Wednesday, August 31, 2011

RECORD REVIEWS - August 2011

The Wyld Olde Souls - "Ensoulment"

Well here is a pleasant surprise. This band's record label noted that I favorably compared a CD I was reviewing in Folkworld to an old Wyld Olde Souls EP that I still routinely play. I had a acquired it from a since deceased collector who tossed it in with a big order I had made. I still play it as this US east coast band exemplified the best of UK-styled psychedelic folk music. They had a rich sound with strong vocals, interesting instrumentation and even did a superlative cover of a Gwydion song, "Sun God". Well I was delighted to learn that the band was back and their new label caught my reference and sent me a copy of the new record. And they are indeed back with the gorgeous harmonies, acoustic guitars, and electric instruments. But with flute, mellotron, hurdy gurdy, and tablas, they still can put the psychedelic into folk music. Start with Chimera (UK), think of the Smoke Fairies and add a full band sound like a Mellow Candle, Americanize it a bit in the way of Gwydion and you have an approximation of the delightful sounds within this album. There are not quite the highlights here as on the previous record (a couple are close), but it flows majestically and not a wrong note is struck. This record should be grabbed by any fan of the aforementioned classic folk-psyche bands. They are one of the few that truly keep the spirit alive.

Wyld Maiden - Has a great counterpart guitar or bouzouki and violin working off of the serpentine melody with at least three killer female voices dancing in and out of the mix.

Where There is Light - Mysterious flute sounds hover over steady percussion begins this slow building song where even some electronica sneaks its way in. But fear not, it is excellent psyche-folk.

Ferris Wheel - This has all the classic sounds of the band and is even capable of approaching a mainstream pop feeling. But of course, I always think quality psychedelic folk music should be in the mainstream.

Deleted Scenes - "Young People's Church of the Air"

This local band has steadily done a nice job of combining guitars and keyboards to put forward their attractive pop-rock songs. This album showcases some of the abilities that I have seen in the live set. There is a distinct Radiohead-like quality to many of the songs with dreamy, ethereal vocals atop electronic, pop rhythms and some angular guitar. My only wish was that I could hear more of the angular guitar above the electronics which dominate. Thankfully, the guitar is present in some songs and this is mostly a bias of mine as opposed to any serious failing. The songs all work as good pop songs concerned more with creating an attractive hook then pushing people into pulsating dance patterns. There is just enough variety in the songs while still holding down a signature overall sound (see songs below). That is invariably the quality of a well done album. They sound like they should be a fixture of the vibrant DC scene.

Songs to try:

The Demon & the Hurricane - This one did have a spacey western guitar with a great dreamy landscape of synthesizer and electronics atop a trotting beat. The vocals are atmospheric and this is the cut I would put on my mixtape.

Baltika 9 - There is almost a ska-pop quality at work here. Still, the poptones ring throughout and it is a nice change of pace.

English as a Second Language - Electronics-heavy, but with a really nice pop hook and cool backing vocals. The ending ratchets it up two notches on the heavy scale.

Casey Shea - "In Your Head"

I had the pleasure of seeing Casey Shea at the Rock'n'Roll Hotel and also interviewing him. He was a bright and friendly guy and he put on an entertaining set that  really got the crowd involved. He was solo that night, but he mentioned that in New York he plays regularly with a band and that his album was recorded with them as well. Ergo, this is a full rocking album with a plenty of the classic singer-songwriter folk-rock style on display as well. It has a modern feeling, born out of a Soul Asylum type heartland sound that is as rocking as many heavy bands, but still holds on to a rootsy base. There are a few darker, quieter songs which nicely balance this nine-song album. Casey Shea has the song writing chops and a great band and have done a great job with this record. I love the Tim Buckley like cover, too. There are a lot of fine young artists in this arena, but he has the ability to turn many ears in his direction.

Songs to try:

In Your Head - The title cut has a tuneful poppy feeling, but the full-out rocking foundation of drums, bass and electric guitar won't let you settle back in your chair too comfortably.

Let It Slide - When there is as good a chord progression as that in Tommy Tutone's "867-5309", even Bruce Springsteen can get away with co-opting it for "Radio Nowhere". This sounds a bit like it as well, but the overlapping vocal work and woven guitars are more original than what the Boss came up with.

Battery - Indeed, the battery of bass and drums lays it down nicely with some wild drum work. Add ringing guitar and Shea's strong vocals and you have one great song that takes me back to classic Soul Asylum.

Paul Armfield "Tennyson"

This is the fourth album by full-time bookstore manager and part-time musician Paul Armfield. Ergo, it is not surprise that a literary theme is the cornerstone of the work. All the lyrics are from the poetry of Alfred Lord Tennyson. Armfield plays guitar and most of the other instruments in the mostly sparse arrangements. Song order was the first interesting thing to me with the opening number being light with bird noises--evoking a children's song. But Armfield's voice is deep with an intensity present that I was pretty sure that things would turn. And they did with the next song "Spiteful Letter". It was not all down and deep as he varied the arrangements nicely, clearly with the intent of interpreting the poetry. "Charge of the Light Brigade" has a rhythmic thrust with vocals bringing out the intensity of the battle. This record is not for people who want full flowing folk-rock and thick indie rock sounds. But if you enjoy Nick Drake's third album and the work of Leonard Cohen (all with a voice more like Gordon Lightfoot perhaps), you will hear some really powerful songs here.

Songs to try:

Poets Song - This is a poem I remember from school and the arrangement has lots of interesting twists and turns in addition to fine vocal work.

Maud - This reminds me nearly of Frank Sinatra singing in front of a solo double-bass in the sparsest of arrangements.

Voyage - At nearly 11 minutes, this has epic qualities, but it is mostly in the lyrics and vocals. The light guitar and banjo lay down a dreamwork pattern where you really focus on the lyrics.

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