Thursday, July 19, 2012

CD Reviews Galore!

Well, here we are: a once-yearly occurrence. Why? Because although I love listening to music, my job involves listening to huge amounts of songs and writing feedback (very similar to being an A&R or a reviewer) and it feel like work. But these four releases are worth putting that to one side for; reasons explained as I go along!

Kirsty Macleod: Winter Sun and Summer Rain

Kirsty is a relative, of the complicated 'nth cousin, so many times removed' variety; I first heard her sing
at one of my birthday parties at the big house we used to live in.
People came along and did a turn; quietly, Kirsty sat in the chair and started singing. What a beautiful voice! Strong and self- assured, and the beginnings of some very interesting song writing. Almost five years later, and I've finally got round to reviewing her CD, which came out about a year ago, during which time she has been regularly gigging around the Kent area.
There is a strong 1960s folk feel to Kirsty's music. She is a competent strummer and also a fine finger-picker, and some of her songs here are supported by some lovely harmony singing.
My favourite song here is Just a Boy, a lyrically poignant song with a beautiful descending chord sequence that is very much after my own heart. The more anti-war songs that are out there the better; this is a heartfelt protest song. I also liked Say It Like You Mean It, whose lyric 'I fell in love with the person you're hiding' is sung with the bitterness of one who has been deeply disappointed in love.
Worth the Ride has a full band arrangement; as a song it is very well-crafted and I can imagine a future where she develops her music along these lines, as many of her songs would work as band songs.
Other stand-out tracks are the opener, Falling, and the closer, Drifting, which has a lovely, sparkly picking arrangement and is a beautiful song.
All in all this is a very listenable debut from a new artist; and do go to see her play!
More details at:

Mir: Secret

Mir's album is released on Martin Stephenson's Barbaraville label; Martin has been developing artists in Ross-shire and beyond for a couple of years now, starting with Ally Macleod (no relation to Kirsty, above!) whose sophisticated repertoire had had many plays on Radio Scotland and who now regularly gigs around the Highlands; and he is currently working with the very funny Eliza P.
Mir is based in Invergordon, and this CD captures the spontanaiety of Martin's discovery of her powerful and positive vocal talents. There is  a real 'Sun Sessions' feel to these recordings, which are augmented by Martin's guitar playing, and harmonica, drums and keyboards from guest musicians including her partner Sheep on bass.
The songs are short and punchy. Soul is a particularly catchy song which had me dancing around the kitchen;Old No 7 has great lyrics which Mir sings with conviction. Bad 4 U has a  traditional country feel (featuring Jim Hornsby on guitar) and should be winging its way over to Nashville, pronto. Made Me is pure rockabilly (is that Jerry Lee I hear in the background?); I loved the gospel feel of Undone. Love on the Wind ( a song by your truly: thanks Mir!) is augmented byAllan Leckie's organ playing (he got me in the end, didn't he Martin?).
The energy of these recordings is great: you feel as though you are sitting in the room with them all and listening!
For more Mir, check out:

Gary Stewart: A Year and a Day E.P

I have seen Gary Stewart play twice at The Keys in Huddersfield, a great venue promoted by Andrew and Tina, and I have always enjoyed his sets. He takes his cue very much from Paul Simon although his Scottish roots are also very much in evidence.
This is an e.p. although I believe he has recently released an album which would be well worth getting hold of. His songs are full of drama and he has a maturity in his playing style that you can only really learn from paying your dues on the live circuit; this e.p.showcases a strong style as an arranger as he dramatises his stories with additional instrumentation that includes the subtle use of pedal steel on the track Thorns. The track Eve is a perfect, sweet and poignant elegy to his niece; Green is a bouncy, mandolin-driven track that has a great live feel to it. The final track of the quartet is Blue which is  a moody, brooding and atmospheric track with a completely uplifting chorus that ought to be the title track of a Clint Eastwood film. I actually think it is brilliant.
Gary's website is:

Martin Stephenson and the Daintees: California Star

Last (and by no means least) is Martin's band release with The Daintees, again on his own label Barbaraville. This album features the playing skills of The Daintees' John Steel (guitars and bass) and Kate Stephenson (drums) and as soon as I hear it I imagine the band on stage playing (with Lou on bass of course), I have enjoyed hearing these tracks played live many times. There are many guest musicians, including the singer/songwriter Jill Hepburn whose album Martin co-produced last year.
It's very interesting to review a CD of songs that I actually heard in their original 'put pen to paper' form, from 'Have you got a piece of paper Helen?', to being played by Tom Robinson, Bob Harris and Gideon Coe on BBC Radio 6!
So let's slot it into the computer and have a listen with an attempt at objectivity...
The Ship has a lovely shuffle groove that features Martin singing at the low end of his vocal range, delicately complemented by Ally Macleod's drifting vocals. The Streets of San Sebastian is a dramatic and Spanish-flavoured song with Kenny Brady (ex-fiddle player for The Fall) singing falsetto in counterpoint to John Steel's lap steel flourishes: this has to be one of the best tracks! I love it.
The title track California Star is a dreamy and catchy track that is the perfect drive-time song: I want to be out there on the open road! Something Special has a gorgeous melody and I'm humming along as I write; I can imagine a top-notch soul singer singing this one! Silver Bird showcases Martin's way with a melody and has me rushing to my guitar to try to steal his chords (shhh!).
Sweet Cherwine has proved a hit with the manufacturers of Cheerwine in the USA (amazing how these songs travel around the world) and the final song I'm In Love for the First Time, well... I wrote it, innit?
This is a lovely collection of songs that shows of Martin's writing skills to a tee: time now for a California Star tour with the band!
The album can be heard and bought at:

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