Hurray For The Riff-Raff
Young Blood Blues
There was a time when Michelle Shocked's Texas Campfire Songs was shocking. Alynda Lee, here known as Hurray For The Riff Raff, on her second album, is as folky as it gets, having left home at 17 to ride freight trains and play washboard in a street band. Her voice, all Cat Power and Shocked, is a powerful instrument in the sparse mix of banjo, accordion, and percussion, but she is at her best when delivering a line like 'you stick the needle in your arm and the baby starts crying' on Slow Walk. The capacity of songs like I Know You to be seductively bluesy is just gorgeous, and full of character. If more blues was less reverent and paid attention to its folk roots,
records like this might be easier to come by - if, as they say, blues is just the sound of a good man/ woman feeling bad, then the absence of melancholy that suggests is written all of the way through this. Its edges are its character, and its depth its primary raison d'être.
ACE rating 9/10
Some Kind of Salvation
Serpents and Snakes
The Features may come from Nashville, but they sound like Tennessee brethren Kings of Leon might if they came from Brighton - bouncy, edgy pop that is at once upbeat and rocking. Some Kind of Salvation is their second album after the band had trouble with the major label that released their first, Exhibit A. It is an improvement on that debut in every way - the songs are better, lyrically and musically: more fully-reconciled, more fully featured. The band do have a 60s pop inspiration, but front man Matt Pelham takes any Kinks-y leanings and mixes them nicely with some more modern Fratellis-like indie, all hooks, groove and funk. The UK charts need something with the delight of Wooden Heart, GMF or Lions (the Chelsea Dagger of this album). With some more promotion behind them, The Features could well be a massive band on this side of the Atlantic too. Fortunately, this re-release is on the Kings of Leon's label, so that may well tip the balance.
ACE rating 8/10
Jason and the Scorchers
How does 'first album of all-new material since 1996' sound to you? Enough to strike fear that some old band has been forced by penury into the studio again, and that some retread will be the order of the day? Well, in the case of Jason and the Scorchers, put that thought far from your mind. Back in the day, J&TS and their version of cowpunk (think of the way that The Pogues turned Irish folk music into something hornier and dirtier, then think of that done to awesome country music) turned out something approaching genius, especially on Fervor their EMI debut in 1983. It is one of the all-time great records, and it has been argued (pretty successfully) that this was the album that generated alt-country, not Son Volt. Halcyon Times may not quite approach the spark that ignited Fervor, but it does have the kind of quality that sustained its follow-up albums Lost and Found and Still Standing. The cheekiness is still there, the hard rock, the melodic approach and the absolute absence of any subtlety. Funky as all get-out, there are all sorts of reasons to be grateful for this all-new material.
ACE rating 8/10