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!

2015 – The Acoustic Egg Box Top 20 Albums Of The Year (Part Two – No’s 10-1)

It’s here! The Acoustic Egg Box Top 10 favourite album of 2015 as compiled by a bloke who has too much time on his hands and considers editing and grammar to be the unnecessary enemy of a poor vocabulary. Joking aside, if anyone reading this blog decides to go out and buy one of these albums as a result of doing so, I’ll be a happy man, as these talented musicians deserve all the support they can get. Oh yes, and if anyone wants to complain that I have a joint No.1 then they can write to my publisher.

10: MERCURY REV – The Light In You (Bella Union)           Another comeback album in my Top 20. This time only a seven-year gap, but the itch has more than been scratched with this set of beautifully arranged and mesmerising songs – no more so than on the six-minute orchestrally lush mini-epic “Central Park East”. Poppier track “Are You Ready?” breaks things up a little, but the sweeping late 60’s psychedelic feel permeates this whole glorious affair.

9: SAUN & STARR – Look Closer (Daptone)                              Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings backing singers have made the best soul album of the year and are now quite deservedly a bona fide act in their own right. This album was my soundtrack to summer 2015 with its old school retro vibe and sunny disposition rendering it hard not to love. Standout tracks are Mr Teddy, Sunshine (You’re Blowin’ My Cool) and Blah Blah Blah Blah Blah Blah Blah. Timeless cool

8: NATALIE PRASS – Natalie Prass (Spacebomb)                                That she’s signed to Matthew E White’s label is in itself a virtual guarantee of quality. Over the course of nine songs Ms Prass’s pure as the driven snow voice glides effortlessly through this soulful, lyrically astute & lushly arranged debut in a way that would have made our very own Dusty Springfield proud. If she never makes another, this record is an immense legacy to leave behind.

7: NEW ORDER – Music Complete (Mute)                                    Another great comeback album in my top 20 is this “just like they’ve never been away” effort from New Order. Their first one proper since 2005, this is the best album they’ve made since 1989’s Balearic masterpiece, Technique – it also contains several songs that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on it including “Plastic” which was one of the dance tracks of the year. Peter who?

6: KONTIKI SUITE – The Greatest Show On Earth (Sunstone)  Had I been publishing a chart in 2013, their debut “On Sunset Lake” would also have been in the Top 10 – one album on and how Carlisle’s finest have remained largely undiscovered is a mystery! Purveyors of their own sublime take on Byrdsian style psychedelic country folk/rock, I can assure all discerning music lovers that you NEED this band in your collection! (Full LP review – 8th Oct)

5: C DUNCAN – Architect (Fatcat)                                              Recorded in his Glasgow bedroom, classically trained multi-instrumentalist (viola, piano, bass and acoustic guitar and drums to name but a few) and composer C Duncan’s Mercury Music Prize nominated debut is an intricate, multi-layered work of immense craft and at times utterly beguiling beauty. It also contains “Garden” which is 2015’s best single by a Scottish artist by a country mile!

4: MARTIN COURTNEY – Many Moons (Domino)                    Singer and guitarist with Real Estate, whose “Atlas” album was No.3 in the Acoustic Eggbox 2014 album chart, Courtney has delivered a warm, sunny, Autumn afternoon of an album which is distinct enough to be his own work but also recognisably Real Estate-esque. If you like jangly 60’s country/ folk with nods to Big Star, Jonathan Wilson and, inevitably, the Byrds, this is for you. Gorgeous.

3: ISRAEL NASH – Israel Nash’s Silver Season (Loose)                It’s hardly surprising that this superb fourth from Israel Nash is in my top 3; the soulful, cosmic country with a hint of psychedelia and gentle steel guitar over the top of occasionally impenetrable lyrics and enough melody to make the songs warm and memorable is right up my Laurel Canyon in a Fleet Foxes meets Neil Young kind of way. Check out LA Lately as it really is a totally cool tune, man.

=1: RICHARD HAWLEY – Hollow Meadows (Parlophone) Sheffield’s finest released his most personal and heartfelt album yet in 2015. “Heart Of Oak” and “Which Way” aside, the remaining nine tracks are proper, string-laden, emotional ballads – ballads which lend themselves to Hawley’s fine baritone and recall great singers of a bygone era: Orbison, Presley, Monroe et al. If you’ve got any soul, opening track “I Still Want You” will bring a lump to your throat and a tear to your eye and when you’ve finally pulled yourself together, the closer “What Love Means” will start you off again. Treasure this man, we don’t have many of his ilk left in this country – unless of course you class Sam Smith as a singer, in which case you can just fuck off and stop buying records now!

=1: FATHER JOHN MISTY – I Love You Honeybear (Bella Union) Father John Misty is erstwhile Fleet Foxes drummer, Josh Tillman and this is his second breathtaking album. He’s given us eleven songs that are by turns, cynical, bitter, heartbreaking, funny and painfully personal and which recall the humour of Randy Newman (especially Bored In The USA), the early piano-led genius of Elton John and the tunesmithery of Burt Bacharach. The lushness of the orchestral arrangements and the beauty and content of his lyrical output put him on the top table of today’s current crop of singer-songwriters, if not at the head of that table. Anyone that writes the line “And the malaprops make me wanna fucking scream, I wonder if she knows what that word even means” in a bitter anti-love song aimed at an old, irritating lover deserves our respect. Make no mistake, this album is a classic and will be lauded as such many years from now.

2015 – The Acoustic Egg Box Top 20 Albums Of The Year (Part One – No’s 20-11)

Well, I purposely decided that this year’s feverishly anticipated 2015 Top 20 albums overview would be fashionably late, and it is. There’s still nothing from Mario Lanza in the chart, but, despite massive technological advances, this is largely due to his being dead for 55 years. Anyway, hold on to your hats and swing your groovy pants, here are numbers 20-11:

20: CATHAL SMYTH – A Comfortable Man (Phoenix Rising)    The man formerly known as Chas Smash of Madness has released an album as far from the Nutty Boys jaunty pop as is possible to get. In places, this album is so heartbreakingly sad (You’re Not Alone/ Love Song No.7) that it really is a difficult listen. This is a set of songs that reflect a deeply personal, probably cathartic, casting out of his demons – don’t give it a play if you’re feeling emotionally fragile!

19: LEON BRIDGES – Coming Home (Columbia)                          The debut album from this talented 25-year-old Texan is a paean to a bygone era when soul music relied on the singer’s voice and proper instrumentation to convey emotion, not a bank of gadgets and pro tools. Fans of Sam, Otis and Marvin will find much to love here. An extremely accomplished set which hopefully will see him go from strength to strength.

18: PAUL WELLER – Saturns Pattern (Parlophone)                    Yes, I’m a big Weller fan, no, this isn’t his best solo album, but at 56 he’s still pushing his own musical boundaries and has delivered an enjoyable and eclectic album of psychedelic noise, sunshine pop, soulful Style Council-esque grooves and melodic, well-crafted pop-rock which still trumps most of his contemporaries hands down. There sure is plenty of life in the old mod yet.

17: JOHN GRANT – Grey Tickles, Black Pressure (Bella Union)  John Grant was cruelly and largely ignored when recording as the Czars, but on this, his 3rd solo album, he is continuing to carve a niche as an exceptional and unique songwriter. Songs on “Grey Tickles” whilst not as immediate as his previous work are still full of wit, pathos and oblique and acerbic references to his troubled past. Now go and check out his older material – you’ll be glad you did.

16: MATTHEW E WHITE – Fresh Blood (Domino)              Matthew E White is a living oxymoron. He looks like he should have been a murderous roadie for the Grateful Dead but sounds like the angelic voiced progeny of a Stax/ Motown/ Randy Newman union. Lead single rock & Roll Is Cold is not only one of the best tracks of the year but one of the most uptempo songs on this, his soulful second album. His idol, Stevie Wonder, would surely approve!

15: JACCO GARDNER – Hypnophobia (Polyvinyl)                        You may not read the words “Dutch 60’s Psychedelic Folk Wizard” in one sentence again today but apart from the obvious Syd Barrett/ Nick Drake comparisons that are inevitable, that description is pretty accurate. This could easily be the dreamy, lushly orchestrated soundtrack to a movie about fevered sleep and nocturnal parasomnias – the 8 minute track “Before The Dawn” is especially gorgeous.

14: TAME IMPALA – Currents (Fiction)                                        Kevin Parker is sad and lonely. He’s also written an album about the breakdown of a relationship, but unlike Mr Smyth’s offering, this is a shimmering, summery, melodic and gorgeous psych-synth album that owes much to our French friends, Air and on the more upbeat numbers their dancier fellow countrymen, Daft Punk. A change of direction from his previous two albums but what an inspired one!

13: BLUR – The Magic Whip (Parlophone)                                     One of the year’s big comeback albums – and a great one it is too. In some respects, after 12 years away, this is their most Blur-like album ever – a composite of the best bits of all their previous releases assembled in one place. Albarn’s songwriting has matured and Coxon’s guitar playing is as good as ever and although there isn’t a duff track on the album, for me Ong Ong is definitely the highlight.

12: LIANNE LA HAVAS – Blood (Warner Bros)                                The follow-up album to her critically acclaimed debut “Is Your Love Big Enough” sees Ms La Havas release a more polished overall set but this certainly does not mean that her superb voice is in any way diminished. “Never Get Enough” is an experimental departure, with distorted rocky vocals maybe pointing to future directions and the single “Unstoppable” is, for me, her best track to date.

11: THE CHARLATANS – Modern Nature (BMG)                            The death of the band’s drummer Jon Brookes 18 months previously galvanised the band into releasing this, one of their best albums, but the melancholy of his passing is noticeable throughout, even on the cover photo. “Talking In Tones”, the atmospheric first single and album opener is superb and although nothing else quite matches it, this is a classy return to form for one of our most enduring bands.

LIVE: Richard Hawley – Bristol Colston Hall, 9th November 2015

Here’s the thing, musical taste is subjective – I get this fact, even though most of today’s raft of “pop” acts are as closely related to music as Spam is to meat. That said, subjectivity aside, if there’s currently a better British singer, songwriter or guitarist than Richard Hawley then I’ve yet to hear them. Last nights gig at Bristol Colston Hall, the final of one his current tour, was further proof that Hawley is, seven albums into a solo career, at the peak of his powers. 

With a top-notch band now in place, along with his usual acerbic and very funny banter, Hawley gave us nearly two hours of the sweetest melodies plus the occasional rocking wig-out, all delivered in his rich Sheffield via Tennessee baritone and accompanied by musicianship of the very highest order. 


The set list stretched across his exceptional body of work, and personal highlights included (in his own words) “the most miserable song he’s written for a long time”, the beautiful and heartbreaking “Tuesday PM” taken from his current, and possibly best ever album Hollow Meadows, an outstanding version of the creepy and foreboding “Down In The Woods” from Standing At the Sky’s Edge 

and set closer, a stunning version of the beautiful, shimmering “The Ocean” from 2005’s brilliant Cole’s Corner. In between proceedings, we even had time to sing his daughter Rosie, currently at Bristol University and in the audience, Happy Birthday! 

That he hasn’t even been nominated for this year’s Mercury Music Prize further highlights the fact that in 2015 industry awards are increasingly irrelevant and in an age when X-Factor, auto-tuned, pro-tooled wannabees sell millions, Florence & her screeching Machine can headline Glastonbury and Sam Smith gets chosen to write and perform a Bond theme, Hawley should have a residency at Caesars Palace and be selling out shows there night after night! 

Anyway, here is the maestro with “I Still Want You”, his current single and my favourite track from the best album of 2015

ALBUM REVIEW: Kontiki Suite – The Greatest Show On Earth

Back in 2012 Carlisle’s Kontiki Suite released their brilliant debut album “On Sunset Lake”. Inexplicably, I managed to miss it at the time but after recommendations from several of my trusted musical cohorts, I eventually got hold of a copy in mid 2013. Suffice to say I was blown away by what I heard and had I not missed the original release date, there is absolutely no doubt that it would have been one of my albums of the year.

Three years on, and this time around (probably due to regularly badgering the band on Twitter that they should pull their fingers out and release something new asap) I had advance warning that “The Greatest Show On Earth” would be released in early October. Well, after living with it on repeat for over a week I can happily announce that it is an absolute cracker of an album.

Not only is this another collection of finely crafted songs, large on melody and sprinkled with a liberal dusting of Laurel Canyon country and psychedelic shimmer, they also sound more accomplished and confident both lyrically and musically. In fact, most of these tracks certainly wouldn’t sound out of place on albums released by their heroes and undoubted influences, The Byrds, Neil Young, Gram Parsons, The Band, Buffalo Springfield or more recently, The Jayhawks and Teenage Fanclub.

Although each of the album’s ten tracks are undoubtedly worthy of mention, for me the highlights are opening single “All I Can Say” (above), “Here For You Now”, with shades of Here Comes The Sun era Beatles running through it, the sweet and sour “Under The Rug”, the 8 minute Neil Young-esque country-rocker “Burned” and album closer, the gorgeous and reflective “Years Roll On”.

Without any shadow of a doubt, in a world where substance over style should be the order of the day, Kontiki Suite would have a massive audience to appreciate their talents, so go out and buy their music and help redress the balance- I guarantee you won’t be sorry.

Website; http://www.kontikisuite.com

Bandcamp: http://kontikisuite.bandcamp.com/music

iTunes: http://tinyurl.com/bged2jx

Amazon MP3: http://tinyurl.com/bgw9utc

Amazon.co.uk: http://tinyurl.com/b4v2l6x

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kontikisuitemusic/timeline

Twitter: @kontikisuite

2014 – The Acoustic Egg Box Top 20 Albums Of The Year (Part Two – No’s 10-1)

Well here’s the bit you’ve all been waiting so patiently for – numbers 10 to 1 in 2014’s “The Acoustic Egg Box Albums Of The Year”.  If the amount of letters, emails, tweets and phone calls are anything to go by after the 20-11 section was issued, it appears both of you were disappointed to see there were no entries from One Direction, Mario Lanza or Anal Vomit. Never mind, there’s always next year…….

10: ALLAH-LAS – Worship The Sun (Innovative Leisure)            The second album from L.A based Allah-Las sees them once again ploughing their own retro furrow of fuzzy psyched up/ 60’s garage, but with a more assured feel than their 2012 debut. The influences are many (The Byrds/ Love/ Seeds etc) and their version of The Frantics’ 1960 single “Werewolf” (No Werewolf) is great, mad fun.

9: DAMIEN JURADO – Brothers & Sisters Of The Eternal Sun (Secretly Canadian)                                                            Although still as inventive and “out there” as ever, Jurado’s Richard Swift produced 11th album is the most eminently listenable and coherent record of his prolific career. In places, the songs are shimmering and beautiful, in others psyched up and jazzy but all of them worthy of repeated listens.

8: SLOW CLUB – Complete Surrender (Caroline)                                From 2009’s folky debut to 2011’s poppier follow up and on to this, their fantastic, tune laden and soulful third, Sheffield’s male/ female duo, Slow Club, have certainly been anything but formulaic in their musical progression. The production, although polished, stops short of being too contrived, allowing their superb vocals room to shine.

7: TY SEGALL – Manipulator (Drag City)                                                Manipulator is the longest album in this top twenty with its 17 tracks running to just over an hour – an hour of joyous, rocky, glam, psychedelic, driving, garage from start to finish. Segall may be prolific but he certainly doesn’t sacrifice quality for quantity. Fans of Bolan, Bowie, Iggy, The Stones, Yardbirds et al won’t be disappointed.

6: CHERRY GHOST – Herd Runners (Heavenly)                              Cherry Ghost is, essentially, Simon Aldred – one of Britain’s finest, most underrated songwriters. This is an album of proper songs; songs of romance, heartbreak, lost love and found love – all sharing a soulful, melancholic beauty. If you can listen to “Drinking For Two” without a lump in your throat, you must have a heart of stone.

5: ELBOW – The Take Off And Landing Of Everything (Fiction)      For a band who have now been together for nearly 25 years they aren’t having a bad run of form! Their trademark melodies and orchestral flourishes are here in full effect and the vivid songwriting and unique lyrical aphorisms are better than ever. In summary: the more things change the more they stay the same – but in a good way. Gorgeous

4: MANIC STREET PREACHERS – Futurology (Columbia)            The fact that Futurology was recorded in Berlin is evident from the off. The album brims with influences from Neu! to Bowie and even the early (good) incarnation of Simple Minds. Synths are used to great effect throughout but especially so on “Let’s Go To War” – one of 2014’s best tracks. A brave, brilliant album from a band still very much at the top of their game.

3: REAL ESTATE – Atlas (Domino)                                                          It could be lazy of me to describe Real Estate’s “Atlas” as “21st Century Byrdsian”, but that’s pretty much the vibe that they conjure up, and an absolutely joyful vibe it is too. Listening to this album on a cold, wet and windy English December day has the power to transport you to summertime on a Californian beach.

2: REIGNING SOUND – Shattered (Merge)                                      Greg Cartwright is the best American songwriter you’ve never heard of and, on “Shattered”, he’s honed Reigning Sound’s (largely) garage rock output into a brilliantly eclectic Stax era soulful, funky, country rock album replete with horns, strings, pedal steel and flourishes of Hammond organ. To hear it is to love it!

1: BECK – Morning Phase (Capitol)                                                      Comparisons to 2002’s sublime “Sea Change” are inevitable but, as good as that album is, “Morning Phase” blows it out of the water. This is a record that could have been made at any time during the prodigious late 60’s/ early 70’s Laurel Canyon era and still been hailed as the classic that it most certainly is. It is an often mournful but always mellifluously beautiful suite of songs that luminaries such as Crosby, Stills, Nash or Young, The Byrds, Dylan, Nick Drake et al would have been proud to call their own. This is quite simply a stunning, timeless album and a career-best by some way.  A worthy Number One!

2014 – The Acoustic Egg Box Top 20 Albums Of The Year (Part One – No’s 20-11)

In a time honoured tradition going back many years, that no one really cares about apart from, well, me, here is 2014’s unscientific and utterly subjective “Acoustic Egg Box Top 20 Albums Of The Year”.

Obviously, as a man with a time-consuming day job plus evenings and weekends spent ferrying kids around to a never-ending stream of social and sporting events there are only so many albums that I can physically listen to during the period. Therefore, as happens every year, there are undoubtedly some great records I haven’t even heard yet but almost certainly should have! I am always open to suggestions regarding what I should have included (or not), how dazzlingly brilliant my taste in music is, or why I should never be allowed near a record ever again. Anyway, here goes for the first instalment:

 

20: SHARON JONES & THE DAP-KINGS – Give The People What They Want (Daptone)                                      After beating cancer last year, Ms Jones and her Dap-Kings celebrated by going on tour and releasing their 5th, and best, album to date. This is old school soul and funk played by a band at the top of their game and sung by a charismatic vocalist quite obviously enjoying life to the full.

19: GRUFF RHYS – American Interior (Turnstile)

Ex Super Furry Animal Rhys has written a brilliantly inventive album about an 18th-century ancestor searching for a mythical Welsh-speaking Native American tribe along the Missouri River – with tunes. If this doesn’t sell it to you, I don’t know what will…..

 

18: NAOMI SHELTON & THE GOSPEL QUEENS – Cold World (Daptone)                                                                              Despite recording material since the 1960’s, this is only 70-year-old Shelton’s second solo release. Although containing hints of reggae and country, this is a defiantly old-school gospel album released on the consistently excellent Daptone label. Fans of Mavis Staples will find much to love here.

17: DAMON ALBARN – Everyday Robots (Parlophone)          Albarn has had involvement with 12 albums since Blur’s demised yet this is the first bearing just his own name – and a lyrically smart, beautiful and often plaintive one it is too. Albarn has always been one of those artists who divides opinion, but on the strength of this release, the balance should definitely be with the “ayes”.

16: THE PRIMITIVES – Spin-O-Rama (Elefant)                                   An album that feels as fresh and vibrant as their brilliant debut “Lovely” did 26 years previously. 28 minutes crammed full of superbly crafted sunny psychedelia, with a nod to the 60’s here and a splash of Blondie style power-pop there. One of the year’s unexpected but hugely welcome comebacks.

15: RODDY FRAME – Seven Dials (AED)                                              As this is his first new album for 8 years, Roddy Frame could hardly be described as prolific. However, he remains one of our greatest songwriters and has an ear for a tune only a handful of others possess. Seven Dials is the musical equivalent of a warm summer’s day spent with an old friend – comforting, reliable and welcoming.

14: THE AUTUMN DEFENSE – Fifth (Yep Roc)                                  Given the title, you won’t be surprised to hear that this gem is the 5th album release from the band formed by John Stirratt and Patrick Sansone of Wilco. Containing melodies the Byrds or the Beatles would be proud of, this beautiful collection of songs wouldn’t feel out of place in Laurel Canyon circa 1971.

13: AVI BUFFALO – At Best Cuckold (Sub Pop)                                Four years after releasing their brilliant debut album, the Californian based Avi Buffalo do it again with 35 minutes of sublime West Coast bittersweet pop. Think Eliot Smith sings the songs of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and you’re not too far wide of the mark.

12: THE HOSTS – Softly Softly (Fierce Panda)                                    Sheffield’s The Hosts unashamedly channel their hero, Roy Orbison, on several tracks (including a cover of “In Dreams”) throughout this excellent debut album – and they do it superbly. Richard Hawley’s production duties are also much in evidence – no bad thing for a new band so obviously in love with the 50’s & 60’s.

11: GOAT – Commune (Rocket Recordings)                                          Goat are an enigmatic Swedish psych-rock outfit shrouded in a mystery mostly of their own making and on this, their second album, they’ve concocted made some magical sounds: heavy, hypnotic tribal beats, chanted vocals, driving Krautrock and Afro rhythms. You have to hear it (lots!) to appreciate what an uplifting and glorious noise they make.

FILM REVIEW: Northern Soul

As a brief introduction for the uninitiated, the term “Northern Soul” was coined by DJ and soul music aficionado, Dave Godin, in 1970 and can be loosely described as a specific type of heavily syncopated, black American “Motown-esque” dance music, often originally released in the 1960’s, by unknown and largely forgotten artists. The burgeoning scene that grew up around the phenomena developed its own unique fashion style and dance moves and peaked during the mid 70’s with worshippers flocking to several well-known venues including Manchester’s Twisted Wheel, The Golden Torch in Stoke, Blackpool Mecca and most famously Wigan Casino, where the film is centred.

t has been reported that the “committed clubber” and Northern Soul obsessed writer and director of the film, Elaine Constantine, remortgaged her home, cashed in her pension and poured all the family savings into funding its making which has taken over three years from the first day of shooting to its commercial release in October this year. It probably goes without saying that this fact alone would guarantee an astonishing level of detail and authenticity from such a devotee to the scene – and we aren’t left wanting.

Growing up in a farming community in the West Country during the 70’s, the nearest I got to dancing at a drug and drink-fuelled “all-nighter” was playing air guitar to Status Quo at a local barn dance while sipping cans of Shandy Bass and getting a sugar rush from too many sherbet dib-dabs, but, like all great period dramas, Northern Soul’s strength lies in is its ability to transport you to a time and place with such skill, that, on leaving the cinema, I spent 5 minutes wondering where I’d parked my Morris Marina.

The film itself, set in 1974, is an age-old tale of disenchantment, rebellion, friendship, love, loss and hope but with added dancing and a peerless soundtrack. There are decent cameos from experienced actors Steve Coogan (teacher), Lisa Stansfield (mother), Ricky Tomlinson (granddad) and John Thomson (youth club DJ), but the two main leads, Eliot James Langridge who plays John Clark and Josh Whitehouse his best mate Matt are relative newcomers to the big screen, and both put in superb and believable performances. They portray a couple of teenagers who discover the joys of the Northern Soul scene which serves as something of an escape route from their uninspiring school days and dead-end factory jobs. Such is their passion for the music that they make plans to open their own club after flying to America with a dream of bringing back bundles of undiscovered and collectable 45’s.

There are both moments of high comedy and some touching, emotional scenes during the film’s 102 minutes, but what sets it apart from its inevitable touchstone, 2010’s “Soul Boy”, is the dark and menacing undercurrent of drug use which is an increasingly prevalent theme throughout. As a result of the escalating amphetamine abuse we witness imprisonments, paranoia, the breakdown of friendships and ultimately, tragedy and these are the main reasons, despite the two movies being depictions of the same subject, that they are in many ways, about as similar as Mickey Blue Eyes and The Godfather.

One point should be made clear – the naysayers bemoaning the fact that the film doesn’t contain enough dancing or music should probably be seeking out a more prosaic representation of the scene. If it’s facts and reality that you’re after there are some excellent documentaries available about this wonderful genre, however, it does seem that the people making these negative statements are missing the point – this is fiction. Well written, meticulously researched and at times, no doubt, subject to a little artistic license, but fiction nevertheless.

So, for anyone that hasn’t actually seen the film yet and who may have been put off watching by the pedantic few, rest assured, as plenty of great music and incredible dancing DOES form a not inconsiderable backdrop to what is, ultimately, a cracking, well produced story. Keep the faith – you won’t be disappointed.

ALBUM REVIEW: Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings – Give The People What They Want (Daptone Records)

 

That Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings 5th, and best, studio album has been released at all is great news for soul fans everywhere. The album release was postponed indefinitely last year after it was revealed Sharon was undergoing treatment for bile duct cancer. Thankfully, everything went well and the band are looking to announce a tour during 2014.

As far as the music’s concerned, this ten track album with a compact running time of around thirty-five minutes could have been recorded at any point during the past 45 years or so. The fact that “modern” studio techniques are eschewed in favour of analogue production values is in keeping with the feel of the album which, throughout, is a fine homage to late 60’s/ early 70’s Motown and Stax recordings. This is evident from the opening notes of the Supremes channelling “Retreat” (below), in which the feisty leader sends out a defiant battle cry to her prospective lover, right through to the gorgeous slow-burning closing track “Slow Down, Love”.

The video for the album’s storming second track “Stranger To My Happiness” (below) sees the defiant Ms Jones proudly embracing the baldness, resulting from her cancer treatment, and performing with just as much energy and verve as always. As much as anything, this performance serves as a real testament to her positivity and strength of character – a fact which is further enhanced when you see this amazing lady interviewed.

Elsewhere on the album there is the chugging “Now I See”; the summery slink of “Making Up & Breaking Up (And Making Up & Breaking Up Over Again);  Northern Soul dance floor favourite in waiting  “People Don’t Get What They Deserve” and the swampy Southern Soul of “Long Time, Wrong Time”.

All in all, whether you like your soul thang to be of the retro variety or just love superbly executed and performed R&B made by real musicians who obviously love what they do, I doubt you’ll hear many better albums all year.