Tag Archives: UK singer-songwriters

Marika Hackman’s “I’m Not Your Man” an Unexpected Departure and Delight

20 Dec

Marika Hackman is a promising young multi-instrumentalist and vocalist from the U.K. Just 25, she released a couple of EPs in 2013 and 2014, before completing her first full-length album in 2015, We Slept at Last. That album received generally favorable reviews — with The Guardian calling it “…superbly understated and atmospheric electro folk.” The publication went on to say, “her music’s unsettling quality and old-as-the-hills delivery makes her different. Full of shadows and animalistic imagery, her songs are like journeys through haunted forests or darker crevices of her mind.”

Well, The Guardian clearly hit on something because Hackman’s sophomore release — I’m Not your Man — is breathtakingly unexpected. Moving away from the crystalline and introspective style of her first album, Hackman offers bold and bracing Britpop with just a tinge of grunge. The lyrics explore life lived large — impulsively, erotically and with a wicked sense of humor.

Hackman is backed on the album by Big Moon, a popular four-piece all-female band out of London that can really rock.

Track highlights: The lead single and first track from I’m Not your Man is a perfect example of the offerings that await. It’s a story about easily luring a man’s girlfriend away because “No one takes us seriously just because I wear a dress.” With a wink, she sings “A woman really needs a man to make her scream.”

Track 5 “Violet” is another sensuous song. The sultry guitar-based melody moves at a luxurious pace as Hackman sings, “With violet eyes, I’ll make you succumb to my mind/And through it all/I’ll keep you blind and close my mouth.” The music builds to a louder, grungier conclusion.

“Apple Tree” is pensive and hesitant, with a subtle rhythm. It veers more toward the haunted folk sound Hackman captured on her first album — perhaps with a hint of a chamber sound.

“Eastbound Train” is a mover that makes good use of Big Moon’s rich instrumentation. The melody is memorable and Hackman’s voice is light and lovely — which is always the case, even in the grungiest parts of her songs. It makes for an interesting interplay between a feeling of aggression and innocence.

There are a number of other standouts on I’m Not your Man,” but unfortunately, they can’t be played on the radio without an edit or two. I like “My Lover Cindy,” “Time’s Been Reckless” and “Cigarette” as outstanding songs that you can’t get out of your head. So, if you’re okay with explicit language, this is an exceptional album, top to bottom.

After the widely divergent styles of Hackman’s first two releases, it will be interesting to see what she does for her third in a few years.

 

 

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Wesley Stace or John Wesley Harding — Either Way, New Album Is Fine Folk-Rock

24 May

UK-born Wesley Stace has released approximately 20 albums and a handful of EPs since the late 1980s. For much of that time he recorded as John Wesley Harding, a stage name taken from Bob Dylan’s 1967 album of the same name.

Today, Stace has also become a successful novelist using his given name. As a result, he has released several albums under the Wesley Stace name as well.

Which brings us to his latest release, which he calls, Wesley Stace’s John Wesley Harding. That’s the actual title. While it’s certainly a mouthful, it sounds like Stace wants to make sure that both long-time and new fans know that it’s his album. As well they should, because it’s quite nice.

Wesley Stace’s John Wesley Harding varies from folk to gentle rock with a touch of Americana or alt-country. Stace is backed throughout by an alt-country band from Minneapolis — the Jayhawks. Together, Stace and the Jayhawks offer a lot of catchy melodies and comfortable arrangements with a 70s mellow-rock vibe — to support Stace’s sharp, well-turned lyrics.

Track highlights: The second tune on the album, “You’re a Song,” is gentle, Americana-flavored folk-rock. It features a strummed acoustic guitar, player piano, a toe-tapping beat, and jangly guitar — with a bit of pedal steel in the background.

“Track 3, “Better Tell No One Your Dreams,” is more of a rock number with fuzzy guitars, piano and a simple backbeat.

The fifth track had me thinking Stace must be a fan of Big Star, a somewhat obscure rock group from the 1970s that recorded on the Stax label. The crunchy guitars on the song were almost identical to the sound that Big Star favored.

The ninth song veers more toward alt-country, with warm lead and backing vocals, and again, a “crying” pedal steel guitar in the distance.

The album wraps with, “Let’s Evaporate.” One of the official audio tracks released to support the album, it’s up-tempo rock with a plinking piano and “oooh-oooh” harmonies accompanying Stace’s lead vocals.

If you enjoy folk-rock with bit of a throwback sound, you’ll like Wesley Stace’s John Wesley Harding.

 

Robyn Hitchcock’s Latest Blends Groovy Throwback Rock with Topical Lyrics

12 May

Robyn Hitchcock is a highly respected indie rock artist. Now 64, he’s been practicing his craft as a solo artist and frontman with a number of bands across five decades: with well-known UK band, the Soft Boys (1976 – 1980); the Egyptians (1985 – 1993), the Venus 3 (2006 – 2010), and him alone.

All told, he’s been involved with more than 20 studio albums — the latest being his first self-titled release of his career. I guess it’s better late than never to discover who you are.

Seriously, Hitchcock is an extremely accomplished lyricist and musician, and it shows on this album. On the ten songs, he tried to come to grips with all the global political upheaval lately, including Trump’s election in the US and Britain’s so-called Brexit from the EU.

On Robyn Hitchcock, we hear him effortlessly blend five decades of rock from the psych-rock of the Beatles to today’s alt-rock bands. Clear influences include rock legends such as the Beatles, Byrds and Big Star. Hitchcock, who recently relocated to Nashville from his native UK, used a lot of experienced session players to create a full band sound — without actually assembling a band.

Track highlights: Opener “I Want to Tell You What I Want” is driving alt-rock. Pulsing bass and muted percussive guitar sets up the rhythm. Growling guitars are mixed with a combination of spoken and sung vocals.

The next track, Virginia Woolf,” features Hitchcock’s edgy, raspy guitar. The melodic sound he achieves is reminiscent of the Beatles’ rock hits of the Revolver to White Album era.

“Mad Shelley’s Letterbox” could be performed by the Byrds, with rich Beatles-like harmonies near the end of the song.

“Detective Mindhorn” is bouncy and fun. Finally, the second-to-last track, “Autumn Sunglasses,” takes you back to the trippy psychedelic era of the late 1960s.

All along, Hitchcock keeps the music and lyrics current and relevant, so Robyn Hitchcock represents much more than an aging hippie looking longingly toward his golden past.