= November 2013 =  
Linus Pauling Quartet
Zachary Cale
Allysen Callery
John Lennon McCullagh
Here and Now
Fairfield Ski
Sportsmen, Seafarers comp.
Suzuki Junzo
Jorma Kaukonen
Green Pajamas
Alasdair Roberts and Robin Robertson
Country Parish Music
The Nomads
System 7 & Rovo
Du Champ


(2x LP on Krauted Mind)

Space is the place where this Boston-area quartet fed their heads and ours on their debut album, originally released on Camera Obscura in 1997. This double-vinyl remastered edition is available in a limited run of 250 blue and 250 red copies. The title, as you probably know by now is lifted from The Byrds original instrumental demo version of ‘Change Is Now’ from their Notorious Byrd Brothers album. The album cleverly opens with an announcer preparing our explorers for their “Space Assignment: Rocket To The Moon”. Immediately, set and setting are established for the mind decoding that lies ahead. The voice is one of those stentorian pronouncements that kids used to hear on Saturday morning TV as they huddled down with their secret decoder rings after filling up on a bowl of sugar and milk masquerading as breakfast.

            ‘Cosmo Gun’ saunters into the room on the back of guitarist Brendan Quinn’s snaking guitar lines and Joe Turner’s throbbing drumbeat. Think Hawkwind in full wah-wah flight with Quinn’s fluttered vocals, Kris Thompson’s swirling space effects – a righteous, exploratory brain salad surgery. The between-song announcements continue to apprise us of our progress on our journey across the space between our ears, with the wonderfully catchy ‘Inspiration’ assuring us we’ll make it through the bumps in the road ahead.            Floydian atmospherics are at the heart of the sunny day real estate explored on the trippy, Eastern-tinged ’77 Gaza Strip’ (a wink and a nod at US ’60s TV show, 77 Sunset Strip) which ends side one. The remastering is flawless so far, with instruments leaping out of your speakers and Quinn’s vocals a little more pronounced – I thought they were a little muddy and buried in the digital mix.

            Side two focuses on the band’s love of British folk lore, with a mind-melting interpretation of ‘Gypsy Davy’ and a dreamy sojourn through Richard Thompson’s ‘Calvary Cross’ (they’d return with a hypnotic ‘Barbara Allen’ on their next album). ‘Chromatic Moire’ is an improvisational jam that puts our spaceship a little off course (Round Wound would collect a lot of these rehearsal workouts a few years later and perhaps this exploratory search for the lost chord should have been left for that).

            ‘A Quiet Storm’ is a haunting chant that opens with a warning-cum-birth announcement that “Mother Earth is pregnant for the third time, for y’all have knocked her up”. I originally thought this was a veiled reference to Side Three of the album, until I realized this was original released on CD, but it works in this vinyl setting! And the Gregorian chant vibe enhances the mystical/religious overtones on the album that were just established via reference to Christ’s crucifixion on the previous track. It also re-establishes our flight position “looking out of our rocket ship at the Earth below”. ‘Dreaming of Light’ completes our journey with another headswirling instrumental jam that revisits Kubrick’s Space Baby flight, a perfect metaphor for decoding the universal mind that began with the ‘Cosmo Gun’ jettisoning us into the universe and ends with the reprise (aka, ‘Cosmo Gun (Silencer)’) that accompanies our floating return to Earth.

            The double-vinyl edition allows more space between the grooves for a more vibrant listening experience. It also leaves us with a fourth side of virgin vinyl, which the band have chosen to fill with a couple of “demo jams” (previously only available on cassette at the first Terrastock). ‘Dropped From A Rocket’ is vintage Terrastockian psychedelia with all the knobs turned to 11 and slightly beshroomed vocals tripping lackadaisically across the light fandango (in other words, it sounds like Bardo Pond!), while the massive 17-minute mindfuck medley ‘Mirror of Galadriel/Drinks The Young Wine’ hints at The Bevis Frond’s sidelong adventures (e.g., ‘Miskatonic Variations’, ‘The Shrine’) or those all-day Acid Jams and points towards the more organic improvisations that ultimately found a home on Round Wound. Acid Mothers, Magic Muscle (ca. Gulp!) and Hash Jar Tempo fanatics will love it!

And I can’t leave without once again calling attention to the fabulous cover art from our very own Davina Ware, who’s managed to capture our handsome devils with some visual slight-of-hand in which four-becomes-three-becomes-four-again depending upon which angle you view it from.

So dig out your secret decoder rings, boys and girls, and prepare for a mental journey to rearrange your synapses and discover the truth that lies within the universal mind.

(Jeff Penczak)






For some reason known only to the Gods of Texan stoner psych, these two releases have been festering in the darker reaches of the review cupboard for many a month. Maybe the Gods were waiting for a time when my brain was ready for a heavy guitar assault spread over four discs of quality noise, distortion and riff heavy entertainment. Well it seems today is the day, so let's get it on.

     Released at the back end of 2012, “Bag of Hammers” does what it says on the tin, an eight track collection of devastating rock noise so heavy that hammers were definitely involved somewhere, probably in unsavoury ways!.

   Opening with a spoken word intro reminiscent of Hawkind in their “Warrior at the Edge of Time” phase, “Freya” then explodes into primal riff fury, a heady mixture of Sabbath, Orange Goblin, early Hawkwind and The Melvins, yet managing to transcend all these to create a monolithic sound all its own. Possibly even heavier, “She Did Not Know” mixes lyrics about smoking with a moody distorted riff and some fine soloing creating on of the finest tracks on the album.

   On “Victory Gin” the stoner is replaced with a lighter touch, the heavy psych groove offering the chance for a bit of a boogie around the kitchen although the lyrics  are not cheerful in the slightest, paving the way for the excellent “Starchimp” which remind me of Blue Cheer as it rocks its way out of the speakers.

    Opening with picked guitar and feedback, lots of wah and some fine drumming, “Rust” sees the band mellowing out a little although the tune gets heavier and builds the tension as it moves forward, it is all relative after all, the vocals of Mlee Marie adding a softer feel to the track, some variation to the relentlessness.

   To finish, the eight plus minutes of “Stonebringer” takes the essence of everything that has gone before,distils it further and flows out of the speakers with a psychedelic swagger everything falling into place for the grand finale, pure class and a song that deserves to be turned way up.

    If you have ever lost yourself to the charms of “Doremi Fasol Latido”, “Master of Reality”, “Overkill” or “Bleach” then you need this album in your life, a future classic available now.

     Offered as a role playing game, “Assault on the Vault of the Ancient Bonglords” collects together tracks from all the bands previous albums plus live stuff, compilation tracks and rare singles, the three discs offering the avid listener the chance to spend an an entire evening pinned against the proverbial wall by the heavy riffs contained within. Those keen to play the game can take on the characters of the band, their weapons/possessions etc including Gibson SG, Superfuzz, protection against alcohol attack, Dwarven Mallet, Bag of Stashing and the Analogue Delay of Endless Mesmerism. I think you get the idea, the quest to search for the great bongs, items imbued with the very essence of the universe itself. To be fair, I have never played one of these games and the inclusion of a dice with too many sides for me to count does not fill me with confidence. Reading the manual however, is very entertaining and the music knocks me socks off, what's not to like?

   Disc one begins with “Linus Theme”, a doomy riff accompanied by the chant “We Are Not Black Sabbath”, a fair point although there are definite similarities !

   Moving on, other highlights on the disc include the ten minute riff fest of “Luis Black/Roll Out the Bong”, the low down stomp of “Bug People”, the live punk rock storm of “Cannonball” and the monstrous and lengthy rock workout of “Hawg”, the band nodding a hat to the blues in a primitive and downright dirty kinda way.

    Moving onto disc two and the listener is greeted by “Penis Free Zone”, the band sounding like the Butthole Surfers both lyrically and musically the brief tune followed by the Garage swagger of “Class of 85” an angry tune that deserves volume and plenty of beer. After the anger “Larry's Song” is a quieter track, a brief moment of respite within a forest of noise, although that noise is delayed further as the psychedelic haze of “Henry Floats” drifts out on a cloud of marijuana, blissed and smiling.

    More psychedelic happiness can be found on “Interstellar Absolute Power Booty Call Explosion” another slice of lysergic bliss that is far too short as is the dirty grunge of “Mastodon” a track that slowly crushes your skull under its glacial force, the same pressures applied by “Switzen” that follows after.  To end disc two the lightness of touch returns on “Waiting for the Axe to Fall” a more convential seventies rock sounding track with a great riff and sing-a-long chorus, rounding off possibly the most varied disc in the collection.

    Ok, on to the final selection as disc three opens with “Hamburger Girl” a sweet sixties Psych-Pop tune, something of a departure from the rest of the songs and very welcome, a tune to skin-up to before getting stuck into the final leg of the journey.

   Returning to the moody space-rock heaviness, “Friendswood Development Co” has a rumbling bass line at its core, the slow burning tune allowing the band to stretch their wings and soar into the skies. This same spaced out groove can be found on “Lost in Darkness and Distance”, a beautiful track that has shades of The Doors running through it the mood maintained on the heavier “Dartania” a track that first appeared on the Terrascope compilation “Succour”.After the weird psychedelic ramble of “The Eye of God” all spoken word and echo box, the ten minute “Colour Out of Space” is an absolute highlight for me, an extended Hawkwind style groove, hypnotic and repetitive, complete with skronking sax and spoken word section, the band working as one powerhouse unit, sailing into the night with huge grins and instruments set to destroy.

    Also on the final disc is the eleven minute “Thorn”, the track starting as an acoustic style hippy jam before exploding into a catchy tune that sounds like Nirvana just at that point before success de-railed them, the pop groove and distorted guitar harmonising to perfection.

  To end, “Porno in the Sink (Rock Mix)” takes you out with a smile the perfect way to finish this quite stunning 3 CD collection that deserves to be in everybody's collection, magnificent, stoned, drunken, psychedelic, playful, angry and noisy; just like it should be. (Simon Lewis)





(12” vinyl from www.jellyfant.com)

Filled with honest and beautiful songs, the latest album from Swedish musician Peter Thisell is a delight from beginning to end. Mainly recorded live with a group of friends the songs have a cinematic feel, a wide ranging Americana sound that is rich and warm drawing the listener in to the collection with ease. Opening tune “A Town Of Windows” is full of mood and emotion topped off with Peter's haunting voice, a whispering violin adding tension to the tune. With a country groove “Bad Time” is a simple song played beautifully, whilst “Could You” is a slow and delicate song that drifts like a falling autumn leaf.

    With a running time of just 35 minutes, this 8 track collection is a perfect late night one more drink before we go to sleep album, the happiness of the musicians plain to hear throughout its organic sheen and grooves with the piano-led “Over Years Over Time” being an absolute highlight in a melancholic, put your arms around me kinda way, the whole album rounded off with “Towards the Warmth of Life” another gorgeous and softly spoken tune, the title of which seems to sum up the album perfectly.

     Based around his guitar picking prowess, Zachary Cale’s “Blue Rider” is a collection of fairly minimalistic songs that blend the guitar, subtle drones and shards of vocals that paint pictures in your mind.

   After the slow burning joys of “Unfeeling”, a more rhythmic pulse is found on “Dollar Day” a tune that is almost a pop song reminding me of First Aid Kit in their early days. Filled with sweet melodies throughout “Hold Fast” has something of a folk version of Fleetwood Mac about it, the combination of vocal delivery and divine melody creating a gorgeous whole that manages to fill the whole room,the sweetness maintained on “Dead Shadow” another song that sounds simple yet resonates deeply.

    Over on side two, the addition of drums gives “Blood Rushes on” a seventies West-Coast sound, whilst “Hangman Letters” has some fine guitar playing to be found within its bluesy textures being one of my favourites tracks on the collection. To finish the jaunty country swing of “Wayward Son” will get your feet moving, the groove sweetened with shimmering drones, before “Noise of Welcome” ends the collection in a haze of echoed vocals and more gorgeous melody just close your eyes and drift away.

    On her fifth album Allysen Callery has managed to distill the very essence of  her sound creating her strongest collection to date, the songs driven by her haunting voice and the sound of steel strung guitar. Serving as an introduction “In Your Hollow” immediately draws into the personal world of the artist, the seemingly simple tune having an other worldly sheen that creeps under the skin the mood heightened by early highlight “I Had A Lover I Thought Was My Own” a powerful song that resonates deeply.

    With ten songs that only last 28 minutes this collection has a cohesive feel, more like chapters in your favourite novel than a handful of songs each track ripe for re-reading and quiet contemplation in the afternoon sun.

   I realise that I should write more than this but when confronted with the beauty of songs such as “Lily of the Valley” all I can do is sit and allow myself to get absorbed into the sound, the fact that every song seems to affect me the same way means that words have become superfluous just let the music wash over you and let your cares slip away.

     So hats off to Jellyfant Records for a trio of releases that are melodic, honest, beautifully produced and timeless. I look forward to the next offerings. (Simon Lewis)




(CD on 359 Music)

Well here’s something you don’t hear every day: a 15-year old snot-nosed brat screaming the blues like Howlin’ Wolf, strumming the shit out of his acoustic guitar and occasionally stopping for a Dylan-inspired harmonica solo. Only someone with the legendary credentials (and balls) of Alan McGee could pull this off and he’s selected this Doncaster teenager to inaugurate his new imprint, in tandem with his contacts over at Cherry Red.

There’s a bit of Rodriguez in the title track and not a sniff of Sir Winston O’Boogie anywhere in sight. The recordings are extremely raw – McGee produced and he obviously wanted to capture the lad’s energy by hurling him at the microphone and standing back and hearing what happened. I wish he would have paid a little more attention to the knobs – some of the vocals are perilously in the red, but there is something to say for spontaneous combustion and that’s what he’s wrestled out of Lennon, er McCullagh. He wrote everything himself and God knows where he got his inspirations from – he must be the only 15-year old on the planet playing this kind of stuff, but I guarantee he can whoop that Bieber kid’s ass.

Mac’s guitar playing is rudimentary, but serves his self-penned material well and he’s all alone in that recording studio except for some wonderfully emotional violin flourishes from Anna Hambleton. Lyrics are surprisingly mature (the politically-tinged “Rivers Of Blood” suggests he’s been spending more time watching the news than playing with his Xbox) and there’s a nice whiff of Noel Gallagher’s melodicism sprinkled amongst his Dylanisms that augurs well for his future. I also appreciate his stab at a tender ballad (“White Rose”); he almost pulls it off despite a few strained attempts to assail a couple of registers his voice is a little too young to conquer. His efforts at composing an epic story-song (“The Strand”) is more successful; it’s all quite bedsitter-period Al Stewart-meets-Sunshine Superman–era Donovan in its construction and I found myself quite caught up and intrigued about the outcome.

His name and age are gonna garner all the attention, but if you look past the built-in hype quotient and cut the kid some slack, you may find yourself liking this album a whole more than you thought you ever would. I know I did. Reports are that he’s great live, as well. (Jeff Penczak)





(CD from 4Zero Records www.4zerorecords.co.uk)

This much anticipated live release features on paper and yes, on stage, too, the strongest Here and Now line-up of the past thirty or so years and can boast both Steffi “Sharpstrings” Lewry (guitar and voice) and Keith “Missile Bass” Bailey (bass and voice) from the classic late 70s hippie/punk crossover band beloved of the squatter movement and free festival circuit and renowned for their pass-the-hat free tours.

Times have changed of course and H and N have long since acquired a polish and dexterity which whilst lacking the anarchic, seat-of-the-pants atmosphere of yesteryear, the result no doubt of lousy PAs and primitive amplification, together with whatever was “going around” at the time, Live in London (recorded mostly at Dingwalls in 2007) [2007! My sole experience of seeing Here and Now was playing beneath the Westway back in 1974 and I had high hopes this was from that era... ah, well - Phil] is not found wanting when it comes to energy. Augmented by sticksman Steve Cassidy (still playing with Steffi in Sentient) and Gwyo Zepix (Zorch, Gong) on twiddly bits this is, with the exception of Eat Static’s Joie Hinton – who covers the keys on the Intro track – the version of Here and Now which played the legendary Gong Unconvention at the Melweg, Amsterdam in 2006 (my glasses still mist up at the very mention of that weekend).

As you would expect, plenty of accomplished floaty sounds abound in addition to which we are treated to a razor sharp delivery. An upbeat rendition of the soulful “Love Of This World” impresses early on, while Lewry’s fluid, soaring guitar on “Crazy Lives” demonstrates why he got the gig with the 90s incarnations of Gong while one Mr Hillage was otherwise distracted. In “Telly Song” and “Underground Dub” we are treated to some mid-set reggae. Reggae you say? Well yes, the band’s association with the genre goes back to their “Dog In Hell” days not to mention the “Fantasy Shift” album which was almost compulsory listening back in my student days. My old mate Faisel would scoff of course as it’s hardly Jamaican and therefore in his eyes (a South Londoner of Bangladeshi extraction) unauthentic and unworthy. To the rest of us though, it hits the sport very nicely thank you, bookending the tuneful instrumental, “Moonrise”, which features a typically lyrical Bailey bass lines and more top-notch guitar from Steffi and presaging the AOR number “Rattle the Cage”. One of my all time favourites, the atypical ballad “Only Way” receives a welcome dusting off before things are wrapped up with “Near and How”, which is the nearest we get to some of that late-70s abandon, with Zepix’s synths set to warp factor 10 and propulsion courtesy of Cassidy’s percussive assault and battery which it must be said is impressive throughout the album.

This was a relatively short-lived incarnation of the band, more is the pity. Lewry left to pursue other ventures leaving Bailey once more firmly at the helm with an ever rotating cast of support players coming and going and which currently includes Kangaroo Moon’s Mark Robson (scribe takes anorak off at this point). Here and Now still perform and can still deliver the goods, but this is a welcome reminder of the heights they are capable of scaling when Steffi as well as Keith is in the band. Hopefully one day we’ll see a full on reunion of the old guard but until then this will suffice, thank you very much.

(Live in London can most probably be bought through the usual suspects and you might even be lucky to pick a copy up at your local independent record shop should you be fortunate enough to be able to locate such an outlet. Then again why not do yourselves a favour and visit http://bit.ly/18oqiN9) (Ian Fraser)




(CD from Discus records www.discus-music.co.uk)

Sheffield’s Martin Archer is a hugely creative and talented composer/musician/arranger whose work has graced our reviews many a time and oft in recent years, often in conceptual collaboration with the likes of the sublime Julie Tippets.

“Juxtavoices” is Archer’s most recent work, co-written and directed with Alan Halsey and performed to acclaim at various events and venues across Northern England over the past couple of years. Featuring an “anti-choir” of often wordless voices, interspersed with spoken text taken from the likes of Samuel Becket and Gertrude Stein and comprising some 40 participants including the main protagonists, Juxtavoices is an intricate web of expressive sound representing practically every vocal contortion you can imagine short of primal screaming. The overall impression is of surreal, experimental theatre and an 80 minute therapeutic, mass-participation, group vocal exercise.

It is definitely intricate and clever and I’d fight, within reason, anyone who might have the temerity to suggest it isn’t art. However whilst it is diverting enough and, as a live experience, no doubt thoroughly rewarding, cathartic even, for performer and audience alike, I cannot see me indulging in too many repeated listens from the comfort of the study or in the car. That said, Juxtavoices will do no harm at all for Archer’s reputation as an inventive force whose work is never less than challenging or interesting. (Ian Fraser)



(LP/CD on Guerssen )

The Spanish reissue experts at Guerssen have tracked down one of the only three acetates in existence of this 40-year old mega rarity, named after this Brum band’s manager’s girlfriend (she was an American from a place named Fairfield and her name was Ski!) [curiously, my understanding of the story was that they got the 'Fairfield' name from the community near Birmingham that they hailed from and the 'Ski' part from the fact that their manager's wife, Ellen, spoke fluent Russian so the band nicknamed her ‘Ellenski’ which eventually got shortened to simply 'ski'. I suspect the truth lies somewhere between the two stories! – Phil]

Members included John Bonham’s cousin Bill (from Terry Reid’s band) on keyboards as well as the guitarist and the vocalist’s brother from The Cheetahs, who scored a couple of Top 40 hits in the mid-60s. The album was recorded at all the top studios of the day, including Abbey Road, Air, Apple and Trident. Unfortunately, incompetent management and naïve musicians contributed to the album’s evaporation into the aether, despite supposed interest from ABC Dunhill, Warner Brothers and EMI. Thankfully, this remastered release allows us to hear the results of all the band’s hard work.

            The songs are somewhat of a hodgepodge of myriad influences from prog, soul, glam and glitter and full-on rawknroll. You’ll hear vestiges of The Nice’s arrangement of ‘America’ in Bonham’s keyboard solo on the punchy rocker ‘Circus’, while Procol Harum are all over the epic centerpiece ‘Would You Mind/The Writer’, a complicated suite full of toytown pop hooks, beautiful harmonies (recorded at Abbey Road), phased vocals and guitar solos, Bonham’s sputtering organ improvs, and the occasional Crimsonesque 90-degree mood detour. ‘Man from Galilee’ returns to more prog rock trappings, with elements of both disciplines apparent in the swirling organs and Status Quo-like boogie.

            ‘Something On Your Mind’ adds yet another influence – sunny sunshine pop, with female vocals swooning behind soaring flutes, bouncy harmonies approaching Fifth Dimension heights! This should’ve been the single, but management delivered more promises than results. And then there’s the goofy soft shoe shuffle of ‘Meet Me At The Station’ that is part vaudeville hijinx crossed with the comedic touch of Zappa and The Mothers. Imagine Giles, Giles and Fripp… and Davy Jones!

            So there’s certainly a cornucopia of musical touchstones visited throughout, but this is the sort of material that was trickling out in those early 70s as artists and record labels constantly searched for that sound that would attract the attention of the newly affluent music fan and concert goer. It’s not exactly the best thing you’ve never heard, but a lot of what I did actually hear from this era was a lot worse and amid the proggy organ runs, boogie bar boisterousness, and faux-vaudevilliany, there are a few gorgeous ballads (‘Silver Tavern’, ‘Si Tu Dois Partir’ [not Fairport’s Dylan cover] that are quite impressive and worthy of a few pins. Even closer ‘Time Is Fast Approaching/Goodnight’ has a nostalgic White Album–as-interpreted-by-The Moodies vibe that’ll impart a nice, warm-and-fuzzy feeling as you return the album to its sleeve! (Jeff Penczak)



(CD from Thames Delta recordings www.leighfolkfestival.com)

Vividly named after many of the colourful and unsavoury characters that populate its subject matter, this release was a tie-in for the Leigh Folk Festival of July 2013 (apologies then for the delay in committing these words to print). Featuring a diverse selection of traditional and contemporary songs, including brief and entertaining snippets of Morris dancing and mummery, there is plenty to delight anyone with a passing interest in whatever we take to mean by that broadest of church “folk music”. For me, the best bits here are the more sinewy and traditional sounding tunes and those of considerable melodic quality featuring some stonkingly good female lead vocals.

Kicking off with “Hanging Jonny”, which extols the peculiar and despicable job satisfaction gained from that most singular of vocations to the extent of exterminating his entire family we are in short order, treated to The Doomed Bird of Providence’s “Ballard of a Boxer” (a bit of a drinking song, this, with a catchy, tankard waving shanty-style reel where a chorus would otherwise be) and “The Outlandish Knight” (Josienne Clark and Ben Walker) which employs the same tune and subject matters as on “The Lonely Willow Tree” which featured on the recent Dark Britannia compilation (see reviews June 2013) wherein a murderous and false swain gets his welcome comeuppance. The traditional “All Things Are Quite Silent”, first collected by R Vaughan Williams back in 1904, receives a wonderfully and quite eerie psychedelic makeover courtesy of You Are The Wolf and which garners top marks from your reviewer. Other most notable contributions worthy of mention in official despatches include Lucky Strikes’ rendition of “Two Sisters”, with male/female call-and-response vocals underscored by a wonderfully droning piped background and redolent of Rapunzel and Sedayne (who you might be as pleased as I was to learn also put in an appearance later on), and the outstandingly beautiful “With All Hands” by Greanville, of whom I know nothing and yearn to learn more. The latter would appear to be an original composition and is neither sinewy nor traditional (a case of the exception proving the rule, yer honour), but if you check out only one song from this winning compilation make it this one. Did I mention my old favourites Rapunzel and Sedayne earlier? Well their “Rapunzel” is another creation of loveliness, and any disappointment at the absence of a vocal contribution from the male half of this very best of folk duos is dispelled by a superb and plaintive performance by Rapunzel and a gorgeous arrangement.

There are other goodies here together with one or two rather more forgettable offerings with the slightly airbrushed and mid-Atlantic feel that occasionally permeates Radio 2’s Folk programme these days (when you sometimes wonder if you’ve missed a day and are listening to Bob Harris’ Country instead). Oh, and be warned, there is a brief snippet of something here in which the stereotypical – I’d hoped mythical - line “Hey Nonny Nonny” males an unwelcome appearance. I’d like to think that the artist is being ironic in its use and am in such a good mood as a result of what’s on offer from most of the 22 tracks here as to give him/them the benefit of the doubt.

On this evidence, roll on Leigh Festival 2014 is all I can say.

(Ian Fraser)




(LP on nodandsmilerecs.com)

Unlike the mystery surrounding solo albums by drummers or bassists, there can only be one outcome when a guitarist releases a solo album: you know you’re in for some top quality guitar work. In this instance, Suzuki Junzo (best known perhaps for his work with Overhang Party and Miminokoto) has upped the stakes a further notch by asking legendary Acid Mothers Temple guitarist Kawabata Makoto guests on a couple of tracks, including the outstanding ‘Eclipse IV’ with glorious shards of electric feedback piercing the melancholic air. Several songs fall into the acid-folk bag, with tinkling cascades of crystalline guitars hovering over plaintive, echoing vocals, of which a personal favourite is the suitably hesitant ‘Midsummer’s End’; ‘Crying Out Double Suicide Blues’ however introduces the addition of drums and percussion, and the trio take off into VU territory with ‘End of Horizon’. Most of side 2 is taken up by the epic ‘Chi No Mure’ which finds all of Suzuki Juno’s fine muse gelling into a melancholy chant backed with (his own) splendid electric guitar work. I like this a lot. (Phil McMullen)





(Floating World Records CD)

Hot Tuna called it quits first time around at the end of 1977. Unlike his long-standing partner-in-crime, bassist Jack Casady who went off and embraced the all-pervasive punk rock spirit by forming a new band SVT, singer and guitarist Jorma Kaukonen turned his back on Tuna’s recent predilection for heavy rock, indeed on all things ‘rock’ and recorded a solo LP that flew wilfully in the face of fads and fashions of the time.

Wonderfully low-key, one might even say modest , Jorma features eight Kaukonen originals plus a cover of ‘Vampire Women’ by the magnificently obscure blues man Spark Plug Smith who cut the original version in 1933 (Kaukonen incidentally still plays the song to this day). Some 34 years after its first appearance on RCA, this reissue sounds even better than it did first time around. It exudes a timeless quality which can’t be said for much of what was being churned out by the major labels back then. I’ve never bothered to re-investigate SVT having been put off at the time by the Nazi-salutes in their live show but I’d hazard their music wouldn’t stack up half as well as this does.  Perhaps subconsciously Jorma did absorb the rampant minimalism of the era. The production shared by Kaukonen and David Kahne (originally house producer for San Fran punk label 415 Records which issued those self-same SVT waxings), goes for a stripped down, bare boned approach that brings out the best in both his playing and song-writing skills. The material is performed acoustically and then multi-tracked with additional electric and acoustic guitars – there is a total absence of electric bass and drums or other instruments. And it’s all to the good.

With its double-tracked pungent, euphonic lead lines, such songs as ‘Road and Road &’ and ‘Wolves and Lambs’ rank amongst Jorma’s best. Though rooted in the folk and blues idiom, which Jorma had already made his own, the whole exercise at times has a contemporary edge that sits more comfortably alongside that debut Durutti Column LP of a year later than even his own solo debut from 1974, Quah. It’s a work that radiates a beautiful fragility and aches with a plangent melancholy whilst the lyrics continue to quest for spiritual meaning that lies at the core of his most successful recordings from ‘Embryonic Journey’ onwards.

I have to say that whilst I identify with much of what Deke Leonard writes about in his highly idiosyncratic, highly illuminating history of guitar players, The Twang Dynasty, particularly his assessment of Bryan Ferret, his short dismissal of Kaukonen (and  fellow San Franciscan player Jerry Garcia) fell wide of the mark.  People in glass houses huh? Far from being ‘an edgy blues-influenced guitarist of note’ Jorma combined technique, innovation and feeling to become one of the most original guitarists of his generation and this reissue eloquently shows us  why. Check it out.

(Nigel Cross)




(CD on Green Monkey )

This has got to be the strangest release in the PJs 30-year, 30-album discography. Back in 1987, Jeff Kelly came up with the idea of recording a live performance as a way of capturing the energy of a live gig for their fans and to preserve for posterity some old songs they never recorded along with some of the newer tracks they didn’t plan on recording any time soon. They’d release it all on cassette and everyone would go home happy. (Remember, this is the C-60 C-90 era and most of the early Pajamas’ albums – and Kelly solo material for that matter – were released by Green Monkey in this then-popular and now resurgant medium.) Initially, producer and label head Tom Dyer wasn’t too keen on the idea, but eventually acquiesced on the condition that they recorded the gig in a studio in front of an invited audience where Dyer could better monitor the sounds being laid down.

            So on a November night (hence the title), the band gathered at engineer Jack Endino’s Reciprocal Recording Studio in front of “a small group of friends and supporters” and ran through a typical setlist as Endino captured everything on tape. Then a strange thing happened: Kelly and Dyer listened back to the tape and each did a complete aboutface – Kelly nitpicked the bad vocals on one song, the bad piano on another, the strange guitar hum on a third until eventually changing his mind and concluding this was not the way to follow Book of Hours. Dyer on the other hand, loved it, agreeing with Kelly’s original proposal that “it’s just a cassette – a way of getting this rock and roll stuff out of your system.” So they set about “cleaning up” the recording, “remixing and beautifying it with delays and such” only to discover that the rawer original mix was better after all and a limited cassette run was issued, making it one of the rarest items in the Pajamas’ discography.

            Fast forward about a decade (1998) and Jack and Joe Ross (current Pajamas bassist) are driving down to perform at Terrastock II in San Francisco where Jack will perform with Wellwater Conspiracy. The November sessions come up in conversation and the two decide to have another go at remixing them, which they do across two hot summer July evenings. But the results remain in the vaults…until now.

            So the long strange trip from a November 1987 evening now culminates in the first-time-ever release of Jack and Joe’s remastered mix, along with a free download of Jeff and Tom’s original cassette mix (supplemented with five previously unreleased bonus tracks from the original session).

            We begin (as I suggest you do) with the original mix to hear the gig in its (almost) unadulterated glory – Jeff re-recorded all his vocals a week later (in one take) and Dyer dropped them in prior to releasing the cassette. What we have is a front row seat at a typical 1987 Pajamas gig featuring the Book of Hours lineup of Kelly, drummer Karl Wilhelm, keyboardist Bruce Haedt and late bassist Steven Lawrence playing his last show with the band. (Steven died under mysterious circumstances about three weeks before Ross and Endino remixed the album. This may have precipitated that conversation enroute to Terratock II.) Now I’ll be first to admit that Book of Hours is one of my least favourite Pajamas albums. The production was rather tinny, Haedt’s cheesy keyboard fills were at odds with the Pajamas’ previous paisley-pop releases, and the tunes weren’t their strongest. Kelly and Haedt both released solo albums that year and much of Book of Hours sounded like outtakes from those sessions. So I approached these sessions with a sense of trepidation and doubt.

            But as soon as the band plug in and tear into ‘Mary Magdalene’ I’m won over to the unbridled passion that went into the performances. Haedt and Lawrence’s vocals are still a bit creaky, strained, and rather flat, but the keyboard solos are imaginatively quirky without sounding like MTV auditions and even Wilhelm chimes in with a few clever drum fills and solos. I must admit that you’d never know this was a live gig, as the audience’s after-song reaction is mostly muted or non-existent – a puzzling phenomenon considering they were the whole point. But Kelly’s re-recorded vocals are pretty seamlessly integrated into the recording (if Lawrence and Haedt were afforded the same luxury, their tunes might’ve been more listenable) and the song are a little stronger (‘Dance Away’ is a perky, er, dance tune, ‘Just Like Seeing God’ is one of Kelly’s better tearjerker ballads, ‘Susanne’ [his wife] one of his better rockers, and Lawrence’s best track, ‘Far Away’ boasts a nifty Byrdsian guitar line lifted straight off ‘So You Want To Be A Rock and Roll Star’).

            This deluxe reissue also appends five tracks that were omitted from the original release – let’s call them the encore. Haedt’s ‘Manna’ was remixed for inclusion in the Indian Winter compilation, but ultimately omitted. I’m glad it was resurrected as it’s his best contribution to the set. Other highlights (which are frankly better than the originally released tracks) include two of the best songs from Summer of Lust, the mysterious rockfest ‘Stephanie Barber’ that was omitted from the recent SoL reissue – it’s nice to finally hear it officially released – and the band’s theme song of sorts, the sea shanty ‘Green Pajamas’, which benefits from Haedt’s sprightly organ accompaniment, and the audience participation singalong, ‘Michael Row The Boat’.

            So now to the release proper, Jack and Joe’s remixed version. Right out of the gate, the sound is crisper (the original sounds a little muffled and bassy to my unprofessional ears and Ross and Endino remixed the cheesy keyboard fills a little deeper back into the mix. Kelly’s solo on ‘Mary Magdalene’ and raunchy fuzz guitar on ‘I Wish It Was Christmas (their “yuletime song”) literally scream from the speakers and the instruments in general have more punch. ‘What In The World’ reveals itself as one of the set highlights: great melody, tight soloing, steady backbeat from Wilhelm – somehow I missed these in that original mix, although Kelly does suggest that the original mix “gets better with volume” to which I would add a few brews!

            The remixed version is slightly longer by about two minutes (a few codas are allowed to play out longer and some introductory guitar tunings are left in, but the key difference is an extra minute of Kelly’s extended Neil Youngish guitar tuneup at the beginning of ‘Stephanie Barber’). But there are still a few pieces clipped out of the remixed edition that you’ll need to pick up from the original [free download] tracks, including Jeff’s announcement at the end of the Christmas song. But at the end of the day, you’ll want both mixes anyway, the original for purists who want to hear it as it transpired, warts and all, and the remixed version for that extra jump that actually brings you right into Endino’s recording studio and plops you into the front row. You can practically feel the sweat leap off Kelly’s guitar. The band would return to this style of recording an album “live in the studio” in front of invited guests about 15 years later (‘Ten White Stones’), but except for the West Seattle Summer Fest concert from 2008 available directly from Kelly’s bandcamp site, this is the best evidence of how exciting a Pajamas’ gig can be. Don’t let this one pass you by.

(Jeff Penczak)




The music of Alasdair Roberts has always been mysterious, evocative and beautiful,perhaps never more so than on this release where he is joined by poet Robin Robertson, his words adding another level of enchantment to the disc. Conceived as a loose concept about the remote Scottish archipelago of St Kilda , the album features guest appearances from Corrina Hewat and Robin Williamson although, the lack of detailed information on my promo copy, means, which tracks remains conjecture only.

   Having strong traditional folk roots, the album is filled with sweet melancholy, a wistful sense of melody and a gently droning background, the combination of which,when coupled with the gorgeous vocal delivery, creates an album as beautiful a early morning mist across the glen, the scent of heather or the majesty of a rolling sea.

     After the rather fine “A Fall of Sleet”,a song which serves as an introduction gently encouraging the listener to fall under the spell, “A Farewell to the Fowler” is a suitably sad lament, the opening lines powerfully creating images in the listeners mind, the music perfectly judging the mood. Short and impossibly sweet, if melancholy and sadness can be sweet, “Laoidh fhionnlaigh Oig” is a haunting instrumental that moves into a different world, the mood maintained on “The White-Handled Knife”, Robert's perfect vocal performance adding bucketfuls of soft emotion.

    Quite possibly the centrepiece of the album, “The Leaving of St Kilda” features the words of Robin Robertson for the first time, a ten minute epic that is simply magnificent, the music and poetry allowing the listener to see, feel and experience the landscape and its memories, centuries of tradition and wilderness encapsulated beautifully.

    Filled with sadness and notes that fall like autumn leaves into crystal water, the delicate ache of “The Well of Youth” marries and poetry and melody to an almost overwhelming degree, leading by pale hand into “Exodus” the final track of this extraordinary collection, a prayer and a farewell that closes the album in suitably sombre fashion.

     I reckon folk music has had a good year with many quality releases, this however goes straight to the top of the pile, essential is too small a word for its majesty and power.

   Featuring the traditional folk themes of death,love (lost and betrayed), lords and girls, “Introducing” is a rather excellent five-track EP from singer Rosemary Lippard and Steven Collins instrumentalist for The Owl Service, working together under the name Country Parish Music.

    With a bright and sparkling production opening track “Lady Maisry” whisks listeners back in time to the early seventies folk-rock scene, the sounds of Steeleye Span, Pentangle etc to be found in its mellow grooves. The addition of a violin adding to the authenticity of the song. Equally lovely is “Saraband (Graveyard)”, a sweet melody and a fine blend of instruments giving the tune a melancholy air.

     Opening side two, “Lord Lovell” could be the quintessential English folk song, a tale of a lord a girl, parting, death and redemption. One of the strongest tracks on the disc, the song deserves repeated listens, although it would be a crime not to hear “Lady Eliza”,  the following track which highlights the crystal clear vocals of Rosemary Lippard, her voice soaring into the sky, forcing you to listen intently to a tale of kitchen boys and more death, something of a theme on this collection and folk in general.

    To end, “Pretty Saro” has droning strings entwining with the sweet voice and rumbling percussion, the song threatening to break out into something livelier at any moment, although it never does, instead ending with a lamenting violin.

   If this was a collection of lost recordings from way back when, then they would be heralded as a classic set of tunes. Don't let time rob you of the chance to hear them now, a fresh and beautiful collection that nods to the past whilst promising a great future.  (Simon Lewis)



(CD from Echoic Memory www.stereociliamusic.com )

Stereocilia’s place in the Terrascopic firmament was assured after a stellar performance at Woolf Music earlier this year. The sole work of London-based guitarist and composer John Scott, ‘Murmurations’ comprises a number of live guitar improvisations which have been woven together like billowing clouds forming a thunderhead, a storm which gathers but never quite breaks across the three fully formed compositions.

One is (well, I am – although I realise I’m probably alone in this, so the “one” is probably apposite) reminded from the outset, an echoing piece entitled ‘FWD>>,’ of the ambient guitar drone of the late Jason DiEmilio’s Azusa Plane, which is of course no bad thing – cascades of guitar notes, plucked, strummed and eased from the guitar with seemingly effortless ease, the sure sign of a master craftsman. ‘Dilute’ eases us further towards the Kraut- drone school of thought, whilst ‘Bright Light’ is not so far removed from early pieces by Windy and Carl.

Incidentally, I rather suspect the artist intended the CD to be entitled 'Murmurations', but the printer has rendered it as 'Mumurations' on the cover. Probably some kind of hippy trick to keep us reviewers on our toes. Either way, keep an eye out for more live performances and hopefully more releases like this in the coming months. (Phil McMullen)



(LP/CD on Career )

Three decades, over a dozen albums, and three-dozen singles later, Sweden’s garage rock institution returns with this deluxe edition of their first new American release in 12 years, adding three new tracks to an already impressive lineup of smokin’, hell bent for black leather tunes. Current single ‘Miles Away’ kicks the party off with a ferocious beat and an anthemic chorus leading into one of Hans Östlund’s trademark fingerbleeding solos. ‘Hangman’s Walk’ retains the heart-pumping pace while ‘You Won’t Break My Heart’ and ’20 000 Miles” harken back to those early Ramones influences with Beach Boys-y harmonies bubbling under a catchy melody and singalong lyrics. I’m sure Joey is upstairs smiling down on our heroes.

‘Make Up My Mind’ tips the head in the direction of the late, lamented Soundtrack of Our Lives, one of the many bands The Nomads have influenced during their lengthy career. Fistpumping vocals soar over a driving beat that’ll stick in your heads for days, while the snarly ‘Up Down Or  Sideways’ out-Stones Mick & Co., grafting vintage Taylor-era swagger onto a 21st century garage sensibility that illustrates the lads still have a few tricks up their sleeves after all these years. And as if that isn’t enough, ‘The Way You Let Me Down’ may be the single most infectious rocker you’ll hear all year. To call this the “garage rock album of the year” is a no-brainer, but doesn’t go far enough. This might just top my list of 2013’s favourite albums regardless of which subgenre you care to file it under.

So if your record collection is brimming with copious back catalogues of The Yum Yums, Ceasars, Hellacopters, Hives, or power pop/pub punkers like Edie & The Hot Rods, The Boys, and Flamin’ Groovies, this special “loaded deluxe edition” of their latest (named after their home town) is tailor made for you. If you’ve never owned a Nomads album or heard the name but not the music, this is the perfect opportunity to hop on the bus. There’s a party atmosphere throughout the highly melodic shoutalongs, full of screaming guitar solos, powerful backbeats, and a throbbing bottom end that anchors the whole thing to terra firms…just barely!

            Note: Vinyl junkies are in for an extra special treat via the included 17-track download card which appends rare EP and single tracks to the original album.

Jeff Penczak



(no label details provided)

Having appeared on the Canterbury scene, joined then left Gong, undertaken a remarkable solo career, invented ambient music (well, nearly) with "Rainbow Dome Musick" and then gone into production, Steve Hillage resurfaced when the 'eighties turned into the 'nineties with his dance music project System 7, working alongside his partner Miquette Giraudy. Initially a project with many guests, subsequent albums were essentially the duo alone, often working with Alex Patterson of The Orb, with whom Hillage collaborated on the groundbreaking "Blue Room" in 1992. Later albums descended into formless drum 'n' bass mush or not terribly exciting ambience, but now in 2013 System 7 find themselves enlivened by the addition of five piece Japanese jam band Rovo.

"Phoenix Rising" is a seven track behemoth of electronic rock - decorated by electric guitars and violin, underpinned by the bass and twin drum set-up of Rovo. The result is a terrific and very enjoyable album of semi-improvised music that all Hillage fans, and certainly all System 7 fans should enjoy.

Opening with the rock barrage that is 'Hinotori,' pounding drums, almost tribal in sound, underpin a simple chord sequence and riff, which then heads off into a synth, a guitar and a beautiful electric violin solo. It sets the mood for the whole album and is a great listen: the returning riff, a great sound, mad drumming and much more. 'Love For The Phoenix,' one of my favourite tracks on the album, is a more downtempo, typically System 7 track, with twinkling synths, delicate pads and samples. A lovely cut and an example of how to do this sort of music well.

The mood then changes with a rather unexpected cover version, 'Meeting Of The Spirits,' which all Mahavishnu Orchestra fans will know from the classic early 'seventies period of the band. Although lacking the energy and musical fireworks of the original, this is a good version, perhaps minus some verve, but by no means a slouch.

'Cisco' slows the tempo right down, at least initially, being a loping rock track with lots of tasty electric violin. The tempo of the track slowly increases as it progresses, and all manner of guitar and particularly synth effects are floated over the music. The drumming (as ever the twin kit set-up) comes to dominate later on, completing a great track. 'Unbroken' opens with classic System 7 style synth sequences before before re-entering electric violin jazz-inflected territory; some particularly nice electric guitar here from the Japanese contingent. 'Sino Dub' is another more electronic track with subtle wah-guitar flying over thumping, though minimal drums and synth effects. The track mutates later into the kind of music System 7 were making in their earlier days, and has in places an almost soca/Afro feel. Nice.

As usual with this band, the album finishes with a quiet, ambient track, in this case provided by Miquette Giraudy. 'Unseen Onsen' matches oscillating synths, sequences low in the mix, tablas and echoed effects into a lovely sonic melange. The track is shorter than the others, and takes its place perfectly.

Gong, Hillage and System 7 fans should enjoy this music, which revives the old formula, creating a great new album with lots of energy, musicality and some fantastic performances, not least from the violin. Recommended. (Steve Palmer)



Self-released LP available at www.featherbeard.org

Be afraid. Be very afraid. Father Yod has risen from the grave and dragged Tiny Tim back with him. Featherbeard is dressed in a, well, dress and standing inside a pentagram playing what appears to be a four-stringed miniature (toy?) guitar. It’s one of those old-fashioned gingham frocks and he’s wearing a crown of flowers on his head and a fake, waist-length beard, feathered throughout with what I’d swear were the Blackheart buttons that I printed up about 30+ years ago when I sold Joan Jett merch at tables at the back of the hall. Featherbeard has hand-written the lyrics and credits to the songs in the booklet that accompanies the album in a meticulous scrawl that is quite legible except for the fact that they form images of trees, eyeballs, and, presumably a self-portrait. He also seems to have invented his own phonetic spelling that’s equal parts Olde English, childish scrawl, and batshit crazy. And it’s, like, freaking me out, man.

            I offer all this backstory to try to come to terms with what I’m about to write… that Incantations is about the most fucked-up, freaked-out, hilarious, jawdroppingly weird set of music you’re gonna hear this year and possibly in your lifetime. Unless, of course, you still dig out that Ya Ho Wha 13 13-CD box set (God and Hair) every once in a while and pinch yourself to convince yourself you’re not going insane. Janis Ian once wrote a song called “Insanity Comes Quietly To The Structured Mind” and boy does that make a whole lot of sense now that I’ve heard Incantations. This is like Manson-meets-Andy Kaufmann and I don’t know whether to laugh or cry, although I think (hope) Featherbeard won’t mind if do both.

The ear-piercing screech that opens the album is soon accompanied by Featherbeard’s strumming and then…a voice that sounds like it belongs in the pulpit sturming und dranging like Gregory Peck rehearsing his Ahab lines. This, my friends, is just the tip of the iceberg of what lies within. It’s called ‘Ile ride a nue Animull to Nohorizonland’ [Note: all spellings have been triple-checked for accuracy!] and it’s set to a dirgy funeral crawl backing to emphasize the journey to enlightenment that Featherbeard has embarked upon. It all started in a New Orleans cemetery… but I’m getting ahead of myself. This is followed by the sweetest little folk tune (‘Wales sing to fiend there Love’) with an operatic chorus that could have been sandwiched into those minstrel tunes in Bergman’s Seventh Seal or proffered up to the Wicker Man. This one ends with Featherbeard breaking into a meowing fit like a cat in heat.

            The fun continues with the rather Pythonesque ‘Grone of a mitey Appal Seed, you Cannibel’ – like Zappa challenging Stanshall to a Freak Off At The Freaker’s Ball. Oh, it gets better! If you pulled out your old Father Yod, Wild Man Fisher, Mothers, Residents, Dr Hook, Bonzos, Pythons, Moondog, and, yes, Tiny Tim albums and tested your audience’s patience in an all-night listening session-cum-contest to determine the freakiest weirdo ever let loose in a recording studio, Featherbeard would win hands down. No contest. I mean, I haven’t even mentioned the honest-to-goodness creepiest shitstorm I’ve heard in ages, ‘menstreul melidy, a campfire seen’ because I can’t believe I just typed that. And, yes, Featherbeard is playing off the inherent Beavis & Butthead snicker-value of “minstrel” and “menstrual”, but I’ll leave it to you to decide where his interests lie. Possible hint: he couldn’t quite bring himself to list this track on the album sleeve!

            Druggy wordplay is also at the heart of the rather sprightly ‘The Songe befour the next Songe is the best”, a Tom Lehrer-ish folk ditty. Now, I love the Incredible String Band as much as the next gal, but even they wore my patience to the bone a few times, and all I can say about ‘lifely dethly aftirdethly’ is that the dogs in the neighborhood were baying at the moon throughout it’s nearly seven minutes of cantankerous vocal affectations … and it was the cloudiest night of the year.

So, OK, a little of this, (well, maybe more than a little) has to be a put on…kitsch for kitsch sake. But Featherbeard is serious in his attempts to rattle our cages and awaken us from our complacent listening habits that allow the likes of Lady Gaga to top the charts. And I applaud that Beefheartian stance on his part. And a lot of this is extremely well played. The childlike (not childish) melodies are sometimes quite solemn (‘die Tier fressen Moovie Staars’) … sometimes achingly heartbreaking. And listen to the lyrics (rather than trying to unravel the jigsaw puzzle goosechase they pursue in the booklet) and you’ll discover a melancholic soul who suffers the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune just like the rest of us mortal toilers. He even offers us a wink of hope on ‘We bid yuo live liver live’ (a second song omitted from the tracklisting.) But then he ends this quite unsettling experience with the gloom and doom of ‘wat will yuo were to yuor Funeril’. Except it’s the softest, prettiest song in the set. Light, dancey, trip-the-light-fantastic, softshoe shuffle stuff like Al Jolson used to sing. So go figure. I’ll leave with another musical cross reference and direct your attention to the title of the last Lucky Bishops album: Unexpect The Expected. If ever an album deserved to be played thrice before listening, this be it. Featherbeard claims that he found his calling after passing out in a New Orleans cemetery after one too many fried pickle po-boys and an overabundance of beer. A word to the wise should be sufficient.

(Jeff Penczak)



(Ltd edition LP from Boring Machines www.boringmachines.it)

It’s interesting when a label makes a point of describing an artist as a “scientist” and not simply a musician (Du Champ apparently works on bio-sensors). The image that this suggests is that what you are about to listen to is rather clinical and possibly lacking in imagination. First track on Du Champ’s Nar, entitled “Gemini” might, on first listen indeed give credence to such a view. A near as dammit flat-line accordion (or is it harmonium) drone with only the most subtle of nuances and some faintly perceptible cooing by the artist, this is manna from heaven for the full-patch Woolf Music brigade (a chapter of right hard-nuts with whom I ride prospect) this is definitely one for the meditative and the patient. “Protect Me From What I Want” follows a similar glacial and fixed direction, a throbbing low register and a slowly building hum that requires concentration and disciplined listening. The overall impression is of a high performance car stuck in low gear – you sense the potential even within the confines of ambient drone and can’t help feeling a bit frustrated at what appears thus far at least to be a not quite fully grasped opportunity. You see, readers, the meditative and patient black belt eludes me ever more with advancing years.

Side 2, then, and something of a minor revelation. “A Worship” introduces a wheezing, gothic organ right out of the 16 Horsepower/Woven Hand canon. However instead of David Eugene Edwards’ impassioned fire and brimstone delivery we are treated to Du Champ coming on like Hope Sandoval’s scary half- sister at the end of a nightmare date intoning what sounds like “won’t you like me”. All very eerie as well as solemn and I’m well and truly sold. “A Way To Grasp Joy Immediately” returns us to low-frequency “one-and-a-nano- note” territory pierced by a Dylan Carlson-style mournful twang-guitar and “Seisactheia” brings us back into the room in what has become a familiar and indeed comforting style with some trance-inducing Eastern-sounding strings to boot and, very nearly, the semblance of a rhythm (is that a bass guitar I hear before me and which plays us out?).

A couple of subsequent listens and I really am beginning to warm to it. Nar is something of a grower, ladies and gents, without ever quite threatening to break into the major league. It won’t be to everyone’s tastes but if there is gonna be a Woolf or something like it in future then Phil may be advised to letterset the artist’s booking form now. It’ll be right up his marquee. (Ian Fraser)



(CD/LP on Lucky Dog/City Slang)

Tindersticks began their career with three double albums and proceeded to enthrall, confound, and illuminate the music world with an impressive collection of moody, melancholic pop, dreamy film soundtracks, and music specially composed for museums, fashion shows, and installations. They’re certainly a varied and prolific lot, and to celebrate their twentieth anniversary, they’ve elected to enter Abbey Road’s legendary Studio 2 and revisit these ten songs (including two of vocalist Stuart A. Staples’ solo efforts) from that lengthy back catalogue. [By the way, being a Leap Day baby myself, the title intrigued me. Leap Years occur every four years and there have been six of them since the band began, so the band is looking back at their discography “across six leap years”.]

As keyboardist David Boulter explained it, “These songs feel like cover versions. Someone else’s music we feel we had something new to bring to.” That detachment is at the heart of these “remakes”, for it enabled the band to take off the kid gloves and reinterpret their past in the now without treating the originals as sacred territory not to be messed with. There’s also a sense that the band wanted to “fix up” some tracks that they felt could have been done better the first time around. It also implicitly suggests that the band have become better (read: tighter) with age and familiarity, as half the tracks they’ve selected for “improvement” originally appeared on their earliest (second and fourth) albums from their first five years together.

                  If anything, like a good wine, Staples’ distinctive voice has mellowed, adding fresh nuances to his earlier solo efforts, ‘Friday Night’ and ‘Marseilles Sunshine.’ The former’s late night ambience still enthralls – like sitting alone in front of a fire with all the lights out and ruminating over the day’s events, an eerie companion to Robert (The Cure) Smith’s ’10:15 On A Saturday Night’. I must admit that every time he opens his mouth my ear drifts back to the early work of Richard Baskin, whose Welcome To L.A. soundtrack is essential listening for all T’sticks fans. But that’s just a personal quirk that distracts me more than the typical listener and shouldn’t impact your listening pleasure.

                  The other staple of a Tindersticks album (no pun intended) is the lushly romantic orchestration that imbues so many tracks with an extra emotional layer to compliment Staples’ vocals. The band have spared no expense in hiring nearly two dozen different brass and string performers, and the arrangements (many courtesy former violinist Dickon Hinchliffe) add a warm glow to tracks like ‘Dying Slowly’ and ‘If You’re Looking For A Way Out’, the latter featuring Gina Foster’s soothing vocal accompaniment, and an added punch to the blustery soul barnstormer, ’Say Goodbye To The City’.

                  Other favourites getting a new lease on life include the heavy-lidded headnodder ‘Sleepy Song’ and the tortured soul-cleansing anguish of ‘I Know That Loving’ that channels the ghost of Otis with the fall-on-my-knees gospel pleadings of Al Green. And if you missed their limited-edition, Record Store Day, one-sided 7” ‘What Are You Fighting For?’ that was sold on their 2008 tour, here’s your chance to catch up. Listening to these marvelous performances breath fresh life into forgotten favourites and hidden gems also served to get me off my lazy arse and dig out the originals and relive the magic all over again.

For a relative newbie like myself, I would have preferred if the lyrics were included – Staples’ stories, confessions, and recollections are key to appreciating the musical accoutrements they’re wrapped in – but this quibble aside, this is an excellent starting point for the uninitiated and everyone else who appreciates the value of silence and patience in song craft. Like Leonard Cohen, Nick Drake, and a few others, Tindersticks are masters of this forgotten and too-often neglected art.

(Jeff Penczak)



(LP from Boring Machines www.boringmachines.it)

A solo project by one Marcela Riccardi, “Hazy Lights” is a stripped down affair featuring Riccardi’s endearingly unaffected voice over a guitar accompaniment of simple, often minimal yet effective chord progressions fleshed out by sympathetic and tasteful accompaniment courtesy of multi-instrumentalist Maurizio Abate.

The outcome is a sort of bucolic acid-folk which tends towards the pleasantly languid (much as the title suggests). Tracks such as “I Feared the Fury of My Wind” (no sniggering at the back, please) taken from a poem by William Blake and “Seven Treasures” are gorgeously laid back and are oh-so redolent of the dusk and dawn of some endless summer. “Stranger”, meanwhile, pitches Riccardi somewhere between Brigit St John and the divine Shelagh McDonald, a smoky and wistful creation of no little beauty which also evokes Beth Gibbons in the days of her Rustin Man collaboration.

Elsewhere, “You Are My Sunshine” features laptop guitar as well as harmonica (used to good effect elsewhere) which lends a West Coast cowboy period charm to events while “Farewell Love” shimmers with longing, an electric guitar practically weeping in a cavernous void behind BeMyDelay’s vocal and acoustic guitar phrasings. The musical interpretation of Italian poem “Mottetto Dealla Sera D’Aprile” lifts the needle on an intimate and fulfilling 40 minutes, juxtaposing fragility with a deceptive depth of emotion and well worthy of exploration

(Ian Fraser)