Album Review :: Elvis Costello & The Imposters – The Return Of The Spectacular Spinning Songbook!!!

“It pulls you in so much, you feel as though you could stick out your tongue and potentially catch a bead of Costello perspiration…”

For 25 years Costello’s whacky attempt at making a tour that bit more interesting than a usual Elvis rock and roll show (and hell, it works wonders) has laid dormant at the bottom of the ocean of one of musics most iconic figures. Seeing as I hadn’t been born by the time The Spectacular Spinning Songbook last graced this Earth, I was excited as shit to receive an e-mail telling me that not only was it back, but it had been recorded onto a double C.D/DVD combo and there was a copy coming my way.

For anyone who doesn’t know how The Spectacular Spinning Songbook works, basically: The band play some songs, then thrust a couple of members of the audience onto the stage, whilst being MC’d by Costello’s alter-ego Napoleon Dynamite (so that’s where that awful film got its name!) who gets them to spin a huge roulette wheel filled with song titles from Costello’s back catalog and are then popped on a stool to be given an (almost) lap-dance from Katerina Valentina Valentine (who, according to the liner notes, is Tom Waits niece) whilst the band jam through whichever track the wheel stopped on. Sounds pretty good, right?

The thing is, doing this for every song would take far too much time. The audience would get about six or seven songs in total, and special guest Susanna Hoffs (The Bangles) would be on a tour of waiting side stage every night with her fingers crossed, hoping someone landed on ‘Tear Off Your Own Head (It’s a Doll Revolution)’ so the band make the majority of song choices themselves.

The logistics aren’t what’s important, right? Who cares how it happens as long as there’s an abundance of music, which there surely is, with the band playing them as tight and with as much vigorous ecstasy as when they were first written, which they do.

Both the CD and the DVD feature mostly the same show (though the C.D replaces certain DVD songs with alternate tracks from the other S.S.S. dates) and whilst the music is produced to as professional a level as to be expected from someone who has been the pinnacle of rock since he jammed at London pubs in the mid-70’s, there is something extra in watching the show. It’s the intensity. It pulls you in so much, you feel as though you could stick out your tongue and potentially catch a bead of Costello perspiration as he flies through the harder classics like ‘Radio Radio’, ‘Clubland’ and ‘Stella Hurt’.

The Return Of The Spectacular Spinning Songbook does exactly what it says on the tin: It is completely a spectacular return. And, with the exception of the giant wheel, a little audience participation and some “groovy” backing dancers, there isn’t much difference from a standard Costello show, but that’s probably the point. It’s hard to outdo yourself when you give 100% every night like Costello and the boys do, but the additional features of The S.S.S. just add a little more fun to what would be a set of nights featuring some of the most fantastic music ever written. Think of it as the cherry on the cake of what is Elvis Costello live. Wouldn’t you rather have that cake with a cherry? I know I would.

Album Review :: The Magnificent – Bad Lucky

“…there’s thousands of punk bands out there proclaiming their town is the shittest, but no one does it quite as well as The Mags”

Let me pose a question: If you were to take the poetic, typically English, story telling of The Clash and combine that with the angst-ridden, raw, pop-punk of  (old) Green Day, what would you get? The answer to that is The Magnificent and, In a nutshell, their latest offering sounds like the bastard child of the aforementioned.

Whilst Bad Lucky does nothing especially groundbreaking, it is a really solid punk record. Opener, ‘1981’ sets the tone right from the off. It shows that the band aren’t afraid of delving into territories unknown. I mean, how often have you heard a song about a royal wedding with such awesome guitar work? The semi-dystopian world view carries on throughout the entire album, setting it apart from anything else. I mean, there’s thousands of punk bands out there proclaiming their town is the shittest, but no one does it quite as well as The Mags.

Of course, not all of these songs are about decaying towns. ‘Working Mens Club (Part 2)’ – a song that might well be my favourite on the record – focuses on the monotony of the ‘nine to five’ and, presumably, the overall hatred of having to work in a job you hate. This track also offers a change of pace not heard elsewhere on the record, introducing a hard, fast, Descendents-esque sound that would’ve been welcome more than just this once.

There’s also some real good sing-along songs on here too. ‘King Of The Denim Jackets’ springs to mind with it’s catchy opening verse and plethora of ‘woah-ing’ and ‘oh-ing’. Though a resounding cheer of “1990” emanating from the crowd at the next Mags show is a safe bet too.

Honestly, there’s very little wrong with Bad Lucky. Alright, there’s a few sketchy lyrics here and there but, more than any record I’ve heard recently, Bad Lucky has a real old school punk swagger about it. A real nostalgia, not all of which is derived from those songs with dates for titles.

Album Review :: Lucero – Women & Work

“They seem content in sticking with usual topics such as, well, women, work and whiskey…”

This review should have come out a good few days earlier, but, in true Lucero style, I spent my time drinking as much as humanly possible, and watching a lot of good live music. Perhaps not the most professional approach, but I’m sure the boys would understand. Women & Work is the ninth (if you include The Attic Tapes) full length album from, Memphis’ heavy drinking Southern Punks, Lucero, and it’s arguably their best yet.

The first thing I noticed, when I took to some nearby woodland areas to walk around and listen to this album, was just how goddamn incredible the production is. Once again, Ted Hutt was behind the desk during the whole process and he has brought the best out of the band. Whether it be the crisp acoustic guitars on ‘Who You Waiting On?’ (a song which, kind of strangely, is reminiscent of a Jack Johnson track. Ya know, if JJ drank bourbon and scotch daily and wasn’t a massive pansy) or how he brings forward the bass on ‘I Can’t Stand To Leave You’ (a real old school sounding Lucero song) and utilizes the E.Q to perfection, giving the bass a full chunky sound which echoes the sombre subject matter.

With that said, Women & Work doesn’t do much really in terms of progression in this sense. They seem content in sticking with usual topics such as, well, women, work and whiskey, but Lucero tackle these points so well it’d seem insane to waste their talent on anything else.

To say Ben Nichols’ vocals were in any way mellifluous probably wouldn’t be apt, but with each release he progresses significantly and, arguably, has done so more with W&W than ever before. He’s taken a much more soulful approach to his tonality, whilst still maintaining the synonymous whiskey soaked, gravely tones that make him one of the most open and genuine singers in the ‘punk’ scene.

Musically the band seem to have let the country elements to their music fall by the way side a little, with the exception of certain songs such as ‘When I Was Young’. Instead, they have adopted more of a R n’ B/Rock n’ Roll feel, employing these influences to create a much more upbeat Lucero sound.

Lucero used to be the band I’d turn to in hard times of depression, locking myself away, sitting in the darkness, whilst working through a bottle of cheap whiskey. Now they’re the band that push me to unlock my doors, get out into the light…whilst still drinking a shit load of whiskey.

Album Review :: Bruce Springsteen – Wrecking Ball

“…this record makes me believe we might actually change something.”

As much as Wrecking Ball lived up to the hype for me, I’m not blasphemous enough to say it belongs in the same league as the holy trinity (The Wild, The Innocent, and The E Street Shuffle, Born to Run, and Darkness on the Edge of Town), or really any of the early stuff. However, while Wrecking Ball comes up short in a few ways, it does what a Bruce record is supposed to do: it makes you want to be alive.

I don’t listen to Springsteen for the general broad criteria of a rock ‘n roll record, I listen to Springsteen because sometimes life is hard and you just want to lie down and die. Springsteen makes all that seem silly. His music is the reminder that there is hope, and on this record it’s not just an assumed factor. Here it’s the very premise. Bruce is more direct and honest about what he’s trying to do on this record than on any other. Despite its flaws, this is ultimately a record that will make lives better.

The record begins with a challenge: ‘We Take Care of Our Own’ is similar to ‘Born in the USA’, in that if one listens to the chorus it seems like a resounding nationalistic claim of America’s superiority. Instead, it’s an indictment of America’s (and to some extent the entire developed world’s) failure to deliver on the promise of civilization. No one expects the streets to be paved with gold, but they don’t expect to get cast out to die a nameless death in a back alley somewhere either. However, it holds true to its purpose of making us want to live; it is a challenge rather than a condemnation. It challenges us not because we let the dream die, but because we pretended it died when it could very well be still alive if we kept it that way.

Before my devotion continues, I suppose I ought to be fair and admit that there are three songs on the record I wish were not. The second track, ‘Easy Money’, has a good enough premise that echoes the title track from Nebraska. It embodies the criminal to truly explore the negative impact of the state of things. Still, it’s like ‘You’ve Got It’; in that the premise is nice enough, but the execution is sort of flat. ‘Easy Money’ actually bears the line “you put out the dog, I’ll put out the cat,” and while that might be interpreted as the contrast of a common daily activity against the crime that the husband and wife are preparing to commit, it’s just awkward. ‘You’ve Got It’ is just an unnecessarily repetitive love song. While those two are guilty for doing too little, ‘Rocky Ground’ is guilty of doing too much. It’s a lot like ‘Outlaw Pete’: That song is generally pretty fantastic, except for the part at the beginning wherein Bruce recounts the titular character committing a robbery… As an infant. This is the sort of thing that might be better left unsaid, and it’s present on ‘Rocky Ground’ as well.

‘Land of Hope and Dreams’ (the best song on the record) and ‘Rocky Ground’ are essentially the same song, except with an awkwardly flat rap breakdown and no Clarence solo. It’s like telling the same joke twice and messing up the punch line. The contrast is even more notable with the two tracks coming one after another. In fact, that’s similar to ‘Shackled and Drawn’ and ‘Easy Money’. They’re both painfully American borderline country songs about the victimization of the working man, but ‘Shackled and Drawn’ is so much better. And as far as love songs go, ‘This Depression’ beats out ‘You’ve Got It’ without diverting from the core themes of the record.

The album ends on ‘We Are Alive’, which restates the message of persistence in the face of adversity laid out in the title track. Both of these songs are absolutely perfect Bruce songs in my opinion. The whole world economy went to crap thanks to a very few people profiting from deals bound to go bad, and these songs seem to suggest that not only did we tough it out, we won’t back down. While I usually spend my days too cynical to believe it, this record makes me believe we might actually change something.

Finally, ‘Swallowed Up (In The Belly of the Whale)’ is one of several Christian-leaning songs on the record, but it’s worth a listen regardless of the belief system of the listener. Ultimately, it doesn’t preach so much as it uses the parable of Jonah and the Whale. Unfortunately, the placement of this as a bonus track has it following the call to action of ‘Land of Hope and Dreams’ and the statement of integrity in ‘We Are Alive’, and so it really alters the tone of the record.

Having the challenge of ‘Swallowed Up’ followed by the invitations of ‘Land of Hope and Dreams’ and the final confidence of ‘We Are Alive’ really holds true to the album’s political message, while reinforcing the notion that it is truly great to be alive. If you chose to buy the bonus track at that point (and you should) you would be treated by the Boss essentially playing Irish Folk-Punk. While ‘American Land’ is literally a critique of America’s immigration policy, in spirit it’s a loud, fast, energetic song basically asking us not to be jerks to people. Who can’t get behind that?

– Zack Fowler

Review :: Dave Arcari – Nobody’s Fool

On the shoulders of giants.

Nobody's Fool © DixieFrog

Trail blazing a path that has now taken him all across the globe, Dave Arcari has returned with a fourth album, Nobody’s Fool. A regular here on M&B, Dave’s unique brand of delta blues infusion and throaty folk tradition have proven to be great successes for the man in the hat so far.

It seems like an almost incalculably long time since Arcari’s last offering, Devil’s Left Hand stormed onto the country scene in late 2010. By comparison, Got Me Electric is now over two years old and still offers a fresh, invigorating sound to what is one of the oldest genres of music. It is with this same pioneering approach that Arcari delivers Nobody’s Fool.

Recorded between Finland and Arcari’s native Scotland, Nobody’s Fool represents the growing international recognition of the singer himself. This latest offering is his most ambitious to date. That ambition drips from every one of the thirteen tracks with a glossy, conscious production as Arcari is joined by some substantial names from the across the industry. Most notable of these is on “One Blind Side” where drummer Paul Savage of The Delgados fame. Part of one of the most successful, well loved Scottish indie bands of all time, the testimony, is all Arcari’s. This is a collaboration, not an endorsement and, more importantly, something that works.

Featuring previously released tracks re-recorded at Sonic-Pump studios in Finland; the album offers more of what has come to be expected from Aracri. Following a “if it aint broke…” policy, Nobody’s Fool is as throat raspingly raw as it’s predecessors. With a voice that feels like a saw’s blade, the man in the hat takes listeners on long, emotional, heart felt rides with every song. As is customary in Delta Blues, the need to lament, bemoan and generally feel sorry for one’s self is something expertly delivered and weighted in Arcari’s signature brogue. Indeed, had it not already been started in the American bayou, Scotland would no doubt be the blues capital of the universe.

With the added weight of three successful albums behind him, Nobody’s Fool marks a watershed in Arcari’s career. No longer considered a fringe artist in a niche market, this outing will most likely become Dave’s most widely acclaimed piece. Both through general exposure and now substantial touring back catalogue and set to draw from, Arcari is now on the threshold of wider acclaim and recognition across all musical spectrum. The importance of Nobody’s Fool is therefore much greater than simply another forum for new material and re-recorded classics. It is the wide spread calling card that could become synonymous with an artist and his career.

The breakthrough album is what every artist aspires to achieve, that’s just musical fact. Some spend whole careers before achieving the feet, David Bowie being one who slaved through mediocrity before going stratospheric. Others hit the jackpot on their (relatively) first attempt, Michael Jackson’s solo career, The Clash and of course, Guns n Roses. But when the dust settles, the last cocktail drunk and the spoon cooled down, all that matters is the quality of the work left behind.

With that in mind, Nobody’s Fool is an album that will be regarded in the future as a defining moment for Dave Arcari. The potential has been evident for years and success has duly flowed. Thousands of gigs and albums sold are testimony to Arcari’s growing endurance and loyal fan base. The next step therefore awaits, the signature breakthrough for an artist most deserving of the accolades that brings. Time, as it always does, will tell.

For details, and availibility, visit the official website:

Album Review :: Birds That Change Colour – On Recording the Sun

Strap on your skates and dust off your love beads, Psych-Rock is back.

Courtesy of Jezus Factory Records © 2012

Psychedelic-folk rock is not the easiest genre to let roll off of the tongue. Indeed, since its inception way back in the hazy sixties, there have been few markets of popular music as niche and subtle as this. As The Beatles provided a Technicolor master class to start with and Pink Floyd dabbled in the mysteries of the universe seven years later, the folk infused guitar riffs of rock and roll became altogether more relaxed and laid back.

It is from Belgium then that, some four and a half decades later that the latest pretenders to the psych-folk throne come sweeping along in typically haunting and morose manner. Birds That Change Colour (BTCC), a clichéd yet strangely evocative name, are the latest Belgian act bringing their own brand of 60s throwback to the British shores this March. With their debut On Recording the Sun the band set up their tie-dyed shop for the rest of Europe with a surprisingly strong, enjoyable ten track album that packs a lot of bang for the buck.

In keeping with the tradition of the greats who have gone before them, BTCC kick off their work with the hauntingly simple “Stones.” An eerie and simple ode to the nuances of subtle guitar and string work, vocalist, Koen Kohlbacher, creates a lofty ambience that evokes images of a misty early morning wood or lofty sky.

This mixture of high art and emotional imagery continue throughout the album as a whole, none more apparent than in “Playground,” “Oh So Tired” and the 11 plus minute epic “Never Ending First of May,” a track that steals the show from the other ample works. Contrary to this eclectic, borderline gloomy approach to what is generally regarded as bucolic infused neuroticism designed purely to toy with one’s own perception of the universe, there are a number of playfully cheerful songs thrown in for good measure.

“Tales from the Moon,” has all the hall marks of a late Beatles piece of fun, the psychedelic images of distorted cartoons and brightly coloured suits forming almost instantly in the minds of the listeners’, all to the tune of tame drums and the merest hint of sitar. The final track “Oh What a Day” rounds off the album with a Bowie meets Ringo infusion of juvenile story telling that serves perfectly to compliment the rest of the tracks. The guest vocals from Nathalie Delcroix and the pepped up pipes serve as timely reminders that this is a work of art, mainland European art no less and close the work amply, smiles all around.

In all, BTCC have delivered an album that is on the whole enjoyable and fun, two emotions that are very rarely placed together when interpreting modern music. It could be a combination of the wonderfully crafted images, the honorable tributes and throwbacks to the past masters of the genre and the lovingly produced nature of the work that makes On Recording The Sun work. Regardless, only time will tell if it makes an impact abroad.

Jonathan Whitelaw

The band’s official website has tour dates and album availability. Their UK distributors, Jezus Factory Records,, has more details on the March 5th launch.

Review :: Above Them – Are We A Danger To Ourselves?

“Basically…this is a brilliant record”

Blueprint For A Better Time is a record that’s been on constant rotation since I heard it a few years ago, so I was pretty excited to hear what Above Them had in store with their latest offering. You could say I went in with high expectations (probably because I did), but Are We A Danger To Oursleves? hits the spot in a way only an Above Them record can.

Still entrenched somewhere between gruff punk and the ‘harder’ side of indie rock, the band’s latest effort leaves off exactly where their debut began: It’s powerful, energetic and, before you know it, you’ll punching the air and singing along to the catchy hooks. The biggest difference is in the production. The record has a much cleaner sound than the band’s first offering and, whilst I enjoy that record’s more ‘DIY’ sound, nothing that made their debut great has been lost in the transition.

The record is relentless from beginning to end, with a slight change of pace in the middle. Presumably, this is there so you can calm yourself down before they launch into the other half. A change of pace it might be, but ‘On Form Like A Bad Year’ is still undeniably an Above Them track. Oli is in fine voice (as he is throughout), reciting such poignant lines as “I’ll be tired and wasted” and “I’ll be too drunk to move”. In all seriousness though, it’s a great track that stands out amongst a sea of heavy guitar and rousing drum beats.

Other stand out’s include ‘Self Destructive’, ‘Step Back Release’ and, my personal favourite, ‘Temper Like A Hand Grenade’, but these are just three fantastic tracks on a brilliant second outing for the Yorkshire-based band. I’ll admit, I’m not as attached to it as I am to Blueprint…, but I’m sure that’ll come with time. Basically, what I’ve been trying to say for the past 300 and odd words is that Are We A Danger To Ourselves is a record worthy of being in anyone’s collection.

Album Review :: Ani DiFranco – ¿Which Side Are You On?

“…just the correct amount of “right-on” politics, sung soothingly through her Buffalo accent and delivered in a heavily poetical style”

It must have been about 2001, I was thirteen and reading an interview with Alkaline Trio’s guitarist Matt Skiba who was mentioning music that inspired him, one of those acts was Ani DiFranco. A few years later a friend of mine downloaded (illegally) the track Gratitude and I fell in love instantly with the stripped down folk sound and intensely emotive lyrical content. I’d heard one song and I was hooked so I headed to the nearest record shop, which was unfortunately HMV, and thankfully found a copy of 2005’s album Reprieve. The album did not disappoint and as soon as I worked out how the hell to order stuff offline I bought every album by DiFranco I could and have eagerly anticipated every release since.

This album is very much an Ani DiFranco album, her style hasn’t changed massively since the 90’s and her initial self titled full length release, but this is by no means a bad thing. If the phrase “if it isn’t broke…” has ever rained true, then Ani is the case in point. That’s not to say the album hasn’t progressed at all, with an interesting use of electronic drums on the title track and the Mars Volta-esque guitar solo two thirds into Amendment, along with the bizarre deep vocal effect on the track J which makes the song sound very much like a homage to the Pennsylvania tripsters, Ween. But apart from some slightly more experimental use of production, the songs themselves feature everything expected from the Feminist virtuoso, featuring just the correct amount of “right-on” politics, sung soothingly through her Buffalo accent and delivered in a heavily poetical style, whilst dashing it all with a tantalising amount of love.
The album is not completely without fault, and the afore mentioned title track becomes a bit of a drag towards the end. Ani’s politics are in the right place but the constant repetition of the title line “Which Side are You on” makes the track sound more of a rant than a justified political statement, but this is only a minor fault on what is otherwise a superb release from Ani.
It wouldn’t be an Ani album without at least a cargo ship full of inspirational lyrics and this record is no exception. There are far too many to mention so I’ll end with what I feel it the most crucial hook in the entire of ¿Which Side Are You On? “If you’re not getting happier as you grow older, you’re fucking up.”

Album Review :: Attack! Vipers! – Deadweight Revival

“…takes the hardcore musicality then adds a punk rock ethos and does this with aplomb.”

There’s something immensely satisfying about slamming your feet progressively on hard concrete, while listening to music that could melt the face of a room full of eight-year-old children. This is how I spent most of my time listening to the first full length from, Southsea hardcore mentalists, Attack! Vipers! Unfortunately I learnt, that without proper running shoes, I could seriously damage my shins. I put the athletic career on hold, but it seems sprint booties will have to go on the next shopping list, as the titans of UK hardcore have released a new record.

One of the greatest things about Deadweight Revival is that, within twenty seconds of listening, it’s clear this is not just another “hardcore” album. There are no cliché beat downs, as used by so many try hard bands trapped in old conventions. They seem terrified to even slightly move away from creating an integral ambience of melodic hardcore, which often comes across as sounding like a slightly better polished, more superior, technical rendition of Will Haven’s Carpe Diem. In fact, Deadweight Revival even puts the bands previous efforts to shame, with the vocal ability of singer Joe Watson pushing forward into a more mellifluous, yet still entirely brutal, timbre, putting him on a pedestal when compared to other vocalists of the genre.

Vocals are not the only thing Deadweight Revival does to push the hardcore genre to the next level. In terms of musicality, the record shows a much more intrinsic side to A!V!, with guitars that switch between nimble licks, beastly distorted chords and andante sections so seamlessly it makes the record almost impossible to put into the “hardcore” pigeon-hole. Sometimes it sounds like hardcore, other times it sounds like power metal and, occasionally, you get a part which would probably be very much at home on a fucking Sigur Ros release.

The band’s self proclaimed style of being “somewhere between The Suicide File and Envy” is hard to deny. The similarities are there but at the same time there’s so much much to the Vipers than just that. Deadweight Revival takes the hardcore musicality then adds a punk rock ethos and does this with aplomb. In doing so, it creates an energetic sound that UK hardcore had missed dearly since the departure of, Manchester’s finest, Fill the Void.

I could say Deadweight Revival was by the far the best UK hardcore album I’d heard in a long time, but I’d be lying. It’s the best I’ve heard…EVER. Attack! Vipers! have far surpassed expectations with this record, and if any band were to be at the forefront of reviving UK hardcore – a genre what could arguably be called a dying one – then these guys are sure to be it. This record proves that.

Album Review :: The Menzingers – On The Impossible Past

“They’ve mastered catchy choruses, pounding rhythms, and everything else that was special about their back catalogue.”

On The Impossible Past is the third album from The Menzingers, and their first on Epitaph Records. I was lucky enough to hear this record before most – when they took Leagues Apart, Dave and I from Philly to FEST 10 last year – but unfortunate enough to have to go without hearing it for the following three months.

Compared to previous efforts, On The Impossible Past is less in your face, and more in you head. The chorus of ‘Burn After Writing’ has been running through my head daily since I first I heard it. This is a more mature and accomplished record.

I honestly believe that there’s no filler songs, and no songs that are a little bit worse than others on this record. It’s thirteen tracks of absolute quality. The album flows so flawlessly that even at 45 minutes in total, you still find yourself going back to track one (‘Good Things’) and starting all over again.

The Menzingers sound all grown up. They’ve mastered catchy choruses, pounding rhythms, and everything else that was special about their back catalogue. Expect to see On The Impossible Past in many ‘Best of 2012’ lists come the end of the year.

5 stars out of 5, 11/10 and 3 golden globe nominations.

– Kieran Kelly