An archetypal indie band of the type you hear less and less these days, Hospitality’s second album is a masterful example of restraint, space and structure. Instrumentals, vividly detailed middle eights and trumpet solos are all given ample breathing space. Never too precise or self -indulgent, Amber Papini sounds like a fallen it-girl spending her days and nights on the phone smoking in coffee shops and crashing on other peoples’ sofa-beds. An album that reveals more with each listen, Hospitality are both old fashioned and forward-looking in their execution of guitar, drums and the occasional synth pop.
SZA, Kelela and Kindness have all been responsible for building the momentum of the new slowed-down and sonically screwed with RnB genre that came out of the remains of classic Aaliyah and Brandy and Cassie’s massively influential and singular debut. All commendable in the own right, none of these have yet mastered the all essential ingredient of delectable and persistent melodies like Tinashe has on her sublime debut album, the most consistent and important RnB album from a female vocalist in the last couple of years.
Her own worst enemy at times, but maybe that makes more sense now “Broke with Expensive Taste” has finally arrived in one piece and in the way Banks wanted it to. ‘I try all the cultures’ she sings over the appropriately tight and popping “Soda” and indeed she does; soca, hip-house, trap, surf-rock, UK garage and very deep house music all feature. The link to all of these styles is Banks herself; her inability to compromise and her keen ear have ensured her debut is one of the best within the genre, whatever genre that may be.
It’s hard not to mentally tick off the many influences that bubble up whilst listening to The Juan Maclean’s third album. Dance and club music is unavoidably indebted to its past, there are over five decades of a rich, diverse history to get lost in but McLean wisely avoids pastiche and nostalgia and creates his own nocturnal fantasy. With the essential Nancy Wang’s deadpan disco queen vocals dominating two thirds of the album, the duo have created their most successful and exciting collection to date.
Not quite her masterpiece, so far that honour still falls upon 2011’s ground-breaking “Strange Mercy”. Annie Clarke’s first self-titled album is, following eleven months of getting-to-know-you time, probably her most strange and artful release so far. The original conceit is that it was going to be her most accessible and ‘pop’ album to date and yes, one of the songs does sound like a classic Madonna ballad. But tracks that start off as off-colour, other-worldly RnB end up somewhere completely unrelated, bruised and bashed 3 minutes later -- and it works beautifully. A genuine superstar, St Vincent’s ‘St Vincent’ is one of the year’s brightest and most brutal releases.
Our next contributor plays saxophone with Southside Johnny and The Asbury Jukes but also released a strikingly good album this year as part of the New York Horns which is one of Allan’s albums of the year. When we asked him for a High Fives piece, here’s what he came up with. We think you’ll like this.
5 Horn Sections That Changed My Life
As a saxophone player, one of my absolute favorite ways to make music is with other horn players. Give me a trumpet or two, a couple of other saxophone players and a trombone to add some love, and you’ve got a recipe for a whole lotta fun. If the rhythm section is the meat and potatoes, and the vocalist is dessert, then the horn section is the salt. We bring out all the other flavors and make everything oh so much sweeter.
In thinking about the subject matter for this best-of list, it quickly dawned on me that I had MANY more than five examples that I could draw upon to make my point. So many that I almost gave up! After some careful consideration though, here’s five of the horn sections that have changed my life through their contributions to the music:
THE swingin-est band in the history of jazz. Count Basie’s band emerged in the 1930’s in Kansas City, and became the de facto definition of foot-stomping swing with their penchant for shouting blues, riffing head arrangements, and an infectious groove that just made you want to dance. The jazz traditions of “riffing” and “head arrangements”, while not originating with the Basie band, were certainly developed and forwarded onward by the band. Many of the riffs, licks and phrases that you will hear modern horn sections play can trace some or part of their lineage back to the Basie band. Check out “The Atomic Mr. Basie” (1957) and “Count Basie Swings, Joe Williams Sings” (1956). Two of my all time favorite Basie albums.
James Brown redefined popular music. He also redefined the role of the horn section in popular music. Prior to his influence, horns would generally have a more melodic role -- playing melodies and generally being in a “lead” role. The late swing and early jump blues bands often were led by horn players and under the vocals the horns played a large supporting role, remaining a mostly harmonic underpinning. James changed all that. The horn section under James Brown became another rhythmic instrument, driving and propelling the groove. With snapping rhythmic pulses and repeating motifs, the horn section was another texture in the rhythm section, adding propulsion and rhythmic intensity. Check out “Mother Popcorn”, “Super Bad”, “Soul Power” and “Cold Sweat” for classic examples. The JB Horns (Maceo Parker, Fred Wesley, Alfred “Pee Wee” Ellis) also were a fixture of P-Funk and Bootsie’s (Collins) Rubber Band, as the Horny Horns.
Growing up in North Carolina, in the southern United States, it was inevitable that I was exposed to the music coming out of Memphis, Tennessee and especially STAX Records. Wayne Jackson and Andrew Love, aka the Memphis Horns, are one of the most recorded horn sections in history. If you’ve heard “Dock Of The Bay”, “Soul Man”, “Hold On I’m Comin’”, “Suspicious Minds”, “Sweet Caroline”, “Takin’ It To The Streets”, “Let’s Stay Together”, “Born Under A Bad Sign”, “Knock On Wood” (and countless other hits), then you’ve heard the Memphis Horns. They appeared on virtually every STAX recording, backing Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Eddie Floyd, Carla & Rufus Thomas and an endless list of others. Not only were they a staple of the Memphis scene but could also be found as part of the Muscle Shoals scene, and on recordings with Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett.
No modern horn player that plays funk, soul or R&B hasn’t heard of or spent time studying TOP. Bursting onto the scene in Oakland, CA in 1968, Tower saw its peak success from 1973 to 1974. The band continues to tour extensively to this day, playing hundreds of shows every year across the world. The horn section has been featured on countless recordings by artists as diverse as Little Feat, Graham Central Station, The Monkees, Santana, Elton John, John Lee Hooker, Rufus, Rod Stewart, Huey Lewis and the News, and Aerosmith and has come to define a punchy, modern and funky style of writing and performing for horns. Check out “Tower of Power” (1973) and “Back to Oakland” (1974) for the definitive TOP experience.
While not a horn section unto himself, Jerry Hey has probably written more horn arrangements for hit songs and albums than anyone else in the business. As part of the Seawind Horns, Jerry was brought to the attention of Quincy Jones. That relationship led to Jerry’s writing for some of the biggest names in the industry. His credits as an arranger include albums from Michael Jackson, Brothers Johnson, Donna Summer, Rufus, George Benson, Patti Austin, James Ingram, Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Earth, Wind and Fire , Al Jarreau, Chaka Khan, and the list goes on… Two of my favorite albums that feature Jerry’s writing (and the Jerry Hey Horns) extensively are Al Jarreau’s “Jarreau” and “High Crime” (Check out “Imagination”!) and likely my all time favorite Jerry Hey arrangement (and performance) is from Michael Jackson’s “Workin’ Day And Night” (“Off The Wall”).
I could go on and on… there are so many great horn sections, players and writers out there, making incredible music. Hopefully this list will give you some food for thought and a good place to begin to explore the horn section legacy. Enjoy!
There was a time earlier this year, when I was hobbling around with the help of a crutch, when I thought that I would have difficulty scraping together five gigs that I’d actually seen; how wrong was that? It’s been difficult to narrow this list down to five, so I think there might be a few honourable mentions as well. So, in absolutely no order at all are my favourite live shows of 2014.
Jim Stapley Band at 93 Feet East
Jim Stapley’s debut album almost made my top five albums, but there was absolutely no doubt about this live performance. Jim has a phenomenal soulful rock voice and he has pulled together a superb band to deliver the songs live. This was an album launch gig featuring virtually all of the album “Long Time Coming” (plus a cheeky cover of Rihanna’s “We Found Love”) and, despite atrocious weather and a half-full venue, Jim and the band gave it everything. The songs were strong, the band were cooking on gas, but what a voice.
Towards the end of a very busy year for the band, this was an appearance at the annual Delicious Junction bash and another headline slot at The 100 Club with a set based solidly on the “To Find the Spirit”. All of the band members are great players but, despite the solos, this isn’t about individuals, it’s about the group; it’s the perfect combination of a locked-in rhythm section, keyboards and horns. It was also a chance to see how the new members Gareth John (trumpet and flugelhorn) and Rob Newton (congas) had bedded in. It’s fair to say that the horns sounded better than ever and the congas added a little bit of icing on the cake. It was a great set from the band and a stomping encore of “Jumping Jack Flash”. Enough said.
Little Devils at The 100 Club
Yeah, The 100 Club again and it’s blues Jim, but not as we know it; Little Devils are fronted by singer and multi-instrumentalist (sax and flute), Yoka. The rhythm section of Graeme Wheatley and Sara-Leigh Shaw (aka the Pintsized Powerhouse) built a solid base for Big Ray’s guitar and Yoka’s vocals and instrumental solos. The quality of the playing alone would put this gig up there with the best this year but this is also great fun; the band obviously enjoy themselves and the audience will always pick up on that. Great performances and big smiles all around the room; that’s a pretty good combination for a great night.
This was the final night of the Ian Hunter tour and the audience was in a party mood. It’s not the first time I’ve seen Federal Charm but they seem to get better every time. They got a huge cheer when they strolled on to the Shepherds Bush Empire stage and powered their way through thirty minutes of melodic blues rock featuring their powerful cover of “Reconsider” before making way for Ian Hunter. What a legend; played for two hours and kept the audience spellbound throughout, and the voice still sounds great. We even got an appearance from Mick Ralphs for the encore. Top night.
Now this sounded like a great idea. 60s legend, and big influence on the Asbury Park scene teams up with Southside Johnny for a UK tour; I’ll even pay for tickets for that. Albany Down, despite a ten-second soundcheck, got the audience nicely warmed up for the main event which was a set from Gary Bonds (with some help from Southside) and a set from Southside (with a little help from Gary Bonds), both backed The Asbury Jukes. As ever, the superb musicians (Jeff Kazee, Tom Seguso, John Conte, Glenn Alexander, John Isley, Chris Anderson and Neal Pawley) fitted together perfectly and reacted instantly to any curveballs thrown by Southside. Seriously great players but they know how to have a bit of fun as well. They’re a great attraction as The Jukes, but Gary Bonds just tipped it over the edge.
It was incredibly difficult to narrow this down to only five gigs and there are a few more which deserve honourable mentions. I saw Vera Lynch three times (including their final gig at The Barfly in Camden and a gig in a Shoreditch shop window), The Kennedys and Edwina Hayes at Green Note and Dean Owens and Black Scarr on Eel Pie Island and all of those were great nights. Here’s to many more in 2015.
Since we started the High Fives feature two years ago, only two guest contributors have been ever-present. We’ve already heard from Dean Owens, so now it’s time for Billie Ray Martin. Her choices are always interesting and eclectic and this year is no exception. Have a listen to these and you’ll see what we mean.
He’s done it again. After my initial surprise that he was once again covering the trials and tribulations of a relationship on this album, I realised that his approach is radical. He tells a deep truth that is at times uncomfortable, but ultimately rewarding to witness. ‘Jealousy’ is the most striking example from this best album of 2014.
Waterson deserves major recognition in the coming year. “Ae Fond Kiss” is just something he came out with, because he felt like it. The effortless skill and talent here is apparent as is the deep soul that drives him.
This is one of my most precious possessions. Not only is the quality of the vinyl, the cardboard, the print, the best I’ve ever seen and the mastering is warm and lush; the music too is almost unexpectedly beautiful and the influence on people like Brian Eno becomes even more obvious. Each vinyl includes also a CD album. Money was never better spent.
When I heard this song I emailed Rod Thomas telling him that the (at the time) 26,000 listens on Soundcloud were all mine! Songwriting at its best.
This is not a new release but I came across it this year. It is an uplifting song, with a funky production and mix. The inimitable Eric D Clark on vocals warm up the heart while you skip round the living room dancing.
We always like a good live music picture here at Riot Towers and we even manage to publish one occasionally. When we asked Allan to pick his favourite five live shots this year, his first reaction was a hissy fit about only being allowed to choose five pictures because he wanted to choose six. It wasn’t a Spinal Tap thing but a bit of the old artistic temperament; apparently there’s no way of making five pictures look symmetrical, so we allowed him his bit of graphic licence. Here’s what he has to say about his choices:
The first unusual thing is that there are two photos of sax players, and both of them were taken on the same night, when Stone Foundation supported The Blow Monkeys at Under the Bridge. It’s a lovely venue and the team there pay a lot of attention to detail in their presentation which means that the sound and light are spot on. The lighting on the shots of Gary Rollins (Stone Foundation) and Neville Henry (Blow Monkeys) is very different; one’s very warm and the other’s quite cool, but they both work.
The Glenn Alexander shot (from a Southside Johnny gig at Shepherds Bush Empire) works because it has all the rock guitarist elements, but you can see him watching centre stage because he’s playing with Southside and anything can happen. As for Pete Kennedy (taken at a Kennedys show at Green Note), I loved the concentration, but how often do you see photos of an Ovation ukulele?
The shot of Nick Bowden and Paul Bowe of Federal Charm was another one from the Empire, when the band supported Ian Hunter on the final night of his UK tour. The band only had a thirty minute support set but they threw everything at it and I think this shot captures the energy they poured in to that set. I wish I could say that the shot of Keisuke Nishikawa (at a Vera Lynch gig) was carefully planned, but the downward look and the atmospheric lighting just happened to coincide with the click of the shutter.
Two of Allan’s High Five albums this year were released on Drumfire Records so it was a ridiculously obvious choice to ask the owner of the label (and live music promoter) Phil Penman to contribute to this feature. Once again, we got some really interesting choices.
When Allan ask me to contribute to High Fives, I thought that it would be easy – just pick five albums, I thought. But I wracked my brains and (not including Drumfire Records releases) I could not come up with a single 2014 album I thought was truly ‘great’. A dozen or so ‘good’ albums but nothing to change my life. Maybe I just haven’t found them yet. So what did excite me in 2014?
The Sound – “Box Set #1” (“Jeopardy”, “From the Lion’s Mouth” and “All Fall Down”). Privileged to work on this and truly delighted with the results, and even happier to be working on a second box set for Feb 2015 release. Adrian Borland is sadly missed. The music from this great band has really stood the test of time. Consistently high standard.
Not from 2014, but new to me. John Grant – 2 albums of enormous beauty that I’ve listened to more than any others: “The Queen of Denmark” and “Pale Green Ghosts”. It was hearing these that made me realise how much I crave music that is new to my ears and not just the latest in a succession from artists I already know and love.
Great to see local boys The Carnabys release their debut album “No Money on The Moon”. Great hard working lads, winners of Hard Rock Rising and an album that really exudes the energy and honesty they deliver live. These boys perform with smiles on their faces, which is so refreshing – not po-faced, earnest trying-too-hard-to-be-trendy. Not ground-breaking perhaps, but if you get a chance, see them live. With the right breaks they could be huge. Accessible rock.
Proving that quality can go on and on, the only time this year when one song had me running to the shop to buy the album. Half Man Half Biscuit’s “Westward Ho! –Massive Letdown” was that song. “Urge for Offal” is a good album, which also contains my lyric of the year: ‘‘Cresta! What the fuck were we drinking?!’
Ok, so I couldn’t not mention it. Drumfire released two albums in 2014 and both made Allan McKay’s High Five. We made our first ever piece of vinyl – Ags Connolly’s ‘How About Now’, we hosted great shows with Dean Owens, Martin Stephenson, and Clive Gregson…. but my favourite thing? Phil Burdett’s launch show in Westcliff. I’d only ever seen Phil perform solo. The launch show with full band made me fall in love with his music all over again. World, you don’t know what you are missing.
In parting, I’ll add that I’ve really tried to find new music, and the following half a dozen albums definitely deserve honourable mention (and barely a country album in sight): FKA Twigs, Future Islands, Sturgill Simpson, Royksopp, Strands Of Oak, Honeyblood.
When we asked our friends at Quite Great promotions for a contribution to the High Fives feature, they gave us a selection of albums they’ve worked on this year that really took their fancy: “Field of One” – Alan Mair The Only Ones bass player Alan Mair has been writing songs for many years, and witnessing the current accessibility to worldwide digital distribution of music, and the ability to keep control of one’s music, he has decided to finally release them. Alan’s debut solo single ‘Four Winds’ is due for release on the 22nd December 2014. The track itself is an eclectic blend of alternative rock with resonating vocals and features the revered guitarist Zal Cleminson on guitar, who in his own right is a superstar in the world of guitarists. If you can’t wait until December, take a listen to it here.
“Saltwater” – John Fairhurst Bristol-based, the John Fairhurst Band are a newly formed trio fronted by their eponymous songwriter. Drawing from rock, blues and world music, with a penchant for slide guitar and a distinctive deep growling voice, his songs, delivered in pure raconteur style, narrate all the hardships of life on the road. For the first time, John Fairhurst will be releasing his new album – and the preceding singles – accompanied by a powerhouse rhythm section of Bristol’s young guns: Toby Murray & Pete Episcopo. For a taste of their sound, check out this video for “Breakdown”.
“Codeine EP” – Witching Season The highly anticipated EP from rock trio Witching Season is out now. The band claim to draw influences from the likes of rock legends, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, The Doors, Queens of the Stone Age and Dinosaur Jr, all of which shines through in their music; they have been making a lasting impression across the rock scene and have received a host of plays on radio stations nationwide. New track “Codeine” showcases the band’s rocking talent and is true to their dark rock sound. True to the band’s native rock sound, ‘Codeine’ features heavy and impressive guitar riffs teamed with fierce drum beats all stitched together with Tom Reynolds coarse and captivating vocals. “In the Art of Doom” – Noel and the Pandas Noel and the Pandas are the hottest new alternative rock sound to emerge from Italy. With a soft rock sound and sensitive lyrics, the guys add a hearty Italian twist to rock. The band is led by front man Noel, who is the ultimate Italian Jack of all trades who has finally found his calling in the world of alternative rock music. The band has an alternative rock sound, with a soft undertone that subtly embraces the best of rock. “In the Art of Doom” is the debut album from the band and showcases the rockin’ talents of the five guys. A number of tracks on the album explore the heart ache Noel has suffered over recent years and draws the listener into his complex world through his heartfelt lyrics. “20 Years Late” – The zzips Meet The zzips; living proof that rock‘n’roll is not dead, and is in fact very much alive and kicking. A diverse duo comprising frontman James Butler and writing partner Graham Cupples, their debut is the eagerly anticipated album “20 Years Late”. Within their songs, they address issues that are prominent within British society, and question the policies of consumerism, greed and elitism after partaking in social observation. The album is both a call to arms and a cry for revolution and change, whilst some of the songs simply follow what happens within their day-to-day lives. Think classic 90’s rock, with a modern blues twist and challenging lyrics.
We reviewed Bob Malone’s excellent “Mojo EP” earlier this year and a couple of months later we sent Allan out to the badlands of Southend-on-Sea to see the final show of Bob’s UK tour. We were so impressed that we asked Bob to contribute to this feature. Here’s Bob’s festive favourite five:
‘Tis the season, and all that sort of thing; I can’t lie -- I get radically sentimental about the holidays. For most of the year, I bash pianos, sing songs of alienation and heartbreak, and knock out one-nighters like the road warrior that I am, but come Christmakuh, don’t come around here looking for any of that action -- I’ll be busy baking cookies, bitchez! These five records mean a lot to me, and they are what I think of when I think of this time of year.
“A Charlie Brown Christmas” -- Vince Guaraldi Trio Vince was one of the great jazz pianists, with a magical, melodic, understated style all his own. This music is the perfect companion to what was probably most perfect Christmas TV special ever made. You’ll smile, you’ll reflect quietly, you get a little melancholy, and you will dig that swinging rhythm section every year for the rest of your life. Oh, and I have this record on green vinyl -- you know you want one. Timeless.
“The Spirit Of Christmas” -- Ray Charles This record is so good, you don’t even have to wait for the holidays to put it on. Crazy hip arrangements, and Ray singing his ass off and playing a sweet, sweet Fender Rhodes throughout. He even manages to make “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” sound badass. There will never be another Brother Ray, so bow down and dig. I should note, however, that this record has the widest bad-album-cover-to-great-music spread ratio ever. A book definitely not to be judged by its cover.
“A Very Special Christmas” -- Various Artists This mid 80s collection sold gazillions and is full of great tracks -- Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band doing the great Charles Brown’s “Merry Christmas Baby” (way cool, but not as good as the 1977 bootleg of Bruce doing “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town,” which just can’t be touched -- I’m from New Jersey -- this shit is IMPORTANT!), Chrissie Hynde’s snow-meltingly sexy version of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” and Madonna totally nailing “Santa Baby” -- and I frigging HATE Madonna -- but credit where credit is due. Most importantly, though, it’s got Run -- D.M.C. doing “Christmas In Hollis” -- which just might possibly be the greatest thing ever… “It’s Christmastime in Hollis, Queens, mom’s cookin’ chicken and collard greens…” Yes, Indeed. Oh and speaking of Charles Brown, everyone needs to own “A Very Special Christmas II” just for the recording of his duet with Bonnie Raitt on the aforementioned “Merry Christmas Baby.” It’s the kind of thing Top-5 lists were made for.
“Baroque Masterworks for The Festive Season” -- Württemberg Chamber Orchestra Betcha didn’t see this one coming! Before I discovered rock and roll and the blues, and Return to Forever, and the New Orleans piano professors, and “The Chronic” -- I was an 11-year-old classical piano prodigy and this was one of the first records I ever bought with my own money. It’s got the Pachelbel Canon, and the Torelli Christmas Concerto on it. Just get it. It’ll make you weep.
“Come Darkness, Come Light” -- 12 Songs Of Christmas” -- Mary Chapin Carpenter A dozen original Christmas tunes by one of our great songwriters -- not the normal celebratory, sentimental, or breezy types of things you hear this time of year, they are instead reflective and realistic. When you have that seasonal melancholy, and you need to dig deep -- this is the one you need to hear.
David Young is the guitarist and songwriter with Space Elevator, who released their very fine debut album this year. When we asked him for a music-related Top 5, here’s what we got:
When we decided to release the Space Elevator album on vinyl I actually had to walk up the road to the local Oxfam to buy a couple of vinyl albums just to reacquaint myself with the size of the lyrics and general artwork.
This led to a fervent re-buying of most of my old vinyl all over again once I purchased a new deck. It is all (except for a couple) second hand, either from shops or e-bay.
My top five vinyl purchases so far are not necessarily my favourite five albums but the five that for some reason have given me most joy since purchasing them again in this format.
So here we go.
Queen 2- I was bought this for Christmas by my Gran when I was 12. It was October and she was down visiting from Glasgow. I ran home and played it before she came home on the bus, watching for her coming down the road. Once she was home that was the record gone for two whole months until Christmas. No possible way of hearing it. Tell that to a twelve year old nowadays!! It’s their best cover, inside and out!
Fighting- Thin Lizzy -- I bought this album when on holiday in Bournemouth when I was 14. It had the U.S. building site cover which is more tasteful than the “weaponry” of the UK version. Same cover this time. Took me right back…brilliant.
Paul Stanley - My favourite Kiss solo from 1978 was always Paul’s. I picked this up from a guy in New York on e-bay in great nick with the original poster from that awful jigsaw poster they did, and with the specific Paul merchandise sheet.
2112-Rush -- Back in the days of vinyl, I had every Rush album and treasured them. Signals was my favourite, but bizarrely I never owned 2112 on vinyl. I had a cassette. It’s great opening up the gatefold sleeve and seeing the album as it should be. I also forgot how good side 2 is!
Earlier this year we reviewed the Chris While and Julie Matthews album, “Who We Are”, so when the time came to put together this year’s High Fives, we asked Chris While for a contribution. Here are her five favourite guitar breaks.
Richard Thompson’s lyrical riffs after the first verse in “Who Knows Where the Time Goes” -- Fairport Convention. I know every note of that solo and can’t help humming along with it. Richard is so musical it hurts!
Michael Landau on “Native Son” -- James Taylor. Dreamy notes with so much space, I can just listen to that outro again and again.
Gerry Douglas on “Forget About It” -- Alison Krauss. When he goes into that minor section in the solo, I stop breathing.
Howard Lees, “Now That Love is Gone” from our album “Perfect Mistake”. I have been playing with this genius player now for 30 years! When Julie Matthews and I recorded this song it ended up being a rumba with a tango bridge. We just gaped at each other when Howard broke into classical Spanish style, there isn’t anything he can’t play -- incredible!