=  January 2024 =  
 Bevis Frond
Maat Lander
Fuzzy Grass
Under Golden Canopy
Nick Nicely
Raoul Eden
Muireann Bradley
Brown Horse
Photon Band
Øyvind Holm
The Throttles
Ralph McTell




 
 
 
 
 
 

AN INTRODUCTION TO THE BEVIS FROND

Available on Fruits de Mer

No Terrascope reader should actually need an introduction to The Bevis Frond. Founder/bandleader Nick Saloman published our print precursor Ptolemaic Terrascope and, solo and with his band has released over 30 albums in the past 35 years. But this is different. Always glad to lend a track or three to magazines (including the Terrascope), compilations, the odd 45, and benefit and tribute albums, Saloman and the Frond began a fruitful (sorry!) relationship with the musicologists and music lovers over at Fruits de Mer with their piano-driven down-and-dirty cover of the Sky Saxon Blues Band’s ‘Creepin’ About’ for 2011’s Keep Off The Grass compilation. Since then, The Bevis Frond have submitted numerous tracks across various releases and Fruits de Mer have assembled a baker’s dozen (plus three unreleased demos), making this “Introduction” an essential collection for Frond fans and completists.

     Saloman has made no secret about his love of The Beatles so an opportunity to hear him tackle  ‘Glass Onion’ (from ‘The White EP’) is a welcome addition to the canon. I particularly like the organ backing, flute flourishes, and even creepier extended coda than the original! ‘I’m A Stone’ is a stomping Saloman original psychedelic head cruncher that would’ve sat nicely on any of the early ‘90s releases (It Just Is, Sprawl, London Stone, New River Head). Another original, ‘Not Quite Home’ is a dreamy diversion with a medieval air alternating with bleeding solos and another favourite here.

     ‘Hard, Hard Year’ is a sweet ballad initially appearing on the Hollies’ 1966 album Would You Believe? (and covered almost immediately by an obscure garage band from Milwaukee on a 1967 B-side!) The Frond’s faithful version (from Fruit de Mer’s Hollies’ tribute album Re-Evolution) is almost twice as long allowing for some tasty soloing. ‘Night Sounds Loud’ and ‘Sand’ bring out the heavy artillery for brain-busting solos. The originals are by another Saloman favourite, U.S. psych band Clear Light, a mini supergroup that featured drummer Dallas Taylor (CSNY), keyboardist Ralph Schuckett (Todd Rundgren’s Utopia), and legendary session guitarist Danny Kortchmar (not to mention actor Cliff DeYoung on lead vocals!)

     If you’ve ever listened to Nick Saloman’s “The Scene” podcast with bandmate Paul Simmons you’ve heard him speak highly of krautrockers Electric Sandwich, even playing the opening track ‘China’ from their eponymous 1972 album. Here is your chance to hear Nick and Co. pull out all the stops on their sidelong interpretation that triples the original’s eight-minute length, turning it into one of the Frond’s patented wall-rattling epics to rival ‘The Shrine’ and ‘The Miskatonic Variations.’

     ‘Nautilus’ is another Saloman original in the manner of the aforementioned guitar pyrotechnics but always with one eye (ear?) on his pop sensibilities. ‘I’m Here and It’s There’ sets the fuzz box on stun for some gnarly punk that fades too soon, and we’re glad both sides of the limited edition (100 copies) lathe-cut 7” that was only available at their headlining gig at Fruit’s 19th Dream of Dr. Sardonicus Festival earlier this year are included. The Frond’s poppier side is front and centre on the brilliantly melancholic ‘Condition Blue’ while ‘Not Until I Feel It’ features some nimble finger work on the lengthy solo.

     The three 2020 demos feel completely baked to me so their hold back may be due to Saloman’s prolific songwriting and the decision that the released tracks were just a tad better. But that’s not to say the somewhat perfunctory ‘I Killed You In My Dreams’, the ruminating ‘This Sinking Feeling’, or lullaby-level lilt of ‘The Happening’ are unworthy of your time and attention. As with much of The Bevis Frond’s material, their demos are much more enjoyable than some artists’ “finished” product. With more than half the tracks Saloman originals (and faithful but Frond-embellished covers rounding out the set) this is something you need in your collection, particularly if you missed out on the long sold out source albums and singles.

(Jeff Penczak)



MAAT LANDER – ELEMENTS:  WATER

(Clostridium Records)

 

Maat Lander is back with another album of Grade A instrumental space/psych/jazz/prog for all the heads on their headphones out there.  The group, made up of brothers Arkadiy (bass, synth, organ, effects) and Ivan Fedotov (drums, drum machine, wave drum) of Vespero and Ilya Lipkin (electric and acoustic guitars) of The Re-Stoned combine some of the best attributes of both their respective primary bands, and throw in a sci-fi element to give it an extra spin into the cosmos.

 

All the band’s albums, though instrumental, have accompanying stories revolving around said Mr. Lander, intrepid traveler of inner and outer space.  Their first several records, dating back to 2015’s The Birth of Maat’s Galaxy, detail Maat’s cosmic voyages, while the two most recent ones are clustered about themes of the elements, 2021’s Elements:  Air and now this one.

 

They’ve been compared to the space-prog of Ozric Tentatacles, which I feel is an apt analogy, especially when you factor in some of their electronic rhythms, but of course Maat Lander takes their music into other dimensions as well.  My favorite tracks on the album are the ones which primarily feature Lipkin’s acoustic guitar playing atop some swirling space synth galactic glop – songs such as “Land of Dreams,” “Brilliant Depth,” “Sapphire Realm,” and parts of “Pulse of Water” and “To Infinity and Beyond.”  These tend closer to The Re-Stoned’s mellower Stories of the Astral Lizard albums.  The long outro on “Pulse of Water” showcases some particularly brilliant flamenco-esque Lipkin acoustic guitar playing over little besides Ivan Fedotov’s high-hat playing.  Lipkin’s electric guitar playing is always phenomenal, but these more chill acoustic passages bring out something else in him that shines.  And, to be fair, most of those acoustic-based little ditties tend to expand later in the track into the full-blown electric assault, with no complaints here.

 

With “Mobius Strip,” the trio adds krautrock to their quiver, albeit with a world-class guitarist in their hip pocket.  Some of these rhythms are quite complex, and it all starts with Ark and Ivan Fedotov doing their usual incredible job digging that foundation, setting the bottom, the tempo and the musical framework for Lipkin’s six-string fireworks.  I also always enjoy listening to Ark play the recorder, which he graces us with in “To Infinity and Beyond” before they ignite the rocket’s last stage.

 

Elements:  Water adds more sonic goodness to Maat Lander’s canon.  Is some Fire in store in the near future?  Stay tuned.  Also, The Re-Stoned have a new EP out Spectrum, and Vespero have a new album De Ludo Globi.  Watch this space for some reviews in the future.

 

(Mark Feingold)



FUZZY GRASS – THE REVENGE OF THE BLUE NUT

(LP, CD, Digital, T-shirt on Kozmik Artifactz)

 

Fuzzy Grass plays a heavy, bluesy brand of early 70s-style hard rock and boy, do they do it well.  The band is from Toulouse, France, also home to their excellent hard rocking townsmen Slift.  Slift has gone on to international fame, and Fuzzy Grass should, too!  The Revenge of the Blue Nut is that oft-told tale, billed as a “concept album…about a peanut man having a psychedelic trip after a love deception.”  And you know…you know…taking in the news of the day in the world these days, I will gladly enjoy an album about a jilted blue peanut man’s psychedelic trip for 40 minutes any day.

 

Especially when it sounds this good.  Keyboards man and vocalist Audric Faucheux has a fantastic rock voice, channeling golden throats the likes of Paul Rodgers and Peter Green.  Guitarist Laura Luiz matches him stride-for-stride with a furious combination of distortion, fuzz and wah-wah.  She plays some lowdown, funky, filthy riffology.  And when these two get going, as they are wont to do, they are simply relentless.

 

Opener “Living in Time” sums up Fuzzy Grass’s attack tidily.  Audric Faucheaux’s impassioned vocals – well, as impassioned as you can get singing about a lovesick blue peanut man tripping out – and Laura Luiz’s shredding are thunderous.  Drummer Clément Gaudry and bass player Thomas Hobeck are solid and in lockstep.  Gaudry has an endless supply of perfect fills, and even shines on a brief solo.

 

The six tracks offer some light and shade on tracks like “I’m Alright,” “The Dreamer,” and “Moonlight Shades,” giving the band and the listener some brief moments to catch their breath in Zep “I Can’t Quit You Baby” style, before the inevitable onslaught comes on heavy and hard.  “Why You Stop Me” is an all-too-short frenetic guitar riff and solo monster, with Faucheaux singing as if his life depended on it.  It’s easy to overlook Thomas Hobeck’s bass playing keeping up with Luiz’s explosive guitar work note-for-note, but we don’t miss things like that around here.

 

Nearly 12-minute closer “Moonlight Shades” is kind of their “Dazed and Confused,” sans the violin bow.  I know I sound like my needle’s stuck, but Faucheaux’s singing, Luiz’s ferocious guitar playing, and Gaudry’s brilliant drum fills are intoxicating.  The song even ends with an unusual, strange blend of saturated heavy blues-rocking with semi-operatic background singing.  It’s weird, but I like the weirdness.

 

Fuzzy Grass may have chops to spare, but obviously doesn’t take themselves too seriously.  And it’s good somebody is still doing that, having fun while they blow your speakers to smithereens.  The nifty blue marble vinyl’s still available.  Snap one up before the peanut man turns to peanut butter.

 

(Mark Feingold)



UNDER GOLDEN CANOPY – FLUTTER AND DRONE
(DL from Apple Tree Lament at Flutter and Drone | Under Golden Canopy | apple tree lament (bandcamp.com))

What do you imagine when you read ‘Flutter and Drone’? A podcast about horseracing? Someone kitted out in a camo flak jacket flogging unmanned aerial vehicles used variously for innocent enjoyment, surveillance and killing people? Or, perhaps, an upmarket purveyor of high-end technical gadgetry and such likes of the sort you need to book an appointment before they allow you over the threshold?

Now what do you experience when you hear Flutter and Drone? Well, you soon realise that it simply and accurately describes a collection of home recordings by our very own Simon Lewis, no less, and Geoff Puplett. Across five tracks it flutters and, yes, drones in stately yet homely fashion, never overplaying its hand or outgrowing its boots. As organic as electronica gets, the overall impression is of a reassuring old school pair of sonic slippers, resembling in places a single hob ‘New Age of Earth’, or ‘Rainbow Dome Music’. Opener ‘Chorus’ opts for the drone, a gentle but pulsating introduction that reaches elegantly into the light. There are strains of Gong’s ‘Other Side Of The Sky’ to be heard here and, indeed, proceedings frequently invoke an edgier close cousin of the Pixie lot’s more ambient workouts. While we don’t quite make it to space whisper there is enough technical wizardry that with the slightest imagination it can be willed into being. The eerie underwater exploration of ‘Dive Deep’ hints at darker and more dangerous depths while the title track builds from a single note call to prayer taking on more layers and array of textures, again a gritty uneasiness contrasting with the superficially blissful. All isn’t necessarily well in Eden, evidently, and even that glissando sounds like it’s preparing us for something of some taut and suspenseful denouement before abating into eastern tinged constant hum overlaid by playful pitter-patter. It all gets chucked into the mix for the expansive 15-minute ‘The Mysteries of Time and Space’ incorporating several intriguing and at times haunting vocal samples. It’s the sound of amiable tech boffins having fun and which in, turn, helps lifts my mood (and possibly Moog).

For why is any of this especially important to me right now? Well, you find me writing this during the Dark Days between Christmas and New Year, that strange interzone, or Winterval as some would call it (although I draw the line at Twixtmas which sounds like one dive too many into the Celebrations tub). And they are, literally The Dark Days, a low-wattage perma-dusk with the constant threat of biblical floods and persistent weather anxiety. A bad time for existential rumination, then. Moreover, 2023 seems to have been a year in which I finally fell out of love with music. I listened to less (so admittedly missed a lot), liked even less, while those releases championed by generally reliable sources left me unimpressed and uninspired. It’s taken this, a digital only release knocked together by mates for the sheer love of it, to help me rebalance the musical chakras and reconnect with my muse (this and the recent Fruits de Mer Bevis compilation).

Thank you, Simon and Geoff – life-affirmative, Captains.

Ian Fraser



NICK NICELY – AFTERWORLD

(LP from fruitsdemerrecords.com )

 I was sorting through my albums the other day, as you do, when I came across this rather excellent collection of outtakes and demos. It was only then I realised that I had not actually reviewed it, as it had been misplaced for some considerable time. I can only apologise to all concerned and correct this error promptly!

     Hopefully most of you reading this will be familiar with the work of Mr Nicely, his brand of swirling psychedelia remaining traditional whilst also taking it far into the future with his 2014 album “Space of a Second” being a prime example and one of my favourite albums from that year. Coincidentally, this compilation opens with “Rosemary's Eyes” a track from the aforementioned album, this alternate version sounding more distant and reverb drenched than the original track, but still as psychedelic as it should be.

    Slowing things down, “Eels”, an abandoned project, is a moody, lysergic tune that slithers into your brain delightfully held together with a pulsing bass and dripping with guitar. Following on, “DCT Dreams” has a bright electronic drum pattern at its heart, the music wrapped around it to great effect, droning chords and effect laden vocals creating melody and texture as other-wordly sounds phase in and out.

   In an alternative reality, which is where this album dwells, “Blood on the Beaches” would be a number one with catchy melodies and sweet organ sounds, the feel good hit of the summer. Alas this is not the case, so I’ll have to console myself with the creeping psych of “Gallery” instead, a tune that reminds me of The Dukes of Stratosphear, which is no bad thing at all.

   With beautifully treated vocals and some fine, droning guitar, “Whirlpool” hits all the right notes as it takes you to another dimension and quite probably gets you home for tea, turn on, tune in and drop out indeed. On reflection tea may be late as “Rainbow (harp free Berlin outtake)” keeps you floating for a bit longer, a slower and mellow tune that gently lands you in a summer meadow, relaxed and golden.

    Keeping things moving, “Further Down the Beach” has a driving Hawkwind vibe, although Hawkwind shoved through every effects box in the shop is more accurate, whilst the whole collection is wrapped up with “Shadow in the Sun” a droning slice of noise that dances with a rippling melodic loop and distant drums, the tune leading you back from distant lands until you suddenly find yourself sat in your favourite armchair again. Now where the fuck did I leave the teapot? (Simon Lewis)



RAOUL EDEN - INCARNATION

www.raouleden.com

A journey of 6 & 12 string instrumental guitar, slide dobro and gembri, beyond matter and through illusions. It was recorded during the winter months, in a lonely house, on the heights of the Massif Central.  With the drone of the fireplace that heated the room, mixing with sparse modular synthesizer.

Raoul is a French guitarist very much in the American primitive style, but with added Middle Eastern influences. He first came to my attention by his work with Sophia Djebel Rose, appearing on her Metempsycose album, which I reviewed here a couple of years ago. Before that he and Sophia were in the psychedelic folk duo An Eagle In Your Mind.    

This is fairly uncompromising music, which to use an analogy if it were a coffee it would be black, likewise if it were a spirit it would be presented neat, no foaming, milky nonsense and certainly no mixers involved. It is elemental in nature, a true distillation of the guitar.

The record opens with a stop-start, slightly halting circular song in parts, entitled ‘Red Sun of a Moonless Morning’ where spectral notes pass in a flurry of cadences; it has a gentle, unhurried style which draws the listener in, instilling a sense of calm, grounding and enticing the listener to its underlying melody. This is followed by ‘The Ghost Hound’, rendered on a slide dobro, with spectral notes escaping like fireflies into the ether. It’s a sparse haunting song underpinned by a lightly whirring rhythm. The first side ends with ‘Millions Now Living (improvisation)’, a twelve string opus; it rings out in a lively manner of intense soli guitar.

Side two begins with ‘Will Never Die (improvisation)’, where open, expansive notes ring out in an easy unhurried way, a melody finds its way out through the tumbling strings and plants itself in the mind. It’s fairly obvious that Raoul has immersed himself in the Takoma school of playing, with Toulouse Engelhardt and John Fahey springing to mind. ‘Beat Your Head with Glorious Songs’, slows down the pace and is the lengthiest song on the album, plenty of attack and decay amid a tangle of notes, where melodies rise and fall over a metronomic rhythm. The album ends with ‘L’Oeil se Ferme’, over a sparse whirring synth, he plays a strangely evocative, primitive tune, on what I believe may well be the aforementioned gembri, an instrument that I am not really that familiar with, so apologies if I am mistaken, anyway this is a fine album of primitive instrumental guitar music. I understand that it will be available to order soon through his Bandcamp site www.raouleden.bandcamp.com 

(Andrew Young)



MUIREANN BRADLEY – I KEPT THESE OLD BLUES

(LP, CD, Cassette on Tompkins Square Records)

 

Fingerpickin’ acoustic guitar player Muireann Bradley of County Donegal, Ireland, is all of 17, but her performance on this debut is that of a musician way beyond her years.  And Tompkins Square came a-courtin’ for her all the way back when she was 14, when most of us are picking gum out of our braces, not hundred-year-old tunes on a guitar.  Amazingly, she only started getting serious about playing guitar on lockdown when COVID hit.

 

Her backstory is as charming as this record.  I’ll let her tell it, from her Bandcamp page:  “Most of these tunes were originally recorded by the great blues men and women who were making records from the 1920s and 1930s… My father would play this music constantly at home and wherever we went in the car and talk about it endlessly whether anyone was listening or not, telling stories about the lives of these musicians as if they were legend, mythology or the evening news.”  We all owe a great debt to her father for introducing her to this nearly forgotten musical world and teaching her how to play; but it was Muireann herself who took the initiative and got serious about playing when lockdown drew her focus away from playing sports outside – you know, like kids her age normally do.

 

So how well does a teenage girl from Ireland capture these songs of old ragtime, blues, folk and Americana, songs originally written and performed generally by older Black men from the US South?  ASTONISHINGLY well.  With her technical proficiency and her vocal style, Bradley makes these songs all her own.  If I didn’t know better, I could fully believe they were her originals.  Rather than try to mimic Blind Blake, Mississippi John Hurt and others, she casts them in her own DNA, and you won’t stop grinning from the first note of Hurt’s “Candyman” to the end of closer, Elizabeth Cotton’s “Freight Train.”

 

Kudos to Bradley also for not shying away from the adult themes and innuendos in some of the original lyrics.  After all, the songs include murder ballads, tales of dope pushers, sex, gambling, prostitution, domestic violence and more.  I love her understated singing throughout the album, but her guitar playing is splendid.  This isn’t easy stuff, but she’s got it down.  Her playing takes center stage on instrumentals such as “Vestapol” and “Buck Dancer’s Choice.”  On “Candyman” she cries ‘Take it!’ at one point - to herself – and she does with gusto.  At another point in the same song she calls to her guitar, ‘Talk!’ and indeed she makes it speak volumes.  She also adds lovely little touches throughout, such as the flourish to end “Shake Sugaree” right down to the final harmonic.

 

There are promising debuts and then there’s this, which comes from a whole other place.  I Kept These Old Blues is a delight from start to finish.  Muireann Bradley has dusted off some heirlooms from our attic and put a fresh shine on them.  That it comes from a talented young girl thousands of miles from their origin is all the more heartwarming.

 

(Mark Feingold)



BROWN HORSE - RESERVOIR

(LP from Loose Music)

A few, a very few, new releases these days carry sufficient weight of assurance to make me drop everything and pay sufficient close attention to write an immediate eulogy, and for that new release to be a debut album is rare indeed. Six-piece Norfolk band Brown Horse have pulled off that feat with aplomb however.

The band hail from Norfolk - that’s Norfolk in England and not Norfolk, Virginia (and yes, I do realise your name isn’t Virginia, but bear with me) - and is ably fronted by Patrick Turner, vocalist and guitarist, whose voice puts me in mind of the charred, quavering tenderness of Guy Kuyser from Thin White Rope. Wisely, the band shove him to the front to sing every song, since it’s a mistake when you have a singer with that quality of power and originality to try to be fair to everyone and let everyone have a turn. Which is not to denigrate the value of backing vocalists Ben Auld and (especially) the marvellous Phoebe Troup, who is Linda to Turner’s Richard, if you see what I mean. Rowan Braham adds some deft piano touches throughout, Nyle Holihan plays bass and the other key (in fact you could say defining) member is Emma Tovell, who plays banjo and lap steel.

The fact that there’s a banjo and lap steel at all more than hints at their sound. Right from the off, the melancholic and rather brilliant rocker ‘Stealing Horses’ (a song not so much about the obvious, but more about the manner in which songs change over time and how country artists borrow shamelessly from their vintage predecessors) it’s patently obvious that their sound is illuminated throughout by a Harvest Moon. The band themselves claim allegiance to Uncle Tupelo, Silver Jews and Jason Molina - “the Last Waltz generation of folk rock artists” - however, in that they are merely showing their age. To us grizzled old-timers, they are the modern embodiment of bands like Brinsley Schwarz, Gypsy and a host of other Brits who maintained their cool in the sepia-tinged shadow of The Band, CSN&Y and the like. And I couldn’t possibly have warmed to them more on listening to this album.

It would be unfair to pick out one particular song when every single song is a stand-out, but aside from the aforementioned opener, Rowan Graham’s ‘Outtakes’ is a strong personal favourite; clocking in over six minutes, it’s an acoustic yet propulsive number with darkly intelligent lyrics (Im the outtakes of an actor trying to make herself cryI cant sleep unless Im weak from work, I cant sleep unless I havent slept in days”). The ghost of Neil Young sidles, inevitably, across the musical landscape with the electric guitars of ‘Everlasting’ and then there’s the churning guitars, and driving keyboards of Silver Bullet’.

Apparently the record took just four days in the studio to make, but the train has obviously been a long time a’coming. The band are almost telepathically tight, well practiced and at home with one another. I would earnestly suggest you make a home for this record just as soon as you can, too.

(Phil McMullen)






PHOTON BAND – PURE PHOTONIC MATTER VOL 2   LP/DL

(LP from bandcamp.com)

After a squall of feedback and an interesting spoken word line, this LP kicks off in glorious fashion with the Glam-Bowie celebration of “I Was Free, I as Fried”, a down and dirty guitar driving the tune right back to 1974, a sweet boogie that makes you feel a whole lot better, the soaring solo the icing on a mighty fine cake, the trick repeated on “What's a Body to Do”this time referencing the Beatles with its melodic vocal line although the guitar solo takes us back to the seventies with its Fripp vibe. However you slice it a great tune that sounds even better turned way up to neighbour annoying levels.

  Moving on, “Out of my Head” could have been a surprise hit in 1973 yet still sounds relevant today sounding far better than the current crop of fashionable indie guitar bands, something that is also true of “Set it Free (The Energy)” another fine tune powered on by free flowing Drums and Bass that are full of energy and groove, a wah driven guitar solo adding plenty of dynamics to the song,betit sounds fabulous live. Finally on side one, “Skin CloseTo Bone” is a short, weird and echo filled track , the guitar sounding like a banjo, the vocals weaving all over the place, and strange sounds attempting to smother everything, fabulous indeed.

   Over on side two a similar feel is to be found as “When the Wind is Blowing Backwards” starts sweetly before exploding into life sounding like the finest Pub-Rock (the beginnings of punk) band you have ever heard, energy and attitude a-plenty, up goes the volume again. Ith a lovely groove and introspective lyrics, “”When I Fall Out of the Sky” sounds like another surprise hit, whilst “Dude, Leave the Headphones On” is a swirling, slightly lysergic, seventies groove that holds your interest throughout, the album wrapped up by “I'm Still Me”, that down and dirty guitar sound leading us into the groove,melody and riff intertwining to glorious effect, the perfect way to end a rather excellent album that is both retro and modern and sounds like an old friend from the moment you first hear it, a great trick that is definitely a mark of quality.

    Also featuring The Photon Band as well as xpoemsx is “The Birth and Death of the Historical Buddha” a split LP on Easysubcult.  ( xpoemsx (bandcamp.com) ). Here we find the band in a more experimental mode, seemingly given room the experiment, spoken word and guitar noise mixed in with the tunes, an early highlight being “Things That Are Important” a distorted Mudhoney sounding guitar hosting lyrics that resonate within, the following “Acceptance” the counterpoint with its sweet and gentle nature. Elsewhere, “Windy, not Windy” is a weirdly picked instrumental that leads nicely into heavy instrumental groove of “Painting of the Impure Aspect of the Human Realm” which sounds like the way Grunge should have gone rather than the corporate shit it became.  The whole thing rounded off by “Be a Lamp”, bringing the wah-wah pedal back into fashion and making me turn the volume up yet again.

   As if all this wasn't treasure enough flipping the LP over reveals the wonders of xpoemsx, Strange, engaging beat poetry and rambling looped guitar blended together in simple yet rewarding ways with “Bolshevik Cigs On A Roof On An Island” hooking you in straight away, painting pictures and letting you dream. Continuing down the same path “Swim In The Sea” loops guitar to the edge of feedback whilst remaining calm and soothing with both “Vodka and Percoset Breakfasts (For Lars Gerhard RIP)” and “Racing Toward Death (We Are All)” repeating the trick creating a trio of instrumental that leave space for your imagination to drift where it will. Given the name xpoemsx and the excellent use of words on the first track I was hoping for some more poetry as the music continued but, in fact, the delicate nature of the music allows you to form your own words and visions, poetry without speaking. I like it.

(Simon Lewis)



ØYVIND HOLM - PARADOX OF LAUGHING

(LP from Crispin Glover Records)

It’s no great secret that Øyvind Holm has long been one of my own (and therefore by extension one of the Terrascope’s) favourite singers, songwriters and vocalists - the quality of his work with bands as diverse as Dipsomaniacs, Deleted Waveform Gatherings and more recently the wonderful Sugarfoot speaks for itself, and if there’s one thing I envy it’s the person who has yet to delve into the career of this delightful and criminally underrated artist. Despite fronting and /or at least being heavily involved in a string of incredible records going back to 1997 or so, Øyvind didn’t release a solo album until 2020 - ‘After the Bees’, also on Crispin Glover, which was followed in 2022 by ‘The Unreliable Narrator’. And now we have his third, ‘Paradox of Laughing’, and to my mind it’s his best yet. Right from the outset, the urgent, catchy swinging singalong ‘Between Stations’ you’re immediately made aware that you’re in for a memorably journey in the safest possible pair of hands. Note by cascading note, the song unfolds exactly as you long for it to do. This is followed by what is for me the first of three stand-out numbers on the entire album, ‘August 1969’ - a gentle, countrified pop-psych number guaranteed to bring a knowing smile to your face (the other favourites are ‘Paper Tigers’, which is the kind of brilliant, heartfelt song that could only be written and performed by the legend that is Øyvind Holm, and ‘Flies on the Window Sill’ which is a lyrically brilliant string-driven melancholic piece to close side 1, an echo of the title song from ‘After the Bees’). ‘In Flakes’ also plays to Øyvind’s strengths, with an uncanny feel for 60s psychedelic pop melody; the whole album in fact is speckled with clever arrangements, strings, backing vocals and occasionally exotic instrumentation, such as on the closing ‘Big Plans’ which is gently shuffled along by Arve Gulbrandsen’s percussion. There’s experimentation as well: the title piece ‘Paradox of Laughing Parts 1 and 2’ could almost be lifted from a late 70s Frank Zappa album, and the keyboard driven ‘CCTV’, with Thomas Henriksen channelling his inner Phil Ryan, has Rockfield 1976 stamped all the way through it like a stick of Welsh rock (both songs an echo perhaps of The Unreliable Narrator which had more of a 70s feel to it than this album does overall). Finally, ‘Must Be a Way’ features some gorgeous guitar from Alexander Pettersen, whose work throughout is just one of the noteworthy elements of this album.

As with all Crispin Glover releases, the care put into the cover is outstanding: a die-cut split sleeve with cover art by the German artist Marco Wagner. I’m personally not won over by the dark green vinyl, which is so close to being plain black that it might not as well be coloured; but it’s a great quality pressing for all that and the sound of this record, as with everything else about it, is absolutely exemplary.

(Phil McMullen)



THE THROTTLES - UNSAVOURY URGES

(DL via  bandcamp.com)

I have known Mike Wooding, main-man behind The Throttles, since I was a teenager and have played in a band with him so this review, whilst not being in any way biased, will definitely be written with affection. [Nothing wrong with that, mate! – Phil]

  Being familiar with Mr Wooding's vinyl collection it comes as no surprise that the band are raw and uncompromising, their Garage/Punk sound best heard very loud and with lashings of cider, each song a little nugget of fury as demonstrated on “DOLS”, 90 seconds of fuzz-laden  intent that gives way for “Poison”, 3-chords and a snotty attitude roaring out of the speakers before “BackBite” ramps up the fuzz even more completing a fine opening trio of tunes that should have you leaping around the kitchen or at least turning the volume up.

    Dark and slightly disturbing “Container” has lyrics that are perfectly matched to the Punk Rock guitar that surrounds them, which leads us nicely to “Trash”, The lyrics a list of bands, both loved and despised, the whole ethos of the music of The Throttles “Born in the garage, live in the trash”, and is, quite possibly, the only song in existence that mentions The Unrelated Segments.

    Over 12 songs, the band give it their all, a relentless Barrage of Garage that is excellent fun, with “Rage” owing a lyrical debt to The Meteors, a tale of insects in the ear, as well as being my favourite track on the album, whilst the whole collection is brought to a crashing end with the distorted stomp of “Room”.

    Recorded in glorious mono and a labour of love, no ballads, no bullshit, no excuses, just go buy one and make an old garage-head very happy. Cheers.

(Simon Lewis)





PAUL O. JENKINS - RALPH McTELL: EVERY ALBUM, EVERY SONG

(Sonic Bond “On Track” series)

With over 350 songs across more than 26 albums, McTell (born Ralph May)’s 50+ year career is ripe for analysis. Two volumes of autobiography and several biographies give us the details of his legendary life and career, but Professor Jenkins focuses on the music. Brief biographical sketches are included but his remit is to discuss the songs. Space limitations result in the absence of any discussions of his children’s music for The Alphabet Zoo or his contributions to other artists’ recordings, such as his brilliant vocal on Scottish singer Jackie Leven’s ‘Cornelius Whalen’ from Gothic Road (Cooking Vinyl, 2010) or his appearance at Fairport Convention’s Cropredy Festival. But we have much here to digest and Jenkins is a patient, knowledgeable guide who’s not afraid to point out the warts on an otherwise masterful discography. (He also wrote the liner notes to McTell’s 2006 box set, The Journey.)

     From the beginning McTell’s talent was recognisable, but Jenkins still rates his 1968 Transatlantic debut Eight Frames A Second ”inconsistent.” Even though he was working with burgeoning music legends Gus Dudgeon (his debut in the producer’s chair) and arranger Tony Visconti, Jenkins notices the growing pains, suggesting that some of Visconti’s arrangements were “heavy-handed and at-odds with the material.” McTell was also disappointed that Gudgeon seemed to be trying to turn him into a “crossover pop star.” Be that as it may, several tracks stand out.

     ‘Nanna’s Song’, one of the first songs he ever wrote is a valentine to the Norwegian au pair he met in Paris several years earlier and who would become his wife the following year. They’ve been married nearly 60 years and have five children and their initial attraction is beautifully captured in this poignant love song. ‘The Mermaid and The Seagull’ has a cheery Donovanesque vibe and two “Blind” Arthur Blake covers illustrate his early love of the blues. Several other cover songs fail to impress, although Jenkins points out that McTell was contractually obligated to record both Bonnie Dobson’s ‘Morning Dew’ and the Purple Gang’s novelty hit ‘Granny Takes A Trip.’ The curious should stick to the originals.

     McTell’s sophomore release Spiral Staircase (1969) is judged “far stronger than his first.” It includes the first appearance of what has become his signature song, ‘Streets Of London’ which garners a lengthy, detailed analysis from Jenkins. Surprisingly, McTell doesn’t rate is as highly as some of his other compositions but over 200 performers who’ve covered it disagree. Interpretations by everyone from Mary Hopkin (McTell’s producer Tony Visconti’s wife, who has covered several of McTell’s songs) and Sinead O’Connor to the raucous punk band Anti-Nowhere League attest to its popularity. Jenkins gives us McTell’s own explanations for the sources of some of the verses which add another dimension beyond simply reading the lyrics. In 2017 McTell recorded a new version as a charity single with Annie Lennox and in 2020 he added a new verse inspired by the COVID pandemic. McTell even serves as ambassador for the Streets Of London charity organization which has raised over £750,000 for London’s homeless. McTell has softened his opinion of the song over the years, telling Jenkins “It is certainly not the best song I’ve ever written, but if you seek to touch hearts and move people then it succeeds from that point of view.”

     Other tracks that impress Jenkins include ‘England 1914’ which shows McTell’s “ability to treat serious, even profound topics with a poet’s touch,” ‘Last Train And Ride’ which is “a marked improvement over the original blues numbers included in his first collection…”, ‘Daddy’s Here’, one of several autobiographical songs about his absent father who abandoned the family when McTell was two, and the heartbreaking ‘Terminus,” an end-of-the-affair weeper that always reminds me of Noel Coward’s Brief Encounter.

     McTell’s third album My Side Of Your Window (also released in 1969) is his first to contain all original material. He also produced it and Jenkins finds it to be a mixed bag. While ‘Michael In The Garden’ is judged “one of his strongest compositions to date” and ‘Clown’ is one of McTell’s favourites on the album, ‘All Things Change’ sounds “awkward and forced”, ‘I’ve Thought About It’ is “a bit self-righteous” and ‘Kew Gardens’ is a tad “precious and sentimental.” The album is also notable for featuring future C.O.B. members Clive Palmer and Mike Bennett on ‘Blues In More Than 12 Bars’ “a playful romp set to a jaunty tune.” McTell would produce both C.O.B. albums, playing and writing the liner notes to their Spirit Of Love debut the following year.

     1971’s You Well Meaning Brought Me Here was McTell’s one-off album for Famous Records and features an all-star cast, including Rick Wakeman and Danny Thompson along with members of Hookfoot/Elton John’s band, Pentangle, Manfred Mann, and Kiki Dee’s band. The artistry on hand coupled with the superb songs lead Jenkins to label this “one of McTell’s most magical and visionary  albums and certainly his heaviest.” Critic William Ruhlmann (All Music) praised it as “one of the seminal singer-songwriter collections of the 1970s.” Here McTell examines his religious roots and feelings via ‘Genesis I Verse 20’, bitterly attacks the British Army (in ‘Pick Up A Gun’) for the humiliation, hazing, mistreatments, and physical and verbal abuse he suffered during “the worst six months of his life” in the Queen’s Surrey Regiment Junior Leaders Battalion at age 15, and delivers one of his most poignant stories of desperate lonely characters that feature throughout his discography in ‘Chalkdust.’ The album is also notable for McTell’s choice of Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha as the basis for his longest composition ‘The Ferryman’ which receives a lengthy analysis from Jenkins who ultimately selects the album as McTell’s “masterpiece.”

     Commercially, the early ‘70s were McTell’s most successful period with his next three albums being his only chart appearances. Not Till Tomorrow (1972) is rated “nearly as strong” as his previous release and features several of what have been called his “artist songs” - songs dedicated to people who create art: ‘Zimmerman Blues’ (Bob Dylan), ‘Sylvia’ (Sylvia Plath), and ‘Birdman’ (George Jackson, who died the year before the album’s release).

     [Jenkins actually breaks McTell’s compositions written for adults (he also recorded two albums of songs for the Alphabet Zoo children’s show that he hosted in 1983-84 that are not discussed here) into various themes: love, artist songs, protest songs, instrumentals, and childhood. The remaining tracks he consolidates into songs about optimism, loneliness, religious faith, fathers, history, and compassion.]

     McTell explores his childhood in ‘Barges’, ‘Standing Down In New York Town’ was inspired by Woody Guthrie’s ‘New York Town’, and ‘Gypsy’ is another autobiographical song about his possible Romani bloodline. Trivia fans may chuckle at the source of the album’s title: the printer asked McTell’s manager Jo Lustig’s secretary the name of the album and she replied, “Oh, not till tomorrow”!

     Another all-star ensemble contributed to Easy (1974), including some of McTell’s oldest friends and inspirations Bert Jansch and Wizz Jones, John Kongos, and members of folk-rock royalty Pentangle, Fairport Convention, and Fotheringay. While it garnered McTell his first silver disc in 1976, Jenkins doesn’t rate it as high as other reviewers (All Music praises it for “some of McTell’s most accessible material” while Q said it included some of his “finest compositions.”) Jenkins however feels the previous two albums were “far superior” although he does acknowledge it is “the closest he ever came to a pop sound and pop sensibility.” ‘Take It Easy’ has a “catchy chorus and nice fiddle solo”, ‘Stuff No More’ is an “enjoyable, if slight number improvised in the studio featuring the jug band sound McTell had largely abandoned”, and ‘Would I Lie To You’ is “a very simple number that really swings.” Toss in one of McTell’s “artist songs” - a track dedicated to Steeleye Span singer Maddy Prior (‘Maddy Sings’), Bert Jansch guesting on a critics’ favourite ‘Run Johnny Run’, and closing track ‘Summer Lightning’ that Jenkins praises as the album’s finest and also served as the title of the second volume of McTell’s autobiography and it is, er, easy to understand why it resonated with audiences. The CD version adds the 1972 non-LP single ‘Teacher Teacher’ c/w ‘Truckin’ Lil Baby’ featuring the T. Rex rhythm section.

     McTell’s biggest-selling album followed, almost reaching the Top 10 in 1975 (peaking at #13.) Streets was obviously riding the coattails of his biggest hit ‘Streets Of London’ but McTell lobbied to exclude it from the album for fear of record buying-public backlash. [British albums typically did not include previously-released singles.] He lost the battle, but did succeed in shortening the album title. Jenkins is not a fan of the album. “It’s far from his strongest collection of songs. Most are minor, another is a cover and two can be considered throwaways.” Another stellar cast includes Danny Thompson, Dave Pegg, Jerry Donahue, and, returning the favour from his previous album, Maddy Prior who lends exquisite backing vocals to one of the album highlights ‘Lunar Lullaby’, a lyric from which provided the title to the first volume of McTell’s autobiography Angel Laughter. Elsewhere ’Grande Affaire’ still remains one of Jenkins’ and McTell’s favourite songs (mine, too!) and ‘Heron Song’ is a “powerful” story song. Two bonus tracks on the CD release were rated better than some of the weaker tracks so that’s the version to pick up.

      Jenkins then rates follow-up Right Side Up (1976) as an “excellent album that includes some of McTell’s best work… and is one of the best-sung albums in McTell’s catalogue.” Of course, it failed to chart, and McTell would never trouble the charts again. But this contains many McTell classics “that have stood the test of time”, including a cover of Tom Waits’ ‘San Diego Serenade’, ‘Naomi’ (a tribute to his aunt that is “one of McTell’s strongest and most beloved compositions”), and ‘Tequila Sunset’ (“all the ingredients of a hit single: a catchy melody, confessional lyrics, and a lovely memorable chorus”). Jenkins speculates that the Eagles’ 1973 hit ‘Tequila Sunrise’ may have influenced this one, which is McTell’s favourite song on the album. Jenkins and I agree!

     Dave Pegg, Dave Mattacks, Jerry Donahue, Robert Kirby, Simon Nicol, and Richard Thompson all combine to give Slide Away The Screen (1979) a folk-rock sound, but Jenkinns was disappointed in the outcome, claiming “few songs rise to the quality of McTell’s earlier work in terms of either lyrics or melodies.” ‘One Heart’ is “bland” despite Jerry Donahue’s intriguing guitar solo, ‘London Apprentice’ is “pleasant but not intriguing” and a worthless cover of ‘Save The Last Dance For Me’ contributed to a growing perception that McTell “lost a certain edge and that his sound was worryingly creeping towards middle-of-the-road.” Only ‘Van Nuys (Cruise Night)’ with its radio-friendly chorus and ‘White Dress’, adapted from Fairport fiddler Dave Swarbrick’s dedication to Fairport singer Sandy Denny and featuring a “tasty guitar solo” [presumably by Thompson?] merit repeat visits.

     Three years and a new label (Leola) later McTell returned with Water Of Dreams, an album full of tributes (to Bahamian guitarist Joseph Spence, Romani gypsies, or “travellers”, and Martin “Tubs” Sole, the latter, ‘Song For Martin’ featuring Phil Collins on drums) and protest songs (the tragic story of Derek Bentley and Christopher Craig and the title track about New Zealand teacher Blair Peach killed during an anti-racism demonstration in London in 1979, which Jenkins finds similar to the tale of Joe Hill).

     The rest of the book follows a similar pattern: an introduction about the recordings, personnel, and some interesting trivia followed by Jenkins’ analysis of each song. McTell continued to attract major talent, particularly from the folk-rock field. The Boy With A Note (1992) is an excellent concept album about Dylan Thomas that originated as a BBC 2 radio play and is judged “a landmark in the performer’s career.” McTell’s next two albums are the longest in his discography, each lasting over an hour. 1995’s “thought-provoking collection” of mostly protest songs Sand In Your Shoes is praised as “the work of a mature artist at the height of his powers…” Five years passed before Red Sky arrived and while Jenkins found it “largely dour in tone [and] a bit of a downer at times” he praises many of the 19 tracks, particularly the “outstanding” ‘In The Dreamtime.’ Other reviewers were even more ecstatic, with NetRhythm labeling it “an undisputed pinnacle of Ralph’s achievement” while Q called it his “best record for 25 years.”

     McTell’s most recent album Hill Of Beans (2019) marks Tony Visconti’s return to the producer’s chair after 35 years and is a “strong effort”, although Jenkins fears listeners may find it a bit too obscure or overly personal. The final two tracks are very clear however, the title track reflecting on Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman’s relationship in Casablanca and ‘West 4th Street And Jones’ (“the album’s best track”) may be familiar to fans of Dylan’s Freewheelin’. McTell ties the two tracks together, comparing Rick and Ilsa’s doomed relationship in the former with Dylan and Suze Rotolo’s in the latter, the title reflecting the address where the cover photo was taken. After hearing the song, Dylan was moved to write a personal letter to McTell claiming “it made an old man cry.” I can’t think of a better endorsement.

     In addition to his albums of original material, the second half of McTell’s career found him recording seven albums of cover tunes by his major inspirations, from Woody Guthrie to Bob Dylan. Jenkins walks us through each, which unfortunately begins with the “listless performances” on 1985’s At The End Of A Perfect Day, perhaps the weakest album of his career. McTell’s interpretations of songs by Jim Croce, Cat Stevens, Carole King and others range from “desperate” and “cheesy” to “saccharine” and “antiseptic” and this one is best avoided.

     Other albums in this category include Blue Skies Black Heroes (1988), a “generally well executed” collection of blues classics from Robert Johnson, Blind Boy Fuller, Arthur Blake, his namesake Blind Willie McTell , et. al., 1990’s similar Stealin’ Back, with more of a jug-band vibe, and a third album of blues covers featuring McTell playing a National resonator guitar (National Treasure, 2002). Listeners who prefer McTell’s folk leanings over his blues influences may prefer Gates Of Eden (2006), which is dedicated to one of his early inspirations Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and consists mostly of covers of Dylan and Woody Guthrie songs, and the two albums About Time (2016) and About Time, Too (2017) he recorded with his mentor “Wizz” Jones.

     Jenkins also addresses the myriad thematic compilation albums and Best Of collections that have appeared over the years with recommendations for his favourites that are perfect for beginners or those looking for a career overview. As Far As I Can Tell is a 3-CD set of McTell reading selections from his two autobiographies if you’d rather hear than read about his life. The set also includes some rare recordings. The more serious fan may want to spring for The Journey a 4-CD box set of rarities, previously unreleased tracks, live cuts, photos, and tributes that includes an essay from Jenkins. His verdict: “there are surprises and delights aplenty.”

     Finally, as with many artists, McTell’s songs may best be appreciated in a live setting, and Jenkins walks us through a few of his favourites, citing 1977’s Ralph, Albert & Sydney (named after the venues: Royal Albert Hall and Sydney Opera House) as the best and a perfect introduction to McTell’s work for the uninitiated. Some fun “Suggested Playlists” (the cream of his output, best love songs, best artist songs, best protest songs, et. al.) will please both DJ programmers and list compilers.

     Throughout, Jenkins’ subjective opinions of each song and album are backed by persuasive arguments (pro and con) and frequently supported by quotes from McTell’s autobiographies, his “official” biography, and interviews and email correspondence. Original album covers, contemporary posters, and personal memorabilia from McTell’s private collection add to the enjoyment of this wonderfully detailed, if occasionally academic overview of the career of one of our most endearing musical treasures and is highly recommended to long-time devotees and novices alike. You may also benefit from listening to each album as you read along and many of McTell’s albums are available on streaming services or for purchase directly from the artist’s website.

(Jeff Penczak)