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The Other Side Of Bakersfield, Vol. 2

Various Artists

Bear Family

The evolution of rockabilly and rockin’ sounds continues by way of Bakersfield with Bear Family’s second chapter titled, ‘The Other Side Of Bakersfield’. With in-depth liner notes and super rare photos regarding these particular artists of the 1950s and 60s and the record labels involved,  the usual care and attention from Bear Family is applied to the entire package as volume two of the Boppers and Rockers from Nashville West is on equal par with its predecessor. For example, the same quality and breadth of creativity is found throughout ‘The Other Side Of Bakersfield Vol. 2’, but where this differs slightly is the evolving sound of the musicians involved, edging closer to a fuller-sounding rockabilly description, to cite one example, that is beefed up and tighter in its execution. Particular delights of this second instalment include the ever reliable Ferlin Husky with ‘I Feel Better All Over’; the ballad-esque ‘Teenage Tears’ from Cliff Crofford; the wonderful off-kilter delivery and in line with its narrative of Corky Jones’ (Buck Owens) ‘Rhythm and Booze’ and George Weston’s rockin’ ‘Hey Little Car Hop’. Special mention goes to the sublime ‘Can’t Go On’ with a vocal to melt the sternest of hearts that leaves one to ponder why the name Dallas Frazier was not exalted to greater heights despite achieving success as a songwriter for a host of artists. A superb second volume, ‘The Other Side Of Bakersfield’ is worthy of high praise indeed.


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The Other Side Of Bakersfield, Vol. 1

Various Artists

Bear Family

Nothing but a safe pair of hands, Bear Family Records bring sweet, pleasurable relief with a new two-part series that focuses on ‘The Other Side Of Bakersfield’. The first volume of Boppers and Rockers from Nashville West details a succession of artists from the 1950s and 60s from the city of Bakersfield eager to experiment with the wilder sound that was emerging at a quickening pace with rockabilly and later rock ‘n’ roll. With an abundance of independent record labels able to provide (temporary) homes for those deemed worthy enough, the more familiar names of Buck Owens (aka Corky Jones on one particular number), Tommy Collins, Merle Haggard et al are present, but also much sought after originals with the endearingly named Custer Bottoms, for example, with his ‘Stood Up Blues’ that possesses a wonderful natural quality mainly expressed through Custer’s ‘hick’ delivery  rendering the abject misery of the central figure via the opposite sex utterly convincing. Cliff Crofford’s prospects appear equally bleak with ‘There Ain’t Nothin’ Happenin To Me’ that sounds like it’s made up of a very primitive rock ‘n’ roll rhythm. Johnny Taylor certainly adopts a similar methodology with his more up-tempo version of the (still) primitive rockin’ beats by way of the superb ‘Mixed Up Rhythm & Blues’, only for Jimmy Thomason (‘Now Hear This’) and Glen Ayres – Red Simpson (‘Sweet Love’) to shake things up further with some rhythm and blues and then followed by a concoction of teen rock and boogie. The sheer breadth of styles is astounding not to mention the abundance of creativity – Joe Hall & The Corvettes ‘Bongo Beating Beatnik’ a prime example – that makes this first volume ‘The Other Side Of Bakersfield’ a must have item.


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Rockabilly Roads 4

Various Artists

Playground Music

Fourth instalment in the Rockabilly Roads series that sees no let-up in terms of quality control with a plethora of modern-day rockabilly and rock ‘n’ roll artists touting their own creative writings rather than adding a fresh spin on an old cover. The ‘jungle’ theme given to this fourth Rockabilly Roads volume is more about the red-hot electricity coursing through more or less each and every track rather than anything specific coming out of the wilderness. First indication of such a scorching atmosphere comes by way of Mike Barbwire & The Blue Ocean Orchestra with their ‘El Sótano Calling (S.O.S ROCKN’ ROLL), which is an instrumental with a Latin flavour coupled with a stinging guitar, monstrous sax and surprising turn of events with a brief yet wondrous string section midway that sets the bar incredibly high for the rest of the competition to follow. After such a magnificent start, Swedish rockers and regulars to the Rockabilly Roads series, John Lindberg Trio do not let the side down by way of their usual high standards of consistently good rock ‘n’ roll with knowing pop sensibilities that is ‘Hit Me’. Where John Lindberg Trio add a modern gloss to the rockin’ revival, Ruby Ann’s ‘You Gotta Pay’ and subsequent Honeyboy Slim & the Bad Habits ‘Screamin’ Mimi Jeanie’ really drum up a sense of nostalgia with authentic takes on a 50s sound; the former a mid-tempo setter that is commanded by Ms Ann’s compelling vocal, whereas the latter is a full-blooded rocker and reminiscent of Jerry Lee Lewis. It remains this very balancing act between replicating an inch perfect rockin’ 50s period sound, and one that stems from the same origins but with various additional elements providing a more up-to-date feel (20th Flight Rockers, The Caezars, Reverend Horton Heat), which is why this rockabilly series truly works.


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Fire Dance With Me

Charlotte Qvale

Stella Music / Sony Music Norway

The name Charlotte Qvale has been making great strides after recognition from several Norwegian radio stations that saw Qvale’s hit song ‘The Fire’ a longstanding feature when it came to radio playlists. Fast forward to the present and Charlotte Qvale is now ready for her full-length debut entrance with ‘Fire Dance With Me’. The impact of this first offering is immediate with vigorous backing beats and Qvale’s calm vocal detailing the differences that finally proved too much for one particular relationship during ‘The Beginning Of The End’. Comparisons will no doubt feature Florence + the Machine considering the influence of indie, folk and dance music running throughout, especially upon hearing the lovely rising arc of ‘Love You Out Loud’ and breezy ‘Kiss The Girls’. There is a slight quirky edge to the rather engaging ‘City Lights’ that brings together a bristling rhythm full of acoustic guitar and stabs of brass instrumentation and reminiscent of Susanne Vega and a closer to home, Ephemera. While such associations are to be welcomed considering the undoubtable talent and confidence evident here, the next outing for Charlotte Qvale makes for an interesting prospect because it will be one that requires a slight deviation due to an overall feeling of familiarity with ‘Fire Dance With Me’.


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Shake The Curse

This Sect

Sect Appeal Records / Diger

Reviving a musical passage confined to the history books by dragging it into the present, This Sect possess an undisputable post-punk and indie influence with a definite whiff of the eighties when it comes to their sound, but one that is given a slightly modern edge considering the grooving rhythm of former single ‘Bookburner’. The giveaway, however, to such references can be heard in the shimmering and echoing effects of the guitars that is reminiscent of such 80s innovators The Chameleons and Bauhaus, as well as paying their respects to such record labels as Dischord with the aforementioned post-punk sound. With this being a debut album and one that has taken considerable time to fully realise, the benefits of such a lengthy gestation period are revealed in the tight musicianship which creates moments of genuine tension as well as providing a sense of holding the ship together. For lead vocalist Gøran Karlsvik, the title of This Sect’s debut long player seems to literally plague his very being, with his vocal giving the impression of pulling the songs along but with considerable suffering involved due to the immense weight of the lyrical contents contained within. Such indications can be identified from the layered guitars and melodic bursts of ‘Lines On A Trail’ where there appears no exit from troubled times, to the (some might say) actions of a philistine with the tortured ‘Bookburner’ and major clue that is ‘Detox The Soul’. As brief as ‘Shake The Curse’ stands, This Sect manage to cram a succession of deeply intense emotions that are often cryptic in nature, with an equally forceful brew of raucous guitars and additional synth that harks back to a period in music that is sadly missed and thus rendering ‘Shake The Curse’ utterly essential.


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American Football

American Football

Polyvinyl

When confronted with song titles such as ‘But The Regrets Are Killing Me’, the likelihood of a joyful conclusion to American Football’s eponymously titled reissue is highly unlikely. Whether such regrets permeate the thoughts of the now ex-band members regarding their decision to call time on this particular musical venture only they will know. What is clear, however, is that the decision to dust down and re-release ‘American Football’ as a limited edition set to 2000 copies in various formats was the right decision considering the honesty of the songs on offer, but also the dexterity of the musicianship that conjures up various intriguing and complex melodies throughout. Most notably, however, is the iconic status this record still holds considering the various layers interwoven into the songs that can be heard to varying degrees in a host of bands currently peddling the emo label, but also for the use of brass instrumentation and sometimes jazz references that still set this album head and shoulders above. Look no further than the accessible sounding yet full of intricate details of ‘Never Meant’, to the fragility of ‘The Summer Ends’, played out effectively with a singular horn and bringing to mind The Mutton Birds ‘The Falls’, to understand why this album is an important landmark and one that is still relevant today.


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Into The Fray

Montée

Sony Music Norway

Upping the ante further with album number three by adding the production skills of British producer Eliot James (Two Door Cinema Club, The Futureheads, Kaiser Chiefs) and enrolling fellow Brit Simon Walker to help out with lyrics, Montée is willing to take chances in order to broaden their sound but also their appeal when it comes to reaching new audiences. The results appear to be a winning success judging from the fuller sounding and more consistent quality of the songs making up ‘Into The Fray’. The eighties influence blended with modern pop-disco tendencies remain and clearly evident from the off with ‘Saviour’ that receives extra plaudits for its decision to include backing vocals that take this ditty to another level. ‘Icarus’ has a sense of familiarity about it, which is a compliment, with its gliding rhythm that almost suggests a smoky jazz texture when really it’s a reflective synth number that has lead vocalist Anders Tjore sounding rather like Bowie on occasions with a desire to remain detached from society, and it really is that good. The infectious melodies continue their charge with ‘Animal Traits’ and ‘The Beast In Their Nature’, before ‘Picture Paradise’ offers a different perspective with its colder rhythm and more measured pace. For fans of Human League, Heaven 17 and more recently Van She and Empire of the Sun, ‘Into The Fray’ should see Montée victorious judging by the overall quality and consistency of their latest album.


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Unanchored

Silya

Sony Music Norway

Ending up as last year’s singing sensation after a gruelling number of weeks on NRK’s Stjernekamp contest, Silya resurfaces with the shrewdly titled ‘Unanchored’. Despite the triumphant success on national television, Silya remains close to her roots by continuing her musical association with The Sailors, as well as her personal taste in music dating anywhere between the 40s to the 70s where elements of rock, pop, jazz, big band and ska have a habit of connecting as well as operating on their own terms. Opening up in some style with trademark vocal and a singular electric guitar for company is the confessionary tug-of-war ‘Change My Mind’ with its one line homage to The Clash but also respect for the two cities in her life which, unfortunately, have presented something of a dilemma as far as future directions go. With the album being recorded in Degraw Sound in Brooklyn, the decision to commit to a live recording certainly pays dividends as the retro feel of the aforementioned ‘Change My Mind’ comes complete with added hiss behind its exterior, but more importantly the raw honesty of Silya’s vocal is captured and highlighted with the ballad ‘Become My Dream’ and gutsy rocker ‘Trailblazer’. Treading the past also extends to a reworked version of a former song ‘No Use In Runnin’, only this time the slick dance beats are replaced with a rock – ska version that is punctuated throughout with some wonderful brass and given a real boot in its rear with an immense vocal during its climax. Rather than being resigned to a mere background effect, the use of brass instrumentation throughout is equally essential to the compositions on offer, as the various horns breathe added personality to the narratives being expressed and evidenced by ‘Loverman Stick Up’ and the rock ‘n’ roll, jump blues of the quite stupendous ‘Chick Habit’. The noirish feel of ‘When Your Girlfriend Sleeps’ finds Silya in her element under the dim lights of a swanky NYC supper club, before swinging home on a finale with recent single ‘Sucka’ that contains a rich ska influence that eventually amalgamates with a big band sound and Silya singing from the rooftops. Looks like Ol’ golden tonsils is back and here to stay this time, as ‘Unanchored’ is the perfect blend of everything that is Silya and a showcase for the wonderful talent that has been striving to make its mark all these years.


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Metamodern Sounds In Country Music

Sturgill Simpson

Loose Music

Pulling a draw faster than Billy the Kid himself, Kentucky-raised Sturgill Simpson, who now happens to be a resident of Nashville, makes a swift return with second album ‘Metamodern Sounds In Country Music’. Where debut offering ‘High Top Mountain’ excelled in tailing a steady line to the traditions of country music, as well as offering heartfelt emotions regarding family members or various frustrations concerning life’s career choices or lack of them, ‘Metamodern Sounds In Country Music’ pursues more or less the same path, only the emotions expressed are those scraping the bottommost depths of despair. With songs alluding to such periods of hopelessness, often the result of experimenting with life’s darker side as well as suffering from depression (‘Life of Sin’, ‘Voices’, ‘Long White Line’), there are also moments of hope with ‘A Little Light Within’. However, far from being a miserable experience, ‘Metamodern Sounds In Country Music’ is nothing but an enthralling ride of traditional country, with some nice touches of additional strings during lead track ‘Turtles All The Way Down’, but also one that benefits from a rawer edge in the guitar department and best experienced from ‘Life of Sin’ and ‘Living The Dream’. The wildness truly reveals itself, however, when the appropriately named ‘It Ain’t All Flowers’ sets its reverse course with guitars sucked through a vortex amidst fevered howls as the comedown digs its claws in. The nostalgic trip down memory lane of ‘Pan Bowl’ is the perfect conclusion, considering all that has gone before, and further reason why ‘Metamodern Sounds In Country Music’ is an extremely important record not only due to its inventive side, but for its honesty when chronicling life’s mistakes.


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Chaophonies

Frankétienne & Mark Mulholland

Jezus Factory Records

It’s not every day that a Haitian poet, painter, novelist, playwright and actor decides to collaborate with an inspirational musician hailing from Scotland, but that’s exactly what Frankétienne and Mark Mulholland decided to do with the album ‘Chaophonies’. The duo’s combined efforts is an 11-track album of literary readings set to music consisting of (creole) folk, indie, blues and with a slight Celtic influence in places. Reading excerpts from his ‘Rapjazz, Journal d’un Paria’, Frankétienne creates a number of guises for the poetic tales of ‘Chaophonies’ that are delivered in an enthralling manner and accompanied by Mark Mulholland’s musical expertise. ‘Chaophonies’ reveals its class from the very start as ‘Mots et réves’ rises like steam from the cobbled streets of a remote village somewhere in the French wilderness during the peak of summer with an impassioned vocal and understated musical accompaniment largely comprising of accordion and acoustic guitar. The strings are wonderfully sombre during the atmospheric and almost western feel of ‘Ville Schizophonique’, which lends itself nicely to the old steam west portrayal of ‘Le petit train’ that sees Frankétienne powering this little number by nearly his lungs alone. Hopefully, the various tales throughout ‘Chaophonies’ are not consigned to a one-off deal, as clearly the Frankétienne – Mulholland partnership is one that has considerable mileage given the sheer quality and inventiveness of this combined effort.


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Supernova

Ray LaMontagne

RCA

Latest album from singer-songwriter Ray LaMontagne sees a departure from his more straight folk roots sound as ‘Supernova’ lends itself to the psychedelic pop and country-rock sounds prominent during a late 60s and early 70s San Francisco. Producer Dan Auerbach (Black Keys) services were called upon to help with the sonic layers of ‘Supernova’ that is certainly a lot brighter as introductory song ‘Lavender’ indicates with its summery hazy feel created by use of reverb on the  vocal, gentle strumming of acoustic guitar and use of Mellotron. The opening bars of ‘Pick Up A Gun’ blooms into a kaleidoscope of sounds and sees LaMontagne taking several steps further into less familiar territory and one full of psychedelics as there is a real sense of wanting to forget. In keeping with the dreamlike qualities of several of the songs on offer here, the lyrics offer little by way of clues to their overall meanings as LaMontagne has suggested: “Some songs are like riddles, or puzzles, an unknown begging to be figured out,” only this may take some time. Whether ‘Supernova’ is the way forward for Ray LaMontagne only time will tell, as there will be those who lament this change of direction whereas others will undoubtedly welcome this fresh approach and openness to greater experimentation.


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Aelita

Mando Diao

Musica de la Santa / Sony Music

Swedish band Mando Diao stump up album number seven with a perfect representation of 80s synth and guitar sounds that is ‘Aelita’. Being hailed as a new ‘dimension’ for the band, ‘Aelita’ is not without its reference points as it pulls on several influences from predominantly the early part of the aforementioned decade with its unmistaken Flock of Seagulls inspired entrance of first single ‘Black Saturday’. The measured pace of ‘Rooftop’ is wonderfully encapsulated by a slight soul-funk edge and violin (electronic or otherwise) that compliments the giddy emotions at the heart of this song. Unfortunately, the lurid ‘Sweet Wet Dreams’ is mid-eighties stodge and quite possibly meant as tongue-in-cheek considering its recalling of Belinda Carlisle’s ‘La Luna’ and characteristic of the period overblown vocal. In stark contrast, the cold machinery and loneliness of ‘If I Don’t Have You’, to the sleekness of synth-driven ‘Money Doesn’t Make You A Man’ and sullen beats of ‘Romeo’ represents the overall strengths and qualities of Mando Diao’s new and preferred direction that is reviving a particular period in history.

 



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