Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Lucia Cadotsch - Speak Low, album review

Spittle Suspended

This is gorgeous and gruff, bittersweet. The vocal of Lucia Cadotsch is pure and precise and she sings standards like Moon River and classics like Strange Fruit with that purity of voice, and this is then accompanied by the tenor saxophone of Otis Sansjo, which can be soft and melodic, like the beginning of Ain’t Got No, I Got Life, or a series of pulsed screeches/breaths/belches/growls, or the two poles mixed, and the bass of Petter Eldh which adds layer and layer of rhythm and percussion, so the voice is constantly reframed by these sidekicking adornments.

When a familiar melody is begun it seems to be hung in our aural suspense, like already mentioned Moon River that closes the album, where it is immediately recognisable, but the sax is bristling in the background like a lit fuse – the spittle resonating in the pipes ready to burst forth – and the bass is plucking out the tune in singular notes; but it doesn’t explode. Such a tease.

It is because we began with Slow Hot Wind and this is a dynamic start, the voice again beginning simply and sweetly, but there is a building beat in the rolling sax and tapping bass, and the roll builds to squeal and just about tear before the vocal is overdubbed to a sweeter harmony; and then in next Speak Low the saxophone is wailing and the bass is a snare drum. For a moment.

A distinctive and absorbing listen.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Woodstock Posters

A good friend has just returned from New York and a visit to Woodstock, and he brought back this lovely gift of a facsimile of the original 1969 festival poster. I have put beneath it the more familiar, iconic one. Rose-tinted nostalgia yes; timeless music always.

Favourite performances? These will vary: Arlo Guthrie and John Sebastian's spaced out performances always please and amuse; Hendrix's National Anthem anthem will forever be one of the more memorable metaphoric playings ever, and Richie Havens opening is sublime for its actual as well as ad lib brilliance. I love everything that made the film and album, and the surprising music that didn't but which is all available now, but I think at the event as shown in the film I'd narrow it down to two, and surprisingly perhaps, they are English performances: Joe Cocker and Ten Years After.

Sign Music 12

Clare Maguire - Stranger Things Have Happened, album review

Pop Perfect

This is an interesting, fine pop album. There is at its heart a fulsome vocal prowess that is the innate talent. When listening, one hears a number of voices – not aped – but a seeming osmosis over time of other styles informing Maquire’s fluid and fluent voice now. This means there is also the inevitable echoes, and I can hear Lana Del Rey, Dolly Parton [yes, combined with Rey on the delightful 60s-sounding Here I Am] and Adele on Elizabeth Taylor, something in that emotive angst I don’t particularly like in Adele’s pop pomp but which just about works here.

The title track is, by comparison, a little experimental – ethereal opening orchestral layers, and then the lithe high-register vocal drifting down from that instrumental cloud flyby like a light rain. The strings add to this borderline clich├ęd pop project, but again it seems to have just enough oddity to convey genuine artistry. I’m being tentative, not to tease or, worse, haughtily critical: this is a first listen and I know the album will deserve more for a proper appreciation. The very next track Whenever You Want It has the absolute echo of Del Rey, and I want less of this from the sonic chamber. But it is pretty, in that pop sense, and this will be the target audience, so why not hit it with such skill?

The Valley invokes Feist – perhaps it’s much in the 1, 2, 3, 4 – but it really is the sound, and there is here and elsewhere a Stevie Nicks’ warble, so more influence and re-presenting. Falling Leaves conveys a blues sensibility, the vocal echoed over a slow piano trudge, occasionally dissonant, and the singing is superbly honest emotively, and in its beautiful tone. This is that ray of clear and warming sun that bursts through clouds, as aesthetically varied and engaging they are to view.

Penultimate Spaceman is lyrically clever as well as a bright and breezy 60s pop gem again, aided by those sweeping strings a la ELO [OK, 80s’ appropriation of the 60s], and closer Leave You in Yesterday is the only song that employs elements of that clipped, staccato style of singing I really don’t care for, again Rey-ish but also Carol King piano chordishly. But also displaying a pure voice in the tone which is, as I said at the start, the talent that pervades this superior pop collection. 

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Steeleye Span - Dodgy Bastards, album review

Rocking the Child Ballads and More

I saw Steeleye Span once in their starter years, at The Gaumont Theatre in Ipswich, early 70s, where I saw many brilliant emerging bands, and it was as I recall an excellent gig, their folkrock very much an exemplary encapsulation of the time when Pentangle had set the bar so high yet SS established their own excellence.

I haven’t followed their career, especially of late when they have, apparently, been most active and productive, but this November release is absolutely stonking: folk progrock played with such energy and creativity. Maddie Prior is still providing the most distinctive, powerful vocal, and the addition of Jessica May Stuart adds another fine vocal but more importantly her violin which delivers throughout some of the sweetest layers of sound as well as stunning solos as in The Gardener, to name just one. The title track is a brilliant instrumental ensemble performance, seeped in obvious folk tropes, but more crucially Rock – the drumming just a thumping roll of heaviness.

There is glorious, pretty folk like second All Things Are Quite Silent, its lyrics of sorrow and woe the template for this plaintive folk core, both melodically and poetically, Stuart’s violin sweeping through with empathetic ache; third Johnnie Armstrong with its milk-white steed and other references [the storytelling stereotypes so welcoming, most songs taken from the work of 19th century American scholar Francis James Child and his collection of English and Scottish Ballads] presenting the band in rousing voice and lovely harmonising; seventh Cromwell’s Skull combining pretty harmonies, pretty violin and a gorgeous guitar solo, and a ten minute closer that presents in tandem The Lofty Tall Ships and Shallow Brown, showcasing the two obvious styles of firstly rock and then folk, the latter with Prior in exquisite voice as well as soothing atmospheric instrumentals of bass, guitar and violin.