Category: Reviews

Album review: Mali Mae

MALI MAE Personal [self-released] Now this is how to start the summer properly. Mae is a young singer-songwriter from Northamptonshire who has, with little fanfare, put together a collection of…


Now this is how to start the summer properly. Mae is a young singer-songwriter from Northamptonshire who has, with little fanfare, put together a collection of breezy pop that is as good as anything you’ll hear on top 40 radio.

Personal, her full debut album, is a celebration of love and loss, of young hopes and dreams coming to fruition, or wishing them to. The opening song, ‘Up’, is both an exceptional and ever-so-slightly haunting pop song, but also an immediate showcase for a voice that will regularly stop your heart. The instrumentation here, and indeed throughout the album, is generally quite sparse: all minor chord piano lines, brief sections of snare playing, programmed keys. Yes her sudden mood and melody shifts are very much from the handbook of modern pop. Yet it sounds natural; and she seems totally in control of it all. Owning a song with this sort of confidence should takes years to develop. She’s barely out her teens and she’s there already. It’s actually all a bit frightening.

‘Remind Me’, which adds soft strings that come in and out of focus, ratchets up the drama a little, the chorus delivering a sustained moment of vulnerability. It doesn’t take a huge imagination to envision her sat behind a piano playing it on the X-Factor. And that’s no dig: it would melt even Cowell’s frosty heart. ‘Get It Right’ has some attractive background harmonies on it, presumably her own voice doing all the parts. The track has some real sass to it; the soulful lines at the end making New Boots think of Joss Stone in her early days. ‘This One Too’, meanwhile, is a song that drives home a defiant note, aiming higher and higher with each verse. It’s followed up with ‘Try Again’, which aims in a completely different direction. 1970s-style finger-picking acoustic guitar, and a spiritual feel. “I keep falling in and out of love/With somebody I don’t know” is a pretty heartbreaking line delivered in her hands.

Her previous mini-LP All I Know, from 2017, only hinted at what Mae could do on Personal. She’s tightened the songwriting for sure, but crucially projected a stronger presence in all areas. Like on ‘Keep Me High’, the slow-burning and sparse blues-pop number which draws favourable comparisons with another NN artist, Charlotte Carpenter.

‘Something Else’ bring a certain Joni Mitchell-esque yearning to the album, but again with that melodic certainty that all the big game popstars have in their locker. Before the album is over you get a country stummer in ‘Down To Me’, whilst ‘Bones’ darker colours hints at domestic violence and general bad relationship times. It’s a nice counterweight to some of the lighter material actually, though you’d hope it’s not too autobiographical. Closer ‘Perfect’ is perhaps sequenced incorrectly – it’s crystalline, gospel vocal really needs highlighting earlier on. It would make a terrific single, for sure.

Regardless, Personal is a true triumph; the diamond that shines from the shadows. It’s discoveries like Mae that keeps the chase in new music alive. Someone sign her up!

Phil Moore

Personal is out now via the usual digital platforms


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EP review: Duncan Bisatt

DUNCAN BISATT CAPTAINS AND KINGS [Massive Rodent Records] Duncan Bisatt is certainly a man who has his fingers in many guitar cases. Not only does he play the bass, Duncan…

[Massive Rodent Records]

Duncan Bisatt is certainly a man who has his fingers in many guitar cases. Not only does he play the bass, Duncan is a classically trained guitarist. He is also a member of Northamptonian band Bushpigs, formed from the ashes of 1980s/90s era act Marabar Caves. Duncan is also a singer-songwriter in his own right and has his own solo venture. He has recently returned home from an extended week of musical shenanigans, whilst performing in Marburg, Germany – Northampton’s twinned town – for Manofest Musik Fest.

‘Captains and Kings’ is his latest EP, the title track released off his latest album, Reality and Abstraction. Made and produced in Northampton, the EP consists of four tracks; ‘Captains and Kings’, ‘White Shoes’, ‘My Mistakes’ and ‘Toc’. New Boots asked Duncan about writing this new material. “I write the music first, then I spend months and months agonising over lyrics. I have the music, the structure, perhaps a tune, a hook or a line in my head, but lyric writing and me is a constant battle really. I’m a man of lots of tunes and few words, which is strange as my job is all words. I’m a lawyer during the day. I’m incredibly self-critical. I’m working on something at the moment and I think I’m on set of lyrics number five. I have loads of half written notebooks, lying around in pockets, in bags. It’s just finding the bit you remember writing last year. That’s the tricky bit!”

Title track ‘Captains and Kings’ is of a dream-like, folk sound; a bitter sweet reminiscence. The beautifully shot, minimalist music video that accompanies the single was produced by Tramp D Addy [those dancing guitars, swaying and merging, is a particularly nice touch]. Bisatt’s prog rock influences show through in the melancholic, more visceral sound of ‘My Mistakes’, whilst ‘Toc’ provides something of a musical interlude. Its rhythmic beat replicates a clock ticking. Both demonstrate entrancing layers and panoramic depth.

The upbeat, acoustic rendition of ‘White Shoes’, recorded at Northampton’s legendary small venue The Lab, is a finishing flourish to the EP. “A friend asked me why don’t you write any happy songs, so I wrote a happy song. This is a tale of going to discos in the 1980s”. Despite Duncan’s own self-criticism, ‘White Shoes’ is an impeccably well-written track, drenched with nostalgic references intricately interwoven into the lyrics. A favourite line is “And I found your Tainted Love/Fitted me just like a glove/Almost drowned out by Japan/You hit upon This Charming Man”. See if you can spot them all…

You can catch Duncan performing at various open mic nights and festivals, as well as performing with the Bushpigs at various venues throughout the summer.

Rachel Thomas

‘Captains and Kings’ is released on Duncan’s own label Massive Rodent Records, and is available on all good streaming and download sites

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Album review: John Wiseman

JOHN WISEMAN Filling The Void [self-released] ShoeTown’s electrocore music scene is alive and kicking at the moment, with the likes of Krankhead, [sane], Zizany, and Little BitBoy [to name but…

Filling The Void

ShoeTown’s electrocore music scene is alive and kicking at the moment, with the likes of Krankhead, [sane], Zizany, and Little BitBoy [to name but a few]. The Garibaldi Hotel is the place to be on a given Friday/Saturday night, particularly with the students of the town. John Wiseman’s Filling The Void makes a valiant effort as part of that line-up.

John is a Northampton musician, composer and producer, and also manages the blog, Wise The Music, which aims to promote national independent musicians and artists. “I wanted to make people aware of what people are doing and who they are. I wanted to help promote others”.

Filling The Void combines political and everyday themes with a new wave pop sound, and is a collection of both new material and material that John has been meticulously refining over time, all coming together in its entirety as a self-produced 12-track album. John was raised on a diet of Classical music and rock, and discovered grime and DnB whilst studying away at university. “All these influences come together in a melting pot of music”, he explains, and can be traced throughout the album. John is also a classically trained musician, on both the guitar and the piano.

New Boots was lucky enough to hear John performing a few tracks in their original, raw acoustic form. We asked about the writing and production process that goes into taking that original idea, the initial score, right through to the finalised track we hear on the album. “All of it, no matter how electronic a song gets starts with the piano, I maybe play a little bit on the synthesizer and the guitar. Then I put it all into the computer and just play around with it and see what works, have some fun with it”.

John’s music is mostly inspired by everyday life and experiences. “As famous composer Stravinsky once said; ‘good composers borrow, great composers steal’. Steal may be the wrong word, but you take from everyday life. If someone says ‘grow up’, or a friend says we’re going to give your girlfriend the nickname ‘Paragraphs’ it becomes a song. It’s taking those moments and putting your own viewpoint on it, and from whose point of view will you tell it from. It all comes down to storytelling”.

This certainly rings true of ‘On Your Side’, inspired by some well-placed familial advice. John’s classic rock influence shines through in this piano-drenched track, laced with guitar riffs reminiscent of some of the finest cuts from Queen’s repertoire. ‘Calling Out’ once again shows Wiseman’s sentimental side, in nostalgia of his university days, it experiments with a pulsing, trippy DnB beat. “It’s about the importance of supporting each other, being there for people and letting them know that you’re there for them”. With it’s entrancing vocals and techno beat, the upbeat ‘Little Games’ assimilates the albums themes. John says that “it began as a political song, and became also a love song, all incorporated into a catchy, dancy tune. It’s a pop song at heart”.

Let us show some local support to John, and hopefully we’ll see him performing live on a stage near you very soon!

Rachel Thomas

Filling The Void is available on all good streaming and download sites, including BandCamp and iTunes.

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Album review: Thee Telepaths ‘The Velvet Night’

THEE TELEPATHS The Velvet Night [Mighty Fuzz] Here ’tis! The first full length album from the Kettering space/psych/noise rock quartet follows a couple of 12” EPs in 2016 and 2017….

The Velvet Night [Mighty Fuzz]

Here ’tis! The first full length album from the Kettering space/psych/noise rock quartet follows a couple of 12” EPs in 2016 and 2017. Those excellent releases has meant no little anticipation has been building amongst the psych/alt community for The Velvet Night.

The band have developed their sound to arrive here; this album came out of a lengthy jam session when an extra track was required. Once the hour-long jam had been poured back over it was abundantly clear to the four that, recorded and edited properly, there was actually an elpee of coherent material right there. So far, so Hawkwind. But what makes this album so fascinating from beginning to end is they have tightened the sonics and the songwriting into something bigger than they had previously achieved. Any prevailing ghost of Spacemen 3 or Neu! or Sabbath has been wholly exorcised; all that comes through is their own unique signal. And it’s one that should put them nearer the front of the current psych revival too.

Pulling the album apart is a very hard job. It is very difficult to separate any part from it’s whole. The band know this, and they have tried to avoid any disjunction by simply creating three acts: ‘Alpha’, ‘Epsilon’, and ‘Delta’. Within those movements you get ‘parts’. ‘Alpha Part 1’, for example, is a heavy krautrock epic, pushing the limits of what the brain can take. Dean’s ethereal vocals ride the wave of the Loop/Suicide style repetitive synth swells. Pummelled by the metronomic drums and bassline from Vincent and Tim, Tom sends stabbing notes of guitar fuzz through the mix. It’s conclusion makes way for a breather, as the calmer, floating ‘Part 2’ bring respite from the onslaught that was ‘Part 1’. The tempo is ramped up for ‘Part 3’, and a Floydian synth line takes charge. ‘Part 4’ is a timestamp, a precursor to the onslaught of ‘Part 5’, which returns to the themes of ‘Part 1’, but this time with even more emotion from everyone involved.

‘Epsilon’ is eleven minutes that sounds a tad more contemporary. The Wooden Shjips/Hookworms pulse of ‘Part 1’ is spirit-level steady, and allows Dean room for some vocal manoeuvres. You don’t ever really catch what he’s singing about, you just feel it in the gut. In ‘Part 2’ the proggy guitar lines send the listener leftfield, whilst ‘Part 3’ pulls things back, and we’re into Sonic Youth or ’90s stoner territory. It’s another peak in a song cycle full to the brim with ideas that gel better than you’d imagine from any description a writer could provide.

‘Delta’ feels like a reset button has been pressed, and a bit of intentionally aimless flow opens up. ‘Part 1’ gives you Wah Wah Land, and a vocal seemingly in freefall. Is this where the trip turns bad? ‘Part 2’ suggests not, as we realign our chakras and forge onwards with new energy and renewed belief. The sonic breakdown here is akin to a vortex of sound, a whirlpool to let oneself be lost in. The instrumental ‘Part 3’ brings us firmly out on the other side, the guitar fuzz blurring our vision somewhat as we stand on our musical shore basking in solarized warmth. The final movement, ‘Part 4’, is a brief howl of joy that we have survived the entire thing.

It’s certainly not an album you can get on one listen, but The Velvet Night is surely an early contender for album of the year. There’s no come down allowed here. Just a widescreen, ecstatic, symphonic journey backwards into tomorrow that you won’t forget in a hurry.

Phil Moore

The Velvet Night is out now on vinyl and download


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Album review: Shorty ‘The Northampton Underground’

SHORTY The Northampton Underground [ShoeTown Records] Northampton singer-songwriter Shorty [aka Chris White] has quickly followed up his enticing 2017 album Abington Park with a big collaborative effort. It’s an album…

The Northampton Underground [ShoeTown Records]

Northampton singer-songwriter Shorty [aka Chris White] has quickly followed up his enticing 2017 album Abington Park with a big collaborative effort. It’s an album almost thirty years in the making [at least the concept – of a big group effort with strings and brass – is a long held desire of White].

The title is reference to the 2014 spoof that Northampton once had an underground train system in the early 20th century, which has the immediately impact of warmth towards the album. It surely also works as a metaphor for many of the players on the this album and what they represent. And make no mistake, this is a very Northampton album. The inlay artwork has the London Underground map with stations annotated with ShoeTown places of interest to Shorty [everything from ‘Cobblers and ‘Semilong’ to in-jokes like ‘John’s House’].

White, a former member over the years of The Clique, Happy in Heaven, and Abbey Park,  has assembled some of the town’s best talent to bring his vision to life. Some of P-Hex are here, for example. Local cheesemonger Stevie Ward serves up guitar left right and centre. And so on and forth. Musically over fourteen tracks and forty-seven minutes there’s a little something for everyone. Let’s delve in, shall we?

(I’ll Be Your) Plus One’ is a 70s style glamish romp with ELO harmonies. Roxy-style sax solo is a touch too. ‘It’s Alright’ and ‘Out In The Sun’ later on cover similar ground [aural comfort blankets for the winter months]. ‘How Can This Be Love?’ is the first of two performances featuring Californian singer Danie Hollobaugh, who shares leads vocal on this nice, if saccharine, duet. ‘I’ll Find A Place’, the other song, is sadly a flat, rather derivative outing. ‘Feeding the Duchess’ is an alt-country with rasping bluesy harmonica intro from Dom Strickland [The Clique]. It’s melodic and inviting, as it details domestic bliss [“I’ll buy you a Chinese on Friday night”]. ‘I Wish’ contains more Wilco-esque musings, and White has this style down pat. 

‘Caravan’ has Lindsay Spence and Nathan Bundy from P-Hex joining in on the baggy dystopian stomper that is a lot of fun. Stay with Me’ is pure soft-rock with Fleetwood Mac vocals. ‘There Was a Time’ has Andy Orr (drummer with The Scene and Small World) on it. It is Beatles-esque psychedelia on the production side [backwards guitar, compressed Hammond, etc], it’s very charming in its period detail. ‘Ticket by Chance’ brings on the soul-jazz flavours – plenty of flute! – a Weller meets Mayfield sort of thing. Lovely too it is.

‘Thank You’ is gorgeous stringed pop that really needs to be heard by everyone who reads this review. Go stream right now in fact. ‘As I Wait Alone for You’ and ‘I Said a Thing or Two’ finish the album in melancholic balladry style, both featuring Martin Stephenson [of The Daintees fame] on piano and guitar. They are quietly affecting; the mariachi trumpet opening the final song setting the mood just right. 

The Northampton Underground is a sprawling, often very pleasing, piece of work. Dip in and find your version of Shorty that’s suited to you, then spread the good word amongst your NN friends. 

Phil Moore

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Album review: Ecco Pine

ECCO PINE ECCO PINE [self-released] Hailing from our very own ShoeTown are brand new alternative/electro-rock trio Ecco Pine – aka Adam [guitar and vocals], Ali [guitar] and Louis [bass and…

ECCO PINE [self-released]

Hailing from our very own ShoeTown are brand new alternative/electro-rock trio Ecco Pine – aka Adam [guitar and vocals], Ali [guitar] and Louis [bass and synth]. Though the band only formed last year they have certainly made a grand entrance to the music scene; their unique ambient sound means they are by no means late to the party. In a recent success for the band their track ‘More Than This’ was featured on the ‘Best Up and Coming Acts of the East Midlands’ Spotify playlist, alongside other favourites The Keepers and Sarpa Salpa.

The album’s seamless blending of rock and electronic tones creates a unique ambience that gives the band its distinct sound. Imagine the lovechild of Massive Attack, Vampire Weekend and Talking Heads – if you can! Nature is a constant element running through the album, from the panoramic artwork of an open road, stretching far into the distance, sandwiched between the sea and alpine woodland, to the carefully constructed tracks.

The floaty, atmospheric style immediately transports you to another place: a tranquil forest glade or mountain top of your choosing, somewhere entirely removed from the reality of everyday life. It offers an outer body experience for your mind. Such features beautifully combine in ‘The River’, with its crystal-clear, flowing serenity, and ‘Pines’, with its movement and moments of darkness, mirroring a night-time woodland trek.

The bands indie influence shows through, in tracks ‘More Than This’ and ‘Stranger Things’, the latter tipping its hat to the popular series of the same name. ‘Aliens’, of a sci-fi influence, and ‘White Wall’ further the album’s themes of escaping the here and now, echoing some melancholic lament for the current state of things.

Here’s hoping it’s the start of things to come for the band. Be sure to show some local support and stream or download your copy.

Rachel Thomas

Ecco Pine is now available on Spotify, iTunes, Apple Music and Amazon Music

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Live review: Ctrl Alt Fest Delete

CTRL ALT FEST DELETE Various venues, Kettering Friday October 26th – The Three Cocks Tonight, Ctrl Alt Fest Delete kicks off the party with three incredible bands. This is a well-loved…

Various venues, Kettering

Friday October 26th – The Three Cocks
Tonight, Ctrl Alt Fest Delete kicks off the party with three incredible bands. This is a well-loved pub, but it’s not just regulars in tonight – the place is packed with both old and new faces, all buzzing with excitement to hear Kettering’s (and Corby’s) finest.

Female-fronted My Mate Dave take to the stage with endless energy and relentless enthusiasm, starting their set with an unbelievable cover of ‘These Boots Are Made For Walkin’. The band seems to specialise in pop songs, but they perform the tracks with a rocky, razor-sharp quality, adding bouncing riffs and gravelly vocals to songs that were once smooth and clear. It’s an element of talent that a lot of bands seem to miss, but My Mate Dave hits the mark every single time. Corby instrumentalists Family Of Noise clearly have a lot of fans present tonight, as many people are waiting with anticipation for the trio. It’s not hard to see why, as they make their entire set look effortless, playing their instruments with as much ease as the most experienced of professionals. It’s easy for instrumental bands to fall into a trap of repetition, but with strong bass lines, smooth riffs and pounding drums, Family Of Noise make each and every song sound as fresh as the last.

Ending the night with a bang, The Fevers play with finesse and style. Covering well-loved tracks from bands like The Ramones and Buzzcocks, there’s not a single person in the crowd that isn’t bopping along. Although The Fevers are a covers band, they each possess intense amounts of talent, with a clear cut, professional sound. They are the perfect band for this festival, and truly define what it’s all about: a love of music, for all ages.

Saturday October 27th – The Prince of Wales
Here in one of Kettering’s oldest pubs the music is loud and the drinks are flowing. People of all ages have turned out to see the two bands playing tonight – one with a unique, original sound, and the other an Iron Maiden tribute band. It knits together the two sides of the town’s music scene, and The Prince of Wales is the perfect setting.

Unitra, a heavy metal three-piece, embody the energy of Steel Panther but the talent of musicians that have been around for decades. Taking to the stage with a dramatic intro track, Unitra’s smashing drums and polished riffs make for excellent listening. Inciting mosh pits and dancers alike, the space in front of the band is packed with all kinds of people, from old to young, and those celebrating Halloween to those that have just turned up for this gig. The banter between songs may be balancing on the wrong edge of cringy, but when the music is this good, you can’t quite bring yourself to care. Besides, they slot into place at The Prince of Wales with perfect ease, and the punters are loving it.

Judging by the amount of Iron Maiden t-shirts in the crowd, Iron 2 Maiden are going to go down a treat, and the highly anticipated set does not disappoint. Kicking off Saturday’s closing set with ‘Can I Play With Madness’, they storm this tiny pub with all the enthusiasm of the real thing. The guitar and drums are a perfect match, coming together to create the tunes we all know and love, and while the vocals aren’t quite true to the original band, it’s an admirable effort from Iron 2 Maiden. If you’re a fan of Bruce Dickinson and co, this tribute is definitely worth a watch.

Sunday October 28th – The Shire Horse
The Shire Horse is the perfect place for a Sunday afternoon gig. With comfortable wooden chairs and a roaring fireplace in the corner, it’s a nice reprieve from the bitterly cold weather outside, and with several acoustic sets taking place across the room, it’s the right setting for winding down Ctrl Alt Fest Delete and bringing it to close.

Jacob Brathwaite fits this evening’s mood perfectly. Armed with an acoustic guitar and a gentle voice, he mixes his own songs with covers from the likes of The Kooks. Death Cab For Cutie’s ‘I Will Follow You Into The Dark’ is a highlight of the set, and the singer makes every track he performs his own. He is undeniably talented; featuring professional riffs and a clear voice that wraps around you like a comfort blanket, his set is unforgettable. Kettering’s own hazeyjane are up next, with a set that promises ‘ambient acoustic material’. The description fits the band to perfection, as they play well right from the very first song. The music is ethereal, almost otherworldly, with a strong acoustic sound that fills The Shire Horse, but it stands out against the rest. Underneath the surface, you find strong percussion and haunting vocals, creating a calming atmosphere that blends well with the open fire and warm wood decorating the pub.

From the outside, it seems as though Aldous Pinch does not quite fit this line-up. He is neither calming nor gentle, instead bringing to the stage a vaudeville performance that has the whole crowd on their feet. His music is somewhere between sea shanties and poetry, and every song is a complete story. Featuring tails of boozy nights and prostitutes, it would be very easy for the performer to get lost in repetition, but instead, it’s enthusiastic, exciting, and something entirely fresh. Aldous Pinch is definitely one to watch out for in the future. To close the festival Kettering duo Dem Urban Foxes take to the stage with a captivating sound. The music is polished and practiced, and the band clearly knows what they’re doing with their catchy hooks and intense vocals. The music is neither boring nor depressing: instead it is energetic, and most of all, sincere. It’s a great headlining set, and the perfect send-off to such an exciting festival.

Lucy Wenham

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Record review: The Hurricanes

THE HURRICANES Let’s Go! [self-released] Recorded in their practice room, Northampton quartet The Hurricanes – aka Robert Jones [singing/guitar], Dammo Clarke [guitar], Neil Robinson [drums], and Tony Norton [bass] – have unleashed…

Let’s Go! [self-released]

Recorded in their practice room, Northampton quartet The Hurricanes – aka Robert Jones [singing/guitar], Dammo Clarke [guitar], Neil Robinson [drums], and Tony Norton [bass] – have unleashed their debut album after a quiet period of gestation. Songs were worked on, refined, and put to tape over the past year, away from the glare of expectation. 

Three-quarters of the band cut their teeth in local ’90s Britpopish band Collide, but it is the mod revival sound of ’79 onwards that The Hurricanes mine for their sound. The Prisoners probably sit at the head of that table, as the opening [title] track sets out. Slashing power chords, agitated vocals, a pummelling rhythm section: it’s all here. And the band The Prisoners are usually mentioned alongside – The Jam – is there on track two, ‘This Is The Time’, with the 100 Club spit’n’pogo energy, alongside a no holds-barred rumbling bassline. A handclap breakdown appears mid-song too, giving it a dose of The Chords-esque soul in amongst the bludgeoning guitar noise.

‘Felicity Paige’ has a great, undeniable chorus chant, straight out of the Graham Day handbook. Robinson’s drumming is the key to this stomper, all elbows flying about in the authentic Moon-style. ‘Is There A Why In Your Mynd?’ gives a nod to The Creation, The Eyes and John’s Children with a ’60s freakbeat vigour and stinging fuzz solo. It goes a bit psychedelic at the end too, which is a nice touch. The aggression is toned down somewhat on ‘Staring At The Stars’, with a forlorn lead vocal and some sweet Who-esque backing vocal lines. It’s quite reminiscent of former Prisoner Allan Crockford’s contemporary band The Galileo 7, actually. ‘Taking Care of Business’ is a good summation of what’s happening throughout this album.

Considering this is effectively a home production, with resultant occasionally muddy sound [proper authentic garage-band, you might say] Let’s Go! is something to be properly proud of. It’s direct hits from the past, yesterdays’s sound tomorrow. And jolly, vibrant good fun it is too. They ain’t half bad live too, should you get a chance to catch them.

Phil Moore

[P.S.: Current Northampton Saints coach Chris Boyd was appointed whilst still boss of New Zealand team The Hurricanes, based in Wellington. A cosmic coincidence, worthy of a brief mention]

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Record review: Paul Weller ‘True Meanings’

PAUL WELLER True Meanings [Parlophone] He’s always been a hard worker, but still: these feel like prolific times for Weller. Working in continuous collaboration seems to fire him up, as…

True Meanings [Parlophone]

He’s always been a hard worker, but still: these feel like prolific times for Weller. Working in continuous collaboration seems to fire him up, as this is his third album in 20 months. It’s a song from the first of those, ‘The Ballad Of Jimmy McCabe’ from his Jawbone soundtrack, which revealed a slight return to Weller’s folk balladeer side, after years of experimenting with the cutting up of rock this way and that. 

It was composing, a few years back, ‘Gravity’ – the lush, orchestrated, melancholic centre of True Meanings – that gave Weller the determination to construct an album in a far more bucolic style. ‘Gravity’ truly is a stunning, delicate 150 seconds of music, with an immaculate and precise string arrangement courtesy of decade-long sideman Andy Crofts. This sideman/woman influence is repeatedly important to this, his 14th solo album, as fairly demonstrated on bubbling opener ‘The Soul Searchers’: a modern string arrangement by the avant-garde musician Hannah Peel, multiple contributions from Villagers’ Conor O’ Brien, and an old-school Hammond solo by Rod Argent.

The album settles in well. Jazzer ‘Mayfly’ has a deft bluesy guitar solo from the former Jam guitarist Steve Brookes to enliven proceedings, whilst ‘Old Castles’ has a soul-stirring strings-assisted group arrangement that recalls his Heliocentric days back in the year 2000. ‘What Would He Say?’ is a lounge-shuffler that seems directed at the importance of keeping positive when bitterness is the easier option. It’s also the sole “The Moons track” on the album, as it unites bassist Crofts with Ben Gordelier on drums and Tom Heel on his Rhodes piano. Though the flugel horn solo means you aren’t mistaken who’s in charge!

‘Aspects’ is a serious piece of rumination, a Buddhist-like realisation of beauty/God coming from within. It’s a nod to Leonard Cohen and Cat Stevens, minor-chord patterns facing off with choral harmonies and swooping string lines. It also is, to put it bluntly, gorgeous, and worth the entry price alone. As the second half of the album begins there’s a couple of Erland Cooper [of prog-folkies Erland and the Carnival] collaborations that don’t quite hit the mark, and the album briefly drifts. Nothing to worry about though: here’s folk royalty Danny Thompson and Martin Carthy to breathe life into the ornate melody of ‘Come Along’, with Peel producing a fine Robert Kirby-style orchestral adjunction to some already heavily emotive moments in sound.

The last section of the album is a full of discovery, too. ‘Books’ adds sitar, Tampoura and Noel Gallagher on, er, pump organ to send us eastwards on a kaleidoscopic journey, whilst ‘Movin On’ has a lovely soaring vocal performance from the main man, who clearly still cares about what he has to deliver. ‘May Love Travel With You’ brings things around again: voice, guitar, and some widescreen Disney orchestration. Weller soundtracking your kids bedtime? Why not, he knows quite a bit about parenting. Closer ‘White Horses’ brings back Cooper, Argent and Gallagher for a finale that seals the deal: a fable about generosity directed at a younger audience, it’s a touching finish to an album that surprises throughout.

It was interesting to hear Weller dismiss last year’s well-received A Kind Revolution as merely “alright” in a recent issue of Mojo. Perhaps he knew how good the follow-up was going to be, and felt a moment of guilt. Maybe he was right though: whilst everyone has a different take on what the best Weller album/period is, True Meanings makes a robust case for being his best since his last 22 Dreams/Wake Up The Nation-era highpoint. Certainly there’s little doubt it will score high in many end of year polls.

Phil Moore

Live photo of Weller/Crofts by David Jackson


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