The Bluebells, Carwyn Ellis, Josh Rouse, The Lottery Winners, Super 8
The Front Runners
In The 21st Century : The Bluebells
It’s 39 years since The Bluebells released their last album, which also happened to be their debut. They’re back to help us navigate and accept life’s changes. It’s well worth the wait.
There comes a point in life when you start to look back more than you look forward. It’s no cause for concern. Despite what Pete Townshend told us, not many of us want to die before we get old, so we just have to accept it. The Bluebells are here to help.
This is a bittersweet album of pop for an ageing generation. It’s soaked in memories and reflections as it wanders,without bitterness, through the past. It offers consolations for what’s lost and encouragement for what’s still around.
The album is summed up in a couple of separated lines from ‘Disneyland and Rock ‘n’ Roll’
“ The days you thought were gone are still around….
The days you thought were lost can still be found.”
It’s not just a burst of gentle therapy. It holds up well as a collection of melodic, unhurried songs too. Over the last 39 years they’ve taken a couple of steps towards folk. It was always there behind the indie pop, but now it features more prominently.
‘Daddy Was An Engineer’ opens the album with fiddles, harmonica and a singalong choruses. It’s enough to leave you feeling young at heart. ‘Orienteering’ features gospelly backing vocals and sounds like a lost track from Aztec Camera’s ‘High Land, Hard Rain’ album. ‘Beautiful Mess’ is equally lovely, highlighting their current sound as a kind of gentler Teenage Fanclub, a less Gaelic Runrig and a less pushy Dexys.
‘In The 21st Century’ is a pause for breath, a moment to take stock and a lovely album.
Taster Track : Orienteering
Across The Water : Carwyn Ellis
Carwyn Ellis brings an elephant into the room with a collection of subdued yet moving piano led pieces that detail the experiences of those fleeing countries by boat and on their arrival here.
With a CV that shows a background in indie pop, a couple of collaborations with South American outfit Rio 18 and membership of The Pretenders, Carwyn Ellis isn’t the first name you’d think of when listing musicians who might take a political stance in song. That just underlines how affected he must be by the ‘boat people’ experience. His name is on this project, but it’s not his usual style.
He’s certainly no Bono. He’s no Pavarotti either, although these songs feel as close to Lloyd Webber arias as they are to pop. That’s all the better to get his points and observations across.
He has the voice of an everyman standing up to be heard. This isn’t an angry record. Anger only surfaces from the point of view of an immigrant in ‘Detainment Camp’. Rather, Ellis sings this as a man of constant sorrow. His voice is brimful of suppressed emotions, shock and incredulity amongst them.
It struck me that with its orange font and small logo in the top left corner, that the album cover called to mind the layout of Penguin books. That’s apt, because their serious tones and clarity of style feature throughout this album.
The songs are piano led. Any other instruments are firmly in the background. I’d describe the tunes as lovely if that didn’t seem wrong in a record that details suffering and loss. ‘Across The Water’ and ‘Crossing’ are slowly cascading pieces that leave your speakers to well up deep inside of you. ‘Seventy Four’ may leave you numb, but ‘The Boy On The Beach’ may move you to tears. ‘Bound for Lampedusa’ and ‘Freedom Of Movement’ are in a similar vein and leave you pauses for reflection.
This is an album by a man who uses his abilities for the greater good. He’s made a beautiful album. He’s introduced compassion to a political debate that sorely needs it.. For that alone he deserves your attention.
Taster Track : Freedom Of Movement
The Chasing Pack
Anxiety Replacement Therapy : The Lottery Winners
It’s a serious album title for an album that’s chock full of joyful energy and very good tunes.
The Lottery Winners have been around for fifteen years. Their debut album, ‘The Art Of Communicating’ was released in 2011. The band recorded their debut album The Art of Communication in 2011. It was mentioned in Music Week, that the Official Charts Company had recorded no sales for this title in the last 10 years. That’s a crying shame but it explains why they might now be a band in a hurry. Pulp had a similar back story. They formed in 1978 but took 16 years to make an impact. There are other similarities too in the real world concerns, drama and soap operas that fuel the songs
You don’t need to be Sherlock Holmes to recognise that the acronym for Anxiety Replacement Therapy is ART. It may not be art in the Van Gogh, John Constable of Hallmark Cards sense of the word but The Lottery Winners are comic book art, drawn straight from the likes of The Bash Street Kids. They’re like kids who hear an instruction not to do something as an opportunity to do exactly that.
This sounds like a debut album released 15 years into their career. It’s bouncing, boisterous music with everything thrown in. Check out the little tap dancing beat to break up ‘Worry. It's a riotous, dial it up to eleven pop noise. It’s infernally catchy NME pop. ‘Letter To Myself’ should be mandated for every Year 11 school leaving prom.
I’d call them scallys if that weren’t a provocative term from Liverpool to call a band from Manchester. It’s fair though to describe them as The Coral’s noisy neighbours.
There are a number of collaborations - with Boy George; with the Happy Mondays’ Shaun ‘Call the Cops’ Ryder; with Frank Turner whose song opened the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony. These elder statesmen of pop means that they come oacross as the favoured uncles invited on your stag weekend.
This album is a legal high, an injection of fast paced joy.
Taster Track : Letter To Myself
Going Places : Josh Rouse
This is a nice album from an established singer songwriter. Perhaps it’s too nice to make a lasting impact.
Josh Rouse has been around for some time. It’s 25 years since he released his debut album, 21 years since he released his finest work ‘Under Cold Blue Stars and 20 years since he released the highly entertaining 70s throwback album ‘1972’. Since then he’s specialised in being the kind of singer songwriter that is always appealing without necessarily being memorable. ‘Going Places’ is a misnomer for this album. He’s already arrived and is comfortably settled.
I like Josh Rouse a lot, but that’s because I hooked into the earlier albums and drifted along with him as he mellowed. This continues the pleasant and undemanding style of his recent releases. It’s contented music for when everything is going ok. You’ll hear its easy but unobtrusive melodies in your coffee shop, the perfect background music to good times and good company. I'm not sure though how it would bring itself to your notice if you’re not already familiar with him.
This isn’t music that takes risks. It’s a road trip that takes regular breaks and progresses steadily, well within the speed limit. It’s music for sitting down to.
He’s a safe and reliable guide, his warm and unthreatening vocals mark him out as someone you’d like to know better, someone you’d like to befriend. Each song has little touches that work well - the gentle rock and roll of ‘The Lonely Postman’, the fading guitar solo against a brass background that brings ‘Apple Of My Eye’ to a close and the enjoyable drift of ‘Henry Miller’s Flat’.
It may sound as if I’m damning this album with faint praise. I’m not. As a record to set a relaxed mood and for filling companionable silences it’s second to none. And if you’re lucky enough to be in an uncomplicated, stress free part of your life then this is the soundtrack for you.
Taster Track : Henry Miller’s Flat
Hoopla : Super 8
If you’re missing your fix of pastiche 60s pop, you need Super 8. He’s nailed it to perfection.
Super 8 is Paul ‘Trip’ Ryan. In his press release he describes himself as a home studio based one man band. That’s a more than fair description. Before home studios were a thing, he’d have been busking in your High Street complete with guitar, bass drum and harmonica, with a permanent beaming smile on his face. This is a man completely in love with his music and that feeling comes through on every note of every track.
As everyone who has listened to The Divine Comedy’s ‘Everybody Knows (Except You)’ realises, you can overdo the love sharing. Super 8 edges close to that line. This is a rich mix of undiluted, unmodified and unrestrained 60s pop psychedelia, as sweet as dolly mixtures coated in honey.
We all know that the 60s were a golden age of pop, well the bits that have stayed the course were anyway. At times this feels less of a reminder of that era and more a life changing obsession set to music. ‘Our Town’ is typical with its sunshine filled positivity. It’s relentless.
This album is less an original work and more of a pastiche. There’s no problem with that as the 70s / 80s track record of ELO shows. Super 8 go the whole hog with their influences. ‘Jennifer Anne’ is psychedelic period The Who, and Syd Barrett period Pink Floyd. And of course, the Beatles are in there. ‘Susan Revolving’ has a verse that over a few lines tells us that ‘she’ is here…there... and everywhere.
Like an overly affectionate puppy, it feels ungrateful to reject its overtures. You may feel it’s a dipper of a record, one to add sunshine and warmth to playlists rather than listen to in one sitting.
This album is available digitally on Super 8’s Bandcamp page.
Taster Track : For My Friends
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. The link to the Youtube playlist is https://music.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLwV-OogHy7Eh_sy55y6i18Qj7w_Z3CQft
The Shadowplay playlists are at: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/01iU7Jy80SMvJO5QBF7Oux?si=00d9d1fb8b2f4baa and https://music.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLwV-OogHy7EjsaT8idWnNv42LqIGEGSmH&feature=share