Music Reviews and Recommendations


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Aeroplane : We Can't Fly [2010 Wall of Sound WOS077CD]

I am convinced if this album had been released in my punk days I would have hated it. Even today I sort of have it my guilty pleasures pile of CDs. Once one gets past the first track featuring Supertramp-like piano and guitar licks reminiscent of Roger Waters, we delve into "We Can't Fly," that has a Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards punchy kick. But these are only the introduction to the sweeping orchestral soundscape of Bertrand Burgalat and the classically-trained Vito Deluca who seemingly dragged Georgio Moroder into the studio to twiddle with "Superstar," an totally awesome disco version of ELO in their "Out Of The Blue" pomp. Even Depeche Mode-will be checking their back catalogue to see if they have been ripped off on "Without Lies", a track with an ace vocal by Sky Ferreira. The Belgian cosmic disco maestro evens haul the 70s onto a chilled-out Ibiza for "Caramellas" before providing cyclists with "My Enemy", a great Moroder-like disco workout with Abba overtones for a frantic turbo trainer session. This CD is gaudy, kitsch and beautiful. A guilty pleasure that totally rocks.

The See See : Fountayne Mountain [2012 Dell'Orso Records EDDA28CD]

A modern classic that music buffs of the future will be placing high up in their list of "Essential Albums of 2012." I heard a track of The See See and immediately bought this CD which, without reading any reviews, made me think of a hybrid of early Pink Floyd and The Stone Roses. Throw in some West Coast psychedelia and it is a heady mix by any standards. Admittedly, they unashamedly wear their influences on their sleeves but they have been to the devil and acquired all the best tunes. A magnificent second album from a band hailing from all corners of the globe.

Mojo Presents : Rumours Revisited [2013]

I am a sucker for a cover version, though I tend to like those that re-invent or re-work the song rather than simply copy the original. Today, I found myself playing "Rumours Revisited" which is a bit odd as I do not have a copy of "Rumours." The two stand-out tracks for me are a lovely folk version of "Songbird" by The Staves, plus an alt.Country take on "I Don't Want To Know" by Dylan Leblanc. Neither drift too much from the 1977 originals but they really are quite pleasant. The CD came with Mojo magazine in January 2013 and is available now in all good charity shops.

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Nara Leão : O Canto Livre De Nara [1965]

This is a 'must have' Bossa Nova album that should sit within any serious music collection. Nara Leão made several superb albums in the late 1960s and early 1970s but, according to South American aficionados, this is THE album. The Brazilian singer, who died tragically young of a brain tumor, was a key figure in the early Bossa Nova period and hung out with the likes of João Gilberto and Antânio Carlos Jobim. What makes this album so special is the production by Luiz Eca of the Tamba Trio, along with the collaboration of guitar and songwriter Dorival Caymmi. Combined with the Nara Leão's voice in the form of her life, these were the most perfect studio sessions.

Making Marks : A Thousand Half-Truths [2014 Fika Recordings FIKA035CD]

Formed from the embers of My Little Pony, this Norwegian indie-pop outfit released a few singles in 2012-3 and this debut album followed in 2014. It is rather front-loaded in that the album peters out a little towards the end. So, although not a strong record throughout, there are some lovely jewels amid the 10 tracks. Some of the strong structures are reminiscent of early Magic Numbers, a winning formula in my book. The second track "Barcodes" is particularly wonderful. "Lemon Sheets" is top-drawer polished pop perfection. Lead singer Ola Innset married Elizabeth Morris of indie twee-pop combo Allo, Darlin' and have since recorded as Elva, releasing the album "Winter Sun" in 2019.

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Orchestra Baobab : Specialist In All Styles [2002 World Circuit WCD 064]

This album is quite simply one of the best CDs issued in the 21st century so if you have not got a copy it is time to close this window and open up whatever favourite store you choose to buy from. I would recommend that you try your local record store but it is doubtful that they have this in stock. I can remember having a box full of their 1978 Paris Sessions album and trying to sell them for £2.99p and failing. Nowadays that CD sells for over £60! Anyway, you can pick up this beautiful recording for less than a fiver and, trust me, once purchased and played your soul will be uplifted and your life enriched. This Senegal outfit have been going for donkey's years - their story is a bit like the Buena Vista Social Club in that they split up for years and reformed when hip DJs started to revive their records. The other similarity is that the music is Afro-Cuban in style, the genre having returned across the Atlantic to fuse with the Congolese Soukous style predominant in the 1960s. Ibrahim Ferrer even appears on this album. There are other influences in the mix, notably from Morocco and at the controls is African cultural ambassador Youssou N'dour. Enough said really ... time to kick off your shoes and let fly around the living room to the sound of Orchestra Baobab.

Turnip King : Laika [2016 Fire Talk FTK-095]

2017 got off to a good start with my discovery of New York four-piece Turnip King. Actually, I was a little behind as "Laika," their debut EP, was released back in August 2016. It was on hearing the opening track "The Ho_Se" that first drew my attention to this band that once featured Nick Kivien of the Sunflower Bean [another excellent combo] but it is perhaps "Carsong," the second track that will probably emerge as a shoegazing classic that forges auditory territory somewhere between prime-time Cocteau Twins and My Bloody Valentine. This is a lovely record with which to be enveloped in their lovely guitar layers.

Mirrors : Lights and Offerings [2012 Skint Records BRASSIC063]

Imagine it is 2010 and fans of early Depeche Mode, Talk Talk and New Order are yearning for a lost album to satiate their appetite for all things electro-pop. Then along come Mirrors and blow their synth-pop minds to pieces with a total homage to the early 1980s. There could be a case for plagiarism of the highest order but for those who yearn for the sound of analogue synthesizers twiddled to the max they care not a jot. Moreover, this Brighton outfit delivered a premier league set of gorgeous tunes with magnificent pomp. If this album had been released in 1981 Mirrors would have knocked the Human League off the No.1 slot in the album charts.

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Har Mar Superstar : Bye Bye 17 [2013 Cult Records CLT002-2]

I don't think I will ever stop getting excited when the postman brings me a new CD to play. He arrived around noon with this album and I spent the afternoon on repeated listening. Released in 2013, it was a few years before I bought "Bye Bye 17" and learned that I had been missing out on a mini-classic. I had completely dismissed Har Mar Superstar as something of a novelty performer in the contemporary R&B style that some described as tongue-in-cheek hip-hop. During this period his songs were overtly sexual and he often performed them whilst getting his kit off. But after a spell of songwriting in New York, Sean Tillman [his real name] took himself off to Austin, Texas to team up with a soulful band with a retro-sound harking back to the classic 1960s deep south. The production is a bit lo-fi and consequently has a Phil Spector feel. It could have been sharper like the Dap-Kings but the rough-and-ready sound lends to its charm. Where it gets really funky the album sounds like an early-mid 70s affair by Stevie Wonder with Prince at the helm. "We Don't Sleep," for example, really packs a punch. Indeed, listening to this set one would think he had truly found his niche. However, his more recent "Best Summer Ever" wanders off into electronic-land. So perhaps this will be the defining moment in his eccentric and eclectic career. It is soul music but not quite as you know it.

Edu Lobo e Maria Bethãnia : Edu E Bethãnia [1967 Elenco Records ME-37]

When I learned that this album had been re-mastered and issued again on CD I got awfully excited. I presented this to myself as a Christmas gift. I have just played it twice and have been reduced to tears, such is its beauty. On this recording Eduardo Lobo teamed up with Maria Bethãnia to produce one of the great Bossa Nova albums of the 1960s. Sister of another Brazilian legend Caetano Veloso, Maria Bethãnia probably never bettered this performance. The album opens with a lovely version of the self-penned "Upa, Neguinho," though the more famous version is that with Gianfrancesco Guarnieri and the real cooking take was that by Quarteto Novo. Another album highlight is Maria's stunning performance on "Borandã." A quite beautiful record.

Alvvays : Alvvays [2014 Transgressive Records TRANS178]

Imagine that Swedish folk duo First Aid Kit have eschewed their direction and picked up electric guitars and formed an indie band influenced by Scottish popsters Camera Obscura and you will not be far away from the utterly enthralling sound of Alvvays. Their debut album is packed with melodic jangly guitar hooklines throughout - it's as pop heaven as Teenage Fanclub in their heyday. The latter are named influences of singer Molly Rankin, along with The Smiths, Pavement, Magnetic Fields and The Primitives. Shove all your other Canadian records to one side and make way for Toronto's finest.

Laura Marling : Once I Was An Eagle [2013 Virgin Records CDV3110]

I am going to admit that, although I really enjoyed Laura Marling's debut album, I had put her on the back-burner for a while. Well, that is until I listened to BBC Radio 4's "Mastertapes" which focused on her fourth CD. Interviewer John Wilson kept banging on about her being "just 22" when she recorded "Once I Was An Eagle" but, although she shows great maturity on the album, it has to be remembered that the likes of Dylan were making ground-breaking recordings during their early-20s. Marling is no new kid on the block for she first picked up a guitar at the age of 5 and was part of the new folk circuit in her mid-teens. "Once I Was An Eagle" can be regarded as a highlight on a long musical journey, a voyage that will hopefully continue for many years. A key element of the warm sound is the job performed by producer Ethan Johns, no mean musician himself. In the programme he talks about how he helped to shape the sound to bring Marling's material to a wider audience. His djembe underpins many of the songs. Now, I am also going to admit that I find the drop c tuning drone of the opening suite of songs a tadge difficult. This has however become a trademark of Marlingd's live performances. For me, it is not until she shakes loose on the fifth track "Master Hunter" that I am drawn into the hex of "Once I Was An Eagle." In this song she interlaces a Dylan-esque homage from "It Ain't Me Babe," artistic licence from one of her cornerstone influences. And from here there are still ten tracks to go during which she pours out her warmth, tenderness and soul on what is a remarkable album. The record's allure overflows during tracks 9-11, the highlight being "Where Can I Go?," complete with sublime organ, proof I would suggest that Laura Marling is one of the best singer-songwriters of her generation.

Eberg : Voff Voff [2006 Dharma Records DHARMACD7]

It is not often you get to buy a CD by someone who has invented a musical instrument. The Eharp is made from violin parts and a coat hanger. This produces one of the many unique sounds of Einar Tönsberg, the Icelandic electronica cult-hero who caused a bit of stir in 2003 with his first homemade album. "Voff Voff" is his follow-up opus and is another milestone in the Nordic island's rich musical heritage. It's weird, eclectic and slightly madcap, making it an album that repeat visits guarantee something you had not quite noticed previously. I have filed my copy under electronica but I think this wonderfully stimulating recording may be better suited in my esoteric section.

East River Pipe : What Are You On? [2006 Merge Records MRG271]

A rainy Sunday morning ... just the sort of day to be enveloped by a mighty aural experience. On first listening I wasn't sure if I was going to like "What Are You On?" as much as previous albums by East River Pipe. A second spin and I was quickly latching onto the continued genius of Frederick Cornog. I was soon onto the third rotation with the volume cranked up. The subject material may be a little uncomfortable listening to some as the detached observation of narcotics and hookers surfaces on more than one occasion, perhaps more reflections on his earlier drug-laden days. And, like many a great songline, there is plenty of scope for the listeners' imagination. For me, I much prefer to hear about the seedy underbelly of Americana than endure some inane or vacuous tale of love. And all the time, there is the signal sound of Cornog's lo-fi guitars which literally electrify my audio senses to the max.

The Lightnin' 3 : Morning, Noon & Night [2012 True Velvet Records TVR001]

Featuring the San Francisco-born Francophile Brisa Roché, the Lightnin' 3 released an album of covers in 2012 and is almost worth buying for the Bo Diddly-inspired version of Magazine's "The Light Pours Out of Me." However, the most popular song here is the cover of Ruby Andrews' 1967 soulful "Casanova." I like her birth name better - Stackhouse has bluesy connections. For those who like the crossover/retro soul of, say, Amy Winehouse this is good stuff.

Mojo Presents Dream Forever : A Dream Pop Compendium [2016]

This CD was stuck on the front of Mojo magazine in January 2017. It is a pretty decent collection of dreampop, ethereal folk and electronica. The CD means that Amber Arcades has not slipped beneath my radar - a gorgeous track from Annelotte de Graaf's new album recorded with members of Quilt and Real Estate. You can check out this Dutch artist at by clicking on this video.

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