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Red on Black

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Price: £10.26

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Roddy Frame - Lucky Seven, 6 May 2014
This review is from: SEVEN DIALS (Audio CD)
"Seven Dials" marks the return of a true national treasure. Roddy Frame's past album "Surf" should pay rates in this property it spends that much time on the turnable. It is good to discover that with the the release of "Seven Dials" the great man has produced a sterling new album. Whilst its a more varied affair than the acoustic melancholy of "Surf" the consistency of Frame's songwriting rarely dips on the scales of excellence. This new record is the usual mix of cracked ballads, songs which sound ok on the first listen but by the third are your latest favourites and that expressive voice that appears to be getting better with age.

Frame previewed the album a few weeks back with the release of the jaunty "Forty Days of Rain" which repays repeated listens. However it is the slower songs here like the reflective opener "White Pony" which is packed with dangerous hints of melody which impress most. Others like "Into the Sun" conquer up languid imagery with Frame pleading the need to "Erase all trace of me until I'm just a piece of paper/I've placed my faith in something/that I cannot believe in any more.". The song "Postcard" has the words "Single" stamped all over it and is lovely piece of sublime pop music full of California imagery. Others to seek on a forensic musical search across these grooves would be the guitar ballad "English Garden". If there is a small criticism to be made on "Seven Dials" it is the fact that were this record to be a football match Frame has an excellent first half but consolidates on the second.

"Seven Dials" is a very welcome return for a singer songwriter who does not get near enough recognition for his huge palette of skills. Frame doesn't "do" bad albums and thus while this is not quite up there with the god like genius of "Surf" it is a blast of Scottish warm rays underpinned by witty one liners and aching melodies.

Price: £12.01

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Delines - Late Night Country, 28 April 2014
This review is from: Colfax (Audio CD)
The music of Willy Vlautin has been described as "The Great American road novel in music". This is even more apt nowadays as Vlautin has himself become an accomplished author chronicling the hardships and heartaches of everyday life with a writing style that is highly evocative of the American West. His band Richmond Fontaine have of course ploughed a similar furrow in their dusty Americana in great albums like 2006's "Post to Wire". The Delines and this new album "Colfax" is a side project from this work although it does not mark a radical departure. The band has been formed by Vlautin to showcase songs with a country soul bent and also the wonderful voice of vocalist Amy Boone from the band The Damnations who inhabits and owns all these tracks with a combination of toughness and vulnerability, Also coming along for the ride is Jenny Conlee from The Decemberists as well as fellow Portlanders Sean Oldham and Tucker Jackson.

The album has echoes of last years brilliant Son Volt album "Honky Tonk". It is eleven tales of languid country songs with a first class honours degree in dissecting rundown bars, back roads, dirty motels and the half light of the canyon. Into this backdrop you add the hardy perennials of liquor, drugs and failed relationships. Vlautin is a master storyteller and these songs are actually some of his more accessible with the soulful elements of Boone's voice taking them into a different sphere. The songs are uniformly great. The slow country blues of opener "Calling in" effectively sets the tone for the reminder of the album. Songs like "The Oil Rigs at Night" have a sultry character not usually to be found in Vlautin's work. The excellent "I won't slip up" could be happily covered by Tom Waits, but even more so the gentle piano bar room ballad "Sandman's Coming". The track "State Line" is effortless alternative country with Boone coming over as a cross between Janis Joplin and Patsy Cline. The track which showcases her voice best is the hugely atmospheric "Flight 31" which sees Boone aboard a flight to Toronto and telling her hard luck lullaby. Finally in the excellent "Wichita Ain't So Far Away" she pleads for her estranged lover to return and declares "that night don't feel like a prison light when your with me".

Frankly Vlautin can write this stuff in his sleep. The great news is that he is actually getting more accomplished as the years pass. "Colfax" is a real pearl of an album full of haunted romanticism and people dealing with the problems that dominate our daily existence combined our alarming propensity to make them much worse. An album recommended with hesitation or doubt.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 29, 2014 9:03 PM BST

Arc Iris
Arc Iris
Price: £7.98

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Arc Iris - Singing so Sweetly, 27 April 2014
This review is from: Arc Iris (Audio CD)
Jocie Adams is a multi-instrumentalist best known as one of the core components of Rhode Island's the Low Anthem. The band have been very quiet over recent years and Adams has now departed to pursue an intriguing solo route producing an aural assault of such variety that a residency at the London Palladium should beckon. To stress her sound is not the ghostly alt country of the Low Anthem; it owes a larger debt to artists like Sufjan Stevens and Joanna Newsom in its quirky orchestrated pop mixed with jazz and folk. Thus her sonic palette ranges wide and free, and whilst there may be an instrument that she doesn't play it would need private detectives to track down what it is.

This reviewer was smitten with Arc Iris once the gorgeous "Might I deserve to have a dream" was played on the Radio recently. There is something in common with Julia Holter in this but those clanging electric guitars would not sound amiss on a track by the late Jason Molina and the sweet vocals are imbued with heartache. Opener "Money Games" alternatively is a breezy piece of alternative folk, the sort which Anais Mitchell has colonised in recent years. Yet Adams songs often branch out and weave complex instrumental patterns thus "Lost on Me" sounds like a Sufjan Stevens track circa "Come on Feel the Illnoise" and is a thrilling musical excursion. "Whiskey Man" is more straightforward track but a beauty all the same with a sort of old Americana longing and a lovely vocal by Adams. Granted Adams has that sort of eccentricity that characterises many American female singers today often located under the label of "cupcake feminism" but it adds to her breezy charm not least on the poignant "Canadian Cowboys" where she coaxes out a fine melody. The two part "Honor of the Rainbows" starts off with a deep cello and atmospheric chanting which you will either celebrate or head for the kettle. Its longer companion piece is perhaps a little to close to Joanna Newsom for comfort and for the all cleverness present Adams needs to be wary as this musical niche is already fully populated. Much better is the more conventional drug song "Powder Train" which could be a country anthem if taken up by Willie Nelson. Finally the tradional jazz of "Singing so Sweetly" and the 50s balladry of "Ditch" are evidence of cunning mind at work.

Jocie Adams should be applauded and encouraged for the masterful aplomb that she has cleverly ensconced within the boundaries a single album. Frankly on this evidence it tends to suggest that her time with the Low Anthem was well spent if even her talent was obscured by the presence of Ben Knox Millar's singular vision. Arc Iris is an idiosyncratic confection of music which in its best moments is deliciously enjoyable.

American Beauty
American Beauty
Price: £2.49

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Bruce Springsteen - Record Store Day EP, 26 April 2014
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This review is from: American Beauty (MP3 Download)
3.5 Stars

"American Beauty" is a brand new EP that has been released by the Boss to coincide with Record Store Day and presents the listener with four "new" songs. Perhaps the term "unreleased songs" makes more sense than "new" since this falls into that scouring of the vaults approach which Springsteen took in terms of this January's full album "High Hopes". Indeed all the songs present on this EP were in the running for that release even though some go back to the earlier "Magic" Sessions

So what of the songs? The title track is clearly a close relative of the "High Hopes" anthem "Frankie fell in Love". It is a sort of "draft" for the song with the same melody but different lyrics. If you love "Frankie" then this track will sail your boat, however it is largely a standard Springsteen rocker and one of those songs that may not be subject to regular inclusion in the live act. Much better is the acoustic "Mary Mary" a charming song with an understated string backing and firm vocals from Springsteen. "Hurry up Sundown" is one of those "wall of sound" productions that is aimed at the onset of summer and the celebration of the working man. As a piece of power pop it is fine but by no means a Springsteen classic. "Hey Blue Eyes" alternatively is head and shoulders above the other EP tracks and is further evidence of Springsteen's continual penchant for holding back great songs. Its purpose is to launch a political pot shot at the Bush era and in particular what Springsteen describes as "a shadow we as a country have yet to emerge from", namely the naked abuse of power that characterised the scandal of Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. The song is a slow inditement of this dark chapter where Springsteen bitterly concludes with the lyric "Upstairs the landlord is dining here with his criminal friends/Don't worry, they'll have the bags packed and be long gone before the real f***ing begins". This is strong stuff and in this reviewers humble opinion it is better than anything on "High Hopes".

Overall the prospect of any music from the Springsteen "well" is always worth exploring and "American Beauty" will generally please completists with its a two pound price tag. It is Springsteen in a relatively high gear but not really straining the engine. Ultimately there is nothing revelatory to be found here yet the pluses outweigh the minuses and as an outtakes EP this is a genuinely solid set.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 11, 2014 9:17 PM BST

Farewell Transmission: The Music Of Jason Molina
Farewell Transmission: The Music Of Jason Molina
Price: £12.26

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Music of Jason Molina - Almost was good enough, 23 April 2014
It is both splendid and only right that the late great Jason Molina gets a tribute album from a range of his contemporaries to mark his wider influence and the sheer quality of his recorded output. With 27 covers "Farewell Transmission - The Music of Jason Molina" is full of substance although the quality is sometimes more than variable. Thus a big name band like My Morning Jacket cover the title track but cast it the sort of semi electronic style which have characterises their recent albums. In short its not very good. The Black Swans version of "Two Blue Lights" turns one of Molina's originals into a slow dirge while the the Chicago band Bottomless Pit really don't add anything to epic "The Big Game is Every Night". Indeed listeners may wish to seek out the far better acoustic cover by Centromatics Will Johnson who was one of Jason's greatest friends.

Other fare much better and thankfully Johnson does pop up on the second disk of the album with producer Britton Beisenherz performing a heart wrenching version of the great "34 Blues. The Alt Country specialists Waters Liars do a lovely dusty take on "Just be Simple" which inhabits the song and its sparse sentiment. The line "why put a new address/on the same old loneliness" will resonate down the years. Sarah Jaffe's haunting piano introduction on "Alone with the Owl" and her striking vocal make this the "go to" song for the album. This reviewer is also taken with Wooden Wand's acoustic cover of "Don't this look like the Dark" with singer-songwriter James Jackson Toth properly comprehending the powerful rock dynamic of the original. Catherine Irwin successfully turns the drama of "Steve Albini's Blues" into an Appalachian Trail lament and Cory Branan's cover of "Memphis Moon" from the brilliant Sojourner Sessions is suitably desolate and stark. Finally Molina's former bandmates regroup as Memorial Electric Company to perform the unrecorded Molina song "Trouble in Mind (Fade to Blue) and a very good fist they make of it.

As with all such tribute albums navigating around the great, the good and the indifferent is the key to enjoyment. Ultimately if this album succeeds in further popularising Molina's music it is a very worthwhile effort. That said if you are approaching the great man's music for the first time a purchased copy of the actual original album "Farewell Transmission" by Magnolia Electric Co would seem the best starting point

Price: £11.68

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fear of Men - Pristine Pop Songs, 21 April 2014
This review is from: Loom (Audio CD)
Anyone dipping into "Loom" the debut album by Brighton's "Fear of Men" will be struck by a whiff of nostalgia. The jangly guitars throughout owe a real debt to Johnny Marr while the sweet vocals of Jessica Weiss are not a million miles away from Harriet Wheeler of The Sundays. Rolling Stone in 1990 described the Sundays debut as "an alluring slice of lighter-than-air guitar pop, a collection of uncommonly good songs graced by... wondrous singing". Remarkably this judgement stands perfectly for "Loom".

It is a genuinely lovely and dreamy album of pristine pop songs with a sneaky art rock foundation. The band are a clever lot and like to quote Edgar Allen Poe and Sylvia Plath. Musically they have learned their trade well and in particular guitarist Daniel Falvey seems like a bit of a star. Check out the lovely "Waterfall" (not a Stone Roses Cover) with Weiss bittersweet vocal and the chiming backdrop echoing the 80s band the Flatmates. For one moment this reviwer thought the single "Green Sea" was about to break into "Outdoor Miner" by Wire but as it turns out it's a sublime piece of pop music deserving repeated plays. "America" starts off sounding like a folk song and does show the inherent strength of the song writing in the band with a slowish ballad gentling unfurling over a wistful three minutes. With songs like the standout "Descent" the band are locked down for future success; its chiming chords and hooks are an intoxicating mix and this one could trouble charts if some enlightened radio DJ shows some impeccable taste. Finally on "Inside" the albums longest track at over six minutes the band breath out and produce a song of rare quality with just the smallest echo of Beachouse, ditto the previous single "Seer".

Fear of Man are clearly grounded in an late 1980s indie ethic and what is wrong with that? It was a period that produced some great music outside the mainstream and is a rich vein to mine. The further good news is that Fear of Men don't just reference this music they build on it with a delicious set of songs. "Loom" is by no means a world beating or particularly original album yet it is very enjoyable, full of melody, uplifting hooks and imbued with the faintest hint of mystery.

Crash and Beyond: Causes and Consequences of the Global Financial Crisis
Crash and Beyond: Causes and Consequences of the Global Financial Crisis
Price: £13.73

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Andrew Farlow - "The crisis is never over until its over", 17 April 2014
The average readers immediate impression of this book from inspecting its dust jacket would be to run a mile in the opposite direction and read something more cheery. Never judging a book by its cover is a good maxim not least if the cover is quite as dull as the one on Andrew Farlow's new book on the economics world post Northern Rock, Lehman Brothers. Icelandic Banks, the sovereign debt crisis of our Greek compatriots and ongoing austerity. Reading Farlow's incisive analysis is however actually very enjoyable not least since he has a journalistic turn of phrase and should be wearing a T Shirt with the immortal line "I told you so" emblazoned on it in very large letters. Farlow was one of those economists who did not buy in the "abolition of boom and bust" guff peddled by Gordon Brown, neither did he see "a property owning democracy" as the answer. He contended as early as 2005 that things were about to go pear shaped with the treble whammy of too much household debt (particularly sub prime mortgages) and too little savings, the miss pricing of asset and risk leading to banking excess and the more latterly failure to recognise the scale of the crash when it hit.

On a wider level he shows in effect how Chinese savers bailed out the US Economy reinforcing an already a startling global imbalance between excessive Western consumption and Eastern prudence (the Germans are obviously excluded from this). Equally the sheer facade of the economic boom built on sand and now condemning future generations to foot the bill is brilliantly dissected. In the UK Gordon Brown in particular is a villain of the piece in Farlow's book. He shows how New Labour in thrall to the City and Investment Bankers generated a spending spree in the public and private sectors and were still talking about record growth as the economy imploded. As Farlow states "those arguing that the UK should not be running high government deficits in a period of boom and low private sector savings were simply ignored". The worrying thing was that the Bank of England delayed and prevaricated as Charles Bean its Deputy Governor lamentably reflected in 2009 "we knew they were unsustainable ...however nothing very much was done about these imbalances" It was housing however that broke the dam. Two British Banks RBS and HSBC joined the glamour boys of Wall Street in leading the world on sub prime mortgages. As late as 2003 HSBC took over Household International and became the second largest sub prime lender in the US. It's later Chairman Stephen Green ruefully reflected in 2009 that "its an acquisition that we wish we hadn't done". The mortgage market was the pulsating dark heart of banking and when the cardiac arrest came it was fatal.

Farlow moves from the past to now and has some strong things to say. He points out that the print money initiative known as Quantitative Easing (QE) is not benign. This flow of "free money" to banks has obviously decimated prospects for savers with a tin under the bed offering better rates although for speculators it was buying backed by a government check book.. As a result in some parts of the UK it is housing market again which looks like the best investment option and the words "bubble and South East" are now synonymous. As Farlow points out however QE "was just another form of borrowing and its costs would show up eventually"

Farlow's book was written before the more positive signals in parts of the UK Economy, however even George Osborne is not yet claiming that we are "out of the woods". What happened in 2007 shook the world economy to the core. Today the Eurozone remains fragile, in the US its central bank has confirmed this week that it would be delivering policy stimulus for some time to come and Japan still languishes with 15% deflation. In the UK the controversial austerity policies continue and the bitter after taste of bank recklessness remain. Farlow's book tells this story well and his exhortation that we must not forget the lessons of this crash until the next one is wise advice.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 23, 2014 8:39 PM BST

Other Rivers
Other Rivers
Price: £6.59

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Matthew and the Atlas - A Fork in the River, 14 April 2014
This review is from: Other Rivers (MP3 Download)
It was obvious to anyone who listened to the excellent "Pale Sun Rose" and "Out of the Darkness, the two pre released tracks from Matthew and the Atlas new album "Other Rivers" that a overt change in direction was occurring. Riding on the irresistible wave of Nu-Folk gave Matthew Hegarty and Co a fashionable sheen for a while. But the band has wisely decided to jump from that rapidly sinking ship and take an electronic turn that places them somewhat closer to the Wild Beasts than Mumford and Sons albeit with a much lower vocal range.

The dramatic electronic hymnal "Everyone dies" contains enough of the folk tinged appeal of the old band but is combined with Moby styled synthesized backbeats. The song builds to a huge crescendo as Hegarty repeatedly chants "you said everyone you know, one day ill surely die/but everything that dies in some way returns'. The haunting ballad "Another Way" featuring Matt Corby showcases the rough timbre of Hegarty's distinctive throaty vocal and his powerful evidence of his song writing prowess. Other highlights include the pulsating album standout "Counting Paths" which reeks of a ghostly atmosphere, whilst the anthem melodies of "To the North" could trouble the charts if released as a single. There are a couple of points on the second part of the album that doesn't quite live up to the excellence of the first but taken as a whole this long awaited debut is well worth a musical peek inside.

Those who loved the folky knees up of previous songs like the exuberant "I will Remain" may be deeply disappointed by "Other Rivers", but sit and listen a while to that great smoky voice of Hegarty and his slow burn emotive music and try not to be impressed.

Offered by skyvo-direct
Price: £12.74

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ben Watt - Out in Front, 14 April 2014
This review is from: Hendra (Audio CD)
It could be argued that a gap of 31 years between recording albums should at least merit a small investigation from the Guinness Book of Records. Although to be fair to Ben Watt he was somewhat preoccupied in the time between with his sterling work with soul mate Tracey Thorn and constructing the many albums of Everything but the Girl. "Hendra" is Watts first album since his debut and he describes it as "a folk-rock record in an electronic age". It features Berlin-based producer Ewan Pearson and Pink Floyd's David Gilmour on the slow ballad "The Levels" a real standout track. Fundamentally the musical supporting bulwark of the album is the great ex Suede guitarist Bernard Butler whose choice finger picking and riffing throughout is another reason to buy this excellent record.

Watt has a good ear for a song and the title track for the album sets a shimmering mood for the rest that follows. There are two versions of "Forget" on the deluxe album and this reviewer is edging to the more acoustic based live version although both are splendid. It is true that the jazzy rumba of "Golden Ratio" does have a slightly ETBTG vibe and what is wrong with that if the music is this good? It is chillout music of the highest order and could soundtrack the slow end of warm summer evenings. Other songs which immediately draw the listener in are the gorgeous "Matthew Arnold's Field" a slowly rolling piano driven song filled with latent grief and concentrating on the death of Watt's father and the scattering of his ashes. In a similar vein the albums concluding song "The Heart is a Mirror" is a song about self-reflection and resilience, which swirls with dark emotions.

More upbeat is "Nathanial" with great playing by Butler. It chronicles the impact of a post accident scene witnessed by Watts on one of his forays into the USA. The impact is profound as he describes, "Letters of five foot high/so simple against this Oregon sky/It says Nathaniel we will always love you". Finally mention should go to "Young Man's Game" an introspective song chronicling Watts journey from DJ/clubber to middle aged man telling how the passage of decades changes personality and questions long held values.

In the last analysis there is nothing about this album that is particularly earth shattering other than the fact that Watt is clearly a singer songwriter of the highest order with a coolly elegant voice. Let us sincerely hope that we don't have to wait until 2045 for his next musical intervention. He is an artist with the finest musical pedigree, who has loyally played the role of a perennial "sidekick". With "Hendra" he is firmly in the driving seat and it is great to have him back on song.

Water Liars
Water Liars
Price: £9.74

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Water Liars - Let it Breathe, 12 April 2014
This review is from: Water Liars (Audio CD)
Hot on the heels of 2013's immaculate "Wyoming" comes a new album from Water Liars the pairing of Andrew Bryant and songwriter Justin Kinkel-Schuster from the Magnolia State, Mississippi. This band are a quiet pleasure although on this new release they are slightly louder and more raucous than previous outings. This is pure alternative country music and whilst there are no radical departures from their genre template the music is high on quality even if it is a little undemanding.

Opener "Cannibal" positively fizzles with huge riffs and a My Morning Jacket vibe, whilst the second song "Warpaint" starts in a similar fashion but actually cools to a lovely lament. The track "I want blood" is the one which the band has pre released as the albums "shop window" and it is very good, although this reviewer actually prefers the quieter country heartbreak acoustics of tracks like the lovely "Let it Breathe" and a highlight of the albums second part "Vespers". The album also includes a song dedicated to the late Jason Molina "Toiling Bells" and the band also veer into the arena of power pop on the track "Ray Charles Dream". Best of all is the classic ballad "Swannanoa" with its harsh observation that "I woke up in Houston in somebody's kitchen/The ceiling was sweating and I was afloat/On a dirty brown river of heroin shivers/waiting on someone to send me a boat".

Water Liars new album is more dynamic and rounded than previous releases and they are a band who are getting better and better. The band have stated that their work ethic is imbued by "a desire not to overdo songs until they're shiny with emptiness" and for those with a love for unpolished gems this is a choice destination.

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