It’s High Fives time again and we had to check twice because we couldn’t believe it the first time – this is the fifth successive year that Neil Sheasby, co-songwriter and bass player in the astonishingly good Stone Foundation has contributed a piece to this feature, so we had to give him another Number One to add to his collection of singles. Stone Foundation have been huge favourites with the Riot Squad ever since a copy of “To Find the Spirit” popped through the letterbox (yep, that was letterbox, not inbox) in early 2013. It’s fair to say we’ve all come a long way since then. Anyway, let’s see what Neil has to say about 2018.

1 – TINY DESK CONCERTS

The Tiny Desk Concerts are a series of short performances broadcast by NPR music from Washington DC, it’s been a thing for around ten years now I believe but really started to gain momentum via you tube over the past year or two.
I’ve been kind of hooked on them this year and have discovered some great new artists and witnessed sets by heritage acts such as Tower of Power, Trouble Funk, Roy Ayers etc… The ones that really left an impression though were the artists that I didn’t know too much about prior to their stints on Tiny Desk, artists like Tank & the Bangas, Tom Misch, Tuxedo, PJ Morton.
It’s a musical treasure trove, when I get into it I’m there tuned in for hours. Very Inspiring.

2 – DIG THE NEW BREED

I think 2018 has been a really incredible year for new music, I’ve probably discovered more stuff than ever before.
Sometimes it may just be a single tune or it may lead to checking out a whole project that really strikes a chord.
I was really taken by “The Midnight Hour” album, a collaboration between Adrian Younge & Ali Shaheed Muhammad. Lots of guest vocalists and also a smattering of instrumentals that remind me of David Axelrod. I also really liked the Tom Misch Album “Geography”, he’s like a young jazz guitarist with cool tunes, I went to see him with my son recently.
“Girlfriend” by Christine and the Queens qualifies for my song of the year, 80’s revisionist stylings delivered with two feet firmly planted in the future.
I also dug records by Seinabo Sey, Leon Bridges, Neil Frances, a band called The Internet and that Childish Gambino tune “This is America”, I thought the video was genius. Real cutting edge.

3 – ELVIS COSTELLO – LOOK NOW

Somewhat of a pleasant surprise. I think this new album is up there with his best work, a great collection of songs that tick all the different boxes and previous guises of EC. His voice is great too, seems to be improving with age.
I thought Paul’s (Weller) album was really special too, a reflective charm to mark his 60th year.
Nice to have the old guard deliver as well as new delights.
They are two of our finest craftsmen when it comes to songwriting. Long may their flames burn bright.
One other complete surprise from a group I would have possibly wrote off was the new record from China Crisis “Autumn in the Neighbourhood” fantastic songs, still mining a Mersey take on Steely Dan!

4 – DAYS IN EUROPA

Somewhat ironically in the wake of the confusion and fall out over Brexit, we have been spending a lot of time touring over in Europe. We did a couple of particularly rewarding jaunts around both Spain and Germany. Really great gigs, attendances were fantastic and audiences were so responsive.
They value the arts and culture & invest in it a lot more than we do here.
I respect and enjoy the more considered approach abroad, there seems to be more emphasis on community and an air of positivity & solidarity.
I’m mystified as to why we would want to distance ourselves as a nation from the great bonds that have been forged for so many years with our neighbours across Europe.
I can understand & appreciate some EU rulings & laws are flawed but the bigger picture of us alienating ourselves from the rest of Europe as people on a humanitarian level just can’t bode well for future generations.
I’m not so sure it was broke to the extent of forcing such extreme changes upon us.
We loved our time touring out there this year, a real highlight of the 2018 calendar.

5 – HOME TAPING (still killing music?)

The week our album “Everybody, Anyone” was released I was asked to make a playlist by our friend Danny Champ for his Union music store Spotify feature. I sent over about 20 songs that I liked and Danny published them on Spotify which in turn made me finally investigate the merits of it.
I soon realised the joys to be found in making playlists on there, I found it kind of replaces my love of compiling songs on cassette for people, I’d missed that.
Home taping. It’s kind of a musical love letter.
I’ve embraced Spotify this year and not only pieced together several (very well received) compilations that I sent out on social media for anyone that was remotely interested, I also found it to be another avenue to discover new tunes & artists, which of course has to be a good thing right?
Record collecting via the physical format will always remain my passion but I was buoyed and excited to find another way of connecting and sharing great music.

When panic sets in during the last week in November at Riot Towers as we realise that High Fives has crept up unnoticed once again, the first person we contact is Neil Sheasby, bass player and co-songwriter with the brilliant Stone Foundation. He’s always happy to contribute, he’s passionate about music (his own and other people’s) and he’s a bloody good bloke. And his contributions are always worth reading and following up, so here’s the 2017 line-up. And, by the way , Neil, congratulations on a brilliant year.

 

1 – Mr Jukes “God First”

I don’t think I could have imagined in my wildest dreams that an album created by the guy from Bombay Bicycle Club would have ended up being my favourite and most played record of the year.

I’m always wary of side projects too (see Tin Machine) but this really is a complete piece of work from beginning to end. It actually got better and better the more I played it.

I caught them on their tour too at Shepherd’s Bush Empire and they were fantastic live too, a real modern soul vibe.

2- Teenage Cancer Trust gig Royal Albert Hall

We we’re fortunate enough to find ourselves performing on some prestigious platforms this year, none more so than the Royal Albert Hall back at the start of March.

It really felt like a turning point for us, there we were rubbing shoulders with the likes of Roger Daltrey, Ronnie Wood, Paul Weller, Kelly Jones etc…..and it just seemed a natural step up, we didn’t get over awed by the occasion or even nervous, it just felt like an opportunity that we were fully prepared for. It was a real thrill to play in such a setting, the gig itself was organised by and in aid of Teenage Cancer Trust, prior to our slot just after we’d soundchecked we were invited to attend a music workshop where teenagers whose daily lives are affected directly by the threat of Cancer were gathering in a hall creating and producing a joyous sound, it reminded me that even in the face of such adversity and testing moments that music and that outlet of creativity is such a positive force. Young kids whose everyday lives are compromised by the risk of cancer united in a celebration of sound.

I found it incredibly inspiring and moving. Certainly one of the most memorable performances I witnessed all year.

3- Curtis Harding “Face your Fear”

Second album from Curtis Harding and since it came into my orbit I’ve played it endlessly. Once again I think it’s a very complete piece, the songs and sound of the record really hang together well. It’s not really a straight ahead Soul album, it reminds me slightly of Terence Trent D’arby at his creative peak although it’s probably unfair of me to draw comparisons as this is very much it’s own thing.

Real strong collection of tunes that sound kind of timeless.

4- Festival Fever.

One of the main reasons I enjoy playing at festivals is that it affords the chance to catch other artists.

Two real highlights of my summer were Cornbury festival in Oxfordshire, which was a rather upmarket affair (they even had a Waitrose on site!), there was a real good vibe around the whole place, I had preconceptions of it being a bunch of toffs sipping spritzers just there for the ticket and jolly up but it was quite the opposite, you could tell people were really into the music, it was definitely our best gig of the festival circuit.

I enjoyed it so much that I went back the next day where I caught The Pretenders who just tore through a greatest hits set, I’d kind of forgotten how fantastic they were/are….

Seeing Solange at Glastonbury was fairly mega too.

5- David Bowie book / A Life by Dylan Jones

My son bought me it for my birthday back in October, for some reason I thought I was going to hate it, not sure why because obviously I love the subject matter and I quite like Dylan Jones as a journalist, maybe I was thinking it would be a bit kiss and tell, gossipy kind of affair but it turned out to be one of the most fascinating, revealing documents that I’ve read on Bowie.

It’s drawn from hundreds of interviews with close associates, friends, lovers, rivals, musicians….

It gets close to the core of the real Bowie.

As gigs go, music journalism and photography is about as good as it gets for this ‘wee boy fae East Wemyss’. When you do something for over a decade you’re going to have a few frustrating experiences; what you hope for is that the genuine bangers even up the balance, maybe even tip it into the positive. It’s no exaggeration to say that 2017 has been astonishing year with some moments that would have my eighteen-year-old self wondering how on earth all that happened. But even with the volume anchored at ten, there were some moments when it sneaked up to eleven (‘it’s one higher’). In no particular order, these are some of those moments.

Stone Foundation @Islington Assembly Hall – I’ve been a fan of Stone Foundation since the moment I stuck a promo of their album “To Find the Spirit” in the CD player about four years ago. It hit me with that sucker punch of Hammond and horns from the first bell and followed it up with a hit of pure twenty-first century British soul. I’ve watched as the band’s abilities and sheer bloody hard work have steadily moved them up the rankings. I guess it helps that they’re such a great bunch of people as well.

Their latest album “Street Rituals” was recorded at Paul Weller’s Black Barn studios with Mr Weller guesting on a couple of songs and now they can headline at the bigger London venues. So when they announced a tour gig at Islington Assembly Hall, it looked like a reasonably good punt for a Paul Weller guest appearance, the odds shortening when, collecting my photo pass, I discovered that access to the pit was for the entire set. It wasn’t just limited to one Magic Moment either. Not only did PW join the band to take the lead vocal on the gorgeous “Your Balloon is Rising”, he also appeared later for a cracking version of “What’s Goin’ On” (with a hint of “Something in the Air”). Not only two great performances that might never be repeated, but one of my favourite photos of the year (above). More SF to come…

Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes @The Forum, Kentish Town – I first heard Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes in 1977 and I was hooked instantly. I’ve never fallen out of love with that voice and the sound of that band (Hammond and horns again, with big rock guitars as well), but I could never have imagined the first time I heard “The Fever” it would mean the start of a long-term relationship rather than a one-night stand. Fast-forward to the second decade of the twenty-first century and things get a bit intense – I was asked to do some green room shots of Gilson Lavis presenting Southside with a pen and ink portrait of himself he’d done a few months before. And then I was asked to interview Gilson about his upcoming New York art exhibition and to take some photos of the gig.

I was in the green room with one of my all-time heroes and his incredible band, shooting the breeze and listening as the band arranged a guest performance with Gilson before being thanked by one of the band for a review I’d written of his side project. HTF did that happen? And then they went on to play a storming set with Gilson guesting on “Key to the Highway”. I still can’t believe it.

Stone Foundation @The Empire – This one’s easy; you can get all the background above. No surprises this time, I knew from the off that Graham Parker was the support for this gig. I’ve always been a huge fan and I was at the gig with my old friend and sometime MusicRiot contributor Steve Jenner and his lovely wife Sue. While I was backstage sorting out my accreditation, I bumped in to Neil Sheasby, bass player and co-songwriter with Stone Foundation, who was also having a ‘pinch myself’ moment because Graham Parker had brought along Dave Robinson, former Stiff Records supremo, who was regaling the band with his seventies music business stories.. One of the things I was sorting out backstage was photo pit access. I mentioned earlier that SF had allowed access for the whole gig in Islington; This time they went one better; they highlighted the songs that would feature guest appearances later in the set and ensured that that the photographers had pit access. That’s proper attention to detail.

The real magic moment came towards the end of the evening with a guest vocal by Graham Parker on his old Ann Peebles cover “I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down”. Magical because of a stunning performance by everyone on stage, but also because GP hasn’t played with a horn section in years and he’s said GP and The Rumour will never play live again. And a big shout to Jalen N’Gonda, the first support act (who was superb in a Marvin Gaye-style) and popped up during “What’s Goin’ On”. These guys know what they’re doing.

Hannah Aldridge & Jetbone @Windlestock – The night after the gig above as it happens with the same audience plus Mrs M, who can go out because it’s not a school night. Anyone who knows me will know that I’m a huge fan of Hannah Aldridge. She writes powerful and moving songs, she has an incredible voice and she has those cheekbones. I never get tired of photographing Hannah; it’s a different visual image every time, but that bone structure is always there. Anyway, this time she’d brought along Jetbone from Sweden to play a support of their blues-inflected Southern boogie and as her backing band.

I love a chance to photograph artists in different environments and this was a great opportunity. Towards the end of the set Hannah put her guitar to one side (got my interest already), picked up a tambourine (camera in hand) and went into full Janis Joplin mode (jeez, never thought I’d see that). It was a night packed with stunningly good performances (including the opening set by Rebecca Reidtmann), but the tambourine thing made my night.

Dana Immanuel & The Stolen Band (private gig) – I had a significant birthday a few days ago and invited a couple of bands, Deep Blue Sea and Dana Immanuel & The Stolen Band to play at the event. They were both superb. I’ve seen Dana a couple of times and the band is great, the original songs are superb and she knows how to deliver a powerful cover. Now these gigs are difficult, because audience chatter (seriously frowned upon I serious music venues, and rightly so) is almost inevitable as people catch and are perhaps introduced for the first time. Dana and the band took it in their stride and won over a crowd that ranged in ages from three (my great-nephew, who was completely smitten) to eighty-one (my mum and mother-in-law).
They took a short break after a storming first set and returned for a second set with an audience that was particularly noisy. With no introduction they launched into an almost a cappella (a little percussion) two-part harmony version of the Janis Joplin classic “Mercedes Benz” which completely silenced the audience and immediately dragged attention back to the stage. Unconventional certainly, but they had the audience eating out of their hands after that. I’ve seen a lot of classic pieces of stagecraft, but that was probably the finest.

If you’ve got any moments like those that you want to share with us, message us on the Facebook page or email musicriotboy@gmail.com. And thanks for following us.

stone_foundation_Street_RitualsOK, let’s get this straight from the start. It’s Stone Foundation; not The Stone Foundation. It’s an important distinction because the name has layers of meaning. It’s a reference to the solid bond uniting the core of the band: Neil Jones, Neil Sheasby, Phil Ford and Ian Arnold. But it’s also a reference to the foundations that underpin the band, the songwriting partnership of Neil Jones and Neil Sheasby and the locked-in, rock-solid rhythm section of Neil Sheasby and Phil Ford. That’s not to understate the importance of Ian Arnold’s keyboards or Rob Newton’s congas, but none of it can happen without the purring V8 (I know, mixed metaphors) engine.

And the rhythm section (along with the rest of the band) can turn on a sixpence as well. “Love Rediscovered” has the band alternating tempos and time signatures in a jazz-inflected piece with gentle ensemble horns and some lovely background sax fills. In many ways it’s the least typical song on the album, but it has a strand of the common thread of social commentary running through it. In that respect it’s a lot like the Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield social consciousness albums of the early seventies.

The big ticket news item is always going to be the involvement of Paul Weller as producer, co-writer, player and singer. On the two previous albums, the band have attracted some high-profile guests, but nothing quite in this league. The most obvious influence is in the current single “The Limit of a Man”, which has hints of Style Council, although there are suggestions of Brenton Wood’s “Gimme Little Sign” and Curtis Mayfield’s “Move On Up” in there as well. It’s a gloriously upful song and should, by rights, be all over the radio.

Paul Weller aside, there are guest appearances from Bettye Lavette on the midtempo “Season of Change”, full of horn stabs and parping baritone sax, and William Bell on “Strange People” with, strings, Hammond, horns, a flute solo and even a bit of cowbell. Both singers still sound fabulous. On the ‘business as usual’ front, Neil Jones’ vocals seem to get better with each album and Neil Sheasby has created some lovely melodic basslines.

Stone Foundation managed something wonderful with “Street Rituals”. They’ve expanded their musical palette by adding flute, more strings and some over-driven guitar to the usual mix of piano, Hammond and horns to create a timeless vibe that’s thoroughly modern while acknowledging its roots. There’s a lot going on with “Street Rituals”; it sounds gorgeous on the first listen, but on repeat keeps revealing more and more. Is there a better British soul band at the moment? I very much doubt it.

“Street Rituals” is released on Friday March 31 on 100 Per Cent Records.

One of the bands that the Riot Squad has supported for a few years now is Stone Foundation. Live and on vinyl, they are the real deal; great songs, rock solid rhythm section (that’s the stone foundation) and some superb horn arrangements. Founder members and songwriters Neil Jones and Neil Sheasby are a formidable partnership and also a pair of diamond blokes. Among other things, Neil Sheasby likes to do a bit of writing as well, and what he writes is always worth reading, so imagine how chuffed we were at Riot Towers when this piece came through less than two hours after we asked him if he’s like to contribute to High Fives again this year. What a star. 

Michael Kiwanuka – “Love & Hate“

 michael-kiwanukaIt’s such a complete piece of work from beginning to end, it’s in no desperate rush to impress, it just unfolds and works its way into your subconscious. It’s also hard to pin down to one genre, it’s a soulful record but equally embraces subtle elements of Rock, I certainly hear a Pink Floyd thing going on in there too. 

To encompass all these elements, have a social narrative and then still be an accessible pop record is no mean feat to pull off. 

Best album I’ve heard in a few years. 

 Phill Brown – “Are We Still Rolling?”

phill-brownI’ve read some great books this year. I really enjoyed Tim Burgess “Tim book two” as it turned me onto a lot of music that I otherwise probably wouldn’t have arrived at. 

I was given the Phill Brown book by a friend who thought I’d like it. Phill was (& still is) a recording engineer whose working life in studios started in the mid 60’s with sessions at Olympic Studios including The Stones right through to those remarkable Talk Talk albums “Spirit of Eden” & “Laughing Stock”.

The inside stories on both the artists involved and indeed the creation of the records is fairly priceless. I found it fascinating to read up on the creative process of pieces I adore like the first couple of Robert Palmer solo albums or tales of Traffic and a rather reclusive Stevie Winwood. 

Again it put me on a path of discovery, a chapter was dedicated to the making of Murray Head’s 1972 concept album “Nigel Lived”

I’d never heard it, didn’t even know of it prior to opening this book. 

It’s like a buried treasure somewhere between “Odyssey & Oracle” and “Dear Mr Fantasy”. 

It sold zero and sank without trace. 

 Josef Leimberg – “Astral Progressions”

josef-leimbergThis was something that our merch guy Pete had been banging on about for a while but as there is no physical format as yet of the album, it took me a short while to get around to hearing it, but once I did I found myself running back to listen to it constantly. 

He’s a trumpeter & composer who has worked recently with Kendrick Lemar & Erykah Badu but has now branched out and created his own thing which, as the title suggests, is a jazz fusion thing. The vocal tracks are pretty amazing too, it is a sort of continuation and development of the style that Kamasi Washington impressed with last year. 

It’s a real rewarding listen, powerful 21st century music. 

“The Get Down” (Netflix TV Series)

The Get Down

The Get Down

I wasn’t that impressed by the pilot of this but once I locked into the TV series I really thought it worked. 

“The Get Down” documents that period of New York City in the late 1970’s just as disco’s smouldering embers are being laid to rest and the City is on the verge of bankruptcy. A new art emerges, as always with the best movements it starts from the streets. The birth of Hip Hop told through the lives, music and art of a young street gang in the south Bronx. 

I thought the main actor, Justice Smith, was wonderful, the show had its fair share of critics but I really, really enjoyed it and look forward to picking it up again when the second series returns in 2017. 

 William Bell, Union Chapel – July

 neil-basher-and-neilWe (Stone Foundation) didn’t really do that many gigs this year as our priority lay with writing, recording and ultimately completing a new album for 2017. 

Our appearance as support for William Bell back in July turned out to be an evening that will live long in the memory, not so much for the gig itself but for the fairly surreal circumstances that we found ourselves surrounded by. 

Not only did we get introduced to William and have the opportunity to talk at length but we also had the good fortune of rubbing shoulders with both Paul Weller and Nick Lowe who were both in attendance. 

I always find it heartening to find that these people are just music obsessives and have principles and motives that are no different to that of our own. I don’t think you ever lose that sense of wonderment, that fan thing. It is fundamentally why we started playing and creating music and it never diminishes even if you’re Paul Weller or Nick Lowe. 

Music is an incurable sensation. 

Long may it reign o’er us…

SF review scrollerWhen Stone Foundation returned to Under the Bridge as headliners, the day before Chelsea entertained the new champions Leicester City, it was impossible to ignore the football parallels. Stone Foundation might not have won the Premier League yet, but they’re a group of Midlands musicians who work hard at what they do and play as a very tightly-knit team: and they’ll be playing in Europe later this year. The evening’s host and DJ, Robert Elms, had to admit to a bit of embarrassment, as a QPR fan at Stamford Bridge playing the Chelsea theme tune “Liquidator”. But this was a night for putting aside local rivalries to celebrate Stone Foundation’s return to The Bridge.

Following Robert Elms’ first set, the Max Milner Community played a fine support set of soulful rock. The band knocked out some very funky and dirty grooves as Max powered through some originals and even “The Letter” as a Joe Cocker tribute. Great harmonies as well and definitely one to keep an eye on. Time for Robert Elms again for a short set before the main event. A quick check of the stage setup showed that the horn section had expanded again; four horn mics onstage and something you don’t see very often – two flugelhorns. Anyone would think it was a jazz gig.

Stone Foundation; the name’s important. The band’s built on the foundation of writers Neil Jones and Neil Sheasby, and original members drummer Phil Ford and keyboard player Ian Arnold. The horn section has seen a few changes over the last couple of years, but the lineup of Gary Rollins (tenor sax), Gareth John (trumpet and flugelhorn) and Adam Stevens (baritone sax) seems fairly well established, along with conga player Rob Newton, spicing up the percussion mix. They’re in the process of recording the new album and trying out some of the new songs in a live setting.

The band have built up a fanatical following in London on the back of high-profile support gigs and their own headline slots, and the response as they made their appearance made this feel like a home game for them (despite Neil Jones waving a Manchester United towel to the crowd). The set kicked off with “Bring Back the Happiness” from “To Find the Spirit” and the single “Beverley”; two songs in and the band were 2-0 up and playing a blinder. The pacing of the set was spot on, building up the atmosphere with songs from the last two albums (including “To Find the Spirit” and “Night Teller”) before introducing three new songs (“The Limit of a Man”, “Frame by Frame” and “Back in the Game”) which were all well received by the knowledgeable crowd. And then it was back to the crowd pleasers with the Studio 54-esque “A Love Uprising” (whistles and all) and the old favourite, “Tracing Paper” before ending the set on “Something in the Light” and “That’s the Way I Want to Live My Life”, complete with the obligatory mass singalong.

As for the encore, well, it turned out to be a jazz gig after all. The first piece, “Old Partners, New Dances”, was a four-in-the-morning, empty jazz club instrumental played by Gareth John on flugelhorn accompanied by Ian Arnold. The pacing of the encore was perfect as well; the second song, the new “Street Rituals” was played without horns before the full band joined in for a rousing “Speak Your Piece” deep into injury time. Even Roman Abramovich enjoyed it from the VIP area behind the sound desk. The unfancied Midlanders came to The Bridge and got a result; even Leicester City couldn’t top that.

Stone Foundation are the real deal. They’ve built up a fanatical fanbase (the kind that chants the keyboard player’s name during the encore and actually welcomes new material) by working very hard at their particular soul vision and they’ve done it all on their own terms. It’s still a work in progress; Neil Jones and Neil Sheasby are constantly looking for ways to tweak and improve on what they do (like adding a second trumpet, possibly only for this gig) and each year seems to bring fresh triumphs and fresh challenges. There’s a new album next year and we may even get a few surprises along the way as well. Whatever happens, it’s going to be an interesting ride. Who knows what next season will bring.

You can see the pix from the gig here, and apologies to Neil Sheasby for picking up his Foxes idea and running with it.

Every year we seem have another ‘death of the album’ story as the established music business struggles to keep up with (or buy in to) services trying to maximise profit for the industry at the expense of the artist. But this year something strange has happened; sales of vinyl and record decks have risen dramatically. OK, the baseline’s still low but as CD sales plummet, it’s a good sign that people are investing in the hardware to play an analogue album format. Meanwhile, thousands of artists and bands are ignoring the established music business, funding their own recordings and using whatever methods they can to get their music out there. All of my High Five albums this year have been self-funded by artists who are making music because they believe in what they do and hoping that they can find an audience. I had seven albums on the shortlist for this selection, so there are a couple of honourable mentions as well.

A Life Unlimited Title“A Life Unlimited” – Stone Foundation

It’s been another good year for Stone Foundation. They’ve signed up to a couple of overseas labels, toured Japan again and released “A Life Unlimited”, an album that moves their search for the new soul vision onward and upward with hints of jazz, house and Latin disco (and even guest vocal performances from Graham Parker and Doctor Robert). Songwriters Neil Jones and Neil Sheasby have produced another set of classic songs while the band line-up has evolved with the permanent addition of congas and baritone sax replacing trombone in the horn section to give a slightly harder sound. This album (like its predecessor “To Find the Spirit”) is all about a group of musicians working together to create a very British soul sound; no egos, no big solos, just a bunch of guys pumping out perfect grooves. You can read the original review here.

Soultime Title“Soultime!” – Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes

You have to admire someone who’s been singing for over forty years, come through some difficult times and still gets fired up about recording and performing songs. Since cutting his ties with the corporate music business, and setting up his own label around fifteen years ago, Southside Johnny has undergone a creative renaissance, becoming more involved in songwriting (with co-writer Jeff Kazee) and exploring new musical areas (including Americana with his second band The Poor Fools). “Soultime!” is the work of an artist who isn’t bound by a release schedule and a cycle of album and tour. This album is inspired by some of the soul and rhythm and blues greats of the sixties and seventies, and evokes the era joyously without ever becoming a pastiche. It’s an album that’s great fun to listen to and sounds like it was fun to make. It’s essential listening and you can read the original review here.

Pete_Kennedy_4PAN1TAPK_FINAL_outlined.indd“Heart of Gotham” – Pete Kennedy

This is an album that had a long gestation period. Pete has been working on it for about ten years and there are a couple of reasons why the album took so long to make. Pete and Maura Kennedy have a very busy schedule with their other projects but, more importantly, this album could only be released when everything was absolutely perfect. “Heart of Gotham” is a song cycle about Pete’s love for New York City, delving into the city’s history, geography and ambience against a backdrop of Pete’s outstanding musicianship (playing all the instruments on the album) and some beautifully-realised arrangements. Pete’s multi-layered guitars and gravelly vocal delivery create an atmosphere that’s unlike anything else I’ve heard this year. You can read the original review here and you should also read Pete’s contribution to this year’s High Fives, which links in to the album.

Hannah Aldridge Title“Razor Wire” – Hannah Aldridge

This was a debut album with instant impact. Hannah puts together all of the classic singer-songwriter elements perfectly; she has a powerful, clear voice and she sings intensely personal songs with conviction and emotion. Everything on the album is inspired by life events, apart from “Parchman”, the story of a woman on death row, who has no regrets about the crime which put her there. There are songs about jealousy, revenge, addiction and inappropriate relationships, but there’s also a counterbalance, particularly with the nostalgia of “Black and White”. The album visits some very dark places but there are enough positive moments to create balance between the dark and the light. Hannah’s always been inspired by Jackson Browne; I’m sure he’d be pleased to hear the fruits of his influence. You can read a live review from Hannah’s Green Note gig in July here.

Black Casino Scroller“Until the Water Runs Clear” – Black Casino and the Ghost

Black Casino and the Ghost (can we just say BCATG from now on) are a four-piece based in London and Essex and “Until the Water Runs Clear” is their second album. They’ve been Riot Squad favourites since their first album was released over two years ago. It would be easy to focus on the stupendous voice of singer Elisa Zoot and the guitar virtuosity of Ariel Lerner, but bass player Gary Kilminster and drummer Paul Winter-Hart play their part as well, with Elisa’s keyboards adding even more possibilities. “Until the Water Runs Clear” has drawn in many influences from sixties pop to trip-hop, mutated them and thrown them in the blender to create something that alternately sounds familiar and completely original. There’s also a lyrical dark side that runs through the album, creating sinister undertones and a hint of paranoia; maybe you shouldn’t skin up before listening to this one. The end result is an album which keeps you guessing; you’re never quite sure where it’s going, but you don’t want to miss a second of it. You can read the review here and see a few photos of the band at The Finsbury here.

And there are a couple of honourable mentions for the Dean Owens album “Into the Sea”, which was recorded in Nashville and packed with memorable and very personal tunes, and Bob Malone’s “Mojo Deluxe” featuring some keyboard virtuosity and a bunch of great tunes across a wide range of musical styles.