ALBUM REVIEW: The Clientele – Music For The Age Of Miracles (Tapete Records)

For the uninitiated, The Clientele are a London-based British band from deepest, darkest Hampshire who specialise in a superior and unique brand of intelligent, literary dream-pop.  They released “The Violet Hour”, the first of their (now) seven superb albums in 2002, but, despite huge critical acclaim, have never gained the commercial success in the UK that their rich talents deserve. It came as no surprise then, that after their lauded 2010 mini-album “Minotaur” once again failed to give them a much-deserved break, in 2011 they announced they were taking an “indefinite hiatus”. Plus, with founder member, vocalist and main songwriter Alasdair MacLean also recording material with his “other” band, Amor De Dias, most fans, I suspect, thought that the game was finally up………….until now!

Although having always trodden a somewhat Arcadian path, on “Music For The Age Of Miracles”, more so than on their previous records, the band have explored a more gentle, pastoral psychedelia; an autumnal palette of sounds born in leafy London suburbs but imbued with the warmth of a Californian Santa Ana breeze. The album’s twelve new, but dreamily familiar songs (including three instrumentals) imparted as always in MacLean’s breathy, languid vocal style, have a lysergic quality – seemingly plucked from that magical realm somewhere between wake and sleep. It’s no coincidence either that the hiring of multi-instrumentalist and arranger Anthony Harmer, who, whilst complementing original members, James Hornsey and Mark Keen, has also brought subtle new dimensions to the band’s sound by introducing, amongst other things, the exotic santur (a Persian dulcimer) and saz (a Turkish stringed instrument) into the mix.

Album opener, the hypnotic and hymnal “The Neighbour”, is one of the most beautiful tracks you will hear this year and sets the tone for the rest of this exceptional album. Through the swooping choral backdrops a violin solo gives way to uplifting and sublime key changes whilst MacLean gently, but optimistically, intones that, “In the corridor, the face of God is smiling”

Running hand in hand with the album’s abstract, dream-state imagery, themes of both the natural and celestial worlds abound. Superb first single “Lunar Days” is (possibly?) a lament, wrapped up in an autumnal metaphor, about the creep of London’s suburban decay: “When it’s late November and you’re lost in the leaves/ And you speak in beaten copper tongues that nobody hears” followed a few lines later by “So, I walked along the street with no one home/ Lamps no one lit, roads no one drove” are magical lyrics and encapsulate the feel of the whole album.

“Falling Asleep” is a stroke of genius –  a musical adaptation of celebrated First World War poet Siegfried Sassoon’s bucolic poem of the same title, which, for this budding writer and music lover at least, is worth the purchase price of the album alone. The melodic, orchestral “Everyone You Meet” with opening couplet “Pleiades fall/ Pleiades rise”, the brooding and elegiac “Constellations Echo Lanes” and two of the three instrumental tracks, the brief but lovely semi-classical vignettes “Lyra in April” and “Lyra in October”, have stellar connotations while the third instrumental, “North Circular Days” is a pretty tribute to an ugly road.

Harmer’s instrumentation and arrangement on “The Circus” push it in a “folky” direction and with a little stretch of the imagination, it could have been a track that the late great Ronnie Laine may have been happy to record. The lyrical stream of consciousness of “Everything You See Tonight Is Different From Itself”, complete with harp, insistent guitar refrain and uplifting trumpet flourishes complementing the lush, layered vocals, is another album high point; “The Museum Of Fog” is a spoken word track recounting the tale of a young man’s evening attending a real/ imaginary gig which may, or may not, have been fuelled by narcotics of a hallucinatory nature……..

“Swallows wheel from sun-bleached eaves/ Trucks glow on peripheries/ Light the lamps, the empty house is falling” are the opening lines from the exquisite, goose-bump raising final track, “The Age Of Miracles”, and which, in just a handful of words, explain far better than I ever could why the return of The Clientele should be lauded as one of the musical high-points of 2017.

Fans of Belle & Sebastian, Tindersticks, The Blue Nile, Nick Drake, The Byrds and even Broadcast or Saint Etienne in their more tender moments should embrace and then rush out to buy “Music For The Age Of Miracles” because, if this wonderful band decide to take another extended sabbatical through lack of sales or wider recognition, we will all be the poorer for it.

LIVE: PP Arnold – The Plough Arts Centre, Great Torrington, Devon – 14th October 2017

The Plough Arts Centre – Great Torrington

From the Watts ghetto in Los Angeles to the mean streets of Great Torrington in just over seventy-one years is some journey, but when you’re a soul legend who has been lovingly embraced by music aficionados and everyone in the UK mod-scene for over fifty years, us discerning, stylishly attired West Country folk are prepared to forgive the wait. And so it was, that on Saturday evening, in the presence of just over 100 other fans in the intimate surroundings of the lovely little Plough Arts Centre, the former Ikette, turned solo superstar, P.P.Arnold, entertained an appreciative crowd for ninety minutes with a non-stop mixture of great music, witty banter and anecdotes about her long and varied career.

When you launch your career as a backing singer for one of the world’s biggest acts in Ike & Tina Turner, then you become “re-discovered” and mentored by one of the world’s most famous singers in Mick Jagger before being asked to work with one of the greatest British bands of all time in the Small Faces, you could be forgiven for thinking that you’re in possession of a voice that’s just a little bit special, and yes, the former Patricia Ann Cole most certainly does have a voice that still, as was superbly demonstrated this evening, ranks alongside some of the best that have ever been committed to record.   

P.P. Arnold & Yours Truly

The current nationwide tour has been put together to celebrate both her fifty-year solo recording anniversary and also the release of “The Turning Tide” – an album that brings together thirteen tracks from 1968-1971 produced by Barry Gibb (and latterly Eric Clapton) which were then inexplicably shelved before being released. It is largely thanks to the hard work of Ocean Colour Scene founder, and now Paul Weller band member, Steve Cradock and his wife Sally, that this fantastic P.P. Arnold “lost classic” has now had the release it always deserved (It will be reviewed in these very pages during the next week or two).

Superbly backed by Steve Cradock’s talented young touring band, among other lesser known classics, we were treated to all her solo singles – the original and best version of “The First Cut Is The Deepest”, Northern Soul favourite “If You’re Feeling Groovy”, and the beautiful, top 20 record, “Angel Of The Morning”. Her performance of “River Deep Mountain High”, an Ike & Tina track she helped turn into a classic, was powerful and flawless and “To Love Somebody”, originally a big hit for the Bee Gees which she recorded for her 1968 Kafunta album, was as gorgeous as her rendition of Traffic’s “Medicated Goo” was funky. Apart from meeting the still beautiful Ms Arnold when she spent some time after the show in the bar chatting and signing albums, the highlight of the evening for me, and I suspect many others in the audience, was the final song; a brilliant and faultless rendition of the Small Faces classic, “Tin Soldier”, with the band’s young guitarist,  Jake Fletcher, who P.P. introduced as “mini Marriott”, playing that inimitable role quite superbly. This was, without doubt, the fitting finale of a memorable gig.

 

The Day I Met….Mark Knopfler


Way back in the olden days when you had to sell more than a hundred singles to get to number one, album sales were still in rude health and the internet was just a twinkle in most people’s eyes, I started work as a Sales Rep for PolyGram Records. Believe me, for someone who was (and still is) obsessed with music, this was nothing short of the dream ticket and to coin a phrase, I felt like the proverbial pig in shit. It was 1990, the year in which Thatcher resigned, Mandela was freed, West Germany won the World Cup and Bruce Forsyth was celebrating only his 62nd birthday. It was also the year that I had a surreal meeting with Mark Knopfler. At the time, he was one of the biggest rock stars in the world, largely due to the phenomenal success of Dire Straits’ previous 30 million selling release, “Brothers In Arms” which was, incidentally, the first album to sell a million copies on CD 
alone.

I had only been with the company a few weeks when the sales team was invited to the famous Metropolis Recording Studios in Chiswick, West London, for an advance playback of the upcoming Notting Hillbillies album, “Missing…Presumed Having A Good Time”

 The Notting Hillbillies were, to all intents and purposes, Knopfler’s country-rock side project; a band also comprising accomplished musicians, Brendan Croker, Steve Phillips and Guy Fletcher – names I wasn’t even remotely familiar with. However, as a West Country soul-boy whose only previous claim to fame was meeting a man who once came third in the National Life Insurance Sales Awards, whilst working for my previous employer, The Prudential, these guys were obviously rock-gods and I didn’t much care that I’d not heard of them. I also didn’t much care that I’d recently referred to Dire Straits as Dire-reah or that “country-rock” was about as interesting to me as 18th-century Russian literature – I was getting paid to go to and meet a bona fide pop star and so suddenly I was a massive fan…..

What exactly is the protocol for meeting the rich and famous from the showbiz world? In the 15 years I worked in those circles, I never really found out, but as a general rule of thumb, I discovered that, although there were a handful of notable exceptions,  the bigger the star the more charming and pleasant they were and at 6pm on this cold winter evening that premise was about to be tested for the very first time.

The beautiful, black, Porsche roared into the parking lot at a rate of knots, driven by someone who was obviously exhilarated by speed – I subsequently discovered that Knopfler has a collection of classic sports cars which he likes to race. Much to my surprise there was no advance party of make up girls, an entourage of heavily armed bodyguards or even a manager smoking a fat cigar, just a lone, slightly dishevelled, regular looking bloke speaking in a soft Mid-Atlantic Tyne & Wear accent – albeit emerging from the brand new, privately number-plated car of my dreams!

After some small talk about the weather, we were ushered inside to the warmth of the studio and formally introduced to my new friend, Mark, who had already taken the mickey out of my Somerset burr but self deprecatingly admitted that his own regionally accented speaking voice hadn’t stopped him singing like a native New Yorker! The new album was then presented by it’s leading performer and whilst listening, drinks and snacks were served as we got to spend a good hour or so with him discussing the making of the record and also some of the highlights of his Dire Straits’ career.

The evening sped by and it was after we had said our goodbyes that Knopfler turned to ME and asked where the loo was. I didn’t want to appear rude so pointed to a door on the lower level of the building that looked like it could be the toilet, although worryingly I wasn’t 100% sure. My eyes followed him down the stairs and then watched, mortified, as Mark Knopfler, world superstar and multi-million selling recording artist opened the door to the room I had decided “looked” like a toilet where was greeted by the clattering of brooms and buckets due to the fact that I had given him directions to a rather overfilled cleaning cupboard. I froze in horror as the room went quiet bar a few muffled sniggers. It was at this point that I expected to be looking for another job in the morning, but this engaging, witty man looked up to where I was stood and laughingly shouted the words that are indelibly imprinted in my brain:

“Nice one! If I’d known calling you a yokel was going to piss you off that much I’d have asked one of your mates where the crapper was”

 

ALBUM REVIEW: Childhood – Universal High (Marathon Artists)

Firstly, let’s get one thing straight: “Lacuna”, the 2014 debut album from South London’s Childhood, was NOT a bad record. However, with nods to Puressence and the House of Love here, Toy and Temples there and several others of that broad ilk in between, the major problem that Childhood had was being a composite of many other indie guitar bands of the past 25 years. Writing decent songs and being competent musicians is one thing, but if the noise you’re making is derivative of your already established peers, you need be something special to stand out, and despite the album containing two excellent singles in the baggyish Stone Roses channelling “Blue Velvet” and the soaring, anthemic “Solemn Skies”, I’m not entirely sure that they managed it.

The great news is that on their exceptional new album, “Universal High”, they haven’t just repeated the same formula hoping that it would somehow attract a bigger audience the second-time around, they’ve reinvented themselves so completely that, whilst listening to these ten gloriously sunny pop/soul tracks, you might well be forgiven for thinking that there are two bands called Childhood – with this one being the far superior version!

Back in June, whilst we were enjoying the rarity of warm, sunny day in the UK, I heard what sounded like a classic, but unfamiliar, 70’s soul number drifting mellifluously from the radio. With shades of Roy Ayers and the Young Rascals plus a soaring falsetto that Curtis Mayfield would have approved of, I was excited to know who this new old band was. It came as something of a surprise then when it turned out that the track I’d just enjoyed, the groovy, summer swoon that is “California Light”, was recorded by a British act – not only that, a British act who only three years previously were indie-rock also-rans and who had seemingly disappeared from the radar.

In Ben Romans-Hopcraft, Childhood now have a versatile lead singer whose new-found style lends itself perfectly to the songs on Universal High; an album which, although very much a product of 2017 with more recent touchstones being the electro-poppy psychedelia of Tame Impala, MGMT, B.C. Camplight or Mac DeMarco, wears its love of 70’s/ early 80’s soul and disco very much on its sleeve. Opening track “AMD” tips a nod to the Isleys, “Cameo” might be the best song Imagination never recorded and Kool & The Gang’s classic, synth-heavy instrumental, “Summer Madness” pervades several tracks with its woozy groove. Elsewhere the summery theme continues with one of the many album stand-outs, the bouncy sing-along “Don’t Have Me Back”, with its gorgeous Beach Boys infused melody, complete with sax solo and a beat borrowed from the Motown canon.

Overall then, whilst Lacuna was certainly an accomplished record, it got lost in a sea of sameness. Universal High, on the other hand, is the sound of a young band who, even though the album’s influences are many, have found a sound of their own that pays tribute and reinvents their inspirations rather than getting bogged down and swamped by them. All we need now is for the rest of the world to wake up and discover Childhood too because if they come back in three years’ time reinvented as a heavy metal combo, my review will be far shorter………….

ALBUM REVIEW: Judy Dyble/ Andy Lewis – Summer Dancing (Acid Jazz)

Take an erudite, semi-retired ex-librarian who was the original, crystalline voiced singer in Fairport Convention, a member of pre King Crimson band Giles, Giles & Fripp, and also one half of critically acclaimed but short-lived folk duo Trader Horn; put her in a recording studio with an eclectic soul/ funk DJ who is also a solo recording artist, a producer, and a bass-player with Paul Weller’s band; add a generous dusting of sunny psychedelia and a pinch or two of gently burbling synths to a collection of richly textured, pastoral, occasionally elegiac songs and voila you have Summer Dancing – the beguiling new Acid Jazz release from Judy Dyble/ Andy Lewis.

Although on paper the most unlikely of bedfellows, Dyble with her cut-glass almost RP vocal style and Lewis with his deft, retro-modern production values (with the aid of Japanese hand drums, timbales, glockenspiels and a vintage Optigan of course…..) have somehow forged a fertile alliance. Due to the subtle lysergic currents, especially evident on album opener and first single He Said/ I Said (below), swirling through many of the fourteen tracks, the spirit of 1967’s “Summer of Love” is never far away, which is especially serendipitous as earlier this month Dyble performed at Cropredy with The Band of Perfect Strangers as part of Fairport Convention’s 50th Anniversary celebrations.

As a whole, but especially amongst the bucolic swoon of Up The Hill and Saint Etienne-esque paean to the capital, A Net Of Memories (London) (complete with travel report!), the album often evokes memories of an imagined past when life was simpler, summers were warmer, birdsong was

louder, bees were buzzier and lazy, hazy holidays were never far away. Other themes of the human condition are addressed; the intensity and power of love in the hypnotic, A Message; insomnia, in the woozy, dreamlike, Night Of A Thousand Hours (below); and ageing in the poignant and heartfelt Tired Bones “now the smell of canvas fills my nose, as they count me out in old-mans clothes, when the fight has all but gone from tired bones”. For me though, the highlight of an album that contains barely a wasted note, let alone a duff track, is the beautiful, yearning love song, No Words.

Although it’s difficult to align this exceptional collection of songs to anything else currently swirling around the musical ether, if you find them as captivating as I have, you might also enjoy the last couple of releases by legendary British singer/ songwriter Bill Fay who inexplicably, before his masterful resurgence in 2012 with the stunning Life Is People and follow-up, Who Is The Sender, in 2015, decided to “retire” for forty-one years. Once you’ve fallen in love with Bill’s work, you can then move on to Californian, Linda Perhacs who, after releasing the influential but poorly selling Parallelograms in 1970, like Bill, thought she’d also have a little rest and “retired” from music for an even more staggering forty-four years! However, it was well worth the wait as in 2014 she gave us the incredibly beautiful psych-folk opus, The Soul Of All Natural Things.

Anyway, I digress. If, as I suspect, due to the fact that you’re reading this blog, you really are a discerning music lover, Summer Dancing is a bona fide, genre-spanning classic which absolutely all of you MUST hear; I will even go so far as to say that with four months of 2017 still remaining, if there’s a better record released this year, I’ll happily eat my trousers.

ALBUM REVIEW: Pete Fij/ Terry Bickers – We Are Millionaires (Broadcast Recordings)

Pete Fij and Terry Bickers are best known as the lead-singer in Adorable and the guitarist in The House Of Love respectively. Both bands had varying degrees of success on the (then) relatively unknown Creation label in the late 80’s and early 90’s and although critically lauded in the press and touted as the next big thing(s), by the mid 90’s both men were treading different musical paths. As Pete Fij/ Terry Bickers, they first started writing and playing low key gigs together in 2009 although it wasn’t until 2014 that the journey started in earnest when they released “Broken Heart Surgery” – their critically acclaimed debut album.

If it really is true that the greatest source of songwriting material is derived from the pain of a broken love-affair, on the evidence of their deliciously maudlin second LP, “We Are Millionaires”, these two gents haven’t half been through the wringer! However, despite the melancholic tone that Fij’s careworn vocal style sets, the melodies throughout are beautiful, and despite their downbeat nature at times, the superbly crafted lyrics often display plenty of wry, ironic, humour.

Although it would be difficult to describe any of the songs on “We Are Millionaires” as happy, there are light moments, notably on album opener “Let’s Get Lost Together”; the Lee Hazlewood channelling, “Waking Up” and also, (eventually!) during the closing track “Sometime Soon” in which, over Bickers’ Twin Peaks style twang, a weary Fij declares that “everything will be OK”. Other highlights include the catchy, string-drenched opening single “Love’s Going To Get You”; the haunting late-night shimmer of the album’s title track; Bond theme in waiting “If The World Is All We Have” and the poignant “I Love You”, in which Fij pleads “I love you, is it really so hard to say, it doesn’t matter if it’s not true, just say it to me anyway”.

The undoubted charm of this fine record lies is in its lush, richly textured arrangements combined with quirky takes on love, loss and redemption – universal themes that have been given a fresh perspective by these two massively underrated musicians. Fans of Lloyd Cole, Richard Hawley, I Am Kloot, Lee Hazlewood, The Libertines et al will find much to love here, although if there was any justice in the world, Pete Fij and Terry Bickers would already be on that list.

LIVE: Brian Wilson Presents Pet Sounds – Glastonbury Abbey Extravaganza, 5th August 2017

After the torrential downpours and thunderstorms that crossed the region earlier in the day, it was at a chilly, but mercifully dry and sunny Glastonbury Abbey that I witnessed something as melancholic and sad as it was beautiful and touching, when Brian Wilson and his band rolled into town to perform one of the greatest albums ever made on the latest leg of their Pet Sounds 50th Anniversary tour.

Glastonbury Abbey grounds – pre-show

The fact that Wilson is now 75 and embarking on this run of global dates is exceptional in itself, the fact that he is now 75 with a well documented lifelong history of mental illness, drug addiction and crippling self-doubt behind him renders this feat even more remarkable.

The set was split into three parts; well-known hits, the full Pet Sounds album, more hits to finish – and make no mistake, despite the pathos unravelling before our eyes, it was still rollicking good fun and great to hear these timeless songs, especially being performed in such a beautiful setting.

A supremely talented band containing original Beach Boy Al Jardine, the ebullient, occasional member, Blondie Chaplin, and Jardine’s son, Matt, whose exceptional voice effortlessly took over most of what would have been Wilson’s parts, gave everything the appreciative audience could have hoped for. However….. I constantly found myself wondering, with the obviously struggling maestro looking vulnerable, confused and at times almost missing in action, especially during his tear-inducing, barely coherent stab at the beautiful “Don’t Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder)”, whether some things would have been better off left at the “great idea” stage and then quietly forgotten.

As glad and privileged that I feel having got to see what will almost certainly be Wilson’s last ever dates in the UK, I left the venue after their final song, the hugely popular Beach Boys singalong hit, “Fun, Fun, Fun” with the ironic yet heartbreaking thought that this evening may have been about as far from fun for the great man as it was possible to get

The Day I Met……..Cathy Dennis (Among Others!)

Snapped at the Metropole Hotel in Brighton during the 1991 PolyGram Autumn Conference, this photo depicts the sheer delight on the lovely singer, and mega-successful songwriter, Cathy Dennis’s face at being surrounded by the “care in the community” sales team (that’s me, 2nd right).

Did she want to touch any of us all night long? My professional integrity is still intact so it would be wrong of me to say, but with the choice on offer, you have to admit that it must have been virtually impossible for her to resist………

The tales I could tell of this particular event would probably fill a book, however, talking to Bob Geldof in a ridiculous Irish accent, to be sure, witnessing a sales rep fighting with Wet Wet Wet’s perennial bell-end, Marti Pellow, in a corridor and asking scary heavy rocker Glenn Danzig if he would “like to wrestle later” before running off clucking like a chicken, are a few of the highlights.

When in Rome……….

2016 – The Acoustic Egg Box Top 20 Albums Of The Year (Part One – No’s 20-11)

Here it is then, the, ahem, eagerly anticipated Acoustic Egg Box Top 20 Albums Of The Year. Despite there being some great records released during 2016, it was a forgettable year for many reasons, not least for the fact that we saw the untimely deaths of some true musical legends, and in my book at least, the truest and most legendary of them all, David Bowie. However, let’s look on the bright side, at least the year remained largely Sam Smith free…………..

20: GREGORY PORTER – Take Me To The Alley (Blue Note)      The follow-up to 2013’s platinum-selling “Liquid Spirit” sees Gregory Porter eschew some of his overtly jazz-based compositions for an altogether more soulful and at times funky set. The exceptional voice is still, first and foremost, his biggest asset, but for those of you put off by the “j” word, start with the album’s lead single “Steam” and ease yourself into what is a very rewarding listen.

19: NICK WATERHOUSE – Never Twice (Innovative Leisure)      The third album from Nick Waterhouse, California’s blue-eyed soul/ R&B revivalist sees him ploughing a familiar, but increasingly confident and assured retro-furrow, throughout his best set of songs yet. Although late 50’s/ early 60’s influences abound, “Katchi”, a funky duet with kindred spirit Leon Bridges sounds modern and fresh – he also covers Dylan’s “Baby I’m In The Mood For You” with aplomb.

18: THE LAST SHADOW PUPPETS – Everything You’ve Come To Expect (Domino)                                                                              Although there are still welcome echoes of the Scott Walker-esque baroque orchestral musings so evident on their superb 2008 debut The Age Of The Understatement, they’ve been toned down somewhat in favour of a more straightforward, but still melodically strong, lyrically smart and lushly produced set of solid pop songs.

17: THE BRIAN JONESTOWN MASSACRE – Third World Pyramid (A Recordings)                                                                      The 15th album since BJM’s early 90’s formation stands proudly beside their best work but for those of you still unaware of them, the title of the album’s best track “Like Describing Colors To A Blind Man On Acid” is all you need to know! Great tunes, nods to psych era Beatles, a hypnotic 9-minute version of Nina Simone’s “Assignment Song” included, “Third World Pyramid” is a triumphant, late-career delight!

16: CHARLES BRADLEY – Changes (Daptone)                                    The Screaming Eagle of Soul landed his third LP in 2016 and, as bonkers as it sounds, chose a 1972 Black Sabbath cover as the lead single and album title. The fact is though that it was far from bonkers, it was an inspired choice taken to a new level by a man who sweats soul from every pore. The whole 11 track album is an emotional, passionate tour de force that old JB himself would have been proud of.

15: WHYTE HORSES – Pop Or Not (CRC)                                      When you stuff your 17 track debut full of seemingly jarring ideas and sounds there’s a chance that you risk a lack of identity. However, lead Horse and music obsessive Dom Thomas has managed to create a whole very much greater than its sunny psych, electronica, baggy, acid house, Brazilian The Go! Team and Stone Roses parts! In “The Snowfalls” they also released one of the tracks of the year.

14: WHITNEY – Light Upon The Lake (Secretly Canadian)  Winsome, melancholic, pastoral, dreamy – yep, this debut is all of these things but it’s also so much more. The 10 tracks weigh in at just over 30 minutes but in that short time you are transported to a sunny place, maybe even Laurel Canyon, where a stoned Neil Young is woozily joined by “Ventura Highway” era America, plus added atmospheric trumpet flourishes. Put this on and chill the fuck out.

13: MAVIS STAPLES – Livin’ On A High Note (Anti)                          After Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy produced her 2 previous efforts, the honour this time is bestowed on singer/ songwriter M Ward who has excelled in bringing out the best in our Mave’s ultra-soulful, bourbon soaked vocal delivery. Songwriting credits go to luminaries including Valerie June, Ben Harper, Justin Vernon, Aloe Blacc and Nick Cave with the album’s most affecting track “Jesus Lay Down Beside Me”.

12: ARVIDSON & BUTTERFLIES – Arvidson & Butterflies (Kool Kat Music)                                                                                      Although new to me, Sweden’s Roger Arvidson is a veteran of the Gothenburg music scene and when his band, Arvidson & Butterflies, can produce power-pop anthems this good, the rest of you need to know about them too! Over the course of these 12 hummable Beatles, Byrds, Big Star, Teenage Fanclub and Tom Petty influenced gems, this album became one of 2016’s best musical surprises.

11: TRASHCHAN SINATRAS – Wild Pendulum (Red River)          26 years on from debut LP “Cake”, Scotland’s woefully underrated Trashcan Sinatras gave us “Wild Pendulum”. Although by far the most melodic and tuneful album in my list, labelling it as “jangle-pop” would be doing them a huge disservice. So, for an idea of what to expect, go straight to “Best Days On Earth”, a masterful slab of perfect pop that Aztec Camera or Prefab Sprout would be proud to call their own.

2016 – The Acoustic Egg Box Top 20 Albums Of The Year (Part Two – No’s 10-1)

At this point it’s probably worth mentioning, in no particular order, the albums that on another day with a fair wind behind could have made it into the Top 20; FRENCH BOUTIK – Front Pop, C DUNCAN – The Midnight Sun, LEONARD COHEN – You Want It Darker, MADNESS – Can’t Touch Us Now, LAMBCHOP – Flotus, ED HARCOURT – Furnaces, THE CORAL – The Distance Between Us, THE HOSTS – Moon, DEXY’S – Let The Record Show, WHITE DENIM – Stiff, STEVE MASON – Meet The Humans, ABC – The Lexicon Of Love II, ELI PAPERBOY REED – My Way Home, RICHARD ASHCROFT – These People, SUEDE – Night Thoughts, THE SENIOR SERVICE – The Girl In The Glass Case.

10: KUTIMAN – 6AM (Siyal Music)                                              According to press articles, Kutiman (Israeli multi-instrumentalist/ producer Ophir Kutiel) is a “psychedelic funk architect” and although not my words, it’s an epithet that fits like a glove. On some tracks we get spaghetti-western guitars, on others, subtle Middle Eastern influences. In places, it’s jazzy, funky and cool, in others, psych-rock elements appear. Put it all together though and you have a superb genre-mashing listen!

9: DAVID BOWIE – Blackstar (Columbia)                                          In light of his death, it would be easy for me to write gushingly about the final record from my musical hero irrespective of how good or bad it was, however, “Blackstar”, whilst not being his best ever record certainly sits up there alongside them. Bowie’s bravery in making this enigmatic and, in hindsight, extremely moving album, knowing it would be his last, is a testament to an artist who pushed boundaries, broke the rules and single-handedly redefined rock-stardom. RIP

8: VAN MORRISON – Keep Me Singing (Caroline)                        Whilst enjoying his 70th year, Van Morrison released his 36th studio album and, as I have the other 35, in my opinion, it’s his best since 1991’s “Hymns To The Silence”. In “Keep Me Singing” the (occasionally) hoary old goat has, it appears, mellowed like a fine wine, as this set of 12 songs are as warm, melancholy and reflective as anything he’s ever released. Be warned though, if you’re not already a fan, this album probably won’t change your mind.

7: THE JAMES HUNTER SIX – Hold On (Daptone)                              From the moment the funky Hammond and sax kicks in seconds into the album’s opener “If That Don’t Tell You” to the jazzy piano and brass fade on closing track “In The Dark”, this superb, 30 minute, 10 track set from one of the best R&B vocalists (and his shit-hot band!) around, is a soul fan’s delight with shades of Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, Solomon Burke, Chuck Jackson et al permeating throughout. White, middle-aged British men never sounded so damn groovy!

6: MAN & THE ECHO – Man & The Echo (1965 Records)                I’d not even heard of Man & The Echo until November when Steve Lamacq played “Operation Margarine”, their wonderfully titled nod to 70’s soul, on his 6 Music show, but since then I’ve listened to this brilliant album almost daily. Contained within are elements of the Style Council, The Divine Comedy, Monkeys of both the Blow and Arctic variety, Ian Dury and even Madness in places. Lyrically quirky, politically astute and supremely tuneful but always massive fun and catchy as hell.

5: WILLIAM BELL – This Is Where I Live (Stax)                            William Bell is an indisputable Southern Soul legend who started out way back in 1961 on the original Stax label. Now 76 and recording on the rejuvenated Stax for the first time in 40 years, he has made one of the best albums of his career. Stand-outs for me are the ballads “The House Always Wins”, “The Three Of Me” and the title track, plus a superb, swampy version of his own best-known song “Born Under A Bad Sign”. This is a must-have record for any discerning soul-music fan.

4: THE JUNIPERS – Red Bouquet Fair (Sugarbush Records)      The Junipers are from Leicester and for the second time this year Leicester has something to be immensely proud of, as, like a certain Mr Ranieri, “Red Bouquet Fair” is exceptional! This is an album as sun-drenched as a Californian summer and as comforting as your favourite pillow. Bathed in shimmering psychedelic instrumentation beneath Robyn Gibson’s dreamy, easy on the ear vocals, the 12 tracks that make up this record are THE perfect antidote to the winter blues. Buy it!

3: TEENAGE FANCLUB – Here (Merge)                                          Teenage Fanclub are another band on my list who are now making some of their best music over 25 years into their career. Power-pop opening track “I’m In Love” was one of the singles of the year, “Steady State”, “I Was Beautiful When I Was Alive” and album closer “Connected To Life” are as immersive and dreamy as anything they’ve ever recorded whilst “I Have Nothing More To Say” and “Live In The Moment” are TFC at peak flow. This is quite possibly their best ever album.

2: THE MONKEES – Good Times (Rhino)                                          Take a band who haven’t released anything since 1996, who are in their 50th year, are fronted by a septuagenarian, ask “modern” pop-stars to write songs for them and it’s going to be as cringeworthy as Madonna shagging Bieber, right? Wrong – it’s fucking brilliant! The opening 5 tracks, including the brilliant Andy Partridge composed and virtually perfect pop record “Here Comes the Summer” could be lifted from any album in their 1960’s heyday, “Me & Magdalena” from the pen of Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben Gibbard is stunning, Michael Nesmith’s “I Know What I Know” is so moving that it made me cry, “Birth Of An Accidental Hipster” by Paul Weller and Noel Gallagher is, well, what you would expect a Paul Weller/ Noel Gallagher track sung by The Monkees to sound like, and we even get a lead vocal from the now sadly departed Davy Jones on the re-recorded 1967 original “Love To Love. This is an album that EVERYONE who loves music should own as, even if you’ve never heard of The Monkees or the songwriters that worked on it, Good Times is a bona-fide pop masterpiece.

1: MICHAEL KIWANUKA – Love & Hate (Polydor)                          In 2012, the then 25-year-old Michael Kiwanuka released one of my favourite albums of the year with his outrageously mature folk/ soul debut “Home Again”. In 2016 he has gone one better and released THE best album of the year in Love & Hate. When opening single, the brilliantly funky “Black Man In A White World” was released at the start of 2016, Kiwanuka described it as “slave music” and when he sings “I’m In Love, But I’m Still Sad/ I Found Peace But I’m Not Glad” you really do feel the inner turmoil regarding his ethnicity. This sentiment plus his own sense of insecurity is a nagging thread throughout the 10 tracks of what is an immensely personal record. The wonderful 10-minute opener, “Cold Little Heart” is a stunning piece of work and almost 2 tracks in one with the opening 5 minutes redolent of a Pink Floyd classic before it morphs into a soulful, handclap-led “proper” song with full orchestral backing and mournful guitar. The 7-minute title track follows a similar path to “Cold Little Heart” and once again, despite its length, draws you in with the sheer insistence of a fantastic arrangement. The album’s closing track, the beautiful ballad, “The Final Frame”, possibly gives you a real insight into Kiwanuka’s state of mind when he recorded the album and the lines “And we can’t pretend, we’re reaching the end, it’s true/ love’s been a strain, a strain on my heart” reveals that he may have suffered the pain of a broken relationship. Overall, and for those of you may not know this exceptional record or artist yet, the touchstones are Curtis Mayfield, Marvin Gaye and Bill Withers with a little Gil Scott-Heron thrown in for good measure. Of course, it always helps when you get to share 5 minutes with the singer of your favourite album of the year after a great show last October at The Phoenix in Exeter – especially when he then turns out to be the most charming and humble man you could wish to meet. Great work indeed sir and very much looking forward to seeing you in Bristol in 2017!