Sunday, 19 July 2015

Sign Music 3

Akua Allrich - Soul Singer, album review

No Soul Boundary

Allrich isn't a soul singer as the album's title would have us believe, and the scat'n'laugh inside second track I've Got Something To Say is a clue to her prevalent stylistic leanings, even more so on third Can't Seem To Get You Off Of My Mind with the meandering jazz trumpet accompaniment of Nicholas Payton. Allrich's Facebook page has a broader stab at her musical palette with Jazz + ... Neo Afro-Soul-blues-reggae-funk-rock-folk music and I'd accept all of that playful though accurate enough naming is there - including that singular 'soul' - but it is the jazz mode she embraces most, superbly.

The gospel-jazz of seventh Rosie encapsulates brilliantly the strength and beauty of Allrich's vocal and the jazziness in which it resonates so effectively; whilst the following Red Bark projects the African influences in the singing and in the powerful saxophone and conga playing, the latter by Agyei Akoto. The title track, next, actually establishes the manifesto when it says soul singer...let it go past the boundary and the jazz surround is yet another wonderful musical embrace.

A brilliant double-bass intro leads into the melodic line for the funky cover of I Can't Stand the Rain, again with Nicholas Payne adding his own trumpet jazzfunk, and the album closer Stand for Freedom is a rousing end with the Nationhouse Youth Vocal Ensemble making its contribution to the aural goosebumps. This is a great album, full of energy and class.

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Into the Distance Music 7

Liam Bailey - Definitely Now [Deluxe], album review

Varied With Dirty Talk

I am aware that in my reviewing I use familiar/repeated words – not surprising for the genre of writing a review, especially music where certain descriptions and phrases are bound to reoccur; and also that idiosyncratic style one naturally develops – and a few common ones are: sweet, ruse, gorgeous, amalgam, territory, sensibilities – and I’ll leave it there lest the references seems an over-analysis.

No ruse though on this debut album by Baily as it is direct soul and rock, but it is most definitely an amalgam of styles within that wide territory. I’m not sure that sweet or gorgeous could be applied, these too prettifying for a rawer sound, and the sensibilities are overall more in the R&B to blues to indie-rock spread.

There, that will do in essence [and essence is probably another, but….]. The straight rock gets a Lenny Kravitz echo in fifth Villain; opener On My Mind is a bluesy start with plenty of chug [damn, another one] and machine-gun guitar inserts to beef up the pace, Bailey’s vocal on this a genuine force; sixth Autumn Leaves is a soulful ballad with some jazzy intonation; eighth Battle Hymn of Central London is a reggae-folk homage to home and love through its religious metaphors; ninth So, Down Cold is a funk ballad, pretty [this once] harmonies soothing the sass [yep, another]; tenth Crazy Situation is old-school nu-soul, tautology intended; eleventh Summer Rain is the pure pop part of this amalgamation, strings embellishing; fourteenth Walking Out gets us to the Marley-esque reggae other reviews have cited as one of Bailey’s vocal styles, though I only hear it on this track; sixteenth Save Some Love has saved some soul for this penultimate smoothie, and the closer is a reprise of Villain with injections of hip-hop dirty talk.

Some have been critical of this album’s range; I like it.

Friday, 17 July 2015

Tree Music 11

Alan Jackson - Angels And Alcohol, album review

Country Comfort

You can always come home Jackson sings on the eponymous opener, a comforting thought from an artist who has never left the comfort of his traditional Country home, singing warm platitudinous ballads or foot-tapping honkey-tonk as on this latest album’s second You Never Know, only ranging outside that safe residence to the other streetcorner albums of gospel and bluegrass, just down the way and within a safe distance.

And this is in praise of Jackson’s polished comfort-zone, one that has seen him sell 60 million albums worldwide. Jackson has written seven of the ten songs on this album, including the title track with its soothingly philosophical lines like you can’t chase lonely with a bottle of wine, asking myself if this means bourbon will suffice, but having to acknowledge the metaphoric maxim of you can’t mix angels with alcohol as a definitive embargo on such a drinking route to true love or even for assuaging the misery when it’s all gone. Hell, just listen to the music for its knowing palliatives because, after all, isn’t that what Country is all about?

Namechecking Tom Sawyer and Jack Kerouac, Jackson sings on Gone Before You Met Me about travelling and returning, about love and loss, about coffee and kisses, about home boys and hang-around boys and fix-that-sink-put-your-roots-in-the-ground boys where the apocalypse is dang right, it’s a fine life, a semantically apt declarative for embracing domesticity where love for and acquisition of a pretty little woman and 2.5 kids usurps the restless heart.

Something to drink to just keep brushing along [what a great verb use!] continues the alcohol motif in The One You’re Waiting On, a reassuring ballad about acceptance: be happy to be the one you’re waiting on, a line smoothed over pedal-steel, even if it as at a bar over a glass of Cabernet.

It sure isn’t outlaw Country with all these references to wine, but as if to respond to that observation, the following track Jim and Jack and Hank namechecks a different cultural touchstone in bourbons and a Country icon, and the return to honkey-tonk and a few choice country guitar riffs reassures in a different way, the song ending on a litany of Country likes and influences. This territory will get another upbeat visit on closer Mexico, Tequila and Me where Chevy and levy are rhymed without any anxiety over cliché.

The penultimate track on the album When God Paints is the quintessence of Country schmaltz, but Jackson infuses it with the honeyed baritone of his vocal and self-belief in a way that seems to de-cloy the banalities of the lyrics, a soothing simplicity to mirror the simple things it intones in more of that homespun philosophy spinning gently this weave of Country comfort.

Butt Music 2

Jason Isbell - Something More Than Free, album review

Noteworthy Place

Jason Isbell’s 2013 album, Southeastern, established him as a fine solo singer-songwriter, not least for me through the overwhelming impact of the one song Elephant which remains a favourite – a relative term, I know, in my extensive list of ‘favourites’ – because of the simplicity of its nonetheless memorably sweet melody, and the power of its storytelling, here plaintive and genuinely emotive.

This follow-up continues that significant trajectory, no one song matching the puissance of Elephant, but perhaps more impacting as a whole. Stand-outs are second 24 Frames, which has an element of Springsteen about it; third Flagship, an acoustic narrative with a simple and soft harmonising vocal, the storytelling evocative without needing to create drama; fifth Children of Children which is distinctly reminiscent of Gordon Lightfoot in its melody, and America in the acoustic guitar work before it pans out atmospherically into a long sweep of strings and fuzzed guitar; eighth Something More Than Free which is as near to Elephant as it gets on this release, another simply acoustic performance with additional wailing slide, and tenth Palmetto Rose, the one rocker on the album with echo on the vocal and wah-wah in the guitar: generic but effective, riding high on the bass and into its organ uplift.

All the other songs are damn fine too and it is a strong, satisfying whole placing Isbell in a noteworthy place as an artist.