It's proving a year when most of our expectations have been torn up & scattered on the winds. Back in March, I had little or no idea what, if anything, I'd be writing in "Hot Music Live". If my initial pessimism thankfully has been proved off the mark, one thing remains true & that's the thrill of the postman knocking on my door as he did yesterday with a totally unexpected new album: in this case ‘Tumbleweed And Dust' by Cary L (Cary Lord) whom I last reviewed here more than two years ago when she released her excellent album ‘Only The Night Knows'.
Naturally a new collection of songs (and this is excellent value at 14 tracks) by such an artist is always a pleasure to listen to, but this one is extra special. Begun pre-pandemic last October with Jake Ingermells adding his drumming to Cary's bass, the recording sessions had to stop when a break for producer Josh Ingermell's wedding was followed by lockdown (although Cary's vocals were added in between). Subsequent social distanced & remote collaboration has enabled the set to be completed & various other parts added: acoustic & electric guitars by Cary, Steve Giddings with slide, pedal & lap steel and dobro, the McMillan Brothers flew in banjo, fiddle & harmonica from Nashville, Josh provided keyboards on one song & Cary (like so many other musicians recently) acquired a new skill and so was able to contribute ukulele parts. It's fascinating that in the space of only a couple of days, I've twice reviewed records featuring parts played in Nashville (see my review of "2 AM Call" by the Rising for the other example).
Obviously the shadow of COVID19 hangs over the entire album, but what does make it really special is the effect of the loss of Cary's younger sister Tess in 2019 and this I think really defines "Tumbleweed And Dust". There is one song which specifically relates to this ("No-One (Song For Tess)") which is based upon a letter from her. However most of the set frankly could address the issue in one way or another & this raises it to a new level of meaning & emotional impact.
The general sound is a country rock one, Cary's defining career styling, but in this case deliberately steering away from the more "pop" aspects of this style on her recent records into something rootsier & what better genre is there is express loss, heartbreak & melancholy? It really does work terribly well at hitting home.
Cary drew, as she often has done, on the many original (and largely unrecorded) songs written by her father (Sonar Records/Cabin Studios founder) Jon Lord with Graham Wale & given her name as an additional writing credit, clearly worked on them all to make them her own. She has a very long history of association with very well crafted yet often unusual original material, avoiding clichés, from her days with L'Homme De Terre, Armalite, Indigo Lady, She's The Leader & of course Blush & what you get on this album is the same: carefully written & arranged, telling its story well & honestly. A couple of the songs date from years back: "Hours & Minutes" & "Wildest Dreams" and it is a testament to Cary's perfectionism that she is happy to wait over 30 years to nail a song as she hears it in her head before releasing it.As I said, you cannot fail to be moved by the honesty and beauty of these songs: it is difficult to play through as a collection as sometimes you need to stop and absorb the message of certain tracks before moving on. Everything works: the highly tasteful arrangements & spot on production bring out the essence of each song & I'm glad Cary's always truthful vocals sit so prominently on top of the mix: as they should do.
Clearly "No-One (Song For Tess)" is the track which immediately draws one's attention given what we know its subject to be, but songs such as "Kiss Goodbye "are as magnificent as anything she has ever recorded & make one wonder why Cary has waited until now to record in this style: it just works so well & suits her equally so. I do hope she continues in this vein.
My next intention was to pick out my favourites from among the other songs on the album. Unfortunately I failed in this because at the end of that little exercise, all I had done was simply list every single song I had not previously mentioned. It really is that good a collection & it really did have that level of effect on me. I'll tell you them anyway, for your information, but please do not think that I consider any of them better than their fellows nor that I prefer them. It's one of those faultless "no filler albums". The other track titles thus are "Gotta Get Out of Here", "Movie Star", "Homebound", "Hours and Minutes", "I Hurt Back", "Care For You", "ReRun", "Wrote Your Name On A Broken Heart", "We Belong", "Make It Alright" and "Writing's On The Wall".
‘Tumbleweed And Dust" comes out on 23rd October both digitally & via hard copies from the Sonar Records Bandcamp page. "Kiss Goodbye" will be the first single from the album and please also check out the video to "No-One (Song For Tess)" at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wt4GsULtSBo
This album was clearly wrought with much love & in that spirit, I commend it to you.
There is something of a tightrope for artists to navigate: on one side the peril of producing so diverse a range of music that people can't join the dots & you don't have a clear identity, on the other you are in danger of becoming too predictable & thus losing fans that way.
When a band such as The Rising commit to regular releases, then the pressure to walk that rope without falling becomes even more daunting. It is hugely to their credit that they have stuck more or less to their plan for 2020 of monthly song issues & not only avoided this problem but triumphed over it.
The band (Chris Logan & Chantelle McAteer) are, despite the times, in the form of their lives with some of their strongest work ever having come out this year from the magnificent "Shadows on the Wall" (which I am sure was in their minds to release back when they drew up their scheme) to last month's equally good but very different "Better Than This" (which I am sure was not conceived of back in January).
Now October's "2 AM Call" which will be available on the 30th of this month is a different creature yet again. To me this is definitely at the rock end of their musical palette although the band tell me that to them the word "mainstream" fits their perspective better. Whatever one says though, it proves that a description of a pop/country fusion can be stretched a very long way to successfully involve elements of many other stylings.
Once again mainly recorded at their base in Leamington, the song also includes drumming whisked in from Nashville courtesy of Chris Brush. Even more intriguingly, the song is their first writing collaboration with a third party: in this case with Northern Irish singer/songwriter Eilís (www.eilismusic.com).
Dating back in conception to presumably pre-pandemic days, the lyric is inspired by a night out with Eilis when they watched someone being ditched in a bar and then imagining him ringing her every night (after a few drinks) to try to win her back… a timeless and universal story.
Whatever the group may do in varying their sound, their arrangement or themes (everything from love to child abuse: it's a long way), they do like to write narratives which tell specific stories at one level but we know can be applied to most if not all of us. I have previously written how Chantelle's voice not only has power & technique but also demonstrates warmth & humanity towards the people she is singing about: but this bears repeating I think. The music as I say is a fuller & more rock arrangement with the power & attack of Chris' guitar playing getting a showcase as well as his finesse. The multi layering means we get a rich tapestry which would require a full band to reproduce live, yet this doesn't matter too much as the songs are well crafted enough to work just as well with a single acoustic guitar as the many performances of even their most complex arrangements on their weekly livestream will attest. The production is as excellent as usual with Chantelle's singing complemented by the instrumentation & never concealed by it.
Even more impressive possibly (since it involved their developing new skills) is the stop motion video the Band created themselves (over 5,000 images) which you can see at https://youtu.be/xzhsNCbRYyw and which really emphasises how committed the duo are to the DIY ethic.
The last chapter of The Upsiders' "Reconnect" song cycle, "Ooh Na" (reviewed in the magazine last month), found protagonist Kenny, while at least at no lower ebb than the nadir of "21st Century Man" had left him at, reflecting on moments in his past life to a Caribbean styled soundtrack.
Now with the release of a new instalment (number six of nine) "Something Real", (written by Callum Maciver), the story moves onwards and (literally) upwards. In fact in terms of narrative there is far more plot development of the overall story than in any previous segment: both regarding Kenny's story and even more importantly perhaps in advancing the band's manifesto around reconnection with the real world and the complex and worthy individuals within it, at the expense of lessening use of alienating & distancing technology. Generally I really just want my reviews to offer insights into great music with the aim of persuading people to check it out: I certainly do not want to provide spoilers which diminish the impact when you do get to listen to something: that applies especially to reviews written before release (as this one is: the record is available from Friday though currently available to presave) and even more when a carefully crafted story is at stake. All I will say then is that a character makes an unexpected reappearance, an element of social reconnection is made (through a degree of trauma) and a breach with technology occurs.
Curiously (some of the more reflective & sad previously issued songs had really upbeat tunes), this one, despite representing an upward swing in Kenny's journey, begins in a restrained piano ballad format but as his progression moves along in its arc, so does the music shift into a more joyous, soul orientated bounce & groove (again musically distinguishing it from its predecessors). I suspect that The Upsiders are simply genetically irrepressible: give them a grave & sombre lyrical theme & they'll play along with it for a few bars before kicking off the restraints and embracing the uplifting instead. This one really soars (the metaphor works well with the narrative in this respect) and the instruments pile into the mix: guitars, brass & Nathan's wonderful Cajun accordion….
They have got the tone spot on for this track & even if you hear it as a standalone (I hope you do play the sequence through when complete as it clearly means much to them & they have worked so hard at it), it will raise your spirits sky high: the band can't wait to play it live & it will certainly get the feet moving & the arms waving when they do. As for Kenny, let's hope this is the first of a series of increasingly joyous episodes in the final third of the cycle.
Incidentally, now might be a good moment to pay full credit to all those involved in the "Reconnect" project:
Callum Maciver (piano and vocals)
Nathan de Broize-King (accordion)
Joe Taylor (bass and backing vocals)
Ryan Middleton (percussion)
David Heywood (guitar)
Jaque Durrant (trumpet)
Bill Cameron (saxophone)
Lydia Dudfield and Mollie Elizabeth (backing vocals)
Production was at Flipside Studios, Coventry courtesy of Matt Cotterill (producer and sound engineer) and John Braddock (mastering engineer)
Given the overwhelming feeling of claustrophobia engendered by the current situation, it is a corrective to share evidence that we are not all hemmed into a narrow space necessarily. While clearly the limited chance to see live music indoors, in company & in a crowd is presently denied to us for sure, the fact that there is something of a Coventry & Warwickshire musical diaspora out there and to be able to review two records by prominent members of it within a fortnight is uplifting.
Last week I told you about "Doing Nothing" by Luke Concannon, currently based in New England while today the spotlight turns onto Dave Pepper who is in southern Spain.with his latest release, "Tranquilo"
The last song by Dave I told you about was "It's Christmas" back last December which was… well, a Christmas song. You hopefully will also remember "Asylum" by the X-Certs which appeared on ‘Hot Music Live Presents Volume One' & which features Dave too. "Tranquilo" in no way resembles either of those two songs. In fact if you have followed Dave's long & extremely varied career (or at least tried to: you'd need a large research team to accurately pin down all his groups & tunes, let alone styles) you'd instantly recognise his tendency to avoid stagnation by ever moving onwards: a true musical nomad if there ever was one.
This one does however reflect both his long term virtuosity which is common to all his career phases & a long term interest in flamenco music which I'm sure is being enhanced currently.
This absolutely exquisite track (originally conceived for a soundtrack) is actually a long one (eight & a half minutes) but never outstays its welcome, driven by his masterful guitar playing & with prominent pan pipes (you can also hear his keyboard skills underneath: several of his most popular bands involved him playing these rather than guitar). Evocative, mesmerising & as far as I'm concerned, an aid to mindfulness & destressing.
It's great that local musicians go out into the wider world to spread the news about our music, but let's not forget what their wider experience sends home, enriching the scene as "Tranquilo" does: and the good news is that this is but the first track released from an album of similar material which Dave is currently working on.
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