Folk & Rock
On this, their second album, Southend-on-Sea band the Lucky Strikes straddle British blues, classic Americana and Tom Waitsian story-telling on an epic album about the downfall and disappearance of a boxer who throws a fight. Searing and narrative-led, with excellent vocals and real musical coherence (so rare in modern record-making), the album makes it difficult to choose favourites from its twelve stunning tracks.
Nature abhors a vacuum, and in this world of music that is compartmentalised, marketed, focus-grouped and reality-showed to death, thank goodness for true originals like Glyn Bailey. He has an unusual worldview and a sound that is part garage rock and part singer-songwriter, with a voice reminiscent of Lou Reed crossed with David Bowie. The songs' subject matter is brilliantly alternative, from The Bolan Tree, about the place where Marc Bolan met his untimely end, to the melancholy brilliance of Traffic Light Man. This album is as far removed from the mainstream as possible, and a true joy to listen to.
3 Daft Monkeys
Hooray for a new album by 3 Daft Monkeys, one of the most captivating and entertaining live bands on the folk scene. They have refined their sound through near-constant touring, supporting bands like the Levellers and going down a storm at Cropredy two years running. This fantastic new album captures the energy and vivacity of their live shows, as well as featuring some of the best songs that the trio have ever written. From the opening title track to the superb closing trio of She Said, Love (sic) Fool and Love Life, this album is a semi-autobiographical soundtrack to the band's journeys on the road, describing characters and situations that they have encountered. With well-honed playing from Athene, Tim and Jamie, this album marks a watershed in their career, and it will echo in your head long after it has finished playing. This is one of the roots albums of the year.
The Outcast Band
Originally begun back in 1995, this album was put on hold until last year, when the tapes for it resurfaced. Then, instead of releasing an archive piece, the band went back to the studio, rearranged, re-wrote, added new material, and produced this gem, a rip-roaring album of contemporary folk-rock that demands to be listened to loud. With songs like Hurricane Day, Wreckage and To the End, this album breathes life into the folk rock genre, taking the best of the electric tradition and adding a contemporary twist. If you enjoy the Oysterband or the Levellers, you'll love this album, a delight from start to finish.
The Blue Aeroplanes
Fresh from their triumph at legendary Bristol music venue The Fleece and buoyed by the release of their limited-edition single China Brilliance Automotive (not included on this album), art-rockers The Blue Aeroplanes release their tenth record Anti- Gravity on a very limited edition vinyl format. Beginning with the superb opener Sulphur, featuring frontman Gerard Langley waxing lyrical about love affairs and Bonfire Night over an irresistible groove, the album pulls you right in. The fantastic 25 Kinds of Love is a witty rocky riposte to Paul Simon's 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover, and there is also a stunning cover of St.Vincent's My Old Haunts.
The late, lamented keyboardist extraordinaire Peter Bardens played with Them, Camel, and Peter Green amongst many others, in a career spanning thirty years and only curtailed by his death in 2002. This release contains his two solo albums recorded in 1970 and 1971 respectively on the Transatlantic label. They have been nicely remastered by Esoteric, with superb sleevenotes and a clear sound. More blues-driven than Rick Wakeman, and more of a collaborator than Keith Emerson, Bardens' distinctive keyboard and songwriting style became famous due to his work in Camel. These albums showcase the turning-point from his bluesy work of the sixties to his more progressive and symphonic seventies sound.
Epic work-outs like Homage to the God of Light and the title track on The Answer are nicely counterpointed by the blues of Don't Goof with the Spook, whilst the elegiac blues-folk of Write My Name in the Dust is the high point. Bardens would go on to far greater success with Camel, but these two albums are essential for anyone who loves prog, a superb testament to Bardens' unique talent.
In 1968, Hammond Organ pioneer and blues boom originator Graham Bond had lost his way. He had just come off heroin and had no band, no label, and no money. Fortunately, he received an invitation from America to produce other bands and record a couple of albums for Mercury Records. Previously a choice selection of these tracks was released in the UK as Graham Bond in America, but now both complete albums make their debut on CD. They highlight a couple of lost years in Bond's career, in which he pulled together a group of session musicians and produced some overlooked psychedelic blues marked by his Hammond virtuosity and by a pronounced interest in the occult writings of Alesteir Crowley. Tracks like Love is the Law and The World Will Soon Be Free show his spirituality, whilst material like Bad News Blues highlights his instrumental ability. Magic Mojo and Freaky Beak show his increasing obsession with dark magic and disillusion with the American music scene. Eventually he fled America, having fallen victim to fraud and succumbed to heroin again. Although he did release a couple more albums, his career and health never really recovered. The maverick genius that was Graham Bond fell to his death under a London Tube train in 1974.
London-based underground band Skin Alley came from the same movement in the late sixties that spawned bands like Hawkwind and Trees. Signed to CBS Records in 1969, the band released two albums, Skin Alley and To Pagham and Beyond, both of which are included here on Big Brother is Watching You, complete with single versions and their unreleased music for the art film Stop Veruschka! The soundtrack was meant to be their third album, but was never released due to the film's failure. Since the band were not commercially successful enough for CBS, they were not resigned and ended up at Transatlantic Records where their third album proper, Two Quid Deal?, was recorded and released in 1972. It was the band's most consistent album and their best-selling record, and brought them to the attention of the Stax label in America, who signed them.
None of these recordings have been available on CD before, and all of them capture a tight band with gifted songwriters, who produced original material such as Mother Please Help Your Child, Better be Blind, and Take Me to Your Leader's Daughter. The group also recorded an inspired and confident cover of Graham Bond's Walking in the Park and more experimental music like Skin Valley Serenade and First Drug Scene from the Stop Veruschka! sessions. They successfully transferred their musical skills gained from live performance to this confident collection of recordings. These two collections, remastered and packaged to a superb standard by Esoteric, are an ideal introduction to another one of the late sixties/early seventies great 'lost' bands.
Continuing their remastering of Emerson, Lake and Palmer's Manticore label, Esoteric's double CD set focuses on the cult singer-songwriter Keith Christmas, collecting the two albums that he recorded for the label: Brighter Day (1974), with a couple of outtakes and B-sides, and its follow up, 1976's Stories from the Human Zoo. Christmas had already worked throughout the London scene, performing at Bowie's Beckenham Arts Lab and guesting on Space Oddity, while he was also one of the performers at the very first Glastonbury Festival in 1971. By the time he came to record these two albums for Manticore, an association that came about due to a friendship with Greg Lake, he had had a couple of years off after his recording debut for RCA. His work had a new maturity and confidence, running the gamut from blues to rock to jazz and back again, with the jazz horn-influenced opener Brighter Day, the acoustic Foothills, and the superb, dry Robin Head.
Stories from the Human Zoo took a different path. Recorded in LA, with a cast list reading like a who's who of American session musicians and capturing an alternative American sound, the album was written in six months and recorded quickly. Its sound is fresher and more spontaneous, and the songs show philosophical leanings; Life in Babylon and The Last of the Dinosaurs suggest that Christmas was very interested in the LA state of mind. However, due to the musical changes wrought by punk's year zero, Christmas's market had shrunk and it would be another sixteen years before he released another record. This collection showcases some fantastic work and is another great release from Esoteric.
Ivor and Kevan Bundell
Their previous album Stood on the Shore (2006) was an excellent album of English folk music, and this follow-up, released last year and available from Ivor & Kevan's website (www.bundellbros.co.uk), is a logical evolution of their sound. They mine a rich seam of traditional material such as the wonderful opener Gypsy Davey, while their own material is written in a folk style which sits nicely alongside the songs by Anon. In particular, The Stranger is brilliant (and is co-written with long-term collaborator Paul Gateshill, whose fine lead guitar playing weaves in and out of this album), while Langollen Canal is beautifully evocative. The brothers are accomplished musicians, singers and songwriters, and their collaborations with family and friends are delightful accompaniment to the well-crafted songs on this record. --James R. Turner
All reviews on this page are copyright © James Turner 2011
All reviews on this page are copyright © James Turner 2011