Album Reviews

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Released Out now

 

Santa Is Real (Single)

Alexander Lindbäck

Safe & Sound Recordings

Alexander Lindbäck embarks on a solo jaunt with his first recording ‘Santa Is Real’. Taking inspiration from The Louvin’ Brothers’ classic ‘Satan Is Real’, Lindbäck spins a yarn on a darker Christmas tale that is more about taking rather than giving. Without wishing to put a dampener on the Christmas festivities with its more serious tone involving murder, drug misuse, prison and the lack of any real gifts being exchanged, ‘Santa Is Real’ possesses a sense of mischief and definite black humour in between the serious drama, especially considering  mum’s unfortunate fate via some gingerbread dough! With the song coming wrapped in a country styling that contains some lovely mandolin, pedal steel and piano, Christmas with Alexander Lindbäck is definitely one to savour for a number of different reasons, but most notably for his refreshing take on the traditional festive song that really brings to life ‘Santa Is Real’.


Released 14 December

 

Southern FM

Rob Williams

Evertone Records

Rob Williams has taken the long route to finding his feet in the world of music. Having established a career in education, a long held passion for music eventually persuaded Williams to enter the ring of song writing, which saw the release of his debut solo album, ‘A Place In The Sun’, in 2013. Since that time, Williams continued his role within academia, but the lure of song writing proved too strong once more, and a decision was made to record a follow-up album. ‘Southern FM’ is that record which saw Williams relocate from the comfy surrounds of his hometown and head for pastures new. This deliberate action resulted in Williams setting up camp in Dallas with producer Salim Nourallah (Rhett Miller, Old 97’s) in order to bring to life Williams’ love for a Southern acoustic sound that blends traditional and contemporary Americana. What the listener receives, as a result of this process, are a number of confessionary tales concerning relationships, that are sometimes interlaced with hardships à la ‘Henry and Maria’ for example. Such storytelling reaches its zenith during the gospel feel of ‘Best I Can Do’; a clever song, full of wisdom, reflecting on those in life who are less satisfied with their lot; “Some people climbing ladders have no idea what they’re even after, They hope someday to be on track.” There’s a breezy feel to the rhythm of ‘Where You Hang Your Heart’ with Rob Williams letting in a definite Bob Dylan influence, whereas ‘Sometimes It’s A Song’ casts a more downbeat shadow that creatively mixes references to the forces of nature with the struggles found in relationships. Elsewhere, ‘Sun Gone Down’ reveals another facet to Williams’ song writing with a touch of humour and slight eccentricity in both the lyrics and music, with the latter sounding more pop and rock influenced. For the majority of its contents ‘Southern FM’ is an inspired body of work, and one that is not afraid to break from the conformities of a musical genre by adding a variety of personal touches that provides that extra flavour. It looks like the radio frequency is going to be set to a ‘Southern FM’ sound for the foreseeable future.


Released Out now

 

If You Have To Cry (Single)

Hege

Rootsy

After the Swedish experiment that was ‘Till Harry’, Hege makes a welcome return with the single, ‘If You Have To Cry’. Taken from the forthcoming album, ‘When My Man Comes To Town’, this first offering from Hege marks a return to use of the English language, and one that will lift the restrictions for those who were unable to join in with the formerly mentioned ‘Till Harry’ long player. Where that previous album made heavy use of piano, the new single, ‘If You Have To Cry’, sees Hege opt for the more traditional rock and roll setup of bass, guitar and drums, with the addition of pedal steel because this is country music after all. The single itself is something of a mystery as the contents of the narrative makes for a compelling listen, with a closely guarded secret held between two central characters that alludes to some form of wrongdoing being the only giveaway. Repeat visits will only generate further questions as to the songs overall meaning, always a good sign when it comes to the art of song writing which, along with Hege’s emphatic vocal delivery that is suggestive of Dolly Parton with the slightest grain of Gillian Welch, are good enough reasons to keep coming back for more.


Released 6 November

 

My War / Whiskey Song (Single)

The Secret Sound of Dreamwalkers

Safe & Sound Recordings

Coming together after the demise of a few former projects, the trio that is The Secret Sound of Dreamwalkers see the release of their debut single this week. This first release is actually a digital only offering, with the tracks being presented as a double-sided single with ‘My War’ and ‘Whiskey Song’. As far as immediate impressions go, lead song, ‘My War’, hits the senses with an arresting vocal performance, in addition to a delicate and pensive musical accompaniment that also contains a few stings in its chords, magnificently expressed by the guitar hands of Thomas Bergsten and Kristine Marie Aasvang, who is also responsible for the aforementioned. Think Mazzy Star; think Cowboy Junkies, think a darkened corner of a barroom somewhere in the vicinity of Twin Peaks, and you’re close to an understanding of where the melancholic beauty of ‘My War’ resides. The second composition,’ Whiskey Song’, is the perfect companion, beginning with dreamy steel guitar and stunning vocal that holds a real sadness inside. This sadness becomes more apparent as the song wears on, as its tone becomes more resentful, to the point of almost mumbling, as it plots its revenge on a hapless former lover. The twist at the end of this song raises a wry smile, and is but one reason why a return visit to the music of The Secret Sound of Dreamwalkers is a must the next time they’re in town.


Released Out now

 

I lag med deg (Single)

Erik Lukashaugen

Øksekar

Named as a strong favourite by a number of critics in his homeland is the current single ‘I lag med deg’ from Erik Lukashaugen. The song itself is taken from the full album ‘Tel si elga tid’, which has also been on the end of some very fine words indeed, that makes for an encouraging start to the current campaign for this singer-songwriter from Elverum. The favourable words are fully justified once the folk and light country tones of ‘I lag med deg’ immediately arrives at a mid-paced tempo, that maintains itself for the duration of the song, with Erik Lukashaugen singing of his affections for another without ever sounding twee. The feelings expressed in this song are given further credence with a delightful vocal coming from Linn Øftsaas, who adds to the warm intimacy at the centre of this (third person) team. ‘I lag med deg’ is likely to win you over without really trying at all because it’s such an infectious and warm song, and one that will continue to worm its way to your heart six months down the line and there’s no greater feeling than that when it comes to song writing. A job well done!


Released Out now

 

På jorden et sted – Utvalgte Nordiske dikt

Finn Coren

Bard Records

Beautifully presented with the upmost care and attention to detail is the latest album by Finn Coren with ‘På Jorden et sted – Utvalgte Nordiske dikt’ (‘Somewhere On Earth – Selected Nordic Poems’). With this being his seventh solo album, and the third in a separate series that focuses on Nordic poets, Finn Coren has arranged his songs to provide an interpretation of the poetry from fourteen different Nordic poets. The poems selected will be familiar to those who grew up in such surroundings, or those who simply have a taste for Nordic culture, as the poetry centres on a selection of well-known classics from these regions, in addition to a few lesser known choices. Considering the level of detail gone into making these songs, it comes as no surprise that the majority of these tracks have been under construction for some considerable time. That’s not to say that Finn Coren has not received additional help in order to bring this latest album to life, as no less than four other musicians including Øyvind Fossheim (piano), Gjermund Kolltveit (Hardanger fiddle, kanklės), Stian Omenås (trumpet) and Lars Fredrik Frøislie (Mellotron, Chamberlin) contributed to the making of ‘På jorden et sted – Utvalgte Nordiske dikt’. With the chosen poetry relaying themes – three core themes in fact – concerned with life, love and death and inspired by classical and folk music, Finn Coren breathes the poetic words in a hushed manner that complements the often pared back sound of the instruments. ‘Salme’ is one such example where the vocals and largely grand piano provides an intimate experience that, in its combined state, drowns out all other external interferences such is the song’s alluring power. The intimacy grows even further with the pairing of acoustic guitar and faintest of horns during ‘Innbying’, that sees the vocals flit between the already mentioned whispered tones to spoken word passages making for a stirring piece of work. Finn Coren blossoms somewhat during ‘Sång’ and is accompanied by gorgeous sounding strings, only for the mood to blacken with the funeral procession feel of ‘Alle veier bort fra dig’ that, musically, could find a home on a Tom Waits album. With jagged edges all round adding to the compelling narrative of ‘Havet’, and the opening ‘Salme’ given another outing via an instrumental reworking, ‘På jorden et sted – Utvalgte Nordiske dikt’ is an absorbing experience full of light and shade, and one that is skilfully managed by way of its musicianship and chosen poetry that marks out album number seven for Finn Coren as really rather special.


Released Out now

 

Ikke skapt for kø (Single)

Anders Bjørnvold

Safe & Sound Recordings

Taken from current album ‘Drug Natt’ Anders Bjørnvold lets slip the single ‘Ikke skapt for kø’. Whether Bjørnvold is being a tad facetious here or simply unaware that the title of his new single also lets slip a much held perception from those who are not of Norwegian decent that his ‘not created for queuing’ stance actually applies to a large proportion of his fellow citizens, if you’re one of those who’ve clocked up a enough air miles to witness such happenings, then only this singer-songwriter has the answer to such a conundrum. More importantly, the music itself is far from being a heavy affair as its Americana and folk roots lightly pollinate the air, with the instrumentation giving off a slightly sleepy feel yet one that is illuminated by a near golden haze. It will be interesting to hear if the rest of Bjørnvold’s musings are of similar persuasion because ‘Ikke skapt for kø’ is a welcome pleasure and one that will help detract attention from the cold winter months ahead.


Released 30 October

 

The Kingdom Belongs To A Child

Cashavelly Morrison

Working Brilliantly

There are personal and external issues at stake when it comes to the debut album from Cashavelly Morrison. With the title of ‘The Kingdom Belongs To A Child’ playing a significant role here, the album explores issues of loss whether relating directly to this songstress or reflecting upon those around her, as well as tackling issues of a sociological and political nature relating to inequality and empowering women for example. It’s powerful, emotive stuff that really deserves to be heard. Another part of the persuasion here is the Americana and folk roots ‘The Kingdom Belongs To A Child’ pays reference to. More specifically, it’s the darker edges of these particular genres; explored by their narratives and quoted here as ‘Southern Gothic’ as portrayed by artists such as Gillian Welch, Lucinda Williams and Neko Case. By meeting her now husband, Ryan MacLeod, who was in the process of earning his stripes in classical guitar performance at UNC-School of the Arts, it was this meeting of the minds between Morrison and MacLeod which sparked a genuine creative process between the two once their love of authentic folk songs and admiration for Hank Williams had been expressed, and therefore a form of common ground established. Within a brief period of time, the songs making up the debut album ‘The Kingdom Belongs To A Child’ were recorded by use of vintage equipment at the renowned Echo Mountain Studio in Asheville, NC, and the rest is now history. Musically, the songs are of a delicate nature, with beautiful vocals and acoustic guitar often leading the way, and accompanied by the minimalist of instrumentation; notably upright bass and the occasional outings of pedal steel and banjo. Equally sensitive are the subjects Cashavelly Morrison voices concern over in terms of the contents of ‘The Kingdom Belongs To A Child’, with songs reflecting harrowing tales of loss including miscarriage, police brutality and the working conditions of miners in one particular town (’29 Bells’). In addition to this, there is a real sense of emotions conflicting with each other, and expressed between the lines of these narratives with grief and guilt weighing particularly heavy, with a suggestion of dirt on the hands in some instances. With the entire album being played out exquisitely and evoking memories of an old-timey sound brought to life by the banjo during ‘Emory’ and ‘May 5th’, Cashavelly Morrison has created an album of genuine beauty, but one that is touched by much sadness and personal loss yet never shies from such sensitive topics; something of which is to be commended because in her own words, “exploring your grief can lead to empowerment with the ultimate empowerment being the freedom to speak these things through music”.


Released 16 October

 

Rivers (Single)

Rattlers

Safe & Sound Recordings

A composition of strong beauty is the best way to describe the latest single from Oslo-based Rattlers. Comprising of six musicians and namely Live Miranda Solberg (vocals/acoustic guitar), Knut Rand (drums), Thomas Langård (bass/vocals), Einar Næss Haugseth (keys/vocals), Halvor Falck Johansen (guitar/vocals) and Mads Johansen (percussion), Rattlers deliver a sound that is suitably Americana and one that is held in high esteem after the band’s eponymously titled debut EP of last year received recognition on the national airwaves. Latest release, ‘Rattlers’, will not put a dent in such recognition as what starts off in a fairly minimalist approach, gradually develops into a fuller sound with a bit of a country rock coming out of the guitars and lead vocalist Live Miranda Solberg raising the decibels somewhat by remaining in defiant mood and letting her feelings known that a period of solitude is good for the soul when it comes to relationships. A second notch on the Rattlers career trajectory to further recognition as ‘Rivers’ is blessed with many qualities, and performed with an assured attitude that belies their years together.


Released Out now

 

(Do The Bored) Recluse (Single)

Dusk

Forward Records

The creative juices just keep on flowing for Tenement mainstay Amos Pitsch, only this latest release falls under a different heading that goes by the name of Dusk.  By pitching this as a single release, and one that is backed with the song ‘Too Sweet’ featuring the soulful voice as well as keyboard skills of Julia Blair, the punk roots of Amos Pitsch’s formerly mentioned main project are traded for more of a traditional rock and roll and rhythm and blues sound that is befitting of his Wisconsin background. With Colin ‘Wild Man’ Wilde joining on drums, Tyler Ditter taking up bass, and Matt Stranger on guitar and backup vocals, the two songs making up this single were largely a self-produced affair, with the record being engineered and mixed at Crutch of Memory in Appleton, Wisconsin, by Amos Pitsch and then mastered by Justin Perkins at The Mystery Room in Milwaukee. The main track itself, ‘(Do The Bored) Recluse’, is a dynamic little ditty that has a bit of early ‘Stones boogie about it with its nods to bluesy rock ‘n’ roll but also one that takes in references from The Velvet Underground to 70’s country rock via The Flying Burrito Brothers. If this single was created out of a state of genuine restlessness in relation to Dusk’s frontman Amos Pitsch, then may those days of boredom continue to plague his soul because this two-track record is a sheer joy from start to finish, and one that sits up there with the best of his creative works.


Released Out now

 

Make A Call (Single)

Hanne Fjeldstad

Safe & Sound Recordings

Part one in a series of four singles scheduled for this year and going into next, singer-songwriter Hanne Fjeldstad from Skien in Telemark provides a solid opener with the song ‘Make A Call’. Wrapped up in a delicate and intricate rhythm and relaying super, smart words that speak of the differences between a former feuding couple, Hanne Fjeldstad sounds alone in her frustrations, especially once tripping out the final line, “Anyone please make a call” and one is almost compelled to reach out and provide a comforting shoulder to lean. By teaming up with Kenneth Ishak, who was responsible for producing ‘Make A Call’, in addition to filling the vacant positions of drums, bass and guitar, Hanne Fjeldstad is definitely a wise individual with a talented ability to craft clever pop songs. The next single in this series looks set to be a mouth-watering prospect after such a fine start.


Released Out now

 

Vindfang

Sigrun Loe Sparboe

Grappa

There is a sense of the unknown surrounding Sigrun Loe Sparboe’s second solo outing, ‘Vindfang’. From the slightest of glances over the shoulder of the cover art, to finding a new home with a major record label and, of course, airing ten new compositions for the first time in the public domain, the sense of trepidation is palpable. The move back to her beloved Harstad, however, proved the perfect tonic when setting about the task of writing the songs making up ‘Vindfang’, as both time and space were found, in addition to the picturesque scenery of the local environment providing much inspiration to help inspire these new songs. Whilst there are various clues indicating a feeling of sailing in uncharted waters, ‘Vindfang’ reveals itself in parts as, musically, a record of steely determination and fresh ideas, but one that is smart enough to not stray too far from its previous sibling, ‘Uten at du vet det’, considering the perfect formula that was concocted for this debut record. It was always going to be an uphill task for Sigrun Loe Sparboe to surpass the previous glory of ‘Uten at du vet det’, but, masterfully, this folk songstress, along with her faithful in-house musicians, has managed to sample various aspects of her debut solo record and apply subtle changes to some of these previous arrangements and runaway with a succession of new songs. Wise judgement indeed as the daydream feel of ‘Paraply’, and title track, ‘Vindfang’, are the two candidates that bear the strongest resemblance to the aforementioned debut album. But there is progression here, and it proves to be Sparboe’s boldest and strongest statements with a beefed-up sound concerning one or two tracks, which are then counterbalanced with songs containing slightly fuller arrangements or, whisper it, considerable deviations from the folk brand. Such examples can be gleaned from the near muscular in its construction of opening gambit ‘Forliset’, as it’s a song with a real edge and bubbling intensity that begins at a slow canter, only to gather pace, where one can sense the fluctuating weather pattern of the northern region of her homeland during the transition from autumn to winter, and captured magnificently here in a mere five minutes. Further progression is made with the pop tones and brisk tempo of ’12 Spor’, that filters elements of folk music but ever so lightly, only to be usurped in the surprise stakes by the pounding rhythm and pop influenced ‘Som Fortjent’, leaving one to holler, “C’est magnifique!” at its conclusion. Clearly, this was not in the script yet these two songs do not sound out of place when nestling between more customary numbers as the stirring beauty of ‘Om Du Fortsatt Vil Ha Mæ’ or the cold, biting rhythm that drives the compelling ‘De Som Frosten Tok’ because there is a genuine cohesive whole to ‘Vindfang’. By guiding this latest album along similar routes, as well as taking risks by diverting away from traditional folk music, albeit in small doses, Sigrun Loe Sparboe is shaping up to be an artist with a definite strong vision and creative flair that is willing to test certain boundaries yet remain respectful to the genre her music is often categorised under. Once the contents of ‘Vindfang’ begins to unfurl and starts to familiarise itself, any notion of a sense of uncertainty soon diminishes, as it becomes apparent that Sigrun Loe Sparboe has successfully hurdled the ‘difficult’ second album syndrome by combining the strongest components of her debut solo record, and then rewriting these, before taking giant strides with a set of new ideas that provides the perfect balance between the old and new, and reveals a genuine natural progression until the third instalment in her career.



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