Category Archives: CD review

Junior Murvin – Police and Thieves (Deluxe Edition) (10/10)

 58491_2.jpg

This stone cold classic roots album gets a deservedly lavish 2 CD re-release treatment from Island. Recorded by Lee Perry in 1977 at Black Ark Studios, Police and Thieves captures Murvin, Perry, and the Upsetters all at the height of their powers – not just on the anthemic title cut but on Roots Train, Solomon, Tedious, Lucifer, and pretty much else everything here.

The disk and a half’s worth of bonus material is phenomenal, packed with previously unreleased alternate takes, extended dubs, and Curtis Mayfield covers. The nine minute version of Roots Train featuring Dillinger alone is worth the price of admission.

Black Sabbath – Vol 4, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, Sabotage, Technical Ecstasy, Never Say Die! (8/10)

black-sabbath-sabbath-bloody-sabbath.jpg

You can plot Sab’s decline and disintegration by the de-metallification of their cover art across these 5 albums. In the early seventies, the Gothic script and demonic fantasy art of Sabbath Bloody Sabbath shows the godfathers of metal at the height of their powers. By late in the decade, however, we get the brightly coloured sci-fi conceptualism of Technical Ecstasy and Never Say Die!, and a corresponding drop-off in the quality of the music.

Still, any self-respecting metal fan should own Vol 4 and Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, and even on their ropey later albums there are still occasional moments of big dumb riffing brilliance.

Remastered but still pretty muddy by today’s standards, there are no extra demos, alternate versions, or other goodies included here. Whether you’ll bother to replace your existing CDs will depend on your devotion to the band.

The Isley Brothers – The Motown Anthology (9/10)

isley.jpg

With a career dating from the early 1950s and spanning the better part of fifty years, The Isleys are an R&B institution. Not a ‘Best Of’, this double CD collects almost everything the original three brothers recorded during their stint on Tamla Motown between 1965 and 1968.

Never particularly happy on the label, The Isleys recorded a series of classic Holland-Dozier-Holland tunes while there but only had one hit (This Old Heart of Mine). After leaving Motown they recruited a few young family members and discovered funk, but that’s a different story. With a wealth of B-sides, mono versions, and covers, there are plenty of up-tempo Northern Soul nuggets to be discovered here.

A Mountain of One – Institute of Joy (8/10)

mountainofone.jpg

Frequently compared to Fleetwood Mac and Pink Floyd, A Mountain of One play an usual brand of pysch rock drawing equally from classic prog and contemporary nu-disco. While this might sound like a weird hybrid of styles, it’s all very much in keeping with rising popularity of Balearic and cosmic disco among aging dance aficionados, and sure enough the band members have all paid their dues in house and disco circles.

From the quasi-spiritual lyricism to the lush, immersive production, these guys are serious about what they’re doing – and if occasionally they sound as overblown or directionless as their 1970s predecessors, well that’s probably all part of the plan.

Manchester Orchestra – Mean Everything To Nothing (6/10)

manchester-orchestra-mean-everything-to-nothing-2009.jpg

Sophomore LP from a band who despite their name have nothing to at all do with Manchester, hailing in fact from Atlanta, GA. The presence there of OutKast and sunshine does little to raise their spirits, however, and Mean Everything To Nothing is comprised mostly of sub Cobain adult alternative angst courtesy of lead singer and guitarist Andy Hull.

Fans of guitars will no doubt find something to get their teeth into here, either among the Bright Eyes style acoustic-introspective numbers (The River) or in the rocky, hooky loud-quiet-loud of In My Teeth.

Florence Rawlings – A Fool In Love (4/10)

florence-rawlings.jpg

Mike Batt, industry honcho and the man behind many a memorable theme song (Watership Down, The Wombles, The Hunting of The Snark) plucks starlet Rawlings from obscurity to perform a set of “raw southern soul grooves” on his Dramatico label.

Batt’s songwriting and production show all the gritty soulful authenticity you’d expect from a former official Conservative Party composer, while Rawling’s voice would better suit sanitised pop. A couple of rock’n’roll covers (from Ike Tuner and Chuck Berry) also fail to convince, but most offensive is the mangling of Allen Toussaint’s Riverboat. In short, awful.

Killa Kela – Amplified! (5/10)

kella.jpg

Beatboxer and multivocalist Killa Kela continues to move further away from his hip hop roots towards an upbeat radio-friendly rock-dance crossover sound. If that sounds bad, it is. Witness the vacuous Rage Against the Machine gone drum’n’bass angst of Get A Rise, and Kela’s almost comically lightweight rhymes (‘I listen closely to the times that you speak/it’s like a jigsaw I can’t complete’).

To be fair though, this is really all about big dumb hooks and production chops. To that end, Alan Braxe’s disco gloss on Crouch Touch Pause Engage and Everyday provide the highlights here.

The XX – Basic Space (9/10)

the-xx.jpg

Don’t be fooled by the austere, abstract name. The XX’s intimate, personal songs will make you feel good, in a melancholy way. In fact, it’s their songwriting, together with their refusal to turn the emo knob up to 11 that lifts them above the current crop of early eighties revivalist indie acts.

VCR celebrates the romance of the pre-DVD era, while Heart Skips A Beat lives up to its title with a stuttering rhythm track and minimal instrumentation. Low-key New Order guitar lines, nice synth textures, and cute boy-girl duet vocals high in the mix – what’s not to like?

Mariachi El Bronx – El Bronx (7/10)

mariachi-el-bronx.jpg

The band name suggests a strange musical hybrid, which is exactly what you get. Originally conceived as a one-off side project, Mariachi El Bronx are now enjoying far greater success than the ‘proper’ band that gave them birth, LA punkers The Bronx.

Here they leave their snarling electric guitars to one side, sensibly opting to write a new set of songs specifically to show off their mariachi chops. Indie rock songs sung in English backed by acoustic strumming and big horn section: as you’d expect, a bit of a novelty, a lot of fun, and a solid summer listen.

Soulsavers – Broken (7/10)

soulsavers.jpg

Sometimes the relationships that end up working are the ones you least expect to. That certainly seems the case with Soulsavers, an unlikely collaboration between two LA-based UK dance producers and former Screaming Trees front-man Mark Lanegan, who seem to be going from strength to strength.

Broken, their third proper album is once again dominated by Lanegan’s deep deep voice and a maudlin, country-gothic vibe (the Will Oldham-penned You Will Miss Me When I Burn sets the tone). Think Tom Waits or Tindersticks with lush ProTools production. Spritualized’s Jason Pierce is roped in for support.