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Welcome to FairHearing.co.uk music review site

This site is about you and the music you are creating. We sing and play and we’re glad that you do.

We start from a basic respect for musicmakers, though we may not instantly love everything we hear.

You can quote all or any part of our reviews, as long as you credit us.

We would like to hear the music you are creating, whatever the genre. Though perhaps we lack the intellectual depth to critique death metal, we like blends of music especially those drawn from roots /west coast / jazz / psychedelia /R&B / folk/country.

We don’t care where you’re from, how old you are, what colour or sex you are. Or anything like that!

We find the conventional “star rating” syndrome demeaning and pompous. Opinions are only opinions. We might connect you with acts or artists you grow to love… Well, we hope we will!

Onwards!

Pete Sargeant & Amy Stringer

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Beverley Martyn


The Phoenix & the Turtle
Les Cousins / Proper

It’s a survivor’s voice, this. A survivor of life’s ups and downs and emotional stresses, some doubtless eased by the passage of time and others likely indelible…

Let’s put this in context – the very first ‘folk’ show I went to was at a pretty spooky church crypt here in Richmond in England and not far from the River Thames. It was a dark night and as an electric rock fan I had succumbed to the allure of taking a dark haired girl I had met on a bus and found dazzling. The girl, not the bus. In fact, I only went for the date aspect. I will admit. The act was a charisma-soaked Canadian character called Patrick Sky and quite a writer. BUT I was actually entranced by a mumbling tousle-haired player opening the show and singing of strange weather, ghosts and (?) jellyrolls..whatever they were. He seemed to know, he hissed out the words and hammered out hard bluesy guitar figures. Magical……fast forward to a duo – this time John Martyn AND Beverley Martyn. Their voices – at a festival – worked well together but they were no grinning Peter Paul & Mary outfit. There seemed to be tension, mostly harnessed into the music, but not all and not quite..

What happened after is pretty well known.  The marriage disintegrated, Beverley Martyn was for quite a while on the scene but not…

December 2013 – London’s Royal Festival Hall. I am there to see the tribute show to the late great Bert Jansch and the lineup is staggering, taking in Ralph McTell, Pentangle, Donovan Leitch, Robert Plant, Bernard Butler…and the best part of the show is a saturnine and measured tread through Memphis Minnie’s ‘When The Levee Breaks’, all sullen emphatic vocal and clanging electric guitars. It is stunning and when an ‘own’ gig at Bush Hall is announced, we book tickets without hesitation

So this album is her first in fourteen years and DOES include the MM song, hooray !  The ex bass man from Counting Crows and the ex drummer from Los Lobos contribute, as does guitar man and producer Mark Pavey. Martyn describes the sound as ‘ very Transatlantic’

‘Reckless Jane’ is a BM collaboration with long-departed legend Nick Drake..the voice is hesitant but strong in its own way, the electric guitar counterpoint edging in over beatific strings and acoustic guitars ; ‘Potters Blues’ is a close cousin to ‘Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door’ in melody but concerns the late acerbic playwright Dennis Potter, a fascinating man I have been reading about in Roy Hudd’s autobiography.

The steady lope of ‘Going To Germany’ has a spirited vocal and pleasing guitar arrangement ; ‘Sweet Joy’ shows an almost hymnal atmosphere..seems it was Beverley’s very first composition. Heavy amp tremolo worthy of Buffalo Springfield haunts ‘Mountain Top’ and puts me in mind of a subdued Melanie, if there could be such a thing. ‘Jesse James’ the closer has a sprightly roll to it.

This record drips feel and sincerity, the careworn voice made for telling tales, the guitar-based arrangements really appropriate and colourful. No clutter, no gimmicks and all up close and personal

Pete Sargeant    www.fairhearing.co.uk

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Harriet Coleman

Lucky To Be Me !
www.harrisjazz.com

A sunny and respected character on the South Easy jazz scene here in England, Harriet Coleman is one of those artists best heard live. However by choosing unusual songs and working with a fine team of players she has created a collection that sound equally assured and fresh. Assured because many years of singing live have left her with ace phrasing and a warm presence ; fresh because these numbers have not been done to death by others yet still occupy the jazz/lounge territory the album targets.

I bought it because I was at a show featuring Ms Coleman and spotted Steve Waterman’s name on the record. I have seen this chap play a few times and here and there and like, say, Jim Mullen, he doesn’t do rubbish !  The same goes for J Holland but moreover Protect The Beat sax man on this set Derek Nash, of course – the only man to really understand the importance of the late Eddie Harris to adventurous and rhythmic jazz. The other participants here are John Pearce on piano, Andrew Cleyndert on double bass and drummer Steve Brown.

Perhaps Harriet wouldn’t be offended by me referring to Rosemary Clooney ? because the latter’s lively and tuneful delivery may possibly have been an influence on the young Coleman ? or Jo Stafford may have been, for that matter…..opener ‘My Heart Stood Still’ has some trippy percussion breaks and cool piano figures …it’s a Hart / Rodgers creation of course but not a warhorse. The Gilbert / Jobim  ‘Dindi’ has a dreamy ambience and bossa nova delivery ; A new New Orleans feel pervades the Lieber / Stoller number ‘I’m Feeling Too Good Today Blues’ which has a kittenish touch worthy of Eartha Kitt but of course Harriet’s vocal timbre is the other end of the spectrum. The muted trumpet is a cool touch. The strutting ‘I Love Being Here With You’ could have been a straight Peggy Lee copy, but isn’t – Coleman is being Coleman;  The trumpet is liquid, emphatic and the sax break just about throaty enough…but doesn’t this song cry out for Hammond organ ??

The knowing Sammy Cahn lyric ‘Please Be Kind’ is in good hands, here ; my favourite though on this set is undoubtedly ‘Call Me Darling’ – Coleman sounds absolutely at home and natural here, the key for the vocal is spot on  ( as it is for all the selections, I would add) and the sax offsets perfectly judged. The rhythm section is a bit laidback here but the piano sparkles, yet again.   The bass and drums dynamic however makes ‘I Won’t Dance’ a beautiful reading of the song.  Title cut ‘ Lucky To Be Me’ is another joy, fine singing and pacing..would have made a great flute feature.

An upbeat, swinging collection that breaks no musical boundaries but satisfies the ears and shows everyone off well – this lady makes songs come to life and makes it look easy

Pete Sargeant      www.fairhearing.co.uk

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The Moons


Heart and Soul
CD single -  Schnitzel Records

This Midlands rock group formed some five or six years ago, their last single was a stormer and this latest cut ‘Heart and Soul’ is apparently from an album due soon and entitled ‘ Mindwaves’. I for one can’t wait to hear the new collection and when it, er..’drops’..are you supposed to say ‘drops’ this week ? – it’ll be straight on to my turntable for likely repeat plays. Really, this is the sort of act that will sound better roaring off fresh vinyl , their electric guitar sound  and edgy vocals having a tinge of classic UK rock combo’s like The Action or The Creation. The big trap of being a veteran writer is only liking the stuff that reminds you of your youth – the conservative approach. But like Temples (who I saw last week) this does have a punch that will draw in new young listeners ( bombarded as the poor saps are by a chart which is a deluge of camp synth pop and lame rapping) thirsting for something to punch the air to and – ahem – rock conneisseurs who know commitment and honed skills when they hear it…

Andy Crofts is a sharp writer thankfully not having the Weller fetish that infects the younger moddy bands – I wouldn’t be surprised if he was a Warren Zevon fan (and I hope he is ). Here, he has slashing guitars over a GlamRock stomp and crisp horns that is impactful and catchy, with its descending chord tread after the verse  .A hint of Bowie solidifies as the song batters on..’I would like to be, set free’ goes the lyric and love has crashed, evidentlyfor the singer. A tinny trilling guitar rides out the fade and a wobbling electronic wave dies. Splendid stuff !  and SO radio-friendly..if radio would only wake up and DO ITS JOB !  they should rush a copy over to Miami Steve van Z for his rockin’ radio show in the States and I thank them for mine.  The Moons deserve to tour with the Jim Jones Review or the New York Dolls – they are that good

Pete Sargeant     www.fairhearing.co.uk

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Jenny Green

Caught A Touch Of Your Love

www.jennygreensings.com

One of the great ironies of music is that the jazz scene gives a home to some types who a/ think they know what jazz is and what it is not – viz. the self-appointed arbiters of what should be acceptable as ‘jazz music’ and b/ just will not listen to anything at all outside their perceived boundaries.  Losers in every sense, cutting themselves off from new experiences and (worse) frowning at those of more liberal disposition.    To me, jazz is about improvisation, not playing or singing the same piece the same way next time, the interplay of performers, sharing what results. It is music that shouldn’t be gathering dust or hived off into ghettos of snobbery…

Hence all the more reason to treasure and encourage artists like Jenny Green. She has the ability to make songs swing, melodies float and rhythms grip. Moreover the skill to deliver a lyric with a freshness many would envy. Our Jen teaches, performs, fronts groups, collaborates and even runs jazz get-togethers firing up young and old, veteran and novice to get up and make music together. Some of us players like to explore a love for jazz at her soirees whilst playing shows elsewhere in distinctly different musical areas ; others have established themselves as jazz performers and don’t venture beyond associated venues or audiences. Whatever your approach, jams such as Jenny’s are an entirely positive force and enrich the scene – many is the time I have taken people who ‘don’t like jazz’ to a JG show and they have enjoyed virtually all of the acts, admitting so afterwards.

Green’s previous release displayed her versatility and so does this new set. She is skilled at singing popular music and does so in public eg Van Morrison, Beatles, Petula Clark and some times to these ears when in jazz vein seems to be as musically influenced by instrumental players as by other singers, for instance the way she might sustain a note or phrase just as a sax player would or even deliver with a touch of the percussionist’s swaying pace or a staccato influence. Not that this would be by design, Jenny is just a natural and gimmick-free singer. There is no Bassey overkill, no Streisand flared-nostril camping. Best of all, Green’s style is not modelled on any particular performer. She has heard it all and has a limitless choice of approach. Luckily for her, her singing sits well on all types of instrumentation

On this collection, Sean Hargreaves’ production and arrangements seem to aim at a ‘picture frame’ ambience, creating a backdrop over which Jenny can make the lyric happen and the melodies roll. No shocks or surprises, no bombast. What results is listenable, smooth in the good sense of making linear sense but avoiding any OTT touches and…. satisfyingly rich

Highlights include the Lena Horne-tinged pumping blues of ‘Hum Drum Blues’, such a Noo Yawk horn chart and swaggering Winston Clifford drums plus a Hargreaves piano break ; the knowing reading of ‘You Turned The Tables On Me’ with its Latin cadences and well-paced Neville Malcolm bass. The horn and reed players – Bryan Corbett, Ed Jones, Duncan Lamont and Trevor Myers sound particularly pokey on the title cut which has a Horace Silver roll about it and has maybe the best vocal performance on the record offset by a smokey sax outing, the piano playing across time. The old pop hit ‘The More I See You’ is taken at a very leisurely tempo and very Grover Washington sax sound. Thus it is a more reflective take on the song than the usual snappy run. Should definitely have used a Rhodes or Wurlitzer keyboard here though, to take the chill off the chord progression, methinks. The breezy ‘Let’s Get Lost’ is my favourite cut here and Jenny makes this work so well, an irresistible invitation of a song. Green on a Bacharch tune is always going to work – here we get ‘Always Something There To Remind Me’ and from the crisp drum intro this works a treat, try keeping your toes still……outro number is Rodgers & Hart’s ‘This Funny World’ no less and gets a subtle and subdued setting …that works.

So – a well-produced jazz vocal record not stuffed with cliché song choices and sung sweetly and emphatically by one the scene’s true characters. If this sounds like your stop – jump on !

Pete Sargeant       www.fairhearing.co.uk

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Charlie Landsborough

With The Beatles

A conversation – Part One

We are pretty much in this performer’s corner – he composes, he sings, he leads cracking roots-music lineups, he tells worse jokes than your scribe, he has time for his followers..and if he does a version of another artist’s song, he adds a little something of his own. Charlie’s take on ‘City of New Orleans’ on his previous studio album is a great example. I think we’re really talking about authenticity here, as Landsborough has great knowledge of the music he loves and he can recognise that in others

Hence when we heard that Charlie was bringing out his versions of favourite Beatles songs, we asked to chat to him about the album and especially his choices. The record is called ‘Here, There & Everywhere’ with the cover photo’s showing various Landsboroughs by the Cavern Club in Liverpool, he living not far away. He tells us that he’ll be featuring a few of the new cuts in his forthcoming tour

FH : When I heard that this record was coming through for me to hear before I called you, I did two things, for my own amusement. One was to jot down what Beatles songs I might attempt if I was doing versions and then the ones I thought YOU might do

CL : (Laughs) Ah !!! That’s an idea, Pete…

..and not one of the b—–s I chose for you, have you done !!

(Chuckling) Well..initially, the whole thing’s a huge departure for me cos’ I usually do me own stuff. Here. The record company said ‘Charlie, we want you to do a Beatles songs album for us ..now perhaps they were thinking ahead of the game and realising it was the 50th anniversary of the first Beatles hits, y’know..generally I much prefer to do me own material, I am a great Beatles fan it’s true and I loved the wealth of diversity of the stuff they were getting through..so the first hurdle I suppose was picking the songs to try.  But they give us free rein there on choices..so it stays personal if you like..’you sort it out between you’ was their line..so I thought we’ll do ones I am enthusiastic about as the key, it wouldn’t work for me doing a song in a kind of disgruntled manner..so it was a panel or collective of two, really to set things rolling on choices and then start work..there’s some fantastic guitar work on there…

You ain’t kidding !!! I had made a note to talk about THAT !

Now John, me guitar player who you saw with us on some recent gigs, he’s left, he’s moved to Ireland. I was with him on Monday night, we’re still the best of mates..what a player ! ( he is a Mike Campbell type guitarist, uncannily framing every vocal and solo’ing when needed – PS) And we have Yazz  – the ‘Only Way Is Up’ girl helping us with the backing vocals, so I have some smashing music on there..(Laughs)..I just hope I sit on top of it OK ! because releasing an album like this ..you’re up for all sorts of criticism and I’m therefore releasing it with bated breath..I just hope people will like my take on these fine songs

But you’ve really just confirmed how I started this, because the diversity of what the Beatles did is the nub..here they were, very quickly moving from rock’n’roll and Motown covers to their own songs, their own ideas and styles..not being the Tin Pan Alley ‘you’ll sing this, you’ll wear this’ template..if you went in to the studio again, you’d probably choose some different songs to do..just for the record, Charlie …my ones would be ‘Rain’, ‘Norwegian Wood’ which I speed up as if the Byrds wrote it..”Happy Just To Dance With You’..and in Spin The Wheel the other singer brought in ‘You Won’t See Me’..from ‘Rubber Soul’

Oh I love ‘Rubber Soul’ – that’s a favourite

It’s about Jane Asher..Paul wasn’t sure whether they were still an item

That’s a great song ! – I should have been performing with them..now this shows you how poor the band I was in was but I was playing lead guitar ! and our drum kit was one snare drum and we were supposed to be playing at the Grosvenor Ballroom in Wallasey.this was with The Silver Beatles as they were called then..but for whatever reason, I never made it and that’s one me regrets. And then years later I was playing in a band in Liverpool ..now Eddie who played pedal steel with us, he had Ringo as his Best Man and when Apple started, Ringo said to send some stuff down for him to sort..and he never did !! so we missed the boat on a couple of occasions…my happy knack of being in the right place at the wrong time and vice versa ! I joined the Army and was languishing in some remote part of Germany ..meanwhile half of Merseyside was being signed up..and I came home on leave when the Beatles returned to Liverpool ..they played the Empire..Chris Montez and Tommy Roe, two American performers were on the bill..they were full of the Transatlantic schmaltz and showbiz and all that..then the Beatles bounced on and the place went mad of course and there was one girl screaming her head off and John Lennon – I remember this well – called over and said ‘Shut up, love – I’m trying to sing here !!’..after what had gone before it was so refreshing..and they were fantastic..I do wish I had met them earlier on, y’know

The interesting thing here. Charlie – your singing voice is nothing like John’s or Paul’s. Or George’s or even Ringo’s..but there is a guy in the FourMost who sings a bit like you…if anything your voice has the occasional touch in phrasing of Billy J Kramer but more so an American guy called Bob Lind

(Warmly) Oh yeah ! I know both of them…

So I’m thinking – he’s not going to imitate the original lead vocals, is he ? it HAS to sound his own

That’s pretty much how it went, mate! You’re spot on there ! it was good fun putting the songs together and doing the arrangements and we did medley a few of the songs, for the flow ..there’s certain riffs and bits that you have to put in..but over the top of it ? ..God forbid that I would ever try to be anyone but meself ! I greatly admire many other artists who are far better singers and songwriters than me and I’d be a phoney to try anything else, the way I see it. So hopefully what will communicate is my own little take ..at the end of the day I can only do what I do..

IN PART TWO, Charlie and Pete discuss the chosen songs and much more…

CHARLIE LANDSBOROUGH ‘Here There & Everywhere’ is out on EDSEL 7th April 2014

Pete Sargeant               www.fairhearing.co.uk

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Ward Thomas


Footnotes EP
Wardthomasmusic.com

At the London launch of this EP, the female duo were introduced as 19 year old twins who write songs, sing them and LOVE The Dixie Chicks…that’s as may be but on this show and showing they will be bringing something of their own to the country-rock-pop scene, notwithstanding coming from Hampshire, England

Backed by a light percussion chap and another acoustic guitarist, the songs on this release where put over with punch, occasional tenderness and not a little (natural) charm. The ace up their sleeve is that the girls’ voices are not identical, Sorry  don’t know which is which, but the one In gave the record launch congrats card to has the slightly clearer authoritative voice and her sibling a slightly fuzzier, sweeter touch. So when they sing together..its a rich blend and quite an asset, making them distinct from the nearest similar acts – notably The Webb Sisters who from Troubadour Club beginnings where we first met them now split their time between own gigs and touring with Laughing Lenny Cohen…

Single ‘ The Good & The Right’ is not a hymn to David Cameron but rather a catchy rockin’ lil number loaded with banjo’s, guitars, a snappy snare and a descending chord passage. The voices are sweet and persistent and yes, pretty strong, with a subtle string arrangement to boot..obviously a nod to The Dixie Chicks down to the softer solo vocal segment, the chorus waiting to burst back, fiddles et al  ; ‘Footnotes’ is a more tender piece taken at a steady pace and with a hint of Alison Moorer or Suzy Boguss – as listenable as any pop-country out there  ; ‘Take That Train’ is a shuffling and more breathy number with trilling piano and a syncopated rhythm plus the sort of tunefulness that made Dolly Parton a mint and a theme park..I swear Dolly would love this pair, their voices blend so well. Neat guitar at the end of this ; closer ‘Caledonia’ is rather solemn and lined to a documentary about Scotland, if I heard correctly.? ( I wonder if they’d like to use my song about separation – ‘Hit The Road, Jock’ ?)   Very folky and elemental.

A tuneful debut and let’s see where they go from here – a bit of luck with radio is what they need

Pete Sargeant    www.fairhearing.co.uk

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Simon Kent


Dreams & Memories
www.twitter.com/simonkentmusic

Starting off with an insistent acoustic guitar with a middleweight tuneful vocal in reflective mode…I am reminded of the blissed-out album of a few summers ago by Public Symphony with its sitting in the park at dusk on a warm evening vibe. The song is ‘Everything’s Alright’ and this is followed by another mellow summer night number ‘See You Fly’, the vocal more relaxed and it must be said, poetic.

Kent is an English South Coast cat and puts his voice over subtle guitars and gentle keys /electronica  on this and several other cuts. Throughout he retains his melodic and tuneful touch so a times it’s as if he’s the young chilled out relative of, say, Travis or Del Amitri – and none the worse for that.  Some of the songs are more memorable than others – eg ‘Over the World’ with its hints of The East ( no, not Dover) which needs a (real) string arrangement to release its potential ; the beautiful ‘Inside Your Heart’ where he sings with a soft but assured touch over a gorgeous melody and too-hesitant guitars..now what a terrific duet this would make with a female singer ! A truly fine composition, Mr Kent. The closer ‘Give Me Back That Moment’ is Simon’s Nick Drake moment and the heavier backing falling in is just right, enforcing the song’s tunefulness with a neat guitar tone on the single-note passages.

So far, so listenable and at times exceptional. But what fascinates this scribe is the uncanny and likely unconscious similarity to Duran Duran’s Simon Le Bon in Kent’s phrasing…the closer has this but more so on ‘Spaced Out Refugee’ which could be a superior Duran out-take !  However the song itself is Kent’s of course….intriguing, though …wonder whether he is a Duran fan  ?

In summary, a good set of tuneful songs, well-delivered and with good contributions from other participants in particular the on-the-money drumming viz. ‘Over The World’ (James Walker) and its desert drift . a tougher track or two would have balanced the record up a bit. Maybe this is remedied in a live set ?  we shall see…..

Pete Sargeant    www.fairhearing.co.uk

SIMON KENT

Dreams & Memories

www.twitter.com/simonkentmusic

Starting off with an insistent acoustic guitar with a middleweight tuneful vocal in reflective mode…I am reminded of the blissed-out album of a few summers ago by Public Symphony with its sitting in the park at dusk on a warm evening vibe. The song is ‘Everything’s Alright’ and this is followed by another mellow summer night number ‘See You Fly’, the vocal more relaxed and it must be said, poetic.

Kent is an English South Coast cat and puts his voice over subtle guitars and gentle keys /electronica on this and several other cuts. Throughout he retains his melodic and tuneful touch so a times it’s as if he’s the young chilled out relative of, say, Travis or Del Amitri – and none the worse for that. Some of the songs are more memorable than others – eg ‘Over the World’ with its hints of The East ( no, not Dover) which needs a (real) string arrangement to release its potential ; the beautiful ‘Inside Your Heart’ where he sings with a soft but assured touch over a gorgeous melody and too-hesitant guitars..now what a terrific duet this would make with a female singer ! A truly fine composition, Mr Kent. The closer ‘Give Me Back That Moment’ is Simon’s Nick Drake moment and the heavier backing falling in is just right, enforcing the song’s tunefulness with a neat guitar tone on the single-note passages.

So far, so listenable and at times exceptional. But what fascinates this scribe is the uncanny and likely unconscious similarity to Duran Duran’s Simon Le Bon in Kent’s phrasing…the closer has this but more so on ‘Spaced Out Refugee’ which could be a superior Duran out-take ! However the song itself is Kent’s of course….intriguing, though …wonder whether he is a Duran fan ?

In summary, a good set of tuneful songs, well-delivered and with good contributions from other participants in particular the on-the-money drumming viz. ‘Over The World’ (James Walker) and its desert drift . a tougher track or two would have balanced the record up a bit. Maybe this is remedied in a live set ? we shall see…..

Pete Sargeant www.fairhearing.co.uk

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Charlotte Church

EP 4
alligator wine records
www.charlottechurchmusic.co.uk

Or CCEP4, as I am tagging this series. And this time our intrepid songsmith and singer floats us into the world of mathematics and scientific curiosity…..the live launch of the record at Riverside Studios in Hammersmith had the new tracks weaved between spoken scientific quotes pondering beliefs and possibilities underlining the dream-like ambience of the material. On the previous EPs there has been a very surreal flavour to the music which tumbles from hard-banging and mostly harsh beats to synth washes and passing sound clouds hissing with distortion and hints of phasing and flanging. Though two eager acoustic drummers are used live, the overall feel of the ensemble music and backdrop is very electronic and for me a tad cold. But this isn’t a group I could play in, not that this prevents me appreciating the construction and the skills evident here. The players led by Jon Powell are fired and fuelled so this is light years in style from, say, Kraftwork or Neu. Hence any warmth at all has to come from Charlotte Church’s voice and on these records, she’s sparse with it

I’ve said it before, but no UK singer can get near this woman for power and tuneful roar. Or has ever, in this sphere of music.  Most electro-pop chanteuse go the whispery / breathy route over electronica whereas Church is controlling the power of her vocal output for the 5th gear at strategic moments, it is then she lets everything go and the listener is right in the jetstream. All credit to her recent EP debut sound guys for capturing her rush of notes and keeping the middle intact, it cannot be easy to harness at times. Roger McGuinn was in similar territory on The Byrds’ Chestnut Mare…

The cuts :  ‘Entanglement’ has a jungle drums intro and there is that careening voice jetting into the soundscape, sustained notes over a grainy Hammond and with pretty guitar figures like sonic butterflies flittering across the rhythm. Insistent as a song and her heart sounds in. Klaxons and clicking decorate the song. ‘Love Alone’ has a pure Bowie ‘Low’ era stark tempo and prominent (plectrum ?) bass guitar against eerie keys. A hint of the operatic ballad in the vocal and the number is very Berlin (the city not the group) and the phrasing is very David Bowie to these ears. It’s the ill-at-ease rhythm and harsh snare.

‘Little Movements’ is already a fan favourite and is taken at a softer pace initially. A hint of vocoding on the voice – sorry guys this is a criminal offence, THAT voice should never be treated as it can only detract. Not to worry, we are soon in a lightweight funk chattery passage with a mix of tones that suggest ZE label’s mutant dance era. Messy but sticks in the mind.  ‘Death & Mathematics’ is the winner for me here, again a Bowie-ish tempo and that lovely voice, subtle and skybound. By far the best melody on this disc and so beautiful it almost aches as the synth strings float along. A biting guitar figure snaps at the heel of the vocal with the rhythm section almost accommodating its force. It’s kind of Zero 7 territory in Tina Dico times, ethereal and haunting. “Hood Shade’ begins a shade hesitantly and with a held-back vocal. Sax and organ nod to soul but we are not in Memphis, amigos and no dance beat emerges. Instead a trumpet noodles and suddenly Charlotte is in full voice as the beat hardens into a rockier mode. Then a swift pastoral fade.  Pretty weird !

Layered voice phrases start “Love’ which I think is a single. A choir of Churches and a plunge into what Georgio Moroder would consider a Latin beat, but briefly. This is a tone poem or mini-operetta whichever way you approach it. Again the vocal is powered and tuneful and it rounds the record off with a very positive vibe via a looped sequence…puts me in mind of Bowie’s lad’s ‘Moon’ film somehow..I bet CC has watched that ?

Individual, adventurous, heartfelt…but again, not for everyone

Pete Sargeant     www.fairhearing.co.uk

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Spin Doctors

A Chat with Chris Barron

www.spindoctors.com

Fair Hearing catches SPIN DOCTORS lead singer CHRIS BARRON as he drives upstate to visit relatives. The band has made an album celebrating their original blues/rock roots and after Barron’s recovery from illness they hit the UK for live shows early 2014.  As usual, this isn’t a cold interview, more two blokes talking about music. Barron is lively and enthusiastic, just as he is on stage.  If you can get to a UK date in February, you will not regret it – all details on the SPIN DOCTORS  site

FH: Now I’ve been playing your album,  I am sent  lots of interesting blues releases for review and  I’ve been wanting to have a word with you  Chris about the tracks now I’ve heard it thoroughly

CB: Yeah  sure, Pete… fire away

Where are you now?  You’re in New York City ?

I’m just south of New York City. I’m driving down to see my family

Ok good. Have you been playing live lately or doing anything gig wise?

We are having a little break right now. We had  a little run in the UK and also played some gigs in Spain. And then we’re going to start up again with some shows in the United States

Do you plan to play in places like Chicago and Detroit ?

Actually, yeah.  I don’t think we have anything on the books right now but we play everywhere , so most  likely those places

I saw you in London…now this will be about two years or so ago, at the Jazz Café

(Brightly) Ah yeah!

We came to see you on a busy Sunday.  Because we wanted to hear you go through the ‘Kryptonite’ album and strangely enough though in the end I couldn’t be that forward I stuffed my pockets with harmonicas hoping to play some of the John Popper lines. But Eric looked so grimly determined , I backed away !   And we were talking to your roadie about music, your guitar tech and he was telling us about his love for AC/DC. And it was a very good night and you seemed to really enjoy being in London playing that album through and other stuff.  What do you remember about that gig?

That WAS a fantastic gig. I mean, the place was packed and we always have a good time in the UK. I love the British because they’re sort of reserved in their everyday life but then you take them to a football game or a concert then  all of that pent- up emotion comes out

You are absolutely right, Chris. And the thing is we’re lucky because we live just outside of London therefore I’m seeing a lot of shows in London, I’m playing a lot of show in London myself and I’d say like New York, we’re a little bit like .. . ‘come on then, impress us…’

The band is just great. I mean.. Eric’s solos are just fantastic. We just kind of go through that. We just play our guts out and wait for a response

That’s exactly right because you’re a pop/rock band ostensibly but you do have this sort of funk undercurrent which mainly comes from your bass player. I’ve got friends in a band called Living Colour and they always cut through because people’s guts can’t resist getting in the groove. If someone said to me what’s the Spin Doctors trump cards I would say well it’s this driving heartbeat at the sound and the fact that your voice is a bit different from other lead singers in some ways

(Laughs) One guy from the 90’s who doesn’t make you miserable !!

The other thing is you don’t sound sorry for yourself

( Sighing) We were the alternative to the alternative

Well that’s the way and of course radio loves you because of that

Well definitely. You know it’s funny, we came out of this scene in the United States ..all based upon musicianship and improvisation and just like playing OUT to our audineces. But other bands SO serious ! and serious-LOOKING…because of that we ended up  coming across as, I don’t know ..lighter ? But..  we were just focused on good song writing. And it really took off and it seemed like a really interesting situation for the band because we had… we’d be on the radio all the time and the kind of college age kids that just liked to get stoned and come and see the band we’re like looking over and they’re were like ten year old kids and their parents next to them. And now it’s like cool because, we have a wide appeal, it seems ..those ten year old kids these guys have kids

And you guys have maybe a different set of personalities, like the jamming sort of thing – now you could have gone into a much darker terrain like Television ..you know what I’m saying? But you didn’t do that. At the same time, I think you’ve got more in common and this might sound a bit glib but you’re almost like a more cheerful Talking Heads. That stuttery, funky drive

Yeah ..that’s fair..I listened to a lot of those guys when I was a kid, stuff like Tom Tom Club. I like the lyrics, the rhythms…yes, the driving force.      It was our job I guess to be what we were and  I’m glad that we were because I also happened to be opposed to the notion of nihilism and al that negativity. I believe that life is worth living. I believe that the world is a beautiful place. I believe that (most) people are essentially good. That life goes on and we’re all in this together. So  whilst I really like Nirvana and a lot of those bands , I do  think if your message or approach is based upon some kind of philosophy that doesn’t give people some sort of solace in this world then to me, it’s somewhat a failure.  I think that it’s always really easy to point out how ****ed up the world is. Any idiot can look round and see that people are getting ripped off left and right. That the system isn’t fair. You know the whole cruelty and injustice everywhere you look.  I think the trick is figuring out how to live in this world in spite of those things. To see the beauty in people and the world. To preserve it

Ok. Yeah well you’re a glass half full guy we call it here. It does give the band almost..well, not a schizophrenic  BUT in the past most happy-go-lucky bands didn’t need to be great players. Although,  paradoxically some of them were. One of the greatest happy bands ever was The Turtles. And those guys will always be underrated as musicians because their material was so straightforward.  I saw their singers  in London with Frank Zappa

Wow !!!  What year was that?

That was back at the time of Live at the Fillmore – the white cover with the scratchy black writing on it. I saw all  the  Zappa bands..in fact I was talking to Denny Whalley, last week -The Magic Band  were laying in London , the music of Captain Beefheart

Oh cool….He died right?

He died about three or four years ago. But the band tour the music and Drumbo  the ex-drummer does the singing the harmonica and the sax. Anyway let’s talk about you. This album, these are songs you used to play in the clubs as I understand it

Yeah, that’s right. Six of them are like our staples from the old days when we played the blues clubs. Two of them are very rare. We only played those once or twice back in the day

Which ones are those,  Chris?

The first two tracks are new. ‘ River of Whisky’ and ‘Some Other Man Instead’ and we wrote them just a day before we went into the studio.  ‘Sweetest Portion’ and ‘Looking Out the Window Blues’ we only played once or twice back in the day.  I think we actually did them  with a side project that was called Fat Orange Cushions. Then the other six are staples from  back in the day –  to make it in the city you had to play these blues clubs. They were the cool clubs to play and treated the bands really fairly. And so you were expected to play covers and we wanted to play original music. So what we did was we wrote a whole evening of blues songs that sounded like old Willie Dixon tunes. So we just played them and we completely got away with it. Nobody ever suspected.

This is why ‘About  a Train’ sounds suspiciously close to Albert King’s ‘Born Under a Bad Sign’..

Yeah absolutely. That’s the thing about that music. That’s what so wonderful about the blues is that It’s like painting with the same brushes that everybody painted with before you. You’re  mixing the colours in your own way

Exactly.  People say to me… they hear a familiar song and I’ve rearranged it a bit and they say ‘Pete what do you do with that song there?’ I say that’s a Freddie King number and we treat the blues songs as black and white drawings and we colour them in ourselves.  You’re not hearing the same guitar tone as him, you’re not hearing the same Freddie King voice as I’m from Chiswick in West London but what you’re hearing is the feel of that music,,,, with our own twist

And that’s what so great about it. I think of it kind of as musical  Lego cause we’ve been talking about doing this blues record for a couple of months and people said are you gonna do covers? And I said : god no!  Absolutely not!  Because for me I’ve always loved writing blues tunes. When I was just starting out and I was getting to understand chord progressions. It’s so useful as you can make people think the song is going a certain way by quoting these chord progressions and then pull the rug out from under people being like this song starts with a four instead of…

It’s a simple as taking out a B7 and putting in a C7 and immediately people’s ears go – hang on what’s going on here !?  But you can make that smooth but you’re actually polishing it up. I mean this is your toolbox isn’t it? The progressions are the toolbox you turn up with but that’s your vocabulary that you then using. I’ve always thought of everything else as a bit of an accent. Each group or band has their own. I learnt from Savoy Brown and The GroundHogs. They were taking blues structures, but putting fresh stuff in there so you weren’t hearing ‘the same old’

Well that’s the amazing thing about the Rolling Stones. They have such enduring songs that stand up forever because they’re  just  fantastic like Tectonic twelve bar structure.  They found a damaged bone flute about  40,000  years old , in a cave  in France.. they  reconstructed  the thing  exactly as it was..

It was probably originally owned by Jethro Tull!

(Laughs) Ha !  Or like, his ancestor! It played a pentatonic scale !

On a couple of cuts on your album it’s almost like a Steve Miller Band sort of chugging because you sing in a similar range to Steve Miller

Yeah  - I love Steve Miller!

But the weird thing about your voice is that it’s in a higher range than most of us who sing this stuff,  but it’s warm. Now how… it’s obviously not an affectation, it’s naturally there. But do you know what I’m saying?

Yeah, I accept that totally, my range is higher than  most, for this material

The alto range a lot of the time… like say Marty Balin of Jefferson Airplane but there’s a warmth in your voice. That’s rare. That’s really what makes your band sound so distinctive, I humbly contend

I’m like a genuine first tenor, you know.  And I got lucky I just got born with a high male voice but I’ve had a lot of training and worked with my voice teacher. We’ve always been a really loud band. We’ve not been maybe a stick your fingers in your ears loud.  Just..rock and roll. You want it to be loud enough so people feel it in their bodies but not so they stick their fingers in their ears

You’re playing about the same volume as Steppenwolf. That tough thing but it doesn’t drive you from the room

You know you feel it in your body. But on stage, you have to be able to hear yourself over that. I immediately realised that. When I was a young boy I sang in a choir and we toured internationally and our choir took second in the world. But I knew pretty soon that I would have to get more vocal training. I’ve had the same voice teacher my whole career and he has I’d say eighty per cent opera singers, a few musical theatre singers …and me

Right…

Obviously, I don’t sing like an opera singer – he just teaches me technique. But I have pretty decent technique for a rock and roll singer. I’ve worked hard on having a nice tone even though I sing high.

That’s what I was trying to say. That’s what I was getting at. For example, you don’t sound like Adam Levine. You see the current bigger pop groups, get a huge following because it’s very easy for males and females to sing along to them. Maroon 5 springs to mind and also this fantastic band from San Francisco who I’ve seen many times Train. I mean there singer Pat Monahan is amazing because although he sings in a higher range he has a warmth. But you sound a little bit richer than he does. The overall mood of this album is rocky and I’ve been listening to ‘Looking Out the Window Blues’ which has this great rolling Jimmy Reed feel to it …don’t forget, when I was very young I went to see John Lee Hooker and I met Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters cause I was so interested in those guys

I envy you. I wish I could have met those guys !

But what they had was a great dignity about them. I saw Muddy Waters with Otis Spann and they had a great presence. An act that’s successful has to have their own presence. This record when I play it…its clearly you, your players, your band and your distinctive rhythm section. It’s got that springy feel to it. However..it’s not miserable. It’s like Taj Mahal to me. I learnt Country Blues off Taj Mahal from the first album …would you find that offensive or an OK thing to say,from an Englishman?

( Laughs)  That’s amazing. I consider that a tremendous compliment.  I have met him a couple of times and he’s just a remarkable guy. Great songwriter and I used to try and break out of these kinds of comparisons you know.  Phew..  I just don’t really… if you’d told me when I was fifteen I’d be talking to a seasoned  journalist and he says that my band sounds like Taj Mahal I would of crapped my pants!

Chris, if you had told me when I was seventeen that I would be on stage one day playing harmonica with Country Joe and the Fish and Steve Miller’s guitarist …I wouldn’t have  believed you. But nice things happen if you’re true to what you believe. Here’s a question for you: Why didn’t you cut this album live in an auditorium ?

You know we had a good live vibe in our drummer’s basement and you could pop up stairs anytime

No, I like it but why didn’t you do it in a club with a live audience ?

We did about three takes of every song. And it was nice just us in a controlled atmosphere. In one room you could just stare at another guy. When you’re in the studio it’s a bit more controlled and a bit more relaxed. We get the rest of our lives to play it live !

There are no special effects or anything..

We didn’t know we were making a record! This is the demo!

I was wondering and I thought I’d ask you..there wasn’t much work for Ted Jenson to do at Sterling was there?  That’s pretty much it. I mean I doubt he had to clean up very much.

He just put a little bit of work in here and there, to improve the odd moment

I had an interesting conversation with Eric Johnson down in Austin. He’s just made a record, and it’s the first record of his that gotten me. Got in my head and got me grooving. And I said ‘Why is this?’ And he said ‘Look, to be honest Pete, I’ve stopped putting more into the records. I’m a bit too much of a perfectionist and if I leave a few things OUT it sounds warmer, more immediate,  it connects with people better.’ And what you’re saying just underlines that. He’s a very lovely bloke Eric and I said to him ‘When does a painter stop painting? There’s a time when you say for what I’m doing here, that’s enough..’.

Yeah, that’s very interesting ! . But they say no great works are completed. They’re abandoned.  I always said that only those that can love a mistake, can ever soar beyond perfection

Exactly. Mistakes are everything in life.  I’m often playing live and things happen like the drummer’s snare will break or something. But we never stop playing. I have a spare guitar behind me if I have to switch. We make it to the end of the song. And the audience goes I loved what your drummer did on the cymbals. So I’m thinking, he did that because his snare went! The audience just thought it was a nice interlude. As long as an audience enjoys what you do, the technicalities of it don’t really matter do they? What matters is that people leave the room thinking ‘I’m glad I came out tonight’.

Yeah, absolutely, Pete !  When I was just starting out in music, I was hanging out with a girlfriend of mine and she had ABC outtakes of The Beatles. There was a version of ‘Twist & Shout’. And she was like ‘I love this version of ‘Twist & Shout’ because John’s voice like breaks on it’. I was like ‘You like that?’ And she said ‘ Yeah cause you hear something that’s purely him.’  I think people love that. I think people love to see… if you fall on your face but you do it in a cool way, I think people really respond to that. Because you know, the thing about a performance is it’s all about risking something. Seeing a guy walking on the sidewalk isn’t a big deal. But if you put him on a wire a hundred feet above the ground, people are gonna stop and stare. It’s just a guy walking but now he’s walking in a dangerous way. That’s what people respond to. For me, when I sing I want people to feel the emotional danger. I think that’s why we found this record so compelling. We decided not to just ecord in a New York studio and chase after more and more takes of theses songs. This record is far, far, far away from  being too refined   But it’s definitely got something going on. Like a screaming baby in a burning tree !

It doesn’t need to be refined.  You see, Roger Mcguinn used to say that when a band brings out an album, and The Byrds did this a lot, it should be like an edition of a magazine. This time we’re gonna explore this side of what we like and next time.?. They went from space rock to folk rock, whatever.  And with a live show you’re right. It’s no good saying you were good last week. You’ve got to be good that night. The people that have paid to come and see you that night. Don’t wanna know if last week you were good. They wanna go home happy and where you break through is when they come back with their friends

Yeah. To me, when people buy a ticket, you’ve got like a contract and you’ve got to show up and just ****ing bring it! Every night. I’ve had shows where I was going on stage and throwing up in a trash can. There’s nights when you don’t feel too good..bBut you’ve got to go on stage

A fireman can’t be moody can he? He’s gotta do his job and put the fire out. Thanks, Chris..

It was a great conversation.  I appreciate the ink and really enjoyed the interview..will you be coming to see us again ?

Yep, I have the tickets !

Great thanks. Guess  I’ll see you in London ..

The Spin Doctors’ UK tour dates are as follows:

Thursday, 20th Feb – Mechanics, Burnley (buy tickets)
Friday, 21st Feb – Fairfield Hall, Croydon (buy tickets)
Saturday 22nd – The Garage, London (buy tickets)

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