Tag Archives: album

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/

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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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Gavin Chappell-Bates, Portland Arms, Cambridge, 8 April 2016

A double R*E*P*E*A*T Records album launch; starting with ‘Horizons’ from Horse Party, mostly a collection of songs released as EPs, singles and downloads over the last year. They are a brilliant live band, tonight the original trio were augmented by a bass player on stage and that gives these new songs even more clout.
The stealthy, sparse vocals and guitar from Ellie Langley and Seymour Quigley set the mood of the song, then the hooks crash in; the opening song ‘Animal’ showcases this to great effect with an extra power bass line and of course the ace drumming by Shannon Hope, driving the sound to new heights every time.
Highlights were the slower bluesy groove of ‘Gratitude Falling’, the bittersweetness of ‘Out Of Sight’ and the energetic final song ‘Paydirt’, this was the best performance I had seen by this electrifying band.

‘We Are The Ones’ is the new CD from Gavin Chappell-Bates (reviewed on this site) and instead of his solo live-looping tonight he was backed by a full band, Cambridge rockers Bouquet Of Dead Crows. Gavin’s songs are from the head and heart; he started with ‘Refugee’ a gradual build-up to a huge Manic Street Preachers (his favourite band) style chorus. The band stepped up to the faster ‘Church Of Rock and Roll’ and the mighty bass line underpinning the disconcerting chord changes of ‘Black Holes’.

’95’ was an anthem to get the crowd singing along to the hookline and his very personal early song ‘Last Angel’ was a sensitively sung duet, then his bitter reflection on recent politics ‘The Finest Hour’ got a full workover from the band.
There was a surprise during the end of the ballad ‘Starlight’; suddenly there were 11 more singers on stage , a choir in black who had been part of the audience. This emotional lift carried into the title-track rouser ‘We Are The Ones’ (a worthy successor to the rallying cry of the late 80s, ’68 Guns’ by The Alarm?) and finally ‘Dead End Disco Streets’ closed the show and launched the album in style…

http://gavinchappellbates.com/
https://www.facebook.com/horsepartyparty

https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/2016/03/22/gavin-chappell-bates-we-are-the-ones-lp-released-8-april-2016/

Gavin Chappell-Bates : We Are The Ones, LP released 8 April 2016

A track-by-track review of ‘We Are The Ones’, the debut album by Cambridge singer/songwriter Gavin Chappell-Bates.

1. Church Of Rock ‘n’ Roll. This is a blasting punchy rocker. The meticulous care and attention to detail that Gavin puts into his music is evident from the start and we get an early reference to his favourite band (Manic Street Preachers, a band whose cult status and influence continues to grow).

2. All Ways. A sort of ‘you and me against the world’ feeling, over some ringing guitar and hefty bass and drums.

3. 95. See my earlier review of this standout anthem, making 1995 sound like a good place to be.
https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/2015/08/23/gavin-chappell-bates-95-single-released-july-2015/

4. Refugee. The musical centrepiece of the album, an abstract lyric over a gentle beginning then full-on guitar (check out the scenic views of Cambridge on the video for this one).

5. We Are The Ones. The title track is a companion piece to ’95’, less specific in its references but similar sentiment. And very catchy.

6. Writing In The Sand. An acoustic ballad with increasing layers of backing, as Gavin can show to good effect when using his looping techniques in live performances.

7. Black Holes. Improbably low bass riff underpins a tale of regret as life’s moments succumb to the gravitational inevitability of the title. Definitely one of my favourite tracks.

8. Dead End Disco Streets. A big sweeping song, the lyric populated with a cast of lost characters whose only escape is music. Good strings on this one.

9. Follow The Light. Simple optimistic sentiments, evolving into another catchy chorus.

10. The Finest Hour. A rarity amongst current music, a political protest song. Some sharp commentary about unfulfilled promises over a nice Celtic riff, and possibly the first time I have heard Neil Kinnock mentioned in a lyric.

11. Last Angel. This is a heartfelt and uncomfortable track about despair with a sung note of goodbye ‘…tonight will be my last night on Earth’ featuring a guest vocal from Kathryn James.

12. Starlight. As a contrast to the previous song this moves from the individual to the universal with astronomical contemplation linked to a touching tale of love. And another big chorus.

This is an impressive collection; I recently caught a warm-up show preparing for the album launch on 8 April at The Portland Arms in Cambridge and these songs work very well with a live band….

http://gavinchappellbates.com/

The Scissors, The Boathouse, Cambridge, 12 March 2016

After ten years on the Cambridge music scene The Scissors release a new album, the grammatically challenging ‘The Scissors Is The Haunted Mirror’.

The four-piece promise ‘carnival freakshow organ, primitive synths, and rock’n’roll guitar powered psychpunkpop.’ and much of this manifesto is to be heard in show starter ‘Come With Me’, the opening track on the LP. In the week that Keith Emerson of ELP became the latest rocker to die in 2016, it was good to be reminded of the great Hammond organ sound as it pushed its way into the chorus of this punchy bass-driven song.

‘No Go The Lowdown’ is a rocker with a cryptic lyric and the clever effect of all instruments and voice sharing the hook line. We had a brief acoustic interlude featuring antique accordion and acoustic guitar for ‘Attack Of The Phantom Teardrops’ then ‘Phone Calls From The Dead’ and final track ‘Your House Has Ghosts’ are back to noisy pop-rock. Best of all is the slow-burner blues of ‘Why Don’t You Cry’, with theremin textures (always fascinating to watch), guitar fireworks and the vocals from Stewart Harris making the most of the straight to the heart melody.

It was a good advert for the album (although I would have liked to hear the keyboard rushes and emotional turmoil hidden behind the title of of ‘Don’t Hate Me Just Because I’m Yours’).
Their free lyric sheet proclaimed it was ‘a phantasmagorical entertainment to thrill and beguile the senses…’, they certainly proved again that they are one of the best live bands in Cambridge.

http://www.thescissors.co.uk/