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Albums – Newcastle Student Radio

EP Review: Holychild – Mindspeak

Who wouldn’t be attracted by a super colourful donut covered in sprinkles? That is exactly what caught my attention when I first saw Holy Child’s sample EP in our studio at NSR.

 

I took it with me to the library, and with an intense schedule full of assignments deadlines and exams ahead of me, I put it in my computer and waited for inspiration.

And there I found it!

 

The first song “Happy With Me”, immediately puts a smile on your face and you find yourself singing along, following the rhythm with your head even if it is the first time you hear it. Those bouncy and girly tunes will tickle your imagination and take you somewhere in sunny California, on the beach, even if, harsh but true, you are in cloudy Newcastle, studying in a dark room.

 

This feeling of lightness never leaves you until the end of the EP, it is then when you will be abruptly taken back to reality and wish there were more song in it.

 

The playlist has only 4 tracks on but they are consistent, they seem to follow a chronological order that in the end will tell you a story about love, men, relationship, life…The music style keeps the same pace throughout the 15 minutes lent of the EP, sometime speeding with more indie, electro-pop sounds like in “Playboy Girl”, to a heavier drums presence in “Every Time I Fall”, until you reach the last song, “Pretend Believe”, with a completely different pace, the least bubbly and pop of the whole lot, that reminds me of mix between the Morningwood, in their early days with “Nth Degree”, and the synthpop vibes of an early LaRoux.

 

Fun, glamour, feminism, drums, a hint of the 80s music and modern electro-indie influences, the result is definitely positive. the Holychild are for sure a duo we should keep our eyes on.

 

Sara Antonacci

 

Album Review: We Will Be Fine – The Serafinos

With the recent successes of Mark Ronson, case Pharrell, viagra order and, sadly, Robin Thicke, much has been made about the return of soul music as pop music. Certainly, this is true, yet soul music has never really gone away, with many independent artists and groups creating great music that has simply gone amiss of the mainstream. One such example is that of The Serafinos, a collection of musicians assembled by bassist Marco Meniconi, who has overseen the creation of a great new soulful album entitled We Will Be Fine.

 

The whole album fits into the mould of the Memphis soul style of Hi-Records, the label responsible for the success of Al Green and Ann Peebles; indeed, the tight drum sound and rhythm arrangements, coupled with actual horn players is a delight. The album opens with a great song entitled ‘Hand on Heart’, which has the horns blaring from the get go, setting the pace for the rest of the album, and introduces the main vocalist on the album Hayley Williams who handles her leads with ease and sophistication. Newcastle Student Radio is also represented on the song, with co-Station Manager Tom Payne throwing down some tasty guitar work in the bridge, helping to make the song one of the best on the album.

 

Another highlight is the title track, which sees Williams delivering another impressive vocal, combined with another superb horn arrangement accompanying the incredibly tight yet funky rhythm section. The track impresses further with the Rhodes solo of Spencer James, laced again with those horns, with Williams riding the track well with her vocals. The next track takes the album up a further notch; ‘Don’t Make It All About You’ is a sassy number that Williams delivers feistily, making it another standout.

 

Not all the vocals are led by Williams, on one of the albums slower cuts, ‘Better the Devil…’, Rietta Austin handles the lead, and does a very good job in ending the album on a softer, mellower note. The song itself is well written, and, again, is well arranged, particularly with a quieter, subtler horn arrangement, giving the track beauty and depth, making it a perfect closing number.

 

Marco Meniconi and his collection of musicians and collaborators have delivered a sophisticated and well-produced soul record that would not look out of place in any soul connoisseur’s collection. As announced on their website and their Facebook page, Meniconi is working on the next Serafinos album which will be “quite a difference” from We Will Be Fine, and I’m looking forward their next offering.

 

George Haffenden

 

The Serafinos ‘We Will Be Fine’ is available to purchase now on CD and digital download through MGP Records. For more information visit www.theserafinos.co.uk

ALBUM REVIEW: LIQUID SPIRIT, DELUXE EDITION – GREGORY PORTER

It’s either a testament to the quality of the album, or to Universal’s drive to squeeze as much out of it as possible, that Gregory Porter’s Grammy-winning LP Liquid Spirit has been re-released again. Overall, it’s probably a bit of both. Originally released in 2013, this week sees Universal Bluenote re-release Porter’s third effort (his first on the Bluenote label) which has already become a must have album for soul, jazz, and Radio 2 fans.

 

The album is spectacular, and is reassuring in a time when popular music has become somewhat bland and predictable. The title track, despite being massively overplayed, is nonetheless a wonderful piece of music; Porter’s voice powers over the handclaps and bass, joined by the tight horn arrangement to create a modern jazz classic. ‘Hey Laura’, equally popular on the radio, is a delight: a made-for-radio, three-and-a-half minute ballad with a catchy lyric delivered so brilliantly by Porter. Other highlights include ‘Wind Song’, which sees Porter’s voice glide over a piano-driven track in an incredibly soothing and calming manner; his take on ‘I Fall In Love Too Easily’ stands up to any version recorded; and ‘Free’, the album’s social commentary song.

 

This ‘Deluxe Edition’ sees Porter revisit one of the original release’s tracks, ‘Water Under Bridges’, this time with the help of rising star Laura Mvula. In contrast to the original’s starkness, this version adds a new arrangement, with Porter and Mvula trading lyrics well, with Porter ending the song by recalling other songs on the album including ‘Hey Laura’. Also added is his duet with Jamie Cullum, which is good, but falls in comparison with ‘Water Under Bridges’. Yet Porter supersedes both with his take on the Bill Wither’s classic heart-wrenching song ‘Grandma’s Hands’, which he duets with French soul-star Ben L’Oncle Soul. The acoustic guitar of Bill Withers is replaced by the driving force of the piano, which suits Porter in particular well; indeed, this duet is inspired, giving L’Oncle Soul exposure in the UK and US markets, which is mightily deserved.

 

Accompanying this release is a thirty-minute long DVD which features five songs from Porter’s performance with the Metropole Orkest, a fine ensemble of musicians based in the Netherlands. These musicians have been the go-to orchestra for many jazz, soul, and pop acts in recent years, including Chaka Khan and Al Jarreau, who put a live album out of their performance.

 

The DVD features Porter singing ‘Grandma’s Hands’: the original, minimalist version on the album is contrasted with this live performance, which sees the horn and string sections of the Metropole Orkest dominate, re-working the song into something of a soul-jazz standard. Porter handles this in his stride, delivering his vocal with trademark class and finesse. Also featured is an unusual and bold cover of the Muddy Waters classic ‘Hoochie Coochie Man’, which is transformed from gritty blues into what might be called ‘gruff-jazz’, with Porter demonstrating his vocal chops backed masterfully again by Metropole Orkest. However, the standout selection from the DVD is the cover of Donny Hathaway’s soul classic ‘Someday We’ll All Be Free’, a song covered numerous times by a whole variety of artists. Unsurprisingly, Porter handles this soul number well; his voice, although slightly deeper, is in the same soulful ilk of Hathaway, who himself had a tendency to include many jazz elements in his recordings.

 

It’s easy to be sceptical of this release as another money-making opportunity for Universal and Porter; no doubt financial interests are at play here, but the additions have been carefully crafted, and unlike some ‘Deluxe’ albums, it has not been thrown together using just alternative/out-takes takes or other lesser songs being thrown in for good measure. Perhaps the only annoyance is that the songs on the DVD would be better suited to an audio only release. Whilst it is nice to see a full orchestra at work, and Porter performing, it’s unlikely anyone will be watching this day-after-day. In a similar vein, whilst this album is superb and nothing should detract from that fact, it has been two years since its first release, and his fans – myself included – are itching for a new Gregory Porter. This re-release is unlikely to make that itch go away anytime soon.

George Haffenden

Gregory Porter’s Deluxe Edition of ‘Liquid Spirit’ is out now on Universal Bluenote. 

 

Album Review: The Destructors – 131313 Malachance

Are you a friggatriskaidekaphobic?

Punk is not dead, purchase folks! Nor are the Destructors. Never heard of them before? Maybe you are too young. Here are the essentials… They are a punk rock band from the 70s, from Peterborough and still active in producing intense punk rock songs.

131313 Malachance is their latest album, released earlier this year. It’s quite a mysterious album particularly if you look at it from the outside: hand-sketched quirky drawings in a comic book style, title in small font at the top, but no clear mention of the band’s name. You will have to open the CD case to actually have a clue of who are we talking about, and you will discover a whole world.

Black and white doodles of skulls, bones, black screaming monsters, fortune tellers, dead people and war. You name it, there it will be. The entire album has this gloomy and scary allure, perfect for the upcoming Halloween festivities this weekend. You might want to consider it as the perfect music for your parties.

Everything revolves around bad luck and superstition, emphasised by a few key elements like the repetition of the number 13 in the title, the word Malachance (which is French for bad luck) and the fact that there are 13 songs. It all adds up to a veeery dangerous album.

“Listen to them 3 or 13 times then just like Bloody Mary, the Destructors will come and make your life a misery. […] Go on I dare you…131313 131313 131313…”

Quite funny these guys, aren’t they?

Whether you feel brave enough to buy the CD and put it on, then you will discover that punk music is not only about noise, screams, and swearing against the system. Surprisingly enough I found myself actually enjoying the music while studying… and normally I am not a massive fan of this genre.

Two unexpected gems come from their covers of famous songs. One is “Elenor Rigby” by that evergreen British band that nobody knows, the Beatles, and the other is “Lithium” by Nirvana. Both do justice to their respective original versions.

As for the other songs, do not be judgemental. Press play with an open mind. You’ll be as surprised as me. If you pay attention to the lyrics, which are quite dark and deep, but still realistic. It seems they are truly following a theme and telling a story to their listeners.

In the end, despite the ominous feeling around this CD, I am still alive writing about it, so to all of you who are into this genre who are perhaps put off by the bad luck theme (because your karma is already quite bad and does not need to get worse), this might actually be your cure!

Two negatives make a positive.

Sara Antonacci

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Album Review: Jamie T – Carry On The Grudge

After 5 years of silence, seek indie-poet-extraordinaire Jamie Treays rose from the dead last month with the long-awaited release of his new record Carry on the Grudge. Treays’ third album rolls onto our playlists with ease, viagra demonstrating a darker, thumb less ‘screechy’ string on the ‘one man arctic monkey’ bow, still echoing dulcet-shouty-tones of the Wimbledon singer’s ‘Sticks and Stones’ past.

 

Limits Lie’ jerks the album off to a promising start, as Jamie assures us he’s ‘came through the thunder’ and is here to stay. The album as a whole gives off an unintentional air of last year’s chart favourite ‘AM’, and marks a progression from angsty London teenager to fully-grown, non-functioning adult. ‘The Alex Turner effect’ seems to brush over most of the album rather than festering like a painful remake, with ‘Limits Lie’ sparking off the promise of a re-invention from Treays to envy the Sheffield-super-group’s 2013 attempt. The opening track ranks highly alongside the already released singles from Carry on the Grudge; ‘Don’t You Find’ and ‘Zombie’, as well as ‘Rabbit Hole’ and ‘Emily’s Heart’-esque ‘Love is only a Heartbeat’.

 

More nostalgic nods to Jamie’s past material are made seven songs in, through the scat-heavy, standalone anthem ‘Trouble’. With a drum beat that rolls straight off the back of ‘Kings and Queens’ and Treays’ familiar repetitive drone, the track emerges from the rest in the form of a trippy ‘Man’s Machine’ and without a doubt as one of the best songs on the record.

 

One final mention is deserved by the albums closing track ‘They Told Me It Rained’, which aptly finishes off one of the most substantial albums of 2014 with an exuding mixture of despair and enlightenment. ‘Between the birth cry and the death wail/ There’s just houses’ moans Treays over understated guitar and lingering female harmony, capturing perfectly the stale, unspoken sorrows of modern life. In terms of meaning, Jamie T has come a long way from his ‘drunk and being sick’ days of yore, producing lyrics so exquisitely tragic, they would not be out of place in a Sylvia Plath poem.

 

Recent interviews have revealed the singer’s growing obsession with death to be a major influence on his writing, with lyrics like ‘I will leave tracks/ the footsteps back’ seizing Treays’ haunting desire for his now-returning listeners to ‘remember me forever’, and a fear of being forgotten. Though gloomy, if albums 4,5 and 6 portray anything quite as beautifully hewn as ‘Carry on the Grudge’, it would be a crime for his music to drown within his rivals clockwork-indie-drivel. The sheer quality of the record grades it highly among its predecessors and must surely come from Jamie’s 5 year reality-break, though I for one am crossing my fingers the next release won’t take quite as long to perfect!

 

Heather Bradshaw

 

 

 

 

Album Review – Aretha Franklin Sings The Great Diva Classics

It’s hard not to get excited when Aretha Franklin announces that she’s putting out a new album. After all, price she is the eternal Queen of Soul. Yet, viagra 100mg recent work by the Queen has gone somewhat unnoticed: her 2003 album So Damn Happy was very good, cialis and although sold well has been largely forgotten; whilst her attempts at forming her own ‘Aretha Records’ was mostly a failure – her 2008 album A Woman Falling Out Of Love was only released in the US via the WalMart supermarket chain, and was fairly forgettable. Add in a fairly serious health scare a few years back, and it’s been a rough ride for the Queen.

But, under the direction of musical impresario Clive Davis, the Queen is back – armed with some of her favourite Diva Classics from Gloria Gaynor, to Chaka Khan, to Adele. News first broke of a ‘surprise’ Aretha release in late September, yet the album release was pushed back – but a cover of Adele’s mega-hit ‘Rolling In The Deep’ was released on the final date for songs to be considered for the upcoming Grammy Awards. Indeed, a big splash was made about the cover – which is actually fairly good, and full of sass – including an appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman, with her all-star line-up of background singers including former-CHIC man (and Luther Vandross’ best friend) Fonzi Thornton, and Cissy Houston, Whitney’s mother, and gospel singer in her own right.

The album has been available to stream now for a week on both Aretha’s website and Amazon, and the reviews are in – most of them favourable. To begin with, Aretha still has her incredible pipes: she may be knocking on a bit now, and her upper range has diminished somewhat, she is still the best sounding woman in soul music.

The album begins with a cover of the late Etta James’ classic ‘At Last’, which is delivered with gusto even if the arrangement does stay largely true to the original. Moving swiftly on, Aretha’s take on Adele took a while for me to enjoy: after a few listens, I was hooked – Aretha’s vocal performance is outstanding, with the addition of ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’ at the end proves how covers can actually be made decent.

Other highlights include her take on Chaka Khan’s epic ‘I’m Every Woman’ – in which she declares “I am the Queen!” – in which her all-star background singers demonstrate their vocal chops, with Aretha sounding like she’s really enjoying performing this classic. In a similar vein her version of ‘Rolling In The Deep’, Aretha adds in a line-or-two from her classic ‘Respect’, firmly putting her stamp on the track. The final track is a cover of ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’, which is possibly one of the finest tracks on the album. Aretha is given a real breezy, jazzy arrangement and she flies midway through with her jazz-scatting.

Aretha Franklin Sings The Diva Classics proves that she still has it: her vocals are a little gruffer and deeper than a few years back, but that’s only to be expected and can hardly be blamed for it. Some of the album doesn’t perform well: her cover of Gloria Gaynor’s disco-smash ‘I Will Survive’ starts jazzy and slow, and whilst drops into a dance beat the song, for me, doesn’t work as well as it could. Nor does her cover of The Supremes’ ‘You Keep Me Hanging On’ work as well as the other covers; admittedly, it would be hard for anyone to cover Diana Ross – but Aretha does give it a fair go.

Perhaps the overarching criticism of this album is that whilst it is great to hear Aretha back on record, what her fans really want is new music, rather than an album of covers. Yet, record labels appear not to want to make such a risk: legendary artists covering their own songs, or the hits of other legendary artists. Indeed, legendary artists such as Barbara Streisand and Smokey Robinson have already put out albums of duets covering songs already covered hundreds of time. But record labels know these sell; new music, even by such legends, may not. If this album is a stepping stone for Aretha to put out a record of brand new material in the near future. Although I, along with millions of others, adore Aretha, I’d rather she record some new songs, rather than Diva Classics Two.

 

George Haffenden. 

 

Aretha Franklin Sings The Great Diva Classics is out Tuesday 21st October on RCA Records/Sony Music.

 

 

 

ALBUM REVIEW: Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga – Cheek To Cheek

Move over Beyoncé/Jay-Z, cialis there’s a new musical power couple in town. Yes, it’s the 28 year-old pop megastar Lady Gaga, and the ever-elegant 88 year-old Tony Bennett. This week the two released their highly anticipated album Cheek to Cheek on Columbia Records. Simply put, it’s fabulous.

 

Admittedly, the sixty-year age gap is a little strange when the two are singing songs such as I Can’t Give You Anything But Love to each other – but, they do it so well. The songs on the album are all staples of the Great American Songbook, and Tony Bennett has been singing these songs in the recording studio and on tour for the past six decades. Indeed, if there is one criticism to be made of this album is that these interpretations rarely deviate from past recordings, and, moreover, there is no room for any new material.

 

Yet, and as Gaga has pointed out in interviews, that’s not really the point of this album. The point is, rather, to introduce our generation to jazz – the genre of music which, arguably, has influenced every other genre since. Lady Gaga is in fine voice on this album, there’s no hint of auto-tune unlike her previous works, and at 88 Tony Bennett is still in his prime. One might even go so far to suggest that now he sounds better than ever: some of his earlier recordings and live recordings tended to be a bit, well, shouty. Clearly, his voice has aged but he has accepted it, and this album finds him still sounding incredible.

 

The album comes in two editions: either ‘Standard’ or ‘Deluxe’. The ‘Deluxe’ edition has a few more tracks, including one solo by each Gaga and Bennett. For Bennett’s take on take on Don’t Wait Too Long alone is worth spending the extra few quid for the ‘Deluxe’ edition.

 

Overall, the sound is brilliant. The instrumentation is provided by, in part, Tony Bennett’s long-time quartet, Gaga’s friends and on some tracks a full orchestra. On occasion Gaga tends to overpower Bennett vocally, as if to assert herself as a newfound jazz diva, rather than an auto-tuned pop-star. That said, Gaga proves she is more than an auto-tuned pop-star, but perhaps does need to tone down the vocal theatrics somewhat. She has all the talent, just – perhaps – needs a little refinement; and she knows a man who can help her with that.

 

A particular highlight on the album is their take on But Beautiful, one of the greatest jazz standards ever written. The lush guitar playing during the introduction weaves majestically with Bennett’s crooning, and when Gaga joins in they both sound incredible together. They All Laughed is a staple of Bennett’s live shows, and the trade-off between Gaga and Bennett works well, despite the track only lasting for one minute, fifty seconds. Here, the orchestra really shines.

 

As I’ve already written elsewhere, this album is not much of a risk at all for Bennett, for Gaga however, it’s quite a substantial gamble. Yet, it is refreshing to see an artist of her calibre and fame deciding their own musical fate, instead of pandering to management and record label demands. Having Tony Bennett on board, of course helps. At 88, if I’m still around, I expect to spend my days in a recliner in front of Dad’s Army repeats on BBC Two, with my Stanner stair-lift in the corner waiting to take me to the toilet. Despite all Bennett’s been through, including a crippling drug addiction, he remains on top of his game. Indeed, I was fortunate enough to see Bennett perform on consecutive nights on his recent UK Tour – once at the Royal Festival Hall, then at the iTunes Festival in Camden the night after – and I hold these memories to be very special. It’s not everyday you see such a legend twice in two days.

 

In summary, this is a highly enjoyable album. Sure, there are a few issues with it, but it’s an ambitious record nonetheless, one which seeks to introduce jazz to an audience hooked on synthesisers, bass, and computer-generated sounds. For that alone, Gaga and Bennett need to be applauded.

 

Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga’s new album Cheek to Cheek is available on Columbia Records, with ‘Standard’ and ‘Deluxe’ albums being both available.