Album & Single Reviews

Published on November 4th, 2015 | by Mike Ainscoe


Mike Ainscoe’s Autumn Album Round Up – Part 1

Here’s a chance to delve a bit deeper into some of the albums which come through to us and from which we select tracks to contribute to the show


Wooden Piano

The three track debut EP (the good old EP seems to be the new black) from Maidstone singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Lawrence O’Shea. This has the added attraction for me of having the lead track co-written with ace, in demand songwriter Boo Hewerdine, who also produced the EP. Teaming up with Boo gives the release that trademark of quality in the songs which have that element of classy songwriting and delivery. Not quite cutting edge and lyrically incisive, but a classic poppy sound not so much from the dim and distant past but from a few years gone by.

Best track: ‘Mercy Thrill’ – nice melody and a good beat!

tina refsnes no one knows...TINA REFSNES – ‘NO ONE KNOWS THAT YOU’RE LOST’

Vestkyst Records

From Oslo, Norway, via a short stint in Liverpool, comes Tina Refsnes and her interesting mix of singer songwriter Americana with her European influence. The inspiration of the landscapes of her upbringing open seascapes and mountain terrain, which subconsciously breathe into her songs, is quite obvious in the spacey (as in lots of room, not ‘out there’) and understated arrangements.

Heading out to Toronto to search out producer Robbie Lackritz to add his distinctive stamp onto the songs, it really is a travelogue in song, yet the overwhelming feel is easy and naturally relaxing, and is one of those albums which is at its best by simply allowing the music to flow out and wash over you.  Recorded in a single room over three weeks the album feels like a step back in time, ranging from the delicate and fragile with Tina’s voice almost cracking against the discreet guitar notes to the more substantial yet still scant  instrumentation. Lyrically, she offers up what on occasions seems a deeply personal perspective, and does that rare thing in singing from the heart, giving the listener a revealing insight – perhaps the one feature of the album which leaves the strongest impression on a natural and tranquil set of songs.

Best track: ‘Put It Away’ – a fuller arrangement which brings to mind someone I can’t quite put my finger on.

andy may trioANDY MAY TRIO – ‘ABOUT TIME’

Ashwood Records

I caught the Andy May Trio at the launch gig for this album when they played in Bury at the Homegrown/English Folk Expo event in mid October. Along with Andy’s distinctive pipes (as in Northumbrian pipes, not a comment on his singing voice) comes fellow Baltic Crossing member, Ian Stephenson, on guitar. They’re joined by Derbyshire fiddle player, Sophy Ball. The live performance was great – good humoured and musically lively and buoyant, with a set of tunes from the self-penned to the traditional. A case of the three players in tune with each other and combining effectively together, resulting in a product greater than the sum of the parts. Light and airy, no messing with lyrics, the tunes don’t venture into the intense or staid. Witness the song titles – ‘Octopus Butcher’ is a combination of Ian Stephenson’s ‘the Butcher Of Blyth’ and May’s ‘Octopus Man’ – obviously. While ‘Dreams Of Tea’ led not so much into any financial gain, more like a ton of tea bags gain, its combination with the trad. ‘March 150’ is typical of the sort of delightful tunes the trio come up with. At Sonic Bandwagon, what we’d call jiggery folkery at its finest.

Best track: ‘Transatlantic Reels’ – I do like a reel and the combo of ‘Ian’s Reel’ and ‘Transatlantic Reel’ are made for this trio.


Self released

As the band themselves have pointed out, any band with a reverbed  fiddle as the lead instrument  inevitably gets the label of ‘sons of The Levellers’, and if Ferocious Dog aren’t  that closely related, then they aren’t  too far down the family tree  – it’s the price you pay. ‘From Without’, almost as expected comes as an independent release, is an intense ride with very little let up.

Like The Levs, their songs have that strong lyrical sense of (in) justice; standing up and fighting for your rights, anarchy and Thatcher’s Britain all get honourable mentions and they even reference The Levs’s “weapon called a word” album title in the lyric of ‘Living On Thin Air’, amidst the signature sound of frantic fiddling and electric folk punk. A nod to the trad folk scene comes as they tackle the traditional ‘Raggle Taggle Gypsy’ but they’re really at their best with their own stuff. Described as fiercely and wilfully independent, when simply ‘fierce’ would have sufficed, you can certainly see them causing a sir at festivals, but you wouldn’t want to run into them down a dark alley.

Best track: ‘Crime & Punishment’ – could even be the new soundtrack to Wacky Races – with a brilliant story (we all like a story) and chorus.


Inside Out

If ever there were an expansive set this is it, and not only that, it’s an absolutely  necessary evil to immortalise the epic night when Devin Townsend – he can call it the Devin Townsend Project if he likes, but as frontman and main man it’s all about him – took on the Royal Albert Hall and won.  With 3 CDs and a couple of DVDs  containing the show shot from 14 HD cameras with all the usual bonus material, no expense is spared and judging by the accompanying images of the night, it looks like quite a spectacular event. Nay, over the top circus styled extravaganza.

For starters you get the entire ‘Dark Matter’ album from his ‘Z2’ project played straight through, plus a set of the back catalogue, PLUS a set of rarities as picked through a Facebook poll. The band plus guests, video narrators and cast of singers and actors cum choir, makes it all seem a DT wet dream. Before you even look at the visuals, there’s over two and a half hours’ worth of music on the 3 CDs to deal with and it’s a lot, maybe too much for anyone less than the hardcore fan to take in, so maybe get back to me around Christmas………

First impressions though are that the performance of the more recent ‘Dark Matter’ material is nothing more than an aperitif to the main courses, and that the real value lies in the third disc which gathers together stuff like an excellent ‘Funeral’ -‘Bastard’ – ‘The Death Of Music’ trio from his second album.  Its formidable music too – not a night of Grateful Dead styled doodling, but epic arrangements of proggy metally style intensity. It’s exhausting enough looking at the contents even before you start to play through, and you’re also going to need plenty of refreshments during the course of the ride. For someone who has a reputation for putting on a show, this time Devin has outdone himself and delivered a stunning record of a gloriously over the top occasion.

Best track: hard to pick one song but right now I’d have to go for ‘Earth Day’ but could easily change once the album gets inwardly digested!

About the Author

Mike's mellowed in his old age, discovering the delights of traditional folk and acoustic music and the constant stream of new music coming through his passion as a gig-goer, music photographer and writer. With favourite artists and favourite songs which change daily, even hourly, he adds another spoke to the Sonic Bandwagon wheel of fortune.

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