erasing clouds

5 Music Reviews

by john stacey

Astrid, Astrid (Incarnation)

'Erudite, elegant and sexy'...'technicolour brilliance' .. 'Songs of haunting beauty and passion'. These are only a few of the things critics have been saying of Shetland-born Astrid Williamson, whose second solo album continues a tradition she began years ago with indie hopefuls Goya Dress. How long ago that seems; now Astrid has grown as a singer and performer, allowing the songs to allow her wistful voice to enchant the listener. Produced in collaboration with Robert White, Astrid the album benefits from the sparse instrumentation and spacious production. "To Love You," with its simple piano figure, and "Calling", which suddenly breaks into a full-on rock song, are both at once uplifting and melancholic. Simplicity is the key to this album, and Astrid has allowed her voice to become the dominant instrument throughout, as in "Girlfriend," where her self-harmonising sends shivers up the spine.

The Contrast, Fade Back In (Rainbow Quartz)

You may find it hard to believe, listening to this sparkling collection of power pop songs, but The Contrast are from Britain's East Midlands. Their music, however, is firmly rooted across the Atlantic. Jangling guitars, creamy harmonies and a verve and dynamic that sounds like it was captured in a recording studio in New York and not in homely Peterborough. There's nothing homely about this, their second album. Sixth track, "Your Starring Role," features darkly chopping guitars reminiscent of Television, while "Smart" is The Jam revisited. Guitarist Dave Reid reckons Fade Back In is the band's most satisfying release yet. True, since their debut, Mystery 1, the sound has toughened up and the guys have developed a real Contrast identity - shimmering, catchy pop songs, lyrics that are worth following and a fine balance between rawness and sophistication. I think we have found a worthy successor to Teenage Fanclub.

Jamie Hoover/Bill Lloyd, Paparazzi (Paisley Pop)

Paparazzi storms out of the speakers like the Ghost of Power Pop, intent on wreaking havoc with your ears. The vocals, the jangling guitars, the beat, the sheer construction of the songs shouts out - here is Greg Khin, Cheap Trick, the Rubinoos and every power pop combo you have loved over the years sliced up, thrown together and brought to life like some benign Frankenstein monster. Sure Jaimie and Bill have got all the moves, the licks, the ideas in the right order; after all, they have got the pedigree - Jamie has been with power pop legends The Spongetones for what seems an eternity and he has served as sideman with the likes of the wonderful Orange Humble Band, the divine Don Dixon and the tragically under-rated Smithereens. Bill, on the other hand, has produced for Sweethearts Of The Rodeo and his songs have been covered by the likes of Marshall Crenshaw, Guy Clark and Hootie and The Blowfish. Together with guest drummer, the Smithereens' Dennis Dicken, Jamie and Bill have produced an album of pure power pop heaven - 12 tracks of on-the-button magic; "Show And Tell The World," "Better Left Alone," "Still Not Over You" and "It Could Have Been You" are stone classics. These are feelgood nuggets of pure power pop happiness with more than a few nods in the direction of Elvis Costello, the Beach Boys and Graham Parker.

Rob Reynolds, Sightseeing (Invisible Hands)

The Star on Sunday newspaper claimed that Rob would be the next big thing; certainly his second album finds him in fine form, displaying a powerful voice that manages to blend soul, funk and rock in equal measure. Opener, "Sweet Mother" - championed by Radio 2, which may or may not be a good thin - has an irresistible hookline, with the rhythm propelled by explosive drumming from Massive Attack drummer Carlos Hercules, while standout Sherryman sees Rob tackle a thrusting, danceable groover that immediately brings to mind Paul Carrack and Paul Weller. Indeed, there is more than a nod in the direction of Weller's classic, Changingman. Already, Rob has shared the stage with Erroll Brown, Midge Ure, Procol Harum and John Martyn. This means the music on Sightseeing is knowing, cosmopolitan and ready-made for an audience that wants music that doesn't mess around with an attempts to be post-modern, post-rock or post-anything. Let's face it, there are millions of people out there who are not remotely interested in the latest trends in popular music. Rob Reynolds might not be breaking any barriers with Sightseeing, but what has done is produce music that is catchy, funky, tuneful and bears repeated listening. Take the tour.

Barb Waters, Rosa Duet (Laughing Outlaw)

Think of duets, and who springs to mind? George and Tammy; Porter and Dolly; Conway and Loretta (or, more recently, Jack White?) And, of course, Emmylou and Gram. The duet has been a staple of modern recent country music and, when done well, can be a marvellous thing. Now Australian singer-songwriter Barb Waters has joined that hallowed list with Rosa Duet, 10 songs that are guaranteed to bring a smile to your face. The idea for the album grew out of the kind of back porch, kitchen-table singalongs that Waters loves. A couple of guitars, a few friends and magic appears. Waters has captured that essence on this album; 10 disparate songs that not only showcase her fine singing voice, but also allow her fellow dueters (ists?) to take their share of the glory. Standout tracks are a wonderful "When Will You Come My Way", with Rob Snarski of the Blackeyed Susans, and "Wipe Away The Tears," a classic, jangling song with Lisa Miller and Rebecca Barnard, both established country and rockabilly artists Down Under. Rosa Duet is sterling stuff; simply produced, with just enough instrumentation and, of course, those voices.

Issue 23, May 2004

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