Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Men They Couldn't Hang - Devil on the Wind Irregular

The further adventures from the quarter century of driving punk fuelled folk on this first album for several years, returning for troubled, intolerable and intolerant times perhaps? Once again into the fray swing the twin rough drink / smooth chaser combination of Phil Swill and Stefan Cush, mixing sweet traditional melodies carried on winds of strident lyricism and personal internal narratives related round scarred campfires against background warning fires of international and local issues, as they've done since their earliest days. No quick under-contract knees-up this either, and this English band of renegade rabble-rousers should in no way be a found as a destitute folk-flecked footnote faintly etched in some outlying rock formation at the edge of a cratered country field. Coming of age in the hard-left Thatcher-hatchet political turmoil of the mid-eighties TMTCH may not have cracked the critical and commercial crags of The Pogues or The Waterboys, though the frequent lyrical and musical landscapes and atmospherics they conjure is equally, easily as enchanting and affecting as either and neither an accident nor contrivance. Give or take the occasional iconic crossover chart-anthem and quoteworthy, catastrophe-courting, crazily charismatic frontchap there is much to compare with Scott and MacGowan's works. That that applies here too, as well as with Steve Earle, especially on the returning vet lament of Reservoir, also adds further to this release's cachet of contender for album of the year, alongside and subtly surpassing Ricky Warwick's Belfast Confetti - not least by having another head to head by the title track vying with Warwick's The Arms Of Belfast Town for track of the year. Violin tapestries of eastern overtones swirl through the opening title track, a sort of updated Sympathy For The Devil for the current climate with the narrator cropping up in various epochs from Babylon through Byzantium, Nebuchadnezzar and Alexander and midway through the crusader piece Overseas plays the past of a sort of companion piece. It's no twee symbol that you can a'most positively hear seagulls reeling round the forlornly lovely Mrs Avery as much as taste the bittersweet air of nostalgia on Heartbreak Park or the menace and pangs of desolation and despair encroaching The Ragged Shoreline. Bobby Valentino's violin throughout the eleven tracks is as windswept and high lonesome, swooping and soaring as Steve Wickham's with The Waterboys, and is deserving of special mention in this dispatch, adding to the standing of the already majestic bearing of this set above and beyond the basis of mandolin, guitar and occasional accordion and piano accompaniments. Though on the surface they may not be as rough n' rowdy as their initial mid-eighties break for freedom, initially the raggedy songs that bookend the album appear the more spirited, there's plenty of joyfully rousing moments as on the sha lalalala chorus of the sad-eyed though not low-lying Aquamarine and the fuzzy rockabilly railroad shake of A Real Rain Coming, never mind the ecstatic ire on the already raved-on title track and Reservoir or the seemingly slight send off / stalker's ode Lost World and sweetheart of the towpath Byrds-call of Hard To Find. A cursory glance of closer inspection, if any should be needed, will effectively demonstrate that the ferocity of yore is plainly present, it's now just/simply/merely even more of a barely contained squall of the bittersweet and seething, here a sure sign of control and comfortable confidence not one of suffocating scant ideas under cloying production. A special, passionate spell.
Stu Gibson
The Vibes - Whiskey, Sex & Rock'n'Roll
The Vibes

The usual band brouhahaha and bollock-less twaddle about their rawk credentials largely results in records being ditched kitchen floor-ward to join slugs of a different though no less slimy nature, guffawed at or just flung in disbelief in the vain hope a godzilla style monster will come and crush them into brawnflakes. Coincidentally, here's a band to do just about that, if they feel like it. Finally a band that can match the bullshit bonanza with a firm grip on the bull horns to boot, with some ultrafuzz flair with a bass that rides in on waves of demonic distortion and gelding guitar riffrump it comes as nay surprise to these northern cloth ears that this trio are from Switzerland. After all, below the surface in that fair land lies the lair of Lightning Beatman's empire and these guys are as real as that guy, just a few substylings away, but the same slag-happy abandon with the rock possess these guys giving that all so indefinable air that makes that quintessential difference between the try-hards and die-hards. With something of Scandinavian southern by the grace of the northern lights sleaze bezerkers The Sewergrooves there's much chest-beating biker boogie like Skynyrd electrotorched by the flames from The Cult's Electric hog-temple with fires further stoked by the garage gut-fucked organ grinds of The Lords Of Altamont, there's country (possible album best On My Way) and indie-psych slivers too veering into Black Devil Mary Chain Club's side of town where Zen Guerilla sit perusing some super nitro b-movie titular art too like a menu of macabre delight - Devil's Nipples, Fatten The Cattle, The Warlords Of Tennessee, Ride Your Horse Down. I'd include Bed Rebel maybe too but it strikes me more like an ode to shitting yerself and not giving a literal fuck, or buggering your mate 'by mistake' Flight Of The Conchords style, though maybe that's a sign to end a review. Other than than quite the smoking ace all the way baby.
Stu Gibson
Don't Stop Believin' - How Karaoke Conquered The World And Changed My Life
By Brian Raftery
Da Capo

Part travelogue, part memoir, part history but whichever stage it takes at whatever goddamn time it pleases it's centred around a strange affection, or fixation, for the curious craze from the crazy country. Realizing he may just have to start growing up at least a little, journo Raftery ventures into a year long world tour of karaoke bars, celebrating the inner geek and utter outsider in a manner not unlike, but not quite like, Chuck Klosterman. And around that mark is plenty good enough, it's sweet and sorta feelgood - hell, maybe it's like hack-lit or something - and an engaging and even moving little slice of personal history. Oh, and just a wee bit funny too, with deft observations and daft acquaintances. Music fan nerd kid can't sing, wanders drunkenly around for a while (there's a gap between those two points though) managing to hold down some jobs whilst frequenting karakoe bars and discovering some semblance of self-confidence, (fast forward) gets girl, gets married. Yes, has karaoke at wedding. Plus, cheap n' easy nasty shot it may be but any book that starts by calling Don Henly 'a sanctimonious knob' must surely be worth a read. Idiosyncratic, scattershot and self-effacing, maybe not quite captivating at all times but a fast-paced flick through the hit lists and crashing misses of the industry, and whatever esle sort of crosses his mind. Basically anyone who calls themselves a music fan who can't look at this affectionately or recongises themselves in it deserves a demise as drastic and drawn out as Henley's.
Stu Gibson
Son Volt - American Central Dust
Rounder

'Bigger chariots didn't save Rome...' - When The Wheels Don't Move

Ex-Uncle Tupelo man Jay Farrar's third SV album since gathering a new line up a few years back sees his stream of consciousness beat poetics and car-grease americana careen literately and landscape loosely around themes of love and laments to everyday events that pass in the wink of a young girls eye and the wave of a long lost friend...and Keith snorting his pa (Cocaine And Ashes). Yet more novella songs set round travel - the open road, always the road - and bars and vague hints at distant glories once remembered? Yeah it's catching, as is this quietly confident yet diffident album. There's rolling rhythms over acoustic guitars that unravel around gently fuzzed drone guitars, steel and organ over which these reminisces are murmured. It's a largely swirling twilight of an album that unfurls it's fertile secrets long after the stop signs have been passed and the romantic ache of the likes of Dust Of Daylight, the daydream drive in a rocking chair on No Turning Back, the broiling waltzing Strength And Doubt or bitter riposte to the righteously intolerant industrialists of When The Wheels Don't Move can only be met with disinclination by the blindly devout or bizarrely idyllic.
Stu Gibson
Goldie Hill - Don't Send Me No More Roses
Righteous

Before there was Emmylou, Maria McKee, way back before even there was Patsy, Tammy, Dolly and Loretta Lynn there was Goldie Hill alongside Kitty Wells as one of country's first lady's spilling stoical tears of love's grave-lusting troubles. From before her 1953 numero 1 I Let The Stars Get In My Eyes (a song she got to before Ms Wells) here is a collection of early singles before her descent, or ascent, into whatever passes for marital bliss in Nashville with country legend and Johnny Cash compadre Carl Smith following which her career petered out after a slide into the spruced up late sixties Nashville sound which begat the current tastless and tater-less conveyor belt of cloying kak on too many boots n' suits. For a quick step comparison following the above, the sparse arrangements of fiddle, slide and shuffling in the parlour acoustic guitar, are like a female Hank Williams, Call Off The Wedding almost marrying his Wedding Bells and her voice a similar keening spine-crawling quivering twang, though one that can soar beyond any black n' blue bruised moon as on the howl in echo on Cry Cry Darling. She ain't no dismal damsel though, whether or not she be the loneliest gal in town as the song attests, if ya care to witness the kiss off to a suitor of the title track, and Say Big Boy, this Texan dame sure seemed like one kick arse lass behind the heartbreak here.
Stu Gibson
The Rocketz - We Are...The Rocketz
Analog Arkives

'We're drinking at full throttle
'Til we can't see the label on the bottle' - Label On The Bottle

Tony Slash's Orange County rockers return with a second album here and kickstart some fun and games into the gamut of torpidly self-conscious psychobilly tales of zombies and gore with a heads down, hands up, feet splayed torrent of anthems of fun and odes to fucking up, that covers far more country and swinging ground than the oft-times all too literally psycho no-brain crews that should be cavorted back to their coffin and sealed up for good, or at least deposited in a South London borough like Croydon to meet some real psychotic creeps - or that Compton place for you cross-ponderosas. Yeah, there's mucho that Rvnd Horton Heat could lay claim to in his heavier rollin' times (Label On The Bottle was surely a country drunk classic when it was just mere sweat on a string in a rearsal room, Dig The Way I Roll and Razor Blades wiped up after) but his heat doesn't fuse him so much with L.A., or any, punk (Gettin My Kix recalls New Bomb Turks' Job, Loser chucks rocks at you from it's stinky li'l enclave like Zeke running outta crack), nor have the true tear-jerking reminisce on East L.A., forsaking that for knowing nudges n' winks. There's much heart here that recalls fellow Orange County country punkers Social Distortion though this is far more rockin' than Ness' punkier cohorts and a 'billyfried cover of Holiday In Cambodia mayn't be the most essential item in the world ever but is a justifiable presence cos it cooks said rice in about three seconds flat. As does pretty much all of this super slew of revelry. Go on, get 'em in.
Stu Gibson
The Robin Hoare Band - A Time And Place
Robin Hoare

As far as yours Stuly's dreaded bugbear of modern urban contemporary blues goes this blast of stormy mondays and cheated hearts from Sheffield, city of steelworks and synth-pop, goes some stretch to reseal that gap. Sure, it has the funky precision session backing but it also has some blistering, visceral guitar and smooth Scotch n' Guiness vocals that slice through which should lead him to waste the songs away and screech into some smoky dereliction the financially fuckscuppered tales of opener Living On The Easyplan, Aleena and Online Gambling Game tell of. Sorta let go and throw all the songs you know into the breech and see what bargain waits in the basement. As ever for these quarters, far too discreet and tasteful but at least it starts to bite at the usual self-satisfied Savile Row tailored benchmark that sadly passes for blues these days.
Stu Gibson
Li'l Mo And The Monicats - On The Moon
Cow Island

New York honky tonk anynighttime gal Monica Passin puts out totally undiluted, uncluttered, nuthin' wasted or watered down country music in the grand tradition of demure but never dainty dames that may have size three feet but could lash any lout with a tongue-twisting fist and a voice the size of a rocket ship from Venus set to suprastun a la Patsy, Wanda and onto Ms McKee and Lucinda. Third album, and only the second in ten years, she stretches out here into 60's pop, soul (Baby Be Good), and the whole water-wading range of American song sung under all hues from blue to gold from shuffles, strolls and waltzes to cajun and gentle ragtime blues (Why Don't You Live With Me?) to that old devil rock'n'roll it's very selvis on He's A Handful. With this range she really should peddle out the pretty petal picking a tad more often but for now and how much longer this splendido set will more 'n suffice.
Stu Gibson
Walking Wounded - Waiting On The Outside
Stovepony

Having been industriously plying their blend of gypsy celtic eastern european bluesy reggae punk for thirty years - this being their first fully distributed album out of eight - this East End collective beat gimmicky upstarts like Gogol Bordello and every inept indie schmuck who swapped their Libertines records for Tom Waits ones but kept the titfer, hell, they even predate old Joe and his Mescaleros by a good few moments. They quite possibly have more good moments than that band too, for this is a lovely little record with a similar big hearted embrace of world music lifted directly from the cross-cultural climate of their base camp. Informed by leader Hugh Poulton's work as a Human Rights activist and Amnesty International worker the songs range from the Balkan wars (Vino Ulje Rakija) to London's young gang knife crime (Hackney Central / Murder Mile) through to evolution (Talking Evolution), friendship (on the lovely Pictures) and scene-scraping posers on Betwixt & Between / Saturday Night Down The Balls Pond Road, all related with a voice like a more tuneful Nikki Sudden. Retaining a good humour and party heart, it also quite easily outsteps the cliche crusty punk you could be forgiven for thinking of. So no RDF and no right on preaching, just righteous infectious grooves and sharply sketched characterisations of the bustle of the borough called the world.
Stu Gibson
Heartless Bastards - The Mountain
Fat Possum

The awesome name of this Ohio vs Austin trio may suggest an onslaught of muscle depleting metal but this mountain is a creaky hollow littered with ramshackle hovels cluttered with minimalist cowpunkratered blues veering betweeen creepily calm Appalachia and clanking death knell caterwauls. With Erika Wennerstrom's quivering keening vocals recalling the distinct and ethereal air of Puerto Muerto's Christa Meyer or the spark of a less sultry Lucinda Williams, even a more adrift Gillian Welch, their name is misleading as they work on the reverse by bringing warmth to cold climes. There's nothing particularly warm or fuzzy though, these woozy woe-fuelled fables are winter chills but are sweetly sinister - see the sing-song Could Be So Happy or Nothing Seems The Same. The rudimentary set up does slightly disappoint at times (Out At Sea, Early In The Morning) as they verge too much into hackle rising, pointlessly ploughed Led Zep / White Stripes / Black Keys terrain though there's enough whimsical, mystical instances such as the ultra twisting, lulling banjo-ladled Had To Go, the prairie wife left on the homestead fiddle-led lament So Quiet and the desolate slide-riddled title track opener to make simplistic comparisons to others encamped on the same side of the river quake outta town in their shit-filled britches.
Stu Gibson
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