Thomas Hine – Some Notion or Novelty
Vacation time. Before I went away, though, I received a nice message from Thomas Hine. He recommended his recent album to me and I’m very glad he did. It had passed me by, but it’s a treat. There’s an authenticity to the project and that means a lot. Musically, there’s a distinct early Sam Beam vibe at times. Yet it’s not just a spare guitar-and-croaky-vocals-on-the-porch sort of album. There’s a nice production quality and some really strong songs. ‘Before the Sun Rises’, ‘Koblenz Corner’. There’s real spirit here. This is more than a vacation album. This is an all-year-round album.
Bat For Lashes – The Bride
The new Bat For Lashes release is a wonderful creation. It’s a concept album of sorts. It tells the story of a woman who’s left alone at the altar when the groom dies in a car crash on the way to the wedding. Traumatised, the bereaved bride takes off in the honeymoon car and embarks on a journey of sorts. By the close of the album, she hasn’t arrived at any particular destination, but a certain sense of closure has been reached. It’s not as if normal service has been resumed, but at least she’s looking forward to a time in the future when she can love again. If Björk was telling a story of this sort, it would take the most melodramatic form imaginable. The strings would scythe. The percussion would crash. The bass would physically wrench your stomach from its moorings. It would have its own particular qualities, but subtlety would not be one of them. But this isn’t Björk. It’s Bat For Lashes. The mood is spiritual. The direction inward. The trauma communicated through thoughts and allusions, not sounds. There are storms and even a cyclone. Indeed, the imagery is often elemental. Musically, though, this is a very calm album, particularly towards the end. The songs are strong, the arrangements lovely, the vocals as enrapturing as ever, but the focus is always on the narrative. Natasha Khan has talked of turning The Bride into a book, even a film. And recent gigs have been performed in full bridal dress and smudgy eye makeup. There’s always the risk that the magic will be lost when a project like this is transferred to another medium, but the story is surely strong enough to merit it. So, if the question is ‘Do you want The Bride to be taken to another level?’, the answer can only be, ‘I do, I do, I do’.
Neil Young + Promise of the Real – Earth
Promise of the Real have given Neil Young a new lease of life. After the rather stilted orchestral outing that was Storytone, Canada’s greatest export since beaver fur has been re-energised by his collaboration with Lukas Nelson + the band. The combination seems to work best live. This 98-minute-long collection comes from the recent US shows. Perhaps it’s the bass, but there’s a bounciness to the live sets that hasn’t been present for a while. Here, the version of ‘Love and Only Love’ is the best example. It’s full-on danceworthy for at least the first 10 of its 28 minutes. The song selection has also been revelatory. The Old Man of the Canyons has always been ready to blow the dust off classic tracks and take them for a spin, but the Rebel Content tours have seen the return of some long-lost friends. Here, we’re treated to ‘Vampire Blues’ and ‘Western Hero’, both of which had only ever been played live once before in 1974 and 1995 respectively. There’s also a version of ‘Hippie Dream’, which hadn’t been performed since 1997, and ‘Country Home’, which had been played on only a few occasions since about the same time. Along with songs from The Monsanto Years, this is a really nice setlist, even if the inclusion of ‘Time Fades Away’ or ‘Alabama’, would have been the ultimate treat. But this is a Neil Young album. And befitting his recent mindset, there’s more than a little quirkiness to the production as well. Backing vocals have been overdubbed and a selection of animal sounds and other earthly noises have been added to the mix. We’re treated to bees, frogs, crows, turkeys, and not just between the tracks, but sometimes in the middle of them too. It’s all a little strange and unnecessary. But it doesn’t spoil things. In the end, Earth doesn’t quite recapture the thrilling live experience of the Promise of the Real tours. We’ll have to wait for an Archives version for that. But it’s a more than worthy document of yet another exciting period in Neil Young’s long and unique career.