Ed Harcourt doesn't do concept albums, but this feels as close as we might ever get to one.
With opening track a piano-laced 'Intro' taking us into latest single 'The World is On Fire' Harcourt establishes the theme this album is built around, a stark statement of how badly we are treating the place we inhabit. But Ed cleverly draws parallels between the behaviour of the human race and his own flawed persona: 'I'm a beast of a man....' and the slightly more humorously self-deprecating lyric 'I'm an occupational hazard'.
This album was long in gestation. Harcourt has had a lengthy collaboration with Flood but it was definitely worth waiting for. Flood's excellent production resulting in a wonderful darkness that is always a feature of Harcourt's lyrics and on this record gives an earthy feel to the songs.
A large number of stand out tracks: 'The World Is On Fire' with pulsating echoey drums and exquisite female harmonies, 'Loup Garou' quickly becomes an ear-worm!! Title track 'Furnaces' takes us back 'into the abyss'.
'Dionysus' is classic Harcourt piano but with addition of threatening drums and keys. For Ed devotees the songs don't reach the heights of 'Heart Of Darkness' but there's plenty here to get the pulse racing.
Respite is found in the hand-clapping 'There is A Light Below' which leads to a couple of latter gems 'The Last Of Your Kind' and mesmerising album closer 'Antartica Ghetto'
Harcourt's previous six albums have tended to fall in to the 'critically acclaimed' category without getting the mainstream attention his artistry deserves. This album could just be the one that earns him greater public acclaim.
For Ed himself it feels like it's life-affirming; possibly career-defining too?
The southern United States seemingly has an endless supply of quality guitar based troubadours and bands, and now its time to add Mr Walker to that list.
Stay Gold is actually this Georgia native's 8th album, although to many in the UK this will be new news with previous album, last year’s Afraid of Ghosts, being seemingly his first taste of exposure to the UK.
Contrary to Afraid of Ghosts, which was inspired by the sad passing of his father, this is a full on, in your face rock and roll album, and after just a couple of spins, you realise if this had been released by a certain Mr Springsteen, we’d all be talking about him being back on form.
The previous album was produced by Ryan Adams and his influence has clearly rubbed off, especially from around his Gold era, along with the aforementioned Springsteen. Even some of the joy and hooks from Bryan Adams and pop hooks of Rick Springfield are evident on this release. This is a damn fine album of classic American rock and roll, best enjoyed with a cold beer sitting in the sunny back garden, or better still in a convertible Cadillac driving down route 66.
Stay Gold opens with the title track, a full on no holds barred rock and roller, almost mimicking The Summer of 69 guitar riffs, before cascading into the chorus shouting out to natives of his home town to stay positive. The mood is set for the next few tracks, including one of the album highlights Wilder in the Heart - almost Counting Crows like accordian adding depth and grace to this joyous tale of an airport meeting with a girl.
Surprise of the ten tracks on show comes with the piano led Descending, coming slap bang in the middle of the album. This is a gorgeous duet with country singer Ashley Monroe, and a standout from anything else on the album, but none the worse for it, in fact it almost provides a respite and prevents the album being one dimensional.
Spark:Lost is my favourite of the tracks on offer here, a mid paced fabulous sing along chorus, before the guitar break and harmonious oohs and aahs at the close of the song. Wonderful uplifting stuff.
The acoustic Record Store closes the album as a love song to the disappearing record store culture, although this acts almost as a bring me down and suitable closure to the set of songs.
This is the type of album you put on at a BBQ or gathering of friends, and sit back and wait for people to ask who the hell just came on the stereo. It has influences all over the album, but its a worthy addition for any fans of those bands and singers. Several spins on and you start unpicking the lyrics and the stories buried within the gorgeous songs, and you realise what a songwriter Walker is. This is a cracking album, and its impossible not to feel cheered up while its on.
I fell in love with Seth Lakeman at Glastonbury 2007, where I first came across his music and went to see him more than once. My most vivid memory is of a solo performance at a very muddy Glade. I was really impressed by the folk rave vibes of his songs 'Kitty Jay' and 'Lady Of The Sea'. I was less enamoured with the somewhat slicker sound on Seth's subsequent releases, but have admired him from distance over recent years.
These days Seth comes up with a novel idea for each record. 'Tales Of The Barrel House' was recorded in a copper mine and a barrelhouse and was a homage to various craftsmen, whereas 'Word Of Mouth' was a concept album of musical biographies based on interviews Seth conducted with locals from Devon and Cornwall.
'Ballads Of The Broken Few' features female vocal trio Wildwood Kin. Fear not, this is not one of those unwelcome pairings whereby backing vocalists on every track outstay their welcome. The girls do appear on every track, but their voices are a wonderful addition to Seth's own very distinctive but somewhat limited voice (this is not a criticism; you sing with the voice that you have). The resulting sound reminds me at times of the 'O Brother Where Art Thou' soundtrack and the backing vocals are also reminiscent of those on Van Morrison's records from the 80s. The collaboration works wonderfully well and has resulted in Seth's most surprising album since 'Kitty Jay'.
Instrumentation is sparse on this record, which was produced by Ethan Johns, whose production credits include Ryan Adams' 'Gold' and Tift Merritt's 'Bramble Rose'. Johns apparently agreed to the job after hearing one rough demo that Seth recorded on his phone of him singing with the girls. There is no conventional band set up. Some songs have little more than vocals and fiddle. When the electric guitar does make an appearance, on the title track, it is all the more powerful for it.
Recorded live in the hall of a Jacobean manor house, the album contains self-penned material as well as traditional ballads. Lyrically there are quite a few songs about hanging out in nature. Protagonists go down into the woods, down to the waters, wander, ramble, drift, they watch falcons fly, rivers roll on. Mortality is the subject of several tracks. 'Silver Threads' is particularly lovely. The singer addresses his darling, laments that time goes so fast and is thankful for every day that is granted to the two of them.
'Meet Me In The Twilight' has already been released to radio and is indeed one of the standout songs. 'Anna Lee' has previously been recorded, in a very similar way, by Levon Helm. 'Pulling Hard Against The Stream' has the potential to become a live favourite. I can well imagine it being performed towards the end of a show, with the audience bellowing along, should they get to know the song well enough. Mortality returns in the final song, 'Bury Me Deep'. Sung a cappella, the singer discusses how he wants to be buried when the time comes.
Sometimes Gothic, sometimes melancholic, this is beautiful music and Seth is to be applauded for going into a new musical direction once again. Another Mercury nomination would be well deserved.
A couple of live session videos have made their way out into the world so far:
The new album is released 16th September, 2016 via Cooking Vinyl
The Cult of Dom Keller are: Ryan Delgaudio - Guitar/vocals/noise, Neil Marsden - Keys/vocals/synth, Jason Holt - Bass/synth/backing vocals and Al Burns - Drums/sampler pads/noise ... “Noise” well, ‘Goodbye to the Light” is much more than noise, it get’s the hair’s on the back of the neck upright, from the off.
Sonic psych for the earlobes, reverb heaven this is a gripping record and, one lovingly played at volume!
Opening track, ‘Hole in the Whole” is a brooding song that grows in a matrix of sound, followed by ‘Broken Arm of God’ a real drone cracker of a song. An anthem for the band I’m sure. On this song the band said, “we wanted it to sound like a volcano giving birth to an atomic bomb. It has bass and baritone guitar that killed 3 guitar amps in one afternoon, then a studio preamp. It's probably costing us a fortune in damages and repairs. The result was exactly what we wanted though”
This record is the band’s third and finest so far and is released on London label Fuzz Club. The band themselves hail from Nottingham, a perfect place to compose such epic music.
The sheer scale of the album is impressive, 12 tracks and you need a lay down after the onslaught of just the third song, ‘Raven and Rockets’ which is just as well, as the fourth track is the slower paced widescreen song, ‘Deepest Pit of Emptiness’
So the album is well paced and one that keeps the listener hooked through to the end, it's well worth your time exploring.
The next step must be the live show!