So, how was 2013 for you?  The Riot Squad have had a brilliant year bringing you the best in contemporary music wherever we find it.  Allan, John, Klare and Louie have reviewed some exceptional live and recorded music throughout the year and we all thank you for reading our reviews and looking at our photos.  We couldn’t resist this opportunity to remind you of some of the artists we reviewed for the first time in 2013.

We saw live performances by the Emile Gerber Band (which became Stoneface Travellers), Henrik Freischlader, Josephine, Marcus Bonfanti (solo and with his band), The Kennedys, Federal Charm (twice), Black Casino & The Ghost, Coco and the Butterfields (several times), The Dirt Tracks, Carrie Rodriguez, Aynsley Lister, Civil Protection, Wheatus, Dean Owens and Zoe Schwarz Blue Commotion.  Quite a selection, really.

We reviewed albums and singles by Henrik Freischlader, Marcus Bonfanti, Sally Shapiro, Tomorrow’s World, Black Casino & The Ghost, Jimmy Livingstone, Austra, Tess of the Circle, Aynsley Lister, The Nyco Project, The Dirt Tracks, Nadine Shah, Sullivn,  Radio (in my) Head, Tal National, Layla Zoe, Kinver, Au Revoir Simone, DENA, Hartebeest, Polly Scattergood, Glasser, Annie, Emika and John Grant and probably a few others as well.  Along the way we had some great fun and met some lovely people; you all know who you are, and we’re hoping to meet most of you again this year.

Looking forward to 2014, we’re hoping for more of the same.  The review copies are already coming in and it’s starting to look pretty good already.  Over the next few weeks, we’ll be sharing some of our predictions for 2014 from the Riot Squad and possibly from a few guest contributors as well.  And, while we’re on the subject of guest contributions, many thanks to Aynsley Lister, Steve Jenner, Marcus Bonfanti and Billie Ray Martin for their contributions to our High Fives feature last year.

The Stone HouseWell, this is certainly very different from most of the albums I’ve reviewed recently, apart from the Tess of the Circle album, “Thorns”.  Kinver are Ian Parker (guitars and vocals), Beth Porter (cello and backing vocals), Alex Thomas (drums and percussion), Steve Amadeo (bass) and Morg Morgan (piano and Hammond) and they play the gentle, melodic and sometimes haunting songs of Ian Parker.  If you’re after banging rhythms and loads of digital effects, then you’re in the wrong place; the arrangements of the songs on their debut, “The Stone House” are tasteful and subtle, demonstrating great technique without any hint of overplaying.

The songs are introspective, confessional  folk/rock of the type that was incredibly popular in the early 70s.  The opening track,” The Lights” sets the tone for the album with a cello riff (there’s a phrase I never thought I’d use) played over some clipped guitar chords as an intro before the song unfolds into a story of loss and redemption, common themes throughout the album.  The gentle “The Will to Dance” leads into what is musically the bounciest track on the album, the almost-jaunty “From the Start”.  “Ten Thousand” is a twenty-first century protest song wrapped up in a very gentle, laid-back style while “Silent Void” has a folky start and is probably the most confessional song on the album, but more about that later.  “Turning to Light” starts with a military drum pattern, but soon drops into the familiar low-tempo band groove while “Waste in Chains” features a nice finger-picked guitar accompanied by cello, before dropping into a country-feel middle section, then back to guitar and cello.  The gloomy “Lonelier Souls” acts as a contrast with the uptempo and lyrically upbeat “Basket” and with “Halfway Home”, the album closes as it opened with guitar, cello and viola.

Musically the album is pretty easy on the ear; the performances are very good throughout and the band move through a variety of styles with ease and Ian Parker has a very good voice, reminiscent at times of another West Midlander, Stephen Duffy.  Lyrically, it isn’t such an easy listen.  Ian Parker, as a lyricist, pulls out some interesting metaphors including this in “From the Start”: ‘It occurred to me you see that I’d never really be quite round enough for many of life’s holes’, but it’s the content overall that I’m less sure about.

I’m quite partial to a bit of melancholy, even misery, in my music but on “The Stone House” it’s almost inescapable.  There’s an air of fragility which runs through each track on the album, in the music as well as the lyrics and a sense of alienation in the lyric above, but also in several references to misfits and addiction.  The songs could have been sequenced to create a narrative of redemption (or the opposite) but we’re left guessing how the story actually ends.  It’s difficult to tell if a song is confessional and based on biographical events, or a complete work of fiction but if “The Stone House” is based on reality, then I really hope that making the album has helped Ian Parker through a difficult time.  If it’s a creation and not a confession, then it’s a very convincing portrait of a desperately difficult existence.

CD release Monday October 21