Mount Eerie – A Crow Looked At Me...

An album exploring unimaginable grief – A Crow Looked At Me – Mount Eerie

Big Thief – Masterpiece...

If you are going to call your debut album Masterpiece, it better be good. Big Thief deliver.

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...

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...

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...