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Johnny Black  |  Dec 10, 2010
The Coal Porters are but one facet of the abundant creativity of renaissance man Sid Griffin, who also helms a band called Western Electric, runs his own record label and writes excellent books on musical themes. The Porters, however, are the incarnation of Sid that you’re most likely to encounter in your favourite live music establishment, and their fourth album, Durango, is as splendid an alt-bluegrass excursion as you’ll hear all this year. A sprightly bunch of fiddle, mandolin and banjo-driven songs are fleshed out with choice covers, including a yearning version of Neil Young’s ‘Like A Hurricane’. Plus a video documentary on the band.
Johnny Black  |  Dec 10, 2010
Despite my instinct to reject Valerie Anne Poxleitner, aka Lights, because of the overtly religious content of so many of her songs, this Canuck electro-singer-songwriter has won me over on purely musical grounds. Her synth structures are gorgeous, if derivative, and her voice has hints of Kate Bush that make even her frequent use of auto-tuned vocals acceptable. (Actually, if I’m honest, I have no problem at all with auto-tune, so long as it’s used as a musical tool rather than as a repair kit). What I like most about The Listening is its fresh, innocent and disarming simplicity, like the very earliest electro-pop albums back in the late ’70s and early ’80s.
Johnny Black  |  Dec 10, 2010
You don’t need me to tell you that the Jimmy Webb songbook includes a bunch of timelessly great classics, like ‘Wichita Lineman’, ‘By The Time I Get To Phoenix’ and ‘Galveston’. What Webb has done here is not just to re-interpret those songs with the assistance of superstar chums Billy Joel, Glen Campbell and Lucinda Williams, but also to take the opportunity to accord the same treatment to some of his lesser-known compositions, most notably ‘PF Sloan’ as a duet with Jackson Browne, and ‘If You See Me Getting Smaller’ with Willie Nelson. It’s not consistently wonderful, largely because Webb has never had much of a voice, but at its best it’s pretty darned wonderful. Sound Quality: 90% .
Johnny Black  |  Dec 10, 2010
This is a charmingly odd collection of tracks recorded (and rejected) by eccentric New York folk-rock experimentalists Department Of Eagles prior to making their second album, In Ear Park. They were laid down in January 2006 in far from ideal conditions but, nevertheless, the collection boasts several appealing melodies with imaginative lyrics and free-wheeling musical arrangements, interspersed with several wilfully odd snippets described as Practice Room Sketches. It’s all very cerebral and sometimes sonically challenging but well worth wading through to get to sublimely bizarre moments like ‘While We’re Young’, ‘Brightest Minds’ and ‘Golden Apple’. Sound Quality: 80% .
Johnny Black  |  Dec 10, 2010
With The Dixie Chicks on a seemingly endless recording hiatus, two thirds of the band, Emily Robison and Martie Maguire, have emerged as Court Yard Hounds. It’s hard to imagine any fan of the Chicks not enjoying this outing but, happily, Robison and Maguire have come up with something noticeably more intimate and personal than a Chicks album. There’s a delightfully down-home quality to cuts like the Jakob Dylan duet ‘See You In The Spring’, and Robison’s recent divorce seems to have pushed her into emotional spaces she might not have otherwise explored. The anger of ‘Ain’t No Son’, the defiant spirit of ‘It Didn’t Make A Sound’ and the touching honesty of ‘Fear Of Wasted Time’ make this pretty damned irresistible.
Johnny Black  |  Dec 08, 2010
This sparkling Motown homage should come as no surprise to anyone who remembers that Collins’ first UK No1 was his 1982 cover of The Supremes’ ‘You Can’t Hurry Love’. It’s more a question of why he left it so long. For the most part, he’s chosen to faithfully recreate the sound and arrangements of 18 ’60s classics, even drafting in members of Motown’s revered Funk Brothers session crew to get it spot-on. Even so, the voice is unmistakeably Collins, and his passion for the material is unmistakable in the effervescent zip of every track.
Johnny Black  |  Dec 08, 2010
By the time your average band gets around to celebrating its 20th anniversary, they’ve usually slowed down and are headed out to pasture. Ireland’s Saw Doctors, thankfully, have never been your average band, so their seventh studio album is, if anything, more vibrantly tuneful than ever. The core of the band remains intact but the arrival of powerful new drummer Eimhin Cradock has significantly upped their energy levels and his contributions as a songwriter beautifully complement those of founder members Davy Carton and Leo Moran. Shamelessly sentimental, unrepentantly traditional, The Saw Doctors also remain kick-ass rockers and tunesmiths extraordinaire.
Johnny Black  |  Dec 08, 2010
I fondly remember the thrill of hearing the band’s eponymous 1976 debut album, so I wished for something a little more exciting from their first reunion in eight years. Petty has attempted to get back to his roots by writing a bunch of blues and r’n’b flavoured songs but, although things start well with the punchy ‘Jefferson Jericho Blues’, a drift towards pastiche sets in fast and there’s a lack of energy that no amount of laidback finesse can replace. ‘Candy’, for example, is entertaining but insubstantial, just another reworking of the venerable Memphis riff with Petty overdoing his down home vocal. More passion and a little less journeyman cool would be welcome here.
Johnny Black  |  Dec 08, 2010
This Portland, Oregon, trio have released three albums prior to Mines and, I’m ashamed to say, I haven’t heard any of them. That’s all going to change though, because this is a corker. At first listen, Mines might seem a bit angular and disjointed, so may I suggest that you start your listening experience with the most instantly mind-obliterating tour de force, ‘Oh Pretty Boy, You’re Such A Big Boy’. With its triphammer percussion, melodramatic keyboard riff, mood switches and powerhouse vocal surges, it’s one of the album’s several stratospheric high points.
Johnny Black  |  Dec 08, 2010
Fresh (well, relatively fresh) out of San Diego, California, comes the ace second album by this spirited, soulful Americana quintet who subtly combine elements of straightforward Jayhawksy country rock with hints of the experimental tendencies of Wilco. Known for their use of unconventional instrumentation, including trash-can lids, orchestral bass drums, drones and quirky choirs, Delta Spirit are blessed with a belter of a vocalist in former busker Matthew Vasquez, but the whole band is tight as all get out and the songs demand that you sing along after just a couple of listens. So that’s my in-car listening sorted until the last of the summer sun is gone. Sound Quality: 90% .
Johnny Black  |  Dec 08, 2010
Few artefacts set off my poo detectors as fast as solo albums by drummers from famous bands. Happily, in the case of Radiohead’s Phil Selway, drums are not what Familial is about. Right from the fragile opener, ‘By Some Miracle’ – an acoustic number – it’s obvious Selway is a proper songwriter, every bit as interested in melody, texture and lyrics as he is in beats. Indeed, the album’s percussive pulse is very subtle indeed, being beautifully integrated and imaginative throughout the set.
Johnny Black  |  Dec 08, 2010
This Brighton-based combo get points because on their website it says they ‘enjoy sitting on the beach, engaging in semi-meaningful relationships’. So should we all. This debut album was produced by Dave Eringa, famed for his work with everybody from the Manic St Preachers to Kylie. Good man that he is, he’s had the good sense to let these eccentric, quintessentially English songwriters breathe, so that their peculiar charms are presented in all their haphazard glory.
Johnny Black  |  Dec 08, 2010
Welcome to the world of ‘alternative tropical punk’. No, I’ve no idea what it means either, but that’s how Los Angeles quartet Abe Vigoda (named after an actor) describe themselves. They don’t really hit their stride until the title cut, ‘Crush’, track 4, but its crazed polyrythmic intensity forced me to listen more closely to everything that had gone before. It’s far from easy-listening but, once you get the hang of it, it’s like a thrill ride through a long, twisting, dark cave, from which you emerge with a pounding heart, feeling strangely euphoric.
Johnny Black  |  Dec 07, 2010
The grizzled Stones’ axeman returns with his seventh solo album. Actually, the horribly messy cover, which he painted himself, says it all. The music is precisely the kind of sloppy, boozy gumbo that Stones’ fans have lapped up for decades, but with Ron’s croaky sub-Bob Dylan meets Dr John, via Randy Newman vocals floated over the top instead of Jagger’s. Ronnie has pulled in all his old mates, including Slash, Flea, Eddie Vedder, Kris Kristofferson, Bobby Womack, Ian McLagan and more, in the hope that all that professionalism will transform a dozen predictable songs (sample lyric, ‘It’s drivin’ me mad, I need you so bad…’) into rock genius.
Johnny Black  |  Dec 07, 2010
Amiina was formerly an all-woman Icelandic string quartet working with minimalist popsters Sigur Ros. Now, with the addition of a couple of blokes, they’ve become a sextet and this is their second rather exquisite album. Nothing here will slap you in the face and demand that you listen to it. Instead, Amiina offer the most delicate and fragile of little melodies, hypnotically repeated, ebbing and flowing, occasionally augmented with gentle vocals.

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