Tag Archives: album

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/

Gaffa Tape Sandy : Family Mammal, EP released August 2019

A super-long EP or mini-album from East Anglia’s finest power-rock trio Gaffa Tape Sandy. It is a follow-up to their acclaimed collection ‘Spring Killing’ from 2017 and builds on their reputation for brilliant live shows, which has been captured in the excellent ‘as-live’ production here.

After an insightful spoken introduction from young Isaac (‘…banging tunes!!…’), the opener ‘Beehive’ pushes all before it; unbearably catchy vocal lines, a descending chord sequence, an impassioned natural history lyric and guitar noise that could not be bettered. With the flexibility of two strong and contrasting singers the band can keep the momentum going with the excellent ‘Meat Head’, a timely reminder of attitudes to personal rights.
Both of these tracks have been previously released and are familiar live favourites but the newer ‘My Desperate House’ maintains the high standard. After the deceptive calm intro and the band raise the fireworks to full volume there is no doubt that this is another fine tune.

‘Headlights’ has a syncopated, choppy rhythm and with the dual vocals trading exchanges it refers to the mental health issues that cloud the lives of so many people. As on the rest of the album the production and mix on this track blend the basic trio of instruments into something really special.

Departing into the quick waltz time of ‘So Dry’ the band show their prowess when stretched into a song of contrasting light and dark sound levels, as also ‘Dinner Jacket’ which is a more sedate outing…..until the trio suddenly burst into full flight near the end!

‘Turnstile’ has an anthemic quality with explosive drumming and spiky bass playing, then the finale ‘Kill The Chord’ is a protest song about cuts to the arts and the closure of small venues. It is a reminder that the lifeblood of creativity is flowing through the veins of emerging bands, captured at their best in an intimate, packed performance space playing the sort of show at which Gaffa Tape Sandy excel…

https://www.gaffatapesandy.co.uk/

Ember Rev : From The Country To The City To The Sea, LP released 20 September 2019

A new album from Cambridge art/folk rockers Ember Rev, a complex mixture of acoustic mystery and thoughtful intensity. It is said there are only seven basic plots for any story, this presumably applies to concept albums too; here it is the ‘quest’ and the ‘voyage and return’ that give an arc to this set of songs and instrumentals.

‘Like Dreamers’ places the story in possibly an imaginary context, a floating ethereal landscape where the cymbals roll in and out and the accordion becomes a haunting meander. ‘From The Country ‘ describes the optimistic and youthful narrators setting off on an odyssey across the countryside into Cambridge ‘….and with our hip flask full and boots tied tight we set off to search for gold….’. The groove of this track stays restless and Dan Ecclestone’s vocals immediately pull you into the action.

‘To The City’ jumps ahead to a surreal interlude of a parade of lanterns in the capital, a metaphor for moving on. The most uptempo track here, it has a satisfyingly loose structure with a neat hookline and guitar figure, eventually dissolving into an extended workout with guest clarinet making a welcome contribution.

Two instrumentals follow, the first a short scene-setter with extra tuned percussion cameos then ‘Walk/Don’t Walk’ is a more ambitious piece, with terrific drumming driving a late seventies Brand X influenced piece of jazz fusion. ‘And So To The Sea’ hints at a tragedy to come on the final stage of the journey/quest ‘…..but I waited, I waited there at the water’s edge you never returned….’. The acoustic guitar gleams with melancholy and dominates the song. ‘Be Still’ is a wordless meditation where the mournful voice becomes a darker instrument to counterpoint the light of the accordion.

‘Ultramarine’ is a multi-sectioned piece with surreal musings on life and death with the inevitable draw of the sea for the central character ‘…let’s swim with the fishes tonight..and dance to their ebb and their flow…had you asked me jump I’d have jumped; and the waves would’ve welcomed me under…’. Instrumentally there is lots going on here – all of the band making an excellent contribution to this affecting mini-movie.

As Dan performs the Peter Gabriel-esque final track ‘Like Dolphins’ he leaves the listener in no doubt that the allusions in earlier songs reference a tragedy ‘….for though we slowly came of age you remained…and of your bones are coral made…’; one that lingers with those involved, as does this very personal and thought-provoking album.

https://www.facebook.com/EmberRev/

The New Fools : Brilliant, LP released June 2019

A track by track review of the new album from Cambridge band The New Fools (their name drawn from a Bob Dylan lyric…)

1. The Big Wheel A cracking opener – rolling along and relentlessly driven by acoustic guitar. With sharp similes to describe the excitement of a new relationship it is a warm and engaging lyric ‘….like the first page of your diary…you make me feel brand new….’. There may be a darker twist at the end but the Wave Pictures/REM groove makes this one of the best tracks on the album. I saw the band play this at the Cambridge NCI club back in February; it is an excellent live track too.

2. A New Way of Thinking Optimistic but tinged with regret; a manifesto for starting afresh and moving on over jazzy bar room piano and some neat brass lines.

3. Singalong A fun but searing indictment of the modern music ‘industry’ and hopeful recollection of a possibly non-existent past when ‘…we were happy enough to just singalong…’. The acquisition of money and fame for its own sake leading to decay brings to mind the seminal 1974 film ‘Stardust’, touched on again in recent Beatles-themed movie ‘Yesterday’.

4. Martine (and Me) There is plenty going on in this song, a sort of mini dramatic opera where the narrator lives a normal drab life while fantasy partner Martine is on a different plane altogether. The track succeeds in blending these worlds together over an ever-changing musical background featuring a cello sound and lots of interesting guitar work. After a gradual picking up of pace it ends with ‘…when the cops burst in they think they’re gonna find Bonnie and Clyde…but all they find is Martine and me….’ and a playout guitar solo completes the circle.

5. Everything This track is a bit of a grower – a thoughtful meditation on the passing of time and our cosmic insignificance. Perhaps they are depressing thoughts but lifted by a strong melody and a stealthily building guitar-driven rhythm and keyboard colouring.

6. George & Adele More comment on the media, music industry and its distortion by reality talent shows (I think?). A distinctive brass fanfare and some angry-sounding electric guitar provide the tension while you ponder on who exactly is George?

7. The Boy You Met On Holiday This is the melodic and emotional highpoint of the album. A simple tune goes straight to the heart with an evocative timeless lyric of longing and loss. The mournful and well-judged flugelhorn solo gives that flavour of melancholy like a long-forgotten colliery brass band.

8. (Waiting for the) Good Times Irresistibly catchy but different in tone to anything else on the album. An anthem of procrastination (always an uncomfortable trait to admit to!) juxtaposed with a jaunty call and response vocal and rolling along instrumentation. As an album closer it is certainly a memorable end to the collection.

https://www.facebook.com/thenewf00ls/

Psychic Lemon : Live at the Smokehouse, LP released May 2019

Recorded at The Smokehouse, Ipswich’s venue for the discerning listener and pursuer of truth and authenticity in music, here is a new live album from Cambridge-based Psychic Lemon.
This consists of three tracks from their second album ‘Frequency Rhythm Distortion Delay’ (see review below) and two new tunes. The band have dispensed with vocals on this live performance, distilling their psychedelic onslaught into its purest form.
This is clear from the opening ‘Interstellar Fuzz Star’; as the guitar effects go crazy in the first minute like an ending to the track instead of the beginning, but fear not! the drums and bass lay down their groove and propel the sound along at a mighty pace for all of its ten minutes.

Straight into ‘Satori Disko’, a more mellow-ish, languid offering with a looping guitar figure and some extravagant cymbal smashes as the bass spans the octaves. There is a conventional guitar solo too to tempt the palate. Favourite track of mine ‘Hey Droog’ is driven by a pounding drum pattern with some dark choral sounds adding an atmosphere of doom. Like all of their live performances, the music seems to take on a life of its own, the band merely servants of the greater cause.

New track ‘Jonny Marvel at the Milky Way’ is a pastoral interlude, like an instrumental from mid-period Pink Floyd the keyboard provides the texture for grand guitar experimentation over an unhurried rhythm backing. As the atmospheric colours fade away, the finale bursts in; ‘White Light’ is a frenetic work-out – a high energy end to an immersive and impressive performance with the music firmly embedded in the walls of this excellent venue.

http://www.psychiclemon.co.uk/
https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/2018/01/01/psychic-lemon-frequency-rhythm-distortion-delay-cd-released-january-2018/

Tom Williams : What Did You Want To Be?, LP released April 2019

A track by track review of the new LP from singer/songwriter Tom Williams, a varied collection of anthems, ballads and late night musings. A formidable live performer (see my older review https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/tom-williams-and-the-boat-29th-may-2014/) with a fanbase that continues to grow, this is his sixth album of original material, produced by Tim Rice-Oxley of Keane.

1. Run Down A big live show opener, with full band backing and a chorus that pushes all before it as musically it travels down an open highway. ‘… I’m a bit run down at the moment…I let the days get away from me….’

2. Rock & Roll A bitterish tale of the pitfalls of life in the lower echelons of the music ‘business’, the downbeat thoughts boosted by another anthemic chorus with dominant keyboard chords underpinning ‘….I don’t believe in rock ‘n’ roll no more….’.

3. Dawned on Me This one is a bit special, a relaxed ballad with some jazzy textures of various acoustic instruments and quickly arriving at an addictive hookline sentiment reminiscent of a latter period John Martyn song. Lovely.

4. Graveyard More of a pacey country-rock feel to this track, the band pounding along relentlessly driven by the key line ‘…there’s a graveyard in my head where all my dreams are dead…’. A thoughtful middle eight takes the song in another direction ‘…you’re kicking down the door…you’re living in a constellation….’

5. Stay Afloat A change of tone here with many delicate guitars filling the mix, synthesiser tones and a subtly urgent drum track. Tom’s vocals and harmonies drift along as light as air.

6. Keeping It In Moving along at a smooth pace, with short lyric lines and the instruments drifting in and out like a song by The War On Drugs, there is a ringing guitar solo at the end to add to the atmosphere.

7. Early Morning Rain One of the first songs written for the album back in 2016, with a hint of darkness in its chord sequence and a big chorus hookline as ‘…the early morning rain washes your pain away…’

8. Some Time A pure, compact song, accompanied by gentle acoustic guitar and a cello sound. Returning to the key line ‘….some time in the future none of this will last…some time in the future all of this will pass…’ It is a moving, emotive vignette.

9. It’’s Dark Now A preview single for the album, this is a punch-the-air big anthem, built around percussive guitar and piano with a call and response chorus. The narrator is suffering the tribulations of late night excesses and broadening it out into wider social commentary.

10. Crying at the TV This is a dissonant nightmarish rocking workout, with a guitar simulating sirens, Tom’s voice filtered and distorted and generating an atmosphere of paranoia and ennui.

11. Real Slow Back to the country-rock pace, a jaunty song but with a serious intent and lingering message ‘….depression its a new low… days are drifting real slow….winter’s coming in and my windows are broken…’

http://www.tomwilliamsmusic.net/
https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/tom-williams-and-the-boat-29th-may-2014/

Jeremy Tuplin : Pink Mirror, LP released 5 April 2019

A track by track review of the excellent new album from Jeremy Tuplin, the follow-up to his debut ‘I Dreamt I Was An Astronaut’ from 2017. With his distinctive voice and gift for words he has produced a heady concoction of attractive music and rewarding and complex lyrics.

1. Can We Be Strangers On this scene-setting opening track a gentle guitar welcomes you into his inverted lyrical world, ‘….secret, don’t tell me your secret, the purpose of a secret is that it is meant to remain a secret…’. Gradually the semi-orchestral sounds threaten to overwhelm the words.

2. Bad Lover Brilliant poppy up-tempo groove, driven by an addictive guitar figure, this was the preview single for this collection. Definitely a highlight, watch the video too with the band artfully succumbing to boredom during the mimed performance.

3. Just Cos Ur Handsome Another jaunty song, full of regret and wordplay, ‘…Too easily confused is the state…Of two hearts that are bound forever….In leather clad daydreams what do you even mean…’. The rhymes and assonance go across and through the lyric lines, as the guitar sparkles over the sympathetic rhythm track.

4. Gaia A paean of praise to planet Earth despite human shortcomings; featuring a series of great rhymes with the goddess’s name ‘…Gaia, D’you ever wish that cosmic rock had just slipped by ya….Guess it’s a risk of being the world’s most frequent flyer…’
The goddess herself makes a vocal appearance part way through. Divine!

5. Pandora’s Box An epic personalisation of the Ancient Greek myth, mixed in with nightmarish imagery and relationship paranoia. The central musical freeform section is unlike anything else on this collection before order and hope is restored. (although of course ‘…they say it’s the hope that kills you…’)

6. Pink Mirror Thoughtful but inscrutable lyrics on this one as the melody and instrumentation carry it along optimistically.

7. The Machine A bluesy, late night reflection powered by a compulsive bass beat and razor sharp drums. Personal social commentary ‘…Then I think of everything I do, think, feel or see…It barely contributes to the economy…’ as the narrator becomes lost in modern stresses.

8. Love’s Penitentiary This twisted love song opens with the winning couplet ‘….There goes my baby out the door again…She’s carrying my heart in a handbag made of my own skin…’ pulling you in to a lo-fi masterpiece, one of my favourites on the album.

9. Frankenstein Dark and moody, this slow burner features a ringing, roaming guitar and haunting words ‘…You’re like the internet personified but kept under wraps….Concealing the monsters you create ….’

10. Break Up
Neat and sparse musically with honest and touching words. ‘…This is it we’ve reached the final threshold….Robotic people with smart telephones….’. The imagery of modern relationships is convincingly tinged with disappointment.

11. Humans This brilliant cinematic song is the centrepiece of the album for me; a winner as it is a ‘list song’ featuring a random cast of people to support the key theme ‘….Humans, I love you….Despite my seemingly best intentions not to….’ The leisurely six minutes is bookended by gentle acoustic guitar and the names range in prominence from ‘…Buddha, Blondie, Dostoevsky…’ to footballer Peter Crouch and the surprising pairing of ‘…George Bush, Kate Bush…’. Impressive indeed.

12. The Beast A quiet end to the LP; an ode to escape and realisation ‘…I’ve been lying to myself, living through a telephone…For once I’m gonna listen to my mother and wear that warm coat she bought me…..’ With just guitar arpeggios it is one of the loveliest melodies on the album reminiscent of a hidden gem on an Edwyn Collins solo disc.

http://www.jeremytuplin.com/
http://www.trappedanimal.com/