Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Albums Of 2015: Olivia Chaney - The Longest River

It's been a fantastic year for the Ladies Of Music in 2015. The quality of some of the female singer/songwriters around at the moment is simply astonishing. I've been privileged to catch a lot of them live but some I haven't caught up with yet - but it's only a matter of time.

Up there with the Best Albums of 2015 is The Longest River - the debut release by Olivia Chaney.

The Longest River is a collection of self-penned songs and some beautifully selected covers.

Just a quick word about the production, which is crystal clear and co-produced with Eno collaborator Leo Abrahams, It has an almost Scandinavian clarity and precision. Simple but very effective. 

Having studied at The Royal Academy Of Music, Olivia brings a certain sophistication to the proceedings with Norwegian Jazz composer's Sidsel Endresen's Blessed Instant and There's Not A Swain by Henry Purcell.

One of the highlights of the album is a stunning version of Alasdair Roberts' Waxwing

With a lovely, clear voice, Olivia has the ability to seduce and admonish within the same song. An exceptionally skillful thing to master.

Olivia plays guitar, piano and harmonium. The sound on the album is delicate and painted in pastel colours. Olivia's voice is clear and pure, almost glacial but also has a warmth - if that makes any sense. On several tracks, especially on piano, you can see Olivia's Jazz training in chord structure. It's a very individual sound with her folk sensibilities entwined within the song structure and presentation, it's a delicate and heady blend.

In 2013, Olivia was nominated for two BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards - The Horizon Award and Best Original Song for her song Swimming In The Longest River - showing just what a good songwriter she is.

So, seek out a copy of The Longest River and see what a lovely record it is. 

Twitter - @OliviaChaney

Monday, 26 October 2015

Remarkable Coincidences - Robert Reed

Sometimes, life just deals you a good hand. And disguises them in things called Coincidences.

So it was that I attended the Steve Hackett gig in Cardiff about 3 weeks ago. As I walked into the auditorium, I almost literally bumped into a man I recognised at once. This man was one Robert Reed. This man was responsible for releasing one of my favorite albums of last year (2014) - it was called Sanctuary.

I politely introduced myself and asked him about the follow up, Sanctuary 2, was coming along. We had a quick chat, and that was that.

It turns out Rob had seen my review of the first Sanctuary and we started discussing Mike Oldfield online. 
And that led to Rob inviting me up to his studio, luckily about a 30 minute drive from my home.

"Let's talk Mike Oldfield" he said.

So we both spent this morning discussing Mike throughout his career - how we both started listening to Mike's music - very, very similar experiences - two Welsh boys not living that far away from each other and having the same teenage obsession. No doubt if the internet had been available then, we might well have met years ago.

It was just two fans - raving about their favourite albums, passages, lost tracks.

I'm not a music journalist. Just a music fan. So, no recorders present, no notes taken. And it was great that Rob - being so busy at the moment - just decided he wanted to talk about music he loves.

This is Rob's latest release - a version of the Steve Hackett song Spectral Morning - featuring Big Big Train's David Longdon & Nick D'Virgilio,  fellow Magenta bandmate Christina Booth, Nick Beggs and a certain Mr Hackett - all in aid of Parkinson's society UK.

You can get it here

During our 3 hour conversation, we talked about music in general and also Rob's upcoming project -Kiama

But the conversation always came back to Mike Oldfield.

One thing that did emerge was that we both agreed that a lot of Mike's best work came when he collaborated with previous bandmate from his Kevin Ayers days, the composer David Bedford.

David Bedford was the composer/conductor of the two orchestral versions of Mike's first two albums - The Officially released Orchestral Tubular Bells

and the NOT Officially released Orchestral Hergest Ridge.

For the first decade, Mike Oldfield collaborated several times with David Bedford and produced some of the most remarkable playing of his whole career, playing with David on his own albums, some of which I have highlighted below.

If you have not heard any of David Bedford's albums, then they are worth checking out. Not all are an easy listen as he was regarded as an Avant Garde composer but they are never less than interesting and are often very moving.

The Jewel In The Crown of this morning's conversation was Rob playing me some of the initial recordings of his new Opus, Sanctuary 2.

And I can report that it sounds simply beautiful. I was lucky enough to hear pieces both in Stereo and 5.1 Surround Sound through the studio monitors.

Having thought about it since I got home - the best way I can describe it is imagine Sanctuary 1 but wearing velvet and brocade. The sound is richer and more lush. But I stress that these are early mixes and may change. If you liked Sanctuary then I think you'll adore Sanctuary 2.

When I arrived at the building that contains Rob's studio - I saw two Magpies on the roof - no need to salute the single Magpie and the duo certainly brought me some good luck today.

We did discuss more - but sometimes what's said in the studio - must stay in the studio.

A day to remember - thanks to Rob Reed.

Twitter - @robreedmagenta

Monday, 19 October 2015

Albums Of 2015: Zervas & Pepper - Abstract Heart

After their first two sublime albums - Somewhere In The City & Lifebringer, Cardiff duo Paul Zervas & Kath Pepper released their third album - the equally sublime Abstract Heart. 
Building on the first two albums, Paul & Kath have added to their sound with some beautiful keyboard touches and occasional electronica flourishes to enhance their guitar sound.

The album opens with the uptempo Miller and shows a rockier side to the duo's usual delicate songs. It's a sound that the band often show live but have rarely shown on album.

Paul and Kath have no compunction in showing their influences - West Coast America of the 60s & 70s - most often seen in their glorious harmonies.
Miller could easily be from one of those early seminal Crosby, Stills & Nash albums.

As in the previous two albums, Paul and Kath take lead vocals on alternate songs - the gentler songs generally performed by Kath and the rockier ones by Paul.

The sun shines throughout the majority of the album either in Sunrise, Midday Heat or Sunset,

Terraform, Reach Out and Here And Now showcase the softer side of the album with those glorious soaring harmonies and Kath on lead vocals. Soft waves of acoustics just brushing up on the shore.

Paul, contributes lead vocal on the uptempo and rocking Foolish Dreamer, the dreamy Laika and the gorgeous title track Abstract Heart.

But Abstract Heart is not a case of treading water, the band have moved forward in both sound and structure with the uptempo Foolish Dreamer with it's almost Beatle guitar arpeggios.

If ever there was an album to lift your spirits it's Abstract Heart. Whether you're hearing it in the middle of summer, where it's the perfect soundtrack to driving around the country or if you want to bring a little light into the darkest days of winter.

The sound is multi layered and for me it's listening out for those intricate details such as the electronica sweep in These Blurred Lines that give the most pleasure. Beautiful indeed.

I have always believed that it would be interesting if Bands used the last track on albums to show where they might be going on the next release. It's an interesting concept. Try it on some of your favourite artists as an exercise.

With that in mind, Paul & Kath have saved their best song for the end of the album, the intoxicating Celestial Friend.

The album opens with a rocker and finishes with a dreamy soundscape incorporating really interesting rhythms - a special mention here for Andy Brown whose Bass lines in this song are particularly captivating and underpin the song perfectly.

I really hope that Paul & Kath build on the sound of Celestial Friend for the next album and branch out into some unexpected grooves. They certainly have the band and the skills to do it.

So, if you haven't already done it, go and get a copy of Abstract Heart and bring some Welsh Sunshine into your life - it's as rare as Welsh Gold these days.

Twitter - @zervaspepper

Friday, 9 October 2015

Live in 2015: Kenneth J Nash live at The Convent via NetGig on Thursday 17th September 2015

I first heard of Kenneth J Nash late last year when I managed to get hold of a copy of his new album - the sublime The Fall Of Eden. It just blew me away.

I haven't had the opportunity yet of seeing Kenneth 'live' in the flesh, so to speak, but I have caught a couple of performances on online broadcasts.

This latest broadcast was supplied by the guys at The Convent, which is fast becoming THE destination venue for performers wanting to come a bit further west. Based just outside Stroud, in the glorious Cotswolds, it's a beautiful venue.

It also has the added attraction of being able to broadcast a gig live over the internet via NetGig. For a small nominal charge, you get to see the gig live as it happens and is then available for the next 6 days. It's a brilliant way of seeing an artist and enjoying a show from the comfort of your own home.

They have had some excellent shows in the past year or so and have some superb shows lined up. You can check them out on the link below.

So Kenneth took advantage of this and broadcast his show live. And what a show it was.

His soft burr of a voice suited the venue perfectly and highlighted what an excellent songwriter he is. The Fall Of Eden is a beautifully produced record but in this show it was just Ken and his acoustic or electric guitar. Stripped back versions of the songs from the album sound exceptional.

Kenneth began the show with the song Head Over Heels. 

Ken played songs from several of his previous albums as well as from The Fall Of Eden and even took the opportunity of introducing some new new songs too.

The majority of Ken's songs come from various aspects of his life and observations and the delicate quality of the delivery can contrast beautifully the more dramatic content of the lyrics.

Next on the setlist were Tigers Aren't Tame and one of the highlight's of Eden, Carol Ann, a very moving song.

It's always a pleasure when an artist decides to introduce new songs into the set and Kenneth has come up with a beauty called A Rook & A Dove. Just stunning. And bodes well for the next album, if he decides to include it.

For me, the highlight of many highlights on The Fall Of Eden is the song, The Way That She Moved.   It's a beautiful song and Ken performs it to perfection tonight. He doesn't play it live very often but it's performance tonight was the highlight of tonight's set for me.

Another excellent new song Got To Go followed next. The guys at NetGig are doing an excellent job in relaying the show and the sound and images are crystal clear.

Gitaine, a song written with Ken's uncle, Keith, came up next quickly followed with another new song Like A River. The quality of Ken's new material really is excellent.

On The Fall Of Eden, the album conjures up Nick Drake, both in style and presentation and it is great to hear these songs exactly as Ken must have written them with just his guitar as accompaniment. 

The delicate Everytime We Fall and Take Me Home also highlight Ken's lovely vocals and guitar skills. He is quite some musician.

photo courtesy of Sarah Bayes

Another highlight of Eden comes next, Dignity, and the guys at NetGig/The Convent have released the video of the song so you can see for yourself exactly what the gig was like in terms of presentation and sound quality. 

Falling For You precedes the final song of the set, one of Ken's most popular songs, Slowburn.

But, always one for a challenge, Ken returns for an encore with another excellent new song, Another Flag. The quality of Ken's new material is just fantastic. Let's just hope he gets in the studio soon and gives us his next album asap.

It was a stunning evening and shows just what can be achieved with a great artist, a great venue and a sympathetic broadcast. 

I'e seen several of The Convent live broadcasts and each one has been excellent. So seek out Kenneth J Nash and The Convent. There are even more gorgeous things to come from both The Artist & The Venue.

Photo courtesy of Sarah Bayes

All other photos courtesy of The Convent & NetGigs

Twitter - @TheConventVenue