Wednesday, 30 December 2015

My DISCOVERY of 2015: HUNGRYTOWN


If you are a music lover, there will always be a place for radio.

Gone are the days when your mates would come around to your house with their albums tucked under their arms ready to introduce you to this fantastic new band or artist they'd discovered. God, I miss those days.

The nearest thing we have these days is the radio. I don't mean the DJs who are only concerned with self promotion and opening their next supermarket or compiling their latest Ibiza mix cd. I'm talking about the kind of DJs who are more concerned with the music than themselves. People such as John Peel, Bob Harris or a name that might be new to you, Adam Wilson.

Adam Wilson presents a show called The Quiet Revolution - the name kind of speaks for itself - it's the quieter sounds of Folk, Americana, World and Blues music that Adam loves. And he shows this love every fortnight, on a Tuesday night at 10pm on Harborough FM. 


Adam Wilson with guest singer/songwriter Paul McClure

As I live in South Wales and could not pick up Adam's show on normal radio, I usually tune in via the internet or Tune In app on my phone.
It was on one of his shows early on this year that Adam played a track by Hungrytown. Once I'd heard it I rushed to find out more information immediately. I found their website and then ordered their first two albums via Amazon. 
I left their new album Further West to buy it directly from the duo as I also discovered they were touring and were playing a gig 5 miles up the road from my home. Result!


Hungrytown are Rebecca Hall & Ken Anderson - hailing from Vermont in the USA.

They are now three albums into their career together with the latest album Further West being released this year.










Rebecca & Ken play a delicious blend of acoustic based folk music with harmonies to die for. Often delicate, often reflective their music comes from the heart and the soul. Their latest album Further West is an album of journeys, journeys of the heart as well as the miles. Their harmonies are close knit as you could possibly be. 


I recorded this video of the performance I went to see earlier in the year. This was a very special gig indeed - they played with no amplification whatsoever and it was like having the duo in your front room, singing right in front of you. It was a magical evening.





All of the three albums - Hungrytown - Any Forgotten Thing and Further West are worthy of a place in your record collection.






And one final thing - Rebecca & Ken are two of the loveliest people out there - they come over t the UK every year - so seek out the show nearest to you and pop along to see them. You'll be most welcome and you'll have a fabulous evening of music to savour.


Twitter - @hungrytown






Albums of 2015: Prog Album of 2015 - Karnataka: Secrets Of Angels


Anyone who reads the pages of this Blog will be aware that I love all different types of music - but Prog was my first love - so I thought I would include it in my End Of Year offerings as a section of it's own as I listen to a lot of Progressive Rock.

Now - there is a moral to the tale this year - DO NOT throw away your Prog Magazines, for a year at least. In the beginning of December, as work and life commitments calmed down, I got a chance to revisit all this year's Prog Magazines and in the March 2015 issue I came across the article about the new album by Karnataka. I don't know how I missed it first time around but I did. Anyway, after reading the article I ordered the cd.  And what had I missed???

I didn't think I'd see a Prog album that would be better than Steven Wilson's Hand. Cannot. Erase. in 2015 - but I have!!!

Secrets Of Angels by Karnataka is simply magnificent.

I'm not going to go into great detail about the band here - they do a splendid job themselves on their website.


But, just a little background to the release.

Karnataka is the brainchild of local boy (to me anyway i.e Swansea) Ian Jones.


It has taken several incarnations since it's conception in 1997 but today's line-up is probably the best they've had in my humble opinion.

With Ian Jones the sole member since it's conception, Karnataka now consist of Ian Jones on Bass & Keyboards, Enrico Pinna on Guitars, Cagari Tozluoglu on Keyboards, Jimmy Pallagrosi on Drums and Hayley Griffiths on Vocals.

there are other guest musicians on the album such as Seana Davey on harp


Secrets Of Angels is the band's 7th album and the first non-live album since 2010's The Gathering Light. 

Hayley Griffiths joined the band before their live album - 2012's New Light - which was also filmed for a dvd release.


Hayley has now become an integral member of the band not only as lead vocalist but also Co-writing a lot of the songs on the album with Ian Jones.



Jimmy Pallagrosi recording the drums for opening track Road To Cairo


So, three years in gestation, the album is a strident move on from The Gathering Light. The opening track The Road To Cairo sets the tone for what is to come. It may bring to mind bands such as Evanesence and Within Tempation. Karnataka have always had a folky and celtic side to their music but this first track brings in an eastern shade into their music which is a lovely addition to the Karnataka sound.


One feature of the album is that the first eight of nine songs are all around the 6 minute mark. This doesn't mean that the songs lack the creative journey of the older songs in the Karanaka repertoire. Indeed, it gives more urgency to several of the tracks and the dynamics of the songs on Secrets Of Angels is one of it's greatest strengths, shown on songs such as Because Of You and the string laden Poison Ivy, which also continues the Eastern sound within the album.

One of he strongest features of Secrets Of Angels is that it is dripping in melody. Be it Hayley's multi-layered vocal harmonies or especially some of the keyboard or string sections that permeate though the majority of the album.

There are three songs that could have single potential if the band so wished - one being the driving Borderline with it's soaring and harmonic chorus.

The next track on the album, the dramatic Fairytale Lies is another that could trouble the single charts if it was released.



For me, the two highlights of Secrets Of Angels are the final two tracks.

Firstly we have the melodious Feels Like Home. With a melody that is absolutely gorgeous, it grows from Hayley's solo soprano voice into a soaring multi harmony extravaganza with the boys joining in on vocal duties and a sympathetic guitar solo which is there for feeling and not for show.


So we come to the final track - the 21 minute title track, Secrets Of Angels.

The best thing about Prog is that it has the capability to enable artists to take on long form music which can capture a variety of moods and passions within a single song.
It has been attempted by many Prog artists and has not always been pulled off. But when it works, there is no music like it.

Think of YES's Close To The Edge or Genesis' Supper's Ready of two examples that work beautifully.

It may take several years to become acknowledged but I think Karnataka have achieved this kind of success on the track Secrets Of Angels. Not so much the delicacy of Close To The Edge but the dynamism of YES's other masterwork The Gates Of Delirium but with an Eastern/Folky side added to the mix.

All of the band pull out out all of the stops for this one track - the musicianship is right up there with the best that Prog has to offer. A special mention must go to Jimmy for such varied drumming and Ian with his bass lines and backing vocals, to Enrico who has a chance to showcase his guitar skills and takes the chance with relish and to Cagari who provides complimentary keyboard patterns and flourishes that enhance and not overpower the music. 

And keep an ear out for some sterling work from Troy Donockley of the band Nightwish.


But the real star of the track has to be Hayley Griffiths. God, I've listened to a ton of music in 2015 and this is the Best Female Vocal Performance of 2015 - without a shadow of a doubt. Hayley's harmonies and voice soars and sweeps above the music, especially in the final section.



Like the best Prog it is hymnal and extremely moving. And it leaves you with a feeling of euphoria.

If the album contained just this title track - then I would pay over the money thankfully.




For an album of Majesty, Passion, Musicianship and soaring Melodies - look no further - 
Secrets Of Angels is your first stop.



Twitter - @Karnataka


Tuesday, 22 December 2015

My ALBUM OF 2015 - The Dreaming Spires - Searching For The Supertruth



I don't know much about Formula 1 - never really liked it. But I do know that if a car leads from the start it very often wins the race.

And as with Formula 1 - Searching For The Supertruth was my first album of 2015 and every album that came after it had to beat it. They didn't. This album has been with me for most of 2015. I have it on Vinyl & cd - an even my wife has a cd!

It is a terrific record. I said it all when I first reviewed it. So i'm not going to change my words now.

ENJOY!!!!!

The first album release of 2015 by Clubhouse Records was always going to be something a bit special. My favourite label keeps it's finger on the pulse of superb Americana, Country & Folk. And I was dying to see what came out of the traps first.

The beginning of the year brought us the sublime Darkest Before The Dawn EP by The Dreaming Spires, which was just the perfect aperitif for the main course to come.

Comprising of brothers Robin & Joe Bennett, together with drummer Jamie Dawson, The Dreaming Spires have brought us their sophomore release, the magnificent 
Searching For The Supetruth.





If their debut album, Brothers In Brooklyn, found the band searching for a sound, the Dreaming Spires have certainly found their sound with this album. It's a swirly, organic, joyous experience. With Robin Bennett writing all of the songs - the last 3 as co-writes - it's a natural progression from it's predecessor. 




Searching For The Supertruth opens with the 70s Glam Rock stomp of Still Believe In You. With a pounding beat, soaring harmonies, psychedelic guitar swirls, it calls to mind a 1960/70s soundscape brought right up to date in 2015.

Robin writes a lot of the songs based on real stories and experiences - the same characters keep popping up on various songs in The Dreaming Spires repertoire. This opening track, is one such song. But it doesn't mean that Robin can't be creative with his wordplay. 

'The revolution that you just can't feel holding on for something real in this endless galaxy, this strange depravity that holds you with its gravity down.'

The lyrics have definitely taken a more interesting route with this new album. Robin isn't afraid to ask the difficult questions and ponder on the even bigger ones.

 I haven't heard such a great opening track to an album for quite some time. It just makes you want to jump up and thrash that Air Rickenbacker 360/12.

photo courtesy of Megan Bennett

With just enough time to take a breath we're straight in with track two as the jangling guitars and speaker to speaker drums bring in All Kinds Of People. It's an anthemic joy and features questioning and anwering guitar phrases over tuneful drumming from Jamie that brings to mind Keith Moon from The Who. The track features a terrific wailing guitar that just begs to be answered.

'There are some kinds of people who don't think before they speak, there are some kinds of people who prey upon the weak.'


While you are left trying to catch your breath the boys just push the sound that much further with those jangling Rickenbackers & Danelectros, with what sounds like backwards guitar which The Beatles & The Byrds trademarked back in the 60s, which provide the backing to the truly magnificent title track, Searching For The Supertruth. The Spires have never been ashamed of showing their influences such as The Byrds, The Beatles, Big Star, Tom Petty - to name but a few. The guitars and multi-layered harmonies (the kind which only siblings can seem to conjure up) bring to mind these terrific musical influences.

'Sometimes you're a ripple, sometimes you're a wave, sometimes you're a footnote at the bottom of the page.'




After the breathtaking first three tracks, the Spires then slow the pace down with one of the more alternative sounding tracks on the album, the distinct shuffle of Strange Glue with an insistent piano riff. This is the first track that gets me thinking that Robin Bennett may have the spirit of Ray Davies buried underneath that skin of his. His wordsmithery and vocal phrasing bring to mind that great songwriter.



Although hailing from Oxfordshire, The Dreaming Spires have always had every other heartbeat in America and the next track up, the plaintive and intoxicating Easy Rider has the taste of the desert and the plains. It reminds me in structure of the excellent Johnathan Wilson track called Moses Pain from his Fanfare album. And at the moment, it is my favourite track on the album. It builds from a gentle balled into a widescreen epic. I have been privileged to see the guys perform this track live, with Simon from the band The Rosellys on extra guitar and it sounds like one of those 70s American classics like Freebird.

Robin Bennett & Simon Roselly




The next track sees the band return to America for their inspiration with another show stopping track (this album has SO many highlights) the EPIC Dusty In Memphis. The track has an autobiographical feel to it - again bringing to mind the great Ray Davies. The track starts off with a pounding beat and builds into a hymnic anthem with layered guitars and even sax provided by Geoff Widdowson (or Free Jazz Jeff) from Danny & The Champions Of The World (of whom Robin & Joe have been members in the past).



YOU KNOW WE GOT SOUL!!!!!

If this was the end of the album, you'd have thought that you'd have heard a classic album. But, there's even more....




The calm always follows the storm and after the emotional storm of Dusty In Memphis we are brought down to earth again with the beautiful, We Used To Have Parties. This is a glistening, shimmering, slow dance of a track featuring the sublime vocals of Sarah Cracknell (from St Etienne - with whom Robin & Joe have been working recently). It has a gorgeous melody and is coloured by the lovely lap steel of Joe Bennett.

This version with the excellent Lisa Redford on vocals


If I Didn't Know You sees The Spires return to the melodic, upbeat 60s jangling as Robin gives it the full McGuinn with lightning strumming opening into a song that Tom Petty or Roger McGuinn would have been proud to have written. It is joyous and uplifting and is really the only track that could have slipped easily onto their debut from this album. Such is the progression the band have made on Searching For The Supertruth.


Next up is the brief but slinky When The Magic Comes which sounds like a 70s track with it's electric piano & organ sounds.

The final track on the album is the 7 minute So Pretty. Based around an initial piano and bass riff, it sounds as if it's it's come straight from the Laurel Canyon writers of the 1970s. With Organ and guitars joining the magical swirling mix of the sounds. The Track then builds into an epic multi level musical experience. If last tracks often point the way to the next albums then we're in for a very interesting third album by The Dreaming Spires.

I have to admit that this record (yes, I have the vinyl version - which also includes the EP) has never been far from my music playing devices. I have played it countless of times and I still think it is a magnificent achievement. The songs are memorable and varied, both uplifting and emotional in equal measure.

The Brothers Bennett have created a majestic album only two albums in. What other musical beauties do they have up their sleeves? God Only Knows but any band that can namecheck Pacific Ocean Blue and The Madcap Laughs has a special place in my heart. And The Dreaming Spires certainly do.

And remember - The Answer's All Inside


Just get this album - if you have a turntable, invest in the vinyl. It's a double!



Twitter - @dreaming_spires




Albums Of 2015: Special Mention - Clubhouse Records

I had Great Expectations at the start of 2015 when I launched on this year's series of blog posts. For my Albums Of 2015, I was going to put up a post of each of my top albums of the year together with videos, pics, etc. As I have done in the past, but all over a few days at the end of the year. However, life and gigs got in the way this year so I will not have the time to give each album the attention I believe it deserves. Next year, it will be back to my normal postings of giving my albums of the year throughout the year, as they very rarely change. But this year - I will list the albums in FOUR parts - and THREE special posts. I have already put a few up which can be seen by clicking HERE. However - enough waffle - let's get started.

A SPECIAL MENTION FOR 
CLUBHOUSE RECORDS


I've made it no secret that Clubhouse Records is my favourite UK record label. 

But for one small independent label to come up with 4 killer releases in 2015 is truly astonishing.

I have already stated that both The Dreaming Spires and Don Gallardo are one of my albums of the year.




Joining those two brilliant records on my Albums Of 2015 list are


 The Rosellys - The Granary Sessions 


'Album number 3 by The Rosellys finds them in fine form. Led by Rebecca & Simon Rosellys who write all the songs, their authentic Americana/Country is born from years of touring the USA.
The album is produced by Alex Elton-Wall from another Clubhouse band The Redland Palomino Company.'





Twitter - @TheRosellys


AND

Case Hardin - Colours Simple.


'This new work by Case Hardin is a cut above most of the Americana albums released this year. The band's songwriter Pete Gow has the soul of a poet and the spirit of a rocker as he leads the band through their strongest release yet'.






Twitter - @CaseHardin


Not only have Clubhouse released these 4 superb albums, they have signed American Country artist Cale Tyson and drawn together all of his initial EPs to release on an album Introducing Cale Tyson. Cale is set to release a new lp next year and a tour of the UK - so check him out.






Twitter - @caletyson




Albums Of 2015: Part 3

I had Great Expectations at the start of 2015 when I launched on this year's series of blog posts. For my Albums Of 2015, I was going to put up a post of each of my top albums of the year together with videos, pics, etc. As I have done in the past, but all over a few days at the end of the year. However, life and gigs got in the way this year so I will not have the time to give each album the attention I believe it deserves. Next year, it will be back to my normal postings of giving my albums of the year throughout the year, as they very rarely change. But this year - I will list the albums in FOUR parts - and THREE special posts. I have already put a few up which can be seen by clicking HERE. However - enough waffle - let's get started. Here's PART 3.


Danny & The Champions Of The World - 
What Kind Of Love



'The Best Live Band in the UK bring home the bacon yet again with a superb set of songs and with Danny Champ, one of the most charismatic front men in music'




Twitter - @Dannythechamp








Stornoway - Bonxie




'One of the best young bands in the UK - growing in stature with sophisticated songwriting and production deliver a gem of an album in Bonxie'

Twitter - @StornowayBand








Downes Braide Association - 
Suburban Ghosts



'YES & ASIA keyboard player Geoff Downes & Songwriter Chris Braide join forces to produce an AOR classic as Downes returns to his melodic pop roots. More hooks than a fishing tackle shop.'



Twitter - @asiageoff









Danni Nicholls - Mockingbird Lane


'Album number 2 from Danni Nicholls continues where debut A Little Redemption left off and adds even more of that authentic Nashville Country vibe'




Twitter - @DanniNicholls








David Corley - Available Light



'A debut release at age 53 is not your usual entrance into a career in music but with David Corley, it's been worth the wait. 53 years of experience distilled into one musical journey.'



Twitter - @DavidCorleyINDY











Albums Of 2015: Part 2

I had Great Expectations at the start of 2015 when I launched on this year's series of blog posts. For my Albums Of 2015, I was going to put up a post of each of my top albums of the year together with videos, pics, etc. As I have done in the past, but all over a few days at the end of the year. However, life and gigs got in the way this year so I will not have the time to give each album the attention I believe it deserves. Next year, it will be back to my normal postings of giving my albums of the year throughout the year, as they very rarely change. But this year - I will list the albums in FOUR parts - and THREE special posts. I have already put a few up which can be seen by clicking HERE. However - enough waffle - let's get started. Here's PART 2.

The Staves - If I Was


'With the help of Justin Vernon aka Bon Iver - The three Staveley-Taylor sisters produce an album of maturity & depth that grows beautifully from their debut, Dead & Born & Grown.'



Twitter - @thestaves






Bob Collum & The Welfare Mothers - 
Little Rock


'Americana with Heart & Soul - uptempo with touches of Southern Gothic - full of great tunes and attitude'


Twitter - @bobcollum








The Unthanks - Mount The Air




'So much more than Folk artists - one of the bravest records of 2015 - supreme dynamism and songs that transcend any genre'

Twitter - @TheUnthanks






The Luke Jackson Trio - This Family Tree EP


'Stepping out from the solo spotlight shows a new aspect to this superb young Singer/Songwriter - fantastic songs and a superb new sound'



Twitter - @lukepauljackson








Albums Of 2015 - Part 1

I had Great Expectations at the start of 2015 when I launched on this year's series of blog posts. For my Albums Of 2015, I was going to put up a post of each of my top albums of the year together with videos, pics, etc. As I have done in the past, but all over a few days at the end of the year. However, life and gigs got in the way this year so I will not have the time to give each album the attention I believe it deserves. Next year, it will be back to my normal postings of giving my albums of the year throughout the year, as they very rarely change. But this year - I will list the albums in FOUR parts - and THREE special posts. I have already put a few up which can be seen by clicking HERE. However - enough waffle - let's get started.


Trent Dabbs - Believer


'One of Nashville's finest songwriters puts collaborations to one side to produce an album worthy of his talent.'

Twitter - @trentdabbs





Public Service Broadcasting - The Race For Space


'You won't hear another record like this in 2015 - Innovative, Brave & Uniquely Melodious'



Twitter - @PSB_HQ





Nad Sylvan - Courting The Widow


'Stepping into the Light - Nad Sylvan delivers an album as Epic in Scope as his onstage persona - The Vampirate'




Twitter - @SylvanOfficial





The Stone Foundation - A Life Unlimited


'One of the hardest working bands in the UK - keeping Soul Music alive and relevant - growing in stature and importance with every release - Soulful & Glorious'



Twitter - @stonefoundation






Bella Hardy - With The Dawn




'Unique in Sound & Presentation - searching out new colours and directions - beguiling and challenging in equal measure'

Twitter - @bellahardy 














Monday, 14 December 2015

Albums Of 2015: Gretchen Peters - Blackbirds


Some say that Country Music is all about Love, Death & Drinking! Well, in the case of Blackbirds by Gretchen Peters, I'll take just Love & Death - and definitely not only Country. OK - she may have been inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall Of Fame last year but Gretchen Peters is SO much more than Country. If I had to place her in Any catagory, which I hate doing by the way, then I would place her in Singer/Songwriters, along with people such as Jimmy Webb, Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne etc.

From the mandolin strum of opening track Black Ribbons you know you're in some pretty dark territory. Even though it is sweetened with some lovely harmonies. You can almost close your eyes and here it being covered by Johnny Cash on his American Series albums. 


I haven't heard many albums this year where every track is a beauty - but Blackbirds is one of them and the next track Pretty Things just sums up the album perfectly for me.


The House On Auburn Street is based around a true story of watching someone's house on fire. 'Dogs are barking now, and the kids are hypnotised'


Although it's subject matter may be from the darker side of life (and death), it is not morose or cloying. You can hear celebration in the almost Gospel-like Jubilee.


For an album of such poetic darkness Gretchen and her songwriting partners have conjured up some absolutely gorgeous melodies on Blackbirds - and none better than the beautiful closer, Cure For The Pain. When Gretchen was working on Blackbirds in 2013 - in one week she attended three memorial series and a wedding - it kind of makes you question mortality. As I play the album, I keep thinking it isn't a mile away from something that Bruce Springsteen might have written. Perhaps a more produced version of Nebraska would be somewhere in the ballpark.



The whole point of this blog - is to point you in the direction of music that has moved me - for whatever reason - not to dissect the whole album. I'll leave it up to you to discover the other jewels in this record. And they are many. And you will see your own stories, your own experiences, your own laughter and sadness. To me, it's a beautiful record. And that's enough.

Twitter - @gretchenpeters

 http://www.gretchenpeters.com/