I started these “Egg Box Essentials” features last year with the full intention of writing one a month to highlight any interesting titbits I’d heard, watched or read. The two I did put out before a foggy, pandemic-induced malaise robbed me of inspiration, were both well received, and so, armed with a renewed (and hopefully not misplaced) sense of optimism, here’s another.
As I always love to hear from those of you who read these pages, please feel free to drop me a line if you have any recommendations about “stuff” you think might be worth a mention. There’s a “Contact” tab on the home page or if you click here it’ll take you directly to the forms which you can use to send me (polite!) suggestions. f you want to know the sort of things that get my ears twitching or my toes tapping, there are plenty of blog posts throughout the site that’ll give you an idea, or if you can’t drag yourself away from this page, here’s a link to my 2021 Top 30 Albums Of The Year.
I hope you find something new or interesting in the next few paragraphs. Thanks for reading – you’re a bloody hero!
Just one more thing. I’m sure you all know this by now, but if you click on any bold, red and underlined text, it’ll be a link to either a video, music or additional reading about the artist/ item in question.
Kicking off the year seeing Soul II Soul perform their much delayed “Club Classics” gig at the 02 in Bristol was just the post-Christmas and New Year tonic Mrs Egg Box and myself needed. Magnificent as ever, Jazzy B and his enormous crew put on a fantastic show that left us both happy, re-energised and hungover – definitely the mark of a good night out!
The inscrutable Josh Tillman (aka Father John Misty) is one of my favourite singer/ songwriters of the last 10 years. In fact, his exceptional “I Love You Honeybear” album was an Acoustic Egg Box No.1 back in 2015. 2 more crackers followed: “Pure Comedy” (AEB No.11) and “God’s Favourite Customer” in 2018 (AEB No.6). The great news is that he’s just announced his new album, “Chloe & The Next 20th Century” (Sub Pop/ Bella Union) is due out on April 8th. First single, “Funny Girl”, is one of the most atmospheric and beautiful songs I think FJM has ever recorded. His dreamy croon, backed by a big-band orchestra, has 1950s movie soundtrack written all over it. And although the song is wonderful enough with no added extras, the accompanying video, featuring a flying jellyfish floating through Wizard Of Oz style scenery, is mesmerising. If the rest of the new album is this good, I’m already predicting that it’ll be a contender for his second AEB No.1.
2021 was a magnificent year for lovers of soul music, and judging by the schedules, 2022 is shaping up to be every bit as good. After what seems like an eternity, Nicole Wray (aka Lady Wray) released her 3rd album, “Piece Of Me” (Big Crown Records) in January. And what a corker it is. If the 12 tracks of modern soul (with a 70s retro twist) don’t get your toes tapping, then maybe the video for “Under The Sun” will set your pulse racing instead!
Alabama 8 piece outfit, St Paul & The Broken Bones, also released their new album, “The Alien Coast” (ATO Records), in January. Paul Janeway’s voice is still as majestic as ever, as heard on “Popcorn Ceiling” and this incredible live session recording of “Love Letter From A Red Roof Inn“. But if you were expecting another slice of relentless vintage soul sounds, you might be in for a shock, as several tracks from this captivating and inventive album (including the Portishead-esque “Bermejo & The Devil”) are dystopian, psychedelic and at times, a little unsettling.
Oh look, here’s another “aka”: Julian Pitt (aka Armstrong) with his new album, “Happy Graffiti”. Jointly released by The Beautiful Music and Country Mile Records, this is a fine record full of perfectly crafted jangle-pop which could easily have been on Postcard circa 1982. Pitt first came to my attention in 2019 with his gorgeous “lost” LP, “Under Blue Skies” and “Happy Graffiti” carries on in the same vein. It’s another superb collection of melodic loveliness that I’m certain fans of Teenage Fanclub, The Lilac Time, Aztec Camera, Belle & Sebastian will adore. Check out and fall in love with “Rock Star Rock Star“ and “Happy Someone“ first and then pop over to Bandcamp and order the full 14 track album here.
In January, Elvis Costello & The Imposters released their new album “The Boy Named If” (EMI) to almost universal acclaim. Although I’ll need to give it more time before writing a proper review, after the first few plays, it sounds like a winner – vintage, spiky and acerbic Costello at his best. Here’s the video for the excellent single, “Magnificent Hurt“, complete with puppet Elvis and plenty of punky Hammond organ – what’s not to like!
At long last, Virgin Records have remastered and re-leased the 1986 “forgotten” China Crisis album “What Price Paradise”. This lovely 3xCD set comprises the original album, a disc of bonus material and a 1987 live recording at The Liverpool Empire. The price of the package was worth it to hear the criminally ignored single “Arizona Sky“ in all its pristine pop glory again.
It’s always a pleasure getting emails and messages from new artists who whet the Egg Box whistle. One of those messages was from Michael Korchia, the bassist and composer in Bordeaux based 4-piece, Feutre, asking me if I’d like to hear some of their new songs. Now, even though I speak very little French, I’m a bit of a sucker for their pop music as it often sounds cool and enigmatic, and by listening to it I’m convinced I’ll become cool and enigmatic too. Sadly, according to Mrs Egg Box, it isn’t working. Nevertheless, Feutre’s 10 track debut album “Nos Recontres” (Kocliko Records) really is a cool and enigmatic record, so I’m going to keep playing it irrespective of the (lack of) effect. How does the band sound? I reckon they’ll appeal to fans of Stereolab, Broadcast and probably Saint Etienne too. Here’s a link to their Bandcamp page if you fancy buying a copy and hearing a little more. In the meantime, watch and enjoy the videos for “Pour Oublier“ and “Apocalypse“ featuring their rather lovely singer, Virgine Raynaud.
Annoyingly, as soon as I’ve published my end-of-year review, I always start discovering lots more music that I’d missed during the previous 12 months. Occasionally, that music is so good that it would definitely have been in the running for an Acoustic Egg Box Top 30 Album spot. In the past couple of weeks, I’ve been alerted to 2 such records: Paul Bevoir’s “A Balloon To The Moon” (Accident Records) and Jim Noir’s “Deep Blue View” (Dook Recordings). Paul was a member of English mod-revival band Jetset back in the 80s, but now writes timeless and beautiful 3-minute pop songs such as “This Time“ (which to these ears bears a passing resemblance to the 70s Andrew Gold classic, “Never Let Her Slip Away”). You can read more about the concept of “A Balloon To The Moon” in this excellent Rough Trade article, here.
This month’s other “great-missed-record” is from Manchester’s immensely talented singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Alan Roberts (aka Jim Noir), who has been releasing outstanding albums since “Tower Of Love” back in 2005. His last 2 LPs: “Finnish Line” (2014) and A.M. Jazz (2019), both sit proudly on my shelves, but somehow his latest evaded my ears throughout 2021. “Deep Blue View” marks something of a departure from Noir’s catchy and melodic 60s style power-pop as the sweeping orchestral synths, infuses the album with a dreamy, gently psychedelic feel. Lose yourself in the swoonsome title track – a 6-minute oceanic soundscape that will help soothe your troubles away. If you’re a fan of The Beach Boys and The High Llamas, you’re going to love it. You will find Jim’s Bandcamp page detailing the release by clicking here.
I don’t want to get into a political debate about the TV license fee (well, I do, but there’s a time and a place and it won’t be in this blog post) but in my opinion, the superb quality of programmes the BBC still regularly produce is worth every penny of it. And that’s without even touching on the brilliant radio stations the fee also covers…
So, bearing in mind my opening statement, I’m happy to announce that 2 of my favourite dramas so far this year are both BBC productions. First, “The Tourist” (watch the trailer here). Without revealing any plot spoilers, the brilliant Jamie Dornan’s character (let’s call him “The Man”) regains consciousness in hospital suffering from total amnesia after a car crash in the Australian outback. What follows is a 6 part off-the-wall crime thriller full of fascinating characters who continually bewilder us with their unpredictable actions and revelations. Throughout this 360-minute buffeting gale of a series, there are more twists, turns and moments of black, almost Pythonesque humour than you can throw a kangaroo at. It really is a non-stop, breathless affair that the Coen Brothers would be proud to call their own. Oh yes, and although Luci (Shalom-Brune Franklin) is the beautiful love interest, if you don’t fall for hapless Probationary Police Constable Helen Chambers (Danielle Macdonald) by the end of the final episode, then you’ve almost certainly got a heart of stone.
Next up is “The Responder” (watch the trailer here) – an exceptional 5-part Liverpool based police drama about first-response copper Chris Carson (Martin Freeman) who is teetering on the edge of a complete mental breakdown. Carson may (or may not) also be a wee bit corrupt. Unravelling by the second, not only is he trying to keep on top of his high-stress job, he’s also trying to save his crumbling marriage and pay for his dying mother’s care. He gets increasingly drawn into a life-or-death situation involving murderous drug dealers and a young addict, Casey (Emily Fairn), who has nicked a holdall full of coke from Carson’s “friend”, Carl (Ian Hart). To make matters worse, Carson gets reluctantly crewed with a young rookie, Rachel (Adelayo Adedayo), who is being pressured to inform on him. The writer/ creator of this magnificent series is ex Merseyside police officer Tony Schumacher. Whilst keeping us on the edge of our seats with the rollercoaster action and constant sense of impending doom, he also captures the very essence of humanity at its most desperate and vulnerable. If Martin Freeman doesn’t win multiple awards for his outstanding performance, then the world really has gone mad!
The best non-BBC series we watched in January was the 7-episode “part-one” of the 4th and final season of “Ozark” (Netflix). Because of its complex plot lines and a conveyor belt of brilliant characters (who have a habit of being murdered or disappearing), if you’ve never watched, I can’t even begin to tell you what it’s all about in any great depth. Here’s a very brief overview though: after a drug deal goes disastrously wrong, the central characters, accountant Marty Byrde (Jason Bateman), his wife Wendy (Laura Linney) and their 2 kids, move from Chicago to The Ozark Lakes in Missouri to launder money for a Mexican cartel. You will just have to trust me when I tell you that everything about it is extraordinarily good, including the spectacular scenery. For me, it’s the best American drama since “Breaking Bad” (and its spin-off “Better Call Saul”).
At the beginning of February, Mrs Egg Box and I took a rare trip to the cinema to watch the Oscar-nominated “Belfast” (watch the trailer here). Now, as I’ve never been to Belfast and I’m not Catholic or Protestant, my Irish friends of a certain age will know how realistic this 1969 depiction of their city is. But for me, born in ‘63 (I know, you can’t believe it!), I thought it was a beautiful snapshot of the era (if not the place) in which I grew up. The story revolves around Buddy (Jude Hill), a 9-year-old semi-autobiographical depiction of director Sir Kenneth Branagh. The action (filmed in black and white) largely takes place in and around a fictitious, and undoubtedly whimsical and stylised version of Mountcollyer Street. It’s where the Protestant Branagh family originally lived alongside their Catholic neighbours – until sectarianism and the ensuing violence saw peace shattered. I’ve seen reviews criticising the movie’s depiction of this brutal period, claiming that it glosses over the terror and destruction in favour of a “saccharin sweet” version of events. The reviewers may have a point if the story was told from the perspective of the paramilitary or the security forces, but it’s not, it’s Buddy’s adventure, and in his young world the streets are his playground, not a war-zone. Whilst the adorable Jude Hill (appearing in his first major film role), is the undoubted star, Jamie Dornan (Pa), Caitriona Balfe (Ma), Judi Dench (Granny) and Ciaran Hinds (Pop) all put in fantastic performances – as does the perfect soundtrack from the city’s favourite grumpy old bastard, Van Morrison.
As you can see, my reading matter since Christmas has been somewhat eclectic. Because of the enjoyable, but unhealthy, excesses of the holiday season, I decided I should at least try to rejuvenate my overstrung mind and dilapidated body. So, armed with John Weiler’s, “An Ordinary Dude’s Guide To Meditation” and record-breaking Olympian swimmer, Adam Peaty’s motivational memoirs, “The Gladiator Mindset“, I’ve started my journey to physical perfection and mental nirvana. Sadly, after 3 days, I injured my knee walking up the stairs and my mind is doing overtime worrying about Wordle. Seriously though, I’ve practiced meditation before and it really works. But, for those of you that haven’t, as it states on the cover, Weiler’s excellent little guide teaches you “how to meditate easily – without the religion, fluff, or hippie stuff”.
Britain’s Adam Peaty is an enigma. He’s broken 14 world records and was the 1st man to swim the 50m breaststroke in under 26 seconds and the 100m breaststroke in under 58, then 57, seconds. He also meditates (see above!), spends a ridiculous amount of time training, and has the mental and physical strength of a gladiator. His book not only serves as a fascinating memoir (believe me, he’s packed a huge amount into his 27 years), it also offers advice and tips on how to improve your performance in whatever field you work or compete in. I appreciate that “self-help” books aren’t for everyone, but Peaty is such an interesting and inspirational character that this is a great read, anyway.
Will Smith has a new autobiography out called “Will“. It’s co-written with self-help (there’s that divisive epithet again) author, Mark Manson, who has himself released 3 books, including his excellent debut, “The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A Fuck“. I’m going to start by saying that I genuinely enjoyed reading “Will”, but… whilst I went into it thinking that Smith was charming, funny and self-deprecating, I finished it realising that he’s (possibly) charming and funny but also breathtakingly fucking arrogant and also a bit of a tit (albeit a tit who’s one of the most successful recording artists and movie stars of all time). It’s a real rags to riches to rags to riches tale. We learn about Smith’s formative years growing up in Philadelphia, his relationship with his father and his father’s relationship with his mother (which is central to understanding Smith’s psyche); his unswerving belief that he would be a huge pop star (he was as part of rap duo DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince); his fall from grace with a crap second album; his rise to teenage acting stardom in The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air; his stratospheric ascent to Hollywood greatness; how “Men In Black” became a “thing”; how he released even more million-selling hit singles and on and on and on. Will Smith was, literally, EVERYWHERE you looked. And on what seems like every other page of the book, he simply cannot wait to tell us just how EVERYWHERE and ENORMOUS and SUCCESSFUL he is. This is all very well, but it gets a tiny bit tiresome during the final 400 pages. And yet, despite all of Smith’s braggadocio and hubris, this is still an extremely entertaining read and a glimpse into the fucked up world of mega-stardom.
In my humble opinion, Robert Tressell’s, “The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists”, is one of the greatest books ever written. His novel, set in the fictional town of Mugsborough during the early years of the 20th century, tells the story of a group of politically naive working-class men who are gradually enlightened by journeyman socialist Frank Owen. Over the years, I’ve given away several copies of the book and don’t currently own one because I donated it to a worthy cause a few weeks ago. So, you can imagine my delight when I heard about this wonderful new adaptation of Tressell’s masterpiece just before Christmas. It’s a stunning “graphic” interpretation produced by sisters, Scarlett and Sophie Rickard (Scarlett is the illustrator and Sophie the writer) and brings to life the characters and scenes from the book in beautiful colour. Yes, it’s a book about socialism. Yes, some of you will hate that fact. Yes, you should read it before you decide you hate it (‘cos you might become enlightened too). And anyway, come The Egg Box Revolution, I’m going to insist that this version is added to the school curriculum the length and breadth of the country! If you’d like to find out a little more about Scarlett and Sophie and buy a copy of the book directly from them, you’ll find a link to their website here.
If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading. If you have any comments or suggestions, drop me a line.
See you soon!