Product DetailsBy way of introduction, let me say that I’ve always been wound up by people who say that no good music was made after the Beatles, the Clash, the Specials, Nirvana and so on.  There’s always plenty of good music about and usually a fair amount of great music; you just have to know where to look and listen (and it’s not daytime Radio 1).  This album was a recommendation from a friend of mine in Edinburgh who I met a few weeks ago (Cheers Grant).  Dean Owens is one of Scotland’s best-kept secrets and it’s about time someone shone a spotlight on this great songwriting and performing talent.

New York Hummingbird” is the latest solo album (he was formerly part of cult legends The Felsons) and I hope this is the one that helps him break through to a bigger audience.  It’s difficult to pin this selection of songs down to 1 genre other than singer-songwriter but the common factor is quality in the construction of the songs and the playing of the musicians.  The album is partly fan-financed, but this doesn’t mean that any corners have been cut in the playing, production or arrangements; every song gets exactly the treatment it needs to make it shine.

No-One’s a Failure” has a pure country feel with a lyric on the theme of making the most of what we have while we still have it, which makes the most of Dean’s voice at the higher , plaintive end of its range.  I listened to “The One that Got Away” several times before I finally worked out that the production sounded like George Harrison around the time of “All Things Must Pass” (a very, very good thing in my opinion) and a lyric about those missed romantic opportunities that we’ve all had.  “Lost Time” is in the same vein but with a bouncy feel that makes me think this could be a singalong live favourite in time.

Baby Fireworks” is a standout track for me.  It’s probably the most personal song on the album, dealing with the responsibilities of having a baby daughter, watching her grow up and knowing when to start loosening the ties of parenthood; a difficult experience and an even more difficult songwriting challenge.  “Snowglobe” turns the Christmas stereotypes upside down with a tale of captivity in a bad Christmas moment which lyrically reminded me a little of Malcolm Middleton’s “Burst Noel” (maybe it’s a Scottish thing).

The title track “New York Hummingbird” is a final highlight and a great example of the songwriter’s art.  The song deals with the end of a relationship by looking at the way the music collection is divided up along strictly gender stereotype lines. You can have your own bit of fun by deciding which singer-songwriters are being referenced in the choruses.  There isn’t a bad song on the album, so I apologise for not featuring all of them but you can hear all of them on Spotify and I really think that you should do that.

One final thing.  It’s not on this album, but you should really listen to “Raining in Glasgow” as well.  It’s a great song, what more do you want me to say?

Don’t you just hate all of these live videos on YouTube (other websites with crappy videos are available)?  Surely I’m not the only music fan in the world that would like to see clips online that were in focus, had a passable soundtrack and didn’t look like they were shot by someone with a world-beating case of the DTs.  How many times have you clicked on something which is supposed to be an amazing performance by your favourite artist only to see a surrealist puppet show through the wrong end of a telescope with a soundtrack that has been hauled forcibly through a couple of flanger modules and then detuned for good measure?

OK, there’s a really simple message here.  Don’t film gigs on your mobile phone; it’s always going to look and sound terrible.  Despite all the hype, your phone’s terrible at recording complex sounds and taking pictures.  There aren’t any other circumstances where you would record a gig using 1 microphone which was 5mm wide and a camera with a lens which had been liberally smeared with the contents of the pockets of your 501s.

So now you’ve got the worst possible combination of sound and vision for your recording of that wonderful, unrepeatable live moment, what do you do with it?  Quality control kicks in and you automatically delete it because you don’t want anyone to hear or see your favourite performer drowned out by tuneless audience participation.  No, for some strange reason you decide that you want to share this with the rest of the world.  Here’s a piece of advice for you; go to bed and then look at your wonderful footage when you’ve sobered up.  If you still think it’s a good idea after a night’s sleep, then maybe it is.

It’s not a new problem; there are vinyl bootlegs from the 70s which sold by the barrowload although the sound quality was appalling (trust me; I’ve got some of them).  Most of the online live clips recorded on phones now and published online have worse sound than 70s bootlegs and we’ve had 40 years of innovations since then.  I’m not talking about suppressing anyone’s freedom to share their video clips, I just want to be able to find good quality professional clips without having to wade through hundreds of uploads that a five-year old would be ashamed of.  I was once lucky enough to see and hear an incredibly powerful and moving live version of “Many Rivers to Cross” (thank you Jeff Kazee) but that memory was almost destroyed forever when I found an uploaded video captured on a phone of about 90 seconds of the performance which some demented fan thought the world should hear.

But seriously, just think carefully before you upload shoddy footage of your favourite new band because that out of focus, distorted footage featuring random bodies wandering across the frame might just be the thing that puts off the critic or reviewer who’s just heard of the band.  There’s already way too much noise out there; don’t make it any worse.




Picture of - Scissor Sisters Magic HourScissor Sisters are a difficult bunch to pigeon hole. ‘Baby Come Home’ misleadingly opens the album with the Scissor Sisters DNA completely intact; 1970’s pop rock, Jake Shears falsetto vocals,  honky-tonk piano, 70s disco.  It’s all here as it is with the slinky Pharrell Williams-produced, Bee Gees-invoking ‘Inevitable’ too, both strong songs that suggest a return to their debut album and sound. From here on in though the Sisters pick up and flirt with different genres and styles with varying degrees of success.

‘Fun’ is a word I really don’t like to use to describe music and people who do tend to bother me; but in this instance it’s maybe the most appropriate word, in the best possible sense, to express how the best of this album sounds. ‘Keep Your Shoes On’, ‘Shady Love’ and in particular the (scandalously underused) Ana Matronic lead ‘Let’s Have a Kiki‘ sound like remixes of Scissor Sister tracks; sonically they are tight, modern sounding, completely electronic house but in the spirit of Deee Lite, Rupaul and Junior Vasquez. Very gay and, yes, (although I am loath to the use the word) camp and without a doubt a throwback and tribute to the Vogue Balls and drag and club culture of the late eighties and early nineties. The plinky-plonk synth keys offset against the chorus of orgasmic groans on ‘Self Control’ bring to mind the enormously influential Robin S hit ‘Show Me Love’.

Elsewhere Calvin Harris  takes over production duties with the lead single ‘Only The Horses’ and album closer ‘Somewhere’ both continue the pounding pop house to a less successful and more generic effect lacking the full bloodiness of, for example, the band’s first album and the personality of the ‘Kiki’ tracks here. Two Rufus Wainwright-lite ballads fail to fully engage and ‘Best in Me’ sounds like Geri Halliwell attempting an island sound; make of that what you will. So unlike the preceding ‘Night Work’, their most cohesive and specific piece of work so far, this is a messy bag of highs and lows and some track skipping will be required if you’re listening to the album from start to finish. But watch out for ‘Let’s Have a Kiki’, it’s one of those songs that seems to have a life of its own. Already a live favourite due largely to the Matronic’s hugely charismatic presence, prepare to hear ‘we’re gonna serve and work and turn honey!’ at festivals everywhere this summer.

And add an extra half to make that 3 (and a half) stars.


Producers - Made In Basing StreetIt’s a concept which isn’t quite like anything I’ve ever seen before.  We’ve had many supergroups in the past, but I can’t remember one which comprised members best known for their work in the studio (or one which took 6 years to make).  The Producers personnel are Lol Creme, Trevor Horn, guitarist Stephen Lipson and drummer Ash Soan and you can check their credentials online.  When I read about the concept I expected the album to be either full of self-indulgent muso noodlings or a set of good songs played very proficiently with outstanding production values.  I’m pleased to say it was much closer to the latter.

There isn’t a bad song on the album; they’re all good and some are even very good.  You can have a lot of fun trying to pick out the influences behind the songs as well (which makes you a musical trainspotter; join the club).  There are more musical ideas here than most performers can manage on half a dozen albums and the art of the production is to put those ideas together coherently without sounding like a bunch of musicians playing with all the toys simultaneously for the first time (or like the second Mansun album).

The opening song on the album, “Freeway”, sets the tone with a subtle synth wash and breathy vocal giving way to piledriver drums and a massive guitar riff to take the song into the first verse.  It’s a cruising song (no, really) which is much more in the mould of Bob Seger’s “Hollywood Nights” (particularly the drumming) than Don Henley’s “Boys of Summer” and it kickstarts the album perfectly.  “Your Life” is a great example of the quality of the playing and production as it moves effortlessly between classic ballad and power ballad and features some very tasteful guitar throughout.  “Stay Elaine” is a folky, mainly acoustic take on the “stay tonight, it’s too late to go home theme” featuring some delicate finger-picked guitar, accordion and some very interesting Ash Soan percussion.  Again, all the elements gel perfectly.  “Barking up the Right Tree” is in a similar vein with a hint of Van Morrison’s “Bright Side of the Road” thrown in towards the end.

“Garden of Flowers” goes back to more upbeat territory and subverts the pop formula by beginning with a drum solo (interesting trivia question there, I guess) and going straight into a guitar solo, which feels like coming in halfway through the song.  It’s similar in feel to “Freeway” featuring guitar and drums to the fore throughout.  The closer, “You & I”, is a take on the “carpe diem” theme beginning with a delicate minor key guitar theme and building into a slightly off-centre power ballad.

There isn’t a bad track on the album and it rewards repeated listening because you won’t pick out everything on the first or second listen.  It’s absolutely crammed with great ideas and playing while using the standard songwriting themes (seduction, cruising on the freeway and nostalgia) that we all know and love.  It’s not an album that represents a musical revolution but if you love good quality songs and perfect playing and production, then you really should give this a listen.

Product DetailsRegina Spektor’s sixth album opens with 2 tracks that solidly define Spektor’s signature style and sound so far and would not sound out of place as filler on any of her previous releases. “Oh Marcello” includes a comedy accent, piano and Regina human beat-boxing and “Small Town Moon” is steeped in sentimentality, those dramatic key changes she loves and an inescapable big chorus. Both also have a lyrical darkness that could be very easily overlooked given the optimistic, beaming performances; I initially misheard the chorus of  “Small Town Moon” to say ‘Everybody is so nice, nice’ when in fact it’s ‘Everybody not so nice’ and in “Oh Marcello” she speaks of a child who will grow up to be a murderer. And this darkness, which was much more apparent in her earlier releases and provided the necessary balance required when dealing with so much whimsy, is fading fast.

Only on two exhilarating tracks does Spektor excel in getting these ingredients precisely right. The first single “All The Rowboats” starts with a rubbery, techno synth line that develops into a staccato, pounding anthem about preserving beauty at the cost of  experiencing and sharing it and pushes Spektor’s musical style into dangerous and unexplored areas which are sadly never revisited again here.  “Open” is the one ballad, unsurprisingly there are several, that captures something of the melancholy and pure musicality of previous songs such as “Samson” from “Begin to Hope” or “Somedays” from the breakthrough album “Soviet Kitsch”. In the final chorus she repeatedly inhales dramatically as if suffocating and drowning, battling against the songs title which some still may find irritating in the extreme but this is what made Regina stand out from the crowd in the first place and when done as well as it is here is still affecting.

Elsewhere we have over-egged, rom-com ballads about getting old (definitely a theme here), Les Dawson piano and on a mercifully short track Regina doing an impersonation of a trumpet at a party called “The Party”. After the disappointment of Spektor’s previous album “Far” where all of the edges were rounded off completely (the cover portraying a cartoon Regina sitting at a piano that was made of clouds was not a good sign) this short, insubstantial follow up is barely a partial recovery and if she fails to fully rediscover her glint of fury then she’s on her way to becoming the soundtrack for American TV hospital drama’s new heroine.

Product DetailsNiki  & The Dove have been around for over 2 years now and I have managed, more or less, to ignore them because I wanted to wait until they had an album’s worth of material to get lost in; they looked like they would be that kind of duo. Too often over the last 8 years or so an artist has appeared on line with something that’s tickled my fancy and I’ve followed them on, firstly, My Space (remember?) and then FaceBook and now Soundcloud and it’s become an exhausting and sometimes depressing job with some magnificent rewards (Cocknbullkid, The Bird and The Bee, Lily Allen) and some less so (3 years and counting Sky Ferreira). So apart from the frantic ‘The Drummer’ this is all fresh material for me from an album where apart from 2 songs, every track has already been released in some form or another.

Originating from Stockholm, album opener ‘Tomorrow’ does sound very much like fellow Swedes The Knife in one of their more accessible moods but things take a far more impressive and dramatic ‘musical theatre’ turn on the multiple, overlapping nightmare nursery rhymes of ‘The Gentle Roar’ continuing with Malin Dahlstrom exploding with anger on the ‘You can’t keep me down, I am done, I am furious!’ line from ‘Mother Protect’; tread carefully and don’t disturb her young seems to be the very clear message and I wouldn’t dare.

From here on in things start to go down a distinctly purple road (lyrically even; a ‘purple sky’ is referred to on ‘The Fox’) with the mid tempo ‘Last Night‘ with its ‘last night we got married in a taxi’ line and the woozy, fuzzy synth line that doodles around for the final minute or so this could have come from Prince’s 1999 album and the euphoric, fizzing ‘Somebody’ could fit in the Purple Rain soundtrack without sounding out of place. Prince’s influence in contemporary music is now omnipresent (The-Dream has made a career out of it) but Niki and The Dove are not mere Vanity 6 copy cats with a line in hipster irony, instead they understand those pure musical moments that defined Prince’s most scintillating and relevant periods.

Maybe the biggest song here, and there are a fair few, is the deeply melancholic and aching slab of trance house ‘DJ, Ease My Mind’; tears on the dance floor and looking for salvation, it’s been done countless times before and this is an example of how to do it right.  Devastating stuff. ‘The Fox’ and ‘Under The Bridges’ finish the album in an appropriately feral, uncompromising and chaotic style, melodically and musically, and I for one welcome these elements and the others contained in this balmy and beautiful début with open arms.

Presumably you’ve already seen the star rating for this album at the top of the page so you know how much I like it.  But I’ve got a confession to make; I hated the first single “Only Love can Break your Heart”.  I was doing DJ sets in a pre-club venue when it was released and everyone wanted to hear it, so I had to play it.  Just to prove that I don’t bear grudges, I also have to admit that “He’s on the Phone” is probably my favourite ever pop single so I think we’re about quits there.

“Words and Music” is an album that I hadn’t expected to hear from Saint Etienne.  We’ve already had a couple of greatest hits compilations and not a lot of chart action in the last 5 years so it was natural to assume that it was pretty much over now for them.   I have to admit that I may have been a bit too quick to write off this very resilient band; “Words and Music” is the best album I’ve heard this year.

Here’s another surprising thing; it’s a concept album.  Any music obsessive, particularly one who grew up in the 70s or 80s will find the album saturated in references to this period.  As with any Saint Etienne album, the musicianship is excellent and the songs are all well-constructed, but there’s much more to “Words and Music” than this.  First of all, there are absolutely no filler tracks (until you get to the bonus disc, but I’ll come to that later).  Secondly, Sarah Cracknell has developed a more mature, experienced vocal style to use alongside the pure, clear tones of the earlier material and at times she sounds a little like Marianne Faithfull from “Broken English” period onwards.

Lyrically, the album deals with the many ways in which pop music affects our lives, particularly during our teenage years, but also forever after as well.  There’s a touch of a classical influence as well in the way the album’s opening song “Over the Border” acts as an overture, setting the scene for the remainder of the album and introducing some of the lyrical themes which will appear later on the album.  This song, like much of the album, is full of references to bands, songs and labels such as “green and yellow Harvests, pink Pyes and silver Bells”, which are very clever and hit the spot for anyone who lived through that era (early 70s if you must know, I got into music very young).

The themes from the opening song are developed as the album progresses.  The solitary teenager listening to music in their bedroom becomes the adult with headphones on the dancefloor-orientated “I’ve Got Your Music” and the teenage rebellion theme is developed on the Italo house-referencing  “Heading for the Fair” (the fair being one of the few places to hear good new and imported music in the early 70s).

Tonight” is about the excitement of getting ready to go out to see a favourite band and sharing the musical experience with hundreds of other fans, while “Popular” refers lyrically to a list of number 1 singles (which may or may not have influenced the band or co-writer of this song, Rob Davis).  Other songs on the album deal with looking forward (and back) within the context of music and the joy of shared musical experiences, particularly the way in which we attach memories to particular songs or albums.  “Record Doctor” also deserves a mention; it’s a sub-1 minute a cappella piece which sounds like all of the parts were sung by Sarah Cracknell and leads perfectly into the Jersey garage styling of “Popular”.

Did I mention something about the bonus disc earlier?  The bonus disc edition features remixes of most of the album tracks and normally I would avoid these at all costs.  I can live without the first half of this disc, but the second half tickled my musical taste buds, particularly the Club Clique mix of “Tonight” and the White Horses mix of “Answer Song”.  I hope you appreciate my dedication to the cause, listening to the entire bonus disc to pick those gems out for you.

“Words and Music”, like Springsteen’s “Wrecking Ball” earlier this year, is a strong argument in favour of the album format.  The songs on the album work very well individually but it’s only when you listen to the entire album (not necessarily in sequence, but “Over the Border” should be first) that you fully appreciate the worth of each individual piece.

On the off chance that I haven’t convinced you yet, I have to tell you that every member of the Riot Squad has been playing this album to death over the last couple of weeks.  This is an album that anyone who cares about music should have in their collection.  Thank you Bob Stanley, Peter Wiggs and Sarah Cracknell.

Oh, I forgot to mention that the album artwork is very, very clever and that’s another reason why you should buy this album rather than downloading it.