Satsangi, never a band to shirk a challenge nor to be meekly led by fate nor wander aimlessly down roads many others have trodden previously, seem to have taken lockdown & the deprivation of the chance to share their music live as almost a personal insult. No doubt they had big plans for 2020, plans which have not (yet) come to fruition, but they have come out of their corner fighting.
I reported on their lockdown album ‘Shivoham-Lockdown Lullabies' back in April & now they have a new single entitled "Won't Let Me In" out today (it's already been played by Brody Swain on BBC Introducing for Coventry & Warwickshire).Necessarily the conditions again preclude the full & such powerful Satsangi lineup from taking part in the writing or recording, so it's just Johnny & Su this time (though Dave Holland mixed it).As you'd expect, it is an acoustic approach again & so chimes much more with its predecessor in sound than the band's more representative one for the last few years. However unlike much of those "Lockdown Lullabies" which were acoustic reworkings of previously released songs, "Won't Let Me In" is a fresh composition created acoustically from the start & I'm struggling to think of anything I've previously heard from them which it sounds like. In fact I can't think of any.It certainly has that beauty so many of their songs has however & in this instance the poetry of Su's lyrics ring through truly as they are that much easier to discern than on the louder numbers: in fact there is an excellent marriage between them, their message, the tone & the musical setting. This is a scintillating blend of guitar parts by Johnny, subtly meshing western & eastern motifs & moods as again in the best of what Satsangi always do.Wistful at times, haunting at others, sublime throughout, it is interesting how the pair achieve so much with what at first glance are limited resources compared with "normal". It's very much a case of how "less is more" can work with those with the talent, experience & taste to demonstrate restraint & introduce space into their works. Certainly Su fans will be delighted to hear what she can achieve in such a manner to complement the stunning effect of her tremendous performances at full throttle.This is an exquisite & gentle song, just right for times of uncertainty & isolation, with an uplifting feel even if the story the words tell is a bit melancholic.Satsangi in duo mode is the current "new normal" perhaps & it works really well: an unlooked for bonus to explore aspects of their craft we shouldn't otherwise have been able to experience. I can't imagine that it is intended to be permanent but it adds another option for what they do & that can only be enriching for them & for us.
As I write, the very first shoots of live music performance recovery seem underway: a few people including members of Evergreen & Chessi O'Dowd have ventured onto the streets to busk in the sun & a few others have announced outdoor gigs. May this trend increase dramatically over the next few weeks.
There is no getting away from the disappointments of such a dearth of live music & it must have hit the band I'm reviewing today as hard as anyone, given their high octane, effervescent performances & how well they are received. Yet the same band also personify another trend, which in no way makes up for the loss of gigs, yet is great compensation. When I look back at the reviews I've written since March, I'm actually taken back by just how much great music has actually come out of the local scene despite everything else, and how diverse it all is. Looking at each one in turn had rather distracted me from the scale of the whole set.
Today therefore, I am able to tell you about the forthcoming single "Worth A Million" by that very fine & very popular band The Upsiders (it comes out on Friday 24th July to be exact, though you can pre-order it now to make sure you get your copy).
In fact Callum tells me that this is only the first of nine songs to be released over the coming months as part of their 'Reconnect' project which will follow a contemporary figure as he attempts to "form genuine connections with the world around him". I have previously written about how several artists have seemed almost psychic in their recent releases, written before lockdown but seemingly speaking about it: here we have another: how many of us will need similar journeys of exploration in order to reset our relationships with the world & others after only connecting online for months? I'm sure I shall.
As you'd expect from The Upsiders, the song is upbeat & optimistic, and "celebrates everyone's inherent worth regardless of fame, fortune or status": we are all "Worth A Million" in fact. Speaking for myself, I wholly agree.
The sun shone out of my speakers as I played the track & once these guys get themselves onto a stage again, you'll be dancing to it. You'll probably want to hug those around you too as the song reeks of a communal spirit, so let's hope the social distancing requirements can be safely resolved by then.
The styles which float in and out of the mix reflect the sense of summer: instrumentation which echoes both African high life & Caribbean rhythms & a rap section alternates with the singing (which builds up to an anthem, emphasising the community spirit still further).
It's a subtle piece & it will be fascinating to learn in time how it fits in with the other eight songs. It's light and breezy on the surface so you'll love it & you'll move your body to it. However it speaks also to your mind & hearts as the points it makes are serious & profound: if this is The Upsiders' manifesto, then they certainly have my vote.
A strange one this, the latest single release from Rob Halligan: "Promised Land" which comes a month after his previous one, "The Other Side" was reviewed here. (I only found it on Bandcamp so I'm not sure if there is anywhere else you can currently buy it).
‘Strange' because apparently it has gestated over twenty years & unless anyone can correct me, I'm not sure I've written about any other song like that.
It's been in his set occasionally & drawn praise from audiences, but I can understand why this was something Rob must have felt he wanted to get right before releasing. It is a song born out of what seems to be a great deal of soul searching & reflection on his part, pondering on where he is in his career & whether the sacrifices he has made so far have been worth it. He wonders in the lyrics if his "dreams are out of reach" and in writing about the track, he does bandy the word "regret" around.
Personally I feel that if he is asking questions in the song (which he undoubtedly is), though such are primarily ones he is asking of himself, once he has put them into the public sphere, he is also putting them to us & can't quibble if we offer responses, however presumptuous they might be.
As you might guess, my instinct is to encourage him to travel further down the road: evidence of success in his audience feedback & demand for live appearances must count for something & in this day & age there seem many routes to wider appreciation: yes a huge part of the commercial side of popular music is geared towards very young artists being snapped up by major labels & that route is probably no longer open for Rob, yet that way is also the way of homogenised product too often: it is not the way we celebrate in "Hot Music Live" so often, of individuals creating true music in their own voices and there is a considerable audience for artists like that. Like he is.
I think deep down Rob must have reached some sort of similar conclusion: the song has its angsts yet tends very much to the optimistic: he has decided to "count (his) blessings" and he does lay down something of a personal manifesto as well as a road map forwards: almost defiant as to the doubts he has had. With fewer other commitments to currently distract him (and it would seem that trying to juggle his time between these & music & failing to do justice to either is part of his regret), I can see why once his touring resumes post-lockdown, he can't kick right back off with renewed determination.
Given the frequency of spiritual themes in Rob's work & particularly the focus of his last single, I looked at the song with the question in my mind as to whether the "Promised Land" was the same place he was last singing about: I suspect that meaning probably is in there too, at least metaphorically, but in a secondary sense this time.
I spoke of Rob creating music in his own voice: that absolutely applies to the very personal & direct lyrics, but his singing also has a rather different quality to his normal delivery: possibly the nature of the words has somehow had that effect? It's a sort of hybrid vocal performance, with American country patterns yet a recognisably British accent...... The music is probably the element people will talk about least, but it's a real gem as it manages to sound beautifully simple while pulling off the substantial trick of being able to convey melancholy & uplift within a few moments of each other within the same melody & arrangement.
Rob would like to play the Albert Hall at some stage in his career. It's not looking on the cards just yet, but I hope he makes it..
I am pleased to report that despite all the obstacles being placed in their way since their decision to launch a single a month in 2020, The Rising are keeping to their schedule to the best of their capacity (any slight slippage is certainly not down to them) and today sees the release of "I Want You" which they were fortunate enough to be in a position to record at home. If you tune into their Facebook page, you can join them at 7 pm today for a virtual launch party.
This is their first single in the series since the astounding "Shadows on the Wall" in May: a diversion from their customary more feel good country orientated pop with its subject of child abuse, based on a true story. This one instead lies in the same warm summery vibe category as last August's "Endless Summer" (like "Shadows on the Wall" reviewed in "Hot Music Live").
In suggesting that this might be a reversion to a lighter "normal" style, I should not want to give the impression that I feel that their last single represents some unique "one off" in their repertoire. "Difficult" questions are raised from time to time within their work & lord knows country music has some very dark songs: tragedy is rarely far from the surface. That Chris Logan & Chantelle McAteer's immediate instinct is to entertain is to their credit & I recognise & respect how skilfully they do handle adult themes: not sugar coating them with their melodic approach to playing & singing, but representing them as part of life's rich tapestry: subtle but keen points. "Shadows on the Wall" therefore is, in my mind, just one end of the spectrum of what the Rising are capable of: an extremity perhaps but they are clearly not setting off on their career with any other intention than offering a diversity of material & themes.
That said, "I Want You" is pretty much at the opposite end of said spectrum & clearly aimed, like "Endless Summer", at capturing the vibe we'd normally expect at this time of the year. They can hardly be blamed for the circumstances which have overtaken us all, and if the situation is strange this year, what's wrong with evoking summers past & hopefully future?
Much of this effect come from Chantelle's soaring vocals which lift us up along with the words (a word here for the tastefulness of her singing: while technically very capable with a strong & inventive tone, she never indulges in self indulgent theatrics nor in trying to impress us: she sings to the meaning of the song & this adds to the sense of authenticity & truth. She even adds some giggling to fit in with the character she is adopting). The rest comes from Chris' equivalent levels of skill in the studio which has resulted in the very full sound including the full range of instruments you'd expect plus brass (or what sounds like brass at any rate).
Good humour is the overall feel of this single & while no-one can doubt the sincerity of what Chantelle's central message is, she is perfectly happy to stick her tongue inside her cheek occasionally in expressing it.
Summer 2020 is a weird one & if you don't get to do what you usually do or what you'd like to do, have a listen to "I Want You" and imagine that you are.
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