Friday, 26 February 2016

Spotlight 2016: Jones - Happy Blue

I'll come clean right from the start. Unless he decides to record an album of Death Metal or Rap, any Trevor Jones record will make my Albums Of The Year. Even if he recorded the phone book, I'd probably put that in the list. He is the most consistently superb musician I have come across in the last 20 years.

So, with that out of the way, let me justify my decision to include Happy Blue on my 2016 list.

The album is a result of a year in which Trevor Jones lost both his father and his father-in-law. 
We all deal with grief in our individual ways. For Trevor, he poured his heart and grief into song.

But don't expect an album full of dirge.

This album wears the Perfume Of Sorrow.

But it is not grief-laden. There are shades of life and hope.

And most of all, Love.

Once again, Trevor is joined by his Miracle Mile partner, the multi-instrumentalist and producer Marcus Cliffe, providing guidance and instrumentation.

The album opens with a 53 second vignette called First - completed on the last track, called Last.

It's soft and plaintive and ease the listener into the first song, Ghost Of Song. 

It's a soft and gentle, almost acoustic song with a layer of pedal steel and organ. 

With any Trevor Jones or indeed Miracle Mile album, the sound is crystal clear and you can hear every word that Trevor Jones sings - and what a pleasure this is, as there is a lot of emphasis put on the words of these songs. Trevor is indeed a poet. It's certainly levels above most of what you would hear on a normal everyday rock/pop song.

From this gentle beginning, we move onto the title track, Happy Blue.

Death is the shadow that dances around this album. But as with the track Happy Blue, it is not maudlin. It wraps it's arms around you and whispers into your ear that it's OK to be sad, it's OK to remember, memories are made of magic and they stay with you always.

'But this unholy undertow is home to me'

Lovers Never Tell, swings, yes swings, gently as the piano, brushed drums and woodwind create a beautiful backdrop to the tapestry of Trevor Jones' words as her talks of his lover.

'There lies my Lover, as feckless as a breeze.'

Now, Trevor is a master of conjuring nostalgic visions. Many of his songs in the past have brought memories to the surface of times and events of the days gone by. Again, Naked As Adam is it a song about loss. 

Religious imagery is abundant throughout the album, with words such as Angels and Prayers but balanced with nostalgic, almost childlike phrases such as Truth & Dare.

With Melvin Duffy and BJ Cole to add the melancholic Pedal Steel Guitar over the guitar and muted organ the track breezes along. And yes, there's even a first for a Trevor Jones song, a saxophone layer to take away some of the sadness.

'Now, I've seen too many funerals, for the past to rearrange, as I sit her in neutral, waiting for the lights to change.'

Three Kisses is a simple song with an almost nursery rhyme-like melody that is gentle, short and sweet. A glimmer of light in an album of poetic darkness.

'She doesn't know she doesn't care, truth tangled as her auburn hair, the autumn leaves are everywhere, like missives from above'

If you sometimes feel like the album literally dances around you then you're probably not mistaken. Dance is an important metaphor in so many ways for Trevor Jones and it resurfaces in the track Weakness and Wine with it's waltz beat. Introduced with a simple piano backdrop with track builds with pedal steel and what sound like plucked banjo or mandolin. It has it's heart in a drinking song, I'm sure. You can imagine it being sung while everybody has a skinful. 

Not all funerals have to be sad - some are an Irish Wake.

If there is one track which is unusual in the scheme of the whole album it is the next track, Cartwheels. It is an atmospheric track based on a drumbeat and percussion layered with simple electric guitar and featuring the female vocals of Lucinda Drayton. It sounds like a track that Peter Gabriel might have included on one of his albums. A track such as Mercy Street. 

'No Happy Blues, no Sorry Reds, nothing cast a shadow as you danced from dawn into bed'

St Cecilia, the Patron Saint Of Music, is a hymn to the power of music as a healer. Like most of the melodies on this album, it is simple and captivating, with that beautiful melancholy that seeps through the album like a name through a stick of seaside rock. It is a very moving answer to the themes that reoccur throughout the album.

'Your eyes were watching God, while my eyes were watching you, if I called my dream would you make my dream come true.'

The key song for me of the album comes next. And I have no shame in admitting that it made me cry the first time I heard it and it still has the power to bring a tear to my eyes now, even after I've heard it SO many times.
It is a song Trevor has written directly to his father, about his father (and mother), it's called simply Battersea Boy.
For anyone who has lost a father, it is especially poignant.

It's a piano ballad, with simple phrasing and pedal steel and woodwind colouring washes. And it's simply gorgeous. You can almost hear Trevor breaking up as he sings it. How he kept himself together while singing this I'll never know. He must have known he'd written something special. 

'These words I stumble through, the semblance of a song, I hope that they ring true, seems where they belong, My heart was shaped by you, a little short on joy, but fashioned straight and true like a Battersea Boy'

After the killer track that is Battersea Boy, Trevor lightens the mood with another beauty, Misbegotten Moon. It is a song draped in the pedal steel, organ and marimba, a song of subdued joy, again, cloaked in waltz beat. 

'So we made a promise, witnessed by starlight, and sworn on that dappled delight, we'll always be lovers, and starting tomorrow, forever be joined by the light'

In an album full of the most gorgeous songs and melodies, My Muffled Prayer makes it's way to the top of this reviewer's list.

Another sweeping and understated epic ballad, it is a song of loss, longing, hope, redemption and most clear of al,l Love. A Love that lasts a lifetime. A Forever Love. For me, it's as close to a Van Morrison epic as Trevor Jones has ever attempted. And by God he pulls it off with subtle grandeur.

We can't change what has happened but we can bear the scars and we can learn to live with the pain and hopefully bring joy into the lives of others.

It's the album's prayer for redemption, for experiencing joy again, for hope.

'Begin Again'

The album ends with Last, a reprise of the first song of the album but this time with a spoken poem track. Revisiting some of Trevor's earlier solo work, especially Hopeland.

It's a beautiful way to close this particular chapter of his life.

Happy Blue - has sorrow ever sounded so beautiful?

'Every day, my first thought and last'

Images courtesy of Marcus Cliffe 

Twitter - @hissytrev

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Live In 2016: Down By The River 4 with M.G. Boulter, Jess Vincent & Blind River Scare

Tim Manning - aka Blind River Scare is building up quite a heritage with the Down By The River concerts.
Held in Barnabas Arts House in Newport, South Wales, the concerts are based downstairs in the intimate staged area.
It's a case of bring your own drinks, and in my case the now traditional scented candle, and settle down to watch the three artist concert.

Now on it's 4th show - Down By The River tonight features Blind River Scare up first - as always - tonight it's only Tim with Stuart on other duties down west.

The Blind River Scare play Americana/Alt Country songs, self penned by Tim Manning and are of a high quality indeed and tonight is no exception.

Tim always opens the Down By The River gigs and tonight is no exception. 

Tonight he gives us the usual top-notch spirited performances of several of his best known songs.

We are treated to Keep Saying Sorry, When You Walk Away and even a new song called But Still You Stay.

At Down By The River 3, Tim and Stuart performed an excellent version of Wreck On The Highway by Bruce Springsteen and tonight he performed another unexpected cover to the delight of the Newport audience. A terrific version of the Jackson Browne song Rosie.

Tim then ended his set with No Remorse Guilt Or Shame from his latest release Point Of No Return.

So a great start to a great evening.

Tonight's first guest artist is the Wiltshire based Singer Songwriter Jess Vincent. Jess has recently released her latest album Shine and took to the stage alone with just her guitar and ukulele for company. Blessed with a lovely voice, she has a certain attractive vulnerability which suits her songs perfectly.
Tonight she opens her set with the plaintive Sail Away, which is the opening song from her second album Seesaw Dreams.

In her nine songs set - Jess showed how her songwriting has matured over the three albums she has released so far.

The second song in the set was also from Seesaw Dreams and was a rather lovely version of Annie Bonnie - together with an engaging explanation about the genesis of the song.


Next up we had a lift in the mood with the upbeat title track from Jess' latest album Shine. I can hear echoes of Kate Bush in her voice - no bad thing - and it fits in perfectly to the folk stylings of her songs. But I think there is a hidden depth within her which so far has yet to be explored - much in the way that Bella Hardy has blossomed with her recent With The Dawn album.

We had a nice surprise next with Jess giving us a version of the traditional John Hardy. Using just hand percussion it highlights her delicate voice and got a great reaction from the audience.

It was a gig where the audience were appreciative of all the tracks that Jess performed tonight and was shown by the brisk business that Jess was doing after her set at the merchandising table. Always a good sign.

It was clear that Jess' performance won her lots of new fans tonight - but she wasn't finished yet.

Jess is friends with singer songwriter Reg Meuross and she played a gorgeous cover of one of his songs tonight - Jealous.

with two songs still to go in the set, Jess' gave us a glimpse into her softer side with two lovely tracks - Love Me True and Fetch My Heart.

Jess is certainly a singer songwriter to watch out for. She seemed confident up on stage and had a delicate demeanor which was both engaging and captivating. This was a perfect venue for Jess as she had the intimacy of the venue and an audience that was prepared to remain silent and listen. And they were rewarded with a performance to cherish.

The final artist in tonight's triple header was MG Boulter - or Matthew to his friends. Tonight he was accompanied by  Lizzie O'Connor on Mandolin, percussion and vocals and Paul Ambrose on upright bass and vocals.

Matthew (MG) has just released his fourth solo album - With Wolves The Lamb Will Lie - and tonight's set included several tracks from this excellent new album.

And he opened tonight with Someday The Waves from the new album.

Many of Matthews songs tonight will be reflective. Like Jess' songs, they sound particularly clear and delicate in tonight's venue as I sit there with candles on the tables and the people in the audience giving the songs their complete attention - it reminds me very much of the audiences I have experienced in The Chattery in Swansea. And it's a complete joy. It's great to be able to sit in an audience where you don't have people talking throughout the performance or clanging drink bottles at the bar.

For the second track of the evening - Matthew turns to his previous album, The Water and the Wave to give us a song called Above The Cafe Curtain.

Matthew then sticks with the Water album and plays a spirited version of Half Life where Lizzie and Paul get a chance to show why they are accompanying Matthew tonight. Excellent music indeed.

Matthew has acquired a witty line of banter between the songs and continues to lighten the mood throughout tonight's performance.

As tonight's show is a chance for Matthew to promote his brand new album it would be remiss if he didn't concentrate tonight's on said album.

With that in mind the next 6 songs are all from With Wolves The Lamb Will Lie.

Brother Uncles, Carmel Oakes, Love Trees, Inside The Cellar, Lalita and His Name Is Jean show what a fabulous alum this is and the songs all sound excellent in their live interpretations.

Matthew has a voice that is reminiscent of James Taylor with a little bit of Paul Simon thrown in for good measure.

For the next song, Matthew turns to the EP he released with Samantha Whates called The Boatswain's Manual and a track called Westcliff, which Matthew went on to explain is a song based on a story of Neil Young visiting the UK back in the 70s where he wrote a song called Daughters, which was never released. Matthew's song is called Westcliff - and it's superb.

The set tonight closes with another song from the new album called appropriately The Last Song.

But the audience wanted some more and Matthew, Paul & Lizzie obliged by playing Evelyn from The Water album.

It was great to see such an appreciative audience at the venue tonight and especially good to see the Merch Table doing some brisk business.

Tim Manning is building up a good venue down there in Newport and it's good to see the shows being supported.

With Down By The River 5 already being planned I'm looking forward to breaking out my can of V and scented candle once again in May.

Twitter - @blindriverscare



Thursday, 18 February 2016

Spotlight 2016: Paul McClure - Songs For Anyone

Is it too early for an Album Of 2016 - I think not - and I'm not going to get caught short this year so I'm going to call em as I see em in 2016.

The brilliant CLUBHOUSE RECORDS have come up with an absolute winner with their first one out of the traps in 2016.

Now, I must confess that I have been living with this album for a while after picking up a copy on Paul's seemingly never ending tour of House Concerts and small venue appearances in the run up to the release of Songs For Anyone.

Paul would describe this as his second debut album for Clubhouse Records - yes, he's odd that way. Songs For Anyone follows last year's stunning Smiling From The Floor Up - which also achieved an Album Of 2014 place in my 2014 Blog.

So, what has Mr McClure brought to the table for Songs For Everyone?

Well - have a look at this first and then I'll continue.

OK - so now you know that Paul took up the offer from Dreaming Spires multi instrumentalist Joe Bennett to lead the show and produce the album.
Whereas Smiling From The Floor Up was very much a solitary affair for Paul and the songs suited the stripped back minimal approach of Paul's initial songwriting, Joe Bennett has brought more of a band feel to Songs For Anyone with a much more textured and colourful experience this time around.

Joe Bennett has been involved in several excellent albums recently including The Dreaming Spires superb Searching For The Supertruth and Co-Pilgrims excellent Slows To Go and he does a superb job in driving Paul McClure to produce a real beauty of an album.

The colours are firmly nailed to the mast from track one with Gentleman's Agreement. An upbeat Americana number that features layers of harmony and pedal steel - and for this album, the appearance of drums. This track alone marks this album's difference from its predecessor. 

Quite a few of these songs seem to have had a long gestation with the next track Unremarkable Me has seemingly been around for quite a while. Showcasing the sublime vocals of Hannah Elton-Wall from labelmates, The Redlands Palomino Company, who features throughout the album. And also gives Paul the opportunity to blow his harmonica for the world.

Paul's songs are grounded in the reality of life, with friends and especially family vignettes and observations taking centre stage on an album that heads straight for your heart and doesn't let go. The songs may seem simple at first play but with continued plays the album gets under your skin and you can hear the lovely harmonies and touches that Joe Bennett has inserted into the mix.

I Could Be A Happy Man is one such song about the joy of making music. It sounds like it could have been an outtake from one of The Bands early albums recorded out there in Big Pink.

'These Are The Times You're Never Gonna Want To Give Back'

Don't Take Me Under slows the place right down. It is a gorgeous song and is unashamedly romantic, again plainly presented with basic instruments such as acoustic guitar, piano and a beautiful wash of organ and builds to a lovely hymnic finale.

Every Day Is Mine To Spend is just Paul, his guitar and Hannah on duet vocals. It's the one song on the album that could have easily been included into the simple acoustic offering of Smiling From The Floor Up. Well done to Paul and Joe for just keeping it so simple and effective.

Paul has made no secret of his love for Bob Dylan and the next track up the rhythmic Holding A Ten Ton Load is Paul doing his best Dylan - not an impression at all but you can certainly see where the song gets it's inspiration from. And that's Dylan at his best by the way. Harmonica to the fore. And harmonising it's way to the ragged conclusion.

'Someone else is getting your Good Times... and I wish it was me'

With the next track - So Long - I had visions of Johnny Cash and June at their prime with the waltz swing and those close sung harmonies with Hannah. A good old Country weep in your beer future classic you'll all be singing at the end of the night.

Now, Mr McClure likes a hat - so why not sing about one. The jaunty My Big Head Hat Of Dreams is a joy, with it's mariachi brass and insistent beat it perfectly sums up the new approach on this album. It's upbeat and optimistic. 

'Hit those Fuckers right between the eyes'

Paul McClure would have no issue with telling you that he is a romantic at heart and Yesterday's Lies is up there with the best of the songs of romance. With the backing of string quartet, Paul pours his soul out on to listening public with yet more sublime harmonies supplied by Hannah Elton-Wall. It's the most romantic moment on the album and really touches a nerve in this listener. It brings to mind another of Paul's influences, another Paul from Liverpool.

Joe Bennett has used Hannah to great effect on Songs For Anyone and no more so than on this lovely song.

Paul has been ending the majority of his live sets over the past year or so with the next track up - My Little Ray Of Sunshine - it's a song that encourages crowd participation and Paul certainly does his best to get the crowd to join in when he plays it live. In fact, nobody goes home until he's satisfied. I think 4 hours is his record so far!!

The title track A Song For Anyone is the penultimate track on the album. Acoustically based with the backing of harmonies with Hannah and organ it sweeps across your speakers with a quiet grandeur that sums up the trials and tribulations of the modern day travelling troubadour. Well, Paul is well qualified as he IS The Rutland Troubadour. It's world weary and delicate with an underlying nostalgia for the way music used to be enjoyed.

'Ready with a song for those who would listen, just drop the needle and baby we'd be gone'

It's 6 minutes of undiluted pleasure - and again another superb job by Joe Bennett in the producer's chair.

The last track on the album, Lady Flossington, is a light hearted tribute to Paul's daughter - complete with ukulele and thrown together harmonies, it's simple, effective and off the wall joyous. Stick with the silence as I won't spoil the end for you. 

Songs For Anyone is more in line with Paul McClure the live performer. You get to see the nature of the man and facets of his personality that weren't revealed in Smiling From The Floor Up. And we have to thank all those involved in the album for bringing those facets to the fore. 

Paul is out on the road as we speak, both in his solo house concerts and sometimes with backing musicians forming The Local Heroes when the circumstances allow.

If you get a chance to go and see him live then take it. He has a humorous personality and a great set of one liners to boot. And a bagful of superb songs just waiting to be heard. And I am proud to call him my friend.

Tell him Macwood sent sent you. You may even get a hug!

Twitter - @PMcCluremusic

But don't just take my word for it - here are some of the other reviews for Songs For Anyone.