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Glenn Ensor (Folkestone, UK)
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Talking to You, Talking to Me
Talking to You, Talking to Me
Offered by positivenoise
Price: £7.96

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Just lovely, 8 Feb. 2010
The Watson Twins don't seem to have a particular "thing", by which I mean there's nothing gimmicky about their music, the style isn't uniquely "them" or even instantly recognisable in the way more idiosyncratic or even showy acts seem to be.

However, before appearing to damn with faint praise, I ought to add that what the Twins certainly are is in love with song. As such and like many talented artists who share that particular obsession, they seem to be drawn to soul and country. Fair enough - all musical roads worth following eventually end up in either place, or at least they should. So, where their previous album, "Fire Songs" leant quite noticeably in a country direction, soul is by far the more dominant sister on this consistently satisfying and very beautiful collection.

The album mixes this with a generous, welcoming and contemporary pop sensibility, which makes for a very enjoyable listen from the off. In the end, however, what convinces more than anything are the songs, nearly all straight out of the top drawer and presented to us mere mortals just exactly as they need to be. "Forever Me, Forever You" and "Midnight" in particular are old school soul outings quite devastating in their emotional pull, but picking highlights really isn't necessary here.

Sorry to the ladies, but I have to deduct a star for the shockingly twee "Tell Me Why", which I'm sure is destined to wear out a lot of skip buttons - what were they thinking? That being said, 12 swings and 11 home runs is certainly something I'd settle for from the rest of my CD collection and I can't be alone in that.

This is a real treat and I can only recommend it. Anyone who enjoys Hazeldine, Shelby Lynne or even early Roberta Flack should form an orderly queue, to be joined by those who appreciate Tindersticks' wonderful "Can Our Love" - now that's praise, believe me.


Humbug [VINYL]
Humbug [VINYL]
Price: £19.99

43 of 54 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Yes indeed..., 3 Aug. 2009
This review is from: Humbug [VINYL] (Vinyl)
I disagree with another reviewer on this page who suggests one cannot detect Josh Homme's influence on this album. True, "Humbug" is no Desert Rock album, but the more primordial, often erotic and sweaty stew, which permeates QOTSA's music is very apparent here.

This makes for a particularly beguiling listen; Alex Turner always writes with a real pop sensibility, so where QOTSA might go off on an extended jam from time-to-time, this wonderful record has not an ounce of flab on it. 10 songs, 39 minutes, every moment made with the listener in mind.

On their previous album, "Do Me A Favour" and "505" in particular hinted that in terms of song structure and growing lyrical maturity, this band were going to be taking us to some interesting places in future. "Humbug" delivers on that promise... and then some. I've been playing this to death over the past few days and still can't help grinning at the surfeit of genuine surprises and moments of sheer invention that are crammed into its lean running time. All of that and the usual serving of great hooks, riffs and memorable choruses (they spoil us..really, they do!) make this a record anyone with an interest in music made with guitars is going to derive immense joy and satisfaction from.

Arctic Monkeys are so far above and beyond the "Landfill Indie" being peddled around the festival circuit by their peers that comparisons seem laughable. There'll never be another Beatles (and who'd want that anyway?) but when the history of this great band is finally written, it's very possible that "Humbug" will be viewed as their "Revolver" - the record that frees them to go wherever they want. For now, they've arrived at a great place.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 19, 2010 3:55 PM GMT


Bad Vibes: Britpop and My Part in Its Downfall
Bad Vibes: Britpop and My Part in Its Downfall
by Luke Haines
Edition: Paperback

12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Antidote to Stupidity, 5 Jan. 2009
In telling of the horror of working on the recording of the pilot of Chris Evans' loathsome "TFI Friday" vanity project, the author muses on the inexplicaple popularity and influence peddled in those days by the self-appointed "Goebbels of Britpop". He offers the resigned conclusion that "..in the Land of the Blind, the Four-Eyed Man is King."

This is a typical moment in a brilliant book, which uses wit, honesty and a fair degree of bile to puncture the most egotistical and truly stupid "movement" the British music industry ever foisted on an ever gullible public - myself included.

As such, "Bad Vibes" provides a very welcome dose of perspective from a truly sharp operator. Haines was to Britpop as Costello was to Punk/New Wave- too smart to ever really buy in. The comparison ends there, however, as it's impossible to see Haines ever mellowing into the kind of blandness that characterises Costello's last two decades.

Certainly not if the evidence of this hilarious book is anything to go by. Hugely recommended.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 6, 2009 12:03 AM BST


Azincourt
Azincourt
by Bernard Cornwell
Edition: Hardcover

14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Convincingly real, 13 Oct. 2008
This review is from: Azincourt (Hardcover)
The heaps of praise this outstanding novel is getting here (with sales to match, I understand) is thoroughly deserved. I have no wish to repeat the plaudits and plot descriptions already offered, but thought it worth sharing my opinion that this is the best work Bernard Cornwell has produced since his utterly engrossing Arthurian trilogy "The Warlord Chronicles" which appeared well over a decade ago.

What made those three books so captivating was the reimagining of an enchanted legend and the placement of that legend into both a historical context and into an atmosphere which seemed convincingly realistic. Plus, of course, an unputdownable narrative momentum, a Cornwell trademark.

Given the greater amount of recorded historical detail available to Cornwell here, a reimagining is less necessary. So, the author focuses on putting the reader right into the heart of the action, the fears, smells, sounds, prejudices, superstitions, heroism and malevolence of an age in which we should all be glad we didn't live. With the exception of the obligatory malevolent monk (Sir Martin, who's complete lack of any single redeeming feature makes him somewhat cartoonish to my mind) all the characters are well fleshed out and their motivations and actions seem believable and authentic.

Finally, the spiritual part of the novel, Nicholas Hook's "relationship" with Saints Crispin and Crispinian, is beautifully handled and makes deft use of a historical coincidence I was unaware of. In fact, Christianity per se is handled very well in this story - given the historical setting, there's simply no avoiding it. However, where one may have left "The Warlord Chronicles" or even Cornwell's ongoing retelling of King Alfred's history with the impression that the author really has very little time for Chrisianity, I left this one with a more refined view. He simply doesn't like hypocritical self serving "Christians" very much.

Even this atheist can say a committed "Amen" to that.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 13, 2008 4:08 PM BST


The Hawk Is Howling
The Hawk Is Howling
Price: £7.99

31 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Who needs words?, 26 Sept. 2008
This review is from: The Hawk Is Howling (Audio CD)
Someone clearly a whole lot smarter than me once wrote that music, at its best, is "...a polite reminder of the limitations of language". A beautiful phrase, which stuck with me.

At their magnificent best, Mogwai have brought that polite (a less than apt word in the context of Mogwai's music, I grant you) reminder to mind many times since "Young Team" offered an exciting alternative to the dying embers of Britpop 11 years ago. That and every subsequent release have been studded with moments that have enough power and beauty to leave listeners awestruck.

What makes "The Hawk is Howling" Mogwai's most satisfying recording to-date is that over its 63 minutes or so, the feeling of awe it generates refuses to leave you. There are simply no tracks here destined for the skip button on future listens. The opening track, "I'm Jim Morrisson, I'm Dead", devastates with it's sheer momentum and from there on, through a number of fluctuating moods, the album takes you on a journey you'll want to repeat many, many times.

By the time the truly majestic wash of "Scotland's Shame", the eighth track here, was enveloping me, all thoughts of resistance were futile and Mogwai seemed like the only band who ever mattered. They aren't of course, in as much as nobody is, but it can certainly feel that way at times.

Others, i.e. Explosions in the Sky or Godspeed... have offered great work in the time since Slint's "Spiderland". However, Mogwai have always displayed a real understanding of how to get to the point economically and how to use melody to generate real emotion. These ten pieces synthesise all they have learned and that alone should be recommendation enough. I know I'll be revisiting this beautiful album for the rest of my life.


Nux Vomica
Nux Vomica
Offered by mrtopseller
Price: £4.50

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Coming Along Nicely..., 9 Sept. 2008
This review is from: Nux Vomica (Audio CD)
After a very enjoyable debut album and a subsequent rethink, Finn's already considerable talent on this second album seems to have crystalised into something quite striking and the thought of listening to this unique voice mutate and stretch further over the coming years is genuinely exciting.

For now, however, this will more than do. Compared to its predecessor, much of this record has a harder edge with a much more atmospheric sound. That's not to say that Finn's tremendous pop sensibility has gone AWOL - it's still very much in evidence. However, the music has definitely moved on. Words like "nourishing", "satisfying" and "challenging" are all apt, as is "entertaining"

What strikes me most, however, is how, listened to as a whole, the album seduces and beguiles from the get go ("Not Yet" being sublime) and, once it's gotten your attention, never releases its vice-like grip. It visits some jet black corners of the soul whilst, at judicious moments, letting enough light in to avoid the dead hand of earnestness. This record tempts, argues and cajoles- it never whines or bleats.

From an artist this young, that's a pretty neat trick. My admiration for Finn's fellow Antipodean Nick Cave is pretty much without limit. That being said, I'd take The Veil's first two album's over the Bad Seeds' opening shots, if pushed. This comparison might sound premature to some, but I cannot help feeling that this great record has delivered so generously on the promise of the band's debut that we are witnessing the early flowering of a massive and significant talent.

Given all that, I can only recommend getting up-to-speed without delay.


The Hungry Saw
The Hungry Saw
Price: £10.96

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Trying to Fall in Love Again...., 12 May 2008
This review is from: The Hungry Saw (Audio CD)
Having heard Tindersticks waltz themselves into a really sticky corner with 2003's "Waiting for the Moon" - lovely record, don't misunderstand me, but did it attract one single devotee who hadn't already been along for the ride? - it was still a delight to note the arrival of a new record from old friends. That said, I couldn't help wondering how the new line-up was going to shake things up. Lord knows, they needed to.

Or so I thought. On an initial listen, I was actually quite irritated by the fact that the songs seemed to remind me of nothing more than older songs by the band themselves. "Bit of a yawn, if I'm honest" was how I described it to my wife, a fellow devotee of Stuart and Co.

Then, as we'd purchased tickets (as an act of faith) for their show at the RFH in London, I sat there feeling somewhat ashamed of myself. In a set which bookended some very judicious selections from the back catalogue with both halves of this new album, everything just completely opened up and made sense. How could I have doubted them, or worse still, taken them for granted? Oh ye of little faith!

So, butt duly kicked, I really have to tell anyone who wants to know, that this record contains a collection of truly beautiful songs by a band who have graced the last 15 or so years with a sheer class and singularity of vision which you really have to look hard to find equalled. Yes, Stuart still sounds like Stuart (Hooray!) and yes, the music still evokes exactly what it always has, romantic longing, smoke filled bars, a very adult sense of sophistication, Lee and Nancy, late nights, lipstick traces...all the good stuff. But beyond that, it works so beautifully as a suite of songs that it really transports you to another space, it rewards close attention in spades. It's also this band's most "organic" sounding record ever, with absolutely nothing sounding forced. Maybe it's this quality, above all else, which the band were striving for during their lengthy hiatus.

Some great bands - Radiohead spring immediately to mind- exhilarate by taking dramatic left turns and pulling them off by dint of sheer talent. Others clearly know when they are on to something worthwhile and their careers follow an arc of refinement. Tindersticks are in the latter group. "The Hungry Saw" is another great chapter in their intriguing story and I hope there are many more to come. This is one of their best, however, and will suffice for some considerable time.

If Sebastian Faulks' truly wonderful novel "On Green Dolphin Street" ever get's filmed, they could do a lot worse than use this as the soundtrack. This band virtually lives in that beautifully rendered love affair.

Yes, that good.


British Ballads
British Ballads
Price: £12.93

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Class has no substitute, 10 Jan. 2008
This review is from: British Ballads (Audio CD)
As a long-standing fan of Anthony Reynolds' previous work with Jack and its Jacques alter ego, (the minor cult status of both being further proof of just how cloth-eared Joe and Joanna Public can be at times) I was delighted to see this release advertised in a music mag and ordered without delay.

Apart from simply being happy that this great voice hasn't disappeared from the face of the earth, I can add with relief that I had no regrets at all upon listening to it. Anyone particularly beguiled by Jack's more balladesque moments (and there were plenty of those) is going to be in aural Heaven within minutes of sticking this on. The album certainly reflects its title with a "less is more" approach to the arrangements of the songs - and what great songs they mostly are.

Anyone with a taste for Scott 1-4, or those rare moments when Neil Hannon allows genuine emotion to filter through his unfortunate love of irony, as well as anyone who knows why Marc Almond remains a wonderfully flawed national treasure is going to feel hugely rewarded by spending some time in Mr. Reynolds' company via these ballads.

For honesty's sake, I must admit that to my mind the album loses its grip somewhat towards the end, with the last three songs struggling to match the majesty of the first seven - but that first half hour or so is so great, I really don't mind. So four rather than five stars from this hairsplitter.

Mr Reynolds does not appear to crave anyone's approval or be prepared to get onto the promotional treadmill. Fair enough, respect etc., but that kind of singular stance always leaves me somewhat concerned that there won't be enough cash around to allow this great talent to make another record. Anyone of taste would find that a huge pity, so make a difference today and invest in sheer class. It deserves your ears.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 9, 2010 9:49 PM BST


Boxer
Boxer
Price: £7.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Filling a God-shaped hole, 7 Dec. 2007
This review is from: Boxer (Audio CD)
This wonderful record is rightly getting heaped with praise by others on this page and I understand US Indie Bible "Paste" has called it the best album of 2007 in its annual round-up.

I agree with all of that and just wanted to add, for the benefit of anyone reading this who may be new to The National, that this band will provide a great pleasure to anyone who, like me, might be pining for the next Tindersticks record, whenever that might be. To these ears, The National combine the mature distress, which Tindersticks manage to conjure so effortlessly, with the desperate urgency of Editors in their best moments. Anyone who might consider that a particularly beguiling combination (and I sincerely hope there's someone who does) will not be disappointed by the majestic rumble and sheer nobility of "Boxer". Fans of Nick Cave and Mark Lanegan will have arrived at the right place as well.

I cannot recommend "Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers" or the "Cherry Tree" EP highly enough either. In fact, I quite envy anyone who has the pleasure of hearing this great band's music for the first time ahead of them. Have fun and get ready for a long affair.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 6, 2008 11:11 PM BST


Abattoir Blues / The Lyre of Orpheus
Abattoir Blues / The Lyre of Orpheus
Offered by encorerecords
Price: £12.50

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dive in, 21 Sept. 2004
This is a wonderful recording by a real artist, blessed with possibly the greatest band any singer/songwriter has ever worked with.
Like many, I've had the privilege of following Cave and the Seeds work over the last twenty years, and it's doubtful whether anyone can lay claim to a more consistently fascinating (and, thankfully, still evolving) body of work. In a world which still contains Bob Dylan, I guess St. Nick himself would blanche at that claim, but I don't need to be falsely modest on his behalf.
What is immediately striking about "Abattoir../Lyre.." is how satisfying the record is going to be to those already acquainted with Nick's world, whilst at the same time being a perfect place for the completely uninitiated to waltz right on in. If you lined up 1984's "From Her to Eternity", and followed through to 2001's "No More Shall We Part", you'd be, in the main, following a path from complete Dionysian abandon to a much calmer, more orderly approach to music making. Maturity, I guess, but with none of the boring MOR tendencies associated with that word.
Last year's "Nocturama" suggested that Nick and the band were re-embracing some of the fury of old, whilst still containing much of the tranquil beauty of more recent recordings. This new double set delivers on that suggestion by the bucketload.
From the initial seconds of "Get Ready for Love" to it's closing, "Abattoir Blues" has a rawness and sheer joyful abandon about it, which, on a first listen, had me laughing with pleasure. The mixture of the various personalities Nick's voice can conjure, backed in many places by the London Community Gospel Choir and the wonderful racket, which only the Seeds seem able to dredge up, makes this disc an absolute blast from start to finish. It's certainly not one paced, but the percussion and a loose, organic, production job by Nick Launey and the band (Jack White would approve, I'm sure)gives the whole thing a sense of unity.
"The Lyre of Orpheus" is, generally, much calmer, sitting much more comfortably with Nick's latter work. Again, the sheer sympathy both playing and production show for the songs is breathtaking.
Oh yes..the songs. 17 in all, and no flab anywhere. No lazy lyric in sight and moments in all of them that left me, at least, grinning with sheer joy.
As befits a great record, the packaging is very beautiful too. Great records reveal themselves- to those who want to listen- one item of clothing at a time. I've listened to this beauty three times now, and she's hardly gotten round to taking off her first glove off. One could live inside this one for months.
£8.99 for all of this? A steal.


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