The NBT Review 96

Nora Jane Struthers – Nora Jane Struthers (Blue Pig Music)

Review by NBT’s Martin Smit

She leads us into this gentle disturbance, riding in on sweet delicate fiddle, without complication she stretches this thriller into something haunting, and though the fear is tangible, though the dread shifts just around the melody, this murder ballad is simply beautiful, a brave opening, a daring introduction.

This album takes place in the ‘other’ in the timeless weightless ‘other’ that all great music inhabits. It can seem ancient, it can hit you hard with its modern soul, it is full of dreaming, of those dangerous whispers barely heard from trees shifting (willingly?) in the wind. It is a slow dance it is a frantic jig, it is quiet personal, it is a rowdy Saturday night barn dance hooked already into the Sunday morning regret.

This album takes place in that dark Americana place, where love pulses with uncertainty, where tradition can be saving or can be shackles, but she writes the sad song well, filling it with hope and empathy, an unfettered joy in the telling of the story.

Musically this is simply exquisite, no pastiche of clichés, no feeling that this is archived sounds from long ago, restructured as a technical thesis on what is Roots and what is Country. This is the sound of music playing on the radio in a farm kitchen; this is the sound on my mp3 player when I want to escape the dull city day.

These guys, this woman, LOVE playing these songs creating this music, and you will love listening to this album

http://www.norajanestruthers.com

White Line And Stars – Rosehill (Cypress Creek Records)

Another review from Cobus Rossouw creator of 88 Kilos of Sunshine

I’m a long way from Texas as I write this. Outside it’s Africa and traffic but in my ears I have Heartland and Outlaws, guitars and thumping drums.

Mitch McBain and Blake Meyers (formerly the Texas High Life frontmen) have brought us an album that should be an instant classic in the genre and catapult them to fame and fortune. I say this knowing full well that it takes more than a great album with great tunes and meaningful lyrics to make it in the music trade, but the duo have shown wisdom in getting the right producer in Radney Foster and this will make all the difference.

Starting with the material, it is obvious that Meyers and McBain are mature, skilled and passionate. Their songs are a balanced trade-off between the Austin twang of guitar-dominated rock and a story-telling lyricism that is to Texas what Springsteen is to Jersey. (That’s a big statement I know but it’s there, for all to hear, on tracks like “Believer”, “Midnight America” and “Picassos for Pesos”.)

If I have a criticism, and bear in mind this is a personal one, it’s that the music is not pushing any serious boundaries, either in tone or in arrangement. But then I know for a fact I’m not the market…, my idea of Texas Country is Kinky Friedman for goodness sake. Thus, if the Pixies was your cuppa then this is not for you, but believe me, White Lines and Stars will set the Lone Star State on fire!

And it’ll do this because it is perfectly pitched. Foster’s presence ensures that all the sweet spots are hit and that everything is in the perfect place. Hold onto your hats Texans, these boys are gonna take over. This glass of whiskey looks more than half full to me.

Now if you could just look like Taylor Swift you’d be scooping Grammys next year.

http://www.rosehill-live.com

Both these albums where brought to NBT attention by the ever cool Lotos Nile

http://www.lotosnile.com/index_content.html

Hear tracks from both these albums on the NBT Podcast going out on the 7th October 2010

http://nextbigthing.libsyn.com

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 94

Dave Rawlings MachineA Friend Of A Friend (Independent Release)

Another review from Cobus Rossouw creator of 88 Kilos of Sunshine

To the knowledgeable reviewer, Dave Rawlings’ Friend of a Friend is filled with allusion and tribute. There are nods to almost every aspect of Americana, from country rock through Nashville and into the Appalachians. It’s a treasure trove of covers and homage.

But I have to admit that my knowledge does not stretch far enough to pick up the more obscure references and perhaps this could have distracted from enjoyment of the album but this album is just wonderful.

Even for the unenlightened it has diversity, depth, emotion and mastery. Rawlings’ background and years of support play has made him a master, not only of his instrument but also of the idiom. He never shows off this expertise, but it is there, in the clarity of each note, in the spaces between and in the pathos of the vocals.

From the opening number, “Ruby”, we are clearly in the folk/country corridors of the US, and this style is held throughout, with perfectly arranged vocal and instrumental accompaniment that compliments each song in turn. This is an album where not a single note is unnecessary or out of place. This is an album that is easy to listen to superficially and rewarding to listen to in-depth. There are moments that’ll have your feet tapping and there are moments for red wine. Beyond anything else this is an album that recalls those front porch moments, a couple of friends, some old tunes and everybody so in tune and comfortable with each other that the group switches in mood, from Hank Williams to Guthrie to Dylan and back…

It doesn’t matter where I stop this album, that’s the song I’ll be humming for the rest of the day, but the one number, personally, that simply has me coming back for more is the weld of Bright Eyes and Neil Young on “Method Acting/Cortez the Killer, a 10 minute and 20 second ode that manages to seem about 2 hours too short. I could listen to this the whole day.

It makes you whistle and then it makes you think. What more could I ask for.

http://www.daverawlingsmachine.com

Hear a track from this album on next week’s NBT Podcast

http://nextbigthing.libsyn.com

The NBT Review 93

Delicate Dangerous Cool Part Two

Alive – Tallulah Rendall (independent release)

On a day that I am woken by an elegant storm that seems to fade in from a dream and lives here forever, I find that I am incapable of dissecting these creations, going in heavy with a technical post-mortem for the casually curious. Rather due to the beauty and presence of this album, I wish to simply freefall into the words and music and send back to you my impressions, some may be in bold sharp focus, and some may be as blurred as a soft sigh, but all will, hopefully give you, gentle reader an idea of what it was like to travel here.

Caught in the ripple, caught in the pulse, a good time to jump, the song builds outwards, navigates into the chaos, the singer surfs the turmoil and you hold on tight, but she wouldn’t lie for you, wouldn’t die for you, so this, is what it means to be alive, the drop is there to be savored, the tension seductive breathless and sweet. Is she cruel or a savior of detached kindness, does it really matter, giving up is not really an option.

Listen to her delight in the giddy theatrical, the lure of the exotic and untouchable, the way she watches those who need and those who create that need, a haughty mix of the progressive folk that Grace Slick and Jefferson Airplane practiced and the ambiguous vulnerable of a PJ Harvey.

Here the stage lights concoct colours that merge into the walls, so that the shadows can hide if they wish or scare if they want. Remember how Ms. Bush flirted musically with Mr. Gilmore and you get a small idea of her control over melody and mood, never allowing the drama to overflow into something too gaudy, her trick is to keep us tricked, entranced, willfully hypnotized.

There is something distinctly old fashioned at play here, yet the decades of inspiration shift past so alluringly you find you are never left out of the modern pop room either. This is her strange cool party and you are very much invited.

Fly there and find out for yourself

http://www.tallulahrendall.com

You can hear tracks from this album, this week on the NBT Dark Electric Podcast

http://nbtdarkelectric.podbean.com/

And next week on the NBT Flagship Podcast

http://nextbigthing.libsyn.com

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 73

Land Of Shadows – Ben Bedford (Hopeful Sky Records)

The story unfolds slow, delicate, unwinds from the sharply written focus of the first line, and shifts into the mood and soul of a young soldier from long ago, and the words take on a frenzy made tense as they are counterpointed by the gentleness, the regret, the empathy of the musicians. As we are led back, full circle, to the opening vision, we have to wonder is this a song of hope (that the beauty exists even as we kill each other) or a song of almost unbearable sadness because the memory evoked shows there is no way for our ‘hero’ to get home.

Welcome then to the Land Of Shadows, where ghosts are created as we listen. Where the naïve recruits, the worn out rejects, the wounded romantics, the doomed and the survivors all demand, with quiet insistence that their tales be told.

Musically the tracks are rich in subtle variation, dabs of accordion, banjo, dobro, fiddles and such, blend into the melodies, but no showboating here, no production tricks seeking unwanted attention.

This collection has something of the way that Springsteen has about capturing the soul of the so called Common Joe, but without the bombast that sometimes sneaks into his songs, these are no widescreen epics, these heroes do not fight or toil for death or glory, but to survive, to love again, to get home and live their lives, their desire is to carry on, and let the brutality wash away, if it can.

The paradox here is that these tunes are not depressing, rather there is something uplifting, even joyful in the hushed revelations. And when the singer tackles the love song (You’re The Weather, One Night At A Time) It is his skill with the tiny details that seem to make these things personal to whoever is listening.

I found this a joy to discover and hear. These are stories I will return to again and again.

http://benbedford.com

You can hear tracks from this album on the NBT Podcast going out on the 30th June 2010

http://nextbigthing.libsyn.com/

The NBT Review 65

Song Selection from 88 Kilos Of Sunshine

It is this writer’s prerogative to not name the songs, just play them in order from bottom to top and attempt to capture the illusion of understanding and the reality of this music’s allurement.

The instrumental starts it all. Hollywood played in an empty small town hall. The drums as willful steady as a drunk’s inconsolable rage the guitar is devious widescreen thoughtful. The Clean here is a wicked clean, a Neil Young solo tempered by intellect and latent horror. This is a tune Stretched between school boy yearning for the redemptive solo, and the modern detachment.

Then chant then confess swim in the warm bubbles of regret, this treated ocean this seductive call and wanting response. Don’t want to get lost in this?  I couldn’t, ‘’even if I tried.’’

As John Peel was known to say, ‘this one fades in slowly’’ this is warped Americana played in the old house across the road, you stop and listen on your way home and weep, and leave strangely enriched. The ragged reserve of the (treated) singing, the two personas within connects you to this drama, traces still there even as you lock your front door walk to the living room and switch on the babbling evening news.

Thank fuck for a modern pop maker whose idea of the 80s is darker than skewed memories of big hair and Duran Duran. I recall fragile 7 inch singles cased in cardboard two tone manifestos.

This song is a slow growl, scary and beautiful. That’s all that needs to be said except perhaps  listen to all the songs on the page and look for it. You will know it the second you hear it, and then your day will change slightly, no matter if you are sneaking time from office work, or surfing idle in your bedroom.

Another slow fade in, another capture of the minutia of a moment in time, this is subtle true alternative.

If you have lost your faith in the power of music to provoke and please, to entrance and edify, then this collection shall attempt to find it for you.

Go NOW and listen

http://www.reverbnation.com/88kilosofsunshine

You can hear tracks from the band on the NBT Podcast going out on the 27th May 2010

http://nextbigthing.libsyn.com/

And this will be the featured artist on the NBT portal page in JUNE

http://nbtmusic.de/

Also check out a couple of tunes (if you use internet explorer) on the

http://nextbigthing.co.za website (after the intro just Click on the ‘#Just want to look around# text it will take u thru to next page).