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.
Oh, is it my turn for the albums? Ok, these five stood out way above the rest and they’re a pretty mixed bunch but I think that’s what Music Riot is all about. Have a listen to these if you can because there’s a lot of really good music here.
When you’ve listened to a lot of blues and blues/rock (and believe me I have over the years), you understand how easy it is for even very good players and writers to slip into the blues clichés, lyrically and musically. Some writers understand that not every song has to be a twelve-bar blues with lyrics about bad booze and wanton women, and Aynsley Lister is one of those writers. His songs on “Home” are recognisably blues/rock but with a recognition that the genre has to move on lyrically and musically. On “Home”, there are songs about the state of the music business today, an elegy to an old friend, a couple of brilliant covers and a tribute to Gene Hunt. What more do you want? This is one of those albums that grabs you from the first listen and doesn’t let go.
Ok, I’m going to admit to a slight bias here; I’ve been a fan of John Fogerty for much longer than I care to admit to. The first time I strapped on a guitar and played (badly) in front of an audience, the song the band played was the Creedence Clearwater Revival single, “Up Around the Bend”. I’m pleased to say that John Fogerty’s career as a performer has been much longer and more successful than mine.
There are a couple of ways of looking at this album; you can see it as a cynical rehash of old material for a few quick bucks or you can see it as an opportunity to work with kindred spirits to put a twenty-first century polish on some classic twentieth century songs. You can probably guess which way I’m leaning on this one. If you only listen to one song on this album, listen to “Hot Rod Heart”; John Fogerty is joined by guitarist Brad Paisley and the final minute and a half of the song is the joyous and totally self-indulgent sound of two superb players having a great time trading guitar licks. If this doesn’t make you smile, you don’t like music. And that’s before we get on to the reworkings of the classic Creedence songs “Lodi”, “Long as I can see the Light”, “Who’ll Stop the Rain” and the less well-known “Wrote a Song for Everyone”. Oh, nearly forgot, “Proud Mary”. Superb from start to finish.
If you’re really into music, it doesn’t matter how much you’ve heard, you still love it when you hear something original and fresh (and I’ll be completely honest and say something that no-one else has written about yet). My epiphany this year was an invitation to see Spanish indie band The Dirt Tracks in central London. The audience was four people, and that included me and the band’s manager. It didn’t bother the band because they pulled out a storming set. I was given a copy of the band’s debut album and I promised to review it. When I listened to it, I was hooked.
It’s heavily influenced by British indie, but there are elements of late ‘60s psychedelia in there as well as samples and a huge guitar attack. As if that wasn’t enough, the album includes the experimental single “Kaleidoscope” which combines two similar stand-alone songs across the stereo spectrum to create a third song. It’s quite a disorientating effect designed to demonstrate the difference between left- and right-brain processing and it’s even more impressive when you know that it’s written (like the rest of the album) in writer Santiago Coma’s second language. Very impressive debut album.
This one deserves a special mention for overcoming logistical difficulties; there are artists from 14 different countries on this collection of reworkings of Radiohead songs. There’s absolutely no filler on this album and there are a few absolute corkers. Some of the versions stay reasonably close to the Radiohead template, while The Stoneface Travellers and Yoya put their own stamp on “My Iron Lung” and “Wolf at the Door” respectively. The project was initiated by John O’Sullivan, MD of Bandhouse Records and pulled in contributions from his contemporaries at the London College of Contemporary Music (including Amy Hannam and Beth Mills, who you may have seen on X Factor)and and a few others picked up on the journey. Anyway, it’s a bostin’ album and you should all give it a listen.
Our contributors at MusicRiot all have their own musical preferences and areas of expertise, but we’re all passionate about music and our paths tend to intersect fairly often; this is one of those cases. John Preston raved about this album several months before 6 Music latched on to John Grant and he was absolutely right; this is a great album. John Grant took a lot of flak over moving from acoustic instruments to electronic on this album (a nod to Dylan’s “Judas” moment there), but it’s still a classic singer-songwriter album. There are moments of humour, sneering, viciousness and painful emotional honesty on subjects as difficult as an HIV diagnosis. When it’s funny, it’s very funny, when it’s vicious, it’s very vicious and when it’s about honesty, it will make you cry. Even the remixes are worth a listen.
If you want to learn a bit more about these albums, you can search for the reviews on the site. Or you could give them a listen.
I first heard about the Radio (in my) Head project over a year ago when I met up with a couple of the people involved in putting the album together. It’s fair to say that it’s been a fairly long flash-to-bang time, but the end result certainly is a cracker (sorry). We’ve been publishing fairly regular updates on the album’s progress and reviews of the singles released so far (as well as a few unrelated singles from the artists involved), so the final release could have been an anti-climax; it isn’t, because this is a very, very good album. Normally, I’d give you a bit of background on the artists, but there are eleven of them, so you can find all you need to know here. I try to avoid track-by-track reviews as well, but there really isn’t any choice here, so I’ll start at the beginning, leaving out the songs we’ve already reviewed as singles.
The opening track, “The National Anthem” by STRNGRS, which eases the listener into the album doesn’t depart radically from the “Kid A” original but replaces the funk groove with a rockier, heavier feel, a bass sound that wouldn’t be out of place on a Kasabian track and a vocal with more than a nod in the direction of Brian Molko. You just know that Black Casino and the Ghost will put their own very individual stamp on “Packt like Sardines in Crushed Tin Box” with an incredibly heavy bassline and Elisa Zoot’s breathy but powerful vocals driving the song along; it doesn’t disappoint.
Stoneface Travellers are the first band to really make a song their own with a version of “My Iron Lung” that replaces the original’s “Dear Prudence/ Lucy in the Sky…” guitar sounds with straight ahead blues riffing. Where the original breaks down into a noisy middle section, this becomes quieter ahead of an extended solo from Emile Gerber. It’s the first radically different version on the album. Yoya’s take on “Wolf at the Door” replaces the mainly acoustic instrumentation of the original with samples played backwards and forwards, loads of electronic sounds and a vocal which goes from pure to fractured in the space of one line; it took Marianne Faithfull twenty-five years to do that.
There are good, and very good vocal performances on the first half of the album, but the first truly outstanding vocal is on Amy Hannam’s version of “Street Spirit (Fade Out)”. The song builds gradually from a chiming guitar intro with the piano providing the bass and a very close-miked vocal which demonstrates the quality and power of Amy’s voice, particularly when joined by the perfect harmonies in the chorus. It has a very 70s prog feel at times; there’s a passage where the vocal is reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s “Great Gig in the Sky” and the piano is straight out of “Tubular Bells”. And, yes, it does fade out. Skeye’s version of “Karma Police” again has a retro feel using traditional rock band instrumentation and adding organ to the mix in traditional 70s style. The vocal is pure and clear until pushed hard when it becomes more raw and rocky and it’s another song stamped with the style of the performer.
Malin Andersson’s version of “Exit Music (For a Film)” has electric and acoustic guitars providing the backing for Malin’s breathy vocal (close-miked again) before adding a violin, in contrast to the original’s drums and synths in the final third of the song ; it’s another excellent version. Alexey Zelensky tackles the only non-album track of the project, “Staircase”, which was released on “The Daily Mail” single. Many of the elements of the arrangement are similar to the original, including the UK garage/drum ‘n’ bass drum patterns and chiming guitars but Alexey adds some powerful multi-tracked lead and backing vocals and guitar. And I think you can guess what’s coming at the end of the album.
The closer is Bethan Mills’ version of “Creep” and it’s a classic. I must admit to hearing a demo version of this a few months ago and it’s been really difficult to keep this one secret; it’s a powerful and original take on the song that Thom Yorke seems to hate so much now. The song opens with understated piano before Bethan’s (close-miked again), intimate vocal comes in. Drums and bass kick in after the first chorus, but the vocal still punches through the arrangement. There’s a breakdown back to the opening arrangement on the “Whatever makes you happy…” verse before an epic finish featuring a big guitar solo with squalls of controlled feedback drop out to leave a plaintive vocal to end the song. I’m a huge fan of the Chrissie Hynde unplugged version of “Creep”, but I think this version just shades it in a straight fight.
So, it could have easily been a bunch of tired retreads of Radiohead songs but it’s much, much more than that. Project curator John O’Sullivan has pulled together a bunch of people from all over the world to put their own stamp on their favourite Radiohead songs. Listening to the album for the first time, you have no idea of what’s coming next and the surprises are all pleasant. There aren’t any average tracks here; they’re all well thought-out and very well performed. My personal highlights are Amy Hannam’s version of “Street Spirit” and Bethan Mills’ version of “Creep”, but I’ll happily listen to any song on this album.
The good news is that from October 29, you can hear the album in all its glory by downloading it on iTunes here.
What are the odds on Portis(in my)Head next?
If you check out MusicRiot regularly, you’ll know that our contributors have one thing in common; they’re all passionate about (maybe bordering on obsessed by) music. All of the Riot Squad (John Preston, Louie Anderson and, most recently, Klare Stephens) love music of all styles and the reason we do this is because we want to share our passion and maybe get a few more people to listen to the music we love, whether it’s live or recorded. Also, because music is such a personal thing we like to bring that element into our contributions; opinions are always subjective, but at least we’re upfront about it. Often it can feel like shouting in the dark: then you have a weekend like the one I’ve just had.
Last week I published a review of the excellent album “Closer than you Know” by The Kennedys and I was invited to review their gig at Kings Place in London on Friday. I also had a gig lined up for Sunday night, going to watch the Billy Walton Band in High Barnet with some good friends. Both gigs were superb in very different ways; you can read The Kennedys review and previous Billy Walton Band reviews here on MusicRiot and work out for yourself that I’m impressed.
The live performances by these bands, however, are only part of the story. All of the musicians at these two gigs (Pete and Maura Kennedy, Billy Walton, William Paris, Rich Taskowitz and John D’Angelo) are extremely gifted musicians who love what they do and love to interact with their audience personally and online. Both bands mix with the audience when they aren’t actually performing (and sometimes when they are; yeah that’s you Billy and Rich) and have a huge amount of respect for their fans, fellow musicians and songwriters.
Both gigs were superb in different ways; The Kennedys stripped down their songs to arrangements for two acoustic guitars and two voices while the Billy Walton Band played raucous r’n’r (and blues and soul and the rest) in the way that bands from New Jersey do. Both bands were happy to play requests from the audience regardless of the setlist they had prepared. Most importantly, both bands were obviously having a good time. So far, so good, but excellence is pretty much what I expected from these two bands and this weekend was about much more than that.
I’ve been reviewing gigs in London and elsewhere for MusicRiot for six years now and sometimes it can be a bit depressing; you watch incredibly gifted bands and artists performing to audiences which just scrape into three figures and most of them are friends of the band. I’ve been to blues gigs where the majority of the audience at least twice as old as the musicians. It was great to see two very different gigs this weekend where the ages of the audience ranged widely and everyone was there to hear great live music and have a good time. And that brings me on to the reason why we all contribute to MusicRiot.
We don’t ignore the established bands at MusicRiot; we had two reviews of the Daft Punk album last week and we’ve reviewed albums by Bruce Springsteen, Scissor Sisters, Lana del Rey and Saint Etienne in the last year or so. We also love to discover a diverse range of bands and artists that you might not have heard of and tell you all about them so we’ll carry on telling you all about artists like The Kennedys, the Billy Walton Band, MS MR, Sally Shapiro, Tomorrow’s World, Lilygun, Stoneface Travellers, Dean Owens and many more. We’ve even got some pretty good photos for you to look at.
If there’s one lesson that I’ve learned from six years at MusicRiot it’s this; whatever you hear on daytime radio, there’s always good music out there if you know where to look and that’s why the Riot Squad do what they do. And thanks to Richie Taz for the title.
Stoneface Travellers are a three-piece outfit in the power trio tradition comprising Andrew Thornley (bass), Micah Woulfe (drums) and Emile Gerber (guitar and lead vocals). Apart from a change of drummer, it’s the Emile Gerber Band as reviewed here 3 months ago live at The Finsbury. The band have been spending some time in the studio with highly-respected producer Brad Kohn, who has produced a set of tracks which will form the basis of an EP to be released later in the year. The lovely people at Bandhouse Promotions have given us an exclusive sneak preview of 1 track from the sessions, “I Don’t Really Love You”, which you can hear on Soundcloud .
The song opens with an overdriven slide riff and harmonica (played by the drummer even) before the rhythm section kicks in to drive the song along with a loping swamp-blues feel. Emile is a very good blues guitar player (I think I might have just said that before) but what makes him such a unique performer is the quality of his voice. It’s an unusual delivery in that he sings in the same sort of range as Neil Young with a little bit of vibrato at the top of the range, which emphasises the emotion of the vocal. The solo towards the end sounded just like mid-70s vintage Rory Gallagher and I really don’t know if that makes me feel old or young; maybe both.
This is a great little sample of what Stoneface Travellers are capable of in the studio but, until they get the EP and then the album together, you really should try to get out and see them live; you won’t regret it.