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"Tumbleweed And Dust" by Cary L

Review

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.

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"2 AM Call" by The Rising

Review

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.

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"Something Real" by The Upsiders

Review

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:

Performers:

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)

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"Tranquilo" by Dave Pepper

Review

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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"I'm Not Coming Back" by Ollie Bond

Review

How Ollie Bond does it I simply cannot begin to fathom. While most if not all artists have found the past few months constraining, many have been immersed in the frustrations of lockdown & furlough, twiddling fingers & thumbs to some extent. Ollie meanwhile has not had this experience: his professional life has seen him on the frontline throughout  yet he has released  the critically & popularly acclaimed "Emilia" last month & now he's today giving us its follow up, "I'm Not Coming Back".

 

The new song is as emotional in its distinct way as was "Emilia" but sonically this one is much more Rockin' Ollie with a more conventional band arrangement which kicks in from the set off, rather than more gently building. The powerful rhythm section alone provides a strong contrast with the more ethereal previous one.  That said, the mood & style is much closer to country than heavy metal with the lead guitar interventions in particular emphasising this.

The track is a Road Song and as such drives confidently forwards (while respecting the speed limit) but crucially depicts a "perfect road trip with the perfect person". From the lyrics, Ollie is clear that however seductive the lure of the road in question may be, it alone is insufficient to meet his emotional needs: he will only come back if it's with the object of his affections.

So where is this attractive trip? Well in all good songwriting style, there is a degree of ambiguity which offers multiple interpretations. The music and "West Coast" allusions tend to suggest the classic road trip across the USA, while other references to "Northern Lights" and indeed the single sleeve art might point to Finland. Wherever it might be, literally or figuratively, it is at least clear that Ollie has either a personal memory or aspiration (or both) before him here & that certainly adds to the warm charm of the song.

On yet another level, he has a message for us all: a road trip, whether actual or metaphorical offers us a return to calmness & I read into "I'm Not Coming Back" some advice to us to get out there and indulge in a little mindfulness during these days: choose the right environment, choose the right company & we can all heal.

Just the tonic. Thank you.

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'Clear Skies To See' EP by Alchemista

Review

I really hope that like me, you enjoyed the popular track "A Place To Hide" on ‘Hot Music Live Presents Volume Four'? If you haven't heard it yet, I recommend that you check it out at: https://hotmusiclivepresents.bandcamp.com/track/a-place-to-hide

That song originally appeared on Alchemista's EP 'On The Morrow'  which was released earlier this year & now, defying the limitations of our times, the band are set to release its follow up, 'Clear Skies To See' on 14th October.

Alchemista (who comprise Caroline Luxton-White (vocals & backing vocals), Pete Garelick (guitars & backing vocals), Colin Halliwell (drums) and Paul Jayes (keyboards, guitars and lead vocals on "Jewels On An Ebony Sea")) along with bassplayers Derek Smith and Mark Nisbet (each of whom played on two songs) worked with engineer Aaron Clews at Daybreak Studios with Caroline & Colin taking responsibility for the production. Generally started pre-lockdown, the group managed to ride the waves of frustration during the era of constraints (plus a change of bass player) to complete the record and such is the current sense of achievement and momentum that they are already looking forward to record yet more, once Aaron is released from his current local lockdown.

 

And so to the songs…. The intriguingly named "Like Danny DeVito" is written by Caroline and apparently "loosely based" on Colin. To be precise, the analogy with the famous actor is to his role in the film, 'Ruthless People' and is  (I'm told) "about a similar kind of guy who pretends to be upset when his girlfriend goes away for the weekend, but then spends the weekend partying".  It would be hard not to warm immediately to this song: quirky & humourous it possesses the most "pop" sensibility on the EP & I would hope it will get the airplay it deserves. Bouncing along upon a largely keyboard led melody (with flashes of guitar to add character & bite), it's good to hear "proper" well thought out lyrics & made me realise how the narrative song is perhaps a little neglected these days in favour of introspection, so thank you Alchemista for reviving it.

 

"Don't You Let Him In" is another Caroline song and is both EP closer and a radio shortened version  of a song from 'On The Morrow', increasing the impact by omitting both initial sound effects and the lengthy coda: to good effect I think as what is left packs a weighty punch. Much more darkly dramatic than "Danny DeVito" and hence a good contrast, this track veers closer to their expected "melodic rock" house style with a more operatic approach both musically and vocally. The subject matter too is heavier & in this instance I'm afraid I have no idea who the model might be.

The other two songs, namely 'Jewels on an Ebony Sea' and 'When You Go To Sleep' sit in the heart of the record & are composed by Paul and share with the afore-mentioned "A Place To Hide" a vampire theme….The former is (mainly) a duet between Paul & Caroline (pretty much simultaneous rather than separate lines for the most part) and much lighter in tone than the subject might suggest: in fact it is more about the notion of sanctuary than anything else & hence has a generally very uplifting effect. In fact had I not known that it predated lockdown, I'd venture a guess that it might be a metaphor for our current circumstances (I confess I'm actually over prone to hear such in so much I'm currently reviewing, but isn't it a characteristic of good songs that they can convey a range of possible meanings to a range of listeners?).

 

'When You Go To Sleep' (the third in sequence) is the quietest & most contemplative of the set. A ballad, if Alchemista audiences wave lighters in the air, it might be to this one. Again, the vampiric theme is mitigated by a sense of refuge (in this case lost in slumber), as with all the songs on the EP, there is a very generous streak of humanity & empathy running through it.

 

 

Alchemista are definitely a band unlike any others around here currently & I recommend their classic songwriting & playing style to you. The tracks are admirably clear & you can appreciate both the excellent vocals & often very subtle instrumental touches. Above all, the songs have very clear meanings & have obviously been wrought with care, intelligence & love. May their new recordings happen as soon as possible & may they, like everyone else, get back out there soon doing what they most enjoy doing.

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"Hard Place To Be" by Jack Blackman

Review

Barely a fortnight after his last release, the chilling  "Empty Beretta", Jack Blackman (who is also represented on ‘Hot Music Live Presents Volume Four'  with the only marginally less recent "Self Isolation Song" ) today releases a new single in the shape of  "Hard Place To Be". Given the appalling damage to musician's careers, mental health & livelihoods from COVID19, it's hard to conceive of anyone being inspired or creatively motivated by it, but if anyone is, it might just be Jack. He certainly is hitting back hard with both fists at the circumstances, defying the constraints. Whatever his new material in 2020 might have been otherwise, I think we can safely say that these songs would never have been created.

 

"Hard Place To Be" very much contrasts musically with its predecessor. A really beautiful "train song" based upon an alternately picked & slide guitar, it is gentle & sympathetic where "Empty Beretta "  was more vicious. If the latter took on the world situation directly & railed against it, today's song regrets what we are obliged to contend with & presents our challenge within the metaphor of a journey we have little choice but to take.

That said, the power & subtlety of the analogy is such that the issues are addressed yet not named specifically and I have no doubt that "Hard Place To Be" will continue to work very well once this period of time is long gone: "this world is a hard place to be for anyone" is a timeless sentiment which will still resonate in 2030 just as the song would have applied & struck a chord with its listeners had it come out in 1930.

This era is provoking the very best out of Jack, from all points along the spectrum of his creativity. It may be that someone somewhere ("Hot Music Live Presents"?) creates a compendium of songs written and released in the "COVID Years": even on a local scale, using only Coventry & Warwickshire songs released between March & now, such a collection would tell me a most interesting tale for history to record & Jack might well have several tracks upon it.

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"Doing Nothing" by Luke Concannon

Review

Today, I'd like to draw your attention to a new single to be released on October 2nd from across the Atlantic: quite an unusual review for an ostensibly Coventry & Warwickshire orientated magazine, but since it's been created by one of our own, namely Luke Concannon, it  certainly falls within our remit.

I've been following Luke's creative path since he began & frankly though it's tempting to look at how his travels & explorations have shaped his music (I'm sure his odyssey around the Mediterranean to Palestine had a massive influence) and so look for Americana traces in "Doing Nothing", in fact his work has always been a most interesting and seamless genre defying mix: originally billed as folk meeting hip hop, that description was light on the jazz inflections of Nizlopi let alone his Irish music roots. No doubt many other cultures have since informed what he now does, but the new single as with all his work remains definitely individual & unmistakably Luke: but then which of his records does that not apply to?

The song acts as an appetiser for his forthcoming album 'Ecstatic Bird in the Burning' (which comes out on February 5th 2021). I've been privileged to hear the whole collection & am most eager for you to do the same: February seems such a long way off but it certainly gives us something to look forwards to.

"Doing Nothing"  (is there a little Specials reference in there?) generally addresses the subject of internet addiction (I imagine that his concerns predate COVID-19 and the upsurge in online activity) but frankly there is a huge amount going on in there in terms of not just what Luke is singing about but also the mood which shifts almost constantly throughout: there is humour in there (as you'd expect) but also (as again you'd expect) concern for us all and above all a great deal of self examination which had it not been for the humour & humanity could have made for uncomfortable listening. Yes, he does warn about his own susceptibility to the dark side of the internet and by extension our own, but it also more than touches upon facts such as that his former protégé Ed Sheeran is now doing so much better commercially. Is it because Ed takes more risks than Luke or because the latter wastes his time online? Or because he is "scared of his own gifts"? Some very deep thoughts here & your heart goes out to him.

He apparently "avoids the discomfort of taking risks" by "watching cage fighting and eating chocolate" which I have no doubt to be true (and he confesses to researching old lovers on social media too) but balancing this to some extent I would point out that he has also been using the internet for beneficial purposes: his regular live streams seem far more dedicated to promoting other artists than his own work.

It's very soul searching stuff (a long term characteristic of course) and I imagine it helped him cathartically but I also assume he means it as guidance to us too.

Musically the song is much nearer the traditional folk end of the spectrum of his material, with a stark guitar part augmented later on by what sounds like a ‘cello, plus female harmonies (his wife Stephanie Hollenberg?) All very tasteful & suited to the very personal nature of the song, which in turn very much sets the scene for the full album to come: powerful new material which really challenges the notion that "doing nothing" is entirely what he's been up to.

AS a very special bonus, should you care to pre-order "Doing Nothing" at https://smarturl.it/0e6shl  then you'll be entered into a draw with the winner having Luke write a song for them. Which is quite an incentive in addition to the excellence of the song.

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