Album Review :: Jim Lockey & The Solemn Sun – Death

“It takes what was there and improves on it but, at the same time, it doesn’t lose any of what made you fall in love with the band in the first place.”

I was first introduced to Jim Lockey & The Solemn sun a few years back at Lexapalooza, and I’ve been a fan ever since. Their, self proclaimed, “country without the ‘O'” tunes have been a constant for me since that fateful day, so I was pretty excited to finally get my hands on the lads’ latest effort. And I was right to be excited, because Death is absolutely awesome (wow, that was a weird sentence to write), albeit a bit of a departure from what they’ve done before.

Granted, it starts off pretty similar, the soft strumming of an acoustic guitar and Jim’s soothing vocals opening up the album on ‘England’s Dead’. This softness last’s about a minute before being pushed aside by the wail of an electric guitar and the crash of cymbals, a force that continues throughout. It’s a more powerful record that’s for sure, with the boys edging towards quite a punk sound on occasion. Shit, they’ve even got a twenty-second song in ‘Sail Me Down The River’ – it doesn’t get much more punk than that!

This new found power has made The Solemn Sun even more integral when it comes to how this record sounds. I’m not saying they didn’t play a key role on Atlases, but those songs always felt lead by Jim’s acoustic and that the band were there just to provide subtle backing. On Death the band is vital. Without the band (in one form or another) some of these songs just wouldn’t be the same. In a way it reminds me of, label mate, Frank Turner’s Poetry Of The Deed: There are still tracks like those found on the last record – ‘Our Fathers’ stands out as the perfect example of Jim really carrying a song (and doing it well, I might add) – but for the most part, the band is really an integral part of the listening experience. That comes as no surprise, when you find out who was sat behind the desk.

Producer extraordinaire, Pete Miles really knows how to bring the best out of an already great band. The man has produced some of the best records in ‘alternative’ music (to use a catch all term) in recent years – including, my favourite record of last year, Great Cynics’ Don’t Need Much and, the absolutely amazing, Born To Ruin by Crazy Arm – so having him work with guys as talented as this feels like a match made in musical heaven. It’s really paid off too as, not only does it sound powerful, it sounds slick too. That’s not to say that it doesn’t get a little rough in spots, but it’s easy to give those a pass when the record is so good overall.

Death does everything a good second album should. It takes what was there and improves on it but, at the same time, it doesn’t lose any of what made you fall in love with the band in the first place. It still feels like a folk record, albeit one that comes out and hits you in the face, the lyrics are still poignant and the songs are as good as, if not better than, those that came before.

Trust me, you can expect big things from these guys in the future.

Album Review :: Brendan Kelly & The Wandering Birds – I’d Rather Die Than Live Forever

“…fuck contentment, this is more a feeling of being elated”

Brendan Kelly & The Wandering Birds is the latest of the many pies Brendan Kelly has his sticky Chicago fingers in. I’d Rather Die Than Live Forever is Kelly’s first wholly solo outing. To say that at least 97% of the punk rock community  are salivating over the prospect of a new BK outing would not be an overstatement. In fact, tt might just be the exact percentage to hedge your bets on.

The first thing that strikes me about this record is just how damn curious it is as a release. Stylistically, it seems to skirt around three different areas: One quarter sounding like Lawrence Arms demos, two quarters sounding as if they’d fit perfectly comfortable on a Falcon LP, and the remainder….hell, I still don’t think I’ve figured that part out fully yet. So lets look at this curious chunk in some detail.

The first of the curio-styled tracks the third track, ‘A Man With The Passion Of Tennessee Williams’, which is like nothing I’ve ever heard from the mouth/appendages of BK. The track seems to lend less of an influence from his punk roots and more from a sort of pseudo-industrial background, a la Marylin Manson. This is not the first time something dark as hell has come from an otherwise punk background (the other more recent example also comes from the windy city, with Matt Skiba’s Heavens). Perhaps Brendan’s a big Joy Division fan too? (Though I can’t see that myself).

Another example of this new approach to the usual BK style is ‘Dance Of The Doomed’, which lends its musicality from a very gypsy tinged tradition. If you think along the lines of Gogol Bordello and/or Franz Nicolay you’re going in the right direction. Both these examples, though new paths to tread, seem to work quite effectively so it seems BK is not a “one-trick,” gravelly voiced, pony.

That last point allows us the transition quite smoothly into my next point, the vocals. Here we see a less gritty, almost soulful, BK. Though he still maintains a punk rock tone, and often breaks into the growl that is synonymous with his vocals. Yet even these instances are met with a new found confidence and ability to push the boundaries of his range. In short, he’s a much more accomplished singer on this record.

The album is not without fault, though. The production is a little sketchy, but thankfully this doesn’t take too much from the songs and, as said previously, the album seems to be a mash of various styles. And although an album by no means has to or should stick to one train of thought, the mesh during ‘IRDTLF’can often come across as slightly muddled. With the exception of the more experimental tracks, the majority of the record could be used in Brendan’s other projects, which begs the question, why aren’t they? (Falcon scheduling issues, perhaps? The biggest problem when running a “superband”).

I Rather Die Than Live Forever is a great collection of songs, but that’s what it is, a collection. It just doesn’t really seem enough to justify an entirely new project with this record, but who knows what The Wandering Birds will hold in the future? What I will say is this, it is clear that while making this record Bredan Kelly had one hell of time, and why shouldn’t he? There’s not nearly enough musicians out in the world where their utter contentment, hell, fuck contentment, this is more a feeling of being elated, with every song written and have the honesty to have this show note after note.

Album Review :: Apologies, I Have None – London

“…runs the emotional gamut, and does it expertly.”

It’s been a long time coming, but Apologies, I Have None have finally released their debut full-length and it’s absolutely fantastic. Having heard everything the band has done up to this point, and seen them live countless times, I always knew that this was going to turn out great. What I didn’t expect was to have my expectations completely shattered, and that’s exactly what’s happened here.

There’s no beating around the bush when it comes to London. ’60 Miles’ hits you in the face right from the off and just doesn’t stop. The overarching theme of England’s capital making the record completely cohesive, and a very easy listen, despite some of the darker, more intense, subject matter. Rarely have I heard a record that can go from completely uplifting, to down and self loathing, and then do the whole thing all over again so seamlessly. This intensity is epitomised in ‘The 26’, but that was just one of the many times this record caught me off guard in the best way possible. It runs the emotional gamut, and does it expertly.

The record also delivers us a more polished Apologies, I Have None. Previous releases have been far from badly produced, but there’s been very little of this quality out there. This becomes especially apparent on the new recordings of ‘Sat In Vicky Park’ and ‘Joiners And Windmills’. Both songs sound better than ever and really fit in well amongst some of the newer, harder, tunes on the record. It also offers up something different, musically. ‘Foundations’ is nothing more than Dan and a piano, the rest of the band taking a back seat. And whilst it doesn’t sound like a ‘typical’ Apologies song, it’s by far the the most interesting song on the record.

Whilst I love how different ‘Foundations’ is and how intense ‘The 26’ gets, it’s ‘Concrete Feet’ – a song about the harsher aspects of life – that stands out as my favourite. The way the music builds in conjunction with the, seemingly self-deprecating lyrics really helps the song hit home. That’s not to say the lyrics aren’t powerful on their own: “You’ll always make mistakes/you’ll always fuck shit up/you will sometimes make bad choices/and blame that shit on bad luck” is just one example of the lyrical tour de force that this song (and the entire record) is.

In fact, everything about London is fantastic (it’s better than the city it’s named after, that’s for sure). So much so, that I’ve found it hard to review. It’s so good that I’ve found it hard to find a fault. I’d have to really start nitpicking to come up with something I didn’t like about these ten songs. I know there’s no such thing as a perfect record, but this might be as close as you’re going to get. It shows off exactly what Apologies, I Have None are all about, and should see the previously uninitiated clamoring for older material and a chance to see them live.

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.

Review :: The Voice

“…spin around in their thrones with all the decorum of The Emperor at a wet t-shirt contest…”

Television talent shows are nothing new and certainly nothing original. Whether the great British public is falling flat on their faces for fifteen minutes of fame. Or warbling out their favorite karaoke hits to a TV audience of millions, it hardly matters anymore.

With that in mind, the BBC has jumped on the bandwagon in a big way with The Voice. Following the successful formula of continental Europe, who says we’re not a part of the EU, The Voice has its roots in the Netherlands. The Beeb therefore has employed “major” stars in their effort to foil the vindictive machinations of Lord and Master of Earth, Simon Cowell.

For those unfamiliar with the concept, and quite frankly why wouldn’t you be, the show compromises four judges listening blindly to aspiring singers. If interested, they will spin around in their thrones with all the decorum of The Emperor at a wet t-shirt contest. Should more than one judge spin around, the contestant has to choose who will be their mentor. Simple really.

So to the judges. The four esteemed representatives of a multi-billion pound industry responsible for social trends, political awareness and the fashioning of infinite taste across the globe.

Up first, the alliterated Danny O’Donoghue, a man so anonymous that MI5 still have no clue who he is. As if to add insult to an already bleeding gash of an injury, he proudly promotes his own band, The Script, as Irish “soft rock.” Credits on Mr. O’Donoghue’s sparkling CV include a nomination at this year’s BRITs for best international act. That, in a nutshell, is it.

Second in the lineup is Jessie J. A vocally sound, enjoyable lyricist with the slightly left field style that is still safe for the masses. Her only problem is her relatively green respectability within the industry. Having enjoyed success as a songwriter to the stars before exploding onto the scene in 2010 with a string of catchy hits, her album sales were moderate at best as was her general billboard performance. The BBC, however, always leaps at the chance to capitalize on a popular star.

Then comes Tom “The Voice” Jones. The only member of this venerable cavalcade of follicle freaks who can spell longevity let alone boast it as an accolade. The man who attracts ladies’ underwear with his throbbing, muscular, pulsing… voice and charm is by far the standout star of the show. He is, of course, the visible difference between BBC programming and other broadcasters. Where The X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent all attract recognizable names, Jones is a five star, silver bullet star and has been for nearly fifty years.

Over 100 million records sold across genres as diverse as R&B, techno, dance and country, he was great friends with Elvis and called Las Vegas his performing home up until as recently as 2011. It therefore begs the question, if offered the chance to be mentored by this legendary music industry figure of the past half century, why would a contestant choose anybody else?

It should also be noted there is a fourth judge. Will.I.Am takes a break from goading aging rock stars and faded prima donnas to boost his UK image as something more than a sideshow in Cheryl Cole’s circus.

The show is fronted by the usual nodding dog combination associated with prime time Saturday night TV. Reggie Yates draws himself up from obscurity while Holly Wiloughby, the woman offered the role of The Joker without the need of any makeup, glares dead eyed at the audience spouting gibberish.

All of this, of course, and nobody has sang a note. It is ironic, therefore that the public is the one constant throughout this latest masquerading of entertainment. They will always be relied upon to buckle and crack for the viewing public’s pleasure and dismissal.

The Voice therefore adds its name to the ever lengthening list of shows that continues to grow momentum year after year. The formula and unique approach to this format is, however, refreshing in its originality. A blind audition plays well to the highly publicized, moral dilemma of contestants failing to make the cut because they do not have “the look”. For every Susan Boyle there are ten Girls Aloud after all.

In that respect, The Voice seeks to level the playing field. But in a market so overly saturated with similar shows and time tested formulae, originality may not be enough to keep viewers interested. On star power alone, however, The Voice is about as premier league as anything currently on television. A quarter of it anyway.

EP Review :: Rob Bywater – The Factory

“…speaks to the people on the lower rungs with a brash honesty not seen in many years.”

The Factory is the second E.P. from, Cleethorpes’ own, Rob Bywater (at least the second I’ve been asked to review, I really liked the first, in fact you can read it here), and it is clear that all the elements that made the first such a strong release have been emphasized on this second outing, creating a more progressive Rob Bywater sound.

Now the word “progressive” can often be construed as another way of saying “egotistical shit”, where an artist concentrates more on showing off musically than good song writing. Bywater does definitely fall into this category. The songs still maintain the simplistic elements of a strong folk record; open chords with occasional arpeggiated riffs. The progression in The Factory EP comes in the form of subtle confidence, not over indulgent cockiness, with Bywater sounding a lot more comfortable in pushing his vocal range to new levels, and doing so with much success.

On the whole, The Factory maintains the Billy Bragg-esque working class commentary that was common place on the Bywater’s first EP. With, opener and title track, ‘The Factory’ telling a modern day tale of redundancy, money struggles and upper class corruption. This is epitomized in the lyrics: “by the end we were a fraction of the men we were before,” and, “wealthy men’s incompetence bankrupt the working man,” which speaks to the people on the lower rungs with a brash honesty not seen in many years.

The point of interest in this four track record is,second track, ‘Brown Hair, Glasses and Big Blue Jeans’, a three-minute melody telling of a love interest met in the boozer. Tackling the subject of romance, even one that seems alcohol fueled, is a new approach for Bywater but one he pulls of quite graciously, maintaining a specific point of focus that reflects everyday life, instead of attempting to tackle love as a huge Disney-style concept and failing horribly like so many.

Rob Bywater remains one of the most honest singer-songwriters in the UK. and his small, yet no doubt loyal, following isn’t so much a mystery but more a testament to how little genuine talent is overlooked by commercial claptrap. We can only hope that this is just a phase before artists like this throw in the towel but, when songs are clearly done with as much love as this, I doubt they ever will.

EP Review :: Harker – Loyal Than Most/Lights Off

“…I reckon you’d be able to guess a few of the records in this guy’s collection”

Well, hasn’t Harker has been a busy boy recently! Having already put two tracks towards a split with Dave Hughes and Emma Hallows, he’s also managed to put out a new three-track EP. Loyal Than Most/Lights Off is a really honest release from the Brighton-based singer/songwriter, and makes for a fantastic introduction for the uninitiated out there.

It’s clear from the beginning that Harker isn’t afraid to wear his influences on his sleeve. Both of his original tracks are very clearly influenced by the likes of Brian Fallon (in particular, The Gaslight Anthem) and Chuck Ragan. From the gravelly vocals, to the subject matter, everything here feels somewhat tainted (not in a bad way), by those two guys. That being said, don’t go thinking they’re generic. They’re far from it, but I reckon you’d be able to guess a few of the records in this guy’s collection.

‘Loyal Than Most’ is certainly the best of the two tracks. It’s got a very folky feel to it, but still has that fight and desperation of a good punk song. Finding a balance between those two genre’s is no easy feat, but Harker manages it with ease. His vocals towards the end have this ‘shouting at the heavens’ kind of feel to them, that only increases the tone of desperation in the track, and makes for a sure fire sing-along when played live.

Second track, ‘Lights Off’ swaps folk for country and, whilst it’s still good, it doesn’t have that special something that grabbed me like the opener. The subtle addition of piano certainly makes it the most instrumentally interesting, but the gang vocals sounded a little flat and didn’t really work for me. It also feels like it’s missing a couple of verses. I really like the theme he’s going for, but it feels like there should be more to it.

A rendition of Jawbreaker’s ‘Do You Still Hate Me?’ rounds out the EP, and the Brightonian’s gravelly vocals work perfectly with the track. The whole EP has a ‘punk goes acoustic’ feel to it, and that’s exactly what this is. Like the opener his powerful vocals really shine through. This makes the lyrics really hit home, something that’s imperative when it comes to a song like this. Not only that, but the track fits thematically within the EP, which never does any harm.

Harker is treading a fine line with this EP. His influences really shine through, and that could really put some people off. However, I think he’s managed to create something that will endear him to the audience that he himself is a part of. ‘Loyal Than Most’ is a real standout, and he does a damn fine Jawbreaker cover. I just wish there was a little more to that second track.

EP Review :: Abbie Broom – Dorothy’s Heels/Pocket Change

“I can see this cropping up on Suedehead, in between ‘I Don’t Care If You Forget Me’ and ‘Dial A Cliche’, but that’s really besides the point isn’t it?”

Having found herself an unlikely addition to the Revival Tour in London last October (courtesy of Mr Fallon), Abbie Broom seems to have gathered plenty of positive attention. All signs point to big things coming from the young singer/songwriter and, if Dorothy’s Heels/Pocket Change is anything to go by, it’s easy to see why.

Right from the off you’re enchanted by Abbie’s voice. Her soft vocal style works fantastically with the, reference heavy, lyrics and once it grabs you it’s hard to stop listening. Though the fairy-tale references do flow thick and fast, they never feel forced. Each of them cleverly rolls into the next with ease, adding a sense of depth to this simple folk song, helping to involve the listener even more than usual. My only gripe with the track is the line “…cheating the world out of a fairy-tale conclusion”, which is almost directly lifted from Frank Turner’s ‘Rock & Roll Romance’.

‘Pocket Change’ allows us to see another side to Miss Broom and her songwriting, and is a much more sombre affair compared to the EP’s opener. Abbie’s vocals have a haunting quality as she describes the world around her, taking note of outdated fashions, cars and architecture. Lyrically, it’s very much like an early Morrissey song. I can see this cropping up on Suedehead, in between ‘I Don’t Care If You Forget Me’ and ‘Dial A Cliche’, but that’s really besides the point isn’t it? What I’m trying to say is that it’s a fantastic track. It’s one that really shows of Abbie’s range, both as a singer and a songwriter.

The final track on the EP is an ‘alternative’ version of ‘Dorothy’s Heels’. Though I can see why it was included, it wasn’t necessary. The additional drums do nothing to improve the track, and the guitar has a very washed out sound. All in all, not a great take on the original. But that’s why it’s the alternative version, right?  That being said, this is a fantastic release from a great singer/songwriter. It’s clear now why she’s getting so much attention. Be sure to check this out.

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.