An Imaginative and Loving Sideways Look at Living In LA
Probably because there are so many songs on here (13) I’ve struggled to find the time to give it it’s due desserts…… until today. A founder member of the famed Paisley Underground scene, Tolman has released 8 albums under his own moniker and 2 with his previous band True West prior to this release; yet sadly his name didn’t resonate when he sent me this shiny new disc. After playing the first two tracks, Los Angeles and Kid, in the car last Friday I realised the loss was mine; not his. For the uninitiated like me I’m not sure where Tolman’s music fits in; as there are hints at Country, Americana and even Pop in quite a few songs; but theirs also a sense of grown up humour too; especially with 405 where he somehow manages to make traffic jams on said Highway sound romantic and windswept to this old Englishman; and later Satellite Bar is the type of thing I’d expect from Barenaked Ladies or the like. Tolman himself has quite the droll singing voice; but that added to the undoubted twinkle in his eye makes his songs perfectly suitable for the more ‘mature’ of us; and I defy listeners not to smile when they find themselves absentmindedly singing along to either Yuba City or Take It Easy, Take It Slow; which alongside the the self depreciating Time Flies will be a signature tune for many of us, especially the chorus of:
“The clock it takes a stroll Every day takes its toll And you find yourself not wiser not smarter Just old. Time Flies but wisdom walks”
Come on; what’s not to like? I’d love to think Tolman’s odes to his American homeland and especially The City of Angels, can find a home there, as I worry that Randy Newman type ‘irony’ that packs every poptastic line in North Hollywood Dream and the title track Goodbye El Dorado may just be better accepted in Europe and beyond. Hmmmm ….. choosing a favourite song isn’t as easy as it might be; as a couple I’ve already mentioned should be contenders; but I’m going to give a Tie to the dryly amusing love song Do You Like The Way and the jaunty Pacific Rain; which made me smile and my toes tap, while mumbling the catchy chorus …….. again; what’s not to like? Of course there’s a place for Russ Tolman in Americana’s huge pantheon and I’m pretty sure his fans will be the type that aren’t swayed by arrogant music reviewers and rely more on word of mouth from their well honed and knowledgeable friends; of whom I now count myself as one too. PS The CD has 13 tracks and the download 10.
Bob Hillman Some of Us Are Free, Some of Us Are Lost Self-Release
Contemporary and Free-Thinking AOR.
I was sitting earlier today wondering what to write about next, as there are a couple of releases from ‘name acts’ that I’m having trouble getting my head around; so I put Bob Hillman’s fifth release in the player and was soon swept up in the deceptively ‘easy listening’ manner of his voice and the particularly luscious production on a few songs. Then I listened a bit more closely and these songs are really deep and quite edgy at times too. Right up our street then! The title track, Some of Us Are Free, Some of Us Are Lost opens the disc with a laid-back, Laurel Canyon vibe…… not a million miles away from Jackson Browne and Stephen Still if I’m not mistaken….. but I probably am! Hillman’s storytelling isn’t exactly in the A-B style; there’s very much a poetic heartbeat to most of these songs; albeit in a Soft-Rock & Roll fashion. I’ve quickly become smitten with Song For Sarah, Carveresque and Hypnotized; and I guess the more I play them each will unravel a bit more each time revealing really special secrets. As I’m prone to do, I try to pick out an artistes influences for you and the names that spring to mind are the afore mentioned Jackson Browne but Steely Dan and Barenaked Ladies too …… I don’t know why either. This is very much an articulate and ‘grown up’ album with plenty for the listener to wrap their cerebral matter around and discuss at length….. This Surfing Life and Cocaine Ruins Everything immediatly spring to mind, with the latter being about David Crosby. My first choice as Favourite Song wouldn’t surprise regular readers who know what a sucker I am for a ‘love song’ so I nearly picked one of the two versions of I’m In Love With You; probably the latter Jazzier version too; but I’m going to surprise you and me by actually selecting You’re Off The Rails; a slightly off-kilter You’re Off The Rails; probably because bits (if not all) reflect a relationship I had with a friend; and the Alt. Electro Pop tune does it no harm at all and makes this the most Steely Danesque song here and a damn good one at that.
Mean, Moody and Introspective Soulful and Bluesy AOR.
First of all what a cool and eye-catching cover on the CD; I’m pretty sure it would have made me pick it up had I seen it in a Record Shop. To some degree the artwork captures the mood of the music on the album too; quite laid back and difficult to pigeon-hole. A glorious swampy sounding ‘chant’ opens the record; Go Down Ezekiel sounds like something Eric Bibb or Keb Mo may have recorded had they got to it first; most notably because of the dirty guitar licks throughout. With that in mind probably the third time I heard the next song Ghost In the Basement I got to thinking that the best way to treat this album of divergent Roots music was to imagine it a soundtrack to mean and moody Detective drama starring Idris Elba or Kevin Costner. Nelson has a fascinating voice; part velvety crooner and part dime store gangster as he inhabits the characters in his songs. There’s a claustrophobic sense of menace on Lay a Little and the title track Over, Under, Through which sounds like Chet Baker re-mixed into a Levon Helm track creating a diamond cut mysticism. Nelson’s re-working of Cash’s I Walk The Line sounds a lot more Soulful in the way our man purrs the heartbreaking lyrics, as if he’s drowning in molasses; but still keeping the original pathos intact throughout. The production and musicianship is spell binding throughout making something like the sultry Secret or Relative Weeping sound quite extraordinary at times; and defying categorisation, with AOR being the nearest I can think; but with added Blues and a dash of Southern Rock in the shadows. I still think my original description of this album being a soundtrack to an ‘imaginary Detective series or film’ but there’s a subtle touch of contemporary politics slid in too with the slow and Funky Silent Majority; but it could easily fit into my Soundtrack concept too. If you’re still with my Soundtrack concept; my Favourite Song would be the title for the Film/TV Show; Colour It Blue. Just imagine if you will, what the opening verse conjures up…… “I can take a sunny day and fill it with rain Hijack your peace of mind Drag you to a house of pain Pretty Rainbows fade to grey At the sound of my weeping guitar.” Surely it’s an anti-hero PI or Cop in an overcoat trawling the mean streets in the and shadows of the dark end of town. Surely it’s not just me? Even if you don’t go with my theory this album is the perfect antidote for what life is throwing at us these days; turn the lights down low and wallow in not just Paul Nelson’s pain and sorrow; but his amazing voice and the magical musicians supporting him.
Elvis Costello is the only act I’ve ever queued TWICE for his albums on the day of release (This Year’s Model & King of America); and for a long time afterwards I bought each and every album he released; until The Delivery Man …..well, like the three that preceded it I don’t think I’ve listened to it a third time in 15 years.
So, while obviously flattered to be asked to review his latest, and 30th studio album, I was very nervous last Sunday playing it for the first time.
What if I really didn’t like it?
But, a combination of me not playing his albums for a decade and possibly now having more refined tastes……… there was no need to panic; the Kid is in fine fettle and right back in the game!
The first thing you hear Under Lime and it’s as sharp and melodic as anything Costello recorded in the 80’s (his peak period btw) yet while the arrangement sounds a bit jazzy and not unlike his songs with Burt Bacharach the lyrics are brand new, shiny and even attention grabbing.
Now I’m settled into it. LOOK NOW is real ‘Grown Up Music’; no, not AOR because very little here ‘rocks’ this is 100% quality singer-songwriter material aimed at Grown Ups, that takes chances unlike any of his peers would ever dare take…… try the magnificent Burnt Sugar is More Bitter (written with Carol King no less!) and Dishonour The Stars and then point me to someone other than EC who could write such a song and arrange it in this manner and yet it’s still ‘commercial’ and listenable over and over again.
There’s always been something of a Poet in the way Elvis chooses his words and constructs his songs making the listener know exactly what he means in Mr & Mrs Hush or the intense Stripping Paper even if they aren’t to be taken literally.
As is my won’t I’ve played this five times before reading the Press Release and only then did I realise that the two brooding ballads Don’t Look Now and Photographs Don’t Lie are both co-write with Burt Bacharach; whose (with hindsight) ghost is all over them.
To some greater or lesser degree he’s taken a big step backwards to jump forwards with the bittersweet Suspect My Tears and He’s Given Me Things, with both not sounding particularly like anything else he’s recorded but takes you back to a time when his song writing shone like a star in the sky.
While far from being my ‘Favourite Song’ here; I admire the way he casually drops in the left of centre arrangement of Why Won’t Heaven Help Me without a care in the world.
Finding my actual ‘Favourite Song’ was actually quite easy this time; as the I Let The Sun Go Down punched me straight in the heart the first time I heard it. String arrangements, luscious harmonies and Elvis Costello at his sharpest, cleverest and indeed witty even all rolled up in a quasi-political observation that will catch many a radio producer out!
If we forget his Angry Young Man phase in the late 70’s; Elvis Costello was a Master craftsman of his art between Trust and Spike; constantly reinventing himself yet always letting that one and only voice take us on musical journeys we’d never ever contemplated taking with anyone else; but ended up wondering why no one else had ever thought of that direction before.
Grown-Up Late Night Songs For Heart of Saturday Night.
This is another of the albums that has been lying around the office hinterland for a couple of months; and is still worthy of a few loving words.
Much like a lot of people who read my reviews Andy Lucas has spent a career in the shadows of the music industry predominantly playing piano for other people; but has previously released another solo album (a hit in Beirut apparently!).
Our paths have crossed a few times over the years and more recently with him being a key member of both Roddy Hart & The Lonesome Fire and Blue Rose Code; so a cursory listen to his latest release was always going to happen.
I’m pleased I did; even though the content is absolutely nothing like either of those bands.
Opening track House of Cards finds Andy on something of a Jazzy singer-songwriter vibe; with his stark piano playing being the perfect accompaniment for his deep and meaningful words about his part in the break-up of a loving relationship. The classy brass section and powerhouse bass in the background keep everything from sounding too schmaltzy or tearful.
It took me a few plays to totally get my head around where Lucas was coming from; but when the penny dropped I got the feeling that he desperately wants to avoid comparisons with Jamie Cullum and Jools Holland; which he has done with the raffish Wednesday and to some extent Money being slightly tongue in cheek and owe a lot more to Randy Newman and maybe even Harry Nillson than the other two.
Oh; with February 14th just around the corner the song Valentine is being released as a single. In keeping with the rest of the songs here it’s not a ‘moon in June’ happy-clappy love song; no it’s a fully fledged song aimed at Grown-Ups who still believe in ‘the sparkle in your smile/and staying in/making love/ and drinking gin.’ A clever set of words and a deeply intense musical interlude combine exceptionally well; in my humble opinion.
There is also a darker; albeit dour Scottish grey tone about some of his lyrics too; Pills For Thrills and False Prophets exploring subject matter that will scare the more sensitive among us; but tired old cynics like me will love them to bits and recognise some of the characters Lucas sings about.
Possibly Andy Lucas’s finest song here is the heart pumping Rain; which comes across as a tricky mix of Travis, Damien Rice and Georgie Fame. An obviously talented pianist Lucas races along at a breakneck pace on a bittersweet love song that will certainly stand the test of time; and wouldn’t be out of place on one of those Sunday Radio 2 shows.
But; that’s not my ‘favourite song’; no that accolade goes to All That I Am which closes the record; and finds the singer-songwriter at his late night loneliest and saddest; on a song that can only be played in the dark and when Tom Waits said “the piano has been crying” he could have been talking about this actual song.
To some degree it’s a waste of a talent for Andy Lucas to make a living as a professional side-man; but music like this isn’t fashionable at the moment; but that day will surely come and you will remember where you first read about Andy Lucas when you see him on the Graham Norton Show singing his latest million seller.