It seems like another world, but like yesterday too in a way - was it really twenty years ago that the Orb were romping into the Top 10 with 37 minute single "The Blue Room", and their album "U.F.Orb" ruled the charts too? Now Orb mainman Alex Paterson is back with dj/mixer Gaudi and MC/lyricist Chester to serve up a spacey, dubwise set of beats tailor-made for summer nights and waiting for sunrise. Screen's new album should appeal to anyone who's ever gone in search of those pink fluffy clouds. The sound is a beguiling blend of beats, bass, voices, fx, and some environmentally aware lyrics by Chester (e.g. "Weather Report" and "Buzzz") that really repay listening. He's collaborated on a bunch of projects with legendary producer Youth, who adds bass reinforcement on "Buzzz" and "Smokescreen". Of course a lot's changed since that high-water mark of the rave/trance scene, and in some ways that scene seems as distant as Haight Ashbury '67 or the Roxy '77, but this has got a timeless summer vibe that'll work for festi nights or indoor adventures
It doesn't seem that long since Band of Holy Joy's astonishing "How to Kill a Butterfly" album late last year, but such are the group's creative energies that there's a bunch of new material already. Johny Brown's a prolific writer, but unlike so many groups that are essentially one man outfits, there's no shortage of energy and ideas from elsewhere in the group. "The North Is Another Land" is really an album's worth of material, beautifully packaged in an amazing Airmail envelope style sleeve, and containing eight postcards (each connecting to one of the tracks on the disc), all designed by Inga Tillere. Some of these songs originated as a radio play on resonancefm, later performed live in Newcastle, with the group's characteristic sense of place evident on songs like "Dreaming Appleby Horse Fair" and "On the Ground Where John Wesley Walked". There are four Johny Brown songs, three instrumentals by James Stephen Finn, and a great cover of Lindisfarne's "Meet Me on the Corner". Cover versions'll be a bit of a theme this review - when there's a bit of inspiration they can really take a familiar tune into new places, but often now there's just a formula of "Hey let's do it really fast/really slow" (check the recent Mojo Beatles' covers disc for some prime examples). To be honest Lindisfarne were always a bit parochial for me, but in this version Johny Brown - aided by some keening violin from Chris Brierley - uncovers a real poignancy and yearning at the heart of the song. As always, there's an intense commitment to detail in the words and music and I can't wait to hear the next stage of the group's journey.
If that isn't enough, there's also a new Holy Joy single (you know, those 7" vinyl things) with a lovely picture sleeve, kinda Jean Cocteau meets Matisse at the crossroads of dub, again by the group's visual specialist Inga Tillere. "Wyrd Beautiful Thyme" is a slow reflection on our troubled times, tempered with optimistic defiance, while "Clean White Shirt" maintains the same sense of pride. We might be in the gutter, but we're looking at the stars...
Also doubling up the releases are JC Carroll and the Members - "InGrrrLand" is based on the current line-up - JC, Chris Payne and Rat Scabies (with original Member Nick Cash playing drums on four tracks). I caught a terrific live show a while back, and since then they've been touring Europe and rocking the socks off anyone who'll have them. There's a theme running through the album of reflecting on passing time and changing places ("NW10", "Midlifecrisis", "New English Blues"), and take a really perceptive look at issues like getting older as a person and musician, how to keep rocking without pretending to be a teenager, knowing that the stardom bus has passed by - but it's better to have your integrity intact. There's no acoustic introspection here though - it all rocks hard and doesn't hang about. There's a real honesty to the music and song writing here - it's a long way from the dreaded "Cabaret Punk" scene, and no-one's pretending its still '77. The songs aren't afraid of taking on tricky issues (for some) about reclaiming patriotism from the far right and how to love your country without being an EDL halfwit. "Remember Us" for example is a very moving song inspired by the huge war cemeteries of France and Belgium. Apart from the new material, there's a storming cover of the Move's long-forgotten classic "Fire Brigade". Dub was always a crucial element to the Members sound, and that’s intriguingly referenced here on "Set The Controls", which nods to the old Floyd track before heading off into deep dubby bass, treated guitar and even a classical interlude! It's easy to get cynical at times about vintage acts still playing or reforming, but a Members live show or an album like this prove that punk rock's a way of life and a state of mind without age restrictions
When I interviewed JC for Mudkiss last year, he was overflowing with ideas, more than could be contained within the Members framework. "21st Century Blues" follows on from 2008's "New English Blues, part 1" Here JC sets out to look at what Blues means now, and in an English context - when all too often its generally seen as something to do with Eric Clapton or a way of adding fake authenticity to adverts - but can't resist a flash of the old punk in stating his ambition to "make an album Blues Purists would hate." The album also features guitarists from all over the world, as part of JC's online collaboration project. Real Blues can reach way beyond Southern cotton fields or Chicago ghettoes, in the end its more a state of mind like reggae or hip hop. There's no wannabe American accents here! The album's also an affectionate nod to the late 60's Blues Boom, a strange diversion/offshoot from the heady days of psychedelia, where for a while "Can White Men Sing the Blues?" became the question of the day. The scene was led by groups like John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, the early Fleetwood Mac, Savoy Brown, Chicken Shack, Jethro Tull and Taste/ Rory Gallagher. It didn't take long for this to mutate into the Guitar Hero craze - fine if you're listening to Hendrix or Jeff Beck, but all too often it'd be mindless diddly a la Ten Years After or twenty minute drum solos from wannabe Ginger Bakers. Take a listen to the title track, or the early 70's soul feel of "4 Cameras," check songs like "Streets of Whitechapel", the Class A drugs take on "Spoonful", or "Voodoo Childe/ Surrey Boy" and see that the Blues doesn't have to be condemned to museum status.
New York's PAS multimedia experimentalists are nearly always doing something cool or promoting like-minded fellow creators. So far their sounds have tended to ambient electro in their PAS i/d or James Chance-like free jazz when wearing their Jazzfakers black berets. So I shouldn't be surprised that PAS associates Blue Sausage Infant's "Manitou" album is nothing like either of those - try to imagine a sonic collision between a free jazz improv outfit and Hawkwind!. There's a relentless pounding intensity to tracks like "The Moss Takes Over" and "Sodom is Risen" that evoke Can, and there's a real Krautrock/kosmische feel throughout the album. There are more spacey tracks like "Yggdrasil" that move into pretty similar territory as the Screen album. In fact the "group" is multi-instrumentalist Chester Hawkins assisted by a crew of like-minded PAS mates. As they say themselves, it's a simmering stew of analog drones, space punk, musique concrete, industrial and "deep electronic mind-candy"
Once upon a time Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers were marketed as punk by a desperate record company afraid of getting lost in the rush. Of course that was no fault of theirs, and the music soon showed that the group had more in common with the Byrds, Big Star or the Band than the NYC Heartbreakers or the Pistols. Since then Tom Petty's generally managed to stay the right side of AOR, and has come up with some killer tunes like "Refugee" and "Damn the Torpedoes", He's also had some interesting collaborations like the Travelling Wilburys, and worked extensively with Bob Dylan, never the easiest of gigs. This DVD looks like it's a reissue of the 2007 set which recorded the group's 2002 shows at the Hall of Fame awards. Most of their best known songs are here, as well as a generous dose of bluesy covers like "Little Red Rooster", "Done Somebody Wrong", and "I'm Crying". A mate caught them live in London this week and loved 'em - meanwhile this'll make a good substitute for the real thing.
Like Tom Petty, Paul Brady has max respect from Bob Dylan, which suggests he must be doing something right. He's been around a while, starting out with the Johnstons and Planxty. Since going solo material he's worked with and written for many big rock, blues & folk names like Tina Turner, Clapton and Dire Sytraits "Dancer in the Fire" is a 2cd compilation featuring twenty-two songs chosen and annotated by the man himself. It's personal favourites rather than greatest hits - as he explains, he wanted to draw attention to some overlooked and less well-known songs of his. Established Paul Brady fans will be attracted by the various remixes, re-versionings and obscure old songs here, and the breadth of material makes for a good introduction to his work.
We all hate over-priced exploitative reissue packages, so the recent no-frills approach of putting five or six albums together in a mini box-set is a good one. Andy Barnes has taken on the Motorhead package elsewhere here, and these Thin Lizzy reissues make a nice counterpoint to that set. As Andy says, Motorhead were one of the few groups able to cross the punk-metal-rock divide - Thin Lizzy managed this too, with a mix of great live shows, the sheer force of personality of Phil Lynott and his much underrated songwriting.
This set comprises the "Nightlife" ('74), "Fighting" ('75), Jailbreak", "Johnny the Fox" (both '76), "Bad Reputation" ('77) and "Black Rose" ('79) albums in their entirety and facsimile sleeves. No extra tracks but at bargain price who's complaining? Listening to a series of albums like this gives a pretty accurate feel for a group's career - in many ways Motorhead were forging ahead by the late 70's, just as the cracks were beginning to show in Thin Lizzy. Given the precarious atmosphere around the group at the time - Phil Lynott's ongoing "Will he/won't he?" solo artist dilemma, a revolving door of guitarists coming and going, and endless drug, drink & ego inflated clashes - it's surprising how cohesive most of the music here sounds. There are at least a couple of killer tracks on every album, with a power, economy and lyrical sharpness that were by now beyond the 70's rock dinosaurs they were replacing. A born frontman like Phil Lynott was a huge asset too. The only disappointment here, I'd suggest, is the absence of the 1976 "Live and Dangerous" album, which really broke the group on a global scale. The punks were certainly listening (for better or worse: the Boomtown Rats "Rat Trap" was a particularly feeble Lizzy knock-off), with the Clash especially absorbing the sense of drama and pacing that defined their best songs.
Stop Press: about to reach musical overload here but I've got to mention Buster Shuffle's "Do Nothing" album. They're a new name to me, but there's a clue here in the title: there's clearly a big love and inspiration from people like Madness and the Specials in the twelve ska-pop songs here. I've got minimal info as to who does/writes/sings what here, but there's a real get up and dance kick to songs like "Brothers and Sisters", "Around Here", or "Made in China" and this is what it's all about - group I've never heard of playing some good songs like they really care, and this jaded reviewer is ready to do it all again.
Reviews by Den Browne