Thursday, 15 September 2016

Alternative Take: Afro Celt Sound System - Cálido Home - Ruth Theodore - Robocobra Quartet

Afro Celt Sound System - Honey Bee.

Background promo - With sales now topping one and a half million albums and two Grammy nominations to date, Afro Celt Sound System celebrated their 20th Anniversary with a stunning new album, ‘The Source’ released in April 2016 on ECC Records. In October, the band will be releasing, ‘Honey Bee’, another striking single from this acclaimed album to coincide with a major tour taking in 17 towns and cities where they will be providing a live music spectacle, every bit as energetic and captivating as the album.

‘Honey Bee’ features the sultry, soulful delivery of Armagh-born vocalist and flautist Rioghnach Connolly (Real World Records), one of the many contributors to this truly collaborative album.

Afro Celt Sound System are a European and African based collective who’ve been a ground-breaking force in music ever since they started. ‘The Source’ is undoubtedly their most ambitious album yet and one will take their cross-cultural collaboration and acclaimed live performances to another level. It is the first album to fully celebrate the African and Asian roots brought to the band by long-term members’ vocalist, kora and balafon player N’Faly Kouyaté and Dhol drummer Johnny Kalsi. Along with founder member Simon Emmerson (producer, guitars, cittern) and new core member Griogair (vocals, piping, guitars) – winner of Gaelic Singer of the Year at the 2015 Scots Trad Music Awards – the album and the live show features contributions from a host of other outstanding musicians which together fully demonstrates the eclecticism of the band’s music. The new single 'Honey Bee' out 7 October 2016.

I suppose I ought to write a brief disclaimer that I am a massive fan of this bands music and cannot be impartial. 'Honey Bee' is the new single, and if you have not yet checked out Afro Celt Sound System, I genuinely would recommend spending a little time doing so.


Cálido Home - In A Vision Or In None.

Background - After their debut album, released in 2013, Barcelona-based duo Cálido Home now join the label BCore Disc to release their second album ‘Tones and Shapes’ (September 2016), entirely in English and with strong North American folk music influences. The duet stand out for their intensity and the proximity of their live performances which is why their producer, Joan Pons (a well-known artist in Catalonia that goes under the name of El Petit de Cal Eril), advised them to record the album live.

Cálido Home used to call their music ‘motherfolker’, almost like an insult, but Pons asked them to turn it down a bit, to play softer, and by doing so new details appeared, a new fragility and subtleness. They have learnt that when the song is already going upwards, there’s no need to push it. They also discovered silence, inexistent in their songs until now. When Pons suggested they not play together at every moment they were first taken back and didn’t understand. But they listened, and in ‘Tones and Shapes’ silence becomes an active element in the music, the songs breath. And when a small sound like the squeak of a chair finds its way into a moment of silence, it's welcomed: the fact that everything is not always in place can offer, if done well, a more lively and real sound. It gives the song a soul.

Eduard’s guitar is a round trip from the US West Coast to Africa; he search’s for pleasure when playing; if he doesn’t feel that pleasure when performing a song he will never play it again. Anna’s voice, less imposed then before and quieter when the melody gets harder, reminds us of Karen Dalton or Vashni Bunyan. With ‘Tones and Shapes’, Cálido Home have finally found themselves.

'In A Vision Or In None' is the first of ten tracks on 'Tones and Shapes' which is released today! It's a mixture of folk songs, focused around carefully crafted acoustic guitar work, and vibrant vocals and harmonies. There are a mixture of tempos across the piece and a consistent attention to quality. If you like the featured song then check the album out, it's a good one.


Ruth Theodore - You Can't Help Who You Love. 

Background - At age 5 Ruth Theodore was told that she would never physically be able to play guitar and following a sledging accident, aged 9, that left her unable to speak, singing and playing the guitar were unexpected career choices. Yet by the age of 14 Ruth was earning money as a singer and guitarist, playing in music bars and venues almost every night of the week. Free from knowing the names of the strings, Ruth’s guitar playing and use of unconventional techniques and unique tuning structure has bewildered guitarists ever since. Composing and arranging all of her music by ear Ruth can be heard in recent recordings applying her own unique style to Piano.

Ruth started creating her own music as a teenager, teaching herself guitar and busking on Southampton High Street, when staying in the doorway of a branch of WHSmiths.  It was a happy time for Ruth and here that she met her ‘muse’ who would walk past and listen to Ruth sing and who Ruth has written about ever since.  Ruth also recalls being persuaded by the owner of a music shop to set up all the stringed instruments and showcase them in store for a whopping £2 an hour.

Moving to London in 2006 in search of music, Ruth slept (secretly) beneath a workbench in an artist’s workshop, which years later, she and a team of musicians transformed into a recording studio.
Following the recording and release of the first of her three self-produced records through River Rat Records, Ruth moved on to a tiny narrow boat with no heating or electricity on the River Lea in East London. This has been her home for the last 10 years. 

The river and the land on which she moors have been a great source of inspiration, and keen to continue creating on the water Ruth has single-handedly converted a larger boat into a studio space which has become the base for her band and other local musicians and is now home to one of the most unique and truly intimate house concert music events in London. 

Her albums have received critical acclaim from the UK media, with reviews running in The Guardian & The Observer, whilst also achieving national radio play on BBC Radio3 and BBC 6 music, alongside rave reviews in music magazines Mojo, Q, fRoots and more.

When Ruth started the search for a producer to collaborate with on a fourth album she came to the attention of Todd Sickafoose who had recently produced Anais Mitchell's widely acclaimed 'Hadestown'. Not coincidentally Todd divides his time between production work and playing bass for American Folk legend Ani DiFranco for whom Ruth opened two solo London shows in 2012.  The fruits of that collaboration, an album named “Cactacus”, is released on September 23rd in a collaboration between River Rat and Aveline Records.

For those who have read the above words, clearly Ruth has a story or two to tell. 'You Can't Help Who You Love' is therefore only a hint of her music, and it's a bright and breezy sounding song, which is both melodic and so, so catchy. Production is superb as is the material and delivery.


Robocobra Quartet - Correct.

Background - Describing their sound as ‘down-tempo jazz-influenced hardcore’, Robocobra Quartet out of Belfast, sound like little else. Combining spoken-word vocals, effects-laden bass, and raw improvisation, Robocobra Quartet’s no holds barred approach has garnered the group a reputation as a must-see live act.

Centred on a howling drummer-vocalist and offset by menacing saxophones, the oblique song structures, angular rhythms and direct lyrics built around snippets of quotes and would-be adages allow for only absurd comparisons to reveal anything about their style. You’d be forgiven, for instance, for thinking that they sound like Richard Dawson playing with Brian McMahan, or Steve Reich composing music for Fugazi. Tracks such as ‘Find X’ and the tongue-in-cheek ‘Our Very Own Version Of November Rain’ drive home a bass driven Dischord-era post-hardcore sound laced with avant-garde, jazz-infused woodwind and rhythm sections standing sentinel to drive the music into more experimental territory, as the instrumentation coalesces around drummer-vocalist Chris Ryan’s brooding, meditative lyrics.

“Lyrically most of the topics come from conversations or direct quotes (or misconstrued quotes) from friends, enemies, acquaintances and family members.” says Ryan, “…it involves looking back on growing up and past experiences and memories. It's interesting - memories are so malleable and the process of remembering things actually has a lot of room for error or creativity, so you can sort of mine your memory to come up with new ideas.”

Characterised by such idioms and narratives, Robocobra Quartet exemplify a both brazen and charismatic identity, which is not only drawn from their entrancing content but largely from its bold delivery. Other album tracks such as opener ‘Correct’ and more prominently ‘Straight Lines’ are visceral in their proclamation. They convey the post-everything nostalgia you might come to expect from latter day post-hardcore bands such as Self Defense Family or mewithoutyou, but also carry confidence in the candidness of their off-kilter narrative. All the while this is handled without pretention because the band genuinely possess the talent to pull it off.

This beguiling and idiosyncratic blend of styles and genres has taken them to festivals such as Electric Picnic & Brilliant Corners Jazz Festival supporting the release of a limited run lathe-cut 7" on Smalltown America Records. Bolstered by support from BBC 6 Music and the PRS Foundation, 2016 has seen the band perform throughout the UK, Ireland & Europe whilst conducting recording sessions in studios and concert halls around Belfast. Now, this November, Robocobra Quartet will release a 12" LP titled 'Music For All Occasions', and will embark on another UK tour featuring two Rough Trade in-store shows.

Robocobra Quartet don't so much mix up genres, they decimate them. The new single 'Correct' precedes their forthcoming November album release entitled Occasions. The vocals are as out there, as some of William Shatner's recorded material, and building on that, the musical accompaniment seems to look for boundaries, with the sole intention of crossing them. All in all for me, it's absolutely wonderful!


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