Rock

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Johnny Black  |  Sep 01, 2018
This month we review: Toure Kunda, Maddy Prior, Hannah James And Giles Lewin, Dan Stuart, and Judith Owen.
Johnny Black  |  Dec 10, 2010
If only for his relentless persistence in the face of all the evidence that the world doesn’t need this sort of thing anymore, it’s hard not to harbour a sneaking affection, maybe even admiration, for Meat Loaf. A huge drum beat leads into a portentously cacophonous orchestral intro, after which it’s business as usual – double-scoops of the Jim Steinman patented blend of bar-room boogie mixed with gothic operatic bombast, decorated with tongue-in-cheek lyrics like, ‘Next time you stab me in the back you better do it to my face’. Steinman, however, isn’t involved so the whole thing’s just a knowing pastiche. Still, as a wiser man than me once said, this is the sort of thing you’ll like if you like this sort of thing.
Johnny Black  |  Dec 10, 2010
Now this is very special indeed. Joy Kills Sorrow are a contemporary folk-bluegrass Boston quintet and this, their debut album, is unutterably superb. Not only is the banjo and mandolin playing astonishing, but the singing (both in terms of soloists and harmonies) is gorgeous, and the songs themselves are true earworms – they get in there and lodge themselves firmly, demanding that you take the CD to the car and play it out there as well. Making bluegrass sound new, fresh and exciting is certainly a challenge these days, but Joy Kills Sorrow do it with ease.
Johnny Black  |  Dec 10, 2010
Everything about Dark Hope was screaming ‘No!’ at me. Opera singer covering rock songs? No, it never works, never ever. Well, I reckoned without the good taste of Fleming and producer/arranger David Kahne. They’ve re-interpreted fabulous contemporary songs by Band Of Horses, Muse, Death Cab For Cutie plus a sprinkling of classics from Jefferson Airplane, Peter Gabriel and Leonard Cohen.
Johnny Black  |  Dec 10, 2010
Courtney Love’s return, says the press release, has been ‘feverishly anticipated’. I feel I have the right to ask, ‘Who by?’ Certainly not me. This album is as cheap and premeditated as anyone with more than half a brain would expect it to be. Courtney snarls and drawls like Marianne Faithfull on Ritalin through a mess of bitchy faux-grunge pop ditties, most of them knocked up by song doctor Linda Perry, probably on a afternoon when she wasn’t writing hits for Pink, Gwen Stefani or Christina Aguilera.
Johnny Black  |  Dec 10, 2010
Highly-touted New York City duo MGMT return with a second helping of goodies, tending more towards retro-psych-pop than their singles-oriented debut. This one switches eclectically from the Van Dyke Parks-like delirium of the opening track, ‘It’s Working’, to the nuggetsy garage-pop assault of ‘Song For Dan Treacy’, to the more expansive mind-blown dream-pop approach of the epic ‘Siberian Breaks’ and the bizarre faux-baroque horrorscape of the instrumental ‘Lady Dada’s Nightmare’. Twee and wimpy, yes; but it’s also loads of fun. The band has said no singles will be released from this album but it attracted so much attention when it ‘leaked’ onto the net in advance of release that maybe it doesn’t need them.
Johnny Black  |  Dec 10, 2010
I’m usually reticent about covering re-issue material in these pages, but blues collector and archivist Nick Duckett has released his latest mind-bogglingly superb 4CD set on the history of r’n’b and it’s too good to ignore. With 109 impeccably remastered tracks and an informative memorabilia-filled 68-page booklet this is simply the definitive statement on the era. It’s worth owning just to have Ann Cole’s original version of ‘Got My Mojo Working’, later misappropriated by Muddy Waters but, from the obvious must-haves – BB King, Bo Diddley, Elvis Presley – to the more esoteric delights of The Peacheroos, Marigolds and Diablos, every cut is 100% juicy. Sound Quality: 88% .
Johnny Black  |  Dec 10, 2010
I haven’t heard an album quite this beguiling since Whalebone Polly’s Recording With The Window Open back in 2005, so it’s a particular delight to discover that there are still females around who can do this sort of thing. Mountain Man are three women, two of them still in school in Vermont, the other a nanny, who use nothing but their close-harmonising voices and acoustic guitars to create the most haunting, spine-shivering songs imaginable. Recorded live in an abandoned factory, there’s a purity and immediacy to the sound of this album that puts most others into the shade: you feel you’re right there and they’re singing just for you. Bliss.
Johnny Black  |  Dec 10, 2010
The Coal Porters are but one facet of the abundant creativity of renaissance man Sid Griffin, who also helms a band called Western Electric, runs his own record label and writes excellent books on musical themes. The Porters, however, are the incarnation of Sid that you’re most likely to encounter in your favourite live music establishment, and their fourth album, Durango, is as splendid an alt-bluegrass excursion as you’ll hear all this year. A sprightly bunch of fiddle, mandolin and banjo-driven songs are fleshed out with choice covers, including a yearning version of Neil Young’s ‘Like A Hurricane’. Plus a video documentary on the band.
Johnny Black  |  Dec 10, 2010
Despite my instinct to reject Valerie Anne Poxleitner, aka Lights, because of the overtly religious content of so many of her songs, this Canuck electro-singer-songwriter has won me over on purely musical grounds. Her synth structures are gorgeous, if derivative, and her voice has hints of Kate Bush that make even her frequent use of auto-tuned vocals acceptable. (Actually, if I’m honest, I have no problem at all with auto-tune, so long as it’s used as a musical tool rather than as a repair kit). What I like most about The Listening is its fresh, innocent and disarming simplicity, like the very earliest electro-pop albums back in the late ’70s and early ’80s.
Johnny Black  |  Dec 10, 2010
You don’t need me to tell you that the Jimmy Webb songbook includes a bunch of timelessly great classics, like ‘Wichita Lineman’, ‘By The Time I Get To Phoenix’ and ‘Galveston’. What Webb has done here is not just to re-interpret those songs with the assistance of superstar chums Billy Joel, Glen Campbell and Lucinda Williams, but also to take the opportunity to accord the same treatment to some of his lesser-known compositions, most notably ‘PF Sloan’ as a duet with Jackson Browne, and ‘If You See Me Getting Smaller’ with Willie Nelson. It’s not consistently wonderful, largely because Webb has never had much of a voice, but at its best it’s pretty darned wonderful. Sound Quality: 90% .
Johnny Black  |  Dec 10, 2010
This is a charmingly odd collection of tracks recorded (and rejected) by eccentric New York folk-rock experimentalists Department Of Eagles prior to making their second album, In Ear Park. They were laid down in January 2006 in far from ideal conditions but, nevertheless, the collection boasts several appealing melodies with imaginative lyrics and free-wheeling musical arrangements, interspersed with several wilfully odd snippets described as Practice Room Sketches. It’s all very cerebral and sometimes sonically challenging but well worth wading through to get to sublimely bizarre moments like ‘While We’re Young’, ‘Brightest Minds’ and ‘Golden Apple’. Sound Quality: 80% .
Johnny Black  |  Dec 10, 2010
With The Dixie Chicks on a seemingly endless recording hiatus, two thirds of the band, Emily Robison and Martie Maguire, have emerged as Court Yard Hounds. It’s hard to imagine any fan of the Chicks not enjoying this outing but, happily, Robison and Maguire have come up with something noticeably more intimate and personal than a Chicks album. There’s a delightfully down-home quality to cuts like the Jakob Dylan duet ‘See You In The Spring’, and Robison’s recent divorce seems to have pushed her into emotional spaces she might not have otherwise explored. The anger of ‘Ain’t No Son’, the defiant spirit of ‘It Didn’t Make A Sound’ and the touching honesty of ‘Fear Of Wasted Time’ make this pretty damned irresistible.
Johnny Black  |  Dec 08, 2010
This sparkling Motown homage should come as no surprise to anyone who remembers that Collins’ first UK No1 was his 1982 cover of The Supremes’ ‘You Can’t Hurry Love’. It’s more a question of why he left it so long. For the most part, he’s chosen to faithfully recreate the sound and arrangements of 18 ’60s classics, even drafting in members of Motown’s revered Funk Brothers session crew to get it spot-on. Even so, the voice is unmistakeably Collins, and his passion for the material is unmistakable in the effervescent zip of every track.
Johnny Black  |  Dec 08, 2010
By the time your average band gets around to celebrating its 20th anniversary, they’ve usually slowed down and are headed out to pasture. Ireland’s Saw Doctors, thankfully, have never been your average band, so their seventh studio album is, if anything, more vibrantly tuneful than ever. The core of the band remains intact but the arrival of powerful new drummer Eimhin Cradock has significantly upped their energy levels and his contributions as a songwriter beautifully complement those of founder members Davy Carton and Leo Moran. Shamelessly sentimental, unrepentantly traditional, The Saw Doctors also remain kick-ass rockers and tunesmiths extraordinaire.

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