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How Do Skinheads Let Their Hair Down?

Starring


Black Pumas, Katie Von Schleicher, Laura Groves, Pickle Darling, Rampue, Willie and the Bandits.


The Front Runners


A Little Touch of Schleicher In The Night : Katie Von Schleicher


This is the kind of rich songwriting accompanied by sumptuous arrangements that we hear all too little these days.


First, I love the fact that the title is almost stolen from Nilsson’s classic album. She’s substituted her name for Nilsson’s and given herself a hefty lift up in the process. This is the benchmark she seems to say. It displays great confidence in her own abilities and that confidence is not misplaced.


Nilsson is an obvious influence. There are echoes of Judy Garland too. The best comparator though is Father John Misty. She echoes his technique of allowing his internal thoughts to seep out into fully formed but meandering songs.


These are songs that revel in their luxuriousness, unfolding unhurriedly. Like a five star boutique hotel, they’re full of individual details that mark your stay as something special, something that can be enjoyed for its own sake. Listen to the string arrangements of, say,  ‘Every Step Is An Ocean’.  Delight in the oompah pulse of ‘Montagnard People’ and savour her rich, dulcet tones.Warm to the evident pleasure taken in couplets such as:


“A good dream, well, let’s end this

Good on a page, any tenses.”


It could be described as chamber pop but it aims for a wider backdrop than that. This is music for big Hollywood dream scenes, a little woozy in songs like ‘Bottle It?’ and ‘Texas’. ‘Texas’ in fact would be at home in the Kansas of the Yellow Brick Road.


Finally, the album comes with a special offer. In her Spotify bio she offers $5 to anyone who can hear her pet bird singing in the background of one of her songs. (That’s about £3.98, less commission - still enough for a cup of coffee!)


And there you have it. This is an album that just keeps giving!


Taster Track : Montagnard People



When The World Stood Still : Willie and the Bandits


There’s, perhaps, not enough classic rock reviewed in this blog. Willie and the Bandits demonstrate why that could be a missed opportunity. 


Regular readers of this blog will know that there’s a fair mix of sensitive singer songwriters, electronic wizards, indie kids and, lately, a few forays into the world of clubs and discos. But languishing unnoticed and undernourished in the heart of my musical DNA is a liking for the solid riffs of yesteryear, the unchanging energy and unbridled noise of AC/DC, Rainbow, ZZ Top and many others. I wish that I had heeded my parents’ wishes that I’d learned an instrument and I wouldn’t have minded if that instrument was the air guitar.


Willie and the Bandits stand for everything that part of me misses. They give you classic rock done very well. It sounds authentic, some may say preserved in the vinyl of the 70s and the NWOBHM. (You know that stands for New Wave of British Heavy Metal!)


There’s something in playing loud, forcefully and with a renegade attitude that appeals to the young teenager. Some people, thankfully, never grow out of it. This music is a fantasy of tough outsiders, for gangs that relish a good time and never, ever want a quiet night in. There’s still room to display a sensitive side, as long as no one is allowed to see it. That’s catered for here by the closing track ‘Solid Ground’.


Elsewhere there are epic, occasionally overblown, moments. ‘Without You’ feels as if it contains an album’s worth of material in one eight minute blow out. 


Most people will come and stay for the power riffs, and this album is full of them. The riffs channel AC/DC. There are many to choose from. My pick is ‘Caught In The Middle’ or ‘Good Stuff’. The bluesy feel of, say, ‘Move Too Fast’ channels ZZ Top.


As the possessor of a proud 2 and 3 haircut, it’s hard to claim that I let my hair down to this album but I would have done so if I could. Their fans wouldn’t change a thing about them. And for that, as they make clear in ‘I’m Alive’,  “Sing Hallelujah”.


Taster Track : Caught In The Middle



The Chasing Pack


Chronicles of a Diamond : Black Pumas


Black Pumas are massive right now. This mix of soul, rock and blues shows why.


The image of a diamond suits the Black Pumas. A diamond may come to sparkle, but only once its rough edges have been ground away and it’s been polished into something welcomed in polite society. These chronicles start at the beginning, when a diamond is newly discovered, grubbily dug up, misshapen and scarred.


Or to put that more clearly their song, ‘Hello’ is a long way from Lionel Richie’s song of the same name. Black Pumas call it from the furnace, not the adult education pottery class.


This is soul out of rock and blues. Singer Eric Burton has something in common with his near namesake Eric Burdon of the Animals. Both sing soulfully from within, not to a template produced by a corporate marketing department. Mick Jagger has it too. Their’s is a dirty, scuffed sound containing real feeling.


If you’re looking for more soulful comparators, try Marvin Gaye at the time he sang with a social conscience, or the Temptations when they inhabited their psychedelic shack.


This isn’t a soul that soars. Its grittiness keeps it tied to the earth. Its soul for people, not the angels. It has a dramatic edge, scenic in the way of wide open prairies. It’s cinematic, but suited to the cinema of outsider drama, not romcoms. That makes it a cousin of the blues.


You’ll take something from this if you listen to it at home. You’ll be drawn to the rhythm of the riffs in ‘Ice Cream (Pay Phone)’ for example. But you’ll sense that, live, they could be messianic. ‘Rock and Roll’ with its relentless and brooding tone would pin you to the wall, ensnaring you for life. 


Black Pumas - they’re cats, but not the cuddly sit on your lap variety!


Taster Track : Ice Cream (Pay Phone)



Radio Red : Laura Groves


Laura Groves’ first full length album is a measured treat, full of high quality grown up songwriting.


If the questions are “Where is our current generation of classic female singer songwriters? Who follows the line of, say, Joni Mitchell, Laura Cantrell and Mry Chapin-Carpenter? Have they been X factored out of existence?” then the answer has to include Laura Groves.


That’s not to say she sounds anything like them. It’s more in the tone, in the serious and almost soulful atmospheres that she creates and in the respect she has for the songs and, consequently, earns from us.


Her voice is centre stage. Her breathy vocals suggest vulnerability and careful reflection. Like the most graceful trapeze artist she swings into a lovely falsetto when it’s needed.


She’s a deep cut. You’ll find a song such as ‘I’m Not Crying’ hidden away in the early hours, or in the blank spaces of Sunday afternoons. Search for her in the depths of Radio 6 or in a thoughtfully curated festival, away from the main stage. 


These are songs that need careful listening, but they make it easy to give it. You may not find a clear melody in the drifting ‘Synchronicity’ but it will still create a special mood. And if you find a lovely melody helpful as an entry point, you will have heard it already in the opening track ‘Sky At Night’.


This is an album of subtle pleasures, an album that should be listened to as such, not as a collection of wannabe playlist entries. It’s made with care. We should be grateful that such music continues to find a place to exist.


Taster Track : Sky At Night



Laundromat : Pickle Darling


Pickle Darling's wistful and whimsical bedroom electronica is a short 24 minute burst of sweet charm.


Disarming health warning alert - criticising this is like finding fault with your child’s performance at a school concert. Even when it’s justified it’s fundamentally mean, and misses the point. It’s one of those times when the taking part trumps the need for perfection. The same can be said of this album.


Let’s face it, several of these tracks clock in at around 90 seconds. They zoom by wonkily and as insubstantially as dandelion heads carried on the breeze. They can’t help but sound like noodly fragments. In the case of the longer ‘Head Terrarium’ it sounds like two fragments sellotaped together. They’re ideas tried out to see how they sound and feel without being fully developed. There’s more than enough though to provide optimism for the future.


The songs that work best and help you to grow into this album are, not coincidentally, the longer ones with a fuller sound - songs like ‘Laundromat’ and ‘Invercargill Angel’. Hear those and you can hear Pickle Darling take the first few tentative steps down the path marked out by Jim Noir.


These are the songs of someone who loves music and wants to be part of it. There’s an appealing uncertainty at the back of these songs as if to say “Here they are, do you like them?”


I do. And if you love music too, 24 minutes of your time isn’t a big ask, is it?


Taster Track : Invercargill Angel



Bubblebath Trance : Rampue


German DJ, Rampue, allows gentle techno beats and rhythms to draw us into his world. At 78 minutes though it becomes too much of a good thing.


From the off ‘Harmonie’ showcases what is good and slightly unnerving about this record. This album offers lapping waves of music that are melodic, harmonious and trance inducing. It flows and evolves through a beginning, middle and end. It’s stately rather than euphoric, building slowly and shifting gently rather than rushing towards an unshakeable earworm. It’s like one of those super long Canadian trains, nearly a mile long. It’s impressive but overwhelming in the way that it just keeps rolling.


It’s music that you could listen to all day, tuning in and out, knowing that something of interest will snag your attention. Try the tribal chanting that appears 4 minutes into ‘Ich Hasse Sonne’, or the house piano that appears unexpectedly a couple of minutes later.


It helps that Rampue appears to be a nice guy delivering on his good intentions to spread a little love and happiness around the world. 


The trouble is that something like ‘Schattenschranz’ is a little too wrapped up in itself, lost in the background. The trance inducer has induced himself into a trance. ‘Salz’ is less able to engage.As a club DJ will know,if you lose the floor it’s hard to bring it back.


Perhaps it's a sign that we take too much for granted. This is soothing, generally happy music. It feels like too much in one sitting, but we’ll miss it when it’s no longer there.


Taster Track : Inside



Playlists


As ever this week's Taster Track playlists can be accessed at https://open.spotify.com/playlist/7cSveL7NpVp1xgrKxPe4av?si=SkFlSnvySeuYFpgG0WJFmA or via the Spotify link on the Home Page.


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