyote howled and the owl did screech….’. The narrative motors along smoothly, always returning to the inevitable chorus line ‘….now I’m running from the law…I’m running like I never run before…’ . It is a morality tale to relish.

3. You Helped me through A looser, free-form song with just a gently percussive acoustic guitar and a confiding, emotive vocal reminiscent of the late John Martyn. Excellent.

4. Little Brown Sparrow Inspired by an encounter with a homeless woman, pondering the future and the choices involved on both sides. A sparse guitar figure weaves its spell in the background.

5. Annabelle A song of love and loss, with a strong tune and the words cleverly blending multiple exes into the title character, also deconstructing aspects of the creative process into the lyric and featuring some neat couplets ‘…I wrote a hundred songs about you…did you write one about me?…’.The bass stretches and yearn across the words, as it does on the next track too.

6. I’m in Love with you A highlight of the album, with smooth rhythm from the brushed drums and a violin with a counter-melody giving depth to this lovelorn coffee-themed tale. The harmony vocal from Zoe Wren is just right and the atmosphere created reminds me of the whispering folk/blues of J.J. Cale.

7. The Motivator Blues A change to electric guitar (played by album producer and multi-instrumentalist Dan Wilde) for this 12-bar blues, a burst of positivity and statement of intent.

8. Castaway With the 2000 movie as the inspiration for this gently scored acoustic piece, it extends the metaphor into deeper reflections, with fine voice work from Chris and Zoe.

9. Just a Fool From a slow thoughtful start this expands into a folk anthem as the acoustic chords continue to build. With the topic of unrequited love the lyrics are sombre ‘…I’m just a fool left out in the rain, still I pine for you…‘, but there is still an element of moving on despite this.

10. Who Really Loves you Timely pondering of the genuineness of friends and supporters and who really counts. It is built around a catchy hookline and leaves you thinking as it drifts away through the ether accompanied by a sharp guitar solo.

With 42 shows so far in 2019, Chris Fox is a consummate live performer, either as a solo guitarist or with like-minded musicians. This is a collection of songs that deserve an even wider audience…

https://www.chrisfoxmusic.org/

Luke James Williams : Drove, EP released November 2018

A new EP from Cambridge singer/songwriter/guitarist Luke James Williams.

1. From The Drove A short, multi-textured introduction to the EP, an array of acoustic instruments resolve into a welcoming chord.

2. Snares & Traps This is an intense, poignant ballad of relationship ending, delivered with characteristic emotion and commitment over a sparse, steadily repeating guitar figure. There is a neat waltz time middle eight as lyrical resignation takes over ‘…what have I got to show for it but a box of my broken pride…’

3. Speak To Me A mid-tempo uplifting celebration of affection; catchy chorus too, with a double tracked vocal. Ambiguous imagery pervades the lyric to reflect the positive feelings ‘… I want to hear the rush of life through every melody.. from your thoughts in the hills out through your mouth to me…’

4. Rabbit Hole The previously released single from the EP, this track has more of a band instrumentation. It features an impassioned vocal with a lyric of pleading and desperation always leading to the key line ‘…No I can’t watch you fall down that rabbit hole again and again and again….’

5. Still In Bed Beginning with the haunting lines ‘… I lay trapped in amber.. and you say that I don’t care…’ this very impressive song is the finale to his current live set. Sung with passion it is a standout track; a simple but stunningly effective ascending and descending guitar line is the only accompaniment to the emotionally raw lyric, coupled with a very attractive melody. Towards the end of the song suddenly a distant echoing piano drifts in and then subtly plays along.

6.You Are The Captain A slowed down folk ballad, this wistful, dreamlike piece uses timeless imagery of the sea as the narrator drifts away on the tide. Over the strummed chords and marching drumbeat the resignation and yearning is poetically described ‘…You are the bloodline, I am just bleeding…..all that I wanted was to be there… ‘

This debut EP is an excellent introduction to his music, as evocatively described on his website….‘Light and dark, ugly and beautiful, happy and sad, fearful and brave, the music of singer songwriter Luke James Williams reflects the opposing forces and wonderful chaos of the world around us’

http://www.lukejameswilliams.co.uk/#about

Anna Hester : Towards Today, EP released November 2018

A long awaited second EP of original songs from Milton Keynes guitarist/singer Anna Hester, following up her four track release ‘In The Meantime’ from 2014. An entrancing live performer with just vocals and acoustic guitar; on these tracks her empathetic backing ensemble enhance her pure folk voice.

1. We Can Get Lost A mellow opener, the relaxed backing of the band is a foundation for a lyric celebrating the uplifting optimism of a promising new relationship. Anna’s vocal soars and floats along with some neat self-harmonies.

2. Have We Met A slow ballad, starting with the elegant line ‘…I found your tapestries there in my eyes…’ the listener is invited into a world of abstract melancholy, (creating a similar mood to ‘The Byrds’ on her previous EP, a song that when I first heard it I wrongly assumed it to be a folk standard, such was its timeless resonance). The lyric drifts towards disappointment and betrayal, with some clever musical nuances along the way. A sublime track, my favourite on the EP.

3. Watch The Clock The lead single from this collection, a highlight of her live set. On here Anna embraces an easy jazz/folk styling for a late night middle tempo song of questioning and hope. Combining the seventies instrumentation of ‘Solid Air’ era John Martyn and the lyrical yearning of Nick Drake this standout song is propelled by a loping, sensual double bass and echoing piano hauntingly moving in and out.

4. Towards Today A more conventional song structure with a catchy chorus line. The gentle vocal interweaves with sparkling acoustic guitar arpeggios and a cello counter melody. A subtle end to an EP of quality and richness.

http://annahester.com/

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/

Laura Mardon : Black Rainbow, EP released January 2018

Laura Mardon describes herself as a ‘softly spoken Australian folk-punk songwriter’, so the titles of London boroughs on this EP may at first be disorientating; but she was born and raised in Kentish Town before she eventually embraced a new life on the Gold Coast. Her earlier experiences form the lyrical backbone of these very personal confessional songs, underpinned by sensitive acoustic guitar work.

‘Borough’ features minimalist accompaniment and a lyrical reminiscence that stops and starts the musical backing. Never has ‘…took a bus towards Deptford…’ sounded like such an inviting proposition as on the next track but the bleak words ultimately reveal an empty experience. She then slows down to the waltz of ‘Camberwell’, with a bitter and ambiguous lyric giving an extra emotional weight.

Worthy of a novel opening line ‘Brighton’ begins with ‘… I stole a bible from my hotel room when I ran away from London…’ then the disillusioned narrator escapes the traumas of New Cross to seek a possible destiny at the ocean side. Laura says “Living on the Gold Coast is like living in a permanent holiday vortex”, and the final track Gold Coast is much more optimistic, with positively upbeat guitar picking and a sparkling inflection in the voice.

An EP of spiritual and physical odyssey; it gains in depth with every repeated listen.

http://www.lauramardon.com/

Bouquet Of Dead Crows, Six Bells, Cambridge, 9 September 2017

The local music scene in Cambridge (and I assume in other towns) is being supported by an increasing number of pubs and cafes featuring the best of home-grown talent (special commendations to The Earl Of Beaconsfield and Relevant Records café). Now the Six Bells off Mill Road has broadened its musical repertoire to feature some of the more contemporary indie artists, including a recent bout of noiserock from up and coming four-piece Shyer, as well as a forthcoming December gig from carnival psychsters The Scissors.
Tonight it was an acoustic showcase, beginning with Matt Hammond, added to the bill at the last minute, and very pleased to be playing to an appreciative audience.
He is one of those guitar players who is fascinating to watch, a style based around tapping the strings up the neck of the instrument, forming repetitive, hypnotic patterns to underpin his mellow vocalising. It was all relaxing and tranquil, he is clearly a fan of Nick Drake and John Martyn, as everyone should probably be….

Jethro Steel of Goldblume is not a coaxer of the guitar, preferring a more punishing approach to the strings. He plays effective versions of the electric power-trio’s tracks, with all their unpredictable twists such as whisking us away to ‘Winconsin’. With a new EP release imminent, this magnetic performer knows how to win a crowd over.

Bouquet Of Dead Crows are equally at home as full-on rockers and with different stripped down versions; tonight it was the vocals of Antoinette Cooper with guitar (and some effects) from multi-instrumentalist Neil Bruce and a rare appearance of an acoustic bass played by Graeme Clarke. They were featuring songs from debut album ‘Of The Night’, previously reviewed on this site. They certainly held audience attention, for a couple of quieter tracks we were instructed to be silent to get fully involved, this was readily obeyed!

Varied musical styles, intimate surroundings, good beer, free(!), that must be a good night out…

Bouquet of Dead Crows
https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/2015/09/13/bouquet-of-dead-crows-of-the-night-released-november-2015/
https://goldblumeband.bandcamp.com/
https://www.musicglue.com/matthammondofficial/shop

Wave Pictures : A Season In Hull, LP released February 2016

Something special from the Wave Pictures, a vinyl-only album recorded around one microphone in one day with all-new songs. Despite this back to basics technique as far as I can tell the sound quality/mix/balance etc seems to be absolutely fine (so why do most bands spend ‘months’ in the studio?).

Lyricist David Tattersall is on top form, the low-key instrumentation of finger-picking guitar, acoustic bass and percussion lending a poignancy to his lovelorn tales, cryptic references and imagery. Highlights include ‘Remains’ (‘a whooper swan fashioning his neck into a noose…’), ‘The Pharmacy’ where never has the ‘soft green light of the pharmacy cross’ sounded so nostalgic and the bitterness of ‘Hot Rain Riding On The Salt Lake’ with gems such as ‘You hung me upside down on a meat-hook..‘ and ‘you ripped the last page out of every book in town..’

In the subtle ‘Thin Lizzy Live And Dangerous’ that raucous masterpiece is playing in the loft as a tongue-tied love is declared.
One of the best tracks is the playful and addictive ‘David In A Field Of Pumpkins’. While crawling around amongst the orange gourds David sings a daydreaming speculation of ‘if I could fly straight over the town I would knock upon your window…’ ; somehow it all makes perfect sense.

They are playing many of these songs live on the current tour and they slot perfectly in with older favourites. With another new album due later this year the brilliant Wave Pictures go from strength to strength.

http://thewavepictures.com/