Mark Huff “Stars For Eyes” (Exodus Records, 2018)

Mark Huff gives the impression of being one of those people who can pick up a guitar and make up a song on the spot that will be dripping with hooks and full of memorable melodies. He makes it sound so easy,  as if he’s not even trying. The songs just flow out of him, flitting between styles without missing a beat. ‘God In Geography’ slides in some new-wave organ and lightness of touch, it seems to be his natural habitat. But so does the pedal steel licked ‘Carolina Blue’ and that’s Huff’s great strength: he can switch styles without it feeling forced, it’s all just part of one big dressing up box. Continue reading “Mark Huff “Stars For Eyes” (Exodus Records, 2018)”

Elle Mary & The Bad Men “Constant Unfailing Night” (Sideways Saloon, 2018)

The title gives a clue to the darkness enveloping this record – it wears its black heart proudly and does its best to draw us into the crepuscular. The music is core to the vision, tight and dark, rhythm-heavy, slow and taut, the vocals not disinterested but seemingly partially disengaged. Nina Nastasia leapt into my mind as I listened and nothing on repeat listens has done anything to shake her off. The sparse crisp production calls to mind the work of Steve Albini (Nina Nastasia’s producer of choice).. Continue reading “Elle Mary & The Bad Men “Constant Unfailing Night” (Sideways Saloon, 2018)”

Hugh Christopher Brown “Pacem” (Wolfe Island Records, 2017)

There’s a lot about this record that reminds me of Van Morrison, the deep spirituality and the fluid jazz notes being the foremost. Brown has a range of talents and founded a program to introduce music to prisons. He’s a fearless artist. The record opens with ‘Prayer of St Ignatius’, with vocals from Sherry Zbrovsky, with minimal backing just some comforting flecks of jazz – it’s a start that flummoxed me. The record then moves on to more familiar territory, albeit again, pared back spiritual, confessional, full of atmosphere sketched from acoustic guitar and piano, a rumbling undercurrent, intimate and in a small way strident, Brown draws you in. Continue reading “Hugh Christopher Brown “Pacem” (Wolfe Island Records, 2017)”

The Stephen Stanley Band “Jimmy & The Moon” (Wolfe Island Records, 2017)

Most people wilfully misremember the 1980’s – they selectively associate the decade with musical excesses with 12” extended mixes of new romantic and electro-pop music. Parallel to this were a myriad of other things, one of them was College Rock and this record reminds me of those times (the college rock bit, not big hair and slap bass – now I’m doing it). There are few songs that I hear echoes of bands like Big Dipper: Stanley has been around for a long time (in the Lowest of the Low) so this is more like post-grad rock. Continue reading “The Stephen Stanley Band “Jimmy & The Moon” (Wolfe Island Records, 2017)”

Ady Johnson “London Songs” (Independent, 2018)

It isn’t often that a record reminds the listener of Ray Davies, Mark Linkous and Tom Waits, as this one does. It has the lyrical sensibility of Davies, the clatter and oomph of Waits at his most extravagant and it has the shifts in tone, the juxtaposition of the abrasive and the beautiful as mastered by Sparklehorse. This eclecticism raises it above the usual level, enabling him to use bold swipes like the way the brass slashes across ‘Problems of Your Own’, changing the arc of the song. And how many are brave enough to use the bullfrog rumble of the tuba as Johnson does on ‘Put the World on Standby.’ Continue reading “Ady Johnson “London Songs” (Independent, 2018)”

Reg Meuross “Faraway People” (Hatsongs, 2017)

What’s the function of Folk music these days – does it have any place at all?  If its function was to hold a mirror up to society, then Meuross would have a place in this world. His songs are measured illustrations of the social crises that pockmark our nation, the gradual disintegration of society, the dismantling of the NHS, a government that drives the disabled to suicide, all important issues and all subjects of these songs. Continue reading “Reg Meuross “Faraway People” (Hatsongs, 2017)”

Ginger Wildheart “Ghost In The Tanglewood” (Round Records, 2018)

There’s a dichotomy at the heart of these songs – they are generally explorations of mental illness and especially Wildheart’s struggle with depression, and yet the songs sound joyous. ‘Daylight Hotel’ which opens the record was penned whilst he was in hospital receiving treatment and it sounds like a celebration, a big rousing chorus, a call for recovery. It is a refreshing change from the usual maudlin self-centred responses to the issue. Continue reading “Ginger Wildheart “Ghost In The Tanglewood” (Round Records, 2018)”

Ed Romanoff “The Orphan King” (PineRock Production, 2018)

Ed Romanoff is a storyteller, his songs vehicles for the narratives, and stories we get whether they be ghost Miss Worby’s Ghost, the freak show Elephant Man, crime The Ballad of Willie Sutton, and of course at heart all of these are love songs. Along with the switch of genres the songs also meld into other genres from the basic folk beginning, so A Golden Crown throws in some Celtic fiddles and elsewhere there are snatches of gospel, blues and some country soul. Knitting it all together is Romanoff’s deep vocals that inhabit his characters and keep everything centred. Continue reading “Ed Romanoff “The Orphan King” (PineRock Production, 2018)”

Grant-Lee Phillips “Widdershins” (Yep Roc Records, 2018)

With this record G-LP sounds confident, spontaneous, relaxed and angry – it’s a heady brew and provides the fuel to make this his best set of songs for some time. Each song is a stinging jab with lyrical barbs and musical hooks, a riposte to the current political situation. Make no mistake, these are protest songs, subtle and cutting.  Recorded over four days they have an immediacy; they haven’t rehearsed the soul out of the songs which smoulder and often catch fire. Continue reading “Grant-Lee Phillips “Widdershins” (Yep Roc Records, 2018)”

Kyle Craft “Full Circle Nightmare” (Sub Pop, 2018)

Listening to this record is like mistakenly making conversation with a drunk that you can’t get away from, only this drunk has some great stories to tell. Like the bastard child of Jerry Lee Lewis and Lou Reed he’s imbued with rock and roll – with the mythology, he’s a crumple-suited romantic, forever nursing a broken heart. The opening line of Heartbreak Junky just about sums up his worldview: “So you fell in love, and it wasn’t with me” – love is never easy, love will always break your heart and love is just another addiction. Craft really bangs the songs out, guitars, piano, organ and brass all entwined all rooted strongly in classic songwriting and with such energy and such conviction that you do end up listening to every word. Continue reading “Kyle Craft “Full Circle Nightmare” (Sub Pop, 2018)”