Beautifully Blurring the Lines Between Folk and Alt. Country
This is another one of those “whoops I missed it” albums that come along every now and again. Originally sent to me at the turn of the year by a trusted PR but got lost in the swell of new albums in January; then last week Richard, from the band themselves got in touch; totally unawares of my oversight …… presumably like so many other musicians he won’t read the review; so will never know about my Faux Pas! First and foremost; this is the ‘other’ and apparantly ‘original’ The Wanted from Canada and not the Popsters from Ireland; so several of you might want to turn away now. If you’re still with me; you’re in for a bit of a rare treat; as this The Wanted, are actually very good indeed; treading the path that marks out Alt. Country and Americana albeit with that Canadian ‘edge’ and trademarked ‘cool’ that is s difficult to put into words. Opening track Way Down In The Hole has an urgency that I’ve not heard for a long time; with Natalie Rogers providing a breathy and almost breathless vocal performance worthy of The Ryman on a steamy Saturday night, and cohorts Jeff Rogers (guitar) and Richard Henderson (lap steel guitar) provide not just powerful musical accompaniment; but scary harmonies too …… hence; I’m in for the long haul. In the bio the band make reference to Michael Timmins’ production; which took them into new areas that the trio didn’t know they were capable of performing; presumably this means songs like Jeff Rogers’ Roadhouse blaster Miss Me When I’m Gone and the Twangtastic Rotary Phone; which both sound as if they are from a band steeped in Southern States swampy grooves; and the album is all the better for them. Timmins’ lightness of touch comes across on not just Natalie’s sad, sad crooning Stand Up and Weary Town Blues; and the harmonies on the latter might just send a shiver down your spine; but the slow and sultry Before The Fall, too. There’s even an angsty and steamy Lo-Fi song; I Guess; sung by Richard Henderson in a grizzled Levon Helm manner ; but no matter; it is a definite ‘keeper’ here. Although Track #1 Way Down In The Hole is apparantly a Tom Waits song; I’ve never heard it before; but the other ‘cover song’ is the ubiquitous Wayfaring Stranger; which is difficult to a bad version of but nonetheless a brave song to record, because of that and The Wanted certainly do it justice; using space to let the words breathe and Jeff Rogers’ intricate guitar picking to add extra pathos; as if it were needed, but works exceptionally well. For a Favourite Song I’ve been torn between the haunting title track Strange Flight; a dreamy duet between Natalie and Jeff, which couldn’t come from anywhere other than Canada in my humble opinion; and the other Fire & Gasoline, which by The Wanted standards is quite punchy; even erring on something of a Country-Blues tip; and again the Richards’ dry grizzled tones reminding me of Levon Helm; which has to be a good thing …… so that’s where the accolade finally rests (sorry Natalie!). Obviously we don’t have the capacity to review absolutely every album we receive; so some gems will sadly slip through the net ……. but I’m thrilled Richard got in touch after reading a review on the site; oblivious to me ignoring the album first time around …… don’t you make the same I made; try it then buy it …. you can thank me later.
Often Dark, Brooding and Dreamy. Jazz at It’s Finest?
I can only apologise for being so late with this review; it certainly arrived in time for the Release Date but …. you know; life just got in the way …. and this needed time and patience; which have both been in short supply recently. First of all; in some ways this is an odd release, as the middle six tracks are Live Recordings from 2017 when Smith celebrated his 75th birthday; and they are bookended by two tracks with the Bad Boy of Punk, Iggy Pop supplying vocals ….. in itself; something well worthy of my time and patience. Opening song; the Soul Classic; Why Can’t We Live Together? is quite dreamy; especially the way Smith plays the Hammond and Iggy; much to my surprise adds his part straight down the middle; who knew he could do crooning? Well, he can and the combination must surely beckon a full album in this mode one day? Then comes Dr Lonnie Smith and his band; guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg, drummer Johnathan Blake, as well as an expanded septet featuring John Ellis on tenor saxophone, Jason Marshall on baritone saxophone, Sean Jones on trumpet, and Robin Eubanks on trombone, and they moved me in such a way I thought I might cry like a baby when I first heard track #2 Bright Eyes (no, not ‘that’ one!) ….. it is simply beautiful; Jazz at it’s finest? A matter of opinion of course ….. but hey; the way these cats come together as one? It’s not that what follows is inferior; far from it but Smith ‘challenges’ the listener at times; ok this isn’t the most dangerous Jazz I’ve ever heard (thankfully) but you have to invest time (and patience) to let the wonders of Too Damn Hot and Epistrophy unravel to get the best from the intricate musicianship from the players …. and it is worth it. Smith and the compilers have a bit of fun at our expense too; adding Track 9 at #4 in the running order; but this noire instrumental could come at any stage and still send a shudder down your spine. The album closes with Iggy Pop making his second appearance in the studio; this time on a cool reworking of Donovan’s Sunshine Superman; and KERPOW! It’s absolutely wonderful in a soulful groove; and was an early contender for Favourite Track; but two more fitting other tracks actually scrap for that title. The 12 minute opus, World Weeps, first appearing in 2014 couldn’t be a more fitting soundtrack for where we are in 2021 after one of the worst years in the world’s history. Dark, brooding and almost ‘Prog’ in the way the piece plays out; with individual musical interludes segueing from one to another to create something that was heart stopping that night in 2017. This is Jazz; but not as I know it. The other track; and the one that possibly tips the balance is the only actual song from that night, Pilgrimage, featuring Smith’s daughter Alicia Olatuja on vocals; which with me not reading the bio or notes; came as quite a surprise and a rather lovely one at that, as Smith’s playing already had me mesmerised so when Alicia makes her appearance after a couple of stunning minutes; I actually gasped ……. much to my wife’s amusement; as I was listening on headphones! Oddly enough; between immersing myself in this recording and now typing up my thoughts, I’ve been part of a playful ‘spat’ on the Twitter regarding Jazz. Much like my friends there, there’s a lot I’ve tried to get my head around over the years; and failed miserably to understand, with too much being the musical equivalent of the Emperors New Clothes; and far too many Jazz Buffs being ‘holier than thou’ when it comes to discussing this style of music; but I’m really, really enjoying and appreciating what I’m receiving these days; and long may it continue.
Ontarians Greatest Short Story Never Told Self-Release/Bandcamp
Intricately Dramatic and Romantic Lo-Fi Canadiana.
Yet again, here’s an album that very nearly passed me by. When it first arrived the band’s name Ontarians intrigued me, as I have a soft spot for Canada and Canadian music ….. but, if I remember rightly it arrived on a day alongside 6 or 7 others so got lost in the swell, as you can imagine. Jump forward a month or so and as I was scrolling through my Itunes for something completely different I saw this and thought “Aha!” After twenty minutes I reckon it should have been “Eureka!” Don’t get over excited; as Ontarians certainly don’t; this isn’t the second coming of The Beatles; it’s what we used to call Lo-Fi …… the type Canadians do better than any other nation. Opening track TIME left me totally gobsmacked; somehow merging a melancholic intensity with a laid back attitude. Honestly. Possibly it’s the production; but the way Frank Deresti delivers his lines in slow drawl while the band sound like a post-apocalyptic breeze captivates me every time I’ve played this song. Whoosh! The band crank up the pace and anxiety levels on track #2 No Regrets; still on my Lo-Fi ouvre; but maybe I could call it Alt. Lo-Fi? There’s a lot more of a Country vibe here; but a lot nearer to Wilco than Waylon. Just like their peers, this album was written and recorded separately over the last 12 months; with only one song finding all three band members; Frank Deresti. Jay Styles and Craig Smith in the same room at the same time; the darkly beautiful Photographs and Epitaphs; but you’d never have guessed when you hear the complex Coming To Me Now or Forest to The Trees; or anything else to be honest …… it’s like a 1000 piece jigsaw that appears impossible judging by the picture on the front; but by the time the final notes of the magnificent wheezing harmonica on Satellites drift from your speakers, you will sit back totally satisfied; as the work both yourself and the musicians have put in have come together quite beautifully. To the uninitiated some of these songs may seem a bit ‘wordy’; but that’s the point surely; this ain’t Pop Music; this is music for articulate and thoughtful Grown Ups like you and I; which neatly brings me to the two songs toying for my accolade of Favourite Song. As usual any love song is always going to get my undivided attention; and Born To Love You certainly pays dividends the more I’ve played it; and on headphones I thought I may even well up and cry. A fairly simple and repetitive chorus feels like Deresti is slowly tightening your heartstrings without you realising it; until you find yourself unable to breathe. T’other; Balloon, on first and second listening is another complex; almost poetic tale; with the Balloon being a metaphor for ……… ‘love’ and again; the more you listen closely it unravels like a ball of angora wool; soft to the touch yet as strong as steel. I think I’m going to choose the latter; Balloon as my my Favourite Song; not least because of the stunning and understated pedal-steel that cuts through the rest of the misty instrumentation like a watery morning sun in Winter.
Now I’ve read the band’s accompanying bio I see Wilco actually get a mention …… so I was correct; of course, and I can clearly hear the quality in the bands playing, songwriting and song construction, which only comes from treading the boards from a lifetime on the road learning and listening from ‘the best’ and putting it all together on your own work. The overall ‘feel’ I got was similar to a long lost Canadian band called Ox who I loved and adored; but fell completely off my radar years ago. In a blind tasting I’m sure 9 out of 10 Hepcats would simply ‘know’ that this was a Canadian album, even without seeing the band’s name …… and that’s meant as a huge compliment.
It’s a fact that music can not just divide, but polarize opinions; meaning it’s not the first time I’ve read a review and thought; “What the Hell were you listening to? Because I thought …….” We’ve all had those conversations and debates, haven’t we? Much to my surprise, this debut release from the quirkilly monikered Irish singer-songwriter A Smyth, has done just that at RMHQ this week. As soon as it arrived I immediatly thought of our King of Indie; the windswept and erudite *Original Rocking Magpie (Name changed) and sent it on forthwith. In the meantime I played it non-stop, to the detriment of another album I was meant to be reviewing. The following day *ORM returned an e-mail; and to paraphrase; with a “Mwwaaahhhh …. not for me.” I was staggered; as I was still playing it over breakfast; and Naga Munchetty was on the BBC News settee ….. which means it must be very special indeed. Why the disparity in taste? Who knows. Neither *ORM, nor I are the targeted demographic; that’s for sure …… as everything about this album is aimed at ‘young people’ of all persuasions; but there is more than enough to keep a man of my extended years engaged, and I also understand why young women would fall in love with him and young men would want to have a pint with this handsome young Dubliner. The music! Tell me about the music! OK. While I’m not too fussed on the electronic whirls and swirls that lead into opening song Rain Boys, they are gone so quickly so as to forget them the moment A Smyth’s crushed velvet tones ooze out of the speakers alongside some very understated and dark accompaniment. This one song along simply excited me; not in a physical way ….much more cerebral? While it’s obvious that young Master Smyth can write an intricate and engaging song; Me and My Old Man is a prime example; but on closer inspection; once you get past the tsch, tsch electric drum machine; When It Calls will have plenty of people sitting chin resting on hands staring longingly at their bedroom speakers with tears in their eyes too. While not overtly a ‘lovey-dovey’ album; there are plenty of songs here that deal with the ups and downs of the emotions that effect romantically involved young people in a way that can only be resolved by listening to the ‘hurt’ in a song. A Smyth speaks directly to them via Say You Won’t Mind and Yeah You Said in a way only ‘they’ will understand (but we all do really). Before I get onto my Two Favourite Songs; I can’t let things go without raising a glass to Producer Darragh Nolan (Asta Kalapa) and JJ Golden who mastered the final artefact ever so sympathetically; both really bringing the best out of A Smyth’s ethereal voice without ever forcing the issue. A couple of songs have been released as singles in the last year; and been featured on mainstream radio in Ireland as well as BBC Radio 6; and it’s easy to hear why; as River is another winsome and bittersweet song that broken hearted lovers will pore over late at night; and my second choice, Hero will almost stop audiences from breathing; as they listen in hushed silence when played in concert. But; I’ve more or less gone left of centre on a left of centre album for my actual #1 Choice; and as always sequencing on a record is essential, because here I instantly fell in love with the finale; Tempt; an eloquent and almost poetic slice of music; sung via a voice on the verge of tears as Smyth gently strums an acoustic guitar as the rain falls around him and you; metaphorically speaking. While not a lover of the subtle technological wizardry on a few tracks here; they will undoubtedly help make this record appeal to Indie Kids; but most of those electronic wiggles and squiggles (hopefully) won’t be available when A Smyth appears in a downtown Club once Lockdown V, VI & VII are over; and there’s only he and his songs with no artificial safety net; and I’m 100% sure that he has more than enough talent to take these songs into the emotional stratosphere. I won’t go into who the Press Lady compared A Smyth to; as I can see where they are coming from; but to me these clever and intricate songs will more likely appeal to older fans of Blue Nile, Fleet Foxes and Sufjan Stevens or their like.
Captivating Lo-Fi Folk From the Heart but Aimed Directly at Your Soul.
Being the Music Snob I am; when the opening paragraph on a Press Release compares the act to both Coldplay and Mumford & Sons normally my shutters would automatically go up and stay locked. But, thankfully I had already played this album twice when I read that so can honestly go “Pah! What do you know?” to said copywriter. The Burnt Pines aka Danish-born singer and lyricist, Kris Skovmand, keyboard player Miguel Sá Pessoa and arranger/guitarist Aaron Flanders pretty much have their own distinctive Folky meets Lo-Fi sound that actually nods towards David Gates’ Bread or Simon and Garfunkel if I’m not too mistaken. The opening track Diamonds features a beautiful guitar interlude before Kris’s delightful and smoky voice eases in on a fascinating story that will keep you on the edge of your seat. In the real world this album will be the perfect accompaniment to almost any living room activity (with your clothes on!) as Skovmand’s voice and the melodies in Mother On The Mountain, Make The Sign and Song For Rose will feel like a warm breeze; but you will then be missing some rather enticing lyrics; which will be a mistake. Just like my occasional discussions about the quality of guitar playing these days; is it me or is the standard of songwriting leaps and bounds more advanced than in the golden days of Singer-songwriters between ’68 and ’78? Obviously we’ve never heard of The Burnt Pines before; but just when you think you don’t need to hear another winsome love song ever again along they come with not just Waiting For You but Only In The Soul too! Forced into using modern technology to send lyrics and the constituent parts around the world during various Covid induced Lockdown; The Burnt Pines have still managed to create some delightfully intimate songs like From Seville to Manhattan and April Child that will live with fans forever. For my own personal Favourite Song I’m torn between two very diverse songs; which also goes to show the strength of this album. Track #2 Heavy and Young definitely has a Simon and Garfunkel vibe to it; albeit with a contemporary ‘edge’ to the lyrics; and the other Oh Me, Oh My ups the pace ever so slightly making it sound intensely claustrophobic and will draw you in towards the speakers so as not to miss a single beat or word. I can see where someone who likes Coldplay and the Mumfords would like The Burnt Pines; but that’s certainly not to say they are influenced by ‘that type of music’; this is Folk Music from the heart and aimed directly at your Soul.
Beautifully Crafted Folk Songs Destined to Break a Thousand Hearts.
Ahhhhh; Robin Adams, son of Chris and Pauline Adams who were the axis of one of my favourite bands of all time, String Driven Thing, of whom Robin became an occasional member in the bands latter days. Enough of the history lesson; that’s what Wikipedia is for, not RMHQ. I only have two of Robin’s 5 previous releases; but they are both cherished parts of my ever growing collection. As with many artists in 2020 the various Lockdowns around the globe has necessitated a ‘back to basics’ attitude; and it’s no surprise that this actually suits the Glaswegian’s unprepossessing and intimate style of Folk perfectly. Robin’s warm Scottish tones run through opening track A Friend of Mine like a peaty Highland Malt on an Autumnal evening in front of the fire. This very personal story has a sting in the tail when you listen carefully; but that won’t unravel for a few plays; but when it does you will find yourself blowing your cheeks out and sighing. In a grand tradition that goes back to the cusp of the 1950’s and 60’s; Robin Adams is a Folk Singer; no more and no less; telling stories set to music that resonate with the listener in a way most other mediums can’t actually manage. If not ourselves, we all know someone like the characters Adams sings about in the inquisitive Signs and especially Dancer In Your Eyes too; which shows what a craftsman he has grown into. Because of its quirky intro I’d have liked From a Dream to have been the opening song on the album; but whatever, it’s such a beautifully rich Folk Song that I will forgive the programming ‘error.’ Perhaps Robin felt that the ‘subject matter’ may scare off casual listeners; but that would have been their loss. The final song on the album One Thing, is the type of introspective song we’ve come to expect; but then again his striking words and melody are as different from anything I remember from either of the albums in my collection, that you forget what an imaginative songwriter he is. (I keep forgetting to mention the delightful and intricate melodies on each an every song btw) Perhaps it’s the relatively simple ‘home production’ on ONE DAY, but I can’t say I’ve ever noticed what a talented guitarist Robin is; very much in the tradition of Bert Jansch and John Martyn; back in the halcyon days of bedsit lothario’s. I’m struggling to choose between two very, very different songs as My Favourite here. It would be easy to select the ‘love song’ All Your Money as it’s as near to commercial and up-tempo as Robin Adams gets here; and who doesn’t like a song with whistling in it? But; there’s also one other that I was drawn to as soon as I saw the track listing; and has proven to be as dark and (again) personal as a song from Robin Adams will ever get. The raw honesty in Black Cloud will upset many listeners; but much like Justin Townes Earle’s Harlem River Blues many years ago; it will touch the hearts and souls of far too many people (myself included) who will think, ” He is singing about me” and for that; I can only thank Robin Adams so profusely for daring to write and release such a brave, yet delicate song. I don’t know where Robin Adams sits in the grand pantheon of Scottish singer-songwriters; as he never gets ‘mentioned in despatches’ even though he is one of the nations finest songwriters IMHO; and his natural vocal style is designed to break a thousand hearts.
The Lost Doves Set Your Sights Towards the Sun Green Tea Productions
Bottled, Bowed and Fleeting Musical Magic
RMHQ tries where possible to get our reviews out in the week before an album’s release to help boost sales in that first weekend; but occasionally we have to take a step back, as even though I arrogantly think everyone should know us by now; many Independent Acts are too busy eeking out a living while making actual music; they only find us when we review something by their friends and/or peers. Which brings me to Ian Bailey and Charlotte Newman aka The Lost Doves, from NW England. Following a Social Media request I grumpily said ‘send a copy’ …. ‘but no promises.’ Two days a later a very professional looking CD and accompanying letter arrived; neither of which even hinted at the delights that were to be on offer inside. Now normally when I hear a Soft-Rock 12 String guitar I would immediatly think ‘The Byrds’; but no … no and thrice no; the title track Set Your Sights Towards the Sun sounds much more likely to have been influenced by Teenage Fanclub albeit filtered through a shimmering copy of St. Etienne’s Greatest Hits, with the couple’s harmonies sounding like tattered velvet on a windy day. This is immediatly followed by Charlotte taking the lead on the subliminal and shimmering, Waves, which conjures up memories of first hearing Trinity Sessions by Cowboy Junkies. Do you get the picture yet? There’s a whole lot going on here, with almost everything gently sparking off those first two songs for ‘feelings’; with some wonderful and enigmatic storytelling masked under the couples tragically beautiful arrangements and production. Yes, there’s an intensity to several songs; but when you’re boxed inside your home during 2020; what better way to to spend your solitude than immersing yourself in the rustic charm of Ian singing See Saw, Charlotte’s beautifully haunting Autumn Leaves, or the couple emotionally drowning on More Than I? While the whole album has been a delightful surprise to me; their are more than a few individual surprises contained therein; none more so than The Wishing Gate, whose lyrics are drawn from a poem by Ian about ‘the neglect, rape and destruction of our planet’ and sung ever so enigmatically by Charlotte as Ian strums that 12 String as if his life depends on it. I know where I’m not going for my Favourite Song; and that’s the psychedelic instrumental The Clowns are Coming to Town; what might have been a good idea in the studio stands out like a sore thumb here ….. again, RMHQ says no, no and thrice no! But that still leaves plenty more to choose from; the wistful love song, Wired Into You? Another slice of delicate beauty, You Stop Me From Falling? Another gorgeous nod in the direction of Teenage Fanclub, She’s Waking Up To Close Her Eyes? Or; and the one I’m selecting today; the fluttering Sally Weather, which showcases both voices individually and together and bizarrely has had me comparing it to acts as diverse as the Beatles, Stone Roses and All About Eve; yet doesn’t actually sound like any individual song by any of them! I hear a lot of albums ‘a bit like this;’ but The Lost Doves really capture and bottle some fleeting musical magic on these songs; and I can imagine both Bob Harris and Lauren Laverne on their disparate BBC Radio Shows loving many songs here; as will their respective audiences.
Intimate Songs of Sadness Delivered Beautifully and Intricately.
A couple of years ago one of my favourite ‘intimate’ gigs was when I saw a Juanita Stein gig at The Cluny in Newcastle; and even stranger was the fact that it was her record that was being played on local radio as I parked my car that night. The 4 Howling Bells albums made with Juanita and her twin brothers, Ari and Joel were all excellent indie releases and they had built up a solid following after re-locating to Brighton from Sydney; when in 2012 she started work on her first solo album before the release of ‘America’ and ‘Until The Lights Fade’. To further demonstrate her ability she assisted with vocals on The Sleepy Jackson album – another very good offering IMHO. Her latest release is heavily tinged with sadness after the sudden death of her father with AML but that sad event is now a taper to light her way through an album that she describes as ‘littered with symbolism’ as the songs featured are dashed on instant reflections – a dream of a relative, a crow outside a hospital room, a toy snake etc – all minor but the birth of an idea leading to a song. Her very soft and gentle voice glides through the opener ‘1,2,3,4,5,6’ about the ability to take risks after due consideration of the effects of the decision. She admits that writing the songs for ‘Snapshot’ came thick and fast, leaving her with a load of demos to turn into the finished article. The opening notes of ‘L.O.T.F’ take the listener straight into a catchy number dealing with ‘being raised in the land of the free and needing to hear the blackbirds‘. A bluesy rocky number with a tremendous guitar backing. The tempo is eased off with ‘Lucky’ as she questions if she is mentally tough enough to deal with the changes in her life – ‘that’s your life as darkness is followed by rage’. A shout from the heart of the situation she suddenly found herself in. ‘You are a snapshot of my life – only a photograph remains’ in the title track where the loss is most vocally well handled. Out of sadness comes some light, as part of a snapshot of her mind. ‘Hey Mama’ does what it says in the track as she ponders her search for how her Mama feels but maybe they can sing the blues together. If I am giving the impression this album is a very sad one, I have to stress that it is, the overall theme of the album is sadness; but the songs are delivered with a beautiful voice and even I hadn’t really appreciated that voice until I saw her sing . If you sound better or as good live as on record a gig goer can’t ask for any more than that. A favourite track? That would probably be ‘Mavericks’, a song that benefits from her full range and the following track ‘The Reckoning’ takes her into the upper reaches to emphasise that the reckoning is inevitable, with the heavy guitar backing adding to the importance of meeting ‘The Reckoning.’ The final tracks ‘Take It Or Leave It’ dealing with the choices you have in her position leaving you ‘dancing with the unknown’ and ‘In The End’, an upbeat finale that regardless of what fate deals us we have to not ‘lose our heart as we all lose someone in the end’ I have to admit I am a lover of female singers; and Juanita has produced a lovely little set despite the sad events that brought it all about. Out of that darkness has come what I feel is her best album to date, by some way. A fine tribute to her father. Juanita is assisted here by her brother Joel on lead guitar, Jim Wheelwright on bass and Evan Jenkins on drums and it would be wrong of me not to recognise their importance in getting the listener to take notice of the loss and to make sure of a better future. The album was recorded over an 8 month period at Agricultural Audio near Brighton, although her previous albums were from USA studios. The change was worthwhile. Again, let me stress that although the grain of an idea began with sadness this is not a sad downbeat album. The theme is sad but the delivery of the whole package is the complete opposite. Get those live gigs at The Cluny and invite her along asap.
The cusp of Modern Folk, Lo-Fi and a few Avant Garde Poetic Flourishes.
Some albums really, really deserve your full attention when listening; and this latest offering from Nashville’s Anne Malin is one such. Before I go any further I may have to reconsider telling you she is from Nashville, as that mat pre-empt what you feel you are going to hear; be that mainstream Country from Music Row or something dark, dangerous and broody from the Est end of town. What Ms Malin does transcends either or both and has a more International ‘feel’ to it as it straddles the cusp of Modern Folk and what we used to know as Lo-Fi, with a few Avant Garde flourishes thrown in for extra flavour. If you fall instantly in love with opening song Empty Is The Day; as I did, you are in for a veritable treat; but if like Mrs Magpie you sniff and look disdainfully at the hi fi, then the man who put the disc in the player, before leaving the room ……. you are missing a very special record indeed. The quavering pity in Anne’s voice carries on throughout the whole album, and really brings out the pathos in her tragic tales; most especially the richly detailed What Brings My Eyes Open and Sleep. I said earlier that there are ‘Avant Garde flourishes’ here; and that’s how I feel about the painful poetic delivery in Mountain Song and again the title track The Waiting Game which somehow sounds something like Anne is channeling both Edith Piaf and Norma Waterson via a lifetime of heartbreak. While it’s often said that ‘there is nothing new in music’ THE WAITING SONG is as different an album as I’ve heard in ages; there’a Gothic sensitivity to many songs here; but in there lies a tragic beauty; none more so than the song I’m selecting as my Favourite; Pearly Sleigh, which finds Anne singing as she tinkles the piano; (or is it a harpsichord?) who knows or cares; it will never see the light of day on the wireless and I guess will scare the pants off the average Spotify listener; but to you and I it is a rare thing of poetic beauty. Anne Malin alongside partner William Johnston, and their album THE WAITING SONG are either destined for greatness, Awards and becoming the darling of the broadsheet newspapers; or will become something of a cult performer with winsome and brokenhearted young ladies and gentle-men hanging on her every word and deed; I doubt there will be a middle ground with some minor commercial success ……. unless the likes of Tim Burton uses one or more of her songs on a film soundtrack; which would be the perfect combination for me.
Christopher Coll The Black Doorway (E.P) Style Records
Lo-Fi Northern Irish Romantic Melancholia For Lovers Everywhere.
Yikes! When Stevie Scullion aka Malojian first told me about this release on his Style Records label I presumed that it would be Christopher Coll’s debut ….. but on closer examination he’s recorded 30+ previous albums, is an illustrator, and video animator too. I like to keep myself busy …. but really? This quite remarkable EP of 7 self-penned songs is only going to be available as 100 copy Limited Edition vinyl and on Bandcamp too; which I totally support; as none of the International streaming platforms work in favour of the Independent Artiste. Harrumph!
The wistful opening song, A Vision errs on the Lo-Fi end of Folk, with the engineering picking out some lovely guitar picking and lap-steel (from Graham Bingham); helping make Coll’s soft, yet still expressive voice sound like a warm autumnal breeze, to these ears. To all intents and purposes these songs were all recorded as ‘live’ in one take at Malojianland Studios; and that exciting frisson certainly comes across when you hear the title track The Black Doorway, where Coll, occasionally accompanied by Laura McFadden on cello, drops his voice a couple of octaves to tell a gloriously doom laden tale; and on the finale An Apology too, where I hear elements of both John Prine and Kurt Cobain (Unplugged) in both delivery and the way the stories both unfold. Although always ‘gentle’ in that Lo-Fi manner; Coll still manages to shift the mood at will; especially noticeable on the dark and melancholic Into The Ocean; with its haunting harmonica interlude makes it sound almost Gothic in words and deeds. With only 7 songs here; and none longer than 5 minutes long the EP is over in the blink of an eye; but even the first time I played it I realised that Christopher Coll was a rare talent indeed; which brings me to the two songs I’m torn between as a Favourite. For Avery really does hark back to the singer-songwriters that I listened to after sneaking into my elder brother’s bedrooms in the mid 1970’s and ‘borrowing’ for my own enlightenment. It’s as timeless as can be and stands shoulder to shoulder with anything Malojian or his other Northern Irish peers have released in recent years. But; and I can’t even describe why, but I’m selecting the heartbreaking Her & I; which I’m sure can be interpreted in many ways by every person who hears it. It’s miserable and gloomy; but therein lies it’s tragic beauty. Best played late at night when you’re scraping around for that bottle of brandy that your Mam brought back from Greece three years ago ……. sometimes misery is your only friend.