Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Record Review - The Vasco Era

The Vasco Era
The Vasco Era
ERA Records / Inertia

To be honest, two EPs and now three LPs in, I’m not sure where the Vasco Era can go, or indeed, what they’re all about anymore.  Where once they went about their business with reckless aural abandon, now they seem caged, desperate and lacklustre.  Gone is the raw power and mind-blowing scuzz and burn.  Gone, it seems, is the fun and the freedom they once clung to with an almost fiendish intensity.  Their third, eponymous record, sees the band a shadow of its former self, and given how good they used to be, this is a sad, sad thing.

It’s not to say The Vasco Era is a bad record, but it just lacks anything that makes you snort coffee out your nose and sit up straight, leaning across your desk to turn up the stereo, wondering what the hell is going on here and why haven’t you heard this before.  That’s how I used to feel when I’d put on their early EPs – Let It Burn (’04) and Miles (’05) – and, to a lesser extent, their debut LP, Oh We Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside, a record they laid down after signing (foolishly, in my opinion) with Universal and heading to San Francisco in 2007.

While there are some standout tracks on here – lead single, ‘Child Bearing Hips’ for example – for the most part, The Vasco Era borrows heavily from The Strokes and late ‘80s fuzz which is all well and good, but they don’t believe what they’re doing.  This record has come about after a fairly prolonged absence, frontman Sid O’Neil leaving the band for a year or so after the release of second record, Lucille, and as such, they don’t seem as cohesive as they used to.  And that’s the kicker, because they didn’t used to be that cohesive; their appeal was their scruffy, no-frills attack, and that isn’t here at all – or if it is, it’s buried under far too much polish and production.  This album is just not very good.  At least, not for The Vasco Era.

Samuel J. Fell

Published in November issue of Rhythms Magazine

The Vasco Era is available now through Inertia

Record Review - Sal Kimber

Sal Kimber & The Rollin’ Wheel
Sal Kimber & The Rollin’ Wheel

Not since Mia Dyson first burst – gritty and real – onto the Australian underground roots music scene have we seen anyone of the calibre, of the snake-shimmer-soul of Sal Kimber and this is a goddamn fact.  Possessed of a voice which not only raises the dead but reinvigorates their very loins, Kimber has slowly but surely been growing, emerging, honing her songwriting skill – already razor sharp – whipping the Rollin’ Wheel into a deep, dark, country frenzy, the likes of which are few and far between my friends, make no mistake about that.

Here, Kimber and the Wheel unleash their second full-length effort (the first with this particular band actually), one that’s been a while in coming, but one which makes no apologies, one which just exists in its own murky world of song and story, of melancholy and joy.  Not only that, but Sal Kimber & The Rollin’ Wheel heralds, to my mind, the coming of our next roots star – this is a record that drips with sensuality, it reeks of the dirt and the grime that epitomises country music, the sweat and shimmy of old time soul, the power of rock ‘n’ roll, all encased within the inherent realism of an Australian artist singing from the heart like she knows no other way.

And therein lies the reason why this eponymous record is so good – whether ensconced within the darkness of ‘Rocking Chair’, the boogie shimmer of ‘Do Right’ or the reticent, shy and retiring ‘Your Town’, you believe what you’re hearing, because Kimber believes what she’s singing.  It’s all well and good to pen a handy song and have the instrumental chops to back it up (as Kimber does, and indeed, as her whole band do in spades), but it’s another to take your listener to the same place you are, whilst up on the stage or in the studio, laying the song in question down.  There is absolutely no doubt that there’s more to come from Kimber and The Rollin’ Wheel – the only question is, how soon do we get to hear it?

Samuel J. Fell

Published in November issue of Rhythms Magazine

Sal Kimber & The Rollin' Wheel is available now through Vitamin Records

Record Review - Lanie Lane

Lanie Lane
To The Horses
Ivy League

From an imagined luau in southwest Chicago – ukulele mixing effortlessly with rockabilly twang – combining blues sensibility and ‘50s chic with an eye on the past and no more than a passing interest in what’s happening now, Lanie Lane steps elegantly into the spotlight.  Springing seemingly from nowhere, Lane has made 2011 her own: a BDO appearance, guest vocal spot on You Am I’s ‘Trigger Finger’, national support for Justin Townes Earl, a collaboration and tour with Clare Bowditch and recording time with Jack White in the US – the only thing missing thus far, is a record.  Enter To The Horses.

Whether flirting harmlessly with the silly and left-of-centre (‘Bang Bang’, with its thumping double-bass line and ringing “Bang, bang, bang-idy bang bang” chorus lyric) or pouring her heart out (the title track, with its mournful delivery and lyrics like, “I’m going to the horses, if you can’t catch me then just give up”), Lanie Lane has proven that the growing interest she’s been receiving over the past 12 months is justified.  For this is a record that fairly reeks of poise and musical nous, a record that oozes age and experience and yet has been created by a young woman with barely neither.  Lane seems (in dress and appearance as well as in a musical sense) to have stepped from another time, somewhere where she’s already been doing this for an age and it’s old hat and she could do it whenever she wanted.

Whilst the two tracks she recorded earlier this year with White (‘Ain’t Hungry’ and ‘My Man’) aren’t represented on To The Horses, what is, is a step up; there’s nothing over the top, there’s nothing here that seems forced, there’s nothing that makes you think this is merely an act, a shtick.  It’s simple, soulful music from another time re-crafted into something which, interesting enough, makes perfect sense in this electronic, shot-attention-spanned universe of ours.

If you were to name a weakness, To The Horses is a little lacking in cohesion, containing as it does a number of genres worked together – the aforementioned rockabilly, lilting Hawaiian folk, blues, swing, a little jazz, some surf and spaghetti western – which sometimes serves to overwhelm, but it’s only fleeting.  Because then you get carried away on Lane’s voice, strong and raw with the occasional hint of female vulnerability – “Don’t cry, that’s below you, oh well, that’s what you get, for fallin’ in love with a cowboy” she sings on ‘That’s What You Get’, which is also another example of the tongue-in-cheek stories she tells throughout the record, songs like the bopping and bouncing ‘Betty Baby’ (She’s just a guitar baby”) and the junky and sultry ‘What Do I Do’.

With To The Horses, Lanie Lane has proven she’s worth the ‘hype’.  She’s proven she can write seriously and in fun.  She’s proven she can take ‘old music’ and turn it into something fresh and vibrant and she’s proven she’s a radiant streak of light, wrought upon the darkening roots scene in this country.  A fine record, a fine debut to be sure.

Samuel J. Fell

To The Horses is available now through Ivy League. 

Monday, 24 October 2011


Published in Inpress Magazine (Melb), 26th Oct 2011.  Excerpt below...

Fly My Pretties

Today, astute reader, we shall lament the apparent loss of the Big Production.  That auspicious (and all too rare these days) occasion where a group sees fit to showcase more than just a mere gig.  Where the group in question puts on a show, a production, something more than just people on a stage playing music; an all ‘round extravaganza, the likes of which don’t often makes appearances in this fast-paced world of ours where instant gratification is an ethos and the watchword is Now.

Of course, one need look no further back than Pink Floyd to get an idea of where we’re coming from here – these cats were all about the big picture; the music, the lights, the visuals, the stage props, all closely interwoven to present something in a variety of different forms, a feast for all the senses.  Another example, a more recent one and one perhaps not so ostentatious, is North Coast group The Windy Hills, who soundtrack, live, surf films put together by renowned filmmaker (and Hills’ guitarist) Andrew Kidman.  Not as far out as the Floyd, but a combination of elements aiming to give the audience something other than just the run-of-the-mill fodder so prevalent in today’s age.

Who knows why the Big Production doesn’t make as many appearances as perhaps it used to.  You would imagine the cost would be prohibitive, and perhaps people are just lazy these days, short attention spans and all that.  Whatever the reasons, fair reader, we lament the loss of it, because seeing something like that really draws you in, gives you a sense of what the group are looking to convey through something other than their music; it makes you feel they care, and that’s a fine thing indeed.  Enter, Fly My Pretties, a collective out of New Zealand who have made it their mission thus far (since their inception in 2003) to think, act, play and perform outside the box that has for so long constricted and constrained so many artists.  For this collective is all about the Big Production, make no mistake about it.

“Well, it’s just what we do,” shrugs co-founder of Fly My Pretties, Mikee Tucker, who also heads up Loop, an NZ media group who tag themselves as “a multi-level medium for new ways of thinking in music and motion graphics”, the group behind FMP.  “What Loop really prides itself in doing is next level production and giving more for your dollar than just a band standing on a stage with a good light show.  For us, it’s just taking that appreciation of the music to the next level.”

Let us, handsome reader, take in the big picture: Fly My Pretties is a collective consisting (in their present guise) of 16 musicians, plus another 16-odd VJs, lighting, sound and graphic designers.  They’re heading to Australia for the first time this week, just for the one show, but it’s a show that will stand out – the first act, according to Tucker, consists of live visuals playing in time with the music, based around the interpretations of visual artist, Haley King.  “Basically, when we put a new show together, the 16 cast members who write songs are asked to put two or three songs into a pool and we turn that into the new album, which is essentially the first set,” he explains.

“And so each new song in that first set, Hayley will interpret into a beautiful piece of art which is based on what the song’s about, what the artist is about,” he continues.  “So there’s an exhibition in the foyer [of those pieces]… and then a team of boys basically deconstruct and reconstruct and mess with that until it integrates into the song.  It won’t just be the painting appearing or the painting sitting there, there’s some pretty unique and creative ways that that’s happening.”

Samuel J. Fell

Tuesday, 18 October 2011


Article published in November issue of Rhythms Magazine, 2011.  Excerpt below...

The Dynamites Feat. Charles Walker

Earlier this year at Bluesfest, I’m skulking around backstage looking for interviews to bulk out my review, something solid and meaningful, something to fill the void and make the garbled prose I’ve penned thus far a little more exciting, for wont of a better word.  You’d think, given the strength of the lineup, that I wouldn’t need to do much to make it exciting, but I’m hardly getting offered face-time with Sir Bob or Mr King, so I need something big and ungainly, a bit of a booster I guess.

As there’s no one currently playing who I want to see, I continue skulking and my languid persistence eventually pays off as I get offered the only spot with the master of funk, the high priest of the groove, Mr. George Clinton himself, which is indeed an exciting and terrifying prospect all at once – I eventually get ushered into the presence of funk royalty (I’ve actually met him before, he was in his underwear at the time which is another story for another time) and man, it’s funky and crusty, just like I knew it would be.  We talk about fishing and playing four-hour sets.  I have my interesting interview.

I go and see him and Parliament Funkadelic play later that night and I dig those heavy grooves, and I know who’s got the funk, this man does, as did many like him, cats that aren’t around any more, certainly not around in the sense of being able to get up there, spark up a fatty and groove for over three hours – none that you could think of, anyway.

Well, I’ve found one, and not just me, but the world at large, and they found him around six years ago – or perhaps rediscovered is a better term.  Charles Walker is his name, and he was there when the funk was just getting heavy, when the soul actually had soul, when it was sweaty and hot, back in the day.  Now, Walker fronts The Dynamites, he’s their missing link to the music of the past, and these cats can cook, as they’ve shown the world over, particularly right here where people embrace this old style sound wrought for the NOW, as band leader and guitarist Bill Elder told me via email last month.

We’ll be seeing you guys over here again this month, which I think will be the third time in 18 months – you’ve certainly hit a chord with Australian audiences.
Elder, aka Leo Black: And vice versa. We love coming to Australia more than anywhere. It was a great feeling stepping on [stage at] the Peats Ridge Festival [in 2010] and hearing the whole audience singing ‘Do The Right Thing.’ I knew we were mates for life then.

I imagine Australia isn’t the only place which has taken to you so well – where else are people embracing your new take on these old sounds?
Europe has also been a great home away from home for us. We’ve done eight or nine trips over there since the fall of 2007, and there’s always some amazing stuff happening on those tours. Some dues-paying gigs as well, but nobody escapes that. We’re very fortunate to have audiences in all these extraordinary places that dig what we’re doing. And it certainly affects our creative output, too. We’re writing our third record right now and there’ve already been multiple instances of, “Oh they’re going to dig this in Australia!” And then we REALLY go with whatever idea it was that led to that.

The Dynamites formed back in 2006, initially for a one-off gig.  Elder is a student of the funk and the soul that came out of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, and so putting a band together for a local funk/soul night was a serious exercise for him.  The only thing he needed then, was a vocalist who could carry it off, who could take this on and bring it like he meant it – enter Charles Walker.  That one-off night went so well, the band is still going, two albums in along with fans the world over.  The funk is back.

Samuel J. Fell

Friday, 14 October 2011


Article published in EG section of The Age (14th Oct, '11)

Jeff Lang

Disturbed folk and dislocated blues, six twisted strings and a penchant for telling a story, this is Jeff Lang.  Over the past 20 years, via a plethora of solo, live and collaborative releases, Lang has refused to be pigeonholed.  He’s constantly reinventing his music, and as such has risen to the top of the roots music pile in Australia. 

His latest, Carried In Mind, “A batch of brand-new, reconditioned, rust-removed, freshly ventilated, instinct-driven musical conversations” is the high-water mark thus far, yet another chapter in the anthology of Lang’s songwriting life.  “It seems these days I have to make the time to write, which is a change from how things used to be,” he muses on how Carried In Mind began to come together.

“There seems to be a time where I feel, almost, an itch to record, and so I can kind of gauge it off that; there’s just an internal drive at a certain point where I feel like, ‘God, I really need to do something’… it’s almost like you are looking for a new record to listen to and you can’t find it anywhere, and you realise it’s one you’ve got to make yourself.”

Carried In Mind came together in a very ‘live’ sense, Lang and long-time cohorts Grant Cummerford (bass) and Danny McKenna (drums) pressing record after only hearing the basic tracks as MP3s and rehearsing once or twice.  “It results in a beautifully spontaneous and spur-of-the-moment kind of session,” McKenna noted to me recently, something with which Lang concurs.

“Yeah, it’s pretty important, and it’s down to the quality of the players I think,” he says on this spontaneity.  “Trusting them and picking people that you’ve got there because of how they think on their instrument and how quick on their feet you’ll know they’ll be, and their capacity to lean on their instinct and come up with something that’ll surprise and excite you.”

Another addition this time around is the consummate pedal steel playing of Garrett Costigan; it’s this little bit extra which really seems to lift Carried In Mind, giving it a warm, textured underbelly.  “I’ve been wanting to have a project where I could pull him into the fray for a while,” Lang smiles.  “So here, there were a number of songs where I could really hear him fitting in and enhancing it a great deal, so it was pretty easy from there.”

Samuel J. Fell

Carried In Mind is available now through ABC Music / Universal