Alternative music reviews

March 11, 2009


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Tangleweed are an Americana five-piece from Chicago who have a recent album “Most Folk Heroes Started Out As Criminals”. The fiddle and banjo give away that they play a good bit of Bluegrass. It is quality stuff that reeks of authenticity – this band really knows their musical history. But there is more than history here – songs like Trishanku’s Heaven and California are great additions to an American songbook.

On a few of the tracks, Tangleweed demonstrate some irish folk roots music. In particular they cover a traditional song (once performed by Ewan McColl, I believe) Join The British Army. Now, I’m not very keen on people going “Too ra loo ra loo ra loo”; okay as background in a crowded pub maybe but I have great prejudice against all of that ‘finger in the ear’ cliché of folk. However, after immensely enjoying this track I can now say: if you have to “Too ra loo ra loo ra loo” then this is the way to “Too ra loo ra loo ra loo”.

Join The British Army by Tangleweed

Join The British Army by Tangleweed (Clip)


February 12, 2009

Stuck On The Corner With Todd Snider

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Peace Queer by Todd SniderPop/Rock music is a very narrow, unambitious field of human endeavour. Most of the time it is just a variation on the same theme – 4/4 or 3/4 time and verse/chorus/verse/chorus/verse/chorus/chorus with rhyming lyrics. Someone like Lou Reed may have written Heroin and Black Angel’s Death Song but most of his output has been the classic pop song structure that he learnt when he was staff songwriter at Pickwick records in the early 60’s.

A perfect example of fine songwriting within a traditional song structure would be from Todd Snider’s latest album “Peace Queer”. The song Stuck On the Corner (Prelude to a Heart Attack) is nothing new musically. In fact it reminds me of Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues and is just that sort of basic Boogie that could be played any time in the past fifty years. The artistry comes in how the music swings and particularly in the lyrics. Todd tells a tale of a man trying to get along in the modern world. He goes to work and gets lectured at on the need to work harder whilehis wife and daughter are buying things to impress the neighbours and he finds those kids of today know nothing about anything – little bits of paranoia seep out threatening to explode. Parents will understand this song.

Stuck On The Corner by Todd Snider

Stuck On The Corner (Prelude To A Heart Attack) by Todd Snider (Clip)

Todd Snider on MySpace

February 10, 2009

To Lose My Life by White Lies

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WhiteSomeone of advanced age such as me can place White Lies exactly. They are The Teardrop Explodes in the practice sessions before the first album. They have left behind the desire to experiment as on the Sleeping Gas EP and turned towards a more melodic future where the lead singer will be an imperious presence towering above the music. This is hardly a great insight since Harry McVeigh’s voice is so close in tone, range, and phrasing to julian Cope’s – so close that I initially couldn’t be bothered to listen to even a single track right through. A few days later I got to thinking that The Teardrop Explodes had never lived up to their promise – three brilliant singles but then never again reached those intense early heights. So if White Lies gave me an equivalent of an album’s worth of the early brilliance, who am I to complain.

And, sure enough, once I cleared myself of all of those doubts, To Lose My Life is a great album that can happily sit alongside early Bunnymen/Teardrop Explodes/Depeche Mode. In fact, if you played this to a youngster who had never heard these late 70s/early 80s bands then they might well prefer White Lies because it is better produced and more consistent. Perhaps remixing the past, rather than forging the future, means you make less mistakes. So let’s get this straight. I am saying that White Lies will never produce anything as glorious and original as the first two Teardrop Explodes singles. Fine. I’m also certain that they will never match the highlights of Julian Cope’s solo work. But what they do deliver is a stonking album.

To Lose My Life by White Lies

To Lose My Life by White Lies (Clip)

White Lies

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

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