The Korvids, eh? I’m guessing it’s a korruption of the scientific term for the crow family. Anyway it’s the name given to a project put together by James Grant (surely I don’t have to tell you about his history) and Gordie Goudie (Simple Minds producer and former member of Echo and the Bunnymen and The Primevals). So the obvious collaboration would be a disco album, right? Well, not strictly; it’s certainly a dance album, but there’s a lot more than just disco lurking in “The Korvids”. Is it so far away from the music they’ve made in the past? In James Grant’s case, I would probably say no; he’s always had a bit of a funky element to his guitar playing and he’s not afraid to experiment, so a dance album’s not such a big step. Now a cheerful dance album; that’s another thing entirely.
The album covers a range of styles; the opener ”Bad Faith”, with its four-to-the-floor kick, congas, funky keys, hi-hats, melodic bassline and horns is pure joyous mid-seventies Studio 54. James Grant even throws in an Ernie Isley style guitar solo for good measure. Maybe a hint of the Average White Band in there as well. And that’s just the first song. “Tender Tyrannies” is about old records and the memories attached and has a Soul II Soul feel with a female vocal, squelching synth bass and clipped, funky guitar, “Slouch” has a groove that’s part Steely Dan, part humanistic Kraftwerk and previous single “Beach Coma” has an ambient Goa trance feel with synth pads and swirls and an acoustic guitar hook. Elsewhere, you can hear elements of Massive Attack and Eastern music in “Be My Enemy” and trip-hop in “Are You Bored with Me Baby?”
If you were a clubber in the late eighties/early nineties and you’ve grown up since then, this is the album for you. It feels a bit like the dance production process has been turned on its head; instead of building up from a groove and adding layers to create the finished product, this feels like the songs came first and the backing tracks were written to fit the songs. Either way, it’s a cracking album.
“The Korvids” is released on Friday April 28 on Nang Records.
And while we’ve got you here, how about checking a stunningly good song about Scottish families, another of James Grant’s classics:
Brenley MacEachern and Lisa MacIsaac are Madison Violet and they’ve been together since 1999 using the perfect blend of the two voices as the starting point for experiments in musical settings. “The Knight Sessions” is an experiment with different musical settings created with junkshop finds including children’s wooden blocks and old electronics to create interesting sonic textures and ambience without distracting from their powerful melodic songs. Generally speaking it works, creating a hint of spacey trip-hop over the stripped-back instrumentation.
My only reservation is that this approach tends to create a uniformity across the album. There’s an attempt to address this by focussing on the guitars and vocal harmonies in the basic acoustic versions of “Trouble” and “Operator”, which is partly successful. The truly innovative treatment on the album is the roots/Americana dub version of the lullaby “Hush” (also known as “Hush Little Baby” or “Mockingbird”). It’s wonderfully trippy, spacey, disorientating, menacing, and a high point of the album.
“The Knight Sessions” is released on Big Lake Music (Cat. No.471203-2) on Friday May 5 and Madison Violet will be touring the UK in May.
Blair Chadwick and Charlie Bateson (Steepways) set out to create an album with the feel of classic seventies singer-songwriter albums and with “Holy Smoke”, it’s mission accomplished. There are nods in the direction of country with “Ghost Walks” and “Pin it on Me”, bluegrass with “Rather be Alone” and even skiffle with “Chaperone” and “The Collector” (which also gives a tip of the titfer to early Kinks). The instrumentation is pure seventies Laurel Canyon with pedal steel and occasional banjo and an occasional glimpse of the classic seventies ornament, the nylon-strung guitar solo. And it’s all done beautifully. The album’s lovely closing song “Dying on the Vine” delicately exposes the evasions of alcoholism, while the lyrics generally lean towards melancholy on a personal scale; life’s minor triumphs and failures. It’s an interesting debut and it reminded me of one artist in particular; Ringo Starr just after the Beatles split. I’d say, on balance, that’s a good thing.
Out on May 5 on Mansion House Records.
How’s everyone doing? We’re almost a third of the way through the year now and it’s about time to look at how things are shaping up and to give you some news about the direction we’re taking here at MusicRiot. Over the years we’ve evolved from reviewing everything that popped through the letterbox (and now it pops in to the inbox) to our current approach of only reviewing things that we really believe in and want you to hear (and there’s plenty of that to keep everyone busy at Riot Towers). And we don’t like negativity; you can get enough of that in the NME or letters/comments pages of the specialist music magazines and websites. So, if you think there aren’t many one or two star reviews, that’s the reason. There’s so much good music out there that we want to focus on, whatever the genre.
And we’re having a pretty good year so far. Of the 2017 predictions, Ags Connolly has released a very good and critically-acclaimed second album, Stone Foundation signed to 100 Per Cent records and charted nationally at 25 with their “Street Rituals” album, Sound Of The Sirens have their album “For All Our Sins” released at the end of May on DMF Records and they’re playing the Fields of Avalon stage at Glastonbury. Hannah Aldridge’s stunning second album “Gold Rush” is out on June 16, and Dean Owens has delayed the release of his latest album “Southern Wind” until (probably) early 2018 to focus on yet another side project named Redwood Mountain with traditional fiddle player Amy Geddes. Watch this space for more on that one.
As for MusicRiot, we’re going to launch a new review feature very soon called “Sound Bites”, where we take a brief look at albums and singles that are interesting and worth listening to but don’t quite get the full review treatment. No star ratings, no judgements, just a recommendation to give it a listen.
That’s about it for now. Keep your eyes, ears and mind open and check out our Facebook page to find out what we’re up to.
The last two years have been a bit of a whirlwind for Sound of The Sirens. Over that period, Abbe Martin and Hannah Wood have risen irresistibly out of the local and support slot circuit to playing major festivals and headlining their own tours. They’ve won many supporters along the way with their superbly-crafted songs, beautiful harmonies and exhilarating live performances. All that’s missing so far is the chance to convert that to national airplay. “For All Our Sins” should be the chance to put that right.
The opening of the first song, the lead track “Smokescreen” is a good indicator of the new approach with the addition of bass and drums and some Spanish style nylon-strung guitar and percussion giving the song an added dimension. It’s not so much a move away from their live sound as a subtle augmentation. The arrangement reminds me of the way Al Stewart was produced in the mid-seventies, an he’s still being played on commercial radio forty years later. Hannah and Abbe’s voices and instruments are still right up there in the mix, but the addition of some more daytime radio-friendly instruments and a few hooks have certainly worked. Jeremy Vine thinks so; he was at the album launch a couple of weeks ago and played the song on his Radio 2 show the following day. That’s a pretty impressive flash-to-bang time.
There are a couple of songs that have been reworked for the album, and it’s interesting to compare the originals with the new versions. Both “Together Alone” and “In This Time” have been smoothed out a little, with the vocals coming down a couple of notches to blend better with the other instruments, and some slight structural changes. Using a drummer has made the transitions between sections smoother, particularly when the tempo changes, and the production team has introduced some studio effects (some dub echo in “Together Alone”) and even created a psychedelic vibe with the ambient sounds, echo, and reverb of “The Circus”.
But all of the studio wizardry’s just window dressing if the raw material isn’t right. Abbe and Hannah’s songwriting is a huge part of their appeal. They write with a darkly poetic romanticism about subjects that are important; mental health in “The Voices”, the impermanence of relationships in “In This Time” and maybe even embittered journalists (amongst other things) in “Smokescreen”. They often explore the elemental side of human experience (“Chaos”) but there’s usually a message of empowerment in there as well. They care passionately about what they do.
With “For All Our Sins”, Sound of the Sirens have succeeded in creating studio versions of their powerful and dynamic songs for mainstream consumption without losing the creative fire in the process. The songs will be there on their upcoming tour and during the festival season in all their dynamic and noisy glory but, for now, this sounds like the next step up the ladder.
“For All Our Sins” is released on DMF on 26 May 2017.
Meanwhile, you can have a look at this:
You know how I feel about festivals, yeah? Let’s just say that in general, I’m not a fan; too many people, bad sanitation and overdraft-inducing prices for food and drink. Walled Garden promoters Mel Fordham and Gardie Grissell have cottoned on to the fact that there are people out there who love music but don’t like squalor. The Walled Garden festival has a capacity of 2,000 (about the capacity of most the venues on the O2 circuit), beautiful acoustics and it’s part of the Brightling Park estate in East Sussex with a variety of camping options including the inevitable glamping.
The festival bill has an eighties/nineties bias and includes ABC, Embrace, Howard Jones, Jennifer Paige, Beverley Craven, Toploader and many more spread over three days (Friday 14 – Sunday 16 July) and you can find more information here. Me, I’d be there on the strength of ABC and Embrace (and Howard Jones is still pretty good live these days) and the beautiful setting.
So where would you start if you wanted to assign a label to Cormac O Caoimh? It’s so diverse you would need a bucketload of tags and then you’d spend hours agonising over which order to put them in. Life’s too short, so let’s just go for eclectic. If you take the melodic romanticism of Paddy McAloon and throw in a bit of Neil Hannon’s Gaelic whimsy, you might begin to grasp the completely original sound of Cormac O Caoimh. Prefab Comedy or Divine Sprout? You decide; either way, there are twelve beautifully-crafted songs here that are set like jewels in arrangements and stylings that transform them into, well, “Shiny Silvery Things”.
There’s poetry and mysticism in the lyrics throughout the album and the musical settings range from the lush strings and gorgeous choral harmonies of “Silence and Sound” to the jazz swing and rich baritone vocal of the title track, to the spiky guitar fills packed with accidentals (or should that be deliberates) and free-form jazz sax of “A Parked Car”. And there’s more guitar atonality in “In the Hollow of an Old Oak”, the slightly sour tone contrasting with the spirituality of the lyrics. Along the way, there are a few more gems. “Proud” roars in with an intro that’s somewhere between “Get Back” and “David Watts” before Cormac launches into a one-man call and response vocal, and the gentle “Tea in my Teacup” emphasises the value of the simpler things in life as an antidote to the complicated world outside.
The comparisons with Prefab Sprout are impossible to avoid; every melody’s an earworm, the lyrics are poetic and thought-provoking (there’s even an Atlantis reference) and Aoife Regan’s vocals have more than a hint of Wendy Smith, but there’s also a Gaelic twist to the album that gives it a unique character. Sublime.
“Shiny Silvery Things” is released on Friday April 28.
Here’s an example of the press release absolutely nailing it. The album’s a souvenir of where the band is at this point in time. It’s on a journey and this is one of the staging points on the way to a destination. There’s no clear direction to “Souvenir”, there are lots of different styles, varied instrumental arrangements and textures, but mostly it feels like trying something on to see if it fits rather than wearing it with pride. It’s certainly not a bad album. I was happy to listen through it several times but it never really felt like the end of the journey.
It’s not difficult to pick out reference points; “California” could have come from the Laurel Canyon clique, “Fight for Love” had a Huey Lewis feel and the piano intro to “Sometimes” evokes Lennon’s “Imagine””. They say there’s nothing new in the world, but these references feel a bit raw as they jump out from the songs. However,there are a few songs that stand out for the right reasons and those are ones where there’s a much greater personal investment.
“New Year” is a tale of annual family get-togethers and the good and bad things that can happen on those occasion, set against a backdrop that features Bruce Hornsby-like piano and some synths that should feel out of context but actually work well. “Mama’s Sunshine” is pure back porch skiffle on the theme of having a young daughter and the way in which the two parents combine to create one new individual, while Nathan Dugger’s country ballad “Yellow Rose of Santa Fe” is a lovely story of a chance romantic encounter that’s never forgotten; it’s a little bit Bobby Goldsboro in the style and vocal delivery. It certainly manages to evoke those bittersweet teenage experiences.
Drew Holcomb’s certainly able to deliver a good song and, when the influences are incorporated more smoothly, he’s going to produce work that will be entirely his own. Now that will really be worth hearing.
“Souvenir” is released on April 21 on Magnolia Music.
James Grant; he’s an enigmatic artist. You never know what’s coming next, but you know it won’t be dull. I’ll save the history lesson for another day, but let’s just say he’s been around for a while. His latest venture is a collaboration with producer Gordy Goudie under the name of The Korvids and “Bad Faith” is the third single taken from the upcoming album “The Korvids”. “Bad Faith” isn’t just influenced by late seventies disco, it is late seventies disco, from the melodic bassline and clipped, toppy rhythm guitar parts to the congas and falsetto vocals. It’s a joyous romp through everything that was great about the heyday of disco; it’s played with style and panache, but it’s also great fun. What more could you ask for?
The publicity for the single focusses on the musical style as a departure from James Grant’s previous work but there are elements of the single that have echoes of his past work; the album “Strange Kind of Love” had a funky feel and was also produced by Gary Katz, who was brought in to remix this single. This James Grant and his past incarnations have more in common than you might think.
James Grant, it’s good to hear from you again.
Out now on Nang Records.
Winter Mountain’s album “I Swear I Flew”, which was released in mid-November last year was one of those that worked perfectly as a coherent, self-contained project; you should really listen to it. It was also one of those that made you want to hear the songs played live. I got the chance to do that at 229 Venue 2 and I was absolutely right; it was exceptional, but not quite in the way I’d imagined. The album is mainly (but not completely) quiet and introspective but the live show was a very different beast.
Support on the night was Cornish singer-songwriter Josiah Mortimer, who warmed up a gradually-increasing crowd with a mix of the traditional (“Cadgwith Anthem”) and twenty-first century protest songs like “Build a Wall” – you can probably guess what that one’s about. With a decent voice, some interesting chat between songs and a playing style that uses a thumb instead of a pick (anyone remember Richie Havens?), Josiah got the audience onside and ready for the headliners.
Winter Mountain’s set opened with the wistful, impassioned romanticism of “Girl in the Coffee Shop”, a chance to set the tone for the evening, demonstrating Joe’s soulful voice and allowing the band to ease their way in before the Springsteenesque roar of “Sunlight, Good Roads”. Joe Francis has created a unique mixture with Winter Mountain, blending influences from the worlds of folk (mainly Gaelic), roots, country rock, southern boogie, straight ahead rock and many others. Springsteen aside, you can hear echoes of Hothouse Flowers, The Waterboys, Rob Thomas and Gin Blossoms (remember them?). The set had its quieter, more reflective, moments, particularly the (almost) solo interlude featuring “The Morning Bell”, the poignant “January Stars”, “Lucky Ones” and “Stronger When You Hold Me” but the set really caught fire when the band were playing full-tilt songs like “Things That I’ve Done Wrong” in balls-out Lynyrd Skynyrd mode as Joe started throwing lyrics from Zeppelin’s “Black Dog” into the mix. So hats off to Alik Peters-Deacon (guitar), Jake Galvin (bass) and Garry Kroll (drums) for a great, dynamic set and also to 229’s sound man, who did a lovely job in a venue that was barely half full.
Anything else you should know? The songs were split almost evenly between the first and second albums and the set ended with a Beatles cover, the early “Oh! Darling”. The audience was completely silent during the quiet songs and went bananas during the raucous ones. The band covered all the bases of the glorious musical mash-up perfectly, while Joe’s powerhouse voice left you in no doubt that he has a massive rock voice as well. It wasn’t quiet the night I‘d expected, but it was a belter; that’s the way to spend a Thursday night in London.
Coming to a festival near you soon, I imagine.
You can see some photos from the gig here.