Review: Alex Rex “Otterburn”

Alex Rex – Otterburn
Tin Angel – 29 March 2019

One of the impressive things about truly original and important artists – Bob Dylan, say – is their ability to reinvent themselves continuously without ever losing track of the thread of their own unique sonic identity. Every second of every great Dylan album could only be Bob Dylan. The difference between Dylan songs in various periods is vast, yet the unifying themes, the lyrical and musical echoes, the sly references that link, for example, One Too Many Mornings to Tangled Up In Blue to Caribbean Wind and beyond combine to produce a body of work so self-sufficient, so pulsating with its own life, that it is practically an ecosystem.

When former Trembling Bells drummer and songwriter Alex Neilson released Vermillion, his first album under the Alex Rex nom de plume, more than one reviewer mentioned Dylan. At the time, the comparison might have appeared superficial: sure, songs like God Make Me Good (But Not Yet) and Postcards From A Dream nodded towards a vaguely Dylanesque sound, one in which Blonde On Blonde, Nashville Skyline and Desire existed simultaneously, but weren’t there fresher, more interesting things going on in Neilson’s songs? In hindsight, and with a full overview of his songwriting career at hand, it seems extremely perceptive

This becomes ever more apparent when listening to the latest Alex Rex album. Just as on Blonde On Blonde you might find a snappy and brutal takedown of the singer’s former lover next to a nostalgic love song to his future wife, on Otterburn you will experience demented guitar-driven odes to masochistic sex rubbing shoulders (and other body parts) with the saddest and sincerest of elegies. And Neilson is unafraid to delve into his own musical past to come up with those often uncanny musical echoes: Otterburn’s last track, Smoke And Memory (which I will talk about in more detail later) is almost a musical mirror image of Seven Years A Teardrop, the song that closed Carbeth, the first Trembling Bells album, almost exactly ten years ago. Continue reading

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Strangers In The Room: A Journey Through The British Folk Rock Scene 1967-73

British Folk Rock 1967-1973 – the tip of the iceberg but an interesting and varied collection from the Grapefruit genre anthology series.

And that’s despite the confession of folk brigand Eliza Carthy (Louder Than Words festival interview, Manchester, 2018) that she can’t stand Folk Rock and has never knowingly listened to a Fairport Convention album.

She’ll not be interested then to hear how sixty tracks gather together the familiar with the less so. Songs that you’ll know from the folk tradition and plenty of others which  again, might be less so. If there’s anyone who could lay a claim to knowing all the bands and all the songs then you perhaps deserve a place at the head of the table if not the Eggheads team. Steeleye Span, Ralph McTell Continue reading

Review: Ye Vagabonds: The Hare’s Lament

Ye Vagabonds – The Hare’s Lament
River Lea – 22 March 2019

River Lea – the new record label run by music writer Tim Chipping under the wing of indie giants Rough Trade – is barely six months and three albums old, and already it feels like part of the folk music furniture. The label’s first release, Lisa O’Neill’s Heard A Long Gone Song (2018) was a breath of fresh air, a raw and uncompromising blend of original and traditional songs. The second – The Reeling, by Scottish smallpipe player Brìghde Chaimbeul – is one of the most astonishing, exploratory albums to emerge so far this year in any genre. Taken together, they represent a mighty impressive start for a label that appears to have arrived fully-formed and with a mission to reinvigorate traditional forms of musical expression.

With such an impressive start, the challenge for River Lea now is to keep the momentum going. It is understandable that expectations for their next album are going to be high, both amongst critics and the record-buying public. But Rough Trade know what they are doing (they have been around for forty years after all), and they have clearly put all their trust in their new imprint. And within the first few seconds of the first song on Ye Vagabonds’ new album, The Hare’s Lament, it is obvious Continue reading

Record Review: Lau’s “Midnight And Closedown” 

Melody, poetry, emotion and memory weave in and out like stories. Midnight And Closedown is the next chapter in Lau’s fascinating story.

AMartin Green says, Lau are a triangle, and a triangle is a powerful shape. What Lau achieve when they come together under the rule of three always seems to harness the best of that creative power, and their 2019 album, Midnight And Closedown (released on 8th February), is no exception. Recorded in just a week, but written during a year in which politics has more directly affected our daily thoughts than ever before. Produced byJohn Parish, the man in the chair for PJ Harvey’s Mercury Prize-winning Let England Shake, and This Is The Kit’s beautifully ramshackle Moonshine and Freeze, in a reversal of their usual methods, Lau wrote and recorded Midnight and Closedown before presenting it, in its entirety, to live audiences in November and December last year. The album takes its title from a line in Seamus Heaney’s Glanmore Sonnets and has been described variously as a Brexit album, more akin to late-period Beatles than folk, and even as a hint at a final fling. The first, I’m happy to accept; as for those other assertions, let’s see…

As the album opens there’s certainly a hint of melancholy in Kris Drever’s vocal for I Don’t Want to Die Here. It’s offset, though, by Aidan O’Rourke’s shimmering strings and a sense of locomotion in the rhythm. The lyrical content will undergo more scrutiny than can be offered here, but ‘Slick cobbled stones reflecting seventies festoons / our drunken county rallies round ideas like sad balloons’ certainly support Aidan’s description of the album’s themes… “The vehemence of opinion. The shoutiness. The rise of the right. The allure of brashness in politics…The sense that our collective future is hazy.” Continue reading

Album reviews: The Unthanks “Lines”

Northumbria’s The Unthanks are partial to a themed project and have a wide-ranging fanbase to show for their adventurous creativity.

Their latest box set, Lines, brings together three separate projects, all inspired by poetry, and is one of their most suitable and beautiful ventures to date, playing to their strengths in storytelling, atmosphere and bittersweet sentiment.Part One: Lillian Bilocca is their recording of the music from The Last Testament of Lillian Bilocca, actress Maxine Peake’s site specific theatre piece about the eponymous activist’s campaign for improved safety at sea following Hull’s triple trawler disaster of 1968. Continue reading