Welcome to FairHearing.co.uk music review site

This site is about you and the music you are creating. We sing and play and we’re glad that you do.

We start from a basic respect for musicmakers, though we may not instantly love everything we hear.

You can quote all or any part of our reviews, as long as you credit us.

We would like to hear the music you are creating, whatever the genre. Though perhaps we lack the intellectual depth to critique death metal, we like blends of music especially those drawn from roots /west coast / jazz / psychedelia /R&B / folk/country.

We don’t care where you’re from, how old you are, what colour or sex you are. Or anything like that!

Forex

We find the conventional “star rating” syndrome demeaning and pompous. Opinions are only opinions. We might connect you with acts or artists you grow to love… Well, we hope we will!

Onwards!

HUNGRY DOG BRAND

Boy Meets Dog

Starving Mongrel Records

Looking at the label name, the dog must be staring forlornly at the fridge as opposed to the old phonograph as per the old HMV imprint ! But I expect all is explained on www.myspace.com/hungrydogbrand

This album was arranged and produced by the US artist Preacher Boy, whose own work was sent to me by site pal Mark Bliesener out in Denver..it’s a small world as we last saw Mark when be brought George Inai over to London.

Hungry Dog himself plays guitar and sings, mainly backed by bassist Matthew Karas, keys man Phil Stone and one Emyr Tomos on drums. Preacher Boy’s guitar is much in evidence, from the outset on ‘A Proud Heart’, which would have fitted on the ‘Trainspotting’ soundtrack. Pleasingly, there’s no attempt to emulate or copy acts – the forced jollity mood of ‘Down At the Disco’ does recall the sad seaside-in-winter act that Madness have morphed into, but this is a Hogarthian tale of a ghastly night out. The roots of this sound-picture approach might be Ian Dury, perhaps.

‘A Night In Euston Station’ is as grim a story as you might imagine ; most of the tempo’s are an edgy push exemplified by ‘Reunited’, ruing renewed contact. Street/suburban poetry you’d be hard pushed to disagree with unless you are living life through rose tinted glasses with no income problems.

As for the audience for this, well I’d imagine followers of the quirky albums produced by my friend J Dowd might give this the proverbial fair hearing, grim stuff but wittily put together

Pete Sargeant - www.fairhearing.co.uk

GABRIELLA CILMI

Lessons To Be Learned



www.gabriellacilmi.com
   Universal

Looking a little like Melanie Blatt’s younger sister, Ms Cilmi hits the ground running on this album with the edgy pop-funk of ‘Save The Lies’. Being very young in years  doesn’t seem to stop this lass having a full-on vocal authority.

Already the Amy Winehouse comparisons are evident in the dailies here. This is nonsense, there is none of the annoying vocal tick leaning that la Winehouse seems unable (or unwilling) to filter out of her delivery. The catchy bounce of current single ‘Sweet About Me’ works well and the spacey chordal interludes offset the sunshine beat.  Reviewers wanting to help a new artist towards receptive ears have little choice to allude to other artists. There is inevitably in the production of this record a ‘let’s have a go at this style’ element to the song selection and arrangements and this isn’t a bad thing at all. Overall there is an avoidance of the oversynthesised production that mars so many debuts in the pop sphere ; also someone has taken a bit of care on the percussion front eg on easygoer ‘Sanctuary’.

If the singing evokes anyone, it is ..Anastacia. Big shoes to fill, but so much of this album works that this act must make it. The eerie roll of ‘Einstein’ points to an abundance of ideas and fearless approach, so Gabriella is quite a find. Pop album releases are often very competent but usually playsafe and you wouldn’t want to hear them again and again, but pleasingly there’s more to this girl.

Not every track is a winner, but you’d have to be miserable sod not to acknowledge the poprock stomp of ‘Messy’, which really isn’t that far from a junior Anastacia with its hint of Yardbirds in the tempo. A bluesy opening treads into ‘Awkward Game’ and again Cilmi sounds impassioned and in control of the song’s development, subtle string arrangement mixed back and biting acoustic guitar easing through. The unexpected comes up time and time again – an edgy barroom boogie tempo on ‘Cigarettes & Lies’ epitomises city restlessness and has quite beguiling phrasing. What might be a nod to Nina Simone appears on ‘Sit In The Blues’, a knowing, keening vocal and nightclub blues guitar on a warm string bedding’.

I thought this was likely to be a run-of-the-mill overproduced pop album..how wrong was I?? It is terrific. A lesson to be learned, maybe ?

Pete Sargeant      www.fairhearing.co.uk

MATT TAYLOR BAND

No Trouble At All

BE Recordings  www.matttaylorband.com

Mixing own compositions with some well-picked and uncliched versions of others’ works, MTB deliver a 12-tracker with some extra radio edits to round out the package.

Already a creditable live act, these studio tracks test the band’s ability to capture their sound.

Matt Taylor’s sonic armoury takes in guitar, bass, mandolin, ukele, lapsteel and percussion and doubtless this all affects his compositional efforts and range. Jonny Dyke contributes plays all manner of keyboards. Drums and percussion are in the hands of Pete Radcliff. Recorded all over the place, it’s perhaps the roadwork that determines the band feel.

Taylor’s mid-range voice is well-recorded and sounds strong over the busy lines, the band’s sound not being far from Matt Schofield’s ensemble. I don’t know who Matt’s influences include but gladly there’s no obvious single source. My guess would be Robben Ford and as the latter’s best work is impassioned to say the least, how bad can that be ?

The mellow and easy-paced ballad ‘Let Your Hair Down’ adds a James Taylor touch and a beautiful warmth – I always hope that an album’s slow tracks won’t go the Gary Moore overkill facepulling route. (But they do, too often !)

The Dylan number ‘To Be Alone With You’ runs very close to Alvin Lee with its delivery and vocal delay setting ; the latin sleaze cruise of ‘Snakes’ is easily the set’s best and most original moment and offsets the album’s more traditional/mainstream passages. Fine piano figures here and a curiously addictive twisting chorus. Bravery has its own rewards, boys…

‘Lovestain’ is another winning original, its unhurried slide runs making it atmospheric and a ‘play again’ track. So, always competent and pretty often startlingly original, thumbs up  from us
Pete Sargeant   www.fairhearing.co.uk

Dr JOHN & THE LOWER 911

City That Care Forgot

Cooking Vinyl  www.cookingvinyl.com

From Sugar Blue to Hey Negrita, few recent events seem to make muso’s angrier than the poor treatment of the Katrina victims down in New Orleans and environs. “ It’s as if those folks just don’t count” hissed one visiting US player to me. The current administration would surely have rushed into action had the hurricane struck Harvard or Long Island ! As it is, the country’s entertainers seem to care more than those paid handsomely to govern the country.

So a man who exemplifies the rich, rolling, roots sounds of New Orleans steps up to have his say and this album results. As ever, Mr R’s piano is well to the fore and the song structures here are pretty par for the course. The good Doctor’s voice sounds a tad less growly than usual and his diction clearer, a sure sign that he means business with the lyrics ; as you may have guessed, he is not a Dubya fan. In fact he really puts the boot in on the Iraq conflict-inspired ‘Say Whut’ with a diatribe on lies and deceit which sounds uncannily close to Chester Burnett fronting Little Feat. He won’t get much airplay on this one but job done…

Some guests appear – Ani di Franco provides the ghostly response vocal on the title track which is both memorable and surefooted over a neat mix of guitar chording. Country eccentric Willie Nelson joins Dr John for the vocal on the bitter resignation story that is ‘Promises, promises’ let down a little by the song’s hackneyed changes.  Eric Clapton contributes electric guitar on three cuts, using his edge-of-distortion mellow bite tone for mostly Meters-style fills though he hits a solo on the IV during ‘Time For A Change’ and later on the choppy funk of ‘Stripped Away’, This is not a setting where EC will be pushed into his most fluid mode though, as you doubtless surmise. But he sounds as comfortable as he did with Delaney & Bonnie, can’t be bad.

The Doctor is in Curtis Mayfield-ish mode on the dark ascending bass-led ‘Land Grab’, one of two numbers featuring Terence Blanchard. This is hypnotic stuff and maybe the album’s keenest cut, just hear that spatial trumpet hovering over the grim tale like a vulture.

Poor New Orleans…the Doctor prescribes a strong dose of compassion and this skilled and organic music is heavy with love and care

Pete Sargeant     www.fairhearing.co.uk

STEVE MILLER BAND

Live From Chicago

www.stevemillerband.com

So here it is at last ! Two DVD’s and an Audio CD showcasing Miller’s band on the boards in Chicago and shot with dozens of cameras, directed by Daniel E Catullo 111

and with audio mixed by Andy Johns.

It’s no surprise that Steve Miller chose Chicago to host this fine celebratory show. Having lived his early years in Milwaukee and Dallas (at age 15, backing blues king Jimmy Reed down there!) Steve moved to Chicago in 1964 as the town’s electric blues boom was in full swing. He could soak up shows by Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters and Little Walter – the sort of stars we in England would race along to see as blues-mad youngsters whenever they crossed The Pond. Buying tickets would use up that week’s food and fares money, but what the hell !

Stylistically, there ain’t much that Miller can’t turn his hand to – psychedelia, blues, folk, rock’n'roll and jazz. He’s hit the pop charts many times and maybe more than any other artist outside of archgrump Van Morrison, lured pop fans into roots musics. When the Chicago blues scene disintegrated (which didn’t take that long), Miller ended up following Paul Butterfield’s crew down to San Francisco where a whole other scene was about to take off – Jefferson Airplane were showing audiences their own brand of electrified folkrock with a blues and improvisational leaning. Happily this set finds room for versions of early successful cuts such as ‘Livin’ In The USA’ and I reckon the edgiest take any artist has on ‘Mercury Blues’ (the first Miller stuff I had was on a film soundtrack called ‘Revolution’ featuring a speedy edition of this song and an Isley Brothers cover) and from the album ‘Children Of the Future’ on, Steve’s albums had a following. I wonder if even he realises what a trip his LP ‘Number 5′ is – it’s hard to think of a more wide-ranging yet warm collection, everything works in its own way.

The stage band on this set includes harmonica maestro Norton Buffalo and Kenny Lee Lewis on guitar plus bassist Billy Peterson. Kicking off with ‘Fly Like An Eagle’, and then ‘Living In The USA’, the group rocks out on ‘Rock’n'Me’, ‘Take The Money And Run’, ‘The Joker’ and ‘Jet Airliner’. Sadly, they do not find room for my own favourite ‘Macho City’ but then I saw that performed in full way back in time at Hammersmith Odeon. Miller’s blues background finds fine expression in the Jimmy Vaughan number ‘Boom Bapa Boom’ and then evokes Otis Rush and his desolate reverbed guitar weeping on ‘All Your Loving’.

The second DVD has Miller cruising round present day Chicago, looking for remnants of the past.  For those who like the hits, they’re all here. But what this set really gives you is the full picture of a man who lives and breathes colourful, lively and artistically refined music. If Miller was a chef, you’d be happy to eat at Steve’s for ever

Pete Sargeant    www.fairhearing.co.uk

SECKOU KEITA SKQ

The Silimbo Passage

www.seckokeita.com

This is arguably the best era ever for multinational bands – they can play at festivals, arts centres and at more conventional gigs. And all that’s needed is an open-minded audience. This crew have personnel from Senegal, Italy, Egypt and the Gambia and their influences include Richard Bona, banjo whiz Bela Fleck and voice creator Bobby McFerrin.

Seckou Keita plays the kora, the harp or lute like West African stringed instrument and is a born improviser and originator of unusual tunings. If David Crosby was from Africa….

To offset the hot kora playing, Keita has acoustic and electric bass, percussion, violin and even now singer Binta Suso aboard. You can dance to this music or listen to it, your choice.

You have to attune your ears to the band’s dynamic, from the off the tempo’s can be fragmented and the kora seems to dance over the sterner sound of the violin to create a unique blend. Bartok in the jungle at times, and none the worse for that ! Recording engineer Rob Waite deserves  a nod for capturing this lively sound, not thrown out by the sudden polyrhythmic passages that are a million miles from yer average pop music session.  Binta Suso has a captivating voice and sweetens the sound to great effect. Serious players can sound so solemn – remember latterday Mahavishnu Orchestra ?? - but the aim here seems to be to entertain and bring out melodies. The rhythm section are so subtle it almost hurts, hear the way they patter along behind Binta on ‘Mande-Arab’.

‘Fonding Ke’ is a call for African unity, will anyone heed it ? ‘The joyous ‘ Konte Djula’ a dancing tribute to Seckou’s grandmother and bringing out the twinkling delicacy of the kora in a master’s hands. Mr Maal would surely approve !

The percussive ‘Dingba Don’ is an album highlight, prodding bass and skittering violin lines across strident beats and the kora rolling around in controlled abandon. Truly exemplifies the group’s sound.

How is it that a continent where the most dreadful violent things can occur can still produce music of such grace and love-driven power and tenderness ? Praise be that it does

Pete Sargeant   www.fairhearing.co.uk

HEY NEGRITA

Rope

www.heynegrita.com fat fox single

This new HN single features the current five-man lineup and Felix’ voice has never been richer or more resonant. Hanging on to their renowned ‘light touch’ ambience, the country-tinged band have a new album in the works now the present personnel have settled.

Their sound travels well and they are already festival favourites – you could put them on after or before solo artists, or world music acts or quieter or louder bands, no problem. Whenever they play the Troubadour or The Borderline in London they round out the evening’s entertainment with a unique and gentle insistence.

The group’s main asset is also a potential problem – they are not easy to pigeonhole. Best then that they stick with what they do and let the listeners catch up with them.

This is a haunting tune, great melancholy from the harmonica, with Felix delivering bitter lines and an acidic chorus. They have certainly mastered the acoustic/electric guitars weave that drives their sound and synched drums and tambourine give a gipsy rhythm, a quick nod to Neil their sticksman. Bring on the album !

Pete Sargeant www.fairhearing.co.uk

GRANTURA

In Dreams and Other Stories

www.grantura.net

Ruffa Lane is a South East London indie label endeavouring to release material on their own terms. Grantura are one of their acts.

Some of their songs show their social conscience and with six contributors to the band’s sound, influences abound. The sound is acoustic/light electric with mandolin in the mix and steady drumming and an airy production feel echoed by the exquisite pastoral pictures used in the album booklet graphics. And the vocals are often close harmony, which means that as always happens when vocal arrangements layer 3rds, 5ths and 6ths the Byrds and Crosby Stills & Nash are mentioned. But this crew have a great deal more in common with and would I am certain appeal to fans of generally underrated US country rockers Poco and Brit songsmiths Matthews Southern Comfort. Co-writer of the songs Lindsay Clark stresses the group effort to compose and arrange the material. He feels the album is strong on songs and he’s right, the likes of Teenage Fan Club whose sound is fine but songs so patchy might feel a tinge envious.

Third track ‘Sunshine’ even has a Lindisfarne touch – how we miss the social consciousness and achingly memorable compositions of Alan Hull. ‘Lazarus’ has a great spiky guitar contribution across its jerky farmyard tempo that Giant Sand fans might enjoy. The actual flow and balance of the album is reminiscent of the works of Colorado rockers Firefall. They like Pure Prairie League left some memorable songs in their wake.

Grantura’s strong suit seems to be their enthusiasm ; I suspect this is better realised in a live setting so we’ll go and see them, I think. I imagine multi-instrumentalist and prime mover Rick Blackman is in his element onstage. They do need an edgy, dark number in their set though to offset the breezy core of their principal appeal.

I can’t make a case for this band being high on originality, but this is a worthy debut, opener ‘Waves’ deserves some attention for its rolling denseness and pleasant tune ;

a single of ‘In Dreams’ / ‘The Long Road’ is set for release soon.

Pete Sargeant     www.fairhearing.co.uk

WAS NOT WAS

Live at London Carling Academy

Photo (c) Ellen Stone

26 April 2008

It doesn’t auger well when the police have cordoned off the venue area due to a suspect package, as happened this early Saturday evening in Islington, the urban London village set North of the city. Having retired up the road for a drink and ventured back later after the all clear, it transpired that vising US funksters Was Not Was had kicked off the show relatively early. In full flow and with a great sound balance (in contrast with the mix from Hades inflicted on the group when they appeared live on the BBC TV ‘Later’ show earlier in the week) the three frontline singers’ voices rang loud and clear as they vocalised and danced their way through the setlist. Sweet Pea Atkinson centre stage and as dapper as ever, snappy fedora as always, seemed relaxed and grooving whilst jumpier Donald Ray Mitchell took many of the high lines with aplomb, whilst looking unsettlingly like the character Carlton from the ‘Fresh Prince’ TV show. And with Sir Harry Bowens singing like a dream and throwing in comedic asides as well as encouraging audience vocal participation, it is unlikely that a more lively and richly-voiced combination was performing in the metropolis this night.

Of course, having a vocal team easily equalling the Impressions or the Temptations at their peak is only part of the Was experience – every now and again the urbane and deadpan beat poet David Was puts aside his harps and flute and steps forward with a bizarre narration such as ‘I Feel Better Than James Brown’ – clearly a crowd favourite – to add a surreal touch as the band chugs away with sparks flying. Some quite brilliant sax and eerie keyboard breaks ( one heading off in a salsa direction before slotting back to damped sixths) peppered the songs eg perennial dance favourite ‘Walk The Dinosaur’, a song that doesn’t date and makes everyone smile.

Don Was managed to break a string on his bass but shrugged it off and he also acted as MC, naming the players and sounding genuinely heartened by the reception from the pleasantly full room. A diverse crowd here, equally happy with the driving and splintered funk rhythms and wild, jazzy solo’s. When the act started, they created their own genre pretty much – Thinking Man’s Disco, I guess. It resolved the dilemma that dance music was often unsophisticated and played in an virtually machine-like anonymous manner whilst great instrumental players seemed loath to play anything too rhythmic. If you drew a wobbly line between the stiff mechanical output of say The Pet Shop Boys and the dextrous but ultimately self-satisfied and ultimately alienating Methenys..well you might find these guys. What appealed to me when I first heard WNW at the start of the Eighties was the touch of Zappa and the fact that they new and used MC5 guitar assassin Wayne Kramer. From talking to Don Was when they were last in the UK, I know that he is well aware that it was the London clubs first played the Ze label releases and broke the act, so pleasing it was that he led the crew into an early-days medley featuring ‘Robot Girl’, ‘Tell Me That I’m Dreaming’ and the still mindbending wallop of ‘Wheel Me Out’. Again, the audience lapped this up.

As for a killer moment, well the hardworkin’ guitar ace Randy Jacobs (track down his work with The Boneshakers along with Sweet Pea for more axe fire) taunted the saxman on ‘Dinosaur’ with Hendrixy phrases and let him come back as he built the tension. If James Brown band chord flicker Jimmy Nolen could hear his disciple at work in this company, he would be one proud angel. He was especially good on new album opener ‘ Semi-Interesting Week’.

The show ended with the sharp drum attack and chattering tempo of JFK tale ‘Eleven Miles An Hour’ then a relaxed doowop variant on ‘Out Come The Freaks’. Females love ‘em and even men who cannot dance..might try. And I speak with authority on that.

Pete Sargeant   www.fairhearing.co.uk

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