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Skeleton Crew
Skeleton Crew
Price: £9.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Madisen Ward and The Mama Bear - A Family Affair, 18 May 2015
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This review is from: Skeleton Crew (Audio CD)
There comes a time when being seen in public with your dear old mother is not always deemed to be the height of "cool". That may be about to change with the arrival Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear. This mother-and-son folk duo comes from a background of plying their trade in Kansas City coffee houses. They have built up a following and have, according to Rolling Stone, created a buzz that sees more famous acts beating a path to their door to pay homage. This was further sealed by an appearance on the David Letterman Show, which set tongues across the music business wagging.

Their debut "Skeleton Crew" is a record that oozes charm and old-fashioned simplicity. There is nothing earth-shattering present other than high-quality songs by a pair of fine musicians whose family connection give them an affinity that others can only dream of. All these elements are present in the wonderful opener "Live by the Water" where Ward's sonorous tenor and the sterling backing by his mother Ruth Ward, comes together like cheese on toast. In one sense, it is best to forget the relationship present since these are musicians who would thrive in the company of any peers and whose music has rawness and urgency that is a joy to consume. Other tracks present like the well-trailed "Silent Movies" emote such enthusiasm that you are swept along by its sheer energy. Some of the songs are more reflective not least the solemn deep blues of "Undertake and Juniper" which of the standouts on the album which is utterly compelling. To fair wherever you drop your needle on this record rich rewards follow. The country shuffle of "Yellow Taxi" demands a small stage, a hot night, a good supply of a local brew plus an audience with a "ear for a fine tune" and a willingness to sing-along. Others, like the slow wintry ballad "Dead Daffodils" alternatively. appear to tap into deeper folk roots with Madison's vocal scoring on all counts for its range of emotions and wonderful storytelling. Finally the longest song present "Down in Mississippi" is the album's tour de force evoking the era of civil rights and Jim Crow. In addition, this is a full duet by mother and son which works to perfection.

"Skeleton Crew" by Madisen Ward and Mother Bear stands as a debut album that is a quiet revelation. As stated above the relationship between the two protagonists is a special one but the true unifying force bonding these special musicians together is their deceptively understated yet forceful music. In songs like "Sorrows and Woe's" they prove to be a find that is both surprising and very welcome indeed.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 19, 2015 7:13 PM BST

Mystery Glue
Mystery Glue
Price: £9.99

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Graham Parker & The Rumour - Stick to Me, 18 May 2015
This review is from: Mystery Glue (Audio CD)
This is a bit of a surprise. Graham Parker and The Rumour's 2012 reunion album "Three Chords Good" came a full 31 years after their previous release. Stretching the old principle that if you wait for a bus long enough two will come along, the arrival of "Mystery Glue" a mere three years after "Three chords" is a blink of the eye in the passage of time. Furthermore, this new album is the product of spontaneity. It was recorded in just six days and features the original lineup of Graham Parker, Bob Andrews, Brinsley Schwarz, Martin Belmont, Andrew Brodnar and Stephen Goulding. For the record, it is also a better album than its predecessor.

Starting with the glorious "Transit of Venus" the album sees Parker back on top form when it comes to songwriting. The jaunty "Going There" is a model of simplicity and yet recalls the great days of Parker's hey-day when his wit and voice made a killer combination. The rocking "Swing State" is effortless, whilst the country rock of "Slow News Day" show that the band talents are about teamwork and ensuring that all pull together for the good of the whole, especially when it veers off into a jazzy bridge at around 1.28. Songs like "Railroad Spikes" are nice and caustic. Granted others like "Pub Crawl" tread water and are a bit formulaic, but you can forgive Parker this when he come up with a wrecked beauty like "My life in Movieland" which sounds like it opens with him playing the comb! Equally the joyous ​soul swing of "Wall of Grace" reminds you why you loved Parker and this troops so much all those years ago.

Many might have thought that the return of these stalwart musicians was a one off in 2013 and that an illustrious career had been nicely rounded off. With "Mystery Glue" the proof is in the pudding that these good old boys still have much to offer. One of the songs present on this excellent record is the Van Morrison style soul track "I've done bad things". Frankly on the evidence of this album its hard to see where this sentiment has ever occurred when it comes to the music of the wonderful Graham Parker.

Untethered Moon
Untethered Moon
Price: £12.01

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Built to Spill - Ancient Melodies of the Future, 13 May 2015
This review is from: Untethered Moon (Audio CD)
Here we go again. Another album from the great Built to Spill that will be ignored and disappear faster than a rabbit in a hat. Singer-songwriter-guitarist Doug Martsch and his band of musicians based in Boise, Idaho have an impeccable track record. Check out great songs like "Car". "Carry the Zero", "Goin' Against Your Mind" and "Dystopian Dream Girl" from their previous albums that are sardine packed with catchy guitar hooks combined with a great rock sensibility. Indeed their live cover of Neil Young's "Cortez the Killer" is one of the best efforts any band has made when it comes to a song by Old Shakey.

"Untethered Moon" is the band's eighth album and is on par with some of their best work. The opener "All our songs" is a blazing start and contains Martsch's trademark ability to combine blistering guitar work with some of the best and most intelligent pop songs this side of R.E.M. Others like "Living Zoo" commence with a backdrop which is straight out of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and launches the band off into a slice of melodic bliss. The lovely melodic simplicity of "Never be the same" is possibly the best song Death Cab for Cutie never wrote while the funky "C.R.E.B" bounces along with a renewed vigour that the veteran Martsch has discovered from recording with a new set of musicians. The fresh rhythm section, with drummer Steve Gere and bassist Jason Albertini, play a major role throughout and energize the album. On tracks like the eight minute plus "When I'm Blind" the quartet snuggly fit like a comfortable pair of boots and the guitar chops here see notes bent and shredded with gay abandon as it builds to a grand crescendo. It is a fantastic song.

Consequently, it is joy unbounded to report that this great American band are returned after a long break and are back at their best. "Untethered Moon" might not quite match the wonders of "Keep it like a secret", but it signals vibrant and vital life in these old dogs. Sadly you're going to ignore them again aren't you? ​
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 15, 2015 8:41 AM BST

Philips GC2045/26 Easyspeed Steam Iron with 120 g Steam Boost and Ceramic Soleplate, 270 ml, 2300 Watt, Blue
Philips GC2045/26 Easyspeed Steam Iron with 120 g Steam Boost and Ceramic Soleplate, 270 ml, 2300 Watt, Blue
Price: £25.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Phillips GC2045/26 Easy Speed Iron - Steams like Casey Jones, 12 May 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Needed a new iron as the last freebie from Vine died in protest. This is a perfectly functional affair. It comes in a "Laura Ashley" style box which nice and stylish but does not fit under the sink. You could, of course, keep it to store the iron's which have just packed in for sentimental reasons. In short it's a shoe box and a little bit girly. This iron is lightweight, doesn't stick to your clothes like superglue, steams like Casey Jones and your reviewer has already had one of those "dancing burns" moments when you jump around and question the products parentage. To be fair, it was not the iron's fault.

In terms of its colour you can't quite work out if its Aston Villa or West Ham. But why worry since the Prime Minister himself suffers from this awful confusion. All in all a nice product which was received for free and which can be happily recommended. .
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 15, 2015 8:40 AM BST

Price: £10.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Hop Along - Raw Emotions, 6 May 2015
This review is from: PAINTED SHUT (Audio CD)
The concept of added value is on full display on this album. You sense that "Hop Along", a band of indie folkies from Philadelphia, would be a decent rock outfit but not necessarily one marked out for special attention. The extra dimension is the voice of Frances Quinlan. She has a raspy and often strained delivery. Indeed, there is the feeling that sometimes she is struggling to meet the higher notes, yet it is her voice imperfections that make it perfect. Quinlan injects a dynamism and energy into these songs that charge at the listener and threatens your balance. Listen to the opener "The Knock" or the wondrous "Sister Cities" and marvel how in 2015 most of the best rock albums are led by bands fronted by women (See also Courtney Barrett and Speedy Ortiz).

"Painted Shut" is the band's second album and the songs across its all too brief 41 minutes impress like a smart interviewee in a new suit. In tracks like "Powerful Man," we also see that Quinlan is not afraid to bare her soul and, in this case, deep regret. It deals with an incident that occurred when she was eighteen years old and failed to intervene when she witnessed a father beating his young son after school. The hurt in her voice is tangible not least to her teachers indifferent reaction. The song, despite its raw subject matter, is nevertheless a slice of pure pop gold. The same judgement applies to "Texas Funeral" a quiet/loud anthem full of choppy chords and ramshackle beauty. Other tracks like "Waitress" show that the band have studied "In an Aeroplane over the sea" diligently, in short "lo-fi but lush". Throughout Quinlan's band comrades provide solid support although to hear her "go acoustic" on "Happy to see me" showcases an extraordinary talent who these musicians must treasure and nurture.

Hop Along have enough special ingredients to rise above the indie crowd and surgically strike in territory occupied by some of the most popular new US bands. They have recently supported "War on Drugs" and time in the company of the great Adam Granducial can do not harm. "Painted Shut" really is a very good album, full of gold medal songs and a singer to die for. ​

The Waterfall
The Waterfall
Price: £12.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars My Morning Jacket - The Water Flows, 5 May 2015
This review is from: The Waterfall (Audio CD)
Jim James and his Kentucky veterans "My Morning Jacket" are back for their seventh album after a four-year break. "The Waterfall" sees the band throw in the kitchen sink and other accouterments on this new record. There are traces of alt-country, power pop, soul and some psychedelic indie rock to boot. It also stretches out over a deluxe version comprising four extra tracks all nicely performed.

The album kicks off with the ultra positive "Believe (Nobody knows)" where it is clear that Jim James is in fine voice as he drives the song forward with a huge vocal. Much more interesting however is the second song "Compound Fracture" a soulful track that seems to be infused with the spirit of Hall & Oates, no bad thing in this reviewers book. It is followed by the gentle acoustics of "Like a River" which is one of those classic meditative tracks which James has always thrown into each MMJ release. The single "Big Decisions" is good old fashioned classic rock although the song is completely eclipsed by "Only Memories Remain" a seven minute plus wonder which would have happily fit on a Marvin Gaye album. This soulful edge to the band is, of course, a feature of their live shows where they regularly throw in covers ranging from "Careless Whisper" to "Hungry Heart". It is the sign of a band not afraid to acknowledge their influences and treat audiences with a veritable jukebox of back catalogue classics and surprising songs drawn from across the gamut of pop music. This reviewer is, however, most content when James slips the band dynamics and unleashes an acoustic beauty like the wondrous "Get the Point" this album's match for earlier joys of tracks like "The Librarian".

As with all MMJ albums, a number of songs don't quite make the grade. The title track "In its infancy (The Waterfall)" takes ages to get going and when it does it is rather repetitive; the same is true of "Tropics (Erase Traces" although this is a better-constructed song. So there, you have it, "The Waterfall" confirms that this Kentucky band continue to defy genres and yet produce music that is cohesive and a joy to explore. This is a sterling effort by a great Amercian band who following previous experience will now probably shoot off in all directions to pursue solo projects. Let us hope that it doesn't take four years for them again to return to the studio.

Foil Deer
Foil Deer
Price: £8.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Speedy Ortiz - Make the great leap forward, 27 April 2015
This review is from: Foil Deer (Audio CD)
Speedy Ortiz have followed their last album, the 1990s inspired "Major Arcana" with this wonderful piece of vinyl that just about betters it in every department. "Foil Dear" is winning third album which once again echoes the great achievements of bands like the Pixies and Pavement, although some distinct new territory opens on the horizon. On this record, this band starts to come into their own and in doing so produce a musical statement which is irresistible. This Massachusetts indie rock quartet led by Sadie Dupuis do not neglect the angular lines and distortion of their debut yet they couch it all in a fresh pop sensibility. For example in songs like "The Graduates", you are swept along with the sweetness of Dupuis's voice whilst being conscious that this is not quite as straightforward as it appears. When she sings that "we were the law school rejects so we quarrelled at the bar instead" it is clear that Dupuis' delicious wordplay will win through. Indeed, the pop blast that is "Swell content" would be equally at home on a "Best Coast" album.

These are fine but it is the darker more sinister tracks which impress the most. Songs such as the standout "My Dead Girl" are grungy treasures revealing new pop hooks each listen. The excellent Pixies influenced "Raising the Skate" make you hark back to the halcyon days of Kim Deal and Co and give you a nice warm feeling. Throughout you can lead the needle anywhere in these grooves and be presented with songs that challenge and stimulate. The albums close "Dvrk Wrld" has a delicious vocal by Dupois amongst all its complexity while the pounding "Homonovus" will smash your best vase and trouble the local environmental health department.

On one of the mid-point songs "Zig" we note Dupois questioning "How many laps does it take to decide you're back at the start"? She should not fear. "Foil Deer" shows Speedy Ortiz developing at a rate of knots and moving away from a solid starting point into gorgeously structured anthems which do not dilute the passion they have so far exhibited and deepening their claim to be one of the greatest emerging American bands of the moment.

Sound & Colour
Sound & Colour
Price: £9.81

11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Alabama Shakes - A Curates Egg, 20 April 2015
This review is from: Sound & Colour (Audio CD)
Alabama Shakes came close to delivering a perfect debut in 2012's "Boy and Girls" although it fell short of the primal quality of this bands on stage presence and the sheer level of raucousness they summon up. Still it had some great songs, especially the single "Hold On". The echoes of Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett were everywhere and in Brittany Howard the band had a stellar singer capable of superhuman vocal feats.

It would, therefore, be wonderful to report that this sophomore album "Sound & Colour" addresses the flaws in their debut and delivers more effectively than Parcel-force. Sadly the target is missed on this occasion. It is not that this is a bad record, it is just that it doesn't sound that distinctive any more and truly great songs are in short supply. Granted the best tracks like the pulsating "Don't wanna fight" and the Motown swing of "Shoegaze" show a band determined to bust out of the straightjacket that could result from an over rigid adherence to a Muscle Shoals template. Indeed the desire to develop in new directions is laudable and when it all comes together in a powerhouse track like "Gimme all your love" you look up to the heavens and smile broadly. If only this could have been sustained throughout five stars would have followed. Whilst experimentation is fine, sadly the quality of the majority of these songs just do not cut it. "Gemini" is overlong and you will search in vain for a compelling melody. Other tracks like "Miss You" try to ooze that that "ole soul stew" yet are all over the place in an overwrought tangle. Finally with "The Greatest" you cannot work out whether the band want to be the Ramones, Velvet Underground or Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings. It ends in a messy cacophony where Howard chuckles upon its conclusion, yet you suspect she is the only one laughing.

"Sound & Colour" is an attempt to move the Alabama Shakes in newer directions and position them for future releases. This is by no means a disaster but neither is it a roaring success. On balance there was no way that the band could deliver "Boys & Girls Part 2" since they had already essentially nailed the old soul sounds and succeeded in dusting them with the veneer of a raw and urgent new ethic. On this second album, the ship has left the comfortable harbour of this tradition although has yet to find the next port to anchor. Clearly there is fun to be had sailing on the open seas, however the Alabama Shakes need to put this record down to experience and come up with something in their next release that secures them for the future.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 28, 2015 7:27 AM BST

Price: £11.25

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Stornoway - More songs about birds and beaches, 15 April 2015
This review is from: Bonxie (Audio CD)
For some odd reason following their solid debut "Beachcomber's Windowsill" the Oxford band Stornoway dropped off the chart for this reviewer despite the fact that they subsequently released a sophomore album. Thus to be reacquainted some five years later with "Bonxie" is a chance to mark progress. Clearly the band remain firmly in the folk genre and have a pop sheen which should ensure commercial success. Nevertheless, the overwhelming feature in this passage of time is how the quality control has increased and how good nearly all these songs are.

The lovely opener "Beneath the saltmarsh and the sea" sees frontman Brian Briggs tugging at your emotions with a breezy tale where you can almost sense the waves, while "Get Low" positively chimes and is sardine-packed with sunny melodies. Part of the album was written by Briggs in a camper van on the superb Gower peninsula outside Swansea and its nice to imagine that songs like the lifting "The road you didn't take" being inspired by the wonders of Rhossilli Beach. The proximity of the sea influences all of these recordings not least the warm shanty tones of the love song "Josephine" excellently executed with three-part harmonies by the band.

"Bonzie" contains nothing particularly revolutionary in approach, but it confirms the band is hitting its stride. If there was a criticism of Stornoway's debut it overdid the whimsy and did sound on occasions like a bunch of middle-class lads trying a bit too hard to locate themselves in a tradition which had already been colonised by Mumford and Sons. "Bonxie" on other the hand sounds like a band at ease with itself and starting to plant its flag in territory occupied by bands like the Decemberists, in turn demonstrating much greater pop muscle. Nowhere is this clearer than on the last track "Love Song of the Beta Male" which echoes the best of bands like Belle and Sebastian, which can't be bad. The result is that Stornoway have improved dramatically and produce songs perfectly timed to soundtrack warm spring days.

Darling Arithmetic
Darling Arithmetic
Price: £9.99

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Villagers - Simple and pure, 14 April 2015
This review is from: Darling Arithmetic (Audio CD)
If Conor O'Brien's last Villagers album "Awayland" was a full band album this time round it's his time to strip everything back and return to a set of largely intimate acoustic songs. The question for buyers of this album is whether O'Brien's sparser approach is enough to hold attention over an album and do the songs fully engage the listener?

There are some lovely songs present. The gentle piano ballad "Everything I am is yours" and the melancholy wistfulness of "Dawning on me" stirs an autumnal air and sees O'Brien reflecting in depth on love and relationships. What is noticeable here is that the symbolism and metaphors of Villagers past albums are completely discarded for a "heart on his sleeve" approach where O'Brien lays himself bare. In "Hot Scary Summer", this rawness comes to the surface when he recollects a lost love, "Remember kissing on the cobblestone/ In the heat of the night/ And all the pretty young homophobes/ Looking out for a fight". Similarly on "Little bigot" he takes on themes of anti-gay hatred and contrasts them with the intrinsic worth of true love in whatever guise or relationship format that people choose. This is a deeply personal message partly to address his own deep feelings with an introspective form of song therapy. Others tracks like the "Soul Serene" are perfectly appealing but by the end of the album a certain lack of colour does emerge. As such "Darling Arithmetic" is an album of subtle brushstrokes never really touching the adventure which O'Brien was embracing with previous records. There is nothing wrong with that and as the Villagers "acoustic" album it does allow us to peer more closely at his skills as a songwriter stripped of all embellishments, revealing some similarities with the American musician Conor Oberst.

What we see is a musician not afraid to look inward and thereby present a largely elegant set of songs which grow in stature on each listen. This album has the feel of O'Brien pausing and taking stock. This is the wise approach in terms of a musical career although you sense that he will come back with something very different from his next release. Therefore reflect upon and enjoy the naked honesty in the nine songs of "Darling Arithmetic" and keep this artist firmly in your musical sights, now and into the future.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 15, 2015 2:57 PM BST

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