Time For T. – Time For T

Characterised by classic luscious guitar tones and musical arrangements that could have come straight from the 60's and 70's heyday the band draw inspiration from, Time For T's third EP certainly makes a strong impression. It's a longer effort than they've released so far, these six songs almost feel like a full album's worth and it all sounds great. From the first listen every song has a great laid back vibe and there are a whole bunch of well orchestrated hooks – both instrumental and vocal. The EP begins with their latest single 'Long Day Home' which sounds to me like The Doors mixed with The Coral. The reference to the Palestinian conflict seems a little shoe-horned in a song that's primarily about domestic ennui. The change of gears at around 1:50 is a welcome shake-up, it's a lovely moment, a tumble-down serving of Americana, but the following return to the aforementioned Doors groove feels a little awkward there. It's easily forgiven, for the next trippy bridge with it's great flutters of percussion and delay, leads beautifully into the final chorus.
 
For 'Human Battery' they have successfully discovered the missing link between 70's Americana and 70's reggae – when those chops come in after the stripped down first verse it forms a glorious hook. This song contains one of my favourite lyrical turns on the EP – “I need a human size battery charger/I need to need less things” which stuck in my head after the first time I saw the band live a couple of years ago now. I just wish the song wasn't quite so stoppy-starty the whole time. When things are flowing it's great but for my taste they strip things down to bareness slightly too often on this song. 'Jazz Cigarettes' could suggest a titular origin for the all-pervading sense of mellow sunny days that is found throughout the EP. As on 'Human Battery' this track has plenty of rhythmical down-time this song floats along very naturally from section to section. It's got an appropriately jazzy motif that pops up regularly and the vocal arrangement is top-notch. The quietest moments of this song remind me of some lovely moments from My Morning Jacket's 'Circuital' album – which is great as it is one of my favourite albums! Finally when we get to the outro the song starts to resemble Rumours era Fleetwood Mac – this is great stuff!
 
Next up is 'Free Hugs' another single, this one was released last year with a video which showed the band offering out hugs to any passers by who played ball. It's another stop-starty number built around a Fleet Foxes-esque unison vocal melody. They manage to cram a lot in to two an a half minutes without sounding rushed or over-wrought. 'Johnny' has a more unusual groove – a bit of the afro-beat the band mention in their online descriptions. Then when the verse ends we drop down to a section that Johnny Cash could have written before stepping up into that sort of free-flowing picked Americana this band do so well. I don't think it's quite as strong as the other tracks on the EP, even though it's short on lovely moments. I particularly like the reprise of the verse groove at the end which the band fade out on.
 
'Donkey/Stallion' is the last track on the EP. It begins with some beautiful acoustic guitar playing and keeps us in that mellow stripped-back folky space throughout. Lyrically we hear front-man Tiago reflecting the nostalgia of the musical backing as he sings about longing for the 1970's, when “music and hair” were on the right track. The EP feels seeped in such nostalgia and with what I would consider to be a healthy reverence for a glorious period of music. The song sticks with the acoustic guitar, which is later joined by a few sparse notes on the piano delicately placed and some sweet harmonies to assist the lead vocal. It's a melancholy and mellow end to a lovely collection of songs. Now I can't help but hope their next offering is going to be a full album – for a band with such a high regard for that bygone era can really only make their definitive statement with an LP. I for one can't wait to hear it but there's plenty on this eponymous third EP to keep us happy in the meantime – grab yourselves a copy post-haste!
Adam Kidd
 
 

Viet Cong – Viet Cong

Viet Cong conjure up a disjointed Indie album that is stuck inside a foreboding Post Punk experimentalism. The four piece from Calgary, Canada, consist of two members of the short lived rock band, Women. In 2010, Women entered indefinite hiatus after the band had an on stage brawl with each other, then in 2012 the bands guitarist tragically passed away in his sleep. You get the sense of grief throughout the self-titled debut, of a band removing their bandages (note the album cover) and trying to find their footing.

‘Newspaper Spoons’ is a cold start to the album. The abrasive armageddon drumming, chanting vocals, and raucous guitar that’s straight from ‘The Velvet Underground & Nico’ album, accumulates into a calm and blissful arpeggiated synth. A forewarning of what is ahead on this already-stressful, dark and intense album.

Droning synths with kraut like drumming, and bass intertwined with brash electric guitars. There is a 80s glam post punk feel to Matt Flegel’s vocals. With lyrics like "If we're lucky, we'll get old and die", it’s difficult not to associate this with the early death of Christopher Reimer, a theme that features throughout the album.

‘March of Progress’ keeps with Viet Cong’s sound, erupting into long chords of layered synths and driving kick drums that keep the music’s intensity ever higher. It then turns sharply into a celestial vocal harmony atop of an apegiated guitar, which is then halted by an industrial horn before again going into a new angelic yet intense guitar wash. Definitely one of my favourite songs off their album.

‘Bunker Buster’ is full of abrupt guitar notes and unconventional chords, but it still sucks you into their melodramatic beat. Midway through the song, everything suddenly comes together into a beautiful phase of harmony, making you love their odd idea of music, then going back to their slightly arrhythmic sound.  Then it stops like it never started.

Up to this point, each song has seemed to roll into each other. This gives a brief pause for thought before going into undoubtedly the stand out track and their first single off the album, ‘Continental Shelf’. Perhaps it’s because it keeps to generic musical principles. A repetitive guitar hook, panning left to right, and a more refined chorus rolls along effortlessly with singer Matt Flegel’s vocals floating atop and fitting so well. It makes for a remarkably memorable song.

‘Silhouettes’ is the most pop orientated song on the album, although that’s not necessary a bad thing. It’s racing indie guitars and catchy chorus make it the best or safest song to use if I was introducing their music to someone. It does lack the brash and provoking nature of previous songs though.

As the album goes on, its sound has been getting more refined and clear, with less distortion and disjointed features. It is as if Viet Cong have started to win the battle they have been fighting. The seventh and final track is ‘Death’ – an 11 minute epic. The driving beat, and optimistic guitar riff, go through many ending coda but finally ending with Matt Flegal yelling in a brutal final phase.

Viet Cong’s ‘Viet Cong’ will unwillingly suck you in and then chuck you out when they want to, without you even realising. The debut champions itself on pushing their dark and idiosyncratic musical ideas, which in turn makes this album into a truly fascinating and compelling listen. There is no doubt what these Canadians are trying to achieve, and they do it in a brilliant fashion. Their show on 8th February at Green Door Store should be a true spectacle where hopefully they will perform the album in its entirety, which would be amazing!
Iain Lauder
 

 

Ben Ottewell – Rattlebag (Sunday Best)

Although the psychedelic blues pop rockers Gomez played a couple of gigs recently – their first for two years – Ben Ottewell's solo career appears to be gaining some momentum. Indeed, it just been announced that he has been invited to the world famous SXSW Festival in Austin, Texas. And with his second solo album, Rattlebag, released on Rob da Bank's Sunday Best label here in the UK, the extended and unofficial hiatus of the 1997 Mercury Music Prize winners may prove to be a blessing in disguise as Ottewell's fanbase closely mirrors that of Gomez, enabling him to travel the world, often solo, to take centre stage.

2011's Shapes & Shadows album clearly demonstrated his skill as a songwriter, delving deep into folk, blues and country. And along with his highly distinctive soul-blues gravelly voice and his mastery of the six-string, it's a winning combination in anyone's book, the mature tones of that album representing a mini-triumph for this very amiable and modest man.

Once again united with old friend Sam Genders – founder of folktronica outfit, Tunng – Rattlebag is an extension of that debut, a consistently high quality record that dips its toes into the melancholy overtones of American country music more than its predecessor, whilst still pursuing the folk and bluesy pastures he has become renowned for, with and without Gomez.

The beautiful acoustic opener and title track is typical of the album; rhythmic guitar opening the song before the band come in as one, soon building into a mini-anthem of sorts as Ottewell gently roars: 'When they raised me up I fell…. Somewhere, somewhere salvation comes, in strange disguise'. Meanwhile Red Dress is the first of several forays into rootsy country and it suits him very well, the finger picking guitar slowly building into a gentle stomper, that works its way through the gears, slide guitar back in the mix. Again, its uplifting qualities are unpinned by a gentle streak of melancholy; some of the best music marries these seemingly conflicting emotions; human nature is often always a mix of the two, as we constantly work our way towards a goal that we may not know of, but strive we must.

Most of the songs here are built from an acoustic guitar base, courtesy of Ottewell, before he and Genders get to work on carefully embellishing and arranging each song to its conclusion. Starlings, for instance, shows their innate understanding in welding fragility (also a hallmark of Tunng) with sturdy rock dynamics, while the walking bass and moody blues backdrop of Patience and Rosaries ebbs and flows, before Ottewell steps forward to deliver the most coruscating solo on the album Elsewhere 'Starlings' rhythmic country vibe recalls old school country rock flavours of the early 70s, while the drone-like qualities of No Place, although a little bit different from the sound of the rest of the album, fits in snugly, between the aforementioned Starlings and the rootsy glam-stomp of Edge, before some beautiful organ drone and simple guitar line leads So Slow, again morphing into a semi-country sound. Meanwhile, the vaguely salsaesque groove of Papa Cuckoo represents the closest thing to dance music here. It's another string to his eclectic bow.

A believer in the power of the riff, whether of the bombastic variety or the gently subtle embellisher, Ottewell runs the gauntlet of guitar styles and sounds on Rattlebag; from ringing slide bends to bluesy riffing, and from heavy strumming to arpeggiated finger picking, it all has its place; never indulging, nor underplayed either. And while there aren't a huge amount of laughs here, Ottewell manages to steer clear of the overly maudlin and downbeat, mixing thoughts of hope and promise, with redemption and salvation throughout. 'There's a time and place for us/I will take you there' he sings on Shoreline. Indeed, he's right. And rather willingly I do go.
Jeff Hemmings
 

Jo Harman and Company – Live at the Royal Albert Hall

With a musical background that includes the bassoon (!) and a wealth of experience as a singer in cover bands, the Devon-raised Jo Harman eventually gained the power of her convictions to try and strike out as a singer and songwriter of original material. Steeped in classic rock and soul, Harman is carving out a growing reputation as one of the freshest vocalists of recent years.
 
Having conquered the so-called 'blues' circuit, signed a Benelux deal with V2 as well as deals here in the UK and elsewhere, she's also constantly gigging around the UK and Europe, winning fans and praise in equal measure for her down-home demeanour, hugely admired voice, and a collection of songs that display a real talent for passionately articulating the age old themes of music; namely love, heartache and desire.
 
Invited to perform at last year's BluesFest at The Royal Albert Hall – which also featured the likes of Robert Plant, Mavis Staples and Bobby Womack – this BBC live recording is the follow up to her official debut album Dirt On My Tongue, a work that cemented Harman as an all-rounder; not only a superb live performer but a recording artist of merit. Featuring eight tracks, and benefiting from three songs that are not on her Dirt On My Tongue album, it's an excellent introduction to an artist who thrives in the live arena, the songs and musicians here generally given more space and time to thrive, away from the more disciplined requirements of a studio recording.
 
From the orgasmic rush of Through The Night to the tender despair of Cold Heart, the first two songs here neatly conjoin and demonstrate the eclecticism of Harman and her band. A blistering rhythmic funk guitar opens proceedings, as Harman sings 'Let's work this town, baby/I only want to do what's right' like she means it, complimented by the fast beat of Martin Johnson's drums, and laying the foundations for keyboardist extraordinaire Stevie Watts to let rip on the Hammond as the groove furiously steams on.
 
And then you get the almost exact opposite with Cold Heart, one of her very best songs; a sombre, tender piece that revolves largely around Harman's ever-so-intimate voice, and the tasteful piano of Watts. 'You got warm hands, and a cold heart' is the song's central and powerful couplet. Beautifully melodic, and climaxing in spine-tingling fashion, it's a graceful summation of love and it's heartache.
 
Ain't No Love is a relatively new number, revolving around a gentle swamp like blues and r'n'b groove with an unfussy guitar solo courtesy of Dave Ital, who features prominently throughout. Meanwhile, the extremely heartfelt and melodic Amnesty, again mainly built with just keys and voice, sees Ital once again deliver a soaring and swooping solo as the song builds, before falling away quickly but effectively, the music ebbing and flowing like everything else here.
 
Underneath The River – a song about feeling a little bit crazy, so says Harman by way of introduction –  is a mid-tempo blues stomper riding along a sturdy riff, before it morphs into an elongated chugging rocker, while Sweet Man Moses – written in honour of her father – sees some gospel flavours mingle with another powerful, yet controlled vocal.
 
Sideways – again, a long-time staple of the live set – is a Citizen Cope song, relatively sympathetic to the original, but imbibed with every ounce of heartache emotion that Cope initially intended, Harman's epic version slowed down with just reverbed keys and voice, before once gain Ital slowly but surely goes to town with another expressive solo. Better Woman closes the set, returning to the good time classic rock structures of lead song Through The Night.
 
With of a love of classic rock, blues, gospel and soul from the 60s and 70s – The Stones, Joplin, Staples, Aretha et al – and featuring a band with similar musical passions, Harman and co have that rare ability to be both economical and full of flair when the moment demands. Superbly recorded by the BBC, the instrumentation and vocals are clear, the dynamism of the show caught as well as could be, complete with audience reaction, indicating throughout that this was indeed a great performance.
 
Jeff Hemmings
 
 
 
 

My Accomplice – Original Soundtrack Recording

My Accomplice - Soundtrack
My Accomplice is a new film by a Brighton writer and director Charlie Rolfe who we met at Latest TV where he was being interviewed for the Brighton Lights show. The soundtrack to the film is jam full of great local bands including Sally Megee, Transformer, Bob Wants His Head Back, Alf Wiltshire, The Duke Of Burgundy, Kitty Garden, Your Heart Breaks, Jo Ema, The Mountain Firework Company and John Fitzmaurice.
 
The film was nominated for Best British Film at The Edinburgh International Film Festival earlier this year and will be previewed in Brighton on Wednesday 3rd December at The Duke of York's Picturehouse. So having not seen the film yet I can't put it into perspective of the movie but the songs do paint a picture…
 
The album starts with a short spoken word piece talking about love in a semi-ironic way . Which from the quirky trailer probably reflects the film well. One of the most featured artist is Sally Megee with four instrumental pieces with a nice laid back drifting feel that would not feel out of place in a Western movie. With song titles like Trafalgar St, The Woods, Trafalgar St Whistle and The Kiss it's easy to close your eyes and let the music take you away to those special places you have in your memories.
 


Transformer's two tracks provide a bit of up-tempo electronic music with Dragonfly and Heartbreak. Their repetitive beats will get the feet tapping while still maintaining a nice dreamy disco undertones. Dragonfly especially being one of those songs you could quite happily leave on repeat for a few listens.
 
Bob Wants His Head Back is the only other band to make more than one appearance on the album with their dark and twisted funky cabaret tunes. Love Song, well it is a film about love, has a slight French Édith Piaf feel to it while Grandfather is a more upbeat thigh slapping style.
 
Your Heart Breaks and one of the few non Brighton bands on the soundtrack, hailing from the USA and their track Will We Ever delivers a bit of American droney vocals. The song is like a road movie itself.
 
The Mountain Firework Company continue the American feel with Tonight, a song dripping with heartache sung in their instantly recognisable acoustic country folk style.
 
The Duke Of Burgundy add a bit of funk to the party with Bear Love. Another instantly catch tune with some great hooks and often repeated line “I've got Bear, Bear Love” will be rolling around in your head for days.
 
Trouble by Kitty Garden is a tender gentle acoustic song which breaks into French every now and again and has a a nice bluesy swing to it.
 
If you like your blues to be a bit more punchy then John Fitzmaurice's Pint Of Milk Blues is a short Bluegrass track that sounds like it's just dropped out of the 1920's Deep South Americana.
 
Jo Ema brings yet more of a French feel with a bit of accordion and violin music that would not sound out of place in a Jean-Jacques Beineix film. The track Ochi Chornya (Dark Eyes) certainly has some dark and twisted interplay between the two instruments.
 
Alf Wiltshire brings some light relief to the album with the humorous track Avocados and as he say “Sometimes you win and sometimes you might lose”.
 
All in all it's a nice, well rounded soundtrack that has certainly made me eager to see the film as well as introducing me to some of the wonderful bands featured on the album.
 
 
 
 
 

Pink Floyd – The Endless River

Pink Floyd - The Endless River
"We certainly had an unspoken understanding… but a lot things were left unsaid," can be discerned in the background as Pink Floyd's unexpected, and first 'new' album for 20 years opens up in classic Floydian fashion; distant voices of the band, within the brooding, effects-laden, gentle washes of synths. Slowly, but emphatically flowering. The reason for it's existence at this late juncture? It's mainly in honour of the deceased and founding member Richard Wright; it's reflective tone carrying the day. I'm sure though as well, remaining members David Gilmour and Nick Mason were just plainly up for it, as any self-regarding musician would be…
 
The Endless River is not a normal album in the way we know them to be. It's derived mostly from The Division Bell sessions of '93 and '94, recordings dug up by Gilmour and Mason, Richard Wright having shuffled off his mortal coil in 2008. Apparently encouraged by the quality they found, they eventually set about adding guitars, drums, bass, samples and other instrumentation, with the help of post-Waters colleague Guy Pratt, Phil Manzanera, Martin Glover (Youth), Floyd engineer Andy Jackson, and assorted sessioners. It was Jackson who edited down the original recordings, and with a working title of The Big Spliff (indeed!) Gilmour and Mason thought about releasing it as it was, before embarking on a series of recording sessions in order to add, and sometimes re-work, the original source material. Stylistically, the band decided to present the album in four parts, much like a double vinyl album of old. So, within those parts, all the songs, pieces and interludes segue into one.
 
For Gilmour and Mason, The Endless River is at heart, an epilogue, the final chapter of this most fascinating of musical stories. I doubt no great claims will be made for the quality of the material – half the album is effectively scraps of material subsequently made more listenable and interesting – it's really just a postscript, a love letter of sorts to Richard Wright, the quiet one who contributed vast amounts of music, compositions and creativity to the Floyd project, right from their Syd Barrett days to The Wall. Moreover, it is by far the most unassuming Floyd record. With next to no lyrics throughout, ambient and instrumental passages dominate. Bombast is out of the window, in it's place a generally calm atmosphere, perhaps befitting men in their late 60s.
 
Although all their albums, up to and including The Wall, are very distinct from one another, the Floyd sound was a highly recognisable one, whatever album or year you are referring. It's as much to do with their omnipotent reach, as the radicalness and brilliance on each and every one of those albums, albeit to varying degrees. That this was as much down to the interactivity of the group and their complex creative chemistry is beyond doubt. What is also beyond doubt is that once Roger Waters reached his peak with The Wall and continued to lead with a dominance that left the rest of the band increasingly used as bit players, the dream was over. From The Wall to The Final Cut, Floyd's last album with Waters at the helm; from the sublime to the depressing. It was a major come down.
 
Since then Pink Floyd have been a part-time band. They released A Momentary Lapse of Reason in '87 and the The Division Bell, their last work, way back in '94. Gilmour, Wright and Mason got it together for those albums – with the help of additional musicians – and their massively successful world tours ensured that they remained in the public eye, despite Roger Waters obvious disapproval. But while the creative sparks were still there, they only flickered rather than flamed, the music not always gelling or hitting the spot as it used to. They were patently not the same band without Roger Waters, who whilst demonstrating dictatorial and negative egotistical qualities particularly towards the end, was the main creative force from Animals (and maybe before) onwards. However, Gilmour, Mason and Wright were friends and worked well together, something they eventually decided they couldn't do with Waters. And so, comparisons with the previous era are a little unfair. With post-Waters albums you had a different dynamic, a different way of doing things, and operating more as a musical democracy, for better or worse. And it's why they decided to do it one last time, in memory of Richard Wright. For better or worse.
 
As a whole, the overwhelming sensation of The Endless River is one of Floyd going back to their late 60s and 70s roots. Reminders of almost all their albums from Ummagumma onwards are apparent, blindingly obvious in places, as Gilmour and Mason embark, subconsciously or otherwise, on a little trip down memory lane, revisiting their glory years. After all, the 70s was Floyd's decade. Led Zeppelin, Elton John, David Bowie and the Stones were their peers, but no one outperformed them.
 
Perhaps not surprisingly, the sometimes Wallesque sound of The Division Bell album is almost totally eschewed on The Endless River, in favour of ambient, instrumental pieces, many of which are less than two minutes long. Richard Wright was an innovative keyboardist, who would play and experiment with all sorts of acoustic and synthetic keys and effects, and Gilmour apparently (and sometimes surreptitiously), used to tape Wright while he was playing. Here then are some of the results, although fragments they mostly are, and must be seen as, rather than whole songs. Hence the device of dividing the album in four parts, all passages of each piece segueing into one another. It's headphone music as all Floyd stuff is.
 
Opening track Things Left Unsaid is a reminder of Breathe (from Dark Side…) and Echoes (from Meddle), as the music crescendos from studio philosophising, and a gentle far off boom, before an eerily similar sound and style to Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Wish You Were Here) wafts in on It's What We Do, on a wave of keyboards, and warped acoustic guitar.
 
'It's What We Do', is classic mid-70s Floyd, in title and in music, Here, and elsewhere, you get Gilmour's distinctive mix of smooth and taut playing, while Mason does his reliable backbeat thing and the occasional tum-tum tum-tum fills, Wright fills the spaces with his elegant organ, and Guy Pratt does an uncanny imitation of Roger Waters on bass. It really does sound like an outtake from Wish You Were Here rather than The Division Bell. At over 6 minutes it's one of of the few tracks given space and time to roam freely, the band riding the gentle groove for all its worth.
 
Seguing into the ambient textures of Ebb and Flow – akin to Steve Hillage's ambient forays of the late 70s – Gilmour's warped and disjointed acoustic meets the pulsing synths of Wright, with the closing wind soundscape of Echoes coming to mind, before Sum's spacey textures slowly drifts into view, whence Gilmour lets rip a la Echoes, the drums and keys providing the closest to a head nodding groove you'll get from this album. Late 60s/early Floyd is then revisited for Skins, which of course has Mason belting his drums, the drumming patterns reminiscent of A Saucerful of Secrets from Ummagumma
 
Part 2 begins with Unsung, a short prelude before Anisina sees Wright get out the acoustic piano for some grand chord work, again circa 1970/71 while a cacophonous and back-in-the-mix saxophone (courtesy of Gilad Atzmon) gives way to classic Floyd lyric-less harmonising and a suddenly more upfront sax, a brass instrument of choice for Floyd ever since they roped in Dick Parry for Us & Them and Money on Dark Side of the Moon. Gilmour then overlays a typically short and sweet guitar solo, thus ending side two.
 
The Lost Art of Conversation is another short piece with just keys, synth and guitar. It's gentle ambient muzak going nowhere until Wright's piano provides some much needed melody, before cleverly segueing into On Noodle Street, an ambient jazz-funk noodle (of course!) that fails to lift off. Then, following track, Night Night, tempts us to sleep, such is the drowsy and drifting ambience of the music by this point, despite some colourful psychedelic guitar. A wake up call thankfully provided on Allons-y, complete with trademark chugging guitar, perhaps the only clear The Wall stylistic reference on the whole album.
 
The church organ playing of Wright on Autumn ''68 – a jokey, reference to Wright's magnificent Summer '68 composition on Atom Heart Mother – somewhat interlopes before Allons-y is reprised, while the more fully formed Talkin' Hawkin' features the sampled Stephen Hawking, talking about our greatest hopes becoming a reality, and that all we need to do is keep talking… perhaps a pointed riposte to the sometimes paranoid and dark world that Waters inhabited whilst a band member, and acting as thematic reference point to the album's opening spoken word samples. Whatever the intention, it's good homespun philosophy, Floyd style…
 
The so-called Side 4 of the album begins where we left off, although the mood darkens somewhat, Wright's warped and scraped piano strings and deep bass notes providing an unsettling atmosphere, much in vein of The Wall. Although as usual with Floyd, the mood lightens, and optimism peeks its head around the corner; Gilmour's repetitive and simple acoustic guitar line, Mason's gentle tom-toms, and Wright's synths break out for Eyes To Pearls, a denser, sound-effects laden track that segues into the much more chilled Surfacing, Floyd sounding like Floyd as they angelically harmonise, Gilmour's guitar once again taking the lead. As the title implies, the optimism is rising, daylight is breaking and all is maybe well…
 
Finally, we get to the much talked about Louder Than Words, the only song that features lyrics, written by Gilmour's partner of many years, Polly Samson, who had also contributed lyrics to The Division Bell. "We bitch and we fight, diss each other on sight, but this thing we do… it's louder than words." Lyrically, it's a fitting end, with Gilmour playing his most melodic solo of the whole album.
 
If truth be told, Pink Floyd never really got close to their late 60s and 70s heyday with any post-Waters recordings. And here there is nothing remotely as memorable as any of their work up to and including The Wall. But, perversely, shorn of the normal needs and pressures to make an album with a set of original, freshly minted songs, the cut, paste, re-worked, re-imagined and realisation of having Richard Wright back for one last time, has resulted in a befitting coda, best heard with headphones and maybe a big…

Jeff Hemmings  
 
Website: pinkfloyd.com
 
 
 
 
 

Martha Tilston – The Sea

Martha Tilston - The Sea
Eschewing folk music in favour of the alternative festival scene from the early noughties onwards, the former Brighton girl Martha Tilston has, over the last decade, matured and grown in stature as an independent musician – all her albums have been self-financed with a strong social conscience – but who has decided to come home to roost, as it were, tackling some of the songs that were a staple of her childhood, often hearing them first hand from some of the folk greats of the modern era. Her father, Steve, ran a folk club in Bristol in the 70s and so players such as Bert Jansch and John Renbourn would file through the family kitchen, with the inevitable songs in tow.

And so, with a desire to bring the disparate strands of her family and musical friends together, she alighted on the idea of recording an album of folk songs and tales that are predominately, if sometimes loosely, themed around the sea, retelling many of the songs that was a big part of her upbringing, even if at the time she could barely remember them. With hindsight, it seems to be the obvious thing to do but there was probably a good deal of heart-searching on the part of Martha, questioning whether she could do the songs justice, to live up to the high standards that had already born fruit, on songs such as Lowlands of Holland, Lovely on the Water (both performed by Steeleye Span), Black Waterside (Bert Jansch), and The House Carpenter (Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Pentangle et al). She needn't have unduly fretted, for with the help of some fine musicians and singers in their own right, she has steered a respectful course through the perilous waters of folk history. Although not adding significantly to what are, for the most part, well worn songs, and occasionally falling prey to feyness (which is, perversely, part of her charm to many) and a limited vocal range, they're still interpreted with enough spirit of independence to make them distinct, and not just purist re-tellings… for folk's sake. With her gently finger-picked style, her own highly distinctive vibrato, the use of differing guest vocalists throughout, and supplemented by the generally tasteful playing of long time musical partner Nick Marshall, and her 'Scientists' Matt Tweed and Tim Cotterell – the Brighton based fiddler – The Sea is an important stepping stone in the gently sloping upwards trajectory of Martha Tilston.

With her stepmother, and formative singing influence, Maggie Boyle, on vocals and flute for the album opener, Lovely on The Water is given a slight Crosby, Stills & Nash harmony treatment and the tone is set for this respectful, engaging and thoughtful collection of songs, enlivened in the most unexpected of ways with the follow up track Lowlands of Holland, which features one Kevin Whately, aka Inspector Lewis, the actor best known for his roles in Morse and Lewis! Kevin and his brother, Frank, are part-time folkies it seems, both capable of delivering, albeit in that low-key pub singing type of way, as evidenced by both their contributions, apparently done long distance thanks to the beauty of the modern telecommunication age. Lamb double bassist Jon Thorne also contributes on Lowlands, with Maggie Boyle once again on flute.

The only true original here, Martha and Matt Kelly's Shipwreckers – although it does incorporate Rudyard Kipling's Smuggler's Song – epitomises the influence that Cornwall has on the album; it's long tradition of seafaring ways and war, the predominant histories of this ancient place. Not only does she live there now, but the album was largely recorded in a converted old fish warehouse, overlooking Falmouth estuary. The slave trade is also touched upon here, with the mournful Shallow Brown given a relatively rare outing. A West Indian sea shanty, it features the deep tones of Joe Tilston, her younger brother, and bassist with ska punk band Random Hand. A song suggested to them by fellow Cornwallian and also former Brighton resident Johnny Lamb (who in turn learned it from Mary Hampton, another Brighton resident) who goes under the moniker 30 Pounds of Bone, it's obviously a pleasure for them to sing together, Joe's rich and gruff tones belying his young years, while his heavier guitar playing is again an effective counterpart to overall lightness on the rest of the album.

The late Bert Jansch's Black Waterside gets yet another makeover (famously interpreted by Jimmy Page of course, via Black Mountain Way, although Tilston has good reason in that Jansch was a family friend and regular visitor to the family household. Ultimately a brave decision to have a go at such a modern standard, just guitar and Martha's vocal adorn the song, along with a smattering of piano later on; it's performed with understated skill and warmth, a job well done.

Martha's dad, Steve, provides vocals on The Fisherlad of Whitby, a song he had previously recorded for his Ziggurat album, while relative newcomer Nathan Ball – who Martha used to play a lot with in her festival days –  takes on the well-known Scottish ballad The House Carpenter, a deeply meaningful and dark song about  heaven and hell, love and duty, greed and selflessness.

Mermaid of Zennor opens with Steve James taking the opening verse, based on an old hymn, before Martha takes over, the song developed via a Cornish folk tale, and which displays her Joni Mitchell influence. It's a little more strident than almost everything else here, upping the tempo towards almost hoedown territory, before it changes gear, the ghostly voice of Steve James in and out of the mix, while Martha slowly brings the song to a vocal-only denouement. It's a beautiful song, and a fitting closer, before the 'hidden' track, a reprise of Whitby Bay, eventually appears with older sister Sophie joining Martha for a gorgeously performed duet.

Although at times giving the impression of being fey and dreamy, Martha Tilston benefits from the juxtaposition of other vocals here, male and female, in producing an album respectful of its roots, but not in thrall to them. I'm sure her family would be proud.

Jeff Hemmings
 
 
 
 

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