Music Record Reviews
LABELS OF LOVE CELTIC-FOLK KRIS DREVER Mark The Hard Earth (Navigator Records) ●●●●●
Orkney-born Edinburgh resident, Kris Drever (son of Wolfstone’s Ivan), has been an integral part of Scotland’s folk scene for some time, although he’s only just turned 31. Taking time off from his LAU collaborative (he also worked on an album with John McCusker and Idlewild’s Roddy Woomble), Kris now delivers his sophomore solo outing having released Black Water in 2006. With an array of big
name musicians (producer McCusker, Phil Cunningham, Ewen Vernal, Tim O’Brien, Donald Shaw, Roy Dodds among others), stand-out tracks come via ‘This Old Song’, ‘The Crown of London’ and pearls featuring vocals from Heidi Talbot: ‘Allegory’, country staple ‘Sweet Honey In The Rock’ and ‘The Banks Of The Nile’. (Martin C Strong)
FOLK BURNT ISLAND Music and Maths Chaffinch ●●●●●
Subtlety is in thin supply in today’s overwrought music scene, so it’s refreshing to hear a beautiful and understated debut like this. Glasgow-based nu- folkers Burnt Island are based around author and all-round renaissance man Rodge Glass, and this mini- album is a gentle but hugely accomplished slice of modern melancholy, in debt to the atmospheric musings of James Yorkston and the sharp lyricism of Leonard
SHARK BATTER RECORDS Dawn of the Replicants were one of Scotland’s most inventive bands: a creative rabble who evolved from the quality 90s ‘zine Sun Zoom Spark and proceeded to challenge – and enliven – the outposts of mainstream(ish) experimental rock. DOTR’s bygone protagonists still revel in myriad indie adventures, and one such endeavour is Shark Batter Records – governed by mavericks Mike Small and Roger Simian – straight outta Galashiels (via Brooklyn). When and why did you launch Shark Batter?
Mike Small: ‘After DOTR split up, Roger and I started our own separate projects, and we thought it’d be a good idea to come up with the name of a label we could claim to be releasing our music through, to make us seem more established. So we set up Shark Batter. It was late 2007, when [Brooklyn chanteuse/violinist] Kono Michi signed to us, that we began to take it seriously.
What bands are shacked-up in the Shark Batter stable?
MS: ‘Kono Michi, The Stark Palace [Simian’s freak-pop rampage], The Stone Ghost Collective [Small’s spectral-rock operation], Sarahjane Swan, Vacuum Spasm Babies.’
Given your protean creativity, how important is the label’s visual aesthetic?
RS: ‘The earliest Shark Batter releases were packaged in fancy A5 cardboard sleeves handmade by Mike. I think this gave our CDs a strong identity, but [songwriter and radio presenter] Tom Robinson told us DJs might take umbrage at our oddly-shaped releases, which were in danger of toppling the stacked CDs they have towering over them on-air.’ Precarious packaging notwithstanding, how can labels adapt to survive these days?
RS: ‘It looks like music may well end up being distributed freely, but it’ll be used as the bait to hook the audience onto other money-making endeavours like merchandising. In some ways that idea’s quite exciting, and we’re embracing new technologies – MP3 blogs, social networking, Last.fm etc – they’re definitely handy for smaller labels wanting to get their music out to an international audience.’ What’s next for Shark Batter?
RS: ‘We’re doing a series of free downloads on SharkBatter.com: the latest is Vacuum Spasm Babies’ ‘Science’ EP, with freebies from Sarahjane Swan and Kono Michi coming soon.’ (Nicola Meighan)
66 THE LIST 4–18 Mar 2010
Cohen. Flute and viola infuse proceedings with a folky feel, while the stripped down arrangements of ‘Man on Fire’ and the shrewdly anthemic title track expose sumptuous melodies and well-crafted songwriting. An auspicious debut. (Doug Johnstone) JAZZ POLAR BEAR Peepers (The Leaf Label) ●●●●●
Polar Bear’s music has already been dubbed ‘post-jazz’ in some quarters, and it is easy to hear why a conventional jazz sensibility might struggle to allow them within the fold. Regard them as a freely improvising rock band, with strong jazz pedigree and a wide- open horizon when it comes to musical direction and it all makes a lot more sense. And if you are looking for jazz credentials amid the experimental ferment, they have plenty of it. Saxophonist Pete Wareham and Mark Lockheart, bassist Tom Herbert and the ubiquitous Seb Rochford on drums all bring plenty of jazz ‘previous’ to the band’s punchy, off-the-wall attack, augmented by the guitar and electronics of Leafcutter John. As leader, Rochford supplies most of the compositions (a couple are credited to the whole group) and an unfailing propulsive energy to the music, which ranges from the hauntingly beautiful on ‘The Love Didn’t Go Anywhere’ to the free- jazz skronking of ‘Bump’ and ‘Scream’. (Kenny Mathieson)
REGGAE/ DUB SIERRE LEONE REFUGEE ALL STARS Rise and Shine Cumbancha ●●●●●
Forming a band in West African refugee camps is
DESERT BLUES TAMIKREST Adagh Glitterhouse ●●●●●
Tinariwen first brought us the Tamashek music of the Toureg people of the Saharan desert. They blew everyone away, even the Rolling Stones, who a year or so later invited them to open their gig. Tamikrest are the next generation, and their twentysomething take on loping desert blues played on rock guitars is beautifully paced, full of clapped groove with soaring, often chanted vocals and plenty of ululation. This is music dreamed up during nights under the stars in Mali, Niger and Algeria: as bittersweet as hot Touareg tea shared round the campfire. (Jan Fairley) FOLK-POP ARDENTJOHN On the Wire (Slow Train) ●●●●●
a potent story and the resulting music – think reggae, dub, African ritual chant and more – is terrific. Here the All Stars go home to Freetown, Sierra Leone to record some songs, then head down to New Orleans to work with producer Steve Berlin (who has also produced Grammy- winner Angelique Kidjo). This is laidback, ‘isn’t it good to be alive’ music – with the odd dose of night time frog sounds on ‘Watching All Your Ways’ – with a serious message underneath. As they sing in the post- Marleyish ‘Global Threat’ with its fabulous brass riffs, ‘It’s about a revolution!’ Uplifting stuff. (Jan Fairley)
FOLK-POP JOANNA NEWSOM Have One On Me (Drag City) ●●●●●
Revising and entwining the rites of folk, pop, blues, baroque, classical romanticism and nursery rhymes, California’s Joanna Newsom possesses an uncanny knack for arousing and confounding our cultural memory: for unfurling strangely familiar chorales, whilst at once stopping us in our tracks.
Have One On Me is extraordinary; a haunting and comforting triple-album that soars from country ballads and jazz laments to tarantellas and fanfare psalms. Newsom is unrivalled in modern pop: her chimerical narratives; her larynx like canary diamonds; her cardinal harp at the heart of it all.
Did I mention it’s also over two hours long? It is not long enough. (Nicola Meighan)
The dreamy melodies, flowing strings and sliding guitar that suffuse Ardentjohn’s debut recall the peaceful island origins of the two founding members. Having now blossomed into a multi-instrumental six-piece, their sombre yet hopeful nature is irremediably mellow. ‘Open Road’ taps into a folk vibe, while ‘Colours of the Day’ evokes the very best of early Ocean Colour Scene. Like a fleeting but meaningful island holiday romance, melodic strings provide a sweetness to counterbalance the solid strumming and thrumming of guitar and drums beneath. An unpretentious air throughout allows a haze of pleasant fug to settle over this rainy spring day of an album. (Kirstyn Smith)