We first reviewed one of Anna Laube’s albums in 2015. She’s grown since then; since her 2016 album “Tree”, she’s now Anna Elizabeth Laube and her latest album, “Annamania” is a compilation of songs from her four previous albums dating back to “Outta My Head” in 2006. The song choice is heavily skewed towards the newer material from “Anna Laube” (2015) and “Tree” (2016) and also includes three songs previously either not released or given a limited release, including Anna’s reimagining of Tom Petty’s “Time to Move On”. Apart from this, it’s originals all the way.

The Tom Petty cover is a great example of making a song your own. Tom Petty’s original sounds like, well, Tom Petty, but Anna gives it a different spin, creating a piano arrangement with a Rickie Lee Jones twist and adding French horn tracks for an even more distinctive feel. It’s perfect.

The album has the variety and pacing that you would find on any of the previous four albums as Anna demonstrates her instrumental versatility and ability to move effortlessly from a pure, unadorned vocal (as on the album’s opener “Sweet Boy from Minnesota”) to the rasping, lo-fi twelve-bar blues of “If You Build It”.

“Annamania” is a perfect showcase for Anna’s work. It demonstrates her multi-instrumentalism, her perfect voice and her ability to create memorable songs across a wide range of subjects, from the innocent love song that opens the album to the environmental message of its closer, “Tree”. Her geographical and musical wanderings have all contributed to the eclecticism of this and Anna’s four previous albums. There are hints of Rickie Lee Jones in the Tom Petty reworking and also in “Oh My! (Oh Me Oh Me Oh My)” a mid-tempo shuffle that evokes Rickie Lee’s “Danny’s All-Star Joint” from the eponymous first album. The achingly beautiful “Please Let it Rain in California Tonight” even has a nod in the direction of Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven” in the chords leading into the verse. There’s a lot to love about this album.

If you haven’t listened to any of Anna’s previous albums, “Annamania” is a pretty good place to start. The songs are strong and the album clearly shows Anna’s variety of vocal stylings, multi-instrumental skills and studio expertise. Anna Elizabeth Laube is a unique talent and “Annamania” is a perfect introduction.

“Annamania” is released to download and stream on Friday January 22nd.

It’s drizzling, freezing and absolutely miserable in the UK at the moment, so that would be the perfect time to listen to an album straight out of 1970s Laurel Canyon via 2020s British Columbia. There are more influences on the album than the Jackson Browne/Eagles/Linda Ronstadt coterie but the album still glows with sunshine of The Golden State, even though its creators Heather Read and Jonny Miller have fairly nebulous Californian connections but, hey, the first two Eagles albums were produced by Glyn Johns at Olympic Studios in London, while Peach & Quiet’s “Just Beyond the Shine” was put together with the help of producer and multi-instrumentalist Steve Dawson in Nashville, Toronto, Vancouver and Victoria. All of the songs are written by Heather, Jonny or both apart from the album’s closer, “Seven Daffodils”, written by Lee Hays and Fran Moseley.

The sun breaks through from the opening notes of the Byrds/Tom Petty-inflected opener, “Empty to Fill” and its poetic exploration of the contradictions and complexity of human beings. From there it’s almost constant Oakley and Ray-Ban stuff, with the exception of the slightly menacing Southern-influenced “Shoreline After A Storm” likening a bad relationship to a storm – they can both inflict terrible damage and leave a messy aftermath. There’s a little hint of “I Put A Spell on You” in there as well.

The songwriting is superb throughout, from the fairly straightforward love song “There’s A Very Good Chance” with its lovely Everlys harmonies to the more complex “Flowers”, which is based on the children’s book “Mr Cat and the Little Girl” which deals with love and loss which has a folky Byrds styling with a relatively complex arrangement that even features a bit of glockenspiel, courtesy of Steve Dawson.

There are themes running though the album; lyrically it’s all about love, whether it’s love for a partner who’s on stage every night (“Lucky in Love”) or for a place (“California Way”). The song arrangements are in the Eagles/Linda Ronstadt mode with layers of electric and acoustic guitars and some absolutely gorgeous harmonies, either as duets or as multi-tracked layers. There’s absolutely nothing out of place on this album.

And, as I finish this review, there’s no rain, and the sun is shining; that was pretty impressive work, guys. This album’s combination of superbly-crafted songs and subtle Laurel Canyon-era  arrangements is the perfect antidote to winter on either side of the Atlantic.

“Just Beyond the Shine” is released on January 15th 2012 on Peach & Quiet Music (P&QCD001).

Here’s the video for “Empty to Fill”:

 

This is the final album review of the strangest year I’ve had in a very, very long time. It’s quite unusual to release albums of original material in December; it’s normally a time for retrospectives, compilations and TV personalities singing Christmas songs. This year, however, all bets are off as the virus has closed so many doors while opening a few new ones. Musicians have been adapting to a rapidly-changing environment throughout this century, so what’s the big deal about a pandemic? Home studios have been with us for a long time and it’s routine now to share huge audio files online; you can make an album with dozens of musicians without ever meeting them.

The album “Mayone”, by songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Steve Mayone, has a couple of reference points. The uncertainty generated by COVID 19 gave the Steve the impetus to get this album together, and the first Paul McCartney solo album “McCartney” (fifty years old this year) gave him the inspiration. The parallels between the two aren’t just around the experience of working alone in the studio alone as therapy; Steve has echoed the ebb and flow of Paul McCartney’s album, and some of the themes as well (more about that later).

The first listen to this album left two lasting impressions; that it was a guitar player’s album and that it had a very seventies feel. Before reading the press release, I felt that the album had the feel of a solo Beatles project (right) and that the solo Beatle was George Harrison (wrong). It’s definitely a guitar player’s album, though; there are multiple layers of acoustic and electric guitars throughout the album, with the additional spicing of mandolin, banjo, ukulele and lap steel. I’m sure one of Steve’s aims was to make people revisit “McCartney”; it worked in my case and I’m recommending it to you as well.

“Mayone” has thirteen tracks (as does “McCartney”) and mixes up instrumental soundscapes with some beautifully-crafted songs. The instrumentals are perfect little vignettes scattered across the album, starting with the finger-picked acoustic, “The Sweet Suzanne” referencing McCartney’s “The Lovely Linda” even down to the alliteration in the title; Steve Mayone is paying serious attention to detail here.

There’s a huge variety to the songs here, from the no-prisoners-taken rock of “Sweet Little Anchor”, hinting at Bob Seger and Tom Petty to the melancholy “Airport Goodbyes” and the archetypical Christmas song (with an ironic drunken stupor twist), “Happy Alcoholidays”. These are all great songs but the perfect McCartney match is still to come. “Stuff” is a takedown of consumerism on a personal and global level that moves McCartney’s “Junk” on by fifty years, but Steve takes it a stage further. The McCartney “Junk” appears in a vocal version on track six and as “Singalong Junk” (an instrumental) on track eleven; guess the track sequencing of the “Stuff” vocal and instrumental on Steve’s album?

Steve Mayone has created an album of material that’s totally original, while cleverly referencing and emulating McCartney’s “McCartney”. “Mayone” is a 2020 classic; let’s hope it lasts as long as “McCartney”.

“Mayone” is released in the UK on Friday December 18th on Mayone Music.

 

When we’re inviting people to contribute to our occasional features, there are two questions we ask. Do they have experience of the subject? Can they write about it in an interesting way? Ray Jones, CEO of Talentbanq , formerly Business Development Director at Time Out qualifies on both counts. He is passionate about live music and he knows how to write. It’s also fair to say that he’s seen a few gigs as well. So here’s what he came up with when we asked him to write about a memorable gig (and we certainly will be inviting him back):

 

“The Windshield Wipers Slapping Time” – it was pouring as we waited in line to board the ferry to the Isle of Wight. 

“I’ll take the 4×4” said my mate Bilko – and thank God he did. We were about to experience mud that made Glastonbury look a picnic. Fortunately we were also about to experience one of the best festival lineups of all times. The American Trilogy with nightly headliners – Tom Petty, Pearl Jam and The Boss.

With the ferry queue moving slowly – my 16 year old son CJ – heading for his first festival with dad, jumped out of the car with Bilko to get hot coffees.  “Forward” shouted the guy from P&O so I jumped into the front and drove onto the ferry – and sailed away – without them.

The first of many memories from that wonderfully soggy weekend. Cars were being towed INTO Car Parks – tents were afloat on a sea of mud and wellies were getting stuck in the quagmire. And yet in amongst the mud, the blood and the beer were the smiles of people soaking up GREAT music.  

Tom Petty on Friday night was a masterclass. The discomfort of rainwater trickling down our backs ignored as we took in the genius on stage.

I can’t remember when we saw Black Stone Cherry but they ripped it up, while the steamy wood-chip floor of The Big Top marquee seemed to be fermenting.

We met up with more friends. I have known Damian since we walked to primary school together. He and his wife were in one of those pre-sited Yurts. That’s the equivalent of The Ritz at IOW – and we did not let them forget it.

We partied quite hard to Madness on Saturday and Noel Gallagher was a fine warm-up on Sunday for what happened next – and that’s really what I had to share.

I’ve seen The Boss at Wembley, Hyde Park, The Olympic Park, Paris on the 4th of July and most memorably in his home state of New Jersey, but when he and the East Street Band walked out on stage at IOW2012 something magic happened.

The next three hours are a blur of singing, hugging, drinking, dancing and total admiration for a man and his band that delivered way beyond 100%.

We were exhausted when Mr Springsteen announced with a broad smile “We have a fucking boat to catch”

I have no idea if he made it because he broke into a massive, firework-festooned finale of “Twist and Shout” that had about 100,000 people partying in a way I had not seen at a festival before.

As we walked back to our tent my son said “Hey dad, this weekend has been the best thing I’ve ever done”

You can’t buy memories in Harrods! But you can make them at great festivals.

Thanks to wonderful people like John Giddings at Solo and Sarah Handy at Hard Rock I have many more memories of good times spent on the Isle of Wight, but those stories will have to wait. Maybe Music Riot will invite me back. 

And here’s a little bonus from The Boss:

 

 

It’s the first album review of 2020 and we’re gently easing our way into the new decade. “Ohbahoy” (the title is taken from the name of Miles’ imaginary childhood friend) is an example of how to create a varied and very listenable album full of hooks without ever having to resort to vocal or instrumental pyrotechnics. The building blocks of this album are very simple hooks and riffs; the clever thing is the way the jigsaw is put together to create something that’s much more than the sum of the parts.

 

You won’t get very far into the album before realising that Miles has another useful songwriting talent; he knows how to take an influence and turn it into something that sounds vaguely familiar without sounding like a complete steal. And it’s not a criticism. I have a huge admiration for the musical magpies of the world; the people like Jeff Lynne and, more recently, Guy Chambers who recognise the tiny snippet that makes something work and morph it into their own compositions. The album’s opening song, “Hands Up”, is naggingly familiar, suggesting a distant relationship to Steve Miller’s “Abracadabra” (and Steve wasn’t above nicking a riff or two himself, “Rock ‘n’ Me” for starters). The trick with this game is to blend the influences into something completely new, which is exactly what Miles does. There are nods in the direction of many influences, Tom Petty (particularly in the uptempo rocker “Overpass”) and the Beatles jump out instantly, but there are undertones of The Cars, Steve Miller, ELO and probably many others.

There’s a lot to like about “Ohbahoy”. It’s a bunch of strong songs that’s interpreted by a band with enough talent and versatility to make four-part harmonies, twin guitar workouts and perfectly-judged horn parts sound like just another part of the day job. I have a sneaking suspicion that they might just be a bit tasty live as well.

“Ohbahoy” is out now in the UK.

The difficulty is knowing where to start here. Michael McDermott’s output over the last two years as The Westies and a solo artist has been prolific and profound. Making up for lost time; who knows? Michael’s four years clean and sober; 2016’s “Six on the Out” and “Willow Springs” made references to his lost years, while “Out from Under” tells the whole story from degradation through rehabilitation to redemption, pivoting around the album’s central song “Out from Under” and the decision to take responsibility for his life.

“Out from Under” isn’t just about the personal narrative; Michael’s been influenced by many different styles of American music and many of those influences surface on this musical journey. This is Michael’s story channelled through the American songbook. With a project this ambitious, you need a great team and it doesn’t get much better than Heather Horton on violin and vocals and Will Kimbrough on, well, anything with strings really.

The album opens with the brooding, menacing “Cal-Sag Road”; it’s about as low as you can get, a tale of drunkenness, sex and murder. It’s underpinned by Will Kimbrough’s atmospheric, ambient guitar sounds and the darkness of the arrangement mirrors the subject matter perfectly. The first half of the album runs through the ragtime resonator and banjo arrangement of “Gotta Go to Work”, the Southern boogie and “Sympathy For the Devil”-like backing vocals of “Knocked Down” to the Tom Petty-esque “Sad Songs”, depicting the malaise and lassitude of the music business. And then you hit the bottom.

“This World Will Break your Heart” is a pathos-packed series of vignettes pulling in dropouts, miscarriages and loneliness in old age. It’s the most heart-breaking song on the album and you know that things have to brighten up from here on in. And they do; It’s big, it’s anthemic and it has a hint of Springsteen. “Out from Under” is a floor-tom-driven monster of a song that’s as uplifting as anything you’ll hear this year. It’s the way forward, pointing the way for the second half of the album beginning with the idyll of “The Celtic Sea” where a sea voyage serves as a metaphor for the beginning of a redemptive relationship; it’s turbulent at first, but the crew pull together and the voyage looks set to succeed.

The three songs which follow are pure, joyous, celebration of love. “Rubber Band Ring” is a horns and Hammond Motown-style stomper, “Never Goin’ Down Again” sets a commitment to reform against a stadium rock background, while “Sideways” combines gorgeous Stax stylings with a lyrical style that leans towards Dylan or early Springsteen. And then you have the gentle acceptance of a new life in “God Help Us”.

“Out from Under” is a hugely ambitious album that follows Michael McDermott’s personal narrative and succeeds in combining an exploration of the highways and byways of American popular music with creative and poetic lyrics. I haven’t heard anything better this year.

“Out from Under” is released in the UK on Friday May 18, 2018.

Don’t take my word for it, listen to it here and then buy a copy.

Twenty songs over a double CD (well, nineteen actually, one’s a bonus download); you’re never quite sure what message that sends. The official line is that some songs work with band arrangements, some are best as solo/duo arrangements and that’s the way they’ve been split. Personally, my response to studio double albums is one of wariness; could it have been better as a single? We’ll see.

The common theme across the two albums is obvious. It’s not just Texas, but the southern states and the mentality of small-town America. The melodies are good, Jeb Barry’s voice is striking, cracking with emotion at times, but the real power is in the lyrics. He knows how to tell a story and how create a memorable phrase, a lyrical hook that’s as potent as the melodic ones. In “El Paso Sucks”, there’s a reference to the woman being ‘sideways on champagne’ while “Southern Oak” (taking the opposite tack from the marvellous “Speedtrap Town”) makes the observation that ‘hell and high water make good roots’. And let’s not forget the observation from “Miss Mississippi” that ‘drunk and stupid’s no excuse’.

The playing on the album is all in the service of the songs. You won’t find any lengthy solos or massive riffs, everything’s there to get the message of the song over, whether it’s lovely harmonies or the good old sus4 to create a Byrds/Tom Petty feel on “If This Heart Had Walls”. There’s nothing to take a strong dislike to and there are plenty of strong songs. The download-only song “Speedtrap Town” is a real standout, warning of the literal and metaphorical dangers of straying away from the highway.

And that thing about double albums? Well, I’m still not convinced. I would love to hear a single album edit of this set of songs, but I wouldn’t want to fall out about it.

“texas, etc.” is released on April 27th on Dollyrocker Records (DR-2018-01).

This was the first album I listened to on January 1 2018. Kind of appropriate really; after hearing so much beered-up musical stodge over the festive period, this is the perfect aural January detox to accompany the real thing. The Wailin’ Jennys (Heather Masse, Nicky Mehta and Ruth Moody) have been together fifteen years (hence the title), but this is their first album in six years. It’s worth waiting for; it’s gorgeous. They interpret nine very different songs but the common thread running through all of them is those three fabulous voices and the heartbreakingly pure harmonies. It’s possible I might mention that again at some point.

Everything is built around creating a setting for those flawless voices to deliver interpretations that are technically and emotionally perfect. Generally speaking, the musicians have a fairly light touch throughout the album; this is all about putting those three voices straight upfront and centre. When full string band arrangements are used, they tend to build up in layers to push the song to a higher level, which works particularly well on the timely cover of Tom Petty’s “Wildflowers” and the Jane Siberry song, “The Valley”. “Boulder to Birmingham”, Emmylou Harris and Bill Danoff’s plaintive elegy to Gram Parsons has a full band sound with some lovely two-guitar picking and percussive upright bass; none of it threatens to overwhelm the vocals.

For all the subtle and delicate playing, the a cappella or virtually a cappella material that really shines brightly. Paul Simon’s “Loves Me like a Rock” gets the handclap and fingerpop treatment, Dolly Parton’s “Light of a Clear Blue Morning” begins with a solo vocal before the stunning harmonies join, but the best is saved till last. The album’s final song is an a cappella cover of Hank Williams’ “Weary Blues from Waitin’” which not only has the expected beautiful three-part harmonies but features some incredibly precise three-part glissando harmonies. I have honestly never heard that done with such precision.

So now you’re going to ask if I like it, yeah? What a great way to start the year. But you don’t have to take my word for it; a click on any of those song links will take you to Spotify where you can hear it for yourself.

“Fifteen” is released on True North Records on Friday January 5 2018.

Gold Rush Scroller“Gold Rush” is Hannah Aldridge’s second album and it moves Hannah in a slightly different direction. Her debut “Razor Wire” (and an excellent debut too) was built around a set of country-inflected, mainly acoustic, guitar songs with the emphasis on personal experiences. That emphasis is still there on the second album but Hannah’s added a rockier edge which is evident in her switch from acoustic to electric guitar (Telecaster if you must know) and her description of her newer songs as Southern rock. “Razor Wire” was a huge favourite with the Riot Squad, so how does “Gold Rush” compare?

The title song, which closes the album, is a work of rare beauty; it’s more delicate than most of the new songs and deals with the idea of being at a point in time when looking forward and looking back are equally painful. When a writer can create the line ‘I don’t know if this is living or slow motion suicide’, you know you’re hearing a special talent. But “Gold Rush” isn’t about one song, there are nine more and they’re little firecrackers. The album’s first song “Aftermath” kicks open the doors with tribal drums and a tight rhythm section dragging “Jumping Jack Flash” into the twenty-first century. “Dark-Heated Woman” is sinister and menacing with a guitar solo that Neil Young would be proud of and “Living on Lonely” is plaintive, almost heart-breaking, with huge choral backing vocals. “Burning down Birmingham” is Southern rock with the trademark slide guitar hook and an insanely catchy chorus while “Shouldn’t Hurt So Bad” draws heavily on the Merseybeat/Byrds/Tom Petty jangly guitar stylings. And so it goes on, there are ten very good songs and a huge dynamic range.

Everything fits into place perfectly as Hannah moves effortlessly from the slower, more controlled, vocals to the raw and raunchy rockers. She ticks all the boxes; the songs are powerful, heart-rending, even harrowing at times, her voice is stunningly good and she has tremendous live presence. “Gold Rush” is an album created by someone who has seen and done too many things in a short life; it’s shot through with substance abuse references and some regrets, but no self-pity. The overall message is that this a testament from a survivor and we should all feel grateful for that. And one final great line for you, from “I Know Too Much”: ‘I don’t need another reason to hate myself, I don’t need another bad tattoo’.

This is a beautiful album that you will go back to again and again.

“Gold Rush” is released in the UK on Friday June 16 and you can find Hannah’s July UK tour dates here.

try-try-try-scrollerDespite all the dire predictions, there’s still an awful lot of really good music out there at the moment. The downside of this is that it can be difficult to make your songs stand out from the rest. Rachael Sage passes the old grey whistle test on “Try Try Try” with a slightly unusual arrangement, using a combination of slightly distorted violin and electric guitar as lead instruments and a mix of electric and acoustic guitars. It’s easy to see why this made number six on the radio chart in the US; it opens like a Tom Petty song before the intimate, close-miked  vocal cuts through, followed by an outrageously catchy violin hook. For the soul fraternity, there’s horns and a Hammond; there’s even a violin solo closely followed by a guitar solo and an acoustic breakdown. All the elements for a great single are there and they’re put together beautifully.

“Try Try Try” is released on Friday September 30th and Rachael’s album “Choreographic” follows on Friday November 11th on Mpress Records.

If you want to see Rachael in London, she’s playing at The Troubadour on Friday September 23rd.

Here’s the audio-only clip of the single: