Sean Rowe “New Lore” (Anti, 2017)

I really try to be fair when writing these reviews. I try not to get too caught up in my own taste, try to be a little bit objective at least, measure the records against what we collectively agree is our scoring system. I try to find the positives; it gives me no pleasure to disagree fervently with some of my fellow writers. I really fight hard not to give in to urges to grandly dismiss a record in a hail of sarcasm and self-serving vitriol wrapped up as criticism (for this see my work from 2005). Then I get records like this to review that I dislike on first listen and every time I listen (again and again – I like to discern and understand the roots of my dislike) I really fail to see the good or understand the attraction of a record like this.  Continue reading “Sean Rowe “New Lore” (Anti, 2017)”

Sweet Gum Tree “Sustain The Illusion” (Dreamy Bird Records 2017)

In the 1980’s alongside, all of the hardcore, reggae and The Fall, John Peel occasionally championed some bands that didn’t quite fit; they were self-consciously ‘arty’ and most of them would end up on 4AD records or just fade into obscurity – they fell somewhere between The Wild Swans and Swans Way. SGT have a grand(iose) sweep and a sound that is steeped in the 1980’s the synthesiser sounds and the ability to embrace the embellishments without any self-consciousness. Sometimes it is possible to put your finger on exactly the precedents. On Someday there a definite whiff of the Blow Monkeys, both in the vocals and the structure of the song; elsewhere the influence is filtered and fully absorbed, they leak out like a dark root showing in a head of blonde hair, there are a few phrases of Rollercoaster where I can almost feel Smash Hits in my hands. Continue reading “Sweet Gum Tree “Sustain The Illusion” (Dreamy Bird Records 2017)”

Nick Ellis “Daylight Ghosts” (Mellowtone Records, 2017)

Throughout this record Ellis’ guitar playing is excellent and the sound is clear and resonant (it was recorded in Liverpool St George’s Hall Crown Court Room) and it’s clear the further that Ellis gets from standard acoustic singer-songwriter fare, the better he sounds. The opener The Grand Illusion survives only on its guitar playing and the following Hanging Around with its poppier melody weaves a far more interesting pattern. Ellis has the voice for rock and the fingers to play pretty much whatever he pleases; the beautiful cascading phrases of Carillon are brought back to earth by the vocal. Where the pieces are unencumbered by the vocals they really stretch out as Dance of the Cat and Good Morning Mr Hirons show. Continue reading “Nick Ellis “Daylight Ghosts” (Mellowtone Records, 2017)”

Curse of Lono “Severed” (Submarine Cat Records, 2017)

On first hearing this record without reading anything about it I thought that Steven Adams (Broken Family Band) had adopted a back to basics approach and formed a new band. It’s a thought that stuck with me every time I listen to the record and it’s certainly meant as a compliment – there’s the voice of Felix Bechtolsheimer (Hey Negrita) which is a dead ringer for Adams and then there’s the lyrics which explore the same melancholic self-deprecating squalor. CofL have an admirably broad palate, the songs spreading out across a range of styles – the opener cheekily references the Byrds with both the title and the bass line of Five Miles (add three and some altitude and you’re there). Continue reading “Curse of Lono “Severed” (Submarine Cat Records, 2017)”

The Sadies “Northern Passages” (Yep Roc Records, 2017)

The Sadies are enjoying a fantastic run of form. Their last two records have both been brilliant autumnal works and this one begins in pretty much the same vein – the opening chords of Riverview Fog are a quite specific swirl of acoustic country psychedelia; it’s like they’ve captured the sound of light dappling the delicate fire of autumn leaves. It’s not far from the kind of sound that tyros like Ryley Walker have reached. Then again Another Season Again reaches back into their more raucous like past, the guitar sounding like a huge pick is strumming a chain link fence, the guitar solo like a string of barbed wire placed atop, while inside there’s a more tender heart with harmonies buried well down in the mix. Suddenly the trees are all bare and the light hurts your eyes. It’s a return to their spiky roots and something you might find in The Noise Museum but instead this is an instrumental that sifts through the surf, twang and jangle that they’ve been trading for the past couple of decades. Continue reading “The Sadies “Northern Passages” (Yep Roc Records, 2017)”

Jarrod Dickenson “Ready The Horses” (Hooked Records, 2017)

Good God Jarrod can sing. He’s a storyteller with a voice rich as agave nectar; he holds a narrative and bends it however he feels, you hang onto every word. On this set of songs he’s pretty much equidistant between Tom Waits and Michael Buble, and that’s not meant to be derogatory in any way, it’s testament to the way he controls the songs and the audience – the opening one-two of the bluesy belters of Faint of Heart and Take It From Me are big set-pieces full of showmanship  Then he settles down and the simpler Your Heart Belongs To Me shows him in more intimate circumstances his voice even more seductive when near a whisper. Continue reading “Jarrod Dickenson “Ready The Horses” (Hooked Records, 2017)”

The Standing Waves “Early Reflections” (Independent, 2017)

Both standing waves and early reflections are terms to do with the physics of sound waves. The first sounds to reach a listener’s ears from sound waves bouncing off objects are the early reflections and I’m happy to report that the effect evidenced by these ten songs is a tidal wave of pleasure. They are polished and charming examples of a subtle mix of Americana genres – there are touches from all across the map from the reflective sweetness of Last First Person that reminds me of the collective bonhomie of Ida, wisps of Whiskeytown, the Jayhawks, Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris and even the Avett Brothers. Continue reading “The Standing Waves “Early Reflections” (Independent, 2017)”