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Leicester Bangs "words-R-us" (Leicester, England)

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Big Nothing
Big Nothing
Price: £4.95

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Leicester Bangs Review (2013):, 1 Oct. 2013
This review is from: Big Nothing (MP3 Download)
Punch-Drunks - Big Nothing (Independent)
It's temping to file Los Angeles two-piece, Punch-Drunks (Noah Justin Trevino: guitar/vocals, Devin O'Rourke: guitar/vocals), as folky-Americana, but after a few spins of "Big Nothing" it becomes obvious that their influences are far too diverse for such a simple categorization. Indeed, previous reviewers have noted their "half Cash, half Clash" split musical persona, and artists as varied as The Everly Brothers and Pavement also seem to have made an impression on the pair. The result is a sound that feels new and vital, and on their latest five-track EP, both their songs, and the unpolished production in which they're placed, are well suited to their approach.

"Big Nothing" begins with O'Rourke's "Like a Train", a love-gone-wrong lament, underpinned with what sounds like the metallic jangle of a national guitar. Their languid country-blues captures the essence of the lyric completely. They've only been playing together since the beginning of the year, but already seem in perfect sync - like brothers, in fact. Indeed, "Howl" brings their voices together, and they're a joy, each adding lead inflections, while the song tumbles to a close. "Nightingale" is the closest they get to a straight folk song, and it works like a charm, and the EP is concluded with "The Devil's Inside", a little twang is injected and the lyrics seem to ponder on the acceptance of one's circumstances - I think - wrapped up in an alt. country-indie tune.


Songs from the Hollow
Songs from the Hollow
Price: £7.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Leicester Bangs Review (2013):, 28 Sept. 2013
The Pillar - Songs From The Hollow (Independent)
Utah quintet The Pillar recorded their second album (their debut "Fragmented Moments" came out in 2012) in their home state, in a local studio, self-funding the project and releasing it without the assistance of a record label or any outside help. They should be proud of themselves - "Songs From The Hollow" is well written and played, and the production is tight and plays to their many strengths.

Musically, they seem happiest when they're mixing things up. A quick look at their Facebook page reveals a list of influences that include Pearl Jam, Radiohead, Conor Oberst, Neil Young, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Crosby Stills and Nash, and it's to their credit that they bring these diverse stimuli together to produce such a focused recording. There's a singular artistic vision running throughout the album's dozen tracks that allows them to retain a consistency, whether they're riffing hard or exploring folkier material.

Long songs dominate the album - all but two of them are over five minutes - and as a result, nothing feels rushed or prematurely concluded. They begin with "Your Luck", which borrows from both grunge and the jam band tradition, before "Connecticut Calling" changes the album's course with a choppy ska-esque rhythm guitar dominating. It's extremely effective. "My Darling" could almost be filed under Americana - via Blind Melon - were it not for the underlying threat of explosive guitars, and "Own Up" blends earthy rock with progressive chops.


Thousand Faces
Thousand Faces
Price: £7.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Leicester Bangs Review (2013):, 28 Sept. 2013
This review is from: Thousand Faces (MP3 Download)
Thousand Faces - S/T (Independent)
Led by singer-songwriter-guitarist-bassist-producer Evan McCulloch, New York City's Thousand Faces play a hybrid form of folk-rock, which incorporates various contemporary sounds and styles. With a core membership of three - McCulloch together with Ryan Stokes (vocals, guitar) and Brian Adler (drums, percussion) - Thousand Faces are joined on the recording by several guest musicians, who add trumpet, saxophone and backing vocals. As a result, the music they make is complex and multi-layered, and suits repeated listening.

McCulloch's a writer with plenty to say and with the perfect voice to say it. His rich, emotionally open tones give added resonance to his songs and the musicians around him provide plenty of space for his words to come to life - and those words invariably take centre stage.

The album begins with the faultless "Luminous" - its almost dreamlike narrative takes the listener on a journey that Jim Jarmusch should look into filming. I'd pay to watch it. Stokes plays some fine guitar throughout the track, infusing a Spanish flavour, which was unexpected but works incredibly well. "You Shine" wanders into Coldplay territory, but McCulloch ups the soul quota, and its stripped back instrumentation keeps the song grounded. "Open Door" taps straight into the new folk-rock sound, and fans of Fleet Foxes and the Mumfords should check it out, pronto. Indeed, it soars in a most satisfying manner, and the combination of vocals and guitar is almost magical.


The First Strange Town
The First Strange Town
Price: £7.49

4.0 out of 5 stars Leicester Bangs Review (2013):, 27 Sept. 2013
Polecat Rodeo - The First Strange Town (Independent)
Polecat Rodeo are a Houston, Texas-based country-folk-roots-Americana trio, comprising of Blake Abbott (lead guitar and vocals), Ben Sawicki (rhythm guitar, mandolin, vocals) and Dan Fields (harmonica, pipes and vocals). Their take on their chosen genre is varied, as are their themes, which include homesickness, camp cooking and the weather, and there's no doubting the emphasis they place on old-fashioned storytelling.

Their back-to-basics instrumentation provides plenty of rustic charm and is the perfect setting for their songs. Though they're not adverse to cranking things up and playing some full-on country rock - "Justine" being the prime example. Abbott plays a rip-roaring solo some two thirds in and the song rolls along like a classic Charlie Chesterman number. Very cool song, too.

It's followed by the equally compelling "Kosse, TX", its melodic twists linger long after the music has ended, and the songs hooks are plentiful and barbed. Radio should be all over it, but that would involve them going out and finding it, so shouldn't be relied on. I'm a sucker for a train song, and "Wrecking Trains" doesn't disappoint. It tells the tale of Jimmy Darby and his descent into murder and mayhem, and sounds like the sort of song Harry Smith would have put on a Folkways record, back in the `30s - or the New Riders Of The Purple Sage might have recorded during their initial phase.


Bohemian Tango
Bohemian Tango
Price: £7.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Leicester Bangs Review (2013):, 26 Sept. 2013
This review is from: Bohemian Tango (MP3 Download)
Harmonious Wail - Bohemian Tango (Bufflehead Recordings)
Founded in 1987 by bandleader and mandolinist Sims Delaney-Potthoff, Harmonious Wail have been performing, recording and releasing their music ever since. They take their inspiration from American folk, Americana and the European gypsy jazz tradition, place Delaney-Potthoff's mandolin front and centre, and when combined with Maggie Delaney-Potthoff delightful vocals, the result is both charming and original.

Jazz-pop is all the rage these days - think Norah Jones, Jamie Cullum, etc. - and Harmonious Wail are perfectly placed to capitalize. And frankly, after a 25-year career, any success that comes their way is utterly deserved. There's nothing difficult or inaccessible to what they do. Their playing is uncluttered and warm, always melodic, with plenty of instrumental flourishes. Maggie Delaney-Potthoff possesses a voice that's completely at ease, whether singing straight jazz or the group's poppier material (let's not forget that jazz vocalists were the pop stars in the pre-rock `n' roll `40s and `50s), and their songs are ideally suited to grown-up daytime radio.

They launch "Bohemian Tango" with one of their best; "Peace Of Mind" features both Delaney-Potthoffs on vocals and there's a clear early `70s vibe present, which brings to mind Bob Weir's solo work, while simultaneously being jazzier and lighter. It's a cracking start. On "Gatekeeper" Maggie Delaney-Potthoff steps forward, and the sultry backing allows her the space to soar. She's equally noteworthy on the title track, and "Paquito" has a wonderful pre-war, old world, Parisian air about it - it's impossible not to think of Maigret strolling along a cafe-lined boulevard at dusk.


Plain Simple Me
Plain Simple Me
Price: £7.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Leicester Bangs Review (2013):, 25 Sept. 2013
This review is from: Plain Simple Me (MP3 Download)
Kelly's Lot - Plain Simple Me (Independent)
Based in Southern California, folk-blues-rock band Kelly's Lot have released a number of albums and toured the US, Belgium, Germany, France and The Netherlands, and plan to visit Europe again this year. Formed by frontwoman Kelly Zirbes in 1995, the group is a flexible amalgamation of musicians, and a Kelly's Lot show can be an eight-piece, full band experience or an intimate evening with Zirbes playing solo.

If my calculations are correct, "Plain Simple Me" is their eighth album, and it captures them in fine form. Strong songs are at the fore, and Zirbes voice is subtle, though never understated, and bright - she's certainly no blues bawler. Indeed, her vocals are melodic and easy to fall for, and on opening cut "Soften Me Up" she's the star of the show, controlling the song with just her voice and dominating the forcefully strummed acoustic guitar backing. "Restless" is just as good - it's a powerful protest song with an epic, string-driven quality that's irresistible.

The title-track is a perfect example of American folk music. Had it been released in the `60s or early `70s, Joan Baez would probably covered it, and when they choose to plug in and rock a little on "Runnin'", they a hit a wicked groove almost instantly and the effect will surely put a smile on the face of the most cynical and jaded of blues-rock fans.


Beautiful Chaos
Beautiful Chaos
Price: £7.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Leicester Bangs Review (2013):, 24 Sept. 2013
This review is from: Beautiful Chaos (MP3 Download)
Jennifer Jane - Beautiful Chaos (Independent)
There's a certain quirky quality to Jennifer Jane Thauberger's music, which is consistently appealing. The Saskatoon, Saskatchewan native has a talent for keeping her listeners on their toes, and when so much contemporary pop music is so desperately predictable, an artist with such an open approach to her music should be cherished and encouraged. The fact that she retains a singular artistic vision throughout the dozen tracks on "Beautiful Chaos" is the icing on the cake.

Interestingly, music is just one of the artistic disciplines she pursues. She's also a dancer and actress, a visual artist and poet, and it's the latter that drove her to write songs. "Beautiful Chaos" is her debut collection, and it begins with the dynamic "Can't Touch This" - its juddering chord-play combining perfectly with Thauberger's melodic vocal and almost wistful theme. It's a super start and instantly places her in a tradition of female singer-songwriters that includes Kate Bush and Tori Amos.

Recorded with a full band - eight musicians in total, including Thauberger - allows for infinite variations, and several of them appear on "Come Son, Come Shade", including skanking rhythm guitars, wandering basslines and a gypsy jazz circus vibe. On "Economical" a synthesized pulse guides the melody, contrasting with both Thauberger's vocal and piano, while "Keep Your Kiss" sounds delightfully grown-up - thanks to its smart arrangement and quite possibly the finest vocal on the album.


Human Just the Same - EP
Human Just the Same - EP
Price: £5.94

4.0 out of 5 stars Leicester Bangs Review (2013):, 24 Sept. 2013
K.C. Harris - Human Just The Same EP (Independent)
Back in the late `60s and early `70s there was a concerted effort amongst labels and the music press to find the `new Dylan', and a host of songwriters were soon identified as prime candidates, from John Prine and Steve Goodman, to Bruce Springsteen and Loudon Wainwright III. Had K.C. Harris been around back then, the search would have come to an abrupt halt. His new EP's artwork offers an instant clue to Harris' influences; the hat, the harmonica (in its holder, of course) and even the font all scream Dylan circa "The Times They Are A-Changin", and all suspicions are confirmed as soon as we hit the play button. His voice, songs, music, everything, is steeped in the classic early Dylan sound, a style that reinvented American folk music, and would eventually go on to completely change the face of pop and rock.

It's unlikely that "Human Just The Same" will make the same impact, but taken for what it is, a collection of songs by a young singer-songwriter, we can only judge Harris by the quality of his material - and his words in particular. There he doesn't fall short. All six tracks are clever and witty, and titles such as "Talkin' Old Geezer Bank Heist Blues" suggests he understands exactly what's going on. It's one of the best songs on the EP, but be sure to check out the excellent "You're Just Too Happy for Me" - it's as cocky, confident and self-assured as the real thing.


Home Brew
Home Brew
Price: £7.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Leicester Bangs Review (2013):, 23 Sept. 2013
This review is from: Home Brew (MP3 Download)
Don LaSala - Home Brew (Soundview Recordings)
Don LaSala... where do I start... He's a singer-songwriter, lead guitarist in the Hooligan Band jam band, respected sound engineer, and with his wife Susan, he's the current owner / resident / steward / guardian of Big Pink. Yep, that Big Pink, the legendary house up in Woodstock, NY, where The Band composed the majority of their debut album "Music From The Big Pink", and Dylan and The Band recorded a chunk of "The Basement Tapes".

All those good Americana vibes have obviously rubbed off on LaSala, as "Home Brew" is an eleven-track collection that's warm, welcoming, and easy to live with. It's also a true solo record - LaSala has written every note and word, plays most of the instruments (Bill Klock plays drums on a few tracks and Sonam Lhasa sings back-up on one) and he's recorded and produced the recordings in the Big Pink basement.

With a voice that resembles Ric Ocasek's, though more weathered and windswept, LaSala sings his songs, which often refer to his life in and around the Catskills and Adirondacks, and the emotional ties that pin down most men's lives. Universal truths, for the most part, but LaSala a talented writer, with no shortage of interesting viewpoints, and he wraps them up in solid melodies, and doesn't forget to pack the hooks.

He's also a fine guitarist, and the songs on "Home Brew" resound with his strings - both acoustic and electric. Standout tracks can be found throughout; "Sparkling Dome" is a delightful paean to the night sky, the title track a rustic bootlegger's anthem and "What's Wrong With Me" rocks with barroom abandon. "Railman (Wide Eyed)" is a Hooligan Band favourite, and here it's recorded with a laidback Stonesy swagger, and "28 Degrees in Saugerties" is radio-friendly American folk-rock.


Panorama [Explicit]
Panorama [Explicit]
Price: £5.94

5.0 out of 5 stars Leicester Bangs Review (2013):, 20 Sept. 2013
This review is from: Panorama [Explicit] (MP3 Download)
Tara Rice - Panorama (Organik Rekords)
Tara Rice is a Toronto based singer-songwriter, and her new EP, the six-track "Panorama" is frequently soothing, sometimes spiky, and more often than not, quite lovely. Produced by Rice and Sködt McNalty, the pair have put together a collection where every musical piece seems to have fallen into place. That's no mean feat when we consider Rice's range of influences and the often-conflicting approaches she takes to her music.

If you're looking for a neat label to file Rice under, alternative folk-rock seems to be the consensus opinion, but it really only tells part of the story. Take the opening track "Stones"; the instrumentation includes cello, and something percussive, which I can't put a name to, but maybe East Asian, or wholly synthesized. The effect is ethereal and haunting, and taps into a gothic romanticism, which brings to mind artists like Mazzy Star and All About Eve. And I should mention, Rice's voice is stunningly good - pure, with infinite emotional depth.

"Stones" is followed by "Vampires", where we hear a whole new aspect to Rice's repertoire. The track begins and ends relatively sedately, the metaphorical bloodsucking tale is told in quirky pop tones, but the middle section is almost feral - guitars squall and vocals distort - and the effect is thoroughly arresting.

"In Harm" embraces a darker side, and "Oh, Tim" will remind some of the peculiar narratives that used to appear on early Kate Bush album. "If You Were My Monster" digs deep into old world mythology and is elevated with barbed rhythms, and final track "The Emerald Horizon" returns the listener to earth - literally - with plentiful natural imagery.


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