JOHN CEE STANNARD – Moving On (Cast Iron CIRCD 030)

Moving OnJohn Cee Stannard’s new album, Moving On, was conceived as a successor to his recently relaunched debut – see link below. It’s another big band album featuring, among others, Spencer Couzens, Matt Winch, Nick Pentelow, Richard Cox-Smith and Paul Hutchinson together with his regular sidesmen Mike Baker and Howard Birchmore.

If you didn’t already know that John comes from Reading the opener, ‘Cemetery Junction’ should be enough to remind you. It’s a monster of a track, laden with brass and what it lacks in subtlety it makes up for in energy. The next two tracks are, relatively speaking, a bit more laid-back. ‘Price Of Your Sin’ is led by Craig Broadfoot’s keyboards – he is a constant presence – and features a stunning solo by Couzens. ‘Someone Is Knocking’ is the first of two non-original songs. It’s written by Julia Titus who sings backing vocals here and spends much of her time channelling Bessie Smith.

‘Evenin’ Sun’ leans rather more towards rock’n’roll and ‘Call Of Duty’ follows the same path with undertones of Ronnie Lane tackling Chuck Berry. It’s a definite high point of the record. ‘Someone Told Me’ starts off slowly, again speaking relatively, but doesn’t stay that way and ‘Seventeen’ is about a bus route and not at all what you thought. Val Cowell’s backing vocals on this track are stunning.

The other non-original song is Jimmy Witherspoon’s ‘Tougher Than Tough’ and the closer is the guitar-driven ‘You Took Me By Surprise’ – Cox-Smith playing slide and Hutchinson on accordion. It’s a bit of a departure after the big brass of the other songs but it’s also a great finisher.

John has stayed true to his love of the blues with Moving On but, as always, he’s direct and honest and to be truthful he’s not moving on too far.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: www.johnceestannard.co.uk

‘Call Of Duty’ – official video:

Read Dai Jeffries’ review of The “Doob Doo” Album here:

https://folking.com/john-cee-stannard-the-doob-doo-album-cast-iron-circd-022/

CORRIE SHELLEY – Forget Me Not (own label CSSSMCD003)

Forget Me NotSince the release of her previous album I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Corrie Shelley although I’ve not yet heard her perform live. Although I don’t claim to know her, I have an inkling of what she’s about and that helps. Forget Me Not sounds rather more uniform than The Leaf And The Cane, perhaps because of the smaller band: Stephen Shelley, Les Hilton and producer John Kettle with Nicki Louise playing bass on one track. That said, the sound is big and rich – indeed ‘My Hands’ is pure folk-rock but Corrie has the voice to handle it.

Some of the inspiration comes from her family but when you read that the opener, ‘I Wish I’d Listened’, comes from what her father said in the car on the way to her first wedding you know that she hasn’t lost any of her bite. ‘The Box’ might be about that same husband but I can’t be sure but ‘Alice’ is a much gentler song concerning her mother in law’s experiences as a war-time evacuee. ‘My Hands’ is for Corrie’s son and ‘Clocks’ for her grandfather while ‘Recognition’ continues a theme from her first album and is about her mother.

‘Culloden’ is one of Corrie’s historical songs which she says was inspired by Outlander and I really like the addition of a snippet of ‘The Skye Boat Song’ at the end. The television show, Nashville, inspired ‘Wine & The Liquor’ but Corrie doesn’t countrify the hell out of it – just a restrained lap-steel break by Les who doesn’t touch his harmonica once. The deaths of major musicians over the last few years gave rise to ‘Hard To Believe’, something we’ve all felt recently. ‘Sit Down Together’ was co-written with Bob Kettle and has something of the style of one of his Merry Hell anthems and ‘Big Man’ is just for fun – at least I hope the Johnny Cash riff wasn’t intended seriously.

Forget Me Not is another really good record and, although she may not want to, I do think that it’s time that Corrie got herself a deal allowing her to do things on a bigger scale. My copy came with a packet of seeds (do they all?) – forget me not, of course.

Dai Jeffries

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‘Clocks’ – official video:

LE VENT DU NORD – Territoires (Borealis BCD258)

TerriitoiresLe Vent Du Nord are back on tour and with a new album which is always good news. Territoires sees the band expanded to a quintet with André Brunet, poached from La Bottine Souriante, making his presence felt with three compositions.

The band has evolved in subtle ways since their previous studio album, Têtu, some four years ago but at their heart remains the history and old songs of their native Quebec, mixed with their own compositions. Sometimes it’s hard to know where the old ends and new begins particularly when they blend a traditional song with an original tune. The first song, ‘Le Pays De Samuel’, pays tribute to Samuel de Champlain, a figure little known outside Canada who founded New France and the City of Quebec. The song was written by Nicolas Boulerice as was the next, ‘Adieu Du Village’, released as a single last year. The song tells of a man who killed his lover but was spared execution because the hangman’s rope broke. You would have thought that they would just get another. This track is typical of the band’s style – foot percussion, jew’s harp and massed voices on the chorus.

The instrumental set, ‘Cotillon Du Capitaine’ sounds not unlike an American country dance, apart from the percussion and jew’s harp, until Bouderice’s jazzy piano takes over in the second half and you begin to suspect that Le Vent Du Nord are looking towards new horizons. The a capella ‘Louisbourg’ tells of the fall of the first French-Canadian city on Cape Breton. It’s now a museum and there you can learn how the British cheated by hauling their cannons over impassable ground to bombard the city from above. This and the lovely, slow ‘La Mère À L’Échafaud’ which follows suggest a new seriousness about the band.

Several times I gave up trying to write and just let the album play. Territoires is the sort of album that sweeps you along on a wave of pleasure and it may be Le Vent Du Nord’s best work

Dai Jeffries

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Artists’ website: www.leventdunord.com

‘Adieu Du Village’ – official video:

SCOTT LAVENE – Broke (Funnel Music SLFMCD007P)

BrokeScott Lavene releases, Broke, on June 7th. It’s an eclectic collection of nine songs, an album for the twenty-first century in the territory of, say, Ian Dury, Frank Turner, John Otway with song-poems of day-to-day life set to a slightly quirky musical style.

I can’t find a link on YouTube or on Lavene’s website to the opening track ‘My Stereo’ which is a shame because it fulfils all the promise of Lavene’s style. It has the bouncy tune of a man slouchily swaggering his way down the street; it’s got a catchy chorus (mosh-pit-of-a-festival-catchy); and it has some cracking lyrics right from the opening verse – both the serious “These days everybody seems to say everything/but nobody’s really saying anything” and the amusing “ ‘What do you know about stereos?’ ‘ I said well not much but you see I sure know how to turn it on’ ”. The delivery makes these lines partly the story of a guy who likes his music and partly a metaphor for an ostrich-like lack of activism and lack of interest in other people. Both these themes are developed as the song continues.

The next track is ‘Apples And Pears’. I take it someone has – rightly – irritated Lavene with this simplistic management phrase and he turns it into the chorus of a dystopian tune. ‘Superclean’ is rather clever, the rhythms of an early 80’s tune without the crass electronica.

‘Modern World’ changes the mood, quiet contemplative piano to a contrasting lyric “I don’t care for the modern world/Digital invitations to a party full of arseholes/Taking photos of each others pouty faces” while setting up the scene of moving to rural imagined paradise, posting pictures to the world on instagram (“me milking a cow” …plucking chickens in my vintage Levi shirt”) – but inviting friends to come across and bring such city delights as drugs and proper food. Among the gems are the descriptions of milk from their cow. They throw away this milk so they can buy better milk from M&S (“I’m sick of hearing cow bells”). Like the opening track, you get a sense that when Levene gets it right, there’s something really good here.

Have a listen to ‘Methylated Blue’ in the video below and it will give you a sense of Levene’s style – musical, conversational and with the wit that you can hear in the chorus “Girl, you’re really someone I can get used to/ She said ‘Boy you’re really someone I could get used to too’ ”. It’s not Romeo and Juliet – but it captures the couple beautifully. Like the best of, say, Otway or Dury, you’re simultaneously in the song sympathetic to the characters and seeing them from a third person perspective. Rather nice.

Overall, then, there are some great touches, both lyrically and musically, but I find Broke as a whole to be more mixed. The extended title track probably works much better live than it does on repeated listening, for example. I got the album to review on CD but my guess is that if I’d had the vinyl version, I’d keep playing side 1 much more than side 2.

Lavene has a number of gigs coming up between now and mid-June to launch Broke, his debut album. They’re not local to me, but otherwise I’d be keen to go and hear the best songs of what seems to be a distinctive and talented voice.

Mike Wistow

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Artist’s website: https://www.scottlavene.co.uk

‘Methylated Blue’ – official video:

AMY GODDARD – Always A Dreamer (own label AGAAD2019)

Always A DreamerAlways A Dreamer is something of a departure for Amy Goddard being a tribute to her favourite songwriter, John Stewart, who she has name-checked more than once in the past. Sadly, she hasn’t included my favourite Stewart song, ‘Armstrong’, but as she has squeezed seventeen gems onto the album I won’t hold it against her. If I may digress for a moment, Stewart was a singer and songwriter who was a member of The Kingston Trio before he went solo. In a long career he recorded around fifty albums but he was never as big in Britain as he should have been. If you’re not a Stewart fan the only song you’ll recognise is ‘Daydream Believe’ but you’ll also notice that Amy has restored the original lyrics.

The album is topped and tailed by Amy’s ‘Tribute Song’ – just a short excerpt at the beginning leading into ‘Some Lonesome Picker’, the song that gave Stewart his nickname. Amy needed a country-ish band to support her nicely jangling guitar and she found it in Jon Lewis on electric guitar and bass, Todd Kuzma on drums and Brian Kutscher on bass and backing vocals alongside former Stewart sidesman Chuck McDermott. They hit exactly the right vibe without making Amy sound too American so she can sing a line like “she could have gone to Colorado” with guitar and Leo MacKenzie’s cello – not country at all. Really.

There’s a warmth to the performances which suggests that everybody really enjoyed making Always A Dreamer. Amy even hands over the lead vocal on ‘Dreamers On The Rise’ to her father, Alan Whitby, simply because it’s his favourite Stewart song. She also shares the role with him on ‘Hung On The Heart’ and ‘Sing My Heart Away’. There are two more songs I must single out for special mention. ‘If You Don’t Look Around’ was written for The Kingston Trio and two later members of the group, George Grove and Rick Dougherty join Amy on the track. The long centrepiece of the record is ‘Botswana’, an unusually political song from Stewart’s repertoire and still relevant more than thirty years on. Like ‘Armstrong’ it contrasts American affluence with third world poverty.

Always A Dreamer is Amy’s third full-length album – not forgetting her wonderful EP, Down In The Mine – and she has set the bar very high for whatever she may do in the future. Whether you want to curl up by a winter fire or drive the highway with the top down this is the only soundtrack you really need.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: https://www.amygoddardmusic.co.uk/

‘The Last Hurrah’ – official video:

BURNING SALT – Automatic Lullaby (Own Label)

Automatic LullabyBurning Salt’s EP Dirt, inspired by the women and workers of Holloway prison and released in September 2018, was a stunningly intense and original aural and lyrical experience that earned the band a nomination for the Folking 2019 Awards in the ‘Rising Star’ category, but also gave them a lot to live up to when it came to releasing Automatic Lullaby, their debut full-length album. Fortunately, while the album is less conceptually cohesive, it has no less impact, giving us a more personal glimpse into Hannah Hull’s haunting songwriting.  It has all the (sometimes painful) honesty that I’ve come to expect from her work, with her distinctive vocals and acoustic guitar framed by the very capable and sympathetic musicianship of electric guitarist Bobby Williams (who also played piano and keyboards and produced the album) and double bassist John Parker.

Burning Salt are augmented on this recording by Daisy Palmer’s percussion on several tracks, Oli Arlotto’s baritone saxophone on ‘Superstitious Woman’, and Rupert Gillett’s cello on ‘Hold Me Down’.

Nevertheless, here’s the full track list.

  1. On the title track ‘Automatic Lullaby’ Hannah adopts an appropriately mechanistic vocal delivery in sharp contrast to the instrumental playout, in which mellifluous country-ish guitar is undercut by subdued discordance.
  2. ‘By These Words’ is a little more conventional, with a haunting tune carrying a harsh lyric.
  3. The melodic structure of ‘Hold Me Down’ for some reason reminds me of the sort of music I was apt to listen to in the early 70s, though the arrangement is economical where the 70s tended to be overblown. Still, I could almost hear Jim Morrison singing something like this. Actually, I’d probably buy this as a single if I didn’t already have it: it was still going through my head an hour after I first heard it.
  4. ‘Plateau’ starts from a slow-paced vocal that stretches the conventions of the love song well beyond the Top 40 – “I need you / I need you / I need you / but only if you behave” – and builds climactically.
  5. ‘Residue’ is a perfect exercise in saying exactly what you need to say, and no more.
  6. ‘Superstitious Woman’ has something of a rock ‘n’ roll vibe: I’m not sure about the freeform baritone sax solo, but even that has a certain OTT charm. And it’s rather a good song, its commercial potential presumably behind its release as a single.
  7. ‘Burn’ seems to me like rather a good rock track. Future single material, maybe?
  8. Thematically, ‘Lovers On A Ledge’ resembles ‘Residue’, and again needs only about a minute to make its point with precision, though its arrangement is quite different and rather daring.
  9. ‘King’ has a chillingly submissive timbre to the lyric, framed as a minor-key ballad.
  10. ‘Honey’ has been around for some time on the Burning Salt website as a video, and has also been released as a double A with ‘Superstitious Woman’. While at first blush it sounds almost like a 50s pop ballad, it has a sting in the tale, so to speak. “Keep your hands to yourself / I don’t need that kind of love…
  11. ‘Old Bones’ is an oblique lyric tied to another tune that lingers in the memory. Very effective.
  12. ‘You Missed Me’ is the shortest track on the album, with the main vocal line carried only by backing vocals.
  13. The uncomfortable lyric of ‘Take Me Home’ is carried by a simple chord sequence and some adventurous sound effects. An entirely suitable ending to an album that probably isn’t going on to the shelf labelled Easy Listening. In fact, after a few listens, I couldn’t think of a better choice for a final track.

This isn’t an album that makes much in the way of concession to commercial appeal – though there are some surprisingly catchy tunes and lines here – and the mood is generally downbeat, so it’s not going to appeal to everyone. However, if you heard and appreciated Dirt, I don’t think you’ll find this disappointing. If the band is new to you, check out the videos on the Burning Salt website.

Automatic Lullaby will be launched at the Hermon Chapel in Oswestry, Shropshire, on Friday 24th May 2019, the day on which it becomes publicly available on all major streaming platforms (or for download via the band’s own website). Going by the live set I heard the band do last year, the launch will be well worth your time if you’re in that area.

The album tracks ‘Honey’ and ‘Superstitious Woman’ have been released as a double single.

David Harley

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‘Superstitious Woman’ – official video: