Mike Stevens BREATHE IN THE WORLD, BREATHE OUT MUSIC

Mike Stevens
BREATHE IN THE WORLD, BREATHE OUT MUSIC
Stony Plain Records

Groundbreaking, Genre-Bending and Mind Blowing Harmonica Led Roots Music

It’s not unknown for me to receive albums to review from two different sources; but three???
That’s what happened here; and although I’d never heard of ‘legendary Canadian harmonica player’ Mike Stevens; the thought of three trusted PR companies seeking my opinion certainly piqued my attention a month or so ago.
Opening track Like a Bird is a deceptively sweet soft shoe shuffle; featuring a wonderful vocal performance from Polly Harris (and eventually a ‘choir of Angels’ on the fade). There’s a whole lot going on behind her singing; not least my introduction to Stevens’ fascinating harmonica playing ….. which is as complicated as it is listenable btw.
The temperature is raised when that is followed by Watermelon Pie; a Country-Blues instrumental where Stevens and his harmonica battle it out with Kevin Breid on electric guitar (and slide too!), and the result is nearly epic!
I have a harmonica playing friend; Martin Fletcher who trod the boards for many years with a variety of succesful Blues Bands until he felt restricted by the genre and began making ever more ‘progressive’ music with this under-regarded instrument ….. to ever shrinking audiences.
Mike Stevens is of a similar ilk it appears; using his harmonica in a huge variety of styles that many wouldn’t think suited to it; but in these capable hands (and lips!) works perfectly well.
Our man takes Orange Blossom Special and turns it into something very nearly Avant Garde! To paraphrase Eric Morecambe; ‘All of the notes are ….. just not necessarily in the right order!’ and again, the result is fabulous …… as it is with the mournful The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald which immediatly follows too.
I’ve been a fan of the harmonica since I was a teen and have been drawn to albums simply because that instrument was featured (plus I own 3 VA Harmonica albums that are virtually unlistenable!) but I’ve never heard anyone like Mike Stevens; who takes this tiny musical instrument to new and even dangerous heights on the innovative Put The Phone Down, Devil’s Bride and the sultry Blues Rock ballad, Livin’ in Sarnia which also features Cory James Mitchell on vocals.
Does the world need another version of Amazing Grace?
If you’d asked me four weeks ago I’d have said NO ….. but the way Mike Stevens disembowels the melody then puts it back together again is truly staggering and extraordinary in every way.
In some ways I could have stuck a pin into the track listing to select a Favourite; but putting some thought into the process I’ve narrowed it down to two songs; both of which feature Mike on vocals as well as said harmonica.
Bad In a Good Way is almost Jazz Like in construction; with Kevin Breit providing some organ licks that would have done Blue Note Records proud back in ‘the day’.
The other which just might tip the balance to be the Winner is Devil’s Pride; where Stevens takes us on a darkly intimidating walk down a path that even Tom Waits would think twice about entering ….. and the result; not for the first time here is quite extraordinary.
For a man who, over 35 years in the business has released and featured on too many albums to count; played the Opry over 300 times, won numerous Awards (Canadian and American) and even set up the ArtsCan Charity ….. surely this album is really groundbreaking and will now introduce him to a new audience around the world.

Released May 20th 2022
https://mikestevensmusic.com/mike
https://mikestevensmusic.com/artscan-circle

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The Bros. Landreth COME MORNING

The Bros. Landreth
Come Morning
Birthday Cake Records

Deeply Personal and Mellow Lo-Fi Influenced Canadiacana

Aha!
The Bros. Landreth?
Not the most prolific of recording artists, are they?
Three albums in nearly ten years? ….. but; what albums they are!
Their debut; *LET IT LIE possibly changed my life; as it was a ‘gateway’ album to the mystical world of Canadian Roots music; which has subsequently become a cornerstone of our little website.

Opening track After The Rain took my breath away; just like the first time I heard the Brothers way back in *2013 ….. a new and rather beautiful change of direction beckons; taking their Rootsy/Alt. Country into unchartered mellower territories that lead back to Laurel Canyon, methinks?
Back To Thee, which follows is almost Lo-Fi in construction, but the crystal clear and sparse production gives Joey’s ode to his wife a cutting edge that you don’t expect from something so relatively simple.
After the album ended the first afternoon I was left scratching my head as to why Bros. Landreth aren’t a major act; headlining Concert Halls the world over …… listen to Don’t Feel Like Crying or What In The World and especially Drive All Night (plus the edited version too) and tell me you aren’t listening to Master Musical Craftsmen at work; and in Joey and Dave two singers who can use their individual voices to not just squeeze every last drop of emotion out of their songs; but leaving you enthralled at the way they tug at not just your heart but your brain too!
With no discernable radio-friendly single here (apart from, maybe the radio edit of Drive All Night?) selecting a Favourite Song has become ever so personal; which is a good thing as each and every song is personal to the writer himself; but will be to everyone who hears them …. such is the cleverness in the writing and construction.
You Don’t Know Me digs deep and brings proceedings down to a dark note, as it appears to be a break-up song of the highest order; with  Joe Pisapia’s pedal-steel tuned to heartbreak mode; and the bass replicating a heart slowly beating in time with the pathos of the singer.
Corduroy is a strange title for a love song; but the fabric is one of the things the storyteller likes about his loved one …. or could it be a metaphor for the brothers’ previously strained relationship now being mended?
I nearly chose the ‘musicians’ song; Stay ….. a regular theme of course; but some writers can capture the tattered emotions of delicately balancing ‘life on the road’ making money to pay the rent; and staying home as long as possible with their family and/or lover ….. the Bros. Landreth land this big ole fish with style and grace here.
There’s another song that entered the running too; Don’t Feel Like Crying featuring a delicate and mournful guest vocal from Leith Ross, and along with Joe’s baritone acoustic guitar and a sparse arrangement that’s bound to leave you open mouthed … and open-minded.
All that withstanding; I’m choosing the mellow and razor-sharp Shame, where the Bros. Landreth take us on a trip down a Country road with more twists and turns than you’d ever expect. Again, it’s possibly about the brothers themselves; but it’s certainly a song that will get under the skin of many who hear it and then get to thinking about some special relationship of their very own …. such is the intelligently smart writing and story herein.
As my wife uttered, “There aren’t many laughs here” and nor are there meant to be; some music is purely cerebral and this is one of them ….. best played late at night in a darkened room, alongside a glass of something strong ….. and your memories.

Released May 13th 2022
https://www.thebroslandreth.com/

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*LET IT LIE
Back in 2013; this is what happened ….
” One Thursday evening in July I was drying the dishes and listening to Bob Harris Country on BBC Radio 2 when I very nearly dropped a plate. He played a track by a band he’d only just discovered; and to say it took my breath away would be an understatement.
I even had the audacity to ask Mrs. H to sssh; so I could hear the song through to the end (brave? Foolish?). The band was Bros. Landreth from Winnipeg, Manitoba and the song was called Runaway Train.

As soon as it finished I found their management on the internet and made contact. A month later the disc arrived….but it was intended for a January release!” 


Martin Stephenson & The Goodwill Trio LIVE IN MIDDLESBROUGH.

Martin Stephenson and The Goodwill Trio
Westgarth Social Club
Middlesbrough
Saturday 30th April 2022

I have to confess that I’m not normally crazy enough to undertake a 5 hour drive for a gig these days, but this is no ordinary night.
In the oasis of a North Eastern Social Club’s retro stage room, making its mark over the past few years for live music, I am settling in to my maiden visit to Middlesbrough and the very first time seeing The Goodwill Trio perform together.
If you have read the RMHQ review of their Goodwill Factory album then you’ll be one step ahead to understanding why I’m here: this ensemble has an irresistible fun undercurrent driving their obvious musical talents.
So, despite seeing Mr Stephenson numerous times both solo and with The Daintees, my gut feeling is that it’s gonna be worth the miles to catch this one too.

First up is a sturdy support slot by the London based guitar driven Indie Americana band Modern Hinterland. Fair play, the audience were seated bang on time; as the band launch into their set.
Happy to be playing live again, frontman and guitarist Chris Hornsby eases in, this gig has been in the pipeline for two years: a clear reminder that for artists & audiences alike, things are only just returning to “normal”.
Joined on stage by Simon Shippey who seems to effortlessly flit between keys, guitar and B/V’s (and operate a vast array of pedals!) plus Tim Thackray on bass and B/V’s, for me some of the best moments are when they are all harmonizing together, along with the thundering drumming of John Singh. Standout tracks are No Escape from their 2021 album Diving Bell, with it’s bright, anthemic guitar riff mixed with a hooky chorus and Where Do You Go which combines punkier influences with the aforementioned vocals sprinkling some Californian sunshine around the room.

The half time bell and on the move it’s downright impossible not to get caught up in the current of the friendly, family vibe buzzing around the place, whether it’s a trip to the facilities or the bar, it seems that everyone wants a chat including the trio as they take to the stage: Martin Stephenson’s well-renowned humorous banter kicks off the main event, immediately and delightfully bouncing off his co-players, guitarist Rupert Hughes and on fiddle Niles Krieger.
Everyone totally relaxed on and off the stage in a millisecond it seems, Martin opens the set with Long Forgotten, a fine track from Beyond The Leap, Beyond The Law. I should always remember to remember (!) that without any warning this artist has the ability to sweep you from belly laughing to tugging at any manner of deeply rooted emotions in a hair’s breadth by the power of his songs.
The rich bright sound from just the three instruments echo round the room, as Niles’s fiddle swoops and blissfully dances with the guitars, I glance round to note that everyone is paying attention.
It’s a song I know very well and this has to be one of the best versions of it to date.

It is followed closely by the seriously heart-tugging track, The Sad Tale Of Joe McCue written about a local boy who committed suicide age 19.
Although penned when only aged 14, it took until Martin turned 30 to be in the right space to finally record it; and when performed, just like tonight, it always demonstrates why he is a master of emotional storytelling.

There is a very endearing impromptu feel to the set, customary at Martin’s solo gigs given the huge back catalogue at his fingertips, and tonight the mischievous banter between the trio just adds to the entertainment as it seems that Rupert and Niles, just like us, have no idea what is coming next.
It happens to be one from their album, the riotous punky track New Wave Dave.
A whole heap of frenzied fun live, it has to be one of my favourite moments of the evening with raucous B/V’s, and Niles creating a new genre of anarchic bluegrass fiddle.
As Martin reminds us “Nice is the new nasty!”

Next is a flurry of crowd-pleasing classics, The Daintees anti-Thatcher song Left Us To Burn contains a humorous musical answer & response between Martin and Niles and a really funked up version of The Lilac Tree, complete with a rousing harmonica solo by Rupert, gets me trying to perfect my “sitting down but still trying to dance” technique.

The highlights of the evening?
Home, a moving tribute to Martin’s late Mother, is always one to get emotions running high but tonight with Niles’s contribution, the fiddle adds even more nostalgic layers to the song.
The Little Red Bottle is always up there for me too but tonight I was really moved by the wondrously serene Map Of The World, Martin’s soulful vocals accompanied with a shimmering fingerpicking solo from Rupert.

Almost at the finish line and the Goodwill feeling ripples even more from the stage to the audience with singing participation duties on Time for Jesus and an off-piste walkabout to Cannonball Rag.
By this point in the evening, Martin has transformed the room into one full of old friends, such is his gift of connectivity.

To close the show, his partner singer-songwriter Anna Lavigne is invited to join them on stage.
Her last album Roses For The Ride was much loved by The Rocking Magpie and tonight they sing Signposts To Heaven, an exceptional, reflective song from the album Thomasina.
It brings the whole band together, the fiddle, guitars and the two vocals blended gorgeously singing “The heart is where the wisdom can be found.”

Yes, before you ask me, it was worth every mile……knowing that Rupert and Niles are also busy with their folk & bluegrass group The Often Herd; and Martin with the much loved Daintees, all I can advise is that if The Goodwill Trio happen to pop up at a venue nearby, catch them whilst you can.

Review by Anita Joyce
https://daintees.co.uk/
https://www.theoftenherd.com/

Alice DiMicele EVERY SEED WE PLANT

Alice DiMicele
Every Seed We Plant
Alice Otter Music

Distinctly Americana and Folk at Heart But Intricately Swathed in Honeyed Soul Too.

For a musician with a 30 year career, 14 albums and a further 5 compilations, I’m embarrassed to tell you I have only heard one before; SWIM which I favourably reviewed in 2015.
In my defence that probably makes me the ideal candidate to review; this …. her latest release as I have no (or not many) preconceived opinions.
There’s a deceptive depth to the fabulous opening track, the love song For Granted; which sounds not unlike Dusty Springfield fronting R.E.M …. as it’s distinctly Americana at heart but swathed in honeyed Soul, which is most likely set to make even the toughest of tough guys and gals, simply swoon when they hear it for the first time.
That’s one of the many joys you will get from this particular record; songs with melodies that will please you, surprise you and most definitely make you think about the actual content of Alice’s words and articulate stories.
There’s an unequivocal maturity to the writing in songs like Free, the heartbreaking Sweet Elaine and the gentle acoustic sounds of Communication too; with the listener being taken deep into the hearts of the characters involved.
While there’s a variety of light and shade across this group of songs; there’s also a melancholia in the punchy and biographical Jersey and; earlier the intricate Long Dry Winter that’s actually worthy of Leonard Cohen at his most intimate and poetic … seriously.
I’ve only played EVERY SEED WE PLANT four or five times now; and (especially on headphones) I’m still discovering new things hidden in the grooves and regularly masked by winding melodies; with the delightful Sunrise and with Communication; I can’t help but think it could easily be a Springsteen song circa Nebraska ….. such is the quality of Alice DiMicele’s songwriting not just on this one song; but all of the others too.
Selecting one song out of these 11 was never going to an easy task; though the title track Every Seed is absolutely stunning and a ‘song of our times’ in many ways; plus when you know the backstory you will surely listen with moist eyes; as Alice wrote it on the way to a memorial for her mentor, dear friend and elder of the Takelma Tribe, Agnes Pilgrim Baker.
 “It was written on the way to Grandma Aggie’s memorial. The song overtook me, flowed out of me like Grandma was there guiding me. I wrote it, played it once, then sang it that day for her family and friends.”
It’s purely personal and another one of those songs that come along ‘right time/right place’ to grab you by the heartstrings and leave you sitting in awe of such a magnificent talent; and that song is Rise; which again thinking of Leonard Cohen as it again in the half light.
I have no idea where this album fits in Alice’s pantheon of work; as I know so little about her past releases …. but if there’s even one better than this someone please tell me; because I need to hear it ASAP!!

Released April 22nd 2022
https://www.alicedimicele.com/

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Susan Cattaneo ALL IS QUIET

Susan Cattaneo
All Is Quiet
Continental Song City

A Warm and Gentle Boston Voice with a Loud Message

Boston’s Susan Cattaneo ( Pronounced kah-TAH-nay-oh – thanks press release!) is new to this reviewer so I approached this album with no preconceptions or expectations whatsoever.
Much lauded in her home state and city, it’s not difficult to hear why that’s the case.
These nine new songs, birthed at the start of the pandemic, reveal a thoughtful and literate voice.

The title track kicks things off – “inhibition’s become my new religion” there’s a musing on the enforced isolation of pandemic times, which in turn is a metaphor for any solitary life and its purpose and function. Musically, it’s all very tasteful arranged around beautifully produced acoustic and electric guitar.
“Time + Love + Gravity” which follows ruminates about the “emptiness between you and me” and the effect of time and experience on relationships.
Staccato guitar rhythm throughout is like the ticking of a clock which incessantly moves things onwards.

“Borrowed Blue” drops the tempo down into finger-picking territory; and is a consideration of the effect of the maternal gene line of mothers and daughters, especially in terms of the continuation of melancholy down the family line.
Alliteratively, “Blackbirds” follows and lyrically is less direct, combining dream, metaphor and fable into a mystical exploration of relationships.

“Broken Things” (lots of tracks start with “B”!) takes pastoral imagery to explore “the beauty in broken things” – whether that is the natural world, or the beauty in a relationship that has had its rough moments – it’s a lyrical/musical version of that scene in the film “American Beauty” where the camera follows a carrier bag tossed by the wind.

“Diamond Days” also explores the inherent duality of roughness and value/beauty and how the growth of worth and beauty is a slow process through the central metaphor of the formation of a diamond. Jangling, warm production again fleshes out the gentle vocal.

There’s a bit more of a minor musical shift on “No Hearts Here” which explores emotional emptiness and the illusion of feeling, whereas “Hold Onto Hope” takes a more optimistic and gentle path, despite life’s peaks and troughs – it’s one of the quieter tracks to begin with, but swells into more celebratory areas in the life-reaffirming mantra of the chorus – it’s positive, radio-friendly and balances uncertainty and strength, especially in the vocal delivery.

“Follow”, which draws things to a conclusion starts with tick-tock picking high up the frets and, interspersed with sharp strums and warm picking and provides a note of hope and resolution.

Susan Cattaneo’s gentle and warm songs reach out on this album to the experiences of many, way beyond her geographical hub – she deserves to be heard more widely and hopefully “All Is quiet” will do the trick.

Review by Nick Barber
Released 8th April 2022
https://susancattaneo.com/

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Rain Perry A WHITE ALBUM

Rain Perry
A White Album
Precipitous Records

A Fearsome and Fearless Songwriter at the Peak of Her Powers

This is another album that very nearly got away from me; landing on my desk a few weeks ago and instantly being an ‘office hit’ but then getting buried under a swathe of other April and May releases, until a nice e-mail from Hello Wendy PR reminded me that it was awaiting another listen and a review.
Rain Perry? I haven’t got time to go into her full background but she has had a fascinating life; culminating in not just being a fabulous singer-songwriter, but documentary filmmaker and social activist too; as well as working as an advocate for people with arthritis, after being diagnosed herself, when she was twenty-two. 
Onto the music …. I hear you cry!
In her accompanying bio Rain more or less says that her career has been building up to this album; where she uses her abundant writing skills to delve back into memories of growing up and finally arriving in 2022.
Opening song; Melody & Jack; through the eyes and words of her Grandmother, tells the romantic tale of her own Mother and her first love; Jack who eventually grew up and they parted their seperate ways; as often these things do …..
Picture a shipyard town
In California after the war
Salt air and daffodils
And everybody on the edge of poor
At the clothesline
My Nana keeps an eye
As my mom Melody and her friends
Go running by
“Those kids were like Our Gang,” Nana said
Which meant one of them was Black
And then her face got strange
As she told me about Jack”
and Rain subtly deals with the racism in her small town which may or may not have played a part in the couple not marrying; as Jack had hoped when they were children.
The next track; The Money about two men; one white and one not, from the same town who join the Military and lead similar lives at that time; but there are ever so many differences that probably still apply today.

My grandpa bought a little house up on the hill
He was a poor boy on the GI Bill

He said: “if you’re smart and put your money away
You can be part of the American Dream someday
Nooooo!

While this is very much a Folk Album; Rain slips in a bit of Rapping half way through, which works a lot better than you’d think.
It’s fair to say Rain Perry’s songs are very deep and require your full attention; which is no hardship with top quality songwriting like None of Uas Are Free (featuring Betty Soo), the compelling What’s Wrong With You and the haunting Lady of The Harbor, which sounds as good as anything Perry’s peers and RMHQ Favourites Mary Gauthier and Beth Neilsen Chapman have written in years.
Before I get to my actual Favourite Song; I have to mention that Nanci Griffith and Tom Russell both recorded one of Rain Perry’s songs, Yosemite in 2003; which kind of shows you the standard of writing involved here.
For my choice of Favourite Song I was immediately drawn to the remarkably powerful Indian Hill, Ohio 1967, with Rain Perry’s silky and vivid voice telling a very dark story about how the Middle Classes held drinks parties as Ohio burned in the near distance …..
The neighbors are over for a drink
The bourbon pours, the glasses clink
A toast to the good life
Our little piece of heaven
Indian Hill, Ohio, 1967
The city burned a dozen miles down the road
But the Long Hot Summer seems so long ago
And a world away from these green lawns and old trees
.”
leaving me wide eyed and open mouthed the first time I played it!
But; the song which follows that makes it feel like a sucker punch leading up to the Knockout!
What’s Wrong With You is by far the shortest song here; yet right from the opening feisty guitar salvo; you know you daren’t blink an eye for fear of missing something really important as Rain growls and stalks her prey (you the listener btw) like a hungry lioness; or Joni Mitchell at her angriest!
There is light and shade here; although very little to make you smile, apart from the amazing musicianship and razor sharp production from Mark Hallman that come together to underscore Rain Perry’s words and voice throughout.
I could quote lines from every song here all night long, that will make your hair stand on end; but I urge you to buy the album to hear a fearsome songwriter at the peak of her powers.

Released April 15th 2022
https://www.rainperry.com/

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The Hanging Stars HOLLOW HEART

The Hanging Stars
Hollow Heart
Loose Records

London Band’s Modern Psychedelic and Cosmic Country Sounds Birthed in the North-East of Scotland

This, the fourth album from London’s The Hanging Stars and was recorded at Edwyn Collins’ studio at very the top of the map, in Scotland – and the remoteness of that location in some ways seems to have seeped into the wide-open epic spaces and sounds on this Sean Read produced release.

“Ava” isn’t a formulaic opener – there’s no loud anthemic introduction, but the washes of harmonies, keys and guitars lays out the manifesto for what is to follow. Melodic twists are reminiscent of what Led Zeppelin might have come up with if they’d had David Crosby on vocals instead of Mr Plant.
The more upbeat “Black Light Night” might have made for a more conventional opener, with its hook-ridden melody and Spector-esque backbeat interludes and phased riffing. I’d choose this for a single if it was up to me.

“Weep and Whisper” features spooky pedal steel from Joe Harvey-White and distant echoing oohs and aahs underscore a tale of the passing of time. Guitar phrases that throw up thoughts of early Television (the Tom Verlaine band, not the goggle-box) intersperse the vocal and give it a delicately psychedelic feel.

“Radio On” – maybe it’s the Edwyn Collins’ connection – has the melodic influence of his earlier solo stuff, but with added Cosmic Country.
“Ballad of Whatever May Be” continues that feel and adds in a bit more jangle and ‘make hay while the sun is shining philosophy’ before leading on to the semi-eponymous “Hollow Eyes, Hollow Heart” an ode to the downside of taking things you shouldn’t (drugs are bad, OK?) ironically juxtaposes this message with wiggy trip out sounds and guitar somewhere between Richard Lloyd and Richard Thompson.

“You’re So Free” tackles the idea of perceived freedom amidst choral vocals, washes of long reverb and 60s garage band piano.
The weirdness quotient is then upped to 11 on “Rainbows in Windows” which features the spoken word of Mr Edwyn Collins himself amidst a stuttering, almost train beat double-clutching rhythm.
It’d make a great soundtrack for one of those 60’s documentaries about people living in lofts in New York in 1969.

“I Don’t Want to Feel so Bad Anymore” launches into later period psychedelic Byrds territory with its mix of twelve string jangle and edgy saturation and is another that would work well as a single.
“Red Autumn Leaf” then draws things to a conclusion, starting with waltz time strums before shifting to a variety of shifting rhythms and vocal nods to Big Star.

Back in the day, as a pre-punk teen, there were lots of albums that your slightly older mates would suggest that you needed to “get in to” i.e. listen to them several times before they click with the listener – and this, for me, is one of those albums, that needs patient re-listening for the full rewards to be appreciated, in the way that the band are now transcending their influences and finding a voice of their own.

Review by Nick Barber
Released March 25th 2022
https://thehangingstars.com/

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Jeremy Ivey INVISIBLE PICTURES

Jeremy Ivey
Invisible Pictures
ANTI-records

A Brave Album Seeking Out the Light and Confronting the Darkness in These Strange Times.

This is Ivey’s third album in as many years, after his debut The Dream and The Dreamer and its more political follow-up Waiting Out The Storm.
On Invisible Pictures, Ivey takes a more introspective path, no more so than on one of the lead-out tracks “Trial by Fire;” the second track on the release which was conjured up in a reflective moment of self-realisation with wife Margo Price – stuttering piano and picked guitar with washes of string sounds give this a 21st century Laurel Canyon feel.

It’s a contrast to opener “Orphan Child” with its tinny keys and jaunty tinny piano riff; a tale of a “no-name nomad” who’s “better on my own”.
Despite its potentially downbeat subject matter, it carries a hopefully, positive musical vibe.
“Keep Me High” , third track in is also summary and more upbeat;
I’ve got a new love that lasts forever/She’s got what it takes to keep me high.”
although it carries the underscoring of the danger that’s keeping the central character high…

In contrast to this is “Downhill (upside down optimist)” which battles more explicitly with the trap of depression;
Put the blade in me baby and give it a twist
Everything‘s impossible when you’re locked in the myth
and plays the trick of the jolly tune/difficult subject matter.
Musically it lands somewhere between a cross between Eels and Beck – and it has the lyrical dryness of Mark E. Everett too.

“Grey Machine” tackles the frustration of being trapped by the eponymous metaphorical business beast – but within this life of working in less than salubrious bars there’s the glimmer of escape –

He gets a beer and he watches her work
She’s the best thing she’s ever seen
They’re gonna run away
So far away from the grey machine

There’s an element of Elliott Smith about Ivey’s delivery in this; and also on “Phantom Limb” and “Empty Game” – especially the latter with its waltz time, Beatles-esque piano and glum lyricism
I can’t hide the way I feel
I’ve been faking too long
I don’t belong in this empty game
”.

Title track “Invisible Pictures” is fittingly emblematic of the album as a whole – there’s ugliness, danger and darkness everywhere but
But nothing can bring me down today
– the cheerfulness of the main melody that drops off and up with minor shifts keeps a fire of optimism in view…until we reach “Black Mood” – unsurprisingly it deals with the darkest of times and asks to
save me to me
there’s a glimmer of light there, but it’s tricky to find the ”angel of mercy” amongst all the darkness – and the difficulty of escaping the familiarity of that gloom.

These issues continue to the album’s conclusion on “Silence and Sorrow” with
store-bought depression and some shitty cowboy songs”
harmonica and barroom piano give it a 70’s Elton John Tumbleweed Connection melancholy.

Mixed at “The Bomb Shelter” in Nashville (Hoping that’s not prescient) this is an album that fans of Elliot Smith, Eels and Beck will adore – especially the former.
A brave album that seeks out the light and confronts the darkness in these strange times

Review by Nick Barber https://www.flickr.com/photos/efsb
Released 11th March 2022
https://jeremyivey.net/

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CD https://www.anti.com/releases/invisible-pictures/
LP https://uk.kingsroadmerch.com/anti-records/artist/952?ffm=FFM_575760b78d71ca83b0a3076c7157846d
DOWNLOAD https://jeremyivey.bandcamp.com/album/invisible-pictures

The Low Drift THE LOW DRIFT

The Low Drift
The Low Drift
Cwm Saerbren

An Articulate and Clever Eco-Friendly Folk Opera For The Ages

Here’s something different; but different ( different = good this time) , which shouldn’t have come as so much of a surprise; as it’s from our friend Matt Hill aka The Quiet Loner; and friends Emma Thorpe and Huw Costin and who came together in 2019; alongside psychogeographers Jane Samuels and Dr. Morag Rose to write songs about the land; exploring edge-lands and barren fields.

If this had been most anyone other than Matt I’d have swerved this like a Jonjo Shelvey 50 yard cross field pass; as that description makes when it’s written down like that; it all sound worthy and even …. dull.
But …… the opening song, Deadwood stopped me dead in my tracks; as it’s actually a rather beautiful and almost poetic bittersweet tale sung by Emma and harmonised by the gentlemen in the background.
As we progress each of the talent take turns at lead vocals, which also heralds new and often bold paths for the trio to navigate.
I guess we have to call this Folk Music; which it is in its heart; but there’s so much more here when you listen carefully and let the music take you on mystery tour.
A Gift of Unknown Things, is a prime example; as the accompanying Press Release states that it is “wrapped in haunting three part harmonies, Hill evokes” the “old chalk figures and
standing stones, fairy paths and spirit roads;”
which is actually true; but the way Matt Hill delivers the story in his trademarked drole manner; he brings the words to life a bit like Robert Plant in his Americana guise.
It’s a first for me and probably you; but who ever previously thought about writing a song about Breezeblocks? No one I’d presume; but here Huw takes that subject; adds some angry acoustic guitar and the result is a metaphor for a world too many of us are forced to inhabit.
Comfortably straddling the Modern Folk/Lo-Fi classifications; The Low Drift have created a series of ‘songs of our times’ that have the capacity to draw in cynics like myself and leave them nodding their head in agreement; which was certainly the case with Come Alive (A Second Time) and more presiantly the intense Us And The Water.
With songs so disparate and three very different singers singing them; it’s far from easy selecting a single Favourite Song; but the way Emma Thorpe and Huw Costin deliciously deliver the haunting When The Rain Came has to be a contender; surely?
I’ve had to stop myself several times from describing this album; and the songs therein as a quintessential Eco-Nature Folk Opera; but if that’s not too ‘high brow’ that’s pretty much what you’re left with as each song stands tall on their own merits; but listened to as a complete work of art they take the listener on a far reaching and rather beautiful musical trail.

Released March 4th 2022
https://thelowdrift.com/

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https://thelowdrift.bandcamp.com/album/the-low-drift

Ali Sperry IN FRONT OF US

Ali Sperry
In Front of Us
Self Released

Nashville Singer (and Her Friends) Bring Their A Game to Intelligent Hook-Laden Radio-Friendly Songs

Ali Sperry came to my attention a couple of years back when she supported Amy Speace in my home town of Biddulph and her literate, folkie-leaning tunes complemented the headliner nicely – on this release, she’s taken a musical turn towards a poppier, radio-friendly sound, calling on a multitude of Nashville friends, which reads like a who’s-who of that city’s great and good.

Album opener “Climber” is, to these ears classic Amy Rigby in style, both musically and lyrically, a tale of a charming narcissist set in a string-laden and 70’s guitar hero riff driven tune, with Allison Russell and Kristin Weber’s harmony vocals adding the musical icing on the cake.
It’s a much fuller sound for Ali and it frames the vulnerability of her voice perfectly.
“Lucy” which follows also has an archetype at its chore, but this time it’s a hopeful ode to someone trying to find their place in the world – its loud-soft dynamic makes the choruses worm into your brain and stay there – a skilful exercise in production and arrangement.

“I Know You’re Scared” is a reconciliation between the danger and beauty of life and has an appropriately epic production dealing with such weighty issues – again the juxtaposition of fragile vocal and soaring production and accompaniment echo the sentiments therein.
“Excuses” – in my mind this will always be “the sweary one” is about that kind of person who you always seem to give one chance too many to; but “I’m not rootin’ for you to fuck it up” – that one line is a total headstick and an empathic anthem to boot – can’t wait to hear sympathetic audiences singing along to it on Ali’s next visit to these shores – and air-guitaring to Sadler Vaden’s (of Jason Isbell’s 400 Unit) fantastic solo too; I do like a bit of potty mouthing used appropriately in songs and this is just perfect.

Contrastingly, “Hope is The Thing” is a more low-key affair musically but a song of stubborn and fierce optimism – and that’s something we all need.
Lovely guitar by Audley Freed and vocals from Jill Andrews give the sentiments delicacy and body.
”Cool Under Pressure” which follows, inspired by a Kamala Harris speech is back into hook-laced radio-friendly territory and has something of recent Taylor Swift in the narrative vocal delivery and feminist subject matter, although Ms Swift hasn’t backed it with a Steinman-esque set of piano and strings that can be heard here -she’s missed a trick.

“Safe” is another track influenced by current events – in this case, the horror of mass shootings and gun violence.
Like “I Know You’re Scared” it deals with the dichotomy of wanting to bring new life into the world, yet being scared of doing that same thing because of the state of the world.
The emotion is captured wonderfully in strings and in particular with the appearance of melancholy viola.

“In Your Dreams” starts with chugging rhythm which is wrapped with swirls of ethereal sounds and is a paean to finding your voice and being true to yourself – it also features a charango (first time I’ve ever mentioned one in a review) a kind of lute like instrument which adds a further riffy musical hook over the “say yeah” phased outro mantra.
“Peace by Moonlight” brings Sperry’s voice more to the fore in the mix and it’s another glimpse of “a better world where the doves aren’t afraid of the hawks
Things close after this with “In Front of Us” a co-write (and co-sing) with Andrew Combs – there’s a gentle Prine-esque feel to the looking-forward narrative.
Percussion, horns and piano lift the song at its climax and there’s a lovely piano turnaround too which takes the album out in a positively constructed and crafted manner.

I took quite a while to give this album its deserved attention as other (life) things got in the way, but having spent some time with it now, it’s going to stay on my playlists for quite a while – Ali Sperry has brought her A game to this one and with these arrangements, accompaniments, performances and ideas she’s found the perfect setting for her musical – and lyrical voice.

Review by Nick Barber
Released March 11th 2022

http://alisperry.com/

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http://alisperry.com/ifou-preorder