Saturday, May 31, 2008

Free album: Nine Inch Nails - The Slip

I'm not here to talk about the album in the picture above, but when I found this image online, I just couldn't resist posting it! You really can buy this CD...if you don't believe me, or are desperate to get your hands on a copy for the little'un, go here (where you can also get 'lullaby renditions' of The Ramones, Nirvana, Green Day, Smashing Pumpkins and Metallica, amongst others!).
What I am really here to mention is Nine Inch Nails' latest digital release The Slip, a full-length (43:45 minutes), 10 song, FREE album download. It was unleashed on May 5th, but I have been tardy, since downloading it, in getting around to actually listening.
The release is both free in the pecuniary sense, and also DRM-free, released under a creative commons licence. Whilst the mp3s (and a zip file, if you want the lot) are posted below, should you want the music in higher quality (flac lossless and high def, m4a lossless, 24/96 WAVE) then you should head across to the website and download it from there. You are also encouraged, if you are far more technologically advanced and musically talented than the likes of me, to remix the songs by going here.
I like The Slip. The quality of the tracks is great, particularly by comparison with the majority of free albums out there. Don't be expecting a new Pretty Hate Machine or The Downward Spiral, but I would definitely say that this is better than Ghosts I-IV and Year Zero. The lyrics are way short of impressive, but it sounds really rather good. It features quite a few of the more ambient tracks we have come to expect from Trent Reznor in recent years...personally, I like these - and think they show that he can move beyond 'angry young man', which would get dull 20 years into a musical career - some don't.
What pleases me most is that every song has its own artwork (which also comes as a PDF alongside the mp3s upon download). Free and pretty...bring it on!

1. 999,999

2. 1,000,000

3. Letting You

4. Discipline

5. Echoplex

6. Head Down

7. Lights in the Sky

8. Corona Radiata

9. The Four of Us are Dying

10.Demon Seed

The Slip - Nine Inch Nails (zip)

Oh, and you can also listen to the lot over at iLike.

NIN tour dates (US and Canada only for now folks).

Live Music Review: The Felice Brothers (plus Sarah Borges and the Broken Singles) at The Cluny, Newcastle, 24/05/08

First up tonight, in a special Bank Holiday/Evolution Festival double bill, were Massachusetts' (try saying that after you have sunk a few beers!) Sarah Borges and The Broken Singles, joining us for the final show of their current UK tour. I'm going to put my neck on the line here and front up to the fact that I was underwhelmed. To me, although polished, this just sounded like relatively formulaic country-rock. Whilst Borges undeniably has a good voice, there was just a bit too much 'show' in this show for my tastes – Borges seemed to be in 'perform mode' and just didn't look relaxed enough to truly get into the music. The set was definitely not terrible, but nor did it leave me with any warm, fuzzy feelings. And therefore I shall move on...
Second act The Felice Brothers could hardly have been more different. If it is possible for music to sound 'scruffy', these fellas have it. Gloriously scruffy, ramshackle and uproarious. Hell, the rumours even claim that their first album, the now hard-to-find 'The Adventures of the Felice Brothers, Vol. 1', was recorded in a chicken coop! Brothers Ian, James and Simone Felice, along with pals Farley and Christmas, create a country-rock/Americana sound than is damn near irresistible.
Ian Felice takes the majority of lead vocals (and guitar), with Jimmy (accordion) and Simone (drums) stepping into the breach from time to time. Farley brings us washboard and fiddle, and Christmas, apparently the strong, silent type, backs it all up with his bass.
This is drinking music, designed to be played in bars (a nice fit for the atmosphere of The Cluny, then!)...they even have a song called 'Whiskey in My Whiskey'. Semi-ordered chaos, as they juggle instruments and vie for space on stage results in, fortunately, not disaster but great music and a whole heap of fun. And we got to be the first to catch this riotous melee, as this was the first date on their UK tour.
Hailing from upstate New York's Catskill Mountains, not far from Woodstock, the obvious comparisons to The Band all ring true, but these guys are not just some sort of mediocre tribute act. Other influences including Townes Van Zandt, The Byrds and possibly even The Avett Brothers combine with their own unique outlook and personality to bring us something respectful to outlaw country tradition, and yet somehow simultaneously fresh and new.
Whilst Ian is generally the front man, Jimmy is perhaps the most easy to to relate to from the floor, and Simone looks like some kind of crazed and wild-eyed cat. It was, however, tea and not stronger stuff that he was asking around for before the gig! Which may have been the reason for the following song introduction from him: “This is a song about famine and pestilence...and I have to go pee”!
Song highlights included Frankie's Gun, which has been causing something of a stir in the blogging world so far this year, Ballad of Lou the Welterweight and Ruby Mae. Relaxed and unpretentious, this gig was entertaining to the end, when they finished on a spiritual which had me tapping my foot throughout. Good, although perhaps not so clean, fun!

mp3:Frankie's Gun - The Felice Brothers

mp3:Ruby Mae - The Felice Brothers

mp3:Hey Hey Revolver - The Felice Brothers

Listen to The Felice Brothers at MySpace (listen to Sarah Borges at MySpace, if you want, too).
Buy their eponymous album here.
You can also find my reviews of this, Tift Merritt and Chatham County Line at the Jumpin' Hot Club website reviews page.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Live Music Review: Tift Merritt at The Cluny, Newcastle, 17/05/08

Tift Merritt clearly enjoys performing in Newcastle, and Newcastle indubitably enjoys turning out to see her perform. The last time she was here was as support for Dwight Yoakam; tonight she was centre stage. The Cluny was packed for the occasion and the atmosphere was excitable and intimate; there was a real appreciation of Merritt's talent for live performance, and a wonderfully inclusive feel to the gig, thanks to her easy, natural rapport with her audience.

On stage, Tift was appealingly non-showy – she just did it how she does it, no masquerade, coming across sweet and unpretentious, almost na├»ve at times – slightly coy and shy, with a face of beatitude and, almost, surprise with each rapturous audience applause. And her beaming smile was certainly infectious.

The audience loved her. And she loved them back. I lost count of the number of times she told us how much she likes Newcastle. Almost as soon as she took to the stage, she declared “Newcastle always seems wild!”, which progressed to “I love you guys...I'm in love with Newcastle”, “You're breaking my heart 'cos I don't want to leave” and “I'll be smiling for weeks” by the end of her show. She expressed all of these sentiments with a genuine, human warmth – which only endeared us even further to her, over and above her magnificent musical performance.

Almost half of the set tonight was completely acoustic, off mike. Tift's voice still managed to fill the whole venue, which was respectfully silent whilst she was playing. She really cared about our experience, a quality sadly lacking in big name acts these days – go to see Bob Dylan or Van Morrison and you will see what I mean. At one point she hopped up onto the monitor to knock out a tune, scaling her way back down after finishing, feeling a little unsafe with the speaker directly overhead. She still asked us, however, when she next went off mike, “Can you hear me better when I'm tall?”.

Merritt's diminutive size, which makes her look a great deal younger than her 33 years, belies a certain confidence and an accomplished knack for writing original and well-rounded songs. The music here is, essentially, country music, however she often moved behind her guitar with a rock chick swagger. In both this and her live sound, she brought to mind Sheryl Crow. This was tempered with a large serving of Carole King (the comparisons particularly true with her song 'Good Hearted Man'). I do not say this lightly – Merritt is a real talent with a whole goodie bag of songs that, given the chance in today's current music industry climate, will endure.

Her face truly expresses the emotion behind every word she sings and, as with her above proclamations, this in no way appears over-acted or superficial. Switching between guitar and keyboard, plugged and unplugged, this was a stunning spectacle from start to finish. She is definitely not one to be missed should you happen upon the opportunity to catch her live – a talent, a total sweetheart, and a sound lass. What more could you ask for?

mp3: Broken - Tift Merritt

mp3: My Heart is Free - Tift Merritt

mp3: Good Hearted Man - Tift Merritt

Visit Tift at:
Her website

Or visit this fan community for lots of goodies, including bootleg and acoustic track downloads (you will need to register to get your hands on the downloads).

Buy Tift's latest album Another Country here.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Album Preview: Joan As Police Woman - To Survive

I made notes on my first couple of listen-throughs of Joan Wasser (aka Joan As Police Woman)'s sophomore album, To Survive. I have subsequently, erm, misplaced both lots of notes and, therefore I shall keep this one brief!
This follow-up to Wasser's 2006 debut Real Life will be released (in the UK) on June 9th and, as a most basic precis, I would get your pre-orders in now, as this is a good'un.

The album is imbued with all of the emotions surrounding the death of Joan's mother. It is mature and contemplative, and errs just on the right side of melancholy - all understated piano, lush strings (particularly on Magpies) and the odd well-timed horn section coalescing with the unusual phrasing we came to know and love on the previous release.
Holiday is possibly the most upbeat song here, and probably sounds the closest to Wasser's previous work, with To Survive reminding of a more sombre version of her earlier song Real Life. However, for me, the show stopper is To Be Lonely, a superbly composed song that ranks amongst my favourites so far this year. Despite the title and its reflective tone, the song remains ruminant and tenebrific (what an ace word...a new one on me, courtesy of and my need for a synonym of 'sombre'!) in exactly the right way. It is plaintive, full off emotion you can almost touch and emanates, if not defeat, resignation and, for want of a more capable way of putting it, acceptance of one's lot. Hard White Wall is another gorgeous song, and the one that follows it, Furious, is also rather smashing.
Closing song To America features the vocal contributions of Rufus Wainwright, for whom Joan has previously worked as a backing singer. In my opinion, with this album she has truly surpassed him.

mp3: To Be Lonely - Joan As Police Woman
Pre-order To Survive here (you can order it on vinyl too...yippee! I think I may even have to have it on vinyl myself!), or indeed at any reputable online music distributor ;o)

Monday, May 19, 2008

Finger Pickin' Good: Chatham County Line at The Cluny, Newcastle, 10/05/08 (plus Jill Barber)

The other night I dreamt that I was having some kind of lovely, tactile flirtation with Carrie Brownstein. Awesome. I have a lot of respect for the woman...Excuse 17, Sleater-Kinney, the ever-literate Monitor Mix...I'm not so keen on Thunderant, but that can be forgiven. Unfortunately, although in this dream we were clearly pals, I was something of a sycophant (unlike last week when I was being pleasured by Sunny Sweeney and didn't need to be...another dream I hasten to add! I do find it rather odd the people that pop up unannounced, and generally uninvited, in my nocturnal visions!). I tell you this despite it being mostly irrelevant because, that same night, I also dreamt that I was interviewing Dave Wilson from Chatham County Line. Which made a little more sense, as I had gone to see them live a few days before.
The interview didn't actually happen, of course, but was did happen is that Graham, the self-proclaimed "head honcho" of the marvellous Jumpin' Hot Club offered to put me on the guest list and gave me the opportunity to write a review for the J&H website.
Events and ents are like buses, it would seem. Granted, I go to a lot of gigs, but my social calendar can otherwise seem to be a bit like a large slab of emmental, i.e. with lots of holes in it! Not so this particular Saturday evening, when I was spoilt for choice - a friend's birthday meal and evening out; Beth Jeans Houghton (who I have been meaning to write about on this here blog for a jolly long time now) and Richard Dawson performing at my favourite cafe in Newcastle (Belle and Herbs in case you are Novocastrian and care!); this Chatham County Line gig; or "a multi-ethnic cast performing a modern dance interpretation of male sexuality and prejudice". Seriously? That last one?? And that's how my friend was trying to sell it to me! Thanks for the invitation, but...
Plumping (as you already know by now) for Chatham Co. Line (the first thing that I had arranged to be doing anyway), I headed off to the Cluny. Of course, leaving the house at all meant missing Scary Movie 2, Britain's Got Talent and Madonna Live at Radio 1's Big Weekend, so it was a tough call! (I tease).

So who are Chatham County Line? They are four young fellas from North Carolina who make sort-of-old-timey-string-band music together on the banjo, mandolin, guitar, fiddle and double (upright) bass. Their names, should you be interested, are the aforementioned Dave Wilson, John Teer, Chandler Holt and Greg Readling, they formed in 1999, and they released their fourth album, the appropriately titled IV, just this year.

So far so good, but there's not much 'review' to this gig review yet, is there? Let's rectify that and start things proper by talking about the support Jill Barber.

Another Canadian (this blog seems to be replete with them lately), Jill Barber grew up in Toronto and now lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia (as opposed to Halifax, West Yorkshire!). Her low-key folksy songs showcase a very pretty voice and some canny lyrics, for example "there's nothing finer than an A 7th Minor" and "I am just a dreamer wearing sensible shoes / And I still dream in colour even though I sing the blues". For me, however, her set was generally a little samey...none of the songs were all that distinguishable from the rest, and there was a bit too much vibrato for my liking. But she certainly shows promise (and in fact has won awards in her native Nova Scotia) and has already worked with the likes of Ron Sexsmith, with whom she wrote the song Chances.
After a spot of ill-advised, off tune whistling, the definite high point of Jill's performance was the final song, an entirely acoustic cover of Hank Williams' I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry. Here her voice sounded great and she really held my attention...perhaps because the switch to acoustic meant that this one did sound different from the rest. Oh, and she gets brownie points too for 'mucking in' and coming to sit on the steps in the audience to watch the rest of the gig.

Jill Barber website and MySpace.
mp3: Hard Line - Jill Barber (zSHARE)

Next up it was, of course, Chatham Co. Line with their modern, almost indie kid, take on bluegrass. If you have not heard them before, think Old Crow Medicine Show and you wouldn't be a million miles away from what these guys sound like. Sharing, as in the picture just above, one microphone between the four of them, bobbing in and out like chickens for vocals and picking solos, this was certainly interesting to watch. The harmonies were so top notch that they reminded me of a barbershop quartet in places...except with instruments! Kudos goes, in particular, to John Teer, who was superlative on both mandolin and fiddle...although Chandler Holt and his banjo were not far behind.

Although Dave Wilson is something of a frontman for the group, holding the majority of chatting duties and most frequent lead vocals, all four of these guys seemed like nice, down-to-earth lads. They were completely at ease in front of this audience, joking along and proffering anecdotes like they were in their home town. Wilson recounted to us the band's decision in naming their most recent album, IV, saying that this was as a result of doing so many interviews with journalists who would persist in asking them how it felt to have an album out when they had just released their third! He hopes that, in naming it IV, there is also a chance of it sticking around in the history books as a "badass record" on a par with Led Zeppelin's album of the same title.

This was an enjoyable and accomplished gig, but did not blow me away in the same way Carolina Chocolate Drops, the last string band I saw, did. Nevertheless, these blokes were very good at what they did, and worked very well together...perhaps best, despite the excellent harmonies elsewhere, on the instrumental, fast-picking numbers. There is, however, always an exception to the rule, and this was with stand out gig highlight, the Monroe Brothers' gospel song What Would You Give In Exchange For Your Soul.

Watch out for these guys...they may already be four albums in, but I think that they are starting to get the attention they deserve; earlier this week they were on Later With Jools Holland (for those not in the UK, this is possibly the biggest music show over here) and, with IV, they really have produced a peach of an album.

Chatham County Line website and MySpace.

mp3: Chip of A Star - Chatham County Line

mp3: Birmingham Jail - Chatham County Line

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Elvis Costello and The Imposters - Momofuku

In contrast to my most recent album's one I actually think is worth a listen!

I almost dismissed Elvis Costello's latest release after first hearing it. Thankfully I did not, as this album grows on me with every listen. As a long-standing fan of the great Declan MacManus, who is one of my favourite lyricists of all time, I am filled with trepidation when I hear that he is due to release something new...I just don't want him to disappoint me. Like he did with the flaccid, bland collaborative output with Burt Bacharach...sad that two such wonderful songwriters didn't manage a higher standard together.

I bargained for being disappointed by Momofuku - Costello is now 53 and most people just can't keep up the whole 'pithy punk' ethos for all those years, plus his more recent work has definitely been something of a let down. I certainly expected a mellower chap, although I hadn't made my mind up that this would be necessarily a bad thing.

Momofuku is by no stretch Costello's best work, but nor is it any kind of embarrassment to him. The sound is back on form, old-school Elvis. In addition to the regular Imposters this album features, amongst others, Jenny Lewis and Johnathan Rice, as well as Imposter Dave Thomas' daughter Tennessee, who drums with The Like. The lyrics to Song With Rose were written collaboratively with Rosanne Cash and the title of Pardon Me Madam, My Name Is Eve was given to Costello by Loretta Lynn during a previous writing session together. The lyrics, however, the very thing that has always drawn me most to his songs, are simply not as insightful, incisive and idiosyncratic as I would like or would have hoped for.

Perhaps this results from the fact that Momofuku was done and dusted in little over a week. The name of the album is, in fact, a nod to how quickly the whole thing was completed - it is named after Momofuku Ando, the inventor of the cup noodle! Costello says on his website "all we had to do to make this record was add water". Considering this, Momofuku is really something of an achievement, although it would seem to me that this brief process did not give enough time for Costello's lyrics to fully bed in and flower.

The initial standout track on this album is, for me, American Gangster Time. I suspect that this is because it sounds most akin to Costello in his fact, I don't think that it would sound out of place on his Girls, Girls, Girls compilation (a great starting point if you are not yet an Elvis Costello fan). It is, however, album opener No Hiding Place, along with Pardon Me Madam, My Name Is Eve, that keeps running around in my head. For some reason, so does New Lace Sleeves from Costello's 1981 album Trust; there must be a track here that reminds me of it, but I'm damned if I can figure out which one it is just yet!

Most of the songs here are well worth a listen, with early high points for me being No Hiding Place (although I am suspicious of the fact that it contains the line "set alight your effigy", which is curiously similar to "burn a broken effigy of me and you" from Mr Costello's 1986 song Indoor Fireworks), Drum and Bone, Flutter and Wow, Stella Hurt (which features the best lyrics of the album, the fabulously assonant "the night is black as cracked shellac") and Pardon me Madam, My Name Is Eve. That's the majority of the album then! I am undecided, thus far, on Harry Worth, and I am definitely decided on My Three be avoided! The latter is the definitive low point of what is generally a bit of a return to is cloying and too overtly sentimental for my liking. It just makes me miss Elvis Costello, king of the acerbic, biting lyric all the more. It falls way short of, for example, Beautiful Boy and doesn't really serve to add anything above and beyond the bathetic proud-daddedness of Paul Simon's Father and Daughter.

Momofuku, whilst not rivalling Elvis Costello's best output, is without doubt worth your time and money. And I reckon that it has more staying power than I initially gave it credit for.

mp3: American Gangster Time - Elvis Costello and The Imposters

mp3: Flutter and Wow - Elvis Costello and The Imposters

mp3: Stella Hurt - Elvis Costello and The Imposters

Read Elvis Costello talking about the making of Momofuku here.

Buy it on vinyl.

Buy it on CD.

Download from iTunes.

*** Less than a week left to enter my competition to win a CD ***

Thursday, May 8, 2008

PEHDTSCKJMBA - Tom Waits at his most profound!

Mr Waits explains just how exactly his tours are planned!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Live Music Review: Eilen Jewell at The Round Newcastle, 02/05/08 (and gigs from Billy Bragg and Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings too!)

Set list:

Rich Man's World
Dusty Boxcar Wall - mp3
Heartache Boulevard
Boundary County - mp3
Mess Around
Gotta Get It Right
In The End
Fist City (Loretta Lynn - apparently it is tradition to do at least one Loretty song per gig)
Too Hot To Sleep
High Shelf Booze
Fine and Mellow (Billie Holiday)
Back To Dallas
Taggin' Along (George Jones - as performed with Jewell's gospel group, The Sacred Shakers)
Where They Never Say Your Name - mp3
Blue Highway
The Darkest Day (Loretta Lynn)
Thanks A Lot (Charlie Rich)
If You Catch Me Stealing (Bessie Smith medley - another Jewell tradition for ending the show)


Six Days On the Road (Carl Montgomery and Earl Green - sung by drummer Jason Beek)
Blow It All Away

This gig formed part of Eilen (it's pronounced E-len, rhyming with feelin'...I had only ever seen it written down and was pronouncing it Eye-len...oops!) Jewell's first UK tour, a stop off point before heading across to Kilkenny for the roots festival there. She described Newcastle as having a "cool, urban feel" akin to Boston or Philadelphia, and told us that this was a pleasant surprise as, when she had seen it written down as Newcastle upon Tyne, she had thought it sounded "snooty" (methinks that anyone who knows Newcastle may well be chuckling to themselves at this point).
Jewell is a young country-jazz singer born in Idaho, based in Massachusetts. She has a woozy, dreamy voice that very much lends her own personality to any song she sings. Tonight, the sound was amazing throughout and the band played skillfully together; I was particularly impressed by the guy on double bass, and guitarist Jerry Miller was also great, despite making bizarre mouth movements as he played! Eilen herself was chatty and personable and, as you will see above, they really did put in a lot of set for the price of one's ticket - a set comprising, in addition to Jewell originals, covers of songs by several country and jazz greats.
This was an excellent gig, and Eilen Jewell is someone that I would definitely recommend catching live if you can. Her voice, in its unhurried, lazy Sunday afternoon, way is strong and consistent and the sound she offers really is something a bit different.
As for the venue...I had never before been to The Round. A small venue predominantly used for small-scale theatre productions, it was charming and intimate. A gorgeous little place.
And, yes, on this occasion, the photograph at the top was taken by my own fair hands! Better than my efforts at The Breeders concert anyway!
The Eilen Jewell track Rich Man's World has previously featured on Ceci N'est Pas un Blog both here and here.

And now for a couple of (very brief) reviews of a couple of gigs I somehow never got around to writing about...

Billy Bragg at The Sage, Gateshead (Hall One), 29/04/08

I regret that I did not find time to write a longer review of this gig closer to the time, as is truly was excellent. This latest tour has been just Bragg and his guitar...well, guitars...anyway, just him up there on stage on his own. The Sage, whilst a beautiful, top-of-the-range venue with wonderful acoustics, can often lack a lot in atmosphere. But on this occasion, Billy's warm, down-to-earth personality filled the whole venue remarkably well. And this is one of his gifts...being able to relate to his audience as if he is talking to you as individuals, or certainly a group of friends. He is humble and self-deprecating, at the same time passionate and inspiring. He played for about two hours in total and, fortunately, this meant that a good chunk of the songs were from his back catalogue (as his most recent effort was, on the whole, extremely disappointing). There was a standing ovation and everything!

You can read about the last time I saw Billy Bragg perform (when I met him too!) here.

Levi Stubbs' Tears - Billy Bragg

Old Clash Fan Fight Song - Billy Bragg

Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings at The Sage, Gateshead (Hall Two), 19/04/08

This evening was, sadly, very disappointing. The Dap Kings (who, if you are not familiar with their oeuvre, as well as backing Sharon Jones, played on both Mark Ronson and Amy Winehouse's most recent albums) were brilliant, professional, expert at what they do. Sharon Jones, on the other hand, was not happy with the sound...which meant her stropping on and off the stage three times like a diva, talk-singing about how upset she was with this for the majority of the gig, and generally putting a dampener on things. This was a shame because, in the parts where she was on form, she was fabulous...belting them out and dancing around the stage like a mad woman. The ground floor level turned into one big dance floor and it was like being at Wigan Casino or some other old-school Northern Soul venue. If she had just got on with doing what she does best, it would have been an excellent show.

The warm-up act for this gig is also worth a mention; they were Monty Casino, a six-piece offering a big mash up of soul-funk-disco-acid jazz, whose lead singer, Jess, is a Newcastle lass, although they have now moved on to pastures new. They were cracking and are very much worth checking out!

How Do I Let A Good Man Down - Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings

Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In - Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings

Sarah Slean - The Baroness

I have been vaguely familiar with Sarah Slean for a number of years, primarily, and initially, due to an unreleased cover that Sarah Harmer did of her song My Invitation, but inexplicably I have never really taken the time to delve more fully into her discography. For some reason, this week I decided to do so...and only then did I realise that she released her most recent album, The Baroness, in just March this year. Having only just familiarised myself with two of her previous albums (Night Bugs and Day One), thanks to the immediacy that this digital age affords, I thought it only fair that I get to know The Baroness herself as well.
First off, I am mesmerised by her general, and not just this recent release. I have been listening to four of her five albums on repeat for two days now! The voice is clear, direct, beautiful...think perhaps of other classically-trained musicians such as Sarah McLachlan. Listening to Slean reminds me of my love, in my younger days, of artists such as Tori Amos and Fiona Apple. This is heartfelt, lyrically candid music, yet on first appraisal there would seem to be something more adult, more objective, less needy about Slean's songs. I truly am impressed.
Coming at this as something of a novice, my conjecture is that existing fans of Sarah Slean may be a little disappointed by The Baroness, her first studio album since 2004. Featuring a good share of acoustic guitar alongside her signature piano, any excess drama or instrumentation has been stripped away, the almost-cabaret of some of her previous work stepping aside to make room for the words. And it really is good. Just not as good as Night Bugs or, in particular, Day One. There has been a mellowing, a maturation, a change of direction. The songs are honest, Slean wearing her heart on her sleeve (to some extent...don't worry, it's not a bleeding heart, as per many young, female singer-songwriters), it just that they are a little more forgettable. Here the ballad is king, and that has me, even as a rookie Slean appreciator, wishing she had kept a few more of the bells and whistles...and balls.
Many an interview with Slean features her talking about a need for artistic clarity, a need to get away from it all and regroup. In her own words:

"Going into that foreign world, you see better. It's like popping your eyes out and giving them a rinse. That's what I needed to make music."

Prior to Day One, this meant a stay at a remote cabin in Ottawa. The 'change of pace' for The Baroness was courtesy of a seven month spell in Paris. Ms Slean is, in addition to being a recording artist, a painter, a published poet, an actress, and even a student (who is almost finished her Music and Philosophy degree at the University of Toronto), and describes something of an ongoing fascination with all things French...the lifestyle, the romanticism, the artistic inspiration that seems to flow there.

'The Baroness' is the sobriquet Slean uses for an alter-ego she describes as a "brassy ballgown-wearing technicolour dame". It is also the title of her most recent volume of poetry (you can see some of that at her website). A woman of many talents!

Listen to: Get Home, Euphoria, Notes From the Underground, Sound of Water-Change Your Mind, Willow and Shadowland.
From The Baroness:

mp3: Get Home
mp3: Euphoria
Earlier Sarah Slean songs:

mp3: Duncan (from Night Bugs)
mp3: Out In the Park (from Day One)
And, as promised, Sarah Harmer's unreleased cover of Slean's song My Invitation:

mp3: My Invitation - Sarah Harmer
Visit Sarah Slean at MySpace or at her beautiful website (where there is so much to look at you could be lost there for days!). Or why not have a shufty at some videos of her performing live at AOL Sessions?

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

WIN A CD: "Words to ponder, ass shaking music!" - Parlour Steps

They call it "Thought-Rock". I call it paint by Magic Numbers.
It's all about the harmonies, although the music proffered here is, admittedly, less irksomely upbeat than The Magic Numbers. In addition to the harmonies however, the two bands share well-crafted, catchy, pop-tinged indie songwriting. Parlour Steps take things a step further with articulate, and certainly more edgy, lyrics. Try:
"An orgasm ain't success, however / It feels close enough in this cold weather" (from 'There but for the Grace...').
Vancouver's Parlour Steps signed to Nine Mile Records mid-November 2007 and, shortly after, released their latest independently-recorded album Ambiguoso; their first album to be available outside of their native Canada. And it sounds good...both on the surface, and upon more intent listening.
Lead track Thieves of Memory has obviously been kicking around for a while, as it won Parlour Steps a place in the 2005 International Songwriting Competition. And these songs do sound lived in - confident, familiar, honest, dear to the heart of those performing. Principal songwriter (and vocalist /guitarist) Caleb Stull has produced, mixed and sound engineered for other fledgling bands, and his experience really shows. The songs here are polished, yet not over-produced.
Completing the line-up are Julie Bavalis on vocals and bass guitar, Rees Haynes on guitar, and Robert Linton on drums. With some formal musical education and a jazz background, these guys really know their stuff. They are making the music they want to make and have evidently thought a great deal about what exactly that is. Astounding, then, that Ambiguoso was done and dusted in only five weeks.

I was lucky enough to snag an e-mail interview with Caleb Stull (he's the one waving "Hello" just up above!), and here are the results:

- What are your main musical influences and who has your sound been compared to?

CS: When I started all this I wanted to sound like the Pixies, then I obsessed over The Dirty Three, Radiohead, and Tom Waits. Then I heard The Shins, Arcade Fire, and Modest Mouse. Now I wish I wrote like Veda Hille and Matt Pond PA. We seem to have been successful at apeing our favourites, cause we've been compared to nearly every band I just listed as influences.

- What's the song you're most proud of writing?

CS: Thieves of Memory (of which we are just about to launch a video) came the easiest and seems to still speak to us the most, although Only Mystery has a very enjoyable intensity to it when we play it on stage.

- What was the first album you ever bought?

CS: Dreamboat Annie by Heart. They were hot and they ROCKED!

- And what is your guilty pleasure band?
CS: Justin Timberlake. You won't print this, will you? I have terrible weakness for top 40 pop in all its auto-tuned, pro-tooled, vapid glory.

- If you could only ever listen to one album again, for the rest of your life, what would it be (compilations and box sets are cheating!)?

CS: Beatles, The White Album.

- There seems to be so much great music coming out of Canada lately...who are your personal favourites/hot tips/musical buddies you'd like to 'big up'?

CS: Check out Portico, Jesse Matheson, Veda Hille, The Neins Circa, Jenn Grant, and Eisenhauer.

- Can you describe yourself/your sound in 6 words?
CS: Words to ponder, ass shaking music!

- Finally have you got an interesting fact/anecdote/musing that you would like to share with the readers of Ceci N'est Pas un Blog?
CS: The records the devil in our Thieves of Memory video, to be released soon, is destroying are Barbara Streisand and Boney M. The book he tears up is a Reader's Digest condensed. Some sacrifices were required.

Visit Parlour Steps at:

Parlour Steps website



Buy Ambiguoso (CD or mp3) at CD Baby.

mp3: Only Mystery - Parlour Steps

mp3: What the Lonely Say - Parlour Steps

mp3: Thieves of Memory - Parlour Steps

Check out the songs above and, if you like what you hear (which I'm sure you will), why not enter my competition to win a CD. All that is required of you is to leave a comment on this post, and a winner will be picked at random. You will need to either tick the box to be notified of further comments on the post, check back, or leave an e-mail address where I can get in touch with you...just so you know that you have won!
Competition closes in two weeks - 20 May 2008.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

M'aidez! M'aidez!

Live Music Review: Blood Red Shoes at Newcastle Carling Academy, 16/04/08

For some reason, on the morning of Wednesday 16th April, I decided to check the music listings on the Crack Magazine website before work. This is not something that I do habitually, as I am generally in far too much of a rush! There, nestled amongst the various local acts and open mic nights, were Blood Red Shoes, whose appearance in Newcastle had somehow passed me by until that very day. Nabbing myself a ticket on my lunch break (after putting a morning's industrious pen-pushing, paper-shuffling, keyboard-bothering toil, naturally) I, via a brief sojourn with a pint of Black Sheep in a nearby watering hole, headed straight to the venue from the office.

This was one of those gigs where, had I been a full decade younger I would still probably have been older than a good half of the audience (you could spot the older audience members quite easily, as they were the only ones singing along to the Nirvana and Hole that was piped through the speakers in the intervals!). Just to contextualise...I am 27! The fact that a good majority of the audience were not yet old enough to live independently or buy an alcoholic drink, combined with the smoking ban, meant that the room took on a rather putrid odour. Teenage boys, especially en masse, smell. Of niffy feet and stale armpits. How I missed the shrouds of tobacco smoke that used to mask the ponk!

The wait until support came on was interminable. Cue a whole hour's worth of people-watching. The first support act came on at 8.15pm, and they were France's 1984. Despite being hand-picked by Blood Red Shoes, who had heard them play in Austria, and who were right there in the audience watching them and bobbing their heads along (he in particular, surprisingly for a drummer, enthusiastic but rather arrhythmic), this, to me, sounded very much like blood red noise for blood red ears! 'Music' not worth a marred myrinx! The high point of the set was the chance to have a snigger at the bassist, who jumped up onto the speaker, then down into the audience, only to find that he was unfortunately stuck there...having to be ushered back to the stage by the bouncer like he still needed his mum to thread his mittens into his coat.

Ten past nine (bearing in mind the doors opened at 7.00pm) and a second warm-up act came on. By this point my patience (and my eyelids' ability to stay open on their own) was being severely tested. I couldn't even go for a cigarette because we weren't 'allowed' (the security on the door as I went in muttered sheepishly something about their boss telling them about people cluttering up the street). This second act were certainly nothing extraordinary, but were very welcome after the tosh that was 1984. The lead singer of this band, Them Amazing Babies, was wearing a home-made t-shirt that read “Narc Magazine can suck a fuck”...clearly not a wordsmith. Narc is a local magazine that, I guess, must have reviewed them unfavourably. And if I'm not very much mistaken, the editor Claire Dupree was standing there right in front of me looked rather teed off! But hey, any publicity's good publicity, right? (Also in the audience were at least another two Johnny Ramones – must be a popular look presently – and a Hatchet Face whose fella had a girl fringe).

Blood Red Shoes finally came on at 10.15pm. If I'd have known they would be coming on this late, I would have gone home for a disco nap! They opened with It's Getting Boring By the Sea, which was excellent, but I was pretty much too knackered to enthuse too vociferously, and finished with I Wish I Was Someone Better, coming back with an encore of Stitch Me Back (possibly the best song of the evening) and ADHD.

They were pretty good, but I'm just not sure that 45 minutes worth of music was worth all that waiting. It just wasn't as rousing as it sounds like it should be from listening to them on record.

Oh, and Doesn't Matter Much, in which there is a refrain of “no no, yeah yeah” reminded me of this...enjoy:

Music 2000 (from the hilariously funny Look Around You...check out the episode entitled 'Germs' on YouTube - "It's a different sort of moth to one you might enjoy in a sandwich"...superb!).

Back to Blood Red are a few mp3s:

It's Getting Boring By the Sea - Blood Red Shoes

ADHD - Blood Red Shoes

I Wish I Was Someone Better - Blood Red Shoes

Visit them at their website or at MySpace.

Buy their album, Box of Secrets.