Filed under: album, back issues, review | Tags: bebel gilberto, holly golightly, katiejane garside, keith anderson, lesley gore, mary gauthier, patty griffin, rod thomas, sara silver, sean hudspeth, the go team, thea gilmore, trevor raggatt
The following reviews were published on our old MySpace blog in 2007.
Darling, they’ve found the body: an exhibition ••••
Woom Gallery, Birmingham
For those of you who have followed her from the early days of Daisy Chainsaw through to her current band, Queenadreena, Katiejane Garside’s debut art exhibition, ‘Darling, they’ve found the body’ is not to be missed. Currently on display at Woom in Birmingham’s famous Jewellery Quarter, ‘Darling…’ presents a whole new side to one of rock music’s most underrated frontwomen. Despite already boasting an enviable array of talents, Garside recently decided to throw her hat into the ring of the art world. Having often been the source of great speculation and controversy in the media, she has always seemed enigmatic, eccentric, and, according to her more cynical critics, utterly mad. ‘Darling…’ offers the chance to learn more about what makes Garside tick and what has propelled her this far into what has been a fascinating career to date.
Firstly, if you’re planning on going, there is the issue of getting to the venue. Unless you’re familiar with the city, it can be a long and confusing walk to the exhibition, so I recommend that you take a taxi or train there. The distance from Birmingham New Street Station and Woom is reasonable, so a taxi should not cost any more than four to five pounds, and is the quickest option by far. You will find it next to the jewellery college in Vittoria Street, where you are given a friendly greeting by the owners upon entry. Admission is free, but they have a wide selection of related merchandise at agreeable prices at the front desk should you wish to have something to remember your visit by.
Coming to the first room of the exhibition, you are immediately greeted with facets of Garside’s life and mind, hanging from every wall, in every corner, as clips from her recent solo musical project Lalleshwari play in the background. Although it’s not overwhelming, you immediately realise that you are seeing a sizeable part of Garside’s personal life laid wide open for others to see. At first it feels slightly voyeuristic but you soon become accustomed to it, knowing that she would not display these things if she didn’t want people to see.
Among the first things you will notice as you get your bearings are the displays on the walls of letters, bills, journal entries on old, torn paper and negatives, home-made dresses displayed on surreal mannequins, personal effects arranged in a fireplace, along tables or suspended from the ceiling. She has added to most of the letters with sentences and sketches and self-portraits, showing an impressive and seldom-seen skill for drawing; artefacts in display cases, the most memorable being an old set of scales to which she has stuck taxidermied butterflies, one for each year of her life so far. You’ll see photographs both large and small, depicting her in the middle of various moments, some more directly artistic, some candid, each showing subtle glimpses into her private world, past and present; polaroids of her daubing walls with verse in red paint, posing with shop mannequins, some of her in her kitchen or bathroom, blown up to a larger scale – the latter with Garside as nature intended, a mask being the only exception to her nakedness. There is a definite sexual element to them, and the exhibition as a whole, but it’s not to make you uneasy. This is Garside being as open and honest as she wants to be. She is somehow simultaneously androgynous and feminine, exuding the aura of one eternally young and pretty.
The videos – one for the exhibition itself and the other a promotional clip for her forthcoming album Ruby Throat – sit at the very end of the exhibition. The first is very much a dark, surreal affair that’s centred on a pair of ‘dreamdolls’ she created: Genica Pussywillow and Sleeplikewolves. It’s hard to describe and do justice – watch very carefully and you’ll understand what I mean. The Ruby Throat promo, meanwhile, exudes a different kind of mystery and peculiar fragility as Garside moves like a grown-up ragdoll in an overgrown plant-strewn midnight garden, inviting you to come out and play alongside her.
All of these things, though separate little works in their own right, come together to form a window. A window that Garside has put together to allow us to see a little of her world, and, whether or not it was her intention, see that she is as human as any of us. You will walk away feeling you have got to know her, the real her, a little better.
Between Daylight & Dark ••••
There couldn’t be a more apt title for this fifth release from Louisiana-born singer-songwriter Mary Gauthier. It’s plain from a cursory listen that the human dramas set out in these songs inhabit that moral and emotional twilight of the soul implied by the four words – Between Daylight & Dark. Gauthier (for the uninitiated that’s pronounced go-shay – no stripy-shirted Gallic fashion pixies here!) and her music are polar extremes to the mullets and Stetsons country of CMT. Not for nothing has her output been labelled ‘country-noir’. Each tune is a small window on a real life full of hope and pain, dignity and disappointment.
If this all sounds a little dour and depressing don’t be fooled. This might not be your average party music but sit tight and be rewarded with an authentic emotional experience. Recorded live in the studio with minimal overdubs it’s the passion of Gauthier’s performance that shines through each rootsy track, producing a surprisingly uplifting and energising result – particularly considering some of the subject matter.
Closing track ‘Thanksgiving’ is a case in point. A story of visiting relatives in prison on that most family-centred of US holidays it is filed with conflicted poignancy and insight into the dignity of the human soul. Gauthier is quoted as saying “It’s absolutely about the words.” With lines like “My Grammy looks so old now… / her hands tremble when they frisk her from head to her toes / they make her take her winter coat off and then they frisk her again / when they’re done she wipes their touch off her dress, stands tall and heads in”, who would dare to argue?
Between Daylight & Dark is the very definition of a grower. A little difficult to like at first listen, but impossible not to love in time.
Given the principles of nature and nurture it’s understandable that Bebel Gilberto, youngest member of the Gilberto bossa nova dynasty, has a remarkable voice. Whether that statement is applied literally to her seductively silky vocals or figuratively to her music’s unique blending of trad-Latin rhythms with chillout pop sensibility, it’s no less true. Bebel Gilberto has a remarkable voice.
On Momento, her third solo album, Gilberto looks set to cement her place at the leading edge of contemporary flavoured Latin music. The opening track sets the agenda in the clearest terms. This isn’t the Rio de Janeiro of carnival – rather the sounds conjure up a reverie composed of a heady mix of laidback Brazilian fragrances. This is a tranquil moment(o) sitting atop the summit of the Sugar Loaf Mountain, soaking in the view of the city nestling amid the forests with a golden beach arcing away into the distance. Or perhaps it’s a late afternoon resting on that same strand before wandering into a sophisticated nightclub where the beautiful people slink the night away. The hints of odd electronic noises layered amongst the music only serve to further heighten this otherworldly dreamscape. Blissful!
So intoxicating is this Brazilian cocktail that it’s hard to believe that large parts of the disc were recorded in New York and London with avowedly Western producer Guy Sigsworth’s fingers on the faders. Still, the music here is 100% Brazilian and 100% designed for the supposedly more sophisticated palate of the Northern Hemisphere. Perhaps the wisdom of involving her regular band members alongside Sigsworth’s swirling keyboards was the masterstroke needed to lend the required authenticity and consistency in Latin feel and sound. Whatever the reasons, it works in spades.
The original compositions are blended with three inspired covers, ‘Caçada’ (written by Gilberto’s uncle and famed Brazilian songwriter Chico Barque), ‘Tranquilo’ (by the young Rio-based producer Kassin) and finally the Cole Porter classic ‘Night & Day’. This latter track takes on a particularly languid bossa nova feel as Gilberto’s voice is supported by simple acoustic guitar and percussion before opening out into a smokier jazz club feel. This, of course, is one of the few English language tracks, but so captivating are the performances across the album that the Portuguese lyrics on the majority of songs go unnoticed. Somehow, sinking into the warm arms of Momento we know Gilberto’s seductive meaning all too well.
The Threads EP ••••
Gilmore’s second EP comes six years after the brilliant As If and is her first release since the birth of her son Egan last November. Originally available exclusively from the merchandise desk during her acoustic tour this past Spring, a limited run of The Threads is now available to purchase from http://www.theagilmore.net. And the good news is that it’s more than just a half-hearted collection of acoustic demos or dubious outtakes from her last album proper. The distorted opening chords of ‘Teacher Teacher’ dispel both assumptions as electric guitar adds some bite.
This is clearly not acoustic and it’s much more English sounding than 2006’s Americana flavoured Harpo’s Ghost; it feels like something from the Avalanche sessions, perhaps a bit less glossy. ‘Are You Ready?’ continues this feel with one of those strangely compelling, hypnotic choruses that Thea writes so well, perfectly offset by Nigel Stonier’s swirling guitar and counterpoint vocals. With its typically politicised lyrical bent it’s pretty much a classic Gilmore tune.
The sumptuous ‘Icarus Wind’ brings the mood right down as Gilmore turns her gaze inwards with perhaps her most tender composition to date. She sounds suddenly vulnerable and emotionally raw, picking out a sparse piano motif and singing slightly higher than usual. It’s a trick that worked so well for PJ Harvey recently and Gilmore is almost as convincingly ghostlike. The EP draws to a close with 18th Century traditional Irish ballad, ‘The Parting Glass’, again delivered nigh on perfectly with subtle guitar textures and Gilmore’s intimately rendered vocal. A church-like ambience adds a welcome tenderness as she creates a holy moment of rejoicing in present company and a remembrance of friends past. Truly gorgeous stuff.
Like As If before it, The Threads EP is a more than worthy addition to Gilmore’s already thoroughly impressive canon. And with no plans to ever re-press it once the first limited run is gone, our advice is to grab a copy now or be forced into an eBay bidding frenzy later when you realise you really need this disc. You have been warned.
The Go! Team
Proof Of Youth ••
Energetic, noisy and hard to ignore, The Go! Team certainly made a name for themselves the first time around. Beginning as the kitchen project of founding member Ian Parton (clearly far too cool for a bedroom project like many others made by one man with no budget) in his mum’s house, their 2004 debut Thunder, Lightning, Strike went from being an underground and critical favourite to a Mercury Music Prize nominee through the unbeatable power of word of mouth (albeit with flirtations with major labels along the way). Endless touring, numerous festival appearances and a clutch of EPs later, Parton and his troop of multi-instrumentalists greet us with their second full-length offering Proof Of Youth. Unfortunately, the title is the only thing of any vigour or freshness about the album. What’s the difference between this and their debut? Um, very little…really. Proof Of Youth follows the blueprint of Thunder, Lightning, Strike almost step by step, but forgets to bring the spark.
Lead single ‘Grip Like A Vice’ is a perfect illustration of what’s gone wrong. Where The Go! Team used to excel at mixing well chosen samples and live instrumentation, here it sounds more like they have sampled their previous record than anyone else’s. Exactly the same guitar sounds float above identical brass and drum loops, everything seemingly sticking to an if-it-ain’t-broke blueprint until even the vocal raps over the top appear identical in tone and arrangement. A weak comeback single that fails to get into gear paves the way for a similarly limp and soulless album. The Avalanches, whose debut album received huge critical and public acclaim, had the sense to leave their cut-and-paste musical efforts confined to one cherished album, presumably because they recognised the limitations of a fun, but ultimately constricting format. By constructing album number two in the same fashion as their last, The Go! Team have left little room for experimentation and have made a record that is, by all accounts, alright, but utterly pointless.
That’s not to say it’s unpleasant as such; ‘The Wrath Of Marcie’ is a sweet track, possibly the album’s highlight, but it’s really only ‘Feelgood By Numbers’ part two. Or part one, but rehashed. There is little shift in the album’s tone from start to finish, and at this point in time, the lo-fi production values and slightly too trebly EQ balance begin to grate. Lots of artists and outfits have done this now, particularly in the three years between Thunder, Lightning, Strike‘s release, re-release and succession. If Parton et al. wanted to repeat the tone of their earlier work, the songwriting should have at least moved on, but it hasn’t, and even at it’s strongest Proof Of Youth falls flat.
It is less a proof of youth than an admission of immaturity. The Go! Team are still stuck in their career of three years ago, and the only thing really ‘young’ here is the level of craftsmanship as the songs are ultimately hollow, lacking either direction or development. Very disappointing.
Holly Golightly & The Brokeoffs
You Can’t Buy A Gun When You’re Crying ••••½
Holly Golightly is a true, if underappreciated, icon of women in music, having co-founded the all-girl garage band Thee Headcoatees in the early ‘90s (associated with Thee Headcoats and the twisted lyrical world of Billy Childish), and, 13 solo studio albums later, is still producing gems under her own terms. But who the hell are The Brokeoffs? Why they’re essentially an ever-revolving band of musicians orbiting around one man, the mysteriously titled Lawyer Dave (real name David Drake, or weren’t we supposed to know that?), whose self-released 2005 album Rest Stop marked out a natural collaborator for Ms Golightly – an exquisite piece of musical matchmaking.
Much of Golightly’s riotous appeal lies in that she recognises the beauty of blues and rockabilly is that the most important aspect is conveying the essence of borrowed musical roots, not playing it to perfection or being to the manner born. On You Can’t Buy A Gun When You’re Crying she invites us all to enter her echo-filled room, kick the boxes, tap on every available saucepan and pot and away we go with ‘Devil Do’, a hypnotic chant to that ol’ horndog Satan. But make sure you listen all the way through as you kick off your shoes to companion piece and closer ‘Devil Don’t’, a slice of sheer abandon to shambolic sonic joy.
Along the way you’ll go ‘Just Around The Bend’ as the madame sashays around the saloon with a light fatigue dogging her heels and a tinge of 1930s cabaret chic. Your journeywoman will then lead you through a land of whiskey slouches where ‘Everything You Touch’ pays close heed to the sound of Exene Cervenka (former wife of ‘Lord Of The Rings’ actor Viggo Mortenson) from The Knitters, X and, more recently, the Original Sinners, with lashings of slide guitar and lilting atmosphere. A run-in with the cops will reiterate the album title (apparently a genuine law in the USA) but it won’t matter as the song just oozes country cool with its pervading loved and lost scenarios so brilliantly described in the lyrics.
Elsewhere, ‘So Long’ is finger-pickin’ good with meandering sad lyrics sung as a duet, while ‘Time To Go’ maintains the same atmosphere with a train-like chugging rhythm. You’re still travelling at this point, no matter what the destination may be. The most haunting locale you’ll visit has to be ‘I Let My Daddy Do That’. Golightly takes us to the deeper than deep South and is the most delta-wistful track on the album. Hopeless can be cool after all.
Every bit the rebellious southern belle (one suspects with the heart of a tomboy) and less her alter ego image of the protagonist in ‘Breakfast At Tiffany’s’ with whom she shares her name, may Golightly long continue to kick up the dust and the southern blues. Everyone who’s prone to a hard luck mood and wants something to sink beers to without feeling tragedy should buy this record post haste for a deliciously languid, lost weekend.
Ever Since ••••
You’ve gotta feel for Lesley Gore, the ‘It’s My Party’ girl who insisted that she’d cry if she bloody well wanted to thankyouverymuch. After four years in the glaring spotlight in the mid-1960s, she was all but washed up come her early 20s. Even the release of two Carole King-inspired albums couldn’t save her career, and she was forced into virtual retirement by the end of the decade, resurfacing sporadically to perform on Golden Oldies tours and talk about how she used to be famous. Now, in 2007, not having released a single note on record since a dodgy collection of covers 25 years ago, Gore has decided it’s high time for a comeback.
Of course, comebacks are tricky affairs. One of Gore’s peers, Mary Weiss, the innocent, clear-cut voice of The Shangri-Las, unleashed her debut solo album earlier this year more than 40 years on from her last release with the group. It was a mess. The album, recorded as an homage to the era she first fame in, lacked the purity and spark of the original records. Her sound had scarcely progressed one iota and Weiss wound up sounding more like a hokey tribute to herself than the genuine deal. And therein lies the dilemma of the comeback: do you carry along the same route or try and catch the coattails flapping from the top of the nearest passing bandwagon? Should Gore have hired the hitmaker of the moment and sluttily vogued over beats, possibly replicating Cher’s success from the late 1990s? No, probably not. Still, it would have been a sight to behold.
Instead, what you will find on Ever Since is thoroughly sensible, middle-of-the-road pop. Which really isn’t a bad thing, no matter what the NME might tell you. There is much that will seem familiar on this album, from the warmth of the production (courtesy of one Blake Morgan) to the knowing lyrics. While the arrangements are mostly tasteful and adult contemporary, Gore gives a nod to her past life with the kind of doo-wop harmonies found on her earlier hits. There’s even a smart lyrical reference to ‘It’s My Party’ on the title track, where she coos “All the parties I’ve been to you were missed”, romanticising all those missed opportunities for love.
Also harking backwards, Gore recreates her past hit ‘You Don’t Own Me’ and the song she co-wrote for ‘80s flick ‘Fame’, ‘Out Here On My Own’, surprisingly effectively. Elsewhere, the benefits and wisdom of age come to the fore on ‘Not The First’, where she caringly chastises a misguided, naïve woman pursuing the wrong guy, delivering lines like “you’re not the first to think you’ll be the last” with a motherly concern. Ever Since may not be cutting edge but Gore’s world-weary vocals, which make her sound like a more accessible present-day Joni Mitchell, are what gives the album a magical touch. Always direct, Gore isn’t trying to be something she isn’t, or someone she once was, and that’s the glue that binds this set together so well.
Children Running Through ••••½
It’s a real injustice that the name of Patty Griffin does not reside in the category called ‘household’. Of course this isn’t the case for those in the know – Griffin’s music has been covered by artists ranging from Emmylou Harris, Mary Chapin Carpenter and The Dixie Chicks to Bette Midler, Jessica Simpson and Solomon Burke – but recognition beyond the cognoscenti is long overdue.
Griffin’s music resides in that American folk, pop, country, rock nexus exploited so effectively by Sheryl Crow and many others (although her sensibilities are decidedly more folk and country than that particular wildflower). In fact, the loping talkin’ feel of ‘Stay On The Ride’ is reminiscent of some of the best of Crow’s songs. Having said that, I suspect that the converse is a more accurate statement since the strange, existential tale of a mysterious old man taking a bus ride into destiny could easily have served as a skewed blueprint for Crow’s stream of consciousness breakthrough hit, ‘All I Wanna Do’. This strangeness serves to heighten the heartbreak contained in track which follows, the equally chilling and heartwarming ‘Trapeze’ – a down-home story of lost love in the circus.
Across the album arrangements are generally sparse, throwing the listener’s attention squarely on to Griffin’s arresting voice and haunting lyrics. Where fripperies such as strings and horns are applied it’s with taste and discretion. One such instance is single ‘Heavenly Day’ which also features guest vocals from Emmylou Harris and luscious grand piano from Ian McLagan of The Small Faces. It’s a testament to the varied sounds on the album that this is followed up by the jangling dobro, autoharp and Tex-Mex horns of ‘No Bad News’ and the stripped back folk of ‘Railroad Wings’.
From the naked opening double bass notes of ‘You’ll Remember’ to the wistful closer ‘Crying Over’, Griffin’s pure country tones drill down to the emotional core of the songs, revealing a new dimension of philosophical and metaphysical depth to the American folk-country genre and moving the story-song far beyond simple narrative. Griffin’s career to date, has never shown less than brilliance in both in writing and performance but Children Running Through looks set to be a coup de grace, taking her music to new heights and establishing her as another National Treasure of the 50 States.
The following reviews were all published on our old website between May 2005 and December 2006.
The Butcher & The Butterfly ••••
One Little Indian
After a three-year hibernation, KatieJane Garside and friends return to the fray with third album, The Butcher & The Butterfly. Expanding upon the band’s past glories and unique delivery, the album seemingly and seamlessly splices the varied sounds of Garside’s previous outfit Daisy Chainsaw with those from Queenadreena’s debut album Taxidermy and the follow-up, Drinkme. Indeed, the overtones of the latter are clearly audible in the opener, ‘Suck’. Miss Garside’s abrupt transitions from cutesy singsong to banshee screams are as remarkable as ever and tastily complement the shimmying metal wail of her band. Beyond the melody and tight composition, there lies a sleazy desperation and grimy energy to the song, making it just one of many highlights.
But The Butcher & The Butterfly is not all fitfully thrashy, many of the tracks reveal a versatility and eclecticism that casual listeners may well be surprised by. In fact, it’s a wonder to listen to. From the tribal thumping, cooing and moaning of ‘Medicine Jar’ to the chilled out acoustics and whispery melody of ‘Birdnest Hair’, the album offers a great deal to those who would give it a chance and flirt with their own dark side. First single ‘FM Doll’ is a disturbing tribute to murdered US child star, Jon Benet. Among the warped cabaret of crashing guitars and drums and KatieJane’s sexily macabre vocals, there is a blunt but poignant ballad of the sinister goings on in Benet’s family, hinting at the suspicion of child abuse that surfaced in the wake of Benet’s own parents standing accused of her death.
That sombre note aside, The Butcher & The Butterfly is a wildly accomplished album with a list of influences that range from metal to blues via folk and beyond. It is proof that Garside and her long-time musical partner Crispin Gray have continued to grow as musicians since their beginnings in Daisy Chainsaw. That evolution will be further consolidated by the forthcoming Live At The ICA, and on the evidence of this impressive album, it, like all things Queenadreena, should not be missed.
originally published September 1st, 2005