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.
The Ghost of Paul Revere GOOD AT LOSING EVERYTHING Rocksnob/Rootsy
Left Field Lo-Fi Americana Full of Light and Shade.
While the stable this album came from knows my tastes better than most; and only sends things they ‘know’ I will like; it’s still somehow sat around the RMHQ Office waiting patiently for my attention, without ever wondering why I’ve listened to something much more ordinary. But yesterday; the day after release …. I did play it and ……. WOW ….. WOOooooooSH and indeed WOWSER! It quite took my breath away. As is my won’t, the first track on a new album has to catch my attention for me to carry on listening …… and Good at Losing Everything, with it’s Gospelish opening; a stunning banjo retort and a singer who sounds like he’s only stopped crying seconds before entering the studio almost took my breath away. Of course it’s a sad song; check the title out …… but the way the words are delivered make it brittley beautiful in a tattered and tragic kind of way. I’m five hours into the album now and while The Ghost of Paul Revere aren’t quite as Alt. Country as I’d first thought; they are the epitome of Lo-Fi Americana in the way the songs tell their intimate and romantic (with a small r) stories of the people that inhabit their world. Check out One of These Days or Diving Bell to hear what I’m talking about; and even the quirky arrangements on Travel On fit that bill too. My copy doesn’t tell me who sings what; but all three core members (Max Davis [banjo], Sean McCarthy [bass], and Griffin Sherry [guitar] all appear to take the lead at one time or another; and when they harmonise …….. #swoon. I’d not heard of them before picking up this CD; but it appears the band were first formed in 2011 and have released a couple of albums and EP’s; but also racking up millions of ‘streams’ across the various Interweb services; an apprenticeship which all comes together (I suppose) to maturely gel on the likes of Loneliness and Love at Your Convenience; which could easily both have been quite makish in lesser hands; but here are both powerful and insightful; while also getting your heart to pump a little faster without you knowing it. While many of their peers find a particular musical automatic gear and away they go; The Ghost of Paul Revere somehow crank through the manual gears; offering light and shade from track to track and occasionally; in the case of Two Hundred and Twenty Six Days and Delirare; inside an individual song, which is a clever trick to pull off. Just when you think you’ve got a handle on them; The Ghost of Paul Revere throw a curve ball by infusing string sections, looping, and adding a mellotron into the ‘interludes’ ’28:27′ and the outro ‘We Were Born Wild.’ As is the case these days;it’s no longer important to desperately try to write a Hit (i.e Commercial) Song; which gives writers like these guys the freedom to just follow their heart; which brings me to my choice of Favourite Song; the punchy harmonica laden, When Can I See You Again? There’s more than a hint of Chicago Blues in the melody; but take a step back and you can imagine The Band; or more aptly, Levon Helm rasping out a glorious version in an outtake from the Lat Waltz. Without having heard their back catalogue; I can still imagine that a gig from The Ghost of Paul Revere will be an event well worth catching.
Honest, Sincere and Heartfelt Contemporary Country Rock.
Some albums seemingly come out of nowhere to kick you in the ‘feelings department’; and the debut EP, Alchemy by a duo calling themselves Los Brujos does just that. There is nothing earth-shattering or soul-changing about these five songs but I think that just may be the point. What we do get is a bunch of simple Country Rock tunes with simple and sweet arrangements, like we may have heard decades ago when rock was still figuring out what it was all about. There’s threads of early CSN&Y here, as well as Sweetheart of the Rodeo era Byrds, and even a smattering of Neil Young too, but I’m also hearing the band Cowboy, and a touch of those indie-darlings of the 1990s, Ida, (raise your hands if you know that one!) in these heartfelt songs. Modern indie hipster bands take note: Often it is the sincerity of your music that grabs a listener, not just those vintage guitars and microphones you record with. Los Brujos (not the Argentine band with the same name, these cats hail from those United States of America) is Chuck Melchin, who also fronts the alt-country band Bean Pickers Union, and Michael Spaly, who heads up the folk–bluegrass-psychedelic jam band Green Monroe. Los Brujos is Spanish for a group of sorcerers or wizards and Melchin and Spaly live up to their name in that their magic is a simple, yet powerful one that draws you in with repeated listens. The opening track, “Reckoning,” is a haunting ghost story full of creaks and mournful harmonies that will help you get through the next stage of this lousy pandemic. Both “Bronco” and “Everything I Can” benefit from the addition of Carla Ryder, from the band the Mudhens, on background vocals. “You can change your hobbies, you can change your friends, you can change anything, but you’ll never lose that chain that’s around your neck,” they sing in “High Times” which hasever more wonderful interplay between a mandolin and fiddle and some great vocalizing too,as the two of them trade lines soulfully back and forth throughout. “Bitter Blue” ends out the EP with a hook played on guitar and fiddle that’ll make you sit up and take notice, and an understated chorus you’ll find yourself singing along with, with right off the bat. “Heading out of town, my problems disappear,” they sing as the fiddle takes a left turn and leads the song off into the sunset. Is this EP the first sign of an upcoming album of more Los Brujos magic? This reviewer certainly hopes so.
Released November 6th 2020 Review: The Legendary Roy Peak
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.
Our Man in The Field THE COMPANY OF STRANGERS Rocksnob
Pearlescent Lo-Fi Folk With an Added Americana Spark.
I really wasn’t sure what to make of this remarkable debut album when I first received it a month or so ago. Perhaps I wasn’t really in the mood for Alexander Ellis’ pearlescent lo-fi; although I should have been; because I was in a really flat and dark mood …… but I had my regular ‘go to’ albums for such occasions. But now the ‘black clouds’ have disappeared and I can now recognise the strength and wisdom in these enchanting songs and tales. Sounding battered and bruised, accompanied by his acoustic guitar and Henry Senior Jr’s sublime pedal-steel guitar, on opening song Thin (I Used to Be Bullet Proof) our man somehow manages to see the light at the end of the tunnel; albeit after a long and troubled journey. That song certainly sets the mood for what is to follow; windswept Folk songs that transcend normal boundaries; slipping and sliding between the common or garden English variety, that we associate with John Martyn and Nick Drake (Easy Going Smile and Pockets, spring to mind) via the intensity that some of our RMHQ Favourites Stephen Fearing and Lake Poets have brought us in recent years; It Is What It Is and Don’t Speak are prime examples of the beautiful intensity they can all bring to our world; speaking what we often feel but can’t actually articulate. The ever so simple production and arrangements (it was all recorded ‘as live’ in the studio) masks some amazing lyrics and heartbreaking stories. Several songs actually sent a shiver down my spine when I first played this album; wow …… how deep, yet accessible is Swansong (Don’t Play With Matches)? Listen carefully and somewhere beyond Ellis’s hypnotic voice and you will hear some mighty fine guitar and pedal-steel that will blow your mind (I was listening on headphones yesterday …. WOW!). For a young man, taking his first steps in the wacky world of Rock & Roll Alexander Ellis is a very mature songwriter in not just words, but deeds too; as the finale I Like You So I Will Kill You Last proves. Starting with some extraordinary and ornery harmonica it builds and builds as the guitar, bass and drums arrive as if uninvited guests, before Ellis eventually pours his heart out as if in a confessional. While possibly the cleverest and possibly most interesting song on the album, it’s not even my Favourite Song though; as two others completely took me unawares and even today; to paraphrase Norman Gimbel’s Killing Me Softly With His Song: Ellis feels to me like he’s: “Strumming my pain with his fingers Singing my life with his words.” When he sings the sorrowful and expressive It Is What It Is and more especially, It Was Ever So; which probably wins the accolade as it really, really does sound like he has lived a life of heartbreak and knows the only way out is to put it all in a song. There’s not a lot more I can tell you about Alexander Ellis as he seems to enjoy hiding behind his Our Man in The Field, pseudonym, which is fine …….. because his songs certainly do the talking for him.
Captivating Lo-Fi Folk From a Windswept Irish Poetic Songwriter
Regulars will know how much stead I hold first tracks in as a signal for how much I’m going to like an album; well thankfully (for me) my trusty old I-Phone 5 stumbled on two other beautiful and charming tracks yesterday which drew me to this debut album from Co. Cork singer-songwriter Anna Mieke. Now I’m in for the long haul the rather claustrophobic opening track Parallel isn’t quite the Dolores O’Riordan ‘sound-alike’ I first thought it was, and would have dismissed a wonderful album far too quickly, because of my shallowness! The song actually captures the ethereal essence of this young singer, her stories and her wonderful voice in the most contemporary of manners. If I’m going to continue using The Cranberries as a counterpoint; any youngster listening to songs like Aurillac and Warped Window on IDLE MIND for the first time will undoubtedly have the same feelings of hearing a really special talent in its infancy just like we did when we heard NO NEED TO ARGUE for the first time; this is a voice that will change lives! The two songs that my phone found for me, Arbour and Keep It Whole are both quite ethereal and possibly even Lo-Fi in a poetic Irish kind of way and will insist that you take time out of your hectic day to actually listen to every word, note and chord progression without any other distractions. I’m no longer sure an album like this needs singles to promote it; and the two that have already been released (Arbour and Parallel) don’t sound like anything I ever hear on Smooth or Magic FM! Then there is The Whole One, which is coming out to coincide with the album release and gets to sit alongside the title track Idle Mind as joint RMHQ Favourites; as back in the dark ages I can imagine John Peel, Johnnie Walker and the youthful Bob Harris all falling in love with both, as I have and force feeding them to students and young lovers snuggled up in their bedsits. Please let there be someone with a wireless show that is brave enough to play these poetic missives to a new generation of starry eyed teens. The album closes, as it starts with two songs in a similar manner. If and Epitaph allow the listener to delve deep into their psyche (and possibly Anna’s too?) trying to unravel her words which could have come from immersing herself in Yeats, Heaney and O’Conner (of course) before plucking up the courage to write her own powerful and challenging songs. It’s all too easy to file this album under Folk; it is, but there’s so much more here in the way Anna Mieke creates her compositions and delivers them in a way that both ardent feminists and grumpy old men will be able to enjoy equally as well.
Anna Tivel The Question Fluff & Gravy / Proper Records
Razor Sharp and Intimately Epic American Folk Songs.
I had a bucket load of CD’s to write about that are being released for Record Store Day 2019, when I got my dates mixed up and dropped this release from singer-songwriter Anna Tivel from Portland, Oregon into the office CD Player, when halfway through opening track The Question I was stopped in my tracks and had to return to the start. Phew, blimey and even crikey! What a way to start a record of what is primarily pure and simple American Folk Music. While these songs are certainly ‘pure of heart’ they are as far from ‘simple’ as you can get. As there is such a brilliant ‘twist to the tale’ it would be wrong of me to talk to much about this amazing song, less I give the game away. But what I will say is the the character Anna sings about is going through something a close friend and colleague is going through too at this very moment, and both have brought me to tears. What a brilliant way to start any album. Then there is track #2 Fenceline, which I will come back to at the end as this sublime and ever so timely story is by far and away my Favourite Song on an album that will surely turn up in my year end Top 10. Then, there is track #3 the dark and ethereal Shadowland which could well have been written after the songwriter had immersed herself in Leonard Cohen’s Masterworks for a week or more, such is the way her flawless and poetics words join together and float mercilessly from the speakers. Then again, most songs here are in that vein too. I wish I had the time and space to speak longingly about every single song here; but I will leave those surprises for you to discover for yourself. What I will say though is songs like Minneapolis and Velvet Curtain aren’t anywhere near as delicate as Shane Leonard’s production and Brian Joseph’s engineering would have yo believe at first hearing. These songs, and the album as a whole demand your FULL ATTENTION…… as I will be asking questions later. On any other album the song *Anthony would easily be my Favourite Track. A ‘break up song’ par excellence and unlike any other I think I’ve ever heard. I’ll tell you how good it is; if Anthony ever crosses my path I will ‘Biff him on the nose’ for breaking Anna’s brittle little heart. Bastard! As a CODA to that song, there’s the incredible and punchier Worthless which if it’s not about Anthony it’s about someone very similar….. and he too will get a Biff on the nose too! The actual Winner of the RMHQ Favourite Song is Fenceline. Flipping Heck Mother! If ever there was a song that was ‘of its time’ it’s this one; while not exactly a protest song per se; this harrowing and epic tale of a man trying to cross the Mexican/American Border is so well told and created it is surely a song waiting for a film for it to be the soundtrack to. Anna’s story builds and builds alongside the notes her crystal clear voice reach until I found my fists had clenched tight. This is a song that should be on the school curriculum and played every day at morning assembly. Plus, if ever the likes of Joan Baez or Judy Collins were on the look out for a song that captured the current Zeitgeist they need look no further. I love discovering new artistes and music then having the ability to pass it on to you crazy kids…… and albums like THE QUESTION are the lifeblood of RMHQ and are what keep us going. So; instead of squandering your pocket money during Record Store Day or even on chocolate eggs for Easter; save your cash and invest it in THE QUESTION …… you won’t be disappointed.
*Hopefully Anthony is actually a fictitious character that Anna Tivel has made up for this song. I hope so for his sake!
Sonja Sleator Violent Strawberry (ep) Tin Man Heart
Heartfelt Songs For After Midnight on a Tuesday Night.
I was 99.9% sure I had lovingly reviewed Sonja Sleator’s previous EP Adams; yet I can find no trace of it anywhere on the website……. has someone pinched it? But let’s leap forward to today and this four and a half song ‘introduction’ to another of Northern Ireland’s musical jewels that deserves a much wider audience across the Irish Sea. This is actually young Ms. Sleator’s third release in the EP format, and each has shown a pretty big step forward in both her songwriting and her vocal performance too; with the opening song here Ghost being every bit as ethereal and haunting as the title would suggest. There’s a definite shimmer to her pearlescent voice as she tells a very personal tale of a torrid breakup via the medium of Lo-Fi influenced Country Music. For a pretty young woman Sonja doesn’t appear to have very good judgement when it comes to love, unless all of these songs are about the same person, with As You Claim is every bit as dark and brooding as Ghost; but here there’s a certain charm to the way Sonja rolls with the (metaphorical) punches. The one and a half songs I mention at the beginning are really two versions of Goodbye, with a radio edit ending the EP. In it’s own way this song is the most mature writing I’ve heard from Sonja Sleator; mostly because she judiciously uses the F-word at one stage, but in a way that only ‘it’ will do to get her righteous anger across; and in this gentle format it has the perfect effect. Then there is my Favourite Song here; You Never Said. A very clever and quite intense song; but one that every single second and word will have an effect on. Again, Sonja uses a ‘swear word’ in a verse, and normally that would offend me (I’m an old man!) but when used in context, it works an absolute treat! “Now just leave me be You’re a bastard But so was he But so was he You never said sorry to me You never said Sorry I left You never said sorry to me.” There’s something very special about Sonja Sleator, starting with her distinctive and gently expressive voice; but mostly here very mature and accessible songwriting that will appeal to the demographic that needs a ‘go to set of songs’ for after midnight on a Tuesday when the red wine has run out and there’s only that bottle of brandy your Auntie brought back from Greece in the cupboard. Without getting too carried away, Sonja Sleator will sit alongside Kirsty MacColl, Beth Orton and even Paul Heaton in both my mind and my record collection.
At Last, The World Is Ready For This Cinematic and Jazz Imbued Ambient Masterpiece!
In those far off days before the Interweb and it’s unfathomable depths of music that’s available 24/7 and sadly; often for Free Money, buying an LP Record was a very considered purchase. Even as a married man with a good job; I was limited to one or perhaps two a month back in 2003; when this mythical recording was first released. Which may go someway to explain why I never acquired the original; even though I remember spending a full day in Newcastle wandering from record shop to record shop (at least TEN!) with no success; and Mail Order was virtually non-existent too. So, with not even the merest hint of it being re-released appearing on my radar, an e-mail with a download attachment was waiting for me when I finished work on Monday night. So, has the wait been worth it and does the music compare to what my fevered imagination conjured up 15 years ago? The title track I Trawl The Megahertz opens proceeding in the most beautiful fashion. A 22 minute long opus, of cinematic proportions could easily be from a 50’s Film Noir starring Gloria Grahame or Veronica Lake, or maybe Chet Baker because it includes some of the saddest trumpet playing you will ever here this side of one of his albums. On top of that Yvonne Connor renders a soft spoken word ‘Poem Noir’ (if such a thing exists). Baring in mind the story behind the reasons for recording this ‘music’ (MacAloon was virtually blind for a long period and immersed himself listening to Shortwave radio and fiddling with his Atari for three or four years) the end result; albeit remastered; is stunningly romantic and even glamorous, with the orchestral arrangements on Esprit de Corps, But We Were Happy and Orchid 7 sounding like a mad hybrid between the BBC Sound Effects Dep’t and Max Steiner! Although they have an experimental feel to them, tracks like Ineffable and Fall From Grace have (as has the whole album) aged exceptionally well. Choosing a Favourite track was quite easy; but unfair; as this conceptual piece should be listened to with no distractions what so ever, to get the most reward from it. But in this day and age, very few of us have that luxury, so I’m going to point you towards a track from the enigmatic and cinematic soundtrack end of the spectrum; Sleeping Rough which features the smooth tones of Paddy MacAloon himself over a luscious string and horn arrangement. As a fan ever since that night in Balmbara’s Music Hall in downtown Newcastle when I witnessed their very first live outing, it’s quite amusing to delve back into the 2003 reviews ( “this is as likely to perplex and infuriate as it is likely to stun and spellbind,” ) and compare and contrast between then, 2019 and that day in 1982 I bought the avant-garde single ‘Lions In My Own Garden: Exit Someone’ and knew I was listening to something so bonkers, it was the work of an absolute Genius! Probably because Martin and Wendy weren’t involved with this recording the original release was under Paddy MacAloon’s own moniker; but now it’s being re-packaged as a Prefab Sprout album; which it always was and undoubtedly still is today; as the circle has now fully turned.
Mandolin Orange Tides of a Teardrop Yep Roc Records
Intimate and Lucid Lo-Fi Meets Bluegrass in a Country Juke Joint.
Mandolin Orange aka Andrew Marlin & Emily Frantz have been around for ten years now and have previously released 5 albums, with each gaining praise, sales and momentum which have launched the couple/duo into the lower echelons of the Big League, yet I don’t believe I’ve heard a single note, let alone a song prior to receiving this album a month ago. How odd is that? Or is it? Perhaps it was because they hail from the Folksier end of the spectrum, which I normally don’t go out of my way to find music…… but the fault it appears was solely mine……. I’ve now fully fallen in love with this album and two of their previous releases too. With their small, but perfectly formed touring band in tow, the couple holed up in the studio for a lot longer than on previous records; which has allowed Marlin’s intimate and darkly winsome songs to evolve and grow into something very special indeed. The wordplay and story-line in opening track Golden Embers is both understated and spectacular in equal measures; and when you add Emily’s breathtaking violin playing to Andrew’s softly expressive vocals; you can’t do anything other than sit back and let it all waft over you like a Summer breeze. Not that it’s blatantly obvious; as each individual song stands alone and is here on its own merits; but after reading the Press Release and then playing the album there is a silvery theme linking each track; as Marlin delves into his past writes about the years following his Mother’s death at an early age. This knowledge helps explain the unsettling, yet beautiful melancholia that fills Mother Deer and the George and Tammy influenced duet Lonely All The Time. As I said earlier, each song has its own merits and showcases Marlin’s clever and very mature writing skills; with Suspended in Heaven and the heartbreaker When She’s Feeling Blue, somehow bridging the gap between Bluegrass and Lo-Fi with sumptuous ease. Perhaps because the songs are so personal to him, Andrew Marlin takes the lead on most songs; but when Emily steps forward on Into The Sun and Like You Used To she sent a tingle down my spine in a way that reminded me of the first time I heard Nanci Griffith. I’ve picked my Favourite Song here partly because it is a wonderful song and tune; but because the title made my smile when I first saw it on the CD Sleeve. My British friends will know immediatly why it would catch my attention; but the ‘joke’ may pass by the people in North America; as The Wolves is the nickname of a famous football (Soccer?) team in the UK! Mercifully this tightly wrapped and intense song of despair and fear is a million miles away from anything so frivolous. I will tell you how good it is…….. prior to writing this review, I turned the lights off and pressed play on the Hi-Fi just so I could get into the right frame of mind to hear it in all its primal glory. I’d barely heard of Mandolin Orange a month ago…… but after immersing myself in TIDES OF A TEARDROP I’m an unadulterated fan now.