Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Dom Martin - Buried In The Hail

Personality. Originality. Talent.
There isn’t a simple formula for making standout, attention-grabbing music, but I reckon those three qualities will probably get you a long way – and Dom Martin has them in spades, as his third album Buried In The Hail demonstrates.
This isn’t yer common-or-garden blues-rock album.  Dom Martin goes his own way, right from the start.  ‘Hello In There’ is a dreamy, zephyr-like opener, Martin’s folkie acoustic guitar picking
Dom Martin gets electrified
Pic by Tony Cole
conjuring up a pastoral mood, embellished by faint background noises like children’s voices in a playground.  And he doesn’t feel the need to make a grand statement at the other end of the album either, where ‘Laid To Rest’ is the dying fall its title would suggest.  Over minimalist tapped out percussion, punctuated by an unusual harp-like springing noise, Martin picks away at a sparse, repetitive guitar line, with a tone that’s almost banjo-like in its brittle steeliness.  And that’s all folks.
As on his previous album A Savage Life, at times he draws on some John Martyn-like Celtic folk stylings in his own distinctive way, as on ‘Government’ and ‘The Fall’.  The former marries glistening acoustic guitar chords and a halting drumbeat to Martin’s gruff but sensitive vocal, as he intones a weary, mantra-like lyric about how “It’s time to call it a day” until the song stalls like an unwound clock.  Meanwhile ‘The Fall’ progresses from isolated, frost-bright strums of guitar into glittering picking like a winter stream, accompanying Martin’s patient, drawn-out vocals.  Has he overdubbed guitar parts to create the intricate guitar-scape that develops?  I dunno, but it sure sounds like there’s a whole lot of picking going on.
Things get more obviously bluesy on a few tracks.  ‘Daylight I Will Find’ has a rootsy vibe, as Martin rolls out tumbling acoustic blues guitar over a simple thudding beat, creating a swaying, hypnotic feel decorated by a few slide guitar fills, while he delivers a characterful vocal, full of good phrasing, about how “It’s been a long old road to ruin / Daylight I will find”.  ‘Howlin’’ has an old-fashioned Delta blues feel, with prickling-and-pointing electric guitar over snappily shuffling drums, creating something jaunty and irresistible.  ‘Buried In The Hail’ itself is a brooding, atmospheric affair that combines restrained electric guitar and Martin’s gruffest vocal, rumbling away in the murk of a stormy night, in a manner akin to a distant cousin of Zeppelin’s ‘Bring It On Home’.  And ‘Lefty 2 Guns’ is absorbing blues storytelling, with a simple, looping guitar line, hesitant bass, and dragging drums, until Martin’s gritty guitar takes off into SRV-ish territory with some scurrying soloing.
Martin can pack a punch too when he wants to though, as on ‘Belfast Blues’, on which his dirty, fuzzy guitar describes a ringing, revolving figure over a stomping drum rhythm that gradually acquires more character as it develops into a driving shuffle, while Martin groans out the vocal and adds dashes of slide.  On ‘Unhinged’, meanwhile, he cranks out some barbed, spiky guitar with squeals of added emphasis, crunches into a classic three chord progression at the end of each verse, before the guitar and drums start slamming into each other with controlled aggression, as a precursor to our Dom goes off on a soloing jaunt with Celtic undertones.
In the midst of all this there’s also a startling, sui generis cover of the Patsy Cline hit ‘Crazy’, which sounds like it’s been relocated from Nashville to a smoky Parisian cellar, with just twinkling guitar notes to accompany Martin’s slow, Tom Waits-like vocal, eventually giving way to some Gary Moore-like electric guitar divertissements over splashes of drums.
It may sound from some of this like there’s nothing dramatic happening here.  No crackerjack electric guitar show-offery.  No bouts of epic, cinematic grandeur.  No wailing vocals.  And that’s true – but at the same time everything is happening.  Like some musical Jedi, Dom Martin casts a spell and draws you into his web.  Buried In The Hail is the sound of a special talent.
Buried In The Hail is out now on Forty Below Records.

Saturday, September 23, 2023

Starlite & Campbell - Starlite.One

Once upon a time there was the largely blues-rock focused Starlite Campbell Band.  Now there’s Starlite & Campbell - a minimalist bit of rebranding to introduce some new adventures in hi-fi from Suzy Starlite and Simon Campbell, reflecting different elements of their musical tastes.  But bearing in mind some of the influences they mentioned in a Gimme 5 feature in these columns, such as Tom Yorke of Radiohead and Laurie Anderson, I approached Starlite.One with some trepidation.
Needn’t have worried though, really.  Okay, so the sounds here aren’t always in my natural
Starlite & Campbell get windswept and interesting
Pic by Paul Husband
wheelhouse, but if the direction of travel is kinda art-proggy it’s never so outré as to be alienating.  They still like to produce appealing melodies and hooks, and they know how to combine instruments combine to produce good sounds.
Opening track ‘Saving Me’ has a link to their past selves, as Campbell’s crooning, patient vocal recalls the title track of their last studio album, The Language Of Curiosity, and it has a penetrating little guitar motif to bring cutting edge to its undercurrent of throbbing bassline and Kraftwerkisch bubbling and bleeping synth sounds, as well as one of the aforementioned appealing melodies.  And ‘The Voting Machine’ burbles along with motorik pulsing, augmented by washes of keyboards, and with injections of biting, twirling guitar themes.  But this time the singer is Suzy Starlite, with her clear, pure English voice redolent of . . . who?  Julie Covington, maybe?
Suzy’s vocal precision is also evident in the brief vignette that is ‘Everything’, with spot-on tuning and phrasing over minimalist keys.  And she also takes the lead on ‘The Coat’, singing yearningly and hesitantly as she captures images and emotions from a relationship in the process of breaking-up, over a backing of tooting keys and little else, except some interpolations of atmospheric drums from Hugo Danin.
There’s a more naturalistic air to the elegiac ‘Blow Them All To Pieces’, with a soft and wistful vocal from Campbell over simple acoustic strumming and harmonium-like keys, before the strumming takes a different, appealing turn.  With the addition of some Wakeman-esque twiddly synth it takes on a Yessy pastoral-meets-electronica vibe akin to, say, ‘Wondrous Stories’ – with added filigrees of flute.  Campell then revisits his crooning mode on ‘This Time (Is Gonna Be The Last Time)’, but bending it into a Scott Walker-ish timbre (Walker being another avowed person of interest to the duo) over more squelching, shoulder-twitching synth rhythms, given extra urgency by crisp Danin drumming.
Danin’s drum elaborations also help to ground ‘Shine On The Light On Me’, a love song set to Ultravox-esque electro-bleeping, with patient harmonising from Suzy and Simon, spoken word reflections from the former, and occasionally corny lyrics about “Splendiferous isolation, you are my constellation”.
Another vignette in the form of ‘Mother’, in which spooky, sci-fi backing blends in Vocoder-like vocalisation effects doesn’t really do it for me.  But the closing ‘A Part Of Me Is Broken (Part 2) is edgily convincing, with solid, brooding guitar work over a tripping, revolving drum rhythm and an undertow of keyboard machinations.  Campbell’s guitar then gradually breaks free into some sturdy meditations, counterepointed by more swirling synths, until La Starlite adds some more spoken work musings about “memory eroded by dementia, replaced by the fallacy of eternal youth” and such-like.  Whatever you say, Suzy – the important thing is that this is the strongest track on the album, stirring up vague echoes of Steve Hillage’s ‘The Glorious Om Riff’.  Well, maybe.  How about a cover of that in your live set, Suzy and Simon?
Starlite.One perhaps won’t fit the bill for some fans of the blues-leaning Starlite Campbell Band. But there’s mileage in these here explorations.  Hop on board their spaceship, and see where it takes you.
Starlite.One is out now, and available here.
Starlite and Campbell are touring Britain from 29 September.

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Lance Lopez - Trouble Is Good

When ‘Jam With Me’ kicks in, it seems apt that Gregg Bissonette is guesting on the drum stool, because the lead single from Lance Lopez’s new album Trouble Is Good doesn’t half remind me of Dave Lee Roth’s ‘Knucklebones’, on which Bissonette did the tub-thumping.  It’s a catchy, bouncing tune with a good-time vibe that declares “A little rock’n’roll sets you free”, and underlines that sentiment with good riffing, a bundle of slide fills from Lopez, a squealing solo, and some neat variations in the backing.  All in all it’s three and a half minutes of rocking goodness.
Lance Lopez weighs the benefits of wearing shades indoors
‘Jam With Me’ may be the high point on Trouble Is Good, but there are some other goodies worth hearing too.  At one end the opener ‘Easy To Leave’ comes with a jarring riff over thumping bass’n’drums, while adopted Texan Lopez delivers his vocal with a satisfying rasp redolent of Albert Castiglia.  There’s a skating slide break too, plus a nifty revolving bridge and a punchy Lopez solo, all banged out with conviction.  And at the other end the closer ‘Voyager’ is a quite different proposition.  A seven-minute quasi-epic ostensibly in three parts, it opens in atmospheric style, combining swirling guitar and phased drum sounds, then some Blackmore-like Arabic picking over washes of keyboards.  The mid-section leans on some Page-like, discordantly jangling chords, on the way to a swooping’n’soaring conclusion, before a wistful coda, illustrating Lopez’s musical range.
Okay, so along the way from alpha to omega the quality can be a bit variable, with the off-the-leash power of ‘Take A Swing’ sounding rhythmically messy, while ‘Trying In The Tri-Star State’ is a mid-tempo paean to Nashville that’s a bit of plod.  But Lopez’s guitar playing is always there to grab your attention, with a blistering solo on the former, and some harem-scarem fretwork enlivening the latter.  And if the title track is a tad predictable, it's still well done, a sturdy thing that has balls and swing to give some younger hotshots a run for their money, embellished with some warped slide work and a squawking harp solo to add a rootsy vibe.
‘Uncivil War’ is also convincing, not exactly a ballad but a fatigued reflection on modern times, offering the bitter comment “I'm getting sick and tired of this uncivil war”, dappled with some watery Fender Rhodes piano.  ‘Slow Down’ is another nod towards Diamond Dave territory – slower and glossier, with a bright spiky riff matched to a loose, inviting rhythm, and if the chorus is a bit simplistic it’s still effective enough.  ‘Reborn’ is even better, with a bit of swing and a 60s vibe reinforcing an upbeat lyric and mood, and with some nifty guitar breaks suggesting that Lopez is having plenty fun.
The PR bumf suggests that Lance Lopez is a descendant of the Texas blues scene that fostered Stevie Ray Vaughan and ZZ Top, but those aren’t really the kind of sounds that I hear.  To my ears Lopez is more of a hard rocker, sometimes suggestive of Ted Nugent in the bright and breezy form of Weekend Warriors – though ‘Voyager’ shows that he also has other strings to his bow. Trouble Is Good makes for a pretty enjoyable 40 minutes – and it’s definitely worth getting an earful of ‘Jam With Me’.
Trouble Is Good is out now on Cleopatra Records.