This is talented Boltonian songwriter McCullogh's second album (his debut Thoughts Alone was well thought of) and a single from it, Something Abuse has been warmly received. A creator of infectious indie rock, in a similar vein to that of fellow Boltonian Badly Drawn Boy, McCullogh is a sharp new voice on the singer-songwriter scene. In addition to the single, this album includes excellent songs such as Six of One. McCullough's name will be one to watch for in 2007; this year may well be the twenty-year-old's time to shine.
The Fall (Sanctuary Records remastered series) Middle Class Revolt CMQDD1226 Cerebral Caustic CMQDD1299 The Twenty Seven Points CMQDD1351 Are You Missing Winner CMQDD1352
Sanctuary continue their exhaustive and complete remastering of the Fall's back catalogue with these four albums from the mid- to late-nineties. Coming off the back of what was possibly the group's most successful period in the late eighties, the ever-unpredictable Mark E. Smith did something unusual: he performed with the Inspiral Carpets on their 1994 hit, the superb I Want You, and joined them on Top of the Pops (his only appearance on this venerable institution). Afterwards, he released Middle Class Revolt (1994), a tight, focused, dance-tinged album that failed to set the world alight. Yet it's a revelation, with some of the Fall's best performances, especially on Hey Student, and the title track.
Even more unexpectedly, Smith's ex-wife Brix rejoined the band on the Cerebral Caustic (1995) album. This contained another set of beautifully delivered Fall material. Although the album came not too long after Britpop had kicked off, Mark E Smith's Fall continued to do their own thing (while Manchester may be cool, the Fall by this point had passed beyond cool and into legendary status). The group is helped by Brix on tracks like Don't Call Me Darling and Bonkers in Phoenix, but the stand-out track is the slow-building Rainmaster, which grows into a classic Fall song. It makes its parent album an oddity, recorded in a few weeks, and hardly promoted. Cerebral Caustic may be the hidden gem in the catalogue.
The live, double album Twenty Seven Points (1995) captures 28 tracks performed in 6 cities, with 11 different band members. This is Smith and his band at their darkest and most impenetrable and one of the oddest live albums I've ever heard.
I reviewed Are You Missing Winner on its initial release back in 2001, and this almost indecently quick reissue shows that time has been kinder than I was. What seemed at the time like noise is now genius; what didn't grab then really grabs now. With classic tracks like Acute, this is another typically idiosyncratic album from the Fall. The music business doesn't make albums like this any more, and to be honest, I don't think anyone ever made 'em like this before!
Seven Hills Me then You www.sevenhills.org.uk
After Pulp's split around the turn of the century, there was a gap into which a talented, intelligent Sheffield-based band could fit. Now, with the Arctic Monkeys, Dead like Harry and the Long Blondes, there's a stack of new talent creeping out of Steel City. Seven Hills is another name to add to the list. This three-track EP (Me then You,Travelling Circus, That's Where We Are) could have been called Britpop had it emerged ten years ago. Today, with their tight playing, an intense groove on the title track, a bluesy laid-back feel to Travelling Circus (with echoes of George Harrison's guitar style), and the palpable energy on That's Where We Are, these blokes take the best of English rock and distil it into three stunning songs. Where this group is concerned, I have two wishes: to see them live, and to watch them follow the Arctic Monkeys and Dead like Harry on to wider acclaim.
Dr Feelgood Down By the Jetty (Collector's Edition) EMI
Dr Feelgood's seminal debut album, recorded in mono to reflect the band's tight sound, is remastered and re-released here in two-disc form: disc one is the original album, with some bonus live tracks, while on disc two the album is given the stereo treatment, with even more bonus tracks. The original line-up, of Wilko Johnson (guitar), John 'The Big Figure' Martin (drums), Lee Brilleaux (vocals, slide guitar) and John B. 'Sparko' Sparks (bass), were never more potent than on classic material like Boom Boom, Cheque Book, Oyeh, and, of course, the classic Roxette. With wonderful live material and a stunning job on the sound, this album still amazes over thirty years after it was made.
Pet Shop Boys Fundamental EMI Catalogue
Their first album since 2002, and their first truly satisfying set since 1991's Behaviour, finds Tennant and Lowe (the most successful duo ever) aided and abetted by ex-Yes man Trevor Horn to create a return to their electronic roots, firmly based in contemporary England. Tennant's lyrics get more political with every album, never more so than on the Blair/Bush-baiting I'm With Stupid. The Boys' trademark melancholy is never far from the surface, such as in the love song Indefinite Leave to Remain, but it is in the epic ballad Luna Park that they really go to town. This is possibly their finest song, proving that, twenty years into their career, the Pet Shop Boys are still making intelligent, well-crafted and relevant music.
Folk, Folk-Rock & Blues
The Strawbs Recollections Witchwood Media WMCD2033
Heartbreak Hill (Platinum Edition) Witchwood Media WMCD2034
Here are two albums by the Strawbs covering either end of their career. Recollections is a live album recorded live in 1970, just after Rick Wakeman had joined the band, and right at the point where they were making the transition from folk band to folk-rock superstars. The line-up of David Cousins, Tony Hooper, John Ford, Richard Hudson, and of course Wakeman were at their peak when this was recorded. The release brings to CD material that is not otherwise available, including The Man Who Called Himself Jesus and The Antique Suite, as well as the immense Cousins epic, The Battle. This is a great set, and is very welcome given the scarcity of early Strawbs material on CD.
Heartbreak Hill is from the other end of the seventies, recorded in 1978 and never released until the early nineties. For the first time ever, this edition has been remastered from the original tapes. This is a superb album, possibly one of the finest records released under the Strawbs name, with the opener Something for Nothing (a classic Strawbs song) as well as the brilliant Let it Rain. Dave Lambert had left the band by this time, and as a result this is very much a synthesiser-dominated album; Andy Richards (later to find fame with Frankie Goes to Hollywood) drives the songs along with his unique synth sound. This is another much-needed reissue, to add to the catalogue of great material coming out on Witchwood. It's about time Heartbreak Hill got the respect it deserves.
John Renbourn Live in Italy Sanctuary CMRCD1326
Part of Sanctuary's ongoing remastering and reissuing of Renbourn's back catalogue, this previously unreleased album was recorded live back in 1988/89 at the Folk Studio in Rome. Featuring Renbourn's interpretations of Lord Franklin, Lindsay, Sweet Potato and others, this captures one of England's finest acoustic performers at his best, in an intimate surrounding.
Jennifer Cutting's Ocean Orchestra Ocean: Songs for the Night Sea Journey Witchwood Media/ Sunsign records CD2004
Described by Dave Cousins as "The most stunning folk artist I have heard in the last 10 years," Jennifer Cutting releases her new album on Witchwood media. When Cousins found out that she didn't have a deal, he signed her immediately. Listening to this, you can see why. The album features such folk luminaries as Maddy Prior (who provides vocals on Forgiveness), Polly Bolton, Troy Donockley, Dave Mattacks, and Peter Knight. From Celtic jigs and reels (Out on the Ocean/Rolling Waves) to atmospheric music adapting Holst's Song for the Night Sea Journey, this is an amazing piece of music from start to finish. Over seven years in the making, this is an epic album, one of the best releases of the year in any genre. Absolutely superb.
Albert Lee Road Runner Sugar Hill Records Sug-CD 4011
One of the greatest blues guitarists in the world, on his latest CD Englishman Albert Lee provides brilliant interpretations of material like the opener Road Runner, John Hiatt's Rock Of Your Love, and Jimmy Webb's The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, along with an amazing version of Richard Thompson's Dimming of the Day. This is Lee at his finest, and the material chosen showcases his versatility and distinctive guitar and vocal styles.
Chris While and Julie Matthews Here and Now Fat Cat FATCD016
One of England's most versatile duos (they have performed as Blue Tapestry in a tribute to Carole King and as part of St Agnes Fountain, as well as writing material for Fairport Convention), this is the closest thing to a live While and Matthews concert as it is possible to find on CD. Recorded, produced and performed entirely by the duo, this is the most stripped-down, intimate and personal record that they've ever made. From the strong opener On My Way to the closing So Long Old Pal, this is a first-rate album, and one of their best to date.
Scott Matthews Passing Stranger San Remo Records REMOCD001
Wolverhampton-born singer-songwriter Scott Matthews brings his folk, blues, rock, or whatever it is to CD with this, his debut album, which mixes Indian raga jamming (on Little Man Tabla Jam 1 and 2) with bluesier pieces like Passing Stranger and Elusive. Showcasing the sound, the talent, and the able backing band that enabled Matthews to evolve his idiosyncratic musical style, this is a mighty album, reminiscent in certain sections of Gomez's funky laid-back British blues, and, in parts, of Dylan mixed heavily with Led Zeppelin. An uncompromising and stunning debut from a major talent, well worth investigating.
Modern Folk: Lads' Special
Three very different and immensely talented artists at the forefront of the current folk revival have solo albums out at the moment. This time, it's the boys turn to shine…
Jim Moray Jim Moray Niblick is a Giraffe NIBL005
Following up his brilliant debut Sweet England was no easy task, but Radio 2 Folk Award winner Jim Moray, possibly the most anarchic talent on the contemporary folk scene (as indicated by his made-up face on the cover --perhaps the most unlikely-looking folk album cover-art ever), has succeeded where lesser artists might have failed. Ploughing his own unique furrow via interpretations of Lord Willoughby, with its lush, dense orchestration, fantastic renditions of Who's the Fool? and his own material My Sweet Rose and Magic When You're Near, Jim takes the traditional idiom and gives it a good old twist. It's been a few years since I saw him live, but if this is the leap he's made on record, in performance he would be something else.
Jon Boden Painted Lady Soundpost SOP05001
Better known as half of Spiers & Boden (who also form part of the mighty Bellowhead, and two-thirds of Eliza Carthy's Ratcatchers), Jon Boden is in full-on solo mode on this record, showing what he can do when he has some time on his hands. A entirely self-penned set (apart from a great version of the traditional song Drinking The Night Away), Painted Lady rocks from the title track, with Win Some Lose Some Sally and True Love wistful and full of regrets. This is a consistently excellent album, the sign of a talented artist stretching his wings.
Seth Lakeman Freedom Fields I Scream ISCD007
Mercury Award-nominated artist and former Equation member Seth Lakeman follows up his breakthrough record Kitty Jay with Freedom Fields, his third solo album and his most accomplished yet. It does not venture too far from his previous winning formula: its songs are all based around the myths and legends of his home county of Devon, and, also like its predecessor, the album was recorded in his brother's kitchen studio. The tales are epic, the performances are amazing, and the songs uniformly outstanding, especially on The Riflemen Of War and 1643. Some people criticise what Seth is doing, but I enjoy it; like Jim Moray and Jon Boden, he is prepared to use the tradition and take it in new and exciting directions. This innovatory spirit is one of the reasons why the folk scene is so strong at the moment.--James Turner