Sarah Mary Chadwick – Sugar Still Melts in the Rain

Multi-instrumentalist and visual artist Sarah Mary Chadwick is not a new face to Melbourne’s music community. After moving to Australia from her native New Zealand to pursue a career in music, Sarah spent a decade fronting the grunge band Batrider. Eventually becoming tired of the collaborative requirements intrinsic to band life, Sarah shifted her focus to songwriting independently, drawing inspiration from “weird old New Zealand musicians” like Peter Jefferies, Chris Knox, and Australia’s Pip Proud and the way they tinker away and work for decades for “little to no commercial success.” This inspiration is obvious in Sarah’s performance as she simultaneously savors and mocks the pedestal that her creativity affords her, acknowledging that “it’s a position of power being on a microphone” and how “it’s a desperate demand to be seen. It’s funny and really sad.”

To listen to Sarah’s music is to be a quiet observer to her thoughts on love, death and mental health. Sometimes this anguish bears itself in sullen, quiet moments, but more often torment manifests at the break of Sarah’s voice as she sing-shouts painfully vulnerable, self-aware lyrics. This is all front and center on Chadwick’s newest Sugar Still Melts In The Rain. From the album’s moody (though by SMC standards, uplifting) first track ‘Flow Over Me’ to its larger moments where Sarah cries ‘raise your glass to my health and to everyone going away’ in the title track, the album is undeniably committed to the uncomplicated, relying solely on piano, keys, bass and percussion. 

Learning that Sarah’s songwriting is thoroughly autobiographical is perhaps more unnerving than her artistic process of watching sexually charged movies to inspire her pornographic art. She drinks, she watches porn, she draws and she writes. When the blur of the evening fades, what remains is a colorful orgy on the page and Sarah’s recollections immortalized in ‘Wind Wool’, “oh no I’m losing memory, did we just piss away time? And does it matter anyway, I’ll die, you died, we die…”. To Sarah Mary Chadwick, all tragedy is comedy.

Sugar Still Melts In The Rain marks her first release for her new label Sinderlyn (home to Homeshake, Jaye Bartell and Tim Cohen). Having already released three solo records on Bedroom Suck, Siltbreeze and Rice Is Nice, this album is her 4th solo work. It was recorded and mixed by friend, musician and filmmaker Geoffrey O’Connor in Vanity Lair and Phaedra Studios in Melbourne. The album came together so quickly partly as a result of the duo’s commitment to efficiency and partly due to Sarah’s lack of attachment to the idea of “the perfect vocal take.” She knows she isn’t a virtuoso; tongue firmly in check, she is quick to reference those limitations mockingly. Yet, it’s within those boundaries that she thrives, disinterested in the perfect take in lieu of her best take – unique, somber and raw.

Emm Gryner – Only of Earth

Emm Gryner is known for her typical folk pop stylings. Her latest project has a little divergence from the norm. It   s a 3-part series known as Only of Earth. It will be accompanied by graphic novels and other literature to really set the scene of what Gryner is going for.

The project begins with Days of Games. It delivers a very different feel than what Gryner fans are used to. The inspiration comes from the birth of a child, the death of the iconic David Bowie, and the passing of Greg Lowe. All of these can be felt throughout the album. A former member of David Bowie   s band, Gryner goes for a style much more similar to his, using heavy rock guitar riffs, usually played by Greg Lowe, and adding a synthesizer to give it a more space adventure feel.  The guitar work fits in perfectly with the rock stylings of the    70s and    80s, in a form that would make Bowie proud.

Imagination    is the first single from the album and helps to remind the listener that this is a science fiction album. The whole album really tells a story, and it is in full swing by the time    A Mission    rolls around. It has a beautiful guitar intro that pairs perfectly with  Gryner   s voice. Lowe   s guitar work comes through though and provides for the serious tone of what Gryner is saying. He helps to establish the idea of the mission by showing his guitar work to add a dangerous factor, but it also feels triumphant. This means that the mission Gryner is singing about will be accomplished, though it may be difficult.

The Spark    begins with a powerful guitar solo that rolls right into a rock riff that can   t be easily forgotten. This song actually seems to feel a lot like    War Pigs    by Black Sabbath. It does so by splitting up lines in the verse with a heavy guitar part and impressive guitar soloing throughout. Gryner   s voice just adds to the feel of a powerful classic rock sound because of the reverb added to it.

Though Days of Games is a different take to what Gryner is usually putting out, it still has some legs to stand on. It escapes the folk genre completely, but it does a very good job as making an appearance as a rock album with a very classic vibe.

Rachael Sage – Myopia

Sonically, Myopia is a bold departure for Sage, with a much stronger emphasis on her guitar playing over her usual piano palette, with inventive contributions by Hoboken-based guitarist James Mastro (Patti Smith, Ian Hunter) who Sage affectionately calls “the king of wah.” Produced by Sage and her longtime engineer John Shyloski, Myopia was recorded last summer at Carriage House Studios in Stamford, CT as well as at Sage’s home studio in NYC’s East Village, and you can feel the swelter.

The heavily electronic “Haunted By Objects” – on which Sage plays Moog synthesizer – describes the psyche of a hoarder whose only potential recourse may be to set everything on fire, while “This Darkness”, a bluesy lamentation about the Dakota Pipeline, reflects the urgency and courage of Native Americans’ resistance to environmental desecration; the enemy in the dark is indifference, the iciest kind of blindness.

Sage – whose eclectic list of champions includes UK chart-topping legend Howard Jones, 60’s folk icon Judy Collins, and teen dance sensation Maddie Ziegler – possesses a creative outlook that seems perfectly in sync with the beginnings of Spring: “This is a warm-weather record. These are songs about getting out there, thawing things out, and unearthing the truth. Sometimes you can’t do that in the dead of winter. But when the sun is shining, even the murkiest future appears hopeful.”

Charlie Ballantine – Life Is Brief_ The Music of Bob Dylan

If life is brief, as the title at hand reminds us, one wonders how much of it to spend revisiting established territory. True, great songs have no expiration dates. The more iconic the source, though   especially one as legendary as Bob Dylan   the bigger the risk of getting lost among the hordes of players who   ve gone over the same ground already.

Thankfully, Charlie Ballantine wouldn   t merely do the obvious. Life Is Brief comes from a deep love for the songs, no ego or desire to ride others    coattails. Notice that the subtitle says Music Of rather than Songs Of. Here he removes most of the lyrics, usually the prime feature of Dylan   s writing, and looks for shades in the melodies themselves. That   s not a bad way to find a new angle on old subject.

A lush    The Times They Are A-Changin       establishes the approach to start: Ballantine   s backwards-toned slide guitar serves as lead voice while the familiar verses sandwich a dreamy improv passage in between. Almost each song is similarly treated as a malleable thing to be reworked. Listeners will sometimes hear the words in their heads anyway, but these arrangements change things up admirably. The basic accompaniment (drums and upright bass) is spiced up with a few dashes of organ, saxophone and a rare couple vocals in appropriate spots.

It also helps that Ballantine largely stays away from Dylan   s most overexposed tunes. Slow echoing chords and resonant bass give    The Death of Emmett Till    a dark haunting vibe without needing to spell out the actual tragic story. A couple other social/political-themed pieces likewise remain palpably emotional (and dismayingly relevant); with the likes of    Shelter from the Storm    and a lovely    She Belongs to Me,    simple love and sunshine are the order of the day instead.

Things actually get a bit jarring in the spots where someone does step up to the mike. Brandon Whyde brings some natural grit to the mid-set    Don   t Think Twice, It   s Alright    (almost a little too much, perhaps). He sounds even better on the cathartic closer      I Shall Be Released,    what else?   where he backs up Mina Keohane   s lovely lead, and the band coasts to an uplifting close buoyed by Ballantine   s fianc   Amanda Gardier on tenor sax. It   s a perfect capper to an enjoyable affair   familiar source material or not, Ballantine   s excellent string-slinging and this inviting album deserve not to be overlooked.

L.A. Salami – The City Of Bootmakers

London singer-songwriter Lookman Adekunle Salami doesn’t sing so much as ramble adventurously through treatises on the thorniest corners of human nature, from mental illness to the radicalism that leads to (and results from) terrorism, all the way back around to more mundane chronicles of everyday life. He loves to fill the air with words, but those words come freighted with big ideas and bold ambitions — and, at times, welcome jolts of noise.

On L.A. Salami‘s second album, The City of Bootmakers, his ideas have never been more grandiose, as the song titles announce upfront. “Terrorism (The ISIS Crisis)” tackles its subject point-blank, with a jaggedly blurted chorus to hammer home the intensity. “England Is Unwell” diagnoses and dissects the ills of his home country, while “Science + Buddhism = A Reality You Can Know” comes closer than you’d think to living up to the loftiness of its title.

It’s hard to pin down a genre with L.A. Salami’s music: “Folk” is the closest descriptor handy, but that doesn’t account for how thematically far-reaching it is, nor does it account for the notes of grimy aggression. Instead, Salami is best defined by his desire to take huge swings: to make messes, dip down side roads and grapple, eyes wide open, with the biggest picture possible.

Scott Matthew – Ode To Others

“It’s the first album I’ve written that’s not concerning romantic love. Even though there’s a sense of romance to it, but it’s not connected to my personal romantic love at all. It’s about people and places that aren’t concerning my immediate romantic pain”.

Scott Matthew laughs when he says this last sentence. He is laughing a lot in these days. It`s as if not only a weight has been lifted, but rather something new and beautiful in his life has also begun in his music. The pain may not have gone. But on Ode To Others it seems Scott has changed his point of view from the inside out.

“God, you must have had such a horrible life” most people might have thought of Scott, he says. “With the last album ‘This here Defeat’ I got really tired of showing that. I didn’t want this new album to be about that stuff. So I set about writing songs about different subjects. Odes to people that I love or admire, even fictitious people – and places that are in my heart. And that was really refreshing to me.”

The Public and the Private, the big things and the small things merge together within the lyrics he wrote for Ode To OthersWhere I Come From is the Ode to his father Ian, Cease And Desist is dedicated to his deceased uncle Paul and in Not Just Another Year he celebrates his best friend Michael, on the occasion of the anniversary of his relationship – which, cursed life – has meanwhile come to an end.

As he views these people, who mean a lot, sometimes even everything, he also broadens his outlook onto places from the past and the present.
Places like his Australian childhood (Flame Trees is a cover from the Australian band Cold Chisel); New York, where Scott has been living for 20 years now, meanwhile as an American citizen (The Sidewalks Of New York, a historic song originally written by J.W. Blake in the late 19th century) or the medieval, Portuguese village Santarém where he assures himself as a ecstatic wanderer his literal access to the world, „What I love most maybe glory lost / Or the sadness that’s sweet / Or the ones under our feet“.

Scott`s eye on the world is the one of a loving, of an admirer, but sometimes of a mourner too. For example The Wish is a song about the massacre in Orlando (June 12, 2016) when a single perpetrator invaded the Pulse club and shot 49 people dead, most of them members of the LGBT community. A few hours later Scott wrote the lyrics, expressing a sense of total powerlessness: „This is an assault against love / Still no-one helps, they just pray above / And I wish I could help / I wish I could have helped”.

However, paralyzing helplessness in the face of unbearable violence should not be the last word. This is clear with the beginning of the new album and the first Song End Of Days, an ode to the resistance and the resisting that, in this case, is directed against the policies of the current incumbent US President. Scott Matthew uses “we” for those who do not want to submit and accept. „We may be trembling with fear, it won’t hold us back / We ain’t going away / We’re gonna stay till the end of days“ . Love directs and fulfills this attitude.The narrator of this song does not want to encounter hatred with hatred, but with the universal power of love that never fades and lasts until the end of days.

None of his last five solo records is as diverse; as beautiful orchestrated and complex in arrangements as Ode To Others. This is the result of the collaboration with Scott’s live guitarist, co-writer and producer Jürgen Stark„I didn’t even know whether I liked my songs – before Jürgen came along and gave them all this personality and all this wonderfully intricate layering“.

He’s very proud of his new album Scott Matthew says: „I think it’s one of the best albums we’ve done so far, for a lot of reasons. The idea of minimalism wasn’t very prominent on this album. But it’s not bombastic to me. It’s still got intimacy, but also all this intricate layers. And in the end – all this history.”

One could think of the album Ode To Others as a musical new beginning of Scott Matthew. But that is not quite true. It is rather the result of a change of perspective. From one who looks out into the world of the present and the past and thereby discovers himself in a new way, as a loving, admiring, sometimes even as a contemptuous observer.

A look at the others can also be a look at yourself, as a view back could be also a view ahead.

Bishop Briggs – Church Of Scars

British singer-songwriter Bishop Briggs’s    River,    however, is the kind of song you might have heard sandwiched between Paula Cole’s    Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?    and the Spice Girls’s    Wannabe    on the radio in the late ’90s. The track’s mix of blues-rock and more contemporary elements   like handclaps that morph into trap snares   feels like a throwback to the alternative-pop bands that infiltrated Top 40 stations just before the turn of the century. And Briggs’s debut, Church of Scars, delivers in kind, with a series of gothic-soul dirges and blues-inflected pop.

The looped refrain on    River    sounds like it was lifted from Adele’s 25, an album that could have, in turn, used some of Briggs’s trip-hop edge. Church of Scars harnesses the soulful blues-pop that Adele has so deftly deployed on hits like    Rolling in the Deep.    Standouts    Wild Horses    and    Hallowed Ground    are defined by canned horns and reverb-drenched vocals, while the classic R&B tropes of    Lyin’    and    Hi-Lo (Hollow)    are juxtaposed by pitched-down and diced-up vocals, respectively.

Spread across 10 tracks, though, Briggs’s formula ultimately reveals itself to be one-note. The incessant box-stomping and earnest belting on    Dream    obliterates the subtlety of the song’s pensive acoustic guitar strains and gospel humming. For all its sermonizing and church-y fundamentals, the album is largely joyless.    Why can’t I let my demons lie?/Keep screaming into the pillow,    Briggs laments on    Wild Horses.    When, two-thirds of the way through Church of Scars, the singer cynically bemoans that    there’s more pain in love than we can find in hate,    her dour disposition has grown exhausting.

Morrison Kincannon – Beneath The Redwoods

Spacetalk is proud to reveal its most exciting release to date: a collection of long-lost recordings from forgotten Californian duo Morrison Kincannon, rescued from the dusty tape archives of the pair’s lead songwriter, Norman Morrison…

With only a handful of sought-after private press 7” singles to their name, Morrison Kincannon are all but unknown outside record collecting circles. Yet Norman Morrison and Terry Kincannon wrote and recorded some superb songs during the 1970s and early ‘80s, desperately hoping for the break that would see them released on vinyl. Now, at last, their time has finally come. Morrison and Kincannon first started working together as teenagers almost 50 years ago. Every Saturday, they would get together to jam and write songs. This led to recording sessions at a friendly studio in San Francisco and a management and publishing deal with Manny Greenhill, a man who had previously nurtured the careers of Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. Sadly, their hoped-for-success never came, and by the early 1980s both members had re-focused on work and family. As the years rolled by, their original multi-track recordings lay idle in Morrison’s loft, seemingly never to be released.

All that changed when Morrison received an email from Spacetalk Records two years ago, asking about the possibility of reissuing “To See One Eagle Fly”, the B-side to one of their 7” singles that has long been a favourite of label co-founder Danny McLewin. Once a deal had been done, Morrison mentioned that he had hours of unissued recordings in his loft; a treasure trove of ultra-rare multi-track master tapes that could be freshly mixed and mastered for release. When the Spacetalk Records’ team finally got a chance to listen, they were astonished by the timeless quality of the songs. Put simply, they just had to be released.

The resultant album is a stunning set: an intoxicating glimpse into the world of two previously unheralded master songwriters whose musical vision encapsulates all that was good about Californian music during the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. Rooted in the American folk revival and folk-rock movement of the late ‘60s, the album’s 15 thoughtful, heartfelt songs are laden with sly nods to the likes of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Ned Doheny, Michael Deacon, Cy Timmons, Gene Clark and Buffalo Springfield. The tracks were recorded at various times between 1970 and ’82 and gives a small glimpse of the duo’s total body of unissued work. The release comes with extensive liner notes telling the remarkable story of two lifelong friends and musical collaborators who thought their moment had passed.

Abe Partridge – Cotton Fields and Blood for Days

Every now and again an album comes along that absolutely blows me away and I can   t wait to share it with you out there in Internetland      and this album from Alabama singer-songwriter Abe Partridge is one such.

It was the stark opening track Colors that initially caught my attention; with Partridge sounding like a prodigy of Townes, Guy and Rodney the way his lyrics poetically twist and turn via a grizzled and lived in voice over a jagged acoustic guitar and  a cello or violin.
It was only on the third time I listened to track #2 Ride Willie, Ride that I actually realised that it was a love song from a songwriter to Willie Nelson; and the actual title is Ride Willie Ride (Or Thoughts I Had While Contemplating Both the Metaphysical Nature of Willie Nelson and His Harassment By The Internal Revenue Service) and boy; is the world a better place for this song being in it!
Just as I thought I had a handle on where Partridge was coming from track #3 I Wish I Was a Punk Rocker turned everything upside down. Who among us can resist a dirty electric guitar intro followed by the opening lines    Put on my black steel toes/and my free jacket from Goodwill/Gonna get me some dark sunglasses just like Dylan used to wear/ gonna go to my barber and tell him/won   t you do me the wildest of hair   ? That   s not even the best bit; but I will leave you intrigued enough to buy the album and hear it yourself.
Like the very best of his ilk Partridge is no    one trick pony    as that last song proves; but it   s his haunting acoustic ballads about his home town Out of Alabama Blues and The Ghosts of Mobile that make him stand out from his contempories and peers; and not just because he sounds like every single word comes from the darkest recesses of his worn out heart.

 

Choosing a favourite here hasn   t been easy; even before I actually heard it I hoped Our Babies Will Never Grow Up To Be Astronauts would live up to the title; and it does with ease; and it was a similar gut wrenching feeling I had with Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down; and hearing him channel his inner RL Burnside had me slapping the steering wheel with delight when I heard it that first cold morning.
But; and it   s eventually become an easy choice; Prison Tattoos is even better than I   d ever dared hope for from reading the title on the sleeve. This could easily be a lost Townes Van Zandt or Jim White song remixed by Nick Cave as the layers of choppy electric guitars and piano are played without the aid of a safety net as Partridge   s grizzled and Demonic voice purr out a delightfully dark tale.
WOW      .I love my job on days I discover diamonds like Abe Partridge; and you are welcome to fall in love with him too; there   s plenty here for everyone.

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.