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March 2012

RECORD OF THE MONTH MARCH 2012

BAP KENNEDY
‘The Sailor’s Return’
Proper
PRPCD093
Genre – Acoustic Roots / Celtic
Star Rating 10/10

Every now and then you stumble across a musical gem, something that stands out among the myriad of three-chord singer songwriters or blues rock guitar trios such a musical gem is Irish singer-songwriter Bap Kennedy – he’s been around a fair while, and worked with Van Morrison, Steve Earle and other notables, he was lead singer in the 90’s cult band ‘Energy Orchard’ but we’ve only just discovered him and to us it was a revelation.

This album is mesmerizing and the live performance that we were fortunate enough to catch was sublime. (You can read a review of the live show here). The album was co-produced by Bap & Mark Knopfler and features such luminaries as Jerry Douglas on Lap Steel and Dobro, John McKusker on Cittern & Fiddle and Mike McGoldrick on flute, pipes and whistle. These are guys who have become widely known through the ‘Transatlantic Sessions’ and this album has the same magic ingredients as that show.

This is a master-class of the singer-songwriter’s craft – simple elegiac melodies, perfectly honed lyrics that tell stories, and most importantly a delivery that draws you in and makes you believe. The listener will hear many echoes of what influenced Bap Kennedy – Dylan, Hank Williams, Elvis, Irish literature and folklore – it’s all been honed into a very personal record but one that speaks to us all.

Every song is good and will repay repeated listens, but standouts on early listening are the opener ‘Shimanvale’ it sets the mood for the whole set -a ballad of looking back to a place of peace; ‘Jimmy Sanchez’ the poignant story of the Chilean miner. ‘The Sailor’s Revenge’ is a song of dreaming and ‘Celtic Sea’ is a whimsical ballad of the mythology of the sea. For us the standout track is ‘Please Return to Jesus’ it’s the true story of the tattoo that Bap has on his chest just above his heart. It captures so much of the doubts and hopes that people have in this world – the hope, we suppose, that Jesus himself might be who he says he is (some of us on Live Blues Info do believe it) and there might be real hope. For theological interest that form of belief is loosely referred to as ‘Pascal’s wager’, but for us that song with its beautiful lilting chorus underlined the spirituality and the sense of peace that runs right through this excellent record.
Review Team

 

BABAJACK
Rooster
KrossBorder Records
KBR20121
Genre – Roots based blues
Star rating 7/10

This is Babajack’s third album following the excellent ‘Exercising Demons’ – the band is growing in stature and this record has been much anticipated. It was recorded at the noted Twin Peaks Studio and co-produced by well known producer Adam Fuest and the band.  There are 11 tracks 9 originals and a cover of the traditional song ‘Gallows Pole’ plus a song ‘Som’ these Days’ inspired by Charlie Patton. The album is relatively brief by today’s standards at just over 36 minutes it’s about the length of a vinyl album in the 70’s.

We were looking forward very much to this after the previous record: so comparing the two albums – as one would expect it’s got a different sound –it’s a considerably more produced sound – the percussive feel is strongly emphasized and is less varied to our ears. The bass is emphasized in typical modern fashion – (in our opinion the double bass is EQ’d to a sound more akin to electric bass) the resultant album is more groove based than the previous one – a such it has a leaning towards modern dance sounds – it doesn’t sound like dance music but the strong drum and bass groove will ensure at least a sympathetic ear from the younger modern listener. There is less dynamic variety within the tracks themselves –for instance the opener ‘The Money’s all Gone’ kicks off and stays at more or less the same level throughout – this compares to the opener on the preceding album which had a nice groove but much more dynamic variety.

Bearing in mind pre-release comments that this album would go more towards the older blues sound it does just that. The end result is simpler and less varied melodically than the previous one – there aren’t songs as strong as the marvelous ‘Going Down’ or the melodically outstanding ‘Big Man Blues’ or ‘I Walk on Diamonds’. The album will undoubtedly be successful in commercial terms and propel the band forward. The two strongest tracks on the album are where they step away from the groove – ‘Crying for My Home’ a lovely melodic song and ‘Som’ these Days’ a gorgeous development of a traditional style melody. Of the groove tracks the opener ‘The Money’s all Gone’ is the best and sets the mood for the whole record. This album didn’t quite match our expectations, but having said that the band is still outstanding and considering the homogenous nature of much of the current blues music scene they are a very refreshing sound so we wish them every success.
Review Team

 

SEAN TAYLOR
Love Against Death
SGO STCD5
Genre – acoustic roots
Star rating – 6/10
Sean Taylor’s is a singer-songwriter and this latest album sees a move to a more produced sound than previous albums. It was recorded in Austin Texas, produced by Mark Hallman and features some ace local musicians including Mark Hallman on drums and bass. The sound is very good throughout Sean’s gravelly voice is recorded very close in and fractionally lower in the mix than before it results in an intimate and atmospheric sound. The accompanying musicians play extremely well and produce a roots based down to earth sound. The presentation is completed by the serious cover art – Sean Taylor is photographed in black & white producing an image that is redolent of a noted picture of Woody Guthrie, elsewhere there are skyline images of St Paul’s Cathedral and the City of London – a particular target of Sean’s lyrics- and another picture of St. Paul’s with a fiery skyline behind –it recalls the famous picture of St. Paul’s during the blitz. The symbolism has to be deliberate.

The question is whether the songs match the image? Well sadly, in certain cases, we don’t think they quite make the mark. The first song ‘Stand Up’ rails against bankers and politicians, and claims ‘We have never felt what it meant to be free’ well in some parts of the world maybe – but in the UK Sean seems free to have his say. Then there is the line ‘I’d rather live here on expenses till my soul is broken up.’ This is a strange line and we wondered who is saying it as the song is basically a call to rise up? Then the song calls us to ‘Stand up’, ‘Together we stand and divided we fall, fight here united and make change for us all.’ This line doesn’t scan terribly well, but just who is Sean calling to stand up? It doesn’t seem at all realistic in this fragmented world of ours and we wondered where Sean gets the authority for such a call to arms – as we see it the world is far more divided and far less of common purpose than when Dylan raised his voice in song. To have real authority a song has to address people where they are at-at ground level, if that works then the authority grows to write and sing about bigger things. To us Sean lacks the authority to raise a call to arms.

There is one other song which we found frankly irritating – ‘Coal not Dole’ is written about the Miners’ strike of 1984. It presents an unbalanced picture of those events and fails to give even a clue as to opposing viewpoints – it is one of the great skills of the ballad tradition either to give at least some idea of balance, in story or not overstate the case. This song fails to do that. But the authority question raises its head again here – Sean asks ‘Which side were you on?’ and we don’t think he has any authority to ask such a question of us – it’s like asking an old man ‘Were you brave enough in the War?’ – We feel it is disrespectful and that this song is historically inaccurate and biased.

To be fair there were two tracks that we particularly liked – ‘Heaven’ is an atmospheric and convincing account of heroin addiction somewhat harrowing but a good listen, and ‘Ballad of a Happy Man’ is very nice traditionally styled song with a strong element of Cajun enhanced by Mark Hallman’s accordion- it has a very catchy chorus.

There is good and not-so-good on here and we look forward to Sean’s future efforts but subject wise he should perhaps to take into account that many people were actually there for events he writes about and will be listening to his songs.
Review Team

 

NAVACROSS
Navacross
Private Production HFHC
Genre – Country / Roots
Star rating 7.5/10
Navacross are a five piece country roots band from the Crouch Delta – that’s in Essex and includes such places as Burnham-on-Crouch, Maldon and Southminster; it’s a place with a great reputation for music especially in Blues and R&B and is home to a legend of Essex Blues – Tim Aves. It is also home to one of the UK’s finest unsung producers Pete Crisp – in our opinion one of the best around. He produced this album and it bears all the hallmarks of his style honed at St. FM Studios in Burnham-on-Crouch – crystal clear sound and a production with real depth of sound. So to the music – The band is a five-piece comprising Dean Baker on lead vocals, Noel Gander on guitar and harmonica, Mike Skinner on guitar and banjo, KC on percussion, harmonica and sax and Andy P on drums. The sound as we were initially listening might best be described as ‘British West Coast’ although here and there the boys do slip into vaguely American accents.
The album opens with the sound of waves breaking – the effect could have been a tad louder because in the car we couldn’t hear it – mind you if you overdo the effect you can end up with the Onedin Line – not what they’re looking for really. It’s pretty much up tempo and very bouncy from the start – ‘Ship Goes Down’ opens the album and it’s a catchy tune.  The second track, ‘Have the Time’, starts very quietly and then lifts off, very good. Track 3 ‘Shine a Light’ recalls the Rolling Stones in its intro and the Band in its texture and melody –again excellent. The best tune is track 6 ‘Monkey on My Back’ – quite a little anthem this one very catchy chorus.

The ambience on this album recalls many well loved sounds of the past but it wasn’t until track 9 ‘Scattered’ and the succeeding tracks ‘After Tomorrow’ and ‘Lay Down’ that it came home to us. What the album captures is the feel, and to an extent the essence of Dylan & Co around the time of ‘Planet Waves’ and the Basement tapes – it’s a very relaxed country rock feel and adds up to a very enjoyable record – a very relaxing spin that recalls simpler times and made us think ‘Yeah, down by the River Crouch, a pint in hand and these boys playing – now that would be really nice. Reportedly they have done well with festival audiences up and down the UK on recent years. So we would recommend the record or catch them live – or both.
Review Team

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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