Angus Crowne Unobservant Idiot Penguin Monkey Records
Hot Rats! It’s Only Super Cool Post-Punk Ukulele Rock & Roll.
Angus Crowne’s previous album SHAG RUG came at just the right time to ‘cheer me up’ after listening to a myriad of winsome singer-songwriters; and coincidentally UNOBSERVANT IDIOT finds me similarly contemplating life, love and the current political climate; and Heaven knows I’m miserable now. So; what better way to cheer me up than another hefty dose of quirky ukulele fronted Rock & Roll? Don’t worry dear reader; Angus Crowne ain’t no comedy act; he’s pure Rock & Roll; it’s just he uses the ukulele as his main instrument and isn’t afraid to use a melody or just a damn catchy to carry his well thought out stories along. What’s not to like about an album that starts with the singer proclaiming “It’s in the groove man!”? Nothing; is the correct answer ; and Crowne’s tongue in cheek self-depreciating love song Simple Street, somehow captures the magic of both Jonathan Richman and The Barenaked Ladies and then some. I have no idea where Angus Crowne fits in to today’s pantheon of genres; but he’s one sharp songwriter ……..with Baby, Baby being a respectful nod back to the Rock & Roll crooners of the early 1960’s yet the title track Unobservant Idiot is pure ironical Post-Power Pop from the late 1980’s! There are plenty of thoughtful and intriguing songs tucked away here; none more so than Faded Glances and Snickerdoodle Girl; which is just the type of quirky song I expected to hear on OGWT and then discuss at length the following day at school, as we tried to uncover the mysteries of life. It’s not the first time I’ve expressed my love for leftfield music; and that’s exactly what Angus Crowne delivers in bucket-loads; with three simply outstanding tracks; the bass laden Walking In LA, a delightful Until I Met You; which is probably my Favourite Song here, and hey man the Jazz-Rock Thrash of Harold Q Le Bough, which closes the album and is undeniably my Favourite Song here by a trillion miles! It’s all too easy and perhaps even lazy of me to compare and contrast Angus Crowne with the likes of Jonathan Richman, Barenaked Ladies and……. dare I say it………. even Frank Zappa. Yep; imagine if Frank had decided to make an all out Pop Album; it might sound a lot like UNOBSERVANT IDIOT, but first and foremost Angus Crowne is Angus Crowne; and the musical world is a lot better for having him in it.
A Cult Punk Rock Outlaw Cowboy Album for a Lost Generation.
In the 12 years I’ve been reviewing their music I think there’s only ever been two Bloodshot albums I’ve chosen not to review as I couldn’t get my head around what the act were producing (no names no number!) as this label have a roster of acts that are either straight forward ‘fantastic’ or at the very least ‘interesting’. The Yawpers go to the top of both piles at RMHQ. I had to do a double take halfway through opening track Child of Mercy. What is this witchcraft? Our favourite Punk Rock Outlaw Cowboys sound like they’ve been listening to Primal Scream while watching the History Channel…… but now two weeks later; it’s the perfect introduction to this new chapter in the band’s life. Dancing on my Knees then comes straight at you outta the traps with no subtlety whatsoever…… and if you survive this intense Psychobilly without fumbling for the ‘off switch’ you are in for a veritable treat thereafter. “You can’t like everything you review” I often get asked; and it’s true, I don’t; but there are plenty of times I can see what someone else will get from the songs I’m listening to; and rightly or wrongly that’s where The Yawpers fit into my life. If I was 17 and just discovering beer, girls and Rock Music, The Yawpers would more than likely be my favourite ever band; as songs like Reason to Believe (with it’s attack dog guitar ) and Forgiveness Through Pain have the ability to change a young mans life. In their defence The Yawpers do acoustic too; and both At Winters End and Man As Ghost are both really fascinating and well told stories and shows a gentle and articulate side that is usually lost in the glorious cacophony they are rightly lauded for. That Primal Scream ‘feeling’ I described earlier, reappears on the epic title track Human Question and that nearly gave it the title of RMHQ Favourite Track here; but with hindsight and great taste, I’m actually going for ……… the heads down, hip-shaking, footstomper Earn Your Heaven which is the antithesis of just about everything you will hear on a radio anywhere in the Western World in 2019; but that’s radio’s loss……. the People will decide that this song will become a Cult Classic for the Lost Generation. Think Green Day covering MC5 two days after discovering The Doors. Alt. Punk-Prog anyone? With HUMAN QUESTION The Yawpers somehow manages to challenge the listener on many fronts; not least your aural senses; but the end result is always entertaining, compulsive, life affirming and not least memorable in every sense.
Quasi-Alt. Country Folk Meets The Punk Rockers Uptown
If I’m being brutally honest I’ve always liked the ‘idea’ of the Mekons more than their actual music; and that includes seeing them live several times alongside a couple of pals who are more or less tribal followers. But, that might actually finally change with this album, their 22nd (?) full length album. It was probably opening track Lawrence of California that won me over last week; with the pumping bass and Quasi-Alt. Country Twang masking an articulate, nay poetic Folk Ballad of epic proportions ……. quite perfect for a midnight drive home from work in a mood as dark as the Black Hole of Calcutta. It’s quite an uncompromising start; and to misquote someone else, The Mekons ‘start with a bang and move upwards!” Mercifully for me, the songs here are more on the Folky spectrum of their combined talents than the noiseniks that I saw at the Riverside in Newcastle; with How Many Stars being almost pastoral as Tom Greenhalgh’s deadpan vocals unravel a magical and occasionally mystical tale. For Alt. Country fans like what I am; The Mekons are a veritable Who’s Who of the genre, with many being the backbone of some of my favourite Bloodshot albums. I have a couple of Sally Timms albums and when she comes to the fore on In The Desert and the punchy Electro-Punk of Into The Sun (alongside Jonboy Langford?) a much maligned genre becomes very cool indeed. That’s the joy, but not the biggest surprise that this album has to offer; the sum of all the individual talents combine to go off on a multitude of tangents yet remain a quintessential Mekons album. Where to go for a Favourite Track? Who knows, as every song here will appeal to different people for different and often quite extraordinary reasons. Weimar Vending Machine is dark and brooding; and really touched a spot that first cold night? Tom Greenhalgh droll vocals brings an acid drenched excitement to HARAR 1883; and the lyrics are quite mind bending too making it a contender. But; and this may even be controversial among the more astute longstanding Mekons fans; I’m plumping for the quirky and, dare I say it…… poppy Andromeda. It’s as left-field as The Mekons get….. and boy can they go way, way out left! In my defense it’s just four and a half minutes of gorgeous musical wizardry that sums up what the Mekons are, and should be. A tune that can’t decide if it’s Folk, Indie or World, an array of classic and even classical instruments that shouldn’t work together but do; a singer who wouldn’t get past the auditions on X-Factor and a weird set of lyrics that has me singing along the the odd line or two. What’s not to like? Not for the first or indeed the last time this year I’ve fallen in love with an album that “Isn’t for everyone” and that’s intentional ……. The Mekons tread their very own idiosyncratic path that leads the listener into dark, dangerous territories that will scare the casual listener; but the musical world is a much better place for bands and albums like this.
Although originally released in May 2018 this album, from Northern Irish singer-songwriter Adam Grant arrived at RMHQ in November just as I was overrun with pre-Christmas music and my ‘day job’ was leaving me the wrong side of exhausted, meaning it has kinda got a bit lost. But, because of the magic of modern technology and the fact that Adam Grant, from Co. Down in Northern Ireland, doesn’t expect to Top the Pop charts, his debut album is as relevant today as it was 6 months ago. Grant cites Indie-Punk as the music he grew up listening to, and I’m sure he did, but opening track the Rifftastic My Crowd crosses many musical thresholds for me – not least of all The Undertones and possibly even the lighter side of another gang of Northern Iris legends, Stiff Little Fingers in the way Grant makes the minutiae of every day into a glorious sing-along anthem that will have the kids pogoing as if their lives depended on it! He slows things down just as neatly on the bittersweet love song Closed Doors which follows; which shows what a clever and diverse songwriter he is. Grant takes to the piano, in an Elton John manner on the emotion drenched Avalanche; but it’s with an assortment of guitars that he really shines. The punchy title track My World is a take on ‘what could have been’ scenario as he thinks back to a teenage disco when he should have ‘asked the girl to dance’; but didn’t. Now I think about it, there’s a lot of Byrdsian type guitar playing here; most notably on This Feeling which also has more than a bit Teenage Fanclub pathos in the chorus too. But, what I most like about this album; which is very well put together for a debut; is Grant’s storytelling and the imagery that he conjures up; none more so than in two songs that sit side by side, The Fighter and the glorious four minutes of teenage unrequited love of Punk Girl, which will ring bells for many men in their upper-middle age today. Perhaps because it’s an expression I use myself; but mostly because it’s very well constructed Power Pop song with an infectious chorus and another song that is heavily influenced by The Undertones; but What Ifs and Buts is by far and away my Favourite Track here and deserves heavy rotation on Radio 6; or whatever it is students listen to when they aren’t doing exams! In theory I’m too old to appreciate MY WORLD; but a) I’ve never grown up and b) apparantly I’m regressing back to my teenage years anyways….so I’ve enjoyed every minute this has been on the stereo in the car.
As is oft the case with Americana and Country musicians that, if you scratch away the new ‘plaid’ veneer you quite often discover that they either lived on a diet of Heavy Metal or Punk in their teenage years; which brings us to The Flesh Eaters. Under normal circumstances we ‘Don’t do Punk’ and only ever review albums we like, but under rare circumstances if they offer something new, innovative and/or interesting; we will give it a go. With all that in mind there was only one single factor that made me want to peel away the wrapping on this ‘mid-life crisis’ album of LA Punk circa 1981…… and that is the name Dave Alvin! You have no idea how difficult listening to this racket has been for me and my refined (if slightly damaged) ears …….. the things I do for you! Where to start? The Flesh Eaters have had many incarnations over the years; but this version id deemed the ‘All Star Edition’ and includes Alvin of course, plus Blasters drummer Bill Bateman, John Doe on bass, DJ Bonebraker from X and Steve Berlin (Blasters AND Los Lobos) on sax plus singer and all around Renaissance Man Chris Desjardins; only ever played a handful of gigs, but did record one album A Minute to Pray/ A Second to Die in 1981. Opening track, the Gothic Black Temptation is a bit like turning the key in a rusty Oldsmobile, as it coughs into life you find that this 8-Track is stuck in the machine and is your soundtrack for a 90 mph midnight race around the back streets of Shitsville late at night, and you only have Chris D wailing and howling like Dave Vanian of the Damned albeit on steroids for company! This is followed by House Amid The Thickets, a weird hybrid that makes me think the band had been up all night listening to the Doors, Beefheart and Sun Ra to find some ‘inspiration’; and inspired it most certainly is! Personally I only ever dabbled with UK Punk, and my knowledge of American Punk is very limited indeed; especially as there was very little of it that ever crossed the Atlantic; and that what did didn’t tickle my taste buds. Which is why songs like the mangled Green Manalishi and the fiery Pony Dress are lost on me. On the plus side; the musicianship is superb…… quite the opposite of what they must have sounded like nigh on 40 years ago I presume; especially Alvin’s searing guitar licks on The Wedding Dress and The Youngest Profession, where he duels Steve Berlin on sax, as Chris D’s vocals to virtual somersaults. Unlike the Punk songs I recall; this album reminds me more of Alex Harvey’s inspirational and scary albums than it does the Pistols or Ramones. There’s a whole lot going on in every song, with the likes of Cinderella, My Life To Live and She’s Like Heroin all being some kind of crazy Heavy Metal/Jazz-Rock fusion, rather than the 3 minute and two chords that littered the John Peel radio show in 1977-80. HA! I guess I have to give you a Favourite Song, now……hmmm….. the epic 14 minutes of Ghost Cave Lament, certainly has its merits in a mystical Prog-Punk way; but I’m going to select The Wedding Dice as it’s the nearest to a commercial Rock song here; although I doubt there’s a radio station anywhere in the world who will play it. From start to finish it’s evident that everyone concerned is having the time of their lives; and I will repeat myself that the musicianship is truly excellent; but that’s no surprise when you know who the individuals are. As an album; I have no idea who will buy it and when they would play it…… but……. I bet these guys put on a breathtaking and unforgettable live show.
FEAR, FILTH, DIRT and DEATH.
Regular readers will know by now that we have very eclectic musical tastes here at RMHQ and we aren’t afraid to get involved with leftish and Socialist politics; so we didn’t hesitate when our mate Rory McDade got in touch asking if we would help promote this single in aid of the Grenfell Tower victims in North London.
Even without it being for such a great and very humane cause; it’s a mighty powerful Sub-Punk rant that I absolutely love (when played EXTRA LOUD!).
Then again; if the music isn’t quite your ‘thang’ we heartily recommend that you send a pound/dollar or two to the Just Giving page anyways…..every penny counts, and these people need your help today…..not tomorrow.
Here’s a recent piece in The Guardian to help jog your memory; if it needs jogging.
CHILDREN OF PARADISE
River House Records/Virtual Label.
Passion, Politics and Raw Power From New York’s Finest.
I’m not sure what’s left to say about New Yorker Willie Nile……he was a stalwart of CBGB’s back in the 70’s, releasing two critically acclaimed albums, then in 1981 got involved with ‘legal problems’ with a record label; but kept playing bigger and bigger shows, then he made another couple of albums in the 90’s …… then he finally found his rightful place in the Rock mainstream with a series of albums that proved he still had fire in his belly and a hundred songs in his heart …..a ready made Rock & Roll music machine for a new century.
Those who’ve had the honour of seeing Nile and band play live won’t be too surprised by the first few acapella verses on Seeds Of a Revolution; as this guy can actually sing…..but I can’t remember him doing this on record before. The song itself is a ‘signature’ Willie Nile modern neo-political rock song for the internet generation; a gut wrenching tale of the images that he has seen on the TV News effecting his sensibilities; and alongside a couple of other songs here couldn’t be more timely.
The much gentler sounding Folk Song, Getting Ugly Out There is in a very similar vein; and is the exact type of ‘protest song’ the experts try to tell us isn’t being written any more; but they are and Willie Nile is one of the finest exponents of this lost art.
For a man ‘of his age’ Willie Nile can R.O.C.K better than most youngsters these days; and on Earth Blues; alongside his trusted band he spits and snarls as he lists all of the things that are going wrong with the world around us. In many other hands this ‘message’ could be quite twee; but with Willie you can’t help but listen, nod and agree with every single word as he assaults all of our senses in every groove.
Fear not though dear reader; this isn’t all doom and gloom; All Dressed Up and No Place To Go, Rock n Roll Sister and the amazing Don’t must surely have all had their roots in our guy’s sweaty CBGB’s days; surely? Rock? Punk? Power Pop? Who cares; as these are all just 4/4 head bangin’ boogie songs of the finest pedigree.
Then there is the inclusion of a couple of rather beautiful love songs, that show Willie’s mellower side; with his storytelling as sharp and intelligent as ever on Looking For , Have I Ever Told You and the poetic All God’s Children, which finds Nile at the piano and sounding ever more like Randy Newman each time I play the song.
Then we must select a ‘favourite song’, which is never easy with Willie Nile albums as each and every song has it’s own special narrative that makes it very special indeed; but I’m going for Secret Weapon, a delightful love song that’s a little bit different from what I’ve come to expect from Willie Nile and band. It’s a sensitive Rocker with a razor sharp Punky edge to it and could be perfect for AM Radio; especially Matt Hogan’s glorious guitar playing and solos throughout.
I’m not sure if this is Willie Nile’s ‘best album’; but it’s certainly in the Top 3 and there are more than a few songs here that would easily make it onto any career retrospective should such a curio ever be released.
Willie Nile? He’s got some very famous friends who have sung his praises over the years; but he’s far from being a musicians’ musician or a songwriters songwriter; his music is for absolutely everyone who likes quality Rock and Roll; and he’s one of the few acts who are just as exciting on record as they are on stage; and if you ever get to see him and the band play; you will know what a mean feat that is.
PS The cover artwork is outstanding too; made up of some stunning black & white portraits of people who live in Nile’s neighbourhood in Greenwich Village and taken by Cristina Arrigoni.
5 Star Passionate Post-Punk/Folk-Rock Hybrid For The Younger Generation.
It hardly seems to have been the blink of of an eye since we first heard and liked Ben McKelvey’s EP Everything You Were Meant To Be; but it was actually 2014……..Where does the time go?
While he hasn’t gone on to World Domination in the intervening years; it appears he has spent a lot of time on the road playing every bar, club and Hell Hole imaginable honing his writing skills and indeed putting together a very talented and tight band.
WILD CHILD lives up to its name with the opening track Fire. McKelvey’s vocals give this powerful Indie Rocker an almost Folk-Rock feel to it; which is quite a cool combination and sets the scene perfectly for what is to follow.
The guitars that kick start the next song Change It Up sound like machine guns giving it a real Post-Punk feel not unlike bands like the Big Country and The Alarm; especially the harmonies and eloquence of McKelvey’s lyrics and not forgetting the big, big sound he creates.
Mercifully for an oldie like me that fearsome pace slows down a bit on a few songs; with that muscular Folk Rock essence coming out again in The Streets Where We Grew Up and Out of The Blue, with its gorgeously winsome story and Ben’s intricate acoustic guitar and harmonica playing.
I first made the mistake of trying to listen to this album in the garden on a sunny afternoon; but it’s certainly not background listening……this was the perfect soundtrack for a long car journey where I found myself turning it up mega-loud and mouthing the lyrics to the title track Wild Child and Let Go as I (mentally) punched the air with a clenched fist and dreamt of kicking life’s barricades to pieces.
A couple of songs could have been selected as RMHQ ‘Favourite Song’ but I’ve gone for one which could and perhaps should have been the punchy title track; Stronger. An autobiographical song about never ever giving up; which will attach itself to the hearts of plenty of people who have suffered life’s knocks and bruises only to come back in Round Six swinging and growling like McKelvey does in his heart melting lyrics.
I really hope that there is a market for McKelvey’s Post-Punk/Folk Rock hybrid; as his songwriting and indeed performing skills deserve to be heard by a huge audience. In my youth he would most certainly have been a star of the College circuit; but I’m not sure that still exists in 2018 but there’s always Radio 6 and the hard slog around the bars, clubs and Festival circuit isn’t there?
Released (on-line) 11th May 2018
Released CD – June 1st 2018