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.

Jimmy Livingstone

Jimmy Livingstone

I came across Jimmy Livingstone when he supported Lucinda Williams at the Brighton Festival in May and was impressed enough with the live performance to buy his CD.  Then it was one man and his acoustic guitar, so I was pleasantly surprised to find the album has horns and strings (both competently arranged by Livingstone), keyboards and percussion to enhance his sound.

Jimmy has twangs of country, blues riffs and strums of folksiness to add to his essentially acoustic sound, yet his voice is almost Neil Diamond; his inspirations must therefore be pretty broad, though he never sounds derivative.  The CD kicks off with “Getting By”, a good way to introduce himself and his troubadour lifestyle, but track 2, “Desert Song”, his first single is more swinging.  Although he sings, “I’m crawling out of the wreckage at the bitter end of love” there are thankfully few clichés here about women or rock ‘n’ roll; he sings “I don’t need to blow my brains away, I’m not that rock ‘n’ roll”, but the track hits its stride well.  The torchier “The Waiting Room” sees him waiting for love and Doggen Foster lends some authentic bluesy electric guitar at the end.  Then it’s more upbeat again…

Track order is important on a recording and Jimmy has probably got it right here, although the part of me that likes my artists tortured would have liked the downbeat tracks to have been placed together.  I can understand the man wanting to keep precious creative control, but I wonder if he had relinquished production altogether (credits are to JL and Eric Liljestrand) he might have been pushed to explore his depths just a little more; instead it sounds like he decided to try to keep it reasonably upbeat-sounding.

If anything, Jimmy Livingstone sometimes tries to cram too many ideas into one song and occasionally they suffer from too much verse and not enough refrain to make a song immediately memorable but, I suspect, in his creative process the lyric comes first.

Useless Man” starts almost like the Rolling Stones with electric guitar and unique percussion and rocks with attitude; as a result his voice is stretched a little further.  This track should have been the single in my opinion, as he really speaks up for himself and sounds comfortable doing so but it is less representative of the collection as a whole.  “In Your Own Sweet Time” is a piano-led song of longing “I’ve gotta let you come to me, come to me, in your own sweet time, sweet sister of mine”.  It reminds me of Nick Cave’s “Into My Arms” and is the best of the ballads, although it’s a little unclear if the song is written to a soul-mate or sibling.

As a bonus the physical CD, as opposed to the download, includes a lyric book, although it needn’t have as Jimmy’s diction is crystal clear.  There is range here both musically and lyrically and this is an above average contribution to various genres.  It’s an album that sounds like it was a long time coming and I hope that future offerings have intentions and production values that allow for further exploration of both his wandering lifestyle and his musicality because, ultimately, he does not really take risks with this, his first disc.

And an extra half star to take it up to 3.5.