Neil Bob Herd and the Dirty Little Acoustic Band EVERY SOUL A STORY Cattlecall Music
Glorious Americana With Its Scottish Roots Showing.
Although it obviously has a rich musical history, why such a small country as Scotland continues to produce not just authentic but exciting Americana music is beyond me. But it keeps churning out albums that I love and admire from some mystical conveyor belt North of Hawick and South of Lerwick. Today it’s the turn of one time Coal Porter, Neil Bob Herd and his latest solo album. The intriguing Rockabilly-lite, Bad Land opens the album in a toe tapping style; and Herd’s natural brogue takes you on a fabulous musical journey. It sounds like a very simple story of ‘dreams turned sour’; but I keep getting the impression that there’s a political metaphor in there too; is it about Americae? Scotland? Or possibly Post-Brexit Great Britain …. or it just might be a bittersweet love song. That’s been the joy listening to this album; Neil Bob Herd is a fabulous storyteller, steeped in the Traditional Folk heritage, but he also has a Poets soul and a Rock n Roll heart. I try my best to unravel songs; but it’s not always easy with Herd hiding a conundrum inside a riddle; but with a lovely melody and chorus making Light a Single Candle and Well Well, very easy to hum along to. Others are far more ‘obvious’; but none the less fascinating; As Much As I Needed Too is a sad eyed observation on a long relationship that has drifted into complacence; yet the same man can deliver the gorgeous love song Exactly What I Wanted 15 minutes later! Herd dips his toes into several musical ponds here; those last two could easily have been from the pithy pen of Nick Lowe; while his Scottish Folk Roots come to the fore on the Colour of History and later he straps on his Fender Jaguar (?) for a Postcard era Indie missive called Best Song; which may end up being my Song of The Summer! We all know someone like the ‘characters’ in Coming Back as Jason and Book Inside Them. Mysteriously romantic figures in our lives who have an indescribable aura about them; ‘that’ bloke in the pub, or someone we used to work alongside; or it could even be an Uncle (or Aunt) you only meet at weddings and funerals; but always brings a smile to your face when they say, “That Reminds Me…….” These romantic figures are best summed up in the line: “Frank was good with Treasure Maps But no good at Crossword Clues.” Which then brings me to my actual Favourite Song here; Leave Only Love (Old Dog) which again will make you sit back smiling thinking of someone similar; I know that I have …… and that neat pedal-steel does the melody no harm at all. In many ways this album proves that good music knows no boundaries; and just because Neil Bob Herd makes no pretence at hiding his lovely Scottish accent when he sings, doesn’t stop this having an Americana heartbeat.
The Legends of Tomorrow DON’T GO TO NASHVILLE Self-Release
Old Songs, New Songs and Songs to Stir Your Folk Rocking Heart.
I thought I was finished with reviewing music from 2019 when this EP arrived in the Christmas post and I found myself with a free morning; and nothing to do. While I thought I had my ‘finger on the pulse’ of Northern Irish Roots Music; I’ve not heard of Colin Harper nor his friends aka The Legends of Tomorrow; but trusted the source PR Company so give this EP a listen. Without it being a ‘spoiler’ in any way, all 5 songs here are very, very different in style, content and even musical genre not least because each is sung by a different singer ; Mickey Rafferty (The Minnows), Ciaran Gribbin (Leya/INXS/solo artist), Paul Casey (solo artist), Janet Henry (solo artist) and Lyndsay Crothers (Wookalily); but ……. that’s no hardship at all when you give them a chance to breathe. The title track Don’t Go To Nashville is a right ole ‘piss n vinegar’ America song about the current trend of British songwriters rocking up in Nashville and spending their Summer Holidays (and savings) to join up with locals to write ‘the next big thing’. It’s a very cleverly constructed song with a sharply observed story; although there just may be a hint of jealousy in the off beat! I actually agree with the sentiment; because apart from or two specific songwriters in the RMHQ ‘Circle’ who have history with this source and indeed actual success; I receive numerous Press Releases from acts stating that they have spent time in Nashville writing songs with people I have; and never will have heard of; sorry but it just doesn’t impress; unless the songs are actual zingers; and they invariably aren’t. This is followed by a melodic Indie Rocker in the mould of Icicle Works or The The, called When It’s Gone which touches on the changes; both physical and emotional that surround us every day; especially the iconic buildings that we grew up with that are disappearing and being replaced with bland 21st structures. Next up, Liberation is the type of 1970’s Folk Rocker that I used to sit listening to with my massive headphones clutched tightly to my ears as I tried to unravel the meaning of life; and I never found them, but that doesn’t stop this delightful tune with delicious harmonies being something that I can recommend wholeheartedly to you. I feel guilty about not making the final song Greta Thunberg At The End of Time my Favourite Song; as it’s very much a ‘song of our times’ and Lyndsay Crother’s vocal performance is spellbinding as she battles, like the young Swede with a cacophony that builds around her. But; my Favourite Song here, People On The Highway is actually a Bert Jansch song that Harper and friends have dusted down and lovingly tidied up by adding a gorgeous modern Folk Rock tune featuring some inspirational violin playing from Martin Hayes too; and Janet Henry sings her heart out like a siren on the rocky cliffs beckoning the casual listener in with her soft yet dangerous charms. All five of these beautifully constructed songs, that straddle Americana and British Folk Rock with consummate ease, are a lovely if angsty antidote to all of the false bonhomie and political nonsense surrounding me and indeed you at the moment. RMHQ Recommends.
The Orphan Brigade To The Edge of The World Proper Music
Intensely Beautiful and Windswept Tales of Love, Life and Dreaming.
While 99.99% of the population will never have heard of the members that make up The Orphan Brigade, I can’t help but think of them as a ‘Roots Supergroup’; how else can you describe the combination of Neilson Hubbard, Ben Glover and Joshua Britt? Answer me that? On the back of their superb HEART OF THE CAVE, they have come up with another stunning golden concept based around living on Northern Ireland’s rugged West Coast (although many of the songs easily transfer to many other similar territories). Just like their previous release I’m struggling to find a convenient peg to hang these songs on; they certainly have a Folk thread to them, but is it simply Irish or probably Celtic in origin, but also quite Americana at times and a couple of songs are on the verge of ‘Folk Rock’…… so if you’ve got this far, I will leave the final decision to you. While certainly not a fan of bagpipes in any form, but the haunting (Irish) Pipes intro; courtesy Barry Kerr is the perfect way to start these dark and gloomily beautiful tales of life, love and dreaming. This is followed by Mad Man’s Window; an atmospheric song that could easily come from any of Robert Plant’s solo albums and conjures up some amazing visions as a really taut drumbeat and combination of traditional acoustic instruments battle with the singer to gain your attention; and the winner is you. Just when you think you are getting a handle on The Orphan Brigade they keep throwing musical time bombs that will catch you unawares hours after playing this record. Well, that’s what happened to me with the Fairhead’s Daughter and Black Nun yesterday. The songs and stories will reel you in anyway, but for a ‘Folk album’ these songs are generally best played LOUD …….. especially Dance Me To The Edge of the World and the exceptional Banshee (*but other belters are available too). All of these songs and constructions are quite complex; but courtesy of some classy production, all are easily accessible with the glorious Under The Chestnut Tree, Children of Lir and of course, Captain’s Song (featuring Mr John Prine) being prime examples. While each individual song is its very own little vignette, adding them together in this fashion and with this particular running order makes it all become a bit of a ‘Theoretical Soundtrack’ hence selecting a Favourite Song very difficult indeed; but To The Edge of The World (Children’s Reprise) is simplicity itself and quite beautiful too; whereas the finale Mind The Road is as deep as it’s windswept yet the ghostly love song Isabella is the personification of a timeless song; and therefore takes the accolade. Today has been the perfect day for writing this review; as the variable Autumn weather has been the perfect accompaniment for the light and shade that makes up this glorious LP.
RONNIE LANE JUST FOR A MOMENT (1973-1997) Universal Music
Ronnie Lane, Bass Player for the Small Faces and the Faces – Songwriter behind iconic songs such as Ooh La La, Itchycoo Park, The Poacher, Annie and Debris… In many ways Ronnie Lane remains an enigma in the story of rock ‘n’ roll. An artist who was determined to chart his own destiny and break free from the demands of the music “business”. His sense of disillusion with the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle led him to leave his hugely successful band for a ramshackle country farm (Fishpool) and a life on the road (of sorts…) He assembled a new band – Ronnie Lane’s Slim Chance – and would create The Passing Show – a now legendary circus tent tour of the country with assorted clowns, acrobats and comedians… To further his ambition to do as he pleased musically, he built his own recording studio – The Lane Mobile Studio – itself an icon in the history of rock recordings.
Ronnie created a sound that was unique in British music – a style that leaned heavily on an array of influences particularly folk, country music and later r’n’b with welcome contributions from the band of musicians he surrounded himself with. Ronnie was not alone in his rural idyll – many friends would join him in his new artistic endeavours – Gallagher and Lyle, Kevin Westlake, Billy Livesey as well as Ronnie Wood, Pete Townshend and Eric Clapton (the latter wrote Wonderful Tonight round the fire at Ronnie’s Fishpool Farm). Eventually the symptoms of MS would surface and in the 80s Ronnie would move to Austin, Texas where he still wrote and performed up until his death in 1997.
Ronnie Lane is one of the finest songwriters the UK has produced. This is the first time that a fully comprehensive look at Ronnie’s post Faces career has been undertaken. Just For A Moment 1973-1997 collates the solo and collaborative work of this prodigious and much missed wordsmith. As Pete Townshend surmises, “Here, in these songs, collected with such love and care, he is found again. Probably at the height of his rebellious and chaotic powers, where music had to be immediate and uplifting, or else heart-breaking – but always real.”
BOX HIGHLIGHTS It includes Ronnie’s 4 solo albums – Anymore For Anymore (+ singles), Ronnie Lane’s Slim Chance, One For The Road and the cruelly underrated See Me. In addition, it features tracks from Ronnie’s Mahoney’s Last Stand soundtrack album with Ron Wood and Rough Mix with Pete Townshend. The final disc of the set focuses on Ronnie’s time in the US with live highlights and studio tracks never previously released. The set also featured lots of rare and unreleased material – be prepared to hear fantastic cover versions of The Wanderer, Rocket’ 69 and The Joint Is Jumpin’ – as well as unheard Ronnie compositions plus live recordings, tracks for the BBC and highlights from a legendary Rockpalast concert. The set is curated by long time musical associate of Ronnie’s, Slim Chancer musician Charlie Hart. Comprehensive sleeve-notes focus on Ronnie the musician, the songwriter, the collaborator and split the post ’73 period into three distinct parts. Writers are Paolo Hewitt, Kris Needs and Kent Benjamin covering Ronnie’s Austin years, whilst The Who’s Pete Townshend contributes a foreword on his former best friend and collaborator
Packaging – 6 discs housed in a hard-back book with outer slipcase. The package also includesa book of Ronnie’s lyrics and an A2 fold out poster.
Holy Moly & The Crackers Take a Bite Pink Lane Records
The New Wave of Folk-Punk, Straight Outta Heaton!
I can remember as if it was yesterday the first time I ever clapped eyes on Holy Moly & The Crackers. It was a very sunny Saturday afternoon at SummerTyne Festival and they blew everyone else out of the water with their eclectic mix of Folk Rock, Gypsy rhythms and Country Blues styled songs……. and I threw myself at their feet, virtually begging to interview them for the publication I was then writing for. A lot of water has flowed under the Tyne Bridge since that fateful day; with Holy Moly subsequently releasing two ‘critically acclaimed’ albums and selling out shows all across Europe and now playing ‘the big stages’ at Festivals. So with all of that history between us, absolutely nothing prepared me for their ‘new direction’……NOTHING! Previously the charismatic Conrad Bird was Singer #1; but here the rather beautiful Ruth Patterson throws down her velvet gauntlet on opening song, All I Got Is You, a heady mix of Indie, New Wave, Punk and a full on Spectortastic Wall of Sound! You aren’t even allowed to catch your breath before Ruth fires up the reactors again on Upside Down; a song that sounds like Blondie on Brown Ale and Uppers, with a side order of Grappelli influenced violin from Ruth herself! It’s not until track #4 Kiss Me Before You Go (with it’s classy Glitter Band drumbeat) before Mr. Bird is allowed in front of the microphone; and then he only plays the love lorn foil to the temptress that is Ms Patterson alongside him. I may have to come back to this song when I’m dishing out the Favourite Song accolade. It’s easy to hear that the constant touring has been the Holy Molies learning their apprenticeship the hard way; but with spiky and intelligently crafted songs like Take a Bite, which incorporates their collective love of World Music btw; Who Do You Think You Are and the ‘call to arms’, Sister you know they haven’t been wasting their time in the back of a transit van. They have been learning their craft, and learning how to pool their individual strengths into a collective talent that will blow many a headliner off the Festival Stage this coming Summer. You are eventually allowed to catch your breath; on the cinematic I’d Give It All which finds Ruth channelling her inner Shirley Bassey as the band show their intimate quality musicianship in the background. I realise that I’ve sounded all “goo-goo eyes” talking about Ruth Patterson’s singing and performing here; and that’s not out of place at all, because it’s been a helluva shock; but no surprise at all to finally hear her coming out of her shell and leading the band from up front and centre; but this is no solo album by any stretch of the imagination……no, no, NO! I’m pretty sure that this is the album Conrad Bird has dreamt of creating from Day #1; and his songwriting and trumpet playing are both exemplary from the outset, as is his understated rhythm guitar; plus the effervescent Rosie Bristow once renowned for hiding in the shadows on stage; but listen carefully and you will not hear a track here that isn’t all the better for inclusion….. Rosie sure rocks this much maligned instrument! Yet, drummer Tommy Evans and Bass player Jamie Shields manage to create a big ole noise while somehow never ever threatening to overshadow the singers; which is a talent many ‘big names’ could learn from. There’s yet another surprise for me in the inclusion of an actual lead guitarist, Nick Tyler who seems to take on the George Harrison role by supplying brilliantly understated solos that catch your attention; but allow the songs to flow ever so naturally. Phew….. that’s all a bit long-winded, even by my standards; but needs must, and all that. AHA! Favourite Song time; on any other album it would have to be the menacing Naked in Budapest, but that has Conrad Bird on lead vocals; and as Ruth has usurped my mate as Singerist #1 it would be rude not to choose one of hers; so the Official RMHQ Favourite Song is…… Through With Talking; a New Wave infused Punk Rocker, but with a Folk heart. What the Folk is going on here? Fans will no doubt ask. Wind yer necks in; these kids know exactly what they are doing and if you indulge them; as I have done, your life will be undoubtedly enriched by letting this album and this fantastic band into your life.
Folk-Rock Meets Alt. Country on a Moody and Melodramatic Soundtrack to Our Lives.
*Disclaimer. Roy Peak is a trusted member of the RMHQ Extended Family who write prosaic reviews from the heart in a style becoming of the wonderful records he creates as a side line to his day job as ‘Bass Player For Hire’. So obviously there will be no nepotism involved in the writing of this review. (Ya think?) That said, I only got to know Roy after reviewing his last album ALL IS WELL and as we live on different continents we are more pen-pals than friends; but he does have phenomenal musical taste that mirrors my own. Opening track Sylvia, Sylvia took me by surprise as it’s a moody acoustic modernish Folk song with a bit of a bouncy beat and some lightning Dobro from Mark Williams ; not like I remember at all…… but better? Not for the last time here, Roy uses his world weary voice as an extra instrument to curl its way around his words in a way most others couldn’t possibly achieve. One song title in particular caught my attention as I skimmed the album cover; The Radioactive Kid, which may or may not also be the title of a Bill Bryson book but that’s only coincidental as this gloriously intense self-searching tale with a searing Hawaiian/steel guitar thread will tug at your heartstrings in a way my favourite travel writer never could. When reviewing songs you are supposed to try to get to the roots of what the writer ‘meant’ but as a fan; I just try to explain the emotions that the songs create which is sad but hopeful when I hear Look Up At The Moon, ‘smiley’ with the dark and almost gloomy Look at Miss Ohio and ’empathetic’ each time I tap my toes to the growling Broken Too. I’ve said a couple of times lately that I’m not really a lover of instrumentals; but the delightfully moody Not Enough Mermaids (with that beautiful Hawaiian/steel guitar lilt again) is a TV theme tune in waiting surely? The title An Ever Darkening Sky squeezed my heart near to bursting the first time I heard it, as it really captured the zeitgeist of my life that evening; but today I’m in a different place and can just appreciate it for what it is; an intense and beautifully created song about depression and the shades that beast creates inside your head. In today’s ‘market’ I suppose this album fits into the Alt. Country file; but there’s a bit of a Folk-Rock edginess to it too; none more so than the bittersweet break-up song Walk Away, which features Mr Mark Williams on harmonica too; which is something of a rare treat. Then there is the ordeal of selecting one of my friends ‘musical babies’ as a personal favourite…….. well; I’m going for the ginger haired step-kid; Old Crow, which by the standards the album sets is a bit of a ‘right Royal Rocker’ albeit of the shoe-gazing type, and one that could and should prove a stepping stone for a whole album of Neil Young/REM/Tom Petty/Waco Brothers influenced songs in the near future perhaps? There’s an argument that it’s never been easier to release music, but when I hear albums by songwriters like Roy Peak I marvel at the talent and fortitude that is actually out there to still battle through the numerous and tricky hurdles that the current music industry creates; to get their songs and tunes out into Internetland, making this a better place for me and you to live in.
The Missing Articulate Link Between Cohen and Cobain.
A few days ago I got involved in a futile discussion a friend who was really excited at the prospect of a new Mumford & Sons album because in his opinion, ‘the state of music these days is rubbish’ and ‘there being nothing interesting out there these days’.
I got in my car and played this album…… and contritely grinned my way home thinking “you don’t know what you’re missing matey!”
He’s been around for a while now; but Ben Folke Thomas only came to my attention (and most other people”s) with his Copenhagen album last year; and I still chuckle at the thought of his ‘Live’ album earlier this year too.
I won’t go into his back story again; but for a young man born on a remote island off the coast of Sweden he sure can make Folk music that defies musical boundaries and natural boundaries.
First and foremost he’s a story teller masquerading as a singer-songwriter that ploughs his own furrow; regardless of what everyone else is doing around him. And for that; you have to admire him.
Using his full band and blasting through this recording in only two days; you can sense the excitement and even freshness right from the first song, the acutely observant Tasteless & Complacent which has some cool backing singers doing ‘woo hoos’ and a lush melody disguising some very sharp lyrics; which won’t surprise existing fans in the slightest.
Thomas chose to write these songs around a piano, rather than his guitar; and the delicate and spellbinding second track One Day still revolves around that beautiful instrument and will make any other songwriter hearing it sit up and listen; then let out a big sigh as Thomas recalls his early life and dreams playing for free, in a smoky bar.
I rad a lot of bios that list an artistes ‘inspirations’ and usually just shake my head as they try to appear ‘cool’ for the sake of being ‘cool’; but in this instance you can definitely hear the intensiveness of Nirvana coupled to the wordplay of Leonard Cohen weaving their way through Dead Horizon and the punchy poetry of Some People; but it’s that modern twist on Punky-Folk Rock that makes this album special.
Ben’s subject matter is left of centre; yet somehow he reels you into songs like Modern Man with ease; even if you can’t decide if it’s a tale of unrequited love or stalking; but sometimes the difference can be quite blurred, as the narrator finds out.
Then, of course there has to be a Favourite RMHQ song; and finding a genuine ‘winner’ is very nearly impossible; as you too will find when you hear Lily Is a Gunslinger the first time and the subject matter and the ethereal way Thomas deals with it makes your jaw fall open in awe; then there is the ultimate ‘break up song’ One More Chance with the clever and observational Cohenesque chorus:
“I said Hey Baby
Excuse my inability to dance
That I make you cry more than I make you laugh
That the next beer I drink won’t be my last
Oh come on now
Baby give me one more chance.”
But I’m probably going for a song about Ben meeting Paul Newman in a dream. Nope; I’m not telling you any more about it; as it wouldn’t make sense….. it is a dream after all, but it’s a genuine thing of rare beauty and so articulate it should be used in educational programmes!
Ben Folke Thomas certainly won’t be for everyone that’s for sure; but if you like eloquent, often poetic observational songs about the human condition; but from the left of centre (think Cohen, Dylan, Cobain, Olney, Lucinda and probably even Ryan Adams) that make you ‘think’; then you will eventually learn to love this album every bit as much as I have done.
Martin Stephenson & The Daintees
GLADSOME, HUMOUR & BLUE
The Bard of Geordieland Still Sounds Fresh and Thought-Provoking After 30 Years.
If you don’t already know the work of Martin George Stephenson you should be damn near ashamed to call yourself a music fan!
OOPS! Did I just say that out loud? Well; if I did it’s because that’s how I feel about the man and his music.
I once described the second most famous musician to come from Washington as having ‘Musical Tourette’s’ such is the way he keeps releasing albums; and the standard is always exceptionally high too, by the way; which in a roundabout way bring us to this his glorious reworking of his second ever album from 1988 and (bizarrely) the only one to chart in the Top 40….. who knew?
The almost legendary Comes A Time opens events like a an exhausted battle-cry; originally for the disaffected youth of the late Eighties; but one that still resonates today for those very same people, who are now in their fifties but with similar worries and more.
Another crowd favourite that has stood the test of time Slaughterman follows; and yet again Martin’s clever way with words and metaphors sound even more apt today; as we are all older, wiser and probably a lot more cynical; nodding our heads as he softly growls –
“Like some hot dog seller sitting in a stand,
You’ve a nerve to criticize while you sit inside your cage,
Like some Turkey paying homage to the slaughter man”.
Thirty years on; surely this is as apt a description of the British public facing an unsure future after Brexit; or even the world sitting waiting to see what Trump and/or Putin will do next?
As someone who couldn’t afford to buy the original LP; the next few songs are brand new to me and each one shows what an insightful and staggeringly intelligent songwriter he was at such a young age; but the new treatments also highlight what great musicians Stephenson MG, Steel, Mordey and Stephenson K. have all evolved into; even though the most famous Daintees formation never actually played on the original! (Apart from Stephenson MG of course).
The Wait finds Martin at his Folksiest; and the romantic waltz like I Can See now revolves around Chris Mordey’s hypnotic bass playing and Kate’s oh so deceptively clever drumming.
I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve seen Martin play live and I don’t believe I’ve ever heard Even The Night before; and that just goes to show what an amazing back catalogue he has; if such a diamond can remain in his musical shadows until now.
Oh Lordy, Lord…… I did know Goodbye John before but never in this format. Martin tells the sad story in his charming native tongue; half talking and half singing as John Steel sets your hair on edge with his Hank B Marvinesque guitar playing in the background. #SHIVER
I thought choosing a Favourite Track would have proved much easier than it actually has been; as the new warn and occasionally spine tingling production on a favourite for 30 years Wholly Humble Heart was a shoe-in surely, and as for Me & Matthew, it still brings tears to my eyes every time I hear it (and that’s a lot), and then there’s Nancy of course which always reminds me of…… never mind, my heart beat a little bit faster when I played this last week is all you need to know!
No sirree; I’m going to go for one of the songs that are brand new to me; possibly one of the two songs that tenuously deal with Religion; the delicate love song I Pray or Old Church which is another beauty that has been kept hidden from me for 30 years; and when you hear it you won’t believe that he was only 24 when he wrote these very deep lyrics which (again) sound like they could have been written last month!
But……cue drum roll from Kate……. The RMHQ Favourite Song here is…… the class, hard-hitting, dancetastic and also the nearest thing to seeing Martin G Stephenson in concert you will ever hear from a studio album; Get, Get Gone which closes the album and comfortably straddles the Folk-Rock and Americana spheres that he has unknowingly introduced several generations too without knowing it!
Whoever you are and whatever music you like, there is something here to make you think about, smile at or just plainly enjoy!
Engrossing and Totally Captivating Concept Album (of sorts).
Only a couple of years ago I’d never heard of Australian singer-songwriter Paul Kelly; but after immersing myself in his last three releases and now NATURE I can fully understand why he has ‘legendary’ status in his home land; and is a Multi-Award winner too.
This album is a bit of left of centre challenge for everyone concerned; including his fans, as it revolves around a number of poems that Kelly has set to music, which could all have gone horribly wrong in lesser hands.
Fear not; as Kelly’s almost soft-rock treatment of Dylan Thomas’s And Death Shall Have No Dominion sounds uncannily like Bob Dylan (if His Bobness actually had a warmth and depth to his singing!) and sets the tone for a startling album that lies ahead.
The electric guitars stay around for Kelly’s own For The One I Love, which has a ‘woo-hoo’ chorus and some delectable harmonies from the female backing singers.
The balance of songs/poems is exceptional as Kelly explores ‘NATURE’ in all its glory and from many different viewpoints.
Kelly’s adaptation of Walt Whitman’s With Animals has a dark, almost Native American melody to it which gives it a deep and perhaps even hypnotic effect which deserves utmost reverence when listening.
While the overall effect is totally engrossing; I was surprised to discover how short each individual track is; with only the glorious Bound To Follow coming in at over four minutes long; and that’s not even noticeable as every single song here bleeds into the next one to create something of (dare I say it?) …….. a Folk-Rock Opera; but without the self-centredness normally associated with such productions.
As a non-musician I’m never failed to be impressed when someone like Paul Kelly can find a work like Phillip Larkin’s The Trees which bored me rigid 45 years ago when I was at school; and have the imagination to turn it into a beautiful and engrossing multi-layered song that we have here!
It’s a similar story with Mushrooms, a Sylvia Plath poem which would normally be associated with fragile young things that sit poring over the words in a darkened room; but here I was left open mouthed at the beauty of the words and the gently introspective way Kelly and Friends wrap them up in delicate musical notes.
Just like the album the concept of NATURE in real life, is made up of many and varied particles and just when you think it’s a beautiful ‘thing’ along comes a prickly thorn to test your resolve; and here it’s A Bastard Like Me (for Charlie Perkins); which takes us on a dangerous road trip that we never expected; but it’s harshness (based on a real life story) helps us appreciate the beauty that surrounds it and us in life and on record.
Selecting a single song as a ‘Favourite’ is not really fair as Kelly has created a Masterwork that deserves and needs to be heard as a complete ‘piece’ (and if I’m not mistaken from the production; is also designed for 180 gram vinyl; but I could be wrong.) but, as is my won’t I will point you towards Paul Kelly’s The River Song, which features the Acacia String Quartet, a piano and a double bass with Kelly’s rich Australian voice never sounding better or indeed more expressive.
While the subject matter of the poems/songs here can be dark at time; ‘NATURE’ isn’t always about ‘smelling the rose, is it? And poetry itself can be quite deep and inaccessible at times; but Paul Kelly has managed to pull off a master stroke here; by not making a ‘preachy’ album; but one that is beautiful and engrossing; with numerous hidden messages that just might seep into tired old subconscious’s like mine.
Villiers & The Villains
MUSIC CONFOUNDS THE MACHINES
Cinematic Americana For When The Sun Sets Over Avalon.
As I’ve said before our little website is meant to hark back to the days of the old school yard when someone would see you standing with an LP under your arm and ask what it was; then recommend something similar…….word of mouth marketing before it was trendy?
Which is exactly what happened here.
I can find next to nothing on the interweb to tell me who Villiers and the Villains are (Facebook mentions Tony Villiers and no one else); but if they is good enough for my mate Willie Richardson in Northern Ireland, who went to the bother of sending me their album; then they is certainly good enough for the likes of you out there!
First of all the album title MUSIC CONFOUNDS THE MACHINE appealed to me before I’d even heard a note; but when the first weary chords and Villiers nasal drawl that open first track That 1979 Situation filled the RMHQ office; I immediately felt that I was in for a rare treat indeed.
Even before you get to the final track; the big sound that Villiers and the Villains produce belies them being a local band from Northern Ireland with day jobs to pay the bills.
Kingdom of Sin; which follows is another world weary yet even more atmospheric slice of cinematic Americana with some wonderful choral harmonies that drift in and out like a High Sierra breeze; and this Villiers talking Blues type story ain’t half bad too.
For a second album (?) there’s a lot going on here; with the band strolling in a 60’s Greenwich Village Folk Rock style on Down At Ellie Mays and Little Rhoda May; then they throw in a couple of toe tappin Blues numbers with the Van Morrison Street Choir era inspired Montpelier Hill and the 80’s issue love song Mexico which very nearly melts my heart every time I hear it.
Then there are the glorious Meat For The Dogs, and The Government Man Is Coming which together must be rip-roaring highlights of their shows and then there’s the magnificent Red Wine and Reefer sounds like a young Bob Dylan guesting with the Waterboys.
Villiers and the Villains manage to drop little musical time bombs left and centre here; with the gentle When My Heart Was Broke catching me unawares last night and then had me pressing ‘repeat’ five times in a row so I could savour every word and couplet; then this morning the quirky title track, the poem Music Confounds The Machines came into it’s own and stopped being a coda to Morrison’s Coney Island and took on a whole life of its own; as Villiers warm N’orn Irish brogue reminded me of the late lamented Bap Kennedy as much as it did Van the Man; and the gentle piano backing is just perfect for this delicately intense story.
I’ve very nearly changed my mind and made that song my Favourite Track here; perhaps I will tomorrow, but I’m going with my brain and not my heart and pointing you towards another Talking Blues, The Bubble Will Burst as the words alone are worthy of a much bigger audience than they will receive; as the clever production and Villiers incisive voice as he recites this bittersweet love song/poem will astound all who hear it.
Now I’ve played the album half a dozen times; I feel like crying. Not because it’s no good…….far, far from it my dear; this album is so good it would be hailed as a minor masterpiece by the National Press and magazine if Villiers and the Villains came from Arizona, Winnipeg or even Sarf Landin; but because they are from Northern Ireland and pretty much stay within the craggy Emerald Isle they will sadly go unheralded in the UK and more importantly the US of A who would lap up music like this should they get the opportunity to hear it.
Try it, buy it…….then thank me (and Willie!)