Thursday, March 21, 2013

Who stole the soul?

White man pinched the blues and developed Rock N’ Roll but it’s never been quite so easy to steal the soul. Whether it’s in the timbre of the delivery or the content of the songs, soul music generally sounds more authentic when it’s black.

Of course there are major exceptions and no racial boundaries to any music, if I wanted to make any more radical generalisations I’d suggest that the biggest cross-over hits will generally come from white artists whatever the genre. I could also get into the gender politics of it all and point out that if you want to be a big star at the moment then you will be a pop soul singer and preferably female. I’m sure I don’t need to name names.

This debate may be better saved for another day, I came here to sing the praises of new soul. It is always reassuring to be able to tip acts with connections to the Midlands and I do not hesitate to give repeat references to Jacob Banks and Laura Mvula. In the case of the latter you can hear real originality and a quirky approach to writing and performing, perfectly exemplified by the current single Green Garden.

Laura could be the slow-burning intelligent pop success story of the year and it’s no great act of prophecy to claim that she’ll be a star, she already is. Jacob is developing along similar lines, his voice is rich and the material is blooming. I can’t help but think his time is coming.

The beauty of his approach for me is his ability to deliver on many levels, the glossily produced as well as the simple live acoustic. Both have equal power and beauty.

Jacob and Laura have greatness ahead of them, maybe even BRIT Awards by this time next year. Remember that I said this, I’m likely to forget.

Flip over the page break for two covers.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Dentist Test

I recently spent 45 minutes in the dentist’s chair. This being a real dentist’s chair rather than the ‘legendary’ drinking game you can imagine that it wasn’t much fun. The experience was ‘enhanced’ by my practitioner’s choice of accompanying music, BBC 1Xtra.
I consider myself open-minded when it comes to music and I wouldn’t expect my dentist to play classical music in an attempt to relax his patients, I’d generally prefer that he was more relaxed than me. At any rate I’m sure no-one is brave enough to argue with their dentist.

I doubt I’ll be adopting 1Xtra as my station of choice, it isn’t aimed at the likes of me even if I’m far from immune to the appeal of repetitive electronic music.

Like a lot of music the cliquey genres and sub-genres have got out of control to the extent that it’s hard for those of us with a casual interest to define what it is that we actually like. Is that hardcore dubstep ragga with a tinge of electro house or just a decent song that happens to fall into the category of EDM?

Though I’d always hesitate to call myself ‘old-fashioned’ I suppose my tastes still bend towards what I might consider ‘authentic’ in that I may still prefer music that employs a degree of ‘real’ instrumentation whether that’s sampled or played live.

Clean Bandit fall into this category, teasing us with classical inserts in what is inevitably a very modern sound. It also plays cleverly with our conceptions of what EDM is.

As a ‘traditionalist’ (another word I hesitate to use in reference to myself) I always think it will come back to the ‘song’. If the song is good enough then it transcends the boundaries of genre and has an overall appeal. An increasing number of people can play well and/or create a sound but not everyone can write a song. The other test may be whether anyone can write music that makes you forget you’re at the dentists, that may be more of a challenge.

The next blog will be more soulful – examining the likely soul stars of 2013 – so as a segue here’s another burst of the excellent ‘Kids Like These’.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

The wood and the trees

It’s hard to be a critic these days. Aside from the fact that everyone is one you also get to a level of age and experience where you find (or feel) that everything is being repeated. Your terms of reference are so much wider that you can hear and see new things but will always have something that you can compare them to – not always beneficially.

To illustrate this I recently heard Lewis Watson, feted by many and easily comparable to lots of other artists. Whenever I encounter an act like this I find myself able to appreciate their work but also ask whether I wouldn’t rather spend the time listening to Dylan, Drake, Young, Oldham, Cave or a host of other singer-songwriters.

I recognise the necessity of the new but when we all have the ability to dredge through the history of music via Spotify, YouTube and their ilk you realise that new acts are stuck in that impossible position of having to compete with the past as well as the present. It’s a hard slog to say the least.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Tao of Twitter

It’s hard to be a critic these days, there’s just too much competition. Social media appears to have opened the gates of hell to a yawning chasm of critique. Everyone’s got something to say and a lot of it just isn’t nice.

You can partially blame celebrities and their micro-tribes for this. Celebs have embraced Twitter for many reasons – the one-to-many communication they’re able to have with their fans, the ego-stroking they get from the growing quantity of followers and their (generally) ever-fawning praise and the fact that they can instantly get a snapshot of their meaning in the world by checking their ‘stream’.

Naturally this often back-fires, commit a mistake or do something seemingly controversial and the haters join the fray, pitching themselves into battle by hash-tagging or using your twitter ‘handle’ to ensure you get the message. Often you can rely on your devotees to defend you but many celebs (mostly footballers) have abandoned Twitter after being bombarded with scorn.