[Live Review]: Curtis Harding – Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club, London 11/03/15

curtis harding“It’s just a matter of time, the world has to know / This light of mine, I’m gonna let it show”

Secluded off Bethnal Green’s main road, it seems the Working Men’s Club has a lot to offer for a Wednesday evening. Downstairs are rows of tables bulging with models for the weekly meeting of Hackney Area Tabletop Enthusiasts and a framed pair of knickers signed by Tom Jones sitting behind the bar. But tonight the main attraction is upstairs in a room that has admittedly seen better days, decked out in chintzy plywood and gummed-up carpet, for a sold out night of dirty R&B from Atlantan, Curtis Harding.

First up, West-Londoners Fair Ohs lay into sax-fuelled jams with absolutely filthy bass lines. Guitarist and vocalist Eddy Frankel is in a typically confrontational mood, introducing the band after the first number ‘Fucking shit, we’re the fucking Fair Ohs, fuck you!’, before adding ‘Sorry, I didn’t mean that…unless you’re a racist’. There’s a strange tension between the effusively funky indie-rock with powerhouse drumming and intricate guitar noodling the quartet serve up and the abrasively bizarre onstage banter, but there’s no denying they get the crowd (tentatively) moving. Though not moving quite as much as Frankel and sax player Sam Ayers who pull shapes like Earthworm Jim, knees wiggling and heads shaking throughout the set, which ends on a characteristically idiosyncratic slice of psychedelia and goading announcement from Frankel: “Buy us beers, it’s the least you can do! Don’t buy our t-shirts though, because we don’t have any!”

After a brief interval Harding’s band climb the stage, which is barely big enough to house the five-piece with a tunnel-of-love heart sitting at the back, and vamp on a gospel groove before the man himself takes the stage and leads them through a rollicking ‘Soul Power’. Apart from afro and shades he doesn’t cut the traditional image of a soul man, wearing an orange cardigan over a torn green tee and wielding a red Airline guitar, but this is sticky punk ’n’ soul bred in garages and it suits the rough and ready locale he finds himself in tonight. There’s certainly no denying the soulful quality of Harding’s voice either, which he has learned to control from years of backing Cee Lo Green, knowing when to push for wailing heights and when to cool off to a smooth croon.

It’s a shame then that initial sound system issues mean his voice is hard to hear in the mix, while the keys remain indistinct for much of the show. After ‘Soul Power’ closes Harding requests for the vocals to be turned up and the burning lights to be turned down, which settle to an appropriately dusky red for the film noir soul of Next Time, while the heart in the background twinkles with carnival lights. Driven by a mellifluous bass line and scraping rhythm guitar, Harding’s bruised holler now rings out clear while warm trumpet swells add a touch of class.

As the song finishes a member of the audience shouts “The sound is shit!”, to which Harding retorts “Enjoy the soul!”. He takes off his sunglasses, the only time in the evening he does so, eyeballs her and asks “Are you going to fix the sound? Come fix the sound! Come fix the sound!” The chant is taken up by the audience, before Harding concludes “No? Then you’re not helping!”, accompanied by the lead guitarist comically playing the opening bars of Star Spangled Banner.

They head back into the set with renewed vigour, Harding’s brooding vocals playing against the muscular bluesy guitar of spacey ‘Castaway’. Ramshackle punk barnstormer ‘Surf’ kicks like a mule, rattling along with abandon as Harding wails the non-verbal refrain, while ‘The Drive’s loud, and moody groove oozes cool under shimmering guitar. Eventually Harding trades his guitar for a tambourine on a sultry cover of Bill Withers’s ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’, before the band strike up the four-to-the-floor funk rhythm of ‘Heaven’s On The Other Side’. It too carries some of Withers’s magic from his disco days, as the crowd moves under an old mirrorball while Harding sings “I miss you, but the dancefloor’s right here”. He then announces “Here’s what I want you to do: Keep on shining… and don’t complain about shitty sound systems”, and the crowd erupts with jubilant applause for a ramped up twist through the Curtis Mayfield-esque debut single ‘Keep On Shining’.

The band exit into the crowd briefly (backstage being non-existent here) before returning for  some old numbers. Danny-Lee Blackwell, also a cohort in Harding’s side-project Night Sun alongside members of Black Lips,  swaps bass for guitar duties as they lay into a slow-burning jam of California Dreamin’. Harding gives a yearning performance that belies his gospel roots and the band trade sparring solos, with rhodesy keys whirling into syncopated drum flourishes, while Blackwell rips into effusive blues-psych shredding, looking like a member of Crazy Horse in Mayan patterns and under a wide-brimmed hat. The gang rally and fire on all cylinders for a home-run blast through Night Sun’s ‘No Pressure’, with Harding vocally mirroring Blackwell’s guitar solo over the hurtling DEATH-style surf-punk.

It’s heady stuff and brings the night to an uproarious close, leaving the onstage heart flickering  as the abandoned guitars feedback. Despite sound issues, Harding’s instinctual soul fused with visceral punk cut right through, proving that as a soul man he can kick out the jams too.

Soul Power is available now through Burger / ANTI- Records.

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[It Was A Very Good Year]: The Best Albums of 2014

2014 was an incredibly strong year for music, both from young hopefuls and from established acts. As always, compiling a list of only ten albums was like trying to choose between which limb you’d rather lose. However, the fact that it is a such struggle to whittle the year’s output down to ten albums is always a good sign that there’s plenty of new music to get excited about, and long may it continue that way. So, let’s kick this year off right…

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10. Jack White – Lazaretto
And in the blue corner, the genre-bending third man, weighing in at #10 this year is Jack White, whose Lazaretto came out swinging this summer. No other artist these days is so evidently firing on all cylinders, buzzing off their own momentum, but makes it look so infuriatingly effortless.

2014 Banner 99. Gemma Ray – Milk For Your Motors
Full of high drama, junkyard romance and dreamy noir, Milk For Your Motors has been successfully fulfilling my Nick Cave fix this year. Spangled guitars twinkle over shuffling percussion and carny organs, while Ray’s honeyed vocals drift effortlessly through this shadowy landscape. Simply gothic-tinged pop goodness.

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8. The Rails – Fair Warning
The debut offering from a married folk-rock duo with a fine pedigree. Their tales have an inherent universality and a healthy respect for folk tradition, but also display their confidence and capability to carve out a plot for themselves that feels totally contemporary. Fair Warning rambles, gambles, rocks and rolls.

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7. Sharon Van Etten – Are We There
I’ve always been a bit on/off with Van Etten, but this is her first record where she seems completely comfortable in her own skin, delivering yearning, accomplished rock songs that reflect a boldness which was shaky before. Replete with panoramic self-expression without resorting to navel-gazing, Are We There is acerbic, cathartic and triumphant.

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6. Interpol – El Pintor
The release of anything by NY’s best dressed is cause for celebration, but what I didn’t expect was an album that brimmed with the dark, beguiling magic that characterised their debut. Bassist Carlos D may be errant, but the remaining trio have created a surging album of nocturnal alt. rock that is quintessential Interpol.

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5. Smoke Fairies – Smoke Fairies
Beautiful, dreamy pop music of many depths that fuses elements of gentle folk, moody rock and soaring electro-pop with some of the most mesmerising vocal harmonies I’ve heard in a while. The Chichester duo have been doing this for years, but somehow they always slipped through my grip until last year. Still, better late than never, especially with such masterfully built melodies as Eclipse Them All and Your Own Silent Movie, an uplifting anthem for those who live their lives soundtracked by music. What can I say? I relate.

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4. Lee Fields & The Expressions – Emma Jean
I saw Fields, now 63, with The Expressions support Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings (who also released a stonking, hip-shaking record last year) in the autumn and for sheer energy and showmanship he blew every other act I saw in 2014 out of the water. That roaring energy is palpable on Emma Jean, which manages to take different facets of James Brown funk, Memphis soul and old-school R&B, and pull it off with inspiration and flair. Love, loss, life and struggle; it’s all here in spades and it never sounded so good.

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3. The Roots – …and then you shoot your cousin
For my money, The Roots are one of the most intelligent and significant forces in music today, and the only band that can allude to both Nas and Dylan Thomas in the space of two lines (Never). Making uncompromising use of samples and jazzy countermelodies, …atysyc is a concretely dense album full of discomfort that satirises and problematises the ubiquity of violence in society and the media. It’s exactly what hip-hop should be: a giant melting pot where disparate elements combine to reflect something of our nature. If you haven’t read Questlove’s article series How Hip-Hop Failed Black America, I really encourage you to do so.

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2. Mirel Wagner – When The Cellar Children See The Light Of Day
The second LP from the Finnish songwriter (and her first for Sub-Pop) is an elemental, earthy affair, which echoes John Steinbeck for the stark vividness of imagery and the dustbowl ghosts that seem to linger around these ballads. Her lyrics are heavy on blood lines and the tracks we make on the earth which holds our bones, while the plaintive brushing of acoustic strings seem to breathe the dust of ages. But, what resonates most is Wagner’s voice: Commanding, almost ancient in its unflinching directness, and laden with undeniable truths that bury themselves deep. Utter ragged glory and a masterpiece of songwriting.

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1. Warpaint – Warpaint
Sounding like Laurel Canyon via The Twilight Zone, Warpaint’s crepuscular sophomore effort is darker and more seductive than its predecessor (something I didn’t think possible) and was my go-to soundtrack last year. Absorbing minimalist electronics and the vast deserts of Joshua Tree into their idiosyncratic, jam-oriented formula, Warpaint have created a brooding, delicious treat that taps into something thrumming in the subconscious. No other album last year exerted the same enigmatic pull on me despite being on constant rotation. If anything, it becomes more mysterious the more I think I know it and for that reason, it takes my album of the year.

So long, 2014, and thanks for all the great music.

What were your favourite music moments of 2014? Let me know in the comments below.

– Originally appeared on Hercules Moment.

[Mixtape]: Every Time The Sun Comes Up

“The mountains and the canyons start to tremble and shake / The children of the sun begin to awake”

A long hot summer is officially underway and nothing goes better with good weather than sultry jams playing through the long days and warm nights. I’ve kept this mixtape pretty current with choice cuts from the last year, but there are a few oldies in there too which are celebrating birthdays this year. Whether you’re on the move to sunnier climes, or simply lazing with no particular place to go, this mixtape will see you right wherever this summer takes you. Set off, plug in and enjoy.

Tracklist:
1.
 ‘Song For Zula’ – Phosphorescent – Muchacho
2. ‘Paris’ – Little Dragon – Nabuma Rubberband
3. ‘Red Eyes’ – The War On Drugs – Lost In The Dream
4. ‘Fever’ – The Black Keys – Turn Blue
5. ‘Magnolia’ – Lee Fields & The Expressions – Emma Jean
6. ‘You’ve Got Nothing To Lose’ – Michael Kiwanuka – You’ve Got Nothing To Lose [Single]
7. ‘Going To California′ – Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin IV
8. ‘The Sing’ – Bill Callahan – Dream River
9. ‘Last Goodbye’ – Jeff Buckley – Grace
10. ‘Love Is To Die’ – Warpaint – Warpaint
11. ‘Every Time The Sun Comes Up’ – Sharon Van Etten – Are We There

Got any summer mixes of your own? Link them in the comments, I’d love to hear them.

[Cheap and Cheerful]: Cody ChesnuTT

cody-chesnutt-lo-res-press-photo-2“Know how to stay fly in the hardest times, But what we don’t know is that ain’t gonna be enough”

What’s better than discovering great music? Discovering it’s free as well. Cheap and Cheerful intermittently throws free downloads your way for continued listening pleasure that doesn’t break the bank.

Seen most recently supporting neo-soul Q.U.E.E.N. and fellow Atlantan Janelle Monae on tour, Cody ChesnuTT has also been carving out his own distinctive brand of rock ‘n’ soul in recent years. After splitting from L.A. rockers The Crosswalk in 2000, ChesnuTT set up a makeshift studio in his bedroom and sequestered himself for several months with a handful of instruments and a 4-track recorder to produce 2002’s critically acclaimed double album The Headphone Masterpiece. A genre hopping gumbo indebted to a love of rock ‘n’ roll, The Headphone Masterpiece turned a lot of heads with its prodigious musicality and lo-fi aesthetic, landing ChesnuTT on tours with Erykah Badu and The Roots. A subsequent guest slot on The Roots’s Phrenology for their cover of ChesnuTT’s ‘The Seed’, an appearance in Dave Chapelle’s Block Party and electrifying live performances only added to his growing cult status, yet ChesnuTT would not put out his second full-length album for another ten years. Following a quiet period of family life and reflection, punctuated by the release of Black Skin No Value EP in 2010, ChesnuTT returned with the smoking hot Landing On A Hundred in 2012. True to his bedroom basics roots, ChesnuTT has now chosen to make the Kickstarter funded album available for free over at Noisetrade, parcelled up with guest remixes and juicy outtakes from recording sessions at Memphis’s Royal Studios.

Like its predecessor, Landing On A Hundred covers a wide range of musical flavours and life issues, from socially conscious jams like ‘Under the Spell of the Handout’s honky-tonk funk and the gospel redemption of ‘Everybody’s Brother’, to ‘That’s Still Mama’s inner city holler and the sweet Sam Cooke-isms of ‘Love Is More Than a Wedding Day’. Meanwhile, the B-sides and remixes reveal even further scope and depth. The softly caressing lullaby of ‘Listen’ is counterpointed by country-blues stomper ‘Gunpowder On The Letter’, featuring searing leads from Gary Clark Jr., while in the hands of The Roots drummer and frontman Questlove ‘What Kind Of Cool’s shuffling beat is slowed to a soporific haze and an Eddie Hazel-worthy fuzzed-up solo leads out of the fog. Make no mistake, it’s a headphone masterpiece worth checking out

Landing On A Hundred is out now through Vibration Vineyard/One Little Indian and is available for free download here. Cody ChesnuTT is currently on a European tour, find dates here.

[Album Review]: Lee Fields – Emma Jean

LF_Emma-Jean_Cover-smaller “No man is an island, but you cast me off”

“This is a man’s world,” James Brown once posited, before clarifying “But, it wouldn’t be nothin’, nothin’, without a woman or a girl”. On his third album for Truth and Soul Records with The Expressions, it seems these words hang heavy over Lee Fields, a man once nicknamed “Little JB” for his vocal and physical resemblance to The Godfather of Soul. After toiling away in minor obscurity for the best part of fifty years, Fields builds on the acclaim of recent years and perhaps reveals something about himself on a record named Emma Jean for his mother, where hard times and breaking hearts abound.

Partly recorded and mixed in Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys’s Easy Eye Sound Studio in Nashville, Emma Jean sees Fields moving at a slower, but more confident pace than previous. Rather than the kicking and screaming Fields found on Faithful Man (which featured in The Grapevine’s Best Albums of 2012), Emma Jean finds Fields settling comfortably into his role as an elder statesman of old-school R&B and reconnecting with his Southern roots on the smooth Tulsa soul of the late J.J. Cale’s ‘Magnolia’. While paying respect to the original, The Expressions trade wheezing harmonica for shimmering pedal steel and Fields’s resonant vocals lift this devotional to giddy heights. Similarly, the Dan Auerbach penned ‘Paralyze’ oozes with bluesy drama, while the reeling groove and gospel backing vocals of ‘In The Woods’ recalls the finest hours of Memphis’s Hi Records. Elsewhere though, Fields still excels in delivering hard-hitting funk, especially in the unadulterated foot-stompin’and hollerin’ of ‘Talk To Somebody’.

Throughout Emma Jean, Fields illustrates faltering relationships and the differing reactions of his male protagonists, ranging from bitterness and chest-beating to reconciliatory promises and torch carrying for lost love, which reach their peak in the closing pair ‘Stone Angel’ and ‘Don’t Leave Me This Way’. Left abandoned and burned by the femme fatale of ‘Stone Angel’, Fields’s outward machismo is undermined by private promises of better times which ultimately fall away to the heartfelt petition of ‘Don’t Leave Me This Way’. Brought to his knees, Fields wails like a man with nothing left to lose as slinky guitar and building horn blasts conjure up the spirit of Sam Cooke’s ‘Bring It On Home’, drawing Emma Jean to a triumphant close.

While the influences he channels into his work are plain to see, Lee Fields always keeps his best foot striding forward to somewhere innovative and new. And, at the age of 63, he may have delivered the finest album of his career. So far…

Emma Jean will be released through Truth and Soul Records on Monday 2nd June.

 

[From The Cutting Room Floor]: The Beatles, Marvin Gaye and The Gaslight Anthem

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Often, seeking out new music can feel like a treasure hunt (or sweeping a minefield, depending on how you look at it). And every now and then you will come across those completely unexpected diamonds-in-the-rough that appear in the form of B-sides, outtakes or bootlegged live cuts. Those happy moments where you stumble across something that stops you in your tracks and think ‘Why is this only a B-side?’. This feature is about digging out those deeper cuts that deserve more attention than mere relegation.

‘Don’t Let Me Down’ – The Beatles
I’m going straight for the jugular this week. Gracing the other side of the Get Back single, this should really qualify as a double A-Side. Written by John Lennon as an ego-free plea to Yoko Ono, ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ is The Beatles at their most soulful, in my opinion. Lennon and McCartney’s hollering vocals channel Otis Redding, oozing with conviction alongside a Stax influenced keyboard that gives a soul-tinged vibe, while the intelligent countermelodies during the alternate verses and George Harrison’s slinky lead guitar gesture to the psychedelic leanings of their middle period. It was one of the songs played during The Beatles last public performance on the roof of Apple’s Saville Row headquarters on 30th January 1969 and remains a testament to the power and inventiveness of possibly the 20th century’s defining band.

‘I’m Going Home’ – Marvin Gaye
A studio outtake from the recording sessions for Gaye’s seminal soul masterpiece What’s Going On (read why it’s a masterpiece here), ‘I’m Going Home’ took fifteen years to surface until it was featured on 1986’s  Motown Remembers Marvin Gaye and served as a reminder to the talent which had been lost only two year’s previously. In many ways, ‘I’m Going Home’ condenses a lot of What’s Going On‘s narrative themes 0f family, urban strife and homecoming into five minutes, but musically it has a lot more in common with the emerging funk sound which Gaye would explore on his following albums Let’s Get It On and I Want You. Either way, it’s an irrepressibly catchy slice of funk which should not be missed.

‘She Loves You’ – The Gaslight Anthem
Not a Beatles cover, as I initially thought it to be. ‘She Loves You’ appeared on the flip side of their vinyl-only Tumbling Dice single (their last release with SideOneDummy) and is probably Brian Fallon’s most simple and direct love song. Backed by a simple guitar figure and a shuffling beat, Fallon achingly rhapsodises about rainy nights, broken love and the small certainties that pull us inexorably towards tomorrow, like flotsam and jetsam cast ashore on the tide.

What are your favourite B-sides and rarities? Let me know in the comments below.

[Single Review]: Christian Gregory – Count On You

Christian Gregory 3“Won’t be long until we make it through.”

When success and good fortune come your way there are generally two routes people go down: cash in, or give something back. After his debut record in 2012 broke the top ten in seven countries, went certified gold in two and garnered a Mercury Prize nomination, you might have expected Michael Kiwanuka to either have rested on his laurels or sped on with album No. 2. Instead, Kiwanuka has elected to build something lasting and set up a label called Movement Records. While Kiwanuka will act as the label’s A&R man, scouting and representing new artists, the day-to-day label running and recording sessions will operate out of North London where the Movement Records team have set up a studio kitted out with a treasure trove of vintage instruments and bespoke analogue recording equipment gathered over ten years. With an emphasis on a soul-rooted sound and traditional recording techniques, as well as capturing artists live on tape in one take, Kiwanuka explains the Movement Records philosophy: “Music from the heart goes straight to the heart. Music that can move you is good music and that’s what Movement Records are focused on doing”. Their recent flagship release Count On You comes from multi-instrumentalist songwriter (and Movement Records head of operations and co-founder), Christian Gregory.

Co-written with Michael Kiwanuka, Count On You is a good time record that rolls along on a bass and percussion groove that harks back to Bill Withers’s Still Bill era. This offers a solid platform for Christian Gregory’s slinky guitarwork and hollering expression of camaraderie. His voice lies somewhere between Al Green’s high tenderness and Teddy Pendergrass’s husky confidence, taking off into flights during the revelrous choruses and psyched-out bridge. He also has a few tricks up his sleeve with departures into fuzz and wah-wah laden guitar interludes and psychedelic tinges of brass during the outro. “I love when records have details that you only notice after you’ve heard it over and over again,” Gregory reveals. “On Count On You, we recorded the core parts of the track in one take to catch a live vibe. Then I got in the studio and experimented with unusual recording techniques to add different details and textures to the track”. If Movement Records’s remit is to produce soulful tunes with an old-school production ethic then Count On You starts things as they mean to go on. It doesn’t just rock, it rolls too.

With offices on both sides of the Atlantic and as-yet unannounced live showcases and releases scheduled throughout 2014, Movement Records look set to stake their claim during 2014. And while Michael Kiwanuka himself is still signed to Polydor/Communion, it will be interesting to see if he releases his material through Movement Records in the future and what collaborations this will lead to. More importantly, with creative artists playing essential roles in the running of the company, what talent will be attracted to the label in future and will it create a collaborative atmosphere conducive to creativity, like Communion who first picked up on Kiwanuka and released his first two EPs? I certainly think Movement Records has the potential to do so.

Originally published on Hercules Moments

[Artist Spotlight]: Charles Bradley

Charles Bradley“I thank you for helping me carry on … through the storm”

My last few posts have been quite singer-songwriter/folk oriented, so I thought I would take things up a notch with some new soul, and what better man to crank up the mood than the ‘Screaming Eagle of Soul’, Mr. Charles Bradley?

Along with Lee Fields and Sharon Jones, Charles Bradley forms part of a rearguard of soul music: artists much neglected for most of their career but who are finally getting the attention they deserve with their old-school R&B sound. Bradley’s career in particular is a real underdog story, chronicled in the recent documentary Charles Bradley: Soul of America, which unfortunately has yet to see British release. Similar to the documentary Searching For Sugarman that centred on Sixto Rodriguez, with whom Bradley recorded a split 45 last year, Charles Bradley: Soul of America talks about a diamond which was not fully unearthed until way down the line. From leaving his Florida home at the age of 14 Bradley has struggled, living hand to mouth and often in harsh conditions. However, his undiminished ambition to make it as a singer, which persisted through years in mismatched appointments including an extended stint as a James Brown impersonator under the name Black Velvet, finally came to fruition when he teamed up with the Menahan Street Band and Daptone Records co-founder Gabriel Roth to deliver his debut record at the age of 62. Indeed, the title of that album, No Time For Dreaming, could be the injunction Bradley aimed at himself for finally telling his story. If that’s the case then Victim of Love could certainly be Bradley’s response and gesture of gratitude to the overwhelmingly positive public and critical acclaim that No Time For Dreaming has received. 

‘Where Do We Go From Here?’ is a moody and funky track, which showcases Bradley’s hard-hitting delivery and his irrepressible wails. As Bradley struts his stuff, co-writer and guitarist Thomas Brenneck chucks out a percussive guitar rhythm and displays a screaming, fuzzed up solo towards the song’s close. Meanwhile, horn blares from Dave Guy and Leon Michels punctuate Bradley’s preaching vocals and Homer Steinweiss’s outstandingly funky drum part makes sure the song hits you square in the guts. It is one of the standout tracks from the album for me and I strongly recommend you to go out and buy it. I promise you, you won’t be disappointed and you will be supporting an artist whose time may have finally come.

Victim of Love is available now through Daptone Records.

[Cover Me]: The Gaslight Anthem, Michael Kiwanuka & Sachal Studios Orchestra

The Gaslight Anthem – Changing of the Guards (Originally by Bob Dylan)

The Gaslight Anthem are a band I have been following since I first started listening to them a few years ago. In that time they have gone from strength to strength, incorporating varying elements of punk, soul and rock and roll into a uniquely recognisable style all of their own. The lads have announced that they’ve finished recording their fourth studio album, Handwritten, which is estimated to be released in the summer. If, like me, you can hardly wait for the album’s release then hopefully this gem of a track will help tide you over until then. I hadn’t heard this Dylan track from 1978’s Street Legal before, but the lyrics are prophetically striking and almost Yeats-ian. However, I find the original somewhat pales in comparison to this raw and blood racing rendition. As ever Brian Fallon’s delivery is impeccable, moving between red-eyed rage and broken vulnerability as the situation calls for. Meanwhile the cutting lead guitar, cascading drums and thundering bass show the rest of the band are on sterling form as they race along, helter-skelter style, through Dylan’s apocalyptic track.

Watch this space for a review of Handwritten come summer time!

Michael Kiwanuka – Whole Lotta Love (Originally by Led Zeppelin)

It’s about time we had another Zeppelin track in this feature, and this time BBC’s elected Sound of 2012, Michael Kiwanuka, steps up to the plate.You’d be forgiven for not recognising the song at first, until the familiar bass line emerges out of a haze of swirling sitar instrumentation. After this the rest of the track falls into place, with organ, slide guitar and drums enthralling the listener. I never thought I’d hear a cover of the proto-blues/punk classic that features a sitar, but it makes sense here, especially in the cavernous breakdown after the second chorus. Meanwhile, Michael’s soul-searching voice remains cool and restrained, making sure not to fall into the pitfall of imitating Robert Plant’s inimitable, primal vocals. Though the band follow the original’s blueprint fairly closely, they manage to make their individual mark on it.

Stay tuned for a review of Michael’s debut album Home Again later this week.

Sachal Studio Orchestra – Take Five (Originally by Dave Brubeck Quartet)

While we’re on the sitar tip, let’s take things into exotic jazz territory. ‘Take Five’ is probably one of the most instantly recognisable jazz riffs, if not THE most recognisable jazz riff, and it was while looking up George Benson’s equally impressive cover that I came across this interpretation. By using traditional Indian and Pakistani instruments the Sachal Studio Orchestra manage to make Dave Brubeck Quartet’s jazz masterpiece sound simultaneously familiar and unfamiliar. The saxophone riff is transposed onto sitar and violin, while the essential timekeeping duties are given over to tablas. It really works and manages to breathe new life into a classic which has been covered to the point of possibly losing its original spark and colour. Stunning.