Reviews roundup – Me and My Friends vs. Fernando Perdomo vs. Martin & Marotta vs. Big Apple Blues vs. Anne Marie Almedal vs. Ruth Wyand
ME AND MY FRIENDS
Not normally my cup of tea, this sort of thing. Afro-lite folk in a Paul Simon stylee. But maybe they caught me on an off day because I actually find this rather enjoyable.
I shouldn’t. It’s the kind of thing you hear playing just a wee bit too loudly in that artisan coffee shop that used to be occupied by Big Ally and his assortment of never washed frying pans. When I tell you the press bumph says they play an infectious blend of Soul, Lover’s Rock, Ghanaian highlife, Jamaican roots and Afro-Brazilian folk I’m sure you can visualise my hives rising. Now, to be sure, I don’t actually get any of that. I’ll stick with Afro-lite folk but the songs really are catchy despite a sentence further down the press release that says “Look Up draws heavily on early 70s acoustic soul, as well as the modal ‘Ethiopiques’ of Mulatu Astatke and the minimalism of the Penguin Café Orchestra.”
Again, that all passes me by but the melodies on songs like ‘Another Lifetime’, the title track and ‘Good Life’ are delightful. Granted, the second half of the album seems to get stuck in a very downtempo groove but, considering what I was expecting before I clicked play, this ended up a rather nice surprise.
It only seems about six months ago that I was writing about “Out To Sea”, the rather splendid instrumental prog offering from Fernando Perdomo, guitarist and bassist of The Dave Kerzner Band and Jakob Dylan’s Echo In The Canyon Band. And that’s because it was. But here he is with a new studio album, recorded at Abbey Road Studios as a tribute of sorts to his beloved Beatles. Thankfully, given my antipathy towards all things Beatley, you wouldn’t know it until the closing cover of ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’.
It’s a more commercial offering than the last release, possibly due to the nature of the project and also as it songwriting collaborations with Zak Nilsson (son of Harry Nilsson), Cyndi Trissel, and Beach Boys lyricist Stephen Kalinich. It’s still identifiably prog but softer and more melodic with the odd pop tune (‘Find Love (Hold On)’) sneaking in hither and thither. And it has vocals. Some of the songs have that Jeff Lynne vibe which is not in the least surprising given the nature of the album but as ELOs Greatest Hits has more good tunes on it than the entire works of the Beatles you’re not going to get any complaints from me. As you would expect from a musician of his calibre the performances are exemplary
I’m sure his fans will delight in this as it showcases all the style of music that made him who he is. Me? I’ll stick to his proggier output as exemplified on the title track here. Having said that, this could get his name out into the wider world which can only be a good thing.
MARTIN & MAROTTA
Never heard of them? Me neither. But there’s a reasonable chance you have heard them what with Martin being Flav Martin, guitarist with David Crosby, Al Stewart, Suzanne Vega and Tommy Emmanuel and Marotta being drummer Jerry Marotta (Paul McCartney, Hall & Oates, Peter Gabriel etc).
So credentials firmly established. But that doesn’t mean you can write a good tune. Or sing. But Mr Martin can do both. Vocally he has a touch of the Justin Haywards and I actually got an eighties Moody Blues vibe from a lot of the music on offer here, no more so than on the title track. It’s all new material bar two covers, with one of them being a visit to the Hollies ‘Tell Me To My Face’ although it is akin to the Dan Fogelberg cover.
It’s an acoustic soft rock ride with a few Latin touches thrown in, expertly performed by some top notch musicians including a certain Tony Levin on bass. There isn’t a bum note to be found with ‘Drinking You’ and ‘I Knew It Was You’ having me reaching for the repeat button several times. It’s gentle yet it still grabs you and doesn’t let go. A real treat.
BIG APPLE BLUES
Stone Tone Records
I really, really, really hope that they named themselves after the Slade tune of the same name but that damned reality suggests that a US fusion / jam band meeting the blues for an instrumental New York concept album probably weren’t wearing bovver boots and following the exploits of Wolverhamptons finest.
Regardless of that disappointment, this is an absolutely fantabulous release. To be fair, I’m poor white trash and didn’t understand a blithering word of the liner notes. My vision has never crystallised and I remain oblivious of any universal consciousness but I do know a good tune when I hear one and across the ten tracks on offer here, the spicy stew of funk, soul, blues and jazz never fails to impress. Apparently they make a buck as a blues cover band but it would be a crying shame if music as good as this was allowed to disappear unheralded.
From the opening ‘You Gotta Start Somewhere’ right through to ‘Rock On’ the energy never dips, the performances of the core band shine and when the guest saxophone comes a-honking it gets even brighter. The Hammond B3 of Jim Alfredson is a constant delight and this is the kind of record that should be piped into peoples homes on a daily basis. I’m already heading off to listen to the preceding “Energy” album and you should be hitting that there internet a bit sharpish to get a dose of this. An essential release.
ANNE MARIE ALMEDAL
A few years back I was a wee bit besotted with “Memory Lane” by Anne Marie Almedal. There’s something about the glacial sounds of Nordic folk / chamber pop that gets me in the unmentionables.
Luckily I was able to wean myself off it before things got too unseemly but now Ms Almedal has only gone and got me hot and bothered all over again. Because this is majestic. The inkies will drool all over it, use words like ambient, orchestral and probably throw in some meaningless references to other female vocalists but don’t be fooled. It’s a lot better than that.
Stripped down to its core, the songs are actually quite simple and straightforward. But the vocal strength and the arrangement of numbers like ‘You Keep Me At Arms Length’ and ‘Lovesong’ lift them onto another plane. The piano and strings that support her voice are always perfectly in context and if I ever recover from the majesty of ‘Oh Hard Times’ then I’m a better man than I give myself credit for.
Tribe Of One
Back Bay Bill Records
A one woman band from the delightfully named Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, Ms Wyand is certainly a remarkably gifted musician.
Whether it’s finger picking or playing slide while stomping out her won percussive backing the acoustic blues on offer here is a real delight. It’s nearly all original with eleven of her own songs alongside three covers by Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan and Etta Baker. To be honest I could have happily lived without the covers as her own ‘Bad Mojo (Working Overtime)’, ‘Better Off Alone’ and ‘Till It’s Safe To Go Outside’ far exceed the outside material. But I suppose you’ve got to try and bring in the curious so ‘Little Wing’ and ‘Blind Willie McTell’ might just do that.
Very few of the songs get past the three minute mark which is a Very Good Thing in a world where average songs get dragged out way past the point of pain. No chance of that happening here as it’s case of wham bam, thank you ma’am, and on to the next story. If you do like your blues acoustic and rural in style you’ll be hard pushed to find a better example this year. Highly recommended.
St Columba’s Hospice Tribute Fund for Linda Hamilton