The NBT Review 100

A special edition celebrating our century of great reviews for bloody amazing bands.

Invisible War

The Firefly Garden – Merry Ellen Kirk (independent releases)

We dive into the drama, edged on by sighing bells; we are soon drifting along the most somnolent of melodies, these tunes taking on the character of dreams, unhurried thoughts, and their intent flexible, serene and devious even.

The piano waltzes like a kid in her first ballet costume while the bass slides from a Cheshire Cat purr to a subtle growl as the
listener is tempted to let go, let the light flow in, this is music that gently demands you set time aside for it, an escape if you allow it.

This is a hope filled set, the believing that there is always some way out of the darkness, (and yes she does embrace the darkness here) that a touch, a word, a rescue is available to the lost, an antidote to fears.

Stand out track for me is the slow build of ‘Victory’ a finely tuned mix of observation and the personal.

And so we move onto /into the Firefly Garden, still in its pre-release stages, Kirk takes the ethereal to the next level, the song ‘Candy’ being an especially delightful piece of modern dream Pop, immensely catchy without sacrificing wild charm. This set opens up the spaces, becomes so much wider than the bedroom intimate, yet..still..manages to speak to you, as in a private conversation.

The thing is, these are songs that can be played solo illuminating the dark night of the restless soul, or (soon I hope) can be
played to millions televised from the stage at some huge cool festival, where the chaos of the crowd cannot dilute the affection of the creations.

BUY the Firefly Garden Official Release

http://merryellenkirk.bandcamp.com/album/firefly-garden-2

Find out more

http://www.merryellenkirk.com/

Depend On This – Ruth Minnikin and her Bandwagon (SongMillMusic)

Artists love to shape shift their songs, from acoustic demo, the bare bone new born, to the band arrangement, to the live rendition, songs are made for pulling and prodding into exciting new forms, (tis why remixes so often work so well, if the manipulator shares a soul space with the composer) and here Minnikin takes six of her tunes and delights in showing just how a change of pace, focus and density can bring about new wonders.

Thus the Theme Song morphs from breezy Mamas and Papas pop brilliance into a wistful progressive folk interplay between wordless harmonies overlaying a carelessly disturbing instrumental.

And Sleeping and Dreaming slips from being a more orchestrated Au Revoir Simone ballad of quirky dimension into a skewed dancefloor shuffle all reflected mirror ball distorted.

Mention must be made of the re-arrangements of the six by Chuck Blazevic, who has taken care to instil the essence of the original into not just a negative image or enhanced backing track, but into cheeky(sly) brothers and sisters with distinct individualistic personalities.

This is one of those albums that make you fall in love all over again with the Possibilities of music.

Listen and discover for yourself

http://www.ruthminnikin.ca

Both artists can be heard on the NBT podcast going out on
the 11th November 2010

http://nextbigthing.libsyn.com

Advertisements

The NBT Review 95

Sleepless Street – Peter Doran (Independent Release)

We are welcomed into this world with an earthy jolt of fierce blues. The ‚‘Hunter’s Sketches‘are frantic even nervous, the seductive unease as the beautiful breakdown approaches.

Then the calm, a vision of the serene holy that can be found in the ordinary, if you have soul for it, and this wistful regret (oh how memories shine different now) envelops the listener.

But don’t dare get used to the intimate only, the next song strives for epic, a sort of personal adventure set against a vast landscape  Conor Oberst does so very well layered subtle upon a heartbreaking melody that once heard is never lost. ‘Eternity’, is exactly the right name for this.

He constructs a gentle swing, a love song simply (complicated), about the strength of love, then old fashioned piano ballad, with a skill an equal to those old Carpenters’ tracks composed by Paul Williams. Note here must be made of the soulful minimal production by Filippo Gaetani, never overusing orchestration, always adding just the right touch of drama and emotion.

To those who often cry out, ‘they don’t make them like they used to’ when whining about how good the folk pop song was back in the day, just listen to ‘The Composer’ or indeed, any of these tracks, these are creations that will be equally at home nestled in the mainstream charts, or that romantic couples private playlist.

But if I have given the impression that this is gloss, forgive me, because there is a wounded rawness at the heart of this, a frazzled moody Phil Ochs ghost wandering the chords and the choruses. It’s just that Doran doesn’t need to be strident to get his thoughts across, his song writing is sincere and pure.

Leaving the very best till last, the title track, the love letter to a difficult child woman, the allure of the leaving the sane path, the way some people cannot be touched, even when we so wish to, cause they thrive in their difference. This song haunts and touches and completes a tantalizing set.

Find out more here:

http://peterdoran.bandcamp.com/album/sleepless-street

You can hear tracks from this album on NBT Podcasts from the 30th Sept and beyond

http://nextbigthing.libsyn.com

The NBT Review 88

The Scorpion In The Story – Tori Sparks (Glass Mountain Records)

Every time you listen to a piece of music you are entering into a journey. Depending on the art and talent of the creator, the songs will take you to places away from where you sit and listen. Sometimes they will take you to truth and knowledge deep inside of yourself, secrets you didn’t even know you had, sometimes they will take you on adventures, show you strange souls, show you the ragged wonder hiding behind the ordinary blur too many of us take for granted.

Without really setting out to do so, Tori Sparks has concocted a set of stories about places she has traveled through while performing across the USA, observing in fragments and miniatures the ever ongoing battles and victories of those curious mortals that live and strive and love there.

We observe along side her and learn with her, not just about the things she sees, but the way they touch her inside. So in a way dear listener this is really thirteen chapters, all about, You.

 Chapter one: On a choral whisper/grunt, over sleepy sly upright bass, and sweetly clear banjo, we slide into the slow focus dream of the perfect man, the perfect address, then as the song blossoms into full giddy country dance the wry truth tumbles gleefully in, the fairytale shimmer is blown away.

Refreshing.

Chapter Two: Does she escape these cascading photographs, black and white reminders, she drives fast but distance was never the cure for the ghosts in the past.

Chapter Three: As the honky tonk Taxman riff sashays around, the free girl sings in the voice of the trapped girl, what is she trapped by, by her lovers failed ambition, that’s a strong prison right there.

Chapter Four:  we mostly choose those who will make us safe, not those who make us happy. Slow dance of regret

Chapter Five: this is a minor epic, the singer tells of a life lived small and long, of the years of holding in, the singer can only respond with a song that breathes and yearns wide, she paints this brittle soul as if it were the entire world.

Chapter Six:  one of the stand out tracks, reminds one of the ‘other’ tori, but with less waft and with more dirt on her fingertips, this is the tears, then the smile through the tears, then the ‘what the hey!’ after the tears , get back on, this time around will be fun no matter what. This contains that secret ingredient of a hit song, the enjoyable heartbreak.

Chapter Seven:  Oh yes the Devil is such a charming man.

Chapter Eight:  the self image of the wild girl, after the chaos of the loud night, the quiet scary look at  the villain that may not even be there.

(All this to music that ties itself with understanding, to every word.)

Chapter Nine: look closer there are shadows in this picture of the sunlit couple.

Chapter Ten: the skill here is how she takes the story on, from the start of the disaster, and then travels on, she wants to ride the shockwaves, the afterglow, rather than the obvious big bang.

Chapter Eleven:  with a few lines the internal machine of the odd couple is caught, roots Americana  the Dixie Dregs  would be proud of.

Chapter Twelve:  Another hit in the dreaming, the subliminal brass touches deep inside, why is this not a mainstay on all the alternative playlists?

Chapter Thirteen: no not the end, cause this song makes you want to simply start the album again, come dance, come think, come lose yourself in these stories.

Don’t just take my word for it go here and find out for yourself

http://www.torisparks.com

Tori will be featured on NBT podcasts during September

http://nextbigthing.libsyn.com/

If you use Internet Explorer you can stream snippets of a couple of the Tunes here

                               http://www.nextbigthing.co.za

  (After the intro Click on the ‘#Just want to look around# text it will take u thru to next page)

   A chart made up from browsers rating and listening to the song streams can be found here:

                                      http://nbttopten.podbean.com/

The NBT Review 87

Genau Jetzt – Schutzschall

Bühne – Schutzschall (Independent Releases)

With so much in the German Alternative pop scene geared to something rather safe and bland, where too many groups bow down to the Söhne Mannheims template of soft rock for the cheese and wine week-enders, it is thrilling to find a band that releases both acoustic and electric tunes that have a tension, darkness, a danger to them.

They build up over a steady roar of tidal wave percussion, (within both sets) the words tumble over the storm frenzy, each creation threatening to explode further apart, each held back with binding of melody and atmosphere.

At its heart there is something rebellious about this, there is poignancy, a beating honesty that invites the listener in for the emotional ride. This is music to go slightly crazy to.

These are songs that ultimately sing of escape, escape from carefully built alienation, from the cloying walls of complacency, from the fear of the ‘Alone’, take a risk, jump Out and join those who buzz brightly far from the surface of things.

This is a tonic for the weary bored musical mind, a pleasant jolt, an antidote to apathy.

Take the ride no matter what country you come from or what language you speak

http://schutzschall.bandcamp.com/

You can hear tracks from both albums on the NBT podcast going out on the 24th August 2010

http://nextbigthing.libsyn.com

The NBT Review 85

In Another Life – Count To Fire (Independent Release)

From the loneliness of brief solo piano the band steps into another life where the room opens out into the big country, and the girl is young and moves with movie star yearning stuck in the tender moment of a first meeting made sad and beautiful with nostalgia. The innocence before desire sparkles across the scene and the guitar creeps in, takes precedence. The lovers dance, the time loop doesn’t seem to hold easy answers and the comfort is only in this memory.

All this and it is only the first track.

As the memories continue to weigh heavy, the singer finds the grey of his real rain filled day cannot compete to the grey shifting romance of the flickering screen, and when he sings of battles, it is that twilight time between chaos, when escape is almost possible and despair is almost a release.

I think that this is an album that longs for the bright, wide, open freedom, but with melancholy acceptance finds itself tethered to real world where the war is against giving up, where love does not find a way unless fought hard for.

It is in this delicate knowledge of what makes us regret, that a fine hope shines through.

Stand out track for this listener is ‘City Lights’ a slow building ballad, with an alluring soul feel reminiscent of My Morning Jacket’s Jim James when working for Monsters Of Folk. On here, as on many of the tunes, the skillfully orchestrated harmonies add so much to the power and heart of the tune, indeed you know you are listening to something that will stay with you for the longest time.

The band add colour to this set of ruefulness with shadings of Johnny Cash swagger and Long Ryder feistiness, but never distract from the mood that binds it all together, again in this era of the downloadable track versus the whole album debate, this demands to be listened to as a complete, satisfying whole.

Find out more here

http://www.myspace.com/counttofire

will be featured on NBT podcasts during August and September

http://nextbigthing.libsyn.com/

If you use Internet Explorer you can stream snippets of a couple of the Tunes here

                               http://www.nextbigthing.co.za

  (After the intro Click on the ‘#Just want to look around# text it will take u thru to next page)

   A chart made up from browsers rating and listening to the song streams can be found here:

                                      http://nbttopten.podbean.com/

The NBT Review 80

We are honoured to have Cobus Rossouw creator of Project Band 88 Kilos Of Sunshine write this Guest review for us.

Hadestown – Anais Mitchell (Righteous Babe)

Anaïs Mitchell’s Hadestown achieves several things that make it a candidate for album of the year and in my collection album of the decade.

In the first instance it is ambitious; a departure from normal fare that clearly indicates that commercial success is not the intention. It is a brave goal to adapt a Greek tragedy as an opera in a folk style. To then use this vehicle to exhibit talents and to ensure that it never becomes too highbrow to be accessible is a lofty ideal to reach for, but Ms. Mitchell sets forth to bring this masterwork to us.

Secondly, this ambition is successfully achieved in no uncertain terms. While the credit for the achievement must be shared I firmly believe that nothing comes without vision and so a lot of credit must go to Anaïs. To deliver such a project obviously requires the correct personnel and here special mention must be made of Michael Chorney, whose score tells the story brilliantly and matches the idiom without ever wavering or becoming contrived. By clever utilisation of different folk music forms he has managed to combine the words and music into clear messages, articulating meaning not only via the libretto but by style. To do this over 6 or 10 songs would be astounding, to do this over 20 songs speaks of a talent that deserves every accolade available. Suffice it to say that this writer cannot convey his gratitude in mere words.

This stunning excellence in staffing continues throughout, with Justin Vernon (Orpheus), Ani di Franco (Persephone), Greg Brown  (Hades) and Mitchell as Eurydice delivering each line with compelling conviction, imbuing their respective characters with the correct personification through their vocal talent.

Hadestown is also beautiful. This may not be a pre-requisite for everyone, but for this reviewer an aesthetically pleasing artwork is always preferable to a work that is provocative but not evocative. I could listen to Hadestown anywhere, in any company. It will reward the casual listener and the listener who wants, needs to be broadened.

 A last word: If you love music then buy Hadestown right now. Buy Hadestown because you need to own it and praise the gods that Anais Mitchell is a musician and not a sculptor, because most of us would have to make do with a photograph of her work if the latter were true. Buy Hadestown because Mitchell and Chorney have earned the right to your money and your heart.

http://www.anaismitchell.com/

Listen to tracks from this release on the NBT Podcast going out on the 29th July 2010

http://traffic.libsyn.com/nextbigthing/5th_august_NBT.mp3

The NBT Review 78

Ghosts Of Radio – Patrick Bloom (Mud Dauber Records)

Listen deeper, closer.  At first it is just this gentle country swing, somewhere between a slow spin between old lovers and a prelude to a giddy Saturday night shindig. Then the tale of this broken( but not defeated) survivor comes into focus. Once a prisoner of both his fragile mind and government institutions this is a song of escape from the chill into the warmth of an ambiguous Minnesota.

Even though, as I listen, I think that this journey is towards the conclusion of this man’s story, the feeling of hope, of release, of peace, shines oh so brightly.

Patrick Bloom creates a cast of quiet eccentrics who he has a great deal of affection and empathy for. Most are indeed Ghosts, fading in and out of family and our ‘normal’ day to day strivings. These are nostalgic, wishful creatures, the blur in the photo, and the crackle on the radio, the voice in the creak of a chair or the turn of a smile.

This is time travel, history told without bombast and an eye on the personal, the tears are in the details, the joy in the simple effective sketches and descriptions. It is roots music about America but so well constructed and felt that anyone anywhere can relate, can be touched.

The musicians share the songwriter’s communion with his stories and Bloom produces the collection with restraint and elegance, (the subtle use of brass on Red Dodge Dart in a very ‘The Band’ way is a particular delight.)

What is unique about this album is that it’s about how these ghosts BECOME ghosts, Bloom seems to capture the moment of flight from this troubled world out, away into a better place. This perhaps is a collection of goodbyes, but devoid of bitterness. The dying here is natural, even wanted, not with fear not with hopelessness, but a reward for hard lives lived full.

This is not about giving up, giving in, but rather acceptance.

Highly moving and beautiful.

http://www.patrickbloom.com

Catch Tunes from the Album on the NBT podcast going out on the 22nd July 2010

http://nextbigthing.libsyn.com/

If you use Internet Explorer you can stream snippets of a couple of the Tunes here

                               http://www.nextbigthing.co.za

  (After the intro Click on the ‘#Just want to look around# text it will take u thru to next page)

   A chart made up from browsers rating and listening to the song streams can be found here:

                                      http://nbttopten.podbean.com/