Alright, this review is going to be a hymn about musical magic, vocal perfection and unlimited creativity.
Son of Town Hall is a duo formed only this year consisting of Ben Parker (UK) and David Berkeley (US). One single and the EP Son of Town Hall is what they have come up with so far. Ben Parker is a well-established musician, tutor (John Lennon biopic ‚Nowhere Boy‘) and composer (BBC 3 “How not to live your life”)) and was part of the duos Ben & Jason and The Chain both of which provided marvellous contributions to the musical universe and had vast potential to be recognized worldwide.
The same is true for Ben’s new project Son of Town Hall. With David Berkeley he has found a musical partner who seems to have similarly high standards regarding the quality of songs, performance and sound. They are both excellent guitarists and vocalists and their vocals seem to match so perfectly, no comparison would be too daring….Simon & Garfunkel come to mind. Now, what makes them really special is their pure and minimalized way of both performing and recording. That’s why the Son of Town Hall EP sounds just as natural and authentic as a life recording. Recorded by Jono Manson at the Kitchen Sink studio in New Mexico, USA and produced by themselves, this EP is a true treasure: Four wonderful songs played on beautiful old Gibson guitars and sung effortlessly with the most mesmerizing harmonies. I can’t stop listening and I think no one musical could. The songs reflect on love and life and with every line express experience in both real life and finest song writing. I just love listening to mature musical poetry like this.
All four songs are equal beauties and the whole EP is an absolute masterpiece in every respect: The displayed musicianship, the warm and at the same time clear sound, the vocal qualities and the magnificent song writing. I don’t, however, want to hide my extra love for Ben Parker’s singing. As I mentioned earlier, he does get recognition for his achievements as tutor and composer, also for his guitar skills but his qualities as one of the best singers I have heard, ever, have not been emphasized enough. The most wondrous thing to me is the numerous styles he has mastered. He can sing with the same intensity as Jeff Buckley, the same range as Freddy Mercury and the same diversity as Damien Rice. On this EP he sings softly and gentle with a lovely subtle chest vibrato here and there. Besides, he is an absolutely amazing harmony singer: While holding back his own vocal strength he can completely devote his concentration to the sake of the song and melt into any given melody.
But then the Son of Town Hall EP once more proves the old truth that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It’s certainly the release of the year to me. Son of Town Hall should be world famous. They will be.
Honey & The Bear’s second EP “About Time Too” is soul soothing and heart-warming. It’s a must on any EPs of the year list.
Lucy Sampson has long been on my radar as one of my favourite female vocalists. I just love her voice. It’s warm and clear but never sharp, it’s soft but can be really powerful too – and she navigates it exactly the way she wants it to sound. I am always amazed by her singing. But with Jon Hart she has found the perfect singing partner that lets her voice sparkle even more. Jon, just like Lucy, has been a solo artist himself for many years but likewise, in this duo he can bring in hall his talents to the full. He is a fascinating guitarist with a lovely and interesting finger picking style, he is also excellent on the double bass. These two complement each other in an absolute perfect way. Being just two people their sound is a perfect band sound as they cover so many instruments, a kick drum is of course never missing either!
The songs on this EP are just so comforting and full of hope and love….these two don’t preach, they write about love and both radiate love so authentically on stage like I have not often experienced before. Everyone feels wrapped in by their music and their lyrics, just like they sing in “Ocean”: “And in the dark I’ll find you, wrap my arms around you. When you think hope is lost I’ll let my love surround you.” Just gorgeous. I don’t hear many lines on love that speak to me – these lines do. “Pick it up” is an equally lovely love song with some beautiful introductory guitar work and a really groovy bass and percussion driven rhythm – marvellous. “William” and “Jack” are brilliant story telling modern folk tunes. Honey & The Bear mix traditional folk elements and their very own, modern, sometimes even pop driven styles, in a truly appealing way.
Lucy Sampson and Jon Hart self-produced the EP. The result is a 5 track piece of art that appears like a whole and perfect body with its necessary parts rather than some pieces randomly added to each other. Its sound is natural and transparent, no effects seem to have changed the songs into anything else but what they would sound like performed live.
I can’t wait for Honey & The Bear’s first full length album.
A new Ezio album is like a menu full of your favourite dishes. You don’t know what to like best, what to choose first, what to savour most.
Ezio Lunedei is a legendary songwriter. His songwriting material is a diverse and fascinating mix of musical and lyrical enterprises. Ezio doesn’t limit himself by excluding musical genres, lyrical taboo topics or instrumental styles. This new album Daylight Moon is the most striking proof this phenomenon. At the same time, it sounds like a musical journey through his own work. There are songs reminiscent of all sorts of styles he and his band mate Booga recorded in past albums. First and foremost there is “Been a long time coming” in the centre of the album which evidently hints to “Waiting for too long” from the album The Making of Mr. Spoons (2003). But, what is more, this song quotes several of Ezio’s lyrical phrases from quite a few of their earlier songs. Striking – an artist quoting himself lyrically and musically. It’s a first to me and comes across as an acknowledgment, a little friendly gesture to long term fans but that of course is entirely felt from the subjective and distorted perspective of precisely this, a long term fan. Long term fans will also find it a nice coincidence that it’s Peter van Hooke (Van Morrison and many more) playing the drums in this song, who was part of Ezio’s performances and recordings in their early years.
Ezio have always been great in keeping unique features in their music like e.g. Booga’s guitar sound or Ezio’s moody vocals but at the same time to do things entirely different from what they’ve done before. Best example for one of those delightful surprises is “The Gypsy Song”. It is a musical gem, uplifting in its character, ironic in its lyrics and it marvels with a delicate composition of drums (Sean McCurley), double bass (Lyn Seton), violin (Wolfgang Wehner) and guitar. This song specifically but also the album as a whole display Ezio Lunedei as a vocalist more than it has been the case on former recordings. The diversity of his singing with all its different shades and nuances gets more focussed. Not having any backing vocals on this album is an interesting detail of this focus.
One more line on the final song “Down, down, down” with the wonderful Lars Plogschties on drums. This song continues the decisive darkness and relished sadness of the former album (Adam and the Snake, 2014). It’s good to hear the gloomy moodiness of that sound again. It’s also good that the new album is not of the same character. But as a final track no other song could have done a better job.
Gareth Lee and Annie Baylis form a perfect and special duo that we will definitely hear more of. They have that certain something about them that makes them special. His warm baritone and her clear but never sharp soprano voice build a superb mixture of vocal sounds, accompanied by his guitar and her viola/ accordeon. Their performance creates a genuine, natural, authentic sound that is refreshing. On this 4 track EP “Future Writer” this is being displayed wonderfully, added by some additional guitar, piano, drum and bass work. This is their second EP, a collection of 4 wonderful, 4 perfect songs. Every song just sounds natural and effortless and somehow relaxed in the best possible way. Track 3, “House by the Sea” is an instrumental, quite surprisingly, yet very suiting. Their musicianship gets room to unfold in this song especially but also in each of the other tracks. All of them leave space for every note to enfold and for the lyrics to be heard. The clarity of the arrangements make the sound transparent and fresh. I think we can expect more great things to come.
Tobias ben Jacob and Lukas Drinkwater build a stunning duo that really sticks out in the folk music scene. Their sound has a touch of classical music, partly due to Lukas’ double bass playing using the bow a lot and partly due to Tobias’ exquisite finger picking guitar style. Also, Tobias’ vocals enforce the perception of their music being fragile pieces of art. Their harmonies are perfect and, for my taste, do deserve even more exposure on their recordings.
Their debut EP was already a real musical beauty but this live recording really is beyond all expectations. Just a double bass and an acoustic guitar and two vocals – how can they create so much diversity and tension in a row of 10 songs? The answer can only be found in their truly ingenious musicianship plus in the synergetic effect of these two super talented people performing together: The whole is definitely more than the sum of its parts here. Tobias’ and Lukas’ playing and singing melts into one amazing musical experience that the audience relishes. Releasing a live recording consequently has been exactly the right thing to do. No backing band needed, no effects required, just these two and their audience. I am not going into any specific song – they are all lovely. Except for one that has not made it on to the album: “A Polyphonic Life” – I have missed that one a tiny little bit. But why moan when there are 10 great songs to be enjoyed.
Seeing these two live is certainly something extraordinary to look forward to…
Label: Louvaio Productions
There is something about Swedish pop music. Kasban is another Swedish band that knows how to write superb pop music without a cheap or cheesy touch. First of all, it’s three great musicians that make great music with whatever instruments you give them, two of which are really talented singers with a charming softness in their voices that are hard not to like. Well, best you give Henning Sernhede a mandolin or an electric guitar and Jonas Abrahamsson keys and drums and Johannes Mattson a bass guitar. Henning Sernhede is an extraordinary guitarist and even more so as he always plays his guitar with a sort of understatement, modesty, and devotion to the song, which is just so enjoyable, e.g. in “WOOT” and “Soldier”, but you can hear it on nearly every song.
Some of you might have come across them as band members of the wonderful Benjamin Folke Thomas who has always been praised for his great band. What hasn’t been so evident is how talented two of them are as songwriters too. Jonas Abrahamsson and Henning Sernhede mix genres seemingly unafraid of anything: So what really is a full-fledged pop album called IV comes up with a song like “On Sale” in the second half of the album that is purely arranged with engaging keys and passionate vocals (Jonas Abrahamsson) and some super cool electric guitar effects (Henning Sernhede): very pure, very intense. This is followed, most surprisingly, by the beautiful instrumental jazz number “Windhoek”. The final track “All I ever wanted to Say”, however, is presented as an atmospheric soul number. Oh yes, and “Rather than not Having you” in the first half of the album comes along as a wonderful fragile acoustic track with Henning Sernhede on mandolin and Jonas Abrahamsson on vocals as well as Josefin Runsteen (vocals and violin). Sticking to any sort of genre is evidently of no interest to the three Swedes – and right they are. This cross over of different genres gives an album full of fresh and youthful pop songs the finishing touch – an album perfect for nice and long summer nights to come.
After three astonishing albums (The Polyanna Cramp 2012, elephant 2013, First Aid of the Drowning 2015) a new album by Matthew the Oxx has just been released on Wild Sounds: Haul it Up. It is one of the most surprising albums I have heard in a long while, totally different from what I expected. The first three albums have fascinated me because of their wonderful melodies and beautiful chord structures as well as their beauty in sound and substance. Lyrically they were based around love and death. Now we get something totally different: This album is more like an invitation to take action than to dive deep into emotion. The album title implies this. The title track, placed in the centre of the album is a great rock tune with a nice building up of tension. Sounds of a jaw harp seem to indicate an appeal not to take things too seriously. Similarly, in the third track Bonehouse, a horn seems to remind us that everything is not quite as serious as it might seem. Good job for a song in which the lyrics in a fantastic bridge say: “How many bones must I break before I get my piece of the cake?” There a more cracking songs on this album like the opener File Away and the final track Shine it Up – up beat songs with great guitar work, lively, enthusiastic songs. There also some quieter ones like When I leave you or Candlesong that give a glimpse of the amazing songwriting talent that Matthew the Oxx is. He wrote these songs when he was in the beginning of his twenties and they have only been released now, quite a number of years later, thanks to the wonderful independent label Wild Sounds. It’s great to be made familiar with some of the musical roots or starting points of a singer-songwriter of his quality. I wish I could have that pleasure with more of my favourite singer-songwriters, I am sure it would be great fun!
“What am I?” – there couldn’t have been a more suitable title for an absolute cracker of an album by a truly gifted instrumentalist and singer, Tim Loud. I do like when songwriters help listeners to understand what they are trying to bring across and don’t hide their messages. Tim Loud certainly is one of those whose is trying to help – not only with lyrics that one can follow but also with the design and additional booklet as well as extracts from his lyrics. “What am I” gives us several perspectives and attitudes towards life and offers several roles one can see oneself in. This is represented playfully and often with a little twinkle in the eye in all of the 9 musical pieces. Elements of punk, rock, gospel, folk and country build a fantastically colourful mixture of music.
Almost each song has a surprise for the listener waiting, like a drum solo in “No Fight” or a hilarious Billy Bragg imitation in the opener “I don’t care what Everybody else says about you,…”. Tim Loud’s vocal abilities are best displayed in rock driven ballads like “Itch” and “No Fight”. There is a sort of happy anger in many of these songs that one is drawn to and also confused by, surely not accidentally: “…tried a lot of crazy things, even one time suicide…” – sung in a happy manner with some sweet backing vocals in the “That’s life”. That is confusing, yet does represent the ambiguity of life. Similarly, “Isolation” has such an energetic and uplifting sound that makes you literally want to jump around, but again the lyrics build a proper juxtaposition to it. It’s about the demons one has to fight. A fine guitar solo comes into play and then flows nicely back into the song until it is played in unison with the chorus, another example of the many musical treats on this album.
The guitar work as such is absolutely worth listening to on this album – most of it delivered by Tim Loud himself, though in two songs additionally played by El Nico from X-Ray-Cat. Talking about the guitar work I have to mention “The Slip” – here we are treated to a sort of guitar dialogue of different, acoustic and electric guitars that is special indeed and another of the many musical delicacies on this album. I could go on and on, never even mentioned the unusual and really suiting gang vocals in some of the songs, let me just point to one more detail: There is a progressing melody in “Control” that is first just sung and played in unison with the a guitar, then the bass takes on the same scale, accompanied by the drums till it finally all gets back to the chorus – delicate. As to the sound (Kurt Wood and Ed Hall), I find it quite amazing that the acoustic guitar always is clearly displayed despite the rich electric guitar work. Also definitely worth a mention: Joel Murray on accordion and Kurt Wood on percussion. They do supply the music with irresistible and dynamic lifelines.
The “Ballad of Sally Moore” is a touching story, viewed at from three different angles, told in three different songs. Jason Tyler Burton is a fantastic songwriter whose wonderful chord progressions have intrigued me on his debut EP as much as on his debut album and now again in this new project of his. Now, despite the sad topic of a woman who flees from domestic violence, these three songs are not all sad. The first one, sung from the perspective of her abusive husband, being the saddest one is followed by two rather upbeat tracks. Their instrumentation is diverse and creates a superb sound texture that displays the Burton’s classy acoustic guitar style beautifully. Moody electric guitar solos as well as some nicely chosen string parts add to the special atmosphere in the second and third track. Burton’s vocals are touching and authentic, he completely devotes himself to the storytelling. The three songs manage to show how one person’s fate can create so many thoughts and images in the surrounding people and touches them in different ways. It surely shows that everyone’s life matters and certainly has an influence on others and that is a consoling thought. This might be why despite the sad story behind it the songs don’t leave you sad. Here are three masterpieces of excellent song writing, every song carefully build and formed in order to convey their stories as tangible as possible.
Tobias ben Jacob and Lukas Drinkwater are one of those duos that, once heard, you just want to hear more of. Their vocals match perfectly and their instruments complement each other extremely well. Lukas’s versatile and creative double bass lines underlay the moody songs with a vibrant tone and Tobias’s delicate finger picking guitar style gets a beautiful juxtaposition. The hit of this record clearly is “Burning Low”, that’s probably why chosen as the opener and also the title song. It is a strong song and one of those songs that you don’t forget. The rhythmic bass line drags you in and creates a certain tension that stays for the whole length of the song, and beyond. The other 5 songs though have a lot to offer too. The intriguing “The Devil & Tobias ben Jacob” with many passages whispered is unusual and deserves attention. Also “A Polyphonic Life” has something very special about it – it says: “Let me breathe, let me fly, let me live a polyphonic life…”, that’s nicely put any music lover will be able to relate to it. The melody is gorgeous and holds lots of little surprises. And it does justice to Tobias ben Jacob’s vocal qualities that are displayed beautifully in this final song of a fabulous debut EP.