The NBT Review 105

Miriams Well Reviewed by Cobus Rossouw

Elika reviewed by Martin Smit

Snuggle Bunnies – Elika (Automatic Entertainment Records/Fiercely Independent Records)

We have already spoken about the opening Summer of static, a perfect gateway into this new collection of trembling tunes, so let’s be brave, add extra shivers to this white winter’s day and jump into the Stand Still.

A sound for when the war is just seconds over, when there is confusion about who won and who has been utterly defeated. This is the sound of the time before hope and just after despair.

This is a séance of song, bringing into the world the almost forgotten melodies that groups like ‘His Name Is Alive’ (when they were in bed with 4AD) concocted. This is gentle pushing against troubled pushing against anxiety. If those butterflies in our tummies were pop stars they would sound like this.

Which brings me to the haunting centrepiece, the Dark Side, a song that should live in a Japanese anime long lost, now
slipping into the daily subconscious.  A holy mix of Madonna slow dance and the chilliest of electro ambience, this is very much my song for December and beyond.

Like the best groups operating in the alternate universe these days,  instead of over production and more gloss, this band digs deeper into the internal, mines hidden subtleties, waits patient for the dreaming to come to them, then with comfort and agitation in equal measures, sends that dreaming back out to greet us.

Once again, a lovely release from Elika

http://elika.bandcamp.com/

Indians and Clowns – Miriams Well (Buckin Savior Records)

This latest release from Mir German and Mark Bowden is a hearty chunk of honesty. The songs are superbly crafted and there is not a single track that feels like it was added simply to flesh out an album to a required length.

Starting with the title track the album is clearly in country rock territory, although regular readers should not presume any of the usual thematic frailties that the genre often pursues without conscience. These are songs with greater messages than the obvious, adding a conscious voice to country rock that is all too often missing. This is a band that thinks, a band that believes and this comes through in the songs.

Reading through press the band has received much is made of German’s vocal talents. She has a remarkable voice which is distinctive and will lend the band a signature that will make a Miriam’s Well tune instantly recognisable. I would however add that this album also contains some of the wisest arrangement of instrumentation I have heard this year and mention must
be made of the work the band has put in to give each song its appropriate due.

The country rock feel is expanded with guitars ranging into 70’s rock territory with riffs that could be pulled off any of Clapton’s
projects through to soulful horn sections that dip by turns into Vaya Con Dios and Motown. Indeed, there are almost too may references and touchpoints to mention, but what is remarkable for such a diverse musical statement is that it is coherent, beautiful and always stays true to those country roots, a feat that is rarely managed when bands spread their wings outside of their comfort zone.

There are stand out tracks, and I betray my love of American folk when I mention “Stay” and “Big House”, the latter matching sound protest with astute human observation. These tracks have me hooked but I can well imagine other listeners having other favourites, there’s something here for everybody.

http://www.miriamswellmusic.com/

hear tracks from these albums on the upcoming NBT podcast

http://nextbigthing.libsyn.com

NBT now has a Facebook presence: please do go and ‘like’ the page

http://www.facebook.com/NBTmusicproject

Advertisements

The NBT Review 90

Slowpokes – Rebecca Turner (Independent Release)

Gentle false start into falling words jumbled melodic, a sweet lecture, the Singer’s good advice to slow down and take in the casual wonder of how the subtle shades of human emotion could change your day, your life even.

This is music that is always there, a running river that maybe you were listening to the whole damn time now gracefully sliding into focus.

She says she loves Country and it shows, what also is very clear is her love of classic pop song craft and her infatuation with the art of the warm easy hook. She says pretty important things with a soft smile rock’n’sway, a lightness that make her thoughts utterly believable.

What thrills is the layers in Turner’s characters and in the world they move in. In stand out track, ‘The Way She Is Now’ the heroine is flawed (even doomed because of those flaws), but the freedom she finds in her personal chaos, makes us fall a little in envy, in love with the girl in the lyric, the song.

In Turner’s world the mistakes we make don’t have to be fatal, this is an album that suggests that hope is strength, and that the strongest survivors are those that let go just a little. Understanding everything isn’t necessary, fear is ok, and everyone is scared sometimes, but if everyone believed that the rain and the cold would finally stop and the sun would skitter and save, well that fear would be like the thrill you get from an exciting movie, certainly harmless and kinda invigorating.

For a change this is indie music that is positive, playful, joyful even.

Not naive though, Turner has a rare and insightful perception into what makes us complicated souls tick, so nowhere is there a sense of blind optimism, just that..HOPE.

An antidote to the darkness, a cure for the little things that build up and create the heavy blues, this is music that makes you want to get out of your slump, go actively seek out a better few hours.

The Musicians belong to the songs, no instrument shoves itself to prominence, balance is all, allowing the listener to discover delightfully unforced slivers of banjo, or pedal steel within the arrangements.

Come on join the escape

http://rebeccaturner.net

Rebecca Turner 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 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 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/

The NBT Review 76

Gorgeous Enormous

Through A Screen Door Darkly – Carolyn Alroy (Wussy Records)

Love can be funny in a bitter sighing sweet way, especially when connected to a desire that is unspoken but deeply felt, mulled over, knocked about in an internal debate, while the focus of all this remains blithely ignorant. And so it begins with crystal clear simple guitar gracefully (all Byrds jangle) waiting for the vocal to complete it.

Alroy continues with the theme of things left unsaid, actions not yet taken, one gets the feeling that with every hidden thought, the picture of the singer’s self awareness becomes stronger, crisper. There is a flexing against mental bonds and this is the story of how they were broken.

Sometimes she changes personas and we get sweet with the bitter almost dropped, but made palatable by her intuitive sense of detail and mood. In those songs Love isn’t complicated it’s just something you want to, HAVE to flow along with. If you dare allow yourself that is.

Then back to the internal, the sound of revolution, heard by the girl who wants to be on the front line, wants her shout noticed wants her tears acknowledged, wants it to be the world where anything can happen.

This is a set of songs that seem to try putting into words what so many of us feel day to day, in our private ramblings and our social striving. This is an album about the delicious tension of WAITING.

Even the wondrous cover of Helter Skelter strips the fear and insanity of the original away and aims rather, for the taught desire, the Waiting to get that dance..just..right..

And what is beautiful about all this, is the fact that the outcome is nowhere near predictable.

The EP that follows is indeed a darker thing. Less pop country now, this has an eerie folk feel about it.  The perceptions here are distorted by mirrors, through the textures of screen doors, refracted by flickers of light. Love becomes as dangerous as the sea, and the common things in the girl’s world become talismans , roses and phones and tea all become extraordinary as we move in slow haunted motion in and out of these songs.

I for one look forward to whatever comes next from this talented songrwriter.

http://www.carolynalroy.com

Catch Tunes from both Album and EP on the next NBt podcast going out on the 8th 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/