Friday 19 November 2021

Afterlight (Thea Gilmore) - Afterlight


Rating: 5/5

Exceptionally good
This is something remarkable from Thea Gilmore. As is pretty well know now, she has removed herself from a long controlling relationship, and a good deal of this album is to do with that, both directly and indirectly.

Gilmore is an exceptionally gifted songwriter and an outstanding performer with a beautiful voice and a wonderful way of putting a song across. This collection is restrained and thoughtful, as you’d expect in this context, but with a genuine power and also real beauty and yearning in tracks like the fabulous Vespering. Her superb ability with words is undiminished and is at its most powerful in the opening and closing tracks, both spoken over music. They are quite outstanding in their content and delivery and have important, intelligent, beautifully expressed things to say about the insidious indoctrination of passivity in girls in Of All The Violence I Have Known and of resurgence, resilience and hope in Last.

Thea Gilmore – now called Afterlight – is one of our very best, I think and deserves to be far better known. This isn’t the sort of album which is likely to draw in lots of new fans (although it deserves to) but it’s a bit of true class, I think. I would warmly recommend Afterlight to anyone who appreciates an intelligent, melodic and thoughtful song.

Friday 22 May 2020

Gretchen Peters - The Night You Wrote That Song

Rating: 5/5

A bit of real class

This is an excellent album of great songs, excellently performed.

Mickey Newbury was a remarkable songwriter. He is perhaps not as well known as he might be but is held in the highest regard by other songwriters – including Gretchen Peters. Newbury’s songs songs were most often of emotional damage and difficulty, but they have an insight and humanity which to me makes them moving and involving rather than miserable. They have real musical weight and the lyrics are exceptional – on a par with Leonard Cohen or Joni Mitchell at times, which is about the highest praise I can offer.

Peters sings them wonderfully. She has the emotional depth and intensity to give them real meaning and obviously cares very much about what she is singing. The arrangements, the band and the production are all top-notch and every one of these shines like the gem it is. Several tracks here give me goose-bumps (including a phenomenal version of the extraordinary I Just Dropped In) and there’s not a weak track on the album.

In short, this is a bit of real class and warmly recommended.

Tuesday 21 April 2020

Jess Jocoy - Such A Long Way

Rating: 5/5

A very impressive debut

I am really impressed by this album. It is full of fine songs, very well performed and especially as a debut album it stands out for its quality.

Jess Jocoy writes very good songs. They are tuneful and listenable but they also have real lyrical substance. The opening track is entitled Existential Crossroads which gives you the idea that this isn’t just a lot of moon/June cliché and nor is it pretentious; with intelligent, insightful lyrics Jocoy gives us songs which bear repeated listening and have brought me back to this album several times since my first hearing.

Even at a time when we are exceptionally blessed with high-class female singer-songwriters, I think Such A Long Way holds its own very well. I can recommend it warmly and I’ll be looking out for her work in the future.

Friday 21 February 2020

Amy LaVere - Painting Blue

Rating: 5/5

A terrific album

Painting Blue is a terrific album, I think. I have enjoyed a lot of Amy LaVere’s work in the past and this is probably her best to date.

It is, as always, full of personal songs with excellent, intelligent lyrics and fine music. No Room For Baby, for example, is lyrically heart-rending and musically just great. There are also a couple of outstanding covers in John Martyn’s Don’t Want To Know and Robert Wyatt’s Shipbuilding, both of which stand very well beside the excellent originals.

Amy’s voice is wonderful; she has a slightly breathy soprano and a technique where she often slides onto a note rather than hitting it directly, which lends every song a distinct and engaging sound. She is also a very good bassist and combined with the fine band and excellent production, the album sounds really good throughout.

Amy LaVere is very highly regarded by critics and fellow singer-songwriters but is far less well known than she deserves. If you like a classy bit of Americana from a really good artist, you’ll like this – a lot, I suspect. Very warmly recommended.

Tuesday 11 February 2020

Albert Ammons - Chronological Classics

Rating: 5/5

Truly great boogie-woogie

All three of these Chronological Classics discs of Albert Ammons are just brilliant. Ammons was a phenomenal pianist and probably my favourite among the great boogie/blues pianists of the time. His technique is breathtaking and the result is immensely enjoyable music which for me is often quite impossible to sit still to. The recordings are as good as we can expect from the period – which is pretty decent throughout – and this set represents an excellent collection of his work. (I confess that I don’t know how complete it is, but it’s pretty thorough.)

In my view, you simply can’t go wrong with these discs. Very warmly recommended.

Tuesday 21 January 2020

VA - American Tunes, Songs by Paul Simon

Rating: 4/5

Mixed but well worth it

Collections of cover versions like this are almost always a mixed bag. This is no exception, but for me it’s well worth having because there’s some terrific stuff on it.

It’s an extremely diverse collection, which is a very good thing. Naturally, these things are a matter of personal taste so plenty of people will like the tracks which I don’t like and vice versa. Some of my own favourites are Harpers Bizarre’s sunshine version of The 59th Street Bridge Song, Emmylou Harris’s soulful The Boxer and a wonderful, haunting rendition of Leaves That Are Green by Dorris Henderson and John Renbourn. On the other hand, The Tennors’ version of of The Only Living Boy In New York is horribly mangled, I can’t stand what Peaches & Herb do to The Sound of Silence and even as a huge Aretha fan I don’t think her interpretation fits Bridge Over Troubled Water.

Of course such a collection is going to provoke reactions like this in all of us and we’ll all have different responses – which is part of music’s delight. Everyone will find plenty to enjoy here and even the ones you don’t are interesting and you can always skip. Personally, I’d recommend this collection warmly.

Sunday 29 December 2019

The Yearlings - Sweet Runaway

Rating: 5/5

A very good album

I think Sweet Runaway is a very good album indeed. I took a punt on it having heard a few samples and a couple of tracks and I’m very glad I did; The Yearlings write good songs and perform them very well.

The tone is generally pretty sad and yearning and often rather beautiful. Production is excellent – not too heavy, well balanced and thoughtful – and brings out both the quality of the songs and of the singing and guitar work. The overall effect is haunting and rather lovely. I’d recommend listening to some samples and if you like what you hear, don’t hesitate. This is a classy piece of work which I can warmly recommend.