Tag Archives: Music Journalism

Album review: Micah P Hinson – All Dressed up and Smelling of Strangers

It would be fair to say a new Micah P Hinson album has the power to make or break my year.  Ever since I was lucky enough to pick up a copy of Baby and the Satellite on a whim around 4 years ago, the Texan singer’s crackling voice has provided the soundtrack to my life.  Those familiar with his work will agree, this makes me a miserable bastard, but I’m strangely comfortable with that description.

The album is Hinson's 5th, recorded in his hometown of Abilene, Texas

So it was with a great deal of intrigue that I greeted the news that his latest album, his 5th studio record, was to be a 2CD covers album.  I also worried a lot, as I tend to do, as an entire album of covers is not something many artists can pull off, possibly with the notable exception of Cat Power.

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In the spotlight – Small Town Boredom

Whilst not in the least way recommended as something to kick-start a party, Paisley based Small Town Boredom create the kind of music you immerse yourself in completely and experience on your own, preferably with a glass of whisky in your hand, possibly nursing a broken heart. Interruptions are not welcome. Sign on the door: Do Not Disturb.

Originally formed in 2001 by Fraser McGowan and Colin Morrison, their 2007 vinyl only release ‘Autumn Might Have Hope’ was an album so delicate in sound you find yourself taking extra care when placing it on the turntable, for fear it may fracture and all will be lost. Whilst barely rising above a whisper at any point, the impact is all the more profound for it. The overall feel is involving and introspective. As the band themselves put it, “Honest, if a touch depressing”.

One of Small Town Boredom's rare live performances

One of Small Town Boredom's rare live performances

What followed ‘Autumn Might Have Hope’ was a tour with the likes of Adrian Crawley and Eagleowl. The tour ended in burnout and proved to be the culmination of the sort of unfortunate personal demons that make such artists all the more compelling.

Thankfully, after a period of rest and reflection, STB have produced a new album. As with previous work, ‘Notes from the Infirmary’ has been lovingly made in a Paisley attic, “using computers, 8 tracks and Dictaphones”, with help from Richard Kengen on bass and Gordon Bartholomew on electric guitar.

Both permanent band members work full time as engineers and record in their spare time. “Personally I find making music very therapeutic, I can lose myself for hours each night in recording and mixing, that’s the stuff I enjoy”, says Fraser.

The inevitable fallout from the last tour is an unwillingness to delve too deeply into the music business. As Fraser is keen to point out, “Playing live and promoting what we do I hate, so we don’t do it that much. I think we will keep making music as long as we enjoy the process, if that ever goes I don’t think I would do it anymore”.

Perhaps strangely, for a West coast band, they are much more excited about the music scene in Edinburgh than Glasgow. “There is a lot of great stuff going on in Edinburgh just now. Bands such as Eagleowl, The Kays Lavelle, Withered Hand and The Leg for example, their music has affected me massively”, says Fraser. “I’m really not a big fan of the music scene in Glasgow; I think it’s completely overrated and most of the bands getting hype or press just now bore me”.

The new album continues where ‘Autumn Might Have Hope’ left off, with ‘Void Lighting’ a standout carefully crafted song of love and loss which immediately draws you in to their world with an understated intensity rarely heard since the Nine Inch Nails released ‘Hurt’. ‘World’s Most Unwanted’ dares to raise the tempo, building the vocals to a stunning finale.

Small Town Boredom have created something majestic with ‘Notes from the Infirmary’; a hushed masterpiece. They may not be too keen on promoting themselves, but Scotland has a band to shout about and their music deserves an audience. If this is the result of boredom, then it is time very well spent indeed.

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In the spotlight – Withered Hand

“A triumph of invention over ability” said a review of Dan Willson’s early work with former band Peanut.

Well, no more, as his current incarnation, Withered Hand, starts to grow in stature. After his recent set on BBC 6Music, Withered Hand is hot property.

Now working as a solo singer/songwriter, with a little help from various friends for his live act (including members of Meursault, St. Jude’s Infirmary and eagleowl), Withered Hand has a new EP readied, entitled ‘You’re Not Alone’.

Dan Willson aka Withered Hand

Dan Willson aka Withered Hand

The record has been produced by Kenny Anderson of King Creosote fame and was recorded in a hall in the Fence folk hotbed of Anstruther. “For me, that is one of the biggest rewards of doing this, playing alongside friends and hearing my songs in a new light,” Willson says. The much anticipated debut album, aided by legendary American producer Kramer, is out in September.

At times painfully honest and introspective, Willson’s folk pop style marks him as an artist with a lot to say, and someone who manages to speak with a refreshing intelligence, placing him at the pinnacle of Edinburgh’s live music scene as a true must-see act.

Typically reclusive, fame now seems to be seeking Willson out, whether he wishes it or not. Sometimes talent wins out. Sighted last weekend in an impromptu performance alongside Meursault at the Meadows Festival, affectionately described by the aforementioned band’s lead singer Neil Pennycook as “ramshackle”, few would have realised the recent clamour surrounding the shy looking lad clutching a bag full of Gregg’s pasties, but Dan Willson is not your typical fame-seeking star.

2008’s Religious Songs EP gained Withered Hand wide ranging acclaim, but it was his early DIY records posted on the internet which led to him performing on the same bills as the likes of Frightened Rabbit, James Yorkston and Malcolm Middleton.

Based in Edinburgh for the last 13 years, Willson is quick to proclaim his love for the city, but admits to initially being “terrified of microphones”. Asked why he makes music, he states simply: “Because I can’t really stop. I have tried. It is my way of making sense of being here. I used to draw a lot more and now I write songs. I have to have some kind of creative outlet otherwise I’m hell to be around”.

Willson says that his songs are “really just the sound of somebody who never thought they could ever do this, playing within their limitations. I would describe my songs as just a collection of my thoughts, with melodies that probably occurred to me in the grocery store or cycling home, sung as best I can over a bunch of chords”.

With typical modesty, Willson describes his sound as something which comes from within: “Apart from that it’s all the same twelve notes over and over again, like everything else”.

But it’s really not just like anything else. It is the culmination of one of Scotland’s brightest singer/songwriter’s talents; thoughtful, refreshing and full of insight. The new album promises to be something well worth the wait. You may have problems avoiding Withered Hand in the near future. And quite rightly so.

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In the spotlight – Beerjacket

Becoming a singer/songwriter, on the face of it, seems easy. Get a guitar, learn a few minor chords, let some feelings out.

However, once you have seen it done well, you realise how much talent is actually required. There is no hiding place when you do everything on your own, and there are few in Scotland right now who do it better than Peter Kelly.

Beerjacket, the name of Kelly’s homemade solo project, very nearly disappeared soon after it began. It started in 2004 “as a goodbye to music…a bitter farewell show”, after which he planned to stop for good. Thankfully, enough people liked the show to keep the project alive and, five years on, Beerjacket is still going.

Peter Kelly aka Beerjacket

Peter Kelly aka Beerjacket

Although he plays most of his live shows in Glasgow, Kelly says he can’t claim to be a Glasgow musician as he doesn’t spend much time there. Instead, “Beerjacket happens alone in a toy room in Lanarkshire,” he says.

His most recent album, Animosity, is a return to simplicity after Kelly felt previous work had become overcomplicated. The songs have the classic singer/songwriter appeal: simultaneously sad and uplifting. ‘Violent’ and ‘Drum’ perfectly sum up the honest tone of the album, whilst ‘The Gun’ is moralistic without any accompanying righteousness.

The album attains considerable diversity in its ten tracks too, especially on ‘Evil Air’, which adds colourful bluesy edges thanks to some neat slide guitar work.

The stripped-down, back to basics approach is certainly noticeable; Kelly describes his set-up as “one the most primitive you’re likely to find – acoustic guitar, vocal and foot-stomped tambourine”. The one-to-one feel of this minimal intervention policy gives his lyrics more immediacy.

There is also something hugely appealing about an artist who has decided to go it alone. As Kelly says, “I have opened for many of my heroes like Feist, The National, Kristin Hersh, Rilo Kiley and Arab Strap, released six albums and received airplay all over the world. And all this without a manager, PR, publisher, record label, agent or other band members to thank or blame.”

Kelly is also keen to praise those he has worked with: “I’ve been fortunate in playing with many of my influences. They have all inspired me”. The Second Hand Marching Band opened a show for him recently and also played along on a Beerjacket cover, which pleased Kelly to the extent that he forgot the words to his own song.

If comparisons are to be made, then the most obvious, in terms of style, seems to be Elliott Smith. But the tagline of ‘the new Elliott Smith’ has weighed heavily, usually unhelpfully, on many artists before. Kelly’s work stands alone perfectly well.

In a cluttered genre, Beerjacket has emerged as one of Scotland’s best singer/songwriters. Going it alone is a brave decision, but his work demands recognition. Wherever he goes next, it is sure to be well worth following.

The new Beerjacket album Animosity was released digitally on 8th June on iTunes, eMusic, LaLa and Amazon MP3. A limited edition digipack CD of the album will be in independent record shops soon.

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