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By Johnny Owen
on Thursday, 2nd September 2010 at 12:00 pm
Not so long back it seemed as though Robert Plant was a spent force creatively. While his reunion with Jimmy Page threw up some decent material, you got the impression that both artists were doing little more than treading water.
Then Plant decided to embark on his own personal, study of the history of American music, inviting collaborators Alison Krauss and T-Bone Burnett to join him on the ‘Raising Sand’ album. That collection proved to be a revelation, with the team selecting and re-working songs from a surprising array of artists, from the The Everly Brothers to Tom Waits, and being awarded the Grammy for Album of the Year. When the time came to record the follow up though, they found that the chemistry was no longer there. Rather than make do and try to force out an album for the sake of it, the decision was made to call it a day and quit while they were ahead. This left Robert with the task of trying to assemble a new line up to continue his project. Drafting in Nashville stalwart Buddy Miller to produce and add guitar, and Patti Griffin as a vocal foil, he set about crafting a somewhat darker, more muscular sequel to ‘Raising Sand’.
One of the more striking things about Plant’s voice these days is the way he exercises restraint when he might previously have let rip. There are times here where he lowers his voice to a whisper and the album is all the more compelling for it. Opening with an upbeat cover of Los Lobos’ ‘Angel Dance’ (video below), the album jumps between styles, tempos and moods, taking in bluegrass, doo-wop, honky tonk and the haunting gothic Americana of ‘Silver Rider’ and ‘Monkey’, two Low covers and two of the standout songs in this collection. It’s interesting to note that Plant named the album after the pre-Zeppelin band he played in with John Bonham, whether he sees this as a rebirth of sorts is unclear but he certainly sounds rejuvenated here and it’s not surprising that he turned down the offer of a (potentially very lucrative) Led Zeppelin reunion tour in order to continue mining the rich vein of form that he’s found.
While not every song here hits the spot, ‘You Can’t Buy My Love’ and ‘Falling In Love Again’ in particular, sound out of place, the high points, such as the previously mentioned Low covers and ‘Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down’, a traditional song previously performed by Willie Nelson and Uncle Tupelo, make up for these dips. Plant’s voice throughout is engaging and he’s backed here by some strong performances from his band, not least multi-instrumentalist Darrell Scott, who have come together to make an album that both builds on what went before and creates anticipation over what might come next. You can watch the man speak about the ‘Band of Joy’ album in the interview video below.
‘Band of Joy’ will be released 13 September 2010 on Decca.
By Mary Chang
on Tuesday, 31st August 2010 at 2:00 pm
I introduced you all to North Jersey’s Bern and the Brights a short time ago. They have an EP out now called ‘Swing Shift Maisies’, which was released in earlier this year. According to guitarist/backing vocalist and band spokeswoman Catherine McGowan, this four-track release is their first with everyone in the five-piece band on it. And it’s a great ‘first kiss’ from a band that I think could do very well this year.
It starts with ‘Boo’, lead singer Bernadette Malavarca’s vocals are soulful and jazzy against the backdrop of warm violin and militant rhythm courtesy of Nicole Scorsone and Jose Ulloa, respectively. Now, violins in the British charts aren’t that unusual in these post-Laura Marling, Mumford and Sons folky days, but America could use some nudging in the folk direction.
The start of the next track, ‘Sangria Peaches’, sounds a bit hoedown but it slightly changes direction with Malavarca’s staccato delivery and driving instrumentation underneath it all. Now that I’ve taken up bass, I have a better appreciation for the rhythm section and how important it is to make a great track. And this one is a good ‘un.
‘Sleepless Aristotle’ is a great showcase for Malavarca’s voice, soaring above the engaging melody. Closing out the EP is an even more appealing number. Called ‘It Goes Like That’, it features the lyrics “I’m on the verge of something great”. Couldn’t have said it better myself.
‘Swing Shift Maisies’ by Bern and the Brights can be purchased from Amazon.
By Jess Grant
on Tuesday, 10th August 2010 at 12:00 pm
There’s so many so called ‘super groups’ around these days. So much so we’re going to have to start dividing said super groups into yet further labels themselves, ala, super and, erm, not so super, super group. Are you still with me? Anyway. We have Josh Homme’s Them Crooked Vultures, Jack White’s Dead Weather, Thom Yorke’s Atoms for Peace. Oh, and er…Keane’s Mt. Desolation…
Hey, hey, where are you going? Don’t run away just yet! I know Keane don’t exactly have the coolest reputation in rock and roll, but one shouldn’t judge pre-hearing, right? So I was very intrigued when Mt. Desolation’s album arrived in my inbox this week. The alt-country group was a project initially hatched by Keane pianist Tim Rice-Oxly and his fellow bassist Jesse Quin while “sipping Guinness by a fire in a nice old pub ” in Dublin. Quite a modest beginning for a band which ultimately landed the likes of Ronnie Vannucci Jr of The Killers on drums, Tom Hobden of Noah and the Whale on fiddle and Winston Marshall of Mumford and Sons on banjo (to name but a few). Bet you’re interested now, right?
Well. I don’t want you getting too excited. Despite this coming together of talent, Mt. Desolation’s self-titled debut really isn’t all that earth shattering (sorry if I burst your musical bubble). I think it would be fair to say this record is just a product from a bunch of fellows who are spinning some country tunes in their spare time. Hey, the official biography even states that Mt. Desolation was “without any motive other than just doing what they loved”. But in a way, this lack of world-domination sprinkles the record with an element of welcomed freshness. This is not a hard-going, serious record which you are meant to sit, study and ponder over. No, it’s a record merely meant for listening to and enjoying – just like the obvious enjoyment experienced by those who recorded it.
Tracks worth name-checking amid the album include opener ‘The Departure’, a gloriously upbeat number with a skippy piano and a chorus that Gram Parsons’ Flying Burrito Brothers would be proud of. ‘Annie Ford’s’ strong vocal and epic-poppy rhythm is pure Springsteen – just with a nice added injection of indie guitar – while the gloriously fun ‘Platform 7’s’ pacey percussion and boy-girl vocals make you want to hike up your skirt to reveal your cowboy boots nestled nicely beneath.
There are expected fillers – ‘Bitter Pill’, for example, sounds like an average indie-rock track, while the stripped back acoustic tracks like ‘My My My’ are somewhat hard to take seriously as emotionally-charged authentic country tunes, especially when the lyrics are a bit, well, cliché and rubbish – “I won’t lie, but sometime’s it’s hard to talk when you’re an old-fashioned guy. And all my life I fixed my blues with a glass of whiskey and ice. My my my, is all I’d say. Your heart died. But you remain.”. Ahem.
But still. There are some wonderful tracks on here. ‘Bridal Gown’ reveals itself to be a truly haunting number, with it’s sombre vox and weeping strings, while the slow-paced highlight ‘Midnight Ghost’s’ rich slide-guitar and swelling harmonies are smokily Southern – the country sound achieved at it’s purest by the band (despite those cliché lyrics making a return as the band make use of that old trick of name checking states – “I came from Carolina….through Virginia…West through Arizona, Texas and New Mexico”.).
So, for those of you who tread in fear around anything that mentions the word Keane, seriously, do not let their name put you off this record. If you like toasty Southern sounds, well, there is a decent collection of ditties to be found here. Admittedly, it does go off kilter every now and then, and hey, it won’t ever be up there with the country super groups of Crosby, Stills and Nash, but it’s still a nice record for turning the lights down to and just enjoying.
Spawned by New York’s gay club scene nearly a decade ago, Scissor Sisters recently released their third studio album ‘Night Work,’ the follow-up to their chart-topping self-titled debut (2004) and 2006′s ‘Ta-Dah.’ Band members Jake Shears, Ana Matronic, Babydaddy, Del Marquis and Randy Real (replacing former drummer Paddy Boom) spent about 18 months working on the album before scrapping it and starting over with producer Stuart Price. At the time, vocalist Shears said “If it wasn’t something we could fully get behind and believe in, I think the band was going to be over.” Luckily they found some inspiration and the result is an album they described to Pop Justice as “supersexual and sleazy.”
That the album is very sexual should come as no surprise to anyone who takes a look at the album cover, or for that matter, to anyone who has listened to Scissor Sisters before. This album, however, goes a bit further than their usual cheekiness and double entendre to even be explicit at times. Rather than being disturbing or shocking, though, the results are generally hilarious. I defy anyone to keep a straight face during the Kylie-collaboration ‘Any Which Way’ when Ana Matronic says “I’m going to find that man with the right shade of bottle tan, / a man that smells like cocoa butter and cash. / Take me anyway you like it; / in front of the fireplace, in front of your yacht, in front of my parents, / I don’t give a damn baby, just take me.” A definite highlight of the album, this is just one of the many tracks that will have you up on your feet dancing. Another great song is ‘Something Like This,’ which rather cleverly has an entire chorus about not knowing the words: “I can’t remember any words / there’s a verse and after it goes / something like this / goes something like this / goes something like this.”
The majority of the more upbeat-sounding tracks are fronted by Jake Shears and his falsetto vocals, including album opener ‘Night Work’ (“I sleep all day but I break my back in the moonlight / gotta cash that cheque by midnight for the /night work’.) The track ‘Harder You Get’ combines a falsetto chorus with low, almost growled verses, and the result is undeniably sexy. But its not just Jake Shears who brings the sexy: Ana Matronic’s breathy vocals over the slower, off-kilter ‘Skin This Cat’ are fabulous.
The first single from the album, ‘Fire With Fire,’ is a noticeable departure from the rest of the album, with its slow build and its lack of a real dance-able beat until the 2nd verse. But even though its not what we’re used to from Scissor Sisters, its still a great song and shows that they’re capable of more than just over-sexualized club music, and for that reason I think it was a good choice for a single. And ‘Invisible Light’ is the perfect track to close the album: a little bit dark, a little bit retro, and a LOT of fun. Some might see ‘Night Work’ as “a pastiche of Scissors Sisters’ former glories” [Drowned in Sound], but all I’m really looking for in a good summer album is some fun, and what is more fun than Sir Ian McKellan doing spoken word about ‘sexual gladiators’?
Check out Scissor Sisters’ fantastic performance of ‘Any Which Way’ at Glastonbury 2010 below featuring the lovely Kylie Minogue.
Scissor Sisters’s album Night Work is available now. They will be embarking on a short UK tour in December.
Ever wish you were an idle college student again? You know the feeling, being a slob by day and socializing the night away, only to discover that crucial term paper was creeping around the dreaded corner? Well, here’s an album that’s so sublimely smooth, it could well be the soundtrack for burning the midnight oil to. For those of us in the working world, it’s equally heavenly.
Dubbed early on in their career as an indie rock band, London-based Bombay Bicycle Club have proved that taking a career U-turn can prove to be very beneficial indeed. In this instance, the band who churned out the rather ambiguous but fairly decent debut, “I Had The Blues, But I Shook Them Loose”, their second LP provides a much more stripped down affair.
Contradictory to what the album title suggests, the overall listening satisfaction that “Flaws” provides is practically impeccable. From the bouncy opener, “Rinse Me Down” to the mellow pop single, “Ivy and Gold”, lead singer Jack Steadman displays a kaleidoscope of emotion, while the minimal instrumentation from the rest of the band produces a 35-minute canvas of ever-changing colors.
What’s so refreshing about this pretty much all-out acoustic album is that it works well, and fits the natural progression of the band. If the band chose to follow in the footsteps of their debut, no doubt many would have slammed it as boring. Here, however, with a plethora of acoustic guitar goodness, “Flaws” is the perfect fit as the band continue their journey in the music industry.
Hands down, Steadman’s unique vocals attribute to the ebb and flow of the 11-track album. From the obvious “There Are Many Ways” to the haunting “My God” to the saccharine filled “Fairytale Lullaby”, the band are clearly sailing on the right seas of success.
Who knows what the band’s third album will bring yet another change in direction. But for now, who really cares? Far be it from a sophomore slump, “Flaws” proves that sometimes the simplest ideas really are the best. Now, students, remember that as you begin to pontificate on any upcoming thesis.
You can order your copy of the album from Amazon now.
By Jess Grant
on Tuesday, 20th July 2010 at 12:00 pm
It’s been a whopping 10 years since the release of Queens of the Stone Ages’ breakthrough record, Rated R. The millennium dawned as the Queens signed to a major label, and with their second record, proved to the world that this controversial move doesn’t mean you have to compromise your sound. Hailed one of the greatest albums of the decade by the likes of Rolling Stone magazine, Rated R also sits quite comfortably amid by ‘Favourite Records of All Time’ list. The album is a, dare I say it, rock masterpiece – 45 flowing minutes of sultry sounds sending you off in all sorts of directions – and still remaining as fresh and as edgy as it was back in 2000. Alas, I was pretty freekin’ happy when I heard Homme and co were to release a deluxe edition of the album next month to celebrate the big tenth anniversary of Rated R. Along with the original record, the special edition is packed with a second disc containing a live performance from Reading Festival in 2000, and some B sides to boot. Aka, party time for a Queens of the Stone Age fan girl/boy like myself (ahem, I don‘t have posters of Josh Homme on my wall really, promise).
Okay so let’s get down to looking at the important stuff, those eleven incredible tracks that compromise the demigod album that is Rated R. The record kicks off with ‘Feel Good Hit of the Summer’, a song about life’s excesses. Not that you wouldn’t have worked this out yourself as Homme spits the lyrics of “Nicotine, Valium, Vicodin, Marijuana, Ectasy and Alcohol. C-C-C-COCAINNNEE” into your speaker. Drugs are bad, kids, bad, but boy said list of illegal substances sounds incredible when set to crunky riffs which march towards the listener like angry troops. And then a transition as smooth as Sean Connery rolls in song two, ‘Lost Art of Keeping a Secret’, an endlessly sexy, smoky track led by growling distorted riffs, and a devious Homme, who practically bites your earlobes as he coos “Whatever you do…don’t tell anyone”.
Carry on reading the rest of our review of Queens of The Stone Age’s Duluxe edition of Rated R…