Moonshine – Jay Jay Johanson

jay-852x550Jay Jay Johanson (Jäje Johansson) is gifted with a voice that is at once fragile and vulnerable but strangely steely strong and determined. His recording career stretches back almost twenty years with some trip hop and electroclash excursions along the way.

He has a new album, Opium,  due out in May but before that he has released an EP, Moonshine, on French label Kwaidan Records. The EP is currently streaming in its entirety on French site fip.

The title track to the EP has a dinky little video to go with it (below) but for me the track that really grabbed me is the Bat For Lashes cover, Laura. A completely delicious affair, with his signature vocals laid over some skittering beats and the most restrained and effective piano. Its one of those tracks that stays with you long after its four and a half minutes have expired. A gently glittering thing, both melancholic and soaring, quite a gift on this splendid April day.

 

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Wasted Hours – Little Dusty

Little DustySecond time in a matter of weeks that I have stumbled across something lovely connected to Chiverin, Bristolian label, gig producer, band champion and general musical type. First off it was the wonderful Tamu Massif and now the Bristol folk quartet, Little Dusty.

Truth be told it ain’t easy finding out too much about this lady-led four-some but I do know they Nicola, Sam, Dave and Luke. I also know that they have a sprightly little number, Wasted Hours, which  apparently might be available via the aforementioned Chiverin site, check the site out for the Tamu track and a tease for the Record Store Day EP. In the meantime Little Dusty material is there for your delectation on Soundcloud alongside the earlier Swimmer (also a free download on Bandcamp) and the Little Dusty EP.

Nicola has a distinctive and thoroughly engaging set of pipes, the chaps do a fine job alongside, the songs too are all of the finest order and manage to carve out something unusual and note-worthy from the crowded folk-pop frenzy.

Wasted Hours is to be a track on the Walking With Thieves compilation for this weekends Record Store Day, so well done them. In the meantime give it a listen here, a perfect soundtrack to the blossoming spring all around us.

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Villagers at St George’s, Bristol

VillagersSometimes things are just perfect. The day of the official UK release of Darling Arithmetic, the sparkling third album from Conor O’Brien’s Villagers, coincided with the opening night of the UK tour at the splendid St George’s venue in Bristol on the most sultry of spring evenings.

An ideal venue for the newly stripped back, intimate and deeply personal material, O’Brien took to the stage in his usual unassuming way along with his drummer, double bassist, keys player and harpist. Together they launched into a set which mixed the, at once fresh and immediately familiar, new songs with material from the two previous albums. Opener (a personal favourite), Let the Tigers Free, showed straight away that the older material had been given an amazing refresh to sit with the new songs and the lo-fi, acoustic set up. The make-over made the old familiars seem new all over again, and if possible, even better than before.

O’Brien’s haunting and ethereal voice was in extraordinary good order, every word sharp as a tack, no matter how quietly delivered, the audience hushed and hanging on every pitch perfect note. The band was the epitome of quality musicianship, the whole sounding achingly gorgeous and unimaginably polished despite this being the opening UK night; truly remarkable.

DarlingThe new album (surely a contender for those pointless ‘album of the year’ polls) is a thing of rare beauty, intimacy and honesty. The by now well know subject matter of O’Brien’s sexuality throughout the album is well documented, but I would rather see the albums theme as being about the twists and turns, hurdles and complications of anyone’s loves. The craftsmanship of the songs and the, less than usually Delphic, lyrics make them easily transferable into many people’s experience.

Support for the night was from the hugely talented Luke Sital-Singh, alone on the stage with his guitar and impressive, distinctive voice with songs from his rather wonderful debut album, The Fire Inside. Go seek him out.

It was none the less, and properly so, O’Brien’s night, and nights like this are rare and precious – remarkable voice, songs, musicianship, an evening of mesmerising, breathtaking and exquisite music.

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Jejeune/Selene – Tamu Massif

tamu-852x550Oh me oh my, I am totally obsessed with this track, Jejeune/Selene, and indeed the three others I can find on Soundcloud by Tamu Massif, aka Dave Dixon. Mr Dixon appears to be from Weston-super-Mare and this slice of blissful heaven is apparently released (although I have no idea how you actually get it) on Bristol new label Chiverin.

I know practically nothing about Mr Dixon/Tamu Massif (but I do know that  Tamu Massif is a submarine shield volcano in the Pacific), except that Tamu was once three but is now just one (geography problems it seems). However his voice reminds me of Andrew Bird and the guitar work of early Vini Reilly – job done, match made in heaven for me. Languid, hazy-summery (despite the howling gale outside), a vibe and a quality here which makes me feel decidedly a-OK (no mean feat right now, let me tell you).

Oh for a bit more of this stuff, four little tracks is nowhere near enough Mr Dixon, but what joy they are, delicious, like honey on toast.

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Karthryn Stewart and Sean Lakeman at the Convent Club

LakemanReminded again of our great good fortune to have such a special venue as the Convent Club right on our doorstep, Mrs H-C and I rolled up on a drear Saturday eve to the now familiar intimacy that is the Chapel, to hear Kathryn Roberts and Sean Lakeman. In support duties was local talent, Hattie Briggs, more of her later.

The folk ‘thing’ has always been a part of me it seems from the earliest days of Steeleye Span (mmm!) and progressively through other voices like Joni Mitchell with her Laurel canyon-folk sensibilities, to the more contemporary americana sounds of M. Ward and the pure Englishness of the Carthy/Waterman  and a hundred others besides.

I still struggle I must admit with certain elements, who shall remain nameless, but at its best there is a vein of something deep and resonant about the folk tradition. Much like the extraordinary place in which we sat; gothic, ritualistic, embedded in our culture, so too does this music have such a deep place, be it the bucolic Devonian childhood of Mr Lakeman or the more industrial Barnsley background of Ms Roberts. Of course the story-telling is a part of it, but also the music, the chords, the progressions all speak to that golden thread that weaves through our shared history.

This particular marital pairing join together a remarkable and powerful voice (as well as other instrumentalist skills) and one of the finest guitarists (and a great producer) you could hope to hear. The combination echoes both that fine tradition but also runs with a contemporary edge and keeps them well clear of Ye Olde English pastiche. The older, traditional songs are handled with care and respect but given a lift for the modern ear, and their own material reflects issues of the day but delivered with the skill and musicality only possible with such a deep understanding of the music and its history.

The acoustics and equipment in the Chapel are exemplary but you know full well that this pair would sound just as great in the primary schools where they perform for their twin girls friends. Kathryn’s voice is of the highest order with a power and ease you would be hard to match; Sean’s guitar has the attack, drive and finesse that would shame many a musician.

The set, quite properly, contained a great deal from their new album, Tomorrow Will Follow Today, and a fine suite of songs it is too; beautiful, affecting and sparkling songs, all available for the price of two drinks from the bar over on their website. Their tour dates continue for a few weeks and details can be found here – if you are in striking distance, rock along, you cannot be disappointed.

HattieHattie Briggs, local (to me!) Stroud singer-songwriter, is a recent BBC Radio 2 young Folk Awards nominee, and its not hard to see why. A voice as clear as crystal, her own songs with the strength and precision to stand alongside her rendition of Fields of Gold. Her set contained a good smattering of songs from her soon to be released debut, Red & Gold, available for pre-order from her web site and some streamable off her Soundcloud page. Unashamedly a fan of Eva Cassidy, I also caught glimpses of Carly Simon which can’t be a bad thing! On tour for most of the Roberts/Lakeman tour, Hattie is someone who should be seen and heard.

So an evening of fine music, in an equally fine setting, and with an intimacy that this sort of music blossoms in. Here is music that will last, not just because of the superb musicianship but also because it is rooted equally in the past and the present, reason enough to safeguard its future.

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Have Mercy – Lone Tree Quartet

coverIts always a bit of a thrill when a band gets in touch directly instead of some faux-matey PR note introducing the next big thing that never will be. Its a bigger thrill still when you listen in and the musical baby they have delivered is pretty dang good.

I clocked an email from Sam Smith in my inbox, and yes for the most fleeting of moments I thought it might be ‘that’ Sam Smith, he of the hyped up awards and all. But this Sam Smith was dropping by from the Pyrenees to intro his band, Lone Tree Quartet, tagged as being from Oxford, and much more to my taste and my demographic I suspect. Mr Smith was pointing at their, now newly released, album Have Mercy, available now for a few measly earth pounds from their Bandcamp site and sporting a natty photo of Mount St Helens, unless I am much mistaken.

A bit bluesy, a bit 70-‘s rock, a twist of something a bit more contemporary and edgy, a bit hard to categorise, if thats what you fancy doing. But however you badge them there are a few things you can’t deny. The songwriting is rock solid throughout, hooks a-plenty, melodies that you find yourself humming hours later; and the songs have a depth, a story; they are felt. The playing is uniformly excellent, with a polish and ease that only comes from chaps that know each other well. Even before you are told, you know they have played both together and apart for more than just a couple of months during the summer holidays in their parents garage; this is playing borne of experience, practice and chemistry.

Given the bands name they are, appropriately, four chaps: John Cunningham – vocals and guitar, Stephen Page – drums and percussion, Sam Smith – guitar and vox and Gary Warmington – bass. Its always a little invidious to highlight particular parts of a band, and especially when, like here, they all make a powerful contribution. But here goes! I assume its John C’s vocal that takes the lead most times here, and its a joy to hear a voice thats not a reedy, thin thing but warm and thick like a winter duvet, syrup on your morning porridge. The other stand out item here is the guitar work, I think mostly Mr Smith, with the sorts of breaks and riffs that are, stupidly, not so trendy now – what colour and sparkle they bring, nowhere more so than my two favourite tracks, Winter Coat, and Wild West.

With one or two gigs to launch the new album, I imagine they give a fine account of themselves live, probably (as with many-a band) even more muscular when on a stage. And thats another thing, you just know that what you hear on the CD/download or whatever, is pretty much exactly what you would get live; no extra tracks being played off the lappy to flesh the sound out, if this lot need such frippery and trickery I’d eat my hat.

A swift little email exchange added a little info about Mr Smith and the band. A Sheffield lad via Oxford and now the Pyrenees, Sam is a self-taught musician with a family that was into English trad music, he’s been through the folk, classic rock and classical guitar route, which must account for the quality of his playing, together with a with a welter of gigs and recording experience.

Lone Tree Quartet members have known each other and played together in various guises for a good number of years but came together in this form around the time Sam legged it to France. The geography and other day-to-day issues meant that this album has taken a while to pull together, but together it is and has just been self-released onto an unsuspecting world.

Amongst other random bits and pieces we mused about Gary’s funky line in T-shirts, that one of Sam’s fav dishes happens to be pan-fried Bream with harissa and rose (find it in Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem cookbook), likes many things Moroccan including their food, music and being the source of his first Oud… and in case you were wondering, he has a liking for philosophical chaps the Stoics (along with the Lad as it happens)

Well thats all fine and dandy but its actually all about the music, and the music here is fine, rich, intensely played and felt. The real and genuine article.

 

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Idlewild, Birmingham and London Roundhouse

IMG_2445Ever since that last show at the dubious Garage in London, I have had a steadily growing Idlewild shaped hole to deal with. Just to be perverse the hope of a new album and live dates carried with it equal quantities of joyful anticipation and worry. But hope is important and the worry that after six years it all might be a well intentioned mistake, and they should have stayed away, has been comprehensively swept away.

The album is a joy, a return to form that feels even better than before. Of course it is more mature and nuanced than the early stuff, but then it would be, why wouldn’t it? So we have something with a clear heritage, a golden thread from the Captain era right up to date, the mark of a band that knows who it is and doesn’t need simply to retread the past. Everything ever written about them references back to the lyrical, acoustic-led, poetry which has always underpinned their work; it’s not so shy to show its face now, but it is still delivered with a punch and an intensity that is their other enduring characteristic.

Although, like any of their other die-hard fans, I feel they speak directly to me, I know this is just another of my favourite delusions. But this ability to connect so personally and make another world in your mind is the stuff that forges a hard-to-break bond, be you an old or a new fan.

IMG_2430Creeping down the less than salubrious Digbeth to the Institute in Birmingham, IDS and I passed the hundred broken windows that still show that gentrification hasn’t arrived here quite yet. The sets we were treated to both in Brum and, a few days later, at the Roundhouse, after the Lad and I drove for three hours to get there, were the same. But truth to tell I could hear the same set night after night without tiring.

No mere recycling of past glories interlaced with a few pale imitation makeweight songs – the new and the old slot together as equals in the cannon that is the Idlewild catalogue. You know from the get go if a band is on it or not, and after the little hiatus they are most definitely on it. In fact they have never sounded, looked, or felt better; a drive, an enjoyment that slipped away before, a comfort in what they do, but moreover, a passion.

IMG_2440For sure the arrival of beloved favourites like Little Discourage, Captain or Roseability (the reactions to which must have warmed the cockles of their hearts, not least the unprompted, mass singing of “Gertrude Stein says ‘That’s enough'”) get a rapturous welcome; because for all of us somehow and for some reason, they connect to the remote part of our lives dedicated to shared experience, and common ground. But new songs like the magnificent Collect Yourself will soon join them and be similarly lauded.

The band were outstanding, Roddy sounding in the best possible voice, Rod Jones’ powerful guitar work and trademark leaping around, and fine mention must go too to Hannah Fishers sympathetic, energetic fiddling, Colin Newtons gunshot-sure drums, Andrew Mitchell’s wonderful bass and Lucci Rossi’s very welcome keys. A band re-energised and ready to take on the world.

IMG_2409Lest we forget, the hideously talented Sorren Maclean and band played a blinder as support on both nights, and he won’t have done himself any harm at all. The new album Winter Stay Autumn is very fine indeed and should be snapped up at the earliest opportunity, as should the new EP Way Back Home.

But the nights belonged to Idlewild, the woefully under-rated and under-recognised wonders that they are – how many new bands wouldn’t be here without their influence and inspiration?  “There’s a lot of you here tonight”, says Mr W at one point, “Where’ve you been?”. We’ve been right here listening to the warnings and promises of a return after six years. But it’s like they hadn’t been away; music to set your spirit free and let your heart take flight. So good to have you back.

Set List

IMG_2425Nothing I Can Do About It
You Held the World in Your Arms
Collect Yourself
Little Discourage
Make Another World
Every Little Means Trust
Roseability
Live in a Hiding Place
Quiet Crown
A Film for the Future
Captain
So Many Things To Decide
Love Steals Us From Loneliness
IMG_2426(Use It) If You Can Use It
American English
El Capitan
Utopia
Encore:
Too Long Awake
I Understand It
A Modern Way of Letting Go
In Remote Part / Scottish Fiction

(thanks to Gigwise for the set list)

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