Music Reviews | 2007

Jon Chapman | Washed Up on the North Shore | Album Review | Self Release | 10.04.07

Jon Chapman’s second CD shows a marked maturity both in his song writing and musicianship, as well as highlighting his credentials as an arranger and most importantly, for the purposes of posterity that is, his abilities behind the production desk.  Washed Up on the North Shore takes no effort in getting into; the songs are instantly accessible, but that isn’t to say they are lacking in depth in any way, they are just constructed in the manner of most good pop music, to be easy on the ear.  The mandolin driven opener “Still Sailing” welcomes us into Jon’s world with a guiding hand on the back and a broad friendly smile.  There’s almost a glass of the good stuff offered into our hands as we cross the threshold, it’s one of those openers.  Better still, the rest of the album makes us want to stay for the party.  The Brian Wilson influenced pop that Jon has been both listening to with much attention to detail, and fully absorbing like a sponge over the past few years couldn’t help but manifest itself in these few songs.  “It’s Funny” has a distinct West Coast feel, complete with astonishingly tight harmonies and wait a minute, is that a Theremin in there or is it just my imagination?  It would be easy (or should that be “unimaginably difficult”?), to fall into the trap of doing a Pet Sounds pastiche, but Jon manages to balance the endless summer harmonies with cool evening love songs that provide the flip side of the musical coin.  When I first heard a demo of “Lose It All” I was hard pushed to take my mind off Steely Dan for a moment, a wonderfully laid back arrangement with harmonies that couldn’t be further from Wilson’s trademark good vibrations. This is as soulful as it gets.  Jon has always been adept at writing good love songs and “I Still Want You” is a completely gorgeous example of how to do it right.  Not only would it grace any post Style Council Paul Weller set, it would probably even measure up to “You Do Something to Me” if that’s not being slightly too generous.  The one thing I have always loved about Jon’s voice is its frailty.  It takes a certain kind of voice to pull off a good love song, and in many cases a frail voice works best.  Gram Parson’s “Hot Burrito #1” springs to mind as a good example.  There are still traces of Jon’s frailty in these songs but it’s equally more assured and assertive when it needs to be.  “Spaceman” is a good pop song, a song that would normally be picked out as the radio single from such a collection as this, the one that would also have a nice whimsical video made by Michel Gondry.  Why on earth the opening few bars remind me of early acoustic Led Zeppelin I have no idea, but they do.  The even balance of acoustic and slide guitar, underpinning some fine vocal harmonies together with a memorable guitar hook make for all the essential ingredients required for that three minute pop song cleverly designed to interrupt Wogan’s seemingly endless morning drivel.  “Wasting My Time” touches on The Byrds territory and quite effortlessly conjures up the West Coast sound of another era.  At the very mention of the name, I am eager to note that during this name dropping festival of a review, Jon never for a moment loses his own identity throughout this album.  It may sound Byrd-like, but it remains distinctly Jon Chapman.  Just as “Wasting My Time” settles into a Byrd-groove, out pops one of the best guitar solos I’ve heard for a good while.  I suspect this comes courtesy of Ben Trott, a fine young guitarist whose accompaniments have been part of Jon’s live work for the past couple of years.  Jon’s multi-layered vocal harmonies are so tastefully arranged as to make you hunger for several Jon clones in order to pull this album off live.  No better example than on the beautiful “Just a Shadow”.  It reminds me of the work Elliott Smith put into his treatment of the Lennon McCartney classic “Because” for the end credits of the film American Beauty.  The harmonies have that sort of intensity.  If the standard of song writing, arrangement, and general musicianship wasn’t enough for me to be pleased with the insanely cheap asking price for this online download, then the production on “My Love” most definitely is.  This is Jon Chapman coming of age as a producer.  The arrangement is both delicate and assured.  It has all the ingredients that normally delight this reviewers ears; crystal clear acoustic guitar, cello (courtesy of Kim Osmundsvaag), percussion that comes in when you least expect it (Calder McLaughlin), and of course, vocal harmonies to die for.  Over-praise is normally the kiss of death for an aspiring artist and one is reluctant to say more than is necessary to get the point across, but I feel the time has come for Jon to give up whatever he is doing during the day and concentrate on this.

Anna Elias & the Forlorn Hope | When You’re Gone | EP Review | Self Release | 16.11.07

After the break-up of Leeds-based indie-acoustic band Bodixa, singer Anna Elias has put together a new outfit who are currently preparing to make 2008 their year.  Being no stranger to recording or playing before large audiences, most notably Glastonbury Festival in 2005, the future looks exciting rather than daunting for Anna and her band.  With a new album due for release next summer, together with some live gigs and festivals culminating in a headlining tour, the band has released this EP as a taster for what is to follow.  Each of the three songs included on this release are delicate reflections on themes of love, loneliness and hope (but hopefully not too forlorn).  There’s something dreamy about the arrangements, but with the magical combination of guitars (Harvey Elias and Nic Vocaturo), cello (Colin Dunkley) and double bass (Jeremy Vocaturo), together with a delicately breathy voice, it’s hardly surprising.

Bob Chiswick | Northern Air | Album Review | Self Release | 16.11.07

Bob Chiswick’s follow up to the 2002 CD “All the Way to Everything” brings together a few recently written songs that he has been performing around the South Yorkshire area, most notably at his own acoustic music venue at the Regent Hotel in Doncaster during the ensuing years.  Bob has a distinctive voice and guitar technique, as well as a poetic way with words.  His songs are constructed around unpredictable melodies and assured no nonsense finger-picked guitar arrangements.  “Brown River” could be about any northern town, but one feels it applies specifically to Bob’s own neck of the woods, with its bleak reflection on the abandonment of working waterways of post-industrial Yorkshire.  There’s a distinct sense of loss weaving in and out of the structure of the song, not unlike the complex of serpentining rivers it addresses.  Amongst the songs and the one instrumental composition on the album, “Red Indian Ocean”, which is a haunting piece played on piano and keyboards, there are moments of introspection such as “Mystified” and “I’m Beside You” as well as moments of lucid observation such as “My Job”, which touches upon the polarised ideologies of the modern workplace, arguing the difference between crass over-familiarity exemplified in our beloved tele-salespersons as opposed to those whose employ in a previous era was of a much nobler labour, “I used my hands before I wore this headset, underground where I felt at home, my family has a mining background, going back a hundred years, but it was left out for the vultures to feed on the culture, the only one we’d ever known, it was dark but it had beauty, we served it out of duty, a city two miles underground, that was my job, that was my job”.  An older song is also included in this collection, the timeless “My Old Dancing Partner” which belongs in the canon of songs that includes “Punch and Judy Man” or maybe “Come Dancing”, with its nostalgic remembrances of a bygone age.  Sometimes songs that look back at our formative years magically transport themselves back to that time and somehow belong there.  They become part of that time.  I wonder if this is what defines a real folk song?  A chronicler of the trials and tribulations of everyday life, Bob Chiswick is equally at home as a writer of songs and poems and has also produced his own semi-autobiographical novel “A Bowl of Dry Soup”.

Rosie Doonan | Moving On | Album Review | Silvertop Records | 16.11.07

Rosie Doonan appears to be a somewhat unsettled figure at the moment; seeking out, with no perceivable comfort zone in her sights, the ideal setting for her own songs and her own distinctive voice.  Experimenting with styles is a risky business and Rosie goes at it with all guns blazing.  The excellent Mill Lane album of 2004 which she made with erstwhile partner Ben Murray, leaned more towards the roots that the Doonan name has always been associated with, that of good traditional material seamlessly mixed with originals and thoughtful covers.  “Moving On” showcases Rosie’s song writing credentials much more clearly and defines her as an artist in her own right.  With eleven self-penned songs of startling quality, she finds that she has indeed moved on.  Revisiting “Need You Around” originally on the Mill Lane album, Rosie manages to update the arrangement in order to feature a brass section that includes a fine mariachi style trumpet solo, courtesy of Tony ‘Trumpet’ Swain.  It was an inspired decision to include brass on this album, which clearly compliments Rosie’s songs and her tasteful arrangements.  To kick the album off with an older song is perhaps Rosie’s way of saying ‘that was then, this is now’ and I’m fine with it if you are.  Whereas “Time”, a song of astonishing beauty that conjures up the essence of mid-period Carole King, demonstrates the course Rosie has been taking since going solo, the title track “Moving On” takes an unexpected turn, and moves into another territory altogether.  We no longer associate this with Rosie’s established folk roots or indeed early-Seventies Tapestry-esque bed-sit pop, but more like the Material Girl herself.  For those of us who would show no compunction to dancing to Ray of Light, stay on the dance floor, we now have something home grown to let our hair down to.  As the voice announces “let’s go for it”, the band steadily builds in layers to a groove that challenges anyone who feels uninspired to get up out of their seat.  Just as we set our feet to dancing another chorus, Rosie whispers her own cathartic confessional in what could possibly be recognised as “Moving On – Part Two”.  “Hold On” is heartbreakingly personal stuff, which puts the brakes on the euphoria of getting on with life and asks us to reflect upon things, just for a moment.  “We don’t have to talk, we have to move on, we can’t stay here too long, I’m too weak to hang on”.  Such is the fluidity of the recurring theme of moving onward towards pastures new, which dominates this album, that Rosie convinces even the most stagnant amongst us, that standing still is utterly pointless.  “The Journey” once again shows a yearning to leave the cocoon, to escape, to once again move on.  There are lighter moments on this album which contain great sing-along dance-along opportunities.  “The Girl I Used to be” is instantly accessible and provides a glimpse into Rosie’s playfulness.  Multi tracked harmony vocals and flirtatious harmonica, courtesy of Bob Thomas, help this mandolin-driven song take precedence in one’s internal Ipod.  It’s the sort of song you can’t shift out of your head, even if you wanted to.  Likewise in “Little Boat” Rosie demonstrates her own disdain for the mad politics that reduced her neck of the woods to a ghost town during Thatcherism by cleverly hiding those messages within the confines of a whimsical pop song.  This is the best way of getting your point across without appearing too overtly political.  Incidentally, the ‘lazy bones’ theme within this song was originally intended for the title of this album during earlier stages of preparation, and I can see why; it has single written all over it.  Love songs have a way of muscling in on most singer songwriter repertoires and in the wrong hands they can come over twee and pointless.  Rosie manages to keep the listeners’ attention by entwining lyrical flights of fancy with engaging melodies to great effect.  “Only One” and “This Love” have a simplistic approach to song writing, utilising familiar rhythms but at the same time sounding refreshingly new.  Rosie, along with co-Producer Joss Clapp, have nailed the right sound for these songs on Moving On, keeping Rosie’s inimitable voice at the top of the mix and, it must be said, at the top of her game.