Jo Ash is a singer and keyboard player from Ely, releasing her first LP of self-penned compositions. It is an album of introspection, intensity, imagination and above all of confident, well-structured song writing.
The first two tracks have a broad cosmological theme as referred to in the album title, with ‘Otherworldly’ a strong opener to the collection with its orchestral introduction before the acoustic piano and voice drive the song and lift its haunting chorus. Jo’s piano style is rich and compelling on many of these tracks, on ‘4D Journey’ it adorns a stealthy synthesiser bass pulse and another arresting chorus.
If the album generally tends towards slower tempos, in contrast the spirited ‘Story Behind Your Smile’ dances along briskly, ably supported by guesting guitar, bass and drums.
‘Adrift’ and ‘I See You’ are stately ballads where Jo gives full range to her clear, pure voice. ‘Her Eternity’ is a waltz led by some darker piano textures and tempo changes. ‘Smoke And Mirrors’ is a progrockish concoction with marching orchestra, spiky strings and a complex many-section arrangement.
‘Embers’ is a favourite of mine; with minimal piano and backing voices it still achieves a lush, emotive sound and it features one of Jo’s best vocals. ‘Blue Heart’ uses the repeating waltz rhythm of the echoing piano to great effect to counterpoint the abstract sentiments of the words.
For the final song a foreboding drum beat underpins a dark lyric musing on the inevitability of time passing and the idea that we only have ‘30,000 Days’ of life? The sombre chorus drives the song, ‘…here I am walking this Earth….’.
It is an unusual and haunting end to an impressive debut album.
Cambridge four-piece Ember Rev are currently finalising their third LP, but this excellent previous release from early summer this year is well worth considering first. It is a concept album inspired by the state of the nation, with a feel of reflective and thoughtful protest.
1. Bring It Right Down Based on overheard conversations during train journeys by band leader Dan Ecclestone he has distilled the sentiments and current attitudes to political developments into a disruptive, edgy opus of powerful and personal imagery. The instrumental spikes are partly tempered by the rocking accordion of Chris Peckham and Dan’s vocals remind me of Tom Robinson at his protesting finest.
2. The Fear Another track where you can’t quite pin down the time signature this one broods into a descending guitar figure and hookline of paranoia and warning. There is a good featured voice contribution from Romy Gensale too.
3. Something Almost Imperceptible Relaxing acoustic instrumental passage with guitar arpeggios, glockenspiel and piano but with a sense of foreboding threading through. It is like something from an early gothic/pastoral Genesis album (eg Trespass)
4. Papillon The title is a reference to a quotation from Alexander Pope;’Who breaks a butterfly upon a wheel?’ and famously referenced when Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were given a prison sentence in 1967. Mix those allusions in with a stately strolling accordion rhythm, loping bass, spacious drumming then suddenly a huge chorus crashes in. The pensive, questioning lyrics lead the song to its downbeat conclusion.
5. My Sentiments Exactly The polyrhythmic undercurrents of much of the album are given free range here, with complex drumming driving the jazzy feel of the tune and another excellent vocal performance from Dan Ecclestone.
6. England’s Finest Hour The finale of the album unifies many of the musical styles we have heard previously. The forthright lyric links a historical context to the present day with the resigned multi-lingual words expressing solidarity with the European continent.
Retro duo Elma revive and re-interpret many aspects of sixties pop genres on their long awaited debut long-player ‘Dreamland’.
The title track sets the agenda with its sparse instrumentation, a leisurely waltz time, smooth melody and of course a lyric of regret and longing sung by the golden voice of Ellie Gillett. It conjures up the russet shades and faded grandeur of the deserted fairground and art-deco cinema on the album sleeve. Some of the tracks have been released before as inviting aperitifs to this full collection; the glorious stomp of ‘California’ and their four-track EP including the heartbreaking ballad ‘Butterfingers’.
(as reviewed on this site previously at https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/2018/07/01/elma-california-single-released-june-2018/ and https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/2017/11/05/elma-slo-mo-ep-released-october-2017/)
Mark Ellis orchestrates a full band sound with plenty of brass for anthem of independence ‘On My Way’ (featuring another fine middle eight and instrumental break).
‘The Game’ is a beauty, the atmospheric introductory waltz creating an image of a rainy London street in the 1960s or a black and white TV detective series theme, then the jazzy vocal takes control and lifts it to another level, with a big chorus suddenly appearing.
Then the album ends with two excellent and contrasting tracks; ‘All I Want’ is an appealing and effortless lounge-music vignette, the voice floating above lighter-than-air electric guitar work, bass and brushed drums, with a piano solo too.
Finally, if ‘Butterfingers’ left the listener in emotional turmoil, then ‘Late To The Party’ has surpassed it with lines like ‘….you did all that you could boy, you wrote our names in the clouds, too bad that I wasn’t looking up…..’. Over simple and effective acoustic guitar chords, Ellie delivers a show-stopping vocal performance of nuance and emotion, worthy of this superb song.
Elma are launching the LP with live dates featuring a full band, including a show at The Portland Arms in Cambridge on 27th September….
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.
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.
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….
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.