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"You Had It All" by The Rising

Review

That marvellously prolific band The Rising (Chris Logan & Chantelle McAteer) are continuing their highly commendable campaign to not let COVID19 derail the momentum of their career and despite having to relocate for the duration, they are maintaining their plan to create & share new material every month to six weeks.

Next up in this strategy is perhaps their most ambitious project since the pandemic started: a five track EP of original material entitled 'No Hope Without Love', with each component song being released as a single in its own right every three weeks (their first release since "Ain't Nobody Got Me Here But Me")

The first of these will be "You Had It All" and it will be out on  23rd April. Yet another first for the band who seem avidly intent on a voyage of self development as a musicians, as not only is the song a collaboration with Northern Irish singer-songwriter Stephen A Quinn, but he also duets with Chantelle on the recording (which as you might imagine had to be put together from a prudent distance, including Chris Brush contributing drums all the way from Nashville). It is also the multi talented Stephen's artwork which graces the single.

I have waxed about Chantelle's magnificent (and sensitive) vocal stylings & abilities many times in the magazine, so it's intriguing to hear what they sound like alongside those of someone else: frankly I wondered if anyone had the voice to duet effectively with her. However it certainly justifies the musicians' decision to venture the experiment. Stephen's voice naturally is very different to Chantelle's and his approach (on this song at least) equally so: which makes sense as basically the tale is of a romantic break up told from the different perspectives of the people involved, so you would want clear contrasts between them as they tell their stories to each other & to us. However, the voices join together regularly & harmonise effectively, each taking different tones & pitches so they complement yet remain clear to hear.

What struck me most emphatically however was the overall sound of "You Had It All". As you'll know from my previous reviews, while remaining loyal to their love of country, The Rising rarely offer two similar stylings in a row & not only fully explore the breadth of the "country" genre and its departures into rock & pop, but often go so far from this starting point that it's hard to call it country at all. In this case, we are definitely more into a softish rock area & I couldn't help but think of Fleetwood Mac: the sound, the harmonies, how Chantelle on this occasion seems to be channelling Stevie Nicks and even the lyrics which are in prime 'Rumours' territory.  

Yet another triumph for the Rising who once again show just how broad their tastes are & how they have the chops to pull off music from across a broad spectrum: and as with all their work, I want to make it clear that this does not come across as some sort of exercise in technical experimentation, but a another in their long line of warm narratives told with sympathy for the protagonists.

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"Calico Jack" by Alchemista

Review

For their first single release of 2021, Alchemista are offering us a tale of piracy on the high seas in the form of "Calico Jack". While lockdown necessarily ensured that their previous (and indeed festive) single "Ghosts of Christmas" was  by a stripped down version of the band, in this case, we hear the not inconsiderable fruits of a lot of learning by the band who have now acquired the skills to put together a full band performance from remote locations and so they all appear on this track: Caroline White on vocals, the writer of the song, Paul Jayes on keyboards, Peter Garelick on the guitars, Colin Halliwell on drums and sound engineer Aaron Clews of Daybreak Studios (who knitted the various pieces together with Colin & Caroline producing), playing bass guitar.

The song has its genesis back from before lockdown, so they had rehearsed it extensively, which must have helped with recording, but although always pirate themed, it did not gain its title until comparatively recently: a "tribute" to "Calico Jack" (John Rackham) who plied his trade in the Caribbean in the early 18th century & who seems to have designed the Jolly Roger. Thankfully they settled on his story rather than that of a better known buccaneer & this adds yet more freshness to this swashbuckling tune.

The band have been kind enough to share with me parts of their journey on learning how to put the track together & frankly that has been fascinating: not only does it give me special insights into the song to inform this piece, but it has been equally interesting to match their perceptions of "Calico Jack" with what I heard myself before I learned of their own thoughts.

For the band, they built from the keyboard as a starting point & this they (rightly) see as an innovation in how they work which changes the fundamental dynamic of their trademark sound. I'm sure they are correct in perceiving that the general sound is different to previous songs I've heard from them (I'm sure they see this variation as a positive contribution to what they can do) but I honestly would never have described it as a keyboard driven song, so well are the other elements melded in with it: indeed the guitars & drums are very key parts in what you hear.

Alchemista clearly disdain the mundane as a rule and significant numbers of their songs demonstrate this by entering into the world of the supernatural (as our previous reviews have made plain). Quite apart from the change in recording technique, the switch in their other-worldly adventuring from the fantastical to time & place travel has also impacted on what you get to hear. The band described it to me as a transition from the "gothic" to something more akin to "folk rock": I can't quibble with the former as a description of earlier work, but I feel the folksiness of "Calico Jack" is more relative to their other songs than an absolute description: this is not particularly akin to Fairport Convention nor the Byrds. If anything, parts of the song soar like quite hard rock. Any folk element is most noticeable in the melody and perhaps even more so in Caroline's vocals which delivers a considerable amount of emotional clout within a delicacy of approach.

The lyrics are pretty much the lament of a sailor a long way from where he wants to be, but whereas a traditional folk approach to such a subject would be melancholic and downbeat, "Calico Jack", as I said in the preceding paragraph, soars like the albatross high above and roars like a sou'west gale. This show of defiance reminds us that a lachrymose sailor his words may make him out to be, but this one is also a buccaneer who eventually was executed for his crimes.

There is power & pathos in "Calico Jack" and rather than glorifying his deeds, it offers us a look at the man behind the pirate. For Alchemista, it is a considerable achievement: it is greatly to their credit that they were able to make it at all: the skills gained may come in for future use.  Yet beyond this, it is a roistering & potent single which betrays absolutely no sign (to my ears) of being assembled piecemeal: the parts gel to excellent effect & create a single they can justly be proud of.

You can also catch up with  "Calico Jack" in this video:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ZnwZYUMRxE

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"Faker" by Abz Winter

Review

It's actually been a year since we shared the news about "Jump" by Abz Winter with you, a period of time between releases which would have seemed ludicrous eighteen months ago, so meteoric was her career at that point with regular new tracks coming out, each a noticeable progression from the last (though of course her track "Falling For You" has appeared on the 'Front Room Sessions' album during that time).  I'm sure that such a gap was far from Abz's thoughts let alone her wishes but on the evidence before me, I don't think her momentum will have stalled too badly: it certainly has continued its inexorable rise artistically judging by the sound of the latest single from what I gather have been highly productive sessions namely "Faker" (available for pre-order from 16th April & released on the 30th).

Written & performed with her equally high levels of self confidence, "Faker" offers us all the hallmarks of the trademark Abz Winter style we have grown to love: the exuberance & huge personality of her vocal performance, the wit of her lyrics and the way she addresses her subject. Not for the first time in one of her songs, Abz is calling someone out on their behaviour, but as ever, there is a calling to account for sure, but without malice or nastiness: she keeps the moral high ground & wants them to reform.

I've long admired her skill with word play & ability/willingness to use multi syllabic words which many writers either don't know or can't figure out how to use: it adds distinction to her writing & enables the songs to stand out. "Faker" is one such example & in addition another effect is to inject enough good humour to raise the track above the level of a scolding. Not that Abz necessarily minces her words: there are two edits I've heard: one for the radio & another a bit more adult in its language.

Musically, once again she has jumped forwards: Abz has found new sounds to set her words to & again the warmth of her singing acts nicely as a counterbalance to the often icy electronic setting. Slowing things down a bit from recent releases, the effect is to accentuate the lyrics & empower their meaning: they simply would sound false if delivered faster. Likewise, Abz, who has a large arsenal of vocal skills to unleash as necessary, shows us just how powerful she can be at slower speeds & lower volumes.

If "Faker" is representative of her latest body of work, then I think we are in for many treats & surprises in the weeks & months to come now she has new material to share again…. And don't get me started on how good it might be to hear her sing live again.

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'Coventry Cathedral - Easter '21' by Rob Halligan

Review

Fresh out today is a live album of the special lockdown gig which Rob Halligan played at Coventry Cathedral with the help of Ewan Cameron and Chris Hunt a couple of weeks ago, and which you can hear for free by downloading it from Rob's Bandcamp page at https://robhalligan.bandcamp.com/album/coventry-cathedral-easter-21

You can also watch footage of the concert at  youtu.be/8dRoh1mwLwA

The album features predominantly tracks from Rob's most recent releases, reviewed here in "Hot Music Live" and now you can hear them performed live which has always been his intention & hopefully you will still have the chance once the many dates & tour he had planned can be rescheduled.

The songs themselves are "Promised Land", "Wild Horses", "Come Take Your Place", "The Other Side", "When I Survey", "Bigger Than Me" (the current single), "Wayfaring Stranger", "You Never Can Tell" and "Always Heading Home" (the title track of his latest album).

It looks & sounds a very magical session & one which no doubt being there would have enhanced in such a performance space ideal for the sentiments in the song as well as the acoustics: however since it wasn't, we can thank both modern technology for making sharing the experience possible & Rob's generosity in gifting it to us.

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"Around This Town" by Ross Darby

Review

Today is the release day for the new Ross Darby single "Around This Town", his first since the much applauded "Rose" which came out in July 2020 and recorded with Matt Waddell at 14 Records.

The song packs so much in that I checked the running time and it's less than three & a half minutes: it sounds and feels much longer, not least I suspect due to the overall urgency in its feeling & performance, driven by an unusually skittish & skifflish snare and a vocal which borders on the anxious.

Balancing this impression is Ross' characteristic ability to deliver a romantic melodicism which certainly on this occasion also tends towards the melancholic, and which serves in combination to put across what I imagine most of its listeners will recognise & share: social & personal anxiety, sadness over current circumstances & any optimism going forward textured with the experiences of recent months: a complex emotional story, but one Ross tells really effectively. There is even a decent element of tongue in cheek humour in how he describes the vanished lifestyle of hitting the town.

It takes experience & a subtle talent to express so much in a seemingly simple & direct, not to say memorable,  track, but Ross pulls it off effortlessly & given that it captures the emotional essence of our times without going into any lyrical specifics, it should last the test of time: topical for today, yet timeless for the days ahead.

Ross tells me that he is looking forward to playing around these towns during the summer and has been working with Matt at 14 Records on more songs for release soon, including a never previously released Fallows track….. so join me please in watching this space…

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"Gimmie Some Space" by Shanghai Hostage

Review

It is literally only a single month since I reviewed the most recent Shanghai Hostage single "Convent" for you, yet here today am I writing about its follow-up, "Gimmie Some Space" (sic). It remains a considerable if pleasant surprise how many new tracks are being created during this pandemic & if there were a prize for musical proliferation beyond the satisfaction of forging new cultural content, while several of the front runners are fairly obviously solo artists with the skills & equipment to home record, this band must be leaders in the category of ensembles. That is not to say however that this is a full Hostage experience: although their most recent releases, "Convent" and "Free Lovin' Woman" derive from full band sessions at the Tin with Ian Whitehead producing, this one dates from the earliest days of the lockdown & like "Mr Motivator" features (as did that track) Sophie & Ian, though this time with Beth too.

It's probably just as well in some ways as the past two have been very full on songs & performances which would have been difficult to follow along similar lines: "Convent" being easily the most extreme track by them I can think of. "Gimmie Some Space" reverts to more classic Shanghai Hostage territory sonically, starting at least with their trademark funky dance style (albeit pretty laid back in pace) & evolving into something a bit more psychedelic yet just as danceable.

Also very much present is the SH humour & wit: in fact you can picture the fun they presumably had putting it together. The overt starting point is in fact the dance floor they are conjuring up & the idea of needing greater space in order to practise responsible social distancing upon it (I guess that back last Spring none of us could quite picture the fact that there would be no dancing together whatsoever for the duration). From there, the tune heads off into outer space & gets progressively more woozy, morphing from somewhere in the region of Chic to more like the intergalactic territory inhabited by Sun Ra and his Arkestra (Beth's guitar plays a significant part in achieving the latter effect). If last time out Sophie was channelling her inner P J Harvey, then this time out it's closer to what a Donna Summer session might have sounded like had she been provided with increasing doses of the gases astronauts use.

All this and some excellent advice too: what's not to like?

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"Oops" (Acoustic) by Ivy Ash

Review

I was delighted last month to describe to the debut single by Ivy Ash (the new sparkling pop persona of Bethany Dyson) called "Oops".

Now its follow up is about to land among us & to some extent it will be familiar as it's an acoustic version of "Oops"

"Oops" (Acoustic) comes out on 26th March and in its own inimitable way is as compelling as its parent track. You might very well wonder, as I initially did, whether such a dance friendly song would work as well with the instrumentation stripped back to just a piano & Ivy's voice? In fact the new single is considerably more than a new mix with fewer instruments: it is actually a fundamental reimagining of "Oops" as a ballad rather than floor filler & thus it not only works just as well (entirely on its own delightful terms) but also demonstrates how robust the crafting of the song was in the first place to permit such different workings of a single composition.

A considerably slower paced rendition brings out hitherto unimagined pathos in the song, a possibly deeper look into her own feelings and allowing Ivy to utilise the warmth & intimacy of her vocalisations familiar to those who enjoyed her work in her previous incarnation. If "Oops" helped you picture yourself out on the town in Ivy's company, its acoustic sibling evokes a night in with just her (and possibly a pianist I suppose).

There has emerged a more profound truth from amidst the possibly distracting glitter of the debut & here we have an Ivy Ash manifesto beginning to take shape. A definitely accessible pop sensibility which will attract her many fans, yet offering also a layered listener experience with heart touching sentiment to be uncovered & subtle addressing of the same humane themes she has always been interested in. A multi faceted & complex talent to be precise.

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"Fire In The Air" by Aaron Woodhouse

Review

A very recent addition to my awareness of the local music scene has been Aaron Woodhouse. I've been enjoying & appreciating his releases to date, including his Warwickshire County Council commissioned COVID9 centred track "Raise The Awareness" and the excellent single "Roadtrip".

Now the first real chance to write about him in the magazine has come along in the form of the equally high quality "Fire In The Air" single (and isn't it spooky how this is the third track from a local artist using the imagery of burning skies that I've reviewed in a very few weeks after Luke Concannon's "Coventry" and Ellie Gowers' "The Sky Is On Fire": clearly there is some sort of common vision, pretty apocalyptic in form going on).

In fact this particular song is much more to do with mental health more than the societal & ecological concerns of the other two songs: it's a metaphor which can cover a lot of ground. It's interesting too to encounter yet another Coventry & Warwickshire musician writing about this issue: we do seem to have a lot of writers sensitive to the problems & with the skills to articulate their thoughts on the matter.

Aaron is essentially a rapper in style and thankfully as he has built his own studio is able to produce new music through these difficult times. In fact a lot of his work is around mental ill health & he is confident enough to share with the world the autobiographical aspects of his writing: these are issues he knows only too well from his personal experience & as reinforced by his collaboration with the council, part of what he is about is a mission to share what he has learned & to reach out and make real impacts upon the community: which certainly commands my respect.

For a rapper he is quite melancholy in his songwriting (the subject matter of "Fire In The Air" certainly demands it) though the rhythm of his rapping is fairly rapid, it is cleverly set against a contrastingly very slow & solemn, keyboard led backing with emphatic but sparse percussion: this juxtaposition adds extra tension to the track to good effect. Given that the lyrics are basically about struggling, this is highly appropriate: he tells us how he is capable of both optimism & depression, how he needs constantly to fight to maintain hope & how despite looking for support, that is not always forthcoming. Though bleak in tone when dealing with such issues, ultimately as the title suggests, he is not ready to give up the fight.

It's good to have this fresh & uncompromising voice making music locally: another of the musicians we are so fortunate to have among us currently whose starting point is the truth as they see it & feel they should tell it.

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Old and gold

‘If This Is the End' by Project Blackbird

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"Live 2020" (edited selection) by Wes Finch

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"In The Darkness" by Ollie Bond

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"Bigger Than Me" by Rob Halligan

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"Convent" by Shanghai Hostage

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"Auriga" by MINTAKAA

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"The South" by Wilde

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"In Absence" by Lemon Boy

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‘Is This Thing On?' by John Connearn

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The ‘Parting Breath' EP by Ellie Gowers

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"Class War" by Dispensable People

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"Better Job" by YNES featuring Ace Ambrose

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Now this is very exciting….

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"Oops" by Ivy Ash

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"Whereabouts Unknown" by Jack Blackman

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'Hot Music Live Presents Volume Five'

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"LOUD" by Electrik Custard

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New release from Holly & the Hounds

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Catching up with Luke Concannon

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'Ecstatic Bird In The Burning' by Luke Concannon

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One of the most anticipated albums to be issued by a Coventry & Warwickshire artist has to be 'Ecstatic Bird In The Burning' which Luke ...

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"Each Time My Heart is Broken" by Ex Lover

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Well that's two surprises of rather different sorts on consecutive mornings for me.

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"Don't Want Anything But More" by Satsangi

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'Postcards Home' by Maz Corry

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"Love Again (Show You Care)" & 'Retrospective' by Rosetta Fire

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'The Righteous Jazz' by The Mechanicals Band

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'Reflection' EP by Rob Lee Thompson

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"You The Creator" by River of the Dog

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"Stay At Home" by Carrick

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"Another Sunset" by Caleb Murray

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"Castle With The Lights On" by Shannon Stevenson

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"Ain't Nobody Got Me Here But Me" by The Rising

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