Album Reviews

A big widescreen psych sound is what 'Compulsion Songs' by the Lucid Dream is when it lands on your turntable. Psych driven but, other influences soak into the framework of the songs over the 44 minutes of this, the band’s third album.

The band themselves hail from Carlisle, where vistas of raw Cumbrian countryside surround the city so it's no wonder, The Lucid Dream have come up with such vast musical landscapes themselves.

‘Bad Texan’ with all its raw psych majesty opens the album, followed by a spacey ‘Stormy Waters’. The album itself was recorded at Whitewood Studios, in Liverpool, with Rob Whiteley, and the album was produced alongside longtime collaborator Ross Halden (Ghost Town Studios, Leeds). The more you listen to the record, you find yourself lost in the musical territory of everyone from 13th Floor Elevators to Spiritualized.

Third song, 'I’m a Star in my own right’ carries a reggae and 2-tone vibe encompassed in a psych bubble. 'The Emptiest Place' (which would fit in a Tarantino soundtrack) and '21st Century' are two short/sharp psych mindbenders which, back in the sixties may have been chart singles. 

This fine record rounds out with two epic tracks ‘Nadir’ and ‘Epitaph’. The former Floydish and the latter in the land of Wooden Shijps and Moon Duo.

If you are interested in the future of British psych, then check out Compulsion Songs which is released on 23rd September via Holy Are You Recordings

Pete

10/11

Tour Dates

Thursday 22nd September: London The Lexington
Saturday 24th September: Liverpool International Festival Of Psychedelia
Friday 30th September: Cardiff The Moon Club
Saturday 1st October: Manchester Night and Day
Friday 28th October: Newcastle The Cluny 2
Saturday 29th October: Nottingham The Lofthouse
Saturday 12th November: Hebden Bridge Trades Club

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August Wells is a project headed by New York-based Dubliner Ken Griffin (formerly of Rollerskate Skinny, who came with none other than John Peel's seal of approval) and American pianist John Rauchenberger (who comes from a classical and jazz background). 'Madness Is The Mercy' is their second album.
 
Ken Griffin has a very distinctive voice and has been compared to heavy-weights from Scott Walker to John Grant and Nick Cave. My own initial thoughts were of fellow Irishman Neil Hannon, or the singer from the Crash Test Dummies. 
 
In a recent Hot Press interview Ken Griffin explained that August Wells can play live as a two-piece, but also as an eight-piece band. It is always commendable when songs stand up in a stripped down setting. At the same time I can well imagine the eight-piece set up suiting these works. Instrumentation is the standout element on this album for me. We hear violins, flutes, brass and backing vocals, all employed very effectively to embellish the already tuneful compositions. The sound is pretty and the vibe mellow, sometimes reminiscent of musicals, other times of 70s-style easy-listening. One imagines Griffin to be a Van-fan.

Life observations are the main subject matter. Griffin often ponders on time; the luxury or the lack of it. A universal topic that many listeners will be able to relate to: “Here in the wild under blue skies time doesn't try to pass me by” conjures up a peaceful image. I also like: “There's nothing like the dying light of a wasted day”.
 
At the same time the album contains some unusual lyrics: “I don't mind waking up on the kitchen floor. Men like me we kinda think that's what a kitchen floor is for”; “Just put a recipe for good soup on my gravestone”; “I saw a wealthy woman squeezing avocados, she treats other people like rumours from the shadows”.  There is no denying that Griffin is an original songwriter, but I find such lyrics harsh on the ear. Repeated listening managed to make me stomach lines such as “The snot has caked against my pants” (Arthur Lee), but alas the same did not work for me with August Wells.
 
Griffin has a habit of drawing out syllables and does so on virtually every track: “Stay-ee-ay out of that nigh-ee-igh-ee-ight”, “Here in the wi-ee-ild under blue sky-ee-ies...” Thankfully the varied and often quite lush instrumentation as well as the cheerful melodies go quite some way to make amends for this.
 
'Come On In And Out Of That Night' is the standout track. 'Katie Call Home' (lovely flute) and 'Bread And Water' (very nice piano intro) appealed as well. If forced to describe this album in one word I would choose, interesting.
 
6/11
 
Helen
 
 

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?

Si

9/11

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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.

8/11

@kjsmith4082

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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.

Helen
9/11

A couple of live session videos have made their way out into the world so far:

Ballad Of The Broken Few – Watch HERE
Meet Me In The Twilight – Watch HERE

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The new album is released 16th September, 2016 via Cooking Vinyl

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