EP REVIEW: STONEFIELD – BAD REALITY

The cover of Stonefield’s sophomore EP, Bad Reality makes it seem like it was made by a bunch of longhairs with flowers in their locks. But while the lengths of their hair are correct in this analogy, in reality they’re a group of four rock chicks and sisters to boot. And they’re all under the age of 22, making incendiary and mature music that bellies their years, just like Silverchair did back in the day.

The group started in a shed back in 2006 but the truth is, they sound like they started jamming some 40-odd years ago. The girls were brought up on a diet of Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa and Led Zeppelin. The aforementioned classic rock sounds plus those by Deep Purple seem to underpin their work, from the electric blue riffs to the hard rock beats that fill every second with youth and energy. In 2010 they won Triple J Unearthed and two years on and one Glastonbury appearance later, they are back- not so much with songs that sound like their humble beginnings but those worthy of filling a large arena.

“Bad Reality” opens things with some powerful, rock swagger. It’s about big dreams and aspirations, the stuff that comes with the territory of being young and wanting to be older in order to experience it all, irrespective of whether this is good or not. It is also immediately apparent how strong drummer, Amy Findlay’s vocals are. Unlike the soft songbirds and songstresses that sound all of five years old, she actually sounds like a woman. And a real and feisty one at that!

Findlay senior’s vocals propel “Move out Of My Shadow” where she seems to be doing her best impression of Robert Plant while her sister Sarah is taking her reference points from The Doors’ Ray Manzarek. As Amy’s drums gallop around, Holly’s bass playing offers a great compliment, swirling without being too brash. The song does sound like a Led Zeppelin number so it should come as no surprise that one of the first covers the group learned was “Black Dog”.

This set is completed by “Ruby Skies,” a harmony-filled ditty that also manages to keep things raw plus the band’s previous double A-side, “Black Water Rising” and “Yes Master”. The former uses Jon Lord from Deep Purple’s keyword and these are coupled with Hannah’s guitars to form one punchy assault. The latter meanwhile, sounds like the ladies have reached into an old crate of 70s records and polished ‘em up to perfection, making it fit for modern consumption thanks to a crisp, smooth sound.

Working with producer, Lindsay Gravina (Rowland S. Howard, Magic Dirt, The Living End) has boded well for these guys. The songs sound as tight as a pair of shrunken, black jeans. The music has also got a smashing spirit and a raw, fireball-like power. At just 20 minutes, it is straight to the point, no fuss no muss rock of the fabulous, old school variety.

Stonefield are a confident and talented band of youngsters and ones to watch. They could be riot girls for their spunk and spirit even though their music is more classic, just “rock inspired by sounds of the seventies,” as one sister puts it. So is it too early to imagine that like a rolling stone, this family will pick up a swag-bag full of ARIAS to match those famous Stone siblings, some few years back. Now that’d make an awesome reality…

Originally published on 25 May 2012 at the following website: http://www.thedwarf.com.au/nd/albumreviews/bad_reality_stonefield

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EP REVIEW: NEON HEART – OUT OF MY HANDS

A little more than ten years ago Magic Dirt asked us, “What are rockstars doing today?” And if you were to ask Sydney quintet, Neon Heart and their contemporaries, The Lazys the answer would be writing and recording high octane EPs. Both are self-proclaimed rock ‘n’ roll bands that make no excuses for their energetic, straight-up rock. Out Of My Hands is the sophomore EP from Neon Heart, the follow-up to their eponymous debut. Produced by Evan McHugh, this five-piece guitar band would happily slot alongside other artists the former has worked with, most notably Jet and The Vines. The five-tracks offered here see these angry, young men kick up a storm with killer riffs and vocal hooks that leave the listener in a blaze of dust and destruction. It’s basically all youthful hedonism, partying, hell and fury.

‘Wildfire’ is a number very much inspired by AC/DC. As singer,Ben Nasremembers his “dirty girl” you could almost imagine Angus Young in the background pulling out the craziest theatrics in his uniform (of course). The music in this song is so darned incendiary and hell-bent on doing some rather serious damage with its machine gun-like artillery.

The following, ‘Ready Aim Fire’ builds on the previous flames with a powerful call to arms and at first I thought about the image of someone staring down the barrel of a gun. Except that this track is so catchy it’d be more like that gun-totting Texan on The Simpsons. Remember him? He’s always half-dancing with his pieces up in the air because that’s where his arms are at and he’s having that much fun!

‘Tonight’ begins ever so softly and is full of tender sentiments. It is nice to hear lyrics like: “Baby, it could be just you and me”. These certainly don’t detract from Nas and partner being joined by the big, loud band at the 1:45 minute mark.

For my money, ‘Psycho Ex-Girlfriend From Hell’ is the best song, even if on paper a Glenn Close/Bunny Boiler-inspired number doesn’t sound all that successful. But it’s so exuberant and catchy with it’s hand-clapping bop and driving, crunchy guitars that it’s easy to remember why you fell in love with that toxic person in the first place. It’s fair to say it’s quite relatable too, because trust me, we’ve all been there.

In short, Out Of My Hands is an energetic and furious fireball of raw rock. Consider it to be all about black t-shirts, beer and dirty jeans. Yeah.

 

Originally published on 24 May 2012 at the following website: http://sludgefactory.com.au/neon-heart-out-my-hands-cd-review

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ALBUM REVIEW: DANIEL PEARSON – SATELLITES

The Who had Live at Leeds while Gang Of Four are originally from there. And in 2011 English troubadour, Daniel Pearson – a sweet man from Yorkshire – decamped to this city to produce the rather sunny (at least for an Englishman) debut LP, Satellites.

Originally recorded over five days, Pearson teamed up with Ed Heaton to co-produce a follow up to his introductory, song-a-week project. Satellites is a cohesive-sounding album that features 10 melodic and introspective songs. It’s one solid and impressive debut from a rather honest and mature musician.

Pearson grew up on a diet of American music. From the alt-rock of The Lemonheads, Nirvana and Elliott Smith, he would graduate to The Boss and the inimitable Ryan Adams. In a curious twist of fate, it’s this latter artist that Pearson seems to get compared to the most. But really, Pearson is indebted to all these elder statesmen who have played their parts in influencing him.

Satellites is not about reinventing the wheel. Yes, it is another bloke with a guitar and he’s singing some bittersweet and wistful odes. Thankfully it is redeemed by the overarching theme, a positive one and that is to live and enjoy the moment. It’s certainly a statement felt on ‘Wishing Well’ where broody guitars and a choir full of harmonies share some of the optimistic spunk Donavon Frankenreiter spruiks on his latest offering, Start Livin’.

Things start off well with the warm and inviting, ‘Masquerade’. Pearson asks the listener to join in the shenanigans with some lilting folk that can be as light and airy as an aero chocolate bar. The Englishman is then joined by Candy Hayes on ‘Tracks,’ a rather quaint, country-tinged number. It’s better than a country mile and this almost literally seems to be referenced in the following, ‘Waves In The Sea’ where we take an open sweep across an ocean, no less

There is some of Van Morrison’s harmonica – last seen in ‘Bright Side Of The Road’ – on ‘4th July’ while ‘Civilians’ traverses some well-trodden terrain to take a swipe at celebrity culture. It’s one of the album’s poorer moments and it does expose some of Pearson’s sub-par lyrics. On the remainder of the tracks you’ll find that at best they are vague and uncomplicated while at worst they can be overly simplistic and repetitive. The latter moments however, are few and far between.

On ‘Satellite Town’ the listener is treated to a love letter about home and the closer, ‘It’s Been A While’ builds from a gentle hum to a nifty crescendo. The ten cuts are musically sound, having taken in noises that are virtually: bouncy country, acoustic folk and even a pop-rock stomp. Although understated and soft at times, Satellite’s biggest strength is that it manages to keep things interesting by offering varied music and lessons in homespun Americana.

Satellites is full of tender odes that occasionally see Pearson staring at the embers and armed with merely a guitar whilst in an empty room. At other moments he could be stoking the ashes that burn in the hearts of family and friends, so things are not all about this folkster being all on his lonesome. And like a collection of treasured, sepia photographs, Satellites is ultimately heart-warming, delicate and full of more depth then originally meets the eye. All that’s left to say dear listener, is allow Satellites to get onto your radar and let it tickle your heartstrings with its calm, personal touch. Sublime.

 

Originally published on 22 May 2012 at the following website: http://theorangepress.net/2012/05/daniel-pearson-satellites/

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ALBUM REVIEW: DONAVON FRANKENREITER – START LIVIN’

There’s an expectation with certain artists that their new material will be either “gloomy” or “cheery”. A lot of English bands – particularly those from up North – tend to fit into the former camp. But with musicians like Donovan Frankenreiter and his best mate, fellow surfer-turned-folk musician, Jack Johnson, it’s definitely the latter.

It therefore comes as no surprise that Frankenreiter’s fifth solo album, Start Livin’ doesn’t deviate from this positive theme and it is rather pleasant and smooth. But this also doesn’t mean things are formulaic, just that it all fuses well with the tropical wonderland-infused material he has previously released- because he doesn’t throw the listener too many unexpected curveballs.

The truth is Frankenreiter is still a sun child at heart. At 39 years of age, he is happily married with kids and this serene bliss shines through his charming blend of folk-pop. He has described this record as a “Love album,” one inspired by his family and the life they’ve built together in Hawaii.

Perhaps the most exciting component from this effort is the attention to detail that has been paid to the instrumentation. Without a drum kit, Frankenreiter and his long-time bassist, Matt Grundy experimented with pots, pans, bells, bowls, lighters and even make-shift shakers made from beans and salts in cans. It was a simple process that helped create the bells, whistles and other flourishes that accentuate these love letters. This also means that these homespun trinkets lend things a clean and charming sound that really moves you.

The title track opens proceedings with a simple message, to “Celebrate tonight” and “Start living”. It boasts groovy guitar, hand-claps and is a positive instruction to just let go and enjoy the moment, allowing the joy to envelope you like a warm hug. It is also a reflection of the sort of person this artist is now; full of optimism and one could say a testimony to a life well lived. And Donovan’s love obviously plays a star role in all this, not to mention a big part in “Shine”. It boasts a calm sway and is like a slow dance about the enduring power of love.

On “You” Frankenreiter could be standing on a beach with a flower in hand. It’s a happy ditty with a skipping beat that could be by his mate, Jack Johnson. In writing “Same Lullaby,” Frankenreiter found himself counting his blessings after a tragedy. He decided he had an almost primitive desire for people to put down their weapons and get together and sing the same lullaby. He wanted everyone to get on the same wavelength, if only for one moment and in many ways this makes it rather reminiscent of Ben Lee’s “We’re All In This Together”.

The album also includes the tribute, “A.I.,” written for Andy Irons who passed away in November 2011. It’s a gentle ode and sounds like the wind coming off the trees while Frankenreiter sings about wanting to share just one more moment with his lost mate. Such events have clearly matured this artist and made him all the more thankful for his lot in life. As he sums up on “Together Forever” it’s all about “Two kids and an island in the sun”.

Ultimately, Start Livin’ is the kind of record that sits somewhere between the enthusiasm for family and the world that John Butler typically sings about, as well as Josh Pyke’s letters to his sweetheart. It’s calm and cool and often like little, golden rays of sunshine that you’ll want to share at a gathering around a campfire, on a back porch, around the kitchen table or on the family couch. The main theme is togetherness and being appreciative for this life. With its sweet charm and optimism, it’ll no doubt earn Frankenreiter some new friends and fans and this Don’s so great that you just know he’s always at the ready to reciprocate with some kind words. In short, Start Livin’ will ensure that everybody’s gonna be happy.

 

Originally published on 21 May 2012 at the following website: http://www.thedwarf.com.au/nd/albumreviews/start_livin_donavon_frankenreiter

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LIVE REVIEW: THE BRIAN JONESTOWN MASSACRE & THE RAVEONETTES @ METRO THEATRE (17.05.2012)

Anton Newcombe is on a mission. The enigmatic frontman from The Brian Jonestown Massacre wants to “Rip the lungs outta of pop culture and smoke ‘em”. At Sydney’s Metro show – the first on this tour – he did all this and then some. But then, this came after he’d passed the dutchie to the sole support of the evening, another fellow cult band.

The Raveonettes are Sune Rose Wagner and Sharin Foo. They play garage rock and punk music. At different times this can sound like anything from The Vaccines to The Breeders, The White Stripes to Dum Dum Girls and even Sonic Youth. The fact is the music is energetic and immediate, and it plays out like someone is grabbing you by the shirt and forcing you to sit up and listen.

“Too Close To Heartbreak” saw Wagner and Foo on guitars playing grungy riffs that were like thunder, but also with a flowery 60s vibe and some distortion. For “Heartbreak Stroll” Foo swapped back to bass but it wasn’t a noticeable change because the trio still sounded like they had ten guitars in their arsenal, spilling great waves and riffs beyond the speaker stacks. Nice.

There was a frenzied “That Great Love Sound,” while “Heart Of Stone” had a cool groove to compliment the rumbling guitar riff that seemed to reference the greats like Clapton to Hendrix and various others in between. It was all punchy beats while “Lust” would slow things down a bit, only for the vibrancy to be restored back to eleven on “Dead Sound” and “Blush”.

Wagner was a man of few words. He thanked us all for coming down but for the most part he let the music do all the talking, just as Newcombe would do later on. They had a few songs left to go including the hypnotic “Love In A Trash Can” and the fuzzy, “Ally, Walk With Me”. These guys had put on one tight set, packing more into an hour than some bands do with an entire catalogue. It was sharp, toe-tapping and full of variety, all white light/white heat sounds that could’ve come from an army of musicians and instruments, such was its force and sense of purpose.

But the fact is this audience were there to see one band and that was the headliners, The Brian Jonestown Massacre. They play music that transcends time and geography, and will get you floating away on a moonbeam with its proggy rock-via-psychedelia goodness. “Stairway To The Best Party” was a chiming new track that set that bar high with its rolling layers of East-meets-West sounds.

“Super-Sonic” received cheers form the opening chords and was as fun and nostalgia-filled as sharing those chocolate buttons with little Peter, John, Julia or Sarah back in the schoolyard all those years ago. There was a lot of love in this room for the eight merry men on stage, a rather haphazard looking group if there ever was one. They played guitar (at times up to five of them were playing these together) plus drums, bass and keys. They offered sounds that were textured and full of patterns, it was all rather surreal and like a Dalí painting.

The 60s pop flavoured triumph, “Got My Eye On You” had The Velvet Underground’s brand of art cool. But this serenity was soon dashed when a spry punter tried to storm the stage during “Anemone”. It really seemed indicative of the feelings of silliness in the air. Upstairs a large posse of people were dancing in front of the seated people, leading the latter to follow suit by busting a few grooves on their chairs. There were people smoking, there was a guy in a beanie that looked like he was wearing my nanna’s old tea cosy and there were plenty of girls on shoulders but one truly stood out.

The first time blondie got on her boyfriend’s shoulders security pounced quickly with the lights. But she was defiant and stayed put, responding by making her hands form into a rather cute little, love heart. Both parties continued their standoff, which culminated in her taking her top off to rather rapturous applause from the crowd. Lapping the attention up, she danced like straddling an electric bull, swinging her top around her head. The lighting people were clearly enjoying the mayhem in the crowd; they turned the house lights on the punters at various points in the evening. It was all so fun and zany that I lost count of the number of times the band’s album title, Thank God for Mental Illness sprung into my thoughts.

The group’s prodigal son, Matt Hollywood took lead vocals for the new number “Viholliseni Maalla”. His return to the band has been a welcome one and the song is full of atmosphere and a lazy feel, meaning it sits well amongst the druggy haze of the older material. “Jennifer” was all Beatles-meets-Stones finery with plenty of stomp and golden lights. Then it was time for Newcombe to take the harmonica so Joel Gion could sing lead on the Bobby Jameson cover, “There’s A War Going On”. This had more languid and breathy solos and like much of the music tonight, it seemed perfect to drop in and tune out to. Needless to say, it would have been very easy to float off into the clouds of a colourful, swirling daydream.

There was a lot of dancing in “Not If You Were The Last Dandy On Earth”. The poison pen to The Dandy Warhols had everyone singing along to the “Ba-ba-bas” of sunny pop. But it was at odds with Newcombe’s stage performance as he was a rather unassuming presence at the side of the stage. He seemed quite content to noodle away on the guitars and sing, but not in a bigheaded way because he just got down to business.

It was a far cry from the band’s shows from previous years, where he was a lot more unhinged and unpredictable. Now this mastermind is happily married and sober – and so, like fellow artist Ryan Adams – he comes across as a lot more sedate even though he still relishes having the “villain” tag and acid tongue. For instance, when asked for a song request, Newcombe gave the best rant of the night. He said, “I’m 44 years old. I don’t take requests. Can you imagine playing 52 shows in a row and being like, ‘Sure whatever you say.’ Do you do everything Tony Abbott tells you to do?”

Now Newcombe may have confused the name of our PM but we all laughed. And maybe we could blame this on the fact that the band sounded like they were sharing acid tabs and hookahs in a song like “Clouds Are Lies,” another speckled journey. Despite Newcombe’s desire to shake up popular culture, it’s also pretty clear that he loves wearing his influences on his sleeves. Nothing is sacred and everything is experimental and creative.

The set was completed by “Waking Up To Hand Grenades” a song with a funky, Happy Mondays groove and moments where it sounded like it had been captured in the far reaches of outer space. There was the excellent “Open Heart Surgery” and “Prozac vs. Heroin” enveloped us all like a warm hug before “That Girl Suicide” left us all smiling to its feel good, pop sounds. We all struggled to sing harmoniously and reach those high notes but no one really cared. We were all having way too much fun, something that was repeated in “Oh Lord” with its sunny, sixties surf riffs.

The Brian Jonestown Massacre are one puntastic aural delight. They throw everything into the live melting pot with the old and the new, something borrowed and others blue. Their psychedelic, Eastern-infused rock numbers boast more flourishes and embellishments then a star-studded show pony. At well over two hours, this show was like an elaborate ten course banquet full of ingredients, a bunch of crazy relatives and the right kind of come down. So you’ve got to hand it to the man because Anton Newcombe sure knows how to smoke it!

 

Originally published on 19 May 2012 at the following website: http://www.theaureview.com/sydney/live-review-the-brian-jonestown-massacre-the-raveonettes-%E2%80%93-metro-theatre-17-05-2012

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ALBUM REVIEW: JACK JOHNSON & FRIENDS – BEST OF KōKUA FESTIVAL

When a compilation is billed as being by Jack Johnson and friends the last thing you expect is for an acoustic guitar to steal all the limelight. But this humble instrument is found on every track in many different forms. It’s often slowed down, sped up, plucked and even used to play slide and this is to create music that is folk, reggae, country and pop. But Johnson doesn’t seem to mind, he realises that we’re all friends and this set is in aid of a very good cause.

Some nine years ago, Johnson and his wife Kim set up the Kōkua Hawaii Foundation to support the education of children and adults in schools and communities about their environment and homeland. The aim was to make kids lifelong stewards of the earth and concerts are held every year on Earth Day with local and well-renowned musicians. This set alone reads like a dream line-up with everyone from Bob Marley’s sons- Damian and Ziggy, to old masters like Jackson Browne, Taj Mahal and Willie Nelson, to younger guns like Eddie Vedder and Ben Harper.

The listener is treated to 13 mellow songs that are all sunshine crisp and a smooth kind of clean. It’s soul music in the chicken soup for the soul kind of way as the proceedings strike a chord by leaving everyone feeling much more connected to the cause and the greater good in general. It is very little wonder then that “Kōkua” actually means to extend help to others because this lot achieve so much by doing what they do best, playing music that is a mix of originals and covers, including many by the music man of the hour, Jack Johnson himself.

The album plays out like one complete concert. The cohesiveness is spot-on, as the editors have added little bits of stage banter to introduce and thank the artists, which only adds to the live-show feel. In reality it was recorded at numerous festivals in Honolulu between 2005 and 2010. The gigs sound like a cross between a typical folk benefit, a communal hippie gathering and a breezy day by the beach where you watch the ocean lap at the sand. It really is a sun-kissed celebration for Mother Earth, all peace, love and a pure calm.

“Better Together” sets the scene with its message of love being the answer, as this group work together for a common good. Although it boasts harmonica and bongos, the content (at least lyrically) seems to at least partially mirror John Lennon’s “Power To The People,” except that the greater focus is on communities rather than fighting the powers that be. “Cry Cry Cry” turns the spotlight on the younger generation with talk of setting the children free in a scene rather reminiscent of “Teach Your Children,” made famous by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.

A Jimmy Buffett cover is found on “A Pirate Looks At Forty”- another acoustic ballad thrown into the mix. Similarly, a pleasant, easy listening track is offered in “Take It Easy” by Jackson Browne. The hit was once made famous by The Eagles, but here it gets a rewrite to incorporate the cool, island surrounds in the distance. On “Island Style” and “Breakdown” we get two musicians you’d never thought you’d see in the same sentence, local musician, John Cruz and ukulele virtuoso, Jake Shimbakuro, respectively.

The compilation is rounded out by some reggae with “Welcome To Jamrock,” followed by a Bob Marley cover on “High Tide Or Low Tide”. On “Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain” we sail off into the sunset but not before the Bob Dylan cover and sing-along that is “I Shall Be Released”. By the end, Johnson has proven that he knows his place in the proceedings, because he is quite content to lead some songs and take a back seat on others. He’s so easy and laidback, he really knows when it’s appropriate to join in and when to let others have their moment in the sun.

To date, the Kōkua Hawaii Foundation has funded recycling bins, healthy school snacks and educational field trips back to nature. It’s great to know that this compilation will contribute more of these necessary things to the people that need it. Plus, it allows fans to experience some interesting collaborations, fine music and some gorgeous album artwork (on recycled paper naturally) to boot. Ultimately, Best Of Kōkua Hawaii Festival is a mellow and carefree celebration where the community are lead by one happy Jack.

Originally published on 16 May 2012 at the following website: http://www.fasterlouder.com.au/reviews/music/32572/Jack-Johnson-Friends–Best-of-Kokua-Festival

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ALBUM REVIEW: THE CHIEFTAINS – VOICE OF AGES

Celebrating 50 years of anything is no mean feat. But for Irish folk group, The Chieftains it sounds like business as usual for their Voice Of Ages LP. These musicians are once again joined by an enviable list of collaborators for a knees-up where the main ingredients seem to be balancing your pint of Guinness as you spin a yarn or ten.

Voice Of Ages boasts a classic feel and is lead by the sole, original Chieftain and easily the owner of the best name for an Irish pub, Paddy Moloney. The prolific veterans of the biz have previously worked with Van Morrison, Mick Jagger, Sting and Tom Jones, among others. This time around it’s all about Ireland passing the musical lucky charms to America – or at the very least Americana musicians – including The Decemberists and Bon Iver. It’s a celebration between the young folksters and the old folks through country hoedowns, infectious jigs and earnest ballads.

Across 15 tracks the traditionalists again cross rather familiar terrain that is peppered by flutes, fiddles, strings, pipes and whistles. It is all rather charming and engaging. Plus, the proceedings are as organic as those potatoes and other vegetables growing far below the earth.

“Carolina Rua” features Imelda May but sounds like it could’ve been on Seth Lakeman’s recent album. It is classic-sounding and with a heart of gold while also retaining a very Irish feel. On “Come All Ye Fair & Tender Ladies” we are treated to not one but three lovely, country gals who sound like they’ve gathered close around the fire while they sing in perfect harmony.

Bon Iver’s contribution is “Down In The Willow Garden,” one arranged by Justin Vernon and head Chieftain, Paddy Moloney. Vernon’s whisper-soft falsetto propels the proceedings and helps create one heartfelt tragedy, something that is at odds with the hoedown, “Pretty Little Girl,” that proceeds it. The Civil Wars wrote “Lily Love” specifically for the project while The Decemberists opt for the tried and true, “When The Ship Comes In”. The latter is a ghostly murder ballad originally written by one Bob Dylan.

It sounds like Scotland’s military tattoo make an appearance at the end of “Hard Times Come Again No More” with Paolo Nutini. “Peggy Gordon” meanwhile, is reminiscent of Cat Stevens’ “Moon Shadow,” except that this one has multiple feminine harmonies that are beautiful and lilting. Another fine lady offers a winner on “The Chieftains In Orbit”. Here, NASA astronaut and Chieftains fan, Cady Coleman borrows a tin whistle from the group and records some sounds while floating in space.

Voice Of Ages is a solid effort of sparkly goodness that is rather lively and amiable. Like a skip through verdant fields full of shamrocks, there are nods at this picture-perfect postcard of sheer beauty. It’s an aural adventure that borders on the mystical and is certainly not tied to time and space.

Originally published on 16 May 2012 at the following website: http://www.fasterlouder.com.au/reviews/music/32574/The-Chieftains–Voice-Of-Ages

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EP REVIEW: TIN SPARROW – FAIR & VERDANT WOODS

Tin Sparrow are in good company. They’re the supports on Boy & Bear’s tour. Their sophomore EP was produced by Liam Judson i.e. the frontman of Belles Will Ring and one of their older songs was produced by Mark Myers (ex The Middle East). Whether this is a curious case of serendipity, divine intervention or just because, this Sydney indie-folk quartet has elements of all three of these groups permeating their sound.

After being together as a band for just six months (a little longer if you consider that a few members had been jamming together for years) they’ve kicked numerous goals. Having built a following and releasing a promising debut, they’re back. This offering, their second EP, was produced in a mere week in Sydney, proving that it’s all about quality, not quantity.

“My Own” shimmers like gold and is all sunshine and lollipops. The track is smooth and sweet with soaring, boy-girl vocals courtesy of Matt Amery and Sonja Van Hummel. It also has a 60s-feel and when coupled with whistling and toe-tapping goodness is a dead ringer for a hit by Boy & Bear.

The word “Azzuro” looks so similar to the Italian one for blue but this track is anything but – the single has some dreamy Cloud Control-esque pop and the kind of harmonies usually synonymous with Fleet Foxes. The following track, “Sides,” sounds like Mumford & Sons while “Bricks” is another ballad, but one that manages to sound purely angelic despite being about the difficult period post-breakup. Some wistful feelings about a bad relationship are also found in “Hector Myola” where George Harrison’s style of guitar playing is morphed to incorporate the vibe found in the wild west, particularly a saloon that is out in the desert and isolated enough for the tumbleweeds to blow past.

The EP shows that Tin Sparrow are in good company indeed. They often sound like they’re sitting amongst musical friends and influences in the countryside with many a cup of warm brew. Fair & Verdant Woods is about scorched Aussie summers and rustic homes that back out onto an Aussie bush that is frequently majestic but often tough. The songs – like this terrain – are polished but not so perfect to exclude things that are a little earthy and wild. In all, it’s one cohesive set of alluring and mature indie folk that is emotionally charged and gorgeous in its own right.

Originally published on 16 May 2012 at the following website: http://www.fasterlouder.com.au/reviews/music/32573/Tin-Sparrow–Fair-Verdant-Woods

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DVD REVIEW: THE SKIN I LIVE IN

The Skin I Live In is a provocative film. While some people will find elements of it titillating, others will no doubt find it extreme and even grotesque. It is a difficult film, a suspense-filled drama that is initially shrouded in many layers of ambiguity. The dramatic build-up does reach a serious climax, as all these issues are resolved in an eye-popping way during the final act.

Director Pedro Almodóvar has described the tale as a “Horror story without screams or frights”. The reason it is unlike a conventional scary, blood and gore type flick is because this one is instead about a star surgeon played by Antonio Banderas. He seems – at least initially – to be rather innocently designing a new form of synthetic skin in a labour-of-love-type way for his wife who has been badly burned in a car crash. But what ensues is an almost Frankenstein-meets-The Silence Of The Lambs-style story. It goes without saying that this is not one for the faint-hearted.

The Skin I Live In is set in Toledo, Spain and gradually the story unfolds to reveal minor aspects of its true core before ultimately getting under your skin. The film is beautifully shot and is peppered with fantastic artworks as well as zeroing in on lead actress, Elena Anaya’s body. It is a perfect female form but it does mean that the proceedings often feel a lot like a skin flick. The overarching idea however, is one of an art-house movie that is also rather surreal even though the edges seem rather ragged, proof positive that even things that are truly beautiful can also be ugly.

Almodóvar’s offering is a dark and twisted tale that grapples with issues like gender, identity, love and ethics. It boasts lots of twists and turns. While these aforementioned themes have been tackled before rather frequently, it is with a rare kind of panache that it is executed here. The road less travelled proves a weird, off-the-wall sort of fantasy that will cause you bewilderment. Full of surprises and controversy, The Skin I Live In is a kitsch film about some damaged and troubled souls that will induce goose bumps in the viewer (and whether they are of pleasure or pain remains to be seen).

Originally published on 15 May 2012 at the following website: http://lipmag.com/arts/film-arts/dvd-review-the-skin-i-live-in/

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LIVE REVIEW: PRINCE @ ALLPHONES ARENA (11.05.2012)

Photo credit: Prince at Allphones Arena, Sydney, Australia – 11th May 2012, 
courtesy of NPG Records.

Prince was once a symbol but these days he’s an icon. He’s responsible for so many hits- from other artists to solo works and whatever flamboyant guise he’s decided to wear that particular day. It’s hardly a surprise that his concert attracted all types and was a true celebration of music and love. There were the diehard fans who had been around long before ’99; the guys and girls in purple; lovely ladies in raspberry berets; the dotting punks that love pop and the children of the eighties – like myself – who grew up singing his songs and thinking cream was what went on top of ice-cream sundaes. We’ve all grown up a little since then, but for most people Friday night was the fulfillment of a fantasy (childhood or otherwise) to see the almighty, purple one.

The first show of the Welcome 2 Australia Tour was in Sydney. The suspense rose as the colourful artist formerly known as turned up fashionably late. The love symbol was everywhere from the elaborate stage in the centre of the arena to a number of guitars and the large screens that were filled with electric blue lighting bolts indicating his imminent arrival. But Prince also tried to keep things intimate as the tables around the stage lent it a small-club feel. There was some golden light as he played up the role of a Vegas Reverend in a sequined suit while a beautiful bride (Damaris Lewis) walked down the almost runway-like front of the stage. The waltz was a taste of “Purple Rain” on the acoustic guitar and was a sign of the “Gold” to come while it rained glitter from the ceiling.

Prince soon established how multi-talented he is. He pulls out moves that are like a cross between Jagger and Michael Jackson. He also grooves like the latter, reaches the high notes like a camp Little Richard, is a soul man like James Brown and can play the kind of inspired electric guitar solos that Hendrix did so well. And that’s not to discount his own personal ecstatic, electric and eccentric personality. While influenced by others, he really is like no other, an untouchable living legend and tour de force.

In “Jam Of The Year” he got people clapping along and throwing their hands up high in the air. It was the perfect way to prep us for the starry-eyed pop of “Let’s Go Crazy”. There was a quick costume change with Prince now wearing a gold, leather-fringed jacket while the dancers were dressed in 1920s-flapper style white. It proved the kind of stirring, synth pop that put a stupid grin on everyone’s face, one that continued into “Delirious”.

Prince said “1999” was our song and he was right. It’s the track that’s a staple for our own elaborate, New Year’s Eve fireworks displays and tonight it had plenty of smoke and boogieing to the pounding drums courtesy of the New Power Generation’s John Blackwell. It was as big a party as an end of year (or millennium) celebration, before the sultry and stripped-back, “Little Red Corvette”. Prince then cajoled the Aussie blokes to sing it for the ladies like a rather giving and mutual musical foreplay.

The back-up singers (Shelby Johnson, Elisa Fiorillo and Olivia Warfield) then took over the reigns for a cover of “Lost & Found” by Lianne La Havas. Then Prince returned and with Johnson, the pair showed off their powerful voices in “Nothing Compares 2 U”. This was well received and was teased out a little longer than the original. It was after all, “real music” and fabulous to boot!

Messer Purple then asked us if we wanted to dance with him for “Take Me With You” and everyone did, before the mass sing-along and cartoon visuals of “Raspberry Beret”. There was another ace with “Cream”. It was so hot and sexy you almost felt like you were impregnated just by watching. The band jammed along in an abundance of colour, light and movement, plucking a group of lucky punters from the audience for a jam on stage in a scene reminiscent of Iggy Pop’s shows. This one was more about bouncing and dancing and it seemed as appropriate a moment as any to segue into a cover of “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough,” as the Purple posse collectively grooved like the late King Of Pop.

For “Sometimes It Snows In April” Prince noodled away on the electric guitar while NPG’s Andy McKee did a stellar job on the acoustic. It was a slower ballad with light and dark shades, like a proper winter in the arena complete with snow-like glitter. There was the beautiful funk cover of Martika’s “Love… Thy Will Be Done”. It was a careful reminder to appreciate the little things but in true Prince style he added his trademark wit and funny banter. Consider: “We should all be grateful for one another and be grateful for music- it brings people together. Why else would we all be here? Free pizza?”

The flashing piano-via-sampler was responsible for allowing The Artist to create the spine tingly, “When Doves Cry”. The star was like a crazed wizard jamming away with flashes of beeps and blops; it’s something Fishing would love to create and music that can’t be made by a band. But these weeping doves soon turned into bold eagles soaring high into the feverish stomp of “I Would Die For You,” where we had great fun with its scatterbrain-like punch.

At this stage in the game most musicians would’ve exhausted the majority of their hits. But not Prince. “Kiss” was massive and had an extended part as the spotlight zeroed in on the dancing crowd. It was then time to slow things down and get those lighters out for “Purple Rain,” all liquid drops of moonlight and soft rays swirling around to create musical confetti. The almost three-hour set was then closed by the encores: “Controversy” and after a rather long wait we received “Peach,” in something that proved well worth the delay.

Prince’s show is one well-oiled machine. He is a consummate perfectionist and professional and even though a pedant might have noticed some minor issues with his mic low in the mix and some minor technical problems with the guitar, the band and dancers (including two stunning twins) pulled off one excellent show. Plus, most of us were far too busy going crazy- singing, dancing, throwing our arms around our mate(s) and becoming absolutely besotted by the legend.

The purple one’s music had taken in everything from catchy pop to anthemic electronics, hyper beats and enthralling ballads, plus soul music and groovy funk. And all this had been packaged as danceworthy and lusty visions of pure joy. The good vibes had sent tingles down our spines one minute and then turned us into dopey children with huge grins on our faces the following one, as we all danced like our lives depended on it. You just couldn’t fight it…

Prince’s Welcome 2 Australia show was part theatre, part dance party, a musical celebration and heck, even a spiritual experience. Prince may not be a King but he proved he’s certainly a God and one worth his weight in diamonds and pearls. His first show in Oz in 9 years was rather hot and heavy and a welcome return. So all that’s left to say is lie, cheat, beg, borrow or steal, do anything you can to get yourself a ticket. You won’t be disappointed.

Originally published on 12 May 2012 at the following website: http://www.theaureview.com/sydney/live-review-prince-allphones-arena-sydney-11-05-2012

Visit The Au Review’s homepage at: http://www.theaureview.com/

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