Barry McCormack – The Tilt Of The Earth...

One of the best Irish albums of the last decade: ‘The Tilt of the Earth’ by Barry McCormack.

Angel Olsen – My Woman...

Angel Olsen follows up her acclaimed 2nd album ‘Burn Your Fire For No Witness’ with another stunning record.

Marissa Nadler – Strangers...

Another bewitching effort from Boston born singer songwriter Marissa Nadler.

The Drays – Look Away Down Collins Avenue...

I first encountered Stephen Ryan as a callow teenager circa 1986. A Friday night in the cramped confines of the Baggot Inn.  Ryan and his band the Stars of Heaven regularly played at this most iconic of venues at a time when the Dublin music scene was at its most vibrant. Our relationship got off to a rocky start.  In truth, I wasn’t particularly taken with him. The band and Ryan in particular, projected an almost haughty disdain for their audience, an arrogance that seemed borne of a belief that they were better than this. It didn’t take long before I succumbed and shared that belief. The Stars of Heaven made two albums and a couple of EPs before splitting up in 1990. Everything they released was magnificent. In the context of the Irish music scene, they were quite simply peerless. Their music, a deeply unfashionable shade of country rock, had an elegant beauty at odds with a local scene obsessed with unearthing the next U2 or Simple Minds. After the Stars split, Ryan re-emerged sporadically to remind us of what we were missing – two albums of sustained brilliance with a new band the Revenants were released in 1993 and 1999. And then nothing. It seemed almost criminal that one of the great Irish songwriters of his generation should drop off the radar, as a succession of charlatans, spoofers and fakers with a fraction of Ryan’s talent went on to enjoy considerable success.  News that Ryan was ready to end his self imposed exile and release a new record under the fresh moniker The Drays was greeted ecstatically by his loyal coterie of acolytes. Look Away Down Collins Avenue is the first fruits of his newest venture and it’s an absolute pleasure from start to finish. Closer...

Colm Mac Con Iomaire – Agus Anois An Aimsir...

Guest contributor Pat Barrett of the Hedge Schools is smitten by the new Colm Mac Con Iomaire album ‘Agus Anois an Aimsir ‘.

Calexico – Edge of the Sun...

Edge of the Sun is the ninth studio album from Calexico and is set for release on the Anti- label. Hailing from Tucson, Arizona the band have been recording as Calexico since their 1997 release Spoke; Spoke was also the name the band went by before Calexico. Recorded in Tucsons Wavelab Studios and coming in at 40 minutes long for 12 songs, there isn’t much time for over-elaboration and long into/outro solos on the record but that doesn’t stop Joey Burns and John Convertino and co from highlighting their multi instrumental talents. This release features a vast number of guest appearances from (to name just a few) Sam Beam (Iron & Wine), Ben Bridwell (Band of Horses),members of the Greek instrumental group Takim (No, I don’t know them either) and Carla Morrison (Mexican Indie/Pop singer). I must admit that this is the first album of theirs that I have ever listened to the whole way through as  Americana / Tex-Mex (their description not mine) usually it isn’t the kind of thing I would go for musically. However I am now thinking that not listening to Calexico may have been a bit of an oversight on my part. The opening two songs ‘Falling from the sky’ and ‘Bullets & Rocks’ set the tone for what is a very good album. While ‘Tapping on the line’ is possibly its best song and ‘miles from the sea’ isn’t far behind this. The writing process took place in Mexico City and the city’s influence is very evident on songs like  ‘Cumbia De Donde’ and ‘Beneath the city of dreams’  and also on the instrumental track ‘Coyoacan’ all of which sound like they could have been recorded by a Mariachi band. Things take a little bit change of direction...

Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell...

So I had this whole review typed up, ready to go. You know the kind: a little bit of background about the artist, a few carefully constructed sentences that attempt to describe the record in the context of the artists earlier work. And there was a genuine effort at remaining coolly detached, objective because that’s what those who write about music are supposed to do, right?   Except I am first and foremost a music lover, someone who still finds magic in melody, who is still moved by a few simple chords and words that are sung with genuine heart and feeling. So I listened to Carrie & Lowell one more time last night. One final distraction free run through, an affirmation listen if you like, before publishing the few words I had pulled together about the record. But I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t publish those words because they didn’t reflect in any real way just how affecting the experience of listening to this record had been. Objectivity and cool detachment seemed to hold sway and because of that, they read as dishonest and insincere. So this is my attempt to start again, to convey  just how much beauty and compassion can be found in this heart-breaking music. Carrie & Lowell is a record that examines in moving detail Sufjan Stevens’ complex relationship with his mother. When he was just an infant his mother abandoned the family and spent most of the rest of her life battling alcoholism and depression before she passed away in 2012. Contact between the family and their absent mother was sporadic at best, with Steven’s recollections of her confined to a few faded childhood memories of summers spent with her and her husband at the time, Lowell Brams.  It is an album that attempts to address the...

Father John Misty-I Love You, Honeybear...

Let’s start with a confession – I have never been a big fan of the Fleet Foxes. Somehow, warped as this may be, I hold them collectively responsible (stand up Mumford & Sons, you own a share of this) for the explosion of lank haired, watery indie folk and bearded hipsters that threatened to engulf the music scene a few years back. So the idea of a solo album by the drummer from a band that left me distinctly underwhelmed wasn’t exactly lighting my fire. So then I did a little digging. J. Tillman was the drummer for the Fleet Foxes, but he was also an acclaimed solo artist in his own right, long before the FF thing started. A solo artist that had released seven albums by the time he underwent some kind of Road to Damascus transformation and became Father John Misty in 2012. And that’s when things got really interesting – Fear Fun, the first album released under the new moniker introduced us to a different side of Tillman. Edges and flaws. Exposed and human. And so to I Love You, Honeybear. Jesus Christ. This is good. Not just good in ‘album of the week’ good, but good on a level approaching modern classic. I am not kidding. The thing that strikes you on first listen is the sheer musicality of these songs – Tillman has gone for it in a big way, the shackles have been thrown off and a host of potentially deeply unfashionable influence have been scrambled together to produce something incredible. Glen Campbell, The Eagles, Clifford T Ward, Elton John (yes, that Elton John) 70s Laurel Canyon soft rock – they are all in there, in the syrupy string drenched arrangements and little melodic flourishes that pop up with dazzling regularity. And we haven’t even...

Sharon Van Etten-Are We There...

A song-writer at the very peak of her powers – Sharon Van Etten’s ‘Are We There’ is a contender for album of the year.

Eels – The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett...

It’s been quite a journey for Mark Oliver Everett and the band he formed in California back in 1995. Eels became one of the first acts to sign to the Geffen/Spielberg backed venture Dreamworks Records and almost immediately enjoyed considerable success with their debut album Beautiful Freak released in 1996. The singles ‘Novacaine for the Soul’ and ‘Susan’s House’ were international hits and it appeared as though Everett could do no wrong. But the bands apparently relentless rise to fame and recognition was overshadowed by deep personal tragedy; Everett lost his sister to suicide in 1996 and his mother succumbed to cancer in 1998. Everett went on to write an excellent memoir: Things the Grandchildren Should Know, an autobiography that catalogues with typical gallows humour a life stalked by bad luck and misfortune. Although Eels haven’t quite managed to sustain the success of their first three albums, they have endured, and their continued popularity cannot readily be explained. Everett follows his own star, and has rarely taken any notice of musical trends and fashions so Eels music always feels out of step and/or blissfully ignorant of what’s going on in the current music scene. He has continued to write honestly and unflinchingly about his life and experiences and ‘The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett’ is perhaps his most personal album since ‘Electro Shock Blues’ in 1998. This is a collection of songs imbued with a singular warmth and compassion, and to these ears, represents a career best. It feels like a reappraisal of sorts – Everett is in reflective mood as he looks back on a lifetime of mistakes and wrong turns. It is a gentle sounding record, largely acoustic based but decorated with tinkling glockenspiel and celesta, clarinet, flute and strings that give the album...

Ron Sexsmith – Forever Endeavour...

Canadian born singer-songwriter Ron Sexsmith is something of a music business enigma.  Since the release of his first album in 1991, he has been critically lauded by the music press and feted by some of the most celebrated names in rock and pop. A host of admirers including Chris Martin, Elvis Costello, Elton John, Paul McCartney, Steve Earle and Sheryl Crow have all proclaimed his greatness in the past, with many of them covering his songs in their live repertoire. And yet, a major commercial breakthrough has eluded him, something that is obviously a source of immense frustration based on comments he has made in interviews over the last few years. On recent albums, he has flirted with a more pop oriented sound but Forever Endeavour marks a return to a back to basics approach, and sees him reunite with legendary producer Mitchell Froom, who produced Sexsmith’s first three albums. The result is an album of acoustic based, melodic folk- pop streaked with his trademark melancholy, performed in his unassuming, laidback style. It is unlikely to add to his list of admirers, but dedicated fans of Sexsmith will find plenty here that has a ring of familiarity about it – Sexsmith has always been a consummate song-writer and his belief in the power of the song shines through on every one of these tracks. He has doggedly adhered to the belief that if a song is good enough, nothing else matters, and so this is an album out of time, out of step with current trends and fashions in the fickle world of pop. ‘Nowhere to Go’ opens the album with a plucked acoustic guitar melody and a flourish of French horn before settling into comfortable Ron Sexsmith territory – all the same lyrical...

Marissa Nadler – July...

An album titled July might offer the promise of songs bathed in the warm and golden light of summer but there is something darker at work on this 6th album from Boston based singer-songwriter Marissa Nadler. Nadler has been making eerie, ethereal folk music since the release of her first album back in 2004. July represents a major progression and is by some distance her strongest album to date. This is a delicately rendered collection of Southern Gothic lullabies; Nadler explores themes of lost love, separation and the longing for things we can never have. It is at times breathtakingly beautiful -opener ‘Drive’ introduces us to Marissa Nadler’s bewitching voice; imagine the yearning of Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval crossed with the sombre elegance of Leonard Cohen. That yearning is central to so many of the songs here; ‘1923’ burns with longing while ‘Dead City Emily’ floats by, a dreamy wistful reverie for the past. There is a strong alt-country influence in the plucked acoustic and pedal steel guitar arrangements that give this album an air of refinement that wasn’t as evident on the more straight ahead Goth Folk of her early records. Impeccably produced, each instrument occupies its own clearly defined space with Nadler’s beautiful voice pushed up high in the mix as a voice as richly compelling as hers should be. The dark sensuality of tracks like ‘Desire’ and ‘Holiday In’ brings to the fore another side to Nadler – this is music that seduces and allures. Spectral harmonies and dreamy elegance lure you in but just below the surface beats a blackened heart; there is a baleful and sinister undercurrent that something is not quite right. Like the most beautiful rose with the sharpest thorns, July is an album of exquisite gorgeousness...

Hidden Highways – Old Hearts Reborn...

Irish duo Hidden Highways release one of the most assured debut albums of the year with the beautiful Old Hearts Reborn.

Billy Bragg – Tooth and Nail...

Amidst the glamour and glitter of eighties pop music, Billy Bragg, aka the Bard of Barking stuck out like the proverbial sore thumb. He was a genuine protest singer, wearing his left wing, socialist colours proudly, and following a direct lineage from Woody Guthrie through to Bob Dylan as ardent believers that pop music could be used as a weapon to agitate for real and meaningful change in society. His appearance on Top of the Pops in 1985 was something of a landmark in British popular culture; as the bitterly divisive Miner’s Strike raged across Britain, a fresh faced Bragg took to the stage in the clothes of the working man, eschewing the shallow glitz of the 80s pop star, to deliver a defiant and poignant rendition of ‘Between the Wars’, just one man, an electric guitar, and passion by the bucket load. Bragg went on to pen hit songs such as ‘A New England’ and ‘Levi Stubs Tears’, songs that have endured to this very day and he has continued to write and record with varying degrees of success for the last two and a half decades. Tooth and Nail, his first studio album in five years, will surprise those fans of Bragg who lost touch with his music as the eighties drew to a close. Anyone expecting a reprise of the angry young man and his scratchy sounding electric guitar routine may be in for a disappointment – the days of the Billy Bragg of old, belting out his punky, agit-pop in his defiantly unique accent are long gone. Tooth and Nail is a likeable, laid back collection of songs that wears it’s folky Americana influences on its sleeve. Largely acoustic based, with tasteful slide guitar and simple arrangements, Tooth and Nail...