Monday, 19 October 2020

The Weather Station - single review

Tamara Lindeman, otherwise, The Weather Station, has been pigeonholed in the folk world so far despite regularly pulling in elements of indie pop, and other sounds. Having signed with Fat Possum records she has taken the opportunity to make a sharp turn in her sound. 

Saxophone is the dominant voice, and the washes of sound that have characterised her work (particularly on the album Loyalty) are supplied mostly by organ rather than strings or acoustic guitar. Far more percussion heavy than much of her music, 'Robber' could be the work of Mazzy Star, Radiohead or even Cowboy Junkies in places. The sound is more unsettling than her previous work and of the video, her first as a director, she says “From an emotional and mood standpoint, I wanted the video to feel like how 2020 does to me; steeped in a sort of omnipresent unease and a threat of distant violence, even as life goes on”.

Watch it a few times and then buy the single, and I’m sure I don’t need to say do that from Bandcamp.



Thursday, 8 October 2020

Judee Sill


 I wrote about Judee Sill over at Americana UK. recently. For me she is one of the great unique voices in music. If you don't know her you should Read my piece HERE

Wednesday, 7 October 2020

Eddie van Halen

The first guitar magazine I ever bought, Beat Instrumental, had an interview with a hot new guitar star that suggested there was life beyond punk. Later in 1978 I saw Van Halen blow Black Sabbath off the stage of The Bristol Hippodrome. The first album mingles hard rock and punk better than any band except Motorhead. Reading Eddie van Halen talk about Allan Holdsworth lead to Bruford's 'One of a Kind' and the first U.K. album and then on to Holdsworth's solo work and into Jazz Rock and most other sorts of Jazz. Reading Steve Lukather's self serving autobiography he minimises Van Halen's role on  Beat It, which is rubbish, it's one of the iconic guitar solos. Reading Thomas Dolby's memoir he talks about becoming friends with Eddie van Halen who contributed to his excellent 'Astronauts and Heretics' album.

And now he's gone, from Cancer aged 65. A tweet from the band Pearl Jam says "changed everything and played with soul". That is probably a pretty decent legacy. His finest moment below.


Sunday, 4 October 2020


Visiting the Twitter this morning, my colleagues at Americana UK had retweeted a royalty statement published by Alec Bowman to show what he had earned from 25,000 streams of his music. I hope Alec won't mind me re-posting it here, but it highlights the single biggest problem facing the music industry at present. Now I have talked before about the fact that music is mostly a cottage industry these days, and if you want to be able to listen to the huge amount of amazingly good music that is being quietly turned out by people all over the world then you need to put your hand in your pocket. If you're looking at this and thinking "well Spotify are doing better than everyone else that's OK I'll support them," look again. If this is 25,000 plays Spotify are paying Alec £0.000446 per stream. that is four one thousandths of a penny. 

Now I wasn't familiar with Alec Bowman's music until today, but it is sort of indie folk rock of the finest. Start with his song 'Safe Mode' and then just buy the whole album, which I shall be doing in a minute or two - from Bandcamp. Bandcamp are quite transparent about the costs and benefits of dealing with them. Effectively the artist pays 10% off the top of each sale. CD Baby were until recently an alternative but they have closed their shop and now focus on distributing to the streaming services, and internet radio. A possible alternative to CD Baby is Distrokid, suggested by Bandcamp if you really must be on the streaming services. But beware the comment of a Reddit user. Distrokid costs about $20 per release...

"Just know that getting a return from those services is HARD. Making back the Distrokid costs in a year from Spotify streaming is pretty difficult. I didn't move to streaming services until my second or third release"

Rant over - for now. 

Cloudland Blue Quartet

Thoughts of Bandcamp enables me to correct an omission. I haven't talked about Cloudland Blue Quartet here yet. I love the Soundscapes of Robert Fripp, the ambient music of Constance Demby, and much of what Brian Eno produces. David Reilly, Mr Quartet, is easily their equal. A release that I had to my shame missed until today was '4th May 2020'. Years ago I had thought of using found sounds from Shortwave Radio in pieces. i never did anything about it and wouldn't have the talent to make it work anyway. On this album David makes it work and along with field recordings made around the date of the title and music that builds through the three movements producing a dense soundscape by the end of the third. Needs to be heard on headphones which I haven't been able to do yet. My favourite albums are Aftersilence  - Soundscapes and Disquietmusik II. This music will take hold of your soul. 

I'll come back to Soundscapes in general and Cloudand Blue Quartet in particular soon, but a last thought, and one I've made in several posts recently. "Name Your Price" on Bandcamp does not mean as little as you can get away with. It means a decent amount. I start at £5 and you should too.

Friday, 2 October 2020

Join the Club? - Not likely!

I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member - Groucho Marx 

One of the more interesting musical events of recent years was the induction of Yes into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Looking at the videos on You Tube the antagonism and resentment shimmers like a heat haze around the stage. In terms of progessive rock and 70s music Yes matter so it is a shame that it took until after the death of Chris Squire who was very much keeper of the Yes flame for the whole life of the band. They would, I feel,  have been entitled to follow Stella McCartney's slightly grumpy line. When her father, Paul in case you you weren't sure, was inducted as a solo act she went to the show wearing a tee shirt saying "About Fucking Time". And who's to argue with her. 

Artists become eligible for nomination into the hall 25 years after the release of their first record. Nominations are by committee with ballots being sent to 1000 "rock experts" to decide who gets the golden ticket. The 2020 inductees are

  • Depeche Mode
  • The Doobie Brothers
  • Whitney Houston
  • Nine Inch Nails
  • The Notorious B.I.G.
  • T. Rex

But what is far more interesting are the people who despite being eligible for many years have never been given the nod. 

Kraftwerk -  The most glaring omission. How? Why? 

Pat Benatar - OK so you may not be that fond of her music but she has as much reason to be there as  
                       many acts far younger and selling far less well. She is huge, still, in the USA. 

Iron Maiden - Again a hugely popular act, with no support from radio, TV or the erst of the industry. 

The Smiths - Another How? Why? because they are British and Morrissey can be a bit of a prat.

Not being white, male or American is not quite the bar it once was... Whitney Houston was clearly token woman and B.I.G token person of colour in 2020. Given where "Rock & Roll" came from this was unacceptable 30 years ago, and is way beyond the pale now. Nominated but not selected in these groups. Carol King, Esther Phillips, Mary Wells, Ben E. King and Chic. Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards are not in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Seriously?

The chances that this institution continues to have any relevance to anything are slim. But it would be nice to see some of these creators of great music get noticed before they bulldoze the whole sorry edifice.

Saturday, 19 September 2020

Stewart Birch : Can't Live Without Me - single review

If you saw the recent BBC 4 documentary on the origins of Jazz Funk then this will be familar ground for you. Newcastle DJ Stewart Birch is very much the spiritual heir of those late 70s early 80s acts. Despite the fact that his influences are more the US House and Garage scenes.


I'm a sucker for a good bass line and ' Can't Live Without Me' has a fine one. On first listen the House Mix is the funkier version, driven along on an insistent Conga beat, and discreet Rhodes and strings to add to the Jazz Funk feel. The slightly more relaxed 110 BPM orginal version takes a bit more time to worm its way into your brain. Guitar is more visible than on the Houe mix, and the groove is that bit more relaxed. In the end the original is the version that's going on the Ben More bar playlist, alongside Quantic Soul Orchestra, Wilbert Longmire and recent new favs Men I Trust.

Having found Stewart on Bandcamp I tried his earlier releases. 'Heaven' has Car Wash handclaps and a bassline straight out of Giorgio Moroder. 'Sweat' very cleverly pitches the two different electric piano sounds of the Fender Rhodes and Wurlitzer EP200, think Supertramp and Joe Zawinul for the latter's unique sound, and if you don't know what a Rhodes sounds like we should talk. Stewart's other release available on Bandcamp is another Jazzy house piece called 'Dreams Don't Work'. " Dream's don't work unless you do. See your future, build your future. Touch the Sky!"

The whole lot will only cost you a fiver, although you can give him a bit more. While they are available lots of places remember that he earns more from Bandcamp.

New news! Stewart seems to be putting out a track a week at the moment. Upgrade is the latest and keeps up the standrd of his previous songs. Still like 'Sweat' best though. Try that first and then get the rest.


Wednesday, 16 September 2020

Still under the radar - Reviews roundup

When you have been reviewing for a bit, you inevitably end up on the mailing lists of some of the P.R. companies. Talking to our editor at Americana UK the other evening he believed at least some PRs get it badly wrong when blanket mailing their music out for review. Thrash Metal and R&B are never going to be AUK's bag so why send it. Information filed away for acting on in my own Marketing 4 Music venture, where I do try hard to match up the recipient with something they may actually be interested in. 

One company that gets it spot on is Dutch promoter Continental Record Services. I reviewed their fab new album from Robert Jon and The Wreck over at AUK recently.  This led me onto their mailing list and to hearing some more of their artists. They focus on the singer songwriter, Americana and roots corner of the forest, and the quality of their releases is remarkably high.

Emma Swift’s ‘Blonde on The Tracks’ is a case in point. An album of Dylan covers is hardly a new idea, but Swift’s Australian background possibly separates her from some of the reverence for Dylan that always seems present when Americans cover his songs. She just sings them. ‘Queen Jane Approximately’ drips Dylan and Emmylou Harris in about equal measure.

Swift says; “The idea for the album came about during a long depressive phase... the kind where it’s hard to get out of bed and get dressed and present to the world as a high-functioning human. I was lost on all fronts no doubt, but especially creatively.” Her Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” reflects this, closer to Hope Sandoval than Dylan, and for me one of the best songs of the year so far. These are just two highlights in an album full of not quite obvious song choices. The videos that go with some of the songs are also worth a watch. Highly recommended.

Southern Rock from the Netherlands, who would have thought it? Copperhead County did and their album due out about now ‘Brothers’ is proof it can be done. Opener ‘Be Different’ shows why they named themselves as they did, more than a touch of Steve Earle about it. The guitars are quite Rolling Stones in places, but the influences don’t overwhelm the songs. The Neil Young flavoured title song is especially good. Other songs live in roughly Tom Petty territory. Another fine album.

I’ve never really dug into Cajun or Zydeco music but Cary Morin’s ‘Dockside Saints’ may be changing that. I’ve been playing this for a few days now and it continues to grow on me. Bits of rock, jazz, and blues mix with the Southern influences. Some of it reminiscent of Willy DeVille’s later work – which is a good thing. Best song by a country (swampy) mile is single ‘Come the Rain’.

Over the last few months, I have been featuring more and more independent music here and that is because that is where the action is. Find Continental Record Services roster at Bandcamp and support some cracking good music, from a company that is promoting artists who we wouldn’t otherwise get to hear.