'Prolific' isn't the word for Chris Wade, the musical mastermind behind Dodson & Fogg. This is his fourth album in a year, picking up where The Sounds of Day and Night left off and embracing the psychedelic mood wholeheartedly, with superb guests like Chloe Herrington, Ricky Romain, Colin Jones, and the fantastic vocals of Celia Humphries. The opener Mystery sounds like a release from the Incredible String Band or Pink Floyd, whilst Watch the Skies is a rockier number, driven along by Wade's wonderfully distorted guitar and manic soloing. Suddenly brings the summer of '66 back to life, with its brilliant acoustic guitar/sitar duel between Wade and Romain.Windmills and I Remember are slices of English psych-folk, and could easily have slotted into any Island or Harvest Records sampler of the early 1970s. The brilliant brass-driven rock-out of Nothing Can Come Between Us No More, and Wade's superb vocals, make it one of the best tracks he's written so far. Musically and vocally Wade is much more confident, as shown by the soloing on Suddenly and the hard-edged title track.
House of Hats This Love Willow Walk Records
Brighton based four-piece House of Hats have been making waves across the UK recently, with rave reviews from Maverick Magazine and Zoë Ball, amongst others, and they bring their acoustic folk sound to a wider audience on this, their debut album. Reminiscent of The Fleet Foxes, and the early harmonies of Buckingham/Nicks pre-Fleetwood Mac, their blend of traditional-sounding material, beautifully sparse arrangements, and gorgeous female vocals make tracks including Home Is Where the Heart Is, Rivers Will Run, and King of the Average Pace stand out.This is a superb debut.
Eyes & No Eyes Eyes & No Eyes Willkommen017
Art-rock four-piece Eyes & No Eyes met in Brighton and spent the last year touring intensively and recording their first album. Captured live, it showcases the interplay between the four performers Tristram Bawtree, Thomas Heather, Marcus Hamblett and Becca Mears, with additional sound textures added by occasional collaborator Gemma 'Woodpecker' Williams. The as-live recording shows their tautness, producing an intense and exciting musical experience that takes in folk-rock elements (Blackwaterside) and sonic soundscapes (the opener Breathe In).With unexpected musical twists and some fantastic musicianship throughout, the band never forgets the fundamental basis of strong song-writing.Every track is a delight, and every listen reveals something new.This is an eclectic and riveting debut, and suggests that Eyes & No Eyes would be a formidable live band.
Johnny Coppin Borderland Red Sky Records RSKCD120
Singer/songwriter Johnny Coppin is a founder member of folk-rock band Decameron, and since they split he has presented a highly acclaimed radio show for BBC Gloucestershire, released twelve studio albums, and written for theatre.
His latest collection Borderland, with its striking artwork by Katharine Nelson, pulls together songs from England, Ireland, Wales and the USA.The centrepiece of the album is the trio of songs about the First World War, both apt and poignant in this centenary year.The beautiful John Condon features superbly evocative vocals and an understated arrangement, telling a simple story about a soldier's grave.The FW Harvey poem Gloucestershire from Abroad, written in a prison camp in 1918, is set to music and performed sublimely, and the emotive Dream of England captures the homesickness felt in the trenches.
Pete Coe's Joseph Baker opens the album, which also includes Coppin's own When the Morning's Here, and trad tracks like Cariad Cyntaf and The Brazier's Daughter. Coppin's vocals are superb, and his interpretation is wonderful throughout. With sympathetic and subtle musical accompaniment from Karen Tweed, Paul Burgess, and Mike Silver, amongst others, this is a gem of an album and one that reinforces Coppin's status as a true folk hero.
Pete Morton The Frappin' and Ramblin' Pete Morton Fellside Recordings FECD261
Pete Morton is a unique figure on the folk scene, mixing traditional acoustic guitar and singing with spoken-word folk raps (hence the Frappin' in the title). This is his eleventh album, and it continues to pursue his original vision. The opening Farmer's Boy expresses anger at how farmers are underpaid by big business. In fact, anger at the way the big trample the small permeates this album, and to prove that this is nothing new, he adapts the classic Ewan MacColl protest song The Manchester Rambler into The Manchester Rambler's Frap, mixing the original with his own spoken-word take on both the original issues that MacColl sang about and the new issues, which are still the old issues--rich vs. poor, haves vs. have-nots. Those who say that no-one writes protest songs any more haven't heard Pete Morton: from The Journeyman to Corporatocracy via the epic Rambling Through Old England, his mix of rap and vocals channels his anger perfectly, and his lyrics are sharp and well-observed. In this era of faux-folk like Mumford & Sons, the world needs more Pete Mortons to take us back to our roots, and remind us what we've fought for over the past few centuries.This is a fantastic album, and one that is more anarchic and protest-fuelled than the output of most so-called punks.
Lord Sutch and Heavy Friends Esoteric Recordings ECLEC2405
Rock-and-roller, and in later life leader of the Monster Raving Loony Party, Screaming Lord Sutch was a Great British Eccentric, and this much-maligned album, released originally in 1970, features the cream of the British rock scene: Jimmy Page, John Bonham, Jeff Beck, Noel Redding and Nicky Hopkins.Somehow Sutch talked them into jamming on some old rock standards, and then released the results heavily reworked and re-edited, while crediting them all prominently.To say that they were unimpressed is an understatement. However, the album contains some fantastic rock-and-roll music, performed by the sixties' finest talents, and is full of quaint charm. Beck shines on Gutty Guitar, for instance, and Page's magic comes through on everything he touches. The sound is lo-fi, the approach quirky. Be warned --this is not a release for the faint-hearted!
Jon Anderson Change we Must Esoteric Recordings ECLEC2420
Originally released twenty years ago, back in '94, this is a welcome reissue for a wonderful collection of material revisited and reworked by Jon Anderson, the legendary voice of Yes. With overhauled tracks including State of Independence, The Kiss and Candle Song from his famed collaboration with Vangelis, as well as a reworked version of Hearts from Yes, this is Jon Anderson at his finest.Employing a full orchestra, which gives the album a softer sound, the arrangements are sympathetic to the originals, whilst bringing out nuances hidden in the rockier versions. The album flows as a seamless whole, and with the softer backing of an orchestra rather than a full rock band, Anderson's voice soars free and sounds magnificent throughout.
This is an excellent album, and one worth getting if you are a fan of Yes, Anderson or Vangelis, or even if you simply like well-produced and -performed songs with heart and soul.
Peter Hammill/Gary Lucas Other World Esoteric Antenna EANTCD1026
Peter Hammill is widely admired, both for his work with Van Der Graaf Generator and as an intelligent and idiosyncratic solo performer. Gary Lucas is a talented and inventive multi-instrumentalist.When they got together the results were bound to be spectacular, and they are. With Hammill's superb vocals and lyrics, and Lucas' musical soundscapes, the two have crafted probably the first truly great album of 2014.
From the opening Spinning Coins to the closing seven minutes-plus magic that is Slippery Slope, these fourteen tracks capture two brilliant minds working in synchronicity. Taking in traditional rock and almost-folk sounds on the well-crafted Reboot and the astonishingly beautiful Black Ice, the album also features the lyrical sharpness of This is Showbiz and the wonderful of Kith and Kin.
Hammill has never sounded better, and the music that he and Lucas make together is magical. This album is a musical and lyrical delight from start to finish.
Frank Turner Tape Deck Heart Xtra Mile Recordings
Frank Turner (no relation), whom you may have seen playing at the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics, is a unique musical talent.
His musical style veers from punk to folk, and he is very much a modern-day troubadour in the Billy Bragg mould.Whilst Mr Bragg is settling into his role as the doyen of agit folk, there is scope for new angry young men with guitars to appear. Frank Turner is one such man, and, it is fair to say, the only one who can hold a candle to Mr Bragg in terms of musicality and lyrical expression.
This album, the wonderfully-named Tape Deck Heart, is Turner's fifth record proper, following up his excellent England Keep my Bones. It is his greatest release yet, even better than the mighty Love, Ire and Song, and contains songs of gut-wrenching beauty like Oh Brother nestling side-by-side with future live favourites such as Four Simple Words and Recovery, its rollicking tune nicely juxtaposed with Turner's world-weary lyrics. Throughout this album, with its stories of broken hearts and failed dreams, run glimmers of redemption and a faint hope that everything might turn out OK, whether in The Fisher King Blues or the brilliant Broken Piano, which is possibly the most experimental thing that Turner has done.Turner is ably accompanied throughout by his live band the Sleeping Souls.This isn't just a record; it's a snapshot of a moment in time. It's a chance to immerse yourself fully in Frank Turner's wonderful songwriting, and come out moved, entertained, and thinking about things slightly differently.
Oliver Wakeman with Steve Howe The Three Ages of Magick Esoteric Recordings ECLEC2415
Originally released in 2001, and long out of print, Oliver Wakeman's second album receives a welcome re-release. It a musical exploration of the unknown, a long-time interest of Wakeman's. Joining Oliver is legendary guitarist Steve Howe, who has played with Oliver's father--and indeed with Oliver-- in Yes, as well as versatile drummer Dave Wagstaffe, bassist Tim Buchanan, violinist Jo Greenland, and Tony Dixon on pipes, whistle and flute. As Oliver is a keyboard maestro, like his father, and both have made symphonic rock albums, it would be very easy (not to say lazy) to compare the two.However, they have different playing and composition styles, and whilst this is unmistakably a symphonic rock record, the counterpoint between the violin, guitar and keyboards throughout is a triumph.Howe's playing is wonderful, and Oliver on keys has a supreme lightness of touch that anchors the whole record.From the opening Ages of Magick to the closing epic Hy Breasail, via the rather splendid The Storyteller (featuring sublime guitar work from Howe), this is a magnificent record, and a gem in Oliver's impressive catalogue of work, only rivalled by Mother's Ruin in terms of sheer brilliance.A brace of unreleased tracks bolsters this reissue.
Solstice Prophecy Esoteric Antenna EANCD1024
From the second wave of prog rock in the eighties, Solstice, still fronted by guitarist Andy Glass, are enjoying a renaissance; this new album was released towards the end of last year. Specialising in ambient, epic tracks that grow magisterially from the guitar and violin interplay that is essential to the Solstice sound, the new album Prophecy is a rare treat. The five tracks here, including the ethereal beauty of epics like Black Water, Keepers of the Truth, and Eyes of Fire, showcase the finest work that the band has done for a long time. Andy Glass's performance on guitar is never less than extraordinary, and there are sympathetic contributions by Jenny Newman on violin and Emma Brown on (gorgeous and sensual) vocals, while Steve McDaniel on keys, Robin Phillips on bass and Pete Hemsley on drums provide the backdrop for Glass and Newman's magc solos. Steven Wilson has remixed and remastered the older tracks, making this the complete package for fans of epic, entrancing progressive rock.
Mike Kershaw This Long Night www.kershmusic.com
Last year Wakefield multi-instrumentalist singer-songwriter Mike Kershaw released This Long Night, his latest album, and it is a real slow burner. Recording mainly in the symphonic/prog style, Mike has an ear for a catchy tune,well-observed lyrics, and a brilliant musical arrangement.This album features a broad palette, with songs including the title track, Words of Love, A Kind of Hell, the rock ballad Spectres, and the haunting closer Our Journey's Done.The release showcases Mike's versatility, from impressive keyboard solos to some wonderfully languid, atmospheric guitar work.
John Bassett Unearth Stereohead Records JohnBCD01
Released on 31st March,this is Kingbathmat leader John Bassett's first solo excursion. Kingbathmat operate on the most exciting edge of progressive rock, with a knack for a fine tune and some intelligent lyrics.Unsurprisingly, John's solo album continues that theme. However, instead of being a full-on progressive album, this shows the mellower, more acoustic side of John's personality. The superb production values add dimension to such hypnotic tracks as the opener Stay Away From the Dark, with a haunting video filmed in Hastings. The ten tracks on this album are all contemporary folk tales, with elements of psychedelia loitering on the fringes, and the quality of Bassett's musicianship is on full display. The record includes the driving Survival Rate, the catchy Nothing Sacred, and the exquisite, ethereal Unearth, with its disturbing message about leaving well enough alone. The seven minute-plus tour de force of Something That's More Worthwhile has a fragile beauty and wonderful harmonies. Both solo and as part of Kingbathmat, John Bassett is an intelligent, articulate and individual songwriter.Whilst there are echoes of, say, the more pastoral elements of Pink Floyd hidden here, this is a very individual statement, full of heart, soul and integrity, much like its creator.
Galahad Seize the Day Avalon Records GHEP01
Legendary prog rock band Galahad are releasing a series of individual EPs this year.This EP features the track Seize the Day from their Battle Scars album, full of majesty and style, included here in both the long version and the single edit, which pushes up the electro of the original to create a fantastic 7" dance track. 21st Century Painted Lady is a lavishly reworked version of Painted Lady from the band's eighties incarnation, whilst Bug from Following Ghosts also gets a renovation, with a twelve-minute live version included for completists. As ever, Galahad are a superbly tight band, and Stu Nicholson's vocals improve year by year.
Matt Stevens Lucid Esoteric Antenna EANTCD1027
If you've read my work before, then you'll know that I hold Matt Stevens in high regard as a guitarist of no mean ability. When he turns his amp up with his band The Fierce and the Dead, no-one can touch him. Previously Matt's solo work has been more acoustic and loop-based, whereas here on Lucid (backed by the Esoteric Antenna label, who are doing a sterling job of cultivating and promoting talented artists) he holds nothing back. This is the sound of an intelligent, creative guitarist pushing himself and giving everything he's got, while the guest list features some of the biggest names in prog: King Crimson drummer Pat Mastelotto, Kev Feazy and Stuart Marshall (The Fierce and the Dead), bassist Charlie Cawood (Knifeworld), and Chrissie Caulfield on violin, amongst others.This is a true ensemble album, which nods to the Mahavishnu Orchestra as well as King Crimson, and contains some of the finest instrumental music out there. Matt Stevens is a master of restraint, giving his guests room to impress, while also delivering some awe-inspiring solos on the brilliant Unsettled, the atmospheric Coulrophobia, and the intense, sprawling, dense majesty that is the epic eleven-minutes-plus The Bridge. Lucid is the sound of an artist who is confident in his ability, comfortable with his collaborators, and secure in the knowledge that he is making the music he wants to make.
Freedom to Glide Rain www.freedomtoglide.com
Rain is a concept album from Pete Riley and Andy Nixon, who worked together for many years in the Pink Floyd tribute band Dark Side of the Wall. It seems apt that this epic album, about the First World War and the experiences of CPL Robert Wilson, should be released in the year that marks the hundredth anniversary of the war's outbreak. The opening track, which compares the falling rain to the casualties on the battlefield, draws the listener into an intensely personal, superbly performed and produced album.If this seems like a familiar topic, and one which is associated with Pink Floyd, this is to be expected given these musicians' previous work --however, they are certainly not copyists, and this is no Floyd retread.The songs have a life of their own, and are more than the sum of their parts: there is the atmospheric Anywhere Else But Here, contrasting with the harder-edged Path of Reason, whilst Rain returns as the ambient soundscapes lead into an acoustic reprise of the opener.Wind and Gales (Rain Pt 3) continues the story with a harder edge to the sound, and the last track Rain (Pt 4) finishes the mini epic that is the centrepiece of the album with some sublime guitar soloing, reminiscent of David Gilmour at his best. This is a moving, well-written, atmospheric and musically rewarding album, with some superb lyrical moments. A masterpiece.--James R Turner