M&G reviewers listen to five new CD releases
Seaside B-Sides (Independent)
Singer/songwriter Aidan Cornhill’s Seaside B-Sides is probably not the sort of album you should be listening to when sitting in the bath snorting lines from Andrew Marvell’s The Definition of Love and contemplating the vagaries of entrusting your heart to someone else. Then again, it is also the perfect accompaniment to wallowing. This is a mournful album with an ear for beautiful melody and an eye for simple observations on that complicated thing called love.
With the album completed after Cornhill’s visit to Nashville Tennessee — three songs, Rations, To Forget and White Flag, were actually recorded and mixed by Eric Fritsch at Eastwood Studios in Nashville — the pervasive aesthetic on Seaside is American country shaded with alt-country.
The instrumentation is sparse yet evocative, with the use of the swooningly effective pedal steel, especially, tugging at the heart. Cornhill, previously a guitarist with the now defunct Deluxe, uses the acoustic guitar, harmonica, glockenspiel and his vocals effectively. He has also gathered around him some great musicians, including drummer Andy Turrell on steel pedal and Squeal mainstay Dave Birch on electric guitar, to colour in the spaces and mood.
Honey Don’t Leave is one of the more musically up-tempo offerings while Heart Man has the vocals and music moving through each other creating a polymorphous spell — such as that last, sweet time you say goodbye in bed. Braver Sooner has more hooks than a Kavadi festival, Mahatma Road has shades of the Bright Eyes and To Forget‘s use of backing vocals hints back to some of those classic country duets — if only there were more of that accentuation in the song. A contemplative, melodic gem of a debut album from a musician worth looking out for in future. — Niren Tolsi
Mystery EP (Independent)
Fresh back from their tour of America and their performances at the SXSW festival, Johannesburg’s psychedelic dub-rockers the BLK JKS return with a brand new EP recorded in New York’s famous Electric Lady Studios under the watchful eye of Secret Machines’ Brandon Curtis. The Mystery EP sees the band exploring more sonically experimental territory, which is best described as free jazz meets art rock.
The opening track, Mystery, is a reworking of the Carlos Garnett spiritual jazz stormer Mystery of Ages and while it retains some of the band’s original sound, production-wise it is off the hook. Curtis manages to capture some of the mayhem that is the BLK JKS live, which is something the band has struggled with in the past.
The second track is a reworking of the band’s debut single, Lakeside, that turns the atmospheric Afro-rock original into a stomping psychedelic swirl of pseudo drum’n’bass beats, tight reggae rhythm and distorted ambient guitar.
The EP is rounded off with two new songs It’s in Everything You’ll See, a hazy, almost LSD-induced freakout that really displays an as-yet-unseen side to this quartet, and Summertime, the most conventional track on the EP based on the band’s previous output. Wherever the BLK JKS are heading, it is clear that the journey has only just begun. Make sure you are along for the ride. — Lloyd Gedye
Shakey Is Good (Independent)
It has been more than two years since the last Jim Neversink album and so regulars at the band’s gigs will be quite familiar with most of these songs. But the sonic leap that this band has taken from the debut album to Shakey Is Good is quite remarkable. Like a crazed bunch of hoodlums fuelled by liquor and amphetamine, the Neversinkers tear through 13 tracks of hope, desolation and despair, or what lead singer Jim Neversink likes to call loserbilly.
Much of the credit has to go to producer Matthew Fink who also doubles as the band’s guitarist and accordion player. Fink has recorded these songs with exquisite detail, giving the intimate, slower songs such as Palace and Irish Setter the space they need to breathe, while giving bigger stompers like Monkey all the layers they require to turn them into great statements.
Band leader Jim Neversink is one of the finest songwriters in South Africa, illustrated by gems such as None of the Above, Jules Vern and Untitled 2. If punk-infused country rock is your thing, then this is the album for you. — LG
Andy Lund and the Mission Men
Soundtrack for a Muted Heart (Independent)
This is a confused album. It seems that Andy Lund can’t make up his mind if he’s writing an album of pop songs or a subtler, nuanced and Americana-styled album. The instrumentation and lyrics lean towards the later, but buried beneath this styling is a raging pop song, ready to bare its soul. Much of the material reminds me of the now defunct Durban band Deluxe.
While the songs are well developed and produced by Dirk Hugo, they feel sometimes as though they are being suffocated by the aesthetic boundaries Lund has set for himself. Maybe he needs to learn to embrace his poppy love-song persona more. Overall the album left me a little disappointed and I could not help feeling that an album that references Bruce Springsteen, Charles Bukowksi, Bill Hicks and Johnny Cash really should grow a little more hair on its chest. It is not crap; it is just not fully realised. — LG
Jah Kingdom (The Meditators Trading Company cc)
This six-piece (blowing up to as many as 10 when the brass section is in tow) paint the usual broad thematic brushstrokes related to reggae music on their debut album, Jah Kingdom. Songs such as Rastaman and Africa, Vuka highlight issues of pan-Africanism and post- or neo-colonial suffering, while Gimme Di Bes addresses unequal economic systems and poverty.
While the musicianship of vocalist and guitarist Shanti Bekwa, Thabani Hlela (bass) and drummer Nathi Mkize is jammingly good, this album really soars when the sax (Tom Hare), trombone (Duncan Woolridge) and trumpet (Michael Magner) come into the mix, adding fuller, groovier elements. Also, the songs in isiZulu really stand out more than those in English.
Perhaps the album’s biggest downfall is that it appears oblivious to some of the immediate realities and issues that could be addressed within its themes. More specific lyrical content and observations gleaned from this reggae band’s everyday encounters with an unequal South African reality would have lifted this album away from all that’s been sung about previously.
Regardless, this is a groovy offering to Jah from a band with immense potential. — NT