Lasso Moon is an amalgamation of two Liverpool bands Broken Men and Sankofa and “Kimota Codeine” is their first single, coming out towards the end of January. The press release describes it as a love song to codeine, but I’m not buying in to that. The minimalist arrangement in the verses of drums and a picked guitar line (and the black and white one-shot, static video) hint at pathos, desperation and addiction rather than any joyous high. Codeine’s an opiate painkiller and highly addictive; this is about addiction to oblivion and shutting out the world. The song and the video show a bleak world where there are no highs or lows, only monotony, and codeine is a desperate attempt to shut that world out, however briefly.
None of this is a criticism of the song, which evokes this twilight world perfectly, with downbeat verses and choruses which are marginally more positive. Combined with the video it creates a stark vision, where the illness is only slightly worse than the cure.
“Kimota Codeine” is released on Friday January 27th.
Do turbulent social and political conditions create a fertile environment for artists? It’s a theory that’s had some support and I suspect we’re about to see and hear a lot more evidence over the next few years. The inauguration hasn’t taken place yet but I’ve already heard a couple of anti-Trump songs. Rita Hosking has replied to the infamous pussy-grabbing comments with a song that suggests a prompt and effective remedy of a toecap to the testicles, and Stephen Fearing’s song “Blowhard Nation” on “Every Soul’s a Sailor” neatly skewers the braggadocio of the president-elect and the motives of his supporters. The Merle Haggard/outlaw country arrangement of the song stands apart from the rest of the album, highlighting the song’s message as a contrast to the gentler themes elsewhere.
Stephen Fearing is a genuinely great singer/songwriter/guitar player with an equal emphasis on all three elements. The lyrical themes of the songs range from the elegaic “Gone but Not Forgotten”, through the melancholy regret of “Red Lights in the Rain” (as powerful an image as I’ve heard for leaving a relationship) to the regret for a passing era of “Things We Did”. The musical stylings are equally varied, from the AOR feel of the opener “Put Your Money Where your Mouth Is” to the raucous, rambunctious rebel stylings of “Blowhard Nation” which has maybe a hint of uptempo Jim Croce stylings thrown in as well. Each song has the perfect arrangement to emphasise its lyrical content and, whether it’s the skiffle/rockabilly feel of “Love Like Water” with acoustic guitar and stand-up bass, to the album’s closer “Every Soul’s A Sailor” with a close-miked vocal, two electric guitars and no bass or drums. It’s an unusual voicing, but it’s just right for the song, and that’s what it’s all about.
This is an album where the standards are high throughout whether you’re interested in well-constructed and inspired songs, evocative arrangements or outstanding vocal performances. There are no weak spots and dozens of highlights.
I’ll leave you with a lyric from “Blowhard Nation” concerning politicians generally:
‘Make no mistake, when they’re showing you the cake, they’ll never let you eat it now’ We might just be entering a new era of protest songs.
“Every Soul’s A Sailor” is released on Friday February 3rd on LowdenProud Records (LOWD60161)
Let’s just say that my preconceptions have been well and truly shaken up. Two songs in to the latest offering from Wille & the Bandits, and I was on the verge of filing it under ‘generic Southern rock/slide guitar’, but we don’t give up that easily at Riot Towers. Actually, there’s nothing wrong with the slide and Hammond (courtesy of Don Airey) of “Miles Away” or the Dire Straits meets Pink Floyd of “Hot Rocks”, with its congadelic breakdown, but they have the feel of a starter before the main course, “Scared of the Sun”, which brings all of the elements at the band’s disposal into play.
The dynamics are perfect, from the quiet intro with gentle keys and to the full-on anthemic chorus. We hear the full range of Matt Brooks’ six-string bass, particularly at the upper end of the register acting as a second guitar part, Andy Naumann’s drums power the verse and chorus along and Don Airey adds some Vangelis-like like sounds to the mix. Meanwhile Wille Edwards is doing his guitar thing (ok, things with electric, acoustic, lap steel, Weissenborn and Dobro) and delivering a vocal that’s as close to very early Bob Seger as anything I’ve ever heard. And here’s the real surprise; it’s a song about global warming. I’m not an expert on Southern ‘rawk’, but I’m guessing that environmental concerns aren’t high on the list of lyrical topics. It’s probably quite a way behind highways, Harleys, guns and Saturday night.
The instrumental inspiration for the album is the American south in the seventies, so the song “1970” should come as no surprise; driven along by drums and a pumping bass, it mourns the passing of that era while extolling its virtues (‘Good times, love and peace’) in a seventies rock style. If the environmental concern wasn’t enough of a shock, there’s a song written from the point of view of a refugee from a war-ravaged country. “Crossfire Memories” begins with quiet acoustic guitar and builds through the addition of a Matt Brooks string arrangement and slide fills to a big slide solo to close out the song; it’s powerful stuff.
The playing is every bit as good as you would expect from the people involved in this album, and it’s worth listening to for that alone, while the presence of some lyrical content that steps out of the usual limits of the genre gives it an undeniable edge. I have a sneaky feeling these guys will sound even better live.
“Steal” is released on Friday January 20th on Jigsaw (SAW 6).
Remember the High Fives feature we run throughout December each year? Come on, it’s only a few weeks ago. Well, when we got in touch with Sound of the Sirens, they were really busy (as they were for most of the year) and promised to get back with something in the New Year, and they did. This came through in a series of messages yesterday and all we had to do was reconstruct it. Abbe and Hannah have had another great year and 2017’s looking pretty good as well. Got to say I love the way they seamlessly slipped in that plug for the new album in the second paragraph.
We are doing our top 5’s with pictures of our year. In March 2016 we were given the opportunity to go on tour with the nicest man in Pop. He and his team were so welcoming and friendly and we learnt so much on the road with them all. Every night we got to play to an audience of a 1000+ in some of the UK’s most beautiful and prestigious venues. Rick Astley’s crowd are super loyal and have followed him for decades and yet they welcomed us as his support. We sold tons of CDs every night and talked to the fans and met some lovely, lovely people. It was the perfect opportunity to try out new material to a friendly and big crowd every night for weeks. We loved every minute of it. We also met our new best mate Dave ….Rick Astley’s Stage Manager who adopted us and looked after us. Thanks Rick x
In June we set out to record our new album which is out on May 5th 2017. We are now under the watchful eye of DMF records and they put us in touch with a great producer called Mark Tucker. We’ve written many new songs but have taken 3 old songs and tweaked them with a bit of production. It’s been a brand new way of working for us and has really helped us to grow as artists. For one song we invited friends, students and general Siren support round to ours to create a choir. This has been included on the new album and we love that our friends are in on the act. Thank you to the Sirens choir!!!
In July we were asked to play at The House Festival in Twickenham. It was unbelievable to say the least. We were invited to play a small set in the Ebay corporation tent and when we had finished we were let loose into the most extravagant playground. We could help ourselves to cocktails, play on the carousel, eat olives and cheese until it was coming out your ears, have your hair done, glitter your face, make a music video and hang out with giant people on stilts …..and then Kylie arrived along with Tinie Tempah. It was a surreal day.
In August we were invited to play on the main stage at the very popular Cropredy Festival. We weren’t quite sure what to expect and whether we would be received well. Upon arrival we were given a dressing room, given drinks, they took our pictures, we did interviews, they wouldn’t let us carry a thing. The set went so well and we enjoyed every second. Afterwards we did our first signing in a tent and it was such a great experience. For an hour solidly we spoke to people, had pictures, heard stories and we laughed alot. We sold all of our merchandise (a first for us) and we felt euphoric. Cropredy …..pleeeease have us back . It was our first whole day of ‘working’ at a festival. If we can call this work then we are lucky girls.
In August we played at Carfest to another big and exciting crowd. It’s been an incredible year for us. We knew Bryan Adams was playing and we couldn’t wait to see his set. After our set we were asked if we would like to join our friend for a tequila in one the backstage rooms. Whilst we were sat about swapping stories and sharing drinks in walked the one and only Bryan Adams. Our jaws dropped and we both hugged him. This is definitely one for the album. 2016 you were a right cracker ……roll on 2017. Let’s fill the rest of our album x x x.
It’s a bit of a thing at the moment, the ‘live in the studio’ album, and why not? If you’re good enough and the engineer’s good enough, you’ll have the satisfaction of creating something the way we did in the good old days before that pesky Les Paul invented multi-track recording. And with a bit of luck it might capture a bit of magic that would be lost in a song built up part by part. The Grahams have taken a slightly different direction with the concept; they’ve taken a bunch of songs from their “Glory Bound” album/“Rattle the Hocks” film project and re-recorded them in the studio with some friends, taking the opportunity to rearrange and rework the songs (sometimes more than once). And those friends: well, John Fullbright, North Mississippi Allstars, Alvin Youngblood Hart and David Garza are a pretty good start.
The songs from this collection have already featured on two US albums by The Grahams, but none have been released in the UK in these versions, and I hope you all got that, because I’m not repeating it. Does the idea work? Well, mostly. “Glory Bound” is the obvious opener for the album, introducing the theme of the railroad with its ‘clickety-clack of the train on the tracks’ rhythm, stripped-back acoustic guitar, bass and drums arrangement and harmonies imitating a train whistle. Most of the original “Glory Bound” songs are reworked on this album, with the notable exception of “The Wild One” (for my money the best song on the album) and the gradual build-up of the beautiful ballad “Lay Down” to a massed choir ending, the gospel treatment of “Mama” and the counterpoint vocals at the end of “Blow Wind Blow” are all particularly effective.
The supernatural ballad “Tender Annabelle” comes in a couple of different flavours, first with a mournful, menacing harmonica, electric piano and heavily-reverbed backing vocals, then with New Orleans horns to close the album. There’s a lot to be said for each treatment, although the first appearance of the horns on the rollicking “Kansas City” seems to lack a bit of punch.
Minor quibbles aside, this is an album that’s worth listening to whether you’ve heard “Glory Bound” or not. The songs are powerful however you arrange them, and the live recording process catches some genuine moments of magic.
“The Grahams and Friends (Live in Studio)” is released in the UK on Three Sirens Music Group on Friday January 27th 2017.
If I’m honest, I probably wouldn’t have sought out this album, but there’s a perverse enjoyment in stepping out of your comfort zone and finding out that the world hasn’t ended. The press release didn’t help by referring to Chris’s work as a revival of traditional fiddle music; it’s not so much a revival as someone carrying the torch to pass it on to the next runner. What Chris does, with style and impeccable technique is to create original tunes and songs based on (mainly) British and Irish folk styles with the occasional modern twist. He does a lot of it as well; this is his second album in three months. It’s music that’s created to make people dance, but the sheer quality of the playing and the strength of the melodies means that you don’t have to be whirling around a barn to feel its power. Be warned; it will make you tap your toes, at the very least.
The sleeve notes very helpfully identify the various dance forms each tune’s associated with so you can give yourself a little online lesson in Gaelic music (I did and I know the difference now between jigs, reels and hornpipes – I managed to work out the waltz for myself) while appreciating some truly outstanding ensemble playing featuring fiddle, mandolin, guitar, bodhran, flute, penny whistle and uilleann pipes. The three vocal pieces on the album are a pretty accurate summary of what this album is all about; “Wicklow” and “Cape Horn” have pastoral Irish and seafaring lyrical themes that are straight out of the folk tradition, while “Small Wonder” retains the traditional stylings with modern lyrical references. “Cape Horn” is a great example of the of the influence of Celtic music on modern styles; you can hear similarities to John Fogerty’s “Lookin’ Out My Back Door”, which was in turn influenced by traditional Celtic-infused early American music. There’s also a very slight nod to Chris’s Irish heritage with the beautiful lament “Gibraltar 1988”; if you don’t get the reference, just stick the title in a search engine.
This album is a fascinating combination of the traditional and the modern, with Chris Murphy’s fiddle taking centre stage as the ensemble creates a backdrop with their intricate melodic patterns. I might not be dancing, but I’m certainly listening.
“The Tinker’s Dream” is released in the UK on Teahouse Records (THR003) on Friday January 27th.
Let’s just ease ourselves into 2017 with this little gem of ten superbly crafted songs written by Steve Hussey and arranged by his seventeen-year old collaborator, multi-instrumentalist, Jake Eddy, shall we? I’m not sure if you could call it a concept album, with all the negative baggage that brings, but it certainly follows a narrative, from the person who’s lost and floundering for the first three or four songs, finds his true love, and is redeemed by the album’s tenth song “Sweet”. It’s a simple story economically told and it’s a pretty good way to ease yourself musically into a new year.
The press release describes Jake Eddy as a prodigy and I wouldn’t argue too much with that. At the age of seventeen, he seems to have all manner of musical references at his fingertips from the brooding swamp feel of “Master Your Mind” to the delicate acoustic balladry of “The Miller Girl”, the tipping point of the album where the story transitions from shadow into light. “Into the Ether” could be a seventies rock tune (with banjo neatly replacing lead guitar), while “Better Day” feels like Jim Croce at his best and “Looking for Love” sounds for all the world like Bruce Chanel’s “Hey Baby” with fiddle fills; the multi-instrumental mastery is total.
The album isn’t about breaking new ground, it’s about creating the best art you possibly can with the existing materials and, in those terms it’s a complete success, a minor triumph even. The tunes are memorable, each vocal fits with the melody and the song’s subject matter, and the album takes you on a journey from the depths to the heights. I hope it’s a metaphor for the transition from 2016 into 2017.
Steve and Jake even manage to cook up a bit of fun with “Long List of Goodbyes”, a romp through the failed relationships of the past to lighten the mood before the quest for and acceptance of true happiness gets underway. Only an icy-hearted cynic could be unmoved by the story that unfolds as the album progresses and started life as a set of songs for Steve’s wedding.
“The Miller Girl” is released in the UK on Friday January 13 on Merf Records.
2016 brought more than its fair share of challenges but also a respectable amount of great music, live and recorded. With 2017 knocking on the door, this is probably a good time to start looking forward again. I’m not making any rash predictions this year; I’m just going to highlight a few things that you should look out for.
Ags Connolly has his second album, “Nothin’ Unexpected”, out in February and I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy. It’s produced once again by Riot Towers favourite Dean Owens (more about him later) and it should capture Ags in fine form, delivering his fine Ameripolitan songs in his rich, smooth baritone voice. Since his debut “How About Now”, Ags has been touring extensively in the UK and across the pond, including a high profile support slot for Rosanne Cash in 2014 and he’s never been on better form. We should be reviewing this one very soon.
These guys have been working their butts off for years now pursuing their new soul vision with a combination of hard work on the gig circuit to build up a devoted following and release some quality albums. They’ve raised their profile year on year and been rewarded with a record deal for their upcoming album. Each of their albums has been a progression from the previous one, so this one should be a bit special. They also have a reputation for attracting some interesting special guests, so we’re eagerly anticipating this one.
I know, this starting to sound like a broken record (whatever that is), but you really should be listening to Hannah Aldridge. Like many artists, she’s gone down the crowdfunding route to get her new album made. It’s her second, following her superb debut “Razor Wire” and Hannah tells me that the style has shifted towards a more rock sound (she did a lot of the writing using a Telecaster rather than an acoustic) and from the songs she’s played live already, it sounds like another outstanding album’s on the way, with an eta of June 2017.
Dean Owens – “Southern Wind”
Another example of 2016 crowdfunding; Dean Owens wrote most of the album before raising the money to record it in Nashville with his dream team, including producer and guitar player extraordinaire Will Kimbrough. Dean’s been working incredibly hard, over the last couple of years particularly, to get some attention for his songs and he’s been rewarded by national exposure from Bob Harris and a support slot for Rosanne Cash. Here’s hoping “Southern Wind” pushes him into the mainstream.
Sound of the Sirens second album
Oh god, he’s not still going on about Sound of the Sirens, is he? I am, and like everyone else featured here, the reason is that they’re very good. Despite playing just about every festival in the UK this summer, Abbe and Hannah still found time to record an album. I’ve tried to get some details, but the Sirens are staying schtum, apart from the fact that it’s a bit different. If the new songs I’ve heard live are any indication, it’s going to be very good. Onwards and upwards. 2017 here we come.
We asked promotion company Quite Great to tell us about some of the interesting new bands that are breaking through at the moment (or just about to) and they came up with this High Five.
This quartet captures the atmosphere and attitudes of society, focusing less on relationships but rather on the wider picture, acting as thought provoking social commentaries. Their unique outlook on life is represented in the feisty single “Broken Down”, about someone fighting back and making a change for the better. From the song’s hauntingly slow build to its defiant crescendo, it takes us on a journey of self-betrayal to discovery full of driving beats and swelling cello.
Although drawing comparisons to London Grammar and Chvrches, Kid Cupid focus on backing vocals that compliment lead vocalist Laura Shaw’s strong voice. Gang vocals are also used in many of their tracks, whereby the band layer their vocals together, creating an enchanting sound. Geordie singer, Laura Shaw, is also a huge advocate for equality in the industry and feels very strongly about current attitudes worldwide towards gender divides.
Classically infused alternative pop trio The Hallows explore life, relationships and how things can change over time with their debut album ‘Of Time And Tides’ to be released 13th January. Championing their own very unique sound, The Hallows are an enchanting concoction of Kate Bush, Muse, Portishead and Tori Amos with their own individual dreamy essence thrown in.
The group’s eclectic sound is a result of the band members’ individual musical meanderings. Sarah has played as a backing vocalist/keyboard/Glockenspiel for Hafdís Huld supporting the likes of Paolo Nutini, Mika and Bloc Party at festivals as large as Glastonbury and SXSW. Joe meanwhile has supported notorious cult pornographic band Rock Bitch (a band renowned for rarely sporting support acts). He and Sarah have also played a number of television performances. The band are a tight knit unit that has forged over many years of friendship. Meeting at university, the band shared a house together, in which third band member Dave subjected the group to strict drinking game rules, whilst also ensuring they all ate proper meals (now holding the unofficial title of ‘band chef’).
Line was born in Tromsø, also living for some time in Svalbard, one of the most Northerly inhabited places in the world. As a child, she grew up regularly witnessing the beauty of the Northern Lights, as well as once having a close encounter with a polar bear whilst at Kindergarten. A highly versatile musician, Line not only sings and writes her own music, she also plays a number of instruments including guitar, piano and harmonica (she is currently also learning to play the fiddle). She has a keen interest in vintage music and vintage guitars and owns several custom made guitars and her own custom-made pedal-board.
Current single, “Haters” and previous single “Crush” appear on Line’s album, which is out now. The album was recorded at the legendary Abbey Roads studio, with major producer Rob Cass and electronica producer Pearse MacIntyre.
New alternative rock group Lasso Moon merge major Liverpudlian bands BROKEN MEN and SANKOFA to release the love song to the drug codeine “Kimota Codeine” in January 2017. Taking influence from Pixies, Sonic Youth and Nick Cave, Lasso Moon has a minimalistic sound to create more honesty in their music. The single is being released alongside a homemade video that took inspiration from Jim Jarmusch’s “Down By Law”, which was filmed in black and white with one static shot.
The minimalistic modern guitar sound mixes genres of hard rock, grunge and punk to form a raw honest style like no other. Lasso Moon aim to say something with their music and with “Kimota Codeine” the track explores the theme of transformation, particularly in reference to codeine and how it numbs the stress of modern life. The theme is mirrored in the music video, which shows front man Bobby Westhead searching for a distraction, conveying that no one gives time to art anymore due to the constant diversion of the internet.
Big Lenny Bunn
From sharing a stage with Razorlight, Noah And The Whale and Feeder, to supporting Scouting For Girls and Wilkinson, Big Lenny Bunn has dedicated his life to the industry. Returning with a classic cover of ‘Blueberry Hill’, Lenny has collaborated with major musicians to create a track in dedication to his adopted father who sadly passed away last year.
“Blueberry Hill” was Lenny’s adopted father Lyddon Thompson’s favourite track. Being Jamaican, Thompson opened Lenny’s eyes to another way of life and thinking, inspiring his music massively. The loss of Thompson made Lenny want to record the song, featuring Ibo from the Jamaican reggae band Third World and singer-songwriter Melissa James.
I’ve listened to a lot of new albums this year and a huge chunk of those have been very good indeed. I’ve reviewed a lot of Americana/country/roots albums, but there’s been thrash metal, blues, London indie, British folk, jazz instrumental, European electronic pop and one or two that defied classification. Here, in absolutely no order are my five favourite albums of this year; theses the ones that stayed with me, refusing to be replaced by new kids on the block. I’m including links to them where possible so that you don’t have to trust me, just click and listen for yourself.
“Shaky Path to Arcadia” – Phil Burdett Group
Phil Burdett released two albums almost simultaneously at the beginning of the year, leaving me with a really difficult choice about which to include (not the only example of that dilemma this year) and I think it’s “Shaky Path to Arcadia” by a hairsbreadth. It’s a great example of Phil’s work pulling together lyrical references from the American popular songbook, Dada,travel across the American continent, and Basildon (where Phil grew up and was in a band with a pre-Depeche Mode Martin Gore). Match up a breathtaking range of references with pure poetry and some lovely ensemble playing from Southend’s finest and you have an album that’s a thing of rare beauty. I really can’t understand why the world has never discovered this singer/songwriter/poet/renaissance man. Maybe this year. No Spotify link for this, but check out the first album in the trilogy “Dunfearing and the West Country High”
“Six on the Out”- The Westies
The Westies is Michael McDermott’s band project, running parallel with his solo work as Michael McDermott. In 2016, within the space of a few weeks, he released this Westies album, followed by the “Willow Springs” solo set (which could easily have made this list). “Six on the Out” is mainly the darker side of his past; the twilight zone inhabited by losers, petty criminals, addicts and misfits. It’s a dark and almost unrelenting journey through the things that did happen and the things that could have happened at the whim of fate. The ideas and the inspiration behind the songs are solid, but Michael’s lyrics (inspired and informed by the likes of Dylan and Springsteen) turn them into perfect little vignettes. When an album opens with the song “If I Had a Gun”, you know it won’t be easy listening; “Six On the Out” will leave you emotionally wrung out but elated to be in the presence of songwriting greatness.
“Double Take” -- Frankie Miller
Frankie Miller; best soul singer ever from the UK? No contest. Frankie had a massive brain haemorrhage in 1994 which incapacitated him for over a decade and from which he’s still slowly recovering. Around four years ago a batch of seventies demo tapes of unpublished songs resurfaced and Frankie’s supporters (with some firm guidance from Frankie) decided that they were suitable for release and that the perfect way to get them noticed would be to create duets with other singers. Not surprisingly there was no shortage of takers, including Rod Stewart, Paul Carrack, Kim Carnes and Willie Nelson and “Double Take” was born. But it’s not those cameos that make it great; it’s a whole bunch of great three-minute songs, simple and effective, and that phenomenal voice. The quality of the vocals is so good that it’s hard to believe that these are demos; this is the business. The duet idea’s been handled fairly well, none of them sound jarring, and Elton John sounds like he’s having a great time, but the highlight for me is still the three band demos with “Full House” proving what a superb rock ‘n’ soul outfit they were.
“Big Sky Country” -- Sofia Talvik
In a year when I reviewed a lot of Americana , “Big Sky Country” stood out from the crowd because of the way it blended American and Scandinavian influences to create a voice that’s uniquely Sofia Talvik. The album was a result of a lengthy tour of the USA and manages to capture the vast open spaces of the deserts and prairies while keeping the intimacy and melancholy of tales of broken relationships and depression. Sofia’s pure, ethereal voice floats gently above a variety of musical stylings, creating an atmosphere that’s widescreen and ethereal, grandiose and mundane, summed up by these lines from the title song : ‘I’ve seen the Blue Ridge Mountains rise tall, I’ve heard the San Francisco sea lions call, I left my heart in a dirty old bar, in Laramie, Wyoming, I slept in my car’.
“Truth is A Wolf” -- Mollie Marriott
This one’s the album that never was. I had a review copy for months, played it to death in the car. Loved the songs, the singing, the playing, the whole lot. As the release date kept slipping, I held off publishing the review until I just had to get it out there. Apparently the album won’t ever be released in that form, but some dodgy reviewers have been selling copies on eBay. Mollie has a tremendous voice that’s backed up by impressive songwriting (and choosing her collaborators well) but the album works so well because you can feel that it’s a real band. They’re all great players, but it’s more than that, you can feel a sense of unity running through the entire album. I’d love to be able to share the album with you, but the best can do is share this single video for “Ship of Fools” and point you in the direction of YouTube: