Electronica Album Reviews
Pop outsider and lockdown living-room star Murphy distils her disco expertise and musical idiosyncrasies in songs pulsing with dancefloor power
The first thing you hear on Róisín Murphy’s fifth album is a snatch of spoken word, an extract from a monologue that appears in full later. “I feel my story is still untold,” she says, “but I’ll make my own happy ending.”
Murphy’s fans may concur with the sentiment. It’s an article of faith among them that the former Moloko frontwoman should be more famous than she is: look online and the word “underrated” seems to attach itself to her like a nickname. Watching the footage of her performing her former band’s 2003 single Forever More at Glastonbury, or the videos she posted from her living room during lockdown, you can see what they mean. The former offers eight minutes during which Murphy manages to sport four different, preposterous headdresses and execute a mid-song costume change from late-80s raver in puffa jacket, beanie and KLF T-shirt into a glamorous red dress and feather boa. The latter’s high point might well come during a rendition of Murphy’s Law, a single from Róisín Machine, that also involves several changes of headdress: high-kicking around her coffee table, she falls flat on her arse, rectifying herself with a defiant bellow of “I’m alright!” You watch them and think, yes, the charts probably would be a more interesting place if, say, Dermot Kennedy or James Arthur made way for Murphy.
(Forever Living Originals)
Just 12 weeks after their previous double album, the British group dance from sorrow to resistance, mixing fearless lyrics with house, funk and disco
Over the last two years, Sault’s music has arrived out of the blue: no interviews, no photos, no videos, no live appearances, no Wikipedia entry, a perfunctory and entirely non-interactive social media presence. Physical copies of their three previous albums have credited Inflo as producer – otherwise best-known as the producer of Little Simz’ Grey Area and co-writer of Michael Kiwanuka’s Black Man in a White World, each of which won him an Ivor Novello award. Kiwanuka got a guest artist credit on their last album, Untitled (Black Is), released in June. So did Laurette Josiah, the founder of a north London children’s charity, who it turns out is Leona Lewis’s aunt. The only other available fact is that proceeds from the album “will be going to charitable funds”. Speculation about the collective’s other members has neither been confirmed nor denied, nor has anyone claimed responsibility for music that’s thus far been rapturously received on both sides of the Atlantic.
You could decry this approach as counterproductive. Perhaps a higher profile, a modicum of desire to play the game, might have helped turn Wildfires, the exquisite and excoriating standout from Untitled (Black Is), into the hit it deserved to be. Yet Sault seem to use the time they save by not promoting their albums or engaging with the public profitably. Untitled (Rise) is not only their fourth album in 18 months, it’s their second double album in just over 12 weeks. It’s a work rate that would seem remarkable at any point in pop history, but feels positively astonishing today, compounded by the fact that its predecessor gave the impression of having been largely written and recorded in response to the murder of George Floyd, less than a month before it was released. Pop history is littered with swiftly released singles reacting to events in the news – two of them made No 1 during the Covid-19 lockdown – but you struggle to think of an entire album doing so, let alone one as good as Untitled (Black Is).
(Nyege Nyege Tapes)
From Nairobi’s metal scene, Martin Kanja and Sam Karugu add techno to doom-laden guitars and distorted vocals on this exciting album
Alongside the burgeoning experimental electronic scene in east Africa is a small but committed underground of metal bands, based in Nairobi. These groups are breathing life into a field hampered by a continued lack of diversity and the preponderance of racist imagery.
Duma is released on Nyege Nyege Tapes on 7 August.
The Venezuelan electronic innovator adds guests and party tunes to her trademark glitchy sounds
The Venezuela-born, Barcelona-based electronic innovator Arca has long made a feature of colliding sound-worlds and destabilising identities. Across three albums (four, if you’re counting the 62-minute track @@@@@) of mercurial productions, chaos and beauty have intertwined. Hand in hand with Arca’s fluid, writhing music have come inquiries into post-gender and non-binary selves.
KiCk I offers up an even broader palette than previously, while keeping up a steady diet of trademark dissonance alongside those slightly more overground ambitions. Stark album opener Nonbinary comes out fighting on behalf of “self-states”, while a handful of tracks plumb Arca’s Latinx heritage even more assiduously than previously: Mequetrefe is as close to pop as this artist has come; Riquiqui features a plethora of rhythmic Spanish voices over intricate clatter.
Alejandra Ghersi’s new set is a subversive and mischievous fusion of aural fireworks and psychedelic lyricism aided by Björk, Shygirl, Rosalía and Sophie
Time, from Arca’s fourth album KiCk i, reduces a booming, bass-heavy 4/4 kick drum to a whisper that oscillates around Alejandra Ghersi’s blurry, anaesthetised words. “It’s time to let it out / And show the world,” she coos from a condemned space that evokes the atmosphere of a toilet stall at Berlin super-club Berghain. In the three years since her acclaimed 2017 album Arca, Ghersi has fallen in love and simultaneously found confidence from affirming her non-binary identity. If her previous album evoked a melancholy sci-fi opera set on a drifting space station, KiCk i is a live-streamed party, finding Ghersi at her most unrestrained, mischievous and joyful.
When something doesn’t work, the failure acts as a reminder of the complexity of existence. Perfection is not revolutionary, but change is
Metal Album Reviews
Rock Album Reviews
Zakk Wylde, Blasko, and Joey Castillo finally decided to go into the studio as Zakk Sabbath and cover the the self-titled debut from Black Sabbath in its entirety under the title Vertigo. Black Sabbath’s now 50-year-old debut is one of the most iconic albums in metal history and is credited as the first real heavy …
Hidey ho, all you Skullsnboners! Que pasa? Hope you are all surviving the summer of isolation and no live shows. In the words of the greatest philosopher of our time, Butthead, “This sucks more than anything that has ever sucked before.” But one thing that does not suck this summer is the end of five …
The forthcoming EP by the grindcore legends Pig Destroyer, The Octagonal Stairway, is a killer mix of their iconic, intense grindcoredeliverd during the first half and industrial noise tracks filling the second. With song lengths ranging from 45 seconds to 11 minutes, there is a lot of variety in this release, including an appearance from …
Evil disco lives! There has been much speculation and some controversy in the metal community around Static-X releasing a new album featuring the final vocal recordings of Wayne Static with original members, Tony Campos, Koichi Fukuda, and Ken Jay. Some said it’s a money grab. Others said it shouldn’t be done because Wayne isn’t here. …
I have been a champion of Canada’s Jupiter Hollow since they first hit the scene three years ago, so right up front, I fucking love these guys. It’s been a few years since we have heard from them, but it’s been worth the wait. With the release of their new album, Bereavement, they are back, …
Classical Music Album Reviews
Country Music Album Reviews
Rap Album Reviews
Jazz & Blues Album Reviews
Walter Trout – Ordinary Madness
11 songs time – 57:45
Guitar slinger Walter Trout has a prime resume’ that includes time spent as one of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, member of Canned Heat, work with John Lee Hooker as well as his long standing solo career. Given his reputation as one of the premier blues-rock guitarists of recent times, the song structures, lyrics and his vocal abilities are the first things that jumped out at me. Of course his searing guitar leads are still there and are one of the elements that make this an enjoyable listen. He is supported by a sturdy rhythm section and various keyboard players and background vocalists. All songs are written by Trout or with his wife Marie with an assist on one by blues singer Teeny Tucker.
Throughout the lyrics attain a depth and a heartfelt authenticity typically absent from music with a blues-rock bent. The words aren’t just a toss-away vehicle that leads to guitar mayhem, although there is no lack of guitar gymnastics.
I pick up a definite cinematic-film noir vibe from the title song “Ordinary Madness”. The song maintains a level of coolness. The intro FX are courtesy of one Space Fish. It’s sounds like a mixture of backwards tapes and electronic effects, but I digress. The lyrical content is way cool-“It’s under the counter, it’s under the rug”. Even his soloing has a cool restraint to it. Careful craftsmanship was truly at work here.
By the second song “Wanna Dance” it hits me that the guy has a smooth and emotional vocal delivery. The theme is about the eventuality of death, so the narrator just wants to dance with his loved one. “My Foolish Pride” is a heartfelt piano infused ballad. Skip Edwards does the gentle piano under Walter’s soaring guitar outro. Leaving home for potentially greener pastures is the gist of “Heartland”. The inclusion of accordion and acoustic guitar add quaintness juxtaposed to the ever present soaring electric guitar.
Teeny Tucker and Marie Trout assisted Walter on composing the slow intense blues of “All Out Of Tears”. The emotion is echoed in the notes of his guitar. He again touches on the theme of the eventual ending for us all in “Final Curtain Call”. “Someday I know I’m gonna hit the wall”. A great guitar riff and blazing harmonica by Walter seems to lessen the blow. The haunting and atmospheric riff amongst organ, Wurlitzer and guitar throughout “The Sun Is Going Down” is utterly mesmerizing.
The ringing guitars of “Up Above My Sky” achieve a hypnotic effect. He takes things out on a bombastic note with the charging noise of “Ok Boomer”.
Well folks it really doesn’t get any better than this, a fully realized and performed work with attention to every last detail and not a slick or stiff moment to be found. Blues-rock, blues and roots it’s all here in fine fashion. I really never realized this guy had the vocal chops to compliment his blazing guitar. Major stuff here!
Janky – Hill Country Foot Stomp
Reverb Unit Records
A student of the music of Junior Kimbrough and R. L. Burnside, Janky is an Austin, TX based musician who prefers up close and personal performances to the big concert hall. Mentored by Texas bluesman Reverend KM Williams and having produced and played with the two Kimbrough brothers (sons of Junior), Janky is well versed in both the blues and the throbbing and hypnotic sounds of the hill country. This is his third full-length CD and he plays all the instruments (except harp) on all but the final cut.
Janky gives us 8 originals and an interesting cover of the hymn “Amazing Grace” adapted as part of the final track “North Mississippi Amazing Grace.” He handles the lead vocals, guitars, bass and suitcase footdrum. Cody Cotton play harp and backs Janky on vocals. The guests on the last cut are Ilana Katz Katz on fiddle and Jesson and Nikki Marie on backing vocals. Janky and Cody give this album a huge and rich sound in true hill country style, yet there is newness and freshness in their music. I guess you could describe it as hill country meets rock 2020, but in a throwback sort of way.
The album begins with “Ain’t No Reason It’s Just Because” where the hill country is stomping good, the harp is dirty and blazing and the vocals are up front with them. It’s in your face and fun. The guitar slides along with the lead vocals and harp and it’s a raucous and rowdy good time. Following that is more modern take on hill country music with “On My Way Down,” featuring more great harp and guitar work that remains in your face with a driving beat and just a great sound. A throbbing and pulsating beat in “You Like Mississippi Kudzu” with the guitar and feedback overlaid nicely on the beat. “Three Ways From Sunday” is up next, a more rocking sort of cut built on a standard hill country tune. The guitar solo again sits on the hill country beat but here it offers a juxtaposition in styles as it rocks somewhat ethereally and very coolly. “Southern Vapors” is a blend of late 1960’s rock and a Junior Kimbrough or R.L. Burnside tune.
“Let’s Go” is next with the guitar sounding like Elmore James mixed with hill country in a Bluesbreakers song with Cotton’s harp blowing madly all over the place- just great stuff. The guitar punches and attacks with finger pick upon finger pick and the harp counters it with its own volley of blows. “Sho’Nuff Don’t Know” follows. The pace is far less frenetic in a psychedelic rock sort of approach as Janky moans and then the replies come. Lyrically the song describes a break-up but emotionally the song is a jam band cut that is cut short after building musical tension and emotion.
“Damned These Old Long Days” is like a hot and lazy summer day with the heat rising from the banks of a river as the groove flows slowly like a river. The liner notes liken it to Led Zeppelin which I’d agree with but the harp work is better. Janky growls and lays out Page like licks and Cotton blends in some slick harp; the tempo picks up mid song as the cut shifts gears into more of a traditional stomp. The guitar and fiddle open the final cut with the feel of Scottish bagpipes but instead of the Scottish Highlands we are in the Mississippi Hill Country with the stomp box, tambourine, fiddle, guitars and harmonious vocals. Janky takes a nasal but cool sort of approach with the lead as the female backing singers add a church-like element. The fiddle continues the vibe of the bagpipes as Janky breaks into a subdued guitar solo with all humming the vocal lines before he reprises the first verse to make you think he will close things out. An instrumental conclusion actually follows the first “ending” as if the angels flew down to hill country and put on their boots and overalls to conclude things for the band.
Well, that was a wild ride. 1960’s rock, alternative rock, hill country music and then a little church music give us a satisfying and powerful album of music to enjoy. It’s nice to see a modern and updated take even using rock from the 1960s as a means to give it an update. Janky plays and sings with exuberance and Cotton blows some really mean harp in support.
I didn’t really know what to expect but I really enjoyed this one and fans of hill country blues and rock can find a middle ground to enjoy here. Highly recommended!
Lucius Parr – Blues and Me: Going to Texas
12 songs – 48 minutes
Phoenix, Ariz.-based vocalist Lucius Parr is an old-school bluesman with strong Texas roots, which comes through loud and clear on this pleasant mix of soul-drenched music that’s chockful of stinging, single-note guitar runs and themes that deal with differing angles of romance.
A Vietnam War vet who picked cotton as a child while growing up in the small town of Yoakum in the Lone Star State, Parr comes from a poor, but musical family. He grew up listening to the recordings of Albert Collins — one of his cousins, B.B. King and others, and built his own cigar-box guitar at age ten. He was an all-state trombonist in high school who didn’t receive his first real six-string until graduating from high school with honors.
Before relocating to Arizona, played guitar in bands while attending Quinn College in Waco on a music scholarship. He was still in his teens when he backed his first big star, Etta James. Initially the point man in an Infantry unit at the front in Vietnam, after auditioning on bass and trombone, he eventually became a member of an Army band that entertained troops across Southeast Asia.
Parr’s served in a support position for vocalists Bettye Swan and Mary Wells and spent 20 years as a member of the Charlie Daniels Band in addition to launching a career as a front man with releases under his own name going back to the early 2000s. The liner notes for this album are limited, and it appears that Lucius handles almost all of the instrumentation throughout aided only by Miss Cubase, aka Teira Doom, who adds keys on the opening cut, and James Tobin, who delivers sax lines on the closer.
The all-original, 12-tune set opens with “Going to Texas” — but don’t be mistaken, it’s not a tribute to his former home. It was warning to his woman that he’s getting ready to leave without her to hook up with his other gal. Like all many of the Lone Star State guitar slingers who’ve preceded him, Parr’s guitar licks are crisp, clean and come with a sting – something that becomes immediately apparent from the opening notes of “Hot Outside,” a slow-blues pleaser in which he refuses an invite to return from his lady after she’s already kicked him out.
The sound takes a right-hand turn into Southern soul, but the theme continues with the medium-fast shuffle, “I’m Through with You,” and then slows dramatically for the unhurried true blues ballad, “Meet Me Halfway,” which gives Lucius more space to display his chops. The tempo heats again for the driving shuffle, “It’s Friday Night,” which finds the singer dealing with a woman who’s never available, but he still insists that they should party everything’s all right.
Soul-blues returns for “Look Me in the Eyes,” which demands the lady pay attention when Parr’s talking, before the pace quickens slightly for “This I Know,” which announces he knows she’s cheating. The azure ballad, “Play My Blues,” dips into Southern soul once more as it suggests spinning the singer’s tunes any time someone starts talking down to his lady love.
“Lock My Doors” comes across with a Windy City feel from its step-down guitar run opener as Lucius tells his ex to stop knocking on his door before the soul-blues, “You Were Drunk,” complains that the woman of his desire was so tipsy, she didn’t know who he was the next day after giving him her phone number. The jazzy “Welcome into My House” follows before the funkified title cut, “Play My Guitar,” finds Lucius housebound because of COVID-19 instead of clubbing with his lady and making music.
Blues and Me is as comfortable as an old pair of shoes if, like me, you have a strong love for Southern soul or soul blues. It’s Available through Apple Music, Amazon and Spotify.
Crooked Eye Tommy – Hot Coffee And Pain
Blue Heart Records – 2020
9 tracks; 49 minutes
Crooked Eye Tommy made a strong impression with their debut release Butterflies And Snakes back in 2015. The band is led by brothers Tommy and Paddy Marsh, the strange name deriving from Tommy’s eye condition. As on Butterflies And Snakes the artwork is distinctive and striking. The brothers both play guitar, sing and write, and between them contribute six originals, alongside three covers. The rhythm section is bassist Samuel Correa and drummer Charlie McClure, Craig Williams adds sax to five numbers and keyboard man Jimmy Calire plays Hammond B3 on most tunes as well as adding to the horn section on four cuts for which he wrote the arrangements. Teresa James guests on vocals and piano on one track.
Son House’s “Death Letter Blues” has long been a popular choice to cover with strong interpretations in recent years from Sugaray Rayford and The Hitman Blues Band. CET do a good job with a medium-paced version. All the songs here have plenty of space for the brothers to show their chops but never run to excess and “Death Letter” is no exception as the two guitars snake across each other. Tommy sings this one but Paddy takes over for his “Sitting In The Driveway”, a slow blues in which the guy is hesitant about going into his house as he has been fired and spent the day in the bar! Tommy laments lost love in a soulful setting on the title track with the first involvement of the horns – a sure-fire winner for lovers of soul-blues with a fine sax solo to top it off. Things get heavier with the chugging riff of Paddy’s “Twist The Sky”.
If anything the second half of the album is even stronger, starting with Teresa James sitting in on “Baby Where You Been?”, sharing vocals with Tommy on a slower tune, again with soulful elements which are underlined by the horn arrangement. “Angel Of Mercy” was first recorded on Mike Henderson and the Bluebloods’ 1999 album Thicker Than Water and is here given a tough reading with horns and plenty of guitar. Paddy’s slow tune “The Time It Takes To Live” has some psychedelic guitar phrasing and, at over seven minutes, affords plenty of space for the brothers to weave their patterns, including some dual guitar lines that, inevitably, bring The Allmans to mind. That is probably deliberate as Tommy’s instrumental “The Big House” is next up, a tribute to the ABB and named after the place that is now the band’s official museum in Macon, GA. The tune captures the lightness of touch that the original ABB had on so many of its instrumentals and the duelling guitars, a swinging rhythm section and the B3 certainly evoke the brothers at their best. Hard to follow that, but CET offers up another favourite of many a band, Sonny Landreth’s “Congo Square”, using a full-band production with a blazing horn arrangement, bringing the album to a stirring finale.
Blending elements of Southern Rock, soul and blues, Crooked Eye Tommy has produced another album well worth hearing.
Big Pacific – Welcome to the Party
12 songs – 47 minutes
Based out of Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Big Pacific is a four-piece ensemble of veteran Canadian musicians who deliver guitar-driven music that melds West Coast blues and classic-sounding rock into a pleasant, original sound that’s all their own.
Led by guitarist/vocalist Roly Sandoval, a native of Calgary who’s been active in bands and as a studio musician since the ‘80s, they produce strong, deep-in-the-pocket grooves and highly danceable, melodic themes throughout this all-original set, a follow-up to their first release, Jones’n for the Road.
He’s backed by an all-veteran lineup. Drummer Nick Dokter’s originally from South Africa and started playing professionally at age 14. Prior to migrating to Canada, he was based out of Europe, where he was a studio musician at several venues, including Pye Records – the label created by Petula Clark’s father and produced The Kinks, Brotherhood of Man and other international stars.
Keyboard player John “Johnny Blitz” Hannah doubles on vocals and guitar and has an extensive background that includes eight years as a touring member of Bryan Adams’ band, two more with Heart and appearances on both the David Letterman Show and at The Princess Diana Trust Concert. A native of Nanaimo, where the band’s based, bassist Wayne Veillet, meanwhile, has been a longtime presence on the local scene.
Fat guitar licks open “Welcome to the Party” before the band quickly joins in. It’s a loping, medium-paced shuffle that announces that they’re ready to travel from Nanaimo to Newfoundland to do the best they can as they invite fans to join in and enjoy the action. Sandoval’s range is somewhat limited, but his voice is inviting, and the full group provides choral accompaniment on the chorus.
The tempo picks up, but the feel remains the same for “Bad Girl,” a stop-time rocker with a classic rock feel, and “Rack ‘em Up,” which describes a Saturday night out with a long-legged lady with red hair, before Hannah’s keys come to the fore for “Slip Away,” a hard shuffle with layered vocals that urges a reluctant lover to join in on a secret liaison.
“Lovin’ Arms” is a guitar-driven rocker with an old-school feel that keeps the feeling going before yielding to “Here on the East Side,” a powerful tribute to the band’s favorite part of town. The soulful ballad “Hard Road” instantly changes the feel as it reflects on the intimacy of a relationship and the strength the lady needs to maintain when the lovers are apart.
The band kicks into high gear for the driving original, “California Girl,” which wonders what the title beauty did to make the singer feels the need to dance with her until morning comes. Unfortunately, the feeling isn’t mutual because the woman slips away in the rocker “Run to the Night.” “Blue Moon Blues,” a super-fast shuffle, celebrates a reunion before the acoustic ballads “As We Go” and “Here’s to Yesterday” end the action.
Available through multiple online vendors and as a disc or digital download from the band’s website (above), this one’s perfect if you remember pet rocks, leisure suits and yearn for the throwback sound of the ‘70s – from which this band draws its roots. The album’s pleasant and the band probably rocks it in a bar, but this one would need a major infusion of true blues to maintain a blues fan’s interest.
Pop Album Reviews
Mashup pro and general party staple Girl Talk has returned with another new song up his sleeve. This time, he’s sharing “Fallin’”, a fresh collaboration he made with the Queens-based rapper Bas. This is the second time the two have linked up, following their track “Outta Pocket” for Dreamville’s Revenge…
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Helen Reddy, the singer and activist whose song “I Am Woman” became an anthem for feminism, has died at the age of 78. “It is with deep sadness that we announce the passing of our beloved mother, Helen Reddy, on the afternoon of September 29th 2020 in Los Angeles,” her…
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