Band of the month – 2014 archive
What better month than December to celebrate a busker. D.B. Rouse wears his credentials with pride : he has a very funny résumé on his website, and he’s even written a book about his busking experiences, which sounds mighty entertaining.
D.B.’s musical hero is Woody Guthrie. What he takes from Guthrie is an attitude and a style. His songs are simple and unadorned : they’re all about the lyrics. They’re very down to earth, stories of life lived on the edge. They’re written for ordinary folk, but like Woody, he wants to raise these people up – make them smile, make them feel better about themselves. The musicianship and the production is all fairly basic. That’s part of the package, part of who he is. But the best of his songs have a real heart to them.
D.B.’s based in Austin, Texas (though I use the word ‘based’ loosely). He’s hard to keep up with as he’s been releasing albums at a rate of about 3 a year; below is just a small sample of his work. He’s just announced on facebook that he’s booking basement shows now across the US in 2015 – “If you have or know of a basement that would like to host a show, let me know!”
From an old album, a song that typifies his approach of celebrating the ordinary and the half-broken :
D.B. Rouse – Love Song to My First Car
From the second of his three 2014 albums, a couple of tracks that feature his kazoo playing :
D.B. Rouse – If Nothing Was Money
D.B. Rouse – Joyride into the Night
His very latest release is called Flophouse in the Sky, which from his description of it sounds like a most amiable place to end up.
D.B. Rouse – Minstrel’s Blood
D.B. Rouse – The Flophouse in the Sky
D.B. Rouse – Hunger is Stronger than Fear
“Most bands are trying to be something as opposed to actually being something. Most are pale imitations of established acts so to me this is pointless, its almost as if a mass of misunderstanding is taking place all of the time. My view is, you shouldn’t really be doing it unless you have something to show and also have something to say.” – Jason Williamson
They’re a duo called Sleaford Mods. They make angry punk music. They swear a lot. And they may just be the most exciting band in the UK right now …
Jason Williamson had been around for a while. He’d been in guitar based bands before, and he felt they were holding him back. So he struck out on his own, and things began to click. He learned that he could tear down the barriers between him and the audience and really express himself. He teamed up with Andrew Fearn, whose keyboard gave him that extra dimension he needed. Two more albums followed : Wank in 2012 and Austerity Dogs in 2013. By 2013 Sleaford Mods were starting to attract wider attention; then came the release of Divide And Exit earlier this year and things began to get a bit crazy, with four star reviews in Q Magazine, Mojo and Pitchfork (though I confess that I’ve only just caught up with it now).
They’re not from Sleaford. They’re currently based in Nottingham. But the name absolutely fits. Williamson grew up a huge fan of The Jam. He relates to early Mod culture, a culture that he believes is missing from Mod revival bands – “Mods was a reaction of working class insecurity, of being in rags for far to long. It was, in the Sixties a massive scream of frustration and no self identity. ”
Williamson’s lyrics grab your attention, shock you, provoke you. He speaks for the alienated working class youth in austerity Britain, but he doesn’t come with any agenda. In a way this is a bit frustrating, I think his songs could be even more powerful if there was less diatribe and more commentary, but the direct unfiltered style does makes the songs feel more credible. They feel relevant in the same way that American hip hop, at its best, feels relevant. Add to this the fact that, although I don’t always agree with Williamson (I mean, why take a pop at Chumbawamba ?) there’s an intelligence behind his choices of targets which I respect. Because of this the Sleaford Mods occupy the kind of space that the Arctics did when they burst onto the scene in 2006. And that’s an exciting thought.
This is from Austerity Dogs :
Sleaford Mods – Wage Don’t Fit
And from Divide And Exit :
Sleaford Mods – Air Conditioning
Sleaford Mods – You’re Brave
Sleaford Mods – From Rags To Richards
Sleaford Mods – Middle Men
Sleaford Mods – Tied Up In Nottz
Some among you may be of the opinion that a folk album called A Celebration Of Old England is not your idea of required listening. But bear with me on this. You may have cause to thank me.
First off, Anna Shannon is not your stereotyped middle class folk singer. She lives in a caravan on the edge of the Yorkshire moors and she loves to sing about the natural world that she inhabits. As well as a Yorkshire accent, there’s a kind of honesty to her voice and in her approach to songwriting.
All bar one of the songs on A Celebration Of Old England was written by Anna, and there isn’t a weak track among them. These aren’t songs which glorify some prettified bucolic vision of England’s past. They’re songs based on solid research, which tell stories about working people and working animals; of the lives of royals, and servants, and gypsies.
The level of musicianship is a big feature. According to her website, “Anna was, by the age of ten, already accomplished on classical flute, and at twelve was playing oboe, clarinet and trumpet. Guitar, fiddle, sax and bowed psaltery followed but it wasn’t until in her early twenties that she discovered the folk scene.” The album benefits hugely from the fact that she’s playing many different instruments, and her excellent arrangements on the songs, so that no one song is like another.
She’s also quite prolithic. This, her first recording for WildGoose, is something like her ninth full length album in as many years. Most have their own theme, hinted at by the titles : Blackstrap Molasses (19th century America); Horses, Beasts and Fairytales; Up the Riggin’; and so on.
The track descriptions below are pinched from the sleeve notes.
During Cromwell’s reign, song, dance and music were punishable by gaol or the gallows so any such activity would need to be short and sharp, followed by an even quicker disappearing act.
Ways of the Hunting
Fox hunting has caused more controversy and heartache than most traditions over the centuries and continues to do so. The people mentioned in this song are all local to our Staintondale hunt. I must add that, as a songwriter, I am delighted to be able to have a triumphant fox once again!
Lady of Grace
A lady in waiting declares her love and admiration for her beloved queen
A servant girl tells of her plight after being dismissed through no fault of her own. Sadly a tale all too common in Old England
If you want to save your mortal soul, look away now.
Daddy Long Legs – Death Train Blues
Daddy Long Legs is the name of the snazzily attired singer and harmonica fiend. He says he started blowing harp after moving from St Louis to New York. “I didn’t know nobody. It was a lonely time. I needed a friend. I found one !” Murat Akturk (guitar) and Josh Styles (drums) complete the Brooklyn three piece who together create enough raw energy to unleash the hounds of hell.
Death Train Blues is from Daddy Long Legs’s first long player on Norton Records, Evil Eye On You (2012). Using the blues harmonica to imitate the sound of a train isn’t exactly a new device, but the trio performed with a frenzied energy which made me an instant fan.
Blood from a Stone (2014) defines the band’s sound more clearly and contains way more than its fair share of killer tracks. The whole thing is a sweat and whiskey soaked cross between swamp blues and garage rock, characterised by the howling vocals and wild harmonica of Mr Daddy Long Legs himself. And let’s not mince words : you’re unlikely to hear a better album than this all year.
These are all from Blood from a Stone. After a couple of fast stomps to get you going, Chains-A-Rattlin’ shows that they can pull off a slower paced blues. Castin’ My Spell is wild, unhinged and scuzzy, while Motorcycle Madness is a full on blues rock anthem.
Daddy Long Legs – Long John’s Jump
Daddy Long Legs – Flesh Eating Cocaine Blues
Daddy Long Legs – Chains-A-Rattlin’
Daddy Long Legs – Castin’ My Spell
Daddy Long Legs – Motorcyle Madness
One handred years ago today war was declared. The lamps may not have literally gone out all over Europe, but they may as well have done, for it was to be one of the most appalling and barbaric conflicts in human history. Today the folk trio Coope, Boyes & Simpson released a 50 track 2 CD album In Flanders Fields, and I am ploughing through it right now.
Barry Coope, Jim Boyes and Lester Simpson were all successful musicians on the folk circuit before they started performing as a trio in 1993. Usually they sing a capella, a lovely blend of three male voices. Simpson explained in an earlier interview : “Outside folk, or barbershop, people are not used to hearing three voices just striking up and singing. We like the purity. We have an immediacy which is amazing, and it is more powerful than if we played instruments. ” On the new album there is in fact musical accompaniment on many of the songs, and for me this was the right thing to do : it adds a lot without being too intrusive.
Whether singing traditional material or their own songs, they’ve always sung with a purpose. Simpson again : “Popular music is so bland and meaningless that I feel the need to sing more important songs to fill the void. The good thing about folk music is that you can do that. We are angry and cynical. And we are socialists — but with a green slant.” And they have always had a special interest in the First World War, having written songs and compiled entire shows about it, and performed at peace concerts and commemorations throughout their career together. In Flanders Fields is the culmination then of a long journey. I’m sorry, I’ve not yet listened to all the songs ! But I can report that this is a remarkable collection. A huge amount of research has gone into the selection of material; there’s a lot of variety with the sombre and the humorous, the satirical, the stoical, the tender and the reflective; and the well worked out arrangements of the songs help to emphasize their different moods. Most importantly, these are songs chosen to engage your mind as well as your heart, sung by men who really do want to end all wars.
Along the Menin Road (written about Jim Boyes’s grandfather)
Hanging on the old barbed wire (traditional)
When this blasted war is over (traditional)
Do you want us to lose the war (humorous song by R.P. Weston & Bert Lee)
Hill 60 (Jim Boyes’s song about a small mound in Flanders which was bitterly fought over for many weeks in 1915)
Marchlands (written by Lester Simpson for a show commemorating the 300th anniversary of the Franco-Belgian border in Flanders)
Only Remembered (Horatius Bonar, Ira D. Sankey & John Tams)
Peace to you all.
Quiero Que Amanezca is the new single from the Cumbia All Stars and I’m going to give you the video first because you really get a sense from it of what the band are all about.
Cumbia All Stars – Quiero Que Amanezca
These are a bunch of musicians who’ve each had their own histories, their own separate careers, who decades later have somehow come together and bonded wonderfully well and are making goodtime music in Peru’s finest tradition. Despite calling themselves the All Stars they seem well grounded and down to earth, easygoing and a bit goofy looking, still playing after all these years because they love the music and they love to make people dance.
You may say that’s just a promo video, but I saw them at Cardiff last year, that’s how they are, seeing them you can’t help but smile.
Peruvian cumbia took off in the 1960s. The infectious rhythms were similar to its Colombian counterpart, but they ditched the accordion, playing with guitars and drums, typically performed with a surf rock twang.
The band reject the label chicha. They call their music Peruvian cumbia or huayno peruano. It has roots in Peruvian regional traditions as well as in Colombian music. Over the last 40 years Peruvian music has moved on as it’s come to embrace many other influences; but these musicians who’ve never lost their feeling for cumbia as it should be performed linked up a couple of years ago to form the Cumbia All Stars and to take Peru’s musical heritage to people around the world. And this they have done, already performing in many countries, and this week releasing their debut album Tigres en Fuga on the World Village label.
A couple more songs from the album :
Cumbia All Stars – La Tamborera
Cumbia All Stars – La Cumbia del Parisino
And another video. This one with its groovy 70s vibe isn’t on the album :
Cumbia All Stars – La Danza de los Mirlos
“People say that music doesn’t change a thing, but the music changes the people and they go and change things. I know that’s true because it’s happened to me.” – Pete Bentham
Kitchencore is Pete Bentham and the Dinner Ladies music summed up in one word. It’s DIY music. It’s free-spirited punk-inspired rock & roll. It’s songs with a sense of humour, that don’t take themselves too seriously as works of art; but also songs that observe and comment on ordinary life, and have a point of view.
Pete Bentham was born in Widnes. His first love affair was with punk rock and Two Tone music. In the 80s and 90s he worked in some crap jobs and played in a few bands. His interest in Liverpool’s underground music scene led him to become a music promoter : Free Rock & Roll has been successfully organising free gigs in the city for a number of years based on a DIY ethic. “Then” he says, “I got really ill in 2006 and had to go into hospital for a while and I started thinking if I got out alive I’d start a band and call it the Dinner Ladies after my mum who visited me every day on the bus from Widnes. So that’s how it started. It’s the first time I’ve ever been the lead singer and had my own band.”
Just out on Antipop, I Heart Here is the Dinner Ladies third album (they also brought out a 4 track Spacepunx EP last year). According to Pete Bentham, “The album is based around the idea of ‘community’ and people becoming more and more disillusioned with the establishment and therefore starting to not rely on institutions but thinking more for themselves and getting together to organise.”
From 2009, this is a great summary of Pete Bentham’s musical philosophy and why he hates being bound by rules :
Pete Bentham and the Dinner Ladies – Part Time Punk
From 2010 this is a great anthem which can mean anything that you want it to mean :
Pete Bentham and the Dinner Ladies – Hip Potater
From 2013, the best Yuri Gagarin tribute song that you’re ever likely to hear :
Pete Bentham and the Dinner Ladies – Hey Yuri!
The lead single from I Heart Here was a tribute to the everyone’s favourite French postimpressinist :
Pete Bentham and the Dinner Ladies – Marcel Duchamp
Three more essential songs from the new album :
Pete Bentham and the Dinner Ladies – Dead’s Not Punk
Pete Bentham and the Dinner Ladies – Can A Boy Be A Dinner Lady ?
Pete Bentham and the Dinner Ladies – Workin’ For The Man
It’s a big month for Welsh music. Today former Super Furry Animal Gruff Rhys got a five star review in The Guardian for his American Interior. 9Bach’s Tincian is currently on Folk Roots’s select playlist. And gracefully slipping in behind them is Amser, the new album from Fernhill.
Fernhill was formed in 1996 by Ceri Rhys Matthews and wife Julie Murphy. Julie is a Londoner who moved to west Wales after getting married. “It was at that point” says Julie “I began to speak the language and the point at which Welsh songs started to make sense to me. I was living in the landscape and among the people that had created them. Like all great folk songs they communicate universal human emotions in a way that is particular to the place they’re from.” She herself made a point of speaking in Welsh : “learning the language has been a big part of becoming an insider. It has made me feel part of the place and it has informed my art.”
The band’s current lineup is completed by Tomos Williams on trumpet and Christine Cooper on fiddle and vocals. While Welsh is their primary language, the songs also reflect their material also reflects the band’s English and Breton roots. The songs are gentle paced, the instrumentation is never too fussy, and the focus is always Julie’s excellent singing.
The album can already be streamed in full on bandcamp, but there is to be a launch show at Small World Theatre in Cardigan on May 30, then the band play the Fire in the Mountain festival on June 1. And as I’m indebted to Christine Cooper for emailing me about the album, I’ll mention that she’ll be taking her story telling show, The Battle of the Trees, to woodlands all around Wales in the coming weeks.
From the previous album Canu Rhydd :
Fernhill – When I was in my prime
And from Amser, a traditional English ballad :
Fernhill – Barbara Elin
a new arrangement of a Thomas Hardy poem
Fernhill – The Self-Unseeing
a traditional Welsh song
Fernhill – Blino ar fath Blaned
and the epic title track, which includes the words of Welsh poet Vernon Watkins
Fernhill – Amser
You wouldn’t think it if you listened to the top 40 on any given week, but people have a fondness for well written songs. There is some evidence for this in record sales, as witness the recent success of young English songwriters Ed Sheeran and Jake Bugg.
But we should be wary of too easy comparisons. 19 year old English songwriter Luke Jackson is no Jake Bugg clone. On his second album Fumes and Faith the man from Canterbury, Kent shows real feeling for American roots music. His voice and his songs mark him out as a great original talent, but he’s also very grounded and at home with this type of music. Yes, he could become a big star, but he’ll do it on his own terms and performing the music that he loves – such as slow ballads which tell dark seamy stories, or semi-confessional folk blues numbers.
This is not to underplay the amount of thought and effort which went into the making of Fumes and Faith :
“Looking back, the recording process for my debut album More Than Boys was very simple. I went to Martyn Joseph’s studio for two days and performed my 11 songs live in front of three microphones. We wanted to capture that live feel so we had very little more than my guitar and me on the whole CD …
The making of Fumes and Faith was a very different process. I recorded the album with American producer, Mason Neely who is based in Cardiff and has worked a lot with Martyn. It was recorded over a period of about 3 to 4 months. I would drive to Cardiff and stay there a few nights and do days of solid recording.”
Together they picked out some good songs, songs which show a breathtaking depth and maturity :
Luke Jackson – Out Of Time
Luke Jackson – Down to the Sea
Luke Jackson – Father’s Footsteps (live)
Luke Jackson – “Ghost At The Crossroads
Luke Jackson – Answers Have Gone
A scruffy looking CD popped through my mailbox this morning. After the initial surprise I remembered that before Christmas I’d donated some money to the Rail Yard Ghosts fundraising appeal, and they’d promised some merch. Here’s the promo video for the appeal :
The CD I received was Terrorist Union #63. This is a full length album released last year. The entire album can in fact be downloaded for free via the Dirty River website , along with all the other releases from the Rail Yard Ghosts and their stablemates that appear on the site.
Two other things that I learned which excited me. The Rail Yard Ghosts have a new album out this week on bandcamp called Blackgrass. And later this month they kick off that European tour which they’ve been raising funds for, and it will take in a date in Liverpool on April 20th.
The Rail Yard Ghosts are much more than just a band. They’re a freethinking DIY collective, an alternative lifestyle, an alternative world. They’ve got no home, they travel America, performing where they can, living on the road. How they manage it with no money is a mystery to me, but they’re not alone : Squat the Planet website declares itself to be “an online community exploring nomadic lifestyles through minimalist travel. That’s a fancy way of saying we’re a bunch of gypsies, migrant punks, hippies, and other ne’er do wells.”
I guess I should mention the music ! They play fast bluegrassy folk punk, and it sounds bloody great. There’s usually 7 or 8 of them all playing different instruments and making a very lively sound. I get the impression it’s not just one of them writing the songs, they’re all involved and contributing ideas, and their lyrics are always worth listening to.
A couple from Terrorist Union #63 :
And from Blackgrass :
Ode to Joshua Slocum
Epic of Schwillgamesh
Rembetica was the Greek blues. It was the rhythm of an urban underworld, the music of a gangster class who went around in tight suits and fedora hats. In pre-war Greece the Rembetes ran the brothels and gambling dens and all kinds of illegal rackets, and they were constantly having run-ins with the police. So rembetica music was an outlaw music, a music that dealt with themes of love and loss, of drink, drugs and prison.
Kompania were formed at the end of 2011, and Round Trip is already their second album (a live album was released in 2012). The five band members are all experienced musicians. They play traditional instruments (baglama, bouzouki, accordion), but they’re not strict traditionalists. On Round Trip you can hear rembetika and smyrneika, mixed with elements of Turkish and Sephardic music. There are some old tunes – Arapina Mou Skertsoza is a love song written by rembetica legend Roza Eskenazi – and some are self-written. It’s a terrific album. The music is wild and emotional and very danceable. The three main singers all have strong voices and they seem to work together very well. Vocalist Katerina Tsiridou confirms that Kompania have all the togetherness of a family – “we have great chemistry, breathe music in the same way”.
Looking at their schedule, they’ve got plenty of dates in Holland and Belgium, but nothing in the UK. A rembetika revival here seems long overdue …
From the live album :
From Round Trip :
Arapína Mou Skertsóza
Páme Sta Bouzoúkia
Podlasie is at the borders of the new Europe, a gateway between East and West. Connecting Poland with Belarus, Ukraine, Russia and Lithuania, it’s an area where many different peoples have settled over the years. Where else can you find a Polish mosque, a 17th-century synagogue, a former Carmelite monastery, and the Holy Mount of Grabarka, a sacred site of the Orthodox church. With its protected forests, lakes and national parks Podlasie also claims to be the ‘Green Lungs’ of Europe. Moose, wolves, lynx and European bison roam in the extensive Białowieża Forest.
Karolina Cicha’s new album Wieloma językami is a celebration of Podlasie. The title means ‘many languages’ and the album contains songs sung in nine languages, all of which are spoken (or used to be spoken) in the region. This ethno-folk project, which draws comparisons with the Warsaw Village Band, represents a new direction for Cicha. A few years ago she was singing and playing the accordion in a rock band. She has a PhD in the history of literature, she’s been involved in the experimental theatre Gardzienice, and each of her albums has its own style and theme. For this one she’s collaborated with Bart Palyga – a cellist, multi-instrumentalist and throat singer.
There’s a lot of great world music coming out of Poland now, it’s certainly not confined to the Warsaw Village Band. This is a fantastic album, full of character. The duo have faithfully rendered the different musical styles (apparently Cicha took the time to learn the correct pronunciation on each number), but in each case added a little bit extra.
On Za rieczkaju (Belarus) we hear the first sample of Palyga’s throat singing.
Kon (Russian) has beautiful backing harmonies.
Sul Sulay (Tatar) is one of those songs that get faster towards the end.
Umirzaja (Tatar) has more throat singing, wonderful contrast between the different voices.
Two of the most special songs on the album are sung in Yiddish and represent Poland’s lost Jewish heritage. This is Ale.
Bialystok is the capital of Podlasie and Bialystok majn hejm is Yiddish for Bialystok is my home.