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"Doing Nothing" by Luke Concannon

Review

Today, I'd like to draw your attention to a new single to be released on October 2nd from across the Atlantic: quite an unusual review for an ostensibly Coventry & Warwickshire orientated magazine, but since it's been created by one of our own, namely Luke Concannon, it  certainly falls within our remit.

I've been following Luke's creative path since he began & frankly though it's tempting to look at how his travels & explorations have shaped his music (I'm sure his odyssey around the Mediterranean to Palestine had a massive influence) and so look for Americana traces in "Doing Nothing", in fact his work has always been a most interesting and seamless genre defying mix: originally billed as folk meeting hip hop, that description was light on the jazz inflections of Nizlopi let alone his Irish music roots. No doubt many other cultures have since informed what he now does, but the new single as with all his work remains definitely individual & unmistakably Luke: but then which of his records does that not apply to?

The song acts as an appetiser for his forthcoming album 'Ecstatic Bird in the Burning' (which comes out on February 5th 2021). I've been privileged to hear the whole collection & am most eager for you to do the same: February seems such a long way off but it certainly gives us something to look forwards to.

"Doing Nothing"  (is there a little Specials reference in there?) generally addresses the subject of internet addiction (I imagine that his concerns predate COVID-19 and the upsurge in online activity) but frankly there is a huge amount going on in there in terms of not just what Luke is singing about but also the mood which shifts almost constantly throughout: there is humour in there (as you'd expect) but also (as again you'd expect) concern for us all and above all a great deal of self examination which had it not been for the humour & humanity could have made for uncomfortable listening. Yes, he does warn about his own susceptibility to the dark side of the internet and by extension our own, but it also more than touches upon facts such as that his former protégé Ed Sheeran is now doing so much better commercially. Is it because Ed takes more risks than Luke or because the latter wastes his time online? Or because he is "scared of his own gifts"? Some very deep thoughts here & your heart goes out to him.

He apparently "avoids the discomfort of taking risks" by "watching cage fighting and eating chocolate" which I have no doubt to be true (and he confesses to researching old lovers on social media too) but balancing this to some extent I would point out that he has also been using the internet for beneficial purposes: his regular live streams seem far more dedicated to promoting other artists than his own work.

It's very soul searching stuff (a long term characteristic of course) and I imagine it helped him cathartically but I also assume he means it as guidance to us too.

Musically the song is much nearer the traditional folk end of the spectrum of his material, with a stark guitar part augmented later on by what sounds like a ‘cello, plus female harmonies (his wife Stephanie Hollenberg?) All very tasteful & suited to the very personal nature of the song, which in turn very much sets the scene for the full album to come: powerful new material which really challenges the notion that "doing nothing" is entirely what he's been up to.

AS a very special bonus, should you care to pre-order "Doing Nothing" at https://smarturl.it/0e6shl  then you'll be entered into a draw with the winner having Luke write a song for them. Which is quite an incentive in addition to the excellence of the song.

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"The Fear" by The Session

Review

This is in many ways an unusual review but definitely one I have very much looked forwards to writing for some time.

Normally, my reviews fall into a few distinct categories: music I've managed to catch around its release time, some songs & releases I've been fortunate enough to hear prior to release & can therefore preview & occasionally (too often?) material whose release I missed & for which I have to offer a belated account plus apologies.

In this case, the awaited new single by The Session, that is to say "The Fear", is actually scheduled to come out tomorrow: I knew this & so probably did you. However in this instance, the band incredibly kindly allowed its inclusion on ‘Hot Music Live Presents Volume Four' more than a month before bringing it out themselves & so for that reason (and increasing pre-release radio play), not only do I know the track really well already, but so I imagine do many of you reading this. It does however give me another chance to thank the band for such a generous gesture of support for our project.

Remarkably the band  (Sheryl McClean (vocals & percussion), Dean MacDonald (vocals & guitar), Dave Chambers (bass guitar), Fred 'Frederson' Waite (lead guitar) and Ciaran Corkery (drums)) have managed to create three singles during the current circumstances (the preceding ones being "Denver Hill" and "Ravages of Time" which appeared on the "Front Room Sessions" project): generally solo artists & smaller lineups especially those with access to home studios have been the ones to find recording easiest. However this is a band who not only rolls up their sleeves in the face of adversity & confront it but who wear their hearts on those sleeves in many differing ways & their frustration at not being able to do more, especially the live work they excel at, is both palpable & explicit in what they have been saying in public, both on social media & the radio interviews Sheryl & Dean have been able to take part in.

Dean is equally candidly on record on calling "The Fear" their best work to date.  Quite an assessment given their impressive back catalogue & I'd say that taking into account recent singles such as the ones released this year & the preceding "BLIND", they are in general rare form at taking their music into constantly interesting new areas & never resting on their considerable laurels as they move forwards.

Produced by Matt Waddell at 14 Records, Leamington, "The Fear" is in fact (as I'm sure you already know) as good as Dean suggests. Powerful as anything you'd expect from this band, it is an intriguing song to dissect (not something I much want to do normally but it's required as a reviewer) and I keep hearing lots of different elements in there. Ostensibly a rock song, delivered with Sheryl's customary panache & skill, I hear folk echoes in her vocal line, though disguised to some degree by the way she carries them over: not least the feeling of unease bordering on panic. The music too has an insistent post-punk guitar nagging away in the apparent rock sound & this too adds considerable edge to the paranoia which pervades the song as does the deep & ominous bass.

The band have a justifiable reputation for entertainment but maybe their capacity to tell an interesting & unusual story with their considerable skills & experience deployed to tell such with subtlety & effect is not as appreciated. It should be. In this case (and with the sort of topicality which adds extra resonance to songs), the theme seems to be around how fear itself damages us, on top of whatever the cause of the fear does (think of FDR's "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself" from his 1932 inauguration). Especially now, the Session are urging us to fight the feeling before it engulfs us. I'm sure the song's creation predates the current neuroses and didn't originally  apply to them, but like any great song it has the capacity to allow us to apply it to anything of our choice & the sense of "going nowhere fast & running on the spot" certainly hits the bullseye for the past months & the ones ahead we are all contemplating. Being The Session though, they are careful too not to remain wholly pessimistic: the song offers hope too.

If you are a Session fan, you may, thanks to their generosity, have a copy of "The Fear" already. Please consider buying one though: they deserve our support. Have a look at the video they managed to shoot in Leamington the other week too: it can be viewed here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K1BZvNusxCY&fbclid=IwAR2OWaeGN3LGsYiNpNIWsV7_jw_R8Ux9YdCHQ5px8HJClHQTl8EFR3dX5eY

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"Ooh Na", by The Upsiders

Review

Now we are in the heartland of The Upsiders' "Reconnect" project, not only are the cumulative emotions of the arc of protagonist Kenny's journey (back) to meaningful social engagement starting to have ever greater pulls on our own, but the band are also ratcheting up the tension. The first four instalments came out at fortnightly intervals, but having taken Kenny to his lowest point (so  far) in  "21st Century Man", they have left us on tenterhooks for three weeks to learn where he goes next in part five:  "Ooh Na", which they are sharing on Friday.

Thankfully, at least it doesn't get worse for him. A sort of reflective stage, albeit at a low point in his trajectory, the song focuses on his examination of incidents from his past: thankfully perhaps he has retained the self awareness to do this & to try to make sense of where he is, rather than to surrender to despair: and no doubt that is a very key message from the Upsiders for whom this ambitious song cycle is so important & one they clearly wish to share with their public in a manner which does has genuine beneficial effect.

Musically as well as conceptually the series is stretching the band (I'm sure they see this as much a positive as I do) & while a dozen songs of wildly differing styles could drive the project to the brink of incoherence, they are obviously enjoying the chance to explore different genres in their playing & each switch does provide new emphasis to the evolving storyline.

"Ooh Na" is a beautiful Caribbean tinged song with the often intense lyrics & singing being set against an arrangement which blends a variety of styles from the region: calypso, mento, reggae etc. Such a juxtaposition often adds greater effect (as it does here) but must surely be a strategy adopted with caution and taste in order to work & not sabotage the intended message with inappropriate music. The Upsiders here adopt a very light, you might say delicate instrumental touch and as I say, the impassioned singing therefore sits very prominently on top.

As Kenny looks back, one wonders: will the memories he accesses just drive the knife in deeper or empower him to move forward? Only time will tell..... In the meantime, why not check out the video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YMm9lrJtfJc&feature=youtu.be&fbclid=IwAR1wbVFrOxh2DX6r0ED6tOH5GHlwL0lK5K1r02CBs_z75jFhCCHnd3SjFrs

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"Sides of Me" by Antonia Kirby

Review

After the misfortune of having the dreaded lurgy delay the anticipated & planned release of her new EP "Sides of Me", Antonia Kirby (whose "Labour of Love" appears on ‘Hot Music Live Presents Volume Two': and it originally first came out on her last EP ‘The View From Here' in 2016), has finally felt that the moment has arrived to share it with us.

Long since recorded, perhaps fortunately for any sense of career momentum, three of the EP songs ("Fool",  "Icarus" & "Fool (Funk)") have already been shared in the form of singles with the public (and indeed reviewed in "Hot Music Live" between December last year & this May).

The two versions of "Fool" smartly bookend the EP & I think the order of ballad to open & funkier version to close is very much the right one.

Since my thoughts on those tracks can be found in the respective reviews, I'll turn my attention here towards the songs on the record not previously released, namely "Sweet Serotonin" & "Barricade".

The former follows on effectively from "Fool" on the EP (all the tracks bar the funky finale are stripped back single instrument & vocal) and is a real revelation: the sound is Latin & the lyric one of her best to date: in fact it may just have shoved its way to the top of my personal list of favourites of Antonia's work. I do hope that it gets the airplay it deserves. It shares with the magnificent "Summer" of Charlotte Hatherley the clever analogy of using that particular chemical to describe a beneficial state of mind & although I presume a release earlier in 2020 might as in that case have linked well to the summer season, perhaps it has a new & more subtle resonance in late September: it's now we particularly need serotonin especially when it's less plentiful & we have mental health challenges ahead of us.

"Barricade" has a more of a sombre tone (though still sung with her characteristic lightness of touch) and the guitar drives along more insistently in protest song style, although I'm not sure she is necessarily protesting, just testifying. Sitting next to the equally reflective "Icarus" on the record, it provides a more introspective element in the collection, to which the more party style release of the closer "Fool (Funk)" contrasts well & helps carry us on a short emotional journey through the five tracks.

 

Again I salute the production of Antonia's long term collaborator Nick Dransfield which frankly is pristine and credit too to Tom Haines who plays on & co-composed some tracks and supported her throughout.

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