June Reviews – Molinari, Mountain Man, Pernice Brothers and more…

Busy month, this one. I ended up writing seven reviews for Clash this time out, four for publication and a further three for online use. They’re gathered below for your perusal – please do comment on anything and everything.

June Reviews 1

MOUNTAIN MAN – ‘Made The Harbor’ (BELLA UNION)

Sometimes, less is more. So, surely, much less should be much more? ‘Made The Harbor’ is an eerily fragile, enthralling record. Sit between the speakers and it’s like they’re in the room with you, listen on headphones and you’ll never want the background hum of normal life again. For Mountain Man are in fact a female trio specialising in spectral harmonies and sparse, beautiful acoustic meditations on life and nature. Album closer ‘River’, propelled solely by a muffled, distant thud, builds into a stunning orchestra of voices which may prove to be one of the musical highlights of the year. 8/10

Ah, now this one continues to delight. It really is as hauntingly splendid as I’ve tried to suggest above. Don’t judge it on the first couple of the play, mind, it takes a little while. Yet another from Bella Union’s astonishing run of form – don’t forget Pearly Gate Music, John Grant and The Acorn, all of whom have recently released quite wonderful records on the label.

PETE MOLINARI – ‘A Train Bound For Glory’ (CLARKSVILLE RECORDINGS)

Pete Molinari has come a long way in a few years; his debut was recorded at a kitchen table while this, his third, is straight from Nashville, featuring legendary Elvis backing vocalists, The Jordanaires. Rather nasal, more than a little rough round the edges and utterly commanding, his voice is sensational and here it is let loose on his best collection of material to date. This is country rock and roll with a commanding urgency and, while its roots are firmly grounded in a bygone era, tracks like ‘Since You’ve Been Gone’ build to a hymnal ecstasy that’s frankly irresistible. 8/10

Possible contender for a 9, this one. As I tweeted recently, there’s something about all of Molinari’s output that means it just sounds better on vinyl and this is no exception. It’s his most fully fleshed out offering to date and he offers further proof that his songwriting skills are entirely up to scratch.

June Reviews 2

BORN RUFFIANS – ‘Say It’ (WARP)

Shamblingly energetic with a quirky, reedy vocal, Born Ruffians tick all the boxes for a ‘next big thing’ accolade. But, sadly, it’s not that simple. Quite apart from the incitement to homicide that is having song titles like ‘Retard Canard’ and ‘The Ballad Of Moose Bruce’, too often this album sounds uncannily like a Vampire Weekend track being played backwards. While this doesn’t turn out as badly as that suggests, it’s a sufficient hindrance to ensure that ‘Say It’ never quite takes off. ‘What To Say’ jangles along pleasantly while the woozy saxophone of ‘Come Back’ is the album’s highlight. 5/10

Tricky one to write, this. It rubbed me up the wrong way from the off and I could never shake that sense that it just wasn’t as good as it thought it was. It aches of cool but it just doesn’t have the dynamite tunes to back it up. Some decent moments but very inconsistent.

PERNICE BROTHERS – ‘Goodbye, Killer’ (ONE LITTLE INDIAN)

The title may suggest it’s a collection of sub-MCR toss and the cover may look decidedly understated but the music, like their entire back catalogue, is absolutely joyous. It’s transparently obvious that frontman Joe Pernice doesn’t take things too seriously, recounting during ‘We Love The Stage’ how “it doesn’t matter if the crowd is thin, we sing to six the way we sing to ten.” Not that this is a comedy record. Pernice has one of the most emotionally eloquent voices out there and this is demonstrated to quite beautiful effect on ‘The Loving Kind’ and ‘The End Of Faith’. 7/10

Like Teenage Fanclub and Trashcan Sinatras, Pernice Brothers have a little part in my heart in the ‘swooning harmonies’ section. Always dependable, always engaging and always capable of lovingly crafted songs. More of the same, essentially.

ED HARCOURT – ‘Lustre’ (PIANO WOLF)

The term ‘criminally underrated’ gets bandied about a lot, often with scant justification. However, Ed Harcourt really is criminally underrated. Capable of both a soulful swoon and a grizzled growl, Harcourt’s albums are always grand affairs; think Rufus Wainwright if he preferred Tom Waits to Judy Garland. The title track is a downright seductive bit of soul-pop while ‘Lachrymosity’ is a bittersweet nursery rhyme satirising tear-jerking ballads that play to our “penchant for misery.” Following a best of that failed to set the world alight, this is the sound of a man who’s decided he’s still up for the fight. 9/10

I think I made clear how great this album is the other week for a ‘New Music Monday‘ but I stand by that. Unfortunately, it got butchered in print, losing the Waits/Garland comparison and being docked a point for not being cool enough. Still, I urge you to seek this one out upon its release next week.

June Reviews 3

RICHARD JAMES – ‘We Went Riding’ (GWYMON RECORDS)

One of the many things that made Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci so utterly beguiling was the sense that most of their songs sounded like they’d disintegrate if they got caught in a mild breeze. That gentle and innocent charm is present on about two-thirds of band co-founder James’ latest solo outing, although things occasionally get a little more raucous. ‘Blues (Hey Hey Hey)’ sounds like early Gomez while ‘Faces’ is so intentionally distorted that the vocals are lost, proving more distraction than delight. Album closer, ‘From Morning Sunshine’, graced by the wonderful Cate Le Bon, is the real gem here. 6/10

As a result of his lineage and his last outing, I wanted to like this more than I did. It certainly has its moments and anything with Cate Le Bon on can’t be bad, but it never quite gels together to make a great album overall. It may yet grow on me…

WINTERSLEEP – ‘New Inheritors’ (ONE FOUR SEVEN RECORDS)

Were you to construct a venn diagram with The Decemberists in one circle and The Smashing Pumpkins in the other, unlikely use of your free time though this might be, then somewhere in the overlap would be Wintersleep. Paul Murphy’s naggingly commanding voice is the band’s great strength, here deployed atop a mixture of jangly indie and stadium-sized, angular, angsty rock, replete with that indie staple: emotive strings. Clearly possessed with a knack for melody, songs like ‘Terrible Man’ and the title track bounce along with purpose before exploding into shimmering choruses, making much of this record hard to resist. 7/10

In many ways, I’m not sure I’m meant to like this record. It’s a bit too obviously ‘big’ at times, but it’s really rather charming. Their way with a hook-laden tune is to be admired and you could well be charmed.

2010 inverted

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18. Pete Molinari – A Virtual Landslide

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I’m stood in a venue in Derby that looks a little like it should be used for jumble sales or as a primary school hall waiting to see Richard Hawley. I have a degree of optimism about the support act, Pete Molinari, having briefly loitered on his Myspace page the day before. He sounds unashamedly retro with an interesting voice. I was not blown away and have made no special effort to be there in time for the support set, it just so happens that he is going to be on slightly later than I’d anticipated and so I am able to see his entire performance.

18 Pete Molinari

By the end of his first song, I was starting to think that catching the support act wasn’t a bad idea. By the end of his second, I was starting to feel glad that the merchandise stall appeared to have both of his albums for sale and by the time he got round to his sublime cover of ‘Satisfied Mind’ I was welling up. Richard Hawley was suitably splendid afterwards, but I went away from that gig talking about one man only. I’d ended up buying both of his albums on vinyl plus his recent single from the merchandise stall and, when I got the chance to play them the following evening, I began the fairly rapid process of falling in love with this unique voice.

Rather nasal, more than a little rough round the edges and utterly commanding, Molinari’s voice is sensational – once heard, never forgotten. ‘A Virtual Landslide’ is the more professional of his two albums, the first having been recorded at a kitchen table but still worth tracking down. ‘I Came Out Of The Wilderness’ has that early-Dylan feel to it, while ‘Sweet Louise’ is a cracking pop song dressed in clothes from Oxfam. In 1959. But where this album really got me, and still very much continues to do so, was his reading of ‘I Don’t Like The Man I Am’ which had impressed me that night in Derby but which is meticulously and beautifully rendered on this album. It’s a heartbreakingly stark and genuinely moving performance.

(You may remember me banging on about the recorded version of ‘Satisfied Mind’ earlier this year on the blog and, while it doesn’t quite match the heights of the live, solo performance I witnessed that night, it is a pretty special listen. It appeared on an EP that came out earlier this year, ‘Today, Tomorrow And Forever’, and can be heard here.)

I Do Like The Man That He, er, Am

Amazingly, the not-especially-serious last post did attract further dodgy Googlers. How quaint!

Anyhoo, just a quick one to draw your attention to a fabulous bit of news about a release coming up in August. Pete Molinari – you remember, I was banging on about him loads a little over a year ago after being spellbound by his support set for Richard Hawley – is releasing a new covers EP, ‘Today, Tomorrow and Forever’, on which you will be able to find his version of ‘Satisfied Mind’. A great song as it is, but his version is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard. Here is where you can pre-order it now.

Here’s an audience-recorded video of him doing it live. Majestic! (Sadly not complete)

In other tremendous news, James Chapman continues to upload new tracks from his next album as Maps on his MySpace. Have a listen to the latest one here.

One last thing. A new Charlotte Hatherley single has appeared on YouTube. Have a watch/listen below: