Alternative music reviews

January 31, 2009

Sam Amidon/Doveman/David Thomas Broughton – Hedge, Whalley Range,

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Local folk collective Hedge host tonight’s three acts in Whalley Range’s St Margaret’s church which is good for atmosphere and acoustics. Nominally 3 acts, but they interweave and collaborate to become three themed sections of a collaborative evening. Sam Amidon’s tales of guns and death in America’s early years are set against Doveman’s jarring other-worldly keyboards. The effect is disorientating, so that he’s half way through a song before you realise it’s a cover of Tears For Fears ‘Head over Heels’.

Doveman’s set segues seamlessly through a set of disparate covers (Neil Young, Bertold Brecht, Crowded House and Tom Petty), keyboard-driven, but with Sam on guitar & banjo (and an “interesting” take on the chorus of ‘Free Falling’…) and DTB assisting on drums.

With DTB taking the stage, all attempts at genre categorisation have long since given up and gone home. Building elaborate backings with voice, guitar and effects loops, it sounds like Jake Thackeray backed by a Gregorian choir. At times seemingly angry, frustrated, withdrawn, you get the sense that no-one’s ever sure which direction the set is heading. It seems we have a new candidate for the position of Great British Eccentric.

And just when you thought it couldn’t get more bizarre, the three encore with R Kelly’s ‘Relief’ – complete with a wry deconstruction of the lyrics. It wasn’t Rock n’ Roll. But I liked it. Oh, yes…

Review by Big Dave

January 21, 2009

The Child Of A Creek

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Unicorns Still Make Me Feel Fine by The Child Of A CreekThe Child Of A Creek is a name chosen by Italian singer/songwriter Lorenzo Bracaloni. he writes the songs, plays the instruments, and records everything himself. His latest album is “Unicorns Still Make Me Feel Fine”. What you are presented with is a kind of Psychedelic Folk based on picked guitar and additions such as flute or harmonica. The delicious strangeness of the songs come in part from them being written and sung in a foreign language. However good his English is, there is an unusual quality to both phrasing and pronunciation.

I get the feeling of the late 60s from both the music and some of the lyrical concerns (e.g. unicorns!) but the general sadness is very alt-country and has similarities to an unplugged Sparklehorse. So it’s a bit strange, a bit out of time, but strangely magical.

Home Of Unicorns by The Child Of A Creek

Home Of Unicorns by The Child Of A Creek (Clip)

The Child Of A Creek

December 16, 2008

In Still Life – iLiKETRAiNS, Ruby Lounge, Manchester

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I checked back to my review of October 2005, and noted that I had written “See them at this level while you can – you might not be able to for long”. Well, the good news for devotees is that my predictive powers have been proven as accurate as ever, and iLiKETRAiNS continue to plough a lonely furrow eluded by commercial success. Supported by AirCav (who we missed, thanks to my co-reporter’s over-optimistic expectations of motorway traffic) and Jeniferever (most enjoyable Swedish ambient post-punk), iLiKETRAiNS took the stage with ’25 Sins’, and gave us an hour of old, new, and very new, from ‘A rook house for Bobby’, to an as-yet untitled new number, apparently provisionally titled ‘Forget to Breathe’. Hampered by illness, and restricted by an early curfew (to make way for a Metal night!) there was no encore, no ‘Stainless Steel’ or ‘Curtains Close’, but that was no bad thing as it would have been difficult to top the closing “Spencer Perceval”. The band showed their breadth (for me, the harmonies on ‘Victress’ were amazing) and Dave Martin fixed the crowd with steely glint above a luxuriant beard like the lovechild of Ian Curtis and Scott of the Antarctic. Sometimes their influences are a little too obvious (Peter Hammill could claim royalties on ‘Forget to Breathe’) but for me they remain a little-known national treasure; literate, thoughtful, quirky and inspiring. I also wrote in 2005 “My faith in live music is restored…”. Well, it was again tonight.

Also, in the week after the death of Oliver Postgate has resulted in a wave of nostalgia for cheap animation, may I recommend this video:

review by Big Dave

December 8, 2008

Becky Jerams

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One More Step by Becky JeramsBecky Jerams is a young singer/songwriter from Portsmouth who is just starting out and trying to break into the music industry. She plays Pop and, as I have mentioned before, this is not my area of expertise. But I do know about voices and good songs. Her self-produced album is One More Step and it is a showcase for a young woman who has one of the best voices I have heard in a long time. Her delivery is crystal-clear and every vocal inflection is tuneful. Much of the album is bouncy and melodic and aimed at a much younger market than me – but it does sound like the sort of music that should be leading the young British female singer/songwriter movement with artists such as kate Nash.

When I heard the track The Lucky One I ended up, after a few consecutive listens, checking up on Janis Ian who was responsible for one of the saddest songs ever written, At Seventeen. I can’t give any higher compliment than that. It’s the feeling I get of total honesty in the lyrics (plus the beautiful sadness) that makes the connection for me. It’s a tear-jerker of the first order.

The Lucky One by Becky Jerams

The Lucky One by Becky Jerams (Clip)

Becky Jerams on MySpace

November 17, 2008

7 by Smilex

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I was driving to work on a Monday morning a little while ago. On the car stereo was a USB stick with the mp3s I was transferring to work. Amongst other music, I had a few review submissions, some Dead Boys albums, and Silverhead’s 16 and Savaged that I hadn’t heard for 35 years. A song came on that I didn’t know. It was fast and furious and sounded great (the video for this song Explode is above) with it’s riffing guitar but I couldn’t figure out who the band were. I couldn’t even figure out the decade – there was trashy guitar from 70s Glam Rock but then it sounded like Aerosmith, then 90s Grunge. One thing I did know was that I liked it.

I got to the office and quickly found it was Smilex, who are an Oxford Alternative Rock band (with the emphasis on rock). Their current release is “7”, a CD of seven songs based on the Seven Deadly Sins. They are the band that the “Parental Advisory Explicit Lyrics” sticker was designed for. The songs are an orgiastic high-speed drive into depravity but with humour such as the line ‘nobody leaves in their own underwear’ – remember parties like that?

This is definitely an album for when you feel like bouncing off the walls. There are wonderful screams on Sex For Sale and For What It’s Worth. The constant attack of distorted guitar and desperate vocals do mean it can only be played when in the right mood. The exception to that is the track that, for me, stands out above all others on the album. Syllabus is loud and heavy to begin with but relaxes into a protest against school/church/government and this world in general before rising to a blood pumping chorus. It even spends the last minute quietly with strings and a refrain of ‘I have faith in these desolate times’. This track really speaks to me on every level and goes into my collection of favourite songs of all time.

Syllabus by Smilex

Syllabus by Smilex (Clip)

November 15, 2008

The Oolites

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The OolitesThe Oolites are a bit clever. By choosing the name of a type of rock, it gives them a chance to write about themselves in a detached, arty way like this: “…oolitic rock is not the heaviest or hardest, but instead intricately and interestingly formed… when studied live the dynamics of the formation can be very powerful.” One thing lads, if you are going to be smartarses then you had better be good enough to back it up.

Astonishingly enough, they are good enough. The Oolites have come out with a demo EP of such verve and confidence that it leaves me floundering for ways to describe it. The roots of the music seem to be back in the mists of time – I keep on thinking of Bowie’s “Man Who Sold The World” album (She Shook Me Cold and Black Country Rock in particular) coupled with the Art Punk of Wire.

Last Night’s Song by The Oolites

Last Night’s Song by The Oolites (Clip)

This three piece are really tight – a quality rhythm unit who leave space for the sharp guitar and outstanding vocals. There’s a touch of 70’s rock with added funky guitar at times and it just sounds great when mixed with songwriting of such quality. The lyrics are intriguing and rooted in real life. Clever, yes, but in a way that makes you wonder just how the hell someone can come up with such words that combine so well with the music.

Abbey Fields by The Oolites

Abbey Fields by The Oolites (Clip)

I’m beaten into submission. I’ll join in. It took 170 million years for The Oolites to form…it was worth every minute.

The Oolites

November 5, 2008

The Screamin’ Holler Inn

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Paul Evans is a 53 year old musician living in New Jersey USA. I first heard him on the Americana OK podcast and immediately bought His latest album “Agua Noir”. It is real Country music that concentrates on the song as the peak of the artform. Paul Evans has a voice that resonates with more than just age and experience, it seems to have more textures than other voices like a 12-string guitar compared to a 6-string.

One track in particular, The Screamin’ Holler Inn, is just wonderful. It speaks of an Inn where “there’s no denying that you’ve reached the end of the line when they call you a regular here”. and “the fistholes in the wall cry ‘what if’ and ‘what for'”. These lyrics are evocative and rooted in observation. This is combined with some beautiful twangy guitar and, of course, that wonderful voice.

There is also a photo of the place that paul Evans based the song on – I wonder if he has been back to play since?
A picture of the inspiration for The Screamin' Hollar Inn

The Screamin’ Holler Inn by Paul Evans

The Screamin’ Holler Inn by Paul Evans

Agua Noir on CDBaby

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