Jeremy Parsons – Things I Need To Say

“Things I Need To Say” has Jeremy Parsons embark on a great journey, with a tender folk style informing the entirety of the album. Details matter a great detail from the tenderness of the fiddle to the reassuring vocals that grace every track. Best of all the entire album comes together as a great story, with each song yet another chapter. Lyrics emphasize the daunting demands that life often requires in order to truly excel. Opting for such a style the colorful rush of melody and rhythm further adds to the soothing nature.  Stylistically the pieces are rooted in folk, with elements of chamber pop, country, rock, and even the blues coming into a singular whole.

 

On “Makin’ Things Up As I Go” Jeremy Parsons starts the album on a high note, as the light sunny sound goes for a celebratory spirit. Much more introspective in nature is the gentle” Life”. A distinctly western twang with fine slide guitar frames the powerful “Circumstance”. Blues informs the swinging “Purpose”. Slowing things down into a languid pace the contemplative “Lisa’s Lost” goes through the sad events that unfortunately can take a prominent place in a person’s life. Light flourishes work wonders on the dreamy “After All These Years”. With an autumnal flavor “Things I Need To Say” serves as the highlight of the album, guided with a strong sense of honesty. Nicely bringing the album together is the delicate “Why Is The Bluebird Blue”.

 

Jeremy Parsons crafts an album with a unique vision, one that feels earnest, honest, and so real.

Nev Cottee – Broken Flowers

Made in Manchester, started in Made in Manchester, started in India and finished in Wales. Nev Cottee’s Broken Flowers – A deeply cinematic, string-soaked album rich in atmosphere and brooding ambience.

A Psychedelic rapture, resigned with reflection and widescreen atmospherics amidst tales of heartbreak, melancholy and troubles to come

 

Nev Cottee may hail from Manchester (his former band Proud Mary were the first signing to Noel Gallagher’s Sour Mash label) yet his heart and muse seem firmly attached to some outpost in the southern states of America, and the sun-kissed atmosphere and narcotically-enhanced mellifluousness of ‘Broken Flowers’ will have it taking pride of place in the more enterprising head’s collection. Something akin to a Ry Cooder platter enhanced by the production and arrangement nous of Air’s ‘Virgin Suicides’, ‘Broken Flowers’ is a thing of lazy majesty indeed.

Darlingside – Extralife

Darlingside first gained broad notice with 2015’s Birds Say. On that album, bassist Dave Senft, guitarist/banjoist Don Mitchell, violinist/mandolinist Auyon Mukharji, and cellist/guitarist Harris Paseltiner fused glorious vocal harmonies that evoked classic Beach Boys and Crosby, Still & Nash to a collection of songs that evoked a sometimes melancholy nostalgia. Follow up Extralife finds the band facing forward to address the troubled present and uncertainties of future via a unique impressionistic twist: they take the staid simile of life as a video game and ramp it full of apocalyptic anxiety to create something utterly fresh and revelatory.

Starting with the silly existentialism of Mario trapped in his own game, the concept of an “extra life” becomes irradiated with potential as the album progresses to reveal the darkness beneath the beauty of the band’s combined voices.” It’s over now,” they sing in the album opener, “The world has flattened down.” Envisioning a multi-leveled existence modeled upon a Mario Brothers or Donkey Kong world, God becomes the “Super conductor up in the sky” rewarding “Extralife”. It’s a surprisingly effective metaphor, these “Push-on clouds” that “reset the sky”, since eschatological apocalypse is not simply an ending; rather, it is a global cleansing so that the world may be reborn again anew.

Apocalyptic images dominate the album’s lyrics.We wait for the end like dinosaurs watching the meteor’s approach in “Singularity”: “Someday a shooting star is gonna shoot me down / Burn these high rises back into a ghost town.” In the beautiful, poetically framed “Hold Your Head Up High”, life is but a “let-go-of balloon”. Meanwhile “Bikini snow (a 1950’s-era euphemism for fallout from atomic bomb testing) burns like acetylene under our feet” as “Our future moment disappears” in “Futures” and, in a nod to Yeats’ “Second Coming” with its “rough beast slouching towards Bethlehem to be born”, we hear that “Something is waking on ‘Indian Orchard Road’.”

But, as with any truly apocalyptic vision, all the uncertainty, all the fear, all of the as-yet-to-come suffering is in the service of rebirth: prophecy of not just an end but a new beginning to follow. Even as we’re told of our disappearing “Futures”, we are reassured by a chorus of “it’s not ever too late.” “Eschaton” amplifies the video game metaphor with its electronic chirps and pulses, yet offers the millennial reassurance that “No matter what we’ve been / We are the upshot now.” Heavenly visions of Lindisfarne follow accompanied by equally angelic voices. Finally, we are reassured that “We are a long way from the best of the best of times”, a central component of any apocalyptic prophecy, the promise of a rapturous rebirth or bounty following a period of tribulation.

Mukharji describes the inspiration of the new album’s title and theme as “a life beyond where we are now, whether that’s a brand new thing, a rebirth, or just a new version of ourselves as we move forward.”Extralife is a record infused with apocalyptic dread, a collection of campfire sing-alongs for the end of days. As well, it’s an oddly beautiful record, comfortable in its unsettling contemplations and rapturous.

Crystal Shawanda – Voodoo Woman

 

Since her debut on both the Canadian and American country charts, it has been obvious that Crystal Shawanda could sing.

Recording largely formulistic, and at times bombastic, country-pop, Shawanda found limited success as a mainstream country singer, touring in support of Brad Paisley across Canada, for example, and ‘almost’ hitting the Country Top Twenty a decade ago with the rather ‘over the top’ emotionally-rife “You Can Let Go.” Still, Dawn of a New Day showed promise and—looking back—“My Roots Are Showing” hinted at the direction Shawanda would eventually follow.

Going the route of independence has proven artistically significant for Shawanda, who released a more personal set of music with Just Like You, but the album’s singles didn’t get significant traction at country radio. The album did garner Shawanda a well-deserved Juno Award as Best Aboriginal Album in 2013.

More recently, she has redefined herself as a blues-rock singer, and this seems to be the genre where she is most comfortable. The Whole World’s Got the Blues was a more than impressive collection of blues standards and original material, including the steaming, self-penned title track and “I’m Not Your Baby.” Revealing herself as an honest blues belter, Shawanda also remained true to her roots. Included on the album was the evocative and powerful rocker “Pray Sister Pray” as a call-to-action for the Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women of Canada.

Fish Out of Water continued Shawanda’s foray into southern blues sounds, with both title track and “When You Rise” showcasing her ability to get to the gritty roots of the music while “Laid Back” showed a softer, more satisfied and companionable side.

Voodoo Woman was released late in 2017, but is only now hitting radio. It is a one hell of a blues album, loaded with memorable vocal performances.

Recording a set of covers for the first time, Shawanda revisits the music that inspired her as a child growing up on Manitoulin Island. Influenced by her brother’s listening habits, the blues spoke to Shawanda—as they do to many of us—as unvarnished reflections of troubled lives.

Somewhat playfully, a hybrid of “Wang Dang Doodle” and “Smokestack Lightning” opens the album, but Shawanda hits her mark from the start. “I’ll Always Love You” previously appeared on The Whole World’s Got the Blues, and in this new rendition is as powerful as a heartfelt, blues ballad can be. Janis Joplin’s, via Big Mama Thornton, “Ball and Chain” is given a fiery arrangement, with a much appreciated extended saxophone break.

Etta James’ “I’d Rather Go Blind”—known to many as the melody for Chris Stapleton’s version of “Tennessee Whiskey”—is an undisputed showstopper, but so are most of these familiar numbers. Co-producer (with Shawanda) Dewayne Stobel, one believes, provides the lead guitar licks, and these are consistently impressive across the album, but maybe just a little more so on the rump-twitchin’ “Trouble” and closing “Blue Train/Smokestack Lightning Revisited.”

Personally, Shawanda’s version of “Misty Blue” is stellar. Written as a country song and a hit for both Wilma Burgessand Eddy Arnold (and later, again for Billie Jo Spears), Dorothy Moore’s 1976 version of the song was likely the first soul/R&B song I fell in love with: I’m discriminating in what I will accept when a singer comes back to this beautifully crafted song. Shawanda further demonstrates her vocal range on this number, pulling back the growl and grit to provide the song with the sensitivity and ‘wanting’ required. Truly masterful.

Voodoo Woman reveals Crystal Shawanda as a blues performer of significance. The musicianship is excellent, the production crisp. And, most importantly, Crystal Shawanda can sing. Give her another listen: you will be missing something important if you don’t.

Ciaran McMeeken – Ciaran McMeeken

Auckland-based singer songwriter Ciaran McMeeken’s debut full-length album is… a labour of love; the fruits of a worldwide journey of writing, reflection and musical collaborations during a European writing tour. Because of this – upon his return to New Zealand McMeeken was faced with the difficult task of deciding which tracks to include on this album, ensuring these tracks are the best of the best.

Having grown up in the depths of the South Island in the picturesque village of Arrowtown, when posed with the question of what he wanted to do with his life, McMeeken decided to follow his passion and turned his hand to music; a passion that is evident in his accomplished self-titled debut album. Having produced a handful of releases, beginning with his debut EP The Valley in 2014, and second EP Screaming Man in 2015, this is the first full-length release from McMeeken, and it quickly become apparent that the wait was worth it. Recorded at Auckland’s Roundhead Studios, McMeeken worked with a live band, and the results are a strong collection of twelve very polished songs that masterfully intertwine elements of rock, pop, jazz, blues, roots and soul with both ease and sophistication.

McMeeken’s voice brims with sincerity, honesty and strength. Opening track ‘My Kin’ is an upbeat roots/rock infused track that showcases not only McMeeken’s smooth vocals but also his acoustic guitar playing prowess. The second single from the album, That Feeling, was co-written in less than 20 minutes with renowned songwriter MoZilla (who has worked with the likes of pop superstars Ellie Goulding, Charlie Puth and One Direction). It’s a simple acoustic guitar and piano based track and is a smooth pop masterpiece full of romanticism while still remaining completely authentic.

Other standout tracks include ‘Al Capone’ (an upbeat swing/blues influenced track), and ‘Don’t Lie To Me’ (a beautiful blues rock ballad with a touch of r&b, which is at times reminiscent of John Mayer at his very best). It is easy to imagine this album being the perfect soundtrack for laid back summer days in the sun; an album that can be listened to time and time again and yet still remain new and fresh.