Sunday, 21 June 2009

Million Star Hotel - Jeffrey Dean Foster

Getting on for four years since I first heard this. Still as magical and arresting, still hidden, still waiting to be discovered.

"Million Star Hotel is like a multi-faced diamond reflecting light into a hall of mirrors. A classic pop album from North Carolina that unashamedly mines past glories. Made by someone whose teenage years were spent in the 70s in cars with radios. You hear late Beach Boys, Neil Young, Bolan, and of a time when music and romance were inextricably mingled.

Put together over a number of years, it comprises 14 songs and nearly 70 minutes. Adventurous well-made songs illuminated by those million stars but created like sculptures, with always something more. Always another teasing little sound in the corner.

Lynn Blakey, Don Dixon and Chris Phillips help out. Mitch Easter plays guitar and co-produces, but it’s Foster’s album. His strengths define it. His warm tenor voice is always entrancing. He writes a memorable lyric: “she bet on a bobtail loser”. He takes classic lines and makes them new; we know where titles like ‘Long Gone Sailor’ and ‘All I Do Is Dream’ come from.

The start is a gentle ambience and a whisper that grows into the tale of a ‘Lily Of The Highway’. The major motifs are all here: girls, cars, growth, loss. Its variance is the promise of what’s to follow, redeemed by ‘The Summer Of The Son Of Sam’. 1977, when Elvis and Skynyrd both fell to earth. Over six minutes the song rises, from a quiet meditative night with cicadas, into an epic.

Memorable moments persist; ‘Little Priest’ begins like glam rock, and becomes a California surf ballad. ‘Don’t Listen To Me’ channels Danny Whitten. ‘Long Gone Sailor’ seems part-written under the influence of Holland. Yet every second of this remarkable album cries out to be listened to. Everything here does its part; these songs will never let the careful listener down. Always they’ll inspire, and always they’ll reward."

Rock'n'Reel 2007


Friday, 19 June 2009

What's Kickin' Vol 4

It's that tine again. Another compilation, out on Stove Pony, from the East London combination of What's Cookin' and Mule Freedom. I've had the CD for a couple of weeks and I think it' possibly the best so far.

From the alt.ska of Smokey Angle Shades' 'Don't Leave Me' to the magical 'Mildsensations' from The Mild Sensations nineteen tracks later it's all strong stuff. There's our old buddy, Barracuda, and Bucketfull scribe Jeremy Gluck with 'Buried Not Dead', The Ugly Guys, with former Kursaals Paul Shuttleworth and Vic Collins on board, and Graham Larkbey with his splendid neo-pub rock revisiting the glory days of Ducks Deluxe and the late-70s Groovies.

Then there's 'Mercy II', an as-yet unreleased track from everyone's current faves The Wolf People, and 'If Your Lips Move You're Lying' from Matt Hill aka Quiet Loner. Not to mention Stove Pony's own Lucky Strikes with 'Morning Light' from their just-released The Chronicles Of Solomon Quick album.

Wednesday night there was a launch party over at the Sheepwalk in Leytonstone. Eight of the artistes did short sets in the packed and sweltering upstairs room.

The bluegrass trio Ghost Town Showdown kicked off showcasing their murder ballad 'Little Glass Of Wine'; the tale of a particularly disastrous fit of pique and its aftermath. Matt Hill then hushed the room with 'Get Me Johnny Cash On The Phone', and then had everyone laughing at 'Lips Move, as witty as John Wesley Harding we thought.

Andrew Mueller then played 'Do You Have A Sister?', one of the stand-outs on the album but a little diminished sans band. Lance Baldock of Cusack and Matt Boulter turned out to be The Midsensations and their beautiful instrumental sounded just as fine live as it does on the record.

Then a little vignette, and probably the set of the night, from Graham Larkbey And The Escape Committee. Their ‘Won’t Wait Forever For You’ took us straight back to 1978 and closing your eyes you could almost conjure Chris and Cyril. The Henry Brothers recalled radio hours of yesteryear with their dead-accurate and ever-enjoyable Louvin/Stanley Brothers invocations. Dan Raza did a speedy solo slot, and then Smokey Angle Shades ended up the proceedings with a slightly longer set. I guess after carrying their piano upstairs Stephen was going to get his money's worth out of them.

Some good nights coming up there soon too. Wolf People on July 1st and Barry Melton on 16th.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Hungry Dog Brand & Will Scott at the 12 Bar Club

Sunday night took me to the 12 Bar Club to catch a couple of bands put on by Martin Dowsing. Martin,of course, performs as The Hungry Dog Brand, and has been putting on eclectic nights at venues all over London for a few years now.

A few months ago he spent some time in New York and played as the guest of Will Scott and tonight he was returning the favour. Scott hails from Indiana but is now based in Brooklyn and some mean guitar. His set featured a mix of originals and readings deep in the tradition but lively and innovative. A couple of Son House tunes, 'Preachin' Blues' and Grinnin' In My Face', 'See That My Grave Is Kept Clean'(on which he was joined by Jan Bell), and his own 'Stain Lifter'. “Living proof that white men can play the blues” said Mr H Dog.

He was followed by the latest incarnation of The Hungry Dog Brand. Since I last saw them they've found a fine young guitarist in AJ Dehany who was set up stage right with a fair array of pedals and effects that he wasn't shy of using; he looks like a fellow worth pursuing in his own right. A mixture of songs - 'Leprosy' and 'Say Hello To My Idiot Son' from 2007's Boy Meets Dog album - and 'Stranger On The Third Floor' and 'The Old Ghost Train' from more recent times. It was good to see Martin still retains his raw edge; no-one's ever going to find him easy listening but why would they want to. mental note made to catch another gig soon.

(Did see that he's scheduled to play the 12 Bar Club's Phil Ochs tribute night on 16th September.Put that in your diary.)