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.

Thursday, 18 July 2019

Show Of Hands - Arrogance, Ignorance and Greed

Rating: 5/5

A terrific album

I have somehow managed to miss out on Show Of Hands in the past, but I am very glad that I have discovered them now. This is a terrific album.

The material is a mixture of traditional and modern, some self-written, and it’s all excellent. From the quiet, haunting ballads via a great cover of Dylan’s Senor to the angry protest of the title track, the musicianship is top-class and it’s a pleasure to listen to throughout. It’s also a pleasure to find genuine, sincere political protest expressed in first-rate songs which are anything but a chore to listen to. Very warmly recommended.

Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Billie Marten - Feeding Seahorses By Hand

Rating: 4/5

Classy and enjoyable

I like Feeding Seahorses By Hand. Billie Marten was new to me so it was a bit of a punt, but it’s very rewarding. She has a lovely, husky, slightly broken voice and her material is very decent slightly folky, slightly jazzy stuff. I haven’t yet found anything truly outstanding here, but I can recommend this as a classy, enjoyable album.

Sunday, 19 May 2019

Thea Gilmore - Small World Turning

Rating: 5/5

Another fine album from Thea Gilmore

Small World Turning is yet another very fine album from Thea Gilmore. It’s perhaps not one of her very greatest (in which class I’d put the masterpieces which are Avalanche, Murphy’s Heart and Regardless) but it’s still real quality.

There’s the mix we’ve come to expect of sharp political comment (The Revisionist is an excellent example) and lovely, moving songs about love and human relations. All the Thea trademarks are still here: great and sometimes astonishingly brilliant lyrics; beautiful melodies, sometimes with with slightly unusual chord sequences; sequences of extraordinary images… It’s great stuff.

I have to say that occasionally the trademarks spill over slightly into the sense that I’ve heard this before. Glory, for example, bears quite a strong musical and structural resemblance to Heads Will Roll, with the “Amens” from Automatic Blue thrown in. That’s fine with me – they’re two great songs – but Thea Gilmore is such an original, innovative songwriter that it’s a bit of a surprise.

This small caveat aside, it’s a really good album from one of our finest songwriters and warmy recommended.

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

Gillian Welch - Time (The Revelator)

Rating: 5/5

Still a gem

Time (The Revelator) is still an outstanding album, I think. Gillian Welch has been in the top rank of country singer-songwriters for decades now and this album shows why. The songs are excellent, with thoughtful, intelligent and slightly quirky lyrics and are involving and tuneful from the stunningly powerful Elvis Presley Blues to the slightly jaunty Red Clay Halo. Welch’s voice is wonderfully distinctive and haunting, there’s some great guitar work and the whole thing is a gem.

Not many albums last this well for almost twenty years; this one has, and I can recommend it very warmly.

Sunday, 14 April 2019

F.J. McMahon - Spirit Of The Golden Juice

Rating: 2/5

Pretty forgettable

I’m afraid I don’t think Spirit Of The Golden Juice is a very good. It’s OK in its way, but F.J. McMahon’s songs are pretty generic, there’s not a great deal of variety and in the end it just becomes rather dull. McMahon’s voice is pleasant enough, but there was an awful lot of quite pleasant-sounding stuff like this in 1969 and overall the whole thing rather fades into the background hum of the time.

In short, it’s an album I’m quite glad to have heard because F.J. McMahon’s name was familiar, but having heard it a couple of times I doubt whether I’ll be bothering again for a long while – if ever.

Emmylou Harris - Red Dirt Girl

Rating: 5/5

Still very good

This is still a very good album indeed. Emmylou Harris has always been a great singer; here she shows that she’s a very fine songwriter, too. These are lovely, haunting tracks with great melodies, fine arrangements and Emmylou’s slightly dark, beautifully modulated voice bringing them to life.

After almost 20 years, Red Dirt Girl still stands up very well, which is a fine compliment to its quality. Warmly recommended.