Yes folks, here we are again giving you the lowdown on some of the non Genesis related stuff that keeps the staff at TWR HQ entertained between bouts of Genesis mania…
First up is a brace of albums by Devonbird, the band are really the brainchild of composer Kathryn Bird who hails from Devon hence the band’s name geddit… First of these is Hangman’s Daughter. This album is modern English folk music at its very best but so much more. The music spans the entire realm of the United Kingdom from the paean for Scotland which is The Brae to the delightfully tongue twisting Lannigan’s Ball/The Connaught Man’s Rambles/Lilting Banshee (try saying that after a pint of Guinness!) which summons up the ethos and atmosphere of Ireland’s wild landscapes. Whilst Purty Jane and Fairleigh Well Olde England brilliantly evoke aspects of English history in words and music. Simple, melodic music of the kind which we don’t see that often these days this is an album that any music fan will thoroughly enjoy.
Devonbird: Hangman’s Daughter DBCD001.
The second album by the band, Turning Of The Year continues the brand of fine folk music of its predecessor but this time it focuses on the folk stories and folklore of the country but with a healthy mix of tales of love lost and found which are the staples of folk music. Highlights for me on this one are Greenwood Tree/The Jenny Witch and The King Of The Fairies/Morrison’s Lament both of which are just the kind of music I could listen to again and again but the rest of the album is equally rewarding and if melody is your thing, then this one is definitely for you!
Devonbird: Turning Of The Year. DBCD002.
Continuing the folk vein of this feature I turn next to a brace of mini albums by harpist and singer Sarah Dean. Now, before I go any further I have to admit to a great degree of bias here as Sarah has been a good friend of mine for a good few years now. Not that takes anything away from both the albums which go under the apt title The Incredible String Blonde - a title given Sarah by Heather Findlay no less!
Anyway on with the music. The first album which I will call the blue album because of the colour of its cover, features a selection of Sarah’s own compositions which range from the elegiac opening track Beautiful World which is a brilliant observation of this world and how mankind is ruining it. Stealing Time is a beautifully elegant examination of ageing while Happy Dog is a joyful tune and the rest of the tracks are equally enjoyable all filled with the warmth of Sarah’s harp and her incredible voice - the title bestowed on her is one well deserved, folks!
Moving on to the second album, the “brown” album here we have a wonderful mix of self-written tracks and examples of classic English folk opening with the superb I Am A Farming Man, based on a true story this is a truly wonderful example of the glories of English folk music. The Traveller’s Prayer is a classic slice of English Folk by John Renbourn, almost a medieval plainchant this is stuff I can listen to forever … marvellous! The January man, is a beautiful evocation of the passing of the seasons and the passing of the times of our lives, wry, wistful and totally beautiful, but for me the highlight of this one is Sarah’s rendering of the traditional track Bonny At Morn, I could listen to it forever and had the great privilege of hearing Sarah sing and play it for me at my home a while ago. Once again, these two albums represent music of the highest quality and are a delight for the ears and the soul.
For more information : www.sarahdeanmusic.com
Next up in this edition is a brace of albums by Jump, the rock band that emerged onto the scene kicking and screaming some twenty years ago now and who have been regaling audiences with their own brand of music ever since.
Just like the albums that precede it, the first of these The Black Pilgrim, has stories to tell, not least the opening track Lockout a familiar story to those of us in the UK as a vindictive government takes its revenge upon ordinary working people. Potent stuff and told here in a deceptively simple manner. This is almost a photograph album, replete with memories all brightly shining through the music and lyrics, each one a story and a memory cherished and superbly crafted by a band of extremely talented musicians. Jump have always been good at telling a thought provoking story, and this album is no exception - superb stuff.
Jump: The Black Pilgrim. SBR0613.
The next album in this edition’s roundup is Jump’s latest effort, Over The Top. The album gets under way with the intriguing tale of Sir Thomas And The Passer-By, a healthy rocky number which for some strange reason reminds me of early Marillion … can’t figure out why but I like it! There is some particularly impressive guitar work here from Steve Rundle and Steve Hayes - Jump ARE a rock band remember! The Wreck Of The Saint Marie, a story of a shipwreck? Perhaps, or the wreck of a relationship where fair weather friends jump ship… you tell me folks. Either way, its another well crafted rock song.
End Of Days is a deliciously up tempo rocker whereas old Gods, is an acoustically driven one and the contrast of styles is delightful and a great demonstration of the breadth of styles that the band can summon up in their repertoire. The rest of the album contains an equally healthy mix of well crafted music, and excellent lyrics, telling stories and mixing witty observations with a delightfully phrased sense of humour running through it. An album that, like its predecessor, comes highly recommended and I can also say that as a live act, Jump are no slouches either, check ’em out if you can and add these albums to your collection, you won’t regret it!
Jump: Over The Top. Den-Tel Records 0416.
For more information: www.jumprock.co.uk
Next up, to compliment our interview with him elsewhere in this edition, we have the debut album by Ben McKelvey, Life & Love In England
Ben McKelvey is a name you will have heard if you have been to gigs by a lot of major artists over the last year or so as he has been paying his dues with support slots for the likes of The Overtones, Wet, Wet, Wet and currently with our very own Mike & The Mechanics. Doing things the old fashioned way has paid off for Ben with a number six album in the songwriters chart and excellent reviews elsewhere to boot.
So, now it is time for TWR to give the album the once over … the title, Life & Love In England say an awful lot about the album and where Ben is coming from. Indeed, this is a series of vignettes in which familiar stories and scenarios are played out through the medium of Ben’s music and lyrics.
The album gets under way with Morning I’m Gone, which despite its passing nod to the Gallagher brothers in its riff, is a superbly crafted tale of unrequited love. Happy Together another tale of life and its tribulations, which for me has echoes of Squeeze, and in particular the classic Up The Junction.
Island however, shows Ben’s undoubted talents as not only a songwriter but also a superb social commentator. This is an angry reflection on inner city life in 21st century Britain and the post Brexit despair that so many feel right now. Not easy listening but a superbly crafted piece of commentary nonetheless.
I Want A Divorce, simple enough subject I guess but written from the perspective of a serial cheat, who realises what he has lost. Once again, there are some superb lyrics in this one and I love the lines… “Lawyers were destroyers of any chance of amends/keep the dog, not bothered, see the kids on the weekends…” this is song writing of the highest calibre painting brilliantly vivid pictures … love it!
The tale of a night in the cells for his misdemeanours next in Jail Cell Bouquet. Once again, the tale is told in some superbly written lyrics, this is a drama screen play in miniature, something which can be said for just about every song on the album in fact.
Matter Of Time tells another tale of life gone wrong and the what ifs that plague us all. Wrong direction taken, wrong choices made, and the consequences of those decisions.
Somewhere Else, a wistful and sad reflection on a life which didn’t turn out as expected. We all wish we could be somewhere else sometimes, just to escape from mistakes which haunt us and people who we no longer wish to be… this song is for those moments in all our lives.
Only Here Once, is a superb reflection on the difference between grabbing life by the balls and squeezing it until it squeaks or not doing so and regretting it forever afterwards. We are only here once and as someone once said, life is not a dress rehearsal, here’s a song that tells the story from a jobbing musician’s perspective. Brilliantly written once again there is a standout couplet that will resonate with many of us contained within it … “it took me seven years and six strings to finally open up my eyes…” our lives are our own so take control of them…
Things We Do, asks the question why do we always hurt the ones we love? An age old story and an age old question… no answers offered but the thought is there in all of us.
Work For Free, as Ben explained it during his performances reflects the life of the jobbing musician, support slots aren’t always easy to find and paying your dues is what this life is all about and once again, there is another superbly evocative couplet within it which definitely resonates with me… “It’s not what you do but who you do it with that leads you to the light…” wise words indeed…
The album concludes with Walk Away, another wistful look at a relationship doomed to go nowhere because the protagonists are not looking for the same things. Love indeed is blind, and selectively deaf at times and we learn those lessons the hard way sometimes. Here we have a superb examination of a situation we have all been in at one time or another I am sure.
Without a doubt, Ben is one of the best singer songwriters I have heard in a long time. OK, some of the songs tell familiar stories, they are the stuff of musical life, REAL life not fantasy, but Ben has an uncanny knack of bringing them vividly to life through his words and music. This is a strong debut album and it augurs well for a bright future for young Mr McKelvey!
Ben McKelvey: Life & Love In England. Lower Your Shoulder Music LYS003.
For more information check out Ben’s web site www.bmckmusic.co.uk
And the final albums this time round are a brace of releases by Alan Reed whose name will be familiar to anyone who has followed his previous work with Pallas for whom he was front man for over twenty years.
Alan’s first solo album proper First In A Field Of One is the first to come under scrutiny here.
Opening with the brilliantly evocative Begin Again, an emotive elegy for Alan’s native homeland of Scotland, a wryly nostalgic view of a country which has always been haunted by its sense of its history. Even more poignant at the moment given the divisions within the UK, and the feeling among many of Alan’s fellow Scots that perhaps their country should be born again in independence? Heavy stuff to open an album with but Alan has never been one to shy away from such issues.
Kingdom Of The Blind too is a pungently bitter look at media manipulation, are we really in control of our own thoughts and destinies or are we living in the Kingdom Of The Blind? A pertinent question and one which you will have to find your own answers for folks but what we have here is another superb examination of our current situation one which should make anyone think.
Never Too Late is another thought provoking sing with its subject being the environment and how we are making such a hash of it. I love the lyric “we can turn our backs on Mother Nature now that she’s biter and she’s twisted … and takes revenge whenever she can…” a superbly true statement about the current situation but expressed in some particularly evocative words and with musical accompaniment of the highest quality, the guitar work here is simply amazing.
The Bottom Of The Bottle, us a wistful look at a life which has not worked out as planned, regrets for decisions which proved to be the wrong ones in the long term, things we all have to live with.
Darkness Has Spoken, paranoia and depression laid bare in a superbly evocative song. Anyone who has suffered from the condition will immediately find a resonance with this song, and the brilliant use of staccato guitar and organ along with Alan’s plaintive vocals bring the anguish sufferers feel vividly to life. For me, this is the stand out track on the album … it certainly speaks to me in so many ways!
The Real Me is another frighteningly realistic look at the darker side of the human psyche, the Hyde in us all which all too frequently wins out despite our best efforts to the contrary.
Tear Drops In The Rain too is a deeply evocative look at life which brings us to the track which I am sure will bring most comment at the moment, The Usual Suspects. Written and performed in a cod doo wop style, if this is not a superbly ironic portrayal of one Donald Trump then I don’t know what is. Alan put his political reportage skills to good use here and this one will resonate with anyone appalled by the current political situation not only in the USA but also closer to home.
And there you have it, Alan’s debut album is one which does not shy away from difficult issues and subjects. Lyrically it is every bit as good as anything that preceded it and musically it demonstrates Alan’s command of a great many instruments and styles a superb solo debut which any Prog fan will thoroughly enjoy.
Anyone who saw Steve Hackett’s UK gigs in 2015 will recall that Alan was the opening act for those gigs. Thankfully his performances were captured on a wonderful EP recorded at the Philharmonic Hall in Liverpool the same night that Steve recorded his latest live album/DVD.
Stripping the songs back to the basics of an acoustic guitar and voice gives us a wonderful glimpse into how many of them started life in the first place. Alan gets everything under way with a hilarious snippet of Supper’s Ready before launching into a new song For The Sake Of Glory a wonderfully, angry rant of a piece surprisingly so given that its only accompaniment is an acoustic guitar! Alan has always been a superb observer of life and its foibles and this one is no exception, a superb opener.
Who’s To Blame too is another wonderful exploration of the situations that lead to conflict and asks the very pertinent question… who’s to blame? The finger is always pointed at the wrong people it seems.
A Pallas classic next, Sanctuary, a tale of the Holocaust, one of the best and most emotional songs from the Pallas catalogue, stripped down to vocals and twelve string, it loses none of its power and still brings a shiver to the spine and a tear to the eye.
Begin Again, which features on Alan’s debut album is a superb evocation of the longing for one’s homeland when you have moved away, in search of work or asylum, whatever the reason, what is not in doubt is the power of the emotions that nostalgia generates and here Alan’s raw and impassioned vocal brings that superbly to life and brings this wonderful mini album to a suitably dramatic and emotional close.
Alan’s new album, Honey On The Razor’s Edge has recently been released and I am delighted to be able to review it here.
The album continues in the excellent footsteps of Alan’s debut reviewed above and gets under way with My Sunlit Room, driven along by a an infectious synth line which many bands would kill for before guitar and bass kick in with equal ferocity - a killer opening track.
Razor is an altogether more laid back track but the lyric is anything but sedate, a harassed soul contemplating suicide or taking “a razor to the rest of my life” as Alan spits out the words with unbelievable venom. He is aided and abetted here by the blues harp playing of one S Hackett ..no, I’ve never heard of him either but he lays down a ferocious harmonica solo!
Cross My Palm … political sleaze and how it always seems to be made to go away. A wonderful look at today’s world of high finance and politics where there is, to quote the Bard, something “rotten in the Kingdom of Denmark”. This one features some very tasty bass work which underpins another wonderfully catchy synth melody and I love the organ sound used here which gives the entire track a much richer feel … superb stuff!
Leaving is a complete change of pace, acoustically driven with some impeccable acoustic playing from Alan himself, A man at odds with himself and his life, stay or go? Even abandoning one life, the weaknesses don’t go away. A superbly understated examination of the agonies of choice we all make in our lives,
The Other Side Of Morning, a Prog love song with some wonderful harmony vocals, an edited version of this should be a single as far as I am concerned, even in today’s boy/girl band dominated charts a song like this deserves to be heard by far more than the Prog ears that will lap it up especially as it morphs into a true Prog beast this is a classic in my book.
The Covenanter, draws its inspiration from Scottish history, the Covenanters were a political and religious organisation created to resist the rule of Charles I and his increasingly despotic rule. Or of course, a wry look at the current relationship (?) between an increasingly distant Westminster and Holyrood, you be the judges folks. A vivid lesson on political machinations historical and current all played out within some impeccable music and lyrics…. I love the passing nod to Pallas in the final coda!
Used To Be Someone is another wonderful slice of modern Prog combining an incredibly catchy guitar and synth line with some superb vocals from Alan. A fallen celebrity’s lament for his/her past life, the title says it all really.
Northern Light strangely enough gets under way with a sitar before turning in to a hymn for Alan’s homeland of Scotland which is truly magnificent in both its scope and its delivery, an epic homage to his homeland and one which is cast very much in the same mould as Fish’s Internal Exile but without the angst and is definitely a celebration rather than an elegy.
And there you have it, two exceptionally well crafted and executed albums of modern Prog but without the self indulgence which make so much of it tame to my ears. Alan’s ear for a melody and eye for a thought provoking lyric make both of these albums ones which have already become firm favourites with me and future listening will merely cement their position of staples in my musical diet. Excellent stuff all round.