Tuesday, 10 September 2019

Claire Hamill - Over Dark Apples

Rating: 3/5

Good performance and lyrics, but musically disappointing

I’ve listened to a couple of Claire Hamill’s albums from the 70s recently, and they still stand up well. Sadly, I’m not so keen on Over Dark Apples.

It’s great that Claire is still writing and performing, and she can certainly still put a song over very well. Her voice has darkened and deepened with the years and she’s a good performer with a very decent band and solid production. My problem is the material; some of it’s pretty good (I like the opening track, Love Has A Mind Of Its Own, for example) and the lyrics are generally engaging and sometimes very striking, but musically it’s pretty ordinary. Melodies are bland and almost nursery-rhyme-like in character a lot of the time and however good the lyrics and performance, it gets a bit dull, I’m afraid.

I don’t want to be too critical and others may well enjoy this more than I did, but in spite of its good points I can only give Over Dark Apples a very qualified recommendation.

Friday, 6 September 2019

Amy Speace - Me And The Ghost Of Charlemagne

Rating: 5/5

Another fine album from Amy Speace

This is another very fine album from Amy Speace. I have admired her work for some years now – so much so that I contributed to the crowdfunding of Me And The Ghost Of Charlemagne, which means that I’ve had a copy for some months now and have listened to it a lot.

Amy Speace turned 50 fairly recently, but she continues to mature as both a songwriter and a performer. The songs here have lyrics which are even more thoughtful and well crafted than before, think – which is really saying something. The title track, for example, is remarkably atmospheric and a long way from your average singer/songwriter fare. She has a lovely, pure voice which she uses to give real meaning to her lyrics and writes a very good tune.

The album is beautifully produced by Neilson Hubbard and the overall effect is involving and atmospheric. Even in a time when we are phenomenally blessed with excellent female singer/songwriters, this a classy piece of work which stands out for me and I can recommend it very warmly.

Monday, 26 August 2019

Karen Dalton - It's So Hard to Tell Who's Going to Love You the Best

Rating: 5/5

A true hidden gem

I spend quite a lot of time poking about in obscure corners of late 60s/early 70s music. A lot of the stuff I hear deserves to be obscure, to be honest, but occasionally I come across a gem like this which makes the search worthwhile.

This is an album largely of covers, sung superbly and excellently accompanied. Dalton’s voice has much of the cracked, slightly fragile-sounding beauty of Billie Holiday, and she can sing with the same intensity. Really – she can, and I know what a big statement that is. I find this spellbinding to listen to, with stripped back, excellently played accompaniment which is very well produced to give a great, almost torch-singer sound.

This is one of those rare albums which genuinely deserves the tag “hidden gem.” I’m delighted to have discovered it and can recommend it very warmly indeed.

Friday, 9 August 2019

Dick Gaughan - An Introduction to Dick Gaughan

Rating 5/5

An excellent selection

The “An Introduction to...” series is uniformly excellent and this compilation of some of Dick Gaughan’s finest tracks recorded for Topic is no exception. The sound quality is excellent and it’s a thoughtful, representative selection showing Gaugan’s fine voice and classy guitar work.

If you’re looking for somewhere to start with Dick Gaughan, you can’t go wrong here. Very warmly recommended.

Thursday, 1 August 2019

V.A. - Hallelujah; The Songs Of Leonard Cohen

Rating: 4/5

Some very good stuff here

There is a good deal of truth in the old saying that no-one can sing a Leonard Cohen song the way Leonard Cohen couldn’t, but there are some very good covers here, along with some not-so-good ones.

Really, how you respond to these recordings is a matter of individual taste; another reviewer singles out Barb Jungr’s Everybody Knows for special praise, whereas I really don’t like it. I suspect that’s the way it will be for most of this album – people will just disagree about what they like, if anything. For me, it was better than I expected: I have known and loved Jeff Buckley’s Hallelujah for years (while my sister hated it), I was very pleasantly surprised by Rufus Wainwright and Dion’s contributions and liked a lot of the others, but – again surprisingly – hated the great Nina Simone’s version of Suzanne. And so it goes.

Taste here is likely to be so individual that my recommendation may not be much use, but for what it’s worth I think this is an album I like a lot overall and which is well worth having.

Amory Kane - Memories of Time Unwound

Rating: 3/5


Sometimes poking about in the dusty corners of late 1960s music unearths a hidden gem. Sadly, most of the time it doesn’t, and this is one of those times. I found Memories of Time Unwound pretty forgettable; there’s nothing actively wrong with it and the musicianship is good – as you’d expect with the excellent Dave Pegg on bass – but the material is nothing special, I’m afraid. There was an awful lot of this kind of stuff around then; most of it just washed over me at the time without leaving much impression and this does the same now.

I don’t want to be too harsh, but this didn’t do anything for me and I can’t really recommend it.

Sunday, 21 July 2019

Jimmie Spheeris - Isle Of View & The Original Tap Dancing Kid

Rating: 3/5

Pleasant but rather ordinary

I’m afraid I can’t quite share the enthusiasm of some reviewers for Jimmie Spheeris’s music. It’s perfectly OK of its type but for me it doesn’t really stand out from the huge wash of dreamy psychy-folky stuff which was around in the late 60s and early 70s.

There are some nice songs here with decent music, good production and rather Moody Blues-y lyrics. I can imagine this being played in student rooms late at night while smoking non-proprietary cigarettes – indeed, I might have done just that myself if I’d come across Jimmie Spheeris during my mid-70s university days. Coming to it now, though, it doesn’t do much for me really; I find it a pleasant haze of rather generic-sounding stuff but not much more.

Plainly, Spheeris has a devoted following and others may get more from his music than me, but personally I can only give this 2-in-1 set a lukewarm recommendation.