=  APRIL 2007 =

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Written by: Autumn Grieve

Tony Dale


Phil McMullen

Monster Bastard Project

Erica Rucker

Boris & Kurihara

Jeff Penczak

James Reid

Simon Lewis

  Graham Parker
  Various Artists - Lovin' Fire
  Various Artists - Walk the Lonely Night
  Anton Barbeau
  Birch Book
  The Luck of Eden Hall
  Michio Kurihara




(3" CD-R on Rusted Rail Records, http://www.rustedrail.com)


(5" CD-R on Rusted Rail Records, http://www.rustedrail.com)


    It's always a pleasure to receive a bundle in the mail from the increasingly essential Rusted Rail imprint, and especially so when the freight is of the quality of these three releases. I hadn't heard Canadian singer-songwriter Autumn Grieve before, so it was nice to finally get the chance to do that. 'Terra Infinita' was recorded with Deserted Villager and multi-instrumentalist/ composer Scott McLaughlin, as well as an ensemble of assorted villagers, including the ubiquitous Dave Colohan and skronkmeister Sean Og. It's primarily Greive and McLaughlin's show though, and together they get the hairs standing on end in a sombre and gothically-beautiful way that had me in mind of Heidi Berry's exquisite anomalies for Creation records, "Below the Waves" and "Firefly". Berry would later be homogenised for a 4AD audience, but at that point her work had the same spare, economical precision as Grieve's does here. 'Flown' is dazzling night-side folk, ideally suited to staring through rain-spattered windows. 'The Balance and the Beauty' is an expanding gyre of a mantra so beautiful it almost beggars description. All I can say is it makes the heart both ache and soar at the same time. Props go to Kate Redman's clarinet, which forms a perfect counterpoint to Grieve's vocals. 'Today the Rain' brings the vocal reverb and delay in a most effectively Nadler-esque fashion; haunted vocals and treated piano sailing some very turbulent emotional seas. Here's hoping that the wish for death embodied in the lyrics are melancholy/romantic catharsis and not literal. 'The Borrowed Light of Memory' takes the listener out bathed in a distinctly pre-Raphaelite glow, autumnal and perfectly, exquisitely sad.


    Yet another splinter group of United Bible Studies, Cubs was conceived to create "intimate, improvised instrumentals and night time melodies". The recordings on the Stonewater EP (I almost hesitate to describe it as an EP since it contains nine tracks) were apparently a result of "late night sessions beneath the stars and rain in a glasshouse in Galway" and it certainly has the kind of hermetical free-folk feel that takes one back to the early days of Tower Recordings and Charalambides. Tracks vary from blink-and-you'll-miss-it 19 second sketches to more fully-formed pieces around the three-and-a-half minute mark that unfold with rustic ease -  rural symphonies woven from a freewheeling combination of mandolin, guitar, accordion, tin whistle, banjolin and the occasional bit of wordless vocalising (as on the crystalline 'Cool Filter'). 'Opening Doors' is emblematic, playing with the codes of Irish traditional music, while breaking the spell occasionally with found sounds: at several points doors are opened and closed with such force that I thought someone had broken in to my place. It took a run downstairs and a check of the track title to realise the nature of the prank. Bastards! 'In Memory of Mariners Lost at Sea' is like the primeval essence of United Bible Studies: a tape print-through of a template for the kind of expansive composition UBS might favour. 'Mountain Folk Wandering' is the best thing on here: shimmering electric guitar and accordion behind ghost vocals that seem to form syllables but can't quite get them into phonetic order. The EP concludes with 'Lanterning', a precise and elegiac piece that belies its roots in improvisation. One hopes that Cubs might make a full length release one day, but I suspect that the occasional short, spontaneous release is more suited to their aesthetic.


    Rusted Rail enter the realm of the full-length CD-R release with a welcome reissue of Plinth's 'Wintersongs', originally issued in 1999 on cassette and then again in 2002 on CD-R. These 1998 recordings find prime-mover Michael Tanner collaborating with Steven DaCosta, Nicholas Palmer and Julian Poidevin, and largely pre-date Tanner's sound-works for antique music machines, most startlingly realised on the brilliant 'Victorian Machine Music' solo project. Here, more conventional instruments (glockenspiel, trumpet, clarinet, guitar, piano and melodica) co-exist with clocks, teapots, toy trains as well as electronic devices like ring modulators. The idea for 'Wintersongs' came about when Tanner re-read Lucy Boston's yuletide classic 'Children of Green Knowe', and then set about, with Steve DaCosta, to create a soundtrack to the book. After getting part way through this process, they decided to generalise it, making the work thematic of winter as a whole. All that Plinth would become is signposted in the first track 'For C.S' with its opening sample of birdsong, followed by multi-dimensional glockenspiel, then a distinctly odd chorus of "hallelujahs" comprised seemingly of androgynous voice and equipment rumble. It's a primitive sound compared to what Plinth would create later, but has enormous charm and potential. 'Bracken' is a glory of a piece, tinkling piano and dripping guitar sounds accompanied by a genuinely memorable trumpet melody. 'Hearth Pt 1' is devastatingly effective parlour folk: guitar and piano counterpoints over a substrate of barely heard bells and swelling drones. The Iditarod comes to mind, albeit brought in from the cold, thawed and comforted with mead and robust rural fare. On 'Lucia's Day Parts 1 to 3' Plinth expand their ambitions by having a crack at a near ten minute mini-suite, wielding favoured modes of metallic clatter and sonorous drone with mostly successful results. 'Frey and Gulliburstin' combines electronic crackle with contemplative percussion and guitar before dissolving into garden sounds then returning with more glockenspiel and music box ruminations. The lengthy closing suite 'Tom Bowcock's Eve' builds from subtly orchestrated drones (somewhat over-extended) through a transcendent segment for guitar, piano and melodica to a sequence of concluding chimes possibly played on icicles, possibly not. Tanner considers these early recordings naïve to the point of embarrassment, and it's true that they are not as fully formed as his later work, but there is real beauty here, and an instinctive facility with composition and tonality, and there seems little to apologise for.  (Tony Dale)



(CD EP on White Collar Records www.whitecollarrecords.com,

www.myspace.com/monsterbastardproject   )

Were I a lazy journalist, I might easily draw a comparison between the sound of the Monster Bastard Project and that of predominantly instrumental outfits from the stoner-rock end of the post-rock spectrum. Bands such as Windmills by the Ocean (formed out of ex-pats from Red Sparowes and Isis), with their brilliantly un-subtle blending of elements of Black Sabbath and Sigur Ros, spring immediately to mind.


    Ever diligent in my research however, I have forced myself along to see the MBP play live a dozen or more times in almost as many different dives across the southern half of England in the past couple of years - and I can assure you, dear reader, that there’s a lot more to this band than merely shadowing players from several leagues above them. The Monster Bastard Project are closer to Stackwaddy than they are to Sabbath; more Shellac than Sigur Ros. They have strong, memorable original songs - and most of all they have presence. The 3 guys dominate the stage between them: Robin Heading crouching over the drums like he’s about to stab them, bassist Dave Joy looking on ambivalently under a mass of curly fair hair, and guitarist Chris Dowling-Holmes ripping chords out of his guitar as if performing open-heart surgery on one of Dracula’s daughters.


   Together they carve mountainous instrumental soundscapes which range from bleary-eyed to teeth-rattling, often within the confines of the same song. On the opening pair of linked numbers ‘Low Winter Sun’ and ‘Bleach of Dawn’ for example, a steady riff builds on itself, echoing and reverberating, waiting to explode into a melee of fuzz and distortion bent on destroying on all who oppose it. The eleven-minute long ‘An Image to Uphold and a Heritage to Honour’ draws the band closer to the primordial sea of massive, slow moving, and circulating riffs exemplified by bands like Mono, while the final song on this all too short (35 minute) CD-EP, the brilliant 'Ghost', finds them exploring similar sonic territory to Kinski, with whirling cascades of guitars pouring like rain from brooding dark clouds that hang imposingly low on the horizon. It's arguably their finest song yet and it's also the newest, so don't be fooled by the EP's title: this is just the beginning and definitely not the end.


   An invitation to play the next Terrastock festival wherever and whenever it’s held has already been sent. Don’t wait until then to check them out though: the Monster Bastard Project are the sound of the now, and this EP is as good an introduction as any to their world. Oh, and one final note: inner sleeve artwork is by Rob Sharples, as if further confirmation of their Terrascopic credentials were necessary... (Phil McMullen)




(CD on Pedal Records, Japan and Drag City PO Box 476867 Chicago IL  60647 USA)


Not having listened to much Boris previously, other than 'Pink', and despite their gig as critical darlings, I was expecting an all out bash to the head.  I was quite surprised with 'Rainbow' in that it fits like a broken-in Chuck Taylor. It is familiar and cosy.  It takes no time to warm to this album.  It is a very posh listen for any rock music fan; a good blend of sludge metal and 70's style rock complete with its own figurative pair of ball mashing bell-bottoms.


In other reviews I read that this album was "quiet", "laid-back", and "chilled-out".  If you expect the Boris/Kurihara release to only be that kind of rock experience, you will be sorely disappointed when Michio Kurihara (Ghost) and resident Boris-ian, Wata slay some very dirty guitar licks; ones that literally could sear your face off.  See 'Sweet No.1'.   The electric guitar, as played by these two, would make Nikola Tesla so very proud.  When these two are playing it is pure electricity.  It is more than a sound.  It becomes a state; a plane of existence.


In between the moments of fuzzed out insanity are really gorgeous and bright tunes like 'My Rain' which plays very soothingly following the assaultive 'Starship Narrator'.  '...And I Want' is another one of those moments following 'Sweet No. 1'.  Another seriously nice spot on this album is 'Shine', which has a very Pink Floyd style mix of power, space and air.   Overall Rainbow is solidly planned and executed.  Nothing is missing.  Nothing is overdone.  It is exactly as it should be and my feeling is that if Boris will be remembered over the long haul, this album will stand out as one of its masterpieces.   Rainbow is a very mature effort. My guess the influence of Michio Kurihara has a lot to do with that.    It borrows enough from the past and introduces enough of its own post-rock/metal influence to make it original and not a rip of other works. (Erica Rucker) [Phil adds: as if continuing a theme for this column, the US release on Drag City - the album originally came out on Pedal Records in Japan - features cover artwork by another friend of ours, Naomi Yang]




(CD-R on Barl Fire)


    Fife-based singer-songwriter James Reid walks down an avenue where long shadows are cast by predecessors like Nick Drake and Roy Harper. Their iconic status has problematised the territory for successors, who cannot avoid being placed on the same continuum, but must somehow leave their own mark on it. You can stay close to the source and do it well, like a Greg Weeks or a Nick Castro, or you can take the tools of acoustic guitar and voice and subtly bend and shape them to your will and world view, coming up with something quite removed, which James Reid does on his debut CD 'Like a Buzzard Chased By Crows'. Star-crossing high and lo-fidelity recording techniques, and equipped with little more than voice, guitar, mandolin, whistles, percussive objects and some electronic manipulation, Reid takes the listener for a tour through the landscapes and habitats of his corner of Scotland. 'Our Poor Lone Kestrel' mixes intriguing tunings on acoustic guitar with a keen sense or melody and structure for a perfect instrumental introduction. Reid's confidence in holding back vocals until the album has hit its stride is a good sign: they first appear well into the second track - the eerie 'Time of Autumn', with its child-spoken introduction and evocation of The Wicker Man soundtrack. When Reid's voice hits, it does so with significant impact. It isn't a conventionally appealing voice, but what it does have is complexity of timbre and a compelling gravity.


    'Kingfisher Blue' is probably the best thing on here, its nimble guitar work and fine song-craft recalling the best of Nigel Mazlyn-Jones circa his 'Ship-to-Shore' album. Wood blocks and whistles accompany a primitive guitar pattern and desiccated vocals for the dark-lament 'Fallen King', which has the spareness of Japanese traditional music. Elsewhere, 'Been Here Before' plays around with the possibilities of distressed Dictaphone as vocal recording medium, and the extended 'Two Crows' is a lightly electrified slice of acoustic mellowness that wouldn't be out of place on Gary Higgins' 'Red Hash' album, though with a lyrical edge and growing sense of lower-frequency menace than runs counter to its easy-going musical vibe. The skipping, mandolin-fuelled charms of 'Sunrise Bound' and electronic-chill of 'Winter's Cry' round out an impressive set from an artist to watch. This is the first in a new line from Barl Fire, and looks for all the world like a production CD in jewel case, but it's definitely a CD-R and limited to 200 copies. (Tony Dale)




(CD on The Temporary Residence Ltd )


Grails take their time releasing albums, and wisely so if you ask me. ‘Burning off Impurities’ is their first full studio album since ‘Redlight’, which came out on Neurot back in 2004, and either through planning or serendipity they’ve found themselves the perfect label to consolidate the instrumental rock ideas explored both on that and on last year’s ‘Black Tar Prophecies’ collection – Temporary Residence, home of the mighty MONO and so much more besides. Self-produced, with (and this I believe is absolutely key) help from Steven Wray Lobdell of Terrascopic heroes the Davis Redford Triad, also credited with knob-twiddling on this album is one Jeff Saltzman, producer with a dark secret in his closet: an extraordinary one-off experimental psychedelic pop CD which owed not a little to the Dreamies, released on Alias records in 1992 entitled ‘Attributed to Cerebral Corps’. Little is known about said album except that it was recorded, played and sung by a gentleman named Jeff Saltzman. One and the same? Who knows...*  I’d certainly love to hear Grails covering Cerebral Corps’ ‘I’m Haemorrhaging (In F#)’ though.


Meanwhile, as you can no doubt gather by now, ‘Burning Off Impurities’ is long on production values, and not short on ideas. Influenced in equal parts by Ash Ra Tempel, Erkin Koray, Popol Vuh, Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin (it says here), an increased fascination with psychedelia, prog-rock and even middle-eastern riffs finds Grails out-Kaleidoscoping (the US) Kaleidoscope on ‘Soft Temple’, exploring similar sonic territory to Cul de Sac on ‘Silk Rd’, and even finger-picking just like Glenn Jones on the utterly brilliant ‘Outer Banks’. ‘Dead Vine Blues’ meanwhile hurls a little ‘Workingman’s Dead’ into the mix while ‘Origin-ing’ is pure New Tweedy Brothers. And it’s all of it spiced up by Grails’ own metal schooling and background.


More rock-folk than folk-rock, Grails might just have delivered the album of the year so far... it’s certainly the one that’s getting the most airplay hereabouts just recently, and will be I fancy for a long time to come. (Phil McMullen)


* An email received out of the blue from the man himself shortly after publishing this confirmed my theory - it is indeed the very same Jeff Saltzman! - Phil




(Bloodshot 3039 W. Irving Park Rd, Chicago IL 60618 USA)


     Graham Parker began his career over 30 years ago above the Hope & Anchor pub in Islington with a group of backing musicians (who would later be recognised as one of Britain’s premier pub rockers, The Rumour) foisted* upon him by manager Dave Robinson (who also happened to be one of the owners of the inimitable Stiff label). GP & The Rumour would co-exist with the burgeoning punk movement, eventually outliving its 15 minutes of fame by delivering seven albums of sweaty rock and roll that still pack the same fist-in-your-face wallop they delivered upon initial impact at the end of the 70s (i.e., 1976-80). The short, skinny guy in (sun)glasses is one of England’s original angry young men who rode punk’s new wave of cynicism onto the charts and into our hearts, until mellowing slightly and beginning his solo career with 1982’s ‘Another Grey Area.’ He hasn’t looked back in anger since and, this, his 30th album in as many years (and for almost as many labels!) may be his best yet, with all the trademark elements that have endeared him to a growing cult of fanatics, particularly his acerbic wit, self-deprecating introspective analysis and that incredible gift for crafting indelible melodies.


     A longtime resident of the Hurley area of Woodstock, NY, GP has grown old gracefully, living the country life with a wife and kids and penning several novels and short story collections along the way. The sun and crisp air seem to suit the ol’ bastard, as he’s looking rather svelte, yet weatherbeaten in the photos on the sleeve. He regularly contributes his eagerly anticipated “Thoughts of Chairman Parker” to his website, which also offers exclusive, authorized bootlegs of recent live concerts. Recent albums have found GP fronting the rather generic, but more than adequate bar band, The Figgs – sort of a new Rumour for the 21st Century – but here he limits his backing to their guitarist Mike Gent (who’s hopped into the drumseat). Mike also drums in the current touring band, dubbed Graham Parker and The Latest Clowns, who’ll be doing a dozen dates on the US East Coast throughout April and the beginning of May. I highly recommend checking them out. In the meantime, we have this thinly veiled Valentine to his adopted homeland that opens with the autobiographical, Dylanesque song/story about breaking into the American market with his Nick Lowe-produced debut (‘Howlin’ Wind’) back in 1976, ‘I Discovered America.’ Next, in typical GP fashion, ‘England’s Latest Clown’ can be interpreted in myriad ways, from a stab at the current UK government to the goofy antics of that idiot headline grabber, Pete Doherty. Next, he invites “white chick singers” Kate Williams and Molly Gardenia to coo seductively on the swaying, country toe-tapper, ‘Ambiguous,’ which would sound mighty fine on a Dave Edmunds record (remember that one of Dave’s best loved tracks is his cover of Graham’s ‘Crawling From The Wreckage’), but also bears more than a passing resemblance to Joan Jett’s interpretation of the Paul Westerberg-penned ‘Androgynous’ on her current ‘Sinner’ album.


     A lot will be written about the album’s centrepiece, the epic, 8½ minute ‘The Other Side of The Reservoir,’ by far GP’s longest composition to date. It’s languid pace is already turning off a few fans who prefer his abbreviated live version, but I have to admit I’ve taken quite a liking to the tale, which allows Parker to infuse a little soulful, Al Green touches into his repertoire. It’s a heartstring-tugging tale of advancement that’s as poignant as, say Ian Hunter’s ‘Irene Wilde,’ yet as romantically nostalgic and hopeful as Dylan’s ‘Sara.’ Again open to many interpretations, it could be heard as a love song to a lost love who’s moved away, a child growing up and leaving for university, or a tale of frustrated jealousy about someone who had the courage to move out of their little corner of the world to try and make something better of themselves and leave GP behind to wallow in self-pity and a lifetime of “what could have beens.” In time, this may be acknowledged as his ‘Sad-Eyed Lady of The Lowlands.’


     Having said all that, don’t fear that the album is weighed down by monumentally introspective confessionals. The straightforward pop of ‘Suspension Bridge,’ for example, leaves Gent’s “Are we rolling” in the beginning of the mix, and the biting political commentary, ‘Stick To The Plan’ (another Edmondsesque stomper with a wicked GP kazoo solo!) opens with engineer, Professor “Louie” Horwitz’ reminder, “We’re still rolling, Graham, whenver you’re ready,” followed by Parker’s throat clearing grunts and the white chick singers’ giddy giggling, suggesting the recording sessions were loose and relaxed, without a morbid pallor hanging in the air like the smoke from GP’s hand-rolled fags. ‘Total Eclipse of The Moon’ is another punchy rocker and early fan favorite that would do well as an introductory single. It’s perhaps his catchiest slice of ear-candy since ‘Deep Cut To Nowhere’’s ‘I’ll Never Play Jacksonville Again’ or ‘Your Country’’s ‘Fairgrounds.’


     I challenge you to name me another artist who’s as vibrant, accessible and still has something worth saying and delivers it with such energy on their 30th album as they did on their first. ‘Don’t Tell Columbus’ is a little bit country and a little bit rock and roll and every inch the winner. It’s personal, political, perhaps a tad too Dylanesque, but, as Chairman Parker himself has stated in his inimitably self-deprecating manner in the latest “Thoughts” posted on his website, “If I never make a record again, that'll be fine with me. This is it. My work is done here.” The early Stateside reviews are in and it’s universally being hailed as one of the year’s finest releases. After having spent the last hour in the presence of these dozen slices of greatness, I’m in no position to argue. (Jeff Penczak)


*Phil adds: hardly "foisted" - the original line-up of the Rumour was formed out of the ashes of one of the Terrascope's all-time favourite groups Brinsley Schwarz, who were breaking up at the time (February 1975) and also happened to be managed by Dave Robinson. Nick Lowe (bass, vocals) went on to achieve success as a solo performer, producer and songwriter, while keyboard player Bob Andrews and founder Brinsley Schwarz (guitar, vocals) appeared in The Rumour. Ian Gomm meanwhile retreated to the Welsh countryside and helped build and run the now legendary Foel Studios.




(Psychic Circle)


     In recent years, Nick Saloman has filled in some downtime between Bevis Frond albums by curating compilations of hopelessly obscure prog, psych and beat gems from his personal collection of 45s from the UK and Europe. Nearly two dozen such compilations for the Past & Present label have brought us the ‘We Can Fly,’ ‘That Driving Beat,’ ‘Instro Hipsters A Go-Go,’ ‘New Rubbles,’ etc. series and now the (same) folks behind the great Sunbeam and Fallout reissue imprints have commissioned him to peruse his wet-dream record collection to supply their new imprint, Psychic Circle with more, previously uncomped scorchers, starting with these “20 Obscure Gems from the UK and Europe,” exploring that end-of-the-decade cusp when the 60s merged into the 70s and, as the subtitle reminds us, ‘Psychedelia Melts Into The Progressive.’ (Nick is well-versed in the subject, having dedicated an entire edition of his ‘Radio Bevis’ radio show a number of years back to what he dubbed ‘The Acceptable Face of Prog,’ that featured The Locomotive, who are also a represented here.)


     The first volume kicks off with the snarling, punky prog of Silence’s Dutch-only release, ‘Mother’s Game’ from 1971, and then glides effortlessly into no less than the legendary combination of Norman “Hurricane” Smith and John Peel’s production of Ipsissimus’ lone release, ‘Lazy Woman’ (Parlophone, 1969), a heavy blues stomper complete with a harp solo and a wailing rhythm section, and a hint of ‘There’s A Riot Goin’ On’ fermenting underneath. Another legend, songwriter John Carter (The Ivy League, Viv Prince, The Flowerpot Men, First Class (remember ‘Beach Baby’?) – the RPM 2xCD comp ‘Measure For Measure’ is essential) co-wrote ‘The Clown’ for his Ivy League mates’ one off project, Warm Sensations. It’s a lite psych number from 1969 (produced by The Hollies’ Allan Clarke) that boasts an upbeat, wholesome, string, piano and mellotron backing that everyone from The Cowsills and Association to The Monkees could’ve ridden to the top of the charts. (And, true to the comp’s promise, it’s not on the aforementioned RPM set and appears to be previously uncomped.) From the continent comes Switzerland’s Pacific Sound, bringing ‘Thick Fog’ with them, the flip to their only single, which also appeared on their lone, 1971 album. It’s a short, organ-driven headswirler, with distinct progressive/krautorck tendencies, as is Germany’s The Royal Servants’ heavily phased 1971 single, ‘Work Part II.’ The band soon changed its name to Eulenspegel and released two highly prized LPs.


     Holland is also responsible for Apartment 1’s contribution, ‘Fuzz Buzz’ (from Pink Elephant, the same label responsible for Shocking Blue, whose lovely lead singer Mariska Veres sadly left us last year) that has a nasty guitar solo to recommend it, as well as 1973’s ‘Mama You Said The Right Words’ from Left Side, a prolific band with glammy tendencies. This one marries a Lee Michaels-styled vocalist to a Sweet-meets-Slade choral backing, and tosses in some bad boy riffage a la AC/DC for good measure.


     Saloman’s former Frond partner, Bari Watts (from 80s prolific psychsters, Outskirts of Infinity) used to be in a band called Mayroc and Nick took the title of this comp from Watts’ 1974 acetate. As any OoI fan might expect, it’s a hard driving guitar-based rave-up that showcases Bari’s Cream and Hendrix tendencies and is also the comp’s most recent track.


     Although most of prog’s later unwieldy excesses are absent from most of these tracks, fans should note that the predominant factor present across most of them is heavy, occasionally bluesy rock, with a preponderence of guitar solos as one might expect from a comp curated by a guitarist! So be aware that this is basically hard rock with trace prog elements…mostly organ backing and ostentatious vocal arrangements. But there’s also a treasure trove of tracks from obscure British bands who were obviously changing their sound to blend in with the encroaching times. On that front, you’ll find ‘New Day Dawning’ from Rainbows, a band that grew out of psychedelic beat group, The Peeps (whose ‘It’s All Over Now” graced the initial Rubbles volume, ‘The Psychedleic Snarl’ and whose members would go on to join Nektar and Flying Machine), The Locomotive’s ‘Moving Down The Line,” which finds the band abandoning the style that gave them white reggae hits with ‘Rudi’s In Love’ and ‘Rudi, A Message to You’ (and later covered to great effect by The Specials), and Ray Owen’s Moon’s admittedly over the top and utterly flamboyant ‘Talk To Me,’ featuring Juicy Lucy’s former lead singer.


     Nottingham’s prolific septet, Whichwhat released five singles and an album for the tiny Beacon label, but chart success eluded them at home, although they were reportedly popular in Austria, Holland and Japan. 1969’s ‘Parting’ (the flip to their cover of Zager & Evans’ ‘In the Year 2525’!) is one of their better efforts, featuring Eddie Young’s emotional, bluesy vocals, Walter Savage’s screaming organ and a few well-placed guitar solos from Wayne Ford. Canada’s The Influence originated in South Africa and their only UK release, 1969’s ‘Driving Me Wild’ is bookended by an unusual harsichord solo, but eventually explodes into an inspiring marriage of Foghat and Boston! And surely the most unusual track on the album has got to be Children’s 1971 take on the old soul classic, ‘Piece of My Heart,’ with a swirling Hammond organ snaking around a little-girlish, completely over the top vocal that sounds like Yvonne Elliman auditioning for the lead role in a Joplin bio pic!


     An enticing introduction to another promising label that’s sure to assuage the seemingly ceaseless appetite of collectors everywhere to finally score more rare as hen’s teeth obscurities that would otherwise languish in hopeless obscurity (or the dust under Saloman’s bed!) So, kudos to Mr. Saloman and Psychic Circle as we eagerly await further volumes (see below) with baited breath…and open wallets! (Jeff Penczak)




(Psychic Circle)


     Subtitled ‘Ballroom Beat, Volume 1,’ I Walk The Lonely Night’ (taken from the lone single from Dave & The Diamonds, included here) is the first in a series of Nick Saloman-curated selections from UK beat groups that focuses on the pop, soul and blues acts that filled Britain’s dancehalls, ca. 1963-66. Saloman’s favourite band was The Beatles, so it’s no surprise that he starts this set with The Imp-acts [sic] rather Beatlesque, “If I Were The Only One,’ a ’65 scorcher that was surprisingly only released in Germany (on Vogue). The band later backed Adam Faith. The same year also gives us Scotland’s Karl Stuart and The Profiles, whose Mercury debut, ‘Love of My Eyes’ is a nice little organ-driven slice of Merseybeat in the style of Gerry & The Pacemakers. (The band also recorded as Profile, and trainspotters may recognise their debut single, ‘Haven’t They Got Better Things To Do’ from Volume 1 of Saloman’s earlier compilation series, ‘That Driving Beat.’ Their guitarist, Miller Anderson was later in Savoy Brown.)


     The aforementioned title track is a sweaty little number with a marvellous sax break that recalls Dave Clark 5. The late, great Clifford T. Ward used to front Worcester’s The Secrets and his 1966 CBS single ‘What A Pity’ is a haunting, low key weeper. Liverpudlians, Ian Edward & The Zodiacs give us ‘This Won’t Happen To Me,’ a snappy little pop number with a memorable hook that I still can’t get out of my head. The Wackers’ ‘I Wonder Why’ (Oriole, 1964) sounds like one of  The Mindbenders’ school dance numbers from ‘To Sir With Love,’ but could just as easily have been Nick Lowe having a go at some obscure Beatles B-side. West Five’s ‘She Mine’ bears an author credit from a certain Mr. Broughton, but it’s unclear whether this is our beloved Edgar, and Lee Bennett & The Sunliners’ marvelous one-off for Decca in 1964, ‘Poor Bachelor Boy’ had me humming the chorus from Little Richard’s ‘The Girl Can’t Help It’ all the way through. There’s a nice little guitar break to recommend it as well, even if Lee is trying a little too hard to perfect his Elvis impersonation.


    Mark Loyd’s 1965 Parlophone debut, ‘I Keep Thinking About You’ is a swampy little Northern Soul groover with vintage Steve Cropper guitar lines, and I also dug Coventry’s Mighty Avengers’ debut single for Decca, 1964’s ‘Hide Your Pride,’ a nice, Everly Brothers-style pop tune, although guitarist, Tony Campbell and sax player “Beppy” Mahon would later achieve their biggest success when they formed Jigsaw and rode ‘Sky High’ (originally written for the obscure George Lazenby film, ‘The Man from Hong Kong’) to the top of the charts in 1975. Bobby Allen & The Commanches only released the one Fontana single, 1963’s ‘Half As Much As You,’ but the Chad & Jeremy-style harmonies and Joergen Ingmann-influenced vibratoed guitar break suggests they should have had better luck. And I could almost swear I hear vestiges of ‘I Knew The Bride’ rolling around in the background of The Midnights’ catchy little twisterella, ‘Show Me Around’ (Ember, 1965)


     Finally, Mitcham’s Brian Howard & The Silhouettes released three fine singles for Columbia, and the middle one, ‘The Worrying Kind’ is a bouncy little organ-driven number that surely filled dancefloors wherever they played; Beatles collectors may want to check out Pete Best’s US-only release of ‘Boys’ (Cameo, 1964), a screaming little, distorted garage stomper that leaves his former employer’s version in the dust, in my humble opinion; and The Jynx’ ‘Do What They Don’t Say’ (Columbia, 1964) is another catchy slice of Beatlesque pop that should have fared better. You’ll also enjoy the 8-page booklet, featuring archival photos of many of the bands, and Saloman’s typically thorough historical liners all add up to an essential purchase that bodes well for future entries in the series. (Jeff Penczak)




(CD on Pink Hedgehog Records)


    Much of what is written about Sacramento singer-songwriter Anton Barbeau has been genealogy-by-numbers, tracing his work back through a fairly obvious lineage to the heyday of UK psychedelic pop. Let's try and not do to much of that that here, because his work deserves better, having the strength and uniqueness to be evaluated in light not shadow. 'In the Village of the Apple Sun' was one of the finest releases of 2006, and in many ways, 'Drug Free' is a companion piece to that brilliant, acid-drenched blotter of songs and sound-sketches. 'Drug Free', like its predecessor,  has a knack of firing hooks into your cerebellum in a way that makes them difficult to dislodge – days, not minutes or hours being required. Above all, Barbeau knows that at the core of all good psychedelic pop there must be genuinely memorable song-craft, otherwise the construct either flies apart like the psyche of someone on the worst of trips, or is impenetrable like the consciousness of one of Philip K. Dick's burnt-out co-travellers "who were punished entirely too much for what they did". It's all in the balance.


    The title track is an entirely fitting opener, playing ironically with the concept of the artist set adrift creatively without psychotropic assistance. "I lost the will to write, to strum and to sing" is the sentiment conveyed he complains to a fictional doctor while seeking some "prescription bubblegum", but it is clearly not so, for the song is a fine slice of twisted pop, made more eldritch by decontextualised vocal contributions from Sharron Kraus. Pete Townsend once wrote about the songs stopping once the drugs stopped, and the same concerns seem to be addressed here. 'Leave It with Me, I'm Always Gentle' is classic hummable Barbeau, very much recalling Robyn Hitchcock (maybe without the shellfish obsession). And it has whistling…always a good sign for this genre.  'Just Passing By' is a genuinely deathless slice of power-pop, with an iconic chord-progression, blistering leads, and a stunning tune along the lines of early work of the Teardrop Explodes, Echo & the Bunnymen and the Chameleons (sensing a thread there). Definitely one for future compilation albums.


    After the Trojan horse represented by this initial brace of songs, the CD takes and more deranged and tangled route. 'Alphalpha Bhang', 'Disco Dress' and 'Boncentration Bamp' play with influences from UK toy-town psych-pop to Monty Python's Flying Circus, mostly successfully depending on your tolerance for Gilliam-esque surreal daftness. Various Lucky Bishops sit in to provide a full-blown psych-rock framework for the delirious 'Magic Metal Apron'. Barbeau's art can veer dangerously close to self-parody at times, and sometimes it is going to cross the line, as 'She Wears a Green Leaf' does quite spectacularly. Other tracks like 'Oh the Malaise' and 'Circus for the Stars' seem little more than sketches for potential fully-realised compositions, but that is part of what you sign up for with this kind of record. Conversely, 'In a Boat on the Sea' doesn't seem to have the variety of moves to sustain its ten-minute-plus length, though it drifts by pleasantly enough.

    While perhaps not being as consistent as 'In the Village of the Apple Sun', there is more than enough diversion in the material on 'Drug Free' to please either the long-term Barbeau follower or the casual fan of psych-pop wanting to check out his work. And it's good to know that there are several other releases in the pipeline from this always intriguing artist. (Tony Dale)


Phil adds: Anton Barbeau is performing in Oxford just before the Terrastock Tea Party (at a different venue). Sharron Kraus and myself bumped into him while sticking up fly-posters around town recently...




 (Woven Wheat Whispers)


     Birch Book is the two-year-old side project of our old friend, Jon Michael B’Eirth, whom we had the distinct  pleasure of interviewing in great detail back in the final Phil McMullen-edited Ptolemaic Terrascope print issue, back in December, 2004. These tracks (mostly from Birch Book’s first two albums) were recorded live on August 24, 2005 at VPRO Radio in Amsterdam (sort of Holland’s version of a BBC Session or America’s old ‘King Biscuit Flower Hour’), with occasional assistance from Belgian vocalist, Annelies Monseré, whose breathy, almost ghostly accompaniment on opener, ‘Christina’s Song’ adds an other-worldly aura to an already hauntingly beautiful track. With a lyric from Christina Rossetti, this track is very close to the ambience that The Green Pajamas’ Jeff Kelly and Lauren Weller have been creating in recent years via their Goblin Market project.


     There’s a touch of a brogue to B’Eirth’s vocals on ‘New Song,’ a gorgeous lullaby with a lilting, Donovanesque tinge that would sit perfectly on any of his vintage classics, like ‘Mellow Yellow’ and ‘Sunshine Superman.’ B’Eirth’s voice has also never sounded as comforting and warmly nostalgic than on ‘Wandering Boy’ (which would later appear on ‘Fortune & Folly’) and ‘Warm Wind and Rain’ (from 2005’s self-titled debut). While the latter impressed me with its hint of The Stones’ ‘Salt of The Earth’ trickling through the chorus, both tracks transported me back to that special happy place that I haven’t visited since I cuddled up with my early Tom Rush albums.


     As with In Gowan Ring, the songs are populated with some of B’Eirth’s favorite subjects: nightingales, nature, fauna and flora, with musical arrangements that occasionally hint at the softer side of King Crimson. In fact, the performance of ‘Aurora,’ from his contribution to Timothy Renner’s ‘Folklore of The Moon’ 3” CD series (‘Full Flower Moon’ Hand/Eye, May, 2005) could easily have graced an early Crimson album, as I suggested in my original review of the song, “The ‘Full Flower Moon’ finally descends upon ‘Aurora,’ a tragic love song with B’eirth’s vocals heavily weighed under an aching longing for an unattainable, perhaps Platonic love. It once again recalls the quiet ballads of early King Crimson, such as ‘Moonchild,’ ‘I Talk To The Wind,’ ‘Cadence & Cascade’ and ‘Lady of the Dancing Water.’”


     A more straightforward, acoustic folk album, Birch Book is more accessible – perhaps more intimate – than In Gowan Ring. You could call it his singer/songwriter project. In any event, it is certainly a welcome addition to the brilliant catalogue of one of our favorite wyrdfolk artists and an essential purchase for In Gowan Ring, Prydwyn, Stone Breath and melancholic Bert Jansch, Donovan, Nick Drake, and Tom Rush fans.


Note: The album is available exclusively as a digital download from the link above. (Jeff Penczak)




( CD from www.fat-cat.co.uk)


The second album by this Swedish band sees them raise their game, offering a more assured songwriting stance and a wider palette of textures which fills the album with emotion and allows the songs to flow beautifully.


    Opening song “Faintest of sparks” is a haunting mix of Jamie Barnes and The Green Pajamas, a gentle banjo ushering the song in with grace, the vocals aching with regret. The soft beginning to “Chore Of The Heart” is a subtle ruse as the band introduce some louder passages, giving the song dynamic resonance without losing the pastoral heart that runs through this collection. A more country/Americana feel is revealed on “Silver Bells” with some chiming guitars taking us back in time, sounding like The Byrds at their finest. Similar influences abound on “Standing In Line” although this time the ghost of Neil Young is never far away. So far, so good, this album just gets better and better, a trend that is continued with the deeply moving “Soldiers Hands”, the banjo returning in poignant mood.


   With excellent vocal delivery throughout, some joyous playing, and a range of influences that never become mere copies, this a wholly satisfying album and one that will be a firm favourite in ten years time, with the whispering beauty of “New Morning” guaranteed to stay with you long after the music ends.  (Simon Lewis)




( CD from www.luckofedenhall.com)


I was playing this album recently when my wife walked into the room and asked if this was a new Bevis Frond album, making me realise why I was enjoying it so much, as it displays the same mix of guitar frenzy, introspection and quality songwriting. Not only that but the vocal are certainly reminiscent of the Frond in their style of delivery, whilst analogue synths and a warm drum sound only add to the comparison.


    Originally formed in the early nineties, the band reformed in 2002 resulting in this album which is brimming with swirling psych magic played and produced by Greg Curvey and Mark Lofgren.


    After the reverbed and phased psychedelia of “Baby Moon”, the album lifts off with some dextrous guitar playing that levitates “Device” high in the clouds, a rippling flute adding shards of light to the tune. A poppier Steve Hillage vibe is created on the title track, the drums well up in the mix as the guitar drives through the song with reckless abandon, held together by huge washes of synths that reverberate across the room.


     Consistently strong throughout, fans of Tyrnaround, Dukes Of Stratosphear, Reefus Moon, or Bevis Frond will not be disappointed, as the album is a hook-laden psych-pop classic with a wonderfully rich and warm production that tumbles out of the speakers with lysergic glee.


   On the drifting “Whereever Sends” a west-coast feel is magically invoked, the instruments dancing around each other like sunlight on crystal, full of blissful thoughts. Finally the band take us home with the floatation tank happiness of “Goodnight” the perfect way to close this softly spoken trip inside your head. (Simon Lewis)




(CD on 20/20/20 and on Pedal records in Japan) 


A guitarist makes a solo record and it either becomes something like a Jeff Beck record or a horribly noodling Yngwie Malmsteen riff fest.  So was my fear of listening to Michio Kurihara's "Sunset Notes".  However, let's consider that Mr. Kurihara is a different type of player all together from either one of the former.  He is most similar, if a choice should be made, to the first but let's not take anything from his talents or his album.  He can stand firmly on his own feet and does.  So while many guitar records boast of virtuosity and musical prowess, often at the expense of a good song, "Sunset Notes" does not boast.   It is evident immediately that Kurihara is a brilliantly playing force of reckoning but the ego stroke of so many other poorly constructed guitar records doesn't exist here. 


In songs like "Wind Waltzes", Kurihara masterfully lets the song speak for itself.  He allows Ai Aso to sing gently over the song while the guitar accompanies perfectly, never intrusively.   Kurihara never forces his guitar to be more than it is or to give less than it can.  He allows it to be exactly what it is on every cut of the record. 

This is not a doom tinged, fuzz rock record.  In fact it's damn near happy and celebratory.  Part surf, in places and part Duane Eddy in others, Michio Kurihara plays from a place that seems less chaotic, less desperate and frenetic than many other guitarists. He almost always exhibits excellent creativity paired with a need never to be a "show".    He's a very mature player wherein the only things that need to speak for themselves are the sounds of the guitar and the songs that he plays.  This is music tailor-made for watching the surf crashing against a rocky shore.  It is often reflective and thoughtful while always remaining hopeful, challenging and positive.


There are many key moments on "Sunset Notes".  My personal favourites are "Wind Waltzes" and "Pendulum on a G-string-The Last Cicada" with its hints of King Crimson.  


Listening to "Sunset Notes" gives me the feeling that I need to pull out a typewriter and lose myself in a sea of words and images.   It plays like an especially great escape from the now.  Where it goes, one wants to follow. ( Erica Rucker )