Steve Wilson. On music.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Bob Andrews - Invisible Love (rkr-cb productions)

Bob Andrews’ last release Shotgun was a simmering delight of vintage rock and various New Orleans idioms, Shotgun ( this earlier review gives you the lowdown on Mr. Andrews and his history with Brinsley Schwarz, Graham Parker and the Rumour, etc.) was a sleeper, a record whose virtues seemed modest at first, but that deepened and impressed with each listening. 

Just five months on, hot on Shotgun’s heels  Andrews and his partner Robin Hunn release the equally impressive Invisible Love.

Invisible Love is a little tougher, a little harder, and a little darker. The template established by Andrews and his co-writer (lyricist/producer Robin Hunn, aka RKR) is more familiar, making Invisible Love’s impact more immediate. The disc release is again accompanied by a corresponding book release. Hunn’s bizarre conceit (the lovers tale is also a lover’s tail, especially in the accompanying book the action is seen through the eyes of Labradors, Guzzard and Mr. Poo) remains intact. You may find it oddly compelling. You may not. In the final analysis it isn’t critical to appreciating her finely tuned lines, her characters passed out on the curbside, messy sheets vision of a relationship in turmoil and transition.

Bob Andrew’s genius is in taming these fevered words and making them so resolutely musical. I suggested in my review of Shotgun that there were moments when I wished his vocals were a bit more venomous, demonstrative or driven. Those moments are fewer here. Instead, I appreciate the cool anguish he brings to a heartbreaker like “Defleured Me.” There’s a wounded tenderness in his delivery of lines like “I broke my promise not to bend to all your insincerity again” that’s musically right and emotionally dead on. And to Hunn’s credit the lyric is a well-toned meditation on the costs of pleasure.

“Defleured Me” has an austere guitar part worthy of Lou Reed, complemented with devotional organ work from Andrews. Imagine Toussaint McCall and Reed collaborating; the song is deep soul beyond any idiomatic definitions or considerations. Not to belabor one song, but “Defleured Me” is one of the most emotionally honest and artfully rendered songs I’ve heard all year.

Much of Invisible Love is devoted to rockers bearing a line of descent from Fats Domino and Jerry Lee Lewis, but as revved up by the Rolling Stones. The title track sounds like an Exile outtake – smoky, dark, propelled by John Mooney’s terrific slide guitar. "Invisible Love" is  followed by “Don't Stop” (a track so Stones-y that the boys from Richmond even have a song so named). Andrews is no Jagger, but there is an urgency to his well mannered delivery that evokes singers like Paul Kelly, another guy who may not project in an exaggerated way, but who sure gets his point across. The sneering basher “She Drives Me to Drink” could use an extra dash of bravado in the vocals, but hey – I am what you call a critic.

A solid rhythm guitarist, Andrews shines especially on the tracks where he shows off a little on the keys. “Where You Gonna Go” is a sly, swampy number, one lover eviscerating the other for lack of ambition. Andrews’ piano trail doesn’t lead so much to the Crescent City as to a vision of Pete Johnson meets Art Tatum. Stop for a moment, and bear in mind - when you listen to Invisible Love you are hearing one of the great keyboard players of the rock era, his comfort with a wide variety of styles and techniques is uncommon. Few musicians could have covered the ground a player like Nicky Hopkins did as a session player, but Andrews is on that short list.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Allo Darlin' - Europe (Slumberland Records)

In the Eighties a generation of kids raised on punk, stirred by its independence and spunk, turned inward, knowing they were not emotionally suited to punk’s more aggressive/transgressive qualities. Moved by its amateurs-having-a-go tendencies, by dispostion they gravitated toward kinder, gentler sounds - British folk, Merseybeat, Bacharach-ian pop craft, jingle-jangle, and girl-group sounds. 

At its worst this trend produced mewling drivel; at its best it gave us the Smiths, Orange Juice, Josef K, the better parts of NME's C86 cassette collection, and the sweeter offerings on the Sarah label. Beyond all that, it was an aesthetic that permeated much of the era, including some of the gentler moments of noise merchants like My Bloody Valentine, Stones Roses (tracks like “Sally Cinnamon”), and much of the Byrds-smitten works of bands like Go-Betweens and the Church. 

Which leads us to Allo Darlin’. Based in London, Allo Darlin’ are clearly children of this Eighties indie aesthetic.. They are also fellow travelers with contemporaries like the Lucksmiths, Camera Obscura and to a lesser extent Belle And Sebastian. On their second album Europe they sound like a band arrived. 

Australian born singer-songwriter Elizabeth Morris is breathy, but assertive. More of a rocker than Camera Obscura’s Tracey Anne Campbell, she has a similar voice and phrasing. Her lyrics are ‘dear diary’ stuff, but their sunny, sanguine qualities are sensible and sharp, while her melancholy is poignant, seldom indulgent. Combined with the band’s blithe, follow-the-bouncing-ball big beat it’s, well, just plain charming. Guitarist Paul Rains throughout is an understated master of all that makes this sort of winsome rock fetching. Bassist Bill Botting and drummer Michael Collins are driving, spare, and right there. Elizabeth Morris as singer and lyricist is the soul of the band, but these gents are its all important bones and skin.

Morris is besotted with a bittersweet nostalgia. In “Neil Armstrong” she dreams of a “simpler time.” The Dylanesque “If You Gotta Go, Go Now” chord changes cheerily undercut any possibility of the maudlin, and reinforce Morris’s meditations. The track features a lovley mix of Rains' twelve-string and Morris's rhythm ukelele. Personal nostalgia also underscores “Europe” (“haven’t felt this way since 1998”); here, Morris has some of the strong, but wistful quality of Bettie Serveert’s Carol Van Dyk, as the band reprises the Smiths gossamer guitars; the song fading over strings and hand claps. A Marr-ish sensibility also informs “Northern Lights,” a busker romance about “the sound of lines drawn in the sand.” ‘Lights” has an assertively awkward charm that evokes classic Modern Lovers. 

Melancholy married to romance abounds on Europe – on “Wonderland” Morris sings that “the world is ending, but I'm with you and I don’t care.” The band makes folk-rock gauze that spins visions of lonely overcast days, as seductive as it is sad. Rains slips a nifty quotation from the Beatles' "I Feel Fine" into his gorgeously arpeggiated rhythm work.