Thursday, 3 November 2011

reviews: ane brun, wooden wand and the briarwood virgins, seafieldroad

Ane Brun - It All Starts With One

Ane Brun - It All Starts With One (***)

A couple of years ago, a Cyndi Lauper cover for a Sky HD ad looked like it just might break the stalemate scenario whereby Norwegian-born, Sweden-residing Ane Brun would conquer charts in Scandinavia, yet was largely unknown beyond the Baltic. It didn’t, it transpires, so It All Starts With One presents a fresh opportunity for international recognition, and as ever, Brun’s voice is its principal selling point.

Her remarkable range and tone are as striking as ever (occasional excess warble notwithstanding), particularly when offset by José González’s earthier tones on Worship. On Do You Remember?, First Aid Kit add velvet backing vocals to the pot as well, but there’s more than Nordic semi-celebrities to recommend Brun’s latest. Her songwriting has taken a turn for the darker, particularly on the aforementioned Worship, where swirling strings crackle with drama. But it’s Undertow that best showcases her talents; simple in melody and metaphor, though with a potentially huge impact.

Out 14th November

Wooden Wand and the Briarwood Virgins - Briarwood

Wooden Wand and the Briarwood Virgins - Briarwood (**)

James Jackson Toth, the phenomenally-prolific songwriter oft-known as Wooden Wand, recorded Briarwood in Alabama, and boy, does it show. This is Toth’s Southern rock opera, a sour mash concoction of country rock and gospel, Hammond organ and lonesome-road lyrical journeys. He sings of stays of execution, bourbon and salvation in the kind of rough-hewn drawl that renders the word ‘man’ as ‘may-an’.

And all of that is, of course, pretty cool, but only if taken as knowingly recycled: if Toth is self-consciously channelling oft-reprinted hymn sheets, his odes to good whiskey, bad women and other such clichés warrant a hallelujah from the congregation, but take Brairwood straight-faced and it's exasperatingly limited, with little to recommend it over a re-spin through The Band’s back catalogue with a whiskey chaser. Pedal steel and aching breaking hearts are an irresistible combination, but ultimately Wooden Wand’s latest resembles a Drive-by Truckers you’ll wish had kept trucking on by.

Out 7th November

Seafieldroad - Seafieldroad

Seafieldroad - Seafieldroad (****)

Released almost exactly a year after his debut as Seafieldroad (itself released a mere six months after Swimmer One’s Dead Orchestras), Andrew Eaton-Lewis’s latest makes this stately adult-pop piano-ballad bag look effortless – though to be fair, he’s been at it a while, with hundreds of home-recorded albums already on tape. On this self-titled release, evocative titles like What Became of Pinky and Honker are backed ably by Eaton-Lewis’s redolent croon and deftly sketched narratives.

Though erudite, Eaton-Lewis evidently knows not the meaning of the words ‘diminishing returns’, as this is a comfortable improvement on There Are No Maps For This Part of the City, despite operating from roughly the same stable.The only real complaint is its brevity – just seven songs, plus a nicely-arranged cover of Empire of the Sun’s Walking on a Dream – but at the rate he works, album three is no doubt already on the horizon.

Out 21st November

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