Things Are Great (Or So They Say!)

Starring


Avishai Cohen, Band Of Horses, Barrie, The Cactus Blossoms, Gabriel Kahane, Jungle, Kraftwerk, Soul Revivers,


Album Cover of the Week


I liked the grainy and stripped back cover of Avishai Cohen's 'Naked Truth' but as soon as i saw the Soul Revivers cover for 'On The Grove' I knew it would be my Album Cover of the Week.


It's rare for an album cover to set out so clearly the context for the music within. Soul Revivers achieve this perfectly.



This Week's Music


Electropop, the future American Songbook, disco, electro Krautrock, reggae, jazz, rock and country rock and roll. Eight albums, eight genres. Hopefully there is something for everyone to like.


With no further ado, here are those eight reviews.


Highly Recommended


Barbara : Barrie


Barrie has made collection of indie electropop that sounds good, and a little different too.


Some music encourages you to build a backstory, a backstory to which the music can provide a soundtrack. This is one such album, and here is the backstory I constructed. Any resemblance to real life is completely accidental.


Barrie is the new girl in a strange town. She’s suffering trepidation and uncertainty. She’s reaching out for help and wanting to know she hasn’t made a big mistake. All the while though she’s filled with hope and optimism. In other words what she sings is a mass of contradictory and complicated feelings.


This is music that wants to find someone to love it. If it had a profile on a dating website it would be getting lots of ‘swipe rights’ if not a permanent relationship. It’s music for this time of year, clear sunny music on the cusp of Summer.


If it loses itself a little in the closing tracks ‘Basketball’ and ‘Bloodline’ it’s because the melodies aren’t as strong, but by then the album has built up more than enough goodwill to compensate. On ‘Jersey’ the synths float like cotton wool clouds. The music bends out of shape on ‘Jenny’ providing a kooky feel. ‘Dig’ has an Eastern twang to the chorus and ‘Harp 2 Interlude’ warms up harp, brass and woodwind. Together with the quiet vulnerability of her vocals, it all adds up to something interesting and enjoyable.


I can’t help wishing for more music like this, charming, appealing and just a little different.


Taster Track : Frankie


On The Grove : Soul Revivers


This collection of chilled reggae, music more than songs, is just what you need to start the day.


One of the things about reggae is that generally speaking it’s one of the most political forms of music. In an understated way you can pick that up from the album cover. It’s a black and white photo of Ladbroke Grove beneath the Westway on the edge of Notting Hill. There’s a few people going about their business under the watchful eyes of a couple of policemen. For me, and I suspect for many others, exposure to reggae first came from the sound of Two Tone and its incorporation into punk and new wave via the Clash, the Members and many more. RAR stood for Rock Against Racism, but it was often more Reggae Against Racism.


On The Grove is a home grown version of reggae, not a Carribean one. London features large on the cover and this is reinforced by many of the collaborators. Ken Boothe, who had a No 1 in the 70s with ‘Everything I Own’ is the best known of these.


It’s also a gentler version of reggae though, not shouted across the streets but played at the centre of a community. It’s music to sway or shuffle to in company, not to spread messages but to gather the strength to carry on. The music isn’t threatening. It’s a peaceful hands up gesture, a gesture that isn’t one of surrender but that wants to live and let live.


I misread the album title at first as ‘On The GroOve’, perhaps making assumptions on the basis of the band name. It would have served almost as well. The distinctive 12 note reggae bass line and the skittering drums encourage movement, perhaps with a beer in one hand. It has a definite groove and, like the beer, it’s a chilled one.


What makes this work for me is the trumpet, courtesy of Ms MAURICE. It’s an evocative sound bringing a wistful sadness to the mix. It’s calling out to you like a woodpigeon heard across the fields, a yearning and beautiful sound that instantly soothes.


I prefer the instrumentals here, but that’s merely a personal preference drawn from the mood I was in when I first listened to it.


All I know is that it’s an album that’s over all too soon,


Taster Track : Look No Further


... And The Rest


Naked Truth : Avishai Cohen


This album may be billed as an Avishai Cohen album, but it’s an ensemble piece where everyone plays their part. Correction: it’s an ensemble piece where everyone plays their part very well.


Each of the band members - Avishai Cohen (trumpet). Yonathan Avishai (piano), Barak Mori (bass) and Ziv Ravitz (drums and great name) - plays and improvises flawlessly. It’s particularly notable that Ravitz plays his drums like an instrument rather than as a time keeping machine.


It’s improvisation, so if you miss a snippet of melody it’s gone. For some, including me at times, that’s a weakness of the approach. Here it’s offset by the tone and mood it creates. It’s always calm, even when building to a crescendo as it does at the end of ‘Naked Truth Part 2’. It’s restrained. When the trumpet pierces through the mood of ‘Naked Truth Part 3’ it comes as a shock, like the unexpected blast of pain that comes from accidentally trapping your finger in the car door. More typical is the effect of ‘Naked Truth Part 1, an early reveille on a misty morning.


This isn’t the kind of music I hear in my head or hum in the shower. Its value is in setting the mood during the album and lingeringly afterwards.


It’s a compliment to call it indisposable music.


Taster Track : Naked Truth Part 1


Things Are Great : Band Of Horses


Band Of Horses’ new album is a harder, rockier and less uplifting sound than their recent work. It has its moments though.


Band Of Horses haven’t fared well in the Covid wars of 2020/2021. They’ve suffered, as millions have, and that’s led to the pent up feelings and anxieties that are released in this album. It doesn’t take long to realise that the title is not supposed to be taken at face value. Things in Band Of Horses’ world are most definitely not great.


I came to the band via their albums ‘Infinite Arms’ and ‘Mirage Rock’. They’re a warm sounding version of Americana, full of harmonies and sunny guitars. It came as a shock to hear the heavier sound of ‘Things Are Great’ but it’s a return to where they started. They’re still descendents of bands like The Eagles, but a harder, meaner and damaged version. It’s an album that comes across as a venting of frustrated complaint rather than an attempt to understand. It’s a cry for help, not an offer of help.


This is an album that comes from despair more than anger, but there’s still a decent chunk of the anger that’s embedded in despair too. They’ve lost some of their restraint, even control, due to the blown safety valve that kept their pent up feelings in check.


Once you adjust to the new old sound, there are things to like. If it’s not uplifting, it is definitely heartfelt and passionate. In a rockier sound the vocals sound stronger, less of a sensitive soul. They reminded me of Mercury Rev and, particularly, Nada Surf. Songs such as ‘Lights’ will be a highlight of their live shows. The sudden slows in tempo across several tracks including ‘Tragedy Of The Common’ allow for reflection on what has just been sung. I thought that was a clever touch.


When you come to hear these songs as a personal experience, rather than attempting to be universal you can admire the songs for what they are. There’s something impressive in their demand to be heard, and it comes across particularly forcefully in ‘Warning Signs’ and ‘In Need Of Repair’.


These are strong songs. It will be interesting to hear where they go from here.


Taster Track : In Need Of Repair


One Day : The Cactus Blossoms


This collection of 50s infused country pop laments doesn’t pretend to be anything it’s not. You’re unlikely to hear a more Radio 2 record this year.


If you’re looking for a musical portal back to the 50s and 60s look no further. Here we have the Everly Brothers with lower profile harmonies, or Glen Campbell plying his trade modestly in wide open spaces a long way from anywhere.



Consider the following lines


“Sunshine sometimes turns to rain.” (‘One Day’)


“Don’t give away your heart.” (‘Runaway’)


“Hope you don't mind spendin’ some time with a lonely heart” (‘Lonely Heart’)


“Listenin’ to Sammy play a fiddle tune” (‘Not The Only One’)


This is the gentlemanly advice and cliched phrasing of a shy man who’s desperate for love, a James Stewart singer in a country fair band playing out to a smattering of applause. He’s also a man who slurs away his final ‘g’ when he’s singin’! It’s the accumulation of over 70 years jukebox experience.


There’s a sweet sincerity that keeps the sentiment on the right side of too much. The big question is, will anyone notice them?


If ever there was a song that showed how much these decent men need a decent woman by their side, it’s ‘Everybody’. Jenny Lewis’ guest contribution provides the star presence that lifts the song out of its pleasant ordinariness.


Musically it’s note perfect with the twanging and sliding guitar nailing its colours to the ranch post firmly enough to withstand any number of prairie dust storms. This is an album that’s more country than pop, and stuck in a time that’s more deepest Cornwall than suburban Salisbury.


It’s hard to dislike such an innocent and well meaning record. Equally, it will be hard to call it to mind in a few months time.


Taster Track : Everybody


Magnificent Bird : Gabriel Kahane


Gabriel Kahane’s album comes at the end of a year in which he switched off from the Internet. That helps to explain its curiously old fashioned, but richly enjoyable sound.


He’s in the line of American songwriters such as Rufus Wainwright and Andrew Bird who draw on classical and song cycles as much as pop. It’s clever music to be listened to carefully. It’s not seeking chart success or aiming to start a party.


These are songs that are composed, not simply written. They bear the same relation to pop as poetry does to a short story. His songs are both literate and literary. It’s tempting to think of Kahane getting together with Wainwright and Bird as the Romantic poets did, sharing high powered thoughts, being sensitive and holidaying together. If there’s a criticism it’s that it’s too poetic and polite in places. Sometimes you need a raucous and stirring “1, 2, 3, 4!!” to shake things up.


These are songs that can be lively show tunes (‘Hot Pink Raingear’) and meditative (‘Magnificent Bird’) in turn. Sometimes they sound fragmentary or dreamlike. His voice is pleasant, inviting and welcoming. There is a loveliness running through the album. ‘Sit Shiva’ is the best example, not just for its sound but for its sentiment too. These are songs well suited to a future Great American Songbook.


It’s a short album, coming in at under 28 minutes, but it’s an album full of small but polished gems.


Taster Track : Sit Shiva


Living In Stereo : Jungle


If you pine for the days of disco, the disco of shiny white figure hugging jump suits, bare chests and crowded stages, this is for you. It’s a lot of fun.


The only place you’re going to find something false in this reenactment of disco’s glory days is in the first five letters of ‘falsetto’. It’s the falsetto that hits you first, enabling the song to sound as if it’s simultaneously sung by a man to a woman or vice versa. From thereon in it’s a non stop procession of high pitched strings, slinky bass lines, yelps and squeals.


This is disco as it was, all disco and no front man save for those songs featuring especially invited guests. It’s the disco of Starsky, Hutch and, particularly, Huggy Bear, disco before Saturday Night Fever annexed it for the corporates and the Bee Gees.


It's easy to forget how pervasive disco became. Even Roger Daltrey had a go. And today it’s sampled extensively by the likes of The Avalanches and any number of hip hoppers. The links to rap are recognised in ‘Romeo’ which features Bas and they serve each other well. There’s the obligatory slow number ‘Goodbye My Love’ featuring Priya Ragu, and ‘Truth’ is the disco rock crossover number.


Back in the 70s Chic urged ‘Everybody Dance’ and the Michael Zager Band instructed us to ‘Let’s All Chant’ Jungle have heeded these words particularly well. In fact, no written review can do justice to this kind of record. Any review is carried out by the feet and hips. Are they literally moved by what they hear?


The answer in this case is a resounding ‘Yowsah Yowsah Yowsah’.


Taster Track : Can’t Stop The Stars


Tour De France : Kraftwerk


Kraftwerk are an act that needs no introduction, ‘Tour De France’ clocked in at number 267 of Uncut’s greatest 300 albums of their lifetime (25 years). That’s probably about right. It’s good, but not stellar.


The excitement that greeted Kraftwerk’s first album of new studio work in 17 years must have been palpable. They’d already released a version of ‘Tour de France as a standalone single in 1983, and it became one of their more successful songs. The thing is though, that whilst Kraftwerk have been massively influential - more so than Bowie in my view - they’ve not always been commercial. This album, eagerly awaited, only made it to No 1 in Germany and didn’t trouble the Top 20 in most other countries. Listening to this gives an indication of why that might be.


It’s been described as robot pop and for once it’s a genre heading that gives you a good idea of what to expect.. This is the sound of robots though that are less a loveable droid and more of a disciplinarian. The relentless ‘repeat after me’ lyrics of ‘La Forme’, ‘Regeneration’ and others suggest brainwashing. ‘Vitamin’ comes across like a chemistry primer, or checklist.


Originally this album was called ‘Tour De France - Soundtracks’ and that invites you to conjure up pictures to accompany the music. There are certainly effects that call to mind the long climbs and the intense physical exertion. It wasn’t until afterwards though that I appreciated its success in giving sound to less tangible elements -the obsessive determination and the zoning out into total exhaustion.


It’s a mechanical sound, not harsh but often sterile. The tracks are driven by rhythm, beat and effects. It’s music that has been turned inside out and melody comes only in snippets. When it arrives though it’s uplifting and inspiring as on ‘La Forme’. If you’re familiar with the ‘Tour De France’ single, it’s here in a reworked form that preserves its catchiness. It doesn’t prepare you though for the harder treatment given to the album tracks.


In many ways this is closer to performance art than music. It’s not a question of being likeable or unlikeable as it’s something completely different. As their swansong it’s both a testimony to what made them critically revered and an illustration of why they never received the commercial recognition they fully deserved.


Taster Track : Electro Kardiogramm


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. 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


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