Sunday, 31 December 2017

Zervas & Pepper - Wilderland, album review

Welsh Canyon Music

llawryf Canyon – this is how Google translates it, and Welsh duo Paul Zervas and Kathryn Pepper have translated Cardiff into a West Coast musical suburb, the songs on this June 2017 album [just heard, and so missed my Best Of in which it would have been predominantly] reflecting most obviously Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young as well as Joni Mitchell. It is in the harmonies and everything else Californian, so the influences/echoes extend to America and other similarly influenced if not indigenous WC-ians.

It is pretty and beautiful throughout and so nostalgic but more than this brilliantly written and played and performed in this very precise genre frame.

Hands Music 35

Saturday, 30 December 2017

Daniel Gadd - As If in a Dream I Drifted at Sea, album review

Wearing on a Faithful Sleeve

I'm a little stumped at what to say about this album, other than it wears its Cohen and Dylan influences with great echoing faithfulness. The finger-plucked guitar and laconic, weary-wise vocal is most reminiscent of Leonard Cohen, and there are clear Bob Dylan traces, like the song Some Time Ago [On a Cold Winter Night], and the harmonica in Sleep Turns Her Face, this latter because of an expectation rather than a definitive Dylan harmonica style other than breathing in and out and keeping it simple.

The eight tracks are never seemingly derivative, and the solo singer with guitar isolation shines a full focus on the songs and performance: I don't find them memorable as tunes, but the playing and singing is wholly engaging, partly for that 60s echo and the authenticity of its capture.

You see how I'm struggling there at the end. Should be enough to say I enjoy very much in its soothing, familiar way. The plaintive, penultimate song So Long Old Friend, with a hint of piano, is beautiful.

Eye Music 20

Friday, 29 December 2017

Herbie Hancock - River The Joni Letters [Expanded Edition], album review

Beautiful as Beautiful Would

This expanded 2017 edition adds four tracks to the original 2007 release, an album I am hearing for the first time well down the line, as I often do, but what a wonderful line it is to drop into, whenever. It is a reverent affair from a long-time friend, and one jazz musician to another which is probably the most apt accolade as the songs themselves need no further declarations of excellence than they have had since their origins.

Opening Court and Spark is beautifully sung by Nora Jones, and second Edith and the Kingpin gets a sweetly soulful cover by Tina Turner. Hancock is gentle and refrained [that reverence perhaps] throughout, though always empathetic, and Wayne Shorter on sax is smoothed out but soothingly so whether on Joni tracks, like Both Sides Now, or his own Nefertiti, though here there is some upbeat interplay with Hancock’s piano. Corrine Ray Bailey is pretty with River where there are also some even more pretty harmonies.

The Tea Leaf Prophecy [Lay Down Your Arms] is sung by Joni and this is a welcome additional anchor where none is needed. The original release closes on The Jungle Line narrated by Leonard Cohen, fittingly from these two Canadian poets.

The additional tracks are A Case of You, another gentle cover [and the terms ‘saccharine’ and ‘somnolent’ have been used elsewhere in a review about this album, which I get…]; All I Want sung by Sonja Kitchell – a sassy enough version – then Harlem in Havana and I Had a King, these last two at eight minutes each more deserving of the ‘somnolent’ observation so perhaps not that expansive other than literally.

But overall, as it would be, a beautiful album of beautiful music.

Into the Distance Music 67

Thursday, 28 December 2017

Galactic Cowboys - Galactic Cowboys, album review

No, It Isn't Anathema To Be Intelligent

Heavier than Atomic Opera, with elements of thrash and metal as well as the machine-gun rhythms of Metallica – for example Kill Thriller – Galactic Cowboys make up the trilogy of Sam Taylor Texan bands Kings X, Atomic Opera and themselves. Vocal harmonies are therefore also prominent, gloriously so on My School.

I have listened for the first time [prompted by my Atomic Opera review here] and, as I said there, because of my knowing and liking of Kings X. The Cowboys have a more complex overall sound/mix than their stablemates, and it is very good.

Opening track I’m Not Amused is a perfect exemplification of the excellence. This melds their elements of tight harmonies, the chug-chug of heavy metal, including the trudging riff with harmonica that echoes Black Sabbath, a riff that extends out to underpin a delicate and ironic guitar solo before it breaks into a shred and before the ‘mexican’ acoustic break breaks in: this is both a clever and playful interlude with layered vocals returning to consolidate the cleverness.

Kaptain Krude reflects two interesting further aspects: concerns beyond the ‘spiritual’ as it relates to the Exxon Valdez oil spill of 1989, and their Beatles influences, here in the vocal harmonies and, as the song closes, the production additions.

An intelligent heavy metal album.


Hands Music 34

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Atomic Opera - For Madmen Only, album review

Worship at the Rock Alter

Perhaps it is a musical attempt to bridge/connect the terrestrial with the spiritual, this West Coast harmonies meeting the chug and thump of heavy metal: beauty and the beast, peace and turmoil, pop and rock.

There are other explanations. It is the work of producer Sam Taylor who also produced Kings X, the only touchstone I actually have for this, and liking Kings X and their [Taylor’s] mergings into harmonious hard rock, though the grunge of Alice in Chains, for example, as well as many others [some Pearl Jam] worked this groove which I rather like, I like this too.

The spiritual element passes me by because I am terrible at listening to/hearing lyrics when I am simply enjoying the music. Atomic Opera is variously classed under Heaven Metal and Christian Metal, which would normally completely alienate [I was going to say I simply dislike the evangelical, which I do, but as I am currently listening to Quintessence - Move Into the Light; The Complete Island Recordings 1969-1971 that is somewhat contradictory, though I don’t feel these were preaching as such…] but as a fan of Kings X who seemed to revive hard harmonious rock in the 90s I also like For Madmen Only from 1994 and was particularly drawn because of the 2017 Rock Candy Remaster tag.