Strand of Oaks – Dark Shores

Timothy Showalter, the name behind Strand of Oaks, is a great story teller. On ‘Daniel’s Blues’ from his previous album, Pope Killdragon, he plays the part of Dan Akroyd and he’s in a really bad place after the loss of John Belushi. “Rushed to call my agent on my Monday, I need new work to get my head out of this, It’s with a young kid named Murray, It’s a ghost flick but the hell with it’. On Pope Killdragon most of the songs were in the first person, but they felt like they were about other people. So maybe Showalter did dream that he “stayed in the Sterling, In the same bed as Kennedy”, but whether or not he did isn’t important. It’s just a way of setting up the next part of the story where he reminisces that “Jackie and Johnny and Caroline would ride up the mainline”. On the previous album, there’s little doubt that, however the story was told, most of the songs were about Showalter himself and his feelings of loss and anomie. On the new release, Dark Shores, the same is true, but the link is more direct. On ‘Diamond Drill’, he sings that ‘Moon living is a lonely life’. It’s a nice image. But he ends the song with little ambiguity, “As much as it kills me to say it, As much as I like things now, Everyone I know, will either move away or die”. On ‘Spacestations’, he welcomes us up to his home in the sky, “Stay as long as you like, its a sad vocation”. On ‘Satellite Moon’, a third track with the ‘in space no one can hear you scream’ motif, he leaves us in no doubt. “Holy shit I feel like giving up”. On Pope Killdragon, the stories were spun around a pretty lo-fi production, mainly just guitars, synths and a little percussion. Here, there’s more of a band sound. As with the lyrics, it makes things a little less oblique. A little more straightforward. But it doesn’t change much. This is a great album. It’s slightly less immediate than Pope Killdragon. And the sound is different. But, crucially, the story telling is intact. “Minerals formed by the rain, Whispers echo deep inside the cave, On an ice moon where all our fathers’ live, We’ll go there to find some rest”.

Strand of Oaks Bandcamp site

Angus Stone – Broken Brights

Hot on the heels of Julia Stone’s album, By The Horns, Angus Stone has a new release. In some ways it’s quite similar to his sister’s. There’s no attempt to mix genres willy-nilly. There are plenty of pleasant songs. Generally, it’s a really nice listen. With Julia’s album, that ended up being the problem. With the exception of the title track, there was scarcely any emotion. Consequently, despite expectations, little really endured. And, at times, there’s something of the same here. The Angus Stone hallmark is strummy guitars, tight percussion and laid-back vocals. There’s plenty of that here, especially at the start. Over the course of an album, the formula would become tiresome. But, there’s more to Angus Stone. There’s the electric side. ‘Bird on the Buffalo’ is worth the entry fee alone. There’s banjo and trumpet on ‘Monsters’. And ‘The Wolf and the Butler’ tells a story as odd as it sounds. There’s also a marked shift in style on a couple of tracks. Previously, Angus Stone’s main reference points were Neil Young and Bob Dylan. The chatter is now all about his new-found penchant for JJ Cale. There are two candidates here, ‘It Was Blue’, and the closer ‘Clouds Above’. A little more insistent. Slightly more abrasive. But nothing too radical. They’re not very memorable, but they ensure there’s no possibility of monotony, which is good. It’s easy to say but an Angus and Julia Stone album with half the tracks of their two recent releases would probably have been more rewarding than their two solo albums. But, separately, there’s still plenty to like.

Angus Stone official website

Ryan Adams – Life After Deaf (Live in Glasgow, June 2011)

Somewhere there’s an alternate universe in which there’s only one media outlet that plays nothing but new songs, every one of which is written by Ryan Adams. This universe may not be very far removed from our own. This is, after all, the person who once delivered three albums in a single year, one of them a double, and all of them totally fabulous. This is the person who was asked by Cameron Crowe to write a track for his new film, Elizabethtown, and returned with a whole album of songs, most of which are better than the material that was actually used in the film. This is the person who retired from music in 2009, only to release a new album in 2011. Oh, and he also released a metal album in between times. Now, thankfully, Ryan Adams is officially back. He’s just released a set of recordings from his ‘comeback’ tour last year. It comprises highlights from 15 different shows, each sold separately, plus 74 digital-only previously unreleased bonus tracks, which is just a tiny part of his unreleased work. The Glasgow show is, probably, representative of these live releases. Like Neil Young, Ryan Adams at at his best when he’s loose, spontaneous, busy. Here, it’s just himself, a guitar, and, on one song, a gob iron too. This set favours the earlier years of his work. There’s ’16 Days’ from his Whiskeytown era, a sublime cut of ‘My Winding Wheel’ from Heartbreaker, and a really clean version of ‘Sweet Illusions’ from Cold Roses. There’s also a particularly fine rendition of ‘English Girls Approximately’, the lyrics of which which are only partly appropriate given the venue. Typically, on this set at least, there is nothing from Ashes and Fire, his 2011 album. On the Glasgow album, there’s at least one sign of his genius. An audience member, seemingly randomly, calls out ‘Goodnight Bob’. Adams then proceeds to improvise a song with that title. It’s genuinely funny. Sure, you could only listen to it once, but it’s got some nice chord changes, and it gives a glimpse of just how much talent lies within. What more is there to say about him apart from the fact that there is at least one alternate universe in which I would like to live.