The Buffalo Skinners - 'Cease Your Dreaming' - cover (300dpi)The implosion of the music industry in recent years has made it increasingly difficult to make a living out of making music, but it’s also led to a some creative thinking on the part of artists about getting their work out there. One of the more creative solutions has been the songwriting collective; The Jar Family in the north-east and The Buffalo Skinners in Sheffield are a couple of examples. There are similarities between the two (apart from working out of former northern industrial strongholds); each has four frontmen and the influences they pull together create an eclectic and electric mix. Even by today’s standards of eclecticism, “Cease Your Dreaming” is a very, very varied album and you’re never quite sure where it’s going next.

The album opens with the simple skiffle stylings of “We Get Along” (with a nice fiddle solo thrown in), moves through seventies pop-rock with “Sam’s Chop House” before “Play to Lose” has a walking bassline and harmonies that could easily come from an early Beatles single. You shouldn’t get the idea that all of the influences are fifty years old though; keyboard and mandolin player Kieran Thorpe’s vocals have a definite indie intonation, sounding a lot like the Kooks’ Luke Pritchard. The range of instruments played by Keiran, James Nicholls, Peter Secombe, Miles Stapleton and Robbie Thompson allows the band to move between various styles with ease as they move from slapback Sun Studios to English folk, sixties pop and the Mexican feel of the album’s penultimate song, “Remember Me”; they’re completely convincing and comfortable whatever the tempo and style.

There’s plenty to like about “Cease Your Dreaming”, nothing to dislike and a couple of songs to love. If you twisted my arm, I’d probably say the Mexican-tinged lament, “Remember Me” and the lo-fi tale of the failed guitar-slinger, “Delta Blues” are standouts. As I say far too often with bands like this, you really need to get out and see them live. They’re doing the UK and Europe at the moment; go on, make the effort to go and see them.

“Cease Your Dreaming” is released on Friday July 15th on Loose Chat Records (LCR005).

The BendsReady or not, here it comes.  It’s the second single from the Radio (in my) Head project and this time it’s the turn of Sullivn putting their highly individual stamp on “The Bends”.  The band are John O’Sullivan (all vocals), Layla MK Kim (piano), Simon Goudarzi (guitars), Sjur Opsal (bass) and Jon Mar Ossurarson (drums).  Now, I have to be completely honest here and admit that despite loving Radiohead, I can take or leave the original of that particular song.  In fact, I’d rather leave it; if you can imagine Tom Verlaine singing alternately stoned and constipated, that’s how I hear Thom Yorke’s vocal on “The Bends”.

This version is a very different beast, opening quietly and intimately with close-up solo vocal and piano before the guitars, bass and drums come thundering in at the end of the verse.  The song, at different times, features funk elements, big distorted guitars, twin guitar parts, hints of late Beatles production and some subtle piano touches throughout.  There is a tremendous attention to detail as the vocal sound moves from full and resonant to thin and distant and the guitars play power chords followed by atonal fills.  You need to do two things to get the most out of this; play loud and repeatedly.  Your neighbours won’t mind.

The B-side is a remix of Sullivn’s first single “Come Back”, taking the song down a very different route from the fairly straightforward ballad treatment of the original with a very trip-hop dubby feel of Massive Attack and Portishead and very heavy bass.  It’s not quite full on Lee Perry dub, but there’s a lot on interesting things going on there.  Possibly even better than the original single mix.

So what you get here is a Radiohead cover that’s packed with invention and great performances along with a cracking B-side.  I only wish I liked the original more so I could really emphasise how much more I like this version .  It’s available from Tuesday October 8 on iTunes.

Live in ConcertsOK, so do you want the good news or the bad news?  Bad news first, it is.  Sorry, but I just don’t think a four-CD live set is a good idea.  With a few notable exceptions, I’m not really too bothered about live albums generally.  I can understand that if you’re recording all of the shows anyway (and it’s quite easy to do that now), you might want to release some of the material for your fans.  I can also understand that, to be authentic, you might want to present a whole show from introduction to encore.  You might also want to showcase material from different tours; I just don’t believe that two complete shows spread over four discs is the best way of doing it.

Again, this is only my opinion, but I’m not keen on songs that last for nearly half an hour either.  Let’s get all the negativity out of the way now, shall we?  As a live act, the Henrk Freischlader Band has a huge dynamic range from pin-drop quietness to jet-engine loudness and you just can’t capture that on CD; try listening to this set on driving on the motorway or the autobahn and there are huge chunks that you just can’t hear.  So, it’s fair to say that I’m not keen on the concept, but that certainly doesn’t mean that it’s all bad news; after all, this is Henrik Freischlader.

Throughout the set, the musicianship is exceptional and that’s not just Henrik; Björn Krüger and Theofilos Fotiadis are a rock-solid rhythm section, while Moritz Fuhrhop’s Hammond adds another powerful solo instrument to the mix.  It’s great to hear musicians improvising creatively, but the songs which work best here are the ones where the improvisations and extensions are kept to a minimum.  The opening tracks “The Blues” and “Still Frame Replay” work well and the selections from the “House in the Woods”, particularly “1999”, House in the Woods” and “Breaking my Heart Again” all sound great in a live setting.  There’s also a good selection of covers from Peter Green’s “I Loved Another Woman” to the Beatles’ “Come Together” via the almost inevitable Hendrix of “Crosstown Traffic” and “Foxy Lady”.

For committed fans of Henrik Freischlader, this will be an essential album; there are plenty of powerful performances here and some very good songs.  If you’ve seen the band live, you’ll know that Henrik is a very gifted player and has a superb raw, soulful blues/rock voice and this set captures those qualities perfectly.  For the uncommitted, however, it might suffer from “Sandinista” syndrome; the infamous Clash triple album could have been a magnificent single album.  If this set was edited down to a third of its current length it would make a superb memento of a Henrik Freischlader live set.

If you want to hear Henrik at his best check out “House in the Woods” (reviewed on MusicRiot) released earlier his year, go out and see him live or have a listen to the wonderful new Layla Zoe album “The Lily” which Henrik produced as well as playing  guitar, bass and drums parts.  I’m already looking forward to his next studio album.

Out now on Cable Car Records (CCR 0311-40).