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Born & bred in Leicester, Jon studied in Leicester, works in Leicester and builds guitars in Leicester, he's a proper Leicester lad, even likes Tigers. Works for the music business at PPL PRS Ltd, if you don't recognize the initials then Google it. Loves music so when we advertised for a reviewer he answered and got the job. He listens to TMEfm Radio.

Album review: Dan Bern – Regent Street

 

If Dan Bern didn’t exist, Jack Kerouac would have met him on the road and invented the character. Huddled over cheap scotch in some post-colonial hotel, the upper floors held up by long white planks and pretty windows that screech in complaint when pulled up, they shelter from the dark night drizzle, talking in slow, low voices. Dan tells Jack of the time he pranked an article he wrote claiming that Bob Dylan’s mother really penned all his songs. Bob was pissed, Bob took his revenge “Dan Bern is a scurrilous little wretch with a hard-on for comedy”. “Hey”, Jack said… “I’ve been called worse, I’ve called people worse, at least Bob Dylan spoke to you, you’ve got that”
Bern is prolific, he’s prolific at writing, song writing and painting, this is his 26th album or EP release, did I mention he’s prolific? Where some would find chaos and disorder, others find adventure and imagination. ‘Regent Street’ is the latest addition to his collection, it’s an album that claps and beats its way into your head. I have no idea what his influences are, but I listen to ‘Theresa Brown’ and if Bern was British, we’d be talking about Ray Davies, and that’s a good thing on our scale of lyric writing.
Maybe you like an album to be variations on a theme. Maybe you don’t like to be surprised, maybe you listen to an artist’s songs because they give you what you want and expect. Dan Bern isn’t offering that; he’s giving you a challenge. He’s going to take you in different directions, it might sometimes seem to be a Cul De Sac, but somewhere he’ll meet you, as the track ‘Not perfect’ suggests, “It’s not perfect, nothing ever is”. What works so well with this album is that is full of randomness, just when you think you’ve got a handle on Dan Bern, he goes and takes you off on his journey of thoughts. Sometimes it’s like trying to nail jelly to a wall, but there you still are, with hammer in hand, willing to give it a go.
‘America without the people’ departs from the often-whimsical writings of Bern, offering a discordant, dystopian view of his home country. The lyrical quality of this song is outstanding, despairing at cruel isolationism and the surrender of unity. It might be a depressing vision, but it’s one that deserves a hearing.

We’re never far away from poking fun though, not so much tongue in cheek as tongue piercing through the cheek and coming out the other side. ‘Dear Tiger Woods’ ponders on Wood’s father’s assertion that Tiger could become a greater humanitarian than Gandhi. It’s nonsense of course and Bern treats it with the sarcasm it deserves, but we shouldn’t ignore the musicianship that accompanies the track. What makes this whole album work is that for all the seemingly offhand lyrics and musings on subjects nobody else would probably consider worth writing about, it’s still the quality of the music that underpins everything.
I can only describe this as eclectic, comedic, political, irreverent. If you put your albums in alphabetical order, you’re lucky, if you put them into genres, good luck with this one.
“Maybe I’m the circus, rolling into town, grab your ticket find a seat, the curtains coming down”. ‘One Song’ is the final track, maybe Dan Bern is the circus, if he rolls into town, make sure you buy a ticket, find a seat, and watch the show.

© Jon Hutchinson 2019

Annika Chambers – Kiss My Sass, new review from our new reviewer.

A new era starts today here at TME.fm Radio. After many trials and tribulations we finally have a new reviewer. Read his first of many below.

 

 

Your honour, the jury has asked me to define the blues and so I present exhibit A. Will Annika Chambers please take the stand…

 

Annika’s rise has been remarkable, from being encouraged to sing whilst in the army, to her nomination as ‘Best New Artist’ at the 2015 Blues Music Awards and then ‘Soul Blues Female Artists of the Year in 2019. We’ve had a long wait for this third album, after ‘Wild & Free’ was released in 2016, I must tell you now -she has spent that time well.

 

Chambers writes songs about the blues, she writes songs about relationships gone wrong, opportunities missed, love won and lost, if you’re looking for happy go lucky you’ll have to try somewhere else. This is the blues, in all its glorious self-indulgence and Annika is a master of the art. Her voice has the power and depth to take your soul with her as she weaves tales that will resonate with us all.

From the opening drum and guitar on the title track ‘Let the sass out’, you just smile to yourself and know this is going to be good, it’s like hearing the first raindrops just when you looked forward to a storm. We’re ‘working for the man’, but we want to do something we love and is way more fulfilling. By the second track, we need to have that talk about scales of sassiness, maybe a one to ten rating, although as we listen through the tracks, we may have to add a couple of notches. Each song reveals more, like the faces of a polished diamond, each face is slightly different, reflecting the light in newfound possibilities, and they all add to the overall beauty.

The driving, distorted guitar that accompanies many of Annika’s songs seem drawn from Southern Rock and yet appear perfectly at home in Chamber’s world of hurt. This is the hallmark of this album, this is why it stands out, the soulful backing vocals and blues keyboards often welded together with progressive rock guitar. It’s a mix which works – and my word, does it work.
Sometimes you listen to an album and there is that one track that you hear for the first time and have to hit the replay button, you have to hear that again, not after you’ve heard the rest of the work, you need to hear it again right now. It’s the song that defines the artist, the one that you send to your friends when you want to introduce them to this new amazing thing you’ve found. ‘Stay’ is that song, if I ever had to explain to a stranger what soul and blues was, this would be on my list of evidence, it might not be exhibit ‘A’ – but it certainly figures in the case.

 

The track that stands out however, is ‘Two-bit Texas town’, not because it’s the best track on the album, it certainly isn’t that, but the lyrics are the most interesting, almost disturbing. Annika tells the tale… “Scared me half to death, to know he was on the prowl – Back when the radio could turn your life around, I know what it did to me, in that two-bit Texas town”. It’s a story that seems to celebrate the Houston music scene, but despairs of it at the same time, who knows what her experience is, but it seems it helped to make her write and sing, so we have to be thankful for that.

‘I feel the same’ is the last track and it’s also where Annika finally embraces the old style blues, where Robert Johnson and Charley Patton lived and played so many years ago, it’s a rare glimpse into the past, but she deals with it effortlessly, it’s like she could exist in any era of the blues.
Annika Chambers is a performer who weaves a wonderful voice around her experience of life, she picks great musicians to accompany her on that path, I humbly suggest your honour that the jury should leave a space on their playlist for Annika Chambers, there will be times when it’s just what you need.

copyright Jon Hutchinson 2019. ©