Album Reviews

On the cover of his last album, 'Almighty Love', Dublin singer/songwriter Damien Dempsey was depicted in the Irish Sea, wearing a wetsuit, arms stretched out to the sky, with the landmark Poolbeg Chimneys in the background. Damien is a keen outdoor swimmer. When working in London he likes to go for a dip in the ponds at Hampstead Heath. His new album, 'Soulsun', ends with the same theme: In 'Soft Rain' the singer watches as the sun travels the width of his country, "... traverses the broad majestic Shannon, creeps up the beautiful Burren, barren, across to the mystical islands of Aran, and sprinkles gold dust over the ever young Atlantic Ocean. I'm goin' in. Are ye comin'?"

Swimming is not the only subject we have encountered before in Damien's songs. His interest in Australian aboriginal culture and history returns with a song by L.J. Hill, 'Pretty Bird Tree', recorded here with frequent collaborator Pauline Scanlon, who also included this on her own recent album ('Gossamer').

And we go back to Dublin. Damien is from Donaghmede, on the city's North Side, and his first single, released back in 1997, was indeed called 'Dublin Town'. The aforementioned 'Soft Rain' is the masterpiece of this new album, and it starts out on the outskirts of the city before moving into town, as Damien does the verses in spoken word while a female voice sings a hypnotic melody. Damien looks at all the pretty big houses and wonders if their occupants are happy. The songs speeds up, he goes into pubs and observes new Dublin: "Different tribes, they are a feast for my eyes. Deep exotic languages, gutteral and ancient. The knowledge and the strength of these brand new Irish will temper our country, invigorate our community..." It is a positive message Damien has for us this time and it is heartening to hear.

The big issue that gets revisited on 'Soulsun' is mental health. Damien sang about depression long before this became fashionable and he has battled with it himself. The lyrics here focus on coping, on solutions, alternative ways of looking at life. The tone is uplifting, and this is visually represented by the bright cover image from Dublin graphic artist Maser.

'Soulsun' was recorded in London, with producer John Reynolds once again at the helm. They have gone for a less folky sound, more rock-based, with backing vocals, keyboards and some heavier electric guitar. It veers towards AOR and it took some time before I took to it (I was quite keen on the whistles and pipes of the past), but admittedly it works well with the slow, powerful ballads, of which there are quite a few.

The guests vocalists are all female, "mighty Celtic Warrior High Queens", as per the sleevenotes. This is not a description I would immediately associate with Dido, but I have to admit that the re-recording of 'Beside The Sea', which first appeared on Damien's debut album and on which she guests, is quite lovely. The Pauline Scanlon duet works well too, but the collaboration with Imelda May sounds better on paper than it pans out in reality. The song in question, 'Big Big Love', is a slow power ballad and my least favourite song on the album. Still, Imelda is very popular and it could turn out to be a grower and go down well live.

Live is where Damien is at his best. Even in years without recorded output (there have been considerable gaps) he is always a big live draw with a loyal following. His shows have been praised by a broad variety of peers, from Mary Black to Morrissey, from Sinéad O'Connor to Shane MacGowan. I can think of no other artist who would tour all the working class suburbs of Dublin and sell out theatres in each of them, but also support artists like Bob Dylan, U2 and Bruce Springsteen.

So which of the new batch of songs are the keepers, the songs that audiences will bellow along to alongside 'It's All Good' and 'Negative Vibes' ? I would definitely say 'Soft Rain', as well as the title track. Another highlight is 'Sam Jenkins', a story song about an English soldier who was sent to Ireland during the Famine, before being convicted and sent off to Australia. It is an excellent song, tailor-made for Christy Moore to cover. 'Sweet Gratitude' stands out too, a reggae song among the anthems, with singalong happy chorus.

'Soulsun' is a slight change a direction for Damien, a successful move to a full and heavier sound, yet not so drastic that it will alienate his fans. Thumbs up Damo, and welcome back!

Helen

9/11

An album that sounds like it was recorded in 1973 which is high praise indeed for a band who in 2017 have evoked the memories of a time when Prog was king along with the rock/jazz crossover of the time.

The fact that this debut album sits clearly and comfortable in 2017 is testimony to a band who have carefully pieced together a fine record. You can hear (Gabriel era) Genesis, Floyd, Bonzos, Soft Machine and yet the record feels a relevant and fresh addition to today's musical landscape. 

The album comes in at just over 40 minutes with two 9 minute plus epic tracks, ‘Quietus’ and ‘Mono Aware’. Six tracks on the album (which is available on limited edition splatter vinyl from Swordfish Records) in total, we are alreadly looking forward for the double, second album release. There seems to be no lack of creativity in this band.

The Mothers Earth Experiment, are a six-piece outfit from the West Midlands who released their debut EP 'Don’t Speak Against The Sun' in September 2015 and had their their first live show supporting Gong.

So yet another band to keep an eye on as 2017 continues to deliver some great records.

Pete

9/11

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"I got old and decided I didn't want to be an old punk", says Lil' Lost Lou in Vive Le Rock magazine, explaining what prompted her to go the country way. Lou is from Camden Town and has her own band, however this is her solo debut.

The album was recorded, analogue and taking no more than twelve hours in the wonderfully named 'Welcome To 1979' Studios in Nashville with producer Billy Livsey at the helm. It features top Nashville session musicians, most notably pedal steel player Russ Pahl. The album was finalised back in the UK with the help of producer Sean Kenny and it has to be said that the sound is fantastic - punchy, warm and clear all at once. It makes you wonder why musicians spend a year recording an album if this can be achieved in twelve hours.

Top marks for sound therefore, and Lou Psyche is a fine singer too. The album is eleven songs short, all her own, and a varied collection of songs it is. The sequencing is curious. I once read an interview with an artist or producer (cannot recall who) who had asked his wife for advice on the sequencing of songs on an album. Her advice was to put the best song first, the second best song second etc. This was done and deemed a success. For me it sounds like Lou has done the opposite. The first couple of songs are the least remarkable; standard melodies with somewhat uninspiring lyrics about bad boys who are up to no good and rambling women who cannot help the way they are. 'I Kissed Your Man (Jolene)' is an answer song, from the pont of view of Jolene of the Dolly Parton song.

Halfway through (that is side two the LP) there is a shift with a wonderful ballad called 'Ride A Train'. The train in this song offers an escape when things go wrong. As a train fan this appeals to me. There are lovely backing vocals, handclaps and a lonesome-sounding harmonica. The next song, 'This Is The End', is even better, with Lou sounding like Jack White and with a screeching guitar to match.

In fact all of side two is strong. 'Red Is The Colour Of My Shame' is another good ballad, bookended by faster songs. 'Brown Boots' should be fun to hear live. It is about a hoedown, wearing brown boots while dancing in Nashville.

The album ends with 'Song For Bob Dylan'. In this song, twenty years old according to the press release, Lou addresses the great man directly. This is not a new concept and I wonder if Bob is aware of all the songs written for him (check out Lisa O'Neill's 'Bobby D' for example). Lou's song is inspired by Dylan's poem 'Last Thoughts On Woody Guthrie', which contains the lines "Where do you look for this hope that yer seekin'.... you'll find it in the Grand Canyon at sundown":

I look at the sun, it shines so bright
and I get scared when it's dark at night
but I listen to your words and I feel alright
do you know who I am?
do you understand?
did you read my mind, in a dream some time?

A fitting finish to an excellent album.

9/11
Helen.

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Ten years into their musical career and Nashville-via-Mississippi band The Weeks have released their new album ‘Easy’ via Lightning Rod Records.

The Weeks are twin brothers Cyle (vocals) and Cain (drums), Sam Williams (guitar/vocals) and Damien Bone (bass). The band formed in high school in Jackson, Mississippi. They released their first EP in 2006.

The band left Nashville to record in order to disassociate themselves from their everyday routines in the city, and to find a halfway point between their two homes old and new, Mississippi and Nashville. “Memphis has always been the capital of North Mississippi to us", says guitarist Sam Williams. “ We went there to be at Ardent. We knew Paul had learned everything from John Frye and John Hammond so we figured that was the spot. It’s important to keep those historic studios alive and not let them become museums.”

New album, ‘Easy’ certainly does not belong in a museum. Kicking off with ‘Talk Like that’ a rocker that brings to mind bands like Marah and Stewboss, bands so full of energy.

Second track ‘Ike’ gets a sweet Muscle Shoals vibe going for it with a 'Frightend Rabbit' chrous which is followed by the Foals like rift of ‘Start it Up”.

‘Hands on the Radio’ is only the fourth track in and with it’s funky vibe lays before you an album of kaleidoscope colours.

On the record, frontman Cyle Barnes says, “ We called it Easy because every time I make music with these guys, it’s easy. It feels good. But the other side of it is there’s nothing easy about being in a band. There’s nothing easy about staying together for ten years and still wanting to make music. We have the hardest and easiest job on the planet. But it works for us.”

There is a ‘Southern’ feel throughout the eleven tracks of this great driving record. We just need some sunshine to roll down the windows, so we can share this record with the world!

Pete
8/11

 

After 15 solo years dogged by poor deals, the odd single release and probably a lack of being in the right place at the right time, Dave O’Grady aka Seafoam Green releases his debut collection of songs titled Topanga Canyon.

O’Grady is an Irish born, but Liverpool based singer songwriter who clearly has his heart set in the American mid-west, and has been listening to a lot of Creedance, Crosby Stills & Nash and a plethora of Americana.

Interestingly, the album is actually a collaboration with Rich Robinson who he apparently started working with after a chance meeting over in Nashville. Following supporting Robinson on his solo tour, the two started writing and recording together what turns out is a very fine set of rock and roll, Americana songs.

In the nicest possible way, this feels like an album set in the 70s played by flare wearing, handlebar moustachioed dudes, full of guitar licks, pedal steel and damn fine tunes. Vocally O’Grady mentions John Fogerty as an influence, but I can’t get Ron Sexsmith out of my head when he starts singing. A female voice regularly joins in on the harmony parts to great effect too.

Celtic Wanderings starts the album off in a gorgeous manner - quiet, considered, multi layered and beautifully played and sung. Lowly Lou is the opposite - raucous, rock and roll with the chorus a repeating sing along to the Lou mentioned in the title. Rabble rousing and would provide the perfect backdrop to siping bourbon in a bar in Nashville. Royal Call is heavy on the gorgeous pedal steel, and again it’s a dual vocal affair which just adds to the prettiness of the song.

And so it goes on. This is another of those rare albums nowadays which benefits from actual sitting down and listening to it, in it’s entirety whilst giving it your full attention, and you will be rewarded.

The musicianship, the tunes, the feel of the album is something special - it’s a good time album that just cheers you up after playing it. This is an album played by talented musicians, who play real instruments and that should be celebrated.

It’s interesting to note that the album release funding was helped by the Merseyside Arts Foundation. Let’s hope that this album sells enough for them to not need to look around for funds for album number two, because we need Seafoam Green to make music like this for years to come.

Keith

10/11

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Mellowtone Records