>Christmas, Leeks and Sheep

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I’m afraid the White Stripes obituary has sapped my typing strength so I’m not offering a lengthy album review but highly recommend the new Decemberists album. They have made the wise move of getting the wonderful Gillian Welch on board and her vocal compliments Meloy perfectly to create a country sound which reminds me of Heartbreaker (unsurprisingly given the Welch connection) and Cassadega. There is possibly a hint of REM too – if not in the style of music but Meloy’s vocal does have a touch of Stipe in places. (more…)

Published in: on 05/02/2011 at 12:46 pm  Leave a Comment  

>Ladies’ Night

>Friday night:

I’m sat here after a long week, enjoying the absolutely fantastic KT Tunstall album ‘Tiger Suit’.

This is my third listen to the new album and the highest praise I can give it is it just made ironing shirts actually bearable. In all seriousness this is a far better album than I was expecting – Tunstall is established as a talented song-writer but what truly surprises on this album is her confidence to use this as a base for experimentation. I have read the album described as taking a dance-oriented direction; ‘nature techno’ apparently. At times undoubtedly there is a hint of Pet Shop Boys (Lost) but it is misleading and frankly unfair to dismiss Tiger Suit as some kind of pet dance project. I found myself making links to Kings of Leon and even INXS on occasion yet the country, acoustic staple of Tunstall still has plenty of input. A huge amount of credit must go to Jim Abbiss the producer (of Arctic Monkeys and Editors debut album fame) who matches Tunstall’s ambition and delivers a glorious, fuller sound that raises the bar. It is honestly one of the best albums I have heard this year and urge you all to buy it.

Eight out of Ten.

Saturday morning

So given my eulogising over KT it seems only right that I look to sort of meet Turner’s request for a focus on the greatest female singer-songwriter. I say sort-of because quite frankly I don’t feel able or particularly inclined to make that decision. It would lead me down a well trodden path of mining history and most likely ending up in a face off between Billie Holiday and Joni Mitchell. Instead I’m going to pick out a handful of female artists I rate highly, tell you why and let you see/hear a bit of them in action:

Bjork

Probably my favourite of the lot, an artist guaranteed to divide opinion. I liked Bjork right from the first time I saw her as a young whippersnapper finding her incredibly interesting and unconventionally highly attractive. I accept that physical appearance shouldn’t come into views on a musical artist but as a hormone driven teenager it was a major factor. I even bought Echobelly and Elastica albums in the futile hope that in some way this might push me closer to my britpop dream romance. Anyway I digress; the majesty of Bjork is that she has always sought to challenge the conventional without ever losing sight of the fundamentals of crafting a song. Her greatest asset of course is her voice and this never more evident than on her interpretations of classic Icelandic folk music like the gorgeous Gling-Glo. Her finest work for me has to be Hyperballad – the way the ominous music builds the tension and perfectly matches the imagery of the lyrics before unleasing a hit of pure emotion is simply glorious. Bjork also bears similarity with Ryan Adams and Gnarls Barkley in her flat refusal to simply reproduce the album mix in live performance, instead experimenting with new approaches often infusing different cultures.

Jenny Lewis

Unlike Bjork, Jenny Lewis of Rilo Kiley has yet really to become more well known as a solo artist as in her work with a band. However I genuinely think it is only a matter of time. I really like Rilo Kiley but since the fantastic More Adventurous the solo projects of Lewis have been far more interesting and memorable than anything produced as a band. The most notable, and in my view most enjoyable, off shoot has been her gospel tinged collaboration with The Watson Twins. The style of music really suited Lewis’ songwriting style as it laid bare her vocal and gave her lyrics a new clarity which highlighted her gift for story-telling. Although dramatically different in musical direction her writing style reminds me of Richmond Fontaine in the way she creates a scenario that feels too real to be fiction.  Her other solo work includes the lively Americana ‘Acid tongue’ of which Elvis Costello was a contributor. For me undoubtedly her finest moment is the majestic ‘Rise up with fists’ which is one of the finest songs of the last decade.

Cathy Davey

You would be forgiven for thinking ‘who?’ Back in the days of being a carefree student going to gigs on my Leeds doorstep I went to see ‘Thirteen Senses’ and Davey was the support act. Talk about hitting the jackpot – she was absolutely mesmeric as she effortless switched between sultry and veangeful showing off a repertoire of songs which made a mockery of only having released one EP at that point. She has since produced three albums – the best of which in my view being her debut Something Ilk. The pounding drums which open the barnstorming Come Over are an unmistakeable declaration of intent and would be a worthy pick of the bunch were it not for the brilliant ‘Cold Man’s Nightmare’ which is the closest anyone has come to explaining the infuriating case of lovely girl being treated like shit yet staying around. Davey’s voice is remarkable without being overpowering and this is beautifully showcased in the clip I found of her covering Arthur Hamilton’s Cry Me a River. It is criminal she hasn’t received the levels of press that the equally brilliant Laura Marling has enjoyed.

I could happily go on with this all day but alas duties call. I could for example have waxed lyrical about the unexpected excellence of the debut album of Natalie Imbruglia (seriously!), the sensual brilliance of Melody Gardot, or the brash anarchic joy of MIA. However I will leave you with three performances from three magnificent, enduring female performers:

And this one is specifically for Mr Turner…