It's good to be able to report to you that Abz Winter is following up her very well received (not least in the review in this magazine) single "Don't Go Playing With A Young Girl's Heart" with a new original "Jump" which you can pre-order via this link:
Showing not merely an ability to write songs of great quality which belie her years, Abz also seems to have decided to ensure that her releases reflect all sides of her personality & view of the world and not just press the same emotional button with listeners on each occasion. So the sober reflections of the last single give way to a jaunty party track with a similar bounce factor to the splendid "Incompatible Me" which created such an impression last year, but telling an appreciably different story.
While that track was fundamentally a contemporary dance style composition, "Jump" favours some attractive old school disco funk, albeit adapted for our times, and as usual with Abz the arrangement is cool & sparse & allows for her vocals to predominate.
I doubt that she could have foreseen the distinct lack of partying in the conventional manner going on in at release time when she wrote it, but it does act as a necessary feel good tune & I can picture her growing legion of fans all dancing to it, but initially in their living rooms until they can rejoin her live (like everyone else, Abz's many planned gigs have been postponed or cancelled for the time being).
What I particularly love is the good humour with which the recreation of the disco style is handled: the other vocals are an absolute joy to hear with no sense of patronisation or parody: just sheer joy in the form & the performance.
Abz just gets better & better at her performance & composition crafts and offers us different aspects of both on each release: and she still has years of her teens still ahead of her. Now studying at BIMM in Birmingham one can scarcely begin to imagine what she'll be producing by the time she's twenty.
In the meantime, do pre-order "Jump' and when it arrives, pump up the volume & party round your places of confinement with Abz.
Pleased as I undoubtedly am to be reviewing "As It Goes", the brand new album from Danny Ansell & Co, there is no getting away from the facts that this is not necessarily the review Danny & I the band would have ideally liked me to be doing for you.
Firstly, as Danny himself put it yesterday: "our guitarist , family member and amazing musician Stephen Madden sadly passed away half way through the making of the album , the band overcome many emotional times and hard work to finish the album .."
Quite understandably the album is dedicated to Stephen's memory & quite apart from his great, tasteful playing, listen out for the track "Lemonade Wage" which he & Danny co-wrote.
Secondly, having spent a year working so hard to record the album at Born in a Barn Recording Studio & having to complete it in a state of grief, how disappointing that it has to be shared with the world at a time when this band who so enjoy gigging & do so very frequently, cannot do so in order to promote it.
That said, their method of honing each song to perfection before live & responding audiences means that if you are a fan of theirs' (and let's face it they are one of the very biggest local live draws), you'll probably have heard many of the tracks played on stage already. In fact "Satellites" came out as a single in January & I reviewed it in these pages: seems like a lifetime ago, back in the good old days of live gigs...
As I emphasised in that last review, Danny & his band have certain trademarks, some of which are easier to detect than others. The most obvious one is how popular & effective they are as a live act & how well the songs go down in the company of audiences: Danny has long been a "go to" artist for festival organisers both to draw in extra attendees & to whip up a powerful, communal mood once there: the songs tend to the anthemic & the sing along factor is as high as it gets.
Yet under these attributes there are many subtle lyrical & instrumental touches which perhaps are a bit easier to spot when playing the record than with your arms around the shoulders of person you are standing next to and celebrating the moment to a song you have pretty much learned the words to already.
Inside the songs are deeply human thoughts & reflections, vignettes of the lives we lead & what are obviously personal feelings & emotions: late night feelings inhabit more than a few of Danny's songs.
Due to the care with which they are created, arranged & recorded, this is a prime example of a "no filler" album. In fact it's quite unusual for me to be reviewing a genuine full album of songs developed over a long period & intended to be recorded and released as a set. Most artists these days seem to be putting out singles & EPs and even the wonderful Greengrass album I recently reviewed was originally conceived as an EP and grew with their enthusiasm for what they were doing.
So strong is this set by such a prominent local artist that it is tempting to express frustration at the lack of opportunity to hear them play it at a launch, but I'd rather not let negative emotions intrude on an album I've enjoyed playing & I shall just have to look forward to hearing it live when the chance is permitted.
So what of the tracks created by the band (Danny Ansell (guitars & vocals), Paddy ‘the Bass' Beard (bass & backing vocals), Roger Greasby (drums) and of course Steve Madden on electric guitar) and produced by Roger, Danny & Paddy?
Well like I said, "no filler" at all: eleven cracking songs and maybe the only problem is the sheer accumulated impact of playing so many dynamic tracks one after another: and you'll be very likely to get on your feet from the start and stay there.
"Satellites" deserved & received its own review a few months ago "a typically passionate song & one which makes its mark instantly upon your consciousness & memory": a fact which I suppose does raise the issue that if you do put eleven songs, all of which might make a great single, on one album, the intensity of playing one after another can be a bit overwhelming: listening to each individually is both rewarding & respectful of what went into each one.
"Police At The Door" is possibly the track which has so far had the most airplay & deservedly so. People might consider it Danny's finest song & I couldn't argue with them. Beautifully structured & played, with perhaps the clearest vocal sound I've heard on one of his recordings, the complex of emotions & reflections on life history, at times poignant, at others uplifting, ensure that there is always something to pick out each time you play it.
"Suit ‘em Up" is a quintessential live favourite style track, yet this again is really quite a sad song (most of the album is like this: he's not messing with your mind by mixing the catchy & the melancholy, but reminding us that the world contains all emotions & writing "real" songs must reflect this.) "Be yourself tonight" is the refrain... Good idea.
The album opener (and the song whose lyrics provide the title) is "Don't Give A Damn" and it actually sets the tone for what follows really well: nostalgic and ruminative, yet defiant with it with a slight celtic tinge to it.
At the other end of the collection comes "Answer's In a Bottle" which matches & bookends the first track in mood & tone & sends us off with a bit of a tear in our eyes: a brave downbeat way to leave us but one of commendable maturity with a strong message.
In its reference to dreaming, it harks back to the preceding, yet much more upbeat & blues tinged "Pocketful of Dreams": in fact many of these songs work well in pairs, telling different tales of similar subjects or answering each other: whether this complexity was planned from the beginning or was a serendipitous outcome of Danny's feelings during writing.....
The beautiful " Lemonade Wage" written with Steve lies in the centre of the collection & drifts along on another cloud of deep personal reflection: this is almost certainly the "lighter in the air" track for his concerts when they resume & works really nicely as an elegy to its co-writer.
"You Being You" is the album's romantic love song, the same beauty being present as on the other songs & yet again the soaring thoughts & vocals seldom last long without regrets creeping in: "we should be..." is the common thought here. As ambiguous as many of these songs are, Danny leaves it up to us to decide whether the people in the song will actually do the things he thinks they should be doing...
"Heart" seems to speak to the days we live in and is yet another one which would make a superb song: more very clear singing to another excellent restrained backing which sometimes swings towards Americana in style.
"Nobody Like You" is a bit more anguished than the others on the album and "All Alone at Midnight" could almost sum up the album which sounds like it was written in the wee small hours and certainly evokes them. Sounding somewhere between Irish music and American roots in style too.
Is this Danny's finest set of songs? There is a strong case for believing so. I like the way that though we have so many songs which don't really sound much like each other, nonetheless there is a great sense of an internal unity in tone and meaning: while not really a concept album, it does seem to be Danny's "State of the Union" reflection: trying to put into words his take on the mood of our times. Each track stands out completely on its own, yet taken as a collection they make an extremely powerful statement: life is complicated & there is much to regret & feel sorrow over, yet one can look forward optimistically even without knowing the details of the future. Melancholy suffuses the whole album yet it is not pessimistic. One which deserves our full attention though we have many other things to think about right now.
If you look at the "front page" of the magazine, you may have noticed that the most recent article always comes under the banner of "Fresh & Funky". Well today's review certainly lives up to that.
I hope you read my preview of Rheo's ‘Down For You' EP back in January?
In that I was full of praise for her performing & writing skills, offering a very dance orientated yet often bluesy take on music to our local scene (and in her case the international scene).
Now Rheo has turned her talents temporarily away from her own material & towards an interpretation of a hitherto uncovered track, 1995's "The Lover That You Are" (originally by Pulse featuring Antoinette Roberson on vocals): a song in fact written & released before she was even born.
In this, she is working with Birmingham's Ste Essence, a legend in the house scene & obviously it's yet another feather in her cap that she is working with someone of this calibre.
And the great news too is that they are making it available as a free download as a response to the current situation. You can get your copy here: https://soundcloud.com/donnie-anonymous-brasco/ste-essence-ft-rheo-the-lover-that-you-are-club-mix
It is naturally a challenge to take on a track which is well known & which presumably no one has dared take on before: too faithful a rendition & you risk being labelled timid & your own musicianship simply doesn't get a look in: too radical & you'll get howls of protest from lovers of the song. Ste's understanding & deep experience are obviously crucial in deciding "how far do we go?" and providing the balance between respect for the original performance & proving the resilience of the track by showing it can be made fresh (and funky) for 2020. With this foundation, Rheo is liberated to let fly her considerable vocal skills on this surprisingly (to me) brisk tempo remake: though naturally the degree of voice processing is high given the nature of the song. The sounds are crisp yet quite dry & although much of the sound is very contemporary, the odd retro synth sound provides both a nod back to the original & an effective sonic counterpoint to the modern sounds. And both sound like they are enjoying themselves which is good to hear.
During the lockdown, Rheo is taking the opportunity to write a lot of new original material, much in collaboration with musicians and producers not only across the range of genres that she embraces, but again of considerable renown in their fields. The names had better stay confidential for now but I'm delighted that Rheo has offered to share the new material with "Hot Music Live" as soon as she can.
An artist who has been steadily making an impact locally in recent months, Chloë Boehm, today has released her first track "Dare You". Consequently Chloe also her debut appearance in "Hot Music Live"
She has been appearing more & more regularly at local open mics & gaining a growing reputation with their organisers & fellow musicians as well as audiences. I first saw her myself at the LEIF open mic just before Christmas & was greatly impressed.
Equally Chloë has been posting more & more live streamed performances on social media, especially during the current cessation of live gigs: I have reposted many, if not all, on the "Hot Music Live Presents" group page on Facebook if you'd like to check them out.
What is most impressive is to get from an almost standing start as a musician performing in front of others & releasing original material has taken her only a year. She has only owned a guitar for seven months. I hope to write a feature for you on this swift & interesting journey as I think it would inspire others who might be experiencing understandable trepidation on starting out.
What has struck me (and others) has been Chloë's abilities to write striking & individual original songs in her own voice & style. This is something I have often remarked on as a really commendable feature of our contemporary scene and I imagine this confidence in being yourself and not channelling others' styles has encouraged her to do so herself, to the great benefit of songs like "Dare You".
This debut is a long song (nearly five & a half minutes), built around a haunting melody & gently pulsing guitar which offers an almost drone accompaniment to the stark & evocative vocal, wherein lies the heart of the song.
Sung in a fairly (but not slavishly so) classical folk style, the slow and steady building up of lyrical intensity & imagery over such an insistent backing creates a very powerful overall effect despite the simplicity of the structure: indeed anything more fussy or contrived in the arrangement would detract from the emotional impact.
A most interesting and compelling start to what hopefully will be a significant career. Equally hopefully we can see her play live in front of an audience again before too long.
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