ALBUM REVIEWS

ROMANTICA - OUTLAWS

Romantica Outlaws

I cannot get enough of Romantica. Their last record Shadowlands was my album of 2017 ahead of U2. See what I mean! So I was delighted to hear about a new record. Even if Shadowlands was released in 2016 in the US and then the Uk in 2017. It is still quite soon for a new album but this one is a collection of outtakes and mailman Ben Kyle releases it as he hopefully comes out of a few years of debilitating Lyme disease .

The track listing tells you that this is compilation. There are two covers. A laid back country and well worthwhile cover of Leonard Cohen’s over covered Hallelujah and how The Beatles might have done Something if had been on the roof sessions of Let It Be. There is also a live version of The Dark from Kyle’s eponymous solo record, with a guest appearance from Ryan Adams. This is what I love about such collections.

The other songs can easily be divided in two. Do Go Gently a beautiful song about his Grandmother’s death, Lost In the Cosmos and Listen To Your Soul are songs that didn’t make the cut for Shadowlands. I see why. Do Go Gently might have felt a little sentimental. Listen To Your Soul might be a little too like Harder To Hear. Don’t think they are second rate though!

Love In The Winter, Dear Caroline, Hold It Together and Baby Killed Bobby are from an unreleased record called God and Love and War. These are the four strongest songs here. Love In the Winter is a depth of love song that few can do as well as Kyle and Baby Killed Bobby has that murder ballad storyline that I couldn’t help hearing Johnny Cash’s version.

The whole pile together is another huge Romantica success. Ben Kyle’s songs and the sound he sets them in with that voice he executes them with is like a balm to the soul. In the seeming lightness of how the tunes float there is a concentration of healing and his words throw poetic light across life’s most ordinary but profound moments. 

This sits snuggly beside Shadowlands. Beautiful.


GREAT LAKE SWIMMERS - THE WAVE, THE WAKE

Great Lake Swimmers

My late discovery of Great Lake Swimmers surprises me. I was aware of them in the periphery of my vision but I just never seemed to get around to. them. Thankfully that all ended this summer when the release of their new record coincided with the few days I was reading Northern Ireland novelist David Park’s  brilliant new novel Travelling In A Strange Land. 

One of the very many things that I like about Park’s writing is his music references. In this new novel he listens to Van Morrison’s Snow In St. Anselm and the tells his son on the phone how much he likes the Great Lake Swimmers’ album he had given him.

A quick search on line and I was intrigued. Canadian? I love Canadian music. I feel that, like the Irish, the Canadians still love the song. Then I read that this new record was recorded in a Church in London, Ontario. Very Cowboy Junkies thinks I and coincidently I am loving their new record! That main man Tony Dekker had decided to make the record without his usual acoustic guitar as the foundation. I needed to hear these guys and this record.

Boy I was not disappointed. I love it. Cowboy Junkies is there in spirit of the ambient beauty for sure. I was also hearing Sufjan Stevens, Jospeh Arthur and, bless my soul, even The Jayhawks on the most pop rock gem of a song Alone But No Alone.

The sounds are beautiful. The tunes are great. The songs are memorable. Dekker is a great writer and, though there seems no particular religious creed in his intentions, there is a mystical spiritual thing going on. The water of this wave and wake is deep for sure. 

Without that acoustic guitar, you get a woodwind underpin to the opening The Talking Wind, the harp of Falling Apart, the a cappella Visions Of A Different World and that 60 electric guitar jangle of Alone But Not Alone. It is somehow eclectic in what is almost the unity of one suite.

It is all I look for in great record. Cut this record anywhere you like and it oozes artfulness, depth and pure pure quality. 


CHRIS WILSON & THE HERESY - DOWNFALL

Chris Wilson Download
 

Chris Wilson wears a cap. All the time. He came for Christmas dinner, cap and all. Chris Wilson is not bald. He is not follicly challenged. He just likes caps!

As I listen to his new EP I wonder if the cap expresses his songs and maybe the truth in the depth at the every heart of him. It is almost that he has nowhere to lay his hat. He has to always be ready to move on. We were blessed by having his big voice in Belfast for a couple of years, and as he sings on Indiana, where he is now, “It wasn’t so long ago/We lived eight miles from Mexico”. On Hey he sings "where are we gonna go now/We're gonna find our way."

Wherever his rambling soul takes him, and his lovely young family, (that’s his boy on the EP cover) Wilson is finding the songwriting chops to use the journey to create literate songs with memorable melodies. His phrasing has become more confident, taking us off in beautiful little surprises. 

Wilson has been gifted with a voice that I suggest Ezra and even Hozier might die for! The danger with a voice with such natural power is taming it, making less more. In this collection Wilson uses it not to boast about having it but to colour and shade the songs that are given as important a place as the voice.

Of the five delicious tracks here Lower was on his first EP Fragile. It is a stunning song full of emotion. In this incarnation it is sharper, brighter and maybe more match fit. The surprise for me is that it is Hey that my head cannot let go of and I find myself singing over and over. One of my songs of 2018.

If Chris Wilson had been around 10 years ago the record companies would have been wise to flock. In 2018 I am just hoping, with the new way the industry runs, that he’ll find his fan base wherever his travelling cap takes him. I want more EPs as good as this one.


STOCKI'S FAV 10 RECORDS OF 2018... THE FIRST 6 MONTHS

Here are my favourite ten records of 2018 so far. I need to add that I am in Uganda and have not yet heard the new Dawes record. I am sure that would have featured, if I had!

Wildness

1. SNOW PATROL - WILDNESS

read my review of Wildness here

 

2. FRANK TURNER - BE MORE KIND

read my review of Be More Kind here

 

3. DOUG GAY -  LIFE AFTER DEATH

read my review of Life After Death here

 

4. BEN GLOVER - SHOREBOUND

read my review of Shorebound here

 

 

5. CIARAN LAVERY - SWEET DECAY

read my review of Sweet Decay here

 

6. GLEN HANSARD - BETWEEN TWO SHORES

read my review of Between Two Shores here

 

7. RY COODER - PRODIGAL SON

read my review of Prodigal Son here

 

8. RAY LAMONTAGNE - PART OF THE LIGHT

read my review of Part Of the Light here

 

9. PHIL MADEIRA - PROVIDENCE

read my review of Providence here

 

10. DAVID FORD - ANIMAL SPIRITS

I have yet to write a review of Animal Spirits but from the cover to the sounds there is a hint of David Ford doing his best Tom Waits...

 


SNOW PATROL - WILDNESS

Wildness

Seven years of silence… and then… from what seems like the far side of the universe… acoustic guitars strum. And then Jonny Quinn hits the drums and propels the new Snow Patrol record into the stratosphere. 

Every single sound on Wildness, and there are a lot of them, seem to have universes of space between them, yet something pulls them all together into the most majestic, ambitious, other worldly and dreamy of beautiful noises. 

It is a revelation, a thing of many imaginations. The strings, the programming, Johnny McDaid’s perfectly timed piano interruptions, Nathan Connolly’s guitar noises that change his sound far beyond what Achtung Baby did to the Edge. 

All tied in, or driven, by Jonny Quinn’s rhythmic thumps and touches. Drummers they say should not be heard but underneath. This is the record that Quinn begs to differ. There is a throb, a pulse, a cadence, a lilt to these songs that mesmerises.

On top of all of this floats Gary Lightbody, his voice shifting from guttural rasp to vulnerable otherworldly falsetto. His lyrics are always unique to Gary. They seem clumsy with fewer rhymes than the average 4 minute rock song. Never let that fool you as to the man’s ability to turn and twist a phrase. 

On Wildness, maybe more than ever before, the poetry and the melodies shift direction, stay longer than they should or sometimes shorter, always allowing your ear and, more importantly, heart and soul to ride upon them to places the line before never dictated and always to spaces that you are glad you’ve been taken too.

Much has been said about Lightbody’s writer’s block, mental health and the benefits that he has had getting sober. It is all in here. The sounds take you out into the cosmos while the content brings it all back down to earth and into valleys of the shadow at that. 

These are the songs of a man who has looked at his demons and, as he has said, befriended them, maybe ejected a few. In doing so this becomes the most authentic, deepest and amazingly most hopeful Snow Patrol record to date.

Whether it is the “it doesn’t need to be the end of you” on Life On Earth or ‘Don’t Give in, don’t dare quit so easy” on Don’t Give In or “The lost tribes in the back of my brain/Making fires from what they've stacked for years in secret” we more often than not find healing given voice on Heal Me:

 

Oh this is love like wildness coursing through you like a drug

And this is hurt like kindness breaking you with gentle hands

 

into the chorus:

 

I call out your name, it feels like a song I know so well

And it whispers and roars like an orchestra

You call out my name like no one before

It sounds like I am called to a home that I never had

 

I did mention his turn and twist of phrase!

There are of course moment when things land. What If This Is All The Love You Ever Get is that big Lightbody ballad. You must see the video on Strangford Lough to get its full sense of heartbreaking isolation:

 

What if it hurts like hell

Then it'll hurt like hell

Come on over, come on over here

I'm in the ruins too

I know the wreckage so well

Come on over, come on over here

 

Soon resonates with me particularly as it recounts Gary going to visit his father who has dementia. He describe sit well. The loss of memory… the looking back in a son’s head when a father cannot… and a realisation as he look forward that we are next. His dad, in his every day the same as the last or the next, has less to fear than the son. Brilliant.

Every play of Wildness throws me in a different direction, throws back at me a different sound and leaves me repeating and reflecting on a different deft lyric of depth.

Take:

 

“Don't fall in love with the, with the way things were

It'll fuck up your mind, it'll fuck up your mind” (Gary’s choice of words, not the vicar’s!)

 

Isn’t that a word for Stormont and Northern Ireland in general, just now.

As the opening song declares:

 

"This is not the same as other days

This is something else"

 

Something else indeed!


RAY LAMONTAGNE - PART OF THE LIGHT

Lamntagne

I loved Ray LaMontagne’s first record. I played How Come a lot on my radio show. I loved:

“I said how come

I can't tell

The free world

From living hell

I said how come

How come

All i see

Is a child of god

In misery

I said how come”

 

After Trouble though I lost a bit of interest. I have God Willin' And The Creek Don’t Rise but I don’t think I ever played it until this week.

This week I discovered his brand new record Part Of The Light because my mate Doug Gay highlighted a track on Facebook. It peak my interest and I gave it a lash.

On first play, I thought that I had confirmed to myself why I didn’t listen to Ray LaMontagne anymore. Then I listened again… and again… Oh my. It has now seeped into my very core.

It is a long way from Trouble to Part Of the Light. In between LaMontagne got fed up too, then reinvented with a Dan Auerbach produced record Supernova before finding Jim James on his last release Ouroborus. 

James took LaMontagne very close to Pink Floyd, shimmering Dave Gilmour-esque guitar and atmospheric layers. Who’d have thought it!

Part Of The Light follows Ouroboros or maybe takes it back a smidgeon. LaMontagne has kept a couple of James’ My Morning Jacket band mates and though not in the producers chair anymore, James’s influence is rife. LaMontagne takes his big voice that is now so in vogue with Hozier and Rag'n'Bone Man and subverts it, layering it out, under the atmospheres. It becomes more intoxicating as a result.

When I say a smidgeon back, I mean that Part Of the Light is less a concept album and with more variety and songwriting core than its predecessor. 

There is a lot more acoustic guitar here. The title track is and Let’s Make It Last are delicate while Such a Simple Thing is nearer fragile. As for Black As Blood Is Blue it could be Foo Fighters and maybe my very favourite No Answer Arrives is all psychedelic late 60’s guitar strut. The final Goodbye Blue Sky is part Moody Blues, part Crosby, Stills & Nash, all wrapped in a soft warm covering of layered beauty.

Indeed, that is where Ray Lamontagne is. He has taken his Woodstock-like organic acoustic sounds of a decade ago and pushed them towards the pre Band psychedelia and taken psychedelia and brought form and accessibility to that oftentimes over indulgence.

You can tell that I love it! I so want to be apart of Lamontagne’s light too:

 

“When kindness is the greatest gift that one can share

Why choose hate to subjugate your fellow man?”


FRANK TURNER - BE MORE KIND

Turner Kind

I have to confess that I haven’t paid much attention to Frank Turner. Even with tip offs from my mates Neil Sedgewick and Dave Thompson I owned nothing. Then my mate Iain Archer co-writes with him and I need to give it a listen. 

It is right up my musical street; social commentary, deep introspection, spiritual advice and all said in the craftiest of crafted lyrics. Goodness me but Turner can play most imaginatively with words. That twisting and tumbling of inventive rhymes is put to great use.

I have to say, and people would expect me to, that the Archer co-writes are the strongest songs of a very strong collection here. Archer has the unique ability to make bring near pop-like sensibility with a depth that belies it. 

Don’t Worry with its effective little handclaps and Little Changes with its effective little Gospel like backing vocals, Blackout within an anthem sing along and the guitar riff intro to Braveface is sublime before another chorus that you cannot but singalong to. Brilliant!

There are three layers to Be More Kind. First, there is a world in a state of chassis, as Joxer Daly put it in Sean O’Casey’s play Juno and The Paycock, back in 1924. Turner actually has a song on here called 1933, his fear that the spirit of European fascism is back in vogue.  21st Century Survival Blues, Make America Great Again and The Life Boat lay out a world that is dark and dangerous, whether Trump, Brexit or social media has tossed us into disarray.

With the objective and universal in chassis, Turner turns to the subjective and personal. Brave Face, Blackout and There She Is finds hope and escape in love. 

There is a third thread, though. It is not about cuddling into a personal romance and letting the world go to hell. Turner wants change. There’s the final track hope that we will eventually work it out and Get It Right. The title track is stolen from a Clive James poem and the preach is in that title. Little Changes is literally a preach as he asks, “Let’s not just pray/Let’s make a change.” 

My favourite preach is on Common Ground, with its Prefab Sprout like sounds. I do not believe Turner is talking about Northern Ireland, there are more divisions in the world than ours, but oh my it is a clear message to Arlene and Michelle:

 

“If we are to find a way to live

Then we need to build ourselves a bridge

And if we were to build ourselves that bridge

We could meet in the middle and forgive”


RY COODER - THE PRODIGAL SON

Ry_cooder_the_prodigal_son_0518

When Bruce Springsteen released his Seeger Sessions record back in 2006 I was in the middle of a Masters in Theology looking at the transformational power of songs. I was particularly interested in James Cone’s book Spirituals and The Blues, where the black theologian and civil rights activist looked back to the Spirituals to find the fuel for social change. 

What was it about these spirituals, made up in the cotton plantations of the deep south of America by slaves. who never thought they would reach the next farm never mind cross centuries, to still be being used by a white rock star in the twenty first century?

Ry Cooder takes up the same endeavour. His last record, six years ago, was about an American election. Now in 2018 with America somehow stuck in the Trump years with racism growing, Cooder looks to these old religions songs to bring some sense and hope to our times. He takes songs by the likes of Blind Roosevelt Graves, Alfred Reed, Carter Stanley and Blind Willie Johnson, adds a few of his own and comes up with an absolute beaut of a Gospel blues album. 

His main collaborator here is his son Joachim a drummer by trade but on Prodigal Son a mood creator, being to his dad what Daniel Lanois has been to Bob Dylan, the Neville Brothers, Emmylou Harris and the like. There is a sense of reverence about Prodigal Son. It sounds as spiritual as the songs proclaim. Joachim lays the sounds and above that his dad plays banjo, guitar and slide in that virtuoso way that only he does. 

The songs speak. One of Cooder’s originals is called Jesus and Woody and in some ways that says everything about what he is trying to do. In another time when America needs change, Woody’s social comment is blended with Jesus spiritual wisdom. Both are dreamers: - 

 

Once I spoke of a love for those who hate

It requires effort and strain

Vengeance casts a false shadow of justice

Which leads to destruction and pain

 

So we find Cooder in Damascus in the New Testament story of St Paul’s conversion in Straight Street; a powerful outworking of The Prodigal Son parable; an almost ethereal version of Blind Willie Johnson’s Nobody’s Fault But Mine; seeking eschatological hopefulness in I’ll Be Rested When The Roll Is Called; and preaches it to the American Church on You Must Unload, where there are warnings against love of fashion, riches and power.

With such themes and such quality of music it is no surprise that this will be in the upper echelons of of Records of 2018.


BEN GLOVER - SHOREBOUND

Glover Shorebound

Glenarm is a beautiful little seaside village on the north east coast of Northern Ireland. It is sleepy, pretty and quaint and as you drive that Antrim coast road the views of the sea are breathtaking. If you are ever there the walled garden in Glenarm Castle is well worth a visit. For a local songwriter, it would be a long way to Nashville, Tennessee.

Ben Glover is from Glenarm but as his new record Shorebound testifies to, he is a songwriter working in the heart of music city, USA. Glover has always been a collaborator. He won Americana Music Association UK’s 2017 International song of the Year with Blackbirds written with Gretchen Peters and has been a main mover in the cooperative The Orphan Brigade. Shorebound again has a co-write with Peters but also with Mary Gauthier, Kim Richey and Amy Snow. These are not division two players.

The titles of Glover’s last two records, Atlantic and The Emigrant gives us the clue that the young Glenarm man lives between his two homes. So to Shorebound, with its over gazing out to sea. That’s not taken in Brentwood. The co-writes too. Northern Irish’s finest are here; Matt McGinn and Malojian and the wonderful Anthony Toner. Add to those Englishman Robert Vincent and Glasgow’s Ricky Ross from Deacon Blue and this is an album of exceptional depth.

Musically it would be wrong to confine these songs to one location either. Americana would be cheap and lazy. It rocks gently on the opening What You Love Will Break Your Heart and a little harder on Wildfire that rolls down the same street as Mumford And Sons. There is that noir side of Gauthier and Peters on Catbird Seat and Dancing With the Beast. There is the tenderness of My Shipwreck Friend and the spiritual Kindness, like a prayer for the world. My favourite is Northern Stars that brings Stevie Scullion’s layered melodies and sounds. 

Glenarm be proud. Your spirit and beauty are all over this album. Northern Ireland be proud. Ben Glover has grown into one of our very best songwriters. An export to be proud of! Shorebound is a sublime collection of mature art. 


PHIL MADEIRA - PROVIDENCE

Madeira Prov

I have been a fan of Phil Madeira’s for over twenty years. And I don’t mean his songrwriting with the likes of the The Civil Wars that he won a Grammy with, or the two Mercyland records of hymns for everybody, or his production of tribute records to Paul McCartney and Mark Heard or his membership of Emmylou Harris’s The Red Dirt Boys. No, I mean Madeira’s very own work. Off Kilter was a beautifully crafted mood piece that had traces of Daniel Lanois.

There was a sixteen year gap in madeira solo records between 1999 and 2015 but the glut of his songs got finally released over three records PM, Motorcycle and Original Sinner. Indeed a song called Church that Phil recorded for a session on my radio show back in 1999 finally gets a release on Motorcycle.

Though all three of those recent albums are worth checking out Providence has had particular attention, even making Rolling Stone. It is rather a departure for Madeira. Everything until now has been very guitar orientated while Providence is piano driven. And I mean driven. These songs rattle along like a man on the Highway from Rhode Island to Nashville and back. Which is a perfect music backdrop to songs that go back to Madeira’s childhood and formative years before he headed to Nashville to follow his dream.

Lyrically this a beautifully autobiographical record. Barrington is about the area of Providence that Phil spent much of his childhood in, as does Rich Man’s Town. Crescent Park was a forbidden amusement park nearby. We even go further back to Gothenburg where his ancestors came from - immigrants and a political hit in the subtlety. The fact that Madeira is almost falling back in love with his home spaces rather than needing catharsis from some scars he escaped from make sit a joyous ride.

Phil Madeira as a jazz piano man. Who’d have thought? Is there anything this man cannot do musically. It’s Randy Newman meeting Mose Allison. It tasteful and in some ways that word tasteful  maybe best describes everything Madeira touches.