Tag Archives: album

Tragical History Tour : Aphorisms, LP released April 2018

Tragical History Tour is the stage name of Derrick Johnston, a singer-songwriter from the East Coast of Scotland who has substantial experience of performing in various bands and solo. With many stories to tell he is finally releasing his first long-player.

Opening track ‘Fight For Light’ sets the tone; a hybrid of folk, country and acoustic punk with a fiery, roaring vocal unleashed to great effect. The political message of ‘Come On Home, Hero’ is a previously released single, easing up a bit on the voice over a rockabilly backing.

‘Old Words’ shows a more tender side (‘….when I cut myself open in front of you to prove my heart was pure, but now not so sure….’) sung over a slow introduction, but then speeds up into a melancholic heartfelt song with an electric guitar line cutting through the acoustic.

‘What Would Vinnie Mac Do?’ has a cryptic lyric delivered over some sparkling guitar picking. The melody and arrangement of ‘It’s Cool, I’ve Got This’ is a highlight, an affecting and emotionally raw performance.

And there is much more, eventually reaching the epic conclusion of the album; ‘The Final Intervention’, an anthemic, wide-ranging summary of many of the elements of what has come before with the addition of well-judged piano, spoken voices and an almost orchestral ending.

Like the stark black and white landscapes featured on the cover art of this and his other releases the music can be agonised and angry, but always authentic and there is still a warmth to be felt from these ten tracks.

https://tragicalhistorytour.bandcamp.com/
http://www.real-records.co.uk/product/tragical-history-tour-aphorisms/

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Snowpoet : Thought You Knew, LP released February 2018

Snowpoet join together elements of folk, jazz, ambient and of course poetry to produce a captivating fusion of sound. The writing and performing core of the band is singer Lauren Kinsella and instrumentalist Chris Hyson joined on this album by other talented acoustic players.

Opening track ‘The Therapist’ is a glistening series of guitar arpeggios with the soulful vocal of Lauren on a haunting journey where the melody never quite settles. Other instruments steal in and out and the overall effect is beguiling and mellow. Instrumental track two ‘Under The Tree’ has a ticking clock theme and paves the way for some shimmering string effects on the pastoral ‘Water Baby’ along with the piano figure constantly returning under the voice.

‘Love Again’ is a longer piece and probably my favourite track on the album, a jazzy late-night treat with a slightly up-tempo bass and a saxophone solo; like much of this album it is never too hurried. ‘Dear Someone’ is vocal only, you can imagine this one making an impact in a live context. ‘Snow’ is a measured, smooth ballad with a gorgeous vocal performance, ‘Two Of Cups’ (a tarot card that ‘…shows the beauty and power that is created when two become one…’) is a slow, evocative waltz that is reminiscent of a mid-period Van Morrison instrumental track.

And there are more special moments; the semi-spoken word of ‘It’s Already Better Than OK’ and the simple piano accompaniment to the free form ‘Another Step’, a short and powerful vignette that brings this impressive album to a satisfying end.

https://www.facebook.com/snowpoet

Faeland : All My Swim, LP released January 2018

This is a very impressive debut from Bristol contemporary folk band Faeland, an acoustic collective led by songwriting duo Rebecca Nelson and Jacob Morrison.

Opener ‘Too Much’ starts quietly before a distinctly celtic instrumentation broods mysteriously underneath Rebecca’s vocal stylings, her voice being one of the huge strengths of this disc. Released as a single, ‘We’re Just A Love Song’ is a sprightly but sad tale about the destiny of a relationship, ‘Prayer Song’ is layered vocals and atmosphere with a clarinet adding to the texture.

A shimmering harp sound on ‘All My Swim’ makes this transformative track even better, as the narrator becomes one with the flowing river. ‘Chantress’ is a more traditional folk sound, with accordion joining in too. And there is much much more, including my personal favourites ‘Strings’, with beautiful voice and elegant acoustic guitar figures and the sparse strumming and lyrical nostalgia of ‘To The Green – Live’.

Highly recommended, fifty minutes of gentle, carefully-crafted quality sounds. It is an album to escape into and become part of; somehow it seems removed from the normal time stream….

http://faeland.co.uk/

Public Service Broadcasting: Every Valley, released July 2017

The follow-up to the acclaimed ‘The Race For Space’, the new Public Service Broadcasting album debuts in the album charts at Number 4, not bad for a concept album about the decline of the coal mining industry in South Wales. Given those perhaps limited parameters this is a superb result, it is more introspective and less immediate than its predecessors but repeated listens brings overall reward and many glistening nuggets like that which no doubt were sometimes found in the coal seams (…enough for another 400 years…).

The narrative starts with the perceived and semi-romanticised nobility of the miners in the opening title track with of course spot-on sampled voices including a too-short snippet of the legendary Richard Burton (which made me want to re-listen to his voicing of The War Of The Worlds!). ‘The Pit’ tells us what it was really like, the 80 degree heat of the tunnels …three feet six inches high from floor to roof… (for further reading see Orwell’s Road To Wigan Pier…).

There are lots of acoustic instruments on these opening tracks, using local strings players and recording in their purpose-built studio in Ebbw Vale. The wryly titled ‘People Will Always Need Coal’ is a favourite of mine, the band using a more familiar electronic-based sound underneath the subtle ironies of a recruitment campaign film ‘….you’ll discover the excitement of going underground, there will always be something new…’. It builds up well, I can imagine it as a future live favourite. ‘Progress’ follows in a similar vein, with the vocal hook added by Traceyanne Campbell.

Then this optimism begins to crumble; the closures, strikes and strife reflected in the angry rock guitar of ‘All Out’, PSB’s noisiest track since car crash opus ‘Signal 30’ on their debut album. The rest of the album deals with the aftermath and how local communities were affected. Guest vocalists (James Dean Bradfield, Haiku Salut, Lisa Jên Brown) contribute effectively but it is those real-voice clips that really hit home.

And if listening to the gradual mellowing of the music towards the end of the album doesn’t leave you spiritually part of the landscape and its uncertain future, the final emotional heft of the male voice choir singing ‘Take Me Home’ is a glorious coda to an affecting musical journey.

https://www.publicservicebroadcasting.net/
https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/2015/04/26/public-service-broadcasting-corn-exchange-cambridge-25-april-2015/
https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/2015/03/01/public-service-broadcasting-the-race-for-space-released-february-2015/

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.

http://www.vanmorrison.com
https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/2015/03/21/van-morrison-duets-released-march-2015/
https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/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…

http://www.paulgoodwin.com/

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…

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