EP Review: Cain Rising – Rear View Mirror

Cain Rising

photo courtesy of Cain Rising

by James Morris, Contributing Blogger

EP Review of Cain Rising: Rear View Mirror

Following on from their critically acclaimed self-titled debut album Cain Rising, the band have been back in the studio to record new songs for release on this 5-track EP Rear View Mirror, out today, October 10th, 2017. All the songs have been released as singles over the past few months providing exciting glimpses, one song at a time, of what the band have been working on.

Where the debut album displayed the breadth of their influences, from East Coast rock to raw folk, the five tracks on Rear View Mirror show a band whose confidence is growing and who are not afraid to let their music grow with it.

Cain Rising - Rear View Mirror EP cover

image courtesy of Cain Rising

Since we last heard from Cain Rising, there have been some personnel changes. The core of Jo Parry, Jez Parry and Jimmy Price remains. Incoming guitarist Ian Hopper is edgy and creative; Matt Crawford on Hammond and piano gives the band a touch of soul; and Mick Ivory’s drumming is its beating heart.

The title track of the EP, “Rear View Mirror,” is an effortlessly catchy, hit the road, summer song that drives along from the opening chords to the mariachi outro. This is the first time the band have experimented with a brass section courtesy of Rebecca Gibson Swift and Pablo Mendelssohn.

“Glasgow City Spires” has the band rocking out behind lyrics reflecting the alienation that can hit you when returning to your home city after many years. It’s a feel good bouncy tune, with swirling organ, warm snappy guitars and a driving chorus.

“Soldier” takes the tempo back a touch with a real retro feel. A touch of Andy Fairweather-Low, a touch of The Hollies and an evocative Gretsch guitar solo.

Cain Rising

photo courtesy of Cain Rising

“Walk My Way” is a swinging rock tune. Once again adorned with horns plus a call and answer bridge in a Billy Joel “Innocent Man” style, which gives it all a foot tapping, bopping and breezy sway.

Finally the mood is taken down with “Social Man,” a tense, raw, stripped-back piano song. It’s good to be shown that the band have a versatility and confidence beyond the airy summer rock, and this track provides a perfect natural conclusion to the EP.

As well as the music, I should also mention that the drawing behind the cover art for the EP and singles is by Julian O’Dell. Julian’s artwork has long been a favourite of the band’s and has created a unique style for this release. His work can be found on his website www.artattackoncancer.org. All proceeds from his sales go to the Action Against Cancer charity.

Cain Rising

photo courtesy of Cain Rising

My previous reviews of the first two singles from this EP (here and here) have extolled the virtues of this band. Now at last you can get the full EP. With these 5 tracks you get a satisfying, hit the freeway, window down, summer blast. Get up close and personal with a pair of headphones, though, and you’ll find an equally enjoyable and rewarding listen thanks to the great production – credit for which goes to Jamie Masters, who seems to be able to get right inside the band’s sound and bring out the very best of the songs.

Great tunes, great songwriting, great production, great band. If you like Springsteen, Dylan, Tom Petty, Beatles, et al, you should really listen to Cain Rising’s new EP and then go get the album for good measure. Here is a band influenced by the greats and who then turn their own creativity into new wonderful music for now and for the future.

Follow the band on Facebook or Twitter @CainRising or visit their website at www.cainrising.rocks.

Album Review: Lindsey Luff – Lindsey Luff

Lindsey Luff

photo by Dustin Cohen; photo courtesy of Lindsey Luff

by James Morris, Contributing Blogger

Album Review of Lindsey Luff: Lindsey Luff

This self-titled debut album from Lindsey Luff is hyper radio-friendly. I would go so far as to say it is an album full of singles. But there is so much more to this record than its glossy radio appeal. Get under the surface and you discover a deeper introspective worth. The singer has created an album to be proud of whilst candidly revealing a life of heartache and pain. These are raw emotions dressed up in such a well-presented musical package that it offers both passing radio play enjoyment and for the more discerning, a darker more rewarding experience.

“Music has been a really healing process for me,” says Lindsey. “I think this record is a story of the pain I’ve gone through in my life. It’s me processing that anger, and giving it a name and a face. It adds skin and bones to everything I’ve dealt with, and it makes it clear that those things don’t define me.”

Lindsey has an absorbing and plaintive voice; an intriguingly lazy drawl with a depth of world weariness. She puts it to good use in this revealing and beautifully concise 32-minute, 9-track album.

Lindsey Luff

cover design by Stephen Brayda; photo by Dustin Cohen; image courtesy of Lindsey Luff

There are some real standout moments here, plus a few tracks that happily grow on you. Opening track “Anything at All” is certainly a grower for me. After a few listens I found myself enjoying it more and more and liked the “Ticket to Ride” line which nicely referenced Lindsey’s childhood listening preferences.

Second song, “Until It’s True,” has a driving beat and bright sound that put me in mind of Fleetwood Mac and KT Tunstall, which also applies to the next track, “Remind Me,” which comes at you with a country pop kick and ultra catchy chorus. Could be my favourite track, but the more I listen, the more contenders there are. What a great dilemma to have.

“If You’re Leaving” starts slowly with a great drum groove (bit like Paul Simon’s “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover”), and I have to admit, although it highlights the sonic geek in me, I really enjoyed the drum sound on the album, especially the relaxed and airy bass drum. Musically the album is beautifully played and its level of understatement gives the songs lots of room to breathe. This is particularly prevalent in the next song, “Homecoming,” with its warm acoustic opening and delicate vocal.

Next up is “What I Wouldn’t Do.” There is something reminiscent in the intro of KD Lang. I could also imagine a later-life Roy Orbison singing this. Very solid stuff and, yet again, another very radio friendly track.

Lindsey Luff

photo by Dustin Cohen; photo courtesy of Lindsey Luff

Track 7, “Weathered,” has a wonderful 3/4 swing that works so well in creating a swaying folky vibe, underlined by a weaving Gaelic lilt.

Penultimate track is “Wishing Well,” a love song to Lindsey’s husband, longtime supporter and childhood sweetheart.

Final track “Those Days Are Gone” is a stripped-back affair, just voice and ukulele. It is a nice way to end, a moment of solitude that focuses you directly on the singer for a final thoughtful moment before enticing you to take another listen from the top.

The album was co-written with a small group of collaborators, including the Lone Bellow’s Brian Elmquist. A similar approach was taken in the recording, filling the studio with guests, including singer/songwriter Sandra McCracken.

I completely agree with Lindsey Luff’s own conclusion on the album where she states that the songs don’t overshadow the challenging circumstances that birthed them. This is well-constructed, classic songwriting that draws from the musical influences of her childhood. Classic pop-style melodies woven through an alt-country landscape. This is a musically polished work but with the rough edge of painful raw emotions left unchecked. In the wrong hands it could have sounded mawkish, but Lindsey’s painful lyrics are delivered so boldly and honestly that the experience is very real, engaging and highly listenable.

It has been a pleasure to discover Lindsey’s music through this album, which is available now for download and streaming. Discover more through her website, where you can keep an eye out for any live shows at www.lindseyluff.com.

Album Review: Hobo Chang – Beast

Hobo Chang

photo by Tom Eyers; photo courtesy of Hobo Chang

by James Morris, Contributing Blogger

Album Review of Hobo Chang: Beast

Hobo Chang - Beast

cover artwork by Paul Rumsey http://www.paulrumsey.co.uk/; image courtesy of Hobo Chang

Hobo Chang are a band from North East Essex in the UK and comprise of Fiona Harmon, Nick Munt, Phil Pain and Andrew Kearton. Together on this album release Beast, they have forged a sound like an illicit affair between ’70s prog rock and its snarling New Wave nemesis. There is a darkness and underground mood to the album. A swampy, lo-fi vibe creating a hypnotic and swirling sonic landscape with a vaguely disturbing mood that matches the album’s artwork of a struggling bull in a straight jacket. Fiona Harmon, the lead singer, has a voice that conjures up an intriguing crossover between Siouxsie Sioux, Dolores O’Riordan, and Cerys Matthews. Generally, the vocals are placed low in the mix and become a layer of texture within the music; an ethereal ambiance, like a sea washing against the shore. The band describe their sound as “a dark psychedelic funky train ride, experimental, apocalyptic and soulful with their roots in blues, jazz, reggae and the good bits of rock.”

Beast is a DIY approach to making albums. Only available as a download album through the band’s Bandcamp page, it is an indicator of the more accessible and modern way for bands to release and promote their music without the restricting, traditional expenses.

Hobo Chang

photo by Stuart Armitage; photo courtesy of Hobo Chang

The album is a dark, enveloping set of 10 songs. Not much light and shade within its tension, but I found it a fascinating listen and enjoyed the compelling journey of discovery. They have been getting many positive endorsements including musical poet John Cooper Clarke who said, “They’re a fantastic band, one of the great unsigned; I love them.”

You can catch the band live in the UK on the 28th May at Cosmic Puffin Festival or on 7th July at the 3 Wise Monkeys in Colchester. (Those are the dates currently listed on the “Gigs” page on Hobo Chang’s website; check back for others as they’re added.)

Single Review: Cain Rising – “Glasgow City Spires”

Cain Rising

photo by Matt Crawford; photo courtesy of Cain Rising

by James Morris, Contributing Blogger

Single Review of Cain Rising: “Glasgow City Spires”

Time was when you would sit down and listen to a whole album, be taken on a journey through carefully sequenced tracks and enjoy the music as the artist intended. Things have changed, and if I’m anything to go by, then Spotify, playlists, and pressing shuffle may well be the way we are consuming our music these days.

It’s a great convenience to be able to choose the album tracks you like, skip the ones you don’t and have all your favourite music randomly coming at you as a soundtrack to your daily life. I’m not sure as an artist myself, brought up on flipping between two sides of an album it’s how I want my own music picked through, but I have to accept, we live in a more transient, song by song world and maybe there is less point in making albums anymore, just singles.

Cain Rising - Glasgow City Spires

image courtesy of Cain Rising

So that is why it is a very smart approach from Cain Rising to be releasing a series of five singles before putting them all together on a CD EP in July. It’s clever because it lengthens the shelf life for the band’s new release from reviewers like myself and from the radio stations that can have a new track every couple of weeks to keep them interested. There is so much musical competition when you release an album of music. A new release doesn’t stay new very long these days, and it seems that everyone moves on to the next new thing whilst the last song is still fading from the speakers. Dropping one track at a time as singles certainly keeps you in the public ear for a longer period of time.

Starting this series of releases on May 1st, Cain Rising put out “Rear View Mirror,” which I reviewed and loved. Now they have followed that with the single “Glasgow City Spires,” out on 15th May.

This song is inspired, according to writer and band frontman “Southside” Jimmy, “by a hazy hungover Sunday morning walk along Glasgow’s Great Western Road and down through Kelvingrove Park.” The song illustratively portrays the drive and passion Jimmy has for his hometown and poignantly marks his twenty-five years from moving away from it with lines like: “The streets below my soles, they’re home to me/My hometown’s now a foreign land.”

Cain Rising

photo by Annie Price; photo courtesy of Cain Rising

“Glasgow City Spires” is rockier than “Rear View Mirror,” and with this gear shift you begin to discover the range of songs to come. This is trademark Cain Rising and it is worth noting that the band have been described by others as strong, engaging, original, and accomplished. All of these most definitely apply with, for my part, a large serving of joy, to boot.

A big part of what makes listening to Cain Rising so enjoyable is the sound they have achieved on the recordings. Enough time has been taken to ensure attention to detail but without losing the passion of performance. The band spent about 12 days recording five tracks at Echo Studios in Buckingham, UK. This EP and last year’s album were both produced by Jamie Masters, who seems to be able to get right inside the band’s sound and bring out the very best of the songs, arrangements and performance. As “Southside” Jimmy Price says, “He doesn’t just record the songs, he contributes to the arrangements, and his skills with the tools of his trade are unbelievable. He tunes in with the band so much it’s as scary as it is creative.”

The single kicks off with a short Badlands-Springsteen style drum intro and then greets you with the warm guitar snaps and organ swirls so familiar in the band’s style. This leads you into the verse where, by hanging on one chord for the first few lines, a great sense of suspense is created before breaking into the bridge and bouncing you into the driving chorus. The chorus, whilst not such an “earworm” as in “Rear View Mirror” with it’s “looking at you” hook, does offer an alternative delight. It’s thrilling when a song grabs you straight out the box but equally rewarding when one grows on you with each listen, allowing access to the depths within. This is such feel good music, brilliantly made. I think I’m going to play the CD loud in the car all summer long.

So while we all wait for that CD release, I hope, for now, this has whetted your appetite, and I’m looking forward to bringing you a full EP review once the remaining three tracks, “Walk My Way,” “Soldier,” and “Social Man” are released.

Check out my recent review of Cain Rising’s “Rear View Mirror” for more info on the band and their live dates.

Single Review: Cain Rising – “Rear View Mirror”

Cain Rising

photo by Annie Price; photo courtesy of Cain Rising

by James Morris, Contributing Blogger

Single Review of Cain Rising: “Rear View Mirror”

Cain Rising - Rear View Mirror

cover artwork by Julian O’Dell; image courtesy of Cain Rising

Let me start by saying that if you haven’t ever heard Cain Rising before, then you should first go explore their self-titled debut album from last year. Within its 11 tracks you will discover a familiar charm of classic-style American rock, delivered in a rootsy, down-to-earth way. You could easily mistake much of what you hear as coming from America’s heartlands with its mix of country, folk, and rock. Actually, what you have are a bunch of excellent musicians led by Southside Jimmy all from the UK but steeped in the influences of the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty or Bob Dylan.

Cain Rising

photo by Matt Crawford; photo courtesy of Cain Rising

The band was formed in 2014 by Jim Price with longtime collaborators and friends Jez and Jo Parry. The line-up on these new recordings includes guitarist Ian Hopper, Matt Crawford on Hammond and piano, and Mick Ivory on drums.

The new single, “Rear View Mirror,” follows seamlessly on from the last album but with even more swagger and confidence.

This is the first release of 5 songs all destined for an EP release in July. This first glimpse of what is to come introduces the new band line-up and the addition of some really infectious, bright and joyous brass. These musical elements couple perfectly with the great songwriting of Southside Jimmy, and the result is an excellent summery song following the theme of hitting the road and getting away from it all.

Cain Rising

photo by Matt Crawford; photo courtesy of Cain Rising

From the first strums of the uplifting intro, the introduction of the brass, and the full steam ahead approach, I was happily hooked. Seemingly effortlessly, the song led me quickly to the catchy chorus, which put me in mind of the driving type of thing Elvis Costello used to do on things like “I Can’t Stand Up For Falling Down.” Three minutes and eight seconds pass in the blink of an eye, and when it was done I found myself wanting to press play on it, over and over again.

Cain Rising

photo by Annie Price; photo courtesy of Cain Rising

If this is the quality of what is to come later in the summer with the release of the EP, then I have to say that I really don’t want to have to wait. Luckily for me the band are going to digitally release all 5 songs one at a time in the coming weeks before the final EP is available.

The 5-track EP will also include all out rocker “Glasgow City Spires”; “Walk My Way” – rock meets swing – with horns from Rebecca Gibson Swift and Pablo Mendelssohn; “Soldier” – highlights the band’s love of strong vocal harmony bands such as The Eagles & CSNY; and Social Man – a tense, raw and intimate country song.

Patience will be hard to find, but at least this drip feed approach will go some way to slake my appetite for Cain Rising’s excellent new releases.

Cain Rising

photo by Annie Price; photo courtesy of Cain Rising

“Rear View Mirror” is out now to download or stream. Further releases are due out between now and final EP release in July.

If you are in the UK, you can catch Cain Rising play live on July 2nd at Ampthill Festival, September 2nd at Catfest in Salford, or on October 21st at the Wheatsheaf in Leighton Buzzard.

Follow them on Twitter at @CainRising or visit their website at http://www.cainrising.rocks/.

Album Review: Nathaniel Land – My Destination’s You

Nathaniel Land

photo courtesy of Serge Media Group

by James Morris, Contributing Blogger

EP Review of Nathaniel Land: My Destination’s You

Nathaniel Land is a New York City singer and songwriter whose roots stem from a musical family – he’s a relative of Robert Hunter of Grateful Dead lore. His press info says that after years as a performing and studio guitarist, Nathaniel developed his songwriting craft under the tutelage of Nashville legend Hugh Prestwood at the New School. He says that he writes and arranges vibrant material in the mold of Max Kearney, Ryan Adams and David Gray.

“I am so excited to release My Destination’s You”, states Land. “The material represents a huge step forward for me on many levels.”

I am sure that every artist strives for progression from album to album. No one wants to get stuck in a groove, and yet it is important to keep the themes and styles familiar to your fans. I would say that this is achieved on this new release, which has extended on the earlier, vaguely R.E.M.-esque sounding album Make This World Our Own into this much more Americana experience. My Destination’s You is rather like Michael Stipe goes country.

Nathaniel Land - My Destination's You

image courtesy of Serge Media Group

The progression from the previous album brings us closer to something more reminiscent of an imagined 21st century James Taylor or Cat Stevens with a grounded Americana country vibe. Nathaniel has a rich, pleasant timbre to his voice, and the record is well-recorded with wholesome production, crisp acoustic guitar, and clean simple construction with just the right decisions being made about the instrumentation. This has been achieved with the studio talents of Chris Cubeta, who produced the album at Studio G, Williamsburg, New York City and Alex De Turk, who mastered it at Strange Weather Studios. All the songs on the album have been written by Nathaniel, and as he says, “The songs reflect my sincere desire to touch and inspire, to help people reflect on their own lives, and to open new possibilities of love and fulfillment.”

Opening track “Emily” quickly makes this desire a reality. There is a longing tone of a traveler’s remorse that colours the song with an identifiable resonance. On a personal level, I think that it can be an exposing method of songwriting. When you write, you can choose to hide behind the imagery you create or you can be intensely honest about your feelings. This is a revealing and open approach to writing and works well here set to a relaxed and syncopated acoustic groove.

“California Blue” is another travelling road trip of a song. Descriptive and easygoing with a rewarding sense of build, enhanced by its sprinkled subtle guitar parts. I can’t imagine anyone who likes this genre of music would not enjoy this; it does everything you would want it to.

Nathaniel Land

photo courtesy of Serge Media Group

There is a similar feeling of musical satisfaction on the next track, “Take Your Chances.” Once again, the swing of the track is perfectly achieved to draw you in, and the melodic acoustic approach combined with the universal message of taking your chances while you can is an appealing one.

I should say that, as the next track “Lonely Life” began, it struck me that, as well as the quality of the songs and production, I was also enjoying the sequencing of the track listing. One song effortlessly moved to the next and took you on the journey no doubt intended by the creators. “Lonely Life” is more uptempo and maybe the most contemporary country pop sound so far on the album. Like a soft Nickelback, and I could see it being the most radio friendly.

“Liar” is the penultimate song on this 6-track EP/album. This was the least penetrable one for me. It’s not that I didn’t like it, just that maybe I needed more listens of it to grow on me. There was a very ’80s sequencer synth part that made me slightly question if it fit with all the other songs as comfortably as maybe hoped. Verdict’s out, but I think in time I will like it, just not so much as the rest.

The release ends with the title track “My Destination’s You,” which rounds off everything very nicely and fulfills Nathaniel’s original desires to speak of love and possibilities in a sincere and inspiring way.

This release does indeed deliver Nathaniel to his hoped-for destination. There are a lot of people trying to make music in this genre, and so it takes something special to stand apart. I think Nathaniel has that, and so it’s not hard for me to encourage you, if you like good quality acoustic-based Americana pop, to go and buy his new record.

Land is currently planning a fundraising event in NYC (February 15th at Rockwood Music Hall) to benefit the Amani Children’s Home. When Land visited the Amani Children’s Home during his travels to Kilimanjaro, he became so inspired by the home he felt it necessary to provide visibility for this organisation through his music. Like his last album release, he has dedicated My Destination’s You to the Children of Amani, and all proceeds from music sales will be donated to the Amani Children’s Home in Karanga, Tanzania.

Album Review: Bethan Lees – Ships

Bethan Lees

photo courtesy of Bethan Lees

by James Morris, Contributing Blogger

EP Review of Bethan Lees: Ships

Back in September, you may have seen a review I did for the debut single release from UK singer-songwriter Bethan Lees. Time has flown by, and those warm post festival summer days seem like a distant memory as I sit here writing with the rain hammering down on a particularly cold November evening. But November is the month I have waited for if only to get my hands on the new Bethan Lees EP release, Ships, which is out 25th November on Folkstock Records.

If you remember, I was most impressed by what I heard when I listened to her first single “Post Festival Blues” and couldn’t wait to hear the rest of the EP. Well, now I can report that along with “Post Festival Blues,” the EP has 3 other gems on it. The title track “Ships,” the bluesy jazz sound of “Water and Wine,” and the haunting “Sleep.”

Bethan Lees - Ships

image courtesy of Folkstock Records

First and foremost you notice the voice. What a voice! Sometimes sweet and cheeky, and at others, ghostly and ethereal. A slightly husky, whispering tone comprised of such unique melodic tones that it makes the hairs stand up on the back of your neck. This is a young voice with a depth of maturity that at times seems to channel veteran blues or jazz singers from the past. It is unaffected and not forced, and this naturalness makes her such a pleasure to listen to.

There is a small arrangement for each song based around her guitar and voice. A little bit of drums and double bass, some eerie cello on her title track “Ships,” just enough to colour the songs. To be honest, I think they would have stood up on their own with just her voice and guitar, such is the strength of the material and performance. Maybe this would have brought out even more of the intimacy of her delivery; sometimes when she sings it is like a ghost whispering in your ear. That said, the EP is a great opportunity to hear the embryonic magic of what I believe Bethan will continue to produce.

She has a rare talent, and I believe from what I’ve heard so far she stands uniquely poised for some exciting times ahead.

On December 15th, she is launching her EP with a live performance at The Lamb Inn, Lewes, East Sussex. She is going to be joined by a few of her musical friends, and I would think it will be a fine evening to show off her talents playing tracks from the EP plus even more of her new material.

Catch up with her activity on Facebook or on Twitter.