Thursday, 27 November 2014

Albums of 2014: Mary Chapin Carpenter - Songs From The Movie

This album was released very early in 2014 and has stayed with me throughout the year. Mary Chapin Carpenter has been an award winning songwriter and artist for many years and has produced many excellent albums since her debut Hometown Girl in 1987.

When I heard she was going to release an album of her songs with an orchestral treatment, my first thought was 'would it work'. Joni Mitchell has successfully released such albums but did Mary have the emotion, songs and voice to be able to make her own statement as Joni did with her albums. The answer is a resounding Yes.

Here Mary discusses how she approached the project.

Backed by a 63 piece orchestra and a choir, Mary has matched Joni for beauty, intensity, emotion and delicacy. She may not have the seductive voice of Joni but I honestly think she could not have done any better with the material or the treatments of the songs.

pic courtesy of Billboard

Mary's style has been to produce songs of Country, pop, rock and ballads and she is a Grammy Award winning artist. She has handpicked a selection of songs from the breadth of her career in this orchestral format.

photo courtesy of

Many of Mary's songs are based on storytelling and the orchestral treatments of the music add a certain gravitas and depth to the songs. 

photo courtesy of

This is one of those albums where I don't want to say too much. I just want to let you discover the music for yourself. If it encourages you to go and investigate the music of Mary Chapin Carpenter then I have done my job. 

Mary has performed throughout the year all over the world in support of the album with an orchestra in the various destinations.
For me, the most moving moment of the album is the final track Goodnight America.

Twitter - @M_CCarpenter

Albums Of 2014: Danny & The Champions Of The world - Live Champs

I always knew that I might have a live album on the list of my Albums of 2014 when I found out that Danny & The Champions Of The World were due to release a live album of the Stay True Tour.

Live albums have always had a historic reputation in the music world. Whether they are produced to record a historic event such as Woodstock or used to run out an artists contract or to showcase up and coming artists to larger labels, such as KISS ALIVE, every music lover will always have their favourite Live album.

For many years, my favourite album has been Jeff Buckley's Live At Sin E. Away from the production of Grace - Live At Sin E is just Jeff and his Telecaster. Showcasing his songwriting talent and that incredible voice Sin E is a model of simplicity.

It was my favourite until I heard Live Champs. This is now my favourite live album.

I have been lucky enough to see Danny & The Champs live twice while touring his latest album Stay True. And twice they have been totally electrifying.

Danny Wilson has to be one of the most honest performers in music today. Totally self effacing and engaging, he has the audience in the palm of his hand from the first song, which on the latest tours has been (Never Stop Building That) Old Space Rocket - the opening track of Stay True.

Danny has built an excellent band around him in the form the Champions Of The World (The Champs). Guitarist Paul Lush, Bass player Chris Clarke, Drummer Steve Brookes, Pedal Steel Player Henry Senior & Keyboardist/Saxophonist Free Jazz Jeff provide the meat to Danny's bones and are the best live band I've seen in many a year - comparable to Springsteen's E Street Band in my humble opinion.

With Stay True, Danny & The Champs have definitely found their sound and the live interpretations are just stunning. Now when I see a live gig, I do not want perfect recreations of the recorded music. What's the point of that? Stay in and play the record if that's what you want.

Many of the songs on Live Champs have been extended and it breathes new life into the recorded songs. On a record, the band is constricted to probably a maximum of 5 minutes a song but live they have they opportunity to explore the music to a much greater extent and they take full advantage of it.

The album sounds like it has been taken straight from the desk with very little production added at a later date. Again, that's how I like my live recordings with buzzes, clicks, feedback and mistakes.

Spread over two discs Live Champs captures Danny & The Champs at the top of their game. As a document of the tour, it is perfect. And the new songs that have been premiered live since this recording indicate that Danny is now riding on the crest of this new interest and optimism in his music. And they are VERY GOOD indeed.

Danny is a very funny guy and his banter with the audience comes across as both honest and reciprocal.  
The older songs such as Henry The Van get a great response and with new treatments in this format it's like hearing the older songs for the first time. 
Live Champs though belongs to guitarist Paul Lush. On the record Paul is very much a team player and his guitar work is sympathetic within the production. Live though, Paul is a different animal and takes the opportunity to showcase his sublime guitar work on the earlier mentioned guitar solos. He is never sounds flashy and never sounds boring. Very much in the mould of Steve Van Zandt or Nils Lofgren in the E Street Band.

Three of the tracks on the album Colonel & The King, Other Days and Restless Feet clock in at 12 minutes long and they are totally magnificent in their scope and magic. Exactly what I want from alive album.

By the time the band get to the final track, These Days, the crowd are really up for it and when Danny forgets the words, you can feel the love in the room as the band launch into their last song of the show and encourage a lot of audience participation. And Danny's last words on the album? - 'Let's have a beer' - and we did, cos that's the guy he is.

If you only invest in one live album this year - Live Champs should be the one. So go and put it on your Christmas list, right now. And make sure you get to a show when he releases the new album in 2015. 

Twitter - @Dannythechamp

Friday, 21 November 2014

Albums Of 2014 - Good Luck Mountain - Too

Good Luck Mountain are a band based around former Tandy man, Mike Ferrio.

Back in 2012, Good Luck Mountain released their debut album. This was an album steeped in sadness as it was the first release since the untimely death of Drew Glackin, Mike's friend from Tandy. The first half of the album seems to revolve around death, grief and sadness while the second half is about life and renewal. Indeed, the album was a new direction for Mike and he builds on this in his second Good Luck Mountain album, Too.

Good Luck Mountain 1 ended with the 6 minute almost cathartic, The Perfect Circle.

Too opens up with an electronic bleep and builds into the plaintive and atmospheric Morning Moon, an acoustic guitar and piano instrumental track which is a gentle intro into what beautiful music is to come.

White Calico Flower follows this gentle opener and is another 6 minute epic based around an acoustic guitar and piano with some gorgeous harmonies and some lovely violin flourishes near the end. Mike almost breathes out the words backed with female harmonies. It's like a happier continuation of The Perfect Circle. Mike is definitely in a happier place now.

Birdsong opens the next track World Turns, which is based around an insistent piano motif and more female harmonies.

The first track released from the album comes up next in the shape of Apollo. This introduces some tasty electric guitar into the mix and has a Byrds feel bringing some uptempo sunshine to the party.

Mike's delicate vocals usher in the next track Indian Summer, you can almost feel the heat as the brushed drums mix with the acoustic guitar and violins and yet again those lovely harmony vocals.A very sultry track indeed.

Much as the first GLM album, this album looks as if it was designed to be listened to on vinyl and to emphasize this the next track is almost a closer to side 1 - Maps (interlude) is 20 seconds of gentle electronica before Maps Of The Moon opens up what may be side 2 on a vinyl record. This track again uses the brushed drums but with a more spirited piano and violin backing.

The Seawall is a 7 minute epic that starts with a bass line and builds into a song of persistent drums, feedback guitars and whispered vocals. Very atmospheric and reminiscent of REM in some of their more experimental moments.

Another epic 6 minute slice of Americana comes next in the form of Angels. It's a song based around acoustic instrumentation and summons the ghost of The Band. With soaring violin and tremendous droning harmonies.

1.44 minutes of acoustic instrumental sweetness in the form of The Blue precedes the next track Out Of The Blue, one of the most simple songs on the album but utterly beguiling. 

Then we're back to where we started with Morning Moon (Reprise) closing what has to be one of the surprises of 2014.

Too is one of those albums that need to be listened to in one sitting - but what a joy it is - totally unexpected and all the better for it.

Friday, 14 November 2014

MY ALBUM OF 2014: Simone Felice - Strangers

Firstly, let me say that 2014 has been an excellent year for me in music terms - there have been some special albums out this year. My selections can be seen here. 

But one album this year has not let me go from the first listen.

I was aware of Simone Felice from the work with his brothers (The Felice Brothers) and I'd heard a couple of tracks from his first solo album. 

But nothing prepared me for Strangers. I love it when an album comes out of nowhere and grabs me so hard that it's hard to resist. And that is exactly what has happened with Strangers. Right from the first listen I was enchanted. I kept going back to it time & time again as it's beauty & scope gradually sank in. Simone has approched the album as a storyteller - which is interesting seeing as he's a published author. In fact, Simone really is an interesting story himself - he wrote in The Guardian about it and it can be read here.

The album is relatively short, sweet and perfectly formed - 10 tracks of absolute beauty.

I first highlighted it back in May.

I have been so impressed at how Simone & fellow co-producer David Baron have created an album of such filmic and widescreen beauty with such simple instrumentation.

It is an album of emotional beauty and is almost gospel like in places.

Strangers kicks off with the uptempo Molly O, which is the only real UP song on the whole record. Right from song one - the words grab your attention - poetic, enticing you in, thought provoking.

'Good trips and bad trips we're still gonna hold our lips to the chalice, 
even when the scales are tipped
You know I'd never hurt you baby, 
it's your virtue that hangs in the balance.'

The album was recorded in Sun Mountain Studios near his home in the Catskills Mountains near Woodstock in New York.

Simone - ''It’s really about, you know, the realisation that we can be so in love with someone, or so in love with an idea, or friends, or people in our lives,” he said.

'' Yea though I walk through the stripmall,
in chains of iron,
thrown to the lions, hunted by sirens,
Can't you hear them screaming,
like so many demons''

Simone - “Some of it was lonely, just me and my producer David. And then some of it we got to bring in a proper band, my brothers and The Lumineers and some good friends. So it was really just a special experience. Surrounded by a lot of talent and a lot of love.”

Simone has written a gorgeous and moving song about conflict in the moving Our Lady Of The Gun.

Family has always been an important source of inspiration for Simone and he looks back to his younger life in the hymnic Bye Bye Palenville.

'But I could never understand,
how a living breathing man
could run away and
leave his kids in the cold'

'And then the day our baby came,
and we gave her a precious name
so everyone would know
what a pearl we found'

Pearl is the name of Simone's daughter. 

I love the fact that many of the tracks on the album have an almost hymnic quality and one of the best is Bastille Day.

In a nutshell, the album for me is Intimate, Beautiful, Lyrical, Hymnic, Uplifting & Emotional.

I could wax lyrical about this record for hours - but that would be boring and I'm no talented journalist. 

All I can do is point you in the direction of the album and urge you to give it a listen.

My favourite track on Strangers is the final track - The Gallows.

Death has never sounded so beautiful.

'I am standing on the gallows in a winter's rain,
but I am light as a sparrow,
'cause I'm on my way'

Twitter - @SimoneFelice

Quotations by Simone courtesy of

Live in 2014: James - live at Colston Hall, Bristol on Wednesday 12th September 2014

Following a four year break since their last album, The Morning After in 2010, James have released their best album in years with La Petit Mort and I was looking forward to seeing them play it live.
Although a great deal of La Petit Mort is around death, as per the title, it is an uplifting album and a definite return to form which harks back to the great albums of Seven & Laid.

They were supported on the tour by Starsailor, who according to lead singer James Walsh had not played together for over six years. It didn't sound like it tonight. They played a good set with all the fan favourites.

They got a great reception on the night and hopefully their own tour will only be a matter of time.

James have always been able to put on a show and with Tim Booth, have one of the most charismatic front men around.
They kicked off their set with a B side for the die hard fans but which I wasn't quick enough to catch the title of.
Tim Booth stated that if you didn't have the new album then tonight's show might be a new experience and he was right. Luckily have had the new album for a while and the show was heavily influenced by the tracks from la Petit Mort - but it is an excellent album and the songs translated superbly in a live context.

Tim stated that their video for their single from the album, Moving On had just won an award for it's animation - so here it is.

But the band have been around long enough to know that you MUST put some fan favourites into the show and they didn't disappoint.

As I've stated earlier, Tim Booth is one of the best front men around and he even indulged in a spot of crowd surfing more than once in the gig to one of my favourite James' songs, Laid.

Although the songs from the new album were enthusiastically received, the crowd really got going when the hits were played. And in a packed Colston Hall tonight, the atmosphere was electric with waving hands, dancing and singing!

The encore was opened with Tim Booth & Andy Diagram up on the balcony on opposing sides of the hall and the opening bars of Born Of Frustration soon got the crowd into a frenzy - a great moment of the night and getting the people upstairs more involved in the show too.

The two hour set finally closed with a brilliant version of Sometimes with the crowd singing on the top of their voices. A superb end to one of the best gigs of 2014 so far. And they didn't even have to play Sit Down to send everyone home happy.

Twitter - @wearejames


Monday, 10 November 2014

Have You Heard? - The Dreaming Spires - Darkest Before The Dawn EP

We last heard from The Dreaming Spires (which are brothers Robin & Joe Bennett - with assorted guest musicians when required) - with their album debut album Brothers In Brooklyn, which came out on the best UK label, Clubhouse Records in 2012.

Brothers... was a guitar driven beauty of an album which summoned the ghosts of The Byrds, Creedence, Tom Petty & Buffalo Springfield and well worth investigating.

Joe has been working closely over the past couple of years with Michael Gale on his Co-Pilgrim project and the musicality of Co-Pilgrim may well have permeated into the sounds on their new EP, The Darkest Before The Dawn.

You can read a very good interview with Robin about the new EP on the link below.

The EP opens up with an epic 7 minute slice of Americana - but with a superb twist.

The sound on Hype Bands Parts 1 & 2 is augmented with a superb horn section and sounds like it was recorded down in that hall of musical sorcery, Muscle Shoals.
It still contains the jangly guitars, now a feature of the Spires music but filled out with swirling organ and the horns, it sounds magnificent. 
I wonder if the spirit of the music the boys worked on with Danny & The Champions Of The World has finally found its way onto a Dreaming Spires track? 

The second track on the 3 song EP is the very Tom Petty sounding House On Elsinore. With it's soaring harmonies and chiming guitars, it's very much the sound that we have come to expect from The Spires but with a gentler acoustic backing to those ringing guitars and a slightly psychedelic swirl. 

Robin & Joe Bennett

The final track on the EP is title track Darkest Before The Dawn. More downbeat than the first two tracks, it still has those now trademark harmonies and ringing guitars. It brings to mind one of the great forgotten bands Big Star. Worth checking out to see one of the Spires more melodic influences.

Robin Bennett

With a new album due out in early 2015 - this new EP is a tempting taster of what to expect on the album. If it's anything like Brothers In Brooklyn, then we are in for a treat - but the tracks on the EP show a growth in sound and an elegance that points to further gems to come. 

So get the EP - and keep your eyes out on the Clubhouse website for the pre-order information for the album, which is destined to be one of the best albums of 2015.

Twitter - @dreaming_spires


Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Live in 2014: Roger McGuinn at The Glee Club, Cardiff on Tuesday 4th November 2014

The word 'Legend' is thrown around a lot these days in ALL walks of life but tonight I got to see (again) a Real Musical Legend - an artist who was inspired by greatness (Dylan & The Beatles) and who went on to influence SO many other great musicians himself.

Looking nowhere near his 71 years, Roger McGuinn turned back the years in a quiet and unassuming manner to give a masterclass of songwriting and guitar playing.

It was an intimate evening at The Glee Club in Cardiff tonight as Roger McGuinn made his first  return to Wales in quite some time.

Armed with his Martin D7  7 String acoustic guitar and his signature 12 string Rickenbacker electric,  Roger played a game of two halves for a night of story telling and sublime music.

Roger dipped into songs from throughout his career from his Brill Building days right up to a brand new song.

He started the show by walking on playing his Rickenbacker and gave us a gorgeous rendition of Bob Dylan's My Back Pages - the first of several Dylan tunes performed this evening.

I won't spoil the surprises by revealing the stories that Roger tells during the evening - suffice to say he has become quite the raconteur and with so many years from which to draw upon, he kept the audience entertained throughout the two hours he was on stage.

Roger played many of the hits from throughout his illustrious career and included some nice gems too that we don't get to hear that often such as The Ballad Of Easy Rider.


King Of The Hills

The first half of the show included such greats as Mr Spaceman & 5D (Fifth Dimension) 

We also had a crowd pleasing rendition of The Bells Of Rhymney - and if there's a best place to play this, it's Wales - and produced rapturous applause.

There was even time for a new song, written with his wife and based on the John Steinbeck novel The Grapes Of Wrath.

Also included in the first half was his song Jolly Roger from his album Cardiff Rose - again if there was one place to mention it....
The first half concluded with the Dylan Classic, Knocking On Heaven's Door.

Part two started as did part one with Roger walking onto the stage, Rickenbacker in hand but this time playing The Byrds classic, So You Want To Be A Rock n Roll Star. I'm using 'classic' a lot here but a lot the songs are indeed now 'classics'.

One of the musicians Roger has had a great influence on is Tom Petty and he has included an lovely acoustic version of Petty's American Girl into the set.

If there is one song that the majority of the crowd had been waiting for it was Mr Tambourine Man and Roger didn't disappoint as he again strapped on his Rickenbacker and gave the audience what they wanted.

Another great version of a Byrds song, Chestnut Mare also lit up the second half of the show.

The second half concluded with a stunning acoustic version of 8 Miles High.

There HAD to be an encore and Roger came back on to perform Turn, Turn, Turn and finally finished with May The Road Rise To Meet You.

An excellent choice of songs with a story linked to most - a great evening with a true legend.

Twitter - @RogerMcGuinn