American Son is the fourth album release from Washington -based duo, The Winterlings, alias Wolff Bowden and Amanda Birdsall. A meeting of minds at a Buddhist fire ritual (where else?) led to the formation of this tightly self-contained musical unit. Videos show that they occasionally perform with an additional vocalist/guitarist, but this album has the duo performing, recording and producing the entire thing themselves.
Bowden has said he wasn’t involved in music until he met Birdsall, so he clearly has a natural talent, keeping a loping bass drum beat behind his vocals and guitar. Birdsall, perhaps the more accomplished musician, also sings and plays guitar, banjitar, piano and violin. Both play the harmonica, too, although since neither are specifically credited on individual tracks, it’s impossible to tell the players apart – and perhaps that’s the point.
Lyrically, the songs create strong visual impressions, often rooted in natural imagery and a connectedness with environment with “places as wild as your inside” on ‘That Was Alaska’, or the Joni Mitchell-ish ‘Sunspeech’. This latter also lets Birdsall’s vocal range fly, one of only two songs to feature her lead vocal, the other being ‘Gold’. With its laid-back porch-song vibe set to a lazy drum beat, ‘Gold’ views time as “like an earthquake, always shaking something loose”.
‘The Ghost Of Leonard’, an homage to Leonard Cohen, features a deeply rumbling “oh, ah, amen” chorus that might be influenced by Native American chanting, or The Crash Test Dummies “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm” song. In trying to honour Cohen’s style there’s a tendency to veer towards the portentous, with lines like “the bible burning in the hobo’s stove” but it’s a song that packs a powerful punch, nonetheless.
If the title song itself appears to function as a kind of “State Of The Nation” address, it’s not an entirely positive picture. This is continued in the anti-greed message of ‘World To Change’, reminiscent of Ghandi’s “be the change you want to see in the world” mantra, it contains a gently menacing call to action: “we won’t wait for the world to change”.
Bowden and Birdsall can occasionally tend to over-rely on some rather mannered vibrato singing, that threatens to overwhelm the songs. It’s an unfortunate distraction from what is at its core a fine selection of songs, well-arranged, played and performed.
If you would like to order a copy of the album (in CD or Vinyl), download it or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the THE WINTERLINGS – American Son link to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.
At first glance, the front cover of the debut and self-titled album by The Strange Blue Dreams, might seem to hint at sci-fi or electronica. The back is emblazoned with an embroidered shirt Elvis would have been proud of. Just what is this band about?
On the CD player, a burst of fizzing electricity leads into the first track, also helpfully called ‘Electricity’, with its strong hints of Joe Meek and traces of Heinz’s ‘Just Like Eddie’ in the riff.
Here’s essence of Richard Hawley in ‘The Ballad Of The Sun And The Moon’, a dash of Stray Cats in the swaggering rockabilly of ‘Reverberatin’ Love’, a bathtub of lush doowop harmonies in ‘Twilight Zone’. ‘Pretending Everything’ layers up some Hawaiian guitar while ‘Jungle Drums’ comes straight out of a forgotten “Let’s do the whole show right here on the beach” B-movie. Playing ‘spot the influence’ could take all day.
Singer Dave Addison has a creamy voice with just a hint of rasp at the edges, which is very appealing and works perfectly with this style of music. He moves from croon to holler with fluid ease. The band, having spent the past five years honing its style, is tight and supple.
David Rae’s expert mandolin playing helps lend extra diversity and flexibility to the band’s sound, whether it’s a passing nod to Harry Lime theme Greek style or something altogether more klezmer. And on ‘(That’s The Place) I’m Falling’, a mariachi brass section goes full-on spaghetti western.
It’s fair to say this album throws in a bit of everything and the kitchen sink, drawing extensively on pop’s mid-50s to mid-60s heyday, with much broader references in the mix, too. It’s a brilliantly realised distillation of genres, where every song will remind you of at least three other great tunes you haven’t heard in ages and really should. Producer George Miller (one-time member of The Kaisers, whose Beat It Up album rides high in my estimation) adds to the overall impression that here are a bunch of truly dedicated devotees of the modern retro sound.
Put on The Strange Blue Dreams for an infectiously joyful listen and an instant feel-good party atmosphere. If your toes aren’t tapping by the time it finishes, see a doctor.
If you would like to order a copy of the album (in CD or Vinyl), download it or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the THE STRANGE BLUE DREAMS link to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.
A sense of place is a wondrous, nebulous thing; it’s very personal and can be tricky to evoke meaningfully. Findlay Napier’s homage to his own Glasgow (there must be a clue in the name…) succeeds in bringing alive a sense of the diverse aspects of the city. Snippets of on-location audio in between songs give a vivid impression of walking the streets, eavesdropping on other lives.
Our auditory tour bus sets off from the Necropolis, to a funereal toll of bells, where teen Satanists sweetly fail to summon up demons in ‘Young Goths In The Necropolis’. Hanging out a little while longer in the graveyard, we meet the patron saint of gravediggers in ‘St. Anthony’s Digging A Hole’. These songs, along with the simmering anger of ‘There’s More To Building Ships’ (a stunning song written for the Shake The Chains project, and happily reprised here), are all written by Napier, his solo songwriting characterised by a slight edge, a rumbling abrasive humour.
The songs co-written with the prolific Hewerdine feel somewhat more lyrical, but still have that tart bite of dark humour. The bleak, heartfelt ‘Wire Burners’, a tale of homeless scrap-metal collectors is warmed by a loping blues. A fuzzily nostalgic glow surrounds ‘The Locarno, Sauchiehall St 1928’, offsetting its bittersweet tale of dancehalls and disappointment. ‘The Blue Lagoon’ hints at old school crooners, whilst telling of “unrequited love in a Glasgow chip shop”. It must also be one of the most lushly ornamented songs on an otherwise leanly arranged album. Napier’s vocals and guitar are supplemented only by Hewerdine on guitar/piano and Donna Maciocia’s backing vocals.
Of the sensitively chosen covers, ‘Marchtown’ is a kind of psychogeographic timeslip, whilst the boisterous ‘Glasgow’ celebrates the serious “party town” in all its incarnations. This is continued in the deliberate and proud Scots dialect of ‘Cod Liver Oil And The Orange Juice’ sung in lusty homage to Hamish Imlach. By contrast, a Blue Nile song, ‘A Walk Across The Rooftops’ expresses a relaxed joyfulness, as does Michael Marra’s deliciously surreal ‘King Kong’s Visit To Glasgow’.
The gorgeous cover art deserves a mention, too. The bubblegum pink of images and typography, the ragamuffin kids and the red sandstone blocks sum up this album’s refusal to sentimentalise its subject, whilst allowing warmth, affection and humour to show through loud and clear.
If you would like to order a copy of the album (in CD or Vinyl), download it or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the FINDLAY NAPIER – Glasgow link to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.
Even supposing you knew nothing about this album, a quick glance down the track listing would instantly identify Shake The Chains as a politically conscious project. A new generation of protest songs sit comfortably alongside some old standards.
Despite Edwyn Collins’ complaint in ‘A Girl Like You’ about “too many protest singers, not enough protest songs”, it can sometimes be hard to imagine what it would take, in these trying times, to generate enough protest to effect real change. But here is a delightful set of songs, nonetheless.
Hannah Martin contributes songs of poetic allegory and metaphor. ‘Yarl’s Wood’ evokes the horror of a refugee ending up in a detention centre. The refugee’s flight, “the choice that is no choice” is starkly laid out and overwhelmingly powerful. ‘Song Of The Jay’ uses certain bird behaviours to draw unflattering parallels with some human ones. Similar, but viewed from another angle, is Tim Yates’s song ‘Side By Side’ which delivers a darkly moody lament on social division.
Nancy Kerr delivers a brilliantly tender pairing of poems about Victor Jara, the Chilean musician executed under Pinochet’s regime. This lengthy piece allows the purity of the art form simply to shine.
Naturally, these serious subjects deserve gravity, but there is room for humour, too. Greg Russell’s country-flavoured ‘Bunch Next Door’ is a domestic scale witty deconstruction of political villains, while ‘Ding Dong Dollar’ has a drily sardonic air of resignation.
By contrast, Findlay Napier’s songs are much harder-hitting, with a raw passion. ‘Building Ships’ is a poignant song about his father’s experience of the death of that industry. The album’s title track – as well as a rallying call to action – ‘Shake The Chains’ is punchy, feisty and totally heartfelt. Its central chorus is adapted from Shelley’s poem Masque Of Anarchy, about the Peterloo massacre in Manchester, and a much-quoted work of those standing up for the poor and oppressed.
Of the stalwarts, ‘If I Had A Hammer’ has a simplicity, sincerity and even an undercurrent of anger. Likewise ‘We Shall Overcome’ – stripped back, sung a capella (with delicious harmonies) is revealed afresh as a sorrowful yet hopeful anthem.
The live recording gives an immediacy to the songs: the joy of hearing an audience respond suits the nature of the works. It provides a confirmation bias, a reassurance that the listener is not alone, as well as a desperately necessary response to the current madness in the world.
Whilst we can see how much we’ve moved on from the treatment of Alan Turing, as detailed in Kerr’s touching ‘Poison Apples’, it’s also a reminder against complacency. Rights hard-won may be all too insidiously and easily eroded.
It’s a hard album to review without clambering onto the soapbox, so tightly enmeshed are subject and medium. It is a superb album in its own right, with strong songs, gorgeously arranged and performed. It is also deeply moving: keep the tissues handy, there will definitely be something in your eye. Now, get out there and change something.
If you would like to order a copy of the album (in CD or Vinyl), download it or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the SHAKE THE CHAINS link to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.
Pretty Peggy, the much-anticipated second album from Sam Kelly and the Lost Boys is released on 6th October, so Folking.com caught up with Sam, freshly arrived back at home in Cornwall, to find out more.
“I’ve not been back for about two months”, Sam admits, as The Lost Boys have busy been cementing their award-winning position as a firm festival crowd favourite, gigging every weekend over the summer.
“We’re having loads of fun doing it and having a great time and I think that comes across in the live shows”, says Sam, conceding that it’s not necessarily the healthiest of lifestyles and he’s “always one of the last to quit and go to bed”.
Still, it must be nice to get home and recharge, sit around in your pants, catch a bit of rubbish tv, maybe read a book or play a video game? Well, yes. Except that what was meant to be a brief respite before the album launch will, for Sam, revolve around moving house instead. So much for relaxing. Fortunately, though, Sam sounds as though he’s taking this, and everything else, pretty much in his stride.
Remarkably, it’s already two years since The Lost Boys’ debut album was released. Although an acclaimed album, in retrospect it seems that the band was still finding its feet.
“With the first album it was obvious that we were going to call it The Lost Boys as an introduction to the band.
“I always wanted to get a band together. I always heard songs with a full band arrangement in my head. At first we couldn’t afford to do other than a trio: we could all go in one car – nice and easy! There was always going to be a full band when I could afford it – and when I met the right musicians. I wanted it to be collaborative, not a ‘backing band’”.
Looking back, Sam reflects on the less-than-ideal recording conditions. A piecemeal affair, fitting around the band members’ day jobs and wherever they could set up their equipment, it involved such unglamorous distractions as having to wait for Gatwick planes to pass overhead between takes.
“With the first album, there was no other way of doing it. We were all working full-time. It broke the immersion in the process.
“I was pleased [with the album], but it felt quite rushed compared to this album, and the EP we did at around that same time, Spokes. Listening back, Spokes better represented the band’s sound. I would change lots in terms of the nitty gritty – mixes – and, also, some of the songs didn’t quite reach their potential, as they’d been in my head. It’s all part of the learning process”.
Additionally, as the album was effectively a calling card to attract bookings, it tried to capture something like the band’s live sound, leaving little room for studio ingenuity.
When it came to recording Pretty Peggy, however, the band opted for a dedicated period of studio time, staying there full-time so that they could all concentrate fully on it and be more experimental. Not that getting all seven band members together was a simple business.
“We only had two rehearsals with everyone together, it’s so difficult to get time. It was at Jamie’s parents’ in Cumbria – which is a hefty drive from Cornwall – so there was not much chance to get together and write. We worked on a few of the tracks while chilling at festivals. Stuff happens organically like that, but it can’t always, because you can’t always find the time”.
Just as well, then, that they have an established habit of recording demos as they go along, working on songs, thrashing out the basics of tempo and arrangement. It helps speed up the recording process, which is useful considering the expense of studio time.
“This was all recorded in Cornwall in two weeks. We all had the time booked off and knew most of the songs anyway. We sat down and allowed ourselves to be creative for a couple of weeks. The tracks are presented in a way that suits each track more. We had more time to step back and listen to what each song needed.
“Everyone has been involved in the creative process, in recording, instrumentation-wise, orchestration-wise. We lost our inhibitions of trying to do only what we can do live.
“All my favourite albums are the ones that treated the recorded format as a separate art form. On the folk scene this is perhaps done less often, but that’s ok, too: people want to capture particular kinds of sound. But if the album’s treated as a separate thing, it’s different and exciting when you see it live: it’s a different show, wondering how they are going to do that live”.
From squeaky chairs, reverse voices and a fire extinguisher, to grand piano strings plucked with a plectrum, everyone has had a hand in offering up ideas and suggestions for the final mix. The Lost Boys are keen to emphasise their collaborative efforts and have clearly had fun exploring the studio’s possibilities for “headphone moments”.
“My favourite album is Grace by Jeff Buckley. I still listen to it through studio monitors and notice little things I never noticed before. There are little “Easter eggs” buried in the mix”.
Sam, Graham Coe and Jamie Francis also produced the album, allowing them full control over their sound and their treasure hunt of Easter eggs. Sam says he would prefer an external producer – Gerry Diver’s name comes up – but opted to self-produce this time rather than risk hiring someone who wasn’t quite right, given the short timescales involved. Sam enjoys producing, though, and is proud of his production duties for The Company Of Players, whose album is due for release next year.
Working with The Changing Room’s Tanya Brittain gave Sam the inspiration and confidence to ask for musical contributions from guest artists, including Mike McGoldrick, who, following a spectacularly late-night Costa Del Folk jam session, set his fee at “50p and a can of Red Stripe”. Cara Dillon added beautiful harmonies and vocals to ‘Bonnie Lass Of Fyvie’ (the source of the album’s title) and Damien O’Kane provided hot guitar on ‘If I Were A Blackbird’. Geoff Lakeman, dropping by to hang out as the studio was close to home, ended up supplying virtuoso spoons on ‘Angeline The Baker’.
“I didn’t realise then how willing people are to play on things. I forget that these people are all in it for the love of the music. All the people I’ve met on the folk scene are so supportive of young people and of the next generation coming through. It’s very inspiring. It’s the opposite of ‘never meet your heroes’”.
All these factors lend Pretty Peggy an added richness and depth of sound. It’s a heavier, altogether meatier album than the first one, but it’s evident that ‘Chasing Shadows’, the lead single, is quite different in tone. Consciously attempting to make something with greater mainstream appeal, the band then found that the 4-and-a-half-minute track couldn’t easily be edited for airplay. But with some radio play already, it still stands every chance of opening-up The Lost Boys to a wider audience.
Rooted in personal experience, ‘Chasing Shadows’ steps away from traditional third-person storytelling songs, evoking instead a contemporary, emotional mood.
“I’m not a prolific writer, I have lots of ideas that don’t materialise into full-blooded songs. But that one just came out. I didn’t think ‘I’ll write a song for a friend’. I was just moved by what happened and wrote it. If it helps someone stop doing something silly…” Only after he said this, did we realise it was World Suicide Prevention Day, adding a topicality to Sam’s words.”
It’s that ability to combine personal, contemporary songs with traditional material and have them sit seamlessly together that Sam most admires in his favourite songwriters, such as Chris Wood, Chris Drever and Karine Polwart.
For now, as the band prepares to tour the album in November and December, with a second leg to follow early in 2018, The Lost Boys are already beginning to think ahead to the next album. They know it will take time to come to fruition and they fully intend it to be another step forward in working together as a unit.
“We have big plans for next year to get together and write a whole new album with everyone involved in that process, to see what we come up with”.
So, the band continues to evolve and, despite his protestations that he is bad at planning ahead, there are clearly plenty of longer-term ambitions bubbling in the mind of Sam Kelly. He has the confidence and assurance of one who has come a very long way in a few short, hectic years. This is a young man determined to savour every moment and treat everything as a learning opportunity.
“I’m conscious of not looking too far ahead, and enjoying the present. When I first started, I was always looking forward to the next thing, but then I realised that gigs and things were going past too fast.
“I think back to when we first started playing 20-30 minute sets at our first festivals. We were keen to prove ourselves and worked on creating dynamic sets, hoping to blow the crowds away and win the audience onto our side. Now we like to have lots of fun and play up-tempo things to get people dancing. But we’re not really trying to please anyone but ourselves.
“We have more creative freedom because we’re not trying to please anyone. We’re known in the folk scene now and are more comfortable with where we are and what we’re doing. We’ve got a licence to be more experimental and creative with the music. It has been a kind of growth and realisation process.
“There’s always going to be something else I want to do, some other goal: wanting to be the best musician you can be.
“I’ve learned to trust my own ideas more. Even if I make a mistake, it’s my mistake. I would rather make things that are maybe not as successful or popular, but I can be proud of it because it’s mine”.
Having proved his credentials in the folk world, he has nurtured the band he always wanted and achieved goals he once considered unimaginable, let alone attainable. And it feels like he’s only just getting started.
If you would like to order a copy of the album (in CD or Vinyl), download it or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the Sam Kelly and the Lost Boys – Pretty Peggy link to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.
Gallery 47 might sound like a high street card shop, but is the working name adopted by prolific singer-songwriter, Jack Peachey. Originally Nottingham-based, he relocated to London, has already released three well-received albums and toured with the likes of Paul Weller and Ian McCulloch (to name but two). Adversity Breeds is his fourth album to date.
Adversity Breeds forms the second part of a trilogy. A comparison with Clean – the album that starts the trilogy off – only highlights the optimism and romance described therein. Adversity Breeds is a different beast: spikier, more politicised, the moody offspring of a cross-generational family argument.
From the outset, this is an assured set of songs. Lyrically, they tumble over themselves with densely packed, often oblique, references. Conversational tone is jumbled up with a poetic sensibility. Witty lines squat down unselfconsciously alongside tart polemic.
‘In Odessa’ is a pointed, relevant state-of-the-world commentary set to a beautifully dark piano. Lines like “they loved the sound of his rhetoric, it blinded them to the things he did” are entirely pertinent in these fake news times, as is “And everybody’s got guns, how do you think you’ll stop the firing?”
‘Mr Baudelaire’, a much older song from his repertoire, documents his coming to terms with the random cruelty of the music industry. The vocal, over a gently plucked guitar, shifts from trying to please and getting nowhere, to bitterness at the casual dismissal of his talents, to a final reconciliation with the lottery of success.
‘Copyright Final’ takes a blithe sideswipe at the money-obsessed self-made type who drives “a Porsche Carrera, he lives in the London suburbs, he buys all original vinyl”, but is “just so busy, he can’t see his kids”, all set to a chugging, rolling blues and mouth harp.
Musically, Peachey’s Americana influences are obvious, especially on tracks like ‘Cold Fire’ and the shuffling ‘Your Time’ (this latter also featuring electronic blips and unsettling backing vocals). ‘Emigrate’ is the hard-bitten, harmonica-laden porch blues of a much older man.
The opening song, ‘Sanity Is Not Statistical’, has echoes of the Flaming Lips’ wonky psychedelia. Peachey’s high register vocals also call to mind Wayne Coyne’s vibrato, as well as Elliott Smith’s breathy intimacy.
Peachey shows a keen ear for arrangement, with a delicate interplay of instruments and subtle use of effects. Vocals are often multi-tracked, layered to provide a complex, reverby vocal line or built up into dense harmonies. The overall sound is at once intimate, fragile and slightly ethereal.
It’s a tricky stage, releasing the middle part of a trilogy. It must stand alone, of course – as this album does – but its full context is still incomplete and out of view. It’s a bit like having two slices of bread and some cheese; each is nice enough on their own, but waiting until it makes the full sandwich might be even better. Su O’Brien
If you would like to order a copy of the album (in CD or Vinyl), download it or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the GALLERY 47 – Adversity Breeds link to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.