Saturday, 24 March 2012

Sergeant Buzfuz (record review)

Sergeant Buzfuz

Go To The Devil And Shake Yourself


This fifth CD by London antifolkers Sergeant Buzfuz is one that leader Joe Murphy has been promising (or threatening) for some time - a concept album consisting entirely of songs about the history of the popes! Those who dislike organised religion should not worry, though - the stance here is iconoclastic throughout and largely concerned with exposing the hypocrisy of the Catholic church. A typical lyric is "Anacletus II liked to rape nuns / His sister was the mother of some of his sons." Some will no doubt assume that Mr Murphy was rapped over the knuckles too much as a child at Catholic school, and that this project is some kind of self-indulgent attempt at revenge. However, as I understand it, it's more a case of the songwriter being inspired by reading about the history of the popes and finding enough juicy stuff in it for, well, a whole album of songs.
     The first two songs here have already appeared on previous Buzfuz albums, albeit in slightly different versions, and the record features an enormous amount of words, especially in the first half. Fortunately, just when this threatens to become exhausting, the second half (or "Side 2: The Schism") changes the tone of the album with songs which are less wordy and let in some welcome space, allowing the music to breathe. The band have clearly realised the danger of all this becoming tedious and have worked hard to ensure that a great deal of musical inventiveness and versatility is on display to keep the listener engaged. The second half also moves away from the folkier sound of the earlier songs to achieve a sparser effect with more emphasis on electric guitar and bass - a fondness for The Fall making itself felt, for example, on the catchily-titled "Gregory XII vs Benedict XIII".
     An impressive array of instruments are heard throughout, including mandolin, violin, cello, hammered dulcimer and the appropriately Gallic accordion on stand-out track "Sur Le Pontiff D'Avignon". The record is also often surprisingly uptempo, notably on the closing title track.
Joe Murphy the songwriter has not made things terribly easy for Joe Murphy the singer on this collection but, although not blessed with a pretty voice or vast vocal range, I think he acquits himself very well here - his voice has character, authority and enough tunefulness to see you through.
     The subject matter may be sure to get a few eyes rolling heavenwards but, personally, I find it refreshing to hear a songwriter pushing the envelope in this way as, although there's nothing wrong with songs about girls and cars, there are quite a few of them already, and there has, when you think about it, been a notable lack of songs about popes until now. All in all, an impressive achievement all round - great cover painting by Brian Mackenzie too.

Martin Dowsing

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Ledfoot (record review)


Gothic Blues Volume One


Tim Scott McConell has been around. Originally from Florida, he's been a member of several bands over the years, signed to major labels and supported big name acts such as Bob Dylan. He's even had a song covered by Bruce Springsteen. Now resident in Norway, in recent years he's been forging a solo career under the moniker of Ledfoot and building a reputation in intimate venues such as London's 12 Bar Club, where I was lucky enough to catch him last year. It was one of those rare occasions when the entire audience becomes aware that they are witnessing something very special - in this case, a truly captivating performance by a charismatic individual equally proficient as a singer, songwriter and guitarist. That night, we all felt as if we'd been let in on a well-kept secret - and one which, surely, could not be kept for very long. With his long white hair, mascara'd eyes, silver jewellery and countless tattoos, Ledfoot had the look of a genuine rock 'n' roll survivor - and one who had probably come close to becoming a rock 'n' roll casualty on more than one occasion.

    The aptly named Gothic Blues Volume One is an entirely solo affair recorded over a few hours with no overdubbing. It's easy to see why Ledfoot is going it alone these days - his twelve-string slide guitar work has such a full and atmospheric sound that a band would only get in the way. Notable themes to be found in the thirteen songs featured here include disillusionment, imprisonment, self-destruction, the imminence of death and the futility of religion. There's no redemption for the characters who inhabit this world - just endless days of hard times and struggle as they stumble from one bad relationship or dead end job to another, with only the frequent benders in between to relieve the frustration. Despite the darkness of Ledfoot's vision, however, the record is, somehow, never a depressing listen, but instead feels somewhat cathartic. The stand-out track for me is probably "How You Lose Your Innocence", mainly for its simultaneously catchy and haunting melody, but the quality is remarkably consistent throughout and there's not a weak track to be found. Album closer "Wicked State Of Mind" features what may well be the record's most passionate performance, and one that's sure to send a shiver up the spine as he sings "look into my eyes, you'll see they're as cold as ice".
    I have two minor quibbles with this disc, and neither involve the music; firstly, it would have been nice if someone had proof-read the CD booklet, which is full of mistakes, and secondly, the volume comes up rather low in comparison to most CDs these days - surely this could have been addressed during the mastering. However, this is still a spellbinding collection of first rate songs, and one can only hope that Ledfoot finally begins to receive the recognition he so clearly deserves. Roll on volume two!

Martin Dowsing

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Gus Garcia (record review)

Gus Garcia

 Brazilian Gus Garcia has been resident in London for a few years now, and put out an excellent three-tracker, Many Hiding Places, back in 2009. This follow-up took some time for an EP but it was worth the wait - the results show real progress and it's obvious that Gus and his co-producer Dan Cox have worked hard to ensure that this eclectic collection of five songs sounds as good as possible.
     There is little discernible Brazilian influence in this music - British rock and pop from both the sixties and the later Britpop era seem to have played a greater part in the development of this particular artist. Having said that, this EP is no mere homage as Gus has delivered a convincing and individual work of artistic depth and maturity.
     Opener "Clocks and Crocodiles" is a charming, upbeat affair, although the theme of disillusionment - which seems to run throughout the songs here - breaks through as he sings "whistling for the land I do not come from, it's such a struggle, much more than I hoped", suggesting that life as an expat has not always been easy. The next track, "Rhythm", is a slightly manic pop number which gives Gus a chance to show off his impressive vocal range on the choruses, not that he ever sounds like he's showing off - indeed, his voice is both confident and, for the most part, easy on the ear in the best way. Although his voice does not betray his origins, it still manages to sound like him rather than an impersonation of an Englishman. "Two For One" contrasts effectively with the previous song, being a slow ballad picked out on an acoustic guitar until the electric guitar and drums finally come crashing in over half-way thrrough. The drawn-out melody on this song does not always display Gus's voice to its best advantage, but it features some nice lyrical imagery as the narrator ponders the tales he has heard about a place "where worries are just blackbirds in the night", but remains sceptical as he's "no fool no more". The fourth song here, "Medieval", is also the title track, and it's no wonder that it's been chosen as the centrepiece - this is a monster track by any standards, a superb arrangement with a strong melody, big drum sound and an unforgettable guitar lick. Always an enigmatic lyricist, one doubts whether anyone other than Gus will ever work out what this song's about, but when it sounds this good, who cares? The EP closes with "The Sailor", an echoey, atmospheric piano-led number about a sailor having to abandon his love and return to the sea. As another complete contrast to all the previous songs, it makes for a fitting end to a collection from an artist who is hard to pin down but never fails to intrigue, surprise and come up with a damn good tune. ( )

Martin Dowsing