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Red on Black

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Heaven Adores You Soundtrack
Heaven Adores You Soundtrack
Price: £9.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Elliot Smith - Odds and Ends, 8 Feb. 2016
This soundtrack follows well over a year after the release of the documentary on Elliot Smith of the same name directed by Nickolas Dylan Rossi. It was a flawed but tender portrait of the troubled singer from Portland, Oregan which tried to separate out the life of Smith whilst not viewing it all as an inevitable trail to his tragic suicide. The "Heaven Adores You" soundtrack also attempts to show this musician and his wonderful music in a more positive light. It essentially gathers up a selection of 20 demos, unreleased tracks, and alternate takes which will genuinely raise the curiosity of fans of Elliot Smith.

The album is presented in chronological order starting with a sweet demo from the 14-year-old Elliot “Untitled Guitar Finger Picking” to live versions of his songs including one of the most famous the Oscar-nominated "Miss Misery". The real interest in this soundtrack, however, stems from a number of tracks that are gold nuggets. Elliot's band "Heatmiser" perform a version of "Christain Brothers" which appeared on his first LP. This is a far more muscular version and far better for it. Similarly, a reverse process is applied to "Plainclothes Man" which was originally a Heatmiser track which is performed here in a much more stripped back version. Both these tracks are excellent but the jewel in the crown is the gorgeous "True Love" a classic piece of melancholy Elliot Smith officially released here for the first time.

Others fare less well. The live version of "Say Yes" is dispensable and out of tune, while "I Love My Room" tries far too hard to sound like the Beatles circa the White album but ultimately comes across as goofy. What is fascinating is the presence of a number of "Unknown Instrumentals" which are sketches for future Elliot Smith songs where you can almost sense how his voice would have filled this backdrop. Overall this soundtrack has its moments and if you are a devotee of the late great Elliot Smith you will want to own it. Alternatively, if you are approaching this artist for the first time start with "Either/Or" or "XO". Whatever the case its great to hear this voice again.

Something More Than Free By Jason Isbell (2015-07-17)
Something More Than Free By Jason Isbell (2015-07-17)
Offered by Brightwell77
Price: £21.31

5.0 out of 5 stars Jason Isbell - Return of the Grevious Angel, 5 Feb. 2016
The forward march of Jason Isbell remains unstoppable. He became the real deal once 2013’s “Southeastern” dropped into the record stores and on his new album “Something more than free” he has once again punched the button marked “classic”. This is a record that sees him consolidate his artistic stature post alcoholism and dependency. It is this clear-headed situation that has made the ex Drive by Trucker a fully rounded artist and one of the best US singer-songwriters to hit these shores in an age.

“Something more than free” is a mature album of packed with stellar songs centered on the fragility of relationships often played out in the bright lights of the bar and the highway. By the third or fourth listen it completely wins you over and leaves you wanting more. Granted, there is a familiarity in terms of the themes, but they are delivered in Isbell’s distinctive voice and pinpoint observational lyrics. The opener “If it takes a lifetime” sounds like standard country fare but grows exponentially on every listen. The quality threshold present never dips and noticeably with songs like the Springsteen style “24 Frames' Isbell looks on course to seek a much wider constituency. However, the beating heart of this record real are found in the mid-album tracks 4 – 6. These are respectively the regretful rolling alt-country of “How to forget”, the stunning emotion of one of the albums best tracks “Children of children” and the reflective “Life you choose” which burrows into your musical consciousness like an old stoat, until you find yourself humming it at the till in supermarket or a slow day at work. The songs lyrics are razor sharp not least the lines “The doctor said daddy wouldn’t make it a year, but the holidays are over and he’s still here“, coupled with “(He) was a tough state trooper ’til a decade back, when that girl that wasn’t momma caused his heart attack”. “Children of children” in particular stakes Isbell’s claim to join the US rock elite it is song destined to drive this album and proves that Neil Young fans can now happily move onto a new musical idol. The title track stands in the tradition of Gram Parsons while others like “Speed Trap Town” echoes the best work of Steve Earle. Finally songs like the lovely “Hudson Commodore” will give contemporaries like Ryan Adams sleepless nights in terms of the sheer scale and depth of quality present.

While “Something more than free” does not trump “Southeastern” it's certainly every bit its equal. By any standards, this is a massive achievement for Isbell whose five solo albums to date have gone from good to great. When Jason Isbell joined the Drive-By Truckers as a 22-year-old it was clear with songs like “The Outfit” that he was loaded with potential. Having nearly lost the battle with his demons through drink and failed relationship, he regrouped and has never looked back.

Mortality by Christopher Hitchens 1st (first) Edition (2012)
Mortality by Christopher Hitchens 1st (first) Edition (2012)
by Christopher Hitchens
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars Christopher Hitchens - The Final Journey Through "Tumourtown", 5 Feb. 2016
It comes as no surprise that one of the most remarkable troublemakers and polemicists this country has ever produced didn't leave without having a few important things to say. The late great Christopher Hitchens used the pages of Vanity Fair during his full frontal battle against a tumor in his esophagus to apply the maxim of Dylan Thomas to "rage, rage against the dying of the light". But you also sense throughout the pages of "Mortality", a book collecting those very special essays, that Hitchens instinctively felt that this was one argument he wasn't going to win. As such his tangle with death is a level headed but poignant dalliance with the slow degradation of a body which graphically charts the "wager" with chemotherapy taking "your taste buds, your ability to concentrate, your ability to digest and the hair on your head". He is painfully honest and reflective throughout about his predicament not least the "gnawing sense of waste" and the reality of becoming an early "finalist in the race of life". Yet it wouldn't be Hitchens if the opportunity for settling some old scores was not taken and in particular his restatement of his vociferous views on atheism despite the fact that September 20th 2010 was designated by one religious website in the States as "Everyone pray for Hitchens day".

Others were less charitable for in some quarters the onset of Hitchens illness produced a vicious form of schadenfreude not least amongst his many enemies in the US Christian right where his strong opinions on religion had provoked and outraged those not prepared to countenance any debate. He quotes an opinion from an American religious blog that viewed his throat cancer as "Gods revenge for him using his voice to blaspheme him". Undoubtedly genuine Christians would find such a view repugnant and in any case Hitchens would have no truck with such nonsense. In his autobiography "Hitch 22" he was candid about a lifestyle that some described as "convivial" while others thought "excessive" a better term. He argued alternatively that a cigarette permanently locked in his hand and the love of a "second bottle" were as much sources of inspiration for his writing as his limited repertoire of heroes particularly hie love of Tom Paine and George Orwell. He knew the source of his problems but that is not the point of this book. It is in essence a slow diary of his journey through ""Tumortown" its excruciating levels of pain, the corresponding fatalism and resignation, its false hopes and eventual knock out blow. There are brilliant passages on figures as diverse as Leonard Cohen, and Nietzsche, a retelling of the waterboarding torture which Hitchens endured to attack the Bush administration with a searing polemic and finally the weariness at the offerings of possible cancer cures. `You sometimes feel that you may expire from sheer ADVICE", he exclaims in frustration.

This short book concludes with a chapter of fragmentary jottings which are in every sense the most affecting part of the book. The broken phrases and quotes show a mind that thinks deeply, still questioning, still at work and debating until the very last. This is despite of "Chemo-brain. Dull, stuporous" and fears that this "lavish torture is only the prelude to a gruesome execution". Hitchens also brilliantly unearths a quote from Saul Bellow which argues with simple insight that "death is the dark backing that a mirror needs if we are able to see anything". Christopher Eric Hitchens was a man who did his fair share of seeing not least on his many travels to chart despotism and dictatorship and to rally against it with clarity not heard since George Orwell. He also always had the right words even when he was fundamentally wrong and the best of his writings are furiously brilliant, deserving the widest readership whether you agree with him or not. Hitchens died on 15th December 2011, and this the book concludes with a tender "Afterword" from his widow Carol Blue. At one point in "Mortality" the author quotes Horace Mann's observation that "Until you have done something for humanity you should be ashamed to die". In the case of the sadly lamented and much missed Christopher Hitchens there was no need to worry about this, he did more than enough.

Suicide Songs
Suicide Songs
Price: £9.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars MONEY - A Cry from the Heart, 1 Feb. 2016
This review is from: Suicide Songs (Audio CD)
Ok, the album cover for Money's new release "Suicide Songs" tries too hard to shock but this can be easily forgiven. Jamie Lee is the exuberant musical inspiration behind Money and on this second album, he has produced a more consistent work than the erratically brilliant debut "The Shadow of Heaven" anchored by the stunning "Goodnight London".

Lee's lyrical boldness is again on display in the Eastern flavoured opener "I am the Lord". The album's title suggest bleakness but actually this song is strangely uplifting. So to "I'm not here" a swirling anthem reminiscent of the Verve and the power balladry of Richard Ashcroft. Things slow for the wonderful Lennonesque sounding ballad "You look like a sad painting on both sides of the sky". it is fronted by the question "Have you seen the disgrace?/The world wears the dawn like a day/Like a painting of a face/Whose features fade away".

With song titles like "Suicide Songs" and the powerful "Hopeless World," it is clear that Lee is confronting personal turmoil although in interviews he insists that the record is not autobiographical. Whatever the case do not judge this book by its cover, it is far from the downer that is implied. Money's second album is haunting, deep and raw. It shows that Jamie Lee is one of our the UK's finest emerging wordsmiths. Overall you suspect that even better is to come from this source in the future but for now "Suicide Songs" will do nicely.

In Search Of Harperfield
In Search Of Harperfield
Price: £10.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Emma Pollock - "The Dusty Springfield of cerebral pop", 1 Feb. 2016
This is Emma Pollock's third solo album since wondrous Scottish troubadours The Delgados departed the music scene in 2005. It is also easily her best to date. She has managed to throw the musical kitchen sink into "In Search of Harperfield". The album is very personal dealing with her family and particularly the relationship to her recently deceased mother. In this context her label describes this music "a rich tapestry of candid emotion and gentle melody that sees the songwriter explore new instrumental and harmonic possibilities". The other key factor that screams out of "Harperfield" is what an absolutely great singer she is with those smoky sweet vocals that characterised the Delegados honed to perfection.

Tha album mixes ballads, chamber music and pure pop to dazzling effect. The first two opening songs "Cannot keep a secret" and the glorious "Don't make me wait" affirm the razor sharp pop sensibility at work. Both are joyous anthems echoing the best of the Delgados that surge out of your speakers and drench you in melody. It is a fantastic start to "Harperfield" but it gets better. Things slow for the pounding "Alabaster" with Pollock's voice deep and rich. Suddenly you lurch into the acoustic ballad "Clemency" one of the albums highlights packed with dazzling lyrical wordplay and a clear claim to premier songwriting status. The casual listener cannot fail to heed the message in the lines where she states “I will clip your wings whilst sleeping / If you venture home again / And I will cut your legs from under you / If you so much as say her name.”. If this was not enough it drifts into the brilliant chamber pop elegance of "Intermission". Uncut has called her "the Dusty Springfield of cerebral pop" and this song perfectly encapsulates that quality. The standards in the second part of the album do not dip although perhaps it is not quite as strong as the first. That said "Dark Skies" is a fantastic song again full of potency and emotion and "Parks and Recreation" the most commercial track present.. Best of all is the concluding "Old Ghosts" an attempt by Pollock to send a reflective letter to her younger self infused with the experience of later years.

Credit must go to Pollock's husband Paul Savage who has beautifully produced this lush album and infused it with wistful melancholy. "In Search of Harperfield" really is a record that you should seek out in an undignified hurry. In 2015 Julia Holter's baroque pop record "Have you in my Wilderness" figured as number one on the end of year critic lists. In this reviewer's humble opinion "In Search of Harperfield" is a better album.

Tecumseh Valley / Pancho & Lefty
Tecumseh Valley / Pancho & Lefty
Price: £1.49

4.0 out of 5 stars Jason Isbell and Elizabeth Cook - Take on Townes Van Zandt, 30 Jan. 2016
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
There are so many covers of "Pancho and Lefty" possibly one of the greatest country songs ever written. Townes Van Zandt's classic has been the tackled by artists as diverse as Steve Earle to Frank Turner, from Emmylou Harris to Hoyt Axton. The rendition on this short EP of two Van Zandt standards by Jason Isbell and Florida country singer Elizabeth Cook ranks alongside all the other great versions, none of whom however match the original. It is a heartbreaking lament, a tale of two bandits Pancho who is killed and betrayed by his associate Lefty, paid off by the Mexican Federales. The other cover is a famous Townes Van Zandt song "Tuchemsah Valley" but less well known than the former. Whereas "Pancho and Lefty" sees Cook performing backing vocals this is a lovely duet between both singers and Cook has a beautiful traditional country voice to match Isbell's rich Alabama drawl. Of the two songs "Tuchemsah Valley" edges the race but both are highly recommended. '

Sea Songs
Sea Songs
Price: £2.19

4.0 out of 5 stars Amanda Shires and Jason Isbell - It takes two, 30 Jan. 2016
This review is from: Sea Songs (MP3 Download)
Splendid stuff on this short EP from the new King and Queen of Americana, Nashville-based husband and wife musicians Amanda Shires and Jason Isbell. "Sea Songs" was released before last year's "Something more than Free" by Isbell which topped the American charts and built on his masterly "Southeastern" one of the best albums since the turn of the century.

On this EP, Isbell and Shires cover two songs. The first is one they have regularly performed in sessions and concerts namely "Mutineer" by the late Warren Zevon. It is full of Zevon's characteristic lyrical wit and contains great interplay between the two musicians plus a gorgeous violin solo by Shires. Even better is the surprise cover of the Swedish pop Princess Lyyke Li's "I Follow Rivers" which they turn from a power synth ballad into an alternative country classic. It works superbly and is every bit the match for the original. Thus "Sea Songs EP" is short but very sweet.

Ritual Spirit (EP)
Ritual Spirit (EP)
Price: £1.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Massive Attack - Collaborators, 28 Jan. 2016
This review is from: Ritual Spirit (EP) (MP3 Download)
Those of you with a penchant for technology may have a good understanding of what a “sensory remixer” app actually is. What is clear is that said product was released earlier this month trailing this music by trip hop wonders Massive Attack. They make a very welcome return with this dark little beast of an EP that sees the Bristol crew team up with some kindred spirits for a four-track release.

That old doyen of hip hop Roots Manuva appears on the moody first track "Dead Editors" which has that same sinister 3am in a dark city street soundscape which characterized "Inertia Creeps". It is a solid start, but even better is the title track which sees them pair up with East London musician Azekel and produce a song which harks back to the hey day of the type of quality music seen on "Mezzanine". It is both sinister and oddly beautiful at the same, pulsating with an intoxicating backdrop. "Voodoo in my Blood" is a track with Mercury Prize winners "Young Fathers". It is perhaps the least accessible track present although repeated plays sees it carry a real sense of power through its bleak ambiance. Finally, the shop window track present is with Massive Attack's old West Country mate Tricky "Take it there". It is that good that this track could have appeared on "Maxinquaye” and be hailed as one of its best. Check out the sobering video for this starring a fraught John Hawkes lost in a dark urban environment. Also take time to reflect on Massive Attack and Tricky back together in the studio and register there is still hope in this cruel world. 

“Ritual Spirit” marks the band’s first release since since 2010’s rather dull “Heligoland”. As ever with Robert Del Naja (3D) and long-term studio collaborator Euan Dickinson at the helm this band never stands still. It is rumored that long player will follow later this year. On this form it will be a cracker.

Price: £2.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Fossil Collective - In Flux, 27 Jan. 2016
This review is from: Flux (MP3 Download)
Those of you who purchased Fossil Collective's 2013 outstanding album "Tell Where I Lie" and wondered why it didn't smash the charts will rightly scratch your heads harder if the songs of this new extended player "Flux" meet the same fate. The band from Leeds are constantly compared to Fleet Foxes and Turin Brakes. The first comparison is perhaps overdone as there is something distinctively British about their music. Indeed, influences of bands like the Boxer Rebellion and the Doves two-piece can be found in the music of this group consisting of multi-instrumentalists David Fendick and Jonny Hooker.

The blurb on them accurately states that they produce exquisitely structured songs and glorious, rich harmonies none more so than the languid "Float" on this EP. It builds slowly and accumulates layer on layer of sound over its 5-minute duration. The vocals are sweet but not sickly and drive the song perfectly. "Disarm" is not a Smashing Pumpkins cover but it is the standout track. It is a longing slowish ballad with sparse instrumentation and reminds the listener of the work of Nightbeds and Bon Iver. The two other tracks are "Final Call" which is the most acoustic based track on the CD and as lovely as a Monet hanging on your wall, while "I Remember it now" is fine although standing against the tough competition across this EP is possibly the weakest track.

For those with further interest in this band a visit to their website will deliver to your E-Mail address a download code for a previous EP released in 2013 which is packed with great songs. At that point, you may also wish to revisit "Tell Where I Lie" and square the circle. Fossil Collective is a band who will undoubtedly gather more support with songs that are full of atmospherics which manage to be epic without sounding bombastic.

New View
New View
Price: £9.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Eleanor Friedberger - Like the View, 25 Jan. 2016
This review is from: New View (Audio CD)
This is the third Eleanor Friedberger album since the Fiery Furnaces called it a day. She admits in an interview in last month's Uncut that Neil Young has been an inspiration behind this album although the reference is not an explicit one. "New view" is a rustic and warm slice of Americana and while less adventurous than her previous releases it probably edges them in terms of quality.

The songs never trouble the Richter scale but they are those which slowly creep up on you until you find yourself humming away in unison. The slower tracks like "Open Season" and the lovely "Never is a long time" immediately impress. On subsequent listens to others like the bittersweet opener "He didn't mention his mother" and the powerful "Two versions of tomorrow" come to the forefront not least with the excellent guitar backdrop that underpins it. Best of all is the closer "Long Walk" a five minute plus country rock beauty which brings this solid album to a fitting closing point.

Friedberger hasn't got the strongest female voice you will hear but she makes up for this by understanding her limitations and using the quality of her songs as the shop window. In this setting, a fulsome recommendation for "New View" is almost mandatory.

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