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The first release from Luke Concannon since his staggering 'Ecstatic Bird In The Burning' collection came out over three years ago is now available and its name is "Brother. 

It's quite a long time really and it might be interesting (and hopefully not disrespectful) to speculate why that might be.

Well one factor is probably just how good the album is: Luke needed to follow it with material of a similar standard. Since he's produced four albums' worth of original material in twenty years, he is clearly prepared to take time & get his songs perfect. That he talks so eloquently about the craft of writing emphasises this.

I think too that he's been exploring possibilities of collaboration so as not to get stuck in a "Luke Concannon" shaped box. "Brother" is made with multi-instrumentalist Darius Christian Jones and he talks about having consulted Rory Mcleod about the songwriting art. For such an experienced & successful writer to do that shows a great sense of humility & modesty but also that desire to continually develop himself.

However apart from that perfectionism & humility, Luke is also known for his compassion & belief in humanity burying its differences. "Brother", as we'll see, concerns the Russian/Ukrainian conflict. He is though very well known for his concern over the Palestinian people & while one might expect him to write on that subject, maybe recent events are just too distressing for him to do so at the moment? (At this point, I'd really like you to spare a thought for Ace Ambrose, her family and friends as she's just heard that the last of the 25 family members in Gaza has now lost their life…..)

Against such a backdrop, words, however crafted and well meant are unlikely to change the minds of those promoting and directing war. But regardless, it has always been the role of the protest singer to sing on behalf of the silenced and to bear witness to lives which might otherwise not just be lost but consigned beyond memory and acknowledgement.

Luke's love of his fellow beings is, as it often is, tempered with outrage. This most pacific of individuals obviously set his stall out a long time ago to try to understand even the most brutal of others but not at the expense of telling the truth nor holding back censure of behaviours rather than people.

Rory advised him to put himself in the shoes of others & Luke has chosen to extend this by pointing out what would happen if ordinary soldiers on each side could employ this feat of imagination. Consequently the verses are voiced in the successive narratives of members of each set of armed forces.

Thus he sings of "..the grief of people across arbitrary borders; brothers really, fighting and killing or being killed, the absurdity of murdering each other often over ideas…" 

I suppose what he is pointing out (and one can only hope that the combatants get to hear "Brother") is that war is generally fought by sets of persons, both of whom are to greater or lesser extents being lied to. Their commonality is in fact potentially far greater than their links to those allegedly "on their side" who are encouraging them to kill & be killed.

In terms of the music, well I suppose the short answer is that the desire to mix things up & come up with something different has succeeded. Luke was once regarded as some sort of folk musician and in terms of his orientation towards a living music based upon real people then that's not changed. However "folk purists" may raise an eyebrow or two. I wonder if he'd mind?

Nizlopi were quite jazzy in some aspects of what they did & quite happy to include elements of hip-hop which they saw as a contemporary folk idiom. Luke, as previous reviews have stated, has in his solo work, broadened still further and "Brother" too has some very overt rapping sections to represent the dialogue of the fighting individuals. Somehow he & Darius manage to blend such sections into much smoother and orchestrated soul passages for the philosophical voices. That is what the collaboration has brought to the table.

The sound is the most compacted I've heard from Luke ever: there is so much going on in the soul parts and his voice is in the middle rather than on top though with a multitude of harmonies which I suppose represent the idea of engaging with armies & spotting commonality between large numbers of people. 

So there you have it: plenty of continuity in terms of the sort of thing Luke likes to write songs about, but presented in new ways to keep the message fresh. 

He's on tour in the UK  with singer Stephanie Hollenberg (aka Mrs Luke) this month & next, so you can (perhaps) find out how he manages to play "Brother" with just an acoustic guitar. Check his page for dates & any remaining ticket availability.

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Out right now is the debut solo EP by Karen Killeen-Jones, one half of the K C Jones duo (check out their "Stronger" on ‘Hot Music Live Presents Volume Ten'): and it's already getting airplay.

Entitled ‘A Woman's Work', there are titular and thematic nods of her head in several directions: Kate Bush, the must-read book of essays edited by Kim Gordon and Sinéad Gleeson and perhaps nearest at hand, the latest album by Ellie Gowers which looks at several (former) occupations of Warwickshire women from a similar folkloric perspective. Since Ellie alerted me to the talents of Lauren South who in turn introduced me to Karen's work, there is an underlying sense of sisterhood and community discernible here too.

There are a half dozen songs here: four self-compositions and two traditional ones: "The Blacksmith" and "All Things Are Quite Silent". In an era when the pool of songs in cover acts seem to be diminishing, it's refreshing to hear someone share a cover version of which I'm not already aware.

To match this, it's all Karen: on vocals, guitar, piano, shruti-box, piano accordion, cajon, whistle and percussion with Mick Bisiker's production and mastering being the sum of other involvement.

The songs engage with the lives of women (for which read working class women) of yesteryear from multiple angles. None is precisely a description of a precise trade as Ellie's are but come in obliquely and combine to paint something of a complex picture.

"The Blacksmith" opens the collection and is set to the same tune as "He Who Would Valiant Be": this is very much one of those songs about promises of marriage which turn out to have been mendacious: the fate one fears of far too many women in the gender powerplays of yore. As I say, the work theme comes in from different places & here we are reminded that not only "gentlemen" or soldiers play false but the village blacksmith, usually a symbol of solid virtue in folk songs, is just as capable.

"Mad Mary" is the first of the originals and one from Karen's vaults which has at long last found a home on a record. Karen describes it as a "female version of Sweeney Todd". A more stately Victorian music hall sort of song, the contrast with the preceding track is most effective & introduces a very different sort of profession than those one might have expected to be covered.

The next two songs form a sort of pairing, since they both concern the work of the press gang: the traditional "All Things Are Quite Silent" (sung to the solo drone of the shruti box with additional voices joining in and performed at age 16 in an unaccompanied singing competition at Sidmouth Folk Festival judged by Shirley Collins) and Karen's own "Home To Me" which boasts a few more instruments. Both I suppose paint a picture that male employment practices (if one could call the press gang that) have always impacted on women left behind without resources and with the emotional burdens of absent family members in ages before easy communication let alone safer vessels.

"Poor Polly Button" is "..the true story of Mary Green who was allegedly killed by her married lover John Danks in 1832.." and again Karen walks a high wire musically, using only her cajon & percussion to evoke machinery. She was inspired to compose it by appearing in Katherine Fear's folk opera "The Undoing of Polly Button": the stakes from the opening track have clearly been raised as far as they might go.

The final song (and it really has to end the EP in order to provide a pulling together of threads) is the title track and appropriately has an arrangement nearest to a contemporary folk sound. Looking back to pre-emancipation, nevertheless, it offers a line of continuity and suggests that while contexts have evolved, issues for women are not yet resolved nor equality achieved.

"Women's work" is certainly often the economic but as we've all seen, too often the domestic burden is dumped on them as are various forms of emotional ones & sheer coping when life & forces of the patriarchy leaves dependents otherwise unsupported. Occasionally they take their very lives. Responses can, as Karen has indicated, range from the bitter, to the need to embrace criminality to survive, from resignation to the "Blitz Spirit" of just getting on with what needs doing, irrespective of any sense of acceptance or complicity. Men, whether individually or collectively, have long oppressed women and this EP explores various instances.

It's not comprehensive (it would need to be a box set to try that) but I like how Karen generally avoids ground overly trodden: these six songs dance around the subject and offer fresh perspectives, even when the central themes are as old as society.

Musically too it is a brave collection: Karen has an excellent voice & that is at the heart of each song: she has stories she wants to share & so the words are the focus. Impressive as her range of instrumental skills may be, what is important is that she uses no more than each song needs: so the total is high but no track employs them all: in fact two are very sparse in arrangement.

Consequently you also get a nice variety in sound as well as subject: stylistically they all fit into some broad definition of "folk" but I emphasise the breadth. No two consecutive songs sound much alike.

There is love here: ranging from a song first sung as a teenager in front of a titan of English folk (who apparently esteemed her performance) through an "orphaned" song now with a home to more recent musings on these matters, this may be a debut solo release but it's been assembled from pieces which matter a good deal to Karen & so worth the wait.

In terms of hearing these songs live, Karen is at Banbury Folk Club at the Three Pigeons tonight (Wednesday 22nd May) but I'm not sure if they'll feature in the duo setlist. Regardless, you can catch Karen and Colin playing on the CVFolk Stage at Coventry's Motofest on Sunday 2nd June at five past four.

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Is this now a thing? The other day, I was flexing myself to review "Data Machinery" by Duke Keats and then he dropped a guerilla release of "English Countryside"/"Loan Sharks" into the tiny gap before the promised single: now the Dirt Road Band have joined the game. I was all ready for their debut album ‘Righteous' (and sources within the band confirm that yes, it is imminent) when they shared another brace of tracks today: this time we have "Been So Long" and "Steal My Heart".

Just as the last pair "Cheap Talk & Whiskey" and "Don't Count for Nothing" seemed to have been selected with great care (in order to demonstrate their breadth of musical interests from Americana to British pub rock sweaty rhythm & booze, these ones share another strand of the DRB DNA: the great pleasure they get from occasionally adding keyboards to the mix and playing off these. All well and good: except that as the DRB love a good guest artist and so each track involves a different player. I've reported on Bob Jackson joining the band live & I'd heard that he'd been spotted in Woodbine Street Studios with them: so no surprises. Given that Bob has long played with DRB drummer Ted Duggan in Badfinger, the connection and chemistry is long established (though it's mildly disappointing that his initial fame in the shockingly short-lived Indian Summer seems to vanish into the haze of history). I hadn't heard though that latter-day Specials member Nikolaj Torp Larsen had also been recording with them (nice to have some surprises after all): obviously the link here is via bassist Horace Panter and if you look at the writing credits for his time in the band (chiefly the ‘Encore' album), you'll see how pivotal he was (mind you he also played on Grammy/Brit/Golden Globe/Oscar winning "Skyfall" too).

So Steve Walwyn wrote the songs & got to play with keyboard playing collaborators of his two bandmates while once again John Rivers wove the elements together in a way which accentuates all parts while blending them into a whole.

This is important because although huge numbers of songs feature keyboards, many use them for padding and provision of various effects such as not being able to afford a string session.

The DRB are a really organic band and deal in raw & authentic sounds, so if they want to work with a keyboard player, they want one who plays lead: which is what you get here. As I say, the others relish playing off each one rather than just having something mellifluous lurking behind them in the mix.

"Steal My Heart" (aka "the one with Bob on it") is another example too of the experimentation the band like to indulge in so as not to be simply revelling in a nostalgia-fest. Sonically it is vey distinct to the other tracks shared so far & plays interesting little games. For example the opening guitar sounds like John sent Steve to the far end of a long long cellar to record (yes there's a lot of echo), yet in complete contrast his vocal is not only the cleanest so far but it's way up in the mix: the most highlighted of his singing thus far on an album where instrumental playing otherwise takes central stage in the sound picture. "You steal my heart and tear it clean apart" is the refrain so the sound might be a bit of a reference there.

The piano solo appears out of nowhere and so has extra impact: it really is worth the price of the track by itself. They don't play ‘em like that anymore and it'll naturally evoke memories of Stevie Winwood, Georgie Fame etc. And in keeping with the tight taut philosophy, it comes in smartly, delights & departs just as quickly: enjoy it while it lasts.

"Been So Long" (i.e. "the Nikolaj one") is a different kettle of fish entirely. As previously revealed, the Dirt Road Band groove as well as swing. Not everyone can do these things: I wonder sometimes if it's innate? Bands can up the volume and notes per minute rate so as to hide any inability in this direction (it's not a crime after all) but the DRB can slow it right down like they do here (though being top musicians the variation in what they are up to is pretty near constant). They smoulder a lot. Things crackle and pop and Steve offers up a few harmonics among the succinct licks. Once again the Hammond is held back in the arrangement until its moment arrives and then takes centre stage: this time a la Booker T or Jimmy Smith, yet once again, you'd best savour it while you have it (or play the song again) as it flashes by.

A meditation on the passing of time, it is possibly the one track on ‘Righteous' which speaks autobiographically for the band (to some extent at least). In that context it contains an elevating emotional element. Normally, I'd probable waffle on at this point about potential single status but I think the DRB are wisely sharing most of the album tracks in pairs precisely so we get familiar with them and do not get overwhelmed by the full ten.

When you get to play the complete set, you'll be taken with the diversity. When I first saw this band (its first gig), it was the "Dirt Road Blues Band" and although they play a lot of high class blues still, I think they were wise to drop the word from the name: they have so much to offer but restricting themselves to one genre would be a needless self-limitation.

These are songs of experience both in terms of Steve's words and their accumulated playing skills. However I'm sure they'd be justifiably cheesed off with my suggesting anything which sounded like I thought that they were a bunch of old codgers revisiting past glories. The experience shapes the compositions: the zest for continuing to make new original music fires the performances & they always sound like they are having a whale of time doing this thing which they do.

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I don't think that Duke Keats is terribly likely to adopt "Expect the Unexpected" as his mission statement, but it would certainly fit snugly.

Firstly, having blindsided all concerned (my included) who were anticipating his new release "Data Machinery" by guerilla-dropping "English Countryside" and "Loan Sharks" last week. Secondly now that the former is almost with us (it arrives tomorrow), as we have all now come to foresee, the song bears little resemblance not only to the latter two but to most else on the road he's trodden before.

Naturally such a cinephile has plenty of diverse inspiration on which to draw which inevitably will affect the resultant music but even so, however broad & inclusive his vision might be, he still requires the chops to implement it: and everything you hear is purely Duke (please do expect those Prince comparisons to keep pouring in) aided by the production skills of long-time collaborator Mason Le Long.

This will in due course join "Heavy Heartbreak" on his eventual ‘Bornstar' EP (he describes the tracklist for this as being "eclectic" which I predict will be something of a laconic understatement by the time I outline the whole EP to you) but I assume the two interlopers into the sequence will remain outside the set.

As we have come to expect, the silver screen played a role in initially inspiring the song as he juxtaposes the perceived glamourous facades (and movie glamour is of course a long-term source of curiosity for him) with the "mundane realities of our lives": which leads him to ponder upon "the repetitive and robotic nature of societal routines".

That linkage of lack of real agency in our lives as technology increasingly shapes what we do and how we do it, accounts neatly for the track's title. However, this is Duke Keats about whom we are talking and there are layers yet to explore. You'd have an interesting song on the above subject, shaping in turn a sound orientated towards the mechanistic to conjure up senses of alienation in the twenty-first century. But then Duke cites the influence of "the vocal arranging techniques of Mary Ford and the pioneering days of multi-track recording" and suddenly we're aware of mid 1950s references (she developed the basic techniques with her husband Les Paul (yes that one) in their garage studio) and suddenly Duke's concerns with "the struggle between creativity and conformity in a structured society" gains a longitudinal context: it's been going on a long while and he predicts that this isn't about to change any time soon.

To that end (presumably), Duke opts for portraying a sense of optimism by palpably displaying that if the question is "is technology a tool for a musician or is it the other way round?" then for him the answer is that he is no slave to the machine. He does this by (with his usual dazzling virtuosity in terms of arrangements and capacity to pull the most complex off) using the obvious electro-robobeat backing as an almost humorously misleading start and then proceeds to parade a range of analogue and organic influences such as Chic or Michael Jackson. In theory this is a tough trick to pull off but he seems to do so effortlessly time after time, melding styles and incorporating his love of previous music into where he sees it going.

The previous single, as per my review, derived from Duke's dream. "Data Machinery" to some extent might be considered a sort of nightmare, but that's a conventional expression in this case: it comes from very real concerns mulled over in his conscious mind. The central dichotomy is not the tension between reality and illusion of our internal processes but between reality of experienced existence and fantasies thrust upon us by external agencies: including the media of fictional content and that of alleged non-fictional "news".

There is a definite sense of acceptance of some form of dystopia, but he feels that it is within our power to fight our way out: if necessary, by blowing up the machine: "we're two sticks of dynamite" as he puts it.

In truth, Duke Keats is setting the music scene on its ears: certainly, he's shifted the baseline of what it might mean to be a music maker in Coventry and Warwickshire and the rest of the country and beyond can only follow in time. Therefore the idea of his contributing to tearing down other accepted shibboleths makes absolute sense.

The paradox (and he is a dealer in paradoxes) is that by ripping the playbook up to create new paradigms, he uses his deep understanding of music & film of the past to analyse where the value lies and reanimate elements long forgotten by the mainstream in order to reincarnate them: opening eyes & ears to what is truthful, always was & will continue to be so: however buried it might have got under the detritus of the ephemeral and commercially homogenous.

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Her press strapline for Abz Winter's new single "Sike", which is released on 24th May is that it will "have the listeners unsure of what to expect next".

There is no way that I'd argue with that, but what I would contend (and have consistently done so for the last five years) is that this is at the heart of Abz's musical DNA.

She is one of those few local pop writers who can pitch her work at several different levels simultaneously. That she retains the same gleeful & exuberant persona from her earliest career days is to her credit and should be a major factor is progressing her to wider audience contexts: her (many) serious songs are infused with tongue in cheek elements and the title of this release speaks for itself. (The cover art is pretty freaky too). However, as a whole (long) sequence of reviews in the magazine has demonstrated, her capacity to move on musically from song to song has also been there from day one.

I'm not sure that she receives sufficient credit for this aspect of her craft, so I'll keep on banging on about it if you pardon me for so doing.

For there are new changes aplenty with "Sike". I'm delighted that Abz is now with professional management (VNS Management since you ask) as this will help her unlock her tremendous potential.

Having moved on from essentially solo work last year, she has now found more new collaborators in Glasgow (Hamish Reilly & producer Bruce Rintoul) and again this has left its imprint upon her sound.

The first thing that struck me was just how complex "Sike" is. Abz's music usually has a lot of detail in there which I suspect is not spotted due to the panache of the performance, but given the unusual structure here, is making a bold statement that she is as original on the musical side as she is the lyrical.

The most striking part of this is "an ode to 2000's cheerleading" which is she is particularly pleased with. I assume this bit is a personal predilection as I can't otherwise account for why it's in there, but hats off to her for including it as it adds both quirky character and another catchy hook.

Another helpful hint from her manager's press release is the open acknowledgement of how the abrupt switches which provide the unusual structure which I mentioned are "luring you into a false sense of genre". Smart & sophisticated songwriting in fact.

Aimed at "..the SINGLESSSS out there.." (Abz's own profusion of S's) the song celebrates the virtues of autonomy in the face of inadequate options ("I have high standards and out of the people I meet: nobody fits the brief! - I always try to give them the benefit of the doubt but they just end up annoying me…I refuse to settle for second best life is just too short, I would much rather be single & happy".)

It's a "a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle" song for 2024's world and the only emotionally true way of expressing that sense of realisation and empowerment is through an exuberant delivery: which as you know is Abz's trademark.

Emphasised by the fresh punk-orientated guitar sound that she transitioned to last year (a fit so perfect for her music), the track clearly has a lot of thought go into the details (I'm sure teaming up with new collaborators helps this) yet the characteristic Abz Winter vibe is left intact so it still glistens with a sense of spontaneity.

Though we probably measure her success on a song-by-song basis, behind the scenes the accumulated progress is mounting up. Abz's songs have now had airplay on over 120 stations around the world and featured on numerous playlists including Spotify Fresh Finds and she ended 2023 as an AMEX Gold Unsigned Winner. 

The fact that she has more dimensions than most of those of her age group to whom she might be compared (without a doubt at a local level but clearly way beyond by now) is paying off step by step. Her magnificent voice has always been used with discretion & nuance and by now the evidence of her writing skills is proven by plenty of evidence. She's also long shrugged off any initial chains of genre.

I am not one of those reviewers who copy/pastes Press Releases into their articles: I certainly appreciate them & use the factual information but feel I do need to take a step backwards for objectivity's sake. However in this case, Abz's PR suggests that "…the final product is anthemic, exciting, youthful, fun, crisp and infectious.." and I yet again cannot dissent from that.

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Optimists at heart, Midlands-based Americana duo Tu-kay & Ryan are known across the folk scene for songs that encourage a positive outlook on life, even when things get tough.

So it was a minor setback when illness forced them to cancel their scheduled CVFolk appearance in Coventry's Albany Theatre Studio last January. The good news is they're back and fighting fit to play the gig on Sunday 9th June.

Last year saw Ash Tu-kay & Rebecca Ryan delighting audiences with a tally of 97 gigs from Dorset to Doncaster, and they even travelled Stateside, playing a one-off set at the Bluebird Café in Nashville!

Widely acclaimed for their superbly crafted songs, performed as a fusion of folk, Americana and roots music – and complete with amazing harmonies – the award-winning duo has picked up a big following on the club and festival circuit. To date they have released four EPs and are winning great reviews for their first full-length album, Companion.

There's even more reason to be positive for those who have been waiting to see them in Coventry. The two excellent acts who were due to play support slots in January are available to join the June line-up, which means the evening also features popular Stratford singer-songwriter and recording artist Katherine Abbott, and the talented North Warwickshire duo Yonderland featuring accomplished songwriters and multi-instrumentalists Paul Monks and Jane Moss.

Doors open 7pm for a 7.30 start and admission is free, but please be ready with generous cash donations for the ‘caddy' collection.

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Every song penned by The Weeping Willows is a love song. They'd deny that, of course. These tracks, they'd claim, are works of imagination – tales of cruelty, tragedy, murder and betrayal, all populated by gamblers, sinners, infidels and travelling salesmen (read: wandering musicians). Ask Andy or Laura to define their work and they'd probably hit you with phrases like "cautionary tales", "murder ballads" or simply "folk songs", but in truth these are love songs – each and every one of them

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It seems ages since I last wrote a Silver Wye review: in fact it was over two years ago when their "Hitman" single came out.

Founder Wes Finch has many outlets for his deep well of creativity and interests so it's hardly surprising that any given project might be placed on hold for a little while: his work with Stratford's Street Arts project will have taken up much of his time lately, not least via the significant expansion of the activities of the ad hoc band WLDFLWRS which the professional musicians who facilitate the songwriting sessions put together: the fundraising visitation of "The Last Waltz" being too good to limit to a single performance: a national tour has now been drawn up.

But in the moments between the demands of WLDFLWRS, The Mechanicals Band and sundry others, here comes the ‘Second Wave' EP from The Silver Wye.

I've been lucky enough to hear the recorded tracks prior to Mason Le Long mastering them for release, but such is their inate excellence that his input will only take them higher.

The four tracks are "Turnaround", "Gospel Oak", "Heal You" and "Holy Cow (What if Today)" and in terms of who plays on it, credit goes to fellow WLDFLWR Jack Blackman for guitar on "Heal You", Wes and Matt Lakey for guitars on the other three tracks, John Parker for bass and Ben Haines for percussion and synths. Ben mixed and production was courtesy of Wes and Ben with input from John & Matt.

If you factor in the participants on the previous Silver Wye releases (and most of the singles were collected together on 2020's ‘First Wave' EP/mini-album) then you'll get a sense of what the entity is: an outlet for certain more experimental compositions of Wes' (originally more electronic than traditional folk) and so musicians have appeared as appropriate: excepting some live releases, the element of continuity has been Wes himself, while Leo Steeds, Luke Dibbs, Isaac McInnes and Bradley Blackwell have featured on earlier recordings.

For quite a while, due to the commitments of those who appeared on studio cuts, live renditions tended to be as part of solo Wes gigs, thus appearing in different guise to their released versions. These days as his recording collaborators have converged with those he plays gigs with, so the divergence will have narrowed.

That said, he's been working some of these songs up for a while to perfect them in his own mind: regular attendees of his gigs should know "Gospel Oak" well by now and both that and "Turnaround" have already appeared on live releases: "Gospel Oak" even came out in demo form on the 2020 ‘Variations' EP.

In line with the two EPs and roughly equivalent evolution in personnel, this "Phase Two" of the project has distinct differences to first tracks. The latter seem crafted with disregard as to whether they'd be played live in the precise form made in the studio: and I don't think they ever have been. These latter-day ones do seem to anticipate concert reproduction.

The experimental aspects remain, but are perhaps less extreme in what comes out of your speaker: we are talking more about odd, esoteric arrangements & processed instruments/vocals rather than full on electronica and musique concrete.

The wispy otherworldliness is a constant though. Silver Wye releases have often coincided with celestial or astronomical events (I suppose they all might, were I more informed on such matters), and these continue to appear in & shape both songs and moods of songs. Frequently Wes appears as an observer from far above rather than in midst of the emotional action as he is with his "main" canon of work. I say "frequently" because there are glaring exceptions to this tendency: some Silver Wye songs are deeply personal. However, this opportunity for dispassion gives him scope for more disturbing subject matter such as "The Getting Place" or "Hitman" songworlds in which their creator appears not at all: which really isn't the case for the vast majority of his songs.

I can't therefore suggest that project indicates a temporary desire to lay aside creative subjectivity for objectivity (that really isn't the case some of the time), but I do think that it is one of the defining factors.

With a musician of this level, leaving space within songs is part of his skills. Nevertheless, and despite the calibre of the people playing on the songs, the Silver Wye sound seems to take this idea further. If Occam's Razor applies to music, Wes & co seem to wield it fairly ruthlessly.

In lesser hands, these aspects of the band, ruthlessness, iciness, otherworldliness etc add up to a package of alienation. With musicians this skilled & with their empathy for humanity, this never happens. How they do this, I'm not sure. If I understood it fully, then I could do what they can, which I certainly cannot, so I can only admire what in some ways is a highwire experiment.

These are very humane songs: in fact, the spirituality which has been evident throughout is perhaps a bit more prominent this time out. It's easy to speculate on the history of "Gospel Oak" but hard to come to a firm conclusion. That it's dear to Wes' heart is clear: that would certainly account for a factor of aiming to perfect it. T might simply have been awaiting the right team to be able to assemble in order for it to be recorded. At any rate, to my ears, during its evolution, it has become more haunting, and I think slower in delivery. My personal suggestion is to consider my thoughts on the WLDFLWRS gig: many of the best performances on the day were of songs by The Band (performed by WLDFLWRS in Stratford United Reformed Church) which SOUND spiritual but which have never been decisively pinned down as overtly religious: they had a certain transcendental effect which I & others noted and which may have convinced them that they'd made something special: worth taking to other audiences. Part of that magic may have rubbed off on "Gospel Oak" and shaped its final form. It is (I think) capable of being interpreted in both religious & secular ways, but it certainly exudes that spiritual aura which "The Weight" does.

If so, "Heal You" (reinforced by Jack's presence) might fall into an equivalent category. Musically it's closest to Wes' main body of the tracks here and the spiritual sort of language & expression coupled with Jack's exquisite lightest-of-touch blues moments, connects with some of what Van Morrison has long done: and Van of course appeared at the original Last Waltz…

"Holy Cow (What if Today)" is far too skeletal to compare with The Band or Van Morrison (and one thing it does is to demonstrate the diversity of what The Silver Wye come up with even within the project parameters). It's the closest in sound to Phase One I suppose with strange electronic noises (generated by guitar by the sounds) yet I wonder how close it came to be being delivered a cappella? For the early sections, the voice is so dominant that the occasional instrumental sound seems added simply to defer to convention of having them on songs. A little later we get a break from the singing to provide a fairly minimalist and very laid back instrumental section (I couldn't call it a solo) and these add colours to the whole, but all in all this is a prime example of that razor being used judiciously.

"Turnaround" is yet another kind of thing altogether: in fact it was the track which I had the hardest job processing to anything like my adequate satisfaction.  The immediate response was surprise at the sound. If this is Wes attempting to explore new territory & confound his fans' expectations, then he's succeeded. To me it summoned up memories of the sort of pop experiments of the early 1980s when new technologies meant that new sounds could be offered to the palettes of musicians. Quite a few sections might have been the sort of thing which the likes of Tears for Fears or Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark might have contemplated. Even the bass playing is a revelation: I've heard John perform with so many diverse artists but never like this: again my thought drifted to the era when the distinctive playing of Pino Palladino was ubiquitous. I mean it doesn't even sound like a double bass he's playing. Hats off to The Silver Wye for boldness in going somewhere we didn't expect & without recourse to the avant garde: this is a fine pop song, just one we couldn't have foreseen.

The fine, soaring guitar (and to be honest, Wes rarely goes in for classic solos of this type) ensures that this is not some exercise in retro (the bands I cited above never took this route).

Although "Turnaround" shares the same characteristics of other Silver Wye songs: sublimity, light, optimism etc and like them seeks to find common ground between the higher planes & the foolishness of mortal behaviour, this one is so chock full of accessibility of philosophy and offering of achievable advice, coupled with its lushness of setting, that it sounds like a potentially successful single: whether in 1983 or 2024. Odder things have happened, and it just goes to prove that exploring your own creativity does not necessarily mean descending into obscurity nor exclusivity. Maybe Wes is thinking on similar lines as he & Johnny Holden have made a video for this song which they will unveil when the EP is launched.

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Despite the considerable enthusiasm (mine right up there on the list) for the cumulative build-up of tracks on her ‘Doomsday Was Yesterday' EP, this is still a glinting speck on the horizon for Ace Ambrose fans.

I guess most of them will be all to aware of the chronic health issues she has been battling with & rein in any impatience to hear the follow-up to "A Town Called Love".

Signs of getting back into the fray have slowly & discreetly been appearing: rebuilding her Oddity band, managing to make YNES' recent gigs etc and now we have something more tangible.

No: not the latest instalment of the EP (which we continue devoutly to await), but a standalone track, a howl of righteous outrage which alone tells you that her body might have been fragile and consequently her mental strength too, but her spirit not at all.

Frankly this is as about as explicit as a song title can get: do you really require me to explain the theme of "Televised Genocide (Gospel of Gaza)"?

That all proceeds go to aiding the Palestinian people in this prolonged hour of need can scarcely be a surprise either.

Made with Swashbuckler & Yovsaf, the song in some ways is unique in her oeuvre gone is any trace of romance even in the harshest circumstances. Gone too is singing: this is a declamation: a clear and stringent polemic. Ace has no desire for her meaning to get lost within even the mildest & artistic of ambiguities. So music in the conventional sense makes way for a musique concrete accompaniment to her words.

To a large extent, (and I'm sure this will be a major theme of the EP), in her usual work Ace acknowledges the real pain in the world but tends to offer a fantasy avatar of herself to step in & save the day: a mythic gunslinger bringing love, a figure transcending time & space. There is a little tip of her hat to this Eternal Champion self in an accompanying photo (number two in the ones on this review) which features her in her customary mask: but this is modelled on that of real guerilla fighters. Superheroes are not going to materialise to save Gaza or turn the IDF away from genocide in Rafah or Jabalia: only we can contribute by expressing opposition & it is this she is calling for in a detailed and informed demand for salvation for those still alive. 

This may not, on the surface, sound like the Ace Ambrose we've been accustomed to: but is that really true? The form is a surprise: which is part of her artistic identity. It's passionate: ditto. It's totally value based: again that's always applied. 

Much as I've been looking forwards to her ‘Doomsday Was Yesterday'  (admittedly within the context of her recent limitations), this song is essential today and so takes priority: the rest can wait (hopefully not for too long though).

Will it have the effects her efforts have aspired towards? Well those who could stop it have seemed deaf to every single reasoned and compassionate argument so I can't see it falling on their ears in a receptive fashion. However mass public opinion can force the hands of the powerful & if this track wins even a few more hearts and minds, Ace and her friends will not have made it in vain. It would be nice too if those in Gaza could hear it & realise that not everyone in the UK, USA etc was complicit in their ordeal and instead totally opposed it. To know that you do not stand alone offers a tiny glimpse of hope.

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It's always uplifting: morally, emotionally & physically to witness a Liam Vincent and The Odd Foxes' gig (I was sufficiently rendered inarticulate by the power of their music to have to come up with the term "upcheering" when I spoke with them afterwards: probably not a real word but it conveyed something at the time I hope) and last night at the Albany Theatre for the regular monthly CVFolk concert (supported by Julie Neale & Jamie Scott) was not an exception.

 Setwise, I caught them between albums: debut "Fabric of a Flawed Society" was released a year ago (I continue to thank them for launching it on the afternoon of a lot of monarchist malarkey and hence giving me a very positive distraction) and a lot of new material has recently been written (much at a writing retreat) for planned sharing over the next year or more.

This was my first live show of theirs to feature James Richmond on guitar (not to be confused, as I was, by his predecessor Jamie Thompson who played on the superb, standalone "We Are The Monsters" single back last Hallowe'en) so what with an evolved lineup & setlist, this was an evening of vulpine development.

Their DNA has not changed at all though: they see society as being as flawed as it was a year ago & can identify plenty of monsters within it.

They sink their teeth into these issues with glee & gusto and in accordance with how I described them on first hearing, they affect our hearts & minds but also our feet to the extent that they get transported by their own songs: band members are in constant onstage motion and at times reach dervish level in the manner of the likes of The Pogues or Gogol Bordello.

The height of this is a furious version of the single "Watching You" where the "folk" element gets taken up into the punk ethos so angry are they.

Tracks like this are primeval in tapping into the deep roots of the human condition: true folk music based upon the most enduring of passions & experiences, but all contextualised to our times. It's gigs like this which again and again remind me that the "folk" I like is the meaningful & renewed, deployed as a weapon against contemporary societal flaws & monsters & not some sacred canon to which blinkered purists deny new admissions.

If defiance is a huge aspect of Odd Fox philosophy then so is affirmation: these people wish to make society better again & their performances are as celebratory as they are radical.

That said, they succeed because they are superb musicians & can pull off deft & subtle playing at high tempo and on the move: they positively delight at playing off each other too. I doubt if they approve of stereotyping so it's not fair of me to categorise all their songs as being polemical: the very affecting "Time to Go Home" certainly fits into a completely different category. This one explores the parent/child love and as others palpably concern that love which exists within communities, the relative absence of conventional romantic love songs is of little relevance: even if Liam did speak to me wondering if he'd end up writing one: does it matter? The Odd Foxes are very good at this thing of theirs & it gives them an individuality which is paying off as their reputation continues to grow & spread.

They finished with a song examining the 4,000 weeks of the "average" lifespan and rang the changes as James switched to acoustic guitar, drummer Diz to bodhran and Liam to shruti box leaving Rebecca (whose solo set at The Tin we reviewed only last week) & Matt alone on the instruments they'd played all gig: violin and bass. This one kind of summed up the reflective side of what they have to say: less fury and more mindful contemplation on our world and place within it.

Liam Vincent and The Odd Foxes are a stunning phenomenon in closed spaces such as the Albany Theatre. It's hard to think of a group better suited to festival performances so if you organise one or know someone who does, best get them booked sooner rather than later. Their reputation is growing and spreading and will reach that tipping point (and I was delighted that their fellow "Hot Music Live Presents" featured musicians Izzie Derry and Dolly Mavies only this week were announced for Glastonbury 2024) when they break out of the exclusively local scene.

Next month at CVFolk's event, HMLP featured artist Katherine Abbott will be playing, (freshly returned from her US tour) which is something I'm already looking forwards to.

Look out too for Liam Vincent and The Odd Foxes on the CVFolk Stage (in the Upper Precinct) at Coventry Motofest on Saturday 1st June at 1605

Until then, "Tally Ho!" to the Odd Foxes.

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Following his collaboration with Brudez ("Here and Now": you can find it too on ‘Hot Music Live Presents Volume Twelve'), Beat Rebel Records supremo Justin Bygrave has today offered us his follow-up, "Perfect Imperfection": this time his partner in rhyme is Princess D Krazy.

It's a very different sort of track and if he's aiming to demonstrate his own breadth of vision and musical taste, then the contrast with its predecessor does the trick very nicely.

Much as I dislike genre categorisation and try not in indulge in it, I suppose that the contemporary definition of "R&B" (which is a long way from the one I grew up with) is probably broad enough to cover both. Which is actually of little help as they are so different. The earlier track is perfectly well describable as rap and this one fits "soul" nicely. Very nicely in fact.

Musically, he's slowed things right down and left his royal vocalist space to make her singing the prime focus. For her part, she's repaid his trust with an equally restrained and tasteful performance thankfully devoid of the sort of excessive vocal showboating gymnastics that one suffers all too often in songs of this type.

I must admit that I know nothing of her beyond this song, but he's chosen his collaborator with his customary enlightened instincts: the philosophy appears to be "keep it simple" on both arrangement and delivery and the simplicity enhances the sense of honesty.

Again, I'm not aware of how it was written or by whom, but it's a subtle and graceful tune which, intentional or not, has the summer groove to fit the current weather.

As I say, as a calling card for his own range & that of the label, you couldn't wish for better. Play the two back-to-back and you'd not easily detect any commonality of musicians. Despite his renown as a bassist, he's dialled that right back in the service of the song: and that sacrifice itself is greatly to his credit.

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In several ways, the Sink or Swim promotion at The Tin on Saturday (John Douglas supported by Rebecca Mileham & The Sunbathers) which I reported on, epitomises what Joe Colombi has brought to the local live scene.

Quite apart from the staggering number of promotions (there seems barely a day without a gig he's put on and on his "nights off" he seems mainly to check out bands at other promoters' events) & his rigid adherence both to quality of artists & professionalism of the shows (none of those strings of artist complaints which seem to accompany mention of some promoters & promoting venues), Joe has clear ambitions to both bring big names (I thrill to the likes of Wreckless Eric, Attila the Stockbroker and Dave Formula to name but a few) to the area yet at the very same time create opportunities for exciting local talent: especially those he sees not getting a fair chance from others. Several of the artists we've been enthusing about over the past couple of years have been given key & repeated exposure only by Sink or Swim.

So on Saturday we saw a cult figure pack out the Tin, delighting his local fans while giving slots to two acts who don't play too often, have an unjustly low public profile yet won many new admirers because Joe knew that John's audience would recognise their distinct merits.

 In the twenty or so months since I last caught up with Joe for an article in September 2022, I'd be hard pressed to even estimate the number of events he's conceived, built & delivered. I'd love to list them all, but that would create an article of too great a length to hold your attention: the opposite of his promotions.

It was very unfair of me to ask him to pick any out for me, but he was kind enough & polite enough to ignore my gaucherie and to respond enthusiastically: though starting with the disclaimer that "all of them were really good" before extolling the gig we were actually at (in anticipation) plus ones by Deb Googe, Izzie Derry, his annual Punkmas gigs,  Brazilian band Glue Trip and "a guy from Japan who just played a snare drum for twenty minutes" (that would be Ryosuke Kiyasku and Joe advises that he'll be returning on August 9th). So we now need to add international touring acts to the Sink or Swim profile.

Coming up, when asked for potential highlights, he cited gigs by Dave Formula from Magazine (on May 29th) Penny Arcade (from Veronica Falls) on June 21st, Tara Clerkin Trio from Bristol (May 30th), The Hanging Stars (November 9th) plus ones he's not even allowed to announce yet.

 I think from the above, Joe's philosophy emerges quite clearly, but nonetheless I asked him what he might encapsulate it as & he came up with the refreshingly honest "no-one buys tickets and I sink, or we swim and have a great night"

Which leads me onto my punchline: Joe has transformed the local original gig scene more than anyone I've ever seen and what all those who value the music we hold dear in this magazine must cherish. However, unless we actively patronise Sink or Swim events, then seeing great artists from outside the area will diminish and chances for the more interesting local acts to build live audiences will go to: probably along with the artists concerned. Equally, given his vital partnerships with venues such as The Tin or Just Dropped In, his thriving is linked organically to theirs.

I refer you therefore to:

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