Reviews roundup – Ciolkowska ~ The McNaMarr Project ~ Hippie Death Cult ~ Pascal Bokar ~ John Black Wolf ~ Black Income
Ciolkowska Showed Her Face (Aeonian 16 08 16)
Earlier this year I waxed lyrical about “Avtomat Proshlogo”, a record of psychedelic prog, courtesy of Ciolkowska, a band from Saint Petersburg.
Well they’re back with another one. Or rather, they’ve sent me back for another one as despite my poor grasp of Cyrillic script I’m guessing this one dates back to 2016. Ye cannae fule an auld fule.
And it’s exactly what I hoped for and expected. Stretched out psychedelic spacerock with some added drone. The opening two tracks on this four track mini-LP stretch out over eighteen minutes between them and it flashes by in an instant. One of them is a cover version but unless they’re an actual tribute band, everything flows together seamlessly. It’s actually the third tune, ‘Юным летателям (К.Э. Циолковский в космосе)’ (which may or may not have something to do with Tchaikovsky in space that really girded my loins. It’s billed as a bonus track but over the 16 minutes or so I spent in its company I felt an unseemly flush.
Things round off with a remix off the second track. It’s an absolute delight and all spacerockers out there should be getting themselves some Ciolkowska.
THE MCNAMARR PROJECT
Holla & Moan
I’ve raved about Sri Lankan born Australian Andrea Marr before. Her modern take on sweet soul music is an absolute treat. And when I last reviewed John McNamara I said “do you like Sam & Dave crossed with Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland and some blues guitar”.
So you’ll be delighted to know that they’ve teamed up for an album of duets done in grime style in the style of Roll Deep, and Ruff Sqwad. Or I could be lying and instead they’ve made a glorious album of blues based soul. And when I say glorious I really mean it. Their solo work is great but this goes way beyond that in a timeless manner.
I won’t be the first or the last to point out that this sounds like the sort of Memphis music punted out by Stax back in the day. But it’s an accurate comparison. What makes it that wee bit more remarkable than say, Joe and Beth cutting some old tunes is that these are all originals. You’d think they were lost, deep cuts but they’re not. All ten tracks are brand new. Five from Ms Marr, four from Mr McNamara and one written together. It helps that the band they’ve put together is sublime. Add in the superb vocals of both the leads and some soaring guitar work and I may just have wet myself a wee bit.
The Memphis sound may be because they actually went there to record it with local musicians and got Boo Mitchell (Grandson of Willie) to record it. He’s worked with work with Al Green, Solomon Burke, Anthony Hamilton, John Mayer, Lamont Dozier, William Bell and countless others so knows what he’s doing. I’ve tried to pick out highlights but as it’s one of the records of this year (or any other for that matter) it’s tricky. If you pointed a gun at my head I might go for ‘Cry With Me’ but any of the ten could nick that top spot at any time. You have to own this.
HIPPIE DEATH CULT
Cursed Tongue Records
It’s a spooky old world. Because here come Hippie Death Cult, a stoner band from Portland, Oregon. A city, that much to the surprise of everyone, I shall be in in a couple of months time.
But it’s probably a wise move to avoid any cult, never mind one called Hippie Death Cult and the Cthulhu like cover of their debut album. Amazingly enough this is the debut album (after a batch of digital singles) from Eddie Brnabic (guitar), Laura Phillips (bass), Ryan Moore (drums) and Ben Jackson (vocals/keys) who only formed back in 2018.
Because, of its ilk, it’s remarkably accomplished. Now you can get away with a lot when you’re messing about in the world of stoner and doom because a lot of it is about feel and fuzz. But this lot can play. The guitars are crushing and the whole record is so much better because of the well thought out keyboard layers. Not something you get a lot of in this world. But damn, they’re good.
‘Sanctimonious’ and ‘Unborn’ just rage through a haze of shrooms and sacrifices. And when they mix things up a bit as they do on ‘Mrtyu’ and ‘Treehugger’ you can’t help but think that this is a band that really deserves to go somewhere. Maybe I will stop by and say hello.
Well that’s the least friendly web URL since Llanfairpwllgwyngyll decided to set up a tourist website.
French born, West African raised, Pascal Bokar is bringing a new (old) approach to the blues by incorporating arrangements from his early days. So you’ll find a balafon popping up here. No, me neither, but it turns out it’s a gourd-resonated xylophone associated with the Mandé peoples of West Africa. So consider yourself educated.
There’s also plenty of room for banjo and fiddle which leads to some bright arrangements. He kicks things off with a cover of the Otis Spann tune, ‘The Blues Don’t Like Nobody’ before his originals kick in. The opener is greatly enlivened by the appearance of Paula Harris on vocals. She sticks around for the next song, ‘I Wanna See You In My Dreams’. Not for me, that one, as it comes across like a B division seventies smooth soul tune. But after that things get perky again as the balafon and banjo lead into ‘I Can Tell’, a sprightly romp which is probably my favourite song on the (mini) album. I say mini as there are only six tracks here.
The rest of the record works well although Bokar doesn’t have a particularly distinctive voice. But the arrangements and instrumentation make up for that as he skims throw jazz, folk and downright boogie. An interesting one.
JOHN BLACK WOLF
John Black Wolf
I’m guessing the curse of cultural appropriation hasn’t reached Portugal as I reckon it’s unlikely that Diogo Lima has any Arapaho or Cheyenne blood in him.
He’s certainly a trier as his debut solo album came out about fifteen years back after he’d been in a band called Nordica. Since then he’s led a band called Dust, appeared in stage musicals, released a folk EP in Portugese and had a bash at The Voice (Portugal). All of which is to be admired. And now he’s John Black Wolf.
Now I’ve no idea what all his other projects were like but this is mighty fine. He wrote, produced and played most of the instruments on this release which takes a rootsy tour through the world of blues rock and beyond. He’s got quite a dark voice which suits the generally moody material he’s offered up. In places he’s got a WIlly DeVille tone and in case you’re wondering that’s a very good thing. The songs are good as well with the more traditional rock sounding ‘Alone In The Dark’, the tear stained ‘Call Me Home’ and the almost spoken word of ‘The City of Broken Wings’ absolute standouts.
A record that deserves to be heard by a lot of people. Don’t let it slip through the cracks.
Now I’m all in favour of people sending me lovely vinyl LPs in some shade of vegetable related vomit colour but it really would help if you chucked in a note with minor details like who it’s from.
Anyway if you liked Pearl Jam back when they were Pearl Jam then you’ll like this. With added Soundgarden menace.
Seems like their debut came out about three years back and since then the Danish rockers have been playing around Europe at festivals as well as opening for the likes of Bullet and the Tygers of Pan Tang. So they’ve done their stint in the trenches and they certainly seem like a tight outfit. Now I’m not going to claim that nineties grunge is my favourite thing. But there is no doubting that there are some fine tunes on offer here.
I would imagine in the modern world they’ll come with an alt-metal tag attached in the hope that “the kids” won’t think of them as a retro outfit. Fingers crossed for them because there is a verve and enthusiasm to their performance that is resolute. The best songs – ‘Feels Like a Storm’ and ‘The Sun’ – show that they’ve got the songwriting chops and with some excellent vocals attached this is a band that deserve a day in the (black hole) sun.
St Columba’s Hospice Tribute Fund for Linda Hamilton