Review of 6 albums by Ben Macnair

Music Reviews

Susy Thomas – In the Morning

Season Records – EAN – 5060112370021

6 out of 10

‘In the Morning’ the 2006 debut album English singer-songwriter Susy Thomas finds the young performer turning in an enthusiastic and confident set of 12 of her own songs.

The songs range from relationship songs to songs of protest, backed by a talented band, and with a clear production that pushes Thomas’s melodically strong voice to the fore. The album starts with the delicate ballad ‘Never Far’ and follows with three more upbeat songs, the best of which, ‘Mirror for Me’ was released as a single.

The phrasing varies from Jazz scat singing, to a more full on rock and roll voice, that is at once both powerful and soulful, but delicate, especially in the closing song ‘Courage’.

The songs are all of uniformly high quality, and sometimes echo other songs and moods (the slide guitar in ‘Free Myself’ is redolent of Pink Floyd, whereas at other times, she sounds like Andrea Corr, and at other times, similar to Stevie Nicks).

The powerful drumming of many of the tracks also complements the strings on many numbers, and the brass and flute interjections on ‘Make the Grade’ add a warmth to the set.

This is quality pop music, that would be a welcome addition in the album collections of many people.

Swim by The Whispertown

2000, Acony Records – 805147 080621

Swim, the latest album from The Whispertown 2000 finds the four piece band ploughing the alt-country/pop furrow.

With stylistics nods of the head to a Female led The Thrills or early Ryan Adams, they have also roped in special guests Gillan Welch and David Rawlings as well as Jenny Lewis to add harmony vocals and acoustic guitar.

The album starts with the jaunty 103 which takes its cue from Lennon and McCartney’s When I am Sixty four, but in a slightly bleaker way. Done with Love finds the band in a different territory with a brooding soundscape and singers Morgan Nagler and Vanesa Corbala almost channelling a country version of Morrisey in the coda.

Most of the album is slower, such as Pushing Oars which sounds like an anaemic KT Tunstall. No Dope is a vocal and guitar dirge, whilst Atlantis is a touching piano and 5 vocal part song. Lock and Key shows the influence of the Rolling Stones in the rhythm section, with a hiccupping Buddy Holly vocal line.

From the Start/Jamboree lifts the pace of the album with its bluegrass style rhythm and vocal harmonies and Dylan like Harmonica parts, with an acoustic guitar coda. Ebb and Flow is a post modern blues song with an interesting guitar part from Tod Adrian Wisenbaker, and album closer Mountain finishes the set with a polite and tuneful song.

This is a decent album, and does nothing to embarrass anyone involved in it, but the group are playing to safe in a genre which is already over-subscribed by bands who play this type of music.

Rushes by the Fireman
Juggler Music – 724349 705524
8 out of 10

Rushes is one of the two albums that Paul McCartney released as The Fireman. It is a rare album, and was released with little or no fanfare in 1998.

It is a work that combines ambient electronica with real instruments, and gives a warmth to the 8 tracks that feature on the album. Acoustic guitars, sitars, keyboards, bass, vocals, sampled sounds and dialogue, drums, and even a woman in the throes of passion all compete for the listener’s attention on the album.

It can be listened to, in a non-committal way, but listening to it with more attention helps to reveal all of the tonal colours that McCartney uses. There are no clues on the album concerning instrumental credits, but as Paul was arguably the most musically gifted of the Beatles we can probably assume that he plays all of the instruments that feature on the album. It was produced by Martin Glover, famed for his work with Youth, so the more modern elements of the recorded sound could have been inspired by him.

It starts of with gentle acoustic and classical guitar on ‘Watercolour Guitars’, before more instruments are added to the mix. Although there are eight distinct tracks on the album, they all segue effortlessly into one another, providing a unified whole.

Electric guitars feature on ‘Appletree Cinnabar Amber’ which looks at the nature of time and a UFO sighting in the spoken word elements that it uses.

The album is one for completists of McCartney’s work. Unfortunately, it is a rare collector’s piece which sells for a lot of money on such sites as Amazon. If you see a cheap copy somewhere, buy it, and play it for your friends who think that all of McCartney’s work is middle of the road. However, it would probably be best to skip track 4 ‘Fluid’ at a dinner party, because of its somewhat Adult nature.

Paperboys – The Road to Ellenside

Stompy Discs – EAN – 20638 0440 – 2

7 out of 10

The Canadian band Paperboys mixed elements of Irish Folk, Mexican and Spanish music, as well as more modern forms on their 2006 album to good effect.

The group, which is led my singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Tom Landa plays a spirited fusion of music, mixing banjo’s, tin whistles, and fiddles with instruments more usually found in soul, such as Hammond Organ, and brass. The instrumental ‘Sheep’s Ass’ is particularly effective in this instance, mixing tin whistles and Saxophone solos together in one song, with a rhythmic bed of drums, percussion, banjo, guitars and bass.

Paperboys mix spirited, energetic instrumentals, such as String of Horses, and the aforementioned Sheep’s Ass with songs such as the U2 like Fall Down with You, Water Dreams, the ballad Comfort and Kind, and Waiting, with its bluegrass banjo, Cajun Accordian, tin whistles, lively percussion and stacked harmony vocals.

The group at times sound like the Pogues, and Van Morrison, with perhaps shades of Counting Crows, but without the melancholia. For fans of high quality musicianship and good song-writing, this release could find a safe home in their record collection, and it is worth further investigation.

Memory Songs by The Drift

7 out of 10

This a good collection of tracks. It is not really an album as such, in that few of the tracks are linked, even the titles of the pieces sound like a film soundtrack. The lack of photos of the band also show that they have no interest in the passing fripperies of fame. It is about the music for them.

The musicianship is of a universally high standard. The guitar playing of Danny Grody sounds at times like Bill Frisel, or John Scofield, with hints of the edge in the more ambient pieces such as the opening to ‘Golden Sands’, whilst the same piece also makes use of the echoing twang that made players such as Duane Eddy and Hank Marvin famous.

The trumpet of Jeff Jacobs on many of the pieces, such as album opener ‘If Wishes were like Horses’ or on ‘I had a list and I lost it’ sounds like the ghost of Miles Davies. The rhythm section of double bass player Safa Shakrai and drummer Rich Douthit have a jazzy ambiance, that has also been informed by other musical forms such as rock, or dub, and hip hop.

The addition of keyboards and ambient electronics whirls also help to add to the atmosphere and the feeling that this is the soundtrack to a film that never got made. It is the music of wide open spaces, and expansiveness, even though some of the textures within the album do at times feel somewhat claustrophobic.

Most of the pieces are longer than is usual, with some of them lasting more than five minutes, and at only seven tracks, it is not really the type of thing that pop and performance careers are based on. As a musical project it is wholly successful, and is well worth further investigation if you want to dip your toes into jazz, just to see what it feels like, and still have one foot on the safer shores of the mainstream.

Greycoats – Setting Fire to the Great Unknown

7 out of 10

The new release from the Minnesota band Greycoats contains the type of music that seems to be especially written for one of those glossy American teen shows where rich kids complain, the geeks are eventually accepted by the In-crowd because of their character, and every episode ends with a Jerry Springer style monologue where one of the actors tells the audience to try to be better people, because, you know, it is the right thing to do.

That is not to say that it is a bad album, but maybe television producers have used this type of polite, melodically appealing music too much. There is a lot to admire about this album, from the opening ‘Learning to Remain’ and later track ‘La Resistance’ with their Coldplay/U2 dynamic. Or the more experimental ‘An Echo in the Dark’ with its stirring string work, and slower tempo, or the heavy playing on ‘That Great and Terrible day’ with its low pitched vocal, and choppy guitar part. ‘Watchmen, what is left of the night’ is a piano led ballad, with a haunting vocal part, and restrained playing from the band. The ambiguous keyboard and piano that opens ‘Spiritual’ is a perfectly realised atmospheric piece.

The melodramatic sound suits many of the songs, with focused playing from all four of the band members, who play to support the song, rather than using each song as a chance for a solo, which is often the case for many lesser bands. The singing by guitarist Jon Reine and keyboard player Titus Decker is particularly pleasing, and at times sounds like the vocal work on later Pink Floyd, particularly during ‘Spiritual’ which features an athemic guitar solo, which never outstays it welcome, proving that this is one band that sticks faithfully to the adage that less is more.

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