Thursday, 25 August 2016

Tami Neilson - Don't Be Afraid, album review

Soaring Tears

Another stunning female vocalist, Neilson is startling across both blues and country, and occasional rockabilly-esque/vaudville frivolity as Laugh Laugh Laugh.

Opener Don't Be Afraid is a slow blues that oozes emotional intensity, driven by the soaring voice which struts across an intentionally lethargic riff, a slow drum hit pounding out an assertive support to the rising tension in the song. Second Holy Moses whips the pace into overdrive, and we have take-off. Brakes halt this immediately for third Lonely, a traditional country lament with pedal steel and its tears, vocal duet contribution from Marlon Williams.

There's more in a mix like this, all excellent, and you'll pick your preferences, my liking the ballads for their depth of feeling, eighth Heavy Heart another Country one, beautiful tone in the rising chorus please stop breaking it.

One further mention goes to another duet, ninth Only Tears where the Country count probably tips it slightly away from the blues, pedal steel again but the tears firmly planted in the title and lyrics, Williams soaring once again on that very word. Wonderful.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Samantha Fish - Wild Heart, album review

Firmly Planted

Guitarist and vocalist Samantha Fish fires up the blues and country stubble in this field of familiar but impeccably ploughed musical furrows.

As in grooves.

Opener Road Runner deceives a little with its Country tinge, but the guitar breaks are rock solid. There are more balladic numbers – and these are fine as Fish sings it true fast or slow – but it is the power that most impresses. And we get this in Highways Holding Me with its classic rock riff; the thudding Turn It Up; a pounding Show Me; a rousing Wild Heart [though as title track this is not the barnstormer one might have expected, keeping the agricultural allusion….], and a lyrically assertive vehicle for more oomph in Bitch on the Run, the penultimate track.

Last track I’m in Love With You demonstrates her impressive range as she swings sweetly if suggestively in an acoustic closer. Like a field of corn blowing softly in a summer wind.

Steering Wheel Music 8

Ryley Walker - Golden Sings That Have Been Sung, album review

Footsie with Jesus

I have my vinyl copy and that does matter, for obvious reasons, but also because Walker reminds so much of the singersongwriter from the 60s/70s and thus nostalgia becomes a part of the vinyl preference and collectability.

And it is a sublime album, musically mesmerising in the jazz-raga rhythms that roll out clever narratives and seemingly confessional truths as well as witticisms: about marriage, having babies, parental preferences - not his own but his father's - and playing footsie with Jesus.

There's delicate finger-picking and psychedelic strumming storms, Rylie whopping and yelping as he does live so there is that stronger sense of this here than on his debut and second albums. The stunning simplicity of the songs' varying impacts is delivered by the paradox of the virtuoso playing, naturally, but it is very much in the building pace of many and Walker's warming vocal, closer Age Old Tale a fine example. The musical accompaniments within glisten in their mix of light orchestral [clarinet start of opener The Halfwit in Me] and psychedelia. The percussive contributions [superb on A Choir Apart] add much to the overall texture.

I have little doubt this will be my album of the year. My other reviews, including the great pleasure of seeing him play live with Danny Thompson, can be read here.

Monday, 22 August 2016

Rachel Drew & The Bitter Roots - Under The Sun, album review


What a strange world is the Music one: so much talent/so much that isn’t; so much that is popular which probably doesn’t deserve to be/so much that is unheard which most definitely should be – and all of this [OK just two obvious dichotomies, but they embrace the significant largeness] decided by the yin yang of personal preference. Some might find this opening salvo of interest; some platitudinous.

Here’s an album with fine songwriting and even finer singing from Rachel Drew with her band the Bitter Roots. It has a country/Americana leaning to which I give it this naming prop, but overall the slower numbers stand out because they showcase the voice, though the uncluttered musical accompaniments are themselves good lessons in restraint.

And the relevance of this album to the opening observation? At the risk of sounding disparaging – but rather trying to establish my point – I don’t believe Drew and her band are that well known, but the real giveaway [pun alert] is the fact that this album is available for free.

That’s a generous offer for good music. It is all about getting established I guess, so I am happy to genuinely promote for both the spirit of its ease of acquisition as well as pleasing ease of enjoying. You don’t need to decide about or even engage in the arguing posited at the start, but I’d bet all I had to spend on this album that you’ll veer to hearing it as residing on the worthy side of the dividing lines.

Get it here [the Noisetrade link].

Friday, 19 August 2016

Courtney Marie Andrews - Honest Life, album review


This is pretty special, Andrews' third album though my first of hearing her, and the immediate compulsion is to compare her exquisite voice to previous female greats - as reviews I have quickly read do - but I will instead comment only on the powerful clarity that does indeed remind of others, but Courtney Marie Andrews possesses a Country inflection [this is a potent tonal thing, not a warble or a yodel [!] but a lilt] which defines its distinctiveness.

The songs she sings on Honest Life are self-penned and sustain the Country lilt musically, especially in the pedal steel which might seem like a simplistic touchstone. It is overall the country folk of late 60s/early 70s too, exemplified on the beautiful Let the Good One Go, her vocal soaring and tailed off with tight harmonies. The title song that follows this is sweetly similar, and sweetly simple it its lyrical reflection on intentions and hope. And as a trio of perfection, next Table for One is a poignant lament on loneliness, gorgeously if sadly sung, our empathy aroused in that resonant tone.

Closer Only in My Mind encapsulates Andrews' immediate appeal, simple piano and sweeping strings pretty enough, but it is the powerful vocal that arches over this with such commanding presence.

Highly recommended and can be reviewed and purchased here.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Boots Music 2

Transmigrant - The Philomath [Full Album]

Transmigrant - The Philomath, album review

Poetry, Place and Musical Empathy

Cascading piano rolls and recorded voice invoking the whole universe, violin strains sweetly layered across this. So begins this delightful album and opening track The Philomath, when suddenly just under two minutes in, a prog-rock burst erupts and then settles into electronic scratches/pulses and percussive other. The voice later speaks of cosmic evolution, but I am more enamoured by the musical evolution within the song, an eclecticism that will pervade the whole album with a rich sense of connectivity where one might expect it to be disjointed – the jazz sax and rhythms that interject in this track seemingly quite a natural progression, the piano rolls tying it all together.

SHUT THAT GOD-DAMNED THING OFF! is part of the next song’s story rather than any urge to the music, a line from Bukowski’s fine poem The Soldier, His Wife and the Bum, and I am more comfortable with spoken word poetry within instrumental surrounds than any other, but that is simple preference. This song The Vagrant is another excellent amalgam of the beautiful with piano and violin [acoustic and synthesised] and the raucous crescendo that ironically follows the third verse,

anyhow, I never went to another live concert
and that night I listened to the radio very
quietly, my ear pressed to the

At this song’s end there is a sudden sax flurry that immediately segues into next Halley’s Comet, echoes of Van der Graaf, and the poem intoned here is HC by Stanley Kunitz, a poem of childhood terror and yearning for a missing father. The next Isostasy – which is of course the equilibrium that exists between parts of the earth’s crust, which behaves as if it consists of blocks floating on the underlying mantle, rising if material [such as an ice cap] is removed and sinking if material is deposited - and the music here is again eclectic, though the violin sweeps fill rousingly.

Composer and performer Sam Morgan has drawn together his musical soundscapes and external poetry/narratives that are ultimately quite beautiful in their merging, those spacerock/progrock/jazz/classical injections allowing the contrasts to establish their creative edge so that it isn’t just some picturesque, ambient surround. Sixth track Papuan Prayer embeds its chant movingly, and this adds a further eclecticism to the mix.

Other contributors to the album are Grace Marsell, Carl Segan and Richard Feynman, and other poems used are: John Betjeman’s lush Youth and Age on Beaulieu River, Adrian Henri’s Death in the Suburbs, and Jean Binta Breeze’s Earth Cries so that a sense of place with its importance, both as physical reality and memories evoked, become a core theme to the album’s preoccupation.

This album can be – and is encouraged to be – downloaded for free here. I paid a fiver because that seems only fair, though having said this it is still a ridiculous bargain for such a fine album. I’ll post a YouTube video next if you want a taste, but I definitely recommend a download and a rewarding listen.