= December 2012 =  
Lawrence Hammond
Jah Wobble & Keith Levene
Beck Sian



(CD from www.shagratrecords.com )

If you get a chance to hear one song from this album, try ‘Little Britches’ (not a typo) as it’s almost thematic; bluegrass fiddle is fiddled, horses are ridden, cowboys reminisce and rodeos are recalled. Lyrically it’s faultless; a brilliant piece of vintage Western folk music, beautifully played and exquisitely crafted.

Anyone for whom the name Lawrence Hammond hasn’t already rung a bell of recognition will have furrowed their brows in puzzlement at the vocal delivery by this stage. If the quavering cadences seem strangely familiar, take a listen to ‘Pale Moon on the Pecos’, ‘West Texas Border Patrol’ or ‘Nevada McLoud’. By now you won’t need me to tell you that these songs are by THE Lawrence Hammond, late of the mighty Mad River – one of the most unique, magical and endlessly fascinating bands to emerge from the late 60s San Francisco melting pot.

Don’t expect the guitar pyrotechnics or explosive psychedelic delivery, but aficionados of both the country and the western sides of Mad River, for example ‘Cherokee Queen’ and Lawrence Hammond’s own ‘Paradise Bar and Grill’ from the LP of the same name, will nod sagely at hearing ‘Tumbleweed Plantation’ in particular – close your eyes and it could almost be an outtake. It’s almost my favourite cut on the album, but that accolade has to be reserved for ‘Papa Redwing Blackbird’, a stunningly beautiful song which features some gorgeous guitar plucking, with both Hammond’s quavering voice and an occasional flute dancing through the skies above and around it.

As well as singing, Hammond plays piano, dobro, fiddle, mandolin, viola, acoustic guitar, lead guitar and just about everything other than the bass he played with Mad River. The material actually dates from the late 70s, and as the title suggests was unreleased and “presumed lost” until recently. Nigel Cross makes a masterful job of recounting the story behind the album in his sleeve-notes, so I shan’t repeat them here – rest assured that fans of Mad River; bluegrass fans; anyone who appreciates a well written and professionally delivered song will find something to appreciate and admire here. (Phil McMullen)



(CD from
30 Hertz/Cherry Red)

Legendary artist reunions are a bittersweet proposition for fans. Circumstances sometimes dictate that you are unable to catch your heroes during their heyday and by the time you get around to it, they’re gone. The music industry being a somewhat fleeting career choice, many artists are unable to make the transition into “private life” and make ends meet as best they can in other endeavours. So an opportunity to reunite and drag out the old war horses onto a stage or into a recording studio seems like a win-win for artist and fan alike. Here’s an opportunity to relive/rekindle the old flames while picking up some needed dosh, while a new generation of fans (and some oldies who missed you first time around) are able to vicariously relive their youth. Often, these situations are better on paper than in execution. But for some – the very talented who are able to roll with the times and update their sound to the current styles without losing touch with what made them famous to begin with – it can be a very rewarding experience. Thus is the case with Messrs. Wobble and Levene, one half of seminal post-punk collective Public Image Ltd. (PiL), originally known as the band Johnny Rotten started after the Sex Pistols imploded. Their debut slice of unforgettable/unlistenable (your choice) anti-rock was arguably the most jarring release of 1978, with Wobble’s throbbing basslines (heavily influenced by Reggae dub) crumbling houses at 100 paces and Levene’s shards-of-glass guitar scrapings paving the way for everyone from The Cure and The Fall to Gang of Four, Delta 5, The Pop Group and similarly minded pop-punk experimenters.

                  Earlier this year, Wobble and Levene reunited to tour a dub version of their final PiL album together (Metal Box/aka Second Edition) and now they’ve recorded a full album that victoriously picks up where they left off nearly 35 years ago. The title track finds them up to their old antagonistic tricks, as the first words we hear out of Wobble’s mouth are “Fucking yin and fucking yang/Soft little whisper/Big fucking bang”. Yeah, the more things change, the more they remain the same! But it’s not all shock for shock’s sake – filthy little words to grab your attention. No – the music is the key here and fans of their earlier collaboration will not be disappointed. Wobble’s bass fodderstompfs through ‘Strut’ and his Lydonesque vocals on ‘Jags & Staffs’ – more recitation than singing also recall classic Mark E. Smith and The Fall. But Levene steps into the spotlight here, with his sinewy guitar lines weaving around Wobble’s thundering bass before exploding into a raging shitstorm of angular cat whines and howling banshees. And just wait ‘til you hear what they make of Harrison’s ‘Within You Without You’! Eschewing the sitar completely, Levene takes a jazzier approach – riffing on the melody line before spacewarping into another plane while Wobble transcendentally meditates on the chorus – can you say “Ohmmmmm”?!

                  ‘Back On The Block’ may be a tongue-in-cheek reference to a return to form, but this could easily have sat on either of the first two albums – it’s otherworldly sounds like these that spring to mind the phrase “throbbing gristle” [with apologies to Mr. Orridge & Co.] ‘Fluid’ is just that – a smoother musical composition that ventures into a jazzier, Miles  territory courtesy glistening trumpet flourishes by Sean Corby. Finally, Nathan Maverick delivers an eerie guest vocal to closer, ‘Understand’ and I can only suggest you imagine what PiL would’ve sounded like if fronted by Richard Butler. Wobble returns to his roots with a “dub” version of same – it’s as if we’ve returned to the early ’80s and they’ve released the single and paired it with a dub take on the flip. A nostalgic, yet warmly welcome return by a pair of our most influential artists of the last 35 years. (Jeff Penczak)



(CD from http://becksianmusic.com/)

Beautifully produced and mastered by the Terrascope’s Steve Palmer, this album is an enchanting and dream-coated affair that is warm and ethereal, displaying a languid and mystical ambience throughout.

    Opening with the soft spoken delights of “Wycoller Hall”,  the first thing you notice is the haunting and beautiful voice of Beck Sian, crystal tones gliding over the  musical backdrop, reminding me (and everyone else) of Clannad. Next up “The Black Silk Handkerchief” is a traditional tale of love, parental interference, ghosts and death, here given a sheen of 70's acid folk, the droning backing the perfect foil for the sweet vocal delivery.

    As the album progresses it reveals a darker heart, the loneliness of the Yorkshire moors, a major influence on the writing, shadows at twilight and unease, with both “The Moon on the 13th” and the title track having a creepier atmosphere, the latter using a gently ringing guitar as its backing. Even more darkness is created on “The Dark Stairs”, a distorted droning guitar adding a harsher sound, building on a ghostly pulse and soft melodies, the song drifting into “The Moors”, another spooky yet serene piece that has bags of atmosphere and an ear for melody, the addition of drums giving the piece plenty of energy.

     Featuring the poetry and voice of John Carder Bush (Kate's brother), the spoken word of “Lady of the wind” adds another dimension to the collection, the sympathetic violin playing of Raven Bush and vocals of Beck creating a sultry drone over which the words dance.

     With the words of Henry Longellow and the contribution of folk group Whalebone “The Old Clock on the Stairs” is one of the strongest cuts and also the one which will remind you of Kate Bush, an acknowledged influence and to whom Beck is related, everything coming together in perfection, the wonderful production allowing you to hear everything as it should be. Equally as good, “Top Withens” is a gentle and gorgeous song that paints pictures of gnarled trees, stone walls and wind-dancing crows in your mind, whilst “Tales of a Wayside Inn”, recorded in one take, captures all that is good about Beck Sian, the simplicity and sweetness of the performance shining through delightfully.

    Finally “The Mirror in the Deserted Hall” is another ghostly tale with a suitable musical ambience created by Chris Gill who added guitar, keyboards to several tracks, the tune again bringing images to mind, aided by the lyrics as well as the chiming bells.

    So, hats off to all concerned for creating a great sounding album that is perfect for  a night around a roaring fire or a rainy Sunday evening, just relax and take a walk across the moors of your imagination. (Simon Lewis)