Almost at the conclusion of my the end of year best of releases blog. Ambitiously I was planning to challenge myself further and select 2o essential albums but have admitted defeat, that is a nigh on impossible task so I’m just not going to pressure myself! I’ve kind of held true to my songs of the year but instead of committing them to cyberspace through blog entries you can catch many of them one my December radio programmes. 7 December’s first instalment is available on my Mixcloud page and on 13 and 27 December’s shows you’ll be able to hear a great number more between 10pm and Midnight on HFM Radio. If you can’t catch the shows live there is of course MixCloud to catch up on them or simply refresh your memory.
Over the next week or so I’ll finish of the blog, about eight further albums to enthuse about. As ever your comments are most welcome. And you can here or on Twitter now or when I’m on air suggest some of your favourites too.
Martin Green – Flit
Martin Green is an extremely talented musician who is perhaps best known as one third of the very brilliant band Lau, alongside Kris Drever and Aidan O’Rourke. The band have played in Market Harborough some years back in a fine evening’s music organised by AM Gigs.
However Martin has released a number of solo albums and for me Flit is a very welcome addition. It’s my favourite of his solo albums to date. The concept of the album is an intriguing one. All the songs have been inspired by first hand stories of human movement around the world. Martin collected stories of social migration from the people around him. Some are heart-warming, whilst others are tragic and heart-breaking. But shining through all are a distinct humanity.
Martin has chosen some first-class collaborators for the project, songwriters Karine Polwart, Aidan Moffat and Anaïs Mitchell; musicians Adrian Utley best know for his work with Portishead and Dominic Aitchison known for his work with Mogwai). And it doesn’t need there. Martin is joined by singers Becky Unthank (The Unthanks), Adam Holmes and John Smith. It just so happens I’ve been a long-standing fan of all three. Becky’s vocals are always what make albums from The Unthanks really stand out for me and she has the same effect on Flit. The album’s difficult to describe in terms of it’s sound, sometimes it’s folky, sometimes it has shades of indie-rock, occasionally Tom Waits-like in some respects, I’m talking Waits in his post 70’s more experimental mode circa Swordfishtrombones, Frank’s Wild Years and Bone Machine. It all comes together amazingly well. Don’t just take my word for it, check it out for yourself, I’m pretty sure you’ll be quickly hooked.
Gem Andrews – Vancouver
Gem Andrews was a totally new musical discovery for me this year. A very welcome one too. Gem has an interesting backstory. She is from Liverpool and in 2010 moved to Vancouver, Canada staying for 6 months playing on the Canadian roots scene honing her craft. She recorded her debut album Scatter in 2012.
Gem is now based in Newcastle. Her latest release is called Vancouver. It’s packed with superb songs that tell a story and draw you in pretty quickly. From the first song I knew I was going to love this album. If you’re suitably inspired to investigate further I think you’ll feel the same way. Here’s one of many standout tracks.
Magic Car -Meteorites
2016 has been a year for stumbling upon much new music. I was sent a copy of Magic Car’s Meteorites album by their label the brilliantly named Tiny Dog Records, based in Wells next the Sea on the North Norfolk coast. When I put the record on what greeted my ears was a kind of British americana of the highest quality. Rather like Gem Andrews, songs that tell a story and draw you in.
Magic Car are Nottingham songwriter and actor Phil Smeeton and excellent singer Hazel Atkinson. The combination of the two works brilliantly. Meteorites has been described as
“A fine collection that gets better with each listening”. I definitely can’t argue with that.
Ewan McLennan and George Monbiot – Breaking the spell of loneliness
In August of this year I saw Ewan McLennan play an excellent set at Broadstairs Folk Week on the Kent coast. Ewan proved one of my highlights of the festival and he happened to mention and play some songs from a new project he had been working on with the journalist George Monbiot. I was immediately intrigued and Ewan agreed he’d get a copy of the album to me. True to his word I received a copy c/o his promoter and it’s been in the CD player many times since then. And I’ve dug into the album to play tracks on the show on numerous occasions.
The collaboration seeks to address the curse of our age, loneliness. Ewan says on his website “Using music and the written word, it seeks to make connections in a splintered world. The project began with an article George Monbiot wrote in the Guardian, about the age of loneliness. The article went viral, and several publishers asked him to write books about it. But George had a different idea. He approached Ewan McLennan – a musician whose work he greatly admired – and proposed a collaboration. Together they would write an album, a mixture of ballads and anthems, whose aim was to try to break the spell that appears to have been cast upon us; the spell of separation”. It for me is one of the most remarkable albums of the year.