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   Thursday, June 27, 2002  
'Poet, humanist, inventor, musician, [he] exceeds the sum of his parts, still searching within and without to make albums that break new ground.' Extracted from a woefully inadequate 8,000-word feature in last week's Billboard, you've surely guessed already - of course, it's James Taylor! The exact opposite of a hard-hitting critique, the article anticipates the August release of the great man's 18th (or thereabouts) album, October Road, which reallyrather somehow feels will be as 'ground-breaking' as all the others (ie sound remarkably, comfortably familiar).

Billboard: What was the thinking behind calling the album October Road?
JT: I like the way it rolls off the tongue..

Still brimming over with inspiration after all these years, Taylor continues to push his personal boundaries:

JT: This record has a high amount of my whistling.
Billboard: Really good whistling, in fact.
JT: I have a brother who whistles beautifully, Hughie; he's a world-class whistler. My father whistled a lot, too. But I think it comes mostly from my grandmother, Angelique Woodard--she was a great whistler.

Excellent stuff! Do you, like reallyrather, sometimes quietly crave that James Taylor vibe but don't really like to talk about it? Want something similar but a bit less, how shall we say, 'Martha Stewart'? You need Denison Witmer. More precisely, you need his albums, Safe away from 2000 and last year's follow-up Of joy and sorrow. Soothing, honest folk-pop, it's pretty much all beautiful stuff. The second album gets closest to the JT thing, fleshing out the pretty acoustic sound of his debut with a full band sound on songs like Rock Run, Forgiven and You and me. It's the (very) subtle traces of indie/emo that take this music out of the Seventies and into the here & now. The chord change in the stripped-down Reaching, simple strumming with Witmer's gorgeous multitracked harmonies; the wistful reflections on The 80s, "when we were smaller". The least JT moment is Yesterday & tomorrow where the pace remains relaxed but the amp is cranked up (like a distinctly Californian Jesus & Mary Chain, maybe). If anything, the songs on Safe away are actually stronger - Over my head, Miles, This and that, I would call you now all shine, Witmer's attractive voice and electric/acoustic guitar self-accompaniment (with deft organ, bass assists) putting him ahead of the likes of Teddy Thompson, Josh Ritter, etc. Currently doing some dates with Rosie Thomas, Witmer's third release Philadelphia songs is due September 24. Recommended.

At Arnold's gig at LA's Knitting Factory next month there'll be support from none other than the Gigolo Aunts. More dates:
July 25 San Francisco (Pop Scene)
July 28 Anaheim (Chain Reaction)

Some bands just never let you down, whatever the circumstances. Reduced to a (power) trio and in front of a sparse 'crowd', the great Myracle Brah dished out a relentless volley of three-minute retro-pop gems at the Barfly last night. Even tho' reallyrather has the albums to prove it, the question 'Can these all be originals?' still hovers as (some kinda genius) Andy Bopp, Paul Krysiak and Joe Parsons gel, particularly on a stretch including She's so young, Message 78 and Albert S Hand. Having run out of 'trio' material the band encored with The Proclaimers' 500 miles, wtih drummer Parsons on lead Scottish accent. A hoot(s'mon)...

Don't say you weren't told Dept.
From the London Evening Standard's Coldplay review (June 24): 'Before we go any further, a far-too-brief mention for The Polyphonic Spree who performed a dazzling free concert ... Including a scissor-kicking French horn player, they played an incredibly uplifting set of frazzled gospel rock.'
Amen to that...
   posted by SMc at 11:39 AM |

   Sunday, June 23, 2002  
A potted plant sits on the shelf, a once-thriving gift from a green-fingered friend, now a sad withered presence having signally failed to prosper in it's new home. Had reallyrather appreciated more fully just what a galvanizing experience The Polyphonic Spree live would be, it would have been brought along and placed at the foot of the stage in confident anticipation of miraculous revival. This free show (their 2nd performance at David Bowie's Meltdown festival) took place on the ballroom floor of the Royal Festival Hall foyer ahead of the Coldplay concert; it's a guess, but reallyrather would like to bet it's not the palid Brit-rockers their fans will be telling their colleagues about this morning. Doubtless arriving hot foot from another challenging afternoon at IKEA, these innocents and sundry other South Bank strollers were drawn delighted and gaping to the heaving stage - full band plus theremin, synths, brass section, violin & choir, all bouncing - by the irresistible positive energy generated by the Spree and channelled by lead singer Tim deLaughter. Stirring, anthemic pop tunes supporting lyrics often dishing out simplistic, beatific wisdom, the hour took on the air of a pagan revivalist gathering. All the best tunes from the The beginning stages of..' were unleashed plus several more. As on the album, reallyrather's pick of the bunch was Track No.8 (they're all untitled), a spectacularly catchy ditty consisting of just two lines -

I've found my soldier girl, she's so far away
She makes my head spin around

- repeated over. It works, believe me. Concert over, the cassock-clad band filed out of the hall to the rapturous acclaimation of the throng of newly converted true believers. They're coming back to the UK & Ireland for some Summer festival dates - go, bring a friend (and maybe that old watch that stopped working years ago)...

As anticipated, the Arnold July 4 Borderline listing is an error - the band play there Aug 5, doubtless plugging the new EP, imaginatively entitled Arnold...

Meanwhile, over in Boston, The Woolly Sessions is what Lemonpeeler have called theirs...
   posted by SMc at 12:34 PM |

   Wednesday, June 19, 2002  
Re-emerging from heaven knows where, prophets without honour Arnold strike out for the West Coast next month. Three LA shows confirmed so far:
July 16 Knitting Factory (Sort out your one-liners, guys - all the venue has listed for that night is 'Comedy')
July 17 Silver Lake Lounge
July 26 In-Store, Amoeba Records on Sunset Bld.
The band returns in August for a massive nationwide tour: Aug 5 London Borderline's it. Hey, this is Arnold we're talking about here. Actually the venue, tho' not yet listing this date, does list a show on July 4. Two UK dates in a year?, surely not. Will inquire...

Without much fanfare, label RainbowQuartz appear to be selling a new album from Myracle Brah. Called Bleeder - as in 'Come here you little..' perhaps? - the blurb includes words like "experimentation", "bongos" and, reassuringly, "lysergic guitar workout." Plenty of the latter is confidently anticipated this Wednesday at the Barfly in Camden where the Brah headline, Grip Weeds and Three-4-Tens support...

But before all that there's more psych-pop shenanigens at the Barfly this Friday though whether there'll be much room for an audience is debatable - yep, it's The Polyphonic Spree! Given a 5-star review in today's Guardian for their first Meltdown show - "Somewhere between the Beach Boys and The Muppet Show" - they've been tacked onto a bill topped by Aussie pop classicists Even, and Enon (who apparently "mix scathing guitar riffs with well-placed distortion, electronic ephemera, and a Beatles-esque sense of melody"). If you can't make that, don't forget their free performance back at the Royal Festival Hall Saturday evening...
   posted by SMc at 11:45 AM |

   Monday, June 17, 2002  
"Our favourite place to play is definitely London. People pay attention there, over here most are just making the scene."
'Here' being Los Angeles, 'our' being The Tyde - Darren Rademaker interviewed in the latest ed. of UK mag SleazeNation. Given this declaration, reallyrather can confidently dust off the old Paisley shirt as the band are planning a short tour of Europe mid-August. A new EP, Blood Brothers, comes out July 1 via Rough Trade...

The tide also comes in on a debut release from Italian band Midwest, track 3 to be precise. A while ago this column arched an eyebrow at the notion of Italian alt-c. But heck if the UK can credibly cultivate it's own scene, why shouldn't our scooter-borne European cousins have a bash? But have this plucky quartet from Varese pulled it off? Having listened to the band's debut album Town and country for a couple of weeks, reallyrather says, 'Sort of'. First off, their are two tracks on here which would definitely make the cut were this column to ready a '2002 favourites so far' compilation. Their label says its Sparklehorse-meets-Califone which, while flattering them somewhat, does take you quite a way there. And there's a distinctly Rev-ish hue to several of the better numbers. One of three instrumentals kicks off the set, introducing the light and attractively uncluttered instrumentation which helps leaven the pair of plodders which follow. Not that red cheek and the Radar Bros.-like the tide are terrible, just uninspired. Things pick up nicely with the winningly jaunty Mountain song, infected as it is with the spirit of Ronnie Lane. With this the band hit if not quite a purple then certainly a mauve-ish patch. In your life sounds like 'M.Ward does M.Rev'; dapples of organ colour big green needle and, best of all, the very lovely ripple and rise. The run comes to end with another instrumental, eating dust, it's vaguely oriental flavour making it sound like the theme to a James Stewart movie that never was - Liberty Valance Rides East, maybe. Sung in heavily (but charmingly) accented English, the double-tracking of the lead vocal on several numbers is the album's most striking production detail. While reallyrather can't honestly say you're missing out if you don't hear it, this column is quietly pleased that it has...

Seemingly mining similar territory to Miranda Lee Richards, Shea Seger, etc, "shimmery layered pop rock" is apparently what we can expect next month on Little airplane, a debut album from F. Scott Fitzgerald's great-granddaughter(!) Blake Hazard...

..but if you want something a little stronger, darker:
'Not exactly a pick-me-up disc [but] simply gorgeous music'
'Serge Gainsbourg, Nick Drake, and Emmylou Harris rolled into one - only slightly darker, and slower..brilliant.'
'Beautiful to hear and a pleasure to have in one's home'
Snatches from reviews of the recently released (and Steve Albini-produced) The blackened air, the second album from New York noir-country diva Nina Nastasia...
   posted by SMc at 12:19 PM |

   Wednesday, June 12, 2002  
"The seven tracks on Play Karen and Others are probably the best post-Pleased to Meet Me Replacements songs Paul Westerberg never wrote," says Splendid today. Don't know about anyone else but reallyrather is losing count of the number of reviews containing that reference (or close variations thereof). This week's replacement Replacements are the aforementioned The Trouble With Sweeney...

It's that man again! "Imagine Skip Spence and the Soggy Bottom Boys hitting a bong the size of a Hoover then wrapping their impaired senses around the weirdest, saddest songs Paul Westerberg never showed anyone," said Nashville Scene; "hillbilly Velvet Underground," was Nashville Rage's stab; "stoner incantations worthy of The Beta Band," was another. All were grappling with the sounds to be found on The Leaper's Fork, the debut release of Starlings,TN which has joined reallyrather's (worryingly short) shortlist of the year's best.
Is alt-bluegrass a genre? Must confess reallyrather's frame of reference vis-a-vis the music of the mountains is not wide but it wouldn't be a huge surprise to find this Nashville trio's leftfield approach putting a few purists to flight. In much the same spirit as the Be Good Tanyas' playing fast and loose with the Appalachian sound on the gorgeous Blue horse, Starlings,TN wield their dulcimers, mandolins, dulcimers, banjos, accordians and have I mentioned dulcimers? in ways that manage to sound both trad and distinctively, thrillingly contemporary. And like Blue horse it's a mostly successful mix of ye olde and the new.
The first in a sequence of five Steve Stubblefield originals, 'Kids in Philly'-era Marah meets Spiritualized might (but only might) describe the way That girl of mine bowls in to open proceedings; the guy sounds like a huskier, distinctly less urgent Dave Bielanko. Karma tar is in much the same vein; the courtly step of My daddy was a preacher blossoms gloriously and great harmonies soar over rhythmic pickin' 'n' strummin' on Hey little birdie. All the while there's the background drone of (I guess) a bowed electric dulcimer giving the whole thing a spacey levitation.
Recorded using only a 4-track, the sound is amazingly full. The keening vocal on Sarah is prime Everlys and preceeds a run of traditionals, best of which are the stirring bluegrass gospel of Nothing but the blood of Jesus and crowd-pleasing thigh-slapper Whiskey before breakfast. (Ozzy rocked the Palace for QEII; this would've filled the floor at the court of Elizabeth I!)
A certain 'Josh Rouse' is thanked in the sleevenotes and Little things, the only cut with a rhythm track & bass, sounds a bit like something that might've missed the cut for Under cold blue stars (it also sounds like, 'Hmm, we'd better cut one for radio'). Apparently the band are looking to get another album out this year. "That first was really us just finding our feet," TJ Larkin told the Houston Press. "With this next one, we're really off and running. We're really closing in on something. What it is, I have no idea, but it's definitely something."
Most definitely.

West Country acoustic popsters Thomson released their Poptones debut single last week. "It’s a mish mash of Big Star, Teenage Fanclub and Beach Boys harmonies..tuneful, interesting and obscure, the sort of record that GLR used to play," said one who's heard it. Er, no change there then...
   posted by SMc at 11:16 AM |

   Saturday, June 08, 2002  
Those determined janglers from Chapel Hill, Mayflies USA, confirm that third album Walking in a straight line will drop July 16 on Yeproc. Slightly oddly, just a month later the same label puts out the second release from Mayflies soundalikes The Bigger Lovers. Honey in the Hive (due Aug 27) is produced by Thom Monahan (Pernice Brothers, Beachwood Sparks, etc) and engineered by...

...Brian McTear who, in addition to work with the likes of Mazarin, produced the '01 album by The Trouble With Sweeney. Just this week a new 7-track mini-LP by the band has appeared: "Blending a rootsy, alt-country sensibility with a chamber-pop sense of orchestration, it just might be the best thing they’ve ever done," label. "Is the world ready for a Belle & Sebastian/Wilco hybrid? Of course not—only rock critics are," suggests SLWeekly...
   posted by SMc at 12:12 PM |

   Wednesday, June 05, 2002  
"This collection of mesmerizing psychedelic pop wonder is as close to perfect as any you’re likely to hear," says Hybrid in a "fresh" review of an album which has been around for ages, Mazarin 's A tall-tale storyline. While reallyrather can't go all the way with that verdict, it's a worthy candidate for revival. Catching them live back in March their strummy Love-meets-The Who psych-pop unfortunately succumbed to shrill noise-pop distortion a bit too often. This tendency is certainly around on the album but is happily outnumbered by enough cracking tunes (What sees the sky and rolling country-pop closer Limits of language appeal here) to make it worth snagging at a decent price...

With the radar still scanning for giddy pop goodness, reallyrather can report strong bleeping signals from a bedroom somewhere in Omaha. Not that it had ever formally begun but the search for the missing link between Mull Historical Society and the Polyphonic Spree may be over. In 2000, Fizzle Like A Flood (aka Douglas Kabourek) put out Golden sand and the grandstand, hailed by those who got to hear it as a 25-minute D-I-Y pop wonder:
~"There are at least seven thousand things that could go tragically wrong when a student/home-recordist decides to write a "symphony" based on a fictional history of the local race track, and then record it all by himself using only a Radio Shack microphone. Miraculously, Doug Kabourek has managed to avoid virtually all of those pitfalls" [Splendid]
~"With each track containing an average of 40 tracks..these are multi-textured, highly melodic indie pop songs" [Delusions of Adequacy]
~"Carefully chaotic indie pop...altogether compelling" [Allmusic]
Some great sample tracks from this Scotch Tape Brian Wilson are supplied by Side1 Records who will shortly be releasing Fizzle's follow-up. However, "One can be fairly safe in assuming it won't be anything like what I've done already," Kabourek told Ink19 recently. "I'm kind of burnt out on the whole layered opus thing. I don't think I can really do much more in that direction from my spare room..."

To Kings Cross for Norway's Poor Rich Ones at the WaterRats last Sunday. Pronouncing themselves more than usually pleased not to be Swedish that particular day, the five-piece were greeted with a cry of "Show us what you're made of, fucking Vikings!" from a swaying Scandinavian down at the front. Which they readily did, whipping up a Radiohead when they still did tunes-type storm, only to be cruelly abbreviated by the archaic Sunday licencing laws. Something must be done, etc...

Tomorrow night in New York Josh Rouse plays a one-off acoustic show with M. Ward , "one of my favorite singer-songwriters at the moment". Listen to Beautiful car from Duets for guitars #2 (the album before last) and he'll likely be one of yours too...
   posted by SMc at 12:04 PM |